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Immaculate Infection

Immaculate Infection*

by Marco M. Pardi

*Title provided by Dana

Like any other major experience, illness actually changes us. How? Well, for one thing we are temporarily relieved from the pressure of meeting the world head-on…We enter a realm of introspection and self-analysis. We think soberly, perhaps for the first time, about our past and our future…Illness gives us that rarest thing in the world – a second chance, not only at health but at life itself.” Louis E. Bisch MD. 1937

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment.

Disease. Dis-ease. The harmonious state of the body is disturbed. One is not at ease. There are eleven major categories of disease, enough to make one feel ill. But we are currently concerned with infectious disease.

Before we start, however, it is interesting to note the history, and pre-history of human perceptions of disease in general. My early years as an Anthropology student happened to coincide with a growing popular interest in Non-Western medicine and the therapies among societies of Early Man. I collected several excellent books on the subject. But, failing to anticipate writing this piece in the current year 2021 I gave most, if not all those books to my older granddaughter as she excelled her way through a preparatory high school dedicated to medical science, an undergraduate college degree centered on Nutrition, a Masters of Medical Science, and now medical school in which she is in the top 10% of her class. Conversations with her are electric, even if bystanders drift away. (No, I don’t have one of those bumper stickers: Let me tell you about my grandchildren)

As we look at some of the interpretations of disease and the recommended therapies of long ago it is easy, too easy, to dismiss previous generations as ignorant or even primitive. In some cases it is certain that practitioners did not know why a therapy worked; but they knew it did work. Trial and error? Well, life was often pretty brutal for most of human existence. But one of the early practices which never made sense to me was bloodletting, slitting open a vein to allow the “bad humors” to drain away. Practiced in the West until the late 19th century, it possibly killed as many patients as it “cured”, though the “cure” was likely the mild euphoria felt from blood loss. Fortunately, we no longer do that except for very rare conditions. But terms and concepts have a way of hanging on.

One term which is still with us, and unlikely to leave, is Malaria. Derived from Latin roots, it is literally Mal (bad) aria (air) and originated during a period when people associated the fetid air of warm weather swamps with disease. They had no concept of mosquitoes carrying a parasitic organism and transmitting it through a bite.

Another concept with a long history, even a pre-history, is the idea that disease is a consequence of displeasing the god or gods. Surely this is not believed anywhere in modern societies? In fact, since the advent of HIV/AIDS it has been and is now a constant drumbeat in fundamentalist churches throughout the United States. The “SIN” of homosexuality hath wrought God’s vengeance upon the evil ones. How about that “loving God”? Real cuddly, no?

Those of us who grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s remember when cancer was thought to be contagious. And, even today, a cancer diagnosis often elicits the question, What did the person do wrong? My daughter had a kitten who died of lung cancer. No one in the home smoked, and she never caught the kitten smoking.

After a few years, during which the Reagan/Bush administration tried to maintain the myth that HIV/AIDS was a “homosexual disease” (question: “What does gay mean? Got AIDS yet?”), it became obvious it was easily and commonly transmitted by needle sharing, heterosexual sex, blood transfusion, and even organ donation. Yet the churches persist in disinformation to this day. Magical thinking finds a ready audience in the United States. But there was nothing magical in the discovery that HIV/AIDS was hitting hardest in the African-American and Latino communities. Still, the Reagan/Bush administrations stifled any efforts to develop prevention programs and funding for development of treatment was scant to non-existent.

That lack of funding didn’t stop those of us Feds assigned to state and local health departments. I handed condoms to STD patients like they were Halloween candy. In some cases, they were – flavored. But I continuously ran into resistance to accept the message: safer sex. I told HIV positive patients that they must use condoms to reduce the likelihood of transmitting what was then a fatal disease. I then explained that if I saw them in the clinic with another STD such as primary or secondary syphilis or gonorrhea I would know they had not used a condom. Of course, I saw them again. Over and over. Many of them explained their disease by claiming, “It must have jumped back on me.” Okay, I did walk further from the bushes lining the clinic sidewalk. Never can tell where an STD might be hiding. But without meaningful prevention resources there was not much I could do.

In those years, decades ago, we knew something else about minority communities, especially the African-American: Many of them held deep and erroneous beliefs and suspicions regarding government provided public health. These beliefs were based on misinformation about a long term practice conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama many years previously. In a horrendous betrayal of trust White researchers identified African-American men already infected with syphilis and, instead of treating them, followed them through the course of this often fatal disease. The misinformation was that the researchers actually infected the men with syphilis, an almost impossible feat without sexual contact. The Treponema pallidum spirochete is remarkably fragile as I learned by watching living specimens under Darkfield microscopy.

Ignorance of this medical fact coupled with centuries of being treated as disposable property cemented this belief into the population. I often had it thrown in my face when confronting patients and their sexual contacts. As a consequence, this population, among others, became what is known in epidemiologic circles as a “hard to reach” population.

A change of political party, to Democrat, in the White House brought a much needed stimulus to disease prevention and management. In fact, it was only under this other party that the federal Centers for Disease Control was able not only to add and Prevention to its title but also to develop strong prevention programs based on years of developed science.

But a return to the previous political party, Republican, brought the Dark Ages back. The ascendancy of the second Bush, son of the first mentioned above, ushered in another “gag” order on sexual health, especially in overseas outreach by Foreign Service Officers but also to suppress support for Planned Parenthood clinics in the U.S.. STDs, including HIV, climbed again. No surprise there. And, while federal funding for many prevention programs once again dried up, a new “evangelically based” effort to discredit science altogether swept onto the federal science establishment. Senior scientists, with cumulative centuries of experience and institutional memory, left in droves rather than have their names attached to “science papers” massively edited and skewed by the White House. The CDC faced serious succession planning problems. Who would be skilled enough to replace those scientists? Who could be trusted enough to practice actual science? In the meantime, a swarm of infectious diseases such as H1N1 and SARS swept the globe, complicated by the desperate movements of people displaced by climate change and a disastrously stupid invasion of Iraq and the consequences elsewhere.

Yet another change, to Democrat, of presidential administration brought in eight years of restoration of science and prevention programs across the board. Real progress was made. But eight years add up to less than an eye blink in the evolutionary march of disease. Disaster struck with the 2016 election of the Village Idiot or, as the Russians called him, the Useful Idiot as the Republican president. The man was so broadly ignorant, even stupid, that it would be erroneous to charge him with the planet destroying efforts of his administration. In every area but weapons development and fossil fuel extraction science was rolled back, sidelined, and openly scoffed at. The lasting damage to the environment and thereby all living beings on this planet has yet to be calculated largely because the momentum of those four years is still in motion.

But an immediate human toll can be calculated, the loss of life to the Corona virus. Dr. Deborah Birx, formerly the White House Corona Virus Response Coordinator, recently said publicly that, after the first 100,000 American deaths the rest (now well over 500,000) were largely preventable. So why did they happen? First, the incoming administration disposed of the thorough and complete pandemic response plan developed by the previous administration. Then the political party in power during the first year of the pandemic claimed: It was a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats to discredit the Republicans; it was nothing more than a flu; it would go away “like magic” with a change of weather; common safeguards would only bankrupt the U.S. economy; the then president mused it could be managed with ingestion and/or injection of bleach; invested tax money in millions of doses of an ineffective drug intended for malaria, boosting the stock market value for unnamed administration members; called for vaccine development with scant plans for distribution; called for States which had put lockdowns in place to “be freed”; and, the then president exhorted his mob rallies to call for the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world’s leading expert on Infectious Diseases. Having deja vu? It quickly became clear the Corona virus was taking a far more serious toll on the African-American and Latino communities. Could anyone miss the implication that the slow walk adopted by the administration was a replay of the Reagan/Bush approach to HIV/AIDS? After all, this was the same administration tearing children out of the arms of immigrant parents.

The tactic of slow walking a response is not singular to the American Republican party. Readers will remember my efforts in the early 1990’s to address cholera in Latin America. As I was driving to various remote clinics in a particular country I asked the local physician with me why the government seemed to be unconcerned about the mounting death toll. His answer: “Well, only the Indians are dying of it anyway.”

Looking around the world we can easily see the almost unparalleled level of expenditure on military arms, not on beneficial and readily accessible medicine. If humans could ever realize their greatest enemy is ignorance and disease, not each other, we could reduce suicidal population growth, destruction of our natural environment, and control of diseases. Even after this pandemic is brought under control there will be another unless we wake up. In frank terms, the next pandemic will not be announced by an angel, nor will it “jump back on you”. It will come simply because our greed and ignorance have us looking in all the wrong places. It may come to you from an idiot who thinks not taking precautions is a political statement, an assertion of a “god given” right.

Speaking of looking, near where I did scuba diving off the coast of Oahu there’s a promontory that encapsulates a myth common throughout Polynesia: “The leaping place of souls”, from which the souls of the dead or near dead leap. The “good” souls leap to the right, into the night where they live among the stars; the “bad” souls to the left, into the “pit of eternal blackness”. We are standing on the promontory. We don’t have to be dead or dying to realize we have an ultimate choice before us. Leap for the stars.

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule

by Marco M. Pardi

The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatever unless you realize it’s your move.” Frank Crane, educator, as quoted in After, by Bruce Greyson MD.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are also open for comment.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” This is fundamental to every major religion from the ancient Egyptian texts to the Taoist T’ai-shang Kan-ying P’ien. Theists see it as a directive from God, non-theists as a self evident principle to live by. But when I first heard it I felt there were problems. Okay, since I have always observed closely and thought about what I had been presented, having questions was simply in character. That’s also why I work best when I work alone.

I also feel these problems are largely self evident. For example, “others”. Exactly who are we talking about? There are people out there who would initiate harm against you; for me, turning the other cheek just gives me more time to design my response. There are people out there who would kill you for the change in your pocket, even after you hand it to them. “Want a hug with that?”

Interestingly, hidden prejudices emerge when encountering others. African-Americans often cite the “tendency” of White males to touch their wallets and White females to clutch their purses closer as they close the distance between them on sidewalks or in stores. Recent interviews of career military disclosed that African-American males meet among themselves to learn “proper” decorum when around White peers or superior officers. They fear appearing intimidating.

Some interesting consequences emerge when these prejudices backfire. A federal agency uses handguns fitted with lasers instead of bullets for its clandestine officers to work through a very rapidly changing sequence of life sized images on a screen. The officers have seconds to view, assess, and respond to the images flashed before them. Here’s one I particularly like:

A reliable source indicates you have been blown and action is being taken against you now. As you walk down the street to meet with your exfiltration team, FLASH, three people appear coming around a corner toward you. One is a rather winsome young woman, her right arm around a young boy by her side and left arm hanging loose. She is looking slightly to one side. About three feet to one side and somewhat close behind is a young man who seems to be intently staring directly at you, his right hand behind his butt.

Assuming you’ve identified the hostile, you draw your weapon to fire. At whom?

If you chose the young man, you are dead. You missed the Makarov pistol clearly in the young woman’s left hand. Where’s the element of prejudice? The presumption that a young woman, particularly a comely one and one holding onto a young boy, would not be a skilled assassin. The young man was unarmed, and simply in a hurry to pass the woman depending on which side you and she would pass each other. Another possible element could be the presumption that all shooters are right handed.

Here’s one you are more likely to encounter. Years ago I had an informal gathering at my home of several of my older college students and their significant others. My living room was quite large but a few sat on the floor in a large circle. I sat on the raised fireplace threshold, with one male student sitting nearby with his wife in front of him. The male comported himself as a traditional “country boy”; his wife seemed more cosmopolitan. During the discussion his wife began to venture a comment. As she did so I saw the male surreptitiously cock a knuckle fist and drive it into her back. The pain was quite evident on her face.

To act or not to act? My immediate inclination was to strenuously object. But as no one else saw it happen I considered speaking to him privately. It did not take long for me to conclude that either course of action would result in a severe beating for his wife when they got home. Instead, when the opportunity arose I gave her what I hoped was a knowing look.

Close to a year later she came by my home, informed me she was just completing a divorce, and requested a recommendation letter for graduate school. I provided the letter. But I have no idea what else I may have provided.

In an earlier post I mentioned an experience I had in college. After a pouring rainstorm a disabled student, managing orthopedic crutches and books under his arm, slipped and fell. His books spread out on the grass. I ran over to help. He angrily waved me off, telling me he didn’t need help. I understood my action only after I had taken it. Thinking about it I realized I probably would have reacted the same way.

Nowadays, with word meanings and associated feelings changing so rapidly, it’s getting harder to know what to do in social interactions. Years ago – many years ago – I actually saw some women cast appreciative glances over me. I was not insulted, I did not feel violated. I had thought I was keeping myself in pretty good shape internally and maybe it was showing externally. I fully admit to having visually appreciated some women as well. I’ve even complimented female co-workers on a change in hairstyle or some new clothing. Years ago. I felt I had been treated nicely and I simply passed that feeling on. Years ago.

But now, with the Me Too movement sweeping the country, my inclination when a woman comes into sight is to quickly determine an exit route. Look at her? HOLY LAWSUIT, Batman!!! A multitude of Women’s Organizations would parade me through the streets in sackcloth with ashes on my head. UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! When a woman comes into my presence my shoelaces get my undivided attention.

So how do we know that what we would like done to us is what someone else would like done to them? How many times have well intentioned acts or comments brought negative consequences? And how many times have we been completely unaware of those consequences? Some people may say I over complicate things, but I shudder at glib wisdom.

Still, as I find myself increasingly older than most of the people I encounter, and I have more recollections of being “that age”, I think it is good to encourage people. Maybe one day I’ll earn the title “harmless old man”.

The poet Patricia Clafford said, “The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.” My work these days varies, but in the ultimate sense I’m my own boss. So I get to decide when it’s good to put the work aside and devote some time to the encouragement of others. Sure, there will be those who suspect that old man is being too interested in neighborhood children, or is daydreaming with women acquaintances about former days of sexual prowess. I can’t control the delusions of people around me. But I can still return the favor when someone tries to treat me as I would not have them do unto me. In the meantime, keep at it, Dear Reader. Life can sometimes go on for longer than you thought.

Genocide

Genocide

by Marco M. Pardi

The ruin of a nation begins in the home of its people”

Ashanti saying.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

The term genocide is once again being raised, this time in the actions of the Chinese government against the minority Uighur population, a Muslim population. I have written previously about the linguistic issue of Usage, and how a term varies in meaning over time, often greatly. We generally accept this in common parlance, though we may not like it and we prefer to remain true to the meanings we learned as children. But variation, or meaning drift, is a far more serious matter in the arena of international law and the consequences which may flow from violation of those laws. And, as is so often the case but which usually goes unchallenged, the presumably consensual meaning drift becomes so tenuous as to raise the question of whether we are now to accept an entirely new meaning. And how does that affect the application of the law?

The meaning of Genocide I grew up with derives from the Greek: Genos – race or tribe; Latin: cide – a suffix meaning killing. The term was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, in 1944. It refers to a larger class than homicide, the killing of a human and sui (Latin: self) cide – the killing of. I was given to understand that “people” meant all members of a designated group, be it religious, ethnic, tribal or otherwise. And I grew up with the understanding that the book the Christians call the Bible, and especially the part called the Old Testament, is filled with stories of “God commanded” Hebrew slaughters of every man, woman, child, and all living things among any populations standing between them and “the Promised Land”. Of course, the Christian Crusades were heralded as great achievements of eradication of Muslims, though little was said of the murder, rape, and plunder of everyone along the way to the Holy Land. But, a cursory trip through history provides seemingly endless examples of one group trying to eliminate another group “root and branch”.

Hyperbole is sometimes taken as meaning drift but it is not generally codified in legal terms. The excerpt below is from the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

The Genocide Convention establishes in Article I that the crime of genocide may take place in the context of an armed conflict, international or non-international, but also in the context of a peaceful situation. The latter is less common but still possible. The same article establishes the obligation of the contracting parties to prevent and to punish the crime of genocide. The popular understanding of what constitutes genocide tends to be broader than the content of the norm under international law. Article II of the Genocide Convention contains a narrow definition of the crime of genocide, which includes two main elements:

  1. A mental element: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such”; and
  2. A physical element, which includes the following five acts:
    • Killing members of the group
    • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
    • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
    • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
    • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

Reading these must certainly bring to mind memories of events within our lifetimes. Let’s consider a few, including only one involving armed conflict. When AIDS was first identified in the Western Hemisphere it was quickly labeled a “gay disease”. But it did not take long to discover it was spreading quickly through minority populations, particularly the Black population. A few years into the progression I was asked to move to Atlanta to work in a federally funded institution, specifically in AIDS epidemiology. What struck me immediately on arrival was the prohibition of any educational and/or outreach programs. But then, the institution was titled The Centers for Disease Control; it was only later, when a different political party took the White House, that the terms and Prevention were added. For six of Reagan’s eight years and four of G. H. W. Bush’s four years we were told to “do more research”. The deaths spiraled beyond imagination and there was a strongly growing sentiment that the government, as held by that political party, was engaged in a hands-off genocide against gays and minorities. Street jokes included such witty questions as, What does gay stand for? Answer: Got AIDS yet?

Shortly after I arrived I detected a flaw in a study protocol I had been asked to join. It addressed four major American cities. I added a common sex tourism city in Southeast Asia and then was asked to join a task force to address cholera in Latin America.

The El Tor biotype of cholera was killing thousands, particularly along the western side of Central and South America and I spent the next five years traveling through that area, but also including the Caribbean and Mexico.

On arrival in a South American country I briefed the Minister of Health and his staff on the morbidity and mortality data we had and outlined a proposal for addressing the thousands of cases and deaths. He thanked me for coming, hoped my stay would be comfortable, and said he would be in touch if anything serious happened. Later, driving up into the Andes to spend a few days in Army tents erected for treating critically ill patients I asked the local physician with me why the official attitude was so dismissive of the problem. His answer: “Only the Indians are dying from it.” Oh.

Not long after, the Balkans exploded in war. The Christian Serbs attacked the Muslim Bosnians and slaughtered men, women, and children by the thousands while the world stood by. Finally, the U.S. stepped in with a bombing campaign. Rwanda erupted into a murderous civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Again the world stood by until finally U.N. pressure was brought to bear. We stood by again as the terrorist group ISIS attempted to extinguish the Yezidis in Iraq and the Myanmar military attacked the minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, killing thousands of men, women, and children. And, for the past six years the U.S. has supported Saudi Arabia as it wages a war of starvation against a much smaller Yemen. Where does the vast bulk of Saudi weapons come from? American companies, glad to enrich their stockholders. Companies supported by a taxpayer funded Pentagon budget which exceeds the military spending of all the other industrialized nations combined. Of course, we could enumerate more. But I think the point is made.

So is it any wonder that, as thousands fled the violence and scarcities in Central America largely brought on by climate change and the struggle to seize control of diminishing resources Americans turned a jaded eye toward the last administration’s policies of taking children, even infants, from their families as they crossed into the United States? The families were often told the children were being taken to give them baths. (Do we dare entertain the memory of German soldiers separating families, loading some members onto trains and gassing others who were told they were getting “showers”?)

Many of the Latino older family members were locked up or deported while the children were dispersed throughout the United States. The latest figures I’ve seen are 524 children unaccounted for and 628 parents not yet found to come for their children.

As the now pandemic of Covid-19 took hold in the United States the administration at the time, the same political party as Reagan and Bush, dismissed it as a hoax. As was the case during the Reagan/Bush years they threw themselves into “research” while stifling any attempts to meaningfully address the virus. HIV/AIDS strategy redux. When it did force its way into our consciousness as a reality the administration applied the xenophobic labels “Chinese virus” and “Kung-fu virus”.

It then quickly became apparent that the populations experiencing the worst outcomes from infection were the minority populations, specifically the African-Americans and the Latinos. Yes, the “Warp Speed” vaccine program poured huge amounts of taxpayer money into drug companies, and a large stockpile of a particularly ineffective malaria drug was purchased. But, cui bono? Who benefited from that huge infusion of standing and promised cash? Could it be certain stockholders? We can all be happy with the three highly efficacious vaccines we now have. But I would like to see the small group of individuals who are now even happier with their highly efficacious stock portfolios.

I’m sure some would draw back at the suggestion that limiting or outright banning of contraception and/or abortion is genocide. But the figures are amazingly clear: those options are overwhelmingly sought by people who recognize that having a child, or another child, would doom them to hard poverty or worse. Yet, every time a particular political party comes to power in the United States a “gag order” descends on foreign service officers stationed throughout the world, particularly in the most desperate nations and regions. Speak of either option and your career is over. Put up so much as one table and chair dedicated to family planning counseling in a general health clinic and the funding for the entire clinic is withdrawn. The result? You can see for yourselves if you care to look. Poor and desperate people are controllable people. Until someone comes along and empowers them to fight back. Someone like a wannabe demagogue descended from a New York slum lord. Able to focus and direct the fears and frustrations of the masses.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit that U.N. definition of genocide and to ask ourselves if we have let the meaning drift away from us. If we have fallen into always applying it to “the other guy”.

Conversation

Conversation

by Marco M. Pardi

The reason we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may listen the more and speak the less.” Zeno. 300 BCE

A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years’ study of books.” Chinese saying.

All comments are greatly appreciated and will receive a reply. All previous posts are also open for comment.

Conversation. What a marvelous word. Implicit in the word is an exchange between or among two or more sentient beings. You may talk to your car on a freezing cold morning, but you do not get a response in kind unless you provide it. And, your passenger may utter a statement which brooks no exchange: “Hurry up and start the damned thing!” Of course, the well trained might then say, “Yes, dear” while responding further only in thought.

Latin has long been considered the most efficient of the Western languages and, as we learned with our declensions, we could state Person, Voice, Tense, and other modifiers within one spoken morpheme. But as our technology developed ways of remotely conveying our words to others many began to feel something was missing. As late as the 1970’s, long after the invention and wide distribution of the telephone and the two way radio, popular literature began carrying claims that as much as 80% of meaning was lost when conversations did not occur face to face. Then arose the much mythologized “science” of body language. Of course, card players, salesmen, politicians, preachers, and con artists had long perfected the detection of “tells” and even the ability to convey false or misleading information non-verbally. To see the breadth of its application we need only to look at video of the last presidential administration. But in general, body language means nothing unless one has first established a baseline of a person’s behavior; one is looking for deviations, not just presentations.

Now that commonly available technology allows us to Face Time, on those ubiquitous phones, and Zoom, which has largely replaced older video meeting technology, it is fair to ask if we have gained anything in the process and, if so, what. And now that the Covid-19 virus has caused whole communities to go into rolling lockdowns, schools to continue only in virtual form, restaurants to survive only through curbside or window delivery, and people to mask most of their faces in public, what are we missing?

I’ve never been “one of the guys”, a man who joins other men in week-end night card games and beer parties. I dislike cards (have no idea how to play) and I don’t drink. But I do know of ongoing Bridge games and get-togethers of various kinds. I imagine the masked balls are seeing an increase in Whaddya say? and other such muffled pronouncements. And I’m looking for an increase in the sales of flexible drinking straws, to be slipped under masks. But, amusements aside, what intangibles are there in conversation which are eluding us now, and what if any long term effect will they incur? On a couple of on-line chatgroups I observe I’ve noticed recent statements to the effect that people, albeit masked, are more giving in their casual comments to service personnel they encounter, such as clerks in grocery stores. That’s reassuring. But is it enough? Does being restricted to the kiddie end of the pool make us yearn for the deep end, the intense and involved conversations that sometimes went on for hours?

More people have turned to on-line chats using such options as ZOOM and other audio-visual technology. Is talking to a screen satisfying? During the last four plus years I talked to the tv screen often. But even now, with people able to respond in real time, it still seems like talking to a two dimensional image. You could be in the next room or on the next continent and there would be no real connection. I can’t hand you something; I have to hold it just right for the camera to capture it and send only a flat image of it. Is this what we’ve come to? This must be what it’s like to spend months on the Space Station, conversing with loved ones over an electronic connection. And breaking that connection seems so sudden. Good bye…click.

I’ve always disliked going to parties. People mill around mumbling and jabbering about uninteresting stuff, listening to others only to detect a pause into which they can pitch their important little contribution. To me, the most interesting parts of the conversations were how the participants entered into and how they left those conversations. What was said in between was usually just exhaust gas. Entry and exit tactics convey a huge amount of cultural information to an observer. They would provide for a post of its own.

But then there are those people who only see certain verbal exchanges through a very limited lens. The Central Intelligence Agency was formed and chartered to gather, collate, and analyze information which was then passed to policy makers for them to determine action, if any. That is, it was an intelligence agency. But most people interpret that as meaning it was a recipient of targeted information only and not a producer of targeted information, not an influencer. In fact, since its inception it has been a skillful and successful influencer, targeting socio-political systems not with bullets but with words.

That balance changed under the Reagan Administration when Reagan installed William Casey as Director of CIA. Casey, a veteran of the WWII O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services), was direct action oriented, experienced in inserting saboteurs and other specialists behind enemy lines, often using recruits native to the country into which they were inserted. Because opportunities like that were uncommon during the Cold War Casey instead concentrated on recruiting former and even current military into what became a para-military arm of the CIA, employing them as in-country or nearby advisors and other support personnel. This had a troubled start during Casey’s attempt to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua but the recruitment continued long after Casey’s departure. Sooner or later this emphasis would lead to more serious trouble.

The rise of al Qaeda (“the base”) brought a different kind of combatant onto the field: The religious militant. By that time the CIA had recruited a substantial cadre of personnel who were ex-military only in the sense that they had put their uniforms aside, not their mindset. As hostile engagements intensified the agency began funding bounties for captives, resulting in a flood of prisoners, many with little or no connection to, or even interest in al Qaeda. But the paramilitary operators saw them all only as “hostiles”. Refusing to believe these costly prisoners had no secrets to divulge, the operators resorted to ever more severe methods of interrogation. To paraphrase an old saying, To those who are hammers, everyone else is a nail. The CIA had hired too many hammers.

The military has long had the SERE program: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. The Resistance portion teaches how to resist severe interrogation techniques. And, the Army produced the US Army Field Manual on Interrogation, FM34-52, a 177 page manual which clearly delineates legal techniques, forbids torture and explains why torture is counter productive. But an Army psychologist reverse engineered the Resistance portion of the SERE program to devise torture tactics, several of which crossed the line of international agreements on torture. Yet, these won widespread acceptance within the paramilitary section of the CIA, already avid fans of the nonsensical television series 24. What the CIA did not understand was that these new prisoners were not combatants in the traditional sense; they were believers anxious to spread their ideas of truth and, in the process, often willing to divulge information about associates and plans.

In response to the quickly exposed torture at the hands of the CIA al-Qaeda produced its own manual, oddly named the “Manchester Manual”, which recognized that sooner or later everyone breaks. Al-Qaeda taught its members: Everyone who falls into American custody will be tortured; breaking under torture is understandable, even expected; one must hold out for 48 hours during which their absence would be recognized and the 48 hours would provide enough time to change or cancel any operational plans the captive might then give away. Thus, “stale” intelligence would lead the US into wild goose chases and possibly traps.

In the early days of armed contact the first interrogators meeting with “high value detainees” were skilled and experienced FBI Special Agents. The Bureau had received authority to operate in any and all countries that would formally accept them. In many cases of interrogation their efforts met with immediate and surprising success, without any evidence of or reason to believe coercive measures were used. Instead, a cup of coffee and a cigarette enabled the participants to enter into a conversation which often went on for hours, even days. No towels and buckets of water were used to induce the feeling of drowning. Volumes of important intelligence were collected.

All that changed when the CIA entered and demanded custody of the detainees. The hammers came down and the detainees “clammed up”. Ironically, it quickly became obvious that the hammers did not realize something crucial: interrogation is for obtaining information, not for obtaining revenge. Furthermore, whatever information may have been forthcoming between near drowning events was already operationally obsolete. But the vengeance kept coming.

I like to think that examples like this increase generalized knowledge. Most of us, hopefully, will not be interrogating hostiles in our day to day lives. But every once in a while a stark reminder such as these events provide with moments to consider how we converse. I know a person who, in what seems to start as a normal conversation, asks questions. That’s great. But then she goes on to answer them while you are speaking. I’ve even stopped talking while she went on and saw she seemed satisfied with the answers she had devised for her own questions. It reminded me of flawed interrogations I’ve witnessed.

I’ve also tried to converse with people who mumble or drop their volume at points (William Casey was famous for this and it was easy to lose concentration in meetings as images of water boarding him came to mind). That makes me wonder if they understand the meaning of communication, as in commune, community, etc. Communication is more than just expressing yourself; it’s also about doing it in a way that ensures it is understood.

The world is a fascinating, ever changing kaleidoscope of stimulating and challenging features. Each of us sees it in our own unique way. Granting that we are unable to convey felt meaning, only to devise an intellectual report that we have a feeling, we can still converse, express ourselves, and begin to understand others and ourselves better through listening. When people have said I’m quiet I’ve always responded by pointing out that I learn more by listening than by speaking.

I opened this site as a forum for conversation. What do you feel like expressing?

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech

by Marco M. Pardi

You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” John Morley. 1877. On Compromise.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are also open to comment. If you cannot comment, please forward this post to someone who will.

Sooner or later all American school children learn of the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment to the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Of course, there’s more packed in there than just freedom of speech. But I’ve always found it amusing that children learn of it at an age when they cannot fully benefit from it. I don’t know about you, but I was raised in a household which actually practiced, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” and “You will not speak unless spoken to.”

Military and college preparatory boarding schools weren’t much better, but the real surprise came in the actual military: After completing the oath to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States we were informed the Constitution largely no longer applied to us; we were now under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Later, those few of us being awarded ultra security clearances were schooled in the fine print of how speaking freely could bring us a room of our own and three meals a day, for many years to come. Even speaking of unclassified matters could bring us such rewards if our speech was deemed “insubordination”. Great. As I later told the officers who selected me for Student Flight Commander, I didn’t sign up to make friends so I didn’t mind not socializing much. But later, teaching first at a university and then at several colleges, I learned of “Academic Freedom”. The faculty handbooks stated basically that we had the freedom to openly discuss ideas without the implication that discussion automatically meant advocacy. Of course, until I achieved tenure I considered class discussions, especially in my field, to be potential minefields. And, while principles were fine on paper, there was no guarantee that students (and their families) would recognize and honor them. It didn’t take long for that to be put to the test. One college vice president told me about the phone calls to the college and said, “If these calls weren’t coming I would think you were not doing your job.”

Yet, there were cases elsewhere brought before the courts. In Texas v. Johnson. 1989 Justice Brennan ruled, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Still, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I quickly adopted the habit of encouraging students to tape record my classes. I told them, “I would much rather you have what I said than what you think I said.”

Very early in our understanding of freedom of speech we learned there were exceptions. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater was a commonly cited exception. “Incitement to riot” was another. But then, there were the murkier areas such as slander and libel. Now we are witness to a bloom of cases stemming from the tenure of the last American presidential administration and the fact that frankly dishonest spokespersons for that administration, which was unable to hold on to power, are having to answer for the lies they continuously told in order to do so. Multi-billion dollar lawsuits are now in process against media “news” organizations and individual persons for very real slander and libel with very provable damages. I wholeheartedly endorse those lawsuits. As I also wholeheartedly endorse the record second impeachment of the person who was in the Oval Office these past four years.

Perhaps the most visible case now under consideration is the second Impeachment Trial of former president Donald J. Trump on charges that he incited the deadly insurrection on the American Capitol on January 6th 2021.

Also emerging are charges of sedition, a term most commonly associated with the American Civil War. These charges go to the heart of the American quandary of free speech, liberty, and national solidarity and in their history they considerably precede the Civil War. For example, the Alien and Sedition Acts of the late 1700s.

The Sedition Act of 1918 was centered on the question of whether speech could endanger or harm the United States, thus requiring, and enabling the federal government to act to curtail it. Schenck v. United States, a pivotal case during WWI, enabled Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to establish the legal precedent by which free speech could be adjudicated. Referring to speeches against the military draft, Holmes developed the phrase clear and present danger into the legal lexicon. Indeed, the later case Brandenburg v. Ohio, cited exactly that phrase in its determination that speech could “provoke imminent lawless action”. It certainly seems to me that latter phrase captures the merits of Trump’s speech on January 6th, and many of those well before. On close examination we see that the cases include consideration of more than just what was said, but also how it was said. Given that the Senate jury appears almost completely split along Party lines, the televised discussions should still be enlightening.

But these national cases, ultimately important as they certainly are, tend to obscure developments happening on college and university campuses. Conservatives have voiced valid concerns that faculties are curtailing dissenting views in their classrooms. We increasingly read of potential speakers being turned away, particularly after student, and often faculty protest. It should be noted here that while non-attendance in class may properly affect outcomes for the student, non-attendance at university wide speeches usually does not. In the latter case, students can “vote with their feet”.

Any reasonably competent professor can read about an issue or a movement and deliver a lecture on what he or she found. But that’s always vulnerable to students rightly wondering if what they are told is merely an interpretation. So, throughout my teaching years I invited a variety of speakers into my classes, but only after telling the classes that attendance was not mandatory. Included were representatives from Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers; the United Klans of America; the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation Society; funeral homes; physicians and other medical personnel; an internationally famous Medium; an attorney; and clerics from the main Western and Eastern religious traditions.

I can tell you that after some of these speakers I did hear about college switchboards overloading with calls to everyone from the college President down to the janitorial staff. In later years it was websites overloading. But I persevered in my position that I should not be the sole provider of information when there are competent and more knowledgeable sources right within reach.

But at the heart of this issue is something I think I don’t understand. I’ve spent my entire working life in fields requiring that I get people to talk. The untrained person seems to have no idea of the volumes of information which pour forth in just “casual conversation”. In those settings silence is often as loud as shouts. But that’s true only when you allow those settings to occur. Denying those settings altogether is depriving the self of the wealth information the other person may be willing to provide, or trying unsuccessfully conceal.

Of course, there is more to someone’s speech than just their words. Intelligence Operations Officers learn several helpful acronyms. SDLR – Something Doesn’t Look Right; and, SDSR – Something Doesn’t Sound Right are two. So, if one is listening to a shabbily dressed man passing himself off as an uneducated, itinerant peddler in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and hears him speaking Fusha it’s an SDSR moment. The Fushia dialect is Classical Arabic, spoken by those with significant education and, very likely, a cosmopolitan upbringing. Hearing this spoken in that context would be like hearing a customer in dirty jeans speaking Shakespearean English in a Seed & Feed store in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s northwest Georgia district. SDSR.

In a way, dialectical speech brings us back to those earlier citations of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, and incitement to riot. As you read this the second impeachment trial of former president Donald J. Trump is beginning. For the first trial the Republicans, in control of the Senate (the de facto jury), prevented witnesses from testifying. In this trial calling witnesses not be necessary. Everyone in the world with access to broadcast news saw and heard Trump tell an assembled crowd how the lawful and proper election was rigged and stolen from him, and going on to shout “…if you don’t fight like hell you won’t have a country anymore!” He then instructed them to go to the Capitol, assuring them he would be with them.

Shouting Fire in a theater is a declaration that a threat to life is present and imminent. Such a declaration is a call to action, without conditioners such as Walk, don’t run, Use the emergency exits, Do not push. It’s a call to do Whatever is necessary, heedless of the consequences.

My question here is whether the exhortation Trump issued was a declaration that a threat to life (the dishonest take-over of the government) was present and imminent and a call to action – in this case with a conditioner: Fight like hell, heedless of the consequences.

In sum, my position is that Trump’s speeches, particularly on January 6th, constituted Incitement to riot, and are therefore not protected under the Free Speech provisions of the First Amendment. Five deaths ensued, with a sixth related. Extensive damage was done to the Capitol building and confidential materials were copied or stolen from offices. Legislators and staff were put in fear of their lives. And America’s world image as a successful democracy which practices peaceful transition of power was irreparably damaged.

Impeachment is a political event. As such it does little or nothing material to a non-politician such as Trump. Causing a riot, indeed an insurgency resulting in death and damages, is a criminal offense and should be prosecuted as such.

Crime and Punishment*

Crime and Punishment*

by a Guest Columnist**

Anonymous: How could crime be reduced?

Solon: If it caused as much resentment in those who are not its victims as in those who are.

SOLON (630 – 560 BCE) In Diogenes Laertius, 3rd Cent CE.

  • I tried to obtain permission from Fyodor Dostoevsky but he was busy upbraiding a Dictator in his home country.
  • The author, an academic in a prestigious Northeastern University, expressed grave concern for her safety and requested anonymity. I have complied with her wishes.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are also open for comment.

I would like to assume the privilege of writing a prefacing comment. The statements below are brilliantly precise and insightful. Indeed, they inspire in me deep consideration of the concept of punishment itself. Is it possible to punish someone who has no concept of having committed a transgression, no concept of right versus wrong? Our criminal justice system does provide for mental assessment of perpetrators, to determine if they are “fit to stand trial”. And, we have been known to submit people to “treatment” in order to later render them fit for trial. But that always raises the question of whether being fit now justifies trial and conviction for crimes committed then.

I do not think Donald J. Trump is unfit for trial simply because, as an almost certain amoral sociopath he is unable to understand the reasons for the trial. Just this morning I saw an inspiring quote: “World War II was over, yet we still had the Nuremberg War Trials”

I sincerely hope our readers throughout the world, and there are many, will deeply imbibe the clarity and wisdom offered below and will add to our considerations with comments. I am deeply grateful to our Guest Columnist. Marco M. Pardi

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Donald J. Trump and other such people—mostly men, so far, although there are more and more women who qualify—aren’t super-villains or criminal masterminds or megalomaniacs. They are just vain, arrogant, selfish little people who are incapable of seeing anything in the world but themselves.

Toxic narcissist” is an apt term for such individuals, but at the same time it is too grandiose. They have absolutely no vision of anything beyond themselves, though most of them are able to fake normal responses to one degree or another. They do not truly see even the members of their own families; classic sociopaths all, no one in the world is really as real as themselves. Their inner vacuity infects their spouses, their offspring, and those who are so foolish as to think they are their friends.

(I feel sorry for Tiffany Trump and her half-brother Barron, but they may still have some slight hope of escaping their father’s poisonous shadow. For Ivanka and Donald Jr. and Eric, there is no such hope; they have already revealed themselves to be entitled but inferior copies of their father. They have the same lack of empathy, of self-awareness, but they have none of Trump’s superficial charisma that appeals so strongly to the worst and most ignorant among us.)

Of course, most of Trump’s ‘friends’ were already of the same deeply flawed breed, whether they knew it or not. Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani—all equally flawed, equally damaged, equally odious people.

Some of those who may find themselves tainted for life by association with Trump and his ilk—what an apt and wonderful word, ilk—will try to claim that they are innocent victims, brought low by misplaced trust in someone who turned out to be the worst possible person they ever met. It’s a lie. Inside, they are the same as Trump is, and always were. They were just unlucky; in a Trump-less life, most of them would merely have been dim little people shambling through lives whose emptiness they would seldom ever even recognize, let alone question. They are greedy little men and women who thought they’d found their savior, thought they could ride his coat-tails up into the realms of lifelong power and prestige. They thought Trump could take them to places where they could gorge themselves on all the earthly perquisites of fame and wealth and privilege so they would no longer hear the echoes in the frozen voids they hold inside.

To paraphrase Christopher Guest’s 1972 parody “Deteriorata,” “a walk through the ocean of such people’s souls would not even get your feet wet.” Mike Pompeo, Steven Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, those I’ve named before and all the rest, the small and the smaller, are just like Donald J. Trump: there is no there there. Inside they have nothing, they are nothing; inside they are absolutely empty, devoid of soul, integrity, character, morality, conviction, loyalty, and anything even resembling honor. In John D. MacDonald’s wonderful phrase, “heart empty as a paper bag, eyes of clever glass.”

None of which makes them one whit less dangerous. As Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” because the worst are nevertheless driven—driven by a hunger they do not question, an interior emptiness that can never be filled but only briefly papered over before it gnaws its way out again.

They can be brought to a kind of justice, if we care to try; but they will never understand it. Nixon himself, the most blatantly criminal of Trump’s predecessors (there are of course others who could be considered eligible for that dubious title), knew at the end that he had been wrong, had done wrong. He understood the concept and the meaning of failure and disgrace, and so he left office with his head down and his voice stilled. Donald J. Trump is so impenetrably wrapped up in himself and his twisted understanding of the world that he will never understand. Any punishment he receives—the most likely, and the most important for the rest of us, is his being banned from federal office for life—he will regard as he does everything that thwarts his desires, as persecution and gross injustice.

Which is where our concept of punishment breaks down. If the malefactor cannot be made to understand that he has in fact done wrong, then punishment—to him—will always be capricious, arbitrary and above all, unfair.

The initial fault was not Trump’s; he had the compound misfortune to be born the eldest son of his greedy, opportunistic, racist, misogynist father, and to have been befriended by the wretched Gollum-esque excuse for a human being once known as Roy Cohn. For anything and everything after that, though, Trump bears full responsibility. He never cared to engage with the rest of the world enough to learn just how immoral, vile, and venal these two men were—two of the worst men ever to befoul the world with their existence in the past century. And in foulness and venality he has tried to surpass them both, and in some ways he has succeeded…which he probably thinks is an achievement.

With Donald J. Trump, and his lickspittles, enablers and toadies, there is no way for us to achieve real justice in a way that will feel like real justice; his own nature makes that impossible. The most important thing we can do—for ourselves—is to kick him out of the game once and for all. If nothing else, we need to make it impossible for him to ever assume not just the presidency but any kind of federal office ever again. (Keeping him out of public office at any level, including the PTA and the Neighborhood Watch, would be best—not that he would consider either—but doing so is not the province of the government.) He will doubtless keep whining and yammering, and he will doubtless find an audience for his lies…but we can try to make sure that he dies with whatever’s left of his personal evil unconsummated, and that others who might wish to follow his road are warned off. That will have to be good enough.

Knowing

Knowing

by Marco M. Pardi

Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.” Eric Hoffer. The Passionate State of Mind and Other Aphorisms.

As knowledge increases, wonder deepens.” Charles Morgan.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are also open for comment. If you are unable or unwilling to comment, please forward this site to someone who will.

I want to open a discussion, particularly because I will include an occurrence which raised a question for which I hope someone has an answer. In any event, the discussion will touch on issues which affect everyone. But first, I want to clearly state some assertions.

Those readers who have followed my posts over the years well know that I have spoken of what I call the “non-corporeal”. That is, what some would call spirit, and some would call soul. My writings have included the context which I feel supports my confidence in such a state of being. But for those who are not familiar with those previous posts I will reiterate that I am not a believer in a god or a supreme being. I do think the universe is conscious. Does that mean it knows and loves each of its parts? You have trillions of cells and billions of bacteria living in you. Do you know and love each of these? I will also reiterate that I do not believe in the non-corporeal. Based on my personal experiences and on the many volumes on NDEs and associated phenomena written by impeccable medical and scientific sources I accept the non-corporeal as a known state, albeit requiring some adjustments in investigative protocol. You can’t walk a near death experiencer into a laboratory and tell them, Do it again.

I wish to also make clear that I have no quarrel with those who do believe in a god, so long as they do not try to impose their beliefs on the conduct of my life or those for whom I care. I count among my acquaintances clerics from the three Western religions and highly value their discussions as they, unlike so many common “faithful”, are utterly open to rational inquiry and the exchange of ideas.

In his essays on Intellect Emerson wrote, “The most wonderful inspirations die with their subject, if he has no hand to paint them to the senses.” But, wait. Have you ever felt inspired? Moreover, have you ever felt there was some epiphany you just couldn’t put into words? Looking at the word, inspiration, we find it derives from the concept that an outside source (spirit?) has inserted (in…) new knowledge, or a new way of seeing things. Conversely, we use “expired” to announce the departure of the elan vital (Bergson’s source of causation and evolution in nature), meaning that mysterious entity we call life is no longer within, or the inner power of the substance we purchased is gone.

A very common paradigm erected in recent decades is: body, mind, spirit. Sounds simple. But then we find many people who use brain and mind interchangeably. Obviously, this is incorrect; brain is part of the physical body. Perhaps these people are so locked into the Materialist view, which demands answers to such questions as Where and What, that they are unable to depart from their dogmatic physical position that ideas arise only from brain electro-chemical states.

But I do not here want to get into deep and arcane bio-chemical arguments. I am fully aware that alteration of brain chemistry can cause alteration of mental states. And for this reason I subscribe to the view that the brain is not unlike an exquisite receiver, like a radio. Move the dial from station 1 to station 2 and you change the “message”. But station 1 does not stop transmitting, or cease to exist simply because you moved to station 2. Nor does station 2 begin transmitting only when you tune it in. Alter the electronics in your receiver, such as by taking certain drugs, and you may receive only an electrical storm emanating from the receiver. Or, perhaps the alteration opens new receptivity in the brain by blocking the portions that tell us You Can’t and empowering the portions that say You Can.

For those interested in exploring the linkage between data input and ideation I seriously recommend:
Mærk Verden: En beretning om bevidsthed book by Tor Nørretranders

Although written in Danish, there is a paperback version in English. I am certain it is among the best books in the field.

So that leaves us with mind and “spirit, essence, soul, oversoul” whatever is acceptable to you. I think we can agree that mind is not a physical entity. I will try to present the case that it is not merely the product of a physical state. I have literally hundreds of medical and science based accounts of documented mental functioning even while the brain is medically certified as either completely inactive or dead. Obviously, I will not list them here, partly because I have written about them elsewhere.

Ever found yourself saying, “I knew that” and not knowing how or when you learned it? While Tor (above) explains how we take in and process billions of data bits throughout the day we still have people who cite “intuition”, leaving it in a murky, non-corporeal state. There’s that in prefix again, as if it’s coming from the outside. But is the outside really OUT, or is it a domain we don’t realize is part of us, and we a part of it?

Many sources like to reference “The Akashic records”, a compendium of every action, thought, word, and deed ever generated in the cosmos popularized by Madame Blavatsky (Theosophy) and Edgar Cayce. Okay, I can’t deal with the image of some giant volume hanging there in space. But, surprisingly, the concept turns up in major religions as “The Book of Life” and other such things. Supposedly, mystics and “seers” can access this knowledge, though I am skeptical of Madame Nozall.

I’ve written before of an incident in 1964 in which I sat with a woman I had never before seen and she calmly told me precise details of my early childhood (which I could verify only years later), precise details of my present (my work required a Top Secret – Cryptographic security clearance), and precise details of my future including unique physical descriptions of persons I would encounter in distant lands. How did she know this?

For several years I applied my knowledge and understanding of Thanatology (the study of death & dying) by spending hours with extremely ill or frankly dying patients. Several times a patient, not within earshot of family or attendants, told me “This is it” or “It’s my time.” Many would dismiss this as “giving up”; that may have been the case some times, but certainly not every time. Did they know something? If so, how?

Since childhood I have “accompanied” many people as they transition through what we call death. Each event is well documented, especially in the sense that I was in a remote location from them and did not know of their situation (some were sudden death). Medical literature is increasingly filled with documented reports from medical practitioners describing their own such journeys with patients. I have also written earlier about this. Take it or leave it.

During one such accompaniment the transitioning person pleaded with me to “come with me, you know it’s good. Come with me.” I responded, “It’s not my time” and promptly “returned” to waking consciousness. Less than an hour later I learned through a phone call that this person had suddenly and unexpectedly died.

So, here’s the question: Who was the I who said it’s not my time? And how did this I know it was “not my time”? If the I knew it was not the time, does the I know when it is the time? I’ve been through some on the edge medical issues, but through each of them I knew. How? In my daily conscious life, sitting here now, I can’t say when it will be my time. But it seems I’ve known when it wasn’t. How?

For many years I have liked the following paradigm:

Some are born asleep and stay asleep,

Some are born awake and are lulled to sleep,

Some are born asleep and awaken,

Some are born awake and stay awake.

How much do we learn versus how much do we come to realize we know? And where did that knowing come from?

I’m betting there are readers out there who know something. I know I’m anxious to learn. So, please, know away.

Predilection

Predilection

by Marco M. Pardi

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”Mahatma Ghandi

I developed this site expressly for discussion and interaction. Therefore, all comments are welcome and will receive a response. And, all previous posts are open for comment. If you are unable or unwilling to provide a comment, please forward the site to someone else who will.

When we are suddenly pressed to explain someone’s recurrent troublesome behavior we often default to, She must have a predilection. Or, He is accident prone. This leaves the antecedents in a very murky, mysterious dimension. Of course, most of us find no satisfaction in those statements; they ring of Aristotle’s “Harmartia”, an occult character flaw which lies in wait for a passing opportunity to manifest, or an intractable characteristic which defies remedy.

Those of us in the social-behavioral sciences have seen this extrapolated to entire populations: Germanic peoples are warlike; the Swiss naturally make the best timepieces; or, the French are the best lovers. The decades following World War II saw the Germanic warlike claims replaced by the claim that Germans “over engineer” such things as automobiles or any artifacts they sit down to design. Having owned and worked on upper rank German cars I confess to having uttered such condemnations. I’ve also owned a Japanese scuba diving watch which outperformed a world known Swiss dive watch, at one tenth the price. As for French women, well I’m not talking.

In the past four plus years we have increasingly heard the term, Dog Whistle, and the admonition, Words Matter. Having taken, out of necessity, a very early interest in languages I accepted that not only do words matter, the cultural context in which they are said matters. Our culture is permeated with examples of words torn loose from their context, the very basis which gave them their original meaning. And here I declare meaning to be larger than mere definition. In teaching the linguistics portion of college Anthropology I liked to use an example from what Christians call the Bible. We are told that Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. Powerful words. Even more powerful meaning. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the portions of the Bible in which these words appear were written by individuals of the fact based Greek culture, not the Hebrew culture. It is apparent that the Greek writers, quite removed from the Hebrews in time and space, did not know that Hebrews, or “Jews”, saw no distinction between the behaviors of religious faith and those of everyday life. A Jew did not just observe certain religious rules on the Sabbath day and go about his business the rest of the week. Thus, a Jew who stopped believing in the faith became an everyday “Untouchable”. Any person who so much as spoke to an apostate – one who renounced his faith, became polluted and had to endure a lengthy and involved cleansing process. Thus, totally cut off from any form of transaction or interaction, the apostate was considered effectively “dead”. Ever hear someone say, “That person is dead to me”? That’s what the entire community said of the apostate. Of course, the narrow editing of what the average person gets to read since then has obscured the fact that many “healers” went about in those days “raising the dead”, that is, bringing them back into the faith. So, unless you want to believe that Jesus’ times were just the pilot for the popular television show The Walking Dead, you would be well advised to understand the cultural basis for the words, raised from the dead.

So what about these dog whistles? I’ve seen dog whistles put to use. I say seen because, not being a dog, I did not hear the whistle. And, not being a racist, White Nationalist, Fundamentalist, and/or neo-Fascist I almost always found myself saying, Oh, yeah, only after a news analyst points out the dog whistle in some Republican’s speech. I’ve examined my hearing, and have gotten better at recognizing it without help.

I highly value dogs, more so than many of the people I’ve known. But, based on the last presidential election, it must be accepted that there are at least 74 million (people?) out there who hear the whistle. And that self evident fact should inform a deep sense of caution toward the easy explanations for such events as the recent coup d’etat we saw in Washington, D.C. Easy explanations set us up for the classic harmatria, the tragic flaw which tips the trajectory downward toward inevitable doom.

One easy explanation is found in the rush, especially by Republicans, to say everything bad that has happened in these past four years has been Trump’s fault. As a loud mouthed buffoon and shameless grifter he makes that easy. But there are many such people in our society today. As I’ve so often said, Hitler did not walk out of a Munich beer hall and take over Germany all by himself, and the same is true of Donald J. Trump.

Another easy explanation surfaced just after the 2016 election: Trump’s base is made up of angry White men who are under educated and in low wage dead-end jobs. In fact, while that is largely true, it is also true that there are many Trump followers who are well placed in significant careers and who have advanced degrees. Under educated is not the issue; poorly educated is the issue. I have repeatedly maintained that far too many Americans, even if multiply degreed, would not know Fascism if it hit them in the face – which it has.

Years ago several excellent books explained that people vote based on what they feel, not on what they know. So it’s appropriate here to point out that predilections, incipient readiness to act in certain ways, are based in feelings, not in knowledge. The actions of the Hebrews toward apostates cited above were based in beliefs, which are based in feelings. But when something is known it is not a belief, it is a fact. The facts were that the apostates then classified as “dead” were as alive as ever and walking around. Yet, the faith based feelings (beliefs) were so strong as to cause even family members to mourn the “death” of a relative, and perhaps call in some exceptionally eloquent speaker to bring him “back to life”.

We might take a lesson from the Hebrews. Instead of asking what body of knowledge causes people to succumb to the call of a tyrant-in-waiting we should be asking what in our social experience forms the feelings which lead to such submission. What predilections caused the pre-WWII German population to march down a path behind a demagogue to almost total annihilation, and what parallels can we draw to understand the presidential election of 2016?

Numerous examples inform us that we cannot simply legislate feelings. Outlawing discrimination only holds the feelings beneath the surface. How many times have we heard, I know it’s wrong but I believe it anyway. And, I was raised this way.

We must seriously reexamine the K-12 curriculum to understand that how we teach what we teach is obviously not working in the interest of the entire society. For example, instead of concentrating our history, civics, and social studies classes on a deadly boring chronology of who, what, where, and when we must develop means of instilling what it would actually feel like to live under the socio-political systems under review. We must develop the Why and the How of social developments.

Yes, of course there will be outcries from factions of our society as they are exposed and analyzed. We have seen that every time a Republican administration has taken power and they attempt to dismantle the public educational system. And, in 22 years of teaching a variety of college classes there have been one or two instances in which someone claimed I was presenting my personal views as the official views of my discipline. I often tried to foresee that and stated during the first class of the semester, I am not here to presumptively change your beliefs; I am here to present you with information. What you know is my business; what you believe is your business.

Now, I’m not so sure. We have seen the general failure of Sex Education classes and Drug Education classes largely because they focused on mechanics, not meanings. Teaching the mechanics of sex without the meanings of sexuality, teaching the chemistry and dangers of drugs without exploring the reasons why someone would choose to alter their consciousness guarantees failure to reach the potential predilection parts of the mind. No one explained Why; no one explained Why Not in ways that shape the very personal basis of feelings.

I’ve had several courses in Educational Psychology, and I devoted eighteen months to on-site studies of cross-cultural educations systems. But I will not present myself as one who knows how to address the problems I’ve raised, beyond what I’ve already said.

This site is read in many countries around the world, and I am grateful for that. Hopefully there will be those readers who are willing to impart to us some understanding we have not been able to develop for ourselves.

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

by Marco M. Pardi

Quam minimum credula postera” (Trust as little as possible in tomorrow) Horace Odes. Book 1 (23BCE)

This site was initiated for interaction. Therefore, all comments are welcome and will receive a response. If you are unable or unwilling to comment please pass this site on to someone who will.

Although many people are familiar with the phrase, Carpe diem, to the point of it being trite, few have read, in Latin, the full context from which it came. Yet, we in America are now facing the realization that seizing the day is, while momentarily satisfying, simply insufficient to address our uncertainties about tomorrow. In fact, tomorrow, once a term which could speak of a limitless future, has become truncated to the markers which had previously passed with little or no general notice. One State has yet to hold a run-off election which will determine whether we have a functioning federal government or another episode of obfuscatory impasse as one extremist Republican Senator refuses to bring for Senate consideration any and all propositions from a Centrist Democratic President. Another marker is the hitherto pro forma Congressional approval of the Presidential vote count already held and confirmed by the Electoral College. Already there have been Republican officials voicing intentions to object to the approval, delaying the Presidential transition yet further into “tomorrow”, and even imposing Martial Law through the dispersal of armed federal troops throughout the Nation. And, of course, there is the ultimate marker: Inauguration Day in which the duly elected new President is sworn in and takes residence in the White House. The current nominal President has signaled often that he will not leave.

It may be said the delaying tactics are to further enable the extremist Republicans as they are frantically rushing to confirm more lifetime ultra-”conservative” federal judges, disable scientific institutions across the land, repeal every environmental protection, finalize the staggering economic imbalance in the country in their favor, disable or outlaw every possible social support for the less affluent, and sell off federal land to mining and other fossil fuel industries.

Currently our national attention is focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, as it should be. However, in the remaining 20 days or so of the current administration we face additional existential threats from outside and from within. The pandemic will continue and, as we deploy vaccines, will move from an acute condition to a chronic one. But just the opposite is true for the other conditions.

As time passes we easily forget exact numbers when remembering past elections. The recent exception to this, of course, has been the drumbeat from the Trump syndicate claiming false numbers from the 2016 election. But lies are not good grounds for preparing for highly probable realities. The recently past reality in the current case is that some 74 million people voted to continue the chaos, internal hatred and violence to and from practically every demographic in America, attacks on and erosion of the very foundations of American democracy, extreme exacerbation of economic disparities which favor a handful of Americans – notably including the chief of the syndicate and his family, and planet killing rollbacks of every environmental safeguard we have. Those 74 million were outvoted and defeated by a mere 7 million more. We would be well advised to remember that.

We should also realize that these 74 million are not going to “see the error of their ways”, nor are they going to get up and leave. And we should realize that these 74 million are not loony individuals dressed in Army Surplus store sartorial splendor; they are among your neighbors and acquaintances.

The internet is aflame with conspiracy theories, vicious expressions of frustration and rage, appeals to join “patriotic” militias, and exhortations from “religious” leaders to overturn what was a fair and proper presidential election. Feeding and compounding this cacophony are behind the scenes actors such as the Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki (SVR), the Russian foreign intelligence service arising from the former KGB. In addition to disseminating inflammatory materials on the internet they have also penetrated the operating software employed by almost all American federal agencies, including infrastructure such as electronic banking, water systems, and power supplies. In short, an EXECUTE order to their implanted software can immediately result in the kinds of social, health, environmental, and psychological panic and disorder which is exactly what the 750 and growing in number militia groups need to justify a violent uprising. This is not some fantasy. This is a sober assessment of a near future outcome. The only question applies to the degree of probability.

A stable characteristic of the American government has been the peaceful, indeed cooperative hand-off of power to the next elected administration. Indeed, it can be helpful to imagine a track & field relay race: A president gets to carry the baton for four laps around the track. If re-elected he gets to go around for another four. But that is the end of his race. As he approaches the incoming runner he makes every effort to place the baton so the next runner can catch up to him and successfully take it forward. Instead, what we now have is a president who has no concept of Team, who cares only for his own glory no matter the cost to every stakeholder in the race, who refuses to yield the baton in the belief that possessing it protects him from the federal and state criminal indictments waiting for him at the finish line.

In refusing to acknowledge the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election this current administration delayed for weeks the critical daily intelligence briefings the incoming administration seriously needs to understand and address the crises facing the nation. The current president has surrounded himself with sycophants and convicted felons many of whom are suggesting bizarre and illegal tactics to overturn the election in hopes of currying a presidential pardon for their crimes.

Although it is unlikely the current president will be able to continue clutching the baton in his little fist, it is certain that a substantial portion of the population will continue to devise ways to overturn and hijack the race. There will no doubt be many different expressions of these ways and violence is to possibility that should not be ignored as unlikely or impossible.

Speaking of Tomorrowland, it is interesting to note that the Mad Max film series was set in 2021.

Random Destiny

Random Destiny

by Marco M. Pardi

Destiny, n. A tyrant’s excuse for crime and a fool’s excuse for failure.” Ambrose Bierce. The Devil’s Dictionary.

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I can’t speak for the Devil, but when I encounter the word random my first thought is: code for “I dunno”. For me it falls into a class similar to “You know” and “They say”. It calls upon an illogical determinant, something which just is and just happens and relies on unquestioning acceptance. I’ve read accounts of avid sunbathers saying their melanoma cancer was just a random event. Even the more literate among them sometimes say, Oh well, a random subatomic particle emitted in a faraway star system or even our own star just happened to hit a chromosome in such a way as to alter it toward development of cancer. Pardon me, but NO. Granted that we are limited in our abilities to predict these emissions, but we can predict the probable outcome of your stupid habit.

But our young children routinely show us the pre-acceptance state. When parents or teachers who believe in a God try to teach a child that God created everything the child’s first question usually is, Who created God? The common answer is: Nobody created God. God always was. Of course, if one really wants to silence the child one might invoke Sui generis, self generating. In other words, the lesson in causality being taught, Cause = God; Effect = Everything, is suddenly negated by the existence of an entity which, in this case, is neither Cause nor Effect. It just is, and it just causes things. Soon enough the child learns that, at least around a parent or teacher, acceptance = survival. Even in the face of illogical gibberish. For now, at least.

There’s a deeply embedded caveat in that acceptance: The strongly implied admonition to not look too closely into causes, to not “obsess” over the past. But while living in the past is destructive, ignoring the past is catastrophic.

Within a matter of days the people of the United States will be faced with a question, one which has arisen before: Do we punish the newly defrocked President and his henchmen, or do we simply go on, albeit while struggling to undo what we can of the enormous damage these past four years have brought us and the rest of the world? Some have compared this dilemma to that which faced the nation with the forced resignation of Richard Nixon. But that is a false equivalence. No President, or elected official for that matter, has done more to undermine the fundamental principles of Democracy, the rule of law, the mores of common decency, and the safety and future well being of life on this planet than has Donald J. Trump. The litany of his misdeeds and the examples of his depravity would go far beyond my ability to recount and the readers’ interest in considering.

But dwelling solely on this intensely damaged individual would be missing the largest lesson apparently many have yet to learn. Donald Trump was not sui generis. He was not random. Nor is there any reason to think we were destined to have him. Just as Adolf Hitler did not walk out of a Munich beer hall and take over Germany all by himself, Donald Trump did not push out the aspirants to the White House all by himself. He was managed and massaged, especially his profoundly narcissistic ego, by the latest generation of a population which decades ago erupted into the “Red Scare” of the 1920’s through 1960’s (the growing mega-corporations which wanted to kill the Labor movement and any chance at decent working conditions were behind this); the American Fascist Party, soon to morph into the American Nazi Party (funded by major industry barons and luminaries including major newspaper editors across the country until WWII drove them underground); and, ironically enough, by the very victims of those industry barons – the under and ill educated White working class. And, there is good reason to suspect that the Republican Party intentionally threw the nomination debates in favor of Trump.

If a random event is something which is without ascertainable cause, and which we will not likely see again then the rise of Trump was certainly not a random event. The themes which Trump played throughout his campaign rallies and social media messaging were long and well developed tropes adjusted and adapted to current times: Fascism presented as Republicanism.

Did these themes work? In 2016 51,201,031 people voted for him. Have they continued to work? Hate crimes surged by 20% under Trump (FBI). White Nationalist hate groups increased by 55% under Trump (SPLC). “There is a clear correlation between Trump campaign events and prejudiced violence.” (FBI. Brookings Institution.) No, Trump was not sui generis; he was the surfacing of the American Fascist ideology which began taking over the Republican Party in the late 1970’s, giving us Ronald Reagan as its first elected figurehead Fuhrer.

Having lived through the chaos, lies, corruption, lawlessness, attacks on science, and naked attacks on the core values of American Democracy these past four years, have the American people awakened? In 2020 74,222,484 people voted for him. An increase of 23,021,453. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda under Hitler, would be proud. The Big Lie really does work.

There can be no question that Donald J. Trump must be charged with a variety of civil and criminal offenses (why else would he talk about pardoning himself?). But even if successfully brought to the logical conclusion of a prison sentence, America would be catastrophically remiss if it did not address the broad based attitudes and beliefs which brought him into office in the first place. I’m not speaking here only of the obvious issues we have faced before, racism, misogyny, exploitation of workers, etc. Those must be addressed….again. No, I’m speaking of the frank nuts & bolts basics that should have been stressed in repeated and graduated civics classes: Democracy, Socialism, Democratic Socialism, Fascism, and Totalitarian governments of any stripe. Communism is a non-starter. Anyone who knows even the basics of communism knows it has never worked at higher than the Band level of society, 80 or so individuals tops. Governments can call themselves whatever they want; that doesn’t make it so. But if Democratic Socialism is so bad, why aren’t the citizens of the Scandinavian countries storming our seaports and airports? Could it be that they actually merit their yearly designations as the happiest, most interconnected and productive countries in the world? Oh, but we excoriated Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for exclaiming he was a Democratic Socialist. We did that without knowing what Democratic Socialism was.

As so many statesmen have said before, Democracy takes vigilance and work. It will not survive if we continue to teach it in primary school classes in ways that render an insomniac senseless. These last four years have seen the most relentless and dangerous attack on democracy this country has ever seen. We now have enough factual material to develop case studies to carry students from primary school through graduate school. Will we muster the courage to do it?

I suggest an immediate impaneling of Sociologists, Political Scientists, and Historians to meet and devise chapters to be universally included in primary, secondary, and higher education textbooks explaining the honest history of the Fascist movement in this country. This material should also address the growing militia and White Nationalist movements, making clear their heritage from the Italian Black Shirts and the German Brown Shirts. Teachers of Civics, American History, Social Studies, and Political Science should be required, as part of their CEU (Continuing Education Units) requirement, to achieve and maintain proficiency in the understanding and the conveyance of this material. Private and Charter schools, up to now a dodge from secular and/or integrated schools, will comply or face closure. Seem Draconian? You haven’t seen Draconian if you haven’t seen Fascism.

We must reject the already developing tendency to excuse this administration as a “random” event, an aberration. It most certainly was not. But at the same time we must resist the temptation to excuse ourselves with the claim that we were destined to it anyway. That’s exactly the head down subservience that is the life blood of Fascism.

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you have developed the interest to comment. As those dreaded words have often said, “We need to talk.”

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