Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Your country is your country – like it or not

July 4, 2017

The world is my country, all mankind my brethren and to do good is my religion.
          ==Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine, born an Englishman, was an early advocate of American independence and a morale officer for George Washington’s Continental Army.

Later he traveled to France and became an advocate for the French revolutionaries, returning in old age to the new nation of the United States of America.  He said he considered himself to be a citizen of the world, but of no particular country.

A number of posters on one of my favorite Internet sites, as well as a couple of my acquaintances, aspire to be like Thomas Paine.

Although born American citizens, they disavow allegiance to the United States, which they see as a nation founded on slavery of African-Americans, ethnic cleansing of native Americans and enfranchisement of white Anglo-Saxon property-owning males.

None of them, so far as I know, make any actual effort to shed the legal privileges and responsibilities that go with American citizenship.  The question is whether shedding nationality is even possible.

European acquaintances, and friends who’ve spent time in Europe, tell me that Americans are instantly recognizable wherever we may be—by our gait, our body language, the way we speak English and our basic attitudes toward life.   These are not things that are so easy to get rid of!

The black writer James Baldwin traveled to France in the late 1940s and early 1950s to seek refuge from American racism.   What he came to realize, as he wrote in an essay collection called Notes of a Native Son, is that whatever else he was, he was an American.

Baldwin felt a strong solidarity with African students who hated French colonialism.  But he himself understood that he was an American, an African-American—not an African in exile.    He said the idea that nationality is a matter of personal choice is a specifically American idea.

… the American … very nearly unconscious assumption that it is possible to consider the person apart from all the forces that have produced him. 

This assumption, however, is itself based on nothing less than our history, which is the history of the total, and willing, alienation of entire peoples from their forebears.

What is overwhelming clear, it seems, to everyone but ourselves is that this history has created an entirely unprecedented people, with a unique and individual past. 

It is the past lived on the American continent … … which must sustain us in the present.

The truth about that past is not that it is too brief, or too superficial, but only that we, having turned our faces so resolutely away from it, has never demanded what it has to give.

==James Baldwin, “A Question of Identity” (1954)

(more…)

Richard Ford: ‘Who needs friends?’

April 23, 2017

[Update 4/24/2017]  My afterthoughts are in boldface italics below.

Richard Ford

The American novelist Richard Ford, in a book excerpt published in The Guardian, says he doesn’t have any close friends and is happy to have it that way.

He wrote that he has a general sense of good will toward everybody, but doesn’t count on any individual very much.  That’s okay with him, because he doesn’t want anybody to count on anything from him, beyond basic decent behavior.

He criticized philosophers’ ideas of friendship and went on to write—

If I could have a better, more realistic and functioning model for friendship, what would it be?

I wouldn’t like it if it was that I had to be similar to my friend – in temperament, in wit and wits, in interests, experience, age and gender.

It could not be that I’d be willing freely to unpack in front of my friend all my life’s many shames and miscalculations (matters that can be outsourced with therapy or just stuffed).

It would not be that I’d have to always get along with my friend, or even always wish him well (just not wish him ill).  He need not think my shames weren’t shameful.

It would not be that my friend and I have to agree about what constitutes good and bad in the world. He need not feel required to do for me what I can’t do for myself.

I would not have to be willing to take a bullet for him, to have his back, to be there for him, or even renounce something I deeply desire so that he can have it.

I would not have to be always candid or capable of delivering hard truths. (Although I might do it anyway.)

And it could not be that I never complain to my friend, or about my friend – to his face or behind his back.

Friendship ought to be understood as always supplementary in nature. Thus our friends should be as easy to forgive as our enemies.

And as with all things, friendship need not promise to last forever, but only so long as it allows us the freedoms we would want to have without it.

Maybe it is that friendship should do for us what a great novel can (and a novel might of course do it better): reconcile us to life as it is, and make us more real to ourselves. 

In other words, friendship ought not short-circuit one’s faculties for critical thinking and personal preference.  Though to ask this of friendship might be to ask the impossible.

Source: Richard Ford | The Guardian

(more…)

In case you’re asking…

November 9, 2016

No, I don’t admit my vote for Jill Stein makes me personally responsible for Donald Trump’s victory.

Dickens vs. Trollope

October 31, 2016

I read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House as part of a novel-reading group hosted by my friend Linda White.  We read it after reading the six novels in Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series and the six in his Palliser series.

Trollope was a good storyteller.  I got a lot of pleasure out of reading his novels.  But reading Dickens after reading Trollope gives me an added appreciation of the greatness of Dickens.

Both Dickens and Trollope created memorable and believable characters, whom we talked about as if they were real people.

charlesdickensbleakhousemd19091475224Trollope’s characters were like people I know, if the people I knew had grown up in Victorian England.  The women in the reading group said Trollope was remarkable for knowing how women talked among themselves when there were no men around.

A few of the Trollope characters were completely villainous, but were mixtures of good and bad, and Trollope regarded them with amused tolerance.

Dickens’ characters were much more extreme—the good ones were much better, the bad ones were much worse, the eccentric ones were much more strange, but they all were memorable and believable.

Both Trollope and Dickens were keen social observers.   Trollope was a keen observer of the middle and upper classes.  In fact, one of his protagonists was a Prime Minister.  But he treated the lower class as comic characters.

Dickens did not reach so high in his observations, but described the lives of the poor as sympathetically as the lives of the middle class.

He depicted characters on every level of society, from aristocrats to paupers in the slums, some caring and responsible, some hypocritical and self-deceiving and some cunning, manipulative and cruel.

He thought that no matter who you were, your moral choices made a difference, and he accordingly was much more judgmental than Trollope.

(more…)

How I became radicalized

September 14, 2016

For most of my life, I thought my country was fundamentally sound and moving in the right direction.

I knew there were serious problems and injustices in American life, but I thought that these were aberrations, contrary to our democratic ideals, which under our democratic system would be reformed over time.

radicalismstock-photo-fake-dictionary-dictionary-definition-of-the-word-radicalism-180290102I rejected the Communist belief that the crimes of capitalism are systemic, while the failures of Communism are failures to correctly understand or follow Marxist doctrine.

But my own beliefs were the mirror image of this.  I believed that the crimes of Communist countries were the inevitable result of a bad system, while the crimes of Western countries were aberrations that could be corrected.

The first step in my radicalization was the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001.  I was shocked at how fundamental liberties, such as habeas corpus and trial by jury, could be simply wiped off the blackboard, and the majority of Americans would see nothing wrong with this.

I always thought of torture as the ultimate crime against humanity, because it destroys the mind and soul while leaving the body alive.   Torture became institutionalized, and even popular—possibly because of the illusion that it would be limited to people with brown skins and non-European names.

But I still thought of this as an aberration, part of a scheme by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others to restore executive power that had been lost after the Watergate hearings.  I voted for Barack Obama with great enthusiasm in 2008, not because I believed he would be a strong reformer, but because I thought he would restore the country to normal.

I soon learned that there was a new normal, one that was different from what I thought it was.

(more…)

Youth and old age

February 16, 2016

Youth is when the youngest serious Presidential candidate is older than you are.

Middle age is when you are in the same age group as the Presidential candidates.

Old age is when the oldest serious Presidential candidate is younger than you are.

(more…)

My motto as a blogger

September 21, 2015

I AM AN OLD NOBODY AND I LOVE WHAT I DO

hat tip to kottke.org

Two resolutions I made early in life

September 13, 2015

I resolved never to make make myself unhappy about things that don’t really matter.

I resolved never to base my sense of self-esteem on anything somebody else had the power to take away from me.

Jurgen Habermas and his three tests of truth

September 10, 2015

These are notes for my talk to the Rochester Russell Forum at Writers & Books Literary Center, 740 University Ave., Rochester, NY on Thursday, September 10, 2015

One of the things that Bertrand Russell wrestled with all his life with a theory of knowledge—how we can know anything for sure.  It is a question we have discussed in different ways at the Russell Forum.

I plan to discuss some ideas of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas that have helped me understand these questions better —specifically, his idea that there are different kinds of knowledge, each with their specific tests for validity.

Jurgen Habermas is the grand old man of German philosophy.  He is now in his 80s, and occupies the same position in German intellectual life as Bertrand Russell and John Dewey did in British and American intellectual life at that point in their lives.  Habermas by the way was an admirer of the American pragmatists.

Jurgen Habermas

Jurgen Habermas

He served his philosophical apprenticeship as a member of the Frankfurt School – the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt – which sought to develop ideas of Hegel and Karl Marx.

Max Horkheimer, the director of the Frankfurt school, believed (like John Dewey, but unlike Bertrand Russell) that philosophy was not a separate academic discipline, over and above the natural and social sciences, but rather must be integrated with and draw on all of them.

Neither did the Frankfurt school believe that philosophy could be separated from the times and the social setting of philosophers.  Its members believed in something they called Critical Theory, which showed how the ideas of any given time were a product of a historical process.

The Frankfurt school transplanted itself to New York City during the Nazi era, and its leaders, like many cultivated Europeans before them, were horrified by the vulgar industrialized American culture.  They thought that Americans in their way were just as manipulated by propaganda and just as lacking in independent thought as Germans under Hitler.

Horkheimer and his follower Theodore W. Adorno wrote a treatise called The Dialectic of Enlightenment, which I haven’t read, but in which I understand that he said that the ideals of reason and science, developed during the 18th century Enlightenment, have failed.  They have been turned against themselves, and merely resulted in new methods of oppression and social control.

But, as Habermas said, if we are all products of our particular society and historical era, and if the public opinion is controlled by the manipulation of the powers that be, how it is possible from something such as Critical Theory to have any objective validity?  How is it possible that any progress or improvement takes place at all?

(more…)

My country, right and wrong

July 4, 2015

Rod Dreher, a Louisianan who writes for The American Conservative, objects to fellow white Southerners who deny the reality of the South’s history of slavery, lynching and white supremacy.

He objects even more to self-righteous white Northerners who condemn everything about the South as if the North had nothing to answer for.

Taking the good and the bad together, he is part of the South and the South is part of him.

I completely understand what he is saying because that is the same as my attitude toward the United States as a whole.

AmericanflagWhenever the Star-Spangled Banner is played, I stand at attention and put my hand over my heart, even when I am the only person who does so.

At the same time I can understand why, for many people, the Stars and Stripes is as much a symbol of oppression as the Confederate Stars and Bars.

I think of people in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other Latin American countries that have been ruled by U.S.-backed dictatorships.  I think of how U.S. intervention has spread death and destruction spread through the Greater Middle East during the past 15 years.

      I remember the U.S. Constitution was ratified based on a compromise with slavery, and the USA acquired its present territory through ethnic cleansing of the native people and a war of aggression against Mexico.

That’s not the whole story, of course.   American history is also the story of black and white Americans who fought slavery and Jim Crow.  It is the story of the first important modern nation to be founded on democratic ideals, which we have sometimes lived up to and never completely forgotten.

It is the story of a nation to which the whole world looked as a land of opportunity, and which was the first important modern nation to achieve mass prosperity for ordinary people.

The French writer Ernst Renan said a nation is a group of people who have agreed to remember certain things and to forget certain things.  I don’t accept this.  I believe it is possible to be patriotic without historical amnesia.

I identify with the comment of another French writer, Albert Camus, at the time when the French army was fighting Algerian rebels by means of torture and atrocity.  He said he wanted to be able to love his country and also love justice.

That should be less of a dilemma for Americans.  The United States is a nation whose patriotism is based not on loyalty to an ethnic group, but on the willingness to uphold, protect and defend a Constitution.

We Americans can love our country without having to love our government.

But my love of country is not based these arguments or any other arguments, any more than my love of family is based on arguments.   I love America because I am part of it and it is part of me.

∞∞∞

Loving the South by Ross Douthat for The American Conservative.

Americans of German ancestry outnumber others

May 13, 2015

49840035-germans-live-mostly-in-the-midwest

I came across an article the other day that pointed out there are more Americans who report they are of German ancestry (like myself) than of any other.

A report from Business Insider said that 49.8 million Americans who claim German ancestry, versus 35.7 million Irish, 31.7 million Mexicans, 27.4 million English, and 17.5 million Italians, to name the largest groups.

There are 19.1 plain “Americans” who don’t report foreign ancestry, either as a political statement or because they don’t know it.  And there are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska natives, who of course comprise many nations.

Why don’t we hear more about German-Americans?  The reason is that nationality is not a question of ancestry and blood, but of upbringing and, in the USA at least, choice.

I think that very few Americans of German ancestry think of themselves as German-Americans.  Certainly General Eisenhower and Admiral Nimitz didn’t.  Certainly I don’t.

It is interesting to know that some of my ancestors came to Pennsylvania and Maryland from Germany in the 18th century, and that an ancestor, Johann Ebersole, fought in the Continental Army under George Washington.  But if I learned tomorrow that none of these things is true, it would not change my sense of who I am.

In fact, I grew up with a certain amount of prejudice against Germans.  I used to think of Germans as authoritarian, hierarchical and rule-bound, and a perfect contrast to us freedom-loving, democratic and practical Americans.

Since then I’ve come to see us Americans take on all the qualities that I saw as defects in the German national character.  And, although I don’t have a close knowledge of Germany, my impression is that Germany is more egalitarian and more respectful of basic civil liberties than the USA.

(more…)

Hungary 1956 and Ukraine 2015

February 26, 2015

I was at the end of basic training in the U.S. Army in 1956 when the Hungarian people rose up against the Soviet occupiers.

hungarianfreedomfighter.timemanoftheyearIt would have been right and just for President Eisenhower to send me and other young Americans to stand with the Hungarian freedom fighters, especially since their uprising had been encouraged by the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

It also would have been reckless and foolish, because it could have provoked a nuclear war that would have destroyed the USA, the USSR, Hungary and much of the rest of the world.

The USA and USSR still have sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy each other and much else.  A military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine would be as reckless and foolish as defending the Hungarian rebels would have been then.

A truce, or a freezing of the Ukraine conflict, would not be to the benefit of the Ukrainian people, any more than the Cold War division of Europe was to the benefit of the Hungarian people.

Russia would be left in control of its vital naval base in Crimea and with a presence in the eastern Ukrainian industrial heartland.   Ukrainians ruled from Kiev would be forced to submit to the IMF’s harsh austerity requirements and to sell national assets at bargain prices.

The best that can be said is that it is better than nuclear war.

A footnote on Hiroshma

January 29, 2015

Back in the 1960s, I had a friend named Willis who was married to a sweet young Japanese woman named Teri.

He had not fought in the war, but served in the Army during the Occupation of Japan.  Teri worked in the same office that he did.  He spent a year persuading her to go out with him on a date.  Six months after that they were engaged to be married.

cherry_blossom_The Army forbid troops to marry “indigenous personnel” and he had quite a time finding a job in Japan so that he could be discharged there rather than being sent back to the United States.

Teri as a schoolgirl had been given a dagger with which to kill herself rather than be violated by American soldiers.  Then she met big, gentle Willis, who was the complete opposite of the bestial, animal-like American depicted in Japanese propaganda.

When Willis got to know Teri’s family, he pressed his father-in-law to tell him what he really thought of the bombing of Hiroshima.  The father-in-law was reluctant to answer, he said there was no point in talking about the topic, but Willis pressed him—he was not one to take “no” for an answer—and the father-in-law finally did answer.

It’s been 50 years since Willis told me the story, and of course it was second-hand to begin with, but I think I remember the gist of ir accurately.  It was approximately like this.

We Japanese understand military necessity.  If we had possessed atomic bombs, we most certainly would have used them on San Francisco and Los Angeles.

What we don’t understand is your moralizing over the fact.  You dropped the bomb and killed a lot of people, but you act as if you are not the kind of people who would do such a thing, even though you did.

You Americans like to think that you are different from other people, but you aren’t.  And if you don’t understand that, we do.

I thought of Willis’s story every time I heard President Bush or President Obama say, “This is not who we are.”

Comfort, risk and coal-fired furnances

January 26, 2015

When I was a schoolboy, one of my chores after I walked home from school was to stir up the coal in our furnace, so that the fire, which had been banked during the day, would flare up start to warm our house again.

Both my mother and father worked outside the home for pay, so there was no sense burning coal unnecessarily when nobody was home.

furnaceThe coal was in a huge pile in our basement, delivered by the coal company through a chute.  We had to remember to shovel new coal in the furnace at regular intervals, especially just before we went to bed at night, lest the fire go out.

Restarting a furnace fire was a major operation.  What we should have done was to start a fire with newspaper and kindling wood, then add more food and then, when the fire was going strong, add coal

What my dad actually did was to splash kerosene onto the coal, toss a lighted wooden match into the furnace and then jump back.  I do not recommend this.

The coal burned down to ashes which collected in the bottom of the furnace in big metal tubs.  Another one of my chores, when I was big enough, was to help my father carry the tubs out to the curb to be collected.

I imagine my father thought having a furnace at all and having coal delivered to the house was a great advance.  He grew up in a farm with only a stove in the kitchen for heat.

I myself have a gas furnace which I control with a thermostat.  That’s a lot easier than shoveling coal.  But on Saturday night, my furnace failed—with temperatures outside below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

I phoned Betlem Heating, and a service technician came by a few hours later.  He quickly diagnosed the fixed the problem—a failed thermocouple—and was on his way.

He told me he had many calls that night, each one to a place 20 or 30 miles from the one before.  But he said he didn’t mind.  That was his job.

I have a much easier life than my father and grandfather.  But compared to them, I am much more dependent on complex systems that I don’t understand—not just the furnace, but the whole interdependent web of people and institutions that bring the gas to my house.

(more…)

My first five years as a blogger

January 20, 2015

Today is the fifth anniversary of my starting this web log.

I’m grateful to my good friend David Damico for pointing out that it’s possible to do a blog on a web host such as WordPress without paying any money and without any particular knowledge of computers and the Internet.  If not for him, I might not ever have started a blog.  If I had known what he told me earlier, I might have started this blog years ago.

blogID-10088265When I retired from newspaper work, people asked me if I planned to continue writing.  My answer was that I did not intend to write anything in the future that somebody else had the power to change.  For many years my only writing, aside from articles for newsletters of organizations I belong to, consisted of e-mails to my circle of friends.

I still send an e-mail at least once a month commenting on books I’ve read recently.  I post on my blog about the more noteworthy of those books.

My blog is a perfect means of self-expression, from my standpoint.  I can write as much or as little as I please, although I find myself almost always spending on time on my posts than I originally intended.

I had hoped and expected, when I started my blog, that it would be a means of generating discussion and comments among my circle of friends.  In fact, the majority of my friends seldom or never read it.  But I’m compensated by being brought in contact with a circle of acquaintances in distant states and even foreign countries whom I’d never have met otherwise.

Since Jan. 20, 2010, I’ve made 3,049 posts which have elicited a total of 2,440 comments and been viewed a total of 601,009 times (not counting today).   The most views I ever got in a day was 2,199 on Election Day in 2014.

On a web site called URLmetrics, I’m ranked, as of early last year, number 2,201,006 among U.S. blogs in daily visitors and number 4,066,146 in daily views.  I don’t know whether that is good or bad.

blagofaireSource: xkcd.

(more…)

On my 78th birthday

December 14, 2014

December 14, 1936Via simonandfinn.

(more…)

SMALL THANKS 2014

November 23, 2014

reasontobethankful.qmI have many things for which to be thankful.  I have never in my life had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether I would have a roof over my head.  I have never been without friends.  I have good health for somebody my age (nearly 78).  I can honestly say I have everything I really want.

But this post is not about these things.  It is about small things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful for automobiles that don’t rust out.  When I first came to Rochester, the city and county governments used to spread large amounts of road salt in the winter.  Natives and long-time residents told me it was important to get a good rust-proofing service; I, foolishly, used an inexpensive service instead, to my regret.  Road salt is less of a problem now than it was then, but the plastic body of my Saturn doesn’t rust.

I am thankful for automobiles that always start in the winter.  I can remember when this was a big issue.  I would run my car in neutral when I got home, and before I tried to start the car, in hope of recharging the battery enough to get a good start.  Now, with alternators as standard equipment, that recharging takes care of itself.  I am thankful for automobiles that get good traction on ice-covered and snow-covered streets, for right-side rear view mirrors and for rear-window defrosters.  I am thankful for idiot bells that let me know when I am getting out of the car with my lights still on or my key still in the ignition; this idiot needs the reminder.

I am thankful for ballpoint pens that don’t leak over my shirts when I accidentally put them in the washer.

I am thankful the Barnes & Noble bookstore provides chairs so I can sit and read.

I am thankful for painless dentistry.  As a boy, I once had a tooth extracted without anesthetic.  The dentist used what looked like a pair of pliers.  He pulled and pulled and pulled, then had to stop and catch his breath before going back and finally getting it out.

I am thankful for plastic bottles shaped with grips.

I am thankful for thermostats.  My parents had a coal furnace, and we had to be constantly thinking not letting the fire go out, but also banking the furnace so as not to waste coal.  One of my chores, since both of my parents worked outside the home, was to go right home when school let out and shovel fresh coal in the furnance.  Now I have a gas furnace that doesn’t have to be monitored at all, and a thermostat which I can turn up or down when I feel too hot or too cold.

I am thankful for luggage with wheels.  I can remember walking through airports and, before that, train stations carrying suitcases that felt like they would pull my arms out of their sockets.

I am thankful for search engines since as Google that allow me to find information in two minutes that I would have had to spend an afternoon in library to get, if I could find it at all.  I am thankful for web hosts such as WordPress that allow me to have my own web log, free of charge and without needing to be computer-savvy.  I am thankful for being able to communicate with friends in distant places through e-mail.  Not to mention spam filters which free me from having to continually purge my e-mail and web log comments.

I am thankful for direct-dial long-distance telephone service.  I can talk to people in distant states and even foreign countries at an affordable price and without having to deal with an operator.  And for telephone answering machines.  When I was a boy, telephone service was like Internet service today.  Most people had it, but a large minority didn’t.

And not all telephone users had private telephone lines. Basic telephone service in those days consisted of a party line, networking a number of households; the phones of everybody on the line rang on every call, but you were supposed to recognize the distinctive ring of your own line and not listen in to others’ calls.

Microwave ovens are a great boon to a lazy cook like me.  I do almost all my cooking nowadays, which consists mostly of frozen dinners, in the microwave.

What are your non-obvious reasons, small or large, to be thankful?

(more…)

My country, both right and wrong

July 5, 2014

blog_flags_0

The American naval hero, Commodore Stephen Decatur, like to offer the following after-dinner toast in the late 1810s.

Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!

The immigrant newspaper publisher, Carl Schurz, founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, offered this toast in 1872.

My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

The worst mistake an individual, or a community, can make about themselves is to think they are always right and never wrong.   The second worst mistake an individual, or community, can make is to think they are always wrong and never right.

I love my country, I love my family and I love myself, but I don’t make the mistake of thinking my country, my family or myself are perfect.

The great danger of teaching children that the USA (or any other country) is always in the right, and never in the wrong, is that, when they find out this is not so, they go to the opposite extreme and reject everything about their heritage.

I love my country not because it is perfect, but because it is my country.

The United States is an exceptional[1] nation because our basis of unity consists of a set of ideals, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, and a set of laws, as laid down in our Constitution.   The Constitution is the more important of the two.  The oaths of loyalty sworn by new citizens, the military and the President are to the Constitution.

But the Constitution and the Declaration did not come out of nowhere.  They are part of the heritage of British liberty under law, which is part of the heritage of Western civilization, which is part of the heritage of the whole human race, which is part of the cosmic scheme of things.

I don’t recall who it was that asked, if you don’t love your country, which you have seen, how you can love humanity, which you have not seen?  That’s how I think of patriotism.

(more…)

Should I be preparing for collapse? Should you?

June 3, 2014

I’ve been following a blogger named Dmitry Orlov for some years now. His ClubOrlov blog is listed among my Favorites on my Blogs I Like page, and some of my favorites from his writings are on my Archive of Good Stuff page.

A Russian-born American citizen who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Orlov became known for a slide show called “The Collapse Gap

,” in which he compared the USSR just prior to its collapse with the contemporary USA. Both countries, as he noted, were in industrial decline, militarily over-extended and dependent on foreign credit to maintain their material standard of living. Both had economic systems that did not serve the public need, and both had governments in which the public had lost confidence.

Paradoxically, Orlov wrote, the Soviet people were better prepared for collapse than Americans. Russians were accustomed to not being able to buy things in stores and having to fend for themselves. Russian families with many generations crowded into small apartments were better able to face crises than American families, scattered across the country, isolated in suburbs and dependent on availability of cheap gasoline.

global-warming-record-temperatures-2012-537x442This all makes sense to me, but Orlov in the meantime has moved on. He no longer limits his prediction to an American political and economic crisis. Now he predicts a global collapse of civilization, based on exhaustion of fossil fuels, climate change and the inability of established institutions to respond.

In a blog post sometime back, he reviewed a book, American Exodus, by a Canadian author, Gilles Slade, about where to live in North America in 2050 after global climate change has set in.

Slade thinks that Mexico will burn up and that the U.S. Great Plains will dry up. The Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for much of a region stretching from Texas to Nebraska, will disappear. Irrigation water will no longer be available for places such as California’s Central Valley.

northwestterritoriesThe East Coast will be destroyed by rising oceans and increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes. Drought refugees from Mexico will invade the United States, and drought refugees from the U.S. will invade Canada.

Taking all these things into consideration, Slade thinks the safest place to be in North America will be Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

I haven’t read Slade’s book and don’t know the specifics of his research, but this doesn’t sound impossible to me. I can’t guess how bad things will get, or when the worst will be, but the consequences of human-made global warming are already being felt and can only get worse.

So in the light of all this, why do I continue to live my accustomed life as if nothing is wrong?

(more…)

The people I regard as enemies

May 6, 2014

I have been enrolled as a Democrat all my adult life, but I do not regard Republicans as my enemies.

I call myself a liberal, but I do not regard self-described conservatives as my enemies.

I am not a libertarian, but I do not regard libertarians as my enemies.

I am not a supporter of the Tea Party movement, but I do not regard Tea Party supporters as my enemies.

I am a religious liberal, but I do not regard fundamental Christians as my enemies.

The people I regard as enemies are people in high places who enable,  justify and cover up murder, torture and theft.

The story of my life

April 27, 2013

via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Why I was wrong about the Iraq invasion

March 20, 2013

George Orwell wrote somewhere that a good way to maintain a sense of humility is to keep a diary of your political opinions.  Looking back on what you thought five or ten years before will remind you of your fallibility.

Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein

The United States and its Coalition partners began military operations against Iraq 10 years ago today.  I didn’t keep a diary, but I well remember what I thought then.

I was aware that the claims that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction were based on faked evidence.  I knew that far from being implicated in the 9/11 attacks, the secular nationalist Saddam was hated by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  I feared that starting a war on the basis of a lie could come back to haunt us Americans, and yet I hoped it might turn out well.

This would not have been the first war launched by the United States on the basis of a lie.  The Mexican War was started on the basis of the lie that Mexican troops had fired on American troops on American soil.  The Spanish-American War was started on the basis of the lie that the Spanish blew up the battleship Maine in Havana harbor.  The Vietnam intervention was authorized on the basis of the lie that the North Vietnamese had attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.  Yet the first two of these wars turned out well—that is, well from the American perspective, not from the point of view of the victims of aggression.

iraq_oil_map485I thought it possible that the Iraq invasion would turn out well for all concerned.  Iraq was ruled by a cruel and hated dictator.  I thought that after U.S. forces liberated Iraq from the dictator, Iraq would become a country whose people were friendly to the United States, and whose rulers would be more dependable military allies and oil suppliers than the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

In addition, the United States had been waging a low-level war against Iraq for more than 10 years, following Operation Desert Storm in 1991.  All through the Clinton administration, Iraq was under economic blockade, with intermittent bombing, which had caused enormous hardship and suffering.  I thought that the human suffering from a quick invasion.

The George W. Bush administration quickly proved me wrong.  Military forces occupied the Iraqi oil ministry and oil fields, and let the rest of the country sink into chaos.  Local Iraqi leaders were pushed aside, and U.S. appointees installed in their place.  For some reason, the Iraqi military was disbanded, but individual soldiers were allowed to keep their weapons, when the obviously sensible thing to do would have been to confiscate the weapons but keep the soldiers on a payroll and under control.  American commanders installed themselves in some of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces, and sent prisoners to his old torture chamber in Abu Ghraib.

But even if the Bush administration had been sincerely interested in creating a democratic Iraq, this probably would not have been feasible for a foreign invading army to do.  I went through the same stages in my thinking about Iraq that I did about Vietnam, but over a shorter period of time—from thinking U.S. policy was flawed but justified to thinking that U.S. policy was a big mistake to thinking that U.S. policy was a crime. Of course it should have been obvious in both cases that unleashing total war on a small country that does not threaten you is a crime.

I was wrong about Iraq, and wiser friends of mine were right.  Now I was not a decision-maker, or even, in those days, a blogger.  My wrongness had few consequences.  But I am an American citizen.  Politicians ultimately answer to the citizens.  I have my small share of the responsibility for the Iraq tragedy.

(more…)

My favorite web logs

January 25, 2013

Today is my third anniversary as a blogger.   When I started, I conceived of my web log as primarily a way to have on-line conversations with my circle of friends about subjects I’m interested in.  As it turned out, only a few of my friends were interested, but I’ve made the acquaintance of other people in distant places.

blogger_in_heaven_1153685To celebrate, the anniversary, I’d like to share links to my favorite bloggers.  I divide them into two categories.  The Star Bloggers are journalists, paid bloggers and professionals who comment on subjects on which they are experts.  The Kindred Spirits are my peers—amateurs like me who think they have something to say.  I think anybody who finds my blog of interest would also like them.

I keep my Blog Roll as a page in the upper right corner of my blog.   It is subject to change, but here is how it stands today.

STAR BLOGGERS

Glenn Greenwald on security and liberty. Glenn Greenwald is an American civil liberties lawyer who for years was a solo blogger and now writes a daily column for The Guardian in Britain.  I admire him for his hatred of injustice and his independent mind.  He judges the Obama administration by the same high standards as he judged the George W. Bush administration.

Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic. Ta-Nehisi Coates posts daily for The Atlantic magazine about popular culture, politics, the African-American perspective and his own life. His posts are interesting, and so are the well-moderated comment threads.

Rod Dreher | The American Conservative . Rod Dreher posts daily for The American Conservative magazine mainly about moral and social issues. He is a cultural and religious conservative who lives in his small hometown in Louisiana. I don’t share his political or religious creeds, but I am concerned about the same things he is. Like Coates, he writes interesting posts, and presides over interesting, well-moderated comment threads.

Conor Friedersdorf | The Atlantic . Conor Friedersdorf posts almost every day for The Atlantic mostly on politics. His own perspective seems to be mildly conservative and libertarian, but he is critical of all political factions who fail to meet the test of common sense and basic human decency.

naked capitalism. Yves Smith is a Wall Street financial consultant. She and the contributors to her blog are both outstanding investigators of political and financial corruption, and critics of conventional economic wisdom.

writer's block cartoon

ClubOrlov. Dimitri Orlov is a Russian-born American citizen who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and sees the United States heading in the same direction. He posts every Tuesday about signs of collapse, how to survive collapse and the benefits of a simple life and mutual cooperation. I’m not sure his predictions will come true, but I am sure that the United States can continue as it is, and his thoughts have merit independently of his predictions.

The Agitator. Radley Balko performs a great public service with this web log which is devoted mainly to abuses of police and prosecutorial power. He is an example of a libertarian who is a much more staunch defender of basic Constitutional and human rights than most of us liberals. If you read his blog, you’ll see that the United States is not as free a country as most middle-class Americans assume it is.

Matt Taibbi | Taibblog | Rolling Stone. Matt Taibbi posts every few days for Rolling Stone magazine mainly about financial and political corruption. He doesn’t dig as deeply as Yves Smith and her team, but his work is solid, independent of party and faction, highly readable

The Big Picture: Macro Perspective on the Capital Markets, Economy, Technology and Digital Media. Barry Ritholtz is a shrewd Wall Street analyst who posts daily on a wide range of subjects. His blog is full of interesting charts and links.

XKCD-Cartoon

Marginal Revolution – Small steps toward a much better world. Tyler Cowen and his friend Alex Tabarrok are professors of economics at George Mason University whose view of the world is more conservative and comfortable than mine. I read their blog party to get a perspective that is different from my own, but mainly for the many interesting links on subjects I know little about. Cowen is one of the most erudite people I ever came across, and I get the benefit of his erudition.

Making Light. Patrick and Theresa Neilsen Hayden are editors for Tor science fiction books. They and their friends post every now and then on a wide variety of subjects, but what is most interesting are the links in the upper left of their web log.

The Dish | Andrew Sullivan. Andrew Sullivan is a gay, Catholic, British-born American citizen who is both a self-described conservative and an admirer of Barack Obama. He has been blogging for more than 10 years and many famous bloggers look too him as a kind of elder statesman. He and his staff post daily on a wide variety of subjects. I read his blog to get a perspective different from my own and because of the links to subjects I am not familiar with.

KINDRED SPIRITS

Unqualified Offerings: Looking sideways at your world since October 2001. “Thoreau” and his predecessor Jim Henley are physics professors in California who post almost every day with wit and wisdom about politics, science education, life in academia and the passing scene.

cgon332l

Psychopolitik: Random thoughts from a big angry negro. “B Psycho” in St. Louis posts with great insight every couple of weeks from a libertarian/anarchist perspective on politics and the passing scene

BlogTruth: Observations from a student of life. “Atticus Finch” and his pal “Holden” are young businessmen in Atlanta who post every few days on politics, the passing scene and, with great frankness, their personal lives. I think the blog lives up to its title; I think “Atticus Finch” is interested in knowing what is true as against parroting a received opinion

Class War in America: the Politics of Socioeconomic Class. John Pennington in San Francisco writes thoughtful essays every few days on topics related to economic justice.

simonandfinn | random things of interest…sometimes involving cartoons. “Melissa” is an artist, writer and cartoonist in Toronto who posts comments and cartoons every week or so about philosophy, the environment and the passing scene. Like me, she is an admirer of Bertrand Russell. Simon and Finn are two of her cartoon characters, but her philosophical cartoons star a character named Ernie.

Robert Nielsen | Economics, Politics and Religion. Robert Nielsen is an intelligent and well-informed young economics student in Ireland who posts every couple of days, usually to debunk economic or religious dogma.

New NY 23rd: Discuss the Politics, Economics and Events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District. Rich Stewart, a retired school teacher in Yates County, N.Y., writes and links about political issues affecting New York’s 23rd congressional district, which takes in the thinly-populated Southern Tier of counties along the Pennsylvania line, as well as some of the Finger Lakes area. His posts deserve a wider readership than just the citizens of that district.

The Deliberate Observer: both eyes open…. “Chico Marx” in the Twin Cities puts up links every few days to interesting articles.

Reddotsg’s Blog“Reddotsg” is a blogger in Singapore who posts every now and then about events in Singapore and the world.  I like the idea of having a connection with someone in a country I will never visit.  [Added 1/26/13]

(more…)

Why I don’t own a gun

January 14, 2013

I accept that the Constitution affirms an individual right to keep and bear arms, I believe that self-defense is a basic human right and I don’t think gun prohibition would work any better than alcohol prohibition did or drug prohibition does.

But speaking for myself, I have no desire to own a firearm.  I would be terrified at the possibility that, in a moment of panic, I might take a human life.

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in Williamsport, Md., a small town on the Potomac River at the foothills of the Appalachians.  Almost everyone in town owned a gun, mainly for hunting and sometimes for killing animal pests or target shooting.  I have fond memories of my father, with newspaper spread out across the kitchen table, cleaning and oiling his deer rifle prior to hunting season.  What I never heard back in those days was the need to own a gun to defend yourself against somebody else who owned a gun.

A Gannett editor who worked in Las Vegas once told me that young men in Nevada like to take junk refrigerators and other appliances out into the desert, and blow them to pieces with high-powered firearms.  That sounds like a lot of fun.  I don’t have any quarrel with anybody who likes to do that.

I’ve met owners of convenience stores in high-crime neighborhoods who think they need to own guns for self-protection.  That is their decision and their right.

But count me out.  If I bought a gun for self-protection, I would have to make up my mind that I was in such grave personal danger that I would have to be willing to take a human life.  It would be like being in the military.  Then I would take firearms training in order to be sure I could handle a gun safely and responsibly, without a danger to myself or bystanders.  That would not be a casual decision.  If my life had taken a different course, I might have found myself in circumstances in which I thought differently.  But such circumstances are not the norm.

The vision of a society in which everyone carried a gun at all times, like the movie version of the Wild West, is an appealing fantasy to some people.  To me, it is a nightmare.  Robert A. Heinlein many years ago wrote a science fiction novel, Beyond This Horizon, set in a future in which every citizen carried a gun and duels were common.  Heinlein thought this would result in a process of natural selection, in which survivors were either quick and accurate marksmen, or very, very polite.  I don’t think this would be the reality.

The idea of teachers in the classroom being armed is dreadful.  Teachers would be like prison guards.  If this idea were implemented, I would expect a rash of “stand your ground” shootings in the schools.  Now there might be circumstances in which bringing armed police officers into the school is necessary, but it would be a necessary evil.

(more…)

Life is a carnival that has to end

December 14, 2012

ferris_wheelIn the little town in which I grew up in the 1940s, we children used to look forward to the annual Firemen’s Carnival—a fund-raising event for our volunteer fire company.  I’d save my money, and, when the day came, I’d ride the Ferris wheel and the other rides, I’d try to win prizes in the carnival games, and I’d buy cotton candy and drink sugared drinks.   Eventually dusk would come, my money would be spent, I’d be tired and cranky, but I didn’t want to go home.  I’d want the carnival to go on forever.

I’m 76 years old today, and I’m at the dusk of my life.  I’m getting tired and cranky, but I don’t want the carnival to end.  There are still rides I want to take and there are still games I want to play.  I accept that there is, and has to be, a closing time, but I’m not ready to go home and go to sleep.  Not just yet.