Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Aliens Amongst Us

But tell us further, Meletus, before Zeus, whether it is better to dwell among upright citizens or villainous ones?
Sir, answer. For surely I am asking nothing hard. Do not the villainous do something bad to whoever are nearest to them, while the good do something good?
          Plato, The Apology
A few years ago a local supermarket chain explained the reason for its support of community services:
After all, we live here too” (or words to that effect).
Those words (or their equivalent) surged to the forefront of my mind as I gagged at the devastation to the environment that will shortly be effected by the willful actions of Trump and his fellow destroyers of the planet Earth. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote on the New Yorker website:
A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey, put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”(1)
And, of course, it isn't just the Executive branch that is all-out for more pollution and contamination of the air and water. There are congressmen like Matt Gaetz (Republican) of Florida, who wants to abolish the EPA altogether, allegedly to “better protect the environment.”(2) We should, he claims, “downstream resources to states for more effective & efficient protection.”   

Let's look at that word “downstream,” used here by Gaetz as a verb, and its opposite “upstream” in their more usual roles as adverbs. Waste, contaminants, and pollution flow downstream. If a state upstream is less zealous in its policing of its waters, then the downstream states are also the victims of the former's abuse of the environment. (And if you're Florida, you're way downstream.) Or, consider this air pollution stream:
Much of Hong Kong’s pollution . . . wafts across the border from China. About 60-70% of particulate matter comes from the mainland, according to a study commissioned by the city’s Environmental Protection Department. In winter, when the wind direction tends to blow more pollutants towards Hong Kong, as much as 77% of dust in the air comes from China.Hong Kong has signed a series of agreements with Guangdong province directly to the north – but they are unenforceable, stymying efforts by the local government and activists to have a meaningful impact. In the meantime, the health impact on Hong Kong’s population is severe.(3)
Yes, Hong Kong creates a great deal of its own air pollution, and needs to attack it at the source, just as local and state action in the US is needed to tackle localized pollution. But only action by larger political entities, national and international, can significantly help to reduce overall pollution. 
If the desire to kill people is a prerequisite for the job of Attorney General of Arkansas(4), the prerequisite for the Attorney General post in either North Carolina or Oklahoma is selling-out to fossil fuel companies. 

To understand that devolving complete environmental control to the states is meshugah, take a look at North Carolina.
It’s like our state is deaf, and the only voice they can hear is Duke Energy,” claims  Amy Brown, who lives with her husband and two sons in a small single-story home in Belmont, not far from Charlotte. (5)
Because of contamination from Duke Energy's power plants, the Brown family has been forced to live on bottled water, and they never take baths, only rushed showers; the in-ground pool, "which has elevated levels of arsenic, among other chemicals, is strictly off-limits.”

In Oklahoma, the state's Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, seemed to spend his whole tenure fighting to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency—plagiarizing texts from petroleum industry flacks in doing so. He was, of course, named Trump's head of the EPA. “It’s the worst thing in the history of our environment!” exclaimed Garvin Isaacs, the president of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
We are in danger. The whole country is in danger. Our kids are in danger.” . . .He claims the fossil-fuel industry “owns the whole darn state.” But his worries at the state level are now national. By choosing Pruitt, Isaacs said, Trump has outsourced his environmental policy to the Republican Party’s most powerful private donors—the oil-and-gas magnates who have funded Pruitt’s campaigns in Oklahoma.(5)
All of which leads me back to the beginning of this post: “After all, we live here too.”

As Socrates stated, it is better to live among good people than bad people—and I think that we can all agree that polluters and their enablers are bad people. Don't the Trumps, the Pruitts, the Gaetzes “live here too”? Don't they share the same air as everyone else? Are they oblivious to the damage they are doing not only to us but their own families?

For a long time I tried to wrap my head around this seeming absurdity—of people actually promoting harm to themselves and their families. But I have finally found the answer:
Aliens exist and they live in our midst disguised as humans - at least, that's what 20 percent of people polled in a global survey believe.(6)
I am converted! That is the answer. The polluters and their enablers don't “live here too.” They are aliens amongst us, who are only temporarily on Earth in order to destroy it, before retreating to their true home in some nasty far-off corner of the universe.

(4) Arkansas is determined to run convicted prisoners to their death on an assembly- line basis.

(6) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/survey-claims-one-in-five-worldwide-believe-in-aliens-1938928.html

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pizza and Circuses

Joseph Louis Barrow was one of the twentieth century’s greatest sporting heroes, reigning as boxing’s heavyweight champion for almost a dozen years. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was to prove, in knocking out the German fighter Max Schmeling in1938, (like Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics) that brown-skinned Americans were superior to members of Hitler’s “Master Race.”

In 1979 Detroit, Michigan opened a new sports facility (built mainly to house the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League) and named it after its favorite son: The Joe Louis Arena.

This past Sunday the Red Wings played their last game at The Joe (as it’s known); the team will be moving to a new home next season  Perhaps fittingly, the end of the team’s stay at its old home was also the end of the team’s successful run of a quarter-century of appearances in the league’s Stanley Cup Playoffs (they finished one point out of dead last in their division). After a few more music concerts, The Joe will be demolished.

A brand-new facility, Little Caesars Arena, will be the Red Wings' next home. The Ilitch family (the paterfamilias, Mike(1), died earlier this year), who own the team (not the arena, but paid for the arena’s naming rights), made their original fortune selling pizzas under the Little Caesars name (though somehow they couldn’t afford an apostrophe). 
Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are A Game That Taxpayers Lose(2)

Arizona City Lays Off Workers While Handing Millions To Its Professional Ice Hockey Team(3)

New Minnesota Vikings Stadium A Boondoggle Before It’s Even Built(4)

Record-Breaking Public Subsidy Lures Hated Football Team to America’s Gambling Capital(5)
One thing that the Ilitches can’t brag about is that their arena deal is the country's worst public-financing rip-off. That dubious honor, according to Roger Noll, a Stanford economist, belongs to the Las Vegas subsidy cited above. Noll called it the “worst deal for a city” he had ever seen. According to Henry Grabar, the author of the slate.com article, 
Clark County taxpayers will contribute $750 million to the new arena, a record for a sports facility—about $354 per resident, taken from an increased tax on hotel rooms. That tax currently pays for schools and transportation, in addition to tourism-related expenditures.
Like the Vegas deal, the Detroit deal diverts tax money away from public uses:
If no DDA TIF district existed, the property taxes would go to the city's general fund, Detroit Public Schools, Wayne County, Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority, Wayne County Intermediate School District, Wayne County Community College District, and the state (bold type in original).(6)
And Detroit could use that money. It’s a city that had to declare bankruptcy in 2013, the largest city to do so. What happened a week later? The Red Wings “secured $284.5 million in public money for their new arena.”(7) 
As Deep Throat, the whistleblower in the Watergate scandal famously declared, “Follow the money.” Somehow it always seems to flow one way: into the pockets of the rich.
The wrecking ball will soon demolish The Joe, which honored one of the icons of the twentieth century;(8) it will be superseded by a venue that is named after a purveyor of baked dough whose logo features a cartoon character.
(1) Bill Bradley: "The truth is, Mike Ilitch was a rich old man who owned a bunch of stuff and never saw a tax break he didn’t like." http://deadspin.com/mike-ilitch-was-no-saint-1792480558

(8) Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon (speaking of Joe Louis in response to another person's characterization of him as "a credit to his race") "...he is a credit to his race, the human race.” 
UPDATE (April 13)

The day after I posted the above, the Guardian (UK) published a story by Jerald Podair about the controversy in Los Angeles between 1957 and 1962 over the construction of a new baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine to accommodate the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers. Podia writes:
Opponents of the stadium objected to what they viewed as a giveaway of public property – the land at Chavez Ravine on which the stadium would be constructed – for the personal gain of a private individual, Walter O’Malley [the most reviled man in Brooklyn history]. . . .

Supporters argued that the public benefits derived from the stadium in the form of property tax revenues, jobs, entertainment, and civic improvement justified O’Malley’s profits. . . .

But stadium critics rejected the idea that a great American city required a central core studded with civic monuments. They argued instead for a Los Angeles that performed the basic tasks of urban life: concentrating tax resources on neighbourhoods in need of schools, streets, sanitation and safety.(9)
 I highly recommend Podair’s article.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Republican Identity Crisis

Mitch McConnell
"I am not a scientist."


Kellyanne Conway
"I am not Inspector Gadget."


Richard Nixon
"I am not a crook."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Starboard Whores

It seems that I was mistaken. I had always reckoned that the first question recorded in the Bible was Adam's asking Eve, “Is that a McIntosh or a Delicious?” 

Thank goodness for Google for setting me straight (and thank goodness for the internet, because before its existence, I suppose I would have only been able to find the correct answer by renting a hotel room and scanning the Gideon).

It also turns out that the famous question “Am I my brother's keeper?” wasn't even the first one on its line of text (Gen. IV, 9), being the response to the Lord's own question: “Where is Abel thy brother?”*
The two presidential candidates whom I most enthusiastically supported in the past were:

The Biblical Cain's favorite candidate, I believe, would have been Herman Clabbercutt, the fictitious politician created by “TV-comic, newspaper columnist, humorist-writer,” as the Saturday Review styled him, Roger Price in his 1952 satirical look at politics, I'm for Me First
Raising the serious charge that neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties have "cut him in on the take," he calls in his book for the formation of a "Me First Party," a grass-roots movement of greed which (he hopes) will sweep the country.**
Just short of four decades later, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley asserted:
If you take a clinical look at the evolution of these United States over the past couple of decades, it is self-evident that the Me First Political Party won all the elections and that its papers and memorabilia soon will go to the National Archives.***
The other week McKay Coppins of The Atlantic visited CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference).**** He reported that the place to take “the temperature” of the conservative movement was not in the main auditorium listening to speeches but “The Hub,” Exhibit Hall D on the ground floor of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where CPAC was being held.

It was there that young conservatives waded past “booths set up by right-wing think tanks, media outfits, pressure groups, and publishers—shopping for future careers.”

And it was careerism trumping (pun unintended) principles as scads of “blue-blazered and high-heeled” conservative wannabes began to bend and bow to the hot wind of Trumpism. Coppins notes that
[n]one of the young CPAC-goers I talked to told me definitively that they were undertaking a wholesale career recalibration in response to Trump’s rise. Instead, most seemed like they were hanging back, cautiously assessing the landscape, trying to stay flexible.
However, it took an attendee who wished to remain anonymous who--off the record--said he noticed that some of his amateur blogger friends have begun to adopt a more Trumpian posture lately in hopes of making it big.”

Principles be damned! 

The “Me First Party,” the political movement of greed, is alive and blue-blazered well.

*Do we spot here the prototype of the Jewish habit of answering a question with a question?

**Saturday Review, August 4, 1956.

***April 11, 1994.

Quite coincidentally, in this 1994 column about collecting autographs and baseball cards, Yardley wrote:
I'll admit that I'd pay a pretty penny for a Babe Ruth or (better yet) a Honus Wagner or (best of all) a Christy Mathewson, but the market in baseball memorabilia has gotten so out of hand that these are now the tastes of a Rockefeller or (God forbid) a Trump.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Uncommon Property

The last few days have been good days for the Millwall Football Club of Bermondsey, South London. The Lions, as they are known, on Sunday defeated Watford FC, of the Premier League, 1-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. This was an upset, as Millwall plays two divisions below Watford in League One.(1)

Even better than that sporting result, on the previous Wednesday the club learned that it could remain in South London, as a compulsory purchase order (CPO) which would have sold the club’s ground from underneath their feet to some redevelopment schemers was abandoned by the local government council. The council’s would-be development partner was “an opaque offshore-registered entity called Renewal.”(2)

The actual details of the disingenuousness of Renewal and its cosy intertwining of business and politics is too complex (and irrelevant to our purpose) to outline here (see the afore-referenced Guardian article for those details). One thing we can be sure of is that had the project gone through, the principals of Renewal would not be going hungry.
A few hundred years earlier—481, for those of a pedantic nature—common people in the North of England arose in protest against what they saw as many intolerable actions by the King, Henry VIII, and his ministers. To focus on only one grievance: the rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, was that of “a nation already made uneasy by the treatment of its Queen [Katherine of Aragon] and by the alienation of its Church from Rome,” stirred further “as the lesser monasteries were suppressed and their fabric was laid waste.”(3) 

It is Geoffrey Moorhouse’s belief that the rebels could easily have overcome the King’s forces at Doncaster and descended upon London had they not temporized, believing that they could negotiate with the sovereign’s representatives. But they eventually disbanded, and an enraged Henry took bloody revenge against the leaders of the Pilgrimage.

And what happened to the seized monastic lands? The overwhelming majority of allotments were sold off to the highest bidders.
While we looked at the Pilgrimage of Grace and the reaction to the confiscation and subsequent selling off of ecclesiastical property, it’s public property we are concerned with here. Between the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and this week's victories of Millwall FC there have been many instances of common land in Great Britain being lost to the majority of the populace for the benefit of the already wealthy. In “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” Simon Fairlie offers a long history of such happenings. He opens his account thusly:
Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain's land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our "property-owning democracy", nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.(4)
We could expand this discussion with examples beyond public land and Great Britain (think post-Soviet Russia and gas, mining, and other industries, for example), but the point we are trying to make here is that there is a mindset too prevalent (especially here in the United States) that everything that exists in the world is allowed to be sold to the very rich so that they can become even richer. 
Note to my fellow Americans: Looking at Trump’s choice for Education Secretary, how long will it be before there are no more public schools? 

1—In reality, the third division of English football. The second division is called the Championship. The English, surely, can match any other nation in the use of euphemism.

Also note the wonderful euphemism for “destruction.”

3—Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace: The rebellion that shook Henry VIII’s throne. The north of England, then as now, was economically worse off than the south, and many monasteries there provided basic welfare services to the common people. 



A few hours after this post was put online the Guardian published an article on the pushback in the US against public financing of facilities for millionaire-owned sports teams (specifically focusing on soccer). One example from the article:
Newly-elected Missouri governor Eric Greitens, sensing an electoral no-brainer, said before he took office in early January that public money for the construction of a downtown St Louis stadium was “nothing more than welfare for millionaires.(5)


One more day and one more example in the news of what the richest people can do: add a new citizenship without leaving one's old home:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Dog Ate My File Cabinet

. . . and other excuses.
Monica Crowley, the foreign policy adviser tapped for a White House job under President-elect Donald Trump, will relinquish the post, a transition official told Reuters on Monday. 
Crowley had been chosen to serve as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. Her appointment had been shadowed by reports of plagiarism in news outlets including CNN and Politico. 
After much reflection I have decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities and will not be taking a position in the incoming administration,” she said in a statement quoted by the Washington Times. 
I greatly appreciate being asked to be part of President-elect Trump’s team and I will continue to enthusiastically support him and his agenda for American renewal."
A CNN review found this month that Crowley plagiarized thousands of words of her 2000 dissertation for her Columbia University Ph.D. 
In addition, Politico reported that it found more than a dozen examples of plagiarism in Crowley's Ph.D. Dissertation.*
Dr. (ha, ha, ha!) Crowley's claim that she has decided to remain in New York to pursue other opportunities” is a neat revision of the classic declaration by disgraced politicians that they are resigning to spend more time with their families. Actually, her action makes great sense to me; who would trade the opportunity to remain at the home of the Met, the Met, and the Mets for some Washingtonian grilling on the provenance of her paragraphs?
I must confess, though, that I am rather disappointed that Dr. (ha, ha, ha!) Crowley did not own up to the plagiarism and offer some risible excuse that we all could kick around for a while. As much as I hate plagiarism, I love the excuses the perpetrators come up with.
Doris Kearns Goodwin's explanation for her own plagiaristic misdeeds is too long and complicated to quote here, involving as it does attics, boxes, folders, etc.** But her defense actually allows us to level another accusation against her. “Fourteen years ago,” she writes,
not long after the publication of my book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, I received a communication from author Lynne McTaggart pointing out that material from her book on Kathleen Kennedy had not been properly attributed. I realized that she was right. Though my footnotes repeatedly cited Ms. McTaggart's work, I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim, having assumed that these phrases, drawn from my notes, were my words, not hers.
What Doris Kearns Goodwin is telling us is that she can't tell her own writing from another writer's. “I have no style of my own,” she is really confessing. That's one hell of an admittance for a writer. Now, I cannot read my own handwriting, but I know goddamn well when I see the words printed out, I can tell what's mine and what isn't. I have a memory (I hope not a false one) of seeing a film clip of Salvador Dali walking along an art gallery wall with a big paint brush in his hand decisively making black crosses on canvasses that he recognized as fake Dalis. Whether the scene actually happened or not, it should serve as an example to all creative artists: recognize your own work, and deal with the unfamiliar as necessary.
Kearns Goodwin opened her defense in the article cited below by stating, “I am a historian. with the exception of being a wife and mother, it is who I am.”*** 
Well, I for one would hope that she recognizes her flesh-and-blood offspring better than her literary ones. 

(And a tip of the hat to Kathleen Farrell, who emailed me: "Wouldn't you like to know who was on her committee and missed this?")

***There's obviously an error in the original, either in punctuation or capitalization. I've copied-and-pasted directly from the Time website.
Consider these excerpts from two articles worth reading.

One plagiarism is careless. Two is a pattern. Four, five, or more is pathology. 
No matter what they steal, they fall back on the same excuses, as Thomas Mallon shows in his wonderful plagiarism book Stolen Words. Before the computer age, they blamed their confusing "notebooks," where they allegedly mixed up their own notes with passages recorded elsewhere. These days, plagiarists claim they mistake electronic files of notes with their own writing. 
Plagiarists steal for reasons both profound and mundane. In a few cases, plagiarism flows from some deep psychological wellspring: [Jacob] Epstein, the son of eminent literary parents, stole so much and from such an obvious source that he was clearly "committing literary suicide," writes Mallon. Some writers plagiarize because they are rushing a project through and probably don't think they'll get caught. Some are just exceptionally careless.  
David Plotz,
[Fareed] Zakaria strongly denied that any assistant or intern wrote his work, and said that his mistake came from mixing up different notes from different sources. That account does not quite explain how the plagiarized paragraph was so closely aligned with its original source, nor how it was unattributed to the writer, Jill Lepore. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Insanity Claus

George Carlin claimed that he knew why Santa Claus was always smiling: He knew where the naughty girls live.

This past Christmas Mr. Claus got an early start and gave out goodies to naughty people ahead of time. Specifically, he laid a document on Bob Dylan telling him he was being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (this to a man who wrote: “Then time will tell just who has fell.”)

Once upon a time I loved Dylan. I saw him on a Boston TV show, and came back to New York raving about him. But as the years went by, something struck me about the man: He was nasty and self-centered!

Consider the closing words of “Positively 4th Street:

I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is to see you.

That's how he reacts when he feels he's been hurt by friends.

Here's an even a better example of his solipsistic view of life. Compare these two contemporary lyrics about the failure of a love affair:

Bob Dylan (1963)
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.
(Emphasis mine)
Tom Paxton
"The Last Thing on My Mind" (1964)

Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
It's a lesson too late for the learnin'
Made of sand, made of sand
In the wink of an eye my soul is turnin'
In your hand, in your hand
Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could have loved you better, didn't mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
You've got reasons a-plenty for goin'
This I know, this I know.
(Emphasis mine)

One singer accepts responsibility for his role in the break-up; the other shoves it all on the other person.

Oh, the tunes sound good all right. But step back from the music a bit and consider who is the self-centered one and who is the grown-up here.

Who is the nasty one—who the nice one.

Santa blew it.