Sunday, June 24, 2012


It is important to understand that war kills people. There may be some exceptions but my impression is that every country has the ability to go to war; surely, the international sale of arms makes that point. For each country buying arms, the crucial question is what sort and how many. A bit of a jaunt into history will provide some context.

The ancient Romans, in their prime were by all odds the masters of warfare, at least so it seemed until they ran into the Parthians. The Romans marched in with their invincible legions but were stopped cold. It was a clash of military philosophy; the Romans fought on foot in well-ordered ranks and had tactics to deal with whatever situation they faced. The Parthians, following Asian tactics were horse archers who avoided hand-to-hand combat; they swooped close, launched volleys of arrows and skipped away to avoid the Roman military machine. When retiring from the field, they would turn in their saddles and send a final volley known to us now as the Parthian shot. The Romans had archers, but they were wedded to infantry so ceded the conflict to the Parthians.

The west, in its crusades used heavy cavalry to smash into their enemies. In essence, the side that weighed more would win. Except that they took Jerusalem, they lost every time. The Muslims, have you guessed it, were horse archers and the battles were pretty much like the Romans v. the Parthians. Some military thinkers approached a French king urging that he equip the invasion force with bowmen. The king refused. He asserted that the bow was the devil's weapon and not appropriate for god's army. You can figure out what happened.

Back before Joan of Arc, when the English decided they owned France, it was by then a pretty monotonous story. The French army, consisting of heavy cavalry along with inconsequential footmen would routinely charge well-prepared English defenses. They disdained the bowmen who shot arrows into them and got shot to pieces as a consequence. It happened over and over again. All the English had to do was find some high ground and invite them to come. The French, declaring honor obliged.

The Prussians consistently beat the French in the Franco-Prussian wars. They had the needle gun, an effective breech-loading rifle that could be fired in a prone position. The French held on to their muzzleloaders requiring they march into battle and remain upright so they could load. Guys lying down shooting at guys standing up … no contest.

In Italy, during WWII, the Germans occupied a church on top of Monte Cassino. Our air force was not permitted to bomb it because it would hurt Christian sensibilities. Many American and British soldiers died because of that idiocy.

There is a multitude of such quirks. Pre-Pearl Harbor, our Secretary of the Army refused to read Japanese intercepts because gentlemen did not do such things. (Perhaps apocryphal but you get the picture.)

The Northern military knew about breechloaders but refused to equip the union army with them because it might lead to profligate shooting. There was a time when armies did not fight on Sunday. And on and on and on.

The United States now has a weapon, which is quite different and extremely effective, the drone. That is an unmanned airplane (a drone could be a boat or a car) that is driven by a person at a computer in this country. Using on the ground intelligent, they can kill our enemies. To be sure, with ICBMs we could do the same but with overwhelming collateral damage. It would cost zillions of dollars to kill one of the baddies, huge numbers of people would die and property values would seriously go down.

Such tactics cause a great hullabaloo. Of course, the recipients of such attention call it immoral, but so do so many on our side. Innocent people get killed and sometimes that is true (still, what are they doing hanging with our enemies) and it is immoral to target specific individuals. And, besides, our enemies would become madder at us than they already are. And, heavens, sovereignty is violated.

Surely, when non-combatants are casualties it is a tragedy. As a general rule, in warfare it simply happens. When we invaded France, what do you suppose happened to the civilians living there on the beaches? Hell, we flattened the place with our bombs but hoped only Germans were hurt. Yeah.

Somehow, it is immoral to kill specific individuals, yet the history of warfare is to do it if you can. There was a time when American officers went into combat wearing their rank on their shoulders. German snipers shot them to pieces; pretty soon, American officers wore innocuous identifiers. Of course, we did the same to the Germans. It was a great coup when we shot down the premiere Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, he who designed the Pearl Harbor attack.

And, they will become angrier? Of course, that is how the losers usually feel. But, such tactics have decimated both the El Queda and the Taliban leadership and that pleases me.

Drones are a new form of warfare. Not only are there no counter-measures but they raise questions about sovereignty. We violate Pakistan every time we take out an enemy on their soil because they let our enemies take action against us. In the not-so-long-ago days, our enemies could snicker at our protests to their host country as they did in Afghanistan. Perhaps, perhaps if we had drones in those days we could have dealt with them with less fuss. Think of how many lives that might have saved.

There is no doubt that other countries will get their own drones and for certain, there will be developed effective counter-measures but until that day, we have the edge and that is important.

Are we in any danger? Yes, but not from external enemies. It is the boobs who think that the more surveillance of our citizens the better. If we put up with such nonsense, the slide into fascism becomes steeper.

Drones are a dandy machine
They help us become much more mean
They kill lots of bad ones
For sure, we want re-runs
In such warfare, our hands are quite clean

Sunday, June 17, 2012

MONOTHEISM: Causes and Consequences.

This is another exploration. I really don't know what's on my mind unless I write and find out; this is an attempt to understand why monotheism, the Abrahamic invention, took over much of the world. Earlier I have written about the purpose of the ten commandments. Clearly, establishing one god enabled all the Hebrews to become united. The pantheistic religions had followers of specific gods, they would propitiate them as best they could but this led to some sense of social isolation. Monotheism provided a way for individuals and tribes to become united. Still, while it served a political purpose, how is it that monotheism seems so much better?

As I have noted earlier, societies earlier than the Hebraic attempted written codes of behavior, the most noteworthy that of Hammurabi. The Egyptians had a few rules as did a some others but they all had exceptions. If your ruler is a god, rules of public conduct do not apply and their leading citizens were somehow exempted.

But, with one god for all, differences in social class disappeared. To the creator of the universe one god, omniscient and omnipotent, all people looked pretty much the same. All could be assured, no matter what their station in life, they each were the same in god's eye. In a socially stratified world with no hope of breaking free, life for most was drudgery. They could see their “betters” but could not emulate them. However, one god had no competitors and provided equality for all; all men and women were eligible for the goodness of the lord, all could aspire to heaven. No wonder Christianity exploded.

Judaism made it tough to join the club what with the demand for circumcision and dietary laws. Many non-Jews attended services because they admired Jewish perspectives but most would not take the necessary steps to be full-fledged members of the tribe. But, they valued the one god concept because it made all Jews equal. Paul made a significant change. Now Judaism, as exemplified by Christ let everyone join; everyone could be equal. Monotheism became the core of a profound transformation; it became possible foe all to be close to god.

This was such a satisfactory consequence that earthly distress was of less importance. Though Athens had a version of democracy, monotheism did not lead to a notion of political equality; it was sufficient to know that god loved us all and perhaps the poor the most.

Religionists, mostly I think in this country, tell us that the Judeo-Christian religions were part of the establishment of our constitution, offering the commandments as evidence. Without the right to vote in that list it is not clear how they make their point. Of course, it does not. The equality inherent in the commandments is not political and is clearly antithetical to our democratic ideals.

Rulers were either declared gods or were ordained by god; such surely quashed the notion that humans have equal rights in the eyes of men. There is nothing in religious doctrine which makes democracy a spiritual value. Democracy in religion is anathema. Religious leaders, no matter how chosen know the Truth and may not be challenged; received wisdom is not open for a vote. This is certainly in contradistinction to “all men are created equal,” embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Everyone knew that all men are equal in the eyes of the lord, but political equality, a child of the enlightenment is a new kid on the block. Religious leaders may not be questioned and the more fundamental the greater the restriction; religionists cannot tolerate that their received wisdom is dissed. Most Jews, for example, disregard the dietary laws. Catholic women use birth control but in the face of such realities religionists become more dogmatic.

It seems it is not a matter of live and let live but an ongoing struggle which, if we do not destroy ourselves first will be a triumph for humanism. With the reality that the religionists have lost much of Europe and that in this country those who check “no religion, are increasing in numbers at least we may be at the beginning of the beginning of human equality, at least in western civilization and, as we go so goes the rest of the world.

One god makes us all quite equal
Though to this there is a neat sequel
In politics it don't work
And you feel like a jerk
'Cause what they tell us is over-sweet treacle.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Our country is surely in a mess. Joblessness, collapsing stock market, people giving up on work and a political system seems designed for impasse. We elect people to resolve our problems, to reestablish a smoothly running society, if there was ever such a thing, or at least to make things better. Often, forces beyond control make the task quite difficult. Our economy is so tied to Europe that if they catch pneumonia we, at best catch cold. We are faced with competing economies; China, India and Brazil are moving up and even if most countries cannot join in that race, they can threaten us with atomic weapons and terror. Satchel Paige, that magnificent black pitcher said, “don't look back 'cause they might be gaining.”

Well, we better look back because they are gaining and we look to our leaders to work out solutions. For the most part bi-partisan solutions are not possible, but there is one situation that both sides, Democrat and Republican agree about: We must get to the bottom of the Secret Service absurdity.

You know what happened. Preparing for an Obama visit in Guatemala, the Secret service set up shop before he got there and reasonably so. They have to figure out the logistics of his visit and make suggestions to make their job of protecting him as viable as possible, and, that's what they did.

Keep in mind, their job is a tough one. While on duty they cannot goof off. If you watch them while the president is in public, they never stop scanning the crowd looking for any hint of danger. They remain prepared for action at any such hint and, so the story goes, are ready to take a bullet for the leader of the free world. If you like tension and stress, that's the job for you. And, they are men. Perhaps there are some women Secret Service agents, but don't figure in the story.

We all like to calm down, unwind, relax and have a bit of fun. Some do sports, some listen to music, some vacation, there are a variety of possibilities. Some, gasp, drink and consort with women. While waiting for the president to arrive in Guatemala, that's what some of them did. As best I know, three small groups with three or four men each went out for, what shall we call it, a night on the town, to paint the town red, to partay. Alas, one of them objected to the price of a prostitute's body and she, not at all cowed by their exalted status, publicly objected and voila, a scandal.

Based on the media uproar, one might think of a plot to kidnap the president, or to steal the Constitution or to set up a prostitution ring. One might think they babbled secrets, thus compromising the presidential visit. For fear of any of the above and other disasters, their rooms were swept for bugs, the implication evidently that the women were ready with such equipment. Can you imagine how many women, enemy agents with eavesdropping equipment it would have taken to cover all the possibilities? And, they set it up on the odd chance that some of the agents on that night would partay.

So, a Senatorial committee has held, perhaps is still holding, an investigation on how it happened and have knowledge without evidence that the event represents a culture of Secret Service wanton behavior. A number on the committee are convinced that such a culture exists and at least one of them said that such behavior was “immoral.” Quoting Charlie Brown, “Good grief.” Only a cartoon character could characterize the committee's zeal to legislatively fix everything. “Good grief.”

I'm not knowledgeable about what constitutes a breach of security; it is possible that the agent's behavior constituted such a breach. Surely, if so, the thing can be fixed by a few orders from the person in charge. What gets me is that the Senate, with real problems has, with a holier-than-thou attitude taken on the task. What emptiness in what they boast to be the greatest deliberative body in the world.

There are men, certainly not only the agents who act that way. I knew them in the army, and I knew them in college; if their behavior sends them to hell, well, that damned place must be over populated.

In trying to find relaxation
The agents produced much vexation
'cause they opened their doors
To invite in some whores
Unheard of in god's pure creation.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Perhaps you have all heard about the sword of Damocles, but of course there might be some social slackers in the group so I better tell the story. In ancient days, when kings were in charge, there was Damocles, a court toady who bitterly complained about his lowly status compared to his liege master. “Why should one man have so much?” he complained and “Why him, and why not me?” “It isn't fair,” and so on. Of course, the king, whose spies were everywhere heard about him and summoned him to court for a reckoning.
So,” his majesty said, “you believe that I live a life of comfort and pleasure.”Poor Damocles hemmed and hawed but the poor fellow knew he was had and he admitted all.
The king frowned, mumbled and finally spoke. I have a deal for you. You become king for a day and if you like it you can be king for the rest of your life.” Here the king frowned. “But if you don't like it, if you resign, you will never gain complain about me and the so called unfairness of your station. Do you accept?” This last was offered in a somewhat menacing tone.
Damocles, astonished, knew better than to refuse the offer and even thought it might be a neat way to build up resources for his retirement. He bowed. “Your majesty, please remove yourself from, ahem, my throne.The king's laugh was a bit cruel. “No, you get started tomorrow at 6AM”Six AM,” Damocles responded, “that seems a bit early, when I'm king, I'll set my own hours.”
While I am still king, you will obey my orders. Now, get out of here!”
Damocles wife, of course, did not believe him and they both fretted about how they would get him up so early, but with such a marvelous prize in the offing they managed the task. A bit nervous when he arrived at the palace he soon understood that he would not lose his head. Everywhere, the guards, courtiers, ladies-in-waiting, the household staff even to the lowest muck shoveler all bowed to him. With much ceremony he was taken to the throne room and there it was, the seat of power. He approached it, sat and smiled benignly upon his people, yes his people when the former king approached.
Sire,” said their erstwhile leader, “welcome to your new state in the realm. But, sire, may I urge that you look up and see what dangles over your head?” This was such an absurd suggestion he thought of refusing, but still uncertain about his status Damocles looked up and saw a sword, a sharp, heavy, pointed sword hanging over him, and it hung by a horse hair.
Take it away,” he shrieked, “take it away. What monstrous jest is this. I am king, take it away.” Horrified, he saw no one moved to obey himAlas, my lord,” said the former king, “it is part of the job, the sword belongs to you now. Well, you won’t be surprised to learn that Damocles quit on the spot.
Don't bother to look up the reality of Damocles and his king; it’s just a story, but of course with a point (Snicker). Scholars argue that it tells us that jealousy does not pay, that envy distracts from our real tasks in life. This is a familiar theme. American Indians are said to counsel not to complain about another unless you have walked a mile in his moccasins. One of the king Louis was said to envy peasants because they had nothing like the worries that bedeviled him. (Did that French roi ever volunteer to be a peasant? History does not tell us.)
There is another perspective which makes more sense to me. The other day, as is his wont, my nephrologist inspected my urine and discovered red blood cells. He did not seem happy and said that my kidney problems could not account for such and urged that I hie myself to a urologist. In the process of discussion, he muttered something about bone marrow cancer. Ugh.
I read somewhere that the aging process is like distant thunder during a picnic. You are enjoying yourself and discount the warning, but the threat of a storm is ever growing. As the thunder gets louder its warning seems more imminent and it is evident you cannot avoid it. The clever among you will understand that this is a metaphor for death as is the sword that comes with the job.
When I asked the nephrologist the significance of such findings, he said that if I were a young man, it was almost meaningless, but with a man of you age you never know. And again, he urged a visit to a urologist.
Well, yes I suppose that I am in my last decade; anything thing that goes wrong with my body might very well be the last thing that goes wrong. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow and the red blood cells might be a harbinger of my departure. It's enough to give a man pause.

None of us, ego oriented creatures that we are are cheerful about the reality that we will disappear. Heaven and hell are ways to keep us alive forever; who wouldn't accept hell rather than permanent destruction? As far as I know, all societies have figured out ways to ignore the reality of death.
So, how did I handle the possibility that the storms arrival is sooner than I prefer. I reminded myself that the universe did not appear for the whole purpose of my immortality, that death is part of it all and that at the instant of death I will forget it all.

Should, at a heavenly way-station, I am rated
To learn in which direction I am fated
And should it be hell
I'll handle it well
But nothing like that is expected