Saturday, February 28, 2015

On Wisconsin!

I didn't even know Daily Kos was still around, but it is. The latest rightwinger contender to show symptoms of hoof-in-mouth disease is Scott Walker.

The workers of Wisconsin have been unable to lay a hand on him in elections, but outside the Cheese State Walker has run off a string of gaffes, culminating this week in comparing ISIS to Wisconsin workers and grannies.

The workers and grannies are not going to let him forget it.

I am not sure this derails Walker with Republican primary voters, but it eliminates him as a national figure.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Net dream

RtO doesn't have a lot to say about net neutrality except:

You have got to be very stupid to buy the carriers' argument that more regulation will stifle innovation or result in poorer service.

The Internet is unregulated now, and US carriers provide some of the slowest service on the planet.

Chickens come home to roost on rightwing creep

And shit all over him.

Be sure to click through to the GoFundMe page and read the comments.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review 339: A Love Affair with Southern Cooking

A LOVE AFFAIR WITH SOUTHERN COOKING: Recipes and Recollections, by Jean Anderson. 434 pages. Morrow, $32.50

I was pleased to see Jean Anderson pass both litmus tests for understanding Southern cooking: no sugar in the cornmeal and no cherries in the ambrosia.

“A Love Affair” is not meant to be a comprehensive account of Southern cooking. Rather, it relates her experience growing up in Raleigh, working in the mountains as an extension homemaker agent and then writing about food for women’s and gourmet magazines from New York.

Running along the righthand pages is an amusing, not always accurate, timeline of events in Southern gourmandise. Principal among these were the concoction of innumerable varieties of fizzy bellywash. It is amazing that no one (so far as I know) has bottled a fizzy sweet tea . . . hey, I think a moneymaking idea just popped into my head.

Anderson’s personal history means that the recipes and anecdotes are heavy on the wealthy matrons who live in photogenic mansions along the James River, while what I call the chicken-fried-steak sector of Southern cooking (as exemplified for teevee watchers by Paula Deen) is hardly mentioned.

In fact, I don’t think there is a single recipe that calls for opening a can of condensed soup.

The book delves into the earliest history of Southern food but, unsurprisingly, has nothing to say about the miserable situation of the poorest, who were reduced to a diet of endless fatback, cornbread and coffee flavored (not sweetened) with blackstrap molasses. Such a diet was deficient in nearly every trace nutrient but especially vitamin D and niacin, so that all across the cotton belt, the natives were slack-jawed with pellagra and the children spindly with ricketts.

You may have seen photographs of cabins with cotton growing on every foot of ground right up to the door. Those people were too poor to have a chinaberry tree by the door or a patch of greens. 

For Southerners in exile, perhaps the most valuable part of the book is a long section on sources. The Internet has saved the old ways, or at least made it possible for home cooks to continue the old ways, by making it possible to obtain special ingredients (mayhaw jelly or canned creecy greens, say) that by the 1980s had become downright hard to find because the demand was so thin.

It is still thin but by extending the catchment area, suppliers are able to keep making some of the old-time ingredients. Expect to pay, though. Only the well-to-do can afford to eat low on the hog nowadays.

Rightwing 'selfie suit'

RtO has been sitting on this story for days, waiting for it to sort out. Rightwingers are always good for a head-shaking laugh, although the story of India Prime Minister Modi's selfie suit did not, at first, seem to have any specifically rightwing aspects.

That changed by the time it played out, with money speaking its own kind of truth to power.

The strangest thing about it was that the fabric was woven in England:

The revelation that the fabric had been woven to order in London and tailored in India The personal pinstripe of hubris has met its nemesis in Mr Kejriwal's rickshaw wallah chicfor 1,000,000 rupees - around £10,000 - or more than ten years' wages for many of those who voted for Mr Modi in the hope of a higher standard of living - left him a little more frayed at the seams. Even Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Party's slow-motion leader, belittled his "ten lakh ka (million rupee) suit".
India used to be the world center of elaborate fabric.

It was also amusing to see a story about political money measured in crores of rupees, which sounds so much better than millions of dollars.

It was also a treat to read Indian political reporting, which is not as up-tight as the American variety:

 The personal pinstripe of hubris has met its nemesis in Mr Kejriwal's rickshaw wallah chic

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review 338: God's Bankers

GOD’S BANKERS: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican, by Gerald Posner. 732 pages, illustrated. Simon & Schuster, $32

“God’s Bankers,” though lengthy is only a history of Vatican money and power in modern times, starting with Napoleon’s conquest of Rome.

The Vatican didn’t even have a bank until about 1930, when it needed one to manage an indemnity it collected from the Fascist government. In fact, until well into the 20th century, Roman Catholic doctrine condemned the charging of interest for loans, and the Vatican didn’t produce even pro forma budgets until after the Great War.

Which is not to say that great amounts of money didn’t flow through the Vatican, but they were managed like the policy bets at a corner candy store. And I mean that in every sense.

Pius XI selected a skilled, prudent, unscrupulous layman, Bernardino Nogara, to manage the windfall, and he generated excellent returns, helped by using Vatican intelligence for insider trading and aided by a side business in helping Italians cheat on their taxes.

When war came, the Vatican Bank (formally the Institute for Works of Religion) did even better by helping the Nazis and Fascists rob and murder Jews and other non-Catholics. Gerald Posner’s heavily-annotated volume is more about power than money, and his chapters 7 and 8 are the best short summation I know for the actions and inactions of Pope Pius XII and most of the Curia in furthering the Holocaust. (The professional Roman Catholic defenders will squeal at this review -- and are already squealing at Posner -- but there is no longer any real controversy about the Church’s pro-Nazi role.)

The Vatican Bank was more like a German merchant bank or a hedge fund than a commercial bank, taking stakes in businesses and putting its nominees on their boards. It was also more like a Swiss or Luxembourgeois private bank in helping tax evaders.

It also laundered money for mobsters and acted “like an offshore bank inside Rome” to help hide dirty money; and it was a source of or conduit for illegal political contributions to the Christian Democrats. It also conspired with rightwingers to plot overthrows of democracies in Italy, Greece and (probably) elsewhere.

This ought to have been good business, and to an extent it was. But after the cautious Nogara retired, the bank was in the hands of amateur crooks who speculated wildly. “God’s Bankers” is frustrating on finances because the numbers are so sketchy. This is not Posner’s fault, as the Vatican was able, until 2013, to keep almost all its dealings secret.

But it may be that the bank lost capital faster than it made dirty profits. It certainly lost a lot of capital.

What we do know about it came out in repeated scandals, some murderous, when Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, an American hoodlum, ran the bank. He tied up with two of the biggest financial fraudsters in Italy, Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi.

In addition, during those same years, sleuths recovered more and more evidence of the Vatican’s robbery of Jews, using the money and gold it stole from them to finance the flight and life in exile of mass murderers in, mostly, South America and Syria.

From time to time, some players ended up with a stiletto in the chest, or defenestrated, or hanged or -- a modern touch -- shot; but the modern story of the Holy Roman Church and money was not different from the story during the Renaissance, though without the refined taste.

Pope John Paul II, of soon to be sainted memory, was unconcerned about the thievery and used the bank to fund subversion in Poland and elsewhere. Paul VI was part of the pro-Nazi wartime Vatican camorra, and Benedict XVI was a hands-off administrator who showed no interest in the crimes.

The Vatican was not alone. Italy was thoroughly corrupt -- the Vatican was a conduit for under-the-table payoffs that, at one point, went to more than half the members of Parliament. Much of what we have learned about the Vatican’s crimes came from investigation and attacks launched by elements of the secular Italian government -- invariably from the left, but leftist deputies took Vatican money as well.

It was secularism that finally cracked the Vatican Bank’s secrecy. The anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist rules adopted by the United States and the European Union narrowed and narrowed the room for the Vatican to maneuver, because as part of a worldwide organization, some of it legitimate, that needs to be able to transfer and store funds, the Vatican Bank needs to have correspondent banks. (The Vatican could have used commercial banks but it was, and is, touchy about its sovereignty.)

When those banks started refusing to do business with the Vatican Bank, and when Pope Francis cleared out the supervisors who had never supervised, the church started showing signs of cleaning its house.

At least Posner was hopeful of that as he finished his book toward the end of 2014, but the Vatican has been a gangster state for nearly 2,000 years and it would be naive to think that it will stay straight. After all, the crooks are still there.


Enemies of democracy

They aren't all Muslim.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rightwing heroes

I used to be a newspaperman, part of the only profession in America where ethical and moral failings are punished. Incompetency, too.

Doctors can kill their patients, mortgage brokers can cheat their clients, mine operators can kill their miners, cops can beat up citizens, priests can rape their altar boys and rarely will they be punished.

But if a journalist embroiders or fakes, or lifts without attribution, and he gets caught, out the door.

Take Brian Williams. Since I don't have a teevee, I was barely aware of his existence, although I did see his newscast a few times in my recent trip to the Mainland. It appears that, like a lot of old soldiers (or old anybodys), as he retold old stories over the years, he improved them.

From what I have read, he did not, at the time he was reporting the news from Iraq, do that. Only later. But he has been purged nevertheless.

So be it.

Now, contrast that with the reputation of Chris Kyle, a full-on liar. And what lies.

Brian Williams' lie described him as working to do a job in a dangerous environment. (It really was dangerous even if on the day in question, he was not shot at.)

Kyle's lies presented himself as a psychopathic murderer, barroom brawler and all-around creep. So far as we know, he wasn't a psychopathic killer, but he was a sociopath.

So Texas has declared Chris Kyle Day. It looks as though Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for title of craziest governor Texas ever had, a high bar considering previous contenders like Pass-the-Biscuits Pappy O'Daniel, both Fergusons and Rick Perry.

Things that go bump in the night

Thursday night, after getting home pretty late from the Eric Bibb concert, I was just falling asleep when I heard a loud bang. Too loud for a gunshot, too sharp for fireworks. The tone was wrong for a backfire.

As I was pondering what it might have been, the lights went out. Since I don't live in Karachi, I wasn't thinking, bomb. Transformer exploded.

It got me to thinking about our senses, which are usually said to be far less acute than other animals. We do not see as sharply as the falcon, smell as good as the hound (unless we take regular baths) etc.

Still, even our feeble senses, combined with experience, tell quite a bit.

I recently spent several weeks in Houston, in a house that backed up to the sound barrier wall to the "610 Loop," the expressway that circles the center city. Almost every morning between 3 and 4, a motorcycle with a big engine -- a rice rocket -- was wound out to top speed.

Until one morning the scream of the engine taching up stopped abruptly. Did he blow his engine, I wondered, or his transmission, or did he spot a cop and back down?

The morning paper provided the answer: He had run into a pole on the off-ramp about a quarter mile from where I was. I didn't hear any sounds of the collision.

In looking up something about senses, I was surprised to learn how high the catfish ranks, in several ways.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fun fact

In the 18th century 10% of the deaths in England were caused by measles.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Arm the tots

Ho hum, another day, another four child sacrifices. But if those little kids had been packing heat, the outcome would have been way different, right?

Friday, February 6, 2015

How to succeed in business without really trying

Forget the MBA, the power suit or marrying the boss's daughter. OfficeMax knows the way to get that corner office:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review 337: Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN INVENTIONS AND DISCOVERIES, by Rodney Carlisle. 502 pages, illustrated. Wiley, $40.

I stopped reading Scientific American magazine 20-something years ago when the editors dumbed it down. Occasionally I sample an issue to see if they have changed their minds, but it remains nearly worthless.

I suppose it retains some social prestige from its early history, however, or why would anyone publish a hefty volume called “Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries.”

Perhaps 90% of the book is unexceptionable; dull, but not remarkable except for a few howlers, like having Columbus discover North America or neglecting to mention Grote Reber in the entry on radiotelescopes.

But for a book that claims to list “all the milestones in ingenuity -- from the discovery of fire to the invention of the microwave oven,” it is a complete bust.

I would propose that the seven modern discoveries that have done the most to alter the way we live or think of ourselves in the world are: recognition of the great age of the Earth, modification of species through natural selection, germ theory of disease, induction of artificial immunity with vaccines, recognition of the size of the Universe, discovery of antibiotics and confirmation of the Big Bang theory by measuring the cosmic background radiation.

You might add to the list but I doubt anybody except Rodney Carlisle would leave any of these off. He left off six of the seven, getting in only an inadequate pair of entries on penicillin and streptomycin.

He did include the safety razor, the escalator (but not the elevator!) and the zipper.