Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The U.K.-American 'Special Relationship' Is Burned Toast (Without Marmalade)

Ten years after the end of the 20th century, the perception persists that Britain's ruling class still consists of a bunch of bewigged and stuffed shirted gentlemen who while away the days mourning for their long lost empire and tut-tutting about the depredations of the new world order.

While this perception is unfair to a certain extent, it is omnipresent in the current row across the pond about whether the "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. forged by Winston Churchill and FDR has run its course.

The mini-tempest was set off by Sir David Manning, who served as the British
ambassador to Washington for four of the eight years of the Bush administration. Manning recently warned members of Parliament that President Obama was "less sentimental" about American links with Britain, having been born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and brought up partly in Indonesia.

Forgetting for the moment that Obama is an astute student of history, which Bush was not, and overlooking the veiled racism in Manning's warning, what he really was saying was that the gauzy romanticism of the special relationship took a dart to the heart when Bush famously used former Prime Minister Tony Blair as his poodle in the run-up to the Iraq war. As a consequence, Britain's global image, like the U.S.'s, took a beating from which it has not yet recovered.

The subtext is that Blair, who was turned out of office, should have been a little more concerned about the will of his own party and the British people.

The special relationship, which flourished as recently as the Margaret Thatcher-Ronald Reagan era, has rested on the idea that the two largest English-speaking countries have an historic bond that elevates their relationship to a special level.

Manning's warning was heeded by a bi-partisan select committee on foreign affairs.

"The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided," the MPs concluded. "The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to devalue its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK."

My own view is stuffed shirt free: The U.S. saved Britain's ass in the darkest days of World War II while Britain did not return the favor when the Iraq saber rattling commenced in 2002. It is not inconceivable that had Blair refused to be leashed by Bush that the war would have never happened.

Yes, the relationship between 10 Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will never return to the good old days, but the Brits and Yanks are growing closer together in other ways, notably the fusion of the cultures of the two nations, and that is jolly good.

Top photograph by Anthony Devlin/EPA

Cartoon du Jour

Kal/The Economist

Toffs & Toughs: Story Of A Photograph

This may be the most famous photograph in English history and one that the Tories wish would go away. The back story is fascinating.

The Fox In The Iraqi Henhouse

As noted recently here, beyond the Axis of Evil so ably represented by George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, there is no better example of the manifold failures in the run up to and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq than Ahmed Chalabi.

Many of the intelligence failures prior to the invasion can be attributed to Chalabi, whom the White House and Rumsfeld and his neoconservative brain trust in particular fawned on as the nominal head of the Iraqi National Congress, which had been created after the first Gulf War to foment the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Chalabi, who was once dubbed "the George Washington of Iraq," in reality had no influence.

But now he has plenty. After an effort spearheaded by he and other pro-Iran hardliners to keep 15 pro-Sunni parties off the ballot in the parliamentary elections bombed, he is moving to have six winning candidates stripped of their votes and lose their seats, which would cost secular politician Ayad Allawi's bloc its narrow upset victory of Prime Minister Al Maliki.

June Havoc (1913-2010)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

(Autochrome, ca. 1915)
Photographer Unknown
From the George Eastman House Collection

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Barack Obama's Perfectly Awful Week

I mean, can things get any worse for the president with the funny name and dubious birth certificate?

First he signs into law the biggest fix to the social safety net in 45 years. Then the scoundrels who have been ripping off the student loan system for years are banished from the temple, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is told where he can stick his settlements, a strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia is finalized, the obdurate GOP, which continues to be its own worst enemy, is given the middle finger as long overdue recess appointments are made, stocks and growth indicators continue to rise, President Karzai is given an earful and American troops a well-deserved pat on the back in a brief visit to Afghanistan.

I mean, can't the guy do anything right?

White House photograph

Cartoon du Jour

Mike Thompson/Detroit Free Press

The New Worst People In The World


Stamps That Lick You Right Back


RIP Volvo Station Wagons

I had a couple of them back in the day. They racked up nearly 400,000 trouble-free miles. But now the legendary Swedish wagon may be a goner.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Michael Wolf

Monday, March 29, 2010

Guest Post: Our Town, The Rooster Police & How To Condition The Slasher Cock

By Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Like many of you, I grew up in a small town (population 600).

I like reading hometown news and sharing it with you, and that includes the most recent squall from Elkhart, Indiana. At first it seemed like another quaint "How
naïve can you get?" article. But then it merges into a considerably more jolting issue that is behind police raids in states as disparate as California, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee, among others, and those just in the last month alone.

The reason? Drugs? Illegal weapons? Money laundering? Exposing children to criminal activities?

No and yes.

Elkhart, Indiana -- A complaint led Elkhart police to a surprising discovery -- over 40 chickens inside city limits. Now investigators and animal control officers are trying to determine if this is just the tip of the iceberg to a much bigger issue.

Employees at Boulderman Landscaping have been working on Elkhart's north side for weeks, and they've been hearing more than just the typical sounds of the city.

"About 7:30, 8 in the morning, you would hear a rooster out here cock-a-doddle-doing, and I always wondered where it would be coming from right here on Cassopolis Street in the middle of the city," said Sean Mutchler.

Apparently they weren't the only ones to hear it. Someone complained to police, so animal control went out to investigate.

"As he's turning on Country Club Lane he says he can actually hear the roosters crowing all the way from Cassopolis Street," Lt. Ed Windbigler said of the animal control officer who responded to the complaint. "He pulls up and sure enough, there are several dozen chickens, roosters on this property."

City ordinances do not allow such animals within the city limits. Officers seized the animals, which were being kept in the back yard of a residence. Some of them were injured. . . . Police say the majority of chickens found at the scene were roosters.

The owner faces fines for having the chickens within city limits.

"All these roosters were very aggressive," said Rachel Dennis of the Humane Society. "They are something that you can't catch quickly and put in a cage."
As is obvious by now, someone was keeping these poor creatures as fighting roosters. tournaments.

Although the article doesn't say so, staged animal fights are against the law in Elkhart and there may be additional charges against the owner. Hopefully there will be shelter for the now retired fighters, who were harassed and poked with barbed sticks, restrained against their will to make them more aggressive, and turned literally insane with fury when thrown into a cockfighting ring. All for profit.

* * * * *
I used to awaken every morning of my young life to a rooster crowing. It was a sound that enabled me to witness the golden dawn so many times as I grew up in the northwoods. The roosters were never mistreated; they were considered harbingers among other the duties they performed in the hen house.

Another reason that I was slow to understand that newspaper article is because only hens were called chickens in our hamlet, while roosters were only Roosters with a capital R and were never called chickens.

But one thing is obvious. When it comes to cockfighting, men are not men. They are barely human.

* * * * *
Roosters usually don't like being around other roosters unless a pecking order has been established. They are predisposed to peace if they are in their own bailiwick, but disposed to defending territory otherwise.

In the excerpts from the following letter, written in 1971 by a native Hawaiian, he refers to men who train roosters to fight as "cockers." Cockers come from all over, including Appalachia, the African south of the U.S., the Philippines and other parts of Asia, and Central and South America.

This training involves amputating roosters' combs and wattles (see photo above) to give them advantages in the cockfighting ring, and razor-sharp steel blades or gaffs resembling curved ice picks are fitted to their legs.

Cockfighting is animal abuse, according to the American Humane Society and the Association for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because the birds are not allowed to escape from a fight regardless of how exhausted or injured they become.

I don't know if it's just me, but beyond the egregious instructions that the letter contains, a Freudian would have a field day with its language alone.
Since many cockers have written me numerous letters inquiring about my personal conditioning methods, I will now take the liberty of answering these letters . . . Please let it be understood that I myself condition all of my cocks the way I want them and prefer them to fight.

My conditioning programs cover a lot of different types and forms of daily exercise. These various forms of exercise are mainly to develop speed, stamina and endurance. Let me first emphasize speed.

In my opinion, speed is the most important factor in conditioning slasher cocks for the pit. Speed really plays major role in routine daily exercises. How to apply speed? Well, the only way I know of is through selective swinging methods. By swinging methods, I mean place an individual cock on a swing built four feet of the ground and make the swing three feet wide. . . .

In this manner of control swinging method, a cock will tend to become very nervous and begin flapping his wings and bending both of his legs with tremendous force.

This is good because now he not only knows how to balance on the swing, but at the same time he is learning to properly flap both of his wings evenly. Thus giving him a sense of balance, timing and wind power. . . . Since slasher fighting rarely goes to the drag and most fights are won in about 30 to 40 seconds, I'm a firm believer in the essence of speed . . .

Many of you young and old time cockers alike will say that this guy is whacky and is ready for the nut house. Stamina requires a lot of work, putting my best slasher cocks into their proper conditions. . . . I put each of my pit cocks through a fast, and torrid pace while sparring them each with four to five short pittings. If at any time they sulk, or appear to do so, I pick them up and bill them close together . . .

Endurance, like stamina, has to be taught to each individual cock through vigorous daily
exercises. Both of these phases can not and will not be bred into a slasher cock. Any cocker with good wholesome common sense knows this, but I just thought I'd say it anyway. The quick side stepping and dodging techniques I use are in the following manner. I place each cock through an obstacle course which varies in height and width.

At the other end of this particular obstacle course my oldest son "A" holds another cock that is visible enough to be seen through the course. By "A" holding the cock in his hands, and as if tempting the one that is inside of the course this begins the dodging and side stepping exercise method, which I might add, is my own invention.

A lot of you will say Gee what an odd ball [I am]. . . . So if my methods of conditioning seem of a humorous nature to most of you, just be patient, because I am just a little ole pineapple who has got a lot to learn. . . .

We cockers are pretty hard headed at times, which makes us cock fighters, but we are not too stupid nor are we ignorant to learn from some bright cockers who offer each and everyone of us their kindest advice, and general overall know how.
It's far more than just hard headed. Something about a calcified heart despite the odd empathy toward other cockers who suffer not at all, and have no sympathy nor care for the animals who do.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés is Jungian psychoanalyst who has practiced for nearly 40 years. She also is a post-trauma specialist, author, poet, commentator and dear friend. Dr. Estés' books have been published in 32 languages, while her Women Who Run With the Wolves was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 145 weeks.

Previous collaborations with and guest posts by Dr. Estés
include The Anatomy of PTSD, A Warrior Loves Peace More Than Anything, and Why Were Psychologists Behind The Curve On The Bush Torture Regime?, and Mythos & Alberto Gonzales' Red Shoes.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Car Porn


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Nicholas Hughes

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Science Sunday: Amazing Antioxidants

You can't go into a supermarket these days without being bombarded with food labels touting products as being rich in antioxidants, wee molecules that naturally occur in certain foods and are added to many dietary supplements because of the belief that they help maintain good health and prevent diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

I happen to maintain an antioxidant rich diet that includes lots of raw vegetables, grain cereals, legumes, nuts, eggs and berries -- oodles of berries, including wild blueberries -- and eat few processed foods. I do so because that's what I feel that is best for my bod, but these edibles also help me as a stroke victim who has rheumatoid arthritis.

As accidentally smart as my diet turns out to be, certain birds have we humans beat hands down: This is because bug-eating songbirds switch to berries rich in antioxidants before migrating south for the winter.

This abrupt dietary change has less to do with fattening up and more to do with stocking up on nutrients to help their bodies deal with the stress of migration, according to researchers.

"It has been known for some time, this phenomenon of birds switching to fruits in the fall," says bird researcher Scott McWilliams of the University of Rhode Island. It was assumed that the birds were packing in extra fats or carbs during cooler weeks when insects were on the wane. "But that didn't explain it enough."

So McWilliams teamed up with Navindra Seeram, the head of the university's Bioactive Botanical Research Laboratory, to see what was up with the fruits birds were choosing.

To collect the same berries as the birds were choosing, graduate student Jessica Bolser spent months in the field on Block Island, off the eastern tip of Rhode Island. Batches of 12 kinds of berries were brought back Seeram's lab where researcher Liya Li got to work on them.

"This study is one of the new generation of bird food studies that is . . . not just looking at energy and protein but looking at micronutrients," said ecologist Douglas Levey of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"The whole twist of looking at the antioxidant qualities is novel," agreed migratory bird researcher David Bonter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who noted that thrushes, sparrows, warblers and such evolved very specialized beaks for eating insects but suddenly switch to fruits.

"They look clumsy and ridiculous," Bonter said.

Indeed, but as so often happens in the animal world, the relationship between these bird and the berry bushes is mutually beneficial. The birds stock up on nutrients and the bushes get their seeds dispersed when the birds defecate.

The fruit-picking behavior itself remains something of a mystery, Bonter said, because its probably not something the birds learn since many are only eight to nine weeks old when they are readying to migrate.

Top photograph by Ryan Brady

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Jim Marshall (1936-2010)

Photograph by Jeffrey Scales/HSP Archive

A Jim Marshall Photo Sampler

Among my favorite Jim Marshall photos are (top to bottom) Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger and the Newport Folks Festival (1963), the Grateful Dead (1967), Janis Joplin backstage at Winterland in San Francisco (1968), Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967), and Chuck Berry at Madison Square Garden in New York (1969).

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Pedophile Priest Scandal & Parlous State Of The Roman Catholic Hierarchy

The latest developments in the never ending Roman Catholic pedophile priest saga are deeply depressing.

Cardinal Séan Brady, who as head of the Catholic Church in Ireland engineered an enormous cover-up of the epidemic of abuse of boys and girls, is nevertheless applauded at St. Patrick's Day Mass, while Pope Benedict XVI did not defrock a priest who molested more than 200 deaf boys and appears to have known far more about the groping, fellating and sodomizing of youngsters by the priests in his charge when he was archbishop of Munich than he has let on.

Beyond the seemingly bottomless pit of revelations is the fact that while Brady and the Holy Father have apologized, in the cardinal's case in part for once ordering two children to keep silent after they were sexually assaulted by a priest, there is the growing sense that the hierarchy of a church with over a billion members worldwide that first denied the scandal, then blamed the victims, then complained when diocese after diocese was bankrupted when courts ordered the victims to be compensated, is incapable of punishing their own if they wear miters.

That is to say that out of 5,000 cardinals and bishops worldwide -- and the scandal is pretty much worldwide -- only Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Bishop John Magee of Ireland and two or three other bishops have resigned or been forced out.

* * * * *
My own back story does not predispose me to feel sympathy for these men. Or forgiveness were I a Catholic even as the church's reaction tp the scandal has moved from defending the undefensible to contrition by some people at the highest levels.

My father was raised a Catholic, was an altar boy and attended 12 years of parochial school with the mandatory assaults on his knuckles by nuns with rulers.

His big takeaway was that the church thrived on and controlled its congregants through the very guilt that the church has used as a cudgel to shame abuse victims. Back in the day, it also was anti-Semitic.

This was borne out when my father wanted to marry my mother in his own mother's church but was turned down because the father of his love was a goddamned Jew. Jane and Joe had to settle for a simple ceremony in an assistant priest's rectory office
that was drowned out by the Gene Autry cowboy records being played at a high volume by an elderly and nearly deaf priest next door.

* * * * *
Don't get me wrong. Benedict is a vast improvement over John Paul II, whose orthodoxy did not allow him to appreciate the vileness of the pedophilia epidemic let alone act on it.

If progress is measured in terms of the number and sincerity of apologies, then Benedict would get a pass. If reform is measured in terms of developing stringent after-the-fact policies, then he also would get a pass.

But I -- and apparently a lot of Catholics, as well -- believe that not just abuser
priests but enabling bishops must also be punished, and Benedict has been unwilling or unable to say that what they did was not merely sinful but criminal, while he has refused to accept the resignations of some offending bishops.

He needs to finish the job. Sacking Cardinal Roger Michael Mahoney of Los Angeles, who paid out $660 million to 0ver 500 abuses victims but still gets his ring kissed, would be a good start.

And then personally acknowledging deep shame at his secret 2001 edict to
bishops instructing them to put the church's interests ahead of the safety of children.

PHOTOS (From top to bottom): Cardinal Brady, Cardinal Law, my parents, Gene Autry, Cardinal Mahoney.

Cartoon du Jour

Adam Zyglis

When The Farce Turns Ugly

Although I can't find it at the moment, it's written somewhere in the Constitution that politicians have a right to be asshats, and the Republican minority is exercising that to the max in the wake of the approval of health-care reform.

But these antics are having consequences that are not protected by the Constitution: Death threats, cut gas lines, broken windows, spitting, racial and anti-Semitic taunts, and crudely drawn noses on faxes sent to Democrats.

The lunatic fringe and the GOP have become synonymous and that's scary.

Johnny Maestro (1939-2010)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Pixiesticks23
Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Somebody Call Joe The Plumber! The Republican Party Has Water In Its Loo

The Republicans thought that health-care reform would be Barack Obama's Waterloo, but as the British might say, what the GOP got is water in the loo and their party is now circling the drain.

Under other circumstances, this would merely be a crushing legislative defeat. But being on the wrong side of history on HCR is the other shoe dropping, the first being Obama's victory in 2008, and this one will have devastating consequences for a party that 16 months after the Democrats retook the White House and Congress seems bent on irrelevance as it wanders around in the electoral wilderness bereft of ideas and leadership.

The Republicans' post-HCR passage strategy of "repeal and replace" is dead on arrival. So is fighting on the state level to have HCR declared as being unconstitutional. And so is the idea of its candidates campaigning in the fall on the promise of repealing certain provisions of a centrist plan that, in fact, closely mirrors plans put forward by the few Republicans who offered alternatives.

So caught up was the GOP in scratching the tummy of its shrinking base and scoring points with Fox News by demonizing Obama and describing HCR in apocalyptic terms that any walkback will be greeted with derision because the party never paused to consider that reform affects real people across the political spectrum and not just the 32 million people who will now be insured, the underinsured, and those denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.

And addresses the yawning income disparity between rich and poor that is substantially a result of the GOP's addiction to coddling the wealthiest Americans while under regulating the institutions that have widened the gulf between Wall Street and Main Street.

To the surprise of no one who doesn't live under a bridge or in a cave, public opinion polls show a healthy bounce in HCR approval since it passed the House on Sunday, while many people not only approve of it but view this apocalypse as a first step to further reforms.

Now that the Democrats have looked between their legs and found that they do indeed have balls, they need to stay on the offensive until November and portray the opposition for what it is -- a flash mob of hysterical, hypocritical and bigoted faux Christians whose mission over the past year has been not to serve the public interest but to try to destroy it.

"The Battle of Waterloo" by
Clément-Auguste Andrieux