Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trump – President or Emperor?

The most interesting thing about Donald Trump is that he is genuinely running for the office of President of his nation. All his rivals – except Bernie Sanders, maybe – want to become Emperor of the World.
There’s a huge difference – huuuuge, as Trump himself would say. Trump wants to keep foreign Muslims out of the USA, or at least submit them to security clearance until he figures out what the hell is going on. The rivals want to slaughter foreign Muslims in huge numbers – wherever they live and for as long as the manufacturers keep the bombs and rockets coming off the production line. (Or until Israel is satisfied with its imperial borders. Whichever comes last.)

We don’t know the depth of Trump’s humanitarian feelings. Does he care if millions of civilians in foreign lands lose their homes and livelihoods, and if their children die of disease and malnutrition? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t believe he wants to be the cause of it. His rivals are less squeamish. They do want to be the cause, and are set on continuing America’s long-term program of wars of aggression. As one Christian cleric ordered in an earlier Crusade, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

Trump is not a psychopath. That alone makes him different from most of the candidates. Aspiring Emperors by their terms of reference are pretty much obliged to be psychopaths who happily engage in at mass murder on a Biblical scale. Witless cruelty is their stock in trade.

Unfortunately, the whole idea of Trump becoming President of the US is nonsense, based on a false premise. Neither he nor we will be called upon to judge his Presidential legacy, because he will never succeed, being dead. The Deep State will see to that.

He might, conceivably, overcome the obstacle of electronic voting-machines specially programmed to foil his supporters – first, in the race to become the Republican nominee, and later in the nationwide election. But the lone gunman will be a tougher proposition. Or gunmen plural, or remotely controlled cars or planes or whatever it takes. There are a thousand drugged-up patsies prepped to sacrifice their lives to maintain a puppet-Presidency of the kind the US has had since Kennedy.

We usually attribute the Kennedy assassinations to the CIA – although the guilty party is more likely to have been the FBI. Legally, it’s the FBI that is responsible for domestic issues, so Standard Operating Procedure would be for that organisation to remove designated domestic enemies who can’t be silenced by blackmail.

However, it really doesn’t matter which agency it was. All the official death squads are enforcement units of what’s now called “The Deep State” – the manipulators in the national and imperial bureaucracy who direct the business of the empire.

As much a patriot of the USA as Putin is of Russia, he has not sold his soul to The Deep State or any of its sponsors. I can’t see him ever selling the Palestinians down the river in exchange for the votes of AIPAC and the Israel-right-or-wrong lobby, or continuing the worldwide imperial rampage in exchange for the goodwill of the Military-Industrial-Security Complex. That moral stance is what will get him killed.

Of course the man is no fool. He is well aware that they (“They”) will either cheat him out of the Presidency or kill him out. Yet he carries on with his mission. For me, that pretty much proves his sincerity. I don’t particularly admire patriotism as a virtue. An excessive love of country gets in the way of a respect for mankind in general, as tribal loyalty beats out loyalty to the human species. But a truly patriotic Head of State does not jeopardise his people’s personal safety by making their nation hated by the rest of the world.

Trump’s patriotism stands apart from the imperial arrogance that really doesn’t care whether its citizens are hated or not by the rest of the world. Only military might is worth anything – and then only in the service of the self-defined aristocrats. And they are not about to make room for a genuine patriot.

Monday, December 7, 2015

In defence of free speech

One of Cayman’s local legislators (an elected member of our mini-parliament) is in hot water from the liberals among us for defending his selective Old Testament Christianity. His god disapproves of sodomy, and so does he. 

His chief critic is the expat Chairman of our government-appointed Human Rights Commission; he believes in equal rights for homosexuals. The politician says the Chairman should be replaced by a Christian, by which he means an Old Testament Christian of his own persuasion.

As a human-rights advocate myself, and a fairly devout heathen, I agree with the Chairman on the equal-rights issue. Also as a human rights advocate, though, I believe in free speech, and must defend the politician’s right to speak his mind on the issue.

He (the polly) has not called for violence, or the jailing of sodomites, or even (I think) the legal banning of homosexual acts of passion. To the best of my knowledge he has not joined in any of the public protests against the “gay cruises” that visit Cayman from time to time. This being Cayman, his words of disapproval don’t amount to an incitement to violence – though they do encourage discrimination. What to do?

In recent years, around the world, the right to free speech has taken a bit of a bashing. There are laws in some otherwise civilized European nations that actually prosecute and jail people for questioning any detail of the orthodox story of the Nazi holocaust. (As it relates to Jews, at least: I don’t know the position relating to Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and the rest. We never read about that.)

The iconic figure of six million dead Jews is legally sacrosanct, in those nations, and to question it is blasphemy. Doubts are classed as anti-Semitism, intrinsically likely to provoke a second holocaust of Jews. Since there is no equivalent stigma attached to details of other Nazi slaughters – or indeed other historical slaughters of any time and any peoples – can we shrug off the anti-Semitism focus as driven by tribal hyperbole? I think we can.

Doubting details doesn’t amount to denying the whole thing. The “denier/denial” label has been picked up by the AGW brigade, who are keen to imprison heretics who disbelieve the orthodoxy that Global Warming is all the fault of humankind.

By the same token, quoting a couple of isolated incidents from the Old Testament constitutes homophobia, according to Mr Eden’s critics, and makes him a “hater”. Surely that is grossly unfair. Surely he is entitled to his opinion that all queers will go to hell. It’s only his hell, after all.

At my boarding school we were told that our right to swing a fist stopped where somebody else’s nose began. Also, that freedom of speech did not extend to crying “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre, unless there really was a fire. All freedoms sometimes have to bow to other freedoms.

English common-law has always contained a prohibition against “disturbing the peace”. The prohibition is often abused by Police and Prosecutors, but its principle is sound enough. Disrespecting any shibboleth may be permitted by the human-rights canon; but broadcasting that disrespect in a manner or place that encourages violence, is not. That seems fair enough.

In The Gay Marriage Thing (Archives March 2014), I argued against the practice of national governments to license marriages. However, if they insist on retaining the practice, only minimal tweaking would be needed to extend the licences to same-sex marriages – and to same-family marriages too. Reproduction, or even sexual congress, is not an essential factor in any marriage.

Old Testament legends are actually much more tolerant of incest than of sodomy; some of the world’s most respected religions display a similar tolerance. And a few decades ago incest was relatively common in Cayman – as in many other isolated villages around the world. We encountered jokes about incest as soon as we arrived in Cayman. A father expresses disgust to learn that his son’s intended bride is a virgin. “If she’s not good enough for her own family,” he huffs, “she’s not good enough for ours.”

I don’t have much sympathy for Mr Eden as a person. He was silent during the most recent kerfuffle over free speech, involving our local newspaper’s Editor. He was silent when I was being persecuted for the same reason, nearly thirty years ago. He has been silent for forty years about the officially tolerated abuse of migrant domestics.

Nevertheless… he is entitled to maintain his personal prejudices, and to advertise them, even if he himself might not be as generous to others.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Slum-clearance on a massive scale

Huge fortunes are made out of slum-clearances. It’s an excellent way to make money, as long as it’s carefully planned. Think about what’s involved. The residents have to be moved out of their homes and into new accommodation, and fed and clothed until they have new jobs; schools have to be built and staffed for their children; social facilities have to be built and developed for the new communities.

All those things are fantastically expensive. Usually, it’s governments that order the clearances and relocations, which are usually farmed out to private contractors who – if they have their wits about them – will have bribed the politicians and bureaucrats for the privilege.

Security is a big factor, from start to finish. After all, evicted slum-dwellers aren’t moving to a new slum, but to a whole new community – designed by middle-class architects, and supervised by middle-class community-organisers. The new accommodation is not intended to be any kind of concentration-camps: quite the contrary. It's intended to upgrade the quality of life for the beneficiaries.

Of course it takes a lot of time – one generation, two, maybe longer – to persuade the newcomers to abandon their customary slum-habits. Until that happy day arrives, the inmates may pose a threat to their new neighbours and those neighbours’ possessions. So special policing is only common sense, employed either by the government or by experienced private security companies.

Progressively, the slums have to be physically destroyed, and that’s also costly. Specialised labour and equipment doesn’t come cheap. Special demolition machinery keeps specialist manufacturing companies paying generous dividends. When there’s no demolition in the offing, the companies’ dividends drop out of sight, and one wonders (a bit unkindly) if the companies don’t sometimes put political pressure on governments to hurry up and plan further demolitions. Or monetary pressure, in the form of bribery.

It crosses my mind, from time to time, that the gratuitous wars-of-choice waged against the people of the Middle East might be motivated for the specific purpose of making money. Apart from the obvious motive of access to the local nations’ oil revenues, there are boatloads of money to be made both in destroying the nations’ infrastructure and in replacing it when the dust clears. 

It’s slum-clearance on a massive scale. They may not have been slums before the bombs and drones hit them, but they certainly were afterwards.

Wars have always been fought for loot – land, persons, gold, and other assets with rich potential… What’s not to like about war, if you’re on the winning side? The soldiers – the cannon-fodder – don’t get all that much out of it. The pensions aren’t bad, although the medical care isn’t as good as advertised. But private contractors make out like bandits. The generals and colonels also do well, through consultancy deals with TV companies and the corporate members of the military-industrial complex.

Modern weapons cost billions of dollars, and so do security guards and caterers. There is only the faintest risk of being held accountable for unauthorised use, price-gouging and extortion. Families in defeated nations have always had to buy their freedom from imprisonment and torture; only rarely in history has that practice been frowned upon. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the enlightened age that began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but human rights have never been held in respect outside the Goody-Two-Shoes brigade.

The latest wheeze is the mass trafficking of the newly homeless and the soon-to-become homeless from their bombed neighbourhoods in the villages and towns of the Middle East to safer refuges in the destroyers’ European domiciles. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to recognize the standard slum-clearance pattern, exercised on a larger-than standard scale.

Destruction of homes – check. Temporary accommodation of the homeless in tents in the deserts – check. Transport to the vicinity of the greenfield site reserved for them – check. Temporary accommodation there, with the necessary policing – check. Constructing permanent accommodation there – check. Reconstructing the originally destroyed homes – check. Rinse and repeat.

Have I missed anything? Paying off all the nominal principals, of course, but that’s routine. Slotting the generals and senior politicians into the remunerative lecture-circuits, and arranging lesser rewards for lesser personalities. New Toyotas for the local sub-agency, that sort of thing…

But all that goes without saying. After all, you’ve got to spend money to make money, right? Everybody knows that.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sometimes, you have to turn back

This is a belated addition to my series on our travels in 1964/65. Earlier reminiscences are identified in the Archives with the letter T, beginning with “Checkpoint Charlie” in December 2011.

My big adventure began after the Munich Oktoberfest in 1964, driving south in my Beetle into the unknown with a South African chap I’d met at a Youth Hostel. Somewhere in Yugoslavia our road suddenly ended at a river. Damn and blast! The nearest bridge was an hour away, back the way we’d just come. My map hadn’t actually promised a bridge, and it was a dirt road in the middle of nowhere; but I felt cheated, all the same.

Ah, but there was a ferry. Not a vehicle ferry as such, but one of those cable pontoon-things for pedestrians and animals. The villagers enthusiastically produced two planks, eight or ten feet long, and laid them from the ground up to the level of the deck. It was a fair gradient, and I started to drive slowly up the planks. Now… Those who have driven Beetles will know that they have virtually no weight in the front (the engine is in the rear), and are therefore very sensitive there. I felt the planks sag, and knew immediately that they wouldn’t take the weight of the whole car. 

I rolled back and asked for thicker planks, but there were none to be had. Perhaps I could take a run at the boards and get on deck before they cracked. “What do you reckon, Paul?” “Well, it’s your car”, Paul said. So, reluctantly, and to the villagers’ great disappointment, we retraced our tracks to the bridge. I wasn’t at all happy; I never liked having to retrace my steps. But, well, sigh… sometimes, you just have to turn back.

A couple of days later, we almost slipped off the side of a hill on another dirt road, with occasional patches of ice. Paul jumped up and down on the back bumper to give me just enough traction to get past the patch. A bit scary, but this time my stubbornness was rewarded.

Looking back, I must have had more confidence than it seemed at the time. Later in the adventure, Linda and I bluffed Bulgarian border-guards into letting us take contraband currency into Rumania, faced down Egyptian Customs officials who looked askance at some shoddily forged currency-exchange slips, and persuaded East German border-guards to let us pass through the Wall into West Berlin at a no-entry point. In my youthful arrogance I took it for granted that all those successes were simply my due. 

Budget travel demands confidence. You must believe in the mission. You’re taking on the whole world, with no backup except the nearest consulate, if you could reach it, and no security besides your American Express cheques if you weren’t robbed of them. So every minor victory is hard-won. How could the gods fail to be impressed with our innocent goodwill and delight in immersing ourselves in foreign cultures? And indeed they didn’t fail us – although they put a scare into us (mainly Linda) every so often, just to remind us (me) who were the gods and who weren’t.

One of my major regrets is that we never got to visit the Greek island of Rhodes. We had an opportunity, during that trip, but again I chickened out. At a village on the coast of Turkey, there was a man with a boat – and some decently thick planks – who offered to take us and the car the ten or fifteen miles across the water for about forty dollars. The ridiculous illegality of the challenge was tempting. 

Could I sweet-talk the Greek officials into letting us enter, assuming my little dictionary could supply me with the right words? Would the forty dollars include bribes? Would we ever be able to get to the Greek mainland, via other ferries and other islands? Mmm. Not easily. Maybe we could leave the car in the village and go across to Rhodes by ourselves for a couple of days. But that would bring a new risk.

Forty dollars was a huge amount of money for those villagers, and if the young foreigners could afford to pay that, maybe they could afford to pay handsomely to buy their car back when they returned. It wouldn’t have been fair to them to put such temptation in their way. (In some parts of Turkey, private cars were virtually unknown, to the extent that all cars were called “taxis”.)

In the end, common sense won out. We turned away and wended our way north to Istanbul and onward into the Soviet Empire. There were other challenges, and one notable failure to charm or bluster our illegal way through a border. That was disappointing, too; but you can’t win them all. Sometimes, you just have to turn back.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The right to kill

Murder has always been a totally tribal offence – by which I mean it’s only offensive when the deed happens within one’s own national community, and not elsewhere. The murder of foreigners rarely disturbs anybody. 

One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian or Moslem to accept that The Ten Commandments have always been purely tribal in their application. The prohibitions against killing, stealing, coveting and the rest of them don’t apply when foreigners are the victims. Tribal traditions all over the world endorse this judgment. Traditions of hospitality – where they still exist – generally outweigh the predatory urge, as many a backpacker has learned to his delight. 

(However, the tradition is more in the nature of a truce, in times of conflict. These days, young US backpackers would be wise to masquerade as Canadians – as they used to do back during their nation’s invasion of Vietnam.)

Modern nations are simply closed-minded tribes wearing a thin veneer of hypocrisy. Human behaviour hasn’t changed in ten thousand years. The modern concept of human rights has never stood a chance of superseding tribal rights. Our Western communities all claim the right to kill foreigners at will and without restraint. Mercy is for wusses.

Generally, we don’t recognize the deaths of foreigners as a bad thing; and therefore their murder – even en masse – can be safely shrugged off, even if it’s we who are the predators. Indeed, our political leaders become indignant when somebody else horns in on our killing-fields. Our NATO governments claim first-dibs on homicide in Syria, for instance, and are angry at Russia for its intervention. The cheek of it!

A “foreigner” isn’t necessarily someone of a different nationality, just as a “tribe” isn’t necessarily a nation. In the context of religion, a foreigner is someone not of our faith; in cities he may be a member of a different street gang, or of the Police; in the Police Force he’s a resident of the ghetto – or, increasingly, any non-Policeman. To severely autistic individuals – out-and-out psychopaths, for instance – he’s everybody and anybody.

By popular definition, a psychopath is someone who commits wholesale murders without remorse. That pretty much describes every NATO nation’s political leader and every one of his or her lieutenants. And every terrorist, of course; I don’t mean to imply that NATO’s leaders are any worse than terrorists. 

This perceived right to kill is a horrific conception, when you think about it. Such savagery is unexpected in our modern world. Yet civilians in their millions fall victims to it every decade. A former US Secretary of State, when asked about the morality of the US embargo on the sale of medicines to the people of Iraq, cheerfully defended it. The resultant deaths of half a million children had been “very much worthwhile”, she said. The recent bombing of the Medicins Sans Frontieres hospital in Afghanistan was barely a blip on the radar of the current Secretary. “Meh...”

It’s fair to wonder how mankind manages to survive this perceived right to kill. One plausible explanation is that one community’s tribal instinct is in some degree countered by another community’s survival instinct. After all, a weaker tribe’s members would be better off surrendering and living as slaves, than to die fighting a battle they can’t win. Though not on all occasions…

In Too Many Gods (posted here in December 2011), I quoted from the Biblical legend of the fate of one defeated tribe:

And they warred against the Midianite and they slew all the males. And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captive, and their little ones. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel to commit trespass against the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man. But all the women children that have not known man, keep alive for yourselves.

Slaughtering prisoners of war, raping and killing their widows and sons, and keeping the little girls as sex slaves… it all seems somewhat excessive to anybody handicapped by a “live and let live” sentiment. Yet the practice is as common today as it was then. ISIS does it, and NATO nations do it, and their allies.  “We have a right to kill you, and we will kill you, and torture your families. The most you can hope for is that our soldiers will keep your daughters alive for their own purposes.” Dear God!

Mankind’s tribal brutality really hasn’t improved any in the past three thousand years, has it?