Friday, September 27, 2013

The End of Universities

It appears that if the White House has its way Universities will simply no longer exist, having been completely replaced by trade schools. This has been a transition underway for quite some time and it looks like the end may soon be official. Slowly over time Universities have been quietly taken over by trade schools: schools of medicine, nursing, business, social work, law, journalism, schools that have gradually taken more and more funds away from the arts and humanities. The White House now wants Universities ranked according to how much their graduates earn. If this happens they will no longer be Universities.

There will eventually no longer be classes in art, English or other literature, history, sociology, anthropology, or even philosophy, as such subjects do not produce graduates who will earn much money. There will be no learning for its own sake, no emphasis on well-rounded citizens interested in anything other than earning money. Nor will there probably any research unless it is aimed at some obvious commercial end. This is already happening as more and more research in Universities is being funded by corporations who have their own interests at heart, not those of those who want to do basic research on other less commercial topics.

The search for knowledge for its own sake will be forgotten in the mad quest for profits. I am certain Universities did not begin with commercial applications as the major goal. They arose mainly during the great age of discovery when so little was known about most anything, including languages, aesthetics, ethics, morality, mathematics, sciences, etc., etc. People attended Universities to learn and to share their learning with others. While it is true that many things emerged from Universities that subsequently became commercially useful, that was not the sine qua non. Of course medicine and law were of interest, but they were not of interest simply for making money, students wanted to know about anatomy, physiology, embryology, and such because they wanted to learn about such things, not because they wanted to produce physicians and surgeons who could make money. And so it was with law, barely separate from philosophy and a legitimate study to learn about it and improve it, not to make lawyers able to earn more.

Liberal Arts institutions and degrees have slowly eroded, and the idea of a Liberal Arts education these days, if its exists at all, exists mostly for the children of the wealthy who can afford to send their children to small Liberal Arts colleges and do not have to worry about their futures.

This is all part of the anti-intellectual bias that has crept into the American ethos. Education has no value unless it can make one more money, and, indeed, intellectuals have no value, being regarded as “pointy-headed,” “nutty,” and eccentric. Teachers, too, are disvalued, “them as can’t do, teach,” and so on. And, of course, teachers are well toward the bottom of the pay scale. The number of people who read has apparently declined rather dramatically and I personally know people who proudly claim to have never read an entire book. “Book-larnin” is nowhere as near as valuable as “the school of hard knocks.” Television, too, has had a terrible influence on reading, and what began as a wonderful new tool for humans has degenerated into a true wasteland of drivel and nonsense. “Infotainment” is now the name of the game with our major television networks, actual news is pretty much a thing of the past (thank god for Aljazeera). Our schools are disgraceful dungeons of dreary disciplines, overcrowded, deteriorated, starved for funds, and pretty much useless from the standpoint of education. They do manage to keep some of the kids off the streets but the drop-out rate is exceedingly high. All this has not come about by accident or even neglect, the corporations and powers-that –be want us ignorant and fearful as we are easier to manage and control that way.

To value Universities on the basis of how much their graduates earn is absurd. You might as well throw away thousands of years of human knowledge unless it involves technology and profit. This is disgraceful and the fact that anyone in the White House even thought of it is even more disgraceful. We might as well change the inscription on our bills to “Ignorance is Bliss.”

 “War is peace. 
Freedom is slavery. 
Ignorance is strength.” 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Salinger - book

This book, which purports to be a biography of the well-known author, J. D. Salinger, is perhaps more interesting for what it itself is than what it tells us of Salinger. It is certainly not your ordinary biography, consisting of quotes from dozens of people who at one time or another had conversations with Salinger, served in the army with him, lived with him, married him, edited him, was a child of his, a lover, or someone who merely observed him briefly at one time or another. It is, in a way, a ridiculous presentation. First, you have no way of knowing if the quotes are supposed to be verbatim (which they surely are not), which means they must have been at least somewhat edited. Second, and more importantly, you cannot know why only some quotes were selected and others were not. Virtually all of the quotes are more positive than negative, could there have been negative ones that were simply left out? There is little or nothing of Salinger’s childhood other than he was a child of partly Jewish wealthy parents. The book begins with Salinger’s experiences in World War II that were, beyond doubt, extremely traumatic for him, landing him in psychiatric care for a time and quite obviously affecting his life and writing thereafter.

Salinger wanted to be a writer at least from the age of fifteen. He felt that if he joined the army he would get the kind of experience he needed to become one. It is claimed he carried the first four or five chapters of his most famous work, Catcher in the Rye, with him during his combat experiences and would work on them whenever an opportunity presented itself. He was also working on short stories and submitting them to various magazines. He thought Hemingway was a great writer (as did most people of his generation) and actually met him on three or four occasions during the war. Hemingway was apparently very kind to him and encouraged him. Salinger’s stated goal as a writer was to have his work appear in the New Yorker magazine, a goal he eventually achieved even before Catcher in the Rye brought him fame and fortune, and perhaps ruined his life, or at least helped to turn him into a recluse for some fifty years of his life. Although he was indeed reclusive, how reclusive he truly was is not entirely clear. He seems to have been social enough on occasions when he wanted to be.

Salinger certainly was not reclusive when he began writing and his ambition was to become known and publish in the New Yorker. The success of Catcher in the Rye, that has by now apparently sold over 60 million copies, brought him such fame and fortune, and so many demands from his readers, he eventually had to escape, which he did, to a country house in New Hampshire, pleading that he was merely a writer of fiction, not a guru. He became obsessively concerned with his privacy which was apparently protected by his neighbors and by his wives until he died at 91 years of age, having published nothing for some fifty years. Although he did not publish during all those years he apparently did continue writing (for himself, he claimed), so there is now an inordinate amount of curiosity about just what it was he was writing (there are apparently several manuscripts to be published posthumously).

I confess to not having been a great fan of Salinger’s although I have read and enjoyed most of his work. I must have read “Catcher” in the 50’s when it was first published (1951) and although I’m sure I enjoyed it, it did not make an indelible impression on me as it has on so many others. As I read most of his work some time ago I do not remember it as vividly as I might wish so I am in the process of reviewing most of it. There is no doubt Salinger was a fine writer, with, as Hemingway told him, a “fine ear.” But I find some of the claims about his work to be somewhat questionable and I will comment further about this soon.

In the meanwhile listen to Ted Cruz and watch the Republican Party unravel in their attempt to placate the lunatics that seem to be in charge of it these days.

    “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Me and Kati (4)

Well, Kati, I guess you didn’t learn from your previous experience with the paint. You look pretty silly walking around shaking one paw after another trying to get rid of the white paint you walked in. I tried to keep you out of that room but you cleverly managed to get in anyway. And not only did you walk on the wet paint, you also sat on it! Lucky for you it’s a water-based paint. Now you’re a gray cat with a white bottom, at least for a time. You’re as bad as Republicans, just doing one damn fool thing after another. Now they are going to try to shut down the government because they can’t do something that is obviously impossible… defund Obamacare. And they’re going to try that stupid ploy again, threatening to hold up the debt limit, thus destroying the credit of the country. You know, Kati, there “oughta be a law.”

You might think (if you weren’t a cat) there would be a law against shutting down the government. I mean, after all, there are even laws against spitting on the sidewalks and stuff like that. I guess no one thinks shutting down the government is a big deal. Of course there are laws that might apply to what they are doing, like, for example, there is a law against extortion, precisely what they are attempting in order to get their way. Or perhaps the law against blackmail might apply. More importantly, there is surely a law against treason. I guess when that Jiminy Cricket look-alike, McConnell, asserted publicly that the Republicans number one priority was to bring down President Obama (and his administration), and they have tried for the past five years to actually accomplish that, it does not constitute treason (it seems to me very close to it). They would like us to consider this nefarious intention just politics as usual, but it isn’t usual at all. Neither the Founding Fathers nor anyone else ever thought there would be a case where one absolutely necessary element of a tri-party political system would simply refuse to participate. The minority party is supposed to cooperate in running the country, not deliberately try to destroy it. But what do I know, Kati?

Of course the way things are now, even if there are laws, there are those who refuse to obey them. Usually when someone breaks a law they pay a price, maybe just a fine, but more often they go to jail. Along these same lines Kati, you might believe it should be against the law to try to prevent certain individuals or groups from voting, but some states try to do it anyway. Of course you might think that money laundering and some shaky credit card schemes would also be against the law. Actually, they are, but nothing much is ever done about it. More importantly, it is common knowledge by now that the major Banks have engaged in all kinds of lawbreaking, but virtually no banker has gone to jail. You see, they steal a huge amount of money, pay a relatively small fine, with no admission of guilt, and then go out and repeat the performance all over again. Laws work differently for powerful White Collar criminals. Come to think of it Kati, maybe you should paint yourself all white. You might gain some privileges.

No, Kati, I like you just the way you are, a nice dark neutral all gray. You fit in perfectly with our all white Spencer and all black Midnight. And in spite of your being a girl you dominate both of them. Happily, there’s no glass ceiling for cats. So keep up your good(?) work (as you do endlessly) but stay off the @#!%#@##! paint! And also Kati, two dead birds in one day is disgusting, even for you. And don’t bring them into the living room! I know, I know, you’re just a cat, you’re not evil, and you do what cats do. Republicans, on the other hand, should know better about what they do, but do evil things anyway. Lucky for us, Kati, we’re not on food stamps, at least not yet, if they have their way we may well be someday. Oh, no, we can’t, because there won’t be any, and perhaps no government either, so won’t that make them happy? But that can’t really work, for if there is no government how will they pass anti-abortion legislation, force women to have vaginal probes, take food from the mouths of babes, and fatten up their already too fat, “fat cats?” What a quandary. Oh, Kati, be glad you’re a cat and not a Republican.  

Did St. Francis preach to the birds? Whatever for? If he really liked birds he would have done better to preach to the cats.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do All People Deserve to Live?

This seems to me an important question that I think is often neglected. Here in the U.S. we say “all men are created equal,” and then, by implication at least, “are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”One might well ask, first, do these noble claims apply only to those who live in the U.S.? Even a moment  of reflection should indicate that no one takes these claims seriously, not even here in the U.S. Obviously not all men are created equal, some men are larger than others, some are smarter than others, some more clever or cunning, some willing and able to work harder than others, some more creative and so on. The only meaning such a claim can have is basically they are all equal in their right to vote. And even now we have many who do not even believe in that basic form of equality. But consider the question in a broader perspective.

Does it apply to all people everywhere?. That is, people are born and live out their lives pretty much in the same general pattern all over the world. They are born, pass through childhood and adolescence, adulthood, old age and death. Along the way they marry and have other adventures, have children, problems and etc. Humans vary somewhat physically and even more so culturally, having customs and practices that are unique to some, barbaric and primitive to others, even downright disgusting to still others. Are all these people entitled to life, let alone liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And if not, why not, and who is to decide?
The history of the human species makes it quite clear that different people at different times and under different circumstances clearly were not considered to have a right to life, liberty, or happiness. Humans abused, murdered, and engaged even in mass annihilations without regret in most cases. We all know what happened to American Indians, for example, and what transpired during the hundreds of years of European colonialism dwarfs even the Holocaust.

It seems the decisions as to who should live and who should not were mostly made by people who lusted after what other people had: land, gold, spices, rubber, ivory, gems, oil, and so on. Those who could commandeer the largest and best armies simply took whatever they wanted by force, most often from lesser people who were often defenseless. Murder, arson, rape, torture, infanticide, (“nits make lice”), slavery, bombings and chemical weapons were all employed at times. Nothing was too horrible for some humans to inflict on others.

Interestingly enough, there seems to have been an (perhaps unconscious) underlying understanding that such things could not be done to other human beings, hence those that were targeted were, by definition, defined as non-human and called by other names: Niggers, Japs, Gooks, Krauts, Towel heads, Savages, Barbarians, Chinks, Jews, Wops, Spicks, the Yellow Peril, even Animals, and I don’t know what all else, but whatever, converted them to something other than ordinary human beings, thus to proclaim that all men are equal, entitled to something-or-other, has been, and remains utter nonsense.  One could argue that after the worst of colonialism and the Holocaust things have improved, but I would say, not much.

 President Obama has recently decided that Syrians apparently have no right to life and, if not helped out by President Putin, would certainly have bombed some of them. He may still do it, depending. President Assad has decided that many of his own subjects have no right to life and is apparently killing them at will. Israelis kill Palestinians pretty much at will, Sunnis kill Shiites and Hindus kill Muslims and Christians, and so it goes, as it has for thousands of years. Whether people have a right to life depends upon the whims and powers of essentially random people who make such judgments. Crazy, yes, but that is the human species. There is no overriding power that can prevent people from killing each other, and religions seem to make little or no difference, at times both condoning and prohibiting killing, depending upon who the victims are to be. Attempts to create international laws and organizations to prevent conflicts have failed as some people are so determined to kill others they pay no attention.

Personally, I think all people have a right to life, certainly some liberties, and the pursuit of happiness, although this last “right” is probably pretty recent and may not apply to most people. If you are struggling constantly just to survive and live I doubt the pursuit of happiness is of great concern. I suspect that even a hundred years ago the pursuit of happiness was not a goal for most people.

Jamaica Kinkaid

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Privatization and Society

Where did the idea of privatization come from? It is truly a strange idea for humans to embrace as it is the very antithesis of society, and humans do, of necessity, live in societies, or communities, or at least groups of one kind or another. This seems to be the result of the relative helplessness of human individuals trying to compete in nature. They band together for mutual protection and mutual help. It has always been so for humans whether the group or community is very small, like a primitive band or a peasant society, or very large such as a nation or other polity. Whatever this basic condition is all about I am pretty sure it was never intended to be organized to enable a very few individuals to become enormously wealthy at the expense of the majority of others.

But somewhere along the way and somehow or other some societies moved away from the basic goal of mutual protection and mutual help and citizens found themselves stratified into different classes based upon relative wealth and privilege. This seems to have had something to do with becoming agrarian rather than merely hunters and gatherers, having a surplus of food, and thus presenting an opportunity for some to benefit at the expense of others. I guess some of the more clever members of the groups managed to convince the more superstitious and gullible that they were actually in touch with the gods, or were themselves godlike, and could manage natural events like rainfall, disasters, and so on. Or perhaps some were better organizers than others, managed to create enough power to take over the management and distribution of resources, leaving the others at their mercy. They invented myths like the “Divine Right of Kings,” that allowed them to become wealthy and powerful as some kind of god-given privilege. The “masses” became dependent upon “royalty” to allow them their crusts of bread or whatever.
Eventually, when the disparity between the haves and have-nots became so grossly out of proportion, the masses  revolted, often violently, and made some form of progress towards a more egalitarian society, the best examples I suppose being the French and Russian revolutions. Sometimes important changes came about without actual revolutions as in the case in the U.S. when the “Robber Barons” were forced to give in to labor unions and a more equitable sharing of wealth. We find ourselves now in a similar situation with the disparity between the wealthy and the poor greater than ever before, and increasing year by year. There are now signs that the masses have had about enough of this disparity and are beginning once again to organize, strike, and demand a better share of the nation’s wealth.

At least part of this problem has resulted from the concept of privatization, an idea promoted by the insidious (and false) myth that private enterprise can do better than government when it comes to providing services to the public. Those who promote privatization do not do so because they believe they can actually do things better, they do it because they can profit from it. They argue that government is too big and too bureaucratic to be able to do things efficiently and well. But if you have ever had to deal with huge corporations or businesses, like, for example, banks, insurance companies, energy companies, telephone companies, even large Universities and such, you must know they can be even more inefficient, bureaucratic, and confusing than equivalent governmental agencies. Indeed, trying to cope with private companies can be and often is fraught with impossibilities and bureaucratic nonsense.

Privatization is fundamentally anti-social and adds the element of profit into public services that should not be run for profit. The idea that schools or prisons, for example, should be run to make a profit is simply absurd. In such cases profit is generated by hiring fewer employees, buying cheaper foods and other supplies, increasing classroom sizes, and so on. In the case of private prisons they also must have a generous supply of prisoners, that results in prison sentences for non-violent, mostly drug-related charges. You simply cannot privatize what are truly basic human needs, like Social Security,  health care, energy, education, prisons, freeways, bridges, and so forth. The proponents of privatization have even attempted to privatize water, and would privatize air if they could. Privatization represents the very opposite of what society and community are supposed to represent, it is an evil that should not be permitted in a decent society, and certainly not in one that purports to be a democracy.
 The privatization plan weakens Social Security and threatens our economic security by creating trillions of dollars in new debt.
Ruben Hinojosa

Friday, September 13, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

President Vladimir Putin did President Obama an incredibly important favor (as well as Syria, the Middle East, and probably the world) and for that he is being criticized, maligned, ridiculed, and insulted, even by people who should know better. People seem to hate him just because he is the leader of Russia, in the same way people hate Obama for no reason other than he is Black. As a member of the KGB, and as the leader of a huge and complicated country, Putin has no doubt done many things we might not approve of, just as I do not approve of what Bush/Cheney did and now Obama is doing. While I of course know very little of what all of these men have done I doubt that any of them are without plenty of blood on their hands.
Whatever you might think of Putin, there is little doubt that he gave Obama a chance to escape from another unnecessary, illegal, and possibly truly devastating war that he was about to blunder into with an absolutely hypocritical rationale.  Abbas might have used chemical weapons against his own people. I’m not sure what the phrase “his own people” adds to the situation as so many innocent people are dead from these senseless wars, and the U.S. has dumped tons of chemicals on innocent people for years, Agent Orange, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, at least.

Of course I do not know the real reason for wanting to attack Syria. It probably has to do with wanting to further contain and harm Iran, it might have to do with some pipeline Syria is involved with, it almost certainly has something to do with protecting the poor, helpless, Israelis (with their own oversupply of chemical and nuclear weapons).

In any case it seems most everyone is jumping on the hate and malign Putting bandwagon. I think this must be partly due to the fact that he spoke some truth to power and had the temerity to suggest that it was dangerous for any country to claim exceptionalism. I guess we just can’t tolerate the idea that Russia, as well as many other nations, do not perceive America as we do, hardly a surprise, but shocking? I wouldn’t think so.

Obama had put his foot in his mouth with his blather about Syria crossing a “red line” and was about to go to war to preserve his credibility, as if the U.S. has any credibility these days, either at home or world-wide. Having run roughshod over the world in recent years, changing regimes, “shock and awe,” torturing and bombing, perhaps things might now begin to change. If so, Putin will have played an important role in bringing our claimed exceptionalism to a just and well deserved end. As exceptionalism is mainly an ethnocentric fantasy to begin with its demise should not surprise. As I suggested previously, the only thing we are truly exceptional at is stupidly wasting our money on permanent wars, critical to sustaining our truly disgusting and basically evil military/industrial/political complex that not only rains bombs and chemicals on the innocent, but also takes food from the mouths of children, health from our citizens, and money from our pockets, in order to give it to corporations and the obscenely wealthy. That is exceptionalism writ large!

 “[American exceptionalism] is a reaction to the inability of people to understand global complexity or important issues like American energy dependency. Therefore, they search for simplistic sources of comfort and clarity. And the people that they are now selecting to be, so to speak, the spokespersons of their anxieties are, in most cases, stunningly ignorant.” 
Zbigniew Brzezinski

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ouch! How the Truth Hurts

President Vladimir Putin penned an Op Ed in the New York Times that seems to have outraged everyone but, perhaps, President Obama. In his interesting piece he makes a number of perfectly reasonable and basically true observations: he wanted to communicate to the American people as communications between Russia and the U.S. have not been as good as they should be (true), the U.S. should proceed with caution against Syria as the result of our attack might well lead to terrible consequences (true), an attack by us on Syria would be illegal and in violation of international law (true), no one wants to see the UN fail, as did the League of Nations (true), he gets along well with President Obama and respects him, and so on (perhaps true). I thought his remarks made sense and were pretty mild compared to what he might have said. But two of his remarks seem to have hit sore spots with many Congresspersons, (1) when he suggested it might have been the rebels who used chemical weapons (perhaps not true), and (2) he warned us that our belief in American exceptionalism could be dangerous (true).  

As to the first point, most people seem to believe that it was Assad that used them, although there is as yet no absolute proof of this allegation made repeatedly and commonly by Kerry, Obama, and others. On the other hand there is no proof the rebels used them either, but Putin is clearly in the minority here. I guess when he remarked that it was unwise for any nation to claim exceptionalism that was more than some could take. Boehner said he was insulted, Menendez said he wanted to vomit, McCain said it was an insult to the intelligence of every American, and so on. In a more sarcastic vein Reid suggested Putin just wanted to show off his Super Bowl ring. Senator Inhof complained about having to read this stuff (I wonder who made him do it, and I am pleased to learn that I guess he maybe can read. His abysmal ignorance about other things like global warming has made me wonder about this). Although I can’t cite them I’m pretty sure others made similar remarks even less intelligent than these.

Remember, Putin did not say the U.S. was not exceptional. He merely said it was dangerous for any nation to claim to be. If you reflect upon where our claim to exceptionalism has taken us in recent years I think Putin’s opinion is worth considering. I do not dispute that Americans have claimed to be exceptional for years, but I have little idea of what our so-called exceptionalism entails. Unless you mean we have an exceptional military establishment I doubt any other such claim. As far as I am concerned the only thing exceptional about the U.S. is its absolutely mindless surrender to a military/industrial/political complex that thrives on permanent war, overproduces all kinds of basically useless military equipment that the armed services in many cases don’t even want, and thus sucks money away from infrastructure, health care, education. Research, and everything else our nation desperately needs. We are exceptionally stupid in this regard.

What he said was mostly true, but they were things said, including many truths, that we did not want to hear. This has given some an excuse to vilify Putin himself, saying he cannot be trusted, he has done worse things than we have, he’s a known killer, and etc. I guess Bush/Cheney, and now Obama, are not killers, having killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan (and other places), and now sending drones to do even more killing. Our response to what Putin has said has been basically childish, something you might expect on a fourth grade play yard when someone told you that so-and-so doesn’t really like you. I thought his Op Ed was relatively gentle as such things go and I suggest we should take what Putin actually said, in his attempt to communicate with the American public, with the grain of sand it deserves but pay attention. And yes, he sometimes appears shirtless doing remarkable things, but I have never seen him cutting brush on an ex hog farm (claimed to be a ranch) while he should be attending to business. And he did a marvelous rendition of Blueberry Hill.   President Putin is the elected leader of an enormous and powerful nation, he should not be denigrated with cheap shots anymore than President Obama should. So lighten up, listen, and pay attention.

The ability to compromise is not a diplomatic politeness toward a partner but rather taking into account and respecting your partner's legitimate interests.

Vladimir Putin

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where Did I Miss Out?

I guess maybe it’s my dotage. I seem to have missed out somewhere along the way. I listened to President Obama’s speech but I do not seem to be any better informed than I was before. For example, he said, “There is no doubt chemical weapons were used.” That seems to be true, but I thought the controversy was over who used them, not that they were used. He then went on to describe in some detail how it was Assad fired the missiles, where he fired them, and there seemed to be no doubt Assad was the guilty party. The last I heard about it there was still some doubt about whether Assad used them or the rebels did. Did I miss out somewhere? Was I asleep when it was demonstrated “beyond a reasonable doubt?”

Then he said we could not just stand by and allow someone to use chemical weapons (neglecting to add, “Unless we use them ourselves”). And we have, certainly, used chemical weapons, white phosphorous, napalm, uranium, and who knows what all else.  He did not hesitate to use the image of the children writhing in pain on the hospital floors. Perhaps there is a qualitative difference between writhing in pain on hospital floors from the effects of chemical weapons and writhing on the floor with your limbs blown off, your intestines or brain spilling out, or other terrible wounds, but I doubt it, and in any case it could not ever be measured.

Now everyone is excited about the possibility accidently suggested by one of the three stooges (Kerry, Hagel, Obama) that Syria could avoid being attacked if they gave up their chemical weapons. Amazingly, t he Russians picked up this idea and said they would convince the Syrians to do it, and the Syrians, even more amazingly, said they would do it. We are all aflutter because they have now admitted they actually have chemical weapons (a fact that was surely known by most everyone, an admission comparable to Israel admitting they have nuclear bombs that everyone already knows). Of course in the middle of their civil war it will be impossible to go there, find and remove them, and verify the facts of the matter. How will anyone know if they give up some of them, all of them, or none of them? And yes, they will have signed the ban on chemical weapons agreement, but so have other countries that almost surely still have such weapons, as I am sure we and the Russians must.

Obama’s argument seems to be mostly couched in moral terms (as if there are any morals involved in international affairs). He made no mention of the suggestion that attacking Syria might be directly related to our desire to  harm Iran, or that it might have something to do with Syria’s involvement in a pipeline we do not want to see materialize. He emphasized that only the U.S. was in a position to launch an attack on Assad, obviously not true as other countries could do the same if they wished (but why should they when they can rely on moronic Uncle Sam to do it and save them time and money).

Far more important is the question of why does Assad and Syria have so many chemical weapons in the first place. It has been suggested recently they exist to protect Syria from Israel. That is, as Syria recognizes it cannot possibly match Israel military might (propped up, of course, by the U.S.), or compete on nuclear weapons, the one area that is relatively cheap and would represent a threat has to do with chemical weapons. I have no idea if this is true but it does make sense. And if it is true, asking them to give up such weapons is basically asking them to give up their protection from Israel. This would not be a minor matter. One question that might well come to mind is, what might the Russians do to convince them to give up their chemical weapons,  guarantee to defend them from the Israelis if the need were to arise? As Israel and the Russians have been pretty “palsy-walsy” of late this doesn’t necessarily make sense, but, then, neither does anything having to do with this Syrian mess at the moment.

Frankly, I have no idea what the hell is going on. No one could be further “out of the loop” than me. I don’t even know why I bother to think about this stuff. Perhaps idle minds are really the devil’s workshop. I am pretty confident, however, that whatever is going on has little or nothing to do with what we are being told, and even more confident that we have no moral ground to interfere. If Syrians or others want to foolishly and stupidly kill each other, so be it. We do plenty of killing on our own.

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” 

Monday, September 09, 2013


Claptrap (pretentious nonsense) would appear to be a perfect one word description of what is going on in the halls of Congress (and elsewhere, when it comes to politics and such). One doesn’t have to look far to spot it, just listen to the news or read a newspaper or magazine where you will find that claptrap seems to be the distinguishing feature. Claptrap seems to be the main, perhaps only, stock-in-trade for some (think Palin, Bachmann, Inhofe, Gohmert, King, Cruz, Cantor, Ryan, and many other Republicans.

The primary focus of the claptrap brigades at the moment seems to be focused on Syria President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem determined to attack Syria even though such an attack would be a war crime, and even though there is massive opposition to such an action on the part of the general U.S. public and most other countries. To this end Kerry keeps insisting we must do this because Assad has “used poison gas on his own people.”Kerry insists this is true in spite of the fact there is no clear evidence that Assad was responsible and a distinct possibility the rebels did it to force the U.S. into their civil war. Kerry points out that the use of such a weapon is forbidden under international law, it “crosses a red line,” and thus it must be punished. As such weapons have been regularly used by other countries, including the U.S., and nothing much has been done about it, I conclude that most of what Kerry says is little more than claptrap.
Claptrapery (if there is such a word) abounds and flourishes when it comes to the subject of Iran. There is no evidence that Iran is actually attempting to make a nuclear bomb, and our own intelligence tells us they are not, but this does not keep virtually everyone from asserting in one form or another that they are. Indeed, the basic assumption (speculation, if you will) seems to be that Iran is proceeding apace even though that is not an established fact. Iran has been (and is) portrayed as part of “an axis of evil,” a sponsor of terrorism, the mortal enemy of Israel that it wants to see blown off the map, and, in general, a pariah in the Middle East. That all of this is basically claptrap does not keep it from those (Israel and the Saudis) who want to see it eliminated from promoting it at every opportunity.

Nowhere is claptrap more prevalent than Republican claims about President Obama. In fact, there is just about nothing but claptrap when it comes to our 44th President. They have tried everything: he was not born in the U.S., he has not produced a genuine birth certificate, he is a socialist, communist, fascist, a dictator, a Muslim, a Kenyan, an incompetent, weak, ineffective, a poor leader, he has not produced jobs, Obamacare is the worst disaster to ever occur in the U.S., he was responsible for Katrina, and blah, blah, blah, all absolute claptrap. I am certain that if Republicans had cooperated with Obama in any way he would be seen in a very different light. Their attempt to destroy him and his Presidency has done immense harm to our nation. I don’t think it is far-fetched to say that history will show that racism brought our country to a virtual standstill during the Obama administration.

It seems to me that if ever there was anything approaching “truth and beauty” in our (pretend) democracy it met its death knell during the Bush/Cheney nightmare years when both truth and beauty gave way to utter claptrap. This is now found its way into our mainstream media and our national dialogue. Having embraced claptrap so eagerly we now find ourselves devoid of credibility, devoid of moral authority, devoid of ethics, and increasingly devoid of international respect, to say nothing of also being devoid of infrastructure, education, jobs, decent wages, a first-rate medical system, and even national self-esteem. Unregulated capitalism and global warming may well destroy us, but not to worry, there’s plenty of claptrap to go around.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Death and Dying, War and (no) Peace

Gandhi once said: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?” 

Similarly, one might well ask, it seems to me, what difference does it make whether you die by poison gas or some other method of modern warfare.  I’m sure that dying from a gas attack must be a particularly horrible way to die, but is it really any different or worse that being blown to bits by a mortar, howitzer, bomb, white phosphorous, a cluster bomb, agent orange, or a sniper? How about the radiation left behind by other weapons that kill more slowly over longer periods of time as is apparently the case in Iraq and other places we have destroyed? What about the terrible birth defects caused by such residue? Now we are being told that the world cannot stand by while Assad (presumably) has used poison gas on his own people. The world has stood by while more than 100,000 Syrians have already been killed by other means, a number that dwarfs the thousand or so apparently killed by the gas. I apologize for being so dense but I fail to see the difference. Perhaps the phrase “on his own people” makes an important difference (that is, of course, an appalling thing to do), but why would killing anyone else be any different when it comes to dying? Furthermore, the world, and especially the United States, has stood idly by for years while Israel has committed one international crime after another. While I don’t know for certain, I believe the “rules” against poison gas most probably originated during or just after WW I when their use was totally unprecedented. Given the weapons that now exist the distinction between poison gas and other more (respectable?) ways to kill people might appear naïve, or at least outdated.  This seems to me to be hypocrisy on a world-wide scale.

 And how might it relate to this (perhaps puzzling) statement by  Sir Winston Churchill,  "War, which used to be cruel and magnificent has now become cruel and squalid." If Churchill did not have poison gas and other modern weapons in mind, what did he have in mind? My natural cynicism leads me to believe that when “Winnie” was first soldiering in the British colonial troops against more or less helpless, poorly armed, and essentially defenseless “ethnics” around the world, and was involved in nobly expanding the Britiish Empire, he may well have thought it was all “magnificent,” but now, of course, they can often successfully fight back, a truly “squalid” situation that brings about very different results.

It is interesting, at least to me, that there are still individuals who seem to believe there is something “magnificent” or “romantic” about soldiering. I actually know, or at least have known individuals who think this and were (or are) eager to join up to “prove themselves” in battle. While this cannot be the only reason why so many individuals rushed to sign up to fight Hitler or Tojo, or Sadam or Osama, I am certain it was an attitude often related to their behavior. I had at least one uncle who was so eager to fight in World War I he rushed to join the Canadian army (and ended up being gassed and with no further illusions about the grandeur of war). I wonder how many of our young people who join our volunteer army might share this illusion only to be quickly disabused of such nonsense? Given the extraordinarily high rate of suicides among our returning troops it would seem the reality of war easily overcomes such expectations, if indeed they have them.

Perhaps now that we are involved in permanent wars, with no ends in sight, and more and more thousands come home in body bags or hopelessly crippled and suicidal, there will no longer be any illusions about the magnificence of war. This won’t keep some young people from enlisting as they have little choice with our surplus labor force, starvation wages, and enticing enlistment bonuses. Unfortunately there will always be a need for cannon fodder. “Join the Army, be as good as you can be!”

     He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

Friday, September 06, 2013

What "Credibility?"

We are being told over and over again that if we do not attack Syria we will lose all credibility. Can anyone seriously believe the U.S. actually has any credibility with most of the world? Our loss of credibility probably started quite a while back, but after the Bush/Cheney nightmare years, when no true statement was ever uttered by anyone in that godawful administration, and now when similar lies and deceit are still being practiced and secrecy and misinformation are the rule, the situation cannot be said to have improved.  We don’t have to attack Syria to establish credibility because our credibility has vanished completely.
And we don’t have to attack Syria to prove how stupid we are either as that, too, has been well established. The current controversy about Syria has already demonstrated, if there was any doubt in the first place, that our government (if we can even call it that anymore) has been in the hands of the most dishonest, hypocritical, confused bunch of bumbling imbeciles ever assembled in one place. Our credibility, after Iraq, has been so damaged that even some of the imbeciles themselves don’t believe what Kerry and others are telling us.

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the “war” on Syria (I know, we’re not supposed to call it that as we are being reassured it is not a war) never occurred because of eventual loss of interest? I mean what with the constant bombardment of pro’s and con’s, the indecision, confusion, differences of opinion, arguments about how many we should kill (just a few or lots) or not kill, who they will be, whether what we do will make any differences, what might happen after we do “it,” whatever it turns out to be, and so on and on it might well be that inertia will set in, everyone will be so bored about hearing about it, that it might never happen. It might never happen anyway if Congress doesn’t approve, but it might happen even if they do disapprove. Wheeeee !  It’s just one great big jumbled mass of buzzing, blooming confusion:  will we or won’t we, should we or shouldn’t we, can we or can’t we, do we or don’t we, why we or not, and so on. Of course the fact that it will be illegal and against international law as Syria is not a threat to us seems to be seriously ignored. That is not surprising as international law doesn’t apply to the U.S. or Israel, only to other countries. Other countries use improper weapons, ours are never improper, especially agent orange, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, and worse. And of course St. Ronnie didn’t hesitate to supply poison gas to Iraq when we were helping them war against Iran. We do not have war criminals, other countries have war criminals (even though we have a few who strut around boasting of their war crimes).  Rest assured, our credibility is not on the line. It doesn’t exist.

 Of course I know nothing about it, as an ordinary citizen of the U.S. it is my place in the scheme of things to know nothing. But if I had to guess (as I do) I’d guess President Putin is closer to the truth of the matter than we are. It does seem reasonable to me that Assad would have been truly stupid to have deliberately used poison gas, first of all because he’s winning, and second, because he would have known he was risking international intervention (putting it mildly). The Sarin, or whatever it was, was quite likely used by the rebels, so while there is no doubt poison gas was used, there is considerable doubt as to who used it (except in the minds of Kerry, Hagel, Obama, and others who knew immediately it was Assad (who conveniently represents Iran, the ultimate target). It seems pretty clear even to me (in my ignorance) that the U.S., Israel, and the Saudi’s will do anything to damage Iran, as we have all been trying to do for years. Iranians are not Arabs, and they are not Sunnis, and they might have their own legitimate (outrageous?) national interests in the Middle East, where they live (rather than our presumably more “legitimate” interests)  from thousands of miles away. Thus they are the enemies of Arabs and Sunnis (and the mostly imaginary enemies of Israel and the U.S).

"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

 Sir Winston Churchill

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Utter Absurdity of it All

Definition of ABSURD from my online dictionary:
: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous absurd
: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life :meaningless absurd

I realize the dictionary is perhaps not the most precise and definitive authority for the meaning of any given word, but the above is good enough for the moment.

I have always assumed (at least as long as I can remember) that humans are social creatures who by nature live in social groups. They do this for their own mutual protection and cooperation in the face of natural or other potential problems. That is, they look out for each other and attempt to maintain their “society” for their mutual benefit.

Each society operates with a complex system of beliefs, values, customs, and mutually shared ways of behaving, complicated “webs of meaning,” developed, shared, and understood over time by the members, and transmitted extra-genetically from one generation to the next.  This “culture” functions  to  promote their well-being over time, to educate, or “enculturate” each successive generation, to delineate the general parameters of right and wrong, proper and improper, to preserve the overall character of their society, and most of all to provide its members with the basic necessities of life.

 Perhaps this is a naïve idea of how the human condition is basically supposed to be. But if it is even approximately true I would argue that our contemporary socio-cultural situation here in the United States has deviated so far as to have become absurd. And I mean “ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, and incongruous,” as well as “having no rational or orderly relationship to human life.” We have developed what I must consider a full-blown and highly developed “culture of the absurd.”

When a handful of individuals in a single family control more wealth than 40% of the rest of the population, that is absurd. When a few billionaires can more or less bribe enough of our leadership to do their bidding rather than act for the common good, that, too, is absurd. When half the population is living at poverty level, and individuals who work full-time cannot earn enough even to support their families, that is absurd. When millions of individuals in the so-called “greatest nation on earth” have no health insurance, and other interests work to keep it that way, that is absurd. When a culture forces its children to go deeply into debt for their education, contrary to the very survival and well-being of the nation itself, that is absurd. When a nation refuses to act to prevent perhaps the most important threat to human existence ever, that is absurd. When it fouls its own nest and chokes from exhaust and strangles from its own waste,  that, too, is absurd. When a nation spends half its annual income on “defense” from purely imaginary enemies, and shamefully neglect s its own infrastructure, that is absurd. Finally, for the moment, when we are about to illegally attack a smaller country that is no threat to us, for reasons that are quite likely not even true, that is absurd. And to ignore more than 100,000 deaths by bombs, small arms, and such, and focus on about 1000 from chemicals, when we ourselves have used chemicals, is perhaps the ultimate absurdity.

Culturally our most important media is little more than a wasteland of complete and utter nonsense that exists mainly to provide an excuse for more and more advertising. Our news has now become infotainment with an apparent obsession with various real and imaginary scandals, to say nothing of “nip slips” and “wardrobe malfunctions.” And we hear far more about erections and orgasms, new drugs for imaginary health problems, how to lose weight, and “ask your doctor” about…  than any useful information about anything.
Think about it, do you really believe society exists so that a very few can amass obscene fortunes at the expense of the vast majority, that so many families are supposed to endure poverty so a few can enjoy more wealth than they can even count, that health care should be just for a privileged few, that money itself can beget more money with no effort on the part of those who “have?” Our culture and society have become completely absurd, so absurd that apparently absurdity has become the norm rather than the exception. Our own lives have become so inconsequential and unpleasant, so “unreal,” we now have “reality” shows on TV. People, I guess, actually watch this unending drivel.

I confess I think I have “had it.” Wherever I look I see just more absurdities. Short of a major “cultural revolution” I cannot see much, even any, hope. The United States as a nation is failing. Indeed, the human species is failing. Happily I will not be around to witness the bitter end.

  Business practices and how we treat the planet are also in desperate need of re-humanization.
Simon Mainwaring