Returning to Earth

The fighter jet, a North American F-86 Sabre, flamed out. Or perhaps it ran out of fuel. Certainly, the later would cause the former – the extinction of flame in the combustion chamber – but the events are not necessarily synonymous. In the milieu of flight, these things happen. In the milieu of memory, what matters is that you safely returned to Earth.

The pilot has two friends was what you told me – speed and altitude. So you stayed high and continued your flameless glide. This was the right stuff – surfing the clouds and hoping for a break, for a sighting of Earth. 

With luck, you make your own, so why not double-up. When that break in the clouds appeared, not only was there Earth but also a glimpse of runway. You landed and because of that, so did I. You once broke the sound barrier, and now you have broken the speed of Earth and are with the stars, finally admitted to the space program.

In your all too brief instructions, the doomsday book, you began at the end and returned to the beginning. This is my journey to rediscover your life – my homage to you. This is how my mind works when inspiration steals sleep at 3am most nights. This is how I feel it all, find my compassion and kindness, and regain my footing on this Earth.

This will be the first time I am missing your encouraging comment on this blog – “well written son.”

 

What is to be Done?*

“Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

Fascism is a surprising difficult word to define. The term itself has been reduced to a mere insult which obscures our ability to identify the dangerous trends in society that allow fascists to thrive. Rather than name calling, we should understand such trends and work at solutions to overcome and guard against them. These societal conditions are particularly insidious as they develop slowly, often unnoticed for many years, until by the right combination of events and party politics, a monster steps into the breach. It takes a society to create a dictator.

In looking at fascism as a movement, where do we start searching for lessons? Do we look at Russian Stalinism, German Nazism, or Italian Fascism? Do we mean totalitarianism or authoritarianism? What about czarist Russia? The argument quickly gets lost in terminology. In On Politics, Alan Ryan considers the essential elements of fascism to be “…racism, nationalism, irrationalism and antiliberalism.” We certainly see these elements in American politics from time-to-time.

Ryan also considers the existence of cults, namely the Cult of Leadership and the Cult of the Party. The Clintons, Bushes and even Obama have strong cult followings. And the current incumbent has added the Cult of Celebrity to the list. Certainly, the Cult of the Party is strong among Democrats and Republicans whose use of the word “patriotism” often seems a demand for loyalty. When does adoration transform into an obsessive following that we should worry about? Richard Evans, in The Third Reich in Power, explains that “[of] all things that made the Third Reich a modern dictatorship, its incessant demand for popular legitimization was one of the most striking” – another familiar note that can be heard in American politics.

This is not to say that America is on the road to fascism. The world is far different from that of the 1930s. But we have been passing some of the same sign posts. The Nazis “…always held the letter of the law and the institutions of the state in contempt” (Evans). There was a “…division of the world into friends and enemies,” and liberal democracy was regarded “…as a fraud perpetrated on them by the victorious Allies at Versailles” (Ryan). Intellectuals were scorned – another American trait. The Third Reich also benefited from the spread of radio as a means of mass communication. Oppressive regimes always seem to be early adopters of new technology. Mythology also played an important part. Goebbels’ propaganda machine (the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, to give its full name) explained the murderous rampage of the Night of the Long Knives as a sort-of “Make Germany Great Again” moment which saved the country from ruin.

The development of European Fascism in the 1930s was the result of at least sixty years of tumultuous history. Longer if you include the Napoleonic Wars**. Go back to 1870 when Bismark provoked the French into attacking the German states, precipitating the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent unification of Germany in 1871. The defeat of the French armies created a vacuum into which the Paris Commune stepped and briefly ruled. Karl Marx got some good ideas from the Commune and obtained some fame from his analysis of those events.

But the new German state’s acquisition of Alsace-Lorraine was to rankle the French for some time. Intellectuals considered it to be “…war in perpetuity under the mask of peace” (Edgar Quinet as quoted in Alistair Horne’s The Fall of Paris). Also remember that the American Civil War had just ended in 1865, with President Lincoln’s assassination shortly thereafter. The world was in a fragile state in 1871, and the stage was set for the First World War to follow when old divisions and grievances would be aired.

The American entry into the First World War resulted in the unconditional surrender of Germany by breaking the stalemate on the Western Front. The French were quick to take their vengeance in the punitive Treaty of Versailles. Had America not entered the war, the terms of an armistice might not have been as harsh. Add to this, the failure of democracy in Weimar Germany, crushing inflation, and finally the Great Depression, and you had conditions in Germany under which it would have been surprising had a dictator not risen from the ashes. Resentment and mythology were such driving forces behind nationalism at the time, that when Hitler accepted the French surrender in June 1940, he used the same railway car in which Germany had surrendered to France in 1918.

In “The Concentration Camps,” Hannah Arendt observed that “[t]he next decisive step in the preparation of living corpses is the murder of the moral person in man.” So what is to be done? “If we are keenly aware of the weakness of human reason, we can guard against that weakness. If we understand the extent to which we are governed by mythical forms of thinking, we can assist reason to exercise a proper control over our conduct” (Ryan).

We must beware of leaders, and of party politics. It is time for civil discourse. Time for reconciliation.

 

* Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, otherwise known as Lenin, felt the Paris Commune made three mistakes: banks were not seized; the proletariat was unnecessarily magnanimous; and “instead of annihilating its enemies, it endeavored to exercise moral influence on them” (Horne).

**It is interesting to consider that for a time, England’s King William IV was also the King of Hanover (later annexed by Prussia). William died in 1837, and his niece Victoria assumed the English throne. But Hanover subscribed to Salic Law which meant that only a male could succeed to the throne. But because of an accident of birth, how might history have changed?

Henry V also used Salic Law to justify his invasion of France – according to Shakespeare:

My learned lord, we pray you to proceed
And justly and religiously unfold
Why the law Salic that they have in France
Or Should, or should not, bar us in our claim.

See Alan Ryan, On Politics; Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power; and Alistair Horne, The Fall of Paris.

Time Man of the Year.

Chronology of an Appendectomy

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Well…that’s the appendix gone. From start to finish, it was less than twenty-four hours. A blind-ending tubular structure arising from the cecum is no more, and I am reliably informed that it will not grow back.

Monday, April 23, 2018

3:00 am

I awaken feeling exactly like I did at Canyons 100k one year ago where I found myself lying on the ground at mile forty-three with severe abdominal pain. Thinking this was food-poisoning again, the next three hours were occupied with vomiting. However, there was something odd…only clear fluid was coming up.

7:15 am

Since the abdominal pain is not getting better, Debbie suggests I call Kaiser, and an appointment is made to see my primary care physician, Dr. Ferris.

10:30 am

After almost throwing up in – and thereby redecorating – my doctor’s office, I am given some ondansetron – often prescribed to prevent nausea and vomiting caused by cancer drug treatment and radiation therapy – nice! Since I have no fever, appendicitis cannot be diagnosed. Appendicitis is an infection, so there should be a fever. This could still be a gastrointestinal matter. I am advised to rest and monitor for temperature. If a fever develops, I should call 911 and go to emergency.

3:00 pm

With the pain level remaining constant, I notice my temperature is up by one-degree. Is that a fever? A faulty reading? Within the tolerable error of the measuring device? It’s warm upstairs. Perhaps I should go downstairs and check it there…Nope, still one-degree. I resolve to wait and see if it goes up by two-degrees.

3:56 pm

Email to Dr. Ferris. Is one-degree considered a temperature?

4:30 pm

Temperature now at 100.6 degrees. That’s my line-in-the-sand. So I change into hospital ready clothes and debate taking a book along in case I am bored. The book stays, since I sense the experience will be worth remembering…

4:44 pm

911 call is made, and I sit out front waiting for the ambulance.

4:49 pm

Text to Debbie to let her know what is happening. Ambulance arrives one-minute later and off we go (amount billed to insurance $2,366.54)…Debbie arrives quickly in the ER.

6:00 pm

In the ER, blood tests show dehydration with low electrolytes. Blood pressure is high. Lactated Ringers IV started which includes electrolytes – sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium lactate and calcium – good for an ultra marathon. Another dose of ondansetron is included, also good for an ultra marathon. At some point, I begin shaking uncontrollably, possibly because the IV is cold…so…

7:15 pm

Bring on the morphine! This stuff works fast. I know I am in pain, but I just…don’t…give a damn…

At some point, a CT scan with contrast material is performed which confirms the diagnosis of acute appendicitis.

8:30 pm

Zosyn, a penicillin antibiotic is started. One of the surgeons, Dr. Lehrer, introduces himself. “What do you think…should we take it out?”

Me – “seems like it will just cause problems if we leave it in. Let’s yank it.”

He explains the procedure which will be a laparoscopic appendectomy. Three incisions will be made, carbon dioxide gas will inflate the abdomen so that my insides can be viewed with a camera. The operating room will be available soon, so they expect to start around 10:30 pm. This allows Debbie to explore the Kaiser canteen, since she has not had dinner.

10:24 pm

I am given some mouthwash, probably because I’ll be intubated due to the anaesthesia. The nurses ask whether I have had general anaesthesia in the past. Debbie leaves to get a few hours of sleep…whatever I was given for anesthesia works remarkably well. I barely remember being wheeled into the OR…just before my lights went out, I recall seeing the operating lights and thinking it looked like a film set.

Tuesday, April 24. 2018

12:01 am

Although I have no recollection, senator, surgery is finished.

various times

I dreamt that someone was trying to talk to me. This confused me. Was I being asked if I knew my name, or where I was? Of course I know my name, what does it matter…can’t you see I’m trying to sleep?

3:00 am

I wake and look at the clock, realizing the whole appendix thing has been a dream. Turns out, I didn’t need to have it removed, and I am home. But wait…why am I in a hospital bed, and where are the cats?

Additional antibiotics are added to my IV drip – ceftriaxone and a gastrointestinal antibiotic called metronidazole, which is also used to treat vaginal infections. So I am covered under various scenarios…

various times

Throughout the early morning hours my legs are being treated with a type of compression device that alternatively inflates around each leg. Although this is used to prevent blood clots, it is very soothing on the calves.

5:32 am

Ketorolac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is added to the mix.

7:24 am

My vital signs are looking good. Blood pressure is back down at 122/71 and pulse is a respectable 51 (all that running).

8:26 am

Famotidine, which inhibits stomach acid production, is also introduced to the IV. Is this because I am about to be served breakfast in bed?

Dr. Lehrer visits me in the morning, and even though he said I would not remember him, I do remember his confidence and kindness from last night. His approach had just the right mixture of humor and professionalism which communicated that although any surgery has risks, this one should be just fine. There was never any moment of doubt.

Noon

I am discharged around noon, and Debbie’s bright and smiling face is there to take me home. I am prescribed hydrocodone (an opioid synthesized from codeine, one of the opioid alkaloids found in the opium poppy) for the pain. Rashly, I think I can make it through the pain without the opiates. This fallacy only lasts a few hours before I am ripping the top off the bottle…

In a few days, the pathologist will call to go over findings. There were no concerns, and the appendix was not perforated. However, the pathologist said my appendix was probably about 12-hours away from bursting. Both the surgeon and the pathologist noted that my appendix had gotten rather large.

My greatest thanks to Debbie who came to my side when I needed her. The joy of growing old together is that we get to take each other to hospital. And of course, thanks to all the doctors, nurses and paramedics. From primary care to the ambulance, from the ER to the OR, it is immensely reassuring to be surrounded by such a group of professionals.

I have pictures, but will spare the internet…hopefully back on the trails in four-weeks.

Stormy Weather

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Why Trump? After repeatedly backing Democratic candidates in the U.S. presidential contest, were the Russians tired of backing losers and thought it was time to splurge on the long-shot? New charges brought by Robert Mueller against former Trump advisors Paul Manafort and Rick Gates begin to connect some of the dots. It is staring to look like this tangled web starts with something called the Orange Revolution. And no, this has nothing to do with hair color.

Putin’s man on the ground in Kiev was one-time Ukranian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukraine held a run-off election on November 21, 2004, between Yanukovych and challenger Viktor Yushchenko. The exit polling showed Yushchenko defeating Putin’s ally Yanukovych with 54% of the vote. The next day, after armored vehicles rolled into Kiev, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission announced that Yanukovych had won the election with 49% of the vote. This did not sit well with Yushchenko and his supporters. The Revolution had begun.

A new election was ordered by the Supreme Court, and Putin criticized Western governments for attempting to interfere in the election (Ron Paul reported that “several US government agencies…sent US taxpayer dollars into Ukraine in an attempt to influence the outcome“). Shortly after this, Yushchenko disappeared. He was the victim of an assassination attempt – poisoned by dioxin, a toxin used in Agent Orange. Yushchenko eventually recovered and ended up serving as president from 2005 to 2010.

What does this have to do with Mueller’s investigation? Yanukovych, the ultimate loser in the Ukranian election, paid millions of dollars to Manafort and Gates for their work as political consultants in the Ukraine. One wonders what sort of advice they gave to Yanukovych. Did they end up giving similar advice to then candidate Trump? Putin most likely looked favorably upon Manafort and Gates for their assistance in the Ukraine. If Trump was their man, well then, it seemed only logical for Putin to become a Trump supporter…but it actually might be worse than this.

This new indictment of Manafort and Gates, includes an amazing list of allegations. The duo is accused of international money laundering, bank fraud, tax evasion, lying to the FBI, and a possible connection with another Putin associate, Oleg Deripaska, who is unable to obtain a US visa because of possible links to organized crime. All-told, approximately $75 million was funneled through off-shore accounts, and hidden from the IRS, by Manafort and Gates. There is also the possibility that Manafort and Gates influenced members of US Congress into taking pro-Russian views on the Ukraine.

It is difficult to know how this ends up for Trump. He can always claim that he fired Manafort and Gates after learning of their Russian connections. If you are Mueller, you don’t turn the screws this hard, unless you know you are onto something massive. My guess is that the issue of Russian influence in the election is a distraction, and that it is ultimately a money-laundering rap for Trump.

Mueller seems to be doing well by following the money. If Trump cash can lead to Stormy Danielle and Karen McDougal, where else might it take us?

A female Sumatran orangutan, Pongo abelii, at the Gladys Porter Zoo.

The Russians are Coming

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The Russians have been at it for some time…and will continue to do so. The United States cannot stop Russian interference any more than Americans can stop its own government from meddling in the economies and elections of other countries or from spying on its own citizens. The important thing, is to cultivate an informed electorate that is able to distinguish between logical, reasoned argument and bullshit. Given the unequivocal nonsense coming from both Republicans and Democrats, this, I fear, is the harder task. Common sense is in very short supply.

There are signs of hope coming from Florida students and the #MeToo movement. If they can both avoid the fate of the Occupy movement, there is a chance that politicians can be forced to engage in real policy debate, and even the possibility that the sway of that domestic terrorist organization which goes by the initials NRA will be diminished (ultimately, divestiture may be the answer to the NRA threat…it worked in South Africa).

The Student (#NeverAgain) and #MeToo movements would be wise to study the tactics used by the U.S. government against Occupy. It is now well documented that the Obama administration used several pages from Nixon’s play book to bring down the Occupy movement. Both the FBI and Homeland Security were used to infiltrate and inform against Occupy members. Obama also abused the Espionage Act to put “a record number of reporters’ sources in jail.” In fact, Obama used the Espionage Act more than any other administration combined, and this includes Nixon. Do the Russians really need to interfere in American internal affairs when our government has become increasing authoritarian and a threat to personal freedoms?

The 1984 (ironically) election slogan “Reagan Means War,” was a Russian (then the Soviet Union) plant. The Russians also didn’t go for Nixon and offered to finance Hubert Humphrey’s campaign. Well, you know what they say, if at first you don’t succeed…at least the Russians showed some bi-partisan spirit this time by backing a Republican candidate…

Perhaps the most audacious operation the Russians undertook was something called Operation Snow. Both Churchill and Stalin hoped the United States would enter World War II. Whereas Churchill used the overt mechanisms of diplomacy, Stalin covertly relied upon an agent within FDR’s administration to influence American foreign policy.

Harry Dexter White was a senior official at the US Treasury and was sympathetic to the Soviet Union. He was among the many who were fooled by Stalin, including FDR who fondly referred to Stalin as “Uncle Joe.” White became the pawn used by the Soviets to provoke the Japanese to attack the United States. You can read the detail in the links. Inevitably, the Japanese were going to attack America regardless of any Soviet provocation. But the point is, the Russians were inside Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration lobbying their own interests.

One benefit of having an idiot as president is that it draws the curtain back on the office. Those who run the country are not endowed with super-intellects or knowledge. Members of Congress, for the most part, are not smart. They only know what they are told by lobbyists and are bereft of the ability to critically appraise or analyze their own intelligence briefings. Pay no attention to what those men and women behind the curtain tell us to believe. Remember that they work for US. We, the people, will decide when it is appropriate to talk policy about gun control, the systematic abuse of women by the powerful, or whatever…

“Suppose you were and idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain

Spasibo!

 

Seven Words You Can’t Say at the CDC

Acknowledging the impact of the great comedians on his policy agenda, Trump has singled-out George Carlin this week as having had profound influence by borrowing from The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television to craft new rules for the CDC and a modern, dystopian America.

Here is how Carlin may have updated this bit –

“There are some people that aren’t into all the words. There are some that would have you not use certain words. There are some 470,000 words in the English language, and there are 7 of them that you can’t use at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What a ratio that is- 469,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large.

Here are the heavy-seven: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based. These are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war. And ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’ don’t even belong on the list. They’re such factual sounding words!

Actually none of the words belong on the list, but you can understand why some of them are there. I’m not completely insensitive to people’s feelings. Take ‘transgender’ – nothing can more quickly confuse a misogynist, bathroom-minded congressman than transgender…”

The Third Man

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Orson Wells in The Third Man.

The climatic scene of Carol Reed’s 1949 film noir The Third Man takes place in the tunnels beneath Vienna and is the perfect metaphor for the current state of U.S. politics – because both Democrats and Republicans are chasing each other through the sewers.

If the Democrats do not climb out of the gutter, Donald Trump will be reelected as President in 2020. Why? The Democrats have shown that they are equally adept at name-calling, and this merely entrenches both sides. It is not unlike being bogged down in the Western Front one-hundred years ago.

To win in 2020, Democrats need to speak to the issues that matter to those in swing states. Why, for instance, should coal miners be concerned about climate change? Why should steel workers see that trade agreements are good for business? Why does immigration help the economy?

The climatic scene of The Third Man.

Here is the interesting thing about climate change. One doesn’t have to agree with the premise of man-made global warming to end up supporting policies that are good for the environment and also reduce carbon emissions. The discussion just needs to be put in a different frame. What I mean is that you can deny the science behind global warming, but we can nevertheless end up agreeing to policies that have the same result, as if you actually did believe in global warming.

The point is best made by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, otherwise known as the Skeptical Environmentalist. In a paper he submitted prior to the Paris climate summit he notes: “Instead of trying to make fossil fuels so expensive that no one wants them – which will never work – we should make green energy so cheap everybody will shift to it.” N’est-ce pas?

A subtle, yet important difference. Make green energy inexpensive compared to carbon fuels, and the market will sort it out. This will still take time and require the development of technologies not yet known. But why not cut out all the aggravation and energy wasted in the argument over global warming and begin rowing the boat in the same direction?

Can you remember the last time a world power set itself a task that was technically impossible at the time and required the pooling of many scientific disciplines and industries? It was accomplished when the following words were spoken: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Sure, it cost a lot of money. But the investment in the space program has paid off many times over, and the stimulus to science and the resultant technologies have provided immense benefits to the economy. What you are reading this blog on right now was developed by minds that were inspired by the space program.

My solution to the whole mess is to send a human mission to Mars – because this will require the development of the very technologies that will reduce carbon emissions. An international team would attract the interest of the world, and you could even include an astronaut of the Muslim faith. Take all the money we’ll be spending bombing the Middle East in the next year and the program would be budget neutral. Let the Middle East bomb itself for awhile. It will still be there once we have astonished the world once again, and the countries of the Middle East may even see the folly of it all once they see what can be accomplished when people work together instead of propagating hate and fear.

“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

Tranquility Base.

Iran – Radicalism in the Age of Radicalization

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I am struck by images from the recent Iranian election and thought I would make a comparison of election images from other countries in the region. My methodology lacks scientific rigor, would be laughed out of any legitimate study, plus I’ll admit that I’ve stacked the deck somewhat. Nevertheless, to my eye, one country appears to lean more to the west than the others. And although images can be highly manipulative, they are often revealing.

Here is the test. Pick the images which correspond to the following countries: Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The inclusion of the Saudis is a slight deception, since the country is a monarchy, but they do sometimes have municipal elections. My contention is that you can see it in the eyes of the women, and although the plague of the ubiquitous cell phone is also evident, in Iran you see young people who look as though they would gladly cast off the theocracy and embrace freedom, if only given the chance.

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The point I really wish to make is that the United States is yet again backing the wrong regime. Our relationship with the Saudis is a Cold War relic that will ultimately drag us into a much wider and devastating war.

But first, the key to the photographs: Afghanistan 1, 8, 13; Israel 4, 6, 10; Iran 2, 3, 5, 9, 12, 14; Saudi Arabia 7, 11. How did you do? What were your impressions?

I have no doubt you can find images to stack the deck your own way, creating a different impression – particularly if you go back to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Yet consider how the United States has historically treated Iran, and you begin to see where that chip on their shoulder comes from.

It was in 1953 that the CIA backed a coup which overthrew the Iranian government. Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy and distant cousin of FDR, was the CIA’s man in Tehran. By now, you should realize that the United States merely follows the footsteps of the British throughout the entire region – treading over the same mistake strewn ground. The British staged their own Iranian coup in 1921. Then later, the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988, and may have even supplied some of the chemical weapons used by Iraq.

But let’s get back to Saudi Arabia. This is the home of the Wahhabi ideology whose followers attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 (although for a different interpretation, see this New York Times article). This sect of Islam was founded by Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), who with Muhammad bin Saud established the first Saudi state in 1744. My argument is that Western Europe and the United States weaponized the Wahhabi ideology in a misguided attempt to thwart Russian ambitions. It begins some time ago, as you no-doubt guessed, with the British.

The British were in Afghanistan to protect their position in India, which officially began in 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the Honourable East India Company. The French also thought that India could be good for trade (opium, silk, cotton, tea, and so on) and formed a rival French East India Company. France and Britain fought each other for awhile on the subcontinent and elsewhere in the world including a little tiff in North America where a bothersome British colony had the cheek to declare independence. It was Clive of India who put paid to French ambitions in India in 1757 at the Battle of Plassey, and the French who returned the favor in North America by helping the colonists. Despite their North American losses, the British remained untouchable at sea, but were vulnerable by land. It was thought that Russia posed the next and greatest threat. Hence the British interest in Afghanistan and the resulting First Afghan War (1839 to 1842).

Almost since its inception at the beginning of the 7th century, Islam has been under siege from the West. Although to be fair, there was a time when Islam gave as good as it got. The Umayyad Caliphate expanded into the Iberian Peninsula in 711. Later, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. But in the nineteenth century, the Ottoman’s become the Sick Man of Europe leading into the First World War. Then Germany had an idea.

The First World War quickly bogged down in Flanders Fields, and powers on all sides tried to come up with alternative plans to break the stalemate. Churchill came up with Gallipoli. The Germans thought it would be a good idea to arm Irish nationalists. But it was the other German idea that was right out of the Great Game. The Germans realized that Britain could be destabilized by threatening their empire on the subcontinent. To this end, the Germans were in Kabul in 1915 with plans to start a holy war. Islam would be used as a weapon against the British.

Although the German idea didn’t work (they did loose the war), the United States thought it could use yet another failed European strategy to fight the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Communism does not abide religion. It is anathema to Communists. So the United States encouraged Saudi Arabia to spread its Wahhabist interpretation of Islam to fight the godless Communists. What else to do with all that oil money? It was a nice fit at the time, but would ultimately be bad for the United States.

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. responded with covert operations against the Soviets (code named Operation Cyclone) in which the United States fought a proxy war by arming and supporting the Mujahideen (the word meaning “those engaged in Jihad”). Out of the Mujahideen grew the Taliban which was created by the Pakistani intelligence agency and funded by the United States. There was even a time when the United States felt it could do business with the Taliban. Union Oil Company of California was involved in negotiations with them to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. But the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi made it difficult for the United States to continue its support of Jihadists. And after 2001, well…

The West’s habit of stirring up trouble along Russia’s southern flank by enlisting the help of fundamentalist Islam has to be the most short-sighted and disastrous foreign policy in history. The strategy was deeply flawed and left the region from the Mediterranean to Pakistan awash in continual strife, cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives, and has begotten the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War.

Alexander the Great lead his army through the Khyber Pass in 326 BCE in his failed attempt to capture India, becoming the first head-stone in this “Graveyard of Empires” known as Afghanistan. With over two-thousand years of examples, war proves that it is always an abysmal failure that only succeeds in setting up the next monstrous regime. Clearly, war as a strategy has failed to sort-out the region. Isn’t it time for a new approach?

The United States should drop its so-called ally, Saudi Arabia. ISIS-like, the Saudis continue to behead and stone to-death those who incur its disfavor or disagree with the regime. The Saudis are guilty of war crimes which, most notably in Yemen, are aided by the United States government. This includes the use of cluster munitions which are banned under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and the use of white phosphorus on populated areas. The U.S. State Department has this to say about the Convention on Cluster Munitions – “Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility. Their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of its soldiers and those of its coalition partners at risk.” The lives of innocent civilians apparently do not figure into the State Department’s reasoning. Other countries that are not signatories to this Convention include: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Yemen (other U.S. allies in the region also commit war crimes, see Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza). Nice company. The most recent $100 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia is abhorrent. It will guarantee that the Saudis can continue to fan the parched flames of conflict in the Middle East for decades.

The second part of this new approach dictates that the United States embrace young Iranians who can truly become a moderating force throughout the region, once the shackles of theocracy are broken. Look at those pictures again at the beginning of this blog and see if there is a shift in your perspective.

Lastly, but no less important, a radical idea presents itself in Syria – or really next door in Lebanon. In Lebanon alone, there are upwards of one-million Syrian refugees, of which 200,000 are children in need of education. Do we teach them that the West is uncaring of their humanitarian plight, ignorant of their culture, and closed to asylum (visit any homeless camp along the urban river banks of American cities to get a sense of what life in a refugee camp is like – minus the water)? Or do we radicalize these children by providing an education? A foreigner looks at the United States and sees a country that incongruously loves its guns and bombs more than its children. Now is the time to change that perception and begin the long process of reconciliation.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice is taking the first important step in this direction, believing that “without education, this lost generation becomes not only a missed opportunity for the advancement of Lebanon but also a huge security threat in the region and beyond.” The Foundation plans to work with private sector partners to design “a program to provide out-of-school children in Lebanon, including Syrian refugees, a chance to go back to school.”

Rather than $100 billion of arms, imagine what $100 billion of education can do. Imagine what 200,000 children radicalized with education can accomplish…imagine the future.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

-Kipling – The White Man’s Burden, 1899

Recommended reading:

Rachel Bronson, Thicker than Oil. America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia.
Diana Preston, The Dark Defile.
Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train.

More Tales of Ultra Running

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This was my second attempt at the 100k distance at the Canyons. At least it wasn’t raining this year. But after leaving Cal 2 and reaching the river with what I thought might be food-poisoning like nausea, something loud came barreling down the mountain through the understory – headed my direction.

“What now?” I thought.

A large brown bear landed squarely on the trail not ten feet in front of me and gave me a good looking over.

Fortunately, California bears are mellow – not like the grizzly bear in Alaska who still carries a grudge about the extermination of its cousins (ursus arctos californicus). I actually said “hello” out loud. Correctly reasoning that I was friendly, the bear executed what to my eye looked like a perfect pirouette and charged off in the other direction. I once heard it said that bears are not good down-hill runners. I am now in a position to refute this assumption.

But one-quarter mile later, I was on the ground for a different reason. The nausea was not improving, and I had abdominal pain. So I sat down. Then the rapid and shallow breathing that precedes a good technicolor yawn started. So I lay face down. That’s when other runners started coming by.

And this is what I find most endearing and comforting about the ultra-running community. To a person, everyone stopped and asked what had happened. Was I alright? Did I need water, s-caps, anything? Did I want them to stay and help in anyway? Runners were willing to give up their goals of finishing before cutoff to assist, which is why this is such a noble sport.

“I’ll be fine. Thank you. Just nauseous. If you could mention that I might need help at the aid station. Don’t let me hold you up…I need to rest for a while before I get moving.” Since brevity is the sole of wit, I condensed things a bit to “nauseous, resting, will get going, thanks!”

It was relaxing in a way to lay face down on the trail. The river was making river sounds, there may have been some birds chirping…there were lots of mosquitoes (but again, California mosquitoes are mellow compared with Amazonian mosquitoes). I did, however, notice it was getting cold and dark. This thought had me sitting-up debating which direction I should start to walk. Where would help be coming from?

Do I head uphill for two and one-half miles in the dark, or west along five and one-half miles of nice rolling trail? Well, I knew what the answer had to be. It was just hard to convince the body that help would come from Cal 2 (uphill) rather than Rucky Chucky.

Within five minutes of moving, Lesley Dellamonica and Naomi Plasterer came barreling down the hill charging in a way that would have made that bear nod gently in reverent praise. Afterwards, they said my face was white as a ghost, which is a hard look to pull off with a sun-burn. But they placed me between them, and we slowly made our way uphill, occasionally trying to get me to drink some flat soda, and occasionally, me pausing to sit on the trail for a moment.

I could go into minutia about how the rest of the evening went, but I’ll just end by expressing my immense gratitude to everyone who assisted along the way. There was never any doubt that I would get back up that hill. And that was mainly due to the optimism and encouragement of my companions, Lesley and Naomi. They kept me moving. There was also Bill Hunter at Cal 2 who checked that I would be fine and eventually drove me and another bedraggled runner back to Foresthill. There was Carrol Lindsay, the nurse at Foresthill who let me rest on a cot with a warm blanket and tried to feed me various edible tidbits – all the while saying I was looking better as time passed. There was the volunteer who retrieved dry clothes from my car. And finally, there was the Race Director, Chaz, who showed compassion at Foresthill and put on one-hell-of-an-awesome event. All these precious pieces of the chain that pulled me up from the river and the darkness, all these awesome people, these awesome runners…these are the kind of people who get things done! Thank you for making the world a better place…

Will there be a third attempt next year? The adventure continues…

Since there is no photo of me laying prone on the trail, you’ll have to make do with this…

the-hill

“Running? up that Hill.” Photo courtesy of Naomi Plasterer.

We Love to Fly and it Shows

Welcome to the new friendly skies. United Airlines has set a new low for air travel. CEO Oscar Munoz must resign his post, as a start, so that the airline can begin to make amends to its customers. The fact that he has failed to recognize that the despicable ejection of a paying client is morally and ethically wrong, despite the legalities of the situation, is cause enough for United’s board to dismiss him. If they do not, Congress must investigate the sorry state of affairs that has come to be considered normal in air travel within the United States.

United employees must also be criticized for their failure to exercise common sense. They have allowed a computer to do their thinking, and have hidden behind a flawed rule book, because they were only following orders. They thoughtlessly passed responsibility to the goons at TSA (or whichever law enforcement agency did the shameful deed) who appeared to beat senseless a man who was morally correct in refusing to disembark.

This action must not be allowed to stand, and consequences should follow.

…and yes, in all probability, I’ll be looking forward to getting bumped from my next flight.