" /> I write: February 2007
Curmudgeonalia
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February 26, 2007

Somebody’s Gotta Say It

Neil Boortz – ISBN – 9780060878207

Boortz has done it again! A blisteringly brilliant book on what’s wrong with America, and how to repair it (though he’s not optimistic!) It ought to be required reading for everyone. Even if you don’t agree, it is worth the time and effort. Even he emphasizes that if two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.

Early on he observes that “most adults have no idea of how essential our system of economic liberty is to the standard of life we enjoy today.” Few people are aware that democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government; most think we live in a democracy . . . which we are, unfortunately, moving toward, and which wasn’t the idea of the founders. Later: “I have come to the reluctant but inescapable conclusion that roughly 50 percent of the adults in this country are simply too ignorant and functionally incompetent to be living in a free society.”

In a preciously alliterative quote: “You could stick what the average American knows about economic matters down an ant’s throat and it would rattle around like a BB in a boxcar.”

He levels the charge that the teachers unions are a more threatening group than radical Islamists. They are ruining entire generations with their mal-education. His lengthy discussion of the education is consistent with his conviction that it is the single most problematic crisis in America today. “We live and work in an economic system based on competitive free enterprise. . . . We compete for jobs . . . customers . . . clients . . . recognition . . . even mates. Then along comes this government school teacher to tell us that competition is ‘not for human beings.’” Blaaaah!

Who can trust, or live with Islamic fascism? He reminds that these people shoot children in the back.” He has a lot more to say on that subject.

The “Democrat party” (a term he uses constantly, and justifies the slur) wants most desperately to silence talk radio . . . with predictable devastating result for the country’s information cycle. He explains, as he destroys, Liberal Talk Radio, that those who listen to talk radio can identify “bullshit” when they hear it. While willing to consider any rational presentation, audiences are generally intolerant of irrational ones. They may even tolerate irrationality if the speaker does so with humor. “This means that liberals are pretty much screwed when it comes to success in talk radio.” The facts are against them, they can’t carry forth an argument using logic or reason, and “let me know how your search for a truly funny liberal turns out.” He explains why the demise of talk radio will be disastrous for the country. (Democrat destructiveness only begins with that! . . . not that the Republicans have been doing much right recently.)

The last chapter summarizes things he would do if elected President--a job he empathically does not want. This is where his radically rational suggestions flower into a format I seriously doubt anyone with a double digit IQ would not, in the main, favor once arguments are presented.

He brilliantly recommends and explains the loser-pays system for lawsuits, defenestrates state licensure of the professions, eliminates the dep’t of education, repeals the 16th and 17th amendments, enacts the fair tax, reforms health care, expedites executions for capital crimes, ends the war on drugs, and inaugurates a crash program for energy independence.

He implements term limits and replaces the electoral system, leaving the House of Representatives as the highest office for which citizens can vote. He places restrictions on voting since there is no constitutional right to vote! Eminent domain seizures would be severely restricted and he ends asset forfeitures without due process. The U.S. gets out of the U.N. and substitutes a “New League of Freedom” composed of only free nations. Social security would be privatized and border protections are strengthened. Government subsidized housing is replaced by providing it free to all those who want to move to the sites were it is provided.

There are more excitingly radical ideas which are implementable if only the citizens of this country would embrace freedom. We have become soft, irresponsible and dependent upon government for too many things which we should provide for ourselves, and supporting others who are wholly dependent and vote for even more assistance.

His “Dollar Bill Savings Program,” alone is worth the price of the book.

READ IT ! ! !


Posted by respeto at 3:09 PM

February 18, 2007

Gutless Brits . . . or not!

‘Bout time for another rant:

T’other night I happened into a presentation on the tele of the history of the Danish invasion of England in the 9th century. By happenstance a day later I grabbed a book, . . . one to read for fun . . . and discovered that Cornwell’s newest paperback The Last Kingdom was about the same subject. (Good book, too.)

The Danes were run out of the British Isles by Alfred the Great, securing for the moment Christian Anglo-Saxon culture and founding England. Later they came back, this time from Normandy, and won England all over again. If the Brits had any guts they’d attack and take it all back and go on to invade Denmark, over which they had some control centuries earlier. Might even consider retaking the middle east and the Holy Land. Instead, the Brits became Danes and the Danes became Brits, they both became English, they all got civilized—yea authored the modern West--and here we are with modernity!

In 732 A.D. Abdurrahman was stopped by Charles “the hammer” Martel from taking over Europe at the battle of Tours: Saracens vs. Christians or Crescent vs. Cross. The Muslims are still fighting the same war, and with great vigor. They didn’t give up! And they won’t until they are whipped. They are certain that they are right, as have all tyrannical regimes of the past.

Of course, Martel was a Frank (i.e. an ancient German) not a modern Frenchman, hence he had some fortitude, and the Danes became Christians and gave up their “Viking ways,” as did most of us in the West. Unfortunately the Islamists are still living in that time frame, totally removed from both modernity and reality, still fighting against history, and each other of course, intending to reclaim what Allah has ordained to be theirs. This “religion of peace” defines peace as a circumstance in which they own the world and Sharia, with guidance from Allah, rules it. We dhimmis will be tax-paying subservients, or dead!

And if we don’t wake up, they might succeed! Imagine being transported to Mohammed’s 7th century. It won’t be much like “Kate and Leopold,” and even less like “Back to the future.”

Posted by respeto at 11:40 AM

February 17, 2007

War on the Middle Class

Lou Dobbs – ISBN – 978-0670037926

Noted for his politically incorrect, curmudgeonly commentary, Dobbs makes and adequately defends his positions in this devilish missive. He offers great quotes and a wealth of valuable information . . . correct, even if one interprets the facts differently. Says he: “I can’t take seriously anyone [who takes either political party] seriously . . . because both are bought and paid for by corporate American and special interests.” Who can disagree?

He is brutal on the press, noting their bias and avoidance of facts and hard news. “The idea that fair and balanced is a substitute for truth and fact is mindless nonsense.” . . . and “Broadcast news has homogenized its coverage to the point that evening newscasts . . . have become almost indistinguishable.” . . . except for his, of course, though he does make the point.

The attack on failing government schools is withering: e.g. - New York’s dep’t of education employs more people than IBM does worldwide. Its budget is over $16 billion, of which only 40% ends up in the classroom. Over 40% goes for administration and the rest to infrastructure, with no one watching where most of that goes. Tenure protects the incompetent and the evaluation of teachers is forbidden, as is merit pay. Alas, schools are making a serious if ineffective effort to teach foreign language to Americans in order to facilitate communication with immigrants. Say what?!

Our corporations are turning to other countries . . . outsourcing tasks or importing talent . . . instead of encouraging, supporting, even demanding better performance from our own school systems in educational endeavors necessary to meet their requirements.

Milken’s creative financing is discussed in ways which I have never heard, and Dobbs asserts that Junk Bonds and “highly leveraged debt overtook cash and commercial lending” which nurtured a new corporate atmosphere of risk and irresponsibility, as did stock options as compensation (but he forswears mention of the explosive creativity of the 70’s and 80’s funded by these very measures.)

While he doesn’t give Clinton a free ride he tends to attribute most of the problem to Republican administrations . . . forgetting that we really went “off the rails” during the 90’s—due, in my opinion to the rudderless, amoral, permissive Clintonian atmosphere (which does not infer that I defend Republicans on much else the man has to say.)

A number of other positions with which I agree partially are discussed in detail: trade measures, bankruptcy laws, tort and medical malpractice suits, corporate welfare, failure of multi-nationals to exhibit any loyalty to the U.S., etc. Curiously, he spends a lot of time discussing taxes without ever mentioning the Fair Tax--or the flat one.

Dobbs observes that nearly half of both the Senate and the House are lawyers. Nationally, one in three hundred people has a law degree. The ratio on Capitol Hill is one in three! (To me both facts are frightening inasmuch as the ratio in other countries is astoundingly different: 694-England; 2,461-France; 8,195-Japan; 15,748-Korea. The U.S. leads in lawyers per capita and in trade deficits. Might this be more than coincidence?)

He is downright vicious about NAFTA, noting that the cost of free trade is exorbitant, and the U.S. is “losing not only production, capital and jobs, but our sovereignty.” I don’t totally disagree, but I’m not sure it is all due to trade, and NAFTA has not been absent benefit.

“Overall wages lost by U.S. workers due to high immigration [are estimated at] $200 billion.” Farm wages could rise by 40%, adding less than 10 dollars per year to the average family food bill for fruits and vegetables. That is astounding. Illegals paid substandard wages (off the books) create a massive underground economy which drags other wages down. It has been reported that the principal contribution to Mexico’s economy (more than its industries, oil output or tourism) is money sent home by immigrants. Over $20 billion per year! These are the same folks who can’t afford medical care, need welfare and/or food stamps and free schools. They transfer enormous cost to us, as taxpaying citizens. Still, Congress and the President think the solution is to make the illegals legal (!) . . . if you are rankled by this you are labeled racist.

His take on “cheap labor” does have considerable bite, though I believe he is unfair to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the like in not noting that a significant group of their employees is on the bottom rung of employment, and/or comprised of retired people with other resources who are looking for something to do besides watch the tele; maybe make a couple of extra bucks. While it applies to few of these employees in any event, minimum wage, contrary to popular opinion, is low because of the level of skill necessary to perform the task. How much talent does it take to greet customers and pass out baskets at the Wal-Mart entrance? Or scan bar codes at the check out? More damaging to Dobbs’s argument is that he totally ignores reference to the enormous difference these big box stores make in the lives of the poor and the middle class, saving them thousands of dollars annually with discounted prices (as much as 25% in grocery expenditures alone) significantly enhancing the purchasing power of their wages.

He is especially outraged by corporate lobbyists, who “now comprise an industry whose power exceeds, by countless multiples, the capacity of individual citizens to voice their concerns and desires.” In a recent year these organizations spent $5.5 million--per day to influence congress! He does not, however, mention that this occupation is commonly used by the “retired” (by age or election) politicians as their special 401-K plan, supplementing their obscene pensions and benefits. This particular “perk” is a noteworthy reason to be elected in the first place. Don’t expect it to change without a fight. Nor will much else he discusses.

We “must work [skirmish maybe?] to change a social order that is in disrepair . . . and a government that is dysfunctional.” We get the government we deserve, or permit, and in order to change that we must to engage and command change. Understanding helps. Like Bill O’Reilly’s Culture Warrior, he laments that the collective “we” is doing far too little about it, perhaps failing to recognize the problems. This situation might be promptly corrected if both of these excellent books were read and meaningful action taken.

Some of Dobbs’ ideas for action are good, and some are ditzy. Nonetheless he offers suggestions. Agree or not, the read is worth the time.

Posted by respeto at 4:12 PM

February 9, 2007

The Big Oyster

History on the Half Shell
Mark Kurlansky – ISBN – 978-0345476395

A thoroughly delightful, entertaining and informative read! As with Salt and Cod, he brings to light the history of oystering, principally in New York and the surrounding area from colonization to exhaustion.

Along the way, as usual, he manages to sneak in snippets about Diamond Jim Brady, Lillian Russell and other New York City luminaries, necessarily including Delmonicos and Thomas Downing—interestingly a successful former slave—and Downing's, which had been the oyster house in the Oyster Capital of the World in the mid-19th century. Indeed, at about that time “oystering was the single most important economic activity on Staten Island.” He also reviews visits by Charles Dickens and others who came in part to enjoy New York’s oysters. So plentiful were they that they were eaten three meals a day by all classes of people . . . especially the poor, because they were so cheap.

He reviews Fulton’s and Livingston’s contribution of the Steam Engine and its impact on oystering as well as New York, with ferry services about town and to Connecticut and Rhode Island. Again he notes how important the Erie Canal was to the marketing of oysters to inland cities as far away as St. Louis, connecting the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. (Recall that in Salt he explained how important the construction of the canal was to the marketing of salt.)

He manages to cover everything from the technology of harvesting to those of environmental protection and aquaculture, which began very early in the waterways around New York before they became too polluted to sustain life. He also mentions Native American technology extant long before Europeans arrived. He even covers “the education of oysters!” It was interesting to learn that the Revolutionary War was a catastrophe for oystering, and the city itself. As well, to learn that there was a time, later, when New York supplied oysters to the world . . . after the Europeans had exhausted their oyster beds. Europeans, always suspicious of Americans and convinced that the product had to be inferior, came to prefer American oysters. In 1877 an entrepreneur sent 10 barrels of oysters to Liverpool and had “the greatest difficulty imaginable in disposing of them.” By 1882 5000 barrels per week were shipped and sold, “the English people [having] acquired a taste for American oysters and obliged to admit their superiority over their natives.”

He also recants the origins of the names for oysters: Blue Points, Rockaway, etc. and how they were used and misused to market the product.

And he manages to include numerous recipes for the preparation of oysters, as he previously has done for cod and for the uses of salt.

Posted by respeto at 5:18 PM

February 7, 2007

The Places in Between

Rory Stewart – 978-0156031561

An interesting book; especially so if you have read little or nothing about Afghanistan, Islam, etc. Having read extensively on these and related subjects I was less taken by it, though it is well written.

The author walked across Afghanistan, and chronicles the many adventures, contacts, threats and miseries thus encountered.

He is especially informative when discussing the Islamic approach to things, their culture and attitudes, which is meaningful for one who actually wants to understand. When I was in the Army in Okinawa I was always confronted by friends who commented: “well, if I were Japanese” . . . and I forever had to point out that, first, you are not--and that may be your problem. Work not on becoming Japanese so much as understanding what it means that you are not!

Herein are but a few examples and discussions of just how different are Middle Easterners, Afghanis, Muslims, etc. and it is quite enlightening.
• “[Tony] Blair’s handling and discussion of the Koran would have struck Ali (an Afghani leader) as highly eccentric. In Ali’s view, Blair could not have read the Koran because Blair could not read Arabic. Since the Koran, unlike the Bible, is the verbatim word of God, spoken through Muhammad in Arabic, a translation is not considered to be the Koran. It is [often] considered blasphemous to translate it at all.”
• “. . . a photograph of Bush casually dragging a Koran across a table with his unclean left hand, while the mullah who presented the book struggled to smile.”
• “Policy makers [after the Taliban was overthrown] . . . justified their lack of knowledge and experience by focusing on poverty and implying that dramatic cultural differences did not exist. They acted as though villagers were interested in all the priorities of international organizations, even when those priorities were mutually contradictory.”
• “Without the time, imagination, and persistence needed to understand Afghans’ diverse experiences, policy makers would find it impossible to change Afghan society in the way they wished to change it.”

Thus, with myriad additional examples does he not only make his point(s) but make the book a worthwhile read. Understanding is, or ought to be, what it is all about.

Addendum:
Just for the hell of it I recently reread Caravans, by James Michener (ISBN-9780449213803). I had completely forgotten about it in the intervening 40 year hiatus. You will find it a superb book on Afghanistan, arguably better than this one. Though fiction, it will give you more insight into the country, its history and its people. I recommend that you read it in addition to--or instead of--that above. Sincerely!

Posted by respeto at 2:49 PM

February 4, 2007

Truth & Beauty

Ann Patchett – ISBN - 978-0060572150

“A work every bit as entrancing, daring, and smart as her fiction . . . Truth and Beauty is a bravura self-portrait, and a stunning and insightful interpretation of an epic friendship. . . . A generous and virtuoso performance.” So says the Atlanta Urinal and Constipation.

I’ll admit that it is a stunning book—well written, insightful, infinitely readable and very soul searching. The principal protagonists herein are fast friends from college days. The first is the author and the other is Lucy, an incredibly damaged soul who has endured a life so tragic that one is hard-put to make any sort of judgment. All behavior is admissible and excusable it would seem.

Sorely disfugured from age 10 as a result of a malignant tumor of the jaw, she is the subject of mutilating surgery necessitating nearly forty “corrective” operations over her too short lifetime, ended by an accidental (?) overdose of heroin.

Both are writers, both talented, both sensitive souls surrounded by myriad other similar personages, all of whom “support” Lucy over the years. Lucy depends upon Ann (the author) for everything from soul support to money, while Ann depends upon Lucy to aggrandize her need to be helpful and gratified. The memoir chronicles many of the author’s reactions to and interactions with her best friend. Others of Lucy’s support group enter and leave the picture, a sort of relay team, individually frustrated by Lucy’s demands, and periodically on the outs, but never at the same time.

The underlying metaphor is that of the fable of The Grasshopper and the Ant. Lucy is the grasshopper, her acolytes the ants. Lucy, pathetic as she is, manages to have a modestly fulfilling if circumscribed life, controlled by surgical necessities, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual needs and demands, time constraints and the like; all understandable, if not altogether acceptable.

None the less her supportive ants manage to be there for her sometimes—collectively constantly—with Ann being there most reliably. Lucy makes constant demands, suffers perpetual insecurity, regular financial and variable alcohol and drug problems. Some are fateful, many are self induced. Lucy is predictably irresponsible and excused for it. Her ants cover her by paying bills, providing housing, giving her money, time, etc., always understanding of her fragile circumstances.

But Lucy’s demands are unrelenting and irresolvable by her support group. She becomes suicidal, yet not one of her friends will intervene in the situation to commit her against her will to an institution wherein she might receive help. None, it seems, has the cajones!

All of this arrests my compassion, if not for Lucy, for her ants, and herein lays the conundrum. While those who support her make “noble efforts” to do what they deem possible to save Lucy from herself and her dilemma(s) and make good-faith efforts to “be there” it is never enough, and they seem unable to take the critical step(s).

To me this represents the difficulty with modern adherents to the “I CARE” group of supersensitive individuals who are manifestly self-ennobled by their caring efforts and heartfelt compassion. They are so caught up in their righteous efforts, and so convinced that they simply must not make any judgments or decisions that they, in effect, permit this tragic lady to off herself--knowing fully that she would--without any definitive effort to do anything, all the while convinced of their magnanimity.

Whatever happened to friends who would not only support, cajole, love and cherish, but actually do something—interfere when required--for someone in desperate need? Especially a “best friend?”

Nonetheless it is a good read . . . if only to learn about how those of the sensitive, caring and compassionate group live and justify, magnify and gratify themselves. . . . As opposed, of course, to those of us who are not sensitive, caring and compassionate? Or noble!

Posted by respeto at 3:32 PM