Puppygate for Giuliani and Romney, and Other Telling Tales

Ted Bundy, you know, was once an up-and-coming Young Republican who dreamed of the governorship, and then, who knew?

Then came the news that Judi Giuliani , wife number, oh, I don't know, three or four, used to demonstrate surgical staples on living dogs, which were then left to die. Then-CEO Leon Hirsch defended the practice in the 1980s, saying there was no other way to properly show how the staplers worked. "A dead dog doesn't bleed," U.S. Surgical CEO Leon Hirsch said in defense of the practice in 1988, "You need to have real blood-flow conditions, or you get a false sense of security." This is akin to the Bedouin gentleman who gelded camels by standing behind them and banging two rocks together, and when asked, "Doesn't it hurt?" answered, "No, you just keep your thumbs out of the way."

Now we have Mitt Romney's misstep in sharing an anecdote about his dog Seamus' 12 hour trip in a carrier on the top of his car. It was meant to show Romney cool in a crisis-- hosing off the nervous dog's diarhhea when it ran down the back window-- but instead showed him as a problem solver who doesn't spend much time thinking about the creatures suffering at the root of the problem. This is the kind of thinking that solves the problems of the homeless by sending the police to round them up, that insures pure drinking water by selling it in plastic bottles.

A month or so ago, I was one of those who dismissed John Edwards for his haircut and have been taken to task by earnest friends who feel this is a superficial matter, and an example of the mob mentality media. They accurately point out that the serious issues raised by Edwards are lost in the frippery about his expensive haircut. I am not Savonarola, rejecting vanities, but Edwards is asking the electorate to see him as One of Them. This $400 luxury, while at the same time he tries to make a point about economic inequity, is the worst kind of tone-deaf hypocrisy, disrespectful to the poor, and Edwards deserves to be embarrassed.

I tell you these anecdotes tell us more about the character than all your position papers about what a man will do when handed almost unlimited power. Contrast these with the personality portraits of both Roosevelts, Truman, Churchill, Lincoln, or even the contrasting portraits of ancient rulers in Plutarch. And recall that George Bush used to get his kicks by blowing up frogs with firecrackers.

Blues With a Butter Knife

My second cousin Elwood, late of Brownwood, Missouri and one of my childhood heroes, used to sound like Doc Watson when he sang and had an odd technique for playing the guitar with a kitchen knife out of the drawer, instead of a "bottleneck" or guitar slide. Through the years, I've mentioned this technique to blues afficianadoes and guitarists, but none of them had ever heard of it. I finally saw the technique again in the 2002 documentary, "You See Me Laughin'", about the last generation of delta blues players that lived through the old south and remember the Depression in their childhood.

CeDell Davis, born in 1927 and crippled by polio when he was nine, was crippled up further when he was trampled by a panicked crowd in St. Louis in 1957. Since the 1960s, he's played a regular gig at the Jungle Hut (formerly the Jack Rabbit) in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where according to his song, "If You Like Fat Women, more fat women there than any place I ever saw." Unable to work the frets with his fingers, Davis worked out a way to play the chords with the edge of a butter knife.

Elwood is sadly gone from this life, as is his son and grandson, and I will never know whether the technique had been passed around, seen secondhand, or there was no connection at all, but at least I can vouch that it is not unique.

When I was a teenager, I was brought to the Jungle Hut by my Uncle Jerry (who lives in Pine Bluff), my Uncle Murle, and my father, and when the afternoon bartender saw us, she sounded off, "Four of you Fountains? I ain't stayin' round here," and walked right out the door. In truth, the woman was taking a break on a dead afternoon and trusting us to get our own beers and quietly shoot pool. I like the story better that it was due to my father's antique reputation for fights at dances with the social elite of the local cracker aristocracy, just so I can say I was kicked out of the Jack Rabbit Inn in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and in the event of some future altercation with a hotelier, I will always be able to say with some dignity: "I been kicked out of better places than this!"

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

"And people altered, at their pleasure, the customary significance of words to suit their deeds: irrational daring came to be considered the "manly courage of one loyal to his party"; prudent delay was thought a fair-seeming cowardice; a moderate attitude was deemed a mere shield for lack of virility, and a reasoned understanding with regard to all sides of an issue meant that one was indolent and of no use for anything. Rash enthusiasm for one's cause was deemed the part of a true man; to attempt to employ reason in plotting a safe course of action, a specious excuse for desertion."

Thucydides on the Peloponessean War, 431 BC- 404 BC
(thanks to I Cite for noticing this first)

High School Scholars Petition Bush to Obey the Law

When President Bush attended a photo op June 25th with the 2007 Presidential Scholars-- a high school boy and girl from every state and territory-- he was confronted with a petition signed by 50 of them calling for an end to the use of torture and the restoration of habeas corpus for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The hand-written letter read in part, "We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants."

The White House Press Secretary said "The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights."

According to the website Newshounds , Anderson Cooper's program on CNN was the only broadcast to mention the incident.

"Cruelty Has a Human Heart...Terror, the Human Form Divine" (William Blake)

While looking through William Hogarth's drawings, I was startled to find in his "Four Stages of Cruelty" of 1751 what must be the first reference in English to a link between cruelty to animals in childhood and murderous adults. The FBI has included a history of animal abuse in their analyses at least since the 1970s, and one of the first formal studies by Arnold Arluke, Jack Levin and others of 153 criminals found animal abusers much more likely to commit violent crimes against people, and crimes against property, than neighbors with a similar background but without a record of animal cruelty.

"The 'Four Stages of Cruelty'," Hogarth wrote, "were done in the hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind, than anything what ever, the very describing of which gives pain. But it could not be done in too strong a manner, as the most stony hearts were meant to be affected by them."

While various Scenes of sportive Woe
The infant Race employ,
And tortur’d Victims bleeding show
The Tyrant in the Boy.

Behold! a Youth of gentler Heart,
To spare the Creature’s pain
O take, he cries—take all my Tart,
But Tears and Tart are rain.

Learn from this fair Example—You
Whom savage Sports delight,
How Cruelty disgusts the view
While Pity charms the sight.

Hogarth's villain, Tom Nero, is shown graduating from torturing a dog to abusing his horse to abuse and eventual murder of his pregnant mistress, Ann Gill. In the final cartoon, Nero body is taken from the gallows and symbolically drawn and quartered by an anatomy class. His eye is taken out just as the horse's was, and a dog feeds on his heart.

Commonplace Book, June 2007

A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE by Nelson Algren
THE BEST OF H.P. LOVECRAFT (Del Ray edition; introduction by Robert Bloch)


"They (superheroes) are our post-industrial folklore, and, as such, they mean much more to people than a few minutes' idle amusement. They're part of the psychic family. The public and apparently callous slaying of one of their number was, to some, a vicious attack on the special part of their souls that needs awe, magic, and heroism."
(Dennis O'Neil, A Lonely Place of Dying)

“Merit pay, or compensating teachers for classroom performance rather than their years on the job and coursework completed, found some support in the 1980s among policy makers and school administrators, who saw it as a way to encourage good teachers to work harder and to weed out the bad ones. But teachers saw it as a gimmick used by principals to reward cronies based on favoritism.”
(The New York Times)
“How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. ... How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? .... It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really, really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted.
(Joss Whedon , on his blog)

“The disappointment of “Nancy Drew,” which was directed by Andrew Fleming and written by Mr. Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen, is that it trusts neither its heroine nor its audience enough to approach its material with the confidence and conviction that Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books, brought to the franchise...“Nancy Drew” corrupts the clean, functional, grown-up style of the books with the kind of cute, pseudo-smart self-consciousness that has sadly become the default setting for contemporary juvenile popular culture produced by insecure, immature adults.
(review by in The New York Times)

“The war in Iraq would be over in a week if the insurgents wore uniforms. Instead, they hide in plain sight, and Iraqi and American soldiers have no means of checking the true identity and history of anyone they stop....
Any time a car is stopped in the United States, the police run an immediate check. The New York Police Department tracks criminal trends by neighborhood and block in a real time database called Compstat. The Chicago police have handheld devices that send fingerprints over the airwaves and get a response in minutes. So do our border police. But in Iraq, for four years our units have been forced to concoct their own identification databases using laptops, spreadsheets and poster boards. At any one time, the military is conducting dozens of separate census operations. Houses are labeled by one unit and relabeled by the next.
Meanwhile, it is common for an Iraqi civilian to carry two or three IDs with different names. The result: Last year 400,000 coalition and Iraqi troops made fewer than 40,000 arrests; in contrast, 22,000 New York City patrolmen made more than 500,000 spot checks and 313,000 arrests.”
(Op-Ed in the New York Times, 6/15/07)

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
(Horace Mann, motto of Antioch College, closing after 150 years, which before the Civil War adopted race-neutral admissions)

“Antioch became like one of those Essene communities in the Judean desert in the first century after Christ that, convinced of their own purity, died out while waiting for a golden age that never came.... I grieve for Antioch the way I grieve for the hope of 1968 washed away in a tide of self-inflated rhetoric, self-righteousness and self-indulgence....The ideals of social justice and economic fairness we embraced then are still right and deeply American. The discipline to turn those ideals into realities was what Antioch, its community and the generation it led was lacking.”
(Michael Goldfarb)
Reading this week:

THE RIGHT MADNESS by James Crumley

Coffee Grinder Blues

Rereading Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side, the story of door-to-door salesman of French Dripolator coffee pots and coffee-grinding man Dove Linkhorn, inspiring me to post the lyrics invoked by one of Dove's best customers...

Coffee Grindin' Blues
as sung by Lucille Bogan (1923-1935)

Ain't nobody, it ain't nobody
Ain't nobody in town can grind a coffee like mine

I drink so much coffee, till I grind it in my sleep
I drink so much coffee, I grind it in my sleep
And when it get like that, you know it can't be beat

It's so doggone good that it made me bite my tongue
It's so doggone good it made me bite my tongue
Will keep it for my daddy, ain't gonna give nobody none

I ain't ever loved it this-a way before
I ain't ever loved it this-a way before
And I hope the Lord that I won't love it any more

I've got so now that I can't control my mind
I've got so now that I can't control my mind
I go to bed blue and I get up cryin'

It's so doggone good that it made me talk out of my head
It's so doggone good it made me talk out of my head
And it's better to me than any that I have ever had

Now I grind my coffee, at the 2 and 3 dollars a pound
I grind my coffee, at the 2 and 3 dollars a pound
And it ain't no mo' cheap like mine in town

It's so doggone good until it'll make you bite your tongue
It's so doggone good that it'll make you bite your tongue
And I'm a coffee grindin' mama and won't you let me grind you some?