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Archive for April, 2011

Why It Matters

A video put up by Baratunde Thurston (of The Onion) is a must-see:   http://www.youtube.com/user/baratunde.

Most thinking white people abhor and detest Donald Trump and birtherism because we understand the racism that motivates it.  No other American president has been subjected to anything like the vitriol and lies that have been spread about Barack Obama.   Not even that president most worthy of such treatment, George W. Bush, suffered anything like this, even though he was elected under suspicious circumstances, involved us in two unnecessary wars, justifed torture, raped the Constitution, and broke the bank.   Even more galling, other white presidents who were grifters and scam artists (unlike W, who is apparently just stupid), like Reagan, are idolized.

No, this is happening because a goodly percentage of white Americans cannot wrap their minds around the fact that (a) superior intellects appear among black people;   (b)  their fellow citizens saw that Barack Obama was head and shoulders above any other candidate–in intelligence and character–that Republicans or anyone else forwarded in 2008 and probably in 2012 and so they elected him overwhelmingly in 2008 and will probably elect him to the presidency again;   (c)  white supremacy is on its last legs in terms of demographics, if not in terms of its ideological appeal.

What gets lost in any focus on white people, including this one, is the effect of Trump’s outrageous behavior, or any of the multiple other such outrages, on black people.  Thurston’s video makes that plain and clear.  As did Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post, who is ordinarily a calm guy who reports the news.  Yesterday, however, he could barely contain his rage and frustration as he discussed the effects of birtherism on African-Americans while speaking on Chris Matthews’ show.   To paraphrase:  birthers have made it clear to him, and to all other African-Americans, that a black person can never be good enough, smart enough, or well-educated enough, to satisfy them that he or she is their equal.

Makes me want to holler.

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The CIA Did It

As the vast readership of this blog knows (both of them), I am a conspiracy nut.   I am still convinced that the LIHOP explanation of 9/11 is correct (LIHOP stands for Let It Happen on Purpose, as opposed to MIHOP, or “Made It Happen On Purpose).  The utter quashing of the 9/11 Truth movement by the media only adds strength to my conviction.  The same thing happened to those who dissented from the Warren Commission report back in the 1960s.

I’ve just finished reading JFK and the Unspeakable, by James Douglass (2008).   Douglass makes a strong case that Kennedy was murdered by the CIA, who feared that the young President would continue to make peace rather than war.  JFK defied the military and the CIA who wanted to nuke Laos, then Vietnam, and then Indonesia.  He defied them when they wanted to nuke Cuba, as though such an act would not doom the USA as well.  And he defied them when they argued for a first strike on the Soviet Union.   This desire was really bizarre–they claimed that while the Soviets would retaliate, they could only get off enough missiles to kill some 30 million Americans.  To the generals and the spooks, this death toll was acceptable collateral damage.

Kennedy knew the CIA and the generals hated him, of course.   He fired Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, when he got proof that Dulles had misled him.  But Richard Helms, who replaced Dulles, was virtually his clone, and all of the CIA’s underground plots and tactics remained intact.  Kennedy and Khruschev finally resolved the Cuban missile crisis peacefully, using a back channel because neither trusted his infrastructure.  Afterward, Bobby asked JFK what he planned to do next.  JFK said:   “I had better go to the theater tonight.”

Since I have lots of time, I read a lot of assassination websites alongside my reading of Douglass’ book, If you are interested in following up, I recommend CTKA, “Citizens for Truth about the Kennedy Assassination,” which is extremely detailed and up-to-date.  None of the websites that poo-poo a conspiracy convinced me of the unsoundness of Douglass’ argument.  Like the folks at CTKA, he took advantage of the huge document dump that was released after Oliver Stone’s movie convinced members of Congress to demand it.   And there is plenty of incriminating evidence in those thousands of pages.

It is not comforting to realize that the USA is little better than the third-rate dictatorships that used to govern Latin American States.  But we weren’t.   Think the assassination of Patrice Lamumba, Sukarno, the Ngo brothers of Vietnam.  Hell, think Iran-Contra.  Etc.

The question is:   is the USA still such a place?

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One reason I enjoy reading old mysteries from the 20’s and 30’s is for the fresh, descriptive bits of everyday life back then, as opposed to the way first-hand descriptive quotes can come across in history books as dried out ossified relics presented under glass.  I like these old postcards for the same reason.   But without a historian to annotate and provide reference, I’m finding myself often in need of an interpreter – for which I’ve been turning to the internet.

I’ve not tried to find anything about this card yet.  On the surface it’s pretty straightforward but after a bit the image begins to seem a bit surreal to my present-day eyes.  Nowadays mistletoe has been relegated to Christmas, but I can get that in 1911 it was used to symbolize the New Year also.  But why the dog?  And why is the dog delivering mail?  I can guess that the four leaf clovers are meant to wish good luck, and I think the girl has forget-me-nots in her hair.  But do you know what the mushroom’s about, Doc?  I don’t have a clue.

While Hercules Poirot was sipping tisanes and searching for clues while listening to adenoidal suspects in Death on the Nile, he could have taken in a scene similar to this one from a decade earlier, probably in the late 20’s.  The person who mailed the postcard wrote, “I’ve seen the Parthenon & the Pyramids & the Sphinx – what more can life hold?  I’m loving every moment of this cruise – & feel like a different person!”

I don’t know whether Hercules, or Agatha C, ever sailed on the Mauretania, but this postcard did, probably in the early 20’s.  It’s sender said, “Beautiful weather so far – ocean rather rough….our ship sails splendidly.  None of us casting bread on the waters.”

The Mauretania, when built in 1906, was the largest fastest ship in the world.  It held the Atlantic crossing speed record for 22 yrs.  Wikipedia:  “The Mauretania was designed to suit Edwardian tastes, with twenty eight different types of wood used in her public rooms, along with marble, tapestries, and other furnishings. Wood paneling for her first class public rooms was meticulously carved by three hundred craftsmen from Palestine.  The multi-level first class dining saloon was decorated in Francis I style and topped by a large dome skylight.  A series of elevators, then a rare new feature for liners, were installed next to Mauretania’s grand staircase.”

Her sister ship, the Lusitania, met a famed and tragic end, but the Mauretania had a full and eventful existence, being finally broken up in the mid ’30’s.

Hercules might have stayed here some time in the 30’s on one of his many world travels.

Most of the postcards which I’ve found on the internet have been priced from $2-$10, if for sale.  For some reason this one is offered at a whopping $17.50.

He might have stayed here as well.  This is the hotel that was damaged recently in the terrorist attack in Mumbai, back when it was nearly new.

Hercules was a little young for this scene.  Agatha was 13 years old when this postcard was sent.  If you click on the image, you’ll be able to see more of the decorative work across the bodice of the grand dame under the umbrella.

While many of these postcard images seem quaint now, some are elegiac.  This view of  Mainz is from St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the city in 1905.  Nearly everything in this view was firebombed in WWII.

Because of this.  I found the sheer mundanity of this image alarming after I noticed the flags.  According to a history site, this was a new Nazi army barracks built during the militarization of Naumburg/Saale, probably photographed in the late ’30’s.

Enough of the Wayback Machine!

Here’s an image to stir more cheerful memories – the Past yet to come, I suppose. I go downtown sometimes on holidays when there are no cars around and take photos.  This one is from Sunday morning.

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Time Tourist

I took a tour recently – through a batch of 50-100 year old images collected by a woman who gave them in her old age to a 5 year old neighbor boy in payment for mowing her lawn.  50 years later this gentleman, now a construction contractor, remarked to my Florida mom, Linda, for whom he was doing a remodeling job, that he didn’t know what to do with the boxes in the back of his truck which had been taking up space in his house – not wanting their contents any longer, but hating to just throw them away.  Linda offered to take them off his hands.  He handed them over with relief – two boxes full of 2500 old postcards.  Having both a stamp collector and a postcard fiend in the family, Linda had no worries about finding them a new home.

They’re now all tucked away inside four 3″ wide notebooks, sorted by locale – from all over the country and the world.  Some are in pretty bad shape, most aren’t all that interesting other than perhaps those who know or live in the areas that they portray.  But many others are just kinda fascinating – at least to a postcard fiend who also likes out-of-the-way stuff such as roaming around small town museums.

Having the internet as a tour guide, that’s sort of what going through these old postcards has been like – a stroll through a tourist museum.   I’ve scanned a few of them to share.

River running in 1905.  It seems among other things not yet invented at the time were lifejackets.

Touring the past can be like glimpsing a different culture, with different values and concerns.   In 1905 we were proud of our industrious use of trees.  There are tourists riding this redwood log to the mill.  The writer says he took a tour of the mill.  This is in the Santa Cruz Mtns near San Jose, according to the internet.  Postcard producers are notorious for altering images to suit their needs, and apparently this habit started early.  The version of this postcard that I found online doesn’t show the big stump in the foreground.

1910, ladies in their long skirts riding the mules down the Bright Angel Trail.

This World’s Fair was officially in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase.

At the turn of the last century, the Europeans still ran the world, and they made the best postcards, too.  1907, horse drawn carriages.  This looks so darned peaceful.  No hint of what was to come in 4 years.

On the back of this card is printed Batavia, Weltevreden.  Whew, thank goodness for the internet.  Where the heck is Wilhelminapark, Batavia, and Weltevreden?  Where is Atjeh?  What happened there to warrant a monument?

The park surrounding this monument was placed on the site of a Dutch fortress which was broken down in 1809.  A portion of the park is now home to Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, the largest in Southeast Asia, recently visited by President Obama to the horror of godfearing conservative ‘mercans everywhere.  The monument, honoring Dutch soldiers who died in a colonial war in Aceh, was removed by Indonesia’s President Suharto.  Isn’t the internet wonderful for providing all this info?

More to come, Doc, if you’re interested.  And to wrap up this batch, some cute little 100 year old chicks.

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Last week when he delivered his speech on the economy, Obama invited some Repugs–Paul Ryan among them–to sit in.   Imagine their surprise when he told the truth about Ryan’s so-called economic “plan”–that lowering taxes on the rich (even more) would actually increase the deficit and that vouchers for Medicare is about as helpful to seniors as death panels.

Afterward, Ryan said the speech was “partisan.”  Hello?   Proposing a program that differs from your piece of shit is partisan?   And for a Republican to call anyone else “partisan” is like the Pope complaining that Evangelicals have it all wrong about birth control.

Seems that the party whose so-called right wing “media” endlessly spews lies and hatred is awfully touchy about criticism.  Here is some wingnut whining in the Washington Examiner:

“The speech was advertised by the White House as a major address in which the president would join the serious conversation initiated two weeks ago by Ryan in his detailed proposal for cutting spending. What Obama instead delivered, with Ryan sitting in the front row, was, in the Wall Street Journal’s unsparing description, a “poison pen” speech dripping with mean-spirited partisanship, gross misrepresentations of fact, and sophistry of the lowest sort concerning Republicans’ alleged desire to hurt old people, the poor and mentally challenged children. It was the sort of harangue one would expect from a rabidly devoted partisan hack, with no relation whatever to the thoughtful appeals to reason and common values that historically have characterized presidential leadership in this country.”  http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/editorials/2011/04/mean-streak-obama-not-nice-he-looks#ixzz1Jyfkjtyb

Pardon me for suggesting that this post speeds right past partisan into lies and more lies.   And if you follow the link (which I do not recommend) you can read a series of comments that move right past racism into downright bust-a-blood-vessel hatred of any person of color who dares to say anything at all in public.   I braved a few of the comments and discovered this gem:   “Odds are we will see more of this meaner side of the Obama persona in the months ahead because, as columnist and former GOP presidential aide Pete Wehner notes, “now that he finds himself intellectually outmatched by Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and in a precarious situation when it comes to his re-election, Obama is dropping his past civility sermons down the memory hole.”

Intellectually out matched?   Oh dear.   I suppose if you don’t believe that Obama actually went to Columbia and Harvard, or that he actually edited the law review at the latter, or that he taught con law at Chicago, or that he is married to a woman who graduated from Princeton law at the top of her class and who, perforce, would not waste even a minute of her time on anyone who is “intellectually outmatched” by the likes of Paul Ryan, let alone marry him–I guess if you swallow all of that, it’s not hard to be so totally out of touch with reality as most people live it that you can even believe that Obama will have trouble getting re-elected.   As if Bozo the Clown couldn’t beat any of the Rethug candidates currently on board.

Sorry for the vitriol, but if there is anything that pisses me off worse than the stupidity manifested by the Arizona state legislature, it is stupidity salted with untruths.  Although I guess that’s true of the AZ lege as well.

Sigh.

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Winter is Coming

Trep was kind enough to ask for a review of HBO’s presentation of Game of Thrones.

So here it is:   Wow.  Just wow.   HBO has retained the dark tone of George R. R. Martin’s series, along with the medieval setting and the fascinating characters.  They hired all the right people to portray the major characters, primarily Sean Bean to play the central figure in the first novel, Eddard (Ned) Stark, and Peter Dinklage to play Tyrion Lannister, the mischievous imp who is brother to the queen but reviled by all because he is a little person.  From his first appearance in the HBO series, in a whorehouse no less, Dinklage owned the screen as Tyrion and I can’t wait to see him in further episodes.

But the sets and costumes may rival the performances in overall excellence.  This image depicts The Wall, erected to keep the continent of Westeros safe from the Others.   The wall is 700 feet high and made of ice, and it covers the northern reaches of the continent from shore to shore.  We actually meet some of the Others in the very first scene, and they are Very Scary, but Martin (and HBO) keep us in suspense for a long time about exactly who or what these creatures are and what sort of threat they constitute.

As if Westeros needed external threats to keep the intrigue intriguing.   In the first ep we are also introduced to exiled members of the Targaryen family–Daenerys and Viserys.

Their casting is a work of art–they look enough alike to be believable as brother and sister, and the actor who plays Viserys has his cruelty nailed.  The Targaryens held the throne before it was taken from them by King Robert Baratheon, friend of Ned Stark, unwilling husband of Cersei Lannister, and scion of the other important family in the novels, along with the Starks. The Starks have five children, whose fortunes we follow through most of the first two novels, and Martin is such a good writer that I loved them all. Which is not good, because Martin is also a realist.  And how.

In an early scene, which is beautifully depicted in the HBO series, the Starks find a dead direwolf who has given birth to five pups.   Ned is not too keen on taking them back to the castle because direwolves are dangerous, even though they are the sigil of House Stark.   But his bastard son, Jon Snow, points out that there is one pup for each Stark child, and so Ned Relents.  A few moments later, Jon discovers a sixth pup, an albino.  Jon names him Ghost, and the wolf will become a major character in the series.

But I’m going to descend into plot summary if I’m not careful, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might read the novels or watch the DVDs.  Both of which I can now happily recommend.

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A linguist in Auckland named Quentin Atkinsen has shown that language developed in Africa, just as the human gene pool did.  Here’s a good account of his research:   http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/651912.html.  His paper is in the April issue of Science.

Atkinsen was interviewed on NPR today, where he said he started with a hunch:  apparently it’s sort of an axiom in genetic studies that genetic diversity wanes as populations move away and separate from other populations.   Genetic diversity is still high in Africa, for instance, but not so much in the Pacific Islands.  Atkinsen wondered if the same would hold for languages.

So he mapped the occurrence of phoneme diversity in extant languages (phonemes are the smallest bits of sound that can distinguish words from one another–in “bat” and “cat” the “b” and “c” sounds are hence phonemes).  Then he developed a computer algorithm that would map the number of phonemes used in over 500 languages, and viola!   same result–more phonemes in African languages, fewer in, say, Hawaiian.  (NPR played some samples, and I could hear the difference, or at least I thought I did:   lots of variety in Kikyu, including cool clicks and variations in tone while Hawaiian had repeated “k” and “oo” sounds).

NPR then interviewed Richard Leakey, who was just about jumping out of his shoes with excitement about this research because it confirms what paleoanthropologists are discovering.  Appparently the patterns Atkinsen found also confirm patterns of human dispersal found by anthropologists.

So suck on that, all you racists out there.  We are one.  And Africa is the mother country.

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