Down by the River

A sign painted at the top of the old building on the corner of State and Delaware announces that elegant new residences are coming soon to this location. Actually, they mean the location next to the old square three story building where the sign has been painted. I will soon be looking straight into the side of another 25 story or so building as I sit looking out the window and writing. That is another sign, one telling me to move on.

I found the perfect trailer, out in the country and down by the river, in Iowa last Autumn. I could buy something like that for cheap and make it a summer retreat. The drive into the nearest small town wouldn’t be that bad except when I wanted to hang out at the one and only local bar and get deep into my cups. On the other hand, drinking alone has its charms too.

Imagine the summer nights with the cicadas, frogs, and crickets singing, the night breeze stirring the curtains, or the grasshoppers, hummingbirds, and bees gliding across the yard in the bright summer light. I could saunter down to the river at the end of each day with some cold beer, a fishing pole, and some bait, and feel the darkness envelope me while I sat on a snag fishing and watched the sun go down.

I’d have to clean myself up sufficiently to make it into town a couple of times each week just so as people would not think me some old coot who’d lost his mind completely.

I could go to the small local library every week and check out books. I might even help out if they needed somebody with an eye for acquiring cheap and good used books. I’d help stamping and properly binding the books so as to be suitable for a lending library.

I’d keep State Street though, even though its time was past. I’d miss you too much, Dear Reader, to let it go. Who would be left to say, “you are who you think you ain’t,” if not for me?

My heart would never be truly broken again as I lived out my life as an old man down by the river.

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Published in: on April 30, 2006 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday Night Movie Kissing

Home alone on a Friday night. I watched Cinema Paradiso on TCM. I had not seen it before.

The Graduate came on after that. I’ve seen that one countless times. The first time I saw it was in the summer of 1969 at an outdoor Camp Pendleton theater. I had read the novel the year before when I was in Vietnam.

The movie held my interest tonight, even though I didn’t expect it would. My favorite scene is when Elaine comes into Ben’s room in the middle of the night, wakes him up, and asks, “will you kiss me?” Of course, he does. That’s my all time favorite movie kiss. It fits very well with the ending of Cinema Paradiso. The movie ends with all the spliced together film footage of torrid movie kisses expurgated by the local priest.

My favorite movie love scene is when Hawkeye and Cora Munro spend the night together in the fort that is under siege by the French. The musical score to the movie is my favorite too, so that might be part of it.

Published in: on April 28, 2006 at 11:01 pm  Comments (2)  

The Global Capital Game

All I really want to do is Baby be friends with you.

Bob Dylan

Global capitalism has no political loyalties per se. If the world wants a better can opener or a better nuclear bomb, the market will provide it. That makes for problems for a certain class of market fundamentalist.

These market fundamentalists believe it is right and good that the United States should cut its own nuclear deal with India, but they dislike attempts by Russia and China to do the same with Iran. They defend their stance by stating that the current Iran regime is evil while India is not. Evil is often in the eye of the beholder. In the eye of global capital evil does not exist at all. Global capital only recognizes those folks who are buying and those who aren’t.

Solidarity between the United State, Europe, Russia, China, and India when it comes to carving up the economic pie will remain as elusive as ever. Those who demand political solidarity when it comes to Iran, yet at the same time extol the virtues of global capitalism are engaging in either sophistry or self delusion. Honor among market fundamentalists has never been as reliable a motive as some have trumpeted.

This is yet another case of you go first. Upsetting the nuclear balance between Pakistan and India hasn’t gone unnoticed in Pakistan, Russia, China, or the Muslim world. The United States makes its own unilateral deals without worrying too much about world opinion. Others know how the game is played, and are bound to pursue their own agendas without much care for world opinion either.

The world happens to want a better nuclear bomb rather than a better can opener. Playing the global capital game, and then crying foul when things don’t go your way doesn’t rouse much sympathy. The problem with making high risk investments has always been that you might not get your money back. Some folks think they are immune from that iron law of global capitalism. It doesn’t work that way when the strong play against the strong.

Extolling the virtues global capitalism while failing to apply its logic may not be inconsistent, but it could certainly lead to losing your wallet.

Published in: on April 28, 2006 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oil Futures

The best I can tell from reading news bulletins this morning is that oil prices have a $15/barrel risk premium built into them. Oil prices, adjusted for inflation, remain about 20% below their 1981 peak after the fall of the Shah in Iran and during the Iraq-Iran War. Iraq oil production remains below its pre-war level. (Remember the good old days when the war would cost $70 billion and could be paid for by increased Iraqi oil production?)

The failed reconstruction effort in Iraq and the continued instability of the country indicate that no relief is in sight on risk premium and production from that quarter. The US’s relations with Iran continue to deteriorate. Bombing them will effectively eliminate them as a supplier to the US. Venezuela increasingly seems a more volatile supplier, and the Bush Administration has no desire to repair relations with Chavez. The Russian oil industry is a powerful force in that country. Putin can be expected to use that as a playing card in international relations when things don’t go his way. Remember he recently cutoff natural gas supplies to the Ukraine. Add to that problems in Nigeria, unstable regimes in other OPEC countries, and the fact that, after all, the US is dealing with a cartel, and you can see the risk premium going beyond the $15/barrel level.

Then there is China, whose demand is rapidly increasing. China is cutting deals with countries like Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba to assure a cheap supply of oil to their high growth economy.

How much more wiggle room remains in the price of oil and its risk premium? Given the current state of international relations, discounting the risk premium seems like the wrong side of the bet. What’s Soros saying? He’s predicting higher prices, but at what level he will not say.

The current reaction by the President and Congress to the large increases at the pump are born out of political desperation before the midterm elections. Energy analysts are unanimous in saying none of the measures proposed will have an effect on gas prices.

Should I get my $100 gas rebate check, I’m using it to help buy an oil future. Or I might buy a couple of tickets to the Cubs game. I can take the Red Line train up to Wrigley for the low price of $3.50 roundtrip.

The market fundamentalists, who advocate war as the solution to international relation problems, are temporarily skewered on their own pike.

Published in: on April 28, 2006 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Attention Sleepyheads!

Ronaldinho

Thierry Henry

Fox Soccer Channel will broadcast the Chelsea vs. Manchester United football game live at 6:30 AM Central time on Saturday. Chelsea needs one draw in their last three games to clinch another English Premier League title. Manchester United, currently in second place, hopes to spoil the party at Chelsea on Saturday. The betting is running about even between the two teams.

And absolutely don’t forget to mark your calendars for the May 17 Barcelona vs. Arsenal Champions League final in Paris. It doesn’t get any better than watching Ronaldinho for Barca and Thierry Henry for Arsenal. You know, they’re the dudes on the new Nike Joga Bonito soccer ads.

Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the May 13 Liverpool vs. West Ham FA Cup final.

The MLS started its season at the beginning of April. ABC broadcasts a game every Saturday afternoon, and ESPN broadcasts west coast games on Saturday night.

Published in: on April 27, 2006 at 11:26 am  Comments (1)  

Guns for Hire

They were called mercenaries in the past. Now, they are called private security firms. Let’s not get hung up on names for the moment.

Rebecca Ulam Weiner meditates in the Boston Globe about the merits of sending to private security firms to troubled areas such as Darfur to assist with peacekeeping and relief operations.

Aid agencies and NGOs in Darfur haven’t had many good days lately. The beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force has few resources to spend defending an NGO like Save the Children, and the ability of such organizations to continue working in the area is very much in question. ”You can’t expect people to work in conflict zones without protection,” says Christopher Kinsey, a scholar with the Joint Services Command at King’s College London and author of the forthcoming book ”Corporate Soldiers and International Security” (Routledge), ”especially as noncombatant immunity is no longer respected.” Kinsey believes there’s a legitimate role for private military companies in humanitarian operations.

Issues beyond cost and effectiveness need to be balanced against accountability issues. There’s that A-word again.

Such an answer may suggest a reflexive discomfort with privatizing force. But it also represents some nuanced, widely shared concerns. The first, and most common, is accountability. And it isn’t merely hypothetical, considering the alleged involvement of private contractors in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the recent conviction of the military contractor Custer Battles for government contract fraud in Iraq, and earlier, in Bosnia, the involvement of Dyncorp contractors in a forced prostitution ring.

”There are some legitimate reasons to be skeptical,” allows Isenberg. ”How do you ensure oversight, compliance with international humanitarian law, follow the rules of warfare, rules of engagement, comply with the Geneva Conventions, and the whole bureaucratic panoply of rules that come into play?” Particularly when you’re trying to preserve fast, flexible, and inexpensive deployment.

Compounding the problem of accountability is the fact that private companies are of course not just out to save the world, but to make money. Assuming an industry made up of rational actors, eager to maximize profits, can loyalty to a particular firm-or a particular client-be maintained? Can standards? What happens when there are conflicts of interest? The industry claims that it would only accept contracts from legally recognized bodies, but what if this body were an unsavory regime?

Without uniform regulation of the private military industry, the answers to these questions largely depend on one’s faith in the market’s power to encourage good behavior. As Kinsey sees it, the industry actually takes corporate responsibility quite seriously. ”It’s not because the companies are being altruistic,” he says. ”It’s beneficial in the long term for them to conduct themselves responsibly.”

More fundamentally, many believe that the international community has a special responsibility to take on problems such as Darfur-and that outsourcing humanitarian interventions to the private sector is just another way of sidestepping the hard political debates that should take place in public.

But the abstract ideal of an engaged international community might seem a rarefied consideration in light of the realities on the ground.

The United States has abdicated its role in these kinds of peacekeeping operations because it is committed to fighting wars of dubious success and value. Yes, there have been voices in the current regime calling for more assistance to beleaguered areas such as Darfur. These same people realize the political liability any real action imposes given the Iraq War and the sudden explosion of the immigration issue. Isolationism is far from dead despite the global objectives of the current regime.

The market only cares about politics as a means for keeping the market moving inexorably along. That doesn’t change how tempting it looks to buy some guns for hire for places like Darfur.

Published in: on April 26, 2006 at 9:05 am  Comments (5)  

On the Bus

President Bush, whose popularity continues to decline, has discovered gas prices are too high. He has new plans such as suspending tax breaks to oil companies, beginning a probe into high gas prices, and giving the EPA authority to suspend more environmental protection regulations. You can bet for a certainty suspending environmental regulations will happen, but don’t expect to get very good odds on the bet. Nobody is taking the other side of it.

As for a probe into high gas prices, that should be easy. All he has to do is review his own policies. Don’t bet on that happening though.

The current high prices portend the calamity to come. One day, oil will be gone. Ah, the market will take care of any problems arising from that. Exactly how is the open question.

Don’t forget to buy a house within walking distance from where you work. Living close by a grocery store will help too. And get in line early for the train or bus.

Published in: on April 25, 2006 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Dawdler

I acquired the Everyman’s Library collection of George Orwell’s essays. The selection runs to 1363 pages. I have opened it at random several times and each time found something delightful to dawdle over.

That’s perfect for me, a consummate dawdler.

Published in: on April 24, 2006 at 7:46 am  Comments (2)  

Condoms

Reuters reports the Vatican is preparing a new statement on AIDS and condoms.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, declined to reveal the contents of the document in an interview published in Sunday’s la Repubblica newspaper, but said Pope Benedict had asked his department to study the issue.
[…]
This is a very difficult and delicate subject that requires prudence,” said Mexican-born Barragan.

The issue might be difficult and delicate for the limited understanding of Popes and Cardinals, but others have resolved the issue in their own minds without much help from the learned doctors of the church.

Willful and reckless ignorance kills. These calls for prudence and patience sound barbaric and gratuitous. Shame on them all.

Published in: on April 23, 2006 at 12:08 pm  Comments (9)  

You go first

Jawad al-Maliki has been asked to head the new Iraqi government. In his first order of business, he has called upon all militia groups to lay down their weapons and merge into the Iraqi army. After all, as he so aptly mentions, it’s the law.

Think about it though. Would you be the first one to turn in your AK-47 and rocket launcher? That’s what I thought.

Recall the movie Outlaw Josey Wales when the remnants of Bloody Bill Anderson’s Confederate insurgents laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Yankees. The Yankees mowed them down with a Gattling gun while they were pledging allegiance to the United States.

The no gun law in Iraq seems like a tough one to enforce. How about printing some “just say no to automatic weapons” bumper stickers?

Published in: on April 22, 2006 at 11:34 am  Comments (3)  

Essay in Idleness

What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realize I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head.

Essays in Idleness, Kenko (1283-1350)

I sat in a bar—where else?—by the window yesterday, and twirled my pen over my composition notebook as if it would conjure words on the page. I never lack for theses, most of which are uninventive and uninteresting and scarcely signify anything at all. Sometimes, I hesitate writing them down.

I had fortunately brought along The Art of the Personal Essay, an anthology fun and enlightening to ramble through. That is where I found the Kenko quotation. I also discovered some selections from Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. She lists some hateful things such as this.

Sometimes one greatly dislikes a person for no particular reason—and then that person goes and does something hateful.

I imagined Shonagon and Kenko as the first bloggers.

Last night, I also imagined writing something like this. I should write about the avaricious and golden haired young woman I met last night, but I’m not feeling particularly inventive or interesting again today—another hateful thing.

Published in: on April 22, 2006 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Something more interesting

Another gorgeous summer-like day. I’m taking my notebook to a restaurant where I can sit by an open window. I hope to write something interesting, something way more interesting than this anyway.

If I don’t write something interesting, I’ll still be looking out an open window at the trees sprouting their new leaves.

Published in: on April 21, 2006 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

This gets old

I woke up this morning hoping it was all a bad dream. But it’s true. Derek Lee, star first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, has broken his wrist and will be out for at least 8 to 10 weeks.

The Cubs, who have kept pace with their division opponents, have had a good start to their season. Now, with Derek out, and Wood and Prior no where to be found, things don’t look so good.

The insufferable White Sox fans are having a ball–not because they have good team again this season, but because they would rather see the Cubs lose than see their own team win. How one develops an inferiority complex that severe I do not know.

Year after year, this shit gets old.

Published in: on April 21, 2006 at 8:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Necessity

Woke at five on the dot as usual. Pulled on a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt. I sat in a worn lawn chair on the balcony and smoked a cigarette. The air was wet and warm. The predawn was nearly silent except for the sound of a few trucks already making deliveries. The lights were still off in the surrounding tall buildings. Dark pools of water standing in the black streets reflected the orange globes of the streetlamps as if some ingenious person had lit the street from below as well as above.

People who missed the end of night walked the streets after dawn. They listened to an inner voice singing of necessity.

Published in: on April 20, 2006 at 7:57 am  Comments (6)  

Gone Fishing

Calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.

Cool Hand Luke

Scott McClellan is the happiest man in the country. Even Satan would not want to be the White House Press Secretary. Lying, stonewalling, and practicing the other dark rhetorical arts will eventually wear down the soul. A devoted and devout Press Secretary wonders whether he has accumulated enough demerits to bar him from ever entering Paradise.

Scott can now retire to his study for awhile and write his memoir about how wonderful it was working for President Bush. He’ll have his two week book tour when it is published. Then the book will slide into oblivion.

However, there will be no end of invitations to sit on learned panels and discuss the Press Secretary’s role in keeping the Republic free and just. That is Purgatory enough to get him into Paradise. After all, he could be frolicking in the sun rather than haunting think tank conference rooms.

So long Scott. And thanks for handing out all the scoops to the gullible. They learned your lessons well.

Don’t forget to write.

Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 11:11 am  Comments (2)  

Dawn: note to self

Dawn. I was sitting by the lake and looking at the orange glow over the water’s horizon. The question about the meaning of life played across my mind. Then it came to me.

The meaning of life is created—not discovered. Like all the other important things in life, such as mathematics, philosophy, poetry, love, and the beauty of a spring dawn, the meaning of life is created from passion. I am sure that I have read and heard this many times during my life, but I was not listening.

I never learn anything unless I recreate it for myself. I wish I was better at doing that.

Published in: on April 18, 2006 at 5:20 am  Comments (1)  

Easter Movies

I watched The Greatest Story Ever Told tonight, the first time I’ve watched it all the way through. I found it rather boring. Rip Torn did his best playing the Judas role, but like all the other roles, the cast did not have much to work with.

Ben Hur starts at midnight. I’ve seen that one a lot. I hope I’m asleep by then.

Published in: on April 16, 2006 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

A new record? Probably not.

http://www.cinderzelda.com/studioznews.htm

I watched four soccer games and two baseball games on TV yesterday. That must be close to the record for haughty indolence.

Today is shaping up to be much the same way. Tonight, I will return to meditating on the meaning of life.

After the soccer matches I bet on this weekend, I’m just happy that I’ll break even or finish a little ahead after this afternoon’s PSG vs. Lyon match.

Happy Easter.

Published in: on April 16, 2006 at 11:04 am  Leave a Comment  

An ordinary soaking

The day dawned so bright and clear I swore I could see to the end of the universe if I tried. Instead of looking, I scanned the NY Times Sunday book reviews, and watched the Bolton/Chelsea game–the ordinary.

Sunlight showers the room. I’m drenched. I need this good soaking.

Published in: on April 15, 2006 at 8:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Good Friday

Hot and hazy. I look as bad as I feel. I wear sneakers, white sox, Levi button fly jeans at least a decade old, a Toledo Mudhens t-shirt stretched tight across my belly, and a Cubs baseball cap. My hair escapes in unruly tangles from my cap. Stubble covers my face.

Last night I swore to go on diet: one serving of pastry for breakfast, one serving of light and lean microwave cuisine in the evening, plus Budweiser beer, Makers Mark whiskey, and Coke Classic whenever I want. I took that oath last year too.

The Man. U. vs. Sunderland game is about to start. The announcer calls it David against Goliath. David had a much better chance than Sunderland.

The words from Elizabeth Bishop’s Filling Station roll around my mind:

Somebody loves us all.

Published in: on April 14, 2006 at 12:40 pm  Comments (3)  

Tunes

I have had Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achey Breaky Heart playing in my mind all morning. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes.

Two convicts are sentenced to die by electrocution on the same day. The Warden leads the two convicts to the electric chair. The Warden asks the first convict if he has any last requests. The convict replies, “play Achey Breaky Heart for me.” The Warden asks the second convict what his request is. The second convict replies, “strap me in first.”

Drum roll, please.

Published in: on April 14, 2006 at 8:56 am  Comments (1)  

Spinoza, Nemirovsky, terror, and the violent event

I’ve been enthralled by and absorbed in Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise since I started reading it this week. The opening chapters detail the lives of people evacuating Paris in early June 1940 when it became clear the Germans would soon be marching into the city, or, more importantly, destroying it. Terror, fear, panic, and chaos reigned as Parisians scrambled by every available means to escape the city. Even a young family cat gets a chapter detailing his experience of the evacuation.

One wonders why people waited so long to take the necessary steps to get out of town. Nemirovsky asks and answers this question about her characters. It takes a dramatic and violent event to shake people from their everyday lethargy. The first reaction is denial. Once denial has passed, the old ways of thinking and living in society are not easily quit. One expects other’s behavior to remain the same during a time of chaos even though one has altered one’s own behavior without recognizing it.

This put me in mind of the preface to Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise.

(1)Men would never be superstitious, if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favoured by fortune: but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being often kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune’s greedily coveted favours, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. (2) The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, over – confident, and vain.

(3) This as a general fact I suppose everyone knows, though few, I believe, know their own nature; no one can have lived in the world without observing that most people, when in prosperity, are so over-brimming with wisdom (however inexperienced they may be), that they take every offer of advice as a personal insult, whereas in adversity they know not where to turn, but beg and pray for counsel from every passer-by. (4) No plan is then too futile, too absurd, or too fatuous for their adoption; the most frivolous causes will raise them to hope, or plunge them into despair – if anything happens during their fright which reminds them of some past good or ill, they think it portends a happy or unhappy issue, and therefore (though it may have proved abortive a hundred times before) style it a lucky or unlucky omen. (5) Anything which excites their astonishment they believe to be a portent signifying the anger of the gods or of the Supreme Being, and, mistaking superstition for religion, account it impious not to avert the evil with prayer and sacrifice. (6) Signs and wonders of this sort they conjure up perpetually, till one might think Nature as mad as themselves, they interpret her so fantastically.

(7) Thus it is brought prominently before us, that superstition’s chief victims are those persons who greedily covet temporal advantages; they it is, who (especially when they are in danger, and cannot help themselves) are wont with Prayers and womanish tears to implore help from God: upbraiding Reason as blind, because she cannot show a sure path to the shadows they pursue, and rejecting human wisdom as vain; but believing the phantoms of imagination, dreams, and other childish absurdities, to be the very oracles of Heaven. (8) As though God had turned away from the wise, and written His decrees, not in the mind of man but in the entrails of beasts, or left them to be proclaimed by the inspiration and instinct of fools, madmen, and birds. Such is the unreason to which terror can drive mankind!

I wrote earlier this year about walking down State Street to the Chicago Loop. As I walked along, I tried to identify something beyond the changing mortar and brick along the street. As hard as I tried I could not imagine a different politics or economics supporting the structures. That is not because it is not possible. My mind, despite its activity, is not well tempered to change during the course of an ordinary day. Is it possible that only violent events rouse me from my lethargy? Partly, yes.

A related question is whether a violent event would make me superstitiously cling to the old beliefs that caused the violent event, or would I reason my way into a new and better position. That’s the more scary question.

Published in: on April 13, 2006 at 1:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stinking Media Bias

In another blatant case of media bias, Reuters reports this story.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A car bomb exploded outside a Shi’ite mosque in a town north of Baghdad on Wednesday and police said initial reports indicated at least 20 people were killed.

The blast targeted worshippers at a mosque in the town of Howaydir. Hospital officials said dozens of casualties were being treated.

Last week a triple suicide bombing at a Shi’ite mosque in Baghdad killed 90 people.

I’m surprised the bastards didn’t go on to claim there is a civil war going on in Iraq. Where are the uplifting stories about Marines handing out candy bars to homeless Iraqi children?

Published in: on April 12, 2006 at 12:15 pm  Comments (5)  

Inconveniences

“Planes,” Florence replied, looking up at the sky.

“Why won’t they leave me the hell alone?” he thundered.

He hated the war; it threatened much more than his lifestyle or peace of mind. It continually destroyed the world of the imagination, the only world where he felt happy. It was like a shrill, brutal trumpet shattering the fragile crystal walls he’d taken such pains to build in order to shut out the rest of the world.

“God!” he sighed. “How upsetting, what a nightmare!”

Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise

People really do think that way. I know one in particular.

Published in: on April 12, 2006 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

A Simple Metric

I cannot imagine being a reporter trying to gather the news everyday in Iraq. It’s too damned dangerous. There are too many ways to die.

My basic metric for gauging how well things are going in Iraq is whether, short of insanity, I would ever want to go there.

Published in: on April 12, 2006 at 8:58 am  Leave a Comment