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Showing posts from August, 2015

Uncle Tungsten

To read Oliver Sacks' 2001 recollection of his childhood years, his great appreciation for how the mind works was inspired by a relative, who he called Uncle Tungsten, that introduced him to the wonderful world of chemistry.  Sacks, who recently died at the age of 82, never lost his passion for the periodic table, collecting an element for each year of his life.  Thallium proved not so easy to acquire at age 81, and needed special housing.  He worried how he was going to deal with Bismuth, but Plumbum, better known as Lead, is the final element in his periodic table.

It would be easy to say that Dr. Sacks died with a heavy heart, but as he wrote in an essay several months back when he was told his condition was terminal, he accepted his condition, especially since he felt he had been given nine extra years after he was first diagnosed with an ocular melanoma.  It's only fitting since many of the patients he shared with us through his fabulous books similarly had to learn to c…

The Great Wall of Mexico

Donald Trump has been getting a lot of play with his idea of building a great wall along the border of Mexico.  I would think if anyone would call him out on this it would be Pat Buchanan who advocated the same idea in 1992 when he ran for the Republican nomination against George H.W. Bush, and gained quite a groundswell of support among right-wing extremists.  In fact, much of Trump's immigration policy and contempt for Mexicans appears to come from Buchanan's Death of the West.  Bucky has long felt that American culture is being undermined by Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, and that the only way to curb this is to clamp down hard on immigration.

However, Trump has taken this Nativism one step further by pushing for the repeal of the 14th amendment that would strip birthright citizenship, or "anchor babies" as children born to immigrants are derisively called.  Making the matter worse, Trump has basically led his fellow GOP candidates into a blind alley.  Jeb ven…

The Trouble with Lists

Leave it to Rolling Stone to once again put out a contentious list, more noted for its glaring omissions than who the editorial staff chose to include.  It was probably a foregone conclusion Bob Dylan would be ranked number one, universally hailed for his great lyricism, but he owed a lot to Dave Van Ronk, who didn't make the list.  But Dave is in good company.  The only early folkies to make the list were Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.  Amazingly, not one of Crosby, Stills and Nash was mentioned.  I guess they thought Neil Young wrote all the songs. Where were these editors from -- Canada?

It's not just "one real problem," but a whole host of problems with this list, the most glaring of which is that it was sponsored by Apple.  How else to explain Taylor Swift and Kanye West?  I suppose this was a tip of the hat to today's teeny boppers who have vaulted these two to the top of Apple i-tune charts.

You begin to see that this list …

Drill, Baby, Drill!

You may remember Sarah Palin's famous exhortation during the 2008 general election that the answer to all our economic woes was to open up the Arctic Circle to oil drilling.  Everyone was complaining about the skyrocketing gas prices at the pump, as Bush's "Ownership Society" was teetering on the edge of a housing market collapse.

In October, 2008, the proverbial sky fell, as did the oil prices, but still the Republicans were clamoring for more offshore oil leases and an oil pipeline from Canada.  After the new year, GOP legislators blamed the new President Obama for holding up the process with his pesky environmental regulations.  The belief was that all the President had to do was approve the Keystone XL pipeline and magically all these new jobs would appear, ignoring all the studies that failed to back up their projections.

One would think the BP Oil Spill in 2010 would have given Republicans pause, but no.  They still peddled their oil panacea and became ever …

The Unfinished Presidency

Some years back, I read Douglas Brinkley's biography of Jimmy Carter's administration, entitled The Unfinished Presidency.  Carter echoed this sentiment at a press conference last week announcing that he had cancer.   He noted that his biggest regret was not sending in a stronger detachment to free the American hostages in Tehran.  He felt a successful rescue operation would have saved his presidency.

The hostage crisis did weigh down his presidency, but it is hard to say if he would have survived a re-election bid with a faltering economy that left so many persons unemployed and inflation that was through the roof.  Together, they became the "misery index," which Reagan exploited during the 1980 campaign, portraying Carter's administration as a complete failure.  Of course, Carter couldn't be held fully to blame for the woeful economy, as he inherited a mess from the previous Nixon-Ford administration, but it seems Democratic presidents can only be held acc…

Seed Faith and the Church of the Almighty Dollar

John Oliver recently took on "Seed Faith" in a segment of his weekly news, conflating it with Prosperity Gospel, which apparently owes its roots to Oral Roberts.  The tele-evangelist became infamous for pleading to his television congregation to send in $8 million to save his university, saying that God would "call him home" if he didn't raise that money in three months.  I guess desperate times called for desperate measures.  However, ORU never got out of the hole, and as of 2007 was over $50 million in debt.

But, this isn't quite what Joel Osteen and other prosperity theologists are preaching these days.  They have amassed tremendous personal fortunes and espouse the idea that it is perfectly OK to be rich, and if you follow a few simple steps you can become more wealthy too.  Osteen is really more of a motivational speaker, along the lines of Tony Robbins, exhorting persons to take charge of their lives.  In itself it is not bad philosophy, but when cou…

The Freewheelin' Donald Trump

There seems absolutely no getting away from this guy.  Chuck Todd tries to take on the Donald in a one-on-one interview that probably gives us the most unfiltered Trump yet.   To Chuck's credit, he challenges the real estate mogul on a number of premises, albeit ever so mildly.

I won't call them positions, since Donald is very careful to avoid taking a hard and fast stance on anything, like hedging his condemnation of Planned Parenthood by saying he only wants to cut the money for abortions.  When Todd presses him at the 5:30 mark as to whether it is worth shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood, Trump casually claims ignorance and says he has to look into the matter, citing wildly divergent figures as to the percentage of money earmarked for abortions.  Unfortunately, Todd could have verified the abortion figures for Trump, as it is readily available, but instead he leads Trump to discuss his plan to ride the world of ISIS.

For all the talk that Todd made Trump…

Skin in the game

We were always told that Jeb was the smart one, and that somehow we got saddled with the dumb one in the White House.  Hearing these recent comments, it doesn't seem like either of the Bush brothers are very bright.

It's tough having to follow your brother, especially when he wasn't the most popular president.  Dubya made some really dumb decisions, especially in Iraq.  You would think Jeb would try to distance himself from the war, but instead he tries to lay the blame at Hillary's feet, which led to a whirlwind of responses, including the Donald, who called Jeb's "skin in the game" comment one of the dumbest statements ever.

General Odierno, who oversaw the Iraqi surge, also called out Jeb on his claim that the Obama administration is to blame for ISIS, noting that the pullout was agreed to back in 2008.  There was never any plan to leave troops in Iraq, despite what Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have said in their books.

The Venn diagram is also inte…

The President's Play List

Take from it what you will, and many political pundits and comics are, the President released his music playlist for the summer, along with his reading list.  August is the big get away for 44.  Not much going on in Congress except the usual hemming and hawing over how to stop the executive order happy President, who just recently had an embassy re-opened in Cuba.  I'm surprised there's not any music from Buena Vista Social Club on that playlist, but there is Sonoro Crruseles, a salsa band that originated from Columbia, which had a big hit with Al Son de los Cueros.  Maybe the President is working on some new moves for this fall.

The reading list is mostly fiction, but he has included Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. It came out a few years ago to much fanfare.  There is also the more recent The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, that explores the human element in global warming.  Not very light reading, and at nearly 3000 pages all together, that's a lot of groun…

Soy Cuba

John Kerry gave an excellent speech to re-open the US Embassy in Cuba, showing an empathy long overdue toward the people of this island nation, reference to Jose Marti, and even re-capping his speech in Spanish. However, I imagine most Cubans see this as a mixed blessing.  They are glad to see some kind of accord reached in this long-running feud, but as Kerry noted more than 80 per cent of Cubans have been born after the revolution, so in that sense they are Castro's children.

For Cuban-Americans, especially those who seek political office, this is a bitter pill they refuse to swallow.  Marco Rubio was busy denouncing the event as it was taking place, with his comments scrolling across the bottom ticker of the CNN screen, as Fox covered the event simultaneously.   Marco is too young to remember the American flag being taken down in 1961.  He is the son of emigrees who fled Cuba in the wake of the revolution.

Of course, what he and other conservatives fail to note is that Batiste…

Where's Hillary?

I have to wonder if Hillary Clinton is seriously regretting having stepped down from the Senate to serve as Obama's Secretary of State.  I think it would have been a whole lot easier for her to run as President as a sitting Senator than it has been as a former Sec. of State, especially with the faux e-mail and Bengazi scandals hanging over her head.  I suppose at the time it seemed like a plum position to be the head of the state department, but she really didn't do much in the role.

Obama was mostly concerned with the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Robert Gates was the front man here, not Hillary.  What initiatives Obama pursued with Russia were largely his own doing, since Hillary was persona non grata in Moscow with her outspoken comments on Putin.  You have to wonder if she was even in the loop when it came to important policy decision making, like choosing to take out Osama bin Laden.  In the first half of his tenure, Obama appeared to rely more on Joe Biden …

Say it ain't so, Chuck!

Who says all Jews are against this nuclear treaty?  Chuck Schumer must have had to do a double take seeing these anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews outside his Manhattan office this week.  For whatever reasons of his own, and I hope it isn't for the sake of Israel, Schumer has decided to come down against the treaty.  Gary Samore, who was a principal figure in the negotiations, says it is a shame that the Senate vote is shaping up to be a purely partisan vote with little thought put into the agreement itself.  John Kerry has been even more blunt, threatening all kinds of dire consequences if Congress rejects the deal.

Fortunately, for the White House, Schumer is the lone Democrat to publicly state his opposition to the deal.  Other Democrats who have been sitting on the fence now seem willing to support the White House on Iran, but Schumer hasn't ruled out making a pitch of his own to convince these Democratic senators to join him and the Republicans.  After all, he is the prospecti…

"This dirty little abortion of an imperium"

Our Man in Charleston sounds like a very interesting new book, following the years of Robert Bunch, who served as Her Majesty's consul in Charleston before and during the Civil War.  It doesn't sound like Bunch had very many kind things to say about the South, as he strongly advised Palmerston not to recognize the Confederacy, despite pressure from the British press and textile industry to do so.  Any readers?

My Least Favorite Life

One of the few bright spots in this year's incarnation of True Detective was Lera Lynn, appearing as the lone chanteuse in a dive bar on the edge of town.  Her weary country ballads underscored the episodes.  You never quite figured out what she was doing playing to a mostly empty room, but it fit the emptiness of the main characters as they struggled to come to terms with the world that was caving in on them.

As with the first season, Nic Pizzolatto takes himself far too seriously, wallowing in a corrupt industrial town somewhere south of LA that is on the edge of a big land deal that may bring it back to life.  Good premise, but the characters are mostly wrapped up in their own muddled lives, forced into action at rare moments, and even then begrudgingly, as if trying to kick an old dog to life. Lera's My Least Favorite Life summed up the situation pretty well.

Frank seemed to have everything lined up for the big score only to learn that his partner Ben Caspere had been kil…

Remembering Hiroshima

Most choose to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki in silence, but in Russia, Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the Duma has called for an international tribunal to assess the full impact of the bombings.  I guess he figures if Russia continues to be held to blame for war crimes committed by the Soviet Union during World War II, then the US should be made to answer for its war crimes.

Of course, Oliver Stone did indict the United States for this cataclysmic event and many others in his "Untold History of the United States," but that didn't seem to generate a great amount of interest for the Showtime series a couple years back.  In Stone's mind, Truman already had Japan at his feet and there was no reason to drop the bombs.  The ulterior motive was to keep the Soviet Union out of Japan, the whole Pacific Rim for that matter, and what better way than to show the full fury of the United States arsenal.

Stone primarily cited American Prometheus, a biography of Robert Oppenhe…

Crazy like a fox

There are any number of theories on what has transpired over the last few days since the Battle Royale, the most prevalent one being that Fox sucker punched Donald Trump.  This is quite plausible since Roger Ailes has only been in the news game for ratings and he saw the rating bonanza Trump could give the first debate and how much he could milk the audience in the weeks before the debate.  So, all the lovey-dovey we saw between Fox anchors and Donald Trump leading up to the debate was no more than Fox attaching itself to Donald Trump's meteoric rise in the polls, at least one of which Fox conducts itself, so that it would draw in significantly more viewers for the debate.

After all, Trump fed right into the sentiments of a large part of the Fox audience with his bellicose rhetoric, racial and gender stereotypes.  To be fair, there were a few Fox analysts, like Charles Krauthammer and Mark Levin, who questioned Trump, but for all we know this was just part of the game.  The only …