Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Do You Know Santa Claus?

It's been a while, hasn't it?

Computer problems. Other problems. Life sometimes intervenes to inhibit blogging though it really should be the other way around.

In any case, I have survived another Christmas Season. The enforced "joy" of this "most wonderful time of the year" is a little hard to take even when you have some reasons to be joyful. Christmas music is one of the harder things to take. It is ubiquitous. It is incessant. It is worse than elevator music in that many of the tunes are vicious ear-worms that eat away at your brain. Now, please don't misunderstand. I like some Christmas music. The minor key O, Little Town of Bethlehem, has an ominousness that makes it stand out amongst carols. My personal favorite is Good King Wenceslaus with its message of decency and generosity:

So, you Christian men be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Which of you would bless the poor,
Shall himself find blessing.

I'm also partial to God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.

Among Christmas songs, there are 3 from the years of World War II that are special favorites. All speak of longing for something past and only tentatively possible in the future. The best known is, of course, Irving Berlin's White Christmas. In it the quiet, white world under its glistening blanket of snow is a dream of the past as it must have been for a lot of servicemen when it was written. Similarly, I'll Be Home For Christmas is filled with the ache of longing. Yet I find the most moving to be Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

The song was introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis. The song originates in 1943 and was so depressing that Garland demanded revisions. According to the Wikipedia entry, the song opened thus:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
It may be your last.
Next year we all may be living in the past.

and continued:

Faithful friends who were dear to us,
Will be near to us,
No more.

While those thoughts certainly were in the minds of many a person as the fourth year of war and second since America's entry into it concluded, they don't represent anything up-lifting. Hugh Martin, at Garland's urging changed the lyrics to a form only partially familiar today.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light.
'Til next year our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Make the Yuletide gay.
'Til next year our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days
Of yore.

Faithful friends who are dear to us,
Gather near to us,
Once more.

Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through some how,
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Loss and a very conditional hope for the future suffuse the song and make it all the more poignant when we consider its historical context. The final injunction retains the feeling that one must sieze this opportunity for a merry little Christmas because there may not be another. I don't mean to be so sober and depressing, but it is an achingly beautiful song even in the more up-beat and familiar Frank Sinatra version. Still, to return to my original point, there are some Christmas songs that need to be quietly and permanently retired. The dogs barking Jingle Bells is certainly the one that only the person making royalties from its play could love but the Chipmunks Christmas song needs to be buried very deep right next to those barking dogs.

But enough of the cynicism! How was my Christmas? Not so bad.

My friend, Anna, and I shared Christmas dinner with her soon-to-be 91-year old mother at the assisted living facility where Emma Catherine lives. We had a very good institutional meal which was punctuated with the poor enunciation of one of the servers. You see, the meal offered a choice of roast beef or roast turkey or both. Probably because of the two kinds of meat there were two kinds of potatoes, baked and mashed. The woman serving the side dishes asked each personoming through the line, "Mashed or baked?" She didn't enunciate clearly, however, and tended to elide and run her words together. So I'd barely begun eating when I thought I heard her say, "Masterbate?" "No. She can't have said that," I thought. Then I heard it again. A moment or two of processing and I realized that she was saying, "Masht er bak'd" Anna had heard it the same way I had so we had to explain it to her mom, adding that it was a good thing that the server hadn't any comments about plucking the turkey.

But the sort of high point for me came on Saturday, the 22nd. I was working as a cashier in the local arts association's Christmas store. A couple came up to my register with their little girl who was probably about 4 or 5. While I was ringing up their purchases the girl asked me, "Do you know Santa Claus?"

"Yes. I know him a little."

"I'm kind of afraid of him."

"Well, you don't need to be. He's o. k. Besides, did you ever think that Santa might be a little afraid of you?"

It took a second or two but her face screwed up and she began to cry. I felt terrible. I said, "He might be afraid that you wouldn't like him." That got her thinking and the tears went away as quickly as they'd started. Her parents understood and I think she might have left a little less afraid of Santa Claus. I hope so.

In any case, as cynical as I am about the commercialization of this season and the enforced conviviality that gives us some license for viciousness for the other 46 weeks of the year I do know Santa Claus a little and wish you all "a merry little Christmas".


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Most Basic Responsibilities: Neo-Fascists with no concept of irony.

Yesterday America's most visible embarrassment, Dubya, the putative president, signed a continuing resolution to keep Federal departments funded. He used his weekly radio address to accuse the Congress of "failing to fulfill its most basic responsibility". This comes hot on the heels of his photo opportunity in support of the ill-conceived and vastly under-funded "No Child Left Behind Act" in which he informed those gathered to celebrate education that "Childrens do learn." It also follows by a week or so Dubya's outrage at the MoveOn "General Betrayus" advertisement.

In order to be one of the current crop of neo-fascists who style themselves as "Conservatives" one must have no shame and no sense of irony. The Republicans who were appalled at the MoveOn ad most vociferously were not terribly disturbed by the farrago of John McCain's black baby at the time of South Carolina's 2000 Republican Primary. They actively participated in an advertisement in 2004 that morphed decorated Vietnam Veteran Max Cleland into Osama bin Laden and actively supported or, at least never condemned, the Swift Boat Veterans scurrilous attack on John Kerry. And subsequently they have been utterly silent as their favorite drug addict, Rush Limbaugh, has attacked John Murtha. No shame and no sense of irony.

Dubya has to have no sense of irony or else he couldn't get through any given day. And, like his father and grandfather before him, he has no sense of shame. That gene has been bred out of the Bush family for a number of generations and carefully kept from creeping in through marriage.

But the accusation that Congress or anyone has failed in their most basic responsibilities has a special stench coming from Dubya's mouth. You see, on the same day that Dubya was castigating Congress - meaning Democrats - for being unable to pass vital legislation in the face of Republican opposition and his own veto threats the Topps Meat company was notifying the public that tons of hamburger from its plant were tainted with e. coli bacteria and unsafe to eat. What has that to do with failing to fulfill basic responsibilities, you ask? Well the Food and Drug Administration is an Executive Branch agency that oversees the purity of the things that go into our bodies. Leaving aside the issues of lax testing of drugs for the moment, during the last 26 years we have had an ever increasing number of instances of contaminated food. During that same 26 years under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, the Republican Congresses of 1995 through 2006 and Dubya the FDA has had an ever shrinking budget. Sure we can throw away a trillion or two dollars on a unjustified war that has no foreseeable ending but meat inspectors...they're one example of "big government" and "unnecessary regulation" and "interference in the private sector". Surely meat inspectors aren't necessary since the food industry can adequately police itself, right?

No.

A century ago we had an unregulated meat packing industry that Upton Sinclair exposed in The Jungle. The wholesale violation of sanitary conditions was such an outrage that that notable lefty and closet communist, Theodore Roosevelt, with the support of a Republican Congress passed legislation to regulate an industry that was killing and sickening U. S. citizens at an alarming rate. But that was a century ago. Surely the blind pursuit of profit and negligence couldn't let it happen again!

Topps Meat is not "the canary in the coal mine". It is the latest example of a system that has been intentionally dismantled by ideologues no less criminally deluded than the Soviet planners who killed millions through forced collectivization in the 1920s and 1930s. It is of a piece with the appallingly inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina that more than 2 years later has not properly housed thousands of families. It is of a piece with sending men into battle without proper equipment. It is of a piece with sitting in a Florida classroom inactive while fanatical ideologues flew airliners into buildings. It is of a piece with all of the Republican's other failures to fulfill their most basic responsibilities to protect the people of this nation. It is also of a piece with the actions of this group of neo-fascist ideologues in violating their oaths to "protect and defend the Constitution of these United States" by suspending habeus corpus, spying on American citizens without cause or warrant and other extra-legal measures.

Dubya hasn't any right to outrage over anyone's advertising and certainly hasn't any right to accuse anyone or any institution of failing to live up to their responsibilities. Without either a sense of shame or a sense of irony he will continue to to make such statements. Those of us ashamed of his shamelessness and understanding of the irony in his statements can only hope that enough of the electorate will understand and also be ashamed so that we can have a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to begin undoing the damage.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bellingham Moments I: The Art of the Deal

The other day I had a quintessentially Bellingham Moment. I had ridden my bicycle to the Public Market. It's a lovely place with a food market full of organic, free-trade and - sometimes - too airy-fairy, too flaky for words goods as well as the home of a group of wonderful small, locally owned restaurants. I had some business with the owner so I did that and went out to the bike rack to retrieve my bicycle.

There was a young woman, most likely in that 25 to 35 age demographic. She'd temporarily parked her bicycle there to take a call on her cell phone. She was all in a spandex biking outfit, black with red and yellow accents/reflectors that fit her like a glove. And she certainly had a glovely body entirely appropriate to spandex.

Like most people talking on cell phones she had no awareness of her voice volume. She was, in her own mind, alone with her phone conversation. Thus I would have had to have been deaf not to overhear her conversation. She was answering with a series of "yeses" and "I understands" and "umm-hmms" until she concluded the conversation with, "I understand. You need a quote on up-grading your coverage to an umbrella policy for 3 or 5 million. I'll get you that quote and call you back. You too. Good-bye."

With that she closed her cell phone. Took her bike from the rack, flashed me a sunny smile and rode off. I'm sure that her other bike is a Beemer.

Now I'm not about to say that this is an "only in Bellingham" moment. I'm sure that such things happen even more frequently around Stamford or Darien, Connecticut and in some sections of Los Angeles as well as elsewhere. But the organic grocer, the young woman bicycler in spandex and the 7-figure money amounts...that's a Bellingham moment if ever there was one.

Words. Words. Words. The Rhetoric: Troops

When I was a boy my mother spoke of "our boys" who'd fought in World War II or were fighting in Korea. When I was in my teens that terminology was still in common usage for the soldiers, sailors and airmen who'd been sent off on the foolish mission to subjugate Vietnam. If they weren't "our boys" they were soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines. They had some identity. Each was, at least a sailor, a Marine, a soldier. And when they came home broken in mind or body or for burial, there was an individual coffin, an individual loss. We saw those coffins. We saw the funerals, heard the buglers and the fired salutes. On television we even saw them fall.

Today we see no coffins. The horrors of war are little in evidence on the television. The buglers are on tape. The salutes go unfired. Even at their home bases the memorial services are collective rather than separate for each individual loss. And those "boys" are now simply wrapped up in the impersonal plural of "troops". I've even heard those who should know better use the plural, collective noun "troop" to refer to a single person.

Proverbially we are what we eat. I would suggest that most people think what they hear and speak as they think. Or don't think more likely.

It is in the interest of those who perpetrated this obscene, unjustified war in Iraq that we not see the consequences of their hubris and blunders. It is also in the interest of these same war criminals that we think of the human beings whose murder they abet of impersonal, faceless troops rather than individual soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines and certainly never consider them as "our boys".

Unfortunately for Dubya and his fellow neo-fascists who have perpetrated the crime that is the Iraq War, too many troops have gone to the Middle Eastern desert for too long. Too many have come home in pieces for the impersonalization to retain its initial force. As the hollowness of their rhetorical ploys has become as apparent as the open graves into which more and more are laid, Dubya's popularity has plummeted. More people than the neo-fascists thought understand that the rhetoric about "cut and run", "stay the course" and "timetables for surrender" really mean, "We don't care that your child or loved one may die or be maimed as long as we can claim to have remained strong. None of our children stand in harms way so we can safely persist in a policy that never made sense in the first place." Then they can hop into their limousines bedecked with a magnetic "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon without any pangs over the horrid irony.

We know from countless television and movie crime dramas that murderers, particularly the psychopaths, impersonalize their victims. They refuse to name them individually. I would suggest that Dubya and his co-conspirators are murderers and entirely psychopathic but then did we really need to analyze their rhetoric to understand that?.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Alfred Hitchcock, Future Christian Homemakers and Galaxy Quest

The Paradigm of the Compassionate Conservative

The cable Television channel, AMC, is currently running an Alfred Hitchcock series that picks up with his films for Universal from Vertigo on through his last, Family Plot. Some women friends have watched some of the movies and come away appalled at the Barbie Doll-like quality of Hitchcock's female leads from this period. They were bothered by the helplessness and passivity of Kim Novak in Vertigo and Tippi Hedren in The Birds. Indeed, those women aren't exactly the perfect examples of women from the period. They are the suspense movie versions of Doris Day in those gawdawful Rock Hudson romatic comedies like Pillow Talk. They are also why, when I was a boy, I instinctively preferred Judy Holiday to Doris Day. But I was also probably reacting to the fact that I never saw any women who were, paradoxically (oxymoronically?) as coldly sensual. Not that I didn't look. They just didn't exist in real life. Not only that but they were a recent male fantasy invention. In fact, none of the women who played those roles were actually like that in real life. Nor had they been like that before World War II ended.

The role of the cold woman, repressed sexually, passive, subservient was a specific image born, I think, innocently enough in the fantasies of men away at war and transmitted into the movie scripts that those men directed and wrote. Consider the most famous female icon of the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe. She was sexy, anything but cold and repressed and not taken seriously at all by anyone but Arthur Miller. Not until her last major movie, that incredible confluence of Miller, John Houston, Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift in The Misfits (revealing title, no?), did she get a serious role. But compare Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint who always had serious roles as the unattainable ideal woman.

This Stepford Wife paradigm was entirely a fiction superbly illustrated by comparing the private and public lives of that television icon of the glamorous homemaker, Loretta Young. Most people who lived it knew that the fictional image and the reality were greatly at odds. In fairly short order the blond ice queen we see in Tippi Hedren became a parody of itself that was supplanted by far more earthy women like Sophia Loren and Melina Mercouri. They were totally eclipsed by even more earthy women like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Jane Fonda and Sally Kellerman.

It seems to me that the middle aged and older women behind the idiocy of Future Christian Homemakers is that, much as Dan Quayle couldn't distinguish between real women and the fictional Murphy Brown, they can't distinguish between the fictional image of a non-existent woman and the reality. Those women, as I did, grew up with those television and movie images and seem incapable of understanding that the Doris Days and Tippi Hedrens on screen were never real. In similar fashion Ronald Reagan famously couldn't distinguish between the movies he was in and actual events of World War II thinking that he'd actually been in combat when he'd never been even close.

The most superb satire of Star Trek is a delightful movie with a magnificent cast called Galaxy Quest. In the movie the cast of a long-cancelled sci-fi television series, Galaxy Quest, is grudgingly earning a living by doing fan conventions and the occasional big box store opening. Their leader, Tim Allen doing a parody of William Shatner that is only exceeded by the parodies that Shatner does of himself, is approached by a group of weird people who call themselves Thermians for help as the great commander of the Galaxy Quest starship. Since these weirdos fit right in with the run-of-the-mill fans Allen agrees to help them and find himself in command of an actual starship. You see the Thermians have been recieving the old Galaxy Quest television shows and, being excessively, nay, terminally literal, they view them as "historic documents" of the exploits of the great starship commander. I recommend the movie as a very good time and would suggest that the women behind Future Christian Homemakers are Thermians.

On September 10, 2007 the Los Angeles Times reported on a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. New York University and UCLA jointly carried out the study. The researchers identified students who had a range of political views ranging from "very liberal" to "very conservative". They were then put to a test which required the students to distinguish between the letter "M" and "W" when they appeared on a computer monitor. The researchers measured activity in the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain, the area that analyzes conflicts between that which we expect to see and that actually seen. The data revealed that those who described their views a liberal were 4.9 times as likely to show brain activity (that's 490%) than those who described themselves a conservative. Liberals were 2.2 times (that's 220%) more likely to score higher in accuracy.

The researchers concluded that, in general, liberals would be more accepting of new ideas in areas such as social values, science and religion. Perhaps they would also be better equipped to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Still it's rather horrible that girls or anyone will have to suffer for the mental failings of their right-wing lunatic elders.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Female Frontal Lobal Mutilation: It's all part of god's maniacal plan.

A very dear friend sent me a link the other night to the most frightening thing I’ve seen since the movie Jesus Camp. The link was to the web site of – I am not making this up – Future Christian Homemakers™ - whose subtitle is “Teaching Girls To Become Successful Homemakers”. As one might expect the predominant colors of the site are white, green and a pink that any Mary Kay sales executive would be proud of. The mission statement of this organization dedicated to turning perfectly normal girls into Stepford Wives reads as follows:

“Future Christian Homemakers teaches girls how to become successful homemakers.

We believe that a successful homemaker is a Godly woman equipped with the Biblical knowledge and practical skills to manage her home well. The Bible is God's word instructing us how to live now, and for eternity. A woman will find true joy and success in her life when she lives according to God's word.

Along with Biblical knowledge, women need to know how to cook, sew, and keep their home. This instruction should begin at a young age in the home. Future Christian Homemakers seeks to provide materials to help girls learn these skills at home, or through groups in churches, homeschool co-ops, or other settings.

Future Christian Homemakers encourages women to teach the younger women to love their husbands, love their children, and be "keepers at home." Titus 2:3-5 We have much to learn from each other, whatever our age! FCH helps women share their knowledge and skills with the next generation and build strong Christian families.”

Of course, after first being appalled by the very concept it occurred to me that there’s a great deal of absurdity here. Can’t you see the Home Ec class:

Sister Faith: And we will now read from the Gospel according to Betty Crocker, Chapter 14, verses 4 through 10.

And, Lo. It was revealed unto me that first thou shalt preheat thy oven to the temperature of three hundred and seventy-five degrees, for this is the temperature that the Lord hath ordained, that thy oven may bake for thee as is meet and right. Thou shalt, as thy oven heateth, take thy sticks of butter unto three quarters of a pound, no more and no less, and soften it according to the laws of our fathers with thy spatula for it is better to cream thy butter than to leave it whole. And when thou hast thy butter creamed thou must add to it a measure of two cups of the sweetener men know as sugar. And the Lord hath ordained that thou must cream it now also until the mixture is, as the Lord saith, fluffy. And unto that fluffiness of butter and sugar thou shalt beat in 2 eggs (for the Lord careth not for the unborn chicken) and but half a cup’s measure of molasses. And when thou hast created a good and fitting batter, thou shalt lay aside thy beater and arm thyself with thy sifter and sift together with one another in good fellowship four cup measures of fine flour and two teaspoons’ measures each of baking soda and the powder of cinnamon, of cloves and of ginger. And into thy batter shalt thou mix these dry siftings little by little with strong and measured beating until thou hast a soft dough. And so saith the Lord, thou shalt break off a piece of dough and roll it between thy hands into a ball that is nigh unto one inch in diameter. Thou shouldst then flatten thy ball of dough placing each on thy cookie sheet which thou hast heretofore coated with grease as is pleasing unto the Lord leaving a finger’s span between each piece. And the Lord said place thou thy cookie sheet in thy preheated oven and leave it there for twelve to fifteen minutes of the clock for in this way has the Lord ordained that thou shouldst make thy ginger snap cookies.

Satire is always a great way to emphasize the absurdity of a con like “Christian Homemaking” but it begs the larger question of why are these self-professed CHRISTIANS so interested in promoting a traditional, subservient model of womanhood. Tradition is not, in itself, a bad thing but so why does this emphasis on tradition seem so perverse?

I am an atheist. I do not accept the idea of a big, imaginary friend in the sky especially since to do so, in my estimation, requires ignoring obvious empirical facts that no amount of faith or belief can overcome. But I must say that I admire many people who do not share my complete skepticism. I was brought up in the Christian tradition and found in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth a prescription for how to behave in the world whose keynotes are love and forgiveness. Yet it seems to me that those CHRISTIANS who express their shallow religiosity through the fundamentalism espoused in the site at hand live by fear and hate, very un-Christian vales indeed.

We are not facing a tradition here. We are not facing a necessary building block of human society. We are facing fear of change and intolerance of diversity which is self-denying. The women who provide this web site and its teachings can’t possibly be the silent, compliant “keepers at home” that the writer posing as St. Paul demands they be.Who do they admire? Ann Coulter? Bay Buchanan? Lynn Cheney? Phyllis Schlafly? Are these the example of “keepers at home” that they present to the girls that they would subjugate?

What we have here is the fundamentalist CHRISTIAN intellectual equivalent of female circumcision. When one reads accounts of women who have been subjected to that barbarity in every instance the account says that the children are led to the place and time of their mutilation by their mothers, aunts and or grandmothers. These elder women dutifully subject their own children to a horror that they too must vividly remember. I don’t know what goes through their minds as they subject a girl to pain and a bizarre ceremony but we know that they are willingly complicit in the mutilation because they have been brainwashed into believing that their traditions and faith require it.

We understand that an unwarranted disfigurement of a child is the result of brainwashing and barbarity. I suggest that the intellectual brainwashing and barbarity of Future Christian Homemakers™ is no less disfiguring, no less an attempt to brainwash and no less a barbarity.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A General Betrayal and why MoveOn was right on.

In the weeks leading up to the appearance of Gen. David Patraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker we were treated to the same kind of hype that the I-Phone got before its release at the end of June. Like the I-Phone the General and the Ambassador turned out to be a lot less than we'd been led to believe, need a hefty discount to encourage people to buy what they were selling and proved to have a single source for their communications. Ultimately the MoveOn.org "Betray Us" ad proved to be a great distraction for the neo-fascists starting with that pillar of reason and decency Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and including but not limited to Sen. John (I'll say anything you want if you'll just elect me president) McCain. Though I agree with the ad I think that it was ill-advised because it gave the neo-fascists an excuse to talk about anything but this grossly mismanaged war, Patreus' sycophancy and the fact that the promised draw down of troops is really just smoke and mirrors. It also allowed the neo-fascists to tar, swift-boat, sling-mud-at MoveOn.org in preparation for the 2008 election campaign during which they will undoubtedly use MoveOn.org in exactly the same way that Poppy Bush and Lee Atwater used "card-carrying member of the ACLU" against Michael Dukakis 20 years ago.

Gen. Patraeus pulled the Ollie North stunt of appearing in uniform with all the fruit salad he could fit on his chest in evidence as if that made him an honest man. It doesn't. We heard much about his doctorate from Princeton as if education, persistence and a sufficient level of intelligence to carry off the defense of a thesis meant that he wasn't an ass-kissing suck-up with a permanent pucker. It doesn't. I don't dispute that the General has put his life on the line for this nation. I admire his courage and service in the military but do service and courage automatically mean that every word out of his mouth is honest or even, despite protestations to the contrary, his own? They do not. All of that hype is simply an effort to muddle the minds of people who don't often think all that clearly by mixing unrelated facets of the General's character and pretending that those disjunct facts prove that pigs do fly.

I spent nearly 14 years working for the Federal government in the civilian bureaucracy. I did not work for the military but the agency for which I worked was modeled closely on the military as is, indeed, all bureaucracy. One does not rise in the ranks, civilian or military, without a good, stout pucker, forceful inhaling, a tongue that goes anywhere its sent and callused knees. Gen. Patraeus wouldn't have those 4 stars were he not possessed of those attributes. We have only to look at his September 26, 2004 Washington Post op-ed piece to understand that the General knows on which side his butt is K-Y'ed.

Do you have any idea how many levels of review a piece like that op-ed from a government employee would have had to have passed through before appearing in print? Given that he is a general officer, at a minimum that op-ed had to have the personal approval of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. More likely, and just like the General's Congressional testimony, it was written in whole or in part by the White House no matter what the General proclaims under oath.

Gen. Patraeus saw how Colin Powell got promoted and extolled for his subservience to Poppy Bush. We also know that, despite his efforts at backpeddling ever since leaving the Cabinet, Powell marched up to the United Nations and smeared lipstick all over the WMD pig in an effort to justify an unjustifiable war. Patraeus, almost certainly figures that he too will find himself invited into some lucrative corporate directorships once he passes the Iraq quagmire to the next would-be member of the Joint Suck-ups of Staff. There is far more of selfish sycophancy than selfless service in Patraeus' plea that he be allowed to have more of the men and women under his command killed and maimed for the greater glory of Dubya, Cheney and Halliburton.

As for Ambassador Crocker, his experience in the region is unquestionable. His integrity when it comes to his current job and his future prospects is just as fungible as the General's. Both men delivered the testimony that they were/will be paid to deliver.

I mentioned the Ollie North-ness of Gen. Patraeus' appearance before Congress which brings up his also mentioned oath. Both Col. North and, I believe, Gen. Patraeus are a bit confused about their oaths of office. North's overwhelming commitment to fascism led him to think that his oath to support and defend the Constitution of these United States meant he'd sworn an oath to Ronald Reagan. It didn't then and doesn't now. By undermining the duly enacted laws of this country Oliver North betrayed his oath and his country. He may have carried out the orders he was given but by doing so he acted as a traitor and should have been prosecuted as such. Gen. Patraeus has similarly confused his oath to the Constitution and before the House and Senate Committees with loyalty to his Commander in Chief and in doing so has betrayed his oath to support and defend our Constitution and perjured himself before Congress. So, though I think that the ad in the New York Times was ill-advised I also think that it was both accurate and prescient.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Praise the Lord! I

So homosexuality is "against god's law." Evolution contradicts the "inerrant word of god." Science, we are told must take a back seat to revelation. It's claptrap and is actually acknowledged to be claptrap. Fundamentalists don't dispute the cosmology that science gave us: a solar centric universe. They don't dispute the speed of light or the existence of electricity or of the atom. But Fundamentalists do dispute the things they wish to dispute.

A lot of air time and forests of paper and rivers of ink have been devoted to noting this idiocy, but there's very little discussion of why revelation needs to reign over empiricism. Perhaps one way of getting at that problem is in asking why it is so important to publicly support such nonsense for people who don't actually believe it themselves?

I think that the attack on science is identical in origin and purpose to the attack on "the media." For 40 years at least the right-wing has been attacking the amorphous, indistinct strawman "the media." Of course what goes unsaid most of the time is the modifier "the Liberal media." The right-wing fanatics found it expedient to convince a large segment of the public that the information they receive through newspapers, radio and television is biased and, therefore, untrustworthy. It's rather like the old joke about the wife whose husband catches her in bed with another man. The punch line is, "Who are you going to believe? Me or your eyes?" The first step in getting people to believe something other than their actual experience is to convince them that what they are seeing is a lie.

We should note that the media outlets most ideologically skewed, Rupert Murdock's newspapers and Fox News, and Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, present themselves as "fair and balanced" though they are anything but. Meanwhile probably the most fair and balanced media outlet, Public Broadcasting, is vilified and under constant attack. The term "the media" may be shorthand for any reporting that displeases the right-wing fanatics but, in the minds of those fanatics, it never includes the media outlets spouting their bias and outright lies.

Yet there's a weakness in the narrow focus on "the media." The weakness is that sometimes something happens that is so outrageous that claiming that it's a construction of "media bias" just won't wash. In those cases, even some of the fanatics themselves are forced to accept the truth of what they see or hear. The senses are a powerful contradictor of ideology.

So how does a fanatic convince people that even their senses can't be trusted? Well there is a way...Praise the Lord!

God is the ultimate paradigm for contradicting one's senses. If you can get people to believe in god, you can get them to believe in any absurdity. The "big imaginary friend in the sky" not only doesn't require sensory confirmation, god continues to be a delusion for millions world-wide specifically because there is no sensory confirmation for its existence. Further, since almost no one actually reads the Bible as a book very few have any sense of what it actually says. The majority of those who do read the Bible do so in a controlled environment of belief. They read passages seeing the book only as a fragmentary work. The basic assumption is that it is the word of that mythical Judeo-Christian god and the reading consists only of interpretation within the context of belief. In fact, the discussion tends to be about which of several interpretations that differ from one another very little is actually the "correct" interpretation and those discussions are usually guided by someone with a particular viewpoint. Thus, even the secondary, indirect experience of god is limited and perverted.

Enter religion. Fundamentalist religion's entire existence is based on the false premise that the Bible is the "revealed truth and inerrant word of god." Even more absurdly, most of the Christian fundamentalists overcome by their shallow religiosity insist that the "inerrant" text is the King James Bible. That gives rise to the satire that holds that if god hadn't wanted Moses and Jesus to speak Jacobean English he wouldn't have revealed himself in those words. So a lovely but a corrupt translation made somewhere between 1,600 and 5,000 years after the alleged events described is the sole source of "truth" and "inerrant."

Still the alleged inerrance of the Bible is only the starting point. You see, if the Bible is "inerrant" then Darwinian evolution and all subsequent modifications of that hypothesis must be errors. If the prevailing view of how life evolved, the age of the earth and the development of species over time are in error, then all science and all knowledge derived from scientific examination must also be wrong. If that is true then all empirical observations of anything from social behavior to nuclear physics must be wrong.

True enough that the right-wing fanatics won't go quite that far. After all, they are funded by corporations and individuals whose very lucrative livelihood would be threatened if we were to question nuclear physics, the solar centric planetary system, and even the chemistry that goes into the increasing number of drugs that we take. They won't even go whole hog on evolution. Where evolution can be directly observed, as in laboratory mice, insects and other animals, they claim that all of nature may evolve along Darwinian lines but human beings, alone in all the universe, are the exception. By stomping on empirical science via evolution the right-wing fanatics achieve the goal of establishing that not only can we not believe our media, we can't even believe our senses. Confusion and doubt result and into that state of disorientation comes a "preacher" - he or she may be a purveyor of religiose or political ideology - who offers soothing, simple reassurances, bumper-sticker length ideas and the promise that this person who's been disoriented, confused and frustrated can know the ultimate truth if only he or she will surrender all thought to the direction of the "preacher".

And we accept all this madness simply because in America the right-wing fanatics have changed "Sieg Heil!" to "Praise the Lord!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Give Me Those Old Time Family Values...First Reprise

Ah, yes! Larry Craig of Idaho. The poster child for the "I'm not gay, but what are you doing after you finish in that stall?" movement.

Neither he nor Ted Haggard are gay, pretty much in the same sense that neither Truman Capote nor Liberace were gay, except that they were "bachelors".

Let's get something out of the way here. There is nothing wrong with being in love with someone of the same sex. It's not my style, but I must say that when I run into gay couples, whether male or female, who clearly care for one another my first reaction is that they are lucky and I wish that I had a relationship as wonderful.

But there is definitely something wrong with vicious hypocrisy. There is something definitely wrong with the kind of hypocrisy that allows Larry Craig to support the discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage and to support a filibuster of Federal legislation to declare gay bashing a hate crime and yet to have credible reports that he's been cruising for gay sex since college and throughout most of his career in Washington.

One of the red herrings that right-wing fanatics constantly toss at those who oppose them is that their opponents are "self-hating". Taken in the context of Larry Craig's gay bashing, that sounds a lot like what's called "projection" in psychiatry, doesn't it?

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Diablo, Alberto!

The Garden of Ironic Delights

So Alberto Gonzales, Dubya's legal minion, has announced his resignation from a post for which his sole qualification was his toadying eagerness to torture people and the U. S. Constitution into any contortion that pleased his neo-fascist puppetmasters. As of September 17, 2007, the Constitution will be slightly better protected than it has been since January 20, 2001.

But that's not exactly the most striking statement of the day relative to this bit of news.

In responding to his minion's resignation, Dubya stated, "It is sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

Don't you just LOVE irony?

Those words in the mouth of the entitled scum who attacked all and sundry to steal the 2000 election in Florida, who suggested that Ann Richards was a lesbian to get elected governor of Texas, who intimated that John McCain had an illegitimate black child to win the South Carolina primary in 2000, and who suborned the Swift Boat Veterans' scurrilous attacks on John Kerry are obscene despite the fact that Dubya is just plain too dumb to understand that he was being ironic.

I am reminded of Richard Nixon's speech accepting the resignation of 2(?), 278(?) "of the finest public servants it has ever been my privilege to know" when Haldeman and Ehrlichman departed the White House. The problem with the Republican Party is that they honestly believe that Alberto Gonzales is "
a talented and honorable person" and that the criminals H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were "the finest public servants". For America's neo-fascist party no crime no matter how petty or how vicious is beyond ignoring as long as the perpetrator is of their ideology. They also believe that no crime, no matter how petty or specious is beyond magnification if it will reflect badly on the political opposition. It is one of the reasons that we should be honest and declare the Republican Party to be the criminal conspiracy that it is instead of pretending that it is simply an American political institution.

Friday, August 17, 2007

RIP: Weekly World News

Fun with...ah...journalism?

Last week there was much ado about the demise of the ultimate screwball tabloid, the Weekly World News. I for one will be sorry to see it go. Though I never owned a copy, it was a source of great entertainment at the supermarket check out counters. It never failed to confirm my worst suspicions about my fellow men and women.

I remember one particular instance when I was on the express line at the Demoulas' Market Basket in the Mystic Mall in Chelsea, Massachusetts some 20 years ago. There were 6 or 7 people in front of me on line at a "7 Items or Less" express register. Every one of them had from 8 to 63 items (well, the 63 might be a slight exaggeration but you get the idea) and I, holding 3 items, was there on break from work and in a hurry to get back. As I was fuming about the delays caused by the mathematically challenged I noticed the Weekly World News with its huge, blaring headline, "SPACE ALIENS LIVE AMONG US NOW!" It instantly changed my mood and I began to quietly chuckle. My stifled laughs didn't go unnoticed. The characters on line ahead of me turned around to look. At that point I realized that at least 4 of the people on line ahead of me were probably those space aliens, accounting for their misunderstanding of the sign. Several looked the part.

Who says the New York Times is "the newspaper of record"?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

An Open Letter to Speaker Pelosi

Madam Speaker:

I am a Democrat. I have been a Democrat since I was able to register to vote and I will remain a Democrat for the foreseeable future because I see no actual or potential alternative that respects the basic principles of our nation. However, tonight, for the first time that I can remember, I am ashamed to be a Democrat. That the House of Representatives should pass the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act demanded by the Bush Administration appalls me. Placing unlimited power, even in a time limited amendment, in the hands of those who have no respect for law, let alone the U.S. Constitution is an unconscionable abdication of your responsibility to the American people.

While the president is quick to make specious arguments about national security we have seen that neither he nor his minion, Alberto Gonzales, can be trusted for a moment yet you have handed them carte blanche to spy on any party whose privacy they feel the need to invade.

Madam Speaker, when you were elected I was very proud of my party for choosing you but your acquiescence in this unwarranted grab for power leaves me wondering whether you are in line to replace Tony Blair as Dubya's latest pet poodle.

I am outraged at this legislation because, time limit or not, it sets a precedent for the future so that future presidents may arrogate to themselves powers prohibited by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. But worse still, it constitutes a perfect example why our party loses election after election. It's not bullying by Republican poll watchers, a packed Supreme Court or yet even Diebold. It is the repeated, consistent failure of Democrats to draw a line and take a stand. While Republican ideologues staunchly defend their bankrupt policies, our party flexes, retreats and caves in at the first hint of entrenched opposition.

We have spent 28 of the last 40 years suffering under Republican misrule and I fear, Madam Speaker, that we will suffer under it longer because you and Representative Hoyer either cannot or will not stand up for the laws and principles of this nation. If you will not stand against such incursions into American's rights, you deserve to be marginalized, stripped of actual power and relegated to figurehead status under an imperial presidency. The most horrible fact about that is that though you may deserve such a fate, neither I nor the many millions of Americans looking to you for defense of our rights deserve that fate to which your faintness of heart condemns us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Give Me Those Old Time Family Values! It's Good Enough for...who?

It's like shooting decoys, isn't it?

There's Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla. 16th Dist.), Duke Cunningham (R-Calif. 50th Dist.), now Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) joining grand hypocrisy parade that includes Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Pastor Ted Haggard (who's now completely cured(R) of his homosexual tendencies and cocaine addiction), Henry Hyde who was still having “youthful indiscretions” when he was 41-years old, almost-House Speaker Bob Livingston (who now-Sen. Vitter replaced in the House), Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and a host of others.

I will be fair. We’ve had Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hays, Jim Traficant, Dan Rostenkowski, Gary Hart and William J. Clinton amongst others. But I do not recall any of them preaching as long, loud or ostentatiously about the sins of others as have the Republicans noted above.

Isn’t it more than a little hypocritical to rail against Hollywood while electing George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, Fred Grandy and Arnold Schwartzenegger to office? I can’t be the only one to have noticed that. Or how about derailing Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential candidacy because Republicans would never support a divorced man only to embrace Ronald Reagan and, more recently, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich?

There’s a story I’ve been telling for years to illustrate the difference between Democrat and Republican politicians. You see both of them will brazenly enter the church vestibule during the service and pry the poor box off the wall. As they’re trying to escape with the fruits of their theft the sexton and some men from the congregation give chase. They catch the Democrat and Republican thieves and drag them back to the church to display their shame to the congregation.

When the Democrat is so presented he’ll actually be ashamed. He’ll return the stolen money and even turn out his pockets to add his change to the haul that’s now in the hands of the congregation. The Democrat will confess his crime and accept his punishment. He will counsel troublesome children in the Sunday School on ways to avoid his failings, not just capture, and will wash dishes at every church supper for the next 6 months or more. He will show up for his penance regularly and on time.

The Republican, however, is a different creature entirely because he’s utterly devoid of shame. This captured Republican will break free of his captors and with great theatricality will throw himself on the altar. He will make a great show of begging for the forgiveness of god right there in the holy of holies. Then he’ll rise quickly, wipe away the crocodile tears and shove his way to the pulpit still clutching that poor box. He will then preach a sermon on how god has forgiven his sins and wants him to keep the money because, when he spends it in the saloon/brothel/casino/Internet porn site that he so vociferously decries, it will help the economy, improving the economy for every member of the congregation – so he claims – in ways that clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to those who thirst, succoring the sick or imprisoned could never do. He will equate succor with suckers and, while the congregation stands there, gape-mouthed in amazement and confusion, he’ll slip away with the poor box.

Yes, they’re both thieves but I will gladly take the repentant thief over the self-righteous one any day. There’s far less hypocrisy in the former than in the latter.

If there is a god with a sense of humor I think it's he who gave us Larry Flynt.



Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Just Wondering II

Given the testimony of former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona yesterday that he was required to mention Dubya positively at least 3 times per page in each speech he gave I wondered how many mentions per page did Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Mao Zedong or Pol Pot require?

We wouldn't want a mention gap for our American dictator/monsters when compared with their peers now would we? That happens and the terrorists win...or something.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Surprise! Surprise?

For over a week now since the failed car bomb attacks in London and in Glasgow we have been hearing an endless stream of blather from people shocked that the fanatics involved in this terrorist plot were doctors. We seem unable to grasp the idea that dangerous fanatics can be educated individuals.

First, anyone who has ever been to an institution of higher learning, including some of those with great reputations, knows that learning does take place there but on a much narrower scale than the student enrollment would indicate. The vociferous objection of a student shill for the neo-fascist Young America Foundation at Roger Williams University who was required to watch An Inconvenient Truth should be signal enough that one can lead fanatical whores to learning but can't make them think.

Still the surprise that the bombers in Britain and Scotland are educated professionals is utterly foolish. That fanatics can be educated professionals really ought to be obvious to anyone. We have a government rife with them here in the United States. At least four of them sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. One only needs to cite Dartmouth graduates P.J. O'Rourke and Dinesh D'Souza as evidence of why the terrorists in the British Isles are simply one expression of of a phenomenon one can see any day if one tunes in Fox News.

I must be fair and acknowledge that some of the surprise is justified on cultural grounds. In the U.S. we have our ideologues (e.g. Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, etc.) who will engage in utterly insane acts because of their fanaticism. However, far more common in our corporate society are the outright whores. O'Rourke and D'Souza, Ann Coulter, Andrew Sullivan, Tony Snow and the like are far less motivated by ideology than they are by money. The right-wing extremist foundations and the plutocrats that sponsor them pay good money to get the unthinking and unswerving loyalty of those folks. Thus we're lulled by the idea that these verbal terrorists will undergo a Huffington-esque change of heart and direction should the wind and the money that flies upon it blow from an opposite pole. Being mercenary ourselves we find it hard to understand that these doctors would set their car bombs and participate in the attacks without being paid very well for their trouble.

Still our shock that terrorists bent on destroying the prevailing order might be educated indicates our ignorance of their motives and of our own history. After all, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Monroe were all highly educated gentlemen. And not very far from home there's the example of Fidel Castro, a doctor.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Just Wondering I

I was just wondering in an apocalyptic mode. You see, I recall that the late (far too recently late) Jerry Falwell and the isn't-it-past-time-that-he-was-late, Pat Robertson sat down together on September 13, 2001 and blamed...well, let's quote Falwell:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

Then there's jailbird/jailhouse convert Charles Colson. He's a great fan of apocalyptic thinking that jives with his ultra-right-wing extremist politics though no great fan of laws or the U.S. Constitution. Chucky offered when asked if Hurricane Katrina were god's judgment on New Orleans, "'
Did God have anything to do with Katrina?,' people ask. My answer is, he allowed it and perhaps he allowed it to get our attention so that we don't delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do is put things back the way they were and life will be normal again."

The neo-fascist and far-from-Christian Robertson a few months later warned the citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania, "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: 'If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city,....'" for throwing out a Board of Education that tried to establish CHRISTIAN fundamenalist fanaticism as that towns religion and teach it in their schools.

So what got me wondering was that Texas has provided us with a number of "the Lord's annointed" such as George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, former Senator Phil (It's just a coincidence that my wife was on the Enron Board of Directors) Graham and current Senator John Cornyn. It's the state with the best(?) record of meting out divine justice in the form of capital punishment to those who offend against god's commandments. Yet for all this "righteousness" it's rained in Texas for more than 40 days and 40 nights and there's not a word about god's judgment on Texas from these pillars of CHRISTIAN fanaticism.

So I was just wondering how that could be?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Glorious Fourth

The 4th of July, America's national day, the day on which we celebrate the independence of our nation, tends to descend into the wallow of militarism, jingoism and xenophobic triumphalism yet it never fails to move me deeply. I am, at ground, an American patriot but I use a definition of patriotism rather different from that prevailing amongst my countrymen, their definition being more in concert with the definitions of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Ambrose Bierce. As an illustration of my concept of patriotism, let me quote a Republican.

Carl Schurz was a German liberal who was forced to flee his country after the revolutions of 1848 collapsed. He settled in Wisconsin and became a friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. In 1862 he resigned his post as Ambassador to Spain and took a commission in the U.S. Army. After the war he was President Andrew Johnson's emissary to report on conditions in the South. He later was a Senator from Missouri. He was Interior Secretary under President Hayes and still later moved to New York where he became a distinguished writer and editor. In short, Schurz's history is one that might well define patriotism. So, without further ado or comment, let me quote him on this 231st 4th of July:

”Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Impeach Earl Warren

Most people won't remember the billboards that went up in the states of the old Confederacy and some plains states as well after Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy v. Furguson and outlawed segregation in America. Those billboards exhorted people to get behind a movement to impeach the new U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, the former Republican governor of California, Earl Warren. Warren had led the court to a unanimous decision that when our Constitution proclaimed equal rights to all men, it meant it regardless of minor distinctions like skin color, ethnicity, and the like. But that upset a lot of people, rich and poor, who thought that equality was fine for those who were most like themselves and inappropriate for those they preferred to hate.

A decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision one of the things at stake in the 1964 presidential election was implementation of that decision. Senators like James O. Eastland, John Stennis, Richard Russell and Strom Thurmond couldn't hold back the 1964 Voting Rights Act but they could nullify it if right-wing fanatics took the White House. They didn't get their wish then.

When they did finally elect a neo-fascist in 1968 the majority of Americans' popular perception was that all men and women were indeed created equal. Richard Nixon rode into the White House on the disarray of the Democrats following Robert Kennedy's murder and an effective campaign to blame peaceful protesters in Chicago for the police riot that victimized them. But Nixon also rode into office on his "Southern Strategy". That strategy involved pandering to the racists, segregationists, states-rights proponents, Klansmen and the like who'd been loyal Democrats since 1865. Suddenly the scum of American politics were following Strom Thurmond into the Republican Party that had been anathema to them since Abraham Lincoln's first campaign.

Truth to tell, the populist Democrats from the South in the 1920s and 1930s such as Hugo Black, Claude Pepper, Sam Rayburn and others were less concerned about race than they were about economic standing. That concern allowed them to come to an uneasy accommodation with Northern Democrats, whose more liberal views on race were out of sync with that of their Southern constituents, focused on moving America out of the Great Depression. The understanding that the chains that weighted people down had more to do with class than color opened those populist leaders to change. The casually Democratic and casually bigoted voter did not share that openness and were ripe for picking by Republicans cynically eager to heave Lincoln overboard for racist votes.

But Nixon couldn't manage to shove onto the Supreme Court the candidates of his racist backers, the Klan tainted Clement F. Haynesworth and G. Harold Carswell. He did get the Arizona racist, William Rhenquist, onto the court but Southern racists simply couldn't pass muster. The Haynesworth and Carswell fiascoes taught the Republicans that they needed to reframe their arguments and concentrate on subtlety.

They propagandized their position as opposition to "activist judges" and a focus on "the original intent of the framers of the Constitution". In fact, those catch phrases have always been an Orwellian smoke screen for promoting right-wing extremists who would take us back, not just to the Vinson Court of 1952 but to the Taney Court of 1852. Right-wing fanatics like Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia and Scalia's puppet, Clarence Thomas, have no more respect for or knowledge of the "original intent" that they trumpet than they have for the rights of individuals against corporations. They are exactly what they profess to oppose: activist judges, though they are themselves activists for neo-fascism.

The next attempt to neutralize the Supreme Court during the Reagan Presidency narrowly avoided afflicting the nation with Robert Bork. We despised Bork for firing Archibald Cox in 1973 but the reason for keeping him off the Supreme Court was his neo-fascist extremist vision of the Constitution. No one questions the contradiction inherent in the belief that Bork, Scalia and their ilk can use some bizarre telepathy to mystically understand the "original intent of the founders" even as they insist that the Constitution is ossified and unchanging, that things not specifically delineated in it do not exist. There is no right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution because "the founders" (sounds awfully like Star Trek: Deep Space 9, doesn't it?) never heard of personal privacy and were utterly unaware of the concept when they drafted the 3rd and 4th Amendments in the Bill of Rights.

But persistence counts for something. Having packed the court at last with reliably neo-fascist jurists 53 years later, the Supreme Court that couldn't be rid of desegregation by impeaching Earl Warren has now achieved a reinstatement of Plessy v. Ferguson in the Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al. It is an uneasy reversal given that Justice Anthony Kennedy who swallows a great deal of rancid neo-fascist tripe choked on some of the reasoning and consequences that his even more extremist colleagues served up.

As many of us believed when Roberts went before the Senate Judiciary Committee all but wearing a t-shirt that read, "I (heart) Stare Decisis," the new Chief Justice has no compunctions for dragging us back to the 1850s. And that return to segregation if not to slavery is cynically couched in the rhetoric of being "color blind". The irrational explanation for that catch phrase is that if race should not be an occasion for discrimination then ignoring race will magically make racism disappear. One of the requirements for being a right-winger is voluntary an selective disassociation from reality and a kind of magical thinking in which idiocy like closing ones eyes and ears makes bad things go away. The 5-member Supreme Court majority has stuck its collective fingers in its collective ears and intoned "La-la-la-la-la! I can't hear racism!" As if that would make it go away.

Segregation in America was the next best thing to having "happy darky slaves" picking in the "ole cotton fields back home." Had the South been able to completely undo the Civil War it would have done so. The violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement that culminated in the 1960s proved that. The graves of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Viola Liuzzo, Martin Luther King, Jr. prove that. The more recent murder of James Byrd proves that the agenda has not changed. At long last Scalia, Kennedy, Roberts, Alito and their houseboy, Thomas, can effectuate that agenda. How they are going to negate the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments remains to be seen but we can have confidence those who'd sacrifice a mother to save a deformed and non-viable fetus will find a way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fruits de Mer II: A bounder speaks of shad

Yes, indeed. Shad.

Out here in Bellingham, Washington shad is pretty much ignored except, perhaps, by a few very old people and some younger ones who've come across the word "shad" as an archaic epithet.

It is the largest herring species, a migratory fish that, like the salmon, swims upriver to spawning grounds each year. In the Connecticut River that "run" comes in late April and early May.

Shad is an bony fish with pale whitish-brown flesh and a broad dark stripe that runs from gills to tail along the spine. It is a bit oily when cooked with the skin, but delicious. The most famous part is the delicacy known as shad roe, so famous, indeed that it makes an appearance in Cole Porter's Let's Do It. The roe is the egg case of the female who is ready to spawn. Dredged in flour containing a little salt and pepper, sautéed in butter and served with a wedge or two of lemon, the reason for its fame becomes absolutely clear. But, to my mind, the real prize is the fish itself.

The the Algonquin story of how shad came to be is really delightful.

Once, a very long time ago, when the world was much, much younger than it is now there lived a porcupine. This porcupine wanted friends. He tried to make friends but as soon as he got near the other animals he'd poke them with his quills no matter how careful he tried to be. The badger, the squirrel, the mole indeed all the animals avoided him. They stayed away from the poor porcupine and left it very lonely.

The porcupine found his loneliness so intolerable that he prayed to the Great Spirit for help. He cursed the Great Spirit for making him so spiny and lonely. And alternately begging and cursing, he continued his prayers incessantly. Above all he prayed to be something, anything other than what he was. So long and so hard did the porcupine importune the Great Spirit that he finally grew weary and not a little short-tempered. In the end, the Great Spirit reached down, picked up the porcupine, reached into his mouth, turned the porcupine inside out and tossed him into the river. The porcupine, now become the first shad, swam away and soon had plenty of friends that schooled with him solving his problem, though not, I would think, exactly as he'd envisioned.

I have known shad as a rite of spring since I was not quite a year old. For me shad came from the Connecticut River and one got Connecticut River shad at Spenser's Haddam Shad Shack. Getting shad involved a picnic and a pilgrimage. We would pack up a picnic basket, climb into my Uncle George's 1949 Packard sedan (then new) and drive east through Meriden to Middletown. We would then pick up what is now Connecticut Route 154 but which then was Route 9. We would then head south along the Connecticut River through a string of riverside villages that are the visual essence of New England. There is a whitewashed, steepled church on the crest of each hill and a cluster of houses most of which date back to the early 19th Century or earlier.

The trip always happened in early May when the dogwood was in bloom, much of the forsythia was still yellow and spring flower abounded. The beauty through which we made the trip is incomparable. The landscape and the west bank river towns were serene and stable guardians on the hills above the river. The river itself was the broad, blue mirror to a quiet, changeless world. It was time travel of a sort, a journey over the rainbow. Our Oz was the string of river towns from Middletown south to Chester and Deep River presided over, on the east bank, by William Gillette's great fieldstone castle on its beetling bluff, a presence that only heightened the magical quality of the journey.

Spenser's was still there the last time I got a chance to look. It sits on Route 154, the Saybrook Road, just south of the centre of Haddam and backed up against a railroad embankment. It is a small, square shack though today it has been brought up to state and local standards.

Fifty years ago some fishermen brought in the shad to the Shad Shack. At a shelf than running under the windows around the front half of Spenser's sat a group of women wearing white aprons bespattered with shad blood and shad guts.They each had 3 buckets and a bowl. In one bucket were whole shad straight from the river. The second bucket was for the innards, heads and other leavings. The bowl was for any roe that they found. The third bucket was for fillets. These women - I remember at least 4 - also had a compliment of filleting knives. A woman, barely looking away from the shelf, would reach down and extract a whole shad from the first bucket. Then, magically to a young boy, the knives would flash, a roe might go into the bowl, 2 fillets would go in the third bucket and the mass of guts, bones and head would end up in the second bucket all in an instant before the next shad came to the filleting station. It was fascinating, horrifying work and equally amazing when one considers how fast they worked and how bony shad is. In all the fillets of their creation that I ate seldom did I find a bone.

To me, Spencer's is the one and only place to get proper Connecticut River shad.

We'd stop for lunch at Seven Falls State Park, usually after our visit to Spenser's with the shad and roe safely stowed in the ice chest we'd brought for the purpose. Once the sandwiches were eaten the juice drunk and the leftovers packed away we would head home. The unspoken contract required that we would eat shad that night.

My mother baked shad fillets. She made a bread stuffing with Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix heavily seasoned with Bell's Poultry Seasoning with which to stuff the fillets. Atop the central mound of stuffing she laid 3 or 4 short strips of bacon diagonally. Then in the oven it went. While waiting for the shad to cook, I was going to digress on Bell's Seasoning but it is so special in itself that I think I'll leave it for another entry. In about half an hour the shad would be done. We'd have the fish, probably creamy mashed potatoes and a spring vegetable. I would like to say that we had asparagus or fiddleheads with Hollandaise sauce but I introduced that pairing as an adult, baking shad from Spenser's in my own kitchen. It was a great meal, a great joy and the whole meaning of spring on a plate.

I understand that the Columbia River has a shad run. I must find out more about it because I miss that drive along the Connecticut River. The mnemonic shad will transport me there again, I know.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fruits de Mer I: The incredible edible clam...fried ones in particular

One of the remarkable things about this part of the Northwest is the fish and other seafood. The salmon is incredible. It is some of the most delicious fish I've ever eaten, as much because it is so fresh as for any other quality - and there are many other fine qualities.

We have oysters the size of baby shoes that are luscious and briny and a delight raw or cooked. The mussels need some help from garlic, wine and spices to bring out their flavor, but that's true of mussels anywhere. And shrimp (mostly called "prawns" in deference to the Britishism migrating down from Canada) are not local but are ubiquitous and good for all that.

The halibut from Alaskan waters is definitely as wonderful as the salmon. And Dungeness Bay with its deservedly famous crabs lies just southwest of here.

But the Northwest doesn't know clams. There are clams here but they are a misunderstood and underrated mollusk indeed. Most appalling to a New Englander is that there is not a decent fried clam to be had. Sad to say the pallid, homogenized, characterless version of fried clams available here is (I am ashamed even that I must mention it!) clam strips. It's as if the whole Northwest were one, huge Howard Johnson's. For those of you who don't know from such things, clam strips are to clams what Velveeta is to cheese. The one is derived from the other, thinks of itself as like the other but has been so processed and degraded as to be a sad parody of the real thing.

Clam strips are, at best, the "foot" muscle of a large clam of the sort we New Englanders refer to as quahogs. We refer to them by that term because it's the term that the Algonquian nations of native peoples taught my starving, pilgrim ancestors to use as they smashed the shells on rocks and dug out the meat rather than collapse from malnutrition. It may not have originally referred to the clam at all but could mean something on the order of "dumb-ass foreigner whom I probably should let starve".

I am not sure but I would not be surprised to find that, much like the ubiquitous and worthless chicken nugget, clam strips are probably pounded and ground and shredded and reconstituted into a pasteurized, processed clam-food that is then coated with an obscuring coating of flour and breadcrumbs then foisted off on a public unaware of the real thing.

I am a confirmed atheist. I neither need nor want a big, imaginary friend in the sky as George Carlin so aptly puts it. But if I were looking for one palpable and irrefutable argument for the existence of a good and benevolent god who wishes his human children well, I would cite the clam. It is delicious, sweet, edible in just about any form (except clam strips) and there for a bit of digging just below the tide line. If I were a god who looked out for his creatures, I'd certainly give them clams.

A real fried clam starts out as a soft-shell clam, a variety that is oval and has, as the name implies, a thin shell. These clams don't have as thick a membrane as do quahogs and similar hard shell clams. The consequence is that they seem "open" or stringy in appearance (not in texture). Like virtually all commercially sold clams either hard or soft shelled, they are dug from the tidal flats on the ocean verge and then placed in holding tanks. In those tanks they are covered in filtered seawater and fed a diet of cornmeal before being sold whole or shelled. The prime feature is that they are the whole clam and include the "bellies". Though it sounds rather on the unappetizing side, the "belly" is the alimentary tract which, in these clams, is now full of cornmeal. They are sweet and delicious in a way that the pasteurized, processed clam strip can never be. And before you get all perturbed about this part of the clam, remember that if you eat whole oysters or mussels, you are eating the same parts though those parts are concealed.

So a fair question to ask would be if I have access to such wonderful native seafood, what do I want with clams that would have to be shipped 3,600 miles?

The answer is complicated. Most of the time I don't pine for real fried clams. Even when I do I won't waste my money on trying to substitute the entirely unsatisfactory clam strips. I try to drown my craving in some of the local seafood distractions. But then the desire occasionally overwhelms. It spurs me rather in the manner of something else for which I occasionally get a craving.

My paternal grandmother made her own kielbasa. It was fresh, not smoked, and wonderful, full of garlic, mustard seeds that got caught in your teeth and delicious beyond description. She also made potato kielbasa, of which most commercial kishka is a distant cousin, and, above all, potato pancakes. Around Easter Steve's Quality Market in downtown Salem, Massachusetts had fresh kielbasa that came very close to Babci's but I make my own potato pancakes, always seeking and never finding the elusive affirmation from my memory that I've duplicated her unrecorded recipe exactly. My Babci has been gone for 20 years but her kielbasa and potato pancakes are both comfort food and a way of connecting with my memories of her. Fried clams have a rather similar effect. They connect me to an essential part of my former home. They have a quality of memory, of longing for an idealized past and warm, embracing nostalgia that few other things recall.

Real friend clams carry the baggage of the summer of 1959 on Cape Cod, summer nights at Jimmie's of Savin Rock in West Haven, Connecticut both before and after the old amusement park was gone, of meals on whitewashed picnic tables beside roadside stands, of the Frankie's drive-in at the corner of Watertown Avenue and Aurora Street in Waterbury, Connecticut and Kelley's on Revere Beach, of an evening meal with two college friends, one now gone, at Doane's in Swampscott, also in Massachusetts. They taste of watching Fourth of July fireworks from the parking lot of Farnham's in Essex, Massachusetts with 3 of the friends I love most in all the world and a bit of comfort on an icy day at Woodman's, just a little closer to the centre of Essex, after laying a stone on the grave of another person I loved dearly and deeply. For better or worse no other seafood, regardless of how fresh, how plentiful or how good will ever carry the freight and savor of all those memories. The best of the oysters, salmon and crab found here, wonderful as it is, cannot match the wonder of a plate of real fried clams.

But then there's also Connecticut River Shad, but that's another entry.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Executive Privilege: A marriage of convenience

Now let me get this straight...

Dick Cheney's buddy-buddy consultations with oil companies over what sort of national energy policy would be best for them cannot be made public because he has a special privilege for the advice he receives as a member of the Executive Branch of our government. He had Executive Privilege that enables him to keep the advice he receives secret.

Dick Cheney's office does not have to turn documents and other information over to the National Archives as required by law and ordered by an Executive Order from his ostensible superior, President(*) George W. Bush, because he is a member of the Legislative Branch of government and, therefore, is not subject to Executive Orders.

Pardon me, but is that not the very paradigm of having one's cake and eating it too?

We know that "Republican" is a synonym for "hypocrite" (also for "criminal" and "war criminal") but this seems to rise to a new level. It is a level that even Alberto Gonzales' situational Alzheimer's Disease doesn't quite reach. The level of cynicism required to make that argument with a straight face is utterly incomprehensible to most people who are not or haven't been Fox News employees.

One could, I suppose, make the case that the Dubya Bush Administration has been the most ironic in American History given the consistent and complete disconnect between its statements and its actions, but I think that we've gone far afield from irony. An American Administration that blathers about "spreading democracy" at every turn but works vigorously to undermine democracy in America cannot be described as ironic any longer. Something far more vile and sinister is involved here.

The Republican Party and its leaders long ago (in the 1870s) decided that most people's acquaintance with democracy was purely as a word or an oddity. Most people understand that democracy exists in the same sense that they understand that those weird, luminescent fish that live in the dark ocean depths exist. They have the sense that it is a good thing, something that they even are supposed to venerate. Still, in the minds of the true Republican, people have no concept of what real democracy is. The vague understanding that it is a good word is sufficient. Even if people should connect it to the line in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (entirely unknown in the old Confederacy) about "government of the people, by the people and for the people" there's still next to no concept of the meaning. Popularly, if we get to vote every so often and then go home, shut up and accept whatever lies out leaders deign to spout, that's democracy. Democracy is, therefore, an advertising slogan like "Fahrvegnugen" and about as intelligible to the average American in the thinking of most Republicans.

For that minority that does have some deeper understanding of genuine democracy, the Republicans effectively neutralize them by deriding them as "ACLU-types", "effete Liberals" and by questioning their patriotism. That is, of course, supremely ironic and surpassingly cynical to have those who despise the founding principles of America questioning the patriotism of those who most honor it. But let me return to the specific case of the current Vice-president, the Galactic Emperor.

The concept most basic to democracy is an educated and informed public governing itself. That's not some opinion I've just cobbled up. It was the opinion of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and most of the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to write our Constitution. A public without information is, by definition, deprived of information necessary to making informed decisions about its governance. Depriving citizens of that information also deprives them of the basics of democracy. The secrecy in which Cheney envelopes himself is utterly anti-democratic. It most resembles the kind of government from which the Continental Congress rebelled in 1775 or the governments which we fought from 1941 through 1945. It in no way resembles American representative democracy.

Some apologists for neo-fascism make the case that our government must have some secrets lest we surrender the means of our defeat to our enemies. Taken on its face and unquestioningly that statement is certainly true. But who is the "enemy" from whom we must withhold the consultations over the Dubya Administration's energy policy? Is there some evil power that can attack America with the information on how we support or don't support ethanol production? Is some terrorist group going to use information on tax breaks for oil companies to poison our water supply? Of course not. The "enemy" from which Cheney withheld information about his consultations with oil companies is the American people. Were we to have been informed of the graft, quid pro quos and general malfeasance that went into creation of the Dubya Administration's energy policy, the 2004 election would not even have been close, a Democrat would now be president and Cheney and his cohorts would now be fighting indictments in court.

But let me give Cheney the benefit of the doubt. Let's pretend for a moment that every act of the Office of the Vice-president has met the highest moral and ethical standards. Let's pretend that Scooter Libby's unquestionable obstruction of justice was a total aberration or vicious persecution by an overzealous, out-of-control prosecutor. What is the point of hiding the information about the consultations for an energy policy? What is the point of refusing to archive documents that will not be made available to the general public while one is in office?

I think that the inescapable answer is that the point is that Cheney and his staff need to hide unethical and even criminal behavior from a public to which the criminality of that behavior would be so thoroughly obvious that the Vice-president could not remain in office for more than a few hours after the release of that information.

Some neo-fascist apologist, probable P. J. O'Rourke or Bill O'Reilly, will object that it's the principle of the thing. They will try to obfuscate by claiming that were the Vice-president to release the discussions in his energy policy deliberations or archive his records would require that the Vice-president to publicly reveal sensitive information that would harm our national security (another phrase of which few know the meaning). Again, that is utter nonsense. It supposes that the judiciary generally is out to undermine the security of our nation, a premise that is ridiculous on its face. The judges to which the Executive Branch could appeal are officials of this nation just as much as are Dubya and Cheney themselves. We know from an unbroken chain of precedent and experience over more than 200 years that judges are reliably circumspect when it comes to maintaining national security.

The only principle which Cheney, evidently with Dubya's support, defends is one of imperial immunity from examination by the citizenry. And that is neither American nor democratic not Constitutional.

The president and vice-president take an oath to defend the Constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." I would suggest to you that they are in violation of that oath because they themselves are the domestic enemies of our Constitution. The terror that they have visited on America since January 20, 2001 has done more damage to this nation than Timothy McVeigh or Mohammed Atta and his fanatic gang. It is also worth remembering that, for his attack on this nation, we executed Timothy McVeigh.


(*) We know that Dubya has never won a free and fair election and could not do so without the neo-fascist coup in 2000 and the vote fraud by Diebold and others in 2004.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

War and Music

And now for something completely different...

Every war has had its music. Soldiers have taken their popular tunes to war with them as long as there have been popular tunes. The American Southerners who first fired on Fort Sumter in April, 1861 and later forgot that inconvenient fact by labeling our Civil War "the War of Northern Aggression" carried with them minstrel show tunes like Dixie and The Yellow Rose of Texas. The Northerners who fought to put down the rebellion brought with them songs like Lubly Fan (which we know better as Buffalo Gals) and The Year of Jubilo. Indeed, America's national anthem derives from a popular song of 200 years ago. Its tune is that of the English drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven. Francis Scott Key substituted "the land of the free and the home of the brave" for "the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine" and thereby opened every baseball game in history.

Certainly there was martial music. One can't set out to massacre one's fellow men without a good marching song, now can one? But there's yet another sort of music, more in the popular vein, that fairly bleeds of wartime. It is the sentimental song of love and home. Though I may sound casually sarcastic as is my wont, these songs are often achingly beautiful and unquestionably moving when thought of in context.

What brings this to my mind is that as I write I am listening to a mix of news headlined by the senseless deaths in Iraq of more young Americans, sacrificed on the alter of neo-con ideology and Dubya's ego. In between news reports is a jazz program that has drawn heavily on the music of World War II. It strikes me that it is impossible to listen to a song like Sentimental Journey or Moonlight in Vermont without seeing the young men, two of whom were my father and Uncle Eddie, on the fields of Northern Europe or the islands of the Pacific. Nor is it possible to hear them without seeing the families and lovers waiting for their soldiers and sailors to make that sentimental journey home.

Perhaps the most sweetly sad of all Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas written in 1943-4. Not even White Christmas captures the yearning in every syllable of Hugh Martin's lyric:
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow.
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
Martin's original lyrics were far more bitter and cynical, so much so that Judy Garland refused to sing them in Meet Me in St. Louis. The compromise above is still ineffably sad.

Those songs carry on a tradition from Civil War songs like Just Before the Battle, Mother and Aura Lea and include a hit on both sides of the European "Theatre" lines in both World Wars, Lili Marlene.

Vor der Kaserne, Vor dem großen Tor
Stand eine Laterne, Und steht sie noch davor
So woll'n wir uns da wieder seh'n
Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh'n
Wie einst Lili Marleen.
Wie einst Lili Marleen.

Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate
Darling I remember the way you used to wait
'Twas there that you whispered tenderly
That you loved me, You'd always be
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene.

The English lyrics are more like a love song that retains something of both the meaning and spirit while, in German, there is the sadness of hoping in vain caught in that refrain that more exactly translates "As once, Lili Marlene."

Romantic songs continued to appear during the war in Korea but since then we have had unreal, even surreal wars that inspired protests more than songs of longing and derived their music from the hard, urban beats of rock and roll during Vietnam and Hip-Hop and Techno during our 2 more recent oil wars.

Was there an analog for I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time from Vietnam or either Gulf War? I don't think so. I could be missing something though I doubt it.

Certainly there are lovers parted from the men and women now serving in Iraq. Certainly they pine for their lover to come home. Certainly they are in a constant state of fear and worry that the one they love may be in the way of the next explosion on the next roadside. Yet the popular songs expressing their longing and anxiety seem absent. And I wonder why.

I want to offer one possibility. Perhaps those songs are absent because neither in Vietnam nor either Gulf War are we convinced that we actually are at war. Perhaps we view the absence of loved ones as an excessively long vacation in a dangerous land.

I think that for 40 years and more we have expected that those loved ones will come home physically whole rather than dead or maimed. We have had wars in which we have been insulated from the consequences and that insulation obviates the need for the songs of longing for home or for someone's homecoming.

If we do not accept that wars have consequences for us I think that makes it easier for a group of power-mad ideologues to fantasize that they can march into a country as occupiers amid showers of flowers and the cheers of the conquered people. I don't know if I'm correct in this but, should I be, we are in a frightening time indeed. If we have disjointed war from its inevitable consequences we are more likely to go to war more often with dire results for all concerned.

I think we will be better off when we start hearing a contemporary equivalent of I'll Be Seeing You.

A Tale of a Single Cell: Losing brains and cells

While I'm on the subject of cell phones I should relate a story of my most extensive experience with these instruments of satan.

A couple of years ago the wonderful and dear friend in whose house I formerly lived bought a prepaid cell phone. I vaguely recall that she got it before taking a road trip out to South Dakota to visit her oldest son despite what she tells me is the vast "no signal" zone in Montana in which a breakdown would make it most useful. I might be wrong about the purpose or that trip's date. In any case, she bought a prepaid cell.

She'd had it a while, tucked into the glove compartment in the car, when we set out to visit some friends who then lived in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Washington. We stopped to do some shopping along the way south. Once we were ready to continue on to Kent, Anna asked that I call Bill and Mary to let them know that we'd be at their house in about a half hour. She was driving, please note.

I managed to figure out how to use the demon device, placed the call, relayed the message and shut the phone off. Anna had extracted it from her purse so I sat with the thing in my hand during the rest of the drive. When we arrived I set the cell phone on the car's dashboard and made to exit the car. Anna said, "Don't put it there! Someone's likely to steal it." Given the upscale, neighborhood of condominiums and tract homes we were in the likelihood of a break-in to steal her cell phone was almost as likely as Dick Cheney being honest or Alberto Gonzales being competent, but she seized it from the dashboard and the cell phone disappeared I knew not where.

We had a nice visit with our friends, went home later that evening and life went on.

A couple of days later Anna asked me pointedly, "Do you remember what you did with the cell phone?" I related that I'd seen it last when I put it on the dashboard.

"Well, it's not there."

"No. You took it. I don't know what happened to it after that."

"I don't either. I don't have it."

"Did you check in the car?"

"Yes."

"Is it in your purse?"

"No. I looked."

"You're sure."

"Yes! I took my purse apart. It's not there."

A bit later I went up to the car and searched under seats and in all the recesses I could find. There was no cell phone. I reported that my search was fruitless.

"Well, there goes $60. I don't know what you did with it."

Even I, undiplomatic as I am, knew enough not to answer that one. I had lost the cell phone. I was an irresponsible turd and suitable punishments would be meted out at a time to be named later. They came. Have no doubt about that.

Months pass. Seasons change. Life goes on until one day Anna spontaneously says, "I was out at the doctor's today and was looking for something in my purse. I couldn't find the thing I was looking for but while I was searching I felt something hard in my purse. It was in a separate pocket attached to the bag near the strap. I opened up the pocket and what do you think was there?"

"The cell phone, right."

"Yes. The cell phone was there all along." She was exceptionally pleased that it had reappeared. I, on the other hand, thought it was the funniest thing I'd heard in days and promised that it would be a story I'd not soon forget, more because it's funny rather than that I deserved a bit of revenge for the crap I'd taken as the one who lost the cell phone that was only used once!

Stories like this don't really have a convenient end like some literary product. They are real life stories and, as such, they just peter out as we turn our attention to the next thing that real life has to throw at us. It's not even a story specific to Anna because nearly everyone of us has "lost" something that we really had all along. As we get older, Poe's tale of The Purloined Letter turns into The Senior Moment Letter with increasing frequency. And I can't even turn this into some lesson to prove in some new and additional way that cell phones are hell spawn. No, it's just a tale that couples, friends, relatives live out every day. But it does have the salutary effect of allowing me, whenever Anna began tooting her own horn especially loudly, of injecting a note of humility by turning to her with a short and simple question: "Remember the cell phone?"