Friday, May 27, 2011

Reading in the Bathroom

My current reading list includes: "The World According to Garp" by John Irving, "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon (a descendent of Nathaniel Hawthorne, btw), Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," "Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, and my list for future reading includes James Joyce's "Ulysses," and "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. "Blue Highways" by William Least Heat Moon is on my ongoing list, too, although I haven't picked it up in quite a while. Timothy Schaffert's "The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters" is also on my bedstand as well as Roger Rosenblatt's "Unless it Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing."

Rosenblatt says of writing: "We write to make suffering endurable, evil intelligible, justice desirable, and love possible." Great literature attempts these noble purposes. Reading great literature allows one to participate in the humanity of it all. Think of "Don Quixote" or "The Grapes of Wrath" or "Frankenstein" and the humanity of it all. "Huckleberry Finn" or "Catch-22" or "Slaughterhouse-Five" or a James Thurber story and the humor of it all. The many ways these writers confront suffering and evil and explore justice and love is a testament to the possibilities of life.

I dabble in reading these various novels. Some are by my bed, another in the bathroom. Sometimes I carry one with me in my brief case. A favorite simile of mine is there is nothing as full as an adjunct English teacher's brief case. My brief case tends to function as my portable office/filing cabinet. So carrying that extra book around is only a sometimes thing as my brief case gains weight during a quarter or semester. Sometimes a book will be my easy chair in the living room, but the television is a distraction there, as well as my Barca Lounger's comfortable and nap-inducing leather texture. Reading in the bathroom tends to be a short lived exercise. And the bedtime reading often won't last very long if I am very tired. But I persist and have read Joseph Heller's "God Knows" several times during those short bathroom reading stints.

I like the eclectic quality of my current reading list. I like the smell of books. I like that they have heft and weight and are among the "things" of life. I go back and forth between the idea that we own things, and they own us. And I don't mind that my books "own" me.

There are as many combinations of books on a bookshelf, as there are permutation applications in algorythmic turbo coding combinatronic Eularian numbers, and as there freckles on faces.

So this recent painting is a snapshot of books I love and admire. Enjoy. A friend of mine suggested I could offer customized commissioned paintings of your favorite books as well. So there you go.

Bud C

Monday, May 23, 2011

Old Lodge Skins, Sisyphus, Sir Isaac Newton, Harold Camping, and Me

The Sisyphean efforts of Harold Camping and others at predicting The Rapture always (so far at least) have the same result. They push their predictions ever higher and higher against the slope of reason only to have that rock roll back down and they start over the next day pushing that same prediction up that steep hill. Noted television preacher Pat Robertson pushed that rock years ago, as well as a motley crew of other doomsday cheerleaders: a William Miller, an American Baptist, thought 1844 was the year; Jehovah's Witnesses have had a kind of rolling bet going for many years; a Chuck Smith of the Foursquare Gospel Church thought it was in 1981; 1988 was the year according to Edgar Whisenant; would be Sisypheans in Korea were hoping 1992 was the year; Harold Camping predicted 1994 and May 21, 2011; according to an on-line encyclopedia, the great Sir Isaac Newton thought 2060 could be the year.

Robert Frost wrote a poem with a droll and dry wit that frames the issues in personal terms: desire and hate.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice./From what I've tasted of desire/I hold with those who favor fire./But if it had to perish twice,/I think I know enough of hate/To say that for destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice.

And I suspect avoiding this personal perspective is what is at work with these End Times advocates.

Perhaps it is easier to contemplate the end of everything than the end of oneself. Now there's a paradox. I have a poet friend whose image of an individual's death is that of a piece of cloth being torn from the fabric of life. But the fabric is gradually mended so that the rent fabric of life is repaired. I like that image. The continuum of life continues. It is small and personal and real. We have our few years in this life to contribute what we can and then our time is done. The attempts by the end times zealots to include everyone in their extravaganzas is amusing and pathetic and filled with hubris.

There's a scene from one of my favorite movies, Little Big Man, that came to mind while I was contemplating this strange topic. In the midst of the extermination of his people, Old Lodge Skins is ready to die and climbs to the top of a hill and lies down to join his ancestors. A sprinkle of rain brings him out of his sleep. His young companion, Jack Crabb renamed Little Big Man by the Cheyenne, is at his side. With Old Lodge Skins, it's personal.

[Grandfather, who has laid himself down to die, wakes up]

Old Lodge Skins: Am I still in this world?

Jack Crabb: Yes, Grandfather.

Old Lodge Skins: [groans] I was afraid of that. Well, sometimes the magic works. Sometimes, it doesn't.

Little Big Man

Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes, it doesn't. So the next prediction that I know of is on my birthday in 2012, Dec. 21, the Mayan calendar thing. The apocalypse media machine will be churning like crazy soon. The Post Rapture Pet Care companies will shift gears to the Mayan Calendar End Times advertising campaign. I continue to believe the ancient Mayans were about to roll out their next calendar with the Spaniards showed up and personally delivered the apocalypse to the Mayans well ahead of schedule.

Earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, famines, floods, tornadoes, and all the man made disasters we invent are part and parcel of our circumstances. Perhaps Harold Camping and all the rest of us would be better off living in the here and now fighting injustice, ending war, feeding the hungry, lifting up the poor, sharing the loaves and fishes, and playing with our kids.

Later, Bud C

UPDATE: Harold Camping said a couple of days later that May 21 was the "invisible Rapture" and that the world will end on Oct. 21, 2011. It's good to know that he remains undaunted and is still on the job! And although he's never been right, that doesn't appear to bother him one bit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Newts, Man Dates, Republicans in the Garden of Eden, and Inadvertent Truth

In the category of inadvertent truth: Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich calls Paul Ryan's plan to end Medicare "radical right wing social engineering." He ate crow from the right wing for a day and then ate humble pie. And in anticipation of the many televised ads showing his remarks, he now says, "Any ad that quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood." Reminds me of that old Yogi Berra remark, "I never said all the things I said."

In the category of What the F*** was he Thinking: Another Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum responds to Senator John McCain's impassioned speech against torture and the fact that torture did not lead to Osama Bin Laden's death. Senator McCain, said Rick Santorum, "doesn't understand enhanced interrogation." Presumably, one of Santorum's staff assistants will point out to him that McCain spent many years undergoing torture in a North Vietnamese camp.

Add Arnold Schwarzenegger's name to a long list of Republican men who can't keep their pants on. I know there are Democrats on that list, but the Republican's supposed fundamental Christian spouting off, provides a far greater contrast between the words and the actions on the hypocrisy scale.

On another amazing note, the National Rifle Association is fighting a gun law provision that would give the US Attorney authority to prohibit sales of weapons to suspected terrorists under surveillance pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Authority Act. I might add that US gun dealers are doing a bang up job of arming the Mexican drug cartels.

Next, the "mandates" developed by the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, and supported by George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and incorporated into Massachusetts law under then Governor Mitt Romney, is now being challenged as unconstitutional by those same named persons and many states. The US Supreme Court will ultimately hear the case. I am developing a theory, however, that the issue is not a constitutional issue after all. In the context of Republican opposition to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and its support of the Defense of Marriage Act, and general opposition of gay rights everywhere all the time, the problem is the name "mandate." They just don't like man dates.

Finally, the Republican candidates for President are a shrinking group. Donald Trump flamed out in glorious fashion. Mike Huckabee is going after the FOX News $$$. Newt Gingrich is named after a small amphibian many of which produce toxins in their skin. Sounds about right. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are watching the other candidates self-destruct and biding their time although Sarah Palin is plummeting in the polls while Michele Bachmann is raising oodles of money. Another Republican maybe is Mitch Daniels, who as George W. Bush's Budget Director, oversaw the $256 Billion surplus left by President Clinton become a $400 Billion deficit in GWB's first two years before leaving. Hard to run on that.

So there you go.

Friday, May 06, 2011

A Bad Few Days for Republicans

You gotta feel sorry for Republicans this last couple of weeks: The Birth Certificate controversy, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin's political careers, the Republican repeal of health care, and Osama bin Laden all dead in the span of a few days! Wow! General Motors, which the Republicans wanted to let die, and President Obama rescued, posted a $3.2 Billion quarterly profit. Even the price of oil dropped. And 268,000 private sector jobs were added to the nation's economy last month. The Featherweight Division of the Republican Party held their first debate last night to what must have been the smallest audience in Presidential debate history. To even call it a Presidential debate is an oxymoron. Anyway.......

Donald Trump's craven and opportunistic big splash in the media on the Birth Certificate issue turns out to be a big fat belly flop and even NASCAR doesn't want him. He had to back out of a stint as the pace car driver at an event because of organized protests. Sarah Palin continues to be stupid and irrelevant.

And then Obama bags Osama! A Navy Seals special operation in the dead of night kills Osama bin Laden in Pakistan nearly ten years after the 9-11 attacks. The President's decision to get us out of Iraq and instead focus on fighting Al Qaeda was the right decision and lead to this good result. Now it's time to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though George W. Bush famously said about Osama bin Laden, “I just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you," Republicans are making a point of congratulating George W. Bush on his valiant efforts to hunt down Bin Laden and, with a few exceptions, giving only a grudging nod to President Obama.

They live in a bit of a fantasy parallel world I think now that George W. Bush finally got Osama bin Laden. Expecting a bump in the polls any day now, they'll use their new found political capital to end Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, environmental protection, abolish unions, and use all that money to give tax breaks to the rich who will run stuff.

I must say though that the Republican plan to lay off a million teachers, police officers, firefighters, public utility workers, highway maintenance workers, public hospital nurses, etc., etc., etc., take hundreds of billions if not trillions of $$$ out of the economy, end unemployment insurance, end social security, end medicare, cut children off medicaid, break all the remaining unions, eliminate collective bargaining rights, lower peoples' wages everywhere, increase taxes on the poor and middle-class, throw people off their health insurance plans, and giving all the money to millionaires and billionaires and tax-payer subsidized corporations making record profits while paying no taxes and out-sourcing work to China or India, and let rich people run stuff, doesn't seem like a good plan to me.

An analysis of the Republican plan shows $4.3 trillion cuts to programs that help the working poor and the middle class, sick children, the unemployed, end Medicare, etc., etc., etc., while then giving $4.2 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthiest of the wealthy and big corporations.

The Libertarian branch of the Republicans held their candidate debate Thursday night on Fox News (believe it or not) to what I imagine was the smallest audience ever to watch a debate. The Social Issue Republicans will hold their debate later if any of them ever decide to run. Since Donald Trump and Mitt Romney are political chameleons and adopt the color of their surroundings, libertarian or social conservative, they'll need to have a separate and multi-hued debate.

On reported complaints by George W. Bush that he felt left out of Obama's "victory lap," I'll remind you that George W. Bush prematurely strutted across the deck of an aircraft carrier in a flight suit under a "Mission Accomplished" banner a few years ago while President Obama's "victory lap" was to solemnly place a wreath at ground zero in remembrance of all those killed on 9-11 and after. George W. Bush declined an opportunity to attend the ceremony. Give me a break.

And finally, while I agree with President Obama and not that it's a good idea, but on the Osama bin Laden gruesome photo controversy: I suspect that if the US government sold enlarged color enhanced poster-sized framed photos for $100 each on the internet, we could balance the budget within two weeks and pay down a significant chunk of the national debt. At the very least, the government should get a per cent of the profits from the soon to be released graphic video game: US Navy Seals Kill Osama bin Laden, soon to be available at Walmart and other video game outlets.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama Bin Laden

President Obama's decision to end US involvement in Iraq and focus on Al Qaeda finally paid off with the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the radicalized Saudi who masterminded the 9-11 attacks which killed so many Americans and others on that day, and who later triggered a civil war in Iraq killing tens of thousands of Muslims when Al Qaeda attacked that Sunni Mosque filled with worshipers, and followed with other attacks in Malaysia, Spain, and London, and many, many other places. The Imam of the infamous proposed Ground Zero mosque, called bin Laden a "mass murderer of Muslims." Osama bin Laden killed many times more Muslims than Americans we sometimes forget.

For that, President Obama deserves our thanks. Getting out of the quagmire in Iraq was a necessary step. Now it is time to take another necessary step and get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and stop supporting the autocratic regimes we have been so cozy with. Our continuing presence encourages the creation of more bin Ladens. We need to figure out how to better support the freedom movements which are under attack by those same autocratic regimes we tolerate, to whom we send billions of dollars every day for oil, and by whom Bin Laden was created.

I was all ready to unload on Donald Grump, er Trump, for his racism and ridiculous commentaries on US foreign policy, and for the pompous pouty faced angry little racist man he is. But now Donald Grump seems so small and inconsequential. It's not worth any more of my time except to say that in the same week that Donald Grump was so "proud" to have "forced" President Obama to release a birth certificate, President Obama with a serious and solemn and hard grace announced a major success carried out by Navy Seals in the fight against Al Qaeda. While President Obama was concentrating on plans to get Osama Bin Laden, Donald Grump was pestering the President with that birth certificate nonsense and chasing and shamelessly promoting what he knew was a lie.

And another vacuous Republican fallen star, shallow Sarah Palin, says she wants to read Obama's Law Review articles, according to a news report......perhaps she should wait for the Cliff's Notes. And maybe she should release her "works" from her numerous colleges. I'd love to try to parse the grammar -- I like a challenge.

Although George W. Bush famously said about Osama bin Laden, “I just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you," Republicans are making a point of congratulating George W. Bush on his valiant efforts to hunt down Bin Laden and, with a few exceptions, giving only a grudging nod to President Obama. Sarah Palin, for example, didn't even mention President Obama in her public statement. Other Republicans are mostly bumfuzzled about what to say.

Donald Grump is likely pouting about his bad timing, Sarah Palin is working on what dumb thing to say next, and President Obama........

And President Obama........It was on President George W. Bush's watch that we were attacked on that Sept. morning, and it was on President Obama's watch when Osama Bin Laden was killed. It's been a long ten years. People are celebrating at Ground Zero. Some may be celebrating for vengeance; but most are celebrating that justice has been finally done. I'm glad that when I wake up in the morning that Osama bin Laden is dead and that Mr Obama is President.