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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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two thoughts in October

Regardless of its surroundings, but mainly because of its surroundings, a big tree should always be studied for at least three months, and preferably years, before putting a saw to it.

I greatly enjoy seeing things falling from above, whether it be snow or rain or leaves.

Obama Rally in Virginia

A few days ago my wife attended an Obama rally in Harrisonburg, one of two that were held for him in Virginia that day, the other being at Norfolk. It was a cold and windy but sunny late afternoon, and the amazing number of 25,000 people attended, a great many of them students from James Madison University, Harrisonburg's main claim to fame these days.

My wife, like everyone else there, was suitably inspired, plus now she can say that she has seen two Presidential candidates, the other being Kennedy when he visited Howard U. back in '59 or '60. That beats me because, though I lived in the Nation's Capital for 45 years, I have never seen a President in person, as a candidate or while in the office.

--That is, if you don't want to count a day when I was three or four and our parents took my sister and me to the Easter Egg rolling event that they used to hold annually on the White House lawn. I remember that only with the greatest vagueness, but I have the feeling that the President at that time, who would've been FDR, came out and greeted us all.

Unlike the friends who accompanied her there, my wife got a seat inside because she had a V.I.P. ticket, given to her by the manager of the county's Obama office, because she liked my wife's efforts while working as an volunteer in the office. The crowd was so large that my wife's friends had to stand in the cold and the wind outside, but this turned out to work to the great advantage of one of them, because she got exactly what she had been looking for, as a photographer. Before Obama went in, he stopped to talk people near her, and she got some very good pictures.

It turned out to be the first time that a Presidential candidate had visited Harrisonburg since Stephen A. Douglas back in 1860. This is surprising, because, though not large by national standards, Harrisonburg is a big town in Virginia's important Shenandoah Valley.

However I could relate to that revelation, because I had just finished reading Bruce Catton's "The Coming Fury," in which he describes the extremely heated political season of 1860 that splintered the then largely pro-slavery Democratic Party, of which Douglas was the chief candidate, and that saw the victory of the newly formed Republican party, which was largely anti-slavery, a weird reversal of today'as situation, though in name they are the same two parties. Douglas had tried to find a middle ground, but he was overwhelmed by the Southern States, who had made up their minds to secede should Lincoln be elected. Oddly Lincoln had looked for a middle ground, too, and he had been more successful at it. A year after he came to Harrisonburg Douglas died, and the Great War Between the States started.

Too bad that Douglas and Lincoln and all those around them can't be around to see what's happening in Virginia and in the U.S. today. With less than a week to go the polls indicate that Obama is leading in the country and in Virginia, which till now has for decades been a reliably Republican or "red" state but now is showing every sign of having turned "purple" instead.

An indication of that turn of events may be what I saw on my road today during one of my rare drives to town. I saw lots of Obama signs but not one McCain on that whole stretch of the road. Even the resident conservative, a "been-here" who is very well known to all of us "come-here's," had an Obama sign near his driveway. I plan to ask around how that happened. I know just where to ask first.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gun Sign

Yesterday my wife saw a road sign that said simply, "I'm an angry gun owner, and I vote!" Note that, unlike most political road signs, which only recommend candidates, this sign has a element of threat. But that's an unspoken but definite part of being in love with guns.

If my friend H., who lives just down the road and across the river, was more open about letting his views be known by the Outside World, he would have that same sign standing next to his mail box. Guns are likewise his big issue and his religion. But the only signs I've ever seen him post are stapled to some of his trees, and they say, "No Hunting on this Property." Every year during this season, without fail he perches in trees on someone else's property and "hunts" -- another activity that, like basing one's whole ethic on gun ownership, is way beyond me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hubris, Today Twice Displayed

Another of the benefits of taking seemingly useless Classics as a minor in college is that you get to have several invaluable principles permanently imprinted on your brain. One is "moderation in all things," while another has to do with hubris, which I most often heard defined as being "overweening pride," as explored several times over in the surviving Greek dramas of 2,500 years ago.

This week, in the deeds of S. Palin, the Republican VP candidate, and M. Bloomberg, the already two-time mayor of New York City, we are seeing that that principle is still as alive and well as ever it was in the eras of Oedipus, Agamemnon, and other Greek "heroes" who ran afoul of their own hubris and paid for it.

Though New York voters long ago voted for term limits to be imposed on the mayor's office, Bloomberg has succeeded in persuading his city council friends in setting aside that law so that he can run for a third stay in office.

This is bad news, no matter how good a mayor he has been, and no matter how it turns out. But of course I have the highly unpopular idea that quotas have a place in politics more than merit, since the main idea should be equal participation in the administration of government by representatives from all the different groups that make up a jurisdiction's populace. Merit, which is not often seen in politics anyway, should come in an unwilling second to the quota consideration, and allowing someone to serve with no term limits only invites in the circumstance that power corrupts. Plus it is good for the body politic that the experience in office gets spread out over a lot of people, instead of just one or two of a favored few. It would be a good thing if the aggravations were shared as much as are the perks.

Though he was a slaveowner, G. Washington still had two good ideas. One was to reject all attempts to crown him as the king of the newly created U.S.A., and the second was to firmly reject becoming President for a third term, and I believe that only the totally dire emergency of the onset of Stage 2 of the Endless World War persuaded FDR to run for a third and then a fourth time.

Meanwhile S. Palin is obviously taking her early press notices -- though not the more recent ones -- seriously, to the point that a percentage of Republicans are seeing her as having the potential to be nothing less than the future leader of the party, while the other percentage is sickened by this idea. And actually you have to wonder how an organization that is so in the grip of hidebound types could ever accept having a woman, any woman, on that throne. The latest sign of this development and the state of her own hubris is that, dissatisfied with how the campaign has been operated (it is probably not nearly bloodthirsty enough for her), Palin is thought to be ignoring the advice of the aides that the McCain camp has assigned to "handle" her, so that in fact she is getting so that she can't be handled at all. (Thus the sexual aspects get hopelessly intertwined with the power notions after all!)

I only observe all this with detachment, as my sympathy with the Republican party is even less than it is with New York City. The most important thing about all this is, instead, once again seeing how the ancient Greeks definitely knew whereof they emoted, and their verdicts, through such an enormity of time and change, are still as good as gold.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Ability to Blush

I've been reading about my erstwhile neighbor, give or take a couple of centuries and a distance right up the road of only about 40 miles, at Monticello, plus a couple of other factors that some might think important -- Thomas Jefferson, and his relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. It's part of going back to the basics of how things in this country got started. Though most Americans wouldn't mind denying it for all they're worth, events having to do with the people who were abducted in Africa and dragged over here to work unceasingly as little more than talking draft animals for many generations are among the most important of those considerations, and there's no better place to get some early insights into that than a tract called "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings," written with felicitous and barely concealed outrage by a New York City Rainbow law professor named Annette Gordon-Reed.

In other days I will probably talk about other things suggested by this book. For now I just want to speak of how she tells us that, in one of his many identities, the one of a racist, the 3rd President of the United States thought that one way in which African-derived people were inferior to European-derived ones was in their inability to blush.

I was startled. I had heard thousands of charges leveled against the African descendants to account for our supposedly inferior state of being, but till now those had never included being unable to blush (or maybe doing it but too invisibly to matter). Too bad that no one was around to ask Jefferson how this made him or anyone else superior. I'm guessing that he thought blushing was a mark of beauty in women, brought on by his unquestioned ways with words, whereas the darker-skinned slaves could more easily keep their true thoughts to themselves. But to my eye, besides suggesting states of mind that one might not want seen, blushing merely discolors faces, in the same way that drinking too much does, or staying out in the sun a few minutes too long.

And anyway, Mark Twain, a greater American than Jefferson in the respect that he didn't have the great misfortune to be born into a slave-master heritage whose irresistible comforts included unpunished seductions), queered the game for Jefferson when he pointed out that, "Humans are the only animal species that can blush -- or that need to."

Now, what were all those things that Thomas Jefferson is thought to have done with the young, helpless Ms Hemings, over a period of as long as 38 years?

"Definitely, Maybe" -- Forget It!

Lately my wife has been indulging herself by having Netflix send her romantic movies, instead of stuff that I like, like the Discovery Channel programs that depict the planet as it would be should every human suddenly and forever disappear. Her latest was something called "Definitely, Maybe." I'm not going to bother speaking about who had roles in it, except to say that the lead character looked a little like one of those Affleck boys, and one of the women that he courted had an amazing resemblance to Parker Posey.

It's about this guy telling his small daughter -- who, using a popular conceit of New York City film writers, somehow speaks with the force and insight of a highly perceptive 40-year-old woman -- about his love life that preceded her birth, and he gives all but one of the several women involved pseudonyms, and the girl is supposed to figure out which one became her mother.

The movie started out okay, but it gradually fell to pieces because of egregious shortcomings of the lead character. My dismay started with his opening a package that he had been asked to deliver to someone else and continued with his blatant exhibitionism and with his sophomoric reaction, when, after having been a heavy B. Clinton political operative, he finds out about Clinton's dealings with the Lewinsky woman. The character immediately joins the Clinton attackers without having given that matter more than a second of the long periods of thought that that matter required.

But the real kicker came in the case of one of the women in his life, after he found out that she had built up a big collection of used editions of the C. Bronte novel "Jane Eyre." During her teen years her father had given her a copy of this book in which he had written a beautiful inscription -- two weeks before he died in a car accident. The book later fell out of her hands, and ever since she had haunted used book stores looking for it, while buying any other editions that had inscriptions.

This guy happens to find just that copy. Though it is at a time when he is not in close contact with her, he still knows where she lives, and he actually goes to give it to her. But, unaccountably, he turns and leaves while still hanging on to the book, after finding her living with another guy. And he compounds that misdeed many times over by waiting eight or nine years and marrying another woman and having this daughter and then starting on a divorce, before he gets around to looking up this woman again and finally giving her her long-sought-after book. And he -- and the film's writers -- can't come up with even a piece of a dumb reason to justify this highly criminal dereliction.

She, with all the justification in the world in spite of her intense gratitude, immediately tells him to leave after he tells her this. Yet the writers conspire to have him end up with this woman that he in no way deserves -- while the mother of his overly precocious daughter turns out to have been the Parker Posey lookalike instead (Elizabeth Banks).

That "Jane Eyre" thing really sank this movie for me. It was already bad enough that the film was set in heavily over-dramatized New York City.

Some of us may live for very long periods, but time is still too short for that kind of callous and unthinking behavior, and I'm glad that I'm not a New York City-inspired sophisticate that can find an excuse for it.

You just don't do that sort of thing with someone's long-lost book. With other objects, maybe, but a book -- never!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Checking in with the Puntland Pirates

Today, weeks after the pirates that operate out of the Puntland region of Somalia grabbed a Ukrainian ship that, unknown to them, contained, among other instruments of war, 33 battle tanks that, among other major drawbacks, weighed 40 tons apiece, nothing much has changed since the events of the first week. The ship's captain died in the very first days, as if out of pure mortification -- he had acute high blood pressure problems. But all the 20 other crewmen seem to be still alive and kicking, as are the several dozen pirates themselves, and between those two groups things must be pretty funky on that ship by now. The U.S. Navy still has several ships on hand to make sure that the more portable weapons that are also part of the cargo are not spirited out and redistributed for more misery-making on the land, and a Russian missile frigate is still on its way there, as it has been all this time.

The pirates are still holding out for 20 million in ransom, and the ship's owners have supposedly been trying to scrape up the cash, by asking for donations. It says something about what the world thinks about all this, to note that they are still 19 million short.

The real sticking point of all this is not those tanks and the other armaments in the holds but the human element, and there can't be any doubt that were it not for those captured crewmen, somebody would have long since sent in a torpedo, preferably with the pirates still aboard, and sent the whole businees to the bottom. And I guess this is why there hasn't been any great distress about the leisurely pace of that Russian frigate, because many expect that they will have no interest in keeping up the vigil and will instead take measures that will quickly resolve the issue, one way or the other, regardless of the loss of life.

Meanwhile the more responsible of the African authorities have no interest in seeing the ransom being paid, because that only encourages the piracy, that has been so successful that it threatens to cut off one of the world's main shipping lanes. Along with the Russian frigate a small fleet of NATO warships is also on its slow way there, though it's agreed that as long as there's no government on the land, the piracy on the seas can't really be stopped. Ironically, for a time an Islamic government had succeeded in doing just that, but it was swept away by an invasion of Ethiopians, backed by the Bush govt.

This Puntland piracy is a real impasse, that apparently can only be solved by somebody loosing their temper, though after the resulting explosion the pieces will have every prospect of reassembling themselves into an unholy mess that will be much the same as before. And Somalia isn't the only place where that kind of thing is happening. It just happens to be one of the most naked.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Furthermore, Lionel and Kuby

In the event that they are familiar with the niceties of chess -- an unlikely event -- you would not want the Air America hosts Ron Kuby and Lionel to be your supporters and looking over your shoulder while you are playing your heart out in an all important game to determine the Champion of the Country. Because, as in the Biden situation mentioned in my previous post, if you should play a move that on the surface looks like an obvious mistake, you wouldn't want them to immediately start spouting off for all to hear, especially your opponent, telling how you have just made the losing move and describing just why that is so.

Instead in chess it's axiomatic -- and I would think in other such pursuits as well -- that if you make a move and then realize, too late, that it's a blunder, you don't slap yourself in the forehead or react in any other way to show your dismay. Instead you keep your face and body in a state of absolute composure, and you sit back and act as if everything is still in perfect order and going according to plan. Because, in serious chess as in life, things are not always -- or even usually -- that obvious, and in any case it's up to your opponent to make some counter-moves to show that you've erred. Contrary to popular belief and constant misuse of a word, merely to say that something is or is not so is not a refutation. To refute something is to answer with moves that clearly show the folly of your shot.

And meanwhile several things can happen -- and often do happen -- that allow the supposedly mistaken player to emerge in good shape. The first of course, is that the offending move turns out to be actually a good one, and that becomes clear after a closer look. Another is that, due to one thing or another the opponent might not look too close and so will take the "bad" move for good coin, or he might even see virtues in it that till now weren't apparent to you.

But mainly, if you are kibitzers looking on, like Lionel and Kuby in this case, you keep absolutely quiet and let the situation develope on its own. In the interest of filling out their allotted time on the airwaves, they weren't justified in immediately braying to the world their certainties as to the wrongness of Biden's statement, because by doing so they immediately joined the ranks of the enemy, after they had had us believe that they had every interest in seeing him being vanquished.

In a contest as crucial as the current elections and at such a late stage, what is the point of being so critical of the person or persons you're supposed to be for,, especially as voiced with such venom? Yet Lionel has been guilty of stuff like this before, and in a promo for his program that Air American airs over and over again, in which he proposes that in an election in which everything should be going in Obama's favor, including the low caliber of his opponent, the election is his to lose more than it is McCain's to win.

What does Lionel think he's doing there? Pinning everything on Obama ahead of time, should he lose, and after all his heroic exertions over such a long period? Lionel seems to have forgotten all the vagaries of fortune and the vast catalog of dirty tricks of which Obama's opponents have shown that they're capable in at least the last three Presidential elections, plus the many factors that can serve to sway the American electorate, even within just a single day or two.

The Lionel-Kuby-McCain "Biden Fiasco"

Air America has two hosts who don't strike me as being the brightest light bulbs in their ballroom. The more hapless of the two is Lionel, and the other is Ron Kuby. Sadly they are not in a class with today's Thom Hartmann, or with two of Air America's stars of the past, Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes, who nowadays can be heard instead on Nova M Radio.

This was clearly shown yesterday in their reactions to a statement by J. Biden, the Democratic VP hopeful, who, speaking at a private fundraiser, speculated that not far into his presidency, should he get it, B. Obama will be tested by an international crisis, upon which the inner steel in him will be clearly seen.

Immediately those ultra-reactionaries, his adversaries, J. McCain and S. Palin, both pounced on this statement, as they do on any remark tossed to them by the Democrats that they think offers the least ray of hope to reverse -- legitimately -- the continuing trend in favor of the Obama-Biden ticket in these last several days of the 2008 campaign. They took Biden to be saying that Obama's election to the post would cause an immediate international crisis.

I heard the statement, and so did my wife, and to us that wasn't what Biden's statement meant at all. Instead J. Biden was merely stating the obvious. As befits a country that has become accustomed to seeing itself as the only superpower and therefore the policeman of the world, it will undoubtedly be faced with yet another crisis after the election, and next year, too, and the year after that and in all the years to come, given the perpetual restlessness and incessant changes wrought by an ever-growing and ever-ambitious world population that is literally reproducing and consuming itself out of house, home, field, and planet.

That would be true no matter who is the U.S. President. Does anyone think that an Obama presidency will guarantee the total absence of crises? So Biden was saying that not if but when problems crop up, as they surely will, on top of and often due to the numerous hideous ones that the next President will inherit, and particularly if they came about as a result of the deeds and statements of other leaders overseas, the American populace who had voted for Obama to be the Prez would find him equal to the task.

Biden did not in any way, to our hearing and our understanding, say that these situations would be caused by Obama's election, and it was a measure of the stupidity of the McCain camp that they should've so eagerly seized on this statement and go off running with it, like dogs with a piece of red meat laced with poison -- for them. They should've at least asked themselves first if Biden would make so much a point of something that would be so sure to shoot him and his running mate in the foot. Biden has been accused of many things, but a lack of intelligence has never been one of them.

Yet Lionel and Kuby were appalled by Biden's statement, and Kuby said that it came at the worst possible time, and hysterically he equated it with "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," when actually it was no such thing, but merely an interesting way for the Delaware senator to bring attention to one of his running mate's inner qualities that may not have been apparent to some, notwithstanding the fact that Obama's steel has already been demonstrated time after time by not one but two extremely grueling political battles that he was been waging for close to two years now, when any lesser figures would long since have wilted badly, yet he is still going as strong as ever..

Kuby, and probably Lionel, too -- I was so disgusted and appalled by their attitudes that I couldn't take hearing more than the first five or ten minutes of what either had to say in their violent condemnation of Biden -- argued that Biden's statement gave the Repubs too much red meat ro run with, and since that was indeed what McCain/Palin did, the two broadcasters felt justified in their ire. But to my mind the pair of them just became more members of the pack running blindly behind the lead canines, running with their jaws clamped around a chunk that would soon enough evaporate to no more than recognition of their lack of understanding a subtle point, for which it wasn't even necessary to know the state of Biden's mind -- which one of the two Air errant Air Americans thought was required.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shifting Course

My mind keeps wanting to say that the dreaded day has come, though I don't really see it that way. A couple of weeks ago I finally started taking time out from making my nine-part "iris window," to start getting in this winter's firewood. But I did it in a relaxed way that was dictated by various physical infirmities that I didn't have even last year, mainly pain to various degrees in both my knees and below there. Plus the first large tree that I cut, an oak, hung up in another large oak, and I lost a lot of time and used up a lot of valuable energy cutting it free, not to mention the wear and tear on my anxiety level, because that is a situation where you have to be wide awake and thinking at every moment that you're in its vicinity.

Though all my neighbors probably didn't experience it, yesterday morning the temp here on our little frost pocket property hit freezing for the first time this year, and last night I finally had to fire up our heating stove -- though the date for that momentous event, Oct 19, wasn't bad. Oct 15 is usually the day for that. And this means that I have to shift into a higher and steadier gear with the wood-cutting, which I hope won't take more than the next two months.

I think my knees will, regardless, carry me through, and meanwhile there's no more beautiful a place in which to work than the woods here, in this fall season. It's like constantly moving inside a huge kaleidoscope filled with dazzling colors.

I hope that I can keep my workshop warm all through the winter as well, because I badly need to keep on working on the window, as I am only about a quarter of the way through the second pane. When the temps sink into the 20's, always in the past I've given up and restricted myself to the house. This year, as with all other situations, we'll have to see.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

After a Long Time

My personal impression of having lived for a long time is of reaching a point in which I see and hear doors being permanently slammed shut and locked, one after the other.

The irony, however, is that all through that time I never exerted myself much in trying to open them -- most of them.

These doors, of course, are only in the human sphere. Luckily there are plenty of other worlds in which it is possible to live.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

McCain's Mate, an Alaskan Secesh

The Republican party is unreservedly offering up as Vice-President, and, quite possibly, as President, a woman who is clearly in sympathy with those who devoutly desire that Alaska secede from the Union and become an independent country, and I would think that this would severely disqualify her even from being the Alaska governor, much less the V.P. of the whole U.S.

Her husband was a longtime member of the A.I.P., the Alaska Independence Party, which exists for the very purpose shown in its name. Its members like to sneer that "the people in the Lower 48 think they own Alaska. Not so!" But if the rest of the U.S. doesn't, who does? Unless, that is, the members of the A.I.P. themselves are all direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, W. Seward, the man directly responsible for "buying" Alaska from the Russians. Or unless these members are descendants of the Russians, which I doubt. Or unless the A.I.P. consists principally of Inuits, which I also doubt, because presumably neither Palin would associate with people that she has been heard to refer to disparagingly as "Arctic Arabs," and in the far right world of the G.O.P. Arabs, despite their stewardship of all that oil, have clearly become undesirables of the first water, judging by the snarls of the Palin/McCain rallies.

But maybe I am too heavily under the influence of a book called "The Coming Fury," which by chance I've been reading every night. It is the first in a trilogy by Bruce Catton, about the Civil War, and it deals heavily with the whole question of the Southern Secession of 1861 that was only quelled by the U.S.'s deadliest war. Yet, as if that nightmare never happened, the Republicans of this era have as their No. 2 candidate a woman who wished the A.I.P. well and asked God to bless them, in the form of something called a "shout-out" that she sent on the occasion of one of their recent convocations.

I guess out of their own ignorance, or their assumption of the ignorance of the American public, they think that their VP hopeful's flirtation with Alaskan secession hopes is all just a joke, when we don't have to look far overseas to see that in several places such an idea is still no sort of occasion for humor.

In the queer reversal of terms that has happened since Seward's time, the people who now are Democrats would've belonged to the just formed Republican Party of 1861, while today's Republicans would have belonged to the Democratic Party, the home of the Southern Secessionists of that time. So it's no accident that today S. Palin, like this more maintstream party that she is embracing now, having been unexpectedly jerked out of the Alaskan steelhead salmon run by J. McCain, finds her most enthusiastic supporters among the descendants, whether by birth or by philosophy, of the same region that once upon a time tore the whole country into two bleeding sections, that to this day have still not completely been sewn back together.

I would bet that the reason why secession is looked upon with such distaste by the unit being seceded from is not at all the loss of some population. If it was only that, then the general feeling would be, "Good riddance to bad rubbish." The big catch is the geography that goes with them.

In 1861 there were actually two Secessions, the first involving the departure of seven states, headlined by South Carolina. That was almost bearable. But with the second, when four border slave states, notably Virginia, joined them, the United States shrank considerably in territory, and with that real seriousness suddenly set in. If the Palins are the best that Alaska has to offer, citizen-wise, that principle would go many times over in the case of that state.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hours to Go before the Dawn

It's been hard to write posts and comments these days. Maybe I've been listening to Air America and Nova M Radio too much, especially in the "wee" hours and at all hours of the night, when almost every night I'm in my workshop, desperately trying to get work done on my nine-sectioned "iris window," and finding it to be uncomfortably slow going. It's extremely disheartening, meanwhile, to be reminded over and over again of how a large segment of my supposed fellow countrymen are so bent on trying to secure the election, by hook and by crook, the election of such malevolent and unqualified people as J. McCain and S. Palin to run the country, in preference to the far more able, distinguished, and even-tempered B. Obama, on no more grounds than that the latter, like me, had a dark-skinned father and a light-skinned mother who gave him a middle name that had no more to do with terrorism than did my son's middle name, "Yusef," which had nothing to do with admiration of anything in the Middle East and instead was the first name of a jazz musician, Yusef Lateef, whose work my wife and I happened to admire greatly. It's discouraging to be reminded yet again, as I already have throughout all the sentient parts of my life, that to people like these, who know nothing about me, I am neverheless, like B. Obama, little better than a walking disease, when that is not my impression even by one atom.

Obama Signs

Somebody stole the two-foot-tall Obama sign that we had standing by the side of the road, up at the head of our driveway and out of sight of my wordshop and our house. luckily we had another sign to replace it, so now we'll just have to see how that one does.

We have displayed signs in past elections, and such a thing never happened then. But it is right in line with reports I hear of all kinds of anti-Obama acts being committed all over the country, as Election Day approaches and he still maintains his lead in the polls.

Anyone with a lifetime's acquaintance with the history of this country, especially as regards atttitudes toward those with recent African blood lines, would expect as much, and that's why, along with many others, Obama's running for President carries as much dread for me as it does amazement and a certain pride.

My wife's 85-year-old stepfather down in Florida, often says something to the effect of, "I very much hope that Obama makes it into the White House, and that, once he's there, he gets to stay there. There are a lot of dirty people in this world, you know."

Political races throughout American history have rarely been models of decorum, so one that also involves the element of race and the continuing resentments that it brings about figures to take place in an atmosphere of continual and steadily escalating nastiness. That is shown vividly in Republican rallies, especially those headlined by S. Palin performances, and it produces the most intense wish that time would proceed at an even more breakneck pace than it already does for me, until Election Day, which waits a little less than four long weeks from now.

...On the other hand, our neighbor across the road, K., has two Obama signs less than 30 feet from our sign, and neither was bothered. As doubtful as it may be, that could mean that the swiper decided that there were enough Obama signs in that one apot on the road, and ours was needed for display somewhere else.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Credit Default Swaps and Real Money

Nowadays Senator Everett Dirksen, a Senator from Illinois of some time ago, is probably remembered for, as much as anything, saying something like, "You talk about a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

Here I'm looking at things in another way. Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, 50-cents pieces, dollar bills, and even a whole suitcase filled with sawbucks are all really what amounts to real money. True, a single one of any of those coins will no longer buy you much (though I can remember when they did, and even a mere penny could at least get you a piece of some kind of candy). But greenbacks will still get you things.

On the other hand today, following Dirksen's departure, we have "credit default swaps."

They're supposed to be real money, too, but, compared to nickels and dimes, they're so far up in the financial asteroid belt that it's hard to see how they can be real money. The trouble starts with not knowing what they are.

The other day, the illustrious Congressman from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, the only Independent in the Senate, was on the Thom Hartman Show on Air America and also on Nova M Radio. He was one of several in Congress who had the fortitude -- and the regard for their constituents -- to go against the mix of hysteria and cynicism that engulfed so many of their colleagues, and he voted against the Wall Street Bailout. Sanders mentioned other economic dangers that also still threaten us but are even more sinister, because of their sheer imperviousness to ordinary understanding. Though he didn't put it this way, they're the financial equivalents of the quasars and the supernova bursts in distant constellations that could sweep through here so fast and without any warning that they would wipe us, the planet, and the entire Solar System out in a flash without anyone being the wiser.

The quasars of the eocnomic world are various kinds of derivatives, and as an example he cited one type, credit default swaps, and how important and menacing they are, yet, he added, not one person in a thousand can even tell you what they are.

So I thought I would try to be an exception, by asking the ever-informative Internet, but I quickly saw that I was going to fail, because, though, as so often, Wikipedia leaped to the eye first, it began by saying this:

A credit default swap (CDS) is a credit derivative contract between two counterparties, whereby the "buyer" pays periodic payments to the "seller" in exchange for the right to a payoff if there is a default[1] or "credit event"[citation needed] in respect of a third party or "reference entity".

And that was accompanied by a long and equally incomprehensible article that near its end featured a bunch of equations that looked suspiciously not like the ordinary tried and true recitals of nickels, dimes, and quarters, but instead like (gulp!) calculus.

We are informed that the total worth of all the goods and services produced by the six billion or so humans on the planet adds up to 62 trillion dollars a year. But credit default swaps, which involve concepts like speculation, hedge funds, and debt buying, are about amounts in the hundreds of trillions of dollars!

It's easy to conclude that economic matters jumped the track and eventually led to nonsense like credit default swaps as soon as the money changers at the end of the Middle Ages found it easier, safer, and more profitable to abandon barter and real money, by instead having figures and various instructions written and imprinted on paper to represent money instead. And with that the temptation was too great to avoid taking things to stratospheric levels, far beyond the ability to comprehend them not only on the part of ordinary mortals, or extraordinary peoole, but also even by those who cooked up these things in the first place, and so matters get out of hand.

I noticed, for instance, that after bringing them up, Sejator Sanders made no attempt to enlighten us on what "credit default swaps" are -- or mercifully had no time to -- and so there things stand ...and always threaten to fall.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

If Virginia, Why Not the U.S.A.?

Not long ago but before a similar light finally dawned in Massachusetts and in New York, though nowhere else in the U.S. so far, a Rainbow was elected governor of Virginia -- the first of that persuasion in that kind of post in the U.S. (When referring to people I use the term "Rainbow" instead of "black," even though the latter is the term that is erroneously and stupidly though universally applied to the descendants of the slaves from Africa, and also to others, including B. Obama, whose lineage, at least that of recent times, does not include those centuries of so much suffering at all.)

Doug Wilder served as governor of the former premier slave state of Virginia for two years, until his term ended, without incident, just as has happened through the centuries of other governors. During those two years the state did not collapse, did not develope hearing loss from too much rap music, or even contract an incurable case of athlete's foot. Instead the "Cavalier State" just kept bopping along as it always had, with the same amount of modest and often indistinguishable change.

So what is the difference between Virginia and the U.S.? Not much that I can see. In fact, in many respects it is merely a microcosm of sorts.

Google's "Chrome" Browser

Lately I've been using Google's new "Chrome" browser. When it first came out, a few months ago, it was the main topic of discussion on many computer internet sites. Now, nothing.

Chrome is on the spare and somewhat mysterious side, but I like it. It's fast and stable, and it has a graphic menu feature on its home page that is much like the Speed Dial add-on to Firefox, except that you can't change things on it yourself. Instead it updates itself on the basis of how often you visit your favorite sites, which in itself is interesting to see from one day to the next. It only has room for nine sites at a time, and that could stand expansion in future updates. But just that small number is turning out to be about enough for me.

So far I've been using Chrome mainly for listening to two 24-hour progressive political radio sites: Air America and Nova M Radio. Having the lowest strength of Wild Blue broadband makes this possible, here in the woods.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Matching Acts of Piracy

Despite a setback or two that didn't result from rational thought, the Great Wall Street Bailout Hold-Up Plan cooked up by the GWBush Buccaneers is still very much alive, and tomorrow it could become a reality. The House of Representatives accidentally did the right thing by voting it down, though only by 12 votes. The Democrats, whom you would think would know better, generally voted in favor of it, while a majority of the Republicans, from whom nothing good can ever be expected, in this case voted "No."

An interesting and incomprehensible sidelight of this vote was that the McCain people, who are Repubs, nevertheless immediately blamed Democrat B. Obama for the failure to pass, saying the vote showed his lack of leadership, as if he was the leader of the Repubs who voted "No" and so sank the thing beneath the waters -- for a few days. I still don't understand that line of thinking!

But since then the Senate, which was always in favor of the travesty, called themselves "sweetening the pot," by attaching another 110 billion dollars of pork aimed directly at the House members in both parties who voted "No," and the optimism is great that tomorrow the bill will pass and the taxpayers will get yet another royal shaft shot at them by the ever felonious Congress.

Also in the interim, to call the scheme a "bailout" is now a big no-no, and it is instead a "rescue" plan. Using an expression that is wildly popular these days ever since B. Obama used it in another context, some have said that this change in terms, coupled with the pork, is like putting lipstick on a pig.

But the saddest thing is that so many figures who normally earn the greatest respect are urging the passage in the strongest terms, though with regrets. They call it a bad bill, yet see it as absolutely necessary if the economy is not to go to the dogs. They concede that the people who are responsible for the credit crunch that is threatening the economy so badly are going unpunished. They concede that the bailout very likely will exceed the obsolete 700 billion figure that is nevertheless still being used. They concede that the bulk of that money will go directly to the big Money Changers, the central banks here, there, and everywhere. And they concede that the taxpayers will not get much in return, except that the chance of the next Great Depression coming down on their heads soon will be lessened. But no one seems to be guaranteeing that that calamity won't happen anyway, as no preventive mechanisms have been set into place. Instead, the Seven Deadly Sins being what they are, there's every chance that the lenders will be emboldened to repeat the act, secure in the feeling that those in charge of extorting the public will become their saviors once again.

But in the light of all that, and since it is therefore such a bad bill, why be so united in the need to pass it? ...Unless these power figures in the more privileged echelons stand to gain from the gratitude of the Money Changers, in the continuing effort to keep as much money as possible always flowing from the many less privileged to the far less numerous and therefore more privileged citizens and their friends, the Money Changers?

And meanwhile a comparable act of piracy that is unfolding off the Somalia Coast is also hanging fire temporarily. The pirates are still aboard the freighter, the U.S. Navy ships are still surrounding it but otherwise not doing much of anything else except making sure the tanks and the ammo and the other stuff are not unloaded -- and that is important, as is just getting the pirates' nerves by their very presence, so that several of the pirates have been killed while fighting among themselves, because their demand for ransom has not been answered, and meanwhile the Russian frigate is still on its way, like the Russian fleet that sailed around half the globe back in 1903, on its way to fight the Japanese in the battle of Tsu-Shima. When the Russians arrived they were totally wiped out. But these modern Russians are expected to be a different quantity, and far less delicate in dealing with the pirates than are the American swabbies.

Maybe tomorrow or soon something decisive will happen there, too. That would be fitting, in this case of matching acts of piracy.

Update: With the recalcitrant lawmakers having received their bribes, though in the meantime the drawbacks of the case had not decreased in the least, the House approved the measure a few hours ago, today.