Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Good Story

“Time is like a river.  You cannot touch the water twice, because the  flow that has passed will never pass again.  Enjoy every moment of life.  As a bagpiper, I play many gigs.  Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man.  He had no family or friends, so the
service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the South West of Western Australia.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods of the South West, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn’t stop for directions.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.  There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.  I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.

I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around.  I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends.  I played like I’ve never played before for this homeless man.

And as I played ‘Amazing Grace’, the workers began to weep.  They wept, I wept, we all wept together.  When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car.  Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, ‘I never seen anything like that before, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.’

Apparently, I’m still lost….it’s a man thing.”

DelanceyPlace.com

As if I don’t spend enough time already reading on the Internet, I have discovered another good source. DelanceyPlace.com is, in its own words:

 a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, primarily historical in focus, and will occasionally be controversial. Finally, we hope that the selections will resonate beyond the subject of the book from which they were excerpted. Sign up and join 99,000 other subscribers who receive Delanceyplace every weekday morning.

The excerpts tend to be quite interesting, at least to me. An example is today’s which is a brief history of the introduction of the 78 rpm record and the impact this had on popular music publishing  and composing. In particular it’s brief length forced a dramatic change in the structure of songs.  The excerpt is from Ben Yagoda’s new book The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song.

I’ve enjoyed most of the selections that I’ve received and I recommend the service.to all. They seem to have a knack for finding things of interest in my many areas of  ignorance. The readings are brief and to the point, and the service is free.

Diplomatic History

When I retired 26 years ago I audited a local university course on US diplomatic history. I came away from it with a feeling that it revealed a history of ignorant bungling by our national government. Nothing has happened in the intervening years to change that impression.

The Tragedy of the American Military

The Atlantic’s latest cover story is a very thoughtful article on The Tragedy of the American Military by James Fallows. It’s well worth reading since so few in public life feel they can talk with complete honesty about this subject.

Here is the subtitle of the article:

“The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.”

Fallows has been a Contributing Editor to both The Atlantic and to The Washington Monthly for many years.

Death by fire

The ISIS practice of death by fire has brought instant revulsion to the people of the world. Strangely few remember that his was a favorite tactic of lynch mobs in the South in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Nor did that practice lead to demands by others in the North that the federal government take action to prevent lynchings.

Maybe the difference between now and then is just anther example of how our society has changed, and for the better.

Eero Saarinen

I’ve always been a devotee of the architect Eero Saarinen, but many of his best works have been endangered in a changing world, such as the TWA terminal at Kennedy. Another is the two million sq ft  building he designed for Bell Labs in Holmdel NJ, no longer needed by a shrunken Bell Labs. Now it turns out a developer is trying to redevelop it in an  innovative way and may succeed after nine years on the market. There’s a good article in Fortune on this.

Bernie Sanders on Lincoln

Speaking Monday at The Brookings Institution, Bernie recounted a weekend trip to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

While there, we read Lincoln’s extraordinary Gettysburg Address – where he spoke of his hope that this nation would have a ‘new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ As we drove home it struck me hard that Lincoln’s beautiful vision – a government of the people, by the people, for the people – was, in fact, perishing, was coming to an end, and that we are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society – where we are experiencing a government of the billionaire class, by the billionaire class and for the billionaire class.” American democracy is in peril, Bernie explained, because the Supreme Court opened the floodgates and let billionaires spend unlimited sums to buy elections. The Koch brothers alone are planning a nearly $1 billion campaign in 2016, a bigger budget than either of the major political parties.

Forgotten Irish Slaves

My Irish mother made sure I knew of the infamies vented on the Irish by the British, and especially by Oliver Cromwell (“may his black heart rot”). But I never knew of Britain’s policy of enslaving the Irish and shipping them to the colonies. In the 17th Century they made up a majority of the slave population in the Caribbean!  There they were treated worse than the black slaves, who had the advantage they were not Catholics. More about this here. It’s incredible but forgotten by most today.

Hysteria in the press

The American press is frequently hysterical in its approach to covering foreign affairs, often stirred up by those looking for partisan advantage or those who dream of the US responsibility for policing the world.

In the case of the coverage of ISIS the reasons for the hyseria might be excused by the savagery of the opponent. One gets the feeling that ISIS is deliberately hoping thst we will intervene there, or maybe the savagery is simply second nature to them.

However, the other day I saw a headline on the net which waved off the problems in the Middle East and instead proposed Russia and the Ukraine as the probable source of WW III. Didn’t read it, but typical of the hysteria over Putin. Here’s William Pfaff’s latest column which takes a more reserved approach to a problem of our own making.

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Zero gain in Ukraine
February 4, 2015

PARIS — On a weekend when the United States augmented its program of financial aid to beleaguered Ukraine, President Barack Obama himself conceded to the American TV audience (those not watching Super Bowl preparations) that the official U.S. narrative concerning the war in Ukraine is not true.

Secretary of State John Kerry has since arrived in Kiev, bearing with him presidential authorization of another billion dollars in American loan guarantees to Ukraine and congressional support for this augmented aid to Kiev. Many in Congress would like the sum to be bigger yet. As it is, the U.S., the International Monetary Fund and the European Union have thus far committed a total of $27 billion assistance to Ukraine to get it to and through the “emergency” presidential election in the country scheduled for May.

NATO wants increased military assistance to the Ukrainian army, which thus far has not proven a very effective opponent for the Russophone East Ukrainian seccessionist rebel forces and the trans-frontier Russian “volunteers” bolstering them.

Since the conflict broke out a year ago, the official American story (reinforced by its European Union allies, although not always with enthusiasm) has been that it was instigated by Russian President Vladimir Putin to block Ukraine from creating a democratic government, whose existence and example on the border of Russia might inspire the Russian people to themselves reject authoritarian government and overthrow Putin’s “kleptocracy” — to quote New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman, who describes Putin as “the Thug.”

The Russian president, according to Hillary Clinton a year ago, is emulating Hitler by invading and seizing lands with ethnic Russian populations to provide additional “living space” (in Germany’s case) for the homeland (an expression Bush-II America picked up from prewar Germany). But even Friedman found Clinton’s comparison overdone at the time, although he now finds merit in it.

Obama does not. Interviewed by Fareed Zakaria last weekend on CNN, Obama said that “Mr. Putin made this decision around Crimea and Maidan not because of some grand strategy, but essentially because he was caught off-balance by the protest in the Maidan (in February 2014) and Ukraine’s then-president (Viktor Yanukovych) fleeing after we (the U.S. and the European Union) had made a deal to broker power in Ukraine.”

Those who have followed this affair will remember that President Yanukovych was being pressed by Russia to join a new central Asian trade and political bloc envisaged by Putin, while the EU and U.S. wanted Ukraine to join the EU (and NATO).

Believing that the Maidan demonstrations last February had been secretly contrived by the West (easy for Putin to suspect because of the presence of EU representatives, as well as an American Assistant Secretary of State and a visit to Kiev by CIA officials), Putin retaliated by adroitly seizing Crimea, for many years a Russian territory, but Ukrainian only since 1954.

He sent special troops to reinforce the uprising by many insurgents among the 20 percent Russian-speaking population in the eastern frontier territories of Ukraine, already restless under the rule of the Ukrainian-speaking majority, and seeking autonomy.

So the war goes on, both sides heavily dependent upon heavy artillery destruction of civilian areas held by the enemy. Ceasefires have been negotiated but have collapsed for unclear reasons. The Ukrainian government insists that it is determined to retake its lost territories.

President Obama is being very cautious, so far refraining from supplying the Ukrainians with offensive weapons (despite insistent demands in Congress and among Washington right-wing commentators).

The Russians seem to have no such scruples. They seem to feel themselves under assault by the West, and indeed there are many in Washington who want to see Putin and his government overthrown, convinced that Americanizing the world is the next step in the nation’s destiny.

Nuclear war is considered a possibility by both sides, for the first time since 1990. But why? The U.S. and its European allies have been the aggressors in this whole unnecessary confrontation. They are the ones who can call it off. There is zero gain in it.

Certainly, the Germans and other Europeans are aware of this. As in the old days of the Cold War, the calculations of deterrence and first-strike advantage are relevant. The U.S. seems motivated by the determination to stay Top Dog. The Russians may be motivated by fear.