Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, May 10, 2014 8:37 pm

Actually, only PART of the 1% is the problem. But we don’t know which part.

OK, strictly speaking, it’s the top 8%: CNBC commissioned a poll of U.S. households with $1 million or more of investable assets. And to a significant (and, to me, surprising) extent, they think a lot like you and I think on the economy:

  • 51% believe income inequality is a “major problem” for the country.
  • 64% support higher taxes for the wealthy.
  • 63% support increasing the minimum wage.

Now, they don’t think exactly like us; they’re likely to overestimate the effect of a good education and hard work (America tops only the U.K. in social mobility among the 20 wealthiest nations), and they tend to underestimate the effect of inherited wealth and luck.

But the fact remains that close to two-thirds of millionaires think they, themselves, should be paying more taxes and that the minimum wage should be higher. Just thought you should know we have some support among their ranks.

 

 

Thursday, March 6, 2014 7:52 pm

How many bullets would it take to plunge America into the dark?

Not all that many, unfortunately:

It turns out the United States—which has the largest and most complex electric power network in the world, and which is completely and utterly dependent upon electricity for its daily survival—does not have the capability of manufacturing the single most crucial component of its electrical grid: the TRANSFORMER. To be exact, we can make little transformers, but the really big ones that are necessary to push electric current across long distances (which our electric grid is totally dependent on) are somehow beyond our ken. Or, to be more accurate, the 1% have no interest in building the plants and hiring and training the workers to manufacture the very large-size transformers.

They (the 1%) apparently reason that they don’t need to go to that trouble because in our globalized economy there’s somebody else who can build the really big transformers. It turns out that somebody is South Korea. So when, recently, Pennsylvania badly needed a new very-large transformer they placed an order with the Koreans, who promptly began building it. Two years later, the 400,000 pound item was put on a ship and transported for 26 days at sea to the port of Newark, New Jersey, where it was loaded by crane onto a railcar bound for Pennsylvania. (“Heart of U.S. Grid Difficult to Replace”, W.S.J. March 4, 2014.)

This little tale is made even more interesting by the fact that these very-large transformers—usually situated inside a compound protected by chain-link fencing—are easily destroyed with a few rounds of fire from a semi-automatic assault rifle. Thankfully, semi-automatic assault rifles are difficult to come by in the U.S., otherwise there might be cause for concern. The seventeen transformers recently shot to death in California (we can’t explain how this actually happened, since the NRA is only marginally active on the West Coast) are a cautionary tale: If this were repeated on just a little bit larger scale, the Department of Homeland Security has determined, our entire electric grid could be down for months—or even longer. (Come on South Korea, hurry it up…. We’re waiting!)

This point is just an example from a larger article whose main point has less to do with electricity, per se, than with things that the government could do for the common good with or without the approval of the 1%.

But it caught my attention. Maybe because so much of Greensboro’s electrical infrastructure is above ground and vulnerable to the elements, as I’ve been reminded over and over again, in sticky heat, balmy autumn, and single-digit winter, during my 27 years here. Maybe because while Virginia tends to get snow in the winter and South Carolina gets rain, North Carolina frequently gets ice, which is most likely to bring down power lines. Maybe because I spent 22 of those years in a job in which staying home, or even working from home, during an ice storm simply wasn’t an option.

Or because, like almost every other American, I need reliable electrical service to live safely and work productively.

Risk Assessment 101 requires that you multiply two things: the likelihood that a particular bad thing could happen and the amount of damage/destruction that particular thing would cause if it did happen. For example, it’s almost certain that my cat will want to go outside tonight, even for just a little while, but unless maybe you’re a vole, the damage will be nil. High likelihood, extremely low risk.

On the flip side, based on a couple of centuries of weather observation and zilliabytes* of data, we know that the likelihood that a very-slow-moving Category 5 hurricane will rake North Carolina’s coast from South Carolina to Virginia is vanishingly small. But if it did happen, even with the early warnings we get today, dozens or hundreds of people would die and many more would be injured, thousands upon thousands of homes and businesses would be destroyed, countless numbers of livestock and family pets, as well as wildlife, would perish, and the coast, with its fisheries and tourist spots, often with manufacturing just inland, would be devastated for years. The impact on the federal budget would be non-negligible, and the impact on property insurers might well be unsurvivable for many.

Now, how likely is it that, say, 19 terrorists could arrange to use legally acquired semiautomatic weapons to shoot and disable a like number of very-large transformers in the U.S. simultaneously? Substantially more likely, I’d say, than the possibility that 19 terrorists could hijack four passenger jets and try to crash them into public buildings.

And what would the damage be like? Well, you don’t have to have read Stephen King to take a guess. Not only would most of our electrical infrastructure be offline, so would most of our communications infrastructure, which relies on electricity. Whole regions would go dark, right down to the switching systems that control the pipelines that deliver the natural gas that fires the generators that keep heart-lung machines and incubators working at individual hospitals. We’d have no immediate way of coordinating any sort of systematic response. And right now, fixing that would take months or years, during which time a lot of Americans would die, a lot of businesses would go bankrupt, the financial markets would be disrupted worldwide, and the transportation of essential goods by road or rail would dry up quickly as refined product couldn’t be pumped out of a gas pump, or from a refinery to a pipeline, or loaded from a terminal to a tanker truck, and so on. Shipments of perishable and nonperishable food, essential drugs and medicines, and many other needs would cease. Depending on the time of year, a large proportion of the U.S. population might face the very real threat of death from exposure/hypothermia.

As I write, it’s raining here, with the odd ice pellet thrown in. And the rain is beginning to freeze.

*made-up word

(h/t: Fec

Monday, February 3, 2014 8:05 pm

“This is not a religious crisis; it’s a military-political crisis.”

So if you even glance at the headlines, you probably know that there is something somewhere between civil unrest and civil war going on in, um, let’s see, Egypt, Syria, Somalia, and Ukraine. (And those are just the ones getting the most headlines.) You probably also didn’t know that there is civil strife in the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic has, literally, a wealth of resources, namely gold and diamonds. And yet most of its people live in poverty.

That fact alone tells me two things: 1) The government is corrupt, and 2) the government is corrupt. Because those diamonds and gold aren’t just sitting there in the ground, they’re being extracted, so someone, somewhere, is making a ton of money.

The people are, predictably, upset about this. The government and some media have tried to paint this as a conflict between Christians and Muslims, and indeed, at street level, some of those conflicts have been just that. But as the Archbishop of Bangui and the imam who serves as president of the Islamic Central African community work together both to ease religious tension and to get help from other nations in peacekeeping,  the bigger picture becomes clear: Most of the country is poor because the country is being robbed blind.

The UN has warned of genocide in the country, where almost a quarter of the population has become refugees. My guess is that this story will get worse before it gets better, and even if I surpass my biblically-allotted threescore and 10 years, they won’t get substantially better in my remaining lifetime. The UN already is warning that genocide will take place.

I don’t have any solutions. I just thought more people ought to know.

Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:57 pm

Terrorist acts that our federal and state governments have ignored

Esquire’s Charlie Pierce with a thought experiment:

Imagine if there were three terrorist events in two weeks. First, terrorists poison a state’s water supply. Then, they rig a building to collapse and rig another one hundreds of miles away to explode. Nervous politicians would be blue-pencilling the Bill of Rights by daybreak. The NSA would throw a parade for itself. Edward Snowden would be hung in effigy, if we couldn’t do it in person. Somebody’s ass would get droned in Waziristan.

Sounds about right.

But in the past two weeks, we have seen West Virginia’s water supply be poisoned by a Koch Bros.-owned chemical plant (CORRECTION: As Roch notes below, the Kochs sold the plant Dec. 31, nine days before the leak), which promptly filed for bankruptcy protection so that the families who are harmed will have to be compensated by the state if they get compensated at all. Then we have the building collapse in Nebraska and the explosion in Oklahoma. And those events happened in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 others and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings. What do these things have in common? Freedom! The dead hand of government regulation has been removed, by fiat or via lack of enforcement, so that these companies could kill Americans without significantly harming their owners’ bottom lines.

At Cogitamus.com, the Low-Tech Cyclist says:

I keep on waiting for the Democratic Party to get a clue about this: to say after the latest such disaster, “This is why we regulate, [expletive] — this is why we need the regulations, and why we need enough Federal inspectors out in the field to make sure they’re followed.  Because otherwise, they’ll poison our food, dump chemicals in our rivers, steal your wages, and make you work in places that could blow up.”

But Dems at the state and federal levels seem almost as in thrall to industry as their GOP brethren and sistren, so we’re all screwed. Pierce concludes:

(Forklift operator) Kendrick Houston was brave enough to go back into the fire (in Omaha). Yet too many of our politicians, local and national, don’t have the simple stones to stand up to a corporate class that has come to represent nothing but death and pillage. But they will show up at the funerals, boy. They will do that, and they will talk about the indomitable spirit of American individualism, through which people will run back into the fire, and then they will go out onto the stump next fall and talk about how the dead hand of government regulation is stifling that same spirit, and that freedom demands more victims. The American Dream becomes the province of the dead, Moloch with stock options, and that is the country today, where things fall down and things blow up and almost nothing ever changes.

The Republicans got the Congress back in 1994 in part by using language to frame the terms of the debate and even to describe their opponents as outlined in the now-famous document “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” So is it excessive to, as Low-Tech Cyclist does, call our plutocrat class “terrorists”? I think not — if the poison-tipped jackboot fits, wear it — but even then, they do what they do because we allow our legislators to let them. This, among many, many other reasons, is why voting matters and why electing people to office who believe that government can and should do its job, not those who are bent on dismantling what remains of government, is so important.

Some of our most vicious terrorists are home-grown, and it’s time they did time. But in addition, and better, it’s time we prevented them from getting in the way of what’s needed to keep our food, water, drugs, cosmetics, workplaces, and so on, safe. Because the free market doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you live or die. If you doubt me, you can just go to West, Texas, or even just down to Hamlet and ask.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:05 pm

“Those police officers are free now. How free do YOU feel?”

Digby writes about two California police officers acquitted of all charges after their beating to death of a mentally ill homeless man (himself the son of a former police officer) was caught on video. Read the whole horrible thing, including watching the embedded videos and following the links. Discussing a different case, she concludes:

I realize [cases involving mentally ill people] are tough situations for the police. Dealing with people who cannot comprehend your orders — or the stakes in refusal — makes it even tougher. But ask yourself why that officer couldn’t have walked behind the man rather than demanding that he turn around and shooting him full of electricity in the chest when he didn’t. The man’s hands are up, he’s presenting no threat. So often these things end up being a battle of wills rather than a means to an end. It’s one thing if thing if the person is clearly threatening, but too many times it’s police needing to demonstrate their authority. Needing to do that with people who are hearing lots of voices in their heads telling them all kinds of things already, is just pathetic.

Mentally ill people often live horrible lives in the streets of our towns and cities. They face danger from the elements, criminals and each other. And they often end up in police custody for a variety of reasons. Tasers (and worse) are cruelly used against them. It’s medieval.It goes without saying that without cameras taping this incident there would not be a trial.

In just such a case a few days ago in southeastern North Carolina, a police officer shot and killed a mentally ill, 90-pound teenager whom two other officers were holding down on a bathroom floor — after he had been tased. The two officers on the floor with him, one of whom had just tased him, were from the community, were familiar with the kid, and had pretty much talked him down from whatever rage he had been on when the third officer, from another jurisdiction, stormed in, and, within 70 seconds and reportedly after saying, “We don’t have time for this,” shot the kid and killed him in front of his horrified father. (And thank God the bullet didn’t go through the kid, ricochet off the floor, and kill or injure one or both of the officers holding him.)

Handling mentally ill people appropriately requires training, and the training that law-enforcement officers get — which primarily and for good reasons involves getting control of people and situations — needs to be adapted to include mentally ill people who pose no threat or a minor threat (the 18-year-old was holding a screwdriver) so that we don’t end up tasking our officers with executing the mentally ill.

In the case of the California cops acquitted of the beating death, I think the video, which you can find if you follow the links, is damning. The North Carolina case is just days old and it’s not clear yet whether any charges will be filed, although both the cops on the floor with the kid have officially been cleared.

But in both of these cases, if the cops have any consciences at all, they’ll be haunted by what they did for the rest of their lives. And that’s where the rest of us come in.

The job inevitably requires some cops to do things that will have that result. We owe it to our mentally ill brethren to balance the safety of others (including cops) against their well-being. And we who hire, train and pay cops owe it to them to train them well enough that if they ever have to use deadly force, the justification will be so clear that their consciences will be offered legitimate respite from what comes afterward. This is not an outcome that the current overmilitarization of U.S. law enforcement is likely to yield.

Monday, January 13, 2014 6:42 pm

“We are losing men and women, and we should not be.”

Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, an Army infantry officer who has served in Iraq, writes about the spike in suicides among service members and, especially, young veterans:

He wrote his suicide note in his own blood, as it was flowing out of him. It was addressed to me. He was apologizing for the administrative headaches that he anticipated his death would cause. …

Want me to go on? I can. Oh, how I can. But that would be beside the point.

The point is that we are losing men and women, and we should not be. Not now, not in the 21st century. We should see these signs and step in, and me and my Army are failing so far. But then, so are you. We can work to prevent the suicides of those in uniform. But we need you, all of you, to step in when the soldier is no longer a soldier, but a “veteran.”

The VA just put out new numbers. Suicides are spiking among young veterans.

… if you have a veteran with you, especially a young combat veteran, just keep a weather eye open. Talk, learn, listen, and pay attention. It really is not hard. Better that than looking back and remembering, and dreaming of what you might have [expletive] done differently, for the rest of your entire life. Believe me on that one friends. Believe.

If you or someone you know is a service member or veteran who needs help, call this hotline any time, 24/7, at (800)-273-8255, press 1, or visit veteranscrisisline.net. We already owe far too many of our veterans far too much. Let us not add unnecessarily to that debt, for their sakes and our own.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 12:58 am

The Gospel According to Pierce; or, A Christmas Prayer, With Carrion

And Pierce wrote, saying:

But this is the argument in season over these holidays. That the poor must suffer in order to be redeemed. That hunger is a moral test to be endured. That only through pain can we hope. What doesn’t destroy you, etc. Santa Nietzsche is coming to town. The idea that we should — hell, that we must — act out of charity for each other through the institutions of self-government is lost in the din of a frontal system of moral thunderation aimed at everyone except the person who is out there thunderatin’ on behalf of personal-trainer Jesus, who wants us to work, work, work on that core. That was the way that government operated once before; the specific institutions that Scrooge mentions, and with which the Spirit eventually reproaches him in his own words – the prisons, the union workhouses, the treadmill, and the Poor Laws – were all government institutions based on the same basic philosophy that drives the debate over the food stamp program today.(We even seem to be going back to debtor’s prisons.) We have speeches on self-reliance given by government employees to people who increasingly have only themselves on whom to rely, day after grinding day. It is a way to keep the poor from having a voice in their own self-government. It is a way to keep the wrath of the boy at bay. There will be a reckoning, one way or another. But it can be staved off by platitudes, and by verses from Scripture wrenched from the obvious context of the Gospels. The sepulchers brighten whitely while the bones inside grow increasingly corrupt. This is what this Congress believes, as it goes home proud of itself and its members dress themselves to sing the midnight carols with no conscience sounding in counterpoint, and this is Christmas in America, and it is the year of our Lord, 2013.

Merry Christmas to all, and tonight, God bless us, every one. But forgive me, Lord, in advance, for hoping and praying that the year of our Lord 2014 brings plague and pestilence upon those who would force the suffering to suffer further, those who would insist upon morality tests for the poor that they themselves could not pass, those who would require that many of our fellow Americans be denied a voice with which to insist anything. Bring on the plagues for them, turn their fruit into locust husks, their wine and water into blood, and their foie gras to feces, and let their corrupt bones and those of their first born be cast out from the whitely brightened sepulchers to be feasted upon by jackals and vultures.

Except for those who repent and atone. Always except for those.

Amen. And Amen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:10 pm

Foreseeable harm, Spanish edition

This is why you don’t try to balance your national budget when unemployment is 25%.

Before the 2008 crash, Spain was running a surplus, news that too frequently comes as a surprise to austerians. But it, like many other countries, was experiencing a housing bubble. That bubble was caused by many of the same bankers who are now insisting that Spain “take its medicine.” What should happen instead is that those bankers should take their medicine, including an outright scalping on their bond holdings. The Spanish people didn’t cause this problem, and visiting unnecessary pain and poverty on Spaniards will not get Spain out of this problem. If both economics and history are any guide, it’s more likely to lead to bankers dangling from lampposts than to economic prosperity in Spain. But nobody, not even bankers, believes that bankers act in their own best long-term interests all the time, mainly because they don’t. So here we are. Well, here the Spaniards are. And if the Republicans got their way, here we would be as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012 6:15 am

Freedom came from Uranus; or, Eastern D-Day

Berkeley economist and World War II student J. Bradford DeLong:

And so, 70 years ago [today], the million-soldier reserve of the Red Army was transferred to General Nikolai Vatutin’s Southwestern Front, Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky’s Don Front, and Marshal Andrei Yeremenko’s Stalingrad Front. They went on to spring the trap of Operation Uranus, the code name for the planned encirclement and annihilation of the German Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army. They would fight, die, win, and thus destroy the Nazi hope of dominating Eurasia for even one more year – let alone of establishing Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich.

Together, these 1.2 million Red Army soldiers, the workers who armed them, and the peasants who fed them turned the Battle of Stalingrad into the fight that, of any battle in human history, has made the greatest positive difference for humanity.

The Allies probably would have eventually won World War II even had the Nazis conquered Stalingrad, redistributed their spearhead forces as mobile reserves, repelled the Red Army’s subsequent winter 1942 offensive, and seized the Caucasus oil fields, thus depriving the Red Army of 90% of its motor fuel. But any Allied victory would have required the large-scale use of nuclear weapons, and a death toll in Europe that would most likely have been twice the actual World War II death toll of perhaps 40 million.

May there never be another such battle. May we never need another one.

The battle had been engaged a month previously, when 200,000 Red Army soldiers crossed the Volga River at Stalingrad under heavy artillery and aircraft attack (a scene rendered quite faithfully in the movie “Enemy at the Gate”) and met the Wehrmacht head-on. Of those initial 200,000, more than 80 percent died. (In fact, of the roughly 40 million who died in the European theater during World War II, 20 million were Soviet. For comparison, perhaps 450,000 U.S. service members were killed in action in all theaters in the entire war.) The fighting wasn’t just house-to-house, it was room-to-room, with houses and rooms frequently changing hands multiple times. One Soviet regimental commander, finding his unit surrounded by the Germans, fought until his unit ran out of ammunition, then called in artillery fire on his own position.

From the standpoint of today, knowing as we do what transpired in the Soviet Union under 70 years of Communist rule and knowing as we do (thanks in part to my sister-in-law) what transpired on the Eastern Front during World War II, it is easy to say there were no good guys. But much of the good we and millions of other people on every continent of the world enjoy today was made possible by some of the bad guys at Stalingrad. Such are the ironies of history.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 4:44 pm

Quote of the Day, Athenae on Sandy and the Govt. Edition

What it boils down to is: What kind of country are we going to be — the kind people want to live in, or not?

When a disaster strikes I want big government, small government, medium-sized government. I want all the government ever. I want the neighbors and the charities and the churches and the families and the friends, too. Every crack in the plaster needs to be patched and every problem needs to be solved, and I want as many people putting that puzzle together as possible. All hands on the [expletive] deck. Here’s a bucket. Start bailing the water out.

I want everybody to be figuring out how to do more, instead of fighting over the best way to do less without looking like too much of an [expletive] about it.

And you know, I think the majority of Americans want this, too. It’s just that for the past 40 years we’ve had this constant drumbeat of no we can’t, it’s too hard, we can’t afford it, everybody fends for themselves, there’s no help for anybody, let’s all just go home and if you have to step over a homeless dude to get to your car then do it because that’s the price of doing business. People deserve to have their homes submerged and their shops wiped out and their lives ruined because of where they live or what they do or who they are, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, because only government is big enough to solve this problem and we all know government isn’t the answer to anything anymore.

But deep down we’ve still got that nagging feeling that somebody somewhere ought to be on top of [stuff] that most of the time people don’t deserve what they get (and thank God for that, by the way, she says while conducting the express train to hell), that we are better and bigger and stronger than this, and we’re just straining against the goddamn harness to do something. And disaster preparedness and emergency management are some of the most basic things government can do to prevent us from tearing ourselves apart when something [awful] happens, to take that instinct and direct it outward instead of inward.

To make us help, rather than letting us hurt.

I made the mistake earlier today of getting into an argument on Facebook with a couple of wingnuts. They argued that “compulsory charity” — which, for reasons that escape logic and which they declined to explain, they defined strictly as “government” charity; guys, go tell it to the LDS Church — is always wrong. (They also argued that abortion is the biggest sin there is, but then consistency is seldom a hallmark of wingnuts.)

Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s. The implication, often offered up by wingnuts as stone fact, is that the two differ. And certainly they frequently do. But there’s no practical or metaphysical reason why the two couldn’t overlap from time to time, as in, say, stopping the Nazi genocide machine.

Or helping our fellow Americans, our family, our friends, our neighbors to get their lives back in order after an unparalleled natural disaster.

No one with a lick of sense will claim that he knows what Mitt Romney believes, but it is a matter of public record that Romney has said that private interests ought to be responsible for disaster recovery. Given that mutant weather alone is likely to become an important aspect of our new normal in this century, that claim alone disqualifies him from any role in government. And yet somewhere around 50 percent of Americans say they are ready and willing to make him president, as if, in this “Christian” nation, the Golden Rule and the Second Great Commandment were tiny codicils in the articles of incorporation for a company that Bain Capital long ago acquired, stripped of its assets and steered into Chapter 7.

Monday, October 29, 2012 7:12 pm

Pierce on Sandy and who we are as a nation

As I write, I imagine that all kinds of hell is breaking loose in the Northeast, the kinds of hell that, among other things, make it difficult to report in real time on what kinds of hell are breaking loose. I’ve covered hurricanes before, and believe me when I tell you that it is No Damn Fun, from getting sandblasted by what used to be that dune over there to living on Lance Toastchees and bottled water from your trunk for four days while wearing the same clothes and being unable to bathe to trying to navigate a car that don’t float when half or more of the bridges are underwater. People, including myself, joke about the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore as the Angel of Death, but I’ve done Cantore’s job (albeit for a different news outlet), and I would have to think very, very hard before doing it again, for love or money.

It’s bad enough in any one location. But when all hell breaks loose in a huge region, and when that region is the most heavily populated of its size in the country … well, we have no precedent for this. And when it happens a week before a presidential election, the potential for feces to hit the fan is shattering the glass on every meter in the boiler room.

And yet there also is likely to be an enormous point of clarity coming out of this event, as Charlie Pierce explains:

However, as to the campaign itself, and taking as axiomatic that almost anything can “impact” an election as close as this one apparently is shaping up to be, there’s absolutely no telling what the effect of massive four-day weather event in the middle of this week will have on the events of the middle of next week. Certainly, in situations like this, the president has several trump cards he can play simply by virtue of being the incumbent. He can act as president. He can engage FEMA and the rest of the federal disaster apparatus to help those governors, Republican and Democratic, who are in the path of the storm. (He just might be in more pictures with Chris Christie over the next week than with Joe Biden.) He can demonstrate, top to bottom, by example, why “leaving it to the states” and, worse, “the private sector can do it better” are empty platitudes. The storm is hitting 12 states. This is something we need to do as one country. …

The problem, of course, is that a good piece of the political opposition doesn’t recognize this president as president when the sun’s shining. The people who will tell you that disaster relief is best left to the states, or to the private sector, are going be howling at the White House if some cat isn’t brought down from a tree in Cape May in less than five minutes. There are a thousand things that can go unavoidably wrong in a situation like this. It is the most fertile environment imaginable for unpredictability. The good news for the president is that he’s in charge. The bad news for the president is that he’s in charge, and the opposition is still truthless, and demented.

(Pardon this interruption from your host for this illustration of just how demented that opposition is:)

(We now return you to Pierce:)

Here’s the last thing that I’d like to throw out there before we all go 1856 all over for a while. This entire campaign has been fought out over the issue of whether or not we are all members of a viable political commonwealth with implicit mutual obligations to act through our government — a self-government that is, or ought to be, the purest creative project of that commonwealth — for the common good, or whether that government is some sort of alien entity repressing our fundamental entrepreneurial energy. Over the next few days, I believe, we are going to see that argument brought to the sharpest point possible. If you want to see how this event will “impact the election,” look to what answer to that question emerges from the storm. It will tell us a lot about the election, and about ourselves.

When the Framers put the phrase “general welfare” into the preamble to the Constitution, things like Sandy were what they had in mind. And whether we remember that fact over the next week and more will determine whether we keep, and whether we deserve to keep, the “Republic, if you can keep it” that Benjamin Franklin and his compatriots bestowed upon us when that document was signed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 8:53 pm

A season in hell

Seventy years ago this month …

The cruelty of the winter, its savagery towards German and Russian alike, was gruesomely illustrated for a rearguard of 3rd Rifle Regiment on the fourth Sunday in Advent of 1941. It happened at Ozarovo. Through his binoculars the second lieutenant spotted a group of horses and troops standing on a gentle slope in the deep snow. Cautiously the German troops approached. There was a strange silence. The Soviet group seemed terrifyingly motionless in the flickering light of the snowy waste. And suddenly the lieutenant grasped the incredible-horses and men, pressed closely together and standing waist-deep in the snow, were dead. They were standing there, just as they had been ordered to halt for a rest, frozen to death and stiff, a shocking monument to the war.

Over on one side was a soldier, leaning against the flank of his horse. Next to him a wounded man in the saddle, one leg in a splint, his eyes wide open under iced-up eyebrows, his right hand still gripping the dishevelled mane of his mount. The second lieutenant and the sergeant slumped forward in their saddles, their clenched fists still gripping their reins. Wedged in between two horses were three soldiers: evidently they had tried to keep warm against the animals’ bodies. The horses themselves were like the horses on the plinths of equestrian statues-heads held high, eyes closed, their skin covered with ice, their tails whipped by the wind, but frozen into immobility. The frozen breath of eternity.

When Lance-corporal Tietz tried to photograph the shocking monument the view-finder froze over with his tears, and the shutter refused to work. The shutter release was frozen up. The god of war was holding his hand over the infernal picture: it was not to become a memento for others. …

On 20th December 1941 a very worried Guderian flew to East Prussia to see Hitler at his headquarters. He wanted to persuade him to take the German front line back to more favourable positions, if necessary over a considerable distance.

The five-hour interview was of historic importance. It showed the Fuehrer irritable, tormented by anxiety, but resolved to fight fanatically; it revealed a powerless and obsequious High Command, resembling courtiers in uniforms; and it showed Guderian, alone but courageous, passionately arguing his case and fearlessly giving Hitler his frank opinion on the situation at the front.

The first time the word retreat was mentioned Hitler exploded. The word seemed to sting him like the bite of an adder. It conjured up for him the spectre of the Napoleonic disaster of 1812. Anything but retreat!

Passionately Hitler tried to convince Guderian: “Once I’ve authorized a retreat there won’t be any holding them. The troops will just run. And with the frost and the deep snow and the icy roads that means that the heavy weapons will be the first to be abandoned, and the light ones next, and then the rifles will be thrown away, and in the end there’ll be nothing left. No. The defensive positions must be held. Transport junctions and supply centres must be defended like fortresses. The troops must dig their nails into the ground; they must dig in, and not yield an inch.”

Guderian rejoined: “My Fuehrer, the ground in Russia at present is frozen solid to a depth of four feet. No one can dig in there.”

“Then you must get the mortars to fire at the ground to make shell-craters,” Hitler retorted. “That’s what we did in Flanders in the first war.”

Guderian again had to put Hitler right on his facts. “In Flanders the ground was soft. But in Russia the shells now produce holes no more than four inches deep and the size of a wash-basin-the soil is as hard as iron. Besides, the divisions have neither enough mortars nor, what’s more important, any shells to spare for that kind of experiment. I myself have only four heavy howitzers left to each division, and none of them has more than 50 rounds. And that is for a front sector of 20 miles.”

Before Hitler could interrupt him Guderian continued: “Positional warfare in this unsuitable terrain will lead to battles of material as in the First World War. We shall lose the flower of our Officers Corps and NCOs Corps; we shall suffer gigantic losses without gaining any advantage. And these losses will be irreplaceable.”

There was deathly silence in the Fuehrer’s bunker at the Wolfsschanze. Hitler too was silent. Then he stepped up close to Guderian and in an imploring voice said, “Do you believe Frederick the Great’s grenadiers died gladly? And yet the King was justified in demanding of them the sacrifice of their lives. I too consider myself justified in demanding of each German soldier that he should sacrifice his life.”

Guderian realized at once that with this bombastic comparison Hitler was merely trying to evade the issue. What Guderian was talking about was not sacrifice as such, but useless sacrifice. He therefore said calmly, “Our soldiers have proved that they are prepared to sacrifice their lives. But this sacrifice ought only to be demanded when the end justifies it. And I see no such justification, my Fuehrer!”

From the horrified expressions on the faces of the officers present it was clear that they expected Hitler to explode. But he did not. He said almost softly, “I know all about your personal effort, and how you lead your troops from in front. But for this reason you are in danger of seeing things too much at close quarters. You are hamstrung by too much compassion for your men. Things look clearer from a greater distance. In order to hold the front no sacrifice can be too great. For if we do not hold it the Armies of Army Group Centre are lost.”

The argument continued for several hours. When Guderian left the situation room in the Fuehrer’s bunker late at night he overheard Hitler saying to Keitel, “There goes a man whom I have not been able to convince.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 8:12 pm

Without so much as a burp …

… a 100-foot-wide, 200-foot-deep sinkhole opened up in Guatemala City and swallowed a three-story building. Blame Tropical Storm Agatha and ancient drainage systems.

It’s not like our own infrastructure is in such great shape that we can point fingers, either.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 5:43 am

Black tide

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 5:43 am
Tags: ,

If the blowout-control device on this well 36 miles off the Louisiana coast doesn’t control the leaking, currently about 42,000 gallons per day, the leak may continue for months.

I am not completely opposed to drilling off the N.C. coast, but even one accident of this scale, particularly closer in, would have devastating effects on two key industries, fishing and tourism, as well as spoiling an area of the state that is as much a part of me now as the mountains and the place where I live.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:31 pm

Mileage mishaps

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 9:31 pm

Two friends escaped serious injury in vehicular mishaps today — one walked away from a rear-ender with no apparent injury, the other just missed being T-boned by another car blowing through a red light.

Lots of people around the world were not so lucky, including a third friend whose wife is suddenly, gravely ill. But I’ll take what I got for today and thank God for it.

Friday, February 12, 2010 9:30 pm

Snowpocalyzzard!; or, Snow on the ground/Snow on the ground/Lookin’ like a fool with your/Snow on the ground

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 9:30 pm
Tags: ,

Someone set up a Nikon still camera to shoot a new frame every 5 minutes for 27 hours. The result is a 27-second time-lapse video of this week’s 27-hour blizzard in D.C. Pretty cool.

Meanwhile, my friend and former N&R colleague John Cochran, now with CQ in Washington, was featured all over the country after a shooter from the Syracuse Post-Standard caught him shoveling snow … off the roof of his front porch. If you look closely, you can see his son and daughter locking the windows behind him so they can watch TV in peace. (OK, I just made up that last part.)

And everyone’s a critic: The Awl, in effect, says to John, “Ur not doin’ it rite, n00b. PWN3D!”

We’re supposed to get more snow tonight. Hooper’s Pinewood Derby race is tomorrow, but worst case, we can walk there.

And, finally, apparently there’s a chance that we may wake up tomorrow with snow on the ground somewhere in all 50 states at once. (Yes, even Hawaii; some of the volcano peaks top 12,000 feet.) Wonder when the last time was that that happened.

Monday, January 18, 2010 8:53 pm

Odds and ends for 1/18

Memo from the NY Times to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: Public hearings are good, but subpoenaing documents is better. Yup. Banksters committed fraud on a massive scale. This commission isn’t a law-enforcement agency, but what it finds can help Justice and SEC investigators do their jobs. In fact, it may force them to do their jobs, which a mere sense of duty has not, so far, sufficed to do.

More from the FCIC: The head securities regulator for the state of Texas testifies about how the feds have kneecapped state investigators/investigations, not because they would do a better job but to protect the very people they’re supposed to be regulating. Biggest. Fraud. In. History.

Memo to right-wing nuts (and anyone else, although I suspect only the wingnuts would be stupid enough to try this): Do not invite journalists into your home, sit for an interview and then demand their tapes at gunpoint, because your ass will go to prison and your wallet will go to the journalists. Having once covered the Klan, I’m taking particular satisfaction in the outcome of this case.

The Fed elides oversight and political meddling because it thinks you and I are too stupid to know the difference. Stupid Fed.

Darrell Issa wants Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson to testify about the AIG bailout. So do I, but Issa has a little more leverage than I do. Uh, Democrats, that slamming sound you hear is Issa walking out the back door with your populist mandate for 2010.

More fraud uncovered: This time, short-sale fraud. And wonder of wonders, it’s CNBC that has uncovered it. Memo to Mary Schapiro: When CNBC looks both more honest and more industrious than the SEC, then you are officially Teh Suck.

For once, J.P. Morgan outperforms Goldman Sachs … if, by “outperform,” you mean, “directs an even more inexcusably large percentage of its total revenues to banker bonuses”64 percent of revenues. Not of profits, of revenues. Remember, Morgan, like the other 37 banks reviewed by the WSJ, has significant amounts of crap disguised as assets on its balance sheets, and even more crap off the sheets that soon will have to be moved onto the sheets. And are the banks setting aside capital to cover the inevitable write-downs? No, they’re buying helicopters and Hamptons houses.

If voters could vote on Obama’s financial appointments they way they can vote on Chris Dodd, Obama would be paging a lot of empty offices. For good reason.

Liberal academia? Yes — because conservatives choose disproportionately not to become college professors. These findings, albeit not yet published, are consistent with some earlier research.

Who killed Pat Robertson? Why, it was Lily Coyle, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (2nd letter down), with a clue.

Freedom’s just another word for no one left to screw: Retiring Sen. Chris Dodd could be scrapping the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency before he goes.

Well, it’s a step: The U.S. releases the names of 645 detainees at Bagram. Good. But some  of those people have been held for years without even being told why. Not good.

PhrMA theatens to blow up health-care reform. A friend of mine has proposed that any attempt to make a profit off health care should be made a crime. I think that’s extreme, but when stuff like this happens, I understand the anger that gives rise to such suggestions.

Dawn Johnsen might say torture is illegal. Therefore, she cannot possibly be allowed to run Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, or else the terrorists win.

Memo to special prosecutor John Durham: In the marathon investigation of the destruction of CIA torture videos, the DFHs are eating your lunch. Bet they aren’t charging the government as much as you, too.

All of a sudden, “conservatives” are in favor of privacy. And it’s interesting how the kind of privacy they favor dovetails neatly with protecting them from being held accountable for their actions. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

If you’re following Perez v. Schwarzenegger and it sounds awfully like Dover v. Kitzmiller, well,  there’s a reason for that: In both cases, science is/was under siege. Science won in Dover. Let’s see what happens in Perez.

Republicans, having fed off the productive among us for so long, are now simply outraged that one of their own is doing it to them. More specifically, their cynical selection of Michael Steele as national chairman to try to appeal to African American voters now means that even though he needs firing and is daring them to fire him, they can’t do it.

Why does Rush Limbaugh hate the troops? And why do the troops continue to air him on Armed Forces Radio when he hates them?

More map pr0n! Geocurrents has created a map blog tied to news events.

Thought for the day: Requiring drug tests for welfare recipients makes sense only if we also drug-test recipients of federal earthquake relief, tax credits and bank bailouts. Despite what you may have been told, your odds of getting into Heaven do NOT increase in direct proportion to the number of times you kick poor people.

“Never (annoy) a walrus.” Because if you do, the bucket is the least of your problems.

Friday, January 15, 2010 7:15 pm

Odds and ends for 1/15

Why Haiti is so poor: Because it’s an abused nation, David Brooks, you staggeringly stupid person.

The Fort Hood Shootings: DOD’s official report, out today. Haven’t had time to read it.

But Fox News is cracking down on inaccuracy! Really!: The author of a study that Fox claims proves we’re entering a “mini ice age” says, “I don’t know what to do. They just make these things up.”

Relatedly, global-warming denialism is becoming (surprise!) big business.

The Politico has a scoop! “GOP leaders have privately settled on a strategy to win back the House by putting the vast majority of their money and energy into attacking Democrats — and turning this election into a national referendum on the party in power.” Because Wow! They’ve never done that before! [headdesk]

“I want uninterrupted expertise.” Who cares what the public thinks?

For God’s sake, no one tell David Broder: The public thinks bipartisanship is less important than principles. Richard Burr gets this. Does Kay Hagan?

The National Center for Counterterrorism? Has serious problems.

Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Plan: The Pentagon is preparing for the likelihood that DADT will be repealed. Good. Whether they like it or not, Obama certainly campaigned on repeal, so they at least ought to be prepared.

If Joe Lieberman doesn’t like being called “untrustworthy,” maybe he should stop acting, you know, untrustworthy. Because otherwise, a blog not predisposed to liking Joe very much might throw an impromptu contest to see who can come up with the best synonym for “untrustworthy” (oh, so NSFW), and that would be simply awful.

“The costs of imprecision” are staggering and growing.

One of history’s biggest arguments, settled. (I win.) (h/t: Fred)

ZOMG! Real-life “Calvin & Hobbes” snowmen!

Reason No. 4,298 why I love FailBlog (h/t Jill, who had to be a student in sex-ed classes taught by her mom at both school AND church, which must be, like, a preadolescent’s worst nightmare):

Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:57 pm

Odds and ends for 1/14

First, the important stuff: Links where you can contribute to Haiti earthquake relief:

Oxfam
American Red Cross
AmeriCares
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

As in most other major disasters, the main thing these organizations need right now is money.* Their experts will know how best to spend it, what’s needed where, etc. In other words, right at the moment, rounding up clothing or canned food or bandages or what-have-you, although certainly well-intentioned, is less helpful than giving these groups the resources to do what they know best how to do. As they identify particular needs, they’ll publicize them.

Anything you can give will help. And please give something. The suffering there is already horrendous, and it will quickly get even worse than most of us can possibly imagine.

*Unless you have a helicopter.

OK, then …

HUNGRY vampire squid: Goldman Sachs didn’t get just 100 cents on the dollar on its exposure to AIG, courtesy of the taxpayers. No, by reselling its AIG credit-default obligations while knowing the taxpayers were going to bail out AIG, but before that info became public, it effectively got more. About $1.2 billion more.

Which is a big part of the problem: Pat Robertson is far more important than you will ever be.

Remember, she reads every newspaper, too: Glenn Beck: Who’s your favorite Founding Father? Sarah Palin: All of ‘em.

Which dinosaur?: A shark described as “dinosaur-sized” attacked and apparently ate a swimmer Tuesday off Cape Town, South Africa. But they didn’t say whether they meant this dinosaur or this one.

Lighter backpacks: Obviously, colleges are going to switch to electronic textbooks to save students money. That move now has a deadline in California: 2020, which seems a bit far off considering that almost two-thirds of the roughly 13,000 textbook titles published by the six largest U.S. publishers already are available electronically.

“If you are watching this video, then I have been murdered by the president of Guatemala hit men I hired myself”: A UN commission concludes that the “assassination” of a lawyer, alleged in a posthumous video to have been ordered by Guatemala’s president, actually was arranged by the lawyer himself in an attempt to destabilize the government. Dude, if you wanted him out, why not just run against him?

You know that scene in “Waterworld” where Kevin Costner drinks his own pee?: The astronauts are feeling his pain.

China vs. Google: Is it really China vs. the U.S.? And was this hack attack, if not a cyber-Pearl Harbor, at the least a dangerous breach of national security?

Senate health-care bill: “A teacher tax, not a Cadillac tax.”

Related: Who needs Republicans when the unions are just as willing to screw the middle class?

Um, ‘cuz they’re, I don’t know, WHORES?!?: Retiring Republican Rep. John Shadegg, asked whether he supports a public option: “Well, you could better defend a public option than you could defend compelling me to buy a product from the people that have created the problem. America’s health insurance industry has wanted this bill and the individual mandate from the get go. That’s their idea. Their idea is, ‘Look, our product is so lousy that lots of people don’t buy it. So we need the government to force people to buy our product.’ And stunningly, that’s what the Congress appears to be going along with. Why would they do that?”

Except it wasn’t hindsight, jackass: I could’ve told you this on Jan. 20 and saved everyone a lot of time: Harry Reid has just now figured out that Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was never going to vote for health-care reform.

AIG tick-tock: Firedoglake, which has published valuable analysis on such issues as torture and the Scooter Libby case by means of creating documented timelines, applies the technique to the federal government’s bailout of AIG (and its use of AIG to indirectly bail out Goldman Sachs), working with a cache of e-mails obtained and posted online by The New York Times. FDL cautions that it ain’t complete, and I haven’t even begun reading it yet, but if you’re interested in the subject, this is sure to be a valuable resource.

Speaking of torture: The brother of the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates is caught on videotape torturing and attempting to murder a guy he thought had screwed him in a business deal, but the court let him off anyway after he claimed he was too whacked on medication to know what he was doing. I’ll just say he must have been pretty damn whacked to run over a guy repeatedly without actually quite managing to, you know, kill him.

SCOTUS vs. the U.S.: As I suggested on Monday, the Supreme Court isn’t going to sign off on anything that could be a basis for its having to allow itself to be televised someday. Jackasses. Go ahead and keep talking about how this court’s majority is so strict-constructionist and all, but speak up: I’m going to have trouble hearing you over my own laughter.

Allegany County, Maryland, needs more alligators: Andy says so, and he’s there so he should know.

The Internet — the greatest collection of knowledge in history: How can I make my chicken taste just like the junk they serve at school?

Rupert Murdoch: plagiarist.

Teddy Pendergrass: RIP.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 8:31 pm

Is this any kind of reward for those who help us?

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 8:31 pm
Tags: , ,

You may or may not know the name of Ahmed Fadaam from his work with WUNC-FM’s “The Story.”

Here’s his story:

I decided to apply [for refugee status] for myself and then, and after my application is approved, I could ask to be reunited with my family. But the big surprise was that none of the immigration lawyers I met knew anything about this special visa program, and if I want to apply for refugee status, then I had to do it just like any other alien who has entered the States and wants to stay. If I wanted to make use of the special resettlement program, then I had to do it from outside the States. And this didn’t make any sense.

The lawyer also told me that it will take me at least three to five months after filing my application to get a temporary working permit, and maybe another six to eight months before my application is approved. Then I can ask for a reunion with my family and that could take another year.

This meant that I could not work or make a living. I had already spent a year away from my family and, according to the lawyer, it would take me another year or two before I can get to see them again. My financial resources are limited and I will not last for long here considering that I’m supporting myself and my family, too.

So the best way for me to make a living and be with my family is to get back home, go back to the war zone, and live under continued threat.

But how long will it take before I am spotted again? How long will I have before I get killed? Either way, I risk being apart from my wife and kids — by living in the States away from them or by going back to Iraq and getting killed. At least this way, I will get to see them before I die.

I have worked with a U.S. media outlet, hoping to tell the truth to the American people about the war and what really happened, and I was helped by the American people to get to the States, but I didn’t get any help from the American government or the American system.

And he is just one of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Iraqis who have put their lives on the line to help the U.S. in that country.

What, if anything, do we owe them? Must we help? Or should we just chalk it all up to the fact that freedom’s untidy?

Monday, January 12, 2009 10:45 pm

Another mass grave

This one is sort of unusual, though: It appears to contain the remains of roughly 1,800 German men, women and children killed during the Red Army’s attack toward Berlin in 1944-45. Germans in the area had been ordered to evacuate ahead of the Soviet advance, but some never got the word and others simply couldn’t get out in time. (The site, now part of Poland, was part of Germany during World War II.)

At least 100 of the corpses had bullet holes in the skulls. It’s unclear how the rest might have died, although many could have been victims of a heavy Soviet artillery bombardment.

As it happens, one of the books I got for Christmas was Antony Beevor’s The Fall of Berlin 1945. One point it made repeatedly was that the Soviet Army committed many atrocities, including murder and rape, not only against Germans but also against Poles as Stalin plotted to solidify his western flank. Part of the reason was that the Soviets were seeking revenge for the way the Germans had treated the Soviet Union during their earlier attack on that country. And part of the reason was that the Red Army was just damnably undisciplined, containing large numbers of soldiers who would have committed atrocities even without the German example as a motivator.

The bigger picture is that the Berlin campaign was among the most savage in a war overflowing with savagery. I recall reading that somewhere between 16 million and 20 million soldiers were killed worldwide … and that the number of civilians killed was larger still. Entire regions, not just towns and cities, were reduced to rubble. Those of us who have grown up with Vietnam and the Gulf as the wars we can remember probably can scarcely imagine what that kind of total war was like.

Beevor is a good, if not flashy, writer. He appears to have written a number of books on World War II history, and after reading this one, the one I most want to read next is the one on Stalingrad.

Saturday, November 15, 2008 3:43 pm

Nine eight seven six five lives

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 3:43 pm
Tags:

I have a cousin about my age who is lucky several times over to be alive. For reasons that will become clear in a minute, I’m not going to identify him. But he’s in the hospital recovering from his latest brush with death. I talked to him for about 40 minutes last night, and for someone who has been in the hospital for five weeks and is likely to stay there about five more, he was in remarkably good spirits. You can be in remarkably good spirits when you darned near died. I know; it once happened to me. But that’s a story for another time.

My cousin might have been involved in earlier death-defying incidents, but the first one I recall took place the summer I was 14 and he was 15, just before I came up for a monthlong visit. He was messing around with firecrackers and had a big one — a big one — that wouldn’t light and wouldn’t light and wouldn’t light … until it went off right in his face. Some of the packing found its way into his eye, and he also had some bad burns. They thought at first he might lose the sight in the eye, but he got it back.

My cousin was a fairly accomplished scuba diver. So accomplished, in fact, that he wanted to dive in the deepest part of a (small) lake. The deepest part, of course, is near the dam. So he went near the dam. So near that he got sucked through the outlet, scuba gear and all, and went butt over teakettle into the rocky stream below. Amazingly, he wasn’t injured. He could have gotten stuck and drowned.

Then there was the time he was at a ski slope and decided to drive his Subaru down the expert course late one night. I can’t remember whether he ever told me why. Maybe he just wanted to see if he could do it. Long story short, he hit a tree (even 4-wheel-drive Subarus can lose traction). Luckily, he wasn’t going quite fast enough to be seriously injured.

Then there’s the current incident. He was up on his roof blowing leaves out of the gutter, something he had done dozens of times before. He needed a little more slack on the cord, which had gotten kind of stuck around one of the corners of the roof. So he gave it a little whip to try to get it unstuck. It got unstuck, but the whip that came back up the cord caused him to lose his balance.

“I thought two things,” he told me last night. “The first thing was, ‘This is not good.’ And the second thing was, ‘This is gonna hurt.’ And that was before I’d even cleared the eaves.”

He fell two stories to his asphalt driveway, shattering both heels and breaking both legs, an arm and a rib. His cell phone undamaged, he called 911. The same volunteer fire department of which he has been a member for more than 30 years was dispatched to help him. After 14 hours in the ER, he went to a room, where he has been since. The heels are the big problem: He can’t put any weight on them at all until they mend. And they take longer to mend than other bones. So there he lies with his feet in the air. He has had several surgeries, including two to deal with postoperative infections. Amazingly, he’s expected to recover fully and resume his active lifestyle.

Meanwhile, friends and family have stopped by and called, his next-door neighbor is keeping an eye on his house, he has his computer and the hospital has wifi, and he has more books than he’ll ever get to before discharge. He still has to pee into a bedpan, but the way he sees it (and the way I see it), things could be a heck of a lot worse. As he put it, “I could have been paralyzed. Or an organ donor.”

His sister told me she wondered if he had a death wish. I pondered that question, too. I think the answer is no, particularly in light of this latest incident, which strikes me as purely accidental.

But his case reminds me in a way of my brother Frank, who had the lousiest luck as a kid. Fifteen of us would be sliding down a muddy bank, and it would be his butt that found the buried pitchfork. We and all our friends played sandlot football; Frank was the one who broke a collarbone twice in six weeks. That kind of thing.

But in terms of cheating death, my cousin has him way beat. So now I’m wondering 1) whether his number is finally up, or 2) I need to get him to buy me a lottery ticket.

Friday, December 22, 2006 8:35 am

Labor fluidity

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 8:35 am

Before your next trip to the water fountain, or the sink, or to that little spout in your refrigerator door, just read this.

Thursday, November 23, 2006 11:21 pm

Feelin’ thankful yet?

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 11:21 pm

If not, this will give you at least two good reasons: the quality and character of our military, and the fact that, in all likelihood, your entire family hasn’t been assassinated by insurgents.

Saturday, November 11, 2006 5:42 pm

Even the people who do it right don’t always do it right

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 5:42 pm

Slashdot runs out of area codes, kinda.

(via Brad DeLong)

Monday, August 22, 2005 3:16 pm

How should we feel about Cindy Sheehan?

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 3:16 pm

Jesse Kornbluth at Belief.net, who has spent a great deal of time with parents who have lost children, has an opinion (scroll down to “On Losing a Child: How Should We Feel About Cindy Sheehan?”):

If you have a shred of imagination and compassion, you realize that Mrs. Sheehan is in the middle of a trauma that will last all the days of her life, and you will be glad that you are going to sleep in the comfort of your own bed tonight instead of a motel room in Texas. Which is to say: You will cut her some slack. How much? All you have to give. Because she’s in the grip of emotions that are off the charts. She hurts more than — please God — you will ever know.Cindy Sheehan is a Compassion Test. Your willingness to support her in her grief — whatever your opinion of her politics — says volumes about your tolerance for people in pain who don’t remind you of yourself. Me, I think she can be strident. And, sometimes, wrong.

But, dammit, I admire her guts. …

When Jesus was crucified, Mary had a unique reason to grieve. So does Cindy Sheehan. So do all the mothers — on every side — who have lost children in this war. Give them respect. Stand aside. Lower your eyes. And if you have a tear left, for God’s sake and yours, shed it for these poor people who gave all and will get nothing back.

For better or worse, I see Cindy Sheehan as one citizen trying to ask the guy who ostensibly works for her the most important question anyone in America can ask anyone who works in government these days. It’s not only constitutional and legal, it is, in form at least, admirable. You don’t have to like her politics. (If you don’t, simply recall that Paula Jones took on Bill Clinton in much the same way.) Anything else that happens — the media feeding frenzy, the involvement of Michael Moore/MoveOn.org/invaders from Mars — is irrelevant to the merits of what she is trying to do.

And remember this: Even in a slow-news August, if anyone had had a good answer to her question, this story would have gone away quietly a long time ago.

Monday, December 27, 2004 11:15 pm

And we complain about the odd hurricane …

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 11:15 pm

Dear God.

Sometimes — not often, sometimes not for years at a stretch, but sometimes — I think we Americans are the shallowest people on the planet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 12:18 pm

Count your blessings …

Filed under: Fun,There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 12:18 pm

… because if you think you’ve got problems, you haven’t seen this.

Friday, August 6, 2004 9:49 pm

Freaked. Out.

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 9:49 pm

Rick “Super Freak” James, whose “Street Songs” album is surpassed only by certain P-Funk selections among the greatest funk albums of all time, is dead. What’s surprising is that he apparently died of natural causes. The man’s appetite for cocaine and its derivatives made Steve Tyler and Joe Perry look like Donnie and Marie.

Friday, June 11, 2004 9:41 pm

Domestic terrorism

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 9:41 pm

How in the hell did I miss this?

Rage over a zoning dispute turned to cold, calculated revenge as a Granby (Colo.) man in an armor-plated bulldozer went on a rampage of destruction in the town Friday afternoon that left 13 buildings damaged or destroyed and himself dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.Marvin Heemeyer, 52, the former owner of the Mountain View Muffler shop on the west side of Granby, took out his revenge over a longstanding dispute over the construction of the Mountain Parks Concrete batch plant. The town of Granby had approved its construction three years ago despite Heemeyer’s vehement objections and a failed lawsuit against the town over it.

In a 90-minute rampage, Heemeyer left a path of destruction through town Friday with a homemade “tank” that he had constructed from a D9 bulldozer. Heemeyer had secretly built his improvised “tank” in a metal shed adjacent to his muffler shop.

Such scenes usually are played for laughs in the movies. (I think “ER” had an episode this past season about a guy in a bulldozer, but I didn’t see it and don’t know how it was played.) But this guy was deadly serious — and it’s only luck or the grace of God that he didn’t kill anybody. In fact, if he’d set off a bomb or walked into one of the buildings and started shooting, instead, the outcome would’ve been much worse.

One of the guy’s targets was the newspaper office, which he’d have knocked down completely if he hadn’t run into the corner where the printing press was bolted to the floor. Apparently he was angry about critical articles the paper had published about him.

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