Ran into my friend Robert the other day at the gym. He and I have been going to this gym or some other most all of our adult lives. Probably for about the usual reasons–we are both physical, physically active people stuck in desk jobs, neither of us wants to get fat like a third or better of everyone has nowadays, male vanity some no doubt too, and at least for me, Robert in his single days too, it isn’t a bad place to meet women. Over the last couple of years we’ve gone from conversations at the gym to friendship. We both read books, damnere a rarity these days, follow current events, both of us are keen on airplanes and aviation–Robert has his pilots license and I never got mine, I went to college instead, and after an epic struggle with indifference and boredom I finally got my problematical liberal arts degree from the big state U downtown–Robert got fed up earlier and harder than I did with the educational process (a cousin to the digestive process, you know) and never got his, which hasn’t stopped him any. Continue reading
Yesterday and today was the 10th annual Texas Book Festival. A creation of former Texas First Lady Laura Bush, this event, for all the corporate (read: Barnes and Noble/Penguin) flavor of this event it is one I like. Particularly ever since I got barred from the local independent/quasi-hippie bookstore BookPeople (In 2007 I baited that yankee two-legged turd John Kerry into saying that Austin Texas was responsible for the war in Iraq, which didn’t go over too well with his audience of affluent white suburban elderly saphead Democrat loyalists)* and the staff filed a restraining order on me, I don’t get the chance to see or hear authors much any on the tour circuit, and the Book Festival makes up for it.
John Kerry’s last visit to Austin was on Earth Day, 2007. Austin is a big enough city nowadays to attract political heavy-hitters some–not like it did when LBJ was president, but more than most flyover states’ cities its size do. For reasons I don’t know and never will and don’t care to anyway John Kerry chose to make Austin, Texas his book tour stop for Earth Day, 2007, for his new book on the environment that he and his wife Teresa supposedly wrote.
Kerry drew a crowd of around 150 to the local independent bookstore for his and Teresa’s presentation of the book. Audience was the typical demographic for a mainstream Democratic politician–most of the audience was affluent, white, and social security age or better. They were all spry and well preserved for their age, none I remember showed physical decrepitude any, which shows that every one of them had had indoors professional jobs their entire lives, that none of them had worked outdoors doing physical work in Texas for a living. Something to be said for indoors jobs after all, I guess. Continue reading
Stacy Park is a little gem of a park–about eight acres–located in the center of the Travis Heights neighborhood in south-central Austin, Texas. It is centered around Little Stacy Creek, which is a dry creek running through its center. In the south end of the park is the neighborhood elementary school, Travis Heights Elementary, which has been there in one form or another for eight decades now. Right next to the school is Stacy Pool, a spring-fed half-Olympic pool that is swimmable year-round. Stacy Pool, its shower and dressing rooms, and a fair piece of the elementary school are all WPA projects from the ’30’s, and show the quality design, construction and craftsmanship that most all the WPA edifices share with us nowadays.
Clif Grubbs was an economics professor of long standing at the University of Texas at Austin, and I was fortunate enough to take a class from him many years ago. Clif was a truly extraordinary person and an outstanding instructor, one of the very few that made a real impression on me and one of the two or three instructors I ever had who I still remembered fondly years after. One day in 1996 I saw an article in the paper about his death, and I called out to UT and got the details about the memorial service, held about a month later out on the UT campus. I attended the service, and it still lingers in my memory, and it and my reaction to it tells a lot about us as a society and myself as a person. Don’t know how much good it says about either.
The article on carbon offsets trading only touches on one of many stupidities that these plans all have. To me, the worst problem with all of them is the gross misallocation of economic resources that these plans will all cause with their artificial price boosts of forest land values. All of a sudden, if you own forests, your assets will become several times more valuable than previously, because your forests’ carbon offsets (a completely intangible commodity) suddenly become hugely valuable. Capital will flow to the forest industry where it will serve no economic purpose, and the forest industry–an industry with a long history of backwardness and greed and short-sightedness–will no doubt squander it, as they simply have no productive use for this windfall. They’ve always squandered their forests and they’ll squander this undeserved cash windfall as well.
I liked living in Portland some. It had its good parts–a living downtown, the remains of an industrial background to where you could get things useful done, but I didn’t care much for its inhabitants, far too many of whom were mentally constipated white people who were happy to do retarded white people things. Like pass their own property tax limitation measure in ’96, a knockoff of California’s Prop. 13, fully aware by then of how badly Prop.13 had crippled California’s schools and economic future, and had inflicted gross tax inequalities on the young at the benefit of their parents’ generation. Didn’t matter to those bozos. Portland is still coasting on its Tom McCall reputation from the ’70’s, and the longer I lived in the state the more I wondered how a progressive Republican ever managed to get political power there and do all the worthwhile things he did in his day. With its severe drawbacks (shitty weather and unpleasant inhabitants) I can’t recommend it as a place to live for very long. Oregonians are near as full of themselves and their state as Texans are, for a lot less reason. One of the state’s great drawbacks, one that isn’t apparent or ever talked about by the residents there, is how much the timber industry still runs that state. This despite the gross decline of the timber industry in size, employment, you name the measure timber is bad sick.
John Yoo, the man who provided the legal rationalizations for many of our numerous and multifaceted war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush II administration came to speak in Austin last week at the University of Texas law school. I skated out from work a little early and went to see him speak.
Got there good and early to get a seat, and waited outside the auditorium while the Federalist Society types ran around trying to tie up all the loose ends. Clearly they weren’t my type of people–all the men were wearing identical black suit white shirt red tie outfits and looked, and acted, like a hybrid of John Belushi’s two nemeses in Animal House, Neidemeyer the preppy ROTC turd, and Marmelard, the smarmy student government sellout. Except that all the Federalist types were all short, with short-man personalities. Their Federalist Society women had a little more flexibility in their apparel, and all dressed well and looked physically attractive but all seemed wound rather too tight. Seeing them reminded me of a friend of mine’s remark about Sarah Palin–he’d thought she might be worth some naked time with but somehow he suspected she’d be a lousy piece of ass. They were both officious and incompetent–the line to the auditorium didn’t get sorted out until I stepped up and started it and gave some clear directions to the crowd milling outside there.
As good a wordsmith as Oglesby is, the best, deepest, and truest words in this book of his don’t come from him. Instead, they come from several Vietnamese intellectuals he met and talked with in South Vietnam in a trip he took there in August 1965, shortly after his election to SDS’ presidency. I do not know that their words are timeless, in fact I pray that they are not, but they certainly are the wisest, finest words ever said about the United States intervening in other countries’ affairs. In light of our current wars, they require a close and careful reading, followed by ingestion, digestion, and incorporation into all of our minds and hearts.
Stumbled across Carl Oglesby’s Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960’s Antiwar Movement at the library. Book was published in 2008 and made some splash in left circles but seems to have been mostly ignored by the book reviewing fraternity. I grabbed it almost by accident in a hurry–I’d never been that interested in the SDS (Oglesby was president of SDS 1965-66) but I figured that there might be something in it of use or interest to someone like me who is completely opposed to our two failed ongoing wars in the middle east. Turned out I figured right, and the book has some real gems in it that are of truly unsurpassed value to all of us.
Oil: A Concise Guide to the Most Important Product on Earth
Matthew Yeomans, New Press, 2005
Anyone who reads enough has run across plenty of examples, from their own experience, of book reviews that, when you read the book, show unmistakable evidence that the book reviewers never bothered to read any much of the book they reviewed. Writing for a living, a less than middle-class living for most all writers, that’s a shortcut that is understandable, if not excusable. I never had much truck with it, as it really is the acme of sloppy, lazy unprofessionalism, but I confess now right up front that I’m writing a review of this book without having bothered to read it. I’ve read maybe a half hour of it and I’ve had all I can take of its stupidity and I refuse to inflict any more of it on myself and please, please, dear readers, do yourselves a favor and don’t read it.
My younger brother the attorney has a friend from high school I know reasonably well who is also an attorney–he’s worked in the biggest state’s AG’s office doing appellate criminal for a quarter century now, and is at the top of the legal food chain there. Let’s call my brother’s friend Bill. Bill has an adult son I met for the first real time two and a half years ago during their last visit to Austin. Bill’s son had been getting in trouble in his home town and the final straw was his stealing a senior police officer’s bicycle and riding around him in circles taunting him. That part might be sort of funny but the other stuff he was up to wasn’t, and the law had been gunning for him, so even with a daddy who had no small amount of legal clout he was in serious trouble and the judge was giving him the choice of the military or prison. The boy took the military, and the Army was giving what sounded to him and his folks the best deal–two year enlistment, but you’d be going to Iraq for one of those years. Boy took the deal; his parents signed off on it.
I wrote the below nigh on three years ago. Things haven’t changed any in Iraq since–how could they? The key factors are the geography and the logistics, as is generally always the case in warfare. Geography, logistics, and the will to fight–that’s most of warfare. We have all three against us in Iraq, and hell it is even worse in Afghanistan.
I freely confess to being a military amateur. I gladly encourage persons with more military expertise than me to comment on the article. I don’t see how I am wrong anywhere in it. And as far as military amateurism goes, well, history records a book that came out in 1912 by this Polish civilian nobody named Bloch who predicted that the next European big war would involve massive armies fighting each other in trenches behind barbed wire with huge artillery bombardments and machine guns making infantry maneuver impossible; that the next war would be a mobilization of the entire industrial capabilities of Europe and the entire adult male populace, and it would last years, and would be more costly and destructive by far than any war that ever came before. Expert military opinion at the time universally said Bloch was a crank and was wrong on every single prediction.
David Mamet is the University of Texas at Austin’s prize literary celebrity trophy case possession. His papers are in the Harry Ransome Center, and he makes biannual or thereabouts visits to Austin and UT. UT’s president, William Powers, to his credit, periodically teaches a Freshman general studies course and uses Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, book and movie, as a text. Mamet’s big UT event this year was an on-stage conversation with UT’s president, with a Q&A session afterwards, held at the Student Union Theater, followed by a showing of The Spanish Prisoner.
The 350 seat theater was 100% full for this event. About one third of the audience were UT students, but as is usually the case with serious literary/political events anywhere in Austin, the majority of the audience was silverhaired non-UT types, west Austin members of the socioeconomic upper strata and solid members of Austin’s dominant political class. Probably a fairly high percentage of the regional over-50 intelligentsia was represented there. As to where the 25-50 year old intelligentsia was, no telling–they never show up at anti war rallies and other political events, either. Mamet was right entertaining on his end of the conversation–quick-witted, amusing, and quite open and unafraid of his opinionatedness. Powers was fairly dull, and didn’t have anything to say original or interesting, like most professors I had at UT.
Ben Barnes is a political figure from ancient Texas political history–the 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was a tall and good-looking politician from rural Texas who was going places–one of the youngest state legislators ever, the youngest Lieutenant Governor ever, at age 31, in 1969. Ben is one of those people politics was made for, as his extroverted personality and keen intelligence and interest in people made him a boy-wonder success in the Texas legislature and made LBJ say that Ben Barnes was the best political operator in the state, and that he’d be the next President of the United States from Texas. Lyndon was right on the first part at least. As things are now, Ben Barnes is probably the last Lyndon Johnson crony/protege left standing. All the rest of the Johnson crew is dead or in nursing homes.