Friday, November 04, 2011

The Fall and Rise of Yoosa


It is morning of the final day of Ricardo Perez's eight-year term as president of the land of Yoosa. He sits at his office desk in the presidential palace, honing the farewell speech he will make at mid-day from the upper-floor balcony to the thousands of Yoosans who are gathering in the palace gardens to say goodbye. The speech will also be televised live to all Yoosans at home and in their workplaces, and to television watchers around the world.

The speech will be short because the president knows that Yoosans love him for all he's done for them. So there's no need for a long and boastful speech. The president's accomplishments during his term of office speak for themselves.

After putting the finishing touches to the speech, then reading it back to himself aloud to ensure its rhythm is how he wants it, the president puts the speech in his desk drawer, then sits back in his ergonomic chair, thinking on the last eight years. He smiles as he contemplates the changes to the nation of Yoosa he has wrought.

***

Yoosa was a mess when President Ricardo Perez had taken over from President Khalid Wahaba eight years ago. Unemployment was at Great Depression levels.The national debt was at a record high and still climbing steadily despite the historically high levels of taxes levied on the rich, who consequently had little left over to create the jobs that would put Yoosans back to work and eliminate the debt.

Yoosa's unemployed, comprising a quarter of the workforce, had little incentive to create work for themselves by starting their own businesses, because they had become too used to getting welfare and unemployment benefits while lazing about. In any case, obstacles to starting one's own business were well-nigh insuperable because of government red tape and innumerable laws applying to the workplace.

The government had become fat as never before, and was becoming fatter. Aside from all the welfare and unemployment benefits paid out interminably to Yoosa's idle and shiftless, Yoosa's armed forces were another huge burden. Yoosa was spending yearly on its armed forces as much as the rest of the world put together was spending. And there was the upkeep of the millions of prisoners that Yoosa kept in its jails. Mainly because of the drug laws, Yoosa's prisoners comprised over a quarter of the world's prisoners.

The monies that Yoosan taxpayers were spending on educating the young at state-run schools were monies wasted, because most graduates were coming out as ignorant and slack-jawed, and as indolent and drug-addled, as before they came in.

The enormity of all these problems would normally have dissuaded Ricardo Perez from running for the presidency of Yoosa. However, during his years as a businessman running his own hardware store in the little town where grew up, he had soaked himself during his evenings in the works of economic and political philosophers like Adolf Schmidt, Frederick Harper, Wilton Weedman, Ludwig von Misery, and David Stockperson.

From them he learned that government is the biggest obstacle to economic growth. Government stifles the creativity of business which is a coiled spring ready to unleash as soon as government gets out of its way. There is nothing which government does, which business cannot to do better, and much more cheaply. Hence the smaller the government, the more the efficiency, the faster the economic growth, the greater the prosperity for all.

Ricardo Perez also learned from these philosophers that by entering into business and using one's creativity to make a profit by using Market Forces to one's best advantage, one does the work of God. One's innate capacity for creativity is bestowed by God for the purpose of its being used to the best of one's ability. Hence not to be creative, and to just work for the government as a functionary, is to mock God.

Ricardo Perez emerged from his nightly studies of these learned philosophers a changed man. He now saw how simple was the solution for Yoosa to get out of its mess. Cut taxes to a fraction of what they were, shrink government to the barest minimum, and let business do its thing.

One night, Ricardo Perez dreamt that God appeared before him and said it was his mission to lead Yoosa out of its misery. He therefore entered politics and ran for president against President Khalid Wahaba, whose agenda of Big Government under the aegis of Socialism had brought about the mess that Yoosa was in.

Promising to cut taxes to almost nothing, and to shrink government to almost nothing, so it would get out of the people's way, enabling them to easily start businesses and become rich, Ricardo Perez was elected president of Yoosa. It was close, though, for Wahaba-style Socialism was deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of Yoosans.

***

Once president, Ricardo Perez found it had been easier to make campaign promises than to carry them out. Most members of Yoosa's parliament were bought and paid for by rich men whose corporations were making lots of money from government contracts. Hence President Perez's first attempts to do what he had promised Yoosans, were routinely thwarted by parliament.

The president was nothing if not determined. He ordered his most trusted confreres to dig in to the lives of all parliamentarians. He knew that most had done things, or were continuing to do things, that they'd rather their families or the public or the police not know about. A visit by masked men to a parliamentarian at his home late at night, and the brandishing of documentary evidence of his wrongdoings, was usually enough to make the parliamentarian see things the president's way and to vote accordingly.

Hence President Ricardo Perez was able during his eight years in office to do everything he'd promised. This made him unique among presidents.

***

The president dealt first with the armed forces. Why was Yoosan defence spending so large that it amounted to half the defence spending of the entire world? Who were Yoosans so afraid of? the president asked.

Apart from a small frontier force backed by some nuclear missiles, Yoosa's armed forces were dismantled. Save for those needed for the frontier force, all uniformed soldiers, airmen and sailors were dismissed and told to find real work in the private sector or start a business. Most of the guns, tanks, aeroplanes, and ships were either scrapped or sold off to any country that would buy them.

President Perez got rid of the drug laws, saying that to criminalise anyone for using a drug of his choice was incompatible with a free society. Since half of Yoosa's prisoners were in there for drug offenses, they had to be freed.

All prisons and their remaining inmates were sold to the private sector. By renting out prisoners as labour to factory-owners, the new corporate owners of prisons were now able to make them profitable, so they no longer cost the Yoosan taxpayer anything.

President Perez scrapped Yoosa's Department of Education. As with prisons, he sold all schools, colleges and universities to the private sector, which now provided for a profit all education and training for young Yoosans. The education and training to work at a McDonalds was all that was required for most jobs. Hence most young people - in order to get jobs in today's Yoosa which had exported most of its high-tech jobs overseas - needed no more than an ability to do simple arithmetic and operate a cash machine. The private sector, where most young people would end up working, was therefore better suited to provide the education and training to work in the private sector.

Since this basic education took at most a couple of years, children from ten years and up could now work full-time and make money instead of being bored to death at school. Parents wanting their children to become scientists, doctors, lawyers and whatnot, could easily afford this education for their children, thanks to drastically lower taxes from the shrinking of government.

It was in medical care that President Perez did most for ordinary Yoosans. Before he took office the costs of medical care were more than poor, and even not-so-poor, Yoosans could pay for, and by far. The government hadn't allowed Market Forces to operate in the medical field. This brought about a supply of doctors inadequate to meet demand for their services, with the consequent effect on their fees.

President Perez therefore changed the immigration laws to allow doctors from anywhere in the world to freely come to Yoosa and set up a medical practice, and to charge whatever they wanted with no interference from the Yoosan Medical Association or the government.

Doctors practicing in Yoosa increased tenfold during the presidency of Ricardo Perez. Their fees were kept in check by the same Market Forces that applied anywhere in the private sector. Hence doctors fees fell steeply. Ordinary Yoosans could now afford medical care for themselves as easily as they could for their dog or cat.

In the interests of leaner government and lower taxes, state pensions and state medical care for the old were abolished. Hence old people who had been living off state pensions before President Perez took power, now had to go back to work unless they had other means of support.

This potentially presented problems for Yoosans with old mums and dads. To enable Yoosans not to be financially burdened until late in their lives with having to keep their old mums and dads in nursing homes and hospitals, the law was changed to allow anyone not wanting to pay for the upkeep of an old mum or dad to have them euthanised. However, old mums and dads objecting to their adult children having them euthanised could escape this fate, but only on proof that they could support themselves.

***

You can't make an omelet with out breaking eggs, it is said. The eggs broken through President Perez's transforming of Yoosa were government employees, whether military or civilian, who lost their jobs, for, shrinking government to almost nothing, meant shrinking government jobs to almost none. Those thus laid off, plus those already unemployed when President Perez took office, amounted to half of Yoosa's workforce.

With unemployment at fifty percent - which was more than twice the percentage during the Great Depression - liberal beeding-heart economists like Saul Kruger and Bobby Rich had a field day. And not just a field-day, but lots of field-days. Through the medium of the great newspapers of the land, they whined day-in and day-out that President Perez was doing the exact opposite of what he should be doing to get all Yoosans working. The president should increase government spending, not decrease it, said Saul Kruger and Bobby Rich, for to increase spending is to increase demand. Demand, not supply, is what an economic recovery is all about, said Saul Kruger and Bobby Rich.

However, Ricardo Perez, man of the people, knew his fellow Yoosans better than did Saul Kruger and Bobby Rich, men of the Ivory Tower. President Perez knew that the work-ethic still flowed strongly in the bloodstreams of Yoosans. All that was needed to activate it was a prod, which came in the form of President Perez's doing away with all welfare and unemployment benefits to the jobless, who - as with the old people now without pensions - knew that they had henceforth to earn money or starve.

At first there was unrest. Throngs of the now benefit-less unemployed marched on the presidential palace, demanding that their benefits be restored. Being unarmed, they were easliy dispersed through the usual methods.

But it was protests by unemployed soldiers that were a problem, because many hadn't turned in their guns when they were dismissed. Consequently there were several attempted armed takeovers of the presidential palace. They were only put down after much blood was shed by both the security forces and the former soldiers.

Unrest, however, began waning once the seeds which President Perez had sown, began sprouting. Within weeks of welfare and unemployment benefits being done away with, the landscape and roadsides of Yoosa began being dotted with stalls set up by sellers of hot-dogs, ice-cream, fruits, vegetables, trinkets, toys, and the manifold other things that Market Forces produce when government shackles are removed. Car repair businesses began multiplying; laptop shops began appearing in large numbers; and, because larger than expected numbers of Yoosans elected to have their old mums and dads euthanised, funeral businesses expanded.

The corporate rich of Yoosa, their taxes now almost zero, had more money left over to buy more plant and equipment for their factories and to hire idle factory-workers en-masse. Soon, all Yoosans were working.

Yoosans, whether poor or rich, were showing that they still had the drive and creativity of their pioneering forefathers who had once made Yoosa the envy of the world. Courtesy of Market Forces and the abolition of Socialism, Yoosa was on the road back to greatness.

Busts of the former president, Khalid Wahaba, that Yoosans had on their mantelpieces, made way for busts of President Ricardo Perez.

***

President Perez, as he sits at his desk on the morning of his last day in office, is comforted in knowing that his vice-president, who will take over from him tomorrow, shares his economic and social views, and will continue his policies. Although a woman, Vice-President and now President-Elect Para Salin has shown she is as tough and as resolute as any man. President Perez has no doubts that when he chose her as his running mate eight years ago, he chose wisely.

It is now almost noon. The president can hear coming through his windows the crowd chanting, "Rick, Rick. We love you Rick. Don't leave us, please."

President Ricardo Perez takes his speech from his desk drawer and goes out onto the balcony..........

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Send In The Drones


I will speak about something which an evolutionary psychologist, Satoshi Kanazawa, wrote in the magazine, Psychology Today. He asks why "we" (America and its allies) aren't winning our various wars around the world. "We" should be winning them easily because we have far the superior technology. It should be, for "us", a "slam dunk".

But Kanazawa says there is one thing that "they" (the amorphous enemy) have more of, than us. It is hate. "They" have more hate for "us" than "we" have for "them".

Why?

Kanazawa thinks the reason is our political correctness. In the past we won our wars because we hated the enemy purely and intensely. So we called them "Japs" "Krauts" and "Gooks". We dropped bombs not only on them, but on their wives and children too. This is why we won both world wars inside four years.

But the wars which we are fighting today are without end. There is no sign that we are winning. The implication is that nothing will change unless we go back to our intense and visceral hate of former times.

If it is a fact that "they" hate us with an intensity which "we" don't reciprocate, what could be the reason? Is it because "we" have inflicted more suffering on "them" than they have inflicted on us?

Consider Iraq. Between 1991 and 2003 "we" imposed severe economic sanctions on the people of Iraq. How many Iraqis died as a result of these sanctions? Maybe up to 1.4 million. Then there was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent guerrilla war. The numbers of dead? Perhaps 100,000; perhaps 1,000,000. Who knows exactly. Whatever the number, it is big.

Consider 9/11. A terrible day, we all agree. The 3,000 dead, a tragedy. In revenge "we" invaded Afghanistan and killed between 12,000 and 32,000 people, most of them ordinary innocent people.

"We" have killed between one and two million of "them" over the last twenty years, and "they" have killed 10,000 of "us". Therefore it's easy to see why "they" would hate "us" far more than "we" would hate "them".

Dear reader, perhaps you are an American. You live in a little house in a little town. You have the Stars and Stripes fluttering proudly in your garden. While you do your vacuuming and wash your dishes, you sing to yourself "The Star Spangled Banner" because it's the most beautiful song you ever heard.

What would you think if thousands of foreign soldiers invaded America, and that they have killed a million Americans and bombed your house? I'm sure you would feel such a hate for these foreign soldiers that you would kill them all.

Now do you understand why, in the foreign lands you occupy, your enemies might hate you with a burning intensity?

I will speak now briefly of the Drone. It is an American aeroplane with no pilot inside. The Drone is used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The "pilot" sits in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned office in the Nevada Desert. He looks at television screens in front of him. They show the topography of the ground below the Drone. When the pilot sees people on the screen who are acting suspiciously, he presses a red button. This releases a rocket from the Drone which kills the suspect persons.

What is the problem, you might think? The people killed were merely armed combatants. Unfortunately, 30% of the people who the rockets kill are innocent civilians. If you are an American, I ask you again, what would you think if your enemies across the ocean did the same to you?

Think of the comfortable life of any "pilot" of any Drone which hovers in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq. Good pay, regular hours, an air-conditioned office. Whenever he wishes, he can drink a bottle of ice-cold Coca Cola. For lunch in the office cafeteria he can eat a gigantic hamburger and mounds of French fries. And he can finish his meal with more ice-cold Coca Cola.

After lunch, the pilot - his stomach filled with hamburger, fries and Coca Cola - returns to his office where he continues pressing red buttons which fire the rockets at people on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At five o'clock each afternoon when the pilot returns home, his wife asks him, did you have a good day at the office?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A One-Way Ticket To Palookaville


With the recent death of Bud Schulberg, we are reminded of the following soliloquy he wrote as part of his screenplay for On The Waterfront.

Many think it the equal to any of Shakespeare's soliloquies. You be the judge:


You remember that night in the Garden?
You came down to my dressing room,
And said, 'Kid, this ain't your night,
We're going for the price on Wilson'
You remember that?
'This ain't your night!'
My night!
I coulda taken Wilson apart!
So what happens?
He gets the title shot outdoors in the ballpark,
And what do I get?
A one-way ticket to Palookaville,
You was my bother, Charlie,
You shoulda looked after me a little bit,
You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit
so I wouldn't have to take them dives

for the short end money,
I coulda had class,
I coulda been a contender,
I coulda been somebody,
Instead of a bum, which is what I am,
Let's face it,

It was you, Charlie.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Will China Wake?


In an article in the London Times, titled "Currency Culture Confucius: China's writ will run across the world", Martin Jacques, quoting Goldman Sachs, says that China's economy will, in 2027 (just 18 years hence) overtake America's in size; and will, in 2050, be twice as big.

Not only that. The renminbi will replace the dollar as the world's dominant currency; the international financial system will be centred in Shanghai; and Mandarin will replace English as the lingua franca.

What non-Chinese (read American) children learn in school will also change, since they will learn much more about Chinese history. For instance the voyages of Zheng He; the formation of the Qin dynasty; the inventions of the Song dynasty; and the 1949 revolution. Confucius will be regarded as a philosopher of global, not just Chinese, significance; Beijing, not New York, will be Where It's At; and Chinese traditional medicine will spread across the globe.

Last, but not least, Chinese films will exercise a growing influence on the popular imagination. So, presumably, we'll read in the National Enquirer and its like, not about whether Brad Pitt will dump Angelina Jolie and return to Jennifer Aniston; but whether Carina Lau and Tony Leung will tie the knot, and whether Zhang Ziyi, after her heart-rending beak-up with Huo Qishan, will have the fortitude to marry Vive Nevo.

In any event, the next generation, and those after, will grow up in a world in which what we now take for granted, won't be. They will learn from other cultures in a new way. They will find this quite disorienting.

A problem with all this, is that what experts predict, rarely manifests. In the 1970s, for instance, it was agreed that Japan would, in two or three decades, bestride the world like a colossus, and everyone would be speaking Japanese. Well, it didn't quite turn out that way.

And no-one predicted the computer chip, which has since revolutionised our world as have few other inventions.

As to how today's China will turn out, how about that, as its' now fast-growing economy matures, so its' rate of growth will slow? as happened with with Japan, whose formerly fast-growing economy has, since the early 1990s, grown no faster than that of any other industrialised nation. So China, although now a fast-growing power, may soon grow far more slowly, and thus will remain in America's shadow for as long as it's safe to predict.

Or how about that, as China becomes more and more prosperous, its' more and more prosperous and well-educated citizens will demand democracy, which China's authoritarian government won't grant? So a violent revolution, or even civil-war, could break-out, putting the Chinese economy severely back on its' heels, thereby throttling all thoughts of the scenario which Martin Jacques lays out.

Besides, how will fast-growing India react to a China throwing its weight around? How about that it will be India, with its parliamentary democracy and freedom of the press, which will dominate the world instead of China?

So the world's children of the future may learn, not Chinese history, but Indian; and it may be, not Mandarin, but Hindi which will become the lingua franca; and the world's financial centre may be, not Shanghai, but Mumbai; and it is Bollywood which will replace Hollywood in the world's cinematic imagination.

Thus when we read the National Enquirer and its like, it'll be not of Carina Lau and Tony Leung, but of Rani Mukherjee and Aditya Chopra, and whether they are still an item; and it'll be not of Zhang Ziyi and Vive Nevo, but of Monica Bedi and Rahul Mahajan, and whether the fling they were reported having, led to something more serious.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Japura River

Here's a rather haunting and hypnotic piece, called Japura River, composed by Philip Glass, and performed by Uakti, a musical ensemble from Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Japura River is from Uakti's CD, "Aguas da Amazonia".

The original Uakti was a huge creature out of an Amazon legend. It had holes all over its body, and, whenever it ran through a forest, intriguing and exotic sounds came out of its body as the wind blew through it.

Listening to Uakti performing Japura River, while closing one's eyes, one can easily believe this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reflections on Sandie Shaw


Early this morning (Sunday) in Moscow, Norway won the 54th Eurovision Song Contest. Norway has therefore much to celebrate. However, before getting too carried away, Norwegians should remember that the Norwegian singer, Alexander Rybak, who won with his song, Fairytale, is in fact an ethnic Belarussian, notwithstanding his growing up in Norway.

How more deliciously the people of Norway might have savoured Alexander Rybak's triumph (and Norway's) had his name been Lars Amundsen or Knut Kjellberg, or some such. But who says life's perfect?

This 54th Eurovision Song Contest has reminded me that I've thought little of this annual event since that halcyon spring evening of 1967, when I watched on television, for the only time, the Eurovision Song Contest of that year, in which Britain triumphed, when Sandie Shaw knocked 'em all dead with "Puppet on a String":



Even allowing that this was in almost antediluvian 1967, I find it still difficult to see how "Puppet on a String" knocked the Europeans so dead, that they didn't give the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest award to France's entry for that year, "La maison où j'ai grandi", sung by the exquisite Françoise Hardy, about whom, and the song, I devoted this recent posting.

To repeat what I had said in that posting, compared to "La maison où j'ai grandi", "Puppet on a String" is insipid. To give Sandie Shaw credit, she, herself, didn't think much of "Puppet on a String", but allowed her handlers to cajole her into singing it, and entering it in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest to revive her already faltering singing career. Sandie Shaw's handlers obviously knew their European audience, and so knew that their audience's appreciation of the aesthetics of music had become as aetiolated as that of their North American brothers and sisters.

As it was, Sandie Shaw never had another #1 hit after "Puppet on a String".

Now, for a good song from Sandie Shaw, here's one from 1965, "Long Live Love":


I'm sure you see, as did I, that "Puppet on a String" is to "Long Live Love"; as "God Save the Queen" is to "Land of Hope and Glory". The above video of "Long Live Love" is singular because Sandie Shaw - instead of looking happy, as singers singing are supposed to - looks downright morose; and the video's other features, like the nondescript man lounging about in a cardigan, and the decor's general air of unkemptness, make us feel as if we're in a dream.

Also, Sandie Shaw in the video sings with no shoes. This might be why she looks morose, for it can't be comfortable singing, while walking around with no shoes. On the other hand, there are other extant videos of her singing and walking around with no shoes, but she's smiling and all of that. Think too, that Sandie Shaw was known as "the barefoot pop princess of the 1960s". Which means it was her thing to sing, and walk around with no shoes. We can assume, then, that she wanted not to wear shoes because she liked not to.

So her looking morose in the video of "Long Live Love", likely had less to do with her wearing no shoes, than with her perhaps having had a bad night, or that she was striving for, like, authenticity, for, feeling morose is more normal with most of us, than feeling happy.

I've banged on for long enough about Sandie Shaw's not wearing shoes on her feet. However, I'll just add that, in August 2007, Sandie Shaw revealed that she had had corrective surgery on her feet, which she said were "ugly". It wasn't until October that same year (2007) that she could walk normally again.

I don't know, though, whether this was without, or with, shoes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Greed is Good"

Image from Wikipedia

The most recent edition of "Rolling Stone" has a quite long article about what, in the US, led to the current financial crisis. It shows also how extremely complex are the activities of the big banks and investment houses, so complex that almost none of us, the common people, can understand them; and so complex that the Wall Street conglomerates - the ones now asking for taxpayer bail-outs - were quite easily able to bamboozle the various US government watchdog agencies into allowing them to do almost what they liked.

The article says that:
"........By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future.

There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates.

By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below............".

Rolling Stone's article might best be summed up as follows: The big banks and investment houses used their legal freedoms and found legal loopholes to bet the savings of their investors at, in effect, gambling tables. And they paid for their chips, not with cash (which they didn't have), but with promissory notes. When the bets failed, they asked the American taxpayer to cover the bets - ie to pay for the chips lost.

We wouldn't have been surprised at any of what's happened since September of last year (2008), if we'd paid more attention to articles like this one in the Economist in long ago 2002, about one of the current Wall Street mendicants, American International Group (AIG).

The article included the following paragraph:
"........Part of the recent fall in AIG's share price can presumably be explained by suspicions about sophisticated but opaque forms of financial engineering.

The insurer was hit with a $69m loss linked to Enron, and it is now at the centre of a dispute over off-balance-sheet partnerships held by PNC Financial, a regional American bank.

AIG is a large and growing participant in complex derivatives markets. It says that derivatives play an important part in reducing the company's overall risk.

From the outside, all that is clear is that AIG's credit exposure to derivatives is rising, from $17 billion in 1999 to $33 billion in 2000, according to the most recent annual report. Gross exposure has grown from $435 billion to $544 billion........".
As for AIG's transparency, the article said:
"........The routine public filings that AIG posts with American regulators are widely considered to be unfathomable.

When challenged, AIG notes that it provides abundant disclosure, including 40 pages of densely written footnotes in its most recent annual report, as well as extraordinarily detailed statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But while the company provides great gobs of information, it is all but impossible to put them together.........".
The atmosphere inside the offices and boardrooms of AIG, as a representative Wall Street firm, is, in the Economist's piece, evocatively captured:
".........The common thread is an aggressive approach. AIG is known as an intense meritocracy, filled with people who come in early and leave late. Base pay is low, but bonuses are tied to the company's share price, which everybody at AIG seems to know at any time of the day. Every department must present an annual budget to Mr Greenberg [the chief executive] himself.

The scrutiny is brutal. Managers have been known to ask for lower spending limits—in the hope of making planned returns—only to have their requests rejected. Corporate intelligence, too, is viewed as high art. Mr Greenberg himself calls employees at every level to keep tabs on his own company.

Often, AIG appears to have better information about the workings of other companies than the companies have themselves........."
However, accusatory fingers should be pointed not at the men on Wall Street, but at the US campaign finance laws, laws now so lax that they allow the new Robber Barons to contribute such large sums to the campaign coffers of the elected - and would-be elected - representatives in the Congress, that they (the new Robber Barons) can, in effect, buy senators and congressmen.

Thus the members of Congress, beginning in the 1980s, began de-regulating the financial industry, so returning untrammelled freedom to their paymasters, the new Robber Barons, who, after all, were simply playing the game within the rules.

But the issue of mendicant executives awarding themselves luxurious bonuses, which is currently consuming the ordinary American, is not really the question, for, when compared to the total bail-out amounts, these bonuses are piffling. No, it is whether to bail-out Wall Street; or not to bail-out Wall Street. That is the question.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Man Hands On Misery To Man


Copyrighted to Himalayan Academy Publications, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii.
(Image From
Wikipedia)

Few of us have our heads so stuck in the sand that we've never heard of the doctrine of reincarnation, which says, in so many words, that when we die, our spirits will be reborn in another body in order that we suffer and atone for the nasty things we did in our current life. It says we will keep dying and keep being reborn over countless lives until we finally learn all the errors of our ways, at which point we are absorbed into the Godhead, or attain Nirvana, or otherwise achieve undifferentiated eternal bliss.

The reincarnationsts say that to have to keep being reborn, and get our just desserts for the sins we committed in our past lives, ensures not only perfect justice - so that bad things happening to good people are satisfactorily explained - but also gives us an opportunity to put things right without having to roast in Hell for all eternity, the fate of wayward Christians.

And, say the reincarnationists, what else but having lived previous lives, explains a child prodigy like Mozart, who was obviously a musician in his previous life.

But is justice served if we suffer in this life for things we did in previous lives we don’t remember? It might make sense if we remembered, but we don’t.

The reincarnationists get around this by saying that the self that is reborn is an impersonal self which, nonetheless, has been annealed by all it has experienced and done in its previous lives, which represents a sort of unconscious memory. Besides, say the reincarnationists, just because we don’t remember something, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, like being born, for none of us remember being born, but we were. Yeah OK.

But the reincarnationists seem to want to shift their, like, goalposts, whenever they are trapped by their own logic, for, having used common logic to infer that we are reborn because it just wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t suffer for our sins, they are caught in a bind by the fact that we don’t remember our past lives, since it definitely isn’t fair to suffer for something we don’t remember having done.

So the arguments of the reincarnationists cannot be falsified, which bespeaks that they are not rationally held in terms of Karl Popper's Principle of Falsifiability, whereby a proposition is only valid if it can be falsified through any of the conditions supporting it changing, or being found not to be true.

The word “karma” is from Sanskrit, meaning energy, and a word much beloved by reincarnationists who, licking their chops, use it to rationalize the evil we do, which we must atone for in our next life. Thus our evil deeds create a build-up of bad karma that can only be dissipated in the following life, through atonement or suffering on the part of the perpetrator of the evil.

The problem is that punishing in this life, a doer of bad deeds which he did in a previous life, and which he is now suffering for, creates more bad karma, which, in turn, which means someone else must inflict suffering on the punisher in his next life, which creates yet more bad karma, and so on. The result is an unending string of bad karma through lifetime after lifetime after lifetime. Does this make sense?

Assuming reincarnation, it means there’s someone out there somewhere who is the reincarnated spirit of Hitler, and thus living a life of unremitting suffering, and even horror, because, unbeknownst to him, he is atoning for all the bad things Hitler did. But because his memories of being Hitler have been erased, he is a different person from Hitler, which means Hitler got off free from all the things he did.

Since, under the laws of Karma, the sufferings we undergo are our punishment for wrongs we did in our previous life, the deaths of the eleven million people who perished in Hitler’s concentration camps were their deserved punishment for the bad things they did in their previous lives. Since Karma must be allowed to run its course, we shouldn’t help anyone in trouble, or otherwise alleviate their suffering, for if we do, we are interfering with their Karma, and so are preventing them learning the lessons that will make them better beings.

So the moral implications of a belief in reincarnation are, to put it mildly, problematic.


***


Despite the logical inconsistencies of reincarnation and its dubious, if not abhorrent morality, it isn’t out of the question that it may be true, there being, after all, untold evil wherever we look.

Reincarnationists, with the desperation of drowning men, have seized on accounts of psychiatric patients hypnotically regressed by their therapists to periods before they were born, who have told of their previous lives, and even of periods between those lives. Unfortunately for the reincarnationists, most of these previous-life stories were found to be regurgitations by the patients from books they read, or films they saw.

What, then, about those few cases where there was no connection to a book or film? Well, how about that the patients were influenced by suggestions from their therapists eager to elicit the sort of information they wanted, for people under hypnosis are in a state of mind amenable to suggestions, and are also amenable to invasions from mischievous disembodied spirits.

Ian Stevenson in his book “Twenty Cases Suggesting Reincarnation” told of his researches in the Indian sub-continent into children, who remembered their past lives, which, on investigation, appeared authentic, for the details of the deceased people, whose spirits were allegedly reincarnated in the children, had been as the children described them, even though the children could not possibly have known the deceased, or about them, when they were still alive.

However, there were some cases where the deceased had died after the child was born, which ruled out reincarnation, but not an invasion by the disembodied spirit of the deceased. So this presupposed that all of the cases Stevenson investigated could have had a similar cause, namely spirit invasion, which, along with the fact that his researches were in an area of the world where a belief in reincarnation was pervasive, was why Stevenson was careful to say that his cases suggested reincarnation, so didn’t prove it.


***


The reincarnationists say smugly that most of the world’s peoples believe in reincarnation, which, if true, shouldn’t come as a surprise, since reincarnation is part and parcel of Hinduism and Buddhism, most of whose adherents live in teeming Asia. But what is surprising, is that an alleged thirty-per-cent of Americans believe in reincarnation, despite America being the most Christian nation on earth.

What could be reincarnation’s attraction among the peoples of the West? for Europeans are, similarly, being drawn to reincarnation’s lure. Could it be that, being the narcissists and egotists we who live in the West have become, we cannot bear thinking that our preciously cultivated selves will disappear like a blown-out candle? So we latch on, like engorged ticks, to any doctrine that promises us that our selves, our precious selves, will continue to live, and so we'll continue to enjoy the creature comforts and lifestyles that are as much a part of us as our arms and legs.

But we ignore that the doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism stress that the material world is illusion, and that our personal selves, our egos, are equally illusory, to be snuffed out when we breathe no more, leaving just an impersonal self at the whim of impersonal karmic forces.

So we comfort ourselves with the western variant of reincarnation, the one espoused by the Theosophists, in which our personalities will continue, to become more perfect with each subsequent incarnation. It's all so wonderfully simple and as comforting as warm milk, never mind it not passing muster in terms of morality, justice, or logic.

And we don’t trouble to ask ourselves how it is, that, despite that we are all becoming more perfect with each successive incarnation, we seem as blood-thirsty and violent as our club-wielding forbears in the caves of fifty-thousand years ago, notwithstanding our iPhones, Blackberrys, BMWs, lap-top computers, eBook readers, Brooks Bros suits, air conditioned offices, and packaged cruise-ship holidays.

Reincarnation’s illogic extends to numbers, for the numbers of us are increasing exponentially, so that the one billion or two billions of us who inhabited the globe fifty years ago - a number that took a couple of hundred thousand years to reach - have now become six billion almost overnight, to become nine billion in another fifty years. So if we are each supposed to have lived countless many times, where have all these billions of new souls come from? for the mathematics are such that they couldn’t, and won’t, all have lived before.

And if we continue the way we are going, by polluting our planet with the consequences which Al Gore lays out in his film “An Inconvenient Truth”, we humans will, for all intents and purposes, become as extinct as the Studebaker in one hundred years or less. Which means there will be almost no bodies for all those disembodied spirits floating out there in the ether to be reincarnated into. How do the reincarnationists get around that?


***


However, reincarnation, although not making sense literally, does make eminent sense if looked at metaphorically, for we are all genetically a continuation of our forbears - a sort of reincarnation of them - since we inherited our physical characteristics from our mothers and fathers, who, in turn, inherited their physical characteristics from their mothers and fathers, and so on. The same goes for our intelligence and, to some degree, our psychology.

As to karma, the Bible puts it very well, when it says that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons to the third and the fourth generation, a dynamic captured succinctly in Philip Larkin’s famous poem, “This Be The Verse”, which says:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

But our karma isn’t restricted to what our mums and dads did to us, for it extends to the effects on us from decisions and actions taken by the leaders, and other movers and shakers on the world’s stage throughout history.

Take just the twentieth century. The First World War begot Hitler and the Second World War, the consequences of which have shaped our world of today. If Dr Alexander Fleming hadn’t discovered penicillin, or Dr Jonas Salk hadn’t come up with the polio vaccine, many of us would not be alive today, or might never have been born because the people who might have become our mums and dads would have died before they could have become our mums and dads, and so on and so on……………

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap”, says the Bible. What could encapsulate more perfectly what karma is? Our actions and words come back to haunt us, as we all know; as Hitler, about to be incinerated in his Berlin bunker, belatedly learned; and as George Bush, five years after baying "mission accomplished" to the world in a flying suit on an aircraft carrier, later realized.

This all does represent a sort of poetic justice without the need for a simple-minded bromide like reincarnation - a dogma for the self-absorbed and the half-educated. As to justice generally, who says there has to be justice? for it may merely be a concept dreamed up by jelly-bellied idealists.

How more comforting to believe we'll dwell for all eternity in the playing fields of the Lord, than that we must endure the travails of life on earth for goodness knows how many times.

Isn't once enough?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Shape of Things to Come




Amazing, innit?

Amazing to think there'll soon be more English-speakers in China than English-speakers in any country else; that the 25% of Indians who are reeely, reeely smart, is more than all of Americans; that the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn't exist in 2004; that today's learner will have 10-14 jobs before they're 38; that one week of the New York Times contains more information than anyone in the 18th century came across in all their life; that new technical information is doubling every two years; that for students doing a four-year technological degree, half what they learn in the first year will be redundant by the third.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Inside The Tent

Tomorrow, February 12th, will be two hundred years to the day when Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin on a farm in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky. How appropriate it is, then, that the beginning days of Barack Obama's presidency should include the two-hundredth birthday of the man who set the slaves free. And how appropriate it is that Obama, like Lincoln, should have begun his political career as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois. And we wonder why Obama has often compared himself to Lincoln?

As with Lincoln's, Obama's educational background was the law. However, unlike with Lincoln, Obama got to go to the prestigious Harvard Law School, whereas Lincoln was almost wholly self-educated, with only eighteen months of schooling. Lincoln was also a talented wrestler and skilled with an axe. However, there's no evidence that Obama is either a talented wrestler or skilled with an axe.

But Obama likes playing basketball, and may even be talented at it. Although Lincoln never played basketball, if only because basketball hadn't been invented when he was alive, there's every reason to think he would have been good at basketball because he was very tall (6' 4"). He would likely have at least been better at basketball than Obama, because Obama is merely 6' 1".

While Lincoln was skilled with an axe, he avoided hunting and fishing because he didn't like killing animals, even for food. And Obama seems not the sort of person who would hunt or fish because he, too, wouldn't like killing animals, even for food.

Barack Obama, as an avowed student of Lincoln, has learned lessons from how Lincoln conducted his presidency, particularly in inviting his competitors in the Democratic primaries, like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson, to join his administration. Add to this a prominent Bushite hold-over, Robert Gates at Defence, plus Republicans like Congressman Ray LaHood at Transport, and Senator Judd Gregg at Commerce (replacing Bill Richardson, who had withdrawn), we can see that Obama believes it's better - in the memorable words of the earthy Lyndon Johnson - to have your enemies (and rivals) "........inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside pissing in........".

Thus Obama has formed a "Team of Rivals" - the title of the book about Lincoln's administration, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, who, in an article in the Guardian (UK), says that, while Lincoln's having rivals in his cabinet worked, Obama's having rivals in his cabinet may not work, because today, unlike in Lincoln's day, we have 24-hour news channels.

As Doris Kearns Goodwin says: ".......Lincoln's cabinet meetings were fiery affairs. Members openly feuded with one another and with the president. They castigated each other as liars and scoundrels. Yet this information rarely appeared in the newspapers; we know about it through diaries and letters. In contrast, our 24-hour news cycle significantly lessens the possibility of containing dissenting opinions within the president's official circle. If internal feuds are reported by the nightly news, magnified day by day by the cable shows, dissected by countless political blogs, made fodder for late-night comedy, a modern team of rivals would collapse..........".

However, Doris Kearns Goodwin goes on to say, "........Still, by building dissent into his inner circle, Obama is more likely to question his assumptions and to weigh the consequences. The story of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation provides a telling example. In the months before he issued the historic order, he listened intently to the arguments within his cabinet over what to do about slavery. The radical members wanted Lincoln to move more quickly; the conservatives cautioned against moving at all. Lincoln realised the search for consensus could be paralysing. In 1862 he told his cabinet the time for debate was over. The time for the Proclamation had come. 'It is my conviction,' Lincoln later said, 'that, had the Proclamation been issued even six months earlier, public sentiment would not have sustained it.' Because of the heated discussions within his cabinet, his timing was perfect..........".

Lincoln, then, was the very opposite of impetuous. He knew he couldn't go too far ahead of (white) public opinion. He had to coax it, to guide it in the direction he wanted. Barack Obama, the student of Lincoln, seems, too, to be following his mentor's nuanced gradualism.

Then President-Elect Lincoln's nuanced gradualism was commented on by the Economist in its editorial of November 24th 1860, just after Lincoln's first election as president. Lincoln's circumspection had been such, that there was almost nothing in his election speeches to frighten southern slave-owners. As the Economist, addressing its English readers, said, "........our English politicians will be tempted not only to wonder at the dismay of the South, but to ask where is the gain to the Anti-Slavery cause in the election of so very moderate and cautious a Republican..........".

But the Economist went on to say, in so many words, that Lincoln was setting the tone for the eventual abolition of slavery, which could only come about when the tide of (white) public opinion would begin to turn against slavery.

As a public service, I've appended the Economist's entire editorial by cutting and pasting it in digestible paragraphs, since I suspect that you who are reading this, will find the Economist's interminably long paragraphs - which were de rigueur in all writing of that time - as tiresome to read as do I:

http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13092935

The success of the Republican candidate for the Presidency in the United States will prove one of the greatest events of modern times, if it indicates, as we trust, no mere accidental fluctuation of public opinion in the direction of the Anti- Slavery cause, but the commencement of a permanent and sustained movement. It will be impossible to say how far this will prove to be as we should wish, till we see the details of the popular vote. It is a discouraging fact that the Republican President will not at first be supported by a Republican majority in either House or Congress, but there is good reason to hope that, now the tide has fairly turned, this defect may be remedied at the next Congressional elections.

It would be a great mistake to suppose that Mr Abraham Lincoln is an extreme man. His views seem to us to fall far short of what may fairly be termed even a statesmanlike Anti-Slavery creed. Few in England have the smallest sympathy with the extreme party of Abolition,—those who maintain that to hold a serf for a single day in slavery after you have the power to release him is a deadly sin,—that Washington and Jefferson deserve infamy for holding slaves themselves, and admitting any compromise on the subject into the Constitution of the United States.

This kind of fanaticism is a species of political insanity. The statesman will believe that the order of the most imperfect Government is better than anarchy, especially if it contain within it principles by which it may be gradually purified and improved. He will accept his position and use all the means within his reach to improve it. He will not throw away the only political instruments within his power because they are indelibly marked with traces of the evil he wishes to remove.

It is not, therefore, because Mr Abraham Lincoln is very far from representing the extreme party of Abolition that we call his views moderate within the limits of statesmanlike moderation. But few Englishmen, only knowing that the Anti-Slavery candidate for the Presidency has at last triumphed, would be prepared to hear what his views really are. That they have roused the South to threats of immediate secession, which in some cases at least may not improbably be in part carried into effect, will scarcely be credited when we lay before our readers what the new President's creed on the Slavery question really is.

He is not opposed to a Fugitive Slave Law, though he would modify the one actually in operation. He thinks it would be impossible to uphold the Constitution as between Slave States and Free States without some Fugitive Slave Law, so long as Slave States exist at all. He has not, we believe, declared himself as yet even in favour of prohibiting the internal Slave Trade between the different States,—a measure which is the only efficient step towards the extinction of slavery that is constitutionally within the power of Congress to effect. He has declared himself in favour of abolishing slavery within the Congressional district of Columbia (in which the capital Washington stands), but only under conditions which would entirely obliterate all the revolutionary character of the measure,—namely, that it should be done gradually,—that it should be done only with the consent of a majority of the qualified voters within the district,—and that compensation should be made to unwilling owners.

We have enumerated the three principal articles of a statesmanlike Anti-Slavery creed,—and in two of them Mr Lincoln declares himself either uncertainly, or only in favour of very modified proposals, while on the third he attaches such careful conditions to his adhesion that all its terror to the slaveowners ought to be obliterated. About two years ago he stated, in his controversy with Mr Douglas:

"I do not now, nor ever did stand in favour of the unconditional repeal of the Slave Trade Law. I have never hesitated to say, and I do not now hesitate to say, that I think, under the Constitution of the United States, the people of the Southern States are entitled to a Congressional Fugitive Slave Law. Having said that, I have had nothing to say in regard to the existing Fugitive Slave Law further than that I think it should have been framed so as to be free from some of the objections that pertain to it without lessening its efficacy."

With regard to the abolition of the internal Slave Trade between the different States, Mr Lincoln says : "I am pledged to nothing about it. It is a subject to which I have not given that mature consideration that would make me feel authorised to state a position so as to hold myself entirely bound by it...I must say, however, that if I should be of opinion that Congress does possess the constitutional power to abolish the Slave Trade among the different States, I should not be in favour of the exercise of that power unless upon some conservative principle, as I conceive it, akin to what I have said in relation to the abolition of slavery in the district of Columbia."

Hearing this, some of our English politicians will be tempted not only to wonder at the dismay of the South, but to ask where is the gain to the Anti-Slavery cause in the election of so very moderate and cautious a Republican.

But, in truth, the gain is incalculable. Whatever compromises Mr Lincoln may concede to the South with respect to the limits and the right use of the Congressional or Presidential power, he stands irrevocably pledged to the principle that slavery is wrong, and that the national power, so far as it can be fairly used at all, must be used to limit, to repress, to promote its extinction.

These are his words: “I think we want and must have a national policy in regard to the institution of slavery, that acknowledges and deals with that institution as being wrong. Whoever desires the prevention of the spread of slavery and the nationalisation of that institution, yields all, when he yields to any policy that either recognises slavery as being right, or as being an indifferent thing. Nothing will make you successful but setting up a policy which shall treat the thing as being wrong.

When I say this, I do not mean to say that the General Government is charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all the wrongs in the world; but I do think that it is charged with preventing and redressing all wrongs which are wrong to itself. This Government is expressly charged with the duty of providing for the general welfare. We believe that the spreading out and perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general welfare. We believe—nay, we know, that that is the only thing that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself. The only thing which has ever menaced the destruction of the Government under which we live, is this very thing. To repress this thing, we think, is providing for the general welfare.”

And he stands explicitly pledged to exterminate, so far as he can do so, the external Slave Trade,—and on the coast of Cuba a co-operation of English and American cruisers will effect this. He stands pledged to abolish slavery in Columbia (the district round Washington) under the conditions we have shown. He stands pledged to oppose and prohibit, so for as he can, the introduction of slavery into the Territories. And though he has refused to pledge himself to resist the admission of new Slave States, his whole influence will be exerted to give the free party in such States ample means for the fair expression of their wishes on the subject.

Yet, on the whole, no doubt the great importance of the election is less in its immediate results than in showing that the tide of public opinion is turning against slavery in the States. We must remember what this means. It is far more significant than the expression of conviction which an English election gives. The most bitter opponent of pure democracy,—and none regard its evils in a graver light than ourselves,—must admit that when the least enlightened, the worst opinion of a nation, at last after a long hesitation, declares against a national crime, the victory is more complete than it would be where the best intelligence and culture of a nation declares against it.

The more absolutely we are convinced that universal suffrage in America drowns the voice of the best educated and most refined classes in the North, the better satisfied must we be to learn from the elections there that the public opinion is turning against slavery. It shows that the dread and opposition to it has become general at a social level which might remain comparatively unaffected in England, in spite of a perfect unanimity amongst the electoral classes here. The strength of a chain is tested by its least reliable links,—and the least reliable links of the social chain in the Northern States have proved to us that they are strong enough now to resist the bribes and menaces of the Southern party.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"La maison où j'ai grandi"


Françoise Hardy's is not a name we, particularly we who aren't French, will recognise instantly. This is because Françoise Hardy is no longer young, for, this coming February 17th (2009), she turns sixty-five - a senior citizen. But in the 1960s her name was on the lips of all who followed popular music.

I happened recently upon a song of Françoise Hardy's, "La maison j'ai grandi", which I hadn't heard since 1967 - the year it came out. Thus I didn't remember it instantly. But after I'd played it a few times it all came back - not surprising since we, all of us, forget nothing. All which has happened to us since we were born, all we have learned, all those whom we have known, are stored in our minds as memories, ready to be retrieved when probed.

So I was sucked down the time tunnel to 1967, the year "La maison j'ai grandi" (the house where I grew up) came out, and was played in homes, cafes and bars everywhere. I believe (but am not sure) that "La maison j'ai grandi" was France's entry in the 1967 Eurovision song contest. The winner that year was Sandie Shaw's "Puppet on a String". You who know "Puppet on a String" will surely agree, after you've heard "La maison j'ai grandi", that, compared to "La maison j'ai grandi", "Puppet on a String" is insipid.



"La maison j'ai grandi" is, as its name implies, a song of memories. But are they the memories of Françoise Hardy herself? If so, they must be more poignant to her now - the about-to-be sixty-five year-old - than in 1967, when she was merely twenty-three. In the song, Françoise Hardy sees in her mind her childhood home, the roses in its back garden, and the living trees. But, sadly, neither the house, roses, nor trees now exist because "....la ville est ....." (the city is there). We must assume Françoise's childhood home and the roses and trees have been torn down and bulldozed over, so a block of flats, or paved parking lot, now stands where the house, roses, and trees once did.

But Françoise had childhood friends who shared her joy in her home, with the flowers and trees, and who empathized with her when, with tears in her eyes, she knew (and so too did her friends) that everything must end, that she must leave. They told her that to leave was better than to stay, for she would discover more things out there than at home.

Nevertheless, when Françoise finally left her home she left her heart there too. However, her friends envied her luck in leaving for the bright lights of a city that never sleeps, day or night ("....une ville qui s'endort la nuit dans la lumière...."). We must assume Françoise's friends, too, would have liked to go to the big city, but their circumstances didn't let them.

But when Françoise left her childhood home she said to herself she would one day return. And one day, a long, long time after, she does, but her home has gone. She is overcome, saying, where is my house? Who knows where my house is? (".... est ma maison?.......Qui sait est ma maison.......?").

The trumpet sounds towards the end of "La maison j'ai grandi" make us aware of Françoise's heartbreak. Only the most stony-hearted of us remain unmoved.

For most of us, what Françoise went through will be familiar, since we, too, will have left our mother and father and the home and town - and often country -we grew up in. We left the nest and confronted the cold big world. Some of us have survived it; some of us didn't. But almost all of us will never again see our childhood home.

But should you do so because you are curious, you'll see it will have changed if it's still there. The wide boulevard which ran past in front, has become a tatty pot-holed side-road; the palatial garden has become a mere plot, weed-covered, unkempt; the large tree at the back is half as high as it was; the house itself, through whose wide corridors you skipped and jumped, has become a nondescript bungalow; the neighbours, in whose gardens you played, have moved away or are dead. Their replacements peer at you from behind curtained windows as you lurk in the road.

You see that your childhood home had become your imaginary homeland, where you could find comfort and succour for a few minutes whenever life's slings and arrows became too much. Because you dared to visit the old house and neighbourhood, your imaginary homeland has vanished and will never come back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"We Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself"

Below is a video of Franklin D Roosevelt's inaugural address of 1933. Much of what he said, was echoed in what Barack Obama said in his own inaugural speech of yesterday.

We shouldn't be surprised at the similarities, mutatis mutandis, of the two speeches, since both were made when the US was sliding economically into the most turbulent of waters.

How much has really changed in the last 76 years?





Here's the Economist's take on what Roosevelt said:

It would be a pity if amidst the turmoil of current American affairs President Roosevelt's inaugural address received less than its dire approbation. Both for its brevity and its spirited determination it deserves to rank high among such utterances.

He began by saying that it was the time to state the truth frankly and boldly and to face the facts. American distress came from no failure of substance, but rather called for the stimulation, reorganisation and use of American resources, for the recognition of the over-balance of the population in the industrial centres and for an endeavour to provide better use of the land.

This task, which must be undertaken as if it were a war emergency, could be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products, by preventing the growing loss, through foreclosure, of American small homes, and by the rational planning of transportation, communications and other public utilities.

There must be strict supervision of banking, an end to speculation with other people's money, and provision for an adequate and sound currency. International trade relations were in point of time and fact necessarily secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy, but in the field of world policy he would dedicate the United States to the policy of the good neighbour, who respects himself, respects his obligations, and respects the rights of others.

The American people, he was confident, realised as never before their interdependence upon each other, and that they must give as well as take. It was to be hoped that the normal balance of legislative and executive authority would be adequate to meet the emergency, but events must call for a temporary departure from the normal balance of public procedure.

He was prepared to recommend the necessary measures, and would seek to bring them to a speedy adoption within his constitutional authority, but if Congress failed him and the emergency remained critical, he would not hesitate to ask Congress for broad executive powers such as would be given him if America were invaded by a foreign foe.

Monday, December 08, 2008

They're Here!!

In early 2001 an organisation called The Disclosure Project made a presentation to journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, where twenty or so US Air Force pilots, commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, military men, intelligence men, and other men from within the military and intelligence apparatus - who had top-secret security clearances - talked about what they had seen and heard regarding UFOs in the course of their official duties.


These men (and a couple of women) leave little doubt that we on earth are being visited by extra-terrestrials, that some of their craft have crashed on earth, that alien bodies have been recovered, and that the US government in particular, and governments in general, are doing everything to keep this all a secret.

These men all stated that they are prepared to swear under oath to the US Congress that what they saw and heard is true. There are three hundred and eighty more men from within the belly of the beast of the military and intelligence apparatus, whose testimony couldn't be fitted in to this two-hour event. They also are prepared to swear under oath to Congress that what they saw and heard was true.

So far Congress hasn't held hearings, and doesn't seem likely to, because more than seven years has passed since the happening at the National Press Club.

But think of the excitement such hearings, particularly if televised, would cause in the minds of Mr and Mrs Average. It would be as exciting as was Watergate. The hearings would last over a week, and perhaps two or three, because four hundred witnesses is a lot.

That Congress has chosen not to have such hearings is one more strand of proof that governments don't want Mr and Mrs Average to know that extra-terrestrials have visited Earth, and continue to. But keeping all this secret isn't difficult because Mr and Mrs Average seem not interested in finding out, being incurious about anything outside their own bailiwick. I can testify to this, since not one - not a single solitary one - of my own friends to whom I regularly send articles and information about UFOs, and who know of my interest in them, has ever shown any vestige of interest in discussing them on the occasions I see them.

Why this monumental and puzzling incuriosity? Is it because Mr and Mrs Average believe only what Daddy (their government) says? So if Daddy says UFOs are all figments of people's imaginations, then this must be so? This seems the most reasonable explanation for Mr and Mrs Average's incuriosity, since, with the advent of Youtube and Google, there is a cornucopia - nay, a veritable Aladdin's Cave - of information at the press of a laptop key to support the facts of extraterrestrial craft and extraterrestrial beings.

What more evidence do Mr and Mrs Average need, short of extra-terrestrials actually landing on the White House lawn in a flying saucer and announcing via CNN that they're here? That no extra-terrestrials have yet done this is proof that they wish Mr and Mrs Average to continue to be oblivious to their existence, for they (the extra-terrestrials) would surely know that there are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quemoy and Matsu

In 1960, televised presidential debates were held for the first time. There were three of them, and they were regarded as the reason John F Kennedy became president, since he came across better through the medium of television than did Richard Nixon.

Below is a snippet from one of the debates - a snippet showing the two candidates discussing animatedly the Cold War:





This snippet makes us wonder how much has really changed since 1960. Then, as now, the US was seen to be losing its prestige in the world. Then, as now, there was a ubiquitous external enemy which would drain Americans of their precious bodily fluids if given half a chance. Then, these enemies were Communists, now they are Terrorists.

Should the Terrorists ever disappear as completely into the woodwork as did the Communists, will Americans dream up another enemy who would drain them of their precious bodily fluids if given half a chance? It seems new enemies will have to be created, otherwise there'll be no rationale to keep spending as much on the national defense (currently $650 billion a year) as the next 45 countries combined. The military-industrial complex must be maintained whatever the external situation, so if the current enemies disappear, others must be dreamed up to keep the taxpayer monies flowing in to the Pentagon.

One change from 1960, though, is that Quemoy and Matsu are no longer discussed in the American media. Americans today likely won't even have heard of Quemoy or Matsu, and might think them the latest video games should they encounter the names, Quemoy or Matsu.

The facts are that Quemoy and Matsu are two tiny islands (Quemoy is an island chain, actually) a mere handful of kilometers off the coast of mainland China (Fujian Province) but are under the jurisdiction of the government of Taiwan (Formosa). Twice (in 1954-55, and 1958-59) the People's Republic of China (the communists) carried out air and naval bombardments of Quemoy and Matsu to persuade Taiwan to cede them to the People's Republic.

But Taiwan, and its American protectors, were having none of it. In 1954 Taiwan dispatched 58,000 soldiers to Quemoy, and 15,000 to Matsu, as well as American-supplied rockets and other weaponry. All this, plus an American pledge to defend Taiwan, even with nuclear weaponry, persuaded the People's Republic to cease its bombardments in 1955.

But three years later, in 1958, the People's Republic, feeling more confident, again bombarded the two islands, and again, as in 1955, ceased doing so (in 1959) when it became apparent that the Russians (the People's Republic's fellow communists) wouldn't come to the People's Republic's aid, should US (and Taiwan) attack the People's Republic in defense of Quemoy and Matsu.

In the wording in its defense agreement with Taiwan, the US deliberately left vague whether it would defend Quemoy and Matsu should the People's Republic invade. Hence Nixon's and Kennedy's discussion about this issue in their presidential debate.

Although Quemoy and Matsu are today a non-issue, despite being still under the rule of Taiwan, who is to say they won't again become the potential flashpoint which they were in the 1950s?

Perhaps, then, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden might appropriately have been asked during their recent vice-presidential debate, what they would do should they be the president, and China invades Quemoy and Matsu.

How, particularly, would Sarah Palin have answered? Would she have been ambivalent like Kennedy? Or would she have pledged that the Hockey Moms and Joe Sixpacks of America would, you betcha, rush over to Quemoy and Matsu to defend to the death the islands' hapless denizens from the bloodthirsty invaders?

Maybe someone will ask Sarah this at her next campaign rally?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Bail-Out - What's The Problem?

As I write this, there are men, men wearing suits, important men, who, in the corridors of power in Washington D.C, are deciding what to do about all the banks, investment houses, and whatnot, which have become insolvent in recent days and weeks.

If the taxpayers of America don't bail them out, then the entire American economy - and by extension the world economy - will collapse. So say the men in suits, the ones in the corridors of power in Washington D.C.

I - for what it's worth - think these men in suits are right in their evaluation of the potential economic apocalypse arising out of these banks, investment houses, and whatnot, going under, and that something must be done about it.

Not only do I think that something must be done, so do most of those Americans who think, notwithstanding that most Americans don't think. But sufficient numbers of Americans do think, and think enough to see that they will lose their jobs and houses and everything else they hold dear, if they simply allow these banks, investment houses and whatnot, to collapse, and they do nothing to save them.

It seems then, that financial help will be forthcoming, and the amount suggested is $700 billion dollars. This does seem an awful lot of money for America's taxpayers to pay. But is it really, all things considered?

Since the number of Americans, including corporations, who file tax returns, is approximately 100 million, each American taxpayer, on average, would therefore pay an extra $7,000 when next they file their tax return.

This works out to approximately $19 dollars a day on average. But, individually, this would be a lot less for those earning low incomes, and somewhat more for those who earn as much as John McCain or Donald Trump. The important thing is that it would be, like, affordable.

Consider that Americans spend $650 billion dollars a year for their national defense. But defense against whom? since what Americans pay for their national defense is more than what the next 45 countries combined pay for their defense.

By spending $650 billion dollars a year on guns, tanks, aeroplanes, rockets, and missiles, Americans are implicitly saying that the aforesaid next 45 countries pose a dire threat to America, and would invade continental America with their armies if Americans didn't pay $650 billion a year on defense. But is this not carrying paranoia to an extreme?

Were Americans, instead of paying $650 billion a year to defend themselves, to cut this to, say, $100 billion, the chances are extremely good that these next 45 countries would still not invade America, if only because America, being cut off from Europe and Asia by large bodies of water, would be a very difficult country to invade.

I suggest, then, that to cut $550 billion a year from the national defense, would be a risk which Americans can well take, and that these saved monies could be applied to the $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. This would leave a mere $150 billion, which, in view of all I've said, is, relatively speaking, piffling.

So I'm not worried any more, and neither, dear reader, should you be.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Aliens Are Here

That extra-terrestrials have visited Earth on several occasions, but that our governments have been covering this up for over sixty years, is what Dr Edgar Mitchell, who was once an astronaut and walked on the moon, has been saying, according to a recent radio interview he gave, which you may listen to if you click here.

Admittedly, Dr Mitchell is 77, and so could be suffering from dementia. But if you listen to his interview, he doesn't sound out of his mind. Far from it.

Here's an interview with Gordon Cooper, one of the original seven US astronauts, who had his own UFO experience, which you can watch him tell of, if you click here.

While Gordon Cooper, who is now deceased, was also old when he gave his interview, he sounded lucid.

But tens of thousands of other people around the world have, over the last sixty years, seen with their own (as opposed to other people's) eyes, strange-looking, alien-seeming little people, and their spacecraft.

Most of these people (the ones who've seen the aliens and their craft) are the sorts of Solid Citizens whom you wouldn't question the truth of what they say, regardless of topic. Policemen, pilots both military and civilian, army officers, state troopers, football players, you name it - the paragons of virtue who all parents want their children to be like when they grow up - have seen strange little people with large heads, and the funny round craft they fly around in. Many of these funny round craft have been captured on film, which experts have examined and failed to find bogus.

And reports of government cover-ups of evidence of extra-terrestrial beings and their craft, are too many to go into in this posting. So the only question to ask is: What do the aliens want with us?

The Mexican and British Departments of Defense have recently seen the light, and have released to the public, evidence collected over the years of UFOs. And now the Vatican has said it's OK to believe in extra-terrestrial life. Could it be that all this loosening-up of officialdom is to prepare us, the people of Earth, for Contact? Admittedly, the US Department of Defense is as secretive about UFOs as ever. But then, this is the USA. Need I say more?

Several months ago I spoke with someone who, while in a convenience store to buy milk, saw two small people with identical expressionless faces that seemed to her inhuman. They radiated vibes which she experienced as so alien, so evil, which made her so afraid, that she had to move away from them, and to wait until they had left the store, before she paid for her purchase.

While I didn't know my interlocutor that well, she being the friend of a friend, I had little doubt she was telling the truth of what she saw and experienced. And my friend didn't doubt the veracity of her friend, my interlocutor, either.

And why I believed my interlocutor was truthful was that I had read of experiences similar to hers, experiences which my interlocutor - who has no particular interest in aliens and UFOs - said she'd never read or heard about. I had no reason to disbelieve her, and neither did my friend, who knows her much better than do I.

It's likely then, that the two malevolent-exuding, inhuman-looking little people who my interlocutor saw, and the similar beings who others have seen, who I've read about, are extra-terrestrial aliens who are already living among us.

What, then, would be their purpose? Perhaps they are part of a network of extra-terrestrial sleeper cells, which, when given the word by their masters, will disable our strategic centres of Earthly government power, and take over the governance of Earth.

Our governments may already know about this, and so have designated the Mexican and British Departments of Defense, and the Vatican, to be the organs which will emotionally prepare us for this event, and are now doing so.

Which means we may soon be under the thumb of the extra-terrestrials, who, having adjudged that we are about to destroy ourselves, will save us from ourselves.