Sunday, September 28, 2008

The plot against liberal America Thomas Frank



Published 14 August 2008

In its pursuit of a free-market utopia, the US right tried to crush unions, the legal profession and all the pillars of the left. It will not stop there, warns Thomas Frank

The most cherished dream of conservative Washington is that liberalism can somehow be defeated, finally and irreversibly, in the way that armies are beaten and pests are exterminated. Electoral victories by Republicans are just part of the story. The larger vision is of a future in which liberalism is physically barred from the control room - of an "end of history" in which taxes and onerous regulation will never be allowed to threaten the fortunes private individuals make for themselves. This is the longing behind the former White House aide Karl Rove's talk of "permanent majority" and, 20 years previously, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's declaration to the Republican convention that it's "the job of all revolutions to make permanent their gains".

When I first moved to contemplate this peculiar utopian vision, I was struck by its apparent futility. What I did not understand was that beating liberal ideas was not the goal. The Washington conservatives aim to make liberalism irrelevant not by debating, but by erasing it. Building a majority coalition has always been a part of the programme, and conservatives have enjoyed remarkable success at it for more than 30 years. But winning elections was not a bid for permanence by itself. It was only a means.

The end was capturing the state, and using it to destroy liberalism as a practical alternative. The pattern was set by Margaret Thatcher, who used state power of the heaviest-handed sort to implant permanently the anti-state ideology.

"Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul," she said, echoing Stalin. In the 34 years before she became prime minister, Britain rode a see-saw of nationalisation, privatisation and renationalisation; Thatcher set out to end the game for good. Her plan for privatising council housing was designed not only to enthrone the market, but to encourage an ownership mentality and "change the soul" of an entire class of voters. When she sold off nationally owned industries, she took steps to ensure that workers received shares at below-market rates, leading hopefully to the same soul transformation. Her brutal suppression of the miners' strike in 1984 showed what now awaited those who resisted the new order. As a Business Week reporter summarised it in 1987: "She sees her mission as nothing less than eradicating Labour Party socialism as a political alternative."

In their own pursuit of the free-market utopia, America's right-wingers did not have as far to travel as their British cousins, and they have never needed to use their state power so ruthlessly. But the pattern is the same: scatter the left's constituencies, hack open the liberal state and reward friendly businesses with the loot.

Grover Norquist, one of the most influential conservatives in Washington and the "field marshal of the Bush plan", according to the Nation magazine, has been most blunt about using the power of the state "to crush the structures of the left". He has outlined the plan countless times in countless venues: the liberal movement is supported by a number of "pillars", each of which can be toppled by conservatives when in power. Among Norquist's suggestions has been the undermining of defence lawyers - who in the US give millions of dollars to liberal causes - with measures "potentially costing [them] billions of dollars of lost income". Conservatives could also "crush labour unions as a political entity" by forcing unions to get annual written approval from every member before spending union funds on political activities. His coup de grĂ¢ce is that the Democratic Party in its entirety would become "a dead man walking" with the privatisation of social security.

Much of this programme has already been accomplished, if not on the precise terms Norquist suggested. The shimmering dream of privatising social security, though, remains the great unreachable right-wing prize, and the right persists in the campaign, regardless of the measure's unpopularity or the number of political careers it costs. President Bush announced privatisation to be his top priority on the day after his re-election in 2004, although he had not emphasised this issue during the campaign. He proceeded to chase it deep into the land of political unpopularity, a region from which he never really returned.

He did this because the potential rewards of privatising social security justify any political cost. At one stroke, it would both de-fund the operations of government and utterly reconfigure the way Americans interact with the state. It would be irreversible, too; the "transition costs" in any scheme to convert social security are so vast that no country can consider incurring them twice. Once the deal has been done and the trillions of dollars that pass through social security have been diverted from the US Treasury to stocks in private companies, the effects would be locked in for good. First, there would be an immediate flood of money into Wall Street; second, there would be an equivalent flow of money out of government accounts, immediately propelling the federal deficit up into the stratosphere and de-funding a huge part of the federal activity.


BUSINESS ELITES
The overall effect for the nation's politics would be to elevate for ever the rationale of the financial markets over such vague liberalisms as "the common good" and "the public interest". The practical results of such a titanic redirection of the state are easy to predict, given the persistent political demands of Wall Street: low wage growth, even weaker labour organisations, a free hand for management in downsizing, in polluting, and so on.



The longing for permanent victory over liberalism is not unique to the west. In country after country, business elites have come up with ingenious ways to limit the public's political choices. One of the most effective of these has been massive public debt. Naomi Klein has pointed out, in case after case, that the burden of debt has forced democratic countries to accept a laissez-faire system that they find deeply distasteful. Regardless of who borrowed the money, these debts must be repaid - and repaying them, in turn, means that a nation must agree to restructure its economy the way bankers bid: by deregulating, privatising and cutting spending.

Republicans have ridden to power again and again promising balanced budgets - government debt was "mortgaging our future", Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address - but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, to inflate the federal deficit to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly open-handed liberal rivals. The formal justification is one of the all-time great hoaxes. By cutting taxes, it is said, you will unleash such economic growth that federal revenues will actually increase, so all the additional government spending will be paid for.

Even the theory's proponents don't really believe it. David Stockman, the libertarian budget director of the first Reagan administration, did the maths in 1980 and realised it would not rescue the government; it would wreck the government. This is the point where most people would walk away. Instead, Stockman decided it had medicinal value. He realised that with their government brought to the brink of fiscal collapse, the liberals would either have to acquiesce in the reconfiguration of the state or else see the country destroyed. Stockman was candid about this: the left would "have to dismantle [the government's] bloated, wasteful, and unjust spending enterprises - or risk national ruin".
This is government-by-sabotage: deficits were a way to smash a liberal state. The Reagan deficits did precisely this. When Reagan took over in 1981, he inherited an annual deficit of $59bn and a national debt of $914bn; by the time he and his successor George Bush had finished their work, they had quintupled the deficit and pumped the debt up to more than $3trn. Bill Clinton called the deficit "Stockman's Revenge" - and it domin ated all other topics within his administration's economic teams. With the chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan himself speaking of "financial catastrophe" unless steps were taken to control Reagan's deficit, Clinton was soon a convert. He got tough with the federal workforce.

SO-CALLED VIRTUES
George W Bush proceeded to plunge the budget into deficit again. Indeed, after seeing how the Reagan deficit had forced Clinton's hand, it would have been foolish for a conservative not to spend his way back into the hole as rapidly as possible. "It's perfectly fine for them to waste money," says Robert Reich, a former labour secretary to Bill Clinton, summarising the conservative viewpoint. "If the public thinks government is wasteful, that's fine. That reduces public faith in government, which is precisely what the Republicans want."

In 1964, the political theorist James Burnham diagnosed liberalism as "the ideology of western suicide". What Burnham meant by this was that liberalism's so-called virtues - its openness and its insistence on equal rights for everyone - made it vulnerable to any party that refuses to play by the rules. The "suicide" that all of this was meant to describe was liberalism's inevitable destruction at the hands of communism, a movement in whose ranks Burnham had once marched himself. But his theory seems more accurately to describe the stratagems of its fans on the American right. And the correct term for the disasters that have disabled the liberal state is not suicide, but vandalism. Loot the Treasury, dynamite the dam, take a crowbar to the monument and throw a wrench into the gears. Slam the locomotive into reverse, toss something heavy on the throttle, and jump for it.

Mainstream American political commentary customarily assumes that the two political parties do whatever they do as mirror images of each other; that if one is guilty of some misstep, the other is equally culpable. But there is no symmetry. Liberalism, as we know it, arose out of a compromise between left-wing social movements and business interests. It depends on the efficient functioning of certain organs of the state; it does not call for all-out war on private industry.
Conservatism, on the other hand, speaks not of compromise, but of removing its adversaries from the field altogether. While no one dreams of sawing off those branches of the state that protect conservatism's constituents - the military, the police, legal privileges granted to corporations - conservatives openly fantasise about doing away with the bits of "big government" that serve liberal ends. While de-funding the left is the north star of the conservative project, there is no comparable campaign to "de-fund the right"; indeed, it would be difficult to imagine one.

"Over the past 30 years, American politics has become more money-centred at exactly the same time that American society has grown more unequal," the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written. The resources and organisational heft of the well-off and hyper-conservative have exploded. But the org anisational resources of middle-income Amer icans . . . have atrophied. The resulting inequality has greatly benefited the Republican Party while drawing it closer to its most affluent and extreme supporters."
In this sense, conservative Washington is a botch that keeps on working, constructing an imbalance that will tilt our politics rightward for years, a plutocracy that will stand, regardless of who wins the next few elections. And as American inequality widens, the clout of money will only grow more powerful.

As I write this, the lobbyist-fuelled conservative boom of the past ten years is being supplanted by a distinct conservative bust: like the real-estate speculators who are dumping properties all over the country, conservative senators and representatives are heading for the revolving door in record numbers.

PLUTOCRACY
The Democrats who have taken their place are an improvement, certainly, but for the party's more entrepreneurial leaders electoral success in 2006 was merely an opportunity to accelerate their own courtship of Washington's lobbyists, think-tanks and pressure groups staked out on K Street. Democratic leaders have proved themselves the Republicans' equals in circumvention of campaign finance laws.

Throwing the rascals out is no longer enough. The problem is structural; it is inscribed on the map; it glows from the illuminated logos on the contractors' office buildings; it is built into the systems of governance themselves. A friend of mine summarised this concisely as we were lunching in one of those restaurants where the suits and the soldiers get together. Sweeping his hand so as to take in our fellow diners and all the contractors' offices beyond, he said, "So you think all of this is just going to go away if Obama gets in?" This whole economy, all these profits?

He's right, of course; maybe even righter than he realised. It would be nice if electing Democrats was all that was required to resuscitate the America that the right flattened, but it will take far more than that. A century ago, an epidemic of public theft persisted, despite a long string of reformers in the White House, Republicans and Democrats, each promising to clean the place up. Nothing worked, and for this simple reason: democracy cannot work when wealth is distributed as lopsidedly as theirs was-and as ours is. The inevitable consequence of plutocracy, then and now, is bought government.

This is an edited extract from Thomas Frank's "The Wrecking Crew", published this month by Harvill Secker (£14.99)
© Thomas Frank, 2008

More Anti-Palin Rallys in Alaska




Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The real difference between Liberals and Conservatives




Take the test to determine whether you are a liberal or conservative or some hybrid thereof at http://www.yourmorals.org/5f_new2_process.php.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wall Street Is Licking Its Chops at the Bush Team's Multi-Hundred Billion Dollar Giveaway Plan


Wall Street Is Licking Its Chops at the Bush Team's Multi-Hundred Billion Dollar Giveaway Plan
By William Greider, TheNation.comPosted on September 21, 2008, Printed on September 21, 2008http://www.alternet.org/story/99660/


Financial-market wise guys, who had been seized with fear, are suddenly drunk with hope. They are rallying explosively because they think they have successfully stampeded Washington into accepting the Wall Street Journal solution to the crisis: Dump it all on the taxpayers. That is the meaning of the massive bailout Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has shopped around Congress. It would relieve the major banks and investment firms of their mountainous rotten assets and make the public swallow their losses -- many hundreds of billions, maybe much more. What's not to like if you are a financial titan threatened with extinction?

If Wall Street gets away with this, it will represent an historic swindle of the American public -- all sugar for the villains, lasting pain and damage for the victims. My advice to Washington politicians: Stop, take a deep breath and examine what you are being told to do by so-called "responsible opinion." If this deal succeeds, I predict it will become a transforming event in American politics -- exposing the deep deformities in our democracy and launching a tidal wave of righteous anger and popular rebellion. As I have been saying for several months, this crisis has the potential to bring down one or both political parties, take your choice.

Christopher Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics, a brave conservative critic, put it plainly: "The joyous reception from Congressional Democrats to Paulson's latest massive bailout proposal smells an awful lot like yet another corporatist lovefest between Washington's one-party government and the Sell Side investment banks."

A kindred critic, Josh Rosner of Graham Fisher in New York, defined the sponsors of this stampede to action: "Let us be clear, it is not citizen groups, private investors, equity investors or institutional investors broadly who are calling for this government purchase fund. It is almost exclusively being lobbied for by precisely those institutions that believed they were 'smarter than the rest of us,' institutions who need to get those assets off their balance sheet at an inflated value lest they be at risk of large losses or worse."

Let me be clear. The scandal is not that government is acting. The scandal is that government is not acting forcefully enough -- using its ultimate emergency powers to take full control of the financial system and impose order on banks, firms and markets. Stop the music, so to speak, instead of allowing individual financiers and traders to take opportunistic moves to save themselves at the expense of the system. The step-by-step rescues that the Federal Reserve and Treasury have executed to date have failed utterly to reverse the flight of investors and banks worldwide from lending or buying in doubtful times. There is no obvious reason to assume this bailout proposal will change their minds, though it will certainly feel good to the financial houses that get to dump their bad paper on the government.

A serious intervention in which Washington takes charge would, first, require a new central authority to supervise the financial institutions and compel them to support the government's actions to stabilize the system. Government can apply killer leverage to the financial players: Accept our objectives and follow our instructions or you are left on your own -- cut off from government lending spigots and ineligible for any direct assistance. If they decline to cooperate, the money guys are stuck with their own mess. If they resist the government's orders to keep lending to the real economy of producers and consumers, banks and brokers will be effectively isolated, therefore doomed.

Only with these conditions, and some others, should the federal government be willing to take ownership -- temporarily -- of the rotten financial assets that are dragging down funds, banks and brokerages. Paulson and the Federal Reserve are trying to replay the bailout approach used in the 1980s for the savings and loan crisis, but this situation is utterly different. The failed S&Ls held real assets -- property, houses, shopping centers -- that could be readily resold by the Resolution Trust Corporation at bargain prices. This crisis involves ethereal financial instruments of unknowable value -- not just the notorious mortgage securities but various derivative contracts and other esoteric deals that may be virtually worthless.

Despite what the pols in Washington think, the RTC bailout was also a Wall Street scandal. Many of the financial firms that had financed the S&L industry's reckless lending got to buy back the same properties for pennies from the RTC -- profiting on the upside, then again on the downside. Guess who picked up the tab? I suspect Wall Street is envisioning a similar bonanza -- the chance to harvest new profit from their own fraud and criminal irresponsibility.

If government acts responsibly, it will impose some other conditions on any broad rescue for the bankers. First, take due bills from any financial firms that get to hand off their spoiled assets, that is, a hard contract that repays government from any future profits once the crisis is over. Second, when the politicians get around to reforming financial regulations and dismantling the gimmicks and "too big to fail" institutions, Wall Street firms must be prohibited from exercising their usual manipulations of the political system. Call off their lobbyists, bar them from the bribery disguised as campaign contributions. Any contact or conversations between the assisted bankers and financial houses with government agencies or elected politicians must be promptly reported to the public, just as regulated industries are required to do when they call on government regulars.

More important, if the taxpayers are compelled to refinance the villains in this drama, then Americans at large are entitled to equivalent treatment in their crisis. That means the suspension of home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies for debt-soaked families during the duration of this crisis. The debtors will not escape injury and loss -- their situation is too dire -- but they deserve equal protection from government, the chance to work out things gradually over some years on reasonable terms.

The government, meanwhile, may have to create another emergency agency, something like the New Deal, that lends directly to the real economy -- businesses, solvent banks, buyers and sellers in consumer markets. We don't know how much damage has been done to economic growth or how long the cold spell will last, but I don't trust the bankers in the meantime to provide investment capital and credit. If necessary, Washington has to fill that role, too.
Finally, the crisis is global, obviously, and requires concerted global action.


Robert A. Johnson, a veteran of global finance now working with the Campaign for America's Future, suggests that our global trading partners may recognize the need for self-interested cooperation and can negotiate temporary -- maybe permanent -- reforms to balance the trading system and keep it functioning, while leading nations work to put the global financial system back in business.

The agenda is staggering. The United States is ill equipped to deal with it smartly, not to mention wisely. We have a brain-dead lame duck in the White House. The two presidential candidates are trapped by events, trying to say something relevant without getting blamed for the disaster. The people should make themselves heard in Washington, even if only to share their outrage.

William Greider is the author of, most recently, "The Soul of Capitalism" (Simon & Schuster).
© 2008 TheNation.com All rights reserved.View this story online at:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

George Carlin on Critical Thinking: Warning foul language



George Carlin may well be one of the great social commentators of our age. His recent passing put an end to an astonishing career spanning 5 decades. I first heard of Carlin in the 60's when I heard some of his records being played at a party. His thinking here on critical thinking is a surprising affirmation of how important he thought this skill was. Please remember that Carlin is well known for his penchant for foul language. You will not be surprised by his performance here.




Conservatives Turn On McCain-Palin by Rachel Weiner

David Brooks writes in the New York Times that Sarah Palin is unqualified:

In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation's founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn't just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

...

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she'd be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.



Ross Douthat agrees at the Atlantic:

Now that we've seen the entirety of the Palin-Gibson tete-a-tete, I concur with Rich Lowry and Rod Dreher. The most that can be said in her defense is that she kept her cool and avoided any brutal gaffes; other than that, she seemed about an inch deep on every issue outside her comfort zone. Yes, the questions were tougher than the ones that a Tim Kaine or Tim Pawlenty probably would have been handed, but they were all questions that a vice-presidential nominee needs to be able to answer. And there's no way to look at her performance as anything save supporting evidence for the non-hysterical critique of her candidacy - that it's just too much, too soon - and a splash of cold water for those of us with high hopes for her future on the national stage.
And in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen goes off on McCain, seizing on the Palin pick as a sign of how far gone the candidate is:

McCain has turned ugly. His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most. He has contempt for most of his colleagues for that very reason: They lie. He tells the truth. He internalizes the code of the McCains -- his grandfather, his father: both admirals of the shining sea. He serves his country differently, that's all -- but just as honorably. No more, though.
...

His opportunistic and irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his political heir -- the person in whose hands he would leave the country -- is a form of personal treason, a betrayal of all he once stood for. Palin, no matter what her other attributes, is shockingly unprepared to become president. McCain knows that. He means to win, which is all right; he means to win at all costs, which is not.

Published by the Huffington Post September 16

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Spike in Jobless Rate for Women is Worst in More Than 33 Years by Tony Pugh



WASHINGTON — A sharp monthly rise in unemployment for women could be a sign that the economic slowdown has begun to hit working women with a force not seen in decades.

When the unemployment rate for women went from 4.6 percent in July to 5.3 percent in August, it was the largest one-month spike in the jobless rate for women in more than 33 years.

Black women were hit even harder, as their unemployment rate jumped 21 percent, from 7.5 percent in July to 9.1 percent in August.

Among single mothers and women with families, unemployment climbed to 9.6 percent in August — the highest level in 15 years.

By themselves, the figures provide only a one-month snapshot of labor-market activity and may be merely an aberration in the business cycle. But the increases are a reminder of the 2001 recession, which was the first in decades to see men and women lose jobs on an almost equal basis.

If the economic slump continues to echo the 2001 recession, the effect on working women only will worsen, according to a recent report by the Joint Economic Committee, a panel that includes Democratic and Republican members of Congress and studies U.S. economic issues.

"If the prior (2001) recession's trend holds, women will suffer equally to men in the 2008 recession," the report states. "Because women are disproportionately represented in state and local government services, their job losses are likely to grow in the latter part of the recession as state and local governments are forced to implement cutbacks in spending in areas that women are disproportionately employed, such as education and health care."

Kay Carey of Chicago is living that very scenario. An administrative assistant for a state social-services contractor, Carey was laid off in July when her department was phased out. She got the bad news after returning from vacation and only two weeks after moving into a new home.

"I've never been laid off before. I go to work when I'm sick. I go to work when I'm tired, so it's kind of hard for me, but I haven't broken," she said. "I'm trying to learn not to get up every morning at 5:45."

With nearly six months of unemployment benefits ahead of her, Carey, 47, is confident she'll be able to keep her home, but the financial strains already are showing.

Her daughter recently had to drop her classes at Tennessee State University because she's $3,000 short on her tuition and Carey couldn't get a loan to make up the difference. "It's really hard when you have a child that wants to go to school, but can't," she said.

The August jobs numbers may reflect softening consumer demand — in particular among women, said Vicky Lovell, acting research director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington. She noted that from July to August, nearly 11,000 jobs were lost at food and beverage stores, which typically employ many women.

"So as women consumers also feel the economic constrictions, they're cutting back on their spending," Lovell said.

Elizabeth Montiel of Hialeah, Fla., has noticed the change when she shops.

"When I go to different stores, Target and Wal-Mart, it's not like before," Montiel said. "You don't see a lot of customers. Even the employees are saying, 'Things are bad.' So people are being affected."

Montiel, 38, was one of nearly 200 employees laid off in June by Ocean Bank. Her part-time receptionist position allowed her to care for her special-needs daughter in the afternoons. But without a job, she's been unable to look for work because she can't afford after-school care for her children.

With support from Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, unemployment benefits and her children's father, Montiel has maintained her apartment and kept up with her bills. But family members have had to help her out with back-to-school items for her children.

"I wish I could afford more stuff for the children," Montiel said. "But I have to ask for help since I'm in a really tight situation. Everybody gets accustomed to the good life, but I think it's just a matter of time before things get back to normal. I know things will get better."

About 43 percent of all working women earn half or more of their family's income, said Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, a national women's advocacy group based in Chicago. And since many women work part-time, seasonally and in low-wage, high-turnover jobs, they often have a harder time qualifying for unemployment benefits, Ladky said.

During recessions prior to 2001, stay-at-home moms and other women family members would often get jobs when men were laid off.

However, as more women entered the work force — and into male-dominated industries such as manufacturing — they became much more vulnerable to layoffs, job displacements, wage cuts and other vagaries of economic downturns.

In fact, during the 2001 recession, women lost a larger share of jobs than men in manufacturing, trade, transportation and utilities, according to the joint committee study.

"This year's job losses — compounded by soaring prices for food, energy, child care and health care — mean that women are even more at risk," said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women's Law Center.

After being laid off in January, Terri Pittman of Greenville, Miss., expects her unemployment benefits to expire at the end of the month. Pittman, a 44-year-old former customer-service specialist at a furniture manufacturing plant, has struggled to find work in the smaller towns surrounding Greenville. Her 6-year-old daughter has begun to see her mother's financial strain.

"It has been a dramatic change not having the income to live the life we were accustomed to," Pittman said. "How do you tell a 6-year-old, 'baby, we've got to wait because we can't afford it?' Children pay attention to things like that. Sometimes she'll say, 'Ma, I know we don't have any money right now so we don't have to get this or that.' Kids are very aware."

Originally Published by McClatchy Newspapers http://www.mcclatchydc.com/ 9/14/08

Les Misbarack

Saturday, September 13, 2008

McCain is Terminally Ill






From: Michael Fratkin [mailto:gatito@gotsky.com]

To: Doctors for Obama Subject: [DoctorsforObama]

McCain' Medical Records Dear Colleagues and Friends, John McCain is a 72 year old man with recurrent melanoma, hyperlipidemia, degenerative joint disease, and recurrent difficulty with certain efforts at recall.

These are the limited facts the American people have had access to. Over 1000 pages of medical records were shown to selected journalists for 3 hours with less than 48 hours of notice.


The only medically trained journalist was Sanjay Gupta, MD. [Sanjay Gupta is an American physicians of Indian descent and a Contributing CNN Chief Health correspondent. ]

This is the extent to which the American people have been informed. While I am certainly sensitive to the confidential nature of medical records, given the anxiety expressed by many of my patients regarding the risk of lost coverage or lost jobs in this current health economic climate, there are certain exceptions for disclosure regarding public safety.

As John McCain knows, a pilot's records are comprehensively available for review by a certifying agency (the FAA) to insure the fitness of the pilot and the safety of passengers and the public at-large.




In the election of the President of the United States of America, that certifying body is the American electorate.

A recurrence of metastatic malignant melanoma would essentially destroy John McCain's capacity as the Chief Executive, and the American People have yet to receive a full accounting of the facts regarding his actuarial risk.

If he has had regional metastasis, his risk could be 30% or greater for distant metastasis to the brain, bone, and lung. As you all know, melanoma is one of the most insidious, pernicious, and aggressive malignancies our patients must deal with and that we attempt somewhat pathetically to control with interferon, interleukins, and dismally active and terribly toxic chemotherapeutic regimens.

In addition, we lack the simple data to sensibly evaluate his cardiovascular risk as we would any septuagenerian in our exam rooms.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Another medical professional weighs in about melanoma
John Aravosis (DC) · 9/23/2008 04:25:00 PM ET · Link
6 Comments · reddit · FARK · Digg It! · Stumble It!


A reader writes:
Being a Dermatology Physician Assistant and a cancer survivor, I recently reviewed John McCain's medical records (which were made public earlier this year after he was the Republican nominee) about his melanoma, the type of skin cancer that is very frequently fatal. He has had 4, possibly 5 melanomas. The most serious one was on his left temple, in 2000. It was considered a deep melanoma (2.2 mm-- which is very risky). There was also another melanoma in the same area, which could have likely been a metastasis from the bigger melanoma on the temple, there is no way to know. They had to take out all his lymph nodes on that side of his head and neck, that is why his cheek looks so misshapen. That thickness of melanoma (whether or not it is in the lymph nodes) usually gets about 1 year of interferon (a form of chemotherapy), which would have been standard of care. But, since this happened right at the time of the 2000 election conventions, McCain opted not to have the chemo.

He has had another melanoma appear on his nose in 2002, again, no real way to tell that this was not a metastasis, or a new melanoma. The other 2 melanomas were prior to 2000. Frankly, I'm surprised that he has survived this long. Melanoma is very unpredictable and aggressive. With his history of multiple melanoma episodes, as well as other types of skin cancers and pre-cancers, this means McCain's immune system is poor. Melanoma can metastasize to any part of the body including the brain. It lurks until it starts to cause problems in whatever organ it starts to grow in. The only way to know if it spread is when it invades something and causes that organ to malfunction. There are no blood tests or other screening tests to catch metastasis "early" other than frequent skin checks and that would only find it again on the skin. When melanoma spreads, there is not any good treatments to stop it. So, I think that it is a very real possibility that John McCain will have more melanoma.

I try to inform all of my patients each day of the risks of melanoma and I spend my work days hunting for melanomas at the earlier superficial stage that can be treated. McCain's is in the deeper, more dangerous, category. At least in dermatology, we don't worry too much about the melanoma's less than 1 mm. His was 2.2 mm. It was likely an aggressive one, because it seems that it was not observed at his derm exam, then his family doctor found it during an interim appointment. I am sure that a dermatologist would have seen it and biopsied it given his history. So, it probably grew extremely quickly in several month's time since McCain would have been seen by derm at least every 6 months. This reminds me of one my patients-- she had a melanoma removed on her shoulder with clear margins, her lymph nodes were negative. On her first follow up visit in 3 months she had no visible sign of any recurrence. 1 month later she came in because she had some unusual bumps appearing in the area. She had metastases locally, and when they checked a PET scan, she had melanoma throughout her body. She only lived a few more months

Blizzard of Lies by Paul Krugman


Did you hear about how Barack Obama wants to have sex education in kindergarten, and called Sarah Palin a pig? Did you hear about how Ms. Palin told Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks" when it wanted to buy Alaska a Bridge to Nowhere?

These stories have two things in common: they're all claims recently made by the McCain campaign — and they're all out-and-out lies.



Dishonesty is nothing new in politics. I spent much of 2000 — my first year at The Times — trying to alert readers to the blatant dishonesty of the Bush campaign's claims about taxes, spending and Social Security.

But I can't think of any precedent, at least in America, for the blizzard of lies since the Republican convention. The Bush campaign's lies in 2000 were artful — you needed some grasp of arithmetic to realize that you were being conned. This year, however, the McCain campaign keeps making assertions that anyone with an Internet connection can disprove in a minute, and repeating these assertions over and over again.

Take the case of the Bridge to Nowhere, which supposedly gives Ms. Palin credentials as a reformer. Well, when campaigning for governor, Ms. Palin didn't say "no thanks" — she was all for the bridge, even though it had already become a national scandal, insisting that she would "not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative."
Oh, and when she finally did decide to cancel the project, she didn't righteously reject a handout from Washington: she accepted the handout, but spent it on something else. You see, long before she decided to cancel the bridge, Congress had told Alaska that it could keep the federal money originally earmarked for that project and use it elsewhere.

So the whole story of Ms. Palin's alleged heroic stand against wasteful spending is fiction.




Or take the story of Mr. Obama's alleged advocacy of kindergarten sex-ed. In reality, he supported legislation calling for "age and developmentally appropriate education"; in the case of young children, that would have meant guidance to help them avoid sexual predators.
And then there's the claim that Mr. Obama's use of the ordinary metaphor "putting lipstick on a pig" was a sexist smear, and on and on.

Why do the McCain people think they can get away with this stuff? Well, they're probably counting on the common practice in the news media of being "balanced" at all costs. You know how it goes: If a politician says that black is white, the news report doesn't say that he's wrong, it reports that "some Democrats say" that he's wrong. Or a grotesque lie from one side is paired with a trivial misstatement from the other, conveying the impression that both sides are equally dirty.

They're probably also counting on the prevalence of horse-race reporting, so that instead of the story being "McCain campaign lies," it becomes "Obama on defensive in face of attacks."
Still, how upset should we be about the McCain campaign's lies? I mean, politics ain't beanbag, and all that.

One answer is that the muck being hurled by the McCain campaign is preventing a debate on real issues — on whether the country really wants, for example, to continue the economic policies of the last eight years.

But there's another answer, which may be even more important: how a politician campaigns tells you a lot about how he or she would govern.


I'm not talking about the theory, often advanced as a defense of horse-race political reporting, that the skills needed to run a winning campaign are the same as those needed to run the country. The contrast between the Bush political team's ruthless effectiveness and the heckuva job done by the Bush administration is living, breathing, bumbling, and, in the case of the emerging Interior Department scandal, coke-snorting and bed-hopping proof to the contrary.

I'm talking, instead, about the relationship between the character of a campaign and that of the administration that follows. Thus, the deceptive and dishonest 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign provided an all-too-revealing preview of things to come. In fact, my early suspicion that we were being misled about the threat from Iraq came from the way the political tactics being used to sell the war resembled the tactics that had earlier been used to sell the Bush tax cuts.

And now the team that hopes to form the next administration is running a campaign that makes Bush-Cheney 2000 look like something out of a civics class. What does that say about how that team would run the country?

What it says, I'd argue, is that the Obama campaign is wrong to suggest that a McCain-Palin administration would just be a continuation of Bush-Cheney. If the way John McCain and Sarah Palin are campaigning is any indication, it would be much, much worse.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sister Sarah and the Celebration of Ignorance By Sherman Yellan

It does not surprise me when I read that Sarah Palin has helped to tilt the election towards John McCain. She is a major force to contend with, and contend we must. Let me cut to the chase. I believe that the election of McCain and Sarah Palin would be a political tsunami that can bring down the house that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson built; a house that George W. Bush systematically attempted to tear down, brick by brick, lie by lie, but at this date is still standing, a little worse for wear. And I fear that McCain and Palin will come to power by their lies, and through the cult of celebrity, the very celebrity that McCain demeaned in Obama.

I admit that this woman scares me mostly because I can see her great attraction. She's a fine orator despite the hard "r" that reminds me of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, the lady famous for her warning Dorothy, "I'll get you and your little dog too" only with Palin I hear the subtext of "I'll get you and your environment too." Palin is quick in delivering a snappy line; she is a mistress of insult, a rabble rouser, and perhaps, just perhaps, a true believer which makes her all the more dangerous. She certainly believes in herself, but then all candidates must, but her belief in self is based on a set of prejudices and a celebration of ignorance, rather than a lifetime of achievement. Most of all she's a good actress, attractive enough with a winning smile, all helpful as a fine manipulator of people and ideas. All these qualities make her a power to contend with, and the Democrats better recognize that now. The fact that she is the enemy of every woman who will vote for her with the exception of Cindy McCain makes her rise more dangerous for Americans, particularly for working women; more dangerous than any other candidate who has ever vied for public office. This is the woman who could, and probably will succeed John McCain if health and age prevent him from remaining in office. This woman may well be our not so far off President Palin. Drop the l from her name and we know what's ahead for America.


The closest we have seen to Sarah Palin in America is not Hillary Clinton or those stand-up, speak-out women who have fought for Women's Rights and Civil Rights but Amie Semple McPherson, the great woman Evangelist of the nineteen twenties. This was the woman upon whom Sinclair Lewis, the novelist, based the character of Sister Sarah in Elmer Gantry. The real life Amie could bring the crowds to their feet, pick their pockets, and make them believe that she was doing God's work and theirs, as she became rich from fleecing the poor who revered her. Lewis, a prescient novelist, once wrote that fascism won't come to America wearing jackboots as in Nazi Germany, but acting like a good ole boy. He meant Huey Long, but it applies as much to Sarah Palin. Perhaps fascism will finally come to America wearing lipstick and high heels, smiling warmly while raining insults down on her enemies.



We now have a woman who is a living sound bite, perfect for an electorate with a short attention span. She is our very own Republican MTV, appealing to an America that is starving for authenticity but which swallows whole the fake candidate who churns their resentments by demeaning the opposition with a sassy manner. She, like McCain, is a member of the party of elites of this country, those who have profited most from it financially, yet she and her fellows use the term "elitism" as a pejorative, almost a curse. They want to stir up resentments, turn the audience against those who have the nerve to rise from poverty and write for the Harvard Law Review. It is government by resentment, something perfected by fascism, and later by Carl Rove in our time, and Ms. Palin is a master practitioner of it. Trust me I do not throw the word fascist around loosely.



It's taken a long lifetime for me to spot a con man or a con woman. In the course of my early life I have been charmed by and taken in by several tricksters, and I have in my later years developed a special sense when faced by the political and emotional crook, and I see one in Sarah Palin. The debates with Joe Biden may not reveal the fake beneath the homespun rhetoric. She will be well rehearsed. If Biden listens to the sexists who think that women cannot be held accountable for what they do or say, and chooses to treat her gently for fear of appearing as a bully, she will demolish him. It's time for gloves off, truth on politics. This lady understands rough, not gentle. And we can expect very little help from the press who prize celebrity above authenticity. Who cares if the woman is a danger to our democracy? She's great copy.


I am not looking for some rumored sexual scandal in The Enquirer to bring her down the way it brought down Edwards, or the way a sex scandal brought down Sister Amie in the twenties, but I am hoping for what the Evangelicals called a Great Awakening. My awakening would mean that Americans open their eyes and ears and look and listen carefully at what the candidates are actually saying and what they have done in the past. Here is a woman who attempted to censor a local library as a Mayor, and tried to fire her ex brother-in-law, a state trooper, because of some Palin family dispute. For one who speaks forcefully against the intrusion of government into our lives she has no sense of the proper limits of power. And she will undoubtedly attempt to impose her own political and religious views on others if and when the opportunity arises.


This is a Governor who ransacks the US treasury for support of her oil rich but otherwise poor state, yet will slap the same government in the face when it appears expedient to do so. She is running a campaign that is allegedly pro women while attacking the very government that has done so much to advance the rights of women. Sure, she has a fine gift for making and naming babies and husbands, Truck, Track, Trick, all of it MGM Tab and Rock cute -- but I can smell a con a mile away and this woman is in the great tradition of the American trickster. This is not a female Huck Finn, but a descendant of the con men Huck meets while traveling on his raft down the Mississippi. Palin would no doubt have named one of her children Huck, if she wasn't so suspicious of that great book.


There are two opposing traditions in America regarding the life of the mind. On one hand we revere expertise, honor intelligence, and desperately want our kids to go to college in order to develop their skills, which means developing their minds so that they can have good lives. On the other hand we honor frontier American virtues; self-sufficiency, simplicity, and authenticity. Sometimes we respect down-home sense over book learning; the cracker barrel philosophy over the carefully reasoned argument. Occasionally, they come together in an Abe Lincoln or a Harry Truman, but mostly one or the other prevails. Sarah Palin can only succeed by exploiting the American affection for that frontier past, and making intelligence and achievement appear to be the enemy of the down-to-earth voter.


Anti-intellectualism can be as vicious as racism, and in Obama's case they have a perfect target. In case you've missed my partisanship so far, I find Barack Obama closer to Abe Lincoln than any other candidate of my lifetime.

But it is Lincoln the log splitter and not Lincoln the thoughtful reader and intellect that Palin's Republican party reveres. We can't expect a recession economy or a costly war to save us from a Republican victory, not if Palin's charges go unanswered, or ineffectively anwered. We need truth squads ready to speak out at all times and answer the tricksters and the con men who control the Republican party. Yes, I have a deep personal interest in this election. I have three young granddaughters, a three year old who just began kindergarten this week, and twin girls celebrating their first month on this endangered planet. I care deeply about their future and the opportunities this country will offer them in life, and I see it threatened by this woman. If she comes to power she won't be splitting logs; she will be busy cleaving our democracy.

originally Published in the Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sherman-yellen/sister-sarah-and-the-cele_b_125208.html

When Jellyfish become liturgical furniture we know we have lost touch with Christian Tradition

I am thinking I probably need to offer a seminar on the liturgical imagery of jellyfish [ Phylum Cnidaria (pronounced ni*da"ri*a)] since we have four of them presiding over our new sanctuary at St. George's Episcopal Church in Germantown,
Tennessee. Here is the Bishop consecrating this jelly fish altar apparently completely unaware of the ensnaring and entrapping imagery he is exalting into the liturgy. The top of the altar is made of blue glass, the pediments are made of aluminum tendrils. What were they thinking?
Apparently, they weren't.

What do you think? Have you ever thought that those gelatinous floating stinging ensnaring predators should be exalted to suitable decorations for sacred space? Well it has happened to our church. How it happened is inexplicable, other than by recognizing that sometimes the real truth behind theology will sometimes burst forth and proclaim its entangling, ensnaring and predatory features.

So we sold our wonderful old cruciform church over on Poplar Avenue, built a new one that looks more like a bus than a church. Two rows of seats are separated by a central aisle. A large windscreen/picture window sits where the cross or some other suitable sacred imagery worthy of contemplation should be behind the altar. Front and center is a large operating jellyfish console where the Priest steers us on our spiritual journey in this ecclesiastical omnibus.

Stage right there is another large jellyfish pretending to be our lectern. It sits there with its large blue mantle sitting on top of its curling tendrils as if waiting to ensnare its speaker in one error after another.


I was part of a committee that worked on the decorations for this church. The Rector asked me to help find liturgical antiques we might consider. Europe just now is flush with amazing relics of ancient churches for sale. Amazing craftsmanship reflecting centuries of christian tradition was available. Just go looking here for example: http://www.kingrichards.com/viewCat.php?item=1


They asked me what kind of liturgical furniture we should include in the sanctuary. I offered many ideas--traditional mostly--I found fantastic antique possibilities for them to consider from our Episcopal tradition. We considered one of those magnificent eagle lecterns for a brief moment, but eschewed the eagle of St. John for the Jellyfish of . . . Jonah? Or was that a whale?

Here is the baptismal font in jellyfish form: an amazing image of an engulfing and ensnaring creature placed right in the middle of our most sacred rites having to do with infants.

The opportunity to have wonderful things which have been surrounded and saturated with prayer and singing was clear and compelling.

What did they do? They hired a local artist--not a bad idea actually--and he went wild and came up with glass and aluminum jellyfish--four of them. Jellyfish have absolutely no tradition of religious symbolism, except as spiritual monsters.

Two which make up the altar seem to be engaged in some kind of mating dance. The lectern seems to want to float away and that baptismal . . . . it is the most scary given the implications of the English poet and painter William Blake's imagery.

At one time when I was writing actively about William Blake, I wrote usefully about one of Blake's great spiritual monsters which he feared most especially: The Polypus.

In his poem, Jerusalem, he writes:

In every Nation of the Earth till the Twelve Sons of Albion Enrooted into every Nation: a mighty Polypus growing From Albion over the whole Earth: such is my awful Vision.

then later

Soon Hand mightily devour'd & absorb'd Albions Twelve Sons. Out from his bosom a mighty Polypus, vegetating in darkness, And Hyle & Coban were his two chosen ones, for Emissaries In War: forth from his bosom they went and return'd. Like Wheels from a great Wheel reflected in the Deep. Hoarse turn'd the Starry Wheels, rending a way in Albions Loins Beyond the Night of Beulah. In a dark & unknown Night, Outstretch'd his Giant beauty on the ground in pain & tears:


Soon Hand mightily devour'd & absorb'd Albions Twelve Sons. Out from his bosom a mighty Polypus, vegetating in darkness, And Hyle & Coban were his two chosen ones, for Emissaries In War: forth from his bosom they went and return'd. Like Wheels from a great Wheel reflected in the Deep. Hoarse turn'd the Starry Wheels, rending a way in Albions Loins Beyond the Night of Beulah. In a dark & unknown Night, Outstretch'd his Giant beauty on the ground in pain & tears:


The image Bake draws upon is the jellyfish and the hydra which he imagined as living in the spiritual loins of women which would snatch the soul from heaven and embed it in a fleshly tomb of the body. Hence the horror of seeing it embodied as a baptismal.


In Blake's period there were fantastic wax sculptures of the human body he would have known which exhibited just this kind of jellyfish/body structure. We must remember that for many many years dissection of the human body in England was forbidden on the theological hypothesis that the body had to be put whole and entire in the grave it the person expected to be resurrected.




In Blake' day this prohibition was broken when the authorities held that convicts probably were going to hell anyway so their bodies could be dissected. Consequently, there rose in London great dissection theaters like the one managed by William Hunter and his brother, a dissection theater which we suspect William Blake might well have frequented in his effort to familiarize himself with human anatomy to prepare himself as a medical book illustrator.

But for the ordinary citizen of London, it was exhibits of wax preparations such as these and those which Hunter was famous for creating which revealed the interior workings of the human body. These images may not seem shocking to us in the 21st century. But in Blake's day they were shocking.

In response to images like this, and perhaps his encounter with uterine cancer which was called the polypus in his day, Blake created a spiritual monster to represent the obscuring, entangling, entrapping materialism which was/is concealing the eternal world in which he believed we live daily.

So you can imagine my amazement and concern when I discover that our new and otherwise beautiful church celebrates this monstrous imagery in its most sacred liturgical furniture. Perhaps it is the universe speaking to us, giving us a serendipitous sermon about the reality behind the words.

Surely, we need to think about our embrace of this image before we invite it into the sacred spaces of our liturgical life. How on earth I can join the celebration of the Mass with these monsters surrounding me is beyond me. As a result of this invasion, my church has become an alien space infested by creepy entangling predatory sculpture.


So because I am so unsettled by these creepy crawly polypi swarming about our new church, I am unchurched these days, I guess. Maybe I'll go be a Buddhist. To my knowledge they have yet to invite jellyfish into the design of their liturgical furniture and temple architecture. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.

Photos self Induced





Well then I am supposed to post pictures of me on this blogaroo thingy, but I only have old pictures taken years ago. Life goes on and on and on apparently if you are as ancient as I am.

Anyway who wants an old picture?

This one is late 90's.




Then there is this one which is early 80's in a photo taken by Dr. Sam Tickle, my dearest friend and publishing maven, entrepreneur and fabulous physician.



So I got out my trusty Exilm Casio Digital camera and blasted away . . . well if holding a camera arms length is blasting away I guess that's as good an adverb as any. So here I am as of July 2008 sitting in my library in my big Morris chair where I pearch my Levenger lap desk and lap top and generally plunge into things digital and intrernetish.




Erm, I guess I should set the date in my camera huh. This is not December 31, 2006, but nice to imagine I was time travelling and just got back. There is a jaw here some where, let's see now, where . . . could it be?


Gees, lots of Jaw there but no smile, it musta got lost along the jaw line. This guy seems awfully glum. Maybe he was thinking about Harold Ford, Jr. or Monsters in the Church, I dunno.





Well now there's the smile back but no neck. Surely a lionesque mane like that is held up by some significant substructure. Let's see here now . . .


Oh, dear. a smile and that double chin emerging out of the ears is not quite the thing I had hoped for either. Well back to 2006 for a neck piece.



Well that's better somewhat, but what is that glare and what are those pontoons on either side? Grrr. Well perhaps that's what I should expect.

Oh well, you get the idea of self inflicted photography. Now if I could just get these two doggies who are sitting on my chest to take a picture, that would be good. Sadly they have not got thumbs, a thing so needful for holding a camera and other important bodily functions.




Isn't invisibility grand? Not too difficult, I suppose since most of humanity existed before photography. These two house demons go by the names of Christina Georgina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Well, we could only find these two brothers and sisters of literary note, and thought the names quite suited these tiny (3 pounds and 4 pounds respectively) beasties.

click

Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows



So, I am going to crank up my big green egg this afternoon and cook up some bovine flesh. I used to be a vegetarian long ago in the seventies when most of my students were mere eggs waiting for daddy's wink and curling finger. So I still cringe when I go to Kroger's and stare at the bloody hunks so neatly laid out and packaged in glistening plastic.



But I long ago sold my metabolism to the Country Store in exchange for barbecue. So I will go out and find a cringeworthy slice of some unoffending steer, lay in the charcoal chunks and get out the electric fire starter, and burn my way to din din.

But first I intend to make my favorite accompaniment which is sweet and spicy peach relish a recipe drawn from my favoriteist cookbook by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows: Intensely Flavored Little dishes from around the world. This is a fun book to read just for the idea that we might make some of these bizarre garnishes.

'

When peaches come in season like NOW, and when some fool from the FDA is not claiming that this or that vegetable is poisoning us, this is the recipe I get out and wrap my thick fingers around.

First, I have to peal four large semi-ripe peaches, pit them and slice into nice thin chunks.

Then a red and a green bell pepper, each cut into thin strips.

I get out my mandolin and slice a red onion into ribbons--do you have any idea how hard it is to find a red onion small enough to fit on a mandolin? Somehow Kroger has only giant red onions on offer these days.

Half a cup of orange juice, freshly squozen (if that's not a word, it sure should be), if you can afford the usurious prices Mr. Kroger is charging for these rare fruits.

Quarter of a cup of virgin olive oil--though I think it a shame not to find some well experienced and worldly olives to reduce to oil--

the juice of four limes.

[What has happened to limes? There must have been a bad freeze in Florida or Mexico or Chile or Poona. Surely a Typhoon in China or a tidal wave in Mozambique has wrecked the possibilities of having nice limes. I was in Mr. Kroger's the other day and they had on offer the smallest, palest green orbs, unlike Fresh Market which had the most amazing plump darkest green ones on offer, if you can afford to mortgage the house to own a few.]

a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses,

one well chopped jalapeno pepper,

half a cup of snipped cilantro--or parsley, if you are like my wife and can't stand the magnificent flavor of this herb, and

two cloves of minced garlic.

This is so wonderful, it is not to be missed in peach season. You can of course season this with pepper and salt if you must.

I do recommend this little book, if it is still in print. American Publishers like Willam Marrow and Co who published this in 1990 are not used to keeping things in print very long. But Amazon might have it used. [It is just as I feared. The book is no longer in print, but 27are available used from $5.17 + postage and handling or $14.95.]

Don't deprive yourself of this amazing summer garnish for that poor steer's offering.

Randy Pausch Exits Stage Left

If you have not watched Randy Pausch's last lecture on You-Tube, I encourage you to watch it as soon as possible. It is simply amazing.Here it is: Grab hold. Take a listen.



I was not going to buy his book--as I am in the book disposal mode not in the book acquisition mode as I prepare for retirement--but I finally did break down and buy a copy. At least, I can gift it to someone after I read it. It is amazing, and even better in many ways than the lecture. It is the saddest book I have ever read. Much of what he probably could not have handled in a public forum because he would be come too emotional is here included. Stories about his last Christmas and New Year. His courtship of his wife. The birth of his children. These are all narrated with such love and poignancy that it is particularly heart wringing.



It is not something I find I can read in a single session. I have to read a chapter here and then a chapter there, not necessarily in the order written, but in the order they speak to me.


So what is it that makes Professor Pausch's lecture so amazing?

First it is the complete absence of self pity. Here is a man who has been told he has--at 47 years of age no less--only about six months to live because he has nearly always fatal pancreatic cancer. He is 47, has a beautiful wife, three young children, a promising career and everything on earth to live for. And he knows he is dying, a process which has now regrettably taken its course.

Second, it is the total dedication to having fun, "Edutainment" he called it. His approach to teaching programming as something else like story telling is one of those lightening bolts that is utterly transforming. It gives me hope that there is a possibility that the dark age predicted by Maggie Jackson and Bill McKibben in their prophetic new book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age is not a necessity. The legacy he leaves is so hopeful so filled with good will and great fun, that one can only hope the Huns of this world will leave it alone and allow it to flourish.


Let us all struggle to be a bit more like Professor Pausch and take his lessons to heart.

Senator McCain is leading a dishonest campaign

Here is an important video which proves how dishonest John McCain has been in this campaign. No wonder. For a group who has spent the last 8 years looting America they have nothing to say except to try and distract us from paying attention.

check this out

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bread and Puppet Dreams I



Every now and again in this life we come across people and events we wish we had known about when we were younger. Such is the case with The Bread and Puppet Theater. What a delight! I have followed their work, read their books, collected their publications--which are wonderful things.

Peter Schumann was a German immigrant who founded the Bread and Puppet Theater in the early 1960's in New York City.


Schumann was trained as a sculptor which gave him the skills to create amazing street theater during the wild days of the sixties.



Sometimes in the early 1970's Schumann moved his company to Glover, Vermont, where he gathers crowds of volunteers to stage pageants during the summers.

I confess to never have actually seen a bread and puppet theater performance. Sigh.



Even so I have not been idle. I have built my own puppets in homage to Peter Schumann as part of a celebration of St. George and The Dragon since my church was St. George's Episcopal here in Memphis. Compared to The Bread and Puppet creations mine are primitive and poor echoes of what could be.

Bread and Puppet Dreams II


So although I have never been to Vermont or seen the Bread and Puppet Theater troupe on its tours, I have undertaken to build my own puppets in shameless imitation. I put together a small library of how to books--Schumann needs to write one, I am mystified about how he builds his amazing creations--and with the cooperation with my Rector at St. George's Episcopal Church put together a process and built some puppets myself.






The first one I built was one of the local Episcopal Saint, Sister Constance.

In 1878 Memphis was a busy city of some 46,000 people. In the heat of the summer a plague of Yellow Fever begand it stgeady movement up the Mississippi River. At the time they did not know this plage was caused by an infected mosquito moving from the swamps of New Orleans steadily north emptying cities and villages along the way.
By mid August the plague was at the door of the city.With remarkable speed 25,000 wealthy and middle class residents ecacuated the city moving north and away from the river as fast as they could manage. The remaining, 21,000 people were too poor or too ill to leave. Sadly most of the Protestant ministers fled too leaving the Episcopalian and Catholic priests, and the sisters of the three Memphis religious communities elected remain behind dedicating themselves to helping the sick and dying at the risk of their own health.




As the plague raged over 90 percent of the citizens were sick and quickly filling the cemetaries. The three communities of sisters, the Episcopalian Society of St. Mary, and the Catholic communities the Sisters of Charity of Bethlehem Academy and the Nashville Dominicans not only rolled up their own sleves but also sent for reinforcements from their sister communities in other cities. Remarkably, reinforcements came to the River of Death.Constance, the sister superior of the Society of St. Mary, was the first to perish. When the first frosts came, 38 sisters and priests lay dead. Only 800 inhabitants remained of the 46,000 who had been there in May.

Building this puppet was a real experiment as I had never built anything like this. Constance I were totally alone in our effort. But I am pleased with how she turned out. I selected the radiant blue cloth and gold skin to suggest the spiritual brightness of her sacrifice.Constance was a delight to build and we had a lot of fun honoring Constance on her Feast day.

Putting her together was a real challenge. Here is what she looked like in process.



What I learned about the process with Constance, I applied to a puppet of St. George. He was a wild experiment as I tried lots of things to reduce the weight of the head. It was not really successful, but still was fun.

Bread and Puppets Dreams III


In homage to the Bread and Puppet Theater, I also built a St. George and the Dragon pair of giant puppets for an outside masque on St. George's Day.




Here is St. George with my collaborator, Dot Davis. Dot pitched in and helped me stitch up St. George's metalic cloth toga. He was as you may know, a Roman soldier from Syria who gave his life defending Christians in the Arena during the third century. How on earth this Syrian made it to England to become the patron saint of the Royal Family is an interesting story. One for another day.









The dragon was a very different prospect. I decided to make the dragon mostly of balloons so that at some point in the masque a team of St. George's Angels--little children from the chuch--could set upon the dragon with wooden swords and slay the dragon by popping the balloons. What fun there was when the crowd of wooden sword wielding children put a quick end to the Dragon foe.



When Dragons cross labyrinths, it is clear myth must be alive and well, even in a church. We had so much fun, I also built some giant doves from a design I saw in one of Peter's books.I did write him and ask permission for the theft. Peter was very gracious in giving his blessing to my awkward execution of his graceful original.





There is such mystery and wonder to be found in the presence of giant puppets. We all owe a great debt to Peter and his great gift of the Bread and Puppet Theater. I owe an equal gift to our church and their willingness to host my mania for gigantic puppets. Alas those days are over, the puppets are stashed in some church attic never to see the light of day again probably. When doves, and dragons and St. George all gather on the green church commons can there be any doubt there is community and wholeness?




War on Terror a screen to Protect the Saudis




The Rand Study which recently takes the Bush Misadministration to task has missed the point entirely.
The Report writes: "The study by the nonpartisan Rand Corp. also contends that the administration committed a fundamental error in portraying the conflict with al-Qaeda as a 'war on terrorism.' The phrase falsely suggests that there can be a battlefield solution to terrorism, and symbolically conveys warrior status on terrorists, it said."

When the Bushies announced this strategy at the beginning of their misadministration I railed against it as completely stupid: You can't make war against a strategy. Terrorism is a strategy like Blitzkrieg or Guerilla warfare. You make war on an ideology perhaps, like a war on Communism or Fascism because you can see those who espouse such policies and you can observe their Civic structures.

In this case we have an enemy called radical Islam supported and financed by Bush's greatest friends, the Saudis. Indeed most of the terrorists who flew those planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals. The most virulent and radical of all Islamic sects is promoted, funded and sustained by billions of petro dollars emanating directly from the Saudi Royal Family.




How hard is that to see? So we call it the War on Terrorism so as not to speak the truth and identify those billionaires who have Daddy Bush on the payroll and who have bankrolled much of baby Bush's economic failures. The Saudis are the big winners in all this thanks to Bush. America is the big loser. Remind me again, why are we not impeaching him?

George W.Bush is the greatest friend of radical Islam that could ever be imagined. Everything he has done has been exactly programmatic of the attack of Radical Islam on America. He has bankrupted us nearly lying us into a 3 trillion dollar war. He has made us the great enemy of every ordinary Muslim. He has given radical Islam the best recruitment engine that could be imagined with the sensless Iraq war, a war designed to kill Saddam who tried to kill W's daddy. Gas is now at $4.00 exactly what Osama Bin Laden wanted. Can there be a greater enemy of America than George W. Bush, agent of the Royal Saudi Family?

Until we face the fact that it is the Saudi Royal Family who is our greatest enemy and move to deal with that enemy, we will never deal a fatal blow to Radical Islam. Until we send the agents of the Saudi Royal Family, The Bush Family, packing from political power, America will never be safe