American Exceptionalism? I Take Exception To That.

October 21, 2014 - Leave a Response

One public definition of American Exceptionalism reads, “American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nation states.”

One could engage in a prolix discussion of this, that, and the other that prove or disprove that America is exceptional, and the result would be a lot of wasted breath on both sides. 

But perhaps a simpler path is available. Baseball.

Is America exceptional because it’s professional baseball league runs a contest every year to determine the best pro team in American baseball and calls it ‘The World Series’? While it barely qualifies as a series worth a capital S, it does not involve baseball teams from any other country (alright, Canadian teams in MLB are eligible, but not as Canada). What the league calls a ‘World’ series is really nothing more than a local, United States activity.

For a real World Series one might want to consider the four-year international marathon of soccer, the World Cup, involving scores of nations.

Or perhaps the annual UEFA Championships of European pro soccer. Or the international Rugby championship. Or Cricket.

Now those could righteously be called World Series.

So perhaps we might consider America exceptional in that it pretends – oh, let’s just call it a lie – that it is a world class player playing in a worldwide baseball tournament.

It is not surprising that an American sport overbills itself this way, particularly baseball. After all, the lies and hypocrisy start out in baseball’s childhood game, the Little League. (Oh, how dare I sully that bastion of childhood and innocence! Perhaps because my idea of childhood does not involve angry, screaming parents and coaches.)

In any event, the Little League also runs a ‘World Series’ every year, down in Pennsylvania somewhere, I believe. Now it is true that the LLWS does involve teams from several countries, and that there is a playoff to determine the best teams for the final one-game ‘series’.

Actually, there are two playoff round-robins. In one, the non-US teams play each other to determine a contender. In the other, only US teams play to determine a contender.

Did you catch the whiff of American exceptionalism there? Did you notice that in the Little League World Series, there will always be a US team playing a foreign team. In effect, the LLWS is rigged.

In a fair contest, only one US team would be involved, and it would play in the round-robin with the foreign teams to determine the two best teams for the final. The US would thus not be guaranteed a spot in the final, and the LLWS could then call itself a real World Series.

Until that happens, perhaps it’s best to just consider the winner of the foreign playoffs the World Champion, who deign to play a United States team in a demonstration game that the Little League powers-that-be insist, contrary to fact and fair play, is a championship game.

As it is below, in the LLWS, so it is above, in Major League Baseball.

American Exceptionalism. A lie, a hypocrisy, an ego trip of gigantic proportion unrelated to reality.

That said, my bet in the World Series this year is on… umm… wait, who’s playing tonight?

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Ebola And The Three Stooges

October 18, 2014 - 2 Responses

The three stooges in this case are any three Republican wingers who are pushing the idea that the United States is in deadly peril because we had a couple of cases of Ebola and one entire, whole dead man. By extension ‘any three Republican wingers’ pretty much covers the entire Republican party, which seeks to spread terror about Ebola for the sole purpose of garnering votes next month. Americans appear to be stupid enough to allow that strategy to succeed.

However, by misdirecting the attention of the American electorate, they leave more room for the real threat. India. Southeast Asia. If the virus gets to India and Southeast Asia, given the massive poverty and the massive crowding of the poor in the major cities and the culture of saving face rather than saving lives, the virus will feed on those conditions and with a base like that it’s likely to burn its way through the primate population across the whole planet (primates include humans, though most of the other primates, I suspect, want as little as possible to do with humans).

For all the macho talk coming from Washington about the United States being prepared to handle an Ebola outbreak here, the truth is closer to the thought that American hospitals, in a serious outbreak, would just wash away in a stream of blood. They couldn’t handle it. They’d be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.

Here’s a bit of a sample of what’s up, from a commenter at Talking Points Memo yesterday:

My wife’s ER has an ‘ebola cart’ with some lightweight protective gear and written instructions for putting on a PPE, but the instructions are a loose bundle of papers and the pictures don’t match the gear in the cart and has inaccuracies that put them at serious risk. It’s an object of gallows humor for the staff. That’s the totality of their training or preparedness so far.

The commenter notes further on that the head of the hospital publicly declared that the hospital, a large hospital in a major city, is fully prepared to handle an outbreak.

Yeah, okay. The American Ethic: Cover your ass, always, and never mind reality.

Imagine masses of people fleeing India and Asia ahead of the epidemic. Panicked. Hysterical. Seriously determined to get the hell out of the way and into… oh, right, the United States where they will be safe and secure. A dozen carriers hiding in American city slums and civilization falls apart, with half the world dead. Slums in London. Paris. Moscow. Madrid. Istanbul. Indonesia. Tokyo. Manila. Australia might make it through, being an island continent, but all those sneaky Indonesians are just a stone’s throw away and they’ll just come crawling up the beaches in the dead of night, bleeding as they go, and pretty soon it’s ‘On The Beach’ again, only messier. Maybe Tony Abbott can build walls of coal along the shores of the continent.

Not too far fetched really. Especially given the willful ignorance and unmitigated stupidity of the politicians the Americans have sent to Washington and to their various state capitols the last couple of decades. Most of the Republican members of the House science committee have publicly stated, one way or another, that they don’t believe in science. I suspect that for all the noise they’re making about Ebola they don’t believe in viruses either.

And if the Republicans win control of the Senate next month, you can bet the Three Stooges Protocols of the American Government will be operating in full force. (Apologies to the original Three Stooges, who were a lot smarter than most of the Republicans slithering around on the floor of the House and Senate.)

Some of the more astute among you may have noticed I didn’t include China in the scenario. I suspect that if Ebola showed its bloody face in China, the victims and their families and friends would be summarily executed, their bodies burned en masse, and any town or city that harbored the virus  would be firebombed to ashes, people and all. Followed of course by an announcement that there is not and never was Ebola in China.

Why Antarctic Sea Ice Has Increased…

October 11, 2014 - Leave a Response

 

Hint: it’s because of global warming climate change… so it’s not a good sign as some would crow.

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Get Out Your Waders and Forget About Seafood. Hot Seas Are Here.

October 6, 2014 - Leave a Response

Maybe one of these days the scientists will stop making estimates that are conservative and safe and start stomping their feet and raging at the idiot politicians pushing civilization into that not-so-good night.

Here’s a good start…

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Ebola Interview

October 6, 2014 - Leave a Response

 

Here’s an interview in The Guardian with the scientist who discovered the Ebola virus back in 1976. Interesting read.

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Ban Ki Moon Nails The Climate-Change-Global-Warming Dilemma

September 22, 2014 - Leave a Response

During yesterday’s global warming parade in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon of the United Nations said, “There is no Plan B, because there is no planet B.”

From an earlier post on Grumpy Lion:

image

From a NASA collection of photos of Earth from space.

The rings are Saturn’s.  The photo was shot by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006, and shows Earth as seen from Saturn.

Earth is the small white dot in the upper right quadrant of the picture. In the detail photo at the upper left the moon is a hazy bulge at the upper left of Earth.

We are small, we are insignificant in the scheme of the universe, nothing out there gives a damn, and we have no place to go.

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Of Cats, Time, and Ebola

September 17, 2014 - 6 Responses

How does a cat perceive time? Simple question.

I think I can be certain that they don’t perceive days and nights, weeks and months and years. Or hours, minutes, and seconds. I suspect they perceive the passage of light and dark, one into the other, but they attach no artificial construct to such passages.

How do they know to be at a certain place at a certain time of day to get food? Kitty wristwatches? The quality of light in the sky – dawn, pre-dawn, dusk, late afternoon, high noon? Are they as accurate when the sky is darkly clouded? How accurate are they? Do they hit an approximate window and then wait for the food? I think Sammy, the outside cat, may do that.

Time, as we parse it, doesn’t exist for cats. Everything is now. They don’t worry about or get anxious about or think about the food delivery that will occur seven or eight hours from now. When the time is right they’ll go to the food spot. In the meantime they’ll lie in the sun, snooze in the shade, chase insects and butterflies, terrify mice and chipmunks, and nap.

Humans on the other hand have broken time. Shattered it. Hammered it into little pieces. Milliseconds. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Decades. What time is it? That’s the cry heard across the universe, the cry emanating from this little planet where humans may have run out the clock on themselves. Time is just another falsehood we use to prove to ourselves that we are in control of the world, of our lives.

Time may be running out for humans. Ebola is a deadly viral epidemic in West Africa now. From a killer of little villages, it has gained the potential to be a civilization killer. Ebola has entered the human population now in a big way, in crowded cities where the infrastructure needed to contain it is weak or non-existent, where ignorance and fear fuel the spread of the virus. And from what I read there are indications that the virus is mutating. Evolving to deal with its new ecological niche.

No one can predict what the mutations will ultimately amount to. One possibility, perhaps the worst, would involve two mutations. One would have it become transmissible via aerosol, via sneezes and coughs, able to survive outside a host or a victim for lengthy periods of time. The second would have it sporulate. If that happens then it could be picked up in the dust storms that blow westward from Africa and coat the Amazon basin, Central America, and the Southern United States with dust. If those two things happen then the virus could likely not be contained.

This morning there’s a story on BBC that a vaccine is being tested, one that shows good promise of being effective. Perhaps. Or perhaps too little too late? Time will tell. And if not Ebola, what else?

Obama is sending three thousand American soldiers to Liberia to fight the epidemic. They’ll build seventeen treatment facilities and act to educate the public and train health care personnel. Whether they’ll actually get it done in time to slow or stop the epidemic is an open question.

Africa could be hollowed out, relieved of its human burden, perhaps even its entire quota of primates. It could become the forbidden zone of science fiction, the place where no one goes. It might return to the state of being the Eden it once was, where Nature has full sway. Yes, with all the brutality of tooth and claw that goes along with Nature, that is a fundamental part of Nature, but Africa would once again become a place of balance instead of a place overrun with a plague of humans who corrode and destroy the Nature on which their very lives depend. And wouldn’t that be ironic, the place that gave birth to mankind would be scoured clean of men and become closed to men. Man, kicked out of Eden. By an invisible bit of barely animate protein.

Of course if the virus mutates, Earth, all of Earth, could become Eden, with life getting a fresh start, a new direction, perhaps creating a timeless world. Ruled, undoubtedly, by cats.

Yaaaaaaaaaayyyy!

August 28, 2014 - 4 Responses

The medics decided today that The Lion doesn’t have colon cancer. To hear the sound of a joyous world cheering, click here.

Thus, more time to rage, to enrage, to enlighten, to enheavy, to annoy. Poor world!

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Heat Rises? Not All The Time.

August 27, 2014 - 2 Responses

Where’d the heat go is what all the global warming deniers want to know. But of course it doesn’t matter that actual research shows where it went (and indicates that it will be coming back relatively soon), not to deniers. They have opinions. Their opinions are just like facts, except that they’re a lot easier to get to because the deniers don’t have to do any messy research and investigation and actual thinking. It’s true just because they say so. Yup. They’re real frigging geniuses.

Yeah. Tiresome, aren’t they, the jabberers?

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/oceans-hid-the-heat-and-slowed-pace-of-global-warming/

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The Birth of The Lion, Redux

July 26, 2014 - Leave a Response

I wrote this last year. But yesterday I saw in the obituaries of the Enterprise that my friend and mentor in those early days, Paul A., just died. He was 81 years old. Call this repeat publication a tribute to him and his influence on the course of my life.

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Writer? No, no way. When I was fifteen my life course was set. Bacteriology. Microscopes and petri dishes. After all, I’d spent my whole life messing with science stuff. Chemistry sets. Microscopes. Electronic gadgets. Yup, I was headed for the laboratories of Science. And nothing in the world was going to change my mind.

Not that I was a slouch in high school English composition. I was pretty good at it, probably because I read a lot, always had. But I never gave a thought to Writing as a career, as something to be sought, as a life path to follow. I just needed good grades.

One day my guidance counselor called me into his office. More trouble? Nope. Mr. T had a job offer. The local office of the regional daily newspaper, the Cape Cod Standard Times, needed a high school stringer, someone to report and write news from my high school. Apparently, glowing reports of my writing skills had turned Mr. T to my direction. And it’s not as if I weren’t familiar with the newspaper business: I’d been a paper boy for a couple of years for this very same paper – even won a trip to Italy for writing a contest submission to Parade’s Young Columbus project.

So I said yes, why not. I could make a few bucks, do something different for a while, hell, maybe even get my name in the paper as a writer. Couldn’t hurt when it came time to apply to college.

Yeah. Goodbye science, hello journalism! Oh my, take my breath away why don’t you!

I interviewed with the managing editor of the local office, Bill S. He seemed to like me and seemed to think that I could actually write decently, though not professionally, not yet. He hired me and put me under the wing of Paul A., who was about ten years older and a real, day-in day-out staff writer, a real news reporter. Paul was about six feet tall, immensely thin, and a little hunched over, as if he’d spent his entire life from babyhood bent over a hot typewriter. Paul was to be my mentor, trainer, confessor even, in matters of the typewriter. He introduced me to Bob E., the photographer, who would fill the same role in matters of the camera. Bob was a gentle man, all smiles and fun, and intensely competent.

I should note that this all happened back in the days when newspapering was about hot lead Linotype machines, big black office typewriters, rotary dial telephones, and the Internet of the time, the teletype machines, big noisy electric keyboard machines that sent the news out from our office to the main office and picked up the news from the AP, from UPI, from the New York Times, from the world out there. That was newspapering, old style, and it was wonderful. Sometimes, later on, I got to work in the main office down the Cape, and I can still hear the sound, at eleven every morning, of the big presses starting to roll on the other side of the building, starting off slow, and building quickly to a rumble and a roar as they took the copy I’d written an hour ago and thundered it into the day’s newspaper. God, the smell of newsprint was intoxicating! And now, fifty years on, my favorite writing program is called WriteMonkey, and I love it for two things – it’s plain black screen that holds only the words I type, like a page of newsprint copy paper, and the sound effect of old fashioned typewriter keys as I type.

But all that came later. In the beginning I was just the new kid. They gave me a desk in the back of the newsroom, with a big black Underwood typewriter. Paul explained how to write a news story, how to use the inverted pyramid style, and the basic questions a story had to answer: who, what, when, where, and why. He taught me what was news and what wasn’t news, and how to write it. Paul was always calm, always professional. He was a gentle man, self-effacing but by no means weak or retiring. He knew how to dig a story out of a recalcitrant world.

Bob, the photographer, taught me the secrets of the old Forties-style Graflex Graphic cameras with focal plane shutters, those with the big flash attachment. He showed me how to slide the plates into the back, plates that held two pieces of film. I’d take a picture, then have to flip the plate to get the other film in place. He showed me how to develop film in the basement darkroom and how to make prints. He taught me what made a good picture, and what made a poor picture.

After a while they sent me out on some assignments that weren’t for the high school news. Take a picture of a meeting. Get information on some little story. And come summer they hired me as a full-time staff writer for the summer. The real deal. One of the best moments came when Bill called me in to his office about a short business story I’d written. It was only a few paragraphs. ‘First rate,’ he said, handing me the piece he’d cut from the news page.

My last summer I started writing a feature a week for the Sunday paper. Long pieces. With my byline identifying me as a Staff Writer. But I knew better: I was a reporter.

I learned to write in that little office downtown. I learned to write fast, to deadline. I learned to write clean copy that got to the point. I learned to think a story through as I wrote it: there wasn’t time to agonize over words and phrases. The clock was ticking. The main office would roll that big press at eleven in the morning, no matter what.

I learned other things too. Bill died of a massive heart attack a few years later. He was 39. Bob took a job in upstate New York. The office moved, got modernized. The paper changed its name. All that happened after I left the paper, about a year after high school, after I had worked for about a year down Cape as a full time staffer. I never worked as a reporter again after that last stint: I was too restless, had too many paths to run. Paul, the guy who taught me how to write, how to write news, moved up to the main office in Hyannis and stayed with the paper for his whole career. A few years ago I ran into Paul again. He was at the local supermarket, bagging groceries for minimum wage. Trying to make ends meet, he told me.

Seeing Paul again reminded me that there was no better place to learn to write than in a small newspaper office, facing daily deadlines, working with competent writers. Seeing Paul calmly bagging groceries reminded me that there are no guarantees in life, especially in the writing life. The best we can do is to write honestly, to write with integrity, to write with care, but no matter how good we are at it, we are subject to the same vicissitudes of the universe as everyone else.

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