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Television Greets John Boehner and Pope Francis.

As I sat comfortably in front of my television set waiting for the Pope to appear, I heard in the voices of the network announcer’s, particularly those charged with describing the scene outside the Capital building, unusually high levels of tension. As these poor wretches attempted to fill time between telling us when the Fiat would arrive on The Hill and the crowd size awaiting it, their voices would attain Mel Brooksian levels of anxiety, at times reaching level 9 or 10. Occasionally a frozen moment would strike when they realized there could be and probably would be, an eleventh.

As blunders and bloopers cascaded unwittingly into their microphones, I found a note pad and began writing down some of their more memorable pronouncements.

CNN  reporter describing the crowd waiting for the Pope: “They are composed of all colours, Black, blue, white”.  . ( befuddled pause.)

FOX news reporter announcing Congressman Paul Gosar’s boycott of Pope Francis’ visit to the Hill:“Who would boycott the Pope, for God’s sake?”

CNN announcer: “Camera men are walking on their legs trying to keep up”.

CNN news flash: “No aisle seats were assigned to members of Congress who cannot control themselves. Congressmen known to be troublemakers were given seats in the middle of the house as far away from the Pope as possible”.

The House Sergeant at Arms, ” Mr. Speaker, the Pope of the Holy Sea.”This in a voice that could bind a buzz saw  and awaken the dead of Cannae.

Just as the Pope was about to speak, John Kerry peeked at his watch.

When the Pope says the words,”Land of the Free, Home of the Brave”, John Boehner, already crying, begins to weep.

(My theory on Boehner’s resignation, sitiing behind the Pope, he realized he could no longer be a Catholic and a Congressman.)

Both speeches by the Pope were spot on. I loved the clarity of his English language, its nuanced diction and pace. It is to be hoped that some, if not all of the wisdom he professed, will coalesce and make the world a better place.

 

 

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Golf and the Papal We.

Tiger Woods was expected to win every tournament he entered and looking back on his career, it seems he did. Then his wife attacked him with a nine iron and he sought refuge in his SUV. We may never know exactly what happened that night. To date, El Tigre has never been the same. Two years ago he won five tournaments, a career for most professional golfers, but Tiger feeds on the four majors, those tournaments so coveted by golfing super staars like Jack Nicklaus.

He’s still got game, somewhere. In last week’s tournament he played three and two thirds rounds with his old brilliance. He then shanked a chip shot to the opposite side of the green, flubbed the return and then putted thirty yards past the cup, putted twice more for an easy seven and blew himself out of contention.

Still, he changed the game. Soon after losing his baby fat and turning pro, he was the hallmark of buff. No golfer had ever donned a glove who looked anything like Tiger. Word got around about his training schedule and an entire generation of young golfers followed his lead. Now there are a dozen twenty somethings that can hit a ball hitherto unimaginable distances whilst curving it high or low or this-a-way or that-a-way.

These freshmen have  been around for a few years – Bubba Watson comes to mind, but 2015 is a “What Has God Wrought” kinda year. The Professional Golfers Association now has a plethora of young stars who in a single season rejuvenated the game by regularly putting blankets over Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker and alas,Tiger.

With the older generation flailing about, the PGA and the media jumped all over Jordan Spieth, touting him as the next Tiger, only better. He possesses many sterling features. He is very nice looking, short hair and no five day beard. He speaks clearly and employs lots of people. Besides the obligatory caddie, his payroll sports a professional support team consisting of a trainer, physiotherapist, sport psychologist, golf swing guru, accountant, public relation specialist, dietician, agent, a lawyer and manager. He doesn’t have a wife and his Mom and Dad appear to be nice folks.

The media and the PGA got excited when Spieth won his first major at the 2015 Masters Tournament, becoming the second youngest to win the Masters, behind Woods. He won the U.S. Open, the youngest since Bobby Jones in 1923. The Open (British Open) was next and if he won that, he’d be a Grand Slam winner, depending on your criteria, something only Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nickus and Tiger Woods had accomplished.

He lost the Open and the PGA, but he was already a household name with as many endorsements as his Nike shirt could possibly hold. The media began to concentrate on his sportsmanship and humility. Humility was the winner. The reason? Everytime he was interviewed, he used the Papal or omniscient we. “We won, we worked hard, we had a plan, we had a strategy, we’re happy the way we played”. Television people interpreted this as humility. I don’t think I heard him once say “I”.

Golf has changed indeed. As Spieth walked off one of the final teeing grounds, he was followed by a group of about 20 people, portable cameras, the usual score keepers and sign carriers, a couple of rules officials and a dozen or so hangers on. What the hell is going on, I thought. Anyway,  I wonder who suggested to Jordan Spieth that he use the omniscient we. I don’t expect  him to know anything about the Papal we, but I do thinnk someone should tell him how this sounds on national television.

Golf is and has always been an individual game and should remain an individual game. Jordan Spieth looks and speaks as if he’s on a corporate outing. Perhaps he is. Perhaps they all are.

 

 

 

 

 
 

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Aspects of Terror 3. 1945 to 2015.

Laws and customs are useless without fear.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe, 1532.

In 1987 President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Though history gave Ronnie credit for the wall’s fall, it had been obvious for years that Communism was a lame duck, an empty threat. When Gorbachev did as he was told, we took to calling him “Gorby”.  Anyway, after more than four decades of bloviating politicians, nuclear threats, military posturing and armed engagements, everybody needed a break. The US had suffered major shocks of its own after World War II and was in need of some psychic R and R.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) had unified the United States. But then came the military stand-off in Korea (1953) and the assassinations of President John Kennedy (1963) and five years later, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Richard, “Tricky Dick”, Nixon’s criminal Presidency and the defeat of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1975, topped off consecutive seasons of discontent. These successive traumas gradually undermined America’s self esteem and raised doubts about a future world order. All the while, allies of the U.S. continued to expect the US to confront and pay for any global conflict, arising anywhere, at any time. Talk about Schaden Freude!

–  All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.          ….Thomas Paine

At the time of  Reagan’s Berlin speech, religion had ceased to be a significant moral force in many western cultures. But, still gripping the heartland of America was a deep Christian belief in the wrath of God, the fear of death and its aftermath.

Then came 9/11, 11 September, 2001, when hijackings of four US commercial airplanes by Jihadists galvanized the US, bringing terror back to the heartland and providing political opportunists a ready made bandwagon. Before a joint session of Congress in January, 2002, George W. Bush used 9/11 to unveil  what became his presidency’s slogan, “Axis of Evil”, a not very subtle allusion to our II World War enemies and Biblical admonishments.  “Axis of Evil” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction” paved the way for a March, 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

– The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary          …H. L. Mencken

Tragically the War with Iraq, as it came to be known, was unnecessary.  Provoked by Dick Cheney, and justified by Gen. Colin Powell who, in February 2003, presented the United Nations with seemingly unimpeachable proof of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, the US invaded Iraq, dragging its allies behind it. But Colin Powell had been set up.  When Dick Cheney’s proof later proved to be fabricated, world wide condemnation of the US followed.

US tactics have been useless against individual acts of terror and so called Mid-East Jihadists. Those tactics, for there is no evidence of an intelligent strategy, have only exacerbated Mid-East problems. The institutional chaos among today’s Muslims is comparable to the Reformation in northern Europe when Catholicism splintered into multiple Protestant sects. Then as now, the conflicts have more to do with power than religious doctrine. Finally exhausted from years of carnage, Europe began to sort things out, sort of. The Mid-East must do the same.

It’ll take time, probably a long time, but that’s okay. Let’s leave the ball in their court and while they’re figuring out which strain of muslimicity is the purist, we can keep busy at home, shedding our ethnocentricity and recouping the losses we’ve suffered during our attempts to impose our brand of capitalism and democracy where it’s unwanted. Oh yes. We can also deal with the crooks on Wall Street. [1.]

Meanwhile, the Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. According to current political cant, it will take years, perhaps generations to defeat terrorism. Now everyone can breath easily. No need to confront national problems, simply fixate on terror. However, proponents of a long term engagement with terror would do well to remember the fate of the French in Viet Nam, the Russians in Afghanistan, Napoleon in Russia, the Brits in America twice and the US in Viet Nam. Terror is part of the human condition. It will never be defeated by war. It can be sublimated, but that’s something our politicians seem willing to avoid.

For people saturated with terrorism, perpetually trapped, as it were, inside an Iron Maiden with an adolescent suicide bomber, I suggest the following remedies. Frequent and liberal doses of sarcasm, mockery, laughter and ridicule would certainly help. And read up on some terrorists from back-in-the-day. History will reveal contemporary terrorists to be merely tawdry exhibitionists.

Their kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, burnings and mass murders, constantly talked about, reported on and analyzed, will pale into insignificanse when compared to the exquisite terrors inflicted byTimor Lane, Pope Innocent the IV,  Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These sadists did not wear masks nor seek publicity. They were confident of their missions. Leave all this Mid-East stuff to the Mid-East, the entire Mid-East. They’ve started killing each other, a good sign, so leave them to it. As Jon Stewart said, ” It’s all Bull shit”. So let’s start cleaning the shit off our boots. They’ve been on the ground for far too long.

[1.] The financial crash of 2008 was another kind of terror. American’s awoke to discover their  investments and pensions had been electronically siphoned into Wall Street banks. Overnight, America’s middle class almost disappeared and to date, no bank financial officer has been prosecuted, much less put in jail. The nation’s unity, so prominent after World War II, was fractured into a corrosive cocktail of bewilderment, disbelief, cynicism, disgust and fear. In seventy years, the US has dwindled from the world’s richest, most optimistic and powerful nation, to third world status.

The question is, will it stay there?

Note: In 1945, I was 8 years old. I clearly remember VE Day. I and my fellow students were given small paper American flags and sang “God Bless America” as we marched en mass around our school.

 
 

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Aspects of Terror 2. Paris, 1757.

Foucault, Michel:  Discipline & Punish, the Birth of the Prison, translated from the French by Alan Sheridan, pps. 3-5,Vintage Books, New York, 1995

The Body of the Condemned

On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris, where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds’; then, ‘in the said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be tom from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds’.

‘Finally, he was quartered, recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. ‘This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints.

‘It is said that, though he was always a great swearer, no blas­phemy escaped his lips; but the excessive pain made him utter horrible cries, and he often repeated: “ My God, have pity on me! Jesus, help me!” The spectators were all edified by the solicitude of the parish priest of St. Paul’s who despite his great age did not spare himself in offering consolation to the patient.

Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: ‘The sulphur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

‘After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot con­taining the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

‘Monsieur Le Breton, the clerk of the court, went up to the patient several times and asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not; at each torment, he cried out, as the damned in hell are supposed to cry out, “Pardon, my God! Pardon, Lord.” Despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly. The cords had been tied so tightly by the men who pulled the ends that they caused him indescribable pain. Monsieur le Breton went up to him again and asked him if he had anything to say; he said no. Several confessors went up to him and spoke to him at length; he willingly kissed the crucifix that was held out to him; he opened his lips and repeated: “ Pardon, Lord.”

‘The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

Scan

‘Finally, the executioner, Samson, said to Monsieur Le Breton that there was no way or hope of succeeding, and told him to ask their Lordships if they wished him to have the prisoner cut into pieces. Monsieur Le Breton, who had come down from the town, ordered that renewed efforts be made, and this was done; but the horses gave up and one of those harnessed to the thighs fell to the ground. The confessors returned and spoke to him again. He said to them (I heard him): “ Kiss me, gentlemen.” The parish priest of St Paul’s did not dare to, so Monsieur de Marsilly slipped under the rope holding the left arm and kissed him on the forehead. The executioners gathered round and Damiens told them not to swear, to carry out their task and that he did not think ill of them; he begged them to pray to God for him, and asked the parish priest of St Paul’s to pray for him at the first mass.

‘After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.
‘When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

In accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes. The last piece to be found in the embers was still burning at half-past ten in the evening. The pieces of flesh and the trunk had taken about four hours to burn. The officers of whom I was one, as also was my son, and a detachment of archers remained in the square until nearly eleven o’clock.

For an analysis of Discipline & Punish, the Birth of the Prison, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish

 

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Aspects of Terror 1. Alerts To Threats In 2015 Europe From John Cleese.

ALERTS TO THREATS IN 2015 EUROPE
From JOHN CLEESE

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country’s military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy.  These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be right, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

Regards,
John Cleese ,
British writer, actor and tall person

And as a final thought – Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 B.C.

 

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The Tour de France, 2015

Stage 19 of 21, The Tour de France in the Alps. A downhill stretch prior to the last ascent to 5,000 feet above sea level.

Stage 19 of 21, The Tour de France in the Alps. A downhill stretch prior to the last ascent to 5,000 feet above sea level.

 

Landscape near Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, south east France. End of Stage 19, The Tour de France, 2015.

Landscape near Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, south east France. End of Stage 19, The Tour de France, 2015.

An Alpine scene near Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, France.

An Alpine scene near Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, France.

Every year beginning in early July, the great three week long bicycle race, the Tour de France is televised and I watch. Of course I marvel at the physical condition and endurance of the cyclists. They pedal continuously for hours a day at speeds ranging from 10 mph whilst ascending inclines of 10%  or more, to speeds of 50 miles an hour and above  as they soar downhill or sprint to the finish line. The incredible explosions towards the finish by the sprinters is breathtaking. As a dyed in the wine couch potato I simply cannot fathom how these young men do what they do. However, the real attraction for me is the scenery. The two fellows who have been broadcasting this event for years, have info about the various scenes appearing during the race, usually shown from a helicopter. They’ll tell the age of a church or cathedral, how long it was a building, the history of a castle, plenty of those in this year’s Pyrenees Mountain stage, and they’ll point out Château to whose owners they’ve spoken and who just might be the 15th generation occupants.

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This year’s race covered a 1,464 mile circuit through various parts of France. The villages are delightful to see. As well, wineries, Château, farms, mountains, castles, canyons and the fields in impressionist colours, provide unforgettable scenes from this endlessly fascinating country. This year, the tour spent one day in the westen Ardeche, immediately beyond the Rhone River and its Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards among others. Below is a Chateau with eight cylindrical towers, one of the national treasures of France.

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Every year the race ends in Paris on the Champs-Élysées route. The riders ride now a total of 8 laps (up towards the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, round les Tuileries and the Louvre and across the Place de la Concorde back to the Champs-Élysées.) This is a rather slippery spoke as a great part of the route is on cobblestones. Usually the leader of the race  is protected by his teammates and they are buried in the midst of the peleton, the majority of racers whose job it is to support and protect their star mountain climbers, sprinters, time trial specialists and road racers.  A disaster can occur if any cyclist in the peleton loses his concentration for just a moment and crashes, particularly in front of the  leader, thus making the efforts of three weeks come to naught.  Around and around they go. And finally, if all goes as the teams planned, there is a winner, sometimes by just a minute or two.

To watch the tour live, you’ll need to have cable and rise very early in the morning. If that’s beyond the pale, there is an 8 PM summary. Monday’s are rest days.

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Universal Health Care from a Northern Perspective

“Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced the Medical Care Act in 1966 that allowed each province to establish a universal health care plan. In 1984, the Canada Health Act was passed prohibiting user fees and extra billing by doctors. In 1999 the Social Union Framework Agreement committed Canada to health care that has “comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration and accessibility.” excerpted and edited from Wikipedia

In my travels I meet people from the United States who want to know my thoughts on Obama care. I usually avoid discussing the plan, pleading ignorance. But if I had a chance I would explain healthcare in Canada, at least from my perspective.

I arrived in Canada in 1967. Lately some substantial health issues have helped me test the care and cost under present conditions.

In the last 15 years I’ve had  two full hip replacements using stainless steel and titanium prosthetics from Germany. I also had a hernia operation. The hip replacements were done in the Orthopedic and Arthritic Hospital in midtown Toronto. There are 10 orthopedic surgeons on staff and the techniques and quality of care are second to none. Toronto Western Hospital has a new ophthalmological wing where I had a macular hole closed in my left eye and cataracts removed with high frequency ultrasound. The costs of all  these procedures were covered by Canada’s universal health care system and Canadian tax payers.

To combat my high blood pressure, my long-time family physician worked out what he called a very potent cocktail of drugs. I have no idea what the weekly cost of this cocktail would be in the United States, but I guess it would be too much for me to handle as a senior citizen. I pay one small fee a  year to the Canadian government, something just over $100, and a very small pharmacy fee for prescription refills. My drugs are effective and individual provinces negotiate best prices with drug manufactures from around the world.

I am always bewitched and bothered by Americans who fight against government programs designed to make their lives  more comfortable. Those objecting most strenuously are often the conomically poor and middle class, who could be bankrupted by long term care. By coercion, corruption and fear, pharmaceutical and insurance companies in collusion with their political minions, have convinced Americans of Obama Care’s anti-Americanism, even attaching and popularizing its derogatory name.

When Barack Obama ran for president of the United States, he espoused a single-payer health plan. What the American people ultimately got was an almost incomprehensible tome thousands of pages thick. Perhaps something simple and useful will eventually filter through this bureaucratic silt. I hope so.

When universal health care began to take hold in Canada, its population was 19 million. Today it’s 38 million, about 3 million fewer than the state of California. These facts beg the question, with a U.S. population of 319 million, why the problems with health care?

Keep well and have a good day.

 

 

 

 

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