Monday, February 28, 2011

Will Cuppy Tonight: "Alexander the Great" (from "The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody")


"[Aristotle] taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons. . . .

"Alexander seldom killed his close friends unless he was drunk, and he always had a good cry afterwards. He was always weeping about something."

-- Will Cuppy, in "Alexander the Great"


Alexander III of Macedonia was born in 356 B.C., on the sixth day of the month of Lous.1 He is known as Alexander the Great because he killed more people of more different kinds than any other man of his time.2 He did this in order to impress Greek culture upon them. Alexander was not strictly a Greek and he was not cultured, but that was his story, and who am I to deny it?3

Alexander's father was Philip II of Macedonia. Philip was a man of broad vision. He drank a good deal and had eight wives. He subdued the Greeks after they had knocked themselves out in the Peloponnesian War and appointed himself Captain General so that he could uphold the ideals of Hellas. The main ideal of Hellas was to get rid of Philip, but he didn't count that one. He was assassinated in 336 B.C. by a friend of his wife Olympias.4

Olympias, the mother of Alexander, was slightly abnormal. She was an Epirote. She kept so many sacred snakes in her bedroom that Philip was afraid to go home after his drinking bouts.5 She told Alexander that his real father was Zeus Ammon, or Amon, a Graeco-Egyptian god in the form of a snake. Alexander made much of this and would sit up all night boasting about it.6 He once executed thirteen Macedonians for saying that he was not the son of a serpent.

As a child Alexander was like most other children, if you see what I mean. He had blue eyes, curly red hair, and a pink-and-white complexion, and he was small for his age. At twelve he tamed Bucephalus, his favorite horse. In the same year he playfully pushed Nectanebo, a visiting astronomer, into a deep pit and broke his neck while he was lecturing on the stars. It has never been entirely proved that Alexander shoved the old man. The fact remains that they were standing by the pit and all of a sudden Nectanebo wasn't there any more.

For three years, until he was sixteen, Alexander was educated by Aristotle, who seems to have avoided pits and the edges of roofs. Aristotle was famous for knowing everything. He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons. He also said that the sheatfish is subject to sunstroke because it swims too near the surface of the water. I doubt it. In spite of his vast reputation, Aristotle was not a perfect instructor of youth. He had a tendency to wander, in the classroom and elsewhere. He didn't keep his eye on the ball.

With a teacher like that, one's values might well become warped. On the other hand, even Aristotle couldn't help some people.7 As soon as he had finished reading the Nicomachean Ethics, Alexander began killing right and left. He exterminated the Theban Sacred Band at the Battle of Chaeronea while his father was still alive, and then got some fine practice killing Thracians, Illyrians, and such others as he could find around home.8

He was now ready for his real career, so he decided to go to Asia where there were more people and more of a variety. After killing a few relatives who might have claimed the throne,9 he declared war on Persia and crossed the Hellespont to spread Hellenic civilization. The Greeks were embarrassed about this, but they couldn't stop him. They just had to grin and bear it.

Asia proved to be a regular paradise. In no time at all Alexander had killed Medes, Persians, Pisidians, Cappadocians, Paphlagonians, and miscellaneous Mesopotamians.10 One day he would bag some Galatians, the next he would have to be content with a few Armenians. Later, he got Bactrians, Sogdians, Arachosians, and some rare Uxians. Even then, an Uxian, dead or alive, was a collector's item.11

Alexander put an end to the Persian Empire by defeating Darius in three important battles. This Darius was not the Darius, but only Darius Codomannus, or Darius III, who had been placed on the throne by Bagoas, a eunuch.12 Bagoas had poisoned Artaxerxes III and his son Arses and had in turn been poisoned by Darius, just to be on the safe side.13 Darius was easy to defeat because you could always count on his doing exactly the wrong thing. Then he would whip up his horses and try to escape in his slow-motion chariot. He did this once too often.

The Persian army was all out of date. It relied chiefly upon the Kinsmen, who were allowed to kiss the King, and the Apple Bearers, or royal guard, who had golden apples on the handles of their spears. Darius believed that if he kept adding more Apple Bearers to his army the Persian Empire would never fall. But life is not like that. Apple Bearers are all right, if you know where to stop. After a certain point is reached, however, the law of diminishing returns sets in and you simply have too many Apple Bearers.

Darius also had chariots armed with scythes on each side for mowing down his enemies. These did not work out, since Alexander and his soldiers refused to go and stand in front of the scythes. Darius had overlooked the facts that scythed chariots are effective only against persons who have lost the power of locomotion and that such persons are more likely to be home in bed than fighting battles in Asia.

Alexander's best men were his Companions, or heavy cavalry, and his Phalangites, or improved Hoplites, who composed the Macedonian phalanx. There was some doubt about what the Hypaspists were expected to do. They acted as Peltasts at times and they could always run errands. Alexander never advanced without covering his rear. The Persians never bothered about that, and you see what happened to them.

At the Battle of Issus, Alexander captured Darius' wife and two daughters and the royal harem of 360 concubines14 and 400 eunuchs. He snubbed the harem, as did his inseparable friend and roommate Hephaestion, but the soldiers obtained many beautiful rugs. Alexander's project more than paid for itself, for he acquired valuables worth 160,000 Persian talents, or $280,000,000, in the cities of Susa and Persepolis alone. Unfortunately, much of this was stolen by Harpalus, a cultured Greek serving as imperial treasurer.

Alexander spent the next nine years fighting more battles, marching and countermarching, killing people at random, and robbing their widows and orphans.15 He soon grew tired of impressing Greek culture upon the Persians and attempted to impress Persian culture upon the Greeks. In an argument about this, he killed his friend Clitus, who had twice saved his life in battle. Then he wept for forty-eight hours. Alexander seldom killed his close friends unless he was drunk, and he always had a good cry afterwards.16 He was always weeping about something.17

Bucephalus died of old age and overwork in India, and the soldiers, who thought the whole business was nonsense, refused to march any farther.18 Three fourths of the soldiers died of starvation while returning through the Gedrosian Desert, but some of them finally got back to Susa and broke training. At this point Alexander and Hephaestion felt it was time to stop fooling around and get married, and they decided to marry sisters, so that their children would be cousins. Wasn't that romantic?

The girls they chose were Statira and Drypetis, the daughters of Darius, who had been waiting around ever since the old Issus days nine years before. I never heard how these marriages turned out. All of Alexander's biographers say that his nature was cool, if not perfectly frigid.19 He is said to have sinned occasionally, but he never quite got the hang of it. He was not unattractive, if you care for undersized blonds.20 His physique was reported to
 be all right, what there was of it.21 I have found no description of if Hephaestion's looks, but I gather he was tall, dark, and handsome.

Nothing much happened after the doings at Susa. Hephaestion died a few months later of drink and fever. Alexander passed away in Babylon from the same causes in the following year, 324 B.C. He was not quite thirty-three, and he had been away from home eleven years. He might have lived longer if he had not crucified his physician for failing to cure Hephaestion. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Alexander's death left Macedonia rather at sixes and sevens. Roxana, Alexander's Bactrian wife, had Statira and Hephaestion's widow murdered and thrown down a well, and Sisygambis starved herself to death. Olympias executed Alexander's illegitimate and feeble-minded half brother Arrhidaeus and forced his wife to hang herself. Cassander executed Olympias, others murdered others, and it was all quite a mess.

Alexander's empire fell to pieces at once, and nothing remained of his work except that the people he had killed were still dead. He accomplished nothing very constructive.22 True, he cut the Gordian Knot instead of untying it according to the rules. This was a silly thing to do, but the Gordian Knot itself was pretty silly. He also introduced eggplant into Europe.

Just what this distressing young man thought he was doing, and why, I really can't say. I doubt if he could have clarified the subject to any appreciable extent. He had a habit of knitting his brows. And no wonder.
1 That is what the Macedonians called the month of Hecatombaeon, Plutarch says, and he ought to know.
2 Professor F. A. Wright, in his Alexander the Great, goes so far as to call him "the greatest man that the human race has as yet produced."
3 He spoke what was known as Attic Greek.
4 After Philip's death, Olympias had one of his wives boiled alive. Shows what she thought of her.
5 Having real snakes at home does an alcoholic no good. It just complicates matters.
6 He got so that he believed it himself.
7 Some years later, when Aristotle asked his former pupil to find out what caused the rising of the Nile, Alexander answered correctly, stating that it was caused by rain. This pleased Aristotle very much,
 as he had worried about it for years and had almost given up in despair.
8 The Thebans were only Boeotians, generally regarded as oafs. Plutarch, however, denies this with some heat. Plutarch was a Boeotian.
9 He had also connived at the liquidation of Philip.
10 "He boldly proclaimed the brotherhood of man." -- F. A. Wright
11 The Uxians, or Huxians, may have been the ancestors of the Loories.
12 The name Bagoas is a shortened form of Bagadata, meaning Given by God. It was often applied to eunuchs for reasons I have been unable to check.
13 Xerxes I was poisoned by the eunuch Aspamithres. Eunuchs were widely employed as royal advisers, as they had more time to think.
14 Among the Persians, sixty or any multiple of sixty was regarded as lucky.
15 He was often extremely brutal to his captives, whom he sold into slavery, tortured to death, or forced to learn Greek.
16 He evened an old score by hanging the historian Callisthenes, a grandnephew of Aristotle. Callisthenes refused to prostrate himself in the Persian fashion, then Alexander refused to kiss him, and things went from bad to worse.
17 Alexander did not conquer the world, by any means, since he had never been in Italy, Gaul, or Spain, to mention a few places. He might have spared the tears about that.
18 Alexander had always been kind to Bucephalus, after whom he named a city. He named another after his dog Veritas and seventeen after himself.
19 "From the weaknesses of the flesh, to which many great men have been subject, he was almost entirely immune." — F. A. Wright
20 There is probably no truth in that story about Alexander and Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons. Still, Thalestris usually got her own way.
21 He is said to have smelled like violets. I heard different.
22 But see F. A. Wright on Alexander s work "above all as an apostle of world peace."

TOMORROW in WILL CUPPY TONIGHT: "Own Your Own Snake" (from How to Become Extinct)

THURBER TONIGHT (including BENCHLEY TONIGHT and WILL CUPPY TONIGHT): Check out the series to date

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Stop the presses! Ms. Tina Brown adds yet another magnificent beast to her media menagerie


With all the media studs Ms. Tina is assembling for The Daily Beast and the forthcoming revamped Newsweek, we must surely be witnessing a media juggernaut in the making, no?

"The chance to be part of a whole new experiment in online and print journalism, in the Daily Beast and Newsweek adventure, is just too fascinating and exciting a challenge to pass up. And to work with media legends, Barry Diller and Tina Brown, and with the extraordinary businessmen Sidney Harman and Stephen Colvin, is the opportunity of a lifetime."
-- Andrew Sullivan, as quoted in a NYT "Media Decoder" piece

by Ken

Well, my goodness, Andrew, what is there to say except that every now and then, gosh darn it, dreams do come true?

I assume you've been keeping track of the succession of hires Ms. Tina Brown has been making for her new media entity, which will combine her current Daily Beast webzine with a revamped Newsweek to be under her editorial control as well. I'm not going to regale you with the list of media luminaries. Let Ms. Tina hire her own PR flacks.

But golly gee, Andrew Sullivan! Hard on the heels of the acquisition of (gasp) the Washington Post's "Howie the Hump" Kurtz, as you'll note in the following piece from the NYT's "Media Decoder" today. (Consult the on-site version for links.)
February 27, 2011, 10:31 PM

Andrew Sullivan Joins Daily Beast and Newsweek

The start date of Tina Brown's reinvented Newsweek after its merger with her Daily Beast Web site remains vague, but Ms. Brown's efforts to build an impressive roster do not: Andrew Sullivan announced Sunday that his popular blog, "The Daily Dish," would leave and join Ms. Brown's team in April.

"The chance to be part of a whole new experiment in online and print journalism, in the Daily Beast and Newsweek adventure, is just too fascinating and exciting a challenge to pass up," Mr. Sullivan said in a blog entry. "And to work with media legends, Barry Diller and Tina Brown, and with the extraordinary businessmen Sidney Harman and Stephen Colvin, is the opportunity of a lifetime."

Mr. Sullivan will join Howard Kurtz, a three-decade veteran of The Washington Post who was lured to The Daily Beast in October 2010. At the time, Mr. Kurtz's move ignited speculation that The Daily Beast would merge with Newsweek, which it did one month later. Mr. Kurtz said then that he wanted to "be more of an entrepreneur online."

Commenting on Mr. Sullivan's move, Ms. Brown said in a blog post that the blogger's "fearlessness and doggedness makes him a natural soul mate of The Daily Beast."

"A rarity, he is willing to admit mistakes and change positions (sometimes radically) in the face of new evidence," she said. "Little wonder he has built one of the most devoted followings on the web, with 1.2 million unique visitors a month, 82 percent of them bookmarked."

Ms. Brown said that The Daily Beast garnered more than six million unique visitors last month. In late 2010, Mr. Sullivan's blog accounted for roughly a quarter of's monthly unique visitors, which reached 4.8 million last October.

Mr. Sullivan's work will be promoted on The Daily Beast's home page, and he will contribute to the ailing Newsweek magazine, Ms. Brown said.

After Newsweek merged with The Daily Beast in November 2010, Ms. Brown, who previously led Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, was given the task of turning both publications into money-making ventures. The addition of Mr. Sullivan to the roster, Ms. Brown said, "will give The Dish a whole new audience and potential for growth and innovation."

The date for the first issue of the revamped Newsweek has not been revealed, but one person briefed on the plan said last week that March 7 was the target.

I trust that for DWT readers it's not necessary to pile on the snark regarding these two acquisitions. Andrew Sullivan is a very bright fellow, but "very bright" doesn't impress me in the absence of, well, something else. True, every now and then -- every 50th time out of the box? 100th? 500th? -- he uses that brightness to offer genuine insight on a topic, but I don't have the spare reading time to play those odds.

As for Howie the Hump, well, what is there to say? If he had been maybe 100 times as competent in his career at the Post he might have qualified as a disgrace. Of course the paper should have been profoundly ashamed of him, but it has long since lost any sense of shame it may once have possessed in its somewhat happier times. Actually, my favorite line in Mr. Tumolillo's breathless account is the idea that our Howie, in making the move to Ms. Tina's house of media, aspires to be "more of an entrepreneur online." Shake it, Howie baby!

From these thrilling announcements out of Ms. Tina's PR pantry, I have two takeaways -- one fairly conclusive, the other merely speculative.

(1) The conclusive one is that neither The Daily Beast nor the new Newsweek is meant for me. Which is A-OK by me. I'm already way overcommitted media-wise.

(2) The speculation is that Ms. Tina's new media empire may be headed for something less than blockbusterdom. I mean, Howie the Hump and Andrew "Look at Me!" Sullivan? If this were some 17-year-old whiz kid in, say, Nebraska making the leap from his high school newspaper to a national media presence, names like this might confer some measure of "credibility." But are there really more people out there than I'm imagining whose heartbeat is racing at the prospect of, um, still being able to read these humps, only now in The Daily Beast and Newsweek?

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Random Thoughts-- Teabaggers, Frankenfood, Qaboos, Texas...


Rule of law is the basis of American exceptionalism-- why we developed into such a wonderful place... right? Or is it just another tool to keep wealth in the hands of the rich and powerful while oppressing those who want to, as Depeche Mode might say, get the balance right?

Yesterday Paul Krugman asked a cruel question that we, as a society, can't keep sweeping under the rug: why do conservatives hate (other people's) children and why does their agenda always seek to smash them down into poverty and slavery? He proposes we look at Texas for the answers.
[I]n low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait-- how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way-- they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.

It’s not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder-- and many business people in Texas do-- how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.

A few months ago another Texas miracle went the way of that education miracle of the 1990s. For months, Gov. Rick Perry had boasted that his “tough conservative decisions” had kept the budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the recession unscathed. But after Mr. Perry’s re-election, reality intruded-- funny how that happens-- and the state is now scrambling to close a huge budget gap. (By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.)

So how will that gap be closed? Given the already dire condition of Texas children, you might have expected the state’s leaders to focus the pain elsewhere. In particular, you might have expected high-income Texans, who pay much less in state and local taxes than the national average, to be asked to bear at least some of the burden.

But you’d be wrong. Tax increases have been ruled out of consideration; the gap will be closed solely through spending cuts. Medicaid, a program that is crucial to many of the state’s children, will take the biggest hit, with the Legislature proposing a funding cut of no less than 29 percent, including a reduction in the state’s already low payments to providers-- raising fears that doctors will start refusing to see Medicaid patients. And education will also face steep cuts, with school administrators talking about as many as 100,000 layoffs.

Decent people don't feed people they love Frankenfood. But Monsanto is making a concerted effort to make it less and less possible to even find real food. They're poisoning the country's food supply-- not out of malice just for the bottom line (making it ok; that's not one Darrell Issa is investigating).
Monsanto has long sought to control, along with other agribusiness giants, the world’s food supply. They famously created Agent Orange, rBGH (bovine growth hormone) and the so-called Terminator seeds, genetically-engineered seeds which consumers must buy over and over again because they become sterile after initial planting.

Two weeks before the FDA deregulated Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, Dr. Don Huber, a plant pathologist and retired Purdue University professor, alerted the FDA to a possible connection between Monsanto’s herbicide and livestock infertility.

Chicken too. And Monsanto has shifted all the liability for their Frankenfoods onto farmers. "Farmers like genetically modified (GM) crops because they can plant them, spray them with herbicide and then there is very little maintenance until harvest. Farmers who plant Monsanto's GM crops probably don't realize what they bargain for when they sign the Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement contract. One farmer reportedly 'went crazy' when he discovered the scope of the contract because it transfers ALL liability to the farmer or grower." Worse news yet, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s ruling to destroy the young plants currently being grown to produce genetically modified sugar beet seeds with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genes.

Last week increasingly irrelevant teabaggers had a convention in Phoenix that didn't get much attention. They couldn't get any big names to speak so they settled on Tim Pawlenty but he came in last in their straw poll anyway, even after saying all kinds of crazy radical nonsense-- like shut down the government for a month and take away the right of unions to bargain collectively-- that guarantees he'll never be elected to anything. Fox reports that the guy from Georgia who makes the cardboard-tasting pizza won the straw poll but fact-based media reports it was Ron Paul who won. Palin beat Pawlenty.

Most of the attendees were elderly people worried about the government getting involved with Medicare and Medicaid. The highlight was when they got a real live congressman to boo. Except it turned out to be one of them: they booed lame right-wing fanatic Joe Barton (R-TX) who tried explaining budget cuts to them.

Oman might be the next Arab state to get a dose of democracy. The ruling family-- the Al-Saids-- have been in power since 1744 and pro-democracy protesters think it's time for them to move along. Two people were killed in clashes with the police over the weekend. Sultan Qaboos bin Said is gay but his country is homophobic and you can be arrested for gay stuff; he can't though.
Hours after the violence in Sohar, Qaboos gave an order to create 50,000 jobs for citizens of the Gulf Arab state. He also ordered a monthly allowance equivalent to $390 for each registered job seeker.

The demonstrators in Oman, as with some of the protests in other parts of the region, have emphasized their loyalty to their ruler, whole voicing their dissatisfaction with his officials.

Jackie Spinner, a journalist who was in Sohar at the time of the protests, said that it was unusual for Oman to be the scene of demonstrations.

"It's a very sedate, very tranquil country," she said.

"Most of the Omanis that I've talked to have said they haven't seen anything like this in the last four decades ... they have not seen this level of anger, or any widespread demonstrations against the government, in the past 40 years."

Qaboos deposed his father in a 1970 palace coup to end the country's isolation and use its oil revenue for modernization.

He appoints the cabinet, but in 1992 introduced an advisory elected Shura Council of 84 members.

Early this morning, the NY Times was reporting that disturbances in Oman have continued to grow. I guess the people aren't watching, or at least taking seriously, the music videos extolling the grooviness of Qaboos.
Graffiti scrawled on a statue said: "The people are hungry." Another message read: "No to oppression of the people."

Nearby, sidewalks were smashed and office windows broken. Troops deployed around the town but were not intervening to disperse protesters, who pushed back four army vehicles observing the scene near the port.

"There are no jobs, there's no freedom of opinion. The people are tired and people want money. People want to end corruption," said Ali al-Mazroui, 30, who is unemployed.

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Who Are The Real Enemies of The American People? Hint: It Isn't Oceana, Eurasia Or Even Eastasia


I'll go out on a limb and say what's left of American democracy isn't under threat by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe or even Osama bin Laden. I'm sure you've noticed that until about a week ago when he started strafing his own citizens with fighter jets, we were getting along just swimmingly with Muammar Qaddafi and have quite cordial relations with similarly brutal tyrants from high profile allies King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Hu Jintao of China to no less horrific despots like Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea and our dear oil pals Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov of Turkmenistan and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equitorial Guinea. All a repulsive disreputable lot, but none an especially existential threat to the American way of life. The Koch Brothers, on the other hand, are. They have the wealth-- ill-gotten and untaxed to push a highly reactionary, anti-social vision that insists "that taxes and government regulation are destructive forces and that government generally makes people’s lives worse." They started the Cato Institute, the Mercatus Center, and Americans for Prosperity, which funds and manipulates American teabaggery. They rabidly oppose healthcare, financial regulation, taxes and environmental and consumer protections. When you have billions of dollars and all that it will buy, the law of the jungle works quite well, thank you.

In the week-long battle taking place in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights, you'd expect Fox News to be doing what it's done: misreporting the story, mistakenly characterizing a poll supporting public workers to mean its opposite, featuring Glenn Beck painting the protests of union workers as something cooked up by Stalinists. And you might be tempted to think, well, that's just Fox playing to its base of frightened Tea Partiers who prefer a fact-free zone to the more challenging territory of actual news, where the answers are never pat, and the world is a bit more complicated than it seems in the realm of Fox Nation.

You might think it's all about what brings in the advertising dollars for Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox's parent company, News Corporation. But it runs much deeper than that, involving key players at the Wall Street Journal, News Corp.'s crown jewel. The informal partnership between billionaire David Koch, whose campaign dollars and astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, have fomented the Wisconsin crisis, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is profoundly ideological-- the ideology being the exponential enrichment of the two men's heirs, all dressed up in the language of libertarianism and free enterprise. Together with his brother, Charles-- also a big donor to right-wing causes-- David Koch runs Koch Industries, the conglomerate that sprang from the oil and gas company founded by his father.

In yesterday's NY Times conected the dots between anti-democratic tendencies bubbling over on the American right and the Koch Brothers in his brilliant essay about the teabaggers demanding that the U.S. government be shut down until they get their way.
[T]he Wisconsin governor’s fawning 20-minute phone conversation with a prankster impersonating the oil billionaire David Koch last week, while entertaining, is merely a footnote. The Koch Industries political action committee did contribute to Walker’s campaign (some $43,000) and did help underwrite Tea Party ads and demonstrations in Madison. But this governor is merely a petty-cash item on the Koch ledger-- as befits the limited favors he can offer Koch’s mammoth, sprawling, Kansas-based industrial interests.

Look to Washington for the bigger story. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, Koch Industries and its employees form the largest bloc of oil and gas industry donors to members of the new House Energy and Commerce Committee, topping even Exxon Mobil. And what do they get for that largess? As a down payment, the House budget bill not only reduces financing for the Environmental Protection Agency but also prohibits its regulation of greenhouse gases.

Here again, the dollars that will be saved are minute in terms of the federal deficit, but the payoff to Koch interests from a weakened E.P.A. is priceless. The same dynamic is at play in the House’s reduced spending for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service. and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (charged with regulation of the esoteric Wall Street derivatives that greased the financial crisis). The reduction in the deficit will be minimal, but the bottom lines for the Kochs and their peers, especially on Wall Street, will swell.

These special interests will stay in the closet next week when the Tea Partiers in the House argue (as the Gingrich cohort once did) that their only agenda is old-fashioned fiscal prudence. The G.O.P. is also banking on the presumption that Obama will bide his time too long, as he did in the protracted health care and tax-cut melees, and allow the Fox News megaphone, not yet in place in ’95, to frame the debate. Listening to the right’s incessant propaganda, you’d never know that the latest Pew survey found that Americans want to increase, not decrease, most areas of federal spending-- and by large margins in the cases of health care and education.

The Kochs and their right-wing political subsidiaries-- whether the Tea Party or political shills like Scott Walker-- are holding pat. They sense weakness, a conflicted agenda, and irresolution from Obama and the Democrats. And why shouldn't they sense that; it's highly accurate. If it weren't, the Kochs would be in prison where they belong for stealing oil from American Indians and from the federal lands and for releasing huge amounts of cancer-causing benzene from a Texas refinery and then trying to cover it up, as well as for running their shady businesses as organized crime pure and simple.

Before you watch the video below, read this excerpt from last July's New York exposé of David Koch, whose father, Freddy, was one of the principle financiers of the John Birch Society, an insidious anti-democratic, anti-American hate group:
Earlier this year, he found himself attacked for being the financial engine of the largely white, largely male, very angry crowds that were gathering in towns across the country-- a few waving overtly racist or menacing anti-Obama signs-- to protest the president’s proposed health-care bill and other issues. Koch denies being directly involved with the tea party--“I’ve never been to a tea-party event. No one representing the tea party has ever even approached me”-- but he and his brother Charles were being accused of supporting the group through an affiliated conservative organization. Rachel Maddow had effectively called Koch the tea party’s puppet master. “The radical press is coming after me and Charles,” he said. “They’re using us as whipping boys.” Burnishing his reputation was no longer his concern; now, it seemed, he needed to save it.

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Thanks To Fox News, Anti-Semitism Is Making A Comeback In America


I had never heard of dress designer John Galliano, don't follow the fashion world-- went out of my way to stay in another part of town when music business brought me to Milan (i.e., the Principe di Savoia instead of the Four Seasons-- and try to not be drawn into giving any of the craved attention GOP sociopath Glenn Beck thrives on. But it's Monday, so...

When I woke up, I turned my TV on to see if any Qaddafis had been strung up by their heels overnight-- or if they were still just partying with Mariah Carey, Usher and Beyoncé and I saw a scrawl go by about Christian Dior firing this John Galliano fellow for an anti-Semitic outburst. I wondered if he was just another deranged Glenn Beck fan, one who instead of shooting up a school or trying to assassinate a congresswoman had decided to go on a Beck-like anti-Semitic rampage. But I was way off base... and there's a lot of money involved. One royal family not in any serious jeopardy of being displaced by any pro-democracy movements, has Galliano designing a wedding dress for the latest breeding mare they're initiating. [Oops! Like I said, this crap is all off my beat and since the media has taken to calling the princess-to-be just "Kate," one-word-Maddona-style, I mixed Kate Middleton up with this other Kate (one who once had a lesbian fling with Courtney Love, according to the deranged Beck-like Courtney, who also claims to have screwed Hugo Chávez) who's just marrying a guitar player from a band I never heard of and whatever prince she's marrying with Jamie Hince. And did you know that Emily Blunt, Gisele Bundchen, Gwen Stefani and Penelope Cruz all wore gowns by the anti-Semite at their weddings too?]. Anyway, apparently the drunken fashion designer with the silly-looking Dali mustache got into a spat with a couple he didn't know at an outdoor cafe. "Galliano sat down at an outdoor cafe table next to her and a male friend of Asian descent around 9 p.m. He reportedly ordered himself a mojito and began to 'me traiter de pute' (translation: 'refer to me as a bitch'). The woman called the police when he, in English, allegedly continued, 'Dirty Jewish face, you should be dead ... Fucking Asian bastard, I will kill you.' The woman contends that she had no idea who Galliano was until a nearby diner exclaimed, 'C’est une star, c’est John Galliano.' The woman is not Jewish." There's another side of the story as well, which has Galliano as the victim of a couple of snobs who don't like outlandish, freaky looking people and an argument over who was uglier and dressed worse. [But he has an ugly anti-Semitic history]

But that isn't the only story in the news with anti-Semitic overtones today. Jack Kimball, a crackpot teabagger who took over New Hampshire's GOP, has been finally forced to cancel an event with Republican Jew-hater Andy Martin-- the loon, who has vowed to "eradicate Jew Power in America," is announcing his run for the GOP presidential nomination-- and now Martin, who also happens to be a notorious Islamophobe and the vicious homophobe who outed Republican Senator Mark Kirk as a closet case and a "de facto pedophile," is suing Kimball to clear his good name.
Saying Republican State Chairman Jack Kimball fell for a “rabid lesbian rabbi’s tricks,” when he cancelled a local GOP event so-called “king of the birthers” Andy Martin plans to file a lawsuit on Monday to clear his “good name.”

“In other words, you, sir, are an incompetent idiot and have no business leading the Republican Party in a state that wants to retain the first primary,” Martin states in a statement directed at Kimball. “Based on your attacks I will warn Republicans nationally that New Hampshire can’t be trusted to maintain a fair and honest presidential primary playing field. Jack Kimball is incompetent.”

Martin continues, “Monday I will hold a news conference in Manchester and announce (1) that I am asking you to step down and (2) filing a lawsuit to clear my good name against your malicious falsehoods and outright lies. If you want to settle my claims before the lawsuit is filed, please have your attorneys call me. I am always open to settlement offers.”

“Sir, resign and apologize, or I will see you in court,” Martin tells Kimball.

Republicans are starting to learn-- too late though-- that you can't lay down with psychotic fascists without getting bitten-- and, vampire-like, turning into one yourself. Nationally, more and more conservatives have begun to realize that however much harm Rush Limbaugh has done the GOP, Glenn Beck could actually bring it down completely. Peter Wehner, a Karl Rove deputy and former Bush Regime operative, warns in the new Commentary, for the second time, that Republicans are playing with fire:
It’s hard to tell how much of what Beck says is sincere and how much is for show. Whatever the case, and even taking into account the entire MSNBC lineup, Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television. One cannot watch him for any length of time without being struck by his affinity for conspiracies and for portraying himself as the great decoder of events. Political movements are not just wrong; they are infiltrated by a web of malevolent forces. Others see the shadows on the wall; Beck alone sees the men casting them. The danger when one paints the world in such conspiratorial terms is that it devalues the rational side of politics. It encourages a cast of mind that looks to expose enemies rather than to engage in arguments. Few things, after all, are as they appear.

Beyond that, of course, is the sense of impending doom, of the coming Apocalypse, of our world being on the edge of calamity. If taken seriously, this has the effect of creating fear, hopelessness, and feelings of helplessness.

All this is quite troublesome in its own right. But what ought to worry conservatives in particular is that Beck not only has the unusual capacity to discredit virtually every cause he takes up; he also confirms the worst caricatures of the right. What was true before is doubly true today. It looks to me like it’s only a matter of time-- and I suspect not much time-- until he blows apart professionally. If and when that happens, one can only hope that conservatism as a movement will have created enough distance from Beck to mitigate the damage.

And he didn't even mention Beck's latest foray into right-wing territory the GOP has assiduously tried to avoid: anti-Semitism, which may sell well in certain parts of the Deep South, but goes over poorly among independents and suburbanites. Beck, a recovering drug addict who converted to Mormonism when he was on a binge, has crossed the line into virulent anti-Semitism a lot lately. And last week he was at it again, comparing Reform Judaism to extremist Muslims and terrorists. "Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It's almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just-- radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the Reform Judaism, it is more about politics." 35% of American Jews belong to Reform Judaism. Rabbi David Saperstein, a friend of mine and one of the wisest men I've ever met:
“His description of the Reform movement ignores the fact that we're the largest segment of American Jewry. It has been over the last 30 years the fastest growing liberal theological denomination in America. And that is true because of the richness of the religious, spiritual and faith fulfillment it offers a very diverse constituency that defines our movement. For him to denigrate, not just all the Reform rabbis, Reform Judaism, but the million and half members of our synagogues is deeply distasteful and offensive.”

Earlier in the month the Guardian did a feature on Beck pointing out the parallels between him and a deranged, anti-Semitic Catholic priest and hate talker from the 1930s, Charles Coughlin.
His radio show drew millions of listeners. His global conspiracy theories outraged some, but drew many others to his paranoid rantings. He dubbed the American president a communist sympathiser and supported a grassroots conservative political movement aimed at overthrowing two-party politics. He made statements that horrified Jewish groups.

This is Glenn Beck, right?

It certainly sounds like the controversial Fox News star. After all, he lambasts Barack Obama as a dangerous Marxist; his pronouncements on Nazis have caused a coalition of 400 rabbis to advertise against him in the Wall Street Journal; and his penchant for anti-America conspiracy theories on everything from Fema to George Soros knows no bounds.

But it is not Beck. It is, in fact, a description of Father Charles Coughlin, the infamous rightwing "radio priest, whose broadcasts in the 1930s disturbingly echo those of Beck today. Indeed, some experts see Coughlin as a father figure to the extremist broadcasting Beck has honed so well. Many commentators on the left, including in Harper's Magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review, have drawn a parallel between our own troubled times with Beck and the tumultuous 1930s that saw the rise of fascism and Coughlin.

And here's the letter 400 American rabbis sent to Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, a notorious fascist and anti-Semite himself, on the occasion of Holocaust remembrance day:
Dear Mr Murdoch

We are rabbis of diverse political views. As part of our work we are devoted to preserving the memory of the Shoah, and to passing its lessons on to our future generations and to all humankind. All of us have vigorously defended the Holocaust's legacy. We have worked to encourage the responsible invocation of its symbols as a powerful lesson for the future.

We were therefore deeply offended by Roger Ailes' recent statement attributing the outrage over Glenn Beck's use of Holocaust and Nazi images to "leftwing rabbis who basically don't think that anybody can ever use the word, Holocaust, on the air."

In the charged political climate in the current civic debate, much is tolerated, and much is ignored or dismissed. But you diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks, and it is not only "leftwing rabbis" who think so.

Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a child survivor of the Holocaust, described Beck's attack on George Soros as "not only offensive, but horrific, over-the-top, and out-of-line." Commentary magazine said that "Beck's denunciation of him [Soros] is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo." Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, called Mr Beck's accusations "monstrous." Rev Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, called them "beyond repugnant." And Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University, says Beck is using traditional antisemitic imagery.

"I haven't heard anything like this on television or radio-– and I've been following this kind of stuff," Lipstadt said. "I've been in the sewers of antisemitism and Holocaust denial more often than I've wanted."

We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media. But that is not what we have seen at Fox News. It is not appropriate to accuse a 14-year-old Jew hiding with a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Hungary of sending his people to death camps. It is not appropriate to call executives of another news agency "Nazis." And it is not appropriate to make literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterising people with whom you disagree.

It is because this issue has a profound impact on each of us, our families and our communities that we are calling on Fox News to meet the standard it has set for itself: "to exercise the ultimate sensitivity when referencing the Holocaust".

We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and Roger Ailes apologise for his dismissive remarks about rabbis' sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is there a perp walk in Roger Ailes's future?


On Friday I voice the opinion that people like Roger Ailes just aren't held to account for crimes like the one he now seems clearly to have committed in pressing Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators about her affair with (ugh) Bernie Kerik. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I really don't expect it. I recycled this photo, by the way, from an October 2009 Politico puff piece with the caption: "Friends are encouraging Fox News founder Roger Ailes to run for president in 2012."

by Ken

Howie passed along the report earlier today that Fox Noisemaster Roger Ailes is about to be indicted, presumably for his now-disclosed role as the previously unnamed Newscorp exec who was revealed long ago to have leaned on Judith Regan, then embattled but still in the company's employ as a book publisher, to lie to federal investigators who were vetting Rudy Giuliani crony Bernie Kerik to be the new homeland security secretary. Back in 2004 Rupert Murdoch and his people were still looking at Rudy as their guy for the future, and they didn't want his luster tarnished by squalid revelations that his man Bernie had had an extramarital affair with their gal Judith.

As it turned out, the squalid affair was almost the least of the embarrassments Battling Bernie caused his low-life patron Rudy. But at the time it was possible to imagine that the revelation could dim the luster of Master Rupert's rising star Rudy.

It didn't make a lot of sense to me, this rumor. After all, everybody has known for years about Miss Judith's claim about the pressure from above to lie to the federal investigators, and everybody also knew that there were, er, rules -- not just against lying to the investigators but against encouraging someone else to do so. It's not as if anyone in government has shown any interest in holding the previously unnamed Newscorp to account. The general belief way back when was that she had a tape of a phone conversation to back up her story, and that the existence of that tape had enabled her to wangle a $10.75M settlement to leave the company quietly. Strangely, nothing more was heard from her about this heinous crime of the unnamed Newscorp honcho.

The only thing that's changed is that, as I mentioned Friday, the New York Times's Russ Buettner pieced together information buried in the court papers for an embarrassingly related cause of action involving Miss Judith's settlement with her old Newscorp pals, which identified Ailes as the Newscorp heavy and also confirmed the existence of that embarrassing phone-conversation tape. (Buettner also laid out a compelling case for the ties between Ailes and Rudy which could have led our Roger to apply muscle on his pal's behalf.) What's so embarrassing about the related case is that it's based on allegations from the lawyers who represented Miss Judith in her old action against Newscorp that she stiffed them by firing them with a settlement in hand, thereby cheating them of their share.
The new documents emerged as part of a lawsuit filed in 2008 in which Ms. Regan’s former lawyers in the News Corporation case accused her of firing them on the eve of the settlement to avoid paying them a 25 percent contingency fee. The parties in that case signed an agreement to keep the records confidential, but it does not appear that an order sealing them was ever sent to the clerk at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, and the records were placed in the public case file.

Discussion of the recorded conversation with Mr. Ailes emerges in affidavits from Ms. Regan’s former lawyers who are seeking to document the work they did on her case and for which they argue they deserve the contingency fee. They describe consulting with a forensic audio expert about the tape.

Does it really seem likely that after all these years suddenly an indictment has materialized against Ailes over that?

Well, Salon's Justin Elliott pieced together the way today's story became a story. He doesn't claim to know whether there's any truth to it, but then, it turns out that neither does the guy who, as Elliott put it, dropped the bombshell on his blog this day, economics analyst and TV commentator Barry Ritholtz.
he story, which was based on what an unnamed source told Ritholtz, quickly boomeranged around the Web and Twitter. Several well-read web sites, including Business Insider and Political Wire, picked up the report.

As it turns out, Ritholtz's source for the post was a man he happened to meet and strike up a conversation with at a Barbados airport over the weekend, he told me in an interview this afternoon.

Here's what happened, according to Ritholtz, who just got back from a vacation on the tropical island: He was sitting in the Barbados airport waiting for a plane to arrive and he struck up a conversation with an older man sitting next to him.

"We started chatting and next thing I know, we're waiting to leave the gate, his phone rings and he tells his wife, 'yeah Ailes just canceled the event,' Ritholtz says, describing the man as "obviously annoyed and frustrated."

The man runs an annual event in March at which Ailes was scheduled to speak, according to Ritholtz, who declined to specify the event. When he asked the man why Ailes canceled, the man said Ailes was about to be indicted. He describes the man, who he would not name, as an "Upper East Side Democrat."

Ritholtz says that everyone assumed any indictment would be related to a matter reported on by the New York Times last week: that Ailes allegedly told News Corp. executive Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators who were vetting Bernie Kerik, the New York police commissioner who was nominated to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security. Regan had had an affair with Kerik at a lovenest near Ground Zero; Ailes allegedly wanted to protect the political ambitions of Kerik's boss, Rudy Giuliani. The allegations emerged in a civil lawsuit filed by Regan -- who claimed that she had a phone recording of Ailes talking about the matter -- against News Corp. Much about the episode is still unclear because Regan was paid $10 million to settle the suit, and she signed a confidentiality agreement.

It's not entirely clear what Ailes would be charged with in connection with the episode. I've reached out to a Fox spokesperson for a response to all this, and I will update this post if I hear back.

Ritholtz, for his part, describes his attitude in writing the post as "passing along what an informed person had said."

"If it's true we'll find out. If it's not, no big deal," he says. "We'll see where this goes."

Well, yes, I guess we'll see. My guess is that it takes a whole lot more than this to bring down a lifelong thug like Ailes. In fact, this all has the ring of really bad -- and unfunny -- comedy, like maybe a really bad Woody Allen movie.

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Will Cuppy Tonight: A Pliny the Elder special edition -- "The Goose," "The Oyster," and "The Ostrich" (from "How to Attract the Wombat")


"Pliny the Elder says pearls are formed by drops of dew falling into the Oyster when he is yawning. Can't something be done about that man?"
-- Will Cuppy, in "The Oyster"
(from How to Attract the Wombat)


There are forty different kinds of Geese in the world. It seems as if there were more. The main problem about Geese is whether they are foolish as they are supposed to be.1 Dr. Feldkamp says the average Goose has a mental age of three weeks.2 On the other hand, Pliny the Elder states that Geese are extremely sagacious. But would he know? Pliny based his opinion on the old tale that a flock of sacred Geese saved Rome from the Gauls in 390 B.C. by cackling and gabbling in the night, thus arousing the citizens to their danger. Ever afterwards the Romans held Geese in the highest esteem, but the Gauls were so sore that they went back home and invented pâté de foie gras. I don't think those Geese had the faintest idea that the Gauls were approaching. Geese wouldn't know a Gaul if they saw one. They simply felt like making a racket at that unearthly hour, so they did.3 The fact remains that a good deal of history has been made by Geese. Sometimes a Goose will take a fancy to you and follow you round wherever you go, stopping when you stop and starting when you start and cackling every foot of the way about things that do not matter in the least. You can't get a word in edgewise. Some people naturally attract Geese and there is nothing much to be done about it. You just have to grin and bear it. Or leave town. A Goose always accompanied the philosopher Lacydes, head of the Academy at Athens, having singled him out when a mere Gosling as a congenial companion. They can tell. Personally, I don't expect any sense from a Goose, so I am never disillusioned. Their feathers are nice and soft and they lay Goose eggs and the Goslings are wonderful. What more can you ask? You have to take Geese as you find them. That's the way they are meant to be. Common Domestic Geese are monogamous. They look it.4 Wild Geese migrate in flocks, or gaggles, flying in V-formation and honking as loud as they can.5 When they fly north in March they are hailed wherever they pass as harbingers of spring. Everybody stops work and rushes, outdoors, shouting happily, "Geese! Geese! Spring is here!" I generally go right on with what I am doing. I know when spring is here.
1 Favorite remark of Early Woman to Early Man: "Oh, don't be a silly Goose!" His reply is unknown.
2 If I had time I would tell you more about Dr. F.
3 No proof exists that a flock of Geese saved Rome, either on purpose or accidentally, but to Pliny the Elder it was the gospel truth. That man would believe anything.
4 It is said that Geese choose their mates on Saint Valentine's Day. I always forget to check on it -- too busy with my own problems.
5 The mating call for the White-fronted or Laughing Goose is "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" What's so funny?
Drawings by Ed Nofziger

§ § §


The Oyster is so small when he is born that you cannot see him without a microscope. Something generally swallows him by mistake before he becomes visible.1 Only one Oyster in a million is lucky enough to grow up and be stewed. The infant Oyster swims around for a few days by means of his microscopic cilia, or eyelashes. If he had any sense he would continue to do this for the rest of his days, but he has other ideas. He starts to develop a shell, sinks to the bottom and fastens his left valve2 to some solid object with a little bag of cement which he carries with him for the purpose. He thinks he is fixed for life. Ah, youth! The Oyster has many enemies such as the Starfish, the Whelk, the Oyster Drill, and the Slipper Limpet.3 He also has friends who move him about from one Oyster bed to another so that he will be fat and healthy and a credit to the Pelecypoda, or bivalved mollusks. When he is four or five years old they tell him that he ought to be more of a mixer and see more people and pretty soon he is on his way to the Grand Central Oyster Bar.4 Oysters are good all the year round but you never heard an Oyster say that. They are busy spawning in the months without an R and prefer to be undisturbed, as who wouldn't?5 European Oysters change from male to female, or vice versa, whenever they feel in the mood. To an American or Canadian Oyster that would seem just silly. Oysters hibernate in the colder months. A frozen Oyster feels fine as soon as he thaws out unless he has been roughly handled. If you shake him hard or hit him when he is frozen, his machinery comes apart and he is never the same Oyster again. Pearls are found in the Pearl Oyster of tropical seas, if you don't mind diving among the Sharks.6
1 He was hardly worth seeing anyway.
2 I would call it his left shell but let's be scientific.
3 The Piddock is perfectly harmless.
4 Some hold that Oysters have no nerves. I say an Oyster on the half-shell is a nervous Oyster.
5 Don't believe all you hear about Oysters. The Emperor Vitellius ate twelve dozen Oysters for supper one night and nothing happened.
6 Pliny the Elder says pearls are formed by drops of dew falling into the Oyster when he is yawning. Can't something be done about that man?

§ § §


The Ostrich is our largest living bird. A full-grown male Ostrich is eight feet tall and weighs three hundred pounds stripped. He is really too big for a bird and it must make him feel rather foolish.1 Because of his size, the ancients regarded the Ostrich as part quadruped, even though he has only two feet. It is possible to think of a biped as half a quadruped if you have that sort of mind, but the proposition will not hold up in the long run. In order to settle the matter, Aristotle took a close look at an Ostrich and announced, "It differs from a quadruped in being feathered." Just came to him in a flash, I suppose. The story that the Ostrich sticks his head in the sand when pursued, in the belief that this action renders him invisible, has brought undeserved ridicule upon the bird. It was started by Pliny the Elder, runner-up to Aristotle as an authority.2 Can the Ostrich help it if some people are not very bright?3 The popular notion that Ostriches subsist largely upon a diet of horseshoes is quite erroneous. They swallow sand, nails, and glass to promote the digestion of their food, which includes watches, doorknobs, and pieces of old machinery. Horseshoes are merely an occasional luxury.4 The Ostrich's egg is about the size of a coconut. It contains as much egg as eighteen ordinary hens' eggs and is somewhat gamy. One of them makes a meal for two to six Hottentots, depending upon the size of the Hottentots. You boil it for fifty minutes and call in the Hottentots.5 The Male Ostrich in search of a wife seeks to interest the prospect by displaying his feathers, dancing before her, fanning her with his wings, and uttering strange popping noises. As often as not she pays no attention whatever, but the male Ostrich seems to make out all right. He is frequently seen wandering around the desert with four or five females who lay their eggs in his nest and help him hatch out the young. This has given rise to certain rumors which I prefer not to discuss. I never repeat that kind of gossip unless I practically saw it myself.
1 Flightless birds like the Ostrich are called Ratitae, as their flat breast-bone reminds birdologists of a raft, the Latin word for which is ratis. Oh, well!
2 Although the old tale teaches us nothing about the Ostrich, it does shed light on the mental processes of Pliny the Elder. Shows what he would have done if he had been an Ostrich.
3 Pliny the Elder perished in 79 A.D. when he refused to flee from the great eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, insisting that everything would be all right. It wasn't.
4 Horseshoes lack certain essential vitamns. They are harmful when swallowed to excess.
5 An Ostrich egg is a natural for the emergency shelf. Just the thing for friends who drop in unexpectedly.

TOMORROW in WILL CUPPY TONIGHT: "Alexander the Great" (from The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody)

THURBER TONIGHT (including BENCHLEY TONIGHT and WILL CUPPY TONIGHT): Check out the series to date

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But Wait... There's More: The Story Of Craigslist Congressman Chris Lee Refuses To Die-- And Who Are We To Let It!


Chirs Lee likes transvestites; too bad he was a couple decades late for DC's most notorious Republican one

- by Noah

But wait, there’s more, more than meets the eye, too! Remember when Congressman Chris Lee (R-NY) recently resigned so suddenly after a seemingly tame, by Washington standards, (if there are such things) sex scandal? The married congressman’s scandal seemed to consist of him merely trolling for a date via Craigslist. His stupidity was pursuing his philandering in such a public manner. After all, a congressman without a little something on the side is probably as rare as a baby brontosaurus grazing on a tree in your backyard.

Repug supporters quickly pointed to Lee’s good sense in resigning and doing the right thing. They pointed it out as an example of his good Republican integrity while they ignored the stories of David “Diapers” Vitter, Strom Thurmond, and John Ensign and renewed their heaps of hypocritical scorn upon Barney Frank. Even dead Democrats were not spared as the Kennedy names were dug up for fresh finger pointing and very theatrical puritanical scorn.
So why did Lee head for the hills so quickly? Well, now we have stories coming out about his desires for trannies and cross-dressers, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even the sainted Republican former head of the FBI was known to don a nice black dress and call himself Mary every once in a while. No, to me, the only wrong is the hypocrisy and, of course, any potential illegality that might be involved. Personally, I would rather see a society where a sitting congressperson could sit in Congress wearing whatever he, she, or he-she damn well pleased, and, as far as I know, I don’t have an ounce of French blood in my veins! Hell, in England, I seriously doubt that you can rise to high office without putting on a dress and carrying a little handbag every once in a while, at the least. And, I can’t remember how many Queens King Henry the 8th had but it’s safe to say that one of them was the guy he saw in the mirror every evening.  
So now it is strongly alleged that Lee, who advertised himself as “Sexy classy guy for passable TS/CD,” “smooth, hard body,” and “I promise not to disappoint” has more to tell about his life’s journey. People named “Holly” and “Fiona” are coming out of the woodwork to force Chris Lee out of his closet. The whole thing reminds me of the stories whirling around Rep. Bob Livingston who was “Speaker For A Day” when uber-hypocrite Newt Gingrich had to resign for his own affairs after spending so much time impeaching President Clinton for his. Livingston was to succeed Newtieboy but quickly resigned as news about his copious amount of extramarital affairs rose to the surface and began to even morph into whispers of youngsters and whips.
I only wish that Rep. Louie (The Bestiality Guy) Gohmert or Senate Minority Leader Miss McConnell had answered the ad, but, hey, maybe they did and maybe we’ll hear about it soon. A guy can dream, can’t he? 

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Sunday Classics: String-quartet encores, Part 3 -- Schubert and the spell of musical compulsion


The Amadeus Quartet (Norbert Brainin and Siegmund Nissel, violins; Peter Schidlof, viola; Martin Lovett, cello) plays Schubert's Quartettsatz at Aldeburgh, 1977.

by Ken

As I mentioned at the end of last night's all-Russian Part 2 of our three-part series devoted to string-quartet encore-type pieces (following Friday night's international-repertory Part 1), I have one more piece to present. It's the near-exclusive, even obsessive subject of today's post.

I don't think I'm imagining that there was, once upon a time, an RCA LP of string-quartet encores by the Guarneri Quartet which included the single movement that bears the lofty designation of Schubert's Quartet No. 12, clearly intended as the first movement of a quartet that Schubert for reasons known only to him chose not to pursue. It's more commonly known by the German designation Quartettsatz, which simply means "quartet movement." My (currently unsubstantiated) recollection is that it was via this mysterious Guarneri LP, of which I haven't found a trace, including even my presumed own copy (could I have disposed of it simply because I wasn't much of a fan of the Guarneri?), that I began listening compulsively to the piece, over and over (and over).

In this clip you can view the score for the Quartettsatz while listening to the (unidentified) performance.



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PsyOps By The U.S. Military Against Memebers Of Congress


I haven't heard anything about Darrell Issa investigating this-- probably the only thing he isn't investigating-- but perhaps he should get rid of the staff full of partisan hacks and hire some Rolling Stone reporters. They uncovered a blockbuster story about the Military Industrial Complex President Eisenhower warned us about. Reminder:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-- economic, political, even spiritual-- is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

And somehow it didn't surprise me in the least to read that the Members of Congress singled out for pro-military brainwashing are powerful media spotlight hogs like John McCain. Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and conservative new DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, all warmongers to begin with and even more fanatic about unjustifiable wars after being brainwashed. Short version: "The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in 'psychological operations' to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned-- and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators."
The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops-- the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors-- are supposed to be used exclusively on "hostile foreign groups." Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a "propaganda rider" that also prohibits such manipulation. "Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans," says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It’s what you learn on day one."


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: String-quartet encores, Part 2 -- We hear from the Russians


The "middle period" Borodin Quartet (Mihail Kopelman and Andrei Abramenkov, violins; Dmitri Shebalin, viola; Valentin Berlinsky, cello) plays the Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky's First String Quartet.

by Ken

Last night in Part 1 we heard an international assortment of encore-type string-quartet pieces. Tonight it's all Russian.

As I mentioned, the original impetus for this series of posts was the inclusion as bonus pieces of two of these encore-type pieces on Marquis-label CDs by the St. Petersburg Quartet. Last night we heard the string-quartet arrangement of Debussy's "Golliwog's Cake-walk," and in tonight's all-Russian program we're going to hear that performance of the Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky's First String Quartet.


Among the other Russian pieces we're going to hear is one it would be an understatement to say I'm crazy about -- it makes me crazy. I've been known to listen to it 10, 20, maybe 30 times in a row. By way of preview, in this clip Shostakovich's string-quartet arrangement of his Polka from The Age of Gold gets some special treatment from violinists Marc Yun and Diana Zhou, violist Chris Cho, and cellist Stephen Cho at the chamber orchestra Camerata Notturna's Chamber Music Extravaganza in Lincoln Center's Rose Studio, Aug. 16, 2009.




The final episode of "Any Human Heart" (on "Masterpiece Classic") is shaping up as an event


Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

The final episode of Any Human Heart airs this week on most PBS stations. In the New York area, for example, it's tomorrow night on channel 13 and Monday night on channel 21. I'm hooked enough that I may actually watch it in real time tomorrow night. (Episodes can be viewed online, by the way, so if you've got some free time, you could get caught up in time to watch the finale in real time too. Or you can watch the whole thing online, of course -- through March 22.)
How can a man in the bloom of youth, pursuing writing and sex with equal vigor, end up grizzled, old, and surrounded by piles of boxes and paper, the detritus of a life? The answer is the story of Logan Mountstuart, who believes, "Every human being is a collection of selves...we never stay just one person." And the twentieth century provides the perfect backdrop for Logan to live out his lives, drinking absinthe with Ernest Hemingway, initiated into intrigue by Ian Fleming, and embroiled in the arch expat world of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. A novelist, war correspondent, father, spy, prisoner of war, art dealer, husband, and many times over, a lover — an Everyman of sorts -- Logan is played at three junctures of his life by Sam Claflin, Matthew Macfadyen (Little Dorrit), and Jim Broadbent. An intimate take on a sweeping century, Any Human Heart is based on the bestselling book by William Boyd and also stars Kim Cattrall (My Boy Jack), Gillian Anderson (Bleak House) and Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park).
-- PBS's (pretty accurate) descriptive blurb for
Masterpiece Classic series Any Human Heart

by Ken

I really wasn't expecting much (anything?) from Any Human Heart, in part because the promotional materials place such stress on the "historical" figures who litter the screenplay, written by William Boyd based on his own novel. I have to say that, two episodes in, the series has gripped me to the point of making me curious about the book.

Those historical figures actually do matter, but they're not used in the way you might expect from description like that in the above blurb, though the portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Tom Hollander and Gillian Anderson), whom we meet first as the prince of Wales and his mistress, is scabrous enough -- and deservedly so, I gather -- as to be worth the price of admission by itself. But, just to give you a sort of example of how the material seems to me to work, the chief takeaway from our protagonist Logan Mountstuart's acquaintance with the Duke and Duchess is his head-on encounter with the concept of betrayal, being branded a Judas when for one of the few times in his life he is actually behaving in a competent and scrupulous fashion.

Perhaps I should explain the narrative format of the show, which shows us Logan at the various stages of his life: as a child in Uruguay (his mother was Uruguayan), as a university student and up-and-coming graduate (played by Sam Claflin), as a mature adult (played by Matthew Madfadyen -- Tom of TV's MI-5, or Spooks, if you want to be pedantic), and as an old man (played by Jim Broadbent). Mostly what we're seeing is the aged Logan literally going through and burning that "detritus" of his life cited in the PBS blurb, and in so doing, with an assist from the journals that seem to be the closest thing in his life to an honest accomplishment, reviewing that life.

Since, apart from bits of voiceover, Jim Broadbent as the aged Logan is given no dialogue, at least in those first two episodes, any sense we get of what the scenes from his life mean to him or add up to him has to come from watching his late-life reactions. In general, those reactions seem to range from distressed to appalled.

Matthew Macfadyen, Jim Broadbent, and Sam Claflin as Logan

If you're at all susceptible to this kind of material -- that is, attempting to encompass the totality of a life in a single large gulp -- Any Human Heart is fascinating, and devastating. Again going only by those first two episodes, what we see is mostly Logan stumbling through life, mostly unaware of anything except his urges of the moment, under the pretext of living according to the principle passed down to him by his ailing father: that life is just a matter of luck, your good luck and your bad luck. (It's worth considering that those words had a distinctly different import coming out of the mouth of a man who, however tedious his career path to running a highly profitable food-processing company may seem, actually worked, and worked hard, for everything he got in the way of a living.)

Mostly, Logan enjoys good luck, but he does as little to deserve that as he does to deserve the stroke of hellaciously, cosmically monstrous luck that in time befalls him. Which again is why his encounter with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor seems so tragicomically appropriate. Though appallingly ill equipped for the mission that puts him in their semi-royal company in the Bahamas, he tries for once in his life to act responsibly, and is treated like . . . well, like a Judas, as the Duke and Duchess put it so graphically.

I have to admit that on one count I've overstated a bit. I've been claiming to have watched the first two episodes. In fact, I haven't quite finished the second. I've had the DVR on pause while I wrote this. I'm going to go back now and finish up the second episode, and as I wrote in the caption for the above clip, there's a good chance that I'll watch the final episode in real time tomorrow night.

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