Archive for April 13th, 2012
Dominic Holden writes in the NY Times:
IT was January of 1998 when a friend and I drove to a basement in South Seattle to set up a pot garden. We were terrified. If a police officer pulled us over, how would we explain these bags of rapid-bloom fertilizer — in winter?
Still, we had to go. A friend was suffering from the late stages of a degenerative muscular disease. He spent all day strapped into something that looked like a hospital bed crossed with an easel. Smoking pot helped ease his pain; after his wife held joints to his lips, he would eat soup. He would watch TV. He’d laugh.
Growing pot was illegal at the time, but stories like ours, and a strong public campaign, persuaded 59 percent of Washington State voters to legalize medical marijuana that fall. In the 14 years since, an entire industry has emerged to serve incapacitated patients like my friend, who couldn’t grow pot himself. Doctors write authorizations, dispensaries sell the stuff, trade magazines flourish.
In the eyes of most opponents and many supporters of easing pot laws, medical marijuana is supposed to be a slippery slope to full legalization. But in Washington, the opposite is happening: a momentous initiative to legalize marijuana for all adults, which will be on the ballot this fall, is being opposed by the medical marijuana industry that the previous initiative created.
Initiative 502, as the measure is known, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana without penalty. The state would issue licenses to marijuana farmers, distributors and even stores, which could then sell pot over the counter like beer.
The plan, supported by the likes of John McKay, a former federal attorney, and Rick Steves, the travel writer, is about more than stoners’ rights: legalizing and regulating the pot market would wrest profits from murderous foreign cartels while helping the beleaguered state budget. Officials recently estimated the measure could generate up to $606 million in tax revenue in the first year.
Every recent poll except one has shown most Washington voters are now ready to pass the initiative. But support has slipped since last fall, down to only 51 percent, according to SurveyUSA. The flagging enthusiasm correlates with the escalating effort to stop the initiative.
In late February, Dr. Gil Mobley, a physician with a local clinic providing medical-marijuana authorizations, began a campaign called No on I-502, a new name for a group that, before, called itself Patients Against I-502. It anticipates donations from lawyers and doctors, said its treasurer, Anthony Martinelli, and pot dispensaries may also finance a fall volley of television commercials. . .
Good column in the NY Times by David Leonhardt:
ON Jan. 1 of next year, the federal tax bill for a typical middle-class household — making in the neighborhood of $50,000 — is scheduled to rise by about $1,750. This increase, which would come from the expiration of both the Bush tax cuts and the Obama stimulus, would come after a decade of little to no income growth for many people. As a result, inflation-adjusted, after-tax income for the median household could fall next year to its 1998 level, in spite of the continuing economic recovery.
The middle-class tax increase is just the beginning of budget changes set to take effect at the start of 2013. Poor families would see their taxes rise somewhat, too. Total federal taxes for top-earning families would rise by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Spending cuts would also take effect, squeezing domestic programs — education, transportation, scientific research — and the military.
All in all, the end of 2012 will be unlike any other time in memory for the federal government.
The tax increases and spending cuts are the result of Washington’s having previously kicked the can down the road, to use a phrase that is popular here. Rather than pass a plan to cut the deficit, policy makers have put off tough decisions. With the Bush tax cuts, lawmakers deliberately made them temporary, to avoid running afoul of budget rules intended to hold down the deficit.
Not surprisingly, leaders of both parties now say they are opposed to letting the changes happen on Jan. 1. Economists are also frightened of what such a sharp shift in government policy might do to a still fragile economy. Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, has referred to the various expirations as “a massive fiscal cliff.” Congressional aides, quoted in The Washington Post, call it “taxmageddon.”
The problem, as always, is that the two parties cannot agree on what changes shouldtake place. The combination — of political stalemate and potential economic cataclysm — will create an extraordinary period after this year’s election. A lame-duck Congress and Mr. Obama, either re-elected or defeated, will have less than two months to agree on an alternative plan, or the tax increases and spending cuts will take effect.
Optimists — yes, there are still some — say that . . .
I suppose I should have seen it coming. I loved this tune when I was in high school:
Much as I liked the tune, I didn’t use celery as a food very much: in a stuffing, sure: essential. And in soups, and as part of mirepoix, essential for braising meat. Occasionally stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese… But day in, day out? No.
Until: The Wife showed me the trick of chopping ready for use the entire stalk as soon as you get it home, then drying those with a dishtowel or paper towels, and storing them in the fridge. Now I always have some on hand and I’ve realized that it really does make things taste better (as you probably already know, it’s the phthalides).
In fact, in today’s What’s-On-Hand grüb, I naturally threw in a couple of handfuls of chopped celery. In 4-qt sauté pan:
1.5 Tbsp Meyer-lemon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion (I think it was a sweet onion)
3 large shallots
1 minced serrano pepper
freshly ground black pepper
Sweat over medium heat for several minutes, until onions soften. Add:
2 handfuls chopped celery, as promised
1/4 cup minced garlic
8 oz tempeh (I used 3-grain), cut into thin slabs, then into chunks
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped small
Let that cook for a few minutes, stirring often, then add:
cooked converted rice (1/2 cup rice cooked for 20 minutes in 1 cup water): add it all
1/3 c pitted and halved Kalamata olives
1/3 c black garlic
4-5 anchovies (buy bottled ones, not those in tins)
1 Tbsp Penzeys Ham Soup Base
1 can Ro•Tel diced tomatoes
1/2 c water
1/4 c Amontillado sherry
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
Let that heat and simmer while you wash and chop:
1 bunch red kale, chopped small with stems minced
Add that to the pan, stirring it in. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Quite tasty, and it looks to be 4-5 meals.
UPDATE: Another favorite from my high-school days, same outfit as above:
More about the tune. As you see, the “Freddie” referred to is Freddie Slack, the pianist. Try listening to the solos on this one with the idea that, as soon as the solo stops, you’re going to replay it exactly—i.e., follow every twist and turn and try to remember… just for fun. Then relisten to Celery Stalks at Midnight the same way. See any difference, listening this way?
Finally, if you like this sort of stuff, buy this book now: don’t wait, you’ll forget, and they’re only a dollar (used copies at the link).
And now, really finally, click the “more” button for one more Ray McKinley/Will Bradley tune, but this one a motion picture so you get to see the guys, including the unusual (to me) sight of the lead singer being the drummer:
The mental state of clinical depression: does it cause accelerated aging? or is it an effect of accelerated aging? Very interesting WSJ article by Shirley Wang:
Scientists are increasingly finding that depression and other psychological disorders can be as much diseases of the body as of the mind.
People with long-term psychological stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop earlier and more serious forms of physical illnesses that usually hit people in older age, such as stroke, dementia, heart disease and diabetes. Recent research points to what might be happening on the cellular level that could account for this.
Scientists are finding that the same changes to chromosomes that happen as people age can also be found in people experiencing major stress and depression.
The phenomenon, known as “accelerated aging,” is beginning to reshape the field’s understanding of stress and depression not merely as psychological conditions but as body-wide illnesses in which mood may be just the most obvious symptom.
“As we learn more…we will begin to think less of depression as a ‘mental illness’ or even a ‘brain disease,’ but as a systemic illness,” says Owen Wolkowitz, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who along with colleagues has conducted research in the field.
Gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that link physical and mental conditions could someday prove helpful in diagnosing and treating psychological illnesses and improving cognition in people with memory problems, Dr. Wolkowitz says.
In an early look at accelerated aging, researchers at Duke University found about 20 years ago that . . .
TheBrowser certainly repays browsing. Look at this intriguing paper by Jason Hickel:
As a university lecturer, I often find that my students take today’s dominant economic ideology – namely, neoliberalism – for granted as natural and inevitable. This is not entirely surprising given that most of them were born in the early 1990s, for neoliberalism is all that they have known. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher had to convince people that there was “no alternative” to neoliberalism. Today, this assumption comes ready-made; it’s in the water, part of the common-sense furniture of everyday life, and generally accepted as given by the Right and Left alike. But it has not always been this way. Neoliberalism has a specific history, and knowing that history is an important antidote to its hegemony, for it shows that the present order is not natural or inevitable, but rather that it is new, that it came from somewhere, and that it was designed by particular people with particular interests.
If an economist living in the 1950s had seriously proposed any of the ideas and policies in today’s standard neoliberal toolkit, they would have been laughed right off the stage. At that time pretty much everyone was a Keynesian, a social democrat, or some shade of Marxist. As Susan George has put it, “The idea that the market should be allowed to make major social and political decisions; the idea that the State should voluntarily reduce its role in the economy, or that corporations should be given total freedom, that trade unions should be curbed and citizens given less rather than more social protection – such ideas were utterly foreign to the spirit of the time.”
So how did things change? Where did neoliberalism come from? In the following paragraphs I offer a simple sketch of the historical trajectory that got us to where we are today. I demonstrate that neoliberal policy is directly responsible for declining economic growth and rapidly increasing rates of social inequality – both in the West and internationally – and I make a few suggestions for how to tackle these problems.
Neoliberalism in the Western Context
The story begins with the Great Depression in the 1930s, which was a consequence of what economists call a “crisis of overproduction.” Capitalism had been expanding by increasing productivity and decreasing wages, but this generated deep inequalities, gradually eroded people’s ability to consume, and created a glut of goods that could not find a market. To solve this crisis and prevent it recurring in the future, economists of the time – led by John Maynard Keynes – suggested that the state should get involved in regulating capitalism. They argued that by lowering unemployment, raising wages, and increasing consumer demand for goods, the state could guarantee continued economic growth and social well-being – a sort of class compromise between capital and labor that would forestall further instability.
This economic model is known as “embedded liberalism” – it was a form of capitalism that was embedded in society, constrained by political concerns, and devoted to social welfare. It sought to exchange a decent family wage for a docile, productive, middle-class workforce that would have the means to consume a mass-produced set of basic commodities. These principles were widely applied after World War II in the United States and Europe. Policymakers believed that they could use Keynesian principles to ensure economic stability and social welfare around the world, and thus prevent another world war. They developed the Bretton Woods Institutions (which would later become the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO) toward this end, in order to smooth out balance of payment problems and to foster reconstruction and development in war-torn Europe.
Embedded liberalism delivered high growth rates through the 1950s and 1960s – mostly in the industrialized West, but also in many postcolonial nations. By the early 1970s, however, embedded liberalism was beginning to face a crisis of “stagflation”, which means a combination of high inflation and economic stagnation. In the US and Europe, inflation rates soared from about 3% in 1965 to about 12% ten years later. Economists debate the reasons for stagflation during this period. Progressive scholars such as Paul Krugman point to two factors. First, the high cost of the Vietnam War left the US with a balance-of-payments deficit – the first of the 20th century – to the point where worried international investors began to offload their dollars, which set inflation rates rising. Second, the oil crisis of 1973 drove prices up and caused production and economic growth to slow down, leading to stagnation. By contrast, conservative scholars hold that stagflation was a consequence of onerous taxes on the wealthy and too much economic regulation, claiming that it represented the inevitable endpoint of embedded liberalism and justified scrapping the whole system.
Continue reading. Some very intriguing graphs at the link.
I can think of lots of reasons people would want the information kept secret, but all the reasons I can think of are bad. Justin Elliott reports at ProPublica:
The Federal Communications Commission isscheduled to vote April 27 on whether to require TV stations to post online public information about political ad buys. Some form of the rule seems likely to pass, but the industry and others are lobbying the FCC to alter the nature of the final rule.
(With the help of readers around the country, ProPublica is collecting stations’ public paper files containing data on political ads and posting them online because the information is generally unavailable elsewhere. See “Free the Files.”)
Right now we only know the broad thrust the proposed FCC rule: That broadcasters would have to electronically send the commission updates to its political file — in other words, information about what political ads are being purchased, by whom, and for how much money — instead of merely maintaining paper files at the stations, the current practice. The information would be made public on an FCC website.
The rule would apply initially to affiliates of the four major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX — in the top 50 markets. All other stations would have another two years before they’d have to begin filing electronically.
But the FCC won’t release the exact text of the rule until after the panel votes to finalize it later this month. Meanwhile, the wording is subject to change based on input from interested parties.
That’s why the National Association of Broadcasters has been paying visits to key FCC officials this month. A group of influential Republican senators has also told the FCC they oppose the proposed rule. . . [But why?? - LG]
Continue reading to see various flimsy reasons—excuses, really—offered for opposing the rule.
Transparency should be an absolute requirement.
David Sirota writes in Salon:
Something as massive and amorphous as America’s War on Drugs can be difficult to imagine in concrete terms. This web of failed policies is so huge, so persistent and so deeply woven into the fabric of our nation that it’s hard to envision an alternative — or even appreciate what the conflict is currently siphoning resources away from.
That’s why the past week has been so important for the cause of ending the drug war — because it has provided three tragic examples of how that war harms not only its dead and/or incarcerated victims, but also how it makes society as a whole more susceptible to horrific crimes.
In Boulder, Colo., for example, the Daily Camera reports that “the University of Colorado announced a new plan to snuff out the Boulder campus’s 4/20 smoke-out, warning that police will ticket pot smokers at this month’s event.” In a state whose police forces have faced serious budget cuts, this decision clearly reflects a hardcore War on Drugs ideology by removing finite police resources from safety and security operations and instead focusing them on punishing pot use.
That’s a key point: Focusing police resources on safety is distinctly different than focusing them on the drug war. As the Camera notes, the new policy is “a more aggressive enforcement tactic than in years past, when officers mostly monitored the crowd for safety reasons.” Underscoring that point, notice that one day after the CU announcement, the same newspaper reported that the area near the university campus is experiencing an intense wave of burglaries. Rather than announce a serious crackdown on that crime wave, though, the university is choosing to spend taxpayers’ limited police resources on stopping pot smokers.
Back on the East Coast, there’s a similar trend. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports on new evidence that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not only used CIA tactics to target ethnic communities, but also marshaled his massive police force to expand the so-called “Clean Halls program” in which police enter private apartment buildings to conduct preemptive surveillance. Coupled with Bloomberg’s expansion of racially charged “stop and frisks” aimed almost exclusively at prosecuting minorities who smoke weed, the “Clean Halls” program looks like yet another instrument of the War on Drugs.
As Taibbi says, this is not just a problem for the people being harassed by Bloomberg’s storm troopers, but for all Americans, because it takes finite law-enforcement resources away from fighting crime in other parts of New York — specifically, on Wall Street:
We have two definitely connected phenomena, often treated as separate and unconnected: a growing lawlessness in the financial sector, and an expanding, repressive, increasingly lunatic police apparatus trained at the poor, and especially the nonwhite poor. In recent years, as Wall Street firms turned into veritable felony factories, we had pundits and politicians who cranked out reams of excuses for one white-collar criminal after another and argued, in complete seriousness, that sending a rich banker to jail “wouldn’t solve anything” and in fact we should “tolerate the excesses” of the productive rich, who “channel opportunity” to the rest of us. On the other hand, we’ve had politicians and pundits in budget fights and other controversies railing against the parasitic poor, who are not only not “productive” enough to warrant a break, but assumed to be actively unproductive (they consume our tax money and public services) and therefore sort of guilty in advance.
Finally, there was Oakland, Calif. — one of the most blatant examples of how resources fueling the drug war could have been used to try to prevent a tragedy. Recounting two near-simultaneous events in the city last week, retired police officer Neill Franklin relates how law enforcement officials were swarming to crush medical marijuana oulets at the very moment innocent civilians were gunned down on Oikos University’s campus only a few blocks away: . . .
Continue reading. Later in the article:
. . . At the federal level, this hostility to public opinion is most overt. The Obama administration has ignored the president’s campaign pledges and initiated a new round of marijuana raids at the very moment Gallup finds that a majority of Americans support the effort to fully legalize pot. Additionally, at the same time the administration is decrying budget deficits, the White House is pushing for a big increase in drug war funding, specifically preserving funding formulas that send far more money to the war’s militaristic endeavors (interdiction, law enforcement activities, etc.) than to more humane harm-reduction and treatment programs. . .
Andrew Rosenthal writes in the NY Times:
Politicians are always declaring a “war” on something. Often the conflict is entirely in their imaginations– like the War on Christmas and the War on Religion. Sometimes it’s a label designed to lend a sense of urgency to a problem they are not going to fix – like the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs.
On rare occasions there actually is a war going on, like the War on Women, by which I mean the increasingly aggressive Republican-led assault on women’s rights, starting with access to abortion and contraceptives.
Just yesterday, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed a law banning abortions after 20 weeks except in life-threatening medical emergencies, and requiring ultrasounds before abortions.
Those on the right try to separate birth control issues from the broader spectrum of women’s issues, but they’re inextricably linked. I thought Gail Collins put it well in a recent installment of “The Conversation” with David Brooks:
If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.
These, of course, are not the only issues women care about or vote on. Basic economic issues are just as important and, guess what, Republicans want to slash every kind of program there is that helps working people house, feed, clothe and educate their children. They have even opposed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Woman Act because it would help non-citizens and people in same-sex relationships.
So we are indeed in the midst of a war, waged from the right, which has lately entered a new stage. First Republicans picked the fight. Next they admitted nothing and denied everything (earlier this month, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, called the war “a fiction” and compared it to a “war on caterpillars.”). Now they’ve moved onto counterattacks. . .
When you eat the seed corn, you end your future. In Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (highly recommended), he writes of how in the concentration camps in which the Nazis imprisoned Jews, cigarettes were horded and traded as a form of currency. Occasionally, though, one of the prisoners would smoke his cigarettes, and everyone knew that meant that he had given up and was going to die. Why save the cigarettes when there is no future?
The causality is reversed, though: with the cigarettes, the decision to die leads to using up the reserves; with the seed corn, by eating what would have been next year’s crop, you in effect arrange for your own death.
Chris Christie, for example, has been single-handedly destroying New Jersey’s future, using up the seed corn and giving away future opportunities for all in order to secure political gains for himself. Based on that, I would think he’s a sociopath. Anyone know for sure?
Krugman describes what Christie has done:
One general rule of modern politics is that the people who talk most about future generations — who go around solemnly declaring that we’re burdening our children with debt — are, in practice, the people most eager to sacrifice our future for short-term political gain. You can see that principle at work in the House Republican budget, which starts with dire warnings about the evils of deficits, then calls for tax cuts that would make the deficit even bigger, offset only by the claim to have a secret plan to make up for the revenue losses somehow or other.
And you can see it in the actions of Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who talks loudly about acting responsibly but may actually be the least responsible governor the state has ever had.
Mr. Christie’s big move — the one that will define his record — was his unilateral decision back in 2010 to cancel work that was already under way on a new rail tunnel linking New Jersey with New York. At the time, Mr. Christie claimed that he was just being fiscally responsible, while critics said that he had canceled the project just so he could raid it for funds.
Now the independent Government Accountability Office has weighed in with a report on the controversy, and it confirms everything the critics were saying.
Much press coverage of the new report focuses, understandably, on the evidence that Mr. Christie made false statements about the tunnel’s financing and cost. The governor asserted that the projected costs were rising sharply; the report tells us that this simply wasn’t true. The governor claimed that New Jersey was being asked to pay for 70 percent of a project that would shower benefits on residents of New York; in fact, the bulk of the financing would have come either from the federal government or from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which collects revenue from residents of both states.
But while it’s important to document Mr. Christie’s mendacity, it’s even more important to understand the utter folly of his decision. The new report drives home just how necessary, and very much overdue, the tunnel project was and is. Demand for public transit is rising across America, reflecting both population growth and shifting preferences in an era of high gas prices. Yet New Jersey is linked to New York by just two single-track tunnels built a century ago — tunnels that run at 100 percent of capacity during peak hours. How could this situation not call for new investment?
Well, Mr. Christie insisted that his state couldn’t afford the cost. As we’ve already seen, however, he apparently couldn’t make that case without being dishonest about the numbers. So what was his real motive?
One answer is . . .
No, not a duet—wouldn’t that be something?—but two versions. I really prefer the Ruth Etting version, which I think is fantastic and gives clear play to the nifty rhyme patterns, but the Nina Simone version is striking and I particularly like the baroque piano passage in the middle.
So first listen to Ruth. The violinist is Joe Venuti, no slouch at jazz violin. And I highly recommend the biopic Love Me or Leave Me, with Doris Day as Ruth Etting and James Cagney doing a fantastic job as her gangster lover and husband: overbearing, insecure, and still somehow you could see how she could have loved him.
And then, once you’re reading, to Nina:
I really think the US government was out of line in helping every injured party except for the hostages get compensation from Iran. The US attitude toward those taken hostage seems, in fact, vindictive, as if the US wants to punish the hostages—and possibly that’s it: by being taken hostage, they let the side down, so no money for them—despite awarding monetary damages and settlements to every other party involved. It’s perfectly obvious that the US could of itself offer compensation to the hostages for their pain and suffering, especially since it was the US who assured Iran that the hostages would not be allowed to sue for damages (without, apparently, getting agreement from the hostages or their families—the US says it did, but let’s see the photocopies, please…).
The hideous story, by Matthew Wald in the NY Times:
For more than three decades, David M. Roeder has watched as successive American presidents have struggled to engage Iran and, in his view, completely failed to hold it accountable.
Now 72 and a retired Air Force colonel, Mr. Roeder was among the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days after Iranian radicals seized the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979, an event that he believes established Iran’s ability to get away with bad behavior ever since.
“It’s one thing after another, and they pay no price at all,” he said. “It’s time for someone to stand up and say, ‘That’s enough.’ ”
Mr. Roeder and other former hostages say that the Iranian government never paid — literally or figuratively — for what was done to them. Their longstanding grievance in many ways frames the quandary that the Obama administration faces in balancing the impulse to punish Iran with the hope of normalizing relations.
On Jan. 20, 1981, the hostages were freed under an agreement called the Algiers Accords that was negotiated by President Jimmy Carter but not carried out until the day he left office. The agreement allowed companies to recover billions of dollars in Iranian government funds that the United States had frozen after Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, an ally, was forced from power. But it barred the former hostages from seeking damages for their imprisonment, during which some were subjected to mock firing squads and months of solitary confinement.
Successive administrations have continued to honor the Algiers Accords despite protests by the hostages and their advocates in Congress, on the ground that an agreement is an agreement and that addressing their compensation issue would compromise the government’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
The State Department recently reiterated that position.
“The United States government remains deeply grateful to the former hostages for their service to their country, and expresses its sympathy for the suffering they experienced during their ordeal,” it said in a statement. But it added: “As an essential condition of their release from captivity, however, the United States agreed in the Algiers Accords to bar claims by the former hostages against Iran from U.S. courts. Although we understand their frustration, we are bound by this commitment and must continue to honor it.” . . .
Continue reading. The effrontery of the bland “the United States agreed to bar claims by former hostages…” How very agreeable of the US. But why does not the US step up to the plate and recognize that it gave away something of great value that belonged to the hostages—their right to sue—and now offer them compensation for that? I don’t imagine the US government will answer. It’s in the wrong, it knows it’s in the wrong, and it wants to move along and change the subject, and as for the former hostages, hard cheese.
First, two serious book recommendations, both by Robert Caro.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Downfall of New York is lengthy, detailed, and fascinating in showing how one man had such a permanent impact on the development of New York. This is one to buy in hardback because of its size: a paperback binding will fall apart. The link is to secondhand editions. This book is like a great novel, only what it describes really happened. You’ll be spellbound for hours.
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power is also lengthy, detailed, and fascinating. This is the first volume of his biography of LBJ and it covers the first part of his life. It is absolutely essential reading. LBJ was a deeply flawed man but also highly capable. Watching that capability work its way through his flaws is spellbinding, but the heart of this book for me is the description of the lifestyle of that part of Texas before and after the Rural Electric Administration created by FDR. Before, there was little difference between the lives the people led and life in the Middle Ages—it’s a stunning chapter, mostly researched and written by Caro’s wife.
Truly, those books are amazing in how clearly they depict an important part of America. You really should read them. (Chime in with a comment if you have, so people will know I’m not kidding.)
And now Charles McGrath has a fine profile in the NY Times:
Robert Caro probably knows more about power, political power especially, than anyone who has never had some. He has never run for any sort of office himself and would probably have lost if he had. He’s a shy, soft-spoken man with old–fashioned manners and an old-fashioned New York accent (he says “toime” instead of “time” and “foine” instead of fine), so self-conscious that talking about himself makes him squint a little. The idea of power, or of powerful people, seems to repel him as much as it fascinates. And yet Caro has spent virtually his whole adult life studying power and what can be done with it, first in the case of Robert Moses, the great developer and urban planner, and then in the case of Lyndon Johnson, whose biography he has been writing for close to 40 years. Caro can tell you exactly how Moses heedlessly rammed the Cross Bronx Expressway through a middle-class neighborhood, displacing thousands of families, and exactly how Johnson stole the Texas Senate election of 1948, winning by 87 spurious votes. These stories still fill him with outrage but also with something like wonder, the two emotions that sustain him in what amounts to a solitary, Dickensian occupation with long hours and few holidays.
Caro is the last of the 19th-century biographers, the kind who believe that the life of a great or powerful man deserves not just a slim volume, or even a fat one, but a whole shelf full. He dresses every day in a jacket and tie and reports to a 22nd-floor office in a nondescript building near Columbus Circle, where his neighbors are lawyers or investment firms. His office looks as if it belongs to the kind of C.P.A. who still uses ledgers and a hand-cranked adding machine. There are an old wooden desk, wooden file cabinets and a maroon leather couch that never gets sat on. Here Caro writes the old-fashioned way: in longhand, on large legal pads.
Caro began “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” his multivolume biography of the 36th president, in 1976, not long after finishing “The Power Broker,” his immense, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, and figured he could do Johnson’s life in three volumes, which would take him six years or so. Next month, a fourth installment, “The Passage of Power,” will appear 10 years after the last, “Master of the Senate,” which came out 12 years after its predecessor, “Means of Ascent,” which in turn was published 8 years after the first book, “The Path to Power.” These are not ordinary-size volumes, either. “Means of Ascent,” at 500 pages or so, is the comparative shrimp of the bunch. “The Path to Power” is almost 900 pages long; “Master of the Senate” is close to 1,200, or nearly as long as the previous two combined. If you try to read or reread them all in just a couple weeks, as I foolishly did not long ago, you find yourself reluctant to put them down but also worried that your eyeballs may fall out.
The new book, an excerpt of which recently ran in The New Yorker, is 736 pages long and covers only about six years. It begins in 1958, with Johnson, so famously decisive and a man of action, dithering as he decides whether or not to run in the 1960 presidential election. The book then describes his loss to Kennedy on the first ballot at the Democratic convention and takes him through the miserable, humiliating years of his vice presidency before devoting almost half its length to the 47 days between Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 (Caro’s account, told from Johnson’s point of view, is the most riveting ever) and the State of the Union address the following January — a period during which Johnson seizes the reins of power and, in breathtakingly short order, sets in motion much of the Great Society legislation.
In other words, Caro’s pace has slowed so that he is now spending more time writing the years of Lyndon Johnson than Johnson spent living them, and he isn’t close to being done yet. . .
At least they can distinguish words and non-word strings of letters. Megan Scudellari reports in The Scientist:
Although they have no known language, baboons can accurately discriminate four-letter English words from non-words, according to a study published today (April 12) in Science.
Scientists have typically considered this—the visual analysis of letters and their positions in a word—the first step in the reading process and fundamentally dependent on language. For example, little children learn to read by sounding out words they already know. But the new finding suggests that ability to recognize words is not based on language skills but on an ancient ability, shared with other primates, to process visual objects.
“Ultimately, reading depends on language,” wrote Michael Platt, director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in an accompanying essay in Science. “But at what stage in the process of translating written symbols into meaning is language necessary?” The biological basis of reading “may be rooted much deeper in human history than previously supposed,” he noted. . .
Continue reading. Video at the link. (Though not, alas, of a baboon reading aloud from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.)
Yep, Nancy Boy shaving stuff is really top-drawer—and, apparently, available only in the US, so if you live in the US, you should take advantage of the opportunity. This morning I used, as you see, the “replenishing” shaving cream: a wonderful cucumber fragrance that would be perfect for a late-morning shave accompanied by, say, a gin-and-tonic, or a Pimm’s cup with a cucumber slice…
The little Omega badger was perfect for spreading the shaving cream and working it into my beard. I’m going to try Jack Black again tomorrow so I can compare and contrast, but I definitely have now the impression that the Nancy Boy shaving cream is easier to spread, easier to rinse, and slicker. But we’ll see.
My ARC Weber continues to be, for now, my best razor. Amazing tool. Wonder why their site is down this morning–tactical airstrike from P&G?