Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Zombie Masters – Perhaps Not a Fantasy

The Republican Party may be in decline but Conservatives are very well organized. They have been waging a concerted campaign against Obama and against the Democratic Party which did not end when they lost the Presidency in 2008 and has continued unabated.
The pledges Republicans signed, especially the Grover Norquist “no tax increases” pledge, are apparently just the tip of the iceberg. The propaganda wars on Fox and other Conservative media were extremely effective and basically gave us the Tea Party.
The media has already acknowledged that Conservatives have tried to make it more difficult, where possible, for certain blocs of voters who usually vote Democrat to vote.
Now we learn that the groups who we already know from GOP campaign ads are acting something like “the little grey men” in Taylor Caldwell’s The Captains and the Kings. They have been behind the scenes using their decades of political experience to man what amounts to a “war council”. The fact that they are so organized, so rich, and so influential should be enough to awaken fear in the hearts of the rest of us. These are the “puppet masters” of the zombie army. We did not elect them but they pull the strings and may be brainwashing us to elect the zombies. The Democrats don’t seem to have anything like these efficient and effective strategists who, in spite of their ostensibly dispassionate interest, seem to be winning.
It is possible to imagine that their planning includes the passage of the Citizens United Decision by the Supreme Court last year, although this may just be paranoia. According to Nicholas Confessore writing in the NYT on October 29, 2011, “[a]t a time when the Republican National Committee remains weighed down by debt, outside conservative groups are playing an ever larger role and operating in an increasingly coordinated fashion.” This new law allows these conservative groups to make unlimited contributions to the Republican race, says Mr. Confessore. If they go through not-for-profits they can contribute anonymously.
He names the groups:
·         American Crossroads –founded by Karl Rove
·         The Republican Governor’s Association
·         The American Action Network
·         Americans for Prosperity backed by the billionaire Koch brothers
Mr. Confessore sums up saying, “[f]or the most part, the new groups are focused on the same broad goals, winning the White House and full control of Congress.”
Yikes!
When it comes to strategy the Democrats seem woefully idealistic and/or clueless. In spite of all this very coordinated opposition and their lack of cohesiveness and strategy the Democrats expect to win. In truth, I believe we should elect the non-zombies. I don’t like to think that shadowy power groups are manipulating what is supposed to be our government. They may not be truly evil but if they are steering the direction our government is taking they are a danger to our democracy. However, unless the Democrats  organize and get some kind of war council of their own I am very worried that we will suddenly be living in a very different America, and that we may have a hard time banishing the “new” America if we don’t like it.

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Did I Hear the Earth Groan?

Globe icon.Image via Wikipedia
On Monday the world population reaches 7 billion. Our planet is amazing because it should be groaning under the demands of this many people, but it is continuing to support us and sustain us although not at a consistent level of comfort. Someone (I can’t remember who) said yesterday that if every country used as many resources as the United States we would need three planets of this size and this rich in resources to maintain us all.
I went to http://www.geohive.com/earth/population1.aspx and found the following list of world population by continent as of 7/01/2010. The total population at that time was 6,830,585,985.
v  Asia                                                                       4,119,626,293
v  Africa                                                                    1,012,956,064
v  Northern America                                                    344,124,520
v  Latin America and the Caribbean                            590,946,440
v  Europe                                                                      727,082,222
v  Oceania*                                                                    35,104,75
*Oceania includes Australia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia            
Geohive says that the world adds 211,467 people per day.
This is the problem our children and grandchildren, etc. will have to face and it is a much scarier number than anyone’s national debt. Unless we find some other planets to mine for resources or some amazing new energy source that does not require plundering the dwindling resources on earth, then our children and grandchildren face shortages of almost everything and perhaps even resource-based wars.
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Minding Ben by Victoria Brown – Book

Minding Ben is Victoria Brown’s first novel. The book is fiction but Ms. Brown actually lived out events very similar to those she writes about. She is from Trinidad, her character, Grace, is from Trinidad. She came to NYC at sixteen; her character also arrives in NYC when she is sixteen. Grace is supposed to be met at the airport by her aunt but no one meets her. She must fend for herself. She meets a woman who is also from the islands who offers her a less than appealing place to stay, but considering how little this woman, Sylvia has, is an amazingly generous thing. Sylvia has three children and is living in an apartment riddled with peeling lead paint which is affecting the health of her youngest child and with a relative named Bo whose life is on a downward trajectory. Both are uneducated and have little hope of improving their lives. These ”friends”  (who expect babysitting and housekeeping help and who frequently ask for money) serve as an example to Grace of where she does not want to go in her new American life, but her dilemma is, of course, how to avoid it. Grace nannies for a while and when that job ends she is thrown back on the mercy of Sylvia and crew while she looks for a new position. Grace’s immediate goal is to find a sponsor who will support her citizenship application or to make a fake/real marriage with Bo who is already a citizen (which fortunately she doesn’t do.)
Grace answers an ad placed by the Bruckner’s who need someone to mind their son Ben. They hire Grace who enters the world of West Indian nannies in the nearby park. She is a live-in nanny on week days and goes back to Sylvia-world on weekends. The Bruckner’s are and are not terrible people. They are probably just extremely self-absorbed. They also believe in getting their money’s worth and Grace works a twelve hour day doing housework and cooking in addition to minding Ben.
The best thing that happens to Grace is that she meets a well-to-do gay man who lives in the same building as the Bruckner’s and who has a greenhouse built around his penthouse apartment. He is trying, unsuccessfully  to grow papayas. Grace, who gardened with her family, helps him with his papaya problem and helps him care for his plants. When the Bruckner’s no longer need her services she is invited to stay in Dave’s penthouse to care for his plants while he is in Key West.
The author, Victoria Brown, majors in English at Vassar College and attends the University of Warwick in England before she returns to teach English at LaGuardia Community College. Now she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children and she has a babysitter of her own. We can guess that Grace’s life went very much like this.
I’ve read nanny books before and they always have appeal because they form a little window into a world most of us don’t occupy. There is an element of the gossip sheet about them, although we cannot actually identify the rich people we are reading about. This book is interesting on that level, but it also forms another little window into the world of those who come to America from the West Indies seeking a life that promises more opportunities and affluence, but does not always deliver. All in all, Victoria Brown did good.

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Pressure Cooker or Steam Valve?

The Super Committee on Debt Reduction has been so secretive and so seemingly calm that we were all starting to fill in the blanks ourselves. I was imagining that they were taking a very worker-like and professional approach to this business of budget cuts and the financial health of America. I was also worried that I might not like the suggestions they could come up with and that I then might be helpless to change such a carefully crafted plan.
Alas, according to Patricia Murphy in an article called “Debt-Panel Stalemate” in the Daily Beast/Newsweek, I need not have worried. It looks like the same political battle lines we find in Congress are equally apparent among the six Democrats and six Republicans on the Super Committee. They came out from behind their closed doors yesterday and reports say that the first thing they did was spend quite a bit of time asking about the financial sins of the opposing party in some kind of blame game.
They did not mention that Democrats had presented them with a plan to cut 3 trillion from the budget through cuts to Medicare and Medicaid along with changes in the tax code. They did not mention that the plan included billions of dollars in new stimulus spending for job creation, and they did not mention that the Republicans immediately rejected this plan. This information came from other sources. It is not really surprising as I do not believe that this committee has any duty to accept plans presented from outside the committee. It does, however, suggest that the same standoff we have in the larger context of the whole Congress is, perhaps, affecting the ability of this Super Committee to fulfill its purpose.
The panel is supposed to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years. If they don’t act we get $1.2 trillion in across the board cuts, an option which is looking more appealing by the day. The deadline of November 23rd is fast approaching. Maybe this committee was simply intended as a way to slowly bleed steam off a scary pressure cooker.  Meanwhile we wait.

Earthquake in Turkey

Closeup of the Arabian plate boundaries with t...Image via Wikipedia
I think I can speak for most Americans, or perhaps all Americans, when I extend our sympathies to the people of Ercis, Turkey, the epicenter of the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake. You have lost at least 400 people, many more have been injured; your lives are full of grief and fear and have been turned upside down. Comfort will be scarce for some time to come so we are thinking of you and hoping the time line is shortened by a flood of aid.
Apparently, says the Washington Post, in spite of efforts after the last earthquake to enforce stricter building codes in this earthquake-prone area, constructions practices have remained flawed and inspections have not been adequate. Many buildings were built with poor cement containing too much sand and had inadequate metal supports. Two thousand structures were demolished in the town of Ercis.
Turkey lies at the intersection of four plates; the Anatolian, African, Eurasian, and Arabian the Washington Post reminds us. They say there are two truths about Turkey that we can rely on and they are that, one, Turkey will have earthquakes, and, two, earthquakes will continue to kill. Earthquakes in Turkey might kill fewer people if modern earthquake resistant construction methods were used.
We wonder if there are more earthquakes than there used to be and if they are more powerful than they used to be. There is an article on www.slate.com entitled Are There More Big Earthquakes than there used to be? The question they ask is “can humans affect the frequency of earthquakes, just like we’ve affected the global climate? The answer, “not significantly…there is no evidence that humans have caused a quake of greater than 5.3 magnitude.” They go on to say that “[t]he frequency of major earthquakes has remained fairly constant throughout recorded history. Since 1900, there have been approximately 18 earthquakes of 7.0 or greater magnitude per year.”
NOAA maintains a site that lists all weather, earthquake, and tsunami events around the globe at http://nctr.pmel.noaa.gov/database_devel.html.
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The Cellar Spiders Just in Time for Halloween

My basement is an historic 1860’s basement but it is not a place anyone would want to spend a lot of time. First of all it is only about 3/4 height. If I miss hitting my head on that one very low beam, I can stand in most of the basement, but anyone taller than 5’4″ would have to stoop a bit or a lot. Also the basement is quite dirty and I am thinking about cleaning it. It can be a little damp at times also. And finally, my basement is home to some humungous spiders, long-legged, white with knobby “knees”, real horrors such as I have never seen and prodigious web spinners. I asked my computer to give me the name of these spiders and it turns our they are just called cellar spiders. So here, just in time for Halloween are some pictures of my cellar spiders and their enormous webs. I am thinking about taking a shop vac to them. Is there any good reason why I shouldn’t?

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Goodbye GOP

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...Image via Wikipedia
These days people often say that they believe America is in decline as in the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. I believe that it is the Republican Party that is in decline, has, in fact, already almost committed seppuku and would not be around at all if we had anything to replace it with.
The Republicans have aligned themselves with two groups. These alignments make it almost impossible to vote for a Republican. First they have too close a connection with Fundamentalist Christians, both Evangelical and Conservative Christians. We get the sense that the Republicans would like to turn our government into a theocracy, instead of a democracy. Despite their Christian roots these are not compassionate Christians, they are “tough love” Christians who have closer connections to the Old Testament judgmental traditions than they do to the New Testament tradition of an understanding and forgiving Christianity where God’s harshness has been tempered by his son’s sacrifice on behalf of mankind. Their view is actually not so much Christian as existential. I don’t have a problem with existentialism. I do believe we are each responsible for our own fate, but this is a belief that is more at home with anarchy than with fostering interconnected human societies.
We are living in times where people around the world are trying to separate their religion from their government, and yet the Republicans seem in favor of moving America in the opposite directions. We know that people around the world have different religious traditions. If religion becomes a huge issue, if we expect the world to arrange itself around one main religion, to choose only one, then we probably have a long age of religious wars to wade through. But if we set our religion aside from our government we can still be a moral society, but we can continue to respect and allow people’s disparate religious traditions. Of course we will still have to defend ourselves when other people become too aggressively religious.
The second group that the Republicans have formed an unholy alliance with is Big Business and Corporations. They want us to pass laws that favor big business and corporations, when these are the very groups that have abandoned us, left us in the lurch, and thrown our economy into a tizzy (new technical economic term). We are supposed to try to lure business back to America by agreeing to slash and burn the American middle class. They are selling out the American people in favor of people who threw American workers out on the street with virtually nothing. Everyone would, in a way, like their old secure and remunerative lifestyle back. Everyone is still rather stunned that it went away in the first place. The exodus got much bigger than we ever thought it would. But Republicans ask us to beg these very “traitors” to return and shaft us again when we are just beginning to believe that somehow we can have a life without being totally dependent on corporations for our economic welfare. The fact that the Republicans are backing “people” who are not even in America anymore, the fact that they want Americans who were cast aside to now make major concessions to implore these deserters to return puts them at odds with the American people, turns them into “them” as opposed to “us” and sets them on the road to obsolescence.
I think the intransigence we are seeing in the Republican Party is fear; fear of change, fear of the future. I believe they can see that America is in an era of change, that they can see that they will become obsolete if they can’t adjust, and they are backpedaling for dear life. They think if we don’t have the America we had that we will not still be America. I do not agree with this. Our America dream is still alive and well, because it is not essentially about economics, it is about freedom and self-rule. We don’t believe that we need to become a theocracy or an oligarchy to continue to exist, in fact these are exactly things we don’t want to become. America is a spirit, an enlightened experiment in human dignity; it is not an economic entity, although we must also succeed as an economy.
The Republicans have turned themselves into dinosaurs who see the meteorite showers headed towards earth or the next ice age coming or whatever it is that killed all the dinosaurs and they are transfixed, like the proverbial deer in the headlights, and they cannot make a move to welcome the future. They are rushing towards the past to stave off what they see as disaster and the rest of see as inevitable. Get with it or be gone – goodbye GOP.
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My Tin Ceiling

There are still a few aspects of my house we have not explored. On is the tin ceiling in my kitchen. This is probably one of the few 1860 elements still visible in the house.
Modern improvements have made hardly a dent in the cellar. The stone walls and old beams dominate and you can also see the old planks that make up the floor which you can no longer see when you are upstairs. It would be fun to expose the original planks but supports would have to be added between the joists which are too far apart. The floor has too much give as it exists right now. Some insulation would also have to be added as the old floors would allow too much cold air to be transferred from the basement. But you have seen my basement.
 In a closet in the bathroom you can see the guts of the original stairway which goes up to the room I am currently using as an attic, which I have not photographed yet. The upstairs bedroom has not been updated since the 40’s or the 50’s and does not connect to the rooms on the opposite side of the 2nd floor. It does not look like it probably did originally, but the staircase with its triangular treads does.
 The other thing I have not showed you are spectacular cellar spiders which I know you are dying to see. How do I know they are cellar spiders? I looked them up on-line of course. They look like huge, white, daddy long-legged spiders and they are truly horrifying. You will get to see them if they are still there and haven’t disappeared into their silk cocoons.
The first photos below are of the tin ceiling in my kitchen:
If you search “antique tin ceilings” you will find some lovely images of very beautiful architectural ceilings which are much more elegant than mine, but this design is unusual, these elements that resemble bows are perhaps earlier and simpler than some of the other designs. The ceilings you generally see have square tin tiles and often are geometric patterns or floral, lacey patterns. This ceiling in my kitchen is not made of squares of tin, but of sheets of tin. It is not a suspended ceiling as some tin ceilings are, it is simply nailed or screwed in place. The ceiling was probably chosen for beauty, but mostly for utility. I have included some of the images I found of tin ceilings but there are many more and some have colors other than white.
Notice the picture that shows a collage of ceiling tiles and which has more color than the others. This is a collage put together by an artist which was/is for sale in a shop called “Found”. I included it because the tile on the right side of the collage most resembles mine. In my very basic farmhouse the tin ceiling is one of the features that makes the house unique.

The Long Haul

SIMI VALLEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Republican pr...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
By now I’m sure you all know the list of Republicans vying to be “the” candidate the Republicans back for the Presidency in 2012.  We have:
·         Mitt Romney
·         Herman Cain
·         Rick Perry
·         Ron Paul
·         John Huntsman
·         Newt Gingrich
·         Michele Bachmann
·         Rick Santorum
I was guilty of temporary insanity. I was thinking that we would know which Republican candidate would be “the candidate” by November. But what I was forgetting is that this is a Presidential election we are talking about and that we will not know anything by November. Someone in the know, I can’t remember who, said we may know by next March who the Republicans will choose as their Presidential hopeful. We almost have to elect this person because the Republicans will not let anything happen in America until they are back in power. That, however, just makes me want to keep them out of the Presidency even more.
 The Republican National Convention is not until the end of August, anyway, so nothing will be official until then. It’s going to be a long, long year with many annoying and mind-numbing ads. I wish they had waited a while before beginning this circus. In fact, if you have been keeping up with this, you know I wish we had avoided the circus altogether, which I know is not possible without a Constitutional amendment.
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Coffee Table Books, 2011

Some of these books I found on the web sites of other people, some I found on Amazon. I will list all the coffee table books I found. Although some of these subjects do not interest me, I sure there are others who will be interested. I will put a * next to the ones that interest me.
Truefavorite.com recommends:
Photographs – 1961-1967, Dennis Hopper
Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, Albertus Seba
Jungles, Frans Lanting
Marilyn, Andre de-Dienes
*Architecture Now! – Houses 2
100 All Time Favorite Movies, Taschen
Basquiat
Logo Design, Vol. 3
These coffee table books are listed on Amazon and were published in 2011:
The Art of Epic Mickey, Austin Grossman and Warren Spector
*The Travel Book, Celeste Brash
Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars by Carl Corey
reMind Vol 1, Jason Brubaker, Jeremy Barlow and Katy Kosek
Betty Paige: Queen of Hearts, Jim Silke
Napa Valley: the Land, the Wine, the People, Charles O’Rear and Daphne Larkin
*Life on Earth, The World’s Must See Destinations: An Expanded of Edition of LIFE’s Classic Book , Editors of LIFE
Jersey Girls: the Fierce and the Fabulous, Marie Moss and Barri Leiner Grant
*Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile, DK Publishing
A Game to Love: In Celebration of Tennis, Mike Powell
Frommer’s Ottawa, James Hale
*Vintage Jewelry Design: Classics to Collect and Wear (Vintage Fashion Series), Caroline Cox and Gerda Flockinger
*Ansel Adams: Landscapes of the American West, Ansel Adams
*The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History: 1939-1949, Joseph Carvfer
*LIFE The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton
Onward: How Starbucks Fought for its Life Without Losing its Soul, Howard Schultz and Joanne Gordon
Style like u, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum
*Dolce & Gabbana Uomini, Mariano Vivanco
Derek Jeter: From the Pages of the NYT’s, NYT’s and Tyler Kepner
In the Time of Bobbie Cox: The Atlanta Braves, their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades and Me, Lang Whitaker
Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox, Harvey Frommer and Johnny Peskey
Cyclepedia: A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs, Michael Embacher
*Chicago’s Lake Shore: Urban America’s Most Beautiful Roadway, Neal Samors, Bernard Judge and Jennifer Ebeling
*Roberto Cavalli, Robert Cavalli
Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Love, and Letters of America’s First Postmodern President, Jack Cashill
*Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style, Kate Betts
Ronald Reagan: Rendevous with Destiny, Newt Gingrich, Callista Gingrich and David N. Bossie
Black Faces of War: A Legacy of Honor from the American Revolution to Today, Robert V. Morris and Julius W Becton Jr.
*Jekyll Island: the Nearest Faraway Place (Vol. 1
The Soto Project, Ofri Craani, Orit Gat and James Trainor
*Ripples by Peter Endicott
*Will and Kate: A Royal Love Story, James Clench and Arthur Heard
*Louis Vuitton: 100 Legendary Trunks, Pierre Leonforte, Eric Pujalet-Plan, Patrick-Louis Vuitton
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