Friday, April 18, 2014

Infantile, Puerile, Hostile, and Futile

This would seem to sum up our current foreign policy. Could there be anything more childish than refusing to allow Hamid  Aboutalebi, Iran’s choice to represent them at the UN, to enter the United States? This is silly, even stupid, almost beyond belief.  Aboutalebi is a seasoned, experienced, Iranian Diplomat, who has served successfully in several different countries, and is more than merely qualified to hold such a post. President Obama has apparently signed an order to prevent him from entering the United States, following the suggestion of that expert on foreign policy, Ted Cruz. Aboutalebi is considered persona non grata by Cruz because many years ago he served sometimes as a translator during the Iran hostage crisis. Coming at the very time we are trying pretty successfully to negotiate with Iran over their (imaginary) nuclear bomb threat this would appear to me to be designed to torpedo those negotiations, stupid, unnecessary, unhelpful, and unwise, everything you might expect from a poisonous, outside the box jerk like Ted Cruz. Why Obama went along with this absurdity I do not know. Perhaps he secretly does not wish a successful solution to our Iran (non) problem.

Not only has Obama gone along with this diplomatic nonsense he has also mocked Russia’s military might, with a claim almost beyond comprehension. He said Russia does not want a military confrontation with us because he knows our military might is superior to his. What the hell is that supposed to prove? Where, if not on a battlefield, could this be proven? Does hoObama envision a war on Russian territory where our military might would win against the Russian army? Does he believe that we could ship our troops across the Atlantic (or Pacific) to confront Russia on their own soil? Has he no idea what the hell is talking about? Does he know nothing about the Battle of Stalingrad? Boasting that our military might is superior to Putin’s is childish in the extreme, you might well think we were in kindergarten.

Then there is our gullible (or stupid) Secretary of State, John Kerry, who was apparently willing to accept as fact the anti-Jewish leaflets that appeared in the Eastern Ukraine without even waiting to learn they were produced by some minority group of dissidents with no authority whatsoever. This is just part of our basic infantile belief that Russia is bad, Putin is very bad, the U.S. is good, very good, and Obama is somehow good/bad. Whatever, we know that we (along with the racist genocidal Israelis) are exceptional and the entirely predictable failure of the “peace talks” is completely the fault of the Palestinians. Everyone with even a small bit  of brain knows that Netanyahu does not want a Palestinian state, does not want peace, and prefers to maintain the status quo forever if possible. Why John Kerry or anyone else believes the U.S. can act as a fair intermediary in this endless conflict, when it is obvious we are overwhelmingly on the side of Israel, is just another example of childish delusion.

When you start from the belief that Russia is all bad, and Putin is worse, especially when Putin holds all the cards, so to speak, you are not likely to successfully resolve your mutual problems. Similarly, when you start from the belief that Israel is all good and the Palestinians are all bad, you are not likely to get very far in resolving the basic problems of the Middle East. Our foreign policy, in my opinion, is indeed infantile, puerile, hostile, and will prove in the long run to be futile.

When only one in six U.S. citizens can even remotely find Ukraine on a map, and the farther they are from that, the more they think we should attack, it is pretty obvious we need to teach geography (remember that) in kindergarten, along with the necessity to “see ourselves as others see us.”
Hubris is one of the great renewable resources.


  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"It"

“It”

What a remarkable word (pronoun) “it” is. While it generally refers to some particular object or behavior it also often refers to something much more general and, in some cases, may have virtually no meaning whatsoever. I am drawn to thinking of this because last night I had reason to believe that I may well be losing “it.” I was cooking dinner for us, baked chicken, some cranberry sauce, broccoli, asparagus, and dressing. I also intended to serve some French dinner rolls. When I removed the chicken from the oven I put in the frozen dinner rolls that supposedly take only 8 minutes to cook. I forgot them, didn’t serve them, and didn’t remember them until several hours later. By then, of course, they had turned blacker than the blackest of coal, and I worried that, indeed, I must be losing “it.” This could refer to my memory, my cooking, my timing, my sanity, or whatever.

Usually “it” refers to something in particular, something in context that the speakers are all aware of, like “where did you put it,” referring to the butter or paint or beer. But what about something like the recent Rachel Maddow documentary, “Why did we do it?” In this context the “it” refers obviously to the “war” with Iraq. This apparently expensive and time-consuming investigation concludes that “it” had to do with oil, something that anyone with a brain larger than a split pea already knew. But of course it is somewhat more complicated and the documentary does give us a bit more insight into why it happened. But this is not unlike asking why did “it” happen,”it” being WW II, an event that cannot really be described as an “it.”

We also might well ask, “Why did Putin do it?” The “it” in this context being his takeover of Crimea, and the answer being obvious to anyone not conditioned to believe Russia and Putin are simply evil, aggressive, empire builders with no important national interests. Then there is also the phrase, “kicking ’it’down the road,” usually referring to some decision Congress does not want to make.

How about “Let’s do ‘it’?” This could refer to any number of things, kissing, dating, going to the movies, even sex, or, more prosaically, building a chicken coop.  How about “she is the “it” girl of 2000? Or “you can’t do ‘it’ in the road because it might frighten the horses.”  Or John Lennon’s brilliant parody, “Why don’t we do ‘it’ in the road?” Then there are lyrics like “Birds do ‘it,’ bees do ‘it’, even little Pekinese do ‘it.’” How about “”’It’s’ the in thing to do,” or “’It’s’ not the right thing to do.”
“’It’ will happen when hell freezes over,” “’It’ will happen at the end of times,” “’It’ will be the end of the road,” “If you don’t mind ‘it’ don’t matter,” “We’re footing ‘it’ back to camp,” “’It’s’ a dirty, rotten shame,” “this is ‘it’,” “’It’s’ all in your mind,” “’It’ can’t happen here,””The Devil makes us do ‘it,’” “’It’s’ too late for tears,” “’It’s’ too much to bear,” How’s ‘it’ going,” “’It’s’ just politics as usual,” “’It’s’ just baying at the moon,” “What is ‘it’ and where did ‘it’ come from? “We don’t know what ‘it’ is, “We’re never going to find ‘it’,” and “When in doubt, kill ‘it.’”

Is there any other word in the English language with such a range of meanings and non-meanings, a word that can be so specific but also so general, a word than can simply gloss over complexity and reduce it to a simple two letter word, a word both precise and imprecise at the same time, a word that actually allows us to evade the complexities of the real problems facing us? There is a bill that would raise the minimum wage, vote against “it.” There is a bill that would help stop global warming, vote against “it.”There is a bill to stop voter fraud, vote for “it.” There is a vote to defund Planned Parenthood, vote for “it.” And so all of our decisions come down to voting either for “it” or against “it,” all nuances, facts, or complications aside. Don’t you just love “it?”

 By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.



  

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Me and Kati 15: Nothing to Declare

Kati, Kati, Kati, my only constant companion, my little feline friend with the cutest face in all of cat kingdom, I was really worried about you this morning. I know you are subject to occasional psychotic breaks (or something like that) but you really had a “doozy” this morning. First you refused to leave the kitchen even after having been Fed, you were underfoot constantly while I was working on our more complicated breakfast. You continued this uncooperative behavior even after I gave you another snack. Then you were on the table where you know you were not supposed to be, then you were behind the refrigerator in the paper bags where you also know you were not supposed to be, then you were under the kitchen sink and refused to come out, and then you had the audacity to jump up on the kitchen counter, a real “no-no,” and, finally, you jumped up on the buffet where you also definitely know you are not supposed to be. You were so bad I finally had to put you out. Why you were so bad I do not know. Perhaps it was because you caught and ate the mouse that Spencer brought in that got away, the innards of which I found this morning? Perhaps that is why you threw up and made a terrible mess. I don’t know but you truly ruined my morning.

Anyway, what I wanted to tell you was about Oscar Wilde and the Republicans. Yes, I know, there is no real connection between the two, but you must be aware of the weird free associations we humans sometimes experience. When Oscar Wilde visited the United States and went through customs, he reportedly announced, “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” This, unaccountably, made me wonder, what would Republicans declare if they had to declare anything? I immediately came to the conclusion they would say, “We have nothing to declare but our idiocy.” Why did this come to me so quickly? I’m not sure, but I guess it is because they somehow believe they are going to win in the coming elections. Given that the term idiocy includes “notably stupid or foolish behavior” I do not think I am wrong in coming to this conclusion.

Assuming Republicans want to maintain control of the House of Representatives and take over the Senate in 2014, and assuming they also want to win the Presidency in 2016, their behavior appears to be notably stupid or foolish. They are opposed to everything the American public is in favor of: they oppose the minimum wage, oppose abortion, oppose equal pay for equal work, oppose unemployment insurance, unions, Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the EPA, public education, contraception, and just about everything else that might benefit anyone other than billionaires, including, of course government itself.  They are opposed to taxes on even the obscenely wealthy, preferring instead to tax the struggling 99%, they want de-regulations to benefit corporations and the wealthy so they can make even more money, they refuse to even consider reducing our totally ridiculous military budgets, and more or less seem to prefer more wars. All of these things would seem to place them directly opposed to the general public.

And Kati, on top of all that, their obvious racism, sexism, homophobia, and fear of immigrants, should certainly work against them, except perhaps for their relatively uneducated White voters that seem to be their only remaining base. In spite of all this they still seem to believe they have an excellent chance of reaching their goals. Kati, I don’t understand it, and it certainly appears idiotic behavior to me.  Even their blatant attempts to keep democratic voters from voting may well backfire and cost them as many votes as they hope to gain by their devious attempts. But this is the United States where many are brainwashed to vote against their own interests. The criminally partisan Supreme Court and a few billionaires, along with a few Republican governors, are doing everything possible to stack the deck in their favor. It will all come down to just who actually votes and how many. Wouldn’t it be ironic, Kati, even idiotic, if in fact the Republicans somehow managed to win?

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.



Saturday, April 05, 2014

Wastin' Away in the Fun House

The House of Representatives has voted now more than fifty times to do away with Obamacare even though everyone knows, including them, these votes are a complete waste of time and taxpayer money. They have also held repeated meetings to prove some kind of White House conspiracy or cover up about Benghazi. Similarly they have also held repeated meetings to investigate the IRS, determined to prove the White House was involved in the IRS investigations of various tax exempt organizations even though it has proven without a doubt their claims of White House involvement have no basis in fact  whatsoever. In short, they have basically wasted endless hours of time and endless amounts of taxpayer money chasing their tails.

 One might well ask why they have been permitted to do this, or, as it is sometimes asked, where are the adults? Why can’t these ridiculous and repetitive investigations simply be stopped when everyone knows they are completely without merit, costly, and disruptive of our governmental process? Where, in other words, is any overriding authority that could insist they cease and desist wasting our time and money?
It is here, I believe, where there is a troublesome flaw in our democratic process as there is no overriding authority that can move quickly enough to discipline such rampant and fruitless behavior. The only thing like an overriding authority is the ballot box. But as elections are held only ever two or four years the possibilities for abuse are obvious. First, the collective memory is so short that by the time the next election comes around the electorate has probably forgotten the problem. Second, the system is much too slow and unpredictable.

Can anything be done to rectify this unfortunate situation? Probably not, as unfortunate as that desirable possibility might be for the proper functioning of our (at least supposed) democracy. I am not a fan of dictatorships, even benevolent dictatorships, but I can see here why such a dictator might be worthwhile. Someone, or some entity, ought to have the authority to put a stop to pointless, wasteful, and purely partisan political malfeasance. Someone, for example, should have the authority to tell Issa to stop wasting our time and money. Or tell Boehner that another vote against Obamacare should not be allowed. Waiting for the next election, which may or may not bring about an end to such frivolous nonsense, is not a useful solution.

I realize how profoundly na├»ve this may be, but perhaps we could have a “Commission to Protect Democracy” (the CPD), vested with such authority. This assumes, of course, that we could as a nation agree on just how it is we want our democratic process to work, and then we could elect a number of responsible bipartisan members who would police the process so that our politicians could not willfully and irresponsibly violate those principles. There is no doubt that Republicans in the last few years have done everything they could to circumvent what most of us believe in the democratic process (like the right to vote, for example). Of course we would have to agree, first, precisely how the system should operate, and second, find a suitable number of individuals trustworthy enough to enforce the rules. I guess the death penalty for violations might be a bit extreme, but how about immediate removal from office, massive fines, public humiliations, maybe a week in old-fashioned stocks. Tar and feathering, riding people out of town on rails, might also be too difficult, but I bet it would work. Somehow the thought of seeing Cheney, Rumsfeld, Issa, Boehner, Palin, Bachmann, and others of that ilk being suitably chastised is comforting. Having made a mockery of our democracy they would fully deserve it.



Friday, April 04, 2014

So, What's What?

There have been several reports that Russia is massing troops along the Ukrainian border. Putin and other Russian officials have denied any such buildup. NATO General Breedlove seems to believe the buildup is real and says Russia could begin moving into Ukraine in 3 to 5 days.

Two reporters completed a 1000 mile trip along the Russia/Ukraine border and could find no signs of such a massive buildup. They were told by at least one official that the international hype is “completely unfounded.”
Doesn’t that make you wonder just What’s What? How could someone like me, with only information from the news media and the internet, possibly know the truth? This does not, however, keep me from having an opinion. My opinion is there most probably is no massing of troops and tanks, Putin is telling the truth that he has no intention of invading Ukraine, and, in fact, it is international hype completely unfounded.

Why do I think this? I think so because there is no doubt in my mind that both Putin and Russia have been consistently (and, I think, unfairly) demonized by our news media for years. I also know that we have consistently expanded NATO further and further to the east although we promised not to do so, and Ambassador George Kennan, whom I greatly admired, warned that expanding NATO would be a terrible mistake (he was, of course, ignored). Similarly I believe what Putin did in Crimea was the only reasonable thing he could have done. He feared that if Ukraine was seduced by the West, and possibly into NATO, they might try to take away his only warm water naval station on the Crimean peninsula and acted quickly in the national interest of his nation as any strong and decent leader would have done. I also know that the United States lies pretty consistently about its foreign policy that, in recent years, has become more and more stupid and disastrous.

A similar problem of What’s What might well be seen in all the verbiage about Obamacare. Republicans have been claiming for years that it would never succeed, was a government takeover of health care, was going to include death panels, make health care more expensive, perhaps even kill women and children, and blah, blah, blah. On the other side it was argued that it would reduce costs, provide much better health care in a variety of ways, would eventually succeed, and so on. In this case it was not at all difficult for me to side with the proponents of Obamacare even though I believe it should not have included insurance companies. In any case, although I am disappointed with Obamacare, I do believe it is demonstrably better than what we had before in spite of all the ridiculous claims made by Republicans. I know the Republicans consistently lie about everything, especially anything promoted by President Obama. In the case of health care some of their lies were so blatantly ridiculous they could not be taken seriously to begin with, others although not so transparently false, were equally recognizable as lies. More importantly, when it came to taking sides in the argument, I knew Republicans would lie. I knew this because I have seen them lie consistently for at least twenty years. Thus, although I know Democrats also lie, I know they do not lie as regularly and as often, and as outrageously as Republicans. Indeed, I do not believe that George Dubya, Dick the Slimy, or anyone else in that administration ever told the truth about anything. This seems to be the policy followed faithfully ever since they were tutored by one of the greatest  liars of all, Karl Rove, who invented, or at least adopted the policy of what I termed “roviation:”

 Roviate v. to smear, slime, malign, denigrate, and attempt to destroy an opponent through the use of innuendo, rumor, slander, outright lies and any other despicable means available.

In the case of Obamacare it was not too difficult to understand what’s what, but this is because there was such a long history involved and over the years I began to understand many of the players. In a case like Crimea it is not so easy to know what’s what, but even there a knowledge of the history of the players is about all one has to go on. As I have now followed U.S. foreign policy for quite some time, but especially in the past twenty years,  I think I have a good idea of what’s what. I do not like it.

“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” 
 
Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, March 31, 2014

This is Serious

Just at the end of the 19th century (1896, I believe) Andrew White published his well-known book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. This book created quite a stir when it appeared as it dealt with topics like evolution, science versus religion, and so on. Looking back at it now it seems like an interesting intellectual or philosophical discourse on the resistance of religion to science that was, at that time, an interesting but not vital practical matter. That is no longer the case. This is a problem that at the moment has an extremely vital, urgent, practical, life and death importance.

When this fine book first appeared there was no particular threat to either the environment or human life. That is no longer the case. We are now faced with a real possibility of human extinction, mostly from global warming but also from nuclear and other technology gone wild, to say nothing of human greed and denial. Far from a merely interesting intellectual or philosophical question this has now become a crisis than demands an answer and a solution, a situation that may well demand some changes to our cherished rights of free speech and  intellectual freedom.

You will have noticed that we have people in important positions of power who still deny the fact of global warming, ignoring the fact that some 97% of all world scientists agree there is such a problem and that it is, at least in part, due to human activity. That is, they deny the scientific evidence, the scientific fact that global warming is occurring, and argue that it is merely a myth, cannot be real, and in extreme instances pass legislation to prevent even further study of it. It is difficult to believe these anti global warming proponents can actually believe this but apparently at least some of them do. No doubt some are motivated by the money they receive from corporations opposed to action on this vital topic, but some cite religious beliefs having to do with “only God can change the climate,” and so on. These people are trying to kill us. This is not a case of “two sides to every argument,” as there are no two equal sides to this particular argument. Scientific facts are not merely an opinion, they are, in fact, facts, there are no equivalent “facts” on the other side, only “facts” based on opinion.

This problem seems to break down into two factions, those who believe in science and those who do not. While this is not necessarily a distinction between Democrats and Republicans it does appear to correlate somewhat. You may have noticed the controversy over the recent TV program “Cosmos,” where the religious right demands equal time for more “balance.” There is no balance. Science is not merely a difference of opinion about evolution and creationism. Evolution is a scientific fact, not merely an opinion, just as gravity is a fact, electricity is a fact, the planet earth is round and not flat is a fact, the earth revolves around the sun is a fact, and so on. Creationism is not factual, has no evidence, and is based upon biblical (non) authority. It is a matter of faith having nothing whatsoever to do with fact.

Thus we have a situation in which there are no two opposing views of reality. There are the facts of science and the opinions of those who would deny science. To allow those who deny science to have any credence whatever would be to adopt suicidal behaviors potentially destroying us all. So what do you do in a society that allows unlimited free speech and unlimited religious opinion no matter how foolish and destructive it may be, a society in which the media seem to believe that both sides should get equal footage? Perhaps if our citizens were better educated…but no, that costs money, money that is needed for more weapons and ammunition, more killing, more trying to rule the world. Religious fundamentalism, especially in high places, threatens to destroy us all. Hallelujah.

    “People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction.” 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Killing us Softly

There is little doubt in my mind “They” are killing us. Softly may not be the right word to describe this, perhaps slowly, quietly, secretly, insidiously, criminally, purposely, deliberately, but perhaps on the other hand, blatantly, obviously, even flagrantly, depending on your point of view. “They,” here refers to corporations that exist solely to make a profit. The gigantic oil companies are of course the most obvious offenders, but big coal, big timber, big pharmaceuticals, big banks, big insurance, big plastics, and so on, are each, in their own ways, just as unhealthy for human life on this tiny planet we are forced to call home. In fact, under our existing circumstances, it appears that the very acts of human life are inevitably leading us to our own extinction, “Us” being just that, all of us, who are contributing in our own small ways to that undesirable end.

It is not hard to see what is happening with the fossil fuel energy companies. First they are eagerly trying as hard as they can to exhaust whatever stores remain of oil and coal, gleefully boasting now that the U.S. is the major producer of such stuff. Second, not only are they short-sightedly and greedily ripping this stuff out of the ground they are also leaving much of it spread over the landscape, the rivers, lakes, and oceans where it ruins the water, kills plants, fish, and animals, and cannot easily be removed even in years. I will not even mention the absolute insanity of the nuclear energy business which may well hasten our eventual demise.  

Not so easily seen and understood are the acts of billions of individual daily that collectively contribute to our eventual downfall. Think of this every time you come home with plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, and nowadays just about plastic everything. Huge collections of plastic garbage are already swirling about in the oceans where they do not quickly, if ever, deteriorate. And do not forget our serious overfishing that has already depleted the stocks of certain commercial fish. The building of dams on our rivers has also had a deleterious effect on some species. Not only has this created a problem, the pollution of our lakes, rivers, and oceans, makes things even worse

Then there are the pharmaceuticals, busily inventing new problems and the pills that will overcome them, putting them on the market prematurely, reaping huge profits and then perhaps paying a relatively insignificant fine. The only bright spot in this is that lawyers no longer have to chase ambulances, just using the media to convince people to sue because of some recklessly marketed pill, and thus saving a bit of oil. Doctors, hospitals, and of course the insurance companies all have a hand in the health care racket, dosing us with unproven drugs, subjecting us to unnecessary tests, and cutting us off when we really need them.
In some places even the air we breathe is so foul it kills people, millions go without clean drinking water (which, by the way is becoming scarce), the powers that be have colluded to bring about more poverty than ever, housing has become too expensive for many, homelessness is present in our cities, and life has indeed become brutish and unpleasant for far too many. I do not believe this is how humans were meant to live.
I know it sounds foolish to say so, but humans, as we live now, are just not part of the ecosystem, as they once were. When humans lived in small bands and lived by hunting and gathering, and even when they had primitive agriculture, they did not disrupt nature in important ways. They fashioned only primitive tools, constructed simple containers that were biodegradable, husbanded their flora and fauna, and were unable to kill by the thousands. They were, in a real sense, simply another part of nature. I realize that living like a Bushman or Australian aborigine, or even a traditional American Indian or Eskimo, is not a very appealing career for anyone living in the “modern age,” but I cannot help but believe that is what was intended for humans by the evolutionary process. In many ways we are still “primitives,” but are living in cultures that are completely out of sync with nature and apparently out of our control. The internal combustion engine, plastics, explosives, and other such technological breakthroughs are mixed blessings at best and completely out of control at worst.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

From  Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard