Friday, August 31, 2018

a couple of Reuters photos

Tourists walk past a giant hand structure on the Gold Bridge on Ba Na hill near Danang City, Vietnam, August 1. REUTERS/Kham         
An internally displaced girl plays in the Sudd Swamp near the town of Nyal, South Sudan, August 19. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

revolution in the economic shadows

"Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual
 linchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic
 institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean"

A friend passed along this article. I have no way of knowing how well-grounded it may be, but the portrait it paints leaves knicker-twisting liberal fears about the growth of oligarchy in America in the relatively-easy-going shadows. If even 50% of its assertions are true ... well, whoa, mama!
Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.
"Feudalism" barely scratches the surface.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trump's "fake news" revisited

I am not entirely sure why, but I find something heartening about the fact that the National Enquirer, a U.S. scandal sheet, has a dwindling circulation. The publication has made no secret of its support for Donald Trump and, in recent revelations, has been accused of short-circuiting the publication of a story about the current president's alleged extra-marital liaisons and payoffs to a porn star and a Playboy focal point.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Enquirer has long explained its support for Donald Trump as a business decision based on the president’s popularity among its readers. But private financial documents and circulation figures obtained by The Associated Press show that the tabloid’s business was declining even as it published stories attacking Trump’s political foes and, prosecutors claim, helped suppress stories about his alleged sexual affairs.
The Enquirer’s privately held parent company, American Media Inc., lost $72 million for the year ending in March, the records obtained by the AP show. And despite AMI chairman David Pecker’s claims that the Enquirer’s heavy focus on Trump sells magazines, the documents show that the Enquirer’s average weekly circulation fell by 18 percent to 265,000 in its 2018 fiscal year from the same period the year before — the greatest percentage loss of any AMI-owned publication. The slide follows the Enquirer’s 15 percent circulation loss for the previous 12 months, a span that included the presidential election.
Somewhere, in the midst of this story and the loss of circulation, the question arises in my mind as to whether Trump supporters are really not quite as stupid as the liberal left would like to believe. Is there a limited amount of bullshit even Trump's core constituency is willing to swallow? Maybe, of course, it's just be that no one likes to read much any more and therefore Enquirer readership is bound to tumble ... together with a willingness to consume "Moby Dick" or William Shakespeare. But maybe watching the "fake news" segue into bastions of right-wing support is just too big a pill to swallow and people are voting with the wallets.

J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was once said to have served his 48 years at the helm by being privy to so many of the dirty little secrets that the eight (seven?) presidents he served under did not want made public. Hoover knew where the embarrassing bodies were buried... and he liked his éminence grise job. If he were to spill the beans.... Well, he didn't and he kept his job.

Now the secrets have been transferred from the quasi-august FBI to a safe maintained by the National Enquirer and its family. This may seem poetically consonant with a Donald Trump presidency, but when then entire meaning of a word like "scandal" has lost its ooomph and everyone has his nose up someone else's ass, perhaps even the National Enquirer must take its lumps.

It all reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's observation that "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Maybe even those who have lost their jobs under a president who promised to create more jobs (is that like "fake news" or what?) have their doubts. Is all this possible or am I just whistling past the graveyard again.

Oh well, just looking for a little sunshine on yet another cloudy day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

good college, good education?

The unwillingness/inability of the well-to-do, many with excellent educational backgrounds, to examine their own station and accumulations has always marveled me a bit. How could the well-heeled not wonder and probe the universe in which they found themselves? True, the age of "noblesse oblige" can be tiring, but still, isn't anyone curious or must they all ignore a capacity to think back on the foundations of wealth and privilege... and the costs attendant on those attributes? On whose shack is this chateau constructed?

I know, I know, my naïveté is showing.....

Well educated? Are there no Eleanor Roosevelt's willing to test the down-trodden tenements that Jacob Riis photographed in the late 1800's? Personal visits tell telling tales and when such tales are refused as indigestible of distasteful by those with a preferred education, must every disparity build up its pressure and eventually allow a Somali security officer to assess why there were pirates who took oil shipments hostage off the shores of his country: "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."

Well educated? Must there always be blood before the well-educated get the message ... if in fact even blood can accomplish the delivery. Donald Trump managed to get five military deferments, and he's rich and, to hear him tell it, he deserves every penny, even if the contractors who work for him got stiffed. Their deferments do not twinkle like baubles on a Christmas tree. Let them be drafted.

Well-educated? Was there a reason that Henry Ford astounded the industrial giants of his day by doubling the minimum wage for his auto workers in 1914... from about $2.50 to $5.00 per day? True, Ford's was a business strategy rather than big-hearted largesse, but isn't business strategy part of what the well-educated get trained for? A better-heeled middle class was in a better position to buy more of what Ford had to sell and he was more likely to retain workers who might otherwise amble away from the production line.

In earlier times, money was not discussed in well-to-do venues/households. Of course the well-to-do had money. It was the way of the world. My mother was brought up in a wealthy Cincinnati household that drove her nuts (love of money often shoulders aside a need for love). She told me once that the only reason she knew there was a depression (as in The Depression) was that they lost an upstairs maid. Nobody genteel discussed money and yet the rule then was the same as the rule now: No one who got rich ever did so by being nice.

Mostly, the rich get away with it -- are able to grab Dame Wealth by the pussy as Donald Trump managed to do with a passing female -- because someone else needs to eat or shelter a family. But then the disparities start to inflate the resentment balloon. Trickle-down economics don't work today any better than they did yesterday. A good education is what benefits the wielder of that power, but the gouging hurts. And sometimes hurts so badly that, as in the past, blood must flow. Wouldn't you think a good education would teach you that?

In Östersund, Sweden, in 1918, the effects of the "Spanish flu" epidemic that would claim somewhere between 50 and 100 million lives worldwide, was hastened and exposed by the wealth disparity apparent in its environs. A poster of the time read, “Tourists out of our buildings in times of crisis. Butter, milk and potatoes for workers!” Those who came to Östersund for its hunting and fishing allure were outlandishly contrasted with those who slept in shacks, had little or nothing to eat, and could not find work. Close quarters were known to hasten to spread of the disease, but a choice between close quarters and no quarters was thin to non-existent. A local newspaper Östersunds-Posten asked rhetorically: “Who would have thought that in our fine city there could be such awful destitution?”

Soldiers poured into town in an effort to be prepared for the war that was gathering steam to the south. Presumably, they brought with them the germs others wished to escape. (Woodrow Wilson, the American president, was told of the virulence of the disease in close quarters and nonetheless ordered American soldiers shoe-horned into troop ships bound for the European front. No need to mention the disease. ("Influenza and pneumonia killed more American soldiers and sailors during the war than did enemy weapons.")

The backlash in Östersund may or may not have contributed to Sweden's growth as a 'welfare' state, but the reflection and reconfiguring of political (read money) institutions is worth noting. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Wouldn't you like to know where those humming-birds' tongues came from?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trump's tax cuts kick in, jobs kicked out

'They're liquidating us': AT&T continues layoffs and outsourcing despite profits
The communications giant is expecting a windfall of $20bn in savings from Trump’s tax reforms, but has closed 44 call centers since 2011....
While some workers are able to relocate to other call centers in the US, many are left jobless. For some, their jobs are sent offshore, where workers can be paid less than $2 an hour.
So much for the benefits of trickle-down economics ... again.

bees swarm Times Square

A swarm of bees land on a hot dog cart in Times Square in New York City, August 28, 2018. Times Square was abuzz as bees swarmed a hot dog stand, prompting police to shut down the street and call a beekeeper as tourists looked on. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
It was not immediately clear what attracted the bees.

shredded life, shattered Vatican omerta

ROME (AP) — An Italian journalist who says he helped a former Vatican diplomat pen his bombshell allegation of sex abuse cover-up against Pope Francis says he persuaded the archbishop to go public after the U.S. church was thrown into turmoil by revelations in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Marco Tosatti said he helped Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano write, rewrite and edit his 11-page testimony, saying the two sat side-by-side at a wooden table in Tosatti’s living room for three hours on Aug. 22....
As Tosatti accompanied Vigano to his door, he bent down to kiss Vigano’s ring — a sign of respect for Catholic bishops.
“He tried to say ‘No.’ I told him ’It’s not for you, it’s for the role that you (play) that I do it,’” Tosatti said. “He didn’t say anything. He went away, but he was crying.”
Given the pain inflicted and those it was inflicted on, it is hard not to sympathize with those who say every damned tear is warranted. An eye for an eye. But for a man or woman of waning years (Vigano is 77) to turn around and 'fess up after a lifetime of devotion ... to say and feel "I was wrong" and cry ... it is so human and so touching, much as the pain inflicted is so screamingly, rendingly touching.

What a terrible potential for corruption a life of virtue brings with it. The Hindus got it right when they called it "the razor's edge." 

spiritual linguistics

Crossed my mind a bit ruefully last night:

When I first dipped a toe into the spiritual-adventure pool and made a commitment to finding out whether it was bullshit or not, I was not quite sure what to do or how to do it. My life up until that time (ca. age 33) had rested for its hypotheses on research and study: If you don't know, then bone up on the topic.

So, in the search for succor or release or enlightenment or peace or whatever I was after, I thought it was a good idea to model myself on the people who struck me as wise or well-tutored or convinced or blameless or something.... you know, the ones who elicited applause and whose books were read. And one of the very small things I might do is learn the language that such wise men spoke or could read.

At first, I imagined my spiritual/holiness quotient might rise if I learned some Sanskrit, the language of the really ancient texts. Later, as Buddhism began to intrude, Chinese and Japanese made their bids: If I learned the language of the 'realized' masters, then I might be that much closer to whatever essence I was sniffing around for. It did not cross my mind that spiritual iterations were still being made by the teachers I venerated and if that were true, how well-grounded could those utterances be ... Japanese, Chinese, Vedanta Hindu ... and still the chattering went on. 'Knowing' that someone else knew was not really enough. Peace and language didn't really fit, but I was grasping at straws. I learned a hell of a lot of foreign words ... long foreign words ... holy foreign words. It was a phase to go through, looking for soporifics that could ease my mind.

It all sounds ridiculous now, but what else could I do? I really didn't know. If I could talk the talk, maybe it would teach me to walk the walk. It was all I had been trained for ... intellectual investigation. I don't fault it or goad it. How the fuck could I know what I was convinced I didn't know? Sometimes in order to plumb the depths of ignorance, you've got to get smart first.

Philosophy here I come. Lingo.

protection for student borrowers diminished

Donald Trump's leadership
Passed along in email:

Students who may be urged to get a college education they can ill afford (and yet are conned into borrowing to obtain) are feeling the pinch. The fish apparently stinks, as always, from the head down.
The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices has stepped down.
In a scathing resignation letter, Seth Frotman, who until now was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says current leadership "has turned its back on young people and their financial futures." The letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the bureau's acting director.
In the letter, obtained by NPR, Frotman accuses Mulvaney and the Trump administration of undermining the CFPB and its ability to protect student borrowers.
"Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting," it read. "Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America."
The letter raises serious questions about the federal government's willingness to oversee the $1.5 trillion student loan industry and to protect student borrowers.
There's so much money to be made from the gullible and Donald Trump is a money man, a guy to sell anything America does not have nailed down, a shill whose acolytes see what he gets away with and yearn to get away with it too. He rallies the discontents of a fan base and then -- oh, by the way -- fucks the offspring of that base.

Trump promises coal jobs, says employment rose by 45-50,000 on his watch and then is double checked by the facts which suggest something like 1.200 jobs were created as a result of actions taken by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump stiffs the contractors who work on his properties ... you know, the ones who may have voted four-square for him. And the tax bill that  promises a trillion-dollar deficit that Republicans once railed against ... well, it's the money, honey.

It remains to be seen how the Democrats will shoot themselves in the foot when confronting a thief and a liar and a immoral man in the upcoming mid-term elections.

The times are pretty revolting.

Monday, August 27, 2018

McCain death eases Trump schedule

                         Bag of food leads chickens to swarm
                                 their master-wannabe

Washington's Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, may finally have found something for which to thank former Arizona Sen. John McCain who had the decency to die, at 81, on Saturday of brain cancer. McCain may have pissed the American president off with his Senate vote not to upend the Affordable Care Act -- you know, the one that, while not perfect, at least tried to do something half-way decent for the nation.

But McCain's death brought a tsunami of journalistic longing and encomiums for a man who, it will be remembered, was a POW in Vietnam and, in his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2008, chose the ever-memorable incompetent Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate... kind of a Trump precursor, maybe.

Attention to McCain meant Trump could be absolved from his duties running around the congressional barnyard like a child intent on expressing his sovereignty over the chickens. So big, so powerful ... let nothing stand in his way! So much grist for the power mill.

The flags at the White House were briefly at half-staff in the wake of McCain's death. But not for too long. Half-staff on Saturday was back to fully-raised on Sunday/Monday if I get it correctly. McCain did not genuflect as Trump might have wished. Further, McCain was specific in not inviting Donald Trump to his funeral ... to which former president George W. Bush (a Republican) and Barack Obama (a Democrat) were invited... and will speak.

McCain's death coincided with the Congressional summer break (August) -- a time when politicians splice in junkets and vacations and stump-thumping... but also a time when Sally America has little enough slack or funding as she holds down two and maybe three jobs in an effort to feed her kids. Trump promised jobs, but Sally's shift and pay did not budge. Still, Sally may back Trump, the chicken-chaser: Trump may not say things politely, but "we know what he means."

The attention paid to McCain and his "heroic" legacy, means that those of us reading the news get a Trump break: There simply aren't as many headlines bearing his imprimatur. And further, Donald Trump can sleep in: He doesn't have to run outdoors like a child in a barnyard, waving his arms and scaring all the chickens in a display of power. There's more time for golf when the chickens are busy trying to figure out if they have the guts to be with Trump or have the guts to criticize him. Trump doesn't have to work so hard scaring the chickens, who are, after all, only chickens ... and the rest of us get a break.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

back and back and back and back

One of the things that I suspect of drew me in to the spiritual orbit of Hindu Vedanta was its willingness to confront cause-and-effect. Cause-and-effects asks the question, "what came before that," a question anyone might ask when lolling in the darkness waiting for sleep to claim its time. Back and back and back and back the question burrows. There is no escape, whatever theology might say or promise.

How many stars are there in the skies: What came before that?
If the New York Times could print an article that pointedly did NOT use quotation marks around the phrase "the edge of the universe," how and why did the newspaper do that? If there is an edge to the universe ... what's beyond that edge?
If circumstances are as they currently are, of what cause are they the effect? Nothing fancy or magical -- no promissory notes -- just what came before that? Back and back and back and back.
And if current effects rest on preceding causes, to what extent are they little more than new causes?

I suppose masturbation might have been a more satisfactory train of thought, but every now and then cause and effect would raise a questioning hand. Without getting into heaven and hell, Vedanta seemed to embrace what was clearly concrete: cause and effect. Where does it go? What are the implications? And how much magical mystery tour needs to be applied in order to still the nattering queries? But what came before that...?

In a Guardian opinion piece today, author Maryanne Wolf assesses the dumb-down fatigue imposed by the information overload of the internet and electronic gadgetry. People who don't read as once miss out on the civilizing effects of tapping into deeper stories .... back and back and back. Skim-reading is the new normal.
English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts.
Skimming is the new normal and its effects are not solely literary. The willingness and capacity to think and infer and empathize are reduced as reading slips into a touch-base activity. Going back and back and back takes time and effort and ... well, what the hell do you get in return? Whatever it is, Amazon probably has it on sale.

I suspect, but don't know, that Ms. Wolf is engaging in the new-normal complaints of all those who got brought up on books and critical thinking and the capacity to create. In other words, she's old or getting close to it. The digital age demands its pound of flesh. And a skim-savvy lifestyle is one of the results.

But besides the obvious, I too am interested in cause and effect and its echoes. Think of it: All the good thinking in the world cannot shut down the question, "of what cause is this an effect?" What's beyond that and that and that and that? I have friends who are excellent researchers. Back and back they travel in their documentations and extrapolations. Back and back until, until, until ....

Even the best-coiffed and best-educated fall defeated by the side of the road. "Enough already!" or "It may not be perfect, but I'll put my money on it." I pick what I hope is the least-wrong course or deduction and get on with a second cup of coffee. I don't like sloppy thinking, but in the end, thinking is, by its nature, sloppy.

Back and back and back and back and.....

It's as bad as forward and forward and forward and forward....

Either way, I'm still a dummy, a state I do not admire, but life snickers, "Tough shit!"

Saturday, August 25, 2018

nightstand spiritual life

In news reporting, it is often the obvious that gets overlooked. In this regard, I tip my hat to the Associated Press for sticking its nose into the question of why there are often religious texts in the nightstands of popular hotels.
Marriott, whose namesake founding family is active in the Mormon church, has been putting both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in its rooms since opening its first hotel in the late 1950s. Like most major chains, Marriott doesn’t own the majority of its hotels. However, it stands out from the other companies by requiring — in franchise or licensing agreements — its 6,500 properties to have the books in each room....
It’s not a policy Marriott relishes discussing. The company declined to make an executive available to comment, but issued a statement to The Associated Press: “There are many guests who are not digitally connected who appreciate having one or both of these books available. It’s a tradition appreciated by many, objected to by few.”...
According to STR, a hotel data firm, the number of U.S. hotels that offer religious materials in their rooms has dropped over the last decade, to 79 percent in 2016 from 95 percent in 2006. Luxury hotels were the least likely to offer them, with just 51 percent saying they did. And urban and resort hotels were less likely to offer them than hotels in suburbs or along interstates.
Hotel rooms, like spiritual convictions, are often a private and sometimes lonely business. They may play at being "home," but home is seldom so spic and span, so manicure-ized, so picture-perfect. Home is a place of the very personal mess. Hotel rooms echo-echo-echo. They don't smell like home. What may be "private" at last is also lonely at first in a hotel room. Even Jesus sought out the company of deviltry when he entered the desert alone.

Is scripture the answer in this echo chamber? Is it not the answer? Can the internet fill the void? Do the Jews feel once again that they have somehow been slighted by something 'anti-Semitic?' The Muslims? The Buddhists? The Hindus?

stirring or stemming pedophile embers?

The Roman Catholic pope, Francis, landed in Ireland today in an apparent attempt to issue a satisfactory mea culpa to the once-rock-ribbed Catholic country that has seen membership dwindle in the face of pedophile-priestly abuse from the past. Will it work? Can the head priest undo what lesser priests saw fit to do? Can the curses of the blessed be dissolved?
“He is welcome as a guest but he is going to have to take action rather than repeat platitudes if we are really going to have any respect for the Church generally,” said Helen Carey, a visual arts curator, walking past Dublin Castle.
The Vatican has a long record of not doing much to stem the systemic flaws that nourished pedophiles in its midst. Its mea-culpas and legerdemain are now so familiar that constituents can almost repeat them without breathing hard ... ain't it awful, we apologize, we investigated, we're really good guys ... but the roots and branches remain untended. Priests took advantage of children, bishops covered their tracks, the church was preserved ... yadda, yadda, yadda. When the church says it is sorry, it's hard to know if it is sorry for its curses or for the reduction in income that attends upon such revelations.

Power and acknowledgment of that power is pretty important in spiritual circles: An email passed along today points out the Buddhist monk who grew enraged by a nine-year-old boy's antics and beat him ... so badly that the boy later died, it seems.

And, lest the spiritually-inclined get all the perks:
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Eleven former staffers at a prominent New Hampshire prep school have been accused of fondling, forced kissing and other sexual misconduct with students over several decades, according to two reports released on Friday.
The reports released by Phillips Exeter Academy also found that school administrators often failed to act on complaints of abuse and, in several cases, never recorded the complaints of wrongdoing in personnel files— allowing teachers to be hired elsewhere despite concerns about their behavior.
The law says "shouldn't" but human nature is more inquisitive and assertive than that.

Friday, August 24, 2018

a penny for the rich?

Michael Cohen
I may be alone, but I find something weird and galling about Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer and "fixer," creating a crowd-sourced fund to help him pay for all the legal help he has needed while trying (with some success) to fend off legal difficulties linked to tax evasion, among other things.
Trump's former personal lawyer owes at least $1.4 million to the IRS after pleading guilty Tuesday to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and bank fraud, and has racked up millions of dollars in debt. Because of his plea, he is being forced to give up his New York City taxi medallions, which have shrunk in value as Uber and Lyft shake the industry.
With his tailored suits as carefully stitched as his down-turned mouth, Cohen appears to be another high roller who feels he can ask those from whom he profited to support his gofundme page that seeks $500,000 to help pay off ... well, a lot of unpaid bills. He feels like a personification of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown in which large companies (you know, friends) were "too big to fail" and deserved a taxpayer bailout.

Well, if Cohen, as archly suggested, has the goods on a loud-mouthed president, there may be reason for unimaginative Democrats to line up and donate ... spill the beans, Mike-y! But of course people like Cohen seldom if ever really spill the beans: Today's enemy is tomorrow's friend.

I did hear on some news show that Cohen would never accept a pardon from the president.  A pardon, the report said, carries with it an admission of guilt. I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is, I can imagine Cohen's desire to hold onto his legal credentials and a relatively unblemished provenance to go with them.

The whole U.S. government, together with its seigneur handing out baubles to faithful retainers, feels a bit like the psychology that goes into casino construction. Among other things in the casino -- no clocks, no windows, and a labyrinthine construction determined to keep the customer within the confines of gaming ... and losing.

A gofundme page for the casinos, anyone?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"hunger stones" appearing

 It has a slightly apocryphal feel to it and yet it's too good to pass up:
DECIN, Czech Republic (AP) — Due to this summer’s drought in Central Europe, boulders known as “hunger stones” are reappearing in the Elbe River....
The oldest water mark visible dates to 1616. That stone, is considered the oldest hydrological landmark in Central Europe, bears a chiseled inscription in German that says: “When you see me, cry.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

restocking the swamp

Who says U.S. President Donald Trump is against climate change? As yesterday's convictions of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seem to indicate, Trump is nothing if not eager to assure that the political "swamp" he vowed to clean up during his campaign should be restocked.

Poor old swamp. What would it be without endangered species? It is vital to preserve such resources. Together with a tax bill that favors the wealthy, Trump has shown he is intent on doing exactly that. There is money to be made, power to be amassed, and a country to sell out in the relentless march towards the tin-pot dictatorship Trump seems to feel America deserves ... and a good segment of America seems to concur.

Throw the bastards out.

Get new ones.

Preserve the swamp.

Don't be hoodwinked....

Everything has a price and I'm in charge of the cash register.

Strange to think of the confluence of me-too politics in Washington (Republicans are running helter-skelter: shall they get on board with this loose cannon or assert the 'principles' they might want to claim as their bedrock) and the me-too verve of those who feel under-served and under-represented and under-paid. Trump has set the table -- get what you can while there's still some left -- and there are a lot of people bellying up to his table.

A quick Google spin does not reveal the current odds on Donald Trump's possible pardoning of Manafort or Cohen.

PS: A small list of Trump allies who have pleaded guilty or been found guilty since election.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

in an era of Donald Trump

A book review fans anti-Trump flames and, in Georgia, discussion focuses on closing predominantly-black voting venues. 

In Georgia, moves are afoot to close predominantly-black-voter venues.

"Clusterfuck" hardly seems adequate to the task.

Monday, August 20, 2018

weather extremes

The weather's "very extreme extremes:"
Summer weather patterns are increasingly likely to stall in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, according to a new climate study that explains why Arctic warming is making heatwaves elsewhere more persistent and dangerous.
Rising temperatures in the Arctic have slowed the circulation of the jet stream and other giant planetary winds, says the paper, which means high and low pressure fronts are getting stuck and weather is less able to moderate itself.
The authors of the research, published in Nature Communications on Monday, warn this could lead to “very extreme extremes” ....
Having just passed through a week and a half of gushing and seemingly immovable humidity that flattens me out, I guess it's understandable that I should read the article and remember, as he will no doubt remind me, that it's not Donald Trump's fault: Nothing ever is. 

"better angels," nagging trolls

My willingness/energy to search out and cite sources of remembered information dwindles. I remember something I know I didn't make up, but am overcome with lethargy when it comes to looking up the source material.

And thus, this morning, I remember the existentialist French author Albert Camus who once observed in essence, if not exact quoting, "Men climb onto the cross in order to be seen from a greater distance."

And in that connection, I remember an aging Zen teacher's remark when challenged about the money charged to earnest, and often impecunious, students who wanted to attend Zen retreats and other events. Shouldn't the Dharma (truth) be taught for free? Should the well-intentioned and energetic be charged so much? "Oh yes!" the Zen teacher (Yasutani, perhaps?) replied to the implicit criticism, "Charge them a lot. That way they'll imagine the Dharma is worth something."

The matter of money is always a touchy subject in the realm of (wo)man's "better angels." The fact that spiritual life has to find a means to keep the lights on is seldom in play in these august realms. And then, as the money rolls in, having a well-feathered nest is really quite pleasant, comfortable and becomes what the recipient must surely deserve. Oooops ... a life of poverty ain't all it's cracked up to be. As a result, institutions like the Vatican become the wealthiest in the world and ... wouldn't you know it ... the corruption sets in and the Christians were right: "The love of money is the root of all evil." The world of modesty and humility and simplicity is upended and ... well, you know who gets fucked in this scenario.

Today, the pope issued a letter to the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics admitting the Vatican "showed no care for the little ones." The latest iteration of priestly sexual abuse disgust had finally reached the high seat of the church that had been known to climb onto the cross from time to time. It had already been clear to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that the fish stinks from the head down, but assailing long-held beliefs is no easy matter. If the family priest was the arbiter of a good and worthy life, then calling out priests and their handlers was a shudder at the foundations of very personal "better angels" construction.

Priest abuse.

And you know who gets fucked in the end, right?

Is there any institutionalized organization that can sidestep its interconnectedness with the powers of darkness, or whatever we're supposed to call them? I doubt it. And yet the human yearning to touch the earth, to be capable and aware in the world of "better angels" is profound. If you doubt it, check out the spires in the community where you live. "No rich person ever got that way by being nice." And the tentacles of being not-nice are not lost on the rich. Something is missing. "If I'm so rich, how come I'm not happy?" Hell is reserved for the not-nice. How about a church to assert a kinder, gentler means of existence?

And so the world turns. Now the pope is forced (donors are shying away in the latest concern with priestly abuse) to concede the obvious. The institution rests on sandy, if ornate, soil. They needed the money and now they have it and the price begins to show its fangs. You can't cloister sexual desire without first confronting it. So ... the lies, the cover-ups, the homosexual and heterosexual urges rise like bread dough on a counter. We will be celibate ... sort of ... maybe a little bit ... but just a little manipulation of the credulous seems hardly worthy of note. The institution mandated celibacy and, well, who doesn't want to get his or her jollies off? The Vatican goofed, but it kept the lights on and then some.

Nor, as American president Donald Trump might counter, were other institutions exempt from the we-are-who-is attitude that no institution seems capable of escaping. Everyone wants to be noticed (hence, perhaps, the crucifixion) and everyone else would like to point out the hypocrisy ... which simply cannot be sidestepped.

Ranting about promises made and subsequently left unkept -- even the wonderful riff on religion by American comedian George Carlin -- is not the point here. Acknowledging the connection between better angels and nagging trolls is more important ... though not transmissable. "Better angels" may be worth the price of admission, but the price is worth examining a little. "Better angels" don't come cheap.

I doubt if the pope can straighten out centuries of habit at the Vatican, nor can I see how he might do it, short of rewriting the celibacy statutes that have guided the church in the past. I can imagine a phalanx of worthies willing to short-circuit any attempt to redirect a gravy-train of yore. Poisoning always seems to excite the admiration of those in high places. Even a Jesuit like Pope Francis cannot outrun a dollop of polonium.

But at least he sounded what appears to be fair warning to those whose skirts are not exactly skirts. Will the pope follow-up? Maybe ... but, based on the historical record ... maybe not.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

enemies and doing nothing


If there is one capacity a human being might lack, it is the musculature to do nothing. And it is in this regard that anyone might seek to embolden or raise up his or her enemies ... in this way, there will always be something to do.

Such a train of thought can lead anyone to run shrieking into some cozy corner, but maybe it is worth considering. Doing nothing is no mean feat, whatever it may mean. And the desire for meaning is pretty strong. Enemies, like friends, can help... therefore enemies should not be overlooked as a source of support. But "support" against what, precisely? What weakness, if any, does it shore up? What thumb does it stick in what dike?

Somebody or other (a poet or wise man or something ... haven't got the ref in hand) once suggested, "Do not be too virtuous./Too much virtue makes people crazy."

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Elizabeth Warren aka Quixote

At least Democrat Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is giving it a shot. Will she succeed? Not a chance in hell, if my intuition serves. But she is giving it a shot:
Elizabeth Warren this week introduced a plan for legislation that would rein in big business, redistribute wealth and potentially curb corporate political donations.
The Accountable Capitalism Act, which Warren announced in an article for the Wall Street Journal, “restores the idea that giant American corporations should look out for American interests”, the Massachusetts senator and potential presidential candidate wrote.
“In the early 1980s, large American companies sent less than half their earnings to shareholders, spending the rest on their employees and other priorities,” Warren added.
But between 2007 and 2016, large American companies dedicated 93% of their earnings to shareholders. Because the wealthiest 10% of US households own 84% of American-held shares, the obsession with maximizing shareholder returns effectively means America’s biggest companies have dedicated themselves to making the rich even richer.
Warren knows how to read, write and think. That alone will probably disqualify her ideas and her legislation which stands to benefit many of those who think Donald Trump has got the right idea.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

false (news) alternatives prevail

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s newsrooms are pushing back against President Donald Trump with a coordinated series of newspaper editorials condemning his attacks on “fake news” and suggestion that journalists are the enemy.
The Boston Globe invited newspapers across the country to stand up for the press with editorials on Thursday, and several began appearing online a day earlier. Nearly 350 news organizations have pledged to participate, according to Marjorie Pritchard, op-ed editor at the Globe.
On balance, I have a sense that Donald Trump can chalk up a 'W' in this matter. It was he who laid down the false alternatives -- "who would you rather believe, the press or me?" -- and the press took that bait and skittered shrieking like school girls into a corner: "We're the good guys in all this."

News organizations are scrambling to make a buck these days and the president of the United States is grist for the buck mill. How could a president not be an object of attention? Theoretically, Trump represents the United States, sooooooo ... the news media are backed into a corner of Trump's devising. Put another way, the news media are stuck validating what they may find themselves abhorring.

Trump put out the bait and the hungry went into feeding mode, primping and posing and asserting their pillar-of-democracy credentials. This has some validity, but its validity is challenged when the only alternative is Donald Trump and his endless lies and misstatements.

The word "alternative" means that there are two (and only two) choices. The word "option" indicates more than one way to skin a cat. Is Donald Trump and his unsubstantiated misstatements (3001, by May 1, the Washington Post says) the only alternative to the "fake news" of which he accuses the news media? If he accuses with gusto, still he has not laid down the parameters of what true news might be other than to suggest he is the sole arbiter of that unnamed truth. And his supporters -- many of whom have been egregiously short-changed -- applaud: Trump may be wrong, but he has all the right moves, they say.

Another option -- albeit a somewhat galling one -- is to wait for the law to kick in. Donald Trump's draining of the political swamp has seen myriad swamp rats come on board -- others willing to bask in the glow of his dong-flonging volume, others too anxious about their re-election to vex or contradict or take a principled or, dare one say it, moral, stance.

Where are the jobs? Where is the infrastructure? Where is the replacement health care strategy? Where is the coal industry? Like Republican predecessors, Trump has pushed through a tax bill that benefits the wealthy. He has won no other legislative battles. Yes, he can nag -- as he successfully nagged the news media -- but the swamp is filling up and the law, however leisurely, has the capacity to provide options that are more than a single alternative.

The law ... what an inconvenience ....

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

New Zealand bans home sales to foreigners

And, on another immigrant front...
The New Zealand government has banned the sale of existing homes to foreign buyers, saying New Zealanders were sick of being “tenants in our own land”.
Associate minister of finance David Parker said the ban would mean housing would become more affordable for locals, and supply would increase.
“We think the market for New Zealand homes and farms should be set by New Zealand buyers, not overseas buyers,” said Parker in an interview with the Guardian.
Is there anything so good that it can't be muddied by money?

god bless Israel ... again

Kind of reminds you of treatment reserved for Palestinians:
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — African migrants in Israel have been detained, threatened with deportation and faced hostility from lawmakers and residents. Since last year, they face another burden: a de facto 20 percent salary cut that has driven them further into poverty.
Israel’s roughly 35,000 African migrants and the groups that support them say the recent law — in which Israel withholds the money from their paychecks every month and returns it only if they leave the country — is yet another attempt by an anti-migrant government to force them out....
While the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state.
The "Jewish character of the state" ... is that anything like the Aryan character of Germany in the run-up to World War II? Immigration is a tough enough nut to crack without inserting apartheid into it ... or Chartlottesville ... or whatever.

pot buffers beer's bottom line

(Reuters) - Corona beer maker Constellation Brands (STZ.N) will invest a further $4 billion in Canada’s top cannabis producer Canopy Growth (WEED.TO), doubling down on one of a growing number of bets by the alcohol industry in legal pot....
Canada, where 4.4 million people reported using the drug in the first half of the year, will fully legalize the recreational use of cannabis in October.
Constellation, Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch are all using the move by the United States’ northern neighbor to hedge their bets for the future at a time when beer sales, roughly 60 percent of Constellation’s business, are stagnating, particularly with younger Americans.

the Vatican and the clusterfuck

The in-box had a couple of look-at-this-links to stories about an unveiled grand jury report in Pennsylvania that said at least 300 Roman Catholic priests had molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940's.

Since I have traveled that circuit in one form or another, I guess I should take note, grimace anew, and say I am not terribly sorry for the Roman Catholic institution that fostered a wealth-gathering celibacy credo at the expense of all those demonstrably-stiff  peckers out there.

It's an ugly matter that hurt many people. "Vile" hardly covers it. But the notion that the clerical diddling of little boys and little girls stretches back only to the 1940's ... well, it's crap. Try 300 AD and environs. And if it goes back that far, it's a good bet that's not far enough.

True, the feeding-frenzy is currently afoot with the release of the Pennsylvania report, but that will, if history is any guide, lapse into forgetfulness. More informative, for my money, is the laundry list of Roman Catholic awareness compiled by Patrick Wall et al. It addresses the questions of what the Vatican knew and when it knew it. 

Systemic rot. Who will confess forthrightly? No more yes-but bullshit. Will there be "closure" and "healing" and other such oleaginous rejoinders? Sure, but getting the cards on the table after years of loneliness and pain and smug, ecclesiastical legerdemain ... maybe it's a baby step of sorts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

married, then and now and then

Once upon a time, belief nudged the tradition of "jumping over the broom" as a signifier of a newly-married couple. Then the church got involved and the blessing of the occasion was transferred to those whose bells peeled. If you believed it, then it must be so, right?

Now, in Scotland, a return to earlier and less credulous roots appears to be on the rise.
For the first time last year, in what was once a famously religious country, the Humanist Society of Scotland married more people than the Church of Scotland....
Scotland categorises humanist weddings as a non-religious belief ceremony, with the same legal status as church-based and civil marriages. Humanists include atheists and agnostics, and those who say they are spiritual but who dislike organised religion. They embrace same-sex marriage, too, unlike most mainstream churches.
And since 2005 they have mushroomed: in 2017, there were 5,912 humanist weddings with 3,283 conducted by Humanist Society celebrants compared with just 3,166 by the Church of Scotland.
It's not that belief has been excised from what is sometimes called "marital bliss." Rather, it seems that a willingness to give to another what rightfully belongs to individuals has lost its savor. What right has someone or something else to give an imprimatur of legitimacy or worth in your personal business? The answer is, only the right any individual might transmit to such an institution or focal point.

It sort of reminds me of the old puzzler, "What if they had a war and no one showed up?" Is anyone the less married or the less committed without the intervention of some other party, ecclesiastical or otherwise?

Rituals are kind of nice. And certainly a party is a nice thing. You don't have to believe it unless you choose to. Otherwise, jump over the broomstick and check out the snacks.

The church is dismayed, and for good reason ... what if they had a religion and nobody came? No need to wax vitriolic about it. No need to condemn or scoff. Everyone insists on believing something and religion is another flower in the garden. Pick it or leave it alone ... your pick.

I can imagine members of the exceptionally lucrative marital industry muttering in a secluded corner, "Don't have a cow!" On the other hand, maybe having a cow is precisely the right reaction as the rug under your feet is removed.

Like a dollar bill, the wedding industry requires belief.

Or, as the Dhammapada puts it, more or less, "Better your own truth/ However weak/ Than the truth of another/ However noble."

Monday, August 13, 2018

Elon Musk movin' 'n' shakin'

Elon Musk
Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk yanking everyone else's crank in a bid to slap down short-sellers? Is he just fooling around in the financial stratosphere? It's all pretty much beyond my add-subtract-multiply-and-divide capacities, but for some time I have wondered why every time Musk comes before the public, he is much like the Roman Catholic Church ... he needs more money; he hasn't reached a promised deadline for his electric car ... is he selling snake oil to the prairie rubes?
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s elaboration on his plan to engineer a buyout of the electric car maker could get the Silicon Valley maverick into legal trouble by revealing that the deal is far more uncertain than how he initially described it in his brash tweet last week.
If everything falls into place, Musk plans to buy Tesla from any existing shareholders willing to sell using money raised through Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Whatever the case, it seems that those selling Tesla short are calling his bet. They seem to be asking and I'm curious too -- why should I believe this man? More important, why is anyone else? And most important, how big will my bill be if Musk goes belly-up in the era of a Donald Trump?

shoes made for walking

The encouragement, "You can't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes" has a lovely, empathetic luster to it. The socially-compassionate choir is likely to intone "amen!"

But as with many fortune cookies (eg. "there are no atheists in foxholes") the other shoe is seldom dropped. If I can't understand someone else without walking a mile in his/her shoes, may I infer that s/he will be equally ignorant, equally numbed, equally dumbed-down until s/he has walked a mile in mine?

And if so, why is that not also a matter of concern?

"The speed of death."

Name: The speed of death.
Age: Not sure that is entirely relevant.
Appearance: Cellular.
You’re talking in riddles. I’m bracing myself for some seriously hard science.
Stop beating about the bush and get on with it. OK, here goes. Two Stanford University systems biologists, Xianrui Cheng and James Ferrell, have discovered the speed at which cells die.
What is a systems biologist? A biologist who is good at maths, but you are missing the bigger picture.
What is the bigger picture? If we know the speed at which cells die and, more to the point, the way in which they die, we can do amazing things.
 Not quite sure what it's all about, but since death in all its myriad facets is often taken seriously (solemnly?), apoptosis always gets my dwindling attention.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

wish I'd done better

A wave of wish-I'd-done-better swept in this morning for a little while. Wish I'd done better by my wife and family. Wish I'd been more available ... but I wasn't and it's gone.

Part of the sense of failure or limping success was premised in the fact that I never had the training. Not an excuse, just an observation. How can you give what you lacked familiarity with?

Still, wish I'd done better.

Trump and the press

Presidential press briefing....
The Boston Globe has invited news organizations across the country to save Aug. 16 as a day on which those media might express their views of U.S. President Donald Trump's assaults on the news media as "fake," among other criticisms.
The Globe has reached out to editorial boards nationwide to write and publish editorials on Aug. 16 denouncing what the newspaper called a ‘‘dirty war against the free press.’’...
[A]bout 70 outlets had committed to editorials so far, with the list expected to grow....
‘‘Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming,’’ the appeal said....
I have wondered childishly what it might be like if the media might not serve itself better by simply not showing up to the almost-never presidential press briefing. But that's childish. And I am not sure but what the Globe's rallying cry is a bit too whiny.

On the one hand, I can imagine the Globe thought the issue through, weighing pros and cons. On the other, I can imagine Donald Trump rejoicing as any oligarch might: "Any publicity is good publicity."

Too bad newspapers can't find a parallel recourse in Robert Mueller's (currently investigating interference in the 2016 election) silence-is-golden approach to a loose cannon like Trump. Let the actions -- actions in court -- speak up and let the mouths be still.

It's a rock and a hard place, but I guess speaking up for the importance of a ranging press is worth the critiques that will descend like rain. Trump will rejoice to be able to say, "See -- I toldjaso." His fan base will applaud. Trump has yet to reveal the "true" news, but he knows "fake" news when he sees it ... or something like that.The press is so busy sweeping up behind Trump's gaffs and lies that there is barely time for whatever used to qualify as news.

Liberals like me are still trying to imagine that this Prevaricator in Chief could actually get where he is by lying and lying and lying some more ... while all the time saying he is the one true purveyor of truth. 

Someone has to call this guy out even if calling him out qualifies as "fake" news.

U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods

A friend passed along this laundry list of U.S. tariffs being imposed during the Trump-confected trade war with China.

Why do I have this feeling that whatever the frictions, it is consumers like me who will shoulder the costs of economic improvements?

Is this part of the plan to refill the "swamp" the president-wannabe once railed against? It's beyond my pay grade to know how to answer.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

the whores of more

Not quite sure what it's about but....

Behold the four distinguished Saracens
Seated upon their well-groomed mounts
Waiting as the scabbards of their scimitars
Twinkle in the desert sun.

Such well-dressed men deserve their time
In the sunshine where their peckish mounts
Send tufts of dust from off
Their shifting, potent hoofs.

"Saracens" is a white man's word
And there the white be as well
Adorned and ready for the fight
That will accomplish something noble.

"White" is a white man's word
But well-dressed white men demand
Their sparkling times as well.
And why not ...?

Why must blood flow from this encounter?
Well-dressed men, arrayed and waiting
Knowing a fight must come and yet
Neither bothering much with the redness of their blood....

The whores of "more" wait in the dusty street,
Well accoutered and fit they are
Was it ever different for those bearing the banner
Of the whores of "more?"

Republican integrity

I don't generally like being swept up in political opinions in a time when opinions tend to drown out serious national discussions (health care, infrastructure, jobs, taxes, aid to Puerto Rico, wildfires ... you know, the stuff the politicians might actually do something about), but the following column by Dana Milbank struck me as a pretty good laundry list of the sort of political chaff blurring latter-day vision potential.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee [Devin Nunes] told donors that “most” Republicans are on board with impeaching Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, according to a recording broadcast this week by MSNBC. They just don’t have time “right before the election.” Hence the need to retain a GOP majority.
Rosenstein must have done something truly and utterly horrible, because these guys don’t impeach just anybody. In fact, they impeach nobody. Until now they hadn’t given a moment’s thought to impeaching a single member of the Trump administration:....
The list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Such is the nature of our times.

Friday, August 10, 2018

inflation wipes out wage growth

That suspicion in the back of your mind finds some vindication.

U.S. workers' paychecks are worth less than they were a year ago, the Labor Department reported Friday, as modest wage gains have failed to keep pace with inflation.
Inflation rose 2.9 percent from July 2017 to July 2018, the department reported, while average hourly pay increased 2.7 percent over the same period.
The lack of real wage gains comes despite a strong economy, with sustained growth and an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent — one of the lowest levels in decades.
Maybe the 'takeaway,' as millennial-speak puts it, is that "when you feel as if you are getting fucked, it probably is because you are."

But hey -- look at it this way! -- it ain't Turkey or Venezuela ... yet. Give Mr. Trump some time ... he can do it if any swamp-meister can.

wedding vows

Before I set it aside as both poorly-edited and poorly-written, the book "Young Men and Fire" yielded up a line that continues to reverberate in my mind. The book is a reprise of a 1949 forest fire in Montana that killed 13 smoke jumpers. One widow is quoted as quoting her husband after their wedding. She said he said,
You do your job and I'll do mine and we'll get along fine.
It's tricky. It's faceted. But as twinkly as it may be, still, it seems to cover the bases pretty nicely.

Or maybe not. Somehow, it just tickles my ivories.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


My friend Charlie peppered me with news stories he correctly surmised would stick in my craw today:

In the astounding department, if the word "astounding" has any meaning any more:
1. Trump launched his unfounded suggestions in a tweet on Sunday claiming: "California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren't allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized."
Maybe Trump can bring new life to a long-dead Caligula.

2. CNN -- Missouri voters handed the state's unions and the labor movement nationwide a win Tuesday evening, opting to reject the state's right-to-work law.

Labor unions, long in the dog house among those who need them most, were in need of a "w."

3.  Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic leader in the Michigan state Senate, won her party’s nomination for governor in Tuesday’s primary....
Whitmer, 46, will face Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, 64, winner of the Republican primary, in the general election for the open governor’s seat. Analysts believe she has a strong shot of restoring Democratic control of the governor’s mansion after eight years of GOP rule by Rick Snyder, who was term-limited.
I can't help feeling about Democrats in the upcoming election ... that they will manage to shoot themselves in the election foot before even the first ballot is tallied ... kind of like the Red Sox who win a bunch and they start loosing as September approaches.