Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Bitter Philosophy

Lon Chaney's last words in this clip have a terrible truth that transcends cynicism or nihilism.  Yet, they do not represent an answer.  And, the lesson is always learned too late.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quotation from Wendell Berry

"And it is one of the miracles of science and hygiene that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons."

                                         Wendell Berry,  "The Unsettling of America"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

American Capitalism isn't working

Lower wages and lower labor costs are desirable goals. 
Lower prices are not a desirable goal.  That's labeled 'deflation.'
Most people are required to borrow to buy what they need.
A policy of pay-as-you-go is not possible for most people, including the various governmental entities.
The so-called Law of Supply and Demand isn't working, viz., the oil market.
An economy that grows vigorously is preferred to an economy that grows slowly while remaining stable.
A 'higher' Standard of Living is preferred to a sensible Standard of Living.
It is wrong to 'make work' but it is good to take work away.
When labor costs are reduced, prices continue to rise.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What!  did the Hand then of the Potter shake?

                                      -Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat

Wisdom from George F Kennan

"This brings us to the questions of "human rights."  Let us first glance at the extent of our involvement in this cause.  The Department of State , as I understand it, in addition to harboring the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs headed by an assistant secretary of state, now has a "human rights officer" attached to the normally already redundant staff of every American diplomatic mission anywhere.  One part of the duties of these particular officials is said to be  the preparation of an annual report on the human rights record, so called, of the host country.  The department, for its part, maintains in Washington a "human rights reports team", to read and ponder such reports and to prepare a consolidated report for congress.  It does all this, to be sure, not solely of its own volition;  these procedures are now, at  least in part, required by law.  But what is under consideration here is not the involvement of the Department of State alone but of our government as a whole in the question at issue.  And thus extravagantly do we, like a stern schoolmaster clothed in the mantle of perfect virtue, sit in judgments over all other governments, looking sharply down the nose of each of them to see whether its handling of its domestic affairs meets with our approval.

That these commitments constitute one more limitation on our freedom of action in foreign affairs - one more instance in which we have committed ourselves in advance to behave in a given way in a wide category of instances, none of which can be specifically foreseen - is beyond doubt.  And is this justified?
Let us recall that the manner in which regimes customarily treat their subjects, worldwide, is largely a matter of tradition, habit, and popular concepts of what is right and what is wrong.  All these are subject to change, to be sure, over long periods of time, but seldom, if the results are to be lasting, can the change be abrupt.

It is the habit of a great many regimes, across the surface of the globe, to deal harshly with those of their nationals who have opposed their positions of power, or who are suspected of doing so.  In most instances, their opponents, if the shoe were on  the other foot, would behave in much the same way.  The incentives to such behavior are never-ending, and unless the national traditions and political habits sternly rule them out, they will normally be yielded to.  The pressures of outside opinion may occasionally cause the respective regime to  go a bit easier for a time in this respect; but unless these pressures are supported by the inherited political culture of the place, and particularly by the existence and tradition  of democratic self-government, such gestures of moderation  are not apt to be lasting.
The pressure of outside opinion about human rights sustained oer long periods of time, can indeed produce beneficial changes in both attitudes and institutions.  The role of private opinion in this direction, when applied in support of gradual change, is important and should be welcomed.  Whether governments, and the U.S. government in particular, should be involved in exerting such pressures is more dubious.  In this respect, governments have to take the world pretty much as they find it.  Their task - at least, the task of the U. S. government, as I perceive it - is to conduct its own relations with other governments in a manner conducive to a minimum of bilateral friction and to the maximum of usefulness to world peace and stability.  This will be most effective if the sound old principle on noninterference in the other's domestic affairs is respected - if the lines of responsibility, in other words, are clearly recognized.  This includes the responsibility of each regime for the governing of its own people.  Each of them has, alone, the power to shape the situation in this respect.  It must be, from the standpoint of morality, the judge of its own behavior.  Outside pressure, particularly from another government, is seldom helpful, and may be counterproductive.

For a foreign government to exert such pressure, in circumstances impossible to foresee, for an indefinite time into the future, strikes me as in all respects a questionable procedure;  and I cannot but regret the lengths to which we have shown ourselves prepared to go, and the leadership we have even taken internationally in promoting, on the governmental level, the cause of "human rights."

The die is now cast.  Formal obligations have been entered into.  The practice has found sanction in American public opinion.  So be it.  But I would ask it to be noted that this is one more instance where indulgence of the desire to appear virtuous in our own eyes has placed limitations on the area in which we should have the flexibility to act usefully in more significant areas of international life."

George F. Kennan (Around the Cragged Hill, 1993, W W Norton & Co.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Impeach Obama

Successive unconstitutional precedents on war powers have brought us to this:  a President will initiate military action on a foreign power without cause or congressional approval. 
 The decision was taken by the President when he was out of the country. The President did not consult with Congress.   Obama did not even notify Congress.
At a press conference today, President Obama said the action was necessary because a UN resolution "was a mandate" for conducting acts of war on the nation of Libya.
This man is a constitutional lawyer?!!!? 
Now, a President with the approval of a vote in the UN Security Council has the authority to use American military resources to conduct foreign wars.  If that is his position,  impeachment proceedings should begin at once.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dilbert's Aphorism

"Teamwork means you can't pick the side that's right."

Wallace Stevens speaks to us

Idiom of the Hero

I heard two workers say, 'This chaos
Will soon be ended.'

This chaos will not be ended,
The red and the blue house blended,

Not ended, never and never ended,
The weak man mended,

The man that is poor at night

Like the man that is rich and right.
The great men will not be blended...

I am the poorest of all.
I know that I cannot be mended,

Out of the clouds, pomp of the air,
By which at least I am befriended.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mind your DOR's

That's what Grandmother used to say.  "Mind your DOR's"
What are they, Grandma?
They are your Duties, Obligations, and Responsibilities."
What about our rights?
"You are born with those.  Your DOR's are given to you.  If you pay attention to them,  your rights will always be there.  ______________________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's that again?

Last evening I listened to correspondent Ben Wedeman on CNN describe why the Libyan people were fighting so valiantly to overthrow their government.
Can't quote verbatim but he pretty much said the following:

"They're angry.   This is a wealthy country, rich in oil revenues but the people are not sharing in that wealth.  They are angry seeing their young men sent to fight wars in Africa that they have no interest in.  They're angry about having no real voice in how their country is run.  They can't afford an education.  They're sick of the corruption."

Listening to this, I turned to my wife and half-joking I said "He could be describing the United States."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Secretary Robert Gates on War

 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an unusual statement while speaking to an assembly of West Point cadets on Friday, February 25th.  Secretary Gates is reported to have said the following:
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it."
This statement is a disturbing example of the poor leadership pervading  our government.  At first glance, it seems daring.  After all, a prominent Defense Secretary has indirectly (i.e., without naming him) criticized the actions of his predecessor.  But  no boldness is required  to say this in a protected environment, and not a public place where it may get recorded on video and where he may receive questions about his statement.
Also, the remarks come seven years too late.  He offers no remedy for the mistakes  which he supervises and struggles to control as he nears the end of his career.
As a military historian, Mr. Gates is not doing a very good job either.  His interpretation of MacArthur's remark is flawed.  When MacArthur made the 'head examined' comment he said that a President should avoid  "a land war in Asia."  At the time, it was clear that the reference was to China.
Secretary Gates changed 'land war' to 'land army' and widened the geography to include the Middle East and Africa.  Of course, most of the propaganda machine, sometimes referred to as the American press, reworked Gates' comment and  put the phrase 'land war' in many versions of his quoted statement.
Another reason why Gates' statement  is no great shakes is the knowledge (finally!) among even the hardest of hard heads that the land wars of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were dismal failures and losses. 
I know there are still some neocons who believe we should police every nation in the world but they seem isolated at last.  But the trend outlined by the Secretary is to "reshape" the Army (meaning downsize) and depend more on naval and air forces to support our policies.
So the prospect of fewer wars isn't in the forecast.  The plan is to make war just as often as necessary but to have less loss of life and revenue in the undertaking of it.  How much less, of course, is up for speculation.