Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Grandest "Con" of All

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“A confidence trick is also known as a con game, con, scam, grift, hustle, bunko, bunco, swindle, flimflam, gaffle, or bamboozle. The intended victims are known as marks. The perpetrator of a confidence trick is often referred to as a confidence man or woman, con man or woman, con artist or grifter. When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills.”

I know I have mentioned this Republican con before, but it is so transparent, so blatant, so hypocritical, and unfortunately so important I simply cannot go without commenting further. On the one hand I cannot imagine they might actually get away with this, but on the other hand, because of the irrationality of American voters I fear they might.

This has to do with the issue of jobs. Republicans are now saying at every opportunity, “Mr. President, where are the jobs?” implying that President Obama has somehow failed to create jobs. The fact of the matter is, Republicans have blocked every attempt Obama has made to create jobs and they have also put forward no legislation of their own to create any jobs. Not only that, they are also responsible for the massive loss of jobs in the public sector. It has been Republican Governors and their State administrations that have been responsible for the cutting of funds for public employees in favor of tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, resulting in the layoffs of teachers, firemen, policemen, and others, so even though the private sector has created some jobs in spite of Republican opposition, the public sector has lost jobs, thus making the unemployment picture much worse than it would have to otherwise be. Rather than create jobs they have focused on attacking unions, women, Planned Parenthood, food stamps and other social programs. This is hypocrisy carried to levels previously unknown.

As this is so obvious I cannot understand why Democrats have not mounted an all-out effort to expose it at every opportunity. They should make the most important aspect of their campaign, the absolute refusal of Republicans to compromise or help on anything Obama has proposed. If they want to know what the problems are with our country all they need to do is look in the mirror. If Democrats let Republicans get away with this incredible scam they deserve to lose.

And once again I am mystified at the way things are claimed to be developing, especially the polls. I don’t believe the polls at the moment mean much of anything but it is claimed by almost all of the pundits that this election is going to be close, a real “nail-biter.” The polls apparently show Obama and Romney neck-and-neck most everywhere. I cannot understand who and where they are polling. Republicans have alienated virtually every voting block in the country: Blacks, Latinos, young people, old people, Muslims, unions, and most importantly of all, women. Are none of these constituents being polled? As far as I know the only elements favoring Obama are veterans and blue-collar Whites. So how can the polls show such a close race? It would seem to me than anyone with any knowledge of the situation would predict a landslide victory for Obama, if only because he would seem to be by far the least of two obvious evils.

If it could possibly be any consolation, rest assured that we still have five months more to listen to outrageous lies, false accusations, stupid claims, ridiculous rhetoric, and outright imbecility. In my opinion no human population in their right minds would put up with this for months and months on end. The corporations that that are making money faster than ever in the history of the world are now spending it on television ads on stations they also own, basically transferring fortunes from one part of their empire to another, cheating the public out of any significant input into the elections, and making sure the status quo is not going to change in any significant way. It’s the American way! “Money can’t buy me love,” but unfortunately it may buy elections.

Say you don't need no diamond ring
And I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want those kind of things
that money just can't buy
For I don't care too much for money
For money can't buy me love

The Beatles

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wanderings in New Guinea - book

Wanderings in New Guinea, Capt. J. A. Lawson, Chapman and Hall, London, 1875.

Why am I discussing a book written in 1875, because it is a most interesting book, but not if you have any serious interest in New Guinea. It is interesting because it is certainly one of the most fake, dishonest, and terribly misleading travel books ever written. Capt. J. A. Lawson is a pseudonym for someone (I have not found out exactly who, although I doubt if it would make any difference if I did). In any case this was a book so outrageously awful it rated an absolutely scathing review from none other than the great naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace himself.

The book claims to be the result of an expedition to New Guinea by Capt. Lawson. Briefly it begins with his preparations for the trip and then proceeds to describe his adventures along the way. There is an account of his shooting monkeys (there are no monkeys in New Guinea), and also deer (there are no deer in New Guinea), and descriptions of horrible noises in the forest, crocodiles and vultures, and what-have-you. Also along the way he encounters wild goats (there are no wild goats in New Guinea), hares (there are none), and squirrels (none). He is annoyed by more monkeys and shoots more deer. He then has an encounter with a bull he attempts to shoot and is almost killed (there are no buffalo bulls in New Guinea), and discovers lakes and mountains that do not exist as he describes them. Continuing on he encounters and describes a New Guinea tiger (tigers do not exist in New Guinea). He also encounters a dead buffalo and an ostrich (ostriches do not exist in New Guinea). At one point his party is reduced to having to drink blood, there is a desperate fight and they escape, he encounters a fox (foxes do not exist in New Guinea). There is even more of this utter nonsense and he finally leaves New Guinea on a Chinese Junk and eventually returns to England.

Anthropologists and others have often complained that prior to the establishment of their professions the only information available about the many strange people of the world came from the accounts of missionaries and travelers, and these were more often than not either biased or of questionable veracity. This book, Wanderings in New Guinea, has to be seen as the classic example of this problem. It is obvious that Capt. Lawson, whoever he was, had never been to New Guinea. He had a remarkable imagination and wrote a book that was calculated to sensationalize and sell, and apparently it did, which prompted the critical review by Wallace, because he feared that some people were accepting it as a factual account.

You have to remember that by 1875 very little was known about New Guinea. There were Portuguese, Indonesian, and probably Spanish explorers that had visited the island in the 16th century but spent little time there. Eventually the Dutch claimed the western half of the island, taken over for a time by the Germans, while the English claimed the southeastern portion of the island, eventually turned over to Australia for administration. The Highlands of New Guinea, the interior, was believed , erroneously, to be uninhabited as late as 1930. The island is known to have been inhabited by humans for 40,000 years, perhaps even 60,000. Aside from pigs and dogs that came with the people there are no mammals in New Guinea, certainly none of the creatures claimed by Lawson. Wanderings…was a book of its time, written while the age of exploration was still in its heyday, offering an account of strange lands and creatures, adventure, discovery, and what-have-you. It is not surprising that some people may have believed it was a factual account of a genuine expedition.

My major interest in this book, aside from my general interest in New Guinea where I did field work, has to do with a single passage that I believe sort of sums up the attitude European colonials apparently had vis-à-vis all the strange people and cultures they encountered, an attitude of almost complete indifference to them as individuals, people, and representatives of different ways of life. The main interest expressed by the colonial powers seems to have been whether or not they were humans, and also, were they Christians. I find it truly remarkable that from the 15th century until at least the 19th century no systematic or serious academic attempt was made to study their other than physical humanity, their cultures, social organizations, and so on. The science (or humanity, if you will) of anthropology did not appear until the late 19th century. I do not know if this was because Europeans were too busy and involved in exploiting them to wish to know anything about them, or if the interest in the human species just lagged behind the growing interest in natural history in general. There must have been at least some individuals who came to know various “savages” personally, but they did not have a voice that mattered. It is curious that at the same time “savages” were being considered less than human, especially in the United States, Australia, Tasmania, and other places, there was no hesitation in raping or otherwise having sexual relations with them (this raises an interesting hypothetical question of possible bestiality I will ignore for the moment).

There is a passage in which Lawson describes coming across a pair of what he describes as ape-like creatures, a male and a female. The female is reclining while the male is caressing her and giving her food. They are described as being human-sized and appear reasonably human. Does Lawson attempt to contact them, to capture them, to engage them in any way? No, he and his aide shoot and kill them with no warning. For reasons that are not explained Lawson dismembers her body, discovers an advanced fetus that does not survive. I sadly suggest this is the general attitude Europeans brought to bear during the colonial period, complete indifference to the humanity of others, little or no curiosity about them, and thus helps to explain the incredible savagery of colonialism. I am working on a short account of “The Savagery of Colonialism” and this account fits in well with what I am learning, even though it is entirely fictional.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Is Life Important

I guess the answer to the question is life important depends upon whose life it is you have in mind. We here in the United States seem to believe life is very important. We insist people wear seat belts, try to make abortions illegal, try to keep people alive even after they themselves would prefer to die, worry about the safety of our food and drugs (well, maybe not drugs so much), have laws against (even medically assisted) suicide and euthanasia, and on and on. We like to pretend, at least, that life is sacred, and should be protected at all costs. We condemn murder and torture (well, maybe not torture so much), and in general think life, per se, or in principle, is good (actual lives may not always be so good).

This concern for the sanctity of life doesn’t seem to extend outside the bounds of our own culture. I see today, for example, that Leon Panetta has announced we are ready to attack Iran. We are ready to attack and kill who knows how many of them in order to prevent them from developing a nuclear bomb they are not ,as far as we know, trying to develop. We are thinking, apparently, of doing this even though we are not yet ready to stop killing Afghans, Pakistanis, Somalis, Yemenis, Syrians, and who knows how many “Others,” ostensibly because they are doing things we don’t like them to do. We also support Israel, a government that murders Palestinians just as a matter of course. I guess their lives are not as important as ours. Israeli attitudes toward Palestinian lives can easily be seen in their willingness to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli (and their racism is no secret). Perhaps the most outrageous example of this came from our former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, who when asked if the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children resulting from our sanctions on Iraq was worth it, responded that yes, it was! There is also, of course, the little matter of Bush/Cheney’s war on Iraq, based on nothing but lies (and greed), that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, mostly innocent women and children. And we are, even now, employing our drones to bomb and kill in Pakistan and elsewhere if it suits us, often resulting in the loss of innocent lives, including children. I think our attitude towards “others” can be seen in this quote attributed to one of our greatest Generals, William C. Westmoreland:

“Well…the Oriental…doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is cheap in the Orient…and, uh…as the, uh, philosophy of the Orient, uh…expresses it, uh…uh…life is, uh, is not important.” (quoted in Langness, Other Fields, Other Grasshoppers, 1977).

This is an attitude probably shared by many Americans (American exceptionalism, you know) and is, I suppose, what makes it so easy for the Hawks and Neocons to so cavalierly insist we should attack Iran. After all it would probably only result in thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of (mostly innocent) deaths before it was over. I guess a small price to pay for a “war” completely unnecessary, stupid, vile, and disgusting, just like our “wars” against Iraq and Afghanistan. But, hey, if the (apparently) Supreme Ruler of the Middle East, Benjamin Natanhayu, speaks, we apparently have no choice but to comply. I give President Obama credit for so far keeping this ridiculous “war” from happening, but if he insists on maintaining the severe sanctions in place, and on the constant threats of war against the Iranians by both Israel and the U.S., as well as on actions by the Iranians they should not legally have to take, I suppose hostilities will become inevitable. Not only that, they will also most probably cause the Iranians to actually produce a bomb they do not apparently even want to produce.

Of course this isn’t really about a nuclear bomb anyway. The Israelis know this just as the U.S. knows it. The Iranians are not insane. They know perfectly well they would have no chance against the might of Israel and the U.S., and if they attempted to use such a bomb (if they even had one) they would immediately cease to exist as a nation. It’s really about Western- European hegemony in the Middle East, hegemony that would be weakened by a more powerful Iran. It also, I assume, has to do with Israeli paranoia, resulting from their guilt over what they have and are doing to the Palestinians. The real problem in the Middle East is not Iran, it’s Israel. I am absolutely convinced that without the influence of Israel the U.S. and Iran could relatively easily come to an agreement satisfactory to both sides, indeed an alliance that would be extremely beneficial to both nations. If Obama can prevent this absurd “war,” and, more importantly, if he could eventually force the Israelis into a fair and just peace with the Palestinians, he would surely go down in history as one of our greatest Presidents. I believe he would like to accomplish this, but Congress, apparently waiting for Armageddon (and in the pockets of the Israeli lobby), will never allow it to happen. After all, we are merely the dog being directed by the Israeli tail. And after all, life is only important to Americans.

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

Albert Einstein

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I know I have commented on privatization before and in general I do not like to be repetitive, but this is an issue far too important to neglect or just pass over in a different context. I would like to go on record, here and now, to say that the idea of privatizing health care, education, and prisons, is the most stupid, ridiculous, harmful, asinine, egregious, and unnecessary idea ever put forward by those who are supposed to govern and represent the citizens of a sovereign nation. Who would ever have thought, until fairly recently, that the original and basic functions of these institutions would be changed to make a profit? Making a profit on health care, education, and prisons is in fact the very antithesis of what their purpose is supposed to be. In fact, changing them into for profit endeavors, can only make things worse, as in order to insure a profit they have to prey on the sick and dying, on the new generations necessary for the continuity of the nation, and on as many convictions and recidivisms as possible, even though unnecessary and actually harmful to the social organization of the community.

If this is so, and I am absolutely convinced that it is, where did this insidious plan originate? Obviously it could only be conceived in a society in which the profit motive has become accepted as the single most important motive for action, namely a capitalistic economy that places profit above all else. While I suppose someone might have thought of doing this previously I am sure no one could have taken it seriously until now. This is so because privatization of this kind can only lead eventually to a kind of national suicide. No society (nation) can survive for long with a sickly, uneducated, and constantly growing criminal population. So how has this come to be? I believe that primarily it has to do with the growth of huge international corporations who increasingly control the entire world. These relatively few gigantic organizations have budgets that dwarf those of most nations, and as they are no longer nation-based they need not worry about the well-being of nations. Nations are increasingly irrelevant. If corporations cannot find what they need in one they can find it in another. This is why education in the U.S. can be so terribly neglected, the necessary personnel can easily be found much less expensive elsewhere. In this developing cultural evolution health care, education, and prisons are just other forms of private enterprise basically no different from breakfast cereals, fast foods, energy, pharmaceuticals, diets, and casinos. In such a system labor, land, and money are simply commodities that can be bought and sold, exchanged and utilized for the sake of profit. Students, teachers, doctors, laborers of all kinds, and even prisoners become commodities that can be manipulated to increase profits for those who are in control.

In order to facilitate their control it is in the interests of the powerful to disrupt society by dividing it into various factions. Thus what used to be the United States of America is rapidly becoming a kind of “U.S.ganstan.” Think of it, we tend to acknowledge that Afghanistan is not and probably cannot be a viable nation because it is a tribal and clan-based society with different factions that can act independently of one another, coming together to form temporary alliances only for certain purposes. Although the U.S. is not a tribal society with different clans operating independently, it is becoming more and more to resemble such a society, with multiple factions finding it difficult to agree on many important aspects of our lives: abortion, rich, poor, female, male, Black, Latino, Muslim, liberals, conservatives, blue states, red states, pro Gay marriage, con, Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Occupiers, Evangelicals, Atheists, Catholics, Mormons, Labor, Management, pro tax and not, hawks and doves, and so on and on. While these differences exist in one form or another naturally, there is little doubt that the corporate owned media exploit them shamelessly, creating and promoting controversy and competition whenever possible, keeping the population divided, confused, and fearful, makes it possible for the powers that be to more easily have their way. Multinational corporations do not care about such issues as abortion, Gay marriage, prayer in church, the separation of church and state, any more than they care about Grandma’s health, unless these issues at times reflect upon their sole concerns, profit and power. With their enormous wealth they can and do influence all aspects of our government, getting their way virtually uncontested. This process has been going on for so long now I am doubtful that anything much can be done about it, short of the citizenry taking to the streets en masse and simply refusing to any longer accept the status quo.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pleased but Furious

Reporting from North Idaho, you might think that North Idaho is the heartland of Tea Party wingnut conservatives, and in a sense it is, but it is both interesting and pleasant to report that in our recent primaries not a single one of the several Tea Party candidates won against the incumbents. Not only did they not win, they lost by extremely large margins in most every case. I do not know how to explain this, and although I would not generally believe that North Idaho might be a trend setter, in this case I sincerely hope it might be. When I asked my best friend and most astute follower of local politics, he replied, “It’s a small community, everyone knows everyone else, to know them is to (not) love them,” so hooray for small victories. This is not to suggest even an elementary turn towards liberalism as all of the incumbents were Republicans, but hey, you have to start somewhere. You have to understand that Democrats, for all intents and purposes, do not have votes here in Idaho. You can vote, of course, but it is a foregone conclusion that your vote will be meaningless. We do not boast of being the reddest of all the red states for nothing.

As far as being furious goes, after no more than 30 seconds of thought, I have concluded that I am not envious of rich people, I am absolutely furious about them. Had I wished to be wealthy I would certainly not have chosen the profession I did. I believed, naively perhaps, there were things more important and worthwhile than becoming rich. But now when I think about it more carefully, I think of those millions of us that over the years who majored in things like English or Russian literature, philosophy, history, geography, sociology, psychology, French or other languages, art, music, linguistics, archaeology, paleontology, astronomy, or even Old Church Slavonic. None of us embarked on these studies with an eye to becoming wealthy, and none of us did, although we managed to pursue these interests and more or less make a decent living, marry, have a home and children and so on. I think it is perfectly fair to say I do not envy wealth, although under present circumstances I would like to have perhaps somewhat more of the “general pie” than I have. For someone to claim that some have far more than they could possibly ever need is not envy, and those who think it is betray an appalling ignorance of what life is all about for most of humanity, “money can’t buy me love,” nor can it buy you talent , passion, curiosity, dedication, truth or satisfaction.

But what makes me furious is not that some people are more wealthy than I or my friends are, it is that many of those who are wealthy are not merely wealthy, they are wealthy beyond all imagination and seem to be obsessed with becoming more and more wealthy as long as possible. They are so wealthy one can only imagine them as hogs at the trough, the more money you throw in the trough the more they want. In my opinion it is patently absurd that any individual person should have, or even want, a billion or more dollars. The only way they could have accumulated that much wealth is by the exploitation of either the labor of others or the environment, in effect, the available resources that in most cases are either not inexhaustible or harmful to others. I believe if people work hard, or are more talented or creative than others, they should be rewarded and, if they wish, should enjoy more material comforts than others, but there ought to be some kind of reasonable limits on their comforts. I don’t see why anyone should own six or seven different homes, the most expensive luxury yacht ever built, a million dollar baseball or postage stamp, a two hundred million dollar painting, dozens of vintage automobiles, five thousand dollar shower curtains, hundred thousand dollar watches, and other such things that represent nothing but ostentation carried to ridiculous lengths. The wealth available to communities should be shared more equitably among all even though some may realistically have and deserve more than others.

There should be limits on inherited wealth, rather severe limits in my opinion. And there should also be heavy taxes levied at those making money above and beyond the “reasonable.” I don’t believe it would be all that difficult to establish what such limits might be. Remember, for example, that under the Eisenhower administration the rich were taxed at 90% and still lived very comfortably. I do not completely understand how our political/economic system morphed from one that used to work at least passably well into one that now features unregulated greed as perfectly respectable, but I do know such a system as we now have cannot last forever. The order of the day is change or perish.

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one's dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.

W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday, May 24, 2012

When is Genocide...

When is genocide…genocide? The basic definition is simple enough: ”The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” But like all definitions of complex subjects this definition leaves much to be questioned and refined. For example, does an entire group have to be the target, or can just part of a particular group? Does “destruction” mean the actual death of everyone in that category? Can the destruction be just getting rid of a group by driving them away from their homeland? Does genocide involve the destruction of every generation of the target? Is there a limit on how much time it takes to destroy the target? Is genocide the same wherever found? Can more than one group be involved in carrying out genocide? Is there such a thing as “cultural genocide?” How about “political genocide?” Is racism always involved? Answers to these questions and others are not as simple as may appear.

It is clear the Holocaust was an example of genocide, as was the Armenian genocide, although there may be some who deny them. There was also a Rwandan and a Sebrenica genocide. These would seem to be fairly clear-cut examples of the phenomena. What about the situation in Palestine? Are the Palestinians victims of Israeli genocide? There is little doubt that Palestinians are not considered the equals of Israelis, nor is there any doubt the Israeli government would be delighted if the Palestinians did not exist. At the moment there are approximately 1.7 million people crowded into the Gaza strip who are essentially at the mercy of the Israeli government. Their leaders are subject to periodic assassinations, the entire population is also subject to periodic bombings or other attacks. The conditions under which they live are unpleasant in the extreme and they are basically at the mercy of Israel with respect to everything from nutrition to health care to building supplies and everything necessary for happy, healthy lives. There is no doubt they suffer daily from discrimination and maltreatment. The children, in particular, suffer from the situation and are known to often have psychological problems. I confess I have not seen this personally as I have never been there, I only know what I see on the news, the internet, or in books on the situation. I believe if this situation is not ameliorated fairly soon the Palestinian population will be materially, psychologically, and permanently damaged. Is this to be considered genocide?

Those Palestinians still living on the West Bank are not much better off than those crowded into Gaza. Israeli settlers increasingly encroach on their land, sometimes bulldozing their houses and even destroying their orchards and fields, and then taking possession of them. Settlers are known to fire on and kill Palestinians, sometimes with the Israeli army standing by merely watching. Even Palestinian children are sometimes shot for little or no reason. Palestinian areas of Jerusalem are slowly being taken over by Israelis, some areas and roads are off limits to Palestinians, and all Palestinians and Arabs in general are clearly second class citizens.

Although there is talk, endless talk, about a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian “problem,” there seems to be no end to it. Talk of a two state solution with Palestinians having their own neighboring state go nowhere as Israel controls so much of their land it leaves nothing but a few random parcels here and there with no realistic possibility of being a viable state. The so-called one-state solution can go nowhere as it is clear there would be a Palestinian (Arab) majority living under apartheid. At best the situation can only be described as grim, and there seems to be no end in sight.

I don’t know whether this is properly labeled genocide or not, but there is no doubt Israel would like to be rid of the Palestinians. They slowly achieve this by assassinations, bombings, attacks of various kinds, and of course by systematically stealing more and more Palestinian land and water, thus making life for them increasingly impossible. They are allowed to get away with this largely because of the support of the United States, even though the International community and the United Nations has repeatedly charged them with war crimes and other violations, all of which are simply ignored by both countries involved in them. I do not think it entirely far-fetched to consider this a form of genocide, or perhaps semi-genocide, that is allowed to exist and continue over time mainly because the U.S. refuses to do anything about it. The reasons for this are complex but have mainly to do with the U.S. Congress that seems to believe Israel can do not wrong, the Palestinians are mainly at fault, and we only need to wait for Armageddon.

Only a peace between equals can last. Only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit.

Woodrow Wilson

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A "Bold Prediction"

According to a headline on the Huffington Post Mitt Romney has made a “bold prediction,” namely that by the end of his first term (should he become President) the unemployment rate would go down from 8% to 6%. I don’t know how bold that really is, given the prediction that the rate will be down to 6% by 2014 anyway. It does, however, raise an interesting possibility. It could be true, for example, no matter what else happens because if Romney becomes President the Republicans would probably not continue to block every attempt to bring it down (as they have done in the case of Obama). Of course if Romney sticks to the course he has so far suggested, including the Ryan budget, it will certainly not come down at all, but as no one knows for sure what Romney will do, as he changes his positions more often than his underwear, anything might happen. My personal bet is that if Romney did somehow become President, things would get much worse than they are even now, for the middle class and the working poor, that is. They would no doubt get much better for the already bloated rich and the corporations already making record profits. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, it would not be too difficult to get out of our depression, but of course Republicans would never agree to it as long as Obama is President.

Interestingly, just now as I am writing this, I received a robo-call that began with the statement that “President Obama’s attempts have failed…” These bastards, I fear, may get away with this completely false claim. It’s not a false claim in the sense that unemployment still remains much too high, but it is certainly false to blame it on Obama as the Republicans who have voted “no” on every attempt to make things better, are truly to blame. This is not merely my opinion but is, in fact, a matter of record. I do not understand why the Obama people do not point this out in every other sentence. The sad thing is, if Republicans had cooperated in governing the country, as the minor party is supposed to do, and has basically always done, the unemployment rate would almost certainly be close to 6% already. They have wasted more than 3 years in their obsessive desire to insure an Obama failure. As I have said before, for one party to simply refuse to participate in governing is unprecedented. It should not go unpunished. If voters have been paying attention this punishment would come at the ballot box in November. Unhappily, American votes don’t pay attention, half don’t even bother to vote, and those that do have been subjected to so much propaganda from the corporate controlled media they might as well not vote at all. The American public, by and large, seems to be fundamentally uninterested in seriously governing themselves, as long as that attitude prevails, we can’t realistically expect anything better than we get.

I read somewhere that some of our Congresspersons display language skills at the 8th grade level. I think that is actually remarkable as their mental ages seem to be much closer to those of 4th graders. There are some real “winners” out there among the Republican right, as for example the Preacher who has announced to his congregation that Gays and Lesbians should be put in concentration camps, fed by food drops, until they eventually all die out (as they do not reproduce). Or the “Bubba” who is proud to have made abortion impossible in his state so that poor women who can’t afford health care can go back to the coat-hanger method. Then there is the remarkable James DeMint who has announced that anti-hate legislation is “Orwellian.”

And we must not forget the marvelous American justice system where an illegally armed adult male shoots and kills an unarmed teen-age boy walking home with tea and skittles and is allowed to go free simply by pleading self-defense, but a mother, threatened by an abusive husband, shoots one warning round into the ceiling, hurts no one, and gets sentenced to 20 years in prison. The police have been handcuffing and tasing seven year-olds and grandmothers, our prisons are filled over capacity with non violent offender s whose only “crime” is having smoked or possessed some marijuana. Shooting unarmed teen-agers, especially Black ones appears to be becoming a national pastime, violence against women is not considered worth bothering about, a man who threatened to shoot Obama had his 70 weapon gun collection returned to him, certain people are no longer allowed to vote (if they might vote democratic), and so it goes. I think all of us who trace our ancestry to immigrants should “self-deport” ourselves and leave the country to the Indians who knew how to manage it. Surely things must be much better back where we all originally came from, hahahahaha (appropriate hysterical laughter please). Never in the history of the world has there ever been a species more inept, short-sighted, greedy, evil, and despicable than homo sapiens. There is a tiny, tiny ray of hope. A 17 year-old boy is suing the United States Government over its failure to protect the environment. I sincerely hope he wins.

We shall never understand the natural environment until we see it as a living organism. Land can be healthy or sick, fertile or barren, rich or poor, lovingly nurtured or bled white. Our present attitudes and laws governing the ownership and use of land represent an abuse of the concept of private property.... Today you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see and nobody calls the cops.

Paul Brooks

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Old Man and the African - story

As I find what is going on politically to be so completely stupid I am finding it difficult to even discuss it. So here is a short story I neglected to include back when I was doing such things.

The Old Man and the African

Two men were already assigned to the room when the African came; so he was put in the only remaining bed, the middle one.

The bed on the left as he lay there looking at the institutional green walls was by far the best; it was nearest the two fine corner windows where the writing table was located. It was empty at the moment but the assigned occupant had obviously been there for some time as there were several vases of flowers, some fresher than others, and innumerable books, magazines, clothes, and other personal possessions, all placed with care in tidy piles. Nothing was out of order.

The bed on his right, nearest the door, was occupied by an old man who, although lying there in his bathrobe with his eyes open watching, said nothing. An oxygen tank with a mask stood nearby. The African ignored him as he went about putting away the items he had brought for what he knew was an indeterminate stay, mostly computer books and magazines, clothes, and toilet articles. As he had no pajamas he simply stripped off his shirt, shoes and stockings, and lay there barefooted in his undershirt and loud checkered trousers. He had almost dozed off when the door opened and a sad looking slightly effeminate man entered. His clothes, although clean and neatly pressed, were too large for him.

"Hello," he said, as he made his way to the bed by the windows, "you just came in, huh?" He was very German with a Swabish accent, a mustache, and even in his too-large clothes, a still prominent belly. He had a strange crazed look in his blue eyes as if he were chronically frightened. "What's wrong with you?" he asked as he began to undress.

"Oh, nothing much," the African replied. "They say I have pancreatitis. But I don't feel very sick. I'm only in here for observation. Apparently it shows up in my blood and they have to put me on a diet and do more tests."

"I've been here for ten weeks," the German said, pulling his short pajama bottoms on over his underwear.

"Ten weeks! I never heard of anyone being in the hospital for ten weeks. It must cost a fortune. What's wrong?"

"Heart. Heart trouble. I have heart trouble. They're keeping me here on a strict diet. I weighed 120 kilos when I came, now I'm down to just over a hundred. I couldn't even bend over when I first came." He sounded proud of himself. "It only costs 15 marks a day above what the insurance pays. I live alone since my wife left me. That was five years ago, so I might as well be here as not." Then, pointing to the old man, he went on, "He just came in two days ago. He's a heart patient too."

The African looked at the old man lying there still awake listening to them. He looked distinguished even on his hospital bed with his beautiful thick white hair and a carefully kept walrus mustache. A heavy wooden cane hung by its handle from the chest at the head of his bed. He had neither moved nor spoken since the African arrived and he said nothing now although he was obviously aware of what was happening.

"You live here in Stuttgart?" the German went on.

"Yes, West Stuttgart," the African replied.

"You work here? What do you do?"

"I have a degree in engineering but I don't work as an engineer. I work with computers at Daimler Benz."

"Oh," the German said, looking even more unhappy than when he arrived, "one of those foreigners that come here and take all our jobs." He looked as if he might cry.

The African looked at him, started to speak, but then said nothing.

"Computers, too," the German continued, "they're going to eliminate even more jobs. Pretty soon there won't be anything left for us Germans. You foreigners should all go back where you came from. You know, we don't dislike foreigners, but Germany is a small country and there's lots of unemployment now. And all these new computers are going to make it worse." His crazy light blue eyes darted randomly around the room, looking everywhere except directly at the black man.

"Why should I leave?" the African responded with irritation. "I've lived in Stuttgart for 13 years. I went to the university here. I have a good job, a car. I own my own apartment. I pay taxes." Then suddenly deciding to take the offensive he said, "And you, what do you do?"

"I work in a warehouse," the German replied, "I'm a foreman," he continued proudly. "I've worked there for twenty years. Twenty years. I started when I was eighteen years old, just when the war ended, and I've been there ever since. There wasn't hardly anything to store when I first started, you know. I was in the army. They wanted to send me to the front but by then it was too late. The war was over. I worked in a motor pool, taking care of trucks, helping to service them, wash them, that sort of thing..."

It was apparent that the strange fellow just wanted to talk, no matter what. He continued babbling on about the motor pool oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored. The African was relieved when the nurse entered to interrupt.

"You are settled in alright?" she asked the African, smiling and fussing needlessly with his bedclothes.

"Oh yes, I'm fine," he said, "thank you."

After glancing briefly at the other two occupants and ignoring an opening question put to her by the German the nurse

left the room. The black man picked up a computer magazine and pretended to read, turning his back to the garrulous roommate. He was surprised by the size of the old man when he slowly rose from his bed, took his cane, and walked with effort from the room, stiffly erect and with dignity.

It was 24 hours before the old man spoke. Then, while the African was eating his broth, all he was allowed, the old man addressed him gruffly, "Do they eat with spoons in Africa?"

Having been forced to listen most of the day to the crazy German's monologues, the African's patience had grown thin. "No," he said, "we all live in trees like monkeys and eat bananas."

The old man looked at him with surprise, then with a loud grunt fell silent again.

"You have to excuse him," the talkative German immediately volunteered, "he says all kinds of things like that. He doesn't know what he's talking about." The African shrugged and turned back in dismay to his thin soup.

After a while the old man, apparently feeling stronger, sat up in his bed and asked, "Do they wear any clothes?"

"Does who wear any clothes?"

"In Africa. Do they have clothes there? I've never been to Africa."

The African couldn't believe it. He thought the old man was deliberately baiting him. "No, we don't have clothes," he said, "we run around naked all the time." He looked at the other German questioningly but with a delightfully impish grin on his face.

"I told you," the apologetic German said, "that old man is ignorant. He doesn't know anything. He's never been out of Germany. And he was in the war, you know, on the front. Maybe that's what's wrong with him. I apologize. As a German, I must apologize. I'm sorry we have such uninformed people."

"Is that true?" the African asked, turning back to the old man, "were you on the front during the war?"

"Yes," the old man replied very deliberately, staring with displeasure at his countryman, "on the Russian front. In those days it was better to be on the front than here. At least we had water and food. There wasn't anything here. It was all bombed."

The African had lived in Germany long enough to know that saying you had been on the Russian front was also a subtle way of indicating you had not been a Nazi. It was commonly believed that Nazis, especially good Nazis, were never assigned to combat.

"How long were you there? On the front, I mean?"

"Two years I survived there," the old man said, "two years. Then I came back here. There was nothing but rubble. Everything was destroyed. But we went to work and rebuilt it. I got a good job selling paint and painting supplies. I made a lot of money. Now I live in a wonderful house. I have a summer house on the Bodensee, a nice car, everything."

"You were lucky, eh, old man? Not many came back from the Russian front."

"Yes, I was very fortunate both during the war and after," the old man said seriously. Then he turned over, closing the conversation. In a short time he was asleep.

The African, not wanting to encourage further conversation with the other German whom he now regarded as daft, sat on his bed facing the old man. The face was heavily lined even in relaxed sleep, with deep vertical wrinkles that came down from the forehead to above the eyes. They were intersected by shallower but far more numerous horizontal lines that extended clear across the broad forehead. The nose was prominent but made less noticeable by the strength of the chin and jaw. It was a good strong honest German face. As he studied it with care the African saw vast expanses of cold, windswept snow covered fields extending beyond the horizon. The fields were littered with grotesque frozen corpses. Abandoned tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces were everywhere. As far as one could see in every direction there was devastation, misery and eerie silence. Then columns of dejected staggering black figures appeared, their feet wrapped in rags, dragging their meager remaining possessions behind them. Overhead were angry dark clouds with death hovering within...waiting. "I wonder what private memories are hidden there, behind that face," the African wondered. "How many did he kill? What horrors did he see? How did he manage to survive? What did he think about it all?" He tried to sleep, thinking gratefully, "They're his memories, not mine."

The compulsive talker had been up since daybreak and had made his own bed. He made it much neater than the nurses did. He was waiting for the African to wake.

"Did you sleep well?" he inquired pleasantly, preparing to talk for the rest of the day.

"No, I didn't sleep well. You snore too loud. I hardly slept at all. And when you stopped snoring, he started. It was awful."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'll try not to snore anymore. But he snores all the time. I apologize."

At the sound of their voices the old man turned towards them indicating he was awake.

"Did you sleep well old man?" the German asked. "Are you alright?"

The old veteran sat up very slowly, yawning and not answering. He put on his expensive robe with difficulty and left the room.

"Are you married?" the German inquired. Then without waiting for an answer he volunteered, "I was married for five years but then my wife left me. I don't know why she left, but one day she just left. I've lived alone ever since. That was five, no six years ago. I don't..."

The African, taking his cue from the old man, slipped his bare feet into his shoes and left the room while the lonely divorcee was in mid sentence.

Later, at breakfast, the old man watched the African closely for a time and then asked, "what do they eat for breakfast in Africa? I've heard they eat snakes and worms and all kinds of things like that."

"People," the African replied without hesitation. "We eat people there. Whenever we get hungry we run out and grab one of our neighbors and eat him. You'd better watch out old man, that's what might happen to you." The African had a marvelously radiant smile which he turned full force on the old man who, totally unembarrassed, continued to stare at him.

"Oh, you just have to pay no attention to him," the younger German said. "I apologize for him again. He's ignorant and just doesn't know any better."

"Why are you always apologizing for him?" the African snapped. "He's not a child. He knows what he's doing. What affair is it of yours what he does? Why don't you mind your own business for once? And be quiet. You talk too much."

The German was momentarily speechless, but only momentarily. Then he said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I apologize. I know I talk too much. People have told me I talk too much. Perhaps that is why my wife left me. Please accept my apology. I will try not to talk so much from now..."

The old man looked at the African's face intently, almost affectionately, neither of them hearing whatever it was the third man continued to prattle about. "I'd like to go to Africa someday," he said. "Do you think I could go there?"

"Sure, old man, of course you can go. You've got plenty of money, you can go wherever you want."

The old man lay back on his bed breathing heavily and then turned to face the door, waiting for his wife who came faithfully for an hour every day.

The old man's wife had never been in the same room with a black man before. When she heard the African telling her husband about how they circumcised the young boys with stone knives, excised their front teeth, cut them with bamboo knives and rubbed ashes in the wounds, and that all had a dozen or more wives, she almost fainted.

"Why do you tell him those terrible things?" she demanded. "He's sick. You shouldn't tell him those things. It will only upset him."

"Why does he ask, then?" the African replied. "He's old enough to know what he wants. If he doesn't want to know it

doesn't matter to me."

The old man nodded almost imperceptibly. "When I get well I'm going to make a trip to Africa," he announced to his distraught wife. She frowned and looked at the African with accusatory displeasure.

There was little privacy in the hospital. Although he made no attempt to overhear, the African could not help but learn more and more about the old gentleman. He sympathized as the old man complained to his wife that his children didn't visit him.

"They only come to see me when they want money," he railed. "They come to the house and I give them 5000 marks and they disappear until the next time. They're parasites. Bloodsuckers. Ingrates. They don't care about me. It's just the money they want. Always money."

"Of course they like you, dear, but they're very busy. I'm sure they would like to come but they have so many other things to do, especially with working and the children in school and all."

When the old man complained about his grandchildren the African listened with empathy and indignation.

"I don't want any of them to come to dinner anymore," the old man inveighed. "They come and play that awful music and talk nonsense and eat everything in sight and they don't even bother to help you with the dishes. And they're so destructive, running about and breaking things. Why don't they have any manners? When I was a child children knew their place. Now they just run wild like little savages. I don't want you to have them anymore. Tell them they're not welcome in our house and we'd thank them to stay away."

"Now dear, don't get so worked up. They're just children, you know. Children have to run and play. They don't think to help out."

"Well, what do they think of? They certainly go to school long enough to think about something. They stay in school these days forever, just going on and on, and what for? They never do any work. They're lazy. They just stay in school so they don't have to work. When I was a boy I didn't go to school...just for the first four years and I had to work even then. I got up early and I had one piece of black bread and a glass of milk. Black bread! We never had white bread. Then I went to school and after school I worked in a foundry. Six days a week I worked in that foundry. For that I got two marks a week. Two marks!"

"Yes dear, I know, but school is much more important now than it was when you were a boy," his wife commented, trying to calm him. "Especially with all the unemployment now." She frowned at the African as she reached out and touched her husband gently on the knee. He could see she was genuinely fond of him.

"Foreigners!" the old man started a new theme. "I don't know where they all come from. Why don't the authorities send them all back where they belong? They're all getting fresh, too, like it's their country instead of ours. You can't even get a seat on the bus anymore without some foreigner in your way. Did I tell you what that wretched Italian woman did to me on the bus last week?"

"Yes dear, you told me. Please try to calm down. You let yourself get too excited about everything. You've got to take it easy."

"It was a terrible mistake, bringing all these foreigners here," the old man continued without pause. "They're going to take over if we don't watch out. We should send every one of them back to wherever they came from."

The wife's visit inevitably stimulated a diatribe indiscriminate in its condemnation of everything and everyone, as well as of the past, present and future. The African soon came to expect the recurrent scene and realized how foolish it was to take it personally. Each time by the end of her visit the poor woman was wringing her hands and trying her best to calm the old fellow down. She was so gentle and patient with the difficult old man the African could not help but admire her.

The days passed slowly in excruciating boredom, especially for the restless black who felt perfectly healthy. The compulsive talker had taken to going out afternoons, with permission, of course, having sworn he would not eat and would drink absolutely nothing but water. The old man and the African were left more and more together. Although they mostly ignored each other, occasionally one or the other would forget and initiate a conversation.

"Don't worry, I certainly wouldn't marry your daughter," the black man said when the old man asked if he'd marry a white woman, "you'd have a heart attack and die."

"You black people can't stand the cold here in the northern hemisphere anyway," the old man went on, "that's another reason you should be glad to go back to Africa. You weren't made for this northern climate, that's why you don't do well here."

"What do you mean we don't do well here? What about Joe Louis? Jesse Owens? Mohammed Ali? They all did pretty well. I'm doing fine here myself. That's all bunk, all that stuff about the climate."

These conversations were remarkably free of animosity. The old man wasn't entirely sure of himself. The African, although often upset at the old man's ignorance, respected his age and condition, watched his language, and tried to make the best of an awkward situation.

"Did you see this about the Americans?" the old man asked. "The American president wants to visit a German war cemetery to mark the fortieth anniversary of the war. But lots of people

don't want him to do it. They're protesting by marching in the streets. That's the Jews again, see. Americans and Germans get along fine until the Jews cause trouble. They're always meddling in everything, keeping things stirred up. It's always been like that, ever since I can remember."

"Yes, and the whole world would be a lot better off if the Germans hadn't meddled with everything. You Germans are a fine bunch to complain about other people." The African spoke very matter-of-factly. He didn't want to fight with the old man but he couldn't let the remark pass either.

"You don't understand," the old man said. "You foreigners come here and you think you know everything about Germany. You should all go back to Africa or wherever you came from and leave us alone. If Hitler had won the war you wouldn't be here, you know. I'd be in charge of a big piece of territory in the east and we wouldn't have any foreigners telling us what to do."

"Germany for Germans, huh? I guess we've heard all that before. That's what you tried to do with the Jews, send them away...before you murdered them all, that is. Oh I'd be here all right. I'd be a slave. I guess that's what you Germans really want, slaves."

The old man stared at the African for almost a full minute either unwilling or unable to reply. Then he closed his paper, rose slowly from the table and made his way painfully out of the room. The African saw him later that afternoon, still sitting alone in a corner of the lounge, staring out the window at the city below.

"Do you remember when I went to that meeting in Dusseldorf?" the old man asked his wife. "When all of the sales representatives from all over Germany were there? When they gave me the award for being the best salesman of the year? Everyone was there. We all sat around in this huge room and everyone had to tell who he was and where he was from. I was the oldest person there. But I was the best that year by far. As everyone got up to speak he had to tell about where he had gone to school and what degrees he had and so on. Of course I hadn't been to school to speak of, but when my turn came I got up and said, "I went to a higher school than any of you -- it was on the fourth floor." Everyone laughed. They thought that was a good joke. They gave me the award, a plaque. I still have it you know, hanging there at home."

"Yes dear, of course I remember," his wife said patiently, "I was so proud of you."

"I made a lot of money, didn't I? A lot of money. The children don't understand what a difference that makes. They don't know what it was like to be poor. They've had it easy all their lives and they don't understand. They don't understand about the war, either. Either they think I was a monster and I went around killing people like a gangster, that I wanted to do it, or else they think I was too weak to resist, that I was afraid to speak up. In either case they have no respect for me. It's been like that ever since they were old enough to go to school. When I tried to explain to them that I was just a soldier, that I had no choice, that I had to do my duty, they didn't...haven't ever believed me. They have no idea what it was idea at all. They don't respect me, that's the trouble. That's why they only come for the money. They respect that all right. Money. These young people have no respect for us, for those of us who fought in the war...a losing war. If we had won think how different it would be. Oh, yes, it would be different now. Then they'd look up to us. You bet. Then they'd respect and they'd pay attention to what we said. Yes, if Hitler had won the war things would certainly be different."

"Please, dear, don't talk about the war. That's all past now, over." She looked nervously at the African who was sitting on his bed reading. "Children now are different that's all. They live in a different world entirely. You shouldn't blame them for being confused. Those were such terrible times. They could never understand. You just have to put it all out of your mind. It was so long ago. And it just upsets you anyway."

"But they're so arrogant! They think they know everything and they don't know anything. They won't even listen. Oh, they

listen all right when they want money! That's all you ever hear from, money. I don't understand what Germany is coming to. The country has been split in two. No one seems to care. The foreigners are everywhere. No one does anything about it. Young people have no respect for their elders. I tell you, we're in for harder times if things don't change soon!"

"Please dear, you're getting too excited. Please calm down. Please sit there and rest and don't talk for a while. I'll just sit here with you until you feel better." She took him by the arm, concerned as he had started to breathe with obvious difficulty. She guided him from where they had been sitting at the table towards his bed. The African had tried not to listen but was of course aware of the conversation. He put down his book and watched as the old woman tried to coax the old man into bed. She patted where she wanted him to sit but when he finally made it there the old man fell over onto his side with his legs still hanging down. He was too heavy for the frail old woman so the African went to help, gently raising the old man's legs and placing them on the bed. They both became alarmed when his breathing seemed to be getting worse.

"You'd better call the nurse," the African commanded. "I'll stay with him."

The old woman was pale with fright. She nodded and quickly left the room, walking as fast as she could. At the same moment the old man went into convulsions, groaned in pain, and began to roll off the bed. The African held him firmly with both arms and maneuvered himself onto the bed anchoring the old man as best he could.

"The doctor is coming," the nurse reported, as she entered hurriedly followed by the tiny frightened old woman. The African was sitting on the old man's bed cradling the massive white head against his chest, moisture welling in his eyes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back from Nirvana

I’m back from our brief vacation. It was wonderful. I did exactly what I said I would. I went four days without watching any television, without listening to the radio, without reading any newspaper, and without “news” of any kind. I walked in the Canadian Rockies and read Volume 1 of the Penguin collection of the W. Somerset Maugham short stories. The weather was great, the mountains were awesome, the food was delicious, it was peaceful and relaxing almost beyond belief.

I love the Maugham short stories. It is true they are “dated,” but the characters and the situations are such they could be just as real today as when he wrote them. He had this marvelous ability to describe characters, place them in perfectly understandable situations, and make their decisions and outcomes perfectly comprehensible. And his stories run the gamut from truly tragic to humorous and insightful. He was said to be by at least one critic to be the greatest writer of short stories of that generation. I believe that is probably true. What I enjoy the most about his stories is that they are just that, stories, written in a fine prose style, no ostentation, no literary pretensions, no completely incomprehensible plots. This volume begins with his classic story, “Rain,” and proceeds through thirty wonderful tales of life in various parts of the world all of which offer wonderful insights into human nature and behavior. One of these stories, “Mr. Know-all,” I think is a perfect example of the genre although it is a perfectly simple story of an encounter between various people on a cruise ship. His story, “Three Fat Women from Antibes” I found hilarious, along with his story of a man’s escape from marriage, “the Escape.” I never tire of Maugham and have enjoyed this paperback collection I first bought in Fiji to the point where they are about to wear out.

But alas, I returned home after my brief experience of nirvana. When I turned on the news this morning, as is my wont, I found I had to turn it off almost immediately. Instantaneously I found myself feeling unclean, as if watching the worst inmates of an asylum arguing over issues so petty and nonsensical as to make you wonder if it was real. I tried several times today to watch the news and each time I found I could not stick with it. How many times must I hear what I already know, the rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer, Obama is the most divisive President of all time, Romney is a vulture capitalist that failed to create jobs, he has a plan but won’t tell anyone what it is, Obama has failed to create jobs, Republicans have a plan that has already failed, and blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I don’t think I can stand another five months of this utter balderdash, this mélange of lies and exaggerations that do nothing whatsoever to address the serious problems that confront us. Until our country gets serious about having a functioning political system there is really no point in even being interested in it.

Cory Booker is right, it is nauseating. The negative focus on the candidates to the virtual exclusion of any serious effort to discuss the issues and come to some agreement about how to solve them means we will never move beyond the current insane babbling on both sides of the political spectrum. Actually, there aren’t two sides of the picture, only variations of the one side. The fascists have won, it is only a question of how much they may allow us to pretend otherwise. In general I believe we will be somewhat better off as individuals under an Obama administration, but the poor will remain poor and the rich, rich, no matter who wins.

Having gone four days without television has reminded me that it is possible to live without it. Indeed, thinking about it leads me to believe those who routinely live with their televisions actually inhabit an entirely different world from the reality that exists in the real world. Life with television consists of nothing but fantasy, a world of sex and violence accompanied by talking animals and cars, singing cookies, bugs with accents, and visions of sugarplums, to say nothing of promises of bigger breasts and penises and all the fiber you can eat. The way to lose weight, we are told, is by eating, or, on the other hand, by not eating and taking pills. If you are healthy enough for sexual activity there is nothing to keep you from doing “it” for up to four hours at a time, but after four hours you should consult your doctor. I am not yet prepared to give up my television entirely, but I am getting closer and closer to doing so. Go for a walk, read a book, consider a rosebud, take a deep breath, meditate, there is life without electronics.

Within my lifetime
the horse became a tractor,
the earth a sewer.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I will not be blogging again until Sunday, 20th at the earliest. I am going on another breacation. I have termed it so, as it is, at least in my perception, a vacation with special conditions. As a vacation it allows us to make at least a temporary break from our usual routine, will take us to one of the most beautiful areas on earth (Canadian Rockies), will help us rest a bit from the stresses and strains of ordinary life, and, finally, will allow us to once again, however temporarily, to consider what life should be all about as opposed to what it seems to have become. This would not be possible without the special conditions I apply to myself at these times: no television, no radio, no newspapers, no internet, no “news” of any kind, and also no robo-calls, no advertisements, nothing to interfere with the splendor of the mountains and the scenery, a chance to contemplate and commune with nature undisturbed by the idiocy that is otherwise described in general as human behavior, and more specifically, that portion of it that is described as “political.” This is also coming at an opportune time as I find myself of late suffering from what I guess must be considered “Blogger’s block.” When I first began this blog, almost eight years ago now, I still had a sense of humor and at least a semblance of imagination. It was not meant to be particularly political. The past ten or so years have changed me into a cynical, somewhat crabby, and increasingly unhappy individual. Where I once might have believed there were good guys and bad guys, perhaps even such a thing as good and evil in general, I have now discovered there are only bad guys, known as Democrats and worse guys, called Republicans. And while there is a never ending source of idiocy to observe on the part of both parties, writing about it eventually becomes not only boring but increasingly difficult and even pointless. And as my sense of humor has pretty much deserted me, along with my imagination, I find it increasingly difficult to blog about anything other than the moronic behavior of my fellow citizens.

Perhaps the best example of what I believe to be the utter absurdity of American politics has to do with the current “primary” season. For at least the last six months Republicans have been attempting to find their candidate to run against President Obama, who is himself unchallenged. This procedure offered dozens of “debates” pitting these various candidates against each other. These so-called debates were virtually useless as far as selecting the candidate to run against Obama. They were so bad, such a waste of time, they were commonly referred to as a “circus.” In any case, over these many months millions of dollars were spent by various candidates on advertising and mailers and what-have-you were sent out and eventually a candidate was selected, interestingly enough a candidate that the vast majority of people, including members of his own party, did not want. But by spending literally multi-millions, mostly on “attack” ads, Willard Mitt Romney emerged victorious. Even as he is now their candidate there is very little enthusiasm for him even among the Republican “base.” President Obama has also spent millions upon millions touting his hoped for re-election. In spite of all this money and effort it is now said the election will be close, even a “nail-biter.” How this can possibly be after Romney has been exposed as even worse than an empty suit, has alienated virtually every voting group that exists, including women who can easily determine the outcome, is something I cannot comprehend. This is not, however, my interest here.

What I find so fascinating about this, as well as so stupid, is that it is claimed that the voting public is only just now beginning to pay attention. In fact, it is almost surely the case that a majority of the voting public has not paid attention and won’t pay much attention until a short time before the actual voting. If this is so, and I guess it is, what, pray tell, was the point? Why were so many millions spent, and so many debates and town meetings and etc., when hardly anyone except the few true political junkies were paying any attention? I don’t believe any other major country in the world has a process to pick their leaders that continues for a year or even more, or that spends so many millions for such a limited purpose. It seems to me this cannot be explained as anything other than sheer idiocy.

This ridiculous process has almost another six months to run before the election. We already know what Obama and the Democrats are proposing as well what the Republicans will propose (although they are careful to avoid any details). So for the next six months we will hear ad nauseam the differences between the two candidates, many more millions, perhaps even a billion will be spent on television, radio, and other advertisements. The television companies will grow rich almost beyond their former imaginations, and eventually voters will go to the polls…where they will vote on how they feel at the moment! Romney spent untold millions attacking and destroying his rivals, none of whom had any chance whatsoever of actually prevailing, Obama will have spent untold millions defending himself from absolutely scurrilous charges and unbelievable lies, A year or more of productive activity will have been wasted on this wasteful and destructive nonsense, our country will be worse off than ever, and whatever the outcome you can rest assured the rich and the corporations will emerge victorious. My breacation begins tomorrow. I can hardly wait.

You cannot slander human nature; it is worse than words can paint it.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stupid or "Sick?"

I have been wondering for some time now whether I believe the United States, as a nation, is merely stupid or seriously “sick.” It is possible, you know, for nations, states, or any other cultural entity, to be so dysfunctional as to be really sick. I have concluded, I am sorry to say, that my nation is both stupid and sick, possibly even terminally so. It is complicated as the sickness is at once both the beginning and the end, and in both cases is related to stupidity. Where to begin?

The initial problem has to do with a kind of mental illness that, if found in an individual, would be considered “Delusions of grandeur.” This manifests itself most obviously in the claim of “American exceptionalism,” a grandiose claim that somehow the U.S. is a special case, far better than others, and thus entitled to do things other nations would not be entitled to do. As far as I know this claim must have to do with our military power rather than any other consideration. Unfortunately, this belief in exceptionalism, itself an extreme example of ethnocentrism, is also linked to a kind of missionary zeal that leads us to believe it is our duty to spread our way of life (political/economic system) to all others, whether they want it or not. We profess to hold this belief so strongly we believe we can actually force others at gunpoint to agree to do what we promote. Ignore for the moment we have other more compelling motives for “doing our duty,” such as wanting to exploit the resources of others for our benefit. In any case, our obsession with promoting our way of life onto all others, has led us to create a kind of unspoken “empire” with outposts all over the globe. As this is terribly expensive it has led us inevitably to not attend to pressing issues we have at home, like employment, health care, education, infrastructure, and so forth.

Our inattention to these kinds of social problems has over time resulted in what might fairly be described as a “sick society,” as from a national point of view they are suicidal in the extreme. For example, what nation on earth can afford to cripple and abandon an entire generation of citizens, the young people that hold the future of our well-being in their hands? Where we should have provided free, or at least relatively inexpensive educational experiences for our young people, we have allowed a system to exist that binds them to poverty for the rest of their lives. Having to borrow heavily for their education, and then not be provided employment to allow them to pay off their loans, means they are no better off than the sharecroppers and others that were bound year after year to “The Company Store.” From the standpoint of our nation’s health and future competitiveness this can only be described as “sick.” Similarly, it should clearly be in the interest of a strong, powerful, and competitive nation to have a healthy population, one not burdened by a high percentage of sick and damaged citizens, one that provides adequate health care for all, something virtually all other highly industrialized nations realize, but we, uniquely, do not. And along those lines, surely no sane society would attack the health of their female population, the source of the population necessary for ay nation to survive and continue to thrive. Also, no self-respecting nation would allow its infrastructure to deteriorate so badly it would interfere with their basic ability to manufacture goods and transport them efficiently. More importantly, a sane nation, faced with the single most threatening possibility to their existence would take action to do something about it. Global warming is a fact and human behavior has something to do with it, and if left unchecked might potentially make life for humans on the planet impossible. As a nation we are doing next to nothing about this unprecedented potential disaster. And finally, for the moment at least, no decent society would allow large numbers of its citizens to go hungry, to go without even the most basic kinds of human services, essentially just throwing them on the scrapheap of history when their resources have been exhausted. If an individual were to allow him or herself to deteriorate so markedly, or would be so callous, we would assume some form of clinical depression or perhaps even worse, an inability to care for themselves or a form of criminal negligence, even a psychopathic c or sociopathic affliction.

The one feature of our culture more responsible than any other for the sickness we are witnessing has to do, I believe, with the elevation of “profit” to a level so unhealthy we now regard it as more important than human life itself. It is the obsession with profit that has led to the impoverishment of our young people, and it is clearly the profit motive that makes our healthcare system such that the insurance companies make their profits from the suffering and deaths of our citizens. It is profit that is now potentially going to destroy our educational system as it becomes increasingly “privatized,” and the same thing is true of our prisons. When institutions are run to produce a profit rather than care for other basic needs of society everyone suffers, except, of course, for those who are reaping the profits. When even basic necessities of human life are denied because they do not generate a profit, like clean air and water, and even our energy supply, the result is entirely predictable. This obsession with profit and privatization is absolutely incompatible with healthy human life and the kind of government necessary for people to thrive and plan for the future. The idea that a large number of humans can exist together without well intentioned and well enforced rules and regulations is anathema to reality.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

From Sixteen Tons, Tennessee Ernie Ford

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Really Bad Precedent?

There is no doubt that President Obama is assured an important place in history, especially in Presidential history. Just being the first Black President is enough to enshrine him in history. Now there is also his announcement about supporting Gay marriages, along with his support of Gay rights in general. He was also the first President to actually manage to bring change to our terrible system of health care, improving it if even only partially, no other President managed to do that for several generations. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the Military will also no doubt resonate in our history. Whether you admire Obama or not, his position in history is already secure, even if he were to do nothing more than what he has already accomplished.

But there is another decision Obama made, along with his Attorney General, a decision no one seems to want to discuss, that may become far more historically important than any other. I am referring here to his decision to not investigate or prosecute the Bush/Cheney war crimes. That may prove to be a truly bad precedent. It is true, of course, that in general no incoming Administration has ever seriously investigated or prosecuted its predecessor. This makes sense, in general, as the transition from one administration to another necessarily needs to be relatively trouble free to preserve social solidarity and keep the nation running smoothly. It would not do if every new administration attempted to investigate the behavior of its predecessor and thus kept government in a situation of constant disruption. The Clinton administration did not investigate the senior Bush performance, the “Dubya” one returned the favor, and so on. This is not to say previous administrations were not without serious flaws, even possible criminal or unconstitutional behavior, merely that there seems to have always been a kind of “Gentlemen’s Agreement” to “let bygones be bygones.” This is all well and good in a sense, except in the case of the Obama administration that was confronted with a completely unprecedented situation. The previous administration was obviously guilty of obvious, even admitted, war crimes.

I am not a lawyer or constitutional scholar but I am pretty certain that in terms of U.S. law and the Constitution the President and his Attorney General are required by law to pursue and prosecute war criminals, and the failure to do so is in itself a crime. Thus Obama and Holder are themselves criminals under the law. I believe it is perfectly understandable why Obama did not elect to investigate Bush/Cheney. There is no doubt in my mind this would have literally torn our country apart, probably for a very long time, a situation clearly best avoided.

But if only for sake of the argument, what would happen if the next administration decided not to honor this gentleman’s agreement and did choose to investigate Obama and Holder? They could be found guilty of war crimes for not prosecuting Bush/Cheney and, ironically, Bush/Cheney could escape punishment even though they were the most guilty. My point here is not that this is going to happen, but, rather, what happens if it does not. It would mean that two generations of Presidential war criminals were allowed to go unpunished, creating a disturbing precedent for the future. Are we to allow our Presidents and Attorney Generals to continue committing war crimes safe in the knowledge they will not be prosecuted? Ignore for the moment the possibility that Obama/Holder may be responsible for war crimes unrelated to their failure to prosecute Bush/Cheney. Their failure to prosecute Bush/Cheney has set a precedent that truly should not be allowed to stand, but it is. Virtually the entire world knows that Bush/Cheney are guilty of war crimes, and they now also know that Obama is allowing them to go unpunished. If Obama, too, is allowed to go unpunished, it will be clear that the United States will prosecute war criminals wherever found, except here at home in the U.S. Our hypocrisy has now been exposed for all to see and understand. So where is this to stop? Or is it to stop? Is it now just a “fait accompli” that will set the standard for the future?

I find it difficult to decide that Obama/Holder did the wrong thing by deciding to “look only to the future,” and thus avoid what would have been a truly bitter example of internecine strife that would have doubtless paralyzed the country for a long time. But the same thing will be true if the next administration also passes on the prosecution of war crimes. So at what point, if ever, will this situation end? Will our highest officeholders be allowed to continue to flaunt national and international laws at will? Obama/Holder have established an understandable but terrible precedent that is going to haunt us for years to come. An apology is not going to suffice.

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Thomas Paine

Friday, May 11, 2012

Government Canceled Due to Lack of Interest

I remember reading several years ago that a note pinned to the bulletin board of a Woman’s University (Barnard?) read: “Tomorrow is canceled due to lack of interest.” I don’t know exactly what the author had in mind but I thought it was clever. It occurs to me that a similar attitude might well apply to the governing of the United States. I say this not because of the terrible gridlock of the past few years, not because of any specific problem left unsolved, not even because of the Republican decision to refuse to participate in governance, but because of the fact that virtually no one seems to be terribly interested in the fact that our government has ceased to function. It is my contention that no group of sentient human beings who profess to desire a democratic Republic would put up with what has been happening in our (non) government of late.

When a government that is supposed to be of the people, for the people, and by the people has been allowed to gradually morph into an extreme plutocracy and hardly any serious attempt has been made to prevent this, I suggest there has been a pronounced lack of interest in having a serious government. For example, what group of people would allow their available resources to be gobbled up and exploited by a mere one or two percent of the population while the vast majority are essentially denied goods and services they need? What organized community be it county, state, or federal government would force its children to go deeply in debt to have an education, when the very future and existence of the group depends upon having educated citizens? What presumably “civilized” society would not want its citizens to have decent and affordable health care, especially women and children? What presumably sensible nation would not want to keep its infrastructure in good working order?

When you have a system of three separate but equal branches of government, and one of those branches suddenly decides they will not participate, how can that be allowed to happen? When the highest office in the land (even in the world) is no longer respected and its occupant savagely and irrationally attacked and this is allowed to continue, what must you think? That all of the above has been happening and has been allowed to happen for years, I can only conclude that those who allow it to continue, resulting in a dangerously nonfunctional government, have no serious interest in their government or in being governed. When substantial numbers of people swallow the fantastic idea that government is intrinsically “bad,” that it can do nothing right, that they can live without regulations, that everything should be privatized, and they continue to believe these things in spite of all experience to the contrary, I assume they must have simply lost interest in governing. When elected officials are allowed (even forced) to spend most of their time fund raising, and when they place party and corporate interests before the welfare of citizens, and they are allowed to continue doing so year after year, I conclude the public is not paying attention, has lost interest.

Having lost interest for years, citizens have lost control of their government. This lack of interest can be seen in the fact that fully 50% or more of the public doesn’t even bother to vote, and those that do are woefully misinformed and often irrational. It is tempting to say their loss of control is their own fault. This, I believe, only partially true, as once there attention begins to flag, powerful vested interests move in and take over the media, the Congress, the courts, and even the Executive Branch, thus insuring the process of citizen decay will continue while the Plutocracy becomes increasingly more powerful.

The result of this unfortunate history is that the public that is in principle supposed to be in control of government, has now become impotent, simply standing by to watch as corporations and the wealthy exploit them and the environment as they wish. And so it is that deep-water oil drilling is safe, global warming doesn’t exist, nuclear energy is safe, genetically modified foods are safe, pharmaceutical products are safe, as is anything and everything that can generate a profit. Even science is now being discredited if it stands in the way of that holy of holiest goals. Even those individuals who are aware of what is happening, and also aware of what must be the inevitable and unpleasant outcome of the process, can do little but complain, their complaints falling on deaf ears. Perhaps, for peace of mind, it is better to have lost interest. Ignorance is bliss.

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Maligned and the Despicable

Obviously this blog reflects the opinion of the author and no one else. I have no doubt many people will not agree with me. But I find myself forced to comment on what I believe is increasingly a contest for President of the United States between, on the one hand, a candidate who has been and continues to be maliciously maligned and, on the other hand, a candidate who has become deservedly despicable. Let me discuss the maliciously maligned first.

Perhaps I am overly thickheaded or blind to facts, but I do not understand the accusations and even outright hatred on the part of some towards President Obama. I have my own problems with Obama, and disappointments, but even so I cannot understand what it is that some find so terrible about his Presidency. I cannot see where Obama has done anything so terrible as to bring about the criticism he is receiving. He managed to do away with don’t ask, don’t tell. Is that a really horrible thing to have done? He signed the Lily Ledbetter act, is that? He improved health care for millions of Americans, a truly momentous change in our health care system that has improved the lives of millions. For this he is accused of promoting socialism even though health care is still in the hands of private insurance companies. He managed to find and kill Osama bin Laden, withdraw our troops from Iraq, and will try to end the hostilities in Afghanistan, and also was instrumental in bringing down Ghadafi. His foreign policy has to be seen as successful, everything considered. He is in favor of trying to improve the lives of the citizens he serves. For this he is maligned at every opportunity, he’s destroying our country and we must “take it back,” he’s the most radical left wing President in the history of the United States, he’s a Muslim, a socialist, a communist, a Kenyan, or at least an “Other” of some kind. He’s even accused of being guilty of treason. He is also criticized for trying to promote ideas that were originally put forward by Republicans! I just don’t get it. Even if you don’t like some or even all of the things he has done or tried to do they certainly don’t add up to treason, socialism, or trying to destroy the country. I have no doubt that now that he has publicly stated he thinks Gays and Lesbians should be allowed to marry and share full civil rights with all of us, he will no doubt be pilloried for that as well. As I do not believe anything he has done has been contrary to the basic values of our presumably democratic nation, I have concluded the irrational hatred some have for him is fundamentally racial in nature. He is guilty of being successful while Black. He certainly deserves a second term, especially when compared with his deservedly despicable opponent. As near as I can tell the major criticism is that he is leading us toward socialism (a fate apparently worse than death). If trying to improve the lives of the middle class and the working poor is socialism, so be it.

When I first learned about Mitt Romney I did not have any bad attitude towards him. Indeed, I thought he was probably a reasonable candidate for President, a former Governor, a successful businessman, someone who reportedly had successfully “saved the Olympic Games.” He was nice looking, a devoted family man with five sons, and in general an upstanding and reasonable potential choice. Although I was aware he was a Mormon, and also aware that many Evangelicals thought Mormonism was a cult, that meant nothing in particular to me. Mormonism, as far as I was concerned, isn’t really much different than any other organized religion. I didn’t think it would matter much. In short, I thought Romney was respectable, had proper credentials, and would, if it became inevitable, probably be an okay President, for a Republican. But with Romney the more you learn about him and observe his behavior, the more you dislike him. I thought carefully about using the term despicable, considering instead merely saying he was deservedly disappointing, but I concluded despicable is closer to what I truly believe about him. My first clue as to a potential problem is when he lied about being a hunter, “all his life.” This proved to be demonstrably untrue, and as it was kind of trivial I didn’t understand why he would lie about something like that. Similarly, he claimed to be a lifetime member of the NRA, another ridiculous falsehood. Then, when his record was reviewed, it turns out he has flip-flopped on virtually every issue of importance, abortion, Gay marriage, Roe vs Wade, don’t ask, don’t tell, you name it, he’s been on both sides at one time or another. He has lied and flip-flopped his way finally into becoming the Republican candidate and now he is again flip-flopping and trying to pretend he didn’t say all the right-wing positions he took even though there is solid evidence that he did. He lies constantly about Obama’s record, lies so transparent they are actually laughable. Now he even wants to take credit for the bailout of the automobile industry, a lie so monstrous as to probably be believed by his supporters, whoever they may be. He seems to have no core values whatsoever, changing his position depending on who is talking to at the moment. He is so wishy-washy he makes an empty suit look like an activist. He is apparently a pathological liar willing to do or say anything to become President. He claims he will never change his opposition to Gay marriage. I wouldn’t bet on it. If I were a Mormon (heaven forbid), I would not want him held up as a representative of my faith. Similarly, if I were a traditional Republican (a vanishing species) I would not want him representing my party. He is a man of no convictions, shallow, ignorant of anything much beyond his brand of vulture capitalism, and thus, in my view, despicable.

Nothing is more despicable than a professional talker who uses his words as a quack uses his remedies.

Francois de Salignac

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Simple but not Easy

We have two important problems, the solutions to which are basically simple, but alas, not easy. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist I much admire (along with Robert Reich), has written a book about how simple it would be to end the depression we are currently in by taking some relatively simple steps. The impasse that exists in Congress can likewise be broken by relatively simple steps. Neither of these problems is likely to be solved easily, in both cases for the same reasons.

Krugman pointed out that had we not reduced state budgets so dramatically and thereby fired large numbers of policemen, firemen, teachers, social workers, and others, the employment rate would still be somewhere approaching normal (I think 4 to 5% is considered normal). These state budget s were, of course, slashed by over-zealous conservative Republican Governors and state governments taken over in 2010 by extreme right-wing activists, introducing what we now call “austerity” driven motives. It would be a relatively simple matter to restore the funds allocated to the states that would allow them to rehire all the worker s they have laid off, a situation that would have almost immediate positive effects on the unemployment figures, to say nothing of quickly improving the economy as these workers would now be able to essentially re-enter the economy by having purchasing power and thus stimulate the creation of even more jobs. While this is theoretically possible and even easy it is not likely to happen.

The gridlock in Congress is similarly amendable to a simple solution. The basic problem is well-known, Republican intransigence. They announced from day one of the Obama administration they would not cooperate and also said publicly their number one priority was to ensure that Obama would be a one-term President. They have followed this strategy faithfully, the result being that virtually no positive steps to improve the economy have been possible. Now, having blocked all of Obama’s attempts to move the country forward they have the audacity to insist he has failed. This is hypocrisy carried to a level not often seen.

In principle the solution to these problems should also be simple. Actually it is, but it is by no means easy. The way to creating jobs and solving the unemployment picture, as well as solving the dreadful gridlock in Congress, is to get rid of Republican Senators and Congresspersons, particularly those identified with the Tea Party that have been the source of the pigheaded refusal to govern and thus brought about this do-nothing Congress. Congress, now effectively controlled by right-wing extremists, has not allowed any action to be taken on reducing unemployment, global warming, , or improving the economy. As long as they remain in office this situation is not going to change. These are urgent matters but cannot be handled as such because of our democratic process. Not only does it take time to remove such useless characters, it also takes enough votes to get rid of them. In this case you might think this would be easy as they are so obviously both guilty and useless, but strangely, the voting public cannot be depended on to vote intelligently, especially after months, even years of right-wing propaganda telling them that black is white, up is down, wrong is right, and that Mitt Romney is actually someone who should be President. While these problems are urgent the democratic process is not designed for urgency. We must wait for the next election no matter how much harm can occur in the meanwhile.

Breaking news: I have just learned that Republicans are going to introduce a one hundred million dollar item in their budget proposal to begin a missile defense system for the East coast. They wish to begin a project for a missile defense system that doesn’t work to protect us from long range missiles from Iran that do not exist, carrying nuclear weapons that also do not exist, and is something that would never happened even if all of these did exist. The Republican mind is a strange thing to behold, assuming that it, too, exists. They will probably want to pay for this by closing all orphanages and letting the orphans fend for themselves, or charging veterans for their wheelchairs and seeing-eye dogs. Sigh! So it is here in the great “Beacon on the Hill.”

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

Oscar Wilde