Is Trump Worse Than Nixon?

My friend, Eric Andrew Gebert asked:

“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”

Eric, Here is how I remember it.

I lived through the Nixon Administration:

– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);

– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);

– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);

– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;

– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;

– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);

– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.

Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.

Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).

From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).

The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).

While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).

The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.

The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.

The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.

Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.

So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?

What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.

What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).

So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.

What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.

The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.

Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.

So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).

I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).

The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.

So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?

From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.

From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).

So in the grossest possible characterization:

– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;

– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.

In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.

<><><><><><><>

SCIENCE

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

SCIENCE awes many, repels many, saves many, is claimed by many, and is practiced by few: because it is hard, hard on the mind, and hard on dishonesty. The poetry of science is in the experience of discovery; the tragedy for science is in its prostitution, pimped for money and power. The promise of science is the dream of humanism: a dream still enslaved by the corruption of men’s souls, the atavistic timorousness of racist fear, of obdurate ignorance. Science is a mode of consciousness, a reflection of a scientist’s attitude toward life, an indicator of the degree of human solidarity. Science is the great unknown to the undiscovered self.

<><><><><><><>

Salvation

Painting of the Roiling Ocean, by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

It is sad indeed to see an oppressed people destroying itself through factionalism and civil war, while a far more powerful enemy squeezes them out of their land and lives. I have read of such in Thucydides, but it is too painful to watch in my own time. And, such a sad spectacle turns foreign eyes away, withdrawing their compassion and respect, and leaving “the lost” to their fate of ultimate disappearance. You and I, Nadia Issam Harhash, know that a universal solidarity among humans is the only salvation for all of us, but you and I also know the unfortunate truth that too many of those humans will resist contributing to that salvation to the bitter end: a death cult. What is left to people like you and I is to speak out against the death cult (and hope we are not silenced), and then also retreat into care of our families and immersion in being creative artists, so as to keep our sanity while we live. As an engineer, I always look for solutions to problems, but here as in so many other times and places the “solution” is purely one of choice: unrestrained compassion, respect and solidarity for and with the other members of the homo sapiens species. To me, all politics and all religions are madness, and should disappear. Heraclitus (~500BC) said “Bigotry is the disease of the religious,” and politics is so obviously the mechanisms of organized greed. Salvation will NOT come down from some Sky God in Heaven, nor from Hell out of the barrels of guns; salvation can only come from human hearts and souls who have come to realize that they each are merely momentary wave crests in a sea of humanity flowing within an ocean of Life. Peace.

<><><><><><><>

My 108 Favorite Movies

These are my 108 favorite movies. “Favorite” means they reward repeated viewings for me. I list them two ways: in preference ranking by their years made; and then in TODAY’S absolute preference ranking, which could easily change on any other day.

There is no consistency of preference ranking between the two lists because the order of absolute rankings is influenced by the sequence of movies.

I can easily think of more movies that I would enjoy seeing again, but for now these 108 are listed as my “favorites.”

<><><><><><><>

1932
Trouble In Paradise

1933
??

1934
L’Atalante
The Count of Monte Cristo
Treasure Island

1935
Captain Blood
The Last Days of Pompeii
Le Misérables

1936
My Man Godfrey

1937
The Grand Illusion

1938
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Dawn Patrol
Holiday

1939
The Rules of the Game

1940
The Thief of Bagdad

1941
Citizen Kane
The Maltese Falcon

1942
Casablanca
The Moon and Sixpence
The Jungle Book
Cat People

1943
Sahara

1944
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

1945
They Were Expendable
The Picture of Dorian Gray

1946
The Big Sleep
The Best Years of Our Lives

1947
Black Narcissus
Out of the Past

1948
Adventures of Don Juan
Key Largo
The Treasure of Sierra Madre

1949
The Third Man

1950
In A Lonely Place
All About Eve
The Asphalt Jungle
Sunset Boulevard

1951
The African Queen
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The River

1952
The Crimson Pirate

1953
The Earrings of Madame de…
Wages of Fear
From Here to Eternity

1954
Seven Samurai
Them!
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

1955
La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes (the Nov. 2008 restoration)
Mister Roberts
To Catch a Thief

1956
Forbidden Planet
Moby Dick
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Rodan

1957
The Bridge on the River Kwai

1958
Touch of Evil

1959
Hiroshima mon amour
On the Beach
Journey to the Center of the Earth
North West Frontier
Room at the Top
Some Like It Hot

1960
La Dolce Vita
The Apartment
Psycho

1961
Judgment at Nuremberg
Divorce Italian Style

1962
Lawrence of Arabia
Jules and Jim
The Manchurian Candidate
David and Lisa
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lonely Are the Brave

1963
Otto e mezzo
From Russia With Love
Captain Newman, M.D.

1964
Goldfinger
The Night of the Iguana
Dr. Strangelove
That Man From Rio
Kiss Me, Stupid
The Pawnbroker

1965
Doctor Zhivago
Ship of Fools

1966
The Professionals
Fahrenheit 451
King of Hearts

1967
The President’s Analyst
The Producers
Point Blank
The Young Girls of Rochefort

1968
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stolen Kisses
Yellow Submarine

1969
Women In Love
Battle of Britain

1970
Catch-22

1971
Harold and Maude

1972
Slaughterhouse-Five

1973
The Three Musketeers
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1988 version)
American Graffiti

1974
The Four Musketeers

1975-1977
??

1978
Animal House

1979
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001 extended version)

1980-1985
??

1986
Betty Blue

1987-1995
??

1996
Citizen Ruth

1997-2001
??

2002
About Schmidt

2003-2016
??

2017
Downsizing

2018-2020
??

<><><><><><><>

ABSOLUTE RANKING OF PREFERENCE

#001 Casablanca (1942)
#002 Citizen Kane (1941)
#003 The Grand Illusion (1937)
#004 The Big Sleep (1946)
#005 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
#006 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
#007 Captain Blood (1935)
#008 The Dawn Patrol (1938)
#009 Seven Samurai (1954)
#010 My Man Godfrey (1936)
#011 The Rules of the Game (1939)
#012 Trouble In Paradise (1932)
#013 The African Queen (1951)
#014 Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
#015 L’Atalante (1934)
#016 The Moon and Sixpence (1942)
#017 Black Narcissus (1947)
#018 The Apartment (1960)
#019 The Night of the Iguana (1964)
#020 Jules and Jim (1962)
#021 Stolen Kisses (1968)
#022 In A Lonely Place (1950)
#023 David and Lisa (1962)
#024 On the Beach (1959)
#025 Dr. Strangelove (1964)
#026 Catch-22 (1970)
#027 Goldfinger (1964)
#028 The Three Musketeers (1973)
#029 The Four Musketeers (1974)
#030 The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
#031 Treasure Island (1934)
#032 The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)
#033 Le Misérables (1935)
#034 The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
#035 Wages of Fear (1953)
#036 The Third Man (1949)
#037 Key Largo (1948)
#038 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
#039 Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
#040 Harold and Maude (1971)
#041 Adventures of Don Juan (1948)
#042 The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948)
#043 Out of the Past (1947)
#044 Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
#045 The River (1951)
#046 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
#047 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
#048 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
#049 Forbidden Planet (1956)
#050 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
#051 The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
#052 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
#053 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
#054 They Were Expendable (1945)
#055 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
#056 Mister Roberts (1955)
#057 Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
#058 Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
#059 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973; 1988 version)
#060 Apocalypse Now Redux (2001 extended version of 1979 original)
#061 The Professionals (1966)
#062 Point Blank (1967)
#063 From Russia With Love (1963)
#064 The Crimson Pirate (1952)
#065 Sahara (1943)
#066 North West Frontier (1959)
#067 King of Hearts (1966)
#068 Doctor Zhivago (1965)
#069 Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
#070 Ship of Fools (1965)
#071 Women In Love (1969)
#072 The Pawnbroker (1964)
#073 That Man From Rio (1964)
#074 La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes (1955, the Nov. 2008 restoration)
#075 Citizen Ruth (1996)
#076 Betty Blue (1986)
#077 About Schmidt (2002)
#078 Downsizing (2017)
#079 Animal House (1978)
#080 The Jungle Book (1942)
#081 Moby Dick (1956)
#082 Otto e mezzo (1963)
#083 La Dolce Vita (1960)
#084 Divorce Italian Style (1961)
#085 All About Eve (1950)
#086 Room at the Top (1959)
#087 The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
#088 Sunset Boulevard (1950)
#089 The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
#090 Touch of Evil (1958)
#091 The President’s Analyst (1967)
#092 The Producers (1967)
#093 Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
#094 To Catch a Thief (1955)
#095 Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
#096 Battle of Britain (1969)
#097 Them! (1954)
#098 From Here to Eternity (1953)
#099 Holiday (1938)
#100 American Graffiti (1973)
#101 The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
#102 Cat People (1942)
#103 Rodan (1956)
#104 Psycho (1960)
#105 The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
#106 Some Like It Hot (1959)
#107 Yellow Submarine (1968)
#108 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

<><><><><><><>

Strictly Personal, 2020

For me, the sustainability crisis — of which global warming climate change is a very prominent symptom — is a moral issue.

The locus of immorality driving that crisis is the nature of our civilization. Undoing that immorality would require destroying all our politics and economics, and abandoning all our ideologies and religions — which are basically just categories of excuses apologizing for varieties of egotistical selfishness and separatist bigotries — and rebuilding our entire civilization from zero on the basis of a homo sapiens wide solidarity and intelligent compassion in harmony with Nature and with a reverence for All Life on Planet Earth.

All other attitudes about the sustainability crisis are excuses to avoid facing it, seeing it as: an economic, or political, or technical, or emotional issue, or opportunity to advance an agenda during the course of its inequitable immiseration of humanity and destruction of the non-human natural world.

Overcoming that crisis would certainly require taking economic, political, technical and emotional actions, but all these would just be tactical aspects of living out a cohesive moral imperative.

Whether such a globally cohesive moral imperative ever materializes into real action is a matter of probability — admittedly quite low — but it is not an impossibility by either the laws of physics nor the limits of human imagination.

And that’s it. No further Jeremiads, ideologically political and revolutionary tracts, self-pitying psychobabble of angst and despair, or jargon-laced obfuscation palmed off as erudite policy statements, are needed.

Face the facts, World, and take the consequences for your actions or non-actions in response. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Character is fate.

It is interesting that today — 589 years after the execution of Joan of Arc, burned at the stake at the age of 19 by the English for having had visions that rallied the French to defeat them in the Lancastrian (last) phase of the Hundred Years War, and subsequently canonized as Saint Joan by the Catholic Church — that the peasants, workers, wage-slaves and youth of the Earth see their hopes for a just and sustainable future as radiated out by the visions of a 17 year old Greta Thunberg, our Saint Greta of the 21st Century, whose public persona is figuratively burned at the stake by capitalist-apologetic corporate media.

So, I will not berate you further (at least for today).

Escapism being preferable to reality for most people, let me entertain you with the following.

My favorite 50 movies (today, in order of personal preference) are:

#01 Casablanca (1942)
#02 Citizen Kane (1941)
#03 The Big Sleep (1946)
#04 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
#05 The Grand Illusion (1937)
#06 The Rules of the Game (1939)
#07 The African Queen (1951)
#08 Goldfinger (1964)
#09 Seven Samurai (1954)
#10 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
#11 Captain Blood (1935)
#12 The Dawn Patrol (1938)
#13 The Three Musketeers (1973)
#14 The Four Musketeers (1974)
#15 The Night of the Iguana (1964)
#16 The Moon and Sixpence (1942)
#17 My Man Godfrey (1936)
#18 In A Lonely Place (1950)
#19 Dr. Strangelove (1964)
#20 Catch-22 (1970)
#21 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
#22 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
#23 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973; 1988 version)
#24 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
#25 Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
#26 Stolen Kisses (1968)
#27 Jules and Jim (1962)
#28 La Dolce Vita (1960)
#29 Otto e mezzo (1963)
#30 The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
#31 From Russia With Love (1963)
#32 Forbidden Planet (1956)
#33 Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
#34 The Crimson Pirate (1952)
#35 Women In Love (1969)
#36 Betty Blue (1986)
#37 King of Hearts (1966)
#38 The River (1951)
#39 La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes (1955, the Nov. 2008 restoration)
#40 They Were Expendable (1945)
#41 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
#42 Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
#43 Yellow Submarine (1968)
#44 The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
#45 North West Frontier (1959)
#46 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
#47 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
#48 L’Atalante (1934)
#49 The Producers (1967)
#50 Rodan (1956)

I like many more films, and numerous of those could easily be inserted in the above list.

Books/stories/plays I read (or re-read) between ~2017 (most since 2019) and 2020 include:

John Keats (Selected Poems, edited by John Barnard)
William Wordsworth (selected poems)
Sky Above, Great Wind; The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan (Kazuaki Tanahashi)
The Cid (play by Corneille)
Phaedra, and Andromache (2 plays by Racine)
Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, The Miser (3 plays by Molière)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville, re-read)
Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)
Benito Cereno (Herman Melville)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
Cousin Bette (Honoré de Balzac)
The Wrong Side of Paris (Honoré de Balzac)
The Human Comedy, Selected Stories (Honoré de Balzac, edited by Peter Brooks)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Sentimental Education (Gustave Flaubert)
Three Tales (Gustave Flaubert)
Bel Ami, and 98 of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories
The Plague (Albert Camus, re-read)
The First Man (Albert Camus)
All Quiet On The Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
Wind, Sand and Stars (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
The Drowned and the Saved (Primo Levi)
The Periodic Table (Primo Levi)
The Upanishads (Juan Mascaró)
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (Paul Reps, re-read many times)
Japanese Ghost Stories
– (Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Paul Murray; have read earlier Hearn books)
Siddhartha (Herman Hesse, re-read)
Magister Ludi, The Bead Game (Herman Hesse)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (all 5 novels and most short stories)
My Wicked, Wicked Ways (Erroll Flynn, re-read)
Earth Abides (George R. Stewart)
A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller)
In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed The World (Ian Stewart)
The Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them (Peter Radetsky)
The Best of Medic In The Green Time; Writings from the Vietnam War and its Aftermath
– (Marc Levy)
Catch-22 (Joseph Heller, re-read)
Catcher In The Rye (J. D. Salinger, re-read)

Three more items:

#1 I am now 100% introverted, and never going back to extroversion.

#2 My special skill is shutting people up, with the truth.

#3 The mark of superior people is the ability to acknowledge the achievements of others, especially those they wish they could have done themselves. Few have the courage to do this.

Life is a gift; Have fun; Be kind.

<><><><><><><>

The Five Allegiances

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

The Five Allegiances

“We be of one blood, ye and I” — Mowgli, in The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

The hierarchy of the five allegiances is: nepotism, tribalism, classism, nationalism, humanism.

Family connection is the emblem of conformity with nepotism.

Group identity is the emblem of conformity with tribalism. That emblem can be: race, religion, language, ethnicity, cult bondage.

Money wealth is the emblem of conformity with classism.

National identity is the emblem of conformity with nationalism.

Species-wide identification as homo sapiens is the emblem of conformity with humanism.

Each allegiance is a strategy to gain competitive advantage over other human beings. That competitiveness decreases from extremely intense with nepotism, to absent with pure humanism.

For each allegiance, those above it are barriers to its complete success. Humanism, being the least competitive relationship between humans, is also the most stymied by the combination of: nationalism, classism, tribalism and nepotism. We see this reflected in the inhumanity of homo sapiens world society, for which deprivation there is no compelling physical nor sociological reason.

Nationalism is stymied by the combination of classist greed, tribalist bigotry and family-linked corruption; and it is slightly diluted by expansive humanist cosmic consciousness. The managers of national governments, who are too often motivated by the three higher ranked allegiances, may at times try to unite a multicultural national population with the imagery of democracy, equality, inclusion and diversity. This is particularly so when armies have to be raised for wars of national defense and foreign conquest.

Nationalism is most successful when applied through a lush and expansive economy providing a high standard of living for all. In providing secure and fulfilling jobs with good pay, and which ease the existential anxieties of individuals and gives them roles they can adopt as emblems of self worth, economic nationalism in essence pays people off to relinquish their reliance on classism, tribalism and nepotism. As the equitable economics of any nation withers, so does its mass appeal to national allegiance, and deepens its fragmentation by classist greed, tribalist bigotry and nepotistic corruption.

Homo sapiens world society is devolving through a planetary sustainability crisis, of which global warming climate change is one compelling symptom. That crisis is driven by classism — economic greed — which is exacerbated by the other allegiances except humanism. The solution for overcoming that crisis is well-known: humanism applied with reverence for Nature and All Life, and in perpetuity.

Merely stating that solution illuminates all the barriers to its implementation. Besides being structural and non-personal in the sense of nationalistic competitions and economic exclusivities, such barriers are also weaves of egotistical personal attitudes and failures of moral character dominated by selfishness and bigotry.

It is clear, from looking at the aggregate of homo sapiens world society today, that the prospects for reversing that devolutionary planetary crisis are very dim indeed. For too many people, the idea of eliminating all the old socio-economic structures along with all their personal prejudices, and replacing them with a planetary humanism of species-wide solidarity to fashion a sustainable human-with-Nature world and truly radiant civilization, is just too fearful to even imagine let alone seriously consider. Certain death inequitably distributed by relentless impoverishment is by far preferred, even though most people suffer from it. The tragedy of human existence is that most people prefer to live out their lives and die without changing their ideas even when those ideas are harmful to them.

Frustrated humanists can easily imagine a worldwide French Revolution breaking out in defiance of that tragedy, with the decapitation of the nepotistic, tribalist and classist national managements, and with the eruption of a liberating world socialist nirvana. This is like the aspirational dream of Christianity held by the millions of slaves in the Roman Empire.

But in the sad reality of our present world, could any violent outburst by the impoverished and oppressed be motivated by a globalist liberating humanism, instead of merely reactionary survivalism for family, tribe and class? What few revolutions of this type not quashed in their embryonic stages by the economic and national managers, would soon recycle the same poisonous exclusivities of former times but with a new cast of leading characters.

To transcend this pernicious eddy and actually evolve humanity out of its present decaying stagnation would require a universal enlightenment of human attitudes and consciousness. And that is an unrealistically utopian thought indeed. But incredibly, it is neither a logical nor physical impossibility, just an extreme improbability.

Is it possible for us as individuals to increase that probability? Based on a realistic view of the long arc of human history the clear answer is “no,” despite the numerous temporary blooms of localized enlightened society that have occurred during the lifetime of our homo sapiens species. But it is depressing and dispiriting to live with that “no” dominating one’s thinking. The mere fact of having been born entitles you and every other human being with the right to enjoy a fulfilling life with a liberated consciousness, the right to seek achieving your full human potential.

One can seek that fulfillment along the simultaneous parallel paths of supporting a family of whatever kind, caring for others through both personal and societal means, creative immersion in arts, sciences and craftsmanship, and championing global socialist humanism by both intellectual allegiance to it and personal engagement with it in the political and societal arenas you are a part of, at whatever level. Ultimately, the course and fate of humanity is the sum total of the courses and fates of the individual lives comprising it, and the greatest impact we each can have on helping to steer that great stream is made by the quality of the choices we each make regarding the conduct of our own personal lives.

Achieving a morally enlightened personal fulfillment in no way guarantees the morally enlightened success of any subgroup the homo sapiens species — your family, your tribe, your class, your nation — and least of all of humanity as a whole; but it helps! And living with that as personal experience is very satisfying indeed.

<><><><><><><>

Classical Music Artistry

Anna Netrebko in San Francisco in 2010

Angela Gheorghiu with Ella García in San Francisco in 2010

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

Classical Music Artistry

I find the cited article published in the New Republic (which magazine I now conclude to be high-brow garbage) to be stupid:

https://newrepublic.com/article/160469/insidious-classism-classical-music

To me, the writer comes off a classist who seeks populist credibility (he’s pop washing). So, let me straighten you all out about classical music in today’s America.

Classical music is a refined art. I am referring to European classical music specifically; but there is no implication here that other forms of classical music — Indian for example — are inferior, they are just different. A true devotee of fine music understands that quality is the essential value, and style is incidental and just a personal preference.

It requires great skill and knowledge to create and perform classical music. That means its practitioners have to devote much of their lives to listening, learning, study and practice (lots and lots of practice) in order to be able to present themselves as good classical music artists — as good as they would like to imagine they could be. It is a calling, an avocation, the sustenance of which also requires its practitioners to be able to peddle themselves off for slots in the job market, always the dreariest of chores for the artistically inclined.

A fraction of classical musicians manage to get paid gigs as members of elite ensembles, like continuing symphony orchestras and opera companies, but these are a minority. It’s just like shooting hoops, millions do it in schoolyards and backlots, but only a sliver of that population of dreamers actually get paid anything for presenting the very specialized skillful use of their bodies.

I personally know a conservatory trained opera singer, who has a long history of paid gigs in regional and local opera companies — which may mount a few of productions every year, perhaps up to a week’s worth of work for a performer — who has scratched a living by giving lessons and working in low level and temporary office jobs like selling classified ad space in a local ‘shopping guide’ newspaper to merchants. This person is in her 60s and has no real savings. But she has devoted herself to her art and been recognized by an internationally known and sought-after opera composer (for a character performance in his opera — I was there), among other professional classical music personalities.

Having been to several local opera productions in Berkeley, I had the chance to meet many people whose classical music careers have a similar profile. Many of these people are young and incredibly accomplished musicians who are seeking to associate themselves with serious opera productions even if it means driving halfway across California to man the wine and hors d’oeuvre table for the reception afterwards. Those food goodies are donated by fans with a bit more in the bank. The helpers will crash where they can before carpooling for their return trips to their places in the provinces.

Most people “in” classical music struggle to self-fund their study of and continuation in classical music. The idea of classical music as pure snobbishness comes from three sources:

— the focus by elite-aspiring music critic-writers (parasites) on the elite of classical music, and their complete dismissal and ignorance of the mass of classical music aficionados out in the demos,

— the encrustation of the glitterati-aspiring wealthy around classical music events and high-end organizations,

— the steep ‘learning curve’ to become a credible practitioner of classical music, which puts off many people challenged by poverty from getting as good an education as they could wish (in anything), and who may also feel no cultural connection to the cultures from which European classical music originated.

The first item is just another instance of jerk parasite critic-writers mired in celebrity culture: garbage for empty and consumerist minds.

The second item is similar to the first, by wealthy parasitic empty and consumerist minds indulging in narcissism, often by arts-donation-washing to polish their imagined halos.

This brings us to the conditions that enable classical music organizations to continue existing, as well as the original conditions that allowed classical music compositions to arise.

An organization like a major philharmonic orchestra or opera company that mounts a full season every year requires a great deal of money to pay for all the musicians, stage hands and numerous other ancillary professionals required, as well as their facilities. Such pay may be considerable for some of the top performers, because they are in high demand because they are just so good.

And that is what such high-end classical music organizations are intended to do: to gather as many of the best performers as possible, meld them into as organic an ensemble as possible, and present classical music, opera and dance of as high an order as such ensembles can achieve. The end product is the delight and inspiration of the audience, which can include way up in the back row of the balcony some of those classical music kids who drove from Fresno to San Francisco for the show. My college student father would buy standing-room-only tickets on the nights of shows at the Metropolitan Opera in the late 1940s to see singers like Lily Pons. He saw all the great operas this way; and he was a tenor.

A few of those SRO and balcony kids might eventually break into the big time, like Anna Netrebko — an amazing and radiant soprano — who worked her way up from cleaning bathrooms in Siberia to get through music school, to being a well-deserved international phenomenon. Another such phenomenon is Angela Gheorghiu, who had to navigate her early career through the corruption of Ceausescu’s Romania. I took my younger daughter to see operas with each of these leading ladies — incandescent performances — and they were very sweet to my 10-year-old girl. Why? because they remember where they came from.

So, the directors of classical music organizations (the money men) have to cajole, entice and flatter wealthy patrons — which sometimes includes the Federal and State governments — to fork over bundles of spondulix in order to keep the doors open. Hence the coddling of the American bumpkin aristocracy. Ticket sales are never enough in the U.S. In Europe, where governments are more generous with arts funding because they are maintaining the essence of their cultures, ticket prices are widely affordable. And guess what?, the classical music halls in Europe have large and steady audiences as a result.

It is true that Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and many other classical music stars, had elite patronage that enabled them to compose and perform and not starve to death for doing so. Back then there was no ‘corporate classical music safety net’ if you want to call it that, and the great classical music stars of old times had to do their own money-man schemes for their own survival. And it is never pretty holding out your hand, even if you really are an artist. Ticket sales were never enough.

But the annoyance of encrustation onto classical music by the empty-headed glitterati-aspiring was still present. In a letter to his father, Wolfgang Gottlieb/Amadeus Mozart famously complained that one of his performances was treated as background muzak by the assembled aristocrats (he needed the money), talking and paying scant attention to the actual performance, and that the chairs they sat on were better listeners (and more intelligent!). Artists want their art regarded with full attention and critical appreciation, not relegated as background decoration.

There are always bigots and careerist mediocrities who try to take on the superiority attitudes of the wealthy patrons of their field, and it is unfortunate indeed when a young student is confronted with one of these as a ‘teacher.’ Truly superior talents have no need for snobbishness or of a patronizing attitude. When you observe these in a ‘highly ranked’ professional in any field it is usually a cover for deep-seated insecurity and intrinsic mediocrity. I certainly found this to be true in professional physics and science. It is unfortunate for classical music as a whole that such assholes can tar the entire genre in the minds of many ‘regular folks.’

The issue of the dense filter to mass inclusion as performers presented by the steep learning curve will always be with classical music. It is an essential part of the refinement of the art, just like the multi-year aging that separates fine wines from chug-a-jugs. American critics of classicism in classical music are usually pointing to the low proportion of African Americans in the genre. Of course there have been and are fantastic African American classical music performers: Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry, Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Denyse Graves, quickly come to mind. What drives people into seeking to be classical music artists is the desire to go beyond the technical limitations of popular music, and to go beyond the simpler appeals to the ear and to the emotions of popular music.

The one genre that can rival classical music in this regard is (the best of) American Jazz. However, the idea that jazz is all free-flowing improvisation is wrong; it has a very strict etiquette of ensemble performance, and a very traditional orthodoxy regarding reverence for its cannon. There can be much free-flowing noodling during rehearsals to find the right grooves for performance nights (and occasional days), and which performances then host sequences for solos which may contain busts of improvisation supported by ensemble play in the background. Pure set pieces with song can drift into being show music.

Where jazz is most artistic and classical is where a dedicated practitioner performs a timeless composition with fidelity to the original, repeatedly over the years, and makes it fresh every time for every audience; because for some of the people hearing it live it may be their first time. Joe DiMaggio (“Joltin’ Joe” and “The Yankee Clipper”), who had a hit nearly every three times at bat during a 13 year career (0.325 batting average) had said he always tried getting a hit each time at bat to delight a kid probably in the stands who had been taken to this one game in hopes of seeing a baseball hero knock one out of the park. Joe DiMaggio was a classical baseball player.

So the only real barrier to getting into classical music is the self-imposed one of not wanting to do so. The connection to all previous artists in that genre is the desire to hear, know, compose and perform music at its technical and artistic best: quality is the essence. That draw of quality has brought people of all kinds and from all cultures-of-birth into the classical music world. And such new blood helps invigorate and evolve a timeless art form. Barriers to “inclusion” into classical music “society” (a.k.a. money and celebrity — nothing to do with art) which are imposed by wealthy, ignorant and bigoted snobs and mediocrities, are failures of character by those people and are not an intrinsic aspect of the classical music genre itself.

Having a character of quality is “classical,” the one exceptional talent that anyone can choose to possess.

<><><><><><><>

The Artistry of Gifting

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

The Artistry of Gifting

In the book The Gift, Lewis Hyde described (among other things) how Bob Dylan benefitted enormously by having copyright-free access to traditional folksongs with which to hone his craft (and gain young artist income for performing them). The production of new art needs the free nourishment of old art in order to continue the cycle of cultural rebirth. http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

Bob Dylan just sold his entire catalog of songs (to Universal Music Group) for probably upwards of $300,000,000. Stevie Nicks (of the band Jefferson Airplane, etc.) had previously sold her entire catalog for $100,000,000. Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread, the Summer of Love has withered into the Winter Of Our Discontent: COVID spiking, mass loss of income, mass foreclosures, mass you’re on your own healthcare (mass health don’t care), mass social contamination, exclusive celebrity indemnification.

Tom Lehrer (now 92), the wickedly funny satirist and songwriter, has put his entire music catalog — lyrics and sheet music — in the public domain. He grants everyone permission to do anything they want with his entire artistic/musical output, without cost and in perpetuity. You have till 31 December 2024 to download any or all of Tom’s songs, before he closes his website. https://tomlehrersongs.com/

Who knew in 1959 that “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” would morph into official U.S. government public health policy (for us homo sapiens pigeons) in 2020? https://youtu.be/yhuMLpdnOjY

Jonas Edward Salk (1918-1995) was a medical researcher who developed the first vaccine against the polio virus. Before the Salk injected vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio was considered one of the most serious public health problems in the world. The 1952 U.S. epidemic, in which 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis, was the worst polio outbreak in the nation’s history, and most of its victims were children. According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” During 1953 and 1954, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000; by 1962 that number had dropped to 910. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Salk

“Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible.” https://www.salk.edu/about/history-of-salk/jonas-salk/

Between 1954 and 1961, Albert Sabin (born Abram Saperstein, 1906-1993), a medical researcher, went through a tremendous effort to develop and test an oral vaccine against all three strains of the polio virus. To develop and prove the safety of Sabin’s oral vaccine, upwards of 100 million people — in the USSR, Eastern Europe, Singapore, Mexico and the Netherlands — were tested with it.

The success of that campaign by 1960 opened the door to testing in the United States, on 180,000 school children in Cincinnati. The mass immunization techniques that Sabin pioneered with his associates effectively eradicated polio in Cincinnati, and that technique along with the oral vaccine itself broke the chain of transmission of the virus, and has led over the last four decades to nearly eradicating the disease worldwide.

“Sabin refused to patent his vaccine, waiving every commercial exploitation by pharmaceutical industries, so that the low price would guarantee a more extensive spread of the treatment. From the development of his vaccine Sabin did not gain a penny, and continued to live on his salary as a professor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Sabin

On 12 April 1922, Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941), Charles Herbert Best (1899-1978), James Bertram Collip (1892-1965), John James Rickard Macleod (1876-1935), and John Gerald “Gerry” FitzGerald (1882-1940) — the key participants in the project (in Canada) to develop therapeutic insulin, a project initiated by Banting in 1920 — wrote jointly to the president of the University of Toronto to propose assigning the patent for the artificial production of insulin to the Board of Governors of the University in such a way that:

“The patent would not be used for any other purpose than to prevent the taking out of a patent by other persons. When the details of the method of preparation are published anyone would be free to prepare the extract, but no one could secure a profitable monopoly.”

The assignment to the University of Toronto Board of Governors was completed on 15 January 1923, for the token payment of $1.00. Following further concern regarding (drug company) Eli Lilly’s attempts to separately patent parts of the manufacturing process, Robert Defries (Assistant Director and Head of the Insulin Division at Connaught Laboratories, which administered the insulin patent) established a patent pooling policy which would require producers to freely share any improvements to the manufacturing process without compromising affordability. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin#Discovery

“Tell me someone who’s not a parasite, and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.” — Bob Dylan

Some people are successful in life and lucky, but some are successful at life and are radiant.

Seisetsu, a Zen master in ancient Kamakura, required larger quarters to alleviate the overcrowding of his many students. Umezu Seibei, a well-to-do merchant, decided to donate 500 piecers of gold (called ryo) for that purpose. “All right, I’ll take it,” said Seisetsu. But Umezu was dissatisfied with Seisetsu’s response because a person could live a whole year on 3 ryo, and Umezu had expected an effusive thanks. So he reminded Seisetsu that 500 ryo was a lot of money that he had been donated. “Do you want me to thank you?” asked Seisetsu. “You ought to,” replied Umezu. “Why should I?” asked Seisetsu, “the giver should be thankful.” [see #53 in the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps (1895-1990)].

And that’s it, isn’t it?: you donate because you are grateful that you are able to do so. Gratitude is enlightenment, and that is the artistry of gifting.

The Gift is an excellent book, if you are an artist, or at least appreciate art, read it (try your public library). http://www.lewishyde.com/publications/the-gift

<><><><><><><>

On Marc Levy’s Vietnam War Book “Medic In The Green Time”

What is war? Let me propose the following undoubtedly imperfect definitions.

War is dehumanization by the violent crimes of mass murder and the efforts to destroy civil societies. Offensive war is the crime of making war to dominate another civil society. Defensive war is the tragedy of resisting aggression from offensive war. Making war is the sacrifice of a mass of domestic workers, by their regimentation and military use with likely injury or death, to inflict harm on a designated victim-enemy population whose combatants are responding in kind. The demarcation between offensive and defensive war can be ambiguous, dynamic, fluid and fragmentary. The structure of war is hierarchical: the higher an individual’s rank in the warring society the higher the probability of their being privileged and guilty of being a perpetrator; the lower an individual’s rank the higher the probability of their being victimized by the war.

The ideas embedded in these definitions and statements include:

– war is a crime, war is dehumanizing, war is violent;

– the directing perpetrators of war are the most shielded from its hazards;

– the people at greatest hazard from warfare are those least responsible for initiating and directing it;

– the troops sent into combat are themselves victims, having been robotized by coercive militarized training to perpetrate individual and mass murder as ordered (and to sometimes spontaneously murder, rape, pillage and torture on their own individual initiative), and in turn to absorb the mass murdering counteractions by the enemy.

I was prompted to these thoughts by reading the newly published (2020) book by Marc Levy, The Best of Medic In The Green Time, Writings from the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath.

I believe this is a book everyone in the United States should read and take to heart, because then the American Public might put up more resistance to ‘their’ government’s making of war, and the exorbitant funding of war technology and subsidized corporate profiteering from it. Also, the deep immersion of noncombatant readers’ consciousness into the personal testimonies of Marc Levy and the many veterans Marc presents in this anthology might induce a greater commitment by members of the public to antiwar political activity and voting choices, and a greater commitment to more conscientious ethical behavior and to the wellbeing of all of humanity.

The Best of Medic In The Green Time is divided into four sections. The first is an informative, significant and thoughtful Introduction by Janet McIntosh, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University.

The three sections of Marc Levy’s text are labeled: War, Poetry, and Postwar.

The section War comprises of 24 accounts occupying a total of 151 pages. The section Poetry comprises of 15 poems occupying a total of 36 pages. The section Postwar comprises of 34 accounts occupying a total of 366 pages.

All of the prose is written in a completely direct and unadorned style; and all of the poetry is transparently clear. None of the authors is allowing egotism to encumber their writing with attention-seeking convolutions and ornamentation. This is a group of writers who are just not interested in bullshit. Their words are vehicles for transmitting their truths as clearly as possible, because their purpose is to inspire the public to end America’s proclivity for making war.

While the entire agony, criminality, futility, injustice, sorrow and long-lasting pain of war generally, but in particular of the Vietnam War — since it nearly absorbed me into it during 1968-1969 (I was eventually passed over for induction because I drew a high number in the draft lottery of December 1969) — all make me angry and sad, what especially infuriated me in the accounts in Levy’s book were the descriptions of incompetents whose stupidity caused needless injury and death in the field, as well as the cop-mentality stupidity and rule-bound insensitivity of the bureaucratic assholes far behind the front and in the stateside draft boards, who added to the mental traumas of wounded warriors.

Jeff Motyka, a permanently disabled soldier, recounts how after many months of painful hospitalizations and physical rehabilitation after being blown up and deeply pitted with shrapnel in combat, he was hounded by his draft board witch (who had erroneously classified him as 1A years earlier, just as my draft board witch had done to me in 1968), seeking to have him returned to active duty because she believed that all documentation and physical evidence — like leg braces! — that anyone presented as evidence of an incapacity for military service were “usually phony.”

The section on War is a series of war stories, the types of scenes that inspire war movies, but which are entirely real here and thus authentically gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. This section prepares you to begin understanding why the authors and their compatriots can be so focused on and mentally confined by their experiences in Vietnam, and which they try to process over the remainder of their lives through poetry and postwar memoirs as in this volume, and also with psychotherapy, drugs and their own postwar veteran camaraderie; to try warding off the demons of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, guilt over crimes and killing, and alienation from the uncomprehending and disinterested civilian society they returned to.

One particularly thorny essay (actually, they are all thorny) is called “Five Simple Words”: Thank you for your service. Veterans who may carry 1000 years of aging and war sorrow imprinted on the minds and shot into their bodies during a one year tour of combat duty are now having to sustain postwar assaults with that platitude gushed out at them by clueless people in their self-satisfied certitude that they have demonstrated their higher moral sensitivity. Some veterans might take weeks to regain their fragile psychological equilibrium after the mental turmoil stirred up by being inflicted with those five words. If you ever feel compelled to comment to a veteran on his or her war experience, just offer them that most basic form of human love and solidarity: “Welcome home,” or “I’m glad you’re safe.”

Beyond that, neither you nor I as non-combatants can ever really know at a visceral level what any combat veteran’s experiences, both in the field and in postwar life, are like. At best we can become much better informed about war’s personal costs by reading books such as Levy’s, and we can become better citizens by conscientiously exerting the prerogatives of our citizenship with a sharp focus to counter the people and political groups that perpetrate and profit from war-making and war industry. In that way we can ‘thank veterans for their service’ by helping to prevent more war, and prevent more workers from being victimized by being pressed into manning wars, and becoming casualties who would sustain the murderous violence of America’s wars of choice (by ‘important’ people who don’t fight in them).

An important part of Levy’s book (actually, all the parts are important) is his descriptions of the humanity of Communist Vietnamese soldiers — like Bao Ninh (a man), and Dang Thuy Tram (a woman) — who fought against the American invaders and for the independence of their country. The recognition after the war by many formerly antagonistic American and Vietnamese veterans, of their shared humanity, has led to many touching reconciliations since 1975.

That same recognition can be applied to resolve international political differences to prevent them from degenerating into dehumanizing wars. And books such as this one by Levy can help spark that realization in more minds, and stiffen the resolve of political actors to actually work for the peace and wellbeing of humanity beyond the narrow confines of factionalism and mere nationalism.

There are touches of humor and jokes in Levy’s book, sort of along the lines of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, but all layered on a horrendous substratum of warped reality and thus painfully ‘funny’ and painfully real. There are also sweet moments in the book, as when some caring giving soul, man or woman, shares a kindness with a soldier in need of relief.

The Vietnam War is not over, and neither are the Korean War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and many other unnamed and invisible American mini-wars and micro-wars that all produced war dead and permanently war-wounded, both American and foreign. Some of those voices from other wars are included in Levy’s book.

These veterans and their survivors carry the heavy loads of psychological sorrows and physical pains of their wars every day of their postwar lives, and those wars can never be said to have ended until all such visceral memories have been extinguished by the passing of the people who were personally seared by them.

What Marc Levy has been doing with his writing about the Vietnam War is to seek to manage his own trauma from his wartime experiences, and also to continue caring for his men — as he did as a medic during his time in combat — in their postwar lives by offering them avenues for release; and then by presenting all this literary work to the public to prod it into transforming America away from its self-harming behavior of war-making and militarism.

Marc Levy’s Medic In The Green Time is not some dry academic exercise of top-down analysis of historical trends and national policy decisions, it is a bottom-up first hand account from the heart of individuals sustaining the brunt of war and struggling to maintain or recover their humanity as, unlike many of their fellow soldiers, they managed to survive the fighting and are now locked in postwar struggles against demons that could easily kill them through submerged terror and unrelieved regret.

Finally, for completeness I mention my criticisms of the book, which are all very minor but which I note in the hope that they will be addressed to improve subsequent editions:

While the proofreading of the entire volume was stellar, there still are two typographical errors: on page 466, “forhonorably” should probably be “for honorably”; on page 506, “it’s his not job” should probably be “it’s not his job.”

While footnotes and parenthetical notes are frequently used to define acronyms, jargon and slang, it would be very nice to have a glossary as an appendix to the book for easy reading generally, and the convenient rereading of excerpts. It would also be nice to have an index.

A thoughtful interview of Marc Levy, and discussion of Medic In The Green Time, has just appeared, see

Medic in the Green Time author and Vietnam combat medic Marc Levy is interviewed by Bill Legault
Nov 28, 2020
https://youtu.be/roKVBoThWG4

Marc Levy’s website is https://medicinthegreentime.com/ ,

and his webpage on this particular book is

The Best of Medic in the Green Time

For me, Medic In The Green Time is the channeling of the pain, loss and isolation of combat survivors, into a work seeking to humanize us all into recognizing our fundamental and compassionate connections to people everywhere.

Buy a copy, and read it cover to cover.

<><><><><><><>

Magic Mirror of You All

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

Magic Mirror of You All

This is my Roseanne Roseannadanna equivalent of a response to the many skeptical good-hearted people who have replied to any of my scribbles.

Thanks for writing and sharing your own memories with me of the ‘good old days,’ whose madness by luck we both managed to survive. Such recollections by others help me sharpen my own memories, and improve my interpretations of my old and often confusing experiences. Learning never stops for anyone really intent on living.

Maine I loved (like you), Wes Montgomery records I have (like you), piano lessons I took for years in my adulthood (instead of your clarinet), music is a touchstone for me. Hippy I never was, though I let some coeds who insisted I was to keep thinking so because it was better for me that way. A lost world, 1969. I loved some of everywhere I’ve been, some of everything I’ve heard, some of everything I’ve seen; and some of that love was only realized long, long after the ‘now’ of the original experiences.

In fairness to you as you make your corrective judgments on my words, let me share my biases: between Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, I prefer: Maupassant, Fitzgerald, and Camus.

Since I haven’t worked for anybody in a long time, have no career ambitions, no reverence for authority or wealth, nor interest in any ideology or religion; no need for recognition, attention, ‘honors,’ votes or even “likes,” and have nothing I can be blackmailed for, I have devoted my external interests to presenting the truth as I find it.

In doing so, I have learned that no rational argument can overcome an irrational belief, and that religious fantasy in a myriad of forms is part of every human personality. And that is why COVID-19 is “just a flu,” anti-pandemic masks are “loss of freedom” while guns make you free, vaccines cause autism, and the televised American Fatima on 11 September 2001 was a divine revelation bestowing on the souls of true believers an instantaneous graduate degree in engineering and physics. Amazing grace.

I don’t argue: people believe what they want to believe, facts don’t matter.

Why? Because it is part of a person’s self-image and self-definition, and protecting that from modification against the pressure of cognitive dissonance can be achieved by fashioning psychological armor against reality out of fantasy. People don’t reason, they rationalize.

Humans have always made sacrifices to propitiate the gods — the powers beyond them and which control them — to help them live through their fears; and that is why they invented those celestial potentates in the first place: whether elevated on Mount Olympus, or by the Electoral College. And the sacrifices?: their minds.

So, yes, I know I am embarrassing and annoying (and wrong!). I make no apology.

From my earliest days, I realized that people, generally, are very inattentive; in a word: unaware. They amble blithely in their personal little bubbles oblivious to all that lies outside them. They babble loudly in their little groups in cafés without any thought to disturbing the people around them. They drive their cars with minimal notice of traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. They have an unfailing ability to not-notice you if they are waiting tables or behind a counter you are in line in front of. There are just an uncountable number of ways that people can not-see, not-hear, not-notice and not-know. Of course, sometimes this not-noticing is intentional, arising from laziness, envy, fear or hostility. But, most of the time it is just simple short attention span mindlessness.

Because of the commonness of human narrow-view, short-focus bubble-vision, coupled with perceptual insensitivity, communications are often garbled, incomplete, misdirected, mistimed and ineffective. Who is without complaint on this score, whether at work, at school, among family and friends, and out and about in public?

Millions have been painfully and pointlessly consumed unseen by such blanket unthinking ignorance, like with the Vietnam War, whose discarded memory in the United States has been given the finalizing punctuation of a Black Wall past which the untrammeled unchanging national amnesia and human-reduced-to-robot OCD proceeds locked onto the almighty unending ‘grab.’

So, I have learned that it is necessary to be quite redundant in my verbal and written communications: repetition is the essence of pedagogy. Repetition is the unavoidable necessity of successful communication. So, when I want to ensure that my message is received by another consciousness, I repeat myself: in the speaking of the message, in the writing of the message, and in the repeated sending of the message.

Those who notice this repetition easily form the impression that I am “old,” and even “dumb.” But, I have made the calculation that it is acceptable to be taken for a bit of a clown if that ensures that the messages I care about have been effectively transmitted.

The messages I care about are those that will make for better lives for my children, and also all children; even though I think most American kids (and adults) are spoiled brats. But, “man is a social animal” (as Aristotle said), and the second best way to ensure a good future for my children is to advocate for a just and peaceful society of benefit to everyone.

This motivation has led me to advocate for the left-wing political causes and candidates I’ve written about. Astoundingly, advocating for a real response to global warming to cut off the Sixth Mass Extinction (which includes us) is branded by the status quo as beyond-the-pale radical left-wing extremism!

Sometimes in giving out my truths (the rational) and opinions (the somewhat less rational), people smile at me (agreeing), and sometimes their assholes pucker (disagreeing), but usually I glide through a human sea of not-noticing — both conscious and unconscious. I have plowed up a mountain of embarrassment before me, and I trail a wake of relief behind me. And, I don’t care. Transmission gets through (as best as it’s ever going to).

I have high hopes for the new generation resplendently buoying up the revitalized identification with “socialism” in America. But, I also have no confidence in the character of the Americans who see themselves as part of the establishment, or who fool themselves into believing they are entitled to its privileges by dint of their heritage and attitudes. It is disheartening to realize that Donald Trump can claim 74 million Americans as devoted fans.

Former president Jimmy Carter is correct to say that the United States “no longer has a functional democracy,” because incorporated Big Money can and has bought politicians and elections, so that the vast bulk of the public has little impact on government policy, which they are paying for in money, blood and impoverished futures for their children. And, all that sacrifice subsidizes the obscene corporate looting of the public commons, and the subversion of government to the service of very selfish and destructive special interests.

Even so, the remnant of democracy that we still have seems able to produce political figureheads for the oligarchy, whose dismal characters do reflect the embarrassing reality of the dominant traits of the American electorate: morally weak intellectual mediocrities who are tolerant of corruption, sloppy to the point of incompetence, and cravenly selfish. Not everybody, and for most not all the time, but in aggregate just too much.

If this were not so, Bernie Sanders’ mildly utopian mildly socialistic vision would have been implemented long ago. The opposition to the political visions of Bernie Sanders and young champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” is really of the same type as that before 1865 to the vision encapsulated in the 13th Amendment. I like to believe that the socialistic vision of Eugene V. Debs through The Squad will eventually prevail in the United States, when the evolution of the aggregate character of the American people finally arrives at the requisite “higher level.” But, it’s so damn slow getting there!

So, for my outnumbered fellow rational thinkers and fatigued ethicists, let me leave you with this summation by W. Somerset Maugham (himself quite a flawed and compromised human being — and who isn’t? — but also a much better writer), from his 1944 book “A Writer’s Notebook”:

“There is a nobility which does not proceed from thought. It is more elemental. It depends neither on culture nor breeding. It has its roots among the most primitive instincts of the human being. Faced with it, God, if he had created man, might hide his head in shame. It may be that in the knowledge that man for all his weakness and sin is capable on occasion of such splendour of spirit, one may find some refuge from despair.”

And some of those ‘occasions of splendour’ have been sprinkled randomly on me through unexpected letters.

<><><><><><><>

Photo:

Laura Williams
19 June 2013
https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurawilliams_x/9732914426/

<><><><><><><>