Saturday, November 11, 2017

Right Nuts and Left Tits

This is the problem: the Second Amendment itself--and the cultural assumptions that underly this constitutional juggernaut.

Most citizens, of most countries, do not "assume" that they are entitled, by the mere circumstances of their birth, to possess and employ lethal firearms. But Americans DO so assume.

Americans, unlike, say, citizens of Japan or Britain or France or Sweden, grow up thinking that their authorization to bear arms is inborn and inalienable--a "natural" right--accorded them by the universe or by what Jefferson sneakily (and deceptively) called Nature's God. Any attempt to deny, limit, restrict or control that "right" is thus considered a threat to an individual's very identity as a free American, indeed as an autonomous human being.

In most other countries, though, possessing a gun is viewed as a privilege or a responsibility accorded to an individual based upon that individual's particular needs, qualifications and training--a privilege not given lightly and granted only to those who demonstrate convincingly that their use of such weapons would be useful or (at least) inoffensive to the common good. Granted by whom? By the central government whose sacred duty it is to "provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare." In such countries, that's what the GOVERNMENT does--not what individual gun-toters do.

A complete reversal of the American attitude (despite the language of the Preamble to the Constitution).

Of course, this is not a new idea. My friends in Europe have often expressed their astonishment that Americans regard gun rights as something as integral to one's selfhood as, say, a right nut or a left tit. It always surprises me, though, that Americans themselves do not recognize, indeed refuse to recognize, how completely "out of it" they are. My God, isn't it clear that, in the 21st century, constitution writers possessed of even a bare minimum of rationality would NEVER include in their foundational document any provision as threatening to "domestic tranquility" as the Second Amendment?

Obviously, I believe that our outdated 18th century assumption is wrongheaded--and that our gun-toting culture is both self-defeating and viciously cyclical (we buy guns to protect ourselves from others who buy guns to protect themselves from others who...well, you see the pattern). However, I also believe that any wimpy attempt at "modest" control--better vetting, no assault guns, yada yada.--will FAIL. As long as guns OF ANY KIND are widely available and regarded as a natural "right," nothing substantive will change. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

It is my belief that only a complete about-face in our fundamental assumptions--comparable to the moral revolution settled (at least officially) by the Civil War and enshrined in the post-Civil War amendments--can procure a safer, saner, commonwealth. In short, the Second Amendment must be REPEALED and gun possession must be seriously limited/regulated (as in Japan or the UK).  No one, anywhere, should be assumed to have a natural or constitutional "right" to bear arms.

Alas, I doubt that we Americans have any REAL will to change our ingrained thinking so radically. The fearsome toll of gun violence shocks us, yes (sincerely), but still we cannot bring ourselves to espouse anti-Amendment "blasphemy" or take anti-Amendment stands. Instead, in response to the havoc wreaked by the un-infringed bearing of arms, we cling vacuously to moments of silence followed by...thoughts and prayers. It's pathetic, and we know it. But give up our guns? My God, they're like our right nut and left tit!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Revival of the Fittest

All the current revelations of sexual wrongdoings and/ or repentance therefrom bear a sort of queasy resemblance to the over-heated “altar calls” at the climax (ahem) of revival meetings. On the one hand, I am encouraged that the national “congregation” is suddenly clamoring to confess both its frequent misdeeds and its general complicity in them. On the other hand, I am skeptical that our frenzied coming-to-Jesus will have any lasting effect on the sex-power drive of alpha males. There will be temporary teeth-gnashing and breast-beating, of course, but the history of human phallocentrism suggests that any “resolve to sin no more” is likely to be short-lived. As a species, we are capable of CONCEPTUALIZING a better, more self-disciplined, less brutish rapport between the sexes. Indeed, certain individuals—perhaps even increasing numbers of them—may be successful in living in accordance with such ideals (and this, too, is modestly encouraging). But overall, globally, how well do we do? Certainly nothing to shout “hallelujah” about—not very loudly anyway.  Because, well, recidivism, thy name is alpha male. And so, fellow dreamers, until we meet again at our culture’s next revival meeting...


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Land of the Free (If You've Got a Pot to Piss In)

Well, after a two-week trip to Europe, here I am back in the USA--you know, the country that's supposedly running like a fine-tuned machine. (Haha.) 

I suppose I should be grateful that I have escaped what right-wingers like Rand Paul call "the socialist gulag" of France--that bastion of misguided "wealth redistribution"--where two of my friends have recently had intensive medical procedures conducted by top specialists and paid for by perhaps the finest (universal) healthcare system in the world; where trains are clean, frequent and on-time; where trash is collected daily and streets are washed continually; where highways are maintained and pothole-free; where a weekly pass for transport anywhere within the Parisian agglomeration (subway, buses, suburban trains) costs only €22.50; where everyone gets at least a month of paid vacation; where college education is essentially free; and where (this is the best part) even the most extreme right-wingers accept these policies as appropriate and legitimate. 

OK, there are also problems: high unemployment, complicated and inflexible work rules, racial and religious tensions, poor assimilation of immigrants. But, Jesus! toute proportion gardée, France is considerably more fine-tuned (in both senses of the word "fine") than DJT's mean and dysfunctional America. 

Surely, then, we need to crawl out from under our selfish, reactionary rock. "We all do better when we all do better," said the late Paul Wellstone--in a formula that infuriates both extremes of the right wing (the super-rich plutocrats and the no-pot-to-piss-in wannabes). Still, the idea is sound: even Henry Ford realized that he, too, would do better if his workers could afford to buy his cars. 

So, in the final analysis, I conclude once again--as I always do upon returning to the "land of the free" (but only if you already have your pot to piss in): we could use a good dose of French-style equality and fraternity to temper our obsession with untrammeled (and therefore brutal) liberty.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kushner the Keystone Kop

"President" Trump and his retainers do almost NOTHING according to purposeful, outcome-based planning. Everything in this administration "just happens," and like Topsy, "just grows," irrespective of anything else. I find it difficult, therefore, to believe that Jared Kushner or anyone else in that clutch of latter-day Keystone Kops had any conscious intention of doing, well, much of anything really consequential with the Russians. It was all just ad-libbed game-playing by political dilettantes. AKA, bullshit.

And as we know, bullshit action, like bullshit talk, is simply made up on the spur of the moment for no purpose other than to "win" the moment and move on to another moment requiring its own bullshit improvisation, probably inconsistent with anything previously cooked up. Moment to moment to moment muddling--until, whoops! the muddlers are crushed between two streetcars they somehow didn't notice careening toward them. In all this, clearly, there is no overarching plan or principle or internal logic. It's movement with neither purpose nor destination. 

So I suspect that Kushner (perhaps to please the Prez) merely committed Keystone-Kops stupidity--or at worst, frat-boy mischief. I doubt that he had/has either the intellectual heft or the intestinal fortitude to effect any genuine collusion with Russia's big spooks. But he did kinda drive off a PR cliff, didn't he? Evidently, behind that high Harvard forehead, snoozes the brain of a bonafide klutz. 

Which leads us to ask: will the favored son-in-law fall into the sea or will he, by dint of more muddling, succeed in pulling himself back up to terra (not so) firma? Stay tuned for the next episode, folks. It's entitled "Jared Jiggles the Jalopy."

Friday, May 26, 2017

NATO Tea Party With Trump

I suspect that Trump and the majority of Americans think thusly about foreign relations: "It is America's manifest destiny and sacred duty to control (er, "protect") the rest of the world (foreigners certainly can't be trusted to do it themselves--they might not even be able to identify the proper "enemy") but, by jingo, we expect the rest of the world to PAY for this benevolent management we're providing. Like Mexico and that wall we're gonna build down there for their own good. Enough unfair exploitation of American taxpayers! No more free military occupation! Pay up, you moochers!"

Throughout history, this has generally been the prevailing empire's argument--and justification--for demanding financial "compensation" from its subject peoples. The British did this in 18th century North America in an effort to exact some payment for the "protection" they had provided the cheapskate  colonies in the French and Indian (Seven Years') War. The demand was probably legitimate: the redcoats HAD after all kept out the poxy French--and the war had been costly.

Nonetheless, the methods employed (taxes levied from London with no colonial input) were ill-conceived, ill-executed, and shit! they just pissed everybody off so bad! Consequently, in that instance at least, the subject people not only refused to pay--but they tossed the arrogant Imperials out on their rosy, red arses. Achtung! therefore, Mr. Trump, lest the NATO leaders grow so angered by YOUR methods that they decide to call your bluff and, following the example set back in 18th century Boston, dump you (and America) unceremoniously into the sea--like a fat bag of Oolong.

In other words, if you want dominance and world hegemony, you’re going to have to pay more than your subjects/allies. If, on the other hand, you sincerely want an equitable distribution of cost—together with a correspondingly equitable distribution of power—you must abandon your cherished notion of Rule America! 

Which might earn you very bad ratings among your uber-patriotic fans.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Unenlightened Ban

I'm not naive. I know that much of what we Westerners term "terrorism" is fomented by disaffected people who are, at least marginally, Muslim in heritage. Their motive, insofar as it is something other than irrational rage, seems to be a quasi-inarticulate attempt to destabilize or undermine the Enlightenment principles which underlie Western democracy--the notions of tolerance and human rights enshrined in our constitutions and legal systems. I agree fully that such activity must be resisted--but within the framework of our Western traditions. 

What bothers me so much about Trump's anti-Muslim (and yes, of COURSE that's what it is) ban is that it is essentially an admission of defeat--an abandonment of the very Enlightenment ideals we purport to cherish and serve.

The terrorists have won. They have indeed destabilized and undermined the America of Jefferson and Madison and Lincoln to such an extent that we are ourselves resorting to the very practices which the Declaration of Independence denounced and from which the Constitution was intended to protect us.

That is deeply regrettable, and I am both ashamed and angered. We must not sacrifice liberal democracy in order to save liberal democracy.That just doesn't make any sense. Surely sound (enlightened) heads can come up with a better idea than scapegoating an entire religion.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

GoFundMe Government

GoFundMe seems to be the ideal Republican solution to healthcare
--indeed, to the alt-right's distaste for government itself. Entirely private, voluntary, free-will offerings for sick people. Or old people who need food. Or young people who want an education. Or businesses who need roads, or CEOs who need police protection. Or groups who feel threatened by Mexico and want to rent some soldiers. If you need something, just set up a fund and ask "compassionate" fellow citizens to provide the money. No need for taxes, or vouchers, or any sort of government at all. If people find you appealing and help you, you survive and thrive; if they don't like you, you wither and die. Elegantly simple. Rousseau plus Hobbes plus Darwin plus Marx equals Billy Mays the Oxi-Clean man and Cathy Mitchell, the Crock Pot Dump lady. It's all about salesmanship and making a deal, isn't it? Online, of course.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The No-Solution Solution

To a great deal of fanfare, Secretary of State John Kerry recently declared that Israel seems to be tending toward a "one-state solution" to the as yet unresolved status of the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War. Kerry then went on to warn that such a solution would thrust Israel into the untenable moral conflict of an ostensibly liberal society attempting to remain both democratic and Jewish while simultaneously denying equal rights to non-Jewish Palestinians (who, by treaty or annexation, would necessarily become citizens of some sort).

Well, of course Kerry is right in asserting that a legally-established and recognized Greater Israel would have a tough time maintaining both Jewishness and democracy--since the Muslim Palestinians, if granted full citizenship rights (as they would presumably have to be in a democratic state) would inevitably dilute the Jewishness of the expanded Israel.

But that is precisely why, despite its undeniable "tending" toward a single Mediterranean-to-Jordan state, Israel is currently best served by avoiding the constraints of such a definitive, de jure, disposition of the West Bank territories. Rather, for the moment, the status quo of NO solution is preferable: it is a vague, flexible and essentially extra-legal military occupation which permits, for as long as it endures, a democratic, Jewish state to co-exist with and to exercise authority over the entire West Bank without any moral or legal obligation to grant the rights of citizenship to what remains, de jure and de facto, a hostile, enemy population. In other words, with NO solution, a de facto single state already exists, while de jure, both Jewishness and democracy are preserved.

Now about those settlements. How can anyone doubt that they, together with ongoing (albeit inconsistently-applied) government practices of harassment, intimidation and restriction, are basic manifestations of a deep-seated, visceral urge (not always overtly acknowledged) to push out or otherwise attenuate the non-Jewish population of the West Bank?

In other words, Kerry's analysis, though eloquent and accurate, was astonishingly disingenuous in its timing--at least four decades too late. Yes, the settlements were, indeed, at one time--say in 1970--little more than a quite surmountable obstacle to a two-state solution. But that is no longer the case, as surely the United States has known for decades (why start scolding now?). Instead, the settlement-building has proceeded apace, tolerated, perhaps even discreetly encouraged by the U.S., until in 2016, both geographically and demographically, these Israeli enclaves have grown so extensively as to render a two-state solution completely unrealistic. Anyone who looks at a map of the West Bank can see the evidence.

Here's what that map reveals and what both the U.S. and Israel know--despite Netanyahu's feigned shock and Kerry's puzzlingly-timed admonishment:

1)  Fully 10% of Israel's Jewish population now live in (already-annexed) East Jerusalem or the remainder of the West Bank. No Israeli government could ever voluntarily permit itself to abandon these "settlers."

2)  Moreover the settlements are all interconnected and integrated with Israel proper, whereas the tracts reserved for Palestinians are isolated from each other and lack the contiguity necessary for the functioning of a viable state.

3)  Though they resemble the apartheid-era "townships" of South Africa, these Palestinian preserves have no precise internationally-recognized legal status, there being no Israel-Palestine treaty to the 1967 war; they thus remain an "occupied" population of non-citizens subject to the military rule of a conquering power, Israel.

4)  The current division, per Oslo Accord II, of the West Bank into three "interim" areas of administration affords Israel a relatively efficient means of containing and/or neutralizing the hostile activities of anti-Israeli organizations such as Hamas--organizations that no "peace" treaty would likely make disappear and whose ranks would surely swell with dissidents if any such treaty were concluded. (Even Area A, supposedly the exclusive domain of the Palestinian Authority, is casually subjected to military interventions deemed necessary by Israel, under whose aegis the PA governs.)

5)  The very ambiguity of the status quo--as uneasy as it makes systematic thinkers--conveniently allows Israel to entertain simultaneously three seemingly conflicting goals--1) the establishment of a unified Greater Israel stretching from Mediterranean to Jordan, 2) the maintenance of a Jewish identity, and 3) the guarantee of liberal democracy, at least for all citizens. Because, of course, in the happy absence of ANY solution, the Palestinians can continue to be regarded as de jure non-citizens residing in a land that is, nonetheless, a de facto Jewish state.

For all these reasons, I reaffirm my previously-stated conclusion that clear-eyed believers in Greater Israel (I count Netanyahu among these) probably do not actually want this status to be altered, despite any lip-service they may occasionally pay to other schemes. Though the ideal Jewish state these people envision does not yet (and may never) exist, and though the current ambiguity creates unpleasant stresses both domestically and internationally, the perpetual non-peace of the status quo is nonetheless the best Israel can hope for at this stage of its nation-building. For now and for the foreseeable future, no solution is the only solution that can hold together in fragile equilibrium all the disparate goals mentioned in Kerry's speech.

And the Kerry speech itself? Pretty much useless for Israel and Israelis, who are well aware of their options--but a good reminder for Americans of the dilemmas in morality and Realpolitik posed to us by our ongoing involvement and tangled alliances in the Middle East. We, too, must make some choices about what sort of "solution" will best serve our interests.

P.S. Those who record history sometimes attempt to measure the goodness or badness of sweeping historical movements in terms of some moral criterion of their choosing. But history itself is not moral--and I'm pretty sure that history itself will make no moral judgment about Israel's apparent élan toward a united Jewish state stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. (Certain historians will moralize about the methods used, but that is another matter, independent of the outcomes achieved.) Peoples have invaded, colonized, occupied, exterminated, assimilated, persecuted, enslaved, displaced, etc., other peoples since the beginning of time. My own country, the United States, is the product of such a relentless and unabashed process of ethnic "cleansing." The anti-Israeli Arabs are likewise the descendants of such invaders and their victims. And the Jews, themselves, perhaps more than any other people, have endured centuries of persecutions, displacements and exterminations. History will judge Israel primarily as it judges other nations--by its success or failure, by whether it survives or implodes. I will not live long enough to read that story or, as one of those moralizing historians, to render a judgment on its overall merits. Perhaps, given my squeamish nature, that's just as well.