Saturday, December 22, 2012

The World Didn't End....

Maybe We Can Begin Anew?

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the south,
And with the sound
The cannons drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

War and duality...a bad mix

The dichotomous marriage of....war & belief

Someone pointed out a quote from the book the other day...just a random chord that was struck in another mind.  That of course being the whole purpose of literature in all its many forms.  As I have said in the past, this isn't just an occasionally funny book about raising racehorses in a mad, mad world.  It is really two stories.  The first is about hiding out, the second is what happens when you are finally brave enough to stick your head above your well-defended trench.  Yeah, the view is not exactly what you expected. 
"She was the only one who stuck around.  Played the sidelines.  Delusional it seemed, at least to me.  Not willing to give up on her youngest son -- or the greater truth of his son and his daughter dematerialized by a lie.  Wars do that though -- they corrode the foundation of hope in those poor souls unwilling to live inside the facade.  They don't see killing as the necessity of war, just the killing.  Semantics.  The difference between a casualty and a victim?  None.  They're both dead.  Those left animate inhabit the shadows of what was, or perhaps never was, in a constant, almost frantic re-enactment of a single moment.  And those who love them stand outside the circle -- seen and heard, but never really acknowledged.  And the mothers and grandmothers of those shipwrecked children memorialize the evasion under the selfish guise of saving the wounded, when they should have really been saving themselves."
Wars do not end with the laying down of arms.  They continue for generations, much like the slow radioactive decay of a uranium isotope -- still deadly 10,000 years after its creation.  Yes, the woman was my grandmother, her son my father -- a corpsman in western Europe during World War II.  I was already a teenager before their presence was known to me.  The grandmother stood at a distance, the father having long since vanished into the forests of the terminally wounded, where death seems to take forever...and is forever.
And why is this?  Nobody ever seems to address that question.  We like to say, "Oh, he has PTSD, you know."  "He drinks to forget."  "He was wounded and got addicted to morphine."  "His best friend was killed...horribly it seemed."  "He's weak, that's all."  
We take young men and women, at a time of their awakening maturity and we teach them to be great warriors, to kill the enemies that lurk just beyond the horizon.  They are told great tales of duty, honor, devotion to country and cause...tell them God is on their side.  We've educated them you know...history and social studies during the week, the Ten Commandments every Sunday.  Follow God's word...unless it doesn't seem to be working.  Then, just feel free to kill that other unknown bastard who just received the news that God was really on his side.  Hmm.  Kind of like football, only nobody ever scores a touchdown or really regains what was left of their sanity. 
To conduct warfare at its best (or worst), one either needs absolute morality or none at all.  Those on the cusp will forever relive the lie as justification for their actions.  That is because most religions paint a portrait of duality -- right and wrong contained in a fundamental belief.  These institutions cannot exist, or for that matter embrace the mantel of faith through ambiguity.  So, "thou shalt not kill" is an absolute.  "Thou shalt not kill Tuesdays, between 11:00 and 2:00 o'clock" won't fly.  Neither will the "rules of engagement," the "Geneva Convention," or "crimes against humanity."  We are talking about war.  The whole purpose of warfare is to be more willing than the opposition.  To destroy, to maim, to kill until the other side is exhausted by the fight.  Right or wrong went out the window right after the first shot was fired.  It is now a game of survival for the participants -- and flag, country, agendas...causes -- no longer matter.  If you happen to win, you can hang all the so-called criminals you want, but you better save a length of rope for yourself. 
America itself has always seemed to have a good supply of willingness, but not much sustainability to back it up.  We tend to like our war conducted from a distance.  We get all huffy about something, wave the flag around and then try really hard not to notice the body bags piling up.  So, we jump into conflict fast, get burned and sneak back home after the 11:00 news broadcasts.  And of course, we're always right.  Just ask the idiots that sent our young folks into harm's way under the inventive banners of "Shock and Awe"  "Operation: Desert Shield..."  Why not, "We're Gonna Piss Down Your Throat," and simply add a country's name at the end.  At least it would be honest and we wouldn't have to be excusing our bad behavior when the whole mess is finally concluded.
But perhaps the biggest contributor to America's rather skewed interpretation of war lies in the fact that this country has never experienced all-out warfare on the home turf.  Not modern warfare, conducted in the streets, school yards or the parking lot at Costco.  Where everything and everyone is fair game in a grotesque carnival of absolute madness.  Where all infrastructure, resources, security and protection -- all knowns are bartered in exchange for mere survival.  Where ordinary people are forced to make heroic, as well as horrific choices.  From the Epilogue:
"She was raised in Nazi Germany, in the very vortex of a world war, where the vulgar intentions of ordinary people carried the plague of uncertainty, depravity and annihilation to the front steps of your house.  If you had a house.  And perhaps that is where the truth really haunts the facade, for war is an erratic and disturbing canvas, and all that is supposedly real or deemed sacred or held closest to the heart is declared false or capricious and violently swept away.  And what intangibles are offered for sacrifice when one person has nothing left to lose and the maelstrom asks for more?  Perhaps it is here, at just such a point, that the soul tries to stand alone, and for once, falters at the task.  It is by chance the crossroads where God and humanity no longer have anything in common."                   
Just a few thoughts for a Tuesday. 
Nothing more....

Friday, June 29, 2012

We the people...and other contradictions

Changing 'Fundamental Law' in America:

First lesson:  The preamble (shown left), was an American invention.  No, not us interlopers from Europe.  It is an Iroquois quote from The Great Law of Peace, the six-nation confederacy of the Iroquois nations.  And in case you are wondering, it didn't work out any better for them than it did for our founders.  After ten years of wrangling under our own Articles of Confederacy, by 1787 it was pretty obvious that if an acceptable constitution was not forthcoming in the immediate future, the federal structure would simply collapse in disarray.  The Confederacy was not "workable."  Serious problems had already arisen from individual states making separate agreements (treaties), with European powers and Amerindian nations, without the consent or approval from the Continental Congress.  Without the Convention's proposed central government, the framers feared the new nation could fall into the same trap as the Iroquois Confederacy.  As the Iroquois themselves discovered, the Confederacy offered far "too much democracy," as well as being plagued by the "internal intrigues" that made cohesive  governance of the separate nations virtually impossible to administer or enforce.  Gee, sound a little familiar? 

Not the Happy Campers One Might Assume!
Fast forward to 2012 and all the compromises, back-door deals and legal patronization has finally caught up to us.  Yes, too much democracy, too much value on personal liberty and way too much free speech.  Oh, you say?  Well, try to run a business like this country runs its affairs.  Like shoeing a horse by committee. The son of a bitch will die of old age before the forge even gets lit.  Yes, too much democracy is as paralyzing as too little.  And 'your personal liberty is stepping all over mine!'  Oh, and while we are discussing constitutional plagiarism, our cherished Bill of Rights?  Yeah, swiped from the English Bill of Rights, though the English didn't always practice many of the provisions they espoused within the confines of their many colonial holdings.  Course, neither did we.

I am willing to concede that the founding fathers were probably brighter than the average schmuck, but they were also well aware that forming a nation out of a bunch of outliers and rebellious types was a giant pain in the ass. And so the results of that difficult, almost impossible task is seen throughout our American Constitution.  The appeasement of special interests, particularly, the individual states became so problematic that we fought a costly and protracted Civil War over it.  And worse, failed to resolve the fundamental source of the conflict.  No, not slavery;  states' rights.  But even so, what the founders didn't see, or anticipate 300- years ago included electricity, airplanes, moon walking, nuclear weapons, hippies, NASCAR, global economics and....the social media.  Maybe Benjamin Franklin might have mused on a few of those ideas, but the rest?  Doubtful.  Which is why I fail to support the constitutionalists who want to retro-actively wander down memory lane and restore the nation to a marginal sort of sanity based on the nostalgia found in their enthusiastic support of dishonest history.  Well, it ain't gonna happen that way friends.  You cannot find solutions to complex, modern problems by simply reverting to what we might consider a 'kinder and simpler era.'  I'm afraid that the Garden of Eden's got more snakes right now than apples, and waiting for Congress to come to its collective senses is delusional at best.  And
forget the blame game, the do-or-die ideologies, the my-way-or-the-highway thinking.  It is a systemic dysfunction of our own creation.  We let the thieves make the rules for the raiders and pillagers and there is only one treatment for that kind of behavior:  take away their toys.  Make 'fundamental' changes to the United States Constitution.

Article V

Ah!  Okay, you say.  But how?  Well, I'm afraid that Congress is currently ahead of the curve on this one. Normally, there are two ways:  the first is a proposal by Congress itself. This would require a 2/3 vote by both Houses of Congress.  Now remember, this must represent a national super-majority of 67% in Congress (The House represents the people, the Senate represents the States.)  The second step requires a super-super majority (75%), of the States ratifying, representing a majority of 'people' in the ratifying states.  Congress itself determines the process:  either by 'special state convention' or by individual state legislatures.  Constitutional ratification is then approved by 3/4 of the states agreeing to the amendment by either of the aforementioned processes. The moment that 3/4th vote is hit, the amendment becomes the 'Supreme Law of the Land.'  End of debate, but not necessarily the grumbling.

Now, it is important to consider that over 10,000 amendments have been introduced since 1789, normally, at least of late, about 100-200 a year.  Since the Constitution's ratification, only 27 have been made into law.
We are in distress it would seem...
There is another way, though Congress might have anticipated such an action.  It is basically coming through the backdoor by a National Referendum or plebiscite.  This is a direct vote by the electorate to 'accept or reject' a particular proposal.  This is of course, an incidence of 'direct democracy.'  However, no provision in US law, constitutional or otherwise, includes a provision for this type of action at the federal level.  The people would first have to convince Congress to amend the Constitution to allow plebiscite action by the people to overrule the Congress and act by direct democracy in forcing constitutional reform at the federal level.  Catch-22.  Congress is highly unlikely to grant the people the direct power to destroy their power base.  So then what?

One more option exists, though it has never been taken in the history of the country.  It is a Constitutional Convention called by 2/3 of the legislatures of the States.  That Convention can propose one or more amendments to the US Constitution.  These amendments are then sent back to the states to be approved by 3/4 of the legislatures or state convention delegates.  This route has often been discussed theoretically in political science circles, but both the logistics and legal questions have never been fully explored.  However, the option does exist, hypothetically at least.

So what, you say?  Well, all you tea-baggers, constitutional flag wrappers, occupiers, whiners and gripers, lefties, righties or indifferentials, libertarians, closet socialists, survivalists and gum chewers would all have to get on the same page and convince Congress to amend the Constitution so that us plebs can then directly take away their toys, medical benefits, perks, corporate drinking buddies, car allowances, junkets, free meals, hookers, tax deductions.....or, simply overthrow the existing government by force.  My opinion:  overthrowing the government is a hell of a lot of work.  You've all seen Egypt, Libya, Iraq...geez.  What a mess.  But just maybe we could all get on the same page just long enough to sweep all the loose money out of the Capitol Building.  Might just be amazed at the results.   

Happy Birthday America and best of luck....... 


Monday, June 25, 2012

How Politics Distorts Language...and Common Sense

Selective Definitions 101:
     Ah, words. Funny how we use them, abuse them, ignore or invent more convenient connotations -- even re-invent or reinforce the negative perjoratory to support an ideal, argument -- point of view.  Especially in an election year where every man is a pundit, editorialist and wanna-be political scientist.  Perhaps if we demanded a literacy test for every voter in this palace of democratic righteousness, we might avoid more than a few misunderstandings.  Well, maybe not.  We seem more interested in coveting the gun than celebrating intellect, and our actions in the world would seem to reinforce the notion that as a nation, we become bored with the finer points of conversation pretty quickly.  See, the Right to Bear Arms is the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.  Free Speech the 1st.  Kind of says a lot right there.

     Take the word: prejudice.  For decades, it has been the rallying cry of the Civil Rights Movement.  And in other contexts, the rights of women, the contentious arguments on immigration, education, health care, worker's naseum.  Even religious affiliation, an arena based on perhaps the most egalitarian principle on Earth:  freedom of faith.  All assuming a negative bias against some group, opinion, belief...even brocolli-haters and meat eaters square-off in their noisy camps of sacred intolerance.  And yes, I too am guilty as charged...

     I am very prejudiced against murderers, pedophiles, wife (or other), beaters, cheats, thieves, haters, and all those who believe that accountability is the other person's responsibility.  In fact, I seem to have a whole collection of prejudices.  And further, I am apparently proud of them.  Maybe I need some serious psychiatric help...learn how to just look the other way, maybe join the angry mob...or just call it something else.  Instead of being prejudice, I'll just say, "I enjoy donuts."  Nobody is paying attention anyway.

     This year's key word is:  Socialism.  (And its big brother, communism.)  The pun was intentional.  Comes from the root word, social.  Not a bad kind of word, unless you change the last vowel to an 'o' and add some kind of pathos. Except that sociolism doesn't really work here.  Kind of makes the whole statement a bit oxy-moronic.  However, social does speak to a sense of community...whoops.  Root word of community is 'commune.'  Whoops!  Commune is also the root word in communism. 

[image: ajuell/]
 Communists do, of course, believe in totaltarianism.  So do fascistsTotaltarianism means:  'all-inclusive.'  Trust me on this, the communists and the fascists invented the terminology, not me.  They just didn't bother to explain that the boomerang would find its way home either around your head or right through the middle of it.  But let's stick with socialism for a minute.  It's probably safer.

Virtually every nation, particularly those that practice some kind of democracy, inherently give the nod to socialist programs.  It is the responsibility of the state to see to the needs of its citizenry, particularly those marginalized by events not necessarily of their choosing.  It is really just a wider extension of the 'family system,' and one of the tenents of a civilized society.  By the same token, a citizen may also be called upon to defend the state and what the state respresents to those who comprise the whole of a nation.  It is sort of fair in a roundabout way, for if a nation fails to take care of its weakest elements, the stronger ones will not defend the state, and in fact, may depose it. "Don't ask me to take up the gun when you threw my Momma into the street!"  See, pretty simple overall. 

     Now, social progams can run amuck.  So can political agendas and military adventurism.  Even dogs and cats.  A no-kill shelter is a combination of both.  Enforcement wrapped up in socialism for animals. Yeah, it gets complicated.  But social programs cast a wide loop and one that extends far beyond the grittier side of food stamps and welfare.  They encompass health care,  education, elementary access for the disabled, sustenance, training...the list is endless.  Socialism also sees to the needs of those very warriors who stood up to defend the state -- right or wrong.  And we only notice the cost -- re-evaluate our priorities -- when resources get tight.  And why are they tight?  Ah, the bond peddlers, derivative salesmen, the corporate wonks?  They sold our social conscience on Wall Street and now we've become a little tight-assed with what money we have left.  Ah, I see.

     Well, we could abolish our social conscience and get in line behind Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan...join the league of the State Department's growing list of 'failed states.'  For one of the chief criteriuum for joining that exclusive club is "a failure to see to the needs of a society's weakest members."  And yet, for many Americans, socialism remains a dirty word.  I'll tell you what.  Just fall part way down the rabbit-hole and find out the many ugly truths and stark realities for yourself.  We need responsible individuals to maintain a responsible society.  And all sides must create the needed balance.  And next time you call call someone "a damn socialist," smile and wink.  People will know you invested in a dictionary -- before you formed that opinion.

Communism.  Ooh.  Almost  Painful to the Ears!

So, how about the official definition. Root word: common. (Latin: communis):  "A revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless, and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of this social order.  This movement, in its Marxist-Leninist interpretations, significantly influenced the history of the 20th century, which saw intense rivalry between the "socialist world (socialist states ruled by communist parties), and the "western world" (countries with market economies), culminating in the Cold War between the Eastern Bloc and the 'Free World.'"  Whew!  That was a mouthful.  Basically, it was a reaction to "development of the productive forces that lead[s] to a 'superabundance of material wealth' -- distribution of said wealth, the sticky-widget in class warfare. Now to be clear, socialism and communism are NOT the same animal. Socialism is merely a transitional phase, at least according to Marxist theorists, who contend that this phase is necessary in that transition from capitalism to socialism.  But then, much like the American Two-Dictator Choices System, communist theory tumbles into ideological camps that fail to agree on much more than most active democracies.  You have: non-Marxist libertarian communists, anarcho-communists, Maoists. Trotkyites, Hoxhaism, Titism, situationists, autonomists, even Christian communists...need I go on?  The point is that no clear doctrine exists as the end product of a system meant to evolve from a sort of egalitarian socialist state to a pure communist one as, like democracy, the various factions couldn't decide what they wanted to be when they grew up.  And, most importantly, the geo-political considerations of each country took precedence over a broader-based ideology. Which meant that there were some things in the doctrine that you WERE NOT going to sell to the home crowd.
 Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin. Three of our Favorite Dislikes.

So, the question that should be asked by every American is:  "Where did communism come from?"  The idea of socialism and communism is fairly basic.  It is simply a more sophisticated version of most tribal systems.  It contains a commonality of purpose for the preservation of the community as a whole.  In the modern age (meaning: the Industrial Revolution forward), it was designed to break the centuries-old adage that:  "The rich get richer and the poor more numerous."  Ah gee whiz, has a familiar ring to it lately, don't you think?  Yes, it was meant to break the old fuedal and class systems that froze the average ambitions of people in a locked freezer.  Or as Karl Marx, no stranger to the value found in political jibberish noted: 

"Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time conciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of hitherto existing men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of the united individuals."  

Only problem was that Marx forgot that humans are basically selfish, self-centered shits.

Russia & China:

Russia's transition to socialism was clearly founded in the wants and desires of those trapped in the system of serfdom, one that excluded them from among other things, the ownership of land.  The country was primarily agrarian and very late coming to the Industrial Revolution.  That lesson culminated in Russia's withdrawal from WW I, which not only pointed out the necessity of modernization as a benchmark of external security, but also the dangers inherent in an 'incomplete revolution.'  The nationalists (Whites), were not by any means, defeated or subjugated and Russian political ideology was hampered by sometimes violent, factional interests.  It was also a period of incredible 'internal migration,' as a new proletariat or working class was converging on the major cities as part of the new industrial Russia, or as it was now being called, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  But of course, industry was a different kind of personal investment for the individual, in that the labor of his hands no longer directly fed the mouths of his children -- not, in the manner of working the land.  And no individual could be forced to love the inanimate face of the state.  Oddly, it may have been the unrest in western Europe, the rise of nationalism under Hitler, the very failings of capitalism (the Depression), in the west that helped to cement Stalin's powers in the USSR.  And of course, the re-definition of totaltarianism from 'all-inclusive' to 'all-inclusive or else.'  The new communism's first lessons were well underway.  Perhaps if Stalin had read Plato's "The Republic," he might have discovered that the adaptation of a communistic society was both costly in human life as well as emotional spirit, with the doctrine's ultimate failure, virtually pre-ordained --for it denied humanity as an element in all political systems, good, bad or indifferent.  But, the manifesto never went full circle to achieve (or even attempt), the notion of "a free society with no division or alienation, where mankind [is] free from oppression and scarcity."  Wonderful idea really, except that humans aren't wired that way.  Yeah, we run in herds, but rarely in the same dirtection. 
     China was a somewhat different story, varied only by the difficulties of a social burden of seemingly monstrous proportions.  And concurrently, outside interference by colonial and imperialistic powers, that if left unchecked, would have dismemebered mainland China for their own, rather self-serving needs.  And China too, was a tribal state, with a long history of competing Warlords, provincial gangsters really, opposing all internal efforts at unification.  And, at its most formative period of the modern age, the country was forcefully occupied by Imperial Japan.  Internal revolution, external war.  Yet, by some accounts, the Japanese invasion worked in the revolution's interests, for it did mange to rid the country of colonial influence in the short term.  But the price paid by the Chinese people was horrendous.

The fellow on the right (Chiang kai-Sheck), was the heir-apparent to the helm of what the west preferred to think of as, "the new China."  He headed the Nationalist's Army, which like Mao's forces, was divided between fighting the Japapnese and each other.  Chiang was really just an over-dressed version of the Warlord model who sadly learned most of his bad habits from us -- for we (in the west), feared communism far more than corruption, assuming quite illogically that the Chinese people were too backward to appreciate the difference.  Chiang was a bastard alright, but in the vernacular of the times, "He was OUR bastard." 

Mao, on the other hand, had little or no economic or military help.  The USSR was broke, heavily damaged from the war with Germany and owed the west more than what you'd call minor 'chump change.'  And a degree of ideology seperated the two communist parties, though the Soviet leadership was deeply invested emotionally in the revolution's outcome.  However, Mao spoke the language of the countryside, appreciated the needs of the people and ran a disciplined army.  Chiang outgunned him pretty regularly (having access to US surplus military hardware -- tons of it.), but failed to control his troops, who often marauded the countryside, more as bandits, than soldiers.  It was enough to shift the populace in Mao's favor and the rest, whether you agree with it or not, is history.                                                     

The Gang of Three:

Deng Xiaoping
"The Adminsitrator"
Zhao Enlai
"The Military Strategist"
And so the leadership of the brand new People's Republic of China was established in 1949. [or 1953, according to some.]  
Mao Zedong
"The Ideologue"
And virtually unrecognized by the West until Richard M. Nixon offered his outstretched hand to the world's most populous nation.  Sure, you might have disliked Nixon, but he was no dummy in recognizing where China was headed and its growing influence in the international community.  Fast-forward to 2012 and most of the speculation has vanished.
Of course, scholarly opinion varies on China's fortunes if Chiang kai-Sheck had prevailed in what was, in effect, a civil war.  My assumption has always been that millions would have died -- of starvation, disease -- infighting.  In many ways, socialism was China's salvation through the many years of ostracization and isolation by the western powers.  The country could not compete in world markets for resources:  food, fuel, technology.  A socialist agenda was the only option on the table to care for the Chinese people.  And while Mao is often condemned for the many policies he instigated over the decades, the nation did survive into the 21st century.  
I often wonder if he was proud of his accomplishments, or perhaps, like our own backward glance at history, a little sad and uncertain about the means to an end.  Like I've said, "There's always a price for admission.  You own conscience determines it."
Oh...for the record.  According to any broad-based interpretation of the Communist Manifesto, China never was, and certainly is not today...communist.  And no, I'm not sure what it is.       
      Joe McCarthy.  A testimony to the adage:  "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Before you cast the first stone, try to understand the target...please.



Monday, May 28, 2012

Ironies abound in the competition between force and reason...Memorial Day

Different Kinds of Soldiers...Different Stories

World diplomacy, in George Schultz's words (former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan), is always a matter of the carrot and the stick.  Reason is sought under the guise of lesser evils, particularly in the nuclear age.  Those nations who hold the nuclear card now realize quite clearly that they hold an empty bag, for since the heady days of Nixon and Brezhnev -- MAD has become both the safety on the trigger and the swan song of the world's more optimistic cynics.  Mutual Assured Destruction has virtually eliminated the nuclear weapon as a viable option for any military venture where 'winning' is considered a reasonable goal.  For today, when push comes to shove it hits the formidable wall of reason over extinction.

Memorial Day is a time to commemorate the wielders of that great stick, and those that paid the maximum price in the defense or the political will of a nation.  But it should also be a day perhaps, to appreciate those voices and actions that sought reason over conflict -- life over death.  So I present two distinctive ironies for consideration.  Both have been largely overlooked and both had profound ramifications on the power of reason over force.   

[image: wikicommons]
Meet Captain Vasili Arkhipov of the Soviet Navy.  You just might owe him your life.  His role in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) was only fully declassified in 2002.  A quiet man from a peasant family, he rose to prominence in the Soviet Submarine Service and had also been  an officer on the ill-fated K-19.  In October of 1962 he was an officer on one of a group of nuclear-armed submarines (B-59), attempting to evade the naval blockade of the Soviet-backed regime of Fidel Castro.  As we all know (or should know), the confrontation was over offensive nuclear missile installations on the island.  John F. Kennedy had the ordered the embargo after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev balked at the demand to remove them.  The embargo was one of three options on the table, including a full-scale attack of the island.  During this week of incredible tension, a great deal of Naval activity was taking part off Cuba, including the tracking of Soviet submarines.  The B-59, Arkhipov's ship was equipped with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and was under orders from Moscow to return fire if threatened or attacked.  The US Navy had been using practice depth charges on Soviet submarines in the area in an attempt to force them to the surface for identification.  But given that the ships were in international waters, both Navies were operating under wartime rules of engagement and no direct communication was in use.  Second-guessing was the order of the day and at stake:  well, the world as humanity recognized it.

Now, it should be pointed out that on Wednesday of that week (October 24th),  The US Strategic Command had gone to Defcon 2, the lowest it had ever been at.  Defcon 1 is war and all decisions
are then under what is known as the snap-count.  From that point, human control is no longer part of the equation.  Under this rather ominous backdrop, helicopters from the aircraft carrier, USS Randolph dropped practice depth charges on the submerged Soviet submarine B-59.  The captain considered his ship under attack by the American carrier.  His orders were to fire a nuclear torpedo and destroy the American carrier.  But, an argument broke out between the captain, Arkhipov and the political officer on board.  Pretty unusual by military standards, particularly in the Soviet Navy.  Somehow, Arkhipov prevailed upon the captain to surface his ship, thus defusing the immediate confrontation. If he had instead fired, most critics agree that nothing would have stopped an all-out nuclear exchange and we would have witnessed the final dissolution of reason.  Why share this.  Because there is always more to a soldier's story than we know.  And because, like us, they're just humans doing a damn hard job.

[image: ajuell]
This one is a little trickier.  Sure it is about war and the voice of reason, but it is far more interesting not for what it represents, but for what took place before and after the unrelenting noise of the 1960's and 70's.  Yeah, I'm out there somewhere.

Two things that young people in general, as well as military members can enjoy today: the cessation of military conscription in the United States, and the right to have a vote in the country you have chosen to serve and defend.  Yes, 26th Amendment.   Never mind the perceived right or wrong of any conflict, just remember that in any democracy, those appointed the task of defending a policy or an ideal should have a clear and loud voice in a decision that could ultimately cost them their life.

The irony here is where this notion came from.  The Voting Rights Act had been floating around for quite some time.  No, not by a group of Vietnam-era radicals, but by a rather old and worn veteran of a long and costly conflict:  General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as President, sent the original Voting Rights Act down to Congress for approval.  A military man who understood quite clearly the price of trading diplomacy for a gun.  Congress balked and continued to feign blindness for two decades until the issue came to a violent head during the Vietnam War.  It was then taken up by a different group of soldiers, "The Soldiers of Reason" who took up the rallying call of, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!" to the streets.  And they too, were spit upon, bloodied and killed. But they brought the pressure to bear.  President Nixon attempted to sign the Act into law, but Oregon and Texas sued. They were upheld by the Supreme Court on the seperate matter of local elections, but by then most of Congress knew that this new federal voting block had the power to take their jobs.  It was re-submitted as the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, passed on a vote 94-0 in the Senate, 401-19 in the House, and ratified by 3/4 of the states in a matter of four months.  For politicians, that is close to the speed of light. President Nixon signed the Amendment in July of 1971, making it the law of the land.

My point?  Yeah, there is one.  Patriotism wears many hats, and as we have seen over the decades of this country's existence, it can also be "the last refuge of the scoundrel."  And think very carefully about that quote.  Disagreeing is the most American trait this country owns.  Often, we have to fight it out among ourselves before we get it right, but promoting hate and divisiveness wrapped up in an American flag is not a virtue of mine and it should never be one this country tolerates.  Those street soldiers gave today's military members that right to vote, that right to choose.  They were the voice of REASON in a storm that damn near foundered this country.  So the next time you want to get all huffy and toss the flag at my feet because I happen to believe that one more soldier's death is one too better duck because it's comin' back at you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Daddy! Daddy! My shoe's untied...!"

Geez, people. 
 Lighten up and take some damn responsibility...please?!

I often muse about presidential politics in the pre-Facebook era, a time where most morons were institutionalized instead of given a public forum of their own making.  Yeah, that statement is inclusive in case you're wondering about my own motives here.  Sure, in the good old days, muckraking was confined to angry letters to some junior editor that didn't give a shit, street corner polemics for the benefit of homeless drunks and hookers killing time between customers, union meetings, lawn signs and cute little bumper stickers that proclaimed, "I Like Ike" or "LBJ For The USA!"

Today, everybody is a political writer and the audience is anybody dumb enough to hit the 'Like' button once too often.  Blogs abound, (Gee, I have two of them!), and every single word is circulated as 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' to an endless collection of suckers who happen to have the mental acuity of an over-stuffed recycling bin.  As the cliche goes, 'if the myth is more appetizing than the truth, print the myth.'  Mark Twain journalism at its best, except that Twain's publisher was careful to sell it as fiction.  Seems they had better lawyers in those days.

Lately, the constitutionalists, the conspiracy theorists (the new 'bored housewives' of America, only without the gender distinction), the trench-huggers on the barren outskirts of the political left and right, the Bible-thumpers -- those moral wagon masters of the wasteland, the talking heads of the blogosphere and pimp television, who soil the fragile airwaves with the hate and vitriolic bile of divisiveness to perpetuate a moral agenda that they are more than willing to casually toss aside like a moth-eaten sock --  for the money, for the ratings, for the notoriety they wear like a filthy rag of self-anointed nobility.  And when caught in the trap of contradiction, they toss the lie around the room like children playing catch with a rabid bat.  And guess what?  The 'they' is 'us.' 

I posted a picture of President Obama mostly because he is our current President.  In case most of you have forgotten, we, as in us -- elected him.  Gee, how quickly we forget.  If you listen to a lot of folks, you'd swear he snuck in a basement window and barricaded himself in the master bedroom for the sole purpose of becoming America's first black, Kenyan, Hawaiian, Muslim, undocumented alien, socialist, fascist...did I miss anything?  Oh, gay figurehead of the 'home of the brave and the land of free.'  We might want to re-write that stanza to reflect the current tone:  'home of the whiner and land of the unaccountable.'  Maybe we can sing it in French.  Might be more palatable for our chorus of hypocrites.  I mean, if all we want to do is elect a dartboard to represent our own failings as a constituency, why not hang a pinata in the oval office and for once, take ownership of our self-delusional ways. 

Oh.  The loudest complaint this week?  Abuse of the office of President.  Too authoritarian, too free-wheeling with the law, the Constitution...probably show up on TV tomorrow in fatigues, packing a pistol and smoking a cigar.  Like old busy-whiskers marching into downtown Havana some five decades ago.  Anyone ever ask themselves why every US President since Ronald Reagan and perhaps even earlier, has pushed presidential authority to or beyond its constitutional limitations? 

[Hope you are thinking here and not merely loading your pistol!]

Ah. Yes, that's right.  President's don't make laws, Congress does.  And if Congress has devolved into a pack of partisan thumb-suckers and scapegoaters, who in the hell is going to keep the country operating?  Who is going to make some damn decisions?  The Supreme Court?  No!  Then who?  Oh, maybe the President!  Okay, we're making progress here.  Now, Congress has always been a little persnickety.  Kind of goes with the territory and in the case of the United States, we never quite embraced the 'United' part of the title.  Oh sure, when somebody pisses on our hubcap we get all uppity and stand on 1 1/2 hind legs, but then the honeymoon loses its thrill and each state goes back to a sort of, well...try to picture a group of ostriches masturbating.  Yeah, that's why their heads are stuck in the ground. Not pleasant to watch.  This trend has been rolling downhill for decades and each subsequent President has been forced to tickle the boundaries of impeachment because he was elected to do a damn job, regardless of any affection the Congress might reluctantly grant him (or her as the case may ultimately be).  The President has been entrusted by the voters to follow the agenda that he was elected by and on -- i.e., do the job!  You laugh?  Me too.  It is a somewhat naive assumption in a political system that seems to dysfunctionally thrive on flux.  But, it is our system, of our making and until somebody cares to shred the Constitution and start over, we're stuck with it and all its inherent flaws.  Yeah, flaw is the right word.  The Constitution is vague, archaic and a document about the many compromises necessary to form a republic in a dangerous world.  Not good or bad, just what could be signed at the time. A little like the Bible, which historian Will Durant noted, "Great read, but if you had to live by it, you'd go nuts."  We are now, in the evolution of our political spectrum, at the 'nuts' point.      

So I got a great idea.  Why doesn't everybody shut the hell up for one hour a week and focus on tangible and practical solutions, instead of this endless wart hunt we engage in because we are too damn lazy to do the homework necessary to maintain a healthy and progressive republic. Sadly, we no longer even deserve democracy because we have become very poor custodians of our cherished ideals and principles.  Those kind of intangibles demand a rigorous kind of maintenance, a ruthless degree of personal honesty and a level of self-awareness and integrity that is not only all encompassing, but all inclusive.  And as I have tried to point out here, perhaps clumsily in some ways, check the recrimination at the door.  Your door and my door.  We are this republic.