’Stateless’, an Australian Television Drama about Refugee Detention

’The Trojan Women,’ a play was Euripides, was first performed in Athens 2,436 years ago at the height of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter of its men and the enslavement of its women by the Athenians earlier that year, 415 BCE.

This play focuses on four women awaiting their fates after the fall of Troy (~1,200 BCE, in northwest Turkey near the Dardanelles): Hecuba (the wife of the slain king, Priam), Cassandra (the beautiful virginal daughter of Priam and Hecuba, who was blessed and then cursed by a lustful Apollo, with having a gift of prophesy none would listen to), Andromache (the wife of the great Trojan hero, Hector, who was slain by Achilles), and Helen (the Achaean queen and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who ran off with Paris to Troy, and which elopement was the purported cause for the Achaeans’s war against Troy).

The three Trojan women would all be made concubines and slaves by the Achaeans (mainland Greeks), and Helen returned to Menelaus. Because the Greeks wanted to ensure there would be no surviving male heir to the Trojan throne, they took Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and Andromache and the grandson of Priam and Hecuba, up to the high parapet of Troy and tossed him down to his death on the rocks below.

In 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens, the playwrights were known as poets and called teachers, and in ’The Trojan Woman’ Euripides was desperately and dramatically striving to teach the Athenians that the horrors of the Peloponnesian War were destroying the soul of their society, and that they should find ways of extricating their city-state from the war. His vehicle to convey that larger message to the Athenians was this dramatization of the final days in the death of the Trojan city-state eight centuries earlier (if in fact it was a single real historical event), as told in Greek myths recounted by legendary poets like Homer and his many forgotten colleagues.

’Stateless’, an Australian 6-part television series that was launched in 2020, is about a refugee and ‘illegal immigrant’ detention center, and strikes me as being similar to ‘The Trojan Woman’ as a societal teaching drama. It is both a searing depiction full of human and political insights about the current refugee crisis in Australia, as well as a close analogy for similar tragic realities along the US-Mexican border, in Libya and southern Italy, in Syria and the Greek Islands; and in other places where minorities and disfavored ‘others’ live precariously without stable statehood and are internally displaced or incarcerated, as in Syria, ‘Kurdistan’, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The writers of ’Stateless’, Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko have done a magnificent job. The directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse have made an absorbing and compelling visual work (https://www.netflix.com/title/81206211).

How many refugees are there around the world? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html) states that: “At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. At [this] time 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.”

We must add that the deleterious effects of climate change — crop failures and lack of drinking water from extended droughts, and the loss of land, housing and employment due to violent weather and flooding — has also spurred refugee streams.

Those refugee streams flow out of the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes: from Africa northward across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, up from Central America and Mexico and across the Caribbean Sea to North America, southward from Eastern Asia to Australia, and from the arid interior of the Middle East westward toward the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

Americans, Europeans and Australians see these refugee streams as incoming waves of impoverished humanity comprised of dark-skinned people with cultures, mind frames and languages vastly different from their own, and thus a threat to American, European and Australian prosperity, and their existing ethnic balances, if too large an influx. We must realize that these refugee streams course back up along the gradients of wealth leading from the Global South to the Global North (and Australia), propelled by the pent up pressure of economic disparity created by over half a millennium of conquest and imperialism with over three centuries of slavery, by the White people of the north: the Europeans and the descendants of their American and other colonists.

The Australian television series ’Stateless’ is composed of a weave of four sub-plots, each about a person caught up in and then piteously twisted to the breaking point by the day-to-day reality of escalating crisis in the asylum-seeker Braxton Detention Center. All these stories are based on actual case histories. Threatened men and women become refugees and are driven to acts of desperation, they are victimized, families are torn apart, some eventually find sanctuary while many others languish indefinitely or perish. Low-level workers in the host countries looking to hang onto paychecks are shoved by higher level bureaucrats and policy-makers to go in and do the dirty work of “keeping a lid on” and also “making it look good for the public.” And the sanctimonious of all stripes on the outside are more often than not “virtue signaling” for their own ego boosts, than having any useful empathy for all the individuals mired in the toxic tangle of “the system.”

One story in ‘Stateless’ is based on the real case of Cornelia Rau, an Australian woman citizen who was emotionally disturbed at the time and who was inadvertently — and unlawfully — incarcerated by the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and held for 10 months during 2004-2005 under the country’s mandatory detention policy for refugees, until Cornelia was traced to Braxton by a relative, and correctly identified and released to a hospital.

Another sub-plot focuses on an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban, being cheated and robbed by criminal human traffickers in Pakistan, being separated while attempting to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia in rickety boats, with the survivors eventually finding each other at Braxton. But the effort of the Afghani father to gain entry visas for his surviving family proves to be a very heartbreaking and essentially impossible effort. Despite some commendable humanitarian impulses by Australian workers tasked with maintaining the day-to-day operations of the center, and of some right-minded procedures embedded in the immigration policy, that policy is nevertheless largely fueled by a great deal of officially mandated bigotry and prejudice.

The conflict between offering a welcoming humanitarian response to the desperation of the trapped refugees terrified of being deported back to certain death, and the politically motivated mandates from the central government to maintain this bureaucratic structure for continuing exclusion, and without arousing public attention to it, is personified by the story of the woman appointed as the new director of the center. She is emotionally torn apart by the inherent cruelty of the job, and her political expendability to the remote higher-ups.

The last of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ centers on a local rural freelance mechanic who seeks to leave precarity behind and support his young family with a steady paycheck earned working as a ‘prison’ guard at the detention center — though he is instructed that it is a refugee center and not a prison since its residents, despite having no freedom of motion, have not been placed there for the commission of crimes. This individual is a good-hearted fellow who quickly comes under unrelenting strain because of his repulsion at the cruelty toward unruly refugees by a sadistic guard, and because of the numerous requirements for him to perform rough enforcement actions on people exhibiting outbursts of anger, fear and madness. Both the emotional and physical traumas sustained in doing his job while trying to thread the needle between the frayed edges of UNHCR compassionate supervision of a precarious population, and the barbed razor sharp edges of bureaucratically enforced nationalism, nearly deaden his heart and rip apart his family.

Each of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ is populated with many supporting characters who enrich the presentation, and the entire ensemble presents the full spectrum of human experiences that take place in the turbulent focal point of mixing-nonmixing between Australian society and Asian refugees at the Braxton Detention Center.

The ultimate solution to the world’s refugee crisis is so far out of view: ending all wars to establish a lasting world peace, and ensuring intelligent economic development up to decent standards everywhere so that people can remain in their countries with their families experiencing physical and economic security and good health down through the generations. Achieving these conditions would obviate the need for anyone to become a refugee and seek foreign asylum.

Yes, this is idealistic (naïvely so?, impossibly?), like wanting equitable worldwide cooperation to stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so as to tamp down the acceleration of global warming. But neither of these ideals is intrinsically impossible to actualize, and that is why the continuation of the refugee and climate crises are such tragedies: they are fundamentally unnecessary sorrows, open and festering wounds on the body of humanity.

What we have today is a compounded system of exploitation through tiered victimhood, a system commanded by über capitalists and nationalistic warlords living luxuriant lives, and served by hierarchical cascades of lower level petty boss bureaucrats, their functionaries, and in turn their laborers and armed enforcers. This system is so abhorrent that Nature itself has abandoned us, and is trying to burn us off the land and wash us away into the seas and oceans we have thoughtlessly poisoned with our wastes. An added cruelty to this accelerating rejection of humanity by Nature is that those who are suffering now, and first, and will suffer the most from the increasing hostility of Earth’s climatic conditions to human life are the people of the Global South (the Third World), the regions from which today’s refugee streams emerge, the poorest of Earth’s people, those who lead the most precarious lives, and those who contributed the least to the creation of the global climate crisis.

Coda: a Meditation on ’Stateless’

Must I have a stone heart to preserve a sane mind in a world of pure suffering I am luckily insulated from — for now? How does one combat compassion fatigue and empathy burnout? Does one sink into survivor’s guilt for blamelessly being born lucky?; for living in a bubble of comfort, freedom and justice that is much rarer than one had previously imagined?; and that seems to be diminishing by national policy out of view of its lucky inhabitants confident in their unawareness? But of those lucky people who do become aware, how do they survive and stay human without deadening their souls? We have become a race of monomaniacal blind cyclopses raging about our freedoms because we cannot conceive of anything beyond our own frustrated infantile selfishness. Becoming aware of the sufferings of others is the first step in the very long journey of personal redemption. That journey has many perils, and no one completes it unscathed.

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Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (14 November 2020 – 8 April 2021)

CODED BIAS

“Coded Bias” is an exceptional film about how Artificial Intelligence (a.k.a. A.I.), or “algorithms,” has become powerful technology used without accountability, and despite its high level of harmful failure, all for extending the Big Brother type authoritarian control of the public by the state (which is being done overtly in China, and covertly in the U.S., England, and who knows?); and also about the unaccountable manipulation of the public for the financial gains of the small group of very rich people (overwhelmingly white males) who own and control that technology. The title “Coded Bias” comes from the fact that the racial biases (against darker-skinned and ethnic minority people, and ‘different’ sexual-identification people, and physically challenged people) and class biases (against poor people, the more poor the more discriminated against) of those controlling self-aggrandizing white men, and the Big Brother authoritarians, are literally coded into the mathematics that constitutes the mechanisms of the algorithms used to surveil you, to alert police if you are a criminal (very, very many false positives with this), to determine what job opportunities you will be allowed, what prices you will pay for online goods, what financial services you will be granted, and in many ways what punitive actions will be taken against you — and for none of that will you be given any warning nor told how such determinations were made. Complete violation of your 14th Amendment rights (to due process, and which can be logically explained and independently verified; i.e., not a Black Box with a red eye called HAL9000). This important film is available on Netflix now (see website), and also has its own website (see comment). An especially uplifting part of this film is seeing the amazingly talented technically trained and technically savvy women — which include incredible Black Women — who are on the forefront of the citizens’s effort to correct, regulate and ban, as needed, this technology. This is a film about POWER and its use of AI technology to remove freedom from the mass of the public, and to implement its biases through the Internet (for example as regards economic disparities based on race, and the swinging of elections to undermine democracy). I urge you to watch this film (I was pointed to it by a woman, Gretchen, who knows how to pick them).
Coded Bias
https://www.netflix.com/title/81328723

Coded Bias
https://www.codedbias.com/

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SATAN & ADAM

“Satan and Adam” is a lovely documentary about “an aging blues guitarist and a grad student form an unlikely duo while busking on the street corners of 1980s Harlem.” Their music is REAL, authentic; and their story: together, apart, together, old age, is both a reflection of the racial attitudes and politics of the U.S. over the last 35 years, and also a reflection of their own distinctive and idiosyncratic personalities. It is also a very touching story of the power of music to heal individual human spirits, and collective human communities. And also, these guys kick ass when they play!
https://www.netflix.com/title/81077539

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satan_and_Adam

https://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/satan_and_adam.html

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LORENA

“Lorena” is a short 2019 documentary film about a 25 year old Tarahumara woman (Lorena Ramírez, Native American, living in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico,) who runs and wins ultra-marathons wearing sandals and her native dress (skirt!). Her whole family lives a pastoral life deep in hilly country, and they are all runners. Lorena Ramírez has won some of the hardest races in Mexico, like the Guachochi Ultramarathon in 2017, where she ran 100 kilometers wearing her sandals and traditional dress. Because of her prowess as a long distance runner she has been invited to other countries to compete. In 2018, Lorena traveled to Spain to run the Tenerife Bluetrail and came in third place after running 102 kilometers, also running with her sandals, with which she has run more than 500 kilometers in total, including Mexico City’s Marathon in the same year. Unlike her brothers, Lorena doesn’t speak Spanish because she didn’t have the opportunity to attend school and learn the language. She speaks Tarahumara in a soft voice, with words that sound so sweet and musical that you just want to listen to her telling her story. [Some of these lines came from the culturacolectiva website.]
https://www.netflix.com/title/80244683

https://culturacolectiva.com/movies/lorena-ramirez-light-footed-woman-runner-netflix-documentary

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BIRDERS

“Birders” is a short 2019 documentary about the crucial natural habitat for migratory birds, spanning both sides of the Rio Grande and along the Gulf Coast on either side of its confluence with the sea. This area has the highest concentration of birds in the U.S. because it lies along the flyways for many species of birds that migrate between North and South America. So, it attracts bird watchers, both professional (who do banding) and amateur, from all over the world. And this natural environment is threatened, and in parts has already been destroyed, by the clearing of land to build Trump’s Wall. There are Americans and Mexicans, each working on their side of the border to monitor, protect and preserve this natural habitat, and to count birds to help quantify the waxing or waning of the health of their many species; and they also teach and enthuse people (children and adults) about the loveliness of avian life and the value of seriously appreciating and effectively preserving Nature.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80244682

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MAGICAL ANDES

“Magical Andes” is a beautiful series; it is about the love of mountains, the pristine expansive wild, and lives closely entwined with that environment far from human congestion. Season 1 has six ~24 minute episodes and spans the entire 8,500km length of that mountain chain from south to north; Season 2 has four ~24 minute episodes and touches on different points of the same regions, from north to south. Brief and elegant narration is in English, interspersed with many reflections, in Spanish, by Andean residents from Patagonia to Venezuela; in Season 2 the English subtitles to the Spanish speakers is dropped. Photography is breathtaking throughout, clearly camera-carrying drones were used to great advantage. The music accompaniment is very tasteful, and guitar music for the most part. Throughout the series one can catch a few glimpses of people whose way of living reflects what I imagine a post de-growth lifestyle might be like for more of “us.” If you love Nature, and have a poetic sensibility, you would enjoy this series.
https://www.netflix.com/title/81154549

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2019) [1:42] is an excellent, very informative, and provocative (TRUTHFUL!) documentary. I recommend it as the single best “economics class” (under 2 hours) you can take today. The presentation is clear and easy to understand, without being “dumbed down.” It explains exactly why your economic situation today is the way it is, whatever your economic class and generation happens to be. The system is rigged (duh) and this documentary show how, why and for whom; and it clearly shows what needs to change if we (all of us) are to avoid a cataclysmic social breakdown, another WWI/WWII type catastrophe on a worldwide scale. I especially recommend it to my kids and their generation: to help them know why we need a revolution, and where and how that revolution should be aimed.
https://www.netflix.com/title/81239470

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DAVID FOSTER, OFF THE RECORD; CLIVE DAVIS, THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES; QUINCY.

These 3 documentaries are about famous music producers and industry/finding-talent executives. These 3 guys are famous, and have splashy documentaries made about them because they promoted many singers from obscurity to superstardom, and made them rich, while making their music corporations very, very much richer. So, naturally, the biz and Hollywood are very awed by and interested in them.

They each have certain personality and character traits that I do not care for, but of course people are all different, and it is always a bit hazardous to judge (and yet of course I do).

What I think is most valuable in these documentaries is that there is a great deal of discussion of and presentation on the nitty-gritty work in the studio: music and song composing, arranging, recording, working (and/or fighting) with the singers and instrumentalists. I found those parts quite interesting.

These 3 guys are “legendary” because they were behind many of the mega-hits from 1968 to today, and in a wide variety of popular music genres.

The documentary I think stars-in-their-eyes people are most likely to find interesting is about David Foster, an incredibly talented and capable musician who is regarded as the “best” music producer alive (along with Quincy Jones).

David Foster, Off The Record
https://www.netflix.com/title/81214083

The second and third, and closely related documentaries are about Clive Davis and Quincy Jones, respectively, legendary music moguls who discovered and promoted many pop-music superstars.

Clive Davis, The Soundtrack of Our Lives
https://www.netflix.com/title/80190588

Quincy
https://www.netflix.com/title/80102952

Quincy Jones was a formidable jazz musician in the 1950s, then did jazzy film scores for 1960s movies, and went on to become a “legendary” music producer.

While these three producers/executives were focused on making mega-hits for corporate mega-bucks, what these documentaries can show that also applies to independent music production (recorded music) in less-mainstream more artistic and smaller-audience fields of music is the technicalities of working out the final recorded tracks, which combine the talents of a variety of people.

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FIVE CAME BACK

FIVE CAME BACK (2017) is very interesting as American film history, BUT the real value here is the reminder by series’ end that previous generations — some of whose survivors still live among us — included many many people who sacrificed a great deal in order to allow our society to continue, and which despite its many dire failings still provided very good lives to most who are reading this. It is important to keep gratitude for those who preceded us and strived and suffered to do their best to pass on chances for decent lives for the young of their time, and those yet unborn. And the only useful way to express that gratitude is to emulate the best efforts of our parents’ and grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, for the benefit of our children, which is to say all of today’s children, and those yet unborn. And we cannot expect they will notice, or realize, or acknowledge or honor us. We can’t have such selfish expectations: why should today’s kids be any different from us when it comes to being grateful for the good things they get? They have to learn just as the more thoughtful of us have had to learn: in part by becoming more aware of the realities of the past, and in part by the struggles and frustrations of our own experiences. It all comes out of self-respect. Let me reassure you, I am not preaching here. I am reflecting for myself about my own always-expanding awareness and understanding of “life,” and how I should conduct myself if I can summon enough courage to do so. I think gratitude and self-respect should be the sources of individual human actions, that those actions should be decent and for authentic good, and that any nation improves as more of its people take on that sense of personal responsibility, because it preserves and strengthens the commonwealth: the interconnectedness of us.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80049928

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GREATEST EVENTS OF WWII IN COLOR; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD

I just finished seeing the Netflix documentary series, “Greatest Events of WWII In Color” (2019), and can recommend it. What the film restoration and colorization does is to bring the frightening intensity and reality of the events much closer to the viewer. This is the kind of startling effect, from old grainy originally black and white war documentary films, pioneered by Peter Jackson with his visual restoration, sound reconstruction, and colorization of World War I films, for the riveting compilation released in 2018 as “They Shall Not Grow Old.”

The 10th and final episode of the WWII series is on the atomic bombings in 1945 and the closing out of the war against Japan. All this excruciating history continues to have many essential lessons too few of which have been heeded even in the present day. The total sweep of that history, really from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to early August of 1945, is a massively horrible build-up of savagery, and vastly widespread dehumanization of national populations, because of their prosecution of and/or victimization by the industrialized crescendo of the 20th century’s chained sequence of world wars.

That savagery was at its peak, and the ability to see “the enemy” as human beings was at its dehumanized nadir, in 1945 especially in the Pacific War. That poisoned psychology combined with extreme and widespread war weariness, and the press of many antagonistic forces and ambitions embroiled in the overall war effort inexorably led to the atomic bombings despite them being logically unnecessary, a position openly, persistently and yet unsuccessfully championed by Admiral Leahy.

Looking back one can see how the consensus-mind of the American leadership and the public was so hardened by their years of war, and so frightened of that war continuing with even greater ferocity with an invasion of Japan, and so desirous for it all to ‘end now, with victory,’ that it was overwhelmingly in favor of the atomic bombings regardless of any logical considerations contradicting that emotion and in favor of better alternatives. Tragic.

That was then; but now eight decades later the great majority of the American people and other fairly secure people in the industrialized world do not have that soul-sucking war-dread as a constant daily experience, as did the traumatized participants in WWII, and so we all should have the ability to rationally analyze the utility of nuclear weapons today both for our own nation’s use, as well as by others. Logically, they are obsolete and counterproductive.

I see the “great lesson” available to us from Episode 10 of the WWII documentary series mentioned here, as being that we non-traumatized by direct war experience populations CAN and SHOULD apply a psychologically mature and humanized logic to the construction of “national defense” methodology that removes the barbaric and ultimately self-destructive cruelty of nuclear weapons from our military and political thinking, and from our national infrastructure.

By its final episode, the vividness of the colorized documentary of WWII gives one an emotional tug that can act as a visceral push behind such logical efforts to really “ban the bomb.”

We CAN learn from history, IF WE WANT TO.

Greatest Events of WWII In Color (2019, trailer)
https://www.netflix.com/title/80989924

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018, trailer)
https://youtu.be/IrabKK9Bhds

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ASPHALT BURNING

If you are a motorhead, see this movie!! It’s Norwegian, and ends up at Nürburgring. It’s a total motorhead’s dream. We saw it on Netflix (dubbed). It seems there were two earlier ones (movies) in a series in Norway. You’ll love it!! (Global Warming can wait).
https://youtu.be/ViUFEs5cyhY

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HE EVEN HAS YOUR EYES

This is a fabulous movie, both thought provoking and funny. A wonderful take-down of racism in all its colors. This lovely French movie, centered by African-Franco actors, and without any guns, explosions, special effects, CGI or gratuitous violence, manages to say more about racism as habit and fear (two forms of “tradition”) being a great hinderance to having a modern society everyone can enjoy, based on simple human love and honest human connection. This movie is a “comedy” in the sense that it is never a lugubrious heavy drama, neither gratingly hysterical nor deadeningly slow; it is like a fine Burgundy wine: light bodied with a depth of flavor. See it.
https://youtu.be/7mNuKbk01ZA

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ROSE ISLAND

The only foreign military invasion mounted by the post WWII Republic of Italy was against “Rose Island” in 1968. Rose Island was a metal-platform island micro-nation constructed by Giorgio Rosa, an engineer, 500 meters outside Italian territorial waters off the coast of Rimini (6km). The Italian government became incensed by this act of pure independence outside its control, and decided to destroy the island. This prompted Giorgio Rosa to take his case to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, which latter agency was designed to hear disputes between nations, and so decided to hear the case since Rosa was a head of state! During the summer months, Rose Island was essentially a boating party location and discotheque in the Adriatic, but Rosa and his friends created a government, post office, issued passports and received hundreds of application for citizenship. Italian marine forces invaded, forcibly removed the people from Rosa Island and blew it up. Subsequently the European nations changed their laws to extend their territorial waters (and claims of judicial control) out to 12km. The movie is a breezy comedy that relates the whole story. What is clear is that power, especially the imbalance of power, is what actually governs government behavior, not the rule of or the respect for law.
https://www.netflix.com/title/81116948

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ADULT WEDNESDAY

“Adult Wednesday” is a series of short very humorous videos made by Melissa Hunter, based on the idea of Wednesday Addams, of the famous Addams Family cartoons, now on her own. Her various interactions with “normal” society are hilarious. Sadly, the series was ended because the copyright owners of “The Addams Family” objected. The web-link will take you to a starting point for the sequence of the Adult Wednesday videos (if still up). All are good. The one of catcalls to girls is delicious (girl wins).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXmpC0wpuso&list=PL0XAjui-xK6XE4PRT64WAthU6j1NmrOqU&index=14

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THE SPACE BETWEEN US

I saw “The Space Between Us” (2016) on Netflix. It is a bloated techno-gargantuan cross between a faint echo of “Brave New World” and the trim 1980 movie “Starman” (which was good). The premise is that a kid born as a surprise on a Mars colony is too weak to live in Earth’s gravity, and so must remain “classified.” He is brought back to Earth as a 16 year old in hopes he can be strengthened to survive there; he escapes confinement to look for his mystery father; has a roadtrip romance with a quirky wise-ass runaway foster-kid girl, and everyone has a happy ending to this story. It could have been more tightly constructed for a good 90 minute movie, but it rolls out amiably enough over 2 hours with nice visuals and up-to-the-minute spacey sets and effects to distract you from the numerous logical fallacies and improbabilities linking the elements of the story (easily done if you don’t take a critical attitude). I enjoyed it as simple harmless entertainment; it is not art, it is not deep: it’s meant for a mass audience. Asa Butterfield plays the Mars Boy with the same cute naïveté other-worldliness he displayed in the movie “The House Of The Future” (with Ellen Burstyn, peripherally about Buckminster Fuller’s legacy). Gary Oldham plays the big honcho Space Business (for the Mars Colony) “visionary.” The mama surrogate is played by a Ms. Guglio, who also had a big role in a recent movie where Patrick Stewart (“Jean-Luc Picard”) plays an old ballet master and choreographer (which movie is a 3 person play of sex talk). This movie is a way to spend some COVID lockdown time, after you’ve washed the dinner dishes and you’re tired of reading an actual book for the day.
https://youtu.be/x73-573aWfs

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND

“The Other Side Of The Wind” is Orson Welles’s last movie and is a satire on movies, movie-making and celebrity culture. It is also a visually stunning 1970s cinematic parody of 1970s art movie pretensions; a comedy about the vacuity of the whole movie and celebrity business, and literally a confection about nothingness. Wind is the flow of air through a volume, it is not an isolated bounded solid object. It has no side since it is the swirl, rippling and eddying of the ocean of atmosphere we live within, and thus can have no ‘other side.’ To those not scientifically minded wind is the sensation of anything between the blushing to the gales of nothingness. To seek deep insights from Welles’s movie is to look for an answer blowing in the wind. Welles gets some delicious payback on movie critics through this film (and it was all actually photographed on film between 1970 and 1976), as well as skewering Antonioni type films like “Zabriskie Point.” Welles does one better on Antonioni’s finger to the American movie moguls by putting his “Zabriskie Point” parody, “The Other Side Of The Wind,” as a film within a film, being an incomplete movie run out of budget and the last hope for a comeback by a Hemingway type directorial titan of Old Hollywood at the end of his rope and trying to connect with youth and the New Hollywood. The actual cinematic technique used is a kaleidoscope of modernity employing black and white, color, quick cuts, enigmatic scenes, mockumentary structure, and zig-zagging progression. Welles had a lot of help from a lot of friends to shoot this movie and then to finally have it assembled as he would have wanted. Welles died in 1985, and the movie finally appeared in 2018. I was fascinated by it, and then tickled to realize that Welles had done a magic trick on me to make me think seriously about nothingness: the cultural vacuity of the flickering lights so many are so obsessed about.
https://youtu.be/nMWHBUTHmf0

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A LIFE AHEAD

“A Life Ahead,” an excellent brand new (2020) film with the legendary Sophia Loren (86!!); very modern, very heartstring-pulling, amazing performance by the young actor playing Momo (all the performers were good) – this is his story. The setting is the seamier side of 2020 Italy (but there are still beautiful souls living there).
https://youtu.be/a0ejncDxgCc

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IO

“IO” is an imaginative realistic speculative fiction about a post end-of-the-world time of environmental poisoning, and its last two survivors. By “realistic” I mean that it is not one of the bombastic live-action special effects fantasy plus horror cartoons that is the popular standard today for science fiction movies. The story is reminiscent of the seminal 1949 novel “Earth Abides.” So, most movie fan comments about IO are quite negative, indicative of an intelligent screenplay thoughtfully filmed. The movie is a largely French production, filmed near Nice, Bulgaria and California. The visuals, acting and pacing are all good as befitting the somber and very lonely situation being portrayed. The types of scientific, literary and artistic references made in the dialogs make for a too cerebral movie for many simple-minded movie fans, but lend this film much of its merit. This film seeks to make you think, not shock and excite you with gimmicks like frenetic pacing and jump cuts. In a rather elliptical way, the ending reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
https://youtu.be/y3GLhAumiec

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DOWN TO EARTH

“Down To Earth” is a recent (2020) TV series showing varieties of healthy sustainable ways to live, from selected countries in Central and South America, and Western Europe. It’s has a breezy tone but does show quite a variety of interesting an important aspects of “food” and “living” and the damaging effects of human wastefulness and lack of connection to Nature, and thus “climate change.” The episode on Puerto Rico is especially recommended because it shows how people dealt with the catastrophe of back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria, and continue to deal with the catastrophe-by-Trump-malice-and US-government-neglect, of loss of homes, electricity and environments. Showcased are examples of how individuals came together to respond to problems left unattended by the failures of government. The “star” of the series is its executive producer Zac Efron, no David Attenborough, but still deserves credit for producing a series with much good in it for the cause of advancing public awareness in favor of revamping American (industrialized, consumer-oriented) society for ecologically enlightened sustainability, and healthier eating habits. It is mainly aimed at typical, and by world standards well off, American viewers – it is no rabble rousing radical revolutionary documentary, but it does make many good points despite the many visits to Michelin multi-star restaurants.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80230601

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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.

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The Artistry of Gifting

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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

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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Non-Violent Protest vs. Riot Violence, to Change Society

Grace Hudson sketched this amazingly subtle and detailed portrait of an expert Pomo basket weaver, and friend, with bitumen (which I think of as a coal/tar crayon).

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Non-Violent Protest vs. Riot Violence, to Change Society

Some say: “Promote non-violent civil disobedience. Violence is hurting the George Floyd protests at this point.” Well, yes and no. Without violence the U.S. media won’t cover protests against our neoliberal paradigm and its occupation forces. Look at the Bernie Sanders campaign and his huge “unseen” rallies; and the large protest marches by Rev. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, also “unseen.” “A riot is the language of the unheard” (MLK,Jr.).

By some Cheyenne accounts, when the U.S. Army of 1876 found the bodies of the dead 7th Cavalry soldiers at the Little Big Horn two days after the battle, General George Armstrong Custer’s eardrums would have been found to have been punctured (by two Cheyenne women) with awls so he could hear better in the next life. Custer (whose body was found with two gunshot wounds: one to his left chest and from which he had bled, and the other to his left temple and likely due to a post-mortem stray bullet), and the many American non-Indians like him, were so intransigently deaf to the cries of pain and pleas for peace and freedom from the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and all the other Indian nations and tribes, that the ear-piercing symbolism may rest on now-unrecoverable historical fact. That symbolism was certainly not recognized in 1876 nor heeded if it was, as the corralling of Indians and the murder of Crazy Horse in 1877, and the continuing Indian Wars all the way to the ‘final’ massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, showed.

Non-violent protests and waiting for “inevitable” social change didn’t do anything for the American Indians between 1492 and 1890 (the American Indian population reached its nadir in 1900). So, I understand where violent protest can come from with some anti-Trumpers. But I think most of the tide of violence comes in from the right, from cops desperate to keep exerting their Custer-like dominance (for, what else have they got in life to feel “big” about, being mere enforcers just like the legally deputized Lincoln County Regulators of 1878 in New Mexico, and which Billy the Kid was a member of), and from Trump-allied provocateurs and violence-hero wannabes, and certainly also some assholes just taking advantage of disorder. All that surrounding and threatening violent agitation during these May-June protest marches, plus well-justified and long-standing grievances, push some protestors over the edge of polite behavior.

Remember that Trump — our illustrious genius president — has repeatedly called for violence by his goon squads because the idiot thought it would only be inflicted on an eternally cowering “untermensch” population that he despises, and that he could control that violence. Well, now he’s got his violence and it’s out of his control, and it doesn’t seem to be helping his reelection campaign. An increasing number of mainline Republican “intellectuals” are now openly calling for a Biden electoral near-sweep (of Trumpy ideologues only), which I guess means they are completely confident that Biden and the usual gang of DNC-Democrats are seen as reliably loyal partisans to the preservation of corporate capitalism, which is what they all really only care about anyway. So, they’re looking to Slow Joe as their savior-of-the-year for their precious neoliberalism.

I hate violence — with its resulting injuries, deaths and destruction — and never encourage any of it; but how else do the poor, oppressed, disorganized and unmilitarized “lower classes” (everywhere and throughout history) frighten their rich and disdaining overlords to get those Big Brother boot-heels off their necks, and give them decent chances of living in physical safety and economic security?

I think of the American Indians, the Palestinians, and the Jewish fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 (against the Nazis, who were immune to non-violent protests) for historical perspective. You can also throw in the American Civil War to that list, because in essence we are still fighting it.

As many wise commentators have already said: the only redemptive outcome of riot violence today would be if it sparks the creation of a large, organized and self-sustaining mass social and political movement against the entire neoliberal regime (and takes it down!) — a substantial, continuing, non-violent and effective socio-political force that aims far beyond just cop-reforms, Trump-tumbling, and the electoral reining in of Republican politicians for a couple of years.

The riot injuries, deaths and destruction that Americans are suffering today are at best a societal forward payment — like a first month’s advanced rent deposit — before we get the chance to “move in” to a better paradigm of American society.

May the battles and bleeding in the streets stop as soon as possible, and the sweeping transformation (and rebirth) of our society commence immediately.

See also:

Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots
2 June 2020
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/06/02/thoughts-on-the-george-floyd-riots/

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On “Good Cops” and “Bad Cops”

I posted the following comments on a public access blog of a long-term policeman and high-level police instructor of arrest techniques, where he excoriated the Minneapolis cops who killed George Floyd, but also said that 99% of cops are good and he asked that the public not judge them all by the 1% who are bad. The classic “bad apples” pose. I replied as will follow. The Counterpunch article linked after these comments says it much better.

Well said, but…

99% of all cops are not good, it only takes a few minutes of viewing all the videos being posted from around the nation to see that. Doing research back through time (even only from Eric Garner forward) makes that impression worse. By eyeballing the videos, the proportion of bad cops seems very, very, very high.

“No one hates a dirty, piece of shit cop more than a good cop who does this job with honor and pride. I beg you, do not judge the 99% of good police officers based on the actions of an ignorant and evil few.”

I know you have to believe that – if you are a good cop – in order to be able to do a cop’s job (which is what? and for whom?) and not lose all sense of self-respect or go insane. But…

The most likely fate of “good police officers” who turn in “a dirty, piece of shit cop” is to get disciplined, fired or worse, for ‘betraying’ the cop fraternity, while the “dirty, piece of shit cop” goes on unperturbed and free to continue exerting dominance over and wreaking havoc on the public (the part of the public he/she is most prejudiced against). Look what happened to Serpico.

“A policeman’s first obligation is to be responsible to the needs of the community he serves … The problem is that the atmosphere does not yet exist in which an honest police officer can act without fear of ridicule or reprisal from fellow officers. We create an atmosphere in which the honest officer fears the dishonest officer, and not the other way around.” — Frank Serpico (in 2003).

So, it’s like opening a crate of oranges and seeing all the top ones moldy. You don’t think: ‘well, the bottom ones are probably okay, so I’ll take it.’ No, you throw them all away.

As another person said: if there are 10,000 good cops, and 10 bad ones, and the ten thousand good ones don’t kick out the bad ten, then you have 10,010 bad cops.

And finally, the municipalities and agencies that keep “dirty, piece of shit cops” on the payroll, and that do not prosecute them for their cop-crimes, are equally complicit in those crimes. They are the “institutions” of institutionalized racism and institutionalized oppression, and their cops are their bullying occupation troops stomping down on a victimized public.

The Fires This Time and Next
8 June 2020
John G. Russell
https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/08/the-fires-this-time-and-next/

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

Yesterday, a friend wrote me: “I really don’t know how we are going to come out of this. For a while I was okay. Over the last week I have grown more desperate with each day as the news develops.” I am trying to answer him here.

Many of my social media friends have expressed their anger, outrage, sadness and disgust at the lynching of George Floyd by a white supremacist cop in Minneapolis on May 25th (8 days ago as I write this). That lynching was carried out by an arresting cop kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the right side of George Floyd’s neck while the handcuffed Floyd was lying face down on a city street. Floyd kept pleading for relief because he could not breathe, but the killer cop continued his kneeling choke-hold for 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become unresponsive. Three other cops participated in the lynching: one holding Floyd’s back, another holding his legs, and the third looking on and preventing intervention by a person who stood nearby, watching in horror. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_George_Floyd)

The country has blown up, large protests and riots now fill the streets of many cities and towns in America, and have for the last week. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the expressions of that truth in 1965 (Watts, Los Angeles CA) and 1967 (Newark NJ, Detroit MI, and 157 other places). That truth again erupted into view in over 100 cities in the United States after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, with “the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War,” before it finally flamed out on 27 May 1968. And that truth was again acted out during 6 days of riots (29 April to 4 May) in Los Angeles CA in 1992, after the four cops who had savagely beat Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of any crime.

“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Dr. Cornell West said on 29 May, as he preached on CNN television with crystal clarity on the massive and systemic failure of America — as a society, an economy and a tangle of governments — to protect and defend all of its people. Listen to Cornell West for yourself to unflinchingly face the reality of America (https://youtu.be/cs3jdyfx_fo), a reality that had been made plain by Malcolm X by 21 February 1965, when he was assassinated.

People are in the streets because the George Floyd murder was the last straw on their unbearably strained patience in waiting for justice in America. They blew up because they saw that justice in America will never arrive. Their many pent-up disappointments and frustrations came to a head on seeing the video of the George Floyd murder. Those disappointments and frustrations include experiences of victimization — many fatal — by racist policing, as well as economic victimization by a structurally racist and fundamentally rigged economy.

So, the victim populations of the race war against Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and others disfavored by white supremacists; and the class war by the rich and powerful against: wage slaves, the unemployed, youth without prospects, and the 99% of Americans who are outsiders from the con games and self-aggrandizing capers of the economic insiders, just went ape-shit on seeing the Floyd murder and its obvious acceptability to the Trump-led bipartisan power structure. That is why I call it a lynching.

All this is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed society with its obvious deadliness, and that in turn has collapsed any hope of financial security for so many people who were already in the bottom tiers of the fundamentally heartless American economic system.

Many of these people are faced with sudden devastating losses: of health and life to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and of being cast into bankrupting debt by the medical bills for having survived COVID-19; of confidence in remaining healthy while on jobs they need for economic survival; of income when their jobs disappear, and with it their health insurance if those jobs even provided it; of housing with the inability to pay rent; and even of ready access to food. The pandemic has also interfered with the most fundamental source of solace we all rely on in our times of despair: sharing the company of our families and true friends. So going out into the streets now to protest is natural for many who want relief from the unbearable suffocation of the choke-holds on them, and for some of those people who feel they have nothing left to lose, to even riot.

Unfortunately, there are rotten malevolent scumbag bigots who are taking advantage of the street protests to act violently and destructively in the hopes of provoking a much wider race war of oppression by white supremacy. And there are too many cops and government people (the cop employers) who are obsessed with control and domination instead of public and individual welfare, and they too create more hurt and provoke more reactive rioting by their heavy-handed cop-riot “law enforcement” actions.

So we get a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. The best way to break that cycle is to quickly legislate substantive social and economic improvements that clearly address the underlying distresses of the people protesting visibly, and the people despairing silently and invisibly. The blinded-by-bigotry Trump-type people don’t want to enact those long-needed reforms because it would mean cutting back on their money-making schemes and their biased administrative actions.

I am guessing the current cycle of unrest will wind down simply because of exhaustion on the part of most of the people in the streets, coupled with heavy suppression by militarized police and federal troops. That won’t end the problem, but just make it more “invisible” to the authorities and simply delay its resolution, which if not forthcoming will simply mean another outbreak is inevitable.

I think things will get back to “normal” in time (within weeks?), but the “normal” that we had before late May was toxic. It carries within it the makings of more, longer and worse future riots if we let it return and continue unchanged.

A Bernie Sanders presidency aided by a helpfully supportive Congress would have been a potentially mild reform of our toxic “now,” but that reform was forbidden by the corporate-owned bipartisan power structure through its Democratic Party wing, with the full concurrence of its Republican Party wing. So now we have the George Floyd riots because people don’t feel like compromising any more, or of waiting for the Godot of American justice, or of turning the other cheek of a failed Christianity.

I don’t know and can’t really guess what’s coming next, or of how things will play out for the rest of this year.

We need a lot of wise leadership — which is obviously entirely lacking from the Trump Administration, from the U.S. Congress, and from many governors and elected politicians — and we need a lot of steady confident calmness that holds off from violent actions, by governors, mayors and police forces, who would in turn all be supported in that type of compassionately wise response by those wished-for intelligent and unbiased Federal authorities, for this national crisis to be calmed down quickly and humanely; and to then be permanently resolved by essential social and economic reform legislation, which was assiduously enforced thereafter.

The slogan “no justice, no peace” says it all. We’ve always known that, and the Kerner Commission Report spelled it all out after the riots in 1967 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerner_Commission), but it was ignored.

This crisis will be fixed for real when justice in America is established for real. I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. But I just wish it would soon.

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For America today: shamrock = lily; Erin = Freedom.

Steeling Ourselves to Reopen

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Steeling Ourselves to Reopen

“So, the country is steeling itself for its Great Leap Forward: coming out of our underground bunkers, our bomb shelters, our foxholes, our caves, where we have been hiding out from the tenuous invisible virus-laden fog of everyone else’s exhalations. We are being steeled to open air-tight hatches and climb out into the wreckage — unseen but wrecked — of our old world. But the air of that old world is now no longer the same; it is infected, and that infection washes in and out of human bodies that wither in many ways in the wake of the viruses’ passing, to hang in the air waiting for new hosts to house, feed and transport them on their constant wanderings to reproduce. And we, the humans weary of protecting ourselves from infection by hiding out in our private dens and burrows, are now being mesmerized by the slowly rising crescendo of suggestive siren songs, sad wails, ominous warnings, frenzied exhortations all saying the same thing: open up! leave your hiding! burst into this new air, join humanity once again, forget your fears, and gratefully, with energy, with enthusiasm: go to work! Yes, that is what is needed, work! work! work! Be happy in your work! You are wasting your lives hiding, and by doing so you are losing all that is most dear: income, employment, and all the good things you deserve, but which must be paid for! Why, that is essentially death! No!, it is time to rejoin the human race, and go out into the world without concern of our invisible invaders, and take back command of the world by stepping out into it! Yes, it takes strength to be a real man, a real woman, who can take charge of their lives and go and make something of them, by working and earning, and clearly justifying their place in our civilized world. These are the kinds of people who make up the strong healthy body of civilized humanity, the human force that pushes forward and survives, that creates the future. But not everyone has that courage, that drive, that worthiness; some are weak, outdated, unworthy; essentially deadwood, an unnecessary overhead expense on the virile core of humanity, the workers essential to the steady functioning of our way of life. So strength, now with a clearer understanding of freedom after having brushed aside the fears of this virus, is now ours, and the strong essential people understand that because they have the courage to break out back into the busy world that we must quickly revive, together shoulder to shoulder, that we can waste no sympathy on the unnecessary old, weak and cowardly. People are always dying, old, young, it doesn’t matter, so hiding away from a remote chance of death is wrong, especially as doing so has let all our work and prosperity fall into ruin. No!, we move forward, and we do so with confidence in our own strength of purpose, our own drive to gain the prosperity we deserve, our pride in supporting our families, and in helping to advance great commercial enterprises of social necessity! So, go out, fear not, some small number of you will always be surprised by an early death, but this virus will focus itself on the old and non-essential and the weak. Forget about them!, that kind of concern only holds you back from devoting yourself to what is most important and gives you your meaning in life: your work! So let the old and the weak and the undeserving sicken and die, do not worry about spreading virus germs to these non-essentials. We will be better off without them, the emotional drag on us of all their worries, and the wasted costs of their upkeep will be cast aside once the virus prunes them away from the real virile core of humanity. Then, think of the kind of world we will be building!: one of drive without restraint, of prosperity without cost, of work without stop, of people steeled to their tasks and moved past their childish sentimentality and fear, of people past caring for those who don’t deserve to live if they try to stand in our way and hold us back, especially holding us back from our freedom and obligation to work, which gives us all we were ever meant to be and to have. If you work hard, you will be treated well; if you do not work, you will be punished! So fear not! Live and let die! Join together, and work! work! work! Be happy in your work!”

And so the Maximum Leader spoke to his people to fill their spirits with his disease, and steel them to re-emerge into the pestilence of his reign, and maintain it.

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Our Virally Porous Walls

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Our Virally Porous Walls

“The Invisible Invaders” is the title of Peter Radetsky’s book on “viruses and the scientists who pursue them.” It is a richly detailed, smoothly written primer on the subject for the non-biochemist. This book arcs through four topics:

first: a history from 1744 to 1930 of the development of the medical science and vaccines aimed at combatting infectious diseases (for smallpox in 1796 by Edward Jenner [1749-1823], for rabies in 1885 by Louis Pasteur [1822-1895]); the discovery of the virus in 1898 by Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931); and the discovery in 1917 by Félix d’Hérelle (1873-1949) that viruses could attack and kill bacteria — which are living cells;

second: the science of virology, and the present understanding that viruses are parasitic forms of ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that invade living cells and hijack their functional programming, so as to reproduce and expel more viruses;

third: modern-day concerns and discoveries about viral diseases: colds, herpes, flu, hepatitis, cancer, AIDS;

fourth: gene therapy inspired by natural viral action, the intentional manipulation of biochemical dynamics to thwart viral infections and to artificially create designer proteins for desired purposes.

Radestsky states that: “[Most] of us have little idea of the impact viruses have on our lives. For they are not simply dangerous enemies, the only organisms besides ourselves that pose a threat to our survival; they’re our co-travelers in life, our most intimate fellow workers. Viruses are literally everywhere — inside us, outside us, constantly permeating the boundaries of the self… They may swap our genes around, rearrange our destinies, act as agents of the ecosystem. In their admirable simplicity and appalling efficiency, they may be the most successful life-form of all… if they can be said to be alive in the first place.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). We can metaphorically visualize a viral pandemic in a manner similar to the antique and unscientific ideas that the causes of inexplicable epidemics were astrological “influenza,” and bad airs, “malaria,” wafting out of swamps; by imagining viral epidemics as very tenuous and filamentary clouds of sub-microscopic nucleic acid particles, each wrapped in fat and coated with protein, that are all coursing through our atmosphere, propelled by air currents on every scale from weather systems to human exhalations, and despite their extreme fragility have the power to penetrate through our civilization and into our very bodies and once there to penetrate into the core genetic control units of our cellular functioning — and disrupt it.

We can never perfectly wall ourselves off from viruses, to them our bodies and our patterns of living are so easily permeable. Our surest defense against viral diseases for which we have no vaccines is avoidance of infection. Such avoidance if afforded by a combination of distancing from infectious people and environments (whether visibly or invisibly contaminated), and the conscientious frequent application of personal hygienic practices and household and occupational sterilization protocols. Physically, and mindlessly behaviorally, we are an open weave to viruses, a rich meshwork of protoplasm waiting to be virally colonized and explosively exploited.

The reason we have been hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with its still increasing force, is that the United States is a nation and society structured like a Matryoshka Doll that imprisons its people but is transparent to viruses. We each are walled in by many types of barriers intended to exclude us from the ‘tribal clubs’ of others, those barriers being: ageist, bigoted, cultural, ethnic, financial, intellectual, political, racist, religious and sexual; we humans can come up with an endless array of repulsive distinctions about ourselves.

We have a multiplicity of forms of imposed isolation, of social distancing, each tailored to the individual’s demographic characteristics, to their sociological DNA if you will. We all live within walls, within outer walls, within still outer walls, and so on for many layers of confinement away from the more favored tribes and classes, yet also shielded from the more unfortunate ones. This structure of social fragmentation and hierarchical survival is the embodiment of capitalist civilization. It is the separations and differences and conflicts and jealousies and inequalities that exist among us that create the necessary socio-political spaces and the material opportunities to prosecute individualistic capitalist schemes, those personal drives toward profits — and also for crimes and wars.

That drive towards profits — in its extreme it is pure narcissism — is impossible to even imagine in a hypothetical society of ideal socialism, a society that has been largely homogenized in the sense of eradicating all the artificial exclusionary distinctions that define the house-of-cards capitalist paradigm. That those distinctions were always illusory and only seemed intellectually sacrosanct and physically rigid was because the popular will of the nation’s many individuals had been trained over many generations by pro-capitalist anti-socialist mass indoctrination to unconsciously project the capitalist paradigm that is imprisoning them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has collapsed the illusion of that paradigmatic rigidity, of the reality of capitalism. The viral ‘cloud’ has easily penetrated through not just our bodies, but the exclusionary distinctions we previously thought of as either protective shields or barriers to our aspirations. The collapse of those illusions is experienced by the benefactors of the capitalist economy as fears of economic depression and of political revolt by the laboring masses. The collapse of those same illusions is experienced by the masses excluded from prosperity in the current paradigm, as an awakening to and anger over the unreality of the many strains of slavery we all have imagined ourselves into for so long, and an awakening to the breathtaking proximity to us of the bracingly real alternate and liberating paradigm of socialism. We can actually all live better, happier and more securely starting right away! It is solely a matter of popular will.

During this pandemic many have already stated the obvious: any successful effort to end these epidemics will necessarily be a socialist action, and the more socialist those efforts are, the greater the degree of their ultimate successes. Our exclusionary ‘walls’ and clashes of hoarding behaviors are transparent to viruses, only social solidarity can be made reasonably opaque to them. To effectively combat viral epidemics we must close up the now-gaping weave of human civilization. Such a closing up will encounter much friction and resistance, as each person seeks to preserve their private bubble of self-importance, money-making, irrational fantasy and bigoted exclusivity, which are the forces of repulsion within our atomistic social collectivity. The capitalist benefactors will actualize their resistance to the closing up of the human social weave, their economic collapse fears of the awakened and just anger of the exploited masses, by tossing bribes and police-enforced compulsion at them: the smallest, cheapest weight they can put on the lid of the bubbling cauldron of neoliberal capitalism to keep it from flying off as it boils over.

Despite the widespread and atomizing disorientation of American society in reaction to COVID-19, as if it were some impending apocalypse, it would be wise to become disciplined, rational and socialist, and to realize that this pandemic is but a skirmish in the monumental and unavoidable karmic war we now must face against our own narcissistic desecration of Nature, and which we call climate change.

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The Conquerors Of America

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The Conquerors Of America

Patrick Weidhaas, a colleague of mine from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and also a colleague from the union group there (Society of Professional Scientists and Engineers) sent me a note saying:

You may remember Ben Santer from the Lab, one of the foremost climate scientists. He just published an article in the online Scientific American:

How COVID-19 Is like Climate Change
(Both are existential challenges—and a president who belittles and neglects science has made them both tougher to address)
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/how-covid-19-is-like-climate-change/

García’s reactions to Santer’s article follow, as responses to some of Santer’s entirely accurate and admirable statements:

“In the Trump administration, the buck never stops at the top.”

Because Trump does not care about the masses of people anywhere. He is merely the figurehead of a plutocratic-oligarchic faction that sees themselves occupying — not representing — the people of the United States, as in a hostile takeover, as in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is all about them: their wealth, their take, their bigotry, their personal aggrandizement and their personal safety. All other people are merely impediments, or at best temporarily exploitable resources, like slave labor. As Don Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather,” “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.” (https://youtu.be/0qvpcfYFHcw) As Don Trump said when he wacked the U.S. pandemic response team: “I’m a business person.”

“And a leader cares more about saving lives than winning reelection.”

Trump, and Biden, are not leaders; they are conquerors. They are on campaigns of conquest for plunder. The lives of the people conquered are not of interest, they are impediments beyond their utility for profitable exploitation. “Reelection” is entirely about maintaining the conquerors’ reign of plunder. That is it.

“And in an abundance of concern for public health, members of the Trump administration should have corrected the President’s misstatements on the seriousness of the coronavirus. Instead, they largely remained silent.”

They made sure to get accurate information for their own safety, and for their insider advantages in stock trading. Their prime directive is: “make money at the expense of everybody else.” Obfuscation and deception to the public are essential to the successes of their conspiracies of plunder. There is no limit to how many “other” people can die to achieve the conquerors’ unquenchable selfishness.

“After years of belittling and neglecting science, Donald J. Trump is suddenly discovering that science is imperative to human survival, and perhaps even to his own political survival.”

For the Conquerors Of America (currently led by Trump and Biden) science is entirely a means for finding patentable items needed and wanted by the masses, so the conquerors can own the exclusive rights to these items and then sell the use of them “at the highest prices that the market will bear.” It is about getting rich off the fears of death by the people, and getting rich off the people’s addictions to drugs and electronics of all kinds. The items the conquerors want their science minions to provide are life-saving and life-extending drugs (“your money or your life” is the supreme moneymaker); and better, faster, more powerful weapons, which can boost the conquerors’ ability to cow and kill rivals and enemies. Their purposes for science are to keep death further away from themselves, to find them novel ways of furthering personal enrichment, and to make it easier for them to rain death down on all others.

“If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet without relying on fossil fuels.”

“We” might care about that, but our overlords, the Conquerors Of America do not. The conquerors weave their imagined-eternal cocoons of invulnerability out of personal wealth vampire-drawn from the masses, and from their orgasmic fantasies of invincibility.

When all this will change, I do not know; but I fear that if that change ever does occur it will be preceded by a tsunami of blood. It may well be that Pandemic 2020, or a subsequent one, if it readjusts human orientation and behavior across our species for the better thereafter, would be a blessing in comparison to that now-gathering tsunami.

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