Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: Trump, meths and heroin: the white man's burden

If World War Three doesn't break out in the Middle East (a big if), 2016 may well feature the increasingly grotesque and tragicomic banality of American life.

Not long ago in these pages, I wrote about the massive addiction of white Americans with only a high school diploma or less to the stimulant, methamphetamine.

Now this same demographic group appears to be "hooked" on Donald Trump, who has a real chance of becoming the next POTUS.

Washington Post

Moving up the social feeding chain, now it seems that heroin addiction is soaring among affluent, suburban, young white people,
When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white. New York Times
Since Heroin is no longer about black people in the inner city ghettos, this is leading to a growing clamor for a kinder, gentler, war on drugs.

The affluent taking opiates is not entirely new, there have always been rich old ladies shooting morphine prescribed by a "doctor-feelgood" and administered by a nurse, but not  middle class young people, with a higher education, or possibilities of getting one, OD-ing in public toilets.

Heroin is very different from methamphetamine, That drug is a powerful stimulant, one that was given to starving, freezing, German soldiers fighting in Russia is WWII in order to keep them awake and aggressive. That might come in handy in today's America if you are forced to work 60 or more hours a week at minimum wage.  Heroin, however, goes like this:
Injecting can give a pleasant rush, where there is an immediate feeling of intense euphoria, warmth, and general apathy toward anything that doesn't involve one's high.  Drugs-Forum
Which might be a good fit for a rich, lonely old lady, not something that can help you hold down a couple of McJobs, but then again might be quite useful in calming the angst of an empty, alienated life or the anxiety of paying back a student loan, while living off your parents.
Nationally, nearly half of 25-year-olds lived with their parents in 2012-2013, up from just over a quarter in 1999. (...) many factors have been suggested for why young adults return to or continue living at home, including significant student debt, weak job prospects and an uncertain housing market.(...) additional research has shown that the underemployment rate for recent graduates was about 40 percent during the Great Recession. Canon and Gascon noted: “An implication is that a significant portion of recent graduates were earning lower wages than what they should have been, given their education.” Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis
Adding to this, being raised in what most consider a privileged environment can lead to much mental distress as many brought up this way are led to automatically assume that life should be wonderful, but as that "wonderful" is ever out of reach, vacuity, frustration and boredom fill its space, There is even a name for it now: "affluenza".

Thanks to the continuing escapades of Ethan Couch, these days we are hearing a lot about "affluenza". 
    Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2001) defines affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."The term "affluenza" has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege, notably in the case of Ethan Couch.(...) British psychologist Oliver James asserted that there was a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens. Referring to Vance Packard's thesis The Hidden Persuaders on the manipulative methods used by the advertising industry, James related the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise in affluenza. Wikipedia
    The poor whites on meths and the coddled millennials on heroin, the angry, undereducated white people who will vote for Donald Trump are all the flotsam and jetsam of neoliberalism and globalization, the crippled stepchildren of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

    How does their economic philosophy lead to such damage? The late William Pffaf diagrammed it perfectly:
    Both monetarism and market theory remove from economic management voluntarism, political intelligence, and moral responsibility, by describing economic function as objective and automatic. Thus the customer always makes the most advantageous choice, so the market presents a perfect and efficient mechanism dictating the choices that must be made by businesses, while always tending towards perfect competition. Labor is a mere commodity, and unions and wage demands obstacles to the free function of markets. Governments by nature are obstacles to economic freedom. — William Pfaff
    That is the aquarium we swim in today.

    We are seeing a massification of a classic American recipe for dealing with angst.
    "Basically, I'm for anything that gets you through the night - be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels."  -  Frank Sinatra
    Not to contradict the lord of the ring a ding dings, but nowadays it might be more productive to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind.

    Perhaps this presidential election year, of all times, Americans should meditate more intensely on who exactly the "We" are, that we are talking about when we say, "We The People". DS

    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Zen koan of the day: who or what is Donald Trump?

    noun: A paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment. Oxford Dictionary

    David Seaton's Zen koan of the day: who or what is Donald Trump?

    One finger pointing at the moon
    Some standard definitions of "trump"

    ▸a card belonging to the suit (=one of the four types of cards) that players decide will be worth the most in a card game

    ▸to win or to succeed, for example in sports or business, because you have an advantage that your opponent does not have
    Quick definitions from Macmillan

    Suggested "enlightened" answer to the koan*:
    (*only for the youngest grasshoppers):
    Donald Trump is an "ahso"...

    ... which, of course, is just the beginning of yet another koan. DS

    Tuesday, December 08, 2015

    ISIS: the Caliphate, what's in a name?

    First, terrorism is a form of communication. It is an act that uses violence to convey a political message intended to shape public opinion or political debate on policy issues. Arie Perliger - New York Times
    One of the principal difficulties in trying to analyze ISIS is that we concentrate our attention almost exclusively upon their identity as terrorists and we don't pay sufficient attention to their identity as a political movement with clear objectives: objectives which they pursue in a patient, methodical and even "sophisticated" manner.

    Experience shows that a subversive movement with a social base, even a small one, can resist decades of intense pressure, both political and military. Groups without such a base, such as Italy's Red Brigades or Germany's Baader Meinhof are quickly extinguished, but organizations with a social base such as Peru's Shining Path or Spain's ETA can go on for decades.

    An example from a modern, European country:

    ETA, has killed over 800 people in Spain since the 1960s, they have been defeated militarily and they now solemnly abjure violence. Despite this, ETA can, even today, put thousands of their sympathizers onto Basque streets demanding amnesty for their imprisoned members. They could reorganize at the drop of a beret.

    ISIS, more violent than any of the groups named above, has as its target a growing base of followers and potential sympathizers within a world-wide community of an estimated 1.3 billion Muslims. Someone once compared mass movements to a very fat lady in a very small canoe: any sudden movement of hers can tip over and sink the canoe. Terrorism itself pales in importance next to a potential mobilization of even a tiny fraction of the Muslim masses by ISIS.

    We are just extras in ISIS's ad campaign

    19th century Anarchists referred to their acts of terrorism as "propaganda of the deed". This still holds true:

    Bottom line: The western victims of ISIS's beheadings, bombings and drive-by shootings are simply extras in ISIS's advertising campaign directed at that potential world-wide audience of 1.3 billion.

    "We" (the prosperous westerners) are not ISIS's "audience"; we are simply tools to reach that audience.

    Simply put: Our (over) reaction to their terrorist acts is meant to create a counter reaction favorable to ISIS in their target audience. This strategy is quite effective.                        
    You are far likelier to die in a car crash, or even choke on a pretzel, than to fall victim to terrorism on US soil. But fear is not a statistical calculation. That is the point of terror.(...) With a presidential election now in full swing, the stage is set for further polarization that may play straight into the hands of Isis. Thirty-one Republican governors have said that they would deny sanctuary to any Syrian ­immigrants. (emphasis mine) Edward Luce - Financial Times 
    Those who have to deal directly with the threat of local terrorism, the police, are not happy with this hysteria:
    Counter-terrorism officials of the Los Angeles Police Department met on Thursday with Muslim-American leaders to reassure them and the community at large that they are not alone and that they are facing this challenge together. “Muslim communities are our strength — not our weakness,” Deputy Chief Michael Downing told The Times. “We can’t let this deteriorate our relationship or allow others to isolate or stigmatize the Muslim community.” Chief Downing said law enforcement needs the trust and cooperation of the majority of Muslims in the mainstream, those who can raise the alarm about the radicalized few.  Editorial New York Times
    To translate the above into plain English: From time immemorial, more than using brilliant, Sherlock Holmes type deduction and state of the art laboratory work, efficient policeman-ship has, depended mostly on creating networks of tattling informers.

    Obviously if panic merchants like Donald Trump create some sort of anti-Muslim Kristallnacht movement, the American Muslim community will naturally pull itself into its shell like a turtle and reliable sources of information will dry up.

    Thought for the day: If we treat all 1.3B Muslims in the world as our enemies, eventually all 1.3B Muslims will become our enemies. Could anything be more stupid than that?   

    Meanwhile, back in the Middle East

    What are ISIS's objectives?

    Names and titles are important, especially in a religious/political context, a Pope, for example, is not a bishop or a parish priest and a Pope is not really a Pope if he doesn't control the Vatican and with it the spiritual life of the world's Catholics... Thus, among Muslims,  ISIS's calling itself a caliphate and naming its leader the caliph is a clear declaration of its intentions.
    A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, and a leader of the entire Muslim community. Wikipedia
    File:Mugshot of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 2004.jpg
    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - source Wikipedia
    Here is the leader of ISIS and if he is killed they will simply name another because as long as there is a caliphate there will be a caliph.
    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi born 28 July 1971 as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as ISIS or Daesh, an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq, Libya, northeast Nigeria, and Syria. He has been proclaimed by his followers to be a caliph. Wikipedia
    As you can see the soi-disant caliph's real name is Ibrahim and he has changed it to Abu Bakr. What does that mean?

    Who was the original Abu Bakr?
    Abu Bakr was a senior companion and—through his daughter Aisha, the father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Abu Bakr became the first openly declared Muslim outside Muhammad's family.(...) he became the first Muslim Caliph following Muhammad's death. As caliph, Abu Bakr succeeded to the political and administrative functions previously exercised by Muhammad. Wikipedia
    Again papal comparisons might be roughly useful; Just as the present Pope, born Jorge, has taken the name "Francis" as a declaration of the church's return to Franciscan poverty and simplicity, in similar fashion an aspiring caliph's taking the name Abu-Bakr is probably a declaration of a return to some mythical  origins of purity and simplicity.

    As to where ISIS and its caliphate are headed, nothing could be clearer. Just as the Pope must occupy the Vatican, a caliph should live in or at least control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which are in Saudi Arabia, which is called thus, because it is controlled by the House of Saud.

    And since ISIS's ideology and the official one of that kingdom are one and the same, the only real obstacle to Abu-Bakr taking up residence in Mecca is the Saudi Royal family.
    The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime. Kamel Daoud - New York Times
    The royal house of Saud are perfectly aware of this trap:
    (Former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove) remembers the then head of Saudi General Intelligence "literally shouting at me across his office: '9/11 is a mere pinprick on the West. In the medium term, it is nothing more than a series of personal tragedies. What these terrorists want is to destroy the House of Saud and remake the Middle East.'" In the event, Saudi Arabia adopted both policies, encouraging the jihadis as a useful tool of Saudi anti-Shia influence abroad but suppressing them at home as a threat to the status quo. It is this dual policy that has fallen apart over the last year. The Independent
    One of the reasons this "dual policy" is falling apart illustrates the contradictions that Saudi Arabia's present rulers have to deal with. They have been dumping oil on the market to try to break the American fracking industry by lowering prices and thus maintain their market share. This means that their cash reserves are being rapidly depleted and since basically the Saudi royal family holds onto power by subsidizing a largely unproductive population... they are in big and growing trouble.
    Saudi Arabia is effectively beached. It relies on oil for 90pc of its budget revenues. There is no other industry to speak of, a full fifty years after the oil bonanza began. Citizens pay no tax on income, interest, or stock dividends. Subsidized petrol costs twelve cents a litre at the pump. Electricity is given away for 1.3 cents a kilowatt-hour. Spending on patronage exploded after the Arab Spring as the kingdom sought to smother dissent.(...) In hindsight, it was a strategic error to hold prices so high, for so long, allowing shale frackers - and the solar industry - to come of age. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.(...) Social spending is the glue that holds together a medieval Wahhabi regime at a time of fermenting unrest among the Shia minority of the Eastern Province, pin-prick terrorist attacks from ISIS, and blowback from the invasion of Yemen. Diplomatic spending is what underpins the Saudi sphere of influence in a Middle East suffering its own version of Europe's Thirty Year War, and still reeling from the after-shocks of a crushed democratic revolt. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard - The Telegraph
    It's obvious to me that in a few years the House of Saud will probably take up residence close to their billions on the shores of some frigid Swiss lake... Will this mean that Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, A.K.A, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi finally gets his chance to be a real live caliph in Mecca? 

    Probably not.... but it might very well be somebody even worse... so stay tuned.  DS

    Tuesday, December 01, 2015

    Tinfoil hat questions about ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Paris and climate change

    Question one:

    What country gives the most intellectual and perhaps financial aid to ISIS? 
    Answer: Saudi Arabia

    Question two:

    What Middle Eastern country, totally dependent on selling oil, has the most to lose if the Paris climate change conference is a success and the use of oil is severely curtailed in the foreseeable future? 
    Answer: Saudi Arabia

    Question three:

    Isn't it strange that there was a massive Jihadist attack on Paris shortly before the climate change meeting? 
    Answer: I don't know, you tell me. 


    Sunday, November 22, 2015

    Blood in Paris and beyond...

    What follows is a sort of smorgasbord-compass that I have put together to help me, and hopefully others, get some idea of where this mess we now find ourselves in comes from and where it might lead us,

    I hope the material quoted below might help to provide readers with a workmanlike framework for thinking about the new era we have entered into, with  ISIS' attacks on Paris...  a conflict which might be turning into the "Third Gulf War" or even WWIII.

    We begin with what I would call the "mantra" to repeat constantly while reading, watching and hearing the news these days:
    Multiculturalism is not a naive liberal aspiration — it is the reality of the modern world
    This is simply reality:

    With globalization and its new communication tools, we have all been thrown together brutally, helter skelter, in a worldwide, multinational-economy-mishmash, with no regard for history, culture, faiths or national idiosyncrasy, like having several different, large families, who don't even speak the same language, shut up together in the same small flat, sharing, bedrooms, kitchen... and bathroom. And somehow we are going to have to learn to live like this together in peace and harmony or else.

    The French part of all of this not that new, the unrest among young French citizens of North-African origin has been growing for some time, it came to a head 10 years ago:
    In October and November of 2005, a series of riots occurred in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities, involving the burning of cars and public buildings at night.  The unrest started on 27 October at Clichy-sous-Bois, where police were investigating a reported break-in at a building site, and a group of local youths scattered in order to avoid interrogation. Three of them hid in a power-station where two died from electrocution, resulting in a power blackout. (It was not established whether police had suspected these individuals or a different group, wanted on separate charges.) The incident ignited rising tensions about youth unemployment and police harassment in the poorer housing estates, and there followed three weeks of rioting throughout France. The rioters were the children of immigrants from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa for whom Islam was an inseparable component of their self-identity which strengthened their sense of solidarity, gave them the appearance of legitimacy and drew a line between them and the French. Wikipedia
    Why are there so many  North-African Muslims living in France?

    After WWII there was a literally wonderful period of never before experienced prosperity in France:
    Les Trente Glorieuses (French pronunciation: ​[le tʁɑ̃t ɡlɔʁjøz], "The Glorious Thirty") refers to the thirty years from 1945 to 1975 following the end of the Second World War in France.(...) Over this thirty-year period, France's economy grew rapidly like economies of other developed countries within the framework of the Marshall Plan such as West Germany, Italy and Japan. These decades of economic prosperity combined high productivity with high average wages and high consumption, and were also characterized by a highly developed system of social benefits. Wikipedia
    Because of this economic boom there was a tremendous need for low-paid manual labor, which the native French population couldn't satisfy and at the beginning of "The Glorious Thirty" most immigrants came from poorer southern European countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal... white and Christians.  Many of them became totally assimilated, took French nationality and have become quite successful. The mayoress of Paris was born in Spain and so was the present Prime Minister's father. However in the mid-1960s the economies of these southern European countries also began to boom and they dried up as a source of cheap labor for France.

    At this point, still booming France turned to its former colonies in North Africa for the workers who would accept low pay doing the dirty jobs the French didn't want to do and southern Europeans didn't need to do anymore... And when in the 70s, the economy cooled off, the North Africans were left stranded in immigrant urban ghettos, and unlike the southern Europeans, they had nowhere to go back to, as things were even much worse in North Africa than in France.

    So you could say that in some way, today the French are paying their imperial "karma":
    Paris, November 20, 2005 - 'We're here because you were there'
    Three Weeks of urban rioting by thousands of children and grandchildren of post-colonial migrants have finally forced France to grapple with the bitter fruits of its fallen empire. The lesson should not be lost on any Western nation. It is encapsulated in the slogan that activists have been employing throughout Western Europe for the past few decades: "We are here because you were there." Gregory Rodriguez - LaTimes
    What has turned the secular urban riots of 2005 - rather similar to the "burn baby burn" riots in the USA during the Civil Rights period of the 1950s and 60s - into the militarily organized horror of ISIS' attacks in today's Paris?

    The answer is simple: Ideology, that is to say, structure for action.

    Wahhabite Islam is the specific ideology that is structuring the turbulence. You might say that Whahhabism is a sort of Muslim version of "ultra-Calvinism", iconoclastic: lunatic-fringe, but very, very well financed:
    Wahhabism has been accused of being "a source of global terrorism", inspiring the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and for causing disunity in Muslim communities by labeling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates (takfir), thus paving the way for their execution for apostasy. It has also been criticized for the destruction of historic mazaars, mausoleums, and other Muslim and non-Muslim buildings and artifacts. The "boundaries" of what make up Wahhabism have been called "difficult to pinpoint", but in contemporary usage, the terms Wahhabi and Salafi are often used interchangeably, and considered to be movements with different roots that have merged since the 1960s.But Wahhabism has also been called "a particular orientation within Salafism", or an ultra-conservative, Saudi brand of Salafism.
    That's right, the center of this ideology is coming from the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, straight from the world's filling station, Saudi Arabia.  Literally every time you fill up your gas tank you might be financing Al Qaeda or ISIS (Daesh):
    Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books. Kamel Daoud - New York Times
    I'll try to illustrate the center of the problem, past, present and future with this simple photo-montage:
    Charlie Foxtrot
    The the best caption I could find for these photos is...
    Clusterfuck ‎(plural clusterfucks) (slang, vulgar) A chaotic situation where everything seems to go wrong. It is often caused by incompetence, communication failure, or a complex environment. Wiktionary
    To be continued... DS

    Thursday, November 05, 2015

    The Russians are much too quiet...

    Raqqa province: Welcome to ISIS’ capital
    ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) increased its grip on "Wilayat al-Raqqa", the capital of the Islamic State. It is setting the foundation of its rule through courts, resolving disputes between civilians, and social committees serving the "Muslims" inside the borders of the province. This is in addition to using an iron fist policy against anyone daring to "destabilize the security of the Islamic State." Al-Akhbar
    I just want my readers to take note that if the Russian plane filled with innocent civilians was in fact brought down by ISIS, this would be the first time that a terrorist group, which claims to be a state, and actually holds territory in the manner of a state, therefore has an "address", has attacked the unarmed civilians of a nuclear power. 

    The Russian are very quiet, not saying much of anything... What will they do?  Nothing? Hardly likely. Send in troops? That would be obviously what Daesh wants them to do? A few pinprick bombings? That would not make much of an impression.

    I think Putin would like to convince ISIS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers, that he, Putin,when provoked can be much more of beast than the "caliph" is. This bombing could be the perfect opportunity for Putin to send such a message.

    As I say, this is the first time that the civilians of a nuclear power have been killed en masse by an organization which is not "shadowy", but holds territory and refers to itself as a state. We have moved into new era... and the Russians are much too quiet. DS

    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    Putin's Question, Syria and the future of the Middle East

    "Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster — and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life, I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?" Vladimir Putin - UN

    There is a general consensus in the "West" that Vladimir Putin is a thug: however, in a manner reminiscent of Vito Corleone, he is a thug whose plans and his way of carrying them out make sense. By making sense I mean that it is easy to understand what his goals are and his ways of achieving them. I think it is perfectly evident that for good or for bad, Putin "realizes what he is doing".

    Many sour-grape-ish commentators say that Russia is entering a "quagmire" in Syria like the USA did in Vietnam and Iraq. I beg to disagree. Syria's army is nothing like the "client armies" of South Vietnam or Afghanistan. 

    Assad's Alawite community, a minority which controls the Syrian army and state, are literally fighting for their lives, because if they lose to the radicals of the Sunni majority, they will, minimally, be ethnically cleansed and quite possibly, (if ISIS stays true to form) be literally "put to the sword"... So given superior (Russian/Iranian) leadership, air-support, equipment, intelligence etc, they can be counted on as a motivated, effective force. They are joined by Hezbollah, the only military force in the world that has ever defeated Israel on the battlefield and by elements of the crack Iranian Revolutionary Guard

    I think that given this support, they and their allies should be able to quickly roll back the al-Nusra Front of Al-Qaeda favored by the Arab powers and the ragtag "moderates" that Washington favors... before turning their attention to the ISIS.

    What has Putin achieved by this?
    • He has guaranteed the survival of his Mediterranean naval base in Tartus, the only military base that Russia has outside the former Soviet Union.
    • Russia is again the most influential foreign power in Iraq, just as it was in the day of Saddam Hussein.
    • Russia is now the most influential foreign power in Iran.
    • In short, in only a few, relatively inexpensive,  moves, Russia is now again a major player in the Middle East chessboard, just as it was during the height of the Cold War. What does this mean?
    • It means that Russia is now in position to put a lot of pressure on Saudi Arabia.
    Why should they want to put pressure on Saudi Arabia?

    Chercher le pétrole.
    Putin – who, as a former member of the KGB, is a product of the Cold War – is today faced with the same dilemma as his Soviet forebears. The collapse in oil prices, which has been engineered by America’s major allies in the region – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait – is crippling the Russian economy.(my emphasis) The Telegraph
    It must be said that the initial reason for lowering oil prices by over-producing was to break the American fracking industry by making it unprofitable... it has had other, perhaps underestimated consequences:
    Russia’s currency and economy, already squeezed by Western sanctions, have been sent into virtual free fall by slumping oil prices. The International Monetary Fund predicted in July that Russia’s economy would shrink 3.4% this year, the most of any major emerging market. Wall Street Journal

    Chercher le pétrole
    Thus, hoist by their own petard, low oil prices are also threatening the stability of the Saudi Monarchy.
    The Saudi government has banned official purchases of cars and furniture and slashed travel budgets and infrastructure spending as it faces its gravest fiscal crisis for years because of low oil prices.(...)Saudi Arabia had been hit by the “unfortunate coincidence of a royal succession and a sudden precipitous decline in oil revenue”, Hertog said, adding that the cost of public-sector bonuses, the war in Yemen and aid to regional states such as Egypt had pushed up the estimated break-even oil price to $110 a barrel. The Guardian
    To top it off, as you can see below, Saudi Arabia's oil and gas infrastructures are extremely vulnerable to any hostile action coming from Iraq, Iran or Syria, any of which would surely lead to a big jump in the world oil price, which would restart the Russian economy... and probably cause a recession everywhere else.
    Saudi Arabia's vulnerable oil infrastructure 
    Hat Danil Parker
    Russia's pressure seems to be having some effect:
    Oil prices are on course for one of the biggest weekly gains in six years as rising geopolitical tensions and signs of slowing output brought buyers back to the market. Financial Times

    The greatest danger in all of this, would be that too much austerity and subsequent unrest in Saudi Arabia could easily lead to the fall of the Saudi monarchy, considered by most pious Muslims as a brood of degenerate libertines. This family, and certainly not the people of Saudi Arabia, are the ones who have a "special relationship" with the USA since the days of FDR. Their fall would certainly not lead to any "Arab Spring" with Saudi ladies ripping off their veils and donning miniskirts... quite the contrary. An "Islamic Republic of the Holy Places" would be the natural location for the Caliphate that ISIS dreams of, and if Daesh took over, the "Meccan in the Street", would hardly notice the difference.

    Here is a sample of daily life in Saudi Arabia under the rule of our "special friends" there:
    A young Saudi Arabian man is facing crucifixion after beheading for attending an anti-government protest in 2012, when he was 17. The Times
    Decapitations are routine in Saudi Arabia, America’s closest Arab ally, for crimes including political dissent—and the international press hardly seems to notice. Newsweek
    Saudi authorities have already carried out 90 executions since the beginning of 2015, more than the 88 for all of 2014. Forty-one of the ninety people executed since the start of 2015 were sentenced for non-violent drug offenses. Human Rights Watch - MintPress
    And unfortunately, oil is not all Saudi Arabia exports:
    Saudi Arabia remains perhaps the most prolific sponsor of international Islamist terrorism, allegedly supporting groups as disparate as the Afghanistan Taliban, Al-Quaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Al-Nursa Front. Edward Clifford - Brown Political Review
    Sunni clerics are mounting increasingly vociferous calls for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to take action on behalf of Syrian rebel groups targeted by Russian air strikes. The pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood and a group of 55 Saudi clerics this week called for jihad against the Russians in Syria. Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, the Council of Religious Scholars, has accused Moscow, along with Iran and its Shia Lebanese proxy, Hizbollah, of aiding the regime of Bashar al-Assad “in the killing of the Syrian people and the destruction of their country”. It called on the nation to do all it can to support the “oppressed and mujahideen” of Syria. The growing pressure for action leaves the Saudi ruling family facing a dilemma. Riyadh has long called for Mr Assad’s overthrow and has supported so-called moderate rebels in Syria. But it fears that the clerical calls for action could inflame young Saudis, thousands of whom have traveled to join the fighting in Syria. The Islamist militants Isis have already launched attacks on Saudi Arabia and the government is cracking down on those traveling abroad in an effort to crush the group’s cells in the country. Financial Times
    Since America's staunchest allies in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia and Israel, (which unlike Riyadh has about 1,200,000 Russian inhabitants) all of this is rather bad news, to say the least.

    Putin certainly went to the heart of the matter with his question, "Do you realize what you have done?".

    It is a question I've often asked myself: do Americans really understand what American foreign policy has been doing all these years and its consequences for their prosperity and safety?

    Like many of my generation I started wondering if the American  foreign policy establishment realized what it was doing during the war in Vietnam,.. with Pinochet, Iran-Contra, etc to follow.

    Just a short list of things, going back some time, with lots left out, that apply to today's situation in the Middle East:

    With the help of Saudi Arabian financing, the USA introduced fanatical Wahhabi Islam to Sufi Afghanistan and to nuclear weaponized Pakistan and then literally "invented" Osama Bin Laden. All this was done to bring down a government in Kabul where little girls were allowed/encouraged to go to school and their mothers could even go shopping (without wearing a tent). Then during the First Gulf War the USA stationed pork consuming, American, soldiers in Saudi Arabia, which led to Bin Laden's creating Al Qaeda... Then in the Second Gulf War the USA totally destabilized Iraq leading to the appearance of the ISIS.

    I know it's bad form to quote oneself, but only a couple of postings ago I asked:
    What is truly impressive, especially in the American case, is that despite being the richest, most powerful country in history, with the most massive military the world has ever seen, with a huge educational establishment boasting the world's most prestigious universities... a country literally overrun with "think tanks", despite all of this, the "indispensable nation" continuously gives the impression of being the Global Village idiot. How to explain this? 
    In the case of the Middle East, I like to think it is pure stupidity, because any other explanation leads into the sinister, tinfoil-hat-land's house of mirrors where the great paranoiac conspiracies slither... A very, very, dark and humid, dangerous place, a place where I don't wish to go. DS

    Wednesday, September 30, 2015

    Pope Francis and the "holy cunning"

    Francis has repeatedly praised the Jesuit trait of “holy cunning” — that Christians should be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves,” as Jesus put it. - Huffington Post
    While the great cathedrals of Europe are still largely empty of worshipers, Francis has prompted many a lapsed Catholic to take a second look. A church that was identified with concealing sexual abuse, a very stratified version of organized crime, and scorning of those living nontraditional lives, is presenting a far different face in the forgiving smile of Pope Francis. Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for. Timothy Egan - New York Times
    The Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples met with Pope Francis last Thursday during his U.S. visit(...) "He held out his hands and he asked Kim to pray. He thanked her for her courage. He said these words, 'Stay strong,' and they embraced and hugged." The pontiff also gave Davis two rosaries that he personally blessed. USA Today
    Before beginning to analyze the strategies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, AKA Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, it might be useful to give a clear operational illustration of that order's version of "holy cunning".

    In my opinion the example most relevant to what Francis is doing now in the arena of progressive politics would be the order's nearly successful attempt to convert the imperial court of China, and all China with it, to Catholicism led by the legendary Father Matteo Ricci S.J. 

    Imagine Mao Tse Tung as an alter boy.

    Absurd? Well, you may remember that Fidel Castro was educated by the Jesuits.

    Here is how Wikipedia tells the story of Matteo Ricci's chameleonic effort to convert China:
    Matteo Ricci SJ in Chinese Dress
    Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
    During his research (Ricci) discovered that, in contrast to the cultures of South Asia, Chinese culture was strongly intertwined with Confucian values and therefore decided to use existing Chinese concepts to explain Christianity. He did not explain the Catholic faith as entirely foreign or new; instead, he said that the Chinese culture and people always believed in God, and that Christianity is simply the completion of their faith. He borrowed an unusual Chinese term, Lord of Heaven (Chinese: 天主; pinyin: Tiānzhǔ) which is based on the theistic Zhou term "Heaven", to use as the Catholic name for God. (Though he also cited many synonyms from the Confucian Classics.) He supported Chinese traditions by agreeing with the veneration of the dead. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries felt he went too far in accommodation and convinced the Vatican to outlaw Ricci's approach. Wikipedia

    Things are not going all that well for the church these days.

    In Spain, where I live, arguably history's most fanatical "defender of the faith", the churches now are mostly empty except at Christmas and Easter, divorce and abortion are legal; there are more civil marriages than religious ones and not only is gay marriage legal, Spain's conservative prime minister, who officially opposes gay weddings, recently even attended one... And unthinkable as it might seem to many Irish-Americans, ultra-Catholic Ireland recently held a referendum that legalized gay marriage on the Emerald Isle.
    Since his election, the modest Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has earned praise for his warnings about climate change and criticism of unbridled capitalism that causes the enrichment of the few and the impoverishment of many.(...) In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, an old-school leftist, has been elected to head the opposition Labour Party.(...) In the United States, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist and one of only two Independents in the Senate, has been filling stadiums with young, enthusiastic supporters.(...) we may be seeing not only a retreat from the right-wing ideology and free-market dogmas that have dominated political discourse in the West over the past three decades, but the makings of a left-of-center counterrevolution. Alexei Bayer: "Get Ready for a Leftist Revolution" - The Globalist
    As many analysts such as the one above have observed, there is a growing populist movement that is mobilizing masses of idealistic young people, who march, volunteer and vote.

    Even as recently as the 1950s, idealistic young people from Catholic families in developed nations, the sort of young people that today march against global warming or occupy Wall Street, would often become priests or nuns.

    Nowadays, convents, monasteries and seminaries are nearly empty. The sort of young men and women who once were drawn to the religious life have drifted away or have turned their back on the Church.

    I believe that Pope Francis is trying to keep this estrangement and indifference from hardening  permanently and that these young people don't grow into maturity considering the Church their natural enemy... in the hope of someday bringing them back into the fold. The very survival of the Church is at stake.

    He certainly has his work cut out for him.
    As Maureen Dowd recently pointed out in her New York Time's column:
    His magnetic, magnanimous personality is making the church, so stained by the vile sex abuse scandal, more attractive to people — even though the Vatican stubbornly clings to its archaic practice of treating women as a lower caste. Pope Francis would be the perfect pontiff — if he lived in the 19th century. But how, in 2015, can he continue to condone the idea that women should have no voice in church decisions?
    The fact is that with Pope Francis there have been no changes in the Church's moral teachings on birth control, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, women priests etc. But, by taking a strong, progressive stand on such issues as global warming, refugees, inequality, poverty and even unregulated capitalism itself, Pope Francis has turned the Catholic Church from being viewed a retrograde and reactionary knee-jerk enemy of the left into a valuable and powerful ally of all progressives... someone you are happy to have fighting alongside you and not against you.

    "Wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove" and unlike Matteo Ricci, who nearly converted China to Catholicism, these days Jorge Borgoglo, Francis the First, is the Pope himself, and  nobody in the Vatican can tell him to stop. DS

    Thursday, September 17, 2015

    Utopias: one down, one to go... going, going...

    While rereading "Cannibals and Kings", one of my old favorite books from way back in the 1970s, I stumbled upon the following prophetic text:

    At this very moment we are again passing by slow degrees through a series of "natural, beneficial, and only slightly... extra-legal" changes which will transform social life in ways that few alive today would consciously wish to inflict upon future generations.(...) No one who detests the practice of kowtowing and groveling, who values the pursuit of scientific knowledge of society and culture, who values the right to study, discuss, debate and criticize, or who believes that society is greater than the state can afford to mistake the rise of European and American democracies as the normal product of a march toward freedom. It is equally dangerous to suppose that capitalism represents the end point of cultural evolution. And one cannot ignore the threat which the intensification of the capitalist mode of production now presents to the preservation of those precious rights and freedoms that have hitherto, if briefly, flourished under its auspices. Marvin Harris - "Cannibals and Kings", 1977 
    And then, just the other day, I read this, which carried an interesting echo:
    The West is suddenly suffused with self-doubt. Centuries of superiority and global influence appeared to reach a new summit with the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the countries, values and civilization of the West appeared to have won the dark, difficult battle with Communism.(...) The history of the last decade is a bracing antidote to such easy thinking. The rise of authoritarian capitalism has been a blow to assumptions, made popular by Francis Fukuyama, that liberal democracy has proved to be the most reliable and lasting political system.(...) It seemed to many in Asia and Africa to be the end of Western ideological supremacy, given that liberalism and Communism are both Western creations with universal ambitions. After all, (...) “both liberalism and Communism were dominated and shaped by the West — but who is the legitimate son of the Enlightenment and who is the bastard one?” Steven Erlanger - New York Times, 2015
    The massive European refugee crisis, along with the indescribable suffering of the victims and the clumsy, hypocritical response of the "West" and the "International Community", to a problem that we (especially the USA) have caused, also encloses a meaty metaphor of the strange moment in history that Marvin Harris predicted and in which we (everyone/everywhere) are all now living.

    What is truly impressive, especially in the American case, is that despite being the richest, most powerful country in history, with the most massive military the world has ever seen, with a huge educational establishment boasting the world's most prestigious universities... a country literally overrun with "think tanks", despite all of this, the "indispensable nation" continuously gives the impression of being the Global Village idiot. How to explain this?

    Here is how a real insider explains it:
    Unfortunately, the decline of US democracy has degraded its capacity for clear collective thinking, led to a series of remarkably poor policy decisions on crucially significant issues, and left the global community rudderless. Al Gore - The Future 
    It would appear that something like a critical mass of citizens have come individually and then collectively to share Gore's  analysis... something is moving in the grass, there is a drumbeat, the natives are restless. This is happening simultaneously and spontaneously in much of the developed world: the rise of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Podemos are noteworthy examples.

    I think that many observers may be underestimating the change that is coming over much of the middle class in much of the developed world, especially those who live in the great financial centers such as the USA and the UK where the evident  causes of the Great Recession are nearer and so more visible.

    The cause of this awakening is, of course, the yawning divide between the suffering of the immense majority of people who didn't cause the crisis, and the tiny, conspicuously well off minority of people who actually did cause the crisis, and have had their debts paid with taxpayer's money, while, to top it off, they themselves pay little or no taxes and  whose wealth continues to grow and grow.... Yes, the now famous "1%" and their ability to corrupt and dominate democratic politics.

    This awakening is creating a new left, a left that transverses classic class divisions and searches for a common denominator shared by many groups, both economic and cultural that heretofore often opposed each other.  

    With the USSR long dead and buried, this new left has been liberated from any taint of belonging to some sinister, "godless", international conspiracy and is thus free to fire at will at all the sacred cows of Reagan/Thatcher, supply-sideNeoliberalism.

    But this runs both ways.

    During the course of the Cold War, facing the "godless communism" of totalitarian Soviet power, a fallacious propaganda linkage was constructed between capitalism, democracy, religion and human rights. Without the Soviet threat it would appear that capitalism has no innate relationship to any of these things.

    As to the connection of capitalism to religion, here is a juicy quote from a recognized authority:
    “[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.” Pope Francis- Fortune
    Certainly the Chinese one-percent are able to operate a successful capitalist system without democracy, religion or human rights.

    This "capitalism with Chinese characteristics" may be giving other one-percenters around the world food for thought.

    The question that arises in my mind is that if capitalism has no real need of democracy and if the one-percent can no longer control democracy, how long will they continue to put up with it?

    As Al Gore has observed, America's one-percent has tried to square the circle by corrupting/emasculating democracy, but, I would imagine that, if the natives are restless enough and bent on re-regulating this extractive oligarchy and raising their taxes so that our present system no longer works for them, how long are they prepared to put up with it? How far would they be prepared to go? What sort of crisis would they be prepared to unleash? What sort of situation could justify or enable a suspension or limitation of democracy, of interrupting the present dynamic of growing grassroots demands to bring the one-precenters under democratic control?

    War, or a massive terrorist or hacker attack would be the simplest answer to that question.

    You are going a bit too far, I said to myself.

    And then, I ran into this:
    The most dangerous point in the arc of a nation’s power is when the apogee of its greatness is passed but it is not yet resigned to decline. That’s where Trump’s America is. Richard Cohen - New York Times
    Without taking Trump himself too seriously, his very popular proposal to locate, detain, hold and expel an estimated eleven million illegal immigrants from the USA, would be a workmanlike template for a nascent police state, because  to succeed, any organization capable of putting this program into effect would de facto resemble certain 20th century regimes that were so famously expert at efficiently rounding up, holding and shipping off millions of people.

    Such a huge task would entail a massive bureaucratic organization that would need an enormous network of anonymous, paid informers and a complex, militarized infrastructure for the mass-detentions of millions of elusive immigrants and the holding, processing and transporting of the resulting masses of detainees.  Habeas Corpus and  Due Process for eleven million detainees?

    Such an apparatus and its attendant apparatchiks, once it existed, would also be most useful tool to have at hand in any future "national emergency", real or cooked up.

    Impossible in the USA, you say?

    Using  a supposed emergency to justify suspending democracy has happened countless times in many other countries, American "exceptionalism" can only take you so far.

    Alarm bells should be going off at the very mention of this immigration "final solution" and they aren't. That, to me, is the truly most frightening sign of the times.  DS

    Saturday, August 22, 2015

    Is Donald Trump "The Magic Christian"?

    The stare under the hair
    The scene Friday night put an exclamation point on an extraordinary run in which the flamboyant mogul has thoroughly disrupted the presidential campaign and kindled a national discussion about not just politics but American culture itself. Washington Post
    Like many of us, I have been trying to figure out what The Donald is all about, and most improbably it was none other than Glenn Beck, of all people, that lachrymose and venomous, conspiracy peddler, who put me on the track, with his FB question: "why are big name 'conservatives' supporting Trump?". 
    (H)e was very pro abortion until very recently; he still says "don't defund planned parenthood"; he is pro "assault weapon ban"; he is in favor of a wealth tax that would just "take money out of people's bank accounts"; he is for boots on the ground in Iraq and 'taking the oil' from the Iraqi people; he is a progressive 'republican'; he says single payer health care works; he said he would give people more than just Obama care; the First Lady would be the first to have posed nude in lesbian porno shots; he said that he keeps all the bibles he is given in a "special place" outside the city - and he only goes to church on Christmas and Easter; he is generally not a likable guy; he has around 16% favorability with Hispanics and he has gone bankrupt 4 times. This is an honest question. I really want to understand: Why are big name "conservatives" supporting him? Glenn Beck - Facebook
    I think it is logical to infer that Beck is insinuating that Trump is paying the "big name conservatives" to support him. I might also infer (Honi soit qui mal y pense) that Beck could be hinting that he'd like his cut too.

    I was rolling this idea around in my mind and a tiny memory bell began tinkling at the back of my brain, something in all of this reminded me of a book or a film I had heard or seen or both, long, long ago, in my misspent youth... finally, (to mix metaphors) the penny dropped.

    Of course! It was Terry Southern's 1959, comic novel, "The Magic Christian", which was (mixing metaphors again) tugging at my coat, this hilarious book was made into a hilarious film ten years later, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr and its main character, Guy Grand, the Magic Christian, was "my" Donald Trump.

    Read this little description of Guy Grand, the eccentric billionaire and see if my "insight" makes any sense to you:
    Guy Grand is an odd billionaire who spends most of his time playing elaborate practical jokes on people. A big spender, he does not mind losing large sums of money to complete strangers if he can have a good laugh. All his escapades are designed to prove his theory that everyone has their price—it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay them. Wikipedia
    More than a practical joker, I would describe Guy Grand's actions as performance art and I am beginning to suspect/hope that Trump's are too.

    Grand's most famous "practical joke" and the one that put me on the Donald's "scent" is the following:
    Grand buys a huge downtown vacant lot in a major city. He then has a three foot brick wall built around the perimeter and fills it with feces and offal into which bills of all denominations have been mixed. He then takes pleasure watching immaculately dressed people defiling themselves by braving the stench, and ruining their clothing and dignity, by wading through the muck for the bills.Wikipedia
    Here is how the pool of excrement plays in the 1969 film starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr:

    Donald Trump is undressing the conservative movement, the Republican party and even the entire American political system.  I don't know if that is his intention, but in fact, that is exactly what he is doing.  That might be healthy... Unless he is actually serious, but how can  we know? 

    Is he a real life Guy Grand or an American Mussolini?

    I am not interested right now in Donald Trump's specific positions and policy proposals, because, as Beck points out, taken together they make very little sense. What I am more interested in hearing about now is Trump the person and I don't mean the famous wheeler-dealer Trump, the reality show Trump...

    The child is the father of the man: I am interested in hearing from people who went to grammar school with  little Donny Trump, people who knew his family when he was a child, taught him at Sunday school... Did other kids pick on him? Did he bully the other children? I want to hear from people that went to high school with him or taught him there, was he good at sports, was he popular? Who did he date? Who kicked his ass, whose ass did he kick or lick.  all of that.

    We know what Trump does, but things have gone far enough for us to urgently need to learn who Donald Trump is. DS

    Sunday, August 16, 2015

    Sweet 2016 - Sanders + Warren? We can dream!

    I wonder if America deserves such a good POTUS as Bernie Sanders would make. Watching his thorough, at length, interview with Ezra Klein, I found myself thinking that I had never heard such a lucid, sensible politician speaking in my entire life. 

    Truth to tell, I can't remember ever finding myself in such total agreement with an American (or any other nationality) politician before... and I go back quite a bit by now. I kept thinking as I listened to him talk, "Bernie, where have you been all my life?"

    Please take the trouble to watch this video with complete attention and mentally compare it with the steady, endless, diet of bullshit that you are normally being fed.

    In my title line I indicate that if, God willing, Bernie Sanders does take the Democratic nomination his running mate should be Senator Elizabeth Warren. Normally the Vice Presidential nominee is chosen to "balance" the ticket, but Bernie is 73 years old, and as someone also in his 70s, let me be frank, people our age have a way of keeling over dead and in my opinion President Sanders' Vice President should be someone that could be trusted to carry out his program and that person has to be Elizabeth Warren.

    However, like the famous recipe for stewed rabbit begins... "first catch your rabbit".
    In trying to move beyond his white liberal base, Sanders faces a huge challenge, but it would be folly to underestimate him. Thanks to the groundswell of support among progressive activists, young Democrats, and small donors, he has the money, the manpower, and the social-media presence to expand his footprint. And with televised Democratic debates starting in the fall, he will have the opportunity to introduce himself to a broader audience. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems likely that more potential Democratic voters will warm to his message. John Cassidy - The New Yorker
    But we can dream, because for the first time in a long, long, time a person of truly remarkable lucidity, consistency and seasoning has a slim, but real, chance of being elected President of the United States. DS

    Friday, August 07, 2015

    Cecil, the dentist and the "Global Village"

    Cecil (RIP)
    Before going any further, I want to make it clear that Cecil the lion was truly "the king of the beasts" and that I hope his murderer spends a few years filling and extracting his fellow prisoners' teeth deep in the infirmary of some Zimbabwe jail.

    Having said that and as much as the hideous, sadistic death of Cecil has shocked and appalled me, I confess to being just as horrified by the social media lynching that the rich, cruel, idiot who murdered him, has undergone. 

    I think that the lynching is as, or even more important, than the hideous crime that provoked it because anyone in our society is much more likely to become the victim of similar electronic, mob-violence, than to ever be laid low by some malignant dentist's bow and arrow.

    What has happened?

    We now live in the "Global Village", whose birth Marshall McLuhan clairvoyantly prophesied way back in the 1960s, long before the Internet existed.
    Today, the term "Global Village" can be used to describe the Internet and World Wide Web. On the Internet, physical distance is even less of a hindrance to the real-time communicative activities of people, and therefore social spheres are greatly expanded by the openness of the web and the ease at which people can search for online communities and interact with others who share the same interests and concerns. Wikipedia
    The word, "village", has a generally positive ring, suggesting a rich community life, yet somehow, in most developed countries, the villagers have fled their villages in droves for the "soulless" anonymity of large urban centers.

    Many people, never having experienced village life are puzzled by this flight, however, I might be able to clarify this question for them, as I  spent a lot of my childhood in a traditional 1950s, midwestern village, where only a rich neighbor's 100ft antenna could pick up the Chicago TV signals. A time capsule of classic American village life.

    My grandmother had been raised in this wide place in the road by her grandfather, a Glaswegian Scots marble carver (tombstones, marble angels and tiny stone lambs). The town was founded by the rock-ribbed, New England diaspora in the 1820s. Anchored on the Illinois side of the Mississippi valley it lies about forty five minutes away from Tom Sawyer's, Hannibal Missouri...

    Top that for a deep-American-traditional-village if you can.

    For most of my childhood, when summer came, I left Chicago's North Shore to spend at least a month of my school vacation in a red brick house that my great, great, grandfather had built with his own skillful, hands, long years before the American Civil War.

    Google Streets has finally gotten around to patrolling the place, and not long ago, through them I was able to revisit my grandmother's hometown and discover that, like so much of the Middle West, the idyllic, Disneyesque, village I knew as a child had been destroyed.

    The once vibrant main street, in those days filled with charming, ornate, 19th century, brick store fronts was now a boarded-up, ruin, with weed-filled, gaping vacant lots like so many missing teeth... Devastated and hollowed out.

    And with the main street, I imagine, the town's entire shopkeeper middle class has gone too, (the people who always funded and chaired the excellent public school, the churches and the library). Probably all the victims of some nearby, but not too nearby, big-box store that supplies the only (minimum wage) jobs left in the whole county.

    I also discovered that the large, lovely, but hard to heat, 19th century houses, that had once lined the quiet streets under the leafy shade of  massive centenarian elm trees, including my great-great-grandfather's, had all been replaced with tacky, little, aluminum-sided horrors... and of course all the elm trees were long gone too.

    All the continuity with its past had been broken and as memory is perhaps the most important quality that defines a true village and it is memory itself, or really the desire to leave memory behind that has driven more people to leave their charming home towns than anything else... probably even more than better job opportunities in the cities.

    I'll give you some personal examples of traditional villager's memory.

    Old men and women in the village, my grandmother's childhood friends, would laugh and tell me that my highly respectable, strait-laced, Victorian grandmother, had once been a spoiled brat who used to ride her big chestnut horse bareback (ladies rode side saddle in those days) and jump it over neighbors' fences with her long red hair flowing in the breeze... like some Maureen O'Hara. Fortunately they couldn't come up with anything worse... But not for want of trying, be sure of that.

    In those Eisenhowerland, rural American days,  I was the only kid with divorced parents for leagues around and once when I was about six years old an old crone took me into her kitchen and plying me with homemade peach pie and ice cream got me to spill everything I knew about my parents... That's when my granny took me aside, sat me down and explained what villages were all about.

    She told me that gossip is the passion of villages and "old-wives" are its practitioners... that villages are places where neighbors walk right into your house without knocking, where they know everything about you, from your birth (and any rumors connected to it) to your dying day, and everything about your family and your ancestors, is known to everyone and you in turn know everything about all of them too... The flipside to this being that there is a "balance of terror": anonymous, poison pen defamation is practically impossible and consequently the strongest, "everybody is watching", social repression and group conformity is essential and the only way to survive is to be discreet and on polite, even friendly terms, with everyone, all the time.

    And now with the Global Village we have "Global Old-Wives"...  But the big difference with our new electronic Global Village and my granny's traditional one is that although some of the global old wives know everything about us, we now know precious little, almost nothing, about most of them. This is perhaps, in many ways, the worst of both worlds: a cruel village of intimate, encyclopedic and mostly anonymous gossip... and now there is no longer any faceless "big city" to run away to.

    The moral of the story boys and girls is that there is nowhere to hide anymore... the world is a small town, but unlike a real village our global village is a paradise for anonymous defamation.

    What to do?

    Just like in my grandmother's village the only way to survive online today is to be discreet and on polite, even friendly terms, with everyone, all the time. Be careful what photos (nudity, dead lions, etc.) you put up in facebook, what you tweet, what you blog, what you comment... Remember, the Internet's memory is even longer than that of the old crones in my granny's home town. DS