Monday, December 29, 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers

There are times when brave souls, in order to remain perfectly sane, must break certain laws so that our conscience does not fall victim to delusion. Kathy Kelly: truth to power.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cuba and Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz: Imagination over Suffering

Back in 2010, I had the pleasure of using Chicago’s public transit system, taking the train from O’Hare Airport into the city of Chicago.  As I was getting my ticket, the fellow next to me who was doing the same caught my eye.  It was that moment when you recognize someone and try to remember their name so that you can say hello but suddenly you realize that you don’t know them; rather, they are famous and that is why you recognize them.

It was Tony Plana, the wonderful actor of Ugly Betty, Three Amigos and JFK fame.

We walked together to the train and stepped in, taking seats across from each other.  He began to chat and I joined him as we discussed the simple pleasure of riding community style, meeting people and reducing our carbon footprints a wee bit.  We each asked the other why we were in town: I for a trade show and he for a play that he was “working” in.  The play, The Sins of Sor Juana, was running at the Goodman Theater and Mr. Plana was playing the lead male role. 

The play offers a dramatization of the heroic life of the historical figure Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz during the 17th century of New Spain (Mexico).  De la Cruz became an important poet of Latin America’s early Golden Age of writing.  Octavia Paz has written that he believes Sor Juana to be the most important poet of the Americas in the period before the emergence of Whitman and Dickenson. 

Sor Juana was an autodidact, a fiercely independent artist and intellectual living in a time when a woman’s role in society was found in the shadows of patriarchy and subjugation.  Before her endeavors of self-study, she had attempted to enter university disguised as a man so that she could undertake formal learning.  Through her lyric poetry and other writings, she pressed for a woman’s equal right to education, the arts and intellectual pursuits.  She died in a convent, as a nun, having written less about religion and more about the possibilities of human imagination and freedom.  Mr. Plana was full of enthusiasm for her story and being able to play a part in the retelling of it.

Here is what I learned about Tony Plana: he is a hell of a nice guy.  Missing from our encounter was any sense that he was a show business person, save the extremely white and perfectly aligned teeth that featured prominently in his big smile.  I gather that this is a requirement for folks who make their living in front of a camera or a live audience, day after day.  He seemed a humble, working guy.  He expressed his gratitude for being able work at what he loves while getting paid for it.  He was frank about making a “good living, not great” and that being good enough.  And here we were, taking public transportation.

He shared with me that he was born in Havana, Cuba, and that his family was one of those who left for Miami in 1960, the year following the revolution and the overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista when Tony was eight years old.  He still had extended family in Cuba.

 I asked him what he thought of the 50-year-old US embargo.  He flatly stated that he believed it was wrong, that it brought suffering to the people of Cuba and that ending it could only improve things and allow the Cuban people to have better lives and normal relations with Americans.  I offered my agreement and also pointed out that many of his fellow Cuban-Americans in Miami held very strong views in opposition to his own.

“I know. I understand, but they’re just wrong; we can’t go on this way.  People have suffered long enough and the two countries, the people, have a lot in common.  Emotions run deep.  We could do so much….”

His voice took on a tinge of melancholy.  He went on to tell me that he believes the central facts of the embargo are about people, but that politics had eclipsed it all.

I had another question.

“So, you think it will happen in our lifetimes?”

 “Yes, it has to happen.  This makes no sense and people are needlessly suffering.”

Near the end of our ride, we talked about the play. Tony offered me tickets.  I was honest and direct, expressing my gratitude and telling him I wouldn’t be able to make it due to my work schedule, but that I would love to see it.  And I’d read up on Sor Juana, too.  I told him that some of his characters, like one he played in JFK actually scared me.  We had a good laugh.

When all of the corporate media talking heads and axe-grinders finish with the rabble, demonization, accusations and recriminations, we will stand at a moment in history when, perhaps, the imagination that Sor Juana wrote of eclipses an entrenched way of thinking that has caused unnecessary suffering. At this moment, the embargo has not been lifted and it is not clear when it will be.

We can hope that this is a moment, when common people, not politicians, will be able to reach out to each other and share their diverse human experience.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Fall

The 1,600 page omnibus bill just passed by the US House of Representatives contains a deregulation provision (in a spending bill!) that removes the "push out" rule instituted in Section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Act.  Specifically, this regulation requires banks and financial institutions covered by the FDIC (you and me) to push any derivative-based trading in the form of credit default swaps and specifically those based in securities, out to affiliate businesses not underwritten by taxpayers via the FDIC. 

Both The New York Times and Mother Jones had previously uncovered that the new retrograde bill's language was written by Citigroup lobbyists. 

This very risk-increasing bill, which reintroduces systemic risk to the financial system - risk that will be underwritten again by taxpayers - had died in the Senate as a stand-alone measure. A few Democrats and many Republicans sponsored it and helped push it through the House as part of this $1.013 trillion omnibus spending bill. Plutocracy, plain and simple. 

In addition, the bill includes a rider - one which evaded public debate - that astronomically increases the upper limit for individual donors to political party committees by eightfold.  For national elections in the US, both major parties have three campaign committees to which individuals can contribute $32,400 per, totaling $97,200 for a party.  The stealthily injected rider increases the $97,200 limit to $777,600, 14 times the US median income for individuals, or 17.3 times the National Average Wage Index.     

Adding insult to injury, the rider was literally snuck in at the end and placed on page 1599 of the 1603 page bill.  It is difficult to not be alarmist and to escape what might otherwise seem hyperbole: the Republic as we know it, has fallen.  It seems clear at this point in history that this fall can only be remedied by popular uprising and the replacement of the two-party system that maintains a vice grip on the common citizens of the United States.  What is not clear at all is how this can or will happen.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The 2014 Woodstock Jazz Festival: Nuh cry

This year’s renewed Woodstock Jazz festival was notable for both its modesty and the extraordinary level of talent assembled for its rebirth.  The single venue was the Bearsville Theatre on Tinker Street and the assemblage of artists represented music’s finest present-day composers and musicians.

Festival founders Ben Perowsky and Liz Penta wasted no time kicking off the evening, but did offer a glimpse of the past by noting that avant-garde composers Karl Berger and Ornette Coleman had made a prior attempt at an annual event in 1981.  That festival turned out a legendary recording featuring among others, Jack DeJohnette, Lee Konitz, Chick Correa and Pat Metheny, but was not reassembled.  The excitement and anticipation of this evening was palpable.

First to perform was classical-jazz pianist, Uri Caine who moved through a wide-ranging performance that included interpretations of Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight.  Caine’s playing was impassioned, technically complex and at times, simply astonishing as he rapidly exchanged chord structures and time signatures with apparent ease.

Following Caine, was the ensemble of saxophonist Chris Speed with Ben Perowsky getting behind the drum kit to bring his substantial chops to a straight instrumental Jazz set that included a number of intricate sax solos from Speed, interlaced with some great counterpoint from the keyboardist John Medeski.  Perowsky’s playing was certainly a highlight of the evening and another example of the supreme caliber of musical talent in our own Hudson Valley.

The third and final set came from a quartet with early Fusion innovators Jack DeJohnette (percussion) and John Scofield (guitar) along with John Medeski on organ and piano and Larry Grenadier on double bass.  For this writer at least, this was some of the finest playing and musical interpretation ever witnessed.  To say this group was “tight” would not convey the intricate weave of sonic interplay and rhythmic framing that delivered a sense of awe as the quartet worked through interpretations of Miles Davis, Coltrane and Scofield-DeJohnette material while moving seamlessly between blues, jazz and post fusion arrangements.  Jack DeJohnette’s understated style was at its peak with his syncopated left hand pauses and his special cymbal artistry.  The master of the rhythm section was energetic and generous in his support of the other players, like Medeski, a lesser known but brilliant composer and musician in his own right.  Medeski, in particular, was able to show his mastery of multiple styles and his wonderfully playful engagement in countermelody in a way that provoked repeated applause from the audience and seemed to excite and motivate the other players.

In an unexpected moment at the end of the night, the band returned to the stage for an encore.  Before they took their places, “Sco” announced that this number would feature a vocalist.  That vocalist was Jack DeJohnette and the group broke out into a soulful rendition of Bob Marley’s “No women, no cry.”  DeJohnette’s voice and rhythmic phrasing carried the song in a way that emphasized both melancholy and optimism, something that is clearly missing in these times.  It is possible that some listeners of this great ballad may miss the song’s essential message, or be confused by its apparent vagueness.  The phonetic understanding of the term is “no woman / nuh cry” where “nuh” in Jamaican patois is equivalent to “don’t” as in “woman, don’t cry.”  Marley had written the song with a friend from his memory of the desperate poverty in the Trenchtown ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica.  But then "Everything is gonna be alright."

For this listener, I couldn’t help but hear both sides of the human equation in Jack DeJohnette’s singing: there is pain and there is sorrow, but there is hope too.

Bravo.  Let's hope the festival returns next year.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Post Modern World is Surreal

The death toll in Gaza has now reached at least 1,800 people, mostly civilians.  Despite the “pause” in fighting just announced by the Israeli government, the Israeli Military went ahead and bombed the entrance to what is now the seventh UN relief center, killing nine children and one adult.

With regard to the breaking of the ceasefire, blamed on Hamas by the US and Israel using dubious reports, the Israeli’s now admit that Lt. Hadar Goldin was not kidnapped at all, but rather had died during an Israeli attack on Rafah.  Tweets from the Qassam Brigade, early on the morning of July 30th describe the location and circumstances of the battle and note that Israeli soldiers were killed during the attack.  Israel also admits their troops had moved two kilometers into Rafah just before the ceasefire announcement and some reports from on the ground, indicate they were 2.5 kilometers inside of Rafah.  The tweets from the Qassam brigade came at 7:30AM.  This was, of course, before the ceasefire was in place.

The US President, literally going off half-cocked, revealed the deep American bias by rushing to the press with a condemnation of the kidnapping that didn’t happen as “barbaric,” but has done nothing to condemn the slaughter of civilians in UN-protected safe zones and relief centers, until being forced to after the latest attack and pleadings from the UN.  The UN Relief Agency (UNRA) reports it had given Israeli authorities its specific Geo coordinates before the invasion began and more than 30 times afterward and have pleaded with them to stop shelling the UN centers.

The New York Times has admitted that they have been running their stories by the Israeli Military Censor prior to publication.  Their Israel bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, is seen and heard later in this otherwise charming video produced by her husband Gary Rudoren for his parents 60th wedding anniversary, meeting in a luxury hotel with Abraham Foxman, leader of the Anti-Defamation League and referring to him affectionately as her “personal defamation protector.” Gary Rudoren, before entering the room where his wife and Foxman were meeting indicates, “This is where she is working.”  The meeting is not listed in her official meeting itinerary.  Mrs. Rudoren has defended the censorship practice with preposterous syllogistic logic, using foreigners' obedience to local traffic ordinances as an analogy.

BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen, the most experienced BBC reporter in the region, was withdrawn by the BBC after reporting that he had seen no evidence of Hamas using civilians as human shields.  This was apparently too much of an offense to the status quo narrative.  His last Tweet on July 22nd shows his exasperation with the civilian death toll.

The circumstances of this conflict appear to be meeting the requirements for Genocide under international law, as have certain statements by members of the Netanyahu government and in the Israeli Knesset.

In the latest attack on a UN Relief Center, aerial bombardment that it is  now inconceivable to consider an accident, 10 people were killed.  UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon has called the attack a “criminal act.”  Christopher Gunnes, head of UNRA, from on the ground, has categorically stated that there was no evidence of Hamas members being in or near the UN school.  The White House, now under enormous pressure from the UN, was forced to call the attack “disgraceful.”  Gunnes also notes that many of the civilians killed by bombing had already left their homes at the urging of the Israeli Military, being led to believe that they would be safer, only to then be bombed and killed in what has now become a general slaughter zone.  Eleven of Gunnes’s UNRA colleagues have also been killed.

Award-winning Palestinian journalist Mohamed Omer, whose family is from Rafah, speaking on Democracy Now!, describes the utter desperation of the citizens there and the fact that the International Red Cross is not returning phone calls from Rafah residents.  He further reports that aid agencies have not been able to enter Gaza and that ambulances in Rafah are not able to move within the city to retrieve the wounded and seek safe haven as they desperately try to find places to bury their dead before the next bombs fall.  The Israelis, in a cynical move, announced a seven-hour pause in bombing, but excluded Rafah.

Meanwhile in Cairo, the democratically elected members of the Palestinian delegation are meeting with Egyptian officials seeking an agreement for a ceasefire.  The Israelis have refused to participate.  It appears as though they believe, based on past experience, (recall the illegal invasion of Gaza in 2008), that they can get away with murder once again.

We have moved into an Orwellian state of affairs, where double standards of law and humanity have become the established norm with the complicity of major media organizations and the United States Government.  The purpose of this seems clear: to prevent a crisis of conscience in decent and honorable people, who would otherwise scream with outrage at the hidden reality that sits before us in broad daylight.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sorting through the Refuse of Destruction

--> So where can the truth be found in corporate media with regard to the current catastrophe in Gaza?
Well, we have to go to the Irish Times to find a closer approximation to the truth in mainstream press, although even this article is missing key facts, like the time of day of the IDF attack on Rafah, before the most recent and aborted ceasefire and the death of Lt. Hadar Goldin in that same attack.

The reported post-ceasefire kidnapping of Goldin that didn't actually happen was the pretext for resuming the one-sided war on the part of Israel.  President Obama, on dubious reporting from Israel, went on to describe the event that never happened as "a barbaric act," but hasn't used any words close to that to describe the bombing of UN Relief Centers, Hospitals and UN-run schools where hundreds of women and children have been killed as a direct result of aerial bombardment by the Israeli Air force.   

Has the New York Times reported the circumstances of the ceasefire breakage?  Unsurprisingly, the answer is No.

In fact, as we now know, the Times' August 1st article regarding the events around the ending of the ceasefire was false and that the Times updated its story after the fact, when it became clear there were inconsistencies in the initial reports, which had been vetted with the Israeli military’s censor.  Yes the Times has admitted to complying with the censor.

Response to the updated report came from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has been critical of the NYT practice of its correspondents complying with Israeli Military Censors and has asked the Times to come clean on its use of this practice in the past.  As Commondreams points out, the Times has been questioned on this and apparently, its bureau chief in Israel, Jodi Rudoren, has admitted that the Times has complied with gag orders imposed by the Israeli government on its own journalists.  See a report on this by media critic Greg Mitchell here, complements of  The Times proceeded to defend the practice with the absurd analogy of observing traffic laws in foreign countries.

It is my view that Netanyahu, based on all of his pre-election public rhetoric, has not changed his view that there can never be a Palestinian state anywhere within Eretz Israel.  He has chosen to violate the the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg Principles to carry out his extermination of Hamas, but also of any Palestinians proximate to them. He has not recognized the democratic election in Gaza and instead has punished the innocents of Gaza for practicing their democratic rights under international law.  In a sick irony that defies words, he has chosen the final solution and the US is party to it.  With billions in annual US military and foreign aid support in place and past military loans to Israel being converted to grants, the US Congress saw fit to approve a pre-recess $225M bill for expansion of the Israel "Iron Dome" system. While leaving important domestic legislation stalled, Congress has shown its willful denial of the catastrophe at hand.  In an even sicker irony that would leave one laughing were the present savagery not so acute, MIT scientist Dr. Theodore Postal has rigorously demonstrated that the Iron Dome system actually does not work as described and its effectiveness is approximately from 0 to less that 5%, with the best measurements yielding a figure closer to zero.

What people are actually seeing on repeated television loops showing aerial explosions are the Iron Dome munitions exploding alone in the sky in what amounts to a $205M, US-funded fireworks exhibition.  This is physics, not politics and here, our anti-science right wing of Congress cannot be made the easy target for Liberals, since the pre-recess vote was 395 – 8. The plank in the eye is much too large.

The truth is buried deep in our information-rich society, but the larger system of obfuscation is stronger than ever.  One can only hope that the human conscience and natural curiosity can overcome the distortions that aid and abet our preexisting biases.

George Orwell has been with me as I dig through the mire of distortion to get to the bottom of things during this horrendous humanitarian catastrophe and I must quote him hear for some edification.  Political language, he wrote " designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Carthago delenda est

I had a dream. The Israeli Prime Minister was lecturing his cabinet on the lessons of the Punic Wars. He quoted the Roman orator and senator Cato from the period preceding the Third Punic War, "Carthago delenda est" (Carthage must be destroyed).  He then closed the meeting.

In dreamland his appearance began to change with laurel appearing on his head, fine leather sandals on his feet and then a tunic over braccae to complete the transformation.

The delusional projection of history was complete in his mind. "Gaza delenda est."

Then I awoke.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Realpolitik and Moral Inversion

In mystical moments, while struggling with disturbing questions of desperate humanity in the face of Realpolitik, I find myself talking to Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, two writers who understood the underbelly of insidious power all too well. 
These casualty numbers are coming from Palestinian aid workers and relief agency reports, but a review will be done in the end to corroborate and finalize estimates.
Israel is violating the Fourth Geneva Convention among others and is also violating the International Weapons Convention.

Today's New York Times story on the kidnapping of an IDF soldier at Rafa as a pretext for ending a just-announced ceasefire, per usual, obscures important facts and questions.  What is an IDF soldier doing at the border of Egypt and Gaza; a place not accessible from Israel?  What is Egypt's role?  What about the timing of the announcement?  The Israelis had recently bombed the Rafa area, killing hundreds of civilians with DIME munitions, horrific weaponry that Doctors without Borders has indicated leave untreatable wounds and cause severing of torsos and limbs. The Tungsten alloy compounds contained in these munitions have been studied by the US Armed Services scientists and found to cause neoplastic transformations (carcinomas) in human tissue.  Documented evidence by Human Rights Watch and other organizations has already shown the IDF using White Phosphorous in offensive weapons in the 2008 invasion of Gaza.  White Phosphorous is a chemical allotrope whose use in offensive weapons is proscribed under The Laws of War.

UNICEF has claimed that Israel is intentionally targeting children, since all GEO coordinates for safe, internationally recognized refugee centers and temporary hospitals have been published for the IDF at least 17 times during the conflict.  If UNICEF is correct, then Netanyahu and his colleagues are in the same category as Slobodan Milosevic.  Under normal democratic governing and international law that would mean they would be put on trial at the Hague.  Ironically, the legal principles written into the international law come directly from the Nuremberg Principles, which themselves were taken from the Nuremberg Trial of Nazi war criminals after WWII. The moral inversion created by successive Likud governments defies description even by the most skilled ironist.  On the other hand, history shows that the prosecution of war crimes is only undertaken by the victors against the vanquished.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Documented Truth on Who Started the Most Recent One-Sided War in Gaza

The Israeli military think tank Meir Amit Intelligence and Terror Information Center, which is regularly (but not this time) cited by the Israeli government to report data on rocket attacks, shows that Israel began its invasion of Gaza nearly a month before Hamas started firing rockets in self defense.  Bob Schieffer and the other "journalists" in US mainstream media have their propagandized heads so far up each others asses that they can't even spend a few minutes of basic research to get their facts straight.  Unless of course, they are simply acting as shills for their corporate networks.

From the ITIC Report:
"Between July 2 and July 7, 2014, approximately 230 rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory, as well as dozens of mortar shell hits. Most of the rocket fire targeted the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip, as well as the city of Sderot, which had been singled out as focal target in the current stage of the escalation. Some of the rockets targeted the regions of Ofakim and Netivot. One rocket was fired at Beersheba, Israel's largest southern city, on July 5, 2014, the first time it had been attacked since Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012). The Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted many of the rockets. Several civilians suffered minor injures and damage to property was reported.

For the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas participated in and claimed responsibility for rocket fire. Other terrorist organizations claiming responsibility were the DFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and others."

The IDF had started military operations in Gaza on June 12th.

More discussion of this can be found at:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What Nieztche May Have Been Wrestling With Without Knowing it

This is very, very interesting.  A pessimistic view would suggest that the underlying neurological settings which are in place have us doomed.  An optimist might think that enough scientific awareness could be disseminated to enlighten people and bring about some evolution in consciousness.  I am not weighing in, because I need to think about it more....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thomas Friedman and The March of Folly

Thomas Friedman is a fraud and a crank and an example of the kind of intelligentsia that was able to capture the minds of vast swaths of the German population in the 1930's.  He is as insidious as Walter Lippmann was, but less intelligent and not as skilled as Lippmann in effecting the enactment of policies in Washington.  Despite these limitations Friedman is falsely viewed as a Progressive under the aegis of his protective shield, the New York Times, a paper that itself wears the false moniker of Liberalism. While he has been wrong about the Middle East so many times, he continues to write about it and curry favor in a world of digital-age amnesiacs.

I have read his columns for years and have found him to be unstudied, sloppy, irrational and ambitious all at once.  He is the kind of writer who has been able to earn policy credentials where none are deserved.  This has been demonstrated to anyone who has a memory of his various predictions, which have sold many books with their jingoistic novelties, but have been used to support the proven folly of neoconservative war policies.  He is never held to account as evidenced by his prominent position with the NYT and network television and the publisher-driven schedule of his Charlie Rose Show appearances, which have, no doubt, driven the sale of his books.

He has been wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan on counts too numerous to catalog here and importantly, he has never been held to account with the ranks of corporate mainstream media an unsurprising, but troubling fact.  He has been wrong about Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt but has made statements clearly intended to influence US policy and public attitudes.  Despite being proven categorically wrong - his predictions regarding Iranian elections, nuclear negotiations; his assessments of the Maliki government in Iraq, his early cheerleading for the initial US invasion - his simplistic and colorful axioms continue to capture attention.  In the sound byte media world his species is most adapted to survive. 

His cartoonist characterizations of Asia Pacific dynamics and multilateral efforts to influence North Korea could have come directly from John Bolton after a few cocktails.  Only the US and its power can be used to move the world in the right direction and those who fail to see this are simply naive, particularly anti-war activists, whom he treats with particular scorn, even after their opposition to illegal wars has been vindicated.  The Friedman foreign policy view often can be reduced to a principle which holds that multilateral peacemaking amongst democratic nations has no legitimacy unless the US is the leader with its physical dominance and the threat of force at the fore and other allied participants simply acting as followers. 

The feelings from the thinking Left with regard to Mr. Friedman are now mutual. has written well on this subject and here, in my modest way, I am simply piling on.  But pile on we must.  With Friedman’s most recent columns on Syria and their sweeping and sloppy generalizations in the interest of more, not less US militarism, I am upgrading my view from criticism and scorn to utter contempt.  His appearances on Charlie Rose, well scripted to create the softer edges of what is, at its core, Hobbesian Neoconservatism and American Exceptionalist thinking, cannot obscure this most reckless sort of punditry and dangerous folly. 

When the book of this era is written Friedman will have earned himself a place for history that I liken to those identified by the historian Barbara Tuchman in her work The March of Folly, which notes the influence of public elites beating the drums of war from far behind the lines. We can hope that the growth of independent journalism will eventually bring the downfall of this errant dilettante.

Perhaps George Orwell took the best aim at Friedman’s ilk in Homage to Catalonia:  “One of the most horrible features of war is that all of the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Math is Important

I can recall from my high school days this repeated question, proffered by yours truly and many of my peers: “Why is math so important anyway?  What am I going to use Algebra and Trig for if I am not going into Engineering?”

The answer usually came packaged in a readied quip that informed us we would need the math to get a job after we graduated from school.  Through a lifetime of continuing education, I have come to a much more profound and urgent answer to this question: we need math skill in order to survive individually and collectively as a species and to maintain a functioning and meaningful democracy. 

This reasoning can be applied to all areas of society but there are certain of them that warrant critical and urgent attention.

These are the current, central facts of American foreign policy; not opinion, not a slant, not a partisan critique, just bare reality:

Radical Insurgents have just overrun the city of Tikrit and are headed toward Baghdad.
701 civilians have been killed in Iraq this month.
To date, approximately 188,000 people have died violent deaths in the Iraq war, with an estimated 134,000 innocent civilian deaths.
The Iraq war has cost US taxpayers more than...please pause and think about this...two Trillion dollars in direct cost.  This does not include interest on the war debt, which is calculated to add another four trillion dollars over the next four decades.

Significantly, this does not include the cost of the Afghanistan war, which the Brown University Study Group on War Costs estimates to be between $3.2 - $4 Trillion in direct cost, with civilian deaths estimated at 21,000 and total violent deaths at 225,000.  Here is the numeric value of the direct cost of our two recent wars, without interest: $6,000,000,000,000.  Put another way that is one billion taken six thousand times, or six times ten to the power of twelve. 

For last year, the total annual budget for the Food Stamp program (SNAP) was $74.6 billion, this during an historic period of record unemployment.  That is 1.2% of the direct cost of the two wars, without their required interest payments.  The program, which 47 million Americans rely on, was just cut by Congress.

Halliburton has been awarded $39.5 billion in Iraq war and "post-war" contracts.

Other companies, such as Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics. Raytheon, United Technologies, BAE, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have earned hundreds of billions of dollars in war profiteering.  The top three US Defense contractors' revenues represents 1% of the entire US $10 Trillion GPD and each are listed on the Fortune Most Admired Companies list.  Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Boeing are the largest arms producers in the world.  The term “war profiteering” can and should be understood grammatically and empirically as non-political as well as political since making private profit on war is, in fact, profiteering.  This language needs to move into the mainstream narrative by virtue of its objective, factual nature.

Regarding the largely ignored moral calculus, Richard Clarke, Chairman of the Counter Terrorism Security Group under President G.W. Bush has stated his view that President Bush and others are guilty of war crimes.

One of my favorite books, one that should be required reading in all high schools and continuing education programs is Innumeracy, by John Allen Poulos, Professor of Mathematics at Temple University.  Poulos explicates the problem of the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy in our society and our great difficulty with grasping numbers and absolute value at grand scale.  We seem to literally lose the ability to count and to assess proportion and therefore meaning and value at great orders of magnitude.  I think in some ways, this has made it easier for us to be hoodwinked into accepting the media narrative on wars, war debt, casualties, global warming and rates of change relative to time with a shrug of the shoulders and a "let's just move on" attitude.  We can't just move on: we need to stop and critically assess what has happened, understand it and respond. 

The cartoonish presentation of anti-war activists as a "Leftist" or "radical" is part of the media narrative.  This has to be challenged, as does US Defense policy, on rational and empirical grounds.  We are cutting food stamps and support programs for the poor.  Elites are negotiating major trade agreements in secret, without Congressional or citizen involvement.  We have the highest prison population on earth.  We have made access to higher education (where we can learn how to think analytically and critically) more difficult with skyrocketing costs and crushing student debt.  US college tuition and fees have increased 1,120% since 1978, while other successful modern democracies offer free, higher education.  These disparities are themselves radical but are not portrayed as such in popular media.

The Defense sector has contributed nearly $11,000,000 in PAC contributions in the 2014 election cycle alone.  This is split at roughly 60% to the GOP and 40% to Democrats and does not include millions in direct political contributions to individual campaigns.

Corporations are people.

We are committing passive suicide.  It’s in the numbers. 

I dedicate this post to my high school math tutor, Michael Ferris.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Life, Newton and Clam Sauce

Today June 7th, 2014 is a Saturday and it is my fifty sixth birthday.  My wife and children were generous and gave me space to plan my own day with whatever I wanted to do, save being on time for a dinner reservation for Kathy and me at our favorite restaurant.  Not a bad deal.

I planned to take a 45-mile ride on my bicycle through the nearby Shawangunk Mountains and do some hard elevation riding.  It is my view that there are fewer places on earth more beautiful and well suited for cycling and I enjoyed every instant of it.  When I am on the bike and “in the cockpit” I feel like I am 25-years-oId and am always ready to embrace this sensory math with gusto.

Before the ride, we had some unexpected company, people I love and was glad to see, so I stayed for a visit.  I got a late start and was concerned about our dinner reservation, but set off on my venture.  The solo ride went well despite the extra poundage I carry, winter pounds that seem more difficult to lose with each new spring.

 As I climbed above the famous Hairpin Turn near New Paltz, New York I was trying to calculate the additional force/energy required to carry my weight and how much faster I would be if I lost the extra pounds.  This is a form of self-inflicted mental punishment for aging athletes while we suck air into our lungs in order to keep peddling without stopping.  It seems to work.

My wife, being the great planner she is moved the reservation out just in case, so when I got home I was able to shower and quickly dress and we were on our way.

Il Cenàcolo in the town of Newburgh, New York is one of those rare restaurants that people, common and famous, will travel many miles to in order to enjoy the exquisite food and wonderful dining experience it consistently offers.  Tonight I decided to break from my vegan diet and splurge, ordering spaghetti and clams in white clam sauce, along with an organic salad.  Not a special and nothing fancy, but something I seemed to be craving.  Such a meal can be messy, so I delicately tucked the corner of my linen napkin into the front of my lime green, button-down Polo shirt.  This is my version of thinking ahead.

The meal was splendid and Kathy and I got to relax and enjoy the food and each other’s company.  Not a drop of clam sauce got on my shirt and after spooning some of the remaining sauce into my mouth I removed the napkin.

Kathy continued on slowly with her meal and then decided she’d had enough, but invited me to try her Rigatoni Manzo. The Manzo is a house special with a delicious Bolognese sauce.  Reaching across, I lifted two rigatoni with a generous lump of sauce above her plate. My hand and the Manzo then began the short lateral journey to my plate. 

Most accidents and sports injuries happen during the deceleration phase of motion.  This is a fact I am acutely aware of.  However, there are sensual moments when our instinctive awareness of Newtonian physics leaves us and desire becomes the overwhelming force.  This is life, isn’t it?

In a cinematic moment that seemed to last forever, I was able to sit back as an observer and watch the two pieces of manzo-laden rigatoni make their vertical descent from my overloaded fork toward the placid pond of clam sauce resting in my concave dinner plate.  It was the special moment when time slows down and one can realize they are about to experience a sensational event.

I think the great Ernie Kovacs could have planned this sequence for everyone in the restaurant to see.  I would like to say that in the brief moments of gravity observation I thought about an estimated mass-times-acceleration equaling a certain force and then the likely dispersal pattern of the delicious liquid medium that awaited this pending collision, but no such exercise occurred.

What I was able to muster was this.

“Oh shit!”

The clam sauce received the rigatoni in a way that would not disappoint the most avid calamity watcher.  The splatter pattern was amazingly even as predicted by transient ballistic flow in Fluid Mechanics.  My lime green shirt became the primary recipient of the droplet array, starting at the collar and working its way down, proportionately, to the middle of my shirt and both sleeves.

Looking up from the moistened and now fragrant shirt, my gaze passed over the useless napkin, lying in a lump next to the plate, then at eye level to other dinner guests in front of us and then to each side as they politely dropped their own gazes in what seemed tender acts of mercy.

“You better use your napkin and put some sparkling water on that right away.”

“You’re right.”

Normally one uses this instant cleaning method in a discrete way, when there are one or more spots to attend to.  I began, furiously dipping the corner of my napkin into the Italian sparkling water and dabbing it onto the numerous spots on my shirt as Kathy directed me to additional locations that I couldn’t see for what seemed like five minutes.  At the moment we determined that I was done, my pressed shirt, rather than having spots of clam sauce all over it was now completely drenched with over-priced San Pellegrino.  It looked as though I had just come in out of the rain.

Looking up again I could now see everyone in the restaurant watching on in apparent horror at my petty act of barbarism.  Truthfully, I shared their revulsion…. for a moment.

With dessert yet to be ordered, but my tableside laundry finished, destiny left only one more thing to do.  Thank God for spontaneity.

On the down beat, my dear wife and I burst into laughter, harmonizing heaves and giggles for several minutes, unable to stop as we leaned over the table and fell back in our seats repeatedly, tears rolling down our cheeks.  In passive periphery, I could see other patrons taking in the entertainment in good cheer, but I didn’t care anymore as I was simply taken up in our moment of joy in innocuous life.  It was a day to remember.

Sometimes joyous life comes in wonderful little accidents.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Summers on Piketty: take a chunk of salt

So, Larry Summers has weighed in on Thomas Piketty's Landmark work Capital in the Twenty First Century.    Predictably, Summers disagrees with Piketty's prescriptive ideas for the future, but clearly accepts and does not challenge his scholarship. Summers is a deacon of the neo-liberal deregulated "free" market model. I put "free" in quotation marks, because we have to remember NAFTA (reminder: millions of campesinos forced out of their own market by US government-subsidized corn) and also the structure that was put in place to allow untenable leverage in the finance sector with taxpayers underwriting all of the risk.

Ironically, it is Summers' policies (along with Robert Rubin), which brought the end of Glass-Steagall and the reckless deregulation that put in place the structure which may have accelerated the financial collapse of 2008.  These were policies directly informed by Summer's underlying beliefs about economics and policy.  Dissenting economists were dismissed.  His hubris comes out here with complete pomp, assumed efficacy and the reassertion of his prescribed and elitist, top-down "management" of the economy.  He actually refers to his fellow Americans as "a surly middle class."

Summers seems to be locked into the idea of what he considers "feasible" steps, prima facie excluding the notion of any radical changes being made to a system that is patently broken.  When reading criticism from someone who has been so wrong in the past with his own "feasible" policies - the same policies that created so much economic and social destruction - we should take a big chunk of salt.

The Atlantic Article by Summers is here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Mother's Day

Mother: a word that carries the essence of our conception of nurturing, connectedness, love.  From our own language, we believe it is the direct descendent of the Proto-Germanic mōdor.

Linguists have commented on its affinity in nascent language to the bilabial nasal sound of “mama,” a word that hews even closer to these deep conceptions.

In contrast, things we may not conjure when we think of Mother - the human maternal caregiver or the archetype of Mother Nature - are the notions of violence, aggressiveness, selfishness or solitary survival.  Rather, we recognize our love and appreciation of Her and how essential She is to our deepest, sustaining emotions and impulses, those that place us closest to our own compassion.

On Mother’s Day we can contemplate some as we reciprocate original love and outwardly vindicate the deep human bonds that sustained us from our first breath.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Monday, March 3, 2014


I’m sorry I’m late; it’s such a bad habit
and my mother always said “you’ll be late for
your own funeral” but here I am and really wanted
to see you and say something, but you’ll not be speaking
and I won’t either from this line as I can hear the din of chatter
start to form in meaningful hushes and I count the limited variety
of spoken condolence and wonder if the repetition patterns occur in odd or
even numbers and how many primes there might be if I waited long enough and…
“yes, we schooled together I am so sorry for your loss…yes he was too
young…you must be ….” hey buddy what are you doing there in that box?
Maybe I should kneel and do the sign of the cross and make believe
I’m saying the Hail Mary but I know you knew I never would
and neither would you so we both know its OK but I am
really going to miss you and I am just thinking about
our time together as my thoughts are what I
have now and I think I hate the way they
 combed your hair like you were
ready for first communion.