Sunday, September 03, 2006
Repetitions of History ad nauseum.....
Cliches about history like, "Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them," or "What we learn from history, is that we don't learn from history," may seem trite, but what is really frightening is that they are so true and that they are ignored so routinely with such horrific consequences!
Recently a friend gave me a publication called, "The Monthly Review," from April of 1989, because a deceased relative of his, Leo Cawley, had written a book review of Neil Sheehan's book, "Bright Shining Lie," and he wanted me to read it. Leo had been in the Vietnam war and was subsequently a journalist covering the Westmoreland/CBS trial when he issued this review of the book.
I remember reading "Bright Shining Lie," about the incredibly brave and legendary John Paul Vann, who after a distinguished service record came to Vietnam and concluded that the US government and the military brass were fighting this guerrilla war all wrong. Vann who immersed himself in the culture of Vietnam and got to know the people and came to realize how much they despised the government of S. Vietnam and how inept the army of S. Vietnam was, soon realized that the massive bombing tactics being used to win the war by the Pentagon were worse than useless, they were counter-productive. In Vann's view the best weapon in a guerrilla war was a knife and secondly was a rifle. Airpower was too indiscriminately destructive of civilians to be used at all. Vann was subsequently drummed out of the military for his impertinence about questioning the military brass and eventually returned to Vietnam as a top civilian advisor in 1965 and appeared to mute his criticisms of the war so he could stay and gloat as the body counts rose.
While Vann turned out to be something less than a heroic figure, the Sheehan book was more than just the story of one man fighting the wrongheadedness of the military high command. It was the story of how the US government acted with arrogance and self-delusion about subduing a small country and stifling a national uprising by peasants and poor people. It is also the story of how the US military presumed an easy victory because of it's greater manpower but especially because of it's far superior fire-power, particularly with air-strikes.
According to Leo Cawley, David Halberstram wrote a more comrehensive book about the folly of the US government and the military brass in Vietnam with his, "The Best and the Brightest," but Sheehan's book looked deeply into the class struggles that occurred within these institutions and within the country of Vietnam itself, and through Vann's eyes he saw therein the seeds of destruction of the American empire.
Today we have history repeating itself in Iraq. We have the same presumptuous follies being perpetrated by the US government and it's military chiefs. We have the same wanton destruction of civilians and the same colossal ignorance of the culture we invaded.
But this time the American empire is being taken to the breaking point and instead of just walking away as we did in Vietnam with no "falling dominoes" or other long-term consequences, the Iraq war will leave in it's wake an aroused and vastly increased jihadist movement, which will counter any attempt for American dominance in the Middle East for the foreseeable future and might even bring the taste of terror once again to the shores of America.
Maybe someday we'll learn the lessons of history. Maybe someday we'll learn the limits to military power. Maybe someday we'll have a government of, for and by the people ..... but given our history, I doubt it.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
My two year diet study.
In June of 2005 I was invited, along with thousands of other Boston/Cambridge residents, to participate in a diet study that was being conducted by Harvard University.
I thought I was in pretty good shape, although I had a slight paunch and was carrying 195 pounds on my 5' 11'' frame. I was actively engaged in an exercise program at my local health club and I also played singles tennis at least three times per week. But I decided that I would like to lose some weight and volunteered for what they called "The Poundslost Study."
I met with the staff of the study in a building in Boston near Fenway Park. A young woman took my blood pressure and asked numerous questions about my health and what, if any, prescription drugs I was taking. I later discovered that people who were taking anti-depressant drugs or who had any serious health problems were not accepted into the program. Since I was free of those issues, I was passed onto a female dietician who evaluated me and made sure I knew what I was getting myself into.
Clearly the diet I would go on would be a draconian departure from what I was used to. Like most Americans, I was raised with the belief that I could eat anything I wanted, anytime I wanted and in any quantities I wanted. Which is why I was about 25 pounds overweight for my height or according to the terms of the study, my BMI was too high for my height (Body Mass Index).
The dietician also told me that the study would involve frequent tests of my blood, urine, bone density and blood pressure over the two year period that was involved. They also wanted me to attend a couple of one hour meetings every month with a dozen fellow study-participants and a dietician who would be assigned to the group.
Let's say I had the time and the interest to enter the study and was intrigued to see if I actually could lose weight. Shortly after agreeing to participate, I showed up at the designated time at Brigham & Women's hospital for the battery of tests that would be performed. While there I ran into a young woman who had been in the study for about six months. I asked her how she had found it and she was very upbeat and positive. She had lost 20 pounds and was feeling great. I asked her if she had given up drinking alcoholic beverages during the course of the study and she said, "No." She drank an occasional beer or glass of wine and found that it was easily incorporated into the diet. This was good news to me as I dearly loved my glass of wine or bottle of beer with dinner!
My wife was supportive of my decision to enter the study but many of my friends and family were somewhat skeptical and some wondered why I wanted to do it at all. The truth was I had never tried to diet before in my life, but I felt that with Harvard medical conducting this study and with all the structure that was built into the plan, I would have a chance to get down to my optimum BMI and enjoy better health and so I plunged ahead.
The diet I was assigned to was called, "the moderate fat, average protein diet." Once I saw the actual amount of meat, fish or cheese I could eat each day it sure didn't seem like the "average protein" of any American that I ever knew. Basically they wanted me to increase my fat consumption and lower my protein consumption, which was precisely the opposite of what I had previously been doing. They actually wanted me to limit my meat or fish intake each day to about 5 ounces!
A can of tuna is about four ounces, so if I ate that for lunch as I had in the past, then I would be left with 1 ounce of chicken or steak for dinner! Hardly an appetizing situation if you know what I mean! And let me clarify the fat intake too. There is what they call "good fat" (gf) and "bad fat" (bf). Gf are things like olive or other oils (canola, peanut, etc.), avocados, nuts and even mayonnaise and margarine, provided they are free of trans-fats.
I was also to be limited to a calorie range of 1800 to 1900 calories per day. In addition, I was provided with access to the Poundslost webpage so I could enter my actual food consumptions on a daily basis. This website not only showed you at the end of each day how many calories you had consumed, but it also showed whether you were meeting your goals of the key macro-nutrients, such as protein, fat and carbohydrates. In addition I was asked to record how much time I spent on vigorous exercise each day and to weigh myself daily and report that figure as well.
At first I found this to not only require a significant amount of time, but it was tedious as well, but as I got into the program and started to see results, I could see how all of these things worked together to promote the discipline required to make a success of the diet and how they enabled me to see the results of what I ate on a daily basis.
The fact was that from the first week into the program my weight began to drop and it reinforced my commitment to the program and to myself.
In my next installment of this subject I will talk more about my diet, my exercise and the group meetings that followed.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
If a society's communication system is broken, what does that mean?
By communication I don't mean our telephones and text messaging systems, I mean the way we get the information that we need in order to function as citizens of a democracy.
Recently I just finished a book called, "The Creation of the Media," by Paul Starr. It traced the rise of various media from before the revolutionary war in America. It compared the development of the press in America, England, France and to a much lesser extent, other European countries. What was interesting was that America had not only the most wide open press or newspapers in the 18th century, but the government actually gave the fledgling industry a hand by shipping newspapers through the mails free of charge. De Tocqueville was amazed to find newspapers out in the backwoods of America when he visited early in the 19th century. By comparison, European newspapers either did not exist or were found only in the major cities but not in the country towns. And the cost of newspapers was usually affordable to Americans, while European newspapers were too expensive for all but the aristocracy or gentry.
But, whereas European newspapers were heavily censored and rigidly controlled by their governments, the American press was freewheeling and attacked any and all politicians with indiscriminate gusto. As America and the world evolved their communication systems, to telegraph, telephone, radio and TV, the Americans always seem to favor private ownership of these systems with some government control, while the Europeans favored government ownership and complete control of these systems.
It is against this backdrop that sometime in the late 20th century the American media, disappointingly and tragically, became broken. It ceased to be the once vaunted "free press," and became instead the sycophantic, profiteer and cowardly "mainstream media" or the dreaded "MSM."
This came about for several reasons. One is that the broadcast media depends on government approval in order to keep their invaluable licenses. The license gives each network or station permission to use the public airwaves, which are represented by some 1500 frequencies on the broadband spectrum. Thus whenever any political party controls the White House, the Congress and the FCC, broadcasters become exquisitely sensitive to the wishes of the government. In addition, virtually all of the media depend on advertising which comes primarily from the large corporations in America. Here again, the media, especially the broadcast media, will bend over backwards not to offend whatever the prevailing view is of "decency" or what their advertisers might feel is "unpatriotic" or "anti-free market."
And so the news has become sanitized and sterilized and offered like pablum to babies, instead of the unadulterated facts for adults that it should be. And a society whose communication system is broken like this can no longer function as a democracy. The people elect politicians who don't truly represent them, because they never got all the information necessary to make the correct decision. And whether it's war or fiscal priorities or any other important issue, the people will continue to be misled and under-informed, until finally the society breaks down and new leadership is brought in to attempt a recovery.
The bible says that in the beginning there was "the word," in essence, information. Without it we as a society cannot function and yet we have allowed our government and our corporate elite to "shoot the messenger (media)" whenever they don't like the message! If the media continue to offer only messages that those in power want us to hear it will mean the death of democracy in America, which will be the death of America.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
But the question is....
While I can understand the depth of the anger and dissatisfaction with the Bushboy regime, it should be apparent that they are the symptom of what is wrong in America and not the entire cause.
The question is how can the USA with all it's wonderful ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights behave so inhumanely and despicably?
And it's not just this current administration. Nixon and LBJ are responsible for millions of needless deaths in Vietnam and previous to that we had American atrocities in the Philippines and previous to that the Mexican War, just to name a few.
The question is how can our government act with such disregard for human life and how is it the American people can be taken along for this ride into hell time and time again without being aware of it.
It took quite a while for the American people to realize that the Vietnam war was a horrific waste and they seem to have come to that conclusion about Iraq, three years too late. Why is it we allow the government and the always complicity mass media to stampede us into senseless war after war, leaving us with moral and financial burdens that grow more onerous all the time?
And my answer is that we have been sold the wrong societal paradigm. Which is another way of saying that we have been inculcated with the belief that our economic and political system is the best there is and any other is either inferior or a devious threat to our own.
This permits us to kill innocent people so we can bring them "democracy" or the "free market system" or some other iconic shibboleth that has currency with masses. Forget the fact that democracy has been severely compromised in the USA itself, what with gerrymandering and dubious elections and that our capitalist system favors the rich corporations over struggling individuals more and more.
May I suggest that the questions we should be asking are: what kind of a society do we want to have and what kind of a people do we want to be?
If the answer is a society based on freedom, justice and humanitarianism, which are the ostensible values of our founding documents, then we have allowed ourselves to be grievously misled by our so called "governments" of the past few decades.
If and when we ever get to the point where there is a national dialogue about the limits to profiteer and war, perhaps there will be hope for a free and democratic America.
Monday, December 19, 2005
BIG BROTHER BUSHBOY
After creating a litany and a legacy of horrors for the American people, from the looting of trillions of dollars from their US Treasury for his rich friends to inventing a war in Iraq to Abu Ghraib to Plamegate to his Katrina hurricane neglect, we now learn that Bushboy was spying on Americans since 9/11, and he didn't even bother to get a warrant for his wiretaps or to advise appropriate congressional committees about what he was doing!
This "I am above the law," attitude by Bushboy has been apparent all his life. He didn't take a physical in the military when required to do so. Anyone else would have been court martialed but thanks to his daddy, who was a congressman at the time, Bushboy's refusal to obey a lawful military order was ignored. After bankrupting three companies, Bushboy was made a corporate officer for Harken Energy and when they ran into a cash flow problem and it looked as though their stock would tank, Bushboy who was privy to this information, committed the crime of insider trading by selling his Harken stock and not reporting the sale in the required 30 days to the SEC.
This flauting of the law was also apparent with the outing of a CIA agent because Bushboy was angry with her husband who dared to question a lie Bushboy had told about "yellowcake" being purchased by the arch-villain, Saddam.
Bushboy doesn't know or care about the law and he appointed a fawning, foolish Attorney General who rubber stamps Bushboy's legal ignorance, by misleading him about the US obligation to observe the Geneva Accords and to torture prisoners with impunity.
Clearly the Bushboy record begs for impeachment and the unauthorized snooping on American citizens without judicial or congressional oversight makes it imperative that even this corrupt and dissolute Gooper Congress act to re-assert the separation of powers and to defend the US Constitution that they swore to uphold.
But the liklihood is that Bushboy's doublespeak will once again obfuscate the issue and he will, once again, get away with violating the law and America becomes the banana republic Bushboy and the Gooper party have conspired to create.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
America's enemies within!
While much is made of those who questioned the need for America to go to war in Iraq and while polls often show that Americans think Bushboy and the Goopers are "better" at defending America from terrorism or military threats, even as Bushboy sinks in the polls regarding his integrity or competence, the truth is that America cannot be defeated by an outside enemy.
We spend more money on "Defense" than all the other nations combined. We have more nuclear weapons than anyone with the most sophisticated and inexorable delivery systems. Aside from a surprise nuclear attack from some huge foreign power like China or Russia, America cannot be challenged militarily anywhere in the world.
The reason the Goopers malign those who dissent from their warmongering policies is because it works. Fear, as Machiavelli noted, is a far more reliable motivator than anything else, and when it comes to exploiting baseless fears for political advantage, the Goopers are in a class by themselves.
America cannot be defeated by an outside enemy but America as we have known it, is being destroyed by the same Goopers who would scare Americans silly with their fictitious threats and straw man enemies.
America once meant a capitalist system with a reasonable amount of competition to provide consumers with good products and services at a fair price. It also meant employers offering healthcare insurance and decent pensions for benefits. It also meant a democratic system of government where even though the Democrats were the dominant party in Congress and the White House, the Republicans were allowed to participate in the drafting of legislation and their opinions were considered before final passage.
America once meant a mass media that was not the abject servant of the corporations and where religious orthodoxy was not forced down the throats of all regardless of their beliefs.
America once meant a growing and vibrant middleclass and educational possibilities for the young to advance themselves and an abiding respect for the environment.
America once meant fiscal responsibility and an occasional balanced budget.
With the advent of the Reagan administration and the Contract on America much of that changed for the worse. And the Bushboy regime has been the final coup de grace to American fairness, decency and Constitutional government.
We now make pre-emptive war and torture our prisoners in violation of the Geneva Accords and other treaties to which we are signatories. We now waste hundreds of billions of dollars on war, Defense and "no bid contracts" with corporations that are criminal cronies of the current administration. Fiscally America has seen record deficits under Bushboy leading to what many experts like Robert Rubin call, "Unsustainable debt leading to a day of reckoning!"
The press has gone from "watch-dog" of government to it's "lap-dog," while the News Divisions are completely subordinated to the corporate whims.
The middleclass shrinks, the rich get richer, the education system deteriorates along with the environment and democracy hangs in the balance.
And why has all this happened to America?
The answer is short, simple and politically unmentionable: It is the vast rightwing conspiracy of the Goopers, the Military Industrial complex, the Religious Right and assorted other radicals and nutcases like the NRA, that have banded together to scare Americans into thinking that they are America's saviors.
But it's a cruel hoax. The rightwing in America is our worst and most insideous enemy within.