Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Iranian "Madness"

First, let me thank those of you who have offered kind words about the death of our beloved wife and mother, taken unfairly before her time, a terrible blow to all kind and decent people everywhere. Your comments have been noted and deeply appreciated.

But life does go on and the journey to the west is both mostly predictable and certainly inevitable. While one is tempted to concentrate on his or her personal problems there are larger problems that are more important and sometimes less understandable. One of these problems for me has to do with Iran. I simply do not fully understand the obsession we and the Israelis have with Iran, nor do I understand why at least some other countries have been convinced to play along with our obsessions.

In spite of all the propaganda and negative news coverage I simply do not believe Iran is a threat to either the U.S. or even Israel. I do not believe they are about to make a nuclear bomb, I do not believe that even if they had such a bomb it would pose a threat to the U.S., Israel, or the entire world as some (mostly Bibi Netanyahu) would have us believe. Even more fundamentally, I do not believe that anyone in Israel or the U.S. believes in this utter nonsense. It seems crystal clear to me that the threat has nothing whatsoever to do with the bomb or the actual behavior of Iranians. It has to do with the threat to Western-European hegemony in the Middle East. The U.S. and Israel are the last two colonial powers that do not want to give up their control of Middle East oil production. This is in my opinion not only stupid but eventually hopeless, just as it is proving to be in Middle and South America.

First of all, the age of oil is going to come to an end eventually. Second, has anyone seriously reflected on how much oil we could have purchased with the apparent three trillion dollars we have wasted trying to control it instead of just buying it? If we had bought it fairly it would have no only benefitted us, it would also have greatly benefitted those who wanted to sell it, rather than being devastated and destroyed as they have been they could have thrived happily selling their most important product. The Western-European presence in the Middle East has always from the very beginning been driven by colonial greed rather than hogwash about spreading democracy and/or Christianity to the heathens. We are now witnessing the last vestiges of former colonial power being eroded by people who have had quite enough of it, and Iran is a perfect example as our history of interfering with their country is well known. Furthermore they have tried repeatedly for a negotiated solution only to have been summarily rejected. I would like to believe that Obama’s crippling sanctions are motivated by his sincere desire to avoid another illegal “war” in the Middle East and placate the Israelis but I could be wrong. The sanctions are themselves basically stupid as other countries violate them and they only serve to harm mostly innocent children. Our behavior towards Iran, along with that of Israel, is nothing short of barbaric, a classic example of the worst kind of colonialism. How it will end I do not know, but if Obama successfully prevents a “war” he should receive credit for it although the price the Iranians are being made to pay is exorbitant beyond belief.

I firmly believe that at this moment in time the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East, and indeed the world, is not Iran, it is Israel and the United States of America, the last colonials.

I do not generally indulge in post mortems, but I am haunted by how different the situation would be if our criminal Supreme Court had not anointed George W. Bush as President of the U.S. instead of Al Gore,

God said this is our land, land in which we flourish as people... we want our cattle to get fat on our land so that our children grow up in prosperity; and we do not want the fat removed to feed others."

Jomo Kenyatta

Friday, September 28, 2012

It Ain't Over 'til it's Over

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and I think it’s over, this ridiculous four year campaign for the Presidency of the United States, that is. Can you imagine any other country on earth exhausting so much money and time trying to select a leader for the next four years? We have managed to take an event that should take maybe a month or two at most into a non-stop four-year enterprise. Who benefits from this farce? What is the point? Why do we put up with this? As near as I can tell most of the benefits must have to do with the media, especially television, who reap enormous profits from the advertising that is now so much of the process. And who owns the media that profits the most? Why, surprise, the very corporations that manage the whole show. I guess you might have noticed that we are already talking about the 2016 elections, will Hillary run for President or not, and so on. U. S. elections are now an ongoing soap opera rather than a serious attempt to manage a country. It’s the nonsensical entertaining the nonsensical.

I mean, really, how can anyone take this seriously? Billions of dollars have been spent over months now promoting one or another candidate (probably already chosen), even though by the admission of most observers no one has paid any attention until now, and some acknowledge there are even still undecided voters. What was the point of all this expenditure? This is, to put it mildly, madness. Government and governing is no longer serious business in the U.S., it is simply entertainment, sound and fury signifying nothing. Whichever candidate wins they will still be beholden to the powers that be, Wall Street and the massive corporations that control the world. It’s true that Obama may be given license to make some basically cosmetic changes, improve the middle class, build some bridges, offer a bit more health care, continue to allow contraception and abortion, maybe even increase taxes a smidgen on the filthy rich, but they won’t even notice it and it won’t make any significant difference as long as the powers that be continue to rake in their profits. They don’t care about all these minuscule changes that will, even if generous, do nothing to seriously affect the status quo. American capitalism will survive, the rich will continue to get richer, the poor may stop getting poorer, but the basic swindle will continue. Marx failed to realize that the poor could be placated by “a six-pack of beer and a long-legged whore on Saturday night” (not an original observation by Morialekafa).

President Obama is not a socialist, far from it, in spite of what the lunatic right seems to believe. The basic system will remain intact with just a few adjustments here and there. We will no doubt continue with our heads buried in the sand, ignoring global warming, increasing poverty, environmental devastation, everything that truly matters, while fussing over a Black President, who said what to whom, what did he/she really mean by that, is cleavage in fashion this year, and what will Lindsay Lohan do next. And oh, yes, should we unilaterally, illegally, unconstitutionally, and immorally attack Iran to please Bibi. It’s the American way.

Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy.

George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Less They Know...

It appears to me that the less one knows the more authoritatively they speak. Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, for example, has now said that preventing Gay marriage is a human universal. This is just not so. Among American Indians there was a custom known as the berdache that involved such marriages. I am pretty certain that such marriages also occurred in at least some other cultures. Similarly, opponents of Gay marriages often argue that a marriage between a single man and a single woman are the most natural form of marriage, also not true. First, the preferred marriage choice on a worldwide basis is polygamy although it is true that most marriages involve only one man and one wife which seems to be the most practical form as most men cannot afford more than one wife. But the number of wives one is allowed to have varies from one to more, including in rare cases even hundreds of wives and concubines.

There is also found in some cases polyandry, the marriage of one woman to two or more husbands. This was very common among the Toda of India, the two or more husbands usually being brothers. The first child or two of such a marriage was claimed by the eldest brother, subsequent children were believed to be the children of other brothers irrespective of who the actual biological father was.

As I have not followed my anthropological career for many years my memory may be a bit faulty on these matters, but I remember enough to know that marriages can involve many things that do not follow the one man one woman claim. Among the Nuer in Africa, for example, if a woman’s husband dies without leaving a child she can marry again, or even bring in some other man to give her a child that will legally belong to the deceased husband. Similarly, she can even marry the ghost of a brother and have a child in his name. As I dimly recall she can even marry another woman if the woman has sufficient cattle to be considered a man, and produce children in her name. Anyway, those who make claims about universal monogamy being the only preferred or “natural” marriage pattern simply don’t know what they are talking about, but of course, that doesn’t keep them from being authorities on the subject.

Speaking out of ignorance seems to be quite typical in the United States. Take the case for the claim of socialism against Obama. Those who argue that Obama is a socialist appear to have little or no knowledge of socialism. Obamacare, that might be considered by some to be a form of socialism, is quite definitely not socialism for the simple reason that it still involves private insurance companies. It is not a program run by the government as, in fact, it ought to be. It is quite clear the only efficient and affordable form of health care would be a single payer system as most other industrialized nations have, but Obama did not even try to push such a system. A single payer system will ultimately prevail because it is the only really affordable option, other than providing no care at all as Republicans seem to favor, the “I’ve got mine the hell with you system.” Similarly, when Obama rescued the auto companies he did not nationalize them, the government did not take them over and run them as any socialist would have done. The claim that Obama is a socialist is poppycock pure and simple, made by people who have no idea what they are talking about.

Along these lines we hear Romney and others babbling on about how the 47% or others think they are entitled to health care, food stamps, and government support of all kinds and so on. Others babble about “God-given” or “Natural rights.” As I have said previously, probably more than once, there are no God-given or Natural rights. If you receive health care or unemployment insurance or some such benefits you do so by virtue of living and participating in a decent, caring, responsible group of people who have decided to look after and help each other deal with the exigencies of human life. That is the basic purpose of government in spite of what that nitwit Saint Romney wanted us to believe. The differences in attitude towards government could not be more stark than they are at the moment in the coming election. Obama believes we are all in this together, Romney and his other vulture capitalists promote the most primitive form of social Darwinism in which each individual is on his or her own, a way of life that is obviously incompatible with any form of government other than naked capitalistic greed in which people basically cannibalize each other with only the wealthiest surviving until the inevitable collapse. In all known cultures that have survived over time the members are not only obliged to help each other in difficult times but do, in fact, generously do so. Only vulture capitalists who prey on those who stand in the way of their holy profits seem to depart from this universal pattern of human life. Take away their millions and billions and put them on their own and see how far they get in life. It would be a noble experiment.

The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.

Karl Marx

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I'm Back, I Think

I thought I had completely gone through the various stages of life one experiences on the journey to the west: infant, child, mister, sir, grandpa, pops, old Mr. L... However, now that my wonderful wife has departed, ending her journey to the west, I have achieved still another title, "Poor Old Mr. L..." From the time she died on the 15th until just today it has been a nightmare experience. There is so much to do and I am so helpless. I know how to do virtually nothing and having to learn even the basics of everyday existence, all those things my wife did for almost 30 years. I find that it takes me a week to do what she could accomplish in a single morning. I believe I will survive, at least for a time, but I know from observing my father and a few friends that husbands do not last very long after they lose their wives.

Having been oblivious to anything for the past ten days I am not really surprised to learn that Romney/Ryan are tanking and that Obama is completely outclassing them. Both of them strike me as spoiled brats that have no idea how ordinary people live and cope, and they seem to lack even the most basic qualities of empathy and understanding. They seem unable to understand they cannot gain the White House simply by badmouthing Obama and offering no specific solutions of their own, of course they have nothing besides the usual "smaller government, lower taxes mantra" that has already failed miserably. I think, at least I hope the public is on to the absurdity of this position. If not perhaps they will deserve what they get if these two "unprepared for prime time" candidates somehow manage to get elected.

I do not see how they can possibly be elected as they have managed to alienate virtually every voting block there is except for the hard core racists and uneducated Whites (they may even be losing some of them). One of these nitwits in Montana has suggested there will be a revolution of Obama is re-elected. Actually, I think a revoultion is much more likely if he does not get re-elected. The only way he will not be re-elected is if the Republicans somehow manage to actually steal the election. And given the fact that Obama is now far ahead in most polls, and the Republicans only have thier base (if that), if Obama is defeated it will only have been possible because of outright fraud, thus disenfranchising the electorate and destroying the democratic process (such as it is).

It is being said by some that Romney's last chance will be the coming debate on October 3rd. I cannot imagine Romney can best  Obama in a debate and I hope he leaves with his tail between his legs. Of course if he loses the Tea Party clowns will say he wasn't really their candidate anyway and will probably continue their insane behavior. The only real solution to this problem is if the Democrats manage to control both the Senate and the House, as well as the Presidency, in a victory so massive it will virtually destroy them and perhaps even the Republican Party itself (at least for several years).

What goes around, comes around.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Journey to the West is Hard, Indeed

My lovely, talented, and most wonderful wife of almost 30 years, sixty years of age, in perfect health, who took care of herself religiously, suddenly and completely unexpectedly suffered a massive stroke on a Thursday afternoon and died on Saturday morning at 11.33 a.m. It was a shock unbelievable in its intensity for me and also for her many friends in the community. It was so unbelievable that many refused to believe it without further confirmation. Even now I find it impossible to believe. It was so unfair, so unjust, so completely senseless, and obviously should have happened to me rather than to her.

Linda was during her lifetime a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and the anchor of our life together. She was also at times a dancer, sailor, waitress, bookstore manager, researcher, anthropologist, linguist, scholar, teacher, chef, political activist, environmentalist, blogger, and a gifted poet. In the words of Walt Whitman’s, “Song of Myself,” she was, in fact, a “multitude.”

In New Guinea, where houses are constructed around a central post that supports all the rest of the structure, the leader of the group is often described as the “House Post.” There is no doubt whatsoever that Linda was our House Post, and now that she is gone that house will begin to crumble, fall into disrepair, and eventually disappear.

As a girl, Linda attended a Lutheran school and was steeped in bible studies, and later, in college, she also studied the bible. As a mature woman and anthropologist she came to realize and appreciate the superficiality of organized religions and the unbelievable diversity of religious beliefs around the world. Even so, she maintained her own spirituality. She fought for what she believed in, championed the downtrodden, neglected, and handicapped, and was, as she herself admitted, a true, “Bleeding heart Liberal.” She was one of the very best of humanity, a joy to know, a rare credit to the human species. There are no words to describe the void her untimely departure has left, nor are there enough tears to express our sorrow. She was to have become a grandmother in one month’s time. It is true, of course, life is indeed cruel and unjust. Now we are left with only memories of better times. The journey to the west is bitter and difficult but continues relentlessly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Romney's "Cheap Shot"

You are no doubt aware by now of the complete ass Romney made of himself over the tragedy in Libya where our Ambassador and 3 other Americans were killed. Not only did he blurt out his idiotic comments before he had the facts about what happened, he made it obvious he was motivated by purely political motives, thus trying to score political points on the death of our representatives in Libya. He went on to babble about American values and how we should stick up for our values, apparently believing that mocking and slandering other religions is an American value. Most everyone is outraged by his statements, except for good ol’ Reince Priebus, the head of the RNC, who seems to be behaving as he must have when he was still the fourth grade. Romney has proven once again that he has little or no sense of what is appropriate behavior, either in general or politically.

Romney said, among other things, that the Obama administration (and therefore Obama) showed more sympathy for the attackers than the attacked. This is an absolutely outrageous charge to be made against the President of the United States. Indeed, outrageous is not a strong enough word. Why would Romney even think of saying such a terrible thing? I do not believe this is something that anyone would have said about a White President, no matter who he or she was. It is possible that Romney just spoke without thinking (not unusual for Mitt), but it is also possible (and I think perhaps even probable) that it was a calculated slander. The reason it could be made against President Obama as opposed to any other President is because it fits perfectly with the Republican campaign to label Obama as a Muslim, or at least a Muslim sympathizer. Romney and his advisors may have thought this would play really well with the Republican Tea Party base, and maybe it does. But if this was what was behind it, it labels Romney not only as a cheap political creep but also as a genuine racist slimeball.

I assume Romney, when he spoke of upholding American values, may have been thinking of our value of free speech, or at least that is what he would like us to believe. And yes, free speech is an American value, but merely saying that is a terrible oversimplification of what freedom of speech entails, or at least what it should entail. Like many things citizens of the U.S. enjoy, free speech has to have some constraints. You cannot, for example, falsely yell “fire” in a movie theater, nor as a property owner can you do absolutely everything you might want to do with your property if it is going to cause grievous injury to your neighbors. All freedoms come with responsibilities as well. In my opinion if some fundamentalist minister announces publically he is going to burn copies of the Koran, or if some anti-Muslim bigot in California makes a slanderous movie insulting Islam, they are seriously overstepping the bounds of responsibility in their exercise of free speech. And when their behavior results in the deaths of their fellow citizens because they have outraged at least some Muslims they should have to pay the consequences, just as should a person who falsely yells fire during a movie. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world, and probably about the same number of Christians. It simply will not do to try to provoke a religious war between them.

Republicans have tried to make much of their false claim that Obama is “weak,” and goes around the world apologizing for America, bowing to foreign leaders, and so on. Like all of their criticisms of Obama there is no truth to this. But interestingly enough Obama gets no credit for standing up to Netanyahu and trying as hard as possible to keep us from being involved in still another illegal, unconstitutional, and completely unnecessary war in the Middle East. Obama, almost uniquely for American Presidents, has refused to kiss the hem of Netanyahu’s trousers and give in to his every criminal wish. Obama is in a very difficult, almost impossible position, caught between doing what is right and proper and a U.S. Congress so in love with Netanyahu they are prepared to give him every green light to slaughter Arabs at will, indeed, they virtually urge him to do so in their apparently insane desire to keep us involved in perennial wars (have to keep the military/industrial/political complex in big bucks, you know). Romney has been slowly sinking in the polls. If this latest blunder is the last straw in his failing campaign for the Presidency so be it. And if, as some Republicans are saying, a Romney defeat will spell the end of the Republican Party, I say hooray! They certainly deserve oblivion after the last 20 years of their basically criminal enterprise. It couldn’t happen to a more disgusting bunch,

It is the nature of ambition to make men liars and cheats, to hide the truth in their breasts, and show, like jugglers, another thing in their mouths, to cut all friendships and enmities to the measure of their own interest, and to make a good countenance without the help of good will.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Supersized, Privatized, and Polarized

I believe the United States of America, as a nation, is about to go the way of all empires. You might argue that we are not an empire but that would be mere quibbling over terms, obviously we are the closest thing to an empire that currently exists on this tiny planet we all must call home. I believe the reasons for this demise can probably be pretty well summed up by the verbs supersized, privatized and polarized. Granted this is a subject that cries out for a book length, if not encyclopedia length treatment, I cannot help but pose the situation as I see it.

The reasons for this demise are manifold, but there is little doubt we are a culture of the supersized. Obesity is a national problem for the first time in history, what with meals, soft drinks, popcorn, automobiles, housing, airplanes, and virtually everything we use having become far larger than ever before. Even our possessions are supersized with every wide spot in the road now having rows of storage facilities for the apparent millions upon millions of tons of stuff we thought we had to have but now have to somehow dispose of without actually taking it to the dump, dumps being also supersized to take care of the stuff we already take there, being unable, as yet, to simply dispose of it in outer space (we have already begun filling outer space up with our stuff). An economy based upon built in obsolescence, as ours has been for so many years is itself a form of supersizing. We have even supersized violence and sex, using any excuse for overemphasizing both themes whenever possible. And, of course, we have supersized our importance in the world with out unceasing claim of being exceptional.

Supersizing, while of great importance, is made possible by privatization, probably the most anti-national program ever conceived. Consider, for example, the importance of educating the young, who represent the future of the nation. Rather than providing our youths with affordable opportunities for education we have mired them in debt by forcing them to borrow money to even try to attain an education. This is, to put it mildly, completely absurd and came about because students were a prime target to sacrifice on the altar of profit. Consider our national elections that have become an ongoing process from the moment one President is sworn in to campaigning for the next election four years in the future. Who benefits from this ongoing process, why corporations, of course, who own the media that rake in billions. No one else benefits, not the electorate who just remain confused and misinformed and actually don’t even pay attention until to the last moment when they are then allowed to choose between two already chosen candidates. I see no reason whatsoever why the elections should take more than, say, a month. But where’s the profit in that? Similarly, the idea that you can privatize necessary human needs such as health care, energy, education, prisons, and even such basic necessities as water, is absurd on the face of it. Even the privatization of land is fraught with potential problems as land is just another word for the environment.

The problems we face as a nation are no longer being met by those who are presumably elected to serve the public interest. Polarization has become the reality of the moment. This is, I think, a kind of variation of the Morialekafa 20-60-20 rule, except it may be more correct ot think of it as the 10-80-10 rule. Even those proportions may be slightly too generous. What we seem to have is a situation where 10 percent of the population that already controls 80 percent of the wealth is trying to maintain and even improve their position, while another 10 percent understands what they are doing, and the 80 percent, having been poorly educated and fed so much propaganda are seemingly lost in a world of consumer goods, sporting events, and ignorance. When you have a population where so many believe angels are real, Obama is a Muslim, a majority don’t even know for certain who was responsible for the death of bin Laden, and so forth, you should know you are primed real trouble. Such is the condition the U.S. has fallen into in recent years. I fear if we continue down this path of certain failure we will, indeed, eventually fail.

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

John Maynard Keynes

Friday, September 07, 2012

Agent Garbo - book

Agent Garbo the Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day, Stephan Talty, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This is a Spy tale that while true does read rather like a novel. Not only that, the tale itself is so fantastic you might well believe it is a work of fiction. I confess to finding it hard to believe that German Intelligence was so easily duped by one Spaniard and his almost completely fictional troop of spies and even a million man army that he at one time essentially made to disappear, and who managed to keep Hitler’s troops so confused about the Normandy landing they arrived only after it was too late to effectively prevent it.

What is even more incredible is the main character, a young Spaniard named Juan Pojol, who prior to becoming a double agent nicknamed Garbo (apparently because of his abilities along those lines), had accomplished very little in life, managed to become a spy at all, let alone one of the most successful of WW II. He knew nothing of espionage, but having seen both sides of the Spanish Civil War and becoming disenchanted by both sides, and having come to despise fascism and especially Hitler, decided on his own he should become a spy and work against the Germans. He initially attempted to volunteer as a spy for the British but as he had nothing but good intentions was ignored. He decided that if they were to take him seriously he would have to have at least something to show them he did have information. He then approached the Germans and finally encountered a German intelligence officer that gave him some invisible ink and rather minor instructions, with which he then convinced the British he was real. He was all by himself sending false information to the Germans before the British recruited him as a double agent.

Once he was actively engaged by the British he was given a handler who helped him enormously and worked closely with him throughout the duration of the war. He was allowed to feed just enough true accounts of activities to the Germans that he eventually became one of their most trusted agents. Over time he invented a host of other completely fictional spies who supposedly fed him information from various different locations. He made some serious mistakes a couple of times but somehow the Germans always fell for his explanations and had developed complete trust in him. Once, for example, he sent some extremely important information that was true, but arranged to have it delivered a day late. Garbo (Pujol) was regarded by the Germans with such respect he was awarded an Iron Cross, usually reserved for active troops serving in combat. Pujol’s most important deception, that saved literally thousands of lives, was his role in convincing the Germans the allied attack would occur at Calais when in fact it was to occur in Normandy. He and other British spies convinced even Hitler this was the case even though Hitler himself had been certain they would mount the attack on Normandy and only changed his mind at the last minute because of their successful deception. Some German officers even after the war did not understand what had actually happened.

One of the things I found most fascinating about this book is the discussion of the competence of both British and German Intelligence at the beginning of the war. There is little about the Germans aside from the obvious fact they were not entirely competent, but the British recruitment of spies, at least initially, was somewhat haphazard and brought together a collection of rather odd characters. There was Pujol himself, of course, not a likely candidate for such an important role, but there were others perhaps even more unlikely. Johann Jebsen, son of a wealthy Hamburg shipping mogul, with a monocle and Mercedes-Benz convertible who wore fine suits and dazzled beautiful young girlfriends, his friend Susko Popov, a Serb who became a double agent known as tricycle, a beautiful Peruvian girl known as Bronx, Brutus, a Polish air force officer, and elegant small and somewhat obnoxious man whose real name was David Strangeways, and many, many others: “For years, the intelligence services had been the home of clubbable young society men and veterans of the Indian colonial police force; ‘eggheads’ were looked down upon and rarely hired. Now the British government began signing up academics at a furious clip: historians, linguists and classicists for the spy services, and mathematicians and scientists for analytical jobs like codebreaking. Oddballs, such as the almost unfathomably brilliant Alan Turing, became the order of the day.” Somehow this unlikely group of eggheads managed to win the day.

Pujol paid a price in his family life for his service, at one point faked his death and lived undetected for several years to be eventually found and highly honored. If you like spy tales this is a particularly good one.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Democratic Convention

I have just now turned off the Democratic Convention that I believe was very successful. If speechmaking, enthusiasm, and passion could win the election Democrats would win it hands down. President Obama was faced with an almost impossible challenge, making a better speech that Michelle and Clinton. I don’t think he did, but he did make another fine speech and certainly did not lose any points. I don’t know why in the world people think making speeches is a contest of some sort, just like a prize fight or a football game. One of the peculiar characteristics of American culture these days seems to be the belief that everything has to be a contest or competition of some kind. Even the cooking shows have developed into contests. Of course you might say the comparison between Obama and Romney isn’t really much of a contest as the latter isn’t even a worthy opponent.

I think I might have an idea about why it is the polls keep insisting this is going to be a close race, a nail-biter, and so on. Given the makeup of the electorate, with Blacks, Latinos, Women, young and old, and many others disenchanted with Republicans and so obviously favoring Obama and the Democrats, how is it possible the polls cannot be reflecting this? It makes no sense whatsoever to me as I would think if the truth were known Obama would be favored by a virtual landslide. I believe there is something strange, even dishonest about the polls. Remember that most polls are being conducted and reported by the MSM that obviously favors and protects Republicans. They have to maintain the race is truly close because they intend to steal the election. If there was a truly wide discrepancy in the polls and the Republicans should win the election it would appear to be obviously questonable because they must have stolen it. They would have no credibility. If, on the other hand, we can be made to believe it is really close, and then they steal it, it would be much harder to prove it was fixed. I don’t know if this is true, and it may not be true at all, but as I do not trust Republicans to play fair, what with their massive attempts to suppress the vote, their ownership of the voting machines, the huge fortunes they are putting into their attempt to defeat Obama, I would put nothing past them, nothing at all.

I was truly moved by the speech given by Representative John Lewis from Georgia, one of the first Freedom Riders and a victim of vicious beatings by those opposed to the civil rights of Blacks. He was there, he experienced what happened like few others, and has survived to become a fine Representative. I thought Jennifer Grandholm’s speech was also very effective as she spoke with passion and authority I had never seen in her before. Of course Joe Biden gave a fine speech and a wonderful description of his experience working with President Obama. Obama’s speech was perhaps not one of his very best, but it was fine and managed to portray Romney/Ryan as the bungling amateurs they really are. I found it interesting that neither Michael Steele nor Steve Schmidt, Republican analysts, could find anything bad to say about any of the Democratic speeches. I will be surprised if they don’t eventually jump ship and give up trying to defend the indefensible.

In fact, by any yardstick of reason or decency, unless Republican do succeed in stealing this election, I would be surprised if this does not spell the demise of their Party for years to come. It is already being said by some that this is the last time they can attempt to win an election by appealing to the angry, uneducated, White voters, and as they have grievously offended most everyone else I cannot see how they can recover without several years of massive changes to appeal to all those they have alienated. The electorate is changing dramatically and they are not keeping up with the changes. In my opinion, since the Clinton Presidency, what used to be a respectable political party has morphed into little more than a criminal conspiracy, and like all criminal enterprises deserves to be treated as such. I don’t think lying and stealing should be rewarded, and as that seems to be all they have to offer they should go the way of all such organizations. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but I like to believe they are still turning here in my wonderful country.

It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals.

Charles Kuralt

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Belief and Behavior

Stephen Pizzo, who writes for the Smirking Chimp and elsewhere, has raised an interesting question that is not usually supposed to be discussed. In its clearest form:

“Just how strange, even crazy, does a candidate's self-stated belief structure have be, before it's just too crazy?”

He has Mitt Romney and his Mormon beliefs in mind, because:

“That's why I'm doing this. I may regret it. But I'd regret even more waking up on the third Wednesday this November to discover we have a man in the Oval Office who believes things, at the very core of his being, that are provably untrue, phantasmagorical in the extreme, homophobic and misogynistic and authoritarian. Who firmly believes in entire civilizations that never existed and that a 150-years ago convicted conman and womanizer was shown the "real truth" by looking through a "seer stone," a rock with hole in it.”

I am not particularly interested in Romney’s specific beliefs or how “phantasmagorical in the extreme” they may be, mainly because I find the stated and written beliefs of all religions more or less phantasmagorical. I am interested here in the much broader question having to do with the relationship of belief to both what is claimed to be the beliefs and the ensuing behavior. There must be thousands, perhaps millions of people who claim to be devout Christians who, I am reasonably certain, do not, in fact, believe in a literal interpretation of the bible. I doubt that most of them believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale, or that Noah built an ark large enough to encourage a pair of all the creatures of the earth, or that someone parted the Red Sea, or perhaps even in virgin birth. Such Christians can go to church regularly, enjoy the sermons, the hymns, and the fellowship, the community spirit and social solidarity, and what have you, even though when pressed would admit they do not actually believe everything they are said to believe, and for the most part these beliefs also do not affect their behavior (although I guess there are some few who actively search for the ark).

It is not difficult to find all kinds of examples where people profess to believe things but do not behave accordingly or appropriately. I know, for example, there are Jews who eat pork, there are Muslims who drink alcohol, Catholics who do not take communion or eat fish on Friday, and quite likely Mormons who do not always tithe the expected ten percent. Most certainly there are many who do not observe the golden rule, “Do unto others…” And how many religious believers go through life avoiding all seven of the deadly sins? And what greater disconnect between belief and behavior could you possibly find that some 97% of Catholic women use contraception against the beliefs of their Church?

It is not just in the religious sphere of cultures where stated beliefs are not really believed or acted upon. A simple example from the New Guinea Highlands makes the point. The natives I worked with refuse to eat chickens because, they believe, chickens eat feces. But they eat pigs although they know pigs also eat feces. This contradiction does not bother them in the slightest, it’s just the way things are. Here is an examle of people acting on a belief in one case but not the other. There are always exceptions, it seems, when it comes to beliefs. Thou shall not kill,” for example, is constantly invoked depending upon who is involved, who is being killed, how much oil is involved, and so on. Some cultures put such a high premium on virginity they test for it after the first night intercourse occurs in a marriage, and there are consequences for any suspicion of a violation. When this takes the form of stoning the bride or some other serious punishment we can say that in such a case people really do behave as they believe they should. Similarly, in the case of suttee, when a wife climbs onto her husband’s funeral pyre and voluntarily burns to death, you have a genuine case of behavior following belief.

So, it is not necessarily the beliefs of someone that are important, it is what relationship there exists between their actual behavior and their belief system. As Pizzo says, some, perhaps even most politicians, use their professed religious beliefs only as one of the requirements you need for office in the U.S. Who knows how serious they are about such beliefs? Generally speaking this does not usually raise a problem. However, the question of how a politician’s beliefs might influence his/her behavior is potentially crucial. If a candidate claims they are strictly pro-life will they work to overturn Roe vs Wade? What do you believe yourself if someone tells you they are pro-life but will not work to overturn Roe vs. Wade? What if a Catholic claims their loyalty to country is stronger than their loyalty to church, as in the case of John Kennedy? What if a known conservative bible-thumper swears they will uphold the distinction between church and state? And what if that promise turns out to be a lie? What if a candidate like Romney refuses to discuss his religion but it contains beliefs and ceremonies that are known to be phantasmagorical as Pizzo is suggesting?

There is supposed to be a clear separation of church and state in the U.S., but this distinction has been more and more violated, especially in recent years. As it turns out this distinction is virtually impossible to achieve, especially in a nation that claims more religious believers than most other industrialized nations. I suspect we are increasingly becoming a laughingstock around the world, to say nothing of the hypocrisy involved in our foreign policy, wars, and violence without end. Like Pizzo, I cannot answer his basic question, but merely bring it to your attention. You decide. My personal opinion has never been a secret. There are too many “Churches of the Altogether Bonkers” and far too little interest or emphasis on education and intellectual activity. But, then, it is football season.

Anybody who watches three games of football in a row should be declared brain dead.

Erma Bombeck

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Further Notes on the Nacirema

I have been inspired to write these further comments on Nacirema society and culture because of the approaching llabtoof season. The llabtoof season can be described in our language as an annual occurrence of supreme importance to the Nacirema. It begins in what we consider autumn when the deciduous leaves just begin to turn, known to the first Nacirema, the snaidni, as the Full Corn Moon, continues through the Hunter’s moon when the leaves are truly falling, the Full Beaver Moon, and the Long Nights Moon, finally culminating usually in the Full Wolf Moon. It begins conveniently when it does because it is usually during this time the beasts are slaughtered that provide the niksgip for the sacred llabtoof, the primary ball-like object, pointed at both ends to enhance its aerodynamic qualities, used in all the games.

Llabtoof is described as a game by some, but for others it might well be considered a religion. Although it is played everywhere in Naciremaland, it is considered much more important in certain regions than others, although I cannot explain why this should be. During the season it dominates virtually all other activities for the Nacirema. It is played by Nacirema males from a very early age and on up in age until the players are in their twenties or thirties. Although it is not completely banned for Nacirema females, that gender only very rarely engage in it directly, preferring instead to dress in brief costumes and jump up and down hollering and waving brightly colored shredded paper as the games progress.

Those young Nacirema that prove to be the most talented and adept at the game gain in importance to the point where they are rewarded by free admittance to the institutions of Nacirema higher learning, the seitisrevinu. As the seitisrevinu are the intellectual centers of the Nacirema, and there is nothing intellectual about llabtoof, this is by no means easy to explain. It is also virtually impossible to explain why the most exalted high priests of the game, the sehcaoc, some of whom attain mythical proportions for their successes , are rewarded far more handsomely than the even the highest placed leaders of the seitisrevinu that employ them. Each of the most important sehcaoc is provided with a number of specialized assistants that instruct the players in skills like throwing and receiving the llabtoof, head-slapping, leg-whipping, and what is described in general as “smash-mouth llabtoof.”

Llabtoof is played in gigantic stadiums that sometimes will accommodate 100,000 or more spectators who often dress in rather outrageous costumes, wear funny hats, shout encouragement as loudly as they are able, drink and eat, and also wave towels and other things. These stadiums are extremely costly and are most usually built at public expense, even though the revenue generated by them is claimed by those already very wealthy individuals that own the teams. The teams are most usually named after totemic creatures such as bears, falcons, tigers, and lions, but sometimes after mythical creatures such as giants or saints, and sometimes, more rarely, after local names like packers or oilers. Although these names have lost the former totemic significance they once had for the snaidni, they are of great importance to those who claim them as their own. The owners compete with each other for the best players available and often must pay exorbitant salaries for those considered the very best. The leader of each team, known for some unknown historical reason as a “quarterback,” is usually assisted by halfbacks, fullbacks, and a host of other specialized players variously known as ends, tackles, guards, and so on. The quarterback is almost always the most highly remunerated player on the team and also the most difficult to replace, so the rules have had to be changed over time to protect him from injury. The modern day players now wear elaborately padded costumes, helmets, face masks, and other protective gear that has evolved over time from the original much simpler uniforms of the past, and the rules regarding specifically what kinds of violence is permitted have been modified. To reduce the need for holy-mouth-men the players wear special rubber mouth guards. In spite of these precautions players sometimes still have to visit a latipsoh or a holy-mouth-man. Even so, as llabtoof has always been considered a vicarious substitute for warfare, emphasizes only manly virtues of strength, courage, bravery and stamina, as well as strategy and defense, and as it is most basically a violent sport, these changes have offended the most committed aficionados of the game who believe the game is being ruined by becoming more and more “sissified.” Similarly, a well-known Professor who once wrote an essay suggesting certain homoerotic elements to the game immediately began receiving death threats. Players and fans take llabtoof very seriously. Each llabtoof team has its own medicine men and many now employ their own specially trained “listeners,” that attempt to exorcise the devils that sometimes cause poor performance by the players, especially the quarterbacks and all-important specialty “kickers.”

Llabtoof is a uniquely Nacirema phenomenon that has virtually attained the status of a religion. It has replaced what was long regarded as the quintessential Nacirema pastime, llabesab. Llabesab still exists of course, and has been even more successful at becoming an international sport than llabtoof, but here in Naciremaland it is llabtoof that now prevails unchallenged, with lower level games played on Friday nights, seitisrevinu games on Saturdays, and the most high-powered, highly paid, and prestigious professional llabtoof now played religiously every Sunday. It must also be mentioned here that what once began as a young man’s amateur sport, played for fun, has now grown into a serious billion dollar capitalistic enterprise. Those who participate at the highest levels, players and sehcaoc alike, increasingly regarded as entertainers, are paid staggeringly large sums of money. The revenue generated from advertising and sales of memorabilia runs into the billions.

Some people think llabtoof is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.

Bill Shankly