Monthly Archives: September, 2010

Autumn Begins

Last Day of Summer, Prospect Park

We have warm, clear weather for the first day of Fall. There’s a huge Harvest Moon, I tried to photograph it– but it came out looking like a blurry dot.

Here’s the State House, with a train arriving at the station.

I joined with some friends to observe the Autumnal Equinox by playing drums at the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park. Through the marble columns we watched the moon rise over the  pond, followed by the planet Jupiter, an evening star.

Jupiter was so bright that it left a trail of light on the pond, next to the bright sparkles of the reflected moon. What a show– and for free.  Tonight the moon is full, Jupiter and Uranus visible below, and looks like it will be clear. Get out and see it if you can.

Follow the Money

We all develop an almost unconscious skill– judging the message by the messenger. Like when you half-notice a commercial about clean water, green energy, we care… we’re Beyond Petroleum…

Well, it’s hard not to flash on exploding oil rigs and dying birds. It’s a survival skill to not trust words over actions.

But when the message is appealing, and constant, and on the TV every thirty seconds– and the messenger is some bland organization like ‘Committee for a Better America’ ( I just made that name up, though there may be one)– it’s hard to sort out motive. Motive, of course, is the essential information you need when someone is trying to get your money or vote.

The ‘Citizens United’ decision by the Supreme Court lets corporations act as persons in the political realm. They’re persons just like us except more powerful. Kind of like the gods in Greek myths. Except they’re real. Don’t tick them off.

The Senate is voting on a measure today that would require big money to show its face. This is essential if we are to evaluate the flood of political speech coming our way. We need to know the interests of the speaker. The Disclose Act is a very mild reform, but it’s a start.

The Senate has before it a measure, known as the Disclose Act, that would fix this mess; the House has already passed its version. Unfortunately, it has not been able to attract any Republican support and therefore is short of the necessary 60 votes. In its current form, the measure would go beyond expanding disclosure requirements to prohibit certain kinds of corporations — for example, government contractors — from seeking to influence federal elections. But supporters are said to be willing to strip out all but the disclosure portions of the legislation and to delay its effective date until after the upcoming election.

Follow this link to the Washington Post for the rest of the article.

Mi Vida Local–Diner Edition

(Observer was right about the Spanish grammar)

My Mom was talking about the good old days when she went to RISD in the 50′s. “There was this diner we went to, it was run by two brothers who were in WWII.”

“Louie’s!” I cried. I used to go there in the 70′s for their incomparable steak and cheese or fish and chips.

I’ve been back a few times lately, and wanted to add them to ‘Mi Vida Local’ list where I highlight unique local businesses– alternatives to corporate culture and often better and cheaper.

So follow this link to Louie’s.

Louie’s brother, Dom, left some years ago to open the Geneva Diner on Douglas Ave. This reporter will send a dispach as soon as I stop off there for lunch. Louie and Dom are no longer with us, but the family still carries on. I got the Shepherd’s Pie special there today and had to take half home– they make real mashed potatoes and generous portions.

Mi Vida Local List

Louie’s Restaurant
Acme Video
Silver Star Bakery
United BBQ
Stamp Egg Farms
East Side Prescription Center
Yacht Club Soda
Mangiarelli’s Fruitlands
Four Mile River Farm

The Arbiters of “Over”

Baseball legend Yogi Berra once famously remarked, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” But when is something over? Really over? Is it when the fat lady sings? Why should she decide? Who made her the arbiter of “over”? What if she declares it over prematurely, because she’s grown bored and is jonesing for a big bucket of KFC? What happens then?

Maybe it’s over when a panel of economists emerge from their Fortress of Solvitude to say it’s over:

U.S. recession ended June 2009, NBER finds

The U.S. recession that started in December 2007 ended in June 2009, making it the longest slump since World War Two, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The NBER, a nonprofit group that determines when recessions begin and end, said the economy bottomed out in June 2009, followed by a slow expansion. The group said the 18-month recession was the longest since a pair of 16-month slumps in 1973-75 and 1981-82.

Yet the NBER also cautioned that its findings bear no relation to the current state of the economy or represent a forecast about the future. If another downturn occurs anytime soon, the NBER said, it would constitute a separate recession…

“In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity,” the NBER said. “Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month.” [full story]

Well, gee, I’m overcome with ebullience. Break out the Champale. To heck with the Cheez Whiz, this occasion calls for Velveeta. Let the revelry begin!

If I appear sarcastically dismissive of this announcement, it’s because I am. Not because I dispute the panel’s economic findings, but because it all seems a tad out of touch with the economic realities of most Americans. It will take more than a modest uptick in the gross domestic product or other indicators to convince me that the Great Recession is over. A whole lot more. This country has barely begun to climb out of the massive hole that Wall Street and their political bedfellows drove us into. We’re no more out of that hole than the 33 Chileans are out of the mine they’ve been trapped in since August 5. (Of course, that didn’t stop some psychologist in Chile from recently declaring that “the worst is now over” for the miners.) A sliver of daylight should not be mistaken for a recovery. It’s not even close.

So put the Champale back on ice. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Maybe There Is a God

Doesn’t the Good Book say something about reaping what you sow?

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Authorities say security for last weekend’s canceled Quran burning at a central Florida church cost around $200,000. City officials say they expect the church to pay.

Maybe an analogy is shouting fire in a crowded theatre because you want to be photographed next to the fire truck, and you figure that free publicity can be gamed from free speech if you are clever enough.

It will be interested to see how this plays out.

Saved by ‘Gummint Interference’

From the New York Times, September 14—

CHEVY CHASE, Md. — She is unlikely to be mentioned at any 50th-birthday parties this year, but she is the reason many of those celebrations will take place.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey is 96 now, nearly deaf and barely mobile, as modest as her faded house in this Washington suburb. And though her story is nearly forgotten, she was once America’s most admired civil servant — celebrated for her dual role in saving thousands of newborns from the perils of the drug thalidomide and in serving as midwife to modern pharmaceutical regulation.

On Wednesday, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will honor Dr. Kelsey with the first Kelsey award. It will be given to a F.D.A. staff member annually. The award will come 50 years after Dr. Kelsey, then a new medical officer at the agency, first sat down to consider an application from the William S. Merrell Company of Cincinnati to sell a sedative named Kevadon, which was widely prescribed in Europe for morning sickness in pregnancy.

As it turned out, the drug (better known by its generic name, thalidomide) would cause thousands of children in Europe to be born limbless or with flipperlike arms and legs. With her probing analysis of Merrell’s application and her insistence on scientific rigor, Dr. Kelsey ensured that the effects in the United States were far more limited.
The thalidomide disaster led Congress to pass legislation giving the F.D.A. authority to demand that drug makers prove their products safe and effective. Moreover, Dr. Kelsey helped write the rules that now govern nearly every clinical trial in the industrialized world, and was the first official to oversee them.

Doctor Kelsey resisted pressure from the pharmaceutical corporations and lobbyists to be a good girl and just go along. She was a female in a male organization, and the one doctor who stood in the way of a drug that left such a path of destruction in Europe being pushed on pregnant women in the US.

Today thalidomide is marketed for some cancers and for some complications of AIDS, but I’m not happy to see it back, no matter how many safeguards they put in place. The acne drug, Accutane, can causes birth defects, and a program to prevent use by women who might become pregnant has not been as successful as it might be if people were rational and doctors never cut corners.

Thank you Doctor Kelsey, for all the lives you saved, for all the sorrow you prevented. The free market may be fine for deciding what color shirt to buy, but when you have to trust that a drug is safe, a car is road-worthy, food isn’t contaminated– then you need some gummint interference.

Pope Benedict’s Confession

At Kmareka we like to be on the leading edge, bringing you the news even before it happens. It’s in that spirit that our literary editor, Spectral_Ev, offers a review of the book that Pope Benedict XVI will write next year, ‘My Life in Hitler Youth’

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2012
My Life in Hitler Youth by Pope Benedict XVI
Translated from the German by Sophia Magdalena Scholl and Hans Scholl
With commentary by Steve Biko, Rabbi Hillel, Badshah Khan, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the Ven. Mahaghosananda
Forward by Archbishop Oscar Romero

While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion.

It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict XVI, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine.

In today’s world child soldiers are cannon fodder in countless civil conflicts. Teenagers are recruited to sign ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations. The desperately poor allow their children to be implanted with RFID chips and fed psychotropic drugs to increase their value on the mercenary market.

Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.

The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2010 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”

From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. He was tormented by nightmares in which he was visited by the ghosts of his Jewish playmates who disappeared in the Nazi violence. A letter from ‘Konrad’, a boyhood friend and fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. Benedict flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.

“Konrad needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. Only to each other could we admit that we sometimes enjoyed the seduction. We were robbed of our innocence, and the loss did not diminish with time. It was not for me, his fellow sinner and fellow victim, to grant absolution. We prayed together for God’s forgiving grace. We wept together. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were seduced.”

The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His Encyclical, ‘The Sin of Obedience’, shocked many in the Catholic hierarchy, but did much to mend relations with parishes torn by the sexual abuse scandals. His eloquent stand against war, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, was broadcast worldwide. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.

“Christians had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth to power, even at the cost of his life. Being truly Man, as well as truly God, he suffered as we all do.”

The Pope’s incognito visit to Brazil, where he met some of the poorest of his flock in the favelas (slums), celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as an act of saintliness.

Since then, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”

But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII. The attrition of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.

The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.

Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.

Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns and other religious operate with a freedom and authority unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children, nuns have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.

‘Space Your Children’ a family planning pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been tacitly approved by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.

Pope Benedict continues to reach out to those who have suffered the most from global war. His conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Zawadi Mongane, a rape survivor from the war in Congo, is still being parsed by theologians for its affirmation of living a whole and healed life in the wake of unbearable wrong. Truly, Pope Benedict has become a voice of conscience for the Christian world and extended the hand of friendship to other faiths.

This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible.

Readings for These Unreal Times

In the event you seek something other than distraction this weekend, here are some suggested readings for your edification:

Synthetic Novelty Is Not Reality – In Salon, writer David Sirota reflects on “the hullabaloo surrounding Florida pastor Terry Jones and his much-hyped plans to burn the Quran” and concludes that “we have just witnessed the realization of historian Daniel J. Boorstin’s most renowned prophecy”—i.e., “that real news and serious discourse would eventually be replaced by a ‘new kind of synthetic novelty’ called ‘pseudo-events.’”

America’s Decoupling from Reality – Journalist Robert Parry examines “the consequences of the nation’s three-decade-old decoupling from reality” and “how the country stumbled into this morass” (republished by Common Dreams).

Stephen Hawking Asks, What Is Reality?Time magazine offers a brief excerpt from the new book, The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

Rally to Restore Sanity

Finally, an event I can get behind, a tonic for the polarized politics and pugnacious punditry that pollutes the public discourse: The Rally to Restore Sanity. The event was announced yesterday by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and is scheduled to be held in Washington, DC on October 30. Not to be outdone, Stephen Colbert announced a competing rally, The March to Keep Fear Alive. Here’s what Newsweek had to say about these events:

You’ve got to hand it to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, social critics that they are, for keeping us attuned to the absurdity in our political discourse these days. Both have taken on the topics of the Tea Party, Fox News, and most recently the lazy campaigning of Democrats. Pulling back the curtain on the media obsessing over the normally snooze-worthy process of electing Congress, Stewart has begun asking, with the bravado of Hank Williams Jr., “Are you ready for some mid-terrrrrrrrrms?”

But neither man has gone after anyone quite so ferociously as Glenn Beck, the weepy Fox pundit who’s demonstrated he can amass quite a following. Last month, Beck hosted a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, urging America to “Restore Honor”—an amorphous plea to support the troops, find God, and honor thy neighbor. About 100,000 people showed up and agreed.

But do those people speak for the rest of the country? Stewart and Colbert say no (or should it be Colbert and Stewart? More on that in a moment). Neither thinks that the loudest voices should be the only ones who are heard. And, in a move that is part social critique and part hilarious satire, both men are hosting rallies next month to counter, or maybe simply mock, the Beck rally.

That’s right, they’re hosting rallies. Plural. Stewart and Colbert (who, of course, was birthed by Stewart) have an antagonistic relationship made for TV. Neither wants to play second fiddle to the other, so each is having his own rally on the same day in the same location. Stewart’s rally is to “Restore Sanity.” Colbert’s is to “Keep Fear Alive.”

“We’d like you to join us in Washington, D.C. on October 30—a date of no significance whatsoever—at the Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Sanity,” writes Stewart on his event’s new Web site. “Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs)—not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence … we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.”

If you’d like to watch video of Stewart’s announcement, follow this link.

Igor, Julia and Karl

Three hurricanes in the Atlantic today. Follow this link to see the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s cool weather map. Your tax dollars at work.

LiveScience has some fascinating hurricane history, including questions about how many hurricanes you can have at once.

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