Israel Grabs More Palestinian Land

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/31/israel-west-bank_n_5745498.html

This above is an article from Huffington Post that is about how Israel is instituting a new land grab in the West Bank.  One can’t help but feel that a certain portion of Israel’s government is a criminal element that stands outside the law of nations.  It is not Jews in general or even all of the Israeli people, much in the same way that Rick Perry does not represent all Texans, that are responsible for this.  However, unfortunately, because these are the politicians that have the power in Israel right now, I believe we must treat the nation of Israel as pariah that needs to be checked if there is ever going to be peace in the Middle East.  Hopefully change will come from within.  In the meantime Americans should demand that our government quit sending Israel money.  

Lone Star Crazy

texas-flag

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/lone-star-crazy-how-right-wing-extremists-took-over-texas-20140701

An interesting, yet super depressing, article about my current home state of Texas from Rolling Stone Magazine.  I would like all of you that are not from Texas to know that Texas is way more diverse than most people think. Unfortunately, the idiots are in charge right now.  

Kurt Vonnegut In Honor of Labor Day

05-Kurt-Vonnegut-on-Rules

Yesterday I mentioned that I had been reading the Kurt Vonnegut collection If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?  I thought that the following speech, when he received the Carl Sandburg Award in 2001, would be the perfect thing to post for Labor Day.  In the book this speech is called Don’t Despair If You Never Went to College.  

We are America’s Great Lakes people, her freshwater people, not an oceanic but a continental people.  Whenever I swim in the ocean I feel as though I am swimming in chicken soup.  

I thank you for this honor, although it is a reminder that I am not nearly the passionate and effective artists Carl Sandburg was.  And we are surely grateful for his fog which came in on little cat feet.  But tonight seems an apt occasion as well for celebrating what he and other American socialists did during the first half of the past century, with art, with eloquence, with organizing skills, to elevate the self-respect, the dignity, and political acumen of American wage earners, of our working class.  

That wage earners, without social position or higher education or wealth, are of inferior intellect is surely belied by the fact that two of the most splendid writers and speakers on the deepest subjects in American history were self-taught workmen.  I speak of course, of Carl Sandburg of Illinois, and Abraham Lincoln, of Kentucky, then Indiana, and finally Illinois.  Both, may I say, were continental, freshwater people like ourselves.  

Hooray for our team!

I know upper-class graduates of Yale University who can’t talk or write worth a nickel.  

Socialism is no more an evil word than Christianity.  Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition.  Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal, and should not starve.  

Adolf Hitler, incidentally, was a two-fer.  He named his party the National Socialists, the Nazis.  Hitler also had crosses painted on his tanks and airplanes.  The swastika wasn’t a pagan symbol, as so many people believe.  It was a working person’s Christian cross, made of axes, of tools.  

About Stalin’s shuttered churches, and those in China today:  Such suppression of religion was supposedly justified by Karl Marx’s statement that “Religion is the opium of the people.”  Marx said that back in 1844, when opium and opium derivatives were the only effective pain killers anyone could take.  Marx himself had taken them.  He was grateful for the temporary relief they had given him.  He was simply noticing, and surely not condemning, the fact that religion could also be comforting to those in economic or social distress.  It was a casual truism, not a dictum.  

When Marx wrote those words, by the way, we hadn’t even freed our slaves yet.  Whom do you imagine was more pleasing in the eyes of a merciful God back then?  Karl Marx or the United States of America?

Stalin was happy to take Marx’s truism as a decree, and Chinese tyrants as well, since it seemingly empowered them to put preachers out of business who might speak ill of them or their goals.  

The statement has also entitled many in the country to say that socialists are anti-religion, are anti-God, and therefor absolutely loathsome.  

I never met Carl Sandburg, and I wish I had.  I would have been tongue-tied in the presence of such a national treasure.  I did get to know one socialist of his generation, who was Powers Hapgood of Indianapolis.  After graduating from Harvard, he went to work as a coal miner, urging his working-class brothers to organize, in order to get better pay and safer working conditions.  He also led protesters at the execution of the anarchists Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Massachusetts in 1927.  Another of our freshwater ancestors was Eugene Victor Debs, of Terre Haute, Indiana.  A former locomotive fireman, Eugene Debs ran for president of the United States four times, the fourth time in 1920, when he was in prison.  He said, “As long as there is a lower class, I’m in it.  As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it. As long as there’s a soul in prison, I am not free.”  Some platform.  

A paraphrase of the Beatitudes.  

And again:  hooray for our team.  

And our own beloved Carl Sandburg had this to say about the fire-belching evangelist Billy Sunday:

You come along – tearing your shirt – yelling about Jesus. I want to know what the hell you know about Jesus.  

Jesus had a way of talking soft, and everybody except a few bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem liked to have Jesus around because he never made any fake passes, and he helped the sick and gave people hope.  

You come along calling us all damn fools – so fierce the froth of your own spit slobbers over your lips – always blabbering we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it.  

I’ve read Jesus’s words.  I know what he said.  You don’t throw any scare into me.  I’ve got your number.  I know how much you know about Jesus.  

You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it up all right with them by giving them mansions in the skies after they’re dead and the worms have eaten ‘em.  

You tell $6-a-week department store girls all they need is Jesus.  You take a steel trust wop, dead without having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross and he’ll be all right.  

You tell poor people they don’t need any more money on pay day, and even if it’s fierce to be out of a job, Jesus’ll fix that all right, all right – all they gotta do is take Jesus the way you say.  

Jesus played it different.  The bankers and the corporation lawyers of Jerusalem got their murderers to go after Jesus because Jesus wouldn’t play their game.  

I don’t want a lot of gab from a bunk shooter in my religion.  

Hooray for our team.  

And I now take advantage of your hospitality by declaring myself a child of the Chicago Renaissance,  powerfully humanized not only by Carl Sandburg, but by Edgar Lee Masters and Jane Addams and Louis Sullivan and Lake Michigan, and on and on.  

I propose a toast to an individual who wasn’t an artist or working stiff of any description.  She wasn’t even  human being.  Ladies and gentlemen of Chicago, I give you Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.  

Code of Hammurabi and Sledgehammer

I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book today called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?  Here are a few snippets from an address to Agnes Scott College, which is a women’s college.  The piece is entitled Advice to Graduating Women (That All Men Should Know). 

I am so smart I know what is wrong with our world.  Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”

What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago.  And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too.  Are you ready for this?

“And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi,  which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury,  real or imagined, shall be avenged.  Somebody’s going to be real sorry. 

Bombs away – or whatever.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ” Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”  What kind of a man was that?  Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends and relatives, and make their deaths painful.”

And later…

Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago. 

We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully,  violently,  to every insult or injury.  In this, the Age of Television,  they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers,  to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on.

Fires, explosions.  Come look.  Oh my gosh – hey wow.

To quote the late Irving Berlin: “There’s no business like show business.”

It seems that not only in our response to slights, not only do we not take the high road,  but our responses create the unbroken chain of violence that Mr. Vonnegut speaks of.  One only has to look at the Iraq War and now the emergence of ISIS.   It also seems as if our response is always disproportionate to the original slight. 

I was reminded today, while reading this, of a show I used to watch as a kid.  It was called Sledgehammer,  and it was a spoof of the kind of over the top Dirty Harry character that always uses excessive force.  I think the link to the video is a good metaphor for our foreign policy.  In the clip the police are being shot at by a sniper.  Rather than simply take the bad guy out, Sledgehammer pulls out a bazooka and blows up the entire building in which the sniper has his nest. 

Oh my gosh – hey wow.

Cultural Apocalypse

In reading Hampton Sides’s excellent In the Kingdom of Ice I came upon the story, only a side story in the book, of the Yupiks, a native population in Alaska.  They were destroyed when the white man came along and killed their food source and supplied them with alcohol.   In their case it was the walrus and not the buffalo. 

It was the Arctic version of a story well known to Americans, the story of the buffalo and the Indians of the Great Plains.  Here, as there, the wholesale slaughter of a people’s staple prey had led, in a few short years, to ruinous dislocations, terrible dependencies – and a cultural apocalypse.  

I have read a good deal of history books.  I was a History Major and eventually an American Studies Major.  Yet, this slaughter is something I have never heard of.  It took place as late as the 1880’s,  hardly ancient history.  That is less than 150 years, the span of two human lives. 

When we, as a people, go into a region, such as we have in Iraq, do we really know the history of what went on there?  There is so much we don’t know about our own history.  There is so much that we don’t know period.  How do we make informed political decisions, especially when human life hangs in the balance?