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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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

... and you continue to tell me that we are not dumber than dumb. Bah!

 Speaker Mike Johnson is being criticized because Democrats supported his recent efforts on behalf of Ukraine.  Republican hard liners wanted to leverage Ukraine in order to get progress on improving border security.  I totally agree that border security is an extremely serious problem.  I also agree that President Biden’s policy vis-a-vis Ukraine is a muddled mess, but I heartily disagree with the notion that it is somehow wrong for Democrats to vote for a bill proposed by a Republican.  Those that take that view are championing the very thing that is destroying us - our inability to compromise.  That lacunae in our thinking leads directly to the flip flop nature of our policies at home and abroad.  Neither conservative nor liberal has all of the answers to any of the problems facing us.  As each successively gains the upper hand in domestic politics, both domestic and foreign agendas flip to a new set of inadequate talking points, supported vociferously, at best, by only half of the country.  Oversimplifying, Trump wants to make America Great Again, in part, by attempting to ignore the rest of the world, and Biden wants to invite the rest of the world to come live with us so that we can take care of them with your and my tax money.  Neither policy is going to cut the mustard, but none of us take the time to understand that because each one of us are firmly committed to one side of the pissing contest that allegedly is our national dialog.  There is no dialog.  There is just a bunch of crazed, self-important lunatics yelling at the top of their lungs about stuff that they know virtually nothing about.

I make the argument that World War III is incompatible with the continued existence of humanity as we know it now, but the challenges surrounding that fact are so humungous that the average human is unable to wrap our minds around them.  The reaction of most of us is to lower our head and focus on what is directly before us in our daily lives.  This accounts for our fascination with the age of the fetus, the price of gasoline, the number of chips in the bag, the proper use of pronouns, and our precious feelings.  We willingly give up our democratic responsibilities to one or the other blowhard that seeks to recruit us to his or her brand of tribalism.  These career politicians on both sides of the political aisle obfuscate rather than lead.  Some percentage of us will not change our minds about anything, while the rest of us willing go with the flow and accept whatever our favorite talking head tells us is truth.  An extremely small percentage of us try to think things through and come up with real solutions to real problems and those that try are immediately sanctioned by a society that can not stand the truth.

I was asked to be Consul General in Danang by a government that already knew that it was going to abandon Viet Nam.  I was told in writing, that if the North Vietnamese were to invade, my government would send a battalion of Marines and an aircraft carrier full of helicopters to help me get out of Dodge.  When the NVA did come across the line a year or so later, the aircraft carrier did not come.  The guy that commanded the designated Marine battalion was a personal friend.  He called me on the telephone and told me that he was ready, but that he was not being permitted to come.  My team and I implemented the alternative, hard scrabble, plan that we had developed because I did not expect my government to come to our assistance when push came to shove.  (They never did tell us - they just didn't come.)  I confess that that experience has gone a very long way in educating me about all manner of things and obviously explains some of the reasons why you and I see the world differently.  I am proud of the fact that my team and I got every single person that we were responsible for, not only out of I Corps, but out of country and a lot of other folks that were not on any list, but should have been, as well.

Biden told Ukraine that he would help them withstand Russian aggression.  Putin remembered that Biden/Obama gave him Crimea and Biden walked out of Afghanistan in the middle of the night without telling his NATO partners that he was leaving town.  Push is coming to shove in two or three places in the world, the American government is getting squishy again, and you and I are arguing about when we find it acceptable to snuff the fetus.  The idiots that we have put in charge of the insane asylum are going to make decisions willy nilly and things will be decided.  We, in our infinite wisdom, after the shit hits the fan, will assess blame and vote the other tribe into office.  

The flip flop will continue until some idiot pushes the nuclear button and you continue to tell me that we are not dumber than dumb.  Bah!  We should stand up for what we say we believe, even if it puts our precious asses in harms' way.  Cowardly vacillation just plain does not work and neither does greedy self interest that ignores the plight of others that are not members of our particular club, tribe or sexual persuasion.  I am beginning to think that people are too stupid for humanity to long survive.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Life was better back when we used to talk to each other.

 Inflation is more of a threat to our future than the average American understands and, very unfortunately, our president is among those that refuses to understand its importance.  Rising prices are not only making everything more expensive, they are also reducing the value of all savings and of money itself.  If we were wise we would reduce all unnecessary spending and focus our economic policy on bringing inflation down as a very high priority.  We are not, of course wise enough to do this.  Quite the contrary, we are engaged in all manner of stupidities that feed inflation.  The absolute dumbest of all being the several very expensive wars that we are presently, needlessly, ignorantly engaged in, but the causes are many, and I see little hope that we will wake up in time to deal with them before they wreak further hardship on us.

Culture change is the handmaiden of inflation as well as the cause of some of it.  Far too many native born Americans are irresponsibly lazy and increasingly timid.  It is not their fault.  They were born into wealth, they take it for granted, and they understandably want more of it.  They are very nice people who have never had to fight for their wealth, and they don’t want to start now.  They are lazy in body, and in mind, the latter being the more dangerous of the two.  If the rest of the world were in the same situation, the challenge would be somewhat less difficult, but there are countries out there that are full of people who see an opportunity to advance their own interests at our expense.  Some of them are armed with weaponry that can inflict massive damage.  Damage so severe that it calls into question whether it is possible for anyone to win the next world war.  

The most amazing part of the present situation is the magnitude of our ability to ignore what is happening.  Many of us actually believe that if we are nice enough to enemies abroad and criminals at home, we can live in peace and prosperity.  Americans have long had the ability to ignore poverty in other countries, but now we increasingly ignore it here at home and are actually going out of our way to expand it by actively encouraging the rest of the world to come live with us.  We vociferously demand more housing while simultaneously writing building code that requires million dollar homes for any two of the more successful of us.  We invent “small homes” for the people that are living on our city streets.  Shacks for people that don’t really count.  Our foreign policy is motivated by the exact same thinking.  Throw a reasonable amount of money at people living in wherever and get back to the reality that you are creating on your phone.  A reality that censors dangerous diversity of thought, but does not deal with it.  Stay away from real people as best you can.  Eschew brick and mortar for online convenience.  Message those in your inner circle but stay away from any gathering that is not absolutely necessary - not because of health concerns - but rather to avoid having to talk face to face with someone that does not see the entire world exactly the same way that you do.

Life was better back when we used to talk to each other.  Now, we just yell at each other long distance.  The demonstrations in our colleges and universities merely being the most absurd tip of the more pervasive problem that infects all of us, to include you and me.  When the feces hits the whiling blade we will look for people that can deal with the real world, but as long as we can pretend that our fantasy world is real, we will continue to disparage them.  Our motto being "Death to America."

Sunday, April 21, 2024

I have trouble updating my computer so I can not pretend to understand electronic warfare, but apparently the Israelis are really good at it.

 Assuming that my analysis of the Israeli attack on the Iranian military facility in Isfahan is correct (yesterday's blog post), it may well have some implications beyond Iran, in as much as I assume that the Iranians have access to the very best Russian air defense systems currently available.  I am long out of touch with military technology, but my guess is that the Israeli missile got through the Iranian air defenses because they were jammed and the missile moved fast and accurately.  I have trouble updating my computer so I can not pretend to understand electronic warfare, but apparently the Israelis are really good at it.  The miserable showing of the recent, massive Iranian missile/drone attack on Israel would also seem to indicate that Israel is better at defense technology and organization than is Iran.  Hundreds of targets in the air simultaneously with Arab, Israeli and American assets trying to knock them down without killing each other is an absolutely amazing feat no matter how you look at it.  The fact that they were so successful is absolutely unbelievable, even if you allow for luck.

I once had an opportunity to spend three days with General Moshe Dayan on his visit to Viet Nam during the war there.  I asked him why Israel had been so successful in their various wars with different Arab nations.  His response was that “it helps if your enemy is an Arab.”  I presume that his compatriots in the IDF are saying much the same thing to themselves right now.  While that attitude has obvious advantages during conflict, it is the antithesis of what is required whenever the killing lets up a bit.  Both Jerusalem and Washington are understandably focused on the conflict that is immediately at hand and that is understandable and very necessary, but I try to look beyond the immediate chaos to find a way to end this stupidity that has been going on for millennia.  My conclusion is that conflict can not be eliminated in the Middle East without addressing it throughout the entire world.  It is no longer possible to “win” a war in one part of the world without addressing the issues that lead to conflict elsewhere.

Today, Russia and China are piggy backing on the Iranian argument with Israel to further their own objectives in other parts of the world and Iran is helping them with their various regional arguments in return.  All three of them are meddling with various other arguments in other parts of the world in an effort to gain more support for their own malign activities.  Specific conflicts grow into regional conflicts and regional conflicts threaten to grow into global conflicts.  We try to resolve all of this with inadequate regional solutions.  Congress is currently deciding how much money to parcel out to which friend and the American people are trying to decide whether they want to be led by a megalomaniac or a coward.  Everybody is fascinated with the technology and none of us are thinking about how to resolve the issues that underlie all of the discontent.

What is needed is a leader of the free world.  Such can not be attained through any amount of wishful thinking.  It requires massive numbers of individuals to agree to address the challenge with their minds, pledge their resources to the effort, and think creatively.  Look around yourself and ask if you see any of this.  I quite frankly do not.  What I see is a group of really nice people that are too busy with their own lives to think about any of it.  And that is here, in the best educated, richest, most caring country in the history of the world.  Our solution to every single one of our problems at home and abroad is to explain endlessly that it is the other guys fault and preach our own brand of wishful thinking at the top of our lungs.  Think about the fact that our national legislature sees it as being their responsibility to protect the American people from Tik Tok.  The fear being that the Chinese’s Communist Party is able to mold our minds by putting trash on our phones.  That does not sound to me like a populace that I want leading the world. It sounds more like a group of robots that think that they are human, flowing with the vibe, cherishing the moment, believing in the greater good - as defined by their tribal masters.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Why just one missile that does not appear to have done much damage?

 Assuming that the Israeli response to Iran’s massive missile fiasco was a single missile that did little to no damage, I presume that there is more to the story than we now know - on both sides of the disagreement, and I confess to being curious.  I presume that eventually we will begin to get a better idea as to what is currently afoot in the inner circles, inside both countries.  My present, uninformed, wild posterior guess, is that the Israeli missile was meant to display some capability that Iran was incapable of defending against and the choice of Isfahan Province for the demonstration was an effort to tie it to Iran’s underground nuclear development facilities that are located there.  If so, it was not meant to be retaliation, but rather warning.  The grinding attack on Hamas is the retaliatory effort and it is going the way that the Israeli leadership intends.  The pending attack on Hamas in Rafah is what all of these missiles is really about.  In this connection, Sunni Arab support of Israel’s defense against the Iranian attack was seen as being very bad news in Shia Teheran.

The most important conversation between antagonists, engaged in conflict, is rarely verbal, and an outsider peeking over the fence, is at a serious disadvantage in trying to understand what is going on in the minds of people about which we know so little.  Outside observers frequently replace knowledge with speculation and that frequently results in serious mistakes.  My own experience has been that individuals in leadership roles are frequently forced to speak and act before they know as much as they would like about the situation that they are attempting to address.  Analysts considering the same situation, feel required to explain events without adequate information and describe those events so as to fit their predisposition as to the overall conflict.  This results in misinformation and confusion.

I used to do this stuff for a living and I was pretty good at it.  My success was directly proportional to the accuracy of my understanding of the people involved.  I frequently lost debates with my colleagues as to how best to deal with a given situation, but rarely was my analysis wrong, whether I won or lost the given policy debate.  It is my belief that you can predict a person’s decisions in a given circumstance, if you know enough about him or her.  I used this principal to accurately predict coups, military actions, and legislation.  More crassly, I also used it to get ahead in the bureaucracy.  I should also point out that the exact same principals apply to American decision-makers as foreign and it applies to people all through society down to the malcontent that lives down the street and harbors thoughts that are inconsistent with the best interests of the rest of us.  When I was still in harness, my objective was to shape the foreign service so that we provided far better support to our political leadership.  I’m angry with myself for giving up my quest, because of my disgust with domestic politics.  That was a cowardly, wrong headed mistake, but the objective that I was championing was valid.

I offer this advice to any and all that might be reading this:  success is easy to achieve if you truly understand the community in which you are trying to succeed.  Wishful thinking is your greatest enemy and having the courage of your convictions is the greatest test.  My current assessment of America is that we all have a serious problem in truly understanding each other, let alone the rest of the world around us.  Our escape to alternative realities is not a solution.  Quite the contrary, it is what is destroying us.  Rome had their circus.  We have our phone.  The world has problems that we are permitting to destroy us, because we are too cowardly, too ignorant, too greedy to face up to them.  Our ongoing demise is on us, not Russia, China or Iran.  If we humans intended to continue resorting to violence to protect ourselves, we should not have introduced nuclear weapons.

Friday, April 19, 2024

The disunity that characterizes America is the more important subject.

The press is, today, full of stories commenting on the unusual fact that Democrats helped pass a Republican bill on Ukraine funding in the House of Representatives.  The unusual nature of the vote being that Democrats and Republicans agreed on something.  The fact that Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something is seen to be unusual is the definition of what is wrong with us - you and me.

Ukraine is an important subject.  The disunity that characterizes America is the more important subject. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

 The press is full of stories speculating on how Israel will respond to Iran’s recent missile attack.  There is also a plentitude of stories speculating on what the United States Government has said privately to Israeli leaders.  Nobody outside of Israel knows for certain what will be decided and how it will play out.  Speculation abounds.

I leave Israel’s national interest to the Israelis and focus on America’s national interest.  I take Iran at its’ word when its’ leaders direct crowds in chanting death to America, and see Iran as a serious threat.  I am less interested in the parameters of Israel’s response to Iran’s most recent provocation than I am in the overall strategy that guides our actions in the Middle East.  I argue that we do not have one, and flip flop back and forth between equally inadequate appeasement and confrontation, as the tide of our domestic disagreement continues to govern our foreign policy.  In our heart of hearts, all of us would much prefer to be “out of the Middle East,” rather than trying to help the people there live a better life.

I suggest that the governing structure in Teheran is a troublesome version of Islam and what is required, on our part, is a national strategy designed to deal with all aspects of the Islamic world from Indonesia to ISIS.  I take the exact same approach to our problems in Europe, Africa, and Asia.  My objective would be to minimize the need to micromanage disputes such as the one between Arab and Jew, and focus more of our attention on building stronger societies that were better equipped to manage local disputes so that they remain local and are resolved locally.

The problem with my strategy is that humans all over the globe, to include here in this country, see it as being impossible pie in the sky.  That attitude, of course, makes it so and results in all of us all over this increasingly small chunk of rock, aimlessly spinning in space, quarreling about our relationships needlessly.  Before we invented satellite guided, nuclear tipped ballistic missiles, this was an imperfect, but acceptable, way to manage world affairs.  It is not any more.  We are indeed our brother’s keeper and because we are not doing a good enough job, we are on the road to destroying ourselves.  Not just you and me - humanity, at least as we know it now

PS:  I apply the exact same reasoning to the mindless quarreling that plagues us internally.  Our rhetoric is hilarious, if you disengage, step back a bit, and listen to it.  We MUST defend democracy, diversity, and our feelings, but we shun anyone that disagrees with us about any of the minutia that makes us “different” from one another.  If “they” persist in their disorderly thinking, “we” do our very best to destroy them.  Because the real world is so confusing, we increasingly seek refuge in the pretend world that we create on our increasingly realistic devices.  We band together on social media with like-minded soul mates and increasingly shy away from having to deal with the riff raff that live down the street.  Very unfortunately more and more of “them” are developing more and more destructive capability - soon to match that which we already possess.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Drugs in America

 I am mildly addicted to beer and wine.  I used to drink large amounts of brandy on occasion as well, but for some reason I don’t anymore.  I remember getting started drinking beer as a kid, because it was the thing to do in the crowd that I ran with in my early high school years.  During my working life in the Foreign Service, I always had a well stocked bar in my home and I consumed alcohol every day, but rarely got drunk, because I was usually working the room for some lofty policy reason or another.  I thank God that I never got into anything more addicting than alcohol and I am comfortable with my lifelong beer and wine consumption.  My view of hard drugs is very negative, not because of any moral reasoning, but rather because they so obviously destroy the individual’s life.  I do not have a scientific background and am unable to talk usefully about the science of drug use, but I do have strong opinions about it based on what I see it doing to far too many people in this country.  Were I able, I would remove narcotic abuse from the face of the earth.

I am not able to do that, so I understand that we must deal with it as a major problem facing America.  I don’t believe that we are doing nearly enough to cope with it and we are therefore forced to try to deal with the secondary problems that arise from its’ presence in our lives.  Because it appears to be the easier end of the problem to deal with, we tend to focus more on denying the availability of drugs than on the mental health problems that lead to their use.  American society today is proof positive that this approach does not work.  Drugs are an important part of the destruction of America that is ongoing right now and we are ignoring it as a society.  We walk past living zombies on our city streets every day of the week and increasingly think of it as part of the landscape.  That didn’t happen when I was a kid.  We didn’t have huge numbers of derelicts on the street and we didn’t ignore the ones that did appear from time to time.  Today, we build walls around our homes and worry about China feeding our drug habit.  We do not adequately deal with the habit itself.  There are even idiots in this country that favor military action against Mexican middle men and Chinese producers of the raw materials.  

Our approach to drug use is the exact same as other difficult problems where we attempt to address symptoms rather than root causes.  This is a strategic error of significant magnitude.  I argue that we do it because the root problem is too difficult for us to address, or even admit.  In my view, what we are seeing is the failure of our society to provide adequate amounts of success to the populace as a whole and an increasingly large number of us are turning to drugs as an escape from our failure  to “succeed.”  It is an extreme manifestation of the effort to escape reality that we see all around us.  I argue that our fascination with social media and the alternate cyber world that we are constructing is our effort to build an alternative reality that we like better than the one that increasingly pushes in from the real world.  Moscow, Beijing and Teheran have not “progressed” as rapidly as have we and are still playing my yesterday’s rules.  In a world that possesses nuclear weapons that is an exceptionally dangerous situation.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Trump or Biden or Us.

 The New York Times has an article out today that explains that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be with democracy under threat around the world and a budding alliance among nations that dislike us.  My reaction is “duh.”  Notably, the New York Times does not suggest any remedy.  I suggest that this characterizes the position of liberal America.  Conservative America, on the other hand is hell bent on electing Trump, who they believe will manage things more intelligently.  On the one hand, we are cowardly flakes and, on the other hand, we are miserly tough guys.  Neither approach is going to work.  What is required is a blend of the two, leavened with some common sense, and a massive amount of intestinal fortitude, combined with the patience of Job.

The average person tends to look at individual parts of the challenge facing us - Ukraine, Gaza, Taiwan - while ignoring the less dramatic problems that contribute significantly to the whole - Burkina Faso, Miramar, Sudan, Venezuela, Haiti, Afghanistan, etc, etc etc.  If we are to be successful we must understand that everything is related to everything else and “solutions” must address the whole, not just one of the parts.  Our piecemeal approach sometimes achieves some limited success in one area, but it is too often obliterated by failures in other areas.  Our policy toward Iran being an extreme, current example of our irresponsible foolishness, exacerbated by the flip flop nature of our political system.

We defeated the Soviet Union without engaging in direct war with them, but we failed to wean Russia away from authoritarian governance.  We moderated Mao’s China following Nixon’s opening to China, but failed to wean it away from authoritarian governance.  We sat on our hands while Iran turned from a Western oriented nation to a reactionary state governed by a radical dictatorial group of religious zealots.  We sit by while South and Central American nations increasingly give up governance to organized crime, which is but another form of authoritarian governance.  (The same thing is about to happen in our own ghettos.)  Africa is increasingly governed by military juntas.  Etc, etc, etc…. I argue that democracy is failing to solve humanity’s problems and I see the failure engulfing this country as well.  We are not going to be able to sustain our own democracy if it does not succeed in solving our problems - internal and external as well.  Trump and Biden are not the problem.  You and I are the problem.  Trump and Biden are just the superficial boil that irritates the skin.  The disease that causes the boil lies deeper inside the voting public - you and me.  All Trump and Biden do is try to say stuff that their followers, us, want to hear.

You want to save America?  Teheran, Moscow and Beijing are not the problem.  Our inability, yours and mine, to think for ourselves is the thing that is destroying democracy, but the challenge will not be met successfully by merely saving democracy.  We not only have to think for ourselves, we have to come up with viable solutions to a formidable mix of extraordinarily difficult problems throughout the entire world.  We call ourselves leader of the Free World, but we do virtually nothing useful to help anybody outside of our non-existent borders.  We take the same approach in foreign relations that we do to domestic issues here at home.  Solutions are defined in monetary terms.  That is just plain wrong in foreign affairs just as it is in domestic affairs, but we refuse to understand that money is but one of the elements necessary, and it is not even the most important.

Every one of the issues that roil international relations have their roots in domestic problems in the countries involved in each of the respective issues.  Harmonious international relations will only be achieved when the vast majority of the world is living in acceptable domestic conditions.  Our present approach to international affairs does not prioritize the fundamentals and we spend all of our time dealing with superficialities which ensures that we continue to live in an unstable world.  Our failure to understand this is the greatest danger facing democracy as a form of government and America as a place that is worth living in.  Humans only follow leaders that lead to success.  Success is more important than anything else, including the form of governance.  The only way to protect democracy is to make it successful.  The only way to do that is to stop urinating on each other and start talking to each other in civil tones about real problems in their order of importance.  The difference between six weeks and whatever is less important than starvation in wherever, for instance.

If we are too busy putting dinner on the table at home to think, actually think, about eliminating starvation in wherever, we are too busy to have a democratic form of government, no matter how nice, and caring, and well educated we think that we are.  I frankly use extremes to get my reader’s attention, but economic differences do not have to be at starvation levels of importance to generate conflict.  Humans are greedy little imbeciles and bank balances have to be in relative balance to encourage contentment.  That goes for countries as well as individual humans.  If we want to live though the nuclear age, we had better figure this stuff out sooner rather than later.  (If you want a really interesting discussion, let’s talk about why I believe that personal responsibility is the better way to achieve this understanding than is socialism, but I leave that for another day.) 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Missles Over Israel

 Last night, Israel and the United States showed the world just exactly how good our anti-missile defenses are in blocking a major missile attack from Iran.  Without taking anything away from that absolutely amazing technological performance, I now want to know the dollar cost to Iran, Israel and the United States.  It is my understanding that the attack missiles are infinitely less expensive than are the defensive missiles.  I also assume that ship borne missiles cost far more to get into position than do land based missiles, so I presume that our overall expense is the greatest of the three.  I ask myself how many places in the world we can afford to do this kind of thing, and for how long?  I also ask myself how many of these various missiles we have in inventory and how deep our bench of trained technicians that know how to operate them is.  Assuming that we are unable to cool tensions in the Middle East, the prospect is for this kind of mindless expenditure to not only continue, but to escalate.

We tend to think about the Gaza imbroglio as being a contest between Arab and Jew, and it is, but it can also be seen as a struggle between people that agree with us, you and me, and people who do not.  Looking at it this way, sees Hamas aligned with Teheran, Moscow and Beijing.  Their individual gripes may differ but they are increasingly unified in their dislike of you and me.  In this context, last night was merely an insignificant battle in a much larger disagreement, and our opponents bled us of financial resources without any real harm being done to them.  Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is another battle in the larger disagreement, and it is costing us dearly.  Not only do we not have the military supplies that Taiwan has already paid for, we do not currently have the capability to produce them, let alone restock our own inventories.

All of this is going on outside of our non-existent borders, while here, inside of them, none of us are discussing the problems that we face inside or outside of those imaginary lines that we draw around ourselves.  All we do is yell at each other and cancel each other.  Because we are an open democracy, this confusion is apparent to friend and foe alike.  Ukraine is literally begging us to live up to our promises, Taiwan’s former president is chatting with his soulmates on the mainland, and Teheran is on the cusp of building a nuclear weapon.  We helped our Israeli friends knock down a bunch of subsonic drones that had headlights on them and we are now telling them how to defend themselves against further aggression from Iran.  I would not be surprised if our allies thought us to be fair weather friends with little real concern for anyone but ourselves.

We can get out of the hole that we are digging for ourselves, but we have to do it together.  Neither tribe can do it by themselves, even if they quit the internecine warfare that is now going on.  We can not come together until we start talking to each other in a civil manner about real issues.  When, if, we do, we will, would, discover that we have more in common than we currently understand.  I am talking about you and me not "them," however you define "them."