My Angle on Firewood

Brain Dropping #153 – Firewood.

For the first time in twenty years my woodpile had dwindled down to one third of a cord at the beginning of February, making me very uneasy.  It had been a consistently cold winter.  I called Pat Stanley, my reliable firewood guy, and ordered an additional cord of wood dry enough to burn without creosote problems. Creosote in green wood will condense out as the smoke cools going up the chimney coating the stove pipe and flue, creating the danger of a dreaded chimney fire that can burn your house down. not having a healthy wood pile when you heat with wood can give you bad dreams.

      In a few days Pat delivered the wood  in his dump truck.  It was a load of Rock Maple, Birch, Beech and Hardhack or American Hornbeam, also known as Ironwood because of its density – excellent BTU factor. Pat maneuvered the truck close to the garage opening and raised the truck bed, neatly tumbling the cord half-in and half-out of the garage.  I gave up stacking my wood years ago and built a crib inside the garage out of two by sixes and heave the wood in helter-skelter.  It’s not as efficient space-wise but easier on my back. Neatly stacking firewood requires more positioning and adjustment therefore more bending.
     Snow was coming and it was imperative to get the wood in before it was buried and frozen together. In the past I took pride in doing this myself but I wasn’t sure my back would hold out.  I started nice and easy and was doing pretty well while resting every now and then in a lawn chair.  But I soon realized that it would be more pleasant and faster with some help.  I called my good friend Doug Reaves but his message machine came on and I cursed myself for waiting until the last minute.  Luckily, he got the message and arrived in fifteen minutes.  The first thing he asked me was about the order of things – what was my method?  “I’m just heaving it into the corner of the crib and letting the wood find it’s own angle of repose.” Doug chuckled at that.
     I remember reading a novel by Wallace Stegner titled “Angle Of Repose” about family relationships. Stegner explained that when a pile of sand unloaded from a dump-truck stops cascading down it forms a stable pyramid at the “angle of repose.”  I believe there’s a mathematical equation for that angle.  Looking at the woodpile Doug and I flung into the crib relieves any anxiety I may have had about keeping the house warm for Gail and me until warm weather finally arrives.  You might say I’ve arrived at an angle of repose.

Liars ! I say

Brain Dropping #152 –  Apologists & Other Liars.  

The historical revisionists are on the march, transmogrifying recent history.  The audacity of these media pundits, academics and “for sale” historians in misrepresenting events to which there are still alive and kicking witnesses, is breathtaking.  Was it Goebbels or Goring or Herr Shickelgruber himself who said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it!”  No, I’m not referring to that sap Brian Williams and his pathetic lie about being shot down in a helicopter.  If he wasn’t such a dope he would have realized that it’s far easier and less detectable to lie when there are no witnesses alive who were there to repudiate or corroborate the account.  Any accomplished liar knows that the further back in time the subject of the lie the smaller chance of being exposed. Fraudulent historians depend on this.  This masking and changing of the truth with passing time is  essential for religious dogma.   But Williams arrogantly lied about events perilously close in time, with plenty of witnesses who saw what actually happened. That incident is undoubtedly the tip-of-the-iceberg where corporate media eunuchs are concerned.

     These smarmy TV newshawks or newshens, or rather pigeons, have had their balls cut off – and whatever the female equivalent might be.  Their impotence in regard to the truth earns them those corporate bucks which pay for their Fifth Avenue condos and their Frank Gehry beach-houses in the Hamptons.   The grist for their mill are half–truths, distortions and most importantly omissions of fact.
     I’m talking about twisted accounts of America’s favorite pastime – not the NFL or Major League Baseball or NASCAR – but waging war and dropping bombs on brown people and killing them by the hundreds of thousands in the name of planting the seeds of democracy.
     The latest attempt to defenestrate the facts are two movies about the brutal bungling of the American military and the consequent horror of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians being obliterated by the firepower provided by Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton and hundreds of other profiteering death factories.  The films are: “American Sniper” directed by Clint Eastwood and a documentary “Last Days in Vietnam,” directed by Rory Kennedy.
       I have not seen either film and will avoid seeing them – so these comments are based on reviews from sources like The Nation Magazine and The New Yorker.  The former has a ‘liberal’ slant and is somewhat mealy-mouthed, the latter is as slick as the paper it’s printed on, and appeals to the conscience-ridden ‘one percenter’ with ads for Prada, Rolex and Rolls Royce.  And to people like me by (increasingly rare) reportage by muckrakers  like Seymour Hersh.  ( Sadly,  the legendary cartoons have become largely pointless. )
      To begin with The New Yorker review of “Last Days In Vietnam” touts it as a masterpiece, thereby putting the imprimatur of excellence on the film.  How does one argue with a masterpiece? The Nation however claims that “Last Days In Vietnam distorts history large and small.”  Mr. Kennedy, bogged down with patriotic tunnel-vision, deals with the final days of the illegal American occupation and the chaos of the evacuation of American personnel, leaving behind many Vietnamese collaborators.  According to the author of The Nation article, Nick Turse, Mr. Kennedy saw fit to leave out all the essential background information as to why we were there as an aggressor in the first place. No details about brutal French colonialism, no mention that Harry Truman believed that if fair elections were held Ho Chi Minh would win by a landslide.  No mention of the nearly two million dead because of our intervention. No mention of the tens of thousands of birth defects to this day, caused by the residue of Dioxin and Dieldrin, the two active chemicals in Agent Orange.  This historical distortion is comparable to talking about the Indian wars of the West without dealing with the constant betrayal and abrogation of our treaties with indigenous peoples – a form of historical racism. And have no doubt, racism is a key element in Iraq as it was in Vietnam – good old American racism that saw thousands of lynchings and black men burned alive.
       “American Sniper,” from what I read in both the NYT and New Yorker review could have been called “The Outlaw Josie Wales Frets About His Gunplay.”  In Mr. Eastwood’s manichean world you either wear a white hat or a black one representative of unambiguous good or evil.  It is essentially a child’s world, a simpleton’s world – no nuance, no subtext.  You’re either for us or against us – pure American hogwash calculated to thrill the “good ol’ boy patriot,” whose gun can only be “pried from his cold, dead hands.”   Here again the reviewers know which side their bread is buttered on.  Obscenely absent from this apology for American war crimes is  historical context, no casus belli.  Is there a legitimate reason for us to be in Iraq?  Duh!  Are all the Iraqis depraved savages, men, women and children to be picked off by the hero’s  sniper’s rifle?  Is Eastwood aware of the history he is distorting – the fraudulent march to war by morally insane men?
     From Richard Brody’s review in The New Yorker: “It’s a family story that starts with Chris’ father teaching him to hunt and discovering the boy’s natural gift for marksmanship. Chris is a sort of Mozart of the rifle.”  Or A.O. Scott in the NYT: “He approaches his work with steady nerves and a clear conscience banishing the doubt and fatalism that afflict some of his comrades and buttressed by the unambiguous depravity of his enemies.  These are people who use women and children as suicide bombers, who mutilate and torture anyone who opposes them, who ambush American marines in the street.”  Eastwood, in his spaghetti-western world, would never dare to ask what the fuck those marines were doing there in the first place.
      These liars have been found out, but if you think this historical dishonesty really doesn’t matter, allow me to imagine a review of my own employing the same mindless amorality of The New Yorker and the NYT.  ( I’ll have a better  chance of  re-writing some history, as it’s been awhile) “Young Adolph was a quiet boy with a talent for painting watercolors. As a young man he fought in the trenches of WWI and soon came to the belief that his enemies were depraved savages who wanted to replace the purity of his world with that of a corrupt, mongrel morality. He and his followers knew that they had to act forcefully to make the world safe for the better good of humankind!”

Low Life Scum

Brain Dropping #151

        I”m starting a new club! Anyone can join! No Color bar!  A peaceful club!  A club for rational human beings, and perhaps a hairy primate or other!  A club that does not worship “the invisible man in the sky!”- nor any other hallucinatory creature.  The club shall have no liars, no poseurs, no scallywags!
Oops! Note:  Scallywag, the dictionary informs me, can mean rascal which is why I used the term.  But it was also the term used for white Southerners who supported the Republican Party’s advocacy of integration just after the Civil War. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony.)  So scallywags WILL be welcome to join the club. Our club jackets will be pond-scum green with an accurately rendered Swamp Toad as our icon.  Our secret call could be a high-pitched “Haruuuumph” or a low, rumbling “Gurgle, Gurgle, Gurgle.”  In imitation of the Masons we could create a secret handshake.  The club name?  LOW-LIFE SCUM!
       As you probably already know, the distinguished statesman and erstwhile Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, in one of his more hateful outbursts, used that epithet when members of Code Pink attempted a citizen’s arrest of Henry Kissinger who was appearing at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Code Pink, a group of courageous women, interrupted the tedious mutual-admiration-pandering between the committee and “good old Hank”, with shouts condemning Kissinger as a war criminal – which by any standard of decency, he is!  Kissinger is already restricted from visiting certain European countries for fear of being indicted and tried for backing the coup in Chile in 1974, leading to the murder of democratically elected Marxist Salvatore Allende, and for the illegal bombing of Cambodia and a lengthy list of other crimes against humanity.
     With a withering scowl that could peel paint off the wall, Senator McCain, watching the Capitol Police escorting the women out, and fully aware that the camera was on him, brayed: “Get outta here you low-life scum!” There you have it!  So, in the spirit of making a silk purse out of a sows ear, let us proceed with the founding of the LOW-LIFE SCUM club, dedicated to helping humanity, and even Senators, crawl out of the lubricious sludge of hatefulness and wash themselves clean in the clear water of truth.

The Mosiach

Brain Dropping #150 – The Mosiach !

Mosiach is the Yiddish word for Messiah.  The tsuris (another Yiddish word meaning trouble or grief) suffered by the Jews for over two millennia stems from their refusal to accept any Mosiach but their own.  They were slaughtered for turning their backs on the Jewish Rabbi the gentiles deified as their savior.  They were slaughtered for rejecting Mohammed’s appeal to join him in Medina.  They have been called “dogs” by St. Augustine, and “that stiff necked people” by St. Thomas Aquinas.  This treatment as the alienated “other” in Islam and Christendom set the scene for the horrors of the holocaust.

          As a secular humanist, I find the whole miserable story a tragic case of the “theater of the absurd!”  All this carnage and death because of the primitive hallucination of an “invisible man in the sky” who will someday redeem us and forgive our sins.  If it all wasn’t so horrifying I’d find it amusingly pathetic.
         There seems to be something in the human DNA that requires us to yearn for a savior – a celestial life-guard who will jump in and save us from drowning in a sea of troubles.  This mindless whining and gnashing of teeth is particularly desperate in a society of alienated, narcissistic consumers who cling to the mirage of “exceptionalism.”
         I raise this issue of a savior, of this “cult of the personality,” because of the now ubiquitous calls for  Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President and save our bacon.  I attended a talk by Senator Warren in Burlington, Vermont where she firmly made it known that she is not running.  And yet, like the adherents of Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth century Jewish mystic who was declared to be the Mosiach, but under duress converted to Islam, Ms. Warren’s followers refuse to take no for an answer.  I like Elizabeth Warren and I believe she has more integrity and moxie than Barak Obama could ever hope to have – and if she runs I’ll vote for her.  But I’m under no illusion that, short of massive protests and civil disobedience, any one person can make a significant difference in changing a terminally diseased system. As long as the drooling oligarchs, fortified by a loony-tunes Supreme Court, treat our electoral process like a cattle auction, there is little chance that real democracy will prevail.  There will be no Mosiach on the ballot.

A Few Words on Banking

Brain Dropping #149 – Banking

          An old protest song goes: “A weary Vermont farmer / plowing his field of loam / hears the auction hammer / knocking down his home. / The banks are made of marble / with a guard at every door. / The vaults are lined with silver / that the farmers sweated for.”  The one and only time Jesus used physical  violence was to drive the bankers from the temple.  There’s a wonderful El Greco painting of the scene with Jesus, whip raised and about to strike, overturning the money changer’s tables and kicking ass.  With widespread corruption and financial gangsterism, bankers are an easy target and, I think,  deservedly despised.  The lying, cheating and gambling with other people’s money is rampant, especially after the repeal of the New Deal’s Glass / Steagall Act which placed a so-called “firewall” between depository or commercial banks and investment banks more appropriately called gambling casinos.
         Just the nomenclature of these risky financial machinations seem calculated to disguise the devious nature of these transactions: Hedging, Derivatives, Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations etc.  But while the banking scam artists walk away with millions in bonuses, even when the offending bank requires a taxpayer bail-out, in the final accounting the little investor or depositor gets the shaft.  The “too-big-to-fail” private banking system is rotten to the core. Their political power allows them to evade any regulatory restraints to keep them honest.  The evisceration of the Volker Rule designed to over-see derivatives is a case-in-point.  And that is precisely why publicly owned and administered banks are an idea whose time has come if the hardworking depositor is to be fairly treated.
        A publicly owned bank is not a new idea. North Dakota’s State Bank goes back one hundred years. In Germany public-owned banking goes back to the late eighteenth century, established to help the poor and low income folks to save small sums of money and to support business start-ups. The Swiss have a network of provincially owned banks more profitable than their private counterparts.  Public banks are true non-profits recycling earnings back into the community rather than into off-shore tax havens.
       In November 2014 The Wall Street Journal reported that the Bank of North Dakota(BND), the nation’s only state owned bank is more profitable than Goldman Sachs and has a better credit rating than JP Morgan Chase.  The BND turns a profit year after year because of lower costs and risks than private commercial banks.  The BND pays no exorbitant executive salaries, no bonuses, no fees, no commissions and no private shareholders.  The bank does not gamble in the derivatives market and therefore has no losses from trades gone wrong.  It engages in old fashioned community banking.
       What’s wrong with the status quo? Well, the problem is getting bigger: The sub-prime mortgage crisis showed clearly that the private banking industry is motivated largely by the money-grubbing accumulation of wealth using illegal and ethically questionable methods at the expense of the middle and working classes – and to hell with the well-being of the community.  With the country’s leadership bought and paid for, the bankers wheel, deal and steal with impunity. Not a single sleazy banker has been indicted by the, misnamed, Justice Department under the directorship of the morally challenged Eric Holder.  So, it is not surprising that the billionaire members of the banking establishment support the infamous TPP – the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement being secretly negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim States – US, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, and Vietnam. If the TPP becomes law, a private corporate tribunal, could have the power to override the sovereign laws of the signatories regarding environmental laws, clean water regulations, pure food regulations, public banking systems under the rubric of unfair trading practices.  The TPP has the potential of being the ultimate step toward the time when corporations and big banks rule the world!

In Praise of the Truly Free: Street Peddlers & Buskers

Brain Dropping #148 – Street Peddlers & Buskers...

                      As a child at 575 Williams Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn I remember Mr. 48.  He was a Roma, or as we called them then, a Gypsy – from the erroneous belief that they had their origins in Egypt.  Mr. 48 was an itinerant shoe-shiner with his equipment in a box doubling as a foot stool, slung over his shoulder.  Why Mr. 48?  His specialty aside from polishing shoes for a quarter, was naming all forty-eight states in one minute.  Yes, this was way before Alaska and Hawaii were made the forty-ninth and fiftieth states.  We kids would surround him as he rattled off the states alphabetically from Alabama to Washington.  His box and his leather vest were festooned with pop bottle caps of all descriptions.  In those days each bottle cap had a cork liner.  You could extract the cork, place the metal cap on your shirt, and on the reverse side force the cork back into the cap to hold it in place. 
                Mr. 48 was one of the many street peddlers who came into our neighborhood during the Great Depression, just before WWII.  There was the Rag-Picker with a bulging sack on his back, his cry of “RAAGS!” “RAAGS!” “RAAGS!” echoed through the alleys.  There was the Accordion Player in the same alleys.  As he payed the squeeze-box he scanned the windows from which housewives would throw a penny or two wrapped in piece of newspaper.  My mother would allow me to wrap the coins and toss them out the window. I can’t remember which tunes he played, but the narrow alleys bounced the sound delightfully between the walls.
               There was the Knife Sharpening Truck – a panel truck with a hinged panel which when propped open revealed a work bench with a turning shaft of various emery and polishing wheels.  This in contrast to a Knife Sharpening Man on foot, carrying on his back, a  treadle-operated round honing stone on a tripod. In both cases the attraction for us kids were the sparks flying from the wheel as the knives and scissors were brought to a keen edge.
               We also had a Merry-Go-Round on a flat bed truck. For a nickel you could ride one of eight battered horses ’round and ’round in a ten foot circle, the power supplied by the driver using a hand crank.
               Baked sweet potatoes, potato knishes, chick peas, or in Yiddish “arbis,” were sold wrapped in old newspapers from enameled metal carts warm with smouldering charcoal fires.  During the worst of the Depression, when the furrier trade was slack, my father joined the ranks of street peddlers, selling potatoes from a horse drawn wagon.
               Today, with the world in economic turmoil, these stalwart street peddlers and buskers are everywhere in countless numbers. Their presence fortifies the soul in a largely inhospitable society.  I rarely fail to acknowledge their healing magic with a buck or two.  A while ago I saw a Japanese man on the 59th Street subway platform playing the Koto, the traditional Japanese stringed instrument, in the midst of the hurrying crowd and the crash and roar of arriving trains.  Not long ago, a team of acrobatic, kamikaze hip-hoppers with breathtaking moves, came storming into my subway car.  A superbly talented classical violinist, classical guitarist and, awesomely, a string quartet, on different occasions, all doing their thing in the nooks and crannies of the NYC subway system staying out of the rain and cold.  My son Eli is a mighty busker who has travelled the world – California, Burning Man, London, Barcelona, Berlin – playing and singing his heart out above the crowd on six foot stilts.
                 No story captures the spirit of the street peddler/musician more than that of Steven Slepack who died in 1996 at the age of 46 in Rochester, Vermont.  Abandoning a full science scholarship to the University of Hawaii he earned his living as a street banjo player and, according to the NYT, “a Street Balloon Virtuoso” twisting balloons into animals for children in Central Park, Paris and elsewhere to the accompaniment of 1920s jazz on his tape deck.

Maybe Greece has a chance…

Brain Dropping #143

     “It’s All Greek To Me!”    Remember that old,old saying?  My father used it when something didn’t make sense, lacked clarity or defied understanding.  Well, all that’s changed! In the light of recent events on the world stage the phrase: “It’s all Greek to me!” should now mean making complete sense and clarity. The victory of the left coalition Syriza in the elections in Greece was a clarion call for rationality and fairness in the economic turmoil spreading throughout the world caused by neo-liberal capitalist rapacity. 
      There could be no better spokesman for this embryonic sea change than Syriza’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis who has thrown down the glove to challenge the Greek and European oligarchy.  Mr. Varoufakis is a professor of economics and one of the most articulate voices I’ve ever heard on the arcane entanglements of international finance.  His eloquence, with an accent, makes me wonder why Europeans speak English so much more effectively than our politicians.  And unlike our mealy-mouthed politicians (Gov. Peter Shumlin comes to mind) Mr. Varoufakis does not mince words – here are some quotes:
              “We are not going to cooperate with a rottenly constructed committee!”  
He is talking about the so-called “troika” – The European Central Bank, The European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.
               “The Greek state has a future but what we won’t accept as a future is the 
                self-perpetuating and unsustainable debt!”
               “We will destroy the oligarchy!”
               “You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up!”
               “Just over 10% of the 240 billion Euro bailout has been used to fund Greek
                government operations, the rest has gone to repaying creditors and bailing
                out banks.”
      The Greek economy has fallen by 30% since 2008.  Worker unemployment is at the depression level
of 25% – youth unemployment 50%.  The government previous to Syriza, was the center-right, liberal/conservative (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) under Antonis Samaris who collaborated with the proponents of austerity, which brought the vast majority of the Greek population to its knees.  Samaris, in cahoots with Goldman Sachs, to hoodwink Eurostat regulators, manipulated Greek indebtedness with so-called cross-currency swaps in violation of the E.U Maastricht Deficit Rules which allow budget deficit limits of not more than 3% of GDP, and overall debt of no more than 60% of GDP.  The Greek economy went down the toilet – Goldman Sachs, as usual, walked away with what has been described as a “hefty” commission.
       One final note:  The military junta which ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974, put in place with the 
connivance of the CIA, as a buffer against the Soviet Union, eliminated most taxes for the wealthy. For example: Aristotle Onasis, billionaire shipping mogul and future husband of Jacqueline Kennedy, paid no taxes under the junta and beyond.  The tax avoidance schemes of the wealthy contributed to the present turmoil, as they have in the United States.                         

I’m Angry with you “Good Germans”

Good Germans:  BRAIN DROPPING #142

 A friend once asked me why I seemed so angry in some of my Brain Droppings. I retorted by asking him why the hell he wasn’t angry.  This exchange came to mind when I watched Medea Benjamin and her activist Code Pink crew attempt to serve Henry Kissinger a warrant for a citizens arrest, as he was about to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. With banners and shouted condemnations they protested his war crimes in the murder of Salvatore Allende of Chile, the illegal bombing of Cambodia and the use of Agent Orange in  Vietnam.  Tens of thousands of children are still being born deformed because of their mothers exposure to dioxin and dieldrin the two main ingredients of Agent Orange.  Can someone tell me how this is morally different from the medical experiments performed on concentration camp prisoners during WWII by Doctor Mengele?  Oh yes, we poisoned the population from thirty thousand feet, that is supposed to excuse our inhumane behavior!
         The Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that shinning star of Christian compassion, Senator John McCain reacted: “Get out of here you low-life scum!”  I shudder to think that this pathetically intemperate scoundrel could have had his finger on the atomic button.
         We need more courageous folks like Code Pink and our own Vermont Workers Center to confront the liars, dissemblers and charlatans who do the bidding of their moneyed masters at the expense of hard working Americans.   The relationship between elected officials who have sold out and the 1% who buy them,  Governor Peter Shumlin comes to mind, is no exaggeration. In a Princeton University study covering the decade between 1982 and 2002, in the case of 1,800 policy initiatives, rich, well connected individuals got the legislation they wanted against the will of the majority of voters expressed in polls.  If we protest by disrupting “business as usual” in the halls of power we are called “low-life scum!”  I would say our revolutionist, founding fathers fit that description.
         What has this got to do with “Good Germans?”  That’s the term sarcastically used to describe those Germans who stood by and did nothing to oppose what was happening all around them.  They remained passive and silent as their rights and the rights of their neighbors were trampled under jack-boots.  They were too respectable to run the risk of being called “low-life scum!”