Saturday, October 31, 2009

Natural History magazine highlights

I love Natural History magazine. Whenever we receive a new issue, I hug it and immediately browse through it to say, "Oh, I can't wait to read THAT one." And usually, later that night, I do.

I am so glad the editors allowed for the re-design of the Natural History magazine website, and are including some articles so people can see what I am talking about instead of shaking their heads wondering if I've lost my usual humanities major mind. But what makes Natural History so outstanding is the very fact that it is written with the layperson--and yes, humanities major--in mind.

Here is a lively review of the new biography of the physicist, Paul Dirac.

Here is a story on what are the earliest known primate brains, and helps us understand what some more religious folks call "macro-evolution."

Here is a wonderful story about an Arctic expedition in the 1930s that is as much cultural history and anthropological as anything else.

Here is an article on the social lives of great white sharks.

As Maude said to Harold, "Explore..."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The nation wants the public option and Reid and Obama are enabling the opposition

The nation is ready for a public option, a real one--not with insurance companies administering it. Not limited to those without employer based insurance. In other words, a public option with the individual citizen's choice of opting in or not into a Medicare sort of system. "Medicare for All" for those who want it.

Yet, the Democratic Party leader in the Senate, Harry Reid (D-NV), claims he does not have the votes, thinking that majority rule means 60 solid votes. Last I studied majority rule, it was 51 votes in the Senate. Just drop this filibuster rule now, as Thomas Geoghegan recognizes in his brilliant essay.

What is the fear here? That Republicans will someday get back into power and do bad things? Let's look at the facts today: The Republicans are continuing to decline because their leaders are exposed as snarling, hating people. The people of our nation have moved on from the Republicanism of "No." We have moved on from the mantra of mythical Ayn Rand capitalism--and selfishness. We have moved on from the Cult of Income Tax Cuts that are biased in favor of the economically wealthiest segment of society. We have moved on even from a fealty to corporate power over the health insurance we purchase and rely upon.

As I have said before, it is by the Democrats NOT acting that the Democrats will cause people to lose faith in them. It is by the Democrats genuflecting toward the Olympia Snowes of the world, who does not even speak for her own State of Maine's people on the subject of the public option, that Democrats will cause people to lose faith in them.

The people in Washington, DC who oppose Medicare for All, who oppose even the public option, are marinated in corporate money, and particularly insurance company money. Or else they are wedded to a foreign ideology that stands against the mercantile, nation-building spirit that guided our Founders, and which foreign ideology goes against our best religious values.

As they say in the old sneakers ad, "Just do it." Got that Harry? Got that Obama? Do it NOW.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Man, this makes me feel old

Morrissey collapsed on stage yesterday, and was taken to a local area hospital.

Back in 1986, my wife and I, in our early courting, went to see The Smiths (and Phranc) at Irvine Meadows, in Laguna Hills, CA. We loved The Smiths and Phranc, though we loved The Smiths, and then Morrissey for far more years.

Hope Morrissey gets well soon. Still, that's not supposed to happen to Morrissey. He is supposed to stay forever young and hold to that aesthetically ironic and detached view of death that only adolescents and twenty-somethings have.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Soupy Sales: Cultural Landmark of the 1960s

Soupy Sales was an extraordinary phenomenon. Coming of age in the transition from local, live, come what may television to the slick and less genuine productions, Soupy was loved by hipsters, Frank Sinatra,* little kids (I suspect mostly boys) across America and yet considered fairly dangerous to the television suits. With Soupy, you never knew whether you would get childish pranks, "college humor" puns**, tough humor or sentimentality. You would learn about jazz, old popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s, silly songs, and even some then-contemporary Motown.

Here is the obit from the LA Times.

And of course, there was the infamous never aired episode with the naked woman at the door of his television home (yes, she is naked, I repeat as a warning to the feint of heart; scroll down and click on the phrase that begins "widely distributed clip...")...Something I first heard about as a teen, but always figured it was an urban legend.

Rest in peace, Milton Supman or should I quote the estimable Pookie in saying, Rest in peace, Boobie. You were a true cultural landmark and a great friend of and inspiration to creative young minds everywhere.

* That's Sammy Davis, Jr. and Trini Lopez with Sinatra...and I wonder if the "father" of the "child" is William B. Williams, the well-respected NY radio personality.

** A personal favorite: "Show me a red dye, and I'll show you a dead communist."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Meditating on the British NHS leads to Lewis Lapham...

This astonishing history of the creation of the British health care system comes from a blog over at Lewis Lapham's eponymous quarterly. I always assumed the transition from the Beveridge Report recommendations to the National Health System came solely from the Left in Great Britain, not from the doctors themselves. Irony of ironies...

In my random reading these days (I am simultaneously reading and enjoying two very surprisingly compelling books, "The Great Midland" and "Rome 1960"), I am also reading a book of essays from Lapham from the 1990s entitled "Waiting for the Barbarians." The essays are marvelous and remind me of why I have long placed Lapham in the top tier of essayists, with Lapham only eclipsed by Gore Vidal and Stephen Jay Gould. Even so, these essays make me feel like there should be a triumvirate when discussing American essayists of the mid- to late 20th Century.

Lapham, like Vidal--and definitely unlike Gould--was born into Protestant royalty and marinated in our often debased political culture. Vidal says (and I believe him) to have made most of his money from his writing, while Lapham is fond of helping us understand that he lives very comfortably off trust funds. Plus, Lapham married well, something Vidal did not do for rather obvious reasons...

But unlike Vidal, who has been saying for some time that life's exit door beckons, Lapham continues to produce prime essays like this one, entitled Holy Dread, which is the latest in a series of his meditations on the money-based class system in America. My advice is to run a hard copy before reading his essays as Lapham writes for the printed page, not cyberspace.

Some may also find Lapham's prose more affected than Vidal's. However, I adore Lapham's prose and of course, content, even when I find the content hovering at the line that separates cynicism from insight--which really is where one should strive to be when one writes for posterity and with a long gaze over humanity.

In fact, I am now adding Lapham's Quarterly to the blogroll...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Compelling perspective on the Goldstone report--and the foolishness of "hawks"

As most who follow the Arab-Israeli Hundred Years War know, the Goldstone report was a UN Commission report on the conduct of Hamas and the Israeli government concerning the area known as the Gaza Strip. Goldstone is a South African jurist who is also...Jewish...and was known as a man who strongly supports the state of Israel.

In Haaretz, Bradley Burston, who is one of the more conservative writers at that august newspaper, has read the report and concluded it had..."a marked degree of fairness." In his article, Burston provides an extended metaphor about the Golem story from the 16th Century and torwards the end, tells me something I simply did not know before:

Israel's decision not to cooperate with the Goldstone Mission, and, in many respects, to actively hamper its work, was calamitous. In revealing correspondence pointedly reproduced in the report, Justice Goldstone all but gets down on hands and knees to beg Israel to allow it to balance the report with on-site visits to rocket-torn Sderot, extensive direct testimony from victims of Qassam attacks, and first-person accounts and explanations of soldiers accused of violations of international law. Israel says no. Benjamin Netanyahu won't even go so far as to answer Goldstone's letter.

Now the report is out, alive and ticking, and Israel - in its desperation to deflect the monster, no matter the consequences - has already managed to hand it as a stick to Hamas, to beat and perhaps eventually defeat Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority.

It is striking how often we see this scenario of right wing yahoo leaders whose belligerence ends up hurting the very nation they claim they love. Think of the Bush-Cheney administration and its removing troops from Afghanistan to destabilize Iraq just for starters. And if you think Reagan undermined the Soviet Union with harsh rhetoric and hawkish policies, think again.

What we should really be asking ourselves is whether "hawks" are simply people who love war and violence--as opposed to giving them the prefix "pro-" as in "pro-American" or "pro-Israel." They are too often incompetent in reading international opinion, incapable of swaying international opinion, and utterly reckless in their execution of policies. Netanyahu, who I initially hoped (a weak hope, I will say) was interested in a "Nixon goes to China" scenario upon becoming prime minister, is revealing himself to be better known as "Nutty-yahoo."

The other aspect of Burston's article I found interesting is that Burston recognizes how Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalists became so powerful among their Palestinian constituencies in Gaza: Through Israeli covert funding that was designed to undermine the secular, "Marxist" Arafat and his allies. Burston states:

The direct outcome of success (he said this sarcastically in the context of his article--MF Blog ed.) in grooming Islamic fundamentalist charities and prayer groups to counter ostensibly Marxist Palestinian armed groups in Gaza in the 70s and 80s, was the creation in 1987 of the Islamic Resistance Movement - for short, Hamas.

For those who don't know, Israeli intelligence played a significant role in promoting Islamic fundamentalist groups in the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight, they thought, to Arafat and Fatah, which was of course secular oriented. You know, kind of like the way Carter, Reagan and Bush the Elder funded the folks who gave us Al Queda.

These days, whenever I hear the word "hawk" to describe some political figure or opinion writer or speaker, I think of someone who is reckless, naive and ultimately a tool of the very enemy the person claims our nation needs to oppose. That is a more accurate way of describing such people.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jon Stewart lays it on CNN and leaves it there.


This is some of the best media criticism ever made on commercial television.

CNN is an embarrassment. Yes, it is better than FoxBotNews. But really, is that saying much of anything?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Alan Grayson puts the scare into the DC Villagers...again

If you think Alan Grayson (D-FL) only upsets Republicans, you'd be wrong.

In his latest slam speech, Grayson first slams the corporate whore and phony "moderate," Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), while simultaneously slamming Democrats for even worrying about her vote, and worrying about getting 60 votes instead of just getting 51. Then, he slams Republicans in a way that is remarkably prophetic as it was before Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I love Grayson. It's great to see a real trial lawyer in Congress (as opposed to the guys or gals who go to law school and then go immediately into politics) who takes no garbage from anyone, and lays out his position in a practical, sharp and witty manner with fact-based logic and not simply rhetoric.

I first heard of Grayson about a week before he did his great bit on the Republican health care plan when he skewered this poor general counsel for the Federal Reserve Board. If you notice Grayson's questioning, there's no big speechifying. Just short, sharp questions that show the poor general counsel is in over his head and that the Fed is not doing its oversight job. Tough stuff and truly outstanding. He did the same here with the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board while a brand new congressman in January. Grayson is clearly trying to open up the Fed to what is probably a much needed audit. How dare the Fed say that it has to keep quiet who it lent money to...I find that appalling myself...


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story": His best yet

My son and I saw the film tonight.

Moore is at his best in this film. He truly created this film from his heart, and his love for our nation cannot be doubted in any way whatsoever.

The only reaction a right winger, conservative or libertarian-capitalist is likely to muster up in response to this film would be to ridicule or maybe just snarl. There will be no challenge to facts that I can see here. The film is a series of poignant and sometimes hopeful stories within a larger canvas of concepts and policy proposals.

The two songs ending the film were also knock-outs. He has somebody (the credits moved too quickly for me) singing a Sinatra-style lounge version of "The Internationale" (The link here is the Billy Bragg version from YouTube) and Merle Haggard singing Woody Guthrie's "Jesus Christ."

"Capitalism: A Love Story" is a very moving film, and it ought to be widely seen-- again more than any other film he's done, with the possible exception of "Sicko."

ADDENDUM 10/4/09: My son tells me a friend of his said dismissively, "Michael Moore is simply the liberal's Rush Limbaugh." I responded to my son, "That young man has a great future in corporate media." Like corporate media superstars, my son's friend is also wrong. He is making a false equivalency. Moore's worst days are not even close to Limbaugh's worst days, either in number of worst days or in depth of anger or snark. This film proves my point as nobody with any good faith can legitimately conclude this film is like FoxNews or Rush, and is not an attack on "America."

I do believe, however, that the film helps those of us too young to recall the 1930s and the late 19th Century as to why people were drawn to Communist and Socialist movements. And it also helps us understand just how important FDR was to our nation during the 1930s and 1940s until his still untimely death just before the end of World War II.

I also hope it helps my Dad better understand why I voted for Nader in 2000, and why I have not had much sustained hope about Obama, as Moore rather evenhandedly shows how prominent Democrats and Democratic Party advisers, such as Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, contributed to the latest financial implosion. Still, one may criticize Moore for not more prominently attacking Clinton and Obama (compared to Reagan) for the role each president played or is playing as president. Clinton's Reaganite de-regulation of the financial markets was a major factor in the crisis, as he sided with Republicans in Congress in the de-regulation. Further, Clinton and now Obama had or have as their main advisers the people who contributed in creating the implosion.

Moore did give lots of time for Democratic Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to explain her vote against the stimulus package, and her attack on the corporate elite and politicians in general. Marcy is one of the "good guys" and, as I noted to my son, the fact that you never heard of her, or saw her on t.v. talk shows tells us much of the way corporate media operates.

By the way, these were my thoughts in September 2008 when the Congress was debating the stimulus package that was really a bailout of banks and bankers. Sigh.

Who knew? (Well, never mind...)

Who knew that Ahmadinejad is likely of Jewish descent?

There has been speculation over the decades that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather.

So I guess we should not be surprised that the guy who supervised the genocide of Jews in Europe and the guy who denies there was a genocide of Jews in Europe were and are trying to hide their own Jewish pasts while succeeding in their respective anti-Jewish political cultures.

It would be amusing if it was not so pathological with these fellows.

ADDENDUM 10/7/09: What is truly amusing is that I fell for what the Telegraph published. Ahmadinejad is not likely Jewish at all.