Friday, September 30, 2011

September 30, 2011--Class Warfare: The American Fall

Finally, this fall, the public demonstrations characteristic of the Arab Spring are spreading to other regions.

What began in Tunisia inspired Egyptians, Libyans, and then Syrians as well as others. Greece we have been hearing about--people fed up with their government and its belt-tightening policies have taken to the streets in protest. Then there were youth riots in London, inspired by a sense of economic desperation and the growing awareness that jobs and career opportunities for young people have contracted in ways that are more than cyclical. Something more structural may be happening.

In Spain, again led by the young, there have been continuous street demonstrations, as in England, largely the result of the extraordinarily high unemployment rate among recent secondary school and university graduates. Youth jobless rates as high as 40 percent have been reported.

India too has witnessed the emergence of a class of protesters. The economic growth rate in India is among the highest in the world and so the motivation for the activists there has less to do with lack of economic opportunity than the perception that the government is riddled with abuse and corruption.

The same is true in Israel, where the high-tech economy is also booming while at the same time the largest demonstrations in the nation's history have been routinely taking place. Hundreds of thousands have moved into the streets to express their outrage that the Netanyahu government does not represent their interests (that it is too beholden to the ultra-orthodox political parties) and that the growing economy has spanned a class of oligarchs who not only control the economy but are amassing wealth at such a rate that soon there will be an Israeli Gilded Age.

And closer to home-but thus far largely ignored by the mainstream media--finally after the collapse of our economy--the result largely of corporate shenanigans and corruption--people are taking to the streets. In this case Wall Street itself.

The police in New York appear to be responding in ways that seem similar to how they literally handled anti-war protesters back in the Vietnam War days--macing and arresting scores. As at that time this kind of response is likely to increase turnouts and fuel passions.

What is characteristic of these demonstrations, protests, and in some cases revolutionary actions is well summed up by Yochai Benkler, a director of the Beckman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard:

You're looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing. They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big companies. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy and they aren't anymore.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. If I were the CEO of Goldman Sachs I would be beginning to get concerned. We may be witnessing the arrival of the American Fall.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011--Asiento del Inodoro

At the risk of alienating my progressive friends, I need to make a confession.

Yesterday, we went to Lowe's to buy a new toilet seat. This should have been mundane enough, but what we were shopping for is not the subject of the confession.

What is is how much of everything in the huge barn of a store is in Spanish.

It made me understand the causes for some of the clamor on the part of the political right to pass a constitutional amendment to make English the "official" language of the United States.

Of course that's ridiculous--English already is our national language and doesn't need an amendment to affirm it.

But my confession is that I sort of understand the chauvinistic impulse.

All the signage was bilingual, from the welcome at the entrance, to the labels on all the aisles, to the product packaging itself. Everything in the store was equally in English and Spanish. Even directions to the water fountains. And this is up in Maine where few Latinos are in residence.

Following those parts of the signs that were in English, we found our way to the Bathroom/Baño aisle and then located the toilet seat/asiento del inodoro display. After careful consideration we were attracted to an American Standard HOMESTEAD toilet seat with something called an "EVERCLEAN surface." It was the most expensive available, nearly twice as much as the next-most-costly, and we assumed that might have to do with the EVERCLEANness since it was the only one that promised to be "permanently" clean and, we assumed, hygienic.

Rona, especially, is interested in everything that is or purports to be hygienic and so the price--$33.00--didn't deter us. But we did want to know more about this EVERCLEAN business--

For example, was the seat made and painted in China? We found that of course it was. Did this then perhaps mean there might be something toxic about the painted surface? Like so many toys and dishes made in China?

Hygiene is one thing; having a toxic tush another.

So we needed to know more. And we did, with the Spanish explanation seemingly more thorough and complete than the English.

I quote:

Exclusiva superficie antimicrobiana a base de plata EverClean. Inhibe en forma permanente el crecimiento de bacterias que causan manchas y malos olores, moho y hongos. La superficie EverClean no protege contra enfermedades provocadas por bacterias.

Excelente, no? Rona was very pleased about the moho y hongos part as she hates mold and mildew.

I confess to having been discombobulated by the whole thing and was becoming increasingly conflicted about my support for

What would I be able to say to my Delray Beach friend, Harvey, when I see him in a few months. When he reads this he'll think I've come over to the other side and take delight in exposing my confusion--read flip-flopping. My only counter will be that his candidates invented flip-flopping. Think Mitt Romney.

I suppose it wouldn't help to note that the HOMESTEAD EVERCLEAN box also appears to be in French.

EverClean à base d'argent, antimicrobien, exclusif. Empêche, de maniere permanente . . .

This is not helpful. It will only make Harvey crazier.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 28, 2011--Chore Day

I need to get an extra early start to take care of an lengthy list of chores. I will be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 27, 2011-- Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan

We've moved on. Libya is no longer on the front pages.

The dramatic war part with the Europeans leading the bombing and the U.S. the logistics is over. The mop-up proceeds but how boring is that in comparison to Republican and Democratic wrangling about the budget and the GOP presidential aspirants tearing at each other?

Muammar Gaddafi has been toppled though we and our NATO allies have no idea where he is. When he is finally captured, eliminated, or surfaces snugly exiled in Iran, for a day or two we will again pay attention to that place Italian colonialists back in 1911 cobbled together into a country called "Libya.”

Down the line, a few years from now, after competing interests within Libya fight for dominance or, more likely autonomy, we will see not one country but three-- Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan.

As part of the Scramble for Africa engaged in by the dominant European powers in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the Italians, striving to rival the French, English, and Germans, made a grab for that part of North Africa not far south from them. In 1911 they would up in control of three provinces--actually more tribal regions (again, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan), which they quickly amalgamated into a pseudo-country--Libya.

(I have linked below a map of that geographic conglomeration.)

It was only by force of arms, first by the Italians and then the British, accompanied by the widespread use of government-sponsored terror, that these three rivalrous provinces, more accurately tribal regions, were fused together.

After independence, for 42 years, Gaddafi kept the "country" intact by using pretty much the same tactics as his colonial predecessors.

But he and thus that are now over. The genie of tribal separatism is out of the bottle and no matter what we and the Europeans wish and attempt to foster--that Libya continue as a country (after all, there's a lot of oil there)--will not come to pass.

What is likely is a return to the ancient cultural borders that existed many centuries ago and which will reassert themselves.

We can see evidence of that today.

Early attempts to form a coalition government are already unraveling. As the rebels continue their mop-up and capture leftover weapons from the Gaddafi forces, rather than taking them to some central government military base or warehouse, depending of who takes possession of the tanks and rifles, they are trundling them to one of three provincial capitals in . . . Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, or Fezzan.

We may not like any of this. A return to tribalism makes life much more complicated--especially foreign and energy policy. But there is another potential side effect--stability.

The kinds of sectional differences we are seeing in Libya and Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, Turkey and even Israel only work when there are strongmen in charge who can keep the lid on ethnic and nationalistic aspirations. That era is ending, perhaps over, and we will have to figure out how to live with and benefit from the consequences.

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011--Last Meals

Non-Texans have learned a lot about GOP front-runner Rick Perry since he began his official campaign a scant six weeks ago.

We now know that he considers Social Security a Ponzi scheme; that he is so upset with everything having to do with the federal government that he has flirted with the idea of having Texas secede from the Union; he considers the income tax to be unconstitutional even though the 16th Amendment allows it; and has called for the abolition of the direct election of U.S. senators, again, even though it is required by the 17th Amendment. And of course, he is running as much to be preacher in chief as commander in chief.

Also, we have become aware that he is especially proud of his record of having presided over more executions as governor than anyone else in America. The number is 235 and counting. And when this was mentioned during the first GOP debate in which he participated, his evident pride in this "accomplishment" brought the audience to it feet. They applauded, cheered, and whooped it up.

But it's been all downhill for him since that rousing moment. He has subsequently been attacked by the Republican right-wing base for his executive order requiring 11 and 12 year-old girls to be vaccinated against the HPV, cervical-cancer-causing virus; and he has been excoriated for his, by GOP standards, moderate views about immigration--unlike his rivals he is not in favor of rounding "them" all up and sending them back to where they came from.

Thus battered, toward the end of last week he returned to the ever-popular subject of executions.

Yes, another one was carried out in Texas on Wednesday; but the big news--executions themselves in Texas are not considered big news--was about the Lone Star State no longer allowing the condemned to have a sumptuous last meal the night before they are executed.

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn at a time when executions were still legal in New York--by electric chair--mornings after one was carried out there would be a lurid headline and story in the Daily News--"Bugsy Berkowitz Fries!"--and a story about what he ordered and ate for his last meal. These jailhouse feasts usually included steak and at least a quart of ice cream.

I always wondered how a condemned man, hours before he was to be electrocuted, could woof down anything at all much less heaps of meat and potatoes.

We never ate that way in my house so I fantasized about what I would order if I were ever to find myself on Death Row in Bugsy's circumstances. A quart of chocolate-chip sounded good to me. The getting fried part, on the other hand, didn't.

In the spirit of fair-and-balanced, when it comes to execution-macho, I should note that when Bill Clinton was running for president, in 1992, to overcome the bleeding-heart-liberal label Republicans were trying to pin on him, during the heat of the primary season, he broke off campaigning and flew home to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector who had killed a police officer.

But back in Texas, where for years very little has been fair or balanced, not only are they administering lethal injections to condemned men at a record pace, but they have also taken to eliminating their legendary last meals.

The most recent example was the meal order placed last week by a very, very bad guy, white-supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was convicted back in 1998 of a heinous hate crime during which he and two companions dragged an allegedly gay African American to his death after chaining him to the back of their pickup truck.

This is not a commentary about capital punishment (which I basically oppose) or how much Brewer deserved to be executed--a pretty good case can be made for the affirmative--but about last meals.

Before his execution Brewer ordered one that included two chicken fried steaks; a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger; a large bowl of fried okra with ketchup; a pound of barbecue accompanied by half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a "meat-lover's pizza"; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and jalapenos; three root beers; a pint of Blue Bell ice cream; and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts.

Democrats as well as Republicans in Texas were not only outraged by his crime but by the fact that he was being thus indulged. Forget that he passed on eating anything when the food arrived, but note that Perry and his people made it seem that the real reason they were opposed to continuing traditional last meals was because of the expense. (See linked New York Times article.)

I suppose in the race to see which of the GOP candidates can best demonstrate fiscal responsibility, Perry has figured out the ultimate way to position himself one last mile ahead of his opponents.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23, 2011--Birds Do It, Bees Do It

I was drawn to two stories from the front page of Wednesday's New York Times.

The first was about Marine recruiters who visited Tulsa, Oklahoma's largest gay community center on the first day after the repeal of don't ask, don't tell.

Tulsa? I thought--isn't this the worst possible place for the Marines to be recruiting? Why not start in Greenwich Village?

Apparently the recruiter had similar thoughts. He reported that he parked his van in a place that would allow for a quick getaway if things turned south. He said, "I have an exit strategy." (I wished we had had one for him in Iraq and Afghanistan.) "I know where my choke points are. I strategically parked my car right at the curbside. I have an out."

Fortunately, he didn't need to beat a hasty retreat. There were no protests or insults--not from members of the gay community nor local homophobes. Maybe in some places the Culture War is at last abating.

A few lesbians approached Master Sgt. Anthony Henry. They asked about what it might be like to be an openly gay Marine. He told them, Your sexuality "is your business, and you don't have to share it. But you're also free to be at the mall with your girlfriend."

When asked what he liked about the Marines, Sergeant Henry said, "It's like a little family. We get mad at each other, we joke with each other, but we don't let anybody make fun of us."

The implication was clear, and as a result it looks as if he may get to sign up a few good women.

Right below the Times story about the 21st century Marines is another, also about diversity.

For many decades scientists have noted that hundreds of species are known to engage in same-sex sex. Many insects do; as do bottle-nose dolphins; penguins; and our close relatives, bonobo apes. Now we are finding that the squid species Octopoteuthis deletron (particularly the males) not only carry out their hanky-panky in the inky depths of the Pacific Ocean but they are almost as interested in other males as they are attracted to females. This is the first time creatures have been found to be as equally amorous with same-sex partners as they are with the opposite sex. (Article linked below.)

In the animal kingdom (and this very much includes us), up to now it has been found that only a minority of any particular species engages in same-sex sex. Among humans, about 10 percent report they are homosexual. Thus the new, special place in nature for octopoteuthes.

So when you hear Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry rant about how homosexuality is a life-style choice (you knew all along where I was going with this), and not a biological imperative--and of course how it can be cured by prayer--suggest they take their mission a half mile down into the Pacific where a whole lot of happy squid are waiting to teach them a thing or two.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011--Down Day

It's raining and I feel like getting back into bed. I will be return on Friday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 21, 2011--Topix

Living, as we now are, in a small town in midcoast Maine, I was drawn to a front page story in yesterday's New York Times, the headline of which was--"In Small Towns, Gossip Moves to the Web, and Turns Vicious."

Featured was a Website, Topix, where the "X" in place of the "S" should have been a hint of what, as I read on, was to come.

Topix, it seems, is a forum for posting small town news as well as engaging in forums about the weather; community news; local politcs; and, more and more, gossip. Much of which is quite malicious.

The place the Times profiled was Mountain Grove, Missouri where, until Topix hit town, locals would gather over coffee in Dee's Place where only one table is reserved--the one for the "Old Farts Club."

But because of Topix, particularly its Mountain Grove Forum, the folks who have traditionally come to Dee's are mad as hornets. A waitress said that things posted on Topix have already led to fights and even divorce. Again, note that X factor.

The diner's owner called Topix a "cesspool of character assassination." A posting about his wife titled "Freak" described her as "a methed-out, doped-out whore with AIDs." Not a word of which was true but she was defamed enough so that some in the town of 9,000 stopped speaking to her and as a consequence she thought about committing suicide.

I didn't have enough prurient interest to check the Mountain Gorve home page to see what else was causing all the upset; but though fearing what I might find, I trepidatiously checked Topix for the towns nearest us--New Harbor and Bristol.

You see, we so look forward to our morning coffee and catch up with friends at the Bristol Diner that I was worried I would find a Topix forum for us that was already bubbling with salaciousness. Enough to put at risk the special quality of life characteristic of this place that we have come so much to cherish. I didn't want to know who might be cheating on whom or who owed what to so-and-so. Too much information can be a very destructive thing. Especially about people you live with, see every day, and have come to both like and depend upon.

I googled Topix and when it came up, holding my breath, entered New Harbor's zip code to see what might be there.

There was an assortment of local news but the only forum topic I could find that elicited any comments was one about the Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse who announced that the first major phase of restoration at Wood Island Lighthouse has begun.

There were 16 comments, a few of which were devoted to a dispute about how a little girl was rescued from the water near the light house. Here is one comment that offers a flavor of the nature of the exchange--

As I have stated before, my book, Wood Island Lighthouse The Rescue of Tammy Burnham by Margo Alley was written from expert first hand eyewitness accounts of the people that were directly involved in rescuing Tammy.

Need I remind you, Ms. Kennedy, that your father former chief John Kennedy was not the one that spent approximately 75 minutes in the freezing water fighting to hold onto Tammy Burnham and fighting to save her life, Edward Syvinski did that. In fact, your father John Kennedy and his engineman were snug on the 30 footer and in no danger of drowning or dying.

Noting that this happened back in 1960, and finding nothing hotter than this, I breathed a sigh of relief, and next turned to news and the community forum about Bristol, the next town up the road from us and, since it is considerably larger, perhaps here I would find . . .

I hesitated for a moment but when I took a peek, thankfully the most recent list of topics in the Bristol Forum included, well, nothing whatsoever!

There was news excerpted from the county paper--the Lincoln County News--that included a few benign police reports and an update about a new cell-phone tower that is a little controversial, but nothing gossipy.

Thinking I might be missing something, I looked a little closer. Maybe the mean-spirited stuff is to be found someplace else. Ah, I thought, spotting a hyperlink for "Dating & Personals," perhaps here is where I'll find . . . well, you know what. So I clicked on it.

Yes, it appears to be a place to meet others seeking relationships. I am familiar with this sort of thing from New York's Village Voice where sexual propensities tend to take up more space than anything else. But the first one listed here began--

"Love is Patient and kind. Seeking a man of God."
I am worth it! I am single! Yes, I am ready! I am passionate about what I believe in. I am seeking a . . .

And then there was--

"Sit back, relax, and just laugh! "
I am driven and know what I want. I am family oriented, career driven, and have a good group of friends . . .

Considerably calmed down from what I found, I roused Rona and said, "Let's head for the Diner. I could use some coffee and hope John and Al and Ken and Crystal will be there."

And so they were.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 20, 2011--Class Warfare: Obama's Offensive

When unveiling his deficit-reduction plan yesterday, anticipating that Republicans would accuse him of engaging in class warfare because of his intention to see millionaires and billionaires pay a little more in taxes, he laid it out starkly--

"This is not class warfare--it's math," Mr. Obama said from the White House Rose Garden.

"The money has to come from some place," he continued. "If we're not willing to ask those who've done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit . . . the math says everybody else has to do a whole lot more. We've got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor."

He's says it's only math. I say it's in fact class warfere. And that it's about time. Now let's see what kind of a warrior he turns out to be. Based on past performance . . .

But remember--we're losing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011--Midcoast: Snickerdoodles

“ I haven’t made these in a long time.” Rona was rummaging around in the drawer where she keeps her baking pans.

“What’s that?”


“Oh, I love those. There’s a recipe that I clipped from the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times for bluefish grilled with caponata that I’ve been eager to try and I think madeleines for dessert would be perfect.”

“That sounds interesting,”

“I saw some nice looking bluefish in the fish store in town and grilling it with caponata, in parchment, sounds delicious. I need, let me see,” I looked at the recipe, “some fennel root, a red onion, a red pepper, and some anchovy paste. I already have a tube of tomato paste, garlic, and we’re growing our own Italian parsley. But I have to get some pitted black olives and of course eggplant. What about you? Is there anything you need?”

“I could use some vanilla extract. Other than that, I’m fine. But what about capers? I’m sure you need some for the caponata. Do we have any?”

“For certain. Some of those wonderful Spanish ones. Let’s make a list and head out. We have to get a few things up in Rockland,” a town about 25 miles northeast of us, “and on the way back we can pick up what we need.”

“And also,” Rona said with a coy smile, “maybe, if we time it right, we can stop at the Keag store in South Thomaston and . . .”

I sensed what she was about to suggest, “And,” I said, she was already nodding, “share a lobster roll. They make the best ones as far as I’m concerned.”

“Right,” Rona said, “the lobsters come right out of the harbor, they cook them perfectly, and make the dressing with just the right amount of mayonnaise.”

“And I love the roll they serve it on. They don’t use frankfurter rolls like everyone else but rather seeded buns which . . .”

“. . . they toast just right.”

“Indeed!” I was ready to dig into one already even though it was barely 10:30.

We got our Rockland chores done, keeping an eye on the time so that we would get to the Keag store at about 1:30. Rona suggested we kill a little time at Home Depot. She’s looking for some gray Cabot stain for our decks. No luck there so we headed out toward Keag along a road that skirted the river—a vast plain of wetlands that reminded us of West Africa.

“Every time we take this route,” Rona said half-seriously, “I keep an eye out for big game.”

I, on the other hand, kept my eyes on the road—I had lobster rolls on my mind.

It’s post-season and so when we arrived we were the only ones in the store. We ordered a large lobster roll to share with sides of their scrumptious homemade coleslaw and slide into a sun-drenched table by the window to wait for it to be ready.

Looking around at the cozy surroundings, I said, “If only they had a wood stove I’d stay all winter. Can you imagine how blissful it would be to sit here all day with coffee and the newspaper and watch the tide swing through where the river narrows? That’s why they situated a mill here in the middle of the 19th century—when the store first opened—since it could operate with the tide running in and then out. It must have been quite a reality.”

“Now everything’s being manufactured in China and Sri Lanka.” Wistfully I nodded.

“Speaking of newspapers, let’s see what’s in the local paper. I saw a copy up by the counter. I like the Herald Gazette. Comes out, I think, every Wednesday. I remember how it’s the only paper I know that tells you right there in the masthead how many pages it includes.” And sure enough, just as in the past it said there were 44 in this week’s edition.

I thumbed through the first section with its stories about a 1.3 magnitude earthquake centered not far away in Lincolnville, strong enough only to get people talking about it; and how firefighters responded to a call from Jackson Salvage where, fortunately, no structures were damaged, just some old auto parts; while Rona picked up the B Section, Community, with stories about the towns in the area (this week, how they remembered the 10th anniversary of 9/11); social events (including the public steak supper scheduled for Saturday at the Mt. Olive Lodge in Washington); and news of local high school sports (how the Trojans of Mount Desert Island ran past the Camden Hills’ Windjammers, 35-7).

“And look,” Rona said, while still waiting for our lobster roll, “just like your New York Times, they have recipes.”

“What?” I was engrossed in a story about a South Thomaston fisherman who was sentenced to 14 days in jail after being convicted of failing to file tax returns for the past six years and was half-paying attention to Rona.
“Look at these recipes.” She handed her section over to me. “Check the ‘Baking with Betty’ column. It’s so charming.”

And indeed it was. There was a recipe for Mixed Vegetables with Instant Cream Sauce and Magic Baked Pork Chops, with the magic supplied by a can of Golden (or Campbell’s) Cream of Mushroom Soup. “Just like my mother used to make,” I said out loud to myself.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, just how my mother used cream of mushroom soup for all sorts of things. Best was her Chicken à la King. I loved that.” I felt myself getting teary-eyed but was rescued from slipping into sadness about the passage of time by the arrival of our lobster roll.

And what a roll it was! We hadn’t been to the Keag since June but, as then and for years past, it was and is still perfect. I know all the guidebooks send Maine visitors to Reds just at the end of the bridge in Wiscasset, but for my money (and at neither place is it cheap) I’ll take Keag’s version. Washed down with iced tea or a cold beer, well that’s as close to heaven as I ever expect to get.

When we mopped up the last morsel of the lobster mix and the coleslaw we sat back to finish leafing through the Gazette. I was deeply lost in Betty Heald’s cooking column.

“Look at this,” I said, “Did you ever hear of Snickerdoodles?”


“You heard me. They’re some kind of cookie.” Rona was looking at me skeptically. “You make a basic cookie dough, let it sit in the frig for about an hour, and then—let’s see—you shape it into balls, roll them in a sugar and cinnamon mix, and then bake them for, Betty says, 8 to 10 minutes.”

“Let me look at that.” Rona said, reaching across the table to retrieve the Community section. Still suspecting me, I was certain, of making this up. I heard her mutter, “Snickerdoodles.” And then, “Oh my God, he’s right,” meaning me. “I never heard of these.” I just smiled my most contented smile. The tide outside was swinging out and beginning to rush through the channel.

“They don’t sound half bad to me,” I said, “They could give your madeleines a run for the money.” Before she could say anything, I quickly added, “Of course I’m just kidding. Nothing compares to your madeleines.”

We reluctantly pulled ourselves up out of our chairs and headed back to Damariscotta to complete our chores and shopping for dinner. When we finally got to the house Rona went right to the kitchen and began to putter around. I took advantage of that and let myself fall into a deep nap. When I awoke it was nearly time for some serious cooking and baking.

“Let me do the baking first,” Rona said. “This will allow things to cool and be ready for dessert. You’re still making the bluefish with caponata? I hope so.”

“Sure am. Those New York Times recipes have been unbeatable this summer.”

“Why don’t you take a little walk and get out of my way.”

“Good idea,” I said. And so I wandered out toward the lighthouse to fully wake up and leave Rona alone with her madeleine-making. I knew that by the time I returned the house would be full of the aroma that only vanilla extract can impart.

I was out for about half an hour and found the oven still in use. “When you’re done,” I said, “let me know since I’m grilling the bluefish in the oven. I see you have it set at 400 degrees. That’s perfect for me. You can just leave it there. It looks from the timer that you need another few minutes. In the meantime I’ll do some sous-chefing. I need to dice the eggplant, onion, fennel, and red pepper. I can do that without getting in your way.”

“Sounds good. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“That would be great. The recipe calls not for paper parchment but to seal the fish with the caponata on top in aluminum foil. Greased foil. So you can prepare to sheets and put the fish on them, skin side down.”

While I sliced and diced Rona did just that and in a few minutes the timer went off.

“Does that ever smell amazing,” I said, not looking up from the cutting board. “I can’t wait for dessert.”

“And I can’t wait for the fish. In the meantime, I’ll bring up Pandora Radio on the computer. I’ve been liking their string quartet mix.” And with that, blending with the baking smell, Debussy’s rapturous quartet filled the room. For the second time in a day, I was flooded with tears, this time of happiness.

The fish was as amazing as we had hoped. Nothing like fresh fish caught in our bay and vegetables direct from local farms.

And then I was ready for Rona’s madeleines. When earlier I had run out to the shed—I remembered I forgot to turn out the lights before driving to Rockland—Rona had emptied the oven and I couldn’t wait to see how they turned out.

“Bring them on,” I said. “I’ve been looking forward to this all day.”

She took the wax paper off the cookie platter and brought it to the table with a touch of ceremony. “Voilà,” she said. An appropriate choice of words, I thought, for something French.

“But what’s that?” I was confused. “These don’t look like madeleines. They look like . . .”

Snickerdoodles!” we said simultaneously.

“You are too much,” I said, reaching out to hug her.

“Seemed appropriate,” she said.

“I agree. Let me try them.” I bit into one that was still warm. “My, they are good,” I said with a mouth full of snickerdoodle. “Not quite as good as your you-know-what’s,” I winkled, “But good nonetheless.”

“You know, these would be great for dunking. Let me make some tea.”

And while she did, I looked again at “Baking with Betty.”

“These are so good I’m now wondering about her baked pork chops.”

From the stove where the water was heating, Rona said, “Yeah, the ones with the magic sauce.”

“Right. The ones you make with the cream of . . .”

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16, 2011--Just Say No to HPV

Michele Bachmann stepped in it again. This time about the HPV vaccine. The one that protects against cervical cancer.

This should be an easy one, especially for a woman who considers herself a feminist. True, a conservative feminist who says she is "submissive" to her husband (when challenged she spins it as really meaning "respect"), but one with a powerful career in Congress and after the Ames, Iowa straw poll the frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perhaps it was the formerly part of being in the lead that threw her off her game last week at the GOP debate--according to the pundits, she "didn't show up." She was so eager not to get lost again in this week's debate mano-y-mano between Governors Romney and Perry that she got a little shrill and carried away with herself.

She saw an opportunity to take Perry on directly and seized it, expressing Tea-Party outrage that he, by executive order in 2007, required all preadolescent girls between 11 and 12 to be inoculated against HPV, the virus that later in life can cause cancer.

Her initial point--where she should have stopped--was that this exposes Perry as a big-government, daddy-state operative who presents himself hypocritically as favoring less government. She had him pinned red handed, in action, governing by fiat no less, intruding in the lives of families and disregarding parental rights and prerogatives.

He weakly responded that he now regrets not having done this through the legislative process but impressively stood by his intention to help girls when they become women reduce their chances of getting cancer.

But Bachmann, having made her good Republican point, went further, claiming that the HPV vaccine has been shown to cause mental retardation.

The press the next day and through this week jumped all over her for again ignoring science. They and national pediatrics groups were quick to point out that this claim of hers was totally unfounded and that she was trying to get in another shot at Perry who appears to continue to be the frontrunner in spite of the HPV flap and his continuing to call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I guess that when it come to Perry the Republican base is in love and unshakable in their support.

What the press and those on the left generally failed to note is that her attack on Perry's inconsistency is less about governments requiring HPV vaccination than another flare up in the culture war that have been roiling the country since at least the 1960s.

This time about premarital sex.

Have you heard Michele Bachmann or any of her colleagues on the right railing about requiring measles or polio vaccinations? Not a one.

HPV is special to them because to be effective it has to be administered to young girls before they become sexually active. Thus, it's too late to wait until after they are married. I assume, if it would work, that Congresswoman Bachmann would be all right vaccinating 25-year-olds right after the wedding ceremony and before the honeymoon

Unspoken is the feeling disturbing to Bachmann and other fundamentalists that to inoculate 11 and 12-year-olds may not only help prevent cervical cancel but also gives them tacit permission to become sexually active.

Thus, in coming weeks and months, unless Perry becomes this fall's version of Donald Trump, we are likely to hear a great deal more about HPV. Listen between the lines to see if you, like me, sense we are talking more about adolescent sex and abstinence than big government, health, or parents' rights.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 15, 2011--Day Off

I will return tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September 14, 2011--Cheering for Death

During Monday night's Tea-Party-sponsored Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a "theoretical" question.

The context was the individual mandate part of President Obama's health care plan that requires everyone not curently covered to buy health insurance. Especially young and healthy people whose participation is needed to help pay for the care of older, less-well people.

As the only candidate who is a physician, Blitzer asked Dr. Paul how he feels about the following situation--

There is a 30-year-old in good health who decides not to buy insurance, assuming he won't need it until he's older and more at risk. But as luck would have it, he's in an accident and winds up in a coma for many months. Who, then, should pay for this uninsured person's treatment?

"Not the government," Ron Paul shot back.

"Well who then?" Blitzer followed up.

"He should," Paul said, "He should have to take personal responsibility for his actions."

"But he needs care," Wolf pressed.

"Then his family should pay for him or a chirch group or a private charity."

None of this is new territory for anti-government, Ayn Rand-inspired Dr. Paul (whose senator-son's first name is Rand). But what was new territory was the audience's response.

At last week's GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Library where the assembled Republican worthies gathered to witness how Rick Paul would handle himself, the audience cheered when it was pointed out that during Rick Perry's 11 years as Texas governor he presided over the execution of 234 prisoners. And then on Monday night the clear implication of Ron Paul's assertion that if people don't take care of themselves we shouldn't, as a society, feel any responsibility even it means leaving them to die, this pean to death once again had the audience applauding.

At the heart of this enthusiasm for the execution of criminals and contempt for those who do not have the means or motivation to care for themselves is a form of biological Darwinism that sees life as a struggle for existence in which only the fittest survive. Paul and Republicans who share his views in effect are saying that if you do not take responsibility for yourself, if you lose out in the game of unfettered capitalism (or weren't lucky enough to be born to wealthy parents), do not look for much help from others who are doing better or the government because this is nature's way of sorting winners and losers.

Literally, in the case of health care, with their lives. As in the forests and oceans.

Ironically, or hypocritically, they may not want Darwin to be taught in public schools, but when it comes to how they actually view life they see it to be an on-going evolutionary struggle with a eugenic twist.

The implication is clear--those who do survive will vote Republican, the party that claims to represent the winners. The party of the most-evolved Rick Perry; Michele Bachmann; Rick Santorum; Ron Paul; and lest we forget, Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13, 2011--A Chill In the Air

As I write, it is 56 degrees outside as well as in the house. We do not have heat.

Though we are very happy here and resist even thinking about leaving, when the temperature gets to the low 30s--by the end of October/very early November--we begin to worry about the water pipes and what a domestic disaster it would be if they were to freeze and burst.

So thoughts begin to crop up about November in New York City and then winter in Delray Beach. In Florida where our seasonal governor, Rick Scott, and the legislature have been hard at work cutting unemployment benefits, firing policemen and teachers, refusing federal money for rail and other infrastructure projects, while imposing drug testing on welfare recipients. And, I almost forgot, changing the state's already "liberal" gun laws.

In a blow to local control--a conservative axiom--Scott got the Republican-controlled legislature to pass a law that does not allow local communities to retain any of their own gun ordinances. Like Miami which currently does not permit gun totters to take their weapons into libraries, hospitals, or airports. Or allow suburban communities to ban homeowners from setting up shooting ranges in their backyards. By October 1st, at the risk of hefty fines, Florida cities and municipalities have to follow the all-encompassing state law when it comes to guns and ammo.

And cities are hastening to do so. "No Guns Allowed" signs are coming down all across south Florida and in the university cities of Gainesville and Tallahassee

The New York Times reports that the rationale for eliminating local options is to reduce confusion when gun owners move about the state from, for example, rural areas such as Lake County (where currently almost anything goes when it comes to guns) to West Palm Beach where librarians after October 1st will be reluctant to shush anyone who might be locked and loaded. (Article linked below.)

So by the time we get to Delray, we'll have to get used to hearing gunfire on the other side of the Intracoasal. Or right next door, including, as in the Middle East, on New Year's Eve, when our neighbors will be allowed to fire their weapons in the air.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011--September 12th

I spent much of yesterday reliving 9/11/01 and have little left to feel or say.

I can't get the memory out of my mind of Flight 11 approaching the World Trade Center at nearly 500 MPH, swooping, it seemed, right over our top-floor terrace about a mile north of Ground Zero. Rona was out there that deceptively beautiful morning to check the weather, to see if we needed jackets before heading to work. For us it was as mundane as that.

One thing I do feel and need to say is that it is time to stop the memorializing and mourning and let the surviving families--and the rest of us--get on with our ever-changed lives.

I hope, I expect to return tomorrow with something of a different sort.

Friday, September 09, 2011

September 9, 2011--Watergate Redux

Things in Washington these days can look very bleak, even depressing. But then there was something much worse--Watergate, the generic name for a series of crimes and dirty tricks carried out by President Richard Nixon and his henchmen. These occurred during the months and years leading up to his reelection bid in 1972. The ensuing coverup--additional crimes--took up more than a year of his second term.

Breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex was just one of many felonious activities. It was this event and Nixon's attempt to hush it up that brought down his presidency and ultimately forced him to resign, but his administration was replete with corruption and criminality.

Here is a partial list:

--Breaking into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. Ellsberg was "guilty" of giving the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.

--Attorney General Mitchell gave approval to the break-in at the Watergate.

--Special counsel to the President Charles Colson proposed firebombing the Brookings Institution.

--Bay of Pigs veteran E. Howard Hunt fabricated documents implicating John Kennedy in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem.

--Assistant to the president for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman ordered FBI Director L. Patrick Gray to take possession of the files in Hunt's safe, keeping them secret from prosecutors.

--Gray destroyed the evidence from Hunt's safe.

--Watergate investigator Henry E. Petersen gave White House Counsel John Dean secret grand jury testimony.

--Gray at the FBI gave Dean access to all FBI investigation files.

--Creation of the White House Plumbers to plug leaks through the use of illegal wiretaps.

Sandwedge: The Jack Caulfield's operation designed to orchestrate a massive campaign to spy on the Democrats. Caufield was an agent working for the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP).

--Ehrlichman claimed he did not know in advance about the Ellsberg break-in; he knew.

--Gemstone: The Liddy operation to kidnap students who might disrupt the Republican convention in 1972 used prostitutes to compromise Democratic politicians. Attorney General Mitchell objected to the plan on the grounds it cost too much; he later approved a scaled-down plan. Mitchell, presidential chief-of-staff Haldeman, and special assistant to the president Jeb Magruder approved of Gemstone. J. Gordon Liddy was a White House aide and worked for CREEP.

--Hush money paid to Watergate break-in defendants.

--Nixon promised clemency to Watergate criminals.

--Caulfield sent to Chappaquiddick Island to pose as a reporter to dig up dirt on Edward Kennedy before all the leaks.

--Nixon is heard on the tapes telling Ehrlichman in April 1973 that he should hint to Dean to "stay on the reservation" because in the end the only man who can grant Dean clemency and save his ability to practice law is the president.

--Charles Colson was guilty of offering clemency to Hunt at Nixon's orders.

--Nixon told Petersen to stay out of the Ellsberg psychiatrist's break-in on the grounds that an investigation would compromise national security.

--Nixon proposed to chief-of-staff Alexander Haig and special White House counsel Fred Buzhardt that they manufacture evidence—a missing dictabelt tape—wanted by

--Judge John Sirica; both refused.

--Nixon ordered the IRS to audit the tax returns of Larry O'Brien, head of the Democratic National Committee.

--Nixon ordered the IRS to stop an investigation of billionaire and Nixon-supporter Howard Hughes.

--Huston Plan: In June 1970 White House aide Tom Huston, persuaded the heads of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency to approve a plan for black bag jobs against "enemies" of the Nixon administration. (J. Edgar Hoover opposed the Huston Plan; Nixon, fearful Hoover would blackmail him by leaking word of the plan, dropped it.)

I thought this recounting might help cheer you up.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

September 8, 2011--The GOP

With the exception of Rick Santorum, who squinted his way through last night's Republican debate--looking as if he himself was confused about what he was doing on stage with the likes of heavyweights Perry and Romney--the Democrat in me felt the other seven did well. For them.

Yes, Michele Bachmann, the former front runner, was fortunate that no one asked her about the role of science in the modern world, but she did at least seem to acknowledge we have a climate problem that we are in some ways contributing to. And she did appear to know where Libya is on the map and stood by her view that Obama made a mistake supporting anti-Ghadafi rebels, rebels that even supporters of NATO have to agree we know very little about.

Even Newt looked a little slimmed down and was the one to take on the GOP's favorite target, the Liberal news media when he looked right at the Devil himself, Brian Williams, and, wagging his considerable finger at him (he's not that slimmed down) and said you guys are not tricking us Republicans into fighting with each other. I should add he already tried that and it has him mired just above Herman Cain in the polls.

Godfather's Pizza's Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, though incomprehensible, was at least a good take out. Sorry, take-away. You may not know what any of the 9s stand for but it does sound simple (which is sadly a good thing when it comes to GOP right-wing activists) and, who knows, might gain more traction than the newest Obama tax proposals that he will unveil tonight. And it might earn Cain a place on the eventual ticket as Perry's vice president. That would add a kind of je ne sais quoi quality to the ticket

Speaking of the vice presidency, former Utah governor, former Obama ambassador to China, Harley-biker Jon Huntsman clearly has that in his sights. If he were a foot taller, had broader shoulders and more of a jaw line--and not a Mormon--he would have something resembling a chance in the Republican race. Actually, more of a chance in the general election where his seeming reasonableness would play better. But Mr. Excitement he isn't.

Since I brought up the Mormon issue, that is Mitt Romney's biggest problem. Even more of a problem than the fact that he's flip-flopped on every issue that is essential to even mainstream Republicans. So he raised taxes when he was governor of Massachusetts, so he used to be in favor of a woman's right to choose, so he used to be proud of the Bay State's health care plan which is remarkably similar to Obama's with its individual mandate. These things are potentially all fungible. But being an active member of a religious cult--which is the way the GOP Christian evangelical base views Mormonism--will be his killer political virus. It was not brought up last night but it was and will remain the 800-pound gorilla that will squash Romney's candidacy. That's too bad for the Obama haters since he probably has the best chance to deny him a second term.

Which brings me to Rick Perry. The current darling of the GOP base and, in my view, the future nominee.

Who cares that he lied about his record in Texas on numerous key issues. So Texas is last among the 50 states in its citizens who do not have any health care coverage at all--he blamed the federal government and Obama for this, though he was not asked to connect those preposterous dots.

Who cares that Texas is last among states in the percentage of its students graduating from high school--he blatantly lied (again unchallenged), claiming that the state has an 87 percent graduation rate. Yes, if you define that rate as the number of students who enter the 12th grade who graduate. If you look at the number who drop out before getting to their senior year, yes, Texas does in fact have the worst education record in the country.

Who cares that he "blames" God for the climate change that has led to Texas' worst drought in recorded history and the state burning up in what looks to me like hellfire. If he doesn't see this as God's work why then did he slash the state's firefighting budget by more than half and have his parishioners, sorry, his fellow Texans praying the other day for rain?

He did have a few words about how the science is not "settled" on human's contributions to global warming though, trying to have it both ways, he touted his record on reducing carbon emissions in Texas and he did even make reference to Galileo who, he said, "got outvoted for a spell." I suppose he rehearsed that line to demonstrate that he isn't, well, as dumb as some claim. It's good, though, that no one asked him about Darwin since he too continues to be outvoted by Perry and his followers.

None of this will ultimately matter since after last night he is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. The Obama people must feel they are living under a lucky star. If they can't run against Sarah Palin at least there will be Social-Security-is-a-Ponzi-scheme Perry to kick around.

He's odds-on because, first, he is an evangelical Christian; second, he stood by his views even if they are out of the main stream and untrue (no Romney-like flipping and flopping with Perry); and third, in less than two weeks he changed his accent so that he no longer sounds like George Bush and has the Reagan head-nod and smile down and has adopted his swagger and jauntiness. He's even dying and pomading his hair Ronald-Reagan style.

This is pretty impressive and should get the job done.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

September 7, 2011--Midcoast: Anna Christina's Skin

He said:

The shadow of her head against a door has a ghostly quality, eerie, fateful, a symbol of New England people in the past—as they really were. There’s everything about her—her hand pushing a pie plate toward you, or putting wood in a stove. There’s a feeling that, yes, you’re seeing something that’s happening momentarily, but is also a symbol of what’s always happening in Maine. The eternity of a moment.

He continued:

When you get to something as mammoth as she is, all the dirt and grime and slight things evaporate and you se before you the power of the queen of Sweden sitting there, looking at you. Our measly minds pick up a speck of dirt on her leg or bare thigh and we’re clouded by that. She puts things in proper position. All the feelings of ourselves and our little delicacies disappear. Knocks me right in the teeth.

On another occasion, when he noticed she was soiled by a kitten that had eaten too many mice, he said:

“I’d better wash you face.” And she would answer, “All right.”

As he moved the cloth across her heavy, wrinkled face, he said:

“You have the most marvelous end to your nose, a little delicate thing that happens.” Touching that head was a terrific experience. I was in awe of it. She was just like blueberries to me.

Then, 30 years later, at the end, just before she died, sitting by the open kitchen door, itself transformed into a canvas of gray from the light of the fog that had persisted for a week, he said:

The fog crept into all the tonalities of her skin. . . . It brought out the intensity of her eyes, the light pinks around her eyelids, her mouth. . . . Every now and then she would look up at the clock which was up above and she had the strangest expression. . . . A powerful face with a great deal of fortitude . . . . Terrific power in her strong neck. And there she was without any affectation.

She is, was Anna Christina Olson, who he recalled first seeing “crawling like a crab” across the mown hill upon which the bay-weathered Olson house still stands. She is obviously the Christina of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic "Christina’s World." And the house in which she lived with her parents and after they died with her brother Alvaro, is on the George River not far from us, out on Hathorne Point. Just up the road from where Andrew and Betsy Wyeth lived.

In spite of the proximity and the easy opportunity to step literally into her and his world, it took us a while to get there since, I confess, art-snob that I am, I have always thought of the painting as, at its best, a piece of heart-tugging illustration. Not that far removed from the other intoxicating sentimentalities of the work of that other most-popular New England artist, Norman Rockwell.

But, but, after visiting the Olson house late last week and after that reading through Richard Meryman’s serviceable biography of Wyeth (Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life), having these words directly from the artist and experiencing through them his lifelong rapturous appreciation and respect for the outer and inner beauty of the very crippled and conventionally ugly Christina, has forced me to take another look at the work and at Wyeth himself.

His work for me has been too much about dryness. This could be a consequence of his basic choice of medium—pre-Renaissance egg tempera on panel. But perhaps for Christina, crippled from the waist down since adolescence, considering the world that Christina inhabited, sereness is appropriate.

Here from Meryman the actual Christina and a glimpse of her life—recording Wyeth’s first visit:

Entering the kitchen, Wyeth was cordial but courtly—respectful of the dignity of Christina’s witchlike looks. Her right eye looked at Wyeth. Her left eye, a small brown pupil in a murky white ball, stared off toward some invisible spot. A single tooth like a post in her mouth. Her arms were skeletal, her hands contorted back at the wrists. She lived marooned on her straight-backed cockeyed kitchen chair; its rear leg worn short from hitching across the rutted linoleum floor between the table and the stove. On the seat of the chair were layers of newspaper to absorb the urine.

A few years later when Wyeth brought the actor Robert Montgomery to meet Christina, after a few minutes Montgomery ran from the kitchen and once outside vomited.

Though others might see a ruin, about the house Wyeth said:

The world of New England is in that house—spidery, like crackling skeletons rotting in the attic—dry bones. It’s like a tombstone to sailors lost at sea, the Olson ancestor who fell from the yardarm of a square-rigger and was never found. It’s the doorway to the sea for me.

Artists traditionally are shameless exploiters of their sources of inspiration—use it up, move on, and hope to find more. But in Wyeth’s case, Christina served more than just as an unexpectedly beloved muse—there was clearly a chaste romance animating them (the cloth he moved upon her prematurely wrinkled face) and between them there was a lifetime of friendship and respect.

So when this week, after visiting the house and reading bits of Meryman, when I looked again at "Christina’s World," this time closer than ever before—with the acknowledgment that my own much more limited imagination was fired by sitting at my own fog-enchanted kitchen door, which this morning is rising from up toward the neck of Johns Bay—I am finding in it and its medium both the life and simultaneous decay that were so much a part of Wyeth’s World. And for the first time truly understanding them and his and its deep appeal.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

September 6, 2011--Team B

Until recently I thought of the presidency of Gerald Ford as a moment of calm after the tumult and conspiracies of the Nixon administration and before the disappointment of the Carter years.

Yes, Ford pardoned unindicted co-conspirator Richard M. Nixon; but even that included a sense of justice and saved the country from what would have been years of acrimony and divisive bickering and partisanship. We know now about such things and retrospectively Ford's pardon seems wise.

But during those otherwise quiet years, below the political surface and largely undetected by the sleepy media, something very ideological and in its own way conspiratorial was underway which had profound consequences for U.S. foreign policy. For those years as well as into the present.

As I recount one aspect of this--the work of Team B--note how many names from the early 1970s are depressingly familiar.

With the approval of then-director of the CIA--George H. W. Bush--President Ford agreed to establish Team B to analyze threats the Soviet Union posed to the security of the United States. Among neoconservatives there was the claim that the CIA systematically and even intentionally underestimated the nature of that threat, and that assessment lead to Nixon and Henry Kissinger naively seeking to find ways to negotiate with and find ways to reduce tension between the two nuclear superpowers. At the time they called it détente.

In spite of and disregarding the best available evidence, Team B concluded that the CIA's annual National Intelligence Estimate of the Soviet Union underestimated Soviet military power and misinterpreted Soviet strategic intentions. They concluded that these intentions were anything but benign. Its findings were leaked to the press shortly after Jimmy Carter's 1976 election in an attempt to appeal to anti-communists in both parties and thus not appear to be partisan.

The Team B report became the intellectual foundation for the idea of "the window of vulnerability" and of the massive arms buildup that began toward the end of the Carter administration and accelerated under President Ronald Reagan.

Looking back at the work of Team B, virtually all of their findings and conclusions have in recent years proven to be inaccurate. In addition, there is evidence that the most forceful team members, because they had an ideological agenda, knew they were not reporting the truth. Their actual goal was to make the case for a much more aggressive and preemptive foreign and military policy.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

A classic example is their "finding" about the Soviet's nuclear submarine capacities:

The report argued that despite the NIE's assessment in its 10-year forecast that the Soviet Navy was not aggressively developing more accurate anti-submarine warfare (ASW) detection tools and would not be able to deploy new, advanced ASW capabilities in the next 10 years, Team B's report cautioned that to determine the real extent of Soviet ASW development would require significantly more research and access to classified materials but that the US Navy would not release its data to either Team B, or the CIA. They thus concluded that the probability of advanced Soviet ASW research was significantly greater than zero.

In spite of any lack of evidence that Soviet ASW technology was progressing rapidly they came to this conclusion.

When pressed by experts, skeptics, to reveal the basis for its claim, Team B members said that it was the very fact that there was no proof proved that the Soviet ASW program existed. It was that clandestine and effective.

This sort of double-think and dissembling was so effective at the time--it did have a profound effect on how aggressively we acted during the Cold War--that it was put to use in subsequent situations where ideology overruled evidence. Like the more contemporary claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction even though there was no proof that they did.

Team B members included people such as Paul Wolfowitz and was urged on President Ford by his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and chief-of-staff Dick Cheney.

As they say, the past is prologue and the rest turned out to be history.

Monday, September 05, 2011

September 5, 2011--The German Wirtschaftswunder

For some time I have been attempting to understand the nature of the German Wirtschaftswunder. Their current economic miracle.

While the U.S. and the rest of Europe struggle desperately with debt crises, unemployment, GDP stagnation, and social unrest, the Germans, who were also hit hard at the end of 2008, appear to have bounced back. Unemployment there is less than 7.0 percent and sovereign debt does not appear to be too much of a problem.

Great Britain, by contrast, has a 7.9 percent unemployment rate, France 9.5, Greece more than 15 percent, and Spain has the highest EU rate of about 22 percent. And in the U.S. at least 9.1 percent are unemployed.

How then, has Germany done so comparatively well?

Traditional explanations are not unlike the one offered by the IMF:

Germany’s strong export orientation stems from the openness of its economy, its long-standing manufacturing traditions and its competitiveness in global markets. After enduring nearly a decade of slow growth and low inflation, Germany has disinflated its way to an extremely competitive position thanks to painful labor market reforms. The cost of one hour of labor in Germany is now extremely low relative to the economic value added in that hour.

There is yet another explanation--Germany has strategically adjusted some taxes. Republicans here are happy to note that German depreciation rates have been lowered and the hotel VAT tax has been reduced to 7 percent. On the other hand, Democrats cite that certain taxes have been raised. Including those for sex workers.

The New York Times, pun intended, is on top of the story. It is linked below.

Prostitution, of course , is legal in Germany and thus it is for the most part regulated and taxed. In some cities, sex workers are even unionized. In Bonn, the formerly sleepy city, about 10 percent of their 200 sex workers work the streets. The others are set up in bordellos. The latter are easier to monitor and tax. But the ones on the street up to this point have not been easy to track and tax though they are protected by a private security agency that costs the Bonn government $116,000 a year to deploy.

Using some of the same technological knowhow that results in high-end cars such as the BMW and the Mercedes, through a contract with Siemans, streetwalkers are now being taxed at rates equivalent to those in the sauna clubs.

Last week, Bonn officials installed ticket machines on the streets where the streetwalkers ply their trade. They are being asked to use them to pay a nightly fee of 6 euros (about $8.65) just as folks who park their cars on the street are required to buy tickets from meters.

In spite of the sophistication of the technology, we're probably more talking fairness than big bucks. In the first week of operation, the municipality collected the equivalent of only $382. But it's a start.

I suspect that when the U.S. Congress' super committee, its Gang of 12, begins to meet next week to look for places to cut spending and maybe "enhance revenues," they will look to Germany for inspiration. After all, 7 percent unemployment sounds a lot better than 9.1.

Friday, September 02, 2011

September 2, 2011--Class Warfare: CEO Pay

On occasion I plan to write about the widely underreported class warfare that is underway in America.

We need to know about this struggle since average people are losing. Beyond that, so is the United States.

The emergence of an oligarchy in this country will undermine our place in the world and ultimately our historic form of capitalism, which, in the past, was the route to the middle class for hundreds of millions of hardworking Americans.

The latest evidence of this struggle is the report from the Institute for Policy Studies which found that of America's 100 highest-payed CEOs, 25 took home more in pay than their companies paid in federal taxes. (The full study is linked below.)

And we are talking about highly profitable companies such as General Electric, Boeing, and eBay. By utilizing a plethora of tax loopholes, tax shelters, and other tax-avoidance strategies, these companies on average garnered more than $400 million a year in tax benefits. In some cases, this meant that they paid no federal taxes whatsoever.

In the meantime, their CEOs, again on average, were paid more than $16 million in annual compensation, which was substantially higher than the $10,8 million which was the average amount of taxes paid by all companies included in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.

A couple of examples--

Verizon earned $11.9 billion in pre-tax profits in 2010 but managed to receive a tax refund of $705 million. Their CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, received $18.1 million in compensation. Not bad.

eBay reported a pre-tax profit of $848 million, received a refund of $183 million, and its CEO, John Donahoe, collected $12.4 million.

It is clear why these corporate patriots did so well--by specializing in manipulating the system that they helped shape through the machinations of their lobbyists so that they can avoid taxation; and by laying off people, they were able to pad their companies' bottom lines without doing anything expansive or innovative.

In addition, though these CEOs were not asked to put anything personally at risk (the way capitalists are supposed to do) they reaped the benefits that have been traditionally reserved for captains of industry who invented things, who developed new services, and stuck their necks out, often by investing in themselves. If things worked out, they profited; if not, they took the hit.

That's the way capitalism is claimed to work. That's the capitalism we learned about in public school that was responsible for making American the world's greatest economic power. But in truth, these days, at the highest levels, it's more about minimizing risks; rigging the system; and, regardless of how things turn out, for the CEOs to be protected by golden parachutes.

I wonder what Thomas Edison and Henry Ford would think.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

September 1, 2011--Ladies of Forest Trace: Breaking News

"Did you see the breaking news?" My 103-year-old mother was calling from Forest Trace, the retirement community in Lauderhill, Florida where she lives.

"After this past week with Hurricane Irene I decided to avoid TV for a while."

"Well you should turn it on to learn about Katia."


"Katia, the new hurricane."

"What happened to Jose, the J-hurricane?"

"Forget about him and begin paying attention to her. Katia. I assume she’s a her. Though that's not an American name."

"But hurricanes don't involve just Americans. They can wind up in Central America and Mexico."

"So Jose would be the one for that." She didn't laugh at her own joke so I knew she was again concerned about the prospects of another major storm striking the United States, especially Florida and up in the Northeast where we and other family members live.

While we were on the phone I googled the Weather Underground and clicked on Tropical Weather and sure enough there was Tropical Storm Katia which had recently formed off the west coast of Africa--its coordinates were12.3N 33.4W--and was projected to move into the western Atlantic over the next few days. To me it looked quite far away and on a trajectory that would not threaten the United States. But since I am not a meteorologist I moved to that part of the Website that displays something they call the “Ensemble Model.” From the look of it this graph plots the many possible paths Katia might take over the next week or so.

"I have her on my screen," I said to my mother who was breathing audibly. This signaled that she was indeed feeling quite anxious.

"I am not following this. Your screen?"

"My computer screen."

"I do not know from computers but on CNN there is breaking news."

"It said?"

"I only saw the headline--'Katia Forms,' I'm reading it now on the TV, 'New Hurricane Possible.'"

"You know it is hurricane season, until November I think. And so new hurricanes are not only possible but likely." As the word likely came out of my mouth I realized I wasn't helping the situation. In fact, I was probably making matters worse by alluding to the fact that we would undoubtedly be in for more bad weather.

"It’s still on the screen. I also have a screen. My TV. I see it on Fox too. I switched to them, though I hate that channel. It’s full of liars. Though I confess I sometimes like to watch Bill O’Reilly."

"How many times, mom, have I suggested you not watch so much news? Shouldn't you be looking for things to distract you, something entertaining, when you're feeling nervous about the Middle East or the 2012 election or hurricanes?"

"You're right. I should watch the tennis. The U.S. Open is on now. I think that lovely young man Ralph Nadel will be playing soon. I'm rooting for him. I even think he's Jewish."

"You mean Rafa Nadal from Spain. Mallorca actually. I like him too but he’s not Jewish.” I was glad we were talking about something other than hurricanes. “Notice, at the end of his matches, if he wins, he crosses himself so . . ."

"So back to the breaking news. Tell me, from your computer, what are you seeing?"

"To tell you the truth mom, I'm not sure I understand what I'm seeing. For certain Katia is very far away from us and from the trajectories that I think I'm seeing it doesn't look too dangerous to me."

"So why are they giving us breaking news?"

"You know why. We've talked about this a lot. About all the breaking news on TV."

"Yes, that CNN and Fox are on all the time with the news and since much of it is boring to most people they give us a constant diet of breaking news to keep us watching."


"And, as we've discussed, all the breaking news, at least most of it, is about plane crashes and suicide bombings and tornados and floods and hurricanes."


"Because right now after Irene they know we have hurricanes on our minds and that we will stay tuned in to learn about more bad news and switch to something else if they talk about diplomatic meetings or bipartisan agreements or speeches about the environment."

While she was running through our many conversations about how the media, to build audiences and ratings, focus almost exclusively on disasters, battles, and political confrontations, I took another look at the Ensemble Model. From it, radiating northwesterly from Katia's current location, there appeared to be a dozen squiggly lines that I assumed were the various computer projections of potential tracks for the storm. All but one of which showed it likely to be diverted away from the coast of the United States. But the one that didn't appear to trace a ghostly path northwestward was on a clear trajectory toward Maine, where we have a house close to the water.

As I was attempting to calm my mother, I felt a resurgence of the anxiety I had felt two weeks ago as Irene, when only a tropical storm, had formed also off the coast of Africa and was projected in that same Ensemble Model as having Puerto Rico in its sights. And, as they say, the rest is history.

But I didn't want to share any of that with my mother.

"Though I don't understand anything about them, cable TV news, with all its breaking news, and that computer of yours, with everything you find there—for example that assembly model you told me about--are making for quite a lot of tsouris here among the ladies and me. All we talk about is this dreadful thing and that tragedy. You know I am a fretful person," did I ever know that, "but having the TV on all the time, with bad news that they repeat over and over again, makes our anxieties much worse. The last thing we need is help in the worrying department."

"We've talked about that too, and I agree," I said, with my eyes glued to the Weather Underground's flickering projection models.

"I know it must have begun sooner, but with September 11th only a few days away, the tenth anniversary of that tragic day, didn't we talk at the time about how they kept showing replays of the planes crashing into the buildings and then films of the buildings collapsing, as if the disaster was occurring continuously, hour after hour, day after day?"

As she relived that terrible time I could hear her labored breathing. I tried to change the subject; but in spite of myself, as if giving evidence in support of what she was saying, I couldn't distract myself from the tropical weather news on my computer.

"I don't know what's happened to us. About me I do understand-- am old and becoming frail, mentally as well as physically. But by us I mean Americans. We used to be a fearless people. At least we were able to deal with our fear better than now. Nothing was too much for us. Nothing was insurmountable. Obama talks about doing big things. Well, we used to do big things routinely. And when there was a challenge--to go to war, to shoot for the moon--everyone stepped forward to get involved. Even if it meant putting our well being and even our lives at risk. Now what do so many of us do all day? I'll answer my own question--we sit in fear watching breaking news. Including the financial news where they also have their own breaking news. The stock market goes up and then, breaking news, it goes down. If you want you can keep track of your money every minute. And worry if you'll have enough to pay your rent and put gas in your car. I can’t tell you how many of the girls here are glued to Bloomberg. And I don’t mean your New York mayor."

"I'm sure there's more than this going on, mom, to be making us seem to be so fearful."

"Of course there is. We are having a very bad recession. But in my day we had an even worse Depression. We are involved in at least two wars now. But in my day, in the 1940s, for a few years it looked as if the Nazis and Japanese would occupy all of Europe and invade America. But, though we were afraid--who wouldn't be--we didn't cringe. We took on the situation, everyone pitched in, and eventually we won. I could go on. My point is . . ."

"Your point is?" I interrupted since I wanted to bring this conversation to an end so I could look at some other Websites to see what I could learn about Katia.

"My point is that the real breaking news is that too many of us have become soft. This is funny since so many people are worried all the time about their bodies and eating the right food and exercising so that they can be fit and strong. But not enough people are working on regaining the strength we used to have when in the past we had to face adversity."

"These are all good points, mom, but I . . ."

"Don’t rush me off so fast. I'm finishing so you can in a minute go back to your computer." As usual she was reading my thoughts.

“Please, mom, finish. I’m sorry.”

"Yes, about many things there have been improvements. We've talked about these too. How much change I’ve seen during my lifetime. But how fear is again influencing so much of our thinking and behavior--our personal as well as our political behavior--is of great concern to me. And the TV and the Internet, no matter how good and powerful they are, are not helping. In fact, don't you agree that as good as they can be they are also contributing to making some things worse?"

"I agree," I said.

"So if I were you, I'd ignore my call and this discussion.”

I almost said, “Easier said than done.”

“There are better things than Katia or Jose to worry about. Things like . . ."

I apologized for cutting her off but said, "Sorry, mom, I have to go. There’s something I need to do.” And with that I hung up so I could check the Weather Channel.