Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Geezer Lunch at the Club

At 72 Clyde is the youngster in the lunch bunch, where, no matter how it starts the conversation inevitably turns to medical updates.

I mentioned my macular degeneration.

"You should try audio books," Clyde said..  "They're really nifty."  ("Nifty"!?!)

"Can't hear," I said. (I have worn electronic things in my ears for nearly 20 years.)

"I FORGOT," Clyde apologized.

Bruce, who had hobbled to the table on a cane, said they were going to have to redo his latest knee surgery.  Same as with the other one three years ago.  "Old age isn't for sissies," he said.

"Beats the alternative," Clyde said helpfully.  He still plays a little tennis, albeit badly.  Bunt and lob, that sort of crap.

The rest of us simply exchanged the kind of glance that implies a shrug.

"Had to have the pacemaker replaced last week," Garry reported.

"Infection?" someone asked.

"Bad battery," Garry said.

"Technology of those things is getting better by leaps and bounds," Clyde said.  (He doesn't even have a cardiologist yet!)

"Hmmm," Garry said.

John updated us on his plantar fasciitis.  The $400 shoes hadn't helped.  He said he had found a new podiatrist.  "Any progress?" I asked.  "Too soon to tell," he said.  "How's your hand?"

"Decent range of motion," I said, "but the arthritis is worse." John had fasciitis in both feet.  I had it in both hands.

"You were wise to opt for surgery," Garry said.  "Ron had the injection and the contracture just got worse.  Poor guy can't even hold a tennis racquet any more."

All of us had once been tennis players.  One by one the infirmities of age had forced us to quit. I had bought five "bonus years" with a left hip replacement in my late 70s, but now the other hip is causing problems.

"Maybe you guys would like pickle ball," Clyde said.  Pickle ball is the latest fad at the club.  Sort of like geriatric badminton played with some kind of whiffle ball.

"Rather play dominos," Garry said.  I agreed.

We finished lunch quickly because everyone was on some kind of special diet imposed by doctors.

"How about an aperitif?" Clyde suggested. "I'll buy."

The rest of us rolled our eyes.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Knights of the Language War

I googled “Winners and Sinners” today and got reams of information about a martial arts movie.

God help us.

Winners and Sinners was the name of an in-house organ written by Theodore Bernstein, assistant managing editor of the New York Times, its guru of style, arbiter of grammar and usage and minder of language and taste.

Ted came to mind when I got to thinking about how sloppy writers and editors have allowed “media” and “data” — both plural nouns — to become commonly wedded to singular verbs.  “Where are all the slot men?” I asked myself.  Gone to graveyards, every one, myself replied.

Slot men, also called copy chiefs, were the last bastion against bad or careless writing in good newspapers, back when there were good newspapers and they cared about good writing.  Good slot men had virtually memorized Ted Bernstein’s books, “Headlines and Deadlines,” “Watch Your Language,” “More Language That Needs Watching,” “The Careful Writer” and others. Good slot men worried about the crimes against the language committed in common usage, and pounced upon them when they crept into newspaper copy.  Jim wilson of the Detroit Free Press wearied of the fight.  “I think we’ve lost the battle  of ‘anymore,’” he once lamented.

Ted Bernstein, who died in 1979, kept up the fight until he was in his grave.  Winners and Sinners waged the battle so elegantly, and so wittily, that it built up a subscriber list of “freeloaders” throughout the world of journalism.  “It has,” the Times reporter Wayne King once wrote, “the force of law.”

Ted, a kindly and genial presence in the Times newsroom, was no autocrat of the bullpen; he considered the language to be a living thing, always evolving, always illuminating the life of letters in new and exciting ways.  But he would not allow it to be altered by whim or fad or carelessness. 

As our political discourse coarsens, I am reminded of a debate that took place in newsrooms across the country during the political unrest of the 1960s.  The zealots of the young left were particularly profligate in the use of what the Knight Newspapers journalist Lee Winfrey called “a 13-letter appellation for those who are hopelessly Oedipusly inclined.” Copy chiefs and style arbiters on most newspapers militantly policed reporters’ copy to root out nasty words, even in direct quotations.  Many reporters argued that in the new standards of the times, newspapers should relax their rules.  Ted heard the arguments, weighed them, but wrote: “Be a motherfudger.”

Copy editors and slot men labored in under-appreciated anonymity. Ted used Winners and Sinners to applaud their efforts.  One of the favorite features of W&S was called “trophies of a headhunter” which singled out headlines that told the story with wit, or humor, or, as Ted often wrote, represented “a tough one made to look easy.”  The writers of trophy heads were always named.  Sinners, on the other hand, were spared public identification although their misdeeds were dissected in features like “two-faced heads.”

When Ted Bernstein died, the Times continued Winners and Sinners with other authors, including Evan Jenkins, a longtime national desk editor, but eventually it died.

Shoddy sequence of tenses, litotes, split infinitives, officialese and kindred sins are more remindful these days of Miss Thistlebottom than of the witty and wise journalist who invented her.  These are the days of reporters who  wrote fiction and had it published, of bureau chiefs who regurgitate the government’s lies unchecked and unverified, of propagandists pretending to be journalists who make heroes of people like Donald trump.

Sad.  Maybe it had its beginnings when we lost “the battle of anymore.” Who knew back then how far we would fall?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Profiteer in Depravity

How fitting in Donald Trump’s Amerika: the craven racist who killed an unarmed boy over a bag of Skittles is auctioning the weapon he used to snuff Trayvon Martin’s life.

Bidding starts at $5,000.  The killer, George Zimmerman, will get much more than that.  Amerika is full of boastful haters willing to pony up  for such a fine, racist souvenir.  Zimmerman is a hero to them. And Trump’s successful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has given them a fuhrer, a populist fascist to idolize.  What a fine icon Zimmerman’s gun will be to wave at Trump’s political rallies.

Trump’s ascent to the status of serious presidential aspirant accelerates his country’s descent to fourth-nation status — an economically broken, politically corrupt, culturally riven,  war-driven oligarchy led by profiteers whose morality degrades as their riches rise.  

There is no hope for redemption now, just as there is no choice for the largely ignorant mass of voters in next November’s election.  Trump is the Republican nominee.  Thanks to the rigged Democratic nominating apparatus, Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat.  Scylla and Charybdis. How did this former democracy arrive at such a state? Perhaps, as many revisionist historians suggest, it’s been lurking within us for a long, long time.

Jim Crow.  The KKK.  Woodrow Wilson.  Slave-owning founders.  The Philippines.   Remember the Maine.  The Gulf of Tonkin.  Sacco and Vanzetti.  Vietnam. Throw a dart at an era in our history and it will stick in something unsavory.

Zimmerman’s sick notion to profit from the sale of the weapon he used to kill an innocent black kid is one small symptom of the greater malaise afflicting the United States in our era.  A particularly disgusting one, but small in the scheme of things.

He says he will donate the proceeds from the sale to fighting against the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

So what?  Black lives will still matter.  His still will not.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Our Guys" in Kiev Come Unglued

“Yats is the guy,” crowed Victoria Nuland, the American assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton and architect of the U.S. coup d’etat in Kiev, in an intercepted 2014 telephone conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

Well, “Yats” was the guy.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk  was installed by the U.S. as prime minister of Ukraine after the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, was driven into exile in Russia by a “popular uprising” engineered in Washington. Now, Yatsenyuk has said he will proffer his resignation to the parliament tomorrow.The other American puppet in the Kiev government, President Petro Poroshenko, has been named as a tax cheat in the so-called Panama Papers, and is facing calls to resign as well. In his first year as president, Poroshenko, already a billionaire in the chocolate business, increased his net worth by 20 per cent.

 “Yats” and Poroshenko were billed by their U.S. patrons  as crusaders who would clean up the corruption of the ousted Yanukovych government in Ukraine. Now, their own corruption is their undoing. So much for one of the great foreign policy achievements of Secretary Clinton and her neocon henchfolk.

The Ukraine regime change to a Yatsenyuk-Poroshenko government was part of the larger Washington ploy to bring down Vladimir Putin in Russia by ensnaring its neighbor, Ukraine, into the net of European Union and nudging NATO weaponry  to the very borders of the bear.

Last week, in an advisory election, the Netherlands voted 2-1 not to take part in the EU squeeze play on Kiev.  The Dutch government, which has already agreed to join in, doesn’t have to heed the voice of its people,  but would pay a political price for caving in to Washington now.

Meanwhile, there’s a fragile cease-fire in the civil war between the pro-Russian eastern Ukraine and the duped and discredited regime in Kiev.  The latest contretemps in the west won’t make that truce any more stable. Another spike may be coming in the human toll for Washington’s foreign policy blunders there.

This is just one of many areas of the world where ex-Secretary Clinton’s “foreign policy expertise” is a tragic fiction, a myth manufactured to enhance her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

Her toadying speech to AIPAC last month made it clear that Israel's warhawk prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be an ad hoc foreign minister and policy-maker in a Clinton II administration. Her so-called East Asia “pivot,” the decision to grant NATO-equivalent “ally” status to Afghanistan, the decision to attempt to maintain an impossible status quo in Pakistan . . . each of these blunders casts doubt on her foreign policy credentials. Not Benghazi, but the decision to ignore the advice of the Pentagon and join in the military overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya created a chaos for which we and the world continue to pay a terrible price.  And when Gaddafi was sodomized by bayonet, this woman snickered and said, “We came, we saw, he died.”

Is this the sort of mind we want in the Oval Office?

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Third Party Voting Option

Ron Paul was always worth listening to during his long career as a U.S. congressman.  He still is.

Recently he told a CNN interviewer that  he wouldn’t vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, if they became the nominees of their respective parties. "What I'd like to have on all of the ballots is 'none of the above,'" he said.

Clinton and Trump “both support the military industrial complex, the federal reserve, deficits and entitlements, and an invasion of our privacy," Paul said. "It's super nationalistic populism.” 

His advice? Vote the Green party if you’re progressive, otherwise vote the Libertarian party.

The third party option is not at all popular in American politics.  Most right wing pundits are shaming the Republican candidates for backing away from their pledge to unite behind the Republican nominee regardless of who he is.  On the Democratic side, the Jill Stein Green option is scorned by even Sanders supporters.

The lesser of two evils doctrine rules the day on both sides.

I recently took part in a spirited on-line round-table among liberals. Only two of us stood firm on not voting for Clinton if she is the nominee. All of the others cited variants on the lesser evil theme.

Even if she were wrong on only one major issue (the Republicans are wrong on just about everything), that issue alone, war mongering foreign policy, would disqualify her for the presidency.  In particular, she is the architect of the overthrow of the legitimate government in Ukraine and the deliberate antagonism of Russia.  Pushing NATO and U.S. arms to the very borders of Russia is the equivalent of Nikita Khrushchev’s madness in putting missiles in Cuba in 1962.  We narrowly averted nuclear war then; there is no guarantee we can do so again. As evidenced in her recent pandering speech to AIPAC, Clinton is dedicated to not just continuing but expanding the role of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s mad hawk prime minister, in American foreign policy.  This further militates  against a peaceful resolution of the U.S.-Russia contretemps in which Clinton is so instrumental. Clinton, Victoria Nuland, Bob Kagan, Doug Feith et al  are betting that nobody, not even Vladimir Putin, would actually push the nuclear button.  They're certain that in a conventional war, our military might and global network of bases would prevail.  Meanwhile, their cockamamie antics in the South China Sea, and their belligerence in eastern Europe, are driving Russia and China into each other's arms. If you consider a Russia-China military alliance, victory in conventional war becomes less certain, and probably so terribly costly that it's no more of an option than mutual assured destruction by nukes.

If Clinton and Trump are the nominees, only strong showings by minority parties can send the message the executive branch would need to hear, calling for restraint and diplomacy rather than rattling of nuclear sabers.

The only real strength of the lesser evil position is that the president nominates Supreme Court justices.  One vacancy exists, and others almost certainly will occur during the term of the next president.  The notion of Donald Trump choosing judges for the highest court in the land is almost too horrifying to contemplate.  

But so, too, is the notion of a SCOTUS with nothing to adjudicate in the hell of nuclear winter, or a nation bled dry by endless war against truly powerful opponents.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pot Calls Kettle Black

I’d like to think that in the old days of responsible journalism, more of a point would have been made of the hypocrisy of Barack Obama lecturing Raul Castro of Cuba about human rights.

Even as the American president blathered his false pieties in Havana, just 500 miles away, at the other end of the same island, an abject community of United States political prisoners was enduring torture and incarceration without trial at the Guantanamo military base prison Obama had promised eight years ago he would close.

Castro’s protestation that his government has no political prisoners may ring hollow in our ears, but however unjustly Cuba may treat its dissidents, the magnitude of its human rights violations is minuscule compared to the United States.  America’s human rights record is among the poorest in the civilized world.

Consider China, another country our government has criticized for alleged human rights violations.  China’s population is almost five times greater than that of the U.S. Yet the number of prisoners in U.S. jails is far greater than the number incarcerated in all of China.  

Our prison population of 2.2 million is by far the world’s largest, nearly equaling the number in Soviet prisons at the height of the Gulag terror.  An enormously disproportionate percentage of the U.S. prison population is African-American or Hispanic — a clear reflection of American racism.

Rape, torture, hunger and endless years of solitary confinement are commonplace in United States prisons.

It is also commonplace to jail Americans for telling the truth to their fellow citizens.  Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning is but one case in point.  People of color have almost no chance of overturning unjust convictions in the United States.  Seven presidents have refused to pardon Leonard Peltier, a native American whose supporters have produced reams of evidence that he is not guilty of the murders for which he was sent to prison in 1974.

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the names and case histories of the dozens of political prisoners unjustly imprisoned in their country — some for 40 or more years.  

Mumia Abu Jamal, Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez), Ricardo Palmera, Russell Maroon Shoats,Veronza Bowers, Ed Poindexter , Mondo we Langa, Mekou Kambul, Robert King, Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, Mohammad El-Mezain, Abdulrahman Odeh, Mufid Abdulqade, Jeremy Hammond, Brent Betterly, Jared Chase,  Brian Church, Eric McDavid, Marie Mason, Herman Bell, Romaine (Chip) Fitzgerald,  Ed Poindexter — these are not names you often see in your newspapers and magazines, or hear broadcast on what passes for “news” on TV.

But they have been jailed for being active in radical social movements, for exercising what courts have deemed to be “free speech.”  They are victims of corrupt evidence, coerced testimony, incompetent defense lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct.  Their appeals go unheard, their human stories obscured. Their human rights have been trampled and probably never will be restored.

And yet our president dares to question the record of another country’s head of state on human rights. Have we no shame at all?

The Nevermore Nation

Since being taken over b\y its most extreme right wing elements, the Republican party has undertaken to remake the democratic republic the founders gave us into something Dr. Franklin and his peers would not recognize: a people-hating oligarchy of corporate monsters.

They love to cite the Constitution even while smashing it to smithereens.  (Remember the smarmy Illinois congressman, during the attempt to impeach President Clinton?  “We may be an itch, but we are a constiTOOshunal itch.” A singular addition to the congressional hall of shame.)

Now the Senate Republicans — including most of the 47 who committed treason with their seditious letter to Iran on the nuclear negotiations — have decided that the Constitution really doesn’t say that Presidents nominate federal judges and the Senate votes either to confirm or not to confirm them.  It might seem to say that but what it really means, according to the new Republican orthodoxy, is that presidents in the last year or two of their terms aren’t really presidents, cannot legally conduct any of the affairs of the presidency, and are mandated to just twiddle their thumbs until the next president is elected. And if the next president is not a Republican, these idiots will find some new “constiTOOshunal” grounds for obstructing everything the elected leader of the country proposes.

This came to pass in part because the current president chose to be Dr. Kidglove and attempt to negotiate the rules of the asylum with the inmates. And because his partisans in the congress lacked the courage and the wit to fight the obstructionists with all of the real constitutional tools in their shop.  The more they got away with, the more depredations the right wingnuts of congress committed in the name of the “constiTOOshun.”  The game’s over now.  The government doesn’t function.

Things will only get worse, unless what now seems extremely unlikely happens.  That is, if Sen. Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, and then wins the general election, and his party regains control of at least the Senate, if not also the House of Representatives.

A more likely outcome is a November contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which is really no choice at all.  Ms. Clinton has more blood on her hands than any presidential aspirant in our history.  Trump is the most dangerous kind of imbecile, one who thinks he is intelligent.  Either would be an unmitigated disaster in the White House, for different reasons, perhaps, but does it really matter which iceberg sinks the ship?  

Whomever we elect in November, that person will place a hand on a Holy Bible and solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

As if it still existed.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Leave the Clocks Alone!

It's over a week now since we fiddled with the friggin' clocks but my aging, aching body still has not adjusted.  Why the hell do we go through this nonsense twice a year?

Y'all want the kiddybucks to have more daylight when the school day ends? Start classes an hour earlier the last month or two of the school year.

Y'all think it helps the farmers? They hate it as much as I do.

The big canard is that it saves energy.  No serious research supports that notion.  Most studies have found about one per cent less energy use after the clocks have been messed with.  In many places energy use actually goes up.

Daylight Saving (no s) Time they call it.  How the hell do you "save" daylight? The sun provides what it provides, no more, no less, and no amount of tinkering with the damned clocks can change it.  So why have the stinkin' politicians foisted this idiocy upon us?

My body doesn't care what the  clocks say.  It wants breakfast at breakfast time.  It wants lunch when the sun declares high noon.  It wants dinner at the normal, civilized hour. It does not want to be rushed into indigestion just because a batch of slack-jawed troglodytes in some state legislature decided to shove the clock hands ahead an extra turn.

Proper sleep is precious to geezers like me.  We forgo the extra cup of coffee we crave, we control our sugar intake, we walk an extra block a day, we avoid "bad" fats even if they taste good, we consume horrid potions from the druggist -- all in pursuit of a good night's sleep.  And for a few months of the year it works and we rise with the sun and feel good about starting the day.

Then the "spring forward" insanity arrives and we can't get a decent night's rest and we wake up knowing that it's seven o'clock but the damned clock says it's eight and for the rest of the day everything is out of whack. DST increases arthritis pain, causes acid reflux and destroys the taste buds.

No wonder the world is full of terrorists.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mein Trumpf

Our Little Blond Hitler is his own Joseph Goebbels.  He will be the first to tell you (as Goebbels told Germany in 1933) that he alone among the country’s politicians understands the situation and draws the necessary hard and firm conclusions. “I’m the worst thing that ever happened to ISIS,” the neo-fuhrer told Barbara Walters.

He is hard and firm on such matters as:

—We must torture, using methods far more cruel than mere waterboarding, because torture will keep us safe.  Never mind the international laws against torture; we will make new laws; we will BE the law.

—We must build walls to keep our people secure and pure.  Those who would cross our borders are rapists, pillagers and thieves.  They must be kept out and those who have come here illegally must be deported.

—Muslims, like Jews in Hitler’s Germany, are evil and must be disposed of.  Remember, it is OK — even desirable — to kill the families of our enemies.

—Making America great again, as Hitler made Germany great again.

Our Little Blond Hitler has said: “I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.” Also: "My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault."

The neo-fuhrer demonstrated his IQ by telling us, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

When some in the media actually questioned this wisdom, he assured us,“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” 

Others have even suggested that the thuggery of some of his adherents at political assemblies is remindful of Hitler’s infamous brownshirts.

Our Little Blond Fuhrer will have none of it.  “My rallies are love fests,” he said.

Who needs a Goebbels?

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Where the Sound of Silence Comforts

There’s nothing quite like politics to make one appreciate the silence of our desert.  Its creatures slither and creep, flit noiselessly across rock and sand, hunt by stealth and by night.  Survival dictates that they not waste  energy being active during the heat of the day.  A great place for quiet contemplation.

When Bush 43 was re-elected, we hastily packed up the RV and retreated to a deep desert outpost miles away from even the smallest hamlet.  Virtually total isolation, there to lick our wounds and seek solace in the friendly silence.

Now, with the lumpen image of Trump everywhere, I take Brandi every morning into a favorite nearby desert hideaway and wonder how any civilized country could possibly have sunk to the depths where presidential candidates actually debate in public about penis size.

Political insults about body parts aren’t new in America — Lincoln’s long arms, for example,  prompted a chorus of lewd remarks from his opponents. But the overall tone of the Republican campaigns has become so churlish, so childish that no precedent comes to mind.  It is a bottomless pit of slime.

The two Democrats, by comparison, have behaved in far more seemly fashion,  even though one of them has a disdain for truth that rivals the Republicans’.  Clinton’s smarmy proclamations of being “progressive” don’t help one’s digestion, either.

Better to bask in the sunshine and silence of el desierto. Here, a solitary roadrunner pauses arrogantly beside a mesquite bush before dashing across the dirt jeep track.  There a rare burrowing owl chatters defiant protection of her nest.  Blue desert beetles scamper across pebbly terrain where mule deer deposited scat a few hours earlier.  Bits of coyote fur still cling to a cholla.  

Today, clouds are skittering across a sky that’s usually all blue, but there’s no rain in them.  Maybe in a day or two, if the el nino  winds keep up.  Their whisper is the loudest sound around us, unless an aircraft intrudes on its way to or from the local airport.

By accident I glimpse a jackrabbit stark still in the shade of a desert shrub.  If I move it will bolt, but we just stare at one another.  Finally Brandi catches a whiff of it and forces the action.  The jack speeds away, Brandi gives chase for four or five steps, then gives up, knowing he can’t catch those things. At five he’s an old desert hand and he, too appreciates the silence.

He finds a sunny, sandy spot and stretches out for a nap.

Prattle away, you preening, puerile jackasses and your coterie of talking heads.  We can’t hear you.  You can’t touch us out here in our desert.