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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 30, 2009

The Latest Republican Derriere Shot

You would think that by now the Republicans would have learned to sling their six-shooters in a different place, to prevent all their self-inflicted wounds in their rear ends. The latest in their urge to leave no cowflop unturned in their numerous fraudulent attempts to prevent any improvement of health care in the U.S. is being reported today by none other than the Washington Post, a paper that I think of as usually leaning their way.

The article is titled "RNC Uses New Scare Tactic on Reform," and the first paragraph reads:

The Republican National Committee suggested in a recent fundraising appeal that Democrats might use an overhaul of the health-care system to deny medical treatment to Republicans.

This is a "scare?"

Can't you just expect that it's going to strain every charitable bone in a true Democrat's body to refrain from thinking (and doing worse), to the effect of, "Hmm! Maybe that wouldn't be all bad"?

It would involve following Republicans deeper into the realm of the Ridiculous than the Democrats would normally want to go, but the temptation would still be there.

"Avoid Christening New Boats"

Long ago, when I was 21 or 22 and taking a cross-country train ride at the behest of the military, I talked for a while with a Catholic priest who couldn't have been much older than I was.

He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, after the Air Force. I told him I had great ambitions of being a writer, a la Hemingway and Fitzgerald. (This was before Hemingway shot himself and before I knew about Fitzgerald getting stretched flat by booze.)

Without hesitation the priest said quite tersely (and this is an exact quote), "Many people will reject you."

I was certain that I knew just what he meant. He was referring to my skin color, though he could also have had in mind my non-dynamic personality, which may have been clearly noticeable even in just those several moments.

I thought, and have thought many times since then, that his saying that had been unnecessary in the extreme, and that it showed that he was not going to be a very good priest.

I can't ever know how my prophecy turned out, but I have to concede that his prediction worked out largely as he had stated it -- not in every or even in most respects but certainly when it came to my literary ambitions.

But that has never caused me to lose any sleep. It is possible to put quite a few serviceable words to paper even without the cheers of the crowd.

I was reminded of that priest's prognosis for me by a film that I saw a few days ago, called "The Ashes of Time Redux." I'm guessing that it was largely made by West Coast Chinese-American film-makers. Netflix gave the impression that it was a martial arts film, though the swordfights were just blurs of motion, shapes, sounds, and colors and were there mainly to fill in between the much longer sequences of what the makers really had in mind, which was Chinesey moods and Chinesey pithy sayings mixed in with advice from ancient almanacs.

My favorite warning from the ancient almanacs was, "Avoid christening new boats."

Can it be that it is precisely our relative lack of new boats that makes it so hard for us to know what to do with our days?

But also one of those pithy sayings ran, "The best way to deal with rejection is to reject others first."

Now I have to decide if that has been my strategy all along, dating from long before I took that cross-country train ride.

I don't know how I could ever be sure. There could have been many other factors on my part that could have played key roles, including inborn indifferences of various kinds.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Infernal Crystals

My "gouty arthitis" has eased up, and I am able to get around without the use of a cane and such, but I am still not out of the woods, and it's going to take time.

Two days ago I was invited to a horseshoes session at G.'s place, but the pitching part of it -- not the talking part -- was a disaster. In the one game that I played, N. and I lost 11-1, and I only managed to throw two shoes that might have been points, only to have both cancelled ahead of time by the ringer that G. already had sitting there.

In horseshoes, or at least in the way that I pitch, it is absolutely essential to make two strong strides forward, the first with the left foot and the second with the other, motions that help to propel the heavy shoes up and over to the other peg with reasonable accuracy 40 feet away. But that becomes badly impaired when the infernal crystals in and around the joints of both big toes reduce one to making only painful half-steps.

Throughout the early part of my life it was my impression that gout was a long-vanished ailment of some sort that had been purely the province of men who now moved about only in my English Literature books -- paunchy, bewigged British country squires and city gentlemen in the 1700's, who also suffered from goodies like the yellow bile, the black humours, and what was thought to be especially cool, melancholy. Otherwise I never heard of anyone in my world getting it, and even today I still haven't managed to drop that quaint and badly mistaken perception completely out of my head, so that to have that affliction still seems to be bizarre and even a little embarrassing.

"Gout." What an ugly word, and so unthinkable! Yet it is actually quite common, and today the estimate is that at any given time 5 million Americans, usually men, have to endure the pain of it, and it is called the "Rich Man's Disease," because it is thought to be caused by eating rich foods.

Rich food or not, science says that the culprit is uric acid, which builds up in the joints of the feet, mainly at the big toe, and it creates crystals there that cause the inflammation and the pain.

So I've been wondering why a device can't be invented that gives out rays that dissolve the crystals without hurting anything else in there. It seems highly feasible to me, and I have in mind not some infinitely complicated instrument that only specialists in hospitals are licensed to use, like the kidney stone machines, but a simple, handheld device for use on the feet and that could be sold in any corner drugstore.

But fat chance of anything like that! As shown by all the evil and totally misguided intentions that are being marshalled today to beat down any attempt to reform health care in this country, there are too many people who are bound and determined to keep all health prices up at astronomical levels, so as to keep amazing profits flowing into the coffers of the drug makers, instrument makers, insurance companies, and other corporatists who profit so handsomely from the pain and suffering of people who can't easily treat themselves and are otherwise kept from getting the best care by insurance difficulties and by having no insurance at all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Incident in Ketchikan

I have always been uneasy about railings on high places. I don't like coming close enough to one to so much as touch it, much less depend on it for my safety, no matter how stoutly built it is.

The other day, N., the older of the two sons of our neighbors and good friends right up the road, G. and C., was attending a dinner party up on a bluff in Ketchikan, in far-off Alaska, where he and his brother P. both work on a salmon fishing boat. N. was walking along the edge of a path or narrow road that skirted the edge of a high cliff, along which ran a wooden railing. A couple came up from the other direction, heavily laden with groceries, and he asked if they needed any help. They said, "No," and meanwhile he stood aside to give them room to pass. In the process he pressed against the railing, and it had rotted, and it gave way. He had only imbibed a beer or two.

A heavily muscled young man in good health but not designed to take flight, N. fell like a rock for 10 or 12 feet and slammed hard into a pile of timber. The next thing he knew he was in a hospital in far off Seattle a day or two later, and eventually he found out the rest of what had happened.

Nails, splinters, or something in the timbers punctured him in a few places in his mid areas, but that didn't keep him from bouncing off the timber and rolling over and over much farther down the steep precipice, 25 or 30 feet, picking up so much momentum during this "ragdolling" that at the bottom of the cliff his carcass flew over a retaining wall and crashed down on the hood of a Toyota pickup, mashing it, and from there he rolled over onto the street, finally coming to a halt, while beginning to create a pool of blood.

Naturally that created a lot of anxiety on the parts of his brother and his hostess. They sped down to the bottom of the cliff and were relieved to see that somehow he was still alive and was even trying to sit up. P. made him lie still till help came.

The Ketchikan medics patched him up as best they could, but said there was nothing else they could do, and they sent for the means to send him on to Seattle.

That was a little over a week ago. His mother and father went out there to bring him home. Yesterday he came over here to lollygag and to play some chess, and he didn't look any the worse for the wear to me. The resilience of the young! He has some fractures, and a small hematoma on one side, and he is on painkillers, and also he has to obey doctor's orders that are requiring him to forgo his normal freewheeling lifestyle, at least for a while.

He said he was still marveling over his escape from worse, and well he might. But then he said something like, "I've never had anything like that happen to me before!"

I am always a little amazed that young people never think about what they're saying when they reflect on some out of the ordinary incident and say with great wonder, "I've never had that happen to me before!" Of course they haven't, when they're only 20, or even 28, as in the case of N.

So I couldn't help saying, "Neither has anyone else had that happen to them."

N. and my wife seemed to think that that was worth a couple of laughs.

Meanwhile I am thinking particularly about the owner of that pickup. I would be very interested to hear what he thought when he saw his vehicle and found out what had happened. "An unconscious man flew over that wall there and did it!" And I would be equally interested in hearing what that man's insurance company is finding to say about it.

"Yeah! It was Nick!"

N. seems to be only concerned that he has lost weight, as much as 25 pounds -- as if a few weeks of dedicated partying won't bring all that back in a hurry.

Letter to the Editor

The latest edition of our weekly local newspaper is carrying an article with the headline "Nelson Says 'No' to Health Care Reform." And now, because I attended the event to which the article refers and because that was not my impression at all, writing a letter of rebuttal is in my air. But don't know what I should say, nor do I really know why I should feel so obliged to do so, even if my wife thinks it's a good idea.

You might think that that would be child's play for me, considering the years of stuff I've put into this weblog. And it's not like writing a Letter to the Editor is something strange for me. I haven't written many, but I've written enough, including to the NC Times, that it would be easy to do.

But the Nelson County Times is not in any sense my milieu or my venue, and it is definitely NOT Blogger or this weblog. I have always subscribed to it, that's true, but only so as not to be totally ignorant of the many strange things happening in my immediate vicinity. But it has been years since I've read that paper closely and with real interest. That started around the turn into this century, when in the course of just a year or two, things in my life converged in such a way that, for one thing, I lost all interest in local matters. And, more importantly, I could no longer stand the extreme disservice that the newspaper was performing in consistently hewing to the conservative right wing way of thinking.

Regardless of the Freedom of Speech stuff and financial considerations, it seems to me that no communities of any size should be subjected to having its lone newspaper or its other main sources of information leaning completely to one end of the political spectrum, to the scornful and near total exclusion of the other end.. Though we see that happening all the time these days, such situations must be extremely damaging to a country that is so evenly divided between decent and indecent people, with a large number of Uncertains sandwiched between..

That kind of thing is a big reason why there is so much cold-heartedness in the nation as a whole, despite the election of B. Obama, an event that, to at least a few rainbows born before, say, 1940, still seems so unbelievable -- and also keeps them feeling constantly fearful, because of what could so easily happen to him in spite of all his best efforts.

The decisive factor in Obama's win was obviously that the shortcomings of his opposition trumped the traditional antipathy to his kind of ethnicity. It was too easy for people to see that, right on the heels of the clearly disastrous GWBush years, the Republicans were offering only more Variations of the Undesirable: a klutzy, short-sighted, and short-fused candidate for President, and a candidate for the position only a few feeble heartbeats away from him who sent people scrambling for new and extended definitions of "bimbo."

There's something of a distance between that practical perception and a general and genuine goodness of hearts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Forum Question -- After the Fact

Almost a week ago, while I was thinking about what I would post on this weblog about the health care forum where I had been a spectator a few hours earlier, a completely formed question for the Congressman suddenly popped, unbidden, into my head, although I had never had any intention of queuing up to speak. I had, however, before the event thought that I could say, if somehow I was pushed into it, merely that I commended the Congressman for coming there and holding the forum, because I thought it was taking a lot of heart for him and his Democratic colleagues to do that over and over again, not only in the face of all the attacks that were being leveled with such a nonsensical lack of justification against the reforms, but also because of the chore of having to respond in so much detail. When one is not sick and has no one in dire straits, the myriad ins and outs of health care are not the most gripping subject.matter.

I could easily have spoken at the forum, and I think I would have gotten the audience's attention. First, the rainbow presence there was light at best, especially of the male persuasion, though the Congressman had as his assistants not one but two rainbow female assistants, both of them absolutely devoted to their duties, and so, not knowing me, there would have been a certain amount of curiosity, even among the antis, about what I would find to say, especially extemporaneously. Being of a generation that had experienced Jim Crow first hand and had never seen any reason to "put that behind them," would I be another Reverend Jeremiah Wright or what? Plus my many friends there, who had never heard me speak in public about anything, would have waited with interest, because they would know that, as I have already demonstrated in this weblog for a long time, I am capable of saying almost anything of a side-off-the-wall though generally non-offensive nature.

But I'm glad that actually doing so never entered my mind, because the speech that I came up with later at home, hours after the fact, would have been so radical and biting and bizarre that it would've gone over, even among my close friends, like a lead balloon. My insistence on not using the slothful and inaccurate words "black" and "white" to denote people and instead substituting more suitable terms, such as "rainbows" in place of "black people," would all by itself have been enough for nearly universal dismissal of what I would say. Not that that would've been bad, but I wouldn't have felt like hearing it at that particular moment. I had already heard it several times in the past.

But, as happens so often, that didn't keep my mind from making various revisions of that speech anyway, and it has come up with a shorter and slightly less outrageous version, which, if I had had three days instead of mere minutes to pull it all together, would've gone as follows:

"Thank you. My name is Carl Gardner. I live in the southern part of Nelson County. I'm a Korean War veteran." (Most of the questioners led out with this kind of autobiography, partly to help establish their right to speak to the assembly, and it was especially important to show that you were no stranger to those parts.)

"Though I've lived here for the past 35 years, I was born, raised, and educated in that ultimate Government town, Washington, D.C. So it strikes me as especially strange and badly mistaken that so many people would stand up here and say that they don't want a health care program run by the Goverhment, on the grounds that the Government always does a very poor job of administering its programs.

"I want to ask what about the military? That's a government-run program. Do they really want to put our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen under the command of the same species of private tycoons who, just in the last days of the year 2008 brought us what I call the "Great GWBush Stickup," or "The Bailout:" as it is more commonly called, so that financiers on Wall Street could start paying off the side bets such as credit default swaps that they had made in such profusion, unknown to the taxpayers, who were now dragooned into paying off those scam financial instruments, under what I regarded as the bogus threat of the setting in of another Great Depression?

"What about the Interstate highways? Do these objectors really say, "Mabel, let's not use this interstate, because it was built by the Government and is even still being maintained by the Government. Let's get on the backroads instead and take six weeks to get to Seattle." I don't think they say that!

"What about medicare? That's a government program, the last time I looked. After rushing her to the hospital do they really throw away Grandma's Medicare card and pay her bills out of her meager savings instead, or out of their own pockets? I don't think so.

"What about social security? Do they look forward to burning every social security check they get when the time comes, even if that's the only thing standing between them and utter destitution? I don't think so!

"When you've been a member of a certain, often despised minority group as long as I have, 78 years, you become pretty adept at being able to tell when, in referring to things applicable to your group, certain members of the majority are saying one thing when they really mean something else entirely. I think I've heard some of that tonight. I'm referring again to the frequent condemnations of "government-run" programs. Some of the concerns about those programs, such as efficiency and what-not, may be legitimate, but those speakers should be aware that they're lining themselves up elbow to elbow with a large number of objectors of a much more sinister kind.

"To bring that out into the light let's substitute what I believe a number of those anti-government-run-program people really mean, which is instead 'programs run by a President whose skin is not the right color.'

"Mr. Periello, my question is, when you and your Democratic colleagues up on Capitol Hill are meeting to thrash out the details of this reform, is there any feeling among you that despite all your hard work on this most important of bills, a great deal of the opposition, and maybe even most of it, is directed not really against the reforms but instead against the U.S. President who favors the changes, merely because they've been totally overcome by their antipathy toward Mr. Obama's Kenyan ancestry on his father's side, and especially as sexually coupled with his American ancestry on his mother's side? Thank you."

I know that this statement, too, would've been too long to be given there, but maybe one day soon they'll hold another such forum, and I'll get to give it there instead. And by then maybe I will have found a way to avoid abbreviating it too much, by instead delivering it at breakneck speed, yet clearly enough to be understood, though that could be well beyond my present physical abilities.

I can't say, however, that this is yet another case of my having missed a moment. It would've been impossible to say the above at the forum last Thursday, because it was contingent on the things I heard there, and I had no way to know ahead of time what those would be.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

T. Kennedy

I always felt especially close to Senator Teddy Kennedy. One reason was that he had the same nickname as the cousin who is the closest thing that I have had to a brother. Another reason is that the Senator and I were both unapologetic, "bleeding heart" liberals of the worst kind. He always kept that flame of decency that is so characteristic of being a liberal reared high and burning bright, despite his having been the favorite whipping boy of all the Nasties on the Right. He "kept the faith, Baby," to borrow the words of the long departed Representative from NY, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who likewise did a good job of keeping conservative red noses bent permantely out of shape.

At some point in his life Teddy Kennedy should've been the U.S. President. But the incident at Chappaquiddick, in which his female companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the car, sank any Presidential ambitions he might later have had like a 1,000-pound chunk of lead, though it didn't keep his Massachusetts neighbors from pretty much setting aside one of their U.S. Senate seats for his lifetime tenure, starting in 1964.

For him to leave just at this moment is a big tragedy not only for him, his family, and his many admirers but also for the country as a whole, including his army of badly misguided detractors, because it comes just when the latest attempt to reform health care in the U.S., led with great difficulty by President Obama, is approaching its climax. Teddy Kennedy would have had a lot of important and influential things to say and do on that issue.

The third reason for the affinity I feel toward him is that we were in the same age bracket, and that always made me feel as if my date of birth had placed me in a special little club, though, being lucky enough not to have a brain tumor as yet (my feet troubles are beginning to make it look as if I'm fated instead to be chopped off at the ankles), last month I managed to reach age 78, while T. Kennedy would have reached that point only duringl this coming February, in the same month as the third member of our trio of notables, Elizabeth Taylor, the fabled movie actress and professional celebrity. However, not much is being heard and especially seen of her these days, I guess because so much of her great renown was based on her physical appearance, which was exceptional, even though in that respect I always thought that she fell just a little behind the Ingrid Bergmann of "Gaslight," as well as several of the Italian actresses, mainly G. Lollabrigida, S. Loren, and S. Mangano. But acting-wise, no one ever surpassed and few even got close to Elizabeth Taylor in her portrayal of straight-ahead, supreme bitchiness in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Foot Trouble

In the last two days my right foot and increasingly the left have been hit with some sort of malady that has left me almost immobile. In keeping with my usual medical actions, I've been trying to deal with it on my own, (with my wife's help), but now it seems to be getting worse. I think it's gouty arthritis, and it had been affecting only the area above my right big toe, but tonight the pain has spread over most of that foot and over into my left foot as well.

I've been treating it mainly with changes to my diet and with something squeezed from a tube, called "Zostrix." It contains an active ingredient made from hot peppers, and in the past it has worked great, but I don't know about this time.

Well, we'll see. I have too many things to do to let this go on for very long.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Levels of Reportage

I think it was Michael Crichton, the writer from whose efforts sprang the Sean Connery movie of some time ago, "The First Great Train Robbery," who said that the great majority of crimes are never solved.

From that point of view, the secrecy-enshrouded "Case of the Vanished Freighter," the "Arctic Sea" -- and numerous films -- suggest to me that maybe police should be allowed to take over a crime scene only after conscientious reporters have had a look-see, provided that that species still exists.

I know that sounds crazy, and the police will have none of it, maybe at gunpoint, but the idea should not be dismissed out of hand.

Journalists have usually been to college, a place where all answers are regarded as being forever up for grabs, even if while there mostly they drank and swyved. Police usually have only gone hunting, an activity in which everything is presumed to be already known, so that mainly they drank and swore.

But the big problem, which may yet lead to the great ship of the United States running aground after all, is that reporters modeling themselves on the example of B. Woodward and C. Bernstein, the uncoverers of Watergate -- the greatest nose-to-the-ground instance of reportorial investigation in my lifetime (though some would argue with that view of things) --may all have been co-opted by their corporate employers, so that following a story wherever it may lead -- and having it published -- could now be a thing very much of the past.

This wrecking of one of the main supporting posts of democracy and the nation began to take place after the Vietnam War, when a large number of media outlets passed into the hands of corporatists who were allied with politicians, mainly conservatives, who were determined to manage the news in such ways that all information was to be given to the compliant public only after having been reduced to largely pap and along the lines of their regressive ideology. Now even the Washington Post, the paper that so proudly and doggedly carried the work of Woodward and Bernstein, has deteriorated into being little more than just one more covert shill for the political right wing.

Luckily for us there is still the Internet, though efforts are being made to put that under tight harness as well. If that's possible and if it were to happen we would really be up the creek, in "Fahrenheit 451" territory. So maybe we should all be thinking about getting our memories into the best possible working order. But that can only go so far, before everything finally dissolves into becoming pure myth.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What are Town Hall Forums For?

If the answer can be put into a few words, what is the main purpose of town hall forums, with special reference to the ones now being held around the country on health care?

I guess the chief idea is to allow a Congressman to get input from his constituents prior to his deciding which way he will vote.

This presupposes that minds are not yet made up on the issues. But if the forum that I attended is anything like the others that are still being held, minus the goon squads sent out by the reactionaries to break up things, all minds, including that of the Congressman, have already been made up for good, and there's barely any chance of the direction of his vote being affected by anything that he would hear at the town halls. The very character of being a Congressman ensures that, and it probably happens that a great many of the people involved come out and openly say that they expect no minds to be changed on the parts of any of the participants.

So then, assuming that no one goes there in a state of total ignorance about the aspects of the iissue being discussed that interest them, the forums come out as being much more a matter of entertainment, and of the two main performers, the Congressman, however articulate and informed, comes out second best to the public testimonials. The public must inevitably have more flair, more color, and more variety, with its much wider cast of characters. And everyone present takes part in the show, even if they don't do anything but oscilllate between vigorous applause and sitting in stone-faced silence.

The mose useful effect, then, of town hall forums -- and it's an invaluable one -- is that they remind and they inform us about our communities.

I wonder if, following this health care effort, they will become as common here and in other parts of the U.S. as they have been in New England since colonial times? I have a feeling that a lot of people at the one I attended saw it as being a fun time.


An R. Reagan, a J. Falwell, an R. Novak goes.

It is one of this country's greatest continuing tragedies that invariably and all too soon a G. W. Bush, a G. Beck, an M. Savage arrives to take their places, and so the mean, greedy, angry, uncharitable, vengeful, deceitful, presumptuous, callous, murderous streak in the American psyche always finds its expression without missing a beat.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Town Hall Health Care Meeting Here.

Yesterday Tom Periello, Democrat, Congressman, whose bailiwick is the 5th District of Virginia, located just east of the Blue Ridge in the western part of Virginia, held a town hall health care forum in the county in which I live, Nelson, at a formerly threadbare elementary school now converted into an attractive community center. And, along with my wife and a great many of our acquaintances around the county, I attended. But I am pleased to report that the teabaggers, whose contemptible antics elsewhere had prompted me to attend, didn't show. Or if they did, they kept a very low profile and limited themselves to clapping loudly at every weak point that offered itself.

I am certain that what happened there was that nearly all the dissenters lived in the county, and there was probably no one present who wasn't personally acquainted with a bunch of the other attendees, so that they had no taste for being spotted and recognized while acting in an unseemly way. Good manners matter around here.

The occasion was only marred by a character who seemed to think that the forum was being held solely to allow him to debate Periello at length, after he announced that he would run for the Congressman's seat next year, and he did a great job of dumping his electoral chances in Nelson straight into the toilet by displaying his intense greed, not only by insisting on asking a large number of follow-up questions but also by lining up to present his points a second time, when there were so many others who also were waiting to speak but hadn't had a chance yet.

Otherwise there were no pictures of President Obama doctored to make him resemble Hitler, no swastikas to be seen anywhere, and not even even one heckle, so that at the end of the occasion, Periello gratified everyone there by pronouncing that meeting to be the best-behaved of the 12 town hall health care forums that he has held so far this month.

But that's Nelson County, a nearly unknown place that is still in many ways the epitome of the way in which Virginians like to see themselves. And did the excellent behavior have to do with this county being such small potatoes, so that there were no media crews present?

Aware that teabaggers are instructed to get to the forums early and, among other things, to monopolize the front row seats, we had arrived an hour and a half early, and that enabled us to grab two of the best seats in he house, in the second row, to serve, if need be, as a quiet liberal counterbalance. Behind us the hall ended up absolutely crammed, with a great many people standing in the back and along the two sides, and maybe others standing outside the hall but still able to hear, and I estimate the crowd to have amounted to close to 500 people.

Right on ttime the Congressman, a short, stout, friendly-looking guy in yellow shirt sleeves, rolled in, and without introduction of any kind he asked those in line to come on with their questions, though invariably these were comments instead, with a question thrown in at the end almost as an afterthought.

No two Democratic Congressmen seem to have adopted exactly the same strategies in their attempts to discuss health care reform that the teabaggers and their like have made so interesting for them. Periello must have decided that the format that works best for him is to have people launch inquiries at him, hopefully in not many words, first come first served and five at a time, using mikes set up on both sides of the hall at the front, with the speakers on our side being only about four feet away from where we sat. He didn't answer each question right after it was asked. Instead he would jot down something, until five people had spoken, one after another. Then he would address all the questions in one bunch, and after that he would allow another set of five questions to be asked from the other side of the room, and so on and back and forth, in a session that lasted close to two hours.

Now what was said?

Sorry. The whole health care business involves such a large and bewildering array of concepts that, as with the stuff I read on the Internet, I was unable to get a comprehensive grip on things, making me glad that I don't have to read the thousands of pages involved, much less be expected to expound fluently on any idea that the public could throw at me, as Periello was quite able to do. Maybe 50 or 55 years ago I could have managed it. Today, no way! So I contented myself with trying to take pictures but with little success (because I have put off getting serious about learning the many intricacies of my still nearly new digital camera), trying to make whatever sense I could out of what was said, and clapping as loud as my hands allowed at any good points that struck my fancy, and there were many.

And that was how it went, a model of the democratic process for the whole country, and therefore fated to be witnessed by no one outside those high, blue walls. So sad.

Actually I plan to say more about what was said, later. First I have to get over a day in which at least five of our friends made a special point of coming up to us and expressing their amazement at my presence, so complete has been my practice of being a hermit, so that I had seen none of them in years, though my wife sees them regularly. And most of them made the same comment, to the effect that this really was an important event, to be able to finally pull me away from my home sweet home, and it was that.

Should I really give those absentee varmints, the teabaggers, the credit?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The News Muddle-Puddle of the "Arctic Sea"

For a situation that's been in the news for more than three weeks, the business about the "disappeared" "Arctic Sea" can only be described as being "the damndest thing." This is because the media, those supposed bulldogs on information, have at no time been on top of this story, and as a result all it's been able to pass along are some by now extremely tired rehashings of unreliable and contradictory rumors.

This is no way to treat what is being billed as the first ship to be grabbed by pirates on the Baltic Sea since the 15th Century. The 15th Century! What a long time ago that was! And the first thing a person would want to know would be where along those heavily populated and civilized shores would pirates take such a big ship to hold for ransom, a la the Somalis.

I blame the Russians for this snowjob.

But they are strictly landlubbers who tend to lose their bearings whenever they take to the sea. Note the pitiful stories of the "Kursk" and the K-19 nuclear subs. and the incredible saga of the sailing of the whole Russian fleet from Murmansk around half the world in 1905 (without global warming, taking the shortcut along their Arctic Coast was not an option), only to be shot to smithereens at the battle of Tsushima by the Japanese, who barely had to sashay out of their backyards.

The "Arctic Sea" had connections with Finland, Malta, and Russia, but it was the bad luck of events that the Russians took charge of the task of "finding" the freighter, after it was reported as having disappeared back at the end of July. But the Maltese, who seem to have a hand in owning the ship, now claim that at no time was its whereabouts unknown. In any case, a Russian warship eventually stopped the "Arctic Sea" somewhere near the Cape Verde Islands, far from the Baltic and not in Algeria where it was supposed to discharge its modest cargo of timber. The Russians are now questioning eight men of various nationalities that they found on board, under suspicions of piracy, and they are also grilling the 15-man all-Russian crew. But they've been doing that for several days now, with not a peep as to what is going on.

When the U.S. Navy took not the slightest interest in helping to find the ship, I knew something was up. I had great confidence that with all the eyes and ears they always have out on the seas, looking and listening everywhere, they could've disclosed that ship's location in seconds. But it was as if they already knew that this was a bogus story, though out of professional courtesy they were reluctant to say so. Otherwise I couldn't see how they could so easilly pass up this chance to strut their stuff while showing up the Russians in the process.

Now we're still at the mercy of the Russians to get the straight scoop, though at the moment they seem to be suffering from what I call the "Yellow Tape Syndrome," the tendency of police everywhere to get tight-lipped and self-important and to keep sitting on anything that people would want to know, for days and weeks, when it is the liberal and prompt applying of the grease of accurate information that keeps the machinery of civilization operating smoothly. Secrecy about nearly everything is badly overrated.

Maybe the Russians are taking this time to see what they can do to clean up the fact that they let the "Arctic Sea" wander for several weeks, from the Baltic, down through the English Channel, and then out into the Atlantic and southward.

And maybe we'll finally get to hear what it was all about, some time in the years to come.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Place of the Oak Exudation

Almost in the path that I use many times a day to get to my workshop and back again,, there is a big oak tree that, where it comes out of the ground, has for the last two years been exuding something that attracts various kinds of the winged insects around here. I have to watch myself, because if my mind is elsewhere, as it usually is, two inches more to the right and I would step right on that action.

The insects visit by progressively larger species. This year first came tiny flies that amount to no more than flecks of busy golden light. But they were followed by those little black flies that are so fond of zooming straight into my right eyeball and irritating it badly. Never the left, only the right. Later they were chased away by several varieties of bees, though not honeybees. But now the really bad actors are taking over, the big, highly aggressive bell hornets, who last year had that spot all to themselves, and it is a serious matter to be stung by them. So now I'll finally have to start taking a detour -- if I can remember.

Tiny, non-lethal (so far) brushes with danger like this are among the many pleasures of living here.

Imagined Conversation No. 2 -- Tea Parties of Today

"Hey, Joe Bob, as long as we're waiting around in this little craphole of a Virginia county till their dinky health care forum starts, I think we have a live one on our hands, standing over there and looking at us as if he's the one at the zoo and we're the hyenas and baboons."

"Who? Where?"

"The old jigaboo standing over there watching us. Another dumb-ass Democrat, you know he is."

"I see him. Yeah."

"Look at him. He knows we see him, yet and still he just keeps on standing there looking at us, with that shit-eating knowing grin on his face. He looks like he's way old enough to know better, but it looks like these folks around here have let him forget all about how it used to be. joe Bob, we gotta go over and remind him."

"Yeah, throw the fear of God back in him. Yeah. Let's go put a whupping on his kinky head that this time he'll remember for sure."




"You talking to me?"

"Yes, we're talking to you. Who else would we be? ...Well?"

"Well, what?"

"Uncle, you look like an old guy to me. How old are you?"

"I guess you could say that. In only two more years I'll hit 80, if I make it that far."

"You sound proud of that."

"I am."

"So what're you doing here?"

"The same reason you're here, I believe. --Well, maybe not."

"And what reason would that be, Mr Remus?"

"...To see what Congress wants to do about reforming health care."

"We can tell you that."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, that's so. --Joe Bob, yep, we got a real smart-ass here. You would think he already got that kind of uppity whipped out of him years ago. They must not do things right, here in Virginia."

"So where are you guys from? Oklahoma? And how much do you get paid, to let yourselves get bussed in here? Did you bring your guns?"

"They must not've knocked all of it outta him, Crankcase. But there's still time to do that. Teach an old dog old tricks. Har-har!"

"Old Folks, do you want to see that 80 you're talking about?"

"I was kind of thinking about doing that, yeah."

"Well, maybe you should tell your sad-ass Congressman in there not to vote for this plan the Democrats want, because if it gets passed. right away old farts like you are going to be taken away to a FEMA camp and euthanized. ... But you don't know what that means, do you?"

"I know what it means."

"All right, tell me what it means."

"It means that what you just now said is a big bunch of claptrap. It's ridiculous. 'Euthanized.' Don't you feel any shame at all, going around telling somebody that?"

"'Ridiculous,' hunh?"

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Hey, Joe Bob, now old Sambo wants to ask us a question. He's been to col-lich, like his Pre-ce-dent!

"I heard--"

"When you tell somebody all your teabag health care stuff, especially that euthanasia nonsense, don't you know that what you're really doing is you're telling the people that you say that to that you think they're just a big bunch of morons?"

"That's what we're doing, hunh?"

"Yeah. All you're doing, every time that you open your mouths and do all that screaming and shouting that you people have been going all around the country doing at the Democratic town hall meetings is that you're just insulting the intelligence of people."

"You know, boy, that you're not only old but you're dumb, too. You've got a big mouth, and also you're as dumb as a bag of nails. And you're too damn ignorant to know that you're about two seconds away from getting your rusty black ass kicked in good, and you know we can do that and get away with it, right here and now in this parking lot, because last time I looked Virginia was still in the good ol' South."

"But wouldn't that just help to prove my point?"

"--Joe Bob, Crankcase! What's happening here? Having a staring match with one of the natives? "

"Dick, Glenn, Rush, we were standing here minding our own business and thinking about the points we want to make inside there, and this man came over and started messing with us. He's another one of those nasty-ass, aggressive Democrats, and he needs to be taught a lesson."

"We know. But forget him. We're here for a purpose, so don't let yourselves get distracted by a sideshow freak. An old relic, a leftover like this doesn't count. The real show is inside here, and it's about to start. C'mon, let's go in and kick off the fun."


"--Yeah. Have fun!"


"==I said forget him, Crankcase. C'mon. Remember what we told you. No violence, at least none that any cameras might catch, and meanwhile don't let the Democrat agitators like this man get to you."

"Okay. And I remember exactly why we're here. Don't worry. And meanwhile he'll get his later. I promise that."

"You're Promise Keepers, too! All right!""

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Side-Off-the-Wall Observation #86Qt7 -- Dentures

Happiness is having a new tube of Fixodent, for use in fastening that most remarkable invention, removable teeth, to my head to last through another day that might include eating things that require chewing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Choose Another People!"

In the many years since the Holy Bible was cobbled together from the works of numerous theologians, antiquarians, historians, ancient science fiction writers, song writers, poets, dramatists, and others, and all through the many times it was revised by more theologians, translators, copyists, and the like, there is one expression that I would think Jewish people wouldn't be happy about having so permanently engraved in solid granite, and that is the reference to them somewhere in those pages as "the Chosen People."

I know the words express a deep and abiding pride in one's self and in one's group, and that's understandable, but from the very beginning no phrase could have been better calculated to bring about intense resentment among other peoples than the notion that this one group and it alone had been chosen by God to receive most of His attention and His greatest favors,

At first and for a few centuries, matters worked out so as to confine that expression largely to its most obvious and happier meaning, which was that that group had been chosen by God to demonstrate and to spread His word, and this circumstance appeared to be borne out profusely by the fact that, among many other things, the enthusiasts of those "Chosen People" spawned, directly or indirectly, at least three high-octane religions that eventually spread over most of the Mediterranean world and beyond. First they came up with Judaism, and from that Christianity arose, and a little later Islam started growing from what look suspiciously like the same roots. At least there's Abraham, a character who is prominent in the lore of all three theologies, though even more telling is the fact that both Christianity and Islam wasted no time in trying to base themselves in Jerusalem, the city that till then had been mainly the big Jewish hangout, and that caused a lot of heavy jostling that continues to this day despite other places having gotten a lot of play, chiefly Rome for the Christians, Mecca for the Muslims, and eventually New York City for the Jews out on the Diaspora.

But even before Christianity had gotten established, and well before Islam came in, the other deeper, darker events for which the Jews turned out also to have been chosen (provided that they had been chosen by some definite entity at all) began to take place. It appeared that they, more than other groups, had also been selected to go through so much persecution and general hard times that such oppression became the tradition in many otherwise civilized countries, and that horror reached an incredible nadir during the Second World War.

A recent film called "Defiance" illustrates this point with special vividness. It tells the story of Jews in Belarus, a nation that lies in an especially unhappy place to put a country, between Russia and Poland. As the German armies pour into Belarus, on their way to invading and eventually getting totally wasted in the Soviet Union during the War, the Belarus Jews are systematically hunted down and killed or carted away by the Germans, helped along at times by some of the Belarussians. Four brothers escape into the thick forests where they can't be easily followed, and they become the leaders of hundreds of other Jewish refugees, and for the next three years they have to scavenge for food, keep from freezing, and otherwise do all they can to keep from dying in the forests, which they largely succeed in doing though at some cost.

And I was struck by one scene, in which a professor who seems to be standing in for a rabbi delivers a prayer in which several times he asks God, with every atom of sincerity that he possesses, to choose another people to suffer the unending tragedies and crimes against humanity that they've been forced to endure simply because they were Jews.

"Please, choose another people!" he begs in so many words. "We've run out of blood, so please choose another people."

I was surprised. For someone who is not of that persuasion I pay unusual attention to Jewish matters. This must be because they have been so prominent in nearly every field that I thought was worth looking into, with the sole exception of beekeeping -- despite the frequent mentions of milk and honey in the Old Testament, I can't recall them having such a strong presence there, whether it was the actual keeping of bees or the scientific research behind it. Yet I had never heard of that rejection of being chosen being a part of any Jewish prayer, and I would never have expected it to be. Instead I had thought that Jewish people always held on tightly to that special status conferred on them by God, no matter what. And what about the notion that such a prayer was essentially asking for others to suffer those unspeakable disasters? Those were things that one would never wish on anybody, though it's certain that these sufferers had in mind only their oppressors.

In any case the professor's fellow starving applicants in that scene didn't find anything wayward about that request, and later I found that, near the end of a documentary that I had taped years ago, called "From Nuremberg to Nuremberg," survivors of the death camps and the German obliteration of the Warsaw ghetto are shown making that same earnest, desperate request of the Power Above. "Please God, choose another people!"

Maybe that was where the makers of "Defiance" got the idea. But that must be one main reason why not only Jews but also many other people are especially fond of migrating to the U.S. There they indeed have found their traditional fears lessened considerably by the presence in that New World of another group that seems to have been chosen instead to endure the chronic and traditional hard times, and, to greater or lesser degrees, that had been the situation for hundreds of years already, though those people are not of German, Russian, or similar origins. Instead they are the descendants of the slaves brought over from Africa.

Still, to make things even more secure for the formerly persecuted and newly arrived, those prayers have been answered with special generosity in the U.S. because in it live at least three other groups, though most likely more, that have also borne that unholy "chosen" status, at one time or another.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

From Gitmo to Here

People who look forward to such things are eagerly licking their chops over the prospects of putting on trial the people who now are penned up by Americans on Cuban soil, in the place called "Gitmo" for short -- that is, if B. Obama manages to stick to his vow to do away with that noxious holding tank by January, which would be exactly one year after his inaugration..

But it all makes me wonder what ever happened to the idea of a "jury of one's peers?" That concept seems to have disappeared completely down the legal drainage hole, some time during the GWBush years, hard on the heels of the wholesale dumping of another high principle of yesteryear that today is expressed only with an accompanying smirk: You know, the one about how a person is not considered to be guilty unless a trial determines him to be so? That must've been a precept of more innocent times. So are we now in guilty times?

I know, I know. The original intention was to try the Gitmo detainees in military courts, and the military has license to be far more lawless than do civilians. So for instance, by merely having been chained up with no sign of anything resembling a trial for getting close to 10 years by now, the accused are serving sentences anyhow, regardless of their guilt or innocence, though that adds another question to the things sullying American justice in recent times, and that is, whatever happened to the doctrine of due process?

I know, I know. In a war nations give themselves permission to act in more criminal ways than usual.

The trials seem to be slated for places not far from where I sit, in Virginia. That state may have been picked because the Pentagon, one of the targets of 9/11, is there, though just barely. But it helped that the Government did not want to try these men in New York, though the lion's share of the 9/11 damage was done there. Virginia is better because it is thought to be more conservative. So the Government, like prosecutors in many other venues, rather than trying to get at the real truth of the matter, seems to have decided that the ultimate truth really rests in how hard-hearted and vengeance-minded a jury is. And if they want to rack up a good score, given a choice, states like Virginia, Oklahoma, and Idaho are the places to try people, just as, when it comes to countries in general, for getting convictions the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia are to preferred over jurisdictions like Great Britain, France, or Norway.

This difference in attitudes is being sharply illustrated these days by the fuss caused when Scottish officials gave indications that they are preparing to release from prison for compassionate reasons a man who was found guilty of having had a hand in the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing that killed 270 people. Now prostate cancer has put him, as an apparently British expression puts it, "over the moon," and the Scots are thinking of allowing him to spend his last several weeks or months in Libya. But even among the relatives of those who died, there is a definite difference of opinion between the eastern and western coasts of the Atlantic, with Americans adamantly opposing the man's release, no matter how close he is to his end, while reactions in the British isles are helped along by some uncertainty about how guilty he really is...

Till now the terrorism cases that have been tried in Virginia were held in Alexandria, just outside of D.C., but upcoming trials could be held at a brand new courthouse in Newport News instead That area over in the Tidewater has the "virtue" of being thought of as being more conservative than Northern Virginia, though another consideration is that Newport News isn't as built up as Alexandria and so is better for security reasons.

These Gitmo trials will be just for show and local consumption anyway, Usually in criininal trials the focus is on the people who actually did the deed, and though modern justice is going ever harder in the direction of also pulling in any one else who might've had the least little connection with the perpetrators, those accomplices are still just secondary and tertiary. And as the 20 or so 9/11 murderers and hijackers were all disintegrated along with their victims, they can't be tried, and meanwhile it's hard to see why so much is still being made about trying to catch Osama Bin Laden. If he is still alive, which I doubt -- I've read that he has severe kidney troubles, and the years since 2001 are a long time to go around hiding while fighting that -- he can't be too concerned about the consequences of being nabbed. No punishment would begin to approach the horror of what his crews did, so that from his point of view his victory is complete and nothing can be taken away from it.

But things can be added to it, and that is what the GWBush administration did, with its tactics that actually damaged the U.S. even more, by taking away so many of the country's civil liberties with measures such as the Patriot Act and the wiretapping stuff. And if he's not careful, B. Obama may end up doing some of the same.

Progressive sources such as the Hullabaloo site, which in a 12 August post attacked the Obama administration for a "rendition" involving a Lebanese guy arrested recently in Afghanistan not for terrorism but for fraud and spirited far across the lands and the seas to none other than here in Virginia for trial, with allegedly a touch of torture thrown in -- are often on Obama's case for appearing to continue the Bush/Gitmo policies. But I think that what he is doing is trying not to rock the "War on Terror" boat too much, while he casts about, looking for the best way to deal with these matters and the best times, which isn't easy to determine.

It's akin to a man buying a house near which is a wonderful garden spot. But after moving in he discovers that the previous owner had used that spot to bury -- just barely -- a number of recently deceased horses. But as he must have the use of that spot regardless, the new owner is faced with digging up and moving that huge mass of putrefying remains, though the terrible aroma and the mess are sure to arouse fierce opposition wherever he might want to put it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nonsense Health Care Headlines

A website called Market Watch is running an article titled, "Grassley may have pulled the plug on health care bill."

This is my idea of a highly misleading headline, and it makes me wonder if this isn't an instance of the media working on the side of those who badly want to scuttle health care reform once again, lest it decrease the highly unwarranted huge profits that are being made by business interests from the plight of the ill and the uninsured, since Market Watch appears to be a business site. The tactic here is to run misleading headlines that will appear in Google News and elsewhere, suggesting that health care reform is on the ropes, with the writers depending on lazy readers not bothering to read the articles and especially not using their reasoning powers to test the truth of the headline.

Despite its noncomittal tone, this headline definitely implies that Senator C. Grassley of Iowa, a Republican, has the power to deep-six the health care bill all by himself, and everything depends only on his mood of the moment. But how can that be? C. Grassley is just one of just 40 Republicans in the Senate, as compared to 60 Democratic Senators and a Demoicratic Vice-Prez, and that means that C. Grassley isn't even head of one of the committees that will be considering the bill. He used to be but not now.

This somewhat muddled article suggests that Grassley nevertheless has pull because he is a moderate and therefore is one of the Democrats' best hopes for a "bipartisan" bill, which, translated, means a bill in line with Republican desires. But unless he has changed radically in recent years, which is impossible, C. Grassley is just as ascerbic, short-sighted, and generally grating on the nerves as any other Republican senator. He could even be the epitome of the type.

During some town hall meetings, which the media was pleased to report proceeded peacefully (I think we can bet that those reports were light on mentioning the absence of the teabaggers, as they are being used elsewhere as shock troops railing against Democrats in their meetings), C. Grassley specifically attacked a section of the bill that would provide for counseling in the case of terminal illnesses, which the anti-reform fanatics have been pleased to portray as forcing euthanasia to be performed on the terminally ill and the elderly, when the provisions call for no such thing.

You have to plow through a morass of quite a bit of the article before you find that, despite the fact that the objections so loudly and bitterly applied to that provision are completely untrue and are instead only a gigantic insult to the intelligence, Grassley mainly only said that he would drop it from the bill.

He would, that is, if he was still a committee chairman, but those bad old days are over, at least for a while, and it's deeply sad to see the Market Watch writer and others pretending that they're not.

At its very end, the article conceded, regretfully, that Grassley's input actually has the potential to matter not one fig, as that 60-senator figure gives the Democrats a supposedly veto-proof edge.

So the prospects are still good for improvements in American health care, despite the smoke screens that proponents of the present miserable status quo are still throwing up at every opportunity and with absolutely no regard for truth or even ordinary common sense.

Subverting the Majority

Often I can't help thinking that to be a member of a minority, especially an ethnic one, carries moral advantages that are not easily available to members of the majority. The reason is simple arithmetic. The human species is constructed in such a way that the majority within a nation must necessarily contain a certain percentage of people, a minority of the majority, whose members can only be distinguished from the others by their bad ideas, and if that baleful segment gets active enough, it can unduly influence those others in the majority who would otherwise confine themselves to more charitable and less harmful ideas and principles. That larger part of the majority can then fail to notice the wrong direction that it has been induced to take, out of its desire to humor those with the evil notions because of feelings of kinship, however distant. Meanwhile that minority of the majority with the evil notions, like any other stupid people, don't realize that they're stupid and that they're acting stupidly, and instead they think they're behaving "as God intended," and with that group being heard and heeded, matters consequently go to pot quite quickly.

That can be seen happening today in the attempts of conservatives to use mob behavior to prevent all reasonable discussion of the features of various plans to reform the U.S. health care system, which that heartless minority of the majority does not so much out of disdain for those reforms, however much they might claim that to be so, and instead their extreme rage arises mainly out of their complete inability to accept the pigmentation of the current U.S. President.

This dragging down of a majority into disaster by its dark side has happened many times. As with so much else, the clearest example was the regime that is so often mentioned during these health care disruptions, and that is the Germany of the 1930's.

But suppose that, rather than the main body of Germans as propelled by its jack-booted segment, it had instead been the Jews, or the Gypsies, or the Jehovah's Witnesses, or the intellectuals and artists, or any other of the minorities, ethnic or otherwise, that the SS consigned to labor and death camps or otherwise shot to death with such joyful abandon, and suppose also that, rather than the general run of Japanese, it had been the Ainu and the Okinawans and the captive Koreans and other minorities who lived in Japan who instead had been the ones to get their ideas of things into the prevailing ideology, in place of the majority's acceptance of notions of their superiority to all others ? This would've meant that there wouldn't have been all that wholesale destruction in Europe, Asia, and other places, and tens of millions of people would have been allowed to go on living while contributing to civilization or at least leaving things in place for more localized and not those general, wide-ranging outrages that in their aftermaths still threaten the well-being of much of the planet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Change of Heart: Tiger and Bartcop

Often I take my eye off of things for long periods of time, and sometimes when I again check in, I find that the situation has changed radically, for reasons that are not presented. That has happened most recently with the attitude of Bartcop, a weblogger, toward Tiger Woods, the by now heavily iconic golf player.

Bartcop is a longtime runner of a progressive weblog augmented by a radio show that he operates out of what he concedes is the badly askew state of Oklahoma, the Tophat of Texas and a place that regularly gets knocked about due to its unfortunate location in the heart of Tornado Alley. For years, despite various adversities, including his own prickliness, Bartcop has managed to keep going his own highly distinctive brand of progressive thought, and he does this partly by indulging in a large number of comical fetishes, and one of those has to do with Tiger Woods.

Several years ago Bartcop would invariably rake Woods over the coals, though not anywhere near the extent to which he did GWBush, Karl Rove, and many others of that ilk. And the odd thing was that he would carefully keep hidden just what he had against Woods. Even when people as baffled as me would ask Bartcop directly, he would find all softs of clever ways to veil his motives, and eventually all I could come up with is that Tiger Woods had little to nothing to say of an ethnic and political nature, one way or another. But I also thought that Bartcop did this with a gigantic amount of tongue in cheek, and it was always interesting and amusing to pick up on every one of the occasional short posts that he devoted to Woods, just to watch Bartcop keeping up that most mysterious and illogical of his dislikes.

Just now, however, I find that while I wasn't looking, that situation has completely reversed itself. Or at least I think it has.

After a tournament just concluded and that he won, Tiger Woods has been fined by the PGA for criticizing a referee who had put him and his opponent "on the clock," to avoid slow play in the closing moments of that tournament, when the two players were engaged in a dramatic competition to determine the winner. The other player, a man named Harrington, is apparently a naturally methodical, slow hitter of the little white orbs, and Tiger Woods complained that his opponent had been unfairly thrown off his game by being forced to adhere suddenly to a time limit that till then was not present, and as a consequence Harrington had trouble with three difficult shots and he lost.

I was surprised to see Bartcop strongly taking Tiger's side in this, and he said that Tiger should tell the PGA to "screw themselves," and that if they pushed him too hard, Tiger should threaten to quit the PGA and instead to start his own "Tiger PGA." And Bartcop was confident that Woods could do this, because in his eyes Woods is golf's only bonafide star, and he essentially is pro golf.

And Bartcop lavished all this praise without any mention of all his unrelenting former animus toward the man.

I am still astounded. What could have happened in the meanttime to change Bartcop's mind?

This complete reversal of attitude goes on the top of the pile of mysteries that I am waiting to see revealed one of these rare days.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Glaring Contrast

Day before yesterday, Sunday, was a special day. I got into my little pickup and drove the 14 miles to the county library to check out Carla's show, at her invitation. I know her from our having been part of a two-county artist group, in the 1990's, and since then I had seen her a couple of times, working at the local polling place.

I didn't know that Carla thought so well of me till I saw how much attention she paid to me, despite the fact that others were always claiming her attention, and she kept telling people how proficient a painter I am, though she would also mention a glaring drawback -- my tendency never to want to let go of any of my products.

This praise mattered all the more because she does such exceptional work, and that means that her show was also exceptional. Carla works in such a wide variety of mediums that just a few words do not at all suffice to describe it, other than to say that it consists of a series of various kinds of constructions, and she succeeds at them all. She obviously hates to repeat herself, and her constant creativity extends to the titles of each work and even to the paper that she used for her sign-in book, which appeared to be handmade. And while I was signing, she attacked the way that everybody was writing in the book in straight lines. "Use circles, squares, anything instead," she instructed me. But somebody distracted her before I could say that her suggestion would probably result in big wastes of space.

Her show was well-attended, mostly by women, as is always the case, and I assumed that the scattering of men all consisted of dutiful husbands. I was disappointed, however, in the near absence of local artists, especially members of that artists group of old, that I could recognize through the scrims that aging drops over people. The only one I saw was the inestimable C. K-J, a close friend and neighbor right up the road, wife of G.

Briefly I regretted that I hadn't thought seriously of trying to hitch a ride with her to the show, because I had spent a lot of time dreading making this trip, as I always do for any excursion beyond my driveway. But then I realized how it had all worked out for the best, in a number of ways.

One of those was the experience of piloting my pickup through a day that was so intensely summer that it seemed to be almost a caricature, an exaggeration of summer, and I felt like a character in one of those Japanese post-war movies of the 1950's, in which the black and white outdoors scenes are so glaringly bright that it is possible to feel the extreme heat coming off the screen and to which I could also personally attest, having spent all the summer of 1959 walking through it, over there.

And then there was the spectacle of seeing all those ladies at the show, and noting the air of eternal calm and elegance that they radiated -- so different from the scenes all over the country this month and possibly in store for an auditorium just a short distance from that show in a few days, in which right wing cretins have been yowling and howling and displaying Nazi symbols, in their nationwide attempts to destroy any effort to discuss the features of badly needed health care reform in a rational, orderly, and courteous manner -- disruptions that could be foreshadowing much, much worse to come soon in this country.

An image that I have long wanted to put into paint on one of my masonite panels consists of an Earth that is only a perfectly smooth, checkered sphere, devoid of all mountains, oceans, deserts, rivers, and the like, so that there are absolutely no barriers except time and distance to prevent an extremely ravenous, unthinking monster that inhabits that globe from eventually reaching and devouring all the more benign and enlightened beings that it can find.

I think that that would be an accurate artistic rendering of the state of human affairs most of the time, despite that other real-life picture of a group of pleasant ladies and somewhat dazed men sipping little cups of iced tea at an art show.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

B.'s Party

Yesterday afternoon and evening K. and L., our closest neighbors, held another great party, and my wife and I attended. It was great partly because there was no need to get into a car and drive anywhere. We had only to walk up our driveway and across the road. That is the best way for things to be.

The occasion was the graduation of K.'s and L'.s younger son, B. from college at Guilford, in N.C., and the guests included, as K. had advertised, nearly everybody in the county -- that is, all the "alternative lifestylers" that they and we knew, plus a great many young people that Esther and I didn't know, because they were frends of B. or of his brother K., or because they were former toddlers of the lifestylers who had now all grown up and were now largely unrecognizable, although only one actually told me who he was, so that the identities of the rest could be only conjectured.

I had a great time. I talked to a large variety of people, some of whom I had never seen before, and I am still mystified as to how and why that happened.

One of the less pleasant aspects of getting to be so old is that you run into that ancient bugaboo of people, some of them even just a few years younger, who don't have much time to spend on the aged. Even close friends are so busy and so bound up in their own continuing sagas that it's hard and often impossible to get their attention and to hold it. That can't be helped, and it's natural. Maybe I was the same way when I was on the other side of that equation, decades ago.

But at these parties held by my close neighbors and friends, I have noticed that nearly everyone I talk to has much more time to talk to me and to actually let me finish everything I want to say, while taking what is obviously genuine interest in my ravings, that I try to keep brief, for fear of being cut off.

Captive audience? Maybe.

But I noticed that last night especially, no one could say anything to me that I couldn't relate to in some way, though I was most interested in what seems to be consuming me these days, and that is the horrible lack of simple courtesy of the teabaggers. And I was able to do this all evening while not even drinking anything, beyond a few draughts of root beer, though at the end some young guys from Louisiana insisted on drawing me a full cup of alcoholic beer from a keg, which, however, I didn't finish because by then I had been on my feet for a long time, and it was past my allotted time to walk back down the hill in the dark to my house sweet house and to sit down and trade with Esther our accounts of all the people we had seen and talked to and all the ramifications thereof.

We had even managed to pass a few words with the star of the party, B., though only for a few minutes, as he spent the beginning of the party pitching horseshoes up the road at G. and C'.'s place, and he spent all the latter hours of the party playing drums on the porch of his father's pottery studio, along with his father on guitar and his brother on bass, along with other musicians. But then we had already talked with B. many times over the years, and there should be many other occasions in the future.

And today, incredibly, the party time continues. An art acquaintance from times past, a lady, called me the other day to invite me to the opening of her new show at the county library this afternoon. I will be well prepared to talk on all the topics that are bound to be brought up there, too, though I won't be overjoyed if I am asked whether I am still painting, and to be asked why I am not.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Response to the Possible But Not Certain Teabaggers

You might have noted the comment to my post yesterday, made by our illustrious neighbor right up the road, G.

This means, then, that I am locked into going to the Lovingston meeting less than two weeks from now. (Gulp!)

There can be absolutely no doubt that there are many others among our fellow "come-here's" who have also resolved to attend that meeting.

There's a new generation of them now, since the days 20 and 30 years ago when they showed up in force and successfully scared off other efforts to bring things into the county that were thought to be toxic. But the new generation is not long out of high school and college, and they are still shaking themselves out and trying to see if they can figure out what they want to do with themselves. Their parents are still around, though, and they're still fully ambulatory and taking up causes, in a detached sort of way.

I seem to remember at least three of their successes at discouraging things in the past. One involved feelers for building a nuclear power plant, another a regional prison, and a third a set of towers that the Navy wanted to rear high in the county skies, having to do with some sort of long-wave communications system, or pehaps an early warning setup. But the Navy has been exacting its revenge ever since. Every few days they bombard the county with bone-shaking blasts of sound caused by low-flying pairs of jet fighters, bombers, or whatever those suckers are.

The native-borns were never as evident in the opposition to these projects, but it could be easily noticed that they never stood in the way of the objections so strongly voiced by the newcomers.

And actiually I would be shocked and astonished if the same disruptive scenes that have already happened in many places in the U.S. (while having gone conscientiously unreported by the mainstream news media) were repeated at the upcoming health care meeting here. I've already given one reason, but after my subsequent numerous online readings yesterday, another strong reason comes to mind.

Someone characterized the disruptors as being mainly older rural people. I wouldn't fully buy that, but if it's true, then that makes such an uproar additionally unlikely to happen here. I would think that this county is too small, and it's one of those places where everyone either knows or knows of everyone else, and that felicity extends even to the newcomers. If you're here it's because you must live here. There's no other reason to be here. Aside from a ski resort that is mainly used by outsiders who are not as fearful of the steep access roads and their effects on valuable cars, there are no gold mines, football stadiums, or even a Civil War battlefield to visit here.

This means that there would be entirely too much chance that, should someone start caterwauling in the courthouse or the high school auditorium, they will be recognized -- and no cause would be worth having that happen. The reputations of yourself and your relatives are all important around here. That's mainly what everyone knows about you. And besides, you never know who you will run into later and in what situation.

Also, I would expect that even the old, crusty Repubs would become entirely too interested instead in joining their Democratic neighbors in seizing on the opportunity to recite to one and all their own personal tales of health care woes, since illness and insurance hassles do not respect ideology -- a point that I keep wondering how the reform foes can afford to keep overlooking.

Meanwhile my wife, who gets around far more than I do, firmly believes that no candidates for teabaggery are to be found living anywhere in or near this county.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Taste of the "Teabaggers"

In his short though eternally memorable speech that he gave in 1863 while dedicating the Gettysburg battlefield to the newly fallen dead there, Abraham Lincoln reminded everyone that the country was engaged in a great civil war that was testing whether this nation, or any nation likewise conceived in liberty, could long endure. And though it was the most violent, it was not the first nor was it the last time that the U.S. has been put to such a test.

Today another such test is in full swing, though a huge number of citizens would like to do their level best to sleep right through it. The same Dark Forces that in 1860 thought that it was absolutely necessary to dissolve that Union rather than give up the right to keep a huge group of human beings in the totally degrading, humiliating, and inhuman bonds of slavery, are now similarly fighting with all claws bared in the attempt to stop, for the third time in the last two decades, any serious reform in a health care system that is in the hands of corporations making huge profits from the illnesses of people and that is only fully available to those who can afford the insurance, thus leaving 50 million out in the medical cold.

This August recess for Congress has already started to be a "thrilling" time in the districts of those Democrats who are committed to the reforms being urged by the Obama Administration. Those Congress people are giving town hall meetings in their districts to allow full airings on the pros and cons of the proposed reforms. But the Dark Forces who are opposed to any changes in the health care system, driven on by representatives of the health care corporations, have set loose gangs of operatives who are enjoined to attend all those meetings around the country and to disrupt them in any way they can, short of outright assault and murder, so as to prevent any views from being given full voice in an orderly and courteous manner. The disruptors have been instructed to make these efforts look like genuine grassroots protests, though they will be nothing of the kind.

The districts of those Republicans and their hand servants, the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats, will be spared this spectacle of seeing the democratic process thus defiled, because, unlike the Republicans, the Democratic Party won't be sending out hyena brigades to the districts of those with contrary views.

Depending on the localities and how throughgoing the "teabbaggers"are in following orders, the Congressional Democrats who are in favor of improving the U.S. health care system are experiencing their own "Profiles in Courage," as per the famous book by John F. Kennedy, and one of those will be Tom Perriello, the Representative of the area where I live, the 5th Congressional District of Virginia. He hasn't held that post long. In the just-concluded elections that also brought in B. Obama, Perriello defeated the conservative incumbent, a man named Virgil Goode, who now of course would fervently like to regain that seat.

The Crooks and Liars website has published what looks to be a fairly complete listing of all those town hall meetings with the times and places, and in what I guess amounts to an ordinary campaign swing for him, Perriello is helping himself to a full plate of such appearances all over his district. The closest one will be in the tiny county seat, Lovingston, just 14 miles from here, on the 20th, and, despite my antipathy and even outright fear of going anywhere, plus the fact that watching people show their behinds is far from my idea of fun and games, I am hoping that I will be able to see my way clear to making the drive. I am curious and indignant enough that I wouldn't mind seeing if the Repubathug shoutdowners will look like ordinary people, and if they do show and do their thing, I would like to see how the other Virginians at the meeting will react.

Also, just by being there, maybe my cool, steady gaze will have some effect on things. Ha-ha.

Virginians, at least in my mind, are known for being more civilized and courteous than are most other Americans. It is their reputation and my experience -- so far -- that they will keep on being courteous no matter what, even if they can hardly stand the sight of you. And that kind of civility is especially true in this county, which, moreover, is politically a big "blue" exception to all the "red" counties that surround it for at least a hundred miles in every direction. It contains an unusual number of tolerant native-borns who are committed to keeping everything as quiet as the beautiful woods of their ancestors, and mixed in with them are an unusual number of transplants, the "come-heres," who, however, unlike me, are vociferous if need be and will not stand still but instead might even take the lead in protecting that tranquility and civility that they treasure just as much as do the "been-heres," though just how they would do that in the face of rampagers -- if any -- isn't clear.

It will be interesting and important to see how this health care reform drama will unfold, nationally and locally. and I feel sorry for those who live in districts where they will not have the chance to observe and to experience the modern day equivalent of what A. Lincoln was talking about, first-hand.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Bill Clinton, Diplomatic Commando

Bill Clinton, the most renowned -- and active -- of the U.S. former Presidents and still known to some admiringly as "Big Dog," did it again. He made the news in his usual effortless way.

He responded to a request by the North Koreans that he come and "rescue" from them two lady American journalists who had been arrested and found guilty on a badly trumped-up charge of spying and sentenced to long prison terms, after they were abducted by the authorities while wandering around in the cold desolation of the Chinese-North Korean border. And so it was done, and more on the basis of the respect and prestige that Clinton had garnered through the years than on anything else.

His visit lasted hardly a day, and now he and the two journalists are back at home, safe and sound, and America's Dark Side, aka the conservative, largely Republican right wing, is quietly furious. For one thing, this incident highlights how unlikely their own retirees from the Oval Office are to be enlisted by forces overseas in any kind of shot at peace making, especially a quick, spectacular in-and-out commando-style diplomatic move like this.

When the news broke, my first thoughts were on what ways would that Dark Side find to roundly condemn Clinton's unimpeachable motives and success. It was impossible to imagine any attack that would make sense, but I knew they wouldn't let reason stand in their way, even if they they had to be niggling in the extreme about it, and they didn't disappoint.

So far, however, I have only read two of their quibbles. Surely there must be more, but I'm always slow to hunt for anything on purpose in Fox NN territory. One is that this works to North Korea's advantage and takes off some of the heat they've been experiencing for trying to go on with nuclearizing their weaponry after all. And the second is that Clinton is undercutting the U.S. State Department and his wife, who happens to be the head of that department and who has been trying to be hard-nosed with the North Koreans but with results that are almost the reverse of what she might have wanted. And associated with this are suspicions of how her husband managed to hop a flight into North Korea in the first place, and with nobody knowing.

And meanwhile we have the news services floundering and trying to decide what contrary stance they should take in this obviously humanitarian case, since their leanings are generally not far from those of that Dark Side, and so you get the outstandingly obtuse Reuters headline that says, "Clinton Visit Unlikely to Change North Korea."

No one in his right mind would ever have thought that it would.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Birds on the Road

My wife used to like to tell of how, when she was learning to drive -- and later -- she would immediately start clamping on the brakes and even stop whenever she saw birds standing on the road -- until she realized that invariably the bird would take quick flight well before her car had any chance to hit it.

Up in a densely populated, wealthy Northern Virginia county, a man made the news a day or two ago when he saw three full-grown Canada Geese and about eight smaller ones getting ready to edge onto one of the very busy highways near the Dulles International Airport, and, despite the fact that it was also rush hour, he stopped his car in the fast lane, got out, and hustled the little flock across his set of two lanes and then across the median and across the other two lanes, too, going in the opposite direction, all the while stopping the onrushing traffic with arm signals and his presence, and according to a state trooper who saw it, several collisons were narrowly averted, as we might expect.

Despite the fact that, as in all the states, the Virginia legislators have had time over the years to outlaw nearly everything short of breathing hard , the judge found that somehow this particular situation had been overlooked. Therefore he let off the good samaritan with only having to pay court costs, though when the perp went to the window to pay the $68, the clerk told him to forget it.

Lawyers watching this noted that while there are laws forbidding pedestrians from interfering with the orderly passage of motor traffic, there are also laws against killing Canada Geese, a protected species.

The catch, however, is that it is hard-wired into motorists' instincts not to hit things that they suddenly see crossing the road if the things are living, or lying in the road if they're large enough and inanimate, and so the driver's right foot starts slamming on the brake no matter what, and there's usually no time at all to deliberate about this anyway, till much later, after all has sometimes not turned out for the best.

This dillemma has been strongly on my mind lately, because a young neighbor lady who until recently worked at a big ski resort high in the mountains in a distant part of this county, swerved not long ago to avoid hitting a deer -- a frequent occurrence around here -- and she went off the road and down a slope, badly damaging her car and hurting herself, though more lightly. Then, scarcely a week later, and on nearly the same stretch of road, another young lady who is the girl friend of the first woman's brother, had exactly the same thing happen, and she ended up with enough insurance reimbursement that she could buy another car, though oddly she wasn't herself hurt. And on top of that I saw a film just the other day in which a driver swerves to avoid hitting a squirrel looking amazed in the road and ends up smashing head-on into a large tree (which reminds me of a memorable TV commercial that may still be around, showing two squrrels that cause a similar crash that happens off-screen, and they give each other high fives)

As both these accidents happened on the edge of virtual cliffs, that brother is of the opinion that the deer should be hit every time, but as I've said, I don't think humans are built that way.

The problem is time, and the lack of enough of it to make calculations. So the solution must be to allow split-seconds of more time by driving slower, and you know I'm all for that. Unfortunately, however, the big push is to drive fast and ever faster, because the great majority of people in the world are younger and therefore more heedless than I am, and they have the cars to speed with and not good, ol' rusty, superannuated, pokey pickup trucks, the only vehicles that are really worth driving, despite the gas mileage, though that problem is also easily dealt with by coming up with many fewer destinations in mind.

Monday, August 03, 2009

S. Palin, the Candidate

Let's forget all about studying the entrails of chickens, also known as polling far in advance. I know exactly who will be the Republican candidate for U.S. President in the next round of national elections, three or four years from now. To determine this took no sort of deep thinking, extensive research, or a direct line into the Fates, nor should it come as any sort of a surprise.

It will be Ms Sarah Palin, ostensibly of Alaska. Of this I have absolutely no doubt, and all of those other birds vying for the chance have no chance -- should she stay out of Alaska and thus avoid the numerous plane rides over all those glaciers, which I myself have seen from overhead and can attest to their stark, dreadful presence, even if they are melting away at a pretty good clip. There are many reasons why she will be the preferred darling of the electoral Dark Side, and the first of these is Color.

That's obvious from all the piotures of her that you see. She always presents a rich mixture of all the reds, pinks, browns, and ambers imaginable, and this jumps right at you off the page or the screen, so that, compared to her all her Republican adversaries and colleagues look exactly what they are: nothing more than a collection of walking stalagmites, all with white, rounded, ice cold tops. And that Color is not just in her physical appearance but also in the things she does, as attested to by her suddenly throwing up the Alaska governorship, which threw a lot of dummies for a loop, though not me. And she has plenty more where that came from. She has, after all, been distinguished by having been fined for fishing without a license, which suggests that she has committed that same perfidy plenty of other times. So, despite her appearance, she is no "hothouse beauty." She's something else. Aside from having Color, she is also Larcenous, and she is also Bold.

Another reason she will be the Republican candidate -- besides the Color, the Larceny, and the Boldness -- is her Competition for the honor. She has none, because right now the Republicans are especially suffering from what has been one of their enduring weaknesses, and that is a lack of candidates with any semblance of true distinction. Till now they've been able to get over that by appealing strictly to that side of the American electorate that still thrills to an act of outright thuggery that took place in the Boston Harbor over 200 years ago, the tossing overboard of numerous chests of perfectly good tea that had been picked and processed with so much loving care mostly by nice, little Oriental ladies, a heinous act performed by rowdies some of whom tried to cover up their crime by trying to blame it on the wearers of feathers and deerskins. The big issue then was taxes, and it still is, to that side of the American electorate, and so all these candidates know is to promise to ask for the payment of none -- or at least no taxes beyond what will be needed to keep themselves in numerous perks and style, once they take office, plus buying guns and ammo that the young male element can use to fire and blow off their congenital violence and steam, along with the ships and planes to take them to foreign fields where they can do that sort of thing far out of American sight, hearing, and the onus of cleaning up.

So to satisfy the Republican base, Ms. Palin need not do all the studying that many have demanded of her. She need only to promise no new taxes, and to oppose everything that the Democrats suggest, even that the Sun always rises in the east and sets down in the west, and that will be all she will need. Her base, looking at her, will not expect her to have any more knowledge of economics, the environment, the climate, the Middle East, influenza, health care, or anything else than she had when McCain grabbed her off the glaciers, and, pretenses aside, she will be a shoo-in in the 2012 primaries. After all, the Republicans just finished holding sway for eight long years with a man in the Oval Office who was similarly devoid of the information and the insights -- an Empty Bag without even her sort of Flair and Color.

Be advised that I'm not the only one who has reached these conclusions. The media knows all too well that the Palin woman will be the GOP's choice, and they have already ordained her as such. They pay far more attention to her than they do to suspects with names like Jindal, Romney, Pawlenty, Lieberman, or even McCain. From now till then Ms Palin can count on hogging the lion's share of the media's attention no matter what she does and says, and with that on her side, how can all those other, colorless Republican laggards have any kind of a shot at the moose?