Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wall Street Reform


Political Animal
In early May, soon after President Obama nominated Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, we learned that Kagan had clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom she considers a personal hero. Inexplicably, the Republican National Committee considers this an area ripe for attack.

In particular, Marshall had characterized the Constitution as having been "defective" as it related to issues like slavery. Republicans hoped to use this to attack Kagan, and the RNC's Michael Steele demanded to know whether Kagan's reverence for Marshall included "support for statements suggesting that the Constitution 'as originally drafted and conceived,' was 'defective.'"

When it appeared the RNC's line was indirectly pro-slavery, the party quickly dropped the criticism. But for some reason, Republicans haven't given up on their Marshall-bashing.

As confirmation hearings opened Monday afternoon, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the unusual approach of attacking Kagan because she admired the late justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked more than two decades ago.

"Justice Marshall's judicial philosophy," said Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, "is not what I would consider to be mainstream." Kyl -- the lone member of the panel in shirtsleeves for the big event -- was ready for a scrap. Marshall "might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge," he said.

It was, to say the least, a curious strategy to go after Marshall, the iconic civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown vs. Board of Education. Did Republicans think it would help their cause to criticize the first African American on the Supreme Court, a revered figure who has been celebrated with an airport, a postage stamp and a Broadway show? The guy is a saint -- literally. Marshall this spring was added to the Episcopal Church's list of "Holy Women and Holy Men," which the Episcopal Diocese of New York says "is akin to being granted sainthood."

With Kagan's confirmation hearings expected to last most of the week, Republicans may still have time to make cases against Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

I often find Republican ideology to be rather twisted, but it simply never occurred to me that GOP senators would spend the first day of the confirmation hearings condemning one of the most venerated Supreme Court justices in American history.

Recession cut into employment for half of working adults, study says


The recession has directly hit more than half of the nation's working adults, pushing them into unemployment, pay cuts, reduced hours at work or part-time jobs, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The economic shock has jolted many Americans into a new, more austere reality, which is likely to have lasting consequences for an economy fueled mostly by consumer spending. More than six in 10 Americans say they have cut down on borrowing and spending, the survey found.

The reason: Nearly half of the survey's respondents say they are in worse financial shape as a result of the downturn, which destroyed 20 percent of Americans' wealth.

"We're going to see much lower consumption going forward," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He blames diminished spending on the drop in housing prices. "People who thought they had equity in their homes have seen it disappear," he said.

The longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression has exacted a punishing toll that continues nearly a year after the economy started growing again. Hardest hit are the 9.7 percent of workers who have been out of a job for an average of nearly six months. Many Americans are delaying retirement and others have lower expectations for their children's futures, the Pew poll found.

Drugsters in Academia: How Big Pharma “Educates” American Doctors

 The pharmaceutical industry has wormed its way into the hearts and minds of the medical professions in any number of ways—wining and dining doctors, sending them off to vacation in splendid spas, and even buying their names to put on industry-written articles promoting different drugs.

One little known facet of this drugster-doctor relationship is Big Pharma's role in continuing medical education (CME) programs, which are important in keeping medical professionals informed and up to date on the fast developing profession. Of the $2 billion-odd spent on these programs every year, nearly half comes from the drug business, which not-so-subtly uses the education programs to push new drugs.

Last week a conference at Georgetown University called "Prescription for Conflict" pulled together experts from academia, government, and industry to discuss the question: Should industry fund continuing medical education? The main instigator here is a former colleague of mine named Adriane Fugh- Berman, a doctor and teacher at Georgetown University Medical School. Fugh-Berman long ago became the nemesis of Big Pharma with a stream of articles and talks questioning the different aspects of liaison between the drugsters and the medical profession. I worked with her helping to set up, a website that seeks to educate the public on these liaisons, in part through exposes, both written and on video.

The conference at Georgetown included few critics as candid as Fugh-Berman. Those gathered included polite academics with hedged criticism of industry funding, and regulators like Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the FDA,  and Julie Taitsman, chief medical officer the Department of Health and Human Services, who presented a list of  the different laws protecting the public. By the time they finished, I was so frustrated with government bureaucrats that I was about ready to join the Tea Party (except that they, of course, would want to do even less to control the greedmeisters at Big Pharma).

One blunt critique came from Paul Thacker, an investigator for Senate Republican Charles Grassley, who has been the most visible Congressional muckraker on the doctor-drug company love-in. Thacker bluntly told the docs to get off their supercilious "who me?'' attitude and come to grips with the scarcely believable conflicts of interest existing between the medical profession and the drug industry–conflicts that more often than not have been to the detriment of their patients.

How David Vitter got away with it

Three years ago, the "family values" conservative was caught in a hooker scandal. Now, he's cruising to reelection

How David Vitter got away with itSometimes the strangest stories in politics are hiding in plain sight. So it is with Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

Vitter, a first-term senator, rose to infamy three years ago, when his phone number appeared in the records of the escort agency run by the so-called D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. In the wake of the disclosure, Vitter made a de facto admission of having paid for sex, confessing to "a very serious sin in my past." 

The careers of other Republicans have been vaporized by infractions that could well be viewed as less serious. Last month, Indiana Rep. Mark Souder resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair. A hitherto-obscure California state assemblyman, Mike Duvall, departed last fall after being picked up on an open mic boasting about his amorous activities with women other than his wife. 

The taboo that continues to cling to prostitution -- along with the salient fact that soliciting a prostitute is illegal -- would have been enough, one might have thought, to put an end to Vitter's career. This is especially true given the contrast between his actions and his ardent social conservatism. (The year before he was ensnared in the scandal, Vitter declared himself "a conservative who opposes radically redefining marriage, the most important social institution in human history.")

Yet Vitter does not seem to face any great peril in his battle for reelection in November. 

A survey from the Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP) earlier this month gave him a 46-37 lead over his Democratic challenger, Rep. Charlie Melancon. Other polls have given Vitter even wider leads. According to Real Clear Politics' running average, Vitter enjoys an average advantage of 15.7 points. Especially considering the national climate of 2010, and Louisiana's ideological bent, Vitter doesn't seem to have much to sweat.

Perhaps more important from Vitter's perspective, no serious challenge has materialized on his right flank. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council flirted with getting into the race, as did Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. In the end, both men stepped back.

"It takes more than one sex scandal to bring down a Louisiana politician," is the salty verdict of John Maginnis, a Baton Rouge-based political journalist who, as the author of a book about the libidinous former Gov. Edwin Edwards, knows what he is talking about. Louisiana voters, Maginnis adds, "are able to separate human failures from one's performance in office."

Outsourcing Security: Defense Manufacturing Goes the Way of the Automobile


From the microchips that fly F-16s and activate nuclear warheads, all the way down to the lowly (but deadly) bullet, more and more US military weapons are being made overseas by foreigners.

Some experts say that outsourcing defense contracts not only costs Americans jobs and America's connection to the war, but one of the nation's most essential assets, as well: its security.

According to William R. Hawkins, a defense expert on military contracting and former Republican Party staffer, foreigners have been manufacturing critical and sophisticated components of US weaponry for nearly 20 years now.

He says the Pentagon started outsourcing the manufacturing of "high-end" computer chips to Taiwan in the early 1990s - microchips used in US fighter jets and missile defense systems, for instance. Over time, the Taiwanese have "second-sourced" most of these contracts to the Chinese, he says.

"Can we trust buying [high-end] chips from China for our military systems? Will they perform as well?" asks Hawkins. "We have found Chinese chips do not perform as well. They've also found counterfeit chips in the supply chain. Can we be sure the Chinese won't plant Trojans or bugs in them?"

Indeed, on June 13th on 60 Minutes, Jim Gosler, an expert on cyberwarfare, said the US government has uncovered sabotaged microchips within some of the nation's most powerful weapons. "It's very clear that a foreign intelligence service put them there," he added.

Hawkins says outsourcing US weapons manufacturing started gaining serious traction back in 2004, when the Bush White House and Bush Administration free market neo-cons such as Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz began to force the outsourcing of an industry they all seemingly were in love with.

"The thinking was, there's not enough competition within the US defense industry," says Hawkins, who acknowledges the argument has substance, but argues that doesn't justify outsourcing.

Soon thereafter, the Pentagon awarded Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer a $6 billion deal to build high-flying reconnaissance aircraft (spy planes). That contract would later be canceled; but the 240G machine gun is now made by Fabrique Nationale, based in Belgium. Italy's Beretta makes the 9mm pistol which is worn by nearly every US soldier.

The American public finally woke up to the issue two years ago when a $35 billion deal was cut with European and Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) to build 179 in-air refueling tankers for the US Air Force.

The Pentagon rescinded the contract after EADS' main American competitor Boeing protested the deal and lobbied strongly on its own behalf. On the second go-around, Boeing won the contract in March over EADS, which was caught trying to sell helicopters to Iran in 2005.

To grasp just how much the US defense industry's loyalty to its own nation has eroded, take what Alliance TechSystems (ATS) has done to make a simple bullet.

ATS of Minneapolis is the US military's largest civilian small-arms ammunition maker, and since 2008 has been awarded $200 million in American taxpayer dollars to deliver AK-47 rounds (7.62 x 39mm) to Afghan security forces.

Two-hundred million to make bullets sounds like a stimulus plan for American defense manufacturing. Yet ATK went on to "second-source" the contract to the former Soviet Union. ATK claims they had no choice but to go overseas, and offered only the following statement in explanation:

"There are no large manufacturers of non-standard, non-NATO ammunitions in this country," says ATK spokesperson Amanda Covington. "There are only small manufacturers."

Not So Neighborly Associations Foreclosing On Homes


Capt. Mike Clauer Courtesy of Mike Clauer
Capt. Mike Clauer was serving in Iraq when he learned that his home was sold because of missed HOA dues. In many states, it is relatively easy for HOAs to foreclose on members' homes for missed payments as little as a few hundred dollars.

The last time a President accomplished this much in office, booze was illegal

Kucinich: ‘We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war’

denniskucinich20080710b Kucinich: We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of warIn Afghanistan, corruption is rife. It is so abundant, in fact, that a senior US lawmaker declared on Monday that she'd be freezing $3.9 billion in Afghan aid dollars until the situation is addressed.

Rep. Nita Lowey's declaration of principle was made in response to a Wall Street Journal report that claimed over $3 billion has been legally shipped through the airport in Kabul over just the last three years, leading investigators to believe much of it comes from U.S. aid dollars being diverted by corrupt officials.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, making a speech to the House of Representatives on Monday, had a few choice words to describe the situation.

"We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war," the iconoclastic Democrat opined.

The Journal reported that "the cash – packed into suitcases, piled into pallets and loaded into airplanes – is declared and legal to move" through the airport. The paper added: "The officials believe [...] customers who have sent millions of dollars of their money abroad include high-ranking officials and their associates in President Hamid Karzai's administration, including Vice President Mohammed Fahim, and one of the president's brothers, Mahmood Karzai, an influential businessman.

"Where they allegedly get the money is one of the questions under investigation."

Speaking before Congress, Kucinich raised the specter of the $12 billion shipped in pallets from the United States to Iraq just after the Bush administration's "shock and awe" bombing campaign.

"Vanity Fair reported in 2004 that 'at least $9 billion' of the cash had 'gone missing, unaccounted for,'" he noted. "$9 billion."

Kucinich continued: "

Last week, the BBC reported that 'the US military has been giving tens of millions of dollars to Afghan security firms who are funneling the money to warlords.' Add to that a corrupt Afghan government underwritten by the lives of our troops
 ... And now reports indicate that Congress is preparing to attach $10 billion in state education funding to a $33 billion spending bill to keep the war going.

 Back home, millions of Americans are out of work, losing their homes, losing their savings, their pensions and their retirement security.

"We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war. Bring our troops home. End the war. Secure our economy."

It's not the first time Kucinich has lambasted aid funding to Afghanistan. The Congressman declared in a 2009 press release: "U.S. contractors are paying U.S. tax dollars to the Taliban in order to protect the delivery of U.S. shipments of U.S. goods to U.S. soldiers so that our soldiers can fight the Taliban."

Sticking the public with the bill for the bankers’ crisis

Globe and Mail

by Naomi Klein

One-hundred-dollar U.S. notesMy city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I'm not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.

I'm talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world's wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.

How else can we interpret the G20's final communiqué, which includes not even a measly tax on banks or financial transactions, yet instructs governments to slash their deficits in half by 2013. This is a huge and shocking cut, and we should be very clear who will pay the price: students who will see their public educations further deteriorate as their fees go up; pensioners who will lose hard-earned benefits; public-sector workers whose jobs will be eliminated. And the list goes on. These types of cuts have already begun in many G20 countries including Canada, and they are about to get a lot worse.

The Death -- or the Evolution -- of the Midlist Author?

by Peta Jinnath Andersen

Is the publishing crunch killing midlist authors? Or just forcing them to move on?

If you've ever walked around a bookstore, chances are you've picked up a midlist book. Midlist books take up the majority of the shelf space, filling in the gaps between bestsellers and popular books we love to hate (*cough* Twilight Saga *cough*). According to James McGrath Morris over at the Huffington Post, though, e-books are killing midlist authors everywhere, rearing their ugly, easily read e-ink heads to take chunks out of the reader-bookstore relationship. Fortunately, the slow death McGrath Morris predicts may never come to pass, if e-books and e-rights are handled with care. In fact, e-books could well be the savior of the midlist book, perhaps even the writing life itself.

Midlist books are exactly what they sound like—the middle sellers, middle catalog books that make up the bulk of a publisher's output. If you imagine publishing as a cake (as I often do), bestsellers are the frosting, midlist books are the cake itself, and poorer, unpopular books are the burnt bottom crust. Midlist books are the titles which sell well (10,000 - 20,000 copies), their authors the arguably lucky folk who make their living writing, though many still need to supplement their income with day jobs.
(Full disclosure: I am, for the most part, pro e-book (the iPhone Peter Rabbit app still freaks me out). I have a kindle, and I've been reading Project Gutenberg downloads since my first taste of the internet, back in the '90s.)

Authors, contrary to popular belief, do not laze around all day thinking up stories, or sit at keyboards tapping away as The Next Big Thing flows unhindered from their fingers. Publishers don't throw them giant book launch parties, and their sales information isn't always as forthcoming as they'd like. In 2004, posted an article by a midlist author known only as Jane Austen Doe, detailing the difficulties of life as a not-quite bestseller.

From Doe's piece:

In the 10 years since I signed my first book contract, the publishing industry has changed in ways that are devastating—emotionally, financially, professionally, spiritually, and creatively—to midlist authors like me. You've read about it in your morning paper: Once-genteel "houses" gobbled up by slavering conglomerates; independent bookstores cannibalized by chain and online retailers; book sales sinking as the number of TV channels soars. What once was about literature is now about return on investment. What once was hand-sold one by one by well-read, book-loving booksellers now moves by the pallet-load at Wal-Mart and Borders—or doesn't move at all.

If that's not disheartening enough, here's James Kirvin's 2002 take (via the Salon piece):

Publishing today is a business, dominated by stockholders and profit margins, run entirely according to the hard, cold numbers. Investors in the major megacorporations that own nearly all of the New York majors want profit, and lots of it. In a business that traditionally makes maybe 4-6 percent profit in a good year, today's stockholders are demanding 15-18 percent. Gone are the days when a publisher could nurture a writer with potential through several lackluster efforts. Today's editors can't afford a single flop.

Since 2004, the situation has grown yet more dire. With the exception of children's publishing, numbers are down across the board, and publishers are scrambling to make do, struggling to get a foot in the door of the new digital domain and cement their rights lest they go the way of the music industry. Advances are lower, print runs smaller, promotion almost non-existent. As print media fights the good fight (and dies the slow death), midlist reviews, once fairly common, are dwindling, replaced by blog reviews which, while useful, simply don't pull the same numbers or respect as their print counterparts (yet). Authors and publishers are each looking for a savior, a game changer, a way to have their cake and eat it, too. And they may have found one: the e-book.

Saviors are notoriously hard to recognize, often greeted with disdain. The Gutenberg press? Met with disdain by the nobility and the Pope.  The industrial revolution? Bad, bad, bad, let's destroy the machinery. But e-books offer the industry a chance to reassess and start afresh, for us to move beyond older standards and ideas and rewrite the way we think of publishing economics in general. And it's understandable that the industry is afraid. The 1979 Supreme Court ruling on Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue changed publishing economics for the worse—and was the beginning of the end for midlist authors (to read more about the case and its ramifications, check out this SFWA article by Kevin O'Donnell Jr.).

Bob Staake depicts the gulf oil spill in the style of M.C. Escher

The July New Yorker Cover

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Uncle Cheney


by Plutonian Mac
Now here's a pirate lass after my own my heart. Meet Bonny Blaire Johnson

With Blackbeard's flag flying on the Beach, this beauteous pirate throws down the gauntlet against BP, the modern equivalent of the ruthless East India Trading Company that so many pirates warred against. Sharpen your cutlusses, mates, it's time to go to war again against the oppressive rich and powerful!

Hempforhope's (Blaire Johnson) Video and YouTube Channel text:

Out of growing concern for the welfare of fishermen, wildlife and clean up crews in the Gulf coast comes a call to President Obama to end the use of the toxic chemical Corexit 9500.

Through the use of the deadly chemical dispersant Corexit 9500, BP is making the oil spill 4x more toxic. Why has the US continued to allow the use of Corexit when it was outlawed in Britain in 1998, and the EPA told BP to quit using it in May? And why are the criminals in charge of cleaning up the crime scene?
And when the EPA tells BP to stop using Corexit 9500, and BP refuses,


7,300 Palestinians in Israeli jails

Israeli soldiers take a young boy into custody by force.‎
7,300 Palestinians, including 17 legislators and two former ministers, are currently detained in about 20 Israeli prisons, a report says.

Hundreds of them have never been charged or put on trial.

Among the detained are 33 women, nearly 300 children, 296 administrative detainees, and dozens of political leaders, Palestinian researcher Abdul Nasser Farawna said in a report issued on Monday.

Farawana, who specializes in detainee affairs, said that 1,500 of them are ill and need urgent medical attention and dozens need surgeries and hospitalization, but no action has been taken by the Israeli authorities.

The detainees are held in about twenty prisons and detention and interrogation centers, mainly in Ramon, Shatta, Galboa, Asqalan, Hadarim, Al-Damoun, Be'er Sheva, Ofer, Majoddo, and the Negev detention camp, he added.

He went on to say that 83 percent of the detainees are from the West Bank, 10.6 percent are from Gaza, while the rest are Arab residents of Israel and other Arab nationals.

Jail terms range from 10 years to life sentences, Farawna, who is also a former detainee, explained.

Political figures like Nael al-Barghouthi, Fakhri al-Barghouthi, and Akram Mansour have been in prison for over 30 years.

Through the Wormhole: The Secret State's Mad Scheme to Control the Internet

Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once famously wrote that "war is the continuation of politics by other means." A century later, radical French philosopher Michel Foucault turned Clausewitz on his head and declared that "politics is the continuation of war by other means."

In our topsy-turvy world where truth and lies coexist equally and sociopathic business elites reign supreme, it would hardly be a stretch to theorize that cyber war is the continuation of parapolitical crime by other means.

Through the Wormhole

In Speed and Politics, cultural theorist Paul Virilio argued that "history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems." With electronic communications now blanketing the globe, it was only a matter of time before our political masters, (temporarily) outflanked by the subversive uses to which new media lend themselves, would deploy what Virilio called the "integral accident" (9/11 being one of many examples) and gin-up entirely new categories of threats, "Cyber Pearl Harbor" comes to mind, from which of course, they would "save us."

That the revolving door connecting the military and the corporations who service war making is a highly-profitable redoubt for those involved, has been analyzed here at great length. With new moves to tighten the screws on the immediate horizon, and as "Change" reveals itself for what it always was, an Orwellian exercise in public diplomacy, hitting the "kill switch" serves as an apt descriptor for the new, repressive growth sector that links technophilic fantasies of "net-centric" warfare to the burgeoning "homeland security" market.

Back in March, Wired investigative journalist Ryan Singel wrote that the "biggest threat to the open internet" isn't "Chinese hackers" or "greedy ISPs" but corporatist warriors like former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Having retreated to his old haunt as a senior vice president with the ultra-spooky firm Booz Allen Hamilton (a post he held for a decade before joining the Bush administration), McConnell stands to make millions as Booz Allen's parent company, the secretive private equity powerhouse, The Carlyle Group, plans to take the firm public and sell some $300 million worth of shares, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

"With its deep ties to the defense establishment" the Journal notes, "Booz Allen has become embedded in a range of military operations such as planning war games and intelligence initiatives." That Carlyle Group investors have made out like proverbial bandits during the endless "War on Terror" goes without saying. With "relatively low debt levels for a leveraged buyout," the investment "has been a successful one for Carlyle, which has benefited from the U.S. government's increasing reliance on outsourcing in defense."

And with 15,000 employees in the Washington area, most with coveted top secret and above security clearances, Booz Allen's clients include a panoply of secret state agencies such as the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, NSA and the U.S. Air Force. With tentacles enlacing virtually all facets of the secretive world of outsourced intelligence, the firm has emerged as one of the major players in the cybersecurity niche market.

While McConnell and his minions may not know much about "SQL injection hacks," Singel points out that what makes this spook's spook dangerous (after all, he was NSA Director under Clinton) "is that he knows about social engineering. ... And now he says we need to re-engineer the internet."

Accordingly, Washington Technology reported in April, that under McConnell's watchful eye, the firm landed a $14.4 million contract to build a new bunker for U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM). Chump change by Pentagon standards perhaps, but the spigot is open and salad days are surely ahead.

An important speech by Senator Al Franken

The Fourth is nearly upon us.

Contrary to overwhelming belief, July 4 is not the birthday of the United States of America. The actual date the US could be said to have been "born" was with George Washington's first Oath of Office, April 30, 1789. It was on that date The United States of America was first open for business.

What many also do not realize was that Washington was the presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when and where The United States of America was put to paper as a civil, governing idea and entity.

However the country has failed often, too often utterly, to live to the European Enlightenment ideals that are the premise and predicate behind the Constitution, the premise and the predicate we claim to strive to live to can be summed in one word: JUSTICE. And the justice we strive after is for all within our jurisdiction, not only within our borders. I submit that when justice fails to preside over any, it fails to preside at all, and that it is incumbent upon each of us to do what we can to correct the deficiencies, when they occur.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota recently gave a speech to the Constitutionalist Society in which he, in his Al Franken manner, tersely outlines what has gone wrong, how justice is being -- as it has been -- hijacked by conservatives to serve ill ends. Franken's points are made with his typical droll, sometimes sarcastic humor. But the points are made. And he is effective. Listen to Senator Franken. Then conclude. But not before. For the fate of the vast majority of Americans is verily at stake.

Understand that how our relatives and colleagues vote matters. It is to the sitting president to nominate justices for the federal judiciary, not just the Supreme Court. And it is to the members of the Senate to confirm or not those nominees. Yes, how your relatives and colleagues vote effects even the most minute, most intimate of the daily lives of all of us. The link below, unfortunately includes perhaps three or four minutes of introduction. The remaining minutes are, however, both priceless, and essential.


Sticking the public with the bill for the bankers' crisis

By Naomi Klein

My city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I'm not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.

I'm talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world's wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.

How else can we interpret the G20's final communiqué, which includes not even a measly tax on banks or financial transactions, yet instructs governments to slash their deficits in half by 2013. This is a huge and shocking cut, and we should be very clear who will pay the price: students who will see their public educations further deteriorate as their fees go up; pensioners who will lose hard-earned benefits; public-sector workers whose jobs will be eliminated. And the list goes on. These types of cuts have already begun in many G20 countries including Canada, and they are about to get a lot worse.

They are happening for a simple reason. When the G20 met in London in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the leaders failed to band together to regulate the financial sector so that this type of crisis would never happen again. All we got was empty rhetoric, and an agreement to put trillions of dollars in public monies on the table to shore up the banks around the world. Meanwhile the U.S. government did little to keep people in their homes and jobs, so in addition to hemorrhaging public money to save the banks, the tax base collapsed, creating an entirely predictable debt and deficit crisis.

At this weekend's summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper convinced his fellow leaders that it simply wouldn't be fair to punish those banks that behaved well and did not create the crisis (despite the fact that Canada's highly protected banks are consistently profitable and could easily absorb a tax). Yet somehow these leaders had no such concerns about fairness when they decided to punish blameless individuals for a crisis created by derivative traders and absentee regulators.

Last week, The Globe and Mail published a fascinating article about the origins of the G20. It turns out the entire concept was conceived in a meeting back in 1999 between then finance minister Paul Martin and his U.S. counterpart Lawrence Summers (itself interesting since Mr. Summers was at that time playing a central role in creating the conditions for this financial crisis allowing a wave of bank consolidation and refusing to regulate derivatives).

The two men wanted to expand the G7, but only to countries they considered strategic and safe. They needed to make a list but apparently they didn't have paper handy. So, according to reporters John Ibbitson and Tara Perkins, "the two men grabbed a brown manila envelope, put it on the table between them, and began sketching the framework of a new world order." Thus was born the G20.

The Cider House Rules Rules

Reviewed by Michael Dare

At this point, I find the productions of Book-It Repertory inseparable from the books themselves. Every show I've seen has impeccably mirrored the source material. If you didn't like their production of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, it's because you don't like Tom Robbins, not because you don't like Book-It Repertory. They have found a magical spot, right in the middle of literature and theatre and bedtime story, where dad's rendition of Dr. Seuss has been replaced by a brilliant collection of adapters, directors, and performers who miraculously and precisely subjugate their needs to the needs of the original author in spectacular displays of talent and stagecraft.
If they're doing a book you love, you will fall in love again. If they're doing a book you haven't read but discover you hate, hey, at least it was over in just a couple hours, and you can sort of say you've read it.
I've got my own little list of authors whom, after reading one book of theirs, I said to myself OMG, I must read every single word this writer ever writes, and John Irving is one of them. I read The Cider House Rules when it first came out, didn't like it as much as The World According to Garp, but saw the subsequent movie, enjoyed it, and yet it wasn't till halfway through the Book-It theatrical production that it dawned on me it was a masterpiece, WAY better than Garp, not just good, not just great, but a genuine masterpiece, encompassing the highest possible principles that make up the foundation of Art with a capital A. It's hard to imagine a more sensitive issue treated with more dexterity or vision, more than a novel, more than a play but the most intimate expression of the human condition known to man, to make up stories that encompass everything our pathetic species is up to, seen from every angle, pretending that objectivity is possible while subjecting us to a funhouse mirror of reality where you know it's true, you can feel the truthiness, but it's never looked like this before. If you don't know that art can illuminate, can make you aware of every troubling aspect of life and death, of what we're doing on this planet, that it can ask the deepest of questions in the most profound manner, why do we treat each other so badly and what, just what, can one single man can do about it, you must see this production immediately.
Calling it Dickensian is too easy and too apt. Anyone who starts listing the similarities between The Cider House Rules and David Copperfield or Oliver Twist will find themselves in a whirlwind of academic trivia. You do it. It makes no difference. You don't have to have read Dickens to get Irving. When he quotes the opening sentence of David Copperfield, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show," that's all we need to know. We're going to get variations on that theme brought to an incredible height.
There seems to be no question as to who the hero is in the life of Dr. Wilbur Larch, the founder of St. Clouds hospital and orphanage in Maine in the '30s. Just ask the hundreds of orphans and pregnant women who have gone through his door who the hero is of THEIR lives and they will answer Dr. Wilbur Larch.
Except for one. Homer Wells is an orphan who literally owes his life to Dr. Wilbur Larch, and yet he makes it his life's quest to be the goddam hero of his own goddam life. To do so, he must rebel against the only authority figure he knows, Dr. Wilbur Larch, for whom he's been participating in abortions for years, and here's where a six-hour theatrical production, broken into two pieces, beats the hell out what we can expect from a mere movie. It's with the telling of Larch's back-story that the melodrama reaches epic proportions.
Let's say you're a doctor and a patient is brought to you, a thirteen year old girl, pregnant, for the third time, by her father, a serial rapist, and the previous pregnancies had caused such scarring of the uterus that regular childbirth would be impossible, no choice but a Caesarian if the pregnancy is brought to term, yet it's early enough to simply end the ordeal for the child, a fifteen minute procedure you're completely capable of performing. Such is Wilbur's dilemma.
Or let's say you're a teenage orphan who wants to be a doctor asked to participate in surgery that just happens to include the scrapping of a uterus. Would you refuse to participate once you saw in a trash can what was scraped from the uterus, a tiny being that never took a breath? Such is Homer's dilemma.
Any theatrical production demands you identify with SOMEONE, whoever's closest to you, but in general we rely upon the dramatist to supply us with a simple protagonist, antagonist, and conclusion. Irving muddies the waters with a protagonist with a protagonist. Homer's savior, Dr. Larch, is clearly the hero of Homer's life since, after all, he's the one that decided to let the pregnancy go to term, since every female visitor to Saint Clouds leaves her baby there, whether born or not. Irving, and his brilliant adapter Peter Parnell, pull off this hat trick with no moralizing or proselytizing, just a lot of compassion. Though it's an incredibly entertaining morality play, it's not a lecture on morality. Irving's too smart for that. He approaches it from every possible viewpoint, women who shouldn't but do, women who should but don't, women who's lives are made better and others much much worse, husbands who want the baby but wives who don't, rejected patients who end up dead by going somewhere else, even the incompetent abortionist who kills as many as they help and they're not evil because, well, at least they're doing something. The subject has never been approached more thoroughly, without lying platitudes or easy slogans, recognizing that the abortion question is as complicated as it gets. Extremely graphic descriptions of the abortion process are accompanied by equally graphic descriptions of sex, treating them both equally, a perfectly rational approach since you can't have one without the other. Irving tells you much more than you ever knew about his subject. He tells you everything but what to think about it, figuring that reality is the best teacher, that you can't make up rules, even in a cider house, that you've got to take everything on a case by case basis. There's an episode of Mad Men where they're given the assignment of trying to find advertisers for an episode of The Defenders about a woman who got an abortion and the best they can come up with is lipstick. Abortion's a hard sell artistically as it's a tricky subject entirely devoid of easy answers. At the end of The Cider House Rules, one would be hard pressed to say whether John Irving was pro or anti, just smart.
This production is a perfect example of why the six-hour approach is imperative with certain novels. There's a death by drowning during a log jam in The Cider House Rules, one of many many tidbits left out of the film but left in the play. All the events of Last Night in Twisted River, Irving's latest, are set in motion by a death by drowning during a log jam. Leave the log-jam out of The Cider House Rules and you're leaving out one of the best things about John Irving, the themes and sub-text and entertaining quirks that tie all his work together: the wrestling, the seduction of the innocent, the dismemberments, the logging, the oral sex, the bears, god, what's with the bears. One of the treats of indulging oneself in the work of any great novelist is reveling in their personal obsessions, and Book-It never neglects to give us that same thrill.
A massive shout out to director Jane Jones and the entire ensemble cast of nurses, orphans, and derelicts who inhabit this mad world. Every one of them had a moment to shine and that they did. Dr. Larch, one of the most compassionate and empathetic characters of all time, is played by Peter Crook, and his Larch is so on the money, so innately American, it makes you wonder what the hell they were thinking casting a Cockney Michael Caine in the film. Crook is way more like the George C. Scott who played the part in my mind. While most of the characters remain steadfastly who they are, Homer is the one with the arc, the Candide of the piece who grows in front of our eyes, and Conner Toms is well up to the task. I can't wait to see who he eventually becomes in Part 2, coming this fall. 
But you've got to see Part 1 first. All you princes of Ivars, you kings of Mercer Island, get thee to Book-It Repertory before it's too late.
Through July 11. Get your tickets here.

"You may disapprove, but you may not be ignorant or look away" —Dr. Larch to Homer

Homer Wells (Connor Toms, left), the never-adopted orphan becomes a surrogate son, and a medical protégé to the orphanage director, Dr. Larch (Peter Crook).  Doctor Larch and nurses (Melinda Deane & Julie Jamieson) help a pregnant patient (Mary Murfin Bayley). Photos by Adam Smith.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How to Opt-In to Your Rights

Eight of the world's strangest houses

Yahoo! Green

As more and more people rebel against ticky-tacky, cookie-cutter homes, options are growing for more unique, satisfying dwellings.

Popular Mechanics' Chris Sweeney recently created a great list of 18 of the world's strangest homes. And though there are arguably some even stranger ones out there (the toilet-shaped home, for one, or the coral castle), one of the things we like about Popular Mechanics' list is a strong focus on sustainability.

The Popular Mechanics collection focuses on designs that think outside of the box and approach sustainability from a holistic perspective. Some include recycled materials, but recycling itself isn't usually the central theme.

You don't have to live in a house built out of discarded tires, bottles, or vehicles to "go green." There are many ways that we can all go green in our homes, no matter what they look like or where they are located. Switching to more efficient light bulbs and appliances, trying out energy monitoring devices, and boosting insulation are a few examples.

For the greenest of Popular Mechanics' strange houses, look below:

free spirit sphere treehouse
Photo: Courtesy of Free Spirit Spheres

Free Spirit Spheres

Looking like something from Star Wars, suspended tree houses known as Free Spirit Spheres excite the imagination. Made by Tom and Rosy Chudleigh from British Columbia, the "tree houses for adults" are handmade from local wood.

The spheres are recommended for meditation, photography, canopy research, leisure, wildlife watching and other activities, and they can be ordered fully loaded with plumbing, electricity and insulation. Some are available for rental, and DIY kits are offered. They reportedly sway in the wind.

nautilus house in mexico city

The Nautilus House

Perhaps what Gaudi would have envisioned if he were asked to decorate a sea shell, the Nautilus in Mexico City was completed in 2006 by architect Javier Sensonian of Arquitectura Orgánica. Sensonian practices what he calls "bio-architecture," and has designed buildings shaped like snakes, whales and other living things.

The Nautilus was built for a young family who wanted something that felt more integrated with nature, and it is filled with lush vegetation. The front door blends into the colorful mosaic facade.

steel house by robert bruno

The Steel House

One glance at the fantastical Steel House, and you'll never forget it. Designer Robert Bruno wanted it to look somewhere between animal and machine, and we think he succeeded. The unique home is perched on a bluff near Lubbock, Texas, and minimizes disruption to the area by resting on top of four skinny legs.

Steel is long-lasting and highly recyclable, so green builders have been giving it a second look in recent years, especially for roofing. Inside, the Steel House looks more H.R. Giger than Martha Stewart, and it doesn't look like the most practical living space, but it definitely is thinking outside of the four-walled box.

Working on a (Temp) Dream

Welcome to the freelance economy, where workers are atomized, badly compensated and strangely optimistic.

By Richard Greenwald

We are living at the dawn of the freelance world, as more and more people find themselves working as consultants, contract workers or freelancers. This change in the way we work is as profound as the shift that occurred during the industrial revolution.

More than 25 percent of all working Americans are, whether they want to be or not, temporary laborers, and that number will surely rise in the coming years. (According to the Freelancers Union, which represents almost 100,000 contract workers in the New York City metro region, freelancers already comprise 30 percent of America's workforce.) Job security and 9-to-5 jobs are becoming a relic of the past. This year's college graduates enter a fragile economy offering more risk than guarantees, and far fewer jobs than applicants.

As corporations have prospered and gained labor flexibility, most workers have watched their futures decline. Neoliberalism has unlocked capital, freeing it from national borders; workers are increasingly a temporary, disposable expense. Firms can now hire on a project basis (anywhere), and no longer need to invest in large facilities or workforces.

Many readers of this magazine have tried to understand the complacency of today's workers, particularly younger ones, who find themselves temping. Some of that complacency has to do with the growing freelance economy.

The larger social impact of freelancing has been well documented, but what is missing is an understanding of those businesses that encourage or are enriched by the new "gig" economy. We know little about the businesses that prop up freelancers, simultaneously nurturing and feeding off them. In fact, we tend not to think of these businesses collectively as an industry. But we should. From consultants to self-help book authors to the rise of "co-workplaces," which provide freelancers with social interaction, an industry has developed that serves as both freelance cheerleader and parasite. It has defined the new gig culture, and it is time that we begin to understand this industry's place in our economy.

Texas Nationalist Movement Wants the Lone Star State to Become an Independent Republic. Bye-Bye!



The following E-mail BuzzFlash received merits our wackiest news release of the week award. Only Sarah Palin could fully appreciate it.

Texas Nationalist Movement
POC: Dave Mundy, Media Coordinator
(281) 415-4013
National office: (409) 527-4929



NEDERLAND, Texas – The Texas Nationalist Movement is preparing for a lawsuit against Mexico for the return of artifacts taken to Mexico City during the Texas Revolution.

"It has been known for some time that the Mexican government is in possession of the true Alamo flag and many other artifacts captured during their invasion of Texas and we want them back," TNM president Daniel Miller said. "We are going to initiate the suit in federal court and will appeal to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if necessary."

The move is part of a longer-sought exchange of artifacts recovered by each side during the Texas Revolution of 1835-36.

An article in the Texas Observer relates the tale of a 1998 expedition by Texas officials to Mexico City, seeking to recover the flag of the First Company of Texan Volunteers from New Orleans, dubbed the "New Orleans Greys" because of their distinctive uniforms. The two companies of riflemen were welcomed by the settlers of East Texas, who gifted them with, according to the Texas Observer article by Lucius Lomax, "…a flag, made of blue silk, about the size of a bath towel, bordered by white fringe. The silk featured the likeness of an eagle, wings spread, and below the eagle the words, 'First Company of Texan Volunteers from New Orleans.'"

The flag was captured at the Alamo and returned to Mexico City as war booty. In the years since its re-discovery in the archives of the National Museum of History at Chapultapec Castle, several different administrations in both Austin and in Washington have sought its return. At one point, former Texas Gov. George W. Bush's administration offered to trade a number of artifacts captured by Gen. Sam Houston's victorious army at the Battle of San Jacinto for the flag – but every effort has met with suspicion and disinterest by the Mexican government.


by Jim Hightower

Good news, people. General Motors has turned a profit! However, there's bad news, too: GM's top executives are insane. By which I mean bonkers, loopy, bull-goose crazy.

How else to explain the carmaker's recent effort to rebrand "Chevy," one of the most iconic brand names ever to come out of America? A June memo, floated down from the executive suite of corporate headquarters in Detroit, directed all employees to henceforth stop saying "Chevy." Instead, decreed two vice presidents who signed the astonishing document, "We'd ask that whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward."

Holy Don McLean! He's the fine singer and songwriter who penned the classic refrain" "Bye-bye Miss American Pie/ I drove my Chevy to the Levee/ But the Levee was dry." Excuse us Mr. vice presidents, but it's suicidal corporate goofiness to mess with a brand that is so positively ingrained in American culture.

Well, say the two veeps, it's a matter of marketing consistency. As their memo explains, "The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer." Yoo-hoo, boneheads, a foolish consistency has been defined as the "hobgoblin of little minds."

Cannabis Reduces Infant Mortality

Surprisingly connections between "Failure-to-Thrive" and Cannabinoids.

(NORTHERN CALIFORNIA) - Years ago, a friend of mine, a good Christian lady, had a child with "failure to thrive". She had CPS all over her, looking for even the tiniest trace of child neglect. They found none. The child was well cared for, but she just didn't seem that interested in eating. Her bottles often went half finished.

I believe that those bottles of formula, given from birth, were major part of the problem. Our bodies make chemicals called "endocannabinoids" that are closely related to THC and cannabidiol (CBD). Endocannabinoids control many bodily functions and are excreted into breast milk. When lactating female rabbits were injected with CBD, a non-psychoactive, plant-derived cannabinoid, there was "a significant accumulation of the drug in milk." [1]

Endocannabinoids are also detected in human and cow's milk, with the highest levels occurring the day after giving birth. This healthy dose of naturally-occurring endocannabinoids stimulates the suckling reflex in newborn mammals, including humans[2].

When newborn mice are given a chemical to block the effect between endocannabinoids and their CB receptors, the mice simply don't know how to eat.Yet, if the blocking agent is mixed with an equivalent amount of THC, the mice eat and grow normally[3].

CB receptors work kind of like an ignition switch. First, you need the right kind of "key" (the right-shaped cannabinoid) to go into the "keyhole" (the receptor) to turn on the "engine's" action (suckling, stopping pain or inflammation, or maybe killing a cancer cell). Phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants, like THC) can mimic the effects of your endocannabinoids- they can turn on the same "ignition switches" as your body's own cannabinoids. The blocking agents (antagonists) are like sticking a broken key stub in the keyhole. You can't get a real key in, and the engine can't turn on.

Scientists have bred mice that do not have CB receptors. They are poor, sickly things, prone to all sorts of ailments. Some scientists believe that there are people like those mice, having fewer than normal, or dysfunctional, CB receptors. And infants born with this condition have growth failure resulting from an inability to ingest food, just like those newborn mice[4].)

If "failure to thrive" infants were being breast-fed, they would get at least some of their mother's normal endocannabinoids from her milk. If she were using cannabis, logically, her breast milk would contain not only her own endocannabinoids, but also the phytocannabinoids, THC and CBD. In CB receptor-deficient children, an extra dose of phytocannabinoids could make the difference between "failure to thrive" and a healthy child! However, since receptor deficiency is inheritable, the mother may be deficient, too, and unable to give her child sufficient amounts of endocannabinoids in her milk.

But all this is just conjecture on my part. Just me, grouping together various studies to make a theory about "failure to thrive" babies. Medical science surely isn't going to say that having Mom smoking a little pot in the evening is going to help her baby do better, is it?

Well, tonight, I found a study that seems to say just that! It's a sad little thing- an abstract of a study on the death of babies- yet vital facts can be learned from those soulless statistical studies. This one gave the infant death rates per 1,000 live births, and the drugs, if any, that the mother used during pregnancy.

A total of 2,964 babies were drug-tested at birth to see if they were positive for drugs- cocaine, opioids or cannabis were studied. 44% of the infants tested positive for all varieties of drugs, including the 3 being studied. During the first two years of their lives, 44 babies from the original group, died. Since statistics are a drag to slog through, I'll cut right to the chase- the deaths per thousand live births- the numbers tell the story.

"No drugs at birth" deaths....... 15.7 deaths per 1000 live births

"Cocaine positive" deaths.......17.7 deaths per 1000 live births

"Opiate positive" deaths.......18.4 deaths per 1000 live births

"Cannabis positive" deaths.... 8.9 deaths per 1000 live births [5]

The cocaine and opiate babies have a higher death rate than the "No drugs" babies- that was to be expected. But look at the "cannabis" babies! Having extra cannabinoids in their bodies at birth (and likely later, from 2nd hand exposure, or breast milk) seems to have some sort of a protective effect. The "cannabis" infants have a mortality rate almost half of what the "No drugs" infants have!

How to spend $1 billion on G20 security

The question as to how Canada could possibly spend C$1 billion ($960 million) protecting world leaders for just three days becomes progressively easier to answer the longer you spend in southern Ontario, the central province where the Group of Eight and then the Group of 20 are meeting this weekend.

G20 leaders will gather on Saturday and Sunday in central Toronto and a large area around the city center venue has been sealed off with high-tech fencing designed to deter even the most ardent climbers. The government, on the defensive about the security bill after critics accused Ottawa of wasting money, isn't giving a detailed breakdown of security costs. Ministers do admit that policing alone will cost C$450 million, most of which will go on overtime.

That isn't surprising when you work out how money will be needed to pay the 10,000 police who could be called up. My taxi driver was fuming when he picked me up at the airport and his mood didn't improve as we crawled past large groups of police not doing very much. "Look at that horse. He probably earns more than I do," he fumed.

This morning we got on a bus for the two-hour drive north to the lakeside resort of Deerhurst, in the middle of prime cottage country deep in the woods, where the Group of Eight leaders are meeting. At first we could see the occasional police car here and there but the closer we approached our target, the more security we saw. Every path leading into the forest seemed to have a black and while Ontario police car blocking the way.

Then the checkpoints started. At the first one we were waved through by no fewer than seven tanned policemen, who didn't seem to be doing very much. Just outside the resort a large grey observation balloon hovered in the air. Our bus stopped and waited and waited and all we could see were barricades and police, many of whom were watching the fence which had been erected around Deerhurst. About two dozen police motorcycles sat deserted outside the Algonquin Animal Hospital.

Monsanto, Big Brother of the New World Agricultural Order: An Interview With Marie-Monique Robin

by Mickey Z.

photoAward-winning French journalist and filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin is the author of "The World According to Monsanto: Pollution, Corruption and the Control of Our Food Supply" (The New Press) and the creator of the film by the same name.

In a review of these two projects, Leslie Thatcher writes: "What Marie-Monique Robin most effectively documents are the perverse effects - the moral, social, technological, economic and market failures - of Western society's economic organization, most specifically with respect to science and the products of science and, ultimately, with respect to the preservation of the public commons and human life on the planet."

My conversation with Marie-Monique Robin follows:

Mickey Z.: Was there an initial spark that led you to this project that took three years and investigations on four continents to complete?

Marie-Monique Robin: My "story" with Monsanto began in 2003, when I made three documentaries for the Franco-German channel ARTE (to which I pay a tribute for the quality of its programs) about the reduction of biodiversity.

MZ: Please take us through those documentaries and their connection to Monsanto.

MMR: The first, "Biopirates," told how corporations like Monsanto were holding abusive patents on living organisms which are contributing to a new drastic reduction of biodiversity. At that I time, I heard about a company called Monsanto which already held more than 600 patents on living organisms. The second documentary, called "Wheat: Chronicle of a Death Foretold," told the story of cultivation of that golden cereal, from the very beginning 10,000 years ago until today and explained how the practices of industrial agriculture that brought the "green revolution," made thousands of local landraces and varieties disappear, a dramatic evolution which will be accelerated by GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. At the same time the so-called green revolution provoked a huge contamination of the environment through the massive use of chemical pesticides, "biocides," which "entered into living organisms, passing one to another in a chain of poisoning and death," as Rachel Carson wrote in "Silent Spring." Finally, I made a documentary, called "Argentina: The Soybeans of Hunger," about the cultivation of Roundup Ready soybeans in Argentina, where I depicted the environmental, social and health disasters which the introduction of Monsanto's GMOs represent. Today, they cover 60% of the area under cultivation in the country.

Close encounter with socialized medicine blustery London breeze knocked a large wooden plank loose from a construction site and into a heavy steel barrier, which in turn fell over and hit me on the right side of my head, sending me crashing into the stone wall of a British government building.

At least that's what the onlookers who witnessed the incident and pulled the barrier off me said as I lay on the ground, bleeding from head and knee on King Charles Street, only a block from 10 Downing Street and just outside a museum honoring Winston Churchill and his World War II Cabinet.

Still conscious but a little bit woozy, I hadn't yet realized I was about to have a close encounter with the National Health Service, a.k.a. the United Kingdom's form of socialized medicine.

My wife, Karen, and I were in London on vacation, visiting the usual tourist attractions, including the Cabinet war rooms where Churchill and his advisers gallantly organized the defense of their country against Adolf Hitler's rampaging armed forces. Getting injured in a freak accident on a Saturday afternoon was not part of our vacation agenda.

I kept telling my worried wife and the gathering crowd that I was OK, despite all that blood. Another tourist, a doctor from Florida, assisted Karen in applying facial tissues to the gash in my head.

He began asking me questions: "Who is the prime minister?"

Before I could answer "David Cameron," he realized I was an American and changed the question to, "Who is the president of the United States?" adding, "Not that you have to like him."

"But I do," I replied, "for the most part."

The good doctor was trying to find out how badly injured I was, and when he could see that I hadn't lost either consciousness or most of my blood and marbles, he jokingly informed me, "I am indeed a doctor, but I'm a gynecologist." He said I probably needed to go to the hospital, but warned – with an unstated but obviously negative attitude toward what the Brits call the NHS – "you'll most likely be there for seven hours (before they get to you)."