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Friday, October 30, 2015

BOO, WHO?

I do not understand why, once a year, I am expected to provide a sugar rush to every kid in the neighborhood. This is the annual fall shakedown. The bonfire of the bonbons. And should I try offering these adolescent vagabonds healthy treats like diced carrots, sliced celery, a couple cheese chunks on toothpicks or, God forbid, a little rice pilaf,  my house would be egged, my windows soaped, my cat redecorated.  What this ‘Kinder Mafia” demand is pure dextrose, not a mere saccharin surplus. Their obsession with processed sugar is neither healthy nor reasonable. Oh, sure, they dress it up in fairy costumes and go door to door chanting, “Treat or trick”. But what they really mean is "Show me the Chocolate!"   This is not the holiday the ancient Druid priests envisioned, nor the Aztec mortuary artists. It is not a holiday. It is sugar wealth redistribution, confectionery socialism straight out of the barrel of a gummy bear.
The roots of Halloween were planted long before Christians had enough saints to celebrate "All Hallowed Saint’s Day". The Aztecs were celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) even before they were speaking Spanish., maybe 3,000 years ago. And the Druids in Ireland were celebrating “Samhain” by carving turnip Jack-o-lanterns,  2,500 years before they saw their first pumpkin. They used turnups. "And how", you may ask, "could offerings to Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec Goddess who was still born, become individually packaged bags of M&Ms’ handed out to a skeleton named Debbie or Bobby?  And I will answer you, ‘Only in a world where the love child of Salvador Dali and Ma Barker is allowed to design holidays, that’s where!
This is the night for hyperventilation and hypertension - when the line between the dead and the not-really-alive (also known as Donald Trump) becomes fuzzy, and everyone grows concerned about ghosts, spooks, ghouls and zombies entering our world.  But its common knowledge that ghosts can’t manipulate physical objects. So they can only harm you psychologically, meaning Scientologists are safe since they don’t believe in anything that would tell them how nuts L.Ron Hubbard was. And nobody should be afraid of “spooks” because once you speak a spook’s name they are “spooken for” and thus rendered harmless; which is what Dick Cheney did to the spook Valerie Plame.
Now Dick Cheney was a real live ghoul, one of  those creatures who revel in death and horror and who keep coming back to life again - usually on Fox News - the network staffed by brain dead zombies. Rupert Murdoch's invention is the perfect example of how we are terrified of all the wrong things in this life and death. I cannot imagine Cheney and his fellow banshees from the shadow Federalists Society will cease being such soul sucking terror mongers just because they finally pass beyond the veil of death themselves.. 
Yes, on October 31st,  I will be answering my door bearing a bowl filled with tribute, because I don’t want to spend half of November pulling toilet paper out of my rain gutters. However, we could instead of this terror Halloween been celebrating "Reformation Day",  when, in 1546, Martin Luther nailed his “95 Things I Hate About The Pope” to the front door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. He was was later charged with deformation of church intellectual property.  So, logically, children could be going door to door, calling, “Treat or I’ll nail your butt to the door, you papist low life, and, oh, by the way have you got any Jews hiding in here?”  A bit hard to see children squeezing candy out of that transaction.  So I guess we’re lucky we got the screwed up jawbreaker, mini Snickers holiday we did get..
The truth (as if that ever mattered about holidays) is that Martin Luther defiantly nailing his arguments to the church door was probably no more real than George Washington chopping down a cheery tree. Neither thing really happened. And that may be yet another reason why you never see Martin Luther costumes on Halloween Night.  I did see a George Washington once, but that was so long ago the costume was probably made in the United States.
This year Americans will spend over $6 billion on this mish-mash of a holiday. Almost all of our black and orange fix, like cocaine, is provided by overseas suppliers who have no other connection to us, and although that kind of chump change would barely support the occupation of  Afghanistan for a month, it does work out to about $65 per family each year. Our family is not spending anywhere near that much, so I figure Donald Trump and his Wall Street buddies must be spending like a billion each to make up for what us po' folks are'nt  spending anymore - call them  the ghoul creators.
About 4 million Americans will even be buying costumes for their dogs this year, like PetSmart’s spider web dog collar for $12, or PetCo’s dogie Pumpkin dress- up for $16. It gives a whole new meaning to the term "Puttin' on the dog".  Still, this canine costume capitalism is surprising. considering that dogs and skeletons would seem to be a natural costume combo,  popular with dogs as well as the humans. And once the holiday was over you would not have to store the costume -  you just let Rover bury it.
But as a nation we seem determined to spend as much as possible on this “dead holiday thing”.  We will be putting 2 million pirates (mostly boys, and far outnumbering the original pirates) on the streets Friday night, along with 4 million princesses - mostly girls and about equal to the number of real princesses) with adults to follow behind them, as back-up muscle. At the ring of the door bell us older folks, cowering in our homes, then answer the door armed with only a half-empty bowl of bite sized Three Musketeers, and hope that is enough to buy us protection for another year.
And that is where all smart adults should be, dreading the sound that fills the night with horror and chills the bones; “Trick or treat, trick or treat, give us something good to eat. Or else.”  Yes, Trick or Treat, and bon appetit, my fellow cowering masses. And if you survive this night, you have just one year and two weeks until the next horror ; election day 2016!  Boo Who? Boo You, that's who!
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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

HANGING ON

I find it fascinating how we can suddenly lose sight of things that are vital to us and surround us. Consider this fable; in the final hours of Saturday, 20 May, 1995, Mrs. Paula Dixon leaped on the back seat of a motorbike, rushing to make a plane – British Airways flight 32, bound for London. Trying to stretch out her ten day vacation in Honk Kong, the 38 year old divorcee had left herself precious little time to make her 11:45 pm flight out of Kai Tak airport. During her dash to make that plane, Paula fell off the moving bike, hitting the pavement and bruising and cutting her arm. After scrapping her self off, and finishing the trip, Paula made it to the departure gate with just moments to spare. But while the 747 was waiting on the tarmac Paula's arm began to hurt and swell. So she called a flight attendant, who luckily was a trained nurse. And thus began a swirl of currents in which the fate of this mother of two would be swept between an obsessed turn-of-the-century factory worker, and a Dadaist acolyte born in South Philadelphia in the summer of 1890. 
As the eldest of four children, Emmanuel grew up surrounded by threads and swaths and shreds of things. He was the first child of Russian immigrants, a garment factory worker who earned extra money by doing a little tailoring and a mother with an artistic flair who assembled collages out of errant scraps of clothing. When he was seven the family moved to the slums of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York City. And at about the same time, suffering from the anti-antisemitism common in America of that age, the family shortened their name from Radnitzky to Ray. Emmanuel would soon shorten his first name to simply Man.
The flight attendant called for a doctor, and two responded. They decided Paula had broken her arm, and at her urging, fashioned a quick fix, a splint out of a Hong Kong newspaper, and rubber bands. She was given morphine from the aircraft's first aid kit, and tried to relax while the plane took off, bound for Heathrow airport, 14 hours away. But just an hour later, at 33,000 feet above the Bay of Bengal, Paula had bent over to take off her shoes and felt a stabbing pain in her left side. Suddenly she couldn't catch her breath. One look convinced both doctors Paula had not only broken her arm, but a rib as well. When she bent over, that broken rib had punctured the tissue surrounding her left lung, inflating it like a child's balloon and preventing her lung inside that tissue from expanding. Without immediate surgery, Paula Dixon was going to strangle to death..
Seventy miles east of Detroit, the town of Jackson, Michigan grew because people who thought they were going somewhere else, paused here for whatever reason, and stayed for whatever reason. The railroads came because the soil was good for farming, and since it was a convenient place to change crews, they built shops here, which attracted other industry. By 1900 the town of 25,000 included a mechanically inclined Canadian tinkerer named Albert J. Parkerhouse. He found work at the Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company, pulling cold steel, brass and copper through dies to form lampshade frames, bed springs, paper clips, wheel spokes and wire fences, anything that could be sold for a profit. He stayed because the work was steady and because if any of the workers stumbled upon an idea, the owner, John B. Timberlake, encouraged them to follow it. And one cold morning in 1903, Albert Parkerhouse was irritated because when he got to work there were no empty hooks to hang his heavy jacket from.
With Paula stretched out across an entire row of seats, and the improvised instruments sterilized with five star Courvoisier. brandy, an incision was made just below her collar bone. Then while one doctor held the cut open with a knife and fork, the other took a catheter from the first aid kit. One end, with a flap in it, was slipped into a bottle of seltzer water - the flap keeping the fluid from rising into the tube. And then the open end of the catheter, stiffened at the suggestion of a flight attendant with a straightened wire coat hanger, was slowly forced through the muscle tissue and into Paula's chest cavity. The patient, who had no more anesthetic, said she felt like beef on butcher's hook.
In 1913 the young Man Ray was exposed to the electrifying Armory Show, which Teddy Roosevelt walked out of, declaring “This is not art!”  But Man Ray thought it was, and was, he said,  "elevated." At the show he met the cubist painter of “Nude Descending a Stair”,  Marcel Duchamp. The two became fast friends, and enthusiasts of the heady freedom of "Dada". The word meant various things in various languages, but to German writer Hugo Ball who adopted it, it meant nonsense, the rejection of art as only things worthy of inclusion in a museum. In 1915 Man Ray had his first one man show in New York and bought a camera to document his art. Eventually he became best known for his surrealistic and absurdest photographs. But he never let go of the wonder and whimsy he had experienced from his mother, and what he now called his “ready-mades”.
Once the catheter had penetrated the tissue surrounding Paula's left lung, the coat hanger was removed, and the air pressing around Paula's lung could now escape into the catheter. Each time she expanded her lung, a little more of the air strangling her was expelled. The flap in the catheter and the seltzer water kept what was expelled from slipping back, and each breath got easier. Within ten minutes Paula Dixon was breathing normally. With a doctor at her side, the exhausted patient fell asleep. The exhausted doctors drank the remaining Courvoisier.
On and off for weeks, Albert Parkerhouse twisted and bent lengths and thicknesses of wire from the factory floor. Finally he hit upon what he thought was the best design to support his jacket without wrinkling it. Timberlake filed for a patent in January of 1904 (Number 822,981) (above) and made profits for the next 77 years pulling wire coat hangers. Albert was not bitter he had received no share of his invention, but he was annoyed that on the patient application he was not listed as the inventor. A few years later he moved to Los Angeles where he started his own wire company. He died in 1927 of a ruptured ulcer at the age of 48.
The big white British Airways 747 landed at London's Heathrow airport at 5:00 in the morning of Sunday 21 May, 1995. Paula, who felt good enough that she had eaten breakfast, was immediately transported to Hillington hospital, just north of airport . Here her make-shift surgery was closed and she slowly recovered from the ordeal, One year later she returned to Hong Kong to be married to her motor bike driver, German banker Thomas Galster. She told reporters, “If it wasn’t for my doctors I wouldn't be here today”. And, she might have added, she also owed her life to a wire coat hanger. If one had not been invented by an irritated Albert Parkerhouse in 1903, Paula Dixon would have died on that plane in 1995. That is what you call an unintended consequence.
Man Ray was finding it difficult to make a living as an artist in New York City. He wrote, “All New York is Dada, and will not tolerate a rival.” He then burned many of his older unsold works, borrowed $500, and set off for Paris, where he would live the rest of his life. One of his last works created in New York City was “Obstruction”, a three dimensional collage, described by the N.Y. Museum of Modern Art as a “pyramid of coat-hangers, each with two more hangers suspended from its ends...in arithmetic progression until almost an entire room was obstructed. This pyramid had an even, but changeable equilibrium; if only one hanger was set in motion, the entire pyramid oscillated with it.”
It must have reminded Emmanuel of his childhood, surrounded by a forest of hangers, all suspended just out of reach, hangers hanging from the ceiling, representing at the same time a whimsical playground for the child and a crushing existence of endless work for his parents, the pattern of their collective individual lives, connected yet separate, each suspended from the others. Life, Emmanuel seemed to be saying, is mostly just hanging on.
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Sunday, October 25, 2015

MAKING PEACE - Six - Second Thoughts

I guess the simplest (and maybe most accurate) evaluation of James Francis Byrnes (above) was offered by dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin, who at the Yalta conference in 1944, called him “the most honest looking horse thief” he'd ever met. Or, to put it in a business school sense, when named Secretary of State by Harry Truman in July of 1945, the converted Episcopalian had finally risen to his “level of incompetence". And in the language of poker, “Jimmy” Byrnes' “tell” was the racism that led him to endorse lynching “in order to hold in check the Negro in the south”. That poison, and his newly discovered incompetence, lead Byrnes to unwittingly help drag the war out a few more weeks and kill one last young American.
Byrnes served in every branch of the federal government. In 1910 he was elected to the House of Representatives from South Carolina – in 1930 to the Senate, where he helped guide much of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation into law. As his reward, in July of 1941, the President nominated him to the Supreme Court. But after little more than a year in the judicial branch, Byrnes resigned and accepted a position in the executive branch, leading the “Office of Economic Stabilization”, proving so successful at balancing prices and salaries that in 1943 Roosevelt also handed him the “Office of Mobilization”, responsible for building war plants across the country. It was that position that brought James Byrnes into contact with the Manhattan District, and the atomic bomb.
It was Byrnes (above, left)  who had written the final draft of the Potsdam Declaration, removing on his own  any reference to retention of the Emperor, and any mention of the Soviets. He was convinced Truman (above, center)  would be “crucified” if he compromised on Hirohito. The lack of oversight of Byrnes was understandable. . John McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War noted, "Everyone was so intent on winning the war by military means that the introduction of political considerations was almost accidental" And this failed oversight favored Byrnes. As a State Department official put, Byrnes approach to foreign policy was a checkers stategy in a chess game.
There is no indication that Truman ever noticed the Byrne's editing of the draft Declaration. Thrust into the presidency in March, Harry Truman instinctivly trusted Byrnes and depended on what he initially saw as a fellow southern politician with foreign policy experience. But with new estimates of casualties for a Japanese invasion from Hoover and the Navy, by August the President was cooling on his summer "bromance" with Brynes. So when the American radio intercepted the Japanese peace offer at 7:33 in the morning of 10 August, 1945 (Washington time) , Truman called in not just Byrnes, but the Secretary of War, Republican Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal and Admiral William Leahy, head of joint Chiefs of Staff, to consider what the American response should be.
Brynes saw the atomic bomb as forcing an immediate Japanese surrender and giving the U.S. leverage with the Soviets. Admiral Leahy had been opposed to using the atomic bomb at all, calling it “barberous”. Secretary Forrestal (above) had been in favor of offering the Japanesse a “face saving” surrender before the bomb and before the Soviets could enter the war, and was still seeking outside advice on how to achieve this.
And while Secretary Stimson (above, right)  had recommended using the bomb, he had always urged that the Japanese be allowed to keep the Emperor, in the name of internal stability. In effect, Truman had stacked the meeting against Byrnes.
Truman asked each of the men if they considered the reported Japanese note as meeting the Potsdam conditions. Byrnes (above, right)  flatly said no. Stimson (above, center) said yes, warning that without the Emperor, the United States might face “a score of bloody Iwo Jima's and Okinawas” all across Asia. Admiral Leahy said he had no opinion about keeping the Emperor. Byrnes charged ahead, saying “the United States and not Japan” should be setting conditions for the surrender. 
At this point Secretary Forrestal, who had wittnessed the invasion of Iwo Jima (above, center) , urged Truman to coach the Japanese into surrender but with language that reflected “our intent and view”. He suggested saying the Emperor and the Japanese would still rule their country, but subject to the orders of the Americans. The message was clear. Byrnes had lost the debate.
Stimpson now offered a shewed suggestion - a bombing halt It gave Truman room to manuver. He took a hard line, continuting the bombing. But he told Byrnes to prepare a response accepting the Japanese offer as meeting Potsdam. Under Truman's instructions, James Byrnes now showed his true genius. The response written by Byrnes, read, “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule... shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers...The ultimate form of government of Japan shall...be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.... The Allied Powers will remain in Japan until the purposes set forth in the Potsdam Declaration are achieved."
In black and white it said the Emperor could stay, if the Japanese people wanted him to. And the use of the term “allied powers” included by assumption, the Soviets. But it had finally become clear to the Americans that they wanted the Russia no deeper into the Pacific. Neither the United States, nor the Japanese, wanted Communist troops on the Japanese home islands. And that was now the primary aim of the two enemies.
If Byrnes had included the offer on the Emperor in the original Potsdam Declaration, it was possible the war would have ended before Hiroshima. But that seems unlikely. Too much was happening, too fast. As Truman noted in his diary that night, “This has been a hell of day.”
On Friday night 10 August (Tokyo time), 107 B-29s of 315th Bombardment Wing launched a peniltimate attack against “gasoline alley”, the Japanese oil refineries. This target, the Nippon Oil Refinery at Amagaski, was hit with 902 tons of high explosives dropped from 16,000 feet. However, since there was almost no oil left to be refined in Japan, the raid was almost meaningless.
The 68 largest cities in Japan had now been attacked from the air, leaving 400,000 dead, 750, 000 injured and 2 million homeless. “Sixty-six of these raids were carried out with conventional bombs, two with atomic bombs.” Over 600 major industrial targets were either destroyed or badly damaged, and somewhere between 1/3 and ¼ of Japans wealth had been wiped out by American bombing. The monetary cost to the United States was minimal. Where the U.S. spent $30 billion bombing Italy and Germany into submission, the air campaign against Japan cost the American taxpayer a paltry $4 billion.

At 7:45 on the morning of Saturday, 11 August, Soviet infantry crossed the border which had divided Sakhalin Island since 1925. But the attempt to carry the first village, Honda, failed against strong of Japanese resistance. Out numbering Japanese forces on the island 20, 000 to 5,000, the Soviets sent tanks south to encircled the town. The next day, Sunday 12 August, they would finally capture the strong points in the town, but would have to kill every Japanese soldier to do it.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Japanese military leaders were having second thoughts about their agreement to surrender. 
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