Monday, March 31, 2014

This is Serious

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Killing us Softly

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

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

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

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

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

From  Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Powder Puff "War"

I cannot help but wonder what is going on in the current Russian move to reintegrate Crimea, a feat that will shortly be completed. People in the West claim to be surprised and are expressing their outrage while at the same time implicitly recognizing they can’t do much of anything to stop Putin from getting his way.
First of all I believe most everyone with any knowledge of Russia could not have been  surprised. The UK and the US basically got caught with their “hands in the cookie jar,” trying not at all subtly to lure Ukraine into NATO or at least into the European sphere and away from Russia. In their greed to accomplish this they collaborated with neo-nazis, anti-semites, and anti-Russians. They could also not truly be surprised that Putin acted quickly and predictably to protect the major Russian Naval Station in Crimea, Russia’s only warm water base. Nor, I suspect, could anyone have been very surprised that Putin would act to return Crimea to Russia, especially as it had been rather whimsically given to Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev (himself a Ukrainian) as an act of (possibly drunken) goodwill.

Whether surprised or not the various parties involved in this dispute of course had to react to what would obviously become a fait accompli. Obviously no one wanted to go to war with Russia over Crimea, but they had to do something, so they decided on sanctions, apparently to save face. It seems to me the sanctions applied to date are little more than symbolic, focusing on a few individuals with ties to Putin, or conversely a few individuals tied to Obama. Although Obama has threatened even more sanctions, and more serious ones, they may or may not materialize and most probably will not make much of a difference to Putin or Russia. This is partly true because Germany and the UK have vital interests in Russia for various reasons, not the least of which have to do with oil, natural gas, and massive trade agreements. To me the whole show seems little more than a charade, a slap on the wrist at most. As Obama and Putin had at least a working relationship with respect to Syria and Iran, and Obama has been often on the phone with Putin, I wonder if in fact they do not have some kind of “gentleman’s agreement” about sanctions that for obvious reasons could not be made public. I am not usually a conspiracy buff but these rather useless sanctions are suspicious.

In fact I hope Putin and Obama may be acting in this rather mild way, as that would indicate they do not truly want hostilities to go too far, what with nuclear bombs and all lurking in the background. Obama, of course, is on the receiving end of much criticism from the right for being weak, wearing “mom jeans,” and so on. The Neocons lust for war, as usual, or at least another “cold war” (it’s good for business, you know, and there is no doubt business had a hand in the coup that started it all).

I find it difficult to believe that Obama personally had a hand in the coup. I think it is more likely that the CIA and others may have acted on their own, doing their usual duty for the corporations that lust over Ukraine. But whatever one may think of Obama in other respects I believe he should be given much credit for insisting on diplomacy rather than the usual show or threat of military force. He resisted calls for military action in Syria, has insisted on diplomacy with Iran (resisting the Israeli demand for force), and now seeks a diplomatic solution for the current Crimean crisis (he has to say and do something even though he must know Crimea will not be given up by Putin and will become part of Russia, as it should be. Personally I am delighted to know this battle is being fought with powder puffs rather than military means. I don’t think we really need another “Charge of the Light Brigade.”

   “Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria, to refute the rhetoric of the Cold War and to accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs. Like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.”

Vladimir Putin

Monday, March 17, 2014

Me and Kati (14)

So Kati, what do you think about Russia reclaiming the Crimean Peninsula? What? You ask if it will keep you from eating, sleeping, and playing outside. No, I don’t think so. Does it really make any difference to us if Crimea is part of Russia or the Ukraine? No, I don’t think so. So what is all the fuss about? Well, Kati, it’s sort of like this. When the U.S. was trying to get Russia to agree to the reconciliation of West and East Germany, when George Bush senior was President, we promised Putin that we would not expand NATO to the borders of Russia. Of course we quickly broke that promise and proceeded to surround Russia with NATO affiliated nations. Ukraine was not yet one of them although it was being courted to that end. So…when the EU and the US staged a coup to get rid of the democratically elected President of the Ukraine, and installed a bunch of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites who had participated in the coup as leaders, who also had obvious anti-Russian sentiments, Putin, quite understandably, acted to protect the Russian interests in the Crimea, particularly their large warm water naval base. And, as Crimea had been generously awarded to the Ukraine by Khrushchev (reportedly after a drunken party), although it had been part of Russia for a very long time, Putin saw an opportunity to get it back.

The West, that is the EU and the US, are outraged and threatening sanctions against Russia for violations of the Ukrainian constitution and international law, conveniently ignoring the fact that we have done the same thing repeatedly. Our Secretary of State, John Kerry, apparently with the intellectual capacity of a baboon, hypocritically, said Russia could not do such a thing, as it was wrong to invade another country without provocation, completely ignoring our own unjustified invasion of Iraq and our meddling in the affairs of other countries all over the world. Kati, it is such fun. Putin is basically thumbing his nose at us, unconcerned about sanctions, and holding all the Daddy and Mommy cards. Whether Crimea becomes part of Russia or simply an independent entity doesn’t matter as it will now be in the hands of Russia rather than Ukraine. Is this really going to affect our relations with Russia in the long run (or even the shorter run), probably not. So who cares? Ah, only those whose goal is to attain hegemony over the entire world, those huge international corporations who, by using the U.S. military, believe they can  accomplish an empire the likes of which has never been seen.

But Kati, do you want a world controlled by a few huge international corporations rather than  the people who live and work in it, a world in which the citizens are reduced to the status of worker ants toiling for little reward while the 1% live in untold luxury? I don’t, and I am absolutely opposed to an American empire which is merely a front for such plan. Hopefully, we are just beginning to see the American empire fail with other nations now beginning to say “no” to our demands. Putin is a great example, but South America is also rebelling, as are other countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and so on. The sanctions so far proposed against Russia are laughable, and in spite of our threats will probably not get much more serious. Putin will ultimately win, as he should. Germany, the strongest nation in Europe, will have too much to lose by sanctioning Russia. They do too much business there, and besides, German know-how, in conjunction with Russia’s resources, will inevitably become too powerful a combination for anyone to challenge.

Kati, sometimes I wish you could talk, but sometimes I’m glad you don’t. I am worrying about you of late as you seem to have an eating disorder, wanting to eat whenever I enter the kitchen no matter how recently you have been fed. But more importantly, your periodic psychotic breaks seem to be getting weirder, now taking place in the bathtub. Kati, there is nothing in the bathtub, nothing, no mice, no bugs, no nothing, no place to hide, nothing to do but chase your tail. Perhaps it is symbolic of American foreign policy. I wonder if we will ever understand that you cannot expect successful diplomacy and compromise if you consistently start by demanding your opponents agree to all of your demands before you will even talk with them. This hasn’t worked with Iran, won’t work with Russia, won’t work with the Palestinians, Venezuela, and is now becoming laughable because everyone knows our obnoxious threats of force (“all options are on the table”) are increasingly useless.

Capitalism has destroyed our belief in any effective power but that of self interest backed by force.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Liars, Scoundrels, Poltroons and Hypocrites

I made up this title two or three days ago. I was going to comment on the annual CPAC meeting. You  know, the most recent gathering of the largest group of the most morally, ethically, and intellectually bankrupt members of what used to be the Republican party. I did not, of course, actually watch this hilarious display of petulant bombast, but as some of it was played on MSNBC, I have a good idea of what transpired there.

While I believe the description above is a pretty accurate account of the various speakers and participants, I find I cannot bring myself to actually discuss them or the meeting. I am just plain tired of having to worry about the activities of this collection of morons, imbeciles, and know-nothings who, having no ideas or solutions to our myriad problems, are united only by their collective hatred of President Obama and everything he attempts to do. I have developed such an utter contempt for them I don’t believe they are worthy of any more attention. Some of them probably should have been carted off to the “loony bin” long ago.

Even so, being contemptuous of anyone makes me feel uncomfortable, even though I think they have earned my contempt. Things between Republicans and Democrats have not always been so bad. When I was a teen, for example, I was a Democrat, because my father voted that way. My best friend was a Republican because his father was a Republican. We did not dislike each other, nor did we fight over politics. This may well have been because we didn’t really know much of anything about politics, but in any case we remained close friends for life in spite of our political identifications. We knew that Republicans favored business and Democrats favored labor but that, I think, was about all.

As we grew older and more aware of politics we did argue at times, but we never had contempt for each other. The fact that some voted for Truman and others for Dewey was just accepted and the outcome of the election was itself just accepted. I don’t recall any bitterness or hate involved. I truly did not want either Nixon or Reagan elected but I never felt contempt for those who did. I did not want the senior Bush as President but it was for me not a particularly big deal. It seemed to me that whether the President was a Republican, like Ford or Eisenhower, or a Democrat like Kennedy, things stayed pretty much the same. I did not have truly strong feelings about it one way or another even though I remained a Democrat throughout.

It was only during the Bush/Cheney years that my contempt for Republicans began to grow, and it has clearly intensified since then. What Republicans did to President Clinton I felt was disgusting. While Clinton behaved scandalously in his personal life they should never have tried to impeach him, and the methods they used were absolutely revolting. No President’s personal life had ever before become the subject of such an inquiry, the fact that Kennedy was a far more serious womanizer than probably any previous President made this quite clear. The Starr report was a disgraceful document better fitted to the National Enquirer than anywhere else.

Things have been all downhill since then. When the Supreme Court made George W. Bush President while Republican Brown Shirts were interfering with the vote count it was obvious the citizens were no longer in charge. And with Karl Rove leading what became little more than a criminal attempt to keep Republicans in charge forever, using means better suited to the Mafia than politics, things became worse and worse. And since President Obama was elected what was once a viable political party simply refused to cooperate in governing entirely, devoting themselves to denigrating and humiliating the elected President of the United States. Congress has been corrupted, bribery is considered a normal part of the political process, and any serious Republican interested in governing has become persona non grata in the once respectable Republican Party. Our country is now run by huge international corporations and their bought and paid for toadies, mostly, but not exclusively, in the Republican Party. While Democrats are also partly responsible for this current state of affairs, it has been engineered primarily by Republicans. Like my friend and I recognized way back when, Republicans favored business, Democrats favored labor. And so it is today. What was once a simple matter-of-fact difference has become a nightmare.

   “Republicans stand for raw, unbridled evil and greed and ignorance smothered in balloons and ribbons.” 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Moral Irrelativity

You are no doubt aware of the question of moral relativity. That is, the view that morality in one culture may not be the same morality that exists in other cultures, morality is relative to its cultural context.  Usually, I think, people assume that moral codes exist, and that where they exist, people generally follow them fairly consistently. One could also argue that morality is also situational. That is what might be considered moral in one situation might not be so considered in a different situation. It is, for example, generally immoral to kill someone, but not during wars. Similarly, one could argue that some wars, being necessary, are also moral, or at least more moral than others.

Unfortunately, many people in the United States appear to have adopted a stance in which morality is simply irrelevant to most any situation. The current situation in the Ukraine is an interesting example of morality being considered basically irrelevant. The European Union, in conjunction with the United States, apparently engineered a violent coup that forced a democratically elected President to flee and replaced him with someone of their own choosing. The fact that the outgoing President may well have been terrible does not change the fact that he was democratically elected. The newly appointed acting President and his cronies are actively anti-Russian in their beliefs and want to join the European Union rather than stay closer to Russia. There are good reasons to believe their policies will be harmful to Russians living in the Ukraine, especially to those living in the east of the country that identify more with Russia. There is also a potential threat to the Russian Naval Base in the Crimea. Because of these fears Putin sent troops into Crimea to protect Russian citizens and his Naval Base. Do not forget that Crimea was historically part of Russia for a very long time.

The West, including the U.S. is outraged, calling Putin’s act one of terrible aggression against another nation, a violation of international law, an example of Putin’s ambitious attempt to reinstate a Soviet Union, and so on. Ignore the unbelievable hypocrisy involved for the moment. I would argue in this case that although Putin may have violated international law and other agreements between the two countries, he had every right to do so. Actually, it appears that he was invited by the Crimean leaders to send troops, so describing this as an invasion or an act of aggression is not exactly the case. It seems to me he did not act immorally even though the reaction of the West would suggest that he did. Interestingly, no one as far as I know has actually mentioned the question of morality per se, either with respect to Putin or the  coup that brought the situation about. Notice that in this so called aggressive invasion no one has died, no battles have ensued, and  Putin has said he will wait to see the outcome of the coming elections. In this case I would argue that Putin did the right (moral) thing whereas the leaders of the coup certainly did not.

Contrast if you will the “moral outrage” directed at Putin over his “aggressive invasion” of Ukraine with the behavior of the Israeli government vis-à-vis the Palestinians. For years the Israeli apartheid government has been engaged in ethnic cleansing and even a kind of slow genocide, to say nothing of daily discriminations and humiliations with respect to Palestinians. They have systematically stolen Palestinian land and water, built many illegal settlements, bulldozed Palestinian orchards and houses, assassinated Palestinian leaders at will, and repeatedly violated international law. They have made no secret of the fact they do not want a Palestinian state and prefer to maintain the status quo. They have done everything possible to make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state impossible. There is no doubt they have engaged in war crimes and have been repeatedly condemned by the international community. Not only is there no moral outrage over this consistent criminal behavior on the part of Israel,  the U.S. has in fact condoned it, defended it, and generously and shamefully supported it to the tune of billions of dollars per year.   

I conclude from this that at worst the United States government is morally bankrupt, or at best considers morality to be simply irrelevant when it comes to foreign policy. “Might makes right,” human decency, fairness and objectivity have nothing to do with it. I wonder how and when the American “Empire” will collapse, because surely it will.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Out of Control

I know very little about what is happening in the world. The only information I get comes from television news and magazines. This means, in effect, I know virtually nothing, and what I think I know is probably wrong. I should not write about things I know so little about. However, I notice ignorance does not stop anyone and everyone else from commenting on things they seems to know little about. So…

It seems to me, that as others have observed, American foreign policy is completely out of control. The recent coup in the Ukraine is an obvious case in point. It seems the European Union and the United States collaborated in a violent coup that removed a democratically elected President from power, forced him to flee to Russia, and replaced him with a person of their own choosing. In other words, just another case of our patented, “regime change” we have been using for years around the world and have been using very much lately in the Middle East. Vladimir Putin, no dummy when it comes to such things, immediately sent Russian troops into the Crimean Peninsula to protect Russian national interests, including but not limited to, the large Russian naval base there. The U.S. and the E.U. are outraged and accusing Putin of aggression against the nation of Ukraine. Apparently in the eyes of the U.S. and the E.U. organizing a violent coup against a democratically elected President is not considered aggression. Ukraine, by the way, was historically part of Russia for a very long time, a majority of Ukrainians speak Russian, and many Ukrainian citizens consider themselves to be Russian. Ukraine is a near neighbor to Russia and is obviously within the Russian sphere of influence. I am not aware that the U.S. shares a border with Ukraine and is, in fact, thousands of miles from there. What goes on there should be none of our business.

But, of course, everything that goes on in the world becomes our business, when the goal of the neocons is to control the world, and force all nations by threats of military action to make sure their national interests do not conflict with ours. Many, if not most nations, usually comply as they cannot stand up to the U.S. Russia is an entirely different manner. Putin will do whatever he wants and no one will realistically be able to stop him. It is not at all clear at the moment just what he will do. He could simply just take over the Crimean Peninsula, or he could even take over all of the Eastern Ukraine, perhaps even all of Ukraine. He might well do none of these things and wait impatiently for the new government to form in Kiev so that negotiations might begin.
No doubt you are aware that the western part of Ukraine wants to join with the E.U. whereas the eastern part wants to identify with Russia. As the new government in Kiev is basically anti-Russian, apparently also anti-Semitic, and as one first step they changed the status of the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, I believe Putin has every right to be suspicious of what they may try to do. They are surely attempting to lessen Russian influence.

I cannot tell you why, but my belief is that President Obama, although compelled to object to the Russian move, was most probably not personally involved in this coup. I think he has lost control of the State Department and the Military, who seem to have taken over and are actively following the same neocon strategy that Bush/Cheney favored that led to the war on Iraq. This is why we are actively involved in Syria, Venezuela, and several elsewheres, and precisely what the neocons would like us to be doing in Iran. It is to Obama’s credit that he managed to not attack Syria and so far has resisted demands to attack Iran. I wonder if he will manage to control Bush’s foreign policy or if finally he will be ignored and shunted aside. His biggest mistake was to keep in office many of the same officials that did the bidding of Bush/Cheney and, among other things, made the worst foreign policy blunder in history by attacking Iraq.

I am beginning to believe that John Kerry is little more than a buffoon who enjoys flying around the world telling everyone how they should behave, mindlessly repeating our mantra, “All options are on the table” as he goes. The MSM and the Administration can badmouth Putin all they want, and they certainly do at every opportunity, but Putin will have the upper hand in his own backyard. As he controls so much of the oil and natural gas Europe depends on, sanctions against Russia will probably not work very well or for very long.    
Can you believe that Kerry actually said, “It is really a stunning, willful choice by President Putin to invade another country…You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” One can only wonder where he has been for the past few years, or if he is just another mindless American foreign policy idiot like John McCain and Lindsey Graham.