July 17, 2014
I'd like to be able to tell you I'll be podcasting again in the near future, but I can't. Handling my parents' complicated, untidy estate (two trusts, not everything in the trusts, DC estate taxes, etc., etc.) will take at least through the end of the year, probably longer. I literally can't afford to mess up. Nor do I want to churn out podcasts that don't have a lot of thought behind them. Between the two there's no practical compromise: the podcast has to be put on hold for the time being. Sorry.
June 23, 2014
It's a bit late for them to be taking notice but the Obama administration deserves credit for worrying about bees. Honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a truly critical national problem. From a grass roots perspective one might wish that the administration's recent Presidential Memorandum on pollinators had explicitly mentioned the possibility of creating programs to encourage urban hobbyist beekeepers but I think the wording of the Memorandum gives agencies enough flexibility to consider the option. As it happens, by the way, these days one doesn't need to become an expert on bees in order to have a hive. If you want, private services will install and manage a hive for you. In the DC area, for example, Eco Honeybees will be happy to set you up. Although DC has extremely restrictive regulations regarding urban beekeeping it apparently doesn't enforce them. And despite its ill-informed regulatory environment DC has become something of a national hub for innovative beekeeping. I've had a hive on order from Eco Honeybees for a couple of months and I can't wait for the bees to arrive!
June 18, 2014
Yesterday morning, in the early hours, my dad passed away in his sleep. I went to check on him at 5:00 a.m. and found him gone. He was a great man, a good man, much beloved and highly respected. He'd had a happy and productive life. I believe he'll enjoy whatever the next phase of his journey may bring.
He was born in Galesburg, IL, the son of a bar tender. His mother (she was the smart one, a Warfield, but not of the Baltimore Warfields) left the family when he was about five; his father's mother raised him. He worked as a shoe salesman at JC Penney, was drafted during the war, and served as a cipher clerk with the 449th Bomb Group of the Army Air Corps, stationed at their forward operating base called Grottaglie Field, near Taranto in southern Italy.
Continue reading "RIP George R. Kenney (8/29/23-6/17/14)"...
June 14, 2014
I'm going to have to take more time off, I'm not sure how much, a month at least, probably, maybe two, maybe more. My dad is quite ill and, all things considered, I want to spent what time I can with him while he's still here. Since January he's been to the emergency room more than a dozen times, three times with pneumonia. In other words, for the last six months he's gone to the hospital about every ten days to two weeks for an average stay of two to three days. This is exhausting! During his most recent stay — for pneumonia plus a moderately serious UTI — in light of my concern for his quality of life I asked his doctor whether he would be eligible for home hospice care. It turns out he is and, with his consent (and total approval from his closest friends), I arranged his return home, last Tuesday, into the hospice program. For a couple days he did reasonably well but he's struggling again. He's bounced back many times before so a recovery, however temporary, wouldn't surprise me, nor would his shrugging off this mortal coil. I'm worried sick, I'm doing everything I can think of doing, but what happens, happens.
May 8, 2014
While we're on the subject of food in northwest DC it's worth noting the recent closing of Palena. Former White House executive Sous Chef Frank A. Ruta opened Palena in 2000, in the Cleveland Park neighborhood. The location he chose was iffy on account of parking difficulties, never resolved, and no doubt parking was a large factor in the closing. But Palena's real problem was with Ruta himself. Well known for being admired by his peers, Ruta is a culinary genius. But after a few years he stepped somewhat out of the kitchen to concentrate more on management. His food suffered. He says he belatedly realized what was happening and went back to more full-time kitchen operations but the damage had been done. Lots of his clientele left, too few returned. The money people hammered the restaurant for overdue rent. Quite suddenly, it closed. Sad, especially the photographs of all of Palena's restaurant equipment, furnishings, etc., posted online for a speedy auction...
Continue reading "Palena"...
If you happen to live in upper northwest DC but are too busy to follow all the neighborhood news I have something very, very important to tell you: There's a new bakery, called Bread Furst, just opened, and it's great. There's a backstory, too. The guy who opened it, Mark Furstenberg, is 75 years old, a bread expert who wants one last try to provide DC with quality bread. The bakery opened Tuesday but was mobbed. I went in yesterday afternoon when it was raining (no crowds) and bought a couple sample items. They were outstanding. I'll try to go in early tomorrow morning to get another sampling, this time of their breakfast pastries. Assuming those are outstanding also — as of course they will be — my life will become a little less complicated; instead of semi-regular, weekend morning driving expeditions into northern Virginia or Bethesda, Maryland, for breakfast pastries, I can drive or walk just a few blocks down the street. At last, a worthy neighborhood bakery... Yippee!!!!
April 28, 2014
Over the last year I've adopted a "four months on, two months off" podcasting schedule. This seems to work fairly well although the "two months off" parts all have been taken up with various family medical crises. Which this time I'm hoping things will be quieter! I'm taking off the months of May and June, with the EP podcast to resume the first week of July. I'll continue blogging sporadically. Enjoy the Spring!
April 17, 2014
Over 24 hours down. Wow!
When I set up this website I chose BlueHost as our hosting solution because, at that time, it offered the best balance of services, reliability, and cost. And for years it continued to do so. Indeed, our bandwidth allocation was always more than we needed, BlueHost was almost perfectly reliable, and the cost remained low. But then a few years ago BlueHost founder Matt Heaton sold the company and subsequently it has been sold and resold several times. Currently it's part of the huge ISP conglomerate Endurance International Group, owned by investment bankers Warburg Pincus and GS Capital Partners. Predictably, money that should have gone into infrastructure and IT personnel has, instead, gone into bankers' bonuses. Predictably, service has greatly suffered, with outages becoming both more frequent and more severe. (This latest has its own Wikipedia entry!) It's clear that service is not the bankers' top priority...
Continue reading "BlueHost's Latest Outage"...
April 8, 2014
Just a stray thought, perhaps obvious to some but, evidently, not to any reporters in the mainstream media. For the past couple of weeks I've been seeing an increasing number of accounts of shipments of very high-tech weaponry to the Syrian rebels. Anti-tank rockets, manpads, etc., etc. Since this weekend I've been seeing other accounts of increasing Russian activity vis-à-vis Ukraine. To my mind these two sets of circumstances are clearly related in a typical tit-for-tat sort of way. But I could be wrong...
One other unrelated thought: I've read a lot of commentary about the McCutcheon decision — probably the best being a piece in the New Yorker (which hasn't gotten much play and I wonder if that's because people don't like Jeffrey Toobin) — and it strikes me that for all the nattering outrage nobody is using the word "illegitimate." People accept, as a matter of course, that a bad decision by the Supreme Court of the United States is law, albeit bad law. That's quite remarkable. At what point, for the public at large, does the word "illegitimate" begin to not unreasonably apply to the U.S. government itself, in whole or in part?
March 26, 2014
On the 14th of March I Tweeted "1) The Malaysian government is totally incompetent. 2) Either the pilot or co-pilot did it, probably..." At various times since then the pilots theory has been debunked and thrown out. Now, however, the Daily Mail reveals that the pilot had unresolvable marital problems. A motive for doing himself in. It's not quite absolute proof, not yet, but I'm reasonably certain it's the real explanation. Note that neither the BBC nor the New York Times have picked up this story, more than 12 hours after it was first reported. I guess for them the Daily Mail is too déclassé. Eventually, once they've triple checked their grammar, spelling, sources — and lawyers — they'll have the story too...
March 25, 2014
Another day, another intercept. This story is not from the shady interwebs but from the U.S. government's RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). In other words, legit news. Presumably again originating from the Russian Secret Service, posted on YouTube, this time the intercept is of Yulia Tymoshenko (on Twitter she's admitted the phone call is real). She's talking with the former deputy secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Nestor Shufrych. In the conversation Yulia says, "Screw it, we should take up arms and kill the goddamned katsaps" — that would be derogatory Ukrainian slang for Russians — "along with their leader." Oh, OK... This is a nice group for the U.S. to back, I don't think...
March 16, 2014
Americans against war should know that Washington's neoconservatives are busily fanning the flames of a confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.  But there's more than this to the story. A different, also somewhat behind-the-scenes group passionately believes that the breakup of the Soviet Union didn't go far enough, that Russia itself must be ripped to shreds.  Motivations for pursuing a scorched earth objective vary widely, from an inherited ethnocentric hatred to ideological fervor to plain old greed, but for descriptive purposes we may label such true believers the neoliberals. At the moment they are ascendant.
Continue reading "A Case for Neorealism"...
March 8, 2014
As we ratchet up sanctions and further threats of sanctions against Russia it might be heuristically helpful to think about how the U.S. government's escalatory algorithm works. Most substantive content in U.S. demands will come from the Department of State. Within State, the European Bureau produces most of the grist for the mill, supervised by the Undersecretary for Political Affairs, the Deputy Secretary of State and, to some extent, the Office of Policy Planning. Other players at State could add to the mix, as could staff at the NSC, possibly Treasury, and possibly a few other agencies, but most actionable items first will run through the State Department's ordinary chain of command — in this case dominated by the European Bureau — up to John Kerry.
Continue reading "L'Enfer Est Plein de Bonnes Volontés et Désirs"...
March 6, 2014
Normally, once the government of the United States embarks on a course of sanctions it's almost impossible to remove the sanctions short of complete capitulation by the target. Normally, however, the target is some small, relatively impotent state that the U.S. is happy to slap around until they see things our way. Given that Russia is not at all a typical specimen things just might work out differently. But make no mistake about it: the U.S. is taking an extremely serious step. A major escalation. Expect an unfriendly Russian response, possibly to include the recall of Russia's Ambassador to Washington, the forced deportation (declaring them persona non grata) of a group of U.S. diplomats from Moscow, and various Russian military mobilizations. Ukraine is quickly becoming, as Steve Cohen warned so presciently, the front line of a new Cold War.
March 5, 2014
Recently — indeed, for weeks — I'd been having trouble with distortion in my recordings. The signal from my microphone had developed issues and just wasn't clear enough. Since I'd had two preamplifiers go bad on me I was inclined to suspect my relatively new preamp had in turn gone bad but I thought that to be sure I should trouble-shoot my set-up before taking the drastic step of sending any gear back to the manufacturer for bench testing.
Continue reading "A Short Technical Note"...
Another intercept. Perhaps because it's not of a U.S. official it hasn't yet gotten either the proper amount of attention from the public at large or any comment from western officials. So, allegedly at Maidan it was the same snipers, using the same bullets, who shot both police and activists at the same time. If true, a classic provocation. One wonders, would that have been a home-grown nationalist thug or a paid agent? Nice intercepts, again — I keenly look forward to further installments.
March 1, 2014
The first, of course, was trying to pull a fast one with a "democracy movement" consisting of a mob that included a significant number of nationalist thugs. When things went south the second was not to have a defensive rhetorical position wherein diplomatically we agreed with Russian concerns about said mob and therefore about the problematic political legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government. (Agreeing that the new Ukrainian government should be more inclusive would have been relatively easy.) The third, making ever more strident claims while adding vague threats. Yet to occur but now reasonably predictable, further steps to actualize said threats, thus forcing a showdown with Russia, with Mr. Putin personally, and also, by the way, with many European allies. Unpredictable consequences abound. This is what you get when the chief qualification of those in office, from Mr. Obama through most of his senior national security staff, amounts to scarcely more than having the greatest ambition in the room... There's nobody adult enough in the White House to turn this thing around — they'll just have to learn about reality the hard way.
February 19, 2014
Words matter. So do actions. When U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says, as he did Wednesday, that "[t]he fact of the matter is we have made very clear to the Ukrainian government that it is their responsibility to allow for people (to) protest," and that "[w]e consistently oppose any of the violence by all sides, but the responsibility is on the government to pull back its riot police, to call a truce and to engage in a meaningful discussion with the opposition about the way forward," then White House words lose all meaningful context except perhaps as a vector of what the administration wishes were reality. To understand just how far such words may ring hollow it is helpful to read (or reread) the CIA's internal history of its 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.† Where such a complete mismatch exists between official rhetoric about peaceful, non-violent protests and actual, premeditated violence, as is true for Ukraine today, it's only natural to wonder whether American rhetoric may be a smokescreen for agents operating to instigate violence.
Continue reading "Violence and Non-violence"...
April 25, 2014
Americans seem to have lost sight of the meaning of democracy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a democracy is "a government by the people" and especially the "rule of the majority." Most Americans think we have a democracy but we clearly do not have a system of majority rule. What we have is a sort of deformed, failed oligarchy, but apart from naming the right analytic categories what really matters is that people don't talk enough about or think enough about what democracy would do for us if we had it or how we might go about getting it. Indeed, if you want to level the finger of blame for our current system it fairly points at all of us! Here are a few of my thoughts on what's happening. Total runtime eight minutes. Propāgandā fidē.
April 18, 2014
America is the only country in the world with a constitution that forbids democracy. What's most remarkable, however, is not that a cabal of slave-drivers in the eighteenth century would try to impose themselves on future generations but that two hundred years later those future generations would worship their anti-democratic political system on the grounds that it provides "freedom." To be honest, it's a greater political horror — and it had already happened — than even George Orwell could have imagined. If there's a silver lining it may be that although nobody seriously talks about changing the constitution or, better yet, adopting an entirely new, democratic constitution, that's because nobody ever thinks — really thinks — about the possibilities. Eric Black is one of the few journalists who gets what's happening. And I encourage listeners to regularly read his outstanding columns. Total runtime thirty five minutes. Exēgī monumentum aere perennius.
April 11, 2014
Meta-discussions about the U.S. Constitution can be problematic. It seems to me that the rhetorical values we use in talking about the Constitution are almost perfectly contradicted by the rules laid out in the document itself, or rules we have subsequently dreamt up and improperly ascribe to it. Most complicated! But meta-discussions, I think, always deserve the benefit of the doubt. Besides, how else would we analyze the Constitution as a quasi-religious text? But that would take us past the limits of this show. Here, I talk with gifted rhetorician and constitutional law scholar Robert L. Tsai, author most recently of America's Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (Harvard University Press, just published this Monday). Thanks, Robert, for your historical insight! Total runtime forty four minutes. Cōnsēnsus facit lēgem.
April 4, 2014
The scholar activist travels a rough, winding road — or sometimes no road at all, blazing ways into the unknown. I find great inspiration in the work of Dr. Staughton Lynd — in, for example, his book Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 2009, the second edition with a new, brilliant forward by Robin Einhorn) and in all his selfless work on behalf of the dispossessed and powerless. Yet I face a paradox: I want more because I believe in more, despite my profound ignorance regarding whether more can be achieved. Here, we talk about society and social change. Thanks, Staughton! Total runtime forty two minutes. At spēs nōn frācta.
March 28, 2014
Realists have insufficient say in this administration's foreign policy. Take, for example, Crimea. It's of no intrinsic importance to the United States, our full-throated protests smack of hypocrisy, and we're in the process of giving up a great many substantive benefits from a working relationship with Russia for... what? Nostalgia for frontier justice? In fact, Washington is putting on a very scary display of delusional behavior... Even worse, those delusions are widely shared: swept along by groupthink and propaganda most Americans can't assess the Crimean crisis objectively. Thus it was refreshing — indeed, congenial — to talk with Dr. John Tirman, who puts foreign policy problems in a human perspective. But there's no silver lining. We will just have to cope with the less than peaceful consequences of our poor political judgment. Total runtime forty three minutes. Grātis anhēlāns, multa agendō nihil agēns.
March 21, 2014
Money, it seems, has invaded our lives down to the molecular level. Which begs the question: do we control money or does it control us? How much of a paradigm shift is necessary if we are, indeed, to reassert control? Dr. Costas Lapavitsas, using a sophisticated Marxist approach and meticulous empirical analysis, offers some answers in Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (Verso, 2014). He's extremely well informed, working the cutting edge of money theory. Thanks, Costas! Total runtime thirty seven minutes. (Blame me for iffy audio — this is why mostly I avoid cell phones.) Volentī nōn fit iniūria.
March 14, 2014
If you think about it, money is a public good, albeit of a somewhat unique sort. By nature benign, when it falls under the control of a tiny minority to be used mainly for their own benefit it becomes toxic. Our recurring and increasingly severe financial crises, then, are only superficially about money: in fact, we're having a deep, epochal crisis of democracy. To talk about all of this I turned to the brilliant documentary filmmaker (formerly of the BBC) and blogger, David Malone. Another real revolutionary, in the best sense. Total runtime fifty five minutes. Alia tentanda via est.
March 7, 2014
Debt slavery: just a scary metaphor, or something real that's gradually capturing us? Can a political system so highly leveraged through personal debt really function? What's the long term narrative arc here? To talk about debt and what kinds of things people might do — and are doing — to refuse payment on unfair debt I turned to Dr. Andrew Ross, author most recently of Creditocracy (OR Books, 2014). These are broadly cross-cutting, critical issues. Andrew's one of the good guys. Total runtime forty four minutes. Male parta, male dīlābuntur.
February 28, 2014
Belief is not really an option. You're going to believe there's some higher power, some greater spiritual meaning to existence, some kind of being in transcendence, or you're going to believe there's not. (Agnostics believe that a person is able to not believe, which is slightly embarrassing.) Whichever path you take, however, you won't be able to prove how reality works. The difference is that having Faith with a capital "F" moves mountains. Unfortunately for us, people often have Faith in extremely harmful inspirations... So here's a short, impressionist meditation on the need for a new, modern Faith — or at least a Faith in Faith — among those preponderantly attached to a liberal, humanistic philosophy. Total runtime eight minutes. Rēligiō locī.
February 24, 2014
One feels frighteningly disoriented, hearing an American president support deadly mob violence for what is, essentially, counter-revolutionary change (in the form of IMF austerity). The president's message may be directed at unknown people far away but the effects are certain to be felt here, possibly for generations, as the bindings of what relative peace we have come undone. I was extremely fortunate to be able to talk with Dr. Stephen F. Cohen about the crisis in Ukraine. He's in a tiny minority willing to discuss what's really happening. This is an unscheduled podcast on breaking news. [Audio file reposted at The Nation, here.] Total runtime forty eight minutes. Vae victīs.
February 21, 2014
It's difficult to say which is more astonishing: that it's possible to cure a fatal illness by opening energy gates with mental concentration, or that mainstream medical science has so blinkered itself that it refuses to examine the data. But data there is, in abundance, from an academic who in every other way is entirely reputable. Dr. William F. Bengston, author of The Energy Cure, has been doing anomalous scientific research for decades and has produced revolutionary, consistently replicable results. He's also very honest in saying that he can't explain why his methods work. It's something of a mystery, and a challenge. Thanks, Bill! Total runtime forty minutes. Dulce est dēsipere in locō.
February 14, 2014
Ukraine is split culturally and politically between East and West, but not in such a way that either side clearly could dominate the other. Forcing choices on Ukraine (as the EU and the U.S. sporadically seem to want to do) only exacerbates the tension. But given recent events, tensions breaking out into a civil war is not at all unthinkable. To me this is vaguely reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding the former Yugoslavia before its unhappy dismemberment. To talk about Ukraine I turned to Dr. Nicolai Petro, currently on a Fulbright grant in Odessa. Thanks, Nicolai, for your professional judgment! Total runtime fifty one minutes. Vōx clāmantis in dēserto.