Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Animal Lexicon" is available here!

My longterm project, ANIMAL LEXICON, is now in its third edition and will be for sale through this blog.

It's a handmade book, 136 pages in length, 8.5" by 6.5" in size, stitch-bound, with original and public-domain artwork, including some hand coloring and stamping. The book is a humorous yet massively informative lexicon of English words and phrases based on the animal kingdom, arranged by taxa - that is, Kingdom/Phylum/Class/Order/Family/Genus/Species.
The cost is $20 PPD.

Here's what a cover looks like:

And here are a few pages from the inside:

And a few more:

Available in a variety of colors:

Blue, too!

And a few more pix for the road:

To order a copy, the address is ANIMAL LEXICON, 1470 Crofton Parkway, Crofton, MD 21114. Checks and money orders welcome.

Marian Coombs
Some commentary:

From Georgie Anne Geyer, Washington, D.C.: "Your book is charming - I love it. So original ... so much fun and really informative. I will enjoy giving them as gifts to the fastidious."
  • Janet Kester Peoples of the world, this Lexicon was inspired by an animal god
    -- you must have it!
It's so very wonderful! I'll be curling up with the precious Lexicon
tonight, gray and black cats purring at my flanks.
From D.R.B., Sacramento: "It's wild! It's wacko! It's so cool! A great book! Great art! Great binding! Brilliant! Obviously a labor of intellect and love. I cherish my copy."

From T.C., Philadelphia: "The Lexicon is half consumed - I can't wait to go back for more. I love when I read and can 'hear' the author's voice. ... The lexicon is a bargain at twice the price! Thank you."

From D.T., Maryland: "I love what you sent me! So many interesting tidbits and turns of phrases. I love the pictures of course also."

From J.M., Buffalo: "I got the Lexicon and it looks wonderful! I can only imagine the time and thought that you put into it. I have only begun to look through it but I expect to enjoy it for years to come."

From A.C., Maryland: "Your book is really GREAT."

From C.L., Berkeley: "your lexicon collection is lovely; I love the calligraphy and ponder your style of choices to include."

From N.O., Woodbridge, VA: "SO CUTE."

From E.T., Berkeley, CA: "adorable!"

From J. V., Denver: "We loved your book ... Beautiful."

From Mr. R.J.L., Delaware: "I have spent a good part of this evening reading the book. All the way through --- couldn’t put it down. And enjoyed it!!! I was amused, bemused, and in the “Yeah—right on” mode. A lot of research and thought."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Theses on the Scheme

Credit rating agencies like Moody's and Standard & Poor's seem to be a player in the overall financial dilemma. They give the speculators, usurers, demagogues and thieves cover for their activities until it's too late.

Credit of course means belief. Creditworthy means believable. If you can't believe the connoisseurs of Belief, you'll have to believe your own senses.

There is no point in calling what's happening a dilemma, a problem or even a crisis. Because it is criminal, and even illegal, it should be called a scheme at the very least. Scam sounds too cute. It's been a long con. Conspiracy, or merely confidence game? Perhaps both.

The debt ceiling is obviously not a ceiling at all nor a limit of any kind. It exists to be exceeded. Even a fig leaf serves the purpose of hiding something. The debt ceiling no longer even hides anything. Like the agencies, it is an element of the Ponzi scheme.

The U.S. is "in danger" of having its credit rating downgraded from Triple A to Double A. Obviously even this rating is far too high; the rating should be BS, or at least BR for "bankrupt," because we are - bankrupt, that is.

A lowered credit rating will mean having to pay a higher interest rate to borrow. Why should the U.S. not have to pay higher interest to borrow? Higher interest is intended to curb borrowing (supply and demand). Isn't it a good idea for bankrupts to curb their borrowing?

What will happen if the U.S. defaults? First, it would not happen immediately, as there is so much revenue pouring in and already on hand. But default would mark the beginning of the end of government by Ponzi scheme. It is probable that we can't even begin to end it without taking the hit of default. Default is that cold shower of Reality that our "leaders" have been desperate to avoid for so many years now. Since the U.S. is not good for its debts, default merely acknowledges that fact. Isn't the first step in ending addiction the recognition that the addiction exists?

By saying "We are not Greece," Obama confirms that we are Greece - we are all Greece now. Dilemma ... problema ... krisis ... schema ... It's all Greek to us.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Formula

A beautiful summer it has been on this beautiful planet. What "summer" is on the other planets and their moons, one shudders to contemplate. What "summer" is for stars without planetary systems is even more problematic. I guess you have to be there.

I dreamed last night that I dressed up in an expensive outfit, got my hair and nails done, etc., strolled out in my designer stilettos and was immediately taken for Somebody. They asked how I had become so successful, and I answered, "I just decided that everything about Life is wonderful, awe-inspiring, blessed, a gift and a joy," or words to that effect.

I woke up feeling great! Now the trick is to remember the formula.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Divide et impera

"Divide and conquer" is as old as the hills, which is why it's rendered above in Latin. The imperial Romans used it and so have all successful rulers of mankind. It's a classic strategy for gaining and holding on to power.

In the classless U.S. we call it class warfare, and it's been operating brilliantly since the era of Andrew Jackson to keep us headed in the direction of plutocracy. It's a simple formula: I resent you for making $7,500 bucks a year more than I do, you resent some guy for having a "Cadillac" healthcare plan, that guy resents me for not being "under water" on my mortgage, still another guy resents both of us for our "gold-plated" pensions.

It's chump change they've got us squabbling over, folks. Sure, public employee unions are by no means "heroic laborers" in the mold of coal miners, longshoremen, weavers, textile workers, teamsters or steelworkers. But that doesn't mean they're the enemy either. However "lavish" (compared to what?) the deals union leaders have cut with their state employers, it's just stupid to scapegoat other working people as the cause of all our financial woes. For one thing, they're not. For another, it's class-warfare, divide-and-conquer rhetoric, and we're falling for it. Again.

We need more unions, in fact, not fewer. Most existing unions may well be corrupt, job-destroying slush funds for politicians - but they are among the last forms of self-organization We the People have. A society without grass-roots, local, voluntary associations (if you ever studied history, they used to call them Friendly Societies, and along with churches and synagogues they were the origin of credit unions, savings and loans, insurance companies, unemployment and disability compensation, fire departments, schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and many other fine things) is a society already divided and conquered. Think thrice before you support breaking up Big Labor. Organize yourself instead of disorganizing others.

Another example of that insidious D&C rhetoric: The New York Times is not what you'd think of as a populist broadsheet, so when it runs articles like "Enriching a Few at the Expense of Many" (April 10, 2011), you have to wonder. Companies should exist, the article argues, for the benefit of shareholders, not insiders. Shareholders and investors are the owners of a company; "excessive" executive pay robs these owners of their fair share of company profits and may even bankrupt the company in the end.

The general outrage at "Wall Street" in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-present takes a similar form. People feel they have the right to condemn private corporations for "overcompensating" their CEOs and other top employees. The government should "do something" about it.

Hell, the government would love to. They're always trying to take over the private sector and dictate its every move. The populist ressentiment spawned by the 2008 crash finds favor with an administration whose upper reaches are more populated than ever by literally dozens of revolving-door alumni of Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, etc. Capitalism for the ruling class, socialism for the masses - that's what we need to be looking at, not who got some chump-change million-dollar bonus. If shareholders own these companies, let them deal with how much the brass gets compensated. It's amazing how laserlike people's attentiveness becomes when their own money's at stake.

The point is, rich people aren't the problem. Personal wealth is not the problem. Most of us want to get rich; just because someone else is rich doesn't mean you can't be rich as well. Not only do most rich people get rich from being smart and inventing things and processes - and then invest their riches to create goods and services and jobs - but people ascend to riches and topple from riches all the time. It is not a static category.

More crucially, there's a difference between being powerful and just being rich. The powerful are rich, but not all the rich are powerful. Archimedes, the famed Greek mathematician and inventor, once stated that if he had a place to stand and a lever long enough, he could move the earth itself. It's not how much personal wealth you possess, but whether you are in a position or are motivated to leverage it: to wield it like an instrument, a weapon to force "change," to crush opponents, to buy loyalties, to suborn consciences, to seed the media with Big Lies, to scare off advertisers and investors and supporters, to sap the value of currencies, to suck dry any remaining pockets of independent power, to orchestrate fictitious conflicts, to betray secrets, to corrupt ideals - and to rip off the little people of all nations.

Some of these leveragers aren't even super wealthy. All they've done is maneuver themselves into top decision-making spots at big foundations and trusts and hedge funds. A few billion bucks in the right hands is a great force-multiplier, a major magnifier of intent.

To return to the financial crisis, the state could gouge all the "excessive" cash out of every millionaire and all 400 billionaires in America, and that still wouldn't cover the interest on our sovereign debt for a single year. And the following year when the state returned for more, there would remain neither golden eggs nor geese for them to seize.

We need to ask different questions and quit lapsing into the same old tired whinging about who's "working class" and who's "bourgeois," who's "underprivileged" and who's "overprivileged." I frankly can't think of anyone more overprivileged than a U.S. congressman, except maybe the president. The main question we need to ask is:

To whom do we owe this amazing treasure trove of $14+ trillion? Who are they, where do they live, and where did they get those trillions - quadrillions - to lend to us and to the rest of the world? What do they expect for their unwanted largesse?

Here's the compound interest formula:
It's an exponential function.
It adds up dizzylingly fast.
And it's all perfectly legal!

The U.S. economy is now the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of the planet. It works something like this:

The government demands to spend fantastic amounts of money on whatever Good Works pop into its head. The money is created out of thin air by the Federal Reserve. The government then owes the money to the Fed (and our close friend China, among others). The government taxes individuals and businesses to pay back the debt - or actually, just the interest on the debt, or debt service, because they are in no position to pay back principal at this point. So the Fed gets repaid with real money in exchange for the fiat, ersatz, unsecured, digitized currency they've issued. This is a major way the transfer of wealth from working people - blue collar, white collar, professional, small business and corporate - occurs.

The debt service portion of the budget is far more untouchable than entitlement and defense spending. At least the latter two budget segments are mentioned as cuttable now and again. Debt forgiveness is unmentionable. Unthinkable!

But what would happen if we tried to renegotiate or even repudiate all that accumulated, compounded, usurious indebtedness, all those loans so heedlessly made in our and our children's and our grandchildren's names? What would happen if we declared bankruptcy, defaulted, just walked away? Who would come after us? The IRS? That handful of old guys at the Fed? The tanned septuagenarians of the Council on Foreign Relations, World Bank, IMF, Trilateral Commission, Club of Rome or Bilderberg Group?

Where are their legions? Do they command an armed force, which after all is what lurks behind all "promises to pay" and the "full faith and credit" of the financial system? Would their behest be enough to send troops on the march against fellow Americans?

The only threat mentioned when - horror of horrors - anyone brings up the "specter of default" on the sovereign debt is that the banks would quit lending to us. Perfect! We don't want to borrow any more. We didn't want to borrow any more $14 trillion ago!

Some believe we need our own billionaire, a People's billionaire, someone who can't be bought and can't be ruined by the scratch of a pen like the rest of us can, who will represent the little people of this country and stand up for us against the Great Indebtors. This is the allure of a Perot, a Bloomberg or a Trump.

But maybe we don't need such a savior. Maybe we can walk away, just walk away and see what happens. File Chapter 7-11 or whatever number it is. Push the reset button. Do-over. Clear the screen and reboot. You can come out now, all is forgiven ...

Is any banker going to starve because Citigroup took a bath on its bad investments? More likely a whole lot of little people will starve if we don't get out from under those suspiciously sacred obligations.

Forgive and forget: it could be our only way out.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Salt of the Earth

SALT is a mineral (sodium chloride, NaCl) that most forms of terrestrial life need to survive. The idiom that means you are "entitled to live" is "to be worth your salt." Several cultures welcome guests with a dish of bread and salt - bread for hospitality and salt for friendship.

The hierarchy of eating at a table was long described as sitting "below the salt" or "above the salt." The value of salt and its scarcity in the ancient world were such that the Romans paid their legions partly in sal, root of the word "salary." (It is also the root of the word "salacious.") The discovery that salt preserved perishable food ("curing") was a key element in the transition of humanity from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists.

"To rub salt in a wound" is painful, but helps the wound heal. Rome made sure that Carthage would not rise again by sowing its lands with salt ...

Our blood, our sweat and our tears are all salty. So is the fluid that sustains us before birth - a brew that harks back to the oceans whence we came.

The human tongue possesses specialized areas for the tasting of salt. A salt craving arises just like thirst and hunger when the body senses its lack. Animals travel thousands of miles to reach deposits of salt. Drawing dramatic attention to the need for salt: In Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," the Spaniards root like hogs to get at a vein of salt in the ground, and in Peter Weir's "The Way Back" at least one man becomes obsessed with salt even as he wastes away. In my own family there are two salt-cravers and two salt-take-it-or-leavers, so there is probably a genetic basis for degrees of salt-savoring.

Places all over the world have been named for their abundance of natural salt - Tuzla in Bosnia, Salzburg in Austria, French Lick in Indiana (see poem by Stephen Vincent Benét below), Saline in Kansas, Big Lick in Tennessee, Paint Lick in Kentucky, Beaver Lick in Missouri and so on. One source notes that
The Romans ... called [the Celts] Galli or Gauls, coming from a Greek word, used by the Egyptians as well, hal, meaning 'salt.' They were the salt people. The name of the town that sits on an East German salt bed, Halle, like the Austrian towns of Hallein, Swabisch Hall and Hallstat, has the same root as do both Galicia in northern Spain and Galicia in southern Poland, where the town of Halych is found. All these places were named for Celtic saltworks. ... Like the ancient Chinese emperors, [the Celts] based their economy on salt and iron ...
(from Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky - great book!)

The word "hal" is preserved in the name for rock salt crystals, halite. (I wonder if it might also be the root of "Hail," healing and health.)

Desperate quests and wars and endless caravans have been launched to secure supplies of salt, and riots have erupted over taxes on salt. Surveyors in early America were instructed to "to make note of (the following): the quality of soil and the situation of all mines, salt licks, salt springs and mill seats which may come to your knowledge and are to be regarded and noticed in your field books.”

The Egyptians used what they called natrun (from the Wadi Natrun or Salt Valley, a source of naturally occurring sodium carbonate) to preserve mummies, which is where sodium got its chemical symbol Na (via the borrowed Greek nitron and Latin natrium).

Generations of schoolchildren have thrilled to the realization that sodium - a soft, light, sinuous silvery-white alkaline metal that explodes on contact with water - combines with chlorine - a burning greenish-yellow halogen gas - to form common ordinary table salt.

Sodium chloride not only preserves food and pharaohs but is essential to
transmission of nerve impulses around the body, regulating the electrical charges moving in and out of the cells. It also controls our taste, smell and tactile processes and helps our muscles, including the heart, to contract.

Chloride is important for a range of vital processes including digestion and the absorption of potassium into the body. It also helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide from respiring tissues to the lungs and preserves the acid-base balance in the body.

When the immune system is under attack, chlorine helps to fight off infection since hypochlorite, a chlorine-containing compound, forms in white blood cells and either attacks the germs itself, or helps to activate other agents that carry out the same function.

(from "Salt and Physiology" by the European Salt Producers' Association)

I've been thinking about Salt now that bans on added salt are being contemplated by various levels of government. The thinking is that money will be saved that would have been spent on the consequences of high dietary sodium, which some studies blame for hypertension and its attendant ills. Not all scientists believe sodium is the culprit, though. And clearly a lot of people ingest copious amounts of salt all their lives without ill effect.

The spectre of a Salt Czar has been raised, in any case. Considering the vital importance of salt to human history and the human body, it might not be a good idea to let any group, no matter how "well-intentioned," dictate whether we may savor our salt or not. We have learned the hard way the we must take schemes for the Improvement of Mankind cum grano salis.* One man's flavor is another man's poison; to each his own; there is no accounting for taste - nor should there be. For "if the salt hath lost its savour, with what shall it be salted?"

*with a grain of salt

American Names
by Stephen Vincent Benét

I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.

Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
Played on the keys of a postboy's horn,
But I will remember where I was born.

I will remember Carquinez Straits,
Little French Lick and Lundy's Lane,
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.
I will remember Skunktown Plain.

I will fall in love with a Salem tree
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,
I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
And a blue-gum n***** to sing me blues.
I am tired of loving a foreign muse.

Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman's Oast,
It is a magic ghost you guard
But I am sick for a newer ghost,
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.

Henry and John were never so
And Henry and John were always right?
Granted, but when it was time to go
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?

I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmédy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.