January 26, 2015
Kudos to Greek voters, who put the populist Syriza party within spitting distance of an absolute majority. Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, wants up to half of Greek debt to be written off, but he's eschewed (for now) talking about taking Greece out of the Eurozone. A fatal mistake. Probably he doesn't understand the political nature of the Eurozone system or, specifically, that it exists in order to allow the Germans to stamp their bloody boots all over Europe without having to accept any responsibility for the consequences. Debt write offs don't begin to address the on-going European austerity crisis. But, then, who can understand the Eurozone system? It's a non-trivial, vastly complex pathology. To try to be a neutral observer, all I can say is that there ought to be a course somewhere titled "The ontology of European money".
January 2, 2015
My parents each created a trust for their estate. Their purpose was to shelter assets from taxes. I'm pretty sure they had no idea that trusts perform another very helpful function for the trust beneficiary, in this case, me. Unlike a will that goes through probate, where creditors can claim payments from the court, a trust does not go through probate and creditors, if they want to be paid, have a six month window in which to file a claim with the court. At least, that's how it works in DC. I would not have known this except that I have a good lawyer who has instructed me on how to correctly and legally handle my parents' creditors — well, that would be my dad's creditors as my mom didn't have any debt.
Continue reading "Death and Debt"...
December 20, 2014
It was no joke when the U.S. government tried to kill Fidel Castro. Now, thank goodness, we're restoring relations with Cuba, albeit decades later than we should have done. Which makes it all the more poignant that at this very moment Mr. Obama approves making jokes about killing another foreign leader, namely Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Given all the mistrust between America and North Korea, given the history that sheds a not inconsiderably unfavorable light on both sides, and given the concrete need for Washington to diplomatically manage North Korean nuclear capabilities, it makes no sense whatsoever to taunt Kim Jong Un by saying that regarding the Sony hack the U.S. will "respond appropriately in a way and a time of its own choosing."
Continue reading "What's So Funny?"...
December 1, 2014
There were sixteen of us, including Sharon and me. A ninety nine year old Aunt, who stayed in her car. A ninety five year old Aunt, who sat in a folding chair. Cousin Ida Mae, at ninety one, who I'd collected in Fort Wayne and chauffered to Mattoon, who tried unsuccessfully to refuse a folding chair. And an assortment of other cousins, mostly local but including two Professors Emeritus who'd flown in from the west coast. It was bitterly cold with light snow.
I'd put some of each of my parents' ashes in simple but elegant wood urns made by Trappist monks. I welcomed the gathering. Sharon, who's an ordained UCC minister, read from her book. I spoke for a few minutes. Sharon read again. Then we each shoveled in some dirt — the flat black earth of middle America — while Sharon read the ashes to ashes prayer. I think she was using the Methodist book but I really wouldn't know the difference. One of the local cousins, in his mid-seventies, of whom I'm quite fond, had insisted we all say the Lord's Prayer. I'd acquiesed. That ended the service. The whole thing took about fifteen minutes.
It had to be done. I think I did a good job. May they rest in peace.
October 19, 2014
Last Friday, a perfect fall afternoon in the mid sixties with blue skies, I was walking up Connecticut Avenue on my way to Buck's for a cheeseburger. Heading in the opposite direction a motorcade raced toward the center of DC. There were four giant black SUVs with fully opaque secondary windows, a prowl car on point with siren wailing and light bar flashing its red blue tango, all five vehicles being chased by a doo-wop blaring, maniacally weaving ambulance. In the split second that they passed me a manila envelope flew through the air and smacked into the pavement right at my feet. Curious, I had a look. It was an inter-agency routing envelope, the kind with a pattern of peek-a-boo holes and a string you wind around little cardboard disks to close its flap, that, from its stamp collection, had made more rounds than a hooker at the Mayflower. Inside, the first thing I noticed were red capital letters spelling TOP SECRET at the top and the bottom of each of several pages. I glanced dourly at a cover memo — as Samuel Johnson said of a dog's walking on his hind legs, high bureaucratese is never done well but one is surprised to find it done at all — and then my spine froze stiffer than a Smithsonian fossil when it dawned on me that I was holding the translated transcript of a conversation between Abu Muhammad al-Parisi, the French intelligence officer (a bomb expert) who recently defected from DGSE to al Qaida, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State. Naturally, I later burned both the envelope and its contents. To give the public a ring-side seat, however, and in the hopes of furthering some commonsensical discussion of national security policy options, here are, as I have redacted them, the highlights:
Continue reading "Operation Well Water"...
October 15, 2014
My plan is to continue podcasting but it's unlikely, I think, for me to have the necessary time until somewhere in the Spring.
The memorial service for my parents at Westmoreland Church went great. About 60-65 people showed up. One lady flew in from LA. Several came down from NYC. Quite a few from surrounding states. A good mix. All ages. One young lady in her thirties spoke of her friendship with my mom and one of my dad's friends who's ninety five (a doctor) showed up in his wheelchair. Between the live music, poetry readings, personal remembrances, the minister's remarks, the flowers, and refreshment afterward in the church parlor (catered by Balducci's), it was sort of like the parties that my parents used to throw. Everyone enjoyed themselves and I feel like it was a job well done.
Continue reading "Podcast Report"...
I'd put off dealing with a persistent toothache for over a year. Brushing the gum to stimulate blood flow, flossing extra times, swishing with hydrogen peroxide right from the bottle (yuck). It would flare up into considerable discomfort then fade into background noise. There was just too much going on for me to worry about it. But last weekend it started throbbing in agony and wouldn't quit so I knew I had to go to the dentist. Or, actually, I knew I could skip that step and go straight to the endodontist. Probably, I figured, it was a tooth to be pulled and, probably, from how it felt, I thought it was to the back of my mouth. Wrong on both counts. It was tooth number twelve and it needed a root canal. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And Ouch. But thanks God it's done. Now I've got to decide, since tooth number twelve is fairly visible, do I want a gold tooth or a ceramic one? Not knowing any better, probably gold.
August 31, 2014
It's hectic trying to keep everything working. There's the memorial service for my parents — coming up fast — and then there's paying estate taxes on their two trusts (DC, unlike most states and the federal government, has an estate tax that dings the middle class), managing a working farm (the crop will be in soon), managing rental properties, and managing an investment account (which I finally got around to last week). Not to mention getting everything necessary done with the lawyer and the accountant.
On top of all that, which is a full-time job, the BlueHost server for EP is having issues. Despite the fact that I haven't added much to the site for months, every couple of weeks site usage jumps by 1%, which in this case is about 300 MB. Recently it's jumped from 84% usage to 88% usage. BlueHost is unable to explain what's happening. If I do nothing about available space disappearing we'll run out of space in a couple months.
Continue reading "General Housekeeping"...
August 14, 2014
I'm holding a memorial service for both of my parents on Saturday, September 13th at 1:00 p.m., at Westmoreland Church, which is on Westmoreland Circle, at the intersection of Western Ave. and Massachusetts Ave., just over the District line in Bethesda, Maryland. The service — probably slightly less than an hour — will be followed by light refreshment in the Church's parlor.
Although two ministers will be involved this is not going to be an especially religious service; I've arranged for live music (vocals, piano, guitar, flute), a couple of poetry readings and a couple of personal remembrances. It should be pretty nice. All are most welcome.
July 17, 2014
I'd like to be able to tell you I'll be podcasting again in the near future, but I can't. Handling my parents' complicated, untidy estate (two trusts, not everything in the trusts, DC estate taxes, etc., etc.) will take at least through the end of the year, probably longer. I literally can't afford to mess up. Nor do I want to churn out podcasts that don't have a lot of thought behind them. Between the two there's no practical compromise: the podcast has to be put on hold for the time being. Sorry.
June 23, 2014
It's a bit late for them to be taking notice but the Obama administration deserves credit for worrying about bees. Honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a truly critical national problem. From a grass roots perspective one might wish that the administration's recent Presidential Memorandum on pollinators had explicitly mentioned the possibility of creating programs to encourage urban hobbyist beekeepers but I think the wording of the Memorandum gives agencies enough flexibility to consider the option. As it happens, by the way, these days one doesn't need to become an expert on bees in order to have a hive. If you want, private services will install and manage a hive for you. In the DC area, for example, Eco Honeybees will be happy to set you up. Although DC has extremely restrictive regulations regarding urban beekeeping it apparently doesn't enforce them. And despite its ill-informed regulatory environment DC has become something of a national hub for innovative beekeeping. I've had a hive on order from Eco Honeybees for a couple of months and I can't wait for the bees to arrive!
June 18, 2014
Yesterday morning, in the early hours, my dad passed away in his sleep. I went to check on him at 5:00 a.m. and found him gone. He was a great man, a good man, much beloved and highly respected. He'd had a happy and productive life. I believe he'll enjoy whatever the next phase of his journey may bring.
He was born in Galesburg, IL, the son of a bar tender. His mother (she was the smart one, a Warfield, but not of the Baltimore Warfields) left the family when he was about five; his father's mother raised him. He worked as a shoe salesman at JC Penney, was drafted during the war, and served as a cipher clerk with the 449th Bomb Group of the Army Air Corps, stationed at their forward operating base called Grottaglie Field, near Taranto in southern Italy.
Continue reading "RIP George R. Kenney (8/29/23-6/17/14)"...
June 14, 2014
I'm going to have to take more time off, I'm not sure how much, a month at least, probably, maybe two, maybe more. My dad is quite ill and, all things considered, I want to spent what time I can with him while he's still here. Since January he's been to the emergency room more than a dozen times, three times with pneumonia. In other words, for the last six months he's gone to the hospital about every ten days to two weeks for an average stay of two to three days. This is exhausting! During his most recent stay — for pneumonia plus a moderately serious UTI — in light of my concern for his quality of life I asked his doctor whether he would be eligible for home hospice care. It turns out he is and, with his consent (and total approval from his closest friends), I arranged his return home, last Tuesday, into the hospice program. For a couple days he did reasonably well but he's struggling again. He's bounced back many times before so a recovery, however temporary, wouldn't surprise me, nor would his shrugging off this mortal coil. I'm worried sick, I'm doing everything I can think of doing, but what happens, happens.
May 8, 2014
While we're on the subject of food in northwest DC it's worth noting the recent closing of Palena. Former White House executive Sous Chef Frank A. Ruta opened Palena in 2000, in the Cleveland Park neighborhood. The location he chose was iffy on account of parking difficulties, never resolved, and no doubt parking was a large factor in the closing. But Palena's real problem was with Ruta himself. Well known for being admired by his peers, Ruta is a culinary genius. But after a few years he stepped somewhat out of the kitchen to concentrate more on management. His food suffered. He says he belatedly realized what was happening and went back to more full-time kitchen operations but the damage had been done. Lots of his clientele left, too few returned. The money people hammered the restaurant for overdue rent. Quite suddenly, it closed. Sad, especially the photographs of all of Palena's restaurant equipment, furnishings, etc., posted online for a speedy auction...
Continue reading "Palena"...
If you happen to live in upper northwest DC but are too busy to follow all the neighborhood news I have something very, very important to tell you: There's a new bakery, called Bread Furst, just opened, and it's great. There's a backstory, too. The guy who opened it, Mark Furstenberg, is 75 years old, a bread expert who wants one last try to provide DC with quality bread. The bakery opened Tuesday but was mobbed. I went in yesterday afternoon when it was raining (no crowds) and bought a couple sample items. They were outstanding. I'll try to go in early tomorrow morning to get another sampling, this time of their breakfast pastries. Assuming those are outstanding also — as of course they will be — my life will become a little less complicated; instead of semi-regular, weekend morning driving expeditions into northern Virginia or Bethesda, Maryland, for breakfast pastries, I can drive or walk just a few blocks down the street. At last, a worthy neighborhood bakery... Yippee!!!!
April 28, 2014
Over the last year I've adopted a "four months on, two months off" podcasting schedule. This seems to work fairly well although the "two months off" parts all have been taken up with various family medical crises. Which this time I'm hoping things will be quieter! I'm taking off the months of May and June, with the EP podcast to resume the first week of July. I'll continue blogging sporadically. Enjoy the Spring!
April 17, 2014
Over 24 hours down. Wow!
When I set up this website I chose BlueHost as our hosting solution because, at that time, it offered the best balance of services, reliability, and cost. And for years it continued to do so. Indeed, our bandwidth allocation was always more than we needed, BlueHost was almost perfectly reliable, and the cost remained low. But then a few years ago BlueHost founder Matt Heaton sold the company and subsequently it has been sold and resold several times. Currently it's part of the huge ISP conglomerate Endurance International Group, owned by investment bankers Warburg Pincus and GS Capital Partners. Predictably, money that should have gone into infrastructure and IT personnel has, instead, gone into bankers' bonuses. Predictably, service has greatly suffered, with outages becoming both more frequent and more severe. (This latest has its own Wikipedia entry!) It's clear that service is not the bankers' top priority...
Continue reading "BlueHost's Latest Outage"...
April 8, 2014
Just a stray thought, perhaps obvious to some but, evidently, not to any reporters in the mainstream media. For the past couple of weeks I've been seeing an increasing number of accounts of shipments of very high-tech weaponry to the Syrian rebels. Anti-tank rockets, manpads, etc., etc. Since this weekend I've been seeing other accounts of increasing Russian activity vis-à-vis Ukraine. To my mind these two sets of circumstances are clearly related in a typical tit-for-tat sort of way. But I could be wrong...
One other unrelated thought: I've read a lot of commentary about the McCutcheon decision — probably the best being a piece in the New Yorker (which hasn't gotten much play and I wonder if that's because people don't like Jeffrey Toobin) — and it strikes me that for all the nattering outrage nobody is using the word "illegitimate." People accept, as a matter of course, that a bad decision by the Supreme Court of the United States is law, albeit bad law. That's quite remarkable. At what point, for the public at large, does the word "illegitimate" begin to not unreasonably apply to the U.S. government itself, in whole or in part?
April 25, 2014
Americans seem to have lost sight of the meaning of democracy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a democracy is "a government by the people" and especially the "rule of the majority." Most Americans think we have a democracy but we clearly do not have a system of majority rule. What we have is a sort of deformed, failed oligarchy, but apart from naming the right analytic categories what really matters is that people don't talk enough about or think enough about what democracy would do for us if we had it or how we might go about getting it. Indeed, if you want to level the finger of blame for our current system it fairly points at all of us! Here are a few of my thoughts on what's happening. Total runtime eight minutes. Propāgandā fidē.
April 18, 2014
America is the only country in the world with a constitution that forbids democracy. What's most remarkable, however, is not that a cabal of slave-drivers in the eighteenth century would try to impose themselves on future generations but that two hundred years later those future generations would worship their anti-democratic political system on the grounds that it provides "freedom." To be honest, it's a greater political horror — and it had already happened — than even George Orwell could have imagined. If there's a silver lining it may be that although nobody seriously talks about changing the constitution or, better yet, adopting an entirely new, democratic constitution, that's because nobody ever thinks — really thinks — about the possibilities. Eric Black is one of the few journalists who gets what's happening. And I encourage listeners to regularly read his outstanding columns. Total runtime thirty five minutes. Exēgī monumentum aere perennius.
April 11, 2014
Meta-discussions about the U.S. Constitution can be problematic. It seems to me that the rhetorical values we use in talking about the Constitution are almost perfectly contradicted by the rules laid out in the document itself, or rules we have subsequently dreamt up and improperly ascribe to it. Most complicated! But meta-discussions, I think, always deserve the benefit of the doubt. Besides, how else would we analyze the Constitution as a quasi-religious text? But that would take us past the limits of this show. Here, I talk with gifted rhetorician and constitutional law scholar Robert L. Tsai, author most recently of America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (Harvard University Press, just published this Monday). Thanks, Robert, for your historical insight! Total runtime forty four minutes. Cōnsēnsus facit lēgem.
April 4, 2014
The scholar activist travels a rough, winding road — or sometimes no road at all, blazing ways into the unknown. I find great inspiration in the work of Dr. Staughton Lynd — in, for example, his book Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 2009, the second edition with a new, brilliant forward by Robin Einhorn) and in all his selfless work on behalf of the dispossessed and powerless. Yet I face a paradox: I want more because I believe in more, despite my profound ignorance regarding whether more can be achieved. Here, we talk about society and social change. Thanks, Staughton! Total runtime forty two minutes. At spēs nōn frācta.
March 28, 2014
Realists have insufficient say in this administration's foreign policy. Take, for example, Crimea. It's of no intrinsic importance to the United States, our full-throated protests smack of hypocrisy, and we're in the process of giving up a great many substantive benefits from a working relationship with Russia for... what? Nostalgia for frontier justice? In fact, Washington is putting on a very scary display of delusional behavior... Even worse, those delusions are widely shared: swept along by groupthink and propaganda most Americans can't assess the Crimean crisis objectively. Thus it was refreshing — indeed, congenial — to talk with Dr. John Tirman, who puts foreign policy problems in a human perspective. But there's no silver lining. We will just have to cope with the less than peaceful consequences of our poor political judgment. Total runtime forty three minutes. Grātis anhēlāns, multa agendō nihil agēns.
March 21, 2014
Money, it seems, has invaded our lives down to the molecular level. Which begs the question: do we control money or does it control us? How much of a paradigm shift is necessary if we are, indeed, to reassert control? Dr. Costas Lapavitsas, using a sophisticated Marxist approach and meticulous empirical analysis, offers some answers in Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (Verso, 2014). He's extremely well informed, working the cutting edge of money theory. Thanks, Costas! Total runtime thirty seven minutes. (Blame me for iffy audio — this is why mostly I avoid cell phones.) Volentī nōn fit iniūria.
March 14, 2014
If you think about it, money is a public good, albeit of a somewhat unique sort. By nature benign, when it falls under the control of a tiny minority to be used mainly for their own benefit it becomes toxic. Our recurring and increasingly severe financial crises, then, are only superficially about money: in fact, we're having a deep, epochal crisis of democracy. To talk about all of this I turned to the brilliant documentary filmmaker (formerly of the BBC) and blogger, David Malone. Another real revolutionary, in the best sense. Total runtime fifty five minutes. Alia tentanda via est.
March 7, 2014
Debt slavery: just a scary metaphor, or something real that's gradually capturing us? Can a political system so highly leveraged through personal debt really function? What's the long term narrative arc here? To talk about debt and what kinds of things people might do — and are doing — to refuse payment on unfair debt I turned to Dr. Andrew Ross, author most recently of Creditocracy (OR Books, 2014). These are broadly cross-cutting, critical issues. Andrew's one of the good guys. Total runtime forty four minutes. Male parta, male dīlābuntur.
February 28, 2014
Belief is not really an option. You're going to believe there's some higher power, some greater spiritual meaning to existence, some kind of being in transcendence, or you're going to believe there's not. (Agnostics believe that a person is able to not believe, which is slightly embarrassing.) Whichever path you take, however, you won't be able to prove how reality works. The difference is that having Faith with a capital "F" moves mountains. Unfortunately for us, people often have Faith in extremely harmful inspirations... So here's a short, impressionist meditation on the need for a new, modern Faith — or at least a Faith in Faith — among those preponderantly attached to a liberal, humanistic philosophy. Total runtime eight minutes. Rēligiō locī.
February 24, 2014
One feels frighteningly disoriented, hearing an American president support deadly mob violence for what is, essentially, counter-revolutionary change (in the form of IMF austerity). The president's message may be directed at unknown people far away but the effects are certain to be felt here, possibly for generations, as the bindings of what relative peace we have come undone. I was extremely fortunate to be able to talk with Dr. Stephen F. Cohen about the crisis in Ukraine. He's in a tiny minority willing to discuss what's really happening. This is an unscheduled podcast on breaking news. [Audio file reposted at The Nation, here.] Total runtime forty eight minutes. Vae victīs.
February 21, 2014
It's difficult to say which is more astonishing: that it's possible to cure a fatal illness by opening energy gates with mental concentration, or that mainstream medical science has so blinkered itself that it refuses to examine the data. But data there is, in abundance, from an academic who in every other way is entirely reputable. Dr. William F. Bengston, author of The Energy Cure, has been doing anomalous scientific research for decades and has produced revolutionary, consistently replicable results. He's also very honest in saying that he can't explain why his methods work. It's something of a mystery, and a challenge. Thanks, Bill! Total runtime forty minutes. Dulce est dēsipere in locō.
February 14, 2014
Ukraine is split culturally and politically between East and West, but not in such a way that either side clearly could dominate the other. Forcing choices on Ukraine (as the EU and the U.S. sporadically seem to want to do) only exacerbates the tension. But given recent events, tensions breaking out into a civil war is not at all unthinkable. To me this is vaguely reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding the former Yugoslavia before its unhappy dismemberment. To talk about Ukraine I turned to Dr. Nicolai Petro, currently on a Fulbright grant in Odessa. Thanks, Nicolai, for your professional judgment! Total runtime fifty one minutes. Vōx clāmantis in dēserto.