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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Going for Lidice, in Israel

In  June 1942 British-trained Czecho-Slovak paratroopers in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia managed to spot and terminate a high Nazi official named Reinhard Heydrich as, somewhat overconfidently, he was motoring through the city of Prague.

  In reprisal for the killing of that one man, and for some reason choosing to vent their fury on Lidice, a small town 20 miles from Prague, the Germans promply rounded up all the townspeople, summarily executed 173 of all the men and the boys older than 15, packed the 184 women off to concentration camps, sent 88 children to another camp where a few were picked to be "aryanized" while all the rest were gassed as soon as they got there, and the town's infrastructure was completely reduced to nothing more than a bare field.

 Though Lidice was the most famous and perhaps the most extreme example, these mass reprisals were a common practice of the Nazis.  The most popular formula that one heard about was to kill 10 of the invaded citizens to each one death inflicted on the German invaders, and the extra-added ferocity of the Germans in Heydrich's case must have been because he appeared to have been something of a Nazi poster boy.

Just a few months earlier, in January, the German higher-ups had picked Heydrich to ramrod a conference held in a Berlin suburb called Wannsee, wherein the policy was drawn up and soon implemented for what became known as the "Final Solution" to the most efficient method of the mass incarceration  and removal from this life of millions of Jewish people that had fallen into German hands through their numerous invasions all over Europe during World War II.

Today the Palestinians in the Middle East have long run afoul of a set of invaders called "the Israelis," who have adopted many of the tactics of their spiritual ancestors, the Germans of the 1930's and '40's, the most recent of which is the application of something approaching the Lidice ratio in retaliation for rocket attacks by the Palestinians that cause scarcely more damage than the fireworks set off here in peaceful rural Virginia every July 4th.  Thus the current ratio in and around Gaza is 125 Palestinian deaths inflicted by the Israelis with their 800 tons of bombs dropped so far, in retaliation for 0 Israeli deaths (that is, zero, none, zilch) inflicted by the obviously non-lethal Palestinian rockets.   125 to 0!
      --Numbers like that (for instance we have not gone into the highly unbalanced number of Palestinians that have been incarcerated by the Israelis vs the number of Israelis that have been detained by Palestinians, and that's just one of many such situations) make it easy to think that if there were an actual just and merciful God observing this, as it stands now the Israelis are deeply into deserving and some day receiving a Judgment of Nuremberg delivered on them that would rival what the Germans experienced because of their wholesale use of the Lidice Syndrome and other such crimes. The Germans of three-quarters of a century ago, believing that they would be in full possession of the future, never expected to be brought to justice for these acts, and today's Israelis have clearly inherited the same attitude, as shown by their endless mistreatment of the Palestinians.

It makes one wonder what is being taught in the math and ethics departments of all those highly vaunted schools in Tel Aviv and other such places.  Surely there must be wholesale condemnation of practices like this in the Torah, if nowhere else.

"But hey!" as cruel people like to say in the depths of their misdeeds, as if it is the irrefutable justification for everything heinous that they do, "who's counting?"  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Curse of the Unspoken -- Part 2

       A film that I saw a few years ago (in fact, close to the time when I wrote the first draft of these two posts – these things take time, you know!), "Barney's Version," starred Paul Giametti as one such inarticulate hero, though I suppose that that bothered absolutely no one except me, especially because Giametti has such a big cult following that everything he does is greatly admired, though I couldn't see anything in this film that could have boosted his rep.  Giametti’s title character here, Barney, was a nasty, spiteful, and thoughtless slob through and through, and it was just not at all believable to me that nevertheless he had a succession of three dazzling women who saw enough in him that they consented to share his life in marriage.
       I guess we are supposed to think that Barney was somehow above the first two wives because they were unfaithful to him while overlooking the fact that he was no model of devotion to either woman, while, after pursuing the third woman relentlessly till she said "Yes," he nevertheless didn't make things too peachy keen for her either as time went on, which she testifies to when she isn't on the other hand unaccountably saying how great their years together were.
      Giametti’s character indulged in a lot of uglinesses that made no sense and that he didn't try to excuse, though there were plenty of occasions when he badly needed to explain himself – and audibly -- to his wives, to the viewers, and also to himself.  But the moviemakers saved a lot of work on the part of the writers who would’ve had to write more dialog, to say nothing of having also to be much more careful about the always sticky business of motivations, while the director and the actors had far fewer lines to have to deal with.  And so Giametti’s character had free rein to just keep slopping right along while saying nothing to justify himself or to enlighten others.
       One scene that illustrates this especially stuck in my mind.   In the beginning of the period when his marriage to that third wife that he continues to love so much is starting to go wrong, Barney is in the kitchen doing that favorite kitchen business of all film directors: using a very sharp knife to chop up an onion into expertly thin and uniform slices with lightning fast strokes while all the while the character is talking to someone, (at considerable peril, I would think, to the actor's fingers).   That beloved third wife tells Barney that he should freeze the onion first, because then cutting it wouldn't bring the well-known onion tears.   Barney says nothing, as if he hasn’t heard a word.
       Later, when the marriage is on the rocks, he comes home to find the house empty, and while he is looking in the freezer compartment of his refrigerator, he sees a lone onion sitting there unaccompanied by anything else in there that looks like food.
      He takes in that sight for some time before carefully closing the freezer door, still without saying a word or having touched the onion.
      What did he think that meant?   He must've thought something.
      That complete silence struck me as being very strange.   Did his character have no inner voice that was constantly speaking to him, loud and clear?   I have always had such a thing, and it talks to me throughout the day and in the nights, too.   I thought it was like that with everybody, and I have trouble believing that it's not.
       I can only think that it's taught at film schools that to leave things unsaid is the most effective way to go.   Let the viewers furnish their own words.   But I don't agree.   I think it would be a better world if people in all situations would explain themselves clearly and truthfully at certain, applicable moments, even in something as make-believe as a movie, and the fact that so many movie plots turn on things going wrong because so much was left unsaid that could easily have been said aloud backs up that contention.
       I guess that's why fate or my own inclinations never placed me even remotely in a position to be a screenwriter.  And even if I had been lucky enough to realize that dream, all the extra lines that I would’ve taken the time to write to convey a character's inner thoughts, even if I did that only occasionally, would still have been lopped off relentlessly by the arbitrary, hidebound committees that I am told make most movies.   In movies, as in real life, people just do things, and there is never any need to say why they did such and such, even if they knew why -- or were articulate enough to say why.
      In real life people often may not get the chance or the inclination to say why, or they don’t take the trouble to do it, but in movies the characters do get the chance, given a few extra seconds or minutes of running time, and I can’t see why it wouldn’t be helpful if they availed themselves of that chance a time or two, or at least more often than in just one “House of Cards.”

Monday, July 07, 2014

Curse of the Unspoken -- Part 1

There are numerous times in movies when I wish the makers could've moved themselves to have a character say out loud exactly what he's thinking.   In the original. 1990 British "House of Cards" film,  the main character, played by Ian Richardson, did so in profusion, and I thought it added greatly to the film's effect.   But that was a big exception.   Otherwise, what used to be called "dramatic asides" are heard so rarely nowadays that it must mean that there's a hard and fast rule of movie-making to avoid them at all costs.  At some unknown point it must have been decided that the inarticulate hero or heroine is superbly chic or cool or awesome, while the moviegoer cannot be expected to tolerate anything even remotely approaching audible self-revelation.  A reflection of modern life?

Oh well.   I guess that does save the writing and the speaking of hundreds of extra lines, even it it does mean populating the average movie with animated lumps who seem to be indulging in endless sleepwalking and little else.

A few years ago I struggled through a Russian film that exhibited this glaring defect in painful profusion.   Titled "How I Ended My Summer," it could much more aptly have been called, "How I Spent My Summer Looking Stupid and Acting Accordingly by Saying Not a Word."

It tells of two men maintaining a cold, bleak existence at a weather station somewhere on an island in the arctic wastes.    One day the older and more serious of the pair is out fishing, when  the younger man gets a radio message saying that his co-worker's beloved wife and child have just been killed in an auto accident.   The younger worker is told to pass this along to his co-worker, along with assurance that a ship is being sent to bring the man back to the mainland in his bereavement.

Because this is a movie made by one of your "most clever people," when the older worker returns from his fishing trip, the younger man tells him absolutely nothing and instead keeps all that strictly to himself, for reasons that naturally we are left to figure out for ourselves -- necessarily unsatisfactorily, because that young guy's vocabulary doesn't extend past occasionally uttered four-letter expletives.  Of course it all eventually comes out anyway, but with consequences that are far, far worse than they would have been if the news had been conveyed as was requested.

But this is how by far most of your bad and even worse movie plots go.   Things are carefully kept concealed till it's too late, when real life keeps telling us that everything and even the very worse news is always best revealed RIGHT NOW, and in language a little past the grunts of a bored polar bear.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Nights of Unnecessary Noise

It is now a little after midnight following another July 4th, and the night is no longer being disrupted by the incessant detonations of fireworks in the nearby countryside -- sounds surpassed in toxicity to the sacred peace of rural nights only by the endless barking of a neighbor's dog.

The next official Night of Unnecessary Noise will come soon after the next solstice, just as this one has done after the solstice just passed.

On the last day of December in this year the Noise-Lovers of America will again get out into the dark and mainly fire their guns, using as their excuse the coming of the New Year, just as tonight those who were capable of any thinking at all wanted to be seen as observing the Birth of the Nation, when what they really celebrate both times is merely the invention by the Chinese, centuries ago, of gunpowder.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Wise Old Skink

I found the first draft of the following post in one of my writings folders where it wasn’t supposed to be.  I wonder if I already posted it here a year ago, which was probably when I wrote it.  Doesn’t matter.  I will just post it again, not least because the changes since then are no more significant than a finger’s single whirl of the hands of a clock.

It's always great to see in the Spring, after the vegetation is almost finished with turning green, to see that all the moving little animals and insects have come back from wherever they go and whatever they do in the long, cold Winters, when nothing is seen or heard of them.   In the cold weather their absences are so total that it seems that that situation will be permanent.   Though maybe those absences are not at all total.  Maybe, every once in a while, my senses -- challenged these days in several ways -- do nevertheless catch little things but they're not loud or vivid enough to cause me to take special notice -- a slight trill in the wind, a small scurrying under the dead leaves, a quick darting of something small and dark just beyond my fields of  vision.

But now here in the Spring the little moving things are at it again, in the same numbers as always, as if the cold and the darkness didn't diminish them in any way, here, there, and everywhere, in increasingly full color, sound, and definition with the passage of each successive day.

For the last several years an old five-lined skink has been living on the front deck of my workshop, under a big slatted box where I store firewood, and yesterday I was glad to see him for the first time this year.   And I know I will see him again and again, not always but often when I climb the three steps onto the deck.   He likes to scurry into sight from the edge of the deck, stop suddenly, and stay motionless for quite a long time, staring at me, and it's as if he's waiting to hear what I have to say for myself.   After a minute of that, he decides that I quite idiotically can't speak five-lined skink, and he scuttles on under the wood box, disappearing.

I call him "the wise, old skink," or "George," and I'm sure, though I can't really know, that he's the same one that reappears there, year after year.   I know he's old because he's a dark grayish brown all over.   Those who haven't looked it up always call his species just "lizards," though the likes of those who are graduates of MIT and who are therefore responsible for such things have classified them as being "five-lined skinks."  That's because when they're young their bodies are marked by a series of stripes that extend from the tips of their tails to their necks.   These lines, which must have most to do with the usual reproductive purposes, are a yellowish brown that alternates with same-sized stripes of blue that are so bright that these younger skinks  are among the most beautiful things to be seen in the animal kingdom around here.  

This year the wise old skink looked slightly different.   He stood higher off the deck than I remembered, and his body looked larger but shorter and more rounded.   Maybe his legs have grown longer, and maybe he's gotten a paunch.

I wonder if he saw comparable changes in me.   I'm sure he did.   But as always he kept his observations to himself and eventually stopped waiting for me and hustled on off about whatever his business might be.  

It's sobering to think how little we humans fit into the equations of the wild life around here.  They stop and wait for us to follow whatever whim comes into our minds or otherwise get out of their way.   Meanwhile they always do the same stuff that they always have done and always will do, give or take an eon or two, and they don't spend a lot of time showing up for examinations or applause.  I doubt that the same will ever be said of us, on the cosmic scale of things.

"My" Creek

Wow!  Can it really be that I have made no new posts in all of 2014 so far?

Yes, it actually looks to be that way!   Yet it can't be that in all that time I had nothing to say.  Nearly every morning I awoke to the ringing of lots of things in my head that I might have wanted to say and to post.  The Republicans and other Nasties of the world are still as toxic and repulsive and destructive and imbecilic and inexcusable as ever, with no signs whatsoever of lowering their voices or of raising their standards.  Nor did I stop writing things.  I just did those in other areas -- emails and some of my past stories.

I feel that I can't take credit or discredit for this seeming negligence on my part, and instead it would be convenient to blame it all on the passage of time and its ever increasing rate of speed wherever I might be involved.   Or it could all be summed up by one of the greatest glories of this property where I am so lucky to be spending most of these days building a new bridge, across "my" creek.

Time has definitely taken on the identity of my creek -- a masquerade of sorts.

Most days, like now, my creek -- our creek --  just ambles along, averaging about 10 feet across and about eight inches deep, clear, quietly eloquent.   But every once in a while, and not even every year, but definitely more frequently than in past periods, enough rain will fall all at one time that the water will have no time for all of it to soak into the ground, so instead it runs off to my creek and then to the river a mile away and then to another, larger river maybe 10 miles away and then to the ocean 200 miles away.    And when that happens, back here at home, it's never smart to get too close to my normally ambling, casual, absolutely safe little creek, because then it becomes nothing less than a raging monster, almost the same width as ever, but now ten times as deep and with the water pounding through with unbelievable speed and ferocity and carrying along rocks, logs, and any other projectiles it can get its hands on.

We are the only property owners who live full time on this creek, and it doesn't even become a full-fledged creek until the outlets from four springs much farther upstream unite just before coming onto our land.    So, as we have the lion's share of it, we get to see more of what it's doing all the time than anyone else, including when the heavens above turn it into a whole army of raging lions.

We are really lucky to have this creek, just a stone's throw down the slope from our house, and we know it.

What else can I say?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Perished Assumptions

When I was 18, I thought that from then on I would always be 18, and for quite a long while that seemed to hold true.  

When I turned 40, I knew that I had left age 18 some distance behind.   Still, I thought that henceforth I would always be 40 or thereabouts.

 But then more time passed.

Two decades later, when I reached age 60, I believe I thought that thereafter not much would change, and I would always be somewhere in the neighborhood of age 60.

But after that still more years passed, and this past summer I reached age 82.

Now, however, I have learned my lesson, and I am quite well aware that in every one of the days that wait ahead, I will be that much less of age 82, or any other age that I might reach,  than I was the day before.

I place the lion's share of  the blame for this new enlightenment on all thoughts of having to go up on my roof -- any of my several roofs -- though there are dozens of other culprits or "teachers" close at hand as well, especially my increasingly wobbly feet -- or is it those all too comfortable crocs?.

I can happily live with that.

But of course, I have to, don't I?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Unposted Comment on Iran/Israel

Below is a comment for an article titled "Top Ten Ways the U.S. and Iran Could Prevent a Catastrophic War," by Professor Juan Cole on his "Informed Comment" site, though I don't think that such a war is likely, unless the Republicans are allowed to grab the White House.   But I finished it too late.  The article had been online for several days and new comments were no longer allowed.   This kind of thing quite often seems to be the story of my life, though usually I try to be early for things.

I notice that  the Israeli leaders seem to be absolved from any responsibility in this matter.   In Prof Cole's 10 steps Israel is not mentioned, while in the commenter Amir's alternate 10 steps it is only briefly lumped in with the U.S.  Yet Prof Cole has long shown that no one is more aware than he is of B. Netanyahu's perfidies and other pertinent aspects.   Even though this article was specifically about U.S. and Iranian efforts, this must mean that herein the Israeli leadership has been totally written off, when it comes to keeping the flames turned down low or even off in the Middle East.   Yet they are by far the main aggressors in the matter.

More than once Prof Cole has reminded us that for 20 years or so B. Netanyahu has been screaming into all available ears the "horrific" news that the Iranians are on the verge of developing a weapon within a year or so, but one decade and then another passes, and none ever appear.  Meanwhile no one seems to doubt that for a long time Israel itself has had at least 200 completed nuclear weapons sitting somewhere, ready for use.

Can one be blamed, then, for seeing something awry in the still weaponless Iranians being asked to do all the accommodating, while nothing at all is to be required from the armed to the teeth and always blustering B. Netanyahu?

This must mean that nowadays, after just a short time in office, the new Iranian president, Rouhani, along with Khameni, is already seen as being the reasonable and sane party in the matter, while the best that can be hoped of B. Netanyahu is that one day soon a pebble hurled from Heaven will conk him in the head and thereby put into a more sensible state his badly addled thought processes -- possibly making possible the most logical first step in the process, which Amir mentioned though only in his second step -- an international inspection of Netanyahu's, not Rouhani's, nuclear facilities, even if the Israeli PM would then be deluged with friendly suggestions from all his neighbors that, since his warheads don't seem to have been tested as yet, he try one out -- in the Negev Desert.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Keeping "Nigger" Nauseous

It is always interesting to see all the conniptions into which the use of what they are pleased to call the “n-word” (i.e. “nigger”) drives a great many people descended from all the European settlers in North America.   (And, by the way, it should never be forgotten that each and every one of these immigrants was decidedly illegal, from the point of view of the millions whose numerous groups had already been firmly established here for thousands of years and who had long since shown themselves to bave been wonderful custodians of the land, mainly by not doing much of anything with it – a system of land management that works perfectly every time.   Furthermore these Original Occupants had been quite happy with knowing absolutely nothing about the existence of all those cross-waving devils on the other side of the big seas to the east, and it didn’t matter how many Shakers of Spears, Mozarts, Newtons, Caesars, or Da Vincis they had produced, or even how much nonsense various shamans among the tribes’ own numbers,  having just smoked some bad peyote from somewhere, had cooked up  about the chance of “white gods” one day showing up from the east.)

Getting back to good ol’ “nigger,” the latest example of what I started out talking about is a woman of the lighter persuasion named Paula Deen, who, until recently, apparently was big on a TV food show of some sort.   For some reason she admitted to having said “nigger” in some context that she said was years ago, and for that she was promptly dropped from the show, and shortly afterward she was also disconnected from a couple of other lucrative enterprises as well, and the costs to her for her verbal indiscretion (or her revealing of it) seemed to keep climbing sharply.

   In response Bill Maher, another TV personality and well known for his acerbic attitude, which is often pointed in a good direction though sometimes not, came to her defense, asking plaintively – but quite rightly – why do people always have to “go away” when they use that word?    In other words, what’s happened to American freedom of speech?   And it’s just a word, isn’t it?  

But it wasn’t at all what Maher said that I found so interesting.  Nor was it the attitudes shown in the lengthy comment section that followed an Internet account of his involvement in this business, because there wasn’t anything novel about what those people spouted either.  They made the same sort of empty and not at all well-considered remarks that you hear or read after any such article or whatever on a racial subject, especially when use of the word “nigger” is the subject.  No, the interest arose from noting how, after all these years (I am now 82), nothing is changed in a great many Europeno (aka “white”) reactions.

Can it be that in the matter of those humans, that, in spite of everything, they have been raised to consider inferior to themselves, large numbers of Europenos are forever incapable of learning anything or giving any sort of constructive thought to it, generation after generation?  Instead, if the subject is racism in any context, they just grab the nearest empty cliche that comes to their minds and hang on to it for dear life, before going on and with great relief to another topic.

A few hardier souls among them, however, are not as quick to drop the subject, and their main thing is pretending to be incensed that the people that they call “blacks” (but which I call by the much more pleasant and apt term “rainbows” because they exist in all the hues of the human spectrum in a glorious display of inclusiveness, whereas the only thing that sets gay people off from the rest of humankind is their strong gender exclusivity, and I see nothing about that that merits their waving of prismatic flags) are allowed to call each other “niggers,” and even in an admiring way, while Europenos, though they’re the dominant group, strictly are not, in any manner.  These dominants consider it the worst kind of outrage and outright racial discrimination imaginable, that they, though superior to all others in all situations except basketball games, should be forbidden anything, and especially – especially! – something that those lowest of the low, “blacks,” are allowed to indulge in liberally.

  This indignation reaches such a bitter and ridiculous fever pitch that some even demand that if “whites” cannot be allowed to use the “n-word,” then “blacks” should never be permitted to use it either, simply because that kind of usage is blatantly discriminatory against “whites,” and also because “nigger” is such a godawfully terrible epithet, and it is time, they argue, that “blacks” smarten up enough to realize that fact and to recognize that every time they hear it used, they should feel inspired to hit, kick, and even kill.  

This is exactly where, in my expert and long-considered opinion, nearly everyone, of all pigmentations, completely misses the Big Point that should be involved with any use of the word “nigger” – a point so large that it is an enormous failure of collective eyesights to keep overlooking it so completely.   This point is not at all the horror of the word “nigger.”   Instead it is the idea that no effort should be spared to de-fang the word instead, to strip it as completely as possible of all its vitriol, the same as had long ago already happened with  “black.”  To me personally, on a scale of 1 to 10, achieving this would have merited a resounding 10, whereas being admitted to a fancy restaurant would have had trouble rating even as high as a 2.

So little is known of even the latest chapters of “black” history that few if any will believe me when I say that as recently as my younger days, from 1931 up to about 1965,  to the descendants of the slaves brought over from Africa “black” was a pejorative word and just as lethal to us as “nigger” (coming out of the wrong mouths), so much so that even today I am highly uncomfortable with being called “black” by anyone or on hearing people like me being referred to as “blacks,” as the most notorious member of the Supreme Court conspicuously did just the other day.

   But at the same time that Reverend King and his allies were doing all their good work in bringing about a number of civil rights, competitors of theirs in much the same cause, the “black militants,” accomplished a language miracle, by pushing the (at times overblown) concept of “black pride” so hard that in just a few years, some time in the mid 1960’s, the word “black” completely lost its sting and instead gained a usage status wherein today it is considered to be an always harmless if not always laudatory term – as short-fallen as I still see that idea as being.   And I’ve never seen any reason why it was that the “black” militants like Stokeley Carmichael, Huey Newton, H. Rap Brown, and the others were not able to do the same thing and more with “nigger” and why people of all kinds cannot unite in doing so today.

Correction.   Of course, I do see exactly why that is so hard to accomplish, and every time somebody – almost always a Europeno -- “slips” and uses the word “nigger” in any spirit at all, it is all too easy to see the cavalry and the infantry being instantly drawn up to make sure that  that term never loses one particle of its punch and poison, and to see that any attempts to sanitize it are stamped out without delay .  And you will see all that false fire and fury being raised hardly at all by rainbows but instead almost solely by members of the pale-visaged brethren.   It is all in the cause of “white” racism, unconscious or not.

Here we should always remind ourselves of two interesting things in this matter.   One is that there is no word denoting “white” people that is anywhere near as virulent as “nigger” is supposed (and hoped) to be, and Majority America couldn’t be happier with that circumstance – while disregarding the all too obvious fact that this suggests only that the “white” capacity for extreme hatred far outstrips “black” abilities in the same direction.   My question is, how can the dominants be happy with that?

 Another key aspect of all this is that usage of the word “nigger” by rainbows is part of their never-ending struggle against their much stronger and more numerous opponents, dating from slavery days, when, lacking any other means of defense and retaliation, those chained imports from Africa hit on ways to express themselves that would not be easily comprehensible to  their oppressors.   That was not hard to do, because, like the millions of George Zimmermans today, by their very nature,those oppressors were not the brightest bulbs in the world.  One way to do this was to stand language on its head and to give words meanings that were exactly opposite to how they were commonly understood

In my earliest days the most obvious instance of this was to say that something was “bad” when all the listeners of your color instantly understood that you were saying that the thing was actually “good,” and even more often it meant “great” and “fabulous.”   There were other such inversions of usage, but that is the one that pops quickest to my now ancient mind.

This standing language on its head is exactly the reason why, when applied by one rainbow to another, “nigger” can be an expression of great approval and friendship, instead of being a curse word.  It also serves the  purpose of reducing to a state of near apoplexy those who want to see that epithet having quite another effect, and this is why it is actually so laughable when someone in a comment section demands that rainbows stop using the word “nigger” altogether.   That critic has no claim to the word, especially if the bulk of his ancestors came from north of the Mediterranean.  He doesn’t own that word in any sense, because an epithet, once used, like a bullet from a gun, belongs ever afterward exclusively to the target of the fusillade, instead of to the shooter. 

This turning of things on their heads is not peculiar to rainbows, and you have to suspect the motives of those who are so outraged at any use of the word “nigger” when you have such an experience as I did, in coming from a largely rainbow world to the newly integrated Air Force in the early 1950’s, when I quickly noticed that guys of Italian descent were quite fond of referring to themselves as “dagoes.”  Before then I had been given the idea that calling somebody a “dago” was highly offensive, and I had no trouble sensing that those men didn’t accept anyone of a different ethnicity using that term in a playful or any other sense.

I didn’t run into enough Latinos or Jews to know whether they felt the same about terms like “spics” and “hebes,” but I suspect that they did, just as, if movies hold any truth, Irish guys, among each other, are not above calling themselves “micks.”  Yet, unlike the frequent cases of “the n-word,” you seldom if ever hear similar bursts of outrage on behalf of the “offended groups going up all over the media, with widespread suggestions instead of substitutes like “the d-word,”  “the s-word, “the h-word,” or “the m-word.” 

Funny, that – though not actually.  I suppose that we rainbows are supposed to feel gratified by such displays of indignation that appear to be on our behalf but actually amount to being quite the opposite.                                                  

Monday, September 09, 2013

Squandered in Syria

The following was written mostly as a diary to be posted on DKos, though I long ago saw that everything posted there has a shelf life of about five hours, before it disappears for good down what I've begun to call a "velvet rat hole," unless a diary happens to be"rescued" some time later because it happens to fit into some category in which a special interest has started to be taken.

You can tell that lately I've been waking up thinking about Syria, just as earlier it was Trayvon Martin.

If I can be permitted to set aside, just for this moment, the overpowering grip that temporizing has on him, never seen more clearly than in his first debate with Romney, I wonder if, by this time, whether B. Obama isn't deeply sorry that he didn't take my advice to go with his Syrian strike right after he revealed that it was in the wind, in whatever form that his military experts proposed it to him.   And they must've had something out of the ordinary and even brilliant in mind, otherwise what good are all those Pentagon types with all the scrambled egg stuff on the bills of their caps?   Instead he took the easy route in which much of the rest of the country appears to be sloshing and wallowing, and he decided to bring Congress in on it, with the all too predictable blah results that you always get whenever those 535 drags on the country are brought into anything.

Since then all there's been is a non-stop torrent of blather about all the dreadful things that will happen, should Obama give the order -- outcomes that not one of these doomsayers could possibly know, and that includes numerous diarists and commenters right here at DKos, even by that site's supposed highest authorities -- endlessly belching out fiddle-faddle that amounts to nothing except essentially saying what a bad idea it is to try to slow down and even stop the wholesale slaughter of Syrians that has been going on with hardly a pause for the past two and a half years, by a huge variety of means.

Bobby Fischer, the late and highly successful, Brooklyn-bred chess grandmaster (nowadays most American grandmasters seem to have been born and raised in Eastern Europe), said, "timing is everything," and one of the things he meant is that a player shouldn't hem and haw, once the idea for a sharp, hard-hitting combination takes shape in his head.  The sacrifice that can't be refused must be made while it's sitting there to be made and even when the ultimate success of that combination isn't quite clear as yet.

Now that opportunity, like all those lives, has been squandered in Syria, and if Congress likewise trumpets and brays "Nay," everybody will congratulate themselves on having been on the side of something that they were pleased to call "peace," and they will go back to scratching their butts, throwing back a few, and in general devoting their lives to being the same old slobs that they always were, while in Syria, unhindered by the international world and instead feeling themselves being cheered on by Russians, Chinese, and a host of "sometimey" American progressives, Syrians will keep on killing other Syrians en masse by a great variety of means, for no more reason than to keep the government in Damascus headed by an Assad.

"And after all," the non-thinking would continue, "all we're talking about here is a bunch of brown people (sometimes also called "sand niggers" in the better homes and churches) busy killing other brown people, right?  And everybody knows that situations like that have never been worth our making any kind of a sacrifice.  Besides, we're not talking about an American office tower being suddenly demolished by some of those same people, are we?  Because even if that were to result in just a tiny fraction of the number of Syrian casualties, in that case everything would be totally different, of course."

Having missed the boat on Iraq, everyone is determined not to commit that crime again.   But it was all too easy to see that pounding into Iraq was not a good thing to do.   Syria is more a mess than Iraq was, despite Saddam's constant misfires and the attentions Iraq had been shown by American sanctions and air power.   The water, electrical, and health systems were all still working, and for a long time Saddam had been spending most of his days huddled quietly in his palaces and doing much more stewing than brewing.

Some have tried to say, "All right.   If Syria is not like Iraq, then it's not like Libya either."  But I don't see that.  Wasn't Gaddafi on his way to an al-Assad slaughter of his own people,  until NATO air power stepped in?

It worked once, and the geography is as level in one place as it is in the other.  Who's to say it couldn't again?  And after all, we're talking about volunteers, who presumably stepped forward for this job, implying, "We can do this!"

Having been, a very long time ago, something of a military man myself, though only what in those days was called a "shotgun volunteer," I think I can say that true volunteers can never expect to be asked to take part only in made-to-order campaigns of their own choosing, such as on the beaches of Tahiti.  It's just bad luck for today's GI's that -- along with the vagaries of plate tectonics -- badly deluded refugees from Europe are still holding on tightly to land deeds in the Middle East that expired 2,000 years ago, and the easiest oil is found mostly in hot, arid, ungodly places where all the women are compelled to walk around dressed from topmost tress to toe in outright tents.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

How Long Should the Dying in Syria Go On?

How long should all the untimely deaths in Syria be allowed to continue to mount, through the use of whatever weapons, before someone is finally allowed to do something about it?  This is the Big Question that seems to be occurring to almost no one, and instead you just see people, mired in legalisms, doing the 21st century equivalent of the medieval urge to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Various strains of progressives, who -- in their zeal for having a third party that, however, they are too powerless or too slothful to form -- have been against Obama almost from the start, are overjoyed at how this latest White House Syria initiative has given them new excuses for their attacks on the President. Meanwhile the real and most virulent enemies of everything worthwhile, the Republicans, are most likely chortling with glee.  Rest in peace, forever stillborn Progressive Third Party!

 Meanwhile, in the widespread efforts to prevent Obama from directing the U.S. military to take a more active hand in affairs in Syria -- a move that can take many forms besides the "bombing" that most of today’s would-be peaceniks are so busily shouting to the rooftops -- the pseudo-peace drums are being pounded harder than any war beats that I've been able to hear so far.  And I keep wondering why Obama's initiative -- the most serious-sounding and substantial in response to the long-running slaughter in Syria -- that he's taken so far -- can't be seen above all as a humanitarian one, above discouraging the use of chemical weapons.  After all, if you're killed by sarin, you're no less dead than if you are taken out of here permanently by a bullet or bullets -- the fate of many thousands of Syrians long before the current big thing, Chemical Weapons, began to be mentioned.
Except for a few small changes, the rest of this post consists of a comment that I posted on Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment” a few days ago, in response to an article he wrote titled “Obama Goes to Congress on Syria as his International Support Collapses.”   

"As his international support collapses?"

I agree with the earlier commenter who said that if the British Parliament had not undercut the British Prime Minister, Obama would've begun his Syrian initiative by now, without the backing of the Arab League, Congress, or anyone else, but not without Britain and France. his two standbys (and stand-ins) in Libya.   All he really needed for his international support was that pair of the largest and most active European nations in trying to do something about al-Assad's slaughter of his own people for little more reason than to keep the rulership of Syria purely a family matter.  Meanwhile the rest of that "international support" mainly seems to have stood idly by while over a period of several years, many thousands of Syrian citizens have been killed. to the tune of as many as 100,000 by now.

And that is the whole point of why I think American military intervention is not a bad idea, and that's been true for some time..  It would be a truly humanitarian effort  to cut down and even end this bloodbath, as one was cut short in Libya, and meanwhile I don't think the number of operative crystal balls is anywhere near the number of dire predictions -- should Obama give the order -- that are being flung all over the place.   And what better use of that unbelievably expensive American military machinery that otherwise merely sits rusting and corroding away, on the seas, in the air, and in a great many countries all over the planet?

It's too bad that Obama let himself be spooked into consulting that body of do-nothing baboon-butts called the U.S. Congress.  While he wastes that time,  more Syrians will be fed into the Syrian death machine who otherwise had every right to live as long and as comfortably as anyone else in this largely indifferent world.  And that will also happen for sure if the U.S. merely resumes sitting in the bleachers – where the British Parliament is already perched, secure in its self-satisfaction. 

Daydreaming and Insomnia

Recently I happened to note a blurb for an article on the Internet stating that daydreamers have a high incidence of insomnia, because they are unable to stop thoughts from coming into their heads.

Is that all it's been?

Guilty of having always been a chronic daydreamer, as well as being unable to sleep these days for longer than four hours at a stretch, I have only one question to ask, and that is, how exactly does one stop thoughts from entering their minds?  I know that ever since I was born, every minute thoughts have been making non-stop arrivals and departures in my noggin and rarely, if ever, even slowing down, 24/7.

(Of course the broken sleep may be mostly a matter of my bladder and kidneys.)

Friday, August 02, 2013

With Liberty and Justice for Not Everybody

So what about those great and stirring words "with liberty and justice for all?"   Doesn't that phrase appear in some place that is so important that the words have been permanently etched on the American psyche from childhood?   Maybe it's a part of the Flag Salute, aka the Pledge of Allegiance.   My mind wavers, because I've had no occasion to stand in a classroom or anywhere else and put my hand to my chest and recite all that, since long before the words "under God" were so infelicitously added (which appears to have happened in the early 1950's.  By that  time I was in the military, where we did a lot of saluting but hardly any reciting, unless it was the 10 General Orders, and since I also long ago lost my "Airman's Handbook," I no longer can put my hands on what those were either.  Isn't it great to have grown so old and casual!)

The Incurious Sanford Jury that delivered that Zimmerman verdict sent the world a more modern message as to whether those words still pertained.   "With liberty and justice for all?   No, no way!   The long-standing view and policy that those words do not apply where nigras are concerned is still in effect."

Once more I am just as glad as I can be that I'm not part of that dominant, Europeno demographic in whose name so many racial injustices have been committed ever since they decided to bring in the first slaves from Africa, to do all that hot, dirty, difficult work clearing fields and tending the cotton and tobacco crops in Virginia, not to mention the myriad other atrocities that were involved in maintaining slavery.   And I don't see how anyone in that white superiority demographic with even as little as one drop of decency can sleep easily tonight or any other night, knowing how once again a great injustice has been done by them and in their name, in Sanford, Florida last month, on top of the billions of others that have been committed upon the slaves and their descendants for nearly 400 years.

In the wake of the Sanford verdict, the American rightwingers hoped against hope that, in protest of the verdict, "black" people would react in the style of Pavlov's dogs and repeat what some did in the mid-20th century, especially when Reverend King was shot, and pour out into the streets of all the big cities and start wrecking and burning things.  After Sanford all the millions of guns and the thousands of tons of ammunition that the dominants have been buying like crazy could -- this time -- be put to good use.   The conservatives looked forward, this time, to the good ol' race riots of yore -- New York 1863, Wilmington N.C. 1898, Tulsa 1919, and many other killing grounds participated in by "the people."   The "race riots" of the 1950's and 1960 were not really that at all, but instead could more properly have been called "property riots" and "vandalism and looting expeditions," because in those events ordinary "white" citizens stayed home in their comfortable suburbs, and they let their police do all the shooting and killing.   This time the conservatives looked forward, though in vain, to the prospect of ordinary citizens taking part in all the fun once more and causing the gutters in the inner cities to overflow with "black" blood.  In conservative eyes, that would've been truly the new "America the Beautiful," and because you would've been talking about the world's only superpower here, no one elsewhere would've had anything to say about it, at least nothing that need be respected.

"[The Negro] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

      --So said the chief U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roger Taney, in the 1857 Dred Scott case, midway (so far) through the country's career.

I hope the renewed dread and dismay that I personally feel today can be understood.   The overwhelming majority of Americans have never had the experience of being, as I was many years ago, a black youth of 17 not all that different from a Trayvon Martin.  And added to that, I had a son who was also at one point a "black" youth of 17, who was also not much different from Trayvon Martin.   And it shouldn't be forgotten that the current President of the U.S., B. Obama, said right after the murder that he could've had a son like Trayvon Martin.

Having one's existence valued so cheaply by so much of the rest of the world, even by one's own contemporaries of the same physical description at far too many times, no matter how much that person may try to be benign and law-abiding, is a discomfort that I would never wish on anybody.   Still, today we have nearly half the country eager to keep my demographic (chiefly but not always a much younger sector of it) always and forever under the easy-to-use hammer of ever abundant firearms and the often irresistible urge to use them.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Happened to My Blog Pics?

It looks as if this morning both the pics -- the thumbnail of my house and the photo of me when I was four years old -- that all the while have been running in the upper LH corner of the first page of this weblog have, for some reason unknown to me, been summarily dumped.

And I wonder if I'm really up to going through all that's necessary to get them -- or others -- back up there.   It was no picnic when I was presumably eight or nine years smarter.

--Oops!   Now they're back up.   Just another one of Blogger's occasional blips?

Oh, well.   Maybe I've been spared from having to mess with something like that for a while longer.

Courtrooms and the Truth

To me, though not to most others, when you consider what the contending parties push for, it seems odd and even laughable that when one is asked to testify in a trial, first he is required to swear that while on the stand he will always speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  And he must absolutely keep to this oath, lest he be accused later and convicted of committing that great crime of perjury.  Witnesses are taken through that even though it must've been obvious ever since trials first came into use that they are not about arriving at the truth of the matter.  Instead they're about selling juries -- or whoever has the power of forming the verdict -- on the theories of the contending parties.  And what's worse, attorneys and judges insist on holding witnesses' feet close to the fire, though they may consider themselves to be in no way under the same constraints.

In a courtroom, so distant in time, location, and intentions from the incident under discussion, there can be no hope of ever finding out for sure what really happened anyway, unless somehow the whole thing was irrefutably recorded beforehand by some modern technology.  And in those settings, few if any -- whether participants or spectators -- ever think of how, quite often, the only person in the courtroom that has any shot at being in full possession of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is not at all one of the high-flying attorneys, the even higher-flying judge, a witness, or even one of the arresting cops waiting outside to put in his two cents.   Instead it's the person sitting with all appropriate humility in the defendant's chair.  Yet seldom is that person asked to testify.  

Aside from the fears of what might then be revealed about a client that the defense counsel has come to know all too well, the reasons for this avoidance  probably center around recognition of another inconvenient fact about trials and getting at the truth: there's no way to know how much the defendant might color his version of things in such a way as to support his plea of Not Guilty.  And that in turn is linked to the certainty that even if the defendant and all the witnesses called themselves being truthful to a fault, not much time has to pass before their own biases and their views of how things ought to be permanently distort their versions of how things really transpired.

So what happens is that, no matter how much it is set up to look like an exhaustive search for the truth, the trial instead actually becomes an elaborate ballet dance or a gymnastic competition, orchestrated with numerous moves consisting of arcane precedents protected by the dust of thousands of law libraries filled with tomes of the most deadly kind of reading.   And the lawyers and the judges do their well-practiced pirouettes, leaps, and flips while always watching to see which way their performances are swaying the ultimate judges -- the juries -- even if at the start those groups have been carefully selected by them, the performers.

Still there are times when injecting the defendant into the exercise might have its uses.   There might be something about the person that might make a good impression, even through the appearance of having been totally crushed by a prosecutor's intimidations.  And I would also think that, by being the most important person in the courtroom, the defendant would have collected the largest amount of gazes by far, throughout the proceedings, as everyone wondered what could be revealed there, if only probes of some kind could be inserted into his head.  Generally the audience, if not all of the contending advocates, would like to hear from him, no matter what.

But in the recently concluded Sanford, Florida trial, as in so many others, the star of the show was carefully kept off the stage.

Near the end of the testimony the judge did try hard to break that pattern, or at least seemed to, by ordering G. Zimmerman, the defendant, to take the stand.   But she was savagely rebuffed by the main defense attorney.

Despite the many thoughtless views that it was an option, a possibility, there was never the slightest chance that George Zimmerman would testify, and the judge backed down.   So the one person who was the closest by far to being in a position to know, and hopefully relate, exactly what happened that rainy night that left a teenager named Trayvon Martin lying shot dead on a sidewalk in Sanford was spared from being revealed, through his testimony, as being the mush-brained person that he so clearly is.

"--What?  Him, George Zimmerman, testify?   Not on your life, and certainly not on Trayvon Martin's life!"

It turned out that Zimmerman wasn't the only one that got away with murder during that trial.   So did that defense attorney, when somehow he escaped being punished severely for what appeared to be highly blatant contempt of court in vetoing the judge's order.  And so also did more than one of the defense witnesses in that badly off-kilter trial, when, after having contributed several thousand dollars each to Zimmerman's cause, they then were allowed to testify, too, as if to protect their "investment," in the course of which they said things that had all the appearance of touching on perjury for sure.

Despite all that Zimmerman and no one else had so clearly contributed to making that night the last one that Trayvon Martin would ever see, Zimmerman soon enough was let off scot-free, with many good wishes for the future heaped on him by the usual scoundrels of our society. 

Meanwhile no justice whatsoever was rendered to the murdered child, Trayvon Martin -- except in the clearest parts of the Public Eye.