Archive for April, 2008

Petraeus Promoted; Odierno Promoted; Iran Promoted. The Asylum Is Open.
April 24, 2008

Today’s paper Globe (but not the online version) carries a story by Robert Burns of the Associated Press reporting on the promotion of General David Petraeus, the beneficiary of Moqtada al Sadr’s decision to take his militia out of the fight temporarily, to chief of U.S. Central Command. That’s the command in charge of slaughtering and torturing as many Iraqis and Afghanis as they can manage. Petraeus’ position in Iraq will be taken over by his second, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. The position of the region’s Ultimate Bad Bad Bad Evil Dirty Satanic Sonofabitch will be filled by Iran.

Consider that this is an election year in the United States. Further consider that the Republicans believe two things. One, only by making US citizens afraid of a boogey man can the Republicans win elections. Two, Iraq is no longer a boogey man, so Iran must be elevated at all costs to the 2008 Election Year Boogeyman. That job now falls squarely on the able shoulders of Petraeus, Odierno, and George Bush’s sock puppet, reputed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

At a Pentagon news conference, Gates said he did not foresee that the new lineup at Central Command and in Iraq would mean any changes in the way the U.S. is approaching the issue of Iranian influence in Iraq. Petraeus and Odierno have both accused Iran of aiding rebels opposing U.S. troops.

“It’s my belief that General Odierno and General Petraeus and Admiral Fallon were all in exactly the same position when it came to their views of Iranian interference inside Iraq,” Gates said. “And it is a hard position. Because what the Iranians are doing is killing American service men and women inside Iraq.”

And once again, the tactical decision made by these eminently political military people is to offer accusations and hope the electorate will regard them as proof.

They have offered no evidence that has withstood legitimate scrutiny that Iran is actively involved in operations against American troops.

And let us assume that what they say is true. That merits a big ‘So what?’

After all, the United States, under cover of a tissue of lies and deceit, illegally and immorally invaded and occupied Iraq, and has spent five years destroying that country, which posed no threat to the United States, and had committed no act of aggression against the United States. And the United States has done nothing but threaten Iran and act against Iran, which has committed no act of aggression against the United States, and generally let it be known that the United States would have no compunction about attacking Iran and killing millions of its citizens on the whim of the American President, currently a psychopath named George Bush.

So if Iran is indeed providing support to Iraqis fighting against the United States, Iran would be completely justified. The more American soldiers they can help put into the ground, the sooner the United States might leave the area and start negotiating rationally instead of acting like a rabid dog, or like a brain-addled drunkard and drug addict.

Petraeus will face broader aspects of the Iran issue if he is confirmed as Fallon’s replacement. A number of U.S. officials, including Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have asserted that Iran also is supplying arms or otherwise supporting the Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.

Again, a big ‘So what?’ Assertion is not evidence of action. And the same reasoning applies regarding Afghanistan and Iran as Iraq and Iran.

What’s missing from the vision of these people in Washington is that when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the United States supplied the rebels there in order to drive out the Soviets. Now the United States is the new Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and whines about Iran providing support to the rebels trying to drive out the United States. The American military is crashing on the same ancient cultural reefs as the Soviets did, in a land the American political establishment, indeed even the military establishment, cannot, will not, understand.

Earlier this week, Gates said that while war with Iran would be “disastrous on a number of levels,” the military option cannot be abandoned so long as the Iranians remain a potential nuclear threat.

Well, Robbie the Robot Gates, let’s just attack them anyway, never mind how many levels of disaster, catastrophe, and stupidity we can achieve. After all, they might, maybe, someday in the next ten years build a bomb. A bomb. Not an almighty arsenal of several hundred like Israel holds over the heads of everyone in the Middle East, but a bomb. Because they might, being threatened almost daily by the United States and Israel, build an arsenal to defend themselves with, we are morally bound to slaughter millions of them and reduce their country to rubble. Apparently that’s easier than treating them like fellow human beings and talking with them and trading with them and building a positive relationship over the years.

Especially not in an election year when the Republicans who lied the world into a useless war need once again to create a climate of fear and loathing in which their candidate, the misbegotten, sleazy, corrupt and ignorant Senator John McCain can pull off a win in November and continue the insanity of George Bush and his cronies and puppetmasters.

Congratulations on the promotions, guys. Lotsa luck on your extended tour of the asylum.

 

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How Hillary Can Win The Nomination
April 24, 2008

The conventional wisdom and basic math suggest that Senator Clinton can’t win the Democratic nomination for President.

That may be the shortsighted view. There are ways in which she can win.

If she wins the remaining primaries with 85 percent of the vote in each one, she should at least pull even with Obama in committed delegates. And of course she could then claim she had momentum. (The Lion would indelicately point out that a rock rolling downhill into an abyss has momentum. But The Lion is too polite to mention that.)

She should be able to win 85 percent. All she has to do is convert all the voters into white Catholic working class people. This is America. According to the Pennsylvania results they wouldn’t vote for a black man if their lives depended on it. (Which, The Lion indelicately suggests, their lives may very well.)

Assuming that even she cannot carry out either of those strategies, a third path may be open. There are about 300 so-called superdelegates (known among the cognoscenti as the Democratic Oligarchs) who just haven’t made up their minds yet. Senator Clinton could simply bribe them. Offer them posts as ambassadors to Iraq and other Middle East and Southwest Asia countries. Or no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars to run roughshod over the people in that part of the world. Or she could just threaten to denounce them secretly to the Bush government, resulting in them disappearing into the waterboard rooms at Guantanamo Bay. Senator Clinton, those people can be had, by golly! Carrots and sticks, carrots and sticks, money or torture.

Now if that doesn’t work, she can, on the sly of course, hire Karl Rove and turn him loose on Senator Obama. Sly racist ads. Sly anti-Muslim ads. Sly fear ads. Examining her campaign, The Lion must conclude she has already hired Mr. Rove and has put him to work some time ago.

Still, there remains one more path she can take. Borrow some money, hire a discreet ex-CIA fellow, and assassinate Senator Obama before the convention.

The major flaw in that plan is that it would piss off Michelle Obama. Did you ever listen to that woman give a speech? You don’t want her angry at you. She would crush Hillary Clinton like a bug.

The Lion offers these suggestions to Senator Clinton knowing full well that if anyone can pull them off, she can. The nomination is within reach, Senator. Just keep stretching your hand out, keep reaching over the abyss that separates you from the nomination, reach a little more, come on, come on, a little more. You can do it, lady…

Oops…

McCain Straight Talk: "Yup, I’m Just As Crooked As I Can Get Away With." Yup Yup Yup.
April 22, 2008

From the New York Times today, a story on the hypocrisy and lies of John “Bushbaby” McCain, detailing how he did political favors for a big contributor in Arizona, one Donald R. Diamond, whose respect for the Constitutional system of government reputed to be the basis of United States governance apparently knows bounds.

“I think that is what Congress people are supposed to do for constituents,” [Mr. Diamond] said. “When you have a big, significant businessman like myself, why wouldn’t you want to help move things along? What else would they do? They waste so much time with legislation.”

The Lion suspects that if one were to tot up John “Bomb Bomb Bomb” McCain’s hypocrisies, such as Mr. Diamond, and Mr. Hagee, and Mr. Falwell, and the victims of his arrogant rages against secretarial level help, one would find a much uglier picture than the press and the media present of their Republican darling.

The Lion Breaks The 20K Barrier
April 22, 2008

Well, almost.

Sometime today Grumpy Lion should, with the help of a British battle royal over Winston Churchill‘s courage or lack thereof, reach the magic 20,000 hit mark.

Congratulations are in order. Therefore, congratulations, Lion!

Celebratory presents of cat food and money may be sent.

Thank you very much.

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Clinton Declares; Obama Laments; The Press Turns The Candidates On The Lathe Of Bias
April 21, 2008

From today’s Boston Globe:

Compare the descriptions in this page one story about Senators Obama and Clinton battling in Pennsylvania for tomorrow’s primary delegates:

In nearby Bethlehem, Clinton declared that Obama was running scared after a debate last week that had an intense focus on personal controversies involving him.

Obama’s weekend tour of Pennsylvania was filled with new laments about “petty, trivial, slash-and-burn, tit-for-tat politics,” as he never missed a chance to show his listeners how miserable elections – and particularly this state’s primary – can be.

Clinton declares.

Obama laments.

Does the writer, Sasha Issenberg, have a preference in the race? Hard to think he, or she, is impartial, given the choice of language.

Iraq Ain’t Got No Politics…

In another story two Los Angeles Times reporters write about the complications of Shi’ite politics in Iraq. At the end of the third paragraph there’s this:

The Shi’ite parties involved will probably look to Iran to broker an end to the crisis. And chances for a real Iraqi political process will be on hold.

Far be it from The Lion to criticize professional reporters obviously knowledgeable about some aspects of the Iraq situation, but come on, guys. There is a real political process going on in Iraq. It may not be the one the neo-oligarchs in Washington want to see, but it’s real, it’s political, and it’s deadly, and Washington appears to have no clue. Which is not surprising given that the cabal running the United States is led by a brain-addled drunkard and a bunch of sociopathic ideological fantasists who have never been shot at or seen a child torn apart by military munitions.

The Lion wonders whether today’s run-of-the-mill reporters are just ignorant of the uses of language, or if they are well-versed in it and contemptuous of their readers to the point where they feel no compunction about using their stories to project their prejudices. A good example, if not of language, but of reporters injecting their views and biases, was the debate the other night, where overrated commentators Stephanopolous and Gibson trivialized the entire event with their adolescent fixation on meaningless matters. Hardly a wonder that the United States seems to have the most ill-informed, ignorant citizenry among the Western nations on matters of real merit and substance.

Major NY Times Story Gutted By Boston Globe: ‘Military Analysts’ Get Wealthy Keeping The War Going
April 20, 2008

The New York Times broke a major story today on page one, written by David Barstow, detailing how so-called military analysts on the cable and network news programs are in fact Pentagon puppets with financial connections to the defense industry.

A sample, from the top of the story, which is lengthy and very detailed:

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

It’s worth reading, because you’ve been suckered by these people time and again.

Of further interest is the Boston Globe’s coverage. The Globe story is buried on page A10. It totals 392 words. It contains no names, no details of note.

The Times story runs to thousands of words over eleven Internet pages. It contains names, connections, events, dates, all the factual matter that makes a solid news story.

Perhaps the Globe editors and publishers think their readers will run out and buy the New York Times (owner of the Globe) to read the story? Or maybe they’d rather New Englanders remained unaware of this further deception and nest of lies promulgated by the Bush administration. They gutted the story and demeaned it to make sure it would receive little interest in the Globe’s coverage area.

It’s not as if this were some minor bit of war news that didn’t bear on the lives of everyone in the United States. The subjects of the story are ex-military officers, of high rank, engaging for pay in promulgating government propaganda that benefits defense contractors with whom they have financial interests. They are on the news every day talking about the war, about the Administration’s sanitized version of the war. And their connections to the defense industry are never revealed, by them or by the news organizations that use them.

These ex-officers are selling out American soldiers in order to line their own pockets. Indeed, they’re selling out their country by promoting a war of lies and crimes against humanity.

Whatever their service may have been, they have earned the title now of whores, war profiteers, and traitors.

And the Boston Globe doesn’t think that’s worth talking about.

Minutes of Today’s Meeting of the Spending Local Unified Rebate Program (SLURP)
April 18, 2008

Preamble: We are a group of loyal Americans wishing to do our patriotic duty by spending President Bush’s generous rebate in a way that most effectively helps boost our American economy and pride.

The meeting was called to order by Robbie McMurphy, President, at seven a.m. in our special reserved section of Starbucks coffee shop.

Robbie: Meeting is called to order. Any old business? No? New business? Morty?

Morty Jones: What? Nothing. I’m just ordering coffee. Hot and bitter, Miss.

Sam Ianucci: You really gotta stop pining for your ex-wife, Morty.

All: (Laughter)

Robbie: Alright, alright. New business? Morty?

Morty: We’re wasting our time on this. It just ain’t going to matter.

Charlie Elsmith: Oh, and you know better than the federal government about the economy, is that right, Morty?

Morty: And you believe everything they tell you?

Robbie: Well, they are putting one hundred fifty billion dollars into our hands, giving us the responsibility to get the economy back on its feet.

Charlie: Nothing wrong with that.

Morty: Where’d they get the money? Some of you guys are the first to complain about tax-and-spend Democrats, but when Republicans borrow money to hand to you, with the country in deep debt doo doo, I don’t hear any complaints.

Robbie: Now, let’s not get into divisive political wrangling, alright Morty? Charlie?

Charlie, Morty: (grunts, indecipherable)

Robbie: Here’s the question. What’s the best way to use the money to help America?

Joe Moscho: Shop. Run down to the Wal-Mart and spend like crazy. That’ll do her.

Morty: Do what?

Joe: Well, the more stuff we buy, the more the manufacturers make, and the more people they hire, and pretty soon the economy’s moving again.

Morty: You only get one check, one time. There’s no more. Why would a manufacturer build more stuff when he knows there’s no more money in the pipe?

Charlie: Well, that’s what Bush said it would do. And he’s the President.

Morty: (mutters under breath – sounds like ‘idiot’ indecipherable)

Robbie: And a lot of that money’s going to go overseas, isn’t it? I mean that’s where most of our goods are made anymore, you know.

Billy Pilgrim: I’m going to pay down my credit card.

Morty: Good idea, Pilgrim. You’re outta work two years now. Pay that sucker down because you’re gonna need to run it up next month again.

Billy: They’re taking the house next month you know.

All: (murmuring, mumbling)

Martin Windham: Well, I’m putting mine in savings. Savings is what built America.

Morty: Funny. I thought it was sweat off the brow of the unemployed and the underpaid, you know, the people who actually did the work.

Martin: Money, my funny friend, money built America.

Charlie: Yeah, and just why is it that you’re getting any of this money? You’re rich.

Martin: (mumbles) Money’s tied up in offshore accounts, investments, you know, high finance.

Morty: Those Wall Street hucksters broke you, huh? Subprimed you right into the ditch, didn’t they?

Martin: (nods, turns away, sobs)

Peter Porter: Mine’s going to pay medical bills. They’re taking the house next week.

All: (sympathy mumbling)

Morty: I’m investing mine. Going to buy Starbucks stock.

Robbie: Why’s that?

Morty: You’ll find out the same time you find out why this whole thing is nonsense.

Joe: Investing is a good idea. We could pool our money, make a really good buy in the market. That’ll help strengthen the financial structure of the country.

Morty: Oh, you mean like Bear Stearns? The risk takers the government just bailed out with thirty billion of your money? The financiers who know they can do whatever they want and their friends in the White House and Congress will make sure they don’t lose a dime? That financial structure?

Joe: But the stock market is doing okay…

Morty: The stock market is not the economy. Rich people are not your friend. Sorry, Martin, but you’re not rich anymore so don’t get offended.

Robbie: Alright, Morty, you’ve been negative all morning. What do you propose we do? What do you think is going to happen?

Morty: I suggest we pay our bill for the coffee and pastry we ate today. Oh, Miss, Miss, checks please.

Waitress: (To Robbie) Yours is four fifty sir.

Robbie: Boy, I remember when coffee cost a dime, and fifteen cents got a Danish. Here’s five bucks.

Waitress: I’m sorry, sir. That’s three hundred for the coffee and one hundred fifty for the scone.

Robbie: (muffled cry, falls out of chair)

Morty: It’s called inflation, Robbie, the real inflation. Courtesy of the idiots you voted for. The ones that have lied to us and jiggered the numbers for the last thirty years, and the ones that sold us out to the Chinese and Asian bankers and governments since 2001.

Robbie: (getting up off the floor) You’re right, Morty. This crap isn’t going to work. Everybody, everybody, you all go home, pack a bag, pack your guns, and meet back here at noon. We’re going to Washington.

All: Right on!

Robbie: Meeting adjourned.

 

Bookish Items…
April 15, 2008

Once a month I write a short column for the newsletter of my favorite local bookstore. It’s stuff off the top of my head, for fun. Herewith a few tidbits…

Suppose You Wrote A Book And Nobody Showed Up….

    Imagine a world without books. No, wait. Imagine a world without writing. No writing, therefore no books. So, what have we got then?
    More trees. More forests. A greener world. And a world filled with more species of animals and plants and fungi. A world without paper mills. Without industry. No cars. No airplanes. No cities.
    A world where Shakespeare lives in every village, telling the old stories and elaborating and decorating them and passing them on, memory to memory to memory through untold generations.
    Right. A world stuck in the Stone Age.
    No rockets to the moon. No submarines to the sea floor. No highways wrinkling the landscapes of maps. No chemicals percolating through the bodies of people and animals and plants. Sparkling clean air. Fresh clean water.
    A world in balance. Not one overpopulated and straining at the seams. Not one on the verge of catastrophic meltdown. Not one in which oceans will rise and make useless a half-billion dollar shiny new sewer system in Falmouth.
    Books codify the workings of human minds. Too few books and the world is darkened by the limits put on uses of the mind by those who can write and produce books. Too many books and there can be so much doubt and confusion that paralysis results, and progress is held back, or twisted into dark directions or dead ends by writers most capable of writing falsehoods for the popular mind.
    In either case, too few or too many, useful truth suffers, though less in the latter. In the former case, we are told the Earth is flat, and have little recourse until enough people climb the high hill and see the curve of the horizon and watch a ship’s mast disappearing. In the latter case we are told in one book it is flat, in another it is round, in yet another it is pear-shaped, and in another that we live inside it rather than on the surface.
    We need more books on how to discern what is true and what is false. We need more books on critical thinking, and more social and political will to put them in the schools, starting in the first grade, in the hands of teachers schooled in critical thinking skills.
    Books are valuable, without question. They have carried human culture and advanced it through the last 3,000 years. We would not be where we are today without them.
    The central question, though, asks “Where are we?”   

A Paean (not exactly) to Misanthropy

    I am an elitist. Or possibly just a simple misanthrope. Those are the only two conclusions I can draw when I consider my choices of reading material.
    For example, I struggle to learn Classical Greek, a language nobody speaks, and few people read or care about. I toy with ancient Latin. I study classical rhetoric and dabble in philosophy. I’m an absolute atheist.
    Nobody I know shares these obscure interests. In fact, they probably scare people. I once approached Michelle about starting an atheist discussion group at the Inkwell. She immediately developed visions of a peasant rabble, replete with pitchforks and torches, marching on the store with malicious intent. She’ll deny it, but it’s true. Little torches blazed in her eyes. I saw them.
    I started a philosophy discussion group in the store’s basement. A very pretty woman came once, and two of the bookstore people came a couple of times. Then I was alone.
    If our choices define us, then I am a self-defined elitist. Nobody else wants to delve into the things I choose. Or I am a self-defined misanthrope, choosing things nobody else cares about, thus ensuring I won’t have to deal with people, but able to claim I tried.
    Or possibly I could dwell in the best of both worlds and define myself as an elitist misanthrope.
    Misanthropy is not a glamourous undertaking. One cannot get grants. One cannot get government funding. No one recognizes misanthropy as a noble profession, worthy of support. The newspapers and online job sites do not carry ads for misanthropes. Philosophers, yes. Misanthropes, no. It’s hardly fair. What is misanthropy if not a philosophy of human interaction?
    Even so, misanthropes have carried their banner high through all of human history. We were there when the first man stepped onto the African savannah. That small figure still in the treeline grumbling ‘Lotsa luck’ created our noble endeavor. When half a million men died on Napoleon’s Moscow misadventure, we were there. We were that rumpled soldier muttering, ‘Typical, typical.’ We have always been with you.
    And yet there are no monuments, there are no museums, there are no parades honoring our ancient and steadfast contempt for the human race. We have given our all, and in turn, we are ignored, written off as eccentrics, or grumpy old men, or cheap cynics.
    It’s not fair. Typically human, of course, but not fair.

Mortality And The Madeleine

    Recently, after crashing stunningly close to mortality and thus being reassured that I was not, indeed, immortal, I had the fortune to taste a little madeleine cake.
    The taste was somewhat bland, slightly lemony, and the texture was mildly chewy. It was definitely not in the same class as good chocolate chip cookies, especially the kind from Amber Waves, nor was it as much fun as a pecan sandie. It was… satisfactory. And it had no side effects, neither digestive nor mental nor emotional.
    Which is to say the little madeleine cake did not inspire six volumes of tumbling prose, not in French, not in English. In fact, it brought nothing to mind.
    Perhaps that was my parents’ fault. After all, they never fed me a madeleine when I was a child, at least not as I remember my childhood gastronomy. So it does seem quite fair to blame them for my lack of inspiration. Who knows? Had they been more thoughtful and provided fewer dishes of broccoli and lima beans, and more spiritual food such as madeleines, I might have transcended the middle class muddle and effortlessly risen into the ranks of the talented literati.
    For want of cake, was a talent chilled and lost? O cursed parents!
    On the other hand, the madeleine being a decidedly and historically French concoction, perhaps it would be better to look to American confections for a transcendent experience.
    The Twinkie, perhaps.
    One cannot be encouraged by the fact that a knowledgeable food fellow has kept a Twinkie on his desk for three years. It has inspired him to write on junk food, but not to traipse into transcendent memories. It has also not decomposed in the slightest. The Twinkie obviously exists outside the normal cycles of life and death, while contributing nothing to either. Hardly inspiring. It passes through life and our bodies, full of unnameable this and that, signifying nothing.
    Perhaps it is best to simply give up seeking to transcend reality, and to simply sit beneath a tree and eat an apple while contemplating mortality and the gravity thereof.
    But wait… perhaps a fig newton would open new worlds…
    No. That’s merely hope springing, like a rat trap. Give me the apple.

Navigating the Trivium of Life

    Looking back on a misspent life – wait a minute, I’ve spent a lot and have the books and cats and gadgets to prove it. However, the past never went the way I thought it would, or should. My latest purchase, a textbook titled Classical Rhetoric and the Modern Student, reminded me that my ideas of the world seldom correlated with reality. (Still don’t, whisper the cats among themselves.)
    Back when I was a confused young man verging on becoming a confused young adult, I had to go to college. It was what one did, especially if one lacked any pretense to practicality and pragmatism. Not being completely vapid and stupid, knowing I wasn’t ready, I tried to delay. But the powers that were, my father and my guidance counselor, talked me out of growing up before I went.
    Having gotten cheerily accepted by several top schools, I went to Brown. The old man went there, but didn’t finish. Someone had to uphold the family honor. That would be me.They threw me out at the end of the first semester.
    However, the point I’m belaboring is that I had no idea what college was about. Something about classes, professors, about students talking late at night about philosophy and other heights of the intellect. I was, as was that other Ric(k) in Casablanca, misinformed.
    We intellectual giants got drunk, played cards, went to mixers, ogled girls and made sniggering remarks, tried to date them, studied things we could see no use for, tried to make sense of life, of anything, and sweated the Cuban missile crisis. The experience of college made a mess of my image of college.
    My image was apparently drawn from Medieval times, when the Trivium and the Quadrivium ruled, and the life of the mind was quite serious, or so I took it to be. College, as an intellectual exercise, was wasted on me, though I did finally graduate Brown seven years later.
    But, now, with thinner hair and more weight and an experienced brain, I find myself drawn to matters of the Trivium – grammar, logic, and rhetoric. I dabble in Ancient Greek and in Latin. I play a bit with Aristotle. I study Classical Rhetoric. I stumble along a path that may lead through the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, to Beowulf and Dante. Logic texts and critical thinking books dot my shelves. Philosophy texts abound. My brain lives and leaps. That there really isn’t enough time left crosses my mind, but like they say, it’s the journey that matters. And the books along the way.

Television, The New Book…

    Back when television was a shiny, new, and awesome gray eminence in American households, rebels spoke of the new medium becoming the new book, replacing the old paper and ink standby. Critics noted the impracticality of carrying the telly in a purse, and perusing it on the subway was simply out of the question.
    Well, that’s changed!
    We have had for a while tiny televisions that fit in the pocket and present a clear picture. Wherever you can get a signal, you can watch TV literature. Masterpiece Theatre. One Life To Live. ER. CSI. NFL. NBA. But that’s still not a book. In fact it’s an addiction.
    Scientific studies show that the brain’s visual center likes movement, especially if things move at least every two seconds. A quickly changing image is in itself attractive to the brain, and in the television milieu, addictive. TV junkies is not an idle phrase. Ever find yourself staring at the screen and not knowing what’s going on? Or flipping channels in an endless quest for…something? That’s your brain on drugs, a drug composed of photons injected directly into the brain’s circuits.
    Naturally those hours of addiction are hours that you don’t spend reading. Or getting addicted to reading books. And books can be addictive. It’s just that you have to work at book drugging, whereas with TV it’s all done to you – you just sit there, remote in hand, eyes glazed.
    Take a book. Put it on the table. Stare at it. Well, geez, it doesn’t DO anything!
    You have to pick it up and hold it. You have to open it. You have to decide if you want to read the cover blurbs or go right to the text. Or maybe read the copyright page, a table of contents. Perhaps a Preface, or an Introduction? Do you want to skim some of it? Read the ending first? Dive right in to the first chapter and take your chances?
    By now all these decisions have exhausted you and you have to put the book down while you rest. It will still be there, complete, intact, when you come back. Unless the dog gets hold of it.
    Now you open it up and read. You collaborate with the author. He writes images and you respond by creating them in your mind. He writes ideas and you turn them over and engage other parts of your brain in the examination. He writes dialog and your aural senses recreate the sound. He shows you a character and you create him, right down to his socks and tone of voice.
    If the writer is really any good, you are addicted to creating his work with him.
    And you don’t need to buy batteries.

Cursed by Books!

    When Howard Carter opened Tutankhamen’s tomb he released a curse that killed him.     While I’ve never been cursed by Pharaonic demons, books have rained curses of heaven and hell on me since I began work in bookstores in 1995, where I discovered the fateful employee discount. I have the first book that leapt into my hands, Bierlien’s Parallel Myths.
    I still haven’t read it. I fondle it now and then. That was the first clue I was a safe haven for books rather than a user. Books know they can come to me for security, for protective Demco dustcovers, for a quiet home and respectful treatment.
    When young I devoured everything printed. Newspapers. Cereal boxes. Five or six novels a week. Then life happened and I foundered on the shores of middle-age. Oh, there was college, a couple of short marriages, a lot of jobs, couple of illnesses, lots of cats, backgammon, computers, radios, etcetera.
    Having finally washed into an age I was never destined to reach from my teens, I rediscovered books. There were always books, but now they got serious about finding me. And not for reading, mind you.
    Books as objects of beauty, even lust. As desirables and as connections. Owning a volume on ancient Greece gives me ancient Greece. I can take the book down, run my fingers over its pages, feel the inked letters and paper ground, smell the ink and the paper, read a few words, close my eyes and for a moment walk in the Parthenon, or the streets of Athens, or on the battlefield when the land greens and the Spartans spatter the landscape with their red capes and their blood.
    Then back on the shelf, with two thousand others and new ones for which I have no room but must stack and double shelve.
    Over the years I’ve tried to maintain some sense of reason and category. Several cataloging  attempts failed, despite the computer. Then, oh mercy me, LibraryThing was revealed and I began cataloging online, using a cute barcode scanner. I’ve only one thousand four hundred to go. More or less.
    I like to believe I’m satisfied, yet a new acquisition always excites me. Recently I purchased the third volume of the Hollander translation of Dante’s Commedia, to complete my set of three. And I eagerly await the publication soon of the Durling translation’s third volume, the Paradiso.
    Though they remain unread, I can open any one of my Dante books and smell the stench and fire of Hell, and be transported instantly, by the curse of books, to my own little heaven.

 

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The Prize Winning Essay…Finally!
April 14, 2008

Some time ago, before The Lion’s recent brush with mortality, Grumpy Lion held a contest in which the winner would get to see an essay on the subject of his choice, written by The Lion. After much discussion among the staff (The Lion) the winner was Parenthetical Billy, or () as he is known among the cognoscenti. Herewith, without further delay, is the fruit of his suggestion, as it were. Probably a little overripe.

PB’s suggestion: How about a personal history post: what (or whom) do you consider the single most important influence upon your life, or (to put it more bluntly) who do your credit (or blame) for who you are now?

The simple answer?

Me. I give myself both credit and blame. I made the choices. At times I wasn’t strong enough or smart enough to resist forces pushing me one way or the other, but in the end, I chose the directions and the details. Always.

But credit and blame aren’t clear-cut without context, and context can perhaps clarify the muddy mess I’ve lived. In a society that prizes career and career growth, money, and familial stability, I’ve given myself none. Forty or so jobs with varying periods of unemployment separating them hardly amounts to a career. Locksmith, headwaiter, legal administrator, secretary, prison guard, office temp, bookstore clerk, newspaper reporter, short order cook. Now there’s context! Like a rolling cipher, I’ve gathered neither moss nor pension nor gold watch. And that I have any income at all now is due to the bite of a lowly tick, netting me a disability check every month. That I’m not living in a cardboard box on the street is solely due to my mother putting up with my grumpy ways and providing me with an apartment in her house.

All in all, I have not lived the American dream. I do not stand proudly astride the American landscape on my own two feet, supporting a loving wife and loving children, driving an SUV through clotted highways to a brilliant career every day, in debt up to my neck, and wishing I had taken the Mafia guys up on their offer.

That’s the context. The question is how did I get here, and who bent the river that is my life? Not an easy question, except perhaps for those who live Reader’s Digest lives, where heroes apparently come with identification tags and scripts, and change lives as if they were gods.

Not that I haven’t tried to find heroes. Early on it was scientists, a worship that led to a first prize in the school science fair. Then it was writers, the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds of confused youth. For a little while it was politicians, but the great unnamed They killed the best of them, and the rest killed too many strangers, too far away, for false causes, for blind ideology, for greed and ambition. After that there weren’t any heroes. Anti-heroes perhaps, people who just slogged it out everyday, day after day, putting food on the table, keeping the banks off their backs, doing the best they could with their kids. Working people, suffering the slings and arrows and contempt of the people they made rich.

But to tell the truth I couldn’t do what they do. I tried, but except for one job in my whole life, I couldn’t stand the daily grind, the monotony, the essential uselessness of the tasks. It’s not that the work was useless in context of society, it’s not that the work didn’t keep the wheels of the economy going, it’s not that sometimes it wasn’t useful to identifiable individuals. But most of it just bored the crap out of me. Jobs are interesting in the beginning. New things to learn, new people to meet, adjustments to make. But eventually that’s all done, and the monotony sets in and soon enough pervades an entire life. And some jobs are dead on arrival. I worked an assembly line putting together fluorescent lighting fixtures for a day and half once. Went to lunch the second day and never went back. Didn’t even bother to collect a check.

I even sought spiritual heroes, but they were either ridiculous, like the Christians, or volubly vague, like the Eastern religions and their gurus. I found it was not only entirely possible, but normal, to have a conversation with one of these guru-like people  and walk away having absolutely no clue about what they said or what I said. As for the Christian sects, the overall impression, the consistent impression, that they left was of dysfunctional people waiting to die to get into cloud cuckoo land while trying to implement cloud cuckoo land rules on earth. The only religion that seemed and seems reasonable is Buddhism, the godless variety, but I suspect I’m too damn cantankerous and impatient to get into it.

So, there have been no heroes. But influences? Some.

The root influence was my father. He died in 1997. I went to the wake for a little while, but not the funeral. I haven’t visited his grave. I have yet to shed a tear or feel a moment’s sadness. I’ve worked hard at not being him.

Three newspapermen probably influenced me more than anyone else. One was a managing editor, one was a reporter, and one was a photographer. They worked in the Falmouth office of what was then the Cape Cod Standard Times, in the late Fifties and early Sixties.

The editor was Bill Steele. He smoked cigarettes in a cigarette holder and tethered his eyeglasses with a cord around his neck. He was jaunty, he was smart, he taught me to write news, and he died of a massive heart attack when he was thirty-nine.

The reporter was Paul Anderson, a tall, gangling man, in his twenties then, I think. He walked as if he were loping in slow motion, and didn’t want to be as tall as he was, and kept his hair cut close. He was quiet and calm, he was patient with the excitable new cub reporter, and he taught me the ropes of getting a story. He’s retired now, and works part-time at the local supermarket bagging groceries. We still say hello and chat a little.

The photographer was Bob Elphick. Back then newspapermen used the big cameras with the big flash gun, Graflex Speed Graphics, the kind seen in movies of the Forties and Fifties, with the four by five film holder that held two pieces of film, one in front, one in the back, and you had to pull it out and flip it around to reverse them if you wanted a second shot. Bob taught me all about those cameras, taught me how to work the darkroom, how to develop film and make prints, how to take an interesting picture. He was a nice guy, easy to work with, patient and encouraging. I think he moved on at some point, but I don’t know where. Someplace in New York comes to mind.

They came into my life, or I into theirs, in 1959, when my high school guidance counselor called me in and asked if I wanted to work as a stringer for the Times. I was a decent writer for someone my age, at least in terms of high school essays and term papers. It sounded exciting, it sounded adult, and I said okay.

Bill Steele was friendly and encouraging. My beat was to be the high school, pretty much anything to do with the students except for sports and administration, with occasional exceptions. It was interesting, it was exciting, and for as long as I did news the work stayed that way. And I was good enough at it that Bill hired me as a full time staff writer during the summers. I covered regular news, a general beat, and five days a week I pounded out the news on a big black manual Royal typewriter to beat an eleven a.m. deadline. Some days I got to sit at the clattering teletype machines and send stories to the main office in Hyannis. My writing improved and I began to understand something of the world. There was no better way to learn to write.

One day I wrote a business story, about six column inches, not too complex, something about Burroughs office machines, I think. Bill called me into his office, pointed to the story, and said it was perfect, it was real news writing, and showed me why it worked. I was sixteen years old, and, damn, I felt good.

I reported all the way through high school, then left for college, flunked out, came back and worked in the main office in Hyannis for about a year, covering two Cape towns on my own, went off to college again, and never worked in the business again. But writing the news was the best job I ever had, and if I hadn’t been too young to really appreciate that, I’d still be doing it. Most of the choices I made in the rest of my life, jobs, people, places, weren’t very good or very smart. On a bad day I could tell myself it’s all been downhill since those days, and on a good day I can say it’s been okay, it’s had its ups and downs and could have been better, but what the hell, I’m not dead yet.

No one else has touched my life the way those three guys did. When you read a clear, strong sentence here, you’re seeing back almost fifty years to what they taught me about writing. Writing is the best part of my life, and I don’t do enough of it. Writing matters, whether it’s a well-phrased spew on a blog, a crime novel, a short story, or a letter to the editor. Writing gets closer to what I am, to what my life means, to what my life is, than anything else. And if nothing else, my writing always has at least a slight touch of Steele in it.

What You Suspected About The Economy Is True: It’s All A Fantasy
April 11, 2008

Kevin Phillips, author of Wealth and Democracy and Bad Money, and being of a somewhat conservative bent, writes in the May Harper’s that the American economy, as described by the official economic agencies of the Federal government, is a tissue of lies, distortions, and statistical tricks put into place during the last twenty-five years or so.

To quote from the beginning of his conclusion:

The real numbers, to most economically minded Americans, would be a face full of cold water. Based on the criteria in place a quarter century ago, today’s U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere between 9 percent and 12 percent; the inflation rate is as high as 7 or even 10 percent; economic growth since the recession of 2001 has been mediocre, despite a huge surge in the wealth and  incomes of the superrich, and we are falling back into recession. If what we have been sold in recent years has been delusional “Pollyanna Creep,” what we really need today is a picture of our economy ex-distortion. For what it would reveal is a nation in deep difficulty not just domestically but globally.

Remember that this would have been written a few months ago, and things have steadily worsened.

The article is titled Numbers Racket: Why the economy is worse than we know. It’s well worth reading. It’s not available online.