Friday, December 26, 2008

Making Congress Moot

From a recent email:

On Thu, Dec 25, 2008 at 11:29 PM, Ken wrote:

Chuck this is one you can appreciate........ good thing money grows on Christmas trees...


Santa is talking to the wrong people.

As George Will explains in Making Congress Moot (emphasis mine):

A new Capitol Visitor Center recently opened, just in time for the transformation of the Capitol building into a tomb for the antiquated idea that the legislative branch matters. The center is supposed to enhance the experience of visitors to Congress, although why there are visitors is a mystery.

Congress's marginalization was brutally underscored when, after lawmakers did not authorize $14 billion for General Motors and Chrysler, the executive branch said, in effect: Congress's opinions are mildly interesting, so we will listen very nicely -- then go out and do precisely what we want.

On Friday the president gave the two automakers access to money Congress explicitly did not authorize. More money -- up to $17.4 billion -- than had been debated, thereby calling to mind Winston Churchill on naval appropriations: "The Admiralty had demanded six ships: the economists offered four: and we finally compromised on eight."

...The expansion of government entails an increasingly swollen executive branch and the steady enlargement of executive discretion. This inevitably means the eclipse of Congress and attenuation of the rule of law.

...The administration has not, however, confined its aggrandizement of executive power to national security matters. According to former representative Mickey Edwards in his book "Reclaiming Conservatism," the president has issued "signing statements" designating 1,100 provisions of new laws -- more designations than have been made by all prior presidents combined -- that he did not consider binding on him or any other executive branch official.

...Still, most of the administration's executive truculence has pertained to national security, where the case for broad prerogatives, although not as powerful as the administration supposes, is at least arguable. With the automakers, however, executive branch overreaching now extends to the essence of domestic policy -- spending -- and traduces a core constitutional principle, the separation of powers.

...Most members of the House and Senate want the automakers to get the money, so they probably are pleased that the administration has disregarded Congress's institutional dignity. History, however, teaches that it is difficult for Congress to be only intermittently invertebrate.

"intermittently invertebrate". How can you not love that. And that is from a conservative! Turns out that when Vice President Cheney told Sen. Patrick J. Leahy to "Fuck yourself" he was really referring to all of Congress.

I leave you with the words of recently deceased Harold Pinter from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Art, Truth & Politics, in 2005. Read the whole thing. He was clearly pissed:

As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavor. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realizing that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost. ...

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Have a fantastic Friday. We're leaving for Florida Saturday. Hallelujah!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shame On You

Bernard Madoff somehow managed to outPonzi Ponzi. Perhaps the good Rabbi Marc Gellman lost money. Perhaps not. It is hard to imagine a "man of the cloth" being so unforgiving, but a pig is still a pig regardless of lipstick or how many homes you own or country clubs you belong to or people you screw over. $50 billion is a lot of mullah. From A Rabbi's Open Letter to Madoff...

Dear Bernie Madoff:

I don't think you know what you have done.

Life inevitably inflicts upon us different kinds of wounds. Very few people can live connected lives and not occasionally fail those who depend upon them and trust them. However, these are failures not betrayals. They come from trying to do the right thing and not being able to do it. A betrayal is different than a failure. A betrayal is an intentional wounding. It is born of cruelty, not ignorance. Most of us know of failures and betrayals. What you have done, however, is to radically expand the scope and viciousness of betrayal. You betrayed not just your friends, but your closest friends. You betrayed the trust of those who entrusted you with everything they had saved. You betrayed charities whose good works you have extinguished in an afternoon. These betrayals are epic in their scope and dazzling in their utter lack of remorse or responsibility. There must be some new word invented to describe the way you have redefined betrayal. The Bible calls such things a toevah, "an abomination". It means an act so alien to our values and our natures that it cannot be understood or explained. You have committed an abomination. This is what you have done.

...You have not just made a bad calculation about how money works, you have made a bad calculation about how life works. You gave no value to what matters and all value to what does not matter at all. This is what you have done.

Shame on you Bernie Madoff. Shame on you.

The whole letter is well worth the read.

And now this,

The founder of an investment fund that lost $1.4 billion with Bernard Madoff was discovered dead Tuesday after committing suicide at his Manhattan office, marking a grim turn in a scandal that has left investors around the world in financial ruin.Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, was found sitting at his desk at about 8 a.m. with both wrists slashed, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. A box cutter was found on the floor along with a bottle of sleeping pills on his desk.

And don't forget The Bag Lady Papers:

...More than a decade ago, when I was in my late 40s, I handed over my life savings to Madoff’s firm. It was money I’d been tucking away since I was 16 years old, when I began working summers in Lord & Taylor, earning about $65 a week. Not a penny was inherited... I earned all of it myself, through a long string of jobs that included working as a cashier at Rosedale fish market in New York City in my 20s...

When I hung up with my friend, I turned on the TV and began to scour Google for news until the message became nauseatingly clear: Forty years of savings—the money I’d counted on to take me comfortably through the next 30 years—had likely evaporated in Madoff’s scheme.

THAT MOTHERFUCKER!! The soufflé fell.

...I began to think about my options: I’d have to sell the cottage in West Palm Beach immediately. I’d need to lay off Yolanda. I could cancel the newspaper subscriptions and read everything online. I only needed a cell phone. I’d have to stop taking taxis. And who could highlight my hair for almost no money? And how hard was it to give yourself a really good pedicure?
While on the one hand you think, "WTF?". "I'd need to lay off Yolanda"? And you handed over your life savings to one person? Give us a break.

On the other hand, it sounds like she worked hard for her money and her life will never be the same.

Heckofa job, Bernie.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On Being A Writer

I like to fancy myself a "writer".

Yes, upon learning that my seatmate on a three-hour flight weighs in at just slightly less than a quarter of a ton and I will be unable to move my shoulders, arms or feet for the duration of the flight, and after asking "Just how many freaking calories do you have to stuff into that pie hole every hour in order to sustain that blubbery mass of human fat?", oh, I mean, "What kind of work do you do?", and after learning that this quivering blob of jelly is a sumo wrestler wannabe, and, finally, out of politeness asks, "What kind of work do you do?", I can respond, "Oh, I'm a writer". Oh, the joy...

Oh, I know I'm not a Hemingway or a Steinbeck or a Shakespeare. But when asked what kind of writing I do, I will respond, "Oh, everything". How-to books. Self-help books. Philosophy. Science. Romance. Biography. Bad checks. You name. I've written it. In my mind, at least.

My latest scientific endeavor is an examination of non-parallel universes. These universes actually intersect at various points and at various angles. The actual intersection can never by predicted. One day you're driving down the road and you suddenly realize you've been asleep at the wheel for some unknown amount of time and your vehicle is drifting off the road and you have to jerk the steering wheel to get back on track, and you think how lucky you were and, my god, you might have actually killed someone, and some idiot is probably going to say, "The hand of God kept you from disaster" but all the time you were in a universal-non-parallel-intersective event. Most unusual events can be attributed to this hpercapacative phenomenon.

Also bouncing around in my head is the outline for a romance novel concerning a young vampire who is just about to have lunch courtesy an amazingly beautiful girl when, you guessed it, a universal-non-parallel-intersective event occurs and instead of dining our young hero falls in love. This is going to be big, folks. I see movies, sequels, prequels, a TV series, spinoffs, related products, ad infinitum. My tentative title is "Sunset" or "Sunrise" or something along those lines.

Anyway, the idea of being a "writer" is appealing. Keeps my mind off the freaking cold. Just remember, It's Your Font, Do What You Want to Do. Writers seem to like to write in Times New Roman, at least in their word processing programs. Journals used to want stories submitted in Courier, but now Times New Roman is common in guidelines (alway… more → Between the Page and the Shelf).

Update: Unfortunately my work on non-parallel universes is not entirely original. In fact:

Other kind of universes include, but are not limited to, the below:
  • almost parallel universes,
  • not so parallel universes,
  • rather unparallel universes,
  • really non-parallel universes,
  • universes that are not parallel at all,
  • ass-backwards universes,
  • bat-shit crazy universes,
  • buck-wild universes,
  • and the worst of all, perpendicular universes, which are what we're trying to discuss here.
There goes three minutes of work down the tubes. Dang.

I almost had this feeling I was channeling a certain Kenneth Schmierer.

Have a marvelous Monday,


Sunday, December 14, 2008


Chuck in Florida

Chuck in Misery

That's right, folks, the temperature here went from 61 to 38 in 60 minutes Sunday. And 61 to 21 in five hours. Yipes! It is currently 6 degrees with a wind chill of -9. The high today is forecast to be 16. Same two digits as yesterday (61) but a world of difference. A world of hurt. Could be worse. In Ellendale (North Dakota, my hometown - Mom is still there) it is -12 with a wind chill of -31. Double yipes! The high today will be -10. That's right. The HIGH. Did I ever tell you about the time when I was in high school and the temperature never, NEVER, got above zero the entire month of February? In the mean time, the high for Sarasota the next few days will be...


Oh, lord, what the hell am I doing?

15:53NW 22 G 28Overcast and Breezy21
14:53NW 17 G 23Overcast25
13:53NW 18Overcast28
12:53NW 18 G 25Overcast32
11:53NW 17 G 23Overcast38
10:53SW 24 G 32Overcast and Breezy61

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Pop quiz: Terrorism is another word for Islam. All Muslims want to kill all non-Muslims. To defeat terrorism all Muslims must be killed or converted. Black and white. End of discussion. True or false?

I am going to begin by saying that I am not a fan of Deepak Chopra. And I can already hear you saying, "What the heck does Deepak Chopra have to do with terrorism?" We'll get to that in a moment. First, why the heck aren't I a fan of Chopra? I've read two of his gazillion books (hey, he likes to write and the extra income helps pay for golf - what's not to like), one a self-help book, possibly Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, but I can't swear to it, the other being Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life which I CAN swear to having read for obvious reasons. I found both books to be uninspiring and I thought Chopra to be out-of-touch somehow. But that's probably just me. Let's get back to terrorism...

Apparently Mr. Chopra had the unmitigated gall (I love that phrase, but will agree it is overused) to suggest that certain actions of the United States of America have not only not decreased terrorism but may have increased terrorism. God forbid.

A certain Dorothy Rabinowitz then had the unmitigated gall (see - I told you) to characterize Mr. Chopra's comments as "blaming America" for the recent Mumbai terror assault. (See "Deepak Blames America") What did Deepak actually say? Something to this effect: "What happened in Mumbai", he told the interviewer, "was a product of the U.S. war on terrorism, that our policies, our foreign policies had alienated the Muslim population, that we had gone after the wrong people and inflamed moderates. And that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay."

Now I'm not so sure I agree with all of this statement, but Deepak certainly cannot be faulted for suggesting that the terrorism issue may be more complex than most people think.

Or, not.

At least not according to D. Rabinowitz.

Ms. Rabinowitz makes a valid point when she writes:

Nowhere in this citation of the root causes of Muslim terrorism was there any mention of Islamic fundamentalism -- the religious fanaticism that has sent fevered mobs rioting, burning and killing over alleged slights to the Quran or the prophet. Not to mention the countless others enlisted to blow themselves and others up in the name of God.

On the other hand, while never saying it, Ms. Rabinowitz certainly implies that IT AIN'T OUR FUCKING FAULT. WE ARE BLAMELESS. OUR GOD IS BETTER THAN YOUR GOD. NAH, NAH, NAH POO POO.

Mr. Chopra responds in A Fuller and More Personal Response to Dorothy Rabinowitz's Attack on Me in the Wall Street Journal:

When I first read Ms. Rabinowitz personal attacks on me as the lead article on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, I have to confess that my first reaction was that she was an ethnocentric racist and prejudiced bigot. After some reflection, I realized that she was probably more ignorant than bigoted.

A fine point, indeed. Not a "prejudiced bigot", but probably still "an ethnocentric racist"? Oh, and don't forget - "ignorant".

Later Chopra explains that he and others:

are attempting to create a critical mass of awareness to address the deeper causes of global instability including war and terrorism, climate change, social injustice, and radical poverty.

Why does this just resonate while Rabinowitz just fizzles? Care for more? How about this:

We live in a world were 50 percent of its population lives on less than two dollars a day and 20 percent lives on less than one dollar a day. We can't dismiss these as trivial facts if we want to understand the deeper causes of instability and violence in the world.

NIMBY! Well, okay, if The Great Bailout of 2008 does not work and The Great Recession (NOT Depression) lasts for ten years instead of ten weeks - maybe. But for now - well, if they had any sense those darn Muslims would have been born in America and been white and Christian and go to church three times a week although you'd never know it by their actions kind of folks.

Finally, again from Mr. Chopra:

Ms. Rabinowitz ought to realize that you can kill a terrorist, but that doesn't kill his ideology. And as long as that ideology has power and life, it will continue to regenerate new terrorists no matter how many terrorists you kill. The ideology of Islamic terrorism is barbaric, savage, brutal and primitive, yet still it is born in a context. That context is historical, cultural, religious, economic, and political. Refusing to understand that context, dooms us to an endless failed anti-terrorist policy.

An ideology can only be overcome through the creation of a new more appealing ideology. In order to accomplish that we need the participation and help of moderate Muslims throughout the world. There are between 1.6 to 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, and by far, most of them are the moderates we need to enlist in our efforts. We can't solve this global problem by branding almost 25% of the world's population as terrorists. I would hope Ms. Rabinowitz could recognize that this issue is far too serious of a problem for her to exploit it for her personal petty agenda. The Mumbai tragedy obviously gathered extensive international attention. Instead of channeling this global focus toward productive insight and solutions, Ms. Rabinowitz chose instead to direct the attention of this tragedy into a personal attack that can only further fan the flames of hatred and exacerbate the situation instead of helping it.

Well said, Mr. Chopra.

Deepak Chopra's son, Gotham, also takes up the defense in his article, My Response to Dorothy Rabinowitz and the WSJ. Gotham lays out just a few of the actions taken by the US which could explain a lot about why we're in the pickle we're in. His article may in fact be better than his father's. If you're short on time (who isn't) just read Gotham's piece.

I have more respect for Deepak and his family knowing a little bit more about what they have experienced. Would that the people running our "war on terror" could learn a little bit from them too. And Ms. Rabinowitz might get her head out of her the sand...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

To Music (and Robert Herrick)

Melt, melt my pains
With thy soft strains;
That, having ease me given,
With full delight
I leave this light,
And take my flight
For Heaven.

Not bad for poetry that's over three hundred years old, eh? Harper's No Comment post highlights Herrick's To Music, to becalm his Fever (ca. 1660) and notes that:

Of the seventeenth century English poets, Herrick’s work has the closest inherent relationship to music. It is melodious, and most of his poems (excepting perhaps the more religiously themed ones) have the character of song about them. Among his contemporaries, in fact, Herrick is called “the songwriter,” and settings of some of his poems survive (unfortunately for him, the poetry is much better than the music.) Still reading this particularly beautiful effort (note especially: “Fall on me like the silent dew, / Or like those maiden showers/ Which, by the peep of day, do strew/ A baptism o’er the flowers.” The construction and language are wonderful), I think immediately of John Dowland’s songs, especially the Second and Third Books. There is an inescapably downbeat angle to them, but they are beautiful, lyrical and thematically very close to Herrick.

Listen to John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavane as performed by Winston Arblaster in the Bishop’s Chapel, Wells, England—there are no lyrics for this “dance of tears,” so imagine Herrick’s appeal to the curative power of music.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Michael Hirsh of Newsweek writes:

Goodbye, Anti-intellectualism, Brains are back!

After eight years of proud incuriosity and anti-intellectualism, we now have a leader who values nuance and careful thought.

What Obama's election means, above all, is that brains are back. Sense and pragmatism and the idea of considering-all-the-options are back. Studying one's enemies and thinking through strategic problems are back. Cultural understanding is back. Yahooism and jingoism and junk science about global warming and shabby legal reasoning about torture are out. The national culture of flag-pin shallowness that guided our foreign policy is gone with the wind. And for this reason as much as any, perhaps I can renew my pride in being an American.

...after nearly eight years of a president who could barely form a coherent sentence, much less a strategic thought. We can finally go back to respecting logic and reason and studiousness under a president who doesn't seem to care much about what is "left," "right" or ideologically pure. Or what he thinks God is saying to him. A guy who keeps religion in its proper place—in the pew.

One tragedy of the Bush administration is the amount of American brainpower and talent that went unused, the options that went unconsidered, because they were seen to lack ideological purity.

Scott Horton write in the The Daily Beast:

Palin's Mole at The Times

The one and only -- William Kristol!

In October 13, Kristol’s criticism reached the boiling point. “Fire the campaign,” he thundered. “What McCain needs to do is junk the whole thing and start over. Shut down the rapid responses, end the frantic e-mails, bench the spinning surrogates, stop putting up new TV and Internet ads every minute. In fact, pull all the ads—they’re doing no good anyway. Use that money for televised town halls and half-hour addresses in prime time.” Among the McCain tactics that had failed, he acknowledged, were the very ones he had advocated just two weeks earlier.

As I reported previously, Kristol was instrumental in convincing the McCain campaign to select Sarah Palin, and he stood tenaciously by his candidate. He used his position as a media figure—at the Weekly Standard, on Fox News, and in his valued column at the New York Times—to advance his vision of the campaign’s interests.

This raises an obvious question for The New York Times: should Bill Kristol’s contract as an opinion columnist be renewed when it runs up at year’s end? There is no problem with the conservative viewpoint advanced in his pieces—he was after all hired as a replacement for a conservative voice, William Safire. Still, the Times must be concerned about Kristol’s intervention in the campaign he was writing about. Simply put, the pundit meddled in the campaign he was commenting on.

Personal comment: Yes, this is the same Bill Kristol who so expertly predicted on December 17, 2006 on Fox News Sunday, "If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she's going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her ... Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single democratic primary. I'll predict that right now."

Shouldn't be much of a loss for the NYT and maybe the RNC will bar him for life.

Scott Horton again, this time in Harper's:

Something’s Odd in Alaska

It ain't over till it's over. Regarding some odd election results in Alaska --

The more likely answer is that someone has lost track of a very substantial part of the Alaska vote. Moreover, the disappeared votes appear to be disproportionately drawn from the Democratic column. Alaska, as John McCain taught us, has a long record of corrupt politics. Seems that this doesn’t stop with gratis home makeovers and bridges to nowhere.

Obama: America's Putin

Oh. My. God.

Did Charles Krauthammer really say Obama ran "a brilliant general election campaign"? He did.

Which is not to say that Obama did not run a brilliant general election campaign. He did. In its tactically perfect minimalism, it was as well conceived and well executed as the electrifying, highflying, magic carpet ride of his primary victory. By the time of his Denver convention, Obama understood that he had to dispense with the magic and make himself kitchen-table real, accessible and, above all, reassuring. He did that. And when the economic tsunami hit, he understood that all he had to do was get out of the way. He did that too.

And not only that, but Obama is Clinton and Putin rolled into one.

With him we get a president with the political intelligence of a Bill Clinton harnessed to the steely self-discipline of a Vladimir Putin. (I say this admiringly.) With these qualities, Obama will now bestride the political stage as largely as did Reagan.