Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, January 27, 2005

One Nation, My God

The Government, being resolved to undertake the political and moral purification of our public life, is creating and securing the conditions necessary for a really profound revival of religious life.

The advantages of a personal and political nature that might arise from compromising with atheistic organizations would not outweigh the consequences which would become apparent in the destruction of general moral basic values. The national Government regards the two Christian confessions as the weightiest factors for the maintenance of our nationality. It will respect the agreements concluded between it and the federal States. Their rights are not to be infringed. But the Government hopes and expects that the work on the national and moral regeneration of our nation which it has made its task will, on the other hand, be treated with the same respect....

Great are the tasks of the national Government in the sphere of economic life.

Here all action must be governed by one law: the people does not live for business, and business does not exist for capital; but capital serves business, and business serves the people. In principle, the Government will not protect the economic interests of the American people by the circuitous method of an economic bureaucracy to be organized by the State, but by the utmost furtherance of private initiative and by the recognition of the rights of property....

Whose words are these? Except that I substituted “American” for “German” in the last paragraph these are the words of Adolf Hitler, from a speech given on March 23rd, 1933.

I’ve been considering a question for some time, more seriously from the time of the Newt Gingrich offensive in 1994 but likely from the first time I heard the Nixonion era “Moral Majority” backlash rhetoric. I loathe mirroring the right’s proclivity to ascribe all manner of failure to the “liberal conspiracy” but there is no other choice than to call a spade a spade, if in this post only for the sake of argument.

Are we in danger of yielding to fascism in the United States? There, I’ve asked it! You may now dismiss this entire effort as Chicken Little paranoia and move on.

There are certainly great differences between Germany of 1933 and America today. There is no economic disaster of widespread effect that so marinates the common person that they will complement such an evil stew. Hitler’s “us against the world” rhetoric hit home in an emaciated nation energized by the call to patriotic duty. Our economic struggles are certainly less extensive and, as such, do not contribute greatly to the basest of motivations required to adopt the most radical of means.

Yet this “ours is the one true cause” theme is audible indeed in our nation—the similarity of the Nazi’s despair of the League of Nations to the American right’s disgust for the United Nations is not encouraging.

We in America, however, are galvanized by a need not (patently) economic, but arising from a direct threat to our security. The question remains as to whether this need will be great enough for the checked democracy of America to become unchecked—to what extent the weight of pragmatism will crush our liberties. In much of the current rhetoric, and with great success, elements of this transition are shrugged off as a necessary evil borne of the “hard” reality of “post 911” America. Do the champions of the majority call for actions that would accelerate this process? Constantly.

Once past these comparisons of the motivations and of the degrees of desperation found in the two societies similarities abound. Christian activists should note the concession to religion in the above speech. In 1933 Hitler was at the point of consolidating his power. After establishing himself as the Fuhrer he would carry a different tune, as in this speech in Nuremburg in 1938:

Therefore we have no rooms for worship, but only halls for the people - no open spaces for worship, but spaces for assemblies and parades. We have no religious retreats, but arenas for sports and playing-fields, and the characteristic feature of our places of assembly is not the mystical gloom of a cathedral, but the brightness and light of a room or hall which combines beauty with fitness for its purpose. In these halls no acts of worship are celebrated, they are exclusively devoted to gatherings of the people of the kind which we have come to know in the course of our long struggle; to such gatherings we have become accustomed and we wish to maintain them. We will not allow mystically-minded occult folk with a passion for exploring the secrets of the world beyond to steal into our Movement.

It was only while on the rise that appeals to the god-fearing to oppose the godless were deemed necessary.

Of course, the spirit to bond together for a cause is best nurtured by providing a common target. A more defined enemy than the generally unappreciative world can be found for us in the terrorists/terrorist states and for Hitler’s purposes in the Bolsheviks—familiarly he refers to them as the “growing menace”.

Additionally, a domestic enemy is needed for focus. The Nazis had the Jews, and while conservatives in America spit at all liberal notions a particularly venomous and often encouraged reaction is obvious in both cultures—that the evil inherent in one’s domestic enemies is atheistic disregard for moral values.

Yes, Hitler played these cards; and the reduction of bureaucracy card; and the ownership society card too.

No, we are not yet on the brink of fascism, but all the elements are visible and the divide between the right and left grows more heated minute by minute. Each night across America thousands of voices settle like a virulent fog; divisive, intolerant voices. Rushing back along thousands of phone lines flow the voices of thousands more to voice amen. The grassroots network of hatred in America is immense and omnipresent. I personally can find someone who hates people like me on WLS in Chicago, MTMJ in Milwaukee or several other stations essentially on demand. Occasionally these good soldiers venture onto Wisconsin Public Radio, though they prefer the reinforcement they receive from their lieutenants, the talk show mercenaries of the movement who have learned that the money is in "the right turn".

I suggest that this question has occurred to you as it has to me, “How could the German people have degenerated to a point that would lead to genocide?”

It is easy to say that they were led down this path by a charismatic demagogue—and so perhaps all the more ominous to find his words familiar.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Part II: Dead Man's Curve

In 1960 I was all of 9 years old, perhaps the perfect age to appreciate “Alley Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles but a little to young to fully get Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini”. This year continued the confusion in pop music—ballads led the charts with Elvis at the top of his movie crooner persona, scoring with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “It’s Now or Never”. Other ballads scored big with “I’m Sorry” by Brenda Lee, “Cathy’s Clown” by the Everly Brothers and Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel”. There was the bluesy “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles, rockers like “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Johnny Bond, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, country and western like Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” and music was getting pretty crowded.

Two songs in particular put me back into the 1960 of bobby socks and poodle skirts. Paul Peterson, the TV son of Donna Reed, had a big hit with “Tell Laura That I Love Her”, one many songs about tragic car crashes. I had a big time crush on Shelley Faberes, his TV sister. The other song conjures up perhaps the most iconic young female of the times, Sandra Dee, who starred in the big hit movie “A Summer Place”. I believe Percy Faith’s theme to this movie to be one of the most beautiful instrumental songs ever, and remember dancing with the first girl that wasn’t my sister to this song in 4th grade.

There were many great songs of 1960 but little direction, unless you look very closely. If you do you’ll notice another instrumental way down the list. Playboy wasn’t just showing us pictures, but also was introducing the masses (of males, anyway) to the cutting edge of many things. One of these was Hi Fi, what we now call Audio. Folks in Malibu, Laguna and even The Valley were starting to upgrade to component stereo rigs, and studios from LA to Newport to London were starting to play around with the knobs mindful of the possibilities. Charting this year was a hit with a reverb heavy, vibrato tail crankin’ electric guitar up front, a power chord heavy rhythm guitar, a stepped up bass clicking right along and artfully mixed drums. This little power quartet was called the Ventures and the song was “Walk, Don’t Run”, an edgier remake of a Chet Atkins song.

More of the same in ’61, ballads, novelties, Do Wop, it was the year of Patsy Cline with “Crazy “and “I Fall To Pieces”. I can remember my sister teaching me the twist and the pony but not much else. I was starting to play music myself at this time, and I think my focus was on that. There wasn’t much pop I could play on the bass clarinet. We would go around singing “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean but my favorite from the year was “Runaway” by Del Shannon.

Considering that the short Kennedy era was in full swing it’s hard to believe music was so stagnant. Perhaps one development was R & B getting a little funkier with the Drifter’s “Some Kind of Wonderful”.

6th grade came with dance parties, here’s where all my lessons from sis really paid off! It was the year of The Four Seasons and I remember snuggling up to “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and actually breaking up to “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka. It was my first basketball year, and I remember quite well the new concept of showering en masse being made more tolerable by our singing “Duke of Earl” at the top of our lungs! Perhaps something like the way an engine revs from loss of fuel back pressure just before it runs out of gas the Four Seasons were the very best and last of what I thought of as the white Do Wop era. Ironically, the band that would in a real way begin the trek out of the hot rod days and into the socially anarchical 60’s loved to sing about cars with “409”, but the Beach Boys gave a whole new demographic of suburban kids a fresh set of images with “Surfin’ Safari”.

Along came 1963 and music was in for more shakeup. The popularity of the transistor radio had given kids a chance to control their own airwaves, and now the incredibly swift march of electronic innovation was making the personal stereo a reality. Kids (and hip adults) were starting to buy albums. Popularity was still fueled by the pop charts, but there was more room for innovation. Still, the vocal groups dominated. The Four Seasons (“Walk Like a Man”), Drifters (“Up on the Roof”, “On, Broadway”) and the Chiffon’s (“He’s So Fine”) all scored big. So did ballads like Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” and Steve Lawrence’s “Go Away, Little Girl”. Slowly but steadily though the tempos were beginning to pick up. The surf was way up with “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys and “Surf City” by Jan and Dean—and Martha and the Vandellas were sizzling with “Heat Wave”. And like a gift from the muses plopped down into my adolescent lap was a little ditty called “Louie, Louie”, “sung” by the Kingsmen. It doesn’t get better than that for a sixth grader!

The summer of ’63 saw the greatest, most diverse mass demonstration ever brought to Washington, the March on Washington, culminating with MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Making a return to the charts was the folk “sound” with Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and the Dylan penned “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Trini Lopez (of all people) singing “If I Had Hammer” and The Rooftop Singers singing “Walk Right In”. It was becoming a time when we cared about social issues but I think we may have been overlooking a certain aspect of this music. Check this out:
Walk right in and sit right down, and daddy, let your hair hang low
You'd better walk right in and stay a little while, daddy, you can stay too long
Now everybody's talkin' 'bout a new way of walkin', do you wanna lose your mind?
Lord, walk right in and sit right down, daddy, let your mind roll on

The assassination came and we lost our “Puff” cuteness. The next year came and in part three we would begin to “lose” our minds.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Bizarro World

My letter to the Greenville Advocate was apparently published down there in Alabama on January 7th, though there is no online version and I was not given the customary heads up so I have no idea if it was run in total or edited in some fashion. I know that it was run because I received a copy of Mr. Mann’s column replying to it along a very nasty letter which I will not comment on as it is not certain that Mr. Mann is the author.

I’ve copied the letter to the editor of the Greenville Advocate and asked that they forward my response to Mr. Mann, perhaps he will verify authorship of this letter which is not up to the style of his column in either grammar or civility. Since there was no return address I can’t ask him directly.

I’ll surely let you know on this but for now a regular reader may notice a bit of deja vu creeping in. Mann was the fellow who wrote to The Milwaukee Journal of the degraded “Bolshevic” horde that is the Northern Liberal posse led by the ultimately corrupt elitist Russ Feingold on an assault on the moral fabric of Greenville, Alabama in His reply column to my original letter was quite a bit more civil and had some points I hadn’t considered, though the contrast with his writing for our audience demonstrates a typical duality of ethic so endemic to the right. Constant in Mann’s comments is the notion of the corrupted, union-bought left. Like a tired neo-con cliché, this banker is taking up the common man’s struggle against the elitists.

I would love to hear from one of Morgan Mann’s employees on the championing nature of their boss, but back to the point.

Along with the column ran a letter from Brookfield, WI (wealthy) chiming in on the “typical” of the “arrogant socialists” Russ Feingold. This was written by a Tom Bielinski. Mann? Bielinski? Corruption? By now this should be ringing a very large bell as I’ve previously written of our own Mann in Elkhorn, a Robert Mann, the subject of a huge investigation involving his alleged conspiracy with the ex-CEO of Bielinski Homes. Bielinski Homes is in Waukesha, right next to Brookfield.

I don’t suggest a real connection here, but it gets weirder. Perhaps these guys would have gotten away with it had Mann (ours) not decided to set up a political slush fund with some of his take. This fund was used to reimburse contributions to the campaigns of President Bush and others, including a Russ Darrow, who ran in the Republican primary for the opportunity to unseat, you guessed it, Russ Feingold.

Bizzaro World, referred to in an excellent Seinfeld edition, was a parallel world in Superman Comics where familiar things are somehow distorted or reversed.

One of us, Mr. Morgan Mann, has apparently crossed into it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Freedom on the March

As befitting his position in this great land of ours, W is burning several hundred gallons of gasoline on his way to church this morning to pray that the teleprompter doesn’t drop out during his inauguration speech.

In a twist too bizarre for clever analogy obscene amounts of the billions and billions of dollars that have shifted to the upper and upper middle classes in the last two and a half decades of the Reagan counter-revolution are being tossed to throw a party held in honor of the champions of sobriety, propriety and fiscal reality.

Among the donors are the brokerage houses who stand to reap the commissions gleaned from privatizing Social Security.

Giving mightily are the drug companies pushing for laws to arrest your grandmother for drug smuggling.

Tossing in their two cents are the homebuilders and banks in the sincere hope that interest rates will stay low no matter the eventual cost to our children.

Need I mention petroleum interests?

The list is diversified, many are merely doing their corporate citizen thing with no more than a general expectation that it couldn’t hurt. Perhaps I should be glad so much money is pouring into the Washington economy. I know Marriott Hotels is, they lead the list at over a million.

The good news is that this isn’t costing us a cent, right?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Part I: The Clock Strikes Five, Six and Seven

Hey hey, my my
Rock and Roll can never die
There’s more to the picture
Than meets the eye
Hey hey, my my                        Neil Young
Today I “celebrate” my 54th birthday (and coincidentally open a new bottle of Centrum Silver vitamins). Since my father passed away this last December and well aware of my new status as the patriarch of my nuclear family I’ve naturally been a little more aware of the subject of mortality.

So is life short or isn’t it? Caught up in the race of this busybody culture we’ve created it’s easy to ignore the totality of our lives. Occasionally one encounters a stimulus that sends them back, as for instance, I remember very well an exact moment from seventh grade when I first encountered the very lovely Chanel #5. Scents can do that, but I find that more commonly music is my time machine.

And what music there is! My conscious life has neatly coincided with 50 years of Rock and Roll or, more generally, the US/UK guitar band. Search the list of songs from those fifty years while taking the time to remember and one can easily see that life is a great, big thing—a really good deal at this point come what may.

I must have been three years old when my sister was walking around the house singing to “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” by Bill Haley and the Comets. It made an impression on me because she had previously told me about tornados and how they would shake, rattle, and roll our house if they found us. I remember someone playing “Mr. Sandman” when I was supposed to be going to sleep, those arpeggios were probably my first exposure to math as I have never forgotten their distinct spatiality.

Soon after that I remember being puzzled why some guy was singing a song about stuff mothers put on their face, and though I was clearly on my Rock and Roll way with Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” (and obviously discovering TV ads) at about the same time the roots of my working class consciousness were sown by the spiritual “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. I quote from memory;

Sixteen Tons
And whadda ya get
Another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter doncha call me cuz I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store
Then came Elvis and I learned how to dance, I remember vividly my sister laying out the steps to the jitterbug for me as we listened to “Hound Dog”. Other memories from those days were of my parents and friends passing around quarts of beer (Blatz and Drewry’s come too mind), playing cards and listening to Little Richard, Elvis, and the Crickets. Once in the course of these loudish evenings a certain person called Little Richard a nigger and I learned that adults can fuck up too when I caught on my father’s face a certain disapproving look normally meant for one of us kids—this time however being directed at one of his peers.

My first hot babe was Debbie Reynolds; to this day I remember sitting in the theater being awestruck by her Cinemascopic presence. I had no idea what she meant by “Does my darling feel what I feel …When he comes near?” but I felt something all right—and for the first time realized that a little something I felt for someone else was a big enough subject for a great big movie. I still love to “program” versions of "Tammy" on the synth/sequencer in strings, horns and what have you, or did until I fried the board on it.

Of course the subject of love is a fleeting one to seven year olds; far better suited to our twitchy selves were “Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, and “Jailhouse Rock”.

It was at this silliest of times in 1959 that along came the very un-silly “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston trio. We would sing the chorus to this first “pop” American folk song on the bus ride to the Waukegan YMCA, led by an “older” high school girl whom we suspected was a beatnik, whatever that was. Perhaps the seeds of my distrust for the denigrators of things counterculture were sown in that she didn’t seem “filthy” at all!

Maybe it was reaction to Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and his marriage to his young cousin or maybe that February 3rd really was the “day the music died”, but 1959 seemed to mark the end of the classic rockers—even Elvis had gone from rip-snortin’ rockabilly to the grammatically pristine “A Fool Such As I”.

Novelty songs abounded in ‘59, yet oddly none you could hula hoop to. My buddy, coming from a much smaller family than mine and therefore actually owning things, had a record player. We would hang in his room (again a foreign concept) and listen to “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton. It was then that his mother introduced me to a thing called history when we wanted to learn more about the War of 1812.

“Mack the Knife” aside everyone seemed to quiet down to Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy”, Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” and the year’s #1, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” from the Platters. An era was ending and the next direction was unknown, a condition perhaps exemplified by the popularity of “The Chipmunk Song”!

One day I watched the kids on American Bandstand do the stroll to a song called “Kansas City” done by Wilbert Harrison and the Crests. The fire of Rock and Roll had smoldered down to its funky, bluesy roots.

It would explode again in part two.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Momentum Gathers

The Baseball Player's Association and the Major League owners have reached an agreement to strengthen drug testing. I’ve written about this subject before but again I am enough disheartened by what I read that I restate my feelings on what I see as a vital fundamental social issue—whether society has the right to physically invade the body of, impede the otherwise unharmful movement of, or inspect the personal property of, a citizen, “reasonable” cause being any statistical probability that one may be in violation.

I don’t rush to defend baseball players. While I’m sure there are many exceptions it’s been my experience that athletes are a surly lot—most of them reaching adulthood through an isolating process borne of adoration and so having developed a less than typical capacity for the give and take social arrangements we mortals must negotiate.

I also realize that we’re talking about a small number of people here and that this agreement concerns employment rather than strictly constitutional issues, though I would always argue that the statement of the right to “the pursuit of Happiness” made in the Declaration of Independence partly intends that employment is a right not to be usurped by what would in the public sector be non-legal means.

I will at this point drop the labor issue as well. Those affected directly by this negotiation are few and far from needy. Previously I have written of how this process is a very public demonstration of the dismal attitudes toward collective bargaining so many hold, but to speak the language of labor is at this point like giving the Latin Mass.

The subject here is strictly the concept of individual rights. Quotes are taken from or as appearing in a Sunday, January 16, 2005 article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel written by Tom Haudricourt, titled “Drug policy not perfect, but a good start”.

This from Haudricourt:

Standing behind their archaic invasion-of-privacy, civil liberties approach to running the union, Fehr and Orza originally had no intention of re-opening the labor contract to put some oomph into a weak drug-testing policy.
Considering notions of privacy and civil liberties in the area of one’s employment is thus “anachronistic”! Why would I believe that such an attitude would not be taken toward the other 2/3 of one’s life? The truth is that Haudricourt is of the reigning legions of the Reagan counter-revolution who make no such distinction—this small market columnist is only one of thousands who will trivialize the founding principles of our nation today while tens of millions amen.

Marvin Miller, a former BPA chief, had this to say about the agreement (though obviously in terms of general society):

I disapprove of all kinds of testing unless there is probable cause to believe that the person being tested has done something wrong.
The columnist’s response:

Probable cause? Where has Miller been, on Jupiter? Has he not heard of the BALCO testimony? Did he miss the fact that 6% of players tested positive for steroids during “survey” testing in 2003? Has he not noticed Bonds’ hat size increase by dramatic proportions?
And there you have it! Being a baseball player constitutes probable cause. Being an employee constitutes probable cause. Being American constitutes probable cause. This is the practical “hard” reality of the “hard” type who most recently refer to their nation as “post 9/11”. In such a country we will no longer need this:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
What could the Fathers have been thinking? Mere existence in a statistical pool constitutes probable cause. No one is outside the whole, therefore all actions are warrantable.

As Yogi Berra might have said about democracy, “It gets late early out there.”

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Parable

Once upon a time there stood at the entrance of a cave or perhaps on a great plain a collection of ancient people. Their bellies full from a good day’s gathering or hunt they contemplated the setting sun in an uncharacteristic moment of peace and reflection. The leader of this clan, being the one who names things, was the first to wonder out loud what the others could not express, “Where does the sun go?”

At this the leader turned to the one at his side whom he recognized as having good memory of the places of water and plentiful game. He saw in this man’s face that an answer may be forthcoming, and so his face did in turn beseech the man for such an answer.

The man had come to notice that the chief would bestow upon him certain favors in response for his good answers and thus spoke boldly words that any might have, “The sun goes to a distant hunting ground.”

The chief grunted thoughtfully.

It came to pass that the chief’s brother succumbed to illness. This troubled the chief greatly. Touching his brother’s hand caused him to recoil in shock that it was so cold and still. After much staring at the fire he asked “Is my brother like the campfires of past suns?” Inevitably he asked himself, “Is this to be my fate?”

He Who Answers had contemplated this silent question many times and was aware that the chief was beginning to struggle with it. Yet for this event that would turn the chief’s brother to stone in the same way as with so many others he had found no explanation.

He had been fond of a mate from several years back. Though she had gone cold he could still hear her voice or see her in his sleep, and he would wonder where she was speaking from. As he thought on this night about the fire, his mate and the chief’s brother he found himself staring at the twilight. An idea began to form in his head and after a moment he found himself saying, “She has ridden with the sun to the other hunting ground.”

He turned to the chief and spoke more loudly, “He has ridden with the sun to the other hunting ground.” To this the chief stood and contemplated the horizon for some time. At last he let out a sigh and said, “I, too, will ride the sun one day to visit with my brother.”

The chief, He Who Answers, and many people came to comfort greatly in the realization that going cold would not be so different, and so it was with renewed hope and energies that they would set about their lives.

Others would wonder about the truth of this notion. On the dark days they would see the followers of He Who Answers wail for the return of the sun when it seemed quite obvious that the only thing between them and the sun was the rain that hasn’t fallen.

They would also notice that those who implored the sun for favor came to consider unworthy those who would merely wait for it.

Thus came to be the priest, the believing and the natural, and were they ever after wary.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hold the Mayo

What comes to mind when you hear the word gazelle? According to the World Net Dictionary this would be a small, swift graceful antelope of Africa and Asia having lustrous eyes.

Here in America, and particularly in my little corner of it, the word gazelle conjures up an image of about ten pounds of tubing and some cable trying to contain a 240 pound man as he flails his arms and legs to some primordial rhythm of the dark Scandinavian subcontinent. For the ultimate multimedia experience one hears from this oddly eared creature and over the squeaks and rattles of this “silent” home exercise wonder an out of breath Mellencamp’s “Paper and Fire” worthy of any five in the morning Tokyo karaoke bar--with lustrous eyes!

I may have eaten too much. Too often. For too long. It occurs to me that if I don’t take serious steps to curb my enthusiasm I’m going to have to do some shopping. I don’t think the wife will appreciate my sporting the Champion look in Las Vegas.

Speaking of pet peeves, I have this thing about saying Las Vegas. This whole “Vegas” thing bugs the heck out of me. We don’t say “Angeles” or “Cabos” or “Cruces”. It just seems so affected. Every time I hear someone say this it sounds to me like Sinatra is waiting at the Sands just for them to come up and do a duet.

Or is it “Angeles de Anaheim”? (that for bullock out there in Orange county)

Well it seems that I’m avoiding the subject here, that being avoidance. I’m also avoiding surrender to the urge to get up and head for the kitchen. So how am I going to lose fifty pounds? Aitkins? South Beach? Nope, Bill Gates is going to save my life and, more importantly, Judy’s vacation. I’m going on the Excel diet.

“Boy’s off his rocker!” I hear you thinking. “What in the world is the Excel diet?” Think about this. Did I ever balance my checkbook before MS Money made it fun? Did I ever spend hours of my day writing before there was such a complicated tool such as MS Word? Did I ever write anyone until there was email? Clearly the renaissance of my life (not to mention my spelling proficiency) is owed to Microsoft’s abstraction of it into one great, big video game.

So now I have spreadsheets with (short) lists of stoic caloric value filtered survivors from what were previously vast numbers of favorite foods. From these lists magically appear numbers into daily summaries, these sprouting, auto-dated, from a template and upon saving supplying daily totals, weights and calories burned through exercise onto a master sheet that tells no lies. If I need to keep my mind off of food I can simply spend a few hours trying to figure out how to make the system more complex—maybe generate some statistics or create some VB forms—the possibilities are endless. Hell, it took me hours alone to figure out how to make this (—)! (probably would take me longer than that to figure out how to use and punctuate this parenthetical phrase placed beyond the end of an exclamation which fundamentally ends with a closing uniqueness identifying quotation mark)

Gonna win this diet game, mark my Word.

note: I replaced the “uniqueness identifying quotation marks” with parentheses because I couldn’t seem to make a set of them around a dash!

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Wheel in the Ditch and a Wheel on the Track

Don’t know how I missed this big dustup concerning my man Russ Feingold and the fair citizens of Greenville, Alabama over a recent golfing visit and the Senator’s comments in concerning what he saw of the local economy. You can read his commentary here but I will paraphrase quickly: “Why would the many of you who are struggling to keep afloat not set aside your beliefs long enough to realize that the Republicans are tossing you the rope with the life perserver?”

Floating down in the aftermath of the ensuing F4 twister and landing in my Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was this little piece of debris written by Greenville resident Morgan Mann, apparently he or she of the Ann “Hot Lips” Coulter School of Sociology. Again, I paraphrase: “Take your ‘smoking jacket’, ‘ascot’ and ‘cognac’ along with your ‘Bolshevik’ ‘left-wing ideology’ back to the ‘elitist’ root of that ‘poisonous’ ‘leftist’ culture, Harvard University.”

Apparently while we come to it's(?) corner of the woods and put down a couple of grand for golf vacation Mr. or Ms. Mann is boning up on Northern culture by watching Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Well, I can’t help putting my two cents in, so I’ve sent this letter down to the Greenville Advocate:

To the Editor:

I wasn’t aware of the flap over Senator Russ Feingold’s submittal to concerning the fair city of Greenville until this past Sunday, when
the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a letter to the editor written by one of your
citizens likening “Northern” liberals to the Bolshevik red horde.

Before we all go marching off to war to the unlikely battle hymns of Neil
Young and Ronnie Van Zant let’s all calm down and try to understand each other a
little better.

This is some of the reaction of your Senator Sessions:

Fundamentally what he is saying is that red states don't know what's good for America. Russ and so many on the left don't understand, especially in cities like Greenville, morality, integrity and faith are important things.

Apparently a morality at all tolerant of others’ lifestyles and beliefs is no morality at all in the eyes of Sessions. Apparently to Sessions the fact that we are more likely to remain married than those in Alabama is in no part due to our understanding of the importance of the family values of integrity and faith.

Senator Feingold took 70% of the vote in a state that voted virtually 50/50 for President because Wisconsinites of all persuasions recognize him as a man of great integrity and greater courage. He is also a man who will never gild the lily with statistics of how the economy is “turning the corner” as long as people at the median income level and below are getting left behind.

This from your Governor:

There are more job opportunities in Alabama today than there have been in the past five years. Our economy is recognized as one of the best in the nation, and we're going to have a net gain of jobs this year for the first time in almost four years.

While politicians, prominent citizens and op-ed writers speak of shiny new buildings, acres of new quarter million dollar homes and the promise of new jobs the truth behind the shadow of the statistics is that the weekly wage for workers, adjusted for inflation, has decreased ten of the last twelve reporting months, steadily for twenty years and most precipitously since 2002.

Consider the nature of the Senator’s visit. Did he sweep into Craig Field on some backer’s Citation and pile his entourage into an awaiting fleet of Lockheed Martin limousines bound for Greenville where all could make a big, fat deal of his Senatorial splendor? No, he and his buddies—like thousands of us cheeseheads who enjoy your hospitality to no end—piled into a van and headed down I 65 to hit a few, stopping to get a turkey dinner and driving around lookin’ at stuff afterward.

Feingold is an honest man looking to bypass the hard rhetoric of the zealous and help working people put food on the table, proper health care into their families’ lives and maybe a buck or two into their pockets so they can go hit a few.

Their beliefs are their own business, as our founding principles would have it.

I rest.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Re tort

W was in Southern Illinois recently—cranked’ up the old ’47 and flew his entourage of reporters, staff, automobiles, SS troopers and what have you to falsely remind some doctors just who was responsible for all the ills in the health care system; those darn trial lawyers. This is the administration line on the health care crisis despite a wealth of statistics and tragic stories that emphasize so many more immediate problems. Such diversion is tantamount to ignoring the issue, which is clearly an expression of the desires of lobbyists for the many concerned parties.

Funny thing is that when it comes to suing HMO’s the AMA and AATL are on the same side—doctors support raising liabilities for the HMO’s because the latter’s rules expose them to liability arising from non-delivery of non-covered care. We’re trying to survive out here and what do we see from our governmental process? Turf wars! There are about 13 health care lobbyists in Washington for every legislator, the jobs of each consisting of procuring the biggest slice of the health care pie they can wheelbarrow out of town.

What happened to all that “ownership society” talk and how the government was going to assist the uninsured to buy in? The simple truth is, despite however many stretchers the neocons have back in the storerooms of their “think harder” tanks, the free market concept is as poor a fit for the health industry as it is for tort structure.

It has to do with who is uninsured. Of the approx. 44 million uninsured the majority is unsurprisingly poor—as in a subsidy by the government to buy health insurance will still leave premium bills under a stack of late housing, utility and food bills. Many of the less poor are uninsured because they’re unemployed or self employed. Studies of states that have tried public subsidies of premiums have shown increases in the total percentage of insured of, at most, 3%. Any such plan will leave a great number uninsured (as will privatizing Social Security leave many elderly on the street). Consider also that such government assistance that might be provided by this regime will, of political necessity, likely not be limited to strictly the needy.

So heck, let’s just insure all the uninsured. This is similar to what we do now. Much of the information that follows is from a highly regarded report of the Kaiser Family Foundation Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

Last year uninsured people racked up $125 billion in costs, of which about $40 billion was unpaid. Governments subsidized hospitals (but not doctors or generally clinics!) for about 85% of the unpaid bills. Hospitals are generally fine with this arrangement, though budget tightening and the disparity of programs across the states have caused friction points leading to the unavailability of critical care. Are hospitals leading the pack to get the uninsured insured? Not on your life!

An obvious limitation to this system is that doctors and drug companies lose patients and patients, having to postpone care to the point of required hospitalization, lose lives—an estimated 18,000 of them unnecessarily last year. Drug companies are making a lot of money now and are more concerned with the efforts of many to allow re-importation of prescription drugs. Are they in a hurry to fix the uninsured crisis? Not on your life! They’ll take the odd subsidy (and I do mean odd) the government can cough up and lay as low as possible.

And the doctors? They are clearly the most likely to promote reform, both from an ethical standpoint and as a matter of business. Perhaps this leads to the “urgency” with which tort reform is addressed rather than actually accomplished. First things tantalizingly first!

So what would it cost to insure the outs and bring their care up to standards? The study reports a figure of about $48 billion. This may seem like a lot of money, but consider that the value of “foregone” care (should’ve been taken care of sooner) among those 40 million uninsured has been estimated conservatively to reach twice that amount. Regular readers may know how I feel about statistics, but is seems here that we could insure everyone and have a net gain.

Of course, who is going to pay for private insurance when public insurance offers the same care? And if you’re as bone tired as I am of hearing entitlements being referred to as “coddling” by the “Nanny State”, you can guess how this scenario would play! Imagine the abhorrence of free market types to the specter of the government negotiating health care prices with the proxies of 41 million customers!

No, the only equitable way for all to be insured is as a universal condition of employment. More luxurious plans can be available but the basic plan must not sacrifice level of care. We do this now with unemployment insurance. We do this now with social security (though the ins seem hell-bent on turning that into another this!)

Those who are unemployed will remain insured at the government’s expense until they find employment.

Insurance companies could still compete. Hospitals could still compete. Businesses could still compete by offering recruits higher levels of comfort. Where is it written that competition can’t be about service! Drug companies could still compete although clearly it is they who will be shaken most deeply, and in my opinion rightfully so.

I used to drive livery out of O’Hare airport and shuttle high level employees, executives and other adjuncts of pharmaceutical and hospital products companies to the finest Chicago restaurants, Magnificent Mile destinations like the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons hotels, the fanciest under-the-radar North Shore country clubs and so on. Northern Chicagoland is not a one horse town, so to speak. The corporate population of this corridor includes headquarters or otherwise large presences of heavyweights such as Allstate Insurance, Walgreens, Hewitt Associates, American Express, HFC, Motorola, FMC, United Air Lines, Sears, Illinois Tool Works, Kraft Foods, and many more. Yet by far our biggest client was Abbott Labs, followed by Baxter Labs, followed by G.D. Searle. Abbott Labs has hundreds of people in the air every day. Most of those who don’t rate transport on the stable of private jets out of Waukegan Airport are picked up by limo services and shuttled to O’Hare. The cost of these and countless other perks are among those “research and development” costs that contribute to the overpricing on patented products such as Abbott’s leading PSA screen (my health insurance company won’t pay for it) or Prevacid, a gas relieving drug Abbott hired John Elway to tell you to tell your doctor you need while the uninsured or underinsured can’t get the Norvir AIDS cocktail ingredient.

Not surprisingly the drug czars are, to a man, “free market capitalists”— in this instance including the concept, however, that during the patent run pricing will be done on a whatever-we-can-manage-to-spend plus margin basis. Those who can’t afford their share of the R&D boondoggle will simply have to do without. If the CEO of Abbott can’t fly his buddies out to Jackson Hole for the weekend on his Dassault, research on drugs will end as we know it, human progress will cease to exist.

Are the drug peddlers willing to endure the inevitable exposure of their pricing structure a united plan will demand? Not on your life!

The grand irony in all this is that the two principals in this exchange—doctors and patients— are least satisfied with the system while everyone else involved is busy trying to jam this square peg into the round hole of what the market will bear. I suggest an alliance.

Reining in the health industry won’t be pretty; some will suffer. On the other hand, some thousands of lives will be saved; many millions of lives will be healthier; millions of doctors will be able to sleep at night knowing they have done what can be done; millions who have been caught in between jobs will no longer be faced with harassment and financial ruin; and, perhaps most important to the grand scheme, tens of millions of insured people will be able to more freely consider adjusting their employment situation to one more suited to their needs.

With this giant monkey off our back we cannot fail to be more productive.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


This was yet another letter I wrote to the Milwaukee Journal over the steroid mess, though it was more about the prevalent antagonistic attitude toward labor and citizens’ rights in general:

March 21, 2004

I am continually dismayed by the media's incessant mischaracterization of Donald Fehr related to his Senate hearing appearance on steroid use. Jim Stingl's Sunday column contained this typically banal and under researched example.

"As he denies that performance-enhancing drugs are bad for baseball, you'd normally find his head in his own behind."

I watched the entire hearing and Mr. Fehr was never in disagreement with anyone concerning the danger of steroid use in baseball, let alone in society in general. No sanene person could take such a position, and yet we leap to pin it on this man. Why such enthusiasm?

Don Fehr believes that matters related to the players' employment are subject to negotiation. Is he out of step with the times in taking this position? Sadly, there is no doubt. He believes that mandatory random drug testing is contrary to our constitutional rights, whether done by the state or as a condition of employment. Is he out of step with the times in taking this position? Frighteningly, there is no doubt.

He believes that just cause for being searched is not that 5% of one's community has been shown to have contraband. Is he out of step with the times in taking this position? Astoundingly, there is no doubt. I pray there are enough like him to save us from the pragmatists as our cars, homes and bodies are being subjected to search with accelerating frequency.

" ...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This was the second statement declared by the founders of our nation. Donald Fehr is out of step with he times in that he remembers, as do I, that once these rights were interpreted to have been be bestowed upon the individual.

I am certain as well that Donald Fehr believes, as I do, that "the pursuit of happiness" means having the right to enjoy the inventions of humankind, including employment, housing and transportation. These are not privileges, these are rights! Society must self-police but our founding principles preclude that we must forgo one
right for another.

Baseball players would have to stand up to uphold these same rights and others for the umpires, concessionaires and the people who deliver their Gatorade before I could consider their association as a legitimate champion for the rights of working people. I do submit however that what we are seeing is an example, admittedly outdated, of a collection of workers with some semblance of authority in determining the conditions of their employment. This is so rare today that even the Senators were unsure how to respond in the face of such bravado.

We know in our hearts that the workplace is increasingly unfair to us. We know in our hearts, whether we are law breakers or not, that when we see a roadblock it is with some sadness and fear. We know in our hearts that when the school indiscriminately searches our child's belongings a seed of anger is planted. So why do we attack Donald Fehr so vehemently? Perhaps it is a reaction something like nervous laughter.

Is Donald Fehr behind the times? I, for one, hope very much that he is only between times.


Every time I hear about things like driving being a privilege instead of a right I just get crazy! I don’t mind following the laws, but if do leave me the F*** alone! I find it hard to believe that Jefferson and his mates used “reasonable search” to denote anything other than reasonable in the light of each individual situation, not that society could reason that some percentage was breaking the law and so allow random search. Airline security? I don't have time for that today!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Tough Love

Patriotism is the subject today, or more universally, nationalism. This has been on my mind particularly since the tsunami disaster and the various actions and reactions concerning levels of aid by this country and that country.

It was on my mind during the last post, though the point I was after was more about the misconception Americans have of how generous we are in general than it was about the tsunami aid. It may seem that I carp on American attitudes and naivete too much. Righties would be quick to dismiss me as another "Bourdeaux drinking American hater", an "elitist" or Spiro Agnew's "effete intellectual snob". Always with the cute labels, these people (because it works). So I agree with some "wimpy" Norweigen that Americans are stingy--hell I would, wouldn't I? What else would a "bleeding heart" say?

But then on Jan. 2 this appears in the reader feedback section of the English version of Deutsche Welle, a source I recommend for reading the everyday opinions of others in the world.

Though it can be fair enough to criticize the government and citizens of my United States for hard headedness and that our relief can be at times proportioned too strongly along lines drawn by political agenda, there is no question who will contribute most greatly to this relief effort. Can it be enough? Impossible. The suffering is monumental, the road is long and there was not enough sustenance in much of this region before this disaster. Nevertheless we will try, and the people of the Indian Ocean rim will learn what Berliners learned in 1948: that Americans will drop everything and come running when needed, even to a place in which we might otherwise be personae non grata.

And who submitted this honest but prideful bit? Yep, ol' "socialist", "subversive", "soft on terrorism" me.

I have enjoyed America from Bar Harbor to La Jolla, from Copper Harbor to Key West. I know that there are few places in the world better to have grown up in than the American Midwest. I love and will defend America and Americans. But underlying this love for American humanity for humanity.

Being human is more elemental and therefore a condition more suited to the acquisition of valueable knowledge than that of being American. Nationalism is at best a defender of liberties and at worst the instrument of evil, but in any case it's an obstacle to the truth and a sign that much progress is yet to be made.

I will defend America, but at the same time promote a world where this is not necessary. When we acquire a truth we say, "Ah, so simple!" It's about that.