Thursday, December 30, 2010

How Michelle Bachmann became a reading and dismissing Gore Vidal

This is so pathetic, but also quite revealing.

Sometime in the late 1970s, Michelle Bachmann claims to have been sitting on a train and reading "Burr" by Gore Vidal, when she suddenly decided to become a Republican. What's pathetic is how she unwittingly proves why she is a purveyor of anti-intellectual hatred and fostering of ignorance in our society. If Bachmann truly thought Vidal was wrong, why wouldn't she go to a library and look up information from other historians to determine whether he was right or wrong about each of the leading Founders of our nation? No, that would be...hard. Instead, Bachmann says she just put down the book without finishing it, and said to a stranger on a train that she was now going to be a Republican.

That sort of conduct comports quite nicely with my sense that the woman has not read much of anything at all since that sublime moment. It also comports with my sense that she lacks any interest in critical, independent thinking. What is also obvious is that, at that opportune moment, she came to the realization that reading Vidal was not good for her political future. She opted instead to join the power elite in the United States and to do so by becoming a political hack who revels in the ignorance she spreads--and who ensures the continued dominance of the power elite she ultimately serves.

For the record, anyone who has read any modern biographies of our Founders post-"Burr," which was released in 1973, would instantly recognize that Vidal's analysis of each of the Founders, from Washington to Hamilton to Adams to Jefferson, Madison and of course, Burr, has been vindicated. We went from the hagiography of a Dumas Malone, who said Jefferson could not have bedded his slave, Sally Hemmings (his deceased wife's half sister), because he was "gentleman," to more nuanced and mature analysis of Jefferson's sophisticated political acts (both idealistic and cynical), information regarding his sexual relationship with Ms. Hemmings and his complexity as a man. And of course, Vidal was a booster of Hamilton and Adams who have finally been getting their due as people who truly helped build our nation. I had read the initial reviews of "Burr" when some critics thought the book somewhat scandalous, and so had shyed away from it. When I finally read it about 15 or so years ago, I was shocked at how spot on it was in its characterization of our Founders--again based upon the historical record then being developed by other renowned historians.

For shame, Michelle Bachmann, but, sadly not too surprising, and strangely enough, revealing...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Weeknight reading...

From Lapham's Quarterly, a fascinating article about a young novelist from the early part of the 20th Century, now forgotten, and likely the victim of foul play...

And this is a surprising post from Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. He is rightly worried that more and more Israelis are choosing theocracy, or at least apartheid, as opposed to no longer building settlements or talking peace with Arabs. What's surprising is this is a guy who helped sell his fellow Americans on the Iraq War 2, has rather Likudnik views about Israel, and wants to bomb Iran in the worst, and I mean, worst way. Nice to wake up and smell the coffee, Jeffrey. Maybe Goldberg will start to defend an American president for trying to save the Israeli leaders from themselves. ADDENDUM: This is part of what Goldberg is referring to, among other actions taken by right wing rabbis and the Netanyahu government over the past year. See also this editorial from Ha'aretz editors regarding the Netanyahu government's encouragement of xenophobic political strains in Israel. Jimmy Carter would be entitled to feel some schadenfreude...but he is too nice a guy.

And finally, Michael Berube nails it regarding the need for science folks and humanities folks to realize they need to see the real enemy is a right wing anti-intellectualism that hates the university for its intelligence, creativity and its refusal to be obedient to the elite economic power in our nation. He answers those critics who supported Sokal (like me) against the anti-intellectualism that still pervades a small element of the academic left--quite nicely, too!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Glenn Greenwald's must read about editor of magazine and Manning-Wikileaks imbroglio

Glenn Greenwald details--and I mean details--what appears to be a close relationship between a former federal prosecutor, the editor of Wired and the reporter who spoke to Private Manning (the leaker of documents--now not sure how many--to Wikileaks). He raises the question of whether the editor of Wired, who is in possession of documents or recordings between the reporter and Manning, is himself affiliated with government power and whether his reasons for withholding documents or recordings may be to poison the waters against Manning in terms of whether the government prosecutes Manning.

Greenwald has to be careful here because it may turn out the reporter's statements against Manning are proven accurate when the documents and recordings are eventually released. Greenwald is, however, correct to say the public should be the judge here, not Wired magazine and not a reporter with a history of emotional problems.

But it is wild to think how the editor of Wired, after being prosecuted by a particular attorney general assistant, ends up working with him and being promoted in the business world--to the pinnacle of editing a leading high-tech oriented magazine--with that prosecutor's assistance. Greenwald's article is really a must-read for flavoring our understanding of the Manning and Wikileaks matters.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Amazing home film footage of a family's trip to 1956

Frank Rich wrote a somewhat mawkish article (though I heartily agree with his point about the corporate elite and political attack on the middle and working classes) in the NY Times this morning. The key treat though is to watch the home film of the Barstow family's trip to Disneyland and other southern California attractions in 1956.

Here is the direct link for the home film. What is striking is how clever the Dad was, and I admit to thinking, "He must have driven his family crazy to set up the various scenes..." I know my Dad would drive us nuts just to take set up photographs...:-) But the footage is deeply compelling and genuine, and the Dad's narration from 1995 (nearly forty years later) is both earnest and creative, and very articulate (Here is a wonderfully written obituary of Robbins Barstow from last month's NY Times).

The film shows what I have said for decades, which is that there was a certain truth to "Leave it to Beaver" and other 1950s family shows--and a deeper truth to Frank Capra films than is commonly discussed in most modern corporate media. There is something nostalgic, too, of course, but again the sentiment of these moments captured in the Barstow home film remains real. I also found touching how the family worked hard to make their "Davy Crockett" jackets and ate "picnic lunches" to save money.

An ironic moment is the Dad's nostalgia for the 1910s as he travels through the 1910s themed Main Street in Disneyland, proving that whatever was forty to fifty years from before a given moment casts a glow for those who were children during that earlier era. Walt Disney was nostalgic for the 1910s and sometimes despairing of the 1950s American culture. Yet, in our current time, the era many white folks pine for is...the 1950s American culture.

Personal note: I worked at Disneyland as a Jungle Cruise guide in 1980. It was interesting for me to see that the ride was essentially the same in 1956 as it was in 1980. Disneyland was a great place to work for young people in their late teens and early twenties. It was unionized, paid well and provided great benefits at the park including subsidized meals. Amazing to think about today...Also, amazing to note that Steve Martin (!) worked at Disneyland in 1956 and is seen handing out guidebooks at about 20 minutes 20 seconds into the film (per the obituary article).


World War I: The perils of imperial wars and the effects of propaganda

World War I was the war where imperial power propaganda reached new heights, both in building support for imperial aims as a fight for "freedom," and post-war (more by private enterprise and the military in each society) in promoting the most reactionary elements against the "threat" of "Communism," eventually "socialism" and finally even "liberalism" itself.

This article in the NY Times, by historian Margaret MacMillan, exposes the propaganda that posited the reparations against Germany were unprecedented (they were not) and ridiculously high (they were not). She also shows how German propaganda from militarist and capitalist wings fed the undermining of the Weimar Republic in Germany. Still, one would not quite grasp the first paragraph of this post from her article, which is not her failing because that is not what her article is about.

Still, her article begins to illuminate the propaganda machine that really came of age during World War I.

The great essays published in the US during World War I about war sentiment, war fever and the like came from Randolph Bourne, particularly his essays "The War and the Intellectuals" and "The State" (also known as "War is the Health of the State"), both essays which resonate and are relevant today.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I wish Obama had been Lula...It would be a wonderful life again in America

That is my takeaway from Arianna Huffington's article on the rise of Brazil. Lula acted more like Hamilton, Clay, TR and FDR, and look how Brazil is doing. Brazil did not waste oil revenues by putting it only in the pockets of the elite. It built roads, schools, hospitals, etc. You know, public infrastructure. And business is starting to thrive. Imagine that...

Now, at least watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and ask yourself where George Bailey fits on the political spectrum in the USA today...

Here are my thoughts on the film from a month or so ago...

More stuff to say in response to your right wing father or brother in law (in CA anyway)

See this op-ed piece in the LA Times from earlier this week. It shows why California is suffering and why it is not suffering.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Diane Ravitch rips into the plutocrat's response to education issues

Diane Ravitch, who was originally a "liberal," then became a "conservative" media darling, and now has returned to her "liberal" roots--because she rightly sees how poverty undermines success in education--has a few responses to Bill Gates' nonsense.

Gee, I wonder why Bill Gates does not want to talk about poverty--or wealth distribution?

Bonus point: The Daily Howler is operated by a fellow who used to be an education reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He nails once again the point that our nation's children are doing better than we think, and where we fail, we fail in poor areas or with immigrant children who are from low income families and often don't speak English. The attack on our education system is overblown and fails to address the specific areas where it fails because that would mean not blaming unions or teachers first. And of course, our plutocrats and their courtiers in corporate media always want to blame unions and teachers, don'tca know?

Thoughts of the state of universities on Christmas Eve 2010

In the NY Review of Books, there is a fascinating review of books showing how Taylorist business principles are being applied to universities which are decimating what is left of Robert Maynard Hutchins' beloved liberal arts philosophy that had long been a hallmark at Oxford and Cambridge, if not as many American universities. The reviewer, Simon Head, also reveals the Wal-Marting of universities with the rise of the non-tenured, part time adjunct professor replacing the full time tenured professor, and hints at what that portends for intellectual freedom as the business model engulfs the university.

I have long argued, since the late 20th Century, that the 21st Century education should be defined by a synthesis of the science and the arts, meaning there should be an open set of portals for people to travel in and out of the sciences and arts. In the 20th Century, Western societies created a separate world of scientific specialization that produced the sort of arrogance and secrecy that was exposed in the climate change emails, and the liberal arts departments often responded by exalting an almost anti-scientific culture that was most exemplified by the Sokal hoax. I am a major proponent of the essays of the late Stephen Jay Gould precisely because his essays so often sought to bridge the gaping chasm that separates the arts from science. My concern is that the business model Simon Head discusses in his review will only deepen the separation of the arts from the sciences or undermine the sort of intellectual curiosity and eccentricities that would enrich our culture and enrich our understanding of the planet we all live on.

As we in California watch the continuing economic strangulation of the University of California, in a state where prison spending is 45% more than spending on higher education (the reverse of what we spent a mere 20 years ago), the business model will undoubtedly be implemented even more deeply. The aesthetic and integrity of the UC system that Clark Kerr and Jerry's Dad (Pat Brown) so cherished is under assault on multiple fronts.

Governor elect Jerry Brown appears to be laying out a game plan to first shock the State electorate with spending cuts, with the expectation that unions and activists will be provided an opening to explain how the State tax system needs to be changed in ways that results in Steven Spielberg, Disney and oil companies paying lots more in taxes (the way California did under Ronald Reagan, who in his first term as governor, starting in 1967, raised sales taxes, income taxes and other taxes) and where we reform the 3 Strikes Law to stop having to build prisons to house mostly poor people who were caught possessing cocaine...

I wish Jerry would say, in his inaugural speech in about 10 days, "Here are the spending cuts..." tell us what they are, and then say, "There is an alternative we can choose so that there is truly shared sacrifice..." and lay out the tax scenarios. However, I don't think he is going to do that. Time will tell, as always...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Musings after a busy political week, and fodder to fight your right wing brother or father in law at Christmas parties...

Below are my drive by musings on the many political related events of the past week that may help when dealing with your right-wing brother in law and father in law at Christmas parties later this week. I won't bother with links unless I deem it necessary.

First, we now let openly gay men and lesbians kill and die in Afghanistan and Iraq. That appears to be the only "hope" and "change" Obama seems to stand for. Gotta love the state of the U.S.A.: Gays and lesbians can kill and die in imperial wars our nation's leaders undertake, but they can't get married. Perhaps there is some analogy here to American culture's traditional support for violence over sex in films...

Second, Barack Hoover Obama seems to favor Reaganite ideology (starve all government programs other than military programs through tax cuts) more than New Deal ideology. I mean, really, the president couldn't wait to capitulate to Republicans would have been so horrible for all of us to return to the tax rates we "endured" under Bill Clinton in the 1990s? When we think about that single fundamental point, we realize how much Obama gave up and gave in, and how reckless he is in cutting the Social Security tax even for one year. Any Republican or Obamanoid who now tries to sell you about government deficits or Social Security deficits should face nothing but contempt and derision in response. The tax cuts will surely increase the current government deficit, and the Social Security tax cut will be used later to argue that the system will face deficits earlier than 2039.

Third, a very corrupt libertarian federal judge from Virginia ruled the tax/fee/penalty mechanism that supports the regulation that insurers not deny people insurance for pre-existing conditions is unconstitutional. This judge obviously does not want to understand McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), where the Supreme Court held the US Constitution allows Congress to pass any economic regulation as long as it is rationally based, and meets the exigencies of a larger economic goal. In McCulloch, the US Supreme Court upheld a government owned bank (!) and said a state could not tax that bank--because Congress said so. The only other limits on the commerce clause or the power to tax, constitutionally, are whether the economic regulation or tax is a bill of attainder (attacking one small group or an individual person) or an ex post facto law (a law after the fact). Otherwise, people can vote out the rascals who passed an economic regulation the people don't like--and judges stay the heck out of the way. Don't believe me? Read McCulloch here and use the search engine for the word "exigencies" to assist your reading the often dense early 19th Century language. I'd like to see Hudson actually have to orally debate his position. I'd like to listen to how he finds it is irrational for Congress to have mandated that people pay a tax, fee or penalty as a cost-sharing mechanism in light of the other major provision of the health insurance law that insurers have to provide people with insurance even if people have pre-existing health conditions. The mandate is an "anti-freeloader" provision, as Republican Mitt Romney stated in defending the mandate in Massachusetts' health insurance plan he implemented as governor. An "anti-freeloader" provision represents a bedrock Republican value. But I guess when Democrats become Republicans, and Republicans become libertarian whack-jobs, any attempt by government to regulate anything having to do with economics is unconstitutional. I continue to find the anti-health insurance tax/fee/penalty argument to be frivolous. I hate the mandate and supported Medicare for all, or at least a public option. But, unlike Judge Hudson in Virginia, I try not to let my political philosophy override my judicial philosophy. It's also why I've been far more cautious about pushing gay marriage through the judiciary, unlike another Republican appointed judge, Judge Vaughn Walker, in the Bay Area of California...

Even some other libertarian law professors are questioning Judge Hudson's analysis in fundamental ways. See here for a summary. And one more thing: Does this judge really not know one of the functions of a court is to explain reality? Really, your Honor, just because a politician says something is not a tax does not mean it is not a tax. Judge Hudson cynically ignored a century of jurisprudence where judges routinely reject parties' label of someone being an "independent contractor" when they find the reality of a relationship is one of being an "employee." Or they find a joint venture has occurred even where the parties deny it. His pedantic reasoning on the issue of a tax vs. a penalty was really a smoke screen for his politically motivated opinion.

Also, as Mark Tushnet points out, the whole "economic activity" vs. "economic inactivity" argument is a sham, unless Judge Hudson wants to overturn Wickham v. Fairburn (the New Deal era case that restored the jurisprudence of McCulloch) and McCulloch. But let's make one thing clear: This case likely leads to a five to four decision from the US Supreme Court upholding the mandate. I'm not counting on Justice Roberts or his right wing brethren being intellectually honest and upholding the mandate. Supreme Court and Law reporter Linda Greenhouse of the NY Times thinks Roberts will uphold the mandate, but count me as skeptical at this point.

Fourth, and finally, Paul Krugman reminds us again that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did not cause the subprime mortgage crisis; they were late to that corrupt party, and now have had to pay to shore up the purely private sector for their earlier and far more wide ranging party regarding such subprime mortgages. And is there anyone more intellectually despicable than Peter Wallison on this subject? Follow the links in Krugman's article as to how Wallison had previously and harshly criticized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the mid-2000s for not joining the subprime party, and now says those two semi-public institutions caused the problem. When cornered, he opts for the usual defense foreign policymakers use when cornered with lies or hypocrisy: "The documents supporting my case are classified" or in Wollison's argument, somehow not yet "released." Pathetic.

And if your right-wing brother-in-law or father-in-law insists otherwise, just send him this article from the McClatchy News Service and this article from Business Week in the fall of 2008 (in real time, in other words). He probably missed those articles because he spends too much time listening to poison talk radio and FoxNews, which explains for the rest of us how poorly informed he is about current events in general.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The torture of Private Manning and an Israeli Offers a Lesson From History

Glenn Greenwald forcefully and persuasively describes the torture of Private Manning, who leaked the diplomatic cables and other documents to Wikileaks. I don't think there is a doubt about his doing it, but that does not justify the torturous conditions in which he is being held.

And here is a history lesson for the current prime minister of Israel that discloses something so unknown among most Americans, let alone most Americans of the Jewish faith who belong to synagogues and temples in the US. Yes, Sadat had offered peace in return for most of the Sinai. Specifically, Sadat had accepted UN Negotiator Gunnar Jarring's plan in February 1971 and spent most of two years trying to convince the Israelis he was sincere; Meir was disingenuous when she said she wrote a cable through Romania and Sadat ignored it. If she was serious, why not use the US as the conduit? Her intransigence was compounded by not preparing for Egypt's war in October of 1973, despite her knowledge and internal statements that she would prepare, and that is why she resigned after the US came to the rescue in what many Zionists recall as Israel's darkest hour when Egypt looked like it might win in the first day or so of that war, known as the Yom Kippur War as it was an attack during the solemn Jewish holiday.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: December 12, 2010

Yesterday, we were sidetracked in our review by our own form of navel (or is it novel?) gazing.

Today, let's complete the review of the Sunday NY Times Book Reviews.

First up is a fabulous review by a novelist, Malena Watrous, of Paul Auster's new novel. She helps non-writers understand the mind of a novelist at work, and how the choice of who is narrating can be significant. It is a relatively rare example of a novelist explaining the craft of writing a novel within a review of novel. Some might say, "Who is this person to review a successful author in this way?" However, I say, if you make your case, and she does, who cares who you are?

Second, here is an example where the reviewer may have intruded too deeply and smothered our ability to sufficiently understand if the book under review is worthwhile. The reviewer, who wrote a book about the centrality of slavery during the American Revolution through the ratification of the US Constitution (a worthy subject and, in my personal view, a historically accurate perspective), seems unable to stop viewing others' books through his own lens. Thomas B. Allen's "Tories" may be more worthy than the reviewer, David Waldstreicher, believes it to be. For example, the fact that a mercantilist in New England may have one reason to be loyal to the British government and a Southern aristocrat had another reason is not a reason to criticize the book for not being sufficiently "coherent." Allen seems to be making use of a point I have noted when reading about the American Revolution, which is when certain British Parliament Members caustically ridiculed the hypocrisy of Patriots such as Patrick Henry, who was supposedly fighting for liberty while holding and beating his slaves. I always thought this accounted for the upper crusted British hatred of John Adams, who was not a slaveholder and someone who went from a defender of British troops in the "Boston Massacre" to someone who was as brilliant an orator against monarchy and aristocracy as there was this side of Thomas Paine. I think the reviewer should have been more sympathetic to a book which may be trying to make case for Loyalists who said, "You know, we ought to pay taxes to pay for the protection Britain provides for us..."--even though we good Patriots already know the answer is: "No! The British government should not decide which taxes we pay! We do!"

Third, here is a review where the reviewer makes the case that a book on the Atlantic Ocean may not deliver what it promises. I am glad the reviewer read the book for us, as I have seen the book at Costco and it just did not grab me, either. Strange, where is even a mention of Atlantis? :-) ADDENDUM: The Los Angeles Times review of this book was more satisfying in explaining the book, including the book author's impassioned analysis of what human beings are doing to the Atlantic Ocean.

Fourth, here is a review written in an antiquarian style that fails to give us some needed perspective in comparing the current war against Islamic terrorists and the Barbary Pirates wars. This book and review are more likely able to provide us with understanding of how the rest of this still new century will turn out, however. As our nation begins to recognize its structural failures, the saddest thing is that we will hear mostly demagoguery and racist rantings against "the Chinese," instead of practical policy discussions similar to what author Ian Morris is attempting to describe in his book. Our politicians will eventually resemble British politicians from the 1950s who intoned, "The sun will never set on the British empire..." just as it was in fact setting. There remains a way out, as I start to tire of saying, but so far neither of our political party leaders cares enough about nation sustaining or nation rebuilding that is based upon the policies of Hamilton, Clay, TR and FDR.

Fifth, this is a delicious review by Leah Price of two new books on the Alcott family (one about Louisa primarily) and provides a sociological analysis of "Little Women" that truly enlightens. I enjoyed Professor Price's writing style as well. The Times should reward her with more book review assignments.

Sixth, here is another well-written review of a new biography of the sports legend, Jim Thorpe. My memory of Jim Thorpe is so deeply intertwined with the Burt Lancaster film that I wonder if I'd have a hard time reading the biography?

Finally, here are two examples of how the Times Book Review Letters section provides us with additional insight. In one example, Jay Parini ably defends the historical accuracy of his historical novel about Melville. In the other, we learn more about the origin of the term "conscious" in Western human history.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cycle of media techologies explained...and some old predictions

David Leonhardt, an economics correspondent for the NY Times, has written a marvelous review of Columbia Law professor Tim Wu's "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires." Per Leonardt, Professor Wu deftly and entertainingly explains the cycle of technology which goes from an open, amateur system to one dominated by large corporations and more often closed in terms of points of view. It also reveals the positive role of government in maintaining open systems and providing room for new entrepreneurs to overturn those private enterprises that ultimately come to control various media.

If one wishes to understand why "net" neutrality is an important example within this paradigmatic analysis, then Wu's book and Leonhardt's review are a place to start.

As we hurtle toward the year 2011, I have more and more realized that the original manuscript version of my book's beginning perhaps should be placed onto the Internet for viewing. For nearly twelve years ago, I wrote the sci-fi opening to the book, complete with a time machine in the 2030s, but there were some things predicted that look more obvious now, and some that might become obvious one day:

1. The convergence of the telephone and television into the computer, cited in the review, which I had predicted would come in 2011;

2. The convergence of Canada, the US and Mexico into "The North American Federation", which was the logical and societal result of the North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA") and was pushed by corporations and their leaders, not socialists in government as the fevered minds who watch Glenn Beck believe;

3. The rise of super bacteria as a result of too many advances in anti-biotics, which lead to mass death, and the escalation of a scientific arms race against the "super-bacs," which lead to more super-bacs, and which quickly leads to more societal regulation that became fairly oppressive...all in the name of community safety, of course;

4. The closing of the Internet, where the largest companies, starting with ABC-Disney, create a "complete" Internet that has enough of what you want and closes off things that are not important (well, not important to ABC-Disney...). This is a sort of "Fahrenheit 451" analysis where people choose to limit the commons-element of the early to present Internet. We may currently read only "liberal" or "conservative" websites, but when we research, we see far more than the little world we usually inhabit. But what happens when we close off the system based upon preferences, which is something corporations are already talking about internally?

5. People using their bodies as advertising vehicles, including shaving their heads to place product logos as tattoos. This dovetails into the societal implications of everyone becoming independent contractors instead of employees, and takes off from Frederik Pohl's and C.M. Kornbluth's "The Space Merchants" and "Gladiator-At-Law";

6. People having chips inserted into their heads that will allow them to make purchases (a credit card function) or project within their eyes the Internet;

7. People can have access to prosthetic genitals that have chips that speak to a chip in your brain to give you the sensation of having a penis or vagina, and thus allows you to be a man or woman whenever you choose. Such people are called "newts"--neutered--and they randomly become men or women whenever they please.

I came up with these predictions in 1998 and into 1999, as the novel was first forming, and as I was asking how did we get here, where are we going and what happens if something changed long ago, in 1968. I eventually dropped that opening based upon advice of editors and others, including historian Kevin Starr, as they convinced me--properly so!--that the opening got in the way of the larger story I was trying to tell about RFK and alternative history. The only thing left of that sci-fi opening in the current version of the book is the reference in the novel's "Appendix" to a pregnant woman who was killed during the Great Struggle, and the name of her intended baby girl. That girl was the president of the North American Federation in the 2030s who had sent the time traveler back in time to save RFK from assassination.

Thinking more about this again, I also had a proposed sequel sci-fi novel to the RFK novel that went well beyond RFK, and dealt with the business applications of the time machine. The point of the sequel is that once time is conquered, there is no time, simply moments, a point Kurt Vonnegut recognized in "Slaughterhouse Five," but which I am still of the view needs more fleshing out (That is not a criticism of Vonnegut's great work, which is about other things than that point, and raises that point extremely well!).

And in that sequel, there was a battle between those forces who wanted RFK dead in 1968 and those who want to save him because both sides in the battle see RFK's candidacy for president in 1968 as a historical and societal "focal point." The sequel will show how the killing of RFK goes from Sirhan's solo endeavor to something involving far more people, and therefore conspiratorial, both for those trying to kill him and save him. And of course these groups become sufficiently organized to discern other focal points around the globe and throughout History, which becomes more and more affected, diluted and disorganized from any set History--a metaphor too as to how we should see layers and perspectives in anyone's rendering of "History."

The sequel, to be effective as literature, required a full immersion in the scientific writings that deal with the riddles of time travel, and its internal contradictions. What I thought I brought to the argument was an understanding of the cycles of history, politics and business. But still, the physical riddles are significant. For example, is the first time something happens now altered when one goes back in time so that what we perceived in our time is already altered? Do errors in our memories mean that time and space have already been altered? If not, then is the past which is affected occupying a different time and space, making time and space also...divisible? These are perennial riddles revealing the limits of our brains in understanding time, space and concepts such as infinity. However, there are physicists who have really given this thought in a remarkable way. I do believe we may conquer time in my children's lifetime, but I find that prospect harrowing more than liberating for precisely the reason that human beings can be so terribly selfish, grasping and deceitful.

Hmmmm...I guess I should buy a lottery ticket to free myself to write this stuff. Stuck as a litigator and volunteering time to lead a synagogue, not to mention being a good "Family Man" leaves me only these moments on the web to reflect...I know! I need to be nominated for a MacArthur Genius Grant! Better buy the lottery ticket instead....

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Robert Reich says it so I don't have to...

See here and here for his view about the abomination of Obama's tax cut deal with the Republicans.

If they are so concerned about the deficit for Social Security, why cut the payroll tax next year? If they are so concerned about the deficit, why give rich people more money? It's so terrible for those making more than $250,000 to have the same tax rates as they had under Clinton?

The argument the Republicans were pushing was a dual loser for them: It showed their hypocrisy of their anti-deficit position AND it showed they would screw over everyone else in order to protect the top 2% of top income earners. Yet, Obama gave in without a fight.

And like I'm supposed to jump for joy because we might actually let gay and lesbian soldiers openly express their sexual identities while they continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan...Ah, the Bankster Obama. God, I wish Obama was a Communist-Socialist-Muslim the way the right wing feverishly believes...

Palestinian Gandhi in jail...even after his sentence was completed

See here at the Jewish operated "The Tablet."

I guess we file this under, More News You Can't Repeat Too Easily in Most American Synagogues...:-)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

It was thirty years ago today...

...Sgt. Pepper could no longer play...

Tomorrow did know that happiness was not a warm gun. One shot and we all believed in yesterday. And Mother Mary could not comfort us in our grief. For we could not simply work it out in our minds that he was killed by one of the lonely people (At least we knew where the killer came from...Texas, not New York).

And as it turned out, the Walrus was John after all. So much for clues...

Sigh. Better to enjoy the positive moments of life and imagine.

Jamie over-proves her case against Frank, but wins

Well now, Jamie McCourt has proven to the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge (Judge Gordon) that she remained co-owner of the Dodgers.

Initially, I saw Frank as having the better case. See here. However, after the first week of testimony, I became more convinced the two were scheming to hide assets from personal creditors and were using money they earned (tax free!) from the Dodgers to buy real estate, and that the real secret deal among them was to put the business assets, the Dodgers, in his name, and the personal assets, the real property, in her name. Read the decision, particularly the judge's rendition of the facts where it is apparent the judge came to this same conclusion. I had commented on this being sorta like a Ponzi scheme at back in September of this year. See this post from, and my comment therein (a person responded disputing my Ponzi scheme analogy, but I stand by it because they were really robbing Peter to pay Paul from what I saw and pocketing money for themselves along the way).

Two things that stand out from the ruling therefore:

1. The Court found neither of the McCourts credible, and the way he explains the facts, my gut that Jamie and Frank were siphoning money from the Dodgers to place into assets in her name was really a ruse by both of them to avoid creditors in case the Dodgers ever fell from financial grace. When one looks at the timing of the various agreements in 2004, one notes the Dodgers were worth far less than they are now, and the real estate they bought was booming in value. The reverse is true today, and this is why Jamie sued and was willing to risk being labeled not credible in order to knock out the agreements drafted in 2004.

2. If Frank McCourt further shows his true colors as a grifter, he will be suing the Bingham McCutcheon firm, and Larry Silverstein, Esq., particularly. Silverstein may then spill the rest of the supposed "beans," which is to provide further factual information about the plan of each McCourt to hide assets, which is why he was unable to produce a consistent agreement as each McCourt was already grifting against the other. Silverstein's defense to a malpractice suit may be weakened if McCourt sues with the lead argument being that he and his wife were in conflict and Silverstein failed to withdraw or provide sufficient notice to both as to potential conflicts. Still, Frank's "unclean hands" in what he was likely trying to do will remain the main defense to a legal malpractice claim from McCourt.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Ha'aretz writer says something most affiliated American Jews don't want to know...

Read it here.

Hamas is interested in making its way to negotiations with Israel. And recognizing Israel.

Try finding this sort of op-ed in most American corporate media newspapers...and try saying this at a Kiddish or Oneg after Shabbat services at your local temple or synagogue, and see what sort of reaction you get...:-)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Yeah, I feel that way, too...

Yes, I feel the same way about Obama's continued search for consensus with people who only want to destroy him and really don't care about anything else.

One cannot be serious about reducing future deficits and debt if one supports extending the income tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more in annual income. One also can't be serious about "listening to the people" and voting against exactly what the people want, which is to allow the income tax cuts to expire at that level of income or above.

These points are all true unless one is operating under another principle more dear to such people, and we know what principle is really animating Republican leaders in Washington, DC: To turn Obama into a one-term president and restore Republicans to formal power. That is the principle. Not "smaller government." Not "lower taxes." Not "jobs." Not anything, but the restoration of power for Republican office holders and office seekers.

We have a choice between Democrats, who are supine and mushy when they are not acting like decent or intelligent bankers, and Republicans, who are cynical and simply wish to hold the levers of power for themselves and their friends. If you don't find anyone among these two parties interested in rebuilding the nation and restoring our fading economic power, then you would be correct.

Hamilton, Clay, John Quincy Adams, John Adams, and even Jefferson, not to mention Lincoln, TR, FDR and even Eisenhower, are all weeping for the nation they built or sustained...


Saturday Morning Review of Book Reviews: December 4 2010 Zappadan Edition

As it is Zappadan, I find it interesting that the NY Times Book Review indulges in the same rich high brow/low brow amalgamation that was often a hallmark of Zappa's music and lyrics.

Still, one must begin this week's review of book reviews with some clunkers, as the reviewers too often seem to be lacking in the ability to traverse such an amalgamation with the appropriate taste or level of analysis.

Here is another weak review of the new Doonesbury coffee table book. As with Garry Wills' review in the NY Review of Books (upon which I commented about a month ago), it scratches the surface of Trudeau's accomplishment, and makes a throwaway reference to Tolstoy, but again it fails to provide a more satisfying explanation of what makes Doonesbury such an important cultural phenomenon and sociological document. The reviewer, John Schwartz, nails the touchstone moment of B.D.'s wartime injury, and again references how the characters grew older, but the treatment is still cursory and not worthy of Trudeau's achievement.

There are reviews of two books that were supposed to provide a literary analysis of two films I happen to adore: "They Live" and "Duck Soup." The reviews are good enough to tell us that the authors who wrote the books were the wrong people to write about the films, but even the reviewers do not do justice to these films. But really, I fell over when I saw the person HarperCollins publishers thought should write about "Duck Soup": Roy Blount, Jr.?? Are we joking here? What, Larry the Cable Guy wasn't available? As for "They Live," the publisher, SoftSkull Press, was better off providing the "Marxist-Lacanist" Slavoj Zizek (mentioned in the review) the task of developing his more insightful analysis than the author that small publisher chose, Jonathan Lethem, who can charitably be called a "quirky" novelist. Per the reviewer, Lethem thinks he found a contradiction that the aliens read the magazines that contain subliminal messages, whereas there is a consistency--which is that the aliens are themselves somewhat seduced by the world they are creating. The main point of the film remains solid: That the beings now running our planet are outer-space aliens who are raping our natural resources, engaging in trade deals that beggar the human inhabitants and, after completing their abuse of people, animals and resources of the planet, are going to simply move on. The shallowness of the treatment sent me scurrying round the Internet till I found Zizek's original essay (here). It starts off well, but veers completely away from the film's analysis, never returning. Oh well. At least Zizek gets the fight scene in the film correct and his analysis is, when dealing with the film, spot on.

There is more of this, but the number of well-written reviews merits our attention. First up, is a wonderful review of two books that, well, are less interesting than the reviewer's analysis. The obsession with Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy is surely prurient, not just from a sexual standpoint, but from a standpoint of longing to be a "star" or a queen. The reviewer intuitively understands this and yet maintains an empathy that is remarkable in our day and age. Hooray for Liesl Schillinger, the reviewer! And seeing this interview with her this morning, I see why she is a cut above the other reviewers...Her understanding of the art of book reviewing is outstanding, and her background...well, I am not worthy!

Second, and related to this immediately preceding topic, here is a smart review by Caroline Weber of what seems to be a smart book on the cult of celebrity by the cutely named, Tom Payne. I do wish the reviewer found the space to mention Daniel Boorstin's brilliant book, "The Image" (1962) which posited that America was losing its ability to discern heroes from celebrities, among other insights.

Third, here is a well-written review of a new graphic novel that sounds amazing, "Duncan the Wonder Dog", which is about animals evolving to speak and walk upright, and how the first thing they realize is that humans need to be eliminated. As I sometimes say to my wife and children, channeling Kurt Vonnegut, if aliens ever landed on the planet, they'd kill all the humans, but save at least the dogs. Dogs are so often loving and obedient, and always useful. We, on the other hand, are too often whiny, cranky, violent and deceptive. A companion book to "Duncan the Wonder Dog" is the master work, "Doctor Rat" by William Kotzwinkle. "Doctor Rat" is a brilliantly conceived and executed novel about animals trying to convince humankind to end vivisection, with the narrator being a lab rat who has been driven insane with love for his tormenters and is trying to warn the humans to beware of the animals organizing to convince humans to stop these practices. There is a poetry in Kotzwinkle's prose, a deep and abiding empathy within his words and a profound meditation on our species' inability to see the dignity of other creatures on this large rock. Some call it "1984" and "Animal Farm" through a lens of animal rights activism, but that is still not quite right. It is instead more like a 19th Century Russian novel, taking us through what looks like an allegory, but is not, and demanding that we look directly within our souls as we argue about how to live well and live right.

Fourth, is this really true? There is going to be a trilogy biography of...Frank Sinatra? Can we say overwrought, boys and girls? I'm with the reviewer, James Gavin, here. A trilogy is simply too much for a celebrity, no matter how iconic. Just give me one 800 page book on Sinatra and that would be fine. More important, Gavin nails the author James Kaplan's apparent lack of concern whether he is printing "legend" as opposed to "fact," and whether Kaplan wishes he was writing a novel about an iconic singer rather than a biography.

Yes, there are other reviews and books worth at least skimming, starting with history of Fender guitars with a reviewer, novelist Jonathan Kellerman (who as a novelist is not to my taste, I admit) who clearly knows his topic and knows how to express that knowledge (even for those who may not be as interested). Then, there is the "National Lampoon" book reviewed here. The reviewer there perfectly understands the high brow/low brow nature of that early 1970s magazine, which was prurient, political and sometimes profound in capturing human ids. And this review of the history of Broadway musicals is fairly compelling, as is the book under review.

And finally, here is an intriguing review of what sounds like a delicious book concerning the ancient world, "The Classical Tradition" from Bellknap/Harvard University Press. The Harvard Press is, like the Oxford Press, the greatest of the university presses and they often produce books that are compelling and sometimes even astonishing, including photography books.

When dealing with high brow/low brow amalgamations, we ought really to end on a high brow note, shouldn't we? Or is this last line a low brow phrasing...Ah, complexities, complexities...


Jane says...and I agree

At least on the NAFTA-style South Korea-US Trade Deal.

See here for what Jane says.

Public Citizen also explains.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Happy Zappadan, 2010!

As we celebrated last year, so we celebrate this year!

See here and here.

And here is the incomparable Ruth Underwood talking about working with Frank, and plays a portion from the "song" St. Alfonso's.

All truly remarkable...Happy Zappadan!

And why not? You know what we used to scream out at various progressive rock concerts, and at Zappa concerts, as a joke in the early '70s? We'd scream, "Play 'Whippin' Post'!" And soon, Zappa began to play it. Like here. And man, it was great!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It's a Wonderful "Left," Glenn

Glenn Beck's fevered mind is at it again. No surprise, but I only comment because he is now misreading my favorite all time film, "It's A Wonderful Life." See Digby's post about this here.

I was moved to write the following at Digby's site and reprint it here (I have commented about this film before at MF Blog, but it is perhaps okay to remind us of this wonderful film from time to time):

The Capra film is actually the greatest explanation of mature Marxist analysis that Hollywood ever produced. And I mean that as a compliment and sincerely. In the alternative nightmare scenario, Capra's film shows how unbridled capitalism leads to deep human misery. The movie house goes from showing "The Bells of St. Mary's" to being a burlesque house. The cops are on the take from Potter, the misery monopolist, and Violet Biggs, whose somewhat rambunxious personality goes full throttle as a stripper, and Ernie the taxi driver loses his wife and kids, etc. It is a marvelous film as it helps explain to people, in a deeply moving and visual manner, how their personal lives are affected by social forces greater than they are individually. It helps people visually understand how economics affects culture, and how culture affects economics.

Whenever I tell people to watch the film and listen carefully to the two speeches Jimmy Stewart delivers, the first one to Potter after Stewart's character's father dies, and when he saves the building and loan (a community owned financial institution that would be more seen today as a nonprofit cooperative) by explaining to "Tom" (a white fellow who is a pre-cursor to the scared, angry Tea Partiers) how Potter is trying to use the depression to take over the building and loan, and to hold his money there (Tom refuses, but the others are convinced to hold together, to the benefit of the community), they are amazed. They have said, "It's like watching the film for the first time." And they always say they more deeply appreciate the film and enjoy it even more.

The way people were interpreting the film after its release, as Cold War propaganda took hold, is that it shows the importance of the individual. Well, that's true as far as that goes. But it is about the particular individual who leads an important community institution and has vision to protect the community from greedy wealthy bastards who want to grab all the money and by their actions, rip apart the fabric of the community. If George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart's character) was the taxidriver, Potter would have taken over the town no matter how smart Bailey was. It was his position as leader in the building and loan that was as significant as who he was individually. Bailey ensured the building and loan made money for the community, not himself, as he continually sacrifices his own financial aggrandizement to protect and promote the community, unlike not only Potter the greedy guy, but even his friend, Sam Wainwright, who becomes a multi millionaire in plastics. He even convinces Wainwright to rebuild a factory in the town, with no strings attached and nothing monetarily for Bailey. Wow. He is sure some socialist-libertarian in a way Emma Goldman would have understood.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a wonderful and deeply profound film. It is the last New Deal film in an era that was already turning away from New Deal values, though the effects of Truman's and other elites' decision to undermine those values did not have far reaching effects for decades to come.

Perhaps its only flaw is its reflection of the racism and sexism that pervaded American society at that time, as there is only one black character, Annie the cleaning lady, who was "saving her money for a dee-vorce if I's evah get married!" (oy!) and that Mary Hatch would become a spinster librarian if she did not marry George. But we must, really we must not use those limitations to ignore the film. And we must really stop attacking films like this as sentimental as if that is a bad thing. A little sentiment is what we generally need, as it promotes something most modern conservatives seem to lack: Empathy. And a respect for government and cooperatives as institutions that can be used to do well for communities.

I would also add that it may be the first Hollywood film to deal with "alternative timelines" scenarios in a sort of sci-fi way. However, there is no science in the alternative history, more theologic-fiction as the film is opened and narrated from "Heaven."