Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014, Here We Come

2013 and On Into the Wilderness of a New Year
I keep imagining that 2013 was just another year. But then I come to and realize, every year is just another year. What do we remember from the year 1913 (aside from the fact that it preceded that little incident in Sarajevo that sparked the Great War that killed ten million folks).  Or 1813, boring, aside from the war begun in 1812, or the little kerfuffle with Napoleon in Russia. Or, say, 1712 . . .when Sweden celebrated February 30th in a move to return to some old tymie calendar, and then that slave revolt thingie in New York City. Well, how’s about 1013 . . . hmmm . . . well Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, having invaded England, is proclaimed as King within the Danelaw and then on December 25, Sweyn is proclaimed King of all England in London, forcing Æthelred the Unready to flee to Normandy. So a guy named Forkbeard overcame a guy named Atheired the Unready. How great is that?
So, see, things could be worse, huh? Actually, maybe that’s a good sign. We have here Boehner the Unready, planning to take on the Kockbeards during 2014. How’s that for a return to the past? All these 12th century thinkers (aka the republican party) sitting around sucking their thumbs and planning for a return to power . . . To horse, to horse . . .
But on a more sane plain, what could I make of the year behind us and the one coming up next?
First is the thought that years don’t matter.  Years just come and go. They’re a bookkeeper’s approach to life—counting things, demarcating things . . . What matters I realize is now, this moment. Because I only exist in this moment. Yes, there are consequences to what I do each moment, and consequences live on into the future. But I control only this moment. So, I should at least try to suck the life out of each moment—they are the marrow of life.
Next is this little thing about being OLD. Yeah, I get that each day I’m just a little bit older. But I am now in my 80th year, and I can’t figure out how I got here. It means that I can no longer pretend to Middle Age, regardless of how/what I feel. So, now all of my moments are old-thing moments. Wow . . . what a concept. When I combine this OLD thing concept with the Zen of Nothingness, it makes each moment loom even larger than usual. So, I plan to pay even more attention than I normally do.
I’m thinking that 2013 wasn’t all bad. I mean, aside from the teabaggers, nationally we seem to be progressing a bit on the civilized thing. Several more states now allow the LGBT community to wed, including Utah. Utah . . . who would’ve thought? Now if only we could arrange to ban all heterosexual weddings, then the institution of marriage would be safe for all time.
And in 2014 I assume we will see peace for all time in all lands . . . well aside from the little kerfuffles (love that word)  throughout the Muslim lands, mainly, but not totally in the Middle East.  (what does that term mean? The Middle East. Why is it Middle. If I’m sitting in Oz, the Outback would more realistically be called the Middle East.  The Middle East isn’t really even the East, except maybe that it’s East of London. It’s after all, West of Tokyo, so maybe the Japanese should called Baghdad part of the Middle West). But I digress. So, I assume that all Muslims throughout the World (including that Middle East place) will now stop blowing themselves up, along with other folks in marketplaces, and Hezbollah will stop lobbing rockets into Israel, and the folks in South Sudan will quit cutting off the heads of little kids in their villages.  Remember that Zen of Nothingness? No more 71 virgins guys . . . they’re fresh out.
So, peace will finally reign supreme . . . at least until January 2nd, at which time all bets are off, and the crazy folks (them that gots religion) can resume killing their neighbors with impunity, just cuz they’re different. Only kidding . . . nope, I imagine that folks will finally regain some commonsense and cease for all time killing folks just because.
And peace will break out for all time.
And children will receive proper food, care and love for all time.
So come on people. Think a little harder. Just put away the guns and the bombs. Have another glass of wine instead. And toast to the goddess of love.
So come on 2014, we’re ready.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas is coming

So, as we inch forward towards that merry holy day Christmas, we decided to get our trees a little earlier this year. Most times we await Beethoven's Birthday, or maybe mine, but weather and logistics prevailed this year. It was gonna rain Saturday and we needed a truck (our son-in-law's), so we ventured out last Friday. Also, our neighbors have done such a grand job that we were beginning to feel like the grinches in the hood.  So, we borrowed the truck and ventured out to the Bull Branch Tree place on Poplar Tent Road. They had a grand collection of trees, but then they always do. Gracious folks with splendid trees and wreaths for sale. Nice. Then, of course, we had to decorate. One tree for inside and one tree for outside. Still outdone by our neighbors, but at least we closed the gap . . .

Our outdoor (front porch) tree . . .

our indoor tree . . .

And then some outdoor curiosity

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taking Offense

Let’s see. Dick (his Cheyenne name is "He who shoots my friends in the face") Cheney is offended that our Prez lied to him about the Affordable Care Act.  I don’t know about you, but the claim that Dick Cheney takes offense when someone lies to him is just so . . . unbelievable. I mean, it’s similar to how I would react were the Faux News Network to take offense at the Colbert report, because it pretends to be a news show.  What is amazing is that Cheney actually surfaced from his spiderhole and engaged the public in this way. I guess I knew the man had chutzpah, but wow!
And on one of the other republican exoplanets, the state of North Carolina’s republicans, in their zeal to kill off the state’s public school system is now engaged in licensing “virtual” charter schools. Now, as best I can understand it, charter schools are already virtual public schools—that is they are fake public schools—they take public money but don’t have to meet any of the standards of public school systems.  So, what would a virtual fake public school look like? Well, turns out, it’s on-line. So, the kids can sit at home and “attend” the fake classes at their leisure, or let their parents attend the fake classes.
I’m wondering why we just don’t abandon schooling altogether (the preferred option for our republican legislators from what I can understand) and just operate a for-profit, on-line testing service. Kids can study, or not. It wouldn’t matter. If they can pass the standardized test (or get their parents to pass it for them) they get a GED (fake diploma). That way, we wouldn’t have to worry about teacher salaries, or even teacher certification. And all that dough we now put into brick and mortar? Sell it to the nearest Wal-Mart, or offload it on E-Bay.  Then our republican legislators will have more time to figure out when the state should secede from the Union.  I know, they could link up with other like-minded state legislatures and form a “more perfect union”, calling it something snappy. I know. How about the Neo-Confederate States of America. Catchy, huh?

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Thanksgiving Day

A day to feast and to give thanks for the bountiful harvest of our lives.
The first cry of our first child born into the world . . .
Our earliest memory of Christmas morning . . .
The smile on the face of a grandchild looking into your eyes . . .
The first time you observed the glory that is a sunrise just beginning to peek over the hills . . .
A sunset, just after a monsoon rain . . .
The first time you looked into the eyes of your loved one and realized you were madly, deeply in love . . .
The sight of the first snowflakes of the season, beginning to blanket the earth, covering it with a pristine blanket, whispering to you of silence . . .
Then, the sight of the first crocus piercing the blanket of snow, promising the return of Spring . . .
The sight of your child walking down the aisle, resplendent in a gossamer gown, with eyes glowing with love and expectation, promising her loved one to bring a life together, filled with love . . .
A grandchild taking a first step without guidance . . .
Seated at a table, resplendent with color, glittering china and crystal, flickering candles, sumptuous delicacies each prepared with love and high skill, and gazing into the eyes of assembled family members, and saying La Familia . . . to our family, because family surrounds us with love, memories, and links to the past and to the future.
So many things to consider, so many things for which we are grateful.

Such is life.

Be grateful

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Interesting Times

“May you live in interesting times . . .”
It would seem that we are indeed living in interesting times. When most of us are blithely going about our daily lives, trying to get into the Thanksgiving spirit, if not yet the Christmas spirit, many out there in positions of authority are working hard to disturb the planet in often dangerous ways. What do we have going on at the moment?
·         The US and its various allies are attempting to speak seriously for the first time since 1979 to Iran, in an attempt to de-escalate the state of crisis that has existed since the Ayatollah and his minions assumed control of Iran.  We are attempting to convince Iran to renounce nuclear weapons development in exchange for a lifting of the economic sanctions that have been in place for decades. This effort would seem a good thing, eh? Well, except for Israel and its annoying, warring leader Benny Netanyahu. Oh yeah, and except for our ally Saudi Arabia. The king there is always cranky and Iran engaged with the West makes him very cranky. Oh and then there’s our internal warriors, the GOP, or as we like to think of them, the Party of the Extreme Right Persuasion (PERPs for short). They dislike anything Obama suggests, just cuz. Meanwhile Iran just keeps on truck’n with its “nucular” options open.

·         And then there’s China and Japan, still feuding after all these years over some islands they both claim.  But China seems to be upping the ante by declaring that any unidentified planes flying into its airspace over the islands will be met with appropriate force. So, of course, we are continuing to fly our B-52’s into their airspace over the islands, without identifying ourselves . . . just, you know, cuz.
·         Then there’s Syria . . . remember Syria? They continue to shoot at one another , the good guys and the bad guys, except we don’t seem to know who’s who in that regard.

·         Oh, and now we have a new one—the Central African Republic-- one guesses it is located somewhere in central Africa, huh?. They all seem to be having a lot of fun killing anyone who isn’t already dead, but especially women, children and other innocent folks trying to get on with their already dismal lives. I guess it has something to do with religion, or power, but I repeat myself.  The French have kindly offered to send in another 1,000 troops to try to “keep the peace” Good luck on that one. I’m thinking Vietnam. Maybe you might consider 50-100,000 troops to “keep the peace”, just for starters.
And now, with all these happy goings on, we are supposed to be thinking about shopping, eating, and shopping some more. That is what Christmas is all about isn’t it . . . shopping??
Well, Black Friday is coming soon. So, remember, ignore all those awful shoot’m-ups going on around the world, and keep focusing on----SHOPPING.
Shop till you drop, baby . . . it’s what we’re all about as a Nation.

Friday, November 15, 2013

JFK Redux

PBS-UNCTV aired a two-part four hour retrospective on JFK. We TIVOed the series and finished watching last night. A heart-rending piece, bringing back many memories of that awful event in 1963. We were 20 somethings, living on Nob Hill in San Francisco, right behind Grace Cathedral. I was traveling a lot. I had in fact just arrived in my corporate home office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was driving a rental car, and had just pulled into the driveway of our office. The radio was on and the announcer was telling us that JFK had just been shot. It was not immediately clear what had happened, or whether the president would be ok. Then came the fatal news. The president was dead . . . dead!. It took some time for that news to sink in. I just sat in the car, in disbelief to what I had just heard. Who, why . .?
I went inside to report what I had just heard. Everyone knew. They all sat around in stunned silence. I called my wife in San Francisco, She answered the phone and told me that, she learned of the news because the bells at Grace Cathedral had been sounding in a mournful alert. She couldn't figure out what was going on, until she tuned in to hear the news herself. She was in deep shock. The news was so hard to grasp. Who would want JFK dead . . . a crazy person? What followed on the news (we had no TV at the time, having thrown out our TV as a useless invention five years earlier) seemed even crazier than our wildest thoughts. The guy who ostensibly did the deed had been caught and was then himself shot by some other bozo, while surrounded by police. Now if all that didn't arouse suspicion of a conspiracy, what would?
But we were stuck with it all. We now lived in a crazy world of thuggish people, armed and willing to kill at the drop of a hat. Nice.
From that point on, the notion of mortality entered my brain and has never left. My fear of flying began. Despite the significant travel I continued to do in my consulting business, I began to hate flying. And now, many years later, we have given up flying, after discovering that today's airlines, led by USAIR, are in fact dysfunctional.
But life goes on, and JFK is an increasingly distant memory. Ah Camelot. It was a wonder for a time . .

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Oh Syriana

We watched Syriana the other night . . . and switched it off after about an hour and a quarter. Any film that cannot make itself understood in 1.25 hours deserves to be switched off.  My theory is that they were going for a John LeCarre story, except they neglected to hire John LeCarre. His “Spy Who Came in from the Cold”, for example, is richly complex, but also comprehensible to anyone paying attention.  In Syriana they introduce a dozen or so characters each with a separate story line, and then neglected to even begin stitching them together in that first 1.25 hours. And to even begin to understand it, you must memorize the names of the various parts, because they are always dropping names.  
Yeah, we got that the film was about corrupt oil company executives and staff (duh), corrupt CIA leadership and staff (double duh) and corrupt and violent Arabs (wow . . . really??)  So, they could have told that tale in about 30 minutes—a nice half hour drama, complete with commercials. The film had a large, capable cast, led by lover boy George Clooney, who looked a bit careworn for this particular part. So, the acting was fine generally.  It was just the incomprehensible writing and the story line that left so much to be desired.
Now, we generally check the reviews of films we rent on Netflix and this one got passable reviews. The odd one mentioned the complexity of the plot and the (too) many characters.  But maybe today’s film-goers demand more action, or the promise thereof, and less of the thinking stuff.  Too bad really, but perhaps we didn’t really need another story about murder and other fun stuff in the Middle East.  Or perhaps there is no actual intellectual content to anything going on in the Middle East.
Oh, and the other thing—pictures of Beirut proved depressing. We stopped in Beirut during the 1960s and loved the place. In this film it looked like the slums of any run-down city, with the addition of murderous thugs roaming around the place. Too bad.  But our Arab friends continue to corrupt their own culture, and, as noted in the film, will some day run out of oil and, therefore, a future. Too bad.
And on another of our exoplanets, the newspapers are full of stories about how Yasser Arafat was probably murdered, although no one seems sure of how – polonium, maybe??  And, of course, Israel is to blame—who else would do such a thing?? Heaven knows, nobody else in the Middle East would even think of killing another Arab.  Would they??

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Return to Sanity

It is May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addresses the Nation:
 “. . . I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Much cheering, especially among those of us who are in the aerospace business. Me, an engineer with the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, was especially cheering. Sounds great to me.
But then reality sets in. The first thing Senator Everett Dirksen does is to convene a meeting of the Senate Republican leadership to decide how to most effectively counter President Kennedy’s call for a National program of space exploration, beginning with putting a man on the moon and safely returning him to earth. In the meeting, Senator Dirksen gets approval to use all means at their disposal to oppose this initiative, deny its funding, and to oppose by any and all means all such programs. Dirksen is quoted as saying, “If Kennedy succeeds, the Democrats will have another major accomplishment to crow about, like Social Security and Medicare. We must not allow this to happen.” And that meeting sets into motion the major GOP initiative to derail all Kennedy initiatives. The fight is on. And ten years later, Russia succeeds in placing the first man on the moon, replacing the US as the leader in world space exploration.
Oops. You mean that didn’t happen? Nope, I just made it up.  What happened instead? Well, the Nation coalesced around the President and his initiative, and, despite his murder several years later, that space initiative continued on to become a keystone of American science achievements. We placed a man on the moon and returned him safely back to Earth. And no, the GOP did not work hard to stifle that initiative.
I wonder too, what might have happened to the Nation’s interstate highway system had the Dems decided to kill the Eisenhower initiative to build that highway system.  The nation might still be connected, but by little two-lane byways instead of high speed interstate highways.
What marks the key difference between then and now? Mainly a more responsible GOP and Democratic leadership who, despite all the political infighting, was still capable of acting in the best interests of the Nation. When push came to shove, they all shoved together.
So, what the hell is going on now? Ever since the 2008 election, Republicans have been driven to prevent our duly elected President from accomplishing anything.  All the birther crap and the formation of the Tea Party is, at its core, simple racism raising its ugly head in a way not seen since the Civil War.  Added to that issue, we have another—power-seeking. The current Republican leadership has viewed the Affordable Care Act as equivalent to Medicare and even Social Security.  Those programs they hate because of their success.  The worst nightmare for Republicans is that the ACA might succeed. So, to prevent such an eventuality, they have committed themselves to its destruction. Think of that. We have 40-50 million people without adequate access to health care. We are the only Nation in the industrialized world that does not have universal coverage of its people, and we have an opposition party committed to preventing such an achievement.  They argue that the Government has no business in health care. That the private sector is more capable of providing such care and that the government will screw it up. In fact, the private sector has already dcemonstrated that it is not just incapable, but more to the point, unwilling to provide a system of universal access to health care.  A major part of the problem is that our current system is employment-based, and our employers have decided to find ways around the requirement that they support a full employee benefits program. Some, actually many companies are simply too small to provide such benefits. But then you have companies such as Wal-Mart who find legal ways around it, like hiring mostly part-time workers.  And then we have the private insurance companies who keep rigging the system with its pricing system and its exclusionary clauses, such that people either cannot gain coverage, or simply cannot afford such coverage.  Coverage is so expensive that many young folks decide to pass on obtaining health insurance. They reason that they are young and healthy and can afford to risk going naked.  But those folks are: 1) ignorant of the actual costs of a health care emergency --$25,000 to $50,000 for a single event is not uncommon; and 2) they are assuming that, if they get desperately ill, requiring hospitalization, they can go to the Emergency Room and they will be admitted and someone else will pay the bill.  Partly that’s true, but partly it is also a fairy tale.
So, what needs to happen?
Well, first, the American people need to awaken to the rampant racism now alive and virulent within our Nation. Racism is a poisonous condition—it is alive and well in the Middle East and responds often in mass deaths. Such an outcome seems unlikely here, but it is possible. The Civil War, and many decades of lynchings and KKK violence are our experience base.  So, the public must awaken itself to the very real risks within our Nation, risks that may well exceed the risks from outside terrorists.  One way to counter those risks is by voting, something current Republicans seem intent on inhibiting, through their attempts at limiting the rights of democrats to vote.  So, democratic voters need to move past those road blocks and vote. Remember, it’s important. Annoy a Republican—VOTE.
But this all leads me back to one of my earlier blogs—one on the need to maintain balance. What kind of balance? Well, two kinds. First, we need political balance between republicans and democrats.  Single party control always eventually leads to tyranny. Second, we need serious balance between government and commerce. We need a healthy commercial sector because that produces economic health. But we need a healthy government because that government can protect us from our own worst instincts.
What I said then was in the form of an open letter to our incoming President Obama. It read:
President Obama, we must stand for balance in everything we do.
1.                In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation, that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.
2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.
3.                Organized religion has become dysfunctional. For reasons I cannot comprehend, religious leaders have lost their way on matters of intellectual thought. Science is now being posed as some alternative to faith—as though people of faith ought to be opposed to rational thought. There is no conflict and there never was. The public must be convinced that leaders who find conflict are charlatans interested only in enhancing their personal power. If God gave us this magnificent universe, God also gave us brains to ponder its majesty. Those who wish to stop science are trying to return us to the dark ages, where they ruled through fear. We dare not return there, but Bush and his coterie of 12th century leaders, opened the door to religious extremism, with all its fearful consequences.
4.                Terrorism continues to grow, and we currently have no effective way to check its growth. It is now clear that policies under Bush have been the growth medium. We are breeding terrorists, and every time we kill innocents, ten terrorists take their place against us. George Bush was presented with a golden opportunity, briefly, to resolve the Middle East mess. But he is an imbecile, and chose this idiotic course of war in Iraq. The Nation has finally kicked the Neo-Cons out of office, but we now need to reverse their disastrous course. 
5.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.
6.                We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits.
7.                Similarly, we must pass a system of health care reform. Clinton had the best opportunity in 50 years and he allowed the Republicans to take it away.  When Republicans used demagoguery (what health care crisis, they argued disingenuously) we should have used data to demonstrate that, while republicans do not appear to believe that all Americans should have access to health care, democrats do. We need a single payer system.  We need to stand up for what is right here – 40 to 50 million people who have no health care is not right.
8.                Republicans, with their “no-Child-Left Behind” Act, were attempting to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to work on the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a drop out rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people.
9.                We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. It is possible that Mr. Bush could have, indeed should have anticipated 911. He still needs to answer for that failure on his watch. New structures might be required, but Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are not answers to any problem we currently have.
President Obama, you have an opportunity to articulate a new vision of America, one that includes openness, an embrace of democracy through peaceful means, and an impassioned defense of rational policies that seek to better this once-proud nation and indeed the entire world. It is well to remember that societies will be judged ultimately by their treatment of those less fortunates who cannot care for themselves.  We stand for that principle against the forces of darkness unleashed by the neo-cons and the Bush Administration.
Our continued existence as a free society may now be in your hands. Do not waste this opportunity. There may not be another.”


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Voting Time

It's voting time again. While 2013 is an off-off election year, we still have some folks awaiting our decisions. In Concord, NC, we get to vote for our mayor and city council. I know that there isn't much fuss being made by our free press about this local election, mainly because the idiot teabaggers in Washington are giving the press so much material, but we really do need to get out to the polling places and vote. Election day is November 5th, but one-stop early voting begins at the County Board of Elections on October 17th.  The Elections Board is at 369 Church Street N, Concord, NC--at the Old Creamery.  So who's running? Well, we are lucky enough to have Scott Padgett running for Mayor again, and Scott needs your vote of confidence, even though he is running unopposed. Scott has been a fine mayor, intelligent, thoughtful and honest. Running against some opposition are Ella Mae Small and Alfred Brown. They need your support to keep the City Council as a progressive force in our area (unlike the neanderthal state government). Lamar Barrier is also running unopposed.
You may download a sample ballot by going to the following County site: http://www.cabarruscounty.us/government/departments/elections/Pages/Sample-Ballots.aspx

So get out and vote folks.  When you don't vote, you may well get the government you deserve.

And on that other larger front, the Washington Mess, an article just published in the Manchester Guardian, written by George Monbiot is deserving of a read. The article can be found at:


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

George Will Retires

George Will Retires
So George Will has finally decided to retire from mainstream journalism.  He has left ABC News and has retired into The Faux News Network. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t decide to enter mainstream comedy, such as the Jon Stewart Show, or the World of Stephen Colbert. It would have been fun  seeing old George doing a legitimate comedy shtick, instead of the pseudo-comedy he’s been doing lo these many years, while pretending to be a mainstream independent conservative (sort of like Stephen Colbert, without the humor).
But I guess he’s just tired.  It must be difficult to go on, day after day, pretending to be an independent conservative, when really you’re just a plain old vanilla republican.  He’s always reminded me of that  old stand-up comic  Dennis Miller. Dennis also used to pretend to be a mainstream political comedian, but two years after he had Shrub as a wonderful comedic target, he kept making jokes about Bill Clinton.  Dennis just couldn’t break his republican habits.  And George, struggling as hard as he could, has never really been able to sustain an independent intellectual stream of consciousness, even during the eight years of the Shrub administration. Seems likely that Shrub and his gang of right wing thugs just plain wore out his prefrontal cortex.
So, now George joins with the gang on Faux News, where nobody pretends to be either journalists or independent. I imagine he can now relax a bit, maybe let his hair grow out, so he can look like a retired intellectual, perhaps take up a pipe, wear a tweed jacket, and carry a book around with him.
Yeah, you go Georgie. It’s Martini Time . . .

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


It’s getting to be increasingly difficult to live in this country as just an ordinary Joe. We’re 77 and 78 respectively, so moving is not such a hot option. My grandparents on both sides moved to America when they were about 30, arriving here in the late1890’s. Were we 30-somethings now, I’m pretty sure we would be planning to emigrate. It is by no means clear to which country we would migrate, but Canada, Australia and New Zealand would doubtless be high on the list. Scandinavia would also be high among the candidate countries, although I’m uncertain how much of a barrier language might be .
Mainly, I think about emigration because we seem no longer to be a serious country, and we appear to be headed back to somewhere in the 19th century. The opposition party—the one that used to be our conservative wing—is now populated with folks who seem either crazy, or simply terminally ignorant. It’s really hard to pigeon-hole them. They don’t quite fit into the “fascist” category, although they are perhaps at least as far to the right and probably farther to the right than were the fascists in the 1930s. I haven’t heard any of them arguing that we should round up the liberals and move them into camps, so that‘s a good thing I guess.  But they seem not to be interested in governing, despite the fact that they are the majority power in one of our legislative houses, and mostly control our Supreme Court.  One might imagine that would nudge them in the direction of governance, but the opposite seems to have occurred. The closer they get to full control, the greater is their level of irresponsibility. Thus, the notion that we seem no longer to be a serious nation.
Plus, it is increasingly clear that actually nobody is in charge of this non-governing party. Oh, they have their purported leaders, Mr. Boehner for example, but those leaders seem to hold no sway over this angry mob scene formerly known as the republican party.  One would imagine that their owners, the Koch’s for example, would be writing the scripts and telling the troops what to do. But the owners seem vaguely anarchic, much the way we view Afghan warlords. They want little to do with running an efficient or effective Federal government. In fact, the opposite seems more likely—they want a weak, dysfunctional Federal government, one which provides no interference with their daily activities.  So, the  mindless mobs scene continues to churn away with much noise, but little intelligence and no consistent direction. I suppose no direction is a direction of sorts—it heads towards anarchy, the path on which we now seem to be wandering.
If I could see that this anarchic group was headed towards oblivion, a collective organizational suicide, I would feel more comforted. But I see few signs of that. Living in North Carolina, the opposite seems to be happening—we have shifted from a reasonably progressive state to one that is now moving rapidly back to the 1800’s socially and economically.  Instead of that old saw “back to the future”, we are headed forward into a darker past.  I understand that the Northeast is probably experiencing something different, but  they seem not to be capable of slowing this national drift back into that darker past.  Thus my rather dark view of the future of our country. I simply cannot see the means by which we will recover our greatness as the Land of Opportunity and Equality for All.
What is even more puzzling is exactly how we have transitioned so relatively quickly from a great nation to a dangerous and unstable one. It’s tempting to date the change to 2000 and to label Shrub as its author, but he seems to have always been totally clueless, so he seems an unlikely agent-provocateur.  Granted, he had some pretty bad characters surrounding him—Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, et al. But I think the driving forces are more likely to be people like the Koch’s—the very rich who believe themselves to be invulnerable (warlords??) and who wish to tear down the government, just because it is inconvenient to the achievement of  their ends (greater wealth??). The Koch’s get a lot of the negative commentary, but one suspects they are just the tip of the 1% iceberg in America.
Maybe what the country needs now is some kind of advisory group that can work with the educated young, helping them to emigrate to places that are more likely to use their intellect and their talents to better effect than here.  The group would need a snappy name—I know--how about LEAVE (Let’s Emigrate And Value Enlightenment).
A start . . .

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It's Closing Time

The shutdown, the shutdown.  When I last worked in Washington, apparently adults frequented the halls of Congress. Even when St. Ronald of Reagan ruled the place, inspiring both lavish praise and equally lavish disdain from his opposition, no one spoke of shutting down the government in order to defeat whatever St. Ronald was trying to do. Now, given that St. Ronald was all about despising the government he ran ( “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem”)  it might be surprising that there was no government shutdown during his tenure.  One could even speculate that some effort might have been made by someone during Shrub’s tenure to shut down government, if only to quell his rather elaborate war machine that was fueled by lies, more lies and damned lies.
But no, such an action would have been seen as counterproductive and perhaps even as anti-American.
When Gingrich decided, foolishly as it turned out, to shut down the government in 1995, he was simply gambling that he would outlast Bill Clinton. Turns out Gingrich wasn’t clever enough by half to outwit Clinton.  So, Gingrich rolled the dice and Clinton used the shutdown to fuel his re-election campaign. One might have imagined that some lessons would have been learned by that absurd effort by the GOP.
Apparently, the idiot-savants who now run the GOP, assuming that anyone actually runs the GOP, learned nothing. Now, having succeeded in shutting down the government, they spend most of their time whining about the fact that Obama won’t talk to them.  The poor babies.
It may now be time for the remaining adults within the GOP to reassert control of their party—maybe John McCain should try smacking Ted Cruz across the forehead with a 2 x 4, you know, just to get his attention. And then perhaps Cruz could be sent to stand in the corner for the rest of the year, while the adults take charge.
And apparently, we ain’t seen anything yet. Wait until the debt ceiling is reached.  It is said that the teabaggers are licking their chops and drooling in anticipation of destroying the full faith and credit of the United States Government.
And we worry about Islamic terrorists.
Perhaps we need to begin worrying more about ourselves.  Lincoln, spoke to this very point:
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
(from "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois" January 27, 1838)

One suicide . . . coming up.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Teabaggers Again

So the Pakistani Taliban and Al Shabob of Somalia are once again doing their thing, in search of their 71 virgins.  How many dead? Well over 100. Maybe as many as 200 innocents. We keep referring to them as Islamic Terrorists, as though they had something to do with Islam, or the Muslim religion.  In fact, the Muslim religion explicitly rejects such actions and is offended by their claims to represent Islam. We can only offer our condolences to the grieving families for their losses.

Everyone should be outraged by these atrocities by what we know to be simply armed criminals. Al Qaida, the Taliban, Al Shabob, and others of that ilk are simply organized crime gangs who kill because they can.  There is no religious significance to their actions. They are simply killers without purpose and need to be erased from the earth.

Meanwhile, back here in LaLa Land, our very own homegrown terrorists, the Al Shabob wing of the Republican Party (sometimes know by the less charitable among us as the KKK wing of the GOP) are preparing their own guerilla action. Instead of tossing some Lipton teabags into the Houston harbor, they are busily buttoning their vests in our Nation’s capitol, preparing to blow up the full faith and credit of the United States, as soon as they finish eliminating the ability of the poor to buy food through food stamps of course.
Not clear what they have been promised for their proposed action, by their owners, the Cocks. Turns out AllahLand is overcommitted virgin-wise, so their return seems uncertain—maybe 71 ex-Dallas Cheerleaders???
Wish we could sic NSA on them, but NSA seems preoccupied with hosting the grand opening of their lavish quarters over there in Utahland. I suppose with all the champagne they will be consuming, they wouldn’t be of much use in containing the Teabaggers anyway.
Well, we will all just have to stay tuned to see how the Teabaggers perform. In the meantime, maybe John McCain will entertain us by jousting with Vlad the Magnificent, both riding bareback and shirtless of course. That would be fun . . .

Monday, September 16, 2013

NSA's Dr. Strangelove

Interesting article about the head of our NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, today in the Manchester Guardian, by Glenn Greenwald. If this stuff is true, it provides yet more evidence of a totally out of control federal agency. The NSA seems cut out of a sci-fi film . . . Dr. Strangelove comes to mind. And Gen. Alexander seems to fit the mindset of that delusional doctor of faraway sci-fi film-making. Every time I hear something about the NSA these days, the report seems to concern something else illegal, or borderline illegal that agency has carried out. The NSA makes the CIA look competent, which is a really scary idea.
I realize that the paranoid-about-government crowd—the teabaggers for example, are always making noises about the EPA, or the FDA, or Obamacare representing an out-of-control federal government. But I do wish they would turn their attention to the NSA, and maybe even the CIA. Now these are agencies that need to be (metaphorically please) blown up, so we can begin anew to figure out how really we need to protect ourselves from the “terrorists.” Frankly, I’m way more scared of the NSA than I am of Al Qaida. Between our banking system that has corrupted our global financial structure such that we are headed fast forward to a two-class society, and the NSA that has assumed Big Brother status, our entire democracy stands threatened—and I mean our entire democracy. I think we are headed rapidly towards a second world semi-feudal society in which we are regrowing the Lords of the Manor, so the rest of us can assume the position of serfs, and our republican party cheers on the shift from the sidelines.
So, read on dear folks. The Greenwald article makes for good scary bedtime reading.
And on that exoplanet Oz, Julian Assange didn’t quite make it into the big time of Oz politics. Seems he was running for office, while remaining safely locked away in his cubicle in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.  Fancy that. The Aussies rejected him as a serious candidate for political office.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


The Man Who Never Was

Forgotten but Not Yet Gone 

A long time ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, and I worked for a living, we used to periodically joke about one of our colleagues, someone who periodically annoyed folks, that he was ‘forgotten but not yet gone” as a play on the old saw, “ Gone but not forgotten.” It seemed funny at the time.
But now, I no longer work for a living. I mostly pretend to work at things—“art” mainly.  But slowly, I have become aware of the phenomenon of aging. One part of the phenomenon is the dying off thing—family and friends keep dying around us. But another feature seems to be something close to the “forgotten but not yet gone” thing. It is that, after a while, no one seems to notice that you are still here.
I have begun to notice this at events, like our periodic Art Walks in Concord.  I routinely prepare a set of pictures for these events and display them proudly. But increasingly, I note that only my wife and my niece pay any notice of the pictures. They are always there, of course, supporting me in my futile efforts at art. But, virtually no one else shows. And the line of patrons of the Art Walks who do appear mostly seem to wander through in a fog, not really looking at anything, but eyes gazing off into space as they make their rounds without seeing anything.
It has also been clear for some time that few pay any attention to any of my three blogs. I do one with commentary on current affairs—Artful Notes, another on my “art” Observed Art, and a third on cooking—Farm Foodies.  Whereas fine blogs by folks such as Margaret and Helen draw thousands of faithful followers, I have one for my Artful Notes. On a good day, I might show two viewers. Generally on the other two, an average day shows zero viewers.
Then I noticed on, of all things, Facebook commentary, that I have mostly one commentator—an old friend from our India days. She mostly “likes” and sometimes comments on my postings, especially when I post some art, or some sarcastic commentary on the days events.  Whereas, other folks seem to draw dozens of comments whenever they post anything. But most of the folks doing these postings also work—they are active members of our community and work for a living. They are, in short, still here, and not yet forgotten.
Interesting . . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Syria Game

What can we do, what can we do?

Just as The warriors had come close to finishing their scripts for a pre-emptive war in Syria, along comes Russia. Their offer to the world was wonderfully crafted and timed—we (the Russkies)  have proposed to Syria that, if they turn over control of their chemical weapons and stockpiles to an international commission and make them available for subsequent destruction—the West (read the United States) will not commit an act of war against Syria.

Well what about them apples?? And surprise, surprise . . . Syria has now accepted.
One can almost see the balloon tires of the Obama-Kerry-McCain Express bus deflate on the way to the airfield.
I can almost hear in the distance the screams of anguish and the mutterings of the pro-warriors as they canoodle amongst themselves and to the Media about how Syria and Russia are both dissembling, and how Syria will never give up its stockpile, and how, if we fail to act now . . . immediately if not sooner, we will have lost all credibility (as though we had any).  All this makes me wonder which American chemical companies are the chief suppliers of Syria’s current stockpile and which companies are right now maneuvering behind the scenes with Assad to assure him that, no matter what, his stockpile will be replenished.
It’s like some great game of four dimensional chess, in which Russia just announced checkmate, and we are yelling that we will undo their checkmate move next week with an even better checkmate move of our own.
This would all be really fascinating were it it not for the fact that, regardless of what we do, or the Russkies do, or the French do, Assad will continue killing his people. And that if he somehow loses control and thereby his ability to kill his people, the main opposition will figure out a way to continue the killing, cuz once it’s started it’s really hard to stop.
And all we can do is to watch the Media feeding frenzy over each move made by one side or the other. The Media loves all this gamesmanship. Great for the ratings . . .
Makes me wonder also whether anyone is now busily readying a hotel room next door to Mr. Snowden, to receive Mr. Assad when he finally leaves on his private jet to Moscow.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The News of the Day from John Cleese

And Now for Something Completely Different


 The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
 The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
 The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.
 Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."
 The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose."
 Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels ...
 The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
 Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be right, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is cancelled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.
 John Cleese ,
 British writer, actor and tall person

 And as a final thought - Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.  Life is too short... "
Welcome back to your friendly neighborhood cranky old man blog, Artful Notes. Sorry for the diversion, dear gentle reader. I just thought perhaps we all needed a break from the depressing news and views of the day . . .

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Here They Go Again

Apparently our senior-most politicos simply are incapable of learning . . . or perhaps they just love a good war, especially if they are not the ones being shot at or bombed. Our senior Vietnam Warmonger, John McCain, accompanied by his very own Tonto, Lindsay Graham, are insisting that we go to war in Syria.  Why, oh, just cuz . . . well, actually cuz Asaad turned his very own chemical industry on his own people—well technically I guess they are no longer HIS people. They're sort of anti-his people.

And we have everyone running about yelling about bright red  lines having been crossed. Oh, and the Brits and the French, not to mention the Israelis and the Turks are all running about without their heads yelling “War, War, we want War!!”
The Russkies, of course, are adamantly opposed to war, and they are ungracious enough to remind us about Iraq, and even comparing Obama to The Shrub. Way to go Vlad. . . you really know how to hurt a guy.
But I keep wondering. What is there about that part of the UN Charter  concerning non-interference with the internal affairs of its member states, that we all don’t understand?  In what way, I wonder, would bombing/invading, or otherwise warring against Syria be in any way different from the Shrub’s patently illegal invasion of Iraq? Yes, Asaad used chemical weapons. So, what? He’s using bullets, bombs, tear gas, probably flame throwers—in short he’s emptying his arsenal at his people in an attempt to remain relevant.  His pathetic attempts may not, probably will not work, but it seems to me that’s for his people to work out. I continue not to understand why it’s ok to shoot your people, or run over them with tanks, or bomb them from the air, but it’s not ok to gas them.  Maybe we don’t get this thing of DEATH. When folks become DEAD, it really no longer matters how they became DEAD. They no longer exist (no, they don’t enter heaven, or hell. They just no longer exist). So, why do we care how they came to be DEAD? Yes, Asaad is a 12th century thug, but so are many of his enemies.  Is Putin really much better than Asaad? No??? Yet, I don’t see us playing war games with him.
So, we really need to consider sanctions, perhaps, but not bullets, or drones, or other war toys. If we cannot get the UN to enter as a global force (enter Mr. Putin) then maybe we shouldn’t play George Bush, once again.
Perhaps we need to put Mr. McCain back in a jet fighter, with Mr. Graham as his copilot, and let them play their Vietnam Redux game, but all by themselves. There will be no real winners in Syria. But let us not be one of the losers there.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Time Passes

Another milestone in our passage towards oblivion. A good friend, May Boothby, passed away, while watching TV in her own home. May stoutly resisted the idea of moving in with her kids, despite the many attempts by them to get her to move in or closer to them. May remained stubbornly independent and died presumably as she would have wished.
We met May and her family when we lived in New Delhi and May lived in Jaipur. May’s husband was with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. They lived in Jaipur so Guy could work with Indian farmers who were raising sheep.  Guy and May had three kids at the time we met and they added a fourth midway through their term in India. Their two sons were close in age to our two daughters and the kids played together regularly whenever we got together. One of our fond memories was a weekend we spent in Jaipur with Guy and May. It was one of the boys’ birthdays and May had arranged for the kids to take a ride around Jaipur on an elephant. We were all in the house, when the boys came racing into the house yelling, “Mommie, Mommie, there’s a strange elephant in the driveway” Not just an elephant, mind you, but a strange elephant.

While living in Jaipur, The Boothby’s had become good friends with the Princess of Jaipur and friends with her parents, the Maharajah and Maharani of Jaipur. Through them, we were invited to many fabulous affairs in Jaipur. We attended a formal ball at the Maharajah’s city palace—an amazing affair for two little kids from New York.  We were greeted at the palace gates—silver doors actually, by a well dressed man, and then farther on by a well-dressed elephant.

Later, May invited us to spend some time with the princess (we knew her as "Mickie") at the Maharajah’s summer hunting lodge near Jaipur.  We dined, the kids cavorted next to a tiger brought down by the Maharajah, and a good time was had by all.

May and Guy traveled extensively beyond India. They lived in Africa, and in South America before returning to Australia.
Happily, we got to visit May in Australia, when we journeyed there to attend the wedding of a Sri Lankan lad with whom we had become close in the US.
May had a full life. It did not deliver all she wanted or deserved. She and Guy divorced after their return to Oz. May deserved more.
But she had the full support and love of her kids until she finally left this life and passed into the Night for Which There is no Morning.