Sunday, August 17, 2014


I just finished a YouGov survey, this one on politics. And it occurred to me, as I was checking boxes, that, even given their wide range of choices, many of the questions are too complex to answer by checking a box, unless you check all the boxes, “Unsure”.  Like, “how would I rate the job Obama is doing on Immigration?” Well, none of the boxes say, “Obama and the larger world needs to engage the countries from whom all the illegal migrants are coming, and get those countries to quit fucking around and instead become actual functioning democracies.” It seems to me that, whenever you see streams of people walking/running through national borders, something awful is going on within their respective countries.  It doesn’t really help to build bigger walls (remember the Berlin Wall??).  It doesn’t help to post armed guys at the border, unless you really don’t care and are willing to shoot poor folks with little kids who are trying to escape being shot at home.
And then there’s health care. There were a lot of questions about the Affordable Care Act and Medicare. Well, first, I’m on Medicare, so of course I want it protected from the Republican hordes.  They want to kill it and Social Security, by both giving you vouchers and allowing you to “shop” for your health care, or, in the case of Social Security, to kill it by turning it over to the national institutes of gambling, aka, the bankers and hedge fund managers.  So, how can I respond to simple boxes? Health care is too complicated for checking off simple choice boxes. This part is simple. Everyone a citizen should have health care insurance (ergo, a single payer system). We left health care to the private sector and the private sector punted, by a variety of devices (the simplest being to hire only part-time workers).  The private sector may indeed the best option when you want automobiles designed and built (although even that seems arguable at times). But the private sector isn’t too good when what you want is some kind of fair treatment of the citizenry.  That’s why we invented government.
Oh, and then there was the range of questions about foreign affairs. So, it turns out that Obama isn’t really too great at the foreign policy thing. Maybe it’s just a lack of experience. But then think about some of our past presidents, who were thought better at that game—Nixon comes to mind. He was good at many things, mostly domestic as it turns out, but he screwed up a lot at the foreign affairs thing. His plan to get us out of Vietnam turns out to have been that we should bomb Cambodia and then keep shooting for another five years or so. And then, of course there’s Dubya. Obama looks like a genius compared with that wrecking crew. But nonetheless, the foreign affairs scene is bad and getting worse almost daily. Between the Middle East, or perhaps all of Islam-Land, killing off local folks just cuz, Central America where people are streaming out to anywhere they can to avoid being killed, Africa now being consumed by Ebola, or Russia where Vlad is acting out his dream of becoming a Czar, there’s just killing/dying everywhere you look. Obama simply isn’t up to it, but then who would be?  St. Ronald? Hmmm . . . I don’t think so. He is best known for trading arms with terrorist regimes and invading . . . where was it . . . the Grenada medical school??
But finally, the survey failed to touch on our central political problem—the takeover of one party by the very rich, shifting that party to the right of Attila the Hun and invoking the racists of the country in support of preventing our first Black President (well he’s really mixed race) from getting anything done. How to create simple boxes to check to describe that phenomenon? Maybe in the near future, we will become a new system, somewhere in between a full royal system and a democratic society. We will be bribed into electing a king who will then appoint a Congress of serfs, who will in turn pass laws that are “good for us”.

Won’t that be fun??

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin, We Miss You Already

Every once in a while we lose someone who seems genuinely good, however troubled. Robin Williams seemed one of those good people.  He made us laugh and that’s a good thing in this increasingly absurd world. I really know little about his personal life. He has three children and as many wives.  He had addiction problems. But many have such problems. It is also not surprising that a comedian of his stature was troubled—Laugh clown laugh comes to mind. I often think that the true genius comedians, like Williams, are troubled folks and they use comedy as a way of communicating with a world that is, at best, troubled.

One can look almost anywhere in this place we call home—Earth—and find trouble. All over the Muslim world, from all of the Middle East and Africa to those sections of Asia that celebrate Islam, and you will find riotous behavior, even murderous behavior. In other parts of Africa we find disease—Ebola comes to mind—and such economic deprivation that people are desperately trying to leave to other parts.

In this section of our globe, we can observe children desperately trying to leave Central or South America to avoid being murdered by the anarchic gangs who roam there, virtually unhindered by any civilized force.
And here, in our wonderland called the US of A, we find the so-called 1% and their GOP serfs attempting at every turn to dismantle the structures that have made us the envy of the world. We can observe wealth so disproportionately distributed that we begin to run the risk of revolution by the masses.

So, Robin Williams observed all this weirdness and this nastiness and used humor to counter its most toxic effects, until perhaps he was overwhelmed by our global insanity. Maybe, he could take no more of it and declared OVER, FINISHED. It is at an END.

He was perhaps too civilized and too caring to continue living amongst us. He leaves behind many folks who cared about him and who now grieve their loss at his cessation, not the least his family, but also his adoring fans. We never met him, or even saw him personally, yet we were touched by him as by few others.  We will miss him. We know that all good things eventually end, but the endings are nonetheless sad.

Thank you Robin. We will miss you. You have now entered that night for which there is no morning. Goodbye old friend.

And Richard Vine of the Guardian compiled the following Robin Williams gags, which I reprint here as perhaps the best tribute to this comic genius.

 "Do you think God gets stoned? I think so … look at the platypus."
• "In England, if you commit a crime, the police don't have a gun and you don't have a gun. If you commit a crime, the police will say: 'Stop, or I'll say stop again.'"
• "If it's the Psychic Network, why do they need a phone number?"
• "People say satire is dead. It's not dead; it's alive and living in the White House."
• "Cocaine is God's way of saying that you're making too much money."
• "I want to thank my father … the man who, when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said: 'Wonderful, just have a backup profession like welding.' Thank you."
• "We had gay burglars the other night. They broke in and rearranged the furniture."
• "I suffer from severe dyslexia – I was the only kid on my block at Halloween to go trick or trout."
• "Cricket is basically baseball on Valium."
• "Politics: Poli, a Latin word meaning many; and tics meaning, bloodsucking creatures."
• "What's right is what's left if you do everything else wrong."
• "I wonder what chairs think about all day: 'Oh, here comes another asshole.'"
• "They call it freebasing. It's not free, it costs you your house! It should be called homebasing!"
• "Dubya doesn't speak while Cheney's drinking water. Check that shit out."
• "I walked into my son's room the other day, and he's got four screens going at the same time. He's watching a movie on one screen, playing a game on another, downloading something on this one, texting on that one, people say: 'He's got ADD.' Fuck that, he's multitasking."
• "Is it rude to Twitter during sex? To go 'omg, omg, wtf, zzz'? Is that rude?"
• "Death is nature's way of saying, 'Your table is ready.'"

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nickel & Diming

E-Mail, thinking about it, and how it used to be a communications system. In the old days, when dinosaurs still roamed freely, I used to communicate with my colleagues using CompuServe. My PC used DOS (Disk Operating System for the uninitiated) and I relied on WordPerfect and Lotus 123. I only had a few colleagues using PCs to communicate, most still insisting on that gadget called the telephone—remember them? I’m not certain, but I think my telephone had by then graduated from a rotary dial to push buttons.  It was 1986, and the world was young. There was no “E-Mail” and the closest anyone came to a little portable phone was called a “bag-phone”.

Then the Internet came into its own, and stuff called E-Mail became commonplace. In the beginning, E-Mail was mainly a communications system among the computer-literati.  Then gradually, as more folks acquired PCs, they too joined the E-Mail revolution. They still used that telephone thingie of course, since E-Mail was still not reliably in use by enough folks.

Using the PC to gain access to big peoples’ mainframes was also a lot of fun. Having worked some with the National Institutes of Health, and being therefore at least familiar with MEDLARS, the NIH biomedical research online data base (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System), I was thrilled when they established that wonderful system they called Grateful Med. Grateful Med made the Medline, or MEDLARS system readily available to relative novices.

And so it began, this Internet revolution, and on-line communications thrived and began to replace that telephone. When E-Mail first started (its starting point is somewhat in debate—some say the early 1970s, others the 1980s) it was of course a DOS based system (I ignore Apple, which I have been doing successfully since the Lisa came out), resembling perhaps today’s text messaging. In its early stages, I still sent and received e-mail from close colleagues. Slowly, that system grew to the point that I began sending and receiving to friends and family. At some point, I realized that the telephone had grown silent for most purposes. My E-Mail grew slowly and then rapidly, until it encompassed most of the people I knew.
At some stage, not sure when, I began receiving E-Mails from corporate entities. I would hear from Hewlett-Packard, for example, because I owned HP printers.  The system was still a closely held system.  Then, much like the telephone became a device for corporate entities to try to extract money from you, E-Mail joined that fraternity of money grubbers.

Now, I receive perhaps 50 E-Mails per day (it could be more; I have long ago stopped counting).  Of that number, I think I can count on two or three from actual people—friends and family. Now, most of this is my own doing of course. I get my news now through E-Mails. I subscribe to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Manchester Guardian, the Charlotte Observer, the BBC, the ABC (Australian), the CBC (Canadian), something called the Local News (from Germany), the Thai-India News, and now a host of Internet news outlets unrelated to formal newspapers or TV-Radio systems.

But also, I receive, and here I am not sure, dozens of E-Mails from political entities, from the White House the Democrat National headquarters, to the Al Franken, or the Kirsten Gillibrand web sites.

And since Barack Obama discovered that he could raise millions, perhaps a billion or more, by asking local folks to donate five dollars, I am now inundated with daily calls for $3-5 dollars. Everyone now relies on the E-Mail system to troll for money. I am guessing that I receive maybe 30 E-Mails per day, from entities asking for $3 to $25. It’s all quite reasonable, unless you begin adding up the totality of it all.  I’m being nickel and dimed to death. It is now to the point where I simply delete at least 50 E-Mails per day without reading them, because they always, always end with a request for money.  Apparently, everyone has decided that E-Mail solicitation is the true path to riches. Organizations whose missions I fully support have now adopted the same method (wildlife preservation organizations send me 3-5 per day, which I no longer read.

Now, the only actual friend-family communications I receive is through texting (no, I have not yet joined the Twitterati, although I have an account, unused). I have begun getting texts from corporate entities also, but few. Verizon, for example, sends me an E-Mail and a text to tell me that my Verizon bill is now available on-line.  I am counting the days until corporate world completely takes over the texting systems, rendering them completely useless.

I am thinking that, maybe we will return to the old days of telephone conversations. Is that possible, I wonder?? Maybe in this best of all possible worlds, the telephone will resume its honored place as a method whereby I can actually speak with one of my family or friends.   Wouldn’t that be nice?