Category Archives: Current Events

Urban Gardening

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S. Squire Rooster and Lady Brownie Hen, standing around and on concrete block herb garden. Chickens don’t bother herbs, but they love worms, grubs, termites, roaches, lizards, and fiddlers. I keep my yard as free of artificial chemicals and traps as possible, but I can’t stop the county from dumping malathion on our heads.

August 18, 2017

As people starve in Venezuela and other places, I remind myself Americans don’t know what starvation feels like.  We suffer from the opposite problem, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, life-style-related diseases resulting from consuming too much of the wrong things.

 

My herbs begged for pruning the other day.  It took several hours to cut, sort, wash, chop, and store, but I got a half-gallon of mint-stevia tea and almost a pint of basil-chive pesto.  My mind is free when I’m doing finger-trained things like chopping herbs.  I thought about how easily herbs grow on my deck, and how even urbanites with window sills, balconies, or patios could grow food.

I thought about my “green footprint” and how all greenery—even so-called weeds—contribute to cooling the earth and re-claiming oxygen from CO2.  So even growing an herb or a potted tomato on the patio adds to your oxygen green print.  Citrus grows well in patio pots, too, depending on where you live.

When the government controls the food supply, it’s a set-up for famine.  Julius Caesar used that to advantage, and so have rulers the world over.  That’s what makes centralized power so fragile.  We’re seeing that now, with President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.   He has the military guarding the food.  I’ll bet lots of folks now regret leaving the farms to work in factories and oil refineries.  At home, they could grow their own food.

We have the same situation brewing in the USA, but here the strategy is more insidious. We can see it being played out in all the mergers and acquisitions in the food, drug, and poison industries.  Most notable is the planned purchase of Monsanto by Bayer, based in Germany.  So Monsanto will go underground, should these two poison giants (depending on your point of view) merge.  Second, a little different but no less significant, is the merger of Dow and DuPont, two chemical giants.  Dow has the trademark on Styrofoam and has its own versions of genetically modified (GM) corn and other patented plant products.

Finally, we have the impending merger of Swiss Syngenta, the world’s largest crop chemical producer, and China National Chemical Corp., a state-owned outfit.  More than half of Syngenta’s sales come from “emerging markets.”  At a $42 billion price, Wikipedia reports the purchase of Syngenta to be the largest for a foreign firm in Chinese history.

The farming industry (which is often distinct from and at cross-purposes with “farmers”) is supposedly opposed to the Montsanto/Bayer merger.  The opposition claims it will increase prices and reduce innovation.  The poison companies say they will increase research and development.  (That’s what scares me most.)

In the US, the ethanol mandate represents the biggest government power grab of the food supply to date.  GM corn manufacturers are now making “ethanol-grade” corn.  Well, folks, what does that mean to you?  It means to me that Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and other GM manufacturers are busy downgrading everyone’s food supply to generate electronic profits on Wall Street.  Of course Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Cargill, and other Big Food are all for burning perfectly good corn whiskey in cars.  Cars consume it faster than alcoholics do, and the government gets more in taxes, so of course the FDA, CDC, and EPA are complicit.

So with the mergers of the world’s six largest seed, agrochemical, and biotech corporations, which are in the business of poisoning us from the ground up, it behooves all of us to start producing our own food, individual by individual, as space and sunshine allow.

 

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Deck herbs, some in concrete blocks, others in clay pots.  Cat litter boxes do a good job of catching water.  Can water and/or fertilize from the base.

Herbs are probably the easiest plants to grow, and many are perennial.  My chickens don’t like them, the deer don’t like them, and they are amazingly bug-resistant.  Stevia, chives, mint, oregano, and rosemary are all perennial.  The rosemary bush is taller than I am.  Since stevia was approved by the FDA as a natural sugar substitute a few years back, corporate marketing has improved its image. Less well known is that it’s a perennial extra easy to grow in a small clay pot.

So I harvested overgrown stevia, mint, chives and basil.  I made stevia-mint iced tea and basil-chive pesto.

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Set-up for making mint-stevia tea.  Mint is on the chopping board.  kco081717

I use a one-half gallon container for the tea, fill with cold water, let the water come to a boil, and turn the burner off.  I stir in the chopped mint and stevia, replace the lid on the pot, and let it steep all night.  In the morning I strain the tea and transfer it to the refrigerator container.

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Set-up for making basil-chive pesto.  Curved knife blade with rocking motion works best for fast and safe herb and veggie chopping.   kco081717

Making pesto is a breeze with a mini-food processor.  Pesto keeps weeks in the refrigerator and infinitely in the freezer.  I freeze fresh pesto and gouge chunks out of the mix as needed.  I use it in salad dressings, spreads, sauces, marinades, and Italian dishes of all kinds.

I use a standard blend of ingredients with whatever herbs I have.  Two to three cloves of crushed or chopped garlic, a couple of handfuls of chopped herbs, a handful of grated parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped nuts, and enough olive oil to make the processor work right.  I use soy sauce or olive brine instead of salt.  I like red pepper, too.  If you overdo the red pepper, extra olive oil helps a lot.

More traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but they are expensive, somewhat hard to find, and not worth the price.  I prefer walnuts or almonds, but any nut will do.  Put them in the processor early, as they take time to grind up right.

Cheese is also variable.  Hard cheeses, like grated parmesan or romano, tend to last longer in storage, but I’ve used jack and cheddar, too.  Pestos are as versatile as your imagination.

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My version of pesto pizza.  Rye toast smeared with basil-chive pesto, topped with parmesan cheese and salad olives.  Broiled in toaster oven 3-5 minutes. kco081717

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Opiates: Crisis du Jour

Opiate abuse is the crisis du jour in the medical and psychiatric world.  I’ve seen reference to it in the psychiatric journals, in the New York Times, and in the Summer, 2017 issue of Utne magazine.  There are Continuing Medical Education credits available for it.

Do I believe opiate abuse is a new problem, or that it has suddenly grown into the gigantic epidemic the “authorities” claim?  I know there is a push for funding for substance abuse treatment.  Other than that, I believe the “crisis” is fueled by enablers who need to be needed.

First, the literature I read makes no distinction between heroin, which is an absolutely illegal drug in the US, and the other opiates.  There’s a vague claim that the heroin is coming in from Mexico, but I wonder if it’s coming home with troops from Afghanistan, too.  No one has asked that question.

The legal-with-a-prescription opiates are presumed to be used for pain, and apparently there is a growing trend to abuse prescription opiates.  Doctors who prescribe too many of them fall under the DEA’s watchful eye, so I wonder how many doctors are willing to risk their licenses to support an abuse habit.  There are pain clinics sprouting up around the country, specialty clinics in which opiate use is standard.  These are carefully monitored by the DEA, as are pharmacy records that show which docs are prescribing controlled substances.

A large number and variety of substance abuse treatment methods and facilities exist, but effectiveness over the long term is poor.  Most studies into substance abuse treatment only follow patients for a year.  Long term studies are rare.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its spin-offs, like Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous—with their reliance on the 12-Step Program—have remained the standard since 1935.  These are free programs, peer supported, in which names and paperwork are not required.

My questions about this new “crisis” stems from my cynicism about our current drug-centered world.  The difference between “good” drugs and “bad” drugs is only a matter of legality, according to me.  Drug laws confuse the issue and create problems that needn’t exist.  Even the Psychiatric Times is beginning to take a fresh look at substances such as marijuana, looking to explore its potentially therapeutic effects.  There was a recent article suggesting hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin might deserve more attention as therapeutic agents, under controlled conditions.

Unintentional injury from accidents and drug overdoses, according to one Continuing Medical Education (CME) course I took, is now in the top five causes of death.  The course didn’t distinguish how the overdoses occurred, but my experience tells me a surprisingly large number of people take ten or more medications, don’t know what they are taking, how to take them, or what they are for.  They don’t know about side effects, and their doctors don’t explain.  They take them “when I feel like I need them.”  or don’t take them at all if they can’t afford the cost.

Direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies has grown exponentially since it was approved by the FDA in 1997.  Pharma spent less than $800 million/year on advertising in 1996, but by 2000, that sum grew to $2.5 billion.  Of that, 20 percent was for psychiatric medications, and these constituted 10 percent of the top 100 selling drugs.

Obviously, there is a great demand for “feel-good” drugs, either over the counter or under the counter, and I have to wonder why.  From what I’ve seen, none of these drugs satisfies the long-term cravings of those who have lost their way.  The psychiatric drugs, like antidepressants, are not proving themselves over time, so there is a constant turnover of medications used to treat depression.  Yet advertising, the “health care industry,” and the world at large seems to believe there is a quick fix to problems, lifestyle problems, relationship problems, financial problems, employment problems, health problems, loneliness problems, and all the problems people’s fantasies tell them should respond to drugs.

As long as people put faith in solutions outside themselves, they will be disappointed, I believe.  Maybe a pill can help, temporarily, but there is no pill for financial problems, unless you’re selling it on the street.

That, in summary, may be the underlying impetus behind the “opiate crisis.”

Involuntary Manslaughter?

Twenty-year-old Michelle Carter was convicted last week of “involuntary manslaughter” for encouraging the suicide of her friend Conrad Roy III, in July, 2014. While I’m not surprised by the outcome, I’ve always wondered if anyone should be held responsible for another person’s actions, up to and including suicide and murder.

The law says they should.  Psychiatrists, in particular, can be held liable if their patients–present or past–kill themselves or anyone else.  A mere hint of “suicidal ideation” in an emergency room is enough to get someone committed to psychiatric hospitalization, at least for an observation period of up to 72 hours.

That homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, and those escaping the law or outside enemies use this ploy to obtain “three hots and a cot” on cold or stormy winter nights is common knowledge in the medical world.  There are also the drug seekers, who hope to receive controlled substances to alleviate their pain.  While others want to blame the patients, I look to the crazy-making system itself. Those who learn to “work the system” are only doing what they believe is necessary for survival.

The professional’s challenge and dilemma is always to determine intent to act. Psychiatric evaluation is meant to assess the seriousness and immediacy of the threat.  It includes questions about access to weapons, past attempts, serious stressors (like medical diagnoses, relationship breakups, financial crises, for instance), level of intoxication (if any), mental stability (such as psychosis) and other possible contributing factors to the person’s distress.

In most cases, a 24-hour hospitalization is enough to alleviate the symptoms and allow a person to be discharged safely.  By morning, most people have changed their minds, at least until the next time.  Those who are truly suicidal can remain in the hospital for weeks, months, or even years, although this is becoming rarer. Psychiatric hospitals are so crowded that there’s constant pressure to discharge as soon as possible, or at least as soon as insurance coverage ends.

Bottom line is potential suicidality is taken very seriously in the medical and psychiatric world, and each case is different.  Although it is an ethical no-no for psychiatrists to diagnose or analyze people they have not personally examined, I deduce from news reports that there were a number of factors playing into the Carter case, including the un-examined belief that anyone can prevent anyone from doing what they intend to do.

News sources say Mr. Roy had attempted suicide four times in the past.  Ms. Carter met him in 2012, had emotional and mental problems of her own, and needed to be needed.  She fancied herself a helper, and up until the last two weeks of his life, she tried to convince him not to kill himself.  Then she suddenly changed tack and began encouraging him to act on his threats.  She even ordered him back into the carbon-monoxide filled vehicle when he became scared and got out.  Most of this was done long-distance, say the reports.

Witnesses for the prosecution claimed her motive was attention, as she was communicating various moves in this two-year dance to a variety of other people. It’s not clear whether anyone intervened or tried to break up this dangerously destructive dynamic.  Was this so-called need for attention a desperate cry for help by Ms. Carter herself?  Apparently Ms. Carter at one point encouraged Mr. Roy to seek professional help, but did she consult anyone herself about this problem? Chronically suicidal people can be exhausting, even for professionals, when they begin to manipulate for sympathy, attention, or to control the relationship.  At what point does the helper give up and say (or think), “Quit talking about it and just do it.”?

I don’t mean to excuse Ms. Carter for her actions.  She apparently gave a lot of bad advice over a long period of time, and she was way out of her depth.  Who can ascribe motive? For all anyone knows, Mr. Roy may have killed himself sooner if not for Ms. Carter’s friendship.  I happen to believe suicide is a personal choice.  I don’t recommend it, but I also believe we all choose our time to die, on some level.  We only differ in how we do it.

The “Health Care Industry” is Sick

THOUGHTS ON THE HEALTH SCARE-SNARE RACKET

Saturday, March 25, 2017—Trumpcare, the Republicans’ answer to Obamacare, failed this week.  Predictions abound about what the government will do next.  It appears Obamacare is imploding, and the media expects it to be saved or replaced.  My right-wing conservative friends declare government control of health care is unconstitutional.  My left-wing friends believe Obamacare needs to be fixed, not replaced.

I’ve been opposed to government and insurance-controlled medicine since graduating from medical school and psychiatry residency.  Back then, it was Hillarycare, which was trounced initially.  During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillarycare began being implemented piecemeal through bureaucracy.

For me, the issue then and now was freedom, including freedom of choice about everything from practitioners to types of treatment.  Government-controlled health care translates into a guaranteed captive market for insurance companies, in which the healthy subsidize everyone else, especially the “industry” itself.  Doctors and patients must kowtow to government and insurance rules.  Out the window go confidentiality, honesty, and compassion, since symptoms must fit a diagnosis code to insure payment for treatment.  In psychiatry, this means the psychiatrist must come up with a diagnosis which goes forever on the patient’s record and can interfere with everything from self-esteem to employment.

AND, SEVEN YEARS AGO THIS MONTH . . .

CURRENT EVENTS:  OBAMACARE

Wednesday, March 24, 2010—Everyone is talking about Obamacare, which passed over the weekend.  Everyone knew it would, but nobody knows what it means except more taxes.  The boat is sinking, but we’re afraid to rock it.

VIGNETTE:  OBAMACARE

Friday, March 26, 2010—I met a 35ish guy in line at Starbucks yesterday.  I was standing at the cash register when Sean mentioned something about Obamacare.  I said Dr.Obama needs to write his own prescriptions.  The guy behind me, a big, burly fella with motorcycle helmet and a completely tattooed right arm but untouched left arm, thick dark hair two-three inches long, eyes brown and intense, said something about economics, bankers, the Fed, or a related subject that tipped me off.

I realized he is an awakened soul, sees things as I do, and so we stood there agreeing with each other until both got coffee and moved out of the way.

Tee hee.  I had told the boyfriends the other day there is no gold in Fort Knox, and the levels of security exist to protect the void.  My new friend, whose name I didn’t ask, agrees there’s no gold in Fort Knox, but for fools’ gold, hahaha.  I told him his generation is much smarter than my generation and got a laugh out of someone behind me in line.

On the way out, my new friend mentioned the book, Creature from Jekyll Island, and said he learned on the net that the US has been selling gold-plated tungsten bars to China and I think France as if they were gold, and the deception has recently been discovered.  Apparently it began during the Clinton years, and the cost was something like $50,000 per bar to produce.

Later, Sean said we were two peas in a pod, an unlikely pair, the two of us, but what the hey.  These younger folks are expected to cater to all these old coots who were gullible enough to trust the Woodrow Wilsons, FDRs, Lyndon Johnsons, and other paternalistic exploiters, and I don’t blame the younger set if they believe Boomers are dispensable.  Why should they support us?  I told my friend he is under no obligation to make good on the government’s promises.

TEN YEARS AGO THIS MONTH:

MEDICAL SCHOOL ATTITUDES

Monday, March 26, 2007 – I’ve been thinking about my medical career.  Starting in medical school, I was appalled by the attitudes, and they got worse in the hospital in our third year.  M. was a good study companion the first two years, but his old girlfriend and the vicious, cut-throat, warfare in the hospital in our third year edged me out.  He played the politics and kissed up to the residents, but he also loved doing the procedures, and was like the rest of them, eager to compete for opportunities to do lumbar punctures, draw blood, drain fluid from lungs and peritoneal cavities, deliver babies, run codes.  While I wanted the experience, too, I wasn’t willing to elbow my way into the situations that offered them, and the rush-rush mentality rattled my confidence and made me afraid to touch the patients.

I was horrified at the frenzy of my classmates when it came to procedures, and the careless disregard for the patients they were so eager to practice on.  I wasn’t willing to follow residents around, hoping for chances to draw blood or run errands or otherwise do their bidding.  They perceived my attitude as insolence, and the OB-gyn boys took it more personally than the others. No one ever told me directly, so I was flabbergasted when Dr. S said they complained and almost failed me for the OB rotation.  I only remembered they wouldn’t let us do much, because they wanted to do it, and they kept medical students in a room together entire afternoons while they saw the patients alone.  I spent my time studying, so made the highest grade in the class on the written test.  I thought the OB-gyn material was the easiest.  Everyone else was bragging about how many babies they were “catching,” as if it were a disease.  I only “caught” one baby, that the chief OB resident helped me with, but he was the first baby with congenital syphilis the attending physicians had seen in ten years.

THE MD ROLE

Monday, March 26, 2007 – My no-frills trappings and simple, ascetic life – which it is – runs counter to the doctor stereotype, into which other doctors pour money and pride.  I’ve never felt comfortable in the doctor role.  It belongs to someone else, a non-being, a stereotype formed by others’ expectations, divorced from my self-perceived style.

But I’m good at it, among the best I know, which makes it all the stranger, because it comes so easily.  That I don’t put much faith in the pills I prescribe, the system I represent, the beliefs believed “normal” by today’s standards, ekes out in passing references.

No, I don’t believe in war, competition, health care insurance, the federal government, marriage, or that churches should be property tax-exempt, unless everyone is property tax-exempt.  If I pray directly to god, without need for a priest or rabbi to intercede, why should I pay property taxes when they don’t?  Who’s to say god listens more to them than me, and why should that give them a material advantage?

DRUG AND ALCOHOL LAWS

Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Drug and alcohol laws represent a major human rights violation–as the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion foretold–and should be abolished.  No one has the right to restrict another’s access to her own body.  The key to better health is better education and a free range of choices.  No one feels my pain like I do.

I believe drug laws set the frame for the sadomasochistic power struggles we call addiction. Drug laws are a means by which government seeks control over taxpayers.  Laws put government in a moralistic, paternalistic, top-dog position over the taxpayers who pay its way.

Laws and other social engineering tactics restrict the productivity of the very individuals who support them, and the entire society loses.

CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PRESCRIPTIONS

Monday, March 12, 2007 – Doing child and adolescent psychiatry means prescribing drugs I don’t approve of, because the teachers dictate medical care for unruly kids.

No, we won’t give them physical education, home economics, shop, or any incentive to behave, nothing that will interest them during the long hours they must sit, while some harried, bored, and boring teacher parrots an agenda designed to stifle curiosity and make children hate education.

No, we will diagnose them as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and put them on amphetamines to control their behavior, because what we’re really doing is cultivating the next generation of slave labor for the imperialists who formerly were industrialists but no longer even produce meaningful industry.  They produce paperwork, insurance, stocks, cash, and debt, using their forebears’ reputations as collateral, generating paper profits on Wall Street, while product quality and workplace safety plummet.

 

Eminent Domain: That Itchy Spot Below the Belt

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By Katharine C. Otto
February 1, 2017

 On January 25, The Wall Street Journal ran a front page article claiming “Trump Revives Pipeline Projects.” The article states that President Trump gave a thumbs up to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both stalled by former President Obama.

The WSJ is all for this, as noted in its editorial “No More Keystone Capers” the same day, which asserted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are good for “the economy.”

The WSJ says those in the industry are divided about whether the pipelines are needed.  Some say they are not needed yet. Other sources indicate energy use is declining worldwide, there is a glut of oil, and prices are down.

The WSJ’s slant is well known.  It supports Wall Street, assuming that what’s good for big business is good for the country.  It glosses over the long term costs of large-scale industrialization, manufacturing and exporting of natural resources.  The cost effectiveness of pipelines (and other large projects that benefit big business at the expense of residents) rides on the use of “eminent domain,” the government’s self-proclaimed right to confiscate private land for public purposes.

The Dakota Access pipeline is at the hub of the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest against the US government.  The Sioux claim the pipeline, slated to run under the Missouri River, endangers sacred ancestral and hunting grounds, as well as their drinking water supply (and that of others downstream).  Their resistance has drawn support from other Native American tribes, numerous environmental, other land-friendly and taxpayer-friendly groups.  The group is staking out its territory through the winter, justifiably worried that bulldozers will move in as soon as protesters look the other way.

While eminent domain has been in use over a century, it got a jump start forward in June, 2005, with the infamous “Kelo decision,” in which the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the New London, Connecticut City Council to eminent domain Susette Kelo’s neighborhood to build a convention center.  Pfizer, the massive pharmaceutical company, was a heavy hitter behind the move, as it had promised to build a $270 million research facility next door.

It was a bitter fight, as several of the neighbors had lived in their homes in the Fort Trumbull area for close to 60 years, paying property taxes all that time.  After the Supreme Court decision, Kelo’s neighborhood was razed.  Four years later, when Pfizer’s tax credits expired, it announced that it was abandoning the project, not to return.

Meanwhile, the precedent-setting decision by the Supreme Court has had devastating consequences, including using eminent domain to condemn property for oil pipeline construction.  It reaches deep into the pockets of all property owners and taxpayers and raises questions about what, exactly, is guaranteed by land ownership.

Shortly after the Kelo decision, there was a stampede by municipalities and other government entities across the nation to confiscate private land on the flimsiest of pretexts.  It got so bad in Georgia (and over 40 other states) that the state legislature put brakes on it, much to the dismay of our city and county governments.

In Savannah, title searches were being conducted by city officials to determine which properties the city might claim.  It was irrelevant to them that property taxes were being paid.  Now municipalities are lobbying the state legislature to remove the limits and maybe expand them, too.

Worse, eminent domain is rearing its ugly head in ever more ominous guises.  President Trump has said he would like to expand the its use.

This power of the state to confiscate private land for corporate cartels has run amok.  In Georgia, the latest assault on private property comes from corporate giant Kinder Morgan (of Enron heritage), which is lobbying the Georgia government for direct eminent domain rights.  There is a newly formed legislative committee studying how to slip this egregious theft past taxpayers and still get re-elected.

Meanwhile, multiply-subsidized Southern Company (a Fortune 500 company), has recently paid $1.5 billion cash for a stake in Kinder Morgan’s future.  Never mind that Georgia taxpayers, energy users, and captive SoCo market customers are already paying for two unneeded nuclear power plants upriver from Savannah.

I contend the industrial age has peaked.  Long term costs, like widespread contamination of shared resources, are becoming increasingly apparent, yet these are not factored into the government or corporate prognostications.  The “global economy” works when you’re talking about electronic money.  It’s a different matter when you’re exporting valuable natural resources and leaving the waste behind.

Eminent domain cuts both ways.  The impact of the Kelo decision has been for government to determine what is in the interests of “the public good,” to the great indignation of “the public.”  Remember that property owners pay property taxes every year to secure their protection from land confiscation, among other things. Guarantees such as water quality come with property tax payments.

By comparison, in the mid 1800s, much of the US rail system was built on government granted land, acquired by the government by “treaty” with natives, ”purchased,” as in the Louisiana Purchase, or presumed US territory because no one contested it.  Abraham Lincoln and his successors, such as Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, gave 10-mile wide swaths to private rail companies.  During the War Between the States and during Reconstruction, the North was desperate to insure a food supply for the cities, since it had eviscerated the South’s agricultural economy.  Let’s not forget that Abraham Lincoln was a corporate railroad lawyer before he was president.

So the race to link the continent’s coasts as quickly as possible gave rise to government bonds and favors, and railroad stock speculation, with the so-called “Robber Barons” like John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie playing both ends against the middle and profiting on all sides.   They skillfully manipulated the government and stock markets to do their bidding, at maximum public cost.

Immigrants from China, Ireland, and other places were tricked into leaving their homes to come to the “land of the free” to do the grunt and dangerous work, like laying the tracks.  They were now destitute, unable to return home, and forced to do maximum labor for minimum wages and the worst possible living conditions.

Back to the 21st century, the most outrageous difference between the rail and the highway systems now is that the highways are owned by the public, and the rail lines are owned by corporate rail giants, like Norfolk-Southern, CSX, and Western Pacific.

To allow the rail infrastructure—an invaluable public resource–to languish in corporate hands distorts US perceptions so badly that we lose track of the obvious.  Rail is the most efficient, enjoyable, and effective land transporter of goods and people ever devised.  Rail has versatility, accessibility, and practicality that pipelines can never provide.  It’s out in the open, so people can see what’s broke and fix it easily.  Best of all, the infrastructure is already in place, just needs a little of The Donald’s magic wand in terms of claiming it for the public good and using some of that infrastructure funding to spiff it up and make it safe for all.

If the new President wants to use eminent domain for the public good, he would do well to look at the rail system, but don’t expect him to think of this on his own.  It is in every citizen/taxpayer’s best interest to look at who benefits from eminent domain as it is currently wielded.  Once again, it favors large institutions over individual taxpayers, while taxpayers suffer the costs.

And now the world knows my solution to the pipeline problem.

Coming soon . . . my solution to the health care problem.

 

 

 

 

For Better or Worse

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In late 2006, ten years ago, I started reading an abridged (317 pages) version of Democracy in America, the classic work by French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville.  It took several years to finish it, but I noted de Tocqueville’s observations and my reactions along the way.  Below are my comments at that time, along with my retrospective on the 2016 election and its implications so far.

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA – ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE – 1832

             Democracy in America, the much quoted tome by French aristocrat and dilettante Alexis de Tocqueville, was written after a nine-month tour of the United States in 1831-2.  This 317-paged abridged version was edited by Richard D. Heffner, who wrote the introduction.  It was published in 1956.

Even in 1831, apparently, de Tocqueville recognized attitudes that have led to today’s problems in America, such as the driving greed of all layers of society, and the work-driven ethic.  At that time, class distinctions weren’t so clear, but this is shifting, and the oligarchy today consists in large part of so-called “public servants” who have commandeered public property and cordon it off against the public.

De Tocqueville also astutely observes that a comfortable populace will not revolt.  He didn’t anticipate they would not work, either, if the government makes life too comfortable, as is presumably happening now.

It bugs me that he calls this “democracy,” but I suppose it’s the closest form anyone in recent history has known.

De Tocqueville is optimistic and extremely perceptive, recognizing trends that have become so pronounced now that they are almost pathological, as the preoccupation with material things, for instance.

He was struck even then with the American love for money.  He did not see then the gradual centralization of power, but we didn’t have a democracy, either.  Slaves, Native Americans, and women were irrelevant in the political paradigms.

De Tocqueville’s observations provide perspective on America’s early ideals.  They show to some extent where we went awry.

He distinguishes, for one thing, between centralized government and centralized administration.  He says we have the former but an absence of the latter.

No more, I claim.  De Tocqueville wondered about the wisdom of the arrangement.  He said centralized administration saps initiative from local communities.

THEN AND NOW

            Democracy in America points to US priorities in the 1830s, and they are becoming ever more obvious today.  The fixation on material wealth and status stand out.  The idea that we have centralized government, and now centralized administration, too, seem particularly relevant with the president-elect’s cabinet and administrative picks.

I was one of those who stood aside during this 2016 election year, a part of the process by default but as removed as I could get.  My general belief is it doesn’t matter who the president is.  The machinery of government grinds on as if leaderless and, according to me, has been cruising downhill throughout my life.  That the pace has picked up recently, since the tech explosion, perhaps, or since 9/11, has less to do with the presidency than with general mass awareness and passive collusion with hitherto unseen forces.

Blame social media, “fake news,” the widespread sense of betrayal, and the general—albeit semi-conscious—preoccupation with money and status at all levels of society.  Blame the dissolving faith that government has answers, the disillusionment with delegated power and authority.  Passive aggression and passive resistance make for a general sense of social malaise that leads to personal and social stagnation.  What is left?

I’d like to believe we are undergoing a revolution in consciousness, a period of confusion in which we re-assess what we have believed and whether it remains valid. We are all—all of humanity and other life and non-life–in this stew pot together, for better or worse.  The fortune tellers on the payroll are busy trying to predict what disasters a Trump administration can wreak.  Even his supporters seem disgruntled over his choices of advisors and cabinet heads.

I say we got what we deserved, for better or worse, and, in retrospect it seems we have been heading along this path at least since de Tocqueville visited in 1831.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake News and George Orwell’s 1984

There’s a lot written lately about “fake news,” the widespread dissemination of misinformation.  This is nothing new.  Fake news has been around at least as long as gossip and probably longer.  No one can know more than her own perspective, and to presume otherwise leads to trouble.

Seven years ago, I re-read George Orwell’s classic dystopic novel, 1984, published in 1949.  In this book, history was deliberately re-written on a regular basis by the Party of the infamous Big Brother.

1984 opens with protagonist Winston Smith going home at lunch to write in the secret diary he bought on the black market.  He works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying old news accounts.

Author George Orwell gets right to the point and packs the desolation of the times into the first few pages, describing the old, worn apartment building Winston lives in, Victory Mansions, with elevator that rarely works, the smell of boiled cabbage, the leaky roof, suspicious, deadened people.  We hear about Hate Week and Two Minutes Hate being a part of the daily routine.

The telescreen in his living room transmits both ways, and you can’t turn it off.  Smith lives in the world of the eternal present, in which the past is continually re-written  People disappear, and all record of them expunged.  There is perpetual war.  Smith lives in Oceania, which is currently at war with Eurasia and at peace with Eastasia, but despite obliterated history, Winston remembers only four years ago, Eastasia was the enemy and Eurasia the friend.

Posters, stamps, coins, cigarettes and myriad other things bear Big Brother’s face and the ominous “Big Brother is watching you.”  We have Thought Police.  We have the party’s slogans:  “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”  News is so disconnected from what’s really happening that it is a farce, yet no one remembers clearly whether things have ever been different.

Language defines thought, and 1984 speaks to this more succinctly than anything I’ve ever read.  The point of Newspeak was to reduce the number of words, to constrict thought, render it homogeneous and controllable.

Midway through the novel, Smith is having an affair with Julia, a Party member who passed him a note saying “I love you,” when she fell in the hall and he helped her up.  She is 15 years his junior and content to live a double life of hating the Party while pretending to be a model member.  She is purely sensual, uninterested in politics except as it affects her life.  She believes war is frustrated sexual desire and that sexually satisfied people have no need or desire to fight.  This, she says, is why the Party outlaws it except between husband and wife, and only for the purpose of having children, and providing no one enjoys it.

Winston knows from the beginning he is doomed, just doesn’t know when his time will come.  Every move is watched, every facial expression, every sound transmitted over the telescreen.  Solitude is suspicious, as is unaccounted-for time.

Smith eventually takes Julia to meet with O’Brien, an inner party member he believes is a member of a subversive organization, the Brotherhood.  This organization is reputed to be headed by an Emanuel Goldstein, the demonized “Enemy of the People.”  O’Brian says he is indeed a member of the Brotherhood and enlists Winston’s participation, exacting promises to do whatever is necessary, on command, without asking questions, and expecting no rewards or acknowledgement.

 

Smith loses my allegiance when he says he is willing to abase himself to defeat Big Brother.  He dehumanizes himself with that commitment, and becomes no better than those he condemns.  He is willing to trade one overlord for another, perpetuating the cycle.

After meeting with O’Brien, Winston gets the forbidden Goldstein book and begins to read it, but he is then arrested in his hideaway just before reading the “Why?” of the party’s obsession.

The rest of the book is about Winston’s capture, imprisonment, torture, and re-education by O’Brien.  O’Brien says the party decides what reality is, and a lone individual like O’Brien cannot contest it.  The party is immortal.  He says the party did not make the mistake of previous dictatorships, (thereby admitting a past before the Party):  socialist governments that pretended to claim power merely long enough to establish justice and equality.  No.  The party wants power for its own sake, and it wants to use that power to crush all individuality and potential resistance. But even Winston Smith, during his interrogation, protests that such a brutal power structure as O’Brien describes could not sustain itself and would self-destruct.

In the end, of course, when O’Brien threatens to put a rat cage over Winston’s face, he commits the ultimate betrayal:  he begs to have them sick the rats on Julia, instead.

And, of course, the final two sentences—which I’ve remembered for 30 years, verbatim:  “He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother.”

Although George Orwell is uncannily prescient in some of his observations, like the muddying of language, the telescreen, and the homogenization of individuals into a mass mind where individuality is a crime, he cannot account for factors that make totalitarianism unsustainable.  We are now seeing the disintegration of the power structure that bleeds individuals to support itself.  It boils down to the simple fact that armed or violent resistance only reinforces the power structure, but non-participation and withdrawal deplete it.  Orwell is looking at an urban population dependent on infrastructure and easily controlled supply chains.

Also, while Orwell claims history is being wiped out by revisions in books, statues, streets, churches, and newspapers, he overlooks the fact that the dilapidated architecture itself bespeaks a more competent society, because those buildings were once new, with roofs and plumbing in good working order.

Orwell also deprives his characters of any curiosity outside politics or basic amenities.  In his first rendez-vous with Julia in the country, Winston is transfixed by the song of a thrush.  There is no other evidence of anyone doing anything useful, and the appreciation for the bird is an exception.

The characterization of perpetual war merely for the purpose of destroying excessive production, the three entities perpetually at odds with each other, the control of people by controlling their minds, is uncanny.  There’s a reference to 1914 as the turning point in history.

Doublethink, the ability to hold two mutually exclusive views at the same time and believe them both, is crucial.

 

But men have always thought in terms of violent revolutions that are manipulated simply to switch one power elite for another.  They do not recognize that these systems disintegrate from within because those in power can’t trust each other.  I believe the violence comes later, once people see how weak the structure has become.

I say you control by controlling the food and water supplies, and the product lines, a much more fundamental and practical method, if power is your aim.  Of course the power brokers know that, and all this talk about controlling minds is intellectual camouflage.  It’s hard to imagine Big Brother having much power in a rural area where people have more resources at their disposal.

George Orwell, pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, died a year after 1984 was published, at the age of 46.  He had lived through both world wars, the Depression, and had lived in poverty through much of his adult life.  He foresaw much of what is happening now, and he was discouraged about the future of mankind.  But in the final analysis, 1984 is a masterpiece of tight prose, excellent descriptions, good character development, and interesting plot, well worth reading.