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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, August 31, 2008

Poor, Dumb Sonsabitches -- 2

In case anyone wanted to jump with both feet on my recent post with a similar title, here are excerpts from a report in the Herald Tribune, the global NY Times publication....

With no military training - neither had ever fired a gun - the two young men left their homes in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, hours after Georgia began its offensive against South Ossetia, expecting to be greeted as comrades and heroes by the Georgian soldiers they believed they would meet at the front. ...As the two entered Tskhinvali about 1 a.m. on Aug. 9, they sang popular patriotic tunes to avoid being shot by the Georgian soldiers they expected to be lurking in the dark.

...In fact, as the young men moved in, the Russian military was pushing Georgian forces out of the city. Instead of Georgian troops, they attracted the attention of a group of South Ossetian soldiers.

"They asked what we wanted," Monasalidze said. "I said, 'I'm Georgian and this is our land; we want Tskhinvali."' They were immediately bundled into a vehicle, taken to police headquarters and shut into a cell. ...Because they were young and from the capital, they were immediately suspected of belonging to a reserve unit and singled out for special abuse,

They said they had been kicked, punched and beaten with rifle butts regularly. Kharadze had wounds on his arms from being burned with cigarettes. On several occasions, they were forced to their knees and made to think they would be killed, they said.

"I'm 22 and I feel like I'm already a 70-year-old grandfather," Monasalidze said, his long, shaggy hair obscuring his eyes.

After 19 days in captivity, the young men were released along with 85 others last Wednesday in exchange for 13 Ossetians held by the Georgians.

Both young men said they would join the fight again if necessary, though they would like to be better prepared next time.

Maybe they should cherish the mistreatment that they experienced at the hands of the South Ossetians, because at the rate they're going, that could easily have been the only opportunity they will ever get to enjoy the pleasure of being 70..

So, Palin

Cleverly but cheaply waiting to make the announcement at a time calculated to blunt the impact of what was nevertheless a highly successful speech given by B. Obama in the great outdoors of Colorado after he had finally been ratified as the official Democratic candidate for President, J. McCain, the Republican, said that he had decided on Sarah Palin as his VP running mate.

A lot of people professed to be surprised, though the likelihood had been in the air for as many as two days.

S. Palin is a young, pleasant-faced woman, not the sourpuss man that you would expect from that end of the spectrum. Neverthless she is the governor of grizzled, hard-drinking Alaska, a place said to be a U.S. state, though I wonder how many from the other 49 states have ever set foot there. A tiny number I would bet. And barely more than 160 years ago the Russians had been able to lay enough claim to it to be able to "sell" it to the U.S. for what was a steal even in those days. Still enough Americans were scornful enough of the deal to call it "Seward's Folly," but that was before even Wyatt Earp reported there in his older days to pick up some of the gold lying on the ground, and in the next century oil was discovered under the ground, and now in this third century -- or so McCain and the Repubs desperately hope -- we have yet another precious, just discovered resource in the person of Ms Palin.

Still you have to wonder. Statehood or not, if you've ever been there and taken a modest look around outside its only two towns of any consequence, Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska will seem as if it is a separate country, like Canada, and just on loan from the Eskimos and the Inuit. It's indistinguishable from Canada's British Columbia and the Yukon, which you have to cross a lot of to get there, if you're not flying, and Alaska is disconnected from the rest of the U.S. by much more than just geography. It is bigger than Texas and more beautiful and awe-inspiring than any of the states including California, not least because it has fewer people than all but one or two of the states. Alaska is a world apart, so that, while campaigning through the next two months, S. Palin will really be introducing herself to the country of which the Repubs will try to lead us to believe that she deserves to be the leader-in-waiting.

Granted I was last in Alaska -- and the only time I've set foot there -- way back in 1968, but I haven't heard of anything happening, not even the oil pipeline, that could've changed it much. And before becoming governor, Ms Palin's executive experience politically was confined to having been the mayor of a town of 6,000. And now -- as the saying used to be, but now is likely to be snuffed out by the Repubs wherever possible -- her virtues are apparently so numerous that she has more prospect than any other American except J. Biden, of landing just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

And in this case what a shaky heartbeat that would be. In this very interesting article, another Navy man who was detained by the North Vietnamese two years longer than McCain and who definitely doesn't think McCain's candidacy is a good idea, says that their group of ex-prisoners is sadly experiencing a notably lower longevity rate than non-POW's.

S. Palin has already been attacked because of her lack of experience in the areas thought necessary for being President. Some Republicans especially are not at all happy with the way that her choice immediately shot down what they had thought was one of their strongest arguing points against B. Obama, his perceived lack of experience. But in her short tenure of only two years at Alaska's helm, Palin has already taken some flak for her readiness to damage Alaska's greatest asset, its environment, for the sake of extracting and selling petroleum. In Alaska she uses this to say that she did it to enrich Alaskans, but in the lower 48 she will argue that she did it for the sake of all those good folks down there.

Until McCain tapped her she was also about to be the subject of an ethics investigation, a complicated affair involving her sister's ex-husband, and pressure she is alleged to have exerted to get him fired, by having herself fired his boss. But in all likelihood this will be quietly and thoroughly quashed, now that the big brawling "Lower 48" is in the picture.

But just lately it has also turned out that Ms Palin is in favor of shooting wolves.

...Ok. That's it!

Behind that perfidy alone I would say that it is a shame that she couldn't have been left to stay at her sister's side back in Alaska, inside of at J. McCain's side, in putting the screws to her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. Poor boy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

God and the Storms

Fox News -- who else? -- is running with quiet outrage an item speaking of how Michael Moore, the liberal film guy, voiced on TV his feeling that the prospect of a hard-hitting attack by Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast and notably on New Orleans in just a few days might work against the Republicans and their convention up near the other end of the Mississippi, starting this coming Monday. He said that this shows that there must be a God after all. And indeed, Gustav is now within hours of hiking itself up to the max, a Cat 5, and so bulked up, is looking dead at New Orleans and the whole of low-lying Louisiana.

Therefore, as was only to be expected, a Republican Congressman for that area seized the opportunity to criticize Moore righteously and bitterly, and called for an apology, ostensibly on the part of his constituents, who are about to experience the worse. Yet I suspect that, the wellbeing of his voters aside for the moment, he especially relished this "heaven-sent" chance to get off an easy shot at one of the biggest scourges of the political Right.

Yet a few days previously, someone on that end of things named Stewart, apparently a sidekick of James Dobson, a prominent conservative in the bad sense of that word, was videotaped praying for God to send rain to wash out B. Obama's outdoor speech in Denver after he had received the nomination. But the weather stayed perfect. You can see that videotape here, and you can see Moore saying this and other interesting things here.

This kind of skirmishing really shows how Presidential campaigns bear out Shakespeare's comment so much to a "T," about life being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." In the heat of battle all sides finds it too easy to fall into the identical traps, and nothing shows better than this how these campaigns, for no good reason that anybody can give, are allowed to run on much too long.

I think you would still end up dead broke, if, while penniless, you had to depend on being given a dollar for every political enthusiast of every persuasion who isn't thinking the same kind of thing these days with eyes on the Caribbean, and the Atlantic, what with a whole line of storms now marching this way, one after the other, starting from Africa. And hurricanes lend themselves especially well to such thoughts, as they are commonly called "acts of God," without anyone, however, being able to furnish a shred of evidence that that is true.

How much more logical and comfortable it is, then, to think, that where anyone's political outpourings are concerned, whatever is controlling the direction and power of those storms couldn't care less. Somehow the concept of "forces of nature" is much easier on the powers of reason than is the notion of "acts of God."

...Still -- and not that deep in the recesses of his mind -- one can never stop hoping -- and even praying -- that the cosmos, which includes Earth's atmosphere and from our point of view can even be said to start with it, is indeed permeated with a sense of the fairness and justice that is so often and debonairly kept out of human affairs.

In earlier times this all used to be kept swept up together under the heading of "Providence."

Cat Junkies

For all their standoffish ways, one of the advantages (there can't be many) of keeping a bunch of cats around is that you stand a good chance of seeing how one or two can become the most dedicated kind of junkie, aided and abetted by the fact that shamelessness is nowhere to be found in their makeup.

Both times that I've seen this happen have been in the area of personal relationships. I don't know why this happens, though I would guess that all too soon, grouped cats soon get totally bored with each other, and why not? It can't take long to notice that none of their cat relatives have anything to do with furnishing the food trays, while also being badly lacking in keeping up their ends of the discussions on world affairs.

Not long ago we had a long-haired gray who was a "me" junkie. She decided early on that, for a two-legged Big Ugly, I was actually worth hanging around for long periods, and all her life she devoted herself to doing just that. And at the same time we had a short-haired black individual who was totally spoiled by my wife and was an affection junkie. He was always and forever ready for another rub, on any part of his person and no matter where it came from, from people or from other cats.

To our continuing great sadness, both those wonders are gone now, but we still have one member of our once large cat family left. And recently he, another short-haired black named Beauty, slowed up sharply in his eating, and a few days later a noticeable swelling appeared on one of his jaws.

Though, at about 19, Beauty can't have that much of a career left, I thought of going to the vet, but the last time I took one of our cats there, I was badly traumatized by having to bring her back home lifeless, due to the diagnosis of the hopelessness of her case. Besides, Beauty, as the last one lolling, had shown that he was a definite survivor, partly because of his way of working his own way out of various physical disorders.

So I let things be, while letting myself be tortured by fears of the worse, exacerbated by the absence of my wife in Florida, as she is the one in charge of his care and feeding. And sure enough, a few days ago, one morning the swelling was gone overnight, and Beauty started eating again.

Meanwhile I had been noting how all along he had been accepting a calory supplement, a mysterious -- and expensive -- substance of some uncertain color that squeezes out of a tube like toothpaste. But I had been told to give him that only once every few days, regardless.

I got to thinking, since he loves that supplement even through all his difficulties, what else has a viscosity close to it and is also sweet and that we already have plenty of?

As a former beekeeper, with several friends who are still keeping bees, I have ready access to all the honey I want, which is not that much, and I even have 2-1/2 gallons of it on hand.

So I started stirring in a few drops of honey in each of the cat's servings, and now he eagerly looks forward to every meal, at the beginning as much as four a day, or slightly more than a can a day, and though all the evidence can't be in yet, it appears that he has instantly become a honey junkie.

I don't know if the honey is bad for Beauty or not, and I don't know what my wife will think when she returns. She is something of a tyrant when it comes to intake, cat or man. But I've never heard of honey being harmful to anybody or anything. It supplies energy, it is anti-bacterial, and it is a good, all around medicine.

Anyway, like me, Beauty qualifies as being elderly, and I think that when you've reached that state, you deserve getting anything you want even if it might be harmful. And besides, that isn't likely to be much anyway, in either of our cases.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Poor, Dumb Sonsabitches

There must be one good reason above all that the soldiers of any nation are always drawn almost entirely from a particular segment of the population, one that, believe it or not, I was once a willing part of. The reason must lie in the fact that the aptitude most required to be a good soldier consists of recklessness combined with an abnormally high number of unused brain cells, and this mix is most often found in males in the first stages of their adulthood.

Compared to that, the fact that these men are also the ones most likely to be strong, agile, and fast on their feet is important but still secondary.

Youth must necessarily carry with it a certain degree of obtuseness, hiked even higher because they are totally unaware that this condition marks them, and instead they are absolutely convinced that they are in full possession of the facts. But the reality is that they haven't been in the world long enough to pick up enough information to be able to figure out the real truths of things, and along with that they are also necessarily lacking in the ability to determine how to dodge, as much as possible, the nonsense that is always offered by societies and individuals, though it seems that this can never be done with all of it.

When you think about it, a person, especially one still close to the dawn of his life, has to be fatally deficient in his thought processes to be ready and willing to give up the only life he will ever have for something he will forever afterward be unable to enjoy, his country.

Ironically, it is almost always the case that that society for which he is so willing to take some bullets will not have been nearly as generous in giving him some breaks in life as it had been with those who will remain behind to throw dirt on his coffin. In fact in most cases this youth joined the military precisely to get some better breaks, though he was allowed to do so only at the cost of making the supreme gamble that he will survive to enjoy them.

Nothing is more miraculous than a single human life here on Planet Earth. Remind yourself -- or let space travel experts inform you -- of how unimaginably far you would have to travel anywhere in the universe to find anything like it. But the existence of any nation at all falls somewhat short of being a marvel. High ideals are wonderful things to have, but countries also have governments that are too easily and often taken over by groups of gangsters who don't hesitate to set those ideals aside when they see a chance to aggrandize the country and themselves at the expense of others, or they misuse the power centers of the country to engage in endless petty squabbles, the resolution of which by peaceful means they dismiss as being only unacceptable exercises in weakness.

In sending out young men to so donate such a precious thing as their lives -- an act that in no way benefits them while the rest of the more clever elements in the population can continue to enjoy their lives for many years to come -- we hand out useless war decorations by the bucketful, and we play fast and loose with the term "hero" by applying it to anybody who puts on a uniform and picks up a gun.

That it is mandatory for a soldier to have a certain lack of wits if he is not naturally suicidal was unintentionally conceded by no less an authority on the matter than that legendary Soldier of Soldiers, the late General George S. Patton, during the Second Stage of the current Endless World War -- that is, if the speech that the late great actor, Sir George W. Scott, gave in the unforgettable beginning of the film about the pistol-packing general is accurate.

Boys, I just want you to remember one thing, Patton tells his men. Nobody ever won a war ...by giving up his life ...for his country. (Another sideways stride and a slap of his riding crop on his horse-riding boots that had been polished so diligently by his ever-reliable Rainbow orderly --I am telling this as it stands so vividly in my memory rather than verifying it on DVD.) He won the war instead by making the other poor, dumb son of a bitch die for his country."

In an earlier time, while looking at the results of yet another wholesale taking and giving of lives that he himself had ordered, another U.S. general -- W.T. Sherman I think it was -- said something like, It is well that war is so horrible, else we would become too fond of it.

What a tragedy it is for all concerned that those numerous poor, dumb souls that lay at his feet, along with the countless millions of others who are now feeding the grasses from below in forgotten fields all over the world, can't, on one particular day every year in May, send up from the earth in terrible unison the reply, Yeah! That's easy for you to say!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Matters Most: Oil Prices

Whenever it even remotely looks like a hurricane might intrude into the Gulf of Mexico, the news reports predict rises in oil prices, or that such an event has already taken place. Why is this?

The reports like to indicate that this is important because the Gulf furnishes a quarter of all the oil that the U.S. pumps on its own. The reports are considerably slower to say that the U.S. currently pumps out of its own territory only about a third of the oil it uses, if that. The reason for this reluctance must be that the recital of such a fact would sound too much like a left-handed call for conservation -- not a popular cause in the world frequented by the people who control the gathering and dissemination of news, despite all the good words to the contrary.

So what does it mean, the fact that a hurricane is looking at the Gulf of Mexico? It hasn't arrived yet, and if that does happen, it may take as much as another couple of weeks, and anyway, usually the storms find ways to meander past the drilling platforms without bothering much of anything there. So why should the prices increase so far ahead of time anyway? As soon as the hurricane is mentioned, does the oil automatically become scarcer and therefore rarer, the reason why diamonds are so expensive? Or is it greed and profiteering that are actually the main factors involved here?

Put in the simplest way possible, the explanation must be that with less product to sell, the oil companies' profits will drop if they don't raise prices to make up for the shortfall. Otherwise, without the usual revenue flowing in, they would have to cut services sharply and even go out of business, and we would have no gasoline to pour into our cars, which we don't want to see happen. But even if that explanation didn't sport a hole or two, to raise prices ahead of that time, automatically, like a tripwire kind of thing?

You have to forgive me. I'm the first to admit that I'm sadly deficient in having the proper appreciation of the ways of the world. Nor have I ever made any serious effort to correct that lack. The news writers are much more savvy in these matters, which is why they have such infinitely greater access to the prestige, the power, the money, the attention, and the beautiful women. Nevertheless, I can never help thinking that it is exactly the prevalence of this "worldly wisdom" that explains why human affairs are seldom more than a step away from disasters worse than those brought by the weather's storms.

So sometimes those reporters don't bother to mention the other likelihoods that are usually connected with hurricanes, such as floods, mudslides, windstorms, evacuations, and hurricane parties. Instead, it is all they can do to announce first that a storm is coming, along with its name, before they cut straight to the circumstance that matters most, and that shows that all remains right with the world, regardless of what the hurricanes may or may not do. Already, as in the case of the materials that will be needed later to recover from the demolitions of a storm, oil prices have risen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Reverse View

If I could see that small child who was myself exactly as he was so many years ago, I wonder what I would think of him?

And that leads me also to wonder how common it is for others to get the same kind of idea, after they find that the telescopes that are their lives have extended to such lengths that they start thinking that it might be interesting to try looking through from the other end.

Revelation No. 667

America has not yet been discovered.

Weather Update

At the exact moment that I sent off that first post about "Gustav" last night, it started raining here. Not a downpour but a gentle pattering, and now, in the dark gray dawn of the next morning, the rain is still falling and with the same casualness, punctuated with a louder burst now and then but still nothing intense, and it seems that this will go on for a good while longer. Must be remnants of Fay after all, hello and goodbye kisses, all in one.

Maybe there's something to that thing about "Ask and ye shall be given" -- if you putter and mutter in there long enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Happening! Now "Gustav!"

Up here the temp is staying in the 70's F, and it's been cloudy and even threatening all day, and high probabilities of showers are forecast for tomorrow and the next day, and all that is good. But as of right now rainlessness still keeps its silent steely grip on this area, as it has for maybe as far back as June.

Meanwhile, though I've never seen this issue addressed, at the start of each season I wonder if the many other hurricane fanciers like me have to cope with the idea that we might actually be cheering sections silently shouting, "Bring on the disasters," which is all that those affected by landslides, floods, and overpowering winds see in the storms. The answer must lie in the fact that hurricanes are part of the weather, which is not listening to its enthusiasts anymore than it is to the prayers of those who are about to feel its most drastic affects.

On the heels of the whimsical and wayward Fay, with its little record of making not one but four landfalls and all in the same state, things are finally falling into the expected groove, and now another hurricane, this time one developing in the grand and traditional style, is on the move, and it looks as if all the conditions are just right.

It has, as Fay did, an appropriate name, Gustav, which brings to mind the Viking raiders in the long boats, or Teuton warriors in the Hundred Years War, ranging over large parts of Europe and leaving almost total desolation wherever they went.

The center of Gustav is moving at about 6 mph to the west and slightly north, whirling along over warm Caribbean waters just south of Cuba. That speed looks as if it will give the storm plenty of chance to intensify. And if it keeps going in that direction, in about five days it could be a Category 3 and poised to break all land tackles and burst into the open field of the Gulf of Mexico, where we are told the "current loops" are just right to coil Gustav even tighter, into something really major wherever it might finally hit land and unwind.

As this weblog sometimes touches on political matters, I was happy to find the following statement in Weather Nerd. It just goes to show how everything is tied together, and even with politics.

If Gustav is indeed a major hurricane — maybe even a Category 4 or 5 behemoth — in the western Caribbean, with its sights set on the Gulf of Mexico, by week’s end, it could steal a bit of thunder from Barack Obama’s big acceptance speech on Thursday, and from John McCain’s expected runningmate announcement on Friday. The impact on the Republican convention next week could be even more significant, as the convention might coincide with a U.S. landfall. This could be especially awkward if McCain’s V.P. pick happens to be Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who might have to skip the convention altogether, depending on Gustav’s timing and track.

Obviously, then, right now doesn't appear to be a good time to fall into love, to hit the lottery, to die, to have major surgery, to discover America, or to engage in any other of the small pursuits. There are too many forecasts waiting just ahead for us to see how they come out,, and after those some more, and more after that, and so on and so forth, far into the future.

Black Snake Visitor

In this dry summer -- if that has anything to do with it -- we have sighted black snakes -- or a black snake -- more often than usual, once on one of the side decks of our house, and the other times close to my workshop. But black snakes will do that. If, on first spotting one, you don't express displeasure with their presence by the usual drastic means that can't be at all pleasant for them, at some other time in the same season they will make a second appearance in the same vicinity, and maybe a third as well, and even a fourth. But they do it always by surprise, and I am glad that even with my somewhat blurred vision, I still have no trouble in spotting one, and I have to think that it as surprised as I am and uncomfortably so.

They show up stretched straight out somewhere where you want to step, but they are easily distinguished from being a stick or a shadow because of their sheer richness of pigment, their sheen, and the gentle, undulating differences in thickness along their whole length. But a black snake likes to remain still until you show your intentions, and if you get too close its front end will immediately rise and coil up cobra-like, while making a hiss and also showing its white underside, I guess in the hope that you will forget that it is only a black snake and its bite is non-lethal. I've never been bitten but I have picked up a couple by their tails and flung them somewhere else where I figured they meant to be all the while.

And speaking of where they are meant to be, black snakes are known for finding their way into houses, and one of those that, if I remember correctly, I picked up I found here in this workshop shortly after I finished building it and when the building wasn't loaded with nearly as much stuff as it is now. But so far, after 30 years, none has invaded the house as yet, though there must be hundreds of suitable openings between all the oak planks that have shrunk and drawn apart from each other, in the process of drying after having been put up tight while green. And I have seen black snakes and evidences of them in the form of their discarded skins in several of my outbuildings and also up over the edges of the rough oak boards under the eaves of my house, and once one even put on a show for some of my wife's Boston relatives by doing his shedding bit right on the outside of a window.

Though my blood and nerves carry the instinctive fear of the species in spite of anything that my head might formulate, I am fascinated by snakes, and always have been. And my head does a good job of reminding me that the black snakes have been here for eons longer than any of my species, and that therefore, whatever I might erect or do here, I am still always only their guest in these woods, and not the reverse.

It's hard to understand people who slough off with a vengeance all recognition of that totally obvious fact.

The Olympics

The Olympics, held this time in China, have already ended, when it seemed that they had only started yesterday. The mixed appraisals are already well underway, but the main thing is that, as usual, some people have won while many more, there and back in the athletes' home countries, have lost. And everyone who went was glad at least just to have been in Beijing, or so we are told. At least it was in the summertime.

I used to be as interested in the Olympics as most others. I especially liked the marathons and the track relays, especially if, in the latter event during that ethnically restricted era, the winning quartets consisted mostly of people who at birth had been dipped into the same widely scorned vat of dye as me. But as the decades wore on I couldn't help reaching the same conclusion that also applied to pro football, pro baseball, pro basketball, rock concerts, and all other events that draw the ravings of millions, which was that if you've seen and -- as importantly, because of all the "nation" garbage -- heard one Olympics, you've pretty much seen and heard them all.

This happens due partly to the truth of the old Roman dictum that all glory is fleeting and partly because of the necessity of receiving the broadcasts accompanied by the comments of some noticeably scrubby, mere mortals. The original Olympics, you might remember, were held under the auspices of gods. That was where they lived, you know, somewhere atop Mt. Olympus.

If my ignorance of how all those all-important contests turned out over those years left huge gaps in my head that, in the absence of that information, could only be filled with toxic substances, I would now be in a lot of trouble. But things must not work that way.

I kind of thought so. Because otherwise how did so many generations of ancient Mayans and Incas live out their lives contentedly enough while never knowing what the ancient Greeks and Romans were doing at the same moments, and vice-versa? This shows that airtight parallel universes can and do co-exist without a hitch even on one and the same planet, though in this age that proposition is being put to a severe test.

And meanwhile that lack left plenty of room for my head to pack in instead practically all that there is to know about the rigors of listening for thunder, and a little about many other cool things as well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Mindlessness is Total"

At the Downside World News today you can find an article called "Are You Ready for Nuclear War?" Because this article uses spare, pared-to-the-bone language and because its author clearly has his thoughts together and has access to all the facts, it is an unusually gripping read, and also cheering, because it makes you realize that there are still some people in this country, even among Republicans, who care and can see perfectly well through all the smoke and mirrors.

Instead of the excerpt below, I could have chosen any other paragraph or groups of paragraphs from the article, and it would've been equally as informative, interesting, and packing a real punch. The author is an old-line Republican, and here he is speaking of the right-wingers who have taken over his party. He calls them "Brownshirts," a name that was used for the pre-Nazi thugs because of their garb, before the takeover of Germany by A. Hitler and his adherents in the early 1930's. In fact, this article looks just like something a guy like that might write while in a cold, concentrated fury after receiving a particular piece of mail:

I get emails from these Brownshirts and attest that their hate-filled ignorance is extraordinary. They are all Republicans, and yet they think they are conservatives. They have no idea who I am, but since I criticize the Bush Regime and America’s belligerent foreign policy, they think I am a “liberal commie pinko.”

The only literate sentence this legion of fools has ever managed is: “If you hate America so much, why don’t you move to Cuba!”

Such is the current state of a Reagan political appointee in today’s Republican Party. He is a “liberal commie pinko” who should move to Cuba.

The Republicans will get us into more wars. Indeed, they live for war. McCain is preaching war for 100 years. For these warmongers, it is like cheering for your home team. Win at all costs. They get a vicarious pleasure out of war. If the US has to tell lies in order to attack countries, what’s wrong with that? “If we don’t kill them over there, they will kill us over here.”

The mindlessness is total.

How often have we heard, over and over in our own fracases with the Nasties, two of the same incredibly tired propositions that, as related in the excerpt above, the author's "Brownshirts" whipped out against him from their backflaps purely by reflex, which are always resorted to with an absolute "case closed" certainty, as if the numerous possible rebuttals, much less the refutations, can't possibly exist..

The author is Paul Craig Roberts, and he was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan Administration, and also he was an editor for the Wall Street Journal and for the National Review.

You know the modern Republican party has totally failed not only the country but also itself, when it can so thoroughly be nailed to the wall by someone with such impeccable credentials -- and a real talent for plain thought and plain speaking, and in this article he does an astonishing job of putting it all out there.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Poland has never been a place to be envied, and this is in spite of having produced, in the 19th Century, two phenomenal pianists and composers, Frederic Chopin and Ignacy J. Paderewski (though the latter had all the appearance of having been teleported into Poland from another universe), and in the next century, probably the toughest union organizer of all time, an unsmiling bird named Lech Walesa, whose efforts with his movement, Solidarity, were, in my opinion, the thing that, more than the efforts of Mikhail Gorbachev or Ronald Reagan, really set afoot the process of stripping Russia of its massive and ungainly hairsuit, the U.S.S.R., that it had struggled with wearing for about 70 years.

(To that distinguished trio I happily expected to have the pleasure of adding the film actress, Linda Kozlowski, but alas, she turns out to have been born in nothing more than Connecticut, which is also responsible for J. "Lapdog" Lieberman. And besides, I couldn't quickly find a good 20-year-old pic of her to lift. But she was truly a marvel in her younger days, and her presence, along with Paul Hogan's "You want to see a knife? I'll show you a knife" scene, is the main reason for taking another look at 1986's "Crocodile Dundee." But she may very well still be a wonder today, not least because one of her main assets was her super-musical voice. Maybe because it is so well protected inside from everything except smoke and drunkenness, in most people the voice seems to stay intact long after everything else has started to lapse.)

So, added to its misfortune in not having directly produced Ms Koslowski, Poland traditionally has also suffered from lying directly between two of the biggest and baddest characters of recent times, the Germans and the Russians, with no oceans, mountains, deserts, canyons, icefields, or even respectable rivers to help protect it. So it consistently gets the short end of the stick whenever those two monsters -- and others -- get the idea of bloating themselves.

And to that natural misery of their unfortunate physical and human geography, the Poles are now suffering from the fact that that very subject, geography, is not taught in their school systems.

The most obvious result is that just a few days ago they signed a deal with GWBush and C. Rice, that horrible pair whose badly extended honeymoon in the White House is now, hopefully, just a few months from ending, to have a missile defense installation installed on their territory right in the Russians' faces. And in defense of themselves, the pair and whoever is haplessly in charge in Poland these days boldfacedly insult the intelligence by saying that the shield is to be directed not against the close-by Russians but against the distant Iranians, when in fact the Iranians are lucky to have any handfuls of sand to lob into faces, much less H-bomb-tipped missiles that can reach targets several thousand miles away. And besides, the geographical positions of Iran and Poland relative to each other don't appear to have any connection, unless missiles these days are programmed to take crazy turns in their flights.

So that shield installation can be intended only for one purpose, to irritate the Russians, and the Poles should know all the dangers of that. But obviously history, because it has been so unkind to them, is also banned from their lesson plans. But that is no reason to be unkind to themselves and so abandon any kind of good sense and prudence.

Because, when it comes to Poland, the Russians have shown time and time again that they just don't care, and, as everywhere else, the modern ones are little different from their predecessors, going back hundreds and even thousands of years.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Three More Biden Thoughts

1. Envy is so strong in humans that it can never be counted out entirely.

J. Biden has been a familiar fixture on the national political scene -- and with open ambitions -- for so much longer than B. Obama that it is almost an understatement to say so. He has long since thrown his hat in the ring for President, and probably more than once, but failed to whip up enough excitement. So what does he think about his new position as second to this newcomer who, because he can induce excitement aplenty, has gotten much closer to the grand prize than Biden ever had the chance to be?

But that question pales next to another that asks, what about those who for various reasons that they wouldn't want to say aloud, would be more in sympathy with Biden than with Obama, even if previously they had never had any use for that liberal, after noting that this man that they would instinctively consider to be inferior to Biden is nevertheless the big cheese in the effort, while Biden is only playing second fiddle. They might see this pairing only as a humiliation for their idea of the more deserving senator from Delaware, due to his seniority in all respects and to the fact that he looks like them, and, thinking that he should not be part of this, they would vow to take it out on the ticket regardless.

2. There can be no doubt at all that the choice of Biden is a huge improvement over J. Lieberman as the Democratic VP candidate in 2000. And though Lieberman is now a supposed Independent and is supposed to be allied with the Democrats in the Senate, in the role that he has been polishing for a while as the chief J. McCain lapdog, he is going to be a speaker of high interest at the upcoming Republican National Convention. And actually, instead of being disgusted, Democrats should be happy with the prospect, because this flaccid man must have been a miscalculation for everyone from the day he was born

Connecticut is a respectable state. It has produced a number of worthwhile senators. So what do the affluent voters of that state see in this man who has so many limp aspects? Taxes, it must be, because it seems that once you get some money, taxes become No. 1, and all other considerations for the common good are left to sink or swim.

3. Nobody in Congress is better informed on Iraq or has been more active in presenting ideas for salvaging that situation than J.Biden. He has probably been there more times than J. McCain. But the national media has done such a good job of concealing the pain of the Iraqis from Americans that recent polls are saying that instead, the badly threatened American economy is the No. 1 concern. Iraq is 7,000 miles away, but the economy is right here, up close and personal, and there's only so much the media can do to mask the pain of that on behalf of GWBush and the Republicans.

So is Biden as up on subprime mortgages and trillion-dollar derivatives as he is on Iraq? Actually Iraq is such a drain on the government that it and the state of the economy are closely intertwined. In any case I'm sure that the first chance he gets, J. Biden will expound to us on that and on other matters as well. You can already see his gleaming smile. He will be happy to.

What Abouit Fay Now?

As a true weather junkie -- in the hurricane season -- I still can't take my eyes off Fay, because it has turned out to be a real character, though on the hard-headed side. As of right now it is still messing around with the Florida Panhandle, but the 5-day forecast shows it getting ready to pick up some steam, finally, and moving westward while still dropping lots of rain on all those Gulf Coast people that really don't need that much of it, till, over New Orleans, it will then make another 90-degree turn, to its right in a northeastern direction, as I had hoped it would. But by then, if not enough of it has passed over water in the meantime to give it some oomph, it is scheduled to become just another wet memory before getting very far.

Obama's Choice

It's Saturday, and as promised, B. Obama has revealed his choice for his Vice-Presidential running mate. It is Senator J. Biden of Delaware.

That's okay, but I'm still surprised. I didn't know he was that high up in the calculations. But I admit I hadn't been paying much attention. People consistently get worked up over things that I think are barely worth mentioning, while they ignore things that I think should be right up front and center. So I had no chance to get caught up in all the suspense and shortness of breath that preceded this announcement.

I thought, and still think that H. Clinton would have been the most obvious choice, but, aware that too much bad blood may have flowed over the dam during the primaries, not between her and Obama but between their supporters, I had whispered to the Obamarites, How about Jeff Bingaman, of New Mexico? But clearly they didn't hear me, and I doubt if his name otherwise ever came up.

Like Biden, Bingaman has been in the Senate for a long time, but he may very well be its quietest member, Biden's complete opposite, and that may be why no one else looked his way.. I remember him from some televised hearings back in 1989, that showed a Senate committee closely examining a case that led to the impeachment and removal from the bench of a Federal District Judge named Alcee Hastings (who, however, later fought his way back to become a Congressman from, I think, Florida). On a committee filled with rambunctious, noisy, in-your-face characters, Bingaman was the chairman. I had trouble understanding that. It was just like a couple of local businesses that I could tell you about, where you could never tell who the head honchos are, even after several visits.

He had hardly anything to say, yet you could tell that nothing was escaping his attention, and when he had to make various judgments, which were frequent, they always seemed reasonable and fair, and he had the obvious respect of all his colleagues. And also Bingaman looked the part.

He looks just like the good, fair-minded sheriffs that you occasionally saw in the westerns of my childhood, as if he is full from his toes to his crown with sound judgment combined with eminent restraint, the kind of guy that the fates are kind to, and you can bet that he would have finished his Navy career without having crashed any of its planes. He would make a very Gary Cooperish, "High Noon" kind of Vice-President, or President. But as that would make so much good sense, such a thing never has the slightest chance to happen.

Biden has been fighting the good fight for decades, and he's been very successful at it, to be a Democratic senator from a tiny state that has no reputation for being progressive and whose main distinction to my eye is that it houses the southern ends of the twin bridges that comprise the Wilmington Bridge on I-95, an ever-impressive sight that always hiked up the enjoyment of the many drives that -- incredibly to me now --I once used to make routinely between D.C. and N.Y. But the fact that he is a successful politician from Delaware has helped make me suspect that there's something not quite right with him.

I've had a lot of years to watch and to hear Biden in action, and it has always seemed that while he has a lot going for him, there's still one little thing missing from his mental makeup that would really make him a force to be reckoned with. I've never been able to give it a name, and the closest I can get is to say that it is as if, during the forging of his samurai sword, the steel was pounded a time or two too few.

But I will say this. Though incomplete, he is still a good guy, and he has such a huge reputation for volubility that even a whole team of raving Republicans will never be able to outdo him in the production of words on any subject. And in a Presidential campaign like this that is so filled with sound and fury, that's going to count for a lot. ...Maybe everything. --Yes, definitely everything.

Friday, August 22, 2008

McCain's Houses

I pay a lot more attention to J. McCain than I do to B. Obama. This isn't merely because J. McCain's mission is a thousand-fold more pernicious.

Though I had no idea that he even existed until a couple of years ago, I already know all about B. Obama. This is because, among other things, we both had dark-skinned fathers who unfortunately had to leave here early, and we both also had strong, loving mothers who were much more lacking than their mates in melanin and who are now also resting in peace somewhere.

Actually B. Obama is running as my surrogate. I would be doing it, to put into effect the actions in office that I've been working out in my mind since Roosevelt's time, but B. Obama is younger and has much more stomach for the huge amount of garbage that would inevitably accompany such an effort, especially because of our matching melanin counts. Or maybe he's just more foolhardy than Colin Powell, who, however, is now thoroughly disgraced anyway, because of the phial of powder that he brandished at the U.N. in 2003. In B. Obama's place, at some point I know I would have thrown up my hands in disgust at all the offal thrown at me and would've wished away everything, and that wish would've been granted, and so would have ended that particular prospect of good times for America.

I already know about J. McCain, too. I have seen him many times, in many places, and in many guises. ever since my mother remarried in 1939 and took me and my sister out into the Maryland countryside, where instead of everybody being of a wide range of tints in D.C. everybody instead had restricted themselves to that one particular hue, the one of her father. But, with all his bumptiousness and becaise he is running on an unspoken but obvious platform of keeping the bad times crawling, J. McCain makes such a tempting, easy, and well-deserving target, as the North Vietnamese discovered to their great glee and satisfaction, and it may have been just his attitude while in their hands that helped increase their resolve in their eventually winning effort.

For example, a day or two ago McCain was asked how many houses he owns.

For a media that is in general so much on his side, to ask him this question wasn't the most considerate thing to do.. He only had four seconds at most to answer without looking like a fool, and in the meantime he had to do so many calculations that it would been an ordeal for any 72-year-older but especially for him, because he is an especially old 72, a point that his boosters, rabid about age being any sort of an issue, are careful not to notice.

But feeling that I know by now just where he's coming from, I think I can supply exactly what had just enough time to run through even his cholesteroled mind in that brief moment before he had to come up with an answer.

How many houses do I own? Oh, crap! Why now? ...The way the housing mess is going, any answer above one is going to go over like a lead balloon with all those bozos called the American voters. --Two at the most. No, not when until a little while ago that spearchucker that is having the gall to run against me didn't have a pot to piss in, and even if a gangster did happen to get him a place, a million dollar pad my people are making it out to be, that's still just a measly-ass one. --One, goddammit! And how many do I have, what with that broad that I've been attached to in matrimony for lo, these many years, and she's rich, and once in a while she buys stuff, and God knows what she's been up to while I've been out here trying to save the Republicans' asses, which are never lacking in size. So is that number four? Five? Six? All those damn condos! Condos and Condi. What I need is another Condi here beside me to get down on her knees and sop up the never-ending s--t like this. --And didn't I hear something about another place that woman bought, for the kids? --Hell's bells, I don't know how many houses I own, and I'm going to have to fall back on that old, tired, s--t answer of telling them my people will get back to them. Maybe those dummies will find the answer, after a day at the Library of Congress. If running for President wasn't so much crap, I'd live up to the old "straight-talking" horses--t and answer, "Dammit, I don't myself own any houses at all, at least none that I live in. How could I, when actually I spend all my days in damn airplanes and limos and s--t, dashing here and there all over the damn place answering fool questions like that and being expected to know all about things that are so much horsepiss." -- What am I doing here anyway, when I could be sitting out at my ranch in Arizona, sunning myself and doing nothing but thinking about all the good times in prison camp.. ...I do have a ranch in Arizona, don't I?.

Dog and Paddle Days of August

Some things don't know when to start, while in the very same enterprise, other things don't know when to stop.

Here in Piedmont Virginia, it is the dog days of August to a "T." Day after identical day, weatherwise, with the lows in the first light of day in the high 50's, F, and the highs coming a few hours later, in the high 80's, F. Never any rain and not much breeze. Things are slowly drying up and dying, and sometimes the deer eat our impatiens, something they had never done before. And the surrounding woods are much quieter than usual.

Meanwhile, in the part of Florida where my wife is now visiting her relatives, it rains every day, and in another part people like Left Leaning Lady are looking at forecasts of up to 20 inches or more from Fay, which is taking its good time about getting out of Florida and moving its act elsewhere.

We here hope, that it, or more likely a successor, will soon, if some relief can't show up any other way, come up this way and bring lots of water -- even, at least to my thinking, if it's a little too much, though without duplicating Camille. With the lore of that catastrophe thoroughly imprinted on the county consciousness, the "been-here's" should be well-prepared for a reasonable deluge, and we "come-heres" have heard all about Camille, though we have friends who have built homes in the same coves and hollows where that storm swept away over 100 people in this one tiny county, population-wise, in 1969. Fifteen or so years later my son shared a locker in high school with a girl who, like him, had been born around that same time when Camille chose to pull up and stop and hang around a touch too long and in the dead of night, and this girl was named after that storm, while we, still in distant D.C., named our son after a tenor saxophonist who always took care of business.

Wearing Out Their Welcomes: Commenters

Some people don't know where to start, while in the very same enterprise, other people have no idea of when to stop.

Not long ago the articles on one of the longtime leading progressive sites, Common Dreams, weren't accompanied by comments. When the practice was allowed a year or two ago, in the eyes of many of their readers the comments weren't a blessing, and it looks as if, as time has gone on, they have become even less so.

So Common Dreams has just sent emails to its registered users, notifying them of new policies that they are now setting into place. From now on the comments will be hidden, only to be brought up by clicking on something. Also all commenters have to re-register, and the Dreams management spoke of other changes that would soon be instituted to better control the commenting.

At first I was impressed by the comments I saw there, and I placed several myself, before I began feeling like a goldfish in a tank full of sharks, In general, for a progressive site, the attitude was surprisingly hostile to anything said in support of Democrats, while being considerably easier on what I consider to be the authors of all the evils, the Republicans, and Cindy Sheehan and Ralph Nader were the absolute deities. If this reflected the true attitudes and perceptions of progressives in the country, then I thought they really were at risk of badly marginalizing themselves in the country's thought processes, just as quite a few rainbows were doing in their newfound and incredibly bitter hatred of the Clintons, for little more that I could detect than that she was running strongly and unapologetically against their man, B. Obama. And this promised that they would allow their fury to render them even more null and void should Obama become President and they discover that he isn't about to apply the Putney Swope Principle.

My reference there is to an almost forgotten and somewhat over the top but still interesting 1969 film in which a Madison Ave ad agency's board of directors finds that, in their desire to avoid voting for their adversaries and instead trying to be satiric about the whole thing, they have all gotten the same idea and have outsmarted themselves. They have all voted for their idea of the most unacceptable choice for the new CEO, their one rainbow member, whereupon the movie's most memorable moment comes when the shot suddenly changes from that nearly all-"white" boardroom to a nearly all-"black" one.

Sometimes, however, I thought the comments contributed in a constructive way to the Common Dreams articles, as I also felt in regard to the Angry Arab News Service, which threw its comments along with a huge contingent of avid and even rabid regulars overboard a while ago and has never looked back. Common Dreams has not gone that far, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do.

What happens are classic cases of the good driving out the bad. The carefully written, thoughtful comments that are posted at first are soon replaced by short, dionysian remarks put there by regulars who think they are in a frat house or something and anything goes. And even when they are warned, they think that nobody has the right to deny them their freedom of speech, and they keep right on cavorting in whatever ways they please, and then suddenly--

People are like that. Against all warnings, they refuse to stop. They keep working at something for all they're worth and it's worth, till they've caught the last cod, chopped down the last redwood, pumped the last barrel of oil and the last bucket of water, sapped the soil of all its fertility, and so forth. Then, like a swarm of locusts, they take wing, confident of being able to find fresh resources to exhaust elsewhere.

In the case of the Angry Arab, his posts are too numerous and suffer from an air of being too cryptic and incomplete, without comments filling them out once in a while. The situation is different at Common Dreams, because their articles are fully fleshed out and able to stand their own so well that, as often as not, the comments actually obscured and distorted things.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

J. McCain, Bringer of Darkness

Humble though they are, light bulbs are essential to life, like air and water. The sun is a wonderful thing, but it has the unavoidable but necessary habit of absenting itself for half of each day while bringing its blessed light to others in turn, on the other side of the globe.

So have you heard what J. McCain was doing when a missile hit his aircraft over Hanoi and he was obliged to part company with his ride -- not the first, or the second, or the third time that an expensive naval airplane met disaster under his jinxed and incompetent behind? From what I've read, he was busy bombing a light bulb factory.

Does his campaign list that among his major achievements, connected to the thing that made him a "hero." If not, then what exactly did make him a "war hero?" It would almost be interesting to hear some conservative logic contortionist explain how that mission was defending the U.S. and how carrying it out was brave and heroic.

To my understanding such acts don't come under the heading of heroism. and neither does saving one's own skin, though actually McCain didn't do that either. After he landed on the ground with a broken limb or two and was basically out of it, he was only saved from being shot by a lone dissenter (hero?) in the band of locals that noticed his arrival... Yet he, an ungrateful sort, speaks of how he will always hate the Vietnamese with a passion, when he was the one attacking them from the comparative safety and the definite anonymity of the skies and not the reverse.

. Instead heroes are defined as people who, at considerable risk to themselves, do things for others, like falling on grenades or charging machine-gun nests alone or saving somebody from drowning or a fire. Bombing a light bulb factory doesn't rate.. Bombing a yo-yo factory, maybe, but not a light bulb factory. And in addition there's no telling how many innocent light bulb assemblers and factory floor sweepers he killed, man, woman, or child, while he was at it That would make J. McCain a sanctioned murderer instead, as is the case with all who drop bombs on people from the air, regardless of how a badly outmoded and mistaken tradition and their own side might otherwise see them.

I wouldn't be surprised if McCain's assigned target that day was indeed the yo-yo factory. By that time his record after he climbed into planes was so bad, what with all the wrecked machines, four at that point, with a fifth about to come, and a sixth later, his superiors hoped to save himself and the taxpayers some grief by giving him that insignificant target, but he, being the admiral's son and a true hotdog and hothead, took it on himself to try to withhold the gift of light from numerous people who had done nothing to bring harm to him or to those with the unbelievably poor judgment and taste to claim him, in the places that had produced him.

The big irony of this is that by keeping him imprisoned for the next five years the North Vietnamese actually did the U.S. Navy and McCain himself a huge favor, by keeping him safely out of the cockpits of other high-powered planes for that long. But as to how much of a favor they did the American people in the years to come, that falls more and more into doubt with each passing day.

If his jailers could've anticipated that, it would have made the rigors of putting up with his constantly prickly, bell hornet being for so long almost worth it.

Light Bulbs

The top bulb in a lamp that I use all the time has burned out, and I can't find another. That lamp is in fact this one, the most beautiful and involved stained glass project that I've managed to complete so far.

Both the base and the shade section light up independently. I used a commercial pattern for the base -- I'll bet you don't know how I got if off the styrofoam mold without damaging the mold, since it tapers inward at both ends -- but I designed the pattern for the shade myself. The project required cutting, wrapping, and soldering over 660 pieces of glass.

It's called a Bradley Peony lamp. A company produced a series of patterns on this kind of lamp, based on floral designs and inspired by the incredible Tiffany workers of long ago. But the designs are so involved, with so much cutting to do, that I would bet few stained glass people make these lamps. I myself had been doing stained glass for so short a time that I had no business trying it so early. But I was hopelessly intrigued by the design and by the lighted base. You don't see many lamps with lighted bases. And there was absolutely nothing at stake, and so....

All in all I think this lamp came out pretty well, and I look at it with amazement that I did it, though the soldering isn't all that it might be, and now, a couple of years later, I still haven't gotten that part of the process down to my satisfaction. I don't know the cause. Shaky hands?.
A person should be able to put his hands on a new light bulb right when he needs one, especially when his vision isn't all that it might be if he was still 10 years old.

I can't find a new light bulb because every time more than one guest is due to come, especially my wife's book club, she goes into a cleaning and reordering frenzy that results in important stuff, like new light bulbs in the basket where they're supposed to be, disappearing where they can't easily be found.

.There's a lot of stuff in this house, but its space is finite. Our stash of good light bulbs must be around here somewhere. And also there's always the ancient and honorable art of bulb-snatching, though the neatest and cleanest thing to do would be to call my wife and ask. But that would require the use of the telephone and a long distance calling card that involves hitting a grand total of 34 numbers, which, what with the usual mysterious snafus, usually takes me five or six tries, and then more likely than not, because women have 30 percent more verbal abilities than men, the line will be busy.

Telephones are not nearly as key to happiness as light bulbs.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Great News for the Good Guys -- Rachel Maddow!

I couldn't believe it! Just now I read that Rachel Maddow is going to have her own hour-long show on MSNBC. The dark cloud that has hung over the communications media for so long, with all the dominance of the Limpbags crowd for so many years, is showing signs of lifting a little.

I used to listen to Rachel Maddow quite a lot when she had a morning show on Air America, which I could get on my computer, and it was my favorite of all the AA shows, rivaled only when Janeane Garofalo was on during her night show. But unfortunately Garofalo was badly hampered by several things, mainly the fact that she had to team with a guy named Sam Seider, whose ego had a habit of showing itself whenever she was around, and I had the distinct impression that there was a strong personality clash there. But then she is so prickly herself that she would probably have had differences with anyone. Also she seemed to have lots of other irons in the fire, being that she is also a movie actress, stand-up comedian, and other things as well, so that she wasn't on the air all that often.

But Rachel Maddow, the epitome of business-like and efficient, was always on her show when she was supposed to be, and she had it pretty much to herself, which figures because she's so sharp -- in the sense of her communication skills, being knowledgeable, and tireless in digging up her material -- that it's hard to imagine anyone being able to keep up with her.

At around that same time she did share a show with another MSNBC host, a conservative named Tucker Carlson, but I believe he is no longer there. I never saw that show, but I had the idea that, since it was basically his show, she had to defer to him, which for her must've been akin to Tiger Woods or, in an earlier time, Ted Williams deliberately checking their swings.

The progressive/liberal community couldn't be more fortunate in having Rachel Maddow on their side. As a communicator she is in a class all by herself, and you definitely wouldn't want to debate her about anything. Often I would listen just to see if she would make one of those slips that come so often with speaking extemporaneously on the air, and when, after about a week, she would finally make one it would be hard to believe. It was astonishing to hear how she could, at nearly warp speed, pour one thousands of words in perfect order, and making perfect sense all the while.

But now I am in even greater pain because my 4DTV satellite receiver stopped working close to two months ago, depriving us of TV, and we are restricted to looking at Netflix movies and getting our news and other things from the computer. And as looking at movies is 98 percent of what we did with out dish, it's hard to justify paying to get the receiver fixed and then paying the hundreds of dollars for subscriptions.

But maybe I'll be able to hear Rachel Maddow on my computer. I have to look into that.

Mode Intense

Sometimes I come to and find that I have walked enough to have covered a quarter-mile, yet I haven't progressed any farther than a few feet in any direction.

What is happening is that in my current mind mode, my head, on its own, has composed yet another post for this weblog -- actually what I think of as mini-essays, complete with beginnings, middles, and ends. Even more surprising, despite the blighted condition of my memory these days, I can remember the whole thing word for word, provided that I don't take too long in getting to a keyboard. So, lately, I've been able to post at least one thing every day without any trouble, and sometimes more than one, yet I still have a queue of six or seven other complete posts in draft form, ready to go.

I wish I knew what is causing these words to roll out of my head so easily and so profusely, so that I put more that I would like even into the comments that I post on other people's weblogs, when all my other actions, even the simplest and most basic ones, like eating, more and more take so much effort. I could use some of that industriousness and that ease in some other areas that are now just hanging over my head, waiting, and frowning and shaking a finger at me.

Fickle Fay

A few days ago, as I reported, after Tropical Storm Fay came into being somewhere near Cuba, the forecasting maps had it taking an unusual, arrow-straight course due north, which would have landed it in this all-important mid-Atlantic navel of the country, bringing with it some much needed rain.

Instead, after making landfall in southwestern Florida, Fay veered a little to the northeast, which would have taken it out into the Atlantic and the usual oblivion there. But now the forecasting maps have it turning again, sharply, in the due west direction, along the upper Gulf Coast, headed toward Louisiana and Texas, where nobody here in Virginia lives and that usually get more than their share of the valuable storm waters anyway.

But, naturally, despite the title of this post, this isn't the fault of the storm itself. Instead it's all because of weather forecasters and vain hopes.

And speaking of hope, the good thing about it is that it never runs out.

So maybe there's a chance yet that the storm, after checking out the slots in Biloxi and seeing how in New Orleans the rich have got their fingers in the pockets of the poor, if I remember a line from Leonard Cohen correctly, the storm will take yet another sharp 90-degree turn but this time to its right, and, sliding up along the Appalachian slopes, head for certain this time in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Mother-in-Law's Cadillac

A few days ago my wife drove away at quarter to six in the morning, quite possibly a record for her at the start of her trips, for another sojourn in Florida, this time for three weeks. She had been here at home since shortly after her mother's death in March, but she still has a stepfather living in Fla alone though with many friends close by, and he is 85. So she went back to check on him and in general to tool around visiting other relatives. who are numerous in Florida.

She had originally planned to leave the day before, but when she turned the key, the car wouldn't start. The battery is always the first suspect, but I was embarrassed because I didn't even know where in the car it was. This is because, ever since she she brought her mother's car up here in March, or rather it brought her, I had paid the least possible attention to it. That was because the car is a Cadillac.

I have always had a strong antipathy toward Cadillacs, and you should resist all temptations to give me one, regardless of its worth and condition. This is because with me that make is synonymous with extreme ostentation. a toxin that I've avoided at every turn. In the D.C. in which I grew up it was the vehicle of choice for pimps, preachers, and those who had arrived, the hoity-toity strivers and the lookdowners, and one of the many titles for short stories and novels that over the years have popped into my head, with no story ever showing up to go with them, is "Two Wigs and a Cadillac."

To my eye, conditioned forever by my little '63 VW Bug of yore, this car that was now my wife's and by extension, unbelievably, also my own, looked flawless, and I could see that it was a marvel of engineering. Everything on it, in it, and about it looked massive, built to last, rounded and smooth to the touch, and machined and painted with the utmost precision and thoughts of luxury. It was a 2002 De Ville, and it looked brand new, though it had 60,000 miles on it. Yet I didn't care for the idea even of having it sitting in my driveway.

Not only was it a car that I would never have desired, but also it just wasn't right for this area. We live on a gravel road. This is a rural gravel road county. And confirmation of its otherworld nature came when I first popped the hood -- and saw no battery. If the engine was there, there should've been a battery, too. Instead the main thing visible was a broad, gleaming, silvery, and enigmatic plate, which I guessed was covering something as mundane as the engine. Nor could I easily identify most of the other gear at the sides of that big, bright, space age plate, and I felt that neither could any ordinary mortals.

This could only mean one thing. Anybody who would buy a car like this would never ever expect to actually have to work on it. All that matters is that, after the key is turned, the car moves, as quietly and as comfortably as possible, and with the expected dispatch. And if someone as unnecessary as myself should show up and ask to see what's under the hood, still all that that owner wants to see revealed is a nice gleaming cover hiding all the yucky, greasy apparatus of the barbarian bygone days, provided that such is still needed, supposedly to enable the car to move.

But it did make me meditate on my mother-in-law. Not on her in all the years preceding her illness, but in her final days as she lay helpless in the hospital, far from this big, beautiful riding machine of hers, which she had bought and driven about with what must have been supreme satisfaction and which she saw as being the correct and most suitable payoff for all her efforts in life.

Though an admirable woman, my mother-in-law did not shy away from the ostentatious, and she liked to say things like, of the small southern town and the even more humble all-rainbow neighborhood in which she and her husband lived -- and able to say this because of their higher salaries and status as longtime teachers -- "Where we live, we are the Joneses!"

So I was struck by the two images of this car, sitting outside and as resplendent and in as good a shape as the day my mother-in-law had bought it, still waiting for her fond touch, while she, worn out by the ravages of age, would never again even look upon it. I wondered how much, prostrate in her final hours, she thought of her expensive, magnificent, tannish-gray, driving machine. Finally not at all, I wagered. And this reopened that eternal question, "How much is this worth it?"

The car trouble was indeed the battery, but we had to get our good neighbor, G., over to help, because his wife has almost the identical model, though she would very much like to trade it in for a more economical and ecological hybrid, and once her Caddy, too, wouldn't start because of a dead battery, which turned out to be -- illogically I thought -- under the back seat. But what do I know? Besides, it had also been under the back seat in my trusty little VW, but then so was the engine, almost.

I just hope that when Esther comes back home, in slightly more than two weeks now, this time she will bring back the car's manual. I believe fervently in having manuals. Sometimes, in spite of all, you have to read them. That's true even with Caddies. Or from where I stand, especially with Caddies.


Yesterday that rude, loud, startling, disruptive, and insistent instrument that we tolerate having in our homes, the telephone, brought into my house and my consciousness the voice of a woman who, as if to spare me the burden of not knowing even for a split-second who she was, in more than one respect, instantly identified herself as "your Aunt Peggy." She did not, of course, want to talk to me. She was looking for my wife, unaware that at the moment Esther is right down there in Florida with her, not much over a hundred miles away, and the two of them are probably vegetating in the same manner -- waiting to see what Tropical Storm Fay is going to do while zoning out all day long on the Olympics on TV

I recognized the name and the title. This woman is a sister of my wife's late father, and during childhood she used this technicality of being Esther's aunt, along with having been born eight days earlier, to try to boss my future wife around, only to meet fierce and unrelenting resistance, though I'm told that that has long since been patched up.

But all that has nothing at all to do with me anyway. The main thing is that this lady is not MY aunt, and it occurs to me that I am as much as four decades overdue in impressing on her that fact.

The obligations involved with one's own family are daunting enough. A man shouldn't have to accept having all the titles, relationships, and other complexities of another family dumped on him just because of marriage. So I don't recognize the custom. I wonder how many people do?

Besides, no aunt or uncle has the right to be younger than a niece or nephews, and if the laws had any connection with logic and common sense, that would be so decreed.

I only had one aunt, and she left here back in the 1950's. My mother also had two other sisters, and they might've been my aunts if they had waited long enough, but they couldn't and didn't, starting years before I was born, and that was it, period, finished, over and done with.

So, as much as I might appreciate her feeling such a close connection to me, though I can remember having seen her only once, a woman who drew her first breath more than 10 years after I did and who shares none of my ancestors couldn't possibly be my aunt. It's ridiculous ...and a little eerie.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Toad Power Spot

Under my house, which sits on posts, I have Qest pipes, an easy to install but now somewhat discredited plumbing system, running to two outdoor faucets. The connections on the kind of Qest I have tighten by hand or with slip-joint pliers. But there's one connection that resists all my efforts to stop its slow leak. The result is a constant dark spot on the ground about the size of a small saucer that bothered me, till one morning recently I saw a toad sitting in it.

I had just taken my most recent shot at stopping that drip the day before, and with great hope I had scraped that spot dry, but to no avail, and meanwhile this toad had taken advantage of the spot to dig it out to nearly an inch deep, in which he was sitting snugly and didn't want to move, unless touched. I'm sure that the long drought that we've been in helped to inspire him to do this.

A little later the cat appeared within two feet of the toad, but they seemed not to notice each other. Still, I worried that the toad would, in his impromptu jacuzzi, quickly become a meal for the cat. And for several days I didn't see Mr. Toad. But then one evening there he -- or a different one -- was, contentedly sitting in the little cup.

It's great how our fellow animals, large or small, wild or domesticated, often give us something to smile about, whenever we see them taking advantage of our actions or inaction, as if we had only their needs in mind. This is the special province of cats, most frequently seen when they happen to spot an article of clothing or some similar item lying around that wasn't there earlier. They quickly put the item to its intended use, with never a doubt that it was put there solely to facilitate the activity that they do best: resting from their extensive labors.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bell Hornet Paradise

Here, taken from about three feet away with my new S5-IS Canon digital camera, with about 97 percent of its capabilities still unexplored by me, is a shot of five bell hornets.

They seem to be collecting something at the very bottom of a large oak tree, no more than 10 inches from the path that I've worn from the house to my workshop. Probably they've taking sap that is oozing a drop at a time from the tree, but I don't know for sure. I have felt no strong urge to look closer.

I walk right by these guys several times a day, when I'm not thinking. Once in a while one of them will take the opportunity to warn the trudging two-legged Big Ugly for six or seven feet. But usually they pay me no attention. They did the same thing at the same spot last year.

I wish I knew where their nest was. I'm sure it's a big one, but it must not be anywhere where I or my wife are likely to brush. Last year I found a congregation of several hundred of them in plain sight at eye level in the crack of a huge, double-trunked maple across the creek, where I had cut wood not long before. I didn't seriously consider doing anything except letting them be, and this year they are somewhere else, hopefully in another galaxy -- a fate that I try to inflict on threats of all kinds, and using the same method.

Bell hornets are the largest and most fearsome of the many stinging insects that live around here. I know this because at one time or another I've been hit by representatives of them all, and the bell hornet is the winner by far. Their first sting came when, using a small piece of paper towel, as was my practice with their smaller cousins, I tried to pinch up one that had invited itself into the house. I thought it was a "good news bee," a harmless insect similar in appearance to a bell hornet but whose thing is to suddenly show up a few feet away with a loud, insistent buzzing, and it will keep hovering that way for a long time, as if demanding to know, "What's going on here, turkeys?" I didn't expect to be stung at all, so I was astounded.

The pain feels as if it's a little worse than that of the runners-up, yellowjackets. But the main thing is that the effects of the bell hornet's injections last so much longer, for several days. That will never appear in anyone's manual of happiness.

Hurry Up, Fay!

This morning the tracking diagrams on Weather Underground show Fay -- now a strong tropical storm near Cuba but with possibilities of promoting itself to a hurricane -- is on an unusual course of steadily due north instead of a long meander right to left before only then taking a gentle swing upward. It is projected to slide up along Florida's west coast, where my wife is now, and then continuing straight north through the American South, weakening due to the effects of uninterrupted land but still a tropical storm when in five days it is expected to arrive here in Virginia and even farther upward.

And I am sure that everyone here is saying that it can't come soon enough.

That's because for about six weeks we've been at the mercy of yet another drought, and, without watering, only the trees and the more established shrubs are still looking okay, though they're dragging a little. So far, all parts of my creek are still running, instead of drying up and turning black, as all but one short stretch of it fed by an underground spring did once, eight or nine years ago. And I think that, should the drought continue, the creek will still keep easing along at least into September.

But a hurricane is much to be preferred.

I don't know which I would pick if I was faced with only the two choices of dying of thirst or drowning in an ocean, a la the end of "The Perfect Storm." Drowning would have the advantage of being much quicker, and I've heard that in the last moments you stop struggling and give in to an intense but short-lived euphoria. But it seems to me that the terror instead of knowing for sure what is about to happen in the North Atlantic must be much more fearful than what you must sense during the slowly increasing grogginess while drying up to nothing in the Gobi Desert.

I would say that, drowning aside, generally speaking, having too much water is better than getting too little. Storms, and especially hurricanes, for all the damage they do, are always exciting events, sometimes intensely so. There is nothing whatsoever exciting about a drought, except to the cicadas.

Actually, in Fay's case, I am still not all that hopeful. The Caribbean usually reserves all its gifts for its own, one of which is the statement that some of the places there, and maybe all, would profit greatly from having a lot fewer people and a lot more trees. But an idea like that leads inevitably to the conclusion that, on a planetary scale, trees are a lot more beneficial than humans -- an entirely unacceptable idea that therefore is ignored with a vengeance, and so it's hello to, on the human scale, usual disasters.

Meanwhile the Gulf of Mexico, that churning stewpot of hurricanes, is much more generous to us up here with its storms.

Slapping the Russians

In a YouTube video J. McCain is recorded saying that "In the 21st Century, nations don't invade other nations."

He was talking about Russian troops crossing into Georgia to respond to attacks by the Georgian military on one of two areas within the country's borders, South Ossetia and Abkhazia., small peas in the stew of numerous populations that have been tossed around for centuries of absorptions, separations, expulsions, slaughters, and the like in that forever restless region where the Russians and the Turks have been the biggest and baddest characters.

The attraction that Abkhazia holds for the Georgians and for the Russians is obvious. It contains half of Georgia's Black Sea coastline, and it was the favorite playground of the Soviet elite. The appeal of South Ossetia, where these attacks occurred, is not as clear. It probably has to do with the circumstance that, with Georgia having broken away away from the U.S.S.R. to become an independent country, separatist movements in both enclaves engineered moves to become independent from Georgia in turn, and so there it is, with the Russians quite happy to continue sticking it to their Georgian defectors by supporting those two uppity areas in any way it can.

As the Russians pre-date the Muslims in being the automatic villains in the eyes of the U.S. media until such time as the facts are in, the Russians have generally been painted as the aggressors in the case, though the truth seems to be that the Georgians started the ball rolling, gambling that G.W. Bush nee J. McCain would discourage the Russians from making more than a token move. But after routing the Georgians that opposed them, the Russians have lingered, and they are having a good time rumbling through the Georgian countryside in tanks and keeping everybody guessing.

McCain, the "Cold War Warrior" and a candidate for U.S. President, isn't passing up this chance to take gratuitous bitch-slaps at the Russians, and in this video he comes on exactly like a prissy keeper of the morals in a Southern park, lecturing a local ne'er-do well after she has caught him peeing on the azaleas.

As if GWBush is not still playing the part of U.S. President, McCain has been acting as if he is already in that office, by having checked in with the Georgians several times, as well as sending two of his main draft donkeys, Lieberman and Graham, to represent him there in playing chesties with the Russians, and surely the Bush gang can't appreciate that.

"In the 21st century," McCain says in his most patronizing tone, "countries don't attack other countries."

What! Have the conservatives now decreed that the year 2003 was in the 20 Century instead? You can't put it past them.

Or, failing that, GWBush's ordering U.S. soldiers to smash into Iraq in 2003 with guns blazing and tank treads crushing was not an invasion of one country by another, and was instead just a casual little duck-hunting foray or an excursion to pick up a few little doodads from one of the Baghdad museums? And what about the constant threats in certain thought pits in both the U.S. and Israel to bomb Iran, which is definitely a form, and maybe the most damaging and fearful one, of invasion? You know that, should that happen, J. McCain will be one of the cheerleaders with the shortest skirts, having never seen a war he didn't like.

Actually, as in the case of the mentally impaired, you can't fault this man too much, because anything is liable to come out of his mouth, and generally does. His brain seems to have no mechanism for previewing the things he says.

But you do have to wonder about the people that he thinks he's talking to. Can there really be so many who listen so lightly and think even less and so regard everything he says as making sense right off the bat?

Who says that the listening and reading comprehension levels in the U.S. are not causes for deep concern?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Great Population Eclipse

A few days ago, from the points of view of what the United States was hoped to be and what it has been and what awaits it the future, the news outlets notified us of the most important development since the British troops finally had to board ships for home, and Adams, Jefferson, and others could put the finishing touches on creating a government that would preside over a new nation dedicated to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and even -- since they never got around to expunging that line from the sacred documents -- the proposition that all men are created equal.

This news item said that just 34 years from now, less than half the time it took it took me to reach this present stage, and maybe sooner, the U.S. Census Bureau will announce that the citizens of European extraction, the so-called "white" people, formerly the dominating majority, will, when pitted against the total of all the other groups currently residing in the country, become a minority.

This is actually old news, and the U.S. is not the only place where the same kind of thing is in the works or feared. Numerous European countries who have brought in -- if that is the right expression -- people of other derivations and mostly of darker hues, such as former colonials, guest workers, war and political refugees, soccer stars, and others -- wonder if the same sort of thing might not happen in their countries in the long term. And they don't even have to look at the U.S. Right next door the Russians, for all their numbers, fear that whatever constitutes their major Slavic stock will, in about the same amount of time as in the U.S., sink to minority status under the greater reproductive "success" of the numerous other ethnic groups that came along willy-nilly with all the territories that their forefathers and mothers, including Catherine the Great, grabbed unto themselves so greedily.

For me, as a lifelong minority in every sense of the word, this raises a long list of questions that I see few people asking, openly, much less coming up with answers. And, unsurprisingly, that is accompanied by the irony that I should be among the very last of those persons who should feel that he has any big stake and therefore should have any great interest in this matter. Yet, the more these questions are considered the clearer it becomes that this development eclipses who will be the latest President, the 9/11 terror attacks, the Great Depression, the outbreaks of all the wars since the Revolutionary one, and everything else since that time. And if I were everybody else, I would start counting all the ways. But I suppose I will do that anyway. This weblog habit encourages such a thing, especially in the early mornings.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Everyday Imponderable

This I know, and I know it for sure: I put it somewhere where I could easily find it.

Now where in the world could it possibly be?

Georgia: The Melos Principle Again

In college, bitten in the very first semester by the writing bug, I switched from Chemistry to majoring in English and minoring in Classics. These are two subjects that have never lacked having boatloads of disdain heaped on them, for being "impractical." But, freed at last from the rigid prescriptions of Grades 1 through 12, for young people colleges are fun places filled with temptations too large to resist, some of these of an intellectual nature.

Going to a liberal arts college, after all, is not the same as attending a vocational school. Never mind that you're not preparing yourself to make a ton of money later. The thinking instead is that whatever happens, later on a person should always be able to find food and shelter regardless, especially in the warm embrace of the good ol' U.S. of A., even in a bigot-riddled good ol' U.S. of A. (Because physical troubles at that age are, if you are not too reckless, strictly confined to occasional cuts and bruises that magically heal by themselves, health costs are never any sort of a consideration.)

The irony is that a highly "impractical" curriculum like Classics turns out to offer information that is as useful as anything else, including principles that sooner or later come in handy, if not to avoid failing to heed the lessons of history, at least to understand what is happening once regimes are trapped inside those perennial pits, like the countless saber-toothed tigers that one after the other through thousands of years arrived to be sucked down whole in the La Brea tar pits -- or like the situation that we can see unfolding right now in the oil regions of Alexander the Great's old stomping grounds.

While it is indulged in far too frequently by generals and heads of state with extensive "foreign policy experience," there is one principle from Classics that stuck in my mind with special effect, and it can't be repeated too often as a classroom admonition.

I vividly remember the special delight that one of my Classics instructors, Professor W., took in imparting this gem, though I guess mainly I just liked the ring of the principle as he expressed it and which went: "The strong do what they can, while the weak do what they must."

I've come to call this "the Melos Principle," and I've taken it so much as my own that I even quibble as to whether the sharp as a razor Prof. W. expressed it correctly. To say that the strong do "what they can" suggests that they're trying to be as helpful as possible in a difficult situation. But in the case of the ancient Athenians trying to iron-ass the Melos islanders into throwing in with them in the fight against the Spartans, as described by Thucydides in his remarkable history of the Peloponesian War, the Athenians were not trying to be helpful at all, except to themselves. So the principle should instead go something like, "The strong do what they please,while the weak have no choice." Or "The strong have all the options, while the weak have few if any." Less succinct but but closer to the truth of the matter.

But you don't get the full effect of these words unless you also recollect the other chief part of what the Athenians had to tell the Melians, who nevertheless didn't listen and were duly punished by having their houses sacked and burned, their women and children sold into slavery, and the surviving men dragged off to serve in the Athenian army or rowing in the galleys anyway.

The Melians said, in effect, "You can hit us with all the jive threats that you want. We're still not siirring from here to join you or anyone else. We think staying neutral in this big mess of yours is the best way to go. You may be much bigger and tougher than us, but we put our trust in the gods, who are on our side. So bug off, suckers, and take all your glorious flags and pennons with you."

The Athenians just shrugged and answered with the utmost coolness, in more than one sense of that word: "Okay. It's all right to trust in the gods. Just to cover all the bases, we regularly offer up lambs and bulls to them, too. We even believe in them, as you do. But we can't do more than to believe. We don't know. But we do know all about men, and so what we are about to do to you if you don't come around is how it is. It's what men do, and things can never be otherwise."

You can see the same thing happening right now in and around J. Stalin's birthplace. The Georgia leader, a shaky sort, as you would expect any toady to GW Bush to be, named M. Saakashvili, seems to have trusted in phantasms (I hesitate to say "gods" even sarcastically) that reside in far-off places like D.C. and London. But the Russians, flexing their newly reactivated muscles, are not hesitating to take this opportunity to show the Georgians how things really are, at least in the immediate neighborhood. They know something about men, while having gotten out of the habit of trusting in the gods. But maybe Classics isn't a big subject in Stalin country these days. It rarely is, anywhere.