Monday, March 31, 2008

THE BRITISH SHOULD HAVE USED COUNTER-INSURGENCY TECHNIQUES IN FIGHTING GEORGE WASHINGTON?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ANDEW EXUM IN THE GUARDIAN

This piece by Andrew Exum displays serious lack of knowledge about the American Revolution.

First, George Washington never fought in the style of insurgents or guerrillas, despite the myths around that notion.

Washington believed in traditional armies of the British and French style. He personally designed his army's uniforms, and he was a strict disciplinarian.

Washington had always wanted a British regular army commission for his work in the Seven Years (aka, the French and Indian) War, but he never received one. This was one of his own great grievances against Britain. He was a great admirer of the British military.

After the first genuine revolt in and around Boston - where people had indeed used guerrilla tactics - the Continental Congress - moneyed men who felt they had something at stake - had George Washington assume control of the militias that had been democratically electing their leaders and going back to the farm after a fight.

Washington was extremely harsh, in the traditions of 18th century European command, employing lashings and hanging, and if you read his letters, you'll see he had absolute contempt for the militia-style forces of Boston. He called them scum among many other charming names.

So Washington fought pretty conventional battles, and he was such a poor general he lost almost all of them. His only clear victory was a minor attack at Trenton.

But there were other talented generals - one was the future traitor Aaron Burr, largely responsible for the first great victory at Saratoga (Burr betrayed Washington for much the same reason Washington joined the revolution – that is, he felt his talents weren’t recognized and rewarded).

French secretly-supplied arms also played a crucial role there. British upper-class prejudice - all senior commanders were aristocrats - towards the abilities of colonials also played some role, especially in their choosing risky tactics such as those leading up to Saratoga.

The final decisive victory at Yorktown was completely owing to French commanders. Washington actually had not even wanted to fight this battle, planning stubbornly for a (hopeless) assault on New York almost to the last. Yorktown involved the classic engineering techniques of investing a fortress.

The real truth of Britain's loss involves two major aspects. One, the French assistance with great amounts of money, secretly smuggled arms, ships of the French fleet, and some very capable commanders.

Most Americans were either indifferent to, or against, the Revolution. It is estimated only about a third supported it. Indeed, as the war went on with no success, Americans became even more indifferent. So France was crucial, and France wanted vengeance for defeat in the Seven Years War.

Second, most of the British commanders did not take the matter seriously enough. Howe had shown he was an immensely more capable commander than Washington, who made blunder after blunder, but did not vigorously pursue his advantage.

He likely could have rolled up Washington's army completely within a year or so, instead of following such dainty practices as going to winter quarters and allowing Washington to march off, hide, and re-group.

Washington won in spite of himself. His main merit as a commander was the loyalty he could command from some. He often foolishly exposed himself in battle and escaped being killed by pure luck, but many witnessing these acts could not help but come to admire him.

By the way, although the myth says Washington served for no salary, his agreement with the Continental Congress was actually a cost-plus contract, the most favorable arrangement someone could have.

He submitted a bill at the end of hostilities for the best part of half a million dollars - a lot of money then - which included items such as wine every night at his table. He was promptly paid while the ordinary enlistees went unpaid.

This led to several revolts in the army, threatening the Continental Congress. Finally, they were paid in script of little worth, the shrewd businessman Washington, as always looking for the chance to increase his wealth, bought up some of it up at great discounts.

At places like Valley Forge, while enlisted ordinary men suffered, Washington's table was always set with plenty of wine and a good variety of food, as befits the aristocrat that he was and regarded himself.

NEW BRUNSWICK'S DECISION TO END LANGUAGE-IMMERSION IN ITS PUBLIC SCHOOLS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

I don't think this is regressive. The decision is based on hard facts, not just budget needs.

The kind of immersion program that has been so popular in recent years does not appear to be successful, and by 'successful' I mean in a statistical sense, not anecdotes of some successful children.

There are always children who have special advantages like nannies speaking French or are themselves gifted. We cannot generalize from such cases.

It is a fact that the average person is capable only of speaking one language well and a second rather poorly. For these kinds of children, immersion results in students who speak two languages roughly and neither really well.

Many children in current immersion programs do not continue in them beyond grade school. They are left, rather disadvantaged for high school.

Making sure children get their basics in their own language - those early years - is a very important need. A few linguistically-gifted children are able to grasp this material in an immersion environment, but most children are not very successful at it.

Starting children in a strong second-language program at grade 5 or 6 is probably the best that can be done on a mass basis. Public schools, on the whole, work for the average in skills and ability. I think New Brunswick is just being sensible.


We all know that languages are learned more easily in youth.

But what teachers and other bureaucrats miss is that that fact does not cancel the additional fact that most kids only have so much capacity for learning.

Children do have a natural intellectual endowment just as they have an endowment of energy and temperament and physical appearances.

Teaching two languages badly in the name of ease of early learning simply ignores this fact.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NATO: AN ORGANIZATION WITHOUT A PURPOSE FOR EUROPEANS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY MARTIN KETTLE IN THE GUARDIAN

Martin Kettle, I couldn't agree with you less.

Necessity truly is the mother of invention, and so long as Europe remains in effect peacefully occupied by American forces, it will not do what it must.

And "occupied" is the right word for the existing situation, although the occupation is on fairly genial terms.

No matter what lip service America pays to European unity, its de facto policy is to keep Europe from becoming an effective counterbalancing force in world affairs.

The "special relationship" with Britain is the perfect example of this, serving as it does to keep Britain from being fully engaged in Europe where geography and history argue for its fuller participation. It is a quiet strategy of division.

NATO also serves as a way to deter closer relationships with Russia, which seems destined, after all its problems, to become a great nation. It is of course a natural part of Europe, a great storehouse of resources and a future important market.

You say NATO "is also a solution in search of a problem."

But I think it is better put as an organization without a purpose, a purpose from the European point of view at least.

And I think it can be argued that it is a dangerous organization. The lesson from history is that great armies and weapons stocks tend to cause nations more easily to tip into conflict.

That swollen, steroid-fed monstrosity, the Pentagon, built up for the great battles of World War Two, has since that war done nothing but fight pointless wars, including the overthrow of even democratic states. Iraq is only the last of a long chain of bloody destructive conflicts.

The world is not a better place for Iraq, for Afghanistan, for Vietnam, for Chile, for the subsidized wars of the Pentagon's proxy state, Israel, and for a host of vicious interventions.

NATO's role, for example, in Afghanistan is almost delusional. America is not truly interested in Afghanistan's advancement, and most of the hard evidence indicates no such thing is happening.

You can't remake a 14th century society in five years or ten years or twenty-five. And the Taleban never was responsible for 9/11. A group of Saudis were. The Taleban is an intrinsic part of this antique society, not a group of occupiers which is precisely what America and "NATO" are.

Even today, the Potemkin-village schools are closed almost as soon as they are opened. The government - there is no genuine national government - cannot even get the would-be teachers paid, and this is true in the North as well as the South.

"Nation-building" is a glib phrase with little genuine meaning. The examples of Germany and Japan after World War Two do not apply at all. They were advanced societies that suffered a setback. Bricks and mortar and new machines were needed. Human capital existed in abundance, something which does not exist in 14th-century Afghanistan.

The US went there for vengeance, dragging the UN and NATO in for company and window-dressing and as subsidizers.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ONE MORE UNINFORMED EFFORT TO PROMOTE A BOYCOTT OF CHINA'S OLYMPICS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY PHIL HALL IN THE GUARDIAN

It is hard to believe we keep getting new people pitching this rubbish. Where have they been living and what have they been reading that they are so frighteningly uninformed?

Not that it has anything to do with the Olympics, but Phil Hall insists on starting with them, so let’s dispose of Spielberg and Farrow.

Spielberg and Farrow are foolish people who don't even understand what they are doing.

Darfur is an ugly civil war, not a genocide, as the US and Israel insist on calling it because they don't like the Muslim government.

Nothing shows better Farrow's silliness than her trying to exploit the 1936 Olympics as a model. That Olympics proves exactly the opposite of what she claims.

Its great hero, a genuinely historic figure, was Jesse Owens. Hitler wouldn't even shake hands with the man who demonstrated to the world the false notions of Nazi ideology.

America's boycott of the Moscow Olympics and Russia's tit-for-tat boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics achieved nothing.

A generation of athletes were either deprived of being in an Olympics or got medals generally regarded as second-rate.

But more importantly, what has happened in Darfur has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with China. China has been at war with no one for more than half a century.

If you are genuinely concerned about death and human misery, you must look somewhere else, somewhere where the insincerity of people like Phil Hall does not let them look.

The world's greatest arms merchant, supplying the means to kill and maim in every corner of the earth, is America.

The world's most militaristic country is the United States, spending more on the science of death than the entire rest of the planet combined.

The world's most belligerent state, hands down, is the United States.

It remains involved in two bloody wars and threatens more. It has killed somewhere between half a million and a million people in Iraq. It has made an economic chaos of the place, setting back the one Arab country that was on the cusp of becoming an advanced society.

In the last few decades, it has attacked or overthrown many governments posing no threat to it, including a number of democratic regimes. The torture and murder of Pinochet was an American responsibility.

The greatest bloodbath in modern history was Vietnam, a pointless war that killed three million souls for nothing other than disagreeing with American policy. It was the greatest holocaust since Hitler’s.

America supports the seemingly endless bloody excesses of Israel, never using its influence to stop the institutionalized brutality we see there.

As to putting down civil unrest at home, I suggest Phil Hall Google “Detroit 1967” to find images of troops in the streets of Detroit, troops that killed the best part of 50 people. Or he could Google “Waco and FBI” for images of Abrams tanks being used against a settlement of kooks, the best part of a hundred of whom ended up incinerated. Try “Los Angeles and National Guard” for more images of soldiers shooting people in the streets during the term of Bush’s father. Check the Amnesty International report on the brutality of American police forces. Oh, there are so many more, but these give you the idea.

By comparison, China is one of the most peaceful nations on earth.

GEORGE MCGOVERN'S REMARKS ON IT BEING HARDER TO ELECT A WOMAN THAN A BLACK MAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

There are few American politicians for which I have the kind of respect I have for George McGovern.

He is a brave, thoughtful, and thoroughly decent man - completely unlike so many hacks typically sent to Washington.

But I think he is wrong here.

The problem with Hillary isn't just her being a woman, although I don't doubt it is for America's large apron-and-cookie-baking set.

Mrs. Clinton is an unpleasant personality, full stop. Her intelligence and energy simply do not compensate for that fact.

Now, despite all the talk people do about issues, it truly is, I believe, the qualities of personality and character revealed that influence the votes of most or many.

And this is not a shallow consideration. People want to be comfortable with the personality characteristics of the leader making decisions for them.

In the end, issues often reduce to little or nothing. Just look at Bill Clinton's eight years in the White House. You might well think a moderate Republican had held the office, judged by actual achievements.

He (and she) utterly failed on solving America's healthcare problems, despite raising great hopes. They took pride in ending conventional welfare. He sent missiles flying to kill innocent people and launched a small war in Serbia. He appointed some nasty pieces of work to offices.

America is fundamentally a very conservative country, one largely comfortable with militarism and huge, anti-democratic empire. It has always had a tendency towards a degree of fascism despite the high-sounding words of the Bill of Rights, words ignored or abused for the greatest part of the country’s history.

The countless abuses of its growth from thirteen colonies to a sea-to-sea colossus only differ in ethical qualities from those of Germany trying to secure the chief place in Europe because the people America overran – Spanish, Mexicans, various native tribes previously guaranteed their places on the plains, Hawaiians, and others - were smaller in numbers and less well organized. It was only briefly liberal-minded during the period of the Great Depression into the Cold War.

That liberalism was purchased at the cost of the Democratic party tolerating institutional racism in the South. Mrs. Roosevelt pleaded with her husband in private to do something about the lynchings and abuse in the South, but he explained that his coalition depended on the support of Southern Democrats.

When a Democrat finally did do something, the party lost its Southern following. And there things remain today.

No person elected will be able to create any dramatic change in the tenor of the nation, and that includes the remarkable Obama. He will put a friendlier, more cooperative face forward to a world horrified by Bush’s brutality, and perhaps succeed at this or that little change, but that’s as much as we can hope for.

Hillary’s metallic personality does not offer even this promise.

The overwhelming sense of her bind ambition – understood by many witnessing years of her ghastly marriage, her ethics about being truthful and consistent, her embarrassing compromises in rising to the Senate, and now her mud-slinging campaign – leave many, on the left as well as the right, with little confidence in her. This is of course a fault of many national politicians, but people like at least the illusion that it is otherwise.

CLINTON'S DISHONESTY ABOUT HOW REV WRIGHT WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN HER PASTOR

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Hillary just becomes more and more nasty and ridiculous the longer she campaigns.
How absolutely self-serving and self-righteous these remarks of hers are.

First, what Wright said actually was more true than incorrect, given America’s long unpleasant history of race relations.

Second, Hillary and her husband have a long history of relations with far more unsavory people who helped their careers with money or other benefits.

Third, since when do we judge anyone by a remark his or her pastor or other associate made?

Four, I guess Mrs. Clinton just forgets the countless times she stood stony-faced in front of cameras lying for Bill.

We all saw her, and it didn’t start with the stained dress in the Oval Office. There was the case of Bill’s long-established paramour when he first ran, and there was Hillary lying about something she had to know about, playing falsely on our sympathy.

Many of us realized what a sleazy character Bill was early on, but she managed to stay with him and lie for him for decades.

Is that in keeping with her burst of self-righteousness on this matter?

All this just brings back the reason why Hillary cannot be successful. She is seen by many, both on the right and the left, as a transparent example of raging blind ambition, a metallic personality without grace.

Her marriage, her ethics, her compromises in rising to the Senate, and now her mud-slinging campaign all point to pure brittle ambition, and little else.

Of course, this is a common fault of national politicians, but people do like to have the illusion that something a bit more is there.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

OBAMA AS FIRST HIP-HOP PRESIDENT? ONLY A TIN EAR WOULD SAY SO

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ALEX STEIN IN THE GUARDIAN

First hip-hop president?

Alex Stein either has a tin ear or this piece is an effort at a disguised attack on Obama.

Nothing could be further from the crude rhythms and cheap rhymes of hip-hop than Obama's eloquence.

Nothing could be further from the ugly hate speech of much of hip-hop or of the cheap platitudes of "good" hip-hop.

Obama is a man of true eloquence, intelligence, and grace. Far closer to the spirit of Beethoven than hip-hop.

GENERAL PETRAEUS'S COMMENTS ON IRAQ AND THE SIN OF OMISSION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Petraeus is right here as far as he goes, but he avoids telling the whole story, thus effectively bending the truth by omission.

The new tactic works as follows.

Sunnis (the main insurgents) are paid money - around $300/month each - not to oppose American forces. In turn, Americans do more projects rapidly in their area, such as installing new street lights. The Sunnis perceive themselves getting ahead of their rival Shia.

Superficially this sounds good (although very expensive), but it will only work in the short term.

It is a tactic, not a strategy.

Longer term, what this is doing is building up even greater divisions and resentments between groups.

It is no solution at all. It is almost certain that Iraq will break into three pieces. The Kurdish area in the North is already semi-independent.

The consequences long-term of breaking into three pieces are immense, too complicated to discuss here.

Still, this bribery in return for a temporary lull looks good for now and may provide the excuse for U.S. forces getting out.

DION AND THE LIBERALS AND FOUR BY-ELECTIONS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

Dion is in many ways a likable figure, but I do think sufficient evidence is in to show he is an ineffective opposition leader.

What polls tell us strongly is that Canadians generally do not trust or like Harper. He never makes any real progress in polls despite his many efforts to look less extreme than he genuinely is.

A truly skilled opposition leader would have been exploiting this fact all along, making small gains along the way. Canadians just need a figure to turn to.

Any leader would be in a tough place under existing circumstances, but I think a more skilled opposition leader might have gradually manipulated the situation so that the party did not have to support all of Harper's legislation.

Ignatieff, of course, did the party no favor with his bitter attacks in the leadership race, which were promptly exploited by the negative-minded Harper crowd to give Dion a bad start, and I do regretfully think they largely succeeded (there is a clear warning here for the Democrats in the U.S. and Clinton's attacks).

I put the highest priority on not supporting an extension of Afghanistan, for this is a matter of killing and being killed to no good purpose.

It is sad to see leaders supporting a measure of this nature out of the need for political tactics.

MORE BUSH BLUBBERING ON THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DUMB INVASION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Must win? Win what? Win how? Win over whom?

You are fighting the population itself, a major part of the population. You are not fighting an army or a state.

What is “win” in this context?

As always, Bush speaks in tired pseudo-historical phrases about a situation he doesn't even understand.

How do you win militarily over an idea or a conviction?

It's ridiculous, just as Bush is ridiculous.

He blurs his gigantic bloody blunder in Iraq with his fantasy war on terror.

There never was any terror in Iraq, just as there never is in any state with an absolute government.

From a purely American point of view, Hussein was better for long term interests than the mess that has been created.

Hussein's tyranny had nothing to do with invading Iraq, absolutely nothing. America does business every day with tyrants, as it did business with Hussein so long as he toed the American policy line.

America plainly loves obedient tyrants in other lands, just as Imperial Rome did. There are so many of them it keeps as associates. It is just a heap of intellectual garbage to speak of American values at stake. Nothing American is at stake, except America’s international reputation which has reached pretty much an all-time low.

9/11 was an attack by a group of mainly Saudi Arabian religious extremists, so what is America doing in Iraq? It never made an ounce of sense. Those men were motivated by American policies in the region, both its putting troops in holy places of Saudi Arabia and its unthinking, unbalanced policy towards the Palestinians.

And as I've said, relatively simple security measures could have prevented 9/11. Lazy-minded American legislators are about as responsible as the Saudi group for not having legislated locked cockpits and better ground searches.

BUSH BLUBBERING ABOUT IRAQ ON THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE INVASION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

His words betray Bush's lack of effective intelligence and ability to learn anything.

"Still call for retreat"?

The words are picked to ring with false historical connotations and manipulate people's emotions, as in "never call retreat."

But these associations do not apply at all here.

Iraq was a total blunder, a waste of life and treasure, as well as being a criminal act, against international law and custom.

And no thinking person wants to live in a world where one man decides who will be invaded.

The applicable words here are: "When you've made a stupid bloody mistake, the best thing is to stop."

Friday, March 21, 2008

GOD AS GOOD

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY GUY DAMMANN IN THE GUARDIAN

The idea of God likely started with efforts by early people to explain existence.

Over time, as thought on that and other subjects became more complicated, a body of attitudes and traditions called theology arose.

It really does seem a bit silly to carry on the arguments into the 21st century.

After all, if he or she is indifferent to our plight, then it couldn't matter whether we give a moment's thought to the matter.

But equally, if he or she is not indifferent but just works in unknowable ways, as Christians often say after tragedy, it still couldn't matter whether we give a moment's thought. Unknowable ways are just that, unknowable.

Good and evil, of course, are human conceptions entirely. They cannot have any meaningful application to an indifferent or an unknowable being.

DNA RECORDS FOR AT-RISK KIDS IN BRITAIN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ROGER GRAEFF IN THE GUARDIAN

"Listing at-risk children on the DNA database risks breeding anger, resentment and defiance."

That seems a silly statement.

"At-risk children" is just politically-correct yuppie-speak for children who are angry, resentful, and defiant in the first place.

I think of all the suggestions I've heard about concerning such children - drugs, therapy, or constant watching - this is the least offensive and the most likely to be successful. It's certainly worth debate and consideration.

We know that it is only a small portion of any population who is prone to violence, although everyone is capable of violence when provoked sufficiently. Those so prone are more often than not repeat offenders through their lives, leaving a huge wave of human misery behind them. Whether we are dealing with sexual predators or those enjoying cruelty, we often see a years-long string of victims before we see any justice.

Such a DNA base would likely in future years allow police to quickly clear a high percentage of rapes, assaults, and murders.

Those listed on the base would either forget about it entirely or, if aware, act through life with increased caution, which wouldn't be such a bad thing, serving as a kind of societal conscience for those without one.

Of course, it might be better still to just list everyone. As long as there are stringent legal protections against abuse of the information by individuals and corporations, this would create a revolution in criminal justice. Today’s ridiculously expensive and inefficient courts – courts where the guilty with resources often go free and the innocent without do not - would adjust, and society would be happier with far fewer victims in the long run and a greater sense of fair justice and safety.

I do believe this is going to happen anyway eventually. When such powerful tools - gaining in sophistication every week - are available, sooner or later, society employs them.

Later in the 21st century, many of our ideas of privacy and legal norms are going to undergo drastic change. The process is already underway.

THE PRESS AND JEREMIAH WRIGHT

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY HANNAH STRANGE IN THE TIMES

I suspect if you were to show a selection of videos from many American preachers, you would raise eyebrows.

The late Jerry "Jabba the Hutt" Falwell used to sell videos at his services that suggested the Clintons had Vince Foster murdered.

Pat Robertson has numerous times blamed specific groups of Americans for bringing on God's vengeance in the form of natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Oral Roberts went up to the "Prayer Tower" at the "university" he named after himself to go on a hunger strike until his faithful fleeced flock coughed up another several million bucks in donations, and they did.

Scientology in the 1960s was everywhere talked of as a cult at best. It actually was widely regarded as an organized fraud and was investigated a number of times in various jurisdictions. Then the miracle of political influence somewhere gave them tax-exempt status with America's Internal Revenue Service, and they became, overnight, a (sort of mainline) religion keeping more out of each fee they charge followers.

Oh, by the way, a former church minister to the Clintons is being tried for child molestation, and the New York Times has published a picture of Clinton embracing Jeremiah Wright in the White House.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

THE LATEST FROM ONTARIO'S QUEEN'S PARK MENTAL ASYLUM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

Good God, does McGuinty ever stop?

I'm no fan of the truculent, angry Flaherty, but when it comes to causing panic, Dalton is a world-class expert.

He tossed the secure future of Ontario's supply of electricity - what used to be Ontario's greatest competitive advantage - to the wind.

Now, after several years of dithering and uncertainty and blubbering about the environment, he's fixed on a gigantic nuclear project.

The poor people of Caledonia have been tossed into a lawless pit and forgotten by Dalton. Try starting a business there or selling a house. People beaten up and vandalism have become ordinary events.

Toronto's disgraceful closure of its landfill and launching an armada of garbage trucks rumbling 230 miles to Michigan and back, every day, was long completely ignored by this great environmentalist. The entire episode is a disgraceful example of reckless behavior towards the environment and ugly NIMBYism.

He won't burn garbage for energy, but he'll build an ugly gas-fired plant right on Toronto's lakefront, just as the city continues to struggle with improving its lakefront for recreation.

McGuinty claimed to be ending uncertainty with his imposition of elections every four years. What did he really do with this measure? He ended uncertainty for the ruling party to spend millions of public funds on infantile ads just in advance of the election, a tidal wave of publicly-funded rubbish washing over people, and an ugly precedent for the future.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

CHENEY AND HIS LUNATIC REMARKS ON IRAQ SUCCESS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Cheney’s words read like something from Pol Pot, utterly delusional and dangerous in their implications.

The record just could not be clearer: the U.S. has never cared about democracy anywhere. It has always done business with tyrants, just so long as they were tyrants that stood up for American interests. Its list of past good friends include the Shah of Iran, Ceaucescu of Romania, Park of South Korea, Suharto of Indonesia, Pinochet of Chile, Marcos of the Philippines, Thieu of South Vietnam, and scores of lesser lights – murderers and tyrants all.

Hussein was a good buddy so long as he didn't challenge American interests or policies. He was put into power with CIA assistance, he was treated respectfully for many years, and he was encouraged and assisted in the murderous 8-year Iran-Iraq War. There’s a nice photo on the Internet of Rumsfeld shaking hands with him in the early 1980s.

Every other claim made by Bush’s mob about the Iraq war has been demonstrated false.

No weapons of mass destruction, none. He did work towards them once, but the U.S. knew very well he had given up after the first Gulf War.

No terrorists. In fact Hussein and Osama bin Laden did not like each other. Hussein was a secular man. Bin Laden a religious fanatic. Terrorists are never found in absolute societies. There were none in the old Soviet Union or in Ceausecu’s Romania or in the East Germany of the Stasi or in Hussein’s Iraq. Indeed, today, Iraq has become a terror training ground under the American occupation.

Women, for example, gained some of the best freedoms in the Muslim world under Hussein. They had rights they have in no other Muslim country. Indeed, there are reports today of much increased abuse of women under U.S. occupation.

America's invasion broke all international law and constitutes a war crime, but America's great economic power prevents that from ever being enforced. But if you want a world where one country can decide the fate of others, then you are a supporter of Cheney and Bush.

Half the people in a large city like Baghdad still do not have dependable water. The economy is in what can only be called a Great Depression. Three million refugees - some of the country's best and brightest - have left and live in refugee facilities elsewhere (by the way, with no assistance from the United States, the author of their misery).

Not to mention all the deaths, all the destruction, including the greatest destruction of world cultural heritage in modern history.

Nice work, Dick.

IRAQ AND AMERICA'S RIGHT NOT LEARNING A THING AFTER SO MUCH HORROR

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

So much anger and irrational comment from the Right Wing here.

I'm sure the tone of things couldn't have been much worse against the reasonable voices in Germany as the troops invaded innocent Poland, starting a war that would eventually consume 50 million souls.

By the way, those German troops, with Hitler’s swastika over their breast pockets, wore belt buckles with a slogan which translates: “God with Us.”

What is amazing is the absolute inability of such people to learn anything new.

Five years in Iraq has taught them nothing. This despite the fact that one of America's most gifted former generals labeled the invasion as the greatest strategic blunder in modern history.

Do you not understand that even if the terror has slowed down now with more troops that that is almost the least of the problems ahead? Do you really believe mad McCain’s words about a hundred years if necessary? Don’t you understand that Iraq is doomed now to fall apart with God only knows what consequences? Although, very clearly, one of them will be the Southern part falling under Iran’s influence and the Northern part strengthening the guerilla warfare of Kurds in Turkey?

It is disappointing, but it comes as no surprise. All that horror and murder and destruction in Vietnam - all for no point whatsoever - taught these people nothing. They weep at the Wall with 55,000 names on it and never give a thought to the 3,000,000 dead, countless crippled, and the environmental horror they left for others.

Some people are just born bullies, just like some are natural born killers.

CHINA'S ONLY CHOICE IS TO CRUSH TIBET?

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ROSEMARY RIGHTER IN THE TIMES

What inflammatory nonsense.

Do you recall the FBI using tanks on a group of flaky religious fanatics, ending with the death of about a hundred?

Do you recall the American National Guard shooting nearly fifty people in the streets of Detroit?

Did you know that when the U.S. assumed control of Hawaii, that virtually the entire native population signed a petition for their independence and took it to Washington and no one even talked to them?

Did you know the U.S. was using "water torture" in the Philippines, and lots of bullets, in its efforts to put down rebellion after it took over from Spain?

What do you call what the U.S. is doing in Iraq? A million dead. Three million refugees.

And then there was Vietnam, a modern holocaust of three million souls.

China's behavior here has been temperate by comparison.

And Tibet is as much part of China as New Mexico and Hawaii are part of the U.S.

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND HEATHER MILLS DIVORCE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKELSTEIN IN THE TIMES

There are some truly thoughtless, unpleasant comments here.

When a wealthy person marries someone who is not wealthy, his or her spouse becomes accustomed to a more lavish life.

Why, when the wealthy person wants to dissolve the marriage, would anyone think it appropriate that the spouse be reduced to where she/he was years before?

The courts recognize the justice of this and decide accordingly.

And Britain is a nation of laws, not howling mobs. At least it used to be.

As for the vicious voices above who've talked about Heather as a prostitute, I only ask, wouldn't the real case of prostitution be if a wealthy man enjoyed a younger woman for a few years and then dumped her with nothing?

And on top of everything, goofy Paul chose to have a child with his "trophy" wife.

In all of this, the person who bears the greatest responsibility clearly is Paul. He's an old man, presumably with a great deal of human experience. He chose to marry her, surely ignoring signs of her unbalanced mind in his eagerness to enjoy a young wife. And he chose to have a child with her.

No one who has any significant exposure to those with mental problems can doubt from her expression in photos and her behaviors that Heather suffers from an illness, almost certainly a mild schizophrenia.

Have a little pity here, people.

Monday, March 17, 2008

AMERICAN SECURITY LIST EXAMINED AND FOUND FAULTY

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Surprise, surprise.

When have "lists" ever worked?

There was the old drunk, McCarthy, trying to re-ignite a failing political career with his (fake) lists of "communists."

There was Stalin with his (arbitrary) lists of "wreckers."

There was Nixon with his (paranoid) "enemies" list.

The truth is that it wouldn't matter one bit were Osama bin Laden to fly in a plane over the United States, so long as proper security was in place.

The original 9/11 mob only succeeded because basic security was so sloppy.

Examples:

For years, in response to waves of hijackings, there were advocates of secure cockpit doors. Washington legislators ignored it.

Again, for years, there were advocates of upgrading the inspection services at airports. It was widely recognized that they were lax and the personal who worked at it were poor.

Had either of these simple measures been in place, there would have been no 9/11.

Now, the U.S. has excessive, colossally costly measures that do nothing for real security.

The "list" is one of these. It takes a huge effort to keep such a list fitting and up-to-date. So much so, that the task is close to impossible.

And there have been countless errors since the beginning. Sen Edward Kennedy was stopped early on. The bureaucracy for getting an incorrect name off the list is unbelievable and stone stupid.

THE TRUE MEANING OF THE ANGLO-AMERICAN "SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP"

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

"Special relationship" is one of those phrases, much like "nation-building," that slips easily off the tongue, carrying with it the illusion of meaning.

Blair's dog-like adherence to Bush was described as the "special relationship" for years. And what did Britain gain through that?

Well, first, we all know what Tony gained. He's still running around picking up sinecures from American companies and American-influenced organizations.

He'll certainly be able to keep the charming Cherie in earldom-sized mortgage payments, thousand-pound hair-dos, and consultants to prevent her looking and sounding like Liza Doolittle.

But Britain as a nation gained nothing, not even a serious place in the considerations of American foreign policy. Britain's views have not added a gnat's weight to the decision scales on any issue.

Actually, that understates the case because Britain actually lost a great deal: lost billions of pounds, many lives, and a good deal of respect in the world.

Britain's place is at the center of the EU, yet American policy deliberately but silently works against that. The use of the silly phrase is part of the effort, imparting a sense of place and importance in the American governance of empire to British politicians that simply do not exist.

Euro-Luddites in Britain always fear the loss of sovereignty in a stronger Europe without in the least reflecting on the ghastly losses of their recent situation.

OBAMA AND CLINTON PITTING RACE AGAINST GENDER AND THE IDEA OF THE NEED FOR A PROGRESSIVE COALITION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY GARY YOUNGE IN THE GUARDIAN

Sorry, Gary, there are no progressive coalitions even possible in the United States.

I believe Obama will win the nomination in large part owing to the revulsion of American voters at seven years of stupidity and blood under Bush, but overwhelmingly those voters are not progressive.

What we are witnessing with Clinton and Obama is a classic fight of political egos.

We should be glad that their respective races and genders have not prevented them in the least from coming this far. This is genuine progress in a place like America.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

MCCAIN IS A COWARD - THE TRUEST FORM OF COWARD

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

McCain is a coward, the truest form of coward.

He likes to burst out with bold-sounding words every once in a while, as though he is challenging the status quo. Then, every single time, he backs off and apologizes shortly afterward. It is his pattern, over and over, for his entire political career.

When Bush attacked him unmercifully in 2000, with the lowest, garbage propaganda I can recall in a primary, McCain still crawled back to him and ended up in Bush's arms, literally, for there is a disgusting photo on the Internet.

Not only that, during the actual campaign, McCain worked to promote Bush, coming close to crawling for votes - a disgusting display when he well understood Bush’s low intelligence and dishonest nature.

When McCain attacked the Religious Right in 2000 for their meddling in politics, one of the few very true things he has ever done, he backed off almost immediately afterward.

Then he crawled quietly around apologizing to moral cretins like Falwell and Robertson.

Of course, there was McCain's serious involvement with the Savings and Loan Disaster, something he never paid any penalty for and for which he went around, again, apologizing fulsomely. This was not some simple little scam but a massive case of corporate fraud, and McCain had his part in it.

McCain has always had a reputation as a skirt-chaser, and the New York Times story - coming from two workers in his own camp - is utterly believable. His denials indicate how easily he lies.

McCain’s efforts at campaign-finance reform, years ago, went nowhere. He compromised in an ineffective legislation that has changed nothing of substance.

McCain, who supposedly was tortured in Vietnam, has defended recently forms of torture in the Senate. There really has to be a special place in hell for someone like that.

McCain was shot down over North Vietnam while bombing civilians in the Hanoi area. He is lucky not to have been torn to pieces. That is not the work of war heroes, but cowards who don't mind killing.

During his imprisonment, a number of those imprisoned with him said he talked a lot to the North Vietnamese. They had a nick-name for him, calling him “songbird.” They have already spoken publicly to this.

McCain is given to insane, psychopathic jokes like the one in front of reporters some while back making fun of bombing Iran.

This aspect of him very much resembles Bush, who once made fun to reporters of the woman who was executed in Texas when he was governor and her pathetic pleas for mercy. The psychopath actually made fun of her tone of voice and words with a sickening effort at imitation.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "LIBERAL INTERVENTION"

POSTED RESPONSE TO A LEADER IN THE GUARDIAN

There is no such thing as liberal intervention, at least where individual powers are concerned.

None of the really worthy situations where liberal intervention might have been a blessing received it - not Indonesia, not Cambodia, not Rwanda.

Indeed, a genuinely liberal intervention would throw the U.S. out of Iraq or Israel out of the West Bank - hardly likely cases, I think.

And none of the actual interventions since WWII had anything to do with liberal values - not Vietnam, not Chile, not Guatemala, not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not Chechnya, not Lebanon. Only the case of Serbia has hints of liberalism, but in the end, even it served selfish purposes.

Preaching this tired old stuff - just about as stale and dry as Fabian Socialism - does nothing positive for anyone. Such pieces serve only to puff up the case for America's same old-same old, which is to say, crushing people for utterly selfish interests.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

SHOULD WE TALK TO TERRORISTS IN SEEKING PEACE?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Seems rather a "no-brainer" doesn't it?

Has anyone ever achieved peace anywhere, at any time, without talking to opponents?

The example of Northern Ireland comes immediately to mind.

And just who are the terrorists in any given situation is never so clear as some would like us to believe. Generally, one side has all the power, and the other side, the one without power, is labeled “terrorist.”

In this way the word “terrorist” is used much the way Stalin used the word “wreckers.” Every time Stalin started mumbling about some new “wreckers of the Revolution,” insiders understood it was time for a new wave of state terror.

Israel insists Hamas is a terrorist organization to which it cannot speak, but if you do a body count, I do believe you'll find Israel has killed civilians on a scale several orders of magnitude greater than anything Hamas has even tried.

The same goes for Afghanistan, the Taleban is a large part of the population, not a tiny “terrorist” organization. It is, after all, their land that was invaded. There can be no peace without their involvement.

The alternative to talking with your opponent is unconditional victory or annihilation of the opponent, the kind of thing the U.S, inflicted upon Japan. I regard this approach as Hitlerian.

The Japanese had put out serious peace feelers to many countries, and all they asked for was to keep the emperor. The U.S. answer was two atomic bombs on civilian targets. When the Japanese utterly abased themselves, the U.S. let them keep their emperor.

And that is Israel's approach to Hamas exactly. Nothing less than total surrender and destruction will do. This from a state whose founding and growth are intimately involved with terror.

Friday, March 14, 2008

ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF FINDING CORPORATE SPONSORS FOR A DARWIN EXHIBIT AT TORONTO'S ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

I don't understand why this should surprise anyone.

Many corporations have the entire population as a potential market, including that portion that believes in goofy stuff like creationism.

Why should they offend even a portion of their customers?

The matter has become heated recently with America’s Christian Taleban working hard.

Perhaps what is most regrettable here is the museum's need for corporate sponsors in the first place.

It should be better funded to make independent, scientific decisions on exhibits.

But the museum itself has been playing unscientific games in recent years.

Recall the idiotic exhibit of "Jesus's ossuary" before any proper scientific study had been done?

A cheap side-show display intended to grab money. Pure P.T. Barnum.

As it turns out, the ossuary was not long afterward declared a fraud.

Then, consider the colossally expensive, impractical, and ugly crystal. A quarter-billion dollars went into the silly pile, a jarring monument to ego rather than a building to serve a purpose and to please the eye.

MCCAIN'S LOOPY CLAIMS ABOUT TROOPS LEAVING IRAQ CAUSING A "GENOCIDE"

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

How does a rational person agree with a madman?

McCain is genuinely dangerous man - a man with a furious temper, given to sudden impulses, and truly rather unbalanced.

Like all psychopaths, he can be convincing or charming in small doses.

One wag called him Bush with more brains.

He knows the baloney lines to use, and "genocide" has been an American policy favorite for years.

McCain recently appointed the “Rev” Parsley, a televangelist crackpot as his “spiritual guide.” Parsley openly advocates a world war to defeat Islam, an illegitimate religion in his scholarly view.

Of course, all the shabby McCain is doing is placating the Religious Right, the American Taleban, who in general dislike McCain, well known for not being particularly religious.

In America, genuine genocides are always ignored - Rwanda, Cambodia, and Indonesia - while the term is thrown glibly around about places where it doesn't fit but American imperial interests are not happy, as in Darfur, an ugly civil war with a Muslim government the U.S. hates.

Indeed, the worst true genocide since WWII was America’s crusade in Vietnam. They killed about three million souls, mostly civilians, many in the horrible ways including napalm, and they left behind a toxic sea of Agent Orange and land mines to kill for decades after.

Indeed, “hero” McCain was shot down while bombing civilians near Hanoi. He’s lucky he wasn’t torn apart at the time.

BLAIR'S NEW "JOBS" - JUST SINECURES FOR SERVING IMPERIAL INTERESTS FAITHFULLY

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JAMES DENESLOW IN THE GUARDIAN

Blair's "jobs" are his American-supplied sinecure for having served imperial interests.

In fact, Blair's "jobs" are the only thing the British people can show for the colossal waste of invading Iraq. They gained no American acceptance for any of their views.

As far as Blair's Mideast "job," he was told at the time he would have nothing to do that in any way worked away from U.S. policy. He gets to be a messenger-boy with a nice suit, limo, and free bubbly.

And as all thinking people know, U.S. policy is the underlying reason why there is no peace: it totally supports Israel's slow-motion process of ethnic cleansing.

The personal bounty Blair is enjoying is typical in America where long-serving conservative hacks get appointments as well-paid, exalted "fellows" to various propaganda institutes like the American Enterprise of the Heritage Foundation.

But no one should be jealous of the pathetic former prime minister.

After all, he has to help keep that charmer, Cherie, in monstrous mortgage payments, thousand-pound haircuts, and personal assistants to keep her from sounding and looking like Liza Doolittle.

CANADA'S MINORITY-GOVERNMENT PRIME MINISTER FOOLISHLY LAUNCHES A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE OPPOSITION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

Harper looks the fool with this suit.

A Prime Minister suing the opposition?

It is abundantly clear, even without any additional information, that something shady went on in trying to influence Cadman’s vote in Parliament.

We all know that Harper is a control-freak, so nothing of the sort could happen without his being aware of it in detail.

As to the idea of an insurance company not issuing a policy for a dying man, of course not, but that has nothing to do with what happened.

The "policy" was a short-hand way of discussing some kind of Conservative party slush-fund assistance to a dying man.

Well, with discovery in the suit and the need for sworn testimony, we may actually get at the complete truth.

Some readers may recall the notorious case of Oscar Wilde being thrown in prison. In fact, that event started with Wilde's bringing a suit against the father of his lover over public insults. The insults proved factually true, and the particular acts were illegal in Britain at the time.

Of course, goofy Harper faces the additional problem of proving libel against a politician. The courts do not easily side with such charges: politicians are regarded as fair game in favor of free speech. Just look at the Internet.

NEW PORTRAIT OF MOZART DISCOVERED - THE HICKEL PORTRAIT - BUT LANGE REMAINS THE ONE IN MY MIND

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TIMES

Constanze always said that the one portrait that most resembled Mozart was the unfinished Lange portrait, which has him looking down with a sense of lightness and sensitive intelligence.

I've always thought of Mozart in terms of Lange's portrait.

This "new" Hickel portrait is not incompatible with Lange's for physical features, but it lacks the spark and delicacy in the face, qualities that without any doubt Mozart possessed abundantly.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

THE GRACELESS FERRARO'S REMARKS ABOUT OBAMA

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

What a graceless figure Ferraro is.

An undistinguished political career, an undistinguished mind, and a not especially pleasant personality.

Now she adds what is genuine racism, not just the kind of words we've had before in the campaign that bothered perhaps touchy people, but the genuine article. No other interpretation of her words is possible.

Of course, when the graceless attacks the truly graceful the effect is only to make the speaker ridiculous.

And to top it all, her grammar is poor.

"If Obama was a white man..." of course should be "If Obama were a white man...."

CLINTON AND I'M MORE READY THAN YOU ARE TO BE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Clinton started this ridiculous subject about my commander-in-chief gene is bigger than yours.

Somewhere I thought I read that under the American Constitution civilian government is in charge of the military.

Perhaps I am mistaken?

Clinton uses the term “commander-in-chief" the way much of the American popular press does, as though the title made the holder a kind of super-general.

That's a complete misinterpretation, and a dangerous one.

Its pervasiveness is responsible for all the military disasters of the last fifty years. Bomb here. Invade there. Overthrow somewhere else. Most of it pointless destruction, achieving little or nothing.

Many Americans seem to have come to believe they actually are voting for a super-general rather than a responsible civilian leader who controls that Frankenstein monster called The Pentagon.

No wonder the great WWII journalist William Shirer – who worked for a while at the Tribune - wrote that it was quite possible America would one day go fascist.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

AMERICAN ADMIRAL FALLON RESIGNATION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

This is frightening. We are entering unknown, dangerous territory in the Mid East.

I am afraid it is highly likely America's great "ally" Israel played a role in this.

Only hours ago, Israel formally accused the distinguished head of the UN nuclear inspection agency of hiding Iran's nuclear work.

Fallon was well known for being opposed to Bush's highly aggressive tone of a few months ago towards Iran.

That tone has only somewhat quieted down since the leak of the official National Intelligence Estimate by some sensible member of the American intelligence community trying to avert disaster.

Israel since then almost daily has called the National Intelligence Estimate wrong.

There really is every reason to believe that Bush would like to go out of office in a blaze of glory, a kind of a Fundamentalist Gotterdammerung in Iran.

America's Christian Taleban, loyalists to Bush, have visions of the End of the World and the Second Coming and Armageddon all blurred in their brains. The notion of conflict there actually appeals to them.

Israel's leaders appear all too happy to keep it so and have the American military do what ever dirty work Israel sees fit.

Don't forget that Israel knowingly destroyed four UN observers doing their duty in Lebanon. To this day it has not in the least cooperated in investigating that war crime.

NEW CHARGES AGAINST GUANTANAMO PRISONER

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL


"Charges" from what recognized body of law?

"Charges" to be tried in what legitimate court?

"Charges" after six years in prison?

"Charges" after torture?

Any decent judge in any country on the planet would throw them out immediately.

But then this is America after all, free to bend every law and human right it pleases while loudly bragging of its regard for democracy and human rights.

They really should close down the Statue of Liberty as a huge example of false advertising.

OBAMA'S MISSISSIPPI VICTORY OF LITTLE VALUE?

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY GERARD BAKER IN THE TIMES

Gerard Baker misses much of the point, as usual.

Only about one-third of Mississippi is black.

If it is true, as Baker asserts, that one-half the voters were black, this is a tremendous blow for Obama.

It shows pulling power in the crucial South.

It shows that the "special Clinton appeal to blacks" was so much hot air.

And, please, no one is "supposed" to win any state until the vote is in.

A 60-40 split in American politics is regarded as a landslide.

THE NONSENSE OF BANKROLLING KABUL

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ANITA INDER SINGH IN THE GUARDIAN

Anita Singh,

Where do you get your stuff? It bubbles up regularly like toxic sludge from some abandoned chemical plant.

There is not even a viable national government in Afghanistan.

No viable civil service.

No viable national taxation.

No viable national education.

The place is in the 14th century, and nothing anyone can do in our lifetime will change that.

And that fact does not suggest Afghanistan’s being a danger to any other people minding their own business. To say otherwise, as you do, is to paraphrase the most ignorant leader on earth, George Bush.

Please remember, it was not the Taleban that attacked America. It was a small group of mainly Saudis.

The Taleban government only demanded reasonable proof of bin Laden's guilt before extraditing him, a behavior that is exactly what you would expect in any advanced country at an extradition request.

The U.S. refused and invaded the place, bombing the crap out of everyone, telling simple souls like you that they were going to change the society for women and other propaganda they haven't in the least succeeded at.

They cannot even get the teachers paid in any part of the country, and new schools close as soon as they open.

Women today almost everywhere still wear the burqa outside Kabul, and even in Kabul more than half wear it.

No amount of money can change the fundamental beliefs and customs of a society in a short time. It is a ridiculous concept, ignorant of the experience of history.

Only gradual economic growth will produce the change you blubber about, and that won't happen in our lifetime.

Meanwhile you advocate squandering money there because George Bush and Dick Cheney say you should.

With such fine gentlemen it is that you keep company.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

MARK TWAIN'S HUCKLEBERRY FINN DOES NOT BELONG ON A LIST OF FIFTY GREAT BOOKS

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

Paul Thompson (above) has it about right.

Huckleberry Finn is more flop than success.

I like Twain, and at his best, as in the novelette Mysterious Stranger or in parts of Letters From the Earth, he is truly a great writer.

But he was a man who wrote too much that was of poor quality, indeed far more than he did of good quality. He always was desperate for money which he lost in huge quantities trying to get rich with crazy investments like an elaborate, Gyro-Gearloose typesetting machine.

Twain himself was in many ways an archetypical American, feverishly concerned with making money. His art suffered badly.

It could fairly be said he thought his witty lines sufficient to cover stories he did not work hard enough on, but he was wrong.

His wife, the prudish daughter of a Buffalo New York newspaper magnate, often influenced his writing. She was touchy about his using raw language, the very language a boy like Huck would use, as Twain well knew. He cleaned up the manuscript in response to her.

The word “nigger” survived because in Twain’s time it was the common, everyday word. It is actually an embarrassment to read the 200 or so mentions of this word today. I am aware of the literary argument for his repeated use of the word, but I don’t accept it.

Twain was a man who might have been great, but settled for being popular.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

ARE THESE THE BEST CANDIDATES AMERICA CAN PRODUCE?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY PETER PRESTON IN THE GUARDIAN

Peter Preston's general argument is correct.

But it is simply a fact that the political establishment does not bring forward the best and the brightest.

It works much like a public-education establishment in which mediocrity is the norm.

If you look at the history of the United States in some detail, it is remarkable that such a dynamic political entity has produced so many second-rate leaders.

America's list of past presidents contains only a few remarkable men and many inept, unattractive, and incompetent ones. Even a few genuine madmen like Andrew Jackson.

This is in part the result of a rigid, outdated Constitution, setting close to unchangeable rules. It is also in part the result of generally uncritical public education.

The set of myths around America's founding and growth, the so-called American Civic Religion, is so powerful there is little allowance for critical public education. American children are raised in an environment of drums and flags and pledges of allegiance with more than a little resemblance to the practices of outfits like Hitler Youth.

Added to these factors is modern America's having been so completely immersed in marketing and advertising since WWII.

Political campaigns are run with exactly the same techniques.

Money is king, money to buy air-time and creative staff and lots of other gimmicks.

In early America, only a tiny fraction could even vote - no different than the membership of the Chinese Communist Party out of China's population. A few men of substance ruled. It was an aristocracy.

Today, despite two centuries of expanding the franchise, in effect, owing to the needs for money in modern campaign techniques, the same relatively small group still pretty much determines the direction of affairs.

And those guys aren’t looking for heroes.

P.S. Obama is one of the rare genuinely fine figures to rise in decades. It is the result of widespread revulsion to two terms of Bush’s stupidity and horror.

SHOULD RELIGION BE KEPT OUT OF POLITICS?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Yes, of course religion should be kept out of politics.

The problem is that from the religious point of view, some government actions are regarded as politics entering religion.

There is no easy solution to this conundrum.

The United States was formed as a secular state by a group of men whose leaders were mainly indifferent theists or genuine skeptics.

Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and many others of the "Founding Fathers" were decidedly not Christians.

Yet to this day, we have millions of Americans claiming it is a "Christian nation."

The current president, admittedly a remarkably thick man, brought in a wave of backward measures favoring religion and even spending tax money on its interests.

The great irony is Jefferson, a skeptic, allied himself with protestant groups, such as Baptists, to fight for religious liberty. At that time, the established church received legally-enforced tithes from all citizens including those going to other churches.

Today, these same protestant churches bay the loudest about government either ignoring or abusing their religious rights.

But then, why we would we expect logic from the religious?

MCCAIN GAINS BY CLINTON'S VICTORIES IN OHIO AND TEXAS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JONATHAN FREEDLAND IN THE GUARDIAN

This is true.

Republicans will be recording and filming and editing the attacks, mining them for material.

There is one plus on the other side however. Out of the headlines in America leads to quickly being forgotten, and this is something facing McCain while Obama and Clinton remain in the headlines.

American elections really are, to a frightening extent, marketing campaigns, and name-recognition and product presence are very important.

Indeed, the miracle of Obama is that a few months ago he was virtually unknown on the national scene.

Clinton, on the other hand, is unavoidably in everyone's mind owing to years of scandal and controversy. She might well be described as a rather tired product on the shelves.

Anything benefiting McCain is a source of concern. He is a genuinely dangerous man, impulsive, with a violent temper, and rather unbalanced.

I believe he will play his "straight talk" role in the campaign - and like all psychopaths he can be charming in doses.

Clinton's metallic, brittle personality will provide the weakest opposition to McCain. Many Americans just right and left of center find her unpleasant.

And the Religious Right which hates McCain likely hates Clinton even more. She will drive their votes out.

ANOTHER EFFORT TO RE-LABEL BRUTALITY AS APPROPRIATE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DAVID HIRSH IN THE GUARDIAN

Mr. Hirsh, you are simply wrong.

I do think, and I know that any of the defenders of Israel’s brutality will not agree, that most people reach fair and reasoned views in these matters just from the facts in the press. Israel’s behavior is unethical and unacceptable and doomed to never bringing peace.

Milne was accurate in describing Israel's response as a "killing spree." Your rationalization does not make it otherwise.

When a bad kid in an American ghetto kills someone randomly, as by dropping a rock from a highway overpass (something which actually happened in the past many times), the police don't respond by burning down the entire neighborhood, slaughtering women and children.

Yet this accurately describes Israel's workaday approach to Palestinians, and we always find people trying to tell us, just as you now are trying to tell us, that it is reasonable or appropriate or unavoidable.

You only demonstrate here an ethical view that is utterly corrupted by politics, and this seems to be the case for all defenders of Israeli brutality. In effect, one senses much of Jewish opinion - once among the world's leading voices in matters of human rights - gradually being dragged down in trying to defend the indefensible behavior of Israel.

Only recently, Israel killed something like 1,500 people in Southern Lebanon, left the place littered by a million cluster-bomb bomblets, killed four UN observers doing their duty, and destroyed a quarter of a city on the flimsy excuse that two soldiers were kidnapped. I’m sure you made the same arguments for that hellish behavior.

Israel treats all of its neighbors with contempt. It refuses to talk to an elected government in Palestine, calling them “terrorists,” quite an irony when you consider all the terror Israel has used in its founding and fifty years of expansion.

I am convinced Israel has a better chance of reaching a reasonable peace with an honest outfit like Hamas than it does with Arafat’s pathetic party, but I am equally convinced Israel does not want such a peace. Why else treat Hamas as though they were witches in the Middle Ages? Why else imprison elected officials against all international law? Why else threaten to assassinate the leader? Why else try to starve them out?

Just talk to people, be ready to compromise, treat them with respect, and peace will break out. You don’t have to like your neighbor to live in peace. But this is not what Israel wants. It wants the rest of land of the Palestine minus its people. There is no other sensible explanation for its behavior.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"FRIENDS OF HAMAS" - A NEW DISHONEST TWIST TO ATTACKING THOSE WHO CRITICIZE ISRAEL'S BLOODY EXCESSES

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY PETRA MARQUARDT-BIGMAN IN THE GUARDIAN

Petra Marquardt-Bigman is baldly dishonest here.

Her accusations towards liberal-minded critics as supporters or friends of Hamas sound scripted by some bitter, hateful (see his past quotes on Palestinians) Israel-firster like Netanyahu.

Her shameful words are just an inverted way of calling Israel's legitimate critics anti-Semites.

Because people like myself call for discussion, respect, and peace with Hamas certainly does not mean that we are "friends" of Hamas.

The accusation is absurd on its face because so many critics of Israel’s brutal policies are secular humanist types who are the last to look favorably upon religious fundamentalists. But truth has never been a barrier to speaking for people like Ms Marquardt-Bigman. I cannot remember the last time I heard an Israeli politician or spokesperson who said something true, other than a small number of brave individuals like Uri Avnery.

Hamas represents true feelings and thoughts of many, many Palestinians, and it was elected far more cleanly than George Bush in either of his "elections."

Indeed, it is a fact that a better, more lasting and meaningful peace could be negotiated with someone honest like Hamas than with Arafat’s pathetic party. People who don’t like each other live in civil, law-abiding arrangements all over the world, but Israel simply asserts that it cannot do so and is entitled to destroy those it calls enemies.

Israel, always loudly tooting its own horn about being the Mideast's only democracy, not only refuses to talk to Hamas officials, it has illegally arrested a major portion of its elected government and threatens to assassinate its leader. This breaks countless international laws and practices. It is not for nothing that a former prime minister of Israel said that if he were a Palestinian he would be a terrorist.

But Hamas is not even a genuine terrorist organization – the vast majority of its ast efforts are in other directions, overwhelmingly so, and it has never had even remotely the capacity to seriously hurt Israel. When one considers the long series of terrorist acts that accompanied the founding and expansion of Israel for more than fifty years, even if Hamas were a terrorist organization, there would be nothing odd or inappropriate about dealing with them to make peace.

You cannot change the entire make-up of those you regard as your adversaries. It is a preposterous notion. You must deal with them as they are, not as you wish them to be. Settlements in places like Northern Ireland could never have even begun if the demands of one side paralleled Israel's illogical demands in Palestine.

Israel's position boils down to just this: forget the fact that we keep you caged like animals and treat you constantly with abuse; forget the fact that we keep stealing your property in the West Bank; forget the fact that we hold 9,000 illegal prisoners and practice torture; forget our endless assassinations and state terror tactics; forget the constant humiliations: if you want what Israel calls peace, you must come to us properly abased, humiliate yourself yet again, having made every concession we demand in advance.

And what does Israel call peace? I think we've all got a clear idea from decades of experience including Barak's nightmare vision at Camp David: a walled-off people with no access to the world or even each other which Israel does not control; a people with no secure property rights, indeed with no rights of any kind; a people hated and abused constantly; a people who will vote just the way Israel says they'll vote before you are called democratic; a people excluded by countless apartheid-inspired laws from enjoying what Israelis themselves call life; and a people we trust will just go away eventually because we want their property but not their presence.

Nevertheless, this illogical, inhuman view is the official policy of Israel, clearly supported by Ms Marquardt-Bigman. Only Israel never, never just comes out and says so. It constantly misrepresents its true intent and blubbers about peace and motherhood while burrowing away relentlessly to collapse the homes and lives of those it should regard as neighbors.

And it calls anyone who doesn’t agree ugly names.

We used to all recognize that pattern of behavior: it’s called being an ugly bully.

AFTER CLINTON'S MINI-COMEBACK, THE MATH STILL FAVORS OBAMA

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKELSTEIN IN THE TIMES

I think you are correct, Daniel, the math favors Obama.

Many of the public do not understand that when they announce victories in these primaries, it is not the same as the system of the outdated Electoral College in the actual election - that is, winner take all in each state.

These primary delegates are shared proportionately to the vote, so, for example, Clinton's slim "victory" in Texas means she made no gain at all on Obama.

There will be a "marketing" kind of pitch made about who can pull in big states if things are close later, but that is a less-than-convincing kind of argument.

You must always consider that Clinton has been on the national scene for fifteen years. Most of this is not experience of any meaningful kind, but it translates into what marketers call "name-recognition."

As of two or three months ago, Obama was virtually unknown to Americans in general.

His rise in this regard is nothing less than spectacular.

Clinton's latest results are truly only a bump in the road, not a fundamental change in direction.

But an unfortunate one if she maintains her ugly attack style of content-empty campaigning.

The Republicans will record every word and gesture for editing and playback later.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

CLINTON CALLS OBAMA A LIAR IN LAST PRIMARIES

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TIMES

Clinton hits bottom with this charge.

We tolerated the clear dishonesty of Hillary and Bill for eight years only out of sympathy for the abuse they took and the fact that the alternative - the pug-uglies of the Republican Party - was so rancid and devoid of human feeling.

Hillary only makes herself more obnoxious talking like this, and being rather obnoxious already is her greatest weakness. She has no offsetting charm or humor.

Moreover she drags the unwelcome stink of her husband with her into every room she enters. No one wants this guy back in the limelight.

You will always come off badly hurling epithets at a man of Obama's grace and intelligence, the qualities that makes him the strongest candidate by a good measure.

Monday, March 03, 2008

ORWELLIAN DOUBLE-SPEAK IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JONATHON SPYER IN THE GUARDIAN

Jonathon Spyer offers here a slightly rewritten press release from Israel’s Ministry of Truth.

Israel has "little choice but to pursue its current course..."? One truly does get tired of seeing such dishonest words published.

We should start by asking, just what is Israel's present course?

If we judge by its actions, and not by its flood of propaganda, Israel’s overall purpose is to make 1.4 million people they keep penned up in a tiny enclave so miserable they will leave.

After all, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel suggested only weeks ago that all the Palestinians should be rounded up and left in the Sinai Desert as their "state," and that is among the more charitable words of advice from prominent Israelis, some of whom have called the residents of Gaza "cockroaches" and "vermin."

Only a limited amount of such words manages to get world publicity because Israel maintains an apparatus as active as China's in limiting the reporting and distribution of adverse material outside Israel.

Israel holds most of the members of an elected government as prisoners. It threatens the assassination of the elected head of government. It controls money from outside, assistance for Gaza, which is not theirs to control. It controls all access and egress for these people. It plays dirty games like turning off electricity or stopping fuel transport.

It freely murders anyone regarded as a "militant," whatever it is that that word means. This includes measures like firing Hellfire missiles at apartment complexes were one suspected “militant” is suspected of residing, generally killing many innocent people. There are Israeli secret service agents disguised as Arabs who murder anyone they suspect as the opportunity arises, often making it look like the work of rival Palestinian parties.

It is all a nightmare.

Contrary to Mr Spyer, Hamas is no danger to Israel. It is incapable of being a serious threat. Mr. Spyer knows as well as I do that for years Israeli secret services actually subsidized Hamas to build it up as a rival to Arafat’s party. You don’t subsidize people who represent genuine threats.

No, Hamas, does not like Israel, and why should they? What has Israel ever done to win the friendship of any Palestinians? How would Mr Spyer behave towards someone who treated him and his family with the contempt and abuse Israel treats these people? It was a former Israeli Prime Minister who said if he were a Palestinian, he would be a terrorist.

People, and nations, who do not like each other do manage to live as law-abiding neighbors in countless places in the world. Over time, they may even learn to be friends.

But Israel has never made any effort this way. None. Why? Because what Israel truly wants is the real estate without its residents. It talks about peace while constantly, unrelentingly maintaining conditions for human misery. This genuinely is 1984 double-speak.

Gaza has always been a headache for the Israeli government, and it would love to see some kind of solution, but that does not mean what any normal person would call peace.

The Palestinians are supposed to come to a peace table having already made every concession Israel wants, including matters like recognizing Israel and recognizing it as a “Jewish state.” What would be left of any interest for Israel to negotiate, that being done?

Remember, time and again, Israel has gone for long periods simply ignoring situations it does not like, so long as those situations cause no anxiety to Israel.

First, it is common in international affairs to not recognize states: the U.S. has done it many times. Recognition is gained by some compromise. But Israel plays by different rules.

Second, how do you recognize a place that has set no borders? Even Israelis do not know what Israel is as a piece of geography. This ambiguity has been deliberate because Israel’s leaders have always desired to take more territory, as they do gradually, inexorably in the West Bank.

Third, what are the implications of formally recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state”? Do the limited number of Muslims and Christians living there now (about 19% of population) lose some of their legitimacy as citizens? In fact, many prominent Israelis in the past have advocated pushing these people out of Israel. Perhaps only international views have prevented this.

Let’s see, for once, some genuine steps towards peace taken by Israel. Perhaps starting by releasing the elected government they hold as prisoners? Then treating Palestinians as human beings? It’s amazing what a little human decency can do towards peace.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

POLITICAL ENTHUSIASM AS RELIGION?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL BAER IN THE GUARDIAN

Daniel Baer, "The Church of Obama" is just a dumb article.

Enthusiasm over a candidate is not religion. That's a high-school level analysis.

A core value about religion and politics?

Aren't you just a trifle late speaking up on that after seven years of Bush's assault on rights and freedoms?

Indeed the failure of millions like you to speak out forcefully and do something real created the horror that millions of Americans long to escape from.

RACISM IN AN UGLY VIDEO FROM SOUTH AFRICA?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

This is a terrible situation.

No one can accept the acts that were on the video.

But one has to reflect on the vicious culture of fraternities in the United States, an unpleasant institution that has never caught on the same way in Canada.

Initiation rites in some American bone-head fraternities have included ugly stuff like this or cleaning crap off the floor or being urinated on and worse.

The other fact we must consider is the horrid violence that exists on the streets of South Africa. Waves of rapes, armed robberies, and brutal murders.

The violent crime rate there is among the very highest in the world.
Your chance of being a victim of violence in South Africa's main cities is on the order of twenty times what it is in Toronto.

Imagine commonplace rapes in a population heavily infected with AIDs?

That kind of hellish environment is not without its psychological effect, I'm sure.

FURTHER TO PSYCHOLOGY'S SELF-SERVING CRAP ABOUT INNER HEROES

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY PHIL SHINER IN THE GUARDIAN

Oh please, Philip Zimbardo's piece was self-serving rubbish, reflecting no genuine analysis or hard truth.

And Phil Shiner offers more high-school, would-be-writer thinking here to support it.

Every time nations descend to violence to solve what they see as their problems, this happens. And who has started an almost continuous series of dirty colonial wars and government overthrows in the last fifty years?

You're right if you guessed the United States.

Remember the horrors of My Lai (and other villages) or the CIA thugs throwing suspects out of helicopters after they wouldn't (or would) talk?

Remember Project Phoenix in which thug American Special Forces, under the guidance of Harvard-trained CIA, cut the throats of at least 20,000 civilians?

They'd sneak into villages at night and kill civilian leaders, hoping to throw the opposing forces off balance. Senator Kerrey of Nebraska won a so-called Medal of Honor doing this very devil's work.

Senator John Kerry spent four quick months running up and down rivers firing heavy machine-guns at peasant farmers to earn some political-hero bona fides. He won a Silver Star for shooting a man in the back who was running away.

Only a few years ago it was revealed how American forces, at the outbreak of the Korean War, stood at the border and machine-gunned whole groups of poor peasant families trying to escape the North. They killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, all civilians, mostly women and children.

America today runs a regular Torture Gulag with thousands of victims illegally arrested and sent to remote locations for torture.

Israel, America’s subsidized client, has been torturing civilians for its entire history. Today it holds most of the elected government of Gaza in prisons and regularly assassinates anyone it doesn’t like.

Torture exists in every repressive regime with which the United States maintains cordial relations. Indeed, more than a few times, it has used their services.

The worst of the Abu Ghraib tapes were withheld. The really bad ones apparently show children being raped and victims being killed.

Remember Rumsfeld saying in public that the Taleban prisoners should all "be killed or walled away"? Then 3,000 of them did disappear, apparently driven out into the dessert in sealed vans, right under the watchful eyes of American troops, to be suffocated. This was documented by a Scottish film maker.

Did you ever see the al Jazeera pictures, bravely taken at the risk of the photographers' lives, of scores of children mutilated by American cluster bombs? Or others burnt by white phosphorus in places like Fallujah.

Iraq, like Vietnam before it, has been a psychopaths' vacation holiday.