~1220 words

Nostalgia is the pain or ache or longing for something "ours," principally something including home. The word is related to "nostrum," meaning "our-making" or "home-made." It is also related to the expression "cosa nostra," which means "our thing." Several of my readers are "nostalgic." They yearn for the stability of the solid past they knew very well, the arrangement of things and people, the tricks and methods they learned: how to tie one's shoes, how to open a can of soup, how to frug, how to do the twist, Chevy Bel Air, Olds 442, Eisenhower, Elvis, snowy Christmas scenes, sandy beaches, the security of neighborhood, the reverence for church and the nation's war casualties, a huge enemy far away, commies to hate, high school football, apple pies and fritters, less crime, fewer foreign people or of different, darker races, school principals and teachers, literally thousands, maybe millions of things and people who seemed to fit into a stable picture of the way things were and ... which changed, but only slowly.

These words: secure, solid, strong, steady, firm, sure, steadfast, level, unwavering, unvarying, unfaltering, unfluctuating, unswerving. established, long-lasting, long-lived, deep-rooted, well founded, well grounded, abiding, durable, enduring, lasting, constant, permanent, reliable, dependable, true. That list is copied from a Google search of the word "stable," which I misspell too often. There is no doubt that the vast majority of people hope for stability in their lives in order to be able to plan for education, career, retirement, but the news gives us jolts of instability on a daily basis. We learn that people in other countries do not play our football, eat apple pie, worship our god, drive big colorful automobiles, play red rover, marry the person they met in high school or college, know what kind of man Eisenhower was, or even depend on the kind of stability we believe to be essential. The last word in Googles list was "true." In effect all those things constituted reality and many things and events since are aberations, seemingly, sometimes, not "true."

Yesterday I encountered one of those lists of bad cities in America. Here is one such list, not the one I saw yesterday, but very similar. Yesterday's list had a lot of New Jersey cities and California cities (principally in Los Angeles County), but Michigan had a few and Louisiana and Missouri. That list mentioned that General Motors had closed cities' factories, so unemployment was high and devastating. Crime prospered in these places. New Jersey is the most densely populated state, while California has the largest population. The problem is not the masses of people, but the way we all construct the present, or allow it to be constructed, whenever it is.

A lot of the bad parts of old cities is the result of human behavior. My cousin Nick was told by his company that he would be moving his lightbulb factory to Puerto Rico. Instead, he quit. The company saw labor as a variable in the cost equation, not really as people willing to work—needing to work to live—and regarded everything around their factory and warehouses as "legal externalities," and had done so for many years—decades! Accordingly, they took no interest in the human beings, only the product and service. You have to wonder how accountants and senior managers get so detached from reality!

But, change happens! Changes sometimes pile up on one another, especially during and after wars. The US spent most of the 20th century at war. And, one of the things that wars produce are inventions useful in war, some of which are useful—repurposed—in civilian life: communications, cybernetics; transportation, etc. Each new thing brings in change. The globalization of commerce begun with Marco Polo (we suppose) took off after 1492 and then with gusto after WWII and the Vietnam War and was accelerated by advanced computing, AI, and ubiquitous communications—cell phones. The changes were such that instructions for using new devices in America were written by people who barely understood English, but worse yet, the devices were conceived and manufactured with ideas different from what we were used to. A button used to be a binary switch, now a button is "virtual" and it has one binary function and perhaps several multiple functions if you continue to press on it. I know a button that has at least two levels of continued pushing: 3 seconds and then 10 seconds. Drives me crazy.

But, I must contend with it. My "watch" tells time, day, date, steps, pulse, sleep, blood oxygen, blood pressure, and shows messages. It cost $30.00, was delivered to my door, less than 24 hours after I ordered it. I am good with this change. I now have a drawer of old watches. I watch movies and series on Netflix, but after probably two hours of fiddling two of us could not register on Apple TV, which is the great grandchild of iTunes, which was amazing not too long ago. My CRV tells me when I am diverging from my lane, when I am too close to another vehicle for my speed, my MPG, range, and stuff I have not discovered in the four years I have owned it. It drives me crazy.

Yet, I feel almost no nostalgia. I read lists of minute things from the past and think that it is good they are part of the past, but not part of tomorrow or the real future. I can hardly wait for human beings to land on Mars. I was told by a high-school counselor that being an astronaut interested in "space-medicine" was not going to happen. I am proud that my daughter can be an attorney at law or that her sisters can be astronauts or CEOs or astronomers or physicians or vice president! I did not know any colored people in my youth—only the janitor of our part of the apartment project. Since then I have dated a Black woman, a Chinese woman, a Russian Woman. My country is strong, leading the world financially—ours is the reserve currency for the entire planet—militarily our fleets and armies in being protecting at least a billion people who cannot reasonably protect themselves. I am a guy in the present, slightly confused by some new things, but seeing improvements all over the world and promise of much more to come ... and ... with lots of change.

There are millions who have not adjusted to things like I have. It has a lot to do with family, but also mobility and education and small-scale courage, all of which are available.

All of this affects my politics, too, of course. I will strongly resist the politics of nostalgia. We cannot restore the past we remember fondly or not. I think we should not want to restore it, even if it were possible. Believe me, it is not. The past was full of moral and legal errors. The present is now real and "out of the tube," and it is impossible to get it back in or erase it. There is one political party in American that dangles this prospect in front of those whose need for stability is greater than mine, but that is not what they are really selling. They are selling political exclusion, White supremacy, misogyny, paternalism, and simplistic authoritarian nostrums wrapped in nostalgia! Fuhgeddaboudit!




Reconstruction and Charlottesville

I have been working (as an historian) on the problem of "forgiving and forgetting" for a very long time. I have inserted and sometimes substituted the terms "learning" and "unlearning" into the equation with some success. Let me say, right now, that forgiving is not to be confused with forgetting, even with so-called deliberate forgetting.

All learning involves physical changes within the brain, the kindling of new pathways and, therefore, new "arrangements" among the new and the old matrices of neurons. I must leave aside for this essay that learning and memory does not take place in just one neuron or even one part of the brain, but instead involves old and new parts of the brain, lateralized parts, and process-specific parts like the amygdala, hippocampus, and those associated with motor and sensory function. So, in a word or two, learning is very complex and so is forgiving and forgetting and especially "unlearning."

"Unlearning" is in quotation marks to indicate, somewhat surprisingly, that the imagined symmetry (put in, take out) between unlearning and learning is probably meaningless. Given that learning is based in physical reality of the brain, unlearning would then also have to be a physical process, maybe something short of extirpation or destruction, but something sufficiently emphatic to "seal off or shunt past" the learned matrix as seamlessly as possible. In other words not a reversal of the learning process, but a repair, or detour, or cover-up.

To forgive is to rationalize an affront or injury toward insignificance to you as a person. It is a high order decision to stop thinking about and doing things that rekindle and, therefore, strengthen the matrix of physical neurons associated with the affront or injury. We say, "let it go, Jimmy, it is not worth your time and energy."
Bullies depend on you not being able to "let it go."

Deliberate forgetting it is also a rational process which requires you to kindle detours, new neural pathways around the matrices of the affront or injury, a process that can—but does not require—that you involve a higher order "forgiveness" routine.

Non-deliberate forgetting is another story. I was very impressed by the two movies I saw ("Away From Her" and "The Notebook") each featured a marital partner regressing into Alzheimers. The stories included an emotional hurdle the unfortunate characters were unable to surmount. In sum, though, I would be willing to bet that most non-deliberate forgetting is either caused by a) physical deterioration of the brain tissue, or b) a completely sub-conscious but nevertheless "deliberate" forgetting process, or c) probably both. The sub-conscious (aka pre-conscious) is very smart and runs a lot of your daily events.

The other day I found on the web a quotable thought from Oprah Winfrey:— "Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be [have been] any different."
It is an important idea that pivots on the word "hope." Hope is the desire for something to happen, so it is person-positive, but not necessarily socially-positive. I think Oprah's using "be" instead of "have been" is an important error, and also probably the most common way of holding this idea, since it allows history to be read to suit the needs of the reader.

So, thank you for holding on to the title I have given this essay. I lived in Charlottesville eight months in each of four years while at the University. I know nothing much about the city, which has doubtlessly grown and improved over the intervening sixty some years. But, we all know that there is a civil trial taking place in Charlottesville right now, and it is nearing its conclusion. The defendants are White Nationalists, Fascists, Hitlerites, racists, ruffians, proto-KKK members, and the like. They are all destitute at the moment so the awards for damages they caused, if found guilty, will not act as balm for the aggrieved persons' injuries and harm. In fact, I believe the Kabuki of this trial will not assist anyone's brain to forgive the miscreants, found guilty or not, nor will they forget the rampage these people perpetratated on the city and my alma mater.

And, certainly the trial will not extirpate the grievances that motivate the perps and to which they cling like grim death, that is, the feckless, inconsistent, and often vindictive Reconstruction of the American South after the Civil War, as well as the responses to which resulted in the kindling of hatred, fear, and victimhood, learned from family, friends, neighbors, officials, schools, and dog-whistles galore statued all over the South. The war we are now IN was caused just like the aftermath of WWI caused WWII.

So what is the point? Is it Kabuki or judicial formality or what? I think that solace from a guilty verdict will be thin gruel, indeed. But, it will be fact, and maybe the fact that it is a public fact will give some heart to all of us. Heart may not be enough to avert what is coming next! But we do need courage!

The real problem is throbbing right next to each of us. I think we may have to inspect other cultures for what seems like their success in forgetting, if not entirely forgiving the past. Perhaps we must look in the other direction, too, perhaps to Russia, a country that was subjugated by the Mongols for nearly two hundred and fifty years—and most importantly with some of their own number complicit in that horror—then continuing when the Tatar Yoke was caste off. The horror is literally unforgettable and renewed by endless subjugation under authoritarian leaders.

The approach to a solution for Rusians and for us will be tortuous and what emerges at the most favorable outcome may not be anything we will would recognize today. Truthfully, I think that is the most likely thing. It's is just a matter of how badly we beat each other up along the way.

This general line of thought will continue in near-future postings. Stay tuned. Watch this space.




Filled With Shame

Caroline Frazer writes in the October 7, 2021 issue of The New York Review of Books about two books by James Rebanks. Her essay, "Where Sheep May Safely Graze," has a Verlyn Klinkenborg gentleness and amiability about it. The title may have put some readers off, though, and so it did with me until I read a few paragraphs of it at breakfast the other morning. It is literally about a 180 acre sheep farm in Cumbria, England, the Lake District of Wordsworth. Spoiler alert—nation-wide hoof and mouth disease destroys the farm (and many others), which in any case was teetering on the brink of ... well, a sort of obsolescence that is very poetic until you realize it is an atavistic and naive illusion.

"He returned [N.B.—after seeing the colossal modern world of large-scale agro-monoculture] to the Lake District filled with shame at his family's broken-down operation,'embarrassed' that they 'hadn't managed to keep up. We were too small, too old-fashioned, too conservative, too poor, and now, probably, too late to find a place in this brave new world'"

At my age lots of things I once thought were neat and modern, things that had not been part of my father's or mother's culture, have already been superceded or they just plain wore out of our imaginations. I see nostalgic people clinging to them. Yet, I see people with hopelessness in their eyes, squeezed tight between either gaunt or fat cheeks worn as grimacing, threatening frowns. I had not seen the shame before I read this piece about sheep, but now I see it flickering though their masks, urging its bearers, they apparently believe, to stand up and fight for those good old days with gramps and the sheep or days and nights working hard making steel or fixing the town's plumbing, and somehow without all these strange new people around, dressed strangely, speaking foreign tongues, hoping different hopes.

I pondered shame. It can be thrust upon you by being shamed. Or, you can be ashamed, which runs from chagrined through sheepish to penitent. I think of being ashamed as being conscious-stricken, so definitely an internally generated state of mind. The shame I am now alluding to in American society is both imposed and arising from within. I think that being ashamed is an untenable state of mind that slides into stubborn and helpless denial and resistance and often anger. What we are looking for is replacing those first stages of grief and shame with bargaining! ... and then reconstruction! ... with hope!

Clearly the nature of time is that no matter what kind of gas you put into a DeLorean, you cannot go backwards to earlier eras. Even those times, which by comparison with today's buzzing pace of change seemed standing still, were actually changing—sometimes drastically. Then (since Marco Polo and the plague years) ... and now, the peoples they had only read about or foods they had dared not eat now surround them, and shamefully they pretend they know a way to fix it all, defiantly "one way or another."

It really does need fixing because it is self-consciously imperfect, but it needs to be fixed for the future of our commonwealth and social compact not the long gone past. America began and must continue as an attempt to be a multi-cultural representative democracy, a republic, an experiment about the nature of human beings posited as resilient and thoughtful. Shaming must be taken off the table, but at the same time those who are humiliated and ashamed must dust themselves off—sometimes with outside help—and begin the rest of their trek into what is always an uncertain future, a future, though, we can all be smart about!




Break The Glass!

Fintan O'Toole is a polemicist, says Wikipedia. He writes for the Irish Times, nevertheless his work seeps into the American media, like the New York Review of Books, which is where I encountered his point of view most recently. If you are not a subscriber then all you'll get clicking that link is a taste or a whiff. That will never be enough, but it will give you a hint, perhaps, why I am now writing about Frederick Jackson Turner's "Frontier Thesis" and William Golding's Lord of The Flies.

To quote O'Toole, "The great question of America's twenty-year war in Afghanistan was not whether the Afghans were fit for democracy. It was whether democratic values were strong enough in the US to be projected onto a traumatized society seven thousand miles away. Those values include the accountability of the people in power, the consistent and universal application of human rights, a clear understanding of what policies are trying to achieve, the prevention of corrupt financial influence over political decisions, and the fundamental truthfulness of public utterances."

So there's all that, of course! ... But, you might respond, the whole nation had just been terrorized on 9-11, so our sensibilities were askew, at least, and anyway, how could we have known that twenty years in Afghanistan was to be a cure worse than we imagined. Still, O'Toole is correct. No fair hiding from it. So, what kind of people are we? Certainly we are not all the same.

You may remember from high school history class Turner's Frontier Thesis. It is that, as they moved westward in the British colonies and the new nation after the Revoutionary War, settlers visibly evolved. They evolved from being Europeans with European institutions and belief systems and became something different, something we call Americans partly to use a very broad inclusive category and partly to drown out the noises from Europe and Africa and later Asia. Americans, as Ralph Waldo Emerson knew, needed a new sense of themselves to replace their identity in European sects and countries, some kind of identity fitting for conquering a new wilderness world. What happened—all along the frontier because it was wild and scary and fraught with untold dangers—was that each successive generation became more used to the idea and experience of having their own voice heard and respected in the local decision-making processes. They became more interested in and used to pragmatic democracy. Our teachers emphasized this point, but neglected the rest.

As many observers have noted, de Tocquville for one, many westward pioneers de-evolved. In the sometime very rough and tumble of frontier life they became more inured to violence, their own and of others. They easily became more individualistic as the writings of Emerson foresaw and promoted, and accordingly they became distrustful of authority, which receded geographically as the distances opened wide and put settlers on their own resources for security and law. Even literate frontier Americans may have owned only one or two books in their entire lifetime and so their polite society cultural under-pinnings, if any, were were few. They were also less likely to understand very much of the new natural philosophy, the new sciences, and relied increasingly on gut decisions, which accorded also with their emerging Emersonian character. Quack "doctors" and other kinds of charlatans abounded and the idea of there being definable Truth gave way sometimes to fiction, news, and novelty.

Americans moving west and pushing back the frontier committed or were party to one of the world's huge genocides. It was not seen as genocide. Kids in my day played cowboys and indians because the mid-20th century movies and then television glorified those whose courage took them beyond the frontier into a no-mans-land where laws were eastern ideas and rules were very local. But, of course, it was not no one's land. The indiginous tribes had been here for perhaps 15,000 years before the settlers' tribes had "civilized" themselves in Europe.

Moving west was also not necessarily moving away from and abandoning slavery, but it was to leave the ruling elites in the eastern seaboard behind, and that was subtly unfamiliar. Many pioneers faced with the gargantuan task of making a living out of the wilderness felt, without thinking about it much, that the help of enslaved people as practiced in the South might be necessary for the task ahead. So, on one side genocide and on the other slavery!

The local democracies they intended and created ad hoc were, despite Emerson, ethnic, local, and often extinguished by ubiquitous criminality and greed and violence. Despite well-intentioned efforts, order and democracy frequently gave way to sporadic chaos and savagery. William Golding knew enough about this to posit how a group of boys' could descend into human savagery, a poignant vision of the illusion of innocence.

Fintan O'Toole puts it succinctly, the reason we could not teach democracy to the Afghans was not only that we did not truly know them or respect them, but that we did not and still do not yet have a functioning democracy in America where women (pregnant or not), Blacks, and national minorities arriving to breathe free are respected, but where greed and corruption and mendacity are accepted sometimes as the grease for the machinery of state and commerce. But, that is not my point, nor O'Toole's, I think. The pointed question really is How Bad Is It, and what are we do to about it, given that at least three rough centuries and, perhaps, ten or twelve generations have been baked into this cake?

In Lord of the Flies there is murder and death and so nothing and no one (not even Piggy) in the group of "flies" to save it from devouring itself in violence. The story is very disconcerting to lots of readers. It rings all too true. The naval officer arriving along the beach at the end seems to indicate that it will take an outside force to solve such a problem. If so we must be very careful about accepting "outside" leadership.

I think we must be looking for solutions that include clear eyed people thinking about nation building for our own country, something that we could not begin to attain in Afghanistan in twenty years and with two generations of volunteer soldiers, now professionals, who are now among us disillusioned and armed to the teeth.

Seven or eight generations past our Civil War many psychologically, culturally, and economically aggrieved, the likes of Goldings "flies" and Turner's less civilized frontiersmen still abound. Most frontier people recivilized, but quite a few did not, and those also had kids and brought them up differently from the others. Today some carry the Stars and Bars to express their dedication to a world that way too slowly disappeared from under their feet and souls. They have clung to paradigms of family and manhood, misogyny and the kind of ad hoc violence that characterized the wild west. Their parents and grand-parents, etc., clung to frontier freedoms that were less and less appropriate as the land was settled and versions of eastern seaboard Enlightenment politics seeped in. These people have been fairly quiet, seeing that they were in a minority in their own towns and villages, but now they have seen what looks and talks like one of their own in the White House. They are not going to change soon, not over-night, probably not ever. At least it is clear that sweeping our sins and sinners under the rug just makes those implicated blind to essential Truths.

After listening on Columbus & Indigenous Peoples Day to a former Republican like MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace host of "Deadline White House," I can say she and I quietly agree this will not end without more violence, sustained and certainly bloody violence. Be that as it may come to be, something has to be done about the march toward authoritarianism in America, a march toward fascism, where big dark money behind the scenes directs cadres of politicians and their followings toward a nation without the rule of law. Arresting Trump will certainly trigger violence across the country, yet it seems inevitable and essential and Just that he must answer for his treason and corruption.

Just realizing that the Democrats are the only democratic party left and the only one preserving and protecting the Constitution is very daunting. Bipartisanship is now an evil joke. The disaffected and merely rebellious others do not see how to rebuild this nation or give democracy a chance to evolve toward progress, a more perfect union. They hate what America has become and left them to become. The men and women they have sent to Congress have given up on the democracy and the Constitution, their oaths to it are broken daily. Out of fear of Trump's notorious temper and/or out of cynical beliefs that the Constitution is too flawed to defend, they seek the easiest revolution they can imagine—installing a dictator narcisist they have already proved to everyone they cannot control ... to clean house by wrecking it ... and perhaps to set each one of them up in more comfortable circumstances and political office.

What President Biden and the leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to do is rise above the threat, to resist by physical means only at the last moment. They hope in the meantime they can legislate by themselves a strong response to some of the nation's critical weaknesses and ills. I think "the last moment" may well be a fatal waste of critical time, months that benefit the honorless and treasonous fascists who have not evolved along with the rest of us, whose idea of government and business is founded not on the rule of law, but on privilege and corruption.

Break the glass everyone, the emergency is now. If we have to, we have to fight fire with fire! Better to choose our Existential Moment, rather than having it chosen for us! Everyone who sees the darkness descending upon us must commit every dollar they can to supporting good candidates for state and federal office. Fight dark money with good money!




Some Thoughts About Change

"... According to evolutionary psychology ..., humans as a species have evolved to try to read one another's minds, in order to better cooperate and compete with one another. For this reason, 'the human intellect is extremely well-suited to thinking about other people, their problems, and the situations they get themselves into.' ...." New York Review of Books, "The People We Know Best," Evan Kindley, (March 25,2021)

One of the features of this human mind is its ability to discern patterns in things and events and even patterns in the relationships among patterns. We suspect that other animals do some of this also, but maybe not as reflectively. Our own mortal bodies and minds exhibit well-known series and patterns of changes from infancy to and throughout adulthood. These changes usually develop at a pace much slower than our evolving gut-sense of time. We do not feel or see ourselves growing minute by minute or day by day, but we do notice changes in ourselves over longer periods: weeks, months. We tend to discern the process of cyclic change like the cycles of seasons, but anomalous changes do not fit into our expectations very well.frying frog And, we have the parable of the oblivious boiling frog to remind us that changes do not always come with alarms or falling leaves.

As an historian I became intrigued with the idea that one might learn how to discern patterns of changes over longer periods, for an instance, the differences in the importance of longevity or loyalty to social relationships in the year 1066 CE compared to today, and moreover, discern from the patterns involved the likely reasons for the changes. It turns out to be very, very complicated, messy, and littered with dead-end ideas and tantalizing threads that disappear into a fabric and fugue of obliviousness and paramnesia, misrembrance. In short, we forget stuff, sometimes on purpose. But, change happens, but just how and when does it reveal itself? What is the vocabulary associated with change itself?

In language Tropes are deliberate changes or alterations of meaning signalled by abrupt and surprising uses of more or less common terms in unsual places. It turns out that we learn a lot about things through these often subtle manipulations of concepts through various kinds of metaphors. So, likening a loved one to a rose is intended to import the beauty and fragrance of the flower to that person, and as we consider the implcations, as different and unexpected parts of our brain light up, we realize that in accepting the metaphor we must take into account the fact that roses have thorns as well. Suddenly language describes and seems to explain more than we first imagined it would. Metaphor asks the brain to resolve incongruous ideas, and it very often finds a way to do that by finding some analogy to that thorn—sometimes a loved one will break your heart.

I vividly remember returning to Washington, DC, on business in the late 1970's. As the blocks of neo-classical architecture along Constitution Avenue in the federal city rolled by, I was stirred by a sense, almost a vision, of the arrogance and corruption of ancient Rome before its fall. I knew at the time it was not simply the architecture that stimulated that thought, it was a long despair over my country in the wake of the Vietnam war and the aftermath of Richard Nixon's criminal behavior, the entire story of which is still emerging and now completing a tentative pattern nearly fifty years later. We have mental triggers that set off cascades of memory and emotions like anxiety or revulsion.

One of my professors, Dr. Arnold Springer, earnestly asserted in one of his classes in Russian Cultural History that the whole of western history is the story of emerging and expanding human liberty. Later I became a student of his doctoral advisor at UCLA, and I listened carefully to Dr. Hans Rogger for signs of the conclusion Arnie had expressed. I was "inspired" by the notion that I would see an historical vista such as Springer had seen. I have taken the idea of emerging and expanding liberty as my own, partly a priori, i.e., without personal observation of evidence beyond the analogy with the patterns of individual human social maturation, and partly because the the assembled long-term evidence and numbers seem to support it, although one wonders. It seems inconsistently true here in North America, but also in various places and times in Europe. Individuals really have become quite free, although our liberties are usually sanely constrained by the fact there are so many of us! So, a next question is what are the patterns of that liberty process? Or, could there be a "thorn" in the thicket of ideas about emerging liberty?

Sierra magazine (Fall 2021) has an essay about, to quote the subtitle, "The Path to a climate-resilient future." The author (Paul Hawken) begins: "We are privileged. Never in history has civilization been blessed with such abundant energy. Until fossil fuels, energy was provided by fire, animals, and enslaved people. China destroyed most of its ancient forests thousands of years ago. Three-quarters [sic] of the world was enslaved in some manner in the 17th century, a perverse and barbaric form of 'energy.'" Aside from the hyperbole and failing to mention wind and water energy, the author has nevertheless suggested something that is very important. We can look at and conceive of human activity in unusual and abstract terms. This is not exactly metaphor, but the effect may be the same. We impose the details of one broad concept onto another. Suddenly humans seen as sources of energy might be relevant to humans as emerging to full liberty.

In a short essay I cannot mention everything that is changing. Literally everything does change and is now changing, most of it seemingly faster than ever before, this effect is probably due to the welter of information reaching us now through our modern media. Some things are dominant changes. The most important long term and seminal change is the enormous growth of the planetary human population. The patterns we have discerned about the procreation that caused this seem to be holding steady. The poorer a man and woman are the more likely they are to have many children, the point being that raising them is less expensive than the work benefit that will be gotten out of them—without this additional energy the lot might easily starve to death. The converse pattern is that when such a society achieves a certain level of social stability and reliable resources the man and woman will have fewer children and sometimes not enough to statistically replace themselves. Japan is clear case of both patterns, and the crucial variable is resource security, which of course is relative to many other conditions of a given society.

In 2020 the planet Earth harbored 7.8 billion human beings. It is difficult for us to imagine very large numbers, but let's try. There are only 1255 miles, or 6,624,400 feet, between San Diego and Seattle, so it would take only 1,104,400 people standing at arms length (3 feet) front to back to reach between these cities. The world population would expand that parade 7,063 times. So imagine a continuous parade from San Diego to Seattle 21,189 feet or a bit over 4 miles, 6.5 km wide!

The world population was about 2.3 billion the year I was born! The difference is a 340% increase, during which we have had WWII, Korea, Vietnam, China's Great Leap and Cultural Revolution, Russia's Purges and Virgin Lands, Rwanda, Serbia, and Covid-19 among other calamities! The UN currently expects world population to level out at 10.9 billion by the year 2100. The idea of leveling out must then be dependent on the second pattern asserting its imperatives on more and more people in the world population. Namely, the UN quietly assumes much more of the world population will be discernibly better off—meaning less vulnerable to economic troubles—than they have been for ages ... or ever! This is a very dubious assertion, I think.

Of course, there is another enormous change afoot: global warming and the consequent climate change. I am reasonably certain that the UN numbers do not take into account the probability of massive population migrations caused by the collapse of agriculture and the ensuing famines in many areas. This will trigger the re-evaluation of resource security, but it might be so dramatic that having more children is practically impossible. There have been mass migrations in the distant past and also relatively recently as the result, usually, of war. Clearly there is a pattern of human behavior that describes this, part of this pattern must be intensely personal and part very much conditioned by social realities. In any case population has reached and exceeded an inflection point for the stability of its only planet.

It is no coincidence that global warming is happening at the same time as global population is exploding. The pattern at work here may well be Hawken's assertion that we have never had such abundant energy. That abundance is not evenly spread across the world, however, so one might question whether the energy-rich are able by themselves to heat up the planet. Deforestation is one way the energy-poor contribute to the problem. I think the pollution behavior pattern is fairly steady, it depends on dogged indifference and obliviousness. And here comes that boiling frog again! Most of the time humans cannot see the larger effects of what they are doing.

The third major change in the world, in my view, is the result of massive progress (change) in the physical sciences and of almost unimaginable break-through technologies and logistics. The humanities and social studies have done their part, or rather may have contributed to the press for liberty by deliberately or accidentally generating revolutions of rising expectations among those ignored or suppressed by what is now being aptly termed "white liberty."

We were there when much of the new tech happened, and most of the people I know were skeptical or even frightened. My father asked me "what on Earth do you need a computer at home for?" Well, my old Kaypro cost me $3k and absorbed a good part of my leisure life. Meanwhile DARPA was already running and expanding its network, and I had the opportunity to link in when my university finally got a general connection (around 1988). That was the beginning of the internet, which in only ten or fifteen years has transformed lives across the planet. And, for the lack of controls, it now promises to undo 240 years of representative democracy here in the US and already has undone much younger democracies' hopes for expansion of liberty. All of which to say is that we have not fully understood the concept yet or the reasons behind the patterns of human internet behavior — or what to do about them.*

The basic concept of the internet is cheap connectivity for everyone who has a device. I can chat with someone standing on the shores of Lake Baikal or the river Nile, and they can send me photos of their families, or they may not be who I think they are and will send me threats and lies. To some that might sound a little simplistic or trite, but remember how this essay opened; "humans as a species have evolved to try to read one another's minds." And the urge to do so is as strong as ANY urge we have. So we now have it—if we want it—at the simple touch of a virtual button—all the beauty and all the horrors of the human mind—billions of them!

We have sexual pornography and, worse, political pornography all treated in their ubiquity in a manner so matter of fact that we, like frogs stewing in our own juice, can barely feel the steady erosion of ourselves or the destruction of our institutions of liberty. Clearly we were not ready for Facebook or any unregulated social media, nor was Facebook or Twitter ready for us.

Note: * Chris Hayes (MSNBC) has written a great essay in New Yorker Magazine titled: "On the Internet, We're Always Famous"




Texas: A Microcosm?

At the beginning of the 21st century I lived in rural Texas for five years, roughly. I built a house there, enjoyed the weather in spring and fall, met many snowbirds from the upper-midwest, some few of whom had decided to stick it out twelve months a year. The Governor of Texas at the time went on to run for president of the country, but quickly failed at that, despite having lots of nearby voters supporting the idea of getting him out of the state. He became the US Secretary of Energy, and as far as we know did not touch the nuclear warhead situation for which he was modestly responsible. Now they have Governor Greg Abbott, who is much further along the path to outright Fascism than seems possible in our country. That undercurrent has been with us since the rise of trade unions--not because, but against them. Fascism is decidedly not labor's friend. And that is the irony of our times.

Abbott was trained as a lawyer. Bachelors from UT Austin and JD from Vanderbilt. He is "partially paralyzed" from a tree that fell on him while jogging. (I don't understand how someone as fleet as a jogger lets this happen, so I quietly suggest that there is more to this story than we have.) He is widely rumored to be seeking the presidency of the United States--but, or so, he seems to be jockeying to replace Donald Trump as leader of the political party they have converted to a decidedly anti-democracy cult of personality, a horse-race that involves at least one other Texan and several other governors and US senators like Lindsey Graham, all of whom are all in a race to the bottom of politics and normal civility, that is, fully and fiercely a rules-and-norms-free fascist form of governance that depends on the kind of unholy alliance that Benito Mussolini fabricated between the business sector and himself under what are usually called Leninist principles of "democratic centralism."

Most of the foregoing is less relevant than the appearance that Abbott deliberately creates of being a white supremacist. That is his dog whistle and the real engine of his politics. Texas is full of white supremacists. They are pink and white and disdain everyone else. They do not like the term "white supremacist," but that's what it is. These racists came innocently from Europe in 1840's and later to found a new country in North America, one that would share the continent with the US, just like the latter-day German bishoprics, margravates, duchies, and kingdoms came to share what in 1870, under the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, became "modern Deutschland." North America would look like Europe, only better, because the frontier sought people who knew what to do with the liberty they were handed. I hope you know that present day Texas, post-WWI and post-WWII, has a huge German-heritage population!

Abbott's white supremacist dream is genetic and cultural, but intermingled with it is a more profound idea that the emergence of women to equal status with men has gone much too far. How else would you explain the recent passage of an anti-abortion law that enlists civilians as "legal" terrorists, vigilantes--armed with lawsuits--to crush the reproductive rights of women? Well, the real idea is to crush ALL of women's rights, losing reproductive rights is a sufficient warning to all Texas women to back down and shut up, not just the poor women who cannot afford to go out of state for care. The aim, of course, is to re-establish the patriarchy model of governance and society. It is an outright assault on one hundred years of progress to acknowledge women as equal before the law and with equal opportunity for a life of their own choosing including their reproductive freedom!

Donald Trump has created a large part of this in his own "will to power" trek trampling the Constitution. Trump is a minor (almost laughable) "don" from Queens, but a vicious mobster, and at that he is adept at the lie, the deceit, the ability to evade consequences, but his chief skill is to sow uncertainty, chaos, and fear in the weaker minds around him, and to enlist the modestly stronger minds into a "feudal" cabal to achieve endless political power, power to then extort from the public and private whatever they want. Abbott loves that the ground for his own ego trip has been basically cleared by Trump. So do Cruz, DeSantis, Josh from Missouri, and hundreds of others currently in and out of politics.

What propels most of them are delusions of ego, but often even more is the fear of the old order crumbling to dust as women and cultural and ethnic minorities achieve seats at the table. They are afraid for the destruction of the old patriarchal order in which they were raised and without which they cannot imagine themselves!

This is the crux of America's woes and has been since the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Many males believe that history proves they are the best leaders of cultures and societies. The simple and only element of truth in that often tacit assertion is that males have been in charge all along because they are larger and steeped in the belicose bully role from childhood. The rest of the historical truth is that on the whole they have done a totally unacceptable job of it. Patriarchy is fundamentally flawed because it is rarely meritocratic and always based on "might makes right." That concept has not been useful since the Bronze Age, but rather the source of most of civilization's woes, acknowledging the rest to be caused by bacteria and viruses.

What we have now in America is an agglomeration of people, male and female, who have given up their courage to do the real work of making our Republic possible. The 9/11 attack scared them nearly to death; it erased the easy confidence that America was essentially impregnable. The recent Great Recession ruined many, and they saw the perps (bankers) get away with it. It destroyed the confidence of these people and gave cover to the denial of their own short-comings and actual misdeeds. Now they have decided to trade our representative democracy, our often-flawed, but freedom-filled Republic, for the empty calories and emotions of a fascist autocracy, based not on the Great Man Theory of history, but on the slick simplicity of a dictatorship. They are tired of and incompetent to adjust their lives to rapid change and, now, they are overwhelmed by the Covid pandemic and the idea that a President of the United States would deliberately lie to them about nearly everything, which he did because he thinks they are easily confused and dumb as rocks.

These people from the "other America" know in their foggy brains and churning guts that the patriarchy has failed, but they do not know how to save it, short of installing a Juan Peron or Adolph Hitler or Huey Long as the personification of simplicity and for the slowing of change they seek. They have decided that everything is false and cannot be trusted, because they have been told to believe that, and they do. The rest of us--the clear majority--must stop them--cold.

(Society, National Politics)imsociety


Birthers and What They Stand For

In posing a question about what the so-called birthers stand for the question of Constitutional precision is really not the point. The last person to be questioned so loudly about his birth credentials in the context of the presidency was Alexander Hamilton, born in England, and declared ineligible, although there were many who wanted that bright man to have a chance. The interrogation of Barack Hussein Obama, whose birth occurred in the State of Hawai'i in 1961, about the possibility that he might have been born in Kenya with a Muslim and Kenyan father and a formerly American mother, for whom there is no evidence that she had foresaken her U.S. citizenship, is a pile of speculation designed to erode and impeach the character of the president, rather than any question about provisions of the Consitution. The speculation is so wild and unsupported by facts that the adherents of birtherism must be in fact attempting something entirely different from their overt message. What, is the question, for why would citizens wish to weaken the foundations of the presidency on a spurious matter of character? The answer is that they found an issue that resonates with much more sinister and appallingly vicious race prejudice.

It is clear that Donald Trump understands the core issue in this matter and has deliberately used the contrived issue to get himself some attention in the press, as well as to demonstrate to the center of this band of birthers that he has both the "political courage" and "redneck moxie" to pursue any issue they like from the campaign podium. It is so transparent that one wonders how many of the birthers are actually fooled by it. And, having said that, it probably does not matter, for the birther credo is that they cannot tolerate Barack Hussein Obama under any conditions, so any form of calumny, libel, or deprecation is okay with them. The more the merrier!

It may well be that President Obama decided to produce the long form of his Hawai'ian birth certificate just because Donald Trump was the one demanding it. If it were, it is a wily chess move to give Trump "what he wants" to improve his visibility and thus show the entire nation what a literally incredible jackass the man really is ... as if most of us had not reached that conclusion years and years ago. If so, I think it will work, for in the Punch and Judy world of Donald Trump the subtext of power lusting becomes the story and Trump is revealed as nothing more nor less than the egomaniac he is. And good luck GOP dealing with the fall-out from this one!

But, there is, as I have said, a more sinister element to the birther situation, one that goes back into our past and wallows in the humiliation of the defeated Confederacy, the derrogation of white people into economic if not social parity with newly freed (and soon subverted) slaves. In today's Boston Globe there is an essay by James Carroll that brilliantly explains the roots of birtherism, and the roots are not a benign misprision of a fearful and dispossessed lower stratum of our society. It is root and branch of the cultural anti-semitism and anti-black fervor that has dominated the subconscious of western civilization since well before the events of 1492 on the Iberian peninsula. It goes back to Christian foundations built on racial hatred, cultured in honeyed terms, but nevertheless propagated in the same breath as the Faith itself.

The tribal impulse in humanity is very strong. We like to believe we can predict with some degree of accuracy and, more importantly, safety what our fellow man might do. It is part of the unspoken social compact that everyone respects at least a few common points of view about that compact. But, we are easily led to and of our own volition doubt the motives and goals of people from other cultures. We cannot predict them and so we fear for our safety among them. The birthers are just the most recent and distasteful group to succumb to this atavism. The birthers are not to be ignored or dismissed as cranks, however. They are fully capable of subscribing to more fiercesome doctrines than birtherism, all on the same subconscious, preconscious, and deliberate basis.


Messed Up

David Brooks, of the New York Times op-ed staff, is a conservative, intelligent and vocal. He has been rooting around in psychology and worldview analysis for the past year or more, looking for the reasons we are in American what we have become. So have I, and so probably have you.

We know things are not right. We know that both political parties are at fault. We know that there are oxen to be gored and that some of them are ours. We bridle at the mention of social welfare as "the welfare state." But, we also know that the essential problem with welfare is not the redistribution of American resources, even the taking of resources from the very rich or the merely comfortable. We know it is the abuse of the system that has been decried as "systemic" that makes us angry. We know there is abuse in every human endeavor, criminality, lying, cheating, fraud, and with a system like social welfare, the words "entitlements" goes exactly in the wrong direction. People are not "entitled" to cheating and fraud!

Today in the Times David Brooks gives it up—a thoroughgoing Jackson Pollock portrait of American society and polity. We are, to use a different argot, "messed up." And, the worst part of it is that virtually no one seems to emerge to lead us off into a series of solutions. It is as if we were born this way and that the only cure is, well, you know, demise.

The truth of America is that there is immense hope out there. There is energy, and there is willingness to sacrifice, but we know there are those who will profit from the dislocations of sacrifice, and that seems like more of the same stuff to us. What we want ... and need ... is a Marshall Plan for ourselves, a big package that sets out certain goals based in empathy for those less fortunate, and vigilance about those who would offer their leadership.

I agree with Brooks that the situation is pregnant with disaster, and I struggle to bring myself to be optimistic about our chances. There is not a scintilla of evidence that politics as we now know it will work. So, folks, we have to do something else.



Easter Message

Yes. Today is the day when we celebrate the onrush of spring, rejuvenation, birth, rebirth, growth, and all that the natural world has evolved to deal with a planet that because of a tilt in the axis of rotation has seasons. We call it "Easter" to bring forth the idea of eggs—vessels of future life—the potential for life, the intermediate form life takes on the way. It was not for nothing that the early Christians settled on this celebration to infuse the story with the metaphor of salvation by sacrifice.

Indeed, there is a sacrifice made in the burgeoning of spring for every living thing evolved to produce a next generation. It is a prolific sacrifice, seemingly a waste of seed that so few will grow from so many potential. This is not the sacrifice celebrated by the Christians, of course, but as we know from classical and modern rhetoric the human brain is naturally syncretic. We process huge amounts of incoming sensory information and boil it down to an ever evolving SitRep, an environmental scan, eventually a personal world view, something that could become a Weltanschauung. The brain learns by pondering metaphors and it does mix metaphors and harbor ineffable thoughts, all the more so as the ineffable produces wonderment and a sense of eternal mystery.

But back on Earth in a small corner of the Universe we have tribes, clans, ethnicities, and nations established from the output of the vernal explosions of life. As we understood primitive agriculture, we understood by a metaphor on husbandry the role of the keeper, the one who sows and reaps, and we understood the vagaries of that process, weather. Whether to plant or not was the eternal question. We needed to know whether the winter was over, and we needed to understand why some areas flood and others do not. We invented primitive astronomy and then, because we are at best unruly when not put to our necessary tasks, we need order. And astronomy morphed into something like an astrological religion, gradually incorporating stories of floods and lightning and signs and portents, and a priesthood arose to interpret to larger groups the best guesses of those who measured and timed and pleaded to Nature for good plantings and rich harvests. Life depended on it.

Today, many, many years later we have agribusiness and national governments that have moved beyond pure tribal leadership and the cults of priests. But, the reality of humankind is that we are not perfect. We are, in fact, bits and pieces of every stage of our development, shards of animism animate our children as they try to understand the rules about consequences. Tribal lore inhabits the imaginations of people who wonder what it would have been like to be born as a bird or a member of the neighboring tribe. Priests have a natural inclination to perpetuate their trade, and in the news today we see how utterly imperfect and atavistic—how chained to the relics of the past—they are.

Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times expresses her feelings about the imperfection of the priesthood and the absolute necessity to remain vigilant against notions they are otherwise.

Meanwhile the Associated Press reports that the current high priest of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, has ventured out into the distant recesses of the past to stake the old claim for special creation of our species on this dim blue planet in a unremarkable corner of a universe that neither he nor I nor you can fully understand.

...[I]n his Easter Vigil homily Saturday, [the Pope said] it was wrong to think at some point "in some tiny corner of the cosmos there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it."
This man who has the history and morality of a pedophile protector is just simply wrong ...again! It is an understandable statement, coming from the morass of power politics that religion became. But, to hold onto the notion that life is only worth living if a power greater than ourselves wished it so, is to deny freewill and to ignore centuries of evidence. Why do they need to be absolutists? It is because their backs are against the wall.



The Gathering Cloud

You probably have heard something about "cloud computing" by now. As James Carroll writes this morning, "cloud computing" is a more undefined, more metaphoric concept than you might want, given the future shock tremors that rumble through your life with ever increasing frequency, creating that disconcerting sense of alienation and diminished illusion of control. But, what Carroll picks up in his description of the concentration of expertise and loss of local initiative and technical understanding as the cloud gathers, I think he misses in a fairytale of global intelligence.

There are huge efficiencies to be had in cloud computing. The effort companies have gone to to provide updates and patches and improvements to the software they produce will be concentrated in their own computers where they have a fairly good idea what the environment is. You, on the other hand, keep downloading registry cleaners, games, the occasional worm or virus, making life in Redmond, Washington a hellish nightmare trying to outguess your restless local innovations. But this is not just about software.

Amazon and Google and others have massive data bases on distributed computing systems, absorbing enormous amounts of electricity to run and to cool their computers. The cloud will attempt to link some of these systems together, more or less like producing an encyclopedia, and rather less like building a brain. Sorry Mr. Carroll. And, I think you can see the limits of this for the next five or ten years. There are fewer and fewer reasons to link raw information into systems where bottlenecks will form and diminish rather than improve access. Still, though there will be active links.

What James Carroll is supposing is that information "values" such as today's high temperature will become significant indices that affect other computer systems in the cloud. If PG&E's temperature index stays within certain limits then PG&E will make a certain amount of electricity and pump a certain amount of natural gas. They have been doing this sort of thing manually, semi-manually, and recently automatically by computer for decades. What has not been happening is that Google sites inside PG&E's bailiwick and service area have had to guess their energy consumption, but now can link to PG&E's data in the cloud. Consider other such automatics linkages, for example: traffic, markets, stocks, decision support systems of many kinds, and onward toward "Hal."

Moore's Law is frequently thrown into a discussion like this: the idea that computing power doubles every so often ... eighteen months or twelve, depending on the enthusiasm of the Law quoter. There is a tendency in computing to believe that Moore's Law applies to the whole universe of computing, but it does not. Look how long it has taken MS to develop a version of Windows ... I am speaking about Windows 7 ... that is reasonably adequate. I began with the first Windows and fought against it zealously. Windows 3.1 was a marvel, and captured the imaginations of millions, and tried their patience endlessly. Computing grows and evolves, but as the MicroSoft examples show, there are human roadblocks and accounting roadblocks and profit process roadblocks and exogenous factors that inhibit, delay, warp, and condition what happens in computing, even with upstarts like FaceBook emerging and putting generations into a thrall.

Finally, I should add that government is the place where we need to drain the b.s. out of the system and replace it with rational processes. But that will not happen if (and this is a 100% certainty) political leaders cannot see a political advantage to themselves and their party. Moreover, the question of security is important and the national security people already know how fragile and vulnerable interlinked systems can be. Where we need it most is where the cloud will gather last.



The Psychology of Failure

Susan (of The American Liberalism Project now off for some r&r for a couple of days) and I have been flogging some ideas about how a progressive nation should behave for quite a few years now—not quite a decade yet, but soon. Both of us have misgivings about the goal and the process. Both of us know that at some point one affixes a stiff upper lip and soldiers onward ... but now with more ideals lying corpse-like in the amber waves of grain.

The truth is that "the world's great experiment" in popular democracy began poorly. It accepted human slavery as a fact of life in what has been trivialized as the "crack in our Liberty Bell." The burden of the failure of our founding statesmen to eradicate human slavery on principle from the beginning still weighs heavily on our narrow shoulders. We have an original sin and our failure to deal with what a wreck of ourselves it has caused simply perpetuates and exacerbates the effects. To put it mildly, we are a very sick society, and unfortunately not all of the disease comes from our horrible guilt and lack of guilt over slavery. Some of it comes from abroad. Some comes from the dark places in the human soul when left to its own devices in the isolation of the wilderness, be it Appalachia or The Bronx.

Susan and I know that we cannot dwell on these things or you will stop reading. We cannot dwell of these things because we are so poorly equipped to deal with them. We raise the issue, allude, echo, and even rant from time to time, but dragging the wretched truth around like a beggar's grocery cart just isn't enough. We know it, and you know it. You have the brains to see that goodness and empathy are in short supply, that people in their own misery are nearly deaf and blind to the raw facts and truth.

So, as Nicholas Chernyshevsky wrote in the 1860s in Tsarist Russia "What is to be Done?" (You historians know that Vladimir Lenin copied this aching title for his own purposes fifty years later.) But, what indeed, is to be done for a society that began so poorly and then horribly derailed less than a century along its path?

Phil Rockstroh doesn't have the answer either, but he does have some insight into the nature of our problem, and although his prose is florid sometimes, it is also designed to give some texture and relief to what all too often is a bland academic and formulaic response. Phil knows the American South and knows that the plantation class is just about annihilated by now, replaced quickly during Reconstruction and the 20th century by the predators of corporate America, whose ingenius morality was behind slavery in the first place and whose interests now differ only in the quaint legalisms that declare us free men and women, bound and gagged by what Phil rightly calls shame and our magical thinking he calls an addiction to optimism.

You should read Rockstroh as though everything he says is just part of the truth, but nevertheless true in spades! You should know that your own journey is both like his and not, but the likenesses are fundamental. Someone wrote recently, and I think I commented on it here that the chains that bind us to the perpetuation of a nation that exploits people as if they were trash, that enriches the rich beyond any sense of reason, that tranquilizes us like animals to be tagged and then monitored for our interesting habits, that squelches the brilliance of children in maddeningly ill-conceived schools ... these are chains of our own making, locked in place by ourselves in our delusions of grandeur, self-sufficiency, rugged individualism, and malignant pride.

Yes, reader, we have to soldier on. We have no choice, but we might look around from time to time so to see who is actually calling the shots. It is not Jesus, believe me, for that edifice is now so vile and corrupt as to be he apotheosis of sin in our age. It is not us. We read our way into apathy and weld our chains all the more tightly around ourselves ... and our families. It is a pathetic thing to observe and to see the frosting overtake the cake, the shallowness of our society, the empty calories that we now call "the good life."



Yale University: A Problem Going Unsolved

One of the rewards that universities like Harvard and Yale get when they strive to produce leaders and captains of industry is a closer look. If we are going to accept the cachet of Yale, for today's instance, as the proving ground for the intellectuals who will be making the thousands of decisions needed to move a society and its government forward, then we are going to look closely at what goes on at Yale. Is the place actually producing smart people, or is it a petri dish for the sons and daughters of the existing elites across the country, no better able to straighten out the spoiled brats among them than State U might have been.

There is a lot going on today, and concentrating on Yale to the exclusion of the impending close-down of government because Republicans who control one half of the Legislature and no part of the Executive, believe themselves to have a mandate, or writing on the continuing saga of Japan, her earthquakes, and her melting nuclear reactors, or guessing about the Arab Spring the blossoms of which are no longer occluding a view of the deep societal problems, ... is a little cheeky of me, but my view has always been that you readers do the headlines pretty well on your own.

You might easily miss the point that the male undergraduates at Yale seem to have a misogynist problem with social maturity. Not that you would have missed this point years ago when Skull & Bones lurched into the headlines when one the other of the Bush presidents careened into focus. There seems to be an annual rising of sap in New Haven that the administration of Yale University cannot deal with effectively. It is not funny to chant "No Means Yes" to Yale women. It deliberately erodes what little confidence Yale women have in the progress of human rights in their immediate environment. It is not funny to rate the incoming female students by the number of drinks it would take the average male Yalie to accept a Yale woman as a sexual target. The whole scene at Yale seems to be so far off kilter that you have to wonder what in hell the administration might be trying to do ... besides emulating the Roman Catholic Church strategy of covering up.

Here is the solution. If they cannot bring themselves to eject the leaders of these puerile demonstrations of misogyny from their midst then the trustees should eject them. No dean of students or vice president for student affairs would long survive elsewhere with this kind of crap going on year after year. Why should the moron that is at Yale continue year after year. Off with his or her head!

And, moreover, let it be said now that Yale has a moral duty to make amends if we are to accept their graduates as leaders of American enterprise and government. Until they make a strong statement that they REALLY will not tolerate this stuff, Yale is off the list of acceptable institutions.



“Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo.”

One of the things that you learn first about the history of the Russian people, the Great Russians, the South Russians, the White Russians, and even the Kalmyks and other strains of Asian influence on these people is that it is all probably not quite true. You learn that much of the early history of the Kievan state comes from the Ancient or Primary Chronicle dating from about the end of the first millennium of the Common Era. This is an enormous revelation for neophyte historians, because rarely do you find such historiographical honesty at the beginning of an inquiry. You learn with the learning of Russian history to get confirmation from disparate sources. You learn that legend often bears the burden of victors' ego, while it tantalizes with information that you would otherwise have never suspected. Those ancient chronicles were written by the winners of history and gave short shrift to those peoples whose fates were not so kind.

There is an excellent article in the April 4th issue of New Yorker Magazine about the pandemic corruption of the Russian government, and indeed, Russian society as well. I could help but think that Russian have a very unstable and unreliable base for their beliefs about themselves, especially since their own history has been written to excuse all manner of travesty and misfortune, not excluding a quarter millennium under the "Tatar Yoke," a humiliation that still begs for rewriting by the survivors.

And so what is in stark relief in Russia is in America scarcely understood, that our histories are didactic, designed to tell a specific story about ourselves, a story designed to provide sustenance in hard times and courage and blinders to certain strayings from the path of ... well ... national righteousness.

Students of the academic discipline of history will recognize our contemporary civilizations as heavily influenced by tendentious estimates of our current history, none perhaps more strident than the TeaParty version of what we are, born of a rangy discontent with the role of government when government is attempting to solve social problems like human rights and economic justice, in other words, problems for which the underlying belief systems are poorly enunciated and sometimes still hotly contested.

In the United States now and since the Civil war a hundred and fifty years ago a theory of civilization arose based on an elastic and deliberate misreading of Darwin's description of "natural selection" as the principle process defining the human species. It concludes, despite announcements to the contrary in our founding documents and principles, that human beings are unequal in every respect, that the principle of equality before the law is irrational nonsense and must be tempered or counteracted by alternatives that recognize the greater good created by those whose inborn deficits are inconsequential, but whose willingness to achieve within the laws and principles of commercial enterprise provides both work and livelihood for many—today's corporate elites.

The underlying key or premise to this view of modern man is that the creation and interpretation of laws of commerce and enterprise must be left to the judgment of those same people who seek to achieve by them. Of course, these people are not only oblivious to the inherent conflict of interests they create in society, but are willfully negligent of the hardships they cause, as they dismiss the very consciousness of people who actually chose not or could not play this game of enterprise by narrow laws and specious legalisms.

People like the TeaParty feel the gnawing truth that government has gone over to the dark side of commerce simply to create jobs regardless of the total cost to environment and the human condition. They are rathful, but they seem not to realize that they are dealing with destructive forces that play to the hand of those who would substitute themselves for the will of the majority. In their self-righteous anger TeaParty misses the essential point of it all—unearthing motives and underlying assumptions.

And so you wonder how we get into pickles like this? How can we be so stupid and self-destructive? How can millions of Arabs allow themselves to be ruled by ruthless dictators and tribal chieftains/kings and the like. How can people give up their Enlightenment heritage of natural rights so easily to falseness and self-serving leaders, whose main interest is personal aggrandizement, riches, and survival of the elite?

It begins with ignorance, I think, a certain kind of mental laziness as a habit of mind. It is about the unwillingness or inability of ancient Russians to point out that the Kievan princes did not call the Varangians (Vikings) down from Scandanavia to assist in governing, but rather that the princes of Kiev were a feckless lot that succumbed to the more aggressive Varangians and were overtaken. The old Church chronicles gave the story enough to disbelieve that the story falls apart on its own, of course, but contemporary stories about national purposes do not drill down into the presumptions that guide the policies of Teaparty people. They "take the words at face value" without a thought to what agenda lies beneath.

And so, there is an instructive example of this deliberate ignorance in Thursday's New York Times by author Caroline Alexander, a short introduction to a bad habit of mind that seems to be all too prevalent in our times. It is a story about an an inscription to be placed in the 9/11 memorial at "ground zero" in New York City, a quotation from Virgil's The Aeneid, but so wildly out of context and so ignorant of its original meaning as to completely misrepresent the destruction of the World Trade Towers and three thousand people within them. Thanks to Ms. Alexander, we may have caught this error in the writing of our history. Perhaps the press will see the point and drill down a bit more often for underlying assumptions.



Two Essays

Two essays by noted columnists arrived today, and rather than embroider an introduction, response, or retort, I thought you might just take the opportunity to read them without any coaching from me. Here they are:

The Truth, Still Inconvenient by Paul Krugman in the New York Times

The Roots of Anti-Muslim Bigotry by James Carroll in the Boston Globe



Elmer Gantry Lives

Most Americans are too young to remember the movie "Elmer Gantry" starring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. The movie probably could not be made today with the same message, the tolerance meter being red-lined well below what most of us understand as objective truth. But, Elmer lives on, you know. People like the self-certain-ness of the hardsell, rangy, charismatic, and if the message answers more of their earthly problems, then they almost brainwash themselves.

This is the point, though, brought into stark relief recently in a suburban Washington, D.C., Presbyterian church in Vienna, Virginia, not very far from where I was once an Episcopalian. It seems that the congregation entrusted its teenage girls to the lay leadership of an "Elmer" avatar. He was in business at this place among these girls for about five years, taking advantage of the basic fact that people, especially immature people or others with poorly or inadequately formed habits of mind are easy prey, particularly when you associate predatory behaviors with religious orthodoxy and zeal. This should tell us something, again, about the nature of organized religion.

The pederasts of the Roman Catholic Church are different from the man who preyed on Presbyterian teenage girls. The Catholic evil is clearly within the Church and systemic, as if one cohort of pederasts had recruited the next for lord knows how long. The Presbyterian experience in Vienna is not actually within the Church clergy, but clearly (from the Washington Post article today the pastor understands that his unit of the Church chose not to recognize what was happening and did precious little about it, preferring (like Cardinal Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict) to move on smartly and put it all behind them.

Church is where we take our human problems for an answer that does not seem forthcoming from secular sources. As I noted in my last essay, our human condition is replete with sufferings of many kinds, including socially-induced and systemic abuses, largely ignored by the fundamental Republican ethos and attributed by them to "bad choices" made by more or less inferior human beings. Church provides an orthodox answer by administering a palliative, a mythos carefully constructed to answer all questions with essentially the same answer, sufficient for many human beings, not so much for others. Church is a place where we are led to believe we can let down our guard, our natural mental defenses, our alertness to danger and misrepresentation.

It turns out that Church is a human enterprise where predators occasionally lurk and where they are given safe harbor to do their thing. But, moreover, it is a place of deception, for even casual understanding of the powers of man should tell you that no pastor, bishop, presbyter, or guru, has all the truth, or even any. It is a place, despite the over-dependence on the righteousness of orthodoxies, is really pragmatic and more like a M.A.S.H. unit than a hospital. Mistakes are made and people are maimed or die.



The Longest Running Disaster in History

Writing about the multi-layered and indescribably horrible disasters in Japan is what I was going to do, until I read Maureen Dowd's column today in the New York Times. Maureen has written about the Roman Catholic clergy and their unbelievable crimes against humanity before, and so have I. It is one of those rocks under which there seems to be endless stories of depravity and wanton disregard for human beings, a decisive indictment of that Church and everything that distinguishes it from the rest of our world's religions.

Today Maureen concentrates on the Philadelphia story, a thread in this skein of pederasty and lies and institutional rot that has not gotten the attention it needs because of the revolutions in north Africa and the Arabian peninsula and more importantly the devastation and continuing horror in Japan. But, in fact, the Roman Catholic clergy problem is the longest running disaster of them all, an assault on the defenseless young here and abroad that has been going on for no one knows how long, but certainly centuries, perhaps millennia!

The most atrocious part of the Roman Catholic Church story is the deliberate suppression of the crimes against children AS IF the victims were of little value in the ethos of the Church, AS IF the survival of this wretched congeries of pederasts outweighed the justice and truth that the victims deserved. I have written it before and I will repeat it now: The Roman Catholic Church has relinquished all moral authority on this planet. They are beyond the Pale and deserving of the Hell on Earth they have created. If only we could deal with these priests and Papal enablers like they dealt with the young. There would be justice!



The First Amendment in Action

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That is the heavyweight sentence of the the millennium just ended a few years ago. It is attached to a document we simply call The Constitution. It is self-referential in that you have to know what the word "Congress" means in both a literal and a metaliteral sense. You have to know what the Framers thought when they used the word "establishment"—was it a verbal or nominative sense, did they mean the process of establishing or the "edifice" of something already established? You have to know what intent the split infinitive "to peaceably assemble" has. Is the grammatical licence meant to draw special attention, or was that common and unremarkable in the 1780's? Scholars make careers on such questions and with a variety of answers. In this way the Constitution and its Bill of Rights is a living document, one which because of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court this week continues to live.

The people from that Church in Topeka, KS have the right to express their belief that the death of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is the result of our society's toleration and acceptance of homosexuality. Yes, I agree with the Court, too. These church people are fools, of course, and seemingly heedless of the mental anguish they cause, the "brutalization" as Justice Samuel Alito called it in his lone dissent, a dissent that did not raise new issues, but rather simply echoed the sense of the Framers that "free speech" has limits as do "peaceable assemblies."

Read The Washington Post or the The New York Times on this story. I think you will hear the muffled protests of those who agree (if rarely) with Alito. Notice that the Post headline and article spends a bit more time inserting the notion that this ruling was for a church, leaving open the question of whether it pertains to any assembly of persons exercising their free speech rights. It is a subtle inference on their part and very deliberate.

The answer to this noxious bit of Constitutional parsing is that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. It makes clear, to me at least, that picketing of the church in Topeka and the activists among them wherever they assemble to peacefully demonstrate their bigotry is right and proper and fully defended in the Constitution. I believe that they should be drowned out by the chorus of intelligent, tolerant, compassionate, and understanding majority in our country, and were Topeka and her people anywhere nearby, I would be on the sidewalk in front of that miserable congregation and letting them know how utterly stupid, self-righteous, and destructive they are.



The Crisis of Humanity

Sometimes it does not help to take the long, broad view of things. I can tell you that in the main humanity is so far from overcoming its own genetic and social legacies that a sane person would despair. So, in times like these, it is necessary to concentrate on things at more manageable levels, like calling out the Governor of Visconsen for the lying jerk he and his GOP family of fascists really are. Cut corporate taxes and then blame the deficit on state workers' trade unions! He should be impeached! ... or worse!

Why the Governor and the GOP conservatives are so ugly to behold is another story. George Lakoff's long-standing and basically incontrovertable thesis is that these self-absorbed moral midgets were brought up this way. Conservatism is a moral disease brought about by familial tyranny, as Lakoff clearly points out time and again in his writings. The ranting conservatism we see today in America is not just a disease of the soul, it is a clear and present danger to the weak and and unwary among us, about whom these conservatives care almost nothing, as shown in the next story.

Nick Stuban, 15 years old, committed suicide because of the tyranny at his high school in Fairfax, Virginia, where, incidentally, two of my relatives are matriculated. The Governor and the high school Principal are birds of a very dark feather, tyrants, conservative authoritarians whose interest is to see to it that nothing happens on their watch, rather than seeing to it that honest workers are treated fairly and young teenagers are educated in the best way, including educating them about the messiness and ambiguities of real life. The principal and the Fairfax Board of Education that hired this monster and his staff should all be fired! ... or worse!

But, the beat goes on. Maureen Dowd in what is probably a facetious diatribe about the inability of many to deal with information coming to them via the new social networks, absolutely nails the issue in a way that I wish Lakoff could incorporate into his thinking. Writing about the assault and rape of a CBS female reporter in Alexandria, Egypt, last week, Dowd does dig down into the bowels of the tweets and blogs to describe the very most sordid aspect of humanity, while the amorality of electronic media amplifies and broadcasts it to a pitch that begs for silence and reconsideration of our "progress." Dowd knows that the human condition is a mixed bag, and we all know that with electronic media or not, we have been a savage species for tens of thousands of years despite our attempts at civilization. The rapists and those Americans who have ranted their vile praise of them will not be brought to justice, but someone somewhere knows them and will do their best to bring them some clarity ... or worse.

Meanwhile in Libya Muhammar Gaddafi (or however one is to spell this monster's name these days) has ordered the killing of persons mourning their dead in cemeteries. Is this not a new low for dictators and their coercive forces? And, we wonder, pondering the rights and responsibilities of sane and honest citizens in Fairfax, why the Libyans put up with the tyranny their leader gives them each day. Obviously, in each case the people are afraid of being destroyed by tyrants, picked out of the crowd and made an example of, herded into corners and browbeaten until their heads ring with numb resignation ... and hatred ... or worse.

It is a bewildering and utterly depressing picture painted for us by the clear thoughts of seasoned writers this weekend in February. It is all the more so after reading Bob Herbert's account of how something as abstract and sterile as reducing a government program budget can destroy people. It is more of the estrangement we have from our moral center, our willingness to capitulate for moments of surcease and safety and quiet. It is, however, a capitulation and definitely a victory for that conservative disease that has us all forgetting or abandoning our social responsibilities. If we are not a social species, then what are we? Can people not see that morality is social and that it entails social responsibilities?

Perhaps yes! There is some evidence, as Frank Rich sees it today, that resistance is not futile. The majority of Americans know there is something wrong in America, and they often listen to the loudest and the most cunning voices, but not inevitably and not for long. The conservative disease bearers are now being scorned, isolated, made out for the cunning tyranny-bringers they really are. I think that Rich is correct. Americans are often foolish and poorly focused on the threats to their well-being, but they are not stupid. We must criticize conservatives who are (whether they know it or not) furthering the processes of tyranny. It requires us to speak up, to write, to act, to block the entrances, to join in common cause.



All The World's A Stage and We are Players in It

We beings of planet Earth, arisen from the murky depths and spread out like some strangely patterned fungus on the surface, our spores sailing in the low clouds, our imaginations constrained by the insecurities of daily need for food and shelter and many other things we really need and many more we don't, marvel at the pet dog who believes himself to be a member of the family, the pig raised by dogs and seems to think himself a dog, but we do not marvel at ourselves sufficiently.

Shakespeare wrote in "As You Like It" that

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Sans everything at the end, of course, but are we as Shakespeare wrote confined to the stages of ordinary life, or ... or are we as he first asserts actors capable of reading a different part, players, possessed of something more than just free will, perhaps something more in keeping with our inevitable vanishing, something from inside the conscious brain that notes injustice and turns to fix it?

The exercise is not futile, I think and having read playwrite Wallace Shawn today from TomDispatch in Tom Englehardt's absence, I am restored from yesterday's glum pessimism, and I hope you will be as well. Shawn has written an elegant essay about our possibilities to be our better selves, and Thomas Jefferson take heed.



Blue Valentines

The world watches as Arabs, discontent with the lack of progress in their countries, discontent with tribal rule and patriarchal dictators, discontent with what seems to be their assigned part of the future, go to the streets to demand change. At home in America both liberals and conservatives cheer them on, hoping well beyond all hope that the Arabs will see real Americans as friends, despite years of American governments choosing stability in the Arab lands and chessboard posturing for the sake of Israeli security.

The rest of the world cheers on the Arabs because what Arabs do in the streets is done because playing their dictators' games achieves nothing. Dictators promise reform, stage transparently corrupted and meaningless "democratic" elections, and live high on the hog as millions live in poverty and see their lives wasted by these arrogant men. For the ends they see as important American governments support these regimes, and so America's government's policy seems to have tacitly bought the idea spoken many years ago by New Republic's Peretz that "Muslim life is cheap."

But, in fact, life in general is cheap and treated at face value you see the outcomes as seething anger and blind rage. You do not have to go to Cairo or Mogadishu or Tunis or Baghdad to see it. When human beings are treated like trash in America they end up looking like and acting like trash. Liberals quickly see the cause and effect and work for a change in the causal factors. Sometimes even they work to help the affected human beings, but often they do not succeed. Conservatives see the causes as personal bad decisions and turn away from these daily tragedies as if there were nothing in them worth saving.

There is a motion picture now playing called "Blue Valentine." It is about two young Americans whose lives are a mess. Their lives have always been a mess because as children their families were disfunctional and violent and unconcerned with what the children saw and learned and modeled. The boy has no ambition but to create a family that is functional, but he does not know how. He has never seen one. The girl (the actress is up for an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role) comes from a family where her life is meaningless and threatened daily by her father's virulent hatred of the mother, who is too busy nursing her own psychological wounds to be of much good to her child.

Both know there is a better way, but they do not know how to get there, and no one can break through the walls they have erected to defend themselves as children and offer them guidance. The young man works hard, but drinks hard, partly to anesthetize himself and partly to prove he is really a man. The young woman engages in careless sex and eventually has a baby, though the paternity is misplaced the young man undertakes the responsibility for it. They fail.

The movie has been testing my circuits for a week now. My sense of optimism was shattered by it. My liberalism brought into question because it appears that this couple are not only typical of the perpetuating devaluation of human life in our society, but that they are already in their early twenties too far gone! There is no religion to help these people, no agency, no law, no moral imperative in our society to help these fellow human beings. They (and eventually we) just think of them as pitiful trash, refuse by the side of the road, blown around by the vagaries of the economy and the decisions they make with their meager tools of life.

The notion popped into my head when the Tunisian immolated himself that the desperation of real people is also real and the invisibility of solutions absolutely real and stark. The characters in "Blue Valentine" are also "hopeless" as long as there is no one interested in taking a lot of time helping them out of what the prisons of their childhood terrors have made for them as adults. While Americans and Europeans hope that Tunisia and Egypt and Jordan do not become religious dictatorships like Iran, there will be in those places a search for some sort of hope, some agency, some law, some moral imperative in those cultures directed to saving millions of lives. Islam will be the beacon, and we must understand that.



Pro-Life Politics and Choice

As an article in the New York Times this Saturday morning tells, this is the time for the so-called "pro-lifers" to pass their brand of regulatory rules for our society—social regulations! In this case, obviously, anti-abortion rules for people of all stations and means to abide by until the pendulum turns away from this kind of meddling.

Of course, the pro-lifers think of their efforts as undoing outrageous laws, bordering on rules for acceptable homicide. And, quickly the debate comes down to the issue of whether or not a human being exists at conception, three days later, three weeks later, three months later, or only at birth. And the argument is not specious; it is a question that is fundamentally unanswerable because the contexts in which the question is asked are so utterly different, one from the other, that the academic exercise of declaring a human being to be human or be a being is just about irrelevant.

I think that most Progressives and Liberals want there to be a Choice reserved in law to the woman who finds herself pregnant. That is a good principle upon which to found an argument. The question is whether there a point in a large, boisterous, and basically non-homogeneous society where Choice becomes something else, where some members of the society perceive it to be Permission, and having perceived it that way for a while take it to be akin to Promotion? I believe that the pro-lifers believe this to be true, and I also believe that Progressives and Liberals should give themselves the opportunity to examine this question thoroughly.

It comes down to an issue that a friend in California and I discussed just the other day ... the question of elitist hegemony in the Democratic Party, a state of affairs that is tolerated by the rest of the political left because they are content to have someone working out the theoretical and abstract principles upon which good old American pragmatism ultimately coupled.

Or, put it another way, the Yalies and Harvard boys in the Democratic Party (to use icons, but to include educational and economic elites wherever they may occur) are useful to the larger mass of the party both as vocal leaders, but may from time to time (perhaps always!) be orchids to the dandelions of the party, not living among the masses, but so differentiated as to be fundamentally disconnected and unable to see the pragmatic reality of our society.

I think that pro-life has this defect. I agree with the concept of Choice, but as believer in Emanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative ("act as though what you do will be a model for others") as a good rule for organizing one's behaviors, I think that personal Choice must not be confused with social Choice, that is, what one person does is presumably based on his or her own circumstances, his or her understanding of those circumstances, and his or her means and ability to effect a beneficial outcome within the circumstances. But, a social Choice has none of that. Social Choice is inevitably based more on trends and values than on pragmatic fact.

There is no question in my mind that people are having babies that they cannot really afford, given their incomes, their ability to nurture and educate, or their own health and family environments. Statistically the children born into these "deficit situations" tend to remain in deficit their whole lives, and that includes giving birth to their own children with similar life chances. The statistics also allow for miracles, and these are widely publicized to give credence to the idea that a person can bootstrap out of humble/deficit situations. You know where I am going with this.

Our society is not sufficiently mature to deal with issues like life and death rationally. Moreover, there are forces in the society that have dogmatic and entrenched positions on population growth: the Roman Catholic Church for one, and until robots are ubiquitous, industry for another. To be fair, there are groups and organizations that think the opposite ... that there are too many human beings already and that we need to slow the "natural increase" down so that the population subsides to a level more consistent with the environment and our own species' maturity.

Pro-life does not want to argue about this. They have staked out a dogmatic position that abortion is some level of homicide, perhaps not first degree murder, but clearly offensive to some universal morality they believe exists. Staking out a dogmatic position is always a mistake, because there are always going to be exceptions, particularly where the mother's life will certainly be lost if the abortion is not carried out. Pro-life fails on the question of Choice, too, because it restricts its rhetoric to the social Choice, not the personal Choice.

Pro-Choice mistakes its fundamental principle as sufficient. Choice is good, but what does it evolve into in the society generally. Is there evidence that people are using abortion for regular birth-control? If they are, is this what is intended, given the respect due the other side's view of the process as a kind of homicide? And, really, how much respect IS due?

I happen to believe that this is an issue that cannot be finally resolved in a society as large and diverse as our own. I believe that we do best when we understand that the issue is fraught with uncertainty and demands compassion. I fear that the new wave of anti-abortion legislating will not incorporate my views at all.



The Efficacy of Assassination

James Carroll's Monday column in the Boston Globe brings us the bad news that assassinations work. They divert history as if they were dams. They retard progress and often bring decades of backwardness. Carroll notes that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday is different and a similar momentum has been re-established by President Obama in Tucson. We can hope.



Spin Dry Amnesia

I recall reading in the past week an article about how women's tears are full of chemicals that have a mollifying and calming, pacifying effect on males. The article, to attract attention, of course, related the research results to the notion that a crying woman is a man's first clue that "not tonight" will be the next words he hears. I am not convinced that the research on this subject was rigorously tested by other scientists, and in fact I did note that one dissenter claims that human beings do not even have a functioning vomero-nasal organ with which to detect the presence of pheromones, such as might be present in some tears. The other part of this research suggested strongly that the mollifying and pacifying effect would extend only to the limits of "the clan." This is another reason I am holding this new research in my highly provisional category for now. But I am holding it, because there are lots of research results that point to the sending and receiving of pheromones while other research points to the human "clan" as a basic organizational category. Who knows yet? I come away from this reading with two ideas.

One, it is very apparent that scientists have vitriolic comments to extend where they think other scientists are going astray. These are impolite comments and fully replete with disdain and even outright hostility. In other words, I see that contentiousness is not restricted to pundits, the mentally unbalanced, or politicians.

Two, I think that our mental horizons are quite a bit less extensive that we imagine them to be, even in a world dominated by mass communications and vivid depictions of far away people and their lives. In other words, we have on average, probably, a hard-wired limit to our willingness to engage people much beyond our "native group" our "clan."

Along a parallel path today, Frank Rich writes about the quick relapse and contraction of our moral imaginations in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, assassination, and murders. For reasons that lie deeper and, perhaps, more entrenched in our psyches than we want to admit, we are seemingly incapable of ridding ourselves of guns even as a matter of civilized principle and rational prudence. Something in us needs to be retained that permits us to "project our wills" out beyond our natural limits in such a way that is unmistakably authoritative and violent. This probably goes all the way back to the first use of tools, the fetishism of tools, the love-affair with the long stick, the pointed stick, the throwing spear, and onward technologically to the Glock Model 19.

There is a calculus to our unwillingness to disarm and be all that much safer. As this Washington Post article describes, those politicians who clearly remain in harm's way while guns are being purchased in record numbers are stepping out into the world again without any surety of their safe return to their own loved ones and clan. How can they do this, you should ask? Do they not understand the statistical profile of violence in this country, the gulf and chasm that separates points of view and separates our clans into Hatfields and McCoys on every corner?

Is there any way for people who detest violence to avoid becoming part of the rush to arms?

I feel it strongly, the urge to arm myself against those thugs who warned me to shut my liberal mouth ... or else. I feel it strongly that the next outbreak will be less ambiguous, more clearly partisan, more obviously (to some) that "shot heard 'round the world," the opening moment of insurrection, the beginning of a national bloodbath taking place in every neighborhood. I dread that next event, that seems so perfectly inevitable and yet preventable with courage.



Our Human Condition

Today in the New York Times both Paul Krugman and David Brooks wrote on the subject of the hour, the lack of civility in the public dialog these days. Krugman believes that the problem is too deep to be swept away by the revulsion over the Tucson shootings. I agree. The far right is coming from completely different view of life and morality from that of the left. There is not much you can say to a person who believes, as Social Darwinists do, that the health of people is their own problem and that if they cannot afford health care it is because they are inferior to those who can. There is not much you can do with people who are so blind to the benefits of being governed democratically that they would risk it all for virtually no government at all.

I liked David Brooks's comments as well and believe with him that in the long run responsible leaders in government and industries can push aside the hatreds and misgivings of those who currently thrive on hatred. But the problems in our discourse will not be managed by the likes of Rupert Murdock or Roger Ailes. It is going to take some people with intelligence and starch to get beyond the situation in which we find ourselves today.

The point, whether the other side sees it or not, is that the contentiousness can literally be boiled down to the principles and assumptions involved and those revealed as part of the dialogue. I think that many liberals will be surprised how weakly their own programs and policies are supported by hard facts, rather than well-meant hypotheses. And, conservatives have even more to discover about themselves, particularly how utterly selfish they appear to the rest of us.

We have a lot of work to do. Liberals and Progressives have work that they are unused to doing successfully, namely, examining their assumptions in the light of ever clearer evidence that we have not much longer to go down this present road before it becomes a ditch and perhaps a sudden grave.



A Diagnosis That is Also Heartbreaking

We have a very sick society.

Two writers in the past twenty-four hours have put their fingers on the fundamental problem in our society, the alarming streak of violence that is shot through the fabric of our society, sold by the ton-load on television, in video games, in our real wars. I say "sold" because the activity is deliberate and profitable. Very profitable.

America dove back into depression in 1937 for reasons that you have all read about, FDR's misgauging of the 1936 "recovery" and extremely vocal opposition being the main reasons. The thing that brought us out of the tailspin of the late 1930's was FDR's gearing up for a confrontation with Hitler and Mussolini, first through Lend-Lease and then by stages an escalation of support for the United Kingdom after the Phoney War and the fall of France. WWII mobilized the economy in a way that the cranks and pulleys of classical capitalism never could, and we emerged the victor and, in due time we realized, the one remaining almost unscathed super-power.

What we did not realize or understand despite Ike's Farewell Address conclusion that we face the threat of becoming a military-industrial complex, was that the mantle that fell from the UK to our shoulders, did not fit us well. We easily succumbed to the riches that military might and constant and pervasive militarism provide. We became a different sort of society in the Cold War, and it is ironic indeed that the call to the "good ol' days" of the '50's is so prevalent. We did indeed lose our innocence, but we also became a society of violence, seething under the surface with the resolve to nuke enemies back to the stone age (but never used, the thought really never tested for its lack of sanity, and now resulting in a murderous undercurrent in our culture).

The two essays I am introducing are along these lines. First, I would like you to read what may be Bob Herbert's best essay in years, "A Flood Tide of Murder".

Then I would like you to entertain the contextual remarks made by William Hartung in the blog TomDispatch, run by Tom Englehardt, entitled "Lockheed Martin's Shadow Government". I think you will agree with the first sentence of my essay.



Tucson Is Heartbroken

I live in a suburb of Tucson about 30 minute's drive from where a horrific shooting took place today. This shooting did not take place inside Safeway supermarket or the Walgreen's drug center next door. The shooter was not angry about high food prices or Big Pharma selling expensive pharmaceuticals. The suspect shot my Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, a woman whom I know from working for her campaign, with whom I spoke less than a month ago one on one, whom I hugged and kissed at a party celebrating her narrow victory. The shooter instead shot at a political figure. He shot Gaby and seventeen other persons, killing six (at this writing) and grievously wounding ten, all of whom are fighting for their lives tonight and tomorrow and the next day.

Gaby Giffords was shot through the brain, and she is grievously wounded. Our hope is for her survival and hopefully her recovery. I know that the whole country hopes she will. She is a remarkable human being for whom I have immense respect and love.

The shooting was perpetrated by a disturbed young Tucsonan, a boy of twenty-two tortured years, but his target was an elected member of Congress. It was an attempted political assassination. It was, in my opinion and the opinion of the Pima Country Sheriff, politically motivated and the result of hate speech gone rampant in this country, broadcast for money by the electronic media and repeated endlessly on the political and social networks of our age. Whether Gaby survives or not, this has to stop.

Free speech does not include incitement to riot or any other form of physical violence. It is dangerous and deadly and six people in my city have died because, as the Sheriff said, we have no shortage of unbalanced people in this country who cannot distinguish and evaluate hate speech for what it is. The suspect may be unbalanced, we just don't know yet. He is "troubled" and like the boy who killed at Virginia Tech a while back, he could have been stopped before he acted. Instead he was brought to his dreadful act by adult persons making a buck dealing out the rhetoric of hatred and violence.

Tucson was the place this time, but everyone of you knows that it could have happened where you live, too. You just are not lucky enough to have a Representative as beautiful in her heart and soul as Gabrielle Giffords.




You can have 2010. It was a bad year for billions of people, me and my family among them. Needless to say, the universe does not care a whit about unemployment, heart attacks, environmental and political disasters, cancer, cynical mendacity, corruption, rapacious drug lords or petroleum tycoons. Life is messy and despite our best efforts to put things into categories of expectation and behavior, moral people turn out to be fundamentally undependable, and moral people may well be the minority on this planet. That is a tough statement, but one needs to decide whether sunshine morality like sunshine patriotism is all we can hope for. Or, more importantly, is that how we decide morality: on easy situations. If so, next year will be a real test of the population, and if I am right, people will act way outside the Golden Rule to survive, to get ahead, to seize a fleeting opportunity, to take advantage of situations. Translate that into the behavior of nations and reduce the pot to three: China, Russia, and the United States (with appropriate apologies to the European Union, India, Brazil and other hopeful countries and cultures) and you will have my prognosis.

China is on everyone's thoughts from the dude down at Walmart marveling at the inexpensive goods shipped four or five times a day from the sweaty ports of resurgent China. But China is feeling their window of opportunity closing as the realities of bringing a nation and culture out of 5000 years of navel-gazing self-absorption into a competitive world of peers and commonwealths. The window is closing slowly enough for the Chinese to emerge with few cultural impediments, but the politics of China are not. The leadership in China is jealous of its position—defacto committee dictatorship—and seemingly unable to assert itself in the international community with adult and mature behaviors, as exemplified by the threats against Norway and other nations for acknowledging the captive Liu Xiaobo winner of the Nobel Prize, for taunting the West with the delinquent leadership of North Korea, for over-reaching against the Japanese for a wayward fishing vessel, and most recently for establishing an economic embargo and quotas on 97% of the worlds supply of rare earth minerals. China is like a new kid on the block, older than the neighborhood kids, but emotionally and socially backward, missing chances to be a leader right and left, failing to show what 5000 years of civilization can produce, exploiting its workers, and denying them basic civil rights, while playing nationalist internal propaganda for all it is worth. China will be a problem next year—a serious and growing problem.

Russia, the largest land-mass country in the world, (but a mere fading shadow compared to China's 1.3 billions) stands at its own windows of opportunity as well. Russia is and always has been behind the West in the development of law, despite valiant attempts by the autocracy to impose a codified system of law on a country savagely engaged in medieval serfdom as the Americans were fighting one another over negro slavery. Russia's problem is autocracy and the sense of smallness and helplessness that pervades the individual in Russia. Vladimir Putin understands the deep anxiety of Russians about getting along with one another as equals under law. He knows that Russians fundamentally distrust. He knows how to perpetuate that for his own power, and so this nation that gave us unparalleled advances in the arts in the 19th century, in rapacious politics in the 20th, stands poised at the end of the first decade of a new millennium to fall backward into political lethargy and dictatorship because it cannot deal with law. The oil tycoon Khodorkovsky was given seven more years in prison for his crimes (and believe me, he did not become a billionaire petroleum tycoon overnight by prayer alone, he is guilty of gargantuan thievery of state property and manipulation of corrupt government officials). Khodorkovsky is guilty, but Putin is also guilty of using power instead of law to bring people like Khodorkovsky to justice. What he got was not "justice" but a naked whipping with the ancient Russian knout. Putin, whose power seems to virtually absolute—in the autocratic tradition of Russia—seems to have given up trying to reform the 140 million and slowly declining numbers of Russians. His failure is Russia's failure and it means more problems from Russia, not fewer.

The United States may be the more volatile of the nations in our pot today. There is abroad in the land of the free and home of the brave a steady buzz about decline, an aching restlessness about the kinds of progress our county now makes, about the stratification of society along socio-economic lines (which has been the case for centuries, by the way, but never so vivid and disparate). The decline of the United States may be a matter of the failure of the democratic experiment begun in 1787 with our Constitution. The open question is whether our form of government can resist the power of wealth or not. Clearly, the United States has long since ceased to function as a representative democracy, a republic in the classical sense, and instead has entered for the second time a period of transition to a corporatist state where representatives elected by the people (democratically) are so beholding financially and ideologically to their corporate benefactors that they see their mission to serve the people as properly mediated by serving corporations that hire people. Corporations are tumors—cancers— in political terms, but U.S. law gives them civil rights as if they were individual citizens.

More than the silent imposition of corporations between the people and their government is the lie that it has not happened, and the cascades and floods of lies that support that basic lie. Paul Krugman notes how pervasive the lying has become, taking over one of the main political parties completely, and a good part of the other. But, lies told upon lies do not alter the reality of things. They may alter the perception, and certainly they have. Americans are so confused by the lies these days that they cannot reason from evidence to sound conclusions, as if an entire nation had been lobotomized and its common IQ reduced 50 points. The good ol' days in America, which were marked by violent racism, sexism, poverty, subordination of individual spirit to a cold war manufactured for the aggrandizement of powerful elites, are gone. We should be thankful and should build a new America on sturdier foundations, but will we? We have a Congress that is corrupt and 60 some new members whose mission is to make sense of what has befallen us but from false premises and lies. America has a window, too, and it is closing on us. If we do not get some fresh air into the body politic soon, America is going to be the biggest problem on this glorious blue planet.



The Case for ROTC on Campus

Colman McCarthy, a former writer for the Washington Post takes up the cudgel against ROTC (and presumably NROTC [Navy's version]) on college campuses. You can read his reasons for objecting to ROTC if you want, but to summarize them, he is against war. Nice!

Yes, I am against war, too, but I think we have been down this path several times in my lifetime, with new wars hatching on the horizon ahead of us. Humans are feisty, foolish, and fierce competitors for power and riches, so war is, I am afraid, more or less inevitable in the long run. In the short run we are sentient beings with memory and conscience, so we should be doing all we can to forestall the outbreak of wars (and all the little military actions we don't want to call "war," per se.)

How do you set up a society to be prepared for military action in such a way as to be INTRINSICALLY against war. Well, my friends, the way NOT to be intrinsically against war is to have service academies where young men and women are selected and trained to be "professional" officers in the military services. The very idea of service academies goes against the concept of civilian control of he military, and if you live in the Washington, D.C. area, as I did, you know that military careers are built on wartime feats, not on sitting in the Navy Annex on Columbia Pike or down the hill in the Pentagon.

Sitting or fighting the question is really one of the kind of preparation our young officers get. The service academies are as close to a monoculture of militarism as you will find this side of places like The Citadel, a notoriously militaristic "college" for the sons (and a few daughters) of colonels and generals (and the occasional admiral).

The best preparation for an intrinsically civilian and non-militaristic (and I only mean by that term a monocultural view of the military) will be obtained in civilian universities. There the young and impressionable ROTC student mixes daily with young men and women (like McCarthy) who hate the idea of mass killing and all that the military really encounters in practice. This exposure is the best guarantee we have that a substantial portion of the officer corps will be "multi-culturally" trained to do their duty.

The liberal education in America is not dead. There are many students who go to college or university to become well-rounded thinkers. By contrast, the number of students majoring in the humanities in the service academies is insignificant. The nature of modern society is, they say, that what you learn in the first year of a four or five year baccalaureate degree program from a college or university like, say, the University of Maryland or Florida or Tennessee or Georgia or Iowa or Oregon ... will be obsolete before you graduate. That may be true as to facts and methodologies, but as to reasoning processes, probably not. And this, of course, is the essence of education in the Humanities and in matters of Critical Thinking that challenges assumptions and authority. And that is not happening in the service academies like it happens on civilian campuses.

McCarthy is right that war is hell, and wrong about ROTC. ROTC is the more reliable source of humane reasoning for our military services. Critical Thinking will not lead them into foolishness nearly as often as the so-called "discipline" that the academies so revere. I have said it before, and will repeat it now. The service academies should be shut down and ROTC remain subjected to the rigors of academic governance.



Demise of the Dream

Frank Rich, writing in Sunday's New York Times, asks the question that gives title to his essay: Who Killed the Disneyland Dream, a question that glides into the more general question about the so-called American Dream. Rich is aware of the excitement among my generation about the building of Disneyland in Anaheim, California (still the Golden State in those innocent days.) After all daily "newsreels" were presented by the Mouseketeers detailing the advancing progress of the theme park. Whether we admitted it or not, we were all hoping to go to Disneyland as soon as possible and see the wonders of the "gravity defying" imagination brought to life.

But, the question that Rich wants to ask is not really about Disneyland or the imagination of fantasies. It is about the American Dream that we have heard so much about during our lives. That "dream" is actually nationalistic propaganda designed to weld a loyalty to the American system of representative government and private capitalism. The term "American Dream" goes no further back than 1931, although many would argue that the idea behind the expression "pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence is the true source of the American Dream. (If you read the history of the drafting of the Declaration, you will learn that "happiness" was a compromise term thrown in at the last by men whose experience in statecraft already included the major compromises of the soon-to-be born nation, slavery chief among them.

So, the American dream is, nevertheless, a major theme in 20th century American mythology, a constant drum beat, a pervasive idea that breeds the sort of "exceptionalism" that most Americans tolerate because of the goodness of the idea. We are taught, trained, and all but brow-beaten into the acceptance and steadfast support of the idea that America does better than any other country in providing a realistic chance for people to get happy through accumulation of wealth. Or, at least that is the subtext of Frank Rich's description of the American Dream.

I will dissent more than just slightly. I believe that many of us take the American Dream to be a promise of freedom of thought and conscience that transcends (and incidentally avoids) the notion of economic gain. I think most of us understand that the economic American Dream is likely to benefit only a relatively few people, that in reality we are more likely to achieve comfort, but not real wealth.

And so the question really is what leads me to this conclusion and why? There is a story in the Washington Post today that goes most of the way toward explaining the loss of faith in the mythos of the American dream, being the economic dream that happiness is achievable through accumulated wealth or the more general one about freedom of thought and conscience. It is the story about suborning and soliciting of bribery by the elected representatives of our government, principally the members of Congress. It is the story of the loss of the defining element of the American Dream, the loss of our democracy to corporatism, yes, fascism. The process began in the Gilded Age after the Civil War, was almost stopped by the Great Depression, and renewed itself shortly after WWII, bringing us to the point now where we know (whether we are TeaParty or not) our government was bought and paid for by special interests that have no reason to even pay lip service to the ideas of the American Dream.

The answer: corporate America killed the Disneyland Dream and the American Dream.




Paul Krugman today reaches for a Christmas fable to frame the fables being created by the corporatists (aka GOP)(aka American Fascists). It is a good article with instructive explanations of what eager conservative ears are hearing from their leaders. It is a desperately pathetic situation, which does not lead to optimism about politics in our country.

If you examine the GOP you will find that it represents people of all stripes and economic conditions, with a much larger representation at the high income end than the Democrats. But, the point is that as a cross-section of religious and economic America, conservatives are everywhere, so they have either transcended economic categories or there is something more powerful than economics at work to sustain them.

Yes, there is something, and we have identified it long ago as FEAR. Conservatism is based on reluctance and aversion, both negative and both based in primal fear of things that are different from their mental constructs of what is reality. But, fear is what potentially unites the conservative hoi polloi together as a category. What glues them together, as Krugman describes is professional propaganda, which he calls "humbug" to resonate with the season, but which we call black lies at all other times.

Professional propaganda is orchestrated lying to achieve an end. In the case of the GOP it is the goal of the super rich, the rich, and the hopefully rich that riches be accepted as the currency of survival. It is a Gospel of Wealth idea that was popular the last time the wealthy began to rewrite reality to reflect their points of view. It is pseudo-Darwinism, an attempt to suggest that those who become wealthy are by definition the most fit of human beings. It is, however, like saying that the fattest steer is the fittest, ignoring the facts that brought the steer to its well marbled fleshy state, namely, a system of animal husbandry that includes the hand feeding by employees in the system, and the appetite of one and all for a juice steak from time to time.

Professional propaganda needs money to continue its appeal to fear and to the hope that riches will become the reward to the lucky and loyal supporters of the corporatist system. The money comes from organizations of corporate leaders, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and think tanks and lobbying operations and from rich individual donors who seek only to perpetuate their own luck.

The corporatists will stop at nothing to achieve their principal aim, which is to so insulate themselves from the rigors and vagaries of the commonweal that they are effectively "above the system." They have glommed onto the notion that big government is a problem, largely because a competent government can assist the poor as well as he rich, and the rich don't want to support the poor. The poor are only exploitable as long as they believe themselves to be consigned to poverty. The attack on the middle-classes is precisely in this vein. Inflation slowly erodes the foundation of middle-class life and so as the leap to riches is revealed to be mostly chimerical and mythical, the leap made by professional athletes and media celebrities being a miniscule part of the total population, the ground beneath the lower middle-class drops away leaving them hovering over the chasm of poverty.

And yet, these people vote against their own economic interests on the "principle of individualistic economic self-determination," as if anyone gets ahead by him- or herself! In fact, the average economic life is so fully and thoroughly embedded in a matrix of government and private support systems indispensable to the accumulation of wealth.

Krugman's humbug is a big subject and well on its way to becoming the dominating mythos of our times. It is necessary that those who see clearly the reality of this situation speak frequently, loudly, and authoritatively against it. Memorize the lessons Krugman teachs for the argument that will surely follow Christmas dinner tomorrow.



The Southern Poverty Law Center

Recently I began an association with the SPLC, largely because I believe that the racism of the TeaParty and even the mainstream of the GOP is about to get out of hand...again and that we are in for another round of hate violence, probably not restricted to the south, but SPLC is not restricted to the south, either.

I know it is Christmas Eve and you would rather read a pleasant homily about whether reindeer really "know" how to fly .... (And I sent the URL of SueZ's reindeer mushroom piece everywhere to personal friends, because I love a good explanation for myths and tales.) But, the fact is that The Family Research Council is a bad group of people whose leadership, at least, is bent on a program of hatred based on myths about gays and lesbians. Here is an email newsletter that I got from SPLC that orients you to the issues at hand. I applaud SPLC for coming out and naming FRC as a hate group, because truly they are.

You have to wonder about people who are afraid of the facts, afraid of people who are different, afraid their venerated institutions like marriage will wilt under the pressure for truth mounted by people suppressed and oppressed for centuries. I have been lucky enough to have been surrounded by gays and lesbians and to get to know them as people, as human beings equal in moral worth, but not the same as me in that seemingly fundamental way, their sexuality. Well, I did not always understand and regretfully I sometimes acted irrationally about both gays and lesbians. I watched as gay men died off from AIDS and as women abused into fleeing heterosexuality were pummeled with social opprobrium. I learned soon enough that MOST of these people were born the way they are and that socialization in a largely hetero- world has given them sensitivities to the human psyche that most of us never achieve.

I urge you to seek out and support the Southern Poverty Law Center and take a stand for the natural rights of gays and lesbians in the world.



The Devil and the Deep Blue

Eugene Robinson, columnist in the Washington Post, writes today (Tuesday) about Wikileaks, and his words are spot on. We, our civilizations, are going to encounter more and more of these dilemmas, more instances where something valuable (as Twitter and Facebook and other viral media seem to be in places like Iran and China) have downsides that are truly breathtaking. And, as we know from civics ... but keep forgetting ... human enterprises are run by human beings (or computers programmed by human beings) and, therefore, are subject to the vagaries of human emotion and integrity. Robinson is right that we have to find the correct principle to defend and manage the misbehaviors of human beings, even those with whom we might agree temporarily. Eternal vigilance is the phrase that democracy depends on.

On Monday, Paul Krugman wrote his own piece about the trouble we have reconciling principles. Krugman truly despises the direction Obama and Congress seem to be headed on economic policy, but he is realist enough to know that if 70% of Americans polled (yesterday by stakeholders, of course) want the tax break even if it means giving the break to the super-rich as well, then bad policy is sure to emerge and we will not only have this same argument in 2011 and 2012 and 2013 and so on, but each iteration will be clouded with the false, misleading, and ambiguous rhetoric of the preceding events. We never seem to learn anything.

It is said that civilization stands at the threshold of marvelous opportunities for advancement of human dignity, perhaps a four-fold acceleration of human rights and human health, mental and physical, if only we can deal with the devils in our midst: climate change, over-population, disease, malnutrition, and terrorism. My feeling is that we will probably miss the best opportunities and have to make decisions to put off fixing civil rights, just as the founding fathers did. You see, now, that responding to the bounty of opportunity that the onrush of history provides is very difficult, sometimes totally muddled in absolutely intractable disagreement.



Nihilism Is Not the Answer

Every once in a while there comes along an essay really worth your time, but demanding of your intellect and close attention. Such is Professor Sean D. Kelly's essay in Monday's New York Times entitled "Navigating Past Nihilism."

This is a good time for this essay, because we are confronted with a future on this planet that is full of peril, and we seem not to know how to get to a safe future without paying our dues for the free ride and coasting we have done in the past. As a result the sounds in the back and in the corners of the room are frightening sounds of people who are in the process of giving up hope and curiosity. Although we have spent decades discussing the "descent" of the United States into the "oblivion" of mere countries, of empires lost, of exceptionalism revealed as hypocritical arrogance, we have not felt the immediacy of the the descent so palpably as today. And we know like we know our own teeth that tomorrow will be worse and the day after even more so.

Nihilism is the watchword of the day. Authors rant about the loss of empire, as if America was meant to be a globe-straddling colossus imposing its unruly opinions off on hapless 2nd and 3rd and 4th world denizens yearning to be human like us. Such hubris standing in for civility! Or replacing god in the imagination of people who have been so poorly educated that they cannot understand that our country was founded in a time when the Zeitgeist was considerably different from the mood today.

When the founding fathers brought forth upon this continent a nation conceived in Liberty, they did so against a tradition of government extending back to the very tribal beginnings of human civilization. Yes, of course, there had been progress among "enlightened" nations (those that took part in the Renaissance and then, more importantly, the "Enlightenment." But, clearly, nations without the slightest idea about electricity could not think like nations where children carry around cellphone computers capable of accessing all the world's literature. There just is no comparison, so why then would nations cling so desperately to a god they killed off and buried so long ago?

Nihilism is, partly, a psychological adjustment to the possibility of a meaningless existence. The Hubble Telescope in orbit above our atmosphere has shown us the scale and the imponderable vastness of the Universe, and this contributes to the sense of meaninglessness, but it does not prove it or authorize it, it merely demands that we reconsider things from a newer perspective. And that means throwing off even more of the familiar, comfortable, but useless baggage of our intellectual and cultural inheritance.

The key is to find meaning. It is not to be found with the New York Jets or even the New England Patriots, and although these organizations provide a certain amount of entertainment between our gropings for knowledge, they are not the truth of our humanity or depravity or humility or arrogance. They are cultural artifacts that prove only that we are capable of organization, given the appropriate motivations.

Still, though, Professor Kelly is onto something when he notes that organizations flourishing in medieval times that organized human beings into societies, religions, are inappropriate now that we know that there are other truths. The medieval popes were correct that science would undermine religion, not because it would falsify religion, but because religion is too hidebound to change with the advance of human knowledge and thus destroys its own credibility. It lives on, of course, in arrogant defiance of reason and the advance of civilization, the idea of advance over stasis.

For Liberals in America these are times fraught with "nihilism," confronted and thwarted by a President who some say is incapable of crisis leadership. I say this, as well, by the way. Barack Obama is inept, and this conclusion is contextual. If he were president during good times we might see a different man, but what we have is a man paralyzed by the processes of fear. And that is no reason, you know, to slide into nihilistic depression, either. We have our heads and hearts and we are humans capable of dreaming, conceiving, implementing, and building. We do not have to have a George Washington at every turn.

We have to have confidence in ourselves, in our context, in our association with one another as sentient beings DEDICATED to finding meaning. That the Universe is vast is daunting to be sure, but it is not off-putting. We do not turn away from our destiny to know because we do not know. We must build the steps to the place where we can see the next steps to be built. It is exciting, and mere politics should not sway us, cripple us, turn us back.



Puritans: Pilgrims of Democracy

My colonial ancestor was a Puritan, "a Grave and Godly man" it says in the family genealogy. He was educated and when he arrived some eighteen years after the first thanksgiving of 1621 he was made useful to the then elders of the Plimoth Plantation, Captain Miles Standish and others. He did the surveying and helped with the bargaining with the Wampanoag Indians of the region, securing for his own family a quarter of what was to become the town of Bridgewater, due west of modern Plymouth. He established an annual relationship with "the Colledge at Cambridge" (Harvard Divinity School) by donating several bushels of maize and some other goods for their use there.

Four hundred and eighty-nine years later a Professor of History at that school writes of the people my ancestor represented to better tell us the nature of the inheritance we have from them. The Puritans were not pure, nor extraordinariy self-righteous, nor prigs or bullies. They were people eking out a hard living from a tough environment, and they were founding governments small and large based on principles that were recently theoretical and, it turns out, true!



Carroll on Thanksgiving ... With Hindsight

Thanksgiving is my favorite "holiday." It is a big one for the grocery stores and the day after for the Xmas present stores. But, Thanksgiving is about Thanks, not about gifts and hoopla (although football has made inroad on the hoopla front).

It occurred to me this morning, anticipating my read of James Carroll in the Boston Globe that columnists are usually assigned by their editors and contracts to specific days of the week for their offerings, and Carroll on Monday does not work efficiently for turkey day, but nevertheless I anticipated.

Carroll's "Hindsight" of Thanksgiving this year is a worthy subject, even if as he wrote it, it spreads out over a terrain of history that nearly loses the point of our obsession with nostalgie. In fact, the people around me here in retirement Arizona are full of this baloney and wax nearly poetic about the pelting on the internet of stuff about the golden days of the 1950's and even of the virtues of hard-scrapple times in the Great Depression. It is as if they never heard of Senator Joe McCarthy or drinking fountains for Coloreds Only, or WWII vets bottled up inside themselves with grisly visions manifested as tirades against their own children, beatings, and incomprehensible fears about polio.

Americans are a pretty good cross-section of humanity, and it turns out that humanity does not like to deal with Change very much. We prefer a regular diet of whatever it is, tacos or burgers or meat and potatoes, or garlic on pasta. We regularize ourselves around familiar things so to be alert to differences in our lives. We accommodate ourselves to the differences or fight them tooth and nail until we have prevailed or have not. Mostly we have not. There is now more computing and information power in my left pocket than was present on the moon in 1969 when Tranquility Base came into being at the end of a long held breath.

No it is not fair to judge Barack H. Obama for his inability to restore hoary old Currier and Ives scenes and attitudes to the American landscape, but I think that Carroll is wrong to offer Obama a blanket amnesty just on the triptophan daydreams of Thanksgiving.



Atavisms, Not Attaboys

I suppose the most salient feature of American politics today is the restive noise coming from pundits and members of the so-called TeaParty "movement." There is no question that millions are angry about job losses within their families, the consequent devolution of the life-style to which they had become accustomed, and the widely publicized increases in "ethnic" populations, particularly those who are said to be existing "on the dole."

The anger is directed outward against these seas of troubles and rarely the opportunity for a self-evaluation, particularly since the majority of the population believes that the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to social phenomena. And, who knows, maybe it doesn't, maybe if you just dream the American dream it will come true. Your toys will repair themselves, your home will appreciate endlessly, your savings will be irrelevant because you will earn more next year. Oh, but when this all stops, grinds to a halt, and turns tails and begins a free-fall into some kind of lower-class oblivion, well sir, that's somebody else's fault.

James Carroll, in the Boston Globe on Monday's (usually) writes today about something going on in Europe, something which has been going on during better economies but subdued by the illusions of economic success. His essay is about Germany and Europe, but it struck me while reading that it is really about an epiphenomenon that often accompanies hard times. We have hard times now around the planet. To listen to the Republicans on this you would think that Barack Obama started it all and has been throwing gasoline on the fire.

Carroll at one point puts it this way:

In Europe, the pressure comes from Muslim populations, and though American anti-Islamic prejudice has been sparked by the war on terror (and fueled by Fox News), the real point of contention here is the burgeoning Latino population. This year, in fact, marks a demographic tipping point, with more US children born to minorities than to whites. It won’t be until about 2050 that the national percentage of whites will fall below half, but many already feel as though the privilege and power of being part of the dominant group are being ripped away. The political hysteria, including rampant hatred of the black president, that has seized the Republican Party is a result.

Carroll has a point, we have known that human beings are a lot more comfortable in themselves when they have someone to look down upon. When that lower individual or group begins to share some of the resources of civilization with you because your position has dropped or theirs has improved relatively, you become annoyed, begin to resist, find that the whole thing is a horrible trap, strike out with first one then both fists, and end up hating fiercely and down into the crumbling core of your soul. An antiseptic term like xenophobia does this process a disservice, for the consuming hatred of the stranger, the alien, is built into our gray matter from hundreds of thousands of years of pre-history.

You have to wonder at people, like Merkel and Beck, who stroke these ancient atavisms and coax out our worst nature.



Soylent Gray

I am old. I am older than I ever thought as a kid that I would be. I have been through a serious automobile accident, two typhoons at sea where things looked quite grim for the little cork we were riding, the fascinating horror of being crushed by an 8 foot thick ice pack a hundred miles wide thousands of miles from anywhere off the "coast" of Antarctica. I was in the Vietnam combat zone for months, off the coast of Haiphong, chasing downed aviators. Yet, here I am, old. I am not alone. This very interesting article in the Sunday, New York Times Magazine, which is the best read anywhere week after week, is about aging at the national level—the statistical and social impact.

My country is aging, you will discover, but not as fast as some. China is aging much, much faster and this bald fact contributes to the anxious metaphor of China's closing window of opportunity to modernize. China is the place to watch, for what happens to the aged their will define our species for what it really is. Next door in Japan where aging has really taken over, one in four of the aged are living in poverty. Japan is the third largest economy in the world, by the way, so the distortions in Japanese society that allow that to happen may be headed China's way, as well, and certainly the United States is primed and ready to send us old folks into oblivion very much poorer than when we first got a discount at the movies.

In a market economy like ours the aged are merely a market demographic, a like-minded, like-need, like-responding consuming populations with eyes squinting, focused on not outlasting our financial reserves, if any. We will be poached, swindled, sold into pharmaceutical slavery, and our kids and their kids will hardly notice. The poor among us will lead wretched lives of bad nutrition and inexorably encroaching disease.

In the broadscape of history, though, we have not experienced aging like we are seeing today. This is terra incognita for insurers, marketers, merchants, and politicians. We have, however, seen some remarkable mass movements based on national demographics. France lost so many of its young men in the First World War that it quickly capitulated in the Second. Today, Russia with a negative population growth rate stands to irrevocably self-destruct unless it can find a work force that will put up with continued Putinesque curtailments of civil liberties and mismanaged state capitalist ventures. And, as you will read, places like Equador and the Philippines are over the edge and cannot possibly develop with what they have left of their populations.

We probably will not ... as this essay's title suggests ... end up eating the aged as mystery meat, but the opportunities for disasters just as repugnant exist now and will be the inheritance that we and then the Boomers will leave to our country.



The Nature of History on Columbus Day

In today's Boston Globe James Carroll writes about the importance of Columbus Day, that day which Italians celebrate ... and curiously the Spanish, who thought at the time they were benefiting most, do not. Carroll explains that the historical consequences of Ferdinand and Isabella's decision to support Columbus went way beyond mere tragedy.

It is the way with history to play out everything that is going on. Sometimes the seething movements among the people are amplified, as by the opening of new continents and the rush of opportunists to take advantage, but sometimes by germs and ideas. Some ideas are defeated in the playing out over time just as some peoples are defeated, obliterated, and disappear from the history books. Sometimes the ideas find a hold in the imagination of an epoch and thrive. As Carroll points out the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain in 1492 has had consequences to this very day.

The Italians can be rightfully proud of Cristoforo Columbo, for his imagination and enterprise was the necessary ingredient for the (re)discovery of the Americas. Personally, I think Amerigo Vespucci should be honored this day as well, for who among us have not at some time thought that the word "America" was endowed with magical, perhaps sacred meaning. Of course it isn't any more than the names Dodge, Ford, Olds, Porsche, endow their cars with special powers.

Still, let's celebrate the day. It is what happened. The natives of the new world were destroyed, the Moors were vilified, the Jews loathed, and everything we are and say is based on these facts. It gives you a little pause I hope. We are not trapped in these tragedies forever, unless we continue to refuse to acknowledge them.



Phil Rockstroh: "You Can Put a Fork In It"

I have not had a conversation (email) with Phil Rockstroh in many years. I like his mind, though, and his rhetorical style is lucid and colorful. He knows where we are in history, and I am afraid few really do. Common Dreams published an essay of Phil's that speaks for itself. Read it. There is a pretty darned good video interview with Phil at the end.

The only thing I want to say is this: notice in Phil's interview how often he uses the term "corporatism." If you thought I have been inappropriately ranting about this, maybe another voice will help you "get off your own couch."



Slouching Toward a Bundle of Sticks with An Imbedded Axe

The question posed above has answers that depend on a variety of assumptions, but whatever you believe is happening right now and leading us as a nation and culture down a yellow-brick road or a primrose path, there are sign-posts along the way. "Emerald City 150 miles" is not among them, but the signs are unmistakable if you pay attention. From my point of view the signs are overwhelmingly not good.

The editors of the New York Times this fine Monday tell us that the Supreme Court will be hearing the plaints of corporations and, generally, will be disposed to help corporations along ... as the outrageous demolition of Oxley-Sarbanes Campaign Finance Law suggests.

In a similar vein Paul Krugman opens up on the issue of influence becoming corporate control of our political system.

The trouble began, as you probably know from reading these essays, back in the so-called Gilded Age during the latter stages of Reconstruction after the Civil War when a Supreme Court, completely bought and paid for by the titans of industry and finance decided a case by including the notion that corporations have civil rights equal to (perhaps superior to mere) citizens. There is no doubt that the activities of corporations contribute to the economy and thus to livelihood for the people. We set these organizations loose in the economy and environment and hope that the the real people inhabiting them will rise to the occasion and treat the rest of our civilization well. Often they don't. More often they do a slip-shod job, puttering along after a grand opening ... like General Motors ... building something, selling it in various conscionable and unconscionable ways, and leaving the natural environment to fend for itself against all manner of theretofore unexpected hazards. But, corporations are not citizens, and they should not be granted any civil rights. The notion is fundamentally wrongheaded and it is, in fact, the very basis for the constant threat of "classical corporatism" in this country. You will recall that Benito Mussolini described his brand of Fascism as "classical corporatism."

There is a line of thought current in this country that "the masses are, in fact, asses" and that governance should be accomplished not by reference to the wishes of people, but to the needs of corporations and other super-entity components of the contemporary economy. Republicans when pressed will tell you stories about the dangers of democracy ... government of, by, and for the People. They believe they "know" that a democratic electorate will eventually try to vote itself a free lunch and thereby bring down the system. They have built mythologies on welfare queens to support this line of reasoning, but at the heart of it is their fundamental distrust of the vox populi. They would rather put their trust in the (pardon the expression) "meritocracy" of corporate competition, believing that those who rise in the corporate world are better qualified to think about stem cells, sputniks, levees, highways, charity, air forces, navies, and armies than mere people with high school educations. That is really what is at stake in America today. The forces on the right care nothing for democracy and your civil rights. You are cannon fodder, a consumer, a laborer (white, tan, blue collar, it matters not). You are already a statistic in the corporate culture; you are there to be used. And, reading this morning's news, you certainly will be.



Tribal Obsessions

Every once in a while someone, often Mark Morford strings together a bunch of words that makes some kind of primal sense. In this case Morford understands and recites back to us the primal need for bogeymen that inhabits the social consciousness of our experimental ... and by no means mature ... society.

Taken as a group ... admittedly a very large 303 million men, women, and children group ... we are amazingly stupid and prone to fears more appropriate in our origin-source African habitat where real panthers and lions and hyenas preyed on the hapless amongst us. Anthropologists will tell us that either the primitive wiring of our brains does not actually interfere with our ability to procreate or that the "fear of things that go bump in the night" sense we have is actually productive and gets us to and through those procreative years.

I am not convinced.

I think that we carry around a lot of genetic and cultural baggage that could and should be examined for efficacy at the level of, say, taxes, so that we have some idea of cause and effect. M. Night Shyamalan might end up banned, and what is the point in wallowing in fear anyway?

Muslims will not be the last group scourged by fear and hatred in the U.S., but you should understand that the strain in our collective subconscious that "permits" this kind of behavior was brought to these shores fully developed and ready for the galvanizing experience with the Native Americans. We are, apparently, people used to small tribal communities and innately wary of strangers, particularly strangers who have within their small tribal groups folks with hypertrophy of their wariness software.

Think about our history and our radical demonization of one group after another. It should give you pause.



A Clear and Present Enemy

There are millions of people in the United States and other industrialized countries who think that the American TeaParty "movement" is real, that it has legs, that it will move mountains this November. Some of those three things are true or true-ish. It is very likely that TeaParty people will vote, vote "conservatively," and the net result will be a slide back into the anarcho-capitalist (aka Libertarian) era that began in the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, took a "break" and a sizable profit during two world wars and several prolonged and expensive conflicts since, went out to the woodshed during the Great Depression but returned as if nothing had sullied their banners when Ronald Wilson Reagan, having converted from orthodox guild/union Democratic ideals to flogging 20 mule team Boraxo on television and remembering how nice it was in the good old days when his mom wore an apron 24/7 and his dad had the illusion of a "dignity of labor" to bring home.

Yes, TeaParty people will vote, vote for anti-government people to populate government, but the TeaParty is not real. What is real is the anxiety of millions of Americans resulting from the loss of income at the hand of Wall Street, loss of security from the attenuation of our armed forces past their effectiveness all around the world, and a deluge of partisan lies and fabrications about anything that the GOP sees as vulnerable to oft-repeated falsehoods. The TeaParty is the artifact of electronic media echo-chamber in an era where super-rich are able to buy off the regulators until they can be removed wholesale or killed off with vicious lies and libel. The TeaParty and modern Libertarianism (which is nothing more nor less than anarcho-kleptocracy masquerading as an political ideology) is an artifact of a willful conspiracy to destroy the American government under the deceptive banner of reducing the size and expense of the American government, based on the wholly fabricated, medacious, and libelous claim that it is, (laughably), a Socialist government. It probably seems that way to the plutocrats who have no love for democracy in any case.

Jane Mayer has an article in The New Yorker magazine August 30 issue about the "legs" the TeaParty and its allies have. Significantly, the muscles of the "movement" are millions and millions of dollars spent by two guys, the Koch brothers, inheritors of Koch Industries, a conglomerate centered on plutocracy, petroleum, and propaganda against anyone suggesting that there is such a thing as global warming and impending climate change or any function of government worth the public enterprise of concerned citizens acting FOR the commonwealth.

The Koch's

operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
(Looking for something to boycott, save this quotation.)

Jane Mayer is the first (with the able assistance of The New Yorker) to shine a little light down in the psychologically tortured and fetid burrows and warrens of the world the Koch's inhabit. For reasons that are not—but should be—obvious the Koch's not only disdain publicity for their work in the world, they all-but-vociferously avoid it at all costs. Why? The Koch's want the appearance of "a movement," of the "grass roots," of "ground swell," of the "democracy" they so loathe and fear behind their plot to castrate Washington. They want a eunuch government so they can continue with their profiteering off the abuse of the "externalities" of enterprise, that clever expression which treats the environment, the government, the ideals, hopes, and allegiance of the common man as if they were free to the biggest, greediest fist, something to use mercilessly and then take absolutely no responsibility for after the profits have been taken.

In a word the Koch's are serious enemies of the Republic, looking out for themselves as if being the 3rd and 4th most wealthy men in this country were not enough for them. They are as conniving and ruthless as they are rich and powerful. They have subverted public institutions of higher learning and the media.

By the time you finish the Mayer article ... and recalling Frank Rich's allusion to it recently (discussed here this week) ... you should be quite angry and feeling quite helpless, which is all the more angering. The truth is that ultimately the Koch's cannot buy truth and only temporary advantage in the media. You will be able to argue far more effectively knowing that Koch's are bank-rolling, simulating, stimulating, and taking personal advantage of the contemporary political transition and its accompanying anxiety about Congress and the White House, calling it an anti-government "movement." But beyond that, if you read the article carefully, you will see that the Koch's are aiming at a full destruction of the Progressive Movement in the United States. They are after your scalps, ladies and gentlemen! It's time to act, time to reverse the Supreme Court's decision (boldly purchased) that gives corporations unlimited rights to fund propaganda. We have now met the enemy, and besides our own lethargy and cowardice, its name is Koch.



The Gods Must Be Crazy

Years ago there was this movie begun in the Namibian desert with a man, a native, nearly struck by a CocaCola bottle discarded and dropped from an airplane. I don't remember the details, except that what I took as the point of the whole funny thing was the jarring impact wildly differing cultures have upon one another. The semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer society of the Kalihari v. modern Euro-American culture where something as globally produced and marketed can fall into another culture and produce unforeseen results. Funny results may be the exception, by the way.

Last week in a column about the mad anger of Americans about everything Muslim, Maureen Dowd wrote the following observation

The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown, with the right spreading fear and disinformation that is amplified by the poisonous echo chamber that is the modern media environment.
This statement has echoed in my brain all week, making me wonder what possible solution there is too Maureen's indictment of the modern mass media ... and wondering if there is an analogy that will help explicate this situation.

If you remember the movie the tribe of bushmen tried with all their collective intelligence to put the Coke bottle to some use. It created supply and demand problems, envy problems, efficacy problems (after all it was just a Coke bottle), and so they decided to throw the bottle back, entailing a long, long hike to the "edge of the world" where the offensive bottle could be thrown into the sea.

Clearly many Americans are choking on a Coke bottle of their own: the sudden, violent, very frightening confrontation with a very angry and violent subculture within Islam. Americans are choking on the confrontation, but have not yet really seen or accepted "the bottle," the thing that has so upset the less modern culture of Arabs and brought them to the point of flinging that thing into the sea, to be rid of it ... in their terms, to kill it once and for all!

The media, that Maureen suicidally libels is, yes, part of the message of the those in America who have not seen the bottle of poison that their own foreign policy and petroleum envy has produced. They, like Mr. Beck in Washington yesterday speaking to some 300,000 stalwarts are calling for a "restoration" of an America that existed before the angry Arab underclass of Saudi Arabia had the temerity to assault us with our bottle of Coke. Listen to that statement. They want to go backward and find a place before consequences. They are in the worst form of cultural denial.

In a sense, the bushmen of the Kalihari are the most primitive of peoples, and their solution to rid themselves of the confounded artifact of modernism was fundamentally non-violent, but we cannot expect every people we trample in our righteousness to respond so "passively." After all, the bushmen were, in their own minds, throwing something from the heavens back, a risky insult to the gods, who certainly because of what these bushmen made of the bottle must be crazy.

Maureen needs to see the lies and vehemence of the TeaParty right for what they are. Among the audience is, we hope, a desperate attempt to find time to sort out the problem, but meanwhile the world does not go backwards, ever. It is a crazy hope that things can be turned back to something we think we understood ... and controlled. History always moves with Time's line into ever more fearsome futures where American values are less and less highly valued. It is very frightening and the audience adrenalin flows.

The media, on the other hand, reflect what is said when it profits the media to reflect it. In general, the legitimate press takes into account that over a reasonably long period—a career length period, for instance—what is sold as news will work out to be fairly treated and balanced. The sin of the media moguls today is that they have tried to convince the audience that measuring fairness about what is said with a schoolboy's six inch ruler is honest, when actually a yardstick would put things in better perspective.

As Frank Rich points out so very well today, the motive behind moguls, both in the media and their friends, is very ugly and dangerous. These people are cheating truth and balance in the short run to achieve very, very long run goals. They would, in fact, destroy our democracy to further their economic positions, because they care nothing for fairness and balance. They care only for themselves.



The Arrival of Islam in America

I have written that building a mosque and Islamic center in the area where the World Trade Center towers once stood is a "stick in the eye" to the vast majority of Americans. That essay contained sufficient recognition of the principle of freedom of religion to satisfy my own conscience. It was an essay that juxtaposed emotional and political reality against a principle that most take for granted in the United States, however grudgingly, however cynically, in their vocal distaste for religions other than their own.

About a week later, President Obama expressed himself on the "principle" side of the controversy brewing in lower Manhattan. Correctly (as President) he stated that the principle of freedom of religion was, pardon my expression, sacrosanct. This would have been better received coming from a president whose middle name was not Hussein. It could not have come from Joe Biden, because instantly the press would have accused Obama of dodging the principle. And so, the controversy is heightened, fueled, and certainly will crisp the internet cableways for weeks and months to come, ... because the American public has been led to view Islam as a mortal threat to western civilization.

Well, if Americans would just consider the numbers and the percentages of the BILLION Muslims in this world who are not mortal threats to their own countries or ours, the tiny fraction of those who are potentially a threat would achieve the proper perspective and the whole religion would not suffer for the madness of a very few. Moreover, if the misdeeds of the Christian present (child rape, for instance) and past were compared to the present misdeeds of the Muslim few, the scales would balance ... and would fall from the eyes of the fearful and hypocritical.

Today in the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat puts another perspective on the controversy, a really good historical and good common sense approach that should become the backbone of the national dialog on this subject. Douthat reminds us that America has two contending voices regarding religious freedom, one which we accepted as school children with a thrill of acknowledgement that human beings can overcome differences for a greater principle, the other the more realistic voice born partly of prejudice and fear, but anchored in the wisdom that no religion may put itself above the others in any way, particularly not above the Constitution and the expectations of civility to which we all subscribe.



The Illusion of Privacy

The deliberately provocative title to this Sunday's essay echoes down the long corridors of legal opinion and outward into the less than completely rational mythologies surrounding America's love-affair with Emersonian rugged individualism. The proximate stimulus for writing about it today is that the regular news is almost uniformly out of control, so dealing with personal privacy has at least the including illusion that we, as individuals, can do something about it.

First about out-of-control news. The sense that Russia's fires are part and parcel of the global warming and climate disruption scenario quickly joins forces with the exasperating scorching the American eastern seaboard ... and other areas ... have experienced since Memorial Day. The riven Democrats cannot even address the issue, so knotted up in corrupting campaign funding problems and philosophical differences. Republicans continue to rant about fiscal stringency, despite the fact that Geo.W.Bush and Co, Inc. ran up the largest deficit ever, then slid it across the dance floor for the Democrats to stumble over. We are—this is not debatable—already into a second dip of recession, as the unemployment figures (16.5% of the workforce is out of work, given up finding work, working involuntary short hours and bringing home significantly less.)

But PRIVACY is our subject, and that the federal government knows what our individual financial statuses might be, but is helpless in the meantime to do anything about it, is but the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that the U.S. Constitution never uses the term privacy and only deals with it tangentially in the First Amendment (freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.) In the Third Amendment (housing of soldiers in private homes during peacetime) the privacy idea is constrained. The Fourteenth Amendment underscores the rights of ALL persons to life, liberty, and property, but really does not assert that privacy inheres to property. It is in the Fourth Amendment that we come closest to the word "privacy."

The Fourth Amendment asserts "the right of the people to be secure (my emphasis) in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures." There is a clear implication that there are reasonable searches and seizures" under undefined circumstances, so inviolable privacy is never actually contemplated by the Constitution. Should we be surprised at this?

The baseline fact is that the Constitution is a social compact, an agreement about governance among people taken as a collective whole, not as individuals choosing to participate or not as their moods and enthusiasms wax and wane. It is about participation in governance and even the basis upon which participatory authority is derived. The Emersonian ideal of the autonomous individual is a later development used by contending forces in the political and commercial life of the nation to provide leverage for various policies. It is not part of our formal agreement—the Constitution, but rather a point of view designed to support or to hinder the acquisition of political power by groups of people with motives that are not necessarily pure.

The point I am wending to slowly is that by its very nature "privacy" is a social concept, not the reverse. Society is not a category of individualism. But, moreover, in the course of the United States (and much of the world) developing into a capitalist economy the concept of personal privacy has become an element of civilization used and abused by the so-called market forces within the economy. This is the subject of an article in the WSJ provided to me by a good friend in NYC (or otherwise I would never have known about it).

The essay, "Privacy" by Jim Harper, takes a suspiciously laissez faire attitude about privacy in the world of computing, that "virtual" world both inside and outside your embattled homely castle. Harper contends, and I have to agree with him, that individuals need to be smarter about protecting the remnants of their private personal information. The fact is that a quid pro quo is established between providers and consumers on the internet which is quite a bit different from the quids and quos of physically entering Home Depot or P.F. Chang's or American Airlines flight #3456. The information you provide to any merchant resides in the purchase and your method of tendering payment. There may be security cameras as well, so some or all of your movements may be recorded, but it is unlikely that security cameras are employed for marketing purposes. Not so with the internet.

On the internet you provide information about where you "live" electronically, and you provide information about your decision-making processes by accumulating "cookies" more or less involuntarily at every page of the web you visit. Harper says that this is the price of free content. But, clearly it is not "free" in the terms of privacy. You give up privacy to get information, your revelations then become information to others to assist them in relieving you of your money ... and perhaps crucial parts of your identity.

Members of Facebook and Twitter and My Space are intensely oblivious to the hazards of their activities at those "services," but very much more so when shopping at ebaY, Amazon, or any other mass marketing site. Harper's injunction to be smarter about all of this will, as you know, be ignored by the mass of people. The question then becomes whether there is any privacy in the mass. I doubt it.



Equal Protection of the Law Stated More Clearly

Federal Judge Vaughn Walker Wednesday took the U.S. Constitution further into the light. He capably stated what has been obvious to some for a long time that banning same-sex marriages in California ... or anywhere else in this country is fundamentally unconstitutional. The editors of the New York Times spread out his decision principle by principle, making it quite easy to see through the shallow hypocrisy of the now vacated California law.

What I particularly like about the opinion are the ideas that fundamental human rights cannot be legislated out of existence and that the majority's opinion (on a given day under the duress of well-dollared propaganda) on morality is irrelevant to fundamental human rights. I think, however, that the first of these two principles will come under significant attack as the case proceeds toward the Roberts Court. And, equally, I think that every pipsqueak pastor in the land will question the notion that majority opinion on moral issues is irrelevant. That fulcrum will wobble for quite a while the whole idea of defending unpopular but righteous causes seeps back into the body politic. Organized religion will be full of brazen commentary defying the separation of church and state. (And, maybe some good will come of that, as well.)



Bad News Likes Company


When things go south they seem to like company. Lots of things going wrong and being reported wrongly the last several days. It's hard to know where to begin.

A report in the NYT a couple days ago notes that the Mexican drug cartel bosses are moving south into the plantation "republics" of Honduras, Guatamala, and El Salvador. South is away from the U.S., I know, but when these bastards take over several countries and assume the "powers" of nation states, the ante goes up and the kind of trouble we are going to have will be ever more complex and expensive. Keep an eye out for news in this area.

Domestically, there is a report today in the Times about a memo allegedly generated in the agency charged with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration, a memo which suggests ways in which the administration could skirt Congress to achieve "... 'relief' to illegal immigrants -- including delaying deportation for some, perhaps indefinitely, or granting green cards to others -- in the absence of legislation revamping the system."

Read this article carefully, because it will become the bete noir for Democrats through the entire campaign season, which is well underway and needing the sort of scandal that will turn white voters around in their tracks. This brou-ha-ha will do it. Meanwhile, the administration is getting its inevitable way with Arizona's attempt to fill the gap of enforcement.

Clearly, a law that requires law enforcement to question the citizenship status of persons being questioned or apprehended for other matters (such as traffic violations, smuggling, drug sales, etc.) presents the risk of any officer relying on what is known as "racial profiling." Ethnic profiling would be a better term. If officers challenged everyone then that would be an equal application of the law. But, the "system" is not ready for a few thousands of inquiries daily about everyone apprehended or stopped in Arizona each day. At least that is what the State Department has said.

The problem with the ethnic profiling complaint is that it arises from within a community deliberately harboring illegal aliens (family and relatives, for instance) and scoffing at the immigration laws of this country ... both on the basis of historical fecklessness on the government's part and on the sheer logistical complexity of the situation. Add to that the idea that Hispanics in place in the U.S. will vote for the party that serves their goals best, and you have a nasty mess ... which might have given rise to the memorandum alleged to have originated in the Immigration agency.

Well, I doubt that many working Hispanics in the U.S. will vote Republican anyway. I spoke with one two years ago while doing campaign volunteer work, and he told me his family would lynch him if they knew he preferred McCain. The odds are with the Democrats as long as they demonstrate a convincing dedication to the rule of law and determine to manage a fair system ... fair to domestic workers and to legal-track immigrants and their relatives already here. Immigration will be a key issue this fall.

Then, to make going south even more painful, and amid all the bad news from the Red Sox, the Steelers, the Diamond Backs, etc. I did not make the inner circle list for Chelsea's wedding today!



Ignorance About Immigration

One of the subjects that is given short shrift in public school history classes, and even in undergraduate college courses, is the history of immigration policy in the United States. One of the reasons is, of course, that there are almost endless opportunities for inadvertently teaching prejudice and discrimination and racism in this subject. But, we did learn about the great waves of immigration from Ireland, eastern Europe, southern Europe, China, and in the latter days of the 20th century, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, not to mention the illegal immigration across our southern borders from and through Mexico.

The history of immigration is also the history of people fleeing from oppression and oppressive religious and economic conditions, so the histories dodge around the epithets that the source countries richly deserve in favor of giving the new immigrants a "clean slate" upon which to write their new narratives. And, surely, immigrants do that pretty well, having virtually abandoned centuries or millenniums of old habits, cultural folkways, and suppositions about the world.

Less well taught are the commercial interests that come into play in the great "recruitments" of immigrants by railroads and agricultural interests, not to mention the rapidly growing industrial sector in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still less well elucidated are the pressures brought to bear by agribusiness throughout North America, whose needs for pickers, packers, and alway low income wage labor has been a constant for the best part of a hundred years.

Immigration plays into foreign policy in a significant way that schools and colleges give scant attention to. In the case of Mexico and Latin America you cannot understand our immigration policy without also understanding the governmental structures and stabilities of the regimes from which immigrants are departing. In the case of Mexico, I have asserted that the plantation structure of Mexican politics, although is is changing slowly, represents the very sort of stability that American economic (and political) interests want and will pay for ... preferably with other people's money and efforts.

So, it is more than of "passing interest" that the Democratic governors of the states last weekend met in Boston and tried to explain to President Obama's people that suing Arizona was a really bad idea on political grounds alone. Not only is the principle involved subject to vigorous debate, but in most areas, the ACLU loud-mouths and certain ultra-liberal, knee-jerk sectors excepted, the American people approve of the Arizona law. Indeed, it is expected that most states will have SB1070-type laws under consideration by the end of this year!

It strikes me, as a closely affected observer, that the boycotts of Arizona were deployed much too rapidly to represent much more than the ultra-liberal point of view. The boycotts hurt in this shambles of an economy, and Arizonans like me are asking that, unless you want Arizonans to respond in kind in your direction, including cutting off the electricity to Los Angeles, you should reconsider your decision to never see the Grand Canyon or never play golf year round.

The will of the people will be heard in this matter. So far, the Obama administration has muffed this issue so badly that it makes the up-coming mid-term election look like the opporunity for a blood bath and for the likes of man-tan Boehner to become Speaker of the House ... a real tragedy if it occurs, since John Boehner of Ohio is among the least capable of politicians in Washington and so distant from being a towering intellect as to suggest precisely the opposite.

The Democratic governors are correct. Obama needs, in addition to sacking Rahm Emanuel forthwith, to back off this position before Labor Day. I believe that he should give Hillary Clinton the advantage of leading this retreat and see how she does. Clearly, if the Democrats take a bath in November, Hillary may be the option we want in 2012, if Howard Dean does not want it and can squelch the resistance in the press.



At Least Two Theories of Change

Well, you say, change is change. It is self-defining and means simply that things are different from what they were. And so the popular view of "things that change" is more than slightly naive, even in the terms of popular thinking. Today is Tuesday, and yesterday was Monday. Is this change? Yes, but last week the same thing happened, so is it really change? Yes, because last week was mid-May and now we are already at the "end" of May, and to belabor the point a great deal has happened in the seven days we are comparing.

Well, what has happened? The American stock market has declined sufficiently that 2-3% of the wealth represented in market indices, like the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, has "evaporated." That is a lot of money value, billions! For those who came up short at the end of the seven days, change was easy to define as BAD!

What this little example tries to demonstrate is that change takes place at different levels of "granularity." In a family the day of a wedding or of a death is a "milestone day" wherein takes place a signal event for which all concerned must change their routines and behaviors. They are "changed" irrevocably. Lots of people die and lots get married, so the idea of this kind of change is not earth-shattering on a broad scale, but nevertheless, at the broad scale we acknowledge the inevitability of these "little local" changes as part of the relevant, even salient, reality.

And, vice versa, at the local, almost private, and in the privacy of our own thoughts we acknowledge that changes in the large scale often have scant effect upon our daily lives, but we know that perforce a large-scale change will eventually change our path in the world. The institution of Social Security in the 1930's had no effect immediately, but since we are a life-form that plans and calculates a variety of plausible futures, we were changed. We accommodated ourselves to the idea of Social Security and did things somewhat differently at our private and local levels.

Meanwhile, of course, the federal government geared up a system that, predicated on certain assumptions, principally the ratio of those working to those retired, trundled along quite nicely with small changes accumulating more or less "out of sight." Birth rates declined slowly, life expectancy rates increased slowly, industrial jobs gave way to office jobs for many or their children, and all these accumulated. Social Security is a classic example of individuals seeing the opportunity for change, resisting it politically, or not, and arriving at the present with a sense of angst or self-satisfaction.

David Brooks, columnist in the New York Times tackles the subject of change courageously today, describing two important "theories of change", to which we Americans are heir—the British and the French. Brooks quickly and courageously wrestles to the ground a whole epoch of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought. He takes necessary short-cuts through the thickets of history and philosophy, but arrives, I think, at a reasonable and instructive dichotomy, which practicing historians usually call the aspects of "continuity and change" in civilizations and cultures. You should read Brooks's account.

The problems we face today are very much the product of tidal forces set in motion by choices we made decades and even centuries ago. There were "savants" then who said if you do This there is a strong likelihood that That will happen eventually. If you immigrate to America nothing will be the same for you and your family again. If millions immigrate then the force of personal, private change becomes public and large, and America will never be the same.

But that is not where I want to leave it. Change, as Brooks writes, has its "British sentimental component," that is, the capacity (or lack of it) that humans have (or don't have) to conceive of and then endure change. Against this is the what I will provisionally call the "urge toward continuity." In the last election the candidate offered the hope for Change, political change, directional change, emotional change, taking sustenance from the reaction in the multitudes, noting the private, personal, local need for large-scale public change. It has not happened.

What you are seeing is called a paralysis of conscious behavior. It is analogous to thinking about every step you take while walking. You cannot contemplate each step, send a "voice-mail" directive to the appropriate muscles, and expect to get down the road. You will soon stumble and fall. You will, if you are lucky, get up and run to catch up to where you should be. That's where the candidate Obama is now. He is trying to avoid every ant and blade of grass in our path. He just cannot do it. He has infected his staff with this paralysis, and his staff, led by Rahm Emanuel loves it, because it means they can avoid doing something that might turn out bad. They are, of course, avoiding doing anything that might turn out good, even those things that we agree need to be changed!


Post script: You might want to watch Sir Ken Robinson at TED for a very, very good point of view of this problem.


"The Low Road is Bumper to Bumper"

I am on one of Russ Feingold's distribution lists and get his periodic announcements about politics. He recently used the words in the title of this essay as an on-ramp to his region's current political loutishness. The words echoed in my brain this morning as I read James Carroll's "Jeremiads of spring" in Monday's Boston Globe.

Carroll takes the somewhat less traveled roads, definitely more scenic and less prosaic. His pondering of the up-coming graduation speeches and the tradition of American self-analysis, (to some "self-flagelation,") struck me as apt and perhaps a little self-indulgent. If Walt Whitman is, as Carroll states, one of the critics of American civilization and culture and Tony Judt is another, then what are the benefits of their analyses? Do people actually read them for advice on how to be an American, or do commencement speeches and social criticism actually fall on deaf ears?

I think that down where it really counts we are fundamentally deaf. Millions of people have never read Walt Whitman and know virtually nothing about him. Same for Tony Judt. Although the literate know both, are the literate actually swayed by them? I am not. I read Judt in the New York Review of Books recently. I did a term paper on Whitman back in high school. I am impressed with the fact that they saw what I saw and see, that Americans are a roiling mass of hungry homo sapiens, probably more roiling than the French or the Danes are these days, but clearly weighing self-interest against duties to the commonwealth and coming out for self almost every time.

There is a sense of this "smallness" in society, a feeling that come what may, the real things are the close things, that vast movements and aggregations are not as real, and in any case, intractable. Avarice is nothing new. The will to power is as old and human as all of history. The notion of commonwealth, on the other hand, is tentative and exploratory, and ultimately beyond that sure sense of trust that we do not have in our fellow man.

As college presidents and hired speakers come to campuses all across the land and put their best shine on the status quo. The graduating classes offer up their hopes to fit in and make the best of what we have bequeathed to them. Valedictories accept the challenge of an imperfect world, salutatories accept the differences among us and hope for courage and intelligence among our leaders, college presidents hope for more donations and less campus violence, and social critics, full of the distemper of failed expectations, acknowledge imperfection with a metric that says it does not have to be as bad as it is.

It is bad, but we thrive, we procreate, we invent marvelous things from thin air, we have our families, and we trust that families will deal with their members who "crash." But we know they don't.



Verlyn Klinkenborg's Los Angeles

Klinkenborg is one of those rare writers with a knack for stumbling deliberately off the beaten path to take in the moment, the apple tree, the freshly painted fire hydrant, the pulse below the pulse. Today in a few hundred words Mr. Klinkenborg takes on nothing less than Los Angeles, a place in time and space so different from Binghamton or Richmond or Lexington or St. Jo as to be a probable category fault.

Klinkenborg, deliberately or not, uses the the word facade several times as if to say, and I think he means that he is groping for the truth rather than trying to doll it up, that Los Angeles seems to be not so much a series of Potemkin villages as a vast congeries of stage sets ... but then only in the sense that the set is not the reality.

He concentrates on the National Boulevard on-ramp to "the 10." I smiled. The Ten is I-10, but in L.A. all freeways either have homey names (Pasadena Freeway, Harbor Freeway, Golden State Freeway) or more commonly just the number, like "the 405." This suggests that these roads have a life of their own, a character different from others of their kind; they are not just sinews or arteries, but rather experiences ... especially "the 405" at 85 m.p.h. (how else to bear the volume of traffic we demand of her!)

But, Klinkenborg is no accidental writer. He is a poet and knows that the transitions are as important as the destinations, so the "hidden on-ramp" seems to him to be deliberately a "rhetorical flaw" in the narrative presentation, a piece rightfully left off the stage set because it doesn't fit, but in other places would fit.

What fits in L.A. is the illusion of neighborhood as if it were also "community." But, in a year or so, or less if you are Klinkenborg, you begin to notice that there are few neighborhoods in L.A. that are complete and self-sufficient for what they are, even the vast arrays of homes seem to be slightly incomplete and somehow artificial, not exactly what they seem, incomplete for their denizens, who may turn up in restored Culver City for a meal and movie or on the Santa Monica Mall or on the long stretch of traditional commerce in Belmont Shore in Long Beach, each place a venue for different behaviors and styles, sort of like one of those virtual worlds on the internet, simulations everywhere, carefully (or not) backed up to one another without much regard for the jarring dissonance between and among them.

I love L.A. and Klinkenborg got his finger on (or very close to) one of the aspects of this great city that it most difficult to describe.



Hot Seething Anger

I have to admit that I have become numb to and increasingly aware that I am ineffective against the hot seething anger that is being enacted out there. My numbness is caused by conflicts within my conscience, my need to strike out against the McConnells and Boehners, Cantors, Becks, Malkins, and others whose strategy is to overturn the commonwealth's applecart. I have wanted in my deepest despair to fundamentally eliminate some of these really bad people, but I know that they have rights to be what they are. Then I think that who am I to say they are "bad" or "evil," just because they stand foursquare against everything I believe in? I try putting on their shoes and find that they actually hate me, and would not accord me the same rights as I am entertaining for them. The battle within lurches back and forth on this uneven ground.

The anger motivating TeaParty folk is different from the animus motivating the demogogues like Beck and Limbaugh. Limbaugh, at least, is making big money doing what he does. These demagogues are preying on the people with the real angers out there; the media hate barons are willing risk tipping the apple cart to take it over and run it themselves, selling apples only to selected people and letting the rest grow their own. They will deny the obvious racism in their rantings, but without it, they would not be touching the TeaParty folk, for it is racism at the core of the anger, and beneath that are two concepts that really bear some examination.

Frank Rich, in the New York Times Sunday wrote about the essential disconnect between the Health Care Reform legislation and the seething anger. He correctly points out that when you peel away the opportunist demogogues and their misrepresentations, lies, and prevarications you have naked racism, spoken and heard. I happen to think that Health Care itself is part of the mix, though.

Directly at stake in the culture wars our country has been going through since 1954 and "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas" is a fundamental idea about humanity inherited from nineteenth century European (predominantly German) pseudo-science about race, mixed with real Darwinian evolution theory, and contaminated with the sort of Social Darwinism that pervaded this country in the Gilded Age (1885-1929) and has been a mainstay of racist explanation ever since, namely, that there are fitter people and less fit people, and that the less fit should be left to their own devices to survive ... or not. Fitness, of course, is measured by success in the local, regional, and national economies as well as by acceptance by the higher ups in these environments.

To me racism is at least half this pseudo-scientific idea that inheritance is key and that experience is not. It is just bad luck to be born Black or born in perpetual poverty in Mexico or Haiti or you-name-it-stan. The other half of the seething anger out there was addressed by Sam Harris the other day in a brief video interview.

Harris's understanding of human cognitive frailty is well stated here. He begins and ends with religion as the bogeymeister that convinces us that we "have" the answers to big questions, but his thesis applies to all world-views. It applies to all verities and theories clung to by human beings. And, of course, when cracks appear in the hypotheses, what do humans typically do? They cling all the more strongly to the "thought system" that provides those handy and comforting answers, whether the answers are at odds with facts or not. We have lots of factual data on this process, lots of wars and revolutions.

At some point, then, the cracks are so apparent and the worldview so decrepit that the faithful, the afficionados, the stalwart holders of these opinions are faced with the embarrassment of becoming ignorant (again), and they hate it. They hate being publicly shown to be wrong with a purple passion. They hate those who have proved their favorite ideas wrong or inadequate. They hate themselves in a way, because they know they will have to learn a whole new way of seeing the world, and they think they are not strong enough to learn. Many of them would rather die. We see this among the suicide bombers from other cultures.

Racism is a world view and it has been proved to be based on prejudice and emotion and not on fact. It is a way of explaining one's own successes and the failures of others. It does not explain one's own failures, so when a Great Recession strikes and 25 million people are out of work for a long, long time, these people are understandably angry about their situation and the thought processes that got them into it ... mostly trusting a system that is based on fallacious reasoning of the Reagan era. They invent bogeys and strawman enemies to combat, and when they run out of straw—when the last straw is passed from one willing hand to the next—they go blind with rage, knowing that finally in the violence of their primal tantrum they will be heard, noticed, and maybe in some way vindicated.

But, no! Definitely not! Vindication is out. Return to a Currier & Ives America or Father Knows Best or any such nostaglic scenario is not possible, even if it were desirable. Adjustment to ever changing realities is possible, painful or not. For many, though, the most realistic chance is that they will live out their lives with the crippling, humbling knowledge that they are fundamentally wrong and that the flood of human knowledge and understanding has passed them by. We are at one of the crisis points in the long process of human Progress.



The Problem in Virginia

I was a Virginian for fifteen years. I grew up there and went to the University of Virgina and got my baccalaureate degree in Russian Studies there. I have relatives in Virginia still, and I keep close contact with the University as a proud alumnus. I contribute annually to the University, and in fact, partly because of alumni who contribute, the University of Virginia has attained and maintained superior status among universities, (currently ranked 2nd among public universities, but often tied with UC Berkeley for 1st), all this despite the dramatic funding cuts from Richmond.

These cuts are nothing new. During the Reagan years the percentage of the University's budget coming from the Commonwealth dropped into the low teens and hovered there for years ... never rising, but always being nibbled and then gobbled away as a perversely and ironically ignorant state population elected Republicans to keep house in the Old Dominion. But the percentage of state support for the University of Virginia has reached a new low this year, down to a mere seven percent of the total budget. It is all the more ridiculous then for the state's Attorney General to demand that all "public" universities in Virginia rescind their admission and conduct policies that extend protection to persons "without regard to their sexual preferences."

This is what you get when you elect ideological morons from the Right. The denizens of southern and southwestern Virginia are particularly responsible for this outrage. If the Board of Visitors at UVa actually complies with this bogus concept that only the state Assembly can identify classes of persons ... which is threadbare reasoning to begin with ... I will be visiting the Grounds Thomas Jefferson created and I will be quite vocal about removing the University from the ranks of public universities. Richmond telling Charlottesville how to conduct a university is like the guy who wipes down your car after a carwash telling you where you may drive.



Be Afraid! Don't Think for Yourself

From a friend in the UK comes this magnificent demonstration of the power of individual people ... like you. Iron Mountain was founded on the principles that a military-industrial state supporting an elite (including the central finance sector) cannot survive without brain-washing its population. See what you can do ... at home ... at work ... wherever your voice can be heard.



Voc Populi Vox Dei

The epigram in the title of today's essay suggests that god manifests him/herself through the people ... as a whole. It is an interesting concept which often is turned around to suggest that deity is us. No matter really, the problem in all of this is us. And, the problems we have are quickly manifested in politics and culture generally. Today's subject is mental health and the decline of it in recent years.

When I read this article about mental disorders increasing in teenagers and young adults that was forwarded to me by a colleague in Boston, a couple things leapt into my mind: the irresilience of the human mind and the consequences for democracy where significant numbers of people are not completely "sane."

What I mean by irresilience is that given any number of people there will be a percentage who cannot accommodate themselves readily or easily to change, especially significant change like a Great Recession or rapidly evolving technostructures or revolutions in social mores. I do not mean that all people have significant irresilience, but I do mean that all people have some and some people have a lot and it shows on little studies as blips in the overall percentages. In other words, sometimes things change too fast for some people, and they become disoriented, anxiety ridden, and to one degree or another incompetent.

The consequences for democracy are pretty clear. The more people who are acting and behaving out of unhealthy mental states the less likely the country is to be making good decisions about the commonwealth and our need to pass along a stable society to our progeny. It raises the awful question of whether democracy is the right way to handle statecraft.

The answer to that question is that democracy finds a home where people demand it, and otherwise the forces of elites tend to fill in the vacuums created by distracted and disorient mental health. We are in such a situation now with finance elites basically calling the shots from their own self-perceived Olympus. The flaw in their reasoning, of course, is that any group of human beings is susceptible to bad mental health and bad decision-making.

To put this all in tangible terms, it appears that the White House is suffering from a hubristic elitism that accepts the notion that Finance has its hands on the toggles and switches, so ipso facto they must know what is going on. How the White House comes this conclusion is that their view of the general society is full of misgivings, particularly as the rant from the right suggests ever increasing "insanity." It gets to you after a while ... and the White House is no exception.



"The People Speak"

The History Channel premiered a "revisionist" version of American history,"The People Speak," Sunday evening that has created a stir here and there. Here, I was moved by both the readings and the words, by—finally—having these words included into American history as a theme, not just as spicey-but-errant noise in the background of Manifest Destiny or What's Good for General Bullmoose. Howard Zinn, is preachy, and if you are not careful, or don't have a Ph.D. in History, you might easily miss the point that his is definitively not THE history of the American republic. He never says it is, but he says his history ... which is a social history of politics, rather than a political history of society ... has been glossed over and sometimes left completely out of the picture and narrative of American History.

The stir "there" has been very mixed. Tom Shales, (yes, I know you have never heard of him), at the Washington Post did not like the four hour show all that much. People further right or those inclined to be supporting the status quo, take your pick, have even nastier things to say. On the other hand, perhaps predictably, Mary McNamara, of the Los Angeles Times was strongly supportive of the History Channel effort.

I don't know when or even whether the two part documentary ... sorry, Shales, these are real words by real people who were really consequential in American history ... will air again, but I certainly recommend it. I recommend it with the proviso that it be understood as just the tiniest beginning of a popular social history of the United States. For those of you on school boards, I frankly do not see how you can continue to teach American History as if these things were not said and the circumstances of their being said did not happen!

Finally, after watching this show I watched a documentary on the narcotics problem along the Mexican border, within Mexico, and within the United States. The problem was distilled succinctly by a narrator whose name I missed. The problem is that drugs are the largest single business in the world. The United States is the biggest market. The market is billions and billions of dollars. "Apparently, Americans cannot face their democracy without drugs," he said!

Well ... sooner or later people are going to see a connection between our national obsession with drugs and the cognitive dissonance of our mythologies!



An Open Letter to the People of Iran

Iran is the heir to Persia, and as such is a very, very old civilization. Every literate person in the world knows this. Modern Iran is not an old civilization, however, and even modern Iranians may not understand the implications of their country's relative youthfulness. Iran Age Demographics The truth is that a huge percentage (43.2%) of the Iranian population is under thirty years of age. Of these males outnumber females, which is also more than just interesting.

These demographics play to some very interesting psychological, moral, and cultural issues. For instance, in the western democracies (where the population is more evenly spread across older age groups and sociology is a highly developed study not only by universities but by insurance companies) it has been discovered that the average male does not develop a full appreciation of personal risk until well into their twenties, often not until the age of thirty. Accordingly, young drivers are understood statistically to be much more dangerous drivers of automobiles, for instance, but also much more likely to be reckless in other ways.

One of the basic and universal stages of human development is the transition from dependency on one's parents or other familial elders to independence. This usually a period of conflicted emotions, false starts, and reassessments of one's personal social environment. Successful transition depends on youth acknowledging (however grudingly) the wisdom of elders and equally on the practice of wisdom by those elders ... not overlooking any member of youth.

One of the complications of this universal transition is the flaring of sexuality as the gonads mature and begin to pump surprising hormones into the bodies of young people who are simultaneously approaching full adult height, if not weight, and certainly not experience. Sexual awareness carries with it social and personal issues relating to passion and to economics, since it becomes almost universally understood in this transition period that babies happen when girls and boys engage in sex. It is one of life's biggest concerns, and yet it is in most cultures treated as if it were not a central issue, obscured by embarrassments of various kinds, dubious moral principles, over a background of half-truths, outright falsehoods, and perplexing taboos.

Sexual and most other kinds of youthful recklessness in the West and some Asian cultures is moderated by strong pressures brought to bear on young men and women by large and strong cohorts of more mature (that is, risk cognizant) older people, usually cohorts who hold the keys to certain kinds of life opportunities like education, jobs, and political interests.

In populations like Iran's (and many other countries) the demographics have been skewed toward youth for a very long time. Where large and strong older cohorts were not available to exert moderating pressures on youth, religion took up this responsibility. You can see this in the older practices and principles of the Roman Catholic Church that presided over medieval Europe, in certain Hindu traditions, and very clearly in Confucianism and Islam.

In many respects the ferment in Islamic societies is due to the fallout from political and economic injustices that rain down on a youth population demographic constrained by religious and moral principles that are at odds with modernism and especially modern communications. Islam cannot replace the stern and admonishing father figure when it is vividly obvious that that father figure is trapped by religious principles more appropriate to bygone non-technological centuries.

And yet ... youth in Islam know full well as their risk appreciation increases and their full social mentality matures that there needs to be something to hold down the passions and excesses that the rowdier of their cohort participate in and from which comes so much trouble and grief.

Perhaps the younger citizens of Iran already know that Grand Ayatollahs are prisoners of their own awareness of a disconnect between faith and fact, between the reasons for certain moral principles historically and the reasons now ... if any. Perhaps the young people of Iran know that their form of government is a last gasp of an ancien regime, but they do not know how to make a society behave the way they expect without the trappings of "revealed" authority.

Know this young Iran: nuclear weapons have been used already, so if you develop them you can be pretty sure they will be used by you. If you use them, the older people cultures of the planet will annihilate your country.

If your country acts as if it is unique and given by Destiny or Kismet to take its place among the nations of the earth, then know that it must grow up. You must grow up! You must figure out a way to survive to be older, to provide the necessary moderating influence on the passions of youth, know them, respecting them, but moderating them.

There are many of us in the outside world who believe you can do it. Know that we will support you and that mistakes will be made. Learn tolerance and forgiveness.



The Illusions of Arrogance

I missed this excellent essay when it first came out in the Boston Globe. In some ways there is an irony to the geographical origin of the piece, since New England spawned the "city on the hill" and the Emersonian mythos of American rugged individualism. A look around the country, though, will reveal that the idea of American exceptionalism is deeply rooted everywhere, fed to our children in whopping doses in public (and private) schools, paraded by civic groups and veterans associations, paid mete adoration by politicians of every conceivable stripe, and ground into the fabric of society by marketeers through television, movies, and national sports associations. It is embarrassing!

But, as Neal Gabler clearly writes, it is a lot more than just embarrassing. It is dangerous for us and for the rest of the world. You just don't hear the Danes or the Dutch or the French, Norse, Portuguese, or almost any other nation of peoples strutting their national myths across the planet like we do, nor do you see them arrogantly declaring themselves the savior or the model for all to emulate. There is something sick in our polyglot society.

Some historians point out the fact that leaders of our country were afraid a new nation made up of peoples from all over the planet could not possibly survive because of the wide variances in cultures brought into the American "melting pot." Their anxieties may have seemed quite vivid in the great days of European immigration that brought fiercely contesting peoples into this country. Their solution, to raise the bar, to declare that America was an exception among nations, was to preclude the idea that old-country animosities could work to destroy the "united" states. In effect they said that until you began to mouth the platitudes of American exceptionalism you were not truly American. It was a stroke of genius, but also a fatal mistake.

It is clear by now, after Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and now Afghanistan that we are simply mortal, error-prone like all human beings, but in love with our toys and our myths to the exclusion of evidence and rationality. It has been said for decades that this will be our unraveling—our destruction. We will see if Obama has the courage to stand up to this huge malignant mythology and reverse our course in Afghanistan and Iraq. There has been almost no preparation of our culture for the necessary change of attitude, so I guess we should be prepared for the worst.



The Future Shock of Change

It is Labor Day 2009 and Labor is hurting. The lead story in the San Jose Mercury is about not wanting to celebrate 9.7% unemployment, especially with the prospects for recovery any time soon being so poor. Congress and the White House in their misguided attempts to be frugal about the T.A.R.P stimulus package (and believe me most people think that 700 billion dollars is not frugal!) have undercut the ability of the "natural" economy to recover quickly. You hear people talking about V-shaped and L-shaped recoveries. Obviously L-shaped portends a long haul, whereas V-shaped suggests a much briefer dip and then "business more or less as usual."

With these thoughts running around in our head this often misunderstood day, I was amazed to see James Carroll in the Boston Globe offering up a version of the situation that seems to blame economists. Actually he pretty much identifies them as witch-doctors.

What is going on here? Tested categories of economic analysis have all been applied. Depression. Recession. Business cycle. Soft landing. Money supply. Credit crisis. Catastrophic deficits. Statistics. Data. Globalization. Mumbo jumbo. Are we to be consoled that every society on earth is at the mercy of such disorder, or that the one reliable social law - impoverished groups and individuals always take the hardest hit - is holding true? After two years of expert predictions being shown up as wild guesses, and mathematical projections as stabs in the dark, a mask has been ripped from the face of the science of economics, exposing primitive superstition. The debunking of the academic study of the structure of wealth is equivalent to astronomy being shown up as nothing more than astrology after all. “I saw the best minds of my generation,'' to take off from Allen Ginsberg, destroyed by the smug assumption that they knew what the hell they were talking about.
Certainly James Carroll knows better than this. Economists like all other branches of all other disciplines disagree about nearly everything. Human knowledge is always provisional and always perceived across a range of expectations and first principles. Paul Krugman and several other prominent economists have been saying all along that the Congress and White House were wrong in short-changing the stimulus, that the political moment was let pass and is essentially irrecoverable ... given the state of politics in the nation these days, that is, rancorous, divisive, and approaching barbaric!

But Carroll goes on in his Monday column to suggest an even more fundamental and more disturbing phenomenon. He edges up to

... the sneaking suspicion that beneath today's massive economic dislocation is some kind of species-changing shift in the way humans relate to work itself.
Carroll suggests that the Ph.D. in any of the humanities may be obsolete because of search engines on the internet. Surely he jests! But there is no sign of jest in his remarks. He is utterly distraught that the "nature" of human knowledge is being undermined by technology, when it is obvious as the nose on his beet-red face that the so-called "nature" of human knowledge is that it has been reserved to a privileged class of people for eons. But now, with Google to reveal what the people of the Earth are looking for, and especially what businesses want to sell to them, and with such beautiful gems as, for example, Silva Rhetoricae (a compendium of 2,500 years of study of the schemes and tropes and figures of speech of human language) available now to an entire world that desperately needs to study the logic and emotion of human communication, what exactly is James Carroll's problem?

Carroll puts his case perfectly in this passage from his concluding paragraph

The nightmare of modernity, since Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, has been of an invasion of the home planet by creatures from some other world, but we have reversed that story. With our laptops and iPods, not to mention, say, our laser beams and drone bombers, we stand on the threshold of a world inhabited by aliens all right, but, as our home planet becomes something unrecognizable, the aliens are we ourselves.

Carroll is straightforwardly disconcerted by the acceleration of knowledge and of expertise (and one intuits that he is equally upset about the beneficiaries) in our modern era. To be fair, Carroll is worried about re-establishing some sort of golden period where the dignity of labor meant sweat, tears, toil, and sometime blood. It is an irrational idea, because it is formed from a very narrow and Olympian point of view. The truth is that everything that is happening now is not good, but that everything that happens now is either "inevitable," given the nature of our national and planetary cultures and economies, or a matter of the "free will continuity or change" of history. The bugger in this is "Change."

Change is for human beings both desired and feared. Rapid change upsets routines before they can adapt to the different circumstances. Rapid change reverberates throughout a culture calling into question verities and first principles, some of which, are then made out (like "primogeniture") to be obsolete and (like "racism") to be destructive of the human spirit. Very slow change, like filling the atmosphere with heat absorbing gases and causing global warming, is invisible to most human beings and the portents of global warming are lost on them, more than lost, these portents suggest changes that are altogether unpalatable ... and so are resisted with every synapse.

Modest change and the other kinds, rapid and glacial, hit populations across a wide range of acceptance, from rejection to eager adoption. James Carroll seems now to be a public intellectual who sees his world crumbling under the onslaught of epiphenomena caused by laptop computers and iPhones and Wii systems. He is floundering because somewhere in his daily ambit he stepped over an important lesson about Change. Change is inevitable, not constant; it is a condition of an entropic universe that suggests—nay, demands!—that human beings not settle in to comfortable ideas so well that they cannot get up and change, too.

Obviously, what the United States is experiencing now is Change, for some too rapid and for some too slow. We must take the initiative in Change and understand that those for whom Change is feared are real people, but that over time their psychology will adapt. For those for whom Change is too slow, they must be tutored in the realities of political reality. We pass laws that effect everyone simultaneously whether every last one of us are ready or not. Some people still refuse to fasten their car's seat belts when driving. We fine them now, but it is a fact that highway deaths per miles driven are way down. These doubting Thomases have a right to doubt, but they must understand the nature of collective (political) wisdom. It is now long since time for seat belts and for national health care reform!