Monday, June 30, 2014

The Forever of Our Discontent

What is it with the human species that we apparently cannot ever let things be as they are? As far as I know no other species acts as we do. They do not proselytize nor do they attempt to impose their particular beliefs or behaviors on others. It is true, no doubt, that in some cases one group takes over territory belonging to another group, or true that one animal takes over the harem of another, and so on, but these are acts of nature programmed in to the nature of animal societies. Humans, it seems, cannot let things be as they are, or at least so it seems. What would the world be like if humans had just let each other alone?

Over the course of human history and evolution there were developed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of unique human cultures. It is difficult to imagine that in any of these the members were living “lives of quiet desperation.” It is true that looking back at some of them we might think they were poor and squalid, but surely the members thought their customs and beliefs were basically fine as they would not have known any other life. Certainly they did not wait around for some other people to come and change their way of life, either by force or otherwise. One has to assume they lived their lives as they were, more or less content that that was what life was like.

It appears to me that individuals and human groups have seldom if ever been left alone to just enjoy life as they knew it. What might have been, for example, if the Pope, back in 1452, had resisted the King of Portugal and not authorized his request:

In the first Papal Bull on 18 June 1452, at the request of the Portuguese King, the Pope authorized the King of Portugal “…to attack, conquer and subdue Saracens, pagans and other unbelievers who were inimical to Christ; to capture their goods and territories; to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to transfer their lands and properties to the King of Portugal and his successors.” (Boxer 1969:21)

With this authorization we know what the Portuguese accomplished in Africa and all the way to India and South America, setting the stage for colonial enterprise and plunder all around the world. The quest for slaves, ivory, gold, silver, rubber and other loot followed, unleashing a flood of savagery the “savage world” had never before experienced.  Virtually all of Christianized Europe engaged in this massive and terrible onslaught, slaving, killing, torturing, and stealing wherever they went. Obviously they were not content with what they had. Their discontent was, I suppose, driven by greed and a lust for power, even as human behavior is now.

This is not to say that the “savages” themselves were not discontented. It seems no human individual or group has ever been completely content to just let thing be; they fought over territory, raided to capture cattle, horses, pigs, and other items of local value, and sometimes even human heads and women. There were times, of course, when they were momentarily content, but contentment seems not to be very characteristic of humans, always looking for new horizons, new conquests, new experiences, mountains to climb, oceans to cross, artistic expressions, and constant innovations.

I suppose one could argue that permanent discontent has something to do with our large brains and intelligence, in which case perhaps large brains are not entirely desirable. Humans have at times been distinguished from other creatures because of tool making (no longer a useful standard), or because of having fire, or “x” number of cubic centimeters of brain, or language (also no longer entirely useful standard). It seems to me that if there is one defining feature of humankind it may well be discontent. No one ever seems entirely happy or content with what they have, at least not in American culture, and if there ever were contented people they were soon converted to discontent when they discovered what others had that they did not have. For many “savages” (a ridiculous term that does not really separate one person or group from another) tin cans and glass beads became immediately desirable, along with metal knives, pots and pans, and other objects of worlds they had not previously known. And, of course, for humans one thing leads to another...and so here we are back in Iraq…
Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Me and Kati (18): Tired of the BS

Kati, I ran into our friend Alonzo (not his real name) a few days ago. He is about to retire. Alonzo is about the only person that has read this blog regularly since its beginning ten years ago. He might not have been so devoted in the past year or so as I have ceased to write it except intermittently. In any case he informed me he will not be reading it any longer as he is going to give up the internet upon his retirement. Alonzo is a very intelligent man, he gave up watching television twelve years ago, recognizing what an utter wasteland it has become, and now he feels the same way about the internet. The overuse of commercials is one reason he gave up television, along, of course, with its obsessive concern with providing “infotainment.” The internet is presently going the same route with far too many commercials and increasingly insipid content. In short, Alonzo is tired of bullshit.

Kati, I find myself in the same frame of mind. The commercials are insulting enough but the incidental bullshit that accompanies them is worse. We no longer get any real news, just reports of what our MSM think we should hear, and it is invariably bullshit, bullshit from top to bottom. Nothing we are told about Ukraine, Russia, and Putin is accurate as the current problems there are entirely of our own, NATO, and the UK’s making. Our criminal enterprise along with Israel, at the Palestinian’s expense, is shameful, but of course a brutal, racist, Israel can do no wrong (and who cares about the Palestinians anyway). The terrible crisis in Iraq is again a result of our own stupid, illegal, and unconstitutional destruction of that country. To hear John Kerry talk about it is enough to make you gag: “we expended billions of dollars and American lives to give Iraq a chance to become a democratic country,” and blah, blah, blah, all bullshit (I believe Kerry may be our worst Secretary of State ever).

Our Sublime Court tells us that money is speech and corporations are persons and the MSM lets them go unchallenged on this unadulterated bullshit. The Koch brothers with their absolutely obscene wealth are blatantly trying to buy the United States and the media and Congress approves while at the same time trying to penalize the poor. I swear, Kati, our world has become nothing but constant unremitting bullshit.
I wish I had Alonzo’s intelligence and strength of character. I know I should give up television as an absolute wasteland of insulting commercials, insulting shows, and insipid content. I know the internet is being taken over by commercials and nonsensical content, and may be on the way to becoming even worse. I know I should ignore the mountains of bullshit that will come our way between now and November, 2014 and 2016, I know there is no truth anywhere anymore, that the candidates are picked for what they will do for the obscenely wealthy and corporations, that there is really little difference between them, that our democracy is a farce, that our foreign policy is based on greed and exploitation, and I also know that no matter who is elected to office in Congress or the White House will truly make much of a difference.

But Kati, this is our world, the world we now live in, the only world we have. The choice is clear although neither pleasant nor practical. To paraphrase one of the worst human beings ever, clearly in the Cheney category, Donald Rumsfeld, “We have to live in the world we have, not the world we would like to have.” Great advice from one of the world’s greatest  bullshitters ever. So, my darling Kati, what do we do? We could move farther North, find a great hole in the ground, pull a rock over our heads and ignore the world, or we can continue living in the phony world of absolutely unremitting bullshit that surrounds and mocks us now on a daily basis. Do not forget Kati, we will soon have another attempt to vote for either tweeldee or tweeldum, probably Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, or whomever. A completely irrelevant exercise proving there are suckers born every minute and two or more politicians to “take them.”

 “Powerlessness is an excruciating pain; it is torture insurmountable.” 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Like, Who Cares?

Why does the MSM keep offering us the likes of Sarah Palin, John McCain, and Dick Cheney? Who cares what these rightist nitwits have to say? I suppose there might be a few people somewhere, like Idaho for example, that might still want to listen to them, but I am pretty sure the vast majority of Americans no longer care what they have to say. You might think the MSM would like to appeal to the largest population possible, but they keep giving us more and more opinions from those whose biases and mindlessness are already apparent. Indeed, you might well wonder why we have to listen anymore to Republicans who, we know, will always be ready to oppose anything Obama is for. If you know what Obama is for you already know what Republicans will be against.

I guess Sarah Palin is the best example of someone we no longer need to hear from, a basic know-nothing who had her fifteen minutes of fame, courtesy of John McCain, whose decision to choose her as his running mate has to rank up there with one of the most stupid, self-serving, ridiculous, and contemptuous political moves of all time. You might wish she would simply disappear into the forgotten history of failed Vice-Presidential candidates of all time, but no, we still have to hear from that opinionated, fishmonger’s wife’s, shrill voice, with the regularity of anytime she can get in front of a camera which is all too often. You do have to give her some credit, of course, for advancing mindlessness to a near art form.

John McCain is another one we truly do not need to hear from any longer. If he is not entirely senile he is at least still embarrassed by being defeated for the Presidency by a (gasp) Black man. He now apparently feels that he must oppose President Obama on everything, even if that means delivering contradictory opinions from time to time. Mention a problem or a country anywhere in the world and you know his solution will be “bomb-bomb-bomb.” A jingoist of the first rank you know he believes America is exceptional, always right, more moral, stronger, and should be entitled to rule the known earth.

Dick the Slimy is probably the absolutely worst individual we have to listen to thanks to the MSM.  For someone who should be on trial in the Hague for his obvious war crimes, and someone who has been proven wrong on virtually everything he has claimed, he does not hesitate to offer his poisonous advice at every opportunity, and the MSM gives him plenty of opportunity. He may well lack any moral compass but he certainly doesn’t lack for chutzpa. Please MSM, don’t give him any more airtime, and that goes for his bloody-handed colleagues like Wolfowitz, Rice, and the rest of the torturing warmongers that all ought to be in jail.

I believe in free speech and I do not believe in censorship, but I also believe in editorial supervision. Why the editorial boards of the MSM think the majority of their viewers want to listen to the opinions of has-beens, never-weres, failed pundits, the simple minded and assorted failures I do not know, but I, for one, would prefer to never hear from any of these characters again. At least our borderline retarded ex-President has the decency to just “lay low” and paint pictures. Thank you Mr. President, it’s the best thing you have ever done.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Inexcusable Ignorance

You might think that public figures, especially those who believe they might run for President, should acquaint themselves with the facts before pontificating on important topics. It is obvious they do not. Take the recent case of Marco Rubio, for example, who announced publicly that he does not believe global warming has anything to do with human activity in spite of what the scientists say. The facts of global warming are well known and easily available by now, fully 97% of the world’s scientists agree on the matter, the evidence is also all around us at the moment. Still Rubio doesn’t believe it. I suppose Rubio has a right to believe any nonsensical thing he wants, but he should not be permitted to run for any important or influential office, especially President, as his opinion on this matter will get us all killed. It could be the case that Rubio actually has considered the facts, either researched them himself or had his aides do it (which I very much doubt) and still concludes he doesn’t believe it. He still doesn’t believe it because he doesn’t trust or believe in science. If this is truly the case he has no business in any position of influence, authority, or power.

Rick Perry is a similar case in point. He recently indicated that homosexuality was more or less a choice and that it might be cured. That homosexuality is not a matter of choice but a matter of genetics is by now well established. Perry, like Rubio, fancies himself Presidential, but has obviously not bothered to study the facts about something he claims is so. Again, the facts are easily available. Perry and Rubio can both be said to be inexcusably ignorant. Even worse they seem to be willfully ignorant. Such individuals have no business in government, assuming that government is supposed to further and protect both individual and national interests. It is absolutely inconceivable to me that anyone who professes not to believe in science could be elected President in the 21st century.

How is it that this kind of anti-science inexcusable ignorance is even tolerated in a world fraught with such dangers and so dependent upon rapidly changing technologies and information? Magic, myth, and fairy tales are not sufficient for dealing with the real and contemporary world. I suggest this kind of inexcusable ignorance is tolerated in the United States because, in fact, people like Rubio and Perry do not exist in a vacuum, they are merely swimmers in a veritable ocean of inexcusable ignorance. The ocean of ignorance we currently must swim in has come about slowly over the past couple of decades. It can be seen in the deplorable nature of our public schools, the low status and salaries of teachers, the privatization of schools, the efforts of Christian fundamentalists, and the general ethos of anti-intellectualism that has characterized our culture for some time. We hear of “pointy-headed intellectuals,” the derogation of teachers (“them as can’t do, teach”), budget cuts at all levels, and the conversion of our Universities and Colleges into, basically, trade schools. The idea of education or knowledge for its own sake has long since disappeared. The United States, which used to lead the world in most everything, has slipped badly when compared to many other countries. We appear to lead only in the category of military spending.

I do not believe this tragic situation came about by accident. Although I am not much of a conspiracy theorist I think in the case of this blanket of inexcusable ignorance there has been a conspiracy of sorts. Those in power have deliberately “dumbed us down,” so to speak. They have taken over the news and turned it into “infotainment,” have refused to adequately fund our schools at all levels, have resisted all attempts to help people with education and have, in fact, made University attendance virtually unaffordable, preferring instead to make a profit from our students and schools. This is shameful. The result of their actions over time have brought us to the point they apparently wished to achieve, a class society in which there are only two classes, the obscenely wealthy (“aristocrats”) and the poor (“peasants”). The peasants, being ignorant, are easily controlled and exploited and less likely to revolt (revolutions usually begin with intellectuals). This system of ignorance may be inexcusable but it is not difficult to understand. It keeps the poor “in line,” insures low wages, and glorifies exploitation. It also allows inexcusably ignorant individuals to attain high public offices.

Does anyone even care anymore who becomes President? The powers that be don’t care because they choose the only candidates and know they will control him or her in any case. The voting public may think they care but their only choice nowadays is between the ignorant and the idiotic. Wall Street always wins.

“Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves.” 

 Herbert Marcuse

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Tenure

It seems to me there is a terrible amount of confusion over the concept of tenure. I find it impossible to believe that any judge could claim the tenure system to be unconstitutional, as a California judge apparently recently ruled. As I understand it (or perhaps misunderstand it) the concept of tenure did not arise because it was to provide permanence of employment to any and every professor/teacher no matter how bad they may be at their chosen profession. There is nothing in the tenure system that prohibits bad, especially really bad, teachers from being fired. Tenure has basically nothing to do with permanence of employment.

Tenure exists primarily for one major reason, and one major reason only: to insure that no one can be fired for expressing and teaching ideas that may not be in the mainstream of opinion. In short, to guarantee the First Amendment right to free speech. This prohibits teachers from being fired for political reasons at the whim of administrations that may not approve of, say, socialist or communistic ideas, or other ideas that may not be in the current mainstream of current belief. Galileo, for example, could not have been fired for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun, or Darwin could not have been fired to suggesting and teaching the theory of evolution.

If this is true, and I believe it is, there is nothing in the tenure system that prevents a bad professor/teacher from being fired if their performance is found to be consistently bad or inappropriate. Tenure should not be automatically awarded to a bad teacher simply because that individual managed to last for two or more years. And it should not be particularly difficult to uncover the reasons why any individual teacher is being fired.

If, in fact, the tenure situation in California is such that truly bad teachers are being automatically retained because of two or more years of no matter how lousy performance they have completed, and if it is also true that these terrible teachers are being systematically assigned to the worst (usually minority) schools, this is a terribly harmful and unjustifiable procedure. But this is not a result of the tenure system, it is a result of the egregious ABUSE of the system.  

I believe that the tenure system has in fact been seriously abused. Some schools, even probably many schools, have confused the idea of tenure with the idea of permanence of employment simply because of survival for a relatively short time. Tenured faculty can and should be fired if they are found to be incompetent, irresponsible, criminal, mentally unbalanced, or otherwise offensive, but they should not be fired for espousing views that are out of the mainstream of contemporary acceptability. In any given case the reasons for firing a teacher should be subjected to a careful examination by an independent examining body and determined on the evidence submitted for the action. Tenure should not exempt anyone from the possibility of losing their job due to incompetence, irresponsibility, criminality, or consistently poor performance. On the other hand new or unpopular ideas should not be muzzled by those fearful of change or obviously biased in their beliefs.

Where would we be without Galileo, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and the other creative giants of the past had they been untenured (actually they were untenured and forced to pay a price for their ideas, which only makes the necessity of tenure more obvious).

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Facts, Shmacks

Many, it seems, mostly Republicans, have apparently attained an entirely new and surreal level of ontological existence, a level where “facts” have become irrelevant or may not even exist at all.

Marco Rubio, one of the many Republican village idiots with Presidential delusions, has given us what is perhaps the best example of this new state of being, by announcing publicly that he does not care what 97% of scientists say, he does not believe them. In other words, he does not believe in scientific facts, or at least considers his opinions to be on the same or even higher order of validity. He is thus entitled to his own facts even though they are based on opinion rather than scientific method. I guess his rationale for this, if pressed, would be that scientific facts are merely the opinions of scientists and thus one opinion is as good as another. Unhappily, Rubio (who I confess I can only think of as “Junior”) is not the only one who refuses to believe in science. Global warming deniers are trying to get us all killed, but don’t knock short-term profits.

Facts, if they truly exist, are almost completely irrelevant to the MSM and the internet. Facts are not needed  when the media is onto a potentially hot topic. Take the case of Sergeant Bergdahl, for example. Within hours of the announcement of his release by the Taliban he was already found guilty of desertion and cowardice, and there were suggestions that he should be shot by a firing squad, hung, or even left to the Taliban, hoping they would do the dirty work for us. His father was slandered as a Muslim, or at least a sympathizer,  because he had a long beard and spoke a few words of Pashtun, the language of those who were holding him captive. President Obama was immediately attacked for trading five dangerous captives for him, there were calls for his impeachment, claims he had broken the law, and, of course, the usual claims that he is himself a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer. Fox (non)News apparently went out of their way to find some of Berdahl’s fellow soldiers that accused him of cowardice and desertion, and even went so far as to claim some soldiers were killed as a result of having to search for him. Many politicians and others that had immediately tweeted congratulations for his safe return,  to immediately deleted them when the first signs of possible wrongdoing were suggestions. Bergdahl’s home town of Hailey, Idaho, had planned a hero’s return for him, canceled the event. His family has received death threats.

My point here is not that Berdahl is not guilty, or is guilty, the important thing to bear in mind is that all these accusations and suggestions were made BEFORE ANY FACTS AT ALL WERE KNOWN ABOUT THE SITUATION! This is standard operating procedure for the MSM. Whenever a story breaks they immediately cover it even while admitting none of the facts are known, but they promise to bring them to us when they do become available. Of course by the time the facts become known, if they do at all, the damage has already been done, the various speculations, rumors, and innuendoes remain in the minds of many who may or may not even hear the corrections.

The absolutely shameful news coverage of the Ukraine situation is another case in point. No one seems to care about the facts of the matter, Putin and Russia are guilty, are “bad” and solely responsible for the crisis in direct contradiction to the real facts of the matter. The same thing is true of the so-called Iranian crisis, now known to be a completely falsified claim of Iranian wrongdoing.

Facts, I am sorry to say, are no longer useful in this strange new and surreal world we are currently living in. If the facts contradict what it is we want to believe we just reject them, science is under fire for insisting on telling us things we do not want to hear. Congresspersons are assigned to the science committee in spite of their being anti-science, the potential damage to our nation, and even human life itself, is dangerous and unknown. The war between science and theology should have been over a hundred years ago, unfortunately it  lingers almost exclusively in the U.S. As the late great Jimmy Durante concluded his show, “Goodnight Miss Calabash, wherever you are.”

“The strong belief can make things out of imagination.
But that can also make facts as if they were fairy tales.”
 Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Lost in the Past

I have been wondering why our foreign policy (in my opinion) has become so hopelessly, even excruciatingly and absurdly awful, to say nothing of unproductive and harmful to our once privileged position in the scheme of things. I have concluded that the reasons for this have to do with the fact that our “leaders,” including our Secretary of State, John Kerry, our Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, and even our President, Barack Obama, as well as many others in the current administration. are simply lost in the past. They seem unable to comprehend that the “American century” is over, that we are no longer the “sole superpower,” the “shining light on the hill,” the “exceptional” and “indispensible,” “moral leader” of the “free world,” or that our hubris has now finally been exposed for what it is.

We once led the world in wealth, manufacturing, education, democracy, standard of living, technology, science, military superiority, and (perhaps) even moral authority. All of that has slipped away, especially, I think, during the Bush/Cheney nightmare years that began the present century. We no longer appear to lead in any category except apparently in military spending. But even our military superiority has proven illusory as we have lost repeatedly now to smaller countries with rag-tag armies and smaller weapons. Our billions and billions of dollars worth of nuclear bombs are basically useless and no longer separate us from other nations with the same shameful stockpiles of such weapons. Similarly, our billions of dollars worth of tanks and other armor are equally useless. We have undeniably lost power, influence, and control around the globe, even as we continue to pretend we have not. Our hypocrisy knows no end.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than our recent attempt to separate Ukraine from Russia and, more ridiculous than that, our apparent plan to somehow bring about regime change in Russia itself by making conditions in Russia so bad eventually Vladimir Putin would be removed from power and a ruler more to our liking would result. The hypocrisy involved in President Obama and others chastising Putin for attacking smaller countries, considering our own behavior in this regard, is so transparently foolish and dishonest as to be laughable. Our days of bringing about regime changes have come to an end in both Syria and Russia. Obama announced that “Assad must go.” Assad remains, just as Putin will, and just as Cuba and Venezuela have survived our repeated attempts against them. We have lost our control over Latin American countries and are losing it over other countries as well, naked exploitation just isn’t what it used to be.

 Russia and China are not going to be cowed or controlled by the United States, and combined they represent new international politics. Similarly, a German/Russian collusion would also mean a formidable threat to American hegemony. Besides, what the hell are we doing meddling in the affairs of Europe and Russia anyway? What business is it of ours what happens there other than our now feeble attempts to control the world? There is a good reason why we (along with Israel) are now considered the greatest threat to peace.   

But even as we have lost our last several wars, more and more control over others, and have sacrificed our own well-being in our futile attempt at a world-wide empire, we still have Hagel lecturing the Chinese on how to behave in the South China seas, and Kerry lecturing Russia on how to behave in the Ukraine, and Obama patronizing Putin, and Kerry pretending to be an equitable broker in the Israeli/Palestinian situation. It’s as if things haven’t changed in the past few years of the 21st century. I don’t know if Obama and others recognize the changes and just do not want to admit it, or if they still somehow cling to their beliefs about our exceptionality. Of course no one wants to admit we lost our empire during their time in power (even as we are).  
“I have not become the Kings First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. 
Sir Winston Churchill