Monday Reads: Playing Hot Potato with a Costly War

Good Day Sky Dancers!

It’s hard to explain how much of what’s going on in Kabul today should rest directly and squarely on the bad faith negotiations of Trump’s Secretary of State–steal all the government booze–Pompeo.  Please watch this smug, smarmy, man laugh while under questioning by Representative Allred who asks what we’re doing to ensure that our conditions will be good as we leave Kabul.  It amazes me that more isn’t being made about Pompeo’s role in the chaos we experience now.  It’s worth remembering that all this was negotiated about a year ago.   Oh, wait, it was supposed to be negotiated at Camp David with Trump on the anniversary of 9/11 last year.  President Tin Ear was stopped on that one however.

Here’s Chris Wallace on Fox News dumping on the man who created this mess as he lies his way to a nonanswer.

Jennifer Ruben’s opinion piece today at WaPo discusses “Why so many people find Biden an easy target.” 

The vehemence with which many politicians and media pundits on the left and right have attacked President Biden should not be surprising. Given the chaotic and heart-wrenching scenes in Afghanistan, the commander in chief becomes an obvious target, especially for a press corps desperate to show they do not have a liberal bias.

But “chaotic” does not equal “failed,” and just because our intelligence community blew it big time — again — does not mean the United States has abandoned its Afghan partners. Since Aug. 14, we have evacuated over 37,000 people. The United States has enlisted a slew of allies to help receive refugees. And our allies remain united that they will not recognize nor extend aid to the Taliban until we are satisfied they have not hindered our evacuation and are respecting human rights.

Despite the torrent of angry media coverage, a recent CBS News poll found that 63 percent of Americans still want out of Afghanistan. And while Biden’s approval ratings have dipped (largely due to the covid-19 surge), the decline is less than one might expect. In NBC News’s poll, for example, he has dropped only one point among registered voters — from 51 to 50 percent — since April. So why is the media so determined to convey that Biden’s effort has “failed”?

Too many reporters adopt the talking points of critics of an administration, even when those critics have an interest to make Biden the fall guy. The media, for example, have parroted the right wing’s deliberate effort to impugn the Biden administration’s motives about “abandoning Afghans” (as it airlifts tens of thousands of them out the country) while ignoring the Trump team’s destruction of the visa system. With a straight face, reporters ask for the judgment of politicians and those in the military who lied for two decades about progress in Afghanistan — as if they and the reporters themselves hadn’t contributed to the rosy, false narrative about the Afghan army’s viability. And the media have run with the notion that the Biden administration broke Afghans’ “morale” rather than focusing on our utter failure to forge a national army, the endemic corruption in their government and Afghan leaders’ selling out to the Taliban for money.

The media almost by definition operates on anecdotes. They see European back-benchers criticizing Biden and squawk about a crisis among our allies. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Sunday:

From the get-go, I’ve spent more time with our NATO partners in Brussels, virtually, from before the president made his decision, to when he made his decision, to every time since. We’ve been working very, very closely together. We’ve gotten the G7 together, NATO together, the U.N. Security Council together. We had 113 countries, thanks to our diplomacy, put out a clear understanding of the Taliban’s requirements to let people leave the country. … I’ve heard, across the board, deep appreciation and thanks from allies and partners for everything that we’ve done to bring our allies and partners out of harm’s way. This has been a remarkable part of the effort. I’ve seen them stand up, step up to help out, including, as I said, agreements with more than two dozen countries now to help out on transit. And beyond that, we’re very focused together on the way forward, including the way forward in Afghanistan, and setting very clear expectations for the Taliban in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Which is the better indicator of our allies’ sentiments: stray comments to the media, or all of the actions Blinken outlined?

A Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) provides fresh water to a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz)

Listening to the people who served there is a good way to get out of the damn media’s obsessions with creating tempests in teapots and seeing what was going to be a difficult process–even if perfectly planned–as the problem of the guy who’s only had 7ish months of holding a 20-year-old hot potato.  This is from the Kansas City Star and was written by  Veteran Lucas Kince who served in that theatre: “I served in Afghanistan as a US Marine, twice. Here’s the truth in two sentences.”

What we are seeing in Afghanistan right now shouldn’t shock you. It only seems that way because our institutions are steeped in systematic dishonesty. It doesn’t require a dissertation to explain what you’re seeing. Just two sentences.

One: For 20 years, politicians, elites and D.C. military leaders lied to us about Afghanistan.

Two: What happened last week was inevitable, and anyone saying differently is still lying to you.

I know because I was there. Twice. On special operations task forces. I learned Pashto as a U.S. Marine captain and spoke to everyone I could there: everyday people, elites, allies and yes, even the Taliban.

The truth is that the Afghan National Security Forces was a jobs program for Afghans, propped up by U.S. taxpayer dollars — a military jobs program populated by nonmilitary people or “paper” forces (that didn’t really exist) and a bevy of elites grabbing what they could when they could.

You probably didn’t know that. That’s the point.

And it wasn’t just in Afghanistan. They also lied about Iraq.

I led a team of Marines training Iraqi security forces to defend their country. When I arrived I received a “stoplight” chart on their supposed capabilities in dozens of missions and responsibilities. Green meant they were good. Yellow was needed improvement; red said they couldn’t do it at all.

I was delighted to see how far along they were on paper — until I actually began working with them. I attempted to adjust the charts to reflect reality and was quickly shut down. The ratings could not go down. That was the deal. It was the kind of lie that kept the war going.

So when people ask me if we made the right call getting out of Afghanistan in 2021, I answer truthfully: Absolutely not. The right call was getting out in 2002. 2003. Every year we didn’t get out was another year the Taliban used to refine their skills and tactics against us — the best fighting force in the world. After two decades, $2 trillion and nearly 2,500 American lives lost, 2021 was way too late to make the right call.

What I have read repeatedly from folks on the ground is that the only people that try won the 20 year-long war were military contractors and corrupt government officials in Afghanistan.  You can read my Friday reads for more on that from former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes.

The reality of Biden’s follow through with the result of the Trump/Pompeo man-crushes on the Taliban is explained by CNN’s John Harwood. “Why Biden’s Afghanistan exit wasn’t about good politics”.  We always knew what Biden wanted because he stated his opposition to the failed Obama Surge while he was VEEP.

In ending America’s longest war, President Joe Biden did something popular. It was never going to help him politically.

That was true before damaging images of chaos and desperation filled American television screens last week. The reason is that public opinion about the Afghanistan conflict, as with most overseas events and issues, remains ill-defined and loosely held.

Even after 20 years, the conflict that ended with the lightning Taliban takeover represents a distant blur for most Americans. Only a small sliver of the US population has a personal connection to the war through service in the all-volunteer military. Its duration through years of diminishing troop levels and casualties led much of the public to tune the story out.

Pollsters who have tracked the subject describe opinions no firmer than jello. Asked whether the American military should stay or leave, majorities say leave. Asked whether the military should leave or stay to continue counterterrorism operations, majorities say stay.

Either way, voters have not counted Afghanistan among their top-priority concerns. Survey research on foreign policy, observed Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, “is always very fluid.”

That reality means that neither side of the long-running debate on the war can unambiguously claim the upper hand in public sentiment.

Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war. AFP PHOTO

From the initial push for war by the Bush administration to the idea of a surge by the Obama administration to the total dump it on the Taliban and let Biden deal with it by the Trump administration there has been one bad commitment to bad ideas after another. You all know I’ve never been a big Biden fan.  I have to say he’s the only President that just decided to get it done and be done with it.  The collapse of Kabul was always inevitable since the Afghanistan people and their regionalism vs federalism approach to things has seriously been misunderstood by many “experts”. It still seems this was another nation-building opportunity that only enriched the military-industrial complex.  That’s my thoughts.

In other news, the FDA has given the Pfizer vaccine full approval.

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.” 

Since Dec. 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has been available under EUA in individuals 16 years of age and older, and the authorization was expanded to include those 12 through 15 years of age on May 10, 2021. EUAs can be used by the FDA during public health emergencies to provide access to medical products that may be effective in preventing, diagnosing, or treating a disease, provided that the FDA determines that the known and potential benefits of a product, when used to prevent, diagnose, or treat the disease, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.

FDA-approved vaccines undergo the agency’s standard process for reviewing the quality, safety and effectiveness of medical products. For all vaccines, the FDA evaluates data and information included in the manufacturer’s submission of a biologics license application (BLA). A BLA is a comprehensive document that is submitted to the agency providing very specific requirements. For Comirnaty, the BLA builds on the extensive data and information previously submitted that supported the EUA, such as preclinical and clinical data and information, as well as details of the manufacturing process, vaccine testing results to ensure vaccine quality, and inspections of the sites where the vaccine is made. The agency conducts its own analyses of the information in the BLA to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective and meets the FDA’s standards for approval.

I am without patience for anyone not getting the vaccine.  I’m still ready to tell them to go to their crazy places–churches, Republican Party National Headquarter, Mara Lago, etc.– to get treatment and stay away from our children and healthcare workers.  More and more employers are mandating vaccines and I’m really down with that.

So, what’s on your blogging list today?  This war and pandemic stuff is wearing me out!


Friday Reads: United States of Embarrassment

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

It’s hard to know where to start the day’s news round up because it’s just one big shit show brought to you by KKKremlin Caligula. There was an active school shooter this morning in Sante Fe, Texas where they have been injuries and fatalities reported. While this was going on, the most despised human being on the planet was tweeting about Hillary Clinton and some deep state cover up by the FBI which is tantamount to broadcasting some Alex Jones drug-induced conspiracy theory to the world.

I can only hope that this means that something has his tighty whities in a bunch.  Is it that Manafort’s son-in-law turned state’s evidence and cut a plea deal?  Was it the very idea that some one in his campaign triggered an FBI investigation which may have put an agent inside watching things? Is it just that every times he opens his mouth something completely idiotic and wrong slips out.

This is the same national embarrassment that is now speaking of himself in the third person and has no idea what the difference is between HPV and HIV and had to ask twice about it. But, he has an embarrassing level of detail and interest in the 22 year old daughter of Bill and Melinda Gates.  He keeps admitting that his pastime is “eyeing little girls with bad intent.”

From the Guardian: “Bill Gates: Trump twice asked me the difference between HIV and HPV. Microsoft co-founder tells foundation meeting it was ‘kind of scary’ how much Trump knew about what Gates’ daughter looked like.

Bill Gates, the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, has claimed Donald Trump twice asked him the difference between HIV and HPV and knew a “scary” amount about Gates’s daughter’s looks.

The remarks were recorded at a recent Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation meeting, where Gates took questions from staff, according to MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes show, which broadcast the footage on Thursday.

Gates told the audience how Trump had encountered his daughter Jennifer, now 22, at a horse show in Florida. “And then about 20 minutes later he flew in on a helicopter to the same place,” the Microsoft co-founder said. “So clearly he had been driven away but he wanted to make a grand entrance in a helicopter.”

Gates himself met Trump for the first time in New York in December 2016, he recalled: “So when I first talked to him it was actually kind of scary how much he knew about my daughter’s appearance. Melinda [Gates’s wife] didn’t like that too well.”

This was the additional creepy thing.

Gates is hardly known for his comic timing but he frequently prompted laughter from the audience at the foundation event. In one anecdote he said: “When I walked in, his first sentence kind of threw me off. He said: ‘Trump hears that you don’t like what Trump is doing.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, but you’re Trump.’ I didn’t know the third-party form was always expected. ‘Gates says that Gates knows that you’re not doing things right.’”

Trump has a now-familiar verbal tic of referring to himself in the third person.

So, the man that does not know the difference between HIV and HPV and likened his personal fight against STDs to serving in Vietnam continues to surrender women’s health to a racist, nationalist religious cult called White Evangelical Christianity.

The Trump administration is preparing to announce on Friday a far-reaching change in how Title X family planning funds are awarded so that clinics that provide or abortion services or referrals will no longer be eligible — a move that would effectively defund Planned Parenthood by millions of dollars.

Under the proposal to be filed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the $260 million program would require a “bright line” of physical and financial separation between Title X services and providers that perform, support, or refer to abortion as a method of family planning.

These requirements are similar to those that were in place, although they were not enforced, during the Reagan era. Unlike the Reagan regulation, the proposal will not prohibit counseling for clients about abortion, meaning that there’s no “gag rule” that critics of the changes had feared, according to an administration official.

The changes, the official said, reflect the view that taxpayer funds should not be used to fund abortion and that Title X funds are for family planning services, and abortion is not family planning. The updates are also designed to establish more transparency about the activities of grantees and their sub-grantees.

Conservatives are confident that the new rules will withstand a legal challenge, because similar Reagan-era requirements overcame a Supreme Court challenge.

David Christensen, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council, said in an interview that those standards required operations receiving Title X funds to be physically and financially separate from those performing abortions.

“Under Reagan, they could not be co-located, they couldn’t refer for abortion,” Christensen said.

Why do all bad and evil things find their roots in the Reagan years?  Asking for womankind here.  So, now Faux news has decided that Trump just might be the “second coming” of Reagan.  And while I’m asking questions does any one find all this messianic language creepy?  I swear,the Republican party is a damned cult these days.

Bret Baier, chief political anchor of Fox News, President Trump’s favorite network, insists he isn’t living in some alternate reality. He knows that our current President is louder, cruder, and ruder than Ronald Reagan, “a counterpuncher” from New York far different from his genial Republican predecessor. Baier is not handing Trump the Nobel Prize for a North Korea summit that hasn’t even happened yet, and he footnotes every conversation with a caution that we don’t know how the Trump story turns out. “I’m not saying that Trump is Reagan, or Reagan is Trump,” he said when we met the other day, in his corner office at the Fox bureau in Washington, not long after handing me a signed copy of the new book he wrote with Catherine Whitney, “Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Union.”

Cautions dispensed with, Baier, who has carved out a profitable sideline moonlighting as a Presidential historian, reeled off what he sees as striking parallels between Trump and Reagan, and his book makes much of everything from their “similar rhetoric in big speeches” to tough media coverage and a shared penchant for being “underestimated.” Decades after many of the details about precisely what happened in Reagan’s eight-year Presidency, in the twilight of the Cold War, have faded from public memory, he remains an exalted figure in the Republican pantheon. Most significantly, Baier argues, Reagan met with the Soviets, but only after years of talking tough about the “evil empire.” A generation later, Trump may be poised for his own expectation-scrambling summitry with the North Korean leader, an example Baier and some Trump partisans portray as a modern-day equivalent of Reagan’s policy of “peace through strength.” “Heads were exploding back when Reagan was elected, and heads are exploding now,” Baier said, as we talked about the twin challenges of covering Trump, a President “unlike any we’ve ever seen,” and writing history amid the “fire hose” of Trump-era news.

Right before our conversation, Baier had appeared on the radio with Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host who reveres Reagan so much he refers to him as Ronaldus Magnus. Limbaugh waxed on to Baier about “the parallels” between two different men, and Baier agreed. “Exactly,” he said. “One thing you can say is, like Reagan, Trump has changed the paradigm. I mean, the jury’s still out on the end result, but the game changed in the way Washington worked.” Baier, who devotes the entire last chapter of his Reagan book to a discussion of Trump, would go on to sell the Reagan-Trump comparison throughout the week, as his book launch continued, chatting amiably about it with the ladies of “The View,” nodding along with his colleagues at “Fox & Friends.” “Bret Baier talks Reagan-Trump parallels,” Fox touted in the video clip from its show, “The Five.”

Soon after our interview on Monday evening, Baier would head over to the Marriott Marquis hotel for his book party. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao showed up, as did White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. It was so crowded with Trump luminaries, it could have been a Cabinet meeting.

Here’s a real doozy of a “me too” story from Foreign Policy. “Sexpat Journalists Are Ruining Asia Coverage. Newsroom predators in foreign bureaus hurt their colleagues — and their stories.”  This is by Joanna Chiu.

Once, a fellow journalist exited our shared taxi outside my apartment. I thought we were sharing a cab to our respective homes, but he had other expectations, and suddenly his tongue was in my face. On another evening, another journalist grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of a nightclub without a word. I was clearly too drunk to consent; it was a caveman approach to get me into bed while I was intoxicated. And on yet another occasion, in a Beijing restaurant, a Western public relations executive reached under my dress and grabbed my crotch.

The incidents aren’t limited by proximity. I have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChat. Somewhere deep in the Chinese surveillance apparatus there is a startling collection of images of journalists’ genitalia.

The #MeToo campaign has reminded us of how common these stories are — but the behavior of foreign men working abroad has, in my experience, been far worse than anything I ever experienced at home. Fortunately for me, I’ve experienced this only as part of the wider journalist community, not in my own workplaces – but others haven’t been so lucky. The phenomenon is not a problem unique to the press, but it’s one that’s especially problematic for journalists.

A somber meeting this Tuesday of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, which represents the interests of foreign journalists in a difficult local environment, provided another painful example of this. As the New York Times reported, former club president Jonathan Kaiman, who had resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct by Laura Tucker, a former friend of his, was now accused of sexually assaulting a female journalist, Felicia Sonmez. After the second accusation, the Los Angeles Times quickly suspended him from his role as Beijing bureau chief and has begun an investigation. But as the Hong Kong Free Press noted, the original accusation had prompted many male correspondents to launch misogynistic attacks on Tucker in online conversations.

Such actions, and entitlement, reflect a sense of privilege and a penchant for sexual aggression that threatens to distort the stories told about Asia, and that too often leaves the telling in the hands of the same men preying on their colleagues. I have seen correspondents I know to be serial offenders in private take the lead role in reporting on the sufferings of Asian women, or boast of their bravery in covering human rights. In too many stories, Asian men are treated as the sole meaningful actors, while Asian women are reduced to sex objects or victims. And this bad behavior — and the bad coverage that follows — is a pattern that repeats across Asia, from Tokyo to Phnom Penh.

Meanwhile, it appears Trump has caved to NK’s Kim Jong Un and halted the joint training between the US and SK.  The only person that appears to be capable of maintaining maximum pressure is Michael Avenatti.  This is from Josh Rogin writing for WAPO.

The Trump administration says that if the upcoming summit between the United States and North Korea fails or doesn’t happen at all, the United States and its allies can go right back to the “maximum pressure” campaign that brought Kim Jong Un to the table in the first place. In reality, doing that would be difficult if not impossible. The pressure is already diminishing.

The administration’s claim that it can immediately turn on the pressure again is crucial to its effort to play it cool ahead of the Trump-Kim summit. President Trump often says that if Kim doesn’t want to strike a good deal, he will simply walk away, no harm done. After the North Korean government threatened to scuttle the talks this week in response to comments from national security adviser John Bolton, the White House doubled down on this assertion.

In reality, the dynamics that made a successful maximum-pressure campaign possible have changed fundamentally. The United States and its allies have paused their efforts to increase sanctions on North Korea to give diplomacy a chance to work. The sting of the existing sanctions naturally erodes over time. There are reports that China is already easing up on its sanctions enforcement, allowing more laborers and goods to flow over North Korea’s northern border. The mood in South Korea has changed significantly, making the threat of military action less credible.

Meanwhile, the United Nation is actively slapping US foreign policy on Israel to the ground. I’m actually thinking Trump will pull the US from the body at this point it’s so obviously aimed at him.  The UN has voted to investigate War Crimes in the Gaza Massacre that happened during the Kushner debacle opening an US embassy in Jerusalem. which, once again, panders to religious cultists. This is from The Independent.

The UN has voted to send an international war crimes probe to Gaza after the body’s leading human rights official slammed Israel‘s reaction to protests along the border as “wholly disproportionate.”

Israeli firing into Hamas-ruled Gaza killed nearly 60 Palestinians at mass border protests on Monday.

“There is little evidence of any attempt to minimise casualties on Monday,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The council voted through the resolution by 29 in favour and two opposed, while 14 states abstained.

Additionally, Kuwait wants to request a Palestianian protection force. This is likely to be vetoed by the US perThe Jerusalem Post.

The United Nations Security Council will begin talks on Monday on a Kuwait-drafted resolution that condemns Israeli force against Palestinian civilians and calls for an “international protection mission” to be deployed to the occupied territories.

The draft resolution, seen by Reuters on Friday, asks UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report within 30 days of its adoption on “ways and means for ensuring the safety, protection and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population.”

I’m going to close with the sad news that ‘Multiple Fatalities’ have been reported in that school shooting.

At least eight people are dead following a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, Texas, law enforcement officials have told multiple local news sources.

One person, reportedly a male who federal officials believe to be a student, is in custody, and another person has been detained, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted. At least three people — two adults and one student — are being treated for injuries at a local hospital. One police officer was wounded. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the officer was “clipped” and is not seriously injured.

November 18 is coming and we all need to vote to end this war on humanity, science, world peace, and civilization.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Float Like A Butterfly; Sting Like A Bee

Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee

Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee

Good Morning!!

Famed boxer and anti-war and civil rights activist Muhammed Ali died last night at 74. I’ll never forget how he burst on the scene in the early 1960s with poetry and good humor that made boxing interesting to the public at large for a time. I was so impressed with his poetry and his chants of “I am the greatest!” that I bet my best friend’s brother that he would beat Sonny Liston. And I won that bet.

Later, Ali became a “controversial” figure when he refused to go to Vietnam, got involved with Malcolm X, and became a Muslim. He was much more than an athlete. He was and is an important historical figure who changed America and the world.

Ali during the championship fight with Sonny Liston

Ali during the championship fight with Sonny Liston

The Boston Globe: Muhammad Ali, ‘The Greatest,’ dies at 74.

Muhammad Ali, who declared “I am the greatest” and proved it many times over, infuriating some and captivating countless more as he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee on his way to winning the world heavyweight championship a record three times, becoming perhaps the most widely recognized person on the planet, died Friday in Phoenix. He was 74.

Mr. Ali had long suffered from Parkinson’s syndrome. The condition was understood to be a consequence of his boxing career.

Mr. Ali was hospitalized in Phoenix with respiratory problems earlier this week, and his relatives gathered around him. The family announced his death Friday.

“There’s not a man alive who can whup me,” Mr. Ali declared before his first bout with Joe Frazier, “the Fight of the Century” in 1971. “I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.”

In fact, Mr. Ali wasn’t invincible. He lost that fight, as well as four later prizefights. But he finished with a career record of 56-5, 37 of those victories by knockout.

Later, Ali was admired and respected by world leaders.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa, he corrected a guest who said that he and Mr. Ali were the world’s two most beloved and unifying figures. “If I was in a crowded room with Ali,” Mandela said, “I would stop what I was doing and go up to him. He is the Greatest.”

Mr. Ali’s star power extended to the world of diplomacy. Jimmy Carter appointed him special envoy to lobby African leaders to support the Olympic boycott in 1980. Mr. Ali helped obtain the release of 14 US hostages in Iraq in 1990. Ten years later, he was named a United Nations Ambassador of Peace.

Ali joking around with Malcolm X in 1964

Ali joking around with Malcolm X in 1964

But in the 1960s, he became a pariah when he refused to be drafted.

“When they draft me, I won’t go,” Mr. Ali had declared of the Vietnam War. “I ain’t got no trouble with them Viet Cong. It ain’t right. They never called me nigger.”

Having refused induction in 1967 as a conscientious objector, Mr. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He appealed the ruling, and his conviction was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court, in 1971. But Mr. Ali, who had had his championship and boxing license taken away, lost three and a half years of his athletic prime.

What it gained Mr. Ali was a status and personal authority that extended far beyond the realm of sports. His political stance offended many, but to others it made him a hero and martyr. A 1968 Esquire magazine cover famously showed Mr. Ali with arrows sticking out of him, like St. Sebastian.

A ’60s catch phrase held that the personal was the political. In Mr. Ali’s fists the pugilistic was political. He once described his style as “Be loud, be pretty, and keep their black-hatin’ asses in their chairs.” His very name excited controversy.

Many white Americans were aghast when Ali changed his name, but he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

For years, the decision whether to use “Muhammad Ali” or “Cassius Clay,” the name he rejected in 1964 when he joined the Nation of Islam, was a clear-cut political statement. The New York Times Index didn’t stop referring to him as Cassius Clay until 1972. “Cassius Clay is a slave name,” Mr. Ali declared. “I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it.”

Muhammed Ali with Dr. Martin Luther King

Muhammed Ali with Dr. Martin Luther King

I hope you’ll go read the entire Globe obit. Here’s just a bit more on Ali as a boxer.

Standing 6 foot 3 inches, Mr. Ali weighed around 190 pounds when he first won the title. His fighting weight eventually rose to 220 pounds. Perhaps Mr. Ali’s key physical attribute was an 80-inch reach, which allowed him to evade punches with relative ease as he relentlessly jabbed at an opponent.

Where other fighters would duck or catch punches, Mr. Ali would lean back from them. He held his hands by his side, rather than up high to protect his head. Mr. Ali’s phenomenal speed and agility allowed him to fight like a middleweight (Sugar Ray Robinson was Mr. Ali’s idol), yet with a heavyweight’s power.

In his trademark white trunks and red-tasseled shoes, he prowled the ring with a dancer’s grace — the New York City Ballet’s George Balanchine marveled at the speed and dexterity of his legwork — showing off with his Ali Shuffle. “I was the Elvis of boxing,” he once said. Even so, Mr. Ali was as much fighter as boxer.

I’ve quoted way too much; please go read the rest at the above link. Muhammed Ali was a unique individual, always his own person, who refused to be pigeonholed by the media and the powerful in sports and politics. In December 2015, although he was battling Parkinson’s disease, Ali spoke out against Donald Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the U.S.

Muhammed Ali with Elvis Presley

Muhammed Ali with Elvis Presley

From NBC News: Global Tributes to Muhammad Ali, ‘Champion’ and 20th Century ‘Titan.’

From rival sportsmen to world leaders, the world paused Saturday to remember Muhammad Ali – hailing him not only as a “giant” of the boxing ring but also “a true champion for all.”

The 74-year-old boxer and civil rights champion died Friday from respiratory complications after a three-decade battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ opponent, George Foreman, described the civil rights champion was “one of the greatest human beings I have ever met.”

He said: “No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age. To put him as a boxer is an injustice.”

The New York Times described Ali as a “Titan of Boxing at the 20th Century.”

Nevada Senator Harry Reid said the boxer “taught us all about the value of hard work, tenacity and never giving up.”

“He was an inspiration whose tireless work ethic, unmatched skills and supreme self-confidence made him the Greatest of All Time,” the senator said in a statement. “And he showed us that even when you get knocked down, you can always get back up.”

Ali with Bill Russell

Ali with Bill Russell

Did Reid get that one from Hillary? More tributes at the link.

Reverend Al Sharpton told MSNBC Saturday he was “deeply saddened” at Ali’s passing, adding: “He showed the world how you can risk everything. He gave up the title of heavyweight champion of the world, paying the ultimate price because he believed in something more than just wealth and success. He redefined what success is.

“Then he came back three times and won that title. We should think not only of his boxing skills but what he stood for. He floated in the ring but he stood outside the ring and was a champion.

“People ought to never underestimate that, when he stood up against the wrongs he was one of the most despised people in the country. He took from being one of the most despised to one of the most honored and loved individuals in the world. We will never see anything like that again.”

Read more tributes at the link.

A few more stories on Muhammed Ali:

David Remnick at The New Yorker: The Outsized Life of Muhammed Ali.

Dave Zirin at The Nation: ‘I Just Wanted to Be Free’: The Radical Reverberations of Muhammad Ali.

The New York Times: Muhammed Ali’s Words Stung Like a Bee too.

I’m going to leave it up to you to post other news in the comment thread, because I have a busy day ahead. I’m staying with my nephews for a few days while my brother and sister-in-law are at a family wedding in Indiana.

Just a note on the busy days ahead in politics. Today is the Virgin Islands Democratic primary, with 12 delegates at stake. Hillary should win. Tomorrow Puerto Rico votes, and Hillary should win there too. However there has been a change in the number of voting places there, and that could possibly hurt her according to Armando at Daily Kos. On Tuesday there will be primaries or caucuses in California, New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and New Mexico. The final primary will be in Washington D.C. on June 14.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Lets begin with some really big news. NASA announced yesterday that it has found an “Earth-like” planet, IOW, it could be habitable by Earth-like creatures. Perhaps some of our species can escape to it after the U.S.–or Iran or Israel or India, or Pakistan or China blows this one up. From Scientific American:

NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope has discovered its first planet in the habitable zone of another star. By “habitable,” astronomers mean that a planet could harbor temperatures conducive to liquid water—and maybe life.

The new planet, Kepler 22b, orbits somewhat closer to its host star than Earth does to the sun. “The star is some 600 light years away.” NASA’s Bill Borucki, who leads the Kepler mission, in a December 5th teleconference.

That star is a bit cooler than the sun. So if the greenhouse warming were similar on this planet, and it had a surface, its surface temperature would be something like 72 Fahrenheit—a very pleasant temperature here on Earth.

Kepler 22b is more than twice as large as Earth. One big caveat is that it may not be rocky, like Earth is. It could instead be a gas planet like Neptune. If that were the case, prospects for life there would be rather dim.

Pretty cool, huh? From Cnet:

Along with the confirmed extra-solar planet, one of 28 discovered so far by Kepler, researchers today also announced the discovery of 1,094 new exoplanet candidates, pushing the spacecraft’s total so far to 2,326, including 10 candidate Earth-size worlds orbiting in the habitable zones of their parent stars.

Additional observations are required to tell if a candidate is, in fact, an actual world. But astronomers say a planet known as Kepler-22b, orbiting a star some 600 light years from Earth, is the real thing.

Artist's rendering of newly discovered planet

According to the BBC:

Kepler 22-b was one of 54 candidates reported by the Kepler team in February, and is just the first to be formally confirmed using other telescopes.

More of these “Earth 2.0” candidates are likely to be confirmed in the near future, though a redefinition of the habitable zone’s boundaries has brought that number down to 48.

Via The Guardian: About a month ago, graphic artist and screenwriter Frank Miller posted an attack on OWS on his blog. Miller is the author of Sin City. Here’s an excerpt:

The “Occupy” movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. “Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.

“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached – is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.

This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they’re spewing their garbage – both politically and physically – every which way they can find.

Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy.

Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.

I know nothing about Frank Miller or his cartoon creations, but reading between the lines, I’m getting the feeling there’s a whole lot of projection going on in that rant. As you can well imagine Miller’s fans weren’t all that pleased by it either.

Now a much more famous and beloved graphic novelist, Alan Moore, has responded to Miller’s ugly tirade.

Well, Frank Miller is someone whose work I’ve barely looked at for the past twenty years. I thought the Sin City stuff was unreconstructed misogyny, 300 appeared to be wildly ahistoric, homophobic and just completely misguided. I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller’s work for quite a long time. Since I don’t have anything to do with the comics industry, I don’t have anything to do with the people in it. I heard about the latest outpourings regarding the Occupy movement. It’s about what I’d expect from him. It’s always seemed to me that the majority of the comics field, if you had to place them politically, you’d have to say centre-right. That would be as far towards the liberal end of the spectrum as they would go. I’ve never been in any way, I don’t even know if I’m centre-left. I’ve been outspoken about that since the beginning of my career. So yes I think it would be fair to say that me and Frank Miller have diametrically opposing views upon all sorts of things, but certainly upon the Occupy movement.

As far as I can see, the Occupy movement is just ordinary people reclaiming rights which should always have been theirs. I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it; they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.

Alrighty-then. You can read the whole interview with Moore at the link.

The head of the FAA, Jerome “Randy” Babbitt has been placed “on leave” after being arrested and charged for driving drunk. How unseemly.

The Transportation Department, which oversees the FAA, said it didn’t learn about the incident until Monday, two days later. Deputy Administrator Miguel Huerta will serve as acting administrator while officials consider Babbitt’s “employment status,” the Transportation Department said.

More from HuffPo:

Babbitt, 65, was charged with driving while intoxicated after a patrol officer spotted him driving on the wrong side of the street and pulled him over about 10:30 p.m. EST Saturday in Fairfax City, Va., police in the Washington, D.C., suburb said.

Babbitt, who lives in nearby Reston, Va., was the only occupant in the vehicle, the statement said. Police said he cooperated and was released on his own recognizance.

Babbitt apparently delayed telling administration officials about the arrest. White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama and Transportation Department officials learned of the arrest Monday afternoon, about an hour before a 1:30 p.m. EST statement was released saying Babbitt had been placed on leave at his request.

Separately, Fairfax City police issued a statement on the arrest to the media at about noon Monday. They refused to disclose the results of Babbitt’s blood alcohol test. The legal limit is .08.

At least he wasn’t piloting an airplane…

I really kind of hope that the Republicans nominate Newt Gingrich. He’ll be the gift that keeps on giving for bloggers like me–and for comedians too. In the New York Times, Trip Gabriel discusses Gingrich’s “big thoughts.”

Ideas erupt from the mind of Newt Gingrich — bold, unconventional and sometimes troubling and distracting.

On Monday, Mr. Gingrich sought to do damage control on the latest of his Big Thoughts to land him in hot water — helping children bootstrap their way out of poverty by paying them to mop and clean their schools, and rolling back child labor laws that he has called “truly stupid.”

Mr. Gingrich defended the idea, which critics have labeled Dickensian, as a way to introduce children in housing projects with few examples of working adults to the idea of earning a paycheck.

“This is how people rise in America — they learn to work,” he said at a news conference in Manhattan.

Mr. Gingrich’s tendency to speak bluntly, provocatively and sometime impulsively may be part of his emerging appeal at a time when conservatives seem intent on sending a no-business-as-usual message to Washington. It helps with his attempts to foster an image as a candidate eager to bring about change. But the fallout from his statements often traps him in lengthy digressions from his main messages, and it highlights one of the central questions about him as a candidate and potential president: is he sufficiently disciplined?

The funniest example in the article is Gingrich implying that Donald Trump grew grew up poor and had to work hard as a child. On the contrary, Trump inherited big bucks from his father, “a wealthy landlord.”

“New York’s finest” AKA the NYPD has a Facebook page, and in September they used it to display crude and disgusting comments about participants in New York’s West Indian America Day Parade, referring to them as “animals” and “savages” and suggesting, “Drop a bomb on them and wipe them all out.”

The subject was officers’ loathing of being assigned to the West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn, an annual multiday event that unfolds over the Labor Day weekend and has been marred by episodes of violence, including deaths of paradegoers. Those who posted comments appeared to follow Facebook’s policy requiring the use of real names, and some identified themselves as officers.

On Monday, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for public information, said he learned of the Facebook group from a reporter’s call and would refer the issue to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. The comments, in the online group that grew over a few days to some 1,200 members, were at times so offensive in referring to West Indian and African-American neighborhoods that some participants warned others to beware how their words might be taken in a public setting open to Internal Affairs “rats.”

But some of the people who posted comments seemed emboldened by Facebook’s freewheeling atmosphere. “Let them kill each other,” wrote one of the Facebook members who posted comments under a name that matched that of a police officer.

“Filth,” wrote a commenter who identified himself as Nick Virgilio, another participant whose name matched that of a police officer. “It’s not racist if it’s true,” yet another wrote.

Lovely. The NYPD is one of the nation’s most corrupt, violent, and out-of-control police organizations. And judging by this story and their behavior toward OWS, they don’t mind being up front about it.

Awhile back I wrote about Mitt Romney destroying all of his and his staff’s e-mails from his four years as governor of Massachusetts. In addition, Romney and his aides purchased and took with them the hard drives from their state computers. Apparently there was something they desperately wanted to hide. Now Reuters has learned that the cover-up cost the state almost $100,000.

Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned.

The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.

The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012….

When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had emails and other electronic communications by Romney’s administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.

Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.

Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of emails – and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure – hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.

I’m not sure where Reuters got the idea this was “legal.” Massachusetts has a law that public officials must save all public records and turn them over to the state.

The Democrats have been talking about caving compromising with Republicans on the extension of the payroll tax holiday. Naturally, GOP congresspeople smelled blood and immediately went in for the kill. Arizona Senator John Kyl announced that there will be no extension of this middle-class tax cut unless the Bush tax cuts for the rich are made permanent.

The top Republican vote counter in the Senate says extending the expiring payroll tax holiday is a terrible idea and he’ll only do it if Democrats agree to major concessions — in particular, simultaneously extending all the Bush tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire just over a year from now.

On the Senate floor Monday, Sen. Jon Kyl argued that reducing the payroll tax doesn’t stimulate the economy — a claim most economists disagree with — and criticized the Democrats’ plan to offset the cost of the tax holiday with a small surtax on millionaires.

“We should therefore only do it under circumstances that in effect override these objections, one of which would be to extend all of the taxes that expire at the end of next year — at the end of 2012,” Kyl said. “That would be a good idea.”

In November 2009, Kyl felt differently. On CNBC he argued, “What you’re suggesting here is that you can do some things to stimulate job creation and certainly doing something like reducing the payroll tax, which has been written about recently, would accomplish that.”

That’s probably because he senses that President Obama is just about to surrender and give the Republicans everything they want, as usual.

Sigh… That’s all I have for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Thanksgiving Day Reads

Happy Thanksgiving!! I’m going to devote this Thursday post to Thanksgiving-oriented material. Feel free to talk about whatever you want in the comments.

Here’s a little background on the origins of the Thanksgiving feast from Wikipedia:

Thanksgiving in North America had originated from a mix of European and Native traditions.[1] Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community.[1] At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season.[1] When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest….

In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition traces its origins to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. There is also evidence for an earlier celebration on the continent by Spanish explorers in Texas at San Elizario in 1598, as well as thanksgiving feasts in the Virginia Colony. The initial thanksgiving observance at Virginia in 1619 was prompted by the colonists’ leaders on the anniversary of the settlement. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. In later years, the tradition was continued by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford who planned a thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s

I don’t really know how accurate that is. The Christian Science monitor has listed five myths about Thanksgiving that they believe will surprise people. Number three on the list was news to me:

3. Pilgrims dressed in all black and wore buckles

Not so fast. This modern-day likeness of the first American Pilgrims was conjured sometime in the 19th century, when the popular image of Pilgrims was formed – but it’s mostly false. The garb of the Pilgrims was actually brightly colored and buckle-free.

Pilgrim women normally dressed in red, earth green, brown, blue, violet, and gray, and the men wore white, beige, black, earth green, and brown clothing. Buckles were not commonly worn until much later in the 17th century, and black and white clothing was typically only worn on Sundays and when observing formal occasions.

So why give the Pilgrims this now-iconic appearance?

Former Plimoth (yep, we double-checked the spelling) Plantation historian James W. Baker writes that, in the 19th century, buckles were assigned to Pilgrims because they served as an emblem of quaintness, which is the same reason illustrators gave Santa Claus buckles. Also associated with Pilgrims – the blunderbuss, a muzzle-loading firearm with a stout caliber barrel – was so designated because of its old-fashioned, unthreatening look. But the Pilgrims probably didn’t use that either.

According to The Boston Globe the Thanksgiving travel rush was going full tilt yesterday.

Undeterred by costlier gas and airfare, millions of Americans set out Wednesday to see friends and family in what is expected to be the nation’s busiest Thanksgiving weekend since the financial meltdown more than three years ago….

About 42.5 million people are expected to hit the road or take to the skies for Thanksgiving this year, according to travel tracker AAA. That’s the highest number since the start of the recession at the end of 2007.

Heavy rain slowed down early travelers along the East Coast. Snow across parts of New England and upstate New York made for treacherous driving and thousands of power outages. And a mudslide covered train tracks in the Pacific Northwest. But most of the country is expected to have clear weather Thursday.

Quite frankly, some of my happiest Thanksgiving days have been spent alone. I find holidays somewhat stressful, and besides I have kind of a crazy family. This year I’m going to spend the day with my brother’s family at the home of some of their friends. I’m pretty sure everyone will be nice, but if not I can always excuse myself early. Here’s an article from Time for people with big crazy families like mine: 5 Ways to Keep Your Family From Ruining Thanksgiving. Here’s my favorite (Number 5):

The key to maintaining your calm is to send yourself the right mental messages. That means practicing mindful awareness, loving kindness and compassionate self-talk. Sound like new age psychobabble? The truth is, you’re already sending yourself messages all the time. “You’re telling yourself throughout the day what you’re bothered by and disappointed in….It’s worse at holiday time when your expectation of what you thought your life was going to look like is most acute.”

I found two writers (probably both conservatives) who claimed that the lesson of the first Thanksgiving is that capitalism trumps socialism.

From Tom Arneberg at the Chippewa Herald:

When they first started the colony, their overseas investors forced them to share all their property together. According to Bradford, “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” were to be shared, and that “all such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.”

In other words, put into the common stock all you can, and take out only what you need. “To each according to his need; from each according to his ability.” Sound familiar?

Communism may be okay for a small group like a family or a Boy Scout patrol, but it doesn’t scale very well for larger groups.

According to Arneson “communism” made the pilgrims lazy and selfish so William Bradford, the governor of Plimouth, decided to try “free market capitalism.”

Bradford and the colony elders divided up the property among the families. Whatever produce a family did not use for themselves, they were free to trade away with others for something else they wanted.

It was an astonishing success — the harvests of 1623 and beyond provided a bounty of excess food, not just for a single Thanksgiving meal as in the previous two years, but enough to last the winter….
Once the creative powers of individual rewards were unleashed, where every person was allowed to keep the fruits of his own labor for his own family or for trade, everything was different.

And from Dr. Milton R. Wolf at the Washington Times:

The Plymouth colonists were socialists before socialism was cool. They entered into a contract with one another and a finance company called Merchant Adventurers to create an egalitarian commune in which their wealth, food in particular, would be collectively stored and redistributed equally among members. This was the forebear of the modern-day American counterculture collectivist commune or even Israel’s more mainstream kibbutz, which survive on government subsidies. Equality is put before freedom or even productivity.

And so on…with even more right-wing propaganda included than in the article by Arneberg. I guess the first Thanksgiving was about sharing, but a couple of years later the pilgrims learned that greed is good. Incidentally, the author’s bio at the end of the article says the Wolf is Barack Obama’s cousin. Is this meme the latest White House effort to push austerity?

Calvin Trillin and his wife Alice in 1965

Since we were talking about mac and cheese on Thanksgiving last night, I thought I’d share my favorite alternative Thanksgiving story. For many years, humorist Calvin Trillin has led a campaign to change the official Thanksgiving dish from turkey to spaghetti carbonara. I located Trillin’s piece about it on-line, and since it was copied from Trillin’s book Third Helpings, I figured it would be OK for me to copy it too.

I have been campaigning to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara.

It does not take much historical research to uncover the fact that nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner. The only thing we know for sure about what the Pilgrims ate is that it couldn’t have tasted very good. Even today, well brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth… (It is certainly unfair to say that the English lack both a cuisine and a sense of humor: their cooking is a joke in itself.)

It would also not require much digging to discover that Christopher Columbus, the man who may have brought linguine with clam sauce to this continent, was from Genoa, and obviously would have sooner acknowledged that the world was shaped like an isosceles triangle than to have eaten the sort of things that the English Puritans ate. Righting an ancient wrong against Columbus, a great man who certainly did not come all this way only to have a city in Ohio named after him, would be a serious historical contribution. Also, I happen to love spaghetti carbonara.

[In our family]…Thanksgiving has often been celebrated away from home. It was at other people’s Thanksgiving tables that I first began to articulate my spaghetti carbonara campaign–although, since we were usually served turkey, I naturally did not mention that the campaign had been inspired partly by my belief that turkey is basically something college dormitories use to punish students for hanging around on Sunday… I reminded everyone how refreshing it would be to hear sports announcers call some annual tussle the Spaghetti Carbonara Day Classic.

I even had a ready answer to the occasional turkey fancier at those meals who insist that spaghetti carbonara was almost certainly not what our forebears ate at the first Thanksgiving dinner. As it happens, one of the things I give thanks for every year is that those people in the Plymouth Colony were not my forebears. Who wants forebears who put people in the stocks for playing the harpsichord on the Sabbath or having an innocent little game of pinch and giggle?

Finally there came a year when nobody invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. Alice’s theory was that the word had got around town that I always made a pest out of myself berating the hostess for serving turkey instead of spaghetti carbonara…

However it came about, I was delighted at the opportunity we had been given to practice what I had been preaching–to sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner of spaghetti carbonara.

Naturally, the entire family went over to Rafetto’s pasta store on Houston Street to see the spaghetti cut. I got the cheese at Joe’s dairy, on Sullivan, a place that would have made Columbus feel right at home–there are plenty of Genoese on Sullivan; no Pilgrims–and then headed for the pork store on Carmine Street for the bacon and ham. Alice made the spaghetti carbonara. It was perfection. I love spaghetti carbonara. Then I began to tell the children the story of the first Thanksgiving:

In England, along time ago, there were people called Pilgrims who were very strict about making everyone observe the Sabbath and cooked food without any flavor and that sort of thing, and they decided to go to America, where they could enjoy Freedom to Nag. The other people in England said, “Glad to see the back of them.” In America, the Pilgrims tried farming, but they couldn’t get much done because they were always putting their best farmers in the stocks for crimes like Suspicion of Cheerfulness. The Indians took pity on the Pilgrims and helped them with their farming, even though the Indians thought that the Pilgrims were about as much fun as teenage circumcision. The Pilgrims were so grateful that at the end of their first year in America they invited the Indians over for a Thanksgiving meal. The Indians, having had some experience with Pilgrim cuisine during the year, took the precaution of taking along one dish of their own. They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned from none other than Christopher Columbus, who was known to the Indians as “the big Italian fellow.” The dish was spaghetti carbonara–made with pancetta bacon and fontina and the best imported prosciutto. The Pilgrims hated it. They said it was “heretically tasty” and “the work of the devil” and “the sort of thing foreigners eat.” The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said,
“What a bunch of turkeys!”

Alice Trillin died on September 11, 2001.

Here’s a recipe for spaghetti carbonara:

1 pound spaghetti Ask the
hotline about
this ingredient!
1/2 pound pancetta (sliced 1/4 “ thick at the deli, and cut into lardons)
4 large eggs (locally raised and cage-free if possible)
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
this ingredient!
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan reggiano to pass at the table

Put salted water on the boil for the pasta, grate the romano cheese and set aside, finely mince the fresh parsley and reserve.

In a very large skillet, saute the pancetta lardons in the olive oil over medium heat until the bacon has rendered much of its fat. You don’t want to cook the pancetta to the point of being crisp, it is better with a little fatty “chew” still left in it. Just before the pancetta is done, add the minced garlic to the pan and allow to cook until the garlic is golden brown. Set the pan aside to cool. (Allowing the pan to cool some at this point is important, because if the pan is too hot when you add the eggs later, they will immediately scramble, and not gently cook into the creamy sauce that is your ultimate goal.

Break the eggs into a medium sized bowl and whisk them till smooth. Add the grated cheese to the eggs and keep handy.

Cook the pasta to the maker’s instructions for “al dente”, and as soon as it is done, quickly strain it and toss it into the skillet with the pancetta, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin your sauce later if needed. Add the cheese and egg mixture to the pasta along with the parsley, and toss to coat. The heat from the pasta will gently cook the eggs, and melt the cheese into a luxuriously rich and smooth sauce. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it.

To serve, place the pasta into warmed bowls, top liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan.

I hope everyone has a wonderful day and lots to be grateful for!