Common Sense

July 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

MY NIGHTMARE

Corporate Paranoia

It is apparent to me that private corporations are not content to exercise their ownership rights to our country through agents holding elective offices.  They now have control of the Supreme Court, the Congress and the Presidency.  Because of decades of gerrymandering voting districts in key states, their political control seems secure.

Regardless of these circumstances, however, their paranoia persists.  They have been unable to abolish the Constitution and, short of a military takeover, they cannot control the constant movement of population.   These population shifts threaten the permanence of their artful design of voting districts.  Also they are aware of the historical record of political strength:  At some point, the excesses of political winners becomes too brutal and the victims become too numerous to be ignored.

When that occurs, if the victims are organized, the reaction can be troublesome.

The Final Solution

Current events indicate to me the nature of the solution chosen by the multinational corporations whose owneership rights are threatned.  They are seeking to become the owners of the vital resources and structure of America; a sort of corporate socialism.  Just as Marx sought to establish communist control of the western industrial world, I think the business corporations have decided to do the same thing:  Not the dictatorship of the proletariat.  The dictatorship of the corportariat.

The Privatized Military

The privatizing of the military, starting with the Viet Nam War, has become a reality.  They dying will still be done by patriotic young men and women but the profit making and the choice of battlefields will be left to corporate leaders, motivated by protection and enrichment of their stockholders.

The Privatized Infrastructure

The corporate commisar, Donald of the Orange Hair and forked toungue, has already proposed the privatizing of the airports. The next step in this takeover is already in the news.  America’s infrastructure is in dire need of rebuilding.   Highways, bridges, ports, goverment buildings and national parks all have been allowed to deteriorate and must be refurbished in order to meet the needs of corporate business.  So, rather than solving the problem with public funds provided by reasonable revision of the tattered and hodgepodge tax system, the solution proposed is privatization. When this has been accomplished, the corporate takeover of America will be virtually complete as a result of one fairly common procedure for one corporation to acquire another corporation:  Simply buy its assets.

The Health Care Dilemma

Corporations need functional human beings to perform profit making work.  And, because human beings need health care, the corporate solution is to design a system that provides enough health care to maintain a necessary work force at an affordable cost including a reasonable profit margin for the component providers:  hospitals, drug providers, doctors and nurses and equipment adequate to provide profit-efficient health care.  The system must be delegated to state governments rather than the federal government because  corporate control of state government is much cheaper than corporate control of the federal government.

The “block grant” solution is an obvious ploy  crafted to disguise the brutality of offering young and healthy people cheap and minimal health plans, forcing older and sicker Americans out of the health care system by imposing premiums higher than they can afford.  Everyone knows that any insurance system is based on fixing costs in a pool composed of a mix of high risk and law risk members.  When this is not the case, “insurance” become a cruel joke for those most in need of its benefits.

COMMON SENSE

Four centuries ago, Thomas Paine wrote a little pamphlet he named Common Sense.  In it he called attention to the injustice of the colonial system which rewarded the patrician class at the expense of the working class.  He goaded his readers to share his outrage.  His ideas fanned  the embers that culminated in American independence and, later, encouraged rebels in France to storm the Bastille and launch the French Revolution.

I think we need an updated version of Common Sense.  Not a call for violence.  That would only lead some naive and brave people toward certain death.  We should borrow from the most famous and vile politicians of our generation:  Adolph Hitler and Donald Trump.

Those two demonic demagogues rose to power with giant outdoor rallies.  Trump proved false the “conventional wisdom” that TV and the internet had made obsolete outdoor political rallies.  On the contrary we have seen countless thousands of people enthusiasticly attending outdoor meetings where they cheered performers, some of whom were wise and serious and others who were recklessly dishonest rabble rousers.

The Chautauqua Solution

I think we need to reach back in our history and recreate a modern version of Chautauqua meetings.  That label will not do because few people alive now would know what the name refers to.  A new name would have to be devised.  My favorite is “Common Sense for Common People”.

These meetings would not be based on any candidate’s campaign for office. They would carefully maintain their credentials as nonpartisan educational and entertainnent meetings.  When weather permits, some  gatherings could be outdoors in atheletic stadiums.  Otherwise they could be held in public venues; in small towns’ school auditoriums; in major cities, in college and university auditoriums.   A small admission charge could be collected, like 2 dollars, enough to pay for the facility or the permits required.

What Would Be the Purpose and Message Presented at Common Sense Meetings?

Here is the curriculum I think is missing from our public discourse:

  1. Corporate wealth did not result from individual or collective effort or ingenuity.  It is based on public wealth, primarily public land, originally granted to finance railroads, public roads, cattle empires, water ways and publicly funded ocean ports.  I have posted esays on this blog describing this process.  Do a search for We Built It  and Damn Yankees, Inequality and Corporations.
  2. The difference between government purposes and corporate purposes should be clearly explained:  A corporation is legally required to exist and invest all its efforts in the interest of its stockholders.  Our democratic republic is required by its Constitution to exist and invest its efforts in support of the “general welfare” of its citizens.  Corporations exist to make money.   The US Government exists to protect us – all of us – from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
  3. A proper duty of a country’s government is to provide a safe and healthy environment for its inhabitants.  The right to live is a fundamental right and adequate health care is a necesary requiremnt for the protection of that right.  Equitable taxation should provide for universal health care.
  4. A proper understanding of government policy is necessary for the successful operation of a democratic republic.  Voting is a duty of every citizen and the performance of that duty requires access to unbiased honest access to information.  Disagreement and intellectal conflict is proper, protected in fact by our Constitution,  so information should be available in support of all sides of public  discourse, povided the speakers acknowledge the truth and value of paragraphs 1,2 and 3.  These meetings should not offer an opportunity for people who hate American government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights upon which it is based.  The proper roles of government and private enterprise is a subject that will forever be debated, as it should be.  But the debate should be about a proper balance, not an attack on either source of power.  That is,  that balance should not benefit either government or private enterprise in ways detrimental or indifferent to the lives and welfare of Americn citizens, regardless of the size of their wealth.
  5. Speakers for the meetings should be recruited primarily from Academia or from the legal or medical profession.  Speakers should be chosen based on two criteria:  Their knowledge and their ability to convey information in a way understandable to people not members of the speaker’s field of learning.  This said, their presentation should not assume the audience lacks intelligence.   I have learned, based on 50 years of arguing  to juries, that the assumption ordinary working people lack intelligence is a canard without merit or evidence.  In describing these criteria I have not mentioned the clergy. There are some subjects appropriate for commentary by members of the clergy but those speakers should be chosen carefully to exclude anyone who considers it to be his or her duty to aim evangelical messages to his or her listeners or to condemn or disparage those who do not share his or her beliefs.
  6. Professional musicians and other entertainment professionals should be recruited to participate in these meetings.  They should be chosen on the basis of their appeal to the target audience: Multi racial and multi ethnic working class Americans of all sexual orientations.
  7. On some occasions, debates should be arranged and representatives of different political groups should be allowed to participate but only with advance notice that racist or other form of bigotry would be stopped, forcefully if necessary.  Also, strict limits should be enforced on the time alloted to each speaker.  No solicitation of contributions or participation in activities in support of a political candidacy should be permitted.   A candidate could present his or her ideas but not as part of an appeal for support or money.
  8. Obviously these suggestions are merely notions swirling in my head.  Much planning by people smarter than I am must design this program.  I think it should be planned as a permanent part of our country’s public life.  I envision these meetings as  places where newcomers can learn about our country and present residents can be given honest information as an alternative to the advertiser-driven pablum available on television.
  9. One more thing:  Any peddler who tries to hand out circulars or other forms of advertising to the attendees should be firmly and publicly discouraged.  No Tshirts, ugly hats or campaign paraphenalia.  If he or she persists, he or she and his or her product should be denounced at the meeting.  These meetings should not become a hangout for hucksters, private or political.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Well, if you have stayed with me this far, you have been sharing one of my fantasies.  I have no reason to believe a new public source of information will be created, although I will continue to hope for one.

I fear racial and political divisions are threatening to destroy the kind of America I crave.  Our leaders seem more interested in exercising political power than finding ways to repair and preserve the fabric of our constitutional democracy.  I think they make the mistake of believing that if the country is divided into two equal halves, they can gain power by making a clever, secret if practical, appeal to a small sliver of the group of which they are not a part in some way not threatening to their credentials among their supporters.

I have been around enough political campaigns to understand this kind of reasoning.  The problem with it, given the present state of our politics, as Donald Trump is discovering, is that after you are elected with that strategy, you find yourself powerless because half your constituents are angry because you won and the other half are urging you to keep promises impossible without a dependable majority.

I am not comfortable with political compromises.   In the past I have often joked that if I ever found myself supporting  the majority, I would know that i’d sold out.  I have lived to push politicians toward the limits of their ability to be re-elected, sometimes with success, some times not.

Now, however, I believe we are facing a crisis.  Our Constitutional democracy has already lasted longer than any other government on the planet.  Trump may have done us a favor by showing us what can happen if  corporate power is allowed to operate without any effective check. Whether we know it or not, I think we are looking into the abyss.  If Commander and Chief Trump blunders into a war, our game may be over and we might take the rest of our fellow primates with us.  When the sane people around him can’t even control his asinine tweeting, why should we have any confidence they can prevent him or some of his reckless spawn from starrting a a war?

These fears motivate me to wish for some way to attract the attention of working class Americans with some truthful information that can refocus their attention on the values of our precious form of government.

Trump’s answer to everything is more corporate power and less government power.  Tax cuts and a giant military force dominated by private mercenaries and corporate direction are all he is about.  He and his family are worse than opponents of orderly government.  They are so ignorant they literally know nothing about orderly government.  Their intuitive answer to every problem is to bully and lie their way toward whatever outcome they seek.  The world is too dangerous to allow buffoons like these to control our country.

Our Constitution makes avaiable to us an effective remedy for this problem:  An informed and engaged electorate which shows up at polling places on election day.  The proposal I offer is not to create a permanent majority committed to one political party.  I believe our task is to establish a framework of political debate consistent with our basic form of government.  I recognize that, in the past, this kind of appeal has been used to abuse the rights of dissenters.  I am not suggesting a revival of the Red Scare days when accusations of communist influence led to gross abuse of government power.

My proposal does not suggest that anyone be sent to jail for whatever they believe.  I am confident our constitutional republic will be appreciated and supported if it is explained plainly and intelligently.  That is my intent and hope.

 

 

 

A New Perspective

July 9, 2017 § 2 Comments

My Experience

I recently read Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  It was not merely a pleasure, it was, for me, a rare and valued event:  It changed my mind in some significant ways.  At my age, most things I read simply entertain me or elaborate ideas I long ago incorporated as part of my belief and understanding.   The exceptions I regard with surprise and appreciation.  The last comparable  event occurred when I read Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Picketty.

Professor Tyson has impressive credentials as an astrophysicist.  In addition he is a deft writer capable of writing crisp prose packed with information in language easily understood by someone like me:  a person with only a dabbler’s acquaintance with physics.  His occasional interjection of humor made reading his book a pleasure.

In The Beginning

The book begins with a sentence I classify as an all-time winner as a “grabber”:  “In the beginning , nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.”   You have to be really jaded not to respond with “WOW!” when that sentence sinks in.

The Professor proceeds to describe, in near infinitessimal time segments, the process of the univers’s creation following the “Big Bang”, a gigantic explosion releasing all of the contents packed into the tiny dot described in his opening sentence.   A nonosecond is a billionth of a second.  A picosecond is a trillionth of a second.  Some of time sequences pertinent to the development of the universe occurred in fractions of these terms.

For the first 380,000 years, the expanding universe was too hot and the vlocity of its component parts was too great to be visible to human eyes and instruments.  Thereafter, the swirling sea of energy and precursors of atoms slowed to reach temperatures low enough for some components, affected by gravity according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (E=mc²), to form connections and begin the process of creating atoms and  the process of creating matter that ultimately became our universe and its inhabitants, including us.

The Secret Life of the Cosmos

I was fascinated by two aspects of the material in this book:  The description of the spatial environment in which we live.  And the creative genius of the scientists who have probed its secrets and made possible our appreciation of its mysterious majestic reality.

The Mystery

The universe consists of matter and energy, but both of these components come in two flavors:  ordinary and dark.  There is six times as much dark matter in the universe as ordinary, everyday, the-kind-you-see matter.  Dark matter is essential because, although we can’t see it and nobody knows much about it, gravity reacts to it and it provides a vital component which makes the system understandable as an orderly complex.

Dark energy emerged as the solution for another problem.  No one knows what it cosists of but its effect has been discovered and calculated.  There are two ways of measuring the distance from Earth to galaxies in far distant parts of the universe:  One way measures the progressive changes in their luminosity as they recede.  The second way calculates their velocity as they recede by measuring their movement relative to known points in their path.

A problem arose because the results of these two methods resulted in differing distances.  The solution was finally achieved by discovering that what was hitherto regarded as empty space was, in fact, not empty.  It was rife with particles of energy and matter which appeared and were destroyed too quickly to be measurable but which caused a kind of energy opposed to the gravitational force driving the expansion of the universe.

Einstein had earlier postulated the existence of this phenomenon but had become convinced that his calculations were in error.  He described the episode as his greatest “blunder”.  Years later, those who were wrestliing with the enigma of the two conflicting measurement techniques, returned to Einstein’s hypothesis he had named Lambda.  They found that if they added Lamba to the comparison of the two measuring techniques, it neatly served as a perfect and predictable constant to resolve the conflict.  You really must be a genius if your “blunders”, years after you die, become trusted useful tools.

So, to summarize, while we don’t yet know what dark energy and dark matter are, we can measure them, we know they exist and they enable us to predict the future of the expanding universe in which we live.

The Geniuses

This book is full of references to very smart creative men and women who have begun to unravel and understand the nature of the universe.  The most extraordinary member of this pantheon is, of course, Albert Einstein.  The book describes him as a young man living in Germany when the Nazis rose to power.

The managers of the Third Reich drafted all scientists into service for their military and social aims.   Based on their doctrinaire anti-semitism, they segregated the Gentiles from the Jews.  They assigned the Gentiles to the tasks considered more prestigious:  working in laboratories.  They put the Jews in offices to engage in mental speculation and the production of written reports.

The outcome of this hateful decision turned out to be the kind of mistake illustrated by Uncle Remus in his tale of an enemy throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch, oblivious of the fact that the briar patch was BR’s natural habitat.

Rather than rephrase Professor Tyson’s homage to Professo Einstein, I offer it is his own words because I can’t  improve on it:

“Albert Einstein hardly ever set foot in the laboratory; he didn’t test phenomena or use elaborate equipment. He was a theorist who perfected the ‘thought experiment,’ in which you engage nature through your imagination, by inventing a situation or model and then working out the consequences of some physical principle.

In Germany before World War II, laboratory-based physics far outranked theoretical physics in the minds of most Aryan scientists. Jewish physicists were all relegated to the lowly theorists’ sandbox and left to fend for themselves. And what a sandbox that would become.

As was the case for Einstein, if a physicist’s model intends to represent the entire universe, then manipulating the model should be tantamount to manipulating the universe itself. Observers and experimentalists can then go out and look for the phenomena predicted by that model. If the model is flawed, or if the theorists make a mistake in their calculations, the observers will uncover a mismatch between the model’s predictions and the way things happen in the real universe. That’s the first cue for a theorist to return to the proverbial drawing board, by either adjusting the old model or creating a new one.

One of the most powerful and far-reaching theoretical models ever devised, already introduced in these pages, is Einstein’s general theory of relativity—but you can call it GR after you get to know it better. Published in 1916, GR outlines the relevant mathematical details of how everything in the universe moves under the influence of gravity. Every few years, lab scientists devise ever more precise experiments to test the theory, only to further extend the envelope of the theory’s accuracy. A modern example of this stunning knowledge of nature that Einstein has gifted us, comes from 2016, when gravitational waves were discovered by a specially designed observatory tuned for just this purpose.

These waves, predicted by Einstein, are ripples moving at the speed of light across the fabric of space-time, and are generated by severe gravitational disturbances, such as the collision of two black holes. And that’s exactly what was observed. The gravitational waves of the first detection were generated by a collision of black holes in a galaxy 1.3 billion light-years away, and at a time when Earth was teeming with simple, single-celled organisms.

While the ripple moved through space in all directions, Earth would, after another 800 million years, evolve complex life, including flowers and dinosaurs and flying creatures, as well as a branch of vertebrates called mammals. Among the mammals, a sub-branch would evolve frontal lobes and complex thought to accompany them. We call them primates. A single branch of these primates would develop a genetic mutation that allowed speech, and that branch—Homo sapiens—would invent agriculture and civilization and philosophy and art and science. All in the last ten thousand years.

Ultimately, one of its twentieth-century scientists would invent relativity out of his head, and predict the existence of gravitational waves. A century later, technology capable of seeing these waves would finally catch up with the prediction, just days before that gravity wave, which had been traveling for 1.3 billion years, washed over Earth and was detected. Yes, Einstein was a badass.”

Conclusion

Reading this book and wrting about it has been a pleasant relief from angrily following Donald Trump’s antics at the G-20 meeting.  He has surely removed all doubt about his reckless ignorance and his disgusting admiration and fawning attraction to brutal bullies like Vladimir Putin and the present president of Egypt.  It will take generations to restore the reputation of America as an admired leader of the western world.  We can only hope that process will begin before this idiot involves us in a nuclear war.

If you have any curiosity about the cosmos I heartily recommend Professor  Thomas’ book.  I have hardly scratched he surface of he information he has packed into about 200 pages of well written prose.

An Afterword

When I read this book and realized it had changed my way of thinking about the past and the future, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies. Inherit the Wind.  It is based on the “Monkey Trial” in which Clarence Darrow defended a science teacher in Tennessee who was charged with a criminal offense for violating a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution.  William Jennings Bryan represented the prosecution.  The movie features two of Hollywood’s finest actors,  Spencer Tracy as Darrow and Frederic March as Bryan.

The movie and the real life event illustrated how science and information compel intellectual changes.  Here is a clip portraying Tracy’s devastating cross examination of March:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtNdYsoool8  .

It begins with an ad.  You can skip it after 10 seconds. Enjoy.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Puppet master and the Devious Dealer

May 10, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Current Uproar

Yesterday President Trump fired James Comey, the FBI Director.  The news commentariat  is obsessed with his motives for that decision.  His critics contend he was fearful lest Comey and his investigators would uncover damning evidence of collusion between Vladimir Putin and Trump or his managers and advisors  to discredit Hillary Clinton and favor Trump during the presidential election campaign.  This would cast a shadow of doubt about the legitimacy of Trump’s election to the presidency; i.e. “Did he really win the election or was it handed to him by Putin?”

The President’s supporters dismiss this problem and staunchly support his claims:  Comey’s termination was required because he failed to sufficiently ascribe blame for  Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.  This excuse is obviously false.  Trump’s  contemporaneous tweets praising Comey’s handling of the email matter as well as the long delay between the alleged cause and the alleged effect both serve to equate Trump’s claims with the legendary excuse of the errant schoolboy:  “My dog ate my homework.”

A Modest Alternative Suggestion

I have no more evidence of  President Trump’s motives for firing Comey than those who assume he did so to discredit in advance any conclusion by Comey incriminating the Trump campaign or Trump himself.  I do, however, offer a different possibility.  My modest suggestion is based on the following facts:

Negotiations Trump Style

Donald Trump made his fortune by a lifetime of negotiations with lenders, builders and land owners.  This record reflects a negotiation style discernible as follows:  Use borrowed money to finance projects.  Repay debts based on a comparison of the probable consequences of repaying them versus the probable consequences of not repaying them or repaying only part of them.  This simple formula is also applicable to paying for goods and services purchased to build improvements on acquired land.  This method of handling money was accompanied by a style of person-to-person interaction based on flattery, intimidation and deception,, a style developed to a high degree of skill sufficient to divert attention from the policy of debt repayment mentioned above.

The result of these skills and methods was the accumulation of a fortune of many billions of dollars. [ In passing:  In some ways  Trump’s skill is similar to that of a successful poker player.]

Negotiations Putin Style

Vladimir Putin is a lifelong practitioner of the art and skill of a spymaster.  He acquired those abilities during decades of service in the Soviet Union’s  foreign intelligence service and, after the Soviet Union’s empire was decimated and Russia became a separate country, more decades spent using those same skills to rebuild that empire.  Here is a brief summary of one of those skills:

Select a person with authority and access to information or authority over the policies of a foreign nation.  Learn some potential vulnerability of the target person.  Design some way to use that vulnerability to induce the target person to engage in some action or inaction which, if publicly disclosed, would harm or embarrass the person.  Then blackmail the target person with a threat, either express or implied, of disclosure of the embarrassing information.  Then control the actions or inaction of the target person in ways advantageous to Putin.

A Possible Explanation of Putin’s and Trump’s Motivations

When I imagine the interaction of Putin and Trump during the presidential campaign and Trump”s brief term as President of the United States, I see them as gladiators in an arena in ancient Rome, circling each other.  Trump holds a trident.  Putin holds a net.  Each is confident of his ability to protect himself from the other and ultimately benefiting from the contest.

My speculation about this matter began with a question:  “Who undoubtedly knows exactly what interactions occurred between Trump and his family and advisors and Putin?”  The obvious answer was, “Putin”.  I then asked myself, “What would be the consequences of disclosing the details of those interactions?”  “Would that disclosure harm Putin?”  “Would that disclosure harm Trump?”  I suspect it would harm both but in different ways and to different degrees of seriousness.

How Would Disclosure Harm Putin?

If there were financial and policy agreements between Putin and Donald Trump, his family and advisors, they probably involved the enrichment of Putin.  Making deals facilitating profits resulting from land, loans and construction of buildings is native to Trump’s tool house.  That’s what he does.   The carefully groomed and constructed public image of Putin as the leader of a communist country, however, hardly matches someone who makes deals with the world’s most famous capitalist from the world’s most prominent capitalist country for the purpose of garnering millions of dollars worth of personal gain.

Even if I’m wrong about Trump cutting Putin in on some of the Trump family business deals involving property and franchises in Russia as well as Russian property deals in the United States, Putin had a powerful motive to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President of the United States.  They had a mutually hostile relationship with each other during Hillary’s service as Secretary of State..  Putin had good reason to know his problems would multiply during a Clinton presidency.

So, I think Vladimir Putin was understandably nervous about the FBI led by James Comey , digging deeply into the nature and details of transactions and cooperation between himself and Donald Trump or Trump’s family or advisors.  Of course Putin does not have the problem of a free press or unbridled democracy.  Still, his reputation as a strong and incorruptible communist leader is doubtless important to him.

How Would Disclosure Harm Trump?

The exposure of details of collaboration  with Vladimir Putin would not only harm Donald Trump, it might trigger a call for his impeachment.  First it would indelibly ink the word “liar” on his forehead.  This could not be shrugged off as merely another example of his well known mendacity.  Evidence that the President of the United States colluded with a Russian leader to affect a presidential election could not be ignored.  This would be true whether it involved face-to-face negotiations between Trump and Putin, or negotiations between the Trump family and advisors with Putin.   Such evidence would be a major political problem for Trump.

If there were such negotiations – and I strongly suspect there were – we can be sure Putin took care to keep records, notes and probably surreptitious recordings of them.  If that kind of evidence were presented on the evening news shows, the results would make Nixon’s recorded plots with his advisors look like a weenie roast by comparison.

So, What Do I Think Might Have Happened?

I believe it is likely that sometime last week Vladimir Putin or some courier of his sent a message to Donald Trump:  “You must shut down James Comey and this FBI investigation.  I can’t afford to have our financial and political dealings exposed.  If you don’t take the necessary action I will publicly acknowledge or disclose through third party sources the nature of our arrangements to discredit Hillary Clinton.  I will justify my part of that effort as a means of preventing a known enemy of the Russian empire, to which I owe allegiance, from gaining control of the power of the United States of America.  I leave it to you to decide how to justify your participation and benefit from our joint efforts.”

I think that threat of blackmail was received and perfectly understood by Donald Trump.  I believe it explains why, without any meaningful consultation with his White House Staff, he fired James Comey.

What Next?

If I am right, we now have a President who is subject to the control of a hostile world power.  It is a chilling thought because Donald Trump does not take kindly to being controlled by anyone.  The real danger is that he will resort to the only way to free himself from Putin’s control:  wage WWIII.

Resist

May 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

Hoy es Uno de Mayo!  Arriba la Bandera Roja!

Today is May Day.  It is a day to celebrate the rights of working class.Americans: the millions of workers who came before us and fought and died for reasons as relevant today as they were then.  The names have changed and the available weapons are different but the issues remain.  Here is link to a brief account of some of those early conflicts. http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday

Our Constitution protects our right to seek and accomplish revolutions without bloodshed.  The Internet affords us a free weapon to wage war to restore the core values of America:  Freedom of expression; Free and honest elections; and Decent regard for the health, welfare and opportunity for working class Americans.

The First Amendment protects our right to express our outraged resistence to the assault on these values by a corporate cabal led by a loud mouthed buffoon who opposes us with  tweets.  If we surrender to a tweeter,, we disgrace ourselves and dishonor those whose courage we commemorate this May Day.  The Internet and the streets can be a battle ground for a peaceful revolution.  They must not share the fate of Rip Van Winkle’s rifle, rusting as he slept through a revolution.

 

The Nature of Truth II

March 5, 2017 § 3 Comments

The Sandman Postman

I want to add a couple of supplemental comments to yesterday’s essay entitled “The Nature of Truth”.   Last night, as I slept, I received a telepathic message from some Indians who occupied most of the American continent when European intruders and explorers arrived and began populating it.  The message was an angry response to my discussion of the cultural result of the advent of automobiles and trains as dominant means of transportation.

I described this cultural change as a result of the expanded area in which American people could easily travel.  I compared it with the wagon and buggy days when that area was often a hundred miles or less from a person’s birthplace.[Probably an overestimate of the distance.]

The message I received from a delegation of Indians was, ” Your experience was different from ours.  If those white people stayed within a hundred miles of where they were born, who the hell were all those people who showed up all over our hunting grounds, killing buffalo and hunting us like wild game, spreading smallpox and other diseases to kill those of us whom they didn’t shoot?  They damn sure were more than a hundred miles from their birthplaces.  They went everywhere.”   I received his message because the space/time/continuum is inoperative when you sleep.

The Urge to Move

When I awoke, I realized I had failed to take into account what I learned from another professor at UT:  Walter Webb, who spent most of his career documenting and analyzing the American frontier.  So, I now wish to add a couple of qualifications to yesterday’s essay.

First, the European immigrants who populated the American continent brought with them a cultural understanding of territorial rights based on private ownership of specific fixed tracts of land.   They saw America as a giant store where land was free for the taking.  And, because the economy to which they were accustomed was primarily one based on farming and ranching, their goals were to find, occupy and establish a home on a specific tract.   They were explorers and seekers but their goals were to settle down on their own property.

In other words, my argument yesterday was based on the mental reactions of those immigrants to achieving their goals.  It did not mention or acknowledge their motivation to travel to the land they sought.  It was this latter inclination that caused their culture to prove devastating to the culture of the Indians.

Most of the early American immigrants were from European countries, including England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Land ownership in those countries was generally controlled by various levels of royalty based on grants from kings and queens.  Most of the population worked on the land based on various systems of serfdom.

Given these conditions, there were powerful temptations motivating those without personally owned land to immigrate to America and begin a quest for a place to settle.  When I wrote that, once they found and settled on some land, where they raised their families, they typically were not motivated to stray far from home, I was referring to land owners, not land seekers.  Also, when the automobile and train replaced the wagon and buggy, the frontier was closed.  The last displacement of the Indians occurred in Oklahoma early in the 1900’s .  The wagon and buggy displacement began about the same time, as Henry Ford began putting Americans behind the wheel of a black Model T Ford.

The Bhuddist Version of Jung’s Collective Unconscious 

Another thing I neglected to mention in yesterday’s effort:  One phenomenon I find interesting is the way ideas and frameworks for analyzing them seem to emerge, disappear and, later, sometimes centuries later, re-emerge clothed in different philosophical language but, still, very similar.

In yesterday’s essay I wrote about Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious.  I neglected to mention a corresponding idea based on a Buhddist doctrine.  I don’t pretend to be a serious student of Buddhist theology but, many years ago, i read about a Buddhist doctrine to which I was attracted.  Some Buddhists believe when a person dies, a spark representing his being returns to a limitless repository of all life.  And when a person is born he is vivified by a spark from that same source.  The nature of the new being is affected by the manner in which its previous life as another being lived.  This is not reincarnation, as in Hindu theology.  It does teach that successive episodes of life on Earth and the behavior of the person who lives it determine whether the next episode will be closer to or further from the ultimate end of the process, when a person reaches Nirvana, described in the reading I have done as “the absence of desire”.

I understand this as a form of immortality.  I am not a believer in any form of religion but I have spent time thinking about religious ideas.  Several decades ago Beverly and I attended  a few days of lectures in Tarrytown New York.  One of the lecturers was Joseph Campbell.  He spent a lifetime writing and talking about the religions and myths and folk tales of different cultures.  I was able to talk to him about religion and immortality.  He told me, “Don’t be bothered because no form of religion suits you.  No one knows anything about immortality.  Different religions choose different metaphors to express their choices of beliefs in ideas that are beyond actual human knowledge.  So, you can choose your own metaphor, one that satisfies you.  You are not bound by the choices of others.”

Like everyone else, I have no personal knowledge of any truth about immortality.  I long ago decided I could not embrace the ideas based on claims of divine disclosure to a preacher or priest.  I do believe it is natural for human beings, including me, to speculate about what happens after they die.   I have accepted the probability that nothing happens but I have no more basis for that assumption than for any other.  So, I have found Campbell’s advice to be reassuring and comforting.

The Buddhist  idea is attractive to me because it is not hopeless, it does not depend on hostility toward any other religious idea and it resembles the ideas of Carl Jung, whose ideas are interesting and are based on actual scientific research.

Finally, as I write this I realize that some readers may conclude that I have achieved the pinnicle of hypocrisy:  The hypocritical doubter.  All I can say is that I have never claimed consistency, only honesty.

PS:  I have revisited yesterday’s “The Nature of Truth” and found several grammatical mistakes, misspellings and some sloppy sentence structure.  I have made corrections I hope will make it more understandable.  I know this is too late for most of my readers but it , at least, eases my embarrassment.

The Nature of Truth

March 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

I attended a meeting this week where a close friend of mine introduced me as a believer in relativism as distinguished from truth as an immutable concept from which any aberration is, by definition, an error at best and a sin at worst.  My friend’s intention was to provoke a discussion.  He succeeded.

I had not been asked to defend myself on this ground for several decades.  I once practiced law with a lawyer who was the product of a Jesuit education.  He delighted in baiting me into arguments about this subject.

I have an advantage in these arguments because I don’t recognize any idea as permanent or immutable except those based on mathematics and physical science [2+2 is now, always has been and always will be 4, if those symbols are expressed in the decimal system].  So far as concerns physical science, the truth concept is more complicated.  Scientific principles are always stated with a caveat  warning label reading, “until proven otherwise”.  This caveat  came in handy when Einstein proved that light does not always travel in a straight line,   related velocities depend on a relationship with the speed of light and space is curved, not rectangular or circular.

Despite these complications, scientific discipline insures a kind of objective reliability because its principles must be reproducible, regardless of the instutional context in which they are accessed.  The laws of physics are the same in a Catholic cathedral as in an opium den.  The same is true for Chemistry’s Periodic Tables.

Relativism, for me, is not frightening.  In fact, as a trial lawyer I had no trouble with the duty of opposing lawyers to argue with equal vigor and enthusiasm that each of two opposing  propositions is true.  I did not see that as evidence that lawyers are liars for hire.  Their skill is to frame facts favorably for their clients’ interests. There are many examples of this phenomenon.  The Civil War settled the most significant conflict of this kind:  The South contended that natural law protected their property right to own slaves.  The North contended natural law protected black people from being deprived of their liberty without due process.  Before the war overruled him, Mr. Justice Taney, in his Dred Scott decision,   argued that natural law favored the South’s position.

The Concepts Which Frame My Judgements and Perceptions of Reality

In college the ideas of Thorstein Veblen made sense to me.  He was a rebellious dissenter from most of the underlying principles offered to justify capitalism.   He spent his academic life teaching and writing about the logical faults and hypocrasies offered to defend capitalistic methods of distributing wealth.

I learned about Veblen in two semesters of a class taught by Clarence Ayres, a follower of Veblen.  He taught me to  view social and economic activity as composed of two different but related forces:  technology and institutions.  Technology is the dynamic force that results from human curiosity and creativity.  It drives and shapes the way humans engage in work, play and form relationships.  Institutions change in  in  response to technology, but they lag behind technological changes.  Thomas S. Kuhn’s long essay, The Structure of Scientific  Revolutions, describes elegantly the way these two forces interact.  Here is a link: http://projektintegracija.pravo.hr/_download/repository/Kuhn_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions.pdf

As I read and thought about these ideas, it became apparent, at least to me, there was no place in that analysis for truths unaffected by these forces.  The most powerful institution in our western culture has been and is religion in all its thousands of forms.  The Roman Catholic Church, relying on its historical roots in Greek philosophy as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas  as well as Jewish/Christian religious teachings and writings, is a major defender of absolute truth and a system of morality based on that concept.

The Church’s conflict with Galileo is a good and, I think, a fair example of the Church reacting to the relativistic ideas I discussed above.  Galileo’s study and telescopic exploration enabled him to see that the Earth revolved around the Sun, an idea in conflict with the Church,  which believed the Earth to be the center of the  solar system.  When Galileo tried to explain the basis for his research, he was threatened with the horrors of the Inquisition.  He recanted but was imprisoned for the rest of his life in his home, where he continued to study and write.

I mention this well known episode because it illustrates the way truth is impacted by technology.  Galileo did not learn how the solar system worked because of divine revelation.  He did so because Hans Lippershey, a Dutch scientist , invented a serviceable telescope.  Technology illuminates  the darkness protecting institutional “truth”.  The process never ends because curiosity is hardwired in our brains.

Stephen Crane has captured this idea in a short verse:

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never — ”

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

Our Brain is a Universe

Because we are human beings our universe is perceived with, and is subject to the limitations of. our brains.  We are not capable of experiencing “reality” as it is perceived by other species of life.  For example, we can guess, based on the structure of their hives, the bees do not perceive reality as 90 degree angles.  A bee-probably  functions efficiently in a “reality” that is structured as a hexagon.   The eyesights of an eagle as well as a fly are fundamentally different from ours.  It seems likely to me that those creatures see a reality different from the one we perceive.  If this is true, then their “truth”, based on their reality is likely different from ours.

In the same way, when, through our technology, we change the way we can perceive reality, it seems obvious to me that our conceptions of morality and reality also change.  For example, when the wagon and buggy were replaced by the automobile and the railroad,  we changed the way we regarded the sexual relationships that affect the process by which we choose mates.  The size of the available choices increased because the distance  from our birthplaces increased.  The rituals of courtship changed because they included interactions with a much larger and more varied set of people.  The days of people on farms living their lives within a hundred miles of their birthplaces were over.

This steadily increasing mobility has resulted in a culture that bears practically no resemblance to the one in which our grandparents and great grandparents lived.  And, it seems to me that when culture changes, cultural norms also change.  Our literature is filled with stories about these changes.  Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is only one example that illustrates this fact.  People “going native” are common themes of fiction as well as accounts of characters changing their attitudes after becoming involved with and aware of cultures different from their own.

In our own lifetimes, we have seen a dramatic change in the cultural attitudes toward black people, homosexuals and women.  I think these cultural changes are accompanied by changes, not only in our moral judgments, but also in the way we perceive the world.  Of course, I acknowledge  these changes do not occur at the same rate for all of us.  But I don’t think the cultural norms claimed to be “natural” and immutable were universally accepted.  That is the reason those “norms” had to be so vigorously defended and imposed with the force of law and threats of eternal damnation.

The Structure of Brain Change

The process and mechanics of how our brains make changes in these fundamental principles is a matter of endless fascination to me.  I don’t pretend to know or understand this subject but my amateur exploration has convinced me it involves brain science, psychology and religiosity.

My impression of brain science is that the extent of acquired and taught behavior and attitudes is steadily decreasing and the extent and importance of genetically hard wired influences, the result of evolutionary endowment, is correspondingly increasing.. I no longer think of my “mind”, my “soul”, my “body”  and my “brain” as being separate parts   or places somewhere inside my skin.  I believe my entire self is the result of a constant total interaction of my brain connected by neural networks to my entire body.  Consequently,  what I think and feel and how I react to my environment is a function of this totality, as all parts of it constantly interact.  I also believe that we know only a very small part of the way our brain, as it interacts with the rest of us, works or is capable of working.  I think, with respect to thenature of our brain’s capacity, we are like Columbus when he stepped ashore on to an insignificant island in the Caribbean. little  did he know that he had stumbled on to a vast continent with potential of which he could not have conceived.   If we survive long enough I think we will discover ways our brains work that will fundamentally change the way we interact with each other and with the universe.

The Lakoff Effect

My opinion about this was affected when, thanks to my daughter, I read a book by George Lakoff, The Political Mind.  This linguist has written many books about the way our mind works,  To vastly oversimplify his basic thesis:  When we confront an occasion requiring a choice, we make it instantly, based on  previous wiring in our brain.  Then, a nanosecond later, we rationalize the justification for our reaction.  These reactions as well as the rationalizations have been acquired by repetative exposure to similar confrontations in the past.  That means we can change our way of thinking  the same way we learn to type:  By practicing making the connection between a letter and the movement of our finger.

The result of this analysis is:  In order to change reactions, e.g. a political judgment, it is necessary to expose a person, over and over and over, to a particular judgment and its rationalization. According to Lakoff, and he has convinced me, the Tea Party succeeded because it selected a particular way of perceiving political activity and created thousands of groups all over America where these  ideas were expressed, without any deviation or distraction, for over ten years.  That is the way the Tea Party swallowed the Republican Party and changed it from conservatism within the boundaries of traditional American politics to its present form as an uncompromising  combination of religious fundamentalism and devotion to unregulated corporate domination.

Lakoff contends that Clinton style center left political “triangulation” will no longer work.  He argues we must undertake the same kind of brain rewiring used by the Tea Party.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung was a follower of Sigmund Freud.  Freud developed the idea that we have a subconscious mind in addition to our conscious mind.  He was a doctor and his focus was on methods of treating patients with particular mental problems.

Jung was also a doctor and he used Freud’s techniques but, in addition, he postulated an unconscious mind in addition to Freud’s bi cameral theory.  Jung believed this unconscious mind was the repository of the collective consciousness of the billions of human beings who inhabited our planet after separating themselves from other species in the evolutionary process.  He based this thesis on a painstaking and wide ranging study of myths and folktales which were part of primitive cultures.  He found commonality among these myths and folktales in primitive  cultures regardless of whether there had been any contact or interaction between them.

He therefore postulated a medium of communication  between primitive cultures other than physical contact.  He theorized the existence of a collective unconscious.  According to Jung, this collective unconscious was populated with what he called archetypes.  He identified personas like “The Wise Old Man”; “The Sage” , “The Wizard” et al..  There is a book called The Red Bookˆ that lists and describes many of these archetypes.  Jung believed our brains contain this collective history in our unconscious and that its  presence affects the framework of our perceptions of reality.

    Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian writer who wrote a series of books in the 1960’s and 70″s about the way the form of communication affects the thinking patterns of its viewer or user.  One of his books, The Gutenburg Galaxy, analyzed the way the printing press changed the way people thought .  His insight was that receiving information in a totally controlled medium, like a book, by reading, line by line, from one side of the page to the other, was a fundamentally different experience from receiving information visually, like a picture or spoken or sung words or songs.  His books were written as television was beginning to dominate public forms of information.

As I read and thought about McLuhan’s ideas, I concluded that, by switching from print to TV and, later, to digital pictures on iPhones, iPads and other forms of computers, we were returning to the culture and mores of civilization that existed for millions of years before the advent of the printing press.  During that time, and later for much of the world’s inhabitants who did not have access to TV or computers, the campfire, the cave, the tavern , the church or the meeting house, tent or tepee served as the TV and the internet consisted of myths and stories recounted and repeated, from generation to generation in social  gatherings.

As McLuhan explained, this reversion from print to picture changed the reception of information from an individual, rational experience to a mass emotionally experienced reaction to broadcast and telecast performances.  He predicted, and subsequent evens have affirmed, this change has enabled demagogues and skilled manipulators to evoke fear and emotions that  threaten the Constitutional democracy we enjoy.  The truth, to return to the theme of this essay, is no longer a matter of rational thought and reason.  The truth has become the consensus of brain sponges. trained through repetitive  exposure to visual and oral stimuli, to react emotionally; not individually after rational contemplation.

We are back to ancient Rome when tyrants ruled with bread and circuses.  Our bread is the false promise of prosperity and our circus is our television set.  Orwell’s 1984 has creeped into our lives, quietly,  wrapped in the veneer of entertainment, and bastardized our language, captured our politics and disempowered our ability to resist.

Conclusion

To summarize this effort: Our beliefs, attitudes, conceptions of morality – the qualities that fashion who we are – do not result from our acceptance or rejection of some specific rules and perceptions of the truth.  It seems to me that what is true at any given time depends on the context of technological and institutional forces that affect the nature of our culture.  As I contemplate the history of these forces and the significance of the changes in the way culture perceives truth, I am unable to discern or imagine any meaningful system of timeless truths unaffected by those changes.

Is there a timeless truth that murder is wrong?  In our system, the answer is “Yes” unless it  is done in self-defense; not self=defense in reality, but self-defense as perceived by the killer.  And unless it is done by an armed peace officer; not only if the victim was doing anything illegal; but if the officer thought the victim was  doing, or was about to, or was running or walking away from, having done something illegal, provided the illegal act was one classified as sufficiently serious to warrant deadly force, or if the officer thought it was that kind of illegal act; or was nor responding to the officers’s command to stop or was a threat to the safety of the officer.or was perceived by the officer to be a threat to his safety . . . .   I have not exhausted this subject  but I hope my reader can understand that, to me, it is nonsense to say that an immutable truth is that murder is wrong.  This  Byzantine  thicket of nuance and exceptions is only true in our system of justice  Every  country has its own rules and, without being sure, I have every reason to believe the justice systems of other countries are at least as complex as ours.

I cannot see that searching for and identifying universal timeless truths is likely to benefit anyone except those like, Mr. Justice Taney, who are arrogant enough to believe that their  beliefs are  coincidentally  and  miraculously coterminous with Natural Law and absolute truth.

 

 

Zombie Government

February 21, 2017 § 1 Comment

The dictionary describes a zombie as “. . .  a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought. . . .”

Prosecutorial Discretion

The essential responsibility of those charged with the supervision of law enforcement in a democratic republic like ours is prosecutorial discretion.  District Attorneys, County Attorneys, US Attorneys and the Attorney General of the United States are obligated to use judgment informed by principles of justice and fairness to impose  guidance and limits to those entitled to use force to kill or capture people suspected of unlawful acts and omissions.

This feature of law enforcement is necessary because it is impossible and undesirable to use the criminal justice system  to proceed with equal zeal to arrest the hungry person who shoplifts a loaf of bread  and the bank teller who embezzles thousands of dollars.  Priorities are necessary as a matter of justice as well as efficiency.

The Immigration Problem

Nowhere is this fundamental principle of criminal justice more obviously important than in our response to the problems of immigration.  We have eleven million of our neighbors in large and small communities throughout our country who did not comply with the prescribed procedures for becoming citizens.  Many of them have lived and worked and paid taxes and contributed their support to our country for periods of time varying from thirty or forty years to a week or a day.  Many have children and grandchildren who are citizens because they were born here.  Many have formal permission to be here – holders of “green cards” or visas entitling them to stay here for extended periods of time to attend schools, work as doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers – the gamut of useful employments.

The classification of these “undocumented aliens” is a daunting task because it should be done with gumption, fairness and discretion.

Congressional Paralysis 

This classification process should have been done by Congress.  It was not done for two reasons:  First,  a substantial segment of Republican members of both the House and Senate were more interested in blocking any significant accomplishment by President Obama than they were in performing the job which they had sworn to perform.  Second, a sizable group of those GOP elected officials were unwilling to agree to any rational arrangement for deporting some aliens and granting  conditional permission for many of them to remain as citizens of the United States.  They were more interested in appealing to  the bigotry and hatred  of some of their constituents than in designing a reasonable and humane immigration law.

As a consequence of this legislative dereliction of duty, the task of seeking a solution to the immigration problem devolved to the President, who sought to create some degree of stability and rationality through executive orders.

As a result of the recent presidential election that responsibility is now dependent on President Donald Trump.  His recent blunderbuss mishandling of travel from five predominantly Muslim countries bodes no  confidence he will respond to this immigration issue in a rational or just way.

The Horrors of our Past as Cautions for out Present

Our history is littered with examples of how not to deal with problems like these.  It began with our treatment of the Indian population that inhabited this land for thousands of years before our ancestors arrived.  With many fits, starts and stumbles we ultimately solved this problem with genocide, almost destroying the Indian culture and most of its population.  As we engaged in that atrocity, we simultaneously imported a segment of our population from Africa, against their will; then enslaved them and afforded them the right of citizenship  only after a war than came close to destroying our nation.

In the 1940’s we imprisoned Japanese people living along the West Coast, regardless of their citizenship, because we let anger and fear overpower our Constitution and the principles upon which our country was founded.

At different times in our past we have discriminated against immigrants from China while simultaneously using many Chinese immigrants as close to slave labor to build our railroads.  For awhile we discriminated against the Irish who fled Ireland for America to escape a famine. Later we discriminated against immigrants from Eastern Europe and from Italy.  These examples of bigotry were some what moderated by the fact that, until the late 1900;s we had a sparsely populated frontier to which the victims of our prejudices could flee.  That frontier has now been closed for over a hundred years and is no longer available.

Tu summarize, we have had several examples to warn us against wholesale mistreatment of people because of generalized classifications.  We should not add another chapter of hateful abuse to our already embarrassing past.  Simple rules should guide us:  Punishment should be administered based on individual wrongdoing; not like an indiscriminate scythe, wounding the innocent along with the guilty, the children along with their parents and the worthy like the unworthy.  Children should not be denied the stability of a family.  Long time residents should not be treated the same as recent arrivals.

Statements like “They are all here illegally, therefore they are all equally guilty of a crime and all should be treated as criminals.” is the idiotic declaration  of a simpleton; not a person with the mental equipment necessary for serious matters.

The Gathering Storm

Today, February 21, 2017, we have the first evidence that, having had his first ham-handed effort graded a failure by four federal judges, President Trump is revising his directions, while still, like a four-year-old child snuffling after a scolding, insisting that his rejected effort was perfectly crafted and expertly executed.  This is not encouraging  because it indicates he is uneducable, even by experience.

I have not read the new Executive Order but, based on the commentary about it, it apparently preserves the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)  exemption in one place but, in another paragraph seems to call for deportation to all who have broken the law.   It is not clear whether “broken the law” in this context means committed a crime after arriving in the U.S. or committed a crime by crossing the border into the U.S. without legal permission.

Conclusion

Regardless of the ambiguity of the new Executive Order, its application to the fate of the eleven million undocumented people in our country will depend on the way the Justice Department and the other government agencies involved in the enforcement of our immigration laws exercise discretion concerning the timing and choices based on that Order.  If they proceed, willynilly, sending ill trained armed officers into communities all over our country with vague orders to arrest and detain everyone suspected of being here illegally, America will become a dsreputable example of a zombie nation, where the imposition of punishment and harm are meted out without regard to justice, fairness, rationality or morality.

We have already tarnished our reputation by turning a blind eye toward the abuse of Palestinians by the Netanyahu government in Israel.  If we apply that same level of abuse to millions of men, women and children living in our own country, we will forfeit any right to boast of our standing as a beacon of justice and hope for the rest of the world.

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