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Friday, June 10, 2005
Well, after a long-awaited and nearly almost-didn't-happen pause, I am on hiatus until June 20. I may be able to post from the road (I have my Alpha-Smart 3000 with me) but I cannot promise anything.
Meantime, there is a long tradition that every time I leave town for more than a week, something awful happens. Let's hope that streak doesn't hold. When we went to Alaska on September 9, 2001, well, you know what happened. We were just pulling into Juneau when the news came over the ship's public address system. The world being what it is, we watched it, nonetheless, on CNN in real time.
Try and keep things running until we get back. OK?
And don't get caught up in Bush's "War on Terra." Mars is, as yet, uninhabitable, so we're really out of options here.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
DOWNING MINUTES, GITMO and ABU GHARIB
or, TODAY'S SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER PRESENTS ...
Spent every waking moment calling to get information on legal requirements, insurance, options, repair costs, etc. etc. etc. The complexities and choices involved were as intricate as any blog entry on this site.
Happy to report that the accident has been settled to the satisfaction of all parties, and full payment rendered. The car is at the garage, being repaired, with, hopefully, a fix date of tomorrow afternoon. So vacation's (cross your fingers) back on again!
But I had no time to come up with a piece for today. So, today's special guest blogger is none other than the United States Code, specifically Title 18, Crimes.
While you read 18 USC 2241(c), I want you to keep in mind several prominent members of the Executive Branch of our United States government (well known, perhaps to you), and consider that the Death Penalty IS on the table, should we ultimately decide to be a nation of laws and not of men. Or in the words of one of our finest lawyers:
"Facts are stubborn things."
Guest blogger, take it away:
United States CodeCourage.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
SOMETIMES LIFE JUST SUCKS
or, THE APPROPRIATE UTTER LACK OF JUSTICE OF A DAY THAT SAW JANICE ROGERS BROWN CONFIRMED ON A VIRTUALLY PARTY LINE VOTE IN THE SENATE
Well, I promised on the radio that I was going to discuss the Supreme Court decision on Medical Marijuana and the "Commerce Clause" but life has a way of turning the best of intentions to ash. (And thanks, Nancy and KOPT. It was, as per usual, a delightful hour that went by entirely too soon.)
I had just put my wife on the train. I was supposed to follow her tomorrow for a well-deserved vacation, but I made the mistake of deciding to head down West 11th to get some breakfast.
The Eugene police are strictly enforcing the "yellow light" rules, and, in the heavy commute of the pre-9AM crowd, the light at Chambers turned yellow and both of us in the twin parallel lanes had to slam on our brakes, since WE were maintaining a safe following distance from the cars ahead of us -- making running the yellow a dodgy proposition, at best.
The guy in the Chevy Jimmy behind me wasn't maintaining a two second buffer zone, alas.
I had to back out of the intersection he'd slammed me into to keep from being t-boned as well.
So, we pulled into the old NAPA auto parts parking lot (the irony didn't escape me), and we exchanged insurance information, etcetera.
I managed to get to my mechanic (who's only a couple blocks from where I was headed anyway) within ten minutes of the accident and got the bad news:
The damage is probably greater than the blue book on the car, and even though we've maintained it lovingly for over 250,000 miles, a dented bumper and partially smashed trunk almost undoubtedly means that the insurance company will write us a check that won't cover the cost of a similar vehicle, and take our car, to boot.
So, I'm one day from vacation, and now it looks like not only no vacation but no car as well. The schmuck had the audacity to lamely explain: "I thought you were going to keep going through the light."
Right. If he'd have been on my ass through the light, he'd have run the red. And if he'd have NOT been tailgating me, there would have been no accident. He was remarkably casual and calm. But then, hey, his life wasn't completly turned to that substance best termed by its acronym: FUBAR. Just mine.
His Detroit obscenity wasn't harmed at all. His bumper was perfectly positioned to cream me, though.
And, having done nothing wrong, having NOT been a lunatic consumer, and having maintained a small, economy car, I am the victim of attempting to drive lawfully, cheap insurance companies, American gas guzzling monsters and an impersonal, uninterested and merciless God.
A month ago, I received my first moving violation ticket since the 1970s, for trying to be a little too aggressive at a yellow light. Stupidly, I told the cop that I was undoubtedly guilty, and didn't make any excuses. I SHOULD have said: "WHAT? And let that guy on my tail CREAM me????" No. I paid my ticket, and have paid special attention to stopping for yellow lights.
Thanks a lot, cops. It sure as hell did me a lot of good this morning. (Silly me. WHY must I persist in trying to obey traffic laws when no one else does? Sure, I have a virtually spotless driving record. But it looks like it just might get me killed. Today was a warning, I guess.)
So today's blog will be provided by a guest blogger. I've been too busy fighting my way through rush hour traffic and highway construction getting estimates to see how bad things are. First estimate? $3,393. (And, the fellow explained, that doesn't include fixing the driver's seat -- which now tilts backwards and doorsideways).
I doubt he's out of line.
So I'm just too shagged out and depressed to write anything scintillating or brilliant today. I just want to rage against the dying of the light with a lot of crockery, a ball peen hammer and a sailor's vocabulary of pithy blasphemies.
Instead, I commend you to our guest blogger-of-the-day:
THE AMERICAN CRISIS - Thomas Paine (excerpts 1777-1780)Courage.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
BOILING THE FROG
or, OUR SUPREMELY SUPINE MEDIA
"Richard Nixon is a no-good lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in."It's a lot worse than you think. Until today, it was a lot worse than I thought, and I'm a pessimist these days.
So, let's start with Watergate. Here's the level of discourse on the matter (I've already covered, cursorily, how the felons of Watergate have been given ample media time to pretend that Nixon was a great president, and how "Deep Throat" Mark Felt was a terrible -- now, over the weekend, "mercenary" and money-grubbing -- awful person):
The NEW YORK TIMES, June 3, 2005
"Not surprisingly, perhaps, Fox News paid less attention to the revelation than other 24-hour news networks. Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Woodward were on CNN but not on Fox. 'When The Washington Post put them on low-rated cable news networks first, we decided to pass,' the network's spokesman, Paul Schur, explained. Fox used a clip of the legendary duo from the 'Today' interview on NBC and also gave ample voice to those who viewed Watergate as a 'media putsch,' including a clip of one of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker, then working for the C.I.A., now almost as elderly as Mr. Felt, and who indignantly complained that when he saw Mr. Felt's 'weak chin' he knew at once that he was not a man of honor."
So, instead of booking Woodward & Bernstein, the network run by Roger Ailes -- Nixon's 1968 Campaign architect -- uses the opportunity to sneer at CNN for having lower ratings. Harry Truman didn't comment on Nixon's cronies, but I think we can all see how well that quote would apply across the board.
But this is only the latest in a long litany of lies and distractions.
Over the weekend, as well, the Bush Adminstration, on consecutive days, pulled out virtually every officer they could, from Bush and Cheney on down to Rice and Rumsfeld, to characterize as awful and reprehensible the Amnesty International report that we are running a gulag.
Ironically, beginning with Reuters' mischaracterization of Amnesty International's head on Faux Nooz that Amnesty was "pulling back" from the "gulag" quote, the distortion turned up in today's Washington Post. Amnesty did no such thing.
But, of course, that's the whole point: make Kerry's detractors the issue, not Bush's draft dodging. Make NEWSWEEK's source the issue, not the desecration of the Koran (at precisely 7:15 PM EDT Friday night, the Pentagon confirmed five instances of Koran desecration, but it fell off the radar, as late Friday evening announcements tend to do with this Administration.) Make Dan Rather the issue and not the truth of his report. And now, make the Administration's "outrage" the issue, and not that we run a worldwide network of secret prisons that people are literally "disappeared" into, in which torture is used, and, if necessary, people are "rendered" to countries that will go much FURTHER in torture techniques, like, say Uzbekistan.)
And this time, Amnesty has refused to politely withdraw their "outrageous" comment, forcing our media to fabricate the story.
But that's not the real issue here. I will tell you about a class of under- or Unreported stories that should chill you, and then I'll tell you how the smoke and mirrors will be used -- yet again -- to distract you from more important matters. But first, I'll tell you how to boil a frog.
The way you boil a frog is to put him in lukewarm water and slowly bring it to a boil. If you try putting him in boiling water, he'll jump out, but if you simply heat the water up incrementally, he'll never know what killed him.
It's getting kind of hot.
Consider: Since 9-11, when two buildings were brought down and another -- the Pentagon -- was attacked (actually some other buildings in the vicinity of the World Trade Center went down, as well), we have invaded and occupied two sovereign nations. Where three thousand were killed, we have responded by killing over 100,000. We have declared an insane war on "terror," which is as ridiculous as declaring war on "fear," or "love," or any other emotion. It is an open-ended, secret war in which those conducting the war get to keep score and tell us whether we're "winning" or "losing." When Bush refers to himself as a "war president," he's referring to what he terms "the war on terra." And so it is.
It is a war on everything on Earth (Terra) that he dislikes, including domestic protesters and political opponents.
Our civil liberties have evaporated at an alarming rate, as armed troops were posted in our airports, and as identity cards and passports with "biometric" indicators have been quietly and steadily pushed through. Search warrants have become a quaint artifact, and, increasingly, the law is applied to the benefit of Administration politics, however flimsy the justification. A good example has been the Patriot Act, which was PROMISED to only be used against "terrorists," but which has been used, increasingly against drug-related crimes.
Finally, the enabling acts for our new Gestapo have slithered into the hoppers of our legislative bodies. (The "Intelligence Czar" now holds more secret power than any man in history, as does the head of "Homeland Security" hold more policing power than any cop in history. And remember that "Homeland Security" employees lost all rights to union protections. The War on Terra was too important.)
Here's the first story you haven't heard about:
James Sensenbrenner, he of the "REAL ID" act and a House Manager for the Impeachment has introduced the following legislation:
"under H.R. 1528, the 'Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005' introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), if anybody who sees another person using a 'controlled substance', or even hears that it happened, fails to report such use or hearsay to the feds within 24 hours, that person could find him/herself staring down the barrel of a two to 10 year sentence in the federal pokey.
"Though that section (425) of the proposed law is entitled, 'Failure To Protect Children From Drug Trafficking Activities,' it really has nothing in particular to do with children. While some of the sections cited as prerequisites to a violation under the Act refer to drug dealing and manufacture around schools, etc., no children are required to be involved - or even present - for this section to kick in.
"Sec. 425's addition to the Controlled Substances Act reads, '(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who witnesses or learns of a violation of sections 416(b)(2), 417, 418, 419, 420, 424, or 426 to fail to report the offense to law enforcement officials within 24 hours of witnessing or learning of the violation and thereafter provide full assistance in the investigation, apprehension, and prosecution of the person violating paragraph (a).'
"There are some other interesting provisions, such as increasing various other minimum sentences from one year to 10 years, and setting minimum fines at $2,000,000 for individuals and $8,000,000 for corporations for manufacturing or storage of drugs where kids (or 'incompetents') might get hold of them, but that stuff's just gilding the lily. It's the requirement to spy on your friends or spend your entire young adulthood in a federal stalag that's reminiscent of Nazi Germany."
-- from a story by Mark Kernes, legal and legislative analyst for Adult Video News (June 6, 2005)
Which was my thought before getting to that last cited paragraph: a requirement to spy on your neighbors was what kept opposition in Nazi Germany very effectively silenced. If you see a friend sharing a joint with another friend, you will be REQUIRED to turn them in, or face two to ten years in a federal prison. You laugh?
Alberto Gonzales just finished setting up a similar program for the Adult Film industry by "reinterpreting" the infamous "Traci Lords" law, 18 USC 2257, or the requirement to get two forms of ID from performers proving they're not underage and keep records.
The law, passed in 1992, was never enforced, but every adut film you've bought or rented, and every website you might have inadvertently visited has that "Section 2257 compliance statement" somewhere on the label or site.
Gonzales had new "regulations" drawn up and placed for public comment before their publication in the Federal Register. You see, federal agencies can draw up regulations that interpret Congressional acts and laws, and these regulations, after a period of public comment are then published in the Federal Register and take on the force of law. No further legislation needed.
Well, Alberto "How can we get around the Geneva Convention" Gonzales outdid himself with this one. You see, the first presumption is that if the records aren't kept PRECISELY AND CORRECTLY, then there MUST be child pornography going on and the minimum sentence for infractions is three years.
And by PRECISELY, it means that your records must either be available at a clearly defined place of business, Monday though Friday from 9 am to 6 pm. OR, you must contact the proper authorities (the FBI, I think) to tell them which twenty hours during every given week your records will be available for inspection.
Inspections will require that you have an alpha or numerically cross-catalogued filing system containing not only all pertinent identification, but every stage name and alias that performers have used. A separate set of records must be kept for each production, cross-indexed, etcetera, and, of course, if every "t" is not crossed, and every "i" dotted, the full force of the law will apply. "Keeper of Records" is no longer acceptable, and a specific individual at a specific address must be named. You can't farm the record keeping out to a third party, etc. etc. etc.
The point is that the PRESUMPTION is that if you are not perfect, you are convicted AS IF you were engaging in child pornography, and sentenced accordingly.
The rebuttal to the public comments is illuminating, to say the least. Virtually all objections are brusquely brushed aside, with the exception that if a performer doesn't give you ALL their aliases, you can't be held in violation.
Ah. Mercy rears its ugly head.
The inspections will be unannounced, and if they happen to find any other evidence of "crimes" while they're on the premises, it's just as good as if they had a search warrant.
In other words, the presumption is that any adult film producer or website is guilty until proven innocent, and random, unannounced fishing expeditions are to be the rule, not the exception.
The Free Speech Coalition (and perhaps the ACLU) are planning a legal challenge.
But what's interesting here is the "press coverage" of this declaration of bureaucratic war on porn. (A clear way of getting around that pesky First Amendment, and those sticky obscenity prosecutions). I searched Google for any coverage whatsoever of the publication (the Regs take effect on June 23).
"New rules to crack down on child pornography
"From Terry Frieden, CNN, Thursday, May 19, 2005 Posted: 5:53 PM EDT (2153 GMT)
"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Producers of sexually explicit material must be able to prove the subjects depicted in their photographs and films are adults, according to new government regulations approved Tuesday by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"To implement a government crackdown, Gonzales signed final rules that establish detailed procedures for inspecting pornography producers' records to ensure children aren't being used as performers in sexually explicit depictions."
Now do you get why the big buzz about "child pornography"?
In point of fact, child pornography and sexual predators online are a lot less frequent than advertised, and, as the urban legend of "Snuff Films" was used to justify crackdowns in the 1970s, "child pornography" is being used as the smokescreen for cracking down on porn in the Aughts.
The point is this: were porn actually illegal, they could bust it. But if they're stretching the law, and slithering over the fine points (no adult producer that I have ever known has countenanced kiddy porn), then you know that it's an ideological crusade and not a legal campaign.
But who's going to defend porn, after all?
Heck, nobody's even going to COVER the story!
It's the new Martin Niemoller: When they came for terrorists, I didn't say anything; when they came for drug dealers I didn't say anything; when they came for pornographers, I didn't say anything.
And, in the Oregon House, a bill has passed that would make it a criminal offense not to report and testify any witnessed felony. Republican-backed, of course.
The frog ought to realize that it's getting a little warm in the pot, wouldn't you think?
And did you notice that both Sensenbrenner and Gonzales claim that what they're about is "protecting children"?
In my decade in the Adult industry, I learned one salient fact about censorship: it's ALWAYS done in the name of someone else ("I don't have any problem with it, but ...") and nearly always, censorship is committed in the NAME of children.
Funny how no one ever bothers to ask those children. If, in fact, we actually CARED about the children, we wouldn't be cutting school and especially arts funding, dumbing down our education, and slashing funds to programs like Head Start, and for school lunches and nutrition programs.
I find this bald-faced hypocrisy a little hard to bear, but the unctuous spokesnakes of the Right pontificate on the electronic pulpit with nary a challenge. And barely anyone even notices as the whole framework of free expression, free speech, the right to protest, and fundamental rights of the accused are undercut at an alarming and increasing rate.
Notice how there haven't been ANY terror alerts since the election? And notice how little coverage was given to Tom Ridge's revelation that he disagreed with most of the alerts -- all but admitting that the Administration used them for political cover.
Well, there's a solid chance that the whole "child pornography" campaign has been the windup for the full court press on porn:
"We have called the claims about child pornography 'myths.' The existence of child pornography is certainly not. The myths are the exaggerated estimates of the number of children, the volume and value of the trade, the profits that are alleged to have been made, and the horrifying damage said to have been done to the children. In fact, on many important points our conclusions are more or less the same as the conclusions of the [Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission], the Senate Commission under William Roth, and the De Wit work group in the Netherlands. The results of these findings have not convinced the crusaders in the past, and no doubt our results will be ignored by those whose political agendas are not served by the facts.
"This, of course, does not diminish the fact that several thousands of children have been involved in the manufacture of child pornography. The pictures rarely showed sexual abuse, and often did not show any kind of sexual activity."
-- "The Trade in Child Pornography", Jan Schuijer and Benjamin Rossen, from Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, the Institute of Psychological Therapies, 1992. (http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume4/j4_2_1.htm )
The authors also note this conclusion from the Illinois Legislative investigation (In conjunction with the FBI, US Customs and the Postal Service) that the initial passage of the Federal law against child pornography in 1977 was based on greatly exaggerated and even made up evidence.
Add to this the fact that virtually no commercial pornographer would ever consider producing child pornography (indeed, they will go out of their way to make certain that their over-18 models don't wear pigtails, hold teddy bears, or lick lollypops - anything that might even suggest kiddy porn). And you have to ask what the point of all this is.
"The alleged size of the child pornography trade and the many children said to have been involved, are little more than myths. They are the result of the arbitrary multiplication of arbitrary numbers of alleged victims made by a journalist. The claims had taken on a life of their own. The fact that these claims had by 1980 been rejected by thorough official investigations was insufficient to prevent the claim from reappearing, not only in the media but also in other official circles, including the United States Senate, the United States Supreme Court, a Commission of the American Justice Department, the United Nations and the Council of Europe. After the number had been cited in the Hearings of the House of Representatives, it became associated with an ostensibly reliable source. The fact that the original source was anything but reliable was forgotten." -- ibid.
It's a way of pushing an agenda that they doubt the public will accept. After all, several sources now estimate porn's economic take as greater than that of traditional movies. Somebody's buying it. But the Bush approach, as with everything else is to wave a non-sequitur (whether "kiddie porn" or "weapons of mass destruction" or "social security crisis") to galvanize the public to yet another crusade.
Am I going to defend the CONTENT of most current commercial pornography? Heck no. It's a first amendment issue, not an artistic one -- though one might hope for an artful erotica, such is not present in the commerce of the trade, frankly.
But it isn't "kiddie porn" and that's the real point.
You can look forward to a great announcement about putting "child pornographers" out of business when the Gonzales gang starts making surprise records raids and finds any discrepancies. Remember: if there is anything wrong with the record keeping under the new regulations, it will automatically be ASSUMED that "child pornography" is transpiring, and announcements and jail sentences will be handed out accordingly.
Actually, it's already under way.
"SYRACUSE, NY - The new 2257 regulations haven't gone into effect yet, but the tale of one Syracuse resident is a cautionary one about what can happen if adult content producers don't keep proper records. According to U.S. Attorney Glenn T. Suddaby, author Ralph G. Marshall, 78, a noted author and restaurateur, was sentenced to three years in federal prison for being unable to prove that three females he portrayed in sexually explicit photographs were of legal age. Marshall also will pay a $25,000 fine. The pictures were taken between August 2002 and January 2004, after five models responded to a newspaper ad Marshall placed. A film-processing company in Maryland notified the U.S. Postal Inspection Service after noticing one of the models looked very young ... Additionally, Marshall faces three years of supervision upon his release from prison.
"Marshall is the author of several books that document his encounters with Ernest Hemingway, his travels along the frontier of Brazil, and operating a trendy New York restaurant. Among the titles, Fish Tales and Other Stories to Get Hooked By, Memories of the Mato Grosso, When Does the Fun Start? and Never Stop Dancing are the most recognized. Additionally, he has authored Gardenias and Stars, Small Potatoes, and the children's book Aesop's Fables in Songs." ['Esteemed Author Sentenced On Porn Charges,' by Ken Knox; Adult Video News, June 3, 2005.]
I probably ought to point out here that US laws adopt a quite liberal interpretation of what kiddie porn actually is. For example, in 2004, a Dallas couple was indicted for the production and possession of child pornography when a photo store employee reported pictures containing 'suspicious' images of the mother breast-feeding her child. It's not an isolated instance. So, without knowing what "sexually explicit" photographs might have actually been in the Marshall case, there's no way to pass judgment. There's no credible way to take the prosecutor's characterization at face value.
But then again, this is a distasteful topic, and the idea that the Bushies would shamelessly exploit a real but rare tragedy for political gain is just too cynical to mention. Nonetheless, the Marshall press release should be considered a harbinger: Gonzales has his weapon and, like the Reagan Administration used the Meese Commission and the War on Drugs as a distraction to the Iran/Contra mess, the Bushies can use "child pornography" as a distraction for a host of ills.
There you go: tomorrow's headlines today. We leave these distasteful subjects for more frivolous pastures, but it might be a good thing to note this statement by Brian Rothery, author of an exhaustive report on "Child Pornography" at Inquisition 21st Century:
"... although I am a very experienced journalist and a widely published book author with titles in many translations, I have met with barriers and closed doors in my attempts to investigate and write about this subject. This should be a cause of alarm, as these doors include those of newspapers, academia, monitoring organizations, and, ironically, at least one civil rights organization.
"Days before this was written, one of the people assisting me was afraid to give me the title of a book, now banned in the UK, but available over Amazon, because its cover contained a high-resolution image of two naked boys. He was afraid that naming the title would involve him in one or both of the two criminal activities of soliciting me to look at the image, or advertising the image to me. Three of the writers on this web site feel safe only by using pseudonyms. Several others feel somewhat fearful. One has been the subject of a smear campaign that made false allegations against him. This is Inquisition 21st century."
[ http://www.inquisition21.com/article7.html?&MMN_position=9:9 ]
[He estimates the actual number of Child Porn sites on the internet at approximately 300, or 0.0007% of the sites on the internet.]
But MY point is only that the Bushies don't have to worry about anyone protesting when they start busting anyone they can find who doesn't have every "t" crossed and every "i" dotted in their files. Because anyone they arrest will automatically be presumed to be a "child pornographer" -- which is what they're looking for. The mere accusation is sufficient to convict, in the court of lazy media.
They know just where we're squeamish and just how to exploit it. Kind of like using 9-11 as a pretext for invading Iraq. They'll have the "kiddie porn" headlines even though no kiddie porn will have ever been present. But those are mere, meaningless facts. And facts have never mattered to the Bushies. Only sleight of hand matters.
You might even recall that a horrified Nixon received a scientific report from his Blue Ribbon commission that concluded pornography didn't harm anyone and even might have positive effects. So he promptly tossed it in the trash. Couldn't possibly be true. Perhaps anti-porn has replaced patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Of course, there is some hope. Googling "impeach Bush" returns 548,000 hits.
Monday, June 06, 2005
NO POST TODAY
Nothing to say.
Yesterday's 4422-word post = 5 newspaper op-eds (900 words).
For free it was worth every penny.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
WAR AND PEACEhart williams
At the risk of seeming narrow and cranky, I have to defend myself for a minute. But don't worry: this isn't about me. It's a way of addressing a larger issue that's facing us all squarely in the mirror.
For the second time, Friday, Nancy Stapp insisted that I claimed that war would always be with us. The problem with a misperception, of course, is that once it's ingrained, it's very difficult to correct. But I'll give it a stab.
Epistemology is a very important word here. It means, "how do I know what I know?" Literally, "the study of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity." (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Ed.) I like my version better.
In my school of Buddhism, it is very important to separate out what I know from what I THINK I know. (And what I know from what I don't know.)
What do I know? I know that virtually all peoples in all ages have been against war, have been reluctant to engage in the massive deprivations, slaughters and horrors that war entails. And yet, wars still happen.
I watched very carefully for ten years after Vietnam, when, following the birth of my son in 1983, and after the withdrawal of US troops FROM Vietnam in 1973, for ten years the memory of that horror was such that no politician would dare propose a war. War itself was the enemy, and vast segments of the population were adamantly and vociferously opposed to it.
And then we invaded Grenada on what seemed flimsy at the time, and seems even flimsier today. And it was over before the protests could form. The news for weeks leading up to the invasion seemed to always break, coincidentally, at halftime of NFL football games. I remain unconvinced that this was NOT carefully managed to coincide with the blood lust of the football fans.
And again, in Panama, we invaded again, with the Pentagon carefully "managing" the news, and, again, using the mask of football bowl games to finally create the obscenity of that Super Bowl a few weeks later, when George and Barbara Bush were intercut seamlessly with Boy Scouts, cute kids, patriotic songs and all the flag-draped hokum that could be mustered. One was hard-pressed to see where CBS, the White House, cheerleaders, football teams, jets and apple pie separated, like the colors in the rainbow. There were no clear-cut boundaries.
And then, as has been all-but-forgotten, the Democrats in congress mightily opposed the Gulf War (another war for "freedom and democracy" remember, even though Kuwait was an hereditary monarchy with no popular suffrage, no rights for women, etc. etc. We heard the stories of Iraqi soldiers throwing babies from isolettes in Kuwait City hospitals.
And after 9-11, we invaded and occupied two countries, and a large segment of the country loudly "shhhhhh"s any talk AGAINST war.
And now, at age 22, that same baby son is a commissioned army officer, doubtless heading off for our new Vietnam.
So, epistemologically, what do we know? We know that human societies continually go through cycles of war and peace; war and peace. That the two adamantly non-violent cultures of the Eastern and Western hemispheres have both been forced to go to war in the past century or so: The Tibetans against the Chinese, the Hopi against the Navajo.
But the long rhetoric of the peace movement has always taken peace as a given, as a default from which war is an aberration. History suggests that peace is the aberration. The American Revolution was possible because the British were exhausted from a 20-year-war against the French and the Revolution was only the first outbreak in ANOTHER 20-year world war that the British fought, finally ending in India, near, as I recall, the endlessly strategic Khyber Pass in modern Afghanistan.
We speak of the "Hundred Years War" in Europe. We recall that World War II could just as easily be called World War I, Part II. And that the Cold War continued afterwards for nearly fifty years with seemingly endless "proxy" wars and conflicts of which Vietnam was one. The Russian experience in Afghanistan was another.
Or merely consider that, from the time that Columbus landed in the West Indies, there was continuous and unremitting warfare between the Europeans and the Native Americans (North and South) for four hundred years, ending ONLY at the turn of the Twentieth century!
So: Is peace possible?
Look at the history of the Roman Empire: there is virtually no moment that a war isn't going on somewhere. Consider the three Punic Wars. Or, earlier, consider the Peloponnesian Wars between the Athenians and the Spartans and their allies. (And reflect that the society we most closely resemble, the Athenians, lost because of their arrogance and hubris.)
Consider the two Persian invasions of the Greek mainland. Consider the conquests of Alexander over years, following the conquests of his father Philip of Macedon.
Consider how Simon Bolivar nearly conquered all of South America not so long ago. And consider the long struggle between the Aztecs and the Toltecs, and how the outlying tribes/nations threw in their lot with two hundred conquistadores under Hernando Cortez. (And ask yourself WHO it was that set Mexico City on fire. Do you think that the Spaniards wanted to destroy their prize, or that the descendents of the Toltecs took their revenge?)
Is peace possible?
The honest answer has to be: I don't know.
We don't have any long history of peace to look at. The largest human construction on the planet is a defensive wall against "barbarians" (The Great Wall of China) -- which was a failure. Hadrian's Wall still crosses the Scottish bottleneck of the British Isles.
Is peace possible?
We have no evidence that it is. But that does not mean that it is not to be ardently desired, and passionately worked for. And my objection to the misapprehension that I believe war will always be with us.
I object to that characterization for precisely the reason that you might suppose that it is in no wise my opinion: I believe that sentiment to be monstrous.
To accept the obscenity of war as inevitable and even acceptable is a fatalism that I reject with every fiber of my being. But I am honest enough to admit that I can find no evidence in human history to believe that peace is a normal condition of humankind.
Let's take the Devil's Advocate position for a moment. One of the useful tools of philosophy is taking the contrary position.
So, let's step outside of the orthodoxy for a moment and suggest the monstrous: We presume that wars are started intentionally and for definite goals.
What if that's not true?
What if war IS a given? What possible survival purpose could it serve?
The automatic answer is: "Well, it's a mechanism for controlling population." You know, populations grow, they come into conflict, and war cuts down the population to a manageable level.
But that simply doesn't work. War is, all things considered, a very poor mechanism for population control. During the First World War, more Americans died of Spanish Influenza than died in the trenches. In fact, disease controls human population far more effectively than war ever has, and that's true in virtually any war you care to mention. During Vietnam, more Americans died in automobile accidents than died in the war, by a substantial amount.
And disease performs that useful function of predators in all ecosystems: it takes the aged, the weak and the infirm.
But what does war do?
War takes the strongest. Takes the best and brightest. Takes those who MOST would survive in any other predator/prey model, in any ecosystem you care to mention.
So: if war is an instinctual -- and not a conscious -- event, and it neither controls population nor improves the gene pool, then what possible good could it be?
After all, we all admit that war is the ultimate evil. That war is, to quote Sherman "a perfect hell." But if we're playing Devil's Advocate, then let's posit further that it performs some useful function, else our instincts and our species would have discarded it long ago.
Hmmm. That's a toughie.
But let's think for a minute. And let's not be afraid to come to some conclusion that we are prejudiced against in advance. That would be like "creationism" where you begin with your conclusion and look for evidence (or manufacture it) to support that conclusion. That is not science, nor is it philosophy.
Looked at on an individual level, war is simply terrible. But looked at on a sociological/biological level, there might be useful benefits derived.
First, there is always a cross-fertilization of gene pools that take place during wars. The horror is the portion where the winners rape the losers. But we have to admit that it happens. And, sadly, nearly ALWAYS happens. Horrifying on a moral level, perhaps, but nature is not a very "moral" force, and the cross-breeding of separate strains generally, in nature, produces a phenomenon known as "hybrid vigor." The hybrid is, generally, bigger, stronger, smarter and more resistant than either of the parent strains.
In this sense, Hitler's whole "pure race" nonsense was utterly at odds with natural selection, and subsequent studies of his Aryan breeding program have borne this out.
On the other hand, when the Moors conquered Spain, they brought high Arabian culture, science and BLOOD. After they were expelled, the Spanish culture, a physical and cultural hybrid dominated European civilization until the Spanish Armada -- although, it can be argued, that expelling all "non-Spaniards" during the Inquisition -- which began the selfsame year that Columbus sailed, 1492 -- weakened their society to the point that they never again were a dominant European culture.
And, war produces a desperate competition that we don't see during peacetime.
Consider that the American Air Force (The Army Air Corps) went from biplanes to jets in only four years during World War II. We went from relatively primitive explosives to nuclear weapons in four years. Radar was experimental at the beginning; by the end, it was a fundamental basis of military operations. Today, in addition to military uses, we fly in those jets, and that radar constantly tracks our storms.
Those are only a few examples.
Look back at the Civil War. At the beginning, we are fighting a Napoleonic war with units arranged as chess pieces -- hearkening back to the wars fought by the Greeks and the Romans. Caesar's and Alexander's tactics were still, in many ways, fundamental. But by 1865, the Civil War is a much more modern war, almost World War I, with its extensive trenches, its balloon observation, its ironclad ships and (in the form of the Gatling gun) the machine guns. Only the tank is missing from the mix. We even saw the first successful submarine attack! (The CSS Hunley).
Again: in only five years. The advances of technology, tactics and methods are nearly greater in the five years of the war than in the long period between the Revolutionary War in the waning years of the 18th Century and the Civil War in the middle of the 19th.
But more important is the manner in which the societies AS A WHOLE are reorganized. At the beginning of the Civil War, it has been noted, America is a rural collection of towns and states. At the end, it is a federal nation, stretching from "sea to shining sea."
The best and brightest specimens of the gene pool have been slaughtered wholesale, but the society itself has advanced phenomenally. And the dead are quickly replaced by the new society.
Now: assuming that this "monstrous" hypothesis is true (and remember, I began with the premise that this was a SPECULATION, and not that it was a fact), how could we progress beyond an "instinctual war" mode?
First of all, we DO have self-knowledge and awareness. Just as we have managed the beginnings of eradicating millennia of the subjugation of women by (almost exclusively) male-dominated political structures; we have also begun to recognize that mere differences of pigmentation are not meaningful in defining what is "human"?
Remember, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln could NOT suggest that "blacks" might be entitled to equal rights, nor that they might even be equal to "whites." Because such a thought was UNTHINKABLE to a vast majority of (male) voters, and not just in the South. He had carefully, in 1858, avoided being trapped by Stephen Douglas in their famed debates into anything approximating that position.
Now, less than 150 years later, to hold such views is virtually unthinkable. Not, of course, that the change is sudden or even complete. The Neanderthal language is still with us.
We only added more words. We have sophisticated as a species, but we have not left savagery behind us, and Neanderthals still walk among us, ten thousand years after the Cro-magnon "revolution" produced what we now term "homo sapiens."
The change is often horrific. Recall the magnificent and brutally tragic charge of the Polish Cavalry in World War I. It was, perhaps one of the finest cavalries seen since Alexander the Great, and it was mercilessly chopped to pieces by machine guns, bringing the age of the mounted warrior to a bloody end.
I will again beg your indulgence here: I was trained as a science fiction writer. My mentor, Theodore Sturgeon used to call his philosophy "ask the next question" and I learned extrapolation as much from him as from philosophers.
But, again, we have to carefully delineate that there is a vast difference between what I know, and what I think I might know. I present this as a hypothesis, a different way of looking at an issue -- war -- that seems cut and dried, but which is, at least in my experience, debated along lines of orthodoxy and, perhaps, superstition.
We believe that the lion will lie down with the lamb, and that men shall beat their swords into plowshares, but our history seems more in line with Thoreau's "Battle of the Ants" from WALDEN.
So, having led you down this rat hole of a brutal Mother Nature, using warfare as a predator for a species that, increasingly, has no natural predators, let's see if we can posit an evolutionary step OUT of these endless wars between anthills.
And I don't apologize for Mother Nature, by the by. We may weep when we see poor Bambi mercilessly slaughtered by a cougar or torn apart by wolves, but the cougar improves the deer, and the deer improves the cougar. It is a merciless process, but both species benefit thereby, and provide, ultimately, a better Bambi.
Now, what I brought up in the misconstrued conversation comes into play here: In nearly all mammal species, a very specific dance is performed by the males. They contest for territory and/or prey (much the same thing, in the case of both predators and herbivores -- prey or edible plants) with the victor winning the right, as dominant male, to mate with the females and, therefore, to pass on his genes.
In most cases, this contest is a combat. The horns of the endless species of antelope and deer are used primarily for the combat of the rut. In many cases, the loser can receive a fatal wounding. The tusks of the walrus and the elephant seem to provide the same function. But, in many cases, the death of the opponent would be dangerous to the continuation of the species, and the combat becomes symbolic -- though no less profound.
That scene in "2001 - A Space Odyssey", with the apes at the waterhole is a good example. During the first confrontation, the man-apes (the proto-humans) contest the "territory" of the all-important waterhole by displays, grunts, screeches and other verbal and physical cues. No combat takes place.
But, later, when the "apes" have been modified (or evolved) via that black monolith, the now-tool-bearing apes are no longer constrained by the old model.
The leader of the formerly losing clan advances with his thighbone and promptly kills the "dominant" ape of the formerly winning clan.
The followers of the dead leader wisely withdraw.
And so it has followed (Arthur C. Clarke's novel suggests) ever after: to the brink of nuclear annihilation.
But that novel was written before the end of the space race or the cold war.
There is another movie that suggests this change, a mini-series called "Shaka Zulu" which (sort of) tells the story of the rise of the Zulu Nation, a tribe that remains a dominant force in South African politics. In the movie, young Shaka, a son of the prior "King" is forced into exile by older brothers (from other wives), fearing for his life as a threat to their possible succession. This is a very old story in the annals of humankind.
But that's not what's interesting.
At one point, Shaka essentially makes the evolutionary leap that Clarke's man-ape (named in the book "Moonwatcher") makes. With his new warrior friends, he is invited to the "war."
Several tribes' warriors are present. Because of the tenuous nature of survival, one suspects, the "war" is symbolic, essentially a more sophisticated version of the first confrontation at the waterhole in "2001."
There is a good evolutionary reason for this -- much the same as the plains indians did not engage in actual warfare prior to the coming of the horse -- which is that in small tribal units, a fatal war could be devastating to BOTH tribal/clan groups. The loss of so much manpower might mean the slow death by starvation of both 'winner' and 'loser.'
Even with the coming of the horse, 'counting coup,' which meant a symbolic victory (by touching the enemy) was counted as valuable as killing the enemy in actual combat. In the "civilized" sport of fencing, we still "count coup" by touching with the epee, and not by impaling our opponent.
In the movie, Shaka -- using what will become the trademark waepons of the Zulu nation he will found, the tall zebra-hide shield and the short spear (a parallel to the Roman full shield and short sword, incidentally) -- rushes forward and efficiently slaughters the rival warriors.
Like the apes in 2001, they beat a hasty retreat. And the Zulu nation arises as the dominant force in that region of Africa until finally subdued (with great loss of life) by the British Army following the Battle of Roarke's Drift in 1879 (most remembered from the movie "Zulu" but, alas, the 'historical accuracy' of the film owes much to British home propaganda -- which is why so many Victoria Crosses (11) were passed out in the aftermath. The British Army were, understandably, attempting to deflect attention from the disastrous earlier battle of Isandhlwana in which the Zulu slaughtered the bulk of the British 24th Regiment.
[A little footnote: after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which includes "Custer's Last Stand," and the desperate two-day holdout of Reno and Benteen's battalions, the Medal of Honor was handed out to 19 soldiers. Probably for the same reason. It's a variant of Yossarian's decoration in CATCH-22 for screwing up so badly that the Army has to pin a medal on him to cover up the whole embarrassing incident.]
But back to the split between ritual combat and real combat: during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves in a position not seen since the Neolithic hunter-gatherers. Actual combat might well be devastating to both "clans." Therefore, without ever explicitly stating it, or, perhaps, even realizing it, the two sides pursued a "space race" with single-minded fervor.
But neither side dared (especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis) to envision an actual nuclear exchange.
And the outcome?
The civilization that landed on the moon ascended to sole "superpower" status and what seems to be incipient empire.
And the "Evil Empire" (to use Reagan's Formulation)? The old USSR collapsed as surely as the British Empire collapsed after World War II. But with far greater rapidity. Mother Jones notes that the USA now has more military bases inside the old Soviet empire than Russia does!
But this is still the endless, mindless competition of mammals, marking their territory with urine. You can see it in gang turf with graffiti tagging. Or with American flags flying all over the world. But it's still tomcats "spraying" to mark their territory.
Let's face it: the endless competition of the naked killer apes has got to change, or the naked killer apes may well cease to survive.
The endless, mindless cycle of human competition has bothered me from as far back as I can remember. Everywhere I went, everything I tried, someone wanted to race, to battle, to "play a game" with a winner and a loser. We have art competitions, battles of the bands, poetry contests, calls for entries in architectural design -- which seems antithetical to the very concept of art. I mean, as though two short stories or songs could ever "compete" in a cockfight arena!
I would suggest that there is an evolutionary step that needs to be made. By chance, I ran across it during my senior year in high school. It was in a wonderful book by John W. Gardner entitled EXCELLENCE. (As a side note, researching the copyright of the book, I just learned that President Kennedy was also impressed by the book, and enlisted Gardner in federal efforts to improve education)
Consider the teleology of competition. ("Teleology" means the study of ends, or of purposes. Sorry to throw two big words at you, but you're tough. You can handle it.)
Gardner's thesis was exactly what I'd been searching for all those years. Gardner pointed out that by competition (and by this, I will stretch the competition from marbles in the sandbox to nuclear confrontation) we promote excellence. An example would be the Olympics. By competing we test ourselves against opponents, and strive towards excellence.
But -- and here is the big BUT -- competition is not the ONLY means of achieving excellence. The teleology of competition is excellence. But so can excellence as end result be strived for IN AND OF ITSELF>
In other words, we do not HAVE to compete to improve. That is an ancient, instinctual model, but, increasingly it may well be a model that we cannot afford.
And therein may well lie the road to that mythical peace which seems so often assumed but so rarely proven. The great problem with our "war and peace" model of humanity is that, really, we are talking about two polarities. Washington gave the advice "in time of peace prepare for war," but we really need to move out of that model entirely if we are to achieve a true "peace." Most of our models of peace are passive and sedentary. They tend to equate with a sloth. A passivity. A resting between wars.
And this is understandable. We have hardly ever had the opportunity to consider a "dynamic" peace because we're too busy either licking our wounds from the last war, or getting ready for the next one.
But to pursue excellence would be to pursue an active, dynamic model of peace, and not merely a pause between conflicts. Sure, Europe and Japan are newer and spiffier than the USA because they've had to rebuild the entire infrastructure that was blown to smithereens in the Second World War. But that is not an intelligent way for a conscious species to move forward.
Now, I'm not saying it will be easy. But if you consider war to be the ultimate competition, consider how omnipresent we have made this endless competition: competition for grades, competition for a spot on the freeway; competition for the next place in line, or even "cuts" in line; competition for the best job, the biggest house, the fastest car. Who has got the strongest body? Who has got the biggest brain?
Well, unless those competitions are converted to excellences, then how can we be surprised at the continual resurgence of the ultimate competition: culture against culture; religion against religion (a lot like a "poetry competition" now that I think of it); nation against nation; race against race. All of which we call "war."
This mammalian obsession with competition will be the death of us. Sure, we have an imperative to excel, but can't we cut to the chase and leave the warfare behind us?
The vision of the "fall" from Genesis suggests that we were meant to be the gardeners of Eden. I would suggest that it won't be an Azalea competition that gets us back. Indeed the first mythological act of "warfare" came from Cain's perceived "loss" in the offering competition (somewhere around Genesis 4:1-17).
So, until we want to face that fundamental flaw in our thinking -- that excellence can't be achieved without competition -- we're trapped in the mammalian model, and, whether our "wars" are real or ritual, they will continue, with periods of recuperation that we will term "peace" but a stale and static peace, for all that.
Peace in the excellence model would leave us with precious little time for war. And then that sword might well ONLY be useful for a plowshare.
It is as though we have adopted the "let the forest fires burn" model for civilization. No. No more forest fires. Let's intelligently strive to improve our cities and our civilization by excellence, rather than "competing" by slaughtering the inhabitants of the other ant hills willy nilly. And let's face it: our consciousness is beginning to understand that there ARE no other ant hills. Just the one -- human with various styles and colors -- and just the one species. Humankind.
Wouldn't it be miraculous to have ONE CENTURY (an eyeblink in the life of a species) without the endless -- and increasingly non-survivable -- teeter-totter of "war and peace."
Gardner's analysis of excellence can as easily be applied to political systems as educational systems.
And, to end our little science fiction story, that is perhaps the next turn on the evolutionary roller coaster.
But epistemologically, I don't know that. It's just speculation. I earnestly hope that we make it to that bend in the river.
Otherwise we're just stuck in a pissing match. Woof.
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