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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Infinity

My biggest intellectual failure is my inability to understand infinity in both space and time.  I have been to school and I definitely understand the meaning of the two concepts, but I can not honestly get my head around either one.  Were I in a classroom, I could repeat the definitions, but out here in real life, I instinctively seek limits that I increasingly believe do not actually exist.  Were I to accept infinity, it would revolutionize the way in which I look at what is happening all around me on this small, spinning rock.  I would see an imbalance between humans and resources that was being "corrected," just as every imbalance before this one has been corrected.  There are too many mouths consuming a finite amount of "resources" and the correction necessary is built into the makeup of the individual human.  Greed and fear being two of the more important elements.  What we call "intelligence" being a close second.  We humans have invented the tools necessary to dramatically correct the planet's overpopulation "problem" and our emotional state is encouraging us to use them.  The chatter that clutters communication is governed by "greed and fear" while the forces that will significantly reduce the overpopulation "problem" are driven by "intelligence."  If "we" do thus and so, "they" will have to accept our wishful thinking and the inevitable failure will, because of our "intelligence," result in a major reduction in the number of mouths.

A two bit Russian KGB colonel is ridiculously facing off with a worn out, rudderless American politician in a corner of Europe, while a constantly changing mix of ethnic hoodlums are disrupting life throughout Africa, an authoritarian Chinese leader is seeking to establish himself as the new arbiter of things international, a fairly large group of religious zealots are trying to win a millennia old conflict in the Middle East and organized crime is taking over ever larger parts of the Americas (to include this one).  The details are infinitely complex and all-absorbing for the eight billion mouths presently eating enough food to keep seven billion people alive.  Our "intelligence" seeks to address the fundamentals of the situation with the thought that the real problem is climate change caused by too much carbon dioxide being released into the air.  Not too many mouths.  Too much carbon.  This approach not only does not address the actual situation, it intensifies the effort to engage in conflict.  Unless we wake up, you and I are going to trigger a significant reduction in the number of mouths eating whatever can be grown on the rock after nuclear war has changed growing conditions.

None of that matters to us because we have to determine the age of the fetus, the proper use of pronouns, the proper price of gasoline, and exact phrasing of the sign on the bathroom door, while, all the while, protecting our individual sensitivities.  If I were not stuck in middle of it all, it would be outrageously hilarious.  My present pessimism derives from the impossibility of changing the course of events, because we are caught up in a process that is infinitely bigger than our minds are capable of managing.  The world will change and it will continue whether we humans manage to keep up adequately to remain a part of it or not.  The next question is who or what is really in charge.  I, of course, do not know if God exists, but I currently suspect that it doesn't make any real difference.  Infinity is enough all by itself to explain whatever happens on this little tiny, insignificant, spinning rock. 

All of this will sail right over the average reader's head and I can't do anything about it right now because I have to go get more milk for my morning coffee.  All eight billion of us are literally too busy with the minutia of daily life to save ourselves.

Friday, June 14, 2024

To be continued when I have a moment in an otherwise busy life...

 There are eight billion people on earth at the present time.  The necessary resources to sustain life, let alone provide a decent existence are not equally distributed among these people.  Poverty is rife throughout the world and massive numbers of people are abandoning their homelands for refuge in one or another wealthier country.  The massive numbers of people involved in these movements puts additional strain on all of the recipient countries.  

There are, today, major conflicts going on in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  Another major conflict threatens to break out in Asia.  These conflicts magnify every single problem facing every single person on earth.  A coalition of sorts has developed between China, Russia and Iran, all of which are declared enemies of the United States.  All of these enemies are nuclear powers.  All of the alliances that include the United States are in decline.  The United States, itself, is questioning all of its’ traditions, history, social structure and the world sees the confusion even more clearly than do the people living in the United States.

Everywhere in the world, technology is replacing human thought in determining the nature of more and more aspects of our interrelationship with one another.  Crime is replacing law and order in more and more of the world to include right here in the United States.

To be continued…  Sorry, not today.  Too busy...  I do, however, have a question that keeps plaguing me.  If two nuclear powers go to war with each other, can that conflict be resolved short of an all out nuclear exchange?

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Alcoholism and Politics.

I do not consider myself to be a connoisseur, nor do I think of myself as a lush. I enjoy beer and wine and, over a relatively long lifetime, have consumed my share of both. In a previous incarnation, alcohol was part of my professional life. In Thailand, and Turkey, and Okinawa, and Germany I would go to two or three "events" every evening of every week of the year and the consumption of alcohol was part of the drill. I had to keep my wits about me and had to manage my intake so I would usually select the inevitable martini from one of the early trays that circulated. I vehemently dislike gin and so, no matter how absorbed I was in my conversation, I would avoid over-drinking. Every time I would bring the glass close, I would get a whiff of the evil brew and move it away from my face. I found it a lot easier to sell America to foreigners if I was sober and they were tipsy.

I also believe that "spirits" can be useful in "breaking the ice," and I have, on several occasions, employed them for that purpose. The most theatrical was in Viet Nam, when I broke up a lynching by landing a helicopter on top of the event and taking the would be ring leaders into a bunker and convincing them that I would kill them if anything happened to my colleague. A 45 pistol and a bottler of Hennessy VSOP played important roles in the drama. Unlike gin, I really like cognac, and at the height of my debauchery, I was able to consume large amounts of it without noticeable effect. (My Vietnamese colleague was not killed, but I lost track of him after Saigon collapsed.)

All this as prelude to my belief that both drunkenness and abstinence are harmful to life in the real world. It is but one more example of human stupidity. Some of us think that giving ourselves to the bottle is acceptable and others believe that all will be well if we manage to avoid the evil brew. I see politics exactly the same way. Some of us take conservatism to ridiculous ends while others bask in imaginary liberalism. If I were able, I would grab a bottle of wine, gather all humans and move us to a cave deep in the earth, where I would put an atomic bomb on the table and inform them that I would blow them up if they did not find a way to get along.   (If I were younger it would be cognac, but the message would be exactly the same.)

Monday, May 13, 2024

No one is going to win that war.

Press reporting indicates that President Biden has access to information about the whereabouts of Hamas leadership that he will not share with Israel unless they renounce their all-out attack on Hamas militants in Rafa.

I have not talked to an Israeli official for over forty years, and I find the "news reporting" in both Israel and here in this country to be little more than thinly disguised, disgustingly partisan, opinion pieces.  During intense conflict, it is always difficult to identify the difference between fact and fiction.  Having said that, I do have a very strong hunch as to what is going on in both countries.  Israel is currently led by a group of people who adamantly believe that they must destroy Hamas as a fighting force.  This country is led by an ignorant, cowardly, vacillating, over-the-hill politician who is trying to get reelected.  I believe that the leadership in both countries is convinced that they can manipulate political opinion in the other country to their advantage.  You and I should read what passes as news in this country with this in mind.

President Biden's position on the conflict is, of course, ludicrous and can change in a heart beat if one or another public opinion poll in this country demands it.  If true, the fact that we are withholding critical information as to the whereabouts of Hamas leadership is appalling, but, unfortunately, also very possible, given this Administration's wrong-headed approach to our relationship with Hamas backer Iran.  On the other hand, Israel's determination to destroy Hamas is either unrealistic or openly vitriolic, depending on your basic orientation vis-a-vis the age old conflict between Muslim and Jew.  Every single Jew and Arab being killed today in Gaza will inevitably be building blocks for the next Arab/Israeli conflict down the road a bit, as all of their children grow up with very powerful hate a fundamental part of their education.

I see Hamas as being evil-incarnate, and I completely understand Israeli anger.  I reluctantly agree with the effort to eliminate Hamas as a security threat and, were I in a position to do so, would provide Israel with everything that they need in the way of munitions to finish that very difficult task.  I would also reiterate my belief that a long term improvement in the security situation will require rapprochement between Jew and Arab.  I see the Abraham Accords and the possibility of improved relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem as being an obvious step in the right direction, but even if some sort of rapprochement between Jew and Sunni Arab can be accomplished, we are still faced with the Sunni-Shia split within the Arab World and a militant Teheran increasingly aligned with China and Russia in a nuclear armed coalition hostile to our interests.

Americans have to get it through our thick heads that the next world war will include the use of nuclear weapons on a large scale and that no one is going to win that war.  Those weapons already exist and are primed for use anytime one or another idiot so decides.  I argue that fact is too important to be left to politicians.  I argue that it requires your and my attention.  The immature children and mindless activists currently acting out on college campuses all over the country indicates that the next generation is not going to be smart enough to play any useful role.  I increasingly believe that you and I are the last best hope for sanity and the fact that you refuse to hear me is even more depressing than listening to Trump and Biden and their supporters trade adolescent taunts.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

We are right. They are wrong.

The Washington Post has an article about the forthcoming national election in Mexico, out today, that says that "more than two dozen candidates have been killed leading up to the June 2 vote; hundreds have dropped out of the race. More than 400 have asked the federal government for security details. The campaign of intimidation and assassination is putting democracy itself at risk."  All of this is, of course, part of the individual cartels wanting to ensure that local officials are friendly to their interests.  Democracy in Mexico is not at risk, it is in the process of being destroyed, and the exact same thing is happening in other parts of Central and South America as well.  The most egregious case being Haiti, where open warfare has been ongoing for some time.  Add to this situation, all-out industrial war in Ukraine and Gaza, and Radical Islam on the march throughout Northern Africa and you have too much of the world involved in too intense warfare.  The idea that we are seriously considering another such conflict in East Asia is beyond stupid.  All of this while here inside what used to be the beacon of democracy, we are at each other's throats and in the process of destroying our own democracy.  South American cartels have a foothold in our urban centers, our police structure is in tatters, and our court system is crumbling.  The kiss of death may very well be that too many Americans seriously doubt the integrity of our elections, which will, if not genuinely corrected, inevitably lead to more mindless demonstrations, rioting and, eventually, actual insurrection.

I ask myself why and conclude that it is because society has changed not only here in this country, but throughout the world.  Society.  Not laws.  Not dictators.  Not crooks.  Society.  I believe that governments are created not by individual leaders, but by large groups of followers and that these followers generate the leaders that they willingly follow.  The fighting that erupts is the result of friction between the groups as articulated by the leaders.  Articulated, NOT given birth.  The America that I was born into went through the horrors of the Second World War and American society was formed by those people.  That society elected leadership that honestly tried to create a better world that would eschew violence.  They failed abysmally and the American people turned away from policies that tried to lift others and increasingly focused on ways to maximize our own prosperity.  In the process, we also grew used to being number one.  We took it as our due.  Others around the world came to resent our dominance and developed leadership that chose to confront our dominant position in the world.  You and I responded by ignoring and/or minimizing their success.  The idea that we ignore China's success in allying itself with Iran while simultaneously destroying the Uighur community inside China is absolutely amazing.  Hell, we don't even discuss the fact that both India and Pakistan are participating in BRICKS.  We save our anger for Mexico that permits the Chinese to sell us the illicit drugs that we American citizens are demanding so that we can better fuel the imaginary world that we live in.

We are at the point where our antagonists are growing stronger and we are growing weaker.  Coalitions are emerging that unite disparate societies around their dislike of us while we increasingly seek to isolate ourselves from "foreign entanglements."  The most dramatic recent example being Afghanistan, but there are a plethora of other examples.  Examples ignored by us as being inconsistent with the pretend world that we wish existed.  Haiti is where Mexico is headed and our only real concern is that it is no longer safe to go surfing in Baja.  We have more important things to consider.  We have to improve society's use of pronouns, we have to get the price of gasoline down while simultaneously protecting the climate, we have to increase the number of potato chips that money-grubbing companies put in their potato chip bags, we have to decide how old the fetus should be when we snuff it, and we have to ensure that everybody respects our feelings.

The fact that there is open warfare all around us is the other's fault and has nothing to do with us, because we are minding our own business and wishing everyone well.  We are the best educated people in the entire history of mankind, we are the beacon of democracy, and, most important of all, we are way too nice to be any part of the problem.  Our cities are really not as bad as people say they are even though business is moving out and citizens are too.  We have become suburbanites, working from home, buying our needs on line, and socializing with each other on Zoom and Social Media.  We wear our masks as a badge of honor and shun those that would see the world differently than do we.  We are not prejudiced.  We are right.

Tik Tok.  Tik Tok.

Friday, May 10, 2024

I am not s fan of President Biden's foreign policy.

 I am not s fan of President Biden's foreign policy or of any of the individuals involved in making and implementing it, but I see the greater problem to be the ignorance of the American people about the world around us.  That ignorance permits the likes of Biden and Trump to pursue poorly conceived foreign adventures, many of which are diametrically opposed to one another.  We choose presidents, not because they have the better policy vis-a-vis whichever foreign country, but rather how we think that they will approach abortion, our economy, domestic crime, and assorted other domestic issues that touch our lives directly.  Foreign policy is dismissed with the charge that a given candidate is either "weak" or "strong."

I increasingly see the on-going disintegration of American society as being a significant argument that democracy is unable to deal with success.  A success that breeds cowardice, laziness, sloth, greed, xenophobia and wishful thinking.  If Americans were to live up to the responsibilities of democracy, we would perforce be more interested in the welfare of our fellow human.  Although you and I don't see what is happening to us, the rest of the world does, and they are actively looking for different leadership.  The political scientist in me finds all of this fascinating.  The American in me finds it disgusting.  The price that I pay for admitting my disgust is intellectual shunning by my community.  Again, the political scientist in me finds that too to be fascinating.  I would love to be able to discuss it with Putin and Xi and one or another of the ayatollahs, about whom we know so little.  Particularly Xi, who appears to have thought about it more deeply than any of the rest of our antagonists.  (I would expect a chat with Kim to be psychedelic rather than informative.)

My detractors will say that I favor dictatorship over democracy and that goes a very long way to proving my argument that we are a stupid people.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

From Gaza to Michigan

 My guess is that foreign governments are involved in stimulating and supporting the anti-Israel demonstrations occurring all across this country and spreading to other countries world-wide.  If I were one of our antagonists, I would certainly do so.   I do not, however, believe that the majority of the participants in the various demonstrations are participating because they have knowingly been recruited by foreigners.  I believe that the majority of the students are unsophisticated, naive, good hearted folks, who are genuinely and rightfully aghast at the horrors of the Gaza conflict.  That mental state combined with youthful naiveté and a simplistic understanding of the world, makes them ready followers for skilled agitators, who have been in place long enough to understand and be accepted by their American friends.

The Pro-Hamas apparatus here in this country gives every appearance of being composed of very competent soldiers and sophisticated leaders, dominated by openly Pro-Palestinian activists who have managed to attain legal representation in Congress.  Given that they have obviously been in place for a considerable length of time, I am not surprised to find university instructors and professors among the protestors, nor am I surprised to see American money providing logistic support, even as I remain unclear as to why that is so.  I am jaundiced enough to even understand President Biden’s very real concern that these demonstrations might well cost him the 2024 election.  The severity of that last danger is such that the Biden Administration is currently demanding that Israel stop trying to destroy Hamas.  As a retired Cold Warrior, I give our Palestinian friends kudos for their skill in manipulating us, but were I to be discussing it with them as one professional with another, I would also point out that we are an absurdly easy mark right now, given our WOKE/MAGA mental illness.

As any who have read any of my various articles probably already knows, I am of the belief that our biggest problem is that we are a democratic form of government plagued by an electorate that is incapable of understanding, let alone dealing with the challenges that face us.  It is virtually impossible to conceive of any problem that would not see us divided in half as to how to deal with it, and with both groups offering inadequate tactical solutions to problems that require an intelligent, long term strategy.  Gaza is but one in a very long list of major problems that are falling afoul of this inadequacy.  It is one of the major reasons why our approach to any and all problems is tactical rather than strategic.  In my mind Hamas is a tactical flareup in a vastly more important issue - Radical Islam’s age old war with Judaism.  The critical issue facing America is not a bunch of naive citizens rioting on American campuses, nor even the plight of millions of Arabs and Jews caught in the current spate of fighting throughout the Middle East.  The more important issue is Arab-Jewish relations - wolrdwide.  Not from the river to the sea, but rather from Gaza to Michigan.

PS:  Teheran runs Hamas.  Teheran does not give a fig about Gaza.  Teheran is on the cusp of being a nuclear power.  Its leadership is dominated by apocalyptic thinking.  The reason that Teheran triggered October 7 was because of Sunni consideration of the Abraham Accords.  Raffa is not the critical battle, nor is the recent exchange of missiles between Jerusalem and Teheran, nor is the sit-in on whichever American campus, nor is the way Michigan votes in November.  Every single bit of that is tactical.  The strategic situation will not long be impacted one way or the other by the way in which we resupply Jerusalem's attack on Hamas.  The critical need is to find a way to convince Teheran's version of Shia Islam to stop trying to win the war with Judaism.  To think that can be done solely with guns and missiles is the height of stupidity, as is the pie-in-the-sky hope that it can be done without them.  They clearly have a role, but my concern is that we do not give enough thought to what happens when the shooting dies down.  We have the attention span of a gnat.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

...to be continued.

Today’s news reports are talking about President Biden ordering a pause in arms deliveries to Israel.  Earlier press reports spoke of the United States slow walking arms deliveries to Ukraine and others spoke of our failure to deliver military equipment to Taiwan that they had bought and paid for.  It would appear that we are using our military aid to shape our allies’ actions.  This is not a new phenomenon.  It happens all of the time and is baked into the relationships that exist between us and our allies - all of them.  President Trump employs a version of it when he insists that he will withdraw from America’s long standing support of Europe, if European nations do not spend more on the common defense.  


I have been personally involved in a variety of similar efforts back when I was in government.  The question is not whether it happens or not.  The question is whether it is effective or not.  It is not a particularly pleasant experience in which to be involved.  The most painful example that I was personally involved in was Viet Nam.  I was there twice.  Once when we were engaged in pressing the war against North Viet Nam and once when we were in the process of abandoning South Viet Nam.  Doing the latter tour, I watched our allies struggle with inadequate amounts of ammunition as the North moved south.  It was a painful situation, particularly since I had earlier pledged my country’s support of their freedom and been part of the education of their military to fight battles according to our war making formulas.  Those formulas are based on enormous volumes of artillery fire and are therefore very vulnerable to manipulation by anyone with their hand on the resupply spigot.


Viet Nam was an education brought home by the fact that I had poured my heart into the American effort to build a strong South Viet Nam and then had been a principal in the disgusting abandonment of those that we had pledged to help.  I imagine that there are a lot of Americans that came out of Afghanistan that have similar feelings and I am relatively certain that many currently involved in Ukraine and Israel do as well.  Those of us that are back here in CONUS clearly do not understand any of this.  There is no way that anyone that has not been there can comprehend the magnitude of the injustice that political leadership engages in routinely.  Not just American political leadership - every nation’s leadership - no matter the form of government.  Some take to it readily, some reluctantly, but all engage in it, all the time.  Morality is never a consideration.  The human mind is capable of side stepping morality whenever necessary.


To be continued…  

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Is suicide a more apt danger than annihilation?

Victor Davis Hanson has a new book out in which he argues that we may well be under threat of annihilation.  I really like Hanson and find myself worrying about similar things, as does he, but with less historic examples supporting my various arguments.  I do not follow his every word, but I do listen when I happen to run across one or another of his writings or interviews.  I am not scholar enough to argue his various historical references, but I am able to follow his modern arguments.  I don’t always agree with him.  The most recent example being his argument that the recent missile exchange between Iran and Israel might have deterred Teheran in some way.  I think that it did, indeed, once again, expose a huge technological deficit on Tehran’s part, but I see that as being quite obviously inadequate to deter.  I, in fact, see it as being wishful thinking on Hanson’s part and that surprises me.  If I understand the thrust of his new book, however, I am in total agreement and have been sputtering about it, less articulately, for several years. 

It is my belief that we are engaged in total war with several societies that are more vigorous than are we, and the balance between us is shifting unfavorably, because we, you and I, insist on ignoring the external threat as well as our rapidly accelerating inability to deal with it.  We are, instead, focused on comparatively minor internal issues and are letting those arguments tear our society to shreds, opening the door wider for our foreign antagonists.  I identify the primary external threat as being Russia, China, Radical Islam, and population, listed in ascending order of complexity.  I see the primary weakness, on our part, as being our inability to understand the threat posed, because we, you and I, refuse to discuss substantive problems, insisting instead that the only real problem is that the wrong tribe is in control of government and our vaunted democracy is under threat.


The result of this mindlessness, on our part, is a dithering America, a resurgent Russia, an emerging China, the spreading cancer of Radical Islam, and far too many people struggling for access to the limited amount of the materials necessary to sustain life.  As to our democracy, it is already well on its way to oblivion, primarily because the American people are no longer willing to do their part, insisting instead on blindly following whichever tribe happens to be dominant in their political division of the country.  Because our grandparents and parents gave us a vibrant economy and a dominant military position in the post Second World War world, we have grown used to being number one, and accept world leadership as our God given right.  Look at us from outside of the imaginary lines that we draw around our small part of earth, and you see an America dominated by greed, cowardice, and wishful thinking.  Our antagonists read us differently, depending on each of their own social/cultural/political peculiarities, but they increasingly share a commonality in their foreign policy objectives.  A coalition of antagonists is growing more unified, while our parents and grandparents’ coalition of allies is disintegrating.


I have never used the term annihilation in any of my arguments, but it is indeed an apt description of what I see befalling us.  Should we trigger an all out nuclear exchange with one or another of our emerging antagonists, it could conceivably be literal annihilation, but even if we manage to avoid that horror, I believe that it is increasingly probable that America will be culturally annihilated, unless we somehow manage to regroup.  I contend that the emergence of nuclear weapons has fundamentally changed the challenge facing us and we give every indication that we, you and I, will continue to ignore that fact of life.  Because we are a democracy, that means that we will continue to select leadership that wears the exact same blinders.  Were I erudite enough, I might try to argue with Hanson that suicide was a more relevant danger than annihilation.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Swimming upriver is harder than going with the flow.

 Swimming upriver is harder than going with the flow and it is easier to rationalize defeat than it is to pursue the dream.  Why bother when everybody else is telling you to shut up and conform?  Why risk being shunned?  Far easier and infinitely smarter to accommodate to the inevitable, sooner rather than later, and reap the rewards of conformity.  Granted, the rules change over time, but the process is gradual enough that it is simple to “fit in” and change one’s values along with the rest of society.  The fact that everybody else is doing it makes it somewhat easier to submerge the occasional twinge of doubt.

But which reality should one permit to shape them?  Choosing between the alternatives is baffling to those who mistakenly question authority.  Better to tuck one’s head and learn the catechism of your particular group.  But you ask, how does one sensibly select the right group to adopt as their own?  Not hard.  Merely conform to those around you, wherever you happen to be.  If you find that to be too difficult, simply move to another geographic location - either physically or mentally - and get on with life.  Understand that nothing beyond your own immediate intellectual and physical geography is relevant to your own life.  Putting dinner on the table for yourself and your family is hard enough without insisting on everything being fair and just for everybody else, particularly if they live outside of the imaginary lines that you draw around yourself and your group.


Should you be intent on helping the rest of the world understand life the same way that you do, it is admirable to become involved in your tribe’s efforts to convince the rest of humanity to live according to your rules.  The more intense your feelings, the more effective you will be in this endeavor.  In this regard, it is critical that you not waste a whole lot of time or effort in trying to understand the other.  Stay focused on your own tribe’s interests and rigorously eschew contact with any of the other.  Raise your voice, intensify your effort, even to the use of violence if necessary.  It is critical that your side wins.  The future of humanity depends on it.  Rigorously ignore any who preach discussion, compromise, and understanding.  They are merely trying to advance the lives of the other and are willing to sacrifice “our” interests to accomplish that irrational objective.


The beauty of the above advice is that it can be applied to whichever group you decide best reflects your personal interests.  It is a universal recipe for “success” in your personal life as well as your country’s position in the world.  It also goes a very long way to explain my own lack of success in life.  I mistakenly thought that enough was enough, and obviously did not grasp the critical importance of more.  I was so dumb that I thought the cultural melting pot was good social science.  I was blind to the need to achieve diversity by emphasizing race.  I thought that I understood the difference between man and woman and did not know that the age of the fetus was so critical in the decision as to whether it was alright to snuff it.  I do admit that it is easier to get straight on all of these confusing issues today than it was back in the dark days when we used to talk to each other.  I applaud the brilliant concept of the mask as visible proof that we refuse to talk to each other and I applaud the fundamental changes that we are making in our political system moving it away from ineffective democracy toward relentless authoritarianism.  Artificial intelligence is coming along just in time to save us from the inadequacies of human intelligence and improvements in the internet will facilitate our spreading our wisdom to the ends of the earth.  Given the existence of nuclear weapons, perhaps even to the end of the human experiment.


Tik Tok.  Tik Tok.


Sunday, May 5, 2024

Tik Tok, Tik Tok.

 Change is happening faster than I can accommodate to it.  The easiest place to see it is in the world of cyber whatever.   I was well into senility when the internet was created, and I am having enormous difficulty keeping up with routine administrative/technological changes in my various cyber devices.  I force myself to keep trying, but I increasingly dislike the effort.  My problem is that I remember a simpler time that I much prefer.  My younger acquaintances were born into the cyber world and take it for granted.  As a result, they adapt to it more readily than do I.  I suggest that is one of the principal reasons that they are more and more divorced from what I think of as the real world.  To that extent, it is understandable that they and I do not agree on the best way to resolve various problems between people.


NBC News has an interesting article out today that describes the network of criminal gangs that control the American immigration system.  The internet is central to that control, as various criminal organizations use it to control sections of the smuggling route into this country.  Immigrants are seamlessly handed off from one group to another all along their route, rarely interacting with them physically and paying for their services with their phones.  Sometimes governments are involved and sometimes only criminal cartels, but there is a system in place that stretches to every corner of the world and enables any and all dissatisfied individuals to travel to the promised land here in America.  I presume that a similar system exists to facilitate illegal entry into Western European countries.  Our response is to see the phenomenon as being either advantageous or disadvantageous to our own personal lives and we clothe our assessment with noble thoughts and endless chatter, but we do not do anything to change the basic situation.


Washington’s response is to assign the problem to the Vice President and the Border Police and then try to forget it as being irresolvable.  As a result, we are seeing virtually every stress point in American society under increasing strain.  Conservatives generally favor blocking access.  Liberals generally favor more “humanitarian” solutions that accept huge numbers of new immigrants into this country.  Because we do not have enough infrastructure to accommodate our existing population, the influx adds significantly to the disfunction of our urban areas where the immigrants tend to concentrate initially.  That, in turn, has led to an exodus out of our cities to our suburbs on the part of the segment of our population that controls society.  (Here again, the internet has made that possible as an increasing number of us work from home.).  


Unbelievably, the overall response to the challenge presented by all and sundry is to dither mindlessly.  Conservatives insist on closing the border.  Liberals insist on accepting all who claim, rightly or wrongly, that their life in their home country is intolerable.  Nobody suggests that we should make the rest of the world livable so as to stop the mindlessness that is destroying us.  I do indeed worry about another 911 implemented by malcontents being inserted into our country by malevolent groups, but I see a much greater danger that is dramatically contributing to the ongoing degradation of our lives.  We are bringing far too many strangers into this country far too rapidly for us to absorb them into society.  The result is additional disagreement about virtually everything imaginable - from the price of eggs to the proper use of pronouns.  Arguing about foreign injustices in foreign lands threatening to further harm this country is but one of the results.


Were I influential enough, I would close the border, remove all illegal entrants, and reinvigorate a program designed to help the rest of the world live a better life in their own part of the world.  My success would depend on our ability to achieve real progress in making other countries successful economically and that would risk angering conservative protectionists among us in exactly the same way that we are today worried about the “rise of China.”   More and more, I see our greatest problems to be intellectual and physical lethargy, stimulated by wishful thinking and intellectual cowardice.  We are used to being on top and dislike the thought that we might have to hustle to stay there.  World leadership is our rightful place and insurgents had just better understand that or else.  Wherever and whenever all of this becomes too obvious, we retreat into the make-believe world that is on our phones.  Tik Tok.  Tik Tok.

Friday, May 3, 2024

I see what is happening in Gaza and Ukraine to be horrible, unnecessary tragedies.

 I see what is happening in Gaza and Ukraine to be horrible, unnecessary tragedies.  I also see public opinion in this country to be grossly naive and uninformed.  Our inadequate support of Ukraine is unconscionable and our criticism of Israeli war-fighting tactics forgets that we fire-bombed German and Japanese cities not that long ago, and then turned around and nuked two Japanese cities full of people so as to avoid the human and financial cost of invading the Japanese homeland.  What Israel is doing in Gaza is child’s play in comparison to what red blooded Americans did to Japanese and German civilians.  The protestations currently disrupting our colleges and universities are nothing more than intellectual masturbation on the part of some very nice, ignorant children, stimulated by.some nasty political operatives, with the intent to contribute to the destruction of America.  The fact that we, you and I, can not see that fact of life is what is wrong.


I am not a great believer in the efficacy of our education system, but these protestations are clearly disrupting it.  Were I influential, I would use police to stop any and all illegal transgressions and then take legal action against anyone who damaged public or private property.  I would also encourage a civil, intelligent discussion of the various international issues that are causing so much very real pain around the world.  I would invite anyone who wished to express themselves peacefully to do so in open debate with anyone who held a contrary view.  Society’s acceptance of violence in lieu of debate is an extremely dangerous degradation of our political system in addition to being stupid.  Were I invited to participate in the discussion, I would argue that America is not pulling its weight in world affairs and that is because we, you and I, are refusing to understand, repeat understand, the very difficult problems that face humanity everywhere on this very small rock spinning in space.  Instead of understanding, we seek to blame, which convinces us that we are the one that is right and “the other” is wrong.  Given that stupidity, conflict is inevitable and war is never, repeat never, prosecuted according to rules.  War is, in fact, far nastier than any very nice American powder puff can possibly imagine.  We can not even cope with someone using a hostile pronoun when talking to or about us, how in the world can we be expected to understand what happens to our thought process in war.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Life is a group effort.

 I continue to identify Radical Islam as one of the most serious problems facing humanity and the Islamic State is currently it's most virulent manifestation.  Our various security organizations are currently warning of another terrorist attack on our homeland, similar to the recent ISIS attack on the Moscow gathering.  Given the ridiculous open border policy that is currently in place, I do not disparage those warnings, but I am even more concerned that it is a lack of interest within the American public that permits the continued existence of Radical Islamist thought.  As is the case with so many of our other challenges, we are prone to focus on the superficial rather than the fundamental.  A group of idiots in Central Asia or the Middle East decide to stage a brutal attack on one or another country, and we harness ourselves to get retribution.  This involves killing a bunch of “militants” and blowing up one or another of their hideouts in some remote part of the world, followed by a bunch of speechifying that reminds me of the mindless taunts that followed one of my various childhood fist fights.  


We killed Bin Ladin and assorted other radicals, declared that we had won the war with ISIS, and are currently knocking down almost every single missile thrown at us by any and all Iranian proxies, but we still have not given a lick of thought to figuring out how to address Radical Islam - the idea.  Until we do, we are, at best, eliminating one leader or another while strengthening radical thought among an increasingly large group of people about whom we know virtually nothing.  It is only a matter of time before that ignorance stimulates hate toward us to erupt into violence again.  Back in the day, when Christian Knights rode into the Middle East on white horses we were engaged in the exact same strategy.  More than a millennia has gone by and we haven’t learned a single thing, except how to kill more people with more powerful, longer range weapons.  Humans are clever, small minded, greedy, cowards and our deficit in intelligence is going to get us into serious nuclear trouble.  I give you that the population problem is even more serious than Radical Islam, but I do not see nuclear war as being the most intelligent way to reduce overcrowding.


I see the current struggle in Gaza to be the culmination of several millennia of very similar misadventures and the solution currently being pursued to be more rationale for future bloodbaths.  The horrible situation that millennia of stupidity has put us in is that we do have to respond to events such as 911, October 7, and the Moscow Concert Hall attack with force.  What is lacking is any thought about the severity needed in our response, its’ target, and what we should do after that response.  How we manage peace determines the likelihood of war.   I firmly believe that it requires three things.  Maintenance of the strongest military in the world, the will to use that military, and a heartfelt interest in the well-being of all humans.  It is not adequate to continue to kill “leaders” with very fancy weapons from “over the horizon.”  Nor is it adequate to put a bunch of “radical insurrectionists” in rickety compounds in the middle of a desert.  Every single one of them has grandparents that were killed by “the other’s” grandparents and far too many of them have grandchildren that are already plotting revenge for the misdeeds of “the other.”.  In as much as I am one of “the other,” I have a very real interest in what we are planning to do about the mess that we are in.


I completely agree with those that warn about serious tactical problems such as our open border, our inadequate military, and the ignorant daze that purposely clouds our thinking as concerns our next tactical move in Ukraine, Gaza and Taiwan, but I see our complete lack of interest in developing a viable strategy to deal with the larger issues that endanger us to be the more fundamental problem.  As long as we fail to have a strategy to deal with the imbalance between resources and mouths, we will face the threat that one or the other regional conflict will boil over into nuclear war.  The details will always be different, but the basic threat remains the same.  In the past, we could fight a war with somebody and achieve peace for a time, but the nature of nuclear war has made that “solution” inadequate.  Today, everybody loses including you and me and our kids.  Nuclear war will not only kill a lot of people, it will also poison the very earth that we need to sustain life.


Unraveling the mess that humanity is in is going to be difficult, but it is possible if we could get unanimity as to the best way forward.  That requires intelligent thought, compromise, and perseverance and we will not ever accomplish those things unless we start talking to each other civilly about real issues.  Hiding in our intellectual basement, living in the artificial world that we are building in our “devices,” parroting the words of our tribal leaders, and explaining endlessly why “the other” is wrong is not going to cut it.  If humanity is to survive the invention of nuclear weapons, we must get out of the intellectual basement and start thinking about ways to build unity of purpose.  If you say that is too heavy a lift, you are accepting defeat.  If you say that is somebody else’s problem, you are accepting defeat.  The only way to “win” is to figure out how everybody can “win” and that requires everybody to be in the exact same game.  Quit hiding from your responsibility as a member of a democracy, let alone as a member of the human race.  Your non-involvement in thought is what makes both Biden and Trump possible, just as other populations in other parts of the world make Putin, Xi, and the ayatollahs possible.  Life is a group effort, whether we like it or not, and trying to hide in the basement is exceptionally dangerous as well as infinitely stupid.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Photography as a search for Alternative Solutions

 To say that photography has changed during my lifetime is, of course, a ridiculous understatement.  When I was a kid, magazines like Life, National Geographic, and their ilk, were on the table in front of the sofa.  I inhaled them from early childhood and grew up studying Karsh, Stieglitz, Adams and the other great “large format” photographers.  I was an advocate of the "Zone System," and "Moon Over Hernandez" was the masterpiece that I aspired to understand and emulate.  As an adult, I built a darkroom into my home, complete with all of the vile liquids that were an essential part of the process.  I still love black and white, even though I rarely use it today, color being the norm, rather than the exotic.  I almost never actually print a photograph on paper or aluminum anymore, the internet being today’s “canvas.”  Today’s photographs move as often as not, and video is no longer the realm of the professional.  Mom records her kid’s every expression and the family cat has gotten used to being the star of stories on the family Facebook page.  My biggest photographic challenge today is deciding whether I should use my digital camera or my phone for my photography, and I am reluctantly edging up to deciding whether I should use my phone instead of my computer to edit my photographs because I could do the work wherever I happened to be at the moment.  I no longer have boxes full of negatives.  Instead, I have hard drives full of image files, and the immediate question is whether those hard drives have to be on my desk, or if it is acceptable to store my files on somebody else's hard drives in the “cloud.”  Where I used to “dodge” and “burn” an emerging image sloshing in a vile liquid, under a dim red light, in a smelly room, I, today, cut and paste with the flick of a mouse almost anywhere I happen to be, whether there is light around me and my “devices” or not.


I continue to chaff at conventional wisdom regarding all things, including photography, and I welcome the expansion of the group of people engaged in it, because it stimulates this particular form of communication.  I believe that communication is essential to civilization.  The sum of all of the photographs being produced all over the world also says a great deal about the individuals and the societies that are creating them.  It is my belief that the human attention span is becoming shorter and shorter and I see the current fascination with today’s snappy “magazines” like Instagram and Tik Tok to be a commentary on the current state of the human mind.  I see this trend to be contrary to civilization’s best interests because problems are growing in complexity as more and more people crowd into a world of fixed dimensions and finite resources.  I remember Cappa’s Second World War photography as being dramatically different from anything I had seen as a kid, whereas, in today’s world, imagery of war is routine fare on the evening news and the morning Facebook feed.  It is, in fact, so pervasive that it encourages people living in one or another alternative universe to believe that they understand war.  It is my contention that social media’s use of photography is an accurate insight into each of the individuals posting it and the sum total of it is the most accurate insight we have of our society, writ large.


From time to time I have been asked to teach photography and I have on several occasions tried to do so.  Never was I successful in helping anyone do anything other than improve their technical skills.  It is my belief that the essence of photography, to include video, is to see and understand thoughts, feelings, moods, all sorts of intangible things to include expressions of morality.  The very first thing that I usually do when asked to teach, is to have that person look at a given scene and envision the photograph that he or she would make when photographed from an entirely different angle.  Extremely few people ever grasped the rationale for the exercise and most were unable to “see” the myriad of alternative photographs that were possible, let alone choose the one that best expressed the message that they were trying to communicate.  The majority of them did not have a message in the first place.  They were, in fact, merely “going with the flow.”  I see this as being a manifestation of a far more profound problem facing humanity.  I believe that the vast majority of us are unable to see alternative solutions to the complicated challenges facing the eight billion of us trying to figure out how to live together peacefully.


PS:  I should also note that I rebel at almost all photographic rules.  I, in fact, see them as being analogous to human prejudices, but that is a discussion for another day.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

I understand that I am odd man out.

 There is currently an enormous amount of interest in the anti-Israel demonstrations that are taking place in various colleges and universities around the nation.  I know nothing more than what I glean from press reports, but my guess is that the demonstrations are generated by a mix of genuine concern for the plight of the Palestinians assisted by a healthy amount of outside support for the demonstrations.  The vast majority of us, irregardless of our position on the struggle between Hamas and Israel, are, or should be concerned about the adverse impact of the demonstrations on the social fabric of America.  We should understand that the vast majority of the individuals involved in the various demonstrations are driven by their emotions, stimulated by a partisan press, and absent any real, first-hand knowledge of the situation in Gaza.  I see similarities between this wave of discontent and previous manifestations of the same psychology in earlier events, each of which led to our abandonment of a people that we had, rightly or wrongly, promised to help.  I was painfully involved in the South Vietnamese instance and well remember the anti-war protestations that swept America.  I also remember the Bishop of Danang asking me “if you were not going to stay, why did you ever come?”  I contend that the people of Afghanistan could ask the same question, and I am not yet convinced that we are not going to give the Ukrainians an opportunity to ask a similar question of us.  Finally, I am not surprised that there are Taiwanese that have similar questions in their minds.  One of which is their former president who is in continuing, direct talks with the Chinese government.  Unbelievable as it might seem right now, I believe that it is not impossible that we might even see America abandon Israel at some point in the future.


What all of this represents is the foreign impact of domestic divisions inside America that are exacerbated by the flip flop nature of our political system.  One tribe gets all hot and bothered about an international situation and takes a stand that is supported by half the country.  Four years later their domestic opposition comes to power and reverses their domestic and foreign policy decisions.  The people sitting in at various colleges and universities today are the early manifestation of the process.  This is as it has always been.  There is very little difference between our national “dialog” today and that preceding World War II, except in the details, and even there, there are more similarities than we understand.  If you drill down into any given confrontation between protestor and authority, I contend that you will usually find an unwillingness to discuss, compromise, and think about the issues.  It is my way or the highway.  True compromise is anathema to both sides and no one is genuinely seeking compromise, let alone solutions,  political expediency being the iron clad rule that governs.


The older that I get, the more disagreements that I see, the more that I believe the problem is not to be found in any particular disagreement.  Rather, it is in the human mind.  Humans are focused on winning rather than losing, instead of focusing on finding a way to coexist harmoniously.  I count myself to have been in that mode my entire life and, because I was born into the richest country in the history of the world, I have been successful more often than not, and I live a life that is better than the vast majority of my human brothers and sisters.  Because I understand that everything that I have can be taken away from me in a heartbeat, I worry about the way my neighbors relate to each other, and I to them.  The reason that I understand my relationship with the rest of humanity that way, is the explanation as to why I am out of step with my fellow human - foreign and domestic alike.  I understand that I am odd man out and my critics are in control of our destiny.  You will forgive me for thinking that to be way too bad.

Friday, April 26, 2024

I am at a loss to decide whether I dislike nuclear weapons or the internet more.

 A decade or so ago, I argued with clients that FaceBook was a waste of time because it was filled with silly stuff, that no serious person would find interesting.  I was eventually forced to acknowledge that “serious people” were indeed “following” trivial “posts” on FaceBook and I very reluctantly became a member of Facebook in order to better reach potential customers for my clients.  Since then, “social media” has blossomed into one of the most, if not the most important way, that people communicate and a diverse collection of “platforms” have evolved to facilitate this form of “communication.”  There is absolutely no question in my mind, but that “social media” is, today, a force that must be reckoned with in all aspects of life to include business and international politics.  I don’t like it, I think that it is contrary to humanity’s best interests, and I believe that it is here to stay, whether we approve of it or not.


The pejorative, cliche image used by the older generation, still critical of social media, is of a youngster with his or her nose in his or her phone.  The odds are extremely high that that child is watching a snappy, short, Tik Tok video.  Tik Tok is, in my mind, the logical evolution of social media generally.  The older generation is seriously concerned about Tik Tok for a number of reasons, to include its’ connection to the Chinese Communist Party, and, although I do not understand how the information collected from Tik Tok is used against us, I too have considerable angst about the connection.  I certainly dislike the overall content of the programing on that platform in this country and can easily see the deleterious effect that it is having on our youth, but I suspect that more fundamental forces are creating the basic situation that Tik Tok is exploiting.  I very much believe that banning Tik Tok, or transferring it to red blooded American ownership, will not resolve the more fundamental problems facing our youth today.  As I understand it, China has a far better way of dealing with Tik Tok - they dictatorially control its content and use it to support their regime.  Dictatorial control is, of course, anathema to all Americans (unless they are members of the tribe that is currently in control).


I acknowledge the problems associated with political dictatorship - both in China and here in this country - but I am even more interested in what is happening to our culture.  I do not pretend to understand all of the forces that shape culture, but it is clear to me that ours is in the process of being dumbed down at an accelerating rate and Tik Tok seems to me to epitomize what is happening.   I say again that I do not believe that Tik Tok is doing it.  I believe that we are, and Tik Tok is merely one of the manifestations of our changing attitudes toward life in general.  Our attention span is, today, measured in milliseconds and that has an impact on absolutely everything, including both national level policies and our individual lives.   The individual feels rewarded when he or she makes or views a “snappy,” ten second video that represents their “thinking” on one or another profound subject.  For reasons that I quite frankly, do not understand, that same individual is unable to digest any message longer than that video, which goes an extraordinarily long way in explaining the over-simplification that exists all through society today.


Now add in the fact that those people that are now entering command positions all through society in this country are increasingly members of this generation and they are facing elites in other countries that are conditioned far differently than are they.  I suggest that it goes an enormous distance in explaining the decline in our position in the world.  While we increasingly concentrate on making snappy videos, "backward" Chinese focus on making stuff and things that they sell to people all over the world, including us, for less money than our products cost.  Our reaction is to try to block their access to market and our challenge is to explain to ourselves why that is consistent with our vaunted “free” enterprise.  We increasingly use social media to explain the world around us to ourselves and that fact goes a very long way in explaining our increasingly simplistic view of that world.  Tik Tok merely takes us another step further than do Facebook and the rest of the tiny minds that pretend to explain the world around us to us.


I say again that we are good people, but we are hell bent on destroying the least bad society that has ever existed in human history and we are actually convinced that we are the most intelligent people that have ever graced the earth.  After all, we invented the internet and social media.  We also invented a lot of other stuff and things to include the atomic bomb.  I am at a loss to decide whether I dislike nuclear weapons or the internet more.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

How many expensive wars has China been engaged in since Mao wrested political control from Chiang Kai Shek, more than half a century ago?

 Secretary of State Blinken is off to China again and President Biden is apparently working the phone with Chinese President Xi, but there is little evidence that Chinese/American relations are improving.  The Chinese are claiming that America is trying to stifle their growth, while Americans are worried about China’s efforts to improve their standing in the world at our expense.  I believe that both sides see the current state of our relationship correctly.  I also believe that the contest is not only between Chinese and American, but also between democracy and dictatorship in a world increasingly dependent on technology.


I consider myself to be very nationalistic and patriotic.  The very first war that I volunteered to participate in was Korea where our principal antagonist was China.  Much of my professional career was devoted to problem sets that involved Chinese aggression.  I am not any smarter than the next guy, but I have thought about China all of my adult life, and I have spent much of it dealing with Chinese aggression.  The Chinese approach to aggression is softer than many others.  It is also more tenacious and far, far more effective.  During my time as Consul General in Udorn, Thailand, our principal interest in the region was the several airbases that we were using to bomb North Viet Nam.  Chinese activity in the region was minimal and we had several large military bases located there.  Today, we are no longer present, and the Chinese operate a facility there that repairs Chinese military vehicles from all over Southeast Asia.


When I was in high school, China was subject to periodic famine and America was the most powerful nation in the entire world.  Today, China is the second largest economy in the world and we, in this country, are tearing ourselves apart with our inane bickering about minutia.  It is relatively easy to point out various tactical errors in dealing with China on the part of our various political leaders, but I contend that the fundamental problem lies with you and me refusing to think about the various factors that are contributing to China’s successes and our failures.  China has knocked us back on our heels and we are trying, ineffectively, to counter-punch.  The proper course of action would be to compete, but we find that course of action to be unattractive.  Because we are a democracy, we reflect the will of the American people and the American people are very used to being in a dominant position in the world - politically and economically.  The vast majority of Americans alive today were born into wealth and have virtually no experience with life in the rest of the world.


China is literally eating our lunch all over the world and our response is to resist inadequately, rather than compete effectively.  Competition would risk lower wages, less profit margin, more work, and better ideas than the other guy - in this case 1.4 billion Chinese that are willing to work hard, think of new ways to do things, steal any and all technology that already exists, and relentlessly support a given policy for decades.  Compare Flip Flop America to the Chinese Communist Party in any of these areas and they win.  In China disobedience in thought or action is immediately punished.  In America diversity in everything is championed.  Think about life as a football game.  One team is unified behind its quarterback.  The other team is bent on finding new ways to create diversity of thought and action.  Very unfortunately, we are increasingly effective in creating the conditions that are destroying us and amazingly we are adamant in our conviction that because some of us vote every couple of years we will prevail.


PS:  how many expensive wars has China been engaged in since Mao wrested political control from Chiang Kai Shek, more than half a century ago, other than the one in which they fought us to a stalemate in Korea?  How many ineffective, very expensive wars have we been engaged in during that same period of time?  How many countries has China abandoned while we fled countries involved in conflict all over the globe during that exact same period of time?  We take great pride in the fact that we still possess better technology.  Or do we?  China nailed their first effort to land on the moon.  The only country to accomplish that feat.  We invented the iPhone and China gave us Tik Tok.  Hubris is alive and well here in America and we are needlessly engaging in the self-destruction of what was the most promising social experiment in human history.  You and I are idiots, pure and simple.  Well meaning, cowardly, well-educated, miserly, delusional, idiots.