Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Age of the Oligarchs

--Media Rules Us
Angel Boligan (Mexico)

 and in the needle mountains there are lakes
so cold and clear that the dead who sit
on the bottom in buggies and machine-gun nests
look up past the trout that nibble their shoulders
--Woodrow Wilson, David Young

Robert Parry agrees with our previously-stated concerns over the new "vanity media" (supposedly in opposition to "legacy media"), writing that we are entering the "Age of the Oligarchs":

So, if you want to find critical reporting on U.S. interference in Ukrainian politics or a challenging analysis of U.S. claims about the Syrian chemical weapons attack, you’re not likely to find them at ProPublica, which is backed by ex-subprime mortgage bankers Herbert and Marion Sandler and is edited by well-paid traditional journalists from the mainstream press, like Stephen Engelberg, formerly of the New York Times. Nor at FirstLook.org funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Though both ProPublica and FirstLook do some fine work on certain topics – such as the environment and privacy rights, respectively – they haven’t shown much willingness to get in the way of U.S. foreign-policy stampedes as they run out of control. Presumably, that would make their funders nervous and possibly put their larger business interests at risk.
Another new media “oligarch,” Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has shied away from reining in “the neocons who brought us the Iraq War.” He has left neocons like Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl in charge of the opinion section of Official Washington’s hometown newspaper. Their positions on Syria and Ukraine have been predictable.
. . .
 # # #

Truth is a pathless land.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Life in Absurdistan

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye
--In Memory of W. B. Yeats, 
W. H. Auden

 Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could
make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got 'em like this...

You know what the public's like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night,
you miserable slobs. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers.
--A Face in the Crowd (1957)

We at RangerAgainstWar don't think we are like Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd. But whoever you pay obeisance to just might be.

Ranger and I had a chuckle over the weight of absurdities reported weekly in the media. He felt that all stories post 9-11-01 regarding terrorism should be reported under a warning banner, like cigarettes: "Nothing herein reflects reality."

The manner in which the average American interacts with the stories that concern him makes him complicit in his own stasis and impotence. Vaclav Havel's 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless" indicts the behavior, now enhanced by our ability to broadcast over multiple social platforms and feel as though we are accomplishing something.

"For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system." Some stories which we had encountered on that day, which did not tell the truth:

  • NPR reports, "Russia is trying to topple the stability of the Ukraine." What stability?
  • Why do we cry over the recent Washington mudslides, instead of asking why people build on unstable mountainsides?
  • Why do we insist on the parity between the sexes, and yet seem confounded when a recent economic report declares that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns in a similar job? In response, Obama is now pushing for full pay disclosure in Federal contractor situations, as though this will solve the problem. In fact, the disparity is due in large part to women's biological choices, something with which men do not have to contend. Yet women are burdened (faux "liberated") by the superwoman persona which media overlays atop them.
  • Why do gays want to marry in a church which does not sanction their behavior? Certainly a civil union according all of the rights of partnership should be allowed, but if we are to obey our Constitution, we would understand the separation of church and state, which is not the same thing as the obliteration or coercion of the Church (and vice versa.)

Wouldn't it be nice if we just told the truth? The broadcasts could shut down by 3 p.m. We could go outside and take a walk, get some sun after work, be healthier in mind and body. We would not need so many meds or doctors.

On second thought, that would not work at all.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why Do People Watch the Weather Channel?

 And Mr. H. will demonstrate
Ten sommersets he'll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
A splendid time is guaranteed for all 
--Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, 
The Beatles 

Forecast: Sunny, Windy, Cooler

There are some things I do not understand.

While eating breakfast at a motel this week, I sat at a table facing The Weather Channel and wondered, "Why do people watch it"? Surely it's not to sock away clever cocktail party banter.

Competing with a scroll of weather across the United States were four inane weathermen, whose hopeless banter ran the gamut from shock and awe over past weather events ("The hail was 3.5 inches, PLUS ... it was baseball-sized, PLUS!") -- featuring video of smashed auto windshields and felled trees -- to the inspiring tale of the Jersey Shore boardwalk being rebuilt.

Just to prove all was well in Jersey, their weather girl on-site held a deep-fried Oreo in paper she said she had just bought on the boardwalk, sat on the sand while gingerly placing the delicacy beside her (a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips) and lay back waving her arms and legs maniacally, mildly obscenely for a full-grown woman in possession of her senses, and showed off her "sand angel" to the admiring applause of the four at Weather central.

Next up was a triptych of weather in three cities: Buffalo, Charleston and Cleveland. Under each was a childish drawing of a garage, a flower and a window, informing the watcher what activity might be well-suited to the day ("cleaning out the garage", "planting flowers", or "washing windows".) Seriously? "Well, honey, the Weather Channel said it would be a good day for you to wash windows."

Beyond this, why do we devote seven minutes of the local evening news to the weather? Couldn't it be done in 30 seconds with a weather graphic, leaving more time to expose viewers to actual news?

Why are we fascinated by the forecasters ("fore" + "casters"), a magical bunch like wizards and rune casters? Theirs is not a science, but a guesstimate based on models and conjecture. Often, they fail miserably.

Why not just go outside with a bumbershoot in tow and enjoy the day?

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Unaffordable Care Act


Many think President Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided a medical salvation to a large proportion of the 47 million heretofore uninsured non-elderly Americans. In fact, it has compelled perhaps 1.6% more people to buy insurance in 2014 than were insured in 2013.

Even taking the rosier figure of 5.4% of the number of previously uninsured, this is hardly a success story.

Moreover, having insurance coverage is not the same thing as being able to pay for actual healthcare. To risk stating the obvious: Beyond paying one's insurance premiums, one must then pay for the actual medical care one seeks. It should seem obvious that many of the people who failed to buy health insurance failed because the cost of seeing a doctor was beyond their purview.

The big story, however, is the "ugliness of spirit" (to quote Paul Krugman from his "Health Care Nightmare") in the United States which the ACA has revealed. Over half of our State's governor's are rejecting additional Medicaid coverage, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott being one. Odd considering our not-compassionate conservative Governor Rick Scott made his money in the legally contentious, once-largest for-profit health care company in the U.S. (Columbia/HCA); one would think he had a heart for such issues.

From Krugman's piece:

The health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of health reform — and normally a very mild-mannered guy — recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.

Florida CHAIN, a group lobbying for "increasing the access to affordable quality healthcare, published an informative piece on what the legislators "hope you don't read and remember." From that brief round-up is this on the "spite tax":

  • $500 million: A conservative estimate of the “spite tax” that Floridians will pay in 2014 – i.e., the amount of STATE taxes and fees that Floridians must redundantly pay to block access to what they already paid for with federal taxes

How Obamacare has played out in Florida is that the Medicare - Medicaid population can no longer access medical care from the same doctors they had previously seen. Bottom line: doctors are unwilling to accept the 80% remuneration from Medicare when they will not have access to the 20% previously covered by Medicaid. (Meanwhile, many of those accepting full Medicare reimbursement grow rich from providing often unnecessary procedures or prescribing unnecessary or unproven medications hawked by their friends representing the interests of Big Pharma.)

What is the linkage between Obamacare and the refusal of doctors to accept patient who are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid?

Whatever the linkage, signs were in place in doctor's offices in 2012 stating that should the healthcare act pass, they would no longer be treating their patients who were dual Medicare + Medicaid recipients. These are the patients who will neither be able to afford the ACA coverage nor the medical care itself -- our neediest citizens who should be protected by such governmental programs.

The best parsing of the 1,163 pages of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (HR3590) and the 337 pages of the “Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010″ (HR4872)—known collectively as the Affordable Care Act— can be found at this post on Dr. Lickerman's blog. A liberal M.D., he explains clearly why the Act will not be a boon to the average health insurance customer.

There is no need to compress his compression, but this is an example:

"Consumers currently have almost no ability to “vote with their feet. Thus, no competitive pressure exists to motivate insurance companies to lower their premiums at all (remember, just because there are multiple plans on the exchanges doesn’t mean they’re being offered by as many companies)."

The insurance companies grow rich, the doctors grow rich, and the poor go without care. A Federal mandate that people buy health insurance ≠ being able to afford health care.

Medicare patients who also qualify for Medicaid are being turned away from their doctors in Florida -- is this how Obama's vision was supposed to play out?

We need a new law that requires all doctors to honor Medicaid patients (bureaucracy rules.) If Congress would provide this legislation, then then Mr. Obama should use his flanking policy by issuing an Executive Order. If a doctor accepts Medicare, he should be required by law to provide care to Medicaid patients. To do otherwise is simple money-grubbing.

Ranger will bet the farm that our leadership class does not have a problem finding premium health care, paid for with our tax dollars.

Addendum: Yesterday's press covered the death of young Florida mother Charlene Dill who collapsed at one of her three jobs for want of healthcare for her documented heart condition. She fell into the "Medicaid Gap" because she lived in a state which would not expand Medicaid coverage. Her case is not an isolated one.

--Jim and Lisa

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

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--The Toady Awards

You have done enough.
Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?
Have you left no sense of decency?
--Joseph  N. Welch,  McCarthy Hearings

Surely there must be a special rung in purgatory for those politicoes who shuttled off any cape of honor or shame in order to extend the longevity of their political lives. At least, a recognition of some kind.

Just as there are the Emmy's and Tony's, there should be an award for the best performance by political toady, so RangerAgainstWar presents: The Toadies.

Colin Powell's 2003 performance at the United Nations Security Counsel arguing for the existence of the non-extant Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was a classic; he shall be the inaugural member of the club of men of little decency or integrity -- the water boys of the Great Men. The grade school props of the drawings on the easel with the little Photoshopped arrows of mobile chemical units touring the countryside made it that much more heartbreaking of a job.

Now John Kerry is implicating Russian President Putin for behaving like George W. Bush, except he is being less-than forthright about the analogy. Mr. Kerry has fallen from being a man of principle (read his Winter Soldier testimony) to a toady; we nominate him as the newest recipient of the award.

Who would you nominate for The Toadies? What action would earn the nominee this award?

Nominations are hereby open.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

--A toadie in Winter Soldier camouflage
"In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart...."
--a young John Kerry, Winter Soldier Hearings (1971) 

I'm shocked -- shocked 
to find that gambling is going on in there 
--Casablanca (1942)

From Secretary of State John Kerry's reply to a question about Russia's actions in Ukraine on the CBS news show "Face the Nation," March 2:
"Well, it's an incredible act of aggression. It is really a stunning willful choice by president Putin to invade another country. Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations. Russia is in violation of its obligations under the U.N. charter, under the Helsinki Final Act. Its violation of its obligations under the 1994 Budapest agreement. You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext. 

"So it is a very serious moment, but it is serious not in the context . . . of Russia-U.S. It is serious in terms of sort of the modern manner with which nations are going to resolve problems."


Y'don't say? Well, I don't know about you, but a president making a unilateral choice to invade another country? ("Vlad the Invader"?)

I don't believe I have ever heard of such a thing, have you?

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Capt Mbaye Diagne - "A Good Man"

Capt. Mbaye Diagne and his wife, Yacine
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,
Andrew, Gourevitch
You see the truth, it needs no proof
Either it is or it isn't
('Cause he is the truth) 
--The Truth, India Aria

  “…the war about the genocide was truly a postmodern war: a battle between those who believed that because the realities we inhabit are constructs of our imaginations, they are all equally true or false, valid or invalid, just or unjust, and those who believed that constructs of reality can—in fact, must—be judged as right or wrong, good or bad."
"While academic debates about the possibility of objective truth and falsehood are often rarified to the point of absurdity, Rwanda demonstrated that the question is a matter of life and death.”
--We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families 

This week marks the 20th anniversary Rwandan Genocide, 100 days of slaughter over which 500,000-1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 20% of the country's total population and 70% of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda. It was both a civil war and a genocide.

Most of the world stood by while the mutilated bodies floated down the rivers. Writer Andrew Gourevitch wrote the definitive book on the events with his, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.

Please do yourself a favor and read this story (or listen to the broadcast) by BBC's Mark Doyle, "A Good Man in Rwanda" an homage to Capt. Mbaye Diagne, a United Nations peacekeeper in Rwanda -- "The bravest man I have ever met."

“He had a sense of humanity that went well beyond orders, well beyond any mandate" said General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian United Nations Commander now a senator in the Canadian Parliament. Capt. Diagne was killed nine days before he was to have returned to his home in Senegal, ironically by a Tutsi mortar round -- the very people whom he was trying to protect.

Nothing good comes of war, and certainly putting poorly equipped, unarmed UN forces in the midst of such a situation is madness in the midst madness.

Words matter: You are not "keeping peace" when you are in the midst of hostilities of all against all.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

The New Media

That is why I lie to her and she to me
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be 
--Sonnet 138 (Lie with Me),

 Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody 
--Gotta Serve Somebody, 
Bob Dylan 

As a teenager, Michel believed that suffering
conferred dignity on a person.
Now he had to admit that he had been wrong.
What conferred dignity on people was television 
--The Elementary Particles, Michel Houellebecq 

And then it just becomes an industry
of... cool 
--Almost Famous (2000)

More on how the media creates and feeds myth, and subtracts from the truth:

The integrity of reportage is being keenly challenged due to economics, and venture capitalists like eBay's Pierre Omidyar are stepping in to the breach to provide what he calls alternately "crusading journalism," or "opinionated news"; what friend FDChief calls, "vanity media".

Omidyar's new online journal, First Look Media, will join Vice Media, Business Insider and Ozy, among others, in presenting news with a spin. It is "Entertainment Tonight" for a hipster 21st century, and he has recruited names like Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian) and Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone) to unabashedly front their take on the news they will report.

But "opinionated news" = agenda news (or, propaganda). Is it any different to get fed a line by someone you think is "on your side", than it is to read a Murdoch publication or listen to the Drudge Report or Fox news? You can dig some truth out of CounterPunch or Fox, by why should you have to? There are only so many hours in a day, and opinion will never reveal the truth until you get the facts and decide for yourself.

Greenwald is being disingenuous when he asserts that no one is a tabula rasa, ergo, writers should be opinionated. We may as well give up on our jury system if we do not believe a reporter can do his job in a disinterested manner. To be well-informed, we should seek more facts, less opinion. I can be wrong all on my own -- I do not need someone mainlining his thoughts to me like a pusher.

Mr. Greenwald, one of the reporters to whom Edward Snowden released his NSA documents, seems like a nice guy. He started out on Blogger with the ugly brown wallpaper, like the rest of us -- an attorney who began writing on public matters from a Constitutional viewpoint. But As Omidyar's star mouthpiece he is getting swept up into the cult of personality, and says being "boring" is a cardinal sin of the press. "Aggressive adversarial journalism" is where it's at.

It is sad when an educated man like Greenwald argues for the integrity of biased reportage. His dialog with the NYT's Bill Keller was embarrassing for the number of faulty syllogisms and the "new news" party line propaganda he peddled. He says we want personalities to interpret "the words and actions of political officials", but that is so patronizing. There are objective truths which precede the Postmodernist's savvy "post-truth" worldview, and presenting those facts is what news writer should do.

In her "Still Mad as Hell", The Times Maureen Dowd wrote an excellent analogy of Chaveysky's fictional newsman Howard Beale in the 1976 film "Network" to today's broadcasters who will "tell you what to think":

Chayefsky said his 1976 masterpiece was “a rage against the dehumanization of people” addicted to “boredom-killing” devices — a dehumanization that has gone to warp speed as we have entered the cloud. He said it was about “how to protect ourselves” from “the illusion we sell as truth.”

I totally get that this is a democracy with all of its attendant freedoms. We at RangerAgainstWar champion those freedoms, assuming that most people will (as the beer adverts say) consume responsibly. But there must be something pure to consume, if one is to operate from the facts.

Reflection is also a necessary antecedent to responsible decision-making and action; it is the pause that refreshes. If there is no gap -- no space between the stimulation and the act -- then we are operating in the realm of the paramecium, reacting aimlesslessly and instinctively to stimuli.

Sadly, our sped-up lifestyles involve a rapidity of information dispersal and consumption demanding instant response and judgement, akin to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink which champions this knee-jerk response.

It is like listening to a call-and-response spiritual in a Fundamentalist church. Recent brain studies confirm that our actions precede conscious decision, so the reversion to spontaneity and away from rationality appears to be an innate human default. We are the paramecia with an overgrown neo-cortex.

Perhaps the ubiquity of easily-boarded social platforms and instantaneous uploads is more of a burden than a release, for it keeps us so busy and tired that we do not have the time to process all that runs across our minds in a day, leaving us operating on a hamster wheel of feeds.

The requirement to respond instantaneously in a social milieu requires a reversion to group-think, so affiliation with social networks of "like mind" is of primary importance.  Crowdsourcing is essential in order to attempt to access the significance of any act in real time. However, that ingathering of input is too often drawn from affinity-based media.

We are all babes in this new frontier of social networking, and being frontiersman we look to exploit opportunities. We can't blame the Greenwald's for trying to hitch their wagon to a star. But in today's emotive entertainment stew, sanctioning opinionated writing writing under the imprimatur of a newpaper's banner seems a fool's errand at best, duplicitous at worst.

Revisiting FDChief's earlier-mentioned post reminds us that we both began blogging in late 2006. Blogging was a way to get out the word and to find fellow travelers.

Many of us here met via Phil Carter's early military - policy blog, "IntelDump". Mr. Carter was an early friend to RAW, and like Mr. Greenwald, an attorney. Both have moved on to projects less pure but more lucrative than their early efforts in the medium. [Mr. Carter joined, then left, the Obama administration. He is now on the staff of the policy think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS). CNAS began around the blog "Abu Muquwama" whose founder -- Andrew Exum -- has exited down the rabbit hole of other, unknown, greener fields.]

We feel FDChief's frustration as what began as a promising project (the honest intensity of the blog) has being co-opted by Twitter "feeds", Facebook posts and the vanity press. The good guys have found new, profitable homes, and when you have a landlord, you may not change the interior too much.

The myths of Echo and Narcissus are cautionary tales for our new "echo chamber" clannishness. Echo was punished for adultery with Zeus by having her voice erased, except in foolish repetition of another's shouted words. Thus all Echo could do was repeat the voice of another.

Echo fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with himself (his own reflection), thereby risking an impossible love, ever-receding in its falseness. She, repeating his words, he who stands entranced before his own image, unaware of his adoration of his own reflection.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Ranger, in a Rumsfeldian State of Mind

 It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
But now I need a little give and take 
The New York Times, The Daily News.
It comes down to reality,
and its fine with me cause I've let it slide 
--In a New York State of Mind, 
Billy Joel

For your consideration: a Ranger zen koan or poem ... we don't know the correct genre (though we'd care to know):

There are those that care,
but don't know;
Those that know,
but don't care;
Those that don't know,
but don't care;
Those that don't care to know,
or don't care to care.

Those that wanted to, 
but never dared.

--by Ranger, at the deep end of the pool

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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Weakest Link

When she was good,
She was very good indeed, 
But when she was bad she was horrid 
--There Was a Little Girl, 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of 
--19th cen. nursery rhyme 

She may be weary, women do get weary,
wearing the same shabby dress
And when she's weary,
try a little tenderness.
--Try a Little Tenderness, 
Frank Sinatra

~I think ugly girls should be
shot at birth by their parents.
It's bad enough being born a girl...but ugly and clever...
~fancy you're clever, do you?
  ~I rather hope so. I'm done for if I'm not! 
--My Brilliant Career (1979)
Myth, media and reality: Tough Grrrls

The Marines recently pushed back the requirement that female recruits successfully accomplish 3 pull ups as more than 50% could not manage that feat, "delaying the prerequisite as it tries to integrate thousands of women into combat roles by 2016, the Associated Press reports."

The myths surrounding female vigor have shifted over time. There were the fabled Amazons who possessed physical prowess and goddesses who wielded the power to command others to do their killing. There was Boudica and Joan of Arc, and the rare women throughout history who went to war under cloak of male's clothing.

Patriarchy emphasized female reliance upon the male's brawn, and diminished her further through representations of the hysterical woman at once enslaved to her hormones and therefore a threat to the male's surety of his lineage, while at once ensuring the male's place as the satisfier of her wanton lusts.

Freud introduced us to the male's fear of engulfment and the vagina dentata, and the ever-receding possibility of sexual parity issuing not only from the inherent structural differences between the sexes but also our own particular neurosis and psychoses. It would seem the sexes would be forever consigned to opposite sides of the cave, cowering, glowering and licking their chops. The agreement allowing for one-on-one cohabitation was the marriage contract, a prospect based upon the distribution but not equalization of labor.

The 20th century ushered in film, actors, computer graphics and a social ethos which says, "Free to Be ... You and Me." In a generation we went from female cops like "Cagney and Lacey" -- of indeterminate sexual orientation -- to sexy killers like Ziva David on the popular television series NCIS. The boys can play with dolls, and girls can watch G. I. Jane and Lara Croft Tomb Raider. It's all good.

Fast forward 30 years and the new tough females are borderline or straight-out psychotic killing machines, like the female characters on the t.v. series Person of Interest. Forget bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan -- she does not care about making you feel like a man, because she's too busy co-opting your positions. Or so the media would have you believe.

The press hypes the new aggressive Alpha female and most accept the idea of women in combat and the death of the draft. But Ranger's position has remained steadfast: women should not be in the combat arms or maneuver or deployable units.

He does not hold this position because he is a misogynist or a dinosaur, but because the facts bear out his position. He is sorry to stomp on the parade of those who maintain the happy thoughts like "anyone can grow up to be President.

The Army teaches that a unit is as strong as its weakest link. Soldiers train hard to achieve a strong chain that can pull a heavy load. Individual training strengthens the individual, and these single units are integrated into unit training after which they become deployable assets. This is the basis of all combat effectiveness and unit cohesion.

Combat is neither glamorous nor does it have redemptive value. In training, men frequently lose weight and get beaten down hard. It is doubtful that women could perform on the brute physical level of men like Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sergeant Jon Caviani and SSG Roy Benavides, who killed enemy in close quarters combat with their fighting knives after having suffered grievous wounds (Caviani put his knife in a man's brain and was forced to leave it as it became bone welded and would not extract.)

SSG Fred Zabitowsky broke his back and ribs but managed to pull three men out of a downed helo and drag them to an extraction area. He was burned, broken and gunshot, yet he hefted soldiers onto his back. Like so many MOH recipients, Zabitowsky accepted the award on behalf of his fellows, whom he credited with operating at the same level of heroism. (We have written about Ranger associate Paul Longgrear, who led his men out of the Battle of Lang Vei with a broken ankle and head wound.)

These acts are those of the fighting male operating full bore. Unlike Title IX in women's sports, the battlefield may not be arrayed so that women fight only their physical peers. The fact is, most men who qualify for military participation can physically dominate most women in a fight scenario. This is why most Olympics sports are segregated by gender -- it is not to give them the disadvantage, but rather to offer them parity in competition. This "separate but equal" is fair.

Ranger anticipates objections that these are extreme scenarios, but this is what the military's "chain" concept is all about. 

Twenty-four Medals of Honor were recently belatedly awarded to men who had been denied their awards due to racial or religious prejudice. Ranger challenges anyone to read these MOH citations and image a female performing the same deeds. It does not come down to bravery or patriotism alone, it comes down to sheer physical capabilities.

So what's the solution? Put women on 155, 8 inch, 4.2 mortars? Will they pull motor stables with the mechanized and Armor? Will they carry a Barrett 50 or a GPMG? Will women hump ammo as assistant gunners? Can they throw a grenade and fight with men in close quarters combat? Endure the filth and privations of the battlefield?

Ranger does not believe combat effectiveness should be compromised in the name of raising the glass ceiling.

 [cross-posted @ MilPub.]

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kansas Preacher Man

He who is without sin among you,
let him be the first to throw a stone 
--John 8:7 

A half truth is a whole lie
--Yiddish proverb

 The evil that men do lives after them; 
the good is oft interred with their bones 
--Julius Ceasar (III, ii)

We don't know Rev. Fred Phelps from Adam, and do not hawk any particular dogma. But we are interested in the way media presents events.

In our outraged society, the death of Kansas preacher Fred Phelps must call for celebration -- a blot of medieval backwardness has been removed from the planet. Mr. Phelps gained infamy for his pronouncements that the United States' pro-homosexual stance was bringing the wrath of God down upon it, and his protests at military funerals gained him no love from that community of mourners.

A WaPo piece on his death even endeavored to take the high road by suggesting that imminent posts by Facebookers and Twitterers not dance on his grave, as that might be bad form. But what the Post failed to provide readers was a balanced obituary for this easy-to-dislike man, which would have provided real grist for such a request.

Missing was the momentous first half of this attorney-cum-preacher's life, in which he was one of the only private attorney's in early 1960's Kansas who would advocate for the civil rights of its black citizens, and he was successful in a big way. As a Christian, Phelps found racial bias unpalatable and against the word of God. All men are made in God's image; that's what his Good Book said. He could not brook their second-class status, and he moved against prejudice in a meaningful way.

You may call him a demogogue, but this was a man of action and not solely words who behaved in accordance with his beliefs. According to his moral guidebook, marriage was between men and women, and recent moves to force gay marriage in church were an an abomination. He didn't create his viewpoint, but was guided by the Christian rulebook, a book which has provided the foundation for many of our laws. Playing by those rules, his positions were consonant throughout his public life. 

Gay rights is the cause du jour -- the last frontier of the civil rights movement -- and this time, Phelps was on the wrong side of public opinion. Monster (on gay marriage) / savior (black civil rights). Demagogue / demigod. Like Ella Fitzgerald sang, " 'taint what you do, it's the way that you do it," and Phelps' approach was far from politic.

However, it is futility to expect the State to attempt to coerce the Church to believe otherwise on the gay marriage issue. Our Founders were wise enough to separate the two spheres. But separation does not imply smashing the institution. We are not Communistic, and those who would condemn religionists are as intolerant as those they would condemn. Live and let live is the ideal.

The whole truth of the man's life is complex, not so easily dismissed in a 120 character tweeted diatribe. Had the Post presented a complete obituary, they would have to forgo their saintliness, and we would have to forgo our desire for outrage and easily understood stories.

Complexities require thought.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Happy Spring

The great enemy of the truth
is very often not the lie,
deliberate, contrived and dishonest,
but the myth, persistent, persuasive
and unrealistic
 --John F. Kennedy

 Fly with me, float down to Peru
In llama land there's a one-man band
And he'll toot his flute for you
Fly with me, we'll take off in the blue 
--Come Fly With Me, Frank Sinatra 

Everything we hear is an opinion,
not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, 
not the truth
--Marcus Aurelius
Ranger update:

Apologies for the paucity of posts. It is springtime, and we return with a whiff of fresh air.

Our current interest is the nexus of myth, media and truth (not that the first two do not possess their own truth.) We will be looking at today's events through this lens.

Why not? This decade has seen the demise of major newspapers and the extreme downsizing of the reporting staff at the remaining papers. McClatchey news service was left standing as a lone credible (=disinterested) news source, and wildcat reporters congealed around groups like Global Post.

Many are attempting to decenter such news, playing upon the Postmodernist idea that truth does not exist. Tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar has seized the moment to create his partisan-style news service First Look Media which has recruited lawyer-writer Glenn Greenwald and journo Jeremy Scahill.

The Guardian quotes Jeremy Rosen who interviewed Omidyar as saying Omidyar is seeking "the proper midpoint between voicey blogging and traditional journalism, in which the best of both are combined." His First Look Media has been called "crusading Journalism", but that is an oxymoron. Journalism is the direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation. Opinion is opinion.

Truth. Let's give it a go.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gadsden County Social Security Office Closing, April 2014

 --Minister Alphonso Figgers 

Sedan delivery is a job
I know I'll keep
It sure was hard to find
Hard to find, hard to find a job,
hard to find, hard to find 
--Sedan Delivery, Neil Young

Here's a little story from Ranger's town of Quincy, the county seat of Gadsden County, the only predominantly black county in Florida. Thirty percent of the residents of this pine scrub county on the Georgia line live below the Federal poverty guidelines.

For the last two weeks, lay minster Alphonso Figgers has been manning his makeshift roadside post outside of the Gadsden Social Security office at 1105 East Jefferson Street, protesting the imminent closing of that office. Figgers showed us a folder of materials on the closing, slated for 31 March 2014.

While the decision to close the office was made in January, workers only received notice earlier this month (2 March).

The SSA stated that the decision to close the office was based on findings that the office rental of $12,000/month was not justified by the 54 constituents served daily.

Figgers said that to address the rent issue, Representative Allen Williams and City Commissioner Holt had convened a meeting on 11 March to discuss alternatives to the closing, including offering free space for SSA operation in an annex of the Sheriff's Department to address the rent issue. However, the offer could neither be accepted nor declined as no representatives from the SSA attended the meeting.

After the office closure, a letter from the SSA states residents will have the option of seeking services at the SSA offices in Tallahassee (25 miles), Marianna (50 miles) or Albany, Georgia. But for residents who do not own or have access to a vehicle or any sort of public transportation, this will constitute a possibly insurmountable hardship. Senator Bill Nelson has written an letter of appeal to Carolyn Colvin, the acting Commissioner of the SSA, expressing the direness of the situation.

The SSA has already closed its contact stations and mobile service stations in the county. There will be no further attempts at outreach to needy citizens. This is but one sad loss resulting from the sequestration and budget cuts. With the aging of the population comes the requirement of more servicing from public resource agencies, not less.

Mr. Figgers wonders aloud if its not the demographics of the constituency in Gadsden County which make it any easy target for losing government services. Perhaps it is just that a government on a shoestring is operating in the same mode of the "compassionate conservatives," hoping that some private party will step in to meet the need they are abandoning, but that is not how a government should operate its programs aimed at serving its neediest populations.

As with what happened when the Food Stamp program increased its requirements for qualification and those without vehicles had difficulty amassing all the new materials necessary for qualification, some will go underground and do with less food, less medical care and medications. Some will die prematurely, but the death certificate will not read, "death by sequestration".

And the country gets a little meaner incrementally.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"A" is for Adultery

--One of West Virginia's finest bites the dust 
How are the mighty fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
--Samuel 1:27 

I'm only human
Of flesh and blood I'm made
Born to make mistakes 
--Human, Human League 

But you didn't have to cut me off 
Make out like it never happened
and that we were nothing 
And I don't even need your love 
But you treat me like a stranger 
and that feels so rough 
--Somebody That I Used to Know,

The latest big Army Horn Dog to fall -- Brig. General Jeffrey Sinclair (="General Sin clear"?) -- has found a safe place to land following his indiscreet dalliances. His wife submitted a statement read before the court today requesting a lenient penalty be dealt her husband, not just so she could retain the income to which she'd become accustomed, mind (ahem), and it seems some additional sympathetic testimony has turned the judge's heart

Adultery, which is a felony charge in the military, could have earned up to a 25-year sentence for Sinclair. By this yardstick, Ranger knew a lot of felons while serving in the Army.

He wonders why adultery is a felony in the military when it has been decriminalized in most states? In traditional English common law adultery was a felony but we have come a long way since the 1700's, for better or worse(In the states which maintain adultery's criminality, it is a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The crime is rarely prosecuted, mainly used as evidence in divorce trials.)

Sinclair follows in the ignominious footprints of General David Petraeus (= "General Betray us"), and his military career is probably now over. It is understood when one enters the military that such disorder will not be brooked. But it does seem hypocritical to have permitted Generals Pershing, Eisenhower and Patton their mistresses in the past. Ditto the various philandering Commanders in Chief.

Perhaps society or the media was more discreet in their treatment of such stories in the past. Perhaps the immediacy of social media demands the public flaying of the once-mighty whose hubris leads them to think they can outrun the ever-watchful eyes. Or perhaps it is the general disillusionment with a military which has led us into numerous fiascoes which has caused it's leaders to lose their immunity from censure.

In any event, it does seem selectively damning to choose adultery as criminally prosecutable while other questionable military actions are granted immunity. This is not to argue for the excellence of extramarital sex, but perhaps the hypocrisy of discretionary punishment.

As gay Air Force Technical Sergeant and gender-rights crusader Leonard Matlovich had inscribed on his tombstone: "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." Not that screwing around should be a medaled behavior; everyone knows the cost. But if we were truly talking morals, there is a lot more that goes on that ought to be prosecuted and is not.

For a simple start, it could be argued that killing and maiming in the service of discretionary wars is immoral.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Words as Saltambiques

Let me hear you say
The words I want to hear
Darling when you're near 
--Words of Love,
Buddy Holly 

Now what I want is Facts. ...
In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir;
nothing but facts! 
--Hard Times, Charles Dickens 

I've believed as many as six
 impossible things before breakfast 
--Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carrol

Outside of last weekend's local gun show stood an animated crowd of young Republicans swinging placards declaring of our Teabagger-friendly Congressman Steve Southerland, "He'll protect your 2nd Amendment rights!"

Ranger thought, "What's a right if it has to be protected?" Of course, no one has a "right" to own a gun -- our rights are delegated to us, and protected by the proper authorities. This implies they may be yanked from us just as easily.

Ditto all rights: just because we have a voice box does not guarantee us the right to use it in any manner we see fit, or in any circumstance. Our "rights" are curtailed once they enter the public sphere, and protections must be issued and guarded in order to allow our expectation of continuity in our lives. So perhaps the word "rights" is not the best one for these privileges accorded by our guiding societal agreements.

An enumerated right might be an offense, in another context. Words are symbols, and may only approximate the actuality (presuming an actuality exists.) As Alfred Korzybski wrote, "the map is not the territory." This is not to say that the deconstructionists are correct when they strip the possibility of fixed meaning from words. It is simply that absolute definitions are really only valid within an agreed upon construct.

In context then, terms like "situational ethics" are revealed as the excuse and cloaking mechanism which they are. Situational ethics imply no ethics at all, or no fixed ethics, which throws the reference point for knowledge (in this case, "ethics") into question.

Words can be used to communicate or to obfuscate. They can be constructive or destructive. The goal of communication is not necessarily positive. Words in the service of communications have become more emotive, as it is easier to sway people with emotion.

Some words are forbidden, and euphemisms can become mandatory. Entire swathes of our population engage in a private lexicon understood only by acolytes. However, as in the classic "All in the Family" episode in which husband Archie forbade Edith from using the term "cling peaches", a way around the matter was found, and a careful and discreet listener can divine the meaning behind the rhetoric.

Today, when words are generated at such a rapid pace, and replicated through the push of a button into myriad other platforms, words often fail to clarify, instead taking up their role as saboteurs of meaning. By blurring hard definitions, words wear a cloak of impenetrability. This confusion over simple meanings causes the listener to block attempts to hear and decode what the saboteurs are producing in their sound bytes, or simply to question when those sound bytes do not seem to be consistent with observed reality, or even what was said prior.

For example, the word "invasion" has gone from being a word describing an offensive act to an ostensibly protective concept with the addition of "preemptive". Invasions become prophylaxis to a future invasion. The aggressor (= "preemptive invader") becomes a gatekeeper.

In this context, the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq becomes a positive and protective gesture, like Congressman Southerland's protection of my rights. However, in Russia's current actions in the restive nation on its border (the Crimea in Ukraine), invasion is once again configured as an untoward and aggressive action. How does an individual make sense of one word with so many intonations and connotations?

Contributing to the problem is the panoply of issues which occupy a life, and the concomitant number of platforms on which we receive our news, gobbling up any free time which might be used in contemplation. Not only have facts blurred into opinions, but the opinion generators have gained their own followings, such is the need for material to fill up the cable airspace, and comedians who can keep our attention better than the dry newscasters are often our main sources of data. But while comedians may hold our attention, they cannot do the deep thinking for us, something required of an informed electorate.

Words can also be the basis of disinformation when used by propagandists, and are used to confuse and confound, eliciting a desired effect that may be unreasonable, emotional or inappropriate. Sometimes, the propagandists look like good guys, such as those in our National Security Agency.

But back to the gun show.

How can a  congressman protect my rights from anything? If they are rights, as conferred by foundational documents which have created and guide my government, then he is only charged with getting out of the way. Congress critters should disabuse themselves of the notion that they are doing anything besides functioning as obedient public servants.

--Jim and Lisa

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Truth is a Pathless Land

The devil and a friend of his
were walking down the street,
when they saw ahead of them
a man stoop down and pick up
something from the ground, look at it,
and put it away in his pocket.

The friend said to the devil,
“What did that man pick up?”
“He picked up a piece of Truth,”
said the devil.
“That is a very bad business for you, then,”
said his friend.
“Oh, not at all,”the devil replied,
“I am going to let him organize it."   
--Truth is a Pathless Land, 
Jiddhu Krishnamurti 

A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war:
wide-awake, with fear, with respect,
and with absolute assurance.
Going to knowledge or going to war in any
other manner is a mistake,
and whoever makes it might never live to regret it
--A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 
Carlos Castenada 

There has been a sea change in the content and distribution of news since 2006, when we started RangerAgainstWar.

This week, the executioner's hood came down on disinterested reportage on National Public Radio in the form of a program covering Facebook's recent $19 Billion acquisition of WhatsApp, a mobile messaging service.

Technology columnist Farhad Manjoo late of The New York Times stated disingenuously that young people don't like that their documentation of every facet of their lives (=doxxing) is being data mined. Did you get that? This suggests that the reason one opens a Facebook account is to protect one's privacy, which is absurd.

The unspoken presumption and agenda was that everyone must participate on Facebook, which is unequivocally false. (Interestingly, Manjoo wrote a book called True Enough, in which he recognized our current slide into what comedian- posing as -journo Steven Colbert called, "Truthiness" -- a way of "feeling the news".) So while Manjoo wrote a book about truthiness, virtually the entire hour-long NPR roundtable on the What'sApp story was an homage to such idiocy, meaning a lack of rigor and a puffy sycophantic awe at the latest toy.

Here's a portion of Manjoo's own truthiness (keep in mind Manjoo was formerly tech columnist at the Wall Street Journal and Slate):

"You know, (What'sApp developers) were adamant from the start that they did not want this app to feel lumbered -- you know, lumbering, sort of weighed down by advertising.
"It has no ads. They sort of have written several blog posts about how they hate advertising. And it also doesn't collect much user data because they don't have advertising. So they don't really need to kind of target you by, you know, your demographics or your location or, you know, any other information about you. So you sign on with very little information. And this is very unusual kind of in the internet industry and unusual -- very unusual for a company that's now going to be owned by Facebook"

I don't know what it means to "sort of have written several blog posts," but what are Manjoo's implications? --

  • Idealism is beautiful and making no money from advertising is idealistically beautiful.
  • What happened to FB's founder Mark Zuckerberg that he has become this profit-making titan of industry who sells ads on his sites?
  • All hail the "advertising-hating" developers of What'sApp who have just pocketed a cool $19 Billion from the sale of their app to an advertising revenue-creating giant (so much for idealism.)

Manjoo called the adamantly anti-advertising stance of the What'sApp developers an "interesting shift", but this is a mouthful of mush for there is no shift whatsoever in media's revenue-making model: advertising is king. The developers just sold their product for $19 Billion to Mr. Zuckerberg, who will gladly get his hands dirty with advertising if the developers won't.

But did anyone else listening to or moderating the program catch these glaring inconsistencies which essentially rendered the program clap-trap? It does not seem so.

This is but one example of agenda posing as information, and it happens every time you read a paper or listen to any media transmission. Today, misinformation and agenda is the norm. Some more recent lies that pop into mind:

The Week Magazine recently wrote that the rise of the Fascist far-right Jobbik party in Hungary must be due to the fact that its members are unfamiliar with its uncomfortable Nazi link. Sadly, no -- more likely the neo-Nazi members are delighted with the linkage, and hence their affiliation. Appealing as it may be to a gentle conscience, we cannot whitewash hatred by explaining it as a function of the ignorance of the practitioners.Hatred is a deliberate choice every bit as valid as choosing for tolerance.

Reporting on the Ukrainian violence, the ABC Evening News added to the case against Ukraine's Prseident Viktor Yanukovich by stating he had been ushered into office on the results of a undemocratic election. This is false, as the election was closely monitored by an international group of elections officials. Whatever claims exist against Yanukovich, they cannot be substantiated by piling on the false one of an undemocratic election.

And there is so much more, on every newscast, in every paper.

Back in 2006, some interesting and informed people landed at the new blog, RAW. One, a Norwegian anarchist, pled, "Tell us what to think, Ranger." We were somewhat amused but also flummoxed: who were we to tell anyone what to think? Our goal then, as now, was to observe and place our observations out there for consideration and dialog.

Today, the reporter's agenda is not merely obscured -- however faintly -- but it is actively championed. Writers like Ezra Klein and Glenn Greenwald are hopping on the bandwagon of providing "opinionated news", and oxymoron if ever there were. At best, it is "benevolent propaganda" ready to tell you how they think, and how you probably should, too.

More on benevolent propaganda soon.

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