June 2012

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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Dick Cheney's Heart

When you sign an organ donor card, you should also be able to appoint a trustee to decide where your parts go. This thought is inspired by the idea of some poor guy in the afterlife, finding that his heart has been transplanted into Dick Cheney: "They DIN'T!"

More seriously, there is a 1% vs. 99% narrative here: the millionaire with the excellent socialized health insurance taking full advantage, while his party does everything it can to make sure you will never receive that same operation.


Of course the government fell. I had hoped the left could form a new coalition, but they failed, and the situation is dicey right now. The moral of the story: tell people that they have to give up their aspirations and endure decades of grinding hardship because the politicians were corrupt and the billionaires gambled and there will be a revolution. The big problem the right has never solved: how to get people to want to be serfs.

Coalition machinations in Israel

Netanyahu called elections and almost immediately formed a new coalition with Kadimah. From his point of view, its a masterstroke: he shed the fundamentalist parties who were forcing his government into zones of irrationality, and he set himself free to compel the Orthodox to serve in the army; their exemption was an ancient blight on Israeli democracy, and contributed to the creation of an extraordinarily selfish and entitled class. On the other hand, what did Kadimah get? A seat at the table, the opportunity to be co-opted, ownership of a peace process which Netanyahu can never allow to succeed. From that point of view, Kadimah is merely the beard for a government still direly opposed to any meaningful peace initiative. I feel for Tzvi Lipni, Kadimah's wonderful ex-leader, ousted not long ago, who led a demonstration against the coalition as soon as it was announced.


The spectacle of the Tea Party destroying the Republican Party from within fascinates me; it is like scorpions fighting. There are so many lessons in the primary defeat of this comparatively moderate Republican after six terms. One is that American voters have no memory or loyalty. But the more important one is that, not just here but worldwide, we are so disgusted with the powers that be, the people who have actually run things, that we are turning away from them and voting for the extremes. In the French and Greek elections, parties of the left and far right are picking up votes, while the center-right in power is being dismantled. The defeat of Senator Lugar seems to be an American version of the same phenomenon. The Democrats are exulting, because it gives them, for the first time in decades, a real chance to pick up the seat.

Russian dissent

The cops in Moscow are beating and arresting peaceful demonstrators merely for associating themselves with an opposition movement. I am so glad I don't live in Moscow! Oh, wait, I do! The NYPD is doing the same damn thing.

The Russians have an additional tactic: demonstrators are being drafted into the army. Couldn't happen here? It did during World War II, when American nuclear physicists suspected of leftist associations were drafted rather than permitted to continue their work.


One of my earliest memories is of finding a tire in a vacant lot near our home in Canarsie circa 1958. It had some water in it, and I tried to tip the tire to pour it out, but the water ran around the perfect curve of the inside instead. It was my second lesson in frustration (I won't tell you my first). In a sense, I have been trying to pour the water from that tire my whole life.

Yesterday, I realized that there are two almost identical keys on my key-chain. One opens the front door of our building in Astoria. I have no idea what the other one opens. Its sole purpose seems to be for me to try it first in the Astoria door, fail to turn it, then use the right key.

Masterless samurai

I realized recently that I most aspire to be in life any of the characters played by Toshiro Mifune in movies not set in the 20th century. Films like "The Seven Samurai" take place in an era when many samurai, until then sworn to permanent loyalty and status in a single clan, lost these ties and wandered the roads as mercenaries. The films portray them as noble, always intervening when they see someone being bullied or beaten, even if there is no prospect of payment. In my new solo law practice, I set a goal of doing half my work for free, and I am already meeting that, helping friends and acquaintances who are threatened or pressured in various ways. I hope never to pass by someone who is powerless and in danger, whether as a lawyer or a citizen, without trying to help. My legal and practical skills, my heart which needs some daily exercise, are my swords.

An Occupy thought

Just like cops did in the 1960's, in the south when civil rights demonstrators came out and in the north when the subject was Vietnam, New York cops today are beating a lot of peaceful protestors who offer them no resistance whatever. You have to engage in a lot of denial to justify this, or refuse to see the implications for democracy, what it means when you gather peacefully to exercise First Amendment rights and then are hit on the head wth a baton.

Gay marriage

The President just backed gay marriage, a morally correct if politically fraught gesture. There is no moral distinction whatever between refusing black people the vote or an integrated education and refusing marriage to gay people. In either case, you have something not traditionally permitted and someone seeking it with tremendous logic and fairness on their side. Then you have the people withholding it arguing that giving it to the one who asks will dilute the value of the thing being requested: my white vote will be less valuable if blacks vote; my segregated public education will be less valuable if I share it with black students; my marrtiage will be less valuable if gay people also marry.

One interesting sidelight is that hatred works best in the abstract, and that the burgeoning American heterosexual compassion for gay people is driven in part, not just by television shows, but by personal knowledge and experience: conservatives whose views change radically when a child comes out, or a business partner confesses she is gay. Watching gay people weep, because a relationship has ended or the hospital denied them access to a loved one, is a very informative experience, and makes one realize that anti-gay iniatives are not abstract statements about religion and culture, but actual exercises in hatred designed to inflict suffering on human beings.


The Facebook IPO is an interesting case study: it reminds us that initial public offerings are an officially sanctioned scam, in which the investment bankers and insiders make money and the rest of us, who buy the stock at retail, are suckers. Another lesson: despite its world domination, there was nothing new and original in the idea: it simply was a pumped up version of the forums I frequented on Compuserve in the 1980's, or, indeed, the Fido bulletin board systems that existed even before that. Who injected it with steroids? The bankers who wanted to sell us the IPO shares, and the complacent media that uncritically reported the hype.

Tyler Clementi

The roommate who pointed his webcam at Tyler Clementi has now been sentenced to only thirty days in prison. Along the way, some advocates against the bullying of young gay people had weighed in for clemency, with feelings similar to mine, that prosecutorial zeal had zeroed in on the wrong defendant, wrong fact pattern. Dharun Raviis a rambunctious, clueless idiot who did an innocent acquaintance immense moral harm, but not a criminal.

Citizens United forever

Will there ever come a moment at which even justices Scalia and Thomas will recognize the harm thery did to their country? Or are they so bought they just don't care?

The worst people on earth

On a related theme, the people fighting ferociously to obfuscate global warming science and avert any legislation limiting their ability to make money harming the planet are so incredibly selfish that they don't care what world they will leave for their own children and grandchildren. Short of actual mass murderers, I can't think of anyone lower on the moral scale, more selfish and primitive, than that.

Glass Steagall

The 1929 crash resulted in part from banks making speculative gambles with depositor money. The Glass Steagall act was passed a couple years later to regulate this. In 1999, it was repealed by a Republican congress, in legislation signed by Bill Clinton, everyone loudly trumpeting We Didn't Need it Any More. A mere nine years later, we were back in the soup, as banks failed on everey side of us.

An article in the Times financial section for May 22 argues that Glass Steagal wouldn't have prevented most of the 2008 carnage. Some of the failures, like Lehman, were investment banks unregulated by the law, while other banks that got into trouble, like Bank of America, did so because they made lots of bad mortgage loans, a kind of speculation unregulated by the law. Citibank however stands as an example of a commercial bank which made 1929-style bets. Glass Steagal wasn't a panacea, but it was needed, and should be reinstated. Its repeal may not be the prime cause of the current crisis, but the arrogance, greed and blindness of the people who repealed it were the prime mover in the emergency that happened right afterwards.


The Vatican has accused an organization representing almost all U.S. nuns of promoting "radical feminist" values. The organization sensibly responded that it is guilty if seeking to confirm equality of men and women in the Church is radical. This raises the question of what "radical feminist" really means. As a compound used by those attacking feminism, is it meant to state that all feminism is radical, or is there a form of feminism the speaker considerts non-radical? In the case of the Catholic church, the answer seems pretty clear; the idea that women are inferior is wired deeply into the whole machine, and women who both want to be Catholic and treated the same as men are between a rock and a hard place.

Patz interrogation

A news story which didn't really sink in at first: The suspect of a few weeks ago, not the one they just arrested, was reported to have said "Maybe the body was moved?" when asked about the possibility that the child's corpse was under the concrete in the basement where he worked back then. This is a very inconcluisve statement, if ill-advised, and a court or jury should certainly not find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based on the fact a suspect speculated in this way. Assuming that the suspect, cleared a week later when the cops found nothing under the concrete, made the statement alone in a police interrogation, rather than, for example, via a press release, who leaked these words, and for what reason? A cop giving the press a quote of this nature in order to create a public implication of guilt is engaging in a pretty disgusting action.


A suspect arrested in Serbia, and never conclusively linked to any criminal or terrorist act, spent seven years in Guanatanamo, and is now living a free man again, in France. He is the poster boy for the concept that anyone, including you, can disappear into the gulag when the executive is left free, without Constitutional limitations or court oversight, to take anyone. It seems these days as if the President was not all that serious about closing Guantanamo in the first place.