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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, January 31, 2010

Turkeys Voting for Christmas

...Or should that be Thanksgiving, in this country? This mirrors what the father of a Rainbow ("black," to those who are not as careful in their use of language) Republican politician said: "A black man voting Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders."

In relation to my post yesterday about Obama/Clinton, the BBC News is running a very interesting article derived from an earlier radio broadcast called "Turkeys Voting for Christmas. '" The broadcast is by Dr. David Runciman, a political scientist, and the question he explores is, "Why do people often vote against their own interests?" This broadcast/article sheds a lot of very helpful light on why having all the facts at their disposal and on their side do not guarantee that things will go in the directions advised by the Obamas and the Clintons of the world, and instead too often amount to actually being a big strike against them.

Here is the answer given by Dr. Runciman in reply to the question he asked:

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

And Runciman concludes that Republicans owe their electoral successes to playing upon this anger and thus managing to get the less advantaged segments of the American electorate to vote for a party that is committed not to their interests but instead to just the opposite, namely to give even more advantage to the country's wealthy elite.

This perversity born of resentment is a phenomenon that has already been seen over and over again, not only in today's politics but also in many other kinds of situations through out the ages. The example that first jumps to my mind because it put this dead end behavior in such clear personal focus is the riots that erupted in so many of the cities and towns where there were sizable concentrations of Rainbows, on the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, back in April of 1968. In blind rage a certain small segment of my fellow Rainbows, with the approval of a much larger segment as voiced by their silence and their excuses for the rioters, caused heavy damage not to anywhere else but almost exclusively to their own communities, including D.C. where I lived. And afterward -- in contrast to the way that it was almost impossible for me to tell when I went there 14 years after World War 2 that Japan had been so heavily devastated by bombs, much less than that country had ever been in a war -- in these U.S. towns, or at least in D.C., more years than that passed by before all the repairs were finally completed. And meanwhile all that venting of anger had been for what? I called those riots "crapping in one's own bathtub."

In the case of the virulent and unthinking objections to Obama's health care reforms, which is the focus of the article above cited, Runciman quotes another thinker on the matter named Robert Frank who gives a similar metaphor:

"It's like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy."

I guess that's what happens in democracies, however. In ancient Athens 2,500 years ago, where democracy was first tried, exactly the same thing happened, and, among many other misdeeds, the good citizens of that supposedly enlightened town condemned their most renowned thinker, Socrates, to die a painful death by his own hand, by drinking a potion brewed with hemlock.

It looks as if large numbers of idiots are always in evidence in any populace, but we are never ever allowed to say so.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Second Heavy Snow Here

Just before dawn today a second snowstorm settled in here, and, lightly now in the evening, it is still in progress.

We prepared for this one better than the first one, which happened about five weeks ago, but we still didn't think it would be as major as the pre-Christas one, but it looks to be every bit as bad, and could be even worse, because the forecast for the next few days is steadily on the frigid side.

And usuallyduring our snows in this part of Virginia, the temp stays at or near 32F, but all day today it hung at about 20.

My wife doesn't believe in moving a car up close to the road so as to make it easier to get out once the road is plowed. So for this storm I gave in to her and left them in place near the house. But during the night I changed my mind. Unfortunately, however, I had taken a med called legatrin, because I had done a lot of hard work scrounging firewood for my workshop and there was a good chance that that would cause severe cramps in one or both of my legs at night, and legatrin helps prevent that. But it is also a great sleeping pill, or at least for me it is, and so I woke up once or twice and thought about the snow and the cars but promptly fell asleep again and I didn't get serious about getting up and about till 6, when it was too late. There were already two or three inches of snow on the ground, and our driveway is largely uphill, and neither my wife's Saturn or my Isuzu pickup cared to make it, and I gave up.

So here we are, essentially nailed in for several days to come with wind chills at close to zero F forecase for every morning, But we have plenty of firewood, food, water, and the other essentials, and we have only to worry about suddenly getting seriously ill and having to be taken out of here by helicopter or whatever, which doesn't seem likely -- we haven't any warnings of such.

So, while we were getting more firewood out of the pile that we cut and stacked so conscientiously this past fall, I was looking at all the picturesqueness of our buildings and the trees, and I got to thinking that this kind of scene is exactly one of the main reasons why i wanted to move here.

Footnote: The next morning, on the 31st, the temp not long after dawn had dropped to an even zero degrees fahrenheit! That;s 17 degrees below zero and the temp when water similarly starts turning into ice over in Europe, for those celsius people.

Homework in Our Presidents

An article titled "Obama in the Republican Lions Den: Obama 2, Lions 1" and written by Brad Knickerbocker was printed today in none other than the Wall Street Journal, which is otherwise a definitely nonprogressive rag. It spoke of a speech given by President Obama to many of his fiercest legislative foes in the Congress, during a meeting that that group was having in Baltimore. The following two excerpts from that article especially caught my eye:

Questions were asked respectfully (for the most part), although some questioners took long minutes of speechifying to get there. As in the [British] House of Commons, the questions were blunt and sometimes pointed. But Obama came right back at them, citing chapter and verse from legislation and nonpartisan government reports, appearing to be at his wonkish best.

“...The whole thing basically went like [this],” Mike Madden wrote at Salon. “Republican asks obnoxious question rooted in Glenn Beck-ian talking points; Obama swats it away, makes the questioner look silly, and then smiles at the end. It got so bad, in fact, that Fox News cut away from the event before it was over.”

This made me ask myself, "Where have I heard this kind of thing before?" And I knew the answer instantly. Bill Clinton! And this means that B. Obama is the entirely worthy successor to B. Clinton!

Clinton was exactly the same way whenever he had his confrontations with the same bunch of bozos. Clinton always came prepared. He had done his homework, thoroughly, and not only during the night before but also all through his conscious hours of his adult life, and the upshot was that the Republicans, no matter how clever they were, and fatally hampered anyway by their 3-degree field of vision, could never do anything with Clinton, just as they fall so short while trying to deal face to face with the similarly talented and industrious Barack Obama.

So the Democrats might consider always picking their candidates on the basis of how close they are to the Clinton\Obama stripe -- especially given the way that it's hard to look through the whole roster of GOP presidents going back for 80 years and most likely more and find even one who couldn't almost always be counted on to show up without having done all his homework, and especially not well ahead of time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Phylactery Terror Scare

On an airliner that had left New York and headed toward Kentucky a few days ago, at least one of the passengers experienced a sudden, heart-pounding scare when he saw another passenger, a teenager, pull out two little black leather boxes a couple of inches square and strap one on his forehead and the other onto his left arm.

Suddenly, in today's climate -- the continuing gift given by Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts years ago and which his recipients never tire of fondling, often, I think, for their own nefarious purposes -- visions of a bomb arose, and the plane fell into the grip of a terror alert, with the predictable results -- the pilot diverting the plane to Philadelphia, the FBI and other security people meeting the plane on its landing, the evacuation of the plane and the complete search of it, the breathless press reports, the roll calls of previous terror scares, and the rest of it, including this time real embarrassment.

If I had been in that plane, I would have laughed, and I might even have tried to tell someone what the guy was really into, though no one would have thought I knew what I was talking about, and in any case I would have long forgotten what those little boxes are called, and it felt good to be now reminded. "Phylacteries."

Hadn't these people ever seen pictures of devout Jewish men wearing those little containers of verses in such a weird-looking way? I have quite often seen such pictures, maybe in shots of people at the Wailing Wall. And in fact it seems to me that similar little hats, lacquered ones, can sometimes also be seen perched on the heads of men in Japanese observances of one kind or another. Or maybe those passengers hadn't thumbed through their dictionaries often enough. My Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary says that phylacteries are used for weekday morning prayers.

It would be interesting to know how such a practice got started, especially the part about the left arm. No sense in letting such a good scare go to waste.

All the same, it would also be interesting to learn what El Al, the Israeli airline where security is famous for being airtight, does, probably very quietly, about bringing phylacteries aboard.

The Whale Man

And HERE is an interesting BBC bit on a guy named Duncan Murrell, who for years got into a kayak up in Alaska, paddled out to sea, searched out full-sized Humpback Whales, and took great close-up photos of them, all the while being unable to afford taking even one spill into those frigid waters, when his lens curtain would have been closed shut for good. Pretty cool! -- taking pictures with one hand and paddling with the other. In his talk below, he tells us what was involved.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Stray Dogs in Moscow (Russia)

HERE you will find a long and extremely interesting article on the stray dogs in Moscow, including ones that have learned to ride the trains on that city's much-praised subway system, and also there's good info on dogs as compared to wolves. The author is a lady named Suzanne Sternthal, and the article appeared where else than in the Financial Times. . I am indifferent toward dogs at best, much preferring cats, which ought to indicate that this is something else!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Massachusetts' Self-Inflicted Humiliation

Today critics who come from many different directions but who are united in their anti-Obama agenda are having a great time chortling over the just concluded election in Massachusetts, in which the voters chose to hand the seat that had been honorably held for many years by the recently deceased E Kennedy over to a previously unknown Republican lockstepper named Scott Brown.

From the way that this campaign was always mentioned, you would think that the race was not between two individuals named Brown and Martha Coakley but instead was a contest between the entire right-wing conservative mass .in the U.S. political world and one man, the current President of the U.S., B. Obama (who-- and not ever incidentally -- we are never allowed to forget is the first so-called "black" President, while his predecessor, the truly deplorable G.W. Bush, was never cited as being the 43rd so-called "white" President through all his eight years of playing in that post) . And so this loss is being widely portrayed as a stunning personal defeat for Obama, though he doesn't live or hang out anywhere near the Bay State, and the word most often being joyfully used for what his detractors see as having been nevertheless inflicted on him there is "humiliation."

However, from here it is not at all President Obama who needs to struggle out from under that precisely longitudinal mound of humiliation that is so like a heavy snow that has slid off a steeply pitched metal roof in the first warm day after the storm. Nor is it Martha Coakley or the Democrats. Instead it is the once "great state" of Massachusetts that now lies all but buried under that self-inflicted pile of ... shame, because it harbors so many people who have turned on a very slippery dime and suddenly turned their backs on Senator Kennedy and on the normally progressive Massachusetts way of things, as well as on the well-being of the American people in general. Instead those voters chose to side with the constant and implacable enemy of all that is decent and good, the side represented by the Republicans, in this instance, in that side's total determination to deny affordable health care to all. Because, if he had managed to live and stay lucid just a little longer, Kennedy would undoubtedly have urged the passage of this bill, regardless of any deficiencies it might have. He would have have seen it as being at least a start toward real improvement in the American health care system, and that might have one day brought it closer to the systems of more forward-thinking nations, like Canada and a number of countries in Europe ...and that might yet accomplish that regardless, unless the country is indeed totally sold on the noxious taste of the conservative snake oil used in this and all U.S. elections.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Improvement in Race Relations in the U.S.?

The Washington Post has published yet another of those polls that are obviously meant to be authoritative beyond all doubt, even though they are also lightweight in the extreme, having been taken by telephone from only 1,083 "adults" at random. Thus what slightly over a thousand people think is supposed to indicate exactly the views of a population of over 300 million, not excluding the "non-adults," whose views, however, might very well merge seamlessly into those of the "adults."

Anyway these poll-takers conclude that fewer Americans think that the B. Obama Presidency has improved race relations in the U.S. --Fewer than when he was elected, that is.

So what else is new?

Anyone who expected or hoped that his election would improve race relations here or anywhere else in the world hadn't thought much about it, or weren't old enough to know, or hadn't read that part of their history well enough, or just didn't have their thinking caps on straight, though the tip-off that it wouldn't was plain to see, during the campaign, and that sure sign was the reaction of all "good Americans" toward some remarks uttered some time ago by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. A supposed mentor of then candidate B. Obama, he was quoted as applying some perjorative words to the U.S., and because of this the collective electorate is thought to have risen up in a gigantic rage and told Obama that either he would sever all connections with Wright forthwith, or he, Obama himself, would be disconnected, permanently, and B. Obama, having by then achieved a surprisingly good shot at taking it all, complied without hesitation.

I don't know when Rev. Wright made his utterances in which he cursed the U.S., but being of his generation I'm pretty certain of the context in which they were made. And I also noticed something that none of the eager-beaver journalists, pundits, and politicians who were so hot on Wright's trail ever did, and that was that no mention was ever made that the said horrible malefactor, Rev. Wright, ever tried to start a Marcus Garvey-like "Back to Africa" movement or in other wise showed the first sign of ever wanting to shake his feet free of the sands of these "benighted" shores forever.

That was because actually he was in no wise wishing ill upon America and calling for God's wrath upon it, in spite of all the ill-meaners of so many stripes who without an instant's thought took that to be exactly what he was doing. Instead, like a frustrated lover in a domestic argument, he was expressing his extreme dismay at the country's persistent failure to act decently toward the people brought over from Africa and their descendants, by a large variety of means up to and including today, when demonizing them whenever the chance offers itself or one of the carefully maintained "guards" slips, as shown by how often it happens among those just in the public eye.

If then, instead of roundly condemning Wright, people had instead given what he said some thought and had asked themselves why he said it, there would have been grounds for hope that some improvement in race relationships in the U.S. would indeed offer themselves with the election of B. Obama. But they didn't do that, and instead they came down on J. Wright with the full force of their capacious rumps and voted for Obama with the implicit understanding that he would not ask much from them in that respect, and he hasn't, not least because it would fall on a spectacularly large mass of deaf ears, if not worse.

In race relationships, since there is always one party that is bigger and stronger than the other, improvement is always more the responsibility of the stronger party than it is of the weaker, and if that stronger party feels no impetus to change things, conditions either remain the same or they get worse, sometimes ending in the obliteration of the weaker. Things never seem to go any other way, which must explain why there is today only one branch of the human species left, for all its extravagant numbers.

But, short of the more drastic measures, in today's more humane world, the stronger party likes to fall back on insisting that the two parties have equal responsibility in the matter and therefore power to improve things, which is complete hogwash.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

That's Telling 'Em!

This, by the way, is the very first video that I have managed to copy from somewhere else and put here. I assume that it is all perfectly legal.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Least of All

There are some catastrophes that are so totally dire that any words concerning them fall far short. And actually anything that is said on the subject, no matter what, treads the dangerous ground of seeming instead to belittle the seriousness of the event. One such disaster is when loved ones take their own lives, especially if they are young. Another is the earthquake that struck Haiti two days ago.

Of all the countries on this planet, Haiti was the one that could least afford to be hit by a quake that measured 7 on the Richter scale, followed shortly afterward by several category 5 aftershocks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Give Up, Days, Weeks, and Months

I give up. I now see that there is absolutely nothing I can do about the swift passage of the days, no matter what I do. The reason is that they've started going not one by one but in groups of threes and fours at a time. And I'm not talking just about posting on this site.

The only respect in which this kind of hurrying is not being done is in bringing on decently warm weather. There December and now January have obviously decided that there can't be too many nights featuring deep freezes, climaxing in mornings with temps as low as 8 or 9.F (well below zero or freezing on the Celsius scale),

So naturally one of the conservative rags digs up a scientist who is claiming that, while in the long run he believes in the global warming "theory," he argues that for now we are actually in for a period of as many as 30 years of abnormally cold winters. Thus in the short run, global warming can be seen as being a hoax after all, of sorts, a result devoutly desired by the rockheads.

For myself, I've never had a problem with the planet heating up a degree or two. I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., which is famous for its sweltering summers. And now I've been clever enough to re-situate myself 200 miles farther inland and at 850 feet above sea level. And anyway I seem to be in a great position to miss all the great catastrophes that have been calculated to come in the future -- in the exact same way that I missed each and every disaster that ever happened in the world and the universe before July of 1931 (or more correctly the stock market crash of 1929, because I certainly experienced some results of the bad effects that that event had on my parents, though, being a kid, I was not aware of that for a long time), And meanwhile, to keep my happygolucky theme going here, I also missed out on the overwhelming majority of the numerous disasters that have struck the planet while I've been here, by managing to be always in other places, and that avoidance took very little effort on my part -- or cleverness -- to speak of..

And anyway, I can't see how the forthcoming climate change is really going to be that great a disaster, because it doesn't figure to strike all at one time. Instead we're going to have the well-known thing of the frog not jumping out of the boiling water as long as the heat is turned up graduatlly, as opposed to dumping him in the bubbling pot then and there. I think global warming is going to happen slowly, over a period of years, and people will keep adjusting to it, keep adjusting, and the only ones who will really notice it will be rhe scientists who hang out near the Poles and keep tabs on the ice crashing into the sea..

So, to get back to the beginning of this post, it is the clocks and the calendars that have the final say, on most things.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Source of Republican/Conservative Sleazery

The latest that the FNN (the Fox NeoNazi News Disservice) is up in arms about is the notion that should someone named Scott Brown gain an upset victory and win the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat that had been held for so many years with such great distinction by the now recently deceased Teddy Kennedy, the Democrats will drag out the certification process long enough to make it impossible for SB to cast a vote on the forthcoming results of the conferencing of the House and Senate on the health care reform bill -- the final step before that bill takes the status of law.

We know, don't we, exactly where the Fox sleazebags got this idea. It is just what their side would do -- and has done in the past -- if they were in the Democrats' shoes. We remember how long it took for Al Franken to take his Minnesota Senate seat -- many months after he had obviously won it fair and square, because of the way that his diehard Republican opponent, Norm Coleman, used the courts to stretch out the process as long as he could, with the other Repubs already in the Senate cheering him on but who now are screaming for the Brown dude to be seated instantly, though that election has not even been held as yet.

This is where the Repubs and Conservatives get all their ugly charges that they are constantly and hysterically hurling at the Democrats and President Obama ecery chance they get, while praying that something, anything sticks. They have only to think of the tactics and strategies that they would pull out of the cesspool and use if they were still the lords of the realm. Then they accuse their opposition of having such intentions, no matter how ridiculous the charges might be.

Far too often they are on safe ground doing this, because generally the American public is as low on the tnformation they collect as they are high on the biliousness that they admire. But here the FNN and the Repubs could be miscalculating, because they could be giving Massachusetts Democratic politicos ideas in the event that the worse that could happen actually does happen. And if in the event that such a disaster does happen and the Democrats then adopt such a stalling tactic, I doubt that many people would blame them. And meanwhile Norm Coleman would make a great mud blob to hurl back at the FNN and the latterday Republican ubermensch.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Worthy of Reflection

It was said that every day of his long life -- 85 years, I believe -- Thomas Jefferson washed his feet in cold water.

...And last night, at around 9:30, it snowed slightly, though nothing more needed to be added to the snow that is still here in this unceasingly frigid and stormy winter. There are still three or four inches covering the ground from the snow of three or four weeks ago, in our lower garden in the places closest to the creek.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Babel Burj

The Burj Khalifa or the Khalifa Tower just opened, in one of the Gulf States, Dubai. It is a combination office and luxury apartment building.

It is now the tallest manmade structure in the world, and not just by a few feet so as to grab the record but by a whole lot. The above linked article has an interesting diagram that tells the story.

My modest and now severely outdated standard of excessive building height remains governed by the Washington Monument, where it is considered a considerable physical feat to climb to the top by the stairs -- in one day, that is. But this thing seems to be more than twice as tall! Unbelievable!

The Burj Khalifa is not named after Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, an enterprising soul who leads Dubai and is directly responsible for all the construction extravagances there.. He unexpectedly bestowed that honor instead on the ruler of an adjacent Gulf State, Abu Dhabi, which has a lot of oil, and Sheikh Khalifa was generous enough to drop a lot of dough on Dubai, to help it with its debts, because lately, and unsurprisingly, Dubai has been a big pain in the posterior for the economies of other countries by being slow to repay loans.. I say "unsurprisingly" because Dubai has already become noteworthy for other architectural curiosities as well, that you won't see anywhere else -- manmade islands modeled, among other things, into the form of a palm tree, and a huge hotel shaped like a windjammer. See the Discovery Channels for detailed programs on how they look and how it all was built. Of course you have to be rich, maybe filthy rich, to go to Dubai to enjoy these things, because it is all for the luxury crowd, which to my mind pretty much drops the essential usefulness of all these undoubted architectural, engineering, and construction feats to close to nothing. But I suppose you could go to sneak a peek at these marvels if you were into being a slave laborer.

All I know is that the Lord will not like this latest pinprick in the heavens, and He probably already has certain corrections in the works. The Good Book suggests that. I don't know whether Allah was willing, though some of His admirers have been known to go on ahead with whatever they want to do, regardless. As for Buddha and the gang that used to dwell at the top of Mt. Olympus, I suspect that they will have only one word for it all: "Hubris."

Meanwhile, have I told you yet about my combination pumphouse\root cellar? Now that's a trick! It is set about five feet into the ground, measures 8 by 12 feet, and....

Friday, January 01, 2010

Advanced Lists

When he was about the age I am now, one of my old beekeeping friends would not try what I found easy enough to do -- backing his pickup down my driveway. He blamed his inability to do it on an arthritic neck.

Now I find it increasingly difficult to back my little Isuzu pickup down my driveway. I feel like I'm turning my head enough, but I still can see nearly enough to judge anything.

I wonder where the failing lies? In my eyes or in my neck?

This worries me, out of the fear that one day, somewhere, somehow, I will be forced to take a driving test again. I don't think I can handle parallel parking on a city street anymore.

In the 60's, when I was driving my VW Bug all around Manhattan in New York City, where empty spaces on the street were few and far between, I became a master at wedging my Bug into little spots where you wouldn't think the Bug could fit.

So parallel parking looks like one more entry to be added to the list of the things that I used to be able to do that are no longer available to me now, and my only hope is that it is also on the list that the Fates keep of the things that I no longer have to do.

I wonder how often the Fates compare those two lists? When they do, my only hope is that the number of duplications is enormous.