The Terror Industry

June 15th, 2016

The embedded mass media have been spinning the massacre at an Orlando nightclub as terrorism, motivated either by Islamic fanaticism or bigotry toward homosexual men or maybe both.  Never mind that the killer was a frequent patron of the establishment he attacked and was known to have a hot temper. He was a Muslim of Afghan nationality, and he told some of his victims he was angry at the USA, and that was enough for the embedded mass media to assign him a political motive and put a scare into their audience. Why the rush to judgment?

Because terror sells. We have reorganized our daily lives–travel, school, business, workplace practice–to stem the risk of terrorism, even though by most estimates it’s killed only an average eight Americans per year since 2002. An entire industry has arisen to deal with the threat, so that there are now as many people involved in the prevention of terrorism as there are terrorists. Hundreds of people are imprisoned without trial to prevent terrorism. Tens  of thousands of people are forbidden to board a commercial airliner. Each and every one of us has to disrobe, at least partially, to enter a public building. If we took comparable measures to eliminate medical errors, we could save 10,000 lives per year. But the risk of medical malpractice, unlike terrorism, isn’t covered with much enthusiasm at NPR and CNN.

That’s because terrorism is drama, and drama attracts attention, and attention is what the mass media want most from you.  If they can get your attention, they can bombard you with advertising, which will motivate you buy stuff, especially stuff like drugs, food and drink that have the power to distract you from the fear elicited in you by the risk of terrorism.

It’s funny that most people are not embarrassed to be terrorized. Beginning in 1942, the Nazi government of Germany launched frequent bombing raids on London and other English cities, but  the people weren’t terrorized. They took shelter during the raids, but they went about their normal activities the rest of the time. They were no stronger or smarter or healthier than people of today,  but they were harder to frighten. Why?

Because in 1942 the word from the authorities was to keep a stiff upper lip and maintain your composure.  Today’s authorities inundate us with an endless flow of terrorizing rhetoric, and we find it hard to resist. Cowardice has become a virtue, and terror, a sacrament. Lucky thing, too, because our modernized rules of engagement now employ tactics like torture and robotic attack, once considered acts of supreme cowardice.

It’s not just the mass media that feed the terror industry. Government officials are direct beneficiaries of a terrorized people. They are privileged in the interest of security to conduct government business in secret, to spend obscene sums and to place themselves above the law. We give them the unfettered right to name our enemies and allies, and we encourage them to punish those among us who resist or defy them. Corrupt officials feed corrupt media with information likely to  satisfy their audiences, and the media dutifully suppress information that could disrupt the sanctioned stream.

The terror industry has resources even more powerful than the risk of violence, which is largely fictitious and presented as such hour after hour on television and in movies. The real-life risk of poverty terrorizes us to the point of panic. The terror industry keeps us ever aware that our jobs are temporary and our income altogether conditional. We have jobless and homeless people not because of a shortage of jobs or places to live but so that people with jobs and homes will stay worried enough to work cheaply and pay exorbitantly for whatever social insurance they can cobble together.

How strong is the terror industry? Strong enough to prompt us to abandon common sense. Take the case of the Orlando killings. We know perfectly well that violence directed at nightclub patrons is commonplace and is almost always a matter of revenge magnified by alcohol. Violent man gets treated rudely by some other patron or the bartender or the bouncer and breaks a chair over somebody or burns the place down or shoots someone. Unlike terrorism, this sort of violence actually happens, and there’s every reason to believe it happened in Orlando, but we are willing to believe the killer had complex political motives because NPR and Clinton and Trump say so.  We might want to shop around for ways to resist this sort of indoctrination or at least teach our children to resist. It’s weakness to be terrorized, and we can’t afford weakness right now.

Unopularity Contest

May 23rd, 2016

If we are to believe our embedded mass media (MMM), a sizeable minority of voters is ready to tolerate a presidential election in which both candidates are widely recognized as people of low character. It won’t be the first election in which most votes will have been cast to prevent the opposing candidate from winning, but these two could turn out to be the least popular pair ever nominated. The ammunition available for character assassination is abundant on both sides, and the candidates themselves are both dirty enough to use it all. The advertising is not likely to elicit a loving feeling in the electorate, a big section of which has already announced an intention to vote for neither. 

Faced with a choice between Trump and Clinton, people of conscience could stay away in record numbers. If that’s how things turn out, the responsibility will fall squarely on the gossip-mongers who claim the mantle of a free press. They inundated the public with images of Trump and Clinton, challenging them rarely, accepting always that a record of lying, cheating and stealing–habitual traits in these two–does not necessarily disqualify a candidate for high office. Depend on MMM to deflect the blame for this travesty onto the American people, who, rendered stuporous and ignorant under the censored stream of misinformation and disinformation supplied by the MMM, will have proved incapable of bringing principle and conviction into the voting booth.

The two multimillionaires that currently lead the major parties have already begun to switch modes, and the game is on to woo the disaffected majority. So far, it’s been a one-note appeal: “Vote for me or (Trump/Clinton) will become president, and you know what that means” (what it means, in either case, is that people like them will get richer, while the rest of us provide the wherewithal). If voters don’t buy this, the candidates might start offering us stuff, with promises they have no intention of keeping. Can either of them overcome the revulsion people naturally feel when they’re exposed to contestants like Clinton and Trump? Nose-holding, which shills for both parties now recommend to dissidents, might not suffice.

The advantage of a Clinton or Trump presidency is that it’s well-deserved. If ever a people proved worthy to be led by scum, we are that people. Our mainstream–the worst generation, as some have dubbed us–has pursued a scorched earth policy on every issue. Today’s high school and college kids have never known a time when the nation was not at war. Before their eyes, the planet they will soon inherit is disintegrating, and the mainstream seems to be OK with that. That the two leading candidates for chief executive are irredeemably corrupt seems natural somehow, and fitting.

This Can’t Happen Here

April 19th, 2016

Dear Survivor

On this saddest day ever, all of us might profitably reflect on the events of yesterday. The  destruction of your nation’s capital, with the loss of so  many innocent lives, was undertaken to preserve humanity.  Your leaders, with the approval of your communications  media and a substantial minority of your people, had taken the world to the brink of catastrophe and had to be stopped.

As you know, the attack was initiated by no government, no  nation, no political entity of any kind, but by an  assembly of individuals from every corner of the planet.  We met in secret. We pooled resources. We debated. We  purchased the means of destruction, and we caused them to  be placed strategically where they would do the greatest damage to the seat of your government. Retribution may be possible if the members of our diverse assembly are detected and  apprehended, but there can be no retaliation.

This was not a punishment but a deterrent. The damage caused by your nation’s rampage is incalculable, and all signs pointed to an acceleration in the near future. As you must know, your government is responsible for armed conflicts throughout the world. Your communications media are controlled by commercial interests whose investment in warfare is universal. Your armed forces are deployed to be visible to your carefully selected nuclear-armed adversaries in Asia and Europe.  You claim reverence and piety even as your government vaporizes dark-skinned children in faraway places with missiles launched from unmanned aircraft. Your leaders have repeatedly used and threatened to use armed force to advance your commercial and political ends, and the current assembly of candidates for national office announces a continuation of this policy.  We believe that the destruction of key areas of your capital city and its richest suburbs has the potential to reverse the process of disintegration you seemed to have chosen.

The extent of collateral damage (a term your leaders invented) was great, and it is regrettable that so many innocent lives had to be lost.  It is always the case that justice inflicts pain on the innocent along with the guilty. In the case of your nation’s capital, the culpability was so clear and so widespread that mankind can take satisaction in the toll taken on the guilty and be content with an apology to the innocent.

So sorry.

One Time Only

March 17th, 2016

Of those who have been invited to take advantage of the opportunity offered by Bernard Sanders, a majority have so far declined. It’s unfortunate, because his offer has been to lead a revolution, a task that he and only he is qualified to undertake. With the possible exception of George Washington, no other person has ever risen to power in the USA along the path he’s followed, strictly on strength of character, and we are not likely to see a replacement for the 74-year-old anytime soon. 

He has been selling social justice throughout his adult life, and he has built a political movement around an agenda that, 60 years ago, could have landed him in prison as a Communist. Courage of conviction doesn’t often get a candidate elected, but he’s used it to win elections against Republicans and Democrats combined, the only senator who can claim that distinction. He has stood alone, on principle, time and time again. Struggling against the political tide is widely considered a disqualification for high office, but Sanders has somehow managed to overcome conventional wisdom. Nobody has won tougher elections than Sanders, and, in living memory, none has done it by dedication to social justice.

As he has implied repeatedly, he can’t succeed without the participation of the majority, and  the majority has opted not to take part. Too bad, because the USA is not likely to get an opportunity like this again: a principled social justice advocate who knows how to win elections steps forward to lead. He’s an old man, and nobody else can do what he’s done, but we’re simply not ready to take him up on his offer. We won’t get another chance.

Oh, the Humanity!

August 7th, 2015

You might have heard whining recently over the inhuman character of this or that mass murderer. What you never hear is any suggestion that the murderer’s violence may not be an aberration but an integral part of the human condition.

We like to think we lapse into violence, overcoming innate inhibitions that are as natural to us humans as our opposable thumb. A hundred thousand years of history and prehistory suggest that it’s the other way around: the innate drive in homo sapiens is to violence. It’s hard-wired in us. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.

Note that a hundred thousand years ago, there were at least three varieties of intelligent, tool-making primates wandering around. We think of the others as having disappeared, but, given the bloody, hypercompetitive experience of the last couple of millennia, it seems more likely that they were exterminated by homo sapiens, what we call modern man.

The survivors–you and I–are the race that conquered all. We are the issue of generations of successful killers, the less violent of us operating always at a competitive disadvantage and gradually dying out.  Mass murderers are us. We have discovered ways to keep from killing one another, but they are deliberate adaptations that, like all rules, standards and values, restrain expressions of our nature.

Jesus Christ certainly recognized the difficulty with which humans keep their violent streak at bay. Imagine the act of will it must have taken to turn the other cheek when struck. Too much for most of us, if reports from fact and fiction reflect reality. The innate drive to respond with violence is too strong to be overcome in most of us, Jesus’ instruction notwithstanding.

Violent entertainment may be a staple because it is in our nature to crave it. We don’t have to learn to love violence. Our predilection is the product of generation after generation of conquest by violence, directed at other humans as at other animals. We take this for granted, even pretending to believe that warfare is honorable or that a horse enjoys having a piece of steel between its jaws,  200 pounds on its back, and bootheels jammed in its ribs. On the other hand, if our ancestors hadn’t been able to subdue their neighbors and their animals so brutally, we wouldn’t be here.

On the occasion of the next mass murder or commemoration of such, we might find it profitable to stop pretending that mankind is a peaceable race. Maybe we should count up the toll of institutionalized violence, calculate the cost of warfare and entertainment and social oppression and take a lesson from it. Maybe do that on a regular  basis. Maybe we should ask what it is about us, homo sapiens, that could be disinhibiting them, the inhuman mass killers that walk among us. Maybe if we conceded our predisposition to violence, we could begin to control it.

Aid and Comfort

March 31st, 2015

Unlike my friends, my enemies are selected with great care and the utmost discrimination. There was a time when I credited the orders of my commanders on questions of hostility, but I know better now. Today, even the declarations of a president or secretary of state don’t persuade me, and I have a tendency to oppose people who want to choose my enemies for me.

Take the case of Yemen (conveniently, an anagram of  the word “enemy”). Airplanes from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has a common border with Yemen, are dropping bombs on its capital city as I write.  From what we read, it’s not clear exactly what the Saudi princes are trying to accomplish by killing a lot of Yemenis, but one thing is perfectly clear: Saudi Arabians are friends of the USA, and anybody they drop bombs on is our enemy.  And if I don’t happen to support their bombing and killing, I’m giving aid and comfort to an enemy my government has selected for me.  More and more, it’s becoming a knee-jerk reaction for me to take the side of the assigned enemy.

One big problem is the record of the people who have been trying to persuade me. In my name and with my money over the course of decades, they have shed oceans of innocent blood to punish “enemies” who have been, without exception, illusory. In my lifetime, no foreign country, no competing culture, no religion, no organized group of any kind has posed any threat to the USA. Only a fool would believe it was necessary to kill millions of dark-skinned people thousands of miles away to accomplish this, and most people don’t believe that.  So degraded is our reputation in the world that the sympathies of most people are with our enemies.

Another big problem is logic. Iran has been selected as an enemy, a status it’s held for over 30 years.  It poses no danger whatsoever to the USA. For hundreds of years, its relations with its neighbors have been peaceful. It has a reputation for mutual tolerance among the various religious and ethnic groups that make up its population. Other than political differences–Iranian leaders are notoriously (and justifiably) critical of European and American involvement in North Africa and the MIddle East–there is no logical reason for Iran to be an enemy.

Adding to the confusion is the complicated character of the interactions among opposing forces. Iran’s our enemy, and it’s also an ally of Syria, which has been engaged in a bloody war with a group that we call “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” ISIS, for short, which is itself at war with the US-supported government of Iraq, which has aligned itself with Iran in opposing both ISIS and the Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen, contrary to the pro-war policy of the US government, which is currently negotiating with the government of Iran an agreement that will be fiercely opposed by our close ally Israel, whose intelligence services are known to carry out espionage against the USA as if it were an enemy and not an ally and which, along with Canada, is known to provide material support to ISIS.  You try to isolate the enemy of peace in all this, and what you come up with this: It’s US. We know it. The world knows it.

If the enemy of peace is my government, then I’m obliged, on principle, to oppose that government when it assigns enemies. When my government tells me to revile Palestinians, as it does, I take their side.  When my government tells me Russians are evil, I’ll be rootin’ for Putin. I’m with the Yemenis that are under the bombs of the Saudi jets, and I have nothing but admiration for Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Ho Chi Minh.  I don’t believe my government can ever regain credibility with me, and I decline to accept its enemies as my own.

It’s not likely that my skepticism and insubordination will give much aid or comfort to its enemies.  On the other hand, it’s a certainty that worldwide revulsion and rage at US brutality are of immeasurable value to its adversaries.

Jingo Jingles

November 12th, 2014

I was offended by the Veterans’ Day observance yesterday at my granddaughter’s school.  Veterans like me don’t consider the holiday an occasion for celebration but rather for reflection on the death and destruction of war.  Instead, my neighborhood school treated us to a canned holiday program, complete with recorded accompaniment, celebrating nationalism with bad music.  

Kids used to sing good music in school. The music teacher would accompany us on the piano.  Now that public education has became a lucrative industry, the old public-domain standards have been replaced by computer-generated programs for mixed elementary school chorus, complete with sheet music, CD, and recommended commentary.  Something for every occasion, no doubt.

The Veterans’ Day program our kids performed (remarkably well, considering how unmusical and unoriginal the tunes were) put melodies to selected words of our constitution and thanked veterans in song for protecting our freedom (neglecting to mention the wanton killing that stopped temporarily with the armistice the holiday is supposed to mark).  I wonder how much the Hartford Public Schools paid for this program and whether there is a single music teacher who thinks it’s really music. I didn’t see a sign of musical enjoyment in any child at any time during the performance, and I was in the front row.

The prayer to the flag (a pledge of allegiance equal to any vow taken at a Hitlerjugend assembly) was invoked twice, and the kids sang the national anthem twice, too, which was excessive.  The singers were so good, and so uninspired at the same time.  Eventually, the veterans were asked to stand up and be recognized.  I was ashamed and embarrassed, but I stood up anyway.

Next year, consider a good rendition of “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and “The Marines’ Hymn” and maybe some comments from an actual veteran on the  history of the  holiday and its significance to people who served in uniform.

Race Unspoken

November 5th, 2014

Has anybody else noticed the absence from political discussion of the role of race hatred in this election? Is it not clear that a huge factor in the nation’s apparent turn to the right was the color of Barack Obama’s skin? Republicans across the country made Obama their main issue. They didn’t have to mention his color. They just showed his face in key media markets, and they won the election. Are we really going to roll out the red carpet for rich people and have a war with Iran because our president isn’t white?

This country contains a core of caucasians–probably less than a majority, but still a lot of people–who really wish non-whites would just disappear. The smear campaign that Republicans employed to win the election (against a leader I revile as much as they do) was an ill-disguised lynch mob meant to attract white supremacist voters. Certainly, the deception couldn’t have fooled the mass media, but they’re not talking about it.

I’ve been half-expecting to hear some pundit say (as you might have said to your wife or husband), “That’s the last time Dems are going elect an African. It’s political suicide. Too many white racists casting ballots.” If there’s been such a discussion, I’ve missed it.

It’s like the other topic that can’t take in any discussion of race: disease in West Africa. Reporters are obliged to forget that a solid minority of white Americans wish an epidemic could just kill all the dark-skinned people. This is a truth that most dark-skinned people suspect and virtually all caucasians recognize from day-to-day interactions. But it can’t be discussed. Such discussions are called “playing the race card,” and they’re disfavored in enlightened company.

A big part of the racial gulf that divides us neighbors is this studied silence . Blacks tend to interpret the silence of whites as cover, while whites tend to interpret the silence of blacks as acquiescence. Either way, this is a morbid condition, and you have to wonder whether the election might have had a different outcome if someone had broken the silence.

Green Blues

September 9th, 2014

Notwithstanding my loss four years ago by 400,000 votes to the incumbent Connecticut attorney general George Jepsen, I’m on the ballot again this year as the Green Party candidate. I’d promised my Green friends that I’d run if a younger, better nominee couldn’t be recruited. There wasn’t anybody else.

I start by conceding that Jepsen is a good attorney general. He’s kept a lower profile than his precedessors, and if he’s running for higher office, it’s not evident. Plus, he’s popular with his subordinates, and, on the routine matters that occupy the attorney general most of the time, he’s worthy of my party’s endorsement. Even so, I’ll probably vote for myself, mostly out of loyalty to my party.

In the highly unlikely event that I get elected, as top priority, I’ll target corrupt authority, especially as it infects Washington, DC. I believe this distinguishes me from the major-party candidates. On the downside, citizens would have to do some work to get me elected. I tend to say what I think, and this is not a way to ingratiate yourself with voters. “Don’t be an idiot!” has serious flaws as a campaign slogan.

And I’m not accepting any money. I’m spurning the elections industry, where all that advertising comes from. I don’t much want the votes of people who respond to glossy cards that come in the mail and slow-motion images of venal politicians on TV, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get many of those votes in any case.

Of course, a candidate doesn’t receive much attention from media or political organizations when he refuses to raise money and advertise, but I have a web page anybody can examine. People who want to make an informed choice when they vote can find out all about me and get an idea of what I would do as attorney general. All they have to do is the basic work of citizenship.

The main reason you don’t hear much from or about minor-party candidates is that it’s generally acknowledged that they can’t win. The whole point of an election, most people think, is to populate elective offices. Candidates who can’t get elected don’t count, and, sometimes, neither do their votes.

Minor-party voters think an election should do more than just declare a winner. They see it as a contest of ideas as much as a contest of personalities, and they measure the popularity of their ideas by the number of votes their candidates get. If reporters of events shared these voters’ view of democratic government, minor-party candidates might get more attention in the newspapers and on TV. And we might all have a stronger republic.

If I get one percent of the votes cast, my party will retain its ballot line, making way for a third choice four years from now in the event that the major-party candidates are both crooks and the Greens find somebody really good. If I get fifty percent, I’ll become attorney general. Don’t hold your breath.

World War Three

September 4th, 2014

The alliance formerly known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is disturbingly reminiscent of the men who brought on world war in Europe 100 years ago. Each of the national leaders of that time and place enhanced his image in the nation he led with a flag in one hand and a sword in the other. Each marched his soldiers off behind beautifully mounted generals in plumed helmets, to martial music and the applause of adoring crowds. Today, modern equivalents of those venal men have the world at war once again, and, like 100 years ago, it’s impossible to reckon what it’s all about.

Looking back, it’s hard to tell which were the good guys and which the bad–several of the antagonists were part of the same imperial family–and so we conveniently conceded goodness to the winners and disparaged the losers. Also conceded to the winners were vast stretches of land in every corner of the world, causing generations of grief and bloodshed to the various unfortunate peoples who lived there.

The first world war was a unmitigated failure of civilization, without purpose and permanently disabling. Like its predecessor, the third world war, for no good reason, has inflicted death and injury on millions, and its consequences will haunt humanity for generations to come. As for the people who conceived and executed the present atrocities, they are dining royally in Cardiff, Wales, plotting further military adventures in Russia, Syria and Iran.

We don’t refer to the current alliance by the acronym “NATO” these days, but with a conventional proper noun–”Nato”–that rhymes with potato. That may be because the alliance’s involvements with events in the North Atlantic are few and far between. Lately, they’ve meddled in Afghanistan and Ukraine, but in states located on the Atlantic Ocean, not so much. I watched a procession of flag-bearers from various nations at the organization’s convention in Cardiff and it reminded me of the colorful processions of Hussars and Cossacks and Legionnaires, bound for the mud, blood, and slime of the trenches. Fools led by fools.

How, a century later, in the wake of one unsuccessful military adventure after another, seemingly rational people could continue to maintain a military alliance is a mystery our grandchildren, if they survive, will have to unravel. Armed force is an anachronism. If Nato, with its bunker-busting bombs and supersonic jets, couldn’t beat Afghanistan in a war, is a military engagement with Russia a realistic prospect? And if it isn’t, should threats of armed force by this useless, reckless cabal be tolerated?

In this country, the threats come, without exception, from Democrats and Republicans, at a time when elections are just around the corner. Voters who are unwilling to tolerate Nato’s sabre-rattling should make it clear to candidates and office-holders alike that they won’t cast a vote for anybody who supports Nato’s dangerous tactic. If this means spoiling things for Democrats, so much the better. Retribution is due.