Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thurber Tonight: Keith Olbermann reads the conclusion of "The Greatest Man in the World"


Keith Olbermann reads Part 3 of Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the World."

The last two nights we had Part 1 and Part 2 of Keith Olbermann's Countdown "Fridays with Thurber" reading of Thurber's "prophetic" story "The Greatest Man in the World." Here's the conclusion, which apparently appeared only online. -- Ken


For the record, "The Greatest Man in the World" first appeared in book form in The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze, a 1935 collection a fair amount of which was absorbed into The Thurber Carnival. I thought that since we've already dipped into The Middle-Aged Man, we might finish out the week with two pieces further pieces from it, which might be thought of as two skirmishes in "The War Between Men and Women."

These are not, um, comfortable relationships we're going to be peeking at, and yet even so, there are distinctions to observe. Our stories fall on opposite sides of an invisible line that marks, well, the line -- the line that once you've stepped over, you've overstepped. We begin tomorrow night with "The Topaz Cufflinks Mystery." (Okay, if you must know, Thursday night's story is one I find seriously amusing but also strikingly, ineffably poignant, "The Curb in the Sky.")


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Unlike the real Paul Ryan, Andy Borowitz's version at least grazes up against reality


Ryanomics masquerades as "fiscal prudence," another reminder that way more pressing than our Deficit Problem is our Reality Gap (aka Truth Crisis), which would make it impossible to actually deal with deficits even if we weren't still in a depression.

"Speaker of the House John Boehner, appearing alongside Rep. Ryan, offered these words of praise for the Wisconsin congressman: 'Preachers like Harold Camping go around predicting the end of the world, but it’s guys like Paul Ryan who do the hard work of making it happen.'”
-- from today's Borowitz Report

"'The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons. ... Republicans: The No. 1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb, and dangerous."
-- Garrison Keillor, from "We're Not
in Lake Wobegon Anymore

by Ken

My friend Paul circulated the above, and while it sort of rang a bell, I didn't have any reason to think it was anything but Garrison K nailing it once again. In fact, he explained, it was written in 2004, and appeared in adapted excerpt from his book that was published as "We're Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore," in which he pondered the question "How did the Party of Lincoln and Liberty transmogrify into the party of Newt Gingrich’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk?"

Some of the ellipsized matter would have given the piece's age away. Here's the full paragraph:
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

That is some kind of writing, and even if you read the piece way back when, I think you'll be exhilarated reading it again.

I don't suppose Garrison would have encouraged to think that the passage of seven years would make things much better, but I wonder whether even he would have expected them to get this much worse. In the interim the Greed & Selfishness Republican pulled the plug on the economy ("Just 'Cause We Can!!!"), managing magically to further enrich the superrich proprietors of the Greed &Selfishness Movement. And the American public, thanks to those decades of carefully engineered under- and mis-education, joyfully embraced the role of Rich People's Stooges under the guise of teabaggish "fiscal prudence." They've even anointed their own intelleckchul profit, the halfwit Paul Ryan.

Of course none of the Magnates of Greed & Selfishness have the slightest interest in fiscal prudence. Their only concern is pushing our already staggering level of income equality to ever-higher heights. All in all, what we have is much less a Debt Crisis than a Truth Crisis, now that the Economic Inequalizers have broken completely from any obligation to truth or reality. This calls for further discussion, but not today. For tonight we turn the floor over once again to the man with his finger on the funnybone of Ryanomics is Andy Borowitz.

Republicans Propose Replacing Social Security with Groupons
Plan Would Offer Deep Discounts for Cat Food, Surgery

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – Presenting what he called a revolutionary plan to slash the nation’s mountain of debt, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) today proposed eliminating the Social Security program in its entirety and replacing it with Groupons.

“Instead of waiting each month for a check from Social Security, America’s elderly will receive valuable Groupons for everything they need, from Ramen noodles to cat food to caskets,” Mr. Ryan said in an appearance on Fox News.

Adding that Groupons would also help provide for elders’ medical needs, the congressman illustrated his point by holding up a Groupon offering 30 percent off on open-heart surgery in Cincinnati.

Moving on from Social Security, Mr. Ryan also proposed replacing Medicare with a new program in which seniors are shot at by Predator drones.

Additionally, Mr. Ryan said, in his new budget so-called “friends with benefits” would lose their benefits.

“If they’re really friends, they should be satisfied if the evening ends with a voucher,” he said.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, appearing alongside Rep. Ryan, offered these words of praise for the Wisconsin congressman: “Preachers like Harold Camping go around predicting the end of the world, but it’s guys like Paul Ryan who do the hard work of making it happen.”

The only difference between this and any actual Paul Ryan proposal is that this one contains just a whiff of . . . well, not sense, but at least reality (I mean, there really are such things as Groupons, which is more than you can say of anything that appears in the real Representative Ryan's jibber-jabber), that fearsome no man's land where no right-winger dares to tread.


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Germany Will Phase Out All Nuclear Energy Within One Decade... What About Us?


Last March we noted that the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima had repercussions for the right-wing government in Berlin. Germany's most consistently conservative state government fell to the Greens. And, compared to the U.S., Germany actually has a pretty progressive policy towards a renewable energy future. Our own country's political elites don't seem to have the inclination or the will to change course on nuclear power. It's part of the reason Blue America has been so supportive of Norman Solomon's congressional candidacy. Norman:
The facts all point to this “inconvenient truth”-- the time has come to shut down California’s two nuclear power plants as part of a swift transition to an energy policy focused on clean and green renewable sources and conservation.

The Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo and the San Onofre plant on the southern California coast are vulnerable to meltdowns from earthquakes and threaten both residents and the environment.

Reactor safety is just one of the concerns. Each nuclear power plant creates radioactive waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years. This is not the kind of legacy that we should leave for future generations.

In the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown, we need a basic rethinking of the USA’s nuclear energy use and oversight. There is no more technologically advanced country in the world than Japan. Nuclear power isn’t safe there, and it isn’t safe anywhere.

...Our tax dollars should not be used to subsidize the nuclear power industry. Instead, we should be investing far more in solar, wind and other renewable sources, along with serious energy conservation.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a nuclear-friendly fox guarding the radioactive chicken coop. The federal government has no business promoting this dangerous industry while safe and sustainable energy resources are readily available.

Is this the way you feel about nuclear energy as well? Not many candidates for Congress would agree. And it's a perspective desperately needed inside the Democratic caucus. Please consider helping Norman Solomon get his message out in one of the congressional districts where people are likeliest to see it the same way. You can contribute to his election campaign here.

Back to Germany for a moment. Over the weekend Germany's coalition government has announced a reversal of policy that will see all the country's nuclear power plants phased out by 2022.
The decision makes Germany the biggest industrial power to announce plans to give up nuclear energy.

Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen made the announcement following late-night talks.
Chancellor Angela Merkel set up a panel to review nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima in Japan.

There have been mass anti-nuclear protests across Germany in the wake of March's Fukushima crisis, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

Mr Rottgen said the seven oldest reactors-- which were taken offline for a safety review immediately after the Japanese crisis - would never be used again. An eighth plant - the Kruemmel facility in northern Germany, which was already offline and has been plagued by technical problems, would also be shut down for good.

Six others would go offline by 2021 at the latest and the three newest by 2022, he said.

Mr Rottgen said: "It's definite. The latest end for the last three nuclear power plants is 2022. There will be no clause for revision."

Germany, which depends on nuclear plants for nearly a quarter of its electric energy production, plans to make up for the loss with wind and solar energy, two areas in which it is technologically way ahead of the U.S., thanks to the relentless opposition of Big Oil in this country, along with their lapdog Republican and Blue Dog allies. Progressives all over the country are beginning to deploy aggressive clean energy agendas as electoral strategies, from Nick Ruiz in Florida to a new candidate we'll be hearing more from later this week, Dan Powers in Minnesota.

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The Pathology Of Paul Ryan Republicanism


The myth of shared sacrifice

Later today, after the bond and stock markets are closed, the nihilistic hostage takers will have their little victory. Republicans-- and a handful of cowardly Blue Dogs-- will vote to push the United States government into default, with the dual purpose of their stated goal of making President Obama fail and to realize their long-cherished dream of gutting Medicare and Medicaid and, eventually, Social Security. Theirs is an agenda that was laid out for them in the sociopathic novels of Ayn Rand, the crazed conservative Republican godhead. I posted this yesterday at The Paul Ryan Watch:

Hopefully you've already seen the videos of Paul Ryan talking about how dystopian novelist Ayn Rand's profoundly anti-Christian ideas are what inspired him to leave his career as a marketing shill and enter politics. Ryan admits he "requests" that anyone who works for him read Rand's sick and perverted novels. But what Ryan has never publicly discussed is the inspirational relationship between serial murderer William Edward Hickman and Ayn Rand's work. Rand describes her hero in terms that any sociopath might admire-- and makes it very clear how someone like Paul Ryan could come up with a budget-- what he calls his "cause"-- that would destroy the lives of so many millions of working families.
"Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," she wrote, gushing that Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'"

In Rand's make believe world Hickman is Republican Party icon Howard Roark. In real life politics, he is Clarence Thomas, Alan Greenspan, Rush Limbaugh and... unbeknownst to naive, dangerous pundits, Paul Ryan.
[L]et's meet William Hickman, the "genuinely beautiful soul" and inspiration to Ayn Rand. What you will read below-- the real story, details included, of what made Hickman a "superman" in Ayn Rand's eyes-- is extremely gory and upsetting, even if you're well acquainted with true crime stories-- so prepare yourself. But it's necessary to read this to understand Rand, and to repeat this over and over until all of America understands what made her tick, because Rand's influence over the very people leading the fight to kill social programs, and her ideological influence on so many powerful bankers, regulators and businessmen who brought the financial markets crashing down, means her ideas are affecting all of our lives in the worst way imaginable.

Rand fell for William Edward Hickman in the late 1920s, as the shocking story of Hickman's crime started to grip the nation. He was the OJ Simpson of his day; his crime, trial and case were nonstop headline grabbers for months.

Hickman, who was only 19 when he was arrested for murder, was the son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother and grandmother. His schoolmates said that as a kid Hickman liked to strangle cats and snap the necks of chickens for fun -- most of the kids thought he was a budding manic, though the adults gave him good marks for behavior, a typical sign of sociopathic cunning. He enrolled in college but quickly dropped out, and turned to violent crime largely driven by the thrill and arrogance typical of sociopaths: in a brief and wild crime spree that grew increasingly violent, Hickman knocked over dozens of gas stations and drug stores across the Midwest and west to California. Along the way it's believed he strangled a girl in Milwaukee and killed his crime partner's grandfather in Pasadena, tossing his body over a bridge after taking his money. Hickman's partner later told police that Hickman told him how much he'd like to kill and dismember a victim someday-- and that day did come for Hickman.

One afternoon, Hickman drove up to Mount Vernon Junior High school in Los Angeles, telling administrators he'd come to pick up "the Parker girl"-- her father, Perry Parker, was a prominent banker. Hickman didn't know the girl's first name, so when he was asked which of the two Parker twins, he answered, "the younger daughter." Then he corrected himself: "The smaller one."

No one suspected his motives. The school administrator fetched young Marion, and brought her out to Hickman. Marion obediently followed Hickman to his car as she was told, where he promptly kidnapped her. He wrote a ransom note to Marion's father, demanding $1,500 for her return, promising the girl would be left unharmed. Marion was terrified into passivity-- she even waited in the car for Hickman when he went to mail his letter to her father. Hickman's extreme narcissism comes through in his ransom letters, as he refers to himself as a "master mind [sic]" and "not a common crook." Hickman signed his letters "The Fox" because he admired his own cunning: "Fox is my name, very sly you know." And then he threatened: "Get this straight. Your daughter's life hangs by a thread."

Hickman and the girl's father exchanged letters over the next few days as they arranged the terms of the ransom, while Marion obediently followed her captor's demands. She never tried to escape the hotel where he kept her; Hickman even took her to a movie, and she never screamed for help. She remained quiet and still as told when Hickman tied her to the chair-- he didn't even bother gagging her because there was no need to, right up to the gruesome end.

Hickman's last ransom note to Marion's father is where this story reaches its disturbing end. Hickman fills the letter with hurt anger over her father's suggestion that Hickman might deceive him, and "ask you for your $1500 for a lifeless mass of flesh I am base and low but won't stoop to that depth." What Hickman didn't say was that as he wrote the letter, Marion had already been chopped up into several lifeless masses of flesh. Why taunt the father? Why feign outrage? This sort of bizarre taunting was all part of the serial killer's thrill, maximizing his sadistic pleasure. But this was nothing compared to the thrill Hickman got from murdering the helpless 12-year-old Marion Parker. Here is an old newspaper description of the murder, taken from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 27, 1927:

"It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me," he continued, "and I just couldn't help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marion. Then before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly. I held on and she made no outcry except to gurgle. I held on for about two minutes, I guess, and then I let go. When I cut loose the fastenings, she fell to the floor. I knew she was dead. Well, after she was dead I carried her body into the bathroom and undressed her, all but the underwear, and cut a hole in her throat with a pocket knife to let the blood out."

Another newspaper account explained what Hickman did next:

Then he took a pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat. Then he cut off each arm to the elbow. Then he cut her legs off at the knees. He put the limbs in a cabinet. He cut up the body in his room at the Bellevue Arms Apartments. Then he removed the clothing and cut the body through at the waist. He put it on a shelf in the dressing room. He placed a towel in the body to drain the blood. He wrapped up the exposed ends of the arms and waist with paper. He combed back her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle fixed her eyelids. He did this because he realized that he would lose the reward if he did not have the body to produce to her father.

Hickman packed her body, limbs and entrails into a car, and drove to the drop-off point to pick up his ransom; along his way he tossed out wrapped-up limbs and innards scattering them around Los Angeles. When he arrived at the meeting point, Hickman pulled Miriam's [sic] head and torso out of a suitcase and propped her up, her torso wrapped tightly, to look like she was alive-- he sewed wires into her eyelids to keep them open, so that she'd appear to be awake and alive. When Miriam's father arrived, Hickman pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him, showed Miriam's head with the eyes sewn open (it would have been hard to see for certain that she was dead), and then took the ransom money and sped away. As he sped away, he threw Miriam's head and torso out of the car, and that's when the father ran up and saw his daughter-- and screamed.

This is the "amazing picture" Ayn Rand -- guru to the Republican/Tea Party right-wing-- admired when she wrote in her notebook that Hickman represented "the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should."

That's a classic definition of a sociopath-- even beyond no empathy... no people even exist for you. That's describes Ayn Rand and it describes the political agenda of Paul Ryan and the Republican Party. Yes-- they are that dangerous. As Mark Ames wrote in the Alternet post I've been quoting, "Too many critics of Ayn Rand-- until recently I was one of them-- would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, and hackneyed. But she can't be dismissed because Rand is the name that keeps bubbling up from the Tea Party crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington as the Big Inspiration. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town and out of our hemisphere.

If you'd like to help Rob Zerban do just that in Janesville, Kenosha, Racine and throughout southeast Wisconsin, you can do it here. It matters, even if you can just contribute $5 or $10. And Rob is certainly not the only Democrat using Ryan as a foil. It may be harder with conservative, corporate-oriented Democrats like Hoyer and Biden stepping on the message, but most progressive candidates are making sure their constituents understand the difference between what Paul Ryan and the GOP want to do and what progressives in the Democratic Party want to do. Here's an OpEd from Monday by New Mexico state Senator, Eric Griego, the Blue America-endorsed candidate for the open House seat in Albuqerque:
It’s been a tough week for Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress. First there was the stinging defeat by Kathy Hochul in a Republican Congressional stronghold in New York. Then the next day the U.S. Senate rejected the budget plan crafted by Congressman Ryan. This was the plan that guts Medicare by converting it from a program that pays medical bills for seniors to a program that gives them inadequate vouchers to go out to buy their own health insurance.

The Republican House of Representatives passed this plan and then went home to a firestorm of criticism from constituents who like their Medicare. But this plan was terrible in lots of other ways besides undermining Medicare.

The plan featured drastic cuts of some $4 trillion over ten years. Besides ending Medicare as we know it, the plan would also deeply cut health care for poor children, the disabled and elderly; food stamps; housing programs; Pell grants for low-income students to attend college; and every other federal program you ever heard of, such as the FBI, national parks, homeland security, interstate highways-- you name it.

The House Republicans who passed this budget, said these severe cuts had to be made to save our children from future budget deficits. They said “we all need to sacrifice to reduce the national debt.”

Read the Fine Print

That all sounds very noble until you read the fine print. Because at the same time the House Republicans voted to cut $4 trillion out of programs that help ordinary people, they voted to give the same $4 trillion in tax cuts to the very rich.

First, the Ryan plan would have permanently extended all the Bush tax cuts, including those for taxpayers making over $250,000 per year. That alone would add about $1 trillion to the national debt by 2019.

Second, a huge new cut would reduce the top tax rate (paid only by the richest 2 percent of taxpayers) from the current 35 percent down to 25 percent-- and doing this for both individuals and corporations. This alone would cost the treasury almost $2 trillion.

Finally, other miscellaneous tax cuts-- all targeted for the rich-- make up the last $1 trillion.

If you cut middle-class programs on the one hand, but then also cut taxes on the rich at the same time, what impact do you make on future deficits? None-- they just cancel each other out. This is using fears about deficits to pull a fast one on the American people.

Congressman Ryan claims his proposal would make up $3 trillion of this lost revenue by closing tax loopholes and “broadening the tax base.” But he and other Republicans have declined to name a single loophole or specific change to broaden the base, which has to make you wonder how serious they really are about reducing the deficit because you would need new revenue to balance the budget after so many tax cuts.

Robin Hood in Reverse

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there is only one way to balance out a revenue loss of $3 or $4 trillion-- raise taxes on the middle class. So in the guise of “putting the nation’s fiscal house in order,” the House Republicans are trying to sneak through a massive transfer of tax responsibility from the rich to the middle class. This is not serious deficit reduction, it’s Robin Hood in reverse.

President Obama’s proposal takes deficit reduction much more seriously. It goes after future deficits by finally allowing the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent to expire, and it also cuts almost $3 trillion in program spending over a 12-year period. Many of these cuts would be very painful, and personally I don’t agree with them all, but at least they would all go to reduce the deficit, and at least there would be no tax increases on the middle class.

The bottom line is that Congressional Republicans, including Congressman Pearce, have made a lot of noise about the dangers of future budget deficits. Unfortunately, that now looks like little more than a smoke-screen behind which they will transfer income from the middle and working class to some of the richest people on the planet.

You can find Eric Griego here on the Blue America ActBlue page. Please consider what it's worth to have members of Congress like Eric Griego instead of more Paul Ryans... and William Edward Hickmans. Here's your reward for thinking about a contribution:

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Nick Kristof Is Optimistic About India


Nick Kristof made his way to India a decade after I had spent two years driving around the the vast country with poor roads for two years. It hadn't changed much in the interim. I've been back half a dozen times since and I'll be there again in a few weeks. He's there now and his reporting on child prostitution in Kolkata-- Calcutta when each of us first visited-- has been riveting. Yesterday he tackled a far broader topic-- Is India catching up with China's development, something we've looked at before through the work of Robyn Meredith, author of the NY Times best seller The Elephant and the Dragon, the definitive book on Indian and Chinese economic development.

In yesterday's column, Slums Into Malls, Kristof is far more optimistic about India than I've ever been (and I love the place). If you give a garden variety American money manager a bunch of your cash to put to work for you across a while range of investments, inevitably some of it winds up in Indiana and Chinese companies. I've been ruthless with my money managers that I don't want any investments-- regardless of sometimes spectacular short term returns-- invested in either country under any circumstances. It's been an on-going battle for 2 decades. I've been there; my financial advisors haven't been. This twitter exchange from last week was based on a Times business section feature by Floyd Norris, The Audacity of Chinese Frauds:

A friend of mine works as an inspector for American retailers having their products manufactured in China. My friend, who is Chinese, goes from factory to factory inspecting the shoddy-- even dangerous-- work that the Chinese try to get away with. It's a constant, never-ending battle. Norris' story isn't in the realm of badly made ballbearings that could wreck a motorbike but about Chinese practices in the banking and investment field... that could wreck an economy. Norris' story is why I refuse to allow my financial advisors to invest any money in countries like China... or India. In his column yesterday, Kristof may think he sees something different happening in India. For sure India is steadily, inexorably changing, superficially-- at least for a part of the population. "China," writes Kristof, "would be transformed every year or two, while Kolkata was always the same: a decrepit city where barefoot men pulled rickshaws beside fetid canals." Embarrassing, he points out because India is democratic and China is authoritarian, and not just authoritarian-- so very admired in the American business community-- but, God forbid, Communist. And, as Kristof points out, "The Communist Party in China did a much better job fighting poverty than democratically elected Indian governments. India tolerated dissent, but it also tolerated inefficiency, disease and illiteracy."
But after my trips to India and China this year, I think all that may be changing. Despite the global economic slowdown, India’s economy is now hurtling along at more than 8 percent per year. Yep, India is now a “tiger economy.”

The technology zones around Bangalore in southern India have been booming for years, but what is changing is that the rise is gaining traction across the country-- even here in Kolkata. It’s stunning to see the new high-rise towers in Kolkata, new air-conditioned shopping malls, new infrastructure projects, new businesses.

In elections this month, the longtime Communist Party government here in the state of West Bengal was ousted, and the new chief minister is a woman and a dynamo, Mamata Banerjee. After the latest elections, she’s part of a broader trend of charismatic female politicians: one-third of India’s people are now ruled by chief ministers who are women.

The northern state of Bihar used to be even more of an embarrassment. For many years, gangsters played a major role in government there, and nothing worked. I once visited a health clinic in Bihar where employees dumped medicines in a pit in the ground, so they wouldn’t have to dispense them. I visited a school in Bihar where teachers never bothered to show up. I visited villages where gangsters raped, robbed and ruled at their pleasure. Businesses fled, kidnapping became rampant, and Bihar seemed hopeless.

Yet Bihar has, wondrously, turned around since 2005, when a reformer named Nitish Kumar took over as chief minister. There are still enormous inefficiencies, but crime has been suppressed, corruption has diminished, and the local economy is booming at double-digit rates. And if Bihar can turn around, any Indian region can.

Look, India still lags far behind China, it faces risks of Pakistani extremism, it needs further economic reforms, and it too readily accepts inefficiency as the natural order of the universe. India’s education and health system is a disgrace, especially in rural areas; Bangladesh does a much better job, despite being poorer. But change is in the air in India. Infant mortality is dropping, voters are pushing for better governance, and I think India has three advantages over China in their economic rivalry in the coming decades.

First, India’s independent news media and grass-roots civic organizations-- sectors that barely exist in China-- are becoming watchdogs against corruption and inefficiency. My hunch is that kleptocracy reached its apogee and is now waning in India, while in China it continues to get worse. I’ve written scathingly about India’s human trafficking and oppression of women, but it’s also true that civil society is addressing these issues.

Second, China’s economy may be slowed by the aging of its population, while India’s younger population will lead to a “demographic dividend” in coming decades. (Indian overpopulation is still a problem, but the average woman now has 2.6 children, and the figure is dropping.) Likewise, China already reaped the economic advantages of empowering its women, while India is just beginning to usher the female half of its population into the formal labor force.

Third, India has managed religious and ethnic tensions pretty well, aside from the disgraceful anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat in 2002. The Sikh challenge in the Punjab has dissipated. Muslims have been president of India three times, and are prominent in business and the movie industry; perhaps as a result, India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population (after Indonesia and Pakistan) but few jihadis. And while India has sometimes behaved brutally in Kashmir, civil society watchdogs are pressing for better behavior there. In China, by contrast, tensions with ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs are worsening.

China’s autocrats are extraordinarily competent, in a way that India’s democrats are not. But traveling in India these days is a heartening experience: my hunch is that the world’s largest democracy increasingly will be a source not of embarrassment but of pride.

What can I say? Kristof's been hitting a bong? Or maybe he's seeing a century into the future. Optimistically, that's how long it will take to bring India up to the "standards" of China. Four years ago after spending some time in Delhi again I wrote that "wherever I went on the streets there were always clusters of small, very dark, very skinny people. They're everywhere, but no one seems to notice. There are hundreds of millions of them-- more of them in India than the entire population of the United States! And no one seems to notice them. They don't own anything but the rags on their backs and I've never been able to figure out how they exist. The begging can't possibly support them, even if every tourist and every trendy call center-walla gives (far from the case; no one notices them). I didn't cry the whole time I was in India. It was simply too horrible to fathom. Families laying in the filth and dust with stray dogs night after night, wrapped in their rags, bundled around a little fire burning garbage. Delhi's cold. I've been seeing it since I started coming to India in 1969. It's just unfathomable. Has anyone cared about these millions and millions of people since a right-wing religious fanatic assassinated their champion, Mahatma Gandhi 60 years ago?" And walking right through their clusters were taller, well-fed, often lighter-skinned, well-dressed modern men talking on cell phones... not noticing.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Thurber Tonight: Keith Olbermann reads "The Greatest Man in the World," Part 2


Keith Olbermann reads Part 2 of Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the World."

by Ken

Last night we had Part 1 of Keith Olbermann's Countdown "Fridays with Thurber" reading of the dark Thurber fantasy "The Greatest Man in the World." We'll finish up tomorrow night with Part 3.


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Beaches (of which, within some 17 hours, I set foot on two NYC area ones for the first time)


You should be able to click on this to enlarge, and if you do, I won't have to repeat what it has to say about horseshoe crabs. Oh, I may anyway.

by Ken

I didn't see the above Yahoo notice until just now, when I was scrounging online for "illustrative" material regarding Brooklyn's Plum Beach. (You'll notice here that it's sometimes spelled "Plumb Beach," but the general usage seems to be that it's Plum Beach, named for beach plum trees that are supposed to grow in this marshy area on Rockaway Inlet, east of the mouth of Sheepshead Bay (and, therefore, of the eastern extremity of Coney Island). But it gives a pretty description of the event I surprised the heck out of myself by taking such a journey from the conceptual-theoretical stage ("you know, I could actually do this, and it might be interesting") to the actual-journey stage. It was a journey that, from way-northern Manhattan, took more than the two hours I had allotted on the route I'd worked out (the no. 1 train to the no. 2 train to the B44 Limited bus to its terminus, then hoofing it) -- almost two and a half hours, in fact.

And at the several "junction" points, as it became clear that I wasn't going to come close to making it by 8pm to this place I'd never in my life heard of before let alone been to, I told myself that the sensible thing to do would be to chalk it up to a noble effort and head back home. Some other time I could complete the journey -- the beach, after all would still be there.

Yes, but would the horseshoe crabs?

So I didn't turn back at any of the points where I might have, and at nearly 8:30, when I finally saw up ahead what looked to be a bunch of people gathered in front of what seemed quite likely to be the Plum Beach Comfort Station (right), the designated meeting place, I began to imagine that perhaps I hadn't entirely missed the event. Indeed I hadn't!

I missed the start of Urban Park Ranger Andrew's discussion of horseshoe crabs, explaining that their habitat extends . . . oh, I don't remember, but something like from the Gulf of Mexico all they way up the east coast of North America (there are also Pacific horseshoe crabs, we learned, on the west coast of North America and the east coast of Asia), and whatever it is, it's also a basic bird migration path, because horseshoe-crab eggs, which apparently chock full of body-building fat and protein, are super-good eats for our feathered friends. And in our area, the salt-marsh beach of Plum Beach (Andrew thinks of the whole coastal region that is now Greater New York as essentially a giant salt marsh, albeit a now-much-compromised one) is prime mating territory for the horseshoe crabs during their mating season, which locally runs about two and a half months, from April to mid-June, with moonlit nights especially favored, not for romantic reasons, of course, but for the help it provides them in finding their way to the beach and finding each other, the only reason they come onto the beach.

As the sun set, we set out in search of these ancient creatures -- who, by the way, can go a full year without eating -- and found a lonely male, but also what looked to Andrew to be a mass of horseshoe-crab eggs, which matched the description he had just given in response to a question of what the eggs look like, but surprised him because normally the female (who's way larger than the male, by the way) buries the egg clusters in the sand to provide them some protection from predators from air, sea, and land. However, someone with a smart phone was able to provide googled confirmation horseshoe-crab eggs were indeed what we were looking at.

Considering how much Andrew was able to tell us about these remarkable creatures -- and there were lots of good questions from the assembled horsehose-crab voyeurs -- it was cheering when he wasn't sure about the answer and allowed that he doesn't know everything about horseshoe crabs. As darkness set in, the crabs became bolder about venturing onto the beach, and Andrew was able to pick up mating pairs of them, who disengage with great reluctance. By the time the official presentation drew to a satisfying close, and Andrew said he was going to continue walking the beach and anyone who wanted to join him was welcome to, a shrewd hard core of us -- more, apparently, than he expected -- eagerly clustered around him, and the best part of the night, with full darkness (but a few people carrying small lights so we could see something), ensued. The horseshoe crabs were doing it all over the beach, and we were privileged to witness an important piece of the hemisphere's ecological balance taking place before our amazed eyes.

I'm embarrassed to say that I've only recently become aware of New York's Urban Park Rangers, who are a treasure. They perform all sorts of functions for the city's Parks Department, but one of them is conducting terrific tours like this throughout the city's parks. (In the only one I've taken so far, of the water course of Brooklyn's Prospect Park, on a grimly overcast Sunday afternoon, I wound up having a one-on-one tour with Ranger Vinnie, which was shortened only a bit by an ensuing downpour. The Urban Park Rangers, I had been told, come prepared to do their thing come what may.)

The return trip from Plum Beach again took nearly two and a half hours, even with a spectacular connection to the returning B44 Limited bus. I wasn't even sure I knew where the return route started, but no sooner did I think I had found the correct bus stop than the correct bus rolled in to confirm it! Fortunately, with the holiday today, I didn't much care how late I got home. And while I know I spent nearly five hours in transit, what a night!

Then I was awakened about 5am by what I realized after a moment was a torrential downpour outside, which seemed to constitute a dramatic thumbs-down on some possible activities I'd scouted for Memorial Day. I could have done one or both of a pair of Central Park tours, in areas and/or from perspectives that would be new to me. Or there was a link I'd found to a walking tour of Jones Beach, the beach that Robert Moses build on an island off the south shore of Long Island in the '30s. In nearly 50 years of living in New York, for as much as I've heard the storied name of Jones Beach, I'd never set foot there.

When I tuned in a weather forecast, it seemed pretty insistent that the rain was over, and we had a good, sunny day in store, and so I duly dragged myself to catch the 11:10 Long Island Rail Road train to Freeport, successfully met the Shorewalkers group, and was eventually able to crowd onto an N88 bus, which I was delighted to discover took my regular unlimited Metrocard, and which duly slow-mo-ed its way along the parkway (also built by Robert Moses, naturally), on what had indeed developed into a prime beach day for the first weekend of "the season," and was eventually disgorged at the western side of the Jones Beach State Park.

It's a lovely spot, though less crowded than I would have expected. Just wait till Fourth of July, I was thinking. But I won't be there. It's a lovely spot, and I'm glad I did it, in the company of people familiar with the place, and it was even worth the $16.50 round-trip train fare to do it once. It's a beach. A nice beach, but just a beach. I can cross it off my "things to do, maybe" list, though.

And tomorrow it's back to work. Sigh. Well, at least I did something this weekend. And how was your holiday weekend?

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Winds Of Change Blowing In Egypt-- But Not Everyone Is Thrilled With The Direction


Last week in Tahrir Square- ©2011 Reese Erlich

How long will it take for Fox News to find this article in the English-language edition of the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm and then start yowling about who lost Egypt... and it won't be McCain or Lieberman they turn their guns on.
Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail announced his intention to run in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections.

He said that if elected he would implement Islamic sharia law and cancel the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

...Abu Ismail said that his platform revolves around Islam, while "Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, and Hamdeen Sabahi, the liberal candidates, will be unable to present a clear vision” for the country.

“If I could apply sharia in Egypt, all people, including non-Muslims, would applaud me four years later,” said Abu Ismail.

The sheikh said that no current presidential candidate represents the Egyptian people.

“We seek to apply Islamic law, but those who don’t want it prefer cabarets, alcohol, dancers and prostitution, as the implementation of Islamic law will prohibit women to appear naked in movies and on beaches,” Abu Ismail added.

...Concerning the peace treaty with Israel, he said, “The Camp David peace treaty is insulting to the Egyptian people, so it must be canceled, and I will do my best to convince people to cancel it."

Our old friend Reese Erlich is in Cairo this week, on assignment for a number of public radio networks and blogging for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. He's been writing about the struggle to determine what kind of new government Egyptians will create post-Mubarak. Last week, on his first day in Egypt he "lit out for Tahrir Square."
Tahrir has taken on mythic status in the Arab world, but it’s really just a large traffic circle surrounded by high rise buildings. At one point several million people filled the square, symbolically stopping the government, and leading to the overthrow of the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak.

On this day, however, only a few thousand rallied here, chanting slogans against the military government that took over from Mubarak, and demanding release of political prisoners. Dozens had been arrested on May 15 for protesting in front of the Israeli Embassy. They were tried in military, not civilian, courts. Under popular pressure, one week later, almost all the protesters were given one-year suspended sentences and released. The military also released over a hundred demonstrators from previous protests.

And that’s the contradiction facing today’s Egypt. The old dictatorship has been replaced with a military council that carries out many of the same domestic and foreign policies as Mubarak, according to the Tahrir activists. It arbitrarily arrests dissidents, and still engages in abuse and torture. Tahrir activists want the military out of power as soon as possible.

But many other Egyptians support the military as a force for stability. They see developments in Syria and Libya, where most of the military supports the old regime, and praise the Egyptian Army for forestalling a similar disaster.

“We should give the government some time,” truck driver Ahmad Fathi tells me. “We shouldn’t have sit-ins and demonstrations every day. We need time for things to get back to normal.”

Tahrir activists admit they’ve got a lot of organizing to do if they are to have a significant impact on the wider public. “We need 5 million in the streets to make change,” Tahrir Square leader Tarek Shalaby tells me.

Everyone is scrambling to prepare for parliamentary elections now scheduled for sometime in September. Presidential elections may be held two months later, although no date has been set. Tahrir Square activists are hoping to consolidate their gains by backing leftist candidates. But so far the conservative Muslim Brotherhood and elements from Mubarak’s old party, the National Democratic Party, seem better organized.

Meanwhile, workers continue wildcat strikes demanding higher wages. Violent conflicts have broken out between extremist Muslims and Coptic Christians. And activists have called for a mass mobilization against the military government to be held in Tahrir on May 27.

The revolution is far from over.

This morning Reese sent us an update from Cairo as he prepares to set out for his next stop: Gaza via the newly-opened Rafah crossing. He writes that "for many young activists Egypt’s revolution isn’t over" and describes a large Tahrir Square rally he covered-- over 100,000 people-- Friday. It had been called by many of the same people who had called the rallies and demonstrations that had toppled the Mubarak regime this past January and February.
They demanded that a civilian dominated council take over from the current all-military government. They wanted an end to military trials for civilians and stronger protection for Coptic Christians being violently attacked by Muslim extremists. They were angry that former President Hosni Mubarak and his entourage weren’t already facing trials for corruption and ordering the murder of protesters.

Student activist Shimaa Helmy told me, “This is our day of anger because we feel our revolution is being taken over by people who didn’t participate.”

But the Moslem Brotherhood, which did participate in the Tahrir Square uprising, boycotted today’s event. Officially, Brotherhood leaders were affronted because they weren’t consulted about rally plans. But many protesters believe that the Brotherhood’s senior leadership doesn’t want to offend the military.

Some Moslem Brotherhood youth defied their leaders and came anyway. The Brotherhood faces numerous internal contradictions, with two of its former leaders announcing plans to run for president. They defied Brotherhood national leadership’s decision not to run anyone for president and to run parliamentary candidates for not more than 50% of the eligible seats.

Many of the demonstrators were middle class, but workers and urban poor also attended. Activist Helmy admits, however, that the mainly secular and leftist demonstrators had their work cut out to win over ordinary Egyptians.

“Some people are starting to hate the uprising,” she told me. “The prices are getting high, and they think it’s the revolution. We’re trying to explain ‘it’s for you, not just for us.’”

Pro-military government rallies were called in other parts of Cairo and a few hundred supporters showed up.

Protesters argued that popular support for the military is declining. They saw today’s demonstration as one more battle in what promises to be a long struggle for power.

To the degree most Americans have any interest in what's going on in Egypt, it revolves around how the events there-- a country of over 80 million people with immense influence on the entire Arab world-- impacts Israel's 7 million people. But, as Robert Naiman wrote for Common Dreams yesterday, "You can't love democracy and denigrate protest, because protest is part of democracy. It's a package deal. Likewise, you can't claim solidarity with Egyptian protesters when they take down a dictator, but act horrified that the resulting government in Egypt, more accountable to Egyptian public opinion, is more engaged in supporting Palestinian rights. It's a package deal."
It was the Tahrir uprising that brought about an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion, and it was inevitable that an Egyptian government more accountable to public opinion would open Rafah, because public opinion in Egypt bitterly opposed Egyptian participation in the blockade on Gaza.

In addition, opening Rafah was a provision of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord brokered by the Egyptian government-- an achievement facilitated by the fact that the post-Tahrir Egyptian government was more flexible in the negotiations with Hamas that led to the accord.

Mubarak had a deal with the U.S. government: I obey all your commands on the Israel-Palestine issue, and in exchange, you shut your mouth about human rights and democracy. Tahrir destroyed this bargain, because it forced the U.S. to open its mouth about human rights and democracy in Egypt, regardless of Egypt's stance on Israel-Palestine. When it became clear to Egypt's rulers that subservience to the U.S. on Israel-Palestine would no longer purchase carte blanche on human rights and democracy, there was no reason to slavishly toe the U.S. line on Israel-Palestine anymore.

The Mubarak regime also had a domestic motivation for enforcing the blockade: it saw Hamas as a sister organization of Egypt's then semi-illegal opposition Muslim Brotherhood, and it saw enforcing the blockade as a means of denying Hamas "legitimacy," figuring that more "legitimacy" for Hamas would mean more "legitimacy" for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, thereby threatening Mubarak's iron grip on Egypt's politics.

But of course post-Tahrir developments in Egypt threw that calculation out the window: the post-Mubarak government in Egypt has reconciled with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a de facto partner in the present interim government, and is expected to do well in September's parliamentary elections. It would be absurd for the Egyptian government to try to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood by trying to isolate its sister Hamas, when the Muslim Brotherhood is de facto part of the Egyptian government and the role of the Brotherhood in running Egypt is likely to increase.

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Can Arizona Democrats Take Back The First District From Deranged Wingnut Paul Gosar? Depends Who They Nominate-- Meet Wenona Benally Baldenegro


More than half the reactionary Blue Dog caucus was defeated in November-- unable to attract Republican and right-leaning independents they had tried so hard to please, while completely demotivating the Democratic base. And it wasn't just Blue Dogs; a whole contingent of conservative Democrats who habitually voted with the Blue Dogs (and the Republicans) against core Democratic policy was also defeated. You would think Insider Democrats and the DCCC would have learned a lesson not to run these kinds of characters. But not only did they learn nothing they are actually re-recruiting the exact same losers in the hope they could be swept back into office in an anti-Republican wave election. One who we looked at all through the last congressional cycle was Arizona's uber-mediocre congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick who won in 2008 with 155,791 votes (56%)-- winning all but Yavapai and Graham Counties (and Yavapai in a tight 45,014- 45,487 cliff hanger) and lost the seat two years later with 99,233 votes (44%) and losing Gila, Navajo, and Pinal counties she had previously won, while being routed in Yavapai 47,449- 27,179. The DCCC should have lost her phone number. Instead they talked her into running again. She was one of the least effective members of Congress anywhere and consistently voted against her own party, even siding with banksters against homeowners in one of the hardest hit mortgage markets in America. She was one of only 3 Democrats who voted against HR 1728, which was aimed at overhauling mortgage lending practices and curbing predatory lending practices. At the time, we mentioned that "whenever it comes to a choice between working families and her big corporate donors, Kirkpatrick crosses the aisle and votes with the GOP in favor of the corporate special interests that have devastated the country's-- and her constituents'-- finances. Washington observers consider her to be one of the most dimwitted and ineffective members of Congress and a complete waste of a seat. The only positive thing we've ever heard about her from anyone was that she dresses neatly every day and that she's not a crook like her predecessor, Rick Renzi-- although she does tend to vote almost exactly like him."

The House leadership never asked her to compromise her "independence" and always let her vote with the GOP whenever she liked-- which was almost always, at least when it came to contentious, substantive legislation. And then everybody made a big mistake-- forcing Kirkpatrick to vote for a $108 billion bailout for European bankers. It was a vote many observers of Arizona politics at the time said would cost her her seat. Not only did Arizona progressives, like Raul Grijalva oppose the bill, even the state's most conservative Republicans-- John Shadegg, Trent Franks and Jeff Flake-- voted against it. But Rahm Emanuel insisted and a weak and clueless Kirkpatrick gave way-- and it helped mark her for defeat a year later. A month later we suggested she was the Blanche Lincoln of the House, with one of the 10 worst party unity scores of any Democrat in Congress-- 70% of them being defeated in November. Her constituents started floating the idea of a primary challenge.

Three months ago, when Kirpatrick first started floating her trial balloon for a rematch, we wrote that Democrats would be better off finding a real Democrat to oppose Paul Gosar. And now, it looks like they have: Wenona Benally Baldenegro is running for the seat as well-- and grassroots Democrats in Arizona are backing her. A member of the Navajo Nation who grew up on the reservation, she graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State and went on to Harvard Law and later to Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Take a look at a post she did a couple months ago after attending a lecture by Cornel West at the University of Arizona. It paints a picture of a real progressive leader, exactly the kind of Democrat we want to see running against teabaggers like Gosar and corporate shills like Kirkpatrick. You can donate to her campaign here. Her press release announcing endorsements from some of the most impressive Democrats in the first CD, paints the same picture:
We are very excited to announce that in her exploratory run for U.S. House of Representatives, Arizona Congressional District 1, Wenona Benally Baldenegro has secured the endorsement of Arizona State Senator Steve Gallardo. From his position representing LD13 in the Arizona State Senate, Sen. Gallardo has been a shining light for Arizona in the fight against Russell Pearce and the extremist Republican agenda that has taken over our State Legislature and is crippling the State of Arizona.

As a Congresswoman, Wenona will proudly stand by the values and principles that define the Democratic Party, and she will fight passionately for the working families of Arizona. She is firmly committed to protecting Medicare and Medicaid, and she will work tirelessly to end the Bush tax cuts to corporations and to the wealthiest Americans. She strongly supports small businesses and she will work hard for job creation and economic development. At the same time, she is deeply invested in protecting public health and our environment. Finally, she is committed to the Democratic values of equal opportunities and justice for all, including passage of the DREAM Act, repealing DOMA, and enacting immigration reform.

Wenona is a lifelong Democrat who has paid her political dues. She has worked on numerous campaigns, from Presidential campaigns to local school board campaigns. In 2008, she served as a Tribal Advisor to the Obama Presidential campaign, and last year, she served as co-chair, along with Congressman Raul Grijalva, on the Vince Rabago for Attorney General campaign. She will energize the people of CD1, including young voters, tribal communities, and Latino communities, to come out to vote in numbers that will help Democrats recapture CD1. Wenona also is very encouraged by the prospect that her candidacy will get out the vote, in numbers that help will put an Arizona Democrat into the U.S. Senate and help President Obama win his re-election campaign.

In her words, “This is a critical time for Arizona and the nation. The Republicans in Congress are attempting to balance the federal budget on the backs of the middle-class, working-class, and the elderly. Furthermore, the Republican-controlled State Legislature is balancing our state budget at the expense of our county and city governments. More than ever, rural Arizona needs a Congressional representative who will stand up for the middle-class and working poor, and who will vigorously fight for programs and services that are essential to the stability of our State and the country.”

Wenona’s candidacy is historic, in that she seeks to be the first American Indian woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, and the first American Indian from Arizona. “It is time for a new vision for Arizona and for the rest of the country. We need leaders who will stand up for the working-class and who will restore our image as proud Arizonans.”

In addition to Sen. Gallardo’s endorsement, Wenona has already received the following endorsements of her Congressional campaign:

Johnny Naize – Speaker of the Council, Navajo Nation

Macario Saldate – Bilingual education pioneer, Arizona House of Representatives, LD27

Joshua Lavar Butler – Council Member, Navajo Nation

Cecilia Cruz – Founding member, Pima County/Tucson Women’s Commission

Luis A. Gonzales – Former Arizona State Senator

Antonio Bracamonte – Dean of Student Services, Maricopa County Community College District

Antonio Bustamante – Union/Civil Rights attorney, Los Abogados

Salomón R. Baldenegro – Former Professor/Asst. Dean of Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs, University of Arizona

You can contribute to Wenona's campaign through ActBlue.

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Repression At The Jefferson Memorial


DWT has been doing a series on fascism. I want you to take a look at this video at the Jefferson Memorial. Recall that the Texas Board of Education, a strange amalgam of corporate puppets and religious fanatics, has taken Jefferson out of the state's text books and curriculum. Although I don't know of any specific Jefferson quotes about dancing, these are the kinds of things he said that annoy fascists:

"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

"In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty."

"Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor."

"I hope we shall take warning from the example of England and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our Government to trial, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."

"No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him."

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

"Taste cannot be controlled by law."

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."

"I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind."

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies."

"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God."

"Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains."

War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses."

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thurber Tonight: Keith Olbermann reads "The Greatest Man in the World," Part 1


Keith Olbermann reads Part 1 of Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the World."

by Ken

As I mentioned in the "postscript" to our reading of Ring Lardner's "Champion,": "With 'Champion' under our belts we've got an obvious segue" to Thurber's "The Greatest Man in the World."

I noticed that Keith Olbermann did a reading of the story in his "Fridays with Thurber" series on Countdown, in three parts -- of which the third, if I understand his introduction correctly, appeared only online because of a scheduling crunch. Believe it or not, I've never seen any of Keith's Thurber spots till now. (I guess Countdown didn't often figure in my Friday night routines, such are they are.) But naturally a number of people have mentioned to them, and I've long been aware that Keith also has a passion for such luminaries as Jean Shepherd and Bob and Ray, and had the good fortune and good sense to get to know Bob Elliott, one of my personal heroes. So it all kind of fits together.

Anyway, since Keith has already done a ton of heavy lifting on "The Greatest Man in the World," and since the three parts of his reading are available online, I thought I'd defer to him on this one. Here's Part 1, with Part 2 to follow tomorrow night and Part 3 on Tuesday.

(I find it interesting that the 1969-70 series My World and Welcome to It, in which William Window played a Thurber-like writer enduring Thurber-like situations, was Keith's turn-on to Thurber. I wish I was as enthusiastic about the show, which seemed to me to have about the same relationship to actual Thurber as the fictional Alan Brady Show depicted on The Dick Van Dyke Show did to the Sid Caesar shows on which series creator Carl Reiner distantly based it, by a process known as "white-breading." I swear, that, when I thought up this analogy, I had no recollection that My World and Welcome to It like The Dick Van Dyke Show was produced by Sheldon Leonard's production company.)


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Does Lady GaGa know (or care) when "teh gay" is taken out of "Born This Way"?


by Ken

I don't know how closely everyone has been following the curious story of the use on both Glee and Good Morning America of edited versions of Lady GaGa's "Born This Way" which by curious coincidence omit the same section of the song. Here's Lisa Derrick's HuffPost report (there are video screen shots and additional links onsite):
Lady GaGa "Born This Way" LGBT Lyrics Omitted on GMA, Glee

Lisa Derrick
Posted: 05/29/11 04:58 PM ET

In both Lady Gaga's live appearance on ABC's Good Morning America and in the version sung on Glee the following lyrics to "Born This Way" are omitted:

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life
I'm on the right track baby
I was born to survive

You can watch the versions with the omitted lyrics here.

One could argue time restraints on GMA caused the singer to shorten the tune. But Glee? Really?! Glee certainly has plenty of gay, lesbian and bi-sexual story lines, and infamously used the pejorative term "tranny" in the Rocky Horror Picture Show episode, so it's not like the program is unfamiliar with transgenders. Or unwilling to acknowledge they exist, even though it's with a slur.

Both Malaysian and the Philippine radio station snipped the LGBT lyrics from "Born This Way;" the Malaysian edit was government mandated. In the United States, a song released to radio could have several different versions, including a shorter radio edit ( the album cut of "Born This Way" clocks in at 4 minutes 20 seconds); a "clean" version which could omit the F and S bombs and/or explicit references to sex and/or drugs; and the regular album version. Radio stations can also edit tracks themselves to suit their playlists and listener profile.

So was Lady GaGa's shortened GMA performance of "Born This Way" simply to fit into the amount of time allotted? And what about the Glee cast's version?

And are there shortened versions, omitting LGBT references being played on your local radio stations? Do you think this edits dilutes the song message, or is it better ot cut the references in order to reach a larger audience who may then buy the original and potentially get illuminated?

Meanwhile a colleague calls attention to an On Top magazine report on an interview in which the lady herself told actor-writer-director and interviewer Stephen Fry that "sexuality is just one very small part" of the Born This Way album:
Lady Gaga Tells Stephen Fry That 'Born This Way' Not Only About Being Gay


Pop singer Lady Gaga says sexuality is just a small part of what her new studio album Born This Way is about.

In a wide-ranging interview with Stephen Fry for Britain's Financial Times, the 25-year-old Lady Gaga tells the UK's most popular openly gay entertainer that her album is about rebirth.

“[T]his new album [Born this Way] is about being able to be reborn, over and over again throughout your life,” Lady Gaga said.

“Oh?” Fry replied. “I thought the meaning of the title track was that 'I was born this way – gay, straight, bi, lesbian, transgender, whatever,' and that you were affirming that . . .”

“No, in fact, sexuality is just one very small part of it … it's so interesting to see how people latch on to words,” Lady Gaga responded. “You say the word 'gay' in a song and suddenly all the other words float away.”

“I'm happy people did focus on that word, though, it's an important word to liberate,” she added. “But the album is about rebirth in every sense. It's about being reborn again and again until you find the identity inside yourself that defines you best for who you are and that makes you most feel like a champion of life.”

Howie may be able to add some perspective on this process of circulating multiple, mutilated versions of songs. I know he's talked about how record companies actually issue commercial albums with censored versions of songs to accommodate squeamish "partners" (clout-heavy vendors like WalMart, for example -- and then of course there are the government-mandated edits cited by Lisa Derrick in her report), so I'm assuming that such practices are fairly standard, but that still leaves the question of who exactly has to sign off on this. Does the artist have any say? I'm assuming that this depends on the clout of the particular artist, in which case you'd think Lady GaGa, even if she doesn't have final say, is listened to.

Very curious.

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The Republican Death Wish-- At Least In the Senate-- Is Much Exaggerated


Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich posted an excellent opinion piece Thursday, The Republican Death Wish. He wrote it even before Miss McConnell came out and declared that the Senate Republicans had decided to force the U.S. to default if the Democrats insist on protecting Medicare.
The Senate's top Republican said Friday that lawmakers should not fear voter backlash for trying to squeeze savings from Medicare to reduce federal debt, because it will take a bipartisan deal to tackle the popular program.

The remarks by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were noteworthy because they came three days after a Democrat won a special House election in a heavily Republican district in upstate New York after accusing the GOP of wanting to kill Medicare.

Many Democrats have made clear that they intend to stick with that theme when they try to recapture the House and defend their slim Senate majority in next year's elections.

But McConnell told reporters that he believes Washington will agree to "something significant" to curb the giant health care program for the elderly well before the 2012 election, taking some of the edge off the issue.

..."Frankly if it were up to me, we'd be discussing Social Security as well," the GOP leader said, mentioning another costly program for the elderly that politicians have long avoided discussing as a source of budget savings.

Underscoring the political stakes, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of "holding the United States' credit hostage to ram through their plan to end Medicare."

Their determination, even in the face of what Reich terms a "death wish," to upend the two most popular and successful social programs in the history of the United States, Medicare and Social Security is going to destroy them... in the House, but, significantly, not in the Senate. I'll explain why in a minute, but first Reich:
Forty Senate Republicans have now joined their colleagues in the House to support Paul Ryan’s plan that would turn Medicare into vouchers that funnel money to private health insurers. They thumbed their nose at the special election in upstate New York earlier this week that delivered a victory to Democrat Kathy Hochul, who made the plan the focus of her upset victory.

So now it’s official. The 2012 campaign will be about the future of Medicare. (Yes, it will also be about jobs, but the Republicans haven’t come up with any credible ideas on that front, and the Democrats seem incapable of doing what needs to be done.)

This spells trouble for the GOP. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans-- even a majority of Republican voters-- want to preserve Medicare. They don’t want to turn it over to private insurers.

It would be one thing if Republicans had consistency on their side. At least then they could take the high road and claim their plan is a principled way to achieve the aims of Medicare through market-based mechanisms. (It isn’t, of course. It would end up squeezing seniors because it takes no account of the rising costs of health care.)

But they can’t even claim consistency. Remember, this was the same GOP that attacked the President’s health-reform plan in 2010 by warning it would lead to Medicare cuts.

Former President Bill Clinton counsels Democrats not to say Medicare is fine the way it is. He’s right. But instead of talking about Medicare as a problem to be fixed, Democrats should start talking about it as a potential solution to the challenge of rising health-care costs — as well as to our long-term budget problem.

Can we be clear about that budget problem? It’s not driven by Medicare. It’s driven by the same relentlessly soaring health-care costs that are pushing premiums through the roof and causing middle-class families to shell out more and more money for deductibles and co-payments.

Some features of Obama’s new healthcare law will slow the rise-- insurance exchanges, for example, could give consumers clearer comparative information about what they’re getting for their insurance payments-- but the law doesn’t go nearly far enough.

That’s why Democrats should be proposing that anyone be allowed to sign up for Medicare. Medicare is cheaper than private insurance because its administrative costs are so much lower, and it has vast economies of scale.

If Medicare were allowed to use its potential bargaining leverage over America’s hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical providers, it could drive down costs even further.

And it could force the nation’s broken health-care system to do something it must do but has resisted with a vengeance: Focus on healthy outcomes rather on costly inputs. If Medicare paid for results-- not tests, procedures, drugs, and hospital stays, but results-- it could give Americans better health at lower cost.

Let the GOP go after Medicare. That will do more to elect Democrats in 2012 than anything else. But it would be wise and politically astute for Democrats to go beyond just defending Medicare. Strengthen and build upon it. Use it to reform American health care and, not incidentally, rescue the federal budget.

True dat... every word.

I was on the phone with one of the guys planning the strategy for winning the momentous Wisconsin state Senate recalls. He's worried. They estimate that the American plutocracy means to flood $20 million dollars into the races. That kind of money has never been spent in state legislative races before. "They going to try to buy the elections, " he told me. He's talking about between six and nine state Senate seats in Wisoconin. $20 million. What will they give to capture the U.S. Senate?

A third of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs. Several Democratic-held seats are in red or purple states including one in Montana and, worse yet, open ones in Virginia, New Mexico and North Dakota. As far as a Republican "death wish," the only GOP seats in blue territory that are coming up in 2012 are the ones held by Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe, respectively in Massachusetts and Maine. But they both shrewdly voted against Ryan's Medicare-killing budget. And both are very popular in their states... among Democrats and independents.

The only two sitting Republican senators who look seriously in danger of losing their reelection bids are Dick Lugar (IN) and Orrin Hatch (UT), both in both cases, the danger comes from the right, not the left. Each could lose a primary-- although I don't think either will-- to a deranged right-wing fanatic demanding the abolition of Medicare and Social Security. They dodged the "death wish" by voting for Ryan's budget.

Now the zombie-like voters who completely dominate Wyoming, Tennessee and Mississippi are way, way too far gone into Fox-land to hold their incumbent Republicans accountable for Medicare or even Social Security. These places are hopeless; national Democrats have given up on them and the state parties are moribund. That leaves open red seats in Texas and Arizona and the Nevada seat to which Dean Heller was just appointed. Heller holds the distinction of being the only Member of Congress who voted to kill Medicare twice, once in the House and once in the Senate. Shelley Berkley could beat him. It's a toss up. Heller is really the only incumbent who could be described as exhibiting the traits of someone with a death wish.

Cacheris has been waiting quietly to pounce... he did so on Thursday

At this point, the Republicans will win back the Senate, even as Obama wins a second term and the Republicans lose the House, which really is where the GOP have demonstrated an actual and very consistent-- and deranged-- death wish. And a right-wing judge in Virginia, James Cacheris, may have saved their asses in a ruling that makes elections into a financial free-for-all.

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Sunday Classics: Verdi's "Forza" demonstrates from start to finish what only opera can do


VERDI:La Forza del destino: Act III, Recitative and aria, Alvaro, "La vita è inferno all'infelice" . . . "O tu che in seno agli angeli"

José Carreras sings Don Alvaro's Act III monologue at La Scala in 1978.
Life is a hell to the unfortunate. In vain
do I long for death. Seville! Leonora!
Oh, memories! Oh, night
that robbed me of all joy!
I shall be unhappy forever - so it is written.
My father wished to shatter the foreign yoke
on his native land, and by uniting himself
with the last of the Incas, thought to assume
the crown. The attempt was in vain!
I was born in prison, educated
in the desert; I live only because my royal birth
is known to none! My parents
dreamed of a throne; the axe awakened them!
Oh, when will my misfortunes end?

Oh, you who have ascended, forever pure,
to the bosom of the angels,
lovely and untouched
by mortal sorrow,
do not forget
to look down on me, unhappy wretch,
who, nameless and exiled,
the prey of fate,
longingly seeks to encounter death,
unfortunate that I am!
Leonora, help me,
have pity on my anguish.
Help me, have pity on me!

by Ken

We spent some time recently with A Masked Ball, which I pointed out is, for all its formal adventurousness and variety, the tidies of Verdi's middle-period operas, being the only one regularly perfomed without substantial musical alterations. At the other extreme lies La Forza del destino (The Force of Destiny), a sprawling epic that tends to be sliced and diced, sometimes simply because of length, sometimes because of being, well, just too much, but not often because any of its music is truly dispensable, on grounds of either musical quality or dramatic force.

The one exception, for me, is the middle of the three scenes between the archfoes Don Alvaro and Don Carlo -- a good idea for a scene, and good music, but not of the kind of memorability that pervades the rest of the score. Verdi himself set the standard here with the first and the third of the Alvaro-Carlo scenes. (We heard a great deal of the first, "Solenne in quest'ora, in last night's preview, and a chunk of the last, "Invano, Alvaro," in Friday night's -- and we'll hear the whole thing today.)

From Alvaro's monologue I just want to highlight, for the moment, this portion of the recitative.

La Forza del destino, Act III: Don Alvaro, "Siviglia! Leonora! O rimembranza!"
Seville! Leonora! O remembrance!
O night that ravished me of all good fortune.
I will be unhappy eternally. It's written.
Giuseppe di Stefano (t), Don Alvaro; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Fernando Previtali, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded 1958

We've talked all around that dreadful night. Now I think we better go back and find out what happened.



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