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27 December 2008

Deborama's Health Care Piece

I was sent by my old DS comrade Dan a story from AlterNet, the title of which is The Right Wing's Latest Argument Against Public Health Care -- We'd Like It Too Much. Very good article, and I agree with everything in it except the first three words of the title. It's not "the right wing", whatever that means in America, that's opposed to universal health care. That title, and the mindset behind it, is all down to the regrettable flip side of the mostly wonderful American tendency to focus on the future: their astonishing ability to wipe out the past. And especially that maddeningly ahistorical quality of youthful American radicals to wrongly interpret their own history, forget, ignore or deny huge swathes of it, and reinterpret everything every few years, with often comical effects.
No my dears, I love you all passionately, but you don't know half the time who your friends are, who your enemies are, or what you are fighting for. You wouldn't know an authentic right-wing American if one infiltrated your organisation (and I assure you, one has) and the opposition to universal health care? it is the unholy alliance of insurance, big finance and big pharma, and therefore the entire infrastructure of global capitalism, and therefore your boss, and therefore all your co-workers and essentially you yourself. Yes, you cannot so much as draw a paycheque without making a huge contribution to this behemoth which has a strong vested interest in keeping you just barely well enough to work, in terror of illness and incidentally, of "big government", and vulnerable and malleable. Your mother and father and sisters are very possibly staunch opponents of "socialised medicine", even as they struggle through life underinsured, overmedicated and lied to at every turn. The one or two authentic "right-wingers" I have known were just as likely to be in favour of "socialised medicine" as opposed to it. The concerns of the right-wing in the US, given that there the mainstream would pass as the right wing of any European democracy, are mostly to do with such relatively arcane issues as racial purity, draconian anti-crime and anti-immigration policies, and ruling the third world in a harsh and unflinchingly imperialistic style. The endless dominance of capitalism they either take as given, or believe in a Nazi-style state control, which would include universal health care, along with forced sterilisation and euthenasia of the "unfit". So not really comrades, are they? But pretty sure to latch onto a popular and naive group working for universal health care.
Apart from these few quibbles, the article itself is good though. If only it had said "Big "Health-Care" Industry's Latest Argument ..."

25 December 2008

Christmas Blogs for Christians

My friend Lance, an Eastern Orthodox Christian in Minneapolis, has this to say for Christmas. And for even more spiritually uplifting fare, possibly to counteract the unnecessary brouhaha from elsewhere (no link, you know who you are):
All about the angels of Christmas
A beautiful essay on the use of the Jesus Prayer
Why not re-read Franny and Zooey while we're on the subject?
Let it Shine! Inspiring quotes about the return of the Light
Brightest and Best, my favourite Christmas carol

04 December 2008

Odetta - 1930 - 2008

Odetta, the "protest singer's protest singer" has died aged 77. She was planning to come out of semi-retirement to sing at Obama's inauguration. She will be missed.

28 November 2008

India reeling

It's a strange and not pleasant coincidence. I don't blog about India all that much, and just a few days after I did, all hell broke loose in Mumbai. And what's really strange is that a friend of mine was over there (possibly, I hope, just leaving as the attacks began) on his second trip to the country. I will be worried until I hear from him. I can't remember exactly the dates of his trip and whether or not Mumbai was on the whirlwind itinerary (I think he was there to interview prospective students at the University where he lectures.)
The latest news - the breaking of the siege at the Jewish Centre. A lot of the UK media are unashamed about concentrating first and foremost on the question of how many victims are British, and only delving into the main story as an afterthought. (But the BBC coverage is good, both depth and focus.) US media are worse, and don't seem to pay it all that much mind. The international (US-owned) company I work for has hundreds of employees and contractors and clients there, but not a peep on the intranet, although they meticulously tracked the hurricanes in Texas and Florida and took up collections for the victims.

23 November 2008

India calling . . .

No, it's not a story about call centres, far from it. This New York Times article is about the astonishing reverse-migration of US-born men and women of Indian extraction migrating "back" to India in search of their fortunes, or just a more comfortable or exciting way to make a living. There are some fascinating insights and great quotes in this short article:

Prior to living in India:
My parents married in India and then embarked to America on a lonely, thrilling adventure. They learned together to drive, shop in malls, paint a house. They decided who and how to be. ... It was extraordinary, and ordinary: This is what America did to people, what it always has done.

My parents brought us to India every few years as children. I relished time with relatives; but India always felt alien, impenetrable, frozen. ... Perhaps it was the bureaucracy, the need to know someone to do anything. Or the culture shock of servitude: a child’s horror at reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in an American middle school, then seeing servants slapped and degraded in India. My firsthand impression of India seemed to confirm the rearview immigrant myth of it: a land of impossibilities. But history bends and swerves, and sometimes swivels fully around.

Living in India today:

At first we felt confused by India’s formalities and hierarchies, by British phraseology even the British had jettisoned, by the ubiquity of acronyms. Working in offices, some of us were perplexed to be invited to “S&M conferences,” only to discover that this denoted sales and marketing. Several found to their chagrin that it is acceptable for another man to touch your inner thigh when you crack a joke in a meeting. We learned new expressions: “He is on tour” (Means: He is traveling. Doesn’t mean: He has joined U2.); “What is your native place?” (Means: Where did your ancestors live? Doesn’t mean: What hospital delivered you?); “Two minutes” (Means: An hour. Doesn’t mean: Two minutes.).

Countries like India once fretted about a “brain drain.” We are learning now that “brain circulation,” as some call it, may be more apt. India did not export brains; it invested them. It sent millions away. In the freedom of new soil, they flowered. They seeded a new generation that, having blossomed, did what humans have always done: chase the frontier of the future.

Europe and America - together again

This article from the Economist analyses the prospects for renewing the Transatlantic Alliance - before it's too late.

Yet in the longer run the chances of better transatlantic co-operation may be greater than they seem at first sight. The reason is simple. For both Europe and America the long-term outlook is quite bleak. Global acceptance of American leadership has diminished both because of the Iraq war (and Guantánamo) and because of the rise of emerging powers with different ideas about how to order the world, some of which carry a whiff of 19th century great-power rivalries. Today’s Europe has little military clout, and is in demographic and (relative) economic decline.

A lot of articles on the economy and on the new administration coming to the US in January 2009 all take as a given that the power of the US, and indeed of "the west," is definitely on the wane. Some put the high-water mark back as far as 1948, although I would disagree with that. I think 1989 has at least as strong a claim. But there is no argument at all that the eight years of the Bush administration hastened the end for America, and a surprising number of pundits agree with me in pointing to Hurricane Katrina as the smoking gun that proved it to be so.

Obama's job number one - close Guantanamo

It's not just I who am saying, it's The New York Times as well. I think they hit the nail on the head with this one.

12 November 2008

"Thank you, white folks"

Jack White of The Root says, "Thanks" to white America for voting for Obama in such large numbers and even adds, quite graciously, "we couldn't have done it without you."

Why you have to love Michelle

Heather Wood Rudulph of the Huffington Post says thou shalt love Michelle Obama. I already did, so I'm cool. Yeah, she does gush a little. But you know what? she's right.
In the same HP, an old interview with the president-elect from 2004 is unearthed, which contains some very revealing statements about faith and values. Thanks again to Ashley for sending me the link.

10 November 2008

"Mama Africa" Miriam Makeba. 1932 - 2008

Miriam Makeba, the pan-African activist and musician known as "Mama Africa" and the "Empress of Africa", died of an apparent heart attack following a concert Friday in Italy. A friend of Nelson Mandela, and one-time wife of Stokely Carmichael, a protege of Harry Belafonte and a mentor to many younger performers, she was connected to everyone in African politics, civil rights and music. Many younger Americans were first introduced to her as part of Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1987, at a time when she was still officially in exile from her native South Africa and from the US for her controversial political actions.

09 November 2008

And so it goes

It's Remembrance Sunday here in Great Britain. A day for looking at the past, and yet all the poppy-bedecked talking heads on Andrew Marr's show were pointing more toward the future, even when they were referring to the theme of Remembrance Sunday; that's how it is when you perch on a cusp of history, on the Great Divide as it were, where the rivers change directions.
Last night, I received another group email from my old DSA comrade Dan F. in St. Paul. I read every word, and it made my blood run a little cold, providing a bracing counterpoint to the overwhelming waves of optimism of the past week. (I must confess, I still leak a few tears of joy and disbelief every time someone says "President-elect Obama" on the TV or radio.) The e-mail had the entire text of this Monthly Review article by Immanuel Wallerstein, "The Depression : A Long-term View". It made me a bit dizzy as well, an effect I last remember for certain that came from reading a dystopian novel by Samuel R Delaney.
Remembrance Sunday is about honouring all the dead of the Great War (World War I to modernists), the dead and wounded of all the other wars in between, the survivors and currently serving Forces men and women, in more or less that order. DH and I observed the occasion by watching last night an excellent film of a Pat Barker novel of the Great War, Regeneration. (Every year, I also give a few pounds the Poppy Appeal and then promptly lose my poppy. It's those stupid straight pins. I have a great suggestion for bringing the past into the present a little better and instead of flogging paper poppies with a straight pin, feature optional sticky-back glossy poppies that you can press onto your coat or shirt without making a hole. Just a thought.)

05 November 2008

Street party in Atlanta

This was last night, outside Ebenezer Baptist Church. From right to left, my son, his girlfriend and a mutual friend. I don't know if the AJC covered this spontaneous street party, but the title link is about the more official Atlanta Dems celebrations.

And here's the story behind this picture, from my son's message to me on Facebook.

You could even post a pic on your blog of me putting the Obama sign on Martin Luther King's grave and talk about how some woman told me it was wrong of me to do it but then thanked me and took a picture. I was confused, but I didn't care. It's what I felt like doing. Because Martin deserved to share in the celebration.

Daily Kos electoral scoreboard

Change has come


Here is an awe-inspiring photo-stream of pictures from last night. Amongst the show of 31 photos, it shows a vigil at Martin Luther King's grave in Atlanta, a site visited by my son and his girlfriend last night as part of their victory march through their (and my old) hometown.
Here is a full text of Obama's victory speech.
For the geeks like me, an election map from the BBC. The UK news media is if anything even more wonky about the US election than the US media. It's touching. The BBC and MSNBC maps are all Adobe Flash so I can't paste them into my blog.
And let's not forget all the other races! Minnesota is on my mind today. According to Live Blog of the election at the Minnesota Daily (U of M student newspaper) the Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman is still too close to call.

What a great birthday

I got up at 1:30 am which was 8:30 pm EST to watch the election. Obama was pretty far ahead even then, and the red states in the south, less Virginia and Florida, came in and he was still ahead. Soon after I started watching, Pennsylvania was called blue, and then Michigan. I finally went back to bed about 4:30, still a couple of hours or more to go before Obama would arrive at Grant Park for his big moment. But before I flagged, I saw the electoral college vote cross the line when California and then Washington came in. Virgina, Florida and New Mexico were all but in the bag. The carousing, the ecstasy, the weeping and hugging, had begun in Times Square, in Grant Park, in Obama's father's village in Kenya, in ex-pat parties in the UK, in the student union at Morehouse College and many other places round the globe. I saw John McCain's very gracious, noble and dignified concession speech and that's when it hit me that change really was sweeping not just the US but the planet. Maybe it was my imagination, or maybe it was a sort of self-selected crowd, but the tearful faces of the Republican faithful seemed to be saying "maybe it won't be that bad, maybe we can stop all the frenzied red-blue crap and get on with it, like he says".

02 November 2008

Studs Terkel, 1912 - 2008

Studs Terkel, another of my all-time great heroes, author of the ground-breaking oral history book Working and Hard Times, passed away on October 31 at the age of 96. If you didn't know the great man, you could do worse than to read "Why Studs Terkey Mattered" from his hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune. Or, here's a little sample, from a radio interview:

With Enron and corporate scandals in the news, Studs recalled the 1930s depression: “Things don’t repeat themselves exactly. But we’ve learned nothing from it. Unregulated, free, untrammeled, what’s it called, ‘free market,’ fell on its ass again, as it did then. We’ve learned nothing.”

19 October 2008

Powell endorses Obama

This just in. This could be one of the most important endorsements so far, mainly because it could tip exactly the kind of people who are still sitting on the fence.

12 October 2008

Sub-prime nation

I have had this great blog post about the economy running around in my head. I have the left view, the right view and correct view (maybe). I have how we got here and where we may be headed and what to do about it. But somehow, with reading this cacophony of voices, I am unable or unwilling to add my own. So all I can do is share.

28 September 2008

Paul Newman, 1925--2008

I was crushed to read suddenly of the passing of Paul Newman. What a beautiful soul he was. Such a handsome man, a great actor and patron of the arts, a humanitarian and an all-round great example of how to live. I hope they give him a standing ovation in heaven.

17 September 2008

The Onion rips a new one for MoveOn.org

Yes! The Onion has surpassed itself.

And now I feel really good about my decision to cut off all emails from the profoundly annoying MoveOn.org. (No link; I don't want to encourage them.) I had sent them several thoughtful replies about how all these petitions were really terribly unproductive. Finally I just got tired of being simultaneously ignored and inundated with presumptious emails. Apparently I am not the only one. I like Obama's way* of dealing with them.

Perhaps most telling of his recent frustrations, Obama's mail records confirm that, in April 2008, he replied to a MoveOn.org e-mail entitled "10 Things You Need to Know About John McCain" with the message "Shut up."

* Obama didn't really do this; the Onion is fictional and satirical, for those of you not familiar with it.

Prominent left-wingers' views of the financial meltdown

What? We still can't say the word "depression"? How about "recession", can we at least call it that? Are we all Keynesians now?
The Guardian has a nice selection of comments and insights into the global financial crisis, coming out on the same day that Lloyd's TSB is in talks to buy out Halifax-BOS (both major UK banks and the result of earlier mega-mergers, but in more optimistic times.) But rather than being the thoughts of pundits and economists, these views are from philosophers, artists, socialists and peace activists.
Is capitalism done for? Is it even in trouble? Most of the thinkers say no. They are not so positive about the chances of the nemesis known as New Labour, however. Many of them bemoan the undeniable fact that the left does not have an inkling of a reform plan. But still, the analyses are mostly quite spot-on.

Ken Livingstone (former mayor of London) : As a system for the distribution and exchange of goods, you can't beat the market. But the mistake a lot of politicians have made is to think that because the market was good at that, it could be good at everything: it could train workers, create infrastructure, protect the environment, regulate itself. Quite obviously, it can't.
Max Keiser (former broker) : This is not a blip. It's extremely significant. We will see a shift in power away from the US, and towards the developing world - to countries such as Brazil and the Gulf states that have commodities to sell, and to China, where the savings ratio is high. We are going to see a new world order. America as a driver of the global economy is finished.
Shelia Rowbotham (professor of gender and labour history) : The Labour party has always been ambiguous about whether it is trying to make capitalism more efficient, or whether it is trying to soften its harshness. Since the 1970s, the left has been much weakened, as neoliberal ideas became totally ascendent. Under Blair, the idea that the Labour party was committed to any redistribution was pushed to the sidelines. I would like to see a new kind of left - a left that would relate to the present predicament.

Late breaking addendum : Nobel prize-winner Joseph E. Stiglitz has an article on CNN about preventing future financial catastrophes (in the US) through prudent regulation.

Sickening new electoral tactic

If all else fails for the Republicans, they are counting on the tactic of limiting voting by poor and non-white voters. Some bright spark has siezed on the mortgage crisis as a sort of natural selection device to keep people who might want regime change away from the polls. To cut to the chase, some state Republican parties are arming their poll-watchers with list of recently foreclosed properties matched to the electoral rolls, so someone who is, say, dispossessed and evicted from their home in the weeks leading up to the election can be disenfranchised on the basis that they haven't established a new home yet and updated their address. (Some states don't allow you to update your address for quite a long period before election dates, making this tactic so much easier to deploy.) I think the story says it all; there is nothing I can add.

Speaking of truthiness . . .

The Guardian's Michael Tomasky is getting really frustrated trying to be fair and balanced about those nasty Republicans. But seriously, it is hard to find fault with what he says. And it is impossible to fight a clean and principled election against people who make lying both a virtue and an art form. Check his points against the Truth-o-meter and see what he means.

Deborama's WWW Number whatever - the Flip-o-meter

Deborama's Wednesday Website of the Week returns for a one-off engagement.
An online friend who is almost diametrically opposed to me politically (but a decent guy) (I could say the same about my sister except for the guy part, obviously) sent me this link : Politifact.com. It includes the invaluable Flip-o-meter and also the Truth-o-meter. It also includes the Attack files and the special Chain E-mails files, with truthometer readings for each item. I am very impressed! How on earth did we do anything before the internet? (We didn't have chain e-mails influencing elections, true enough.)

Duelling restaurant reviews - and an anniversary

Check it out at Deborama's Kitchen.

02 September 2008

Deborama is loving this election year!

The only bad thing is I'm not there.
Brits and Europeans are still incredibly caught up in the Obama phenomenon. Co-workers ask me anxiously - might he actually win? Could he possibly lose? Is it all about race? (The answers to these questions are more or less the same - how the heck do I know?)
Up until a week ago, we had a lot to work with. The first black candidate of a major party, a front-runner. The Bill and Hilary show, now with added Chelsea. Republicans trying to woo Democrats and a Democrat wowing Europe before he is officially nominated. An acceptance speech that was watched by more viewers than the Oscars to finish off one convention and then an impending hurricane that almost derailed the other one.
And now we have the glorious soap opera that is Governor Palin. California has the governator. Minnesota used to have Jesse the Brain Ventura. But surely only a state as cussed and weird as Alaska could have this force of nature, shooting (both her gun and her mouth), breast-feeding, beauty-contest winning and marathon running her way through history. I sure as hell would never vote for her, but as long as she doesn't accidentally gain the most powerful job in the world, I love this woman!
And, as a follow-up to the life-imitates art thread (Jimmy Smits in a West Wing role prefiguring Senator Obama) has nobody but me noticed the spooky similarities between Sarah Palin and Bree van de Kamp? Or is a subconscious identification of her with the formidable Desperate Housewife what gave legs to the fake pregnancy rumour in the first place? Desperate Housewife runs for Vice President; you can't make this stuff up. She would probably want to change the title to Virtue President.

01 September 2008

50 greatest arts videos on YouTube

Courtesy of the Observer / Guardian. A collection of cinema arts, visual arts documentaries, videos of great classical, jazz and folk performances and dance.

24 August 2008

"Black in a new light" and other stories

  • The Wall Street Journal has an article about the sociopolitical ripples of Obama's candidacy in the black American community. It reminded me of an article praising Michelle Obama I read recently in The Root.
  • The Washington Post is doing an in-depth biography of Obama. This segment, quite long and full of information, covers his childhood and the life story of his parents. I found it very absorbing, the sort of thing you would find interesting for the characters even if Obama himself were a relative nobody.
  • Darling Hubby and I just finished watching the BBC/HBO production House of Saddam. It's worth a watch.
  • I am thinking of downloading iPlayer to fill in the gaps created by my crazy schedule vs. the restrictions on recording Freeview (basically the same as SkyPlus, in that you can only do two or three shows that overlap, and since the channels tend to schedule all the good stuff at once, this is a problem.)

16 August 2008

The Audacity of Taupe

A couple of weeks ago, I have discovered a great blogazine, side-barred at Slate, called The Root. And this really excellent article/post, The Audacity of Taupe, discusses Obama as a man of mixed race, and the changing self-image of mixed race Americans over the generations. By David Swerdlick.

Black people can't argue a speeding ticket after sundown, and the only thing in life that white people can't do is use the N-word. To that simple rule, I am now officially adding the M-word. Good news, though—"Creole" has been approved for everybody's use.

13 August 2008

Honeybees in the UK - a status check

It's not looking good for the honeybees. So far, experts have not found evidence of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) but there has been a massive rise in honeybee deaths this past winter and spring. Honey shortages are expected. But it's more than honey, you know. The shift from food crops to bio-fuel corn and wheat leads to food shortages for humans, but also to pollen shortages, which means bees die off, which means they aren't around to pollenate fruits and vegetables which leads to reduced yields of other food crops. It sets up a feedback cycle, a race to the bottom. The most pessimistic scientist-experts say frightening things, like all the bees could be gone in ten years, and humanity cannot survive ten years beyond the extinction of bees.

12 August 2008

A new twist on Red vs. Green

You know what they say about "the left" (if such a thing even exists any more, or ever did) : the only time they form a circle is when they're going to form a firing squad. In a way this is the red vs. green battle from the 1970s, but with all the (polluted) water that's gone under the bridge, there has been some shifting. George Monbiot, as lefty-greeny as you can get, made the quixotic gesture of trying to bring some sense into the carbon-reduction, energy crisis, global warming (WE'RE ALL DOOMED!) "debate" and essentially issued a challenge to the boosters of nuclear energy. A challenge that he never expects them to be able to meet. But having failed to pronounce Shibboleth correctly, he came in for attacks.
Last week's Guardian had a comment piece by, of all people, Arthur Scargill (I'm ashamed to say, I genuinely thought he was dead.) The title directs itself to Monbiot, and claims that coal is not the "climate enemy" but rather a potential planet-saviour. It is an astonishing piece really, and I am quite glad that Monbiot answered it, because I did think, when he (Scargill) waxed lyrically about all the deep, rich coal under England's green and pleasant, the first thought in my mind was "open-cast". And my instincts were right in this, if Monbiot is to be believed instead of Scargill:

When he speaks of a resurgent coal industry, he pictures deep seams hacked out by grimy workers romantically dying of silicosis. But, with a few minor exceptions, this is no longer how coal is produced in the UK. New research I’ve commissioned, published for the first time here, shows that the industry is planning a great opencast revival.

Monbiot goes on to tell about a proposal in the Welsh assembly to require a minimum distance from any new open-cast mine to any residential area, and although it doesn't seem a very great distance (half a kilometer), if adopted, it would "sterilise" any proposed new mines.
This means that they could no longer be dug. The pits are viable only if they are allowed to wreck the lives of local people. Even before a lump of clean coal is burnt, its extraction trashes the environment.

Scargill's and Monbiot's otherwise fascinating articles both end with some strange arcane business about a "duel" where they will each be sealed in a room with the poisonous substance of their choice, which I found totally baffling. I guess you need to have a penis to really understand how some things work after all.

George Orwell, August 1938

The Orwell Prize, in association with the Orwell Trust and others, have begun a daily blog of George Orwell's diary entries in real time but 70 years later. It just began a few days ago (9 August) and not much "has happened" yet (he is in some sanitorium in Kent), so it won't take you long to catch up. The diaries were kept daily from August 1938 until some time in 1942, so they cover the period of his recuperation (partial) after being shot in the neck in Spain, his sojourn in Morocco, and his thoughts on the coming of WWII and the first two years of that conflict. And as with any blog, you can interact and leave comments and read those of others. Or you can just go for quality over quantity and stick to Orwell.

11 August 2008

Whole Foods - how the mighty have fallen

I shouldn't gloat.
Some years ago, I refused absolutely to shop at Whole Foods. It wasn't just the high prices that later led to the nickname of "Whole Paycheck"; it wasn't just the unnecessarily vicious anti-union attitudes of its founder and management. It was these factors combined with the threat it posed to my most beloved of institutions, the new-wave consumer-owned food co-op. Eventually, it came to a point where it wouldn't matter any more. Co-ops had shrunk in number, but those that survived generally gained in strength. A lot of this was down to a tipping point in consumer preference for organic and artisanal foods, especially amongst the economic upper-middle classes. This benefitted both Whole Foods and its major competitor Wild Oats, as well as Fresh & Wild in the UK and food co-ops throughout the US.
In the past year or so, Whole Foods has acquired both Wild Oats and Fresh&Wild. Almost exactly a year ago, Whole Foods, with great fanfare, announced its opening of the first UK outlet, in London, natch, in Kensington, natch. Just in time for the so-called "credit crunch".
Last week, Whole Foods announced that it had lost $18 million in its first year in London. Of course it could have been expecting losses in any case, and on such an expensive piece of real estate, with British shoppers not being in the mood for costly food-shopping experiments, it should have expected the near disastrous results.
In the US, when the overall profit slump triggered a share sell-off the next day, Whole Foods laid most of the blame not on its ill-fated expansion into the UK, but on the costs associated with acquiring Wild Oats. Well, maybe.
Now Whole Foods is pursuing a brilliant strategy (in the US only I presume) of sales, discounts and budget-related customer education, trying to reverse its "Whole Paycheck" image. As I said when they opened the London branch, we'll see.

04 August 2008

We want unsound investments and we want them now!

From the Onion : Recession-plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In. Some likely candidates for the 2008 bubble: undersea mining rights, postmodernism, illegal immigration futures, "widgets" or fairy dust. Anything really, as long as it can create massive, unsustainable debt while triggering a burst of good old recession-busting spending. One of the experts cited in the article, who works for a prominent bubble-based investment firm, reminds us that "the American economy cannot exist on sound investments alone." How very true.

27 July 2008

Obama - blogs and pundits

There is a lot of Obama blogging going on, and the media is in a tizz. I will post far less than I have read. The best is still this pre-hysteria piece by Gary Younge, a Guardian columnist whose task it is to interpret American politics and society for the chattering classes of Britain (and he does it pretty well, too.)

Also worth a look:

Where's Tony?

The Middle East Suffers, but where is Tony Blair?

Will Blair quit his hopeless Mideast task?

Two articles from The First Post answered a question that had been nagging me. He is lurking in hotels, under threat and mainly failing completely to bring peace to a region that he formerly inflamed. I have one word to say about Mr. Blair: hubris.

06 July 2008

A little late for the Fourth, but worth the wait

Women in technology and science

Dilbert.comComputerWorld had a very thought-provoking article a couple of weeks ago: "Why women quit technology careers". Or, if they don't quit, why they find themselves 55 years old, nurse-maiding their own bosses who are 15 years younger, half as intelligent and male, and feel only vaguely discontented about it. Not that I'm at all bitter.

23 June 2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008

George Carlin died yesterday (Sunday, 22 June). Sadly, he was scheduled to receive a prestigious award. the Mark Twain Award for Comedy, in November. He will be remembered for a number of things, but probably most for "The Seven Things You Can't Say on Television" which led to a landmark obscenity case in the US Supreme Court. The tributes are pouring in already, including this good one in WaPo, about "angry George" and "gentle George".

14 June 2008

My Barack Obama

Make no mistake about it, I am for Obama. I have been so since before the beginning, I have never really wavered, and things have worked out for him (so far) far better than my paranoid, pessimistic Scorpio nature would have allowed me to hope. But I can still take the piss. And so can The Onion, which has a great article on Obama practicing his "Looking off into the future" expressions (the triptych above is "wistful", "determined" and "unbridled".)
But for one of the really serious reasons why I believe Obama must be elected, I can cite (at length! sorry, can't help myself) from a Thomas Friedman/NYT Op-Ed piece my friend Joani e-mailed to me. Friedman is writing this piece abroad, in Egypt, where he has a similar experience to my everyday experience of being approached by the locals eager to discuss their complex feelings about this astonishing new direction in American politics. While granting that it hurts Obama's chances a mite when Muslims identify with him, and while admitting that Egyptians still have "issues" with America and vice-versa and an Obama presidency won't eliminate them, he reports touchingly on the excitement that Africans the world over feel at the thought that the great Babylon may actually elevate a son of Africa to be its head of state.

[E]very once in a while, America does something so radical, so out of the ordinary — something that old, encrusted, traditional societies like those in the Middle East could simply never imagine — that it revives America’s revolutionary “brand” overseas in a way that no diplomat could have designed or planned.
I just had dinner at a Nile-side restaurant with two Egyptian officials and a businessman, and one of them quoted one of his children as asking: “Could something like this ever happen in Egypt?” And the answer from everyone at the table was, of course, “no.” It couldn’t happen anywhere in this region. Could a Copt become president of Egypt? Not a chance. Could a Shiite become the leader of Saudi Arabia? Not in a hundred years. A Bahai president of Iran? In your dreams. Here, the past always buries the future, not the other way around.
. . .

In his history of 19th-century America, “What Hath God Wrought,” Daniel Walker Howe quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson as telling a meeting of the Mercantile Library Association in 1844 that “America is the country of the future. It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”

That’s the America that got swallowed by the war on terrorism. And it’s the America that many people want back.

04 June 2008

03 June 2008

All right! My kind of politics

From The Onion (who else?)

"This nightmare ticket presents the American people with an unprecedented lack of opportunity in 2008," Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote Tuesday. "For just one vote, citizens will get four years of McCain's brilliant temper, the incredible inexperience of Barack Obama, and the powerful two-headed monster of Hillary and Bill Clinton."

01 June 2008

Hollywood's Greatest Mensch

As my regular readers know, I have got into the habit of posting obituaries for those whom I admire or at least (in a few cases) am interested in. Sydney Pollack was definitely in the admired category. Greatest mensch? I don't know, but up there, for sure.

Tales from the trail

Reuters on the web has a really good blog tracking the US elections - Tales from the Trail. Check it out.

25 May 2008

Ain't Nobody Who Can Sing Like Me - a great podcast

Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue
I have only listened to three or four podcasts in my life so far. If I had more time I would listen to a lot more. This one was excellent. And by the way, the CD is great too.

A Lottery of Hope

A Thomas Friedman op-ed piece in the New York Times brought tears to my eyes. It concerns a SEED Academy in Baltimore that allots place by a lottery, and a recent placement round saw over 300 hopeful applicants vying for just 80 places. It was this quote in particular (and no, it wasn't the grammatical sloppiness of it):

If you think that parents from the worst inner-city neighborhoods don’t aspire for something better for their kids, a lottery like this will dispel that illusion real fast.
Ms. Lewis said she’s seen people on crack walking their kids to school. “We had parents who came into our office who were clearly strung out,” she added. “They could not read or write, but they got themselves there and said, ‘I need help on this application’ for their son or daughter. Families do want the best for their children. If they have a chance, they don’t want their kids to inherit their problems. ...

11 May 2008

The Democratic nomination end game in sight

They hope it's all over. Super-delegates are deciding for, and in some cases switching to, Barack Obama in droves in the last few days. Not surprisingly, it may have been Clinton's latest rather desperate attempt to "play the race card" that decided it for some of them. Amongst Clinton's supporters, too, there is a note of desperation in the pronouncements. (Thirty points in Puerto Rico? In your dreams!)
There are various predictors in US electoral folklore. One of my favourites is the "democrat dark horse on the cover of Time" although in this case, the candidate, though of middling dark complexion, was far beyond the dark horse stage when he was graced with it this week. (I have heard that there has never been a Democratic candidate for nomination who was on the cover of Time magazine before the primary, who didn't go on to be nominated and elected. But I am having no luck Googling this, so maybe I imagined it.) By my count, Obama has been on the cover of Time at least four times now: November 2006, October 2007, March 2008 and May 2008. That's pretty excessive, even though he is my man. And in November 2006 he was a horse of the deepest black.

09 May 2008

First Diet and Fitness Post

I have started my diet, health and fitness sporadic journal over on Deborama's Kitchen with a post about my workout and my music. More on that later . . .

05 May 2008

Percy has passed on

I mentioned "my" bird, the cockatiel Percy, who was named as a boy but turned out to be a girl. She just died last night, in the night. Only a week ago she was fit and well, and even flying around the house when out of her cage, and she had stopped laying eggs, which was a good sign. But DH noticed a couple of days ago that she had suddenly got painfully thin. We got her some worm medicine and drop-fed her some sugar water and put a heat lamp on the cage, but we were too late and by this morning she was gone. I am really down about it. She was such a sweet little thing. Sadly, the only picture I have of her is as a baby, where she is cuddling up with a clutch of baby Hahn's Macaws.

May Day in Minneapolis

Last year I was there and posted about it, but this year I missed it. May Day in Minneapolis is always on the first Sunday in May. It starts in January, with workshops at the Heart of the Beast puppet theatre, and it reaches a climax as the bands, the bicycles, the mothers and toddlers and fathers and teenagers, the giant puppets and heartfelt messages of peace, wind their way through the Phillips and Powderhorn neighbourhoods, and it culminates with a powerful, tribal ceremony of calling the sun back from the clutches of winter, enacted in canoes on Powderhorn Lake. I found a great photo set of 2008 pics by RJ Toad on flickr.

23 April 2008

Why Bother? and the cheap-energy mentality

In the NYT Magazine for last Sunday, Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food - An Eater's Manifesto (in the UK published as In Defence of Food - The Myths of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating) has written a really brilliant comment piece called "Why Bother?". He poses the question that so many pose, and then immediately give up - in the face of the enormity of environmental peril and climate change: how can my actions possibly make a difference? Pollan says his heart sank when at the end of Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, his exhortation is for everyone to change their light bulbs. (Yeah, that really does bite. Thanks for that, Al.) After making a rather weak appeal (in my opinion, but I guess one does have to choose ones words, and the article is already four pages, very economically worded) to out-of-fashion concepts like virtue and community, he turns to the even more out-of-fashion Wendell Berry, a man with whom we should all be (but possibly some of us are not) familiar. Berry was the originator of the "cheap-energy mentality" critique. This is getting more to the heart of the matter, as Pollan points out that it is cheap energy, the division of labour, and the resultant atomisation of communities that both contributes massively to global warning and at the same time, makes changing our ways so impossible, and even impossible to think about or understand.
Then, thankfully, after laying out the utter hopelessness of the case, he turns to hope. You can only do what you can do, and he does give reasons why we should do it. So the task now is to decide - what is the most effective thing to do, the most urgent, and also fully within the realm of possibility? (Hint: it's not light bulbs, it's not "carbon offsets" and it's not writing a cheque or joining a club.) The answer is to grow your own food. Yep, just exactly what all us hippies said to do way back in 1970. Damn shame we were all too high to make a coherent point.

21 April 2008

Blogkeeping and My Life

I haven't posted for a while here. Some personal changes are happening in the Deborama household. DH and I just got back from Manchester yesterday where DH had a gastric band operation. This was the first time he had ever had surgery of any kind, so it was rather fraught for me leading up to it (and probably for him too, but since he's British, there is no way to tell.) But he came through it just fine. He was a little grey in the face for the first hour I saw him, as he was waking up fully. (This was a good two or three hours after his operation, but they kept him in recovery and then put him into an ICU due to his sleep apnoea. I arrived at the hospital as he was just waking up, but they stuck me in a private room saying they would wait and give him a chance to "settle" before I could see him. The same nurse said this to me, along with "just 10 more minutes" about four times, and I was just about to explode with a very American "Settle, schmettle!" before she finally sensed my mounting anxiety and escorted me to his bedside.)
DH spent the night in the ICU (although he was very well, and hardly merited the extra care, but it was apparently hospital policy) and I spent the night in a Travelodge near Manchester airport. But now we're home. DH had lost an amazing five stones (70 pounds) in the six months preceding his operation. He is now expecting to lose perhaps another 100 pounds or so with the help of the gastric band.
Meanwhile, Deborama has been attending clandestine (it's a long story) Slimming World meetings and I have lost a stone since joining, having lost about 10 pounds before, for a total of about 25 pounds since I was at my heaviest. I joined a small local gym last May and I have been attending quite faithfully, an average of three or more days per week. I was very frustrated to not lose any weight in the first five months of this regimen, as I was not really regulating my diet at all, but hoping that building some muscle would cause metabolic changes that would "kick-start" a weight loss and give me some incentive to give up my beloved breakfast of an unsweetened latte and a croissant, my frequent cereal bar snacks and my occasional (but probably more frequent than I cared to admit) late night scoop of ice cream. I think it was around November of last year that I all but gave up the croissants and very slowly and painfully lost the 10 pounds, and when the Slimming World invitation came in January I decided I must bite the bullet and face the fact that at my age I need to do both diet-control and regular exercise; the days of "effortless" weight-loss are now well and truly past.
Now this is the last personal or diet-related post you will see in the main Deborama blog. I am doing a mini-relaunch, and I am going to confine the Deborama posts to serious news, comments on the world at large, religion, philosophy and ethics, sexual politics, the environment, humour and culture. The one exception will be photos and news of our birds. I will post these on Facebook or Flickr, with a link from here.
Simultaneously, I am going to relaunch my other two Deborama sub-logs. Deborama's Kitchen will become my new Diet Blog (keeping the name, though) and any personal journalling will be there, along with its usual fare (although it has been nothing at all for a year or more) of recipes, food politics and food-related news.
Deborama's Books is going to get the third relaunch/make-over. I plan for it to be more joined up with another of my recently neglected passions, Bookcrossing. I am hoping to get back into attending the Bookcrossing meetups, and now that I have a study (I was using the dining room table, in an open plan room with lounge with its almost always-on telly, another excuse or reason for the lack of blogging going on) I have huge backlog of books to register on Bookcrossing. Also, I have been planning to add some movie and television reviews to the books blog, as well as reviewing the books I have read but failed to mention over the past three years.
I know myself, so I don't expect this will happen overnight, or even all that quickly. If I achieve the three goals set out above within six weeks I will be satisfied (and if I fail to do it in that time, chances are it won't happen, so I had better get cracking.)

24 March 2008

My life; Birds update

I haven't been keeping you updated on the birds in our lives. We acquired another Hahn's Macaw, after LouLou, after keeping the big Blue and Golds and after giving them back when their mummy got back from the holiday in the States that ended up being unexpectedly extended. (I did tell you about LouLou, didn't I? She's a Goffin Cockatoo, full of attitude, tends to bite women and snuggle sluttishly against men. She is seriously bonded to DH, who spoils her rotten.) Anyway, the "new" little green guy is with us now; he has had two previous homes plus our friend, the rescue centre keeper, and she gave him to us. He was called Mango, but we call him Vernon. He was missing all his feathers except his head and tail and then he pulled out his tail. Han, whose feathers had all grown back, started plucking himself too, but he only got as far as the grey fluff on his chest and then thankfully stopped.
Meanwhile "my" cockatiel, Percy, turned out to be a girl and keeps laying little clutches of eggs and sitting on them. They are probably not fertilised, but we have to let her sit on them for a while or she would just keep laying until she got calcium-deprived, which can lead to a sometimes fatal condition called "egg-bound". (I won't go into detail if you don't mind.) And another budgie passed away, probably of "old age". He was Huey, the last of our original four pet shop budgies. So we currently have budgies: Holly, Muffin, Nelson, Bob and Margaret; cockatiels: Winnie, Daisy and Percy; Hahn's Macaws: Han and Vernon and a cockatoo: LouLou. DH keeps saying he is going to take pictures of them all, but he has a lot going on just now. More on that later maybe.
A friend of mine from Minneapolis, Dolores, is coming over here to visit next week. She and her friend are mostly staying in the south, but they are finishing off their trip with a quick tour of Oxford and Blenheim Palace, followed by a Shakespeare play at the RSC in Stratford. So I am going to meet up with them in Oxford and do Oxford and Blenheim Palace. I am really looking forward to it.


It has been more than three weeks since I posted a blog. Where does the time go? I will try to do a catch-up, but it may take more than one.

There have been some notable deaths - Anthony Minghella, who was too young, and Paul Scofield who was so old I didn't know he was still alive. (Great actor though.) Arthur C. Clarke. More banks have gone to the wall, and there has been a little farce with the Bank of England.

The Democrats Abroad primary votes came in and Obama got about 2/3 of our votes, Clinton the remaining 1/3. That was a couple of weeks ago. The race has been absorbing my attention, but I don't have anything major to add to the buzz. But what a buzz it is over here! The Brits just cannot believe they're not allowed to participate, just cannot believe how long it takes and cannot understand why our elections are so much more thrilling and interesting than theirs. But even though I have nothing much to say myself, I will share some of my favourite commentary by others:
Gary Younge on "the speech"
Ian Williams on Samantha Power
Sasha Abramsky on Hilary Clinton
Paul Krugman on the economy as election issue
Maureen Dowd on Hilary the Terminator

02 March 2008

01 March 2008

28 February 2008

The Erudite Conservative, RIP, WFB

I Am Lapidary But Not Eristic When I Use Big Words said the headline of one of William F. Buckley's articles in the New York Times. Buckley died yesterday at the age of 82. He was the man I loved to hate, and I learned a lot from him in my youth. I guess I sort of admired him, even though mostly I deeply rejected his beliefs and his arguments. This NPR eulogy is an excellent summing up of a remarkable life.

21 February 2008


I kept checking Baghdad Burning every couple of weeks for months and months since Riverbend announced that she and her family were leaving, but after a while, I stopped and then forgot. But she came back on the scene with two long posts last autumn, from Syria, one in August and one in September. They are brilliant as usual; sad, but full of spirit, angry but loving and forgiving (not of America, though.)

Art imitates life, then life imitates art imitating life , , ,

Jimmy Smits, who played the West Wing's Matt Santos, with Barack Obama in 2005. Photo via the Guardian, by Chris Greenberg/Getty

Did you get the connection? The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland explains it all. Apparently (and rather bizarrely) the character of Matthew Santos was loosely based on Barack Obama in the first place, back when Obama was not even dreamed of as a near-term presidential candidate, but was just a fresh new face after his amazing speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.
What a difference four years make, eh? I was musing on this today at work, and it occurred to me that an ill-fated US TV show called, I think, Commander-in-Chief followed in the coat-tails of TWW with a female president. She (the character) was not as charismatic and universally loved as the character of Matt Santos. (Sort of like you-know-who.) And I began to wonder about the spooky power that fictional TV (like 24, for instance) holds over the American psyche.

20 February 2008

Stop this man before he governs again

Tony Blair's intention to run for the position of first president of Europe has called a "Stop Blair" movement into being. Where do I sign up?

05 February 2008

Super Fat Tuesday!

Happy Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day and Super Tuesday, all in one!
It's Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, Super Tuesday lots of other places. (Louisiana's primaries are on Saturday.
In other Election 2008 news:
Deadheads and surviving band members unite for Obama.
Democrats Abroad this year are sending 11 delegates to the convention. Caucuses are being held even as I type in Oxford and London.
I guess you've heard about the endorsements of Obama by Caroline Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, and from the other end of the spectrum, Susan Eisenhower, grand-daughter of Ike.
And in other Shrove Tuesday news:
An Anglican bishop wants us to give up energy consumption for Lent
The nearby (to me that is) village of Atherstone has its 810th ball game between the "serfs of Warwickshire" and the "serfs of Leicestershire".

27 January 2008

Why I am an internationalist

In his numinous and magical novel Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut introduced the idea of "granfalloons". These are random groupings of people who think, erroneously, that they have some shared destiny as a group, and for whom this delusion is a source of suffering and misguided action. Examples, famously, are given, thus:

Other examples of granfalloons are the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Association of Oddfellows - and any nation, anytime, anywhere.

I think of this statement, which has become a sort of mantra to me over the nearly 40 years since I read Cat's Cradle, literally every time I pass through an airport, see a reference to immigration or international trade, and about the half the time I am watching, listening to or reading the news. Especially when I read about things like this.

20 January 2008

Another similar take on US economic woes

This article, by Paul Krugman in the NYT, is not so in-depth as the WaPo one, but has a similar case to make, particularly:

It wasn’t just Alan Greenspan’s unwillingness to admit that there was anything more than a bit of “froth” in housing markets, or his refusal to do anything about subprime abuses. The fact is that as America’s financial system has grown ever more complex, it has also outgrown the framework of banking regulations that used to protect us — yet instead of an attempt to update that framework, all we got were paeans to the wonders of free markets.

17 January 2008

New kind of recession, new rules

As the government here is in minor turmoil over the "Northern Rock crisis" and the company I used to work for (on whose premises I still work as a contractor) just made 500 people around the country redundant, I just happened upon a really brilliant op-ed piece by Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post (or WaPo as most typing-shy bloggers call it). Now this article is over a year old, even though it is more relevant now than when it was written (which we word-infatuated bloggers call "prescient") so you may need to register with WaPo to read it, but you can opt out of getting any of their friendly and well-meaning spam and it is free. But knowing my readership as I do, I decided to revert to my old habit (avoided lately for IP reasons) of long quotes, because I sense that you won't register, and this is just so good:

In a normal recession, the to-do list is clear. Copies of Keynes are dusted off, the Fed lowers interest rates, the president and Congress cut taxes and hike spending. In time, purchasing, production and loans perk up, and Keynes is placed back on the shelf. No larger alterations to the economy are made, because our economy, but for the occasional bump in the road, is fundamentally sound.
This has been the drill in every recession since World War II.
Republicans and Democrats argue over whose taxes should be cut the most and which projects should be funded, but, under public pressure to do something, they usually find some mutually acceptable midpoint and enact a stimulus package. Even in today's hyperpartisan Washington, the odds still favor such a deal.
This time, though, don't expect that to be the end of the story -- because the coming recession will not be normal, and our economy is not fundamentally sound. This time around, the nation will have to craft new versions of some of the reforms that Franklin Roosevelt created to steer the nation out of the Great Depression -- not because anything like a major depression looms but because we face an economy that's been warped by two developments we've not seen since FDR's time.
The first of these is the stagnation of ordinary Americans' incomes, a phenomenon that began back in the 1970s and that American families have offset by having both spouses work and by drawing on the rising value of their homes. With housing values toppling, no more spouses to send into the workplace, and prices of gas, college and health care continuing to rise, consumers are played out. December was the cruelest month that American retailers have seen in many years, and, as Michael Barbaro and Louis Uchitelle reported in Monday's New York Times, delinquency rates on credit cards, auto loans and mortgages have all been rising steeply for the past year.

So, I hope that was good enough to entice you to read the entire article. He goes on to offer real, serious and radical ideas about "what is to be done".

08 January 2008

Blogkeeping and my life - 2008, election year

This is my first blog of 2008 and it's already the 8th. Not so good, I know. Blogs do wither and die, and even though this one has had its ups and downs, and is definitely in a slow period now, I don't want to let it die. It's not because I'm tired of it, or don't know what to say; it's purely a matter of lack of time, being tired in the evening, having other things that I don't want to do but have to do. But enough whining. Let me tell you all what I have been up to.
For one thing, I am all absorbed in and excited about the 2008 presidential election. Oh, yeah, not very original. So is half the planet. The BBC, honest to God, it's almost all they talk about. The Guardian is in hog-heaven.
Although I am supporting Obama, I am almost as happy about Edwards. I would not mind it he won the presidency at all, especially given that Obama is very young and could run and win again. And I am not thrilled that Clinton is having such a rough time. Sure, I would like the US to have a woman leader. But - well, there are so many "but"s with Mrs. Clinton. I wish she would bow out and just start grooming Chelsea for 2016.
I have been following the events in Pakistan. And those in Kenya.
I have just started a boot camp exercise class on Sundays. More on that later.
I was very happy to see the Richey guy finally get out of prison today.
I still have tons of pictures from my November holiday to put online somewhere.
I have been hanging out at Facebook, exploring ScotsCafe and Sagazone, and I went to one "new" meetup - of American ex-pats in Nottingham (maybe more on that later too).

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