December 22nd

New York Times comes around

After cravenly using the Bush administration's preferred euphemism "enhanced interrogation techniques" (an almost exact translation of the Gestapo's term for torture) for years, conscience of the editors of the New York Times finally was pricked. Better late than never, I guess.


Sullivan meditates upon the most sobering aspect of the torture debate: That American citizens, most especially so-called "Christians," don't see anything wrong with torture if it is used in the "right situation," as if there is a right situation, and as if torture ever produces any reliable results. This is utter depravity. 

And then, some conservative politicians charged that President Obama didn't extract more humanitarian concessions from the Castros in return for a thaw in relations, especially in their treatment of prisoners. 

Do these people have no self-awareness? Do they not see that we have lost the moral standing to ever demand that other countries treat their prisoners better? Can somebody tell my what right we have to demand better treatment of prisoners when we have violated the most basic of human rights, the right not to have your dignity and humanity ripped to shreds by the state? And when we tortured to extract false confessions which would justify the torture, just as Stalin so infamously did? 

Nothing has made me feel more alienated from my own country than this issue. I thought it was the core reason we needed to win the Cold War, and the core reason defeating the Nazis was a moral crusade, not merely a geopolitical war between great powers. 



December 20th

Happy Solstice

Welcome to the shortest day of the year. I am in Tucson until Tuesday. Just moving that far south in latitude from northern Minnesota means an extra hour per day of sunlight, perhaps a little more. Yesterday was a pristine Arizona day, if a bit cooler than natives are accustomed to. I drove to Phoenix to visit Cousin Tina. 

I took I-10, the main artery from Miami to Los Angeles. It is always packed with trucks. And, it seems, there is always a major accident. Yesterday was no exception. In the oncoming lanes, a three-car mess with one car on its side. I am convinced that the corridor from Tucson to Phoenix on I-10 is one of the most deadly stretches of highway in the USA. Despite the danger, the heavy traffic moves along at a steady 80 mph. Until an accident causes a fifteen-mile standstill. 

So, one of the downsides of moving towards the warmth is that the millions got here first. 

And yet, when you go to the grocery store, the clerks, as they always do in Tucson, greet you with authentic friendliness and cheer. Saturdays are a big day as from early in the morning on, Latino families are out and about with their families. You want family values? The Latinos value togetherness like we Nordics do not. Packed cars. Happy faces. Lots of chatter. And busy Saturdays in the park and on the roads. 

At the gas station, I helped a couple of Mexican guys with plates from Sonora, Mexico figure out the pump. They spoke no English and I speak no Spanish, yet we joked and had a happy exchange. They were part of a three-car entourage heading somewhere for the weekend. Yes, there are thousands of Mexican nationals who come north legally for the weekend to shop. 

Meanwhile, somewhere in the northland, some disgruntled Nordic is forwarding an email (one of which I just received) about how nice it would be if all Mexicans (they think they are all illegals) were shipped south so the white people wouldn't have to press 1 for English, oh the indignity. And those Mexican children? Don't be deceived by their cuteness. They bring in ebola! And cooties. Yes, one story claimed that border patrol agents get lice from the filthy children. Send them home! 

Legal or illegal, and policy considerations aside, their attitudes are completely ugly––but in keeping with the tenor of the times. 

Proximity doesn't guarantee better attitudes; some of the most ardent anti-immigrant, anti-Latino activists are in Arizona. Segregation is real, yet never blatantly official. South Phoenix and South Tucson are Latino enclaves and avoided by whites. Retirement communities are lily white. I have played at about a dozen of them in previous years and have yet to see a black person or a Latino. Not one, unless you count those carrying a broom. 

Right-wing types are flying high right now, but dippy white liberals have plenty of opportunities to fly their colors as well. Some want to rush to Cuba to see it in its pristine state of utter poverty, with the 1950s Studebakers and crumbling buildings, before the island is ruined by Starbucks and McDonalds. Ruined? I'll bet twenty minutes after they arrive they'll be longing for a non-fat soy latte. It is easy to romanticize the poverty of others as some sort of purity. I mean, these people don't have all the distractions of technology! Look how happy they are in their natural state! 

They are right about one thing, without knowing it: The most effective vehicle for American world dominance is cultural, not military. Cultural dominance might seem harmless, but introducing cheap high fructose corn syrup to an impoverished country isn't exactly an act of charity. Let's make their poor people as fat and diabetes-prone as our poor people! Soon they'll need our anti-depressants as well! And cholosterol medicine. 

The charitable thing would be to bring our medical expertise (eyeglasses, dental care, vaccinations, pre-natal care and delivery of babies) without dragging along our junk food and grasping lifestyle. 

The happiness of southern peoples, rich or poor, is well-documented. It is both cultural and a matter of climate. Sunshine makes people cheerful. More sunshine, more cheerfulness, less penury, less scrambling to line the nest before winter. Cold climates cause humans to think longer term and hoard food, treasure and belongings at a greater rate than cultures closer to the equator. We see preparation as a virtue, but the quest can make us grumpy and grasping, unhappy even as our pile of belongings grows high and our houses add thousands of square feet after the children are grown. 

I am part of the northern culture. I enjoy putting up wood for the winter. I enjoy stoking the stove. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment. A nice pile of firewood makes me feel morally superior. I think to myself that warmer climates lack hustle. Bring me my food now! I have no desire to sit over a meal all afternoon, or all evening, or late into the night as the Spanish do nightly. I can't stand the nightly gatherings of clan and neighbors that characterize equatorial cultures from Brazil to Thailand. Give me some solitude! 

We are products of our culture, and our cultures are governed by our climate. At the equator, they have twelve hours of sunlight every day of the year. Solstice has little significance. 

December 19th

Profitable non-profits

Here is an excellent story from NPR on a non-profit hospital which is making plenty of profit, yet still sues its poorest patients and charges them 9% interest on what they owe. Non-profits get enormous tax breaks. In exchange, they are supposed to have a service mentality towards the less fortunate. However, the bigger the non-profit, the less likely they show any humanity. One massive non-profit in the eldercare business that I know of is particularly guilty of fleecing their customers. How about a size limit on non-profits? Once a non-profit gets to a certain size, it is likely to lose its sense of mission. 

Torture thine enemies

This makes me sick. 

December 17th

Atlantic City

For many years, the largest working pipe organ in the world was the Wanamaker organ in the Macy's in Philadelphia. Now, thanks to restoration efforts, you must move northeast a few miles to find the largest. The massive pipe organ at Atlantic City, with 30,000 pipes, is also the loudest in the world (due to high wind pressures) in order to fill the massive auditorum with sound. It has been dormant for roughly 70 years. 

Turn up the volume for the quiet first verses of this hymn, then hang on for the last time through. Then consider that only about 30% of the pipes have been restored to use. It will get more impressive, if that is possible. 


At last count, there were about 11 African-Americans living in Northwestern Minnesota. Oddly, the area is also blessed with 3,714 full professors in African-American studies. Educated at Talk Radio University, the profs are pretty sure they know just what the problem is with those black people. If you are interested, they gather for educational seminars in cafes and bars all across the area most every morning and evening. 

Here is a different perspective. I have seen this happen myself on a train. It boggles my mind. And it makes it clear to me: Nobody who hasn't been treated with indignity due to the color of their skin should pontificate about race. My partner Lance is half black. While working at a photo workshop in a supposedly liberal city, he attended a weekly dinner for the new students. In fact, he was in charge of the artist presentation. Yet hardly a week went by where somebody didn't just routinely hand him an empty drink glass, or a plate, assuming he would take care of it. One time and you can get over it. Many times and you start to wonder what these people think of your place in society. 


Every now and then, I run across an article that causes a light bulb to turn on in my brain. This one makes it clear to my why Aunt Olla has always loved mauve and wants to be buried in a mauve casket. 

UPDATE: Thanks to a reader for pointing out the bad link. 

View from my window



Finally! Normalization of relations with Cuba. This is about 30 years too late. Of course, the regime in Cuba is not particularly nice. But openness is the one hope to change it. The only reason we have continued to treat Cuba like a Cold War threat has been the vote of the emigree population in Florida. Because the state is needed to win a presidential election, and because it is always close (remember the election of 2000), no candidate wants to lose the anti-Castro vote. So, no president could normalize relations until a second term. I was hoping this would happened and puzzled that it hadn't already.