The Talking Dog

September 18, 2017, "Sweet" 16

The first post on this here blog popped up sixteen years ago, today. The original format of this blog was as a two-column "point-counterpoint" between moi, then "the left-leaning dog," and the former blogger known then as "the rabid dog" and later known as "the raving atheist," that lasted a couple of months or so, before the current one-column forum whereby "the talking dog" became the sole voice here. And so here we are.

"Blogs" were then a new phenomenon, as the much younger internet (although then, as now, a little too dependent on gambling, porn and fraud) had not yet supplanted "legacy" newspapers, magazines and much of journalism, and further, blogs were the province of genuine independent voices, and there were very few "professional" bloggers.

Oh, did I mention that it was also one week after September 11th, an event for which I had a front row seat so close that it put me out of a job as the office building was shut down for months? (And of course, Mrs. TD and I live (as does the loquacious pup when she's home), and still do, about a mile downwind of WTC here in Brooklyn).

And so a winding journey of witnessing and observation the events of the 21st century unfolded, with you as a fellow witness. And an interesting 21st century it has been: September 11th led directly to a "global war on terror," including a war in Afghanistan that is already the longest war ever engaged in by the United States (with no end in sight, apparently ever), as a consequence of that war (one of many), a gulag to house alleged prisoners of war of that conflict established at an American military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which has been the subject of independent journalism here (my most recent interview and the over seventy other related interviews can be found here), a follow-on war against Saddam Hussein's in Iraq that would ultimately destroy the underpinnings of American moral and financial authority as well as killing thousands and wounding tens of thousands (and countless Iraqis), the election of America's first Black President (my Columbia college classmate) Barack Obama, a financial crisis followed by a recession that has probably eviscerated much of America's middle class, the rise of Wall Street casino tactics (derivatives, derivatives on derivatives, zero or even negative interest rates, etc.) that will probably finish us off as well, and then the piece de resistance, the deliberate election of an unqualified buffoon (apparently with the help of the Russian state thanks to a shockingly unsecure internet) as President of the United States whose mandate is simply to undo whatever the Black President did. Some unfortunate trends- rising health care costs (along with declining "health outcomes"), income and wealth inequality, climate change, the zombification of the populace thanks to the "smart phone," and the increasing number of global refugees- are all increasing.

What began as the ravings of an angry 38-year old have become more of the musings of a less angry, but perhaps more troubled 54-year old: obviously, I have lived most of my life now in whatever "order" there has been so far. Indeed, TD Dad has passed on (though thankfully most of TD Familia is still around). My daughter was less than two sixteen years ago at the start of this blog; now she has started college. While I suspect we will have left a world for her generation, the shocking selfishness of the baby boom generation will have rendered it, most likely, a less pleasant world than what we inherited. Perhaps the next generations will, by necessity if for no other reason, act more responsibly in every sense- morally, environmentally, financially, and what have you. I can only hope so, even as I observe only glimmers of hope, amidst a large-ish holdover to (or if you like restoration of) "traditional" values like bigotry, ignorance and superstition.

Don't know. As with the original post on 18 September 2001, we are nearing Rosh Ha Shanah, the Jewish New Year, a traditional time for reflection (before we come to the Day of Atonement just ten days later). And this is as good a time as any for reflection. The format has allowed an independent schnook with a keyboard access to reach every other schnook with a keyboard on Earth. Thanks for following along. We'll see what the next sixteen years bring.

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September 11, 2017, Here we are... again

And so, it's September 11th again. For some people, life doesn't get any better.


For the rest of us, it seems, maybe we should use this moment to "take stock," for some level of genuine introspection.

We recently passed the twelve year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, whose ferociousness was at least thought to have been assisted by man-made climate change (hurricanes are strengthened by warmer water), and the response of the American people, aside from doing nothing, was ultimately to elect a man who not only denied the existence of climate change at all, but who promised (a promise he kept) to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and who is hellbent on policies designed to increase global temperatures as fast as possible. Naturally, Ameircans are blissfully unconcerned about the fact that twelve years on, we have seen, for example, devastating "Superstorm Sandy" wreak havoc here in the New York area, and, of course, Hurricane Harvey devastate Houston last week and most powerful Atlantic storm ever Hurricane Irma devastate Florida even as I type this (after it rampaged across the Caribbean leveling a number of islands). But enough people prefer the illusion of normalcy so that, at least in the allegedly "advanced" United States, man-made climate change is still "an issue." So be it. A disproportionate number of people stupid enough to have such beliefs live in danger of the results, I suppose; perhaps God will sort it out after all.

Not so much with the other issue: American "hegemony." After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the United States found itself as "the sole super-power." We could, of course, have quickly taken down the scope of our military reach (hundreds of garrisons around the world), decommissioned our massive stockpile of nuclear weapons aimed at the no longer extant Soviet Union, canceled contracts for weapons systems, etc. Instead, almost immediately we picked a rather large scale fight with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and formed a massive coalition, with a massive American presence, leaving a rather large footprint in the Arab world (especially Saudi Arabia) to contain the vanquished Saddam. This in turn led directly to a backlash, as "the Infidels" were in the Saudi kingdom, home of two of Islams holiest places, and al Qaeda was apparently formed to "address" this, rather violently, including attacks on the Khobar towers in Saudi itself, American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S.S. Cole then in Yemen, culminating in the events of Sept. 11th. With some irony, al Qaeda arose from elements of the Afghan Mujahadeen, an American financed guerrilla group designed to pester the Soviets in Afghanistan, which the Soviets eventually did quit, shortly before the USSR imploded.

Unlike climate change, where, notwithstanding the preference of seemingly controlling elements of the American power structure (and a huge part of the population) to deny something they don't like, one can certainly talk about it. With issues of American hegemony that pretty much led right to 9-11, perhaps not so much. The late Susan Sontag was vilified for this short essay in the New Yorker (third from last) in which she dared question that linkage; I'll quote it:

The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.

We're sixteen years on, and none of those questions has been asked, as the United States doubled down again and again, with another massive war in Iraq, its longest war ever in Afghanistan (with no end in sight), potential engagements everywhere, "terrorism" having morphed into the "lone wolf" variety of night-club shoot-ups and vehicle crashes (although transportation systems are still targeted), only, of course, we can throw in the pressures of sixteen more years of unaddressed global warming coupled with Middle Eastern unrest to add a humongous refugee problem in Europe (the decision to take out Qaddaffi in Libya didn't help that either). Oh, and our relations with Russia are bad (that nation probably interfered in our recent election, and though no one wants to say it, may have manipulated enough electoral levers to install Donald Trump over the rightful winner), with China not so good, and North Korea may have the means to hit us with a nuclear ICBM. For her part, Hillary Clinton is touring the country complaining about all the things that cost her the election (including whining at Bernie Sanders, the man who tried to not talk about "her damned emails," and, in a spirit of non-introspection, minimizing her own disastrous decisions to rely on big data and not on the actual reports of her campaign field operations and freaking go to Wisconsin and Michigan). And while we're at it, we're still holding 41 men at Guantanamo (our current President promises to "fill it up with bad dudes," though no one else wants to), and we have a massive national security state that captures all your emails and phone calls (even as it lacks the manpower to read and listen to them). Oh, and since everything is digitized, hackers have stolen your social security numbers, account numbers and everything else you thought was "secure." But that's ok, because you have the latest I-phone.

And so here we are, sixteen years on. My daughter, who was then less than two, and who has no memories of a "pre-9-11 world," has started college, where, among other things, she is studying history and international relations, two things that Sontag noted most Americans, at least, would rather avoid. Maybe her generation will set about to build a more rational world (a world that will have less available resources for that generation, as we are hellbent on squandering them for our temporary comfort). We can hope. Because it seems to me that most Americans are ultimately unflappable, that is, whether it's 9-11, or Katrina, or Sandy, or Orlando/San Bernadino, or now Harvey and Irma, they don't seem to want to think about anything at a meaningful level.

I get it; as Sontag said: "Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy." Think about that--the abiding power of narrative over reality-- as we celebrate 9-11's not particularly "sweet" sixteenth.

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September 7, 2017, Busted myths

Run, don't walk, to this piece in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates called "The First White President." For those wondering why so many were obsessed with "the White working class," and what that had to do with an election where the circus clown (Coates prefers "carnival barker") Donald J. Trump prevailed in every economic category of White people for no reason other than that he was White (to be fair, I would add that he was also male)... Coates gives us the rather unsettling answers.

Coates's thesis, which has the troubling attribute of evidence, is that the handing of the potential to destroy all life on this planet to a clown simply because of his race might be either the ultimate demonstration of White privilege or the ultimate expiation of White guilt (though most people on this planet are not even White).

Go. Now.

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