Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And precisely how does this apply to Gaza, John?

"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."
         — J. K. Galbraith


What I got for Christmas

The Quiet Earth is an old New Zealand scifi fillum. The plot is (spoiler, Spoiler, SPOILER!), naked guy wakes up, last man on Earth, those damn Americans screwed up the broadcast energy experiment, universal constants are changing values, oscillations getting worse, so alone, so alone, breaks into more expensive houses, misses women, wears women's clothing, cardboard cutouts of world figures including Hitler, gives a speech to nobody, feels important, whistling in the dark, pulls himself together, finds a place in the country, woman intruder points a gun at him, hey fun a woman, hey fun a guy, let's not have sex yet, search for others, finds an armed and dangerous male, aha a TRIANGLE, she prefers the testosterone job to the transvestite for some reason, flashbacks reveal everyone died violently just before the world changed, got to blow up the bigdish radio antenna those damn Merkins were using, white girl black guy play tag with the scientist who can save them, oops truck penetrates a hole in the research center, the gelignite explodes, the sun sparkles, hero dies again and the world changes again only this time the Earth is a moon around Saturn and all the clouds in the sky dump rain in narrow vertical oddly suggestively cigar-shaped columns and holy hannah this time the world is really, really strange, but I really, really think nobody under 40 can watch this without nodding off if they stay polite. Very quiet movie, pre-Peter Jackson. (That looking-down-a-laser-beam sparkle effect was also used in Ursula Leguin's Lathe of Heaven PBS television special in 1980 or so. Effective, if you've never seen it at the disco.)

Also got Hogfather, the Terry Pratchett film, and Tin Man, the postmodern sequel. My tastes seem to run toward lethargic revisionings of favorite novels, but they were all on my list. √ √ (Twice.) Thanks, Santa!

Speaking of the non-abiding Earth, Yellowstone, the supervolcano in Wyoming, has erupted three times in 2 million years, the last time about 640,000 years ago. Which means we're due. Yesterday, we had a swarm of 250 small earthquakes, fairly unusual. If this thing blows, it's bigger than Krakatoa and will probably jump start the next glacial cycle in the current Ice Age. If it really goes up, squids inherit the Earth. Enjoy.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ground Zero

I learned some history the other day. It turns out that Palestine is a Roman name imposed on the troublesome former district of Judaea after the Diaspora, the Emperor Hadrian's "final solution."

The current conflict goes back centuries before anyone had ever heard of Mohammad or Islam, so the sheer bumptious scale of bloodletting in the name of God — but surely, evil in the name of good was prohibited in the ten commandments? Where's Charleton Heston when you need him? — finally just boggles the mind.

Like watching puppets dancing on the strings of destiny... Zionism seems to be a kind of insane desire to install refrigerators on the stricken Titanic and keep from sinking by freezing colder than the very icebergs. It doesn't make sense, but damn, those refrigerator salesmen can sell snow to Eskimos.

My guess is, Iran will eventually nuke Israel, or Israel will bulldoze the Gaza Strip into the sea, or both ... and we'll watch it on the evening news, twirling our battle rattles and waiting for halftime to get another Bud and watch Christiane Amanpour chatting up the sidelines.

So yeah, it's a Rube Goldberg war, a little miniature gem from our own cracked indifference. But it's somebody else's kids who do the dying, and somebody else's moms who do the crying, and somebody else's hate that does the lying. Just look at it! That can't be real.

And we broadcast this merde to the stars.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Tel Aviv goes it alone

I'm astonished that a pipsqueak little dirtpatch like Israel, just half the size of the Netherlands but armed with nuclear weapons nevertheless, would ignore the entire globe, launch a fanatic "final solution" strike against the Gaza Strip, and drag civilization yet again to the brink of nuclear Armageddon in the process.

The obstacles in the way of peace, under these conditions, are easy to enumerate: 1) Ehud Barak. 2) ........(in distant second, since they're welding those short range rockets out of tailpipes)........ Hamas.

Well, we Americans have successfully managed to ignore Darfur for ages, shunning involvement in a terminal virulence that has no apparent end, good or otherwise. The deaf American ear and the cold American shoulder can easily extend almost by default to dinky pariah nationlets in the Middle East that lack significant reserves of light sweet crude.

It's ironic that Joe Biden's remark that President Obama would be tested almost immediately should be so prophetic. Obama hasn't even been sworn in, yet, so I suppose the lash falls on Bush's tortured backside. Gee, Condi, no legacy for the cowboy?


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Siege of Gaza

Put it into perspective. Israel bombing Gaza is like New Jersey launching airstrikes against Baltimore. That's the scale of things.

For months, New Jersey has embargoed commerce into or out of Baltimore — no cash transfers, no food except basic stuff like pigfat and falafel flour, no oil or gas imports or exports, no electricity, no running water, no medical supplies. Some Baltimore hotheads decide to launch shortrange rockets toward the truck farms surrounding Trenton. A few cabbages get mussed up.

"Aha!" shrieks New Jersey. "So it's war you want? It's war you get!" F-16s! 253 Baltimorvians bite the dust. Yes! Yes! Was it good for you?

Down in Washington, folks have been paying attention to what happens in Baltimore. On the other side of the world, from the vantage point of King Kamehameha's statue, the past, especially the recent past, may seem even clearer from a distance.

Ok, ok, it was two cabbagepatch kids — I can be sensitive, too. The going rate of exchange for helpless civilian targets including women and children is about 120 to 1, apparently. New Jersey sniffs, "Unfair. Our targets are Baltimorvian terrorists. Their puny rockets do not strike military targets." Baltimore snorts, "Stand closer then."

Personally, I think selling F16s to the Israelis is probably a good idea, considering the state of the U.S. economy. Let's sell them to the Palestinians, too, and get those lines of credit moving again!


Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the other hand...

Literalists have all the fun.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

What should we call a warrant of patent suitability for a consecrated life? Perhaps "virgin" is as good as anything else. Just as sacrifice has gradually, over the millenia, divorced itself from the slaughterhouse as body (and blood as well) became bread (and wine), and maybe light and laughter, so (and I recognize the irony of argument by Homeric simile) may not purity transcend mere gynecology, just as every American girl wears white at her own wedding? Darkness does not engender light, but Light is born in darkness. Ave, Maria! Good enough.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To Ensure Victory, Capture History

There's no need to rewrite history if the only history that survives is the one you've written yourself. Entire peoples have been edited from human ken that way, leaving only a fading blur on the graves where heels once danced their nights away.

Clio is a merry muse
When history's enchained —
She'll dowse the fuse of Memory
By spitting on the slain.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

First day of Winter

God Jul. It snowed for a couple of days and now it's biting cold. Stay indoors, where the pizza and the movies are.

Now that the election's over, I find myself drifting back toward the Independent middle. My vote was anti-Bush, anti-war and anti-Hoover in about that order — with a dash of pro-socialized medicine. Obama may have made me lift an approving eyebrow or two, but liberals offended by the president-elect's centrist tendencies weren't paying attention during his standard stump speech last Fall. What do they think that "Obamacan" rhetoric meant, or the remarks about there being no Red States or Blue States, just United States?

I'm not even sure Obama's style is "centrist," in any traditional sense. It's kind of an African-American tradition to color outside the lines, anyway, isn't it? The disenfranchised jaywalk, where the Old School detects boundaries and demarcations. The social contract is more of a handshake, when your village elders remember lynching.

I'm not well pleased with Obama's trajectory for Afghanistan, which is at best a malignant distraction from the true painted elephant in the room — namely, Zionism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Frankly, were I a bettin' dog, I'd bet Obama is going to try to "Best & Brightest" his way out of a lot of turmoil, while getting dragged into Jimmy Carter's vision vacuum anyway, because the problems Obama's inheriting are intractable. Intractable. Full stop. He needs to project less Carter gloom and more Reagan upbeat, or the 44th President will be written off as irrelevant in 300 days.

There is a way to handle Guantanamo, though. Three steps. Fly in a batallion of Marines to seize files, declassify them on the spot, and frogmarch current managment onto transports to under-supported units in Waziristan. Then second, move the orange suits to Leavenworth, Kansas with full POW status. Third, bulldoze Guantanamo and stand it down. Turn it into an international airport and give it to the Cubans, as interest on the $1 a year "rent" we've extorted these last hundred years or so. Nothing complicated about it. The "problems" if any belong to war criminals.


Friday, December 19, 2008

What if...?

And I'm just saying, here, but what if Life, the Universe and Everything actually is like totally meaningless because what if, say, the whole thing is just AN ALIEN THEME PARK?

I mean, would you make a totally meaningless universe? No! You'd make something that makes sense, if only from your own personal point of view. Right? Right!

Happy Hogswatchnight!


Thursday, December 18, 2008


Iraq should immediately allow Doctors Without Borders to visit Muntazer al-Zaidi, the journalist who shied a pair of Rockports at George Bush's head.

It's not clear that al-Zaidi's "crime" actually rises to lese majeste since a) he missed (no lese), and b) it was George W. Bush (no majeste). But it's clear from the tapes that al-Zaidi should be picked up by the Kernels, the Los Angeles Angels farm team here in Cedar Rapids.

On the other hand, them Iraqis haven't figured out what "freedom of speech" means yet — hardly surprising since the memory of Saddam Hussein is still green, and since George W. Bush will clearly remain unpredictably dangerous until Obama manages to find Cheney's neo-con war room and root out all the post-inaugural sedition cells about four months from now.

Aside from that, Andrea Mitchell makes my skin crawl. We've already got a botox octogenarian schmoozing for pooper scoop, and frankly Mitchell seems to be dwooling on her glitterati lately.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Fonzi

Fonzi's not a smart boy, but Fonzi's kind of cool —
Fonzi's got no use for another year of school!

Fonzi woke up screaming in the middle of the night —
Fonzi tumbled out of bed and fell onto his bike!

Fonzi pulled his switchblade and ran it through his hair,
Fonzi slipped his shades on and pointed at the air —

Fonzi snapped his fingers and stepped into a tub
Of boiling white hot ice cubes and a pound of VapoRub.

When morning came he woke up and discovered he was still
Dick Cheney after all.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Can it be...?

Margaret Carlson is Velma Dinkley?


Saturday, December 13, 2008

What "small town"...?

Colin Powell mentioned he grew up in the Bronx (and turned out all right), so what is Sarah Palin talking about when she says "small town values?"

Good point. I've never lived in a "small" town. Born in Manhattan, KS, and grew up in the metropolitan suburbs of Kansas City (Olathe, Ottawa, Overland Park), New York City (Pearl River), (East) Lansing, Michigan, Ames and Des Moines and now Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Spent a long cold winter '74-'75 in a sleeping bag in an unfurnished eleventh story efficiency at 1234 Mass. Ave., NW, Washington, D.C., walking down the Mall from the Cannon H.O.B. to that hard, parquet floor past Scholl's Cafeteria. I gave my change and last two bucks to bums who ate better than I did at Scholl's — usually, I had meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, grapefruit juice, chocolate milk or coffee (depending), for not a lot of money plus an unwilling ear for conversation from the Damon Runyan racing touts at the colorful next table laughing about the fortunes they should have made at the track that day.... A little farther along, a Mom & Pop that sold Dannon Yogurt in waxed cups with real fruit on the bottom. Staples.

Weekend walks to Georgetown, somewhere south of that urban campus a map store, a map of any city in the world, fantastic, bookstores on Penn next to the White House and up there on Q Street, sometimes a long slow walk up Connecticut to the National Zoo. Anything to blank out a job you loathe, the reason you're in D.C. again. It makes me believe in reincarnation, lives wasted in stinking layers, like vats of tanning hides. You gotta love Christmas, getting home, getting away.

Back in the Seventies, I once met a Democratic Party hack from New York City who thought Des Moines was a small town, and once I rode an airport shuttlebus with a kvetching old biddy from the hoity toity side of Brooklyn who thought Denver, Colorado was the back of beyond. I guess we are what we fear.

We're all town mice these days, no country mice left. Television, and now the internet, are the great annealing factor in cultural values — we're all Californians, now. Except that those of us who aren't actually in California are retarded, by California standards.




Friday, December 12, 2008

Life's Little Rules #39

Always throw your spare change in the Salvation Army bucket.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Modest Proposal

Why not let the principal beneficiary of bailing out Detroit bail out Detroit? Say, $90 billion, just to tide 'em over? Whaddaya say, Exxon-Mobil? Time to pony up, Saudi Arabia?


Memo to Blag: Don't tease the big cats

At least Nixon had co-conspirators. Blagoyevich got nothin' but stocks and bonds and pillories.

Conspiracy with whom, huh? Solicitation from whom, hey? These are transitive verbs, and social crimes! There's at least one co-conspirator in the woodwork, right?

For all we know, Blagojevich knew he was bugged and was just playing Carmen Miranda-style phone tease with Humorless Fitz & The Wiretappers. Boom chica boom, boys.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guilty of Capitalism

What? "Conspiracy to commit fraud" and "solicitation to commit bribery" actually are crimes? Never mind. Apparently, you can get arrested for what you're thinking, if you think out loud.

What a great rant against capitalism and double standards this was though. Let's try it anyway!

Rod Blagojevich seems to have been charged with unrepentent what's-in-it-for-me Capitalism, a bit rich for a country that sells a 75-cent, some-assembly-required cheeseburger for five bucks.

Price discovery, defined by one Presbyterian elder to me many years ago as the coming together of a willing seller and a willing buyer, somewhat like sex and ordained by God, somewhat exonerates the crass sentiments of Hizzoner the Guv of Illinois, does it not?

Talk is cheap. You can buy a mile of talk for a cent or less. Where's the money that changed hands? Who gave this guy's wife a job? What free home improvement now graces Blagojevich's digs because he hinted willingness to commit commerce in the broadest, loudest, brassiest terms possible?

It's not against the law to hang neon or advertise. The sting doesn't go down until the money changes hands. Otherwise, your case is guilt by accusation, and any judge in the land will grant defense's motion to dismiss out of hand. Usually with stern words about grandstanding.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald seems to have jumped the gun. Not surprising, considering the cowboy federal Administration he works for. Bush and cronies have made guilt-by-incarceration an art form for eight long years, in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

When gold rusts, pray, what shall iron do?

On the other hand, Blagojevich's main failing seems to be an exhibitionist tendency to let everyone see what happens behind closed doors. That's bad for business, so he has no friends while the wolves are circling. Of course, the pack will excuse itself for its own bloody mess.

Quoting Chaucer's Parson, of course. But isn't it odd how Blagojevich, though harder to spell is easier to pronounce than, say, Shinseki?


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Great American Novel

A precious ideal of academics, the "great American novel" presumes a book, published, fictional, and pertinent to American experience prior to any final determination of what that experience has been. On whose shelves reside Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, the recherche pantheon of intellectuals whose ability to savor the linear word has proven to provide few if any vehicles from the bound page to the unboundedly fervent tempo of 21st Century American experience?

Modern commercial fiction, like ragtime, has achieved more lasting value than the self-conscious elites. Hemingway is just so much tuxedoed academic jazz, reified in improvisations as unexpected as a cheeseburger while Thelonious Monk flies away from American culture, scaling unmusical abstractions that murder lyricism, like Jack Kerouac, lyrical but banal, intensely separated from the American moment. Gangsta Bebop, jaywalking across the norms of American groupthink, glad you haven't got a clue, but clueless and alone.

My refuges are Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, J. R. R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman. When I want to know about now, America is Black, Asian, Latin and unknowable. This makes me old, I know. Beat is so last century. Time to wonder about MTV some more, I guess. Unlock that pup.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Memento Mori

Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, Clark Clifford, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, John Kenneth Galbraith, George Ball, Chester Bowles, McGeorge Bundy, Nicholas Katzenbach, Walt Rostow, Maxwell Taylor, John Theodore McNaughton, William Bundy, William Westmoreland, Matthew Ridgway, Earle Wheeler, Edward Lansdale...

Afghanistan, anyone?


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Let the faint praise begin!

Michelle Wie's critics are beside themselves, trying to slice the baloney a wee bit thinner after she carved herself a well-deserved slice of the 2009 LPGA tour today. Wie described earning her tour card as "like graduating from high school." She also said she was looking forward to rookie orientation the next couple of days "with a smiling face. Don't ask about the politically incorrect version." Heh. I enjoyed the invisible Mouse Club ears.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

I wasn't gonna say nuthin', but...

Your average Park Avenue New Yorker is not, to say the least, no carpetbagging buttinsky. I second the emotion. (I also think it's kind of fun that Barack Obama is post-Alinsky.)

So, yeah. As a former New Yorker myself (Pearl River, Rockland County, 1957), I think Caroline Kennedy is a natural to pick up the Kennedy torch while Ted can still show her the ropes. It's a brilliant idea, and I hope she gets appointed to the Bobby Kennedy seat Hillary kept on ice for eight unremarkable years.

A number of Hawaiians seem to have been in the news today:
  • Hawaiian President Obama has appointed Hawaiian Four-Star General Eric Shinseki (retired) to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs post, a hearty and extremely loud slap in the face for George W. Bush. Shinseki is the guy who warned Donald "Dumbo" Rumsfeld and his boss George "Dubya" Bush early on that we would need a heckuva lot more troops to wage war in Iraq. Shinseki smells like roses today, and Bush is still swabbing the Shinola out of his ears.

  • Michelle Wie, my favorite golfer from Hawaii, is one stroke behind leader Stacy Lewis at the LPGA's much-ballyhooed qualifying tournament — aka "Q School" — with 18 holes left to play. The top 20 qualifiers get unrestricted access to the 2009 LPGA tour; i.e., no more wheedling "sponsor's exemptions." Wie, 14 under par (69-65-72-68) through four rounds, seems to be having fun, if only because she's avoided talking to the press during the entire tournament. That, and enjoying her own phenomenal game. The LPGA is just not in Wie's league.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Update 12-4-08: Tolja so... :)


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Those Obnoxious Nazis

The "Third Reich Decadent Coffee Shop," a Nazi parody as offensive to some as Hogan's Heroes, is from a ridiculous Japanese anime called Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer that turns out to be "deep" — maybe about ankle deep, but deep nevertheless. Not much actual Nazi stuff, more like a Ferris Buehler-style tweak of high school administrators' noses. Danke schoen, Mr. Rooney.

As an oblique reference to Japanese nationalism, the 30 seconds or so of Nazi swastikas may be of passing interest to social historians. Hayao Miyazaki has a similar, sentimental attachment to the pretty towns and countrysides of Japan's old Axis allies, e.g., in Kiki's Flying Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, and Howl's Moving Castle, the two latter films exploring the auteur's unsympathetic take on the madness of war. Anime tends to emphasize those personal and national failures that lead to apocalyptic urban destruction, as in Akira — more introspection, less retrospection — so genocide is not remarkably absent from a discussion no one entertains anyway.

Not to change the subject, but this leads me to wonder whether, in the decades preceding television and radio, "The Lost Art of Conversation" was actually a spectator sport for most of the gentry (meaning all children and nearly all women, plus en masse the modestly uninformed males of the species), as it appears to be in The Importance of Being Earnest (2002).


Monday, December 01, 2008

Wealth as Biodiversity

I had a devil of a time getting through Econ 101 back in Iowa State, 1968 or so. I hated the moral and ethical implications of what I was being taught, specifically, the notion that prices should go up in times of scarcity — that, in fact, government storehouses should never, ever be used to give away free food to the starving.

Because, you see, the "hidden hand" of self-regulated prices prevents the richest of the petty bourgeoise poor from buying EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE, en masse, and HOARDING for themselves, with the admirable result that "not as many" little people die from starvation. The subtext, that the very richest of the rich get even richer (and also live through hard times in ease and comfort), was unspoken and contemptible.

The only thing I carried away from that class, aside from an abiding disgust for the "Dismal Science," was contempt for Adam Smith and all economists, with the possible exception of John Maynard Keynes.

If I understand Keynes, it's that an economy is something like (maybe even remarkably like) a rain forest ecology. What does that mean? Well, just like the soils which support the huge rain forests of Brazil are thin, poor and unforgiving to conventional Western agricultural practices, the true value of wealth lies in the way it circulates through the economic system, the faster the better. Every part of the rain forest contributes to recirculation and benefits from it. There's a cheap metaphor in here about the howler monkeys who live high up in the canopy, where the fruits and sunshine are, but they die without recirculation, just like everything else.

I'm not an economist, yet. Or maybe never. IMHO, the hidden Hydra heads of Adam Smith need to pull back a dozen or so bloody stumps on occasion. But I can get my head around ecology, and provided you make a serious re-evaluation of the meaning of wealth, the rain forest analogy — with its emphasis on biodiversity — shines some light for me into the Scrooge-like gloom of greed that passed for Reaganomics in times gone by.