Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Slithers Out the Door

So as 2013 slithers out the door, rather like an escaped, reticulated python, perhaps we should give thanks we're finally done with the beast. After all, it wasn't a particularly good year for huge numbers of people world wide and for too many it was downright fatal in the truest since of the word.

According to a study by Slate, an estimated 33,000 plus Americans have died this year in gun related incidents--that would be only a couple of hundred less than all the Americans killed 6 decades ago during three years of open and savage warfare on the Korean peninsula. However the National Rifle Association continues to insist the only way we can lessen the carnage is to make sure every man, woman, and child is allowed to hump around as many Bushmaster .223s as he or she can carry.

To prove how well that theory is working out, on December 23 a Colorado Springs man shot and killed a person who he believed was attempting to rob his home. Unfortunately, Daniel Meade, who is currently serving with the 4th army division and has been awarded the Bronze Star for bravery above and beyond the call of duty, didn't whack some deadly home invader. He shot to death 14 year old Kiana O'Neil who is his step daughter. The AP reports Meade has yet to be arrested and prosecutors are reviewing the case.

Meanwhile in places like The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and Egypt justice has proven to be swift, sure, and absolutely humorless. North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who Dennis Rodman has described as an, "awesome guy," had his uncle by marriage Jang Song-thaek arrested. Jang went into the dock on a Wednesday morning, was convicted that afternoon, and took a bullet to the back of the head the next day.

In Egypt if you are a member of the Muslim Brotherhood you are probably on the lam at this moment. Egyptian authorities have declared the brotherhood, which was running the country a scant few months ago, a terrorist organization. It's most famous member, Mohammed Morsi, who was, for about 12 months, the first and so far only freely elected Egyptian head of state in 5,000 years, currently resides in a prison somewhere in the greater Cairo area. He is accused of being a terrorist and conspiring with foreign governments against Egypt. Both charges potentially carry the death penalty.

Here in the U.S. Barack Obama in particular and the government in general screwed the pooch so often and completely it isn't, at this moment, unreasonable to speculate that the entire republic is some sort of terrible mistake. First the president tried to cajole us into getting knee deep in the Syrian civil war.The public was having none of it and luckily, thanks to the efforts of the well known humanitarian Vladimir Putin, we were able to side step that deadly tar pit. Later, it was proven, Obama, for lack of a subtler word, lied about certain aspects of his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. In addition the federal web site established to enable people to sign up for the plan turned out to be such a programming disaster, hackers ignored it because--well--how can you fuck up something which is already so fucked up? To top it off, democrats and Obama just abandoned 1.3 million unemployed citizens by failing to insist the latest budget include an extension of their benefits.

Of course the republicans didn't exactly endear themselves to the general public either. Hell, they actually liked it when those 1.3 million people were thrown under the bus. Earlier in the year, Ted Cruz mounted a campaign to link the annual budget with a defunding of the ACA. Senior GOP Senators tried to tell him it wouldn't work, did everything they could to let him know the public would blame republicans for a shut down of the government, but he plowed on with ruthless abandon. When Obama and democrats wouldn't budge hundreds of thousands of federal employees found themselves temporarily off the job and jabber as he might, Cruz couldn't convince anyone it wasn't the GOP's fault.

Toward the end, in a moment of unadulterated egotism rarely witnessed since Benito Mussolini was in his prime, the little Canadian took to the Senate floor for nearly a full day. It was as if he was attempting some demented imitation of Jimmy Stewart playing Jefferson Smith. It was all grotesque political theater. The outcome of the argument was predetermined and the time he spent speaking had already been allotted for debate. The only thing the entire squalid affair proved is Cruz has delusions of grandeur so dangerously outrageous he could well be certifiably insane.

The shutdown ended only when the government came within a breath of defaulting on loans it had taken out through things like T-bills and bonds. Large parts of the world, especially the Chinese, were sweating blood and screaming that the bull shit had to stop immediately. John Boehner, perhaps the worst Speaker of the House in history, had to enlist the help of democrats so he could override his own right wing, who actually wanted the nation to go belly up.

Yesterday MSN Money reported in 2012 the richest 10% of Americans earned a larger share of the total national income than at any time since 1917. The report went on to state that to make it into the top 10% you have to earn a minimum of $146,000 annually which is nearly 12 times the income of the lowest 10%. Things have gotten so bad a survey showed 64% of Americans say the United States no longer offers everyone an equal chance to get ahead. Nearly 75% of everybody in the country who makes less than $50,000 feels the economy--you know, capitalism--is inherently unfair.

Harvard professor, Lawerence Katz put it this way, "The middle (class) has really collapsed."

Finally, for all you Duck Dynasty fans, another video of Phil Robertson has surfaced. Robertson was suspended, then unsuspended by the cable TV network A&E because he told GQ magazine what he thought of homosexuals and their future in the afterlife. The gay advocacy group GLAAD raised some hell, causing the initial suspension. Then the right wing began to howl about freedom of speech and religion. Hundreds of thousands threatened to boycott the network if Robertson wasn't immediately reinstated on the top rated show about he and his family. The latest video was shot in 2009 while Brother Phil was addressing something called, Sportsman's Ministry of Georgia. His words of wisdom were these, "You've got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16, they'll pick your ducks. Look, you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that's going to take place is your pocket."

Robertson married at age 20, his wife was 16 at the time. He added these thoughts, "Make sure she can cook a meal, you need to eat some meals she cooks, check that out. Make sure she carries her bible. That'll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if she picks your ducks, now that's a woman."

I understand freedom of religion and speech. I also know pedophilia and statutory rape when I see it. Let's just say, as the father of two daughters, I'm glad my kids grew up not knowing Phil Robertson and any of his crew.

Yes, it is time to close the door on this foul year. It began a scant two weeks after the Newtown, CT murders and is ending another two weeks or so after Karl Pierson walked into Arapahoe High School in Colorado and murdered Claire Davis, 17 with a shotgun. He did it because he was mad at the debate team coach. Ms Davis had nothing to do with the debate team. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Indeed. There is a lot of that going around these days.

See you on the other side. As always, hope springs eternal.

sic vita est


Saturday, December 28, 2013

1.3 Million Acceptable Casualties

So for 1.3 million unemployed Americans the die is cast. In just about 96 hours they are, in every sense of the word, fucked.

Years ago, recognizing he had screwed the economy beyond belief, the George W. Bush administration put into place what is known as, The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program. It was there to provide an extension to unemployment benefits beyond what individual states offered. It has been a renewable part of each federal budget since then, because, honestly, it takes quite a while to dig out of a hole so deep it reaches half way down to China and manufacturing jobs aren't nearly as numerous as say, openings in the food service industry.

Now, thanks to a compromise budget which was approved by a president and democratic party, who, in theory, speak for the unemployed, the program ends on next Wednesday. According to an AP story in today's, "The Oklahoman," a white house official claims Obama wants an extension passed as soon as congress returns next month. He was mum on the reason why the president let it get to this point in the first place. Be that as it may,  all manner of plans for temporary extensions are being floated, as is a proposal to make any extension retroactive--in other words make up for the benefits which were lost during the interim--but the reaction to such ideas from the right side of the floor has been cool at best.

Well what do you expect? Hell, republicans love it when tons of people are suddenly cut loose from federal benefits. That way they can make sure the military will be able to buy a few million more $175 hammers.

Obviously Obama and the democrats didn't think this was worth the same sort of fight they waged back in October when the Affordable Care Act was on the line. There are probably a couple of reasons for that. One, the EUCP is not a law. It is a provisional part of the budget which has to be voted on each year. Number two, the prospect of another government shutdown is simply too much to bear--the republicans took the big hit last time, but democrats didn't exactly come out smelling like roses either. There are well over 317,000,000 souls in this nation--1.3 million casualties might be an acceptable number when it comes to keeping everyone else calm.

Unfortunately the 1.3 million figure is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the report, the Obama administration claims the program has kept not only 11.4 million wage earners out of poverty, but has also assisted 17 million children whose parents were able to receive the benefits. In addition, if there is no extension agreement the numbers are going to do nothing but grow. For example on Wednesday 214,000 Californians will lose their unemployment checks, but by June the number will reach 500,000. In Oklahoma 4,900 people will take a hit next week, but by years end, without an extension, the figure will be 33,000. And, despite all the apparent savings to the feds, local economies are going to feel a pinch because almost all of those benefits went right back into the community in the form of food and clothing purchases, and things like mortgage payments,

Earlier in the month Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who is maneuvering for a white house run in two years, claimed renewing the extension was a "dis-service" to the unemployed. His theory is that if you throw people out on the streets they won't be so picky about the jobs they take. (You bet, that $100,000 education and the accompanying student loan payments will serve you well as you flip burgers) Not only that, but the longer you are out of work the more apt you are to stay out of work because--well--it is easier. Ah yes, spoken like a man who has never been laid off.

It is also nonsense. Princeton economist Henry Farber has stated extensions of unemployment benefits have never kept people from finding jobs as fast as they can and has never reduced the overall job finding rate. But, hey, he probably doesn't think all the African Americans in Louisiana were happy, happy, happy before the civil rights movement either, so what does he really know.

To give you a little perspective, the starting number of 1.3 million is a whisker more than the population of the Oklahoma City metro area. The average monthly benefit received by those currently in the program is $1,165. If they lived in my 46 year old apartment complex in north OKC they'd be spending around $650 of it on rent. That leaves them with $515 to pay utilities, buy food, and make payments on the automobile they must have in order to get to and from job interviews. If the money is cut off and the ol' 401K is depleted? Lets just say the management company who runs this place evicts you in 30 days if you fail to pay for your place. The average low temperature during February in this burg is 27 degrees fahrenheit. That is pretty darn cold for an extended camping trip in the back seat of the car the repo guys are going to be looking for shortly.

Trust me, I've been there, nothing is more crushing and desperate than being unemployed. Indeed, there is no stress quite like knowing the check you've written for this weeks groceries is going to bounce--that the next time the electric bill comes due there won't be any money to pay it and you'll be living in the dark--that if anyone gets sick you have no choice but to take them to the emergency room--that the guy down at the local blood plasma donation center knows you by your first name.

I expect this sort of brutal and ruthless behavior from monsters like Rand Paul. He and vast numbers of the right wing believe this country can't be great without huge numbers of unemployed and hungry people wandering about.

However, when I see democrats and a supposed liberal like Barack Obama begin to sell people out, it makes me not only want to spit, but hop the next plane to Belize wearing a tee shirt which says, "America, You Can Kiss My Ass."

I won't though. No, as the man in the movie said when he explained how to endure torture, "You learn to love the rope."

Sure. After all, that is what we've come to, so what else are you going to do?

sic vita est


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ho, Ho, Ho

Ah yes, Christmas. The season of giving and getting.

And a select few of us are getting a lot.

According to Pope Francis I, "Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression, and assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequities."

Tell that to Sheldon Adelson. Shel is the CEO of Las Vegas Sands. He owns a bunch of casinos both here and abroad. Every four years he also tries to buy someone the white house. In 2012 he backed the wrong horse when he kicked millions into political super pacs which were funneling money to Newt Gingrich. He reportedly told friends he was willing to spend up to a billion dollars to make sure Barack Obama didn't get re-elected.

The investment didn't work out, but who can blame him for worrying about the health of the wealth. Lets face it, Lord only knows what the socialist sonofabitch will do to the economy. All that raise the taxes on the rich stuff will not only eat into the bottom line, but destroy the largesse so many employees of Las Vegas Sands depend on. Obviously Obama is the intractable enemy of capitalism.

Or not. MSN Money reported yesterday that in spite of the black dude in the oval office, Shel Aldelson increased his net worth in the year of our Lord 2012 by $15 billion. For those of you like myself who aren't so astute in math, MSN points out his jackpot grew by $41 million a day, every day. His wealth jumped by 68%. He is now worth $37 billion. If this is socialism one has to believe Brother Adelson gets up every day thanking God for Karl Marx.

There were other names on the MSN list of top money makers. It was a lineup of the usual suspects. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame basically doubled his net worth. Amazon's Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in August. He can afford it. His nest egg grew 53 times more than the amount he paid for the paper. Warren Buffett upped his bottom line by $12 billion, Bill Gates by $9.3, and Larry Page of Google by $9.4 billion.

Then came the Walton gang. Christy, Robson, Jim, and Alice. They are the inheritors of the Walmart empire. Separately each one's net worth now hovers a little above the $35 billion mark. All four increased their bankrolls by around $10 billion in 2012. Not bad for some kids from Arkansas whose old man initially made his fortune by running small town mom and pop stores out of business and reducing vibrant little downtowns into empty shells.

To make sure the chain remains solvent the average Walmart employee is living without company health insurance because management makes sure they work under forty hours a week, rendering them technically part time. At least one of the stores held a food drive this holiday season, not for the needy members of the community it is located in, but for fellow employees who are so broke they can't afford to adequately feed themselves or their families.

Well no one ever claimed free enterprise is fun for everybody.

Pope Francis also said, "Not paying a fair wage, not giving a job because you are looking at balance sheets only to make a profit, that goes against God."

Obviously the man has never owned a business.

Yes, Obama might be president and Francis is the Pope, but the people who are really in charge are the Adelsons, Waltons, Gates, Buffetts, and the rest.

A long time ago a wealthy character in one of the late Mike McQuay's novels looked another in the eye and said, "Son, the meek shall inherit the earth, but not until we're done with it."


Ho, ho, ho.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trials in Egypt and Demonstrations in Thailand

While we're preoccupied with the religious beliefs of some old yokel here in the United States, things aren't going so well in places like Egypt and Thailand.

NBC is reporting an Egyptian court has sentenced Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel to three years of hard labor and fined the trio what amounts to $7,200 apiece. They were convicted of breaking a law passed in November which requires any and all public demonstrations to be pre-approved by the police.

Douma is no stranger to the lockup. Deposed president Mohammed Morsi chucked him into the slammer for six months after he called Morsi a criminal. Maher on the other hand was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his participation in the Arab Spring movement which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Apparently in Egypt, it doesn't matter who is in charge. If you're the pesky pro democracy sort you are a prime candidate for the big house.

The report notes Mubarak has been released from prison by the military backed government, but still faces charges. Morsi on the other hand is currently residing in a cell somewhere awaiting trial for terrorism and conspiring with foreign interests against Egypt. He was the first freely elected head of state in the 5,000 plus year history of Egypt. He lasted about a year in office before the military, emboldened by mass demonstrations--you know, the kind they don't allow any more--ended that brief experiment.

In January there will be a vote on a new constitution and following that another presidential election. If he wants it, the leading candidate will be General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. He is the public face of the coup that over threw Morsi and potentially another in a long line of military men in charge of the most populous Arab nation in the world.

Meanwhile in Bangkok tens of thousands of demonstrators hit the streets demanding the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Ms. Shinawatra is the younger sister of former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra. He was elected to office in 2001, but the military decided the nation would be better off without him in 2006.

It was hardly an unprecedented occurrence. NBC reports the Thai military has staged 18 coups since 1932.

Ms. Shinawatra has called for February elections, but the main opposition party is boycotting them. The reason why is a little tricky.

The head honcho of the opposition is named Suthep Thaugsuban. He not only wants the Prime Minister out, but a suspension of democracy and the establishment of an appointed, people's council to run the country. There is no word on who would actually name the council membership, although it is probably better than even money Mr. Thaugsuban would gladly volunteer for the job.

The rub for Thaugsuban and the opposition is they know they can't win a free election. NBC points out the opposition base is mainly centered in Bangkok and is made up of the urban middle class, bureaucrats, arch conservatives and military leaders. However the Shinwatra base is rural in nature and she and her brother are still "wildly popular" in large portions of the country. In fact opponents of the elder Shinwatra have in the past accused him of--see if this sounds familiar--buying the votes of the poor by providing cheap credit, health care, and subsidies.

Yes, once you let the hoi polloi into the voting booth, God only knows who they'll elect. Just ask certain parties both here and in Egypt. 

Well, sometimes you have to correct the mistakes of the electorate, after all they aren't the brightest of bulbs. In Thailand the military, at this moment, is saying it will stay neutral. How long it will remain that way is anyone's guess. However, it is fairly easy to speculate a conference call or two has already been made from a planning room in Bangkok to Egyptian military headquarters.

Hey, sometimes a little how to advice is necessary. Besides, it is always good to make connections with like minded people. I'm sure there is a web site or two out there for just that.

It is a cold, dreary, day here on the southern plains. Perhaps tomorrow will be better. It is the optimist in me.

sic vita est


Friday, December 20, 2013

Quackin' in the U.S.A.

America is a terribly strange place. We live in an odd provincial vacuum that not only shuts out the news of the world, but renders it somehow irrelevant. South Sudan is crumbling into a civil war. In the past week over 500 people were killed during what government officials called a coup attempt. The North Koreans, upset over anti DPRK demonstrations south of the DMZ, used a fax machine to send the South Korean administration an angry threat of war. In London 75 people were nearly crushed to death when a theater fell apart. God only knows what is going on inside Egyptian prisons and on the ground in Syria at the moment.

Indeed, all manner of disasters, wars, famines, plagues, and massacres are besetting the population of the world. But, what are we obsessed with at this moment right here in the good old U.S. of A? Why, what a Louisiana hick named Phil Robertson thinks of buggery.

The outrage has reached fever pitch. Robertson, who founded the company, Duck Commander, and is one of the featured stars of a cable TV show whose popularity hinges on his family's redneck ways, explained his religious beliefs in an interview with the magazine, GQ. Those beliefs included an observation that compared homosexuality to bestiality, terrorism, and alcoholism--questioned why any man would prefer an anus over a vagina--and the certainty that when the USS Rapture sets sail, homosexuals will be left at the pier.

Representatives of the gay organization GLAAD immediately started screeching. The TV network, A&E, quickly suspended Robertson, desperately trying to distance management and advertisers from his folksy interpretation of Christianity.

Now all manner of right wing hacks, hopeless losers, and talking heads are howling about freedom of speech and religion. Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal claims he remembers a time when television used to believe in the first amendment, although he didn't actually give us any dates when the networks were down with that idea. Sarah Palin chimed in, because--well--she needs the exposure. Finally, Sean Hannity went on the air and in the ultimate act of bathroom graffiti gave out the phone numbers of A&E CEO, Abbe Raven and network president Nancy Dubuc.

At last look, over 100,000 people have signed an on line petition titled, IStandWithPhil. GLAAD official, Rich Ferraro was quoted as saying, "In the 5 1/2 years I've worked with GLAAD I've never received so many violently angry phone calls and social media posts attacking GLAAD for us speaking out against these comments."

In the midst of all this hysteria a video of a 2010 sermon delivered by Robertson has surfaced. In it he says, "Women with women, men with men, they've committed indecent acts with one another and they received in themselves their due penalties. They are full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God haters. They are faithless, they are ruthless, senseless. They invent ways of doing evil."

Yep, ol' Phil just about covered all the bases there.

He also sounded a little suspicious when he claimed he never witnessed any signs of racial discrimination in north west Louisiana when he was growing up in the 1950's and 60's and felt all the black people he saw were happy, happy, happy. According to him, "none of them were singin' the blues."

In the meantime Robertson's family issued a statement saying they couldn't imagine going forward with the show, "Duck Dynasty" without him. They added they were in negotiations about the future of the enterprise.

One thing which has gone unmentioned is, while A&E played the appalled liberal card and suspended Robertson indefinitely from future shows, as of last night anyway, they have been busily rerunning episodes which feature him slogging through the bayous and leading his family in pre dinner prayers.

It seems if you're a television network you can have it both ways, at least for the time being.

Yes, we're an odd lot here in the states. They only good thing you can probably say about us is that we have the attention span of a five year old in the throes of a sugar rush. All this nonsense will blow over quickly and then we'll be onto something else with equal anger and passion.

Luckily it is Friday and I'm scheduled for an appearance at a local sports bar in an hour or so. No, I won't be speaking, but I will be wrapped in cigar smoke and sipping a very dry martini.

Until then, Mr. Sulu you have the helm.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Phil Robertson Says Quack

Ah the pitfalls of fame and fortune.

Phil Robertson, the founder of the Duck Commander corporate empire and an old wild game poacher, has stepped into the 21st century and found times have changed.

Robertson and his family are the stars of A&E's reality TV series, "Duck Dynasty"--one of the highest rated cable shows on the air. It is so popular Wikipedia notes the season four premier drew 11.8 million viewers. Basically, it is an unscripted remake of the "Beverly Hillbillies" without the presence of the always angst ridden Milburn Drysdale. I'm not sure what this says about the United States, but it probably isn't entirely flattering.

During an interview with GQ magazine, which in itself is a tad inexplicable, Robertson was asked what sin is. His reply went this way, "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there--bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

It slid downhill from there. While explaining his views he said, "We never judge someone on who's going to heaven and hell. That's the Almighty's job. We just love 'em, give 'em the good news about Jesus. Whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists--we let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying." He went on to rather loosely paraphrase Corinthians as he told the interviewer gays, among others, would not inherit the kingdom of God.

Predictably the gay community and in particular, GLAAD spokesperson, Wilson Cruz were outraged. In a statement Cruz was quoted as saying, "Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe." He added, "He clearly knows nothing about gay people, or the majority of Louisianans and Americans who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples."

Yes, as Kurtz said in a different context, "The horror, the horror."

Wilson, my man, what exactly did you expect? The rube was born in rural Louisiana in 1946 and has lived there all his life. He married his wife when she was 16 and turned down a pro football career partly because it interfered with duck hunting season. He became a mean drunk in his mid twenties, was baptised as a born again Christian at age 28, sobered up, and now makes a handsome living by selling duck calls, deer calls, and other hunting accessories.

Let's face it, when he sits down to dinner the odds are he shot, gutted, and skinned the main course himself. We're not talking about Oscar Wilde here.

The truth is ol' Phil probably doesn't give a rat's ass about what Cruz thinks. A while back the singer, Morrissey refused to perform on Jimmy Kimmel's show one night when Robertson was due to appear, calling him, "a serial animal killer." Roberston simply shrugged the insult off, saying something like, "Whoever he is, I don't hold it against him."

Watching him you get the impression if the show and all the hubbub gets to be too much, Robertson will walk away from both without a second thought. It is kind of easy to do that sort of thing when your business did $40 million in sales last year.

Actually there is a lesson in reality here which the good people of GLAAD need to heed. Obviously gays should continue to vigorously campaign against discrimination both in the work place and at the altar. Hopefully, some day, they will enjoy the benefits marriage provides in every state in the union. However, you can't force people to like you and you aren't going to change Phil Robertson's mind, or shame him. Especially when he is convinced God is on his side. Just move on and continue the fight. After all, when it boils down to it, Phil Robertson and his family are not going to sway either the court of public opinion, or the legislature.

Fairly soon the Robertson family's fifteen minutes will be up and the show will go off the air. All the interviews and guest appearances on talk TV will go away. In short order they will be forgotten by the vast majority of the public. On the other hand, after they are gone, it is fairly certain the gay community will still be around.

Indeed--he who quacks last, quacks best. It is the way of the world. Keep it in mind.

The smoking lamp is lit. If you're looking for me, I'll be on the patio.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Year and a Day

There was snow on the streets of Newtown, Connecticut yesterday. The skies were gray and the tree limbs, bare and forlorn. In contrast the photos of Newtown on December 14th, 2012 showed the sky to be brilliantly blue. The sun's light was thin, imbued with that golden edge it has during the long New England winters The rest of it, the true content of the photos, reflect the nightmare of that perfectly clear day.

The images were of heavily armed police roaming the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School--of panic stricken parents desperately searching for their children--of terrified students, most barely old enough to understand what had happened, being led from the school itself. They were the images of a uniquely American tragedy.

Yes, the sort of horror perpetrated by Adam Lanza that sunny winter day a year ago doesn't happen anywhere else in the industrialized world--at least not on the scale, or with the frequency it does here in the good old U.S. of A. This elephant is in our living room, not Australia's, the UK's, Japan's, or any other place else we so arrogantly call civilized.

The National Rifle Association tells us it isn't the guns. They claim each new massacre is a failure of the mental health care system. This despite numerous reports that say it is well nigh impossible to predict which emotionally disturbed person among us will trip over the edge into violence. Not to mention the reluctance of many families to admit one of their own is even mentally ill--ie, "Well, I knew Uncle Rupert owned a Bushmaster .223 and a one hundred round ammo clip, but I preferred to think of him as eccentric rather than bat shit crazy."

The terrible fact is a huge section of the American population has a gun fetish. It is downright sexual in nature. It manifested itself the moment large numbers of our ancestors landed on the shores of the continent. We used guns to kill the Native Americans and enslave African Americans. Now that we've run out of large numbers of Indians and slavery is nominally outlawed, we're using them on ourselves.

In America the gun is the Grand and Exalted Arbiter. It is, too many times, the first option and it is always the final solution.

Slate and @gun deaths ran a study this past year tracking media reports of killings related to gun use. In the year after Adam Lanza went on his deadly spree, 11,486 citizens of this nation were shot to death by guns. Slate, however, points out the figure is far short of the real number. It notes nearly 60% of all gun deaths are suicides and many of those are not reported by the media. Using CDC estimates, Slate believes the true number of American gun related deaths the past year is 33,373. To put it in perspective, Wikipedia's statistics show that during the three years of the Korean War, American combat deaths were 33,686.

The guns aren't going away. The NRA has made sure of that. They are so invested in the culture of firearms they won't be satisfied until every man, woman, and child in the country walks the streets packing a piece. They own congressmen and senators like the rest of us own cars. If one acts up they just trade him or her in on a new model, one they can better steer. To disagree with them is tantamount to treason. Their membership has all the wild eyed certainty of radical Islamic jihadists and Glock is the God they worship.

Yesterday in Newtown the bell of St. Rose of Lima church tolled 26 times in memory of the 20 babies and 6 teachers who were murdered a year ago.

The sad truth is it was tolling for us too.

Unfortunately, we were so busy practicing at the gun range, we failed to hear it.

sic vita est


Friday, December 13, 2013

Justice in the DPRK: The Traitor For All Ages Bites the Dust

Well it didn't take long.

Jang Song-thaek, formerly the uncle by marriage of North Korea's Kim Jong-un, no longer walks the planet. He is, you might say, defunct.

It was a quick fall for a guy some experts claim was Kim's mentor and PR man during the transition of power after Kim Jong-il died. The same experts also note Jang was the main liason between the DPRK and their biggest and best buddy, The People's Republic of China.

At least one North Korean observer told NBC News, Jang's public denunciation and swift execution is a dramatic shift in the way senior personnel are purged by Pyongyang. Dr. Andrei Lankov was quoted as saying, "If you look at the history of North Korea after 1960 you will discover that if you were lucky enough to belong to the top 100, you were generally secure physically." A white house official added, "It tells you everything is not normal."

You think?

Most agree the road to Jang's demise began in November when he suddenly ceased appearing in public. Some have wondered if it was some sort of ideological rift with the army, while at least one has speculated it was purely "a family dispute."

Whatever the case the KCNA, North Korea's official news agency, is making sure everyone knows what a rotten guy Mr. Jang was.

An official statement from them claims, "...the service personnel and people throughout the country broke into angry shouts that a stern judgement of the revolution should be meted out to the anti-party, counter revolutionary, factional elements. Against the back drop of these shouts rocking the country, a special military tribunal of the DPRK Ministry of State Security was held on December 12 against the traitor for all ages, Jang Song-thaek."

All of which goes to prove there isn't much of an appeals process in North Korea. December 12th in the DPRK was on Wednesday. Jang was executed on Thursday. Everyone agrees his death won't be the last. The truth is, if, at any point in the past, you shook hands with the dude, you might want to start looking for a way across the Chinese border. Indeed--once an old fashioned Stalinist purge begins to roll down hill, it tends to take on a life all its own.

Jang's list of evil doings was lengthy. Among other things, the KCNA noted that during the unanimous appointment of Kim as the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Worker's Party of Korea, he, (sic) "behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwilling to stand up from his seat and half heartedly clapping touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people."

Of course the main charges had to do with the planning of a coup. Luckily the authorities got to him before he figured out who he would recruit to pull it off. He hadn't quite decided on a date either, but obviously it is the thought that counts. Beyond the coup itself there were the other usual suspects thrown in for good measure, bribery, gambling at a foreign casino with embezzled funds, and distributing, "all sorts of pornographic pictures to his confidants since 2009."

Jang was finally described as a "wicked political careerist, trickster," and that traitor for all ages thing again. After saying he'd been convicted and condemned to death the final grim line from the report summed up the entire affair with perfect terseness. "The decision was immediately executed."

One thing can be certain at this point, you'd better not mess with young Mr. Kim. As the KCNA said, "Our party, state, army, and people do not know anyone except Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un......the lineage of Paektu will remain unchanged and irreplaceable."

Given all this, Dennis Rodman might want to seriously re-think his planned excursion to Pyongyang. Especially after he cut that pistachio commercial with a Kim look alike.  I mean let's face it, Dennis, humor and satire aren't your pal's strong points.

Hey, it is just a thought. Mull it over for a bit.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hump Day: John Boehner is Mad and Rand Paul Wants to Help the Unemployed

They are using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.

John Boehner, R-OH, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

Great Scott! Who can John Boehner be ranting at? Organized labor? The people who run MSNBC? Perhaps the mysterious, not to mention, nefarious Illuminati? Why no. He is bent out of shape by the greasy plutocrats who control outfits like, The Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action. These are the same ruthless beasts who pulled the strings behind the Ted Cruz anti Affordable Care Act crusade. They are the same ones who hope to hand pick the next president of the United States and make him their bitch.

Was this some great awakening on the Speakers's part? Hardly--it is more like utter frustration. It was Boehner who took most of the heat during the government shutdown and default crisis. And he was the one who kept getting shot in the ass by members of his own caucus while they were running amok in a blood frenzy.

Yes, we're back to budget wrangling and the speaker and other republican members of the house--the ones who actually believed the polls--are ready to strike a deal. They don't want any part of another fiasco that ratchets up the heat on them and lets the democrats and Obama play the martyrs. Lets face it, the president was able to dodge the heat on the ACA roll out for nearly a month because yokels like Cruz were reading "Green Eggs and Ham" instead of doing their jobs.

Paul Ryan, R-WI, who was last seen as the lesser part of a losing duet, and Patty Murray, D-WA fashioned a budget which would keep things going through 2015. According to Ryan, "By having a budget agreement that does not raise taxes and does reduce the deficit and produces some certainty and prevents a government shutdown--we think its a good agreement."

The billionaires behind the super pacs are having none of it. They are willing to go all in once more because the measure calls for spending levels slightly higher than the sequester limits. That and it makes it look like republicans are willing to compromise with the black dude in the white house, which is never an acceptable thing.

Predictably Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have come out against the deal. Both are worming their way toward presidential campaigns in a couple of years and neither want to be on the wrong side of the Bucket o' Money crowd.

In fact, Paul, in an effort to prove his fiscal chops to the big boys, is actively campaigning to cut off federal unemployment benefits to 1.3 million people. That is the number of Americans who will lose them at the end of December if congress fails to reauthorize what is known as, The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program.

In a recent speech the senator from Kentucky claimed extending the benefits, "would be a disservice to the jobless." His public thinking is that by extending benefits we are encouraging people to become part of the permanently unemployed. In a fit of Paulist logic he added it was a known fact the longer you stay unemployed the harder it is for you to find a job, therefore if we cut the benefits off at 26 weeks, more people will find jobs quicker. Indeed, and that diploma showing you have a degree in biology will look great hanging on the wall of the break room at the local Target store.

Actually, Princeton University economist, Henry Farber says, Paul's assertions are abject bullshit. Okay, he didn't put it exactly that way, however he did note the extension of unemployment benefits hasn't affected people finding jobs quickly and it certainly hasn't reduced the overall job finding rate.

Well, what is a little truth when you have to keep the Koch brothers happy? Right now bucks are more important than ballots. After all, they don't let you on the train if you can't afford a ticket.

So there we have it. Boehner appears fed up with the murky crowd behind the hard core right wing and Rand Paul has illustrated perfectly why the republican party enjoys the reputation it has with the working poor, the disadvantaged, and the unemployed.

All this and it is only Wednesday.

At least the sun is finally out.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Disappearing in North Korea

Sometimes these things happen. Yes, when your nephew by marriage is running an absolute dictatorship--one that has all the subtlety of Orwell's Oceania--it is best to stay on his good side.

Mr. Jang Song-thaek was publicly led away in shame during some sort of communist party confab the other day in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Since then his images in news films and official photographs have begun to disappear. You know--as if he was never there--anywhere--ever. The Grand and Exalted Muckety-muck of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un has apparently decided Jang's close proximity to him in photos and on film is a political liability. This despite the fact most believe Jang was Kim's chief PR man and protector during the transition of power after North Korea's previous leader, Kim Jong-il died.

The Christian Science Monitor speculates the reason for his unceremonious removal was because the military disapproved of Jang's economic policies, which they decided were a tad too capitalistic. Kim may be many things, but he isn't stupid. He runs the place, at least for now, but he also realizes other people command the tanks. In places like North Korea, you're in charge only so long as the army agrees with you. That means rogue uncles are immediately and breathtakingly expendable.

The official list of offenses committed by Jang is kinda sorta specific. According to the state media, he is guilty of being, "anti party" and committing, "factional acts." As if these weren't enough he was also slapped with living a, "dissolute and depraved life." In addition the government claimed Jang had inappropriate relationships with several women and was guilty of drug use. My personal favorite, however, was the accusation he was, "dreaming different dreams." Hey, let's face it, that one will nail you every time.

Obviously the North Koreans aren't going to put up with the wildly decadent behavior which has been blatantly displayed by the mayor of Toronto, or even by Kim's BFF Dennis Rodman.

Yeah, Dennis you might want to rethink the exhibition basketball tour you've been planning for the DPRK this month. Apparently your bud isn't too fond of the lifestyle you've been neck deep in for decades.

None of this should be surprising. Every few months Kim has to show everyone the size of his penis and scrotum. Back in October his military basically kidnapped 85 year old Korean War veteran, Merrill Newman, who had been on an official tour of the country. Before releasing him they forced Newman to read a grammatically stupefying "confession" in which he admitted to "indelible crimes against the DPRK government and Korean people. Please forgive me," he said to the cameras. "I want not punish me."

Newman also pledged that on his return he'd tell, "the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are living."

We can hardly wait for that description now he is safely back in the states, although the truth is the State Department may try to put a damper on his enthusiastic depiction of life in North Korea. After all, American, Kenneth Bae is still being held and there is no telling what the reaction might be in Pyongyang if Newman actually speaks his mind.

Bae, was arrested last November and is currently doing 15 years of hard labor for single handedly, "attempting to over throw the government."

The aforementioned George Orwell created the omnipotent Big Brother in his novel, "1984." Obviously in North Korea you not only have to worry about that dude, but Little Nephew as well.

Man, I thought it was cold here.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: 1918--2013

During my life time I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African People. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. 

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, speaking to a South African criminal court in August, 1962

The judges didn't believe him. Or worse--they did and simply weren't willing to put up with that sort of all inclusive leftist nonsense. Shortly after Nelson Mandela uttered those words the South African authorities chucked him into a prison for 27 years. During much of that time he was in solitary confinement and allowed one thirty minute visit per year from someone on the outside.

After his release from the lock up, he negotiated with the white regime instead of leading an angry and armed horde against it. He was able to peacefully secure the first election in which blacks could cast a ballot and was elected president. After he took office there weren't any mass, government sanctioned, reprisals, no seizing of property, no executions for those who had administered the grotesque policy of apartheid. He was, in the end, a man of his word. Something which is in terribly short supply these days.

Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95. He is currently being praised world wide as one of the most progressive and politically moral humans the world has ever produced. Let's face it, given what was happening in South Africa and what happened to him personally, a lesser man would have started making Molotov cocktails the moment he walked out of the prison gates.

All of this leads us to a couple of people who can be considered in that lesser category of intellects and a quick history lesson. On Fox last night, Bill O'Reilly seemed oh so exasperated, not to mention disgusted by the global outpouring of tributes. He had this to say about Mandela, "He was a communist, all right. But he was a great man. What he did for his people was stunning. He was a great man, but a communist." The Moonie financed newspaper, "The Washington Times" called the statement, "a harsh reminder." Not to be outdone, O'Reilly's guest, Rick Santorum quickly added that while Mandela fought against "great injustice," the United States faces, "similar fights against injustice, because of the ever increasing size of of government which is taking taking over and controlling people's lives and Obama Care is at the front and center of that."

Mr. Santorum didn't give any examples of how Obama Care can be equated with apartheid. No doubt it is tough to find a few quality examples right off the top of your head. Let's see, during apartheid black Africans couldn't vote, or live near white Africans. They couldn't eat at the same restaurants or work along side of white people. Think of it as segregation on steroids. Obama Care, on the other hand, is about as intrusive as having to buy car insurance before driving a new automobile off the dealership lot.

Actually we shouldn't be surprised about O'Reilly. As late as 2008 he was accusing Barack Obama of being a communist. He has also claimed former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich is, "a communist who secretly admires Karl Marx." Apparently everyone who disagrees with Billy O is a communist.

The truth is O'Reilly isn't the first American with that assessment of Nelson Mandela. There has been a rumor floating about for years that before he was arrested in 1962 the CIA told South African security forces where they could find him. Later, still during the heady days of the cold war, our old pal, Ron Reagan vetoed a bill which would have imposed economic sanctions against South Africa for continuing the policy of apartheid and keeping Mandela in his cell. Reagan's veto, which was over ridden, was at odds with his public statements condemning apartheid. The problem was he was so fixated on communists both real and imagined he was jittery about any one opposed to regimes which were supposedly anti communist, no matter how brutally disgusting they were.

At that point the white South African leadership was funneling arms to right wing guerrilla groups who were actively fighting leftist governments in Africa. Indeed, all our blathering about men being created equal and freedom of this and that, didn't mean squat when it came to places like South Africa, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. The red menace had to be met and conquered at all costs . In short, if you were the enemy of my enemy, then you were my friend. And don't worry, we'll look the other way when you make thousands of your own people disappear. No wonder Mandela and the African National Congress looked to Cuba and the Soviet Union for aid. They certainly weren't getting any from us--the self proclaimed keepers of the bright lamp of democracy.

Well, it has all passed now and Mandela, as Obama said, "belongs to the ages."

In all honesty, we don't do well that often on this planet. In fact the track record of civilization has been pretty iffy from day one. It is the main reason there are vast numbers of cynics and atheists. However, every now and then you realize just how subtle God is. Think about it. What are the odds that out of the nightmare of apartheid a man would emerge with such intelligence, grace and humanity? By any definition of the word he was a miracle.

Rest well, Madiba. Rest well.

May we always remember not just you and what you believed in, but, most importantly, what you taught us.

sic vita est


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Watch Out For That Apple, Oklahoma City

So as I sit here bracing for The Great Winter Storm of 2013 it might be time to reflect on the Oklahoma City debut of Paul Rudnick's play, "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told." According to the daily paper, rehearsals opened Monday for the locally produced interpretation that will be held in The CitySpace auditorium, which is located in the basement of the Civic Center Music Hall.

I'm not familiar with the work, but it is described as a satirical take on the biblical Garden of Eden tale. It involves sharp humor and two homosexual couples, Adam and Steve and Mabel and Jane. According to Wikipedia, the New York Daily News review of the 1998 play includes this line, "You'll find yourself laughing uncontrollably throughout the entire evening." Another reviewer claimed, Rudnick, "is the funniest writer for the stage in the United States today."

That is all fine and good, however Oklahoma City isn't Broadway, or even off Broadway and outside of recorded history, there is nothing in the world more subjective than humor.

In Monday's "The Oklahoman," staff writer, William Crum noted a number of local pastors have determined, "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told" is, gross pornography.

According to Crum this largely unnamed posse of clergy even wrote a letter to both the OKC mayor and the state's governor asking the question, "why is it necessary to mock the Bible in the Christmas season?" Neither Mayor Mick Cornett, or Governor Mary Fallin answered the question directly. There could be a couple of reasons for that. Number one being no one ever said performing the play was necessary and two, they'd rather not hazard a guess as to what season the outraged pastors would prefer it to be run during. The Oklahoma City Theater Company could, I suppose, hold off until spring, but then there is Lent and Easter, which is closely followed by Pentecost. Indeed, the year is just chock full of holy seasons if you're a devout follower of the Christian church, so exactly when would be a good time?

Obviously the answer to that question, at least according to the hyper agitated ministers, would be never. In a move straight out of the arch conservative playbook, the letter also called on the state legislature to stop providing tax payer money to the Oklahoma Arts Council. What the Oklahoma Arts Council has to do with any of this is a bit murky. Crum pointed out the Council, in fact, refused a request to assist the funding of the production.

Of course there isn't a conservative out there, especially a born again Christian conservative who trusts anything with the word "art" in it. It is one of those huge bugaboos they deal with daily. On the most basic level artists creep them out. They don't understand their psyches and they really don't want the government to subsidize their efforts. In the end, they have this terrible feeling all art is not only decadent, but distinctly threatening, especially if it is something they don't like. It is rather the same way they feel about seeing a black guy in the white house, but I digress.

Interestingly Fallin and Cornett are keeping a discreet distance from all the hubbub. The last time Oklahoma City caved in to a bunch of morality cops it was 1997, a year before Rudnick penned "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told."  Following a series of shrill complaints from a born again Christian group called Oklahomans for Children and Families, some rube judge decided the metro area had been infested with pornography. The local police ended up confiscating copies of the film, "The Tin Drum," which had won the academy award for best Foreign Language Film. A few months later a federal judge ruled the hysterical nonsense unconstitutional and the national press eviscerated Oklahoma City and the yokels who appeared to be in charge. The Oklahoman reports by the time the city settled the legal challenges the tax payer tab was $700,000.

Cornett may pander to these goofs on election day, but given his painstaking make over of the town, which includes getting the national sports media in here on an almost weekly basis around nine months a year, one can hardly blame him for keeping low. This burg is a tough sell to begin with. It doesn't help if the outside perception is a bunch of guys who rant in tongues and dress in pastel colored sports jackets run herd over the place as if it was West Monroe, Louisiana.

So, ultimately what has come to pass is this. The good pastors raised just enough hell for the state's largest daily paper to print a lengthy lead story about a play which is going to open in a 2,800 square foot theater located in a basement tomorrow night. The metro population is right at 1.2 million souls. The venue seats barely 100 people. The run is ten performances and thanks to all the publicity and self righteous chest thumping I'm thinking the odds are now better than 50-50 the tiny hall will be filled for each and every one of them, despite a forecast of nightmarish weather. That is what happens when you tell Americans they shouldn't go see something. It also means that out of one million two hundred thousand humans, far less than 0.01 percent of them will witness what a handful of clergy consider heresy.

Ladies and gentlemen of the cloth, I have no idea what Paul Rudnick believes or doesn't believe. I do, however, have a sneaking suspicion his play really isn't about mocking the bible. But I'll tell you what--he is certainly doing a number on you. Trust me on that.

Watch out for that apple folks, there is no telling where it has been.

sic vita est


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Big Wages, Small Wages, and the Price of Fast Food

If you're a working stiff the news isn't good. An online post by MSN cites figures compiled by Michael B. Sauter, Thomas C. Frohlich, and Alexander E.M. Hess for 24/7 Wall St.

Included are these tidbits: The CEO of Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell makes $14.1 million a year in compensation. The corporate revenue is $13.6 billion and the net take is listed at $1.6 billion. However, if you're the one frying the chicken, making the pies, or stuffing the taco you make a little less than $8 per hour.

The Target stores CEO drags in 20.6 million a year while the average wage for a cashier, or sales person working the floor is under $9 per hour. Target netted $3 billion in profits last year and had a total revenue of $73.3 billion.

Over at Walmart the current CEO pockets $20.7 million a year. The revenue stream rolls in at around $469 billion and the net profit last year was $17 billion. Walmart is a bit touchy about employee wages and benefits because they are so anti union and labor that everyone likes to jump their ass. The corporation claims the average full time employee makes, $12.83 per hour. That sounds, not bad, I suppose, but unfortunately the figure includes local management personnel and ignores the fact most Walmart sales associates aren't full time. The vast majority of associates make less than $9 per hour. The horrible truth is the wages Walmart pays it's employees in some parts of the country are so out of touch with reality a few of the stores hold food drives for their own workers during the holidays.

At least McDonald's is up front about screwing the person who slaps your Big Mac together. According to the report, the Mickey D's CEO makes $13.8 million per year and the company pulls in a net $5.5 billion. It also actively encourages it's employees to apply for food stamps  and welfare programs. You know, those government entitlements the republicans are so hot to slash from the federal budget.

Right now, someone reading this is saying to him, or herself something along the lines of, "So what? Fuck 'em. It isn't any skin off my nose. Besides I like my fries and cargo pants cheap."

Oops. Actually it isn't that simple. Unfortunately there is some skin off everyones noses.

24/7 Wall St. also put up these figures which were compiled by the National Employment Law Project, or NELP. First, the study noted 90% of all fast food workers have no health benefits. Then it went on to point out employees at Domino's Pizza cost taxpayers $126 million per year. That is how much money it takes to pay for the food stamps and government sponsored medicaid plans they must rely in order to keep their heads barely above water.

In addition the NELP's numbers show employees of the Oklahoma City based Sonic Drive-In company cost taxpayers $164 million per year--Dunkin' Donuts, $274 million, Wendy's, $278 million, Burger King $365 million, Yum Brands, $648 million, and Ronald McDonald's rank and file, a breath taking, $1.2 billion. Yes, that was a billion with a "B".

I'm not a whiz at math, but after some simple addition I believe those seven, highly profitable corporations, have just cost you and I a little over $3 billion per year because they refuse to pay their employees a living wage, or provide them with even a hint of health benefits.

Well why should they? After all, they have us, their customers, subsidizing the medical care and basic food needs of hundreds of thousands of their employees--all while their favorite politicians are howling about the lazy poor and mythical welfare queens who demand something for nothing. At the same time the guys at the top of these enterprises have compensation packages that, when combined, equal $52.7 million per annum.

None of us are communists here, but you don't have to be Karl--by God--Marx to see something is wrong with this picture.

Indeed, the right wing can scream all day about individuals who abuse the safety net which was put in place by the democrats. However, in the end, the biggest and most ruthless welfare scams are perpetrated, not by some dudes living in the projects, but by giant corporations who see the system as just another way to increase their bottom lines.

Hey, the food may come fast, but it certainly isn't cheap--for any of us.

No wonder The American Dream has gone the way of the Stegosaurus.

I want a beer.

sic vita est


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sloth, Black Friday, Football, and So Long, Paul Crouch

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Indeed, when the whole nation becomes a grotesque and gluttonous parable--a cheap, high tech, imitation of ancient Rome--it is best to simply let yourself be carried along in the wind rather than stand up to it.

Let's face it, this is the time of year when vast numbers of the hoi polloi will turn violent in the blink of an eye. Tens of millions believe the situation is desperately urgent. Fantastic deals on all manner of stuff are ripe for the taking. The alma mater's warriors have taken the field and are facing ancient and intractable foes. Yes, there are no harmless slights when this sort of hysteria takes hold. So, stay mum and happily wallow in all the uniquely American decadence along with the rest of the vulgus--the truth is a conscience can take you only so far during these hectic days.

Friday and Saturday I did my best imitation of an indolent member of the Senate by gorging myself with left over fowl, bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, and wine. The only things missing from the setting were a toga and a couple of tasteful slaves procured from Gaul.

The early news was encouraging. Nation wide, Black Friday casualties were reported to be light. One cop in Illinois had been dragged through a Kohl's parking lot by a car under the control of a suspected shop lifter. The alleged criminal was shot in the arm by another officer. In Vegas a customer walking to his car with a newly purchased TV had been stabbed during an attempted robbery. In Rialto, CA another policeman was injured during a melee at a local Walmart. A man was slashed with a knife after an argument over a vacant parking space in Virginia. Another was stabbed during the initial rush at a mall in Carlsbad, CA. There were other minor incidents of lax crowd control--you know--pushing, shoving, cursing, and vicious snarls. All in all though it was a manageable level of violence and an acceptable start to the season during which Christians celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ--aka, The Prince of Peace.

Of course I avoided the malls and madness altogether. I sipped at my glass and smoked cigars while I watched college athletes play American football in coliseums filled with hundreds of thousands of howling fans. Most of the games yesterday were breathtaking. Ohio State beat Michigan by a single point while a second quarter gang fight between the two teams was judged, by most, to be a draw. Duke beat North Carolina by two points and Oregon knocked off Oregon State by a point. Alabama and Auburn whaled away at each other for a couple of hours. The outcome was finally settled during the last second of the contest when an Auburn player returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown.

Today, in the aftermath, the Alabama place kicker who missed two field goal attempts and had another blocked began to receive death threats and other ugly messages in the extreme from distraught, inconsolable, and quite frankly, psychotic, Crimson Tide followers.

In addition, Hoover, AL  police reported a woman had been shot to death at a party where fans had gathered to watch the Bama-Auburn game. Police would not confirm if the shooting was game related, but did announce they had taken a second woman into custody.

Finally, I learned my old pal Paul Crouch had passed away. Crouch was the founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network, a television empire designed to spread the gospel and pass the collection plate. Because of the lonely and weepy nature of his audience and their generous love gifts the original single studio operation grew into a multi national conglomerate which includes a Christian entertainment center outside of Nashville, TN and a biblical theme park in Orlando, FL, among other venues.

Unlike fellow TV evangelist, Jim Bakker, Crouch was relatively untouched by scandal. His only real brush with trouble was when a former executive of the firm claimed he had his staff pray for the death of a man who was attempting a take over of one of the TBN outlets. Crouch was utterly unapologetic for making an appeal to The Almighty for the mafia style hit. In fact, he promised he would never hesitate to pray for God's divine assistance when it came to offing those who were attempting to destroy his ministry. That's right, baby, protect your turf and go all Old Testament on their asses when you do.

Personally, my favorite TBN moment came years ago on the night Crouch and some cohorts were attempting to prove the satanical backward masking they claimed was hidden on rock and roll records. I sat there in a stunned stupor that bleary night for two hours as they played one rock single after another in reverse, by hand, on a turn table--all the while claiming they could translate what amounted to gibberish into evil and fearful exhortations by Satan himself.

Well, the old boy is gone now and and is in possession of the ultimate truth. I really do wish him the best in the after life.

So that was the weekend. My family consumed enough food to keep an entire village in Somalia fed for a month. Americans charged through the aisles of places such as Walmart like hordes of crazed Vandals. Young and heavily armored gladiators raged and hammered at each other all across the land while the masses roared their lusty approval. Paul Crouch walked off into that good and ever lasting night. And--in all truth--for three days absolute sloth never felt better.

Hey, these things happen. After all, it is the season.

sic vita est