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He died on his terms.

“And I Will Make an End”
Timothy Dyer, Our Frère Loup
I have just received the news that The Notebooks' oldest friend, and one of my best, Timothy Dyer, known here as Frere Loup, is dead. He died on February 3. He wrote me on the 2nd and said in part: "I have lived this life as fully as I could from beginning to end, even during the last 20 years of 'go nowhere, do nothing, spend nothing', just to survive, even when I was little more than just a ghost haunting my little one bedroom." And he wrote: "Constant fear. Constant threat. Over. I will have my thick leather hat, my levi/serape jacket from the Triumph 650 Bonneville and a year on the road in '73; my leather jacket from the Honda Gold Wing back in '91, my Tony Lama motorcycle boots, and my silk jacket--for my witnesses. I'll bathe and anoint my ankles, wrists, neck, and forehead with oils (I still have a few). I will burn a little sage, I will read out loud the Short Version of Sefer Yetzirah (from Aryeh Kaplan's transl. of the same name) which I have loved for many years and used to creative pieces--and I will make an end."

For those of you who knew Tim here, please leave a note or contact me directly. I have not kept up with the Notebooks for a few reasons, one of which will become obvious in the near future. Haloscan has switched owner. It still works. But in the switch I've lost all of your emails, and I would like those of you, the regulars, who still might check in here to send me a note.

What Brighthouse service looks like

Where the Customer Is Always Wrong
Brighthouse, Worst Company in Florida
Beginning at about 8 a.m. the day before Christmas, the internet connection here at the house, which is also the internet connection this site (such as it's been), my other jobs and everyone else here at the house depends on, started acting strange. Certain sites didn’t load–among them, ironically, the News-Journal. It hadn’t sold, at last check, and cost-cutting hasn’t been so dire that the company’s Time-Warner cable bill was going unpaid. Google, too, was acting up. Sometimes it would load, sometimes not. Google News was on and off. And, my occasional addiction. It wouldn’t let me log in. Welcome to Brighthouse hell.

French-kissing the wrong power

False Dawn
Nuclear Power’s Megafraud
Energy independence is the new creationism; nuclear power its deity. As the head glow for nuclear’s new dawn, you can’t do better than Aris Candris. He’s president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric, the company aiming to build 14 of 25 new nuclear reactors planned in the United States. Candris also sums up everything that’s wrong with the nuclear power industry’s orchestrated revival—the deceptions, the manipulated numbers, the false promises and the sheer swindle of taxpayer dollars for a technology with a lethal past and an unproven future. Read the tall tale...

Where's the beef?

Obama's Nobel
But Has He Done Anything Yet?
The list of Nobel peace prize winners is full of dubious, at times downright outrageous choices: Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Menahem Begin. Some of these guys were avowed terrorists (Arafat and Begin), some of them are still wanted in some countries for war crimes (Kissinger), all of them at one time or another thought diplomacy an interruption of war by untold means. The list also contains obvious choices: Eli Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela--men, women and organizations that unquestionably moved regions of the world in more peaceful directions while restoring dignity to masses of people who'd been denied it by force. The question is: where does Barack Obama, who just won the peace prize, fit in all this? Read the rest...

The other kind of prisoner

Elderly Gulags
Old and Dying Without Dignity
No one volunteers to be institutionalized either in a nursing home or an assisted living facility, for entirely understandable reasons. Those places can be murder on a man’s freedom and sense of self no matter how much their intake administrators reassure families with embroidered rhetoric and bingo nights. Nursing homes are worse. If it was my turn I’d opt for a death panel first. All of that is going to have to change, including Medicare’s (and taxpayers’) stinginess, if the country is to put the dignified — not just “humane,” a word borrowed from dog pounds — caring of its elderly where the country’s supposed reverence for individualism is. I’m not holding my breath, because here’s one of the most telling ironies of how the business of caring is done in America: We pay the least those who care for our youngest and oldest. I’d say it shows, but most of us don’t care to look, which suits our caregivers’ shareholders just fine.

What's left of the asylum

Endangered Species
The Devaluation of Journalists
You’d think reporters were a lower life form. And I’m not referring to the way bean-counters are exterminating them out of newsrooms. It’s not that the press needs a savior. It’ll fend for itself. But the message underlying the anger over New York Times reporter Stephen Ferrell’s rescue from Taliban captors earlier this month is that reporters are the problem. They’re the hindrance. They’re the nuisance. That, too, is a ruse happily fueled by the press’ usual suspects — governments large and small, corporations, the military, those nodes of power to whom prying eyes check the execution of often-dirty business. The ruse is endorsed by the same “mainstream-media”-bashing consumers who then gripe and moan about the thinness of their newspaper and the fluff of their newscast. You can't have it both ways.

One of the signs is accurate

Brutish and Brainless
Obama School Speech Cranks
The Big Babies are at it again. This time it’s over President Obama’s planned speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday. Parents are complaining about the president indoctrinating their children, principals and teachers are complaining about him taking up class time, talk-show hosts are complaining about Obama not doing this often enough so they’d have more ado about nothing to bash him over the head with. Are you flopping kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to—Obama sneezing and right-wingers declaring a swine flu emergency in response? But this is what the shout-show culture of Hannities and Limbaughs and O'Reillies and Becks was bound to do to discourse: devolve it into segmented, nugget-size raving fit for the brute and the brainless. Bigotry, in this case, is the added bonus (viz., those signs that say “go home to Kenya ”).

The dead zone

Health Scare Debate
Enough Lies
Town hall brigades are fueled up on the lies of mass e-mails and shout-show demagogues that presume to list, page by page, the horrors of the health-care bill. Reporters fuel the lies by couching them in the false objectivity of reporting “both sides of the story” instead of tracking down the story’s origin — the bill’s content, which is nowhere near its detractors’ imagination or many reporters’ second-hand and third-rate reporting. You don’t compromise fact in the name of balance. This isn’t about dissent. When people shout some of the things they do to lapping cameras (“I want my America back!” “Obama is destroying the country!” “Socialism! “Communism!”) I’m reminded of something more senseless than the Iraq war fantasists. I’m reminded of those 9/11 conspiracy theorists who insist Bush and his friends planned 9/11, or of people who think the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — the anti-Semite’s bible — explains the world. This is mass-hysteria territory.

Lobotomizing Mountain Mama

Mountaintop Madness
The Leveling of West Virginia
Why should we care? That the question has to be asked is in part the reason why Appalachia’s destruction accelerated — first with the blessing of the Bush administration, then that of the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, now with that of the Obama administration: Not enough people care to stop it. Why should Appalachian mountains be different than protecting, say, Florida’s shore or Alaska’s Arctic refuge? Proximity or the likelihood that we’d ever visit a place doesn’t make it more or less valuable. Its existence does. Besides, acre for acre, wildlife for wildlife, mountaintop removal in West Virginia is more destructive and toxic than expanded oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, had that gone ahead, with one difference: West Virginia’s destruction isn’t theoretical. It’s happening now. All that before an ounce of coal is burned, triggering a whole other set of environmental damage.

American preview, with Roman subtitles
[© 2009 Candide's Notebooks]

Empire Falls
Suicide by Deficit
Empires rise and fall on the strength of their kitty, not their guns. Spain in the 17th century, France in the 18th, Britain in the 19th — they each went bankrupt, exhausted from debt. With unsustainable trillion-dollar deficits projected through the next decade, is the United States going the way of its European forebears? If so, it would be by choice. European powers collapsed from overtaxing their people for wealth they no longer had. The United States is headed for collapse for refusing to fairly tax existing concentrations of wealth. Lack of taxes can be as insidious as too many taxes when collective slavery to debt is the result. The deficit can be crushed before it crushes us, and the nation’s fortunes reversed — not by nickle-and-diming obligations to a more stable future, but by properly taxing and reinvesting hoards of wealth. Here’s how.

Gates to police submission

Stupid Is As Presumption Does
The Police’s Disorderly Conduct
The Gates affair is not a race issue, as most of the debate is framing it. It’s a police issue. The arresting officer said he complied with his department’s policy. That’s the problem: The policy is based on the assumption that an officer’s request (to produce identification, to step outside one’s home, to answer “reasonable” questions) should be complied with. It’s a prevalent assumption. It’s also wrong. It wouldn’t be wrong in France or Germany, or Nigeria. In the United States, where a law-abiding person’s rights trump a police officer’s demands, it is. Gates is famous and rich enough to demolish the stupidity of the system. But in similarly power-tripped situations, most people are too happy to comply, or too fearful not to. That much deference and glib cheerleading for “law and order” are the chills radiating up what’s left of the Bill of Rights’ spine.

I want my MTV

Cheap Trick
Homage to 8-Track
I pity the iPod generation. Sure, iPods have a gazillion songs available at a touch, great sound, portability. But, back in my younger days, we appreciated music more because we had to work to listen to it. I’m talking about, of course, the worse technology ever designed to play back recorded music -- 8-track tapes. I was overcome with both loathing and joy last week when Cheap Trick released its new album, “The Latest,” on 8-track. In the 1970s, when I was in high school, about the only way to play recorded music in your car was 8-tracks. Yes, I know—those of you born after MTV are asking: “What the hell was 8-track?” 8-tracks used recorded tape, except that, unlike the handy pocket size of cassettes (which 8-tracks somehow usurped), 8-track tape was housed in a flat, rectangular plastic case about the size of a Gideon’s Bible.

The ayatollahs' unwanted

Ayatollah Two-Step
Obama, Still Right on Iran
Obama knows his history. But that’s not the reason he’s responding just as George W. Bush did before him (Bush did nothing during the 2003 Iranian student uprising). For all the bluster about supporting a more democratic Iran, the idea makes American presidents nervous. It makes America’s allies in the Middle East nervous. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and a few other little Sunni-led tyrannies from the Persian Gulf to North Africa pretend to hate the Iranian regime’s Shiite revolutionaries. They hate democratic movements and what they inspire even more. They’d rather live with a nuclear Iran than a democratic Iran, which would threaten every one of those tyrannies the United States unquestioningly props up.

What pinko socialist commies say

Single Prayer Plan
How Obama Is Killing Health Reform
There is no health care debate in the United States. There’s not even a debate over principles. You’d think a nation intent on overhauling a broken system that presidents going back to Harry Truman have been trying to fix would want to openly discuss what it wants — universal care? Single-payer? A private-public combination? Nationalized insurance? Nationalized care? All very different things. None is being aired in congressional hearings and town hall meetings, with one exception: Tinkering with more of the same. When even Barack Obama — the last great hope for reforming the West’s trashiest health care system — plays into the rhetorical ambushes of reform’s enemies, it’s clear that the debate has been hijacked by shams over the language of reform rather than its substance. And for all his skills at countering the pimping of language to crooked uses, Obama is flirting with collaboration on this one.

Some of my best friends are books

Kindelstücke, Op. 1
Erotics of Font and Print
I’m not usually indecisive. But a new object in my life had me stumped. It up-ended my assumptions and made me doubt thousands of my most intimate relationships. It made me say sexist things I’ve never said before: The object is more desirable than an Alberto Vargas pinup and more devilish than Carmen. The most troubling thing isn’t that it was a gift from my wife, but that she meant it to spice up my middle-aged life, not hers (let alone ours). I wasn’t looking for spice. My harem, stocked in hardbacks and soft-covers from all continents, is quite diverse, thank you. I didn’t know whether to love this thing or hate it, surrender to it or make a guarded peace with it. It told me I have no choice. It’s here to stay.

The Aristocats might still get in

Campus Class
Public Universities Abort Mission
Brooke Wolfe is an Atlantic High School honor student with an excellent 3.63 grade-point average. She applied to Florida Atlantic University —not exactly the Harvard of the Gold Coast—and four other schools. She was turned down by all five, forcing her into the third-rate anteroom of community-college education. What should never have happened to Wolfe is happening to thousands of students across the state. They have the grades, the will, the ability to make it in any state school. What they lack is a state university system enabled to give them the chance. It’s not for lack of space or capability, but of lawmakers literate in what’s best for Florida. It’s not just Florida, of course. Quality university education is becoming a privilege across the country, betraying the democratic mission of America’s great post-World War II higher-ed boom. And that’s without mentioning cost as academe’s fattest poll tax. Florida isn’t just fast-tracking the shift. It’s excelling at it.

We did it for you

Torturers’ Gallery
Obama’s Memo from Nuremberg
There’s a bomb of a contradiction at the heart of what’s passing for a debate on the torture regime of the past eight years. President Barack Obama calls those years of secret prisons and “enhanced interrogation techniques” a “dark and painful chapter in our history.” That’s not just a suggestion of something amiss. It’s an admission and an indictment of wrongs, in terms that have been applied to atrocities like war crimes and slavery.And if there’s a bomb of a contradiction at the heart of this debate, there’s also an elephant: George W. Bush. His name is hardly mentioned in all these stories of shame and torture. It’s all about the lawyers, the process, the exigencies of the moment. But it isn’t. The decisions were his. “I am the decider,” as he put it. And so he was. This “dark and painful chapter” began with him. His orders for secret memos. His orders to torture. It should end with him.

The Jurassic in the driver's seat

Ghosts of Tom Joad
Steinbeck’s Wrath at 70
Homeless camps now sprawl instead of developments. Unemployment numbers are spilling off front pages into our lives. Employers are turning workers into modern-day sharecroppers (every man his own contractor). And next week, as if on cue, marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck’s novel of foreclosure and dispossession in the 1930s. How timely. Steinbeck gave the decade’s angers its voice. It was outraged and lyrical — as revolted over the country’s exploitative instincts as it was hopeful of its redemptive capital. Have we lost something since? The din of hateful sanctimony mugs the airwaves, giving no chance to a voice like Steinbeck’s, at once protesting, confident and forgiving. But nothing has been lost, exactly.

The Jurassic in the driver's seat

Civilized Pretensions
Epidemic of Institutional Sadism
Savana Redding was ordered to the nurse’s office for a strip search. Over ibuprofen pills. She was 13. Savana did not consent to the search but complied in humiliating details. She was forced, literally, to shake her bra and her underwear, exposing herself in front of the nurse and an assistant. Nothing was found. I don’t know what’s more perverse: The principal’s zero-tolerance stupidity over ibuprofen pills, the degrading search, or the fact that nine U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear this case next month to decide what limits, if any, there should be on school authority. But this isn’t authority. It’s criminal abuse—of authority, of the child, of human dignity. How do we come to this? Stupid question, considering the accumulating record of a society where ideals of justice and humaneness mix with the basest controls in the name of discipline and order. They’re close relatives, those school officials who order a 13 year old strip searched, to those who have children Tasered, or to police officers who now use that instrument of torture as a routine means of subjugation, or to prison guards who do the same with restraining chairs. When the barbaric becomes routine, it’s called protocol. What should be denounced and forbidden is accepted and debated.

White, phosphoric, restrained

Waltz With Hamas
Israeli Atrocities in Gaza
Israel immediately, and often justifiably, alights to the foulness of anti-Semitism when Arabs or others make no distinction between Israel and Jews, between the political and the ethnic, the act and the person. But there is such a think as Israeli bigotry, as vile and as consequential as anti-Semitism—the more so, between Israel and Palestine, given the relationship between the two. Israel is the powerful one. Israel is the occupier. Its bigotry has far more potency, when it is executed as policy—as it is every day, Palestinians will attest—than the pathetic bigotry of desperation Palestinians engage in. When a soldier says that “the lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers,” he’s saying it all: Arabs, in Israeli soldiers’ eyes, are less than they are. Less than human. Less than zero.

Score another one for gluttony

Bonus Crimes
From Iraq to AIG
Sometimes I wonder whether this country not only has lost its moral compass, but does what it can to forbid its recovery. Then I remember: of course it has. Iraq. Afghanistan. Black sites. Torture. Guantanamo. AIG. Bear Stearns. George Bush. The gathering depression. Tim Geithner turning courtesan for his old Wall Street pals. It’s all of a piece. There’s no pretense of propriety or civility, let alone of anything resembling moral behavior. There’s greed. There’s thievery. There’s more greed. Then there are apologies for the thieves and the greedy, half of that compliments of the government we thought we’d elected to clean house.

Repressed massacre

Exhuming the Sabra & Shatila Massacre
“Waltz With Bashir ”
There is no such thing as an “intractable” problem in the Middle East. There’s dishonest (and repressed) memory, the mother of intractable problems. Then there’s the reality of human suffering bleached of the distorting loyalties to god and country. That’s the suffering Ari Folman comes to terms with in “Waltz With Bashir,” starting with his own. It’s the movie’s universal language, touching all that Folman finally remembers — Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, and even, by extension, the Americans who were dragged into the entirely preventable madness at the heart of his story.


Hero Worship
The Real Dopes
In the space of seven days -- long enough, if you're a god -- the greatest swimmer of all times and one of the best baseball players of the day were discovered to have a thing for dope: marijuana for Michael Phelps, steroids, or whatever spin-enhancing euphemisms he's on now, for Alex Rodriguez. As always, when athletes are hounded off their pedestals by the same fantasists who put them there, the gale-force judgments that followed spoke less to the athletes' character than to their critics' duplicity -- and to the country's delight in turning, on a dime, hero-worship into inquisitions.





Dashed Fabrications: Why Ahmadinejad Won
It's been a little weird, if not embarrassing, to witness the reactions of the American press to the Iranian election. Why was the West so self-deluded, both about Mir Hossein Mousavi and the outcome of a foregone conclusion? I wish it was about misplaced hopes. No. It's something less honorable than that. It's about misplaced projections. It's about presuming that the West's agenda for Iran can somehow muscle its way over the agenda Iran reserves for itself. It's about reverting to pre-1979 assumptions that Iran would be as the West would want it to be. Which is to say that 30 years of history have taught the West next to nothing about Iran. That ignorance, those attitudes, those presumptions, are precisely why Iranians are still ready to vote for a man like Ahmadinejad, because for all his anti-Semitism, his belligerence, even his apparent stupidity on more than a few matters of state, he is the embodiment of an Iranian identity that brooks no imports, that needs no one else, certainly nothing western, not even (and above all not) Barack Obama, to define it. Read the rest ...

A James Bit
French and Brits Rubbing Off

“I said just now that no two things could well be more unlike than England and France; and though the remark is not original, I uttered it with the spontaneity that it must have on the lips of a traveller who, having left either country, has just disembarked in the other. It is of course by this time a very trite observation, but it will continue to be made so long as Boulogne remains the same lively antithesis of Folkestone. An American, conscious of the family-likeness diffused over his own huge continent, never quite unlearns his surprise at finding that so little of either of these two almost contiguous towns has rubbed off upon the other. He is surprised at certain English people feeling so far away from France, and at all French people feeling so far away from England. I traveled from Boulogne the other day in the same railway-carriage with a couple of amiable and ingenuous young Britons, who had come over to spend ten days in Paris. ... Read the rest...

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