March 26, 2015

The Death Penalty

The death penalty is often unfair, racist, and unnecessary. There's little evidence that it deters murder. Texas is religious about imposing it and murders there are sky-high. In principle I'm against it. On the other hand there's a whole bunch of bastards I'd like to stand against a wall, so I'm divided on the issue.

All this crap about lethal injections and this ridiculous ritual/ceremony at the end of a criminal's life, how absurd! And the idea of three injections to kill the condemned is silly. Next, we will hear theme music when the three pistons descend. A massive overdose of barbiturates stops the heart instantly, and when the heart stops you are legally and in fact dead. 

The electric chair is torture and never was anything more than burning someone to death from the inside out; a cruel and painful torture either way. Hanging, if done right, snaps the spine at the neck and life is gone. Even beheading seems more merciful than lethal injection, and although it is said to be painless and humane, I would not put it past some sadist in the process injecting battery acid into a condemned prisoner just to make him suffer. If you must execute someone there is nothing quicker, cheaper, or more humane than a bullet through the heart. If he has donated his heart then one in the back of the head Chinese-style will suffice.

But there is no other, stronger proof than the death penalty that humans are spiritually and intellectually impoverished . So-called Christians have exempted themselves from the rule of their Jesus of Nazareth: "Thou shalt not kill." People all over the world are good and capable of self-government and self-restraint, which is the essence of civilization. Where they have found freedom in revolutionary societies humans often have shown a tendency to mercy by abolition of the death penalty. The most-recent example was in revolutionary Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas abolished capital punishment first thing; because it had been the dictator's favorite weapon against them.

Living under various forms of political and economic oppression, people are persuaded or pressed into armies and police units where they must accept the contradictory notion that it is okay to kill as long as killing is sanctioned by the State. This hypocrisy is like a cancer to the philosophical mind. 

Where there is great fear there is a reign of executioners, as in brave, heroic, John Wayne-Texas.

And then there is the unnecessary and distressing, factory-like murder of billions of animals to feed our stomachs, another sign of our spiritual and intellectual poverty, when fish, grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits are all we need for an adequate, protein-rich diet.

I could go on, but the subject threatens to make me write again, and I have vowed to stop writing.

January 24, 2015

Defending Jane Fonda

Recent hate articles about Jane Fonda presented us again with the famed 1972 photo of a young actress-activist sitting at a North Vietnamese communist anti-aircraft gun emplacement aimed at the sky where American fighters and bombers frequently swarmed, dropping bombs to send communists to their just reward for defying American power.

"Traitor" and "turncoat" is the theme; eternal punishment the purpose. The complainers will punish Jane forever due to a mistake in judgment she has often admitted. It was an offense to American servicemen, most of whom had little choice whether to fight or otherwise enable the US war in Southeast Asia. In the passions of the day and fervor of the moment, little-understood with today's easy acceptance of governments-by-lies and governments-of-liars, Jane Fonda's action is understandable and forgivable. As a former marine and a rarity in the antiwar movement, I totally forgive her "carelessness."

The ongoing tirade is only another chapter in America's war against humility.

From The Telegraph:

Speaking at an event at an arts centre in Maryland, she said: "Whenever possible I try to sit down with vets and talk with them, because I understand and it makes me sad. It hurts me and it will, to my grave, that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers."

She made her latest comments during on-stage interview. The event drew demonstrators including dozens of veterans carrying signs that read: "Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never."

But forgiveness is forgetfulness. Debt forgiven is debt forgotten.

It happened on my last day in Hanoi. I was exhausted and an emotional wreck after the 2-week visit ... The translator told me that the soldiers wanted to sing me a song. He translated as they sung. It was a song about the day 'Uncle Ho' declared their country's independence in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square. I heard these words: "All men are created equal; they are given certain rights; among these are life, Liberty and Happiness." These are the words Ho pronounced at the historic ceremony. I began to cry and clap. These young men should not be our enemy. They celebrate the same words Americans do. The soldiers asked me to sing for them in return ... I memorized a song called "Day Ma Di", written by anti-war South Vietnamese students. I knew I was slaughtering it, but everyone seemed delighted that I was making the attempt. I finished. Everyone was laughing and clapping, including me ... Here is my best, honest recollection of what happened: someone (I don't remember who) led me towards the gun, and I sat down, still laughing, still applauding. It all had nothing to do with where I was sitting. I hardly even thought about where I was sitting. The cameras flashed ... It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know. But if they did I can't blame them. The buck stops here. If I was used, I allowed it to happen ... a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever ... But the photo exists, delivering its message regardless of what I was doing or feeling. I carry this heavy in my heart. I have apologized numerous times for any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph. It was never my intention to cause harm.

In a 1988 interview with Barbara Walters, Fonda said:

I would like to say something, not just to Vietnam veterans in New England, but to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families. [...] I will go to my grave regretting the photograph of me in an anti-aircraft gun, which looks like I was trying to shoot at American planes. It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless. [from Wikipedia]

Few understood the Vietnam War--few understand it now--but nearly everyone perceived that something was wrong with the world's richest nation and greatest military power shooting and bombing millions of poor, working people in one of the poorest countries of the world. It's stated purpose was to defend an ally and freedom and prevent communism in southeast Asia. Apologists of the day said it was to contain Soviet and Chinese, "communist aggression," but a more candid President Eisenhower had stated that the Vietnam War was to defend Japan--a third of our economy--from encirclement by foes that would deny Japan's access to resources.

But what was the cause for American antiwar activists? Communism? No. If any people have been inoculated against communism and socialism, it is we Americans. We have been indoctrinated against socialist ideas since Karl Marx and the First International Workingmens'Association and the first stirring of American unionism became known to capitalists after our Civil War. There were communists and Marxists of all persuasions in the antiwar movement--many of them government agents--but they were a minority-within-a-minority. Perhaps they had an agenda. Whatever it was, we still are the leading non-communist nation. Even liberals are blazed with the brand of communism. 

The cause of most antiwar activists was to stop an illegal and immoral mass murder and relieve the suffering of a nation that fought for independence above all. The cause was to make Americans live up to their own ideals. The cause was to dry up a cascade of lies that hid the truth of our motive for war in the first place.

The insults directed against Jane Fonda are only another distraction from the issue of the Vietnam War, which many still fail to understand for what it was: illegal, immoral, unnecessary, and unjustified. Vietnam was "only a pawn in their game." (Dylan) Many war veterans shut the war from their minds for years, and many never understood anything about policies that produced it. Many who saw the trees of battle never saw the forest of history. The war has to this day largely been ignored and misunderstood.

The Vietnam War was a crime. It was a war crime. The real criminals were never investigated, charged, tried, or punished. But they have been exposed.

The upside of Jane's purgatory is that it gives Americans another chance to reckon with the most-shameful episode in our history, after African slavery and Indian genocide.

Millions of Indochinese people were killed or wounded. That is, 3.5 million Vietnamese, one million Laotians (half the population of Laos), and 2.5 million Cambodians, who died as a result of a 10-year secret bombing campaign that crippled traditional Cambodian society, destroyed infrastructure, and unleashed the murderous
teenagers of Pol Pot and the Rouges Khmer (backed by China).


Soldier dangling remains of an unauthorized, napalmed human.

Jars of deformed fetuses at Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam [Corbus Images]

If you thought American torture began with Guantanamo or Abu Graib prison in Iraq...A wax dummy in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City tells a different story.

David Harris, the great antiwar activist and journalist, imprisoned 20 months for draft resistance, covered it in his fine book, "Our War--What we did in Vietnam and what it did to us":

"A year and a half after I sent my draft cards back, the FBI came by to talk. Since the door was open, they walked in without knocking. By then we had a printing press in the garage and had been organizing civil disobedience against the Selective Service System for more than six months, living from cereal boxes, most of the time on the road in my Rambler. The FBI said they were looking for David Harris. I said I was he, though they seemed to know that already. They said they wanted to talk. I said fine. They said out in their car, and I said fine again. They had me sit in the shotgun seat, with an agent behind the wheel and another behind me. They said I should know that whatever I said could be used against me. I said I had figured as much. They said they'd heard that I had been advocating that people violate the Selective Service Act. I said I certainly had and went through the previous month, day by day, providing places and times. I started to do the same for the month before, but the FBI said that was enough. They said they would be in touch.

I, of course, can never forget that the war was the law, and being against the war was treated as being against both. Nor should the rest of us forget it. That's just the way things were: to be young, scruffy, against the war, and outspoken was automatically to be treated as a suspect. From there it was a short step to outlaw, a step a lot of made in a lot of different ways. And all those steps ended up a metaphor for the drift of the whole: we were forced to give up the comfort of the entrenched and the safety of silence and wander the badlands, looking for a place from which to hold off the forces of the tunnel without light at its end, outlaws of the heart at least.

We also have our own admissions with which to reckon: we sometimes drifted into the self-righteous, were plagued by a compulsion to push the envelope, to reinvent ourselves over and over again. We were faddists and could easily take ourselves too seriously and forget that our own position on the war had come at the end of a long and tormented personal migration. Too often our talk was cheap and our listening hard to come by. We latched onto simple truths no one else wanted to recognize and rode them until their wheels fell off. We were too quick to license all disbelief and too slow to reach outside our own presumptions. We were often too loud.

All that said, I still remember: we were also right."

Harris' book leads the field explaining the Vietnam antiwar movement. His memory is excellent and his view of the war is personal and uncompromising.

We can explain and explain Jane Fonda's acts until forever is gone, but nothing will abate the hatred of those that need scapegoats and someone to blame for their own nation's failures.

If you didn't catch Jane playing Leona in The Newsroom you missed one of her best performances ever.

January 23, 2015

Maternal Ancestors

The woman half-hidden at far left is my maternal grandmother, Mrs. George W. (Louise) Lee, and the next two are her daughters, my aunt Jessica and her sister, my mother Blanche Maxine "Mickey" Lee, (woman with the white fringed dress) all of Westlake, La. The photo is of the secretarial staff and other workers emerging from a day's work at the Manhattan Project site in Oak Ridge, TN, following the end of WW II, after the atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Wartime secrecy had been relaxed and visitors were for the first time admitted. Jessica worked for the Chief of Police of Oak Ridge, and my mom was a secretary to the man who armed the atom bomb over Hiroshima, Colonel Parsons. Mickey told me that many women at the plant had cried upon hearing about the bomb, that so many had died. Nobody but the higher-ups had a clue what the uranium-enrichment plant was about.

January 10, 2015


At first I imagined that government surveillance and monitoring of chat rooms and blogs, Twitter and Facebook, were small, insignificant, and in my case, irrelevant; after all, who am I? In the world of heaviness I am nobody.

Certainly I am not a terrorist by anyone's definition. I consider myself an American patriot, which, admittedly, is a contradiction; because I also am an internationalist. It's evident to me that nations must recede in power because we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and so on. But I must live in the real world like everyone else, so I accede to the idea that my nation—meaning the people who live here--must be preserved in a world of competing, often aggressive nations which would do us harm if we did not maintain the most-fearsome military that the world has ever known. My internationalism must wait for a more reasonable world.

I used to say that I was an “activist.” But I have not activated for a long time, and now I see that I always was more of a resister. Organizing others has never been my thing, probably because I am partly anti-social. I agree with Sartre that “most men are cowards and traitors,” and just don't trust most sons-of-bitches. I wish they would get organized, but I am not the one to organize them. I am a mere foot-soldier in a long, slow revolution of ideas and practices in a reluctant and counter-revolutionary world. I go to demonstrations and sit in on some meetings. I study the issues. I spent most of my time “in the antiwar movement.” That's the extent of it.

My biggest concern these days is not war but the environment. I never succeeded in deterring war for even one day, although I demonstrated against the Vietnam War and every, single one afterward. I petitioned, wrote letters, shouted myself hoarse, and even did some performance art. Sometimes I sacrificed jobs and livelihood to travel to other cities for demonstrations. But the separate wars went their way to a resolution that the government wanted, or else they continued; and still do.

I didn't think that the government cared one bit about the things I might write in a chat room or blog. I've known for years that we are free to say anything we want short of advocating violent overthrow of the government, and that the only way one could lose this freedom of speech would be to have too many listen and advertise you.

“You can say anything you want as long as you don't say anything.” (Bob Dylan; “Julius and Ethel”)

Imagine my surprise when I learned how easy it is to get bounced from an Internet chat room.

Beginning in the mid-nineties, I haunted an AOL chat room named From the Left. I liked it. The conversation was free-wheeling and extensive. Of course it was also haunted by hardcore right wing extremists and others who act like anything to the left of Ronald Reagan must have been invented by the Devil. But that is our wild America.

Sometimes I thought I made some pretty good comments and posed some challenging arguments. Others must have agreed, because I was mostly liked and respected in From the Left (and fiercely hated by right wing extremists.)

Then in 2009, an “AOL error” crashed my only laptop in New Orleans, crashed it so badly that Windows could not be re-installed. Disgusted with AOL—and using it only for the chat room anyway(because the “news” is shallow and stupid), I dumped the popular browser and didn't re-install it until 2014, when loneliness and isolation in Las Vegas drove me back into the only social circle acceptable to a defiant loner like myself.

Things had gone from bad to worse.

From the Left now exists only as an empty room on AOL. I don't know what happened. Probably the right wing assault had grown so fierce that reasonable people like myself said to hell with it and went elsewhere. Since I still was in touch through e-mail with some of the original participants, I found that they had migrated to the Democrat room. I went there.

And yes, there they were, some of them, still holding out against a daily barrage of insults and abuse. And so was the herd or right wing screamers and whiners, still lusting for combat and the blood of liberals and other devils. But there was something different.

Now it was possible to get “booted.” Someone, somehow, would make a couple of keystrokes, and suddenly, the room was gone, AOL was unusable, and there was no way back in short of shutting down the computer and unplugging from cable for a few moments. And within a minute or five minutes or even 20 minutes it would happen again. And again.

Sometimes my typed remarks would not post. My text would become invisible. This was always a precursor to being booted.

I wish I had saved some of the comments that someone would not let me post, but I am not that vain. Still, they weren't bad. Sometimes they were right on. Sometimes they went to the essence of an argument and showed it in a different perspective. Sometimes they said nice things about Fidel Castro. Sometimes they revealed little-known historical details about the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua; sometimes they showed a right wing politician for the phony he was. Sometimes they devastated popular notions of history.

But many of them never saw the light of day.

Once, just as an experiment, I kept posting the same remark after going through the tedious process of getting back into the room. No deal. Booted. The remark? “Fidel stopped smoking cigars years ago to set an example for public health.” Another was, “Fidel Castro has made public health his personal mission.”

I could see someone at another computer laughing at me. I could almost hear it.

Talk about real-time surveillance. Yet, I did not understand how it was possible. That is how little I knew about the technical abilities of computers and hacking. How was it possible that they could have so many agents watching our text in real-time, that someone would waste his time with an insignificant other like me?

Last week I was booted out of the Democrat chat room of America Online about 20 times in five days. That was it. I dumped AOL and all its cohorts from my computer, thankful that at least an “error” had not crashed this one.

Then I started my little research game. I Googled “Homeland Security chat room monitors,” and what a revelation it was.

Some of the other chatters blamed AOL. I think there is enough to blame it for besides that. It is the most-intrusive browser; its “news” is shallow, entertainment-oriented crap; its Terms of Service is ridiculous, insane, and badly administered; its format is overdone and complicated. It is too big and wealthy. It's only in it for the money.

But it is Homeland Security, CIA, FBI, and who-knows-what-all other intelligence agencies monitoring chat rooms (and all social media) for content and “suspicious activity.” That's my opinion, and I'm keeping it.

The operative terms that give these intelligence agencies license are, “situational awareness,” “threat detection,” “threat prevention,” “context disruption,” and “terror prevention.” There are others.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has topic-detection software. Whatever topics are on the list can only be guessed. Cuba? Fidel? Nicaragua? Sandinista? CIA? FBI? Congress? The President? Iraq? Afghanistan? Al Qaeda for sure. Immigration? Taliban? Jihad? Crimea? Health care?

From The Congressional Research Service (CRS) comes the official excuse:

“The Internet is used by international insurgents, jihadists, and terrorist organizations as a tool for radicalization and recruitment, a method of propaganda distribution, a means of communication, and ground for training. Although there are no known reported incidents of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure as acts of terror, this could potentially become a tactic in the future.” (My italics)

The Register reports that CIA fired four employees and some contractors, rescinding their security clearances, and suspended others in an internal hacking case. Some received reprimands (serious) and others were issued “warnings.” (Not too serious.)They had hacked CIA itself, setting up a private chat room in order to exchange “inappropriate” e-mails and messages. When its own ox is gored, watch out.

“Propaganda distribution” is an interesting term. The entomology of “propaganda” is equally so. In Russian, it means “information.” But since all such information is considered false or misleading, it has a pejorative connotation in the West, equivalent to lies.

Therefore, if someone on the Internet imparts information that CIA disagrees with, it is a lie and a means to recruit jihadists. So our intelligence services claim the right to turn them off and punish anybody who exchanges views with the distributor of “propaganda.” This is our free press, our social media, and our “intelligence” apparatus. They will decide what is “appropriate” for us to read, see, debate, argue with, or accept. The contradiction howls for resolution.

As I write this, Neil Young is singing “Helpless.” “Helpless, helpless, helpless...”

I'm not a hacker or a computer whiz. My math skills are low, and one must be a physics major to understand the sophisticated algorithms which are the engines of our “information age.” I cannot fight government-trained hackers with intrusion software. I am surrounded and overwhelmed, out-classed and beaten. My only choice is to leave the chat room and AOL altogether. Who needs the stress?

There goes my social life. Another illusion evaporated.