Saturday, April 30, 2011

McCourt Strikes Out, Ponzi Hits A Homer

Another full house at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park
Major League baseball teams are not merely businesses like fast-food franchises or car washes. They are, in most cities, deeply important parts of the social fabric. My children, for example, are the fifth generation of my family to attend Philadelphia Phillies games.

Even as the go-go economy has swooned, attendance at most Major League ballparks has remained robust. Philadelphia has been among the hardest hit Rust Belt cities, but the Phillies have sold out every game for two straight seasons and 2011 is certain to be the third.

Team owners have not been immune from the vicissitudes of the economy, but in at least two cases their use of team revenues as funny money has drawn fan anger and concern from the mahoffs who run the American and National Leagues.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, one of MLB's marquis franchises, have been taken over by an overseer appointed by Commissioner Bud Selig because owner Frank McCourt, a Boston real estate developer, has saddled the team with $400 million since buying it in 2004 while enriching himself.

One consequence of McCourt's profligacy is that security at Dodgers Stadium has been cut back. Earlier this month, a San Francisco Giants fans was severely beaten in a stadium parking lot and McCourt has conceded to there is a lack of adequate security.

Meanwhile, the owners of the New York Mets are seeking minority investors as they brace for losses from a lawsuit brought by Irving Picard, the trustee who is representing victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Fred Wilpon, chairman of the Mets, controls Sterling Equities, an investment company that fed more than $522 million into Madoff accounts over the years and took even more out of them.

Picard is seeking so-called clawbacks from those who withdrew more from Madoff accounts than they put in, and Wilpon and his son Jeff have been identified as likely targets.

The bottom line is the Mets, which are (again) as bad on the field as their crosstown rivals the Yankees are good, are broke.

Cartoon du Jour

Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Ciaran Price, Ava Smith and Jean Jenkinson enjoy a royal street party held in the village of Marple Bridge to celebrate the nuptials of Will and Kate.
Photograph by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Carnival Clown Gets Dunked

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page gets the award for Best Analogy the Week in describing Donald Trump as being like a loudmouthed carnival clown who sits on a collapsible platform over a barrel of water and shouts insults at the passing crowd. Because that's all that the guy is good for.

Actually, the Republican presidential wannabe has had an issue even near and dearer to his double comb-over heart, and that is to bash China, which he has repeatedly said is "raping this country" because of "all the crap" it imports. And that the problem with the U.S. is that "it just doesn't manufacture stuff anymore."

Well guess what? The bulls eye on that collapsible platform has taken a direct hit: Trump's pricey Signature Collection of menswear is . . . made . . . in . . . China.

* * * * *
Meanwhile, the carnival clown's fake "Celebrity Apprentice" television reality show is tanking in the ratings.

There has been speculation that Trump's president run would last only until the end of the current season of "Celebrity Apprentice," a show that National Media says has among the most liberal viewers in prime time television. But the firm, which books political ads on television, says the show's ratings are southbound because Trump is driving viewers away.

* * * * *
Trump has ridden to the top of the Republican presidential polls by challenging President Obama to prove that he's an American.

But now he's being challenged to prove that he's a Republican, a not unfair question since he has been a Democrat and contributed heavily to Democratic candidates.
Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, took a swipe at Trump the day after his infamous press conference in New Hampshire

"I’ve come to New Hampshire today because I'm very concerned," said Paul. "I want to see the original long-form certificate of Donald Trump’s Republican registration."

* * * * *
David Frum, a former economic speechwriter for George Bush, was among the more lucid Republican voices until he was cast out of the party temple for questioning its rightward drift.

Highly critical of Trump, he also is not buying the view of Republican-centric pundits who deny that birtherism ever got a grip:

"Sorry, that’s just wrong. Not only did Trump surge ahead in Republican polls by flaming racial fires -- not only did conservative media outlets from Fox to Drudge to the Breitbart sites indulge the birthers -- but so also did every Republican candidate who said, 'I take the president at his word.' Birthers did not doubt the president's "word." They were doubting the official records of the state of Hawaii. It's like answering a 9/11 conspiracist by saying, 'I take the 9/11 families at their word that they lost their loved ones.' "

* * * * *
Then there is the matter of how much dough Trump actually has. He has been notably coy about revealing his net worth, something that he would have to do as a presidential candidate, and dismisses questions about it with a wave of his hand and a pledge to reveals that info "at the appropriate time."

In all likelihood, Trump is worth considerably less than it would appear and it is probable, given how many of his properties are over-leveraged, that he is far from being a billionaire as he has repeatedly intimated.

Cartoon by Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu (1924-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour


By Jason

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Week That Never Should Have Been

America is slouching toward the end of what has to be the strangest -- as well as saddest -- week in memory.

It was a week in which President Obama, responding to the short-form birthers who have nipped at his heals for three years, was compelled to belabor the obvious by producing his long-firm birth certificate, while the television news media, which has squandered its credibility in such a thoroughgoing fashion, broke into regular program to carry live the blatherings of the barking maddest of the barking mad of the Republican lunatic fringe, who took credit for the president’s action.

Save perhaps for breaking away to carry live a radio speech by Hitler or Mussolini in the run-up to World War II, there is no such precedent in American media history. It was like going live to one of Bishop Coughlin’s radio speeches in the 1930s because the fascist cleric was expected to attack Jewish bankers.

Even the weather gods seemed especially roiled as violently deadly weather pounded two-thirds of the country. It would not have been all that surprising if the Capitol dome had blown off. Oh, wait a minute, it’s only Thursday.

Let’s be absolutely clear that when questions were first raised in 2008 about whether Barack Obama was American born, they were appropriate. Indeed, similar questions were raised about John McCain. But both candidates soon produced the necessary documentation to show that they were born in Hawaii, in Obama’s case, and in the U.S. Canal Zone in Panama, as was the case with McCain.

But the questions about Obama did not end there and instead have grown exponentially, sucking in true believers like the latest cure for erectile dysfunction. Today fully half of Republicans, according to some polls, believe that Obama has lied and forged his way into covering up his "true" place of birth — Kenya — and be rest assured that most of these minds (a generous use of the term to be sure) will continue to feel the same way. For them, it is never time to move on, and Obama's legitimacy will be questioned until the day he leaves office. (That would be January 20, 2017.)

To say that this is dog-whistle politics does injustice to dogs everywhere. It is racist at its soulless core and no amount of pretzel logic from Tea Party mouthpieces or conservative talk show shouters will change that.

Meanwhile, like flies attracted to the steaming fecal pies that litter cow pastures, one GOP presidential wannabe after another has covered themselves with those steaming fecal pies as they climbed onto the birther bandwagon, but none as enthusiastically as the vulgar fraud with the double comb-over at whose feet the television news networks grovelled in breaking into their programming to cover his news conference in the "battlefield state" of New Hampshire.

Battlefield, my ass.

There is a case to be made that Obama should have let the birther madness rave on, and some pundits believe that he set a trap that the Republicans willingly walked into. After all, this brand of gotcha politics was roiling an already distracted GOP that a mere 14 weeks after taking over the House finds itself on the defensive because of its plan to close the budget deficit by kneecapping the middle class and poor and rewarding the rich with new stretch limousines. Ironically, theirs is a solution that not even birthers can abide.

But Obama proved himself yet again to be presidential. The U.S. is in crisis, and not because its leader has a funny name and the flames of racism were being further fueled by birthers. He had to throw water on the fire and turn our collective attention back to where it belongs.

Too bad that many Republican and their television news media helpmates will not be doing so. After all, there are questions about how Obama got into two Ivy League schools and became editor of the Harvard Law Review since the man with the double comb-over claims he got such lousy grades in high school.

Worry not, America, because he's on the case.

Photograph by Jim Cole/The Associated Press

Royal Shazam: The Endless American Love Affair With British Monarchy

The monarchy is so extraordinarily useful. When Britain wins a battle she shouts, "God save the Queen;" when she loses, she votes down the prime minister.
One of the Founding Fathers' greatest fears was that the young republic would devolve into a monarchy, and after all, it was a monarch from which the United States had liberated itself in 1776. This explains why there was so much attention paid to defining and limiting the powers of the presidency, but it does not explain why 235 years later Americans nevertheless have such a love affair with the British monarchy.

That love affair and attendant fairy tale frou-frou has been on full display in the run-up to the nuptials tomorrow of William Arthur Phillip Louis (aka Prince of Wales) and Catherine Elizabeth Middleton (aka just plain Kate) with cheesy television specials, even cheesier merchandise, and breathless coverage of the would-be wedding crashers who have been camping out all week at Westminster Abbey. Then there is speculation as to who has not been invited (Britain's last two prime ministers, that's who)
and why thugs like the Crown Prince of Bahrain have been.

Ahem, the American love affair is easily explained.

For one thing, an outsized number of Americans seem unable to get over the fact that they have a president and not a king, although picturing Barack Obama wearing an enormous jewel-encrusted gold crown and an ermine cape while holding a scepter does not easily come to mind. (George Bush is something else altogether).

For another, there has been no bigger celebrity in the last 50 years than Harry's mum, Diana Frances nee Spencer (aka Diana, Princess of Wales, or Lady Di if you felt especially close to her.) A lot of us did feel close because she parlayed a beauty and glamour . . . err, glamor into a train wreck of a life that underlined the human frailties we all share and ended in a literal wreck in a Paris auto tunnel in August 1997.

For yet another, William and Kate are the first frump-free royal couple since . . . well, they're the first. While Lady Di was the personification of all that fairy tale frou-frou, her husband and William's father, Charles (aka Charles Arthur Phillip George, or Prince Charles) has managed the neat trick of morphing from a guy who looked uninteresting even on a polo pony into a New Age stickybeak. After all, it's just not the job of royalty to do stuff like saving rain forests.

William's grandmum, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary (aka Elizabeth II) and her sister Margaret Rose (aka Princess Margaret) are and were the personification of frump, which the latter still managed to pull off with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other. Elizabeth's husband, Phillip (aka Prince Phillip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich) strikes me as being a secret admirer of Oscar the Grouch (and I suspect a closet reactionary and lover of fart jokes).

William and Kate, on the other hand, are fresh faced younguns who would fit right in at Happy Hour at your local college tappy, have requisite text messaging skills and hopefully the chops to produce a male heir, although there are indications that Brits are a bit less bonkers over these nuptials than when Charles and Di got hitched in 1981 because of all the royal divorces, marital wars and other scandals.

I think there is a fourth reason, as well.

Elizabeth has been a heck of a queen. Despite the fact that she has the fashion sense of my late Aunt Catherine, who invariably dressed like she was on her way to a banquet for retired telephone operators (which she was for 50 years) and even vacuumed her apartment in dress-up clothes, she has been one great monarch since being coronated in 1952, displaying an uncanny knack for seriousness and levity to fit the situation, as well as the nation's mood.

Like when she met Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (aka Lady Gaga), who has not been invited to the wedding but methinks would have a whole lot more fun hanging with William and Kate.

Cartoon du Jour

Andy Davey/The Sun

Phoebe Snow (1951-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

(Wyoming -- 2007)
By Jason

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trying To Make Sense Of The Arab Spring

In Egypt, pro-democracy protests led to the forced resignation of the president, who now faces criminal charges as the Army leads an interim government. In Syria, the president had long promised reforms but when they did not come brutally cracked down on demonstrators when they took to the streets.

From the monolithic American view, Egypt and Syria would not appear to be especially different countries, although the outcomes of efforts to embrace democracy have been very much so. Meanwhile, pro-democracy movements have encountered varying degrees of success in Tunisia and Yemen and abject failure in Bahrain, where Saudi security forces were part of the crackdown, as well as in Algeria.

In trying to make sense of all of this, I conclude that:

* The big story is the feeling of empowerment that has swept the region. Arabs of all backgrounds now demand to be heard. This is primarily because of Al-Jazeera and social media and little to do with Obama or Bush foreign policies.

* The dramatic three-week uprising in Egypt that culminated with the fall of Hosni Mubarak is, taking the most optimistic point of view, only the end of the beginning. The same applies to other countries where there have been successes.

* If Egypt was a dress rehearsal for the appropriate U.S. role in promoting the Arab Spring, Libya is the litmus test. The Obama administration understands that American credibility and its intentions, so often malevolent in the past, are on the line and it had no choice but to back and be a big part of NATO involvement.

* The Arab Spring is post-Islamist insofar that demonstrators less identify with Islam than with getting a voice, although that does not mean that the deeply sectarian Muslim Brotherhood won't play a role in Egypt's future or that the Libyan rebels aren't aligned with Al Qaeda.

* The need for a vigorous American public diplomacy has never been greater, but many of the very Republicans who excoriate the White House and State Department for its diplomacy want to dramatically slash funding for such efforts.

The sense of stalemate is palpable in much of the region, which makes it even more important that there be a clear U.S. policy and that it be hewed to for the long-haul. That, of course, has to include Israel, Palestine and Iran.

* As litmus tests go, Libya is a biggie but Israel may be bigger still because of its outsized influence in Washington and the intractability of the Palestinian "problem."

In fact, the key to the long-term success of the Arab Spring arguably rests with the only non-Arab country in the region.

Israel's reaction of shock and alarm over Mubarak's ouster was deeply disheartening, although not surprising. After all, no other nation in the region has a peace treaty with Egypt and the Egyptian president had supported Israel's inhumane Gaza policy.

Yet once again Israel squandered the moral high ground by preferring a tyrant to a democracy because it serves its bellicose self interests. Its other self interests, of course, have included settlement building in the Occupied Territories, the Gaza blockade, using weapons banned by treaties that it refuses to be a signatory to, an out-of-all-proportion commando raid on an aid flotilla . . . oh, and sandbagging Vice President Biden.

I would never equate Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with Syria President Assad. I would defend Israel's right to exist with my own blood. But it is long past time that the U.S. give Israel a dose of strong medicine, and that may speak louder regarding the U.S.'s regional intentions -- and that it is foursquare behind the Arab Spring no matter where it may try to blossom -- than any speechifying about the joys of democracy.
Photo by By Tara Todras-Whitehill/The Associated Press

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Will This Shut Up The Birthers? Nah.


Marie-France Pisier (1944-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Antonio Diaz

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Harsh Light But No New Revelations On Guantánamo & Bush Torture Regime

For those of us who have written extensively about the so-called War on Terror and its demented bastard child, the Bush Torture Regime, the latest revelations about the detainees at Guantánamo Bay break little new ground but are a reminder that while things have gotten better under the Obama administration, the president has not broken completely with the past despite campaign promises to the contrary.

Oh, and most Americans, let alone bloggers, don't give a damn about any of this.

If you do perchance give a damn, here are highlights of the documents outlined in stories in The New York Times and The Guardian obtained by independent sources by way of Wikileaks:

* Demonstrably innocent people were interrogated because intelligence gathering in Afghanistan and Pakistan was haphazard.

* There were many cases of mistaken identity.

* Children, the senile elderly and mentally ill were among those wrongfully held.

* Some 172 detainees remain with little prospect of trial or release.

* The system at Gitmo was focused less on holding dangerous terrorists than extracting intelligence, virtually none of which was helpful.

Interrogators willingly bought obviously falsified information.

* The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate is considered a terrorist organization by U.S. authorities.

The articles on the documents come hard on the heels of an exhaustive report that debunks the claims of Bush administration flunkies that torture only was used as a last resort on "the worst of the worst," which was its pet phrase, and seldom at that, assertions that collapsed under the weight of evidence as the years went on in no small part because "the worst of the worse" were tiny in number.

The report reveals, and is further corroborated by the documents vetted by The Times and The Guardian, that torture was routinely used and not necessarily to obtain intelligence but to exploit detainees by breaking them down physically and mentally to turn them into collaborators.

Meanwhile, not a single torture regime perp has been prosecuted for their criminality, although key administration players have heeded warnings that they face arrest if they travel to European countries where the Geneva Conventions are taken seriously.

But I'm sure they will be content to stay in the U.S. because it's a great country. Or what?

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate
(May 2009)

Violet Cowden (1916-2011)


Bittersweet Photograph du Jour

Army Specialist Ahren Blake, a combat medic, holds two puppies he found at an observation post in the Aziz Khan Kats Mountain Valley near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

U.S. Army photo/Hat tip to Mother Jones MojoBlog

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Manning Marable's 'Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention'

The greatest compliment anyone can pay me is to say I'm irresponsible, because by responsible they mean Negroes who are responsible to white authorities.
There is a lingering fallacy among white people that there has to be a single African-American who can speak for all blacks. Were that true, Dr. Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Du Bois would qualify as the black spokespersons for the latter and earlier part of the 20th century, Booker T. Washington for the latter part of the 19th century and Frederick Douglass for ante-bellum blacks.

But it is not true, of course, because there certainly is no Caucasian who can speak for all whites as well and it is doubtful any blacks feel that way. So there.

Then there is the African-American who took the name Malcolm X, a man whom many whites feared spoke for too many blacks at the height of Black Power proselytizing in the mid-1960s before he was assassinated in 1965 at age 39. In a way they are correct because Dr. King was never identified with ghetto blacks, and a disproportionate number of blacks then (and now) live in large cities, if not ghettos, which were the crucibles in which Malcolm X forged his identify.

That identity to most whites was the angry black militant who became a figure not unlike Dr. King, a metamorphosis captured with great flourish in the pages of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a runaway 1965 bestseller written by Alex Haley, later of Roots fame, based on interviews with Malcolm X that quickly became a must-read for white college students and remains part of the curricula of many college reading programs.

There are, however, problems with Haley's Autobiography, not the least of which is that his subject was murdered before the book was completed and he had no opportunity to make revisions, let alone protest (as he probably would have) the fact that the preface was written by a reporter for The New York Times, an establishment newspaper that Malcolm X openly loathed.

But the larger problem with Autobiography is that Haley had an agenda. He was a liberal black Republican (talk about an oxymoron in today's political world) who held racial and religious extremism in contempt and wanted to write a testament about a man who overcame his vices and frailties to embrace the mainstream civil rights movement.

So successful was Haley in rebranding his subject that barely 10 years after Malcolm's death his widow was invited to a re-election gala for President Nixon and he was honored on a Postal Service stamp in 1999. An accompanying press release asserted that in the years prior to his assassination, Malcolm X had become an advocate of "a more integrationist solution to racial problems."

Manning Marable, an eminent Columbia University professor and prolific author of books on race and racism who died earlier this month a mere three days before publication of his Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention, also had an agenda.

That was to write a long overdue corrective to Haley's Autobiography, which he says is rife with factual errors and inaccuracies, as well as accounts of Malcolm X's life based less on the historic record than what Malcolm wanted people to believe about him. And many white people were more than willing to believe because the mainstream view fit their definition of a bad black man who redeemed himself.

As Marable shows with scholarly insight, that leitmotif is not necessarily incorrect, but it is just one part of who Malcolm was, although his capacity at reinvention was rather amazing. (He was born Malcolm Little but at various points in his life called himself
Homeboy, Jack Carlton, Detroit Red, Big Red, Satan, Malachi Shabazz, Malik Shabazz, and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz before rebranding himself Malcolm X.)

The other parts of who Malcolm was included his masterful ability as a rhetorician who could recount tales about his life that were only partially correct. This was especially true of his criminal record, which he wildly embellished in Haley's Autobiography and speeches.

Malcolm also was an ethnographer who was able to craft his speeches, delivered in a fine tenor voice, to fit the cultural contexts of his diverse audiences when he traveled to Mecca and across Africa during a period of anticolonial revolution, and he had a gifted ability to method act that after his death did much to turn his life into a legend.

"What made him truly original," Marable writes, "was that he presented himself as the embodiment of the two central figures of African-American folk culture, simultaneously the hustler/trickster and the preacher minister. Janus-faced, the trickster is unpredictable, capable of outrageous transgressions; the minister saves souls, redeems shattered lives, and promises a new world. . . . He presented himself as an uncompromising man wholly dedicated to the empowerment of black people, without regard to his own personal safety. Even those who rejected his politics recognized his sincerity."

* * * * *

It is insights like these that make Malcolm X such an achievement. Marable not only rolls out substantial new information about Malcolm's life, in part because of the unprecedented access he had to previously closed Nation of Islam archives, but he underpins his account of that life with a brilliantly told story of race and class in American while avoiding the kind of armchair psychoanalysis that has characterized other recent Malcolm X bios.

The life included a childhood which began with the love and guidance of activist parents in Lansing, Michigan who were adherents of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, but ended in tragedy when his father was (probably) murdered for his activism and his mother went insane. He moved to Boston and then to Harlem. There followed scrapes with the law, numbers running, dodging the World War II draft, occasional gigs as an entertainer, alcohol addiction and heavy cocaine use, sporadic homosexual encounters, sexual indiscretions that highlighted a lifetime of misogyny, and finally embracing black Islam and then black nationalism.

His times behind bars were mostly fleeting, but in 1945 he was arrested for masterminding a series of burglaries in Boston and its suburbs and was sentenced to three concurrent six-to-eight-year sentences at Charlestown State Prison. He attributed the length to the fact that he was hanging out with a white woman.

Two things happened while Malcolm was in prison that were to change his life and determine his future course.

He met a former burglar named John Elton Bembry, an autodidact who ignited his intellectual curiosity and gave him a sense of discipline, and he became a Muslim and joined the Nation of Islam, an all-black church that rejected racial integration but enabled him to find the self respect and dignity that had eluded him. The church also had self-help programs similar to Garvey's, but as Marable puts it, "with a kind of divinely based apocalyptic fury."

Upon his release from prison in 1952, Malcolm met NOI founder Elijah Muhammad, changed his name to Malcolm X and quickly rose through the ranks, promoting its teachings at temples in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and finally Harlem. He preached to ever wider audiences that
black people were the original people of the world and that white people were a race of devils, and alarmed whites with comments like his take on the assassination of President Kennedy: It was a case of "chickens coming home to roost."

Put off by NOI's rigid teachings, Elizah Muhammad's extra-marital flings with young women and efforts to muzzle him, Malcolm left the church in 1964. He found his own religious organization, Muslim Mosque Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a secular group that advocated Pan-Africanism. He converted to Sunni Islam and make his hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and made halting efforts to meet with mainstream civil rights leaders.

Malcolm X does not reject Haley's view of Malcom entering the civil rights mainstream so much as make the case that his travels and experiences led him to the embrace a humanism that helped prompt his break with NOI as he realized that "blacks indeed could achieve representation and even power under America’s constitutional system."

* * * * *

Finally, Marable offers perhaps the first truly accurate account of Malcolm X's assassination on February 21, 1965 in the Grand Ballroom of the Audubon in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan.

It has long been known that Malcolm topped the Nation of Islam hit list, but Marable reveals that the assassination was not only something of an inside job but was carried out with the advance knowledge of the FBI and New York Police Department, while it not coincidentally most benefited Louis Farrakhan,
who was to emerge as the leader of the Nation of Islam and matches Malcolm in fiery style although not in humanity, intellectual curiosity and substance.

For me, a sixtysomething white guy, Malcolm X's greatest legacy is that he believed whites would eventually "see the handwriting on the wall," as he himself put it, and turn away from "the disaster of racism." While I believe that racism remains a deeply entrenched aspect of our society, enormous strides have been made, not least the fact that an African-American is our president because he was elected by whites.

I have one passing disagreement with Malcolm X.

That is where Marable rationalizes his subject's violent rhetoric in his Nation of Islam days, writing that "[M]any of Malcolm’s most outrageous statements about the necessity of extremism in the achievement of political freedom and liberty were not unlike the views expressed by the 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who declared that 'extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.' "

These were not even different pews in the same church. We're talking altogether different churches.

* * * * *
Malcolm X has been rediscovered by succeeding generations of young people, and the publication of Marable's masterpiece should occasion another revival, as well as knock Haley's Autobiography from its lofty perch.

The last big revival was in the early 1990s. That was when Spike Lee released the autobiographical film X, (which like Haley's Autobiography has its share of inaccuracies) and the emerging hip-hop nation worshiped Malcolm in song and video.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles race riots, Vice President Dan Quayle declared that he had acquired important insights reading Haley's Autobiography. The epiphany was mocked by Lee, who quipped, "Every time Malcolm X talked about 'blue-eyed devils' Quayle should think he's talking about him."

How true.

Selected Kiko's House Book Reviews

THE SECOND WORLD WAR: A MILITARY HISTORY (4/11/11) The world probably needs another book about the Second World War like it needs . . . well, another world war, but Gordon Corrigan's door stop thick tome is long on both perspective and insight, including whether it was worth fighting in the first place. It was because of the stoicism, bravery and the loyalty of millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians, Americans and Germans, British and Japanese, Italians and Russians, Chinese and Indians and all who believed in a cause and were prepared to suffer and if necessary die for it. LINK.

There has been a tsunami of books about George Washington in recent years, but none has captured the man with such wit and charm than Jerome Charyn, whose account of Manhattan Island during the Revolutionary War, save for the broad historical overlay and the deeds of the familiar figures, is apocryphal from start to finish. It is a hoot. Or as the Brits might say, a rum tale. LINK.

HOW THE BEATLES DESTROYED ROCK 'N' ROLL: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC (1/19/11) While the provocative thesis of this book is obvious from its title, fans of the Fab Four will be relieved to known that author Elijah Wald does not make that claim in apocalyptic terms, but rather as a statement of fact in his fascinating chronicle of how one genre superseded another -- ever building on what came before and laying the groundwork for what came next -- in the incredibly rich tapestry of 20th century American music. LINK.

HITCH 22: A MEMOIR (10/25/10) As literary genres go, biographies of journalists tend to be tedious and autobiographies by journalists even more so. But Christopher Hitchens, as he so often has done over a four-decade career of skewering the high and mighty, tries to break the mold and largely succeeds in his trenchant and witty way. LINK.

(1/14/10) This brilliantly funny book doorstop of a Thomas Pynchon book reveals its themes only gradually after innumerable side trips and cul de sacs that are patches in a crazy quilt of a sweeping narrative with a huge cast of characters and a stage that stretches from the Colorado coal fields to the 1892 Chicago World's Fair to Constantinople and beyond in the run-up to World War I. LINK.

THIS IS YOUR COUNTRY ON DRUGS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF GETTING HIGH IN AMERICA (10/20/09) Author Ryan Grim says that little tells us more about the state of America than what Americans are doing to get high. This is because drugs are a bellwether of a society where people work harder and party harder than in any other first world country. LINK.

'THE GAMBLE: GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS AND THE AMERICAN MILITARY ADVENTURE IN IRAQ, 2006-2008 (6/8/09) Thomas Ricks tells the gripping story of how the U.S. was able to step back from the precipice in Iraq because of the Surge, a radically different strategy that succeeded militarily because of a solitary general who was able to convince the White House and Pentagon that business as usual would inevitably lead to defeat. LINK.

(6/1/09) When Barack Obama set out on a trip to the Muslim Middle East he visited a region whose borders were carved up by the World War I victors with no thought given to ethnic, religious or historic concerns -- a nonsensical crazy quilt of national borders that resemble those today and, as author David Fromkin argues, continues to have global consequences. LINK.

(5/11/09) A welcome corrective for a man whose legacy the changing attitudes about civil rights have distorted. Washington's efforts to sustain black morale at the nadir of their post-Emancipation struggle has to be counted among the most heroic efforts in American history. LINK.
'HITLER'S EMPIRE': HE WAS GOOD AT WAR BUT LOUSY AT GOVERNING (4/13/09) Those detail-obsessed Nazis gave little thought to governance, let alone a long-term vision for their immense empire, argues Mark Mazower. LINK.
THE MAN WHO UNLOCKED THE MYSTERIES OF CHINA'S MIDDLE KINGDOM (10/12/08) Chinese claims that they were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar inventions -- including explosives, printing, the compass, hydraulics, ceramics, suspension bridges and even toilet paper -- were long viewed with skepticism by Westerners who were smugly certain that these ancient people were incapable of such advanced innovations. notes author Simon Winchester. That was until Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham came along. LINK.

'THE OPEN ROAD: THE GLOBAL JOURNEY OF THE FOURTEENTH DALAI LAMA' (9/17/08) Tibet is a land rich not just in history, but also in irony. "The Roof of the World" holds a special place in the popular imagination because of the movie Shangri-La and other gauzy Hollywood treatments, as well as one individual, the Dalai Lama. But those celluloid depictions are fawningly unrealistic, writes Pico Iyler, while the Dalai Lama is typically reduced to a caricature. LINK.

'TWILIGHT AT MONTICELLO' & JEFFERSON'S PARADOXICAL VIEWS ON SLAVERY' (6/27/08) Befitting the life of the great man himself, his Monticello seems much larger on the inside. It also is full of hidden passageways, secret chambers and other surprises. Indeed, if you like your dead presidents simple, then Jefferson is not your man, says author Alan Pell Crawford. LINK.

MASON & DIXON,' AN 18th CENTURY MUSING ON ALL THINGS (5/18/08) A pun-filled Thomas Pynchon send up on the clockwork-like machinations of and metaphysical musings on the universe disguised as an 18th century novel. Or at least I think it is. LINK.

A BAKER'S DOZEN: BEST BOOKS ON VIETNAM (5/3/08) Must reads for any serious student of the Vietnam War, ranging from a Bernard Fall classic published on the eve of the disastrous American build-up to the definitive Pentagon history of the war to a book on the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia to three fictional accounts. LINK.

MUSICOPHILIA' (3/30/08) Oliver Sacks writes that it is a testament to the complexity of the brain that despite decades of research we still have relatively little understanding of why many of us enjoy music so deeply. LINK.

'LEGACY OF ASHES' (1/11/08) Although it may not be the best metaphor, if the Central Intelligence Agency had been a baseball team over the last 60 years, its record would be something like 5 wins and 95 loses in big games. Yes, the CIA has been that bad, argues author Tim Weiner. LINK.

A SHELF IN THE KIKO'S HOUSE LIBRARY (Left to right): About Face (Hackworth), Mind of the Raven (Heinrich), Zen in the Art of Archery (Herigel), Dispatches (Herr), Newark (Hessey), The Fatal Shore (Hughes), Kind of Blue (Kahn), Fields of Battle (Keegan), The Art of Fact (Kerrane-Yagoda), Prime Time (Kendrick), Valdemar's Corpse (Leech), Vietnam: The Unnecessary War (Lind), Positively Fifth Street (McManus). For a look at another shelf, click here.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

The GOP War On Women Redux

I have posted early and often about the Republican war on women, so it's good to see that the fine folks at the Guttmacher Institute have compiled a list of laws and proposed legislation at the state level.

The scorecard: Legislators have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 legislatures that have convened their regular sessions. (Louisiana's legislators are hanging loose until late April.) By the end of March, seven states had enacted 15 new laws on these issues.

It is fair to say that few if any of them are beneficial to women and their health.

More here.

IMAGE: "The Rape" by Darwin Leon
Hat tip to Booman Tribune

Gerald Smith (1975-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

(Mississippi -- 1936)
A rare photo taken for the Farmer Relief Agency that
showed blacks and whites together.

By Dorothea Lange

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Science Sunday: Why Crabs Don't Fiddle Around & Other New Animal News

Despite those big peepers, fiddler crabs (uca capricornis, in this instance) can't see very well, and scientists have determined that they use statistical calculations to distinguish between swooping predators and harmless passing insects.

Jan Hemmi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Vision Science at the Australian National University and colleagues report their findings online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

"To our surprise we found that the crabs are actually able to distinguish between predators that are real and those that are not," says Hemmi. "By using the statistics of how objects move, they seem to be able to discriminate."


The endangered species status of the gray wolf has been jeopardized by, of all things, a late addition to the controversial budget deal hammered out between Republicans and the White House.

A rider to the deal has left environmentalists both seething and admitting defeat after years of legal wrangling over the fate of the wolves. The wolves (canis lupus) had all but disappeared from the Rocky Mountain region until they were reintroduced in the 1990s, and their protected status has allowed them to reach a population of 1,651, according to the Sierra Club. But ranchers say wolves are a nuisance to livestock and could even threaten humans if their population grows too large.

Caves are dark, sheltered and often quiet and seem like ideal places for a snooze. But for a small Mexican fish, they have done exactly the opposite. As a result of life in dark caves, the blind cavefish has evolved sleeplessness. They don’t go entirely without sleep, but they doze far less than their surface-dwelling relatives.

The blind cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus) is a sightless version of a popular aquarium species, the Mexican tetra. They live in deep caves scattered throughout Mexico, which their sighted ancestors colonized in the middle of the Pleistocene era. In this environment of perpetual darkness, the eyes of these forerunners were of little use and as generations passed, they disappeared entirely. Today, the fish are born with eyes that degenerate as they get older. Eventually, their useless husks are covered by skin.

They went through other changes too. For example, their skin lost its pigment so they are all pinkish-white in color.


A newly discovered dinosaur species bridges the gap between the earliest known group of predators and more advanced beasts such as Tyrannosaurus rex. Found at the Ghost Ranch fossil site in New Mexico, the primitive dinosaur lived about 205 million years ago, stood as tall as a large dog and boasts a very unusual skull, says study co-author Hans-Dieter Sues, a vertebrate paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

"It has a deep, short snout and these monstrous front teeth. That's a kind of skull structure for a predatory dinosaur that's really unexpected for this early point in time," Sues says. These features helped earn the new dinosaur the name Daemonosaurus chauliodus, or "buck-toothed evil spirit" in Greek.


While the gray wolf may be bumped from the endangered species list, other endangered animals face long lines getting onto it.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is overwhelmed with petitions and lawsuits over the list, the chief tool for protecting plants and animals facing extinction in the United States. Over the last four years, a few environmental groups have requested that more than 1,230 species be listed, including the Pacific walrus (O. rosmarus divergens) compared with the previous 12 years in which annual requests averaged only 20 species, and the process is now pretty much paralyzed.

Some environmental groups argue that vastly expanded listings are needed as evidence mounts that the world is entering an era of mass extinctions related to destruction of habitat, climate and other changes. Such threats require a focus on entire ecosystems, they say, rather than individual species.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

John L. "Jack" Davies (1932-2011)

It was a brutally cold night and the wind was blowing so hard that it was snowing sideways as Jack Davies walked his police beat in West Philadelphia. He was wearing a long wool overcoat, but the cold made worse the pain in his legs from the shrapnel that was a daily reminder of when his Marine Corps tank caught fire after being hit by a Red Chinese mortar round two years into the Korean War.

Davies paused at a call box at 52nd and Market streets to phone in his location to the station house. He resumed walking and about a half block away heard a noise behind a State Store. It was dark, but he was able to make out a very large man who had scaled a 12-foot chain-link fence and was trying to break into the store.

"I take my gun out of its holster and stuff it in my pants," Jack recalled earlier this year as he, his wife Anne, identical twin brother Bill and I sat around the dining room table of their lovely old farmhouse in the Poconos. Anne's Yorkies, Shamus McSnuggs and Amos O'Buggs, were at Jack's feet, while JoJo, a white and yellow cockatoo, added color to the conversation. Emily, a pot-bellied pig that Jack had gifted himself as a Christmas present, was snuffling around in the next room.

"So I start climbing up the fence and he starts climbing up, too," Jack continues. "I'm trying to get in and he's trying to get out. As I'm climbing my gun falls out so I have to climb down, find it in the snow and put it back in my pants.

" 'Look, you can shoot me,’ the guy says. ‘I just escaped from prison and the best thing you can do is shoot me.' And I think to myself, Well . . . I guess I can shoot him in the leg.

"So then we go at it again. I start climbing and he starts climbing. He finally gets to my side and jumps over. I chase him to the back of a row house. I hadn’t called in for a while and it must have occurred to somebody that Davies was missing, because all of a sudden there are sirens.

"I get in the back yard and I don't want to shoot the bastard. There is a clothesline pole there. I pick it up and tell him, 'I’m going to beat you in the f------ head with this thing if you don’t surrender.' Meanwhile, I can hear cops coming and I shout, 'I’m back here.' "

"I collar the guy and back at the station house I ask him, 'how did you escape?' "

"He says, 'I stole a spoon from the mess hall and I dug my way out.' I say, 'Well, I’ve got to give you credit. That’s pretty good.'

"He replies, 'Yeah, but look at me now.' "

* * * * *

What constitutes a hero is taking something of a beating these days. Owing perhaps to the unpopularity of those messy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anyone who serves there is considered a hero. On the home front, the definition of a hero has been distorted by a steady diet of television reality shows in which the participants qualify as heroes merely because they survive series of choreographed stunts.

Then there was Jack Davies, who lived a life that restores a sense of what a real hero is:

His life-saving feats in Korea under dangerous and unspeakably harsh conditions.

Decades of service on the mean streets of Philadelphia as a police officer who not only thought nothing of dashing into burning buildings to save lives or staring down criminals armed with guns, spoons or otherwise, but spoke out against the racist and brutal behavior of some of his fellow officers.

And finally, decades of service as an officer with the Stroud Regional Police during a time when the Poconos was being transformed from a sleepy resort area to a bedroom community with big city problems and a crime rate to match.

Jack never backed away from a challenge. He was equal parts brave, compassionate, humble and humorous. In short, a true hero. And boy will we ever miss him.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Grete Waitz (1953-2011)