Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: January 30, 2011

In today's NY Times Book Review:

1. Here is a well-written and insightful review of a new book by a sharp, fun and intriguing neuroscientist from UC San Diego. The reviewer is channeling Stephen Jay Gould in puncturing any over-generalization of how or why we behave the way we do, and how evolution is not as purposeful as we want to believe, with our wired desire for cause and effect. Still, I'd love to hear and meet the neuroscientist author, V. S. Ramachandran. I wonder if he attended the book chat at a local San Diego County bookstore with Eric Kandel when Kandel's science oriented memoir was released? I was there, and that was a great experience.

2. Here is a review as dull as the subject, Soledad O'Brien. Her claim to fame is that we don't really know her ethnicity...but she is definitely a player and corporate media "personality" with truly nothing remarkable to say. She is no different and maybe even more shallow than Tom Brokaw or some other fluff corporate broadcast media newsreader.

3. Here is an interesting review of counterfeiters and the development of paper money. I think the reviewer missed the way in which there was the equivalent to a nuclear arms' race where, in the instance of paper money, it appears the government was able to prevail. It is awfully hard to counterfeit current paper money in the US. It is also like the race between hackers and computer software providers to some extent...

4. And please don't waste your time reading this review of Branko Milanovic's book on inequality. The reviewer is a sadly typical corporate apologist and Milanovic seems to be obtuse in rendering the causes and effects of a poor distribution of wealth within societies. Also, the reviewer has the audacity to write: "The typical person in the top 5 percent of the Indian population, for example, makes the same as or less than the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American population. That’s right: America’s poorest are, on average, richer than India’s richest — extravagant Mumbai mansions notwithstanding." Really? Let's go to that Mumbai mansion and then Harlem in NY and see how that statement fares...

5. Scott Malcomson offers a smarter review of a book by a fellow who came of age during the Clinton years, who wonders at the hurbis over markets and capitalist ethos that described so much of the Bush II years. Malcomson rightly criticizes the author for having "too private" an explanation as opposed to a systemic reason for the failures of the worldview of leaders such as Reagan, Thatcher and Clinton--yes, Clinton is a Reaganite, folks, as is Obama. They are like Eisenhower, who lived in FDR's shadow.

6. Want to read a review that starts riveting, only to descend into the muck of uncertainty? Here is James Traub's review of constitutional lawyer Stephen Carter's new book that exposes what Glenn Greenwald has done as a daily journalist writer: Expose the fact that Obama has been as bad as Bush II in terms of civil liberties. Because Carter and Traub are courtiers, they won't say what Greenwald does. Therefore, my advice: Read Greenwald, not Stephen Carter.

7. Here is a review that left me wanting to know more specifics in what the authors were saying. Is it really just bias of referees that produce more traveling calls against visiting teams in basketball games? On a separate subject raised in the review, I can say that having watched enough sports over the decades, I believe handing the ball to Kobe can be overdone--and there are now those saying Kobe is not the clutch shooter we think he is. But really, I've seen enough of Kobe to know he is the guy you want to give the ball to when the game is on the line. So he's human, too, and misses sometimes? Is that really a surprise? The surprise is how often he wins games, and that is something to behold.

8. And last, and maybe least, here is Paul Berman's insightful essay on a man not really worth reading at all: Irving Kristol. Berman's review is worth reading because he exposes the fact that Kristol's youthful writing is shallow, and his middle aged writing even more shallow. Kristol deserves to be primarily recalled as a courtier, not an intellectual like Daniel Bell or Alfred Kazin. Readers of this blog know how much I detest Paul Berman for his red-baiting of the late I.F. Stone and Berman's overall bed-wetting imperialist apologetics since Al-Queda attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon nearly a decade ago. Nonetheless, while Berman's review is excellent and ultimately devastating as to Kristol, the review is, for say my son's age, something of an inside-baseball subject. The Jewish intellectuals of the mid-20th Century have receded into History and we who recall their heyday must work hard to discern for the younger generation who deserves to be read--Bell, Kazin and (honorary Jew) Michael Harrington--and who we should not bother with, starting with Kristol and the still alive Norman Podhoretz.

The best American essayists of the mid-to-late 20th Century, though? Gore Vidal, I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. They will be the ones most read in the year 2250 as historians sift through the wreckage of the American Empire.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Daniel Bell: 1919-2011

Again, having had a busy work week, I missed the death of Daniel Bell. Just read the obit in the Boston Globe. Bell was a true intellectual whose writings change worldviews and illuminate what is hidden in our society.

His "Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism" (1976) remains one of the more profound books of the past fifty years. Also, his analysis of one's societal views by separating the political, economic and cultural--he would say he was a political liberal, a radical regarding economics and a cultural conservative--remains for me the most useful way to express one's views about oneself.

For me, his most delicious line concerned why he was not a sympathizer of the Soviet Union in Russia: "My Kronstadt moment was...Krondstadt."

His insight remains as powerful as ever, and he should be required reading in college courses in political philosophy and sociology.

ADDENDUM 1/30/11: I think Bell would have found amusing Bill Maher's analysis of socialist football vs. less regulated baseball. However, because of Maher's "dirty" language, he'd have said, "Must he really be so vulgar as he speaks? Is that part of what makes some people laugh?" That is classic Bell...

ADDENDUM 1/30/11, PART II: Dave Zirin writes without the vulgar language, but doubles Maher's point. The Green Bay Packers are truly socialistic...and they are winning.

Hasty take and varied thoughts on the Egyptian uprising

I have been in a whirlwind of travel throughout this week. Consequently, I am slow to catch up to the unfolding Egyptian uprising. It is definitely not a revolution--yet-- but my initial reading starting yesterday has me somewhat hopeful. Secular oriented bloggers appear to be leading the way, even after Mubarak cut off the Internet access, but they need leadership or else a hard response will likely cause the protests to dissipate. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt concerns me, but the LA Times correspondents say the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is not a violent, political organization--at least it has not been for some time now.

My initial comments are these: The overtones to Iran in 1979 are unmistakable. The difference, however, is that the young don't want a repeat of Iran--something also true among young socially networked youth in Iran. I do worry that ElBaradei is the new version of Bani-Sadr. Does he have the guts to risk his life as a martyr for freedom? Or will he be exiled early as Bani-Sadr was?* Does Mubarak decide to kill alot of people, and kill off secularists so that the only choice are between crazy Mullahs or himself?

Here are a few articles I've read and found helpful in the LA Times the past two days. One is about the return of ElBaradei. Here is the latest as the fifth day of the uprising has led to a strong, harsh police response, with 38 people so far dying in the uprising.

I got a kick out of the article, "Israel Watches Egypt Uprising With Fear." My first reaction was, "Oh yeah, I see that." But then, as I thought again about the secularists and whether it was really true the Muslim Brotherhood is not like the Iranian Mullahs (I admit to finding that difficult to believe), I was thinking, the Iranian leaders are the ones who are watching the events in Tunisia and now Egypt--and yes, its spreading to Yemen and Jordan--with fear.

Finally, this article that begins with an interview with Ahmed Maher, the engineer who is a main social network leader, later refers to the labor movement in Egypt, which was a factor in Tunisia, too. Labor can be a socially moderating influence or may be used to promote racism against the other. So far, these labor movements are preaching worker solidarity, which tends to limit the racist tendency.

Nothing would make me happier than to see a surging labor movement in the Middle East and a sense of 1848's European revolutionary fervor that is more successful than that revolutionary period. The key will be for the young activists in their 20s and 30s to walk the streets, maintain a sense of transparency and pluralism, and continually remind the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that Iran is not a model to follow, but to avoid. And labor leaders must seek to emulate Lula in Brazil, not Chavez in Venezuela--and certainly not Castro in Cuba.

Still, it could all fizzle and Mubarak, who is 82, will try to hold on instead of finding a way to leave with grace. And who knows where the Egyptian military really stands, and how much is it influenced by Islamic fundamentalism? That is the question strangely unanswered in the first press reports I am reading...

* The secularist who banded with the Mullahs in Iran who exiled Bani-Sdar, named Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, was eventually a victim of the Mullahs repression. He was executed by the Military Revolutionary Tribunal.

ADDENDUM: Here is an article that deals with the Egyptian military and their possible role in the next few days.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Simplify corporate taxes and effectively raise them

So says the Citizens for Tax Justice report. Read it here.

When one reads this report, one gets more useful information than if one watched a year of US corporate broadcast media blowhard pundits twenty-four hours a day.

The US corporate broadcast media is a propaganda factory. That is the beginning and end of its existence.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hitler vs. Stalin: Who is Worse?

Timothy Snyder weighs in on this morbid question at the NY Review of Books blog. What was striking to me amidst the cold, brutal facts of mass murder is that Snyder is saying that Stalin killed far less people than most Americans and Westerners may have thought--and that the reason we saw such inflated numbers is due to Cold War propaganda.

When I think of essays like Alexander Cockburn's in the 1980s--here is one from 1989--that contain remarkably similar numbers regarding Stalin's mass murder, I am rather shocked at Snyder's statements. At the time Cockburn was writing in the 1980s, I had thought Cockburn to be...well, understating the mass murder quite a bit. But the subject was still fascinating to me. Cockburn just couldn't be right, I thought, but his points sounded somewhat plausible. I therefore tended to discount the 40 million figure from the start of that figure being cited in the mid- to late 1980s.

Still, as Snyder reveals, it is awfully hard not to be so disgusted by the exercise as to say, "Does it really matter who is 'worse'? Both are so evil that it means less and less who is worse the more one studies both in tandem." And of course, Mao looks positively awful in that light--though the blood on Chiang Kai-Shek's hands needs to be brought into view there, as well. There was a reason peasants stood up in China and went to war against the Nationalists under Chiang....and that was the wholesale murder and the starvation from forcing peasants to grow opium instead of food for themselves and families.

Did we also notice, by the way, that Snyder identifies the number of Jews killed in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s as...5.4 million? Not 6 million. 5.4 million. That is something most Americans really don't know, either. Prominent historian Raul Hilberg concluded the number might be 5.1 million, which is a very different historical number than 6 million...

Overall, one should demand historical accuracy, even in these gruesome statistics. But one must be careful about phrasing lest we lose our sense of decency.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Palestine Papers expose the canard that Israel has no peace partner

This latest leak of diplomatic documents proves what I had read elsewhere, which is that Palestinian diplomats know what to negotiate and what not to negotiate, and that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank wants peace. A peace with the West Bank Palestinian leaders is what will give momentum to those in Hamas who are trying to figure out how to walk their way to peace talks with the Israelis, too. The hard liners in Israel's leadership are truly missing an opportunity for peace.

The Palestine Papers also explode the myth that Israel has nobody to talk to. The people who don't seem to want to talk are Israel's current leaders.

Oh, and if anyone thought the Palestinian "right of return" was anything more than a bargaining chip, they haven't read the article from Haaretz to which I linked above.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stuff we should know, but have to keep learning...over and over

The propaganda machine of corporate media does not seem to know how to tell the type of story Kevin Drum tells, nor provide the backing analysis that should prove to any rational observer that placing caps on medical malpractice actions or other "reforms" is not going to make much difference in the current health care and insurance systems.

What will likely lower the rate of people filing suit is....Medicare for All. With Medicare for All, even if you know the doctor screwed up, you are less likely to sue since you know you are entitled to health insurance through your government as a citizen of the United States. Imagine that? A socialist-oriented system that actually works to lessen the need for civil lawsuits...:-)

What Kevin may not know, but I do as a civil trial lawyer, a lot of California juries ultimately rule in favor of the doctor or hospital because they realize that medicine is an art--and the patient may well have suffered the same injury or death no matter what the doctor or hospital staff did or did not do. I've been mostly on the defense side of personal injury and professional liability cases, though, a few times, I have helped plaintiffs' side lawyers who specialized in suing doctors and hospitals...

I also see both sides of this question from my personal life and know how tough it is to be a doctor or hospital staff person, having been a patient several times in hospitals related to my heart. I know the doctors and staff at hospitals who treated me saved my life. But I also know they are human, get tired, make assumptions that turn out wrong that a closer reading of the medical records or a talk with me or others could have avoided, etc. Mistakes happens, and I think California juries tend to realize doctors really are trying most of the time--and really do save a lot of lives on a lot of days with hardly a thank you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sargent Shriver: A Great American: 1915-2011

The New York Times obituary is excellent. Read it here and salute a man who truly served his nation with dignity and care.

It is ironic to note that many people wrongly think that Sargent Shriver was a nobody who married into the American royalty known as the Kennedys. In fact, as Time Magazine said in a portrait of Shriver from 1972, the year Shriver ran as a vice-presidential candidate under presidential candidate George McGovern:

"...The Shriver pride is an inherited trait. 'We're nicer than the Kennedys,' his mother once said. "We've been here since the 1600s. We're rooted in the land in Maryland.'

"Shrivers fought in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War; one ancestor, David Shriver, was a member of the original Bill of Rights Congress, and Sargent's grandfather rode with Jeb Stuart in the Confederate cavalry. Son of a banker, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. was born in Westminster, Md., where the nearby family homestead and grain mill, built in 1797, is now a museum run by the Shriver Foundation...."

Even with that elite pedigree, Sarge was one of the good guys who cared about ordinary Americans. He fit the profile of a "happy warrior" even more than Hubert Humphrey. Sarge was a man who wanted to heal the world. There is simply no doubt about that. With his Alzheimer's illness, we have missed his presence for sometime now, but as of today, he is really gone from us. Rest in peace, Sarge.

Another reason why the legal attack on the mandate is without any reasonable merit

This is a compelling article from Forbes (!), yes Forbes of all places.

The key early graphs in the article are:

"In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed - “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.

"Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.

"And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind."

That is so wonderful it's actually funny!

Here is an article from March 2010 citing the same 1798 law. The commenters who want to disagree in both links say, "Well, Adams signed the Alien & Sedition Acts, too!" Still, I don't see much controversy in the sailor's bill Adams signed as with the A&S Acts. Plus, I don't recall the national bank being mentioned in the Constitution either, and yet it was enacted within a year or two of ratification and upheld in the US Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland.

I figured the libertarian royalists had to have some response to this precedent. I found this article at the Volokh website, but the writer obviously has a problem reading statutes. He wants us to believe that this is not like the mandate. But let's read section 3 of the 1798 Act:

"That it shall be the duty of the several collectors to make a quarterly return of the sums collected by them, respectively, by virtue of this act, to the secretary of the treasury ; and the president of the United States is hereby authorized, out of the same, to provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick, or disabled seamen, in the hospitals or other proper institutions now established in the several ports of the United States, or in ports where no such institutions exist, then in such other manner as he shall direct: Provided, that the moneys collected in any one district, shall be expended within the same."

(Emphasis added)

Since there were few hospitals that were government owned, this means money was collected by the government to pay private health care facilities.

Oh, and here is the first paragraph of the Second Militia Act of 1792, which requires, in Section I, every able bodied male between 18 and 45 to buy guns and gun related products, most likely from a private source:

"That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective states, resident therein, who is or shall he of the age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years, (except as hereinafter excepted,) shall, severally and respectively, be enrolled in the militia by the captain or commanding officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this act...That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket, or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or, with a good rifle, knapsack, shot pouch and powder horn, twenty balls, suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear, so armed, accoutred, and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service..."

(Emphasis added)

The point is that those who say it is unprecedented for Congress to pass a law which requires ("mandates") citizens to pay private entities for a service are simply and utterly wrong. Still, the fact that Congress passed a statute early in the history of our Republic is not necessarily a slam-dunk that the statute is constitutional. But I say that as a person who believes the original intent of the Founders is a "living Constitution." The original intent folks who think the original intent of the Founders is what they said early in the history of the Republic are the ones who have to explain away the 1798 Act and 1792 Act cited above...

At this point, and in closing this evening, I should remind readers that, from a legislative perspective, I detest the private insurance mandate because it is a tax on citizens that pushes us to purchase insurance from a private insurer. I would have rather the Congress passed the "public option" or Medicare for All. Still, so far, I have been singularly unimpressed with those saying the private insurance mandate is somehow unconstitutional. The US Supremes will barely uphold it 5-4, but even that does not make me have much respect for the argument that the mandate is unconstitutional.


Bernard Avishai on the latest political split in Israel

Bernard Avishai has some informative comments in his latest post. This is the Daniel Levy article from Foreign Policy magazine he cites, and is indeed a must read.

I never understood why Laborites never took on Barak for the past several years. It is more an act of a man who failed--once again--than a move from strength. An Israeli party that is based upon rational, pluralistic and open government principles may yet arise from these ashes.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Night at the Internet...

I have been somewhat bored by the NY Times Book Review these past few weeks, and this week's edition is also not interesting to me. Right now, I am engrossed in Ron Chernow's brilliant biography of George Washington. He has brought Washington's personality alive to me in a way that it was not before reading this outstanding work. Chernow is the best biographer in this Golden Age of biography. A somewhat close second is David Maraniss, whose sports bios of Lombardi and Clemente, and his brilliant series of stories from the Rome Olympics of 1960 are a deeply moving delight. I'm also just starting to read the great disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz's memoir, and am knocked out by his poetic prose and his wonderful name-dropping stories (how many grade school children were treated to a lullaby from Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"?). Still, the book should have had an index and photos...

In any event, tonight, I link below to a few essays and reviews from other places around the Internet that are worth a read:

Here is radical literary writer Slavoj Zizek's sometimes cheeky but creative musing about the phenomenon of Wikileaks. Zizek is making a case for tact and decorum within a trenchant critique of American diplomacy and foreign policy. Please note I had recently referred fairly positively to Zizek's earlier analysis of the political sci-fi film "They Live" here.

And here is a thoughtful review of new books on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I commented on the Balfour book in another review a couple of months ago, but the new review in The London Times Literary Supplement is well worth reading.

This is a rather inside-baseball piece in the newest Boston Review, about the long-standing policy dispute between those of us who see structural impediments for the poor and those who are content to "explain" poverty based upon a "culture" of poverty. Despite my wanting to agree with the author, Stephen Steinberg (and I count myself as a big fan of William Ryan's magisterial "Blaming the Victim"), I find him much too harsh on William Julius Wilson--and my intellectual hero, Michael Harrington. Wilson was indeed too nice to Moynihan for the latter's report on the "Negro Family" back in 1965. Still, Wilson is far more positive about promoting structural solutions to the structural impediments for those who are poor. Wilson is far closer to Christopher Jencks and the great labor oriented economists like Thea Lee. Wilson has been more consistently supportive of labor rights than Paul Krugman. And if I start to go on about Harrington, I'll be at this blog all night. Suffice it to say that Michael Harrington's "Socialism" or "Twilight of Capitalism" should be required reading for every college student in America.

And here is a great article from Katha Pollitt asking how we justify letting people use guns that kill 30 people in the blink of an eye. Still, I am one of those Dems who thought the gun control issue was a loser with most of the nation, and believe there is a limited right of individuals to own guns, though I cringe at the attempts to expand the scope of the already too broadly worded Heller decision. I was also appalled at the last Congress which allowed the 1994 assault weapon ban and limitations to expire. While some are arguing the ban is unconstitutional under Heller, I think if the Supremes had another chance, they would be finding reasons to narrow the scope of Heller, the way they should have done in the first place.

Finally, here is a review of new book about Alan Lomax, who went around the nation with a tape recorder and recorded the voices of American folk singers, some who are now icons and others who became iconic because Lomax had the vision and sense to record these singers.


Friday, January 14, 2011

A wild obituary: Margaret Whiting (1924-2010)

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, some obituaries are just too exciting to miss.

Margaret Whiting has passed away at age 86. But oh what a life she led, from being the daughter of a pop song writer, Richard Whiting (who wrote this and this, among others) during the Golden Age of classic pop to a fourth husband who was a gay porn star. Her voice has a touch of Betty Hutton in between June Christy...

Here is Margaret with her mentor, Johnny Mercer (who knew the songwriter had a voice, too?) singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

And here she is singing "Moonlight in Vermont."

But oh, if she could have written a book...Oh, but she did!

Our best wishes to the family of Margaret Whiting. When we think of her, it will always be spring.

Historian of South finds parallels to modern day violent rhetoric from the George Wallace era

A very interesting and compelling read (hat tip to Digby) by Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies.

Lenny Bruce once said the American South is "a different country." Maybe so, and maybe it has it owns rhythms that reverberate to other regions and reflect those other regions. The Wild West of Arizona is something to consider, too...

Confucius in Tianemmen Square: It's About Time

It is about time the Chinese government officially restored Confucius to his proper realm in China. While those who know mid-20th Century Chinese history and most then Chinese Communist leaders' antipathy to Confucius, there was a philosophical precedent of melding Marx into Confucius. In 1925, a Chinese scholar who later became president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the 1960s (Guo Moruo or Kuo Mo-Jo as he was once known to Westerners before the 1970s) had written on the compatibility of Marx and Confucius in an essay entitled, "Karl Marx Visits the Ancestral Temple of Confucius" (Sorry, it's not on the Web that I could find.). The essay is a fantasy dialogue between Marx and Confucius, and what they had in common and where they differed.

My sadness about China is that it continues to oppress and suppress intellectual and political thought and action, and has more in common with a sort of corporate fascism, which explains why American business and U.S. State Department advisers are so solicitous of China these past thirty years. Neither Guo nor Marx would support the Chinese government today. While Guo was an early supporter of the Communist Revolution in China, he became more and more disenchanted and was one of the first leaders to be attacked during the so-called "Cultural Revolution" in 1966 that was Mao's replay of the Stalinist purges of the mid-1930s.

For an excellent backgrounder on this subject of Confucius and reading tea leaves for China's future, see this very thoughtful article from Daniel A. Bell in Dissent, which I had read when it was published nearly four years ago. While the article was fairly prophetic about the restoration of Confucius in official Chinese circles, its final paragraphs contain an element that is condescending when Professor Bell likely thought he was simply being non-judgmental. The so-called "Chinese model" of maintaining a political dictatorship while pursuing capitalist and mercantilist policies is succeeding with the help of our businesspeople, who beggar workers here in America. Some Chinese workers (and in China, "some" still means "millions":-)) are helped by improvements in infrastructure and economic development, particularly in improved labor policies China began just over three years ago. But overall, China is not a nation we or other nations should emulate.

Overall, the official act of restoring Confucius and his theory of harmony, balance and kindness may have some repercussions that the Chinese elites may not have intended, and that may be a good thing for those who support political freedom. Who knows? Maybe Marx will also rise again in Chinese thought, but this time in a way that promotes democratic and republican values in China. So far, I'm with Professor Bell in one respect: A strong movement based upon political freedom is not currently likely in China.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feels like a Jewish week...

Some articles in the Jewish Forward newspaper from New York that are worth reading:

1. Jews and the U.S. Civil War;

2. A Palestinian Jew caught up in the gulags of Russia in the late 1930s and early 1940s who wrote what was one of the first gulag witness books a quarter century before Solzhenitsyn.

3. A nice round up of American intellectual reporters who used to apologize for Israeli leaders' excesses who are no longer willing to shill for those leaders any longer.

4. This is an interesting and compelling article about Human Rights Watch's new spotlight on businesses operating in the West Bank which thrive on discrimination against Arab Palestinians.

5. And if you think "conservatives" are different in Israel these days, think again. Welcome to Red Scare politics, Israeli style. Kind of like the right wing Republican in the US Congress who used to associate with Irish terrorists having the temerity to investigate Muslims in the US.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tough testimonies from Israeli soldiers...Let's see if US corporate media notices

With the US corporate media blanketing us with wall to wall Giffords coverage (and everyone else but the nine year old fading into a gray void), readers may wish to read this blog piece in the NY Review of Books on the Israeli soldiers who spoke of what it is like to be a soldier in the Israeli occupation of Palestinians.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Sinclair Lewis: Sixty Years Gone, Yet as Relevant as Ever

Sinclair Lewis is our Dickens.

He died sixty years ago today. Yet, his relevance and ability to explain America and its business civilization remain overwhelming. Lewis was an acute and ultimately loving observer of American society, with its grifting, charismatic religious leaders, its shallow, yet secretly thoughtful boosters, its doubting but brave feminists and its nonprofit social climbers who stab you in the back for a good cause. He saw the art in business and the business in art. He combined the best of the verve and zest of a copy editor with Dickens' ability to observe, describe and illuminate the contradictions and pathos of human existence.

"Arrowsmith" remains my favorite among so many favorites of his. About two years ago, I gave a copy of the book to a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He later said the novel, which deals with the politics of medical profession, and the life of a doctor, was a delight and remarkably insightful work that remains highly useful in explaining our modern life over 80 years after it was written. It starts off with a bang and offers a wild ride that is relevant--that word again--to any professional or anyone in the modern world of business as one tries to find meaning amidst so much else that goes on for which you are rarely prepared.

Lewis' valedictory novel, "World So Wide," released after his death, remains one of the great last novels any writer has ever written. It is a sequel of sorts to "Dodsworth"(1929) and I strongly believe is a better novel than the latter. It has more depth and a sense of longing that pushes further than "Dodsworth," who himself makes an appearance in "World So Wide."

Lewis is very much misunderstood by literature profs for the past half century or more. He is seen as a satirist when in fact Lewis was and remains a mimic. There is a touch of satire in parts of his works, but the dialogue and the situations are very real. Those who say Lewis' works belong in sociology departments are partly correct, but the same may be said of Dickens' works and even the works of Hardy and Steinbeck. Lewis' writing is buoyant and it sizzles, often from the first paragraphs (see: "Elmer Gantry," "Arrowsmith," "Ann Vickers" and "Cass Timberlane," among others). Various early 20th Century literary critics detested his popularity and jealously thought Dreiser was the American who most deserved the first Nobel Prize award. Today, the assumption among too many literary critics is that because the sex and violence in his novels was largely off camera that he is...quaint...or worse, sentimental.

Lewis should be required reading in high school with at least one of his novels read before one receives that high school degree. In college, he should be read more deeply, and people who are receiving an MBA or a post graduate degree should be required to read "Arrowsmith" or "Work of Art" just to see how the real world works--and in a way that is both creative and profound.

And women's studies classes could do worse than "The Job," "Main Street" (yes, there is a strong feminist novel within its assessment of small town America) and "Ann Vickers." Black studies could not really do better than "Kingsblood Royal," and no young couple getting ready for marriage could be better prepared than to read "Cass Timberlane," about the work that is required to make a marriage work.

We should celebrate the spirit and wisdom of Sinclair Lewis all month and throughout this sixtieth year following his departure from our lives. His works live on and define our nation as much as they did when they were first published. A heartfelt hurrah and our most profound thanks for Sinclair Lewis.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

If the US ever descends into another civil war, we just passed a singpost in that direction yesterday

I went to the American Library Assn. mid-winter meeting in San Diego, CA yesterday (courtesy of my uncle, a former president of the venerable organization). Nice time, but then we heard of the shooting of a congresswoman, a judge and other citizens. As we sift through the politics and mental illness of the shooter, and police search for a second person of interest, I cannot avoid very well my own feelings, which was that the shooting was the result of the sort of incendiary political rhetoric of the right wingers who so dominate our broadcast corporate media discourse. Even the sheriff found the connection more than tenable.

Regardless of whether the shooter is a schizophrenic or mentally unbalanced individual, he was certainly influenced by the rhetoric of the right wing, which dominates broadcast media in Arizona (please don't try and tell me it is left wing or even liberal there...). First and foremost, he shot a Democratic Party congresswoman who was not particularly liberal, but did vote for health insurance reform. It is worth noting that the Congresswoman's Republican opponent, during the 2010 election, was gun-centric in his campaign (even though it is does not appear she was anti-gun). He openly told his supporters to shoot their guns to show their disdain for the Congresswoman. Plus, her office was vandalized after her health insurance reform vote last year.

The shooter did shoot a Republican judge who was friendly with the Congresswoman and was at the town meeting location. But he had been the subject of intense media scrutiny and had armed guards protecting him after he refused to dismiss a filed lawsuit involving illegal immigrants against a rancher.

One should avoid the temptation to say what the title of this post says. But there is something in the airwaves in places like Arizona. Kansas and Nebraska in the 1850s was a place where wacky people engaged in violence, leading up to John Brown's acts in 1859. The warning I would issue to liberals is that we don't have guns. The right wing has the guns. We may want to be careful about engaging in violent rhetoric ourselves, and I say that as much to myself as anyone. I know my reaction was that I hoped this guy would fry for killing people, including a 9 year old girl who was born on September 11, 2001, was the daughter of a Dodger organization scout, and granddaughter of a baseball manager, and had just been elected to her student council as president. A neighbor brought her to the event because she was interested in politics.

One of the most compelling aspects of real life is how it so often laps fiction, and how, if a person had written a fictional short story of this event, how the story of the 9 year old girl would be called "sentimental," "mawkish," or "strained." As I think back to my alternative history novel's ending, it again becomes less ridiculous when events like this occur.

* It might be tempting to say the shooter was a Communist because he lists "The Communist Manifesto" as among his favorite books or a Nazi because he lists "Mein Kampf" as well. It is striking he lists "We the Living" (Ayn Rand), "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," too. We've all known right wingers, I did at least, who loved to quote Lenin and even Stalin (one computer programmer I once knew used to say "Len-een" and "Sta-leen" like he was somehow sounding out their names in the original Russian). Grover Norquist is perhaps the most prominent right winger favorably referencing Lenin, for example. Again, the razor's edge analysis is that the killer targeted government people Republican Party stalwarts and right wing radio and television pundits in Arizona happen to hate.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Boorstin Alert: Roger Milliken and Anne Francis Have Passed Away

Roger Milliken died at age 95 the other day. He was some character. Mr. Libertarian on everything except when it came to his company's interests. Typical, perhaps, in that respect, but Milliken was certainly colorful, and someone who stood in the ring and gave as good as he got. As his plutocrat side has won, and rather convincingly, he did not need to play as prominent a role as he did in my alternative history novel.

And, let's see now...Anne "Honey West" Francis died the other day, too. The biggest shock to me is that she was older than my parents. For us guys who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, Anne Francis' "Honey West," in regular prime time and reruns, was our first American love--Mrs. Peel being the first love of those of us who only encountered "Honey West" in reruns. The other interesting part of the obit was that "Honey West" was deemed by the ABC network as too expensive, and so the show was replaced by "The Avengers"...with the indomitable Mrs. Peel.

So Boorstin's thesis of how we can't really tell the difference between historical people and celebrities holds true here. I write about Milliken and Francis in the same post...

Remembering why I voted for Nader in 1996 and 2000

Still, Nader is right. We have nowhere else to go. It's either Corporate Democrats or Crazy Fascist Republicans Who Promote Racism and Destruction.

My wife and I very strongly supported Ralph Nader in 2000. Yet, it only brought us grief from liberals and Democrats in general. As if it was our fault that Gore did not fight for overvotes in Florida. As if it was our fault the Democrats in Congress let Bush II roll over them as a president selected by the US Supreme Court and with 500,000 votes less than Gore. People sure are strange...

There is no doubt that Nader was the true choice for any person to make who cared about public policy, and Nader was someone who actually knew public policy issues with a level of detail that was nothing short of astonishing. And Nader believes more in the American Commonweal and the working people, and the poor, than any politician out there today, even more than Bernie Sanders, which is saying a lot.

What a joke Obama is compared to someone like Ralph Nader. Yet, Nader is considered a joke in the propagandizing corporate media. He is finally past his prime now, age wise, but man, he sizzles in that interview article, doesn't he?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Mel Torme: no limit to the talent

YouTube gives us different levels of the talent of Mel Torme. Most people have already forgotten him, but he was truly one of the great pop singers of the mid-20th Century. Right behind Sinatra is how I would rank him. But he was an immense talent beyond singing as can be seen here (playing drums), here (playing piano) and here (playing guitar).

And this holiday song that he co-wrote...And this knock out performance at the Grammys with Ella Fitzgerald, which seems almost unscripted.

Still, I wish YouTube would include studio versions of "Lulu's Back in Town," "Shine on Your Shoes," "Fascinating Rhythm" (though this is a good version with some drumming, too!), and his uptempo version of "The Way You Look Tonight," among other great works of Torme.

Education and income inequality...and musing about the political future for the new year

Subsidized higher education (meaning paid for by taxpayers), starting with the GI Bill in 1944, and the rapid and deep expansion of education opportunities for all Americans in the 1960s (California leading the way with its master plan in 1960), were largely responsible for the income gap remaining relatively narrow from the 1940s through early 1970s.

People wonder at why Americans are finding it more difficult to traverse through and upward in economic class. Doyle McManus, a now older Los Angeles Times reporter, finally senses the economic inequality around him. Perhaps he has heard enough stories of college graduates who are deeply in debt and having no money to buy the things their folks bought a few decades ago. Perhaps he is realizing the consequences of trade policies that beggared our workers and de-industrialized our nation. Perhaps, but at least he is entering the conversation we ought to be having. We need to realize we are living in the U.S. in a new Gilded Age, where the wealthy grab most of the income gains. We are also living in a casino or lottery economy, where celebrity worship and obsession re-enforces toward rather than outrages working class Americans against public policies that are proving destructive to the American commonweal.

Meanwhile, for Brazil, it is upward and onward. Brazil, under a "socialist labor" guy, Lula, invested in people and infrastructure. And what a surprise (note sarcasm here), it worked better than giving untethered income tax cuts to the wealthy few. It also worked better than starting wars of choice in far flung places and wasting precious youth and resources. And Brazil is producing things it buys itself, as opposed to running a casino economy which rewards financiers with millions and billions in bonuses for a few, while most languish and fall into deeper anxiety.

Back here in California, we await the ascendancy of our once and new governor. Schwarzenegger staggers out of town, still not understanding that his failure as a governor was that he acted like he needed the job--when the premise upon which he ran was that he didn't need the job and would openly state the truth of what we needed to do as a State.

Substantively, the Governator blew a hole in the budget when he took office, drastically cutting the motor vehicle license fees ("the car tax") with no replacement fee or tax, and then borrowed like a drunken gambler to plug increasing gaps in revenue. The prison building continued to expand (it was not education spending that was leaping relative to the budget overall) to make up for the explosion of lifer inmates due to the draconian three strikes initiative (three strikes and it's 25 years to life) which could be based upon non-violent felonies--we are one of two states in the country with such a draconian element of that law.

He provided no hard truths. He just blamed unions. He spoke of no true shared sacrifice, just about cutting services for the poor while he fought against restoring the top income tax rate he and his fellow plutocrats paid under Republican Governor Pete Wilson in the l990s.

The only things he did well were to support forward thinking regulations concerning climate change and make judicial appointments that more and more focused on true civil law litigators (instead of the usual assistant district attorney, whose knowledge of civil law, where most of the action is in the courts, was scant). Other than that, Schwarzenegger was an abject failure. He proved why the outsider is not necessarily any better than the insider. The key remains the policies one is pursuing, the vision one brings to the policy table. It is not whether you are "inside" or "outside," and in the case of mid-Century Republicans like Governor Earl Warren, it did not often matter whether you are a "Republican" or "Democrat." Today, with the Republicans having been taken over by anti-intellectual madness, where there is no policy except the cult of tax cuts and the culture of punishment and xenophobia, that latter point may no longer be true.

Jerry Brown takes office tomorrow, January 3. He knows what ails us. He knows the corporate media is a handmaiden to our structural woes and that the pundits in such media wrongly attack public employees as the cause of our woes. He is going to move in a firm but step by step manner, first laying out the cuts that we'd have to take to balance the budget and then later allowing us to begin to discuss the tax reform (not cuts) that will form an alternative moving forward. That is my first prediction for 2011. We'll see how that goes as early as tomorrow for Brown's inaugural speech...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

One to the fourth power is

So I tell my son: "Today, it's 1 1, one, one-one. I guess that's one to the fourth power."

"Which is still one," he replied.

"Oh yeah...right," I said, somewhat deflated.

But then I began to sing, "One is the loneliest number..."

He then raised an eyebrow in a way that told me...kinda lame, Dad.

"But I love that song!"

Another raised eyebrow.

Oh well. Welcome to the new year...