Friday, October 2, 2015

Honey-Chile Goes Gun-Shopping with Mom

“Mommy, why are those men in aluminum suits running around pushing wheelbarrows?”

“They’re our friends from the NRA, honey.  They have to hurry to the offices of the Congressmen they own.  The wheelbarrows are full of cash for the Congressmen.  The cash serves as a reminder of where their loyalties should be.”

“And where is that, Momma?”

“With the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, honey child.  The one that guarantees everyone’s right to own as many guns as they wish.”

“Everyone?  Could I have guns, Momma?”

“Of course, honey child.  It’s your right as an American.”

“But I’m only seven years old . . .”

“Never mind.  If they restricted your right to own guns, just because you’re seven years old, the next step would be to restrict everyone’s right to own guns.  Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.”

"Does the NRA take its wheelbarrows to Congress every day, Momma?”

“Not exactly every day, honey child dear.  Today it’s important to do so because the bad people who would take away our guns will be all over TV talking about taking away our guns.”

“Why would they want to take away our guns?”

“Because there was an unfortunate bit of business yesterday in Oregon.”

“What kind of business?”

“Some person who is NOT representative of all the millions of responsible gun-owners in the USA went into a school and did some shooting.”

“Did this irresponsible, probably deranged person who is NOT representative of the millions of legitimate gun owners in the USA . . . did this bad person hurt anyone?”

“Sort of.  Nine people were killed and a few more injured.  We are sorry this happened, but it  sometimes does happen because there is a bad guy with guns and not enough good guys with guns at that particular spot.  Good guys with guns prevent bad guys with guns from doing harm to people.  But the people who would take away our guns have imposed so many silly restrictions on getting guns that sometimes there aren’t enough good guys with guns to go around.  So then a bad guy with a gun is sometimes able to hurt people before the good guys with guns can kill him.”

“I want to be a good guy with guns, Momma.”

“Of course you do, sweet honey boy. There’s a gun show in town.  We’ll go over there right now and shop for a nice, boy-sized semi-automatic.”

“Can I have a cowboy six-shooter, too?”

“Of course you can.  This is the NRA’s USA!  We’ll put one on lay-away until you’re old enough to lift it.”

“Oh, boy.  I am one lucky little gun-owning kid.  God Bless America.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

In the Wake of The Pope's Visit

Pope Francis has ended his much ballyhooed visit to the United States.

While here, he preached a little sermon to the U.S. Congress about its duties:

“Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

Of course, the hypocrites of the House and Senate applauded these and other lines delivered by the leader of the world’s Catholics.  So did the Catholics of the Supreme Court, including the  Opus Dei  member Antonin Scalia, who thinks corporations are people and that women should be kept barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. This is called “family values.”

I suspect that even the Pope realized that his speech to the Congress was an exercise in futility, that what passes for minds in those chambers could not be changed even by his persuasive rhetoric. And, as some critics have pointed out, much of that rhetoric rang somewhat hollow, coming from someone who only reluctantly acknowledged that bishops were guilty of “wrongdoing” when for eons they shielded from prosecution the priests who sexually abused children, honored with sainthood a priest who had been among the worst debasers of native Americans in Spanish colonial America, and who himself was mute in his Jesuit leadership when thousands of citizens were “disappeared” in his native Argentina.

None of this diminishes the importance of his messages about climate change caused by human activity, criminal economic inequality in the capitalist world, government guilt in the worst refugee crisis to confront humanity since the last great war, the blood-gorged oligarchs of an arms industry that feeds on human death and suffering, or a human society that increasingly dismisses the Golden Rule as old-fashioned nonsense.

And these are the messages that his applauding audience in congress choose to ignore.  They would defund the organization that does the most in our society to provide medical services to women too poor to get them otherwise.  They would deny black Americans the right to vote.  They would provide military weapons to police officers who shoot unarmed men with their hands up, or in wheelchairs, or with their backs turned, simply because those men are black, or wearing ‘Fros, or hoodies. They would  impose an intolerable tax burden on its working poor while collecting virtually nothing from its greed-gorged oligarchs and obscenely profitable corporations. They would blindly pursue a policy of endless war, endorse Israel’s genocide against Palestinians and hurl fusillades of lies against those who dare to try to take tiny steps toward peace somewhere in a benighted world.

They applauded the Pope even as they plotted new methods of debasing “those in situations of great vulnerability or risk.”

They are scum.

What Passes for Whale Vomit Stateside?

“Lump of whale vomit sold at auction in U.K..” reads a headline on the BBC news website.

I asked an ex-pat friend in England about this seemingly odd transaction.

“Not surprising, i assure you,” he writes from the garden of his country home near Maidstone, Kent.   “Like all my neighbors, i myself have several fine lumps of whale vomit on my mantelpiece.  My wife wears one on a chain.”

This suggests to me the existence of a lively trade in whale vomit amongst our cousins across the pond.  How, I wonder, do the whale-vomit shops and auction houses verify the authenticity of the specimens? Might the winning bidder at the recent auction have actually bought, say, a lump from a round of gorgonzola that went down with the Andrea Doria?  Is there an odor test? Must there have been witnesses to the actual act of whale puking?  It’s rare enough for a landlubber like me to have seen a whale breaching, let alone to have observed one voiding its plankton.

I first supposed that the election of the likes of Maggie Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron might account for this odd British interest in whale vomit.  The Establishment’s reaction to Labour’s election of Jeremy Corbyn to head the party does suggest some form of animal waste, but nothing quite as exotic as whale vomit. 

And if whale vomit collecting reflects a society’s political discourse, one would expect that United States voters would be imitating their British cousins, perhaps embracing specimens from more typically American animals.  Bear scat?  Mule turds?  Turkey poop? (Benjamin Franklin, remember, much preferred the turkey to the eagle as an American symbol.)

If what spews from the craw of, say, David Cameron, stimulates whale vomit-collecting, then the bile from the mouths of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio et al ought to trigger at least an outbreak of road-kill collecting. Bovine excrement has also been suggested, of course, but it somehow lacks the panache of whale vomit.

Now that they’ve brought down John Boehner, what sort of mantelpiece trophies might the Tea Party crowd like to collect to rival the U.K. Tories’ taste for whale vomit?

Not many of the modest ranchers in, say, Rowan County, Ky., even have mantelpieces.  So what else might good, conservative Republicans do with their political keepsakes?  Door stops?  Knick-knack shelves?  Garden ornaments?

’Tis a puzzlement.

Also, on further reflection, I realize that my friend in Kent is apolitical, certainly not Tory.  The specimens on his mantelpiece are simply whale vomit, no more, no less. Read no political meaning into them.

But do keep an eye on what’s being auctioned these days in red states.  You never know!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Listen to the Bang-Bang, Lemmings

When I need to throw my mind into neutral and just unwind, I watch the western movie channel with the sound muted.  You don’t need sound to understand what’s going on, who are the good guys and who are the bad, who betrayed whom and who’s got the fastest draw.  Justice always triumphs. Very reassuring.

Especially in these times and in this country, where justice is just some antiquated concept kept barely alive by hopelessly naive liberals.

But a bad western is playing out in real time and the black hats are winning.  They seem to have all the gold and all the firepower.  All the white hats have is truth, science  and expertise.  You know, the nerds with eyeglasses and no iron on their hips, who couldn’t hit a whiskey barrel shooting a six-gun from three feet away.

That, as I see it, is where we stand on the agreement between six western nations  and Iran regarding the Islamic Republic’s use of atomic energy.

For years, Israel and its allies have ridden the range hurling threats and accusations at Iran.  

Here are a few facts about this range war:

Iran has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  This treaty — international law — guarantees its inalienable right to peaceful development of nuclear energy, and requires that it submit to inspections to verify that it is NOT attempting to build nuclear weapons.

Israel is NOT a signatory to this treaty, this international law.  Israel already HAS a stockpile of nuclear weapons, probably a big one, thanks to technology given to it by its best friend, the United States.  The size of Israel’s nuclear weapons stash is uncertain because Israel has never been inspected by the IAEA, the enforcement arm of the non-proliferation accords.

The IAEA, under two successive directors from neutral countries, has never found credible evidence that Iran is doing anything with its uranium enrichment program that would enable it to create a nuclear weapon.  Yet Israel and its cronies have continued to insist that Iran has a “nuclear weapons program” and  have imposed harsh economic sanctions on the country to force it to stop doing what it isn’t doing.

Finally Iran elected a more moderate president than it has had since it became a republic, and this guy —think John Wayne with a white flag tied to his rifle barrel, emerging from Fort Apache to face the Indian chief — said to the western powers , “let’s palaver.”

The Israeli leadership — think Gene Hackman as the  gunslinger who keeps taunting challengers to face him and then guns them down mercilessly — orchestrated choruses of distrust, conjured up false flag nonsense that the western media bought lock, stock and barrel and tried its best to put together an international posse to bomb Iran back to the stone age or beyond.

But Barack Obama, up to this point a gutless sheriff, caught a rare dose of iron in the spine and agreed to join a group of nations called the P5+1 in talks with Iran to try to hammer out a mutually acceptable accord that would end the economic sanctions on Iran and give the rest of the world reasonable assurance that Iran would never join the nuclear arms race.

By damn, they got one.  The UN ratified it.  Nations of the world are free to lift their economic sanctions on Iran, give Iranians access to their own funds which have been frozen in banks around the world, and do business with a market that despite years of sanctions, promises to be quite lucrative for western businesses.

But Gene Hackman, whose real name is Benjamin Netanyahu. doesn’t give in to softies.  His political party in the United States, called AIPAC, which owns the Republican party in the House and Senate, as well as all of its politicians who aspire to the presidency, has put together a war chest of many millions of dollars to finance a virtually unprecedented propaganda war against approval of the nuclear accord by the United States Congress.  By law, Barack Obama doesn’t need congressional approval, but having used up all the iron in his spine by deciding to go to the negotiating table in the first place, he agreed to let Congress “review” and vote on it anyway.  This enables windbags all over the right side of the American political spectrum — even witless and powerless flatulents like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Donald Trump — to prattle, pontificate and make dire prophecy.

The media eat it up.

Meanwhile endorsements of the Iran accord are pretty much ignored. 

But they come from the likes of Hans Blix, former chief inspector for the IAEA; the nonpartisan Arms Control Association whose panel of 75 nuclear nonproliferation specialists called it "a net-plus for nonproliferation,” and whosaid the agreement is ”strong, long-term, and verifiable" and  "advances the security interests" of the United States and its allies; a group of retired U.S. military generals and admirals who, in an August 11 open letter, called the agreement “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons;” most of the academics with expertise on Iran and the Middle East— anthropologists, historians, physicists, economists, etc.

Alas, it is oh, so very hard  to hear them over the bang-bang of all those armed-to-the-teeth black hats.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Tramping Out the Vintage

All the invocations of god in this week’s piece of absurd theater called the Republican presidential  “debates” remind a sane person of nothing more than that the invocation of fear is the best way to keep a population under control of its  reigning authorities.

To skip around randomly in humanity’s tortuous journey toward becoming civilized:

The “great” religions of history have kept their believers in line largely through fear of the “wrath of god.”  Never mind whose god.  The wrathful deities of that “peaceful” religion, Buddhism,  are enlightened beings who take on wrathful forms in order to lead sentient beings to enlightenment — that is, to a way of thinking that is  in line with its prophets, rule-makers, historians and propagandists.

The frightening wrath of the Christian god knows no mitigation.  From its earliest Old Testament manifestations (Romans 1:18-32) it threatened  its adherents with death for just about anything questioning its own mythology, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy during its Inquisition period.

The wrathful god of Israel punished his own people not once, but thrice, with kelalah,” the curse of exile, to keep them in line.  Today”s version of kelalah” enables Irsrael’s war-mongering government to threaten its people that they will be vaporized by nuclear bombs tomorrow if the P5+1 agreement is ratified by the United States. Oddly enough, it is Israel, not a signatory to the international nuclear non-proliferation agreement, that has a stockpile of nuclear weapons.  It is Iran, a signatory to the non-proliferation accord, which has been inspected repeatedly, that has none.

Today, even moderate Muslims  acknowledge, as does the journalist and philosopher Hamza Ali Abbasi ,that, “I fear Allah.”  He may balance that with a caution that Allah also wants us to love even those who disagree with us, but on the other side in the real world of today is ISIS. Sunni and Shiite pledge allegiance to the same Q’uran, yet slaughter one another in the most inhumane ways.  (Is there a “humane” way to slaughter? Never mind.)

The Christian hypocrisy of the most fear-mongering religionists since Torquemada, as the Republican clowns tried to out-god each other, made these things clear:

—Any nation that seriously considers Donald Trump to be a candidate to lead it has sunk beneath the minimum level of intelligence to be considered “civilized.”

—The other would-be presidents can be judged only by the degree to which they inspire fear.

—The fear most to be feared today is Iran.  If we take a step toward peace with it, we will all suffer fates worse than death. It is, you see, what it is.

—Gay marriage is to be feared greatly.  It will invoke the wrath of god against us, which, conjoined with peace with Iran, will consign us all to to the fires of hell.

—If we do not give up those silly things called civil rights, we will all be enslaved by Putin, decimated by an ayatollah and forced to worship non-Christian gods.

—It might be wise to reconsider those anchored-in-truth demeaning jokes about New Jersey.

—Jeb who?

Ah, me.  Drought-stricken New Mexico has had a lot of rain lately, much of it accompanied by awesome lightning shows.

Wrath of god, anyone?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When Idiots Win the Propaganda War

In the United States, you get what you pay for. Want to own a corrupt politician?  Take your pick of anyone in Congress. Party affiliation doesn’t matter.  Greed is no respecter of party lines.

Polls show a majority of Americans are now opposed to the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.  That’s the return on millions of dollars invested by AIPAC, the Israeli lobby that has even more clout in Washington than the National Rifle Association, and gazillionaires like Sheldon Adelson, to perpetuate fiction intended to kill the deal.

Spouting ghastly metaphors ("marching to the oven door") and outright lies (“20 violations of international agreements by Iran”) the bought-and-paid-for pols and their fellow whores in the mainstream media have won the propaganda battle.

They'll continue to spew their AIPAC talking points until they've squeezed the last squirt of ink out of them, then vote their disapproval of the agreement.  President Obama will veto whatever they pass, and maybe the idiots will come up with enough votes to override, maybe not.

Either way, it’s questionable how much the baying idiots in congress can actually accomplish with regard to the deal.  It has already been approved by the UN Security Council, clearing the way for member nations to lift their economic sanctions on Iran.  The actions of the U.S. Congress mean zilch to the rest of the world.  Other nations can go ahead and lift their sanctions and free their investor class to pour money into Iran, where a thriving middle class has emerged despite the sanctions. Congress can keep the U.S. sanctions in place, but if other nations leap to do business with Iran, some of the very American oligarchs who own Congress will miss out on a chance to tap a profitable new market.  I can’t imagine they’d be happy.

If the Congressional review of the Vienna agreement were being conducted solely on the merits of the deal itself, the opposition would be dead in the water.  The United States and its negotiating partners have gained more oversight of Iran’s nuclear program than they had before the deal was struck.  No nation in history has accepted  such constraints as those Iran has agreed to.  (“They have agreed to stop doing what they have never done,” one Mideast expert said.As Noam Chomsky put it, “What Iran ‘threat’?”) The P5+1, in return, gave up absolutely nothing that involves any significant risks to themselves or to their allies, including Israel. 

Thanks to insane Republicans and gutless Democrats in Congress, the United States increasingly stands alone among the world community in its ignorance, hegemony and recklessness.

So the polls show that Americans want congress to try to kill the Iran deal.

The same polls show that Americans give a higher approval rating to Donald Trump than to Pope Francis.

’Nuff said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Gotta Believe!

The most precious thing we have to give is belief.  You’d expect us to think very hard before we confer it. You’d be wrong, especially as regards the human sub-species called the American voter.

As recently as last year, a study involving 2,200 participants found that 25 percent of Americans, one in four, still believed in geocentrism, the idea that the sun revolves around the earth.  Well, why the hell not? After all, the book by Nicolaus Copernicus that proved otherwise was published nearly 500 years ago, and in Latin!  Who reads Latin, anyway?

Who, among Republican voters, reads anything?  Why bother, when you’ve got Fox to watch?  

Supporting a political candidate implies belief in him or her.  In the latest polls, more Republicans support Donald Trump than any other of the 15 seekers after the party’s presidential nomination.  Donald Trump!! Not that any of that crowd is an intellectual giant or paragon of truth.  But Donald Trump?  Why not Tiger Woods? Beyonce? Bill Cosby?

Precious few Americans have ever been to Iran, or can even find it on a map of the world.  Yet they believe those 47 traitors in the United States senate who oppose making peace with the Iranians.  After all, didn’t Iran hold a bunch of hostages when we honored them by having an embassy there?.  Besides, they believe in Islam so they gotta be bad.  It’s not just Fox telling us so.  Even the liberal New York Times says so.

William O. Beeman, a distinguished academic at the University of Minnesota, not only has been to Iran and can find it on the map, but he speaks the language fluently and without a “foreign” accent.  He recently returned to Iran to travel the country extensively and interview hundreds of Iranians from all walks of life.  He has written in great detail about those travels and those interviews.

Have you read a word of it in the mainstream media?  Have you heard a word of it, on Fox or anyplace else?  Not bloody likely.  Genuine experts like Beeman get no belief from Americans.  What Americans “know” about Iran they got from dunderheads like Bill O’Reilly, not from people like Beeman who actually know something worth learning.

Americans believe that angry citizens of Ukraine forced the democratically-elected president of the country to flee to Russia, which caused Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops into Crimea to capture it and make it part of Russia.  This is about as close to truth as geocentrism.  Stand in the middle of New Mexico looking skyward for a while, and it sure seems plausible.

Unfortunately, the truth about Ukraine, like the truth about our galaxy, is very different from what American voters believe. It’s easy to believe what the politicians in Washington say because Ukraine (which is as hard to find on the map as Iran) is really, really far away and who gives a shit what goes on there anyway? It’s not like they were people or something.

American beliefs about peoplehood defy logic.  Most Muslims are not people, except for those who are on our side.  Once there was a Muslim leader called Saddam Hussein.  For a while he was on our side and we believed in him. We sent Secretaries of State to his country, Iraq, to hobnob with him and give him airplanes and guns and stuff.  So he and the Iraqis were people, except for the ones he gassed with poison weapons we gave him.  Then he stopped dancing to every tune they played in Washington and suddenly he and his people weren’t really people any more.  So we had to send troops over there to kill a couple of million of his non-people, and track down Saddam himself in a rabbit-hole somewhere, and kill him, too.

Part of being a good American is knowing which people are really people and which aren’t.  The people who aren’t people need to be killed and we have to Support Our Troops in killing those that need killing.

Despite all the killing, there are still so many people in the world that it’s very difficult to decide which ones to believe.  We could think very hard about it, but that takes time and effort.  So we watch Fox.

Benjamin Netanyahu.  Now there’s a real American for you. Believe it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Courage. Extreme Courage. And Garry B., Beyond Category

I used to check out the tennis courts even on days when I wasn’t planning to play.  No telling when you might scare up a game.

One day I spotted a new guy, hitting against the ball machine on court two. We introduced ourselves and had a hit.  Garry B., the newcomer, was much younger and much the better player, but he was gracious about my many failures to return his shots.

“Let’s do it again sometime,” he lied when we had finished.  But we played again only when he and his partner could split up for a friendly game of doubles with me and my partner. I relished these sessions because there  was always lots of laughter when Garry was on the court.

Even on the day when he disclosed he was about to begin chemotherapy for lymphoma. He was joking about  hair loss, loss of sex drive and what the poisonous chemicals might do to his tennis game.  He knew that I had survived lung cancer and asked how, when I was declared cancer free five years after my initial surgery, I had celebrated. “I’m looking forward to that kind of party,” he said.

A fellow tennis player who, in a grim coincidence, had had the same diagnosis as Garry, at about the same time, did in fact have “that kind of party” five years later. But that kind of party wasn’t in the cards for Garry.

No one in his large circle of friends ever knew the kind of hell he went through fighting the disease the only way medical science knew how, with toxic brews designed to kill cancer cells.  “I just stay home on the bad days, so nobody has to see me that way,” he told me once.  Otherwise he went to work (he’s an intensive-care unit nurse), played tennis including as many tournaments as he had time for, and organized fun weekends for himself and his friends.  Motorcycle tours, trips to hot springs spas, trips to the casinos of Las Vegas, hikes in the desert, hikes in the mountains, swimming parties, dancing parties, movie parties, bicycling trips.

Lance Armstrong was still an American sports hero then, the man who conquered cancer — twice — to become the best bicycle racer in the world.  Garry raised money for the cyclist’s Livestrong Foundation and its campaign for cancer research. He was a regular entrant in Livestrong’s regional fund-raising tennis tournaments.  

Garry had once been a trainer-handler for show dogs.  Now he kept a pack of mongrel best friends of his own and cared for friends’ best friends when they needed a friendly paw.  His fun weekends included many outings planned especially for the canines. He specialized in finding new homes for needy dogs.  

One day he turned up at the tennis courts and declined an invitation to play singles with one of the better players in the club — which immediately raised eyebrows.  Was he not feeling well?  “Had a Pacemaker implant yesterday,” he said, so he settled for a  leisurely set of social doubles. Afterward, he remarked that, “I had a healthy heart when all this started, but the chemo messed  things up so I needed the Pacemaker.”  This was his intro to a series of Pacemaker jokes that left everyone laughing.

Time and chemo therapy marched on. Their toll was gradual.  Little by little, grudgingly, Garry acknowledged the diminution of his tennis prowess.  Little by little, grudgingly, he cut back on the physical demands of some of the fun weekends. One weekend, over beer at a brew pub , he let slip that “they” could no longer give him chemo therapy.  They’d run out of witches’ brews to infuse him with. Sit around and wait to die?  Not Garry.

Garry put his medical background to work overtime.  He discovered that someone, somewhere had developed a promising new chemical treatment for lymphoma and was pushing to get it approved by the FDA.  They needed guinea pigs to test it.  Garry pushed himself to the front of the line.

Soon he was driving 250 miles every other week to a hospital that had access to the experimental drug.  Shortly after this regimen had begun I took Brandi out for a run with Garry and his dogs.  I asked how long it had been since the first diagnosis.  “More than ten years,” he said. He told several humorous stories about his battles with “the insurance bureaucrats.”  He was on a first-name basis with virtually all of them — up to the vice-president level, at least. 

He still showed up at the tennis courts from time to time.  One day he told us about volunteering to be the guinea pig for yet another new, unapproved chemical mix.  The doctor said it was for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  “But mine is Hodgkins lymphoma,” Garry said. “Oh, didn’t I tell you?,” the doctor said.  “You’ve got both now.” Garry laughed and laughed, as if this was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.

I had coffee the other day with a mutual friend.  “Haven’t see Garry in quite a while,” I said.  “How’s he doing.?”

”He sold his house, threw a big farewell party for himself, and moved to Yuma,” the friend said.

Nobody at the party is quite sure why.  Some speculate that he went to enter a highly-regarded non-profit hospice there.

Knowing Garry, he might have discovered a tennis tournament for terminally-ill cancer patients.  Or, more likely,  he means to organize one.  Just one more fun weekend.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Passing Judgment at the Glenmore

When I was a kid . . .

Go play, children.  Grandpa is reminiscing again.

I remember 1940, when I first realized how exciting politics could be.  Especially presidential politics.

Over glasses of Hudepohl, the men of Herbert Avenue would gather at the Glenmore Tavern to argue the merits of Wendell Willke, the republican nominee, and the incumbent Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The Hudephol cost a dime.  They drove cars that cost $800.  They used 733 gallons of gas per year, which cost them about $140. Less than two cents of their federal tax dollar was spent on guns, bullets and the armed forces.

America was at peace; had been for more than two decades.  A formidable bloc of citizens wanted to keep it that way, despite rising calls for the United States to enter the war against the so-called Axis powers abroad.

Dad was a Willke man. Mom, the daughter of a devoted union electrician, considered F.D.R. to be a saint.  She listened to her man’s campaign speeches on the small radio in their bedroom.  Dad listened to Willke on the big set in the living room.  Each side accused the other of “mudslinging,” accusations that my parents dutifully repeated.  In fact, neither side disclosed the worst “dirt” it had on the other.  The secret of Willke’s illicit love affair, for example, was safe.

At the Glenmore, Dad’s greatest ire was the TVA.  Willke had been president of the big utility, Commonwealth and Southern Corp., which provided electricity to 11 states.  Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, a government agency that promised to bring flood control and cheap electricity to impoverished rural areas, became a direct competitor of Willke’s company. Willkie testified against the TVA in Congress, saying that it would be unconstitutional for the government to enter the utility business. In 1939, Commonwealth & Southern was forced to sell its property in the Tennessee Valley to the TVA.

Roosevelt’s New Deal, Dad would thunder at the Glenmore, was “an abomination against honest American business.”  Many Roosevelt partisans there agreed that the government “had an unfair advantage” against private businesses and should not be allowed to compete against them.  But, they would argue, even Willke supported New Deal programs that dealt with problems that could not be solved better by private enterprise, including Social Security, the pro-union Wagner Act and the Security and Exchange commission to guard against another depression.

On the war issue, the good folk at the Glenmore were about equally divided for and against intervention, but pacifism rather than isolationism seemed to drive many of them.  Dad, a Red Cross non-combatant in the First World War, talked about some of the terrible wounds he’d seen and agreed with Willke: "no man has the right to use the great powers of the Presidency to lead the people, indirectly, into war." Frank, the barman and co-owner of the Glenmore, decreed that Vendell Villke — he used the phony accent that an animated cartoon character had made into a national catch-phrase — was a good and decent man but he was not Franklin D. Roosevelt and where would this nation be without FDR?

Within a week of Roosevelt’s re-election, the men of the Glenmore faced the war issue with new concern: where would the Reds get ballplayers if Lombardi, the McCormicks, Bucky Walters and  others had to go off to fight The Hun? Didn’t we already win “the war to end all wars?”

*  *  *

Back then your Grandpa was but a lad himself, children.  The country was the United States of America, and  it was still a democratic republic.

I understand the Clinton multimillionaires  and Bush billionaires will be having another dynastic mash-up one of these days.  Do people still take these clowns seriously?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Death on Everest

“We do not conquer the mountain,” Edmund Hillary said.  “We conquer ourselves.”

He and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, were the first two humans ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth.  Now, 62 years later, thousands of people have reached that summit — but Everest remains unconquered.

Last year it loosed an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas, the ablest climbers in the world. Until yesterday that was Everest’s deadliest day.

The tolls are still climbing from Saturday’s monstrous earthquake in Nepal and the avalanches it triggered on the world’s highest mountain.

One climber estimated the Everest toll at 17; a doctor with an expedition at Base Camp said he had counted 14 bodies.  Many people are still missing. Frequent aftershocks have been frustrating the search and rescue efforts.  More than 100 climbers were believed to be trapped somewhere on the dangerous icefall high above  Base Camp. “There are so many people up there,” one climber said, that as a practical matter, “it’s impossible to get them all off with helicopters.”

Jon Reiter, an American mountaineer, survived the latest disaster.  “They were massive avalanches,” he told CNN. Carsten Pederson, another climber, said, “Immediately after the shock, we heard avalanches from all the mountains around us."  An immense wave of rocks, snow and ice engulfed Base Camp. People, Pederson said, “were trying to outrun the avalanche and you cannot. So many people were hit from behind, blown off the mountain, blown into rocks, hit by debris, tents were flying off."

Most  of the best Everest guides are Sherpas, like Norgay.  One of them, Pasang Sherpa, who lost friends and relatives in the 2014 disaster, said,  “This is our job.  There is always a risk of death.”

Fellow mountaineer George Lowe was among the first to greet Hillary and Norgay on their descent from the top of the world back in 1953. 

“Well, we knocked the bastard off,” Hillary said.

He didn’t say “conquered.”  He knew better.