Saturday, October 30, 2010

Success!

The Rally to Restore Sanity did, at least for a day and at least on the Mall in Washington. Tens of thousands of good-humored, non-angry, non-shouting people turned out - some 16 blocks of elbow-to-elbow people according to one report I saw. They carried signs, most of them humorous, and some people chanted, "Three word phrase! Three word phrase!" In short, it was the kind of rally I and billions like me could support with a smile!


As part of the festivities, Jon Stewart awarded Medals of Reasonableness. They had the image of an owl and the Latin phrase, "Sit Vis Nobiscum." I'm told that means, "May the force be with you!"

Indeed, may the force be with all of us, especially Jon Stewart for reminding us that there still are some reasonable and sane people in this country. Unfortunately, they are not well-represented in government.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Did you know...

Do you know what the average monthly private sector job growth was in the last year of the George W. Bush presidency? There was no growth. We LOST an average of 317,250 jobs per month.

Do you know what the average monthly private sector job growth has been in 2010? We have GAINED an average of 95,888 private sector jobs per month. (Per Bureau of Labor Statistics records.)

Do you know what the federal deficit was in the last full fiscal year of the Bush presidency? It was $1,416,000,000,000.

Do you know what the federal deficit is for fiscal year 2010? $1,291,000,000,000, a decline of $125,000,000,000. Yes, Obama and the "tax and spend" Democrats have actually reduced the deficit.

Do you know where the stock market ended up on the last day of the Bush presidency? The Dow ended at 7949; NASDAQ at 1440; S&P 500 at 805.

Do you know where the stock market ended today? Dow at 11,118.49; NASDAQ at 2507.41; S&P 500 at 1183.26. That's an increase of approximately 40%, 74%, and 47%, respectively.

Do you know that just about 95% of Americans have received a tax CUT and that government spending has actually decreased since Obama took office? Probably not, because this is not the kind of thing that our socalled journalists cover. They are too busy going to tea party events and wetting themselves in excitement over the possibility of a Republican takeover of the government. They are not interested in reporting on the hard work of actually governing this country and trying to pull it out of the very deep hole it is in. They are a disgrace and a threat to our democracy. Maybe even more so than the tea party.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Here's my check, NPR, and thank you for Juan Williams!

My local public radio station is currently in its semi-annual fund drive, attempting to raise over one million dollars to sustain it in the coming six months. Since my radio dial is permanently tuned to NPR and I derive the benefit of their programming every day, it seems only fair that I should help foot the bill. After all, NPR gets almost no money from any public source and so the money to operate the stations and finance their news-gathering and entertainment sections must come from private sources. That means me.

Simultaneous with the beginning of this fund drive, NPR was in the news itself for having fired a pundit named Juan Williams. Williams split his time between NPR and Fox News, of all places, but he always seemed to fit a lot better with Fox. He was given to making obviously biased and ill-considered statements, and, over the years, I had frequently thought, "What is this man doing on my radio station?"

Finally, though, he crossed the line of no-return even for NPR's long-suffering management. He made derogatory and obviously prejudiced statements about adherents to one of the world's great religions. He made these statements in conversation, on the air, with one of his fellow Foxites. Watching this, NPR's management gagged and spit him up. Williams was fired. My only question was, "What took you so long?"

So immediately, Fox offered Williams a $2 million raise in his contract with them and all the talking heads on their network started a campaign against NPR, urging their viewers to contact NPR and protest their action. Soon NPR started getting emails and letters from their "long-time viewers" who wouldn't be watching them anymore because of their unjust action in firing Juan Williams.

Now, let us all pause and remember that NPR stands for National Public RADIO. Radio does not have "viewers" but that fact was lost on those people who were writing the angry letters. And who probably had never listened to NPR.

Anyway, I just found the juxtaposition of this whole tempest in a teapot coming at the time of the fall fundraising campaign too ironic and too delicious to pass up. So I doubled my usual contribution and became a sustaining member of my local station this year. It was the least I could do to take up the slack of those "long-time viewers" who won't be contributing this year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rallying point

Just a week out from the election, the campaigns are getting nastier and nastier and more overtly racist. At the same time, it is getting more and more dangerous to show up at a campaign event to oppose one of the tea party's favorites.

In the midst of this overheated atmosphere, Jon Stewart will bring his "Rally to Restore Sanity" to the nation's capital this weekend. Stewart must be a cockeyed optimist to think that he might be able to make Americans stop and think about how crazy they have become and how it might be a good idea to take it down a notch and actually think before they speak or act. But if anybody can do it, my money is on him. Maybe that makes me a cockeyed optimist, too.

This once-great nation is poised to fall into third world status unless we learn to behave like adults in our political lives and live up to the responsibilities of doing the things that make a great nation. And, yes, that includes taxing ourselves to provide a social safety net for those who need it and to create and repair the essential infrastructure of the country. It also means behaving like adults on the world stage and learning to talk to our enemies instead of always trying to convert them at the point of a gun.

It's an awfully big task for one short Jewish comedian, even if he is the most trusted man in television "news". Our hopes and best wishes go with you, Jon. In a dismal time when it is hard to see a future worth striving for, you have become our beacon. You are our rallying point. Make it good.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peeling the onion of politics

Did you see this story in The Onion last week?

WASHINGTON—According to recent media reports, Democrats stand to lose as many as 8,000 congressional seats and more than 917 gubernatorial races in November's midterm elections. "Republicans are poised to pick up 1,500 seats in Ohio alone, and could wind up with a 23,576-to-12 majority in the Senate," Beltway observer Isaac Hundt said Wednesday, noting the GOP's advantage is likely to increase by Election Day given that its candidates are outspending their opponents by some $900 trillion. "With Democratic disapproval ratings in the quadruple digits, it's a foregone conclusion that Republicans will not only retake Congress, but hold it for the next 20,000 to 25,000 years." Experts also predicted the one-sided election results would cause Barack Obama to die on the spot, at which point the nation's leading conservative talk-radio host would be sworn in as president of the United States forever.


Yes, if you listen to or read the national pundits, it seems that the Democrats are in for a major shellacking at the polls next week. They appear to be headed for historical losses of biblical proportions, which may be appropriate since most of the people running against them seem determined to substitute the Bible for our Constitution. One wonders why all those Democratic candidates don't just concede now and save themselves all that embarrassment next week.

My prediction for the election, though, is that the Democrats won't concede. They'll keep slugging it out right up to the end - be it bitter or sweet - even though the Koch brothers and all the other billionaires who are trying to buy the election this year are poised to send in another infusion of cash to their tea party candidates in coming days. Will this, in fact, be the election in which America was finally bought and wrapped up in a present for the special interests? Will people actually vote their self-interest or will they allow themselves to be led like lambs to a slaughter on the altar of the Kochs and their ilk?

It'll be interesting to see what The Onion's top political story is next week. I wonder if it will make us cry.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Body Work by Sara Paretsky: A review

V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky's Chicago private detective, is one tough woman. Those bad guys who try to intimidate her soon learn that such tactics only strengthen her resolve. She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, and she never, ever gives up on a client.

The opening of this latest book, Body Work, finds V.I. at a club in Chicago where a performance artist who bills herself as the Body Artist is doing her thing. Her "thing" involves appearing naked on stage and allowing members of the audience to draw or write on her body. Everything proceeds about as you would expect in the circumstances until a young woman who is obviously a talented artist starts to draw. What she draws is a woman's face surrounded by flames and by an enigmatic symbol. Her drawing seems to enrage a young Iraq War veteran in the audience who reacts violently before his friends can calm him. A few days later, the woman who drew the picture lies dying in the alley near the club, after having been shot. She is cradled in her dying moments by V.I. Warshawski.

Soon, the police go to arrest the young man who had been disturbed by the drawings. But when they get there, they find him unconscious with a gun that proves to be the murder weapon on his pillow. He remains unconsious and is taken to the hospital under police custody. Did he try to commit suicide or was he deliberately poisoned, causing his coma? And has he been framed for the woman's murder?

The man's parents believe he would have been incapable of shooting the woman and they hire V.I. to prove that. As she digs into the case, she finds that the woman who died had an older sister who died in Iraq while working for one of the contractors there. Was there a connection between this older sister and the suspect in the sister's murder?

Things get more and more complicated when Warshawski uncovers evidence that the death in Iraq may not have been what it first seemed and she finds that the dead sisters came from a dysfunctional family that has suffered multiple tragedies. Were they all somehow related?

This is a complicated story that seems ripped right out of today's headlines about the Iraq war and the role of contractors in it.

Paretsky and her alter ego, Warshawski, have a strong interest in and concern about issues related to women, especially violence against women, and that concern is woven through this story. Paretsky skillfully keeps the reader guessing until very near the end and then she brings all the disparate strands of the story together to create the complete picture.

The problem is that the bad guys here are very rich people and very rich people tend to buy their way out of trouble. In the end, Warshawski is able to serve her client well and bring about a kind of justice, but not enough. One is left not really wanting the book to end and wanting very much to know what Warshawski's next case will be.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The militantly ignorant march on

One of the better columns that Maureen Dowd has written recently appeared in the online New York Times yesterday. It's entitled "Making Ignorance Chic" and it talks about some of the incredibly and proudly ignorant characters on the political scene this year. She compares them to the ultimate "dumb blonde" Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn was the perfect fantasy of every man's dreams - an incredibly beautiful and sexual being who was his intellectual inferior. Whenever they might begin to feel overwhelmed by all that beauty and pure sexuality, they could always make themselves feel better by making fun of her supposed "dumbness".

But Marilyn was no dummy and she certainly did not aspire to ignorance like many of today's politicians. Although she had had an incredibly dysfunctional upbringing that left her scarred for life, she did, in fact, try to overcome all of that. She read the classics and attempted to educate herself. She talked to and listened to intellectuals and counted some of them among her friends. The writer Saul Bellow was one of them and Dowd quotes him in her column as writing that Monroe "conducted herself like a philosopher."

Would that some of our politicians this season would emulate Marilyn and conduct themselves like philosophers.

Instead we have people like Sarah Palin who can't tell you the names of newspapers she reads or which founding fathers she admires, or her clone, Christine O'Donnell, who denies that the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. We have people like Joe Miller and Carl Paladino running for office and threatening - and, in Miller's case, even handcuffing - journalists who try to cover their campaigns and ask them questions. Then there is Sharon Angle of Nevada who runs away from journalists when they start asking questions she doesn't want to answer and who told a roomful of Hispanic school kids in Las Vegas that they looked "a little more Asian to me."

I guess it goes without saying that all of these people deny any relationship between human activity and the global climate change which is all too apparent to anyone with eyes to see. And, of course, for them, evolution is just a myth. After all, as O'Donnell said there are no half-human, half-monkeys running around. (I would imply that she hasn't looked in the mirror lately but that would be a gross insult to monkeys.)

One has to wonder what Marilyn Monroe would have thought about this crop of militantly and proudly ignorant candidates that are seeking to win elections by flaunting their ignorance and saying to voters, in effect, "See, we are just like you."

Oh, I do hope not. I hope voters are not that stupid.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The most popular politician in America

Who would you guess to be the most popular politician in America?

Sarah Palin? You would probably think so if you were a regular viewer of Fox News.

Barack Obama? Right-wingers detest him. Left-wingers are disappointed in him. Does anybody except Bo the dog even like him anymore?

Mike Huckabee? Some profess to find him charming and appealing. Personally, I don't see it, but then I'm almost never with the majority.

This time, though, I am with the majority. If you asked me who is the most popular politician in America, I would reply, unhesitatingly, Bill Clinton, and so, apparently, would 55% of my fellow Americans! This is according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

In the poll 55% had a favorable view of Clinton while only 23% had an unfavorable view. Only two other politicians in the poll managed to garner an overall favorable response. Barack Obama had 47% favorable, 41% unfavorable, and Mike Huckabee barely squeaked by with 26% favorable and 25% unfavorable. As for Sarah Palin, she was well into negativity with only 30% favorable and a whopping 48% unfavorable.

So what is it about this love affair that the American people have with Bill Clinton? How can they still have a positive view of him after all his mistakes, some of them very public?

I think the answer lies in the fact that we have all made mistakes and we have all had our embarrassments and we can identify with Bill. He is our all-too-human president, the man who, for eight too brief years, gave us peace and prosperity. Today, it is hard to remember what that was like, but we yearn for it and so we look at the larger-than-life man with the (now) shock of white hair and we have nothing but positive feelings about him.

Bill Clinton is smarter than most people and he has a heart bigger than most people. He loves and needs people, as he loves and needs politics. People sense that and they respond to it. They see that he doesn't mind getting down in the political trenches with the foot soldiers to slug it out with the competition. That is why he is so much in demand this political season and why he is criss-crossing the country to appear at rallies in far-flung places and urge people to get out and vote for Democrats. He understands only too well what the alternatives are.

Another thing about Bill Clinton, he has had loyal friends, but he's always been lucky in his enemies. People like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. Yuck! No wonder Clinton is so popular. In comparison to these guys, he is a veritable paragon of virtue.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

Water. We generally take it for granted here in America. We expect that when we turn on the tap, it will be there, fresh and clean. We use it without thinking about it. It is like the air that we breathe.

What if we had to walk hours to get water and then carry it back home with us in a cistern weighing around 40 pounds? What if, even then, we could not count on that water being pure and unpolluted and free from disease? What if we had to drink it anyway and give it to our children, because it is the only water there is? This is the reality for far too many people in the developing world.

It is a fact that unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. The toll is estimated at 42,000 people a week! That is 42,000 human beings dying from preventable water-borne diseases such as salmonella, hepatitis A, cholera, and E.coli.

It is also a fact that more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. An incredible 2.5 billion people on earth lack access to toilets. Instead of going into a sewage system, their waste is spilled into streams and rivers, the same streams and rivers from which these people take their drinking water. The wonder is that more than 42,000 a week do not die from this pollution.

On this blue planet that is mostly covered by water and where all life depends upon water, fresh, clean water is a scarce commodity and is becoming scarcer. But that is a problem that seems to little concern us here, where the average American uses 159 gallons of water a day, more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. We shower or bathe and wash our hands throughout the day. We water our lawns and wash our cars. We use a LOT of water.

Consider that an average five minute shower uses about ten gallons of water. What would it be like if we only had ten gallons of water to bathe, wash our clothes, cook our meals and quench our thirst? I'll bet we would be careful with that water and we would not take it for granted. That is the reality for too many people in the world, and if we do not start paying attention, it may someday be our reality as well.

Water is the most precious substance on earth. More precious than gold or diamonds. We can live without gold or diamonds. We cannot live without water. Let us manage this resource wisely and do what we can to see that everyone on earth has a sufficiency of fresh, clean water. It's the least we can do as we use of 159 gallons today.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

These folks give hypocrisy a bad name

Remember back a couple of months ago when the right wing was all up in arms over having an Islamic Community Center built in the middle of Manhattan? They were so concerned about the sensitive feelings of survivors and kin of the victims of the Twin Towers tragedy. It would hurt their feelings to have an Islamic place of worship a few blocks from the site of the towers. Never mind the fact that a significant number of the innocent victims of that attack were Muslims who worked in the Towers and never mind that there had been an Islamic prayer room in the Towers which was destroyed by the attack of the fanactics along with everything else that awful day. Those were just inconvenient facts and these people don't have a very close relationship with facts.

But, of course, another of their big concerns about the project was the question of where the money to build the structure was coming from. Was it from foreign sources? Was it "dirty Muslim money"? They spent weeks shouting about this and how it was just wrong for foreigners to be able to contribute to the building of this center on American soil. The loudest shouters, as usual, were on Fox News.

So, now, since the Supreme Court's decision allowing corporations to contribute essentially whatever they want in political campaigns and remain anonymous while doing it, in this fall's political campaign, we have the specter of foreign corporations, and perhaps foreign governments as well, making political contributions through the National Chamber of Commerce and other right wing organizations to affect the outcome of our elections. Yes, that's right - they are trying their very hardest to buy our government outright.

All those people who were so outraged about foreigners contributing to the building of a house of worship are now apoplectic about the possibility that these elections and our government can be bought by foreigners. Right? Right? Can't you hear the shouting on Fox News?

Well, they are shouting all right, but what they are shouting about is people complaining about the corruption of the political system and the buying of the government by rich people and by foreign interests. What they are saying is, "Move along now. Nothing to see here. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

Truly, these people give hypocrisy a bad name.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oh, happy day!

This is a very happy day. It isn't often that there is a story in the news that brings unadulterated and uncomplicated joy to all who hear or read it, but surely the story of the Chilean miners who were finally safely brought back to the surface of the earth today must be such a story.

These men had been trapped underground for more than two months, while their foreman kept them organized and focused and managed their available supplies so that they could have a chance to survive the ordeal. On the surface, government officials, engineers, scientists, medical personnel worked together non-stop to drill an escape route and devise the equipment and machinery needed to draw the men safely out. The families and friends of the men kept vigil, creating an impromptu village near the site of rescue operations. Some of the wives had been on the site continuously since the accident.

The beginning of the end was last night when the first miner was brought up and, throughout the day today, there were updates as each one made it from the darkness of the mine to the brilliant sunlight of the day. They were issued sunglasses to wear to protect their sensitive eyes from the light which they had not seen for so long.

This story is a triumph of the human spirit on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin, but maybe we should begin with the miners themselves. They were obviously well-trained for such an eventuality and they kept their composure and kept hope alive through all their long ordeal. All of those people who worked to effect their rescue give new meaning to the word "competent". They worked expeditiously and with fervor to free their countrymen and return them to their loved ones. The political establishment in Chile lent its power and commitment to the effort.

It is a story that has riveted Chile and, indeed, the world for more than two months. The outcome is all that those of us who followed it could possibly have hoped for. Bravo, Chile! Bravissimos to everyone involved! Thank you for giving us something to celebrate amid all the doom and gloom of our daily news.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Are Americans dummies about religion?

You probably have seen or heard about the recent story regarding a poll done by the Pew Research Center to ascertain Americans' knowledge about the world's religions. (Nicholas Kristof had a column about the story in The Times a couple of days ago in which he included an abbreviated version of the poll.)

The results of the poll are a mixed bag and are complicated by several factors, but the bottom line is that Americans really don't know much about religion. I guess we can add that to science and math and history and the long list of other things that we don't know much about.

Some professed surprise that the group in the survey who knew most about religion were atheists and agnostics. I'm surprised that they were surprised. After all, atheists and agnostics are generally people who have given a good amount of thought and study to religion. Most do not come to their disbelief easily. Quite often they are people who grew up in religious households but who, upon adult reflection, found their family's belief systems unacceptable.

Religious people, on the other hand, at least in my experience, are often people who, almost by definition, take things on faith. They don't give a lot of thought to the history or philosophy of their religion. Indeed, often, I think, they prefer not to know. It makes things too complicated, so they just accept what their theology tells them as truth, without questioning it. And it would never occur to most of them to study another religion, to look at it with an open mind. (And, yes, I do know there are religious people with very curious minds who do study and think about other religions and still manage to hang onto their own faith.)

Given that, it should not surprise us that Americans, who overwhelmingly profess to be religious people, are rather ignorant about the religions of the world. It shouldn't surprise us, but it should, perhaps, sadden us and cause us some chagrin. Americans in general seem to have very definite and firm opinions about the religions of the world - especially Islam - and yet they know so little about them!

Full disclosure: Religions and myths, and especially comparative religions, have long been a keen interest of mine. The most fascinating time I ever spent with my television was in watching the mini-series on PBS of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers about The Power of Myth in 1988. I later obtained audio tapes of the conversations and have listened to them several times over the years. And so, I find stuff like this Pew quiz irresistable.

Religions and myths have had such power over human beings ever since we have been human beings and they continue to hold sway over us today. Why can't Israel live in peace with its Arab neighbors? Why are American military personnel fighting and dying in Afghanistan? Why is there periodic conflict between India and Pakistan? Why does China continue to try to exterminate the Buddhism of Tibet? Look around the world today, and wherever you see conflict, if you trace it to its source, you will find a religious or mythic belief - something that tells a people that they are special and that they were chosen by their god for some holy purpose.

Perhaps it would behoove us to learn more about these powerful forces and to try to understand what makes them so powerful. Of course, that would mean opening our minds to new and different ideas, which can be scary. But, be brave! You can begin by going to the Pew website and taking a brief 15 question quiz that will give you some idea of just how much you know about religion.

Are you a dummy? Actually, I'm willing to bet you are pretty smart.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Secretariat - the horse, not the movie

All the hoopla about the new Disney movie, Secretariat, has brought back some wonderful memories of an amazing animal. I'm not really a horseracing fan like my husband who eats this stuff up every day of his life, but I was a Secretariat fan like millions of other people in this country and, indeed, around the world.

In 1973, when he won the Triple Crown of racing, there wasn't much to cheer about. We were still mired in the Vietnam War and every day brought news of the sad total of casualties from half a world away. Richard Nixon was president and was deep into his paranoia, dragging the country along with him. The Watergate scandal was on the horizon. We desperately needed some good news. And along came Secretariat.

He was a gorgeous horse, right out of central casting. He was a big flashy red with three white stockings and a white blaze on his face, and he had personality. He seemed to love the limelight. Maybe that is anthropomorphizing. Who knows what a horse really feels? But from the outside, it certainly appeared that he relished his celebrity and enjoyed having his picture taken.

And when he ran, oh my! He was Pegasus flying around the track. Such grace and power.

I watched all three races of the Triple Crown that year, something I had never done before and I don't remember having done since. When he won the Kentucky Derby, it was obvious even to one who knew next to nothing about racing like myself that this was a special horse. Then he won the Preakness and the racing world was electrified with the possibility that there might actually be a Triple Crown winner for the first time in 25 years. By this time, the rest of the world had picked up on the story and realized what was happening. We all waited for the Belmont Stakes.

Only four other horses were entered in the Belmont, including Sham, who had run second to Secretariat in both the Derby and the Preakness. When the race started, both Sham and Secretariat set a fast pace and quickly left the other three horses behind. But soon Sham began to tire in this longest of the three races and from that point, there was no doubt, if indeed there ever had been.

As Sham faltered, Secretariat seemed to get stronger and faster. He blazed his way around the track getting farther and farther ahead. By the time he finished, he was an amazing 31 lengths ahead of the next horse in the race. He set the track record that day and it still stands today. It may stand forever.

When I think of Secretariat today, that is the race that I remember - a magnificent red horse running all by himself with no real competition. Running, seemingly, just for the pure joy of running. And that was the emotion that I experienced watching him that day. Pure joy. In all the sad, tragic, and hateful world of 1973, here was something that was pure and beautiful and without blemish. Even today, when I want to evoke that feeling - that feeling of pure joy - I remember Secretariat's Belmont race.

Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 at the age of 19 after he contracted a painful hoof disease. After his death, a necropsy examination was performed. When his heart was removed, it was found that it was two-and-a-half times the size of a normal horse's heart. That was no surprise to his fans. We always knew he had heart.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is this the kind of society we want?

By now, you have probably heard about the recent fire in Obion County, Tennessee, in which the fire department stood by without lifting a hose while a family's house and all its possessions, as well as three family dogs and a cat, burned. It seems that the family had forgotten to pay its annual fee of $75 for fire protection and so the fire department refused to act. They refused even though the owner of the house offered to pay the fee on the spot and his neighbor also wanted to pay the fee and have the firemen try to save the house and the animals. They refused to take payment and refused to act. The house burned to the ground. The animals burned to death.

One has to wonder what would have happened if those four animals had been four children. Would the fire department have continued to stand on principle and refused to act? In a John Galt world where it is strictly every person for him/herself, that is exactly what they would have done and that seems to be what many conservative commentators on the event believe should have happened. In such a world, there is no social contract between government and citizen or even between individual citizens. We owe nothing to each other.

What about the taxes that we pay? Should not they ensure us at least some basic level of protection? Doesn't a government at minimum owe its citizens protection from fire, and help in time of natural catastrophe, as well as protection from those, foreign and domestic, who would do us harm? In John Galt world, of course, there would be no taxes. With such a philosophy, several thousand years of painful inch by inch advances in human civilization would be wiped out and we would revert to survival of the fittest. For most, life would be nasty, brutish, and short.

This is the political and social theory of the selfish rich. I say "selfish rich" because, obviously, not all rich people are selfish. Many are enormously generous with their money and their own time and work tirelessly to improve society for us all. But there is a subculture of the rich "haves" who have all they need to live in comfort and see no reason why they should contribute to the betterment of society or do anything to help provide for those who, through no fault of their own, are not rich. You see, in the world view of these people, it is always the fault of the poor or middle-class that they are poor or middle-class. If they were only smart enough or worked hard enough, they, too, could be rich and spend their time kicking less fortunate people in the face. They are the people who believe that "government should be drowned in the bathtub" and that it should not provide any services.

And what about morality? Whether or not it is legal for a fire department in Tennessee to stand by and watch as a house burns if the owner hasn't paid his fee (Apparently it is.) is it moral? Do we not owe something to each other as human beings? And wouldn't one of those things be that if you see a neighbor's house on fire, you do everything you can to put the fire out and to rescue any living beings who may be inside the conflagration?

What if you see someone drowning? Do you check and see whether he is paid up in all his fees before you jump in and try to save him or even throw him a life preserver? That seems to be the kind of society that many would choose for us, should they be in a position of power.

Unless that is the kind of society we want to live in, perhaps we had better get to work to make sure that those who think this way don't get into those positions of power. Personally, I am appalled that anyone living in the interdependent world of the 21st century could even think that such a society would be a good idea. And I wonder - what would Jesus (or fill in the blank with your favorite religious philosopher) think or do?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eastbound and Down...and out!

I settled down with the hubby on Sunday night to watch a little television. We set the DVR to record PBS' Masterpiece and headed over to HBO for "Boardwalk Empire", their new series set in Atlantic City during Prohibition. This series, starring Steve Buscemi, is very good. It's well-written, well-acted, and it is about an interesting period in history. Moreover, it has characters that can engage one's empathy, people that one can care about.

After that, "Bored to Death" came on, another well-written and well-acted show. This one, though, is a comedy, not a drama, and it is flat-out funny. It certainly kept me entertained.

Next up was "Eastbound and Down." I watched a couple of episodes in this series last year and quickly decided that it wasn't for me, but hubby was going to watch it so I thought, "What the heck? I'll give it another try." Well, I won't make that mistake again!

If you haven't seen the show, consider yourself lucky. It is about a former Major League baseball player, Kenny Powers, who is now down and out and living in Mexico and decides to try for a comeback with the local team there. Kenny is one of the more loathsome, unattractive, and downright offensive characters I have ever seen on television, and I watched every episode of "The Sopranos", but, believe me, none of those mobsters could hold a candle to Kenny when it comes to pure hatefulness with no redeeming social value.

One of the producers of this "comedy" is Will Ferrell. I don't know why he isn't starring in it because the protagonist is every obnoxious character Ferrell has ever played rolled into one and then squared. The show gives sophomoric humor a bad name. I suppose it might appeal to some elements of the male population - some very young elements, I would suspect. I can't imagine that anyone with very much experience in life would be able to sit still for it.

Of course, those young males are probably just the demographic that the stuff that passes for humor in this show is aimed at. That's not my demographic, but then, frankly, I wouldn't want to be a part of any demographic that would enjoy this show.

Have I mentioned that I think the show is crap? Surely HBO can do better than this!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wait'll next year and hope...

So now it has come - that time that we have dreaded for the past six months. The end of baseball season. No more nightly visits with Brownie and JD. No more astonishingly balletic moves to gasp over, no more unjust umpires to moan over, no more ecstasy of victory or agony of defeat. The Astros' season is over.

The season ended on a high note as they shut out the Cubs, but over the last week to ten days of the season, they had lost the momentum that they had enjoyed since the end of June. Suddenly, they were in a funk, playing with no more energy than they had during the first several weeks of the season when they were truly awful. They looked tired and out of their depth and they limped to the end of the season.

For a while there in late August and early September, I had high hopes for the end of their season. I thought they would at least finish in third place and might even overtake the Cardinals for second place in the division. It was not to be. They finished fourth out of six. Now, we'll just have to look forward to spring training and hope that next year will be kinder to our team. It would help a lot if they could learn to play as well in April and May as they do in July and August.

Meanwhile, of course, the season isn't over for eight teams, as the playoffs loom in just a couple of days. On the last day of the season, San Francisio clinched the Western Division of the National League and Bobby Cox's Atlanta Braves clinched the Wild Card, so Bobby has one more chance to go to the Big Dance before he retires. Unfortunately, his Braves are so hobbled by injuries that it is hard to see how they could go very far, but you never know with a short series.

In the long marathon of a 162 game season, every team pretty much ends up where it deserves to end up, but in a five or seven game series there isn't always time for the cream to find its way to the top. On paper, right now, the Phillies are far and away the best team in baseball, but they don't play the games on paper, and emotion can sometimes carry athletes to highs they didn't know they could reach. I am quite sure that there are no players in baseball who would love to win for their manager more than the Braves would right now, but will that emotion be enough?

In the American League, I must say my heart is with Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Speaking of cream rising to the top, year after year, the Minnesota Twins, with few marquee players and a minuscule payroll, seem to find a way to end up at or near the top of their division. They must be doing something right. Maybe the Astros should pay attention to how they do it.

Maybe by next spring, the Astros' management team will have picked up some valuable lessons from these successful teams. Anyway, we fans will wait till then and hope.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A rally for our times

Have you got your ticket to go to the big rally in Washington? Oh, not today's rally, although that rally for jobs was pretty big, too. No, I'm talking about the big rally that will take place on 10/30/10, the "Rally to Restore Sanity". Never has such a rally been so needed.

Jon Stewart announced the rally on "The Daily Show" in September and momentum for it has been picking up steam ever since. Even President Obama has had nice things to say about it.

Stewart, the funnyman fake news anchor, is very serious about this. He has said that he believes that the angry shouters should not be the only voices being heard. The rest of us who believe that shouting is counterproductive and terrible for your throat and who believe that the only pictures that should have Hitler mustaches drawn on them are pictures of Hitler - or maybe Charlie Chaplin - we have a right to be heard also. And so, he's giving us a forum for making our voices heard and our numbers counted.

He says we should think of this rally as Woodstock only without the drugs and nudity, or as the Million Man March, only smaller and with women marching, too. And I'm thinking, "What a wonderful idea!" It's about time that our side, the non-shouters, took back the Mall in Washington and made it our own once again.

I know that I am not alone in being appalled at the hatred and anger and fear of "others" that have emanated from so many right wing rallies around the country this past summer - well, these past two years really. Now a comedian is giving us the chance to stand up to that hatred, anger and fear and laugh at it. He's giving us a chance to tell the world that that is not us. We are positive, diverse, forward-looking people and we are not afraid.

I hope this rally has a tremendous turnout. I won't be able to be there in person, but I urge any non-shouter, non-hater who can to go, and I promise to be there in spirit as I'm sure will many others who are unable to go. Sanity has been in very short supply in our country recently. Maybe this can be the start of a comeback for it.

And you know, when "the most trusted man in television news" is a fake newsman, it tells you all you need to know about the state of television journalism - or even journalism, period - in this country. Thank goodness for Jon Stewart, the ONLY television newsperson that I trust. Well, except for Rachel Maddow.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Banned and burned classics of the 20th century

Banned Books Week of 2010 is winding down, so I visited the American Library Association for more information on the subject and came across this title: Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. What an interesting and diverse group of books it is.

As I read over the list and the reasons that the books had been banned and, in some cases, burned, it became obvious that most of the bannings - though not all - had to do with sex. Even in the 20th century we still just didn't know how to handle that little three-letter word and all its implicitness and explicitness. In second place seemed to be offensive language or concerns about the way religion was handled.

But some of the bannings were truly mystifying. For example, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, which I loved as a teenager, was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929 and was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933! I'm not sure what it was about the story of the dog, Buck, that engendered such passions. And The Lord of the Rings, along with other J.R.R. Tolkien books, was burned in Alamagordo, New Mexico, of all places, in 2001 because the parishioners at Christ Community Church thought it was satanic. That would have come as a severe shock to that staunch Christian, Tolkien.

Here, then, is the list published by the ALA of the most frequently banned or challenged 20th century classics. I've highlighted the ones I've actually read. Obviously, I've got my work cut out to get through the rest of the list.

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Ulysses - James Joyce
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies - William Golding
1984 - George Orwell
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm - George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
Native Son - Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut (I'm actually embarrassed to admit I haven't read this one.)
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild - Jack London
Go Tell it on the Mountain - James Baldwin
All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
Sophie's Choice - William Styron
Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace - John Knowles
Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (Although I haven't read it, I was mesmerized by the excellent PBS series based on the book, so I've always felt as though I've read it.)
Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence
The Naked and the Dead - Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run - John Updike

By this tally, it seems the most banned authors of the last one hundred years were D.H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway! Who would have thunk it?

So there you have it - the most hated and feared books of the last century. What's stopping you? Get to reading!