Short takes

There’s seldom a shortage of things — issues, events, weapons, crimes — to vex the rational brain and/or the charitable soul. Claiming both those features in moderation for myself, I’m never at a loss for something to get pissed off about — or occasionally to be amused by.

When I don’t post new items for a while it’s usually that my brain or my soul is just worn out. But I’ve been remiss lately, and will try to compensate over the next few weeks with overload.

  1. Like the witch, Glacier National Park is melting. In the late 1800’s the park contained 150 glaciers. At last count, it was down to 26. Latest estimate on durability — they’ll vanish at the rate of about one a year.
  2. You might find two ways to take this, but the US Military is running out of bombs. Really. Our generals are dropping them faster, apparently, than weapons makers can produce them.
  3. And if you favor old-fashioned surrealism, you now can watch new episodes — or re-watch old episodes — of Twin Peaks. It recently resumed after a quarter-century. New episodes feature much of the old cast.

Reading as a dangerous activity

I made a pretty serious mistake in reading this morning. It was an article by Andrew Bacevich at TomDispatch, one of the sites I recommend in the side bar. So why, you may reasonably ask, was it a mistake to read something which — presumably — I would recommend that you read?

Well, it was all in the timing. See, I had just finished reading a very good book, The Brothers, by Stephen Kinzer. Good as in scary good. Because it will — in retrospect anyway — scare the pants off you. Why? Here’s a lift from the NYTimes review.

Anyone wanting to know why the United States is hated across much of the world need look no farther than this book. The Brothers is a riveting chronicle of government-sanctioned murder, casual elimination of “inconvenient” regimes, relentless prioritization of American corporate interests and cynical arrogance on the part of two men who were once among the most powerful in the world.

Which brothers? John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen.

The book came out more than three years ago, and clearly for all that it is well-written, carefully documented and widely available it seems to have made no significant impression on anyone connected with the US Government.

The mistake reading Bacevich? He only emphasized so many of the horrendous parts of The Brothers. Nonetheless — or maybe it should be “therefore” — I suggest you read one or the other. Both if you can, but not too close together. Enough to make your head hurt. And if I may say so without veering into religiosity, to make your soul hurt as well.

God. Bombs. Insomnia.

NOTE: This comes as a sequel to The Old Lie.


Although each major religion tries to prove its own unique charm and dignity and relevance and truth, all of them build on two basic rules:

  1. Recognize an over-arching entity.
  2. Treat others as you want them to treat you.

Or, more formally:

  1. “I am the Lord thy God.”
  2. The Golden Rule.

Set aside “Lord thy God” for now; if such a Being exists, has powers and motives beyond our ken, and has dominion over us, we can do little more than guess at what is going on.

Look instead at Golden Rule.

The first corollary to GR has to be a warning against harming another person. Killing, for instance: that would qualify as harm. So if you do not want to be killed yourself, you ought not to kill others.

There remains, however, one complication. As is often the case with complications, it centers on interpretation, on the meaning of words. Here, it is the meaning of one word: “others.”

Liberal (with a small “l”) reading suggests it means people in general, everyone on the planet, everyone in the universe, should we ever find and interact with extra-terrestrial beings.

Still, in some quarters, the “others” whom one must treat as oneself are more tightly defined. They are members of the same

  • family
  • clan
  • nation
  • ethnic group

… well, you get the idea. The “others” may be clear in your mind, but may not be exactly the same  as your neighbor’s “others.”

For that matter, who is your neighbor?

The point I’m getting at is this: We are a moral people, by our own definition and standards. We therefore would not harm — would not kill is what I mean — others without good reason. Without justification. A contentious subject, one about which I’ve written at excruciating length elsewhere.

How then can a sane and thoughtful person condone drone attacks, unwarranted invasions, bombing of civilians, or any of the thousand other crimes we commit in the name of national security? National pride. National arrogance.

Are we ourselves the only “others,” the only ones who deserve to be treated well by the rest of the world? And if that is that case, what of those outsiders, those others who are not “others?” If we do not recognize them, why ought they to recognize us? Are they now justified in trying to kill us, just as we try to kill them?

Despite advancing years, I often do not sleep well at night.

22/78: Drones, part 2

Killing is what men do to each other, has been for as long as our tribal memories can trace. Fighting, for land or gold or women or pride, dominates our ancient literature and scripture.

Cain, Beowulf, Achilles, Samson — a long and not-always admirable list. Still, like them or not, their encounters were personal; they entered the battlefield, as likely to die as to kill.

    I’m not suggesting that either dying or killing is a particularly good idea, only that those confrontations involved risk for both sides. Our word “hero” meant brave or noble person before it meant central figure in a story.

The other part of warfare, mass casualties, is now as it’s always been, impersonal slaughter. But that is not my subject here. What’s on my mind is Continue reading “22/78: Drones, part 2”

21/79: Drones, part 1

The computerized battleground — the real one, unlike computer games, the one where real people really die — is not a new idea. I encountered an early developmental version, lacking fine details but unmistakable, forty years ago.

It was a short-lived encounter, but a few strong images remain clear in my mind today. This, roughly, is how it came about.

A friend who ran a small but prosperous ad agency asked me to write some copy for him him. One of his clients was a research facility which contracted to the Defense Department on ideas and projects related to planes and reconnaissance. Battlefield intelligence. Spying from the air, not to put any finer than necessary a point on it.

My friend got cleared to work for this company, and he called me to help with his first big project, apparently some sort of pitch to the Defense Department. I visited the facility and had a preliminary tour of the project, which clearly established it as Continue reading “21/79: Drones, part 1”