Sunday, April 30, 2006

Down by the River

A sign painted at the top of the old building on the corner of State and Delaware announces that elegant new residences are coming soon to this location. Actually, they mean the location next to the old square three story building where the sign has been painted. I will soon be looking straight into the side of another 25 story or so building as I sit looking out the window and writing. That is another sign, one telling me to move on.

I found the perfect trailer, out in the country and down by the river, in Iowa last Autumn. I could buy something like that for cheap and make it a summer retreat. The drive into the nearest small town wouldn’t be that bad except when I wanted to hang out at the one and only local bar and get deep into my cups. On the other hand, drinking alone has its charms too.

Imagine the summer nights with the cicadas, frogs, and crickets singing, the night breeze stirring the curtains, or the grasshoppers, hummingbirds, and bees gliding across the yard in the bright summer light. I could saunter down to the river at the end of each day with some cold beer, a fishing pole, and some bait, and feel the darkness envelope me while I sat on a snag fishing and watched the sun go down.

I’d have to clean myself up sufficiently to make it into town a couple of times each week just so as people would not think me some old coot who’d lost his mind completely.

I could go to the small local library every week and check out books. I might even help out if they needed somebody with an eye for acquiring cheap and good used books. I'd help stamping and properly binding the books so as to be suitable for a lending library.

I’d keep State Street though, even though its time was past. I’d miss you too much, Dear Reader, to let it go. Who would be left to say, “you are who you think you ain’t,” if not for me?

My heart would never be truly broken again as I lived out my life as an old man down by the river.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Friday Night Movie Kissing

Home alone on a Friday night. I watched Cinema Paradiso on TCM. I had not seen it before.

The Graduate came on after that. I’ve seen that one countless times. The first time I saw it was in the summer of 1969 at an outdoor Camp Pendleton theater. I had read the novel the year before when I was in Vietnam.

The movie held my interest tonight, even though I didn’t expect it would. My favorite scene is when Elaine comes into Ben’s room in the middle of the night, wakes him up, and asks, “will you kiss me?” Of course, he does. That’s my all time favorite movie kiss. It fits very well with the ending of Cinema Paradiso. The movie ends with all the spliced together film footage of torrid movie kisses expurgated by the local priest.

My favorite movie love scene is when Hawkeye and Cora Munro spend the night together in the fort that is under siege by the French. The musical score to the movie is my favorite too, so that might be part of it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Global Capital Game

All I really want to do is Baby be friends with you.

Bob Dylan

Global capitalism has no political loyalties per se. If the world wants a better can opener or a better nuclear bomb, the market will provide it. That makes for problems for a certain class of market fundamentalist.

These market fundamentalists believe it is right and good that the United States should cut its own nuclear deal with India, but they dislike attempts by Russia and China to do the same with Iran. They defend their stance by stating that the current Iran regime is evil while India is not. Evil is often in the eye of the beholder. In the eye of global capital evil does not exist at all. Global capital only recognizes those folks who are buying and those who aren’t.

Solidarity between the United State, Europe, Russia, China, and India when it comes to carving up the economic pie will remain as elusive as ever. Those who demand political solidarity when it comes to Iran, yet at the same time extol the virtues of global capitalism are engaging in either sophistry or self delusion. Honor among market fundamentalists has never been as reliable a motive as some have trumpeted.

This is yet another case of you go first. Upsetting the nuclear balance between Pakistan and India hasn’t gone unnoticed in Pakistan, Russia, China, or the Muslim world. The United States makes its own unilateral deals without worrying too much about world opinion. Others know how the game is played, and are bound to pursue their own agendas without much care for world opinion either.

The world happens to want a better nuclear bomb rather than a better can opener. Playing the global capital game, and then crying foul when things don’t go your way doesn’t rouse much sympathy. The problem with making high risk investments has always been that you might not get your money back. Some folks think they are immune from that iron law of global capitalism. It doesn’t work that way when the strong play against the strong.

Extolling the virtues global capitalism while failing to apply its logic may not be inconsistent, but it could certainly lead to losing your wallet.

Oil Futures

The best I can tell from reading news bulletins this morning is that oil prices have a $15/barrel risk premium built into them. Oil prices, adjusted for inflation, remain about 20% below their 1981 peak after the fall of the Shah in Iran and during the Iraq-Iran War. Iraq oil production remains below its pre-war level. (Remember the good old days when the war would cost $70 billion and could be paid for by increased Iraqi oil production?)

The failed reconstruction effort in Iraq and the continued instability of the country indicate that no relief is in sight on risk premium and production from that quarter. The US’s relations with Iran continue to deteriorate. Bombing them will effectively eliminate them as a supplier to the US. Venezuela increasingly seems a more volatile supplier, and the Bush Administration has no desire to repair relations with Chavez. The Russian oil industry is a powerful force in that country. Putin can be expected to use that as a playing card in international relations when things don’t go his way. Remember he recently cutoff natural gas supplies to the Ukraine. Add to that problems in Nigeria, unstable regimes in other OPEC countries, and the fact that, after all, the US is dealing with a cartel, and you can see the risk premium going beyond the $15/barrel level.

Then there is China, whose demand is rapidly increasing. China is cutting deals with countries like Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba to assure a cheap supply of oil to their high growth economy.

How much more wiggle room remains in the price of oil and its risk premium? Given the current state of international relations, discounting the risk premium seems like the wrong side of the bet. What’s Soros saying? He’s predicting higher prices, but at what level he will not say.

The current reaction by the President and Congress to the large increases at the pump are born out of political desperation before the midterm elections. Energy analysts are unanimous in saying none of the measures proposed will have an effect on gas prices.

Should I get my $100 gas rebate check, I’m using it to help buy an oil future. Or I might buy a couple of tickets to the Cubs game. I can take the Red Line train up to Wrigley for the low price of $3.50 roundtrip.

The market fundamentalists, who advocate war as the solution to international relation problems, are temporarily skewered on their own pike.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Attention Sleepyheads!


Thierry Henry

Fox Soccer Channel will broadcast the Chelsea vs. Manchester United football game live at 6:30 AM Central time on Saturday. Chelsea needs one draw in their last three games to clinch another English Premier League title. Manchester United, currently in second place, hopes to spoil the party at Chelsea on Saturday. The betting is running about even between the two teams.

And absolutely don’t forget to mark your calendars for the May 17 Barcelona vs. Arsenal Champions League final in Paris. It doesn’t get any better than watching Ronaldinho for Barca and Thierry Henry for Arsenal. You know, they’re the dudes on the new Nike Joga Bonito soccer ads.

Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the May 13 Liverpool vs. West Ham FA Cup final.

The MLS started its season at the beginning of April. ABC broadcasts a game every Saturday afternoon, and ESPN broadcasts west coast games on Saturday night.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Guns for Hire

They were called mercenaries in the past. Now, they are called private security firms. Let’s not get hung up on names for the moment.

Rebecca Ulam Weiner meditates in the Boston Globe about the merits of sending to private security firms to troubled areas such as Darfur to assist with peacekeeping and relief operations.

Aid agencies and NGOs in Darfur haven't had many good days lately. The beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force has few resources to spend defending an NGO like Save the Children, and the ability of such organizations to continue working in the area is very much in question. ''You can't expect people to work in conflict zones without protection," says Christopher Kinsey, a scholar with the Joint Services Command at King's College London and author of the forthcoming book ''Corporate Soldiers and International Security" (Routledge), ''especially as noncombatant immunity is no longer respected." Kinsey believes there's a legitimate role for private military companies in humanitarian operations.

Issues beyond cost and effectiveness need to be balanced against accountability issues. There’s that A-word again.

Such an answer may suggest a reflexive discomfort with privatizing force. But it also represents some nuanced, widely shared concerns. The first, and most common, is accountability. And it isn't merely hypothetical, considering the alleged involvement of private contractors in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the recent conviction of the military contractor Custer Battles for government contract fraud in Iraq, and earlier, in Bosnia, the involvement of Dyncorp contractors in a forced prostitution ring.

''There are some legitimate reasons to be skeptical," allows Isenberg. ''How do you ensure oversight, compliance with international humanitarian law, follow the rules of warfare, rules of engagement, comply with the Geneva Conventions, and the whole bureaucratic panoply of rules that come into play?" Particularly when you're trying to preserve fast, flexible, and inexpensive deployment.

Compounding the problem of accountability is the fact that private companies are of course not just out to save the world, but to make money. Assuming an industry made up of rational actors, eager to maximize profits, can loyalty to a particular firm-or a particular client-be maintained? Can standards? What happens when there are conflicts of interest? The industry claims that it would only accept contracts from legally recognized bodies, but what if this body were an unsavory regime?

Without uniform regulation of the private military industry, the answers to these questions largely depend on one's faith in the market's power to encourage good behavior. As Kinsey sees it, the industry actually takes corporate responsibility quite seriously. ''It's not because the companies are being altruistic," he says. ''It's beneficial in the long term for them to conduct themselves responsibly."

More fundamentally, many believe that the international community has a special responsibility to take on problems such as Darfur-and that outsourcing humanitarian interventions to the private sector is just another way of sidestepping the hard political debates that should take place in public.

But the abstract ideal of an engaged international community might seem a rarefied consideration in light of the realities on the ground.

The United States has abdicated its role in these kinds of peacekeeping operations because it is committed to fighting wars of dubious success and value. Yes, there have been voices in the current regime calling for more assistance to beleaguered areas such as Darfur. These same people realize the political liability any real action imposes given the Iraq War and the sudden explosion of the immigration issue. Isolationism is far from dead despite the global objectives of the current regime.

The market only cares about politics as a means for keeping the market moving inexorably along. That doesn’t change how tempting it looks to buy some guns for hire for places like Darfur.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

On the Bus

President Bush, whose popularity continues to decline, has discovered gas prices are too high. He has new plans such as suspending tax breaks to oil companies, beginning a probe into high gas prices, and giving the EPA authority to suspend more environmental protection regulations. You can bet for a certainty suspending environmental regulations will happen, but don’t expect to get very good odds on the bet. Nobody is taking the other side of it.

As for a probe into high gas prices, that should be easy. All he has to do is review his own policies. Don’t bet on that happening though.

The current high prices portend the calamity to come. One day, oil will be gone. Ah, the market will take care of any problems arising from that. Exactly how is the open question.

Don’t forget to buy a house within walking distance from where you work. Living close by a grocery store will help too. And get in line early for the train or bus.

Monday, April 24, 2006


I acquired the Everyman’s Library collection of George Orwell’s essays. The selection runs to 1363 pages. I have opened it at random several times and each time found something delightful to dawdle over.

That’s perfect for me, a consummate dawdler.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Reuters reports the Vatican is preparing a new statement on AIDS and condoms.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, declined to reveal the contents of the document in an interview published in Sunday's la Repubblica newspaper, but said Pope Benedict had asked his department to study the issue.
This is a very difficult and delicate subject that requires prudence," said Mexican-born Barragan.

The issue might be difficult and delicate for the limited understanding of Popes and Cardinals, but others have resolved the issue in their own minds without much help from the learned doctors of the church.

Willful and reckless ignorance kills. These calls for prudence and patience sound barbaric and gratuitous. Shame on them all.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

You go first

Jawad al-Maliki has been asked to head the new Iraqi government. In his first order of business, he has called upon all militia groups to lay down their weapons and merge into the Iraqi army. After all, as he so aptly mentions, it’s the law.

Think about it though. Would you be the first one to turn in your AK-47 and rocket launcher? That’s what I thought.

Recall the movie Outlaw Josey Wales when the remnants of Bloody Bill Anderson’s Confederate insurgents laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Yankees. The Yankees mowed them down with a Gattling gun while they were pledging allegiance to the United States.

The no gun law in Iraq seems like a tough one to enforce. How about printing some “just say no to automatic weapons” bumper stickers?

Essay in Idleness

What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realize I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head.

Essays in Idleness, Kenko (1283-1350)

I sat in a bar—where else?—by the window yesterday, and twirled my pen over my composition notebook as if it would conjure words on the page. I never lack for theses, most of which are uninventive and uninteresting and scarcely signify anything at all. Sometimes, I hesitate writing them down.

I had fortunately brought along The Art of the Personal Essay, an anthology fun and enlightening to ramble through. That is where I found the Kenko quotation. I also discovered some selections from Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. She lists some hateful things such as this.
Sometimes one greatly dislikes a person for no particular reason—and then that person goes and does something hateful.

I imagined Shonagon and Kenko as the first bloggers.

Last night, I also imagined writing something like this. I should write about the avaricious and golden haired young woman I met last night, but I’m not feeling particularly inventive or interesting again today—another hateful thing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Something more interesting

Another gorgeous summer-like day. I’m taking my notebook to a restaurant where I can sit by an open window. I hope to write something interesting, something way more interesting than this anyway.

If I don’t write something interesting, I’ll still be looking out an open window at the trees sprouting their new leaves.

This gets old

I woke up this morning hoping it was all a bad dream. But it’s true. Derek Lee, star first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, has broken his wrist and will be out for at least 8 to 10 weeks.

The Cubs, who have kept pace with their division opponents, have had a good start to their season. Now, with Derek out, and Wood and Prior no where to be found, things don’t look so good.

The insufferable White Sox fans are having a ball--not because they have good team again this season, but because they would rather see the Cubs lose than see their own team win. How one develops an inferiority complex that severe I do not know.

Year after year, this shit gets old.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Woke at five on the dot as usual. Pulled on a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt. I sat in a worn lawn chair on the balcony and smoked a cigarette. The air was wet and warm. The predawn was nearly silent except for the sound of a few trucks already making deliveries. The lights were still off in the surrounding tall buildings. Dark pools of water standing in the black streets reflected the orange globes of the streetlamps as if some ingenious person had lit the street from below as well as above.

People who missed the end of night walked the streets after dawn. They listened to an inner voice singing of necessity.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Gone Fishing

Calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.

Cool Hand Luke

Scott McClellan is the happiest man in the country. Even Satan would not want to be the White House Press Secretary. Lying, stonewalling, and practicing the other dark rhetorical arts will eventually wear down the soul. A devoted and devout Press Secretary wonders whether he has accumulated enough demerits to bar him from ever entering Paradise.

Scott can now retire to his study for awhile and write his memoir about how wonderful it was working for President Bush. He’ll have his two week book tour when it is published. Then the book will slide into oblivion.

However, there will be no end of invitations to sit on learned panels and discuss the Press Secretary’s role in keeping the Republic free and just. That is Purgatory enough to get him into Paradise. After all, he could be frolicking in the sun rather than haunting think tank conference rooms.

So long Scott. And thanks for handing out all the scoops to the gullible. They learned your lessons well.

Don’t forget to write.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dawn: note to self

Dawn. I was sitting by the lake and looking at the orange glow over the water’s horizon. The question about the meaning of life played across my mind. Then it came to me.

The meaning of life is created—not discovered. Like all the other important things in life, such as mathematics, philosophy, poetry, love, and the beauty of a spring dawn, the meaning of life is created from passion. I am sure that I have read and heard this many times during my life, but I was not listening.

I never learn anything unless I recreate it for myself. I wish I was better at doing that.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Movies

I watched The Greatest Story Ever Told tonight, the first time I've watched it all the way through. I found it rather boring. Rip Torn did his best playing the Judas role, but like all the other roles, the cast did not have much to work with.

Ben Hur starts at midnight. I've seen that one a lot. I hope I'm asleep by then.

A new record? Probably not.

I watched four soccer games and two baseball games on TV yesterday. That must be close to the record for haughty indolence.

Today is shaping up to be much the same way. Tonight, I will return to meditating on the meaning of life.

After the soccer matches I bet on this weekend, I'm just happy that I'll break even or finish a little ahead after this afternoon's PSG vs. Lyon match.

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

An ordinary soaking

The day dawned so bright and clear I swore I could see to the end of the universe if I tried. Instead of looking, I scanned the NY Times Sunday book reviews, and watched the Bolton/Chelsea game--the ordinary.

Sunlight showers the room. I'm drenched. I need this good soaking.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

Hot and hazy. I look as bad as I feel. I wear sneakers, white sox, Levi button fly jeans at least a decade old, a Toledo Mudhens t-shirt stretched tight across my belly, and a Cubs baseball cap. My hair escapes in unruly tangles from my cap. Stubble covers my face.

Last night I swore to go on diet: one serving of pastry for breakfast, one serving of light and lean microwave cuisine in the evening, plus Budweiser beer, Makers Mark whiskey, and Coke Classic whenever I want. I took that oath last year too.

The Man. U. vs. Sunderland game is about to start. The announcer calls it David against Goliath. David had a much better chance than Sunderland.

The words from Elizabeth Bishop's Filling Station roll around my mind:

Somebody loves us all.


I have had Billy Ray Cyrus's Achey Breaky Heart playing in my mind all morning. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes.

Two convicts are sentenced to die by electrocution on the same day. The Warden leads the two convicts to the electric chair. The Warden asks the first convict if he has any last requests. The convict replies, "play Achey Breaky Heart for me." The Warden asks the second convict what his request is. The second convict replies, "strap me in first."

Drum roll, please.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Spinoza, Nemirovsky, terror, and the violent event

I’ve been enthralled by and absorbed in Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise since I started reading it this week. The opening chapters detail the lives of people evacuating Paris in early June 1940 when it became clear the Germans would soon be marching into the city, or, more importantly, destroying it. Terror, fear, panic, and chaos reigned as Parisians scrambled by every available means to escape the city. Even a young family cat gets a chapter detailing his experience of the evacuation.

One wonders why people waited so long to take the necessary steps to get out of town. Nemirovsky asks and answers this question about her characters. It takes a dramatic and violent event to shake people from their everyday lethargy. The first reaction is denial. Once denial has passed, the old ways of thinking and living in society are not easily quit. One expects other’s behavior to remain the same during a time of chaos even though one has altered one’s own behavior without recognizing it.

This put me in mind of the preface to Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise.

(1)Men would never be superstitious, if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favoured by fortune: but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being often kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune's greedily coveted favours, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. (2) The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, over - confident, and vain.

(3) This as a general fact I suppose everyone knows, though few, I believe, know their own nature; no one can have lived in the world without observing that most people, when in prosperity, are so over-brimming with wisdom (however inexperienced they may be), that they take every offer of advice as a personal insult, whereas in adversity they know not where to turn, but beg and pray for counsel from every passer-by. (4) No plan is then too futile, too absurd, or too fatuous for their adoption; the most frivolous causes will raise them to hope, or plunge them into despair - if anything happens during their fright which reminds them of some past good or ill, they think it portends a happy or unhappy issue, and therefore (though it may have proved abortive a hundred times before) style it a lucky or unlucky omen. (5) Anything which excites their astonishment they believe to be a portent signifying the anger of the gods or of the Supreme Being, and, mistaking superstition for religion, account it impious not to avert the evil with prayer and sacrifice. (6) Signs and wonders of this sort they conjure up perpetually, till one might think Nature as mad as themselves, they interpret her so fantastically.

(7) Thus it is brought prominently before us, that superstition's chief victims are those persons who greedily covet temporal advantages; they it is, who (especially when they are in danger, and cannot help themselves) are wont with Prayers and womanish tears to implore help from God: upbraiding Reason as blind, because she cannot show a sure path to the shadows they pursue, and rejecting human wisdom as vain; but believing the phantoms of imagination, dreams, and other childish absurdities, to be the very oracles of Heaven. (8) As though God had turned away from the wise, and written His decrees, not in the mind of man but in the entrails of beasts, or left them to be proclaimed by the inspiration and instinct of fools, madmen, and birds. Such is the unreason to which terror can drive mankind!

I wrote earlier this year about walking down State Street to the Chicago Loop. As I walked along, I tried to identify something beyond the changing mortar and brick along the street. As hard as I tried I could not imagine a different politics or economics supporting the structures. That is not because it is not possible. My mind, despite its activity, is not well tempered to change during the course of an ordinary day. Is it possible that only violent events rouse me from my lethargy? Partly, yes.

A related question is whether a violent event would make me superstitiously cling to the old beliefs that caused the violent event, or would I reason my way into a new and better position. That’s the more scary question.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Stinking Media Bias

In another blatant case of media bias, Reuters reports this story.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded outside a Shi'ite mosque in a town north of Baghdad on Wednesday and police said initial reports indicated at least 20 people were killed.

The blast targeted worshippers at a mosque in the town of Howaydir. Hospital officials said dozens of casualties were being treated.

Last week a triple suicide bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad killed 90 people.

I’m surprised the bastards didn’t go on to claim there is a civil war going on in Iraq. Where are the uplifting stories about Marines handing out candy bars to homeless Iraqi children?


“Planes,” Florence replied, looking up at the sky.

“Why won’t they leave me the hell alone?” he thundered.

He hated the war; it threatened much more than his lifestyle or peace of mind. It continually destroyed the world of the imagination, the only world where he felt happy. It was like a shrill, brutal trumpet shattering the fragile crystal walls he’d taken such pains to build in order to shut out the rest of the world.

“God!” he sighed. “How upsetting, what a nightmare!”

Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise

People really do think that way. I know one in particular.

A Simple Metric

I cannot imagine being a reporter trying to gather the news everyday in Iraq. It’s too damned dangerous. There are too many ways to die.

My basic metric for gauging how well things are going in Iraq is whether, short of insanity, I would ever want to go there.

Today's goal

I had a premonition yesterday morning I would not sleep much last night. It came true. I made the big pot of coffee this morning. The coffee has not erased the nasty scowl from my face or the rancor in my soul.

Dark clouds are gathering. A spring thunderstorm is brewing. I don’t care because it’s t-shirt and shorts warm outside.

Today’s goal: don’t be gratuitously mean—not even to myself.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tank Man

Frontline ran a show on Tank Man tonight, and what has happened in China since.

We remember Tank Man, the last man standing after the revolt in Tiananmen Square. Nobody knows his identity or his fate.

Tank Man; Man in Revolt. And now a man for the ages.

The Breakup

Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus became friends in Paris during World War II. Shortly after the war, they became world famous.

Sartre and Camus were committed to the cause of French workers after the war. The French Communist Party, PCF, was the most powerful Leftist party in France. However, the Party took its orders directly from Moscow and the Stalinist regime, was dogmatic and rigid in their ideology, and attacked Sartre and Camus, neither of whom were communists, because they did not rigidly follow the Party line. The revelations after the war of Stalinist betrayal and brutality in the Soviet Union created dilemmas for those on the Left. Leftists were faced with the difficult decision of whether to repudiate communism because of Stalin, or choose it because when compared to western capitalism it was the lesser of two evils.

Sartre chose to become a fellow traveler. Camus grew to hate communism and marxism, even though it is possible he had not read Marx, and only received his information about Marx second hand from folks such as Arthur Koestler. The friendship began to break apart.

The final break came in 1952 when Camus published The Rebel, better translated as Man in Revolt. Camus came out against revolutionary violence. Sartre interpreted this as a direct repudiation of the peace he had made with communism and the Soviet Union. In a famous letter published in his journal Les temps modernes, Sartre attacked the book, Camus’s politics, and Camus personally. They never spoke or met again.

Their writing grew fallow in the following years. Camus had been publicly humiliated by Sartre, and it silenced him. Beauvoir published her novel The Mandarins about the Sartre and Camus friendship and its breakup. The characters representing Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus reconcile in the novel. Camus read the novel as a further attack on his reputation.

Camus eventually published The Fall. The novel is Camus’s settling of accounts with himself and Sartre. Clamence, the reprehensible protagonist of the novel, is a compendium of the faults of both Camus and Sartre. Sartre called The Fall Camus’s best book. Sartre also returned to writing productively.

Camus died in 1960 in a car accident. Death ended the slim chances for reconciliation and any further accounting by both parties. The issues over which they fought, violence, revolution, revolt, justice, freedom, loyalty, and good faith, remain unresolved.

For an in depth investigation of the Camus and Sartre friendship and its milieu, read Ronald Aronson’s excellent Camus & Sartre: the story of a friendship and the quarrel that ended it.

When the going gets tough

The Cubs are losing 9-0 to the Reds in the top of the 6th. In fact, they are playing like home made shit. I eat four White Castle sliders and a bag of Lays potato chips, and wash it down with a Bud--just to steady my nerves. It's not enough.

I'm off to Barnes and Noble with a 25% off coupon in pocket. When the going gets tough, the tough go to the bookstore.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Get a haircut and get a real job

I have not gotten a haircut since a few weeks before Christmas, the longest I've let it go for at least two decades. I like it. But what's not to like? After all, I am custom made from head to toe.

Fun with Bill O'Reilly

I returned home, channel surfed, and rested on Fox News for a spell. Bill O'Reilly was talking about something, but I can't remember what. Then Michelle Malkin came on the show to talk to Bill about immigration. He let her talk for a few seconds and then cut her off. Geez, Bill. We've already talked about Michelle ourselves today, so let's move on.

The break came. Bill said, come back because we are going to talk about Barry Bonds. And sure enough, they did.

It seems Bill is very worried about Barry's mental health because the press is being so mean to him about his steroid use. Sure, professional baseball is itself culpable for turning a blind eye toward steroid use to boost fan attendance and TV ratings, and Barry is a lightning rod for all that.

However, I had to return to channel surfing when Bill got on his soapbox and gave a sermon on how viscous the media is to people. I didn't want to upchuck the tasty burger I had just eaten at Downtown Dogs.

Bill is a real piece of work.

Don't get out much anymore

I don't go to the big pundit blogs, right or left, much anymore--not that there aren't some good ones out there. Sometimes I check out Michelle Malkin's blog just for a goof. She's almost as good as Ann Coulter at throwing raw meat to the *I love Bush* crowd.

She's absolutely livid over the immigration protesters taking to the streets in force. I'm sure the news that Chirac has knuckled under to the massive protests in France has her running scared. Politicians forced to act according to the wishes of their constituencies must chill to her to the bone.

She's definitely on the ass-end of the immigration debate now that debating time is over. The proletariat doesn't seem to be as docile as expected.

Going to Carolina

A warm Spring day. Not a cloud in the sky. James Taylor sings in my mind I'm going to Carolina. I think about another Spring day like this long ago. And a poem by Ray Carver too.


Back at the hotel, watching her loosen, then comb out
her russet hair in front of the window, she deep in private thought,
her eyes somewhere else, I am reminded for some reason of those
Lacedaemonians Herodotus wrote about, whose duty
it was to hold the Gates against the Persian army. And who
did. For four days. First, though, under the disbelieving
eyes of Xwrxes himself, the Greek soldiers sprawled as if
uncaring, outside their timber-hewn wall, arms stacked,
combing and combing their long hair, as if it were
simply another day in an otherwise unremarkable campaign.
When Xerxes demanded to know what such display signified,
he was told, When these men are about to leave their lives
they first make their heads beautiful.
She lays down her bone-handle comb and moves closer
to the window and the mean afternoon light. Something, some
creaking movement from below, has caught her
attention. A look, and it lets her go.

Plan Nine from Outer Space

Seymour M. Hersh’s New Yorker article, The Iran Plans, is getting a lot of publicity. Mr. Hersh reports on the Bush administration’s plan to attack Iran so at to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. One contingency would be to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy those hard to get targets deep underground. Besides destroying Iran’s nuclear capability, other military targets, such as training camps, would also be attacked.

President Bush and key officials also see this as an opportunity for moderate Iranians to rise up and force regime change in the country. How you get from nuking somebody to having them become your ally in forcing regime change is a mystery to me. However, the Bush administration does not live in the same universe as the rest of us who are stuck in the everyday world.

This is the next great idea brought to you by the folks who gave you Iraq. The truly scary part is that the lame duck Bush administration has no one to answer to. Congress has failed in controlling the most basic and blatant excesses of the Bush administration. Too few in that august body have the spine or the smarts to do anything about any plan nine from outer space the Bush administration hatches.

One, two, three repeat after me: impeach George Bush, and for golly sakes elect somebody to Congress who will help get the job done.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Garry Wills on separation of church and state

I’ve always enjoyed reading Garry Wills. I still do. From his NY Times Op-ed piece Christ Among the Partisans (read the whole thing; it’s short).
THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: "When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you" (Matthew 6:5-6). He shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.

[. . .]

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

[. . . ]

The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father's judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs — accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.

He is more a higher Nietzsche, beyond good and evil, than a higher Socrates. No politician is going to tell the lustful that they must pluck out their right eye. We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.

It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.

Thanks for making it easy

Staking out consistent political positions can be difficult. Sometimes people and events make it easy regardless of one’s philosophical commitments.

Such is the case with the Iraq War and domestic spying. Enough revelations have surfaced to show that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney manipulated intelligence to gain support for the war in Iraq. We have also discovered that they willfully disregarded unanimous intelligence analysis from experts that Iraq would descend into a civil war once invaded.

Attorney General Gonzales at his latest Senate hearing admitted that the President had the right to perform surveillance on any U. S. citizen without due process, Constitutional protection, and for any reason. We have already seen enough cases where citizens who take unfriendly positions toward the administration have been harassed by law enforcement officers—Mr. Gonzales being the biggest offender.

Any decision about what to do politically in these cases transcends political party and philosophy. President Bush and Vice President Cheney must be impeached. Any Congressional candidate who does not support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the protection of Constitutional civil liberties, and the impeachment of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney should not be elected to office.

Yes, sometimes events and certain people make political decisions easy no matter what apologists say. The issue is no longer about an administration that is recklessly and grossly incompetent and corrupt. The President and his Congressional toadies are destroying justice and freedom, not only in the United States, but around the world. We must not let that continue.

The President has made the choices clear and easy for all those who still care about the republic, justice, and freedom.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The end of innocence

I really should not be writing this. Something is driving me to it I can't explain.

I have a friend whom I have known for over a decade now. We are not as close as we once were. He’s written his first novel, or at least a first draft. The work started out as a travel piece, evolved into a novella, and finally into a manuscript of about 300 pages.

He gave me his draft of the novella awhile ago, and asked me to do some basic editing of it. I made two passes through it. After the first pass, I wrote up a summary of what worked and what did not work for me, and tried to hide that I found it a terrible piece of writing. I took a red pen to his prose during the second reading and marked each page in detail where I found some rather obvious stylistic mistakes. The kind of advice you get in some of the how-to-write-a-novel books.

He was appreciative of the work I did with my red pen. He was stung and hurt by my more important criticism of his work, for he considered himself close to being an accomplished fiction writer. That is the risk one takes when editing a friend’s manuscript. I should have known better, for I am not an accomplished fiction writer or editor, and I am certainly not literary, his term for me, just because I read and enjoy fiction. Things between us have not been the same. The combination of his expectations and my foolishness in undertaking a task I was not qualified for created the situation.

During the past several months, he put what he felt were the finishing touches to his novel. He gave it to an accomplished poet and writer for editing. OK, great idea. But he paid her a princely sum for doing the work.

I saw him in the local bar last night, the bar where we had struck up our acquaintanceship long ago. He avoided talking to me, which I found a little odd, since I was sitting with people all of whom are his friends. Finally, he struck up a conversation with me after everyone had left. He was very drunk and very agitated. I was stone cold sober, for I had been nursing beers at an alarmingly slow rate during the evening.

He received his manuscript back from his friend yesterday during a meeting with her and her friends. They had written a seven page summary of the novel. They discussed what they liked and did not. He tried to put the best spin on his meeting. However, he admitted they told him he was far from being an accomplished fiction writer. At that point, I could tell he was crushed by the news. He has a big ego that needs feeding all the time.

He walked away to speak to someone for a moment. I tried to think of something to say when he returned. I felt very sorry he was taking it badly and trying to hide his disappointment.

He has written the first draft of a first novel. Of course, it is going to suck. For some reason he thought he could short cut the work through ego alone. He has read very little fiction in his life. That has to be a big handicap too. It never hurts to learn a few tricks first hand from the great ones whom you like.

He stopped drinking and left. I went to McDonald’s for the two cheeseburger value meal.

He’s on vacation this coming week with friends. That ought to help more than anything I could say to him.

Quite frankly, I like my pain and disappointment in small doses each day when I finish writing and realize that I have written a load of pure shit. There’s always hope the next day will go better. Even Hemingway said all first drafts are shit.

After all, I’m a Cubs fan too. Masochism comes naturally to me.

Who you gonna call?

Moises Naim says, "practitioners of the ‘dismal science’ should stop sneering at their academic cousins in the social sciences—and start learning from them," in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy (via aldaily).
In 1849, the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle labeled economics the “dismal science.” Two centuries later, contemporary practitioners still study dismal choices: Higher prices or fewer jobs? Spend or save? They have also become a smug lot.

Economists take pride in the sophisticated statistical techniques on which they rely to analyze phenomena such as growth, inflation, unemployment, trade, and even the long-term effects of abortion on crime rates. Many are convinced that their methods are more rigorous than those of all other social sciences and dismiss research that does not rest on quantitative methods as little more than “storytelling” or, worse, “glorified journalism.” Anthropologists, some economists jest, believe that the plural of anecdote is “data.”

A survey published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that 77 percent of the doctoral candidates in the leading departments in the United States believe that “economics is the most scientific of the social sciences.” It turns out, however, that this certitude does not stem from how well they regard their own discipline but rather from their contempt for the other social sciences. Although they were nearly unanimous about the relative superiority of their profession, only 9 percent of the respondents were convinced that economists agree on fundamental issues.

And they are right. Economists today are still grappling with basic questions for which they have no answers. Much more than fodder for academic squabbles, this uncertainty often has serious consequences. When economists err in theory, people suffer in practice. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil’s former president, recalls that in the midst of his country’s financial crisis, he received calls from experts at the International Monetary Fund, several Nobel laureates in economics, and other superstars in the economics firmament. Each offered different advice, and each sounded convinced that his or her recommendation was the only correct one. A distinguished sociologist, Cardoso managed to employ his considerable talents and experience to steer Brazil out of the crisis, ignoring the recommendations of several celebrity economists—some of whom had even urged him to adopt a fixed exchange-rate regime just like the one that Argentina’s recent crash has now discredited.

Let's say you are busy CEO or high level government policy maker faced with making a tough decision. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters maybe; an economist never.

Suite Francaise

After reading the first chapter of Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, I’m positive I will read the whole thing. You can find a NYT review of it here.

A Life in the Theater

I saw David Mamet’s A Life in the Theater at the Goodman Thursday night. A Life in the Theater is about life in the theater.

The one act two man play opens with a veteran and aging actor befriending a young actor. They establish a close relationship that eventually breaks apart. The two men go their separate ways.

But the theater goes on despite all that.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Baseball and death

I watched the Cubs home opener on TV this afternoon. The Cubs beat the Cards 5-1, and Greg Maddux got his first win of the season.

Then I turned to the news stories. At the top of the list was the latest mosque bombing in Iraq.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hard landing; soft landing?

People are discussing whether the historically low national saving rate matters.

National saving can be expressed as the national income identity:
NS = S – BD = I – B, where
NS = national saving
S = private saving (personal & business)
BD = budget deficit
I = investment
B = foreign borrowing

Private saving, S, is much lower than it used to be. To maintain an adequate level of investment, I, either the budget deficit must decrease or foreign borrowing must increase. Both these are at historically high levels with the budget deficit trending much higher over the next ten years.

Some people claim foreign borrowing could be a big problem. If the U. S. can no longer borrow overseas to fund consumption and investment, this could cause a collapse in the economy: the housing market for one. Others, market fundamentalists, take a benign attitude toward it by claiming that a combination of income, price, interest rate, and exchange rate adjustments will lead to a soft landing. It’s like living in the best of all possible worlds. It makes for interesting debates and predictions.

The discussion obscures some real issues. For an increasing number of Americans, the American dream—such things as decent housing, health care, education, and a job that allows people to participate as citizens in governing their country—is becoming out of reach. One needs to dig deeper than the algebra to discover these issues.

Why don’t people save enough money? Some don’t have any money to save. It’s much better to be a CEO. You get paid a princely sum whether you succeed or fail. Soft landings and hard landings are rather academic discussions to them.

I suppose I’m oversimplifying as usual. (Shrug. Sigh)

Fool's Gold

As we all know by now, Tom DeLay has resigned. That satisfies my vindictive side, for I considered him the most pernicious demagogue of the current batch. But then I am left asking, so what? No real victory has been gained. The event is a piece of fool’s gold.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

After all, it's your tax cut

Even the NY Times is analyzing it and talking about it in the business pages. See David Cay Johnston’s Big Gain for Rich Seen in Tax Cuts for Investments.

The analysis found the following:

¶Among taxpayers with incomes greater than $10 million, the amount by which their investment tax bill was reduced averaged about $500,000 in 2003, and total tax savings, which included the two Bush tax cuts on compensation, nearly doubled, to slightly more than $1 million.

¶These taxpayers, whose average income was $26 million, paid about the same share of their income in income taxes as those making $200,000 to $500,000 because of the lowered rates on investment income.

¶Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003. The savings for these taxpayers averaged about $41,400 each. By comparison, these same Americans received less than 10 percent of the savings from the other Bush tax cuts, which applied primarily to wages, though that share is expected to grow in coming years.

¶The savings from the investment tax cuts are expected to be larger in subsequent years because of gains in the stock market.

The Times showed the new numbers to people on various sides of the debate over tax cuts. Stephen J. Entin, president of the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation, a Washington organization, and other supporters of the cuts said they did not go far enough because the more money the wealthiest had to invest, the more would go to investments that produce jobs. For investment income, Mr. Entin said, "the proper tax rate would be zero."

Opponents say the cuts are too generous to those who already have plenty. Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said after seeing the new figures that "these tax cuts are beyond irresponsible" when "we're in a war; we haven't fixed Social Security or Medicare; we've got record deficits."

Because of the tax cuts, even the merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, are falling behind the very wealthiest, particularly because another provision, the alternative minimum tax, now costs many of them thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost deductions.

About 3.5 million taxpayers filing their returns for last year are being hit by the alternative tax. But that figure will balloon this year to at least 19 million taxpayers, making as little as about $30,000, unless Congress restores a law that limited its effects until now, according to the Tax Policy Center in Washington, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, whose estimates the White House has declared reasonable.

The tax cut analysis was based on estimates from a computer model developed by Citizens for Tax Justice, which asserts that the tax system unfairly favors the rich. The group's estimates are considered reliable by advocates on differing sides of the tax debate. The Times, which also did its own analysis, asked the group to use the model to produce additional data on the effect of the investment tax cuts on various income groups. The analyses show that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers.

OK, the article probably falls into the suspicions confirmed category.

Entin’s assertion is the interesting comment since there is scant evidence that the wealthiest recipients of large tax cuts plow that money back into job creating investments. The article goes on to point out that it is the wealthiest who are keeping consumption afloat. Add the money that goes into financial savings and you don’t see much going into the productive investment side. Why take the risk when you can spend some and put some under the mattress for a rainy day?

Mix in large government deficits generated by the Iraq war, corporate pork barrel spending, and money to float the tax cuts and you don’t even get overall national saving.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Camus, Sartre, etc.

I didn't think I'd get around to blogging today, but I'm addicted.

I started reading Aronson's Camus & Sartre: the story of a friendship and the quarrel that ended it last night because, well, the NCAA basketball final was kind of boring. I am really enjoying the book.

I have always been interested in that place and time in history. I wrote a novel three years ago about Paris at the end of World War II. All the folks were in it such as Camus, Sartre, and Beauvoir. I was inspired by Camus's The Fall. The protagonist was my father as I imagined him at the end of World War II.

I did a lot of interesting research for the book. However, the novel suffered from a lack of confidence, courage, imagination, and style. Other than that, it was OK.

At any rate, the fish weren't biting. I might take another stab at it one day. I'd sure like to make it better than Beauvoir's The Mandarins--not that I dislike her book.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Way to chuck in there

I do my fair share of Bush bashing. However, I thought he threw a pretty good opening pitch in Cincinnati given he was probably wearing a bullet proof vest underneath his warmup jacket. I thought he might get a call back to the mound before the game was over as the Cubs beat the Reds 16-7 in game noticeably lacking pitching.

Then the Rains Came

I went to the White Sox opener last night. The game was interrupted by a thunderstorm during the fourth inning. I was thoroughly drenched by the time I made it under cover from my centerfield bleacher seat.

We left the park as it seemed there was no way the game could be played. We were having a night cap at the local bar when ESPN began broadcasting the game again. It appeared a few dozen souls stayed at the ballpark to see the game.

Darn, I wish I had been one of them. I never like to leave the ballpark when there is game still to be played. However, drying off inside and watching the rest of the game on TV had its merits last night. My baseball cap still has not thoroughly dried.

The "S" Word

Ronald Aronson uses the dreaded “S” word in his Nation article The Left Needs More Socialism—a short and nice little reminder. (via arts and letters daily)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A long and deep sleep

All I can think about tonight is going to bed and falling into a long and deep sleep. You would think that is what I would do then. But it's only eight o'clock. If I went to bed right now, I would toss and turn and think about how early it is to be going to bed.

When it gets later though, I'll be gone.


The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians open the Major League baseball season tomorrow night at White Sox park. I’ll be there.

Major League Soccer begins its season today. The Chicago Fire travel to Dallas to kick off the first match. You can see it at 3 PM Central time on ABC. The MLS is a lesser breed of football than the European game, but you take your football where you find it.

Those of you sleepy heads who missed the early morning Birmingham vs. Chelsea game can tune into Fox Soccer Channel to watch the West Brom vs. Liverpool, a 10:15 Central kickoff.

And of course, dwarfing all these events is the two NCAA Final Four games today.