Friday, September 25, 2015


Inside every cynic is a softie.  I'd like to think that after the Pope's address to Congress and some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge experience, John Boehner woke up clutching his bedpost and resolved to spend the rest of his life digging wells for African villages.  But I don't think so.  I'm not sure Dickens believed in personal transformation even as he was writing.  In the real world, Scrooge replaced Bob Cratchit with a twelve-year-old who did his job for three shillings a week, and Boehner will be back in Washington lobbying for the tobacco industry before the construction frame comes off the Capitol.  And weeping.


Friday, September 18, 2015


I've been busy all week decorating the cave for Walk Like a Pirate Day, which is the holiday the really cool bloggers celebrate.  Did I miss anything?  Another "debate"?  Really?  The usual gang -- Doc, Trumpy, Sleazy, Carly, Crazy, Christie, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey and Crosseyed?  I thought Dopey had dropped out.  Why is everyone surprised that Doc seemed out of it?  Doctors have access to drugs the rest of us can only dream about.  But the real excitement occurred outside and slightly to the right of the Reagan Mausoleum, when Anna von Coulter momentarily let her inner Goebbels out on Twitter.  The fraulein may want to hold her fire until Bernie Sanders wins a primary or two.  If he does, it is going to get very ugly very fast, and not only for the "f---ing Jews."

Meanwhile, we have to make do with Islamophobia.  A Texas schoolboy named Ahmed Mohamed built a clock and brought it to school to show his teachers, whereupon he was arrested and handcuffed.  He's lived in Texas long enough to know that it's only acceptable to bring a handgun to class.  Being fourteen is no excuse.  But he's enjoying his celebrity, so that's something.  A happier ending than the California jaywalker who was brought down by an entire SWAT team yesterday; he's still alive, at least.  So is James Blake, the tennis player, who survived arrest at the hands of the NYPD, another case of standing-on-Forty-second-Street-while-black.  Blake was slammed to the ground but not choked to death, so I guess all the post-Eric Garner re-training has paid off.  Who is policing the police?   


Friday, September 11, 2015

Wilkommen, bienvenu, later

It's Casablanca in reverse.  Tens of thousands of desperate people, trying to get from the Middle East and North Africa to Germany, exploited by human traffickers more pitiless than Ugarte and Ferrari, abused by officials who make Louis Renault look like the Dalai Lama.  Watching them, you realize what was absent from the classic film:  children.  Old couples, young couples, Ilsa and Rick briefly reunited, but no children.  Not even Moroccan children playing in the bazaar.  The filmmakers understood that children change everything.  They break your heart.

How magnanimous of the world's richest nation to promise it will take in ten thousand refugees, next year some time, if they remembered to bring their passports and birth certificates and can be vetted by the Ministry of Love  Department of Homeland Security.  Economically struggling Ireland, with a population smaller than New York City's, has agreed to accept six thousand.  We could settle ten thousand people in depopulated cities like Detroit and New Orleans and never notice, but it's an election year (when is it not?) and our right-wing xenophobes can out-scream Hungary's any day of the week.  I suppose Pope Francis will bring it up when he speaks to Congress, but as soon as he mentions climate change and economic justice, most of them will tune out and start playing with their phones, scheming to grab a selfie with the pontiff for their Facebook pages.

This being the fourteenth anniversary of the Worst Day of All Time, it occurs to me we can finance this, and much besides, with an Ill-Gotten Gains tax.  Cheney, Bush, and everyone else who benefited financially from the pointless, unjustifiable, region-destabilizing invasion of Iraq, should be assessed one percent of their personal wealth to cope with the consequences of their greed.  It's not realistic to expect them to face trial as war criminals, and they will still be obscenely rich.  Because this is only going to get worse.  As their country is bombed daily by the Saudi Arabian air force flying American and British aircraft, the Yemenis will be the next to hit the road.  Expect a lot more Libyans to flee that mayhem and put their fate in the hands of the Italian navy.  The Turks will keep on harrying the Kurds, against all reason -- who else has had as much success fighting ISIS?  And then there's Somalia...

But let's keep arguing about Tom Brady and his footballs.   



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Freedom and the press

Nearly a hundred people a day are shot to death in the land of the free, but not usually on live television.  When a former co-worker murdered Alison Parker and Adam Ward and wounded the woman Parker was interviewing, shock waves ran through television newsrooms yesterday.  It was appalling.

A few hours earlier, at a press conference in Iowa, a different assault on press freedom occurred.  Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos had the temerity to ask an unwelcome question of Donald Trump and was verbally abused and escorted from the room.  The appalling part was that not a single "journalist" came to his defense.  They sat quietly in their seats and watched, and no one even said, "Why don't you answer his question?"  Because if you displease the Donald, you might get trashed on Twitter, or even  thrown off the big shiny jet.  Your editor might send you out west to cover wildfires, an assignment which is unpleasant and dangerous and doesn't come with champagne and hot towels.  So, no "Yo soy Jorge Ramos" shirts or coffee mugs.  Just a lot of reporters with puddles forming under their chairs.

It was a bad day for the First Amendment. 



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The East Is In the Red

First of all, why does China, a self-described Communist state, even have a stock market?  Whoever translated Marx into Mandarin has a lot of explaining to do.  But it has, and like everything about China, it's enormous.  So we have to be concerned.

All right, I admit I'm a bad reader. I've been letting magazines pile up all summer while I read books and stuff. So I was as surprised as any non-investor could be when the Chinese stock market crashed and dragged all the others down with it. And I have no excuse. There it was in the June 8/15, 2015, edition of The New Yorker, page 36. A few excerpts:

Speculative markets can meander along, as China's did between 2010 and 2014. The danger is that, when they start to boom, they take on a life of their own and you end up with a bubble. As Robert Shiller...puts it, during a bubble, "news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm, which spreads like psychological contagion from person to person..." The market's ascent has been spurred by a flood of new money, much of it from inexperienced investors. Fourteen million new trading accounts were opened last year, and, according to one study, two-thirds of those who opened accounts never finished high school. Investors are also increasingly relying on borrowed money to buy stocks, which hugely amplifies the risk of investing...Even if the government succeeds in keeping the Chinese economy on a steady growth path...the fact remains that Chinese stocks are no longer priced for steady growth...

No, I guess not.  So if James Surowiecki knew this two months ago, why all the frenzy last week?  Don't the experts ever turn off CNBC and Bloomberg and open a magazine?  Even at the dentist?  It has cartoons.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

August even sounds like an exhausted sigh.  Too hot to think, much less write anything coherent.  And I find I have all these disjointed notes.

Two boys are swept out of their boat off the coast of Florida, and are never found.  Surely this is a local story, unless the boys are rich, and white, and neighbors of Joe Namath...aha.  Actually, it's a story about bad parents.  Who lets a couple of fourteen-year-olds gas up and head for the Bahamas?  In some places you can lose custody and/or go to jail for leaving a kid that young alone at home.   Especially if you aren't rich and white and living in the vicinity of Joe Namath.

Sad to learn of the death of Phil Austin, a/k/a Nick Danger and Bebop Loco.  Only two members of Firesign Theater left.  Part of me wants to put them with the surviving members of Beyond the Fringe and see what happens.  If anything. 

If I looked like Donald Trump I would cram my mouth with Velcro before commenting on anyone else's appearance.  The hair is only the beginning.  That troll-doll face, red and flaccid, the swollen torso rammed into a suit three sizes too small, fat little arms flailing -- he looks like the puppet the children boo.  How dare that peroxide bitch challenge him with his own words?  He couldn't plausibly call Megyn Kelly a fat pig, so he had to imply she was "on the rag," as the locker room philosophers have it.  This was the signal for the other clowns to stop bashing Planned Parenthood and vowing to "overturn" Roe v. Wade long enough to insist that they aren't nearly as misogynistic as he is -- which is like al Qaeda protesting that it isn't as depraved as ISIS.  ("We don't lop off heads, we only use truck bombs, OK?")  I totally love this.  Can they get it on the weekly fall schedule?  Veterans, Latinos, women, there must be somebody he hasn't pissed off...disabled children?  Librarians?  The Belgians?

I guess I don't write enough about Memphis.  Last Wednesday a storm came through and left thousands in the dark.  Seventieth anniversary of the Atomic Age, and Dogpatch-on-the-Mississippi can't keep the lights on when it rains.  So I missed all the local TV, including my favorite commercial.  A man who looks like anybody's grandpa is being led off in handcuffs, shaking his head as if to say, "Ain't this a shame?"  What the hell did he get arrested for, running a high-stakes checkers game in Tom Lee Park?  Never mind, his daughters walk into the bail bond office, sign over their houses and cars and, now all smiles, take Daddy home.  There he can choose from the array of lawyers who advertise night and day, car "wrecks" a specialty.  I am so far from home.


I have become a devoted fan of BBC World News, probably the most thorough, least commercial-ridden source of broadcast news.  News that is actually news, with a minimum of sky-diving  grannies, reunited twins, and all that other human-interest drivel.  News with a European slant and a little too much soccer, but...look, I may as well be honest.  I love the crawls.

Those phrases that slide across the bottom of the screen are a feature of every "news" channel, as if to say, "There's just so much to cover, we can't get it all in, go to our website, subscribe to our Twitface page, send us your photos, ooh, here comes another one..."  Yes, but the ones on the Beeb are special, intriguing, more like a secret code.  Rarely does the newsreader even mention the best ones.  A few weeks ago it said STRIKE DISRUPTS TRAINS AND UNDERGROUND, leaving me to guess which country has rail, subways and unions.  France?  Japan?  Canada?  I never did find out. 

This week the unsung hero who types these things surpassed herself/himself.  RUSSIA BULLLDOZES CHEESE MOUNTAIN, it said, causing landslides and cascades in my brain all afternoon.  Cries out for video, doesn't it?  Where is this mountain?  Why?  Who built it, and who destroyed it?  Why have I never heard of a Russian cheese?  Was Ukraine --not mentioned for weeks on American media -- somehow involved?  Did Putin sense another bare-chested photo-op and drive the lead bulldozer?  Who doesn't like cheese?

Reader, they got me.  I went to their website, and the real story is sadder, weirder, and more prosaic than you might expect:  The cheese, together with other foods, was imported illegally after Vlad the Disdainer banned products from countries which hit Russia with sanctions after the annexation of Crimea.  Russians whose rubles are steadily losing purchasing power were as outraged as Russians ever seem to get.  "It's like our authorities don't care about the people," said Olga Saveleva, who has started an online petition (which should be at "" but isn't), and whose murder will not be solved.  No, I hope not, but look at the record.

Not big enough for American newsertainment, which devoted countless hours to the lion that died so some schmuck dentist could have his Hemingway moment (#FelineLivesMatter).  How grateful we are to the BBC in these dark days, bringing us news of fresh disasters.  And decomposing cheese.    



Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sit down, John...and stop singing

The most disturbing news of this holiday weekend concerned neither sharks nor terrorists.  I learned that someone has released a director's cut of 1776.  The theatrical release was over seven hours long, or maybe it only seems that long because it contains not a single memorable song (and no one who can actually sing except John Cullum).  What it has is a strong screenplay by Peter Stone, adapted from his original book.  Woody Allen used to joke about Noel Coward acquiring the rights to My Fair Lady in order to remove the songs and turn it back into Pygmalion.  I would support anyone who wanted to do that here.  Or perhaps Tony Kushner, who  made the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment sexy in Lincoln, could write a new film on this story.  For such a momentous event in the history of the world, the American Revolution has not been well served by the movies.  The Devil's Disciple comes to mind (from a play by Shaw), and...I'm out.