Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 18, 2009

Dear Sis~

Just got called down to the clinic for a "physical exam" which consisted of my having my weight, temperature and blood pressure taken and recorded, the same "comprehensive" physical I've been getting for the last 37 years. My blood pressure was 113/77, which is par for the course for me, almost too low, especially considering my circumstances. But, besides being blessed with a sound, healthy body and working out a lot, I long ago learned to accept things with equanimity, rather than let stress, tension and/or anger manifest itself in my physical aspects. Meditation, and lots of inner reflection, helps a lot...

Anyway, I just finished reading a good essay in Vanity Fair magazine by Joseph E Stiglitz, the well-known and highly regarded economist (he's in fact a Nobel laureate), titled Wall Street's Toxic Message, which analyzes the economic and social fallout of the current financial crisis. Of course, there are thousands of articles and essays floating around on the subject of the crisis - how it happened, who's to blame, how to fix it - covering the political and economic spectrum, etc... no small number of which are attempts to cover their own asses. Sadly, most Americans (Hell, most people worldwide) have little or no knowledge or understanding of basic economic theory, and are at the mercy of the talking heads, and have no real clue as to what happened, much less what to do about it (that feeling of utter helplessness, being at the mercy of forces beyond our control which was the hallmark of the national psyche over the last 8 months - and which helped propel Obama into the White House). What's interesting about this article by Stiglitz is how he frames it in the historical context, how the Western capitalistic nations, over the last 200+ years, exploited the rest of the world and imposed our "free market" system upon undeveloped countries, convincing them it was the world's best economic system (convincing them through force of arms). We Americans grew up, blindly believing (because we were taught this in our schools) that the capitalistic system , especially in the extreme (i.e., Market Fundamentalism) was the best, and anything else was a threat to freedom and democracy (that alleged link between capitalism and freedom was always crucial, it made it your patriotic duty to accept capitalism and view any other system as not just foreign, but an enemy to be defeated). What we are rarely taught is how we (America, Britain, France and other western industrial powers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries) raped and exploited the undeveloped world, brutally and by force, to enrich ourselves, and impose our version of market fundamentalism on the world (always, of course, so it worked to our advantage). Anyway, it was refreshing to read an economist of Stiglitz's stature acknowledge the history. The point he was making in his essay was how this recent crisis is teaching the rest of the world to really question the basic premise of our version of capitalism, the now quaint notion that unfettered markets, left to themselves (free of regulation and government "interference") will ensure economic growth and prosperity, the idea that markets are automatically "self-correcting" and that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly. The world now sees that "the emperor has no clothes" and that we've succeeded, like the Pied Piper, into leading the world over the cliff. I'm certainly no Marxist, but I'm not blind to history and I know human nature well enough to question the whole premise of market fundamentalism (Yeah, let's just let the Donald Trumps of the world order the universe, right? What could possibly go wrong?). I wish more Americans truly understood the history of our country (and the Western Industrial powers in general) over the last two centuries so they can understand why we (and our systems which we insist on foisting upon the world) are viewed as we are by the rest of the world, why countries don;t believe us when we claim we are invading them for their own good, to impose "democracy" and "freedom" upon them, why they don;t believe it is not all about the oil (hint: it's always about the oil). We'd be a lot more intellectually honest if we'd just be open and above-board about it, "Yes, we're doing this because it's in our economic and strategic self-interest, and because we are stronger than you are". It's the lies and hypocrisy, wrapping all the bullshit up in the American flag, that pisses me off (and does not fool anyone except our own deluded citizens who drink that Kool-Aid).

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent, or get my blood pressure up! Give the doggies a tummy rub for me (and some Milk-Bone biscuits if you've got some!)

Love, Bill

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 6, 2009 - 65th Anniversary of D-Day

Dear Sis~

Today is the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which always makes me reminisce about Dad and the years he spent fighting across North Africa, Italy and Europe. Whenever I see the fields of white marble crosses stretching across the neatly trimmed green fields of the military cemeteries of Europe I get choked up, thinking of the countless young men represented by each stone, struck down in the prime of life, many of them buddies of Dad who fell at his side. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The First Men In, by Ed Ruggero, which vividly portrays the role of the 82nd Airborne as they jumped into Normandy just before the actual seaborne invasion. In keeping with the role of the airborne troopers, they fought savage street-to-street and house-to-house battles, suffering terrific casualties, dying anonymously in unnamed fields, ditches and tangles of woods. The book tells the story matter-of-factly, without hubris or glorification of war, simply witnessing the great bravery of young men fighting, most of all, for the sake of their brothers in arms. I closed the book, as I do all military histories, mourning the loss of so many young men, and countless civilians - women, children and old men - caught and killed in the middle, and reaffirming how much I hate war...
On a gentler subject, I just saw the movie Moulin Rouge, a sort of campy musical starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Despite being an over the top production (as it was intended to be) the acting is terrific and the story timeless. I can't imagine the time and energy it took to put something like this together, not to mention the creative talent. I enjoyed it immensely, not least because it reinforced my admiration for true creative geniuses (if you see the movie, you'll understand that my reference is to not just those who made the movie but also to the theatre types who are the subject of the movie's plot).
That's it for now, Sis!
Love, Bill

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Dear Sis~

Today is Memorial Day and, as is traditional, the TV has been flush with war-related programs. Some of them are historically interesting and informative, while others veer off into glorifying war. As a child, like most kids (boys, anyway) I was all gung-ho about war, thinking it was romantic, cool, macho, whatever. As I grew older, I became immersed in military history and maintained that interest well into adulthood. Even now, I maintain an academic interest, but I long ago quit thinking that there was anything romantic about war. History and experience teaches us that war is ingrained in our makeup - we humans are, without a doubt, a war-loving race, even though we pay lip service to the general concept of peace. I say "we", meaning our governments; the general citizenry in most countries surely prefer peace, yet we elect governments which consistently lead us into war. I don't know how to reconcile that dichotomy. Sadly, America is the premier war-maker among nations...

I was very pleased to read in my USA Today that the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond surprisingly gave some relief to Justin Wolfe, a friend of mine on Virginia's Death Row. I say "surprisingly" because the Fourth Circuit is the most conservative Federal appellate court in the nation. Justin is one of a handful of guys I know on the Row who may be genuinely innocent, and his cries out for relief. The admitted trigger man (who was only sentenced to 30 or 40 years) has repeatedly recanted his self-serving trial testimony that Justin "told him" to kill the victim. There is additional evidence that the trigger man simply made up his story in order to cut a deal with the prosecution (which he succeeded in doing) but the lower Federal court rejected it all. Just as a basic, straight-forward proposition - putting aside whether the trigger man (Owen Barber) lied at trial - you'd think hat society would ques ton a system which allows the undisputed trigger man to receive a 30-year sentence, while the guy who didn't kill anyone (even under the state's theory) goes to death row. This is the result of an out-of-control prosecutor who wanted to make headlines above all else (which he did with this case). This particular prosecutor, who is well-known in Virginia, has put a lot of guys on Virginia's death row, several that are very questionable...

I don't know if you were able to catch a compelling PBS series on TV called Africa Trek ? It's a great series, about a married French couple, Sonia and Alexander, who walked the entire length of Africa from Cape Town, South Africa, northward up the east coast, all the way to Egypt, then across the Sinai to Jerusalem. they walked for over three years, covered about 7,000 miles, battling drought, floods, lions, malaria (which they both caught) suffering much deprivation, all without any support team, filming it all themselves with a little hand-held camcorder. Check it out if you can...

Alright, Sis, that's it for now. Keep your chin up and you heart light.

Love, Bill