Thursday, June 8, 2017

Give the Man a Fish!

"First feed the face and then talk right and wrong"
Yesterday, right after I had posted my previous blog entry, “Cut Bait,” the above excerpt from the song “How to Survive” (Bertholt Brecht/Kurt Weill, The Threepenny Opera) floated into my head. So today I am posting an addendum to the previous discussion of “Give a man a fish . . . Teach a man to fish.”
There are only two things I remember from my three years of Junior High School, both acronyms: PAIL and BAPS.

PAIL is a reminder of the four types of skin injuries: Puncture, Abrasion, Incision, and Laceration. Good for one's general knowledge, but PAIL doesn't rise to the level of usefulness of BAPS.

The latter acronym spurs us to the correct order of treatment should we happen to stumble across a man in shock who has swallowed poison, been asphyxiated, and is simultaneously bleeding. (Now, I must admit that my BAPS knowledge has never been called into play, as I have never met such a distressed human being. The only person that I can imagine coming across such an unfortunate is Hercule Poirot, but that prissy Belgian, I believe, would be of no use in the matter.)

At any rate, in case you do come across such a case, here's the battle order:

First, deal with the most life-threatening problem—the Bleeding;
Only once that is under control, do you turn to the second most threatening issue—the Asphyxiation;
After that is seen to, you move to an antidote for the Poison;
And lastly (assuming the poor chap is still with you) you attend to the Shock.
And so, class, what is the relevance of all this to our fish story of yesterday?

First things first. Before attempting to turn a starving man into Izaac Walton, feed his face!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cut Bait

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

A saying that originated—according to the first page of Google results—in ancient China (Confucius, perhaps), or with Maimonides, or maybe as late as 19th century England (with a certain Anne Isabella Richie).

It’s not worth my while trying to figure out whether the above saying is an aphorism, an adage, a maxim, an apothegm or—well—just a saying, and I certainly have no idea who thought it up. What I do know is that there is a stink (like a three-day old fish) of mock profundity about it.

In reality, the saying is an example of a false dichotomy—the fallacy that there are only two (polar opposite) positions that can be held in an argument (“Better dead than red.” “Better red than dead.”). 

The fish story is generally reeled in nowadays by those big-hearted econo-moralists who would walk past a beggar but drop $$$ into the greasy palms of the 1 percent, who—as the plot is expected to unfold—will spend the loot on factories and mills that will eventually employ said beggar. Top-down economics, Reaganomics, “voodoo economics” (in the apt phrase of George H. W. Bush, before he ate crow and became that bad actor’s running mate).

Sure, teach the starving man to fish. But if he isn’t fed first, he won’t be around to be taught. 

As John Maynard Keynes retorted to someone who was blowing on about “the long run”: 

“In the long run we shall all be dead.”

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Lying on his hospital bed staring up at the cracks in the ceiling, Alan Grant was one very disconsolate copper. The books that friends had brought him to pass the time elicited not a whit of interest in him. The Scotland Yard detective, having fallen through a trap door in pursuit of a small-time criminal, was—maddeningly—hors de combat.

Relief from boredom—if not from the prison of his hospital bed—came when a friend brought him, instead of another unreadable book, a collection of reproductions of old portrait paintings:
“Faces . . . . Dozens of faces for you. Men, women, and children. All sorts, conditions, and sizes.”
 It was the friend’s idea that Grant, who had made a “conscious study” of faces could winkle out some possible solutions to historical mysteries by his examination of the portraits. However, none of them aroused his curiosity until he came upon this one:
“A judge? A soldier? A prince?” But when Grant turned the picture over and read the name of the subject, he was taken aback to learn that this man who Grant assessed as “[s]omeone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. Someone too conscientious” was the notorious Richard III.

And so The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey unfolds as Grant searches for the truth about the alleged villainy (which he didn’t perceive in his face) of the last Plantagenet king of England.
I see this sense of privilege in the child’s eyes, and it cuts to some core, sick emotions connected with race in America that I think are still with us today.—Carolyn Drake
This photograph captures the essence of racism and servitude in America
for all time. The contrast between the expression of cold entitlement on the very white baby’s face and the calm resignation of the black nurse who is holding her only amplifies the great difference in their skin color and positions in life.—Mary Ellen Mark*
This is the photograph that those two photographers were commenting on [it is from The Americans by Robert Frank]:

I’m sorry—but this is crazy. A baby with no hair, who can’t even walk,** but has a “sense of privilege” in its eyes and an “expression of cold entitlement” on its face! (I wonder what Alan Grant would find there.) Let us attack racism for the beastliness it was in Charlestown, South Carolina in 1955 and for what it still is today. But let’s pick the right symbols and language. 

Here’s a photograph I took in New York City about two decades after Frank took his:

What do you want to make of it? 

Macbeth: ”There’s no art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face.”


** No Borscht Belt punchlines please.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Aliens Amongst Us

But tell us further, Meletus, before Zeus, whether it is better to dwell among upright citizens or villainous ones?
Sir, answer. For surely I am asking nothing hard. Do not the villainous do something bad to whoever are nearest to them, while the good do something good?
          Plato, The Apology
A few years ago a local supermarket chain explained the reason for its support of community services:
After all, we live here too” (or words to that effect).
Those words (or their equivalent) surged to the forefront of my mind as I gagged at the devastation to the environment that will shortly be effected by the willful actions of Trump and his fellow destroyers of the planet Earth. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote on the New Yorker website:
A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey, put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”(1)
And, of course, it isn't just the Executive branch that is all-out for more pollution and contamination of the air and water. There are congressmen like Matt Gaetz (Republican) of Florida, who wants to abolish the EPA altogether, allegedly to “better protect the environment.”(2) We should, he claims, “downstream resources to states for more effective & efficient protection.”   

Let's look at that word “downstream,” used here by Gaetz as a verb, and its opposite “upstream” in their more usual roles as adverbs. Waste, contaminants, and pollution flow downstream. If a state upstream is less zealous in its policing of its waters, then the downstream states are also the victims of the former's abuse of the environment. (And if you're Florida, you're way downstream.) Or, consider this air pollution stream:
Much of Hong Kong’s pollution . . . wafts across the border from China. About 60-70% of particulate matter comes from the mainland, according to a study commissioned by the city’s Environmental Protection Department. In winter, when the wind direction tends to blow more pollutants towards Hong Kong, as much as 77% of dust in the air comes from China.Hong Kong has signed a series of agreements with Guangdong province directly to the north – but they are unenforceable, stymying efforts by the local government and activists to have a meaningful impact. In the meantime, the health impact on Hong Kong’s population is severe.(3)
Yes, Hong Kong creates a great deal of its own air pollution, and needs to attack it at the source, just as local and state action in the US is needed to tackle localized pollution. But only action by larger political entities, national and international, can significantly help to reduce overall pollution. 
If the desire to kill people is a prerequisite for the job of Attorney General of Arkansas(4), the prerequisite for the Attorney General post in either North Carolina or Oklahoma is selling-out to fossil fuel companies. 

To understand that devolving complete environmental control to the states is meshugah, take a look at North Carolina.
It’s like our state is deaf, and the only voice they can hear is Duke Energy,” claims  Amy Brown, who lives with her husband and two sons in a small single-story home in Belmont, not far from Charlotte. (5)
Because of contamination from Duke Energy's power plants, the Brown family has been forced to live on bottled water, and they never take baths, only rushed showers; the in-ground pool, "which has elevated levels of arsenic, among other chemicals, is strictly off-limits.”

In Oklahoma, the state's Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, seemed to spend his whole tenure fighting to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency—plagiarizing texts from petroleum industry flacks in doing so. He was, of course, named Trump's head of the EPA. “It’s the worst thing in the history of our environment!” exclaimed Garvin Isaacs, the president of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
We are in danger. The whole country is in danger. Our kids are in danger.” . . .He claims the fossil-fuel industry “owns the whole darn state.” But his worries at the state level are now national. By choosing Pruitt, Isaacs said, Trump has outsourced his environmental policy to the Republican Party’s most powerful private donors—the oil-and-gas magnates who have funded Pruitt’s campaigns in Oklahoma.(5)
All of which leads me back to the beginning of this post: “After all, we live here too.”

As Socrates stated, it is better to live among good people than bad people—and I think that we can all agree that polluters and their enablers are bad people. Don't the Trumps, the Pruitts, the Gaetzes “live here too”? Don't they share the same air as everyone else? Are they oblivious to the damage they are doing not only to us but their own families?

For a long time I tried to wrap my head around this seeming absurdity—of people actually promoting harm to themselves and their families. But I have finally found the answer:
Aliens exist and they live in our midst disguised as humans - at least, that's what 20 percent of people polled in a global survey believe.(6)
I am converted! That is the answer. The polluters and their enablers don't “live here too.” They are aliens amongst us, who are only temporarily on Earth in order to destroy it, before retreating to their true home in some nasty far-off corner of the universe.

(4) Arkansas is determined to run convicted prisoners to their death on an assembly- line basis.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pizza and Circuses

Joseph Louis Barrow was one of the twentieth century’s greatest sporting heroes, reigning as boxing’s heavyweight champion for almost a dozen years. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was to prove, in knocking out the German fighter Max Schmeling in1938, (like Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics) that brown-skinned Americans were superior to members of Hitler’s “Master Race.”

In 1979 Detroit, Michigan opened a new sports facility (built mainly to house the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League) and named it after its favorite son: The Joe Louis Arena.

This past Sunday the Red Wings played their last game at The Joe (as it’s known); the team will be moving to a new home next season  Perhaps fittingly, the end of the team’s stay at its old home was also the end of the team’s successful run of a quarter-century of appearances in the league’s Stanley Cup Playoffs (they finished one point out of dead last in their division). After a few more music concerts, The Joe will be demolished.

A brand-new facility, Little Caesars Arena, will be the Red Wings' next home. The Ilitch family (the paterfamilias, Mike(1), died earlier this year), who own the team (not the arena, but paid for the arena’s naming rights), made their original fortune selling pizzas under the Little Caesars name (though somehow they couldn’t afford an apostrophe). 
Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are A Game That Taxpayers Lose(2)

Arizona City Lays Off Workers While Handing Millions To Its Professional Ice Hockey Team(3)

New Minnesota Vikings Stadium A Boondoggle Before It’s Even Built(4)

Record-Breaking Public Subsidy Lures Hated Football Team to America’s Gambling Capital(5)
One thing that the Ilitches can’t brag about is that their arena deal is the country's worst public-financing rip-off. That dubious honor, according to Roger Noll, a Stanford economist, belongs to the Las Vegas subsidy cited above. Noll called it the “worst deal for a city” he had ever seen. According to Henry Grabar, the author of the article, 
Clark County taxpayers will contribute $750 million to the new arena, a record for a sports facility—about $354 per resident, taken from an increased tax on hotel rooms. That tax currently pays for schools and transportation, in addition to tourism-related expenditures.
Like the Vegas deal, the Detroit deal diverts tax money away from public uses:
If no DDA TIF district existed, the property taxes would go to the city's general fund, Detroit Public Schools, Wayne County, Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority, Wayne County Intermediate School District, Wayne County Community College District, and the state (bold type in original).(6)
And Detroit could use that money. It’s a city that had to declare bankruptcy in 2013, the largest city to do so. What happened a week later? The Red Wings “secured $284.5 million in public money for their new arena.”(7) 
As Deep Throat, the whistleblower in the Watergate scandal famously declared, “Follow the money.” Somehow it always seems to flow one way: into the pockets of the rich.
The wrecking ball will soon demolish The Joe, which honored one of the icons of the twentieth century;(8) it will be superseded by a venue that is named after a purveyor of baked dough whose logo features a cartoon character.
(1) Bill Bradley: "The truth is, Mike Ilitch was a rich old man who owned a bunch of stuff and never saw a tax break he didn’t like."

(8) Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon (speaking of Joe Louis in response to another person's characterization of him as "a credit to his race") "...he is a credit to his race, the human race.” 
UPDATE (April 13)

The day after I posted the above, the Guardian (UK) published a story by Jerald Podair about the controversy in Los Angeles between 1957 and 1962 over the construction of a new baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine to accommodate the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers. Podia writes:
Opponents of the stadium objected to what they viewed as a giveaway of public property – the land at Chavez Ravine on which the stadium would be constructed – for the personal gain of a private individual, Walter O’Malley [the most reviled man in Brooklyn history]. . . .

Supporters argued that the public benefits derived from the stadium in the form of property tax revenues, jobs, entertainment, and civic improvement justified O’Malley’s profits. . . .

But stadium critics rejected the idea that a great American city required a central core studded with civic monuments. They argued instead for a Los Angeles that performed the basic tasks of urban life: concentrating tax resources on neighbourhoods in need of schools, streets, sanitation and safety.(9)
 I highly recommend Podair’s article.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Republican Identity Crisis

Mitch McConnell
"I am not a scientist."


Kellyanne Conway
"I am not Inspector Gadget."


Richard Nixon
"I am not a crook."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Starboard Whores

It seems that I was mistaken. I had always reckoned that the first question recorded in the Bible was Adam's asking Eve, “Is that a McIntosh or a Delicious?” 

Thank goodness for Google for setting me straight (and thank goodness for the internet, because before its existence, I suppose I would have only been able to find the correct answer by renting a hotel room and scanning the Gideon).

It also turns out that the famous question “Am I my brother's keeper?” wasn't even the first one on its line of text (Gen. IV, 9), being the response to the Lord's own question: “Where is Abel thy brother?”*
The two presidential candidates whom I most enthusiastically supported in the past were:

The Biblical Cain's favorite candidate, I believe, would have been Herman Clabbercutt, the fictitious politician created by “TV-comic, newspaper columnist, humorist-writer,” as the Saturday Review styled him, Roger Price in his 1952 satirical look at politics, I'm for Me First
Raising the serious charge that neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties have "cut him in on the take," he calls in his book for the formation of a "Me First Party," a grass-roots movement of greed which (he hopes) will sweep the country.**
Just short of four decades later, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley asserted:
If you take a clinical look at the evolution of these United States over the past couple of decades, it is self-evident that the Me First Political Party won all the elections and that its papers and memorabilia soon will go to the National Archives.***
The other week McKay Coppins of The Atlantic visited CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference).**** He reported that the place to take “the temperature” of the conservative movement was not in the main auditorium listening to speeches but “The Hub,” Exhibit Hall D on the ground floor of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where CPAC was being held.

It was there that young conservatives waded past “booths set up by right-wing think tanks, media outfits, pressure groups, and publishers—shopping for future careers.”

And it was careerism trumping (pun unintended) principles as scads of “blue-blazered and high-heeled” conservative wannabes began to bend and bow to the hot wind of Trumpism. Coppins notes that
[n]one of the young CPAC-goers I talked to told me definitively that they were undertaking a wholesale career recalibration in response to Trump’s rise. Instead, most seemed like they were hanging back, cautiously assessing the landscape, trying to stay flexible.
However, it took an attendee who wished to remain anonymous who--off the record--said he noticed that some of his amateur blogger friends have begun to adopt a more Trumpian posture lately in hopes of making it big.”

Principles be damned! 

The “Me First Party,” the political movement of greed, is alive and blue-blazered well.

*Do we spot here the prototype of the Jewish habit of answering a question with a question?

**Saturday Review, August 4, 1956.

***April 11, 1994.

Quite coincidentally, in this 1994 column about collecting autographs and baseball cards, Yardley wrote:
I'll admit that I'd pay a pretty penny for a Babe Ruth or (better yet) a Honus Wagner or (best of all) a Christy Mathewson, but the market in baseball memorabilia has gotten so out of hand that these are now the tastes of a Rockefeller or (God forbid) a Trump.