May 12, 2011

Is “Peace” obsolete?

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:30 pm

The nostalgia laden icon, known as “the Peace symbol” is ubiquitous in Berkeley CA. The prolific bit of graphics could provide an industrious photo student with a potential theme for a project which could furnish enough raw material for a photo book.

The idea that the commercial exploitation of the Northern California city’s altruistic sentiment would be an ironic example of the crass basis for all capitalistic endeavor might be perceived by cynical columnists as an example of oxymoron thinking, but the unfortunate truth is that making a profit on idealism is a more realistic effort than is the lofty goal of the people who display the graphics which may or may not express the political move for nuclear disarmament by presenting the letters “N” and “D” in semaphore signals style. Apparently they think that nuclear disarmament is the first necessary step towards achieving a perpetual world-wide Peace.

Did the hippie trend of using the two finger “V” hand signal (popularized by Winston Churchill in WWII) to express the “Peace” sentiment originate in Berkeley during the Sixties? Dunno.

Ironically, the city that is almost a synonym for anti-war sentiment is also the location for a weapons laboratory think tank.

Sadly, the events of the first half of this year may put the altruistic goal of “Peace” so far out of reach that it can realistically be considered “Mission Impossible.”

The industrious family men who provide mainstream media with commentary would loose their precious paychecks for pointing this out, but a rogue (gonzo?) blogger can churn out such a column knowing that, in a culture dominated by clever conservative propaganda, his effort, even if it is a “spot-on” evaluation of a bleak truth, at best it will just provide a curious footnote for future historians scrutinizing the detritus from that year’s pop culture.

What evidence is there to back the deduction that Peace is now an unattainable goal?

For one example, examine the quagmire in Afghanistan. Now that Osama bin Laden has been sent to his eternal reward (which may be an inappropriate cliché phrase) the American military operation in Afghanistan may seem to be unnecessary. The fact that there will be no withdrawal of troops and no rational explanation for the American military’s continued presence in that country will be a subtle preview of the “perpetual war” reality that American voters will slowly comprehend.

Greater analytical minds than the one that this columnist possesses will have to make an evaluation for this possibility: “Could it be that President Obama was “played” into making a rash move when he ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden because the short term surge in his popularity ratings will later be eclipsed when the military industrial complex forbids Obama from adding to his reelection potential by evacuating the American military presence from Afghanistan?”

Obviously the gangland style treatment of Obama was a crowd pleaser, but if (for whatever reasons) the American President fails to remove troops from that theater of operations and concurrently fails to provide the voters with a rational explanation for that failure to make the logical move, then his popularity rating will suffer.

Here’s a doggy treat for the conspiracy-theory-lunatic crowd: Suppose that some dastardly advisors, who are secretly committed to Ayn S. Rand style conservative goals of perpetual profits for privatized military support firms, lured President Obama into ordering the rub-out of Osama, knowing that the long-term payoff would not be beneficial to a Democratic party incumbent candidate in the 2012 Presidential Election. Could it be that Obama is getting tainted advice from moles committed to the Republican agenda?

If al Qaeda responds to Osama’s death, as they have promised, with a devastating example of terrorism in the form of a nuclear explosion and if that happens before the next Presidential election is held, that might have a negative effect on Obama’s popularity ratings and vote totals. If they hold off until after the 2012 elections, then it will be a matter of either: Obama won’t care because he can’t have a third term, or a Republican winner would easily blame such a retaliation on the fact that it was Obama who ordered the hit on Osama. Either way they will have to respond in kind.

The US has participated in the NATO air strikes in support of the Libyan rebels. Col. Qaddafi has shown patience and perseverance in the past when he chose to send terrorists to deliver his retaliation answer to the USA. Qaddafi shows little potential for a St. Paul moment decision to adopt the “turn the other cheek” religious philosophy. Hence, it can be assumed that Qaddafi will veto any “Peace” sentiments.

What about Iraq? Since revenge is an integral part of Muslim culture, it seems that for a generation or two there will be a large contingent of Iraqi citizens who are relatives of people declared “unintended collateral damage” fatal casualties, and who will consider it their duty to remind Americans of the Biblical axiom about justice demanding “an eye for an eye.” They would not feel obligated to be bound by any peace deal with America by (to use a George W. Bush phrase) a “scrap of paper.”

Recent events in Egypt may remind foreign policy wonks of the old FDR assessment of a dictator. His succinct assessment could well apply to recently deposed Hasni Mubarak: “He may be an S.O.B., but he is our S.O.B.”

A zoo in the New York City region recently had to contend with a cobra snake who got out of her cage. Well, the American Mid East policy wonks may have an analogous problem developing in Egypt.

Do you think that North Korea’s leadership enthusiastically hold an annual celebration for the birth of “the Prince of Peace”? Me neither too.

What about Iran? If the 2012 election delivers Republican majorities back to the House and Senate, will a President from either major American political party be prone to ignore dire assessments from the CIA?

The new CIA director will be a fellow with the “Green Machine” mentality. Would he be tempted to tailor make intelligence about Iran’s nuclear development program for the fellow sitting in the Oval Office after the January 2013 Inauguration ceremony?

If the Expanded War Authority Act, which is now being voted on by the Congress and Senate, passes, the next President would be empowered to order a bombing strike on the Iranian nuclear development facility without the seeking prior permission from Congress. Anyone who has noted the long stream of news items about Republicans urging such a preemptive strike wouldn’t need to consult a fortune teller to predict what will eventually happen if the Expanded War Authority Act passes and is signed into law. (Hat tip to the Mike Malloy radio program for directing our attention to that obscure bit of legislative news just as this column was being written.)

There are other pockets of animosity that portend of additional troubles for America. Such as? Somalia, Yemen, the India – Pakistan border disputes, and America’s porous borders to name some.

Some immature Americans reacted to the news of Osama’s death as if they had just witnessed a walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning of the seventh game of a World Series. Guess again. Folks in Berkeley who reacted by dusting off various examples of their Peace symbols might be more realistic if they made plans to revive efforts to provide draft counseling advice for students.

Omar Bradley is quoted in Barlett’s for saying: “In war there is no second price for the runner-up.”

Now the disk jockey will play John and Yoko’s “Give Peace a chance,” the Doors’ “War is Over,” and Berkeley’s own Fogerty Brothers (their band is called CCR) playing “Who will stop the rain?” Now we have to go see how the latest hunger strike on campus is going. Have a “it ain’t over ‘til its over” type week.

Judo Joe Obama


May 11, 2011

Life & Death: Corporate personhood & old folks homes in South Berkeley

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:28 pm

One thing that I’ve been noticing recently is that there are a large number of “assisted living facilities” operating in South Berkeley right now. Fascinated by the concept of why so many of them have located in this particular section of my home town, I decided to investigate.

“How come there are so many rest homes located here?” was the question that I had planned to ask as I began my grand tour of the old folks homes of South Berkeley. There must be at least seven or eight of them right within blocks of where I live — not to mention two rather large HUD-sponsored senior-citizens housing complexes also located nearby.

I got my answer at the very first assisted-living facility that I went to. “About sixty or eighty years ago when most of these places were built,” said a nurse at the front desk of a rest home over on Ashby Avenue, “land in South Berkeley was relatively inexpensive — and so people started building facilities in this area. But even more important than that is the fact that all these facilities are very close to one of the major hospitals in the region — Alta Bates.” Duh! I shoulda known that! Two out of four of my children were born at Alta Bates. I used to take my kids to its ER when they occasionally broke bones while roughhousing with the rest of our housing project’s 40-odd mini-thugs. Of course.

“Actually, the larger facilities that you see around here are only the tip of the iceberg. There might be upwards of fifty more of them located in South Berkeley — small units, family-run, holding only a few elders at a time.”

I also talked with some of the residents at the rest homes I visited. Most of them liked the one they were staying in, said the staff was nice and that the food was good. But one older woman — who declined to tell me her age but looked to be almost a hundred years old — was sitting in her wheelchair out in front of one facility, seriously contemplating making her getaway!

“I hate it here!” she cried. “The food is lousy!” Apparently as one gets older and more frail, and one can’t do all that other stuff one used to do easily, then eating and food become more and more important. Although food has ALWAYS been important to me. And when I was embedded in Iraq, food was the number-one hot topic among the Marines. I loved Iraq! Everyone there loved to talk about food and the Dining Facilities there were absolute works of art! My kind of people. But I digress. Plus everyone else I talked with at this elderly lady’s facility loved the food so maybe she was just having a bad-hair day.

But as I toured old folks home after old folks home here in South Berkeley and saw dozens of elderly people in the last stages of their lives as they waited around for the Big One, there was something odd that I noticed — something that was missing. I hadn’t seen any elderly corporations sitting around in the hallways and reception rooms of these places, also waiting to die.

I saw no General Electric, no Monsanto and certainly no Koch Brothers Industries or Citizens United — waiting patiently for their inevitable ends to come. Why is that? If corporations are legal personhoods, why do THEY get to escape from the Grim Reaper and live forever while the rest of us “persons” do not?

PS: The developers who appear to dominate the Berkeley City Council these days are always talking about trying to turn West Berkeley’s industrial area into another Silicon Valley. Why don’t they alternatively follow South Berkeley’s example and turn it into another “Assisted Living Valley” instead.

Not only that, but we could build a whole bunch of high-quality medical centers here for the new rest homes to be satellites off of. I mean seriously — what doctor wouldn’t just LOVE to live here in Berkeley? Plus we already got all those bio-medical research companies here. And how about a west-coast branch of the Mayo Clinic? Plus UC Berkeley could open a hot new medical school here — there’s now a crying need for trained doctors and even Cuba is having trouble keeping up with the demand. Plus perhaps all those huge blood-sucking healthcare insurance companies could find a home here as well? Nah. West Berkeley is too far away from K Street.

BTW, I just aced playing a role as “Main Zombie” in a recent student film shot at a local digital arts school. And I bet you anything that when America’s major healthcare insurance companies see me all dressed up in my zombie costume, they will surely want to hire me — since they already have a strong passion for creating armies of uninsured healthcare Undead.

PPS: I just finished reading “The Portable Dorothy Parker” and it seems that Parker, who had made innumerable attempts at suicide during her lifetime including drinking a whole bottle of shoe polish, had finally come to the conclusion that it was actually a good thing that life was so painful for her.

“If it wasn’t for life’s pain and unhappiness — then how would we know that we’re alive?” When you stop feeling the slings and arrows that life throws at you, then that means you are dead. So be happy for any misery that comes your way. Why? Because it reminds you that you are still alive — and not the alternative.

PPPS: But on the other hand, never fear death either. “Tis a far, far better place I go to….” Death, like birth, is a whole new adventure, one that is to be looked forward to and cherished as one of the great road-markers of life.

And perhaps corporate personhoods should also give death a try — in order to prove that they too are human and not just zombies feeding off the blood and guts of we the living.


May 10, 2011

Revisiting the Ox-Bow Incident

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 3:55 pm

If (subjunctive mood) a country of wild warriors used the concept of spreading “freedom of speech” as a red herring for wars of aggression disguised as altruistic wars for humanitarian reasons and the dissemination of democracy in despotic lands, would anyone be surprised if a fellow, who believed the “tell it like it is” meme, was soundly condemned for providing an opposing point of view?

Progressive talk radio host Mike Malloy has become embroiled in such an oxymoron situation because he mused (on air) about the possibility that George W. Bush ordering of some military action which precipitated a massive amount of collateral damage in the form of civilian death and injury augmented by a massive amount of damage to the host country’s infrastructure might have an amazing degree of similarity to Hitler’s methodology, which is often exemplified by the unfortunate and regrettable bombing of Rotterdam. The authorities in Rotterdam had sent word to the German military that Rotterdam was to be accorded “open city” status. Regrettably that bit of intelligence was not relayed in a timely manner to the troops and Rotterdam was reduced to rubble.

Freedom of Speech was one of the four Freedoms for which the United States fought in World War II. Therefore the thought that some über-patriotic members of the Teabag branch of the Republican Party would not apply the old “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” philosophy to some freewheeling, stream-of-consciousness dialogue is an incomprehensible contradiction, but like the WMD’s, the word that Rotterdam was an open city, and the science fiction stories about polar bears facing extinction because folks are running their vacuum cleaners too often, a miscommunication occurred and people have challenged Malloy not for the fact-checking reasons but because they wanted to apply the Archie Bunker rule: “Stifle!”

Inadvertently, Malloy’s efforts to point out the philosophical oxymoron have only goaded his critics into some overzealous examples of their own subjunctive mood speculation that comes perilously close to being un-Christian threats against the health of him and his family. Obviously this situation is not the time for Malloy to echo the “Bring it on!” Bush style swagger.

Is there a teabagger who hasn’t read Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s classic novel, “The Ox-Bow Incident”? Shouldn’t Malloy calmly and rationally use that example of American pop culture to subtly point out the error of their aggressive rebuttals? Isn’t it über-ironic that they should be attacking him for exorcizing one of the rights they are prepared to die for to defend?

Perhaps, Malloy’s lapse in logic is his assumption that the “We’re just good patriotic Americans” crowd is castigating him for using his right to freedom of speech?

This may sound a tad “conspiracy-theory-nut”-ish, but could it (that pesky subjunctive mood rears its ugly head again) be that the folks who are sending him the acerbic missives are radical Muslims disguising themselves as teabaggers to carry out a fatwa against Malloy ordered by some mullah? Don’t all mullah’s look alike in their turbans and robes?

Don’t death threats sound more Sharia law-ish than something that patriotic Americans would advocate as a response to the opposing point of view?

Aren’t the real members of the teabag movement sending e-mails to their fellow travelers urging them to do a bit of stealth Malloy monitoring as a way to prove conclusively that the are reluctantly endorsing “freedom of speech”? Did Hitler encourage Germans to listen to foreign broadcasts to experience first hand their political propaganda? Heck no! The German authorities authorized to carry ammunition (Schutz-Saffel) feared that any such contact with the Allied Forces would produce a St. Paul’s moment. Did the Germans have freedom of speech or second amendment rights to carry arms?

So if the Germans were against those rights, doesn’t that mean that Teabaggers would automatically take the opposing point of view if some nefarious group tried to silence free speech in the USA?