Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thrill killers

There’s a hot cat fight going on here on Maui. But ours is just the local edition of a cat fight that is making fur fly all across the country.

You may have been following the controversy about the Maui Humane Society, its departing executive director and the strident campaign of cat (but not bird) lovers to introduce a “no-kill” policy at the society, which gets most of its money through a county animal control contract. There’s more  here (though behind The Maui News paywall).
And still more here about the situation in New York City, just to show we are not alone.

In theory, cats can be controlled by having cat lovers capture and spay or neuter feral cats, then return them to their happy hunting grounds, feeding and watering them, until they die of old age. Problem solved.

This is not how it works in real life. There was a cat colony at Iao Valley State Park, and a few years ago if you went up there after dark and shined your headlights into the forest, you would see hundreds of cats’ eyes looking back at you. During the day, scores of cats patroled the parking lot.
You cannot go into the park after dark any more, so the spooky cat crowd is not on display; and the last time I was at the parking lot it was not overrun with cats. I don’t know if that means the cat colony has diminished, but I doubt it has.

Colonies of Jackson’s chameleons, nene and pueo do die out. Cat colonies and cattle egrets, hardly ever. Usually, it seems that people who are dropping off their unwanted cats (instead of drowning them, which was customary in bygone times) look for existing cat colonies, presumably so their cat will have company and three squares a day.

On Maui, there is the issue of ground-nesting birds, especially seabirds. Some of these are endangered. All of them are slaughtered by cats. Few seabirds even try to nest on the island, and when they do they are usually mauled.

Even well-fed cats will hunt and kill for pleasure.

The upside of this is that without our thousands of blood-crazed cats, there would be even more feral chickens everywhere.

A dissertation on suckling pig

Long-time readers of RtO may recall that the main purpose of this blog is to celebrate delectable, greasy pork. Not every day. That’s why the intervals are filled with politics, history and music. But today I have found a classic of pork porn.

It is from Irvin S. Cobb’s “Cobb’s Bill-of-Fare,” written a century ago:

“Perchance also the sucking pig of the good old days still prevails in certain sheltered vales and glades. He, too, used to have his vogue at holiday times. Because the gods did love him he died young -- died young and tender and unspoiled by the world -- and then everybody else did love him too. For he was barbered twice over and shampooed to a gracious pinkness by a skilled hand, and then, being basted, he was roasted whole with a smile on his lips and an apple in his mouth, and sometimes a bow of red ribbon on his tail, and his juices from within ran down his smooth flanks and burnished him to perfection. His interior was crammed with stuff and things and truck and articles of that general nature --I’m no cooking expert to go into further particulars, but whatever the stuffing was, it was appropriate and suitable, I know that, and there was onion in it and savory herbs, and it was exactly what a sucking pig needed to bring out all that was good and noble in him.

“You began operations by taking a man’s-size slice out of his midriff, bringing with it a couple of pinky little rib bones, and then you ate your way through him and along him in either direction or both directions until you came into the open and fell back satiated and filled with the sheer joy of living, and greased to the eyebrows. I should like to ask at this time if there is any section where this brand of sucking pig remains reasonably common and readily available? In these days of light housekeeping and kitchenettes and gas stoves and electric cookers, is there any oven big enough to contain him? Does he still linger on or is he now known in his true perfection only on the magazine covers and in the Christmas stories?

“As a further guide to those who in the goodness of their hearts may undertake a search  for him in his remaining haunts and refuges, it should be stated that he was no German wild boar, or English pork pie on the hoof, and that he was never cooked French style, or doctored up with anchovies, caviar, marrons de glaces, pickled capers out of a bottle  -- where many of the best capers of the pickled variety come from -- imported truffles, Mexican tamales or Hawaiian poi. He was -- and is, if he still exists -- just a plain little North American baby-shoat cooked whole. And don’t forget the red apple in his mouth. None genuine without this trademark.”

Newspapermen don’t write like that any more.

A Chinese suckling pig; the American kind is extinct

I have cooked a whole suckling pig once. He was delicious but hard to obtain and, as Cobb noted even in 1914, hard to fit into a modern oven. I had to bend him into a crescent.

It was worth the trouble.

Monday, April 14, 2014

$25,000 bicycles in Indonesia

Although their headline writers are the worst in any newsroom, I find Bloomberg News to be required reading for anyone interested in business. For example, here is their lede on the coming elections in Indonesia:
Tedi Kumaedi earns about $87 a month selling instant coffee from his rusty bicycle near Jakarta’s stock exchange. At nearby TechnoBike, they’ve sold out of $25,000 Lamborghini-branded bicycles. Narrowing the gulf between workers like Kumaedi, who toils for 14 hours a day outside a luxury hotel operated by Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., and TechnoBike’s increasingly affluent customers will be among the biggest challenges facing the winner of Indonesia’s presidential election in July.
I didn't know Lamborghini made bicycles, but maybe I will have to revise my opinion that there are not -- and never will be -- any Muslim countries that are democracies. I hope so.

Some other stuff in the news:

I am totally unsurprised that the racist and faux-Jesusian Phil Robertson endorsed a totally phony Jesusian congressperson who was caught on his own office's surveillance tape canoodling with the wife of one of his (supposedly) best friends.

At least McAllister hasn't claimed that God has forgiven him, the way Senator David Vitter did. I'd give a purty to be near the Throne of Judgment when God goes over Vitter's record and gets to the part about "how I forgave you." I imagine God looking over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles:

"And how did you know that, David?"

I would also give another purty to be within earshot of St. Peter when he greets the Greens of Hobby Lobby for their preliminary screening at Heaven's Gate.

"What did y'all do on Earth?" asks Peter, riffling through a file folder of reports.

"We were in retail," say the Greens.

Peter looks concerned. "And did you sell shot glasses?"

"No, never," reply the Greens, slightly aggrieved."We were Bible-believing Christians."

St. Peter is visibly relieved. "Thank Goodness. You'll get your chance to do that personally shortly. And may I say it is a pleasure to meet such transparently moral people. We see so many of the other kind."

You know how Wayne LaPierre is always saying the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun? Crap, like everything that comes out of Wayne LaPierre.

After shooting three people he thought were Jews, Frazier Miller was not stopped by an armed citizen, even though it was in Missouri where gun-totin' extends even to the men's rooms of the state Capitol. Nor did he die in a thunder of police bullets in a suicide-by-cop finale.

In fact, firearms were not involved in stopping him at all. He stopped after, presumably, he had killed enough Jews. Police found him sitting in his car, holding a shotgun, but not using it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stealing your pension

The New York Times has an interesting (but since it's in the Dealbook section, short on details) story about how your pension is going to be stolen.

 I can remember when Incurious George suggested we should do away with the customary (customary since the New Deal, that is) pension arrangements and just buy stocks. Although Americans are not nearly suspicious enough of rightwing tax schemes, they maintain a solid skepticism about Wall Street, and they weren't having any of it.

 (I also recall that when I spoke out against Bush's crazy scheme, I was called many unpleasant names. It is pleasant to look back now and know I was right all along.)

 The Bush Crash probably stymied another attempt to place your pension balances in the hands of Wall Street for some years to come, but the Bush Crash did destroy the so-called pool system by which some smaller employers sought some diversification of risk.

 You will not be surprised to learn that a sufficiently complex system is being gamed.
Today, however, the aging of the work force, the decline of unions, deregulation and two big stock crashes have taken a grievous toll on multiemployer pensions, which cover 10 million Americans. Dozens of multiemployer plans have already failed, and some giant ones are teetering — including, notably, the Teamsters’ Central States pension plan, with more than 400,000 members. In February, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal multiemployer insurer would run out of money in seven years, which would leave retirees in failed plans with nothing. “Unless Congress acts — and acts very soon — many plans will fail, more than one million people will lose their pensions, and thousands of small businesses will be handed bills they can’t pay,” said Joshua Gotbaum, executive director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal insurer that pays benefits to people whose company pension plans fail.
I am so old that I wrote about the passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act when it was new in 1974.

The Times does not say why that law was passed, but I recall: Employers were looting pension plans and there was not much the victims could do about it. One of the attractive features of ERISA was that it made employers personally liable for pension shortfalls.

So far as I know, that has never been applied. Too bad. That would be involuntary income redistribution that even a rightwinger could -- supposing they really believe their on speeches -- be for.

 An honest day's pay for an honest day's work, right?

Don't count on it. Now I am retired, I get a lot of solicitations starting from the premise that a retiree requires at least $500,000 principal. Not so easy for workers to acquire when they make $30,000 a year. Times 40 years that's $1,200,000.

Unless the worker lives in a tent to economize on rent, $500,000 ain't gonna happen. The Republican Party is the party of low wages, so the more Republicans get elected, the fewer people will be able to look forward to eatin' reg'lar in retirement.

 RtO has a partial solution: Tax capital and labor the same.

There are other simple, equitable policies, but tax filing day is coming up and the thought for today is: Eliminate the tax preference for capital gains. Let capitalists pay tax at the same rate as waitresses.

Found Sounds 16: The Halibuts

It's been nearly a year since RtO found a sound worth mentioning.
I considered "The Show to End All Shows," the most recent production by Circus Contraption, but that hardly counts as a "found sound," and, besides, when looking up the music, I found this.

 I remember reading the news accounts of the slaughter in Portland. It was not until now, though, that I learned that two of the murdered were from the Circus Contraption troupe, Joe Albanese and Drew Keriakedes. Just another two sacrifices to our Second Amendment insanity.

 Although Circus Contraption was a collective and no one person was credited with its scripts and music (as Keriakedes told me when we discovered Circus Contraption entirely serendipitously in Brooklyn so many years ago), it is clear from comparing Circus Contraption to Keriakedes's earlier music that he was the presiding spirit of at least the musical part of the show. So, in truth, that was the show to end all shows.

 I also considered Garfinkel & Oates, the answer to the question: "You know all those black blues tunes where the Anglo-Saxon words are replaced with sly similes like "candy" and "poodle" and "jelly roll." What would you get if a couple of white actresses from L.A. replaced them with the Anglo-Saxon?"
But their music is undistinguished, and, besides, apparently I was the last person to hear about them.
However, I have found The Halibuts, now extinct. It was my best kind of discovery: a dollar album in a junk shop, in the wrong jewel case.

When I popped the CD in the player, iTunes classified it as "Alternative." Uh oh, I just wasted a whole dollar. Fortunately, whoever classifies albums for iTunes is unreliable.

When the first chords of "The Natives Are Restless" came out, I had to check the CD to make sure it wasn't a mislabeled Dick Dale album. Further checking revealed that The Halibuts were based in Boston and made three albums between 1986 and 1996; and that they are -- or were -- part of the retro surf guitar scene.

 I didn't know that was even a thing. Why don't those bands play on Maui?

It appears The Halibuts knew Maui, at least by reputation, since one tune is called "Molokini by Moonlight." It also appears that (no surprise) there are people out there who are WAAAY more obsessive than RtO about finding sounds. Such as Mr. Eliminator at the blog Surfadelic. There the review of "Life on the Bottom" reads:
While it would be easy enough to stuff the Halibuts into the retro surf-band file, a quick listen to this shows them to be a top-notch instrumental combo with a propensity for handling a diverse number of styles. While the reverb stun-gun attack of the guitars veers them into retro territory, their takes on Gershwin's "Summertime" and "Istanbul" make them a band with a little more to offer when you've overdosed on every cover version of "Misirlou" there is. [Cub Koda]
I couldn't have said it better. My find, however, was not "Life on the Bottom," though the CD was in a "Life on the Bottom" jewel box. I found "Chumming," an earlier release. Well worth a dollar.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review 319: H.P. Lovecraft: Nightmare Countries

H.P. LOVECRAFT: Nightmare Countries, by S.T. Joshi. 160 pages, illustrated. Metro

When he died in 1937, surely no one could have expected that H.P. Lovecraft would be treated to a two-decker biography, like Henry James or Mark Twain. “Nightmare Countries” is not that book (which was “I Am Providence: the Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft” by the same author).

 “Nightmare Countries” is more of a fanbook, coffee table style. Certainly if any author ever did aspire to a two-decker bio, he could not have done better than Lovecraft did.

 Possibly the worst case of logorrhea in American letters, Lovecraft wrote an estimated 80,000 letters, many of over 50 pages, in a life that ended at 47. Not bad for a man so socially inept that he could not attend public school or hold a job or even go outside for most of his life.
In addition to a messed up life that was turned around by the love of a good woman and the New Deal, Lovecraft’s biography opened up to me part of the underbelly of American popular literature that I had not heard of.

Starting before World War I, Lovecraft was an important figure in a tiny but fascinating movement, the amateur press associations. Apparently as aspect of the striving of immigrants (from overseas or the sticks) who were unsure of themselves in the mainstream, the associations lasted a long time, so they must have fulfilled some need.

These associations -- there were two, and Lovecraft was president of both -- operated much like social media networks today, only using the mails. Their members displayed an attractive humility absent from today’s bloggers and tweeters.

 Parallel to the amateur press associations were the unorganized fan networks around the pulp story magazines, like Weird Tales. These were lively societies, occasionally breaking out into personal contacts.

 They also produced fanzines, some of which had impressively lengthy runs. Here Lovecraft excelled. From his days in short pants he was editor/publisher of personal magazines. Many well-known writers did the same when they were children, but few lasted more than a few issues. Some of Lovecraft’s continued for decades.

 After his marriage failed, Lovecraft got out more and began an extensive series of tours up and down the East Coast. A WASP of traditional prejudices, it is possible that getting out of Providence and seeing how real people lived may have provided the spark that turned him from a reactionary into a socialist.

 That and his increasing poverty.

 Although read only by hoi polloi during his life and scorned by the likes of Edmund Wilson after his death, Lovecraft now looks to be established as one of the very few writers who will find lots of readers in every generation.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Examining Hobby Lobby's entrails

The sanctimonious owners of Hobby Lobby should have expected they would have every last detail of their behavior examined once they decided someone had appointed them the controllers of the personal behavior of their employers. Bingo!
The results have been what we expect from sanctimonious God-botherers: They don't come close to what they claim.

 First it was revealed that they had been buying contraceptives, like Ella, that they said they abhor. No surprise there. When the Catholic bishops made a similar claim they were caught out, too.

 Now it is revealed that they also invested part (most, actually) of the pension money they control into mutual funds that own, among other things, abortion drug manufacturers. I don't take this as seriously as the earlier discovery that they and the bishops had, in fact, done what the government was now requiring them to do without, it appears, being struck down by an angry Jehovah.

It is not easy being a monomaniac in modern society, whether one wants to be a vegan or a religious bigot. We are too interconnected.

But the Mother Jones report offers a couple of factoids that are worthy of note. One is that the pension fund for 13,000 people, evidently around $100 million, is awfully small. The Greens are not required to have one at all, but that works out to less than $8,000 per worker. Sounds like they are counting, one way or another, on big gummint intrusion into their workers' lives at some point. Second is this:
In their Supreme Court complaint, Hobby Lobby's owners chronicle the many ways in which they avoid entanglements with objectionable companies. Hobby Lobby stores do not sell shot glasses, for example, and the Greens decline requests from beer distributors to back-haul beer on Hobby Lobby trucks.
Recall that the Greens claim their objections are based on their sincere religious beliefs as Roman Catholics. Sorry, as an ex-Catholic I can say confidently that there is no Catholic moral objection to beer or to whatever it is that is served in shot glasses. What this amounts to is a sworn admission by the Greens that they do not manage their company according to any religious doctrine but are merely a pair of busybodies and common scolds.