Thursday, June 30, 2011

Slow Learners?

Kvitova beats Azarenka, Sharapova beats Lisicki, to advance to the Wimbledon finals! What is the world coming to?

Sometimes I wonder where certain people have been for the past two and a half years. Take Senator Schumer, for example, who has just now suggested the motive for Republican intransigence might have to do with their deliberate attempt to undermine economic recovery to score political points. This suggestion was also indicated as possible by Senator Durbin. Like, where have these two been up until now? When President Obama was elected Republicans announced they would be the party of “no,” and they have been exactly that all during Obama’s term in office. Subsequently Republicans announced their primary goal was to make Obama a one term President. How is it that it took these Democratic Senators so long to figure this out? How can they think it “may be” what they are doing? President Obama is just as bad when it comes to being a slow learner. He has tried and tried to compromise with Republicans, to go far beyond even reasonable compromise to get some bipartisanship, and he has failed at every turn, they have spurned his every attempt. But he still seems to believe that when it comes right down to it the Republicans will come to their senses and “do the right thing” (with respect to the debt ceiling). I sincerely hope he is right, but if he proves to be right about their presumed cooperation it will not be because they wanted to do the right thing or agree to a bipartisan compromise. It will be because they see it as in their best interest to do something they basically would rather not do. Obama seems to be constitutionally unable to believe that evil exists, that people can be so base, so unbelievably unpatriotic. Well, they are. There are mild hints now that he might finally becoming around to the reality of politics in the current hate Obama climate (he is Black, you know).

I do not like to believe that Democrats are a bit slow “upstairs,” or they are in fact slow learners, but how does one explain this seeming recent “Eureka” moment? The only other explanation I can think of is that they have simply been unable to believe that anyone who purports to be a patriotic American politician could possibly be so venal, would be so determined to bring down a President they would be willing to simply refuse to cooperate in the governing of our country and even risk financial meltdown. I, too, would like to believe that when it comes right down to it Republicans will cave and agree to lift the debt limit, but given the likes of Michelle Bachmann, Eric Kantor, and Mitch McConnell, l wouldn’t bet on it.

We are now using drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and perhaps elsewhere for all I know. I wonder if anyone has truly considered the implications of this. I mean, is it the case that the U.S., having a technology that most other nations lack, can just try to control what goes on elsewhere by not even having to provide “boots on the ground?” Is this what the future is going to look like? It seems obvious to me that eventually some other countries are going to develop drones, so are we going to have drones flying back and forth around the world killing people indiscriminately? This kind of “warfare” terrifies me, not because I will be a victim, but because it presents a world potentially little different than Star Wars, a war between technologically sophisticated societies vying for control of planet earth. I think the use of drones, as we are currently using them, is absolutely immoral. They, along with poison gas and other such weapons should be immediately banned. Just imagine a bunch of nerds sitting around in Las Vegas directing their drones around the world to kill people during breaks at the poker tables, while other nerds sitting around the Black Sea are doing the same thing in between their tanning sessions on the beaches. So much for the “manly” art of war, the “romance” of combat, the willingness to fight and die for your country and beliefs, and, in my opinion, even sanity.

Without some truly revolutionary changes in human behavior, and fairly soon, I think the human species may well be approaching extinction.



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is Everything "Political?"

Not everything is “political,” or so it seems to me. Let us say, for example, the experts at the Forest Service have advised you your house is in imminent danger from a raging forest fire. What would you do? Would you gather together all your children and other interested relatives and debate what to do? Would you try to find other Forest Service experts who would deny your house was in danger? After listening to all points of view would you then compromise about what to do? Of course you would do none of those things. The decision as to what needs to be done is obvious and not amenable to further discussion or compromise. Politics is irrelevant.

So why is the same thing not true of global warming? The overwhelming majority of scientists all over the earth agree that global warming is real and constitutes probably the greatest problem ever faced by the human species. What needs to be done, if anything much can be done at this late date, is perfectly clear. The human contribution to this immense and frightening situation can be reversed or at least reduced by taking certain actions having to do with reducing certain human activities. Immediate action is required. That is not happening. The problem of global warming is not really a political issue, nor can it be solved by political action, at least not in sufficient time to do much about it. Our Congress has made it a political issue with some arguing that it is not real, or if it is, humans have nothing to do with it. Some have gone out of their way to find some very small minority of “scientists” who deny it, in some cases doubtlessly even paying them for their contrary opinions. Global warming is a problem that all responsible politicians should have acknowledged and taken immediate action to do whatever can be done to curb it. It is not an issue that can be solved by politics. If the naysayers were to win the results would be disastrous. If those who believe global warming is real, and win after a long political fight, it will be too late. Nor is there any room for compromise. Someone said that politics is the art of compromise, but there is no room for compromise on global warming. What would compromise look like, global warming occurs in the northern hemisphere but not the southern? It occurs in the arctic circle but not in Paducah? We’ll accept it as a problem in even numbered years but not odd numbered years? It is just plain and simply not a problem amenable to a political solution. Either you believe in the judgment of the most eminent scientists around the world or you don’t, and the risk of not believing is unacceptable.

The same thing I believe is true of other problems that we have somehow made political that really should not be political. For example, why should the question of clean air and water be political? One would think that clean air and water should just be a given, taken for granted. But with huge corporations wanting to pollute the air and water for their own purposes we now find it being argued in political circles, in our Congress. Clean air and water are not a political problem, and like global warming, cannot be settled politically (unless, again, you are willing to wait until it is too late and the damage is irreparable). Does anyone truly believe we should compromise on clean air and water? What would such compromise involve, clean air and water on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? The very idea is ludicrous, but apparently not to some of our Congresspersons (doing their duty for corporate giants who don’t care whether we have clean air or water as long as their profits are insured).

Basically this is the same argument one can make about “privatization.” Some things are too important for human life and well-being to be privatized. Air and water are obvious, but there are others as well. Health care, for example, education, and even energy. The idea that government is somehow bad and privatization is good, from the standpoint of human welfare, is absurd, as we are now painfully finding confirmed.

These problems that should be apolitical but are not are also related to the issue of taxes. If you live in an organized society, especially a very large and complicated one, there is an absolute necessity for some institutions, like police, firemen, hospitals, schools, and so on. These can only be provided through some form of taxation. Taxes have to be raised and lowered, changed sometimes in other ways, to insure the smooth functioning of government. To hold, as Grover Norquist and our current Republicans do, that taxes should never be raised under any circumstances is ridiculous in the extreme. How Norquist managed to get anyone to sign a pledge to never, under any circumstances, raise taxes, absolutely amazes me. First of all, in a sense, Grover Norquist is a relative “nobody.” He holds no official position, being President of Americans for Tax Relief (or whatever his organization is called), and exists solely for the purpose of fighting taxes. But taxes are an integral part of government that cannot function without them. To sign a pledge to never raises taxes under any circumstances is basically saying, “I’m going to Congress but I pledge to not take part in governing.” This is precisely what Republicans have been doing during the Obama administration, saying “no” to everything and especially to taxes. This is especially egregious at a time when our country desperately needs cooperation and taxes if we are to recover from the recession. It makes no sense whatsoever if the purpose of government is governing, and is apparently motivated not merely for the absurdity of no taxes, ever, but by the express purpose of bringing down the Obama administration by any means possible. As long as this attitude prevails there will be no recovery and, indeed, may be a serious relapse. I personally believe what the Republicans are doing borders on treason. I sincerely hope they will be held accountable.

Oh, give me a home
where the buffalo roam
and the deer and the antelope play,
where never is heard
a discouraging word
and the skies are not cloudy all day.
(From the state song of Kansas by Dr. Brewster M. Higley)

Sigh, you don’t encounter many Brewsters anymore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The United States of Nonsense

This is not a serious country, this United States of America. I’m sure that those who are in charge of ripping us off, the heads of giant corporations and the disgustingly wealthy, are serious, but I don’t believe the rest of us are. If we were we would certainly not put up with the utter nonsense that now passes for government, or even news.

Need I remind you that the next election is still 17 months in the future. We have already had to endure endless “news” about Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, neither of whom had any intention of actually running for President. Newt Gingrich is another non-candidate who receives almost daily attention. There have also been speculations about many others, Haley Barbour, Huckabee, Giuliani, Perry, Ryan, Allen, and I can’t remember who all else. The 2012 election, a long way away, is occupying the bulk of our “news,” day after day after dreary day, along with what is likely, or not likely, to happen to the debt ceiling. Will they raise it or won’t they? They almost certainly will but suspense sells. If we were truly serious about our politics, or more importantly the fate of our country, we would not put up with this. Our politics has become little more than an ongoing soap opera.

The current news “darling” is Michelle Bachmann who not long ago was regarded as borderline insane, or at least a genuine “flake,” but who has now, through the magic of our fake “news,” become a serious candidate for the Presidency. Now we have to listen to all the “pundits” speculate whether or not she has a chance, what kind of campaign she will run, can she overcome her previous idiotic comments, and no doubt soon what does she wear, what does she eat for breakfast, what happened to all those foster children (as there are apparently about 23 of them this will probably keep the “news” busy for a very long time).

It appears Bachmann has become the non-Romney candidate, a position first awarded to Pawlenty. Pawlenty, however, has turned out to be so deadly boring he is already probably dead in the water. Romney, too, is boring, I mean really boring. And of course the others still claiming to be in the race are such complete nonentities and long-shots as to not be worth bothering about – except if they can be made “newsworthy” like Herman Cain, carrying on about race and Jon Stewart and other complete nonsense.

President Obama, the darling of Wall Street, has fallen out of favor with Progressives, supposedly his “base.” So speculation is rife about whether or not he can actually be defeated. In the real world he no doubt should be defeated, after his miserable performance with respect to “wars,” transparency, Israel, the Bush agenda, and legality in general. But fortunately for him the Republicans have put forward a slate of candidates so excruciatingly awful he will almost surely survive for another term.

Our elections have become little more than just another form of “infotainment,” unbelievably expensive and virtually endless, and virtually meaningless. They divert our attention from our international “sins,” insure that we know as little as possible about what is really happening in the world, and give us something to occupy our time while waiting for the football season. Even our most serious problems, global warming, the national debt, social security, Medicare, poverty, infrastructure, education, environment, and so forth have become merely “political” issues rather than the serious matters they are. Instead of trying to solve them our politicians play political games with them, charades that lead nowhere but score “points” with their sponsors.

If we were serious people we would not put up with this. We would demand our “leaders” be serious and try to actually solve problems rather than kicking them back and forth like worn soccer balls or limp footballs. Our road to hell will be paved with discussions about whether bloated corporations and the obscenely wealthy should have to pay taxes, or how many children should be allowed on food stamps, whether chronically unemployed people should be allowed to eat, or if there should be a minimum wage, and whether poor women should receive health care. This is disgusting beyond belief, our “leaders,” with rare exceptions, are a bunch of criminal fakers who have no interest in doing the “right things,” only where their next big payoff will come from. We are, I fear, getting what’s coming to us.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Government (con't)

As I said last night, government in the sense of directing and supervising public affairs, is one of the basic building blocks of human life. All cultures, no matter how small or “primitive,” have individuals in position of authority to do just that. As human groups are inherently social and do not operate according to instincts they survive and flourish because there are cultural rules and regulations transmitted extragenetically, and whether formally codified or merely passed on through language and behavior, are understood by the members. To argue, as Grover Norquist does, that government should be shrunken until it can be drowned in a bathtub, or government is the problem as Saint Ronnie proclaimed, if pursued to the ultimate conclusion, would be to deny the very foundation of human society. We can only assume that even Norquist and Reagan would have to agree that government has at least some useful functions.

Presumably we could all agree that having policemen and firefighters is a good thing, and it is also nice to have highways, bridges, schools, dams, food inspectors, hospitals, and so on. Sometimes it appears that not everyone shares the desirability of such things as there are constant attempts to withdraw funding for them, or at least reduce their funding to the barest minimum. Some of us believe it is also nice to have unemployment insurance, health care, clean water and air, affordable energy, and etc.. But these perquisites cost money and hence we pay taxes, those things Republicans constantly oppose and try to reduce no matter what. Their single-minded obsession, that they drearily repeat over and over again, year after year, is the claim that government is too large and taxes are too onerous. What a society that paid no taxes and had no supervision might be like is not too hard to imagine.

Perhaps it is true that government is too large, but like most things, it depends upon your point of view. If, for example, relatively full employment is a reasonable social goal, and if government is the employer of last resort, perhaps government is not large enough. Full employment is not a concern for Republicans. Perhaps it is also true that taxes are too onerous. I believe in some sense they are. But this has to do entirely with what taxes are used for. I don’t see how anyone could object to paying taxes for policemen, firemen, schools, hospitals, libraries, clean water and air, health care, and other such basic human necessities, but some apparently are even opposed to supporting such necessities, even arguing that government should provide nothing at all. Where I see taxes as a problem and too onerous is where, instead of using them for basic necessities, they are used to support a massive military/industrial/political system that has little purpose beyond making more and more profits for itself.

Our problem here in the U.S. is not government, it is (excruciatingly) bad government, or, one might even argue, no functioning government at all. Our current government does not provide direction or supervise public affairs. Public affairs no longer have much of anything to do with how our false government behaves. They direct and supervise private affairs, the affairs of gigantic corporations and the obscenely wealthy. Public affairs, in the sense of public interest or public welfare, only rarely, if ever, currently enter into political consideration and action. Government decides what public affairs should be and acts according to their dictates, as unnecessary and illegal “wars” are waged in the interest of oil companies or other predatory industries rather than in the public interest. When thousands, even millions turn out to protest these “wars” they are simply ignored (as was certainly the case when we illegally attacked Iraq for control of their oil, pretending it was for other reasons entirely, a pack of lies so obvious as to be absurd). The entire world was outraged but government paid little attention. A majority of the American public now wants us to withdraw from Afghanistan but we are not about to do so. Similarly, a majority is opposed to our involvement in Libya, but government does not care and will not even admit our involvement has to do with oil rather than the lame excuse of protecting civilians.

We still have a few politicians who seem genuinely concerned with public welfare, Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, for example, but they are like voices crying out in the wilderness of unreason, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Our original democratic society was supposed to provide us with a system whereby we would elect officials to conduct the business of, for, and by the people. It was assumed, I am sure, that these officials, however they might differ on matters of priority or procedure, morality or values, would all have as their bottom line the best interests of the nation at heart, they would direct and supervise public affairs in the best interest of the public. Unfortunately this is not true any longer. Our current government has degenerated into two groups, not very dissimilar from one another, who spend their time raising money from corporate donors and trying to discredit whichever group happens to be in power at the moment. Their behavior is a far cry from actually governing and consists mostly of arguing over which enormous corporation, institution, or billionaire should benefit the most from their legislative efforts. It is truly, as someone once suggested, “The best government money can buy.”

There is no longer any doubt whatsoever that our present government is dysfunctional in the extreme and no longer cares about ordinary citizens. This is not the fault of President Obama any more than the fault of Presidents and Congresspersons that came before him, especially since the Reagan presidency and right up to the present (the Bush/Cheney administration brought the degeneration of government to the height of incipient fascism). There is considerable doubt that this unfortunate trend can now be reversed. The damage done to the nation and our environment in the insane quest for profit at all costs may be irreversible. The fault lies with generations of greed and poor leadership, public apathy, and the mistaken belief that free markets would inevitably overcome all obstacles. Where the profit motive reigns supreme, poverty and misery will not be far behind.





Sunday, June 26, 2011

Government

Government, what is it, and why is it? As always the dictionary is not much help as the term can be and is defined in different ways. It seems to me that perhaps the most succinct and useful definition would be something like the following: Those individuals holding offices of a nation or other polity who are responsible for the direction and supervision of public affairs. All human groups, from the smallest to the largest, have some form of government. In the smallest hunting and gathering societies this is often the eldest male or the best hunter or even the person with the strongest personality who can convince others to follow his lead. He (and it most often is a “he”) is responsible for deciding when the game in the area is becoming hard to find and it is time to move, or some event occurs to indicate a change is necessary, and so on. In somewhat larger groups, like the small-scale agriculturalists in New Guinea and other places it can be the eldest male clan member or someone with a reputation as a “big man” or a “man with a name.” Such individuals become leaders because they are recognized to have the skills necessary to lead and others agree to follow them. The Big Man decides when the gardens are “running out of grease” and they need to move on, or when various festivals should occur, or even when and where they should go to “war.” When groups grow larger leadership sometimes becomes more specialized and the criteria for leadership can become more complicated. The bottom line, however, is, or should be, always the direction, guidance, and responsibility for public affairs

Under such a definition of government one could argue that even severe dictatorships qualify as governments because the leaders, in principle at least, are responsible for the direction and responsibility for public affairs, even if they do not govern in the public interest. All human societies can be justifiably said to have some form of government, however “primitive.”

Strangely enough what made me start thinking about this has to do with tigers. The other day there was an advertisement for people to help save the tigers. For some minimum monthly stipend you could symbolically adopt a tiger. This by itself would not have been enough to cause me to consider it as a governmental problem, but it came at the end of a whole series of such problems we have had to consider over the past few years. You must know there have been pleas to save the whales, save the wild horses, save the salmon, seals, polar bears, wolves, pygmy rabbits, frogs, owls, eagles, manatees, coral reefs, old growth forests, mangrove swamps, crocodiles, sharks, dolphins, puffins, and who knows what all other species. There are also demands for contributions for medical conditions such as breast and prostate cancer, and so on. More importantly perhaps, are the constant requests to save abused dogs, cats, and other pets, and even more importantly to save children from poverty and hunger, as well as provide them with medical care.

These requests infuriate me, not because I think they are not terrible conditions that are completely deserving, but because they make me wonder where in the hell governments have been for the last few centuries. The fact that all these problems and needs still exist indicates a massive failure of government and also of leadership. On a more abstract plane it also indicates a failure of the human species to manage their affairs in thoughtful and responsible ways. When you add in, as in the case of the U.S., the failure to live within our means, our deteriorating schools, infrastructure, and environment, the situation is even more shocking.

You could, of course, argue that all these problems are not really matters of public interest and should be handled by private institutions and businesses, “the self-correcting market.” But it should be perfectly obvious by now that these problems have arisen and continue because of the lack of governmental supervision, the lack of regulation. If the purpose of government is to direct and supervise public affairs this implies regulation, and nowhere is regulation more important than in industrialized countries that operate importantly on the profit motive. Without proper regulation in a capitalistic society greed and dishonesty flourish, as we are now experiencing. Is it the case that environmental protection, clean air and water, the preservation of species, the adequate care of children and pets, health care, education , and the judicious use of available resources are not public affairs? This is precisely what those who insist on privatization and unregulated free markets apparently want us to believe. Following the bizarre idea that “no government is good government” is to argue there is no place at all in human affairs for government, a negation of the very concept of government, and it is not only contrary to the fundamentals of human society , indeed, even to the nature of human nature, it has also proven to be the road to disaster. Humans live in social groups and follow the prescriptions and proscriptions of culture because that is their means of survival. To argue there should be no proscriptions on human behavior is nonsensical in the extreme.



Friday, June 24, 2011

Some Thoughts on "Evil"

Quite a few years ago, Shelly Berman, who was a fine comedian, published a little book called “Cleans and Dirties.” You probably have not encountered this interesting work, but it had to do with the complex interaction between language and culture, such that certain words, phrases, or ideas appear to be intrinsically “dirty,” whereas other somewhat similar words or phrases do not have that connotation. Some examples from here where I live might be, “Sanitary Landfill” is a clean whereas “sanitary napkin” is a dirty, or “Entering Sandpoint” is clearly a clean whereas “Entering Elmira” could be seen as a dirty. “Fightin’ Creek” is a clean whereas “Bloody Dick Creek” might well be seen as a dirty. Anyway, you get the point and see the subtle interplay of language with culture. This has nothing to do with the question of evil, except insofar as I think the perception of evil involves the same complicated interchange of language and culture, as well as someone’s particular point of view.

First, does evil occur in nature, sans humans? I don’t think so. Terrible things occur in nature all the time, lions attack and kill their prey, alligators do likewise, as do virtually all living things. That is, all species live on the death of other species. Their behavior, almost entirely instinctive, does not involve an evil intent, unless survival is considered an evil intent. Human behavior has a very different dimension in that it can and does sometimes involve a distinctive evil intent to kill you on the part of your attacker. If, for example, you kill someone because you are defending yourself from their evil intent you are not considered to have performed an evil act (undesirable, to be sure, but not evil). But if you deliberately set out to kill or maim or destroy someone, or even someone’s reputation even if you have what you believe is a good reason, you are pretty obviously involved in doing evil. It would appear to me that evil could be eliminated through the elimination of the human species. As nature may eventually take care of that we can leave it for the moment.

“Evil” is one of those words that if you try to turn to the dictionary you will find little or no help. It will be “defined” as “morally reprehensible,” “sinful,” “wicked,” or something similar. These terms, like the term evil itself, depend entirely upon your point of view. We could doubtless agree that the attack of 9/11 on the twin towers that killed thousands of absolutely innocent persons was intrinsically evil. The same is true of all terrorist acts that involve the killing of innocents. But what about our attack of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/ll and was not realistically a threat to us (or even their neighbors)? What about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, in general or specifically in Gaza where the motive is to keep them poor and defenseless if not to eventually destroy them entirely? Surely this must be evil. Some believe that Iran is trying to secretly build a nuclear weapon, but given the constant threats they have endured from Israel and the U.S., why would that not be considered a perfectly reasonable action on their part, surely they should have the right to defend themselves? How can that be considered evil? If one nation has the technology to build and employ unmanned drones to fly over and kill targets in other countries (often including innocent civilians) that do not have the means to reciprocate, is that evil? I believe so.

It would seem to me that to determine if something is truly evil or not one must consider the motives. There are many cultural practices that would ostensibly appear to be evil, at least to Western observers, but do not involve evil motives. Female circumcisions might be an example, (or perhaps even male circumcisions for some). The sexual exploitation of boys in Afghanistan or Ancient Greece was fairly commonplace, but did it occur from evil motives? In some cases of ritualized male homosexuality, as in parts of New Guinea, it was firmly believed the homosexual rites were absolutely necessary if the boys were to grow up to be successful warriors. Similarly, the serial sex with newly married brides that occurred in a few places, were believed necessary to insure the fertility of both the people and the gardens. These kinds of magical beliefs may be terribly ignorant but does that make them evil? Going a step further, headhunting was fairly widespread among various human cultures at one time, and again, it was believed to be necessary for various reasons. We might all agree it must have been evil but those who engaged in it did not consider it evil. But then we always must return to the most classic case of evil we have ever experienced, genocide. Everyone (with the exception of obvious lunatics) seems to agree that the Nazi extermination of the Jews was an ultimate evil act. Many Germans believed this to be necessary, however misguided and horrible it might have been. If they truly believed in it were they evil, or just mistaken? Of course those Germans who participated even if they knew better might well be said to be evil, and those who forced them into compliance with such a program must be perceived as absolutely evil.

Clearly matters of good and evil can be complicated. So what would you conclude about those who would deny people health care (unless they were wealthy), or those who would deny women the basic health services of Planned Parenthood, or the right to have unions, employment, unemployment insurance, housing, or food stamps, or the right to marry, or exercise control over their own bodies? How about those who support unsustainable fishing or lumbering, or harmful agricultural practices, or mountaintop mining, or myriad other acts clearly related to global warming and harmful to the environment? How about those who for purely political motives are willing to sacrifice the well-being of the nation itself, along with the well-being of a majority of its citizens, for their own political and financial gain, who are willing to stand in the way of any positive attempts to improve our current crises? There may be a few Republicans who are ignorant or stupid enough to actually believe this is the way a society can operate (there certainly seem to be) and they perhaps cannot be considered really evil, but most of them must know full well, when they receive those lush payoffs and do what they are expected to do, they are obviously doing the devil’s work. In any case, welcome to the current (and evil) Republican Party.

HUNGRY AND OUT OF WORK, EAT A REPUBLICAN!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Graveyard of Empires

Although there is some controversy about this, Afghanistan does have a history of having defeated most everyone that has tried to conquer them (or it, or all of it, or permanently, conclusively, or however you wish to look at it). That is, for over a thousand years various empires have invaded and tried to conquer the area that we think of as Afghanistan: the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British, Russians, and now the U.S., and all have failed to permanently take over that difficult country (some may have reigned for relatively short periods of time). I believe the claim that Afghanistan has never been conquered is a bit misleading because for most of history there was no Afghanistan as a viable national entity. Like many such places Afghanistan was a clan-based society with various clans competing for power, with any given clan joining with others at one time and still others at another time. The one thing that could potentially bring a number of clans together for the same purpose was the invasion of their lands by outside forces. The British, for example, learned this the hard way when their military suffered the greatest slaughter in their history of colonialism. It may be true that they later returned and defeated some of the Afghans, but they never managed to control them. The Afghans have been known throughout history as savage fighters who have not hesitated to soundly defeat and even humiliate their enemies. It is said the Russians may have succeeded if it had not been for the intervention of the U.S., providing Afghans with the means to defeat them. Be all this as it may, there is little doubt the Afghans have been extremely successful at defending their country against all invaders and have a well-deserved reputation for doing so.

We are presently spending billions a month to teach them how to defend themselves! Hahahahahaha! Absurdity knows no bounds!

Of course that is not exactly what we are doing. We are, depending upon what nonsense you are listening to at the moment, engaged in “nation building,” improving the lot of Afghan women, bringing democracy to them, protecting them from themselves, altruistically looking after their best interests, or whatever. In fact we are trying to maintain control of the Middle East, particularly with respect to oil, just as we have been doing in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and other nations in that part of the world since oil became of such importance. Afghanistan does have quite a lot of as yet untapped resources, including oil, but is also the potential location of an oil pipeline to exploit the oilfields of central Asia, bypassing Russia, and keeping oil from China. You may hear other explanations for why we continue our “war” in Afghanistan, but trust me, it is primarily about oil and other resources.

It appears that Eric Kantor, failing to get his way in negotiations about the deficit, has taken his ball and gone home, so I guess at the moment the negotiations are going nowhere. I understand he wants the golf buddies, Obama and Boehner, to work it out. Unfortunately, Boehner is still resistant to giving Obama the handicap strokes he deserves. If it has not been obvious for the past couple of years it is becoming increasingly obvious now that Republicans are more interested in making Obama fail than they are in the well-being of our country. They block anything Obama and the Democrats try to do to increase employment and help bring us out of the recession and then blame Obama for the failing. I’m not sure how obvious this is to the public at large but there is no doubt this has been the Republican strategy all along. When they vowed to be the party of “no” they have kept to their vow no matter what damage to our nation and citizens has resulted. Look at what the Republican Governors have been doing in Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey, and other states and try to imagine what they would do if they should regain the White House.

I am beginning to believe Republicans are actually out to kill us all. I’m not sure this is simply due to ignorance, greed, or their belief in end-times. They tend to deny global warming, the most important and dangerous threat mankind has ever faced, they support the very corporations that in search of endless profit are polluting the oceans and the environment in general, they appear to have no interest in preserving anything for future generations other than tax breaks, and are, in my opinion, totally irresponsible in their quest to cripple Obama and regain power. One Republican recently referred to Al Gore as a member of the “loony left” because he has chastised Obama for his inaction on global warming and the environment. He will unhappily change his tune after it is too late. In the meantime let us by all means build more nuclear energy plants, produce more plastic bags, engage in more mountain-top mining, overfishing, and overconsumption of all kinds. It’s the American way!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Nation of Laws?

Watch ‘n Wait: Haven’t heard from you for “ever-so-long.” Yes, I agree, Jon Huntsman seems like a decent sort, reasonable, intelligent, informed, and perhaps even relatively honest, but as he has spoken well of Obama I doubt he can last very long in the present Republican milieu. Besides, I think it’s unfortunately true, “Nice guys finish last.”

How often have you heard various officials proudly, even boastfully claim that we (the U.S.) are a nation of laws? If you haven’t heard it often you must not have been listening. I am not going to discuss this as another example of U.S. hypocrisy, but, rather, as another example of the weird world of surrealism we currently inhabit. It’s a claim that is probably even more far-fetched than our continuing belief that we live in a democracy.

For convenience I will not speak of the world pre-2000, only developments since that time. It would appear that breaking the law has become the norm rather than the exception, at least when it comes to the behavior of our various “leaders” or “important people.” Take Rush Limbaugh, for example, caught breaking the drug laws, both by illegally acquiring drugs and also by having drugs in his position for which he did not personally have a prescription. Did Rush go to jail for either of these offenses? Of course he did not. How about Senator Vitter of Louisiana, caught paying prostitutes for sex, obviously against the law? Did Vitter go to jail, of course not, he is still a Senator, has the support of the Republican Party and holds successful fund raisers. Then there is the case of Senator John Ensign, caught breaking the law but allowed to stay in the Senate anyway (until recently when he may or may not face charges). Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been pretty obviously breaking the law for some time but it is doubtful that anything will be done about it. There are reasons to believe that Karl Rove has broken the law on more than one occasion but somehow he escapes justice. It is pretty near certain that Newt Gingrich has broken the law with his various fund-raising and private businesses but as yet he has not been held accountable.

Let’s move on to more important cases. There is little doubt that various banks and Wall Street executives have repeatedly broken laws regulating their activities. With perhaps rare exceptions they have not been held accountable and apparently will not be. It is almost certainly the case that the Department of Justice under the Bush/Cheney administration broke the law when making appointments on political rather than professional grounds. In even more egregious cases Bush/Cheney, along with their appointees recklessly broke the law when it came to lying to the American public about going to war with Iraq. Their attack on Iraq, a nation that was no danger to us, was based entirely on lies and constituted the single worst war crime possible. The “war” on Iraq involved multiple crimes and lawbreaking, torture, war profiteering, the use of outlawed weapons, killing of civilians, and so on. These admitted criminals have not been held accountable for their lawbreaking. It is believed by many responsible scholars that Clinton, as President, broke the law with respect to the Balkans, and there is no doubt that Bush broke the laws regularly. It is even claimed by some at the moment that President Obama has broken the law with respect to our involvement in Libya (which he probably has). It is impossible even to imagine how many laws are broken with respect to illegal contributions to Congresspersons or others in positions of power. Occasionally someone is caught but they rarely get more than a slap on the wrist.

This issue of lawbreaking is, of course, very complicated. This is because in some cases Congress has managed to pass laws that actually make what might well be considered crime, legal. Thus it is that banks and insurance companies are able to exploit the public in ways that certainly ought to be illegal but under our current laws are not. And remember how easily Bush/Cheney managed to arrange for their lawyers to simply change the law and make torture, clearly illegal, presumably legal. If you have power you can have the laws changed to suit yourself.

There is also the question of the “Living Law” vs. Formal laws. That is, sometimes things may be technically illegal because there are formal, written laws against them, but over time those formal laws have been ignored for so long the practices become, for all intents and purposes, legal. I should think unmarried couples living together (unlawful cohabitation) might well be a case of the living law eventually becoming legal. Homosexual behavior formerly considered illegal is another case in point. Violating precedent might be another area where things are not entirely clear. The Supreme Court, for example, when they made Bush President, could be said to have broken the law as if they did not break any formal law certainly made a decision so bad and so unprecedented that even they said at the time it should never be used as a precedent. The case of Clarence Thomas in some respects is somewhat similar. Even if technically there is no law that requires a Justice to recuse him/herself when he/she has a conflict of interest, decent Justices traditionally have usually done so. Scalia and Thomas have not always done so and in effect just thumbed their nose at tradition or what might be considered the more or less living law.

It appears to me that at least since 2000 the law has been ignored perhaps more than followed, and those who have violated laws, like in starting illegal wars, torturing, and the “outing of Valerie Plane,” for example, have managed to escape punishment entirely (except for Libby who was pardoned by Bush, thus showing contempt for the law in still another case).

There is also the fact that laws are sometimes different for different classes of people. Black people, for example, are much more severely punished for drug violations than are Whites (and much more severely punished for murdering Whites than Whites are for murdering Blacks), and everyone knows (or at least believes) that if you have enough money you can pretty much manage to avoid punishment for even the most terrible of crimes (think O.J. Simpson, for example).

The claim that the U.S. is a “nation of laws” seems to me to be just another myth we tolerate rather than a matter-of-fact, certainly since the Nightmare Years of the 21st century, when laws seemingly were ignored to the point they became largely irrelevant to what was happening in our country. If we actually behaved according to “the rule of law” things would be very different indeed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's Great to be Back?

Does anything make sense anymore? The Fukushima disaster is now said by some experts to be the single greatest industrial disaster in all of human history. The Japanese seem to have learned their lesson and have announced they will abandon nuclear energy entirely. The Germans have said the same thing and will phase out their nuclear plants. I believe Switzerland has also so announced. The Italian public has voted against nuclear energy. China is apparently well on the road to converting to renewable energy and are far ahead of us in renewable energy technology. But here in the U.S. the Tennessee Valley Authority has announced they will construct six “micro” nuclear plants along a river in that state. We are not going to be influenced by any Asians or Europeans, or even common sense, when there may be some money to be made. It’s the American way, shoot first, ask questions later. I find this so utterly stupid it makes me ashamed to admit my citizenship.

John McCain, I gather, has been let out of the nursing home again. He is now claiming, with no evidence or facts whatsoever, that the terrible wildfires in Arizona were caused by illegal immigrants. I guess his claim is based upon the simple fact that immigrants are known to build fires (like everyone else). He is also ranting and raving about the isolationism in the Republican Party. He and his buddy Graham are determined we should be constantly at war (with apparently as many people as possible at the same time).

Clarence Thomas, who should never have been appointed to the Supreme Court in the first place, should resign. There is no doubt whatsoever that he has both ethical issues as well as conflicts of interest. Of course he will never resign, nor is it likely anyone will seriously try to force him out. Laws no longer matter much here in the U.S. if you’re on the right side (that is, the side of the wealthy and corporations).

Governor Rick Perry of Texas is making noises about joining the gang running for the Republican nomination. There are apparently many who would like to see him do so. They say he’s been a great Governor, has created jobs, and other stuff. Texas has the largest percentage of low wage jobs anywhere in the U.S. and also has a 27 billion dollar budget problem. Perry is also apparently a religious nut case calling for public prayer sessions (by religious fundamentalists) that minorities would be better advised to avoid, especially Muslims and Gays. So why shouldn’t Perry aspire to be President of the country he has threatened to secede from?

Ron Paul seems to be coming on strong, I think because of his now fashionable positions against the “wars” and our “empire.” Perhaps it’s because he wants to turn the clock back to frontier days and for some I guess there is a kind of romanticism involved in such thoughts. His position, as I understand it, is “Why should the government help anyone?” Why indeed, we should just let them die if they have no resources, health care, homes, food, or whatever. Like, who needs ‘em anyway? Paul would also apparently like us to return to the gold standard. Unless I am mistaken, Nixon took us off the gold standard because we didn’t have enough gold at the time. What would happen now if we returned to a gold standard? Would there be enough gold in all the world to cover all the dollars? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Republican creativity knows no bounds. Mark Amodei of Nevada, running to replace John Ensign, has announced that raising the debt ceiling would bring about an invasion by the Chinese. Of course the debt ceiling will be raised as it always has. If the Republicans had any plan other than bringing down President Obama this would not even be an issue. But what Wall Street wants, Wall Street gets, and Wall Street wants the debt limit raised. Republicans can bluster all they want but when it comes right down to it they will play along. Whatever you think about Obama, unless something really unusual happens I cannot see any of the current Republican clowns beating him in 2012. It will be, of course, the same “Hobson’s choice” it always is, the least of two evils will pretend to have won and things will continue much as always. Personally, I believe the election is already over, Obama has been picked to win and the only question is which one of the current pretenders will be picked to lose. The Republican candidate is basically irrelevant but we must maintain our pretense of democracy. Obama will bring some troops home, employment will probably start to rise, some action, however feeble, will be taken to deal with the debt, and probably the filthy rich and the corporations will see at least token tax increases. When you think of it as merely a giant charade it isn’t quite so painful. You want my advice, take a long walk in the forest.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I'm Back

Well, I’m back, having completed what I set out to do…ignore the utter ridiculousness that has now become so characteristic of our time. I watched no TV, listened to no news, read no newspaper, it was wonderful. I walked everyday in the Canadian Rockies, a most humbling experience, I admired the virtually unbelievable beauty of the forests, the rivers, the lakes, and I also enjoyed observing deer, elk, a bear, and some mountain sheep. It is true it rained much of the time, but it did clear up enough at times to offer fantastic views of the awesome mountains and the air itself was worth the trip. I don’t like the phrase, “communing with nature,” but I guess that is precisely what I was doing. It was so overwhelming I was tempted to seek a vision quest and find some powerful creature of the wild to act as my guardian spirit (having given up all hope of any human help). Indeed, I began to wish I was myself a creature of the forest, a bear perhaps, or even a wolf or an owl, so I could actually live in and be a part of the forest forever. Silly, I know, but it does affect me that way. It is nice to know there is a real world out there, a world of nature and incredible beauty that has not yet succumbed to the ravages of “civilization.” I have visited many parts of the world during my lifetime and there are few places, if any, that are more awesome, beautiful, or moving, than the B.C. Rockies.

Of course one can’t walk all the time, especially in heavy rain. When I wasn’t walking I read, James Thurber. First I read a collection of his essays on crime, “Thurber on Crime,” then I read another collection called, “Credos and Curios,” and finally I read his well-known book (with E. B. White), “Is Sex Necessary?” (these being the only three volumes of Thurber I could find in our home library, all very easy to read). Although I didn’t think much about it, I must have turned to Thurber because he is one of the few humorous writers that is not in the least bit “frantic,” aggressive, or vicious (there is, of course, a lot of viciousness in most comedy). I can understand why Keith Olberman felt it appropriate to read Thurber to his father everyday while visiting him in the hospital. Thurber’s charm lies mostly in the subtlety of his humor that is far more whimsical than cutting, and does not produce the anger, aggression, or even exaggerated criticism that sometimes characterizes American humor. Even in his most extreme form, when you sometimes sense a hint of S.J. Perlman or Max Schulman, his humor is not outrageous or “off the wall.” His prose is much like his drawings, simple, direct, and to the point. When he writes of his peers at the New Yorker, like the cartoonist, Mary Petty, or Robert Benchley, he is at his best and you know him for the good and trusted friend he must have been. His book, “The Years With Ross,” is perhaps the finest example of this. Apparently someone once asked Harold Ross why he kept Thurber on, who was, he observed, merely ”a fifth rate cartoonist.” Ross immediately replied, “He’s not a fifth rate cartoonist, he’s a third rate cartoonist.” In fact, Thurber was a first rate cartoonist and also a first rate essayist of whom you might well say, “His humor was far too subtle for the average mind to grasp.” Having merely “scratched the surface” of this obviously kind, gentle, and creative man’s work, I vow to continue to find more and more for the foreseeable future. I was unable to find any Thurber in the one bookstore we visited, but we did manage to find some books for my wife’s online book business, Arabella’s Books.

Having just now returned from my “time out” I have not as yet tried to catch up with the “news.” My guess is there won’t be much “catching up” to do as I doubt anything much has changed, and if it has, the MSM probably won’t tell us about it anyway (unless it promises to somehow demean President Obama or the Democrats).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Had It"

I’m afraid that for the moment I’ve “had it.” I’m going off to the British Columbia Rockies for a short session of rest and recuperation. During this time I intend to neither watch nor listen to any news, read a newspaper, or write a blog. I will probably not blog again until Monday, the 20th.

I have been led to this decision by the “news” of recent events, particularly the Republican “debate” or whatever it was supposed to be. While I did not watch this performance, as it has been shown and dissected virtually non-stop, I have a pretty good idea as to what it was like. Thus I am (not) sorry to say that I believe all seven of the participants in this basically non-event are in one or more ways hopeless. They are without exception xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, sexist, ignorant, stupid, religious nut-cases, and out of touch with reality (or severally some combination of two or more of these attributes). Romney alone seems to drift into moments of sanity when he acknowledges that global warming is real and has something to do with human activity. It seems he is not well liked by many in the Republican Party, possibly because of his moments of sanity. It is interesting that a couple of the participants were not even official candidates as yet, and even more interesting that at least one announced candidate, Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico, was for some reason not allowed to participate. He, too, has some rather strange ideas, and in his case these ideas are so “far out” from what most Republicans believe I guess they just didn’t want to hear them. Some other possible candidates, Huntsman, Perry, and Giuliani, who are said to be toying with the idea of running, are just as bad or worse. Perry is an absolutely religious nut-case, Huntsman another Mormon, and Giuliani barely removed from the criminal underclass and a monumental failure when he ran previously. There may be still others lurking out there, like Silly Sarah, Trashy Trump, and Horrid Huckabee who seem to have not entirely given up making fools of themselves.

It is not surprising that few people seem satisfied with this strange line-up, and perhaps not surprising they can find no better candidates even though they seem somewhat confident they can defeat Obama. But these candidates are so excruciatingly bad, and the ones standing in the wings are every bit as bad, President Obama would have to be found with bags of counterfeit money on his way to Kenya before any of them could beat him, in spite of the terrible economic and employment situation.

Seriously, how can anyone take what is going on seriously. It is a never-ending version of slap-stick comedy. One candidate believes doctors should go to prison for performing perfectly legal operations. Another likens Muslims to Nazis, still another would not have a Muslim in his cabinet, one, possibly more than one, believes god is directing him/her to run, virtually all of them disavow global warming, still others want to decrease taxes on corporations and multi-millionaires at a time when increased revenue is absolutely required, one believes government should do nothing to help anyone, another says Obama was raised in Kenya, and even more ridiculous ideas are suggested and promoted. I regard what is going on among Republicans as so seriously deranged and to be not even worthy of attention.

On the other side of the aisle, democrats appear to be either unable or unwilling to stand up for anything they claim to honor. It seems strange to me that Republicans who control only the House of Representatives, and not the Senate or the White House, still seem to be in charge of everything. Rather than stick up for their values democrats bend over backwards to accommodate Republican demands. It appears the question of Israeli/Palestinian matters is completely in the hands of Bibi Netanyahu who does whatever he wishes while the U.S. supports him no matter how criminal. With two “wars” we can’t pay for already going, we have now started still further military action in Libya for reasons that are not at all clear, and to top that we are now beginning to move into Yemen. As a nation we are failing in every way and falling behind the rest of the industrialized world. Our economy is a shambles, our educational system is a shambles, our manufacturing base is a shambles, our infrastructure is a shambles, our political system is a shambles, our MSM is a shambles, our middle class is a shambles, and it appears we may well preserve subsidies for corporations and further tax breaks for the obscenely wealthy rather than take any meaningful action for change. Our government has become so dysfunctional it seems to me there is no way out of the mess we have created. Our citizens are depressed, I am depressed, the situation is bordering on hopeless. Depression can be usually managed, but when it slides into hopelessness becomes more dangerous and cannot always be managed, for it is the attitude that if left unchecked leads to suicide. I am hoping the mountains, the forests, the flora and fauna, the rivers and lakes, the nature that we have not as yet destroyed will rejuvenate me once again. I urge you all if you possibly can to step back and contemplate a world devoid of greed and profit if only for a short while. I, at least, find it restful and renewing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What if...

we had just bought the oil? I realize this must sound incredibly na├»ve but I cannot help but think about it. How much oil do you think we could have bought for the trillions we have now spent trying to either steal or control it? And what was all the fighting about in the first place? Were all these Middle Eastern countries with oil refusing to sell it to us? That doesn’t seem plausible.

I realize there are some who perhaps believe we invaded Iraq because they were a threat to their neighbors or us, or because we wanted to spread democracy to the Middle East, or because we thought they had weapons of mass destruction, or perhaps it was even god’s will, or maybe Little George’s revenge for his father. Of course that is all bunk, utter nonsense. It had to do with oil and it is oil that may keep us there until the oilfields run dry. It is true the Iraqis don’t seem to want us to stay, but it also seems we are trying to stay (in the near billion dollar permanent base we have created there).

Then there is Afghanistan. Why are we there? To build a nation, defeat the al Quaida, improve the lives of women? Of course not, we’re there because initially, if not still, oil companies want to build a pipeline across that unfortunate country to bypass Russia and acquire oil for our allies and ourselves. Al Qaida has not been much of presence there for quite a long time but our (apparently somewhat fake) pursuit of them has now involved us in Pakistan, which in turn involves us in India. We had no business invading Afghanistan to find a few international criminals that weren’t from there in the first place. They were mostly Saudis, but our oil deals with the Saudis are too important to bother about a few Saudi terrorists.

Now we are in Libya. I do not believe we would be in Libya if it did not have so much oil. And Ghadafi, it seems, was not being very cooperative about selling his oil to us. As Britain and France have more at stake in Libyan oil than we apparently do, and as they do not have sufficient means to take it, we have apparently been invited to help.

And, of course, there is this terrible problem with Iran. Iran is a problem, we are told, mostly by Israel, because they are trying to build a nuclear bomb. The Israelis are eager to convince us to bomb Iran (for them). So far we have (happily) resisted this bit of Israeli paranoia. But the real problem with Iran, and why we would love to see a regime change more favorable to us, is because they have lots and lots of oil. One of the reasons we are so committed to Israel is because they are our best ally in the Middle East. Why do we need a best ally in the Middle East, because we want to control Middle Eastern oil.

Do I know all of this for sure, of course not, it is merely what I think makes sense. Now we are bombing Yemen, and talking about attacking Syria, and trying to control the changes in Egypt. If one were from another planet one might well wonder why we are so engaged in all these countries so many thousands of miles away from us. It is, I assure you, not to spread democracy, as we are willing to support the worst dictators on earth if they will just do our bidding when it comes to the control of oil in that oil-rich part of the earth.

Why are we having so much trouble with Venezuela and Chavez, another country with lots of oil? It would seem to be the fact that we cannot control them or what they do with their oil. Why don’t we invade them and just exploit their oil to our advantage (as we were doing formerly)? I guess it’s because the South American countries are now organized enough and strong enough to refuse to be exploited any longer. Brazil, too, has oil that we now are eager to buy. But Brazil, being a large, strong, and independent nation, is not going to sell us oil solely on our terms. The days of exploitation in South America seem to be over (probably because we don’t have the money and military to overthrow their government and establish our own puppet as we used to do with recalcitrant nations in South and Central America).

Why, you might wonder, did we not just bargain in good faith with all the oil producing nations of the world? They had the product we wanted, oil, we had the money to purchase it, and no doubt deals could have been worked out that were fair to all concerned. But fair to all concerned was not the plan. The plan was to get the oil at the cheapest possible price even if that meant coercion, deceit, and even “war.” By the time oil came to be of the utmost importance the worst of the colonial period was pretty much over. I have no doubt there were terrible atrocities associated with the oil business in the early days of its exploitation, but I guess we didn’t resort to cutting off hands and legs and heads and outright murder as we did in our quests for land, gold, rubber, and other valuables. Torture and the cutting off of hands and feet (except in certain parts of Africa) seem to be atrocities of the past. Nowadays it’s just more bombing (including lots of civilians), more illegal weapons, and lots of “shock and awe.” I guess that is “progress.” I think we should have just bought the damn stuff for a fair price.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What is it they don't understand...

about capitalism? Yesterday, I think it was yesterday, there was an article discussing the fact that companies were buying machinery instead of hiring workers. The article explained that the machinery could do the work of the workers, was much less expensive, and could be bought even less expensively from other countries. I have no idea why anyone bothered to write such a piece that seemed to object to the failure to hire workers. I mean, what do they expect? It is obvious that companies that are in business to make a profit are going to do that in the least expensive way, that’s what capitalism is all about, to expect business to hire workers that would be more expensive than machines is absurd. To expect the private sector to create jobs when there is no potential profit in it is pointless. There is an interesting Catch-22 involved. There are so many unemployed people there is not enough money for people to shop, if people don’t shop employers have no reason to hire people, but if employers don’t hire people there are no people to shop. Granted it is somewhat more complicated than that, but even Henry Ford knew that if he wanted people to be able to buy his product they would have to have good paying jobs. In times like these the government should provide jobs, as Roosevelt did with the WPA and the CCC. But of course President Obama cannot do this because it would be (horrors) socialism.

I gather there was a Republican “debate” this evening. I did not watch it (I assume it must have been televised) as I am much too old to be amused any longer by clowns. There was a brief notice on Buzzflash that led me to believe Romney must have emerged the victor, the other candidates having not attacked him as expected. I suppose that if Romney isn’t stopped by the Tea Party he will in fact emerge as the Republican candidate for President. This is just as well for no matter how bad a candidate he may be, the others would all be worse. I do find it amusing however that Romney is running on a platform of creating jobs and attacking President Obama for not creating jobs. This is interesting as Romney, as Governor of Massachusetts, had an absolutely dismal record of job creation and, in fact, made his fortune by eliminating jobs and sending them overseas. He is also caught up in another strange position as the one thing he did accomplish as Governor was universal health care, a positive accomplishment he is now trying to disavow to please the Tea Party. Personally, I don’t think much of Romney as he is a chronic flip-flopper, a liar, absolutely oozes insincerity, as well as an aura of inauthenticity, although I suppose that is par for the course for a Republican. Some are saying that Governor Perry of Texas might enter the race and would be a serious contender for Romney. Now there’s a choice made in heaven, a Mormon against a religious nut case.

I confess to be pretty disappointed in President Obama for a number of reasons, mainly for his continuing and escalating the “war” in Afghanistan, now for his attack on Libya and his support for Israel, as well as his support for nuclear energy, the Patriot Act, secrecy, and Wall Street, and although I think I understand it, I will never forgive him for not holding Bush/Cheney responsible for their war crimes. But even as bad as he is, he is still far superior to any Republican candidate as they all seem to reside in some strange and permanent never-never land of cutting taxes, shrinking government, and trying to destroy us ordinary folk. It seems there is not one single thing that might benefit ordinary people they are not opposed to, and they have kept their pledge to be the party of “no” by blocking everything Obama has tried to do to help us out of the terrible situation we now find ourselves in, thanks mainly to the Bush/Cheney administration. They are so single-mindedly determined to defeat Obama they are willing to risk even destroying our country.

Although it will never happen, at least in my remaining lifetime, we desperately need a serious third party (probably just a second party as Republicans and Democrats are basically the same nowadays). We need a party of serious-minded men and women who are truly interested in governing, will refuse to be bought by big money, and will focus on the importance of education, infrastructure, environment, and peace. I know, I know, a nice pipe dream, but that’s about all we have left now…dreaming.

If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.
Marcel Proust



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Overspecialization

Perusing the internet today I found Dana Rohrabacher suggesting to Iraqis they should pay us back for the money we spent (illegally and unconstitutionally) attacking them. Tim Pawlenty suggesting two trillion dollars in more tax cuts for the wealthy, Rick Santorum announcing that it was “patently absurd” to think humans had anything to do with global warming, Jamie Damon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) suggesting the recovery was stalled because of too much bank regulation, Rick Perry calling for a prayer event to ask Jesus to help us out of our problems, and Herman Cain suggesting as President he would not sign any bill more than three pages in length. Not wishing to enter into the madness of Republicans I decided to pass on all this nonsense.

On top of this awkward news day it was raining and I could not work outside. Out of boredom I turned to the latest Chef’s catalog that arrived yesterday, as it does every two or three months, that I usually just throw away (along with the Great Courses catalog that seems to arrive daily, those people obviously have far too much money). Anyway, I don’t know whether to feel humbled and impoverished relative to others who cook, or superior and more down to earth. I am a so-so cook, good enough to avoid starvation and, more importantly, good enough to avoid eating any form of fast food, including the now thousands of already prepared frozen meals, frozen vegetables, fruits, and fish that now occupy somewhere around 4/5ths of our local supermarket, along with the already cut meat wrapped in plastic and the endless packages of cereal, cookies, hamburger helpers and what-have-you. Aside from a small (not very fresh) fish counter, and an area that still features fresh fruits and vegetables (not much larger than the florist shop), there is nothing that resembles what I would consider “real” food. Thus I was surprised to learn of the many specialized (more likely overspecialized) items that are advertised for an audience I suspect doesn’t really cook.

For example, there is a “Stem Gem” that with “the push of a button” grabs the berry, and then with a squeeze of the handles slices strawberries. There is also a special Pineapple Slicer/Corer that “operates like a corkscrew,” with a large serrated slicing blade, allowing you to peel, core and slice perfect rings. For a mere twenty bucks you can also get a Barbecue mitt to “safely remove hot items from a grill (withstands 475 degrees). For the same price you can buy a Cupcake tower that allows you to elevate your “enticing desserts” and collapses for handy storage. I was taken by the “Chefs Essential Asparagus Pot,” a stainless steel pot with a lift out basket that can also be used to steaming lobsters. I was also smitten by the special scissors with five blades for snipping herbs, as it has large handles with a “soft silicone lining” for added comfort. No kitchen should be without a “shapely pan that keeps peppers upright” when making stuffed peppers, or a special pan for making “deliciously healthy meatballs” without having to turn them. Then there is a finger guard, “the secret tool used by professional chefs” that protects your fingers when slicing and chopping (I have been watching cooking shows for many years and have never seen a chef use such a thing). There are at least three different pans for poaching eggs, each guaranteed to be nonstick and poach eggs in minutes. If you don’t fancy poached eggs there is also a “Gourmet Egg Cooker” that will prepare up to seven eggs cooked to different stages of soft, medium and hard. You also need the special Egg Topper with a spring handle that cuts the tops off cleanly. I would be negligent if I did not mention the Cut-Resistant Glove that while light, flexible, and comfortable also protect your hands when cutting. You also need “Hot gloves” that can take the heat (up to 660 degrees) when transporting hot casserole dishes, grilling, or even changing light bulbs.

I could go on and on, there are so many gadjets the modern cook should have they are almost endless. I haven’t even mentioned the more important ones, like the automatic pasta maker, the automatic bread maker, the special rice cooker, specialized knives, cheese cutters, omelet pans, battery operated salt and pepper shakers, and so on. After reviewing this catalog I am amazed that my wife (a gourmet class cook) and I, with more than a hundred years of cooking experience between us, have managed for all this time without any of these gadjets. We just make-do, year after year, with a few old friends, cast iron skillets old enough to be considered antiques, an aluminum steamer bent and discolored after forty years of wear, odds and ends of pots and pans that used to match, knives with worn blades from so much sharpening, a roasting pan so old we can’t remember where it came from, and, as I recall, a special pan for risotto we purchased at least twenty years ago, our last purchase. I confess the idea of having three different cooking gloves, for 475 degrees, 660 degrees, and to protect your hands from cuts would never have occurred to me had I not learned about them in this catalog. It is also hard for me to imagine what kind of kitchen one would have to have in order to accommodate all the various gadgets one might have. Of course I don’t believe anyone actually has all these different specialized objects. Indeed, I strongly suspect that those who do have any of them most probably are not serious cooks in the first place (see my early essay, “Valley Girls in the Kitchen). I guess we’ll just plod along in the relative dark ages while the food in our markets slowly becomes more and more artificial with more and more additives, packaged, pre-cooked, tasteless, but fast, fast, fast. There is a paradox here, at a time when cooking seems to be less and less important, there seem to be more and more devices available for the purpose. Do you suppose there really is someone who uses one glove to keep from cutting themselves, another for the barbecue, and still another for transporting casseroles and stockpots? Say it ain’t so.



Friday, June 10, 2011

When Culture Fails

This is not really a topic for a short blog and could easily become a book or even more, but I cannot help but think about it, however inadequately. It is clear that as human beings we are completely dependent upon those beliefs and behaviors, customs and traditions, skills and adaptations, symbols and meanings we develop over time to cope with the environments and demands we must live in wherever we are. With few if any instincts, no prescribed modes of behavior, we transmit and acquire extra-genetically the information, techniques, and skills we need to survive from one generation to the next. Living in relatively bounded communities our cultures reflect necessary differences. Thus Eskimo culture differs from that of the Plains Indians, and they from the Northwest Coast cultures, the Woodland Indians of the Northeast, and so on.

Interestingly enough, cultures do not generally fail their carriers, not, that is, if left alone. There is little or no reason to suppose that American Indian cultures, whether dependent upon the buffalo or the salmon, or incipient small-scale agriculture, or even on the seals and polar bears, or Australian aboriginal cultures dependent upon kangaroos and koala bears, or even Kalahari desert peoples hunting giraffes and elephants, all successful adaptations for hundreds, even thousands of year, would have failed had they not been overrun by more powerful and larger ones, bringing with them diseases, different weapons, firewater, greed and exploitation.

I suppose it is possible, certainly theoretically at least, that some traditional culture could have been so dysfunctional that it failed and disappeared entirely on its own, but basically cultures are functional rather than the opposite. I do not know of a case where dysfunctional elements within a culture were powerful enough to bring about its demise. Indeed, the whole purpose of culture is to prevent that from happening. Our culture is supposed to, and usually does, provide us the means we need to survive and flourish. It provides us with food, shelter, companionship, rules and regulations, beliefs, and the knowledge, that make human life possible. Although it is true there are other species that depend to a certain extent upon learning and experience, and sometimes pass on from adults to children certain skills, generally speaking, dependence upon a completely cultural mode of existence is species specific, and species, like cultures, are not ordinarily self-destructive.

I would suggest, however, we may be witnessing for the first time a culture so dysfunctional as to be self-destructive. The culture of the contemporary United States of America may be just that. Somehow over time the positive virtues of culture, those that provide the wherewithal for the members to survive and flourish, have been slowly disappearing. The idea that culture is supposed to provide for its members has been lost and replaced by the idea it should provide only for certain elite members. Our current “leaders” no longer even pretend to look after the common good, the welfare of all, the community. How did this come about? In its simplest form I believe the explanation has to do with the fact that culture, in its most basic conception, is a not-for-profit phenomenon. The invention, or creation if you will, of human culture as a distinctive human adaptive mechanism, a species specific mode of life making human life possible, did not include, need, or require, a profit motive. Once profit enters into the system, unless it is carefully regulated and controlled, the seeds of destruction are already sown, the die has been cast, the outcome is predictable, and we are experiencing this at the present time. Our culture is imploding, we are suffering from chronic and probably unsolvable unemployment (without significant changes to our basic economic system), we have incurred massive debt (mostly from unfunded “wars” seeking profits), our distribution of wealth is abnormally and indecently skewed, our environment is sadly neglected along with our basic infrastructure, our children are hungry and poorly educated, masses of citizens have no health care, are homeless and lack even basic security, and our leaders are determined to maintain the status quo or even make it worse. If culture is meant to fulfill basic human needs and allow us as an “instinctless” species to survive, our culture no longer functions to meet that requirement. Looking at an even broader picture I am tempted to think that we are in fact a failed species, or at least a failing one, but as there seem to be pockets of humans here and there still living much as they always have, that would appear to be overkill. While it may be too late for us to live happy and meaningful lives, more intelligent members of the species may survive and perhaps even flourish.

Every culture has its distinctive and normal system of government. Yours is democracy, moderated by corruption. Ours is totalitarianism, moderated by assassination.
Unknown Russian



Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Should he...

resign, that is. Of course I’m talking about Congressman Anthony Weiner, he of the unfortunate name and apparently arrested development. I promise that after tonight I will try desperately to never mention this story again. It is a somewhat interesting story, perhaps not as interesting as global warming, Fukushima, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Medicare, the deficit, Syria, Yemen, and some of those other problems that exist out there in what is now apparently never-never-land, but very interesting nonetheless (and of course of vital importance). It seems that just about everyone is calling for Weiner’s resignation, both Democrats and Republicans, who are all said to be turning their backs on him, throwing him under the bus, casting aspersions in all directions, and otherwise giving him the silent treatment, except for those in the district he represents who seem to care less about his sexual peccadillos. Many have called for his outright resignation, Pelosi has ordered an ethics investigation, and so far I have not seen anyone defend him except maybe indirectly. I find the call for an ethics investigation, in this particular case, a bit of overkill, if not downright bizarre. In ay case, if ethics or morality had much to do with Congress there wouldn’t be enough of them around to even change a tire.

Naturally the Republicans are the most vocal in their demands that he resign. This presents a bit of a dilemma for them, for as long as Vitter continues in office their hypocrisy rises once again to the surface to expose their own sexual misbehaviors. As they have no shame whatsoever about their hypocrisy this doesn’t seem to bother them.

I certainly do not condone Weiner’s behavior, but in all fairness I must say that when compared to previous sex scandals, his behavior is roughly the equivalent of getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. There may be more damaging photos, as Andrew (Not so) Breitbart claims, but if they are they have yet to surface. I find the argument somewhat compelling that he should not resign unless Vitter is also made to resign, but it is not clear to me that he should resign at all. The problem here seems to have more to do with his peers shunning him, and thus rendering him ineffective, than it does with what he actually is guilty of doing. What I find the most disturbing about this case is his apparent stupidity in the face of our current technology. I am also disturbed by his apparently juvenile approach to sexuality, the kind of behavior you would expect of teens or perhaps college students. I find it hard to believe that he could not have realized that twittering and using Facebook, as well as engaging in telephone sex might well be discovered. I am also taken by the suggestion made by someone that perhaps everyone’s internet and phone lines should be made public for what they might reveal about others. Of course this is a horrible idea but it does make a point. I don’t know why Weiner has so little support from his peers when his violations are relatively mild, do not constitute a crime, no adultery, not even any physical contact with these women who themselves were engaging in the same, apparently not that unusual behavior. I thought he was a very effective liberal Congressman and it will be a shame to lose him. His career may well be ruined, perhaps even his marriage, by something I should think far more forgivable that most other cases we have known in recent years. If people like Breitbart would mind their own business such tragedies might be avoided. Oh, I forgot, this IS Breitbart’s dirty business. I wonder what his personal records might reveal, not that it matters very much. I wonder if he was trained by Karl Rove in the fine art of roviating?

I strongly suspect that most Europeans are laughing at us, as they should be.

Adolescence is the stage between infancy and adultery.
Unknown

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Anthony's "Weiner"

Yes, yes, I know, stupid. I had vowed to myself not to comment on this ongoing, seemingly endless nonsense. But now that we have apparently reached the apex of absurdity, the brink of babbling buffoonery, the crown of crapola, the height of hilarity, the crest of credible, the summit of the stupid, the top of the trash, the nadir of nincompoopery, the peak of the pustule, or, conversely, the bottom of the bottomless pit of utterly useless babbling breathlessly about breathtakingly boring bullshit, I caved.

Can you believe that several days worth of “news” has been taken up with virtually non-stop coverage of Anthony Weiner’s “weenie?” If nothing else this proves it is true there is no longer anything we might conceive of as privacy (or probably even human decency). So Anthony Weiner, an outspoken liberal Congressperson, engaged in telephone and internet sexual banter with a number of females he encountered, who were obviously themselves engaged in this kind of long distance sexual teasing and apparently unsupervised erotic play, so what? Granted, this is the kind of behavior you might expect from a fifteen year-old, but hardly from an adult, presumably happily married, man with a responsible and important position in government. While juvenile in the extreme it was basically harmless. It was not a crime, there was no physical contact, no adultery, no actual sex, nothing but rather titillating conversations. While I have no personal knowledge of this stuff, I know it is commonly advertised (certainly in the New York Review of Books) and no doubt is fairly widespread. Compared with other sex scandals of the past few years it is hardly worth mentioning (Think Clinton, Vitter, Craig, Ensign, Spitzer, Schwarzenegger, Foley, Lee, Massa, Sanford and etc., for starters). But not only has it been mentioned, it has been monopolizing the MSM for days.

First, the private lives and sexual behavior of elected officials (or anyone else, for that matter) is no one’s business but theirs’ and their families. And it wasn’t until the shameful and unprecedented Republican attack on President Clinton, when they were willing to go to any lengths to bring him down, having failed to defeat him honestly. If the same standards had been applied previously, John Kennedy would certainly not have survived, and no doubt a great many more of our Presidents and Congresspersons would not have either. But now the die has been cast we will no doubt be forced to endure these non-relevant “scandals” from now on. This is a terrible situation because it will keep some eminently well-qualified people from even seeking office and also force others to deceive and lie unnecessarily. How many people of any kind would want their private sexual behavior made public? And why should anyone care if it has nothing to do with the performance of their duties? I, for one, do not want to know about other people’s private sexual behavior, indeed, I find even thinking about it rather repulsive. Try to imagine Kenneth Starr, Dick Cheney, or Karl Rove having sex and you will see what I mean (I hope). I find Weiner’s behavior rather pathetic, a kind of sophomoric behavior better left behind as a teenager, but does it really have anything to do with his performance as a Congressperson? It will now, of course, because it has been made public and people will question his judgment, and knowing that he lied about it will raise the question of his overall integrity and honesty.

But think about it, with Bush/Cheney, admitted war criminals, walking around free as birds, Fukushima emitting twice as much poison as we have been told, three unconstitutional and illegal “wars” raging, massive unemployment, frightening national debt, failing infrastructure all around us, global warming, out of control health care expenses, a failed “war” on drugs, and on and on and on, our news has focused for days on a personal matter so trivial it is laughable. Unfortunately this is only one example of our truly “sick” society.

Things have become so bad, so intolerable, so basically depressing and even hopeless, I am beginning to think that defaulting on our payments and becoming a failed nation might, in the long run, be a good thing. Perhaps we could start over, return to somewhat simpler times when people cared about each other more than about profits and possessions, when our Congresspersons were not bought by corporate interests with no regard for anything other than profit. When everything was not packaged and wrapped in plastic, when trees and mountains and rivers were enjoyed just for their own sake, and oil, hopefully, was just a terrible memory of violent times gone past.

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone
John Maynard Keynes



Monday, June 06, 2011

Waiting for Mr. Goodbar

This little essay could just as easily have been titled, Economics 001, or even “Waiting for the Tooth Fairy,” Santa Claus, or even, perhaps, the Easter Bunny. I am not an economist. I am proud to say that in all my years of advanced study I never took a single course in economics. I did once take a course in Economic Anthropology, but that is a rather far cry from what we usually think of as economics. It had to do mostly with the brilliance of Karl Polanyi as displayed in his famous work, The Great Transformation. Everyone should read Polanyi. Anyway, although I did not take courses in economics, I had several friends during Graduate School who were taking advanced degrees in that very subject. One of them was studying economics because he knew he would probably never succeed as a Playwright, a career he really preferred. All of them (at least the few I knew) would concede (when pressed) that economics was, indeed, a “dismal science.” So, operating from the premise that anyone who has ever earned or spent a dollar is an economist, I suggest what seems to me to be the case when it comes to unemployment and the economy. I make no claims to expertise.

Unemployment is currently at 9.1 percent. The true figure is probably closer to 20 percent. If you are waiting for employment to pick up substantially in the near (and perhaps even distant) future, forget about it. We are living in a capitalistic culture that is every bit as brutal, probably worse, than at the turn of the century or during the great depression. In such a capitalistic economy jobs are created solely for the purpose of making profit, mostly by exploiting the labor of others, but also the environment. The gigantic and powerful corporations that basically control the world are making unprecedented profits. They obviously do not need to hire additional workers, and even if they do they turn to other countries where labor is less expensive. I suppose you could argue they could keep on hiring more laborers to exploit, and thus make even more profit, but there is doubtless an upper limit they have reached or at least a plateau they are content with. As their only concern is with making a profit the unemployed are not their concern.

Then there is the constant claim that it is small business that creates jobs, so that if small businesses can get loans and reduced oversights and etc., jobs will once again be created. But small businesses are no different from any other kind of business. They do not exist for the purpose of creating jobs, they too, exist primarily to make a profit, even if the profit is merely enough to support the owner. If successful the small business owner may well be able to create jobs, thus the jobs may be the result of the success of the business, but that is not the motive for the enterprise. And even though a small business owner may feel bad about having to lay off his workers, he has no choice when business is bad and is thus also not responsible for the unemployed.

So just who, if anyone, is responsible for the unemployed? If anyone, it has to be the government that supposedly oversees the welfare of its citizens. So what can a government do if it indeed has any interest in the welfare of its citizens? One possibility, of course, would be to create jobs by instituting work programs like the former Civilian Conservation Corps or other work programs. Try to imagine President Obama trying to do something like this at the moment, the outraged accusations of (horror of horrors) socialism would reverberate throughout the land echoing from every right-wing nitwit to every member of the Republican Party and back again to the Blue Dog Democrats. In our current climate of mindless babbling about socialism and Obama this would certainly not do.

There are other ways governments can try to help but these, too, would also most probably be strongly resisted by our Capitalist masters for the same reason. For example, what is considered a normal work week could be reduced from 40 hours to, say, 36, or even 32, thus creating more jobs. Some countries have actually done this. Or you could also insist on mandatory month long vacations for all workers, as I believe they do in France, also helping to create more jobs. You could also increase unemployment benefits for a longer time, recognizing there are many long-term unemployed that will quite likely never again find jobs. Of course you can also do what our Republicans seem to favor, just let ‘em wither away and eventually die from lack of any further support, health care, and attention. What do Republicans think will happen to people whose unemployment benefits expire and they have no other help? This raises what I think is an interesting question, why should workers not be paid for not working? Think about it, we pay farmers to not plant wheat and other crops when they become surplus commodities. In a free-market capitalist economy everything has to be a commodity, including labor, so why should labor as a surplus commodity not be artificially supported just like wheat? Apparently wheat is a more important commodity than labor, and of course agricultural subsidies nowadays are basically a form of socialism only for the wealthy as farmland is increasingly in the hands of mega-corporations and the wealthy.

Given the operation of our single-minded pursuit of profit, and our apparently psychopathological fear of socialism, there really is very little that can be done to create employment. This would be no different for any President, not just Obama. Of course it is worse for Obama because Republicans have made it clear their number one priority is to make Obama a one term President. They have been doing this by saying “no” to anything he might do to help and obstructing him in every way possible. Until we can cleanse ourselves of the absurd idea that privatization is the key to a successful economy, and “government is the problem,” and tax breaks for the wealthy will “trickle down,” it will not be possible to create and maintain jobs for all. To think otherwise is merely wishful thinking, “waiting for Mr. (Corporate) Goodbar.” But what do I know, I don’t have a degree in either economics or witchcraft, they do seem to me to be about the same.

I have used this quote before. I love it:

“Capitalism turns men into economic cannibals, and having done so, mistakes economic cannibalism for human nature.”
Edward Hyam

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Journey to the West - 12a

I have thought about writing this for a long time. It could just as easily be titled, “Sex Education Circa 1940.” While I am somewhat embarrassed to discuss this subject, it should have been mentioned earlier in my Journey, when I was still a teenager learning about things, including sex. Of course there was no such thing as formal sex education when I was growing up. My parents never mentioned the subject to me, there were no classes in High School, sex was for all intents and purposes a taboo topic…except informally, on the streets, in the pool hall, the bowling alley, and among males. Let me begin by offering this poem, the first poem I ever learned, I was setting pins in the bowling alley (there have not always been automatic pin-setters):


Suzanne was a lady
With plenty of class
Who knocked them all dead
When she wiggled her…

Eyes as the boys
As girls sometimes do
To make it quite plain
She was aching to…

Go for a boat ride
And stroll on the dock
With any young man with
A sizeable roll of big bills…

And a pretty good front
and maybe she’d let him
Take hold of her…
Lily white hands

With a moment so quick…
And then she’d reach over
And tickle his chin…

While she showed him
A trick learned in France…
Whatever she was
Suzanne was no bore.

This may not be precisely how it went but it is close enough. I do not recall making any particular effort to memorize this and I am embarrassed, and somewhat ashamed, to admit I somehow did, and even more embarrassed to admit that I still remember it after some 65 years! It was, however, part of my sex education, along with pornographic comic books, “Spicy Westerns, Spicy Detective Stories, Spicy Science Fiction, Spicy Adventure Stories,” and etc. These magazines were not as hard-core as many are nowadays, but they were certainly eye-openers to teenagers at that time. I did not seek these magazines but they were available to me, along with ubiquitous dirty jokes, through my elders, peers, and especially through the paper drives that were part of the war effort.

The older males we looked up to for advice were quick to give it. It took the form of “Stand ‘em on their head and they all look alike,” or “Drape a flag over ‘em and do it for Old Glory,” really useful advice that clearly advanced the equality and desirablility of women. “Old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher,” was another of these gems of male wisdom. Of course these advisors were all experts in the field, having usually been married and divorced at least once and often more than once. “Wham bam, thank you Ma’m,” seemed to be the preferred version of male/female encounters. We were told nothing of the potential joys of consensual sex, nothing about female sexuality, nothing about sex at all other than as a kind of dominance over females. Getting “screwed” was regarded as demeaning, just as by implication it still is. We were told that women should probably be avoided “when they had the rag on,” they basically enjoyed being dominated, could not go swimming during their periods, and other such pearls of male wisdom. I was told quite seriously that whereas a woman might well “turn her daughter out to do tricks,” a man would never do such a thing. Of course it was common knowledge that the best way to keep a wife was “In the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant,” and perhaps a gentle beating once in a while would be helpful. And there were those sophisticated world travelers that insisted Asian women were anatomically different than Caucasians. Similarly, we were told that if you masturbated hair would grow in your palms (this was kind of a joke to see if you would look at your palms), but might even make you go blind. Homosexuality was never discussed seriously. It was common knowledge that if you encountered a “queer” you would be exercising your rights if you beat him up (or “rolled” him). Lesbianism could, it was widely believed, be cured by a “good screwing.” There was more to this than I can remember and the attitudes it engendered were quite unmistakable, men were dominant, women submissive, men were superior, women inferior.

It is not clear to me how this incredibly dysfunctional, even crippling, enculturation was supposed to produce healthy relations between the sexes (of course it hasn’t in many cases). Curiously, as has often been noted, these beliefs about women did not extend to your mother or sisters. There was an unbridgeable gap somehow between the females of your own family and females in general, even, in a sense, between your mother and your wife. These attitudes toward women were incorporated into our legal system for a long time, women had to fight for the right to vote, are still fighting for equal pay and equal access to power, and so on. For a long time women were simply the wards of their husbands, were regarded as little more than children. I have known (and still do) men who basically believe even now in the superiority of the male gender, and change, although it has been coming in recent years, is still a bit slow. It used to be the case that if a woman was injured and could no longer engage in sex her husband could sue for “loss of consortium,” a right that was denied to wives. This tells you, I believe, a great deal about our attitudes to sex, especially female sexuality. I have come to believe that underlying virtually all practices that have to do with male/female relations is men’s fear of female sexuality, something that can come even between fathers and sons, brothers, and is potentially even disruptive of the social order. This is not a topic for discussion here and now but is perhaps exemplified clearly in Somerset Maugham’s marvelous short story, “Rain.”