The progress of humanity has been greatly enhanced by those who, after thoughtful analysis, expressed views that are contrary to popular thought. Persons like Voltaire, Galileo, Socrates, Nietzsche, and the father of both the American and French revolutions, the great Thomas Paine, whose "Rights of Man" and "Age of Reason" would make him the contrarian of all time in my book.

It is in the spirit of these polemicists that I create this blog. It is my intent to challenge popular suppositions. While it will become evident that I am generally a progressive liberal, hopefully I will have the courage to take opposing viewpoints to those of my own comrades when appropriate.

No comments will be deleted based solely on the political , social, economic or religious views you may have. In fact I encourage thoughtful discourse. I will however promptly remove any postings that contain overtly vulgar comments, racial slurs, hate speech of any kind, or multiple postings of "conspiracy theories". Though not required, please post links for references to the point you are trying to make, or at the least, give us an idea of where you found the information that supports your cause or claim.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


The latest cable release by Wikileaks reported by the world's news sources indicates that the Vatican, and in particular Pope Benedict, impeded the investigation of sex abuse by priests in Ireland. Am I surprised? No, not really. Is this not something that was suspected all along? And what exactly will be the result of this revelation? Does anyone actually believe the Vatican will now come out from hiding behind it's shield of sovereign immunity? The cable release goes on to expose the equally non-surprising tidbit of news that the Vatican had some concerns about alienating the Archbishop of Canterbury when it opened the door to some Anglicans to rejoin the Catholic Church. Well, all I can say is "ho-hum".

I must admit that in the days leading up to the Wikileaks releases I was fully anticipating to see information of monumental proportions, some of which may have changed governments and caused a certain degree of diplomatic chaos. While I generally am at odds with conspiracy theorists, I guess there has been some part of me that feared perhaps there WAS some sort of "secret" order of things, particularly as to nations' governance. Surely, these 250,000 documents would contain some eye-opening clues.

Having followed closely the media reports of the leaks as well as some of the original documents, I'm beginning to arrive at a markedly different conclusion. The majority of the disclosures as of right now do not expose anything that could be construed as being really new. Aside from embarrasing statements by nearly all of the world's diplomatic regiment, and a blow by blow description of the "who said what and when", I'm not seeing much "substance" to any of it. Even in cases where there were no prior concrete evidence, there were certainly a great deal of suspicions or speculations already in existence as to some degree of malfeasance or complicity involving nations, corporations and powerful individuals. Courtroom prosecutors and defense attorneys appear to be the biggest potential beneficiaries of what has been exposed to date. I don't see there being much more than a 72 hour news cycle for most of the individual stories coming out of all this.

The singular exception may be the sheer volume and nature of cables related to how the whole of the Arabic world views Iran. There are some surprising statements by nearly all of the leaders and diplomats of these countries, in particular, those of Saudi Arabia. No big news here that these nations have an ongoing concern about Iran. But when King Abdullah gives encouragement to the U.S. to strike Iran to "cut off the head of the snake", this should do more than raise eyebrows. However, even in this case there were plenty of signals ahead of time. While Iran's president has spouted much vitriole in his rantings against Israel, the real harbingers of Iranian power, the Ayatollah and the mullahs, have been publicly clear for years that the immediate aim of their "fatwa" was to consolidate Islam and it's oil-rich nations either directly or indirectly under the power of Iran.

Overall, though, I just don't see the big deal. Is it going to change the world knowing that nations use their diplomats periodically as spies? Or that we and others sometimes use covert activities to further our respective interests? Or that a Saudi prince held "underground" wild parties? What about large sums of money that sometimes change hands in mysterious ways? Or corporations that try to influence elections? And did we really believe that diplomats are always polite and considerate towards others? I just don't think we can delude ourselves into believing these were truths we didn't already know. Unless there is something special in Assange's threatened "poison pill" or in the yet to be released banking documents, this whole thing could end up being perceived as a real dud.

There are in my mind some much larger and more important questions that loom as a result of all this "WikiMania".

First and foremost there are serious questions about national security. How can a Private First Class in the military become an intelligence analyst with access to these documents in the first place? Keep in mind Private Manning just a couple of years prior had been working in a pizza parlor. He evidently smuggled the documents out on a disc labeled "Lady Gaga", hand-written no less. (I suppose there should be no shock in this matter. Drug cartels seem to have minimal trouble building elaborate multi-million dollar tunnels under our borders.) What does this say about our ability to protect ourselves from our real enemies?

And then there is the disturbing situation of internet hackers. Both the cyber-world supporters and critics of Wikileaks along with a group of internet whiz kids interested only in general mayhem have been able to take down websites almost at will. More cause for alarm comes from experts who are admitting little can be done to stop them. I find it both maddening and ironic that these self-described "hactivists", while extolling the inalienable virtues of free speech, have appointed themselves the sole arbiters as to which webpages can be viewed. With so much of our daily lives, communication and commerce so interwoven and dependent on the internet the prospect of an all-out "cyber war" is frightening indeed.

In the end, though, the subject of real debate for the forseeable future will be the argument over the balance between the public's right to know and the individual or institutional need for privacy. At what point does transparency trump privacy? Or vice versa? How does the First Amendment come into play? With the exceptions of child pornography and thievery there are very few regulations of the internet and even in those cases regulation is only marginally effective. Is it even technically possible to regulate the net if we wanted to? Or have we created the ultimate tool of anarchy? Hopefully we won't be eventually faced with some sort of Orwellian solution where we are forced to relinquish our most precious rights to avoid the chaos engendered by a few megalomaniacs. Greater minds than my own will have to sort this one out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Driving While Blind

I remember vividly the day the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The newreels of German citizens chipping away at the blocks, the jubilant cheers of Berliners, and the sighs of relief in the free world all led to a feeling of celebration. There was much talk of a "peace dividend", the idea that we would now have more money to spend on projects other than defense now that the Cold War was finally over. The neo-cons collectively declared the "death" of socialism. Capitalism could, and eventually would, become a worldwide phenomenon. Even places like China and Viet Nam were openly participating in free markets. Our economies were to become global. There grew much talk of the emerging economies of third world nations and new stock exchanges opened in many such places. According to many, we were on the verge of a new world, where American free market ideals would spread rapidly. All could participate if they worked hard enough. Some were even forecasting an eventual end of poverty. It would be likely we could all look forward to a comfortable retirement. All was good.

Or so many of us thought. But were we driving while blind?

I'll cut right to the chase. We Americans have made many into demons, and some deservedly so. I personally, thank God, am not acquainted with anyone who thinks Hitler was a good man. Charles Manson is another good example. Their bad deeds are clearly documented. But in the case of a few others the evidence just isn't there. I'm referring to a man named Karl Marx. His name is most generally associated with the tragedy of the aforementioned Iron Curtain and with the Maoists of Red China. People like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung combined in their efforts to give Marx a bad name. Never mind that they followed a narrow version of socialism that hardly resembled what Marx had in mind. The truth is, all Marx did was write a book.

I believe there is good evidence that the solution Marx presented in "Das Capital" has at least one, if not more, fatal flaws. His solution was grossly inefficient, creating oversupplies followed by shortages of goods and services. It required a huge government bureaucracy with all of the elements of fraud and collusion that goes with it. Even Fidel Castro has recently admitted that the model doesn't really work very well. Furthermore, Marx's ideas on collectivism were grossly misused in Russia and elsewhere for political purposes.

But just because Karl Marx's solution was flawed, can we really afford to ignore his analysis of the problem? I think not. I have always thought his description of capitalism was remarkably accurate. His tracing of it's emergence from the mercantilism of the fuedal ages is still regarded by economists as one of his greatest contributions. In light of the current global economic plight, and the blame game that is now occurring, I believe it is time to revisit Karl Marx for a closer look at his analysis of the problems capitalism faces. That is, if we want it to survive. Just because socialism failed doesn't mean capitalism won.

The following is a video by one of the preeminent students of Marx, David Harvey. David is a professor of Anthropology at City University of New York. He gives a chillingly compelling account of recent economic events from a Marxian point of view.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Right To Vote

This morning I ventured out on a couple of errands which included a stop at the polls. As is usually the case I was pleased that there was no line and the whole process took less than the time it takes to make a pot of morning coffee. Actually in all the years of my voting I've never had any problem excersizing my constitutional priveledge save one instance when I had moved and not updated my registration.

Perhaps it's too easy. I'm guessing the things I didn't have to do are what is important. I didn't have to fight an angry mob to get inside. I paid no poll tax. I didn't have to prove I owned property or show a "party" card, nor did I have to prove my gender. No one asked me if I was Catholic, Protestant or Atheist. I wasn't required to swear allegiance to a corrupt government, or even a non-corrupt one for that matter. They didn't ask me if I was gay or straight, black or white. I got exactly one whole vote, not the total tally of 3/5 vote per slave given to slave owners. Nobody asked if I were "pro-choice" or "pro-life" , wether or not I was employed, or if I had an education or not. And above all, I had no fear of being attacked or put on somebody's "hit" list when I left.

Overall we have a pretty good deal here. But our freedoms are precious...and fragile...There are some who would limit our constitutional freedoms in the name of all sorts of causes, some worthy, but many not. No matter the reason, our Constitution and it's Amendments including the Bill of Rights are all we really have to protect us. With it comes a responsibility to educate ourselves as to its contents and its origin. There is a movement afoot to diminish and ignore the ideas of founders like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Paine. Purveyors of selfish causes wish to remove the words and ideas of these great men from our children's textbooks and replace them with fairy tales. Even in these times of bankrupt budgets state lawmakers, pandering to fear, waste millions of taxpayer dollars enacting laws that they know from the outset are unconstitutional and will be struck down. There is an ongoing movement to diminish the meaning of separation of church and state, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that under our uniquely secular government, religions of all denominations have flourished like never before anyplace on earth.

I urge you to be vigilant. Our country's original documents and a plethora of accompanying original source material, as well as historical research and biographies written by respected authors is all hiding in plain sight in libraries and more and more on the web.

And please excersize your right to vote.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Kinder Congress

In today's glut of rancid partisanship, infantile sloganry, half-baked reasoning, and political demogagy I find myself wondering if there are any true statesmen who will present themselves in our time of need. Real and complex problems, both domestic and foreign, will never be solved with simplistic political pandering. It seems that for every worthy movement or cause there is a plethora of persons and institutions more than willing to take the helm, more often than not for their own gain. Usually they find a scapegoat upon whom to pile blame. Solutions offered, if any, are generally too vague to be of any consequence. The "other side" gets whipped into a frenzy and, sure enough, some politicians of equally questionable motivation step up to the plate. The really maddening thing, though, is that the problems all remain unsolved.

I'll be the first to admit that Lee Hamilton wasn't the most exciting man. He wasn't a great orator, his facial expression rarely changed, and he wasn't a snazzy dresser. He had few heated debates in Congress. His demeanor was more like that of a college history professor. But he had respect. Respect that he had earned. He never automatically dismissed the ideas of his opposition. He believed in getting at the facts. He understood that great things are only accomplished through compromise. But he wouldn't compromise his basic principles. More than anything, his behavior showed that he knew he was supposed to serve the people who elected him, and yes, even those who voted against him. A good friend of mine had a son in the military overseas and his father was dying. My friend went to Lee Hamilton's office where Lee greeted her personally. He made a couple of calls and had her son on a plane back home within hours. In other words, he was accessible.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars honored Lee Hamilton on October 5, 2010, at a Gala Dinner that paid tribute to his 12 years of service as the Woodrow Wilson Center's president and director, as well as the previous 34 years in which he served as a distinguished member of Congress.

Welcome home to Indiana Lee! We could use a few more statesman like you now!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Solidarity thru Fear Pledge

I, as a natural born citizen of the United States of America, duly ordained by God with special rights, and having been robbed by lazy poor people in the name of government socialists, do hereby solemnly swear:

1.) To never look out beyond my own perceived reality no matter how small or shallow it may be.

2.) To fear any change or chance thereof. To embrace fear first as an individual choice or right.

3.) To uphold the adherence to living a static life fully vested in fear.

4.) To be fearful of all peoples who don't look, think, or act like me.

5.) To allow fear to trump Constitutional rights.

6.) To promote fear as a defense against any argument or cause.

7.) Despite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, support any lie that will help me maintain my narrow view.

8.) When all else fails, to attack science and institutions of learning.

9.) To direct blame towards those who are least able to defend themselves.

10.) To base my political activity on demogogy and hate.
Having taken this pledge, I will support candidates who sow doubt and fear into the hearts of otherwise reasonable people, so that I may remain in my insulated cucoon protected from the problems of others.

Fatherhood and the Defence of History

"Do you know that it is 93 million miles to the sun?" The question came out of nowhere, his stack of flapjacks awaiting syrup as he patiently awaited our reply. The chorus of blank stares he got in return only served as a prompt for him to inform us as to how long it would take to reach the raging ball of fire by automobile. He would just laugh when it became obvious to him we would rather he just eat his pancakes. "Oh, Fred" Mom would say as she glanced at the early morning clock.

My father loved Science. He loved Astronomy. But above all else he loved History. The breakfast table was his podium. Much to our chagrin and in spite of my mother's mild chastisements, he took every opportunity at this early hour to give us all a quick lesson before we headed off to school. His breakfast lectures were always short and most often began with a question. While he rarely talked much about the war itself, he often would give historical anecdotes about places he was stationed like England, Italy, and North Africa. As a 10 year old I was only mildly amused, and surmised that Dad's obsession with history and biography was a result of not having enough "fun" things to do.

Wether or not his eccentric historical musings were calculated efforts I'll never know. What I do know is that he wanted us to read and become informed. He was skeptical towards those who made statements without doing their homework. Either lack of money or lack of interest kept him away from most best sellers. It was much more likely to find him reading a dusty old biography gotten from the public library. "Let me see that!". The excitement in his voice and the broad smile caught me off guard. Mrs. Chandler at the library had recommended I read "Daniel Boone" and Dad was enormously pleased.

As I read each chapter he would casually ask me questions about it, as if he didn't know the answers, putting me in the role of the teacher. However, by the time I finished the book it became obvious that he had a professor's knowledge of our state's history, our early immigrants, and our role in our nation's history as a whole. While proud of our heritage, he wasn't at all hesitant to point out some of the more dubious aspects as well, particularly the plight of native Americans and the near extinction of the buffalo.
As I grew a little older I too became enamored with History. I began to see how the events of our time and our culture have been shaped by what went before. Though he looked ascance at my preoccupation with the likes of Karl Marx and Camus, Dad was, in the least, happy I was reading. Oddly, it was he who informed me that Hitler hated Karl Marx and socialism. He went on to point out that the Nazis were freely elected by a democratic government. Somehow this led to a discussion of the Russian Revolution whereupon he displayed an uncanny knowledge of all the parties involved. I remember asking him what he thought were the most important parts of history. His answer: "All of it."
Much as droplets of water descend from mountain streams arduously seeking companionship with the ocean, new histories unravel. Stories of people, places and events wait to be written, analyzed and contextualized. Those who are committed to it readily admit that History is an inexact endeavor but a  necessary one.

In the nearly 27 years since my father's death the world has witnessed many events. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The technological inventions of the cell phone and the internet. China has it's own stock market. We buy clothing from Viet Nam.
We have a black President. Advanced doppler weather radar! Dad would be excited and envigorated by all of these. But he would be troubled by much too..The growing disparity between the rich and poor in much of the world. The events of 9/11. The wars in the Middle East. The rancor and hate speech of his fellow citizens. The trampling on the Constitution. The oil spill in the Gulf. The uncompromising partisanship of politicians.
 But above all else he would be apalled at what is happening to History and how it is being used. In Dad's time professors of History were allowed to do their jobs. Many of them would spend an entire lifetime studying one nation. They were respected. Rarely would you hear one taking a political stance, the pursuit of objectivity being their only goal. In times of war or other crisis Presidents would seek their counsel. Unfortunately, today much of our historical awareness, if we have any at all, comes from talk radio and cable TV "hosts" who have no background whatsoever. Former deejays ramble on with references to history without having even a cursory knowledge of the people and events involved. The Constitution has been sliced into sound bites to be used as evidence in support of the basest of causes. Authors are hired by think tanks and special interest groups to write historical books and articles skewed towards predetermined conclusions. The average American hasn't read the Constitution since high school, if then. Most can't name three of the first five Presidents. And greviously, local school boards are requiring textbooks and curricula to represent a partisan view of history that twists facts, omits key arguments, and includes falsehoods and half-truths specifically designed to mislead our children about our past.

Unsettling. Saddening. But as my father would have most certainly proclaimed, something good might come out of all this. Citizens may be tempted to read some of our founding documents in their entirety. There may evolve a renaissance of interest in historical events and those persons associated with them. Thoughtful discussion of historical perspective and respectful discourse may begin to replace the rancor. We may all begin to see that a thorough examination of our past and a well-informed citizenry can only lead to a brighter future.

"Let's see...93 million miles divided by...hmmm...at 60 miles per hour..... How long Dad? How long to get there?"

I Love You Dad! Thanks for the History! "ALL OF IT."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hitchens on Thomas Paine

I thought it appropriate to begin my blogging with reference and reverence to two of my polemic heroes, both authors of British origin: The revolutionary Thomas Paine, without whose pamphlet "Common Sense" there most likely would have never been an American Revolution and Christopher Hitchens, a recently naturalized citizen of The United States and perhaps the preeminent thinker and writer of out time. I could never give a more accurate and insightful overview of Paine than did Hitchens in this four part presentation.

Christopher Hitchens wrote, "The noblest verdict on Paine is that he wanted the French Revolution to be more temperate and humane, and the American Revolution (by abolishing slavery and being decent to the Indians) to be more thoroughgoing and profound." Thomas Paine, in a letter to George Washington wrote, A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose." Paine had a hand in both revolutions and he thought the American revolution did not go far enough in its fight against slavery. To his critics he stated, Let them call me rebel.
"A human has no property in another human."

Thomas Paine: "To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.

"He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself."