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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.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Better President

If I had been chosen President back in 2000, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan would've been invaded, at least by American troops, and as a result thousands of Afghans and millions of Iraqis would be still in their happy homes and enjoying the much longer shots at living that they were promised at birth but that foreigners from 7,000 miles away denied them. Instead I would've found ways to mess with the Taliban's mind, a surefire method of dealing with lunatics like them. Granted, Saddam would've still been around, but I believe that, like that McCain fellow, in 2003 Saddam had long since shot his wad and entered an early dotage that, in a nation of whizzbangs like Iraq, would've rendered him largely null and void, though over here numbers of people seem ready to let that condition go completely unnoticed, as in the case of that happily rejected latest Republican candidate for the highest office.

If I had been chosen President, I would not have summarily disposed of the big surplus that W. Clinton left in the U.S. Treasury, nor would the government be in so much debt. Instead it would've been in much better financial shape to deal with the many unavoidable crises that are always bound to arise.

If I had been chosen President, all the people who were forced to flee New Orleans because of Katrina would now have better built and higher levees to take for gfanted, and pleasant homes and apartment buildings to return to if they so desired, though my advice would be that if they have meanwhile become comfortably resettled elsewhere, they would be better off staying there. In all likelihood both my parents were born, sometime in the 1890's, in houses in that same 9th Ward that in 2005 was so badly inundated and will be again ...and again, because the mouth of the Mississippi has never struck me as being a sensible place to have a big city, and, even worse, to constantly crow over it.

If I had been chosen President, U.S. diplomacy would be on a big roll, with friends all over the world, to the point where even Atta and his boys might very well have decided to trust not in the 70 virgins esconsed in the clouds but to treat themselves to the definite realities of the Mexican wives that they were so cleverly instructed to choose, and in the meanwhile getting lost somewhere, maybe in Texas, while letting those several gigantic buildings that they hit stay mired in their states of dubious architectural distinction.

If I had been chosen President, the country would've been spared the yearly agony of the sickeningly ostentatious State of the Union spectacles. I would've delivered those messages less painfully simply by sitting alone under a Virginia redbud tree in the spring, in shirt sleeves, and so also spared the nation of the sight of the entire U.S. Congress, which is never ever a pretty picture.

If I had been chosen President, I would've started the ball rolling for single-payer or universal health care, low drug costs, development of solar power and electric cars, much more pay for teachers, even mediocre ones, and far less pay for corporate executives, fewer incarcerations for non-violent crimes, Presidential elections no more than four months long, depopularizing gun masturbation of all kinds, and no waste of money on missile shields, especially some right on Russia's jutting toes.

If I had been chosen President, I would've submitted budgets that would've been noticeably short on more money for noisy, gas-wasting airplanes, though I was in the Air Force. But, though Navy uniforms are the pits, I would've kept about as many boats on the high seas as we have now -- the visible ones, not the submarines. I like the T. Rooseveltian idea of speaking simply by having huge warships make timely appearances around the world. Much less wear and tear on everybody that way, and it would harken back to my self-training in childhood days, when I would endlessly shift little pieces of cork and wood around on a tabletop, in always victorious, bloodless naval encounters.

And in light of the constant braying of the nation's "heartland," I would probably also push for moving the capital from its admittedly completely illogical location in my hometown to somewhere in the Nation's midsection, though NOT in Kansas.

No one is more aware than I am, however, that in reality, neither in the U.S. nor in Virginia or even in D.C. could I ever have been elected to so much as sweep the spit off the sidewalks. Yet I'm still certain that I would still have made an infinitely better tenant in the White House than that now happily ousted Bush bird, though, come to think of it, so would you have, and tens of millions of other citizens as well.

All of that is obvious, which causes one to wonder what Presidential elections are really all about.

Well, now we are in the first stages of the joyous process of finding that out -- though Mr. Obama is, at least here, being judged in terms of how near or how far he goes from the above agenda. So far he's not doing bad, though staying in Afghanistan is an even worse idea than staying in Iraq, and with his post I am so informing him.

Friday, February 27, 2009

All of Us American Slaves

In an article posted a short while ago on Downside (for which quite often "Far-Fetched" is the more apt term) World News and on the Alternet, a writer named Joshua Holland asked why Americans weren't following the example of many others around the globe, by reacting strongly against the current drastic economic downturn and pouring out into the streets in huge numbers to protest. "Why aren't we rioting?" he asked.

The answer he gave was that it was because Americans have been stomped down so thoroughly after previous efforts to rebel that it has become a passive, acquiscent society, and thus an agglomeration of slaves.

In a world thzt is as pitted with pools of total hogwash as Ontario and Minnesota are with lakes, a view like that still stands out in the realm of nonsense.

If J. Holland is an American, I do not think he has been one for very long. Or, if he has, he hasn't spent much time observing how his fellow Americans really are. For sure he can't be a thinking Rainbow, and especially one who has been around for a while.

Actually Holland should count himself -- and all his fellow Americans -- lucky that in the U.S. the economic difficulties have been taken in relative stride, because, if he had spent much time in checking out American behavior, and especially if he knew anything about the experience of the Rainbow citizens, he would know that majority Americans are actually quite quick to hit the streets with clubs and torches, with not much needed to set them off, especially if the villains in their minds are sufficiently color-coded and so easily identifiable. But then how many people of Holland's persuasion have any feeling for or knowledge of the long series of very serious race riots that marked the last half of the 19th and much of the 20th century?

Holland mentioned the Whiskey Rebellion, the Civil war, and the Black Militants of the 1960's as examples of revolts that in time were thoroughly squashed and thus ultimately contributed to American "servitude." But did they? And where in the American soul is that servitude that is so implicit in the often too-free use of the term "slavery?"

Making and selling whiskey without paying any taxes just went underground and to this day continues while having lost little of its luster. Try living in a great many of today's countrysides and see. Nor was the Civil War really lost by the South. That region merely regrouped and today a great many of its wheeler-dealers continue to comprise the main shoulder that is put to the wheel in pushing the country to the right and toward the ultimate pit of fascism. Substituting western states like Idaho, Utah, and Oklahoma for the three more truly Southern states that nevertheless went blue, the most recent electoral map could have been mistaken for the lineup of the contesting states in Lincoln's time. And militancy is still as alive and well as ever in the Rainbow community.

The main reason -- among many -- for the lack of U.S. protests against the current economic slump and other big problems, like health care and climate change, is just the opposite. Most Americans stand squarely instead on the "M" side of the ever-present master-slave equation instead of the "S," and they are always looking for the opportunity to be the masters in the situation.

The villains of the economy mess are just the kind of people that a great many Americans aspire to becoming themselves, and it would be illogical for them to demand that real punishment be meted out to their role models. As easily you could expect to see them protesting en masse against football and movie stars, or against mobsters or serial killers for that matter.

And if any were disposed toward doing just that anyway, the worst of the economic bad news broke when the administration then in place and that therefore could be accused of letting the bad practices happen would soon be gone anyway, while the new administration is trying hard to set things back into kilter, and so they must be given a chance.

But even if things don't improve markedly in the next several years, I doubt that we will see real protests then either.

The often-used image of the frog not noticing that he was being scalded to death because he was in the slowly heating pot from the beginning comes to mind.

Quietly coping is as American as anything else, especially if they're not pushed too quickly into it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Credit Default Swaps Again

Yesterday I found what most people definitely avoid giving if they can at all manage it -- a definition of those veritable economic demons called "credit default swaps," though the writer instead called them "collateral debt swaps." So he said this:

In pursuit of ever more profits, financial institutions began betting on the success and failure of various debt instruments and by implication on firms. They bought and sold collateral debt swaps. A buyer pays a premium to a seller for a swap to guarantee an asset’s value. If an asset “insured” by a swap falls in value, the seller of the swap is supposed to make the owner of the swap whole. The purchaser of a swap is not required to own the asset in order to contract for a guarantee of its value. Therefore, as many people could purchase as many swaps as they wished on the same asset. Thus, the total value of the swaps greatly exceeds the value of the assets.

,,,The next step is for holders of the swaps to short the asset in order to drive down its value and collect the guarantee. As the issuers of swaps were not required to reserve against them, and as there is no limit to the number of swaps, the payouts can easily exceed the net worth of the issuer.

I don't know about you, but I find this explanation to be just as impenetrable as all the others I have seen, of which there could've been as many as two. And this was in a sweeping overview of the whole current economic mess, called "How the Economy was Lost" and that otherwise was generally easy enough to understand, written by a man named Paul Craig Roberts, who used to be a high U.S. Treasury official. I don't know if the trouble was due to the way it was written -- Roberts, after all, worked (I think) for R. Reagan, which was when all the trouble started -- or whether the fault lies in the total craziness of the swaps themselves.

As far as my extremely limited view of these things allows, what he is saying here is that the swaps are actually side bets that the holders of these loans that are now securities makes with someone else as to whether the loans will be repaid. Only the arrangements are not called "bets." Instead they are seen as being insurance policies. But after all, what is insurance if not a wager or a bet that the cost of paying it out will be less than the cost of paying for it?

So here, in that highly rarefied and deliberately obscured world called "High Finance," which after the events of the past several months should be called "Low Finance" instead, we have people totally unknown to the original borrowers who are taking the loans that the borrowers take on and making huge quantities of bets as to whether or not the loans will be repaid. And, according to Roberts, huge amounts of the bailout money voted by Congress and thereby taken from the taxpayers is going toward paying off these side or above bets and not the loans themselves.

That makes no sense at all!

And why are these things called "swaps?" What is being swapped, i.e. traded?

But if this is in any way what is happening and at the heart of the economic crisis, and if this is where the High Finance geniuses have taken things, then it's practically impossible to see how Prez Obama or anyone else can pull this situation out of the toilet, that is, with money.

So I must be wrong. Right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Three Digits

My wife brought up from Florida and gave to me a digital clock that had formerly belonged to her recently deceased mother and that features bright red digits that are nearly three inches high and so can be easily made out by my weakened visual system. And I've been surprised at how,nearly every time I look, the numbers mean something more than just the time. I mean the three-digit numbers. Four digits suggest nothing at all.

I am especially struck by how often "7:27" shows up, because that is the month and the day of my birth. But it's interesting to see how any other set of three digits can signify something, running from the models of airliners to the number that my father liked to play, which if memory of what my mother once told me is correct, was either 427 or 417.

On his departure from this life so very many years ago, way back in 1938, my mother, while disposing of his clothes, was astonished to find his pockets full of numbers slips. She knew he played the numbers, but not that much. I wonder if my father was actually some kind of hidden "oolicy maker," or a "numbers runner."

"Playing the numbers" based on three digits only and somehow arrived at from finishes at race tracks that same day, used to be a major industry in the otherwise deprived communities of rainbows ("black" people to others). It was a generally harmless activity that furnished a great deal of hope to so many minority urban dwellers, and it could be indulged in even with just a few pennies -- I mean the real copper ones -- which was frequently all that a lot of people had in those days to throw in the direction of their hopes and dreams. So it was often preyed upon by police enforcing laws made by politicians who were more than eager to prove themselves and so enacted decrees at the expense of those who were helpless against them, and that went right along with the even more egregious and evil Jim Crow laws. The current drug laws are the best modern example of that continuing cruelty and thoughtlessness in law enforcement, with the Bushisan so-called "anti-tettorism" measures not far behind.

Today we have the state-run lotteries, which are as legal as "the numbers" were illegal in yesteryears, though it is exactly the same wagering. And I'm guessing that the lotteries have completely destroyed the local numbers-running activities that furnished so much employment as well in the inner cities, and for which no college degrees were needed, though it did call for great capacities for memory and for math, of which there was no shortage, no matter how mentally inferior the group was supposed to be.

--On another but not completely disconnected note, this morning when I awoke those big red numbers read somewhere in the "5:35" territory.

I got to thinking that that's what that clock always reads every morning when I emerge once more from that weird, hours-long, and dreams-hanunted state of stupor in which everyone must engage and that is called, euphemistically I think, "sleep." And I wondered why. Then I remembered that that is exactly the time of morning when my mother said I was born.

Can it be that the mind remembers that bright moment of awaking into life in general, and so repeats that theme in all these latter days?

Answering Roll Call

Two-thirds of a teaspoonful of instant coffee is a good way to flavor a cupful of hot water, milk, and cream first thing in the morning, just as a mere capful from a bottle of applejack brandy made in Virginia adds admirably to any flavor of ice cream just before going to sleep at night.

Yet the former view, if not the latter, is obviously deeply abhorred in the wilds of Somewhere, Minnesota, and that helps to define such a place.

I don't know how thoughts on this might run in areas where other distinguished scribes can be found, notably in the football-crazed Panhandle of Florida, the slightly more serene Thomas Wolfe country around Asheville, N.C., or in the teeming innards of Houston, Texas.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lonely Affinity

Despite all their highly sophisticated sensory devices that you see so much in submarine movies, two nuclear missile subs, one sent there by the British and the other by the French, went to sleep at their scopes in the middle of the Atlantic and collided earlier this month. But luckily they didn't drop anything important, and they got back to their bases safely.

One official said that, with the Atlantic being so huge, the chance of that happening was unbelievable.

But outer space is many, many times bigger, while satellites are smaller than subs, yet a few days ago two of those also crashed head-on into each other. One belonged to the Russians and the other to the U.S., so predictably this left a lot of debris floating around to endanger the many other manmade objects floating around up there.

Consequently calls have gone out for satellite wreckage watching as well as for space traffic control, as if it wasn't enough already for people with telescopes down here to keep an eye out for wayward asteroids and comets that are coming our way and it's only a matter of time, whether it be seconds or eons.

You would think that any town in the first days of cars would be big enough for the first few machines in them to easily avoid each other, yet I seem to remember a story about the first two in one town seeking each other out and having a big smash-up together.

It must be a law of nature that objects that are alike in a setting that seems boundless must develop a strong affinity for getting way up close and personal with each other that can't be resisted.

...Or either in all three cases people were not admitting something.

The people who steered the Titanic weren't as lucky. There were too many witnesses, and besides, the iceberg and the ship weren't similar objects. One was part of the sea and the other wasn't, though it is now, and has been for just short of a hundred years already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Solution of Evolution

Here on the C. Darwin anniversary is an article on evolution in which nearly every paragraph gives us something interesting to think about, in relation to how things came to be and are still coming to be, when it comes to how human beings became the way they are, physically speaking.

And it's all so logical.

That's one of the biggest reasons why creationism makes little if any sense.

Another reason why it can't be preferred is that creationism is really an insult to any Creator or Creators, because when you look around at the large number of true monsters who exist among the human species and so must presumably be also the products of this god or gods and are pleasing to him, she, or them because there are so many of these things, who in their right minds would want to have anything to do with such supposed designers, much less pay endless homage to them?

Evolution is concerned with that kind of thing, though only to the extent of how it affects survival and adapting to the environment around us -- the main business of life itself. And it's surprising how much of a hand in that is given to us and not to any external creators, by evolution For instance in the tastes that build up among us for sexual preference.

You would think that creationism would take into account more seriously what the Holy Bible says in one of its very first statements, about "man" being created in the image of God, and all the rest of the passages about "man's dominion" over all living things. But it doesn't, not when it comes to explaining how various stuff came to be, like blue eyes, or the ability to jump long and high.

Apparently we largely brought that sort of business on ourselves.

It wouldn't be too unholy to assume that kind of responsibility, among many others.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Happiness and the Ice Floes

This morning at dawn the outdoors temperature here read forty (40) degrees F. In light of what's been happening, this is pretty cool!

Yesterday my great, good neighbor G. came over to see if I had, in my extensive collection of old boards of many lengths and kinds left over from my many home-building projects, a tulip poplar board of certain dimensions, though, surprisingly, I didn't.

In the course of his short visit G. mentioned that he had been reading this weblog of mine, and he said that it shows that I am not a happy man. So this morning I report first thing on that temperature, which makes me quite happy.

Later I thought that I should have answered that if he thinks my weblog gives that impression, he should read other people's sites. What I did say was that speaking of things that bother you is one of the main purposes of writing a weblog, and he would definitely do the same if he had one. And if one cares at all about what's happening with other people in the world, and what's happening in the world even beyond humans, there's plenty to be unhappy about.

The Lake Erie ice floe incident yesterday illustrated that point perfectly.

In Ohio (G's beloved home state, by the way), doing something that they and their antecedents had always done, ice fishing, 100 of the more venturesome fishermen ignored the fact that things were warming up, and they went even farther out on the frozen Lake Erie than others, laying a makeshift bridge of plank boards across a fissure in the ice to do so. They reckoned that what could happen wouldn't happen because it hadn't happened so many times in the past. But, because in all likelihood a person only has one lifetime at his disposal, he shouldn't be too disposed to risk that one merely to get some fish that others are too wary -- and smart -- to try to grab.

So all up and down that shoreline a section of that ice eight (8) miles long suddenly broke off, and the planks all fell in the water and floated away, leaving this huge number of hardcore souls who always knew what they were doing up the well-known S. Creek without a bridge, and they had to yell at the tops of their voices for help -- those, that is, who weren't too proud and embarrassed to do so.

A flotilla of rescuers duly arrived, and only one of the strandees fell into the frigid water and drowned. But their saviors weren't too happy with having to do what absolutely had to be done, citing the great wastages of manpower and money involved, and we can expect that instead of pulling up more and bigger fish, those diehard anglers can expect to have to put down some sizable cash in recompense.

Ice floes are breaking off and floating away literally and figuratively wherever you look, with "smart" people stranded on them and having to bailed out at considerable coast and danger to the bailer-outers, and that kind of thing is what the most interesting weblogs are all about.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

That Accent

Yesterday I saw a movie that had Tilda Swinton in it. It was called "Burn After Reading." A few days before that I saw another movie that had Helena Bonham-Carter in it. It was called "Conversations with Other Women," though after having seen it twice, the only conversation I heard in it was with only one woman, and that one, which lasted through the whole film, fittingly was with her. And a little while before that I saw a movie called "Croupier" whose makers had the enough good taste, or luck, to cast not only Alex Kingston** (very definitely a woman, despite the name) but also Gina McKee, who had already long ago starred as Ireney in the first Masterpiece Theater series based on J. Galsworthy's series, "The Forsythe Saga." And these are just a few in an amazingly long line of British thespians of that gender and appeal.

None of these films would go on my All-Time Greatest List, yet they were linked and distinguished by one feature, the felicity of which there can be no doubt. In addition to their other attributes, you can't beat those actresses and their always sensible statements as put forth with their best aspect of all -- that ever elegant mature female British accent.

And just think -- in Shakespeare's day, women weren't even allowed to go on the stage, and instead rusty-dusty men always played those parts.

What a miserable experience that must've been! The Elizabethan Age may have been a Golden Age, but, like any Age, it certainly had its share of incongruities, anomalies, perversities, or whatever you want to call it.

Yet even today (and for me quite often any time in the last 40 years is still "today") Kabuki is still the same way, and, having seen some of it, the real thing, in Tokyo's Kabuki-za Theater, I think I can say that it is missing out on something, bigtime.

Hoping for Better

Yet another cold early morning here in the frost pocket. Only 7 above. I had hoped for better this month. After all, February is Rainbow History Month.

And ye olde England is engulfed in snow, despite the Gulf Stream.

I think more attention should be paid to what's happening with the Conveyor Belt, deep under the Atlantic, not that much can or will be done about it, seeing as how, then as now, a lot of people had no problem with living in caves.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

New Jersey

As, with the obvious exceptions of Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, South Carolina -- and the political situation is such that there was no need to stop there -- no state is more deserving of gratuitous slander than New Jersey, this moment right on the heels of my preceding post seems like a good time, finally, to post the following paragraphs, which I wrote as long as three years ago.

I am convinced that New Jersey, like any other place, is capable of and has in fact produced some of the very finest people to be found anywhere. In fact I know a number of such persons, and some of them, would you believe it, still live there. Nevertheless I think that on the whole New Jersey has problems, and one reason is that sometimes its inhabitants badly need to dig themselves.

It is probably one more indication of the general sad state of human affairs that so many of the species have chosen to pile up together in that one place, which has the shape of a pillow that a giant tried to squeeze in the middle but quickly gave it up as a bad job. Over time the natives have made a big mess of things there, and it used to be that it wouldn't be long after you crossed into the premises before your olfactory senses would make a point of telling you that, from, I suppose, all the refineries and industries and what else. Maybe by now the Clean Air Act has had some effect.

I know you will still see many trees and some farms there, yet New Jersey is, to my knowledge, the only state so far that officially no longer has any rural areas. The entire state has long since been declared to be a metropolitan area. Unless I missed the announcement, that miserable distinction hasn't been achieved yet even by tiny Rhode Island.

This means that all the so-called "Garden State" in effect has become one big, sprawling city. It means that proportionately more of it has been paved over and thus sealing off life- and happiness-providing Mother Earth than in any other state.

The beautiful, relaxed, and still lightly populated county in which I live, which gradually rises from the Piedmont up to the crest of the Blue Ridge, in the western part of Virginia, and in which I myself am a transplant, has been discovered in recent years by droves of retirees and other people from New Jersey, and now every other person you meet seems to be a refugee from that state. My good friend down the road and across the river, H., views this as a renewed invasion and a permanent occupation, finally, by the despicable Yankees, and he has said that it's too bad that they can't all be arrested on sight and deported.

I don't waste time wondering how I fit into that, but it can't be favorable, as I am not only an unapologetic liberal, but also I didn't even have the good grace or the sense to be a native of Virginia. Instead I was born and raised just across the river, in Washington, D.C., where H. was, for a short time, once a cop, and I can guess what he must think about its citizens.

I don't go as far as H. with regard to his professed attitude about New Jersey, but let me just note that while I was living in D.C., twice careless New Jersey drivers struck my ineffably cool little black 1963 VW Bug in the rear, causing damage for which of course I wasn't recompensed one red cent, because of "The Sopranos" land from whence they had slithered.

So H. and I are in agreement on one point at least, though for different reasons. New Jersey drivers should not be allowed to leave their state.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


In this article, in a section titled "Great Homes and Destinations," no less than the mighty NY Times recently directed their readers' attention to (Hey!) nothing less than the nearest town to us, 10 miles away, a tiny burg with less than 2,500 full-time citizens who all have at least seen each other around many times, and it gave the impression that this area is yet another highly desirable place in which to live, a haven.

I don't know how much of a salute that really is, because when you're looking at things from anywhere less than 200 miles or so from the Times offices, a huge number of places could be called a "Great Home and Destination."

Nevertheless, maybe this means that we knew what we were doing by relocating here from D.C. so many years ago, when we bought a patch of woods and I had a house to build all on my own -- an effort that was a big percentage of the whole point.

The article spoke glowingly of the usual things that such articles speak glowingly about when the authors are trying to sell some location out there in the provinces, and in this case way out there in the sticks -- the air, the sleepiness of life, the land prices, the presence of a couple of golf courses, and the fact that prospects of rearing up stacks of condominiums, preferaby looking out over the golf courses, are in that clean air. In other words, this "haven" is ripe to be turned into what the paper's readers are used to and aspire to -- immediate outlying areas of New York City and all of New Jersey.

The article was kind of funny. That kind of outlying, thickly malled area already exists in the county being spoken of, the southern part adjoining the city of Lynchburg.

But the authors were mostly touting the other part, the part just across the county line from where I live. That second part, with which I am much more familiar, is more whimsical, homespun, rougher, timeworn, timeless, and a hundred other adjectives that I could think of, and so far it has easily repulsed the invasions in the name of golf course-condo civilization that this article is calling for.

I don't think the natives of this part have much to worry about anyway. The readers of the NY Times are much more likely to pour themselves instead into that Christmas stocking-like peninsula called Florida, because it is believed to be warmer there than anywhere else.

And I will have to say that the climate here is much like I believe that of upstate New York is, and this present frigid winter has been stark testimony to that.

I'm not trying to pull up the ladder. I'm just saying....