Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poor Glenn Beck

I was surfing cable land last night and saw Glenn Beck giving an amusing chalk talk. As usual, he was demonstrating another of his half-baked tirades against the administration with illiterate metaphors that illustrate his lack of education. He had adopted the term 'Czars' for people chosen by President Obama to be in charge of several offices in Washington D.C. while, in almost the same breath, calling their programs 'socialist'. OMG!

A little history: The Russian czars were autocrats who ruled over one of the cruelest systems, 'serfdom', that was ever instituted on the face of the earth. The vast majority of the Russian peasantry was finally bound in full serfdom and fully half of the total population of the country by the middle of the 19th century.

The Wikipedia says: 'Serfs were given estates in the Sobornoye Ulozhenie (Соборное уложение, "Code of Law") of 1649; and flight was made a criminal offense in 1658. Russian landowners eventually gained almost unlimited ownership over Russian serfs. The landowner could transfer the serf without the land to another landowner while keeping the serf's personal property and family, however the landowner had no right to kill the serf. About 4/5 of Russian peasants were serfs according to the censuses of 1678 and 1719; free (black) peasants remained only in the North and North-East of the country. As a whole, serfdom came to Russia much later than in other European countries. Slavery remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter the Great converted the household slaves into house serfs. Russian agricultural slaves were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679.'

The serfs were supposedly emancipated in 1867 but in reality they were only stripped of what little land they owned by the rich landowners and they became tenant farmers who starved in hard years. Many moved to the cities where they were not much better off, then being exploited by the industrialist rather than the great landowners. In fact, it was the locomotive workers' strike in St. Petersburg that kicked off the Russian Revolution.

After a short time of reform under his father, Czar Alexander III instituted a new regime of cruel repression under a man named Pobedonostsev. Under his rule all the working class of people suffered and it was this history that inspired the socialists, Marxists, to begin spreading their egalitarian theories to a receptive populace. It eventually led to the Russian Revolution of 1905. And that's why Glenn Beck looks like a dork when he writes 'Czar' on the black board and calls them socialists.

He doesn't know what he is talking about.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Exxon-Mobil, the worst client in the world

I was in the oil exploration business for about twenty-five years, doing seismic surveys. What's that? If you have ever bought property and needed to know exactly where your boundaries were you had to hire a surveyor to find out exactly what you had. He then gave you a map of it. When an oil company bids on a "block" of land that may have some oil or gas reserves under it they hire a seismic survey company to do subsurface mapping. The company uses a system of cables, geophones, a portable computer in a truck or one ferried via helicopter. A powerful sound source is also needed, usually supplied by dynamite or vibrations made by specially designed vehicles. The vibrations bounce off the layers of rock underground and all that information is "stacked" together by very powerful computer programs to form a 3-D picture of the area of particular interest. If the map shows a geological structure that typifies those known to harbor hydrocarbons a decision to drill a very expensive well may be made. Sometimes the decision is based on whether the well may produce enough oil to pay for the investment many times over, in the discovery of an oil field. However, sometimes it may be a cynical political decision, like the ones Exxon-Mobil are famous for in the business. The 'erl bidness' is full of snakes, crocs, and other cold blooded critters but EX 'n' EM make the rest of them look like a petting zoo. All of those avuncular types purring on your TV about alternate energy projects? Don't leave your child unattended in a room with one of them. You may return to find the baby rendered for their fat.

Let me see. . .can I come up with an anecdote about a cynical political decision? Hmmm. Oh yeah, Tambopata in southeastern Peru near the Manu National Park and one of the ecologically richest, most biologically diverse places on the planet. Oil lease Block 78, 1997.

I was working for a French company, Compagnie General de Geophysique and they had just inherited a contract from Mobil for an unfinished seismic survey near the town of Puerto Mazuko in the famous Madre de Dios River country. An American company had gone broke trying to do the survey the year before because the country was so rough and they had seriously underbid the project. No one wanted the job, even CGG, so they tendered a bid of $10,000 per kilometer, and Mobil took it! It was, and still is I believe, the most money ever paid for a seismic survey. Why? Because Block 78 was right in the middle of this ecological wonderland and it had just been proposed for a national reserve, perhaps a national park. Their lease was the last one active and if they didn't find the promise of oil the place would be put off limits to mineral exploration forever. But if they, Mobil, could find even the slightest promise of a drillable structure they could turn the place into a free fire zone. However, there were a few little flies in the ointment.

I had done a couple of jobs in Ecuador and worked with two famous Huorani Indian shit disturbers named Moi and Nanto. They were famous for while when featured in a book titled 'Savages' and they were involved in the politics surrounding Texaco's reckless pollution of Ecuador's jungle. I'd seen the lagoons of black muck on a stopover of a flight to Coca so I knew it was a serious problem. Anyway, there were a bunch of Americans buzzing around Quito and Lima and they knew how to generate bad ink all over the world. They definitely had Mobil's attention, so they hired a large environmental engineering company out of Boulder, Colorado named Walsh Environmental Engineers and Scientists. Coming out of Berkeley East it's no wonder they didn't have the common sense to pick a giraffe out of a herd of sheep; I had to fight their minion on the crew from day one. He would gladly acknowledge that I was right but, good soldier that he was, and fearing for his job, he did what he was told to do. Even when he knew it endangered the health and safety of my men.

Mobil had brought in two of its own safety men, both laughable. One had spent his career doing safety at pumping stations in California. The other was a grossly obese Canadian who spent most of his time stuffing his face and bragging about his adventures in the great white north. My favorite memory of him was him lifting his leg while trying to get into a river boat, then falling on his fat butt in the mud because his center of gravity was about 18" off the ground.

I had been doing safety and security in the jungle for years and here I was working with an array of people whose least concern was the actual safety and security of the working men on the several crews scattered over some of the toughest terrain in South America. Everything was for show, nothing was meant to protect the workers. Like the soap. Christ!

Walsh, in all its effing Boulder wisdom decided that the Mobil safety men were to confiscate all the men's personal soap and shampoos, plus the dish washing detergent and scouring powder used by the cooks who cooked over open fires. What did they replace them with? Lye soap. Hard bars of lye soap that would not lather in cold water and burned the skins of the men when they tried to bathe with it. The reason for replacing the soaps and shampoo? It would pollute the pristine jungle rivers. Really? The rivers we typically worked near were probably fifty feet across, four to five feet deep, ran swiftly, and there were ten men on each crew. Not only did they need to bathe each day but bathing together in the evening is a tradition that goes back thousands and thousands of years. Interfering with that tradition is hard on morale. Burning the armpits and crotches of the men was hard on morale. Giving them diarrhea by washing the dishes with lye soap that can't be completely rinsed off the dishes and kettles is hard on morale—and hard on health. It was also hard on production but I really didn't give a s . . t about that by this time.

What was really laughable though was that these pristine waters flowed down to the main river by Puerto Mazuko which was being dredged by hordes of gold miners who used hundreds of barrels of mercury each year to process the gold. During the whole project our crews may have added a couple of gallons of soap and shampoo to those barrels of mercury, plus all the spilled diesel, oil, and other mining detritus but was that an effective argument with Walsh's rep or Mobil's 'safety' men? Nope. At one point Walsh's man had phoned Boulder and their resident genius said to tell me (so help me God) that the cosmetic products "destroyed the surface tension of the rivers".

I fought them tooth and nail and the French party manager supported me. Then he went to France on vacation and a Mexican guy I had worked with in Venezuela took his place. He had no guts and kept telling me to keep my mouth shut. I wouldn't. He fired me. I went to the dining room, leaned down, looked Tubby in the eyes and invited him outside. He almost pooped his ample panties.

I flew to Lima and wrote my report, the country manager laughed and said, "Well, Jean, I was fire from my veree firs' assignment. Go home for a week or two an' I weel fine you somesing else. Bon courage." 'Somesing else' was South Africa, and that's another story. If you don't like snakes do not go to South Africa when the Cape cobras come out of hibernation.

That's my rant for today. Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cheney, Dylan and the Old Testament

I'm a plain vanilla Christian, not a fundamentalist type who believes the Bible is the literal word of God. That tradition derives from conservative Judaism based on the belief that the first five books of what we call the Bible and they call Torah are direct revelation of God and everything else is incidental. However, I know from personal experience that the books are revelatory in more ways than one. Some say that the age of miracles and revelation, as it was demonstrated in what we Christians call the Old Testament, is past. Those folks are kidding themselves. They think we are no longer accountable for our "sins" on a grand scale; they also think that the devil isn't afoot in our world, saving their horror for the 90 minutes they spend in a movie theater and take with a grain of salt the news that we have decimated most of the oceans' fish stocks beyond recovery. Not to mention the news that almost one-quarter of the Arctic Ocean has melted in the last fifteen years. In biblical times everyone would be on their knees repenting for their personal contributions to the disasters being visited on their people and the world. Instead, we go to the movies, turn on the TV, or pick up our game yolks. I have a small suggestion: Get your butt up early next Saturday or Sunday and set it down in a temple or a church. You can bet that on Friday the rugs in the mosques will be covered.

Where do Dick Cheney and Bob Dylan come into this you ask? First, the Jew Robert Allan Zimmerman. I have watched him in interviews and he seems to be a very un-self aware man. Of course, Dylan is nothing if not smart but his confusion when pressed about his vision seemed genuine enough. When he was singing his "protest" songs in the 1960s and after, people called him a prophet and he protested. Later he flirted with fundamentist Christianity but, as demonstrated in his music, it was drawn from the southern black gospel tradition. He sang, metaphorically, about the states of the "widow and the orphan". Mr. Zimmerman is a prophet indeed, but a prophet in the Old Testament tradition of Aaron and Elijah, both of whom feared the work being pressed upon them. But they had to do what they had to do, and God gave them everything they needed to warn the world. But the world didn't listen, even though their fortunes had been cataloged in detail. And they paid the price.

Dick Cheney. I know Dick Cheney, though peripherally. We are the same age and both come from the exact same culture—Wyoming of the 1940s and 50s. He and my twin brother went to Boys State where my brother was elected Superintendent of Schools. I don't know which office Cheney was elected to but I'm sure it was a high one. Later he would be my congressman for several years, and he was a good one. He had a sense of humor then, like our favorite senator Alan Simpson.

I also know Cheney because I helped guard him at his bunker after 9-11. The "bunker" is a blue-gray Cape Cod house a stones-throw from the clubhouse of the Teton Pines golf course in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I was one of two security guards for the gated community where he and Lynne own that house. It was there that he retreated and I am still surprised that not one member of the press showed up during all the time he was there. How the secret was maintained, or what arrangements were made with the press, is a puzzle because he was anything but invisible. As a matter of fact, he used to do his shopping at Albertson's supermarket (he cooks for relief from the pressure) and I talked to him a couple of times, even gave him a copy of one of my books. He will talk to you but, unlike when he was our congressman five times, he is now wary as hell. I did break through once, when I talked to him about my personal relationship with one of Senator Simpson's sons when I was a deputy sheriff in Simpson's home town Cody. But I could tell that he had now put on a suit of mental armor and his sword was close by. Of course, because I worked closely with the Secret Service guys guarding him at the time, and he knew me on sight, it was easier for me than most to approach him.

I have an anecdote that might help explain where that toughness comes from. In the fall of 1957 the Asian flu made its way to Wyoming and it was bad stuff, would kill 70,000 people in the U.S. alone. It was football season and most of our team, the Kemmerer Rangers, were in bed by mid-week. But our coach wasn't going to let that get in the way and he refused to cancel the game. We all obediently suited up and won the game. The headline of the local paper read: 'A Sick Bunch of Ranger Beat Montpelier 27-7!" That was the Wyoming Dick Cheney and I grew up in. You never, ever, ever give up. Never doubt yourself, just keep plugging and you will win. The Washington Post described it this way: 'The Cheney doctrine was cast iron strength at all times - never apologise, never explain.' It served him well all through his career and so it should come as no surprise that he depends on that attitude to this day. He's another man who understands very little about himself. And in this case his wife Lynne helps him maintain his suit of psychic armor. She, and now his daughter Mary, cover his flanks as he moves out from behind the cover of the vice-presidency.

How does qualify Mr. Cheney as a biblical character? The "doctrine" of the banality of evil, which is that great evils are mostly committed by rather ordinary people who accept the evil premises of their state and therefore participate with the view that their actions are normal. The devil was definitely afoot during the Bush administration and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were his agents. How else explain the fact that America, the birthplace of Democracy, would duplicate Stalin's 'Gulag Archipelago' with secret prisons spread all over the world under the rendition program? That, if nothing else he has done, ranks as an evil of biblical proportions.

That's my rant for the day. Thank you for your support.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Raising a "ruckus"

I wish I knew exactly what the Fox News ticker read but I did see "town meetings" and " 'ruckus' " under, I think, Bill O'Reilly who was smiling like a jackass eating bumblebees. He seemed to think that the uncivil chaos he and others like him are fomenting is funny. A joke. It isn't; as a matter of fact one of the synonyms for 'ruckus' is 'rumble' and that word has a direct equivalent in the Russian language: 'pogrom'. It is the diminuitive form of 'grom' which means 'thunder', 'roar' or 'uproar'. The reason the Czar's cossacks, militias and hooligans used the diminuitive form of the noun was because they thought it was fun, funny, to mob the Jews' villages and 'raise a little ruckus'. Those little 'ruckuses', left unchecked, became a tradition that led to the infamous kristalnacht of 1938 in Nazi Germany.

One might think that example is taking the mobbing of town hall meetings too far, but I don't think it is. After all, that style forum has always been one of the most defining examples of American-style democracy—where neighbors gathered and let their elected leaders know what they really think in a 'civil' manner. Some synonyms for 'civil' are: 'accommodating, affable, cordial, courteous, diplomatic, gracious, and mannerly.'

There have always been issues that were hotly debated locally, but nothing like the generalized discord and hate being demonstrated nationally has ever been seen before. And it couldn't be possible if there weren't founts of misinformation and disinformation available instantly, and nationally. Those sources are, for the most part, talk radio and cable television. Mostly uneducated gurus of the masses who have never studied beyond high school can count on their relative ignorance and raise the spectral straw man of 'socialism' and depend on a shrieking choral response. Glenn Beck is the paradigm of those gurus. If those people knew the history of socialism, and why it came about, they would be pleasantly surprised at the millions of lives which were raised out of virtual slavery and saved from preternaturally early deaths.

Karl Marx's fellow philosopher partner Friedrick Engels was the son of a billionaire industrialist whose fortune depended on the labor of children as young as eight who worked 14 hours a day, six days a week, in the coal mines that fired the furnaces of his father and his plutocrat friends. It was Marx and Engels who wrote Das Kapital, the book that described that world, put it to shame, and changed the course of history. The capitalists, Wall Street, who caused the first World Wide Depression of 1929, and put the world in the present hurt locker, defamed Marx, Engels and their book so it is easy to scare the pants off people who know nothing about Socialism or its history. We only have to go back to the 1950s and Joseph McCarthy to see how easy it is to stir up hysteria by raising a spectre. That time it was Communism. This time it is Socialism. But the same sorts of minds are at work raising the straw men and working the people to a froth.

If you live long enough to get to see everything twice. There was once a cartoon strip called 'Pogo' and it starred a wise and endearing little possum who could see through the follies of all the mostly political blustering and ranting that went on around him. Probably the most famous strip ever penned was the one whose last panel read: 'We have met the enemy and he is us.'

That's my rant for the day. Thank your for your support.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Gordian Knot of Obama

On his way to victory in central Asian and Afghanistan, then defeat in India before he retreated to die in Baghdad, Alexander the Great was met in Gordia, part of modern Turkey. Offered Gordia and the East as a prize if he could solve the puzzle of the knot Alexander sundered the knot with his sword, and his confidence. There is an object lesson in that knot for all who would enter that part of the world with a sword and confidence. In the last 150 years the great empires of Britain and Russia have had their asses handed to them in Afghanistan and if the United States expects anything more there it is mistaken, though there are more bloody honors to be won by our military heros. As Rudyard Kipling said of war there:

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!"

Whether they will admit it or not, our military have met some very brave men committed to fighting for their countries. "Assymetrical war" is taught at the war colleges but one of the lessons we haven't learned, it seems, is that a small and utterly committed indigenous force must be ultimately successful. As the story goes, a senior American officer at the Paris peace talks at the end of the Vietnam War said to a Vietnamese general, "We never lost a battle!" The general replied, "That hardly matters, doesn't it?" meaning, "Yeah, but we won the war."

At least, so far, it appears Obama hasn't made the utter folly of Nixon/Kissinger, Johnson/McNamara, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld of running a war out of the White House, but there are mixed messages coming out of it. I remember the fatal mistake of not bombing Haiphong's harbor because there were Russian ships there and I know, for a fact, and so did the White House, that their holds were full of Mig 21 aircraft that were about to up the ante in the air war by a factor of 10. I know because I reported on the training of the pilots in the new generation aircraft and the fact that their squadron leaders would be Russians. Whence the dictum: "He who hesitates is lost."

And I know for a fact that, during the rescue of the American sailors of the Alabama from the Somali pirates, Obama told the Seals to wait but they took it upon themselves to seize the moment and snipe the pirates. He, of course, immediate took the plaudits for his fearless decision. The man hesitates. He is the Commander in Chief and when he hesitates his generals must necessarily hesitate, and that is a recipe for disaster. One thing you can say about Alexander, he never hesitated, just cut through the knot and headed for Afghanistan. Though he did die in Baghdad.

"Modern" Afghanistan began in 1747 when a Pashtun leader of the Durrani tribe began to organize the country out of Kandahar. The Durrani Empire eventually took in parts of Persia (Iran), Pakistan, and India but it ended in 1846 when the Brits began their "Great Game" with Russia, immortalized by Rudyard Kipling's ballads. The Afganis remember that empire with great nationalistic fervor and the Pashtuns are still the strongest tribe, and the one most resistant to the American presence. It seems to me, and some others, that if we are going get out with our butts, and international reputations, intact we must reach a political entente with the honorable Pashtuns and get rid of Hamid Karzai and his corrupt allies. The Taliban appeal to the people only because of the utter corruption of our allies in Kabul, just as our corrupt allies in Saigon and now Baghdad compromised all our efforts at civil reconstruction and public relations. This morning I heard on NPR that we should accomodate ourselves with the war lords but they are just as, perhaps more, corrupt than Kabul so why ally ourselves with them? Why are we naturally drawn to those sorts? Birds of a feather?

Let's resurrect the proud memory of the Durrani Empire by finding and cultivating a strong and moderate Pashtun leader, then give him the resources to defeat our allies.

That's my rant for today. Thank your for your support.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Foul Air of Cable Television

I remember when I went to California in 1965 after being discharged from the military. It was before the clean air act and on days when there was a temperature inversion the air was so dirty and foul that your eyes ran tears, your chest burned and you had to drive with the headlights on; head-on accidents were commonplace. When I watch cable TV I am reminded of those days.

I won't abide TV commercials so I'm an inveterate surfer, skimming the channels for something fresh. I used to watch the 24-hour news channels but after CNN's always-fawning coverage of Israel (and its non-coverage genocide in Gaza), Keith Obermann and Chris Matthews’ smart but slavering commentary and the accelerating boobery of the Fox network I now skim those too. The air there now smells like the San Fernando Valley’s in the 60s—foul, putrid. Today is the anniversary of the Tate and La Bianca slaughters and I was living in Beverly Hills then so I know the rotten miasma that hung in the air then. I am not going too far when I say that the same, fearful stink is hovering over this country after years and years of hateful political antagonism originating in Washington D.C. and purposely focused white-hot by cable television.

To my mind, the present health care issue may have little to do with health care after all. The hate being drummed up by the Fox network, especially, and the far right of the Republican party over the health care issue couldn't find the traction is has except as a stalking horse issue for deepest racism over the fact that Obama is black. I make no apologies for that statement because I'm as white and working class as they get. So are almost all my friends and they hate the president mostly for the fact that he is black. No, they hate him because he's a "nigger" and, by extension, most of them call him a "dumb nigger". When I point out that he has a juris doctor degree and taught constitutional law at Harvard they hesitate. I know better than to point out that, in contrast, GWB was a C-minus student at Yale they come to a full stop, then accuse me of Bush bashing. Their inherent, inherited, racism is being played very deftly by masters of that particularly pernicious art.

The reason GWB is a hero to my working class buddies, and to the Fox network they watch exclusively, is because they are high school graduates, perhaps went to a trade school, and that is Fox's target audience. To them, Sean Hannity is their Aristotle and Rush Limbaugh might be orating at the Athenian senate to loud applause. Another reason he is a hero is that he is white and, despite the fact that he was also born with a silver foot in his mouth, he is obviously a Texas 'neck and someone they can relate to, or bond with. Obama is someone they would gladly drag down a Texas country backroad if Rush Limbaugh hinted at it. But then, he does. Daily.

Glenn Beck is a high school graduate, no more, and an ex-disc jockey who is glib indeed. However, I have heard him confuse, and meld, the historical issues that fomented the American and Russian revolutions because he doesn't know the difference. He rants about socialism but he is absolutely clueless to the fact that his church, the Mormons, started off as one of the (small "c") communistic churches in the mid-1800s, like the Amana Community and several others of the time. His church is still a profoundly socialist organization that runs farms, ranches, and other organizations like Deseret Industries to support their welfare programs for church members only. They dictate that all good Mormons stock two years' food supplies and are vigilant about tithes of 10% of all incomes, and the church has run the state of Utah as a virtual theocracy since 1847 in the spirit of other rigidly idealistic shadow governments. This baby-faced ranter, Beck, is a fixture on the conservative talk circuit and, nice guy that he may be in private life, because of his passion and the limited intellect of both him and his audiences, he stirs up enough hate at his overflowing speaking engagements to remind one of mini-Nuremburgs.

MSNBC has taken the “high road” only in the tenor of their rhetoric. Mr. Obermann and Mr. Matthews like to cast themselves in the roles of raising intellectual bulwarks against the Luddites and Vandals at Fox but their intent is the same: keep the pot boiling. That serves no good purpose; in fact it serves the Devil’s own ends and if there’s a Hell they’re all going to be hopping on hot coals with giddy imps happily prodding their bare butts with red hot pokers for eternity. I certainly hope so; and they should have a bunch of company. The roster will surely read: Pelosi, Bohner, Reid, Lieberman, etc, etc, etc . . .

And that's my rant for the day. Thank you for your support.