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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.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Territorial Savagery

Somewhere I read that one of the top physicists of the 20th century, someone on the order of Niels Bohr or Max Planck, originally planned to be something like a zoologist, but opted out of that because he didn't care for the cruelty and bloodthirstiness of nature.

I was reminded of that when I saw a recent documentary on wolves in Yellowstone Park. There was an especially stomach-turning scene in which a pack of wolves methodically hunt down and tear to pieces a lone coyote, an animal that looks much like them, that had ventured into their territory.

Humans have inherited the same sort of behavior from their simian ancestors, and through all the stages of that development they've staked out territory and defended it in the same blood-dripping way.

Well, I suppose that if they didn't do that, none of us would be here, because all the side branches of human evolution that might have led to a species cooler than we are died out instead, because they didn't rip to shreds all invaders of their territory.

Though civilization tries to dress it up, we can still see this same kind of territorial savagery in activities like gang warfare in cities and in the fight to deny entry to immigrants from south of the border, usually called "illegal immigrants" by all these children of illegal immigrants. I say that because actually no descendants of the apes have ever come here from overseas with the unanimous approval of the creatures that were already here, especially after a little time had passed. Even when the very first humans arrived tens of thousands of years ago, there were already hordes of creatures here that couldn't have welcomed their arrival when their extreme voracity became apparent, except on the occasions when the tables turned and those two-legged illegals became things to eat instead.

Something must be amiss when we notice that there's nothing about any piece of topography that has natural markings saying that it belongs to any one species of anything that moves. Animals have evolved to fit some piece of land, but I don't know of any cases where the reverse has happened.

Even the polar bears can't say that the arctic is theirs. All that sea ice is busily melting as we speak, answering not to the desires of the bears or even of the Eskimos but instead acceding to an authority that usually has the final say about life on earth, namely the temperature and the condition of that scarily thin film of molecules covering the planet called the atmosphere.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cell Phones

In his always interesting weblog YellowDoggerel Democrat Steve Bates has a post about the imminent arrival of ads popping up unbidden on cellphones.

This made me think anew that being so far behind the technological curve isn't all bad.

It's a little weird that I'm in that state. It used to be just the opposite, and I recall a friend commenting on how far ahead I was of him and our other contemporaries, technically speaking. This was mainly because, long before anyone else had one, I was investing in open reel tape recorders, so that I could transfer my music to tape from LP's and 78 rpms (from this you will know how long ago it was), and also so that I could dictate writing stuff to myself. The former worked but not the latter, as I didn't care for the sound of my voice.

I am still reasonably up to date and even ahead of my age group where computers are concerned, but when it comes to little goodies like ipods, blackberries, pagers, and cellphones, my wife and I are sadly out of date.

For calling out I have absolutely no use for a cellphone, but I wish my wife had one working, because of the automobile drives that she too often likes to make, here, there, and everywhere, usually at night. She has tried to keep one going but hasn't found the trouble and expense to be worth it. For one thing, this area isn't rich in cell towers.

As long as six years ago, when a very unfortunate occasion forced us out of our happy home here deep in the woods and to take a cross-country flight, I thought all the cellphones that I saw people using in the airports was totally weird. And some people would talk loud, as if you weren't supposed to be able to overhear. So sometimes, just for the devil of it, I would try to give all the appearance that I was listening in.

I'm not fond, anyway, of using telephones of any kind. They involve too many real terrors.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Country Sounds

One of the advantages of living in the country is the large number of beautiful sounds.

Right now my favorite is the whistle of freight trains on a line used a few times a day, three miles from here as the crow flies. Maybe the signals of those trains are so evocative because it reminds me of my favorite song from childhood, "Blues in the Night." Or maybe it's because, also as a child, I lived in a rural Maryland area -- now heavily suburban - where my house was oess than two city blocks from the Pennsylvania Railroad line -- now Amtrak -- connecting D.C, with all points north,and the sound must bring back to me the endless, hopeful conjectures I had about all the interesting, distant places that lay just over the horizon and that I knew I had every chance of seeing, one day.

Until recently my favorite country sound was that of hoot owls instead, with whipporwills a close second. But those are getting rare, and all last summer I may have heard a whipporwill just once.

Other beautiful country sounds are those of all the other birds, including crows, any sounds made by my creek, any sounds made by the trees, any sounds made by any species of frogs, any made by any kind of weather, and the tweedle of insects in the fall.

The most maddening yet still bearable sounds are those of the cicadas in the summer and the locusts in their years.

The most raucous country sounds are those made by chainsaws, which I am guilty of making at times.

The ugliest and most fearful are gunshots at night.

Having lived in a big city for about as long as I have lived in the city, I can't think of any beautiful sounds that can be heard there, except for occasional birds and those of rain. Maybe in my mind they are still blotted out by the constant sirens of fire engines, ambulances, and police cars.

What a tremendous privilege it is to be able to hear things. I'm glad I can still do it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto: An Appreciation

I've had a thing going for Benazir Bhutto ever since the long ago period when, like her, I was somewhat younger, and she was just coming onto the international scene, on the heels of her father, who had already suffered a violent, political death, by execution.

I suppose libido played a part in that admiration, as she was a true dazzler, especially for someone in the uglyfying business of politics. But this B. Bhutto thing wasn't sex on its usual levels. Instead it was the way that she constituted such an unusual and striking presence among all the baboon-butt male national leaders of that era as well as the ones sadly serving in the same roles today. Without having a good idea of just what her belief system was, I saw some possibilities, if the commonly accepted idea of physical beauty has any utility at all. I thought there was a good chance that --notwithstanding Margaret Thatcher -- Ms Bhutto, simply because she was a woman and an extremely classy-looking one at that, might be able to influence her nondescript male reprobate colleagues and adversaries on the national and international levels enough that at least some would start behaving in more benign and constructive ways.

And indeed she did serve for several years as the very unlikely leader of a populous country in a world in which so many women live out their lives squashed up against a wall, no matter what distinguished Muslim professorial apologists might say. But more predictably she was driven from office and ended up living in exile, until just a few short weeks ago.

And now, here she is, or was, following the equally tragic and surprising example of another female leader, Indira Gandhi, who, living in that same sort of world, likewise followed in her father's footsteps by becoming chief executive of India, that overloaded, neighbor country to which Pakistan is inextricably handcuffed like a set of forever snarling "Defiant Ones," and was subsequently also assassinated. Today Benazir Bhutto has been taken away from here by bomb and gun, wielded by true criminals whose evil natures prevented them from having any idea of how much -- more than Pakistan -- that whole region and maybe even the world has always needed the likes of her.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Not as Merry a Christmas

It's been a while since I've looked upon Christmas as a merry time, partly because I see some hypocrisy in waiting till one particular day in the year to be yelling out, "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men." It seems to me that if this worthy admonition has to be proclaimed far and wide, it should be done -- and in these times needs to be done -- every day of the year.

Also all the materialism of the gift frenzy has turned me off ever since I was old enough to have a job that allowed me to buy presents for others, only to find out that it was much too difficult to find things that the recipients really wanted or needed, while the things that I received weren't items in which I had any burning interest.

And I was never going to have enough bucks anyway for my purchases to have one iota of effect on the U.S. economy.

But every year I still put electric candles in my windows to observe the season and because I like the look.

But this Christmas has been less merry than usual for me and my wife, because I have been alone for two weeks, while she has been way down in Florida tending to her mother and to her stepfather, who, in their early 80's, entered the hospital on the same day. He needed an operation on his back and now he is already up and around and driving. But her mother is another story. She had a stroke, and after a few days she was well enough to go to a therapy center. But the people there were apparently not dedicated enough to keep an eye on her food and what-not, and two days ago she had a relapse and had to go back in the hospital, and she is doing much better now.

In spite of her numerous trips here, there, and everywhere, it was the first time that my wife and I had to spend Christmas apart, and it looks as if she may be there for another several weeks to see about providing some sort of care for her mother.

I have been criticized by several people for not going down there to help. I could say a lot in reply, but my simplest answer is that thereby my wife would have not two but three elderly patients on her hands -- I am only five years younger than her mother -- because, as she said, I would just be miserable there.

I guess people could say that i don't have the proper appreciation for the dire experience of being hospitalized.

Actually when I was in the Air Force, I spent a period in the hospital that lasted far longer than the average hospital stay. I was in there for two whole months, recovering from a bout of regional ileitis or regional enteritis, and in all that time no one whatsoever came to see me. That was because I was far from home and also from my home air base. This was in California. But that didn't bother me a bit, because I had things to occupy my mind.

It's hard to beat always having things to occupy the mind, as long as they're not too crazy or unpleasant.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Borat's Iced. ...Not So? Drat!

And while I'm kicking all those objects of Tubular Adoration.....

While scanning the online news, I saw the indescribably depressing name "Borat" coupled with the phrase "Rest in Peace." With tremendous hopefulness I quickly clicked on the item. It wasn't that I hoped the creator of Borat and Ali G, a British comic named Sacha Baron Cohen, had fallen off a ferry to Liverpool and had lost out in his ensuring tangle with its propellers or some such, but I did hope and pray that HBO and Cinemax had found better things to do with his offerings instead of defiling themselves and their viewers by showing his indecent and clumsy creations over and over, every day. And as for Sir Cohen himself, I thought consigning him to 50 years of intense study of Russian icons in a monastery in Spitzbergen would be about right.

But no such luck. Instead he merely announced that Borat and Ali G are too successful, and he is dropping them from his attentions, so as to free himself for other projects.

He was too successful? His dreadful stuff is loved and admired by that many of the misbegotten?

--As if I needed more reminders of how far out of touch I am with the times!

But I'm not surprised. Actually there's never been a moment when I was in touch with the times, except possibly during the 1960's, when both the vacuous and the vicious voices of the culture were almost drowned out, if only for a while...

A Great Moral Question

As if having sensed how, like AOL years ago, it had burrowed much too far into the Britney Spears Obsession, moments after I mentioned Google News running an item on her sister as well, Google seems to have decided to let the younger Spears become the new chief object of its fascination, by presenting her pregnancy as one of the World's Great Moral Questions.

It turns out that Jamie Lynn Spears is the star of a successful children's show, where she has apparently been idolized as the perfect role model for America's larval set, and so, wouldn't you know!

As, at age 16, the second Empress Spears got into that otherwise heavenly condition in an act of joyful in-bed collaboration with her boyfriend, who is two years older, Google is claming that this development is dominating celebrity news and in so doing has ignited a big debate about the wisdom of consensual sex among teenagers.

Can it be that few have noticed how we live in an era in which each succeeding generation of teenagers, whether spaced apart by decades or by mere days, prides itself at having been the first ever to have discovered the joys of doing sex?

It will be interesting anyway to see how much mileage Google will get out of reporting on this day after day, but the Spears mystique is so unendurably powerful that we can be assured that they will stick to it, and mightily. Never mind that plumbing this issue is exactly like dropping a stone into a sinkhole that reaches so far down into the bowels of the earth that the ears can pick up no sounds of anything hitting the bottom..

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Spiritual Mysteries

In around 1947, when I was 16, four years after I had immersed myself in it, I shook the waters of organized religion off my shoulders for good.
Yet, eight years later, while I was in the Air Force, I up and bought a Bible.

Because of the fading but still legible lable on its box and also due to an inscription on a frontispiece page suggesting that the printers intended the book to be a gift to a child, I can tell you the exact date and place. -- February 19, 1955, at a big department store in downtown St. Louis, Missouri called Famous-Barr.

It was sold as "The Rainbow Bible," and though it only cost $3.00, it has ever since been one of my most valued possessions. That is not because I turn to it at every turn. Instead it is a tiny thing of beauty in itself. Falling slightly short of measuring 5 by 7 inches and about 1 inch thick, it is printed on paper that though very thin has not deteriorated in the least over all these years, and it has lots of colorful illustrations, plus the complete text.

At some point earlier -- probably while I was in basic training in western New York state, I also attended a Bible meeting, though just for a day or two.

Now at this late date I find that I have no idea of what either of those Air Force "spiritual" occasions was all about..


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Official Death in New Jersey Offed

A few days ago New Jersey made it official. It became the first of the currently heavily disUnited States of America to discontinue the use of capital punishment, including the death penalty.

Obviously New Jersey does not have very many Republicans.

Suddenly, with one stroke, this kind of almost unprecedented forward thinking has allowed the Garden State to leapfrog from its former position far in the rear of the pack -- due to pollution, heavy urbanization, and an untoward number of bad drivers -- to becoming the country's most distinguished state.

This development puts a dent in my feeling that legal systems have too little to distinguish them from the criminal activities that they are intended to curtail, though not on the fact that also too often they operate purely on the basis of bias, bigotry, and the ability to pay. In addition, the common dictum that a defendant is innocent till proven guilty has been completely reversed. And on and on.

New Jersey's action was Big News, yet I fear that it didn't attract the appropriate attention in the national media. The online Google News, for one, devoted more space -- as always -- to someone named Britney Spears. Apparently this person of uncertain though surely numerous and wide-ranging accomplishments has been forbidden from doing something else, and, that not being enough, Google added the key revelation that a younger sister of Ms Spears is pregnant.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Leader Follows

In a NY Times article published two days ago, about the climate change conference in Bali, one can find the following, highly indicative passage:

Kevin Conrad, the negotiator from Papua New Guinea, rebuked the American delegation. “If for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us,” he said. “Please, get out of the way.”

He was alluding to remarks made by an American official, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, last week to a Reuters reporter, who quoted him as saying, “The U.S. will lead, and we will continue to lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow.”

That statement had become a sore point to many delegations.

And well it might. But seeing one's self as being a big component of the World's No. 1 Superpower carries its risks, as surely as does drinking a quart of moonshine just before trying to drive an 18-wheeler through the streets of Manhattan. Actually more than risks. Absolute deleterious certainties, and one of the worst of those is arrogance. It can't be helped.

There were 186 other sovereign nations at the conference, and, to various extents, human nature being what it is, each of those likewise see themselves as being at the center of the universe. Therefore they could never have been expected to take kindly to being told to "fall into line." No, and definitely not by one of the two chief parties -- the other being the countries of Europe, including Russia -- who are responsible for sending the lion's share of all those heat-trapping gases up into the atmosphere in the first place, over the last several centuries.

In that light, knowing that they wouldn't be able to propose anything serious about slowing down the heating up of the greenhouse that the Bushers wouldn't try to block, it's hard to understand why the conference would have been considered wrecked if the Bushers hadn't climbed aboard, which they finally did, at nearly the last possible moment.

Was it the strategy of the Bush team, then, to fight hard against everything they could to keep anything from getting done, and to agree with the consensus only if the gathered nations made enough compromises to make that worthwhile, even if it was just a couple?

And it turned out to be just a couple, consisting mainly of rejecting the developing nations requests for equipment to help combat global warming, and also of staying quiet about the emission standards that the EU wanted stated.

Maybe it was. The Republicans seem to have perfected the strategy of reaching compromises that are a relief to their half-exhausted opponents, but that actually accomplish almost nothing. That can often be seen in the workings of the U.S. Senate.

Or maybe, after the reps from Canada, Japan, and Australia, their only real allies at Bali, finally fell away, too, the Bushers saw no option but to finally join in the agreement, and so the would-be leaders became followers instead, belatedly bringing up the rear.

Maybe you've often seen this kind of thing, where the leader goes in one direction while the followers all head off into another, after which the leader has to shift gears and hustle mightily to regain his position of first in the line, usually unsuccessfully. Most often seen in slapstick movies, it can also be seen in politics.

GW Bush just provided another instance of this when he said yesterday that he supported Russia supplying Iran with enriched uranium., which Russia started doing also just yesterday.

This nuclear material is supposed to be for use only in reactors for civilian purposes. But I thought that one point all along, to justify all the warm drums, was that it could also be used for making bombs.

Obviously, since Russia is in reality also a comparable Superpower, with its nuclear foot always on the U.S.'s throat, the same as in the reverse, there was nothing the Bush forces could do in the way of leadership. Instead they had to go with the flow. That is, they followed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Funerals in Movies

Why are moviemakers so fond of including funeral scenes in their films? Out of every two movies you see, one has a damn funeral scene. This obsession is rivalled only by the frequency of the making-out-in-bed scenes that became so rampant due to the Big Breakout in Outlook that occurred in many areas during the 1960's and carries through to today.

Well, I guess it's because the writers, actors, and directors were lucky enough not to experience the death of a really close loved one while they were young -- though I would never wish upon them or anyone else something like the passing of my father when I was only six, upon which ever afterward I have avoided funerals as much as I possibly could.

That great majority of more fortunate people will just sneer and say that that and only that explains my attitude. But they should check out that movie thing some time.

I wonder if it's taught in film school, that if all else fails, pop in a funeral scene.

Possibly those scenes are regarded as being extra dramatic, though that point escapes me entirely. Or maybe they're a sign of film-making laziness. They must be easy to do. You don't have to worry about the costumes or about clearing the locations for the shots, since they're already cleared and quiet, except for the tombstones, and there's no directing involved, because the actors already know that all they have to do is to look solemn. Sometimes the actresses do have to pretend that they're crying, but even then veils can relieve them of the task of coming up with real tears.

Like the thousands of other aggravations in which moviemakers indulge themselves, the love of funerals, as popular as it is, isn't likely ever to fall out of fashion, so I am doomed to keep cringing. Unfortunately movies, as endlessly interesting as they can be, never lack in the number of things to bring about cringing and something close to gastric upheaving. In fact their makers often seem to work hard for just those effects. I'm sure they call it being creative.

Gore, Our Prez in Bali

Only the hearts of those who share their guilt can go out to the Bush Administration in relation to two huge setbacks that they've had lately, though, as you would expect, they continue to keep chortling irresponsibly along as if nothing had happened.

The first came when a group of U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report called the N.I.E., in which they said that, contrary to all the war drums that the Administration and its handlers had been beating for a long time, Iran, far from being a big threat, had actually set aside its nuclear weapons program four years ago.

The second just now happened, at the climate change conference being held in Bali in catastrophe-prone Indonesia and attended by countries from all over the world..

The European Union in particular wants to adopt more stringent measures to control the release of gases into the atmosphere that every second are turning the planet into even more of an overheated greenhouse, a truly gruesome place in which to spend even one second, as anyone who has a greenhouse can tell you.

The "official" U.S. representatives at the conference, chosen by the Administration, are resisting these measures, I think because Al Gore is pushing them, so that things have gotten to where, at Bali at least, Gore has become the U.S. President in spirit after all, in regard to pursuing the kind of ideals that the country has always had while too often honoring them only in the breech.

Most of the world's nations go along with the EU, while the U.S. is seen as one of the chief creators of the pollution problem and yet allows its policies to be controlled by tragically short-sighted people whose ideology allows them to look centuries into the past and not one second into the future.

The U.S. prides itself on being the 'World's No. 1 Superpower." You would think that this would put it in a position of leaderhip. But instead, by going along with the backwardness of those who currently control its government, the country as a whole has been reduced to being an international pariah, not even on a par with tiny Tuvalu, with its mere 18,000 people, who can see quite clearly the level of the gigantic Pacific Ocean rising month by month, due to too much of the ice that used to sit on the continent of Antarctica melting into the sea and lifting its level so much that in about 20 years, Tuvalu figures to be just a set of snaggle-toothed atolls visible mostly when the tide is out, and that's just one of the numerous consequences of climate change that will affect all countries.. And instead you have the spectacle of the rest of the world seeing the U.S. as an entity that has swallowed a ball of ferocious prickliness and refuses to cough it back up, despite the state of semi-paralysis that that choking, poisonous obstacle has induced in the nation. Therefore not only the majority of other countries but even subdivisions of the U.S.itself -- states and cities -- are pushing ahead with initiatives of their own. to deal with the very obvious state of worldwide trapped heat.

This situation is so insane that you could half expect the Bushers to go to war against any country that would reduce its energy consumption and control its carbon dioxide emissions. But let's hope that, as short as they seem to be of the power to be embarrassed, at least enough of it remains to cause them not to think seriously of doing such things, much as they would like to, because it's easy to hear these power-crazed dudes thinking, 'What otherwise is being the World's No. 1 Superpower good for?'

Monday, December 10, 2007

Riverbend Finally Left Iraq!

Though I assume the news didn't make any of the supposedly responsible members of the media, here or abroad, about three months ago the unfortunate country of Iraq suffered a big loss of one of its national treasures, though that deprivation will almost certainly not last forever. Along with her family, Riverbend, the exemplary author of the weblog Baghdad Burning, spoke sayonara. But they didn't go far. Just across the border into Syria, where they now seem to be living precariously on their savings and a shaky visa situation.

I have been interested in this mysterious lady for a long time, and each time that I read of one of the frequent car bombings in Baghdad markets, with dozens of victims, I deeply hoped that she wasn't among them, and I thought it might be a good idea if she was somewhere else after all. Yet I also had nothing but admiration for the determination of herself and her family to stick out the highly desperate conditions for as long as they did.

For trying to get a good idea of what's really going on in Iraq I've always read her weblog and that of Juan Cole's Informed Comment first and then going on from there. I don't see how that system can be improved.

I've known for a while that they had decided to leave, and I wondered if they would try for the U.S., on the strength of the fact that I'm not the only one who has long admired her work, and she has won a number of awards. So I guessed that should the U.S. be her choice, help would be close at hand. But I wasn't a bit surprised that she and her folks chose an Islamic country close by instead.

Though she is incredibly clever about never dropping anything to give an idea of her background or even things like some part of her real name, it's hard not to think that at some point Riverbend spent a lot of time in the U.S. She is clearly too familiar with many things American, including the idiom. But things must've changed drastically when Bush invaded and displaced Saddam Hussein. Now she appears to have no use at all for Americans, even as she communicates with us in our language. American and not British or any other type of English.

Riverbend is so notable that she has inspired a group of rightists to set up anti-Riverbend weblogs. I haven't checked to see if they're still around, but they were going pretty strong a couple of years ago. Of course they never even came close to having any effect, but they fired their limp shots.

They charged her with being a Baathist and a Saddam lover. I don't know about any of that. I just know that by expertly reporting her personal experience she has confirmed the obvious. Things were better in Iraq in numerous ways compared to what they are now, and therefore the Bush invasion and subsequent occupation have been a huge disaster, though if adding to the boatloads of hurt that Saddam had already heaped on the Iraqis and getting in position to grab their oil were the goals, it's been a success.

So now Riverbend is an exile, an expatriate. I wonder what she will do now. Sometimes things can be seen better if they're viewed from the outside. But we can bet that her story isn't over yet. It has other interesting chapters to come, plus the ones that will tell us where she came from ...plus her picture.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Uses of Hitler

In a recent youtube debate in South Carolina, John McCain, while responding to Ron Paul, a fellow Republican candidate, seemed to have gotten into a little trouble when he said this: "I just want to also say that Congressman Paul, I’ve heard him now in many debates talk about bringing our troops home, and about the war in Iraq and how it’s failed. And I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II. We allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement."

That is an interesting view, especially if you have a feeling for the years between the two world wars, in which, in the first Hitler was a mere corporal and by the time of the second, after just 20 years, he had gotten himself to the point where he managed the astounding feat of being the main one to instigate a reawakening of that monster of war and getting it to rolling again, on a much larger scale and with dire results that still confront us today, 60 years later. How Hitler and his people staged that is always worthy of study that shouldn't be denied to anyone at any time.
The reports I read said that the audience booed, in strong disapproval of McCain's remark.

But I wonder. Was that why? . Did the reporters know that for sure? The audience, after all, was Republican, and it's hard to imagine them having that much historical acumen and decency. Could the booing have been done instead to condemn the actions of the U.S. leadership in those days? That leadership was largely Republican before Hitler became the German Chancellor, but through most of the ensuing 1930's and into the 40's the Democrats were in charge.

I read more than one comment that attacked the mere act of McCain or any other candidate bringing Hitler into the current electoral debates..The commenters didn't say why it was wrong. Instead they just assumed that we all know why. But that "we" doesn't include me. I would very much like to know why McCain's statement, as shot full of holes as it was, couldn't have been made, whenever one wanted to make a particular point.
Despite the incredibly deep and widespread misery that the actions of the forces led by Hitler inflicted on large slices of humanity, Hitler has his uses. He and the Germans of his time serve us as the most valuable object lessons that we've ever had, and their value is increased by the fact that they weren't contemporaries of Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, or Attila the Hun. Instead their heinous misdeeds happened in our time, or at least mostly in mine. Their "work" reminds us that humanity, in spite of all its technical and scientific advances, has not yet gotten anywhere near losing the ability to indulge the beast that also lurks in its soul, and not very deep inside either.

Therefore I can't see how anyone, including those belonging to the groups that were particularly singled out by the Nazis for imprisonment and extermination, can have exclusive rights to invoking Hitler's name and recalling the countless crimes of the many who were at his beck and call.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Led to Where?

Regularly editorialists and other writers on political subjects preface their remarks with statements that they presume are so universally accepted as true and common knowledge that any attempt to contradict or refute them is not only doomed to failure but also laughable. One such statement that one sees constantly is that, no matter what else you might think about them, R. Guiliani, the ex-mayor of New York City, and G.W. Bush, the supposed President of the U.S.A., showed great leadership immediately following the events of 9/11.

Showing great leadership has to mean that these people led something, and that that something therefore proceeded down a path that was clear for all to see, in a direction clearly of great benefit. But I'm wondering. After 9/11, what exactly did those two huge entities of a city and a country do?

New York City buried all the bodies and pieces of bodies that they could find and cleaned up the incredible mess caused by the several surprise demolitions of that day. But they would have done that anyway, no matter who was mayor, or without any mayor at all. Having observed New Yorkers for a great many years, I refuse to believe that they were ever on their knees crying out for a strong hand to lift them up. Otherwise since then I haven't heard of any change in New York City in the last six years that amounts to anything remarkable.

What has the U.S. done of note in the same time span? People will rush to answer that, “Well, it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and meanwhile don't you dare mention such inconvenient facts as that no citizens of either country were aboard the four hijacked airliners wielding box knives.”
But my perception has been that “the U.S.” as such didn't do anything much. The great majority of American citizens just kept on doing whatever they had been doing beforehand, picayune or momentous, and instead it was the illegal adminstration in power at the time that invaded, using its ability to send American volunteers to shoot up and to imprison large numbers of people in other countries. There is a strong disconnect that can be felt between Americans at large and events in the Middle East, to a degree that I don't recall existing during WW 2, Korea, or even the Vietnam wars. And the conflagrations in both those tragic countries continue to blaze, with a longer duration now, by two years, than the U.S.'s direct involvement in the Second World War, with no satisfactory end in sight, except for people who make their livings disposing of the dead.

“Besides that, what else?” I would ask these defenders of the universally “known,” and I don't see how anyone could come up with a coherent answer, because the miscreants in control of the government have set afoot no constructive measures of any kind since 9/11. Instead we have an economy tottering on the crutches of foreign lenders, huge cracks in ways of thinking in every direction, and a “War on Terrorism” that has led to parts of the U.S. justice sytem, already a badly eroded institution, crumbling as thoroughly as did the several demolished buildings of the World Trade Center.

So what kind of leaders were these two guys if that city and the country proceeded to nothing worth cheering about or building on for the future?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sickle Cell, Stem Cells, and My Friend Art

This article, which appeared in Google News today, reports that scientists, using skin-derivied stem cells, have found a way to cure mice of sickle cell anemia.

Sickle cell is a disabling and often fatal disorder that is inherited, and, though this article makes no mention of it, its preferred victims are Rainbows, that is, people of recent African descent.

I can relate to this in the most personal way because for a long time one of my best friends was Art .A., who all his life struggled with sickle cell, before succumbing at last, seven or eight years ago.

By chance we attended the same elementary school in D.C., but because he was two years behind me neither of us recalled seeing the other there, and we didn't meet till later, in a writing class at Howard University in D.C., not long after we had both served in the military, he in the Army and I in the Air Force. This was in the late 1950s, and from then on we stayed in contact of varying degrees until his death.

For a while at Howard he and I and a third fellow named Joe W. were a close-knit trio that spent a lot of time roaming through Howard and the city streets, talking about writing and many other subjects, before eventually both Art and Joe left town, to take the next logical step of pursuing their literary destinies in New York City, while I stayed behind in D.C. But whatever Art did in the writing field, whether as an editor or as a literary agent or later in Los Angeles while trying to break into movies as a producer, he never forgot me, and both of my only published books, though they were not my favorite works, were his idea.

Meanwhile Joe went on to be the most commercially successful of us, writing a play about rainbow family life that appeared on Broadway and was later even filmed. But by that time we were totally out of touch, as he largely was with Art also, and while I saw the play I never saw the film, which appeared in theaters only briefly, and just a couple of years ago he, too, left this world.

At the end, however, because of certain distractions on both our parts, I wasn't in that close touch with Art. either, though he and his partner had taken a film option out on one of my novels, and he had been gone for two years before I heard about his death through that partner, who was intrigued by the fact that he had left behind a whole shelf of my manuscripts.

She never told me what had caused his death, but it's safe to assume that it was some result of the sickle cell. Even when he was young he would often have attacks that were extremely painful, and sometimes he would need blood transfusions. At least once and maybe more I donated blood for him, for which he was very grateful.

Sickle cell is so deadly that, as it was, Art was lucky to live as long as he did, well into his 60's. But it's too bad that this stem cell research didn't get going till it was too late for him or that he was born 10 or 12 years too soon.
We can expect that the Republicans, eager to claim any worthwhile victory that they can for their figurehead, GW Bush, since such triumphs are rare for him and in fact non-existent, will quickly and loudly trumpet this breakthrough, saying something like, "Look, this didn't happen till scientists got over resisting our lord's unbending opposition to embryonic research, and they started looking hard at using cells from skin instead." But note that in the article the scientific spokesman said that the advance was based on embryonic stem cell research.

This breakthrough has been announced so quickly, just weeks after the scientists had announced that skin cells could be used, that I wouldn't be surprised if, years hence, when the Repubs have been sufficiently declawed and defanged, it will come out that in fact embryonic instead of skin stem cells were actually used on the sickle cell mice. Otherwise everything happened way too fast, I would say.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

American Respect

Late last night I tried to record a documentary that appeared on the Sundance Channel, called "The Last Jews in Libya." It was about one of the last families of Sephardic Jews to leave Libya, when in the 1967 War the intolerance of the Arabs rose to such a pitch that it was no longer safe for Jews to stay in Libya, though they had been a part of the life there for hundreds of years.

When an elder of this family told one of his Arab friends that he was going to the U.S., the friend said something like, "The U.S. is a nice place, but you should know that there is one bad thing about Americans. They have no respect."

He meant respect for the wisdom of elders, which meant men only, and more especially the practice of all sorts of .expressions of that respect that had been built up in Libyan society over the ages.

A woman member of that family confirmed that when she mentioned how, for instance, in Libya women didn't dare to sit in certain ways in the presence of elders, such as cross-legged, but had to always sit up straight, etc,etc. She said that from her first day in the U.S. she had observed her fellow refugees discarding such customs by the boatload.

When I heard that, I was once again glad that I am an American. Though I am well aware that it is often carried to unpleasant extremes, all in all I like American sauciness and the Mark Twainian, Richard Pryorian, Lennie Brucian brand of irreverence for practically everything. It's the kind of thing that makes America great and that makes it so much of a pleasure and a privilege to be a citizen here, much more so than do hordes of men with guns and questionable feats such as sending men to the Moon and even the worship of goddesses like Britney Spears, whose frolics and follies must be religiously observed in the news daily (at least on the online news)..

One would think that since I am now elderly myself, I would welcome the idea of being respected merely because I have accumulated so many years. But not so. I have not observed that age automatically makes people wiser, and I have long thought that age merely intensifies what we always were.
Scientists tell us that we are born with all the brain cells that we will ever have, and that from that moment on we lose 500 of those precious items an hour, and that unlike all our other cells they are never replaced. I repeat, NEVER! This means that of the hundred billion that I was born with, so far I have lost close to 333 million, plus a few millions more that may have gone when as a child I failed to keep a close enough eye on a rock that was hurled at me by a contemporary when he failed to get the best of me during a serious difference of opinion..

That's not a bad number. I can live with it. But it also means that, like everyone else, if quantity of brain cells is any measure (it may not be), I am not as smart now as I was when I was only six. It was just that at that age I didn't have as much information to work with.

Until recently I liked a statement that Richard Pryor, the late great comedian, put into the mouth of one of his characters, Mudbone. "You don't get old being no fool, you know." For a long time that comment had the ring of absolute truth to me, even though I must have been aware that it had holes.

That awareness has been heightened so much since the elections of 2000 that now it can be said without fear of refutation that one has only to take a peek into the U.S. Capitol Building or the Supreme Court building or the White House to see gangs of old fools.cavorting about. Those are the kinds of rat holes down which a lot of American respect has disappeared in recent years.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Demolished Bridge

I have to make a correction to my previous post. I did leave one bridge in a complete state of collapse behind me, but it happened in utter silence, and none of the principals involved except me were ever aware of my action. That was because it took place not in a moment of anger but in one of my private, considerable dismay.

When I graduated from high school, there was a gap of a couple of months before I could start college because, due to something that probably is rarely allowed these days, I had "skipped" half a grade. To fill that gap my mother found a job for me, as a delivery boy for a corner grocery just two blocks from our house. Using a big bike with a big basket attached to the handlebars, I delivered groceries to people in the nearby neighborhood who ordered stuff by phone. I guess that, like corner grocery stores themselves, that's another amenity of the old days that vanished long ago.

That job didn't compare with working in a coal mine a thousand feet underground, and I was diligent, but after a while the situation started taking me through some serious changes.

I was the lowest in a crew of three, which included the grocer himself and another rainbow, a girl slightly older than me, and, including the grocer, we all worked without stopping, from daybreak till well after dark in that beat-up, gray, scruffy, dusty, confining little building.

I suppose that maneuvering that bicycle through the city streets with heavy bags in the basket was the hardest part for me, as I had had practically no experience at riding a bike. When I wasn't delivering I also had to do all sorts of other menial things, though that didn't bother me much, because the other two in the crew, including the grocer, were also laboring at generally the same sort of tasks, and presumably not for that much more gratification. I forget how much I was paid. I want to say 25 dollars a week, but even that sounds like more that it was.

No, what got me was when one evening I caught a glimpse of where all our labors were really directed.

The grocer, his wife, and his daughter lived in an apartment up above the store, in a state of "splendid isolation," because they were ethnically different from all the surrounding neighborhood. Occasionally the wife, while still wearing her downtown D.C. finery. would help out in the store alongside us ragmuffins for short periods at the cash register, but that evening was the only time I ever went upstairs into their lair or saw the daughter, because she was always at school or elsewhere downtown and I never once saw her in the store. But when I got that look at her, right away I could tell that she was the type who was always beautifully dressed and used to all the comforts and conveniences that her father's unending labors and cares could afford her. She was a true hothouse princess whose well-being and exclusivity depended utterly on the sweat of the grime-stained laborers below her.

I suppose that it seemed to me that this scene had been anticipated many times earlier, on slave plantations all across the South, where the master drove his minions unceasingly so that, for one thing, his ladyfolk could be kept in style.

I was intensely relieved when, after about two months, I had to start my freshman classes at nearby Howard, and I was able to quit that job, and meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone, I did away with the bridge that had connected me to that store, in the same sort of way that I have always disposed of anything and anybody that offends of me, and I've found that it always works..

In this case I would never ever walk on the same side of the street as that store. I would hurry down that avenue on the other side while desperately hoping that no one unlucky to be still toiling away in that place would see me. I didn't want to see them doing that, and I didn't want them to see me. Being still young and very much a dreamer, as i still am, I saw very little in terms of economic necessity. Instead all those periods of frenzied activity in which the three of us took part, all day every day for six days a week, while upstairs ethereal beings floated in an air of sumptuousness fed by our labors, struck me as being crazy and a complete denial of the way life should be.

I left that job while still on good terms with the grocer, and more than once he called my house, trying to get me to work there again, temporarily. But even though I could've sorely used even that little money, I would have none of it. Working in that place had been far too dreary, demanding, and demeaning. Worst of all, it had offered absolutely no prospect of a better day ahead for anyone, including the grocer.

Eventually I moved out of that neighborhood and then out of the city, and even now the memory makes me realize anew how beneficial geographical distance and the passage of time can be.

Burning Bridges

When he left the job that I mentioned in my post yesterday, Rook was so irked by the difficulties and indifference that he had to deal with in his International Falls situation that he didn't give his supervisor the customary two-weeks notice when he found a new job. That could be called burning a bridge behind him, couldn't it?

Like most people who get to hang around on the planet for a while, I've left numerous bridges behind me, employment and otherwise, but because I was fortunate in that none of these departures took place in moments of pique, none of those bridges were left afire.
But I have to confess that I have also never had any occasion to cross back over any of them. So does this mean that burning a bridge behind one's self doesn't really rate as being a concern?

I assume I'm only able to say this because midway in my life's journey, I left my hometown and moved 170 miles southwest in Virginia, and I have gone back to D.C. only on two or three of the most dire, life and death occasions. Therefore, except for a few people, I have no knowledge of what has become of all the throngs that I grew up among and was educated among and worked and played with through my first 45 years or so. It's as if my past has been chopped cleanly in half with one stroke of a samurai sword , so that everyone that I encounter now, in person, has seen me around or heard anything of me only since 1976, when we bought this property, and not since 1931, when I was born.

That is a very curious situation to be in, and it's one that I don't know whether or not I should be happy to accept, but there it is.

That the pain that I might feel there is actually unjustified is suggested by remembering that just a few years after I had been out of high school and then college, both in D.C., I was surprised to notice that in the course of day-to-day life I would almost never see any of my acquaintances from a previous but recent phase. I didn't see how that was possible. The rainbow (sloppily called "black") sections of D.C.in NW and NE didn't strike me as being that big, and in those days I got out into the world much, much more than I do now..
The puzzlement of this is increased by the fact that now, when I go to either of the two supermarkets in the two nearest towns, 10 and 14 miles away, it is rare for me not to see at least one person that I know, and often more than one, yet I am still a relative newcomer here, and I also have a reputation as being something of a hermit.. Admittedly these towns are small, but the supermarkets are not much smaller than the ones nearest to me were in D.C., but in that big city that would almost never happen. I would rarely if ever see anyone in the stores that I knew, not even my next door neighbors. Nada. No one. Weird.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Let a Remedy Be Found

Among some other weblogs, I have for a long time felt allied with one called Rooks Rant, presided over by a consistently interesting fellow named Guy Andrew (Something.) I've forgotten temporarily the third component of his name, but I recall that it makes him sound like one of those mythical knights of yore.

In the time that I've observed him Rook has been through a lot of travails, and one thing that makes keeping up with his weblog so worthwhile is that he has apparently taken to heart the ancient injunction, "Know thyself," and he is not sparing in taking clear-eyed looks at himself, a rare thing, as we all know.

But knowing where he lived, in Minnesota, I would've thought that his difficulties would have a lot to do with the weather, because when I think of that state two things come to my mind first -- its weather and its consistently progressive politics. Though I've haven't been watching lately, I'm hanging on to my ancient impression that that state's voting eye is matched in virtue only by the record of my own home town, notwithstanding lapses like Minnesota's choosing Jesse Ventura as governor, and a much greater error in D.C.'s choice for a long while of Marion Barry as mayor. But when I made the mistake of giving Guy Andrew some idea of my impression of Minnesota's weather, which, when it comes to being cold, strikes me as being the most extreme anywhere in the U.S., including Alaska, he rather curtly replied that Minnesotans were used to it and there was no reason to be critical of it, etc, etc.

No, he almost never mentions Minnesota's burial in the ice pack, and from his weblog you will instead get a real and consistently interesting saga -- as befits a probable descendant of the Vikings -- involving mainly his employment.

He is in the very worthwhile field of counseling people afflicted with chemical dependency, but apparently where he lives it's not easy to get and to hold a good, stable, sufficiently paid position in which he can help these dependents pull things back together, because of budget and other kinds of problems.

Just lately, however, he managed to extricate himself from a position in which he was obliged to make a weekly 300+ mile drive northward to International Falls, traditionally the Weather Channel's marker place for the coldest spot in the entire lower 48. That drive alone impressed me greatly, because I have gotten so daunted by making a mere 10 mile drive to the nearest town in almost always moderate weather that it is probably mental .

When Rook talked to his former employer, hoping to hear something encouraging on his salary situation, which had grown dire, partly because of the great expense of that epic commute, the boss merely said something like, "Well, you'll just have to do something about that, won't you?"

That reminded me of the time when King Philip of Spain, a few centuries ago, the patron of the great painter, Velasquez, was told by his chief minister that Spain's province of Portugal had decided to break off and go it alone. The King, like Guy Andrew's boss, couldn't be bothered, and all he could find to say was, "Let a remedy be found."

So Portugal broke off and went on to become, like Spain, a bigtime colonizer and enslaver of people itself, and meanwhile the former boss has been left to face things in the ultimate icebox of International Falls, Minnesota without the stellar services of Guy Andrew, and now Rook's place of employment is only 20 miles away from his house and family, and hopefully that much more blissful situation will last far into the future ...whenever of course he can get to work even from there, because a big ice- and snowstorm is lashing Minnesota and other midwestern states even as I type, while here in Virginia the relatively balmy weather keeps going on and on, to the point where we might welcome some water from the skies ourselves, even that frigid sort.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Global warming and the Know-Nothings

I am totally baffled as to why some conservatives are so hell-bent on denying the fact of global warming,.or climate warming as it is called in some parts.

For instance, in April of this year one of their leading lights, Jerry Falwell, published a two-page article in his National Liberty Journal "newspaper for conservative Christians," saying that global warming is a hoax being inflicted on the country by liberals and the like, and that it is all just a bunch of foolishness. He accused liberals of wanting to use the warnings to inflict major economic damage on the U.S. He added that the whole thing is an attempt to change the subject from what should be the main effort in America, and that is improving moral values. The global warming outcry, said Falwell, is Satan's work, in his attempt "redirect" the work of the church.

Unfortunately, just weeks after this article appeared, Jerry Falwell was obliged to board the spaceship that takes us all on the Eternal Journey out of Earth's warm embrace, and that allowed him to evade answering for all this fiddle-faddle, while the island nation of Tuvalu continues to be gradually covered over by the sea, and while more of the Arctic ice cap melts away to the point that the fabled Northwest Passage, the site of so much frustration to mariners trying to break through its ice in centuries past, is now such an easy jaunt that suddenly Canada has a long channel through its north that unexpectedly it has to line with a lot of expensive security forces, and while so much ice has fallen into the sea off of Antartica that thousands of miles away, outside London, that marvel of engineering called the Thames Barrier, instead of being used once every few years, as was envisioned, now has to be raised several times a year.

Falwell argued , and I assume his parishioners swallowed the nonsense whole, that it would take 550 trillion dollars to do what that the global warming "alarmists" are urging.

What? Correct me if I'm wrong but there isn't that much money in the whole world and never has been!

As to what Christians should be doing instead of trying to correct human effects on the atmosphere, he recited 1 Corinthians, 2:2, which reads:"For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

This seems not only to hark back to another notorious bunch of regressives, the Know-Nothing party of the American 19th century, but also it brings to mind the year 1588 when Philip 2 of Spain was unleashing his armada on Queen Elizabeth 1 and England, and one of his admirals asked how were they also going to prepare for the weather in the often stormy English Channel, and the King replied that since they were servants of God, God would take care of that. Yet the gigantic, proud fleet had barely gotten clear of the Spanish coast when a storm forced them to scurry back into port with some damage, and thereby they suffered a fatal loss of time.

I got the idea from reading the context of that verse that Paul was speaking only of what he meant to do in his sermon to the Corinthians that day, since it was so close to Easter, and not instead prescribing that worship and the like should be the sum total of Christian action.

Can it be that conservatives and other regressives leave all common sense behind and instead take their stands on global warming and many other matters in crazy and harmful wayspurely because people that they despise, like Al Gore, have opposite views?

I think so, and I think that is one of the main reasons why the Bush terms in office have been so disastrous. The Republicans don't examine issues with regard to whether they're worthwhile or not, or moral or immoral, or needed or unneeded, or whether it's good for the country and for the planet and all its inhabitants, sapiens or not. Instead they check out what the Democrats are saying and then decide that the exact opposite is the way to go, and all their lemming supporters swarm blindly behind them, leaving the rest of the country -- that is, the sectors that are not sleep-walking -- to struggle not to be dragged by the multitudes of the Unthinking too close to the edge of a lot of towering cliffs..