For Sunday: the Vince Guaraldi Trio tell you to “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”

Vince Guaraldi, one of the leading figures in the 1960s San Francisco jazz movement, was chosen by the 1960s Charlie Brown animators to write music for their cartoons.

You know “Linus and Lucy”: it’s a classic. You also probably know some of his other music.

But this is a lovely pre-Peanuts piece. It takes me back to my childhood when I hear it.  It won the Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition in 1963. It’s gentle and winsome and very freeing.


Kidney stones


I was diagnosed with kidney stones back about eight months ago. They were described by my general practitioner as “small.” He recommended that I drink a lot of water to help flush them out, and told me to let him know if I had any recurrences of pain or other symptoms.


I was a very good boy after that. I stopped drinking coffee after my first two cups in the morning. I stopped drinking cola drinks altogether, both naturally and artificially sweetened. I tried to drink as much extra water as I could.

After a month or so, the pain went away.

Then, a few months later, very surreptitiously, it came back.

(Note: I have never had the falling-down-dead kind of pain that’s associated with kidney stones. Mine is more of a mild ache, but it’s very localized; I know exactly where the stones are. I visualized them, after my December doctor’s visit, as something like aquarium gravel, or maybe tiny lemon seeds.)

The pain came back in earnest about three month ago, along with a couple of other more-or-less alarming symptoms.  So I presented myself to my G.P., who (with some alarm) referred me to a specialist.

If you’ve never been in a urologist’s office, you’ve never lived. I (at my advanced age!) was easily the youngest patient there. There was an aquarium with two suicidal-looking fish mooching around the bottom of the tank; if I see the same two fish there when I go back for my next appointment, I’ll be shocked. Everyone in the waiting room was running to the restroom every five minutes, and we all knew why.

The urologist (when I finally got in to see him) was a funny redhead who said funny things. When I told him I’d been reading WebMD, he said, in a Scooby-Doo voice, “Ruh-roh!”

And when he looked at my X-rays, he said, soberly: “Wow!”

My stones, kids, are not so small after all: one is 11 millimeters, and another is 5 millimeters. In short: I have a handful of driveway gravel inside my left kidney.

I’ve started carrying around a couple of small stones in a box in my pocket.  Whenever anyone starts complaining to me – about anything! – I pull out the little box and show them the two objects.  “I have kidney stones,” I say. “They are this size. I can feel them inside me right now. Now: what were you saying?”

It sobers people when they realize that you have a handful of driveway gravel inside your abdominal cavity.

(The next step, of course, is getting this handful of driveway gravel out out OUT of my body. There are several methods. All are more or less painful.)

(As the Rolling Stones said: “What a drag it is, getting old!”)


There was an wonderful piece in the Financial Times recently, all about Iceland.



What?  You don’t know about Iceland?

Iceland was very hard-hit by the recession of 2008-9. It had a couple of banks which were offering miraculous rates of interest back in the mid-2000s, and people from all over Europe (especially the UK) were putting their money there. Then the crash hit, and Iceland was hit hard, and those banks died.

What happened then?

The Icelandic government, out of necessity (it’s a small country) went on an austerity kick. It sought to increase revenue and decrease expenditures.

It’s a small country – did I say that before? – so its defense budget was not enormous. It made cuts across the board, but it cut social welfare programs less than other programs. Also: it increased taxes on wealthier individuals, but sheltered people who made less money.

Are you getting this?

Four years later, Iceland is doing very well. It’s almost completely recovered. Another thing: all the depositors who lost money in those failed Icelandic banks will (over time) get their money back. Not the investors in the banks, but the depositors. See?

There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

I wish I could figure out what it was.

Ann Coulter and civil rights

Time for civics class!


Please read these excerpts from a recent article in the Chicago Examiner.  I’ve added some essay-type questions, at the end. Please feel free to write on both sides of the paper, if necessary.

At a round table discussion on “This Week with George Stephanapoulos,” Ann Coulter, conservative commentator, made the provocative claim, “Democrats are dropping the blacks and moving on to the Hispanics,” and added that immigration rights are not civil rights.

Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos criticized President Obama for not aggressively pursuing immigration reform and said that “if Republicans don’t do something with immigration . . . they’re going to lose not only this election, they might lose the White House for a generation.”

This is when Coulter interjected, “That’s why the Democrats are dropping the blacks and moving on to the Hispanics.” She was saying that Democrats are aggressively pursuing the Latino vote more aggressively than the African America vote, which polls show is definitely behind President Obama.

Coulter added, “I think what – the way liberals have treated blacks like children and many of their policies have been harmful to blacks, at least they got the beneficiary group right . . . there is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. We don’t owe the homeless. We don’t owe feminists. We don’t owe women who are desirous of having abortions, but that’s – or – or gays who want to get married to one another. That’s what civil rights has become for much of the left.”

When questioned as to whether immigration rights were not civil rights, Coulter responded, “No. I think civil rights are for blacks . . . What have we done to the immigrants? We owe black people something. We have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.”


1)  Ann Coulter seems to regard “civil rights” as something earned. Do you feel that you have civil rights? If so, at what point did you earn them?

2)  As a member of the United Nations (which Ann Coulter abominates), the United States acknowledges that everyone partakes of something called “human rights.” Do you agree with this? Shouldn’t people earn their rights?

3)  According to Ann Coulter, an aggrieved group (like post-slavery black Americans) can be given “civil rights.” These “civil rights” are presumably given to them by some central authority. Some groups (like feminists and gay activists), however, don’t deserve “civil rights.” Question: What the hell is Ann Coulter talking about here? Please tell me, because frankly I have no idea.

4)  According to Ann Coulter, immigrants either aren’t here legally, or haven’t been here for very long. Therefore, they haven’t earned their rights. Ergo: civil rights accrue over time. Question: my father’s family came to America in the 1600s, but my mother’s family didn’t arrive until the turn of the 20th century. Did my mother have less civil rights than my father? And what about me? Discuss.

5)  Ann Coulter implies that helping disadvantaged people makes them dependent and helpless. In Ann Coulter’s world, it’s every man for himself, and government shouldn’t be helping people, because it just creates a lot of whiny needy people. (Actually, this is kind of what Mitt Romney said in that pesky video). How do you feel about that? Did you ever need help? If so, where did you turn? Be honest.

6)  Who paid for your education?

7)  Did you know that Ann Coulter thinks that Joseph McCarthy is a misunderstood man, and a forgotten American hero? Isn’t that nice? Doesn’t it make you feel better about Ann Coulter?

And finally:

8)  Don’t you wish the election were today?

Chick-fil-A: the aftermath

I wrote in July and August about Chick-fil-A and gay marriage. I thought it was a passing trifle. Lo and behold, the story continues to evolve!


Let me tell it from the start, in stages:


1)  The provocation. Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, talked about the chain’s contributions to various anti-gay-marriage causes, clucking and smirking about his Christian values (“We’re all still on our first marriages,” he said).

2)  The backlash. The Henson company pulled out of a marketing deal with them. Boycotts were called.

3)  The backlash to the backlash. Various conservatives, led by those two intellectual giants Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, declared their solidarity with Chick-fil-A, and invited their fellow True Believers to come eat a chicken sandwich on the first of August. Thousands responded. (It turns out that it’s easier to get people to get involved in politics if there’s food involved. I think we should start letting people vote at McDonalds and Burger King and KFC; participation would go through the roof.)

4)  The backlash to the backlash to the backlash. Gay activists had kiss-a-thons at Chick-fil-A. These were less well attended and not much covered by the media.

5)  The political reaction. A number of northern and western localities, including Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco, declared that they would look very carefully in future at any applications made by Chick-fil-A, questioning whether a business that had self-importantly declared itself intolerant should be allowed to open a franchise in those cities.

6)  Now it’s a freedom-of-speech issue! “They can say and believe anything they want,” one side said. “You can’t forbid them to do business just because you don’t like what they believe.” “Oh yes we can,” the other side said. “They have the right to freedom of belief and freedom of speech, but they have no right to open a store in this or that place. We’ll see about that.”

The whole thing simmered for a while, and was almost forgotten, except that a few people realized that eating a chicken sandwich isn’t quite the same thing as making a political statement.

Then suddenly:

7)  Chick-fil-A redefines its policies: “’The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,’ Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Tracey Micit said in the statement. ‘Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.’” They also say they are reevaluating the contributions being given to anti-gay-marriage groups. (Why? Because they want to expand their business beyond their traditional Southern base, and they’ve suddenly discovered that it might not be good for business to be known as “the chicken place run by bigots and homophobes.”)

8)  Chick-fil-A’s conservative / Christian supporters suddenly don’t like them so much.

9)  Da capo. Dan Cathy (see #1) says nothing has changed since this summer.

And so forth.

Maybe sometime I’ll tell you all about the guy at Papa John’s Pizza griping about how he has to pay for his employees’ healthcare!

The Romney campaign, as seen on Fox News

Sometimes it’s a good idea to sneak over into the enemy camp and hear what they’re plotting. It’s dangerous, of course; if they catch you, they will kill you.


So, on Sunday night, while on the treadmill, I tuned into Fox News for about ten minutes. The danger, in this case, was that I might lose my temper and my grip, and go flying backward off the machine.

But I survived.

And oh the things I heard!

It was a little panel discussion – Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Juan Williams, Bill Kristol, and a couple of others I didn’t recognize – talking about the Romney campaign, and the recently-released Romney video.  A gloomier bunch of mopes you have never seen. Chris Wallace turned somberly to Hume and asked: “Was this video fatal to the Romney campaign?”

Hume looked sour (well, sourer than usual). “Not fatal. But it sure wasn’t good.”

This, from the loathsome Bill Kristol: “I’ve been working for twenty-five or thirty years to put forward conservative ideas, and then something like this happens, and it completely muddles the message we’re trying to put forward.”

(Translation: “For thirty years I’ve been putting forward a strategy to put our people into power, and then this idiot goes and actually spills the beans in front of a camera!”)

Slowly, and with great schadenfreude, I realized that I was hearing the formulation of Plan B: what to do if the GOP loses the election. If the Republicans go down to defeat, you can be sure that it will be entirely and completely credited to Mitt Romney’s weakness as a candidate, and his terrible campaign.

Well, all kinds of things can happen between now and November.

And, as Ann Romney whined the other day: “This is hard!”

(Not nearly so hard as listening to Chris Wallace and Brit Hume and Bill Kristol, though.)

And now, drag queen Mimi Imfurst doing a dramatic interpretation of Ann Romney’s statement:

The recent unrest in the Muslim world


You almost certainly know about the recent unrest in the Muslim world, and the riots, and the death of the American ambassador to Libya.


I subscribe to a Tunisian news service – one of those things that just gives you the headline and the first sentence – and, last Thursday, it was “Le film qui tue!” (Translation: “The killer movie!”)


Oh no, I thought.


You see, this whole manifestation in the Arab world was brought about – supposedly – by the release of a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed. This movie was – supposedly – made by a Jewish American.


Except that the movies was probably never made as such, and the man behind the project was an Israel-hating Egyptian Copt, who is (apparently) living in the USA.


More than that, though; the idea that the movie was the impetus behind the killing irritated me. Aristotle teaches us that, while guns may be the material causes of death, the real causes are the people who pull the trigger.

But then I read the article in

I was much reassured. True to my experience of Tunisia and Tunisians – thoughtful and intelligent – the author weighed the tension behind Islamists (who are spoiling for a fight with the West) and Islamophobes (who would like to spark a fight, and then create as much havoc as possible).

Both are to blame for the general situation.

Chris Stevens’s death is certainly the fault of the Islamists. I wonder if the simultaneity of the riots in the Muslim world has been very carefully planned (you’ll notice that it took place in September, not long after the commemoration of 9/11).

And the Egyptian / Copt / American provocateur, who produced the “movie,” also appears to have known what he was doing, provoking Muslim reaction at a very key time.

Partner and I are going to France in a few weeks. France (and especially Paris) is inhabited by a lot of North African Muslims.

We will let you know what we find out.

For Sunday: Gary Numan sings about “Cars”


This is one of those bizarre 1980s songs that we thought (in those days) were ultra-hip: Gary Numan paces around like a mad scientist wearing heavy mascara, under unflattering neon lighting, delivering nasal paranoid lyrics, while the rest of the band members stare at him without emotion.


I think maybe it is ultra-hip.




Gardening blogs

Oma, one of my favorite WordPress bloggers, recently presented me with the “Beautiful Blogger Award.” It’s one of those blog-specific awards that encourages you to pass the award along to blogs you read and admire, so that your own readers can read them and try them out.


Today I’d like to give you three blogs, all of which are favorites of mine, and all of which are about gardening, one way or another.


(Why gardening? Because I love it, and I have nowhere to garden. I had a little plot in the local community garden for a couple of years, but the snobbery became so intense that I had to drop it. Now I live vicariously through other people’s gardens. Like these.)


First of all: Oma’s own blog, “Cottage Life in England.” Oma lives in a completely enchanting cottage in Luton, and takes wonderful photos of everything – her garden, her house, food, her grandson – and is very good at documenting everything. She and I write about some of the same things: getting older, food, plants – and write little notes back and forth sometimes. (We’re kindred souls, in that both of us generally know the scientific names of the plants we’re discussing.) She also writes very well. I recommend her highly.


Second: “The Soulsby Farm.” This is a couple in Ohio who run a real honest-to-God farm, and take photos, and document their experiences. They’re a lot of fun, and very down-to-earth. They write about things that are of interest to all gardeners: insect control, weed control, fertilizer. They recently ran an Ugly Tomato contest. I like them; I always get a smile out of their posts, and sometimes I actually learn something. Again: high recommendation.


Third: “Tangly Cottage Journal.” These are professional gardeners blogging from the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington state, where my parents used to take us for summer vacations. I love the area – it’s wild and very beautiful. This blog will give you a very precise image of the area, and the vegetation (which is all over the map – it rains constantly, and is very warm), and the challenges of creating a garden in a place where Nature wants to do everything at once. These are professional gardeners, so they hold everyone and everything to high standards. I love them, and I love their posts, and their photos.


If you love flowers and gardens and good writing, follow all three of these, please.


If you don’t: what’s wrong with you?

The Mitt Romney video

Pretty much everyone in the universe has seen or heard of Mitt Romney’s magic video by now. I’m not a pundit, but, as Chris Matthews said on Tuesday evening, I find the whole thing “delicious,” and just want to underline the following points:

  1. Mitt was comfortable with his audience. One of his sticking points throughout this campaign, and his abortive 2008 campaign, has been his awkwardness with audiences. Well, now we know why: he hasn’t felt comfortable. The video was taken at a $50K/plate dinner, and Mitt was in his element, and speaking to his peers.

  2. Explaining the video later, he said something like he hadn’t expressed himself elegantly. I disagree. He was very elegant. He believes, very frankly, that many poor Americans are moochers, and said so straightforwardly.

  3. Mitt has not been very forthcoming about his plan to shrink the government budget. From this video, I think we can extrapolate some of the areas he’d shrink: anything benefiting the less affluent classes. They really need to work harder, don’t they? We don’t want to empower them. They need to be put in their place.

  4. Mitt said that he didn’t rise from privilege, he didn’t inherit money, he earned everything he has. Is he deluded, or is he just telling the same lie that all wealthy heirs tell themselves? Of course he inherited money from his CEO/governor father. He’s turned it into billions, of course, and good for him. But, Mitt, don’t tell us that you were born in a log cabin, okay?

  5. There was some garbled nonsense about being born a Mexican. I will leave that alone. He said he was joking, but then again, he took it back and said (very seriously) he’d have a better chance for the Presidency if he were Latino. Meaning: “Stupid people just love voting for those damned minorities.”

  6. I haven’t even read the whole transcript yet. (I can’t stand to watch the video; his voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.) It is, however, the gift that keeps on giving. Today it was noticed that he said (a few months ago) that, if there were any foreign-policy difficulties overseas, he’d try to capitalize on the opportunity. Remember last week, when he ranted about how the Obama administration “sympathized with the attackers” rather than condemning the attacks in Egypt and Libya? Huh.

  7. Rarely have I seen such cynicism freely expressed. The whole video boils down to Mitt saying to his wealthy audience: “Between you and me, I’ll say and do whatever I have to say and do to get elected. And once I’m in there, I’ll do what’s necessary to advance our agenda.”

  8. Vote for Obama.

  9. Vote for Obama.

  10.  Vote for Obama.

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