Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Unmanaged pain

A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth.
(Victory, by Joseph Conrad)

What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands, In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.
(Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, 1835)


I can't say I'm unhappy about seeing the end of 2016 even though 2017 holds promises of being much worse. In October of 2016 my dearest friend was murdered in her home. It was brutal and violent and has changed my life forever.

In December of 2016 I was diagnosed with moderate osteoarthritis in my right knee, hardly earth shaking, uncommon nor remotely unexpected. It has, however, become a permanent and irritating reminder of my physical self. But “irritating” is the operating word, not chronic, debilitating pain that can control a person's life in so many ways.

Increasing the pain in America

Angus Deaton, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, published a study along with his wife Anne Case, about a segment of white America, which has proven to be eye opening and startling in its conclusions.

The two economists analyzed various information on working class whites, 45 to 54 years of age, with less than a college education. They discovered a 22% rise in death rates from 1999 to 2013, largely due to alcohol, drug abuse and suicide. (See white America). Deaton and Case concluded that this was a community engulfed by pain, which is both chronic and persistent physical and emotional pain. The researchers have suggested that possibly one-half million people are dead who should not be.

A people's dream died at the Battle of Wounded Knee.
(Black Elk, Lakota holy man)

A pain perspective

Frantz Fanon, the French psychiatrist, achieved near cult status in the 1960s among the global Left. Fanon, the author of Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, explored the relationship between racism, colonialism, mental illness and freedom while serving as a psychiatrist during the Algerian War of Independence against France. Fanon himself was born in the Caribbean island of Martinique to descendants of free black cocoa farmers.

Frantz Fanon was most interested in the psychological injuries, particularly the “shame and self contempt” it spreads among its victims. He also noted that both the oppressed and the oppressors were locked together and the chains could not be broken until those that were oppressed chose to struggle for their own independence.

Today, the American Psychological Association states that “pain has biological, psychological and emotional factors.” It is not purely a physical sensation. We know now that chronic pain can certainly cause feelings such as hopelessness, sadness, anxiety and most definitely anger.

An American dystopia

No, the death rates in general among African-Americans is still greater than rates for white Americans, but for a particular segment of white America—in the millions—there is a backward trend, unlike any other group in the developed world at the present time. It likely began in the early 1980s.

Yes, it is an oftentimes unspoken belief and feeling that this is the group that has provided the racist ground troops, the neo-Nazis, the xenophobia and the bottomless ignorance that has allowed the American kleptocracy to manipulate and exploit the so called white working class.

After all, wasn't it “Johnny Reb” in 1860, barefoot and penniless, that marched off to defend a vile, racist plantocracy? And yes, is this not the group that is about to put Donald Trump in the White House?

Of course the element of truth is there. But the pain, physical and psychological is real. And who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor? Can it sometimes be one and the same?

The painful cause

The truth may not always set you free but it has always been visible if you are ever so willing to actually study your surroundings. Frantz Fanon was right. It really is a matter of the oppressed finally deciding to be free.

Right now a significant percentage of the rich and the powerful in the United States is gleefully ready to gut American health care (among so many other things), which includes critically important mental health services. No one will be arriving in the nick of time to save us.

For an interesting example of our “free market” health care system go to Inside the WestVirginia prescription painkiller epidemic.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Secret desires and nocturnal emissions

In America, anyone can become president. That's the problem.
(George Carlin)

White House home shopping network

I thought a colleague of mine was putting me on recently when he told me that the Trump family had been peddling products and advertising their family businesses on a dot gov web site. Ivanka herself was marketing her $10,000 bracelet. I discovered it was true. The site came down after a few days. I guess someone realized it was not a subtle way to begin the four year scam.

This is a family of rich grifters … and that's why they're liked by so many Americans. It doesn't matter if the Donald is a billionaire (thanks to daddy) along with numerous conflicts of interest, deadbeat morality and totally unqualified to be town dog catcher let alone the President of the United States.

America he's ours—certainly for a large percentage of white people--and we want to believe he's revenge on the “ruling class,” which ruling class of course depends on your point of view. Donald is going to make America “great again.” I may be wrong but did anyone among our corporate info-entertainers over this past dismal year ask him “when” America was great? But hell, who cares. Right?

The rational worldview

People I know have told me I need to be patient. After all, Trump did win the presidency fair and square. Let's wait and see what he does before we react. We need to bring the country together in order to move forward. The opposition needs to accept this fact. Unless you have demonstrable proof that the election was “stolen” get it line and support America. Forget the blather about Hillary having more of the popular vote than Trump; Mr. Trump clearly won within the current system.

I refuse to participate in this process of organized amnesia, to cooperate in normalizing a man who stands for everything America should not.
(Leonard Pitts Jr., journalist)

The Lord of Mordor

I've been following a particular social media site very much in opposition to Donald Trump. I've read with interest a lengthy thread dealing with trolls, insulting remarks and how best to handle individuals who do this.

What struck me while reading many of the comments was the naivete of so many, well meaning and committed individuals who are against Trump. Nasty individuals, however, mocking liberals is the least of our worries. Steve Bannon, the Donald's Rasputin in the new White House, has little interest in what you think about damn near anything. It will likely get so much worse and we have no time for a lengthy learning curve or being shocked or upset by troglodytes.

Less we forget, the Cult controls Congress. The list is long. Characters like Paul Ryan think their libertarian college boy dream can soon become a reality. You gonna stop it? In addition to the ACA they're coming after Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the environment, which includes national parks and wildlife. Women your place is in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Hell, some 53% of white women voted for Donald. What happened to the last forty years or so? Trickle down economics is back with a vengeance. Oh yes, tax cuts for the parasite class is the wave of the future. After all, they're clearly your betters and struggle is good for you. Serfdom has some good aspects because you'll know what to do day after day after day. You just do what you're told. First amendment, well, we may have to cut back a bit in order to make America great. Now the “other” people, you know who you are. You've got to understand who runs this country, and realize who is on top of the dung heap, sort of like the natural order of things. Best of all we're going to have guns and more guns everywhere—hospitals, schools, churches and conveniently you'll be able to buy them in a Quick Trip or maybe a 7Eleven, hell, Hobby Lobby possibly, who knows and no waiting time. An educated citizenry? Well, there is too much thinking going on in this country. A well run country can't really have educated citizens. And there is so much more. I bet Russia could be our closest ally because we'll have so much in common. Imagine, we could give a select group of angry white people brown and black shirts and they could earn merit badges and move up in the ranks. I know, it's an old idea, but we could reduce unemployment to zero and have a lot of torchlight parades and be proud Americans again. Be happy, don't worry citizens, you're not in a dream....

I'm going to a restaurant tonight. It's owned by Muslims. Last week white nationalist Orcs smashed some windows and wrote graffiti on the walls. This approaching Kristallnacht we better not ignore or worry that we might upset the Cult. We can apologize profusely and promise to work together if Trump and company do not turn out to be a collection of ignorant, undemocratic thugs that want to turn the clock back to some mythical and exclusive white boy paradise.

This is not going to be a gentle struggle or a weekend beating of drums, chants and inspiring folk music. The thread for how we got here goes back to the very beginning of this country founded on slavery, racism, genocide, predatory capitalism, Social Darwinism, total disrespect for the natural world and “I got mine.” Now the monsters have been unleashed. Be grateful for what you have and realize and understand what and why you have it and be clear that you're not alone or powerless. Make this Thanksgiving a time to commit to a much better country.

And suddenly the mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness....
(Frodo seeing Sauron, in the Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Let us come together ... uh, huh

Democracy is beautiful in theory, in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day.
(Benito Mussolini, leader of National Fascist Party, 1922-1943)

I love the old days—you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher folks … I'd like to punch him in the face.
(Donald Trump, discussing a protester this past February being dragged out of a Trump rally)

The 60's redux

I remember in graduate school writing a paper on the late Mario Savio, the leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964. My professor, an Englishman who had fought the Nazis at Dunkirk, thought the paper was “well written” but its premise naive. It was certainly naive, in the sense that soaring rhetoric, lofty idealism and mere protests would quickly cause the “establishment”-any establishment—to crumble before our eyes. Of course, positive change did eventually occur in a great many areas, but over time through a lot of hard work, a lot of creative thinking, a lot of sacrifice ... and a lot of pain.

The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.
(Adolf Hitler)

What it is for the moment

It was by definition Populism, a mixed picture in American history. (See The globalboneyard.) Whether or not Donald Trump has the slightest idea what Populism is, he talked about change, creating jobs and “throwing out the rascals.” These slogans have worked in America for over 200 years.

According to the polls (for all that means), the voters had pretty much made up their minds by September and Trump had a very, very good chance of becoming president, although Clinton and the Democratic strategists, in hindsight, remained largely clueless, in itself a reason to gut the Democratic party or turn it inside out.

At the moment the Democrats control virtually nothing. We know what has happened at the national level but how many of us know that the majority of state legislatures and governorships are controlled by the Cult. We are knee deep in the effluent—meaning “crap.” It matters a great deal ultimately what we end up doing, from the town council on up to the presidency. What we do have are many of the cities and that matters a great deal, an article unto itself.

You got 9 weeks

For the time being we have to take the Donald mostly at his word. No, I don't think all the nonsense that Trump uttered during the campaign is going to get implemented and become law, but in the short-term America is going to become coarser, uglier, less democratic and increasingly unpleasant for perhaps a majority of Americans.

For many Americans, their real education is about to begin. Presidents have significant power in issuing Executive Orders, requiring no advice and consent of Congress. As well, they have the power to undo Executive Orders implemented by their predecessor, in this case President Obama. But there is so much more being talked about already in the Cult-controlled Congress.

Make no mistake; they are going for everything as fast as possible. The unspoken belief is that the Cult really can take us back to the “good old days.” Best be aware and best be prepared for what is to come. Wisdom, intelligence, discipline and awareness will, in a few weeks, be worth all the money in the U.S. Treasury. Pull up your bootstraps America and get ready to listen to your “betters.”

We have basically nine weeks to create the beginning of an organization, at the national level as well as at the state and local level. A good place to start is learning how government works at all levels and how ideas become laws. We could begin by talking to those politicians that actually make the laws. It is much more than anger and righteous indignation that will bring about the changes we want.

The good news is that the wailing and gnashing of teeth appears to be short lived; therefore, we can get on with the business at hand. Some 59 million people voted for Trump. We have millions of potential customers if we learn how to close the deal. How much incentive do you need?

Economic America: A delusion wrapped in an illusion

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Dumpster Diving in America

An American Fencepost

 While stitching a cut on the hand of a 75 year old farmer, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Donald Trump... and his role as the Republican Nominee for President. The old farmer said, " Well, as I see it, Donald Trump is like a 'Post Tortoise'.'' Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post tortoise' was. The old farmer said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that's a post tortoise." The old farmer saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, he's elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb ass put him up there to begin with."

Monday, October 24, 2016

How to suck the oxygen out of everything

A silent prologue

Last week I attended a seminar on urban heat islands, the speaker being a staff scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Mitigation strategies to lower temperatures in urban regions will become increasingly important as half the world's population now lives in cities of one size or another and climate change is raising global temperatures. This is what we call facts. We can verify these facts, anyone can for that matter.

Can't catch my breath

Even though 2016 is not unique, it does seem that we have a higher collection of world leaders at the present time that run the gamut from sociopath, to gangster to merely authoritarian. Democratic values are not winning the popularity contest at the moment.

You would have to be half mad to dream me up.
(Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland)

In the United States Donald Trump, the profoundly ignorant, deeply narcissistic and repulsive man-child, for the past year or so, has overwhelmed our political and cultural lives, which in and of itself says something about our present (ideally short-lived) dysfunction.

In a sort of “best of all possible worlds,” the Donald will vanish into the trash can of history along with the White People's Cult, formerly known as the Republican party. But you would have to be “half mad” to believe it's going to be that easy.

Now, to resume our discussion on urban heat islands.... but first make sure you vote and overwhelm ignorance.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Who runs the tribe

The current clown scare is a result of two rising forces in the U.S: social media, and a fear of otherness, whether it arrives in a white Mercedes or a refugee boat.
(Robert Bartholomew, sociologist, Botany College, New Zealand)

I was about to write something on capitalism and “geocide” but a colleague emailed me an interesting article and survey on climate change, not about the science of global warming but about how we “think” about it—or not. Then I came across a video, both disturbing and depressing, but tied indirectly to climate change.

The political spectacle

Reporters for the NYT followed Donald Trump for a year at his various presidential rallies throughout the United States. While this video is about the 2016 election, it could be a rally of a particular kind you might attend in far to many countries today. In fact, it conjures up scenes from the early 1930s in Europe.

Making America Really, Really Not So Great Again

Climate and beliefs

The survey shows that (1) overall opinions about climate are split along (not surprisingly to many) partisan lines and have hardly changed at all, (2) scientific knowledge does not change the opinions of climate deniers, (3) the increase of scientific “literacy” appears to change the views of Democrats but not Republicans, (4) climate beliefs are more about “tribal” beliefs, (5) most people have no organized ideology and firm opinion on issues, (6) elite views are the most important operator on public opinion, (7) tribal attachment is the most important influence not issue attachment and (8) BUT, regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, everyone likes renewable energy such as wind and solar. Go to Climate Survey to read the details.

Nature, nurture and genopolitics

Two to three years ago the word Genopolitics appeared with increasing frequency. Did genes influence political behavior? Could genetics tell us whether or not we would be on the Left or Right politically? Would it be easier to gauge if we were inclined to be Liberal or Conservative?

There was some interesting scientific research going on. Neuroscience had made some remarkable breakthrough in the last ten years or so and several tantalizing ideas spread beyond brain research. Certainly some political scientists thought they could be nearing the point where predictable patterns of behavior might be understood in light of what neuro-science had uncovered.

We know a good deal, for example, about how hormones and neurotransmitters in our bodies influence behavior. The levels of serotonin in our system might affect our self confidence and sense of worth and intensity of aggression. Some researchers believe that the release of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” might have something to do with increases in generosity and trust.

The problem is that human behavior is complicated and not easy to describe on a flow chart. Some people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism but never become alcoholics because of environmental factors. A psychiatrist and well respected authority on serial killers, in the course of his research, discovered he himself had the genetic makeup of a sociopath but it was the environmental factor (home life, family) that triggered a full blown monster. At some point there is a good chance we will get beyond merely uncovering “interesting” connections in human behavior and be able to identify cause and effect and replicate it over and over again.

Nevertheless, understanding human behavior, it seems to me, cannot be merely left to brain researchers and various policy wonks but all of us … if we want to succeed. If as this particular climate survey indicates, the one thing we all seem to agree upon is the value of renewable energy. Then what ought we to be doing, if fifty percent of us believe climate change is an existential threat to all of us? Who is thwarting the effort?

While Clinton's emails and Trumps' behavior may be the current American distraction (along with scary clowns), on November 9, 2016, we will be back to dealing with human behavior, which needs some serious hormonal alteration and rewiring.