Thursday, May 31, 2007

600,000 Americans get their identities ripped off in the mail and this doofus gets upset it’s even reported. Problem is, he’s Postmaster General.

I note almost wearily that yet another Republican appointee has been bristling, essentially declaring that reports of harm befalling thousands of Americans via his department is nobody’s damn business.

This didn’t garner any significant space I’ve noticed in most of the daily press. All the more reason for reading publications like Ad Age’s online edition, which covers some hidden pockets of news while the rest of the press is snoring.

The story in today’s issue was headlined, “Postmaster General Takes Umbrage With Wachovia Ad.” The ad, he said, is “really doing a disservice to the American people."

The gist of the story: A Wachovia ad that suggested mail theft is a major cause of identity theft really gets Postmaster General Potter’s goat. That’s because mail only accounts for four percent of identity theft, he insisted.

I guess Postmaster Potter figured nobody would do the math. Well, he was wrong. Here’s the math:

According to the Gartner Group, a respected survey research firm, “Approximately 15 million Americans were victimized by some sort of identity-theft related fraud in the 12 months ending in mid-2006…”

Now, let me get out my handy-dandy pocket calculator here. Four percent of 15 million…hmmm! That comes to 600,000 people.

Six hundred thousand people! Why, that’s more than the entire poulation of Denver, CO. More than the entire popualation of Long Beach, or Sacramento CA. More than Minneapolis,MN. More than Las Vegas, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Witchita, Omaha, Atlanta, or New Orleans, to name just a few.

Imagine if the entire population of your own town woke up one morning and discovered their identities had been ripped off.

There’d be hell to pay.

Instead, Postmaster Potter has arranged for you to have higher postage rates to pay. But what can you expect? When you have an idiot at the top of the Government, you’ll find idiot appointees all the way down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New York Times Book Review falls prey to Lit Crit Technobabble Madness. This man is partly responsible.

I’ve already taken an oblique swipe at gibberish that passes for literary criticism, churned out in universities around the world. You'll find it here:

However, that was only a swipe made in passing while I was discussing a book of poems that I favored.

Now it's time something got said about the whole genre of lit crit technobable, and I have to warn you that the subject is making me feel violent.

But first things first.

The purpose of literary criticism when it started was to help people understand literature better – why it affects us, its context in history, its relationship to current events.

Lately, the field has been seized by fiends whose sole purpose seems to be obfuscation. They appear hell-bent not on clarifying what literature is about, but on making their own literary criticism impenetrable. If they happen to celebrate impenetrable fiction while they’re at it, so much the better.

They speak, as I’ve said in a previous post, in tongues. They have their own secret language. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a secret handshake, too. They display a certain smug attitude – “Well, if you can’t understand what I’ve written, it just proves I’m smarter than you are.”

They are no longer opening the gates of literature to the world. In fact, they are slamming them shut, attempting to lock out anyone who doesn’t find profound meaning in the meaningless jargon of their field.

As long as this game was limited to a group of insignificant and mostly obscure academics, it was hard to care very much. You can read the Journal of the Modern Language Association and others of its ilk, or you can trash it. Not much harm done either way.

But now the New York Times has fallen prey to this idiocy. Yes! The effin' New York Times!

Last Sunday, I was sitting with a copy of the Sunday New York Times Book Review, when suddenly I discovered my eyes crossing. I was trying to navigate my way through this passage:

“Such a capacity to make language unleash entire states of existence reveals the extent to which Davis’ fiction is influenced by her work as a translator. Apart from Proust, her credits include French thinkers and writers like Maurice Blanchot, Michel Butor and Michel Foucalt. In reading Davis’s stories, therefore, we are likely to be reminded as much of the poststructuralist emphasis on language in the works of Blanchot as of the antinarrative impulse of French nouveau-Romanists like Butor.”

I should have set fire to the Times Book Review and tossed out the window the instant I came across Foucalt’s name. It was a warning, like an air raid siren before the bombs begin falling.

“Anti-narrative impulse?” “Nouveau Romanist?” “Postructuralist emphasis on language?” Gimme a break! No wonder the circulation of The New York Times is dropping like a shot.

This impenetrable review was written by Siddhartha Deb (that's his picture at the top of this post) who began his career as a journalist in Calcutta. He should have stayed there.

He was praising a book of stories that, judging what I can make out from Deb’s review, are also impenetrable: “Stories” by Lydia Davis.

To quote Dreary Deb again:

“Sometimes a title can be nearly as long as the story, as in,’Mother’s Reaction To My Travel Plans,” whose entire text reads: ‘Gainsville! It’s too bad your cousin is dead!’ We could almost text-message it, but then we wouldn’t get the effect of the surrounding white space, against which the words seem to suggest an almost gnomic quality. We might miss the exclamation marks, the italics…”

Or we might miss wanting to vomit over all Deb’s jargon-filled praise of practically nothing.

I’m not worried about Davis, the author of "Stories." Despite the acclaim she has received not only from Deb of the Doldrums, but also Salon Magazine, I guarantee you that if her work is taking her in the direction of "stories" like “Mother’s Reaction…” she is destined for the trash heap of literary history.

But Deb’s editor at the New York Times Book Review is another matter. He ought to be busted back to police beat and put on two years’ probation there. If it then turns out he also can’t tell nonsense prose from a rape case, fire the idiot! (I hope you haven’t missed my very clever exclamation mark and my post neo-modernist omission of italics. Whatever the hell that means.)

As for Siddhartha Deb, he is a more serious case. He came to this country on a literary fellowship and now he is poisoning impressionable young American minds, encouraging by example nonsense prose in the guise of expository writing not only in the New York Times but also in The Boston Globe, the Guardian, The Nation and the New Statesman. No wonder the President of the United States can't make a coherent argument for any of his policies! No wonder politicians doubletalk! They learn it in college

I am tempted to pray for a vigilante squad of Writing Police, who would seize people who scribble in jargon and bash them over their head with their own laptops until consequent brain damage obliterates phrases like “anti-narrative impulse” and “postructuralist emphasis on language” from their vocabularies.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trickledown Incompetence

I was in Santa Monica, CA on business a few weeks ago. I took a stroll along Ocean Avenue, a pretty boulevard with upmarket hotels and shops overlooking the Pacific. All you had to do to consider it idyllic was ignore the hundreds of homeless people who camp under the palm trees each sunset in an adjacent park.

But more about that later.

Right now I want to talk about a national malady called Trickledown Incompetence.

All this is old news, but worth repeating:

The Bush administration incompetently started a war, managed by incompetents who couldn’t think ahead five seconds to what they’d do once they blew up half of Iraq. And those incompetent dum-dums never imagined that enraged Iraqis, instead of scattering rose petals at our soldiers’ feet, would be blowing up our guys up with IEDs.

The Bush administration based its decision to go to war in Iraq on incompetent interpretations of incompetent intelligence. It was provided by an incompetent CIA director. Well, it’s true he had to act incompetently or he’d get fired. But you’d figure a competent guy in that position would resign in a huff. He didn’t.

For in-your-face incompetence, there was nothing – and still is nothing two years later – like the “You’re doing a helluva job, Brownie” management of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

The past couple of days, we’ve been hearing about the deliberate hiring of incompetents in the Justice Department. Monica Goodling, graduate of a fourth or maybe seventh rate religious law school, was in charge of deciding who would or would not be a good local U.S. Attorney. Monica worked for Alberto Gonzales. She’s an – let’s call her what she really is, either a nearly brainless bimbo or a clever but poorly educated liar and career assassin. Well, let’s be kindly and charitable and assume she’s merely a brainless bimbo and not a corrupt and lying thug.

Goodling, that brainless incompetent bimbo, has been testifying before Congress that she, uh, “went over the line” by violating Federal law in her hiring practices. That’s called “lawbreaking” where I come from, folks. But gee, she’s so cute and sweet sounding and blonde, the Republicans on the Senate committee that was taking here testimony tried to give her a pass.

The trouble with incompetence is that it’s like water. It follows the law of gravity. You get an incompetent president and the next thing you know you get an incompetent Secretary of Defense and an incompetent Attorney General below the President.

From them you get incompetent generals and Monica Goodling. Next thing you know, you’re in a restaurant on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, CA, suffering through completely incompetent table service.

To get back to where I started, incompetent table service is what happened a few weeks ago. I walked into this nice-looking Italian restaurant on Ocean Avenue. I ordered two courses: a salad and a braised lamb shank.

I stuck a fork into my salad and poof! A sub-waiter who looked as if he came out of a casting call for Fawlty Towers holds a steaming lamb shank literally inches under my nose and says, “Are you ready yet?”

“No," I said politely. "As you can see, I just started my salad.”

The wait-captain ran up to my table and apologized. “I’m sorry sir. He’s new here. I’ll have him take that lamb shank back and bring you a new one when you’re ready.”

I thanked him. I took two more forkfuls of salad. And poof! There was the same sub-waiter again, with the same lamb shank, a little less steamy this time.

“Ready yet, sir?” He asked.

“No no no. I’m still eating my sald. Look. See that stuff on my plate? It’s salad!”

The wait-captain reappeared, at least making an attempt to seem horrified. “I’m sorry,” he said, “some people just don’t listen.”

He hustled the sub-waiter away again and I went back to my salad. Two forkfuls later – you guessed it!

This time I felt myself rising to my feet. I felt my arms waiving wildly in the air. I was about to explode. The only reason I didn’t was, I was afraid I might kill somebody on the waitstaff and then have to get defended by an incompetent lawyer.

The fourth time the lamb shank came (by now a genuinely different one, and steaming again) there was only a little bit of salad left on my plate. I figured, the hell with it. It was either start eating the damn lamb shank or start throwing dishes. I ate the lamb shank before I finished my salad.

Unlike money, which under the Bush Administration trickles up from the poor and middle class to the filthy rich, incompetence always seeks its own level. As the old Italian saying goes, “The fish rots from the head.”

So I blame George Bush for everything. I blame him for the war. I blame him for the nearly incomprehensible size of the national debt. I blame him for the huge economic pressure on the poor and middle class in a time of plenty. I blame him for a still-devastated New Orleans. I blame him for the Justice Department scandal. I blame him for blonde bimbos. I blame him for the hordes of homeless people sleeping in what ought to be one of the most beautiful little parks in California. I blame him for a U.S. Supreme Court that’s starting to make Neanderthal inroads into years of established constitutional law. I blame George Bush for mindless water torturers in secret prisons. I blame him for our failing healthcare system.

And most of all, I blame him for an idiot waiter in a Santa Monica restaurant, shoving a lamb shank in my face, over and over again.

It’s time Congress stiffed Bush with an act of impeachment.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Learn how to get rich quick in real estate. Join your teacher in Bankruptcy Court. Or prison.

I'm indebted to "Investment U," a newsletter of a stock advisory service called The Oxford Club, from which I've stolen the following:

Of course, these “no money down” gigs have been going on for decades. And the results are generally not what anyone would call enviable.

Forget about the outcome for the students. Take a look at what’s happened to the authors who sold the books and promoted the seminars. According to author John T. Reed:

Albert Lowry, author of “How You Can Become Financially Independent by Investing in Real Estate,” declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1987.

Craig Hall, author of “Craig Hall’s Book of Real Estate Investing,” declared bankruptcy in 1992.

Bill “Tycoon” Greene, author of “Two Years for Freedom,” was convicted, fined and sentenced to prison. (He later escaped from a minimum security prison and is believed to be living in England.)

Tony Hoffman, author of “How to Negotiate Successfully in Real Estate,” filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for his company in 1986.

Wade Cook, author of “How to Build a Real Estate Money Machine,” declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1987 and 2003.

Dave Glubeitch, author of “The Money Game,” declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1987.

Dave Del Dotto, author of “Cash Flow System,” was charged by the FTC with misrepresenting products in 1993. He filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1995.

Charles Givens, author of “Wealth Without Risk,” was successfully sued by a former customer for giving bad financial advice. He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1995. He died pending trial.

Sonny Block, author of “Inside Real Estate,” was indicted in May 1995 by a federal grand jury for fraud and fled to the Dominican Republic to avoid prosecution. He was eventually deported to the U.S., but died pending trial.

Ed Beckley, author of “Million Dollar Secrets,” declared bankruptcy in 1987 and was sentenced to federal prison for wire fraud.

Robert Allen, the author of “Nothing Down” and “Creating Wealth,” declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 1996.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Deaf Photog and Blind Editor Overcome the Odds Together”

That was the headline of a recent story in the magazine Editor and Publisher.

What I want to know is, what’s so newsworthy about the story?

Any celeb who ever said to a photographer, “Hey, please stop stalking me,” knows all news photographers all deaf.

And any reporter or writer who ever submitted a memo for a story idea and never heard back from his editor may have suspected the oaf is blind.

Or maybe the editor was too busy sending a reporter out to the remotest wilds of East New York at 2 AM to wake up a couple, tell them their kid just got killed and a car crash, and ask, “What kind of a boy was he?”

In my big city newspaper reporting days, more decades ago than I care to mention, my night city editor did that to me. I was new at the game and did as I was told, making my way through remote slums in the wee hours.

When I came back to the city room (they didn’t have “newsrooms” in those days) of my evil night city editor’s henchpeople said, “Hey kid, you did pretty well. Those are all accurate quotes.” Sure they were. But how was he so sure, I asked.

“Because we’ve been calling the parents. We could have done the story on the phone. We just wanted to see if you had the guts.”

Don’t even get me started on copy editors, literary agents, or graphic designers who come back with complaints like, “Hey your story is too long to wrap around the picture I have in mind for it. Cut 300 words.”

Anyway, if you feel you must read the full Editor & Publisher story about deaf and blind news coverage, you’ll find it here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A bum gets burned on a bum rap. And then burns himself passing the buck. It’s his usual sleazy behavior.

I don’t like Rudolph Giuliani, the former Republican Mayor of New York who’s now a potential Republican Presidential candidate.

Yes, he put on a great and admirable display of leadership immediately after the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. He actually came off – at least for a few days – as sympathetic and likeable. And yes, under his administration the crime rate began to fall, policing got better, quality of life crimes lessened significantly, and prosperity grew here in New York grew. All good things.

But generally, Giuliani’s behavior was sometimes irascible, sometimes sleazy, occasionally in defiance of law, and largely focused around what was good for Rudy Giuliani. More about that later. First, an issue for which Giuliani is taking a rap he doesn’t deserve – and then reverting to his weasely form in dealing with the issue.


This has to do with the location of the mayor’s Emergency Operations Center – a radiation protected, supposedly blast-resistant, communications equipment-bristling, semi-secret “war room.” It was here that Mayor Giuliani was supposed to have been able to take charge of New York in case of atomic blast, citywide rioting, unprecedented flooding, or invasion by – I dunno, Martians, maybe.

As it happens, it was located at 7 World Trade Center, one of the neighboring buildings that were flattened and burned out by the falling debris from the 1 and 2 World Trade Center twin towers.

Hey, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback this decision. On the negative side, it’s true as critics point out, that the World Trade Center had already been the target of an Al Quaida attack – a truck bomb that went off in a garage under one of the two towers. So maybe the Command Center should have been someplace else.

Brooklyn has been mentioned as a rejected location for a command center in the "he said/she said/they said/you said” accusations that have been flying around.

But there were also valid reasons for using 7 World Trade Center. It was close to City Hall and other municipal offices such as the Police and Fire Departments – a very quick drive or relatively short jog away. 7 World Trade Center itself was home to the New York offices of various Federal law enforcement agencies – you know, the ones that as it turned out weren’t speaking to one another, enabling the 9/11 plot to hatch, free from Federal interference.

Also, 7 World Trade Center was not one of the twin towers. To rule it out you’d have to posit that A) Al Quaida would try all over again to bring the towers down by a different means B) the Federal Government under George Bush would be completely asleep at the switch C) that this time they’d hijack a bunch of planes and fly them into the towers D) these “fireproof” buildings would then collapse, their structures virtually melted by the flames and E) that falling debris from the first two structures would completely destroy neighboring structures.


If you could posit A, B, C,D and E, you’d be the world’s greatest seer and medium. That’s really all Rudy Giuliani had to say in his defense of the choice of 7 World Trade Center. But no.

Instead, he whines that in effect, an underling working for him sort of, well, uh – made him do it. That was the recommendation, and how was he supposed to know better, Giuliani snivels.

Baloney, says the former underling, Jerome Hauer, who was Giuliani’s first director of emergency management. Others are weighing in on one side or another.

You’ll find URLs referring you to some of the details of finger-pointing at the end of this article. What’s important to note here is that finger pointing – passing the blame for bad things that happened on his watch to somebody else – is a hallmark of the Giuliani modus operandi. And for that matter, getting rid of underlings who are getting too much praise for doing good work is also part of his style.


Take the case of William Bratton, the first police commissioner under Giuliani (now chief honcho of the LAPD.) It was Bratton, recruited here from Boston, who dreamed up a new style of policing, patrolling and arresting quality-of-life criminals. That's one of the things that helped bring on a quick and wonderful reduction of the crime rate.

Almost everybody liked Bratton. Almost everyone praised him. And that really got Giuliani’s goat. Clearly Rudy wanted all the praise for himself.

Poof! Bratton was fired. Pretty soon, top NYPD administration was peopled with a number of hacks, one of them, Bernie Kerik, said to have Mafia ties and certainly problems with corruption and his own income taxes.

Hey, no matter. By following Bratton patrol policies, the cops were able to keep the crime rate down, and now Rudy Giuliani could get all the credit.


Giuliani wanted to make sure that nothing bad got blamed on him. The word was going around that interviews for various senior appointive jobs in his administration began with the question, “Would you take a bullet for the mayor?”

The meaning of that question was, “If something gets screwed up in your department, even if it happens because the mayor ordered it to happen, will you take all the blame and not mention you were doing this on the Mayor's orders?”

Rudy’s philosophy of life (“It’s all about me”) even extended to his own family. During Rudy’s inaugural, his seven year old son – remember, only seven years old – stole the show by mimicking his father’s gestures. Guess what? Rudy deported his own son. Well, only to a boarding school, but that was it. The poor kid was never seen in public again until his adulthood, when he proclaimed a rift with his father. Gee, no kidding.

The message was clear. Don't poke fun at Rudy Giuliani. Even if you're a little kid. Even if you're his own little kid.


There was also the little matter of trying to overthrow the city constitution. We have term limits here. At the end of his second term, Rudy suddenly went looking for a way to stay on as mayor after his elected term ended. In effect, he was feeling out the reaction to what might have been a municipal coup d’etat.

Imagine if the President of the United States did that. If it ever happens, this country stops being a democratically-elected republic and becomes a dictatorship.

So I’m horrified by Rudy Giuliani’s attempt at candidacy for President. He’s a potential dictator. He deserves to remain in private life with his third wife, enjoying icy relations with his kids.

But he doesn’t deserve flak on his choice of an emergency command post. As some wag said about the behavior of prosecutors and police during the OJ Simpson trial, “They’re trying to frame a guilty man.”

More on the potential national and international disaster that is Rudy Giuliani here:

On the World Trade Center command post flap:

On Giuliani’s mayoral temperament

Why lots of New York cops hate Giuliani

On Giuliani trying to feel out a municipal coup d’etat

Picture of Giuliani’s 7 year old son upstaging his dad, for which he was deported to boarding school:

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fly me to the moon, George. In other words, I love your syntax.

Wasn't it Frank Sinatra who sang a song called "Fly Me To the Moon?" And wasn't the key refrain, "In other words, hold my hand. In other words, I love you?"

The phrase "in other words" is now popping up with alarming frequency in other words -- the words of President George Bush. In fact, it's popping up so many times in a short speech that I'm ready to fly to the moon, provided I can take his Iraq policy with me and leave it there.

In other words, his speech patterns are getting weirder and weirder.

I'm grateful to New York journalist and advertising writer Richard Rosenthal, who sent me the following "other" words:

>>This is your president speaking: the utterances of George W. Bush either April 9 or 10, 2007 as reported in the Congressional Quaterly, taken from a transcript of his talk at an American Legion post in Fairfax, VA

>>"This is a -- this is an unusual era in which we live, defined on

September the 11th, 2001. See, that's a date that reminding us the

world has changed significantly from what we thought the world

was ... My attitude about the world changed, and I know the attitude

about the world from a lot of folks here in America's attitude

changed ...

>>"I vowed that day that we would go on the offense against an enemy,

that the best way to defeat this enemy is to find them overseas and

bring them to justice so they will not hurt the folks here at home.

In other words, we don't have the luxury of hoping for the best, of

sitting back and being passive in the face of this threat. In the

past, we would say oceans would protect us and, therefore, what

happened overseas may not matter here at home.

>>"That's what changed on September the 11th. What happens overseas

affects the security of the United States ...

>>"I vowed that, 'If you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty

as the terrorist.' That's a doctrine.

>>"In order for this country to be credible, when the president says

something, he must mean it. I meant it. And the Taliban found out

that we meant what we said. And therefore, we ended al-Qaida's safe

haven in a failed state.

>>"The two points I want to make is, doctrine matters; and secondly, a

failed state can lead to severe consequences for the American people ...

>>"In other words, there was reprisal ...

>>"In other words, the lack of security would have created an

opportunity for extremists to move in ...

>>"In other words, in sending troops in, it is -- I recognize that this

is more than a military mission ...

>>"In other words, this operation is just getting started ...

>>"In other words, part of the effort is not only to provide security

to neighborhoods, but we're constantly training Iraqis so that they

can do this job ...

>>"So, in other words, it's a combination of providing security in

neighborhoods through these joint security stations, and training ...

>>"I'm always amazed at the men and women who wear our uniform. Last

week, before I went down to Crawford -- for a snowy Easter, I might

add -- I was in California at Fort Irwin. And I had a chance to visit

with some who had just come back from Iraq and some who were going

over to Iraq. And it just amazes me that these young men and women

know the stakes. They understand what we're doing. And they have

volunteered to serve.

>>"We're really a remarkable country and a remarkable military. And

therefore we owe it to the families and to those who wear the uniform

to make sure that this remarkable group of men and women are strongly

supported -- strongly supported, by the way, during their time in

uniform and then after their time in uniform through the Veterans


>>"I tried to put this war into a historical context for them. In other

words, I told them that they're laying the foundation of peace. In

other words, the work we're doing today really will yield peace for a

generation to come."<<

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Results of Bush free trade policies and laxness on food purity: First your cat dies. Then your dog. Next? Maybe you.

One of the problems with laissez-faire capitalism is that it fails to account sufficiently for the bottomless pit of evil that is home to men with dollar signs in their eyes.

It doesn’t matter if they’re American or Chinese. If they can make a buck and you die from their efforts, tough luck for you, pal.

A case in point is the melamine-infested “wheat gluten” and “rice gluten" that have been making their ways into the food chain via producers in China.

Melamine is essentially a high nitrogen chemical useful as a fire retardant and a pesticide. The latter use ought to be enough to raise government radar antennas in Washington to full mast, but hey, sleeping at the switch is a Bush administration specialty.

At any rate, some Chinese producers have been mixing melamine into wheat gluten and rice gluten because it tends to “fool” some lab tests into thinking it’s protein. The formula seems to be “less protein + more melamine = more profit.”

The Chinese producers are thrilled, because they’re making bigger bucks. The importers are thrilled, because they can buy and sell a bit cheaper, increasing demand for their services. The food processors are thrilled, because cheaper product in means higher profits out.

Or at least they were until the scandal broke.

The U.S. Government Departments of Commerce, Argiculture, Homeland Security? Well, as usual, they were too busy hiring good little Republican aparatchiks to take notice.

Sometimes I wonder if they weren’t also thrilled because some Republican and Bush campaign contributors were making bigger profits. I can’t prove that, although I wish some enterprising journalist would. The pattern certainly seems to fit.

Then the dogs and cats started dying. I dunno about you, but I got scared right away. I was leaving town to do some traveling, abandoning my blog for a while, but in my notice that The New York Crank would be on hold for a while I wrote, “…if poisoned wheat gluten could kill cats and dogs, it might be killing people, too? I mean, do you know where the wheat gluten in your bread comes from?” You’ll find it here:

While it depresses me to tell you so, hey dude, I told you so. Since then, guess what?

It’s been discovered that melamine is making its way into hogfeed and chicken feed. And now fish feed.

And moreover, it now turns out melamine is working its way into plain old wheat.

Which means just about everything you might enjoy eating is poisoned. Every-damned-thing.

That, of course, has awakened our Republican administration. Somebody’s eyelids fluttered open long enough to say, according to an Associated Press story:

“The level of contamination is expected to be too low to pose any danger to human health, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.”

Yeah, just the assurances you know you can trust from those wonderful folks who gave you A Helluva Job Brownie, Mission Accomplished, WMD in Iraq and other tributes to forked tongue politics.

Hey, wasn’t America once the breadbasket of the world? Aren’t we still subsidizing farmers not to grow stuff? Why do we have to buy wheat and rice from China in the first place?

Laissez-faire free trade is the answer. The doctrinaire belief is that the market always speaks to the benefit of the consumer. A bunch of corporate sleazebags let poison creep into the food chain? Hey, no problem because the free market will take care of it. People who learn the stuff is poisonous will stop buying it.

Sure, after we’re all dead.

Here’s what we need:

1. America needs a five year ban on food or food ingredient imports – whether animal or human food – from any country that lets poison creep into the stuff living things ingest here. China, that means you too, you greedy poisoning bastards!

2. America needs food testing on all agricultural products. Al Quaida doesn’t need a bomb, it turns out. All it needs is a bag of fish food to start wiping out Americans.

3. America needs rigid, rigid, rigid FDA enforcement. You don’t “work with” people who poison you. You pop them in the pokey and feed them their own glutenized bread and water. That rule most certainly should extend to American citizens. People who import, distribute, or mix poison into the food supply are serial killers. No pun intended. (But hey, what really is in your corn flakes?)

4. America needs clear source labeling law that affects all food – every damn morsel – that Americans eat. This includes most especially beef, poultry, chicken and fish. But it also extends things like bread and breakfast cereals, all of which contain grains and glutens. The label should clearly and readably state the source of all ingredients. “Wheat gluten” is not enough. Is it Chinese wheat gluten, “wheat gluten of unknown origin” or “American wheat gluten?” The difference could mean life or death for you.

5. Support for the American family farmer. Not the agri-business combines. I'm talking about individually owned farms with net income of $200,000 or less. There are fewer and fewer of those every year. But we need more and more. If we ever get into a hassle with China and we start relying on some mega-manipulative argri-business trading company to import all our food, we’re royally screwed. You think energy dependence is a problem? Try food dependence.

We don’t need less government. We need more government, protecting what we put in our mouths.

But from the Bush Administration? Don’t hold your breath.

Monday, May 07, 2007

More Psychic Ding Awards: for a nutty judge, a witchy broadcaster and bringers of frivolous law suits

Hey, first principles first. This Cranky blog strongly favors class action liability law suits. The New York Crank is firmly convinced that law suits are often the best protection we have against some of society’s biggest and scummiest thugs – corporate America.

But even before we get to corporations, consider medical malpractice insurance rates. President Bush would have had you believe, when he was railing against high insurance rates for medical malpractice, that the cost of your medical care is through the roof because sleazy lawyers are suing doctors left right and center.

There are a few little holes – say, the size of an Iraqi car bomb crater – in that argument. First of all, the primary cause of increased medical malpractice insurance rates, when they happen, is bad investing of premium dollars by insurance companies.

The truth is, the number of malpractice suits has remained pretty stable while the cost insurance has risen. The reason: when insurance companies don’t make enough money from their investments, they keep their profits up by raising their rates. Check some of the story out here:

The good news about medical malpractice suits is that hospitals and doctors are on notice that if they screw up – through carelessness or plain incompetence – the malpractice lawyers will sue them from here to hell. And that awareness helps protect you from sloppy or unethical medicine whenever you step into a doctor’s office or a hospital.

Moreover, even if malpractice rates were up because of an increase in successful law suits against doctors (which I repeat, is not, not, not at all the case) the government ought to be going after improper peer review and licensing procedures for physicians, not the consumer’s right to seek redress. And doctors aren’t the only example.

Think of all those cars that used to explode when rear-ended – until auto makers got sued into building safer cars. Think of the poisonous pharmaceuticals – Thalidomide’s history of deforming fetuses comes to mind – and of manufacturers who’d gladly dispose of chemical waste by letting it leach into your drinking water, if a whole bunch of us couldn’t get together and sue them into kingdom come.

Okay, all that said, there’s an old principle of English common law that says something like this: “Even the lowliest whore in the Strand may sue a prince or an earl.” Meaning that anyone can sue anyone else for anything in the world. You may lose your lawsuit, but you can’t be stopped from suing.

For example, a judge who belongs in a nuthouse may cheerfully and frivolously sue a hapless drycleaner. Such appears to be the case of a Washington D.C. judge, Roy Pearson, who is suing his neighborhood dry cleaner over a pair of pants. He’s demanding for his “lost” pants – which the dry cleaner claims were returned to him – a mere $65 million. Yup, you read that right. Sixty-five million bucks. For a pair of pants.

This would be a huge joke, if not for the fact that the husband-wife-and-son dry cleaners, Jin Nam Chung, Ki Chung and their son, Soo Chung, have had to pay lawyers every step of the way to stave off financial ruin. They’re just about ruined anyway, even though their last offer to settle the suit – just to get rid of the madly suing judge and his insane flap over a pair of pants – was $12,000.

You want to address inequities in the legal system here? It has nothing to do with your right to seek a class action suit against a deep-pocketed corporate malefactor. It has a lot to do with the right of a malefactor to keep forcing you to pay for legal expenses to defend yourself until he destroys you financially regardless of the facts, or who’s right or wrong. Blame the lowly-whore-in-the-Strand principle of law. Incidentally, for Judge Pearson, there appears to have been no significant out-of-pocket costs. This particular denizen of the Strand is representing himself.

The solution has already been invented – in England, the same country that invented the whore-in-the-Strand principle. Losers pay all legal costs. To which I might ad, the same jury that tries the case ought to be able to assign punitive damages to victims like the Chung family. That would discourage Pearson’s kind of venomous frivolity fast.

As it is, I do hope the local bar associations in the area will demand that the judge step down from his bench – and that they disbar him, rip his robes off his back, and roundly boo him as he runs down the street in his shorts.

He also gets a psychic ding from the fortune teller on the block where The New York Crank’s offices are located. Specifically: May he have recurring nightmares that the entire planet is pointing fingers at him and jeering. And when he exits from his home each day, may he see his nightmares coming true. And may many of the jeering populace show up at his disbarment proceedings. Ding!

For more about this horror story paste this in your browser and bristle at it:

Incidentally, the propensity to sue people for telling the truth seems to extend not only to lowly whores in the Strand but to wealthy divorcees in Santa Barbara who buy newspaper companies with their divorce settlement checks. Check out this nasty story (You may have to register first):,1,7280559.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

Finally, there’s, Nancy Grace. If you don’t know who she is, print out her photograph, below, and take it back to Mars with you.

The scowl you see is every bit as nasty as the TV manner of this former prosecutor manqué. How manqué? Well, consider this entry from Wikipedia:

"In a 2005 opinion, a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of appeals said Grace 'played fast and loose' with her ethical duties and failed to 'fulfill her responsibilities' as a prosecutor in the 1990 triple murder trial of Herbert Connell Stephens. She failed to turn over evidence that pointed to other suspects to his defense. The court noted that it was 'difficult to conclude that Grace did not knowingly' elicit false testimony from a police investigator that there were no other suspects despite strong evidence to the contrary."

Why she didn’t end up on trial for obstruction of justice and malicious prosecution beats me, in light of the above. Nancy’s modus operandi seems to be, find them guilty first, hang them second, determine the facts third – or now that they’re hanged, why the hell bother?

Alas, although the Georgia jurisdiction where she once practiced evidently sleazy law on behalf of the people has said good riddance to her, she has been welcomed into the open arms of CNN.

For a while I thought I was the only one who happened to notice she had a habit of trying cases on-air, without benefit of a defense attorney, or a judge, or a jury. But finally, some of the press has picked up on her, by virtue of a suicide by a woman named Melissa Duckett.

Grace, according press reports, lured Duckett, the mother of a missing child, onto TV with considerably less than fully truthful promises about the purpose of the interview. Then Grace badgered Duckett if Grace were – well, describing Grace as prosecutorial would be on the mild side. She acted more like the waterboarding supervisor at Abu Garib.

Result: Duckett, who was never charged with anything, tried for anything, found guilty of anything, or had any compelling evidence against her regarding her daughter’s death that I know of, committed suicide at her grandparents’ home. Next day, Grace aired the interview anyway. A real sweetheart, this Nancy Grace. She’s all eye of newt and toe of frog, if you ask me.

Anyway, you’ll find some of the horrifying details, as reported by the Associated Press, here:

And even more if it, here:

My local midtown fortune teller, who has been spending some of her evenings sitting on a bridge chair outside of her place of business now that the weather has turned warmer, agreed to a superduper psychic ding for Nancy Grace.

“May the estate of Melinda Duckett, which has filed a law suit against Grace, trounce her so badly and make her such a liability to her own and other networks, that she’ll have to open a dry cleaning store to survive.

"And may she then get sued by a nutty judge."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Poetry that bears witness to horror

If I learned one valuable thing as a college literature major almost a half century ago, it was that I don’t have a clue what makes for great poetry – or for mediocre poetry. Nor for that matter, can I distinguish between great and mediocre literature or even good and bad literary criticism.

The “New Criticism” school of structural analysis that was still popular in my distant undergraduate days was no help at all. The New Criticism methodology seemed akin to explaining the beauty of a tulip by ripping off its leaves and measuring its pistils and stamens.

You ended up with quantifiable but completely unhelpful information, and you pretty much ruined your enjoyment of the tulip.

I find the current “lit crit” wave of “deconstructionism” (or at least it was “current” last I was trying to pay attention) even more useless. Decontructionism speaks in tongues. Its mad prophets pull apart the tulip, chew and swallow its parts and then vomit up an ugly mess of impenetrable babble. Some years ago a deconstructionist literary journal published a send-up of itself after a peer review panel failed to detect that the densely written jargon they approved for publication was a leg-pulling hoax.

So all I am left with is an all-too-familiar “theory” of literary aesthetics. Alas, I could have arrived at it without my struggling father having flushed a considerable fortune (at least for him) down an intellectual toilet on my behalf. Specifically:

I don’t know much about literature but I know what I like.

And furthermore, very occasionally, I even know why I like it.

With that lengthy know-nothing’s caveat in mind, I want to call your attention to a small and in some respects curious volume of poems call “Wall Street Sonnets du 11 Septembre,” by Eugene Schlanger. (Photograph of the book above.)

No, the title is not an act of franglais pretentiousness. It’s the consequence of a curious publishing method at a company called Underbahn that I’ve been told prints its books in French in the United States and then transports the books for sale in Paris. Schlanger writes in English. Each poem in the book appears in both English and its French translation.


Well, for openers, my best guess after reading the poetry inspired by 9/11 is that some of it is pretty good. Let me offer you a few small tastes from the English pages.

From the poem “Porters and Promotors,” comes an observation I will mention again later:

“This death was an egalitarian act,
Uniting porters and promoters, the rich
And the illiterate, cops and fire chiefs
In a wealthy smoldering tangled mass…”

Or from another poem called “Afternoon Interlude at Trinity Church”:

“…I knew a man who was vaporized
And one day I may meet Audrey
His widow, in Brooklyn, and sigh.

“In this Episcopal church, a decade ago,
Desmond Tutu railed against Apartheid
From the lectern; Gallatin is buried in
The North yard; but these obese tourists
Do not remove their FDNY caps, somber,

“Yet peacefully (or painfully) unaware of
American commerce and art and history…”

It’s all sometimes wry, sometimes touching and sometimes irate stuff, as properly it ought to be.

True, it lacks the emotional thrust of a question reportedly asked by a child, as she stood with her mother on a promenade across the East River in Brooklyn about a mile away, watching the 9/11 horror show. According to this story (I haven’t been able to track down its origin) mother and daughter saw several people in the distance, their clothes on fire, leaping to their death from 92nd story windows of one of the towers. And the little girl asked curiously:

“Mommy, why are the birds on fire?”

In the end, it is the naïve soul, not the poets, who unwittingly craft the most powerful lines. Which brings to mind…


I’m currently reading a bitter but nevertheless brilliantly funny novel from the 1960s, “The Dance of Genghis Cohn,” by Romain Gary. It’s narrated by the ghost of an extermined Jewish comedian, now a dybbuk who inhabits and manipulates the mind and the body of the Nazi war criminal who shot him to death.

Yes, it’s an emotional experience that simultaneously makes you feel rage, relish the dybbuk’s revenge, and rail at the futility of both. But nothing that I know in Holocaust literature fuels emotions more than the sweetly-written “Diary of Anne Frank.” And even that pales by comparison with filmed footage of what the Allies found when they liberated the concentration camps.

So now to the question, often implied but rarely stated bluntly in book reviews: Why should you buy this book?

For the answer I have to refer to my own recollections of Schlanger’s obese tourists near the Ground Zero site.

Shortly after 9/11, New York was flooded with tourists who wanted to see Ground Zero. I know this first-hand because I occasionally volunteer as a tour guide for a non-profit organizations that boosts New York City tourism, and I led several visitors to the wreckage. Inevitably, as the visitors pointed their cameras toward the rubble and twisted steel I saw them get stopped by policemen, who would say something like, “Have some respect. They’re pulling body parts out of there.”

The tourists deferred to authority. They had no choice. The people stopping them were armed cops who for justifiable reasons were not in a good mood. All the same, I’m not sure the best way to respect the victims of 9/11 was to avoid recording what the terrorists had done to them.

We live in an era where denial and revisionist lies are standard operating procedure for propagandists of all stripes. Holocaust denial has grown from a cottage industry to an international enterprise, currently funded and cordially hosted by Iran. All you have to do to retch at the twisting of truth is to examine some holocaust denial websites. (And no, I most definitely will not aid their cause by providing any links) One such website helpfully explains that the gas chambers were not for exterminating people, but rooms where mattresses were disinfected for the benefit of the Jewish guests at Buchenwald.

Fortunately, the WWII Allies captured and in some cases recorded film footage, as well as paper records and grisly artifacts such as human skin lampshades – tangible evidence that belies the holocaust deniers. All you have to do to understand the reality of the Holocaust is watch ten seconds of documentary footage showing bulldozers pushing a mountain of corpses into a ditch for mass burial. (Screen “Judgment at Nuremberg” some time.)


Had it been up to me, there would have been an army of volunteers not only leading tourists with camera to the horrors of Ground Zero, but insisting – insisting! – that they take photographs. I want records! Graphic, irrefutable records. And I want them in every attic trunk, every shoebox, every library, every computer and personal electronic archive on the planet. Just as there are Holocaust deniers today, there will be attempts at 9/11 denial half a century from today. In fact, they have already begun, spawned from the ashes of 9/11 and hatched by hate-filled opportunists.

The denials began only days after the twin towers fell. LeRoi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka, started putting out viciously libelous propaganda in a poem called “Somebody Blew Up America,” virtually claiming – on the basis of self-invented evidence – that Israel was behind the day’s events.

To fire him, the Governor of New Jersey had to eliminate the post Jones/Baraka occupied as the state’s Poet Laureate.

Similarly, Ward Chuchill, a University of Colorado professor, declared the incinerated victims of 9/11 to be “little Eichmanns.” His complaint seems to be that they deserved their awful deaths because their jobs generated profits, which helped support capitalism, which in turn supports the U.S. economy, which in turn generated tax money, which in turn enabled George Bush to fund his war in Iraq.

Never mind the true sequence of events (The Iraq invasion happened after 9/11). Never mind the lengthy and improbable nexus that Churchill creates, or the fact that some of those “little Eichmanns” were there to cook meals, bus tables, or (horror of horrors!) to administer pension funds. Schlanger has put his finger on it. They were truly the “porters and promoters,” and anything but an army of Nazi apparatchiks.

Churchill’s mean-spirited hate speech (an appropriate redundancy if ever there was one) resulted in getting him fired from a state university by the Colorado governor, but he gained the support of 199 of his fellow faculty members. They all ought to be be chained to their chairs and forced to watch, with their eyes taped open, an endless loop of 9/11 nightmares, most especially footage made by a French documentary group which was at the World Trade Center on 9/11 by coincidence. The horrifying sound track of bodies crashing to the concrete from above is all you need in order to infer the responsibilities and limits of academic freedom.

I wish the 9/11 holocaust deniers – Leroy Jones, Ward Churchill and his supporters and perhaps many not yet born – could be confronted at every turn by photographs of the dismembered body parts of the victims who were roasted and smashed to death thanks to Bin Ladin’s scheme from hell. Let the deniers’ progeny demand of those little Ward Churchills and Leroi Joneses, “Daddy, why was this a good thing? Will I some day have to fly out of a building with my dress on fire?”

In the meantime, Eugene Schlanger bears witness in his own way. He gives us an imperfect but still nicely crafted poetic cudgel to reinforce humanity’s defenses against those who would deny 9/11.

So I encourage you to buy his book. Here and there you’ll find little tributes to his politically conservative economic outlook that I do not much care for. I encourage you to buy the book anyway. Save it, preserve it and give it to your children. (There’s a URL below where you can order.)

The future will cry out for the voices of witnesses. Schlanger’s is one of them. Would that we had more.

You might want to check out these URLs. Just copy and paste them into your browser:

To Order “Wall Street Sonnets”-

On Leroi Jones aka Amiri Baraka:

On Ward Churchill and his college faculty supporters:

Churchill on “Little Eichmanns”: