Saturday, December 28, 2013

Year-ender 2013

Media outlets, almost across the board, reserve this time of year for highlighting what they consider the top stories of the previous twelve months.

It's a no-brainer where I live: monumental rains that touched off extensive floods, causing widespread death and destruction. Combine the event itself with ongoing cleanup, and the local paper may find a way to make it the top two stories!

I've made it a habit, if not a tradition, to list my favorite LUNG posts of the previous year. They are not necessarily any good, mind you. Just my favorite. (I could probably list my least favorite, too – but I've deleted the really bad ones!)

In any case, and in no particular order, here are my favorite posts of the last year:

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holiday!

Most of the western world shuts down by early evening on December 24th, and doesn't stir again until the 26th.

Even the Internet's whitewater rapids slow to a trickle. But they don't cease entirely. Maybe Santa brought you a new computer, and maybe right now you're under the tree giving it a test drive. If so – lucky you!

Maybe it's a new high speed connection, or something like that.

Or maybe – just maybe – it's late Tuesday night. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas (right) soon would be there. And you're just whiling away the hours with a glass of eggnog, or brandy. Or some other holiday cheer.

Or maybe this is by now a really old post. Maybe you're reading it in April. Who's in first place in the AL Central?

“...I am sure I have always thought of Christmas ... as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of ... when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers...”

Whatever. Happy Holiday!

Happy Xmas! (War Is Over!)

Merry Holiday! (If you want it!)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Banned II (words and phrases)

Most people, I imagine, do not much care about the topic of this post.

But indifference won't stop me. Indifference, after all, is part of the problem. (This post is similar to one I made last August. At that time I acknowledged the Unicorn Hunters and Matt Groening as fellow travelers.)

The topic: words. Words to ban. Words(and phrases) that become inexplicably trendy, and rapidly wear out their welcome in our common lexicon.

This ongoing, partial, and now-updated list includes but is not limited to: own it, old school, shout out, and branding.

Don't use 'em!

Reverse discrimination gets an honorary (if not honorable) mention, sort of a lifetime achievement award. This nonsensical term has been around at least since the days of Allan Bakke, but is no more valid now than then. Bias = bias, no matter what.

I'll ratchet up the nuisance level by adding these mis-used terms and phrases to the list: don't say border when you mean state line or city limits. Don't say film (as in the verb, to film) when you mean videotape (now obsolete) or digitally record visuals. Don't refer to a creek or river's shore when you mean its bank.

Same basic deal with the phrase "start a tradition," but I've commented on that before.

Stickler or fuddy-duddy? Who the hell knows?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guns and What They Do

After backing plans for stricter gun laws, two state lawmakers in fair Colorado were recalled. Another resigned in order to avoid a recall election.

Those proposed laws came in the aftermath of the slaughter of moviegoers at a suburban Denver theater in July 2012.

Even if the pro-gun lobby hadn't effected the recalls and resignation, the killing at yet another Denver-area high school would probably still have happened yesterday.

And yet, right-wing zealots who claim to be protecting their second amendment rights are liars.

The simple truth is that these people love guns and what they do. And what they do, we have been shown repeatedly, is kill. They do that very well.

According to CNN, there have been 28 school shootings since the savagery in Newtown, Connecticut – one year ago today as this is written. It's been said repeatedly, but is worth saying again, that twenty children and six adults were massacred that day, including the mother of the heavily armed gun lover who did the deed.

But just try to do something about it, lawmakers. G'wan, we dare you!

More wholesale slaughter is in our future – sooner rather than later.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

Following up on my previous post, which (while unfocused) dealt generally with hunger...

I recently came across a scrap of Associated Press wire copy from long ago – from a previous life. It's been tucked in a book all these years, a little booby trap waiting for me to trip the wire.

It has this quote: "I'm sure there are many things the President knows that I don't know, but nutrition does not happen to be one of them."

There's no date on the wire copy, but the president referred to is Ronald Reagan. So the AP copy dates to somewhere between 1980 (it can't be that old) and 1988 (more likely).

"With the steady hacking away at food programs," the speaker goes on, "we are seeing hunger re-appear in the United States, and I'm very worried that some of the [gains] we have seen are going to be lost."

That was Dr Jean Mayer, a nutrition specialist and then-President of Tufts University, "best known for his research on the physiological bases of hunger," according to Wikipedia.

Dr. Mayer took Reagan to task after Reagan said reports about a rise in malnutrition in the United States were exaggerated. Ruthless Ron further suggested a need for deep cuts in federal funding of food programs.

Now it's twenty-something years later. Reagan is dead. Mayer is dead. But, surprise! Hunger is still with us.

It troubles me that the issue gets annual lip service around the holidays, and then is forgotten by most until next year. We've taken a baby step with affordable health care – and I do mean a baby step; I want money taken from the military and plowed into health care – but we haven't done squat about hunger. Not domestically or internationally.

In a nation that loves to boast it is the greatest in the world, and in a world capable of sustaining itself if politics didn't get in the way, allowing hunger to exist is a sin. Maybe even a crime against humanity.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pig Slop

They serve pig slop and call it food. They grossly underpay their workforce. By any standard they are a poor member of the international community.

All that is a given.

But McDonald's crossed a line last year. Probably not the slobs at corporate HQ, but some hired-gun, Don Draper type.

World hunger is a serious issue. It doesn't have to be the way it is. The question is political, and beyond the scope of the maximum 500 words I want to use here.

That said, McDonald's went too far in the above ad campaign, with its flippant use of the idea of hunger. The Snickers candy bar (or Mars, or whoever sits atop the sucrose pyramid) did something similar about ten years ago, in ads raising the peril of a between-meal crisis called "the hungries." This serious malady could only be resolved by gulping down that particular confection. Try the "fun size"!

Am I over-reacting? I don't think so.

Like most profit-motivated organizations, McDonald's (and Mars, et al) will not allow any standard of decency to get in the way of making money. Hence those unspeakable ads. It's futile to rail against them too much. I understand this.

Instead, follow this link and click on the icons you find there. It's something really easy to do, and I do it every day. It does not pass for activism, but it appears to be constructive, and you can do it in your pajamas.

In early 2013 what used to be simply The Hunger Site morphed into something called The Greater Good. Greater Good seems to be a rotating thing: one day hunger, the next hurricane victims, then breast cancer. The Hunger Site is still there though, with other various causes, like literacy. For tree huggers like me, there's also the Rainforest Site.

Ending hunger should not be a seasonal thing. I've felt that way ever since I heard about the burning of "surplus" food commodities, like wheat. Keep prices up on the world market, as Allen Ginsberg wrote.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela – An Anecdote

After his release from prison in 1990, the late Nelson Mandela embarked on an international tour as he sought to end apartheid in South Africa.

One of his many stops was Detroit, where he spoke to 49,000 people at a sold-out Tiger Stadium rally.

At the time I still lived in Detroit, but I wasn't there that night. Mandela told the crowd that the music of Motown (he called it "Motortown") helped sustain him and others during their time as political prisoners on Robben Island and elsewhere.

And then he quoted these lyrics: "Brother brother brother, there's far too many of you dying."

A legendary figure, a legendary Motown song. The crowd, said a friend who was there, went bananas. It was like a religious experience.

Video of the event still exists. The C-span site where I found it won't let me embed it here, but follow this link if you'd like to check it out. I don't know whether the quote from Marvin Gaye is on it, but it might be; there's about 45 minutes worth of stuff.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Greeting Cards

My wife had another birthday the other day. The number assigned to her existence remains a sensitive matter; a closely guarded secret.

As it happened, she was out of town on business, and forced to mark the occasion on her own. A glass of wine and some crab cakes in a hotel bar in New York.

But I telephoned her earlier in the day, and sent an e-mail. I wanted to send an e-card, too – something resembling what you see at right. But most e-cards, like most hard copy cards, are in extreme bad taste and totally inappropriate, as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe I've become an old fuddy-duddy. But I don't think so.

Nope. I think most greeting cards these days, or at least those you can find easily in your local drug store or grocery store, are tasteless beyond words. A lot of fart jokes, and black balloons jokes, and (for straight women) pictures of washboard-ab studs in leather – and everything that implies.

There are, of course, a few lines of tasteful cards on the market. Once my wife got home I gave her one of those blank cards with a pleasing scene from the natural world: in this case, two young trees intertwined.

But on the day itself I just sent an email, along with an old, scanned photo of the two of us. And all my love.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Collapsed Bridge

Nearly three months ago, the area where I live got pounded by heavy rains and severe flooding. I wrote a bunch of stuff about it here.

My town was spared the worst of it. A golf course got ruined and a bridge collapsed. That was about it.

The collapsed bridge is quite a sight. I drive by it rather often; the powers-that-be say it may be a couple of years before it's repaired. Today I went back on foot, camera in hand, for my first up-close-and-personal since it happened.

I've been meaning to take some follow-up pictures. It occurred to me to wait until it snowed; yesterday it did. For an added layer of fun, the temperatures fell to about 2° F.

According to what I've seen in the local press, it may not be until 2015 before the bridge is repaired. That isn't surprising. The devastation to the local infrastructure was far-reaching. This little bridge isn't the only way out of town; it doesn't get much traffic compared to other routes. So it's a low priority.

Wouldn't these photos make a nice calendar?

I've always enjoyed screaming down that hill (below, background) on my bike – but I guess it will be a while before I have that pleasure again.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Debate Club – Breaking the Law

The following is the text of an op-ed I wrote for the "Debate Club," a feature of the US News and World Report web site. The occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination. The magazine asked me and four others to comment on the question, "Was JFK's Assassination a Conspiracy?"

I'm not certain, but I think I made an error. Totally my fault. I know enough to fact-check myself, yet relied on my memory to boldly cite Newton's Third Law of Motion as proof of a shot fired from JFK's right-front. Kennedy's back-and-to-the-left reaction is proof of a shot from this direction, but I don't think it's an example of Newton's Third Law. It is, however, elementary physics.

Remarkably, no one called me on it. A careless mistake can undermine any argument. On this subject, it's almost certain to be used as a blunt object to beat you senseless.

But of course, the facts are on my side. Everything else in this commentary stands.

Was JFK's Assassination a Conspiracy?

Only someone unfamiliar with the evidence would sincerely ask, “Was there a conspiracy to assassinate JFK?” It is easily demonstrable – no thanks to the media.

For all its virtues, the American media has been regrettably complacent, even hostile, in its treatment of both the assassination and independent research into that crime. And so the issue has a serious public relations problem; when researchers are acknowledged today it is usually derisive. “These people should be ridiculed, even shunned,” the New York Times Book Review sneered in 2007. “It’s time we marginalized Kennedy conspiracy theorists the way we’ve marginalized smokers.”

I beg to differ. Independent analysis of the official evidence by “these people” has clearly demonstrated the fact of conspiracy.

The present discussion sets aside the question of culpability; it is restricted to the evidence of Dealey Plaza, where the assassination took place. What that evidence shows is incontestable. As critic Vincent Salandria observed, “Dealey Plaza reeked of conspiracy.”

In its Report, the Warren Commission placed a gunman on the sixth floor of a building along JFK’s motorcade route through Dallas. Such a gunman would have been behind the presidential limousine when the shots were fired. Yet of the 121 Dealey Plaza witnesses whose statements appear in the Commission’s published evidence, fifty-one, by one count, said gunshots came from the right front – that is, from the infamous grassy knoll. Only 32 thought shots came from the building, while 38 had no opinion.

Former Kennedy aide Kenneth O’Donnell, who rode in the ill-fated Dallas motorcade, said he heard two shots from the grassy knoll. He did not tell that to the Warren Commission, but later conceded, “I testified the way they wanted me to.”

The 8mm Zapruder film of the assassination unambiguously shows JFK’s head and upper body slammed back and to the left. Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thus the bullet that destroyed JFK was fired from the right front – from the grassy knoll – far from the alleged location of the alleged assassin.

There is much more than this, of course: Dealey Plaza witnesses who saw unidentified armed men in the vicinity. Witnesses whose observations suggest a radio-coordinated hit team. Three Dallas cops who encountered fake Secret Service agents, and one who testified to meeting an hysterical woman screaming, “They’re shooting the president from the bushes!”

It all demonstrates conspiracy – the how of it. The question of culpability, the who and the why, remains; it is all that really matters. It is where the conversation begins. We should expect, even demand, that our media lead the way.

Conspiracy in JFK’s death is a tragic fact. To debate the issue perpetuates the erroneous notion that there is something to debate.

Even after half a century the assassination is not irrelevant. Nor is it too late to act. An early critic named Maggie Field once said that finding the truth about the murder of JFK was of utmost importance. “Until we can get to the bottom of the Kennedy assassination, this country is going to remain a sick country,” she said. “No matter what we do. Because we cannot live with that crime. We just can’t.”