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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Male pride

I was rooming with two others students in a giant concrete block apartment complex. It was walking distance to campus and very cheap. The occupants were a cultural and ethnic mix but we all had one thing in common, everyone was poor. The concrete block was a rough and dangerous place to live. There were other male students that roomed in the concrete block house but no female students, young females generally wouldn’t even visit and certainly wouldn’t live there. I hadn’t been worried about the area, I had a live and let live attitude and I just didn’t mess with my neighbors. I was worried about surviving calculus not surviving my neighbors. I didn’t understand the thievery, poor stealing from poor seemed hardly worth the effort. In our apartment the most valuable items were text books (no demand at the pawn shop), our furniture had been stolen from dumpsters and our clothing had holes. None of us had permanent employment, living off a series of part-time jobs. These days are some of the best memories of my life.
One night a loud argument came from the parking lot, not an uncommon event. We stepped out to watch the evening’s entertainment. A man on a motorcycle was yelling at a man in a broken down car. The man in the car got out with a sawed off shotgun. Suddenly the biker held the biggest hand gun I had ever seen in my life. I was too dumb and young to run while one of my roommates had disappeared (He was from Pittsburgh and understood these things). A woman appeared and stood between the men yelling at both. I had a chilling realization; these men had nothing to lose. The only thing either man had was his pride. I had a perceived better future; I had something to lose, while these men were beaten and poor with little to no future. The fight never came to blows and the woman somehow defused the bombs and dragged one of the men away.
Now today I watch Muslim radicals blowing up embassies and shooting their fellow Muslims. The American wise men tell me “they” hate us because we are free, “they” hate us because we love liberty. I think not. They have nothing to lose. They are poor and beaten, even the best educated have no employment opportunities. Nations that have lived for generations under dictatorships, the national experience is one of controlled media and secret police. Never knowing firsthand what freedom and liberty mean. The only thing they have to fight for is self respect and pride. When everything has been stripped away a man still has his self respect and pride. Male pride is often misplaced and irrational but it is always powerful and dangerous. I have noticed that women do not suffer this form of pride which explains the very small number of female radicals.
Our foreign policy is based on chauvinist fantasies. The Democrats think “if we can just get them to love us” while the Republicans think “if we can just get them to fear us”. Neither position understands or even acknowledges male human nature. The Muslim radical will never love America nor will they ever fear America.
No nation in history has ever had a coherent and rational foreign policy. Most have a limited self concern of realpolitik based on power and material factors, short term views that result in long term disaster. The Great Game (also called the Tournament of Shadows) was Great Britain’s moment in the sun as a world power, for all the cleverness and intelligence attributed it by historians we are still living with the catastrophic remnants.
Domestic politics drive foreign policy, the longest war in American history, the Afghanistan war, continues due to domestic political fear. Whether we exit now or two years from now will make no difference to Afghanistan or history. It will make a tragic difference for many military families. We lack the honesty to acknowledge that America doesn’t even have a purpose for this war. Originally a response to the 9/11 attack and legitimately based on defeating al-Qaeda. That task was finished in short order and we should have left then.
The gunboat diplomacy of Commodore Perry in 1854 was given a moral dimension by President Woodrow Wilson’s commitment of spreading democracy internationally. Woodrow Wilson or Teddy Roosevelt never allowed domestic politics to trump international objectives. The bad ending of the Vietnam War gave republicans a blunt club for domestic electoral victories. Now national politicians use foreign adventures for political gain. Remember our last “War President” running for reelection. Our current President hasn’t claimed the mantel of “War President” but he has nursed the Commander in Chief aura exceedingly well.
In addition to the political advantage of “projecting strength” there are strong special interest groups that benefit from war. Dropping bombs and crashing helicopters is very profitable to some industrial segments. Supplying an air craft carrier group is very lucrative. This waste of our national treasure is not creating any positive feedback. We are getting the same results as Pax Britannica and headed for the same ending.
A foreign policy based on an understanding of human nature mated to a clear sense of our long term national needs could serve both America and the world. For the Middle East and Muslim radicals we need to acknowledge the role of male pride. Gunboat diplomacy is adding gasoline to a fire. For the grand strategy we need to move beyond Woodrow Wilson’s vision

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

America first

America has a fundamental problem with governance. We are all aware that our system is not working. Congress cannot even pass a budget. America is the world’s first modern democracy. The founding fathers had no examples to examine. They worked from theory and a keen understanding of human nature. They were implementing the ideas of the Age of Enlightment, having read Locke, Voltaire and Adam Smith they created a system of self governance. Later governments that choose democracy could look at America and design systems using best practices based on real world results. Reading about democracies created in recent times, governments that could look worldwide at best practices, we get examples such as Singapore. Experience with self governance is accumulating and the world is getting better and better at constructing democracies.
We are blessed to be the first and we are cursed by having been the first. The state of art government in the 17th century is now a creaking broken down dotage. The vested interest in America has captured our government, using it to protect their own limited short term benefits.
We could create a new constitution and many have called for this. I would recommend smaller incremental steps. End gerrymandering or remove the money from politics, small things that would make a large difference. Sitting in the waiting room at my dentist office I discussed politics with two other gentlemen in my age cohort and we had a list of improvements with a proven track record of success in other countries. We disagreed on many ideas but a lot of data was available to us that Thomas Jefferson did not have.
I’ve noticed that I have to be 15 minutes early for a medical appointment that the doctor will be 45 minutes late for and there is ample time for discussions. While the inspired concepts of the Age of Enlightment were hatched in the taverns of France and Britain today’s updated concepts could be crafted in a doctor’s waiting room.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Autumn at the lake

The crescent sliver of the moon wanes slowly across the night sky, the brightest stars sprinkled across the darkness. A night sky with blinking lights from airplanes entering the Houston Intercontinental landing pattern string out northward, airplanes dropping through 10,000 feet, slowing to 200 mph, ghosting past the lunar crescent, a string of jewels stretching out to the limits of my eyesight. I’m enjoying a late summer evening with a slight chill in the air, Friday night at the lake. A party is underway across the bay with the mummer of cheery conversation occasionally marked with the easy gay laughter of a young woman. Sounds mixing with sounds all drifting over the water, ducks quaking and the distant bark of a dog. Another dog answers from down bay, I speak fluent dog and know they are just talking, telling each other that “All is well”. Another peaceful night beside the lake, I lay back to look skyward and engage my favorite fantasy, starships and exploration, remote stars with alien planets, mystery waiting for resolution. A most basic human dream, what is over the next hill?
I’ve spent many nights under the open sky, bivouacs in the Rocky Mountains, on coastal barrier islands and out in the open woodlands, rarely sleeping inside the tent. On my small sailboat I preferred sleeping in the open cockpit to the cuddy cabin. When racing catamarans I would sleep on the trampoline at nights with the main sail pulled over the mast for cover. Now I sleep outdoors in my hammock. I wake with the predawn light, sleeping outside after sunrise takes a different mindset. I can nap outdoors in the afternoon, just not very often. I have several hammocks; my favorite is a two person cotton weave that wraps around me cocoon like. Add a light sleeping bag and a deep comfortable night’s sleep is inevitable. Stage 4 REM sleep that doctors and marketers talk about is available via hammock with sleeping bag. No drugs required.
I use a trick to calm my mind for sleep. I imagine corridors in my mind that have a large bank vault door. I can shove thoughts of politics or rumors of war or the fight with a family member into the vault and lock the door. Then I remain in the moment of the night, quite and settled. Thinking of solar collectors in lunar Lagrangian orbits or maybe the momentary gravitational balance of tomorrow’s Autumn Equinox.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I am the 47%

The less we know the more we suspect. This allows filling the blank page with the worst we can imagine. From this basic human frailty we weave conspiracy theories about fake moon landings. Governor Romney feeds this basic human failing by not telling us how he will run the country, what policies he will propose or which laws he will push. Now we learn that in private meetings with the other uber-rich he is not concerned with 47% of the American population, American's who are lazy, dependent victims blindly voting for President Obama. As a retired person I am a republican and I am the 47%.
Another homily, we say what we mean and we mean what we say. That defines an honest person.  Listening to talk radio this week, reading right-wing blobs and watching FOX news with their attempts to explain what Romney really meant is insulting. The arrogant hubris of these hosts with their conceited, simplistic ranting about “Makers” and “Takers” is insulting. For the readers not up to date on republican code words I will have to explain the code words, a “maker” is a rich person while a “taker” is someone with little or no money. The right (self proclaimed as always right) defines everything by money. In retrospect, it was natural that we would select a candidate whose sole qualification is money. Let us take Romney at his word, he is a “Maker” and 47% of American’s are “takers” intent on wasting his money. Governor Romney Sir, respectfully, money can’t buy happiness (explaining your unhappiness with 1/2 of America) and it can’t buy the white house.
It turns out that I am part of the 47%. I am part of the 47% due to the highly selective manner that Romney defines taxpaying. I do pay taxes, federal income taxes, property taxes, excise taxes and sales taxes. I pay fees to drive on toll roads, fees to go fishing, fees to have a car, fees to have a boat dock and fees to park in the city. I do pay taxes and I’ll show my federal tax statement to prove it. The good Governor calls me a leach because I receive social security (which is taxed by the federal government). He claims that social security is bankrupt even as social security holds about $3 trillion in government bonds (will he say the same of the government bonds held by New York banker friends?). He is now building logic to seize the social security fund, taking away a benefit I paid into for 45 years. Impounding the social security fund will be a retroactive tax on my wages going back to 1963. Who is the maker and who is the taker in this case? I make social security solvent over my working life and Romney will now take it because I am an undeserving self inflected victim.
The less we know the more we suspect. Romney left the page blank because his real intentions are worse than I could have imagined.
I was trying not to write another political blog. Most of the political blogs I read are insipid blubbery from medieval intellects. Unfortunately I was finding it hard to justify the republican ticket and I was probably not going to vote. But now the republicans have just pissed me off. I am the 47% and I am not dependent, I am not entitled, I earned my way, I am not frightened, I am not lazy, I am not a victim.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The wisdom of age

With age comes wisdom, I read that on the internet. This hard earned wisdom needs to be shared with miscreant youths to correct their errant ways. My grandfather showed this inter-generational wisdom while trying to save me from Beatles music. Now I am obliged to offer help for today's misguided youth, we face the most important election of our lifetimes, it will be good to get it done with so we can move forward with unimportant elections. All this business uncertainty can be replaced with firm and certain knowledge of the future. In turn allowing the job creators to spend like crazy while creating jobs for the poor and middle class, I am giddy with anticipation. My judicious advice, first, don’t listen to Beatles music and second, believe everything a politician tells you.
As the years rolled by I learned (that is how I became wise), learning that politicians always tell us the hard truth and they value personal honesty above all else. We are the country that produced George Washington who “could not tell a lie” about cutting down the Cherry tree and later “honest Abe Lincoln”. Politicians have followed these examples down to the current day, honoring the higher calling of public duty. Men and women that intuitively understand the importance of open, honest public debate for participatory governance. Across my life time I have observed the honesty of Richard Nixon to the recent progressive social commitment of Todd Akin. Between this two are many more political leaders that by their learned example make me proud to be American.
We are blessed with cable news reporting that is fair and balanced, always using exhaustive research to bring the truth into our living rooms. News programs staffed with dedicated and thoughtful commentators delivering unbiased analysis, carefully explaining all the dangers threatening our constitutional right to happiness and mall shopping. Even this high level of professionalism is eclipsed by the straight forward honesty of the political adverts.  A recent advertisement reported that one of the candidates drowns baby kittens in sulfuric acid for fun. Another has reported that the opposing candidate kills puppy dogs with a claw hammer.  I certainly like kitties but I love puppies. My mind is made up.
Politicians have set a exemplar example for our young to follow. Now it is up to young men to start wearing suspenders to keep their pants up while young women need to understand that bra straps are not a fashion statement. With time you too can become a wise old sage, for now boys, keep your pants up.