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Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Fool on the Hill

--Hillary Waves and Smiles,
 (El Nuevo Dia) 

And the face of the nation
Keeps changin' and changin'
The face of the nation
I don't recognize it no more
--The Face of the Nation,
John Mellencamp

The truth is incontrovertible.
Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it
but in the end, there it is
--Winston Churchill

They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin' great big lies 
--Short People,
Randy Newman
_______________________

This last year of incessant, relentless press excoriation of Mr. Trump and those who voted for him is dispiriting. The burden of hatred which spewed forth from nearly every outlet a reasonable person might access has been daunting. It has been a year of detestable press.

Entirely ignored by the press has been the investigation of the momentous and unlikely phenomena of Trump's nomination, without resorting to the ad hominem. But the press is an institution which also feeds at the political trough.

Mr. Trump is the court jester who revealed that the other would-be emperors were naked. The sour- grapes simpering of Mr. Cruz at the Republican National Convention gave lie to the fusty Republican trope of being the party possessed of true red-blooded American bonhomie. If it ever was, it is no more.

For this, Mr. Trump shall be rewarded as the next Fool on the Hill. And for those renting their garments, tell me that you voted for Uncle Bernie with joy in your heart (in the Kondo-ian sense). And will you hold your collective nose as you check the box for the supposed heir to the Clinton dynasty?

In Trump, Republican voters did not see a fundamentalist Christian or any of the myriad vested interests represented by the other 15 stuffed shirts fronted by the Republican machine. The majority of Trump's followers did not vote for him out of any great love for the man, but for the fact that he was Other.

The Democrats never had any such option.

These voters said "no" to the party icons and scions. They refused to eat the lie which said, "Here are 15 candidates from among which you may choose, but choose you must, if your party is to have a chance." The voters for Trump said NO to tyranny and political dynasty.

 Trump would not have won his party's nomination if a straggling band of Naderites or Perotians had cast votes helter-skelter in a kamikaze mission. These voters got it and said "No" to the Fortunate Sons ("no" to a Bush III). "No" to pandering special interests (Rubio couldn't take his home state). "No" to the religious fanatics. They know that all emerged from the same bag, and paid obeisance to the same dirty machine.

This perspective should have been revitalizing, but the press could not allow it, for it did not fit into their gestalt of a "backward-looking, hopeless uncool and bigoted" Trump electorate. 

They refused to say that Mr. Trump's "Yes" was a "No" to all the rest. For all the money and concerted press effort to deconstruct and unravel him, top-down, inside-out, it did not matter. You may call it what you will: the last gasp of the white chauvanist male (a view which provides succor to most academics) or flyover state ignorance, but derisive labels do not change the fact.

They could not fully construct him as grotesque, because it was not he, per se, who captured the voter's  imagination. It was that he was NOT they (i.e., the Others). If elected President, hopefully he will recognize the gravitas and great yearning which lies behind the facticity of his nomination.

Theirs is a hope for a nation which does not spin apart, enervating itself with self-destructive diversions. The Good Liberals call this necessary progress, but the commonweal is suffering. America still lives between the extremes, and it is their hope which is on display in this nomination.

The press is wholly beside itself, waiting like wolves at the door this week, hoping for the eruption of some violence -- something, anything, to mar the reality -- all the while demeaning those Trump supporters who held signs which expressed a desire for a safer nation. They cannot spin fast enough, and they must soon confront their failed project.

No matter, there will be evermore to carp about.

Mr. Trump is outside, and is not bought and sold; he is therefore, unsafe to those who would continue the current disarrayed status quo. He, moreso than the other party puppets, is a man situated in place and time.

He may not be a man for all seasons, but he is a man for this season.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]


Part II:  on press violence -- "Carp Diem: A  Year of Living Dangerously in the Press."

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Video Killed the Radio Star

--No escaping it  

 Fasten your seat belts,
 it's going to be a bumpy night
--All About Eve (1950) 

 'Cause it's the new mother nature taking over
It's the new splendid lady come to call
It's the new mother nature taking over
She's gettin' us all
--No Sugar Tonight,
The Guess Who


Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.
We have guided missiles and misguided men
--Martin Luther King,  Jr.
_______________________

Get ready for the New Normal -- national schizophrenia, a la carte. Tune in anywhere, and you will be updated on the grievance du jour. Because everything's O.K., and we're everybody.

One theory on schizophrenia says the patient lacks the ability to filter out irrelevant stimuli. One is overcome and overwhelmed, acting out in inappropriate and spectacular fashion, or not reacting at all.

That is our national life as fed to us on the tube, or the various circuit boards to which you are glued. An initial convulsing -- much like a paramecium in a petri dish into which an irritant has invaded his happy medium  -- followed by catatonia.

The reactionary unicellular animal is not dead; he is simply rendered incapable of self-generated movement. So there we are, stuck in the gelatin, seeing hazily, but not seeing how it is we got here. Perhaps a better analogy would be the marionette puppet who has no control over the strings tugging on its every limb, all for the amusement of the audience.

We are both the puppet and the audience, the watcher and the watched.

The presenters of the data pull you hither and thither, aiming to shock you with an overwhelming diversity of visual data bombarding you at such repetition and speed that focus and comment become irrelevant. The newscast template is unvarying, and only the visuals change

They will deliver you some Bad / Mad / Sad / Happy© within a half hour, and you will feel sort of o.k after the familiar wrap up, and go to find succor in a beer and chips. But while you have developed a pattern, the national players haven't sorted out their template for the new normal, yet.

Following the shooting in the Orlando gay night club, congressional members react emotionally with a sit-in encouraged by the President. The shout out of the day was to close the gun show loophole, despite the fact that the shooter did not use that loophole.

In fact, most of the recent shooters have not used it, and as a recent piece in the UK Guardian put it, it is like saying you will give up donuts in the face of a cancer diagnosis; it fails to target the problem.

The halls of Congress have become a place of demonstration, mimicking the convulsions of their electorate, rather than a forum for the creation of realistic legislation.

We live in an era of the Sportification of Death. Our entertainment and foreign policy is packed with violence. The U.S. proliferates weapons in the Middle East, while criticizing civilian weapons in the hands of U.S. citizens. Because we are fed a bleak future, many turn to the past in protest and rejection.

We live on a new frontier, but there are no babbling brooks or soothing nature sounds here. Instead, the frontier at which we gaze is all binary, 1's and 0's, coded to form a simulacra of the things to which our minds have become accustomed to seeing over eons of evolution. Only yesterday, our eyes were delighted by the magic lantern shows.

We are not seeing the same things in the same way, and we are taxing the same old brain to run as fast as it can.

Some people are reacting very poorly to this visual onslaught. Our challenge is to impose order upon the new chaos, and crocodile tears in Congress will not fix this.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Curious Yellow Boys


There's a sucker born every minute
--David Hannum

We're doing a series on the
ten most sordid social welfare cases.  
--I Am Curious (Yellow), 1967
____________________________

Subtitle: Stupidity Masquerading as Violence and Redemption.

Talk about turning rutabagas into sunflowers.

Our group think culture has taken a tawdry act on the part of all parties and massaged it into a cause célèbre. The incipient plucky heroine of the recent Stanford sexual assault case has a book contract and is well-placed for a Medal of Freedom.

Except, she is no heroine, and the story of this case lies in a place other than where the media shines its spotlight. However, everything is to be wrung dry for its entertainment value, or for its exploitation by vested interests, and "Emily Doe" is a "Citizen Ruth" for our times.

Vice President Joe Biden called her "courageous" and the Swedish passers by, "heroes". One of the ersatz news programs gave her 12-page manifesto one-half hour of valuable air play. Last week "House Members United to Read Stanford Rape Victim's Letter" (except in their passion they and the NYT got it wrong -- it was not rape but sexual assault.)

Representative Ann McLane Kuster, Democrat of New Hampshire said, “We are all Emily Doe,” a la President Kennedy's momentous, "Ich Ein Berliner" speech.

But no, we are not. Not unless you go to a frat party after drinking four shots of whisky and drinking two more of vodka and unknown quantities of beer and then go with a younger frat boy behind a dumpster, for that is who Ms. Doe is.

At the moment, she is an addict and possibly a sexual predator, most likely just wanting to get her kink on with a younger man. (The distance from 19 y.o. male freshman to a 22 y-o female graduate is great.)

The young man, Brock Turner, is nothing special in this regards, and neither is she. It is hardly the "night that ruined her life", as she began drinking her shots eyes wide open.

In reality, it will be the night that made her -- undeservedly -- something special in our culture of instantaneous stardom. She will possibly do the media rounds to capitalize and monetize her moment, and crocodile tears will be shed over the actions of the Big Bad Wolf.

She says she was "robbed of [her] worth", but she did that to herself before she went behind the dumpster to have sex with a frat boy three years her junior. (You didn't think they were going to read "Ulysses", did you?)

She calls herself "Everywoman", and why not? It's a heady moment for her. I suspect it is not her first rodeo, and an erstwhile skanky scene has been spit-polished into a story of true grit.

But she doesn't speak for me, not at any point in my life.

I don't care to talk of the young man, for he is a known quantity: 19 y-o male drinking heavily at a frat party. His role as an insecure and/or horny young male is to find the low-hanging fruit and schtup her; call it a night. He could be a necrophiliac in training, or maybe just a young American male getting ready for the sort of action he can anticipate after graduation when he marries a sorority girl.

But the female is the sticking point in this story, and we are not viewing it for what it actually is.

The obvious untold story is the substance abuse of the designated victim and her choice to be in a frat house party environment so drunk that she did not wake up for six hours after the act. The violence in this story is self-inflicted and issues from the same fonts which are now celebrating her victim-hood, who run flashy stories which depict drunken celebrity party-goers as having the time of their lives.

The violence may lie in having the misfortune to live an entitled and cosseted life as so many Santa Barbara residents do. In having a mother who would deposit you at a frat house party after you had already consumed four shots of whisky.

One subtext of this story is misogynistic. The press and politcoes are falling over the 12-page victim’s statement, but implicit in their surprise is that not all women who drink to the point of being comatose are illiterate hootchie mamas. In fact, they exist in number, but we are not interested. 

This is what passes for a "feel-good" story today. Predictably, we get up in arms. We act like we are shocked and outraged, like we actually care about the plight of women (and men for that matter.)

My guess is that the 12-page manifesto was either a compiled effort by a women's group who saw their moment in the sun, or the writer herself is a borderline personality, either of which was necessary to push this story into the spotlight, with a bump from social media. But beyond the uncovered substance abuse and misogyny lies yet another story, that of privilege.

This sort of thing happens every day of the week in most towns, but the participants are not often white frat boy potential future Olympians or UC-Santa Barbara grads. The privilege of the participants alone is what makes it newsworthy. It feeds our salacious desire to have the privileged white man atone, or for self-flagellation, depending upon your affiliation. 

The ultimate irony is that the outlets which are supposedly uber-sympathetic to this woman, couldn't give a damn that the same thing (and far worse) happens every day of the week to younger or older, non-white, non-Santa Barbara grads. What they dare not say is: those stories are ugly. This story is pretty, so it has legs.

We get to discharge more collective vitriol, hate the judge ("off with his head!"), and feel very smug, righteous and strac, for a bit.

Very probably, had the Swedish bicyclists not happened by the scene, we never would have heard about the matter; it wouldn’t look good for either party. (Wouldn't be prudent, as a Bush père might've said.)

What makes this a good story is that white male privilege gets a knock (and we will give a pass to the white female of privilege, ignoring the actual issues at hand.) Messy facts simply do not matter today.

The fact is, the press on this issue will change nothing, because the things which can be changed are not being addressed. But the folks on Capital Hill get some nice press and ensuing gravitas by leeching on to the non-story.

Here's a surprise: young men like sex, and if you put yourself in an extremely compromising position, you cannot cry wolf. For all our enlightenment, we may not re-engineer human brains or hormones. But what we could address is the culture of binge drinking, and to do so honestly would require both males and females to take responsibility for their actions.

You don’t get to wave the red flag in front of the bull and not elicit a reaction, or claim naivete when you do. (Drinking' til you're trashed does not provide plausible deniability.)  You may re-educate, but that training will go by the wayside once one’s executive functions have been overridden with booze.

Lesson: Everyone must be responsible. If you want to get wasted, have a designated escort to watch over you; better yet, do it at home, or among a group of trusted, platonic friends. Best -- don’t get that wasted, and choose your environments wisely.

Ms. Doe should not be book-worthy until she enters and successfully completes a course of rehab, and stays clean and sober for six months. She can then write from a position of understanding a cautionary "life of an addict" book, and it will be one of much too many.


Next: A Year of Inanity


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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Gorilla Violence


  The extraordinary gentleness of the adult male [gorilla]
with his young dispels all the King Kong mythology
--Dian Fossey

Besides love and sympathy, animals exhibit other qualities
connected with the social instincts
which in us would be called moral
--Charles Darwin
All the arguments to prove man's superiority
cannot shatter this hard fact:
in suffering the animals are our equals 
--Rattling the Cage, Steven Wise
________________________ 

 SUBTITLE: #Ape Lives Matter.

I did not want to read the gorilla story. But when I saw the film of the gorilla’s approach to the child and subsequent behavior, the horror of the decision to murder the animal became obvious.

Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, leaned in to the water and scooped the child up carefully in both of his arms. At that moment, when the people realized a three-year-old had rolled down into the ravine, all hell broke loose (this video is missing the initial moment of encounter, before the human screaming began.)

Gorillas are gentle giants, largely vegetarian (Western lowland gorillas like Harambe, however, also eat termites and ants). Very shy and reserved, they must be provoked before they will attack. Though nothing in the gorilla's behavior indicated distress, the suddenly restive crowd began screaming like banshees, resembling nothing so much as a troupe of screaming chimps (our closer relatives).

Meanwhile, the distressed gorilla looked up and reacting to this tumult, scampered off with the child in tow for cover, into a grotto. This animal sat with the child for almost 20 minutes before the kill decision was executed. Why?

He did not hang the child by the leg, or throw him up in the air for pleasure, as some humans do to their young. He did not bash its head against the side of a ravine to kill the child, as Nazis did. He did not impale him on a bamboo shoot, all actions which the clever human has devised for meting out violence to his fellows.

After 20 minutes the child was unharmed; he was released from the hospital the next day after being treated for contusions probably suffered mostly from falling 20 feet into the ravine. It is unlikely during those 20 minutes that the animal was cogitating upon even more heinous ways that he might off the child.

But sadly, anger and violence is the first thing that comes to the human mind. Even though it was the human child who had breached the animal’s space; in our world, we have "Castle Laws", and a home invasion would warrant a kill. That is not the tack Harambe took.

We watch shows like “Zoo” which curry the paranoid mindset that the animals -- everything from rats to squid -- are plotting to murder us. Movies like “Jaws” and “Willard” enthrall us, allowing us to pay vicarious penance for the violence we have meted out to our animal brethren.

The decision against darting made little sense, for if the animal became agitated, then the ultimate move to kill could have been executed. He was captive in a small enclosure, nowhere to escape. Why was there no reaction plan in place for the eventuality of a careless parent?

What could have been an inspirational story for this child and the rest of us, turned out to be yet one more vulgar story of human neglect followed by overreaction, and finally, justification for violence.

The gorilla's death is yet one more example of the sad human recourse to violence-as-solution.

Poor gorilla. He showed more humanity than his killers.


NEXT WEEK:

~Stupidity Masquerading as Violence

~A Year in Provenance: Violence in Public Discourse

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hatred Abounds

  Man is conceived in sin
and born in corruption
and he passeth from the stink of the didie
to the stench of the shroud 
--All the King's Men, 
 Robert Penn Warren

I'd rather you were dead
than be a fuckin' faggot
--American Beauty (1999)

 Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky 
---Imagine, John Lennon
__________________________

Scenarios are created by words in context. We are not a very serious people today, and require inflammatory rhetoric to keep us online and connected in even the fragile and tenuous way that we are when we subsume the "news feed", such as it is.

Of course, we are not connected with the truth, but only the facts with which we are presented, so we can only know those things which are fed to us.

A number of incidents over the past few weeks have struck me as either so unworthy of the coverage or of the sort it received. These stories are so tortuously constructed that they become, well, torturous. The stores are difficult because they are being used to front an agenda, instead of to understand who we are. I will write about several over the next few days.

Violence is the common thread, so the relevance to our project at RangerAgainstWar is solid.

Today, I will mention the shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed and slightly more than that number were wounded. The shooter, Omar Mateen, had been a regular at the club and used a gay chat app over the course of a year with one of the customers.

Yes, Mateen claimed the kills for ISIS, but no one has asked the serious questions that must be asked if this sort of thing is to be extinguished.

First, his father said (after the requisite "I love America" spiel) that his son did not like gays. Mateen's ex-wife confirmed this, and it seems the father did not much like gays, either. This is a virulent hatred with which his parents did not seek help, and which most likely was learned and encouraged.

If the parents did not establish the hatred in the cauldron of the home, a hatred which would be in keeping with devout Muslim precepts, then at least it was never addressed as a pathology.

Mateen's behaviors sync with those of a self-loathing homosexual: he was abusive to his first wife (who escaped with the help of her family), and he was a regular at the gay nightclub. His sexual orientation was at odds with those sanctioned by his religion. He was closeted, like the Marine father in the film, American Beauty. Repression will out, often in explosive ways.

Another recent shooter who went into his comfortable fishbowl to shoot -- Dylann Root, in Charleston -- had also cased the joint well, and the regulars at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church also welcomed him inside the perimeter.

Press photos of Mr. Root show him in various poses with the Confederate flag and other classic white power paraphernalia. His hatred and fear of blacks overtaking the country was ab origine. He did not have original or strange ideations; he simply parroted what he heard. He took it a step further than most of his ilk who mutter their disdain sotto voce. Dylann Root wanted to be a hero.

So that is how you stop these spectacularly violent events: you rout out hatred and violence. You start at the cradle and you master your own ego before having children, or before joining a church.

Just that. But that is not how Homo sapien is wired, so we go on killing and hating better, enlisting our boundless and unremitting ego and opposable thumbs in the service of our hatred and violence.

At least we could be honest about it, and stop saying, "Gol-ly!" every time  something like this happens. Condoleezza Rice's disingenuous, "No one could have imagined them taking a plane" stance has worn quite thin.

The precedents abound. Imagine it.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Whose Souls Cry Out, and Who Is Awakened?

 
--Nuclear Future, Paresh Nath (UAE)

The tragedy is not that things are broken.
The tragedy is that things are not mended again 
 --Cry, the Beloved Country,
Alan Paton

The West's post-Holocaust pledge that genocide
would never again be tolerated proved to be hollow,
and for all the fine sentiments inspired
by the memory of Auschwitz,
the problem remains
that denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good 
--We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow
We Will Be Killed with Our Families, 
 Philip Gourevitch
   
Bellum ominum contra omnes
(a war of all against all)
--Thomas Hobbes 
_________________________

President Obama recently laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in the presence of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His disingenuous proclamation played well to the crowd, but was so much well-scripted fluff. He said Hiroshima was,

 “the start of our own moral awakening”. We come to mourn the dead. Their souls speak to us, they ask us to look inward, take stock of who we are.”

So let's talk about morals and some dead, of the recent variety. When the United States handed Saddam Hussein over to the new Shia-led government, they set on him like a pack of hyenas, snapping his neck with a rough cow rope in a mosh pit of celebration after an amateur show trial.

The U.S. celebrated in the carnage and joined in the morbid ebullience, despite the fact that Hussein had done nothing to the U.S. to warrant such bloodlust. What had he done that our friends the Saudis or Egyptians do not?

Ditto the grotesque murder of Libyan President Muommar Qaddafi. Our sociopathic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gleefully acknowledged his death-by-mob in the street on commercial television. Her delusions of grandeur were exposed with her petty, "We came, we saw, he died".

And yet life for Libya and its people -- just as for Iraqis post-Saddam -- has grown exponentially worse since Qaddafi was deposed. What, exactly, does  the U.S. have to crow about, and what moral direction can it provide?

But to the Japanese empire circa August, 1945. Hirohito was the divine emperor of an operation in which Koreans were used as labor and sex slaves. U.S. and British Prisoners of War were tortured, murdered and used for bayonet practice. Japanese medical officers used U.S. P.O.W.'s in chemical and biological research. The litany of terror goes on (even ignoring the fact that the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the war.)

The point is: the Emperor was a war criminal of the highest order, and yet the U.S. never bothered to treat him as such. [He reigned until his death in 1989.]

What has changed from 1945 to 2016? Do our recent actions speak of "moral awakening"?

Are we listening to the newly dead which we have created, and what do we see when we "take stock of who we are"?

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tit for Tat



I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return 
 --September 1, 1939,
W. H. Auden
______________________

Everyone is in agreement that ISIS must be destroyed. Everyone except Ranger.

To be clear, this is no apologia for the Islamic State. Rather, it is a down-and-dirty perspective on why the United States should not set its sights on destroying the group. The reason for this lies in the group's genesis.

The origin can be traced to the Battle of Fallujah, an action which was more punitive than military. There, the U.S. wanted to prove a point to the Sunnis: U.S. forces can destroy the city anytime they want to.

Then the U.S. left the theatre.

Enter the new Iraqi leadership which alienated the Sunnis from influence in the Shia-dominated government. Add in the Iranian influence and the Kurds and the Sunnis were left with few options. The logical result? The disaffected Sunnis formed their own power structure, ISIS. When your back is against the wall, there is little to lose; possibly, there is gain.

The U.S. totally ignored its usual pretensions to being culturally sensitive and politically correct in almost all actions taken. Going in with no clear mandate other than retribution, we were left to fumble for one. Nation-building, American style, against which the disaffected said, "No thanks".

Not being stupid (if not atrocious), ISIS marshaled all resources at hand. NGO's swanning about the wreckage?  "News people" sniffing about to satisfy our need for salacious images? Contractors with a myriad of agendas and loyalties? All fair game for ISIS target practice, and their OWN shot at media platform fame.

You want gore (they correctly divine)? We got gore (they say). In fact, they say, we will out-gore you (a pretty tall order against The World's Biggest Military.) Orange is the new black, and Leni Riefenstahl could not have scripted ISIS's images any better.

ISIS may seem rusticated to our refined sensibilities, but they have television. They see our Guantanamo Bay prisoners (= "themselves") in orange jumpsuits, so they put their prisoners in the  same. As Wilde wrote, "The vilest deeds like poison weeds / Bloom well in prison-air."

They play the great Mohammedan warrior swathed in black, the ur-Outsider in our Bad Guy-Good Guy construction. They are the outsiders and the outlaws. It is Hollywood perfection, and George Lucas could not have done better.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the black-clad Darth Vadar tells white-clad Luke, "I am your father." In a nutshell, that is this morality play, and the players may swap costumes. Destruction breeds destruction, ad infinitum.

Ask yourself: if you were a Sunni in Fallujah, what good options would you have? ISIS became a militia that became an army that everybody swore to destroy.

The U.S. has bombed them, assassinated their leadership and killed 26,000 of them. Then we wonder why they conduct operations in Europe.

Every action has a reaction. This is all perfectly understandable.

Yet every night before the news we pull a disingenuous Captain Renault."Shocked!", we collectively mumble, as we consume voraciously the snuff films before us. (No one even need risk jail time for watching these state-sanctioned violence porn grotesqueries presented to us on the evening news with the furrowed brow of the news person trying really hard to convey a personal sense of gravitas.)

Shocked, we are . . .

Really?


--Jim and Lisa

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Ranger Haiku: Beauty and The Beast


--Matsuo Basho,
17th cen. Haiku master
_____________________

 Lisa thought our readers might enjoy this prototypical email exchange shared between RAW writers one recent rainy day.

Not that either of us conformed to correct syllabification, but it shows a good-faith effort at externalizing our internal thoughts:


Dear Jim,


I am enjoying the silence of the rain (which has it's own sound.) Evey day there is a weed whacker or leaf blower shouting from some part of the neighborhood.

But then, I just heard what sounded like a buzz saw starting up.  Then I realized it was the squeal of a city truck wheezing and whining down the road.

I am motivated to compose a Haiku:


The rain quiets human noise
Now the city truck
Bird song and rain reclaim space


--Lisa


----------------------------------------


To which Ranger replied less than a minute later, simply:

And a well placed grenade
In seconds silences all

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Sign of Hope, II

We don’t submit to terror.
We make the terror 
--House of Cards

The sailors and pilots
The soldiers and the law
The pay offs and the rip offs
And the things nobody saw 
--The Smuggler's Blues, 
Glenn Frey
 _______________________

As a follow-on to the previous piece on Medal of Honor (MOH) recipient Clinton Romesha, Ranger asks, "Why such a paucity of MOH's to living recipients from the wars of the last 13 years?"

In comparison, the United States awarded 20 MOH's to living recipients for the small 1890 engagement the Army called "The Battle of Wounded Knee" (or, "The Massacre of Wounded Knee"), more than have been awarded in the entire War on Terror.

Why have more awards not been issued to non-elite type units? They, too, carried this war on their backs. Since so many Reserve and National Guard units have also fought to the legal standard, why have they gone unrecognized?

The MOH is a symbolic award that serves to ennoble and revitalize the institution. Without such recognition, the fighting and dying seems paltry and trite. Does the National Command Authority understand this military nuance?

The institution needs these medal recipients, yet they are saluting smartly and route-stepping into history. That many of the living recipients of this highest service recognition have chosen to leave the active service is a curious phenomenon, considering the institutional deification that is traditionally accorded these recipients.

But that is a topic for its own study and one would have to dialog with these men to understand their decision. Ranger imagines that their turning away is an indictment and rejection of the stated goals of the wars.

Does anyone else wonder why?

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Monday, May 16, 2016

A Sign of Hope: Clinton Romesha

--Medal of Honor recipient 
SSG Clinton Romesha
_________________________

Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha was interviewed recently on CBS Sunday Morning. He spoke about the action at Fire Base Keating for which he earned the honor, and about which he has recently written a book (A Medal of Honor Recipient's Ongoing Burden.)

SSG Romesha has openly expressed the futility of Command Outpost Keating where his action took place; like some of his fellow MOH recipients, he has since left the Army. But what struck Ranger during the interview was Sergeant Romesha's deep authenticity and sorrow as he spoke from his heart.

He shed tears as he humbly spoke of his fellow soldiers that were killed in action. Romesha stated clearly stated that every soldier killed and wounded at COP Keating also deserved and passed the bar to have been awarded the MOH.

Romesha said that he didn't do anything any other soldier would not have done:

"I think you could have replaced me with any other red-blooded American soldier," Sgt. Romesha said. "There would have been another one that would have stepped up and done the same thing."

No doubt, this is true. That is what United States soldiers do when the cards are down. It is called "fellowship" and "loyalty", and it speaks of respect for one's self and one's fellows. It is rejuvenating to hear a soldier express this.

The soldiers at COP Keating were not Special Operators, and did not necessarily claim to be warriors. Romesha did not beat his sword upon his shield.


He showed the true humility of soldiers, and Ranger's heart overflows with pride to witness such honesty.

Our soldiers deserve the best we can offer them. To watch Mr. Romesha one can see his soul is damaged and that trauma is his companion. However, he shows, too, that his humanity is intact.

The coda to the interview: "After the battle, all of the soldiers were ordered to abandon Keating, and the outpost they had fought so desperately to defend was leveled by American bombs."

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Cleveland and the RNC, 2016

The ocean is a desert with it's life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love 
--A Horse With No Name, 
America
  You take your world
and I'll take mine 
--On the Road

When they're beset and besieged
The folk not noblessly obliged
However do they manage to shed their weary lot?
Oh, what do simple folk do, that we do not? 
--What Do Simple Folk Do? 
Camelot
_________________________

Why is the Republican party holding its convention in Cleveland, a former staunchly working middle-class, pro-union city (when there were factories in which unions could operate)? Née "Best Location in the Nation", may she R.I.P.

Dare any delegates walk the inner cities to meet-and-greet the locals on their home turf, a dicey proposition by day, a free-fire zone at night? The Cleveland of Ranger's youth is gone (though walking many streets still required carrying a baseball bat even then, if one were smart about it.) But life has proceeded well beyond those halcyon days.

Ranger reckons the contingent won't venture beyond the Green Zone, i.e., a highly-secured convention center. Despite peeps of "gentrification" not everyone's feeling the craft food and beer boom outside of that cordon; not by a long chalk.

There's still no groceries or urban-sized chain stores downtown as there are in other gentrifying areas, the true signs of a living urban area. The cameras will show a few blocks of Tower City, and mostly before dark, and they'll call it all good.

However, if one Googles the search words "safe" + "Cleveland", one won't gain much heart. The best advice is to stay at The Renaissance, from which you can go to Tower City "and you don't even have to go outside." 

The winner for most optimistic online comment was, "Cleveland is much safer than Detroit". Well okay, then.

The water is poor, but surely the conventioneers will be drinking only bottled from their room bar. And on this account Ranger would add his own hopeful slogan, "Cleveland -- at least we're not Flint." So there's that.

Does either party have a plan to renovate and reinvigorate this once-proud, now decaying Rust Belt city? Will the indigenous be a protest presence? Probably not, knowing the history of trigger-happy police, and the enervated condition of too many in the blighted zones who begin drinking their morning Ripple out of bags on their sagging front porches before noon.

If Ranger were to operate as presumptive nominee Trump's George Stephanopoulis, he would suggest the following as must-do's, cameras in tow:
Secure some armored-up Humvees from party diehards and enter those off-limit zones, the neighborhoods of Ranger's young adulthood. Have Mr.Trump flanked by both locals with concealed-carry permits and a police escort, but have the latter be as inconspicuous as possible.
Mr. Trump should breach the forward operating bases (FOBs) of the city, the places where your talking heads will not. He should wear a Kevlar vest, not because he is a white Republican male, but simply because he is a human moving target.
For some down-home feel-good moments, the Trump party should stop at the Slovenian Home on 185th in honor of his wife's heritage.  Moreover, since he missed a lot on his recent trip to the Old Country, he should eat some cabbage rolls at the American-Croation Lodge on Lakeshore Blvd.

After a good meal, the cortege could re-enter The Zone (any zone) and disburse needful things like Pampers, bottled water and Apple Jack as a goodwill gesture. A sort of Clintonian, "I feel your pain" (a la monsieur, not madame.)
A la Reagan to Gorbachev, Ranger says, "Leave that Green Zone, Mr. Trump, and offer something real and constructive." Please highlight the results of 60 years of robust Civil Rights legislation. 

Anything will be a start.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

From Prussia, With Love

 --Emad Hajjaj (Jordan) 

We'll sign some trashy treaties
And protocols galore,
(They won't make any difference
If I decide for war)  
--Stuff and Nonsense: A Book of War Verses, 
Sir Ian Malcolm

If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true 
--Reason to Believe,
Rod Stewart
_________________________

The first assumption of United States' nation-building protocol is to build up an army and a militarized police force as the basis for establishing the nation we wish to create. The idea is, the government will fall into place if backed by sufficient force.

As a recent New Yorker piece on the Sykes-Picot treaty observed: "[Iraq and Syria] trained plenty of men in uniform. But both had weak public institutions, teeny civil societies, shady and iniquitous economies, and meaningless laws. Both countries were wracked by coups and instability . . . (t)he glue that held both countries together was repressive rule and fear."

But the balled-up belief in democracy issuing from force is echoed all 'round. Lieutenant General (ret'd) James M. Dubik allowed in a recent BBC America interview that Iraq was terribly off-balance, but stated that the army would not hold if the government falls.

We need only look back 40+ years to Vietnam, the modern prototype for counterinsurgency warfare, to see the failure of  this approach. And since this model failed so spectacularly in the Republic of Vietnam, why do we think it would work in Iraq or Afghanistan today?

The U.S. operates in bad faith, as though armies buy freedom, but the shallowest tour of history debunks that theory. In the most charitable reading, we optimistically operate on that misbegotten template because the Continental Army was created by fiat to expulse the British army and create a new democratic union.

In contradiction, the armies the U.S. creates in Iraq and all of the other oil countries exist simply to quell internal threats. They subdue their citizens and don't even pretend to be democratic. When an army is habitually used to suppress its citizens, this defines a totalitarian regime. 

The late, great Prussia serves as a cautionary example of a state which existed for the benefit of its army. This attitude is the opposite of democratic thought, and since the U.S. fought Prussia in two World Wars, it could be inferred that we opposed the construct.

Sadly, 21st century U.S. thought has devolved to the Prussian template: the U.S. invades, destroys, then nation-builds upon the assumption that out of strong armies and police will grow a democratic  nation. Not.

While this is the statehood pattern followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, et al., there is no reason to believe that the equation will endure when the state is placed under extreme stress. An army plus militarized police do not ensure statehood, and especially not when they are simply uniformed militias dedicated to a sect opposed to the concept of nation statehood.

The state does not exist for the army; the army exists to defend the state. When the U.S. builds strong armies and police in foreign ventures, it is creating the conditions for repression, not democracy.

Could somebody remind our leaders why we fought two world wars, and why conventional wisdom warns against secret and entangling alliances?

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Naughty Boyz

 Bad bad, bad, bad boy,
you make me feel so good
You naughty, bad, bad, bad, bad boy 
--Bad Boy, Gloria Estefan

 A bad little kid
Moved into my neighborhood
He won't do nothing right
Just a sitting got to look so good 
--Bad Boy, the Beatles

 Bad guy (slang) n.:
a morally bad person or character. 
A villain
 --Merriam-Webster online  

Welcome to hell  
--Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
_______________________

Three bona fide terrorism subject matter experts speaking in a recent Charley Rose round table all referred to the Islamic State as the "Bad Guys", reflecting the general consensus of United State's government and military leaders. So this is what the Phony War on Terror (PWOT©) has devolved to -- getting bad guys.

You know what Ranger is going to say: in what code book, Hague Convention or United Nation guidelines is "bad guys" defined? When did being a Bad Guy earn you a death sentence?

"Since August, 2014, the United States has invested more than eleven million dollars a day in military operations, including almost nine thousand airstrikes on Iraq and more than five thousand on Syria" (How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East). The U.S. is dropping bombs faster than they can make 'em, hoping that we will hit a bad guy in the bursting radius.

The problem with "Bad Guys" is that the descriptor depends on which side of the fence you house your goats. To some people, President George W. Bush is a very Bad Guy -- war crime sort of bad. To others, he is a hero. Go figure.

How do you define Bad Guy? Is he a fundamentalist who likes terrorism? Is he a guy who will torture someone whom his government calls a Bad Guy, with nary a qualm of conscience? Do they trade in oil and deceit? Are they the arms dealers represented by U.S. interests?

Know this: the fundies and terrorists of ISIS would not exist without a U.S. foreign policy that affects oil and arms in the region. 


What color is your bad? 

When the objectives of war are the killing of bad guys, we have entered a vague moral ground and left a legal, political or military one. Bad guys is a concept a religious person can utter with certainty: "bad" or "evil" is something which is not them. Moreover, it must be destroyed. The problem is, only gods do battle with amorphous concepts like evil. 

When secular states like the U.S. kill on the basis of eradicating "badness" or "evil", we should recognize the futility of the mission. All of the evil in the world cannot be bombed into submission or non-existence. 

Know this, too: we are playing the devil's game, and there will be hell to pay.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mission Impossible

 --The bloom's off the rose 

 His stop-loss odyssey 
went Kabul, morphine, 
   Ramstein, Stateside, 
and back—round-robin   
desert wrestling,
tag out, tag in 
--Welcome Home, Troops! 
 Amit Majmudar

 Cause I gonna make you see 
There's nobody else here 
No one like me
 I'm special, so special
--Brass in Pocket,
The Pretenders

One step forward and two steps back
 Nobody gets too far like that
 One step forward and two steps back 
This kind of dance can never last 
--One Step Forward, 
The Desert Rose Band    
___________________

Let us do a check-in on the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) at lucky year 13, as President Obama sends more advisers to Syria in what looks very much like JFK's adviser gambit in the early years of the Vietnam War, the poster child counterinsurgency (COIN) failure.

First, a review: After the initial conventional invasion stage, the PWOT© became a COIN war, for lack of a better term. General Petraeus and his post-Vietnam thesis guided our participation, as if this time, we would really nation-build and win hearts and minds.

Hearts and minds, as if Vietnam could be redeemed and made into something of worth. COIN theory redux would modernize Galula, make what they tried to bury count, make it relevant for a new day.

But then the New COIN started looking like its own danse macbre. We forgot that it wasn't a war, and we were fighting the very people we came to democratize. COIN  really isn't a very good way for the U.S. to win a war, or to help a people.

You cannot both fight people and nation build concurrently. Probably, we still do not realize that it is possible to nation build and to fight insurgents, but the process must occur consecutively. It is impossible to fight, kill and destroy while also attempting to build; the concepts are mutually exclusive.

The luster fell away from the erstwhile Golden Boy, General Petraeus, and his vaunted COIN theory has been folded and put back under the trundle bed, like an old Mission Impossible VHS tape. So where does that leave hearts and minds and nation building, as the United States trudges on in the quagmire that is the Not-Arab Spring?

The mask of nation-building has fallen away, as the U.S. realizes that was merely pretense for our frenzied occupation of places in which the U.S. had no legitimate reason to be. "Asymmetrical warfare" has also died a protracted death on the trash heap of a failed policy.

The U.S. is currently yoked to a slug-fest that makes less sense than did the tarted-up, new-and-improved COIN of once-wonder boy, Vietnam vet-manque, Mr. Petraeus.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Earth Day + 4

--It's not nice to fool Mother Nature
In making war with nature, there was risk of loss in winning
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/author/9897-John_McPhee
In making war with nature, there was risk of loss in winning
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/author/9897-John_McPhee
 In making war with nature,
there was risk of loss in winning 
---John McPhee 

The warm, the richly coloured,
the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday.
 How kind, how good-looking,
how delightfully amusing every one was! 
--Brave New World
Aldous Huxley 

It is a fiction that science can save us
--Ranger thought
_____________________

If you live in a lovely part of the world, mazel tov. However, if you are drinking water in Flint or Cleveland, not so much.

"Better living through science" was the mantra in the 1950's, and one cannot watch commercial television or read a magazine without exposure to copious advertisements of drugs which will cure what ails you (if it doesn't kill you, first). The scientists can offer fixes, but they are more reticent on the topic of what made you sick to begin with.

The despoiling of our water sources will probably be mankind's undoing. But the water still comes out of the faucet, so it mustn't be all that bad, right? Florida is experiencing the slow catastrophe that is the fouling of its aquifer, but Governor Scott has seen fit to remove most protections and solutions.

Lake Apopka in the center of the state, once a pristine bass fishing area, has been fouled by decades of fertilizer runoff from muck farming by the A. Duda company. (Agricultural interests get a pass in Florida.) Now, it is the home of hermaphroditic frogs, and it has rendered as dead zones the entire Chain of Lakes which emanate from it.

Lisa lives near a Superfund site which, after the top six feet of contaminated earth was scraped and sent up to Georgia, has been converted into "Cascades Park", a capital showpiece. Of course, when she moved into town she read about clusters of illness in the vicinity, but also that doctors were not required to report these observations to any clearinghouse as there was no clearinghouse.

The money today is on chronic illness and lifetime "maintenance drugs". As Ranger observes, there are "well baby" doctor visits, but no "well adult" visits. People are too busy to stop and smell the roses, so they take antidepressants at unheralded levels as a stop-gap measure to keep them working, and working too long without rest and good food, they break down,.

A kindly friend gave Lisa a bottle of COSTCO sublingual B-12 the other day, for nerve health and energy. The pill was unpalatably, sickeningly sweet, creating a radioactive red color in the saliva advertised as a "cherry" flavor. She then read the ingredient list: Sucralose -- a neurotoxin -- and Mannitol, even worse. There is a contradiction here between intent and execution. 

The best medical innovations in the last century have probably been antibiotics and vaccinations, which eradicated scourges like polio (something which the privileged anti-vaxxers forget, and village people in Afghanistan and Pakistan never understood, anyway; just don't trust whitey . . . usually sound advice.) But besides those, how do we know that the things that afflict us are not caused by the things that we have created to "better" our lot? We foul and fix, like a dog chasing its tail.

It will be interesting to see the results of lives lived on smartphones, up until the wee hours updating and trolling Facebook and Instagram feeds. Surely Darwinism will remove many of the driving-texters from the gene pool.

We are already noticing young teens demonstrating nascent Dowager's humps as their faces tilt preturnaturally downward, and "Together Alone" is becoming the norm as all 'round the table get their fix on the smartphone.

Will we be able to stay ahead of the power curve resulting from the destruction which lies in our wake?

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

You Wanted Dead White Males, You Got 'Em

http://www.arts-stew.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Jackie-Gleason-as-Ralph-Kramden-from-the-TV-sitcom-The-Honeymooners-1950s.jpg 
 --And away they go
(Jackie Gleason as Ralph Cramden)

 A dirty white boy
I've been in trouble since I don't know when
I'm in trouble now and I know somehow
I'll find trouble again
--Dirty White Boy,
Foreigner

Twenty five years ago they spoke out and they broke out
Of recession and oppression and together they toked
And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire
Just singin' and clappin' man what the hell happened
--Walking on the Sun,
Smash Mouth

The only thing that's left to fear is too late to ever start again
They rape us over and over and over and over
But I'm still alive, but I'm still alive in this dead space 
--Dead Space, Sick Puppies
 _________________________ 

Subtitle: Requiem for a Heavyweight

The academie has been calling for their heads for decades.  De-center the white male -- eject his works from the canon! And while it is true that society has historically failed to recognize and include females and minorities, the white male artist should not be the whipping boy for society's failures.

Especially white males of the lower and middle strata today, who largely have no power to oppress anyone in society. Yet among the liberal crowd, it is with glee and snarkiness that they -- largely young to middle-aged white males -- express their schadenfreude against the meth-heads and Oxy fiends in Kentucky, largely young to middle-aged white males.

Scapegoats needed, and the bedraggled Khalid Sheikh Mohammed-looking guy in Appalachia in the wife-beater, gaze affixed to the rabbit-eared t.v. will do nicely, thanks. 

Well, we now have the result of this denigration and disdain: the white male young to middle-aged cohort is the only demographic losing in the longevity race in the United States. In addition to alcohol, drug abuse and liver cirrhosis is cited depression, as though the latter were a discrete phenomenon from the former.

After the previous gains had plateaued for several years, they have now begun to dip. Every other cohort continues to gain annually.

This trend should be very concerning to anyone who cares about a well populace. One group need not lose in order for others to gain. There is no penance that need be paid. This is not the bible, and offspring do not pay for the sins of the fathers.

But these dead and dying they are no one's pet project, they are simply lost like so much detritus along the highway that used to be paved with hope. Their jobs have been outsourced and off-shored, their towns, dying due to the outflux of industry. Good union jobs are scarce, once the route into the middle class for the vocational track student. There are few apprentices or journeymen anymore.

Clothes and socks and appliances are bought cheaply from abroad, and disposed of as befits their value. Human's valuation and a sense of pride also landed on that trash heap. These are the designated losers in the sweepstakes of modernity, not educated enough to innovate or escape the dead ends into which they were born, not qualifying for any particular charitable cause.

The last time an administration took note of their plight was back in the 1930's when FDR's administration began improvements like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Works Project Administration (WPA). President Obama's Promise Zones plans to bring federal dollars to regions with persistent poverty, like those in Kentucky (the first rural pilot), but it will probably be as successful as Johnson’s War on Poverty and Clinton’s Empowerment Zones. Not.

The causes du jour, gay marriage and LGBTQ rights, have no space for the floundering straight white male. As in The Dark Tower, time has moved on. The People Who Mean Well will bring places like rural Kentucky online, but sans leadership, they will play video games and grow more unfit to do anything but get to the end of the driveway for their monthly check to keep the Mountain Dew flowing.

The too-young dying white males should be seen as a bellwether for the future of any hopeless cohort in our country. Simply as a matter of expediency, we should be utilizing all of our manpower into building a more robust society; forget morals and ethics.

We amuse ourselves with programs like "Justified and "The Walking Dead", but the reality which props up the artifice is anything but amusing. Witnessing large swathes of desolation throughout the land which used to be centers of production -- now become rat holes -- we should all be concerned if for naught else than the corrosive effect upon on our own piece of the puzzle. The contagion spreads from the epicenters of the disease.

Epitaph of the dead white male: I can't go on, I'll go on.

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