Wednesday, December 15, 2004

After Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas lights are now up. . . . I just noticed? Rather--these holidays come like hurricanes in Florida, and it takes a while to clean up after. Mentally.

Again this year we were roasting dead animals in the house. If you do this all the time you don't notice (I know, because I never used to) but the smell is really, uh, striking. They came out fine, though, and went off to the local soup-kitchen where they were served out as part of the holiday meal. So that was all right.

Meanwhile, one of my friends did a little reading into the backstory of this holiday:

Thanksgiving was very hit-or-miss until it got official sanction and support as part of the New Deal. The idea was to strengthen the image of the Federal Government as an organizer of the co-operation among citizens who were no longer just independently pursuing their own scams, but living together as a nation, a sort of tribe or extended family concerned for each other's well-being.

The original Thanksgiving really did occur. A winter of starvation and near-failure of the colonists at Plymouth--who had landed in 1620 with the idea of founding a religious community--was followed by a successful summer in which the good advice of the native people helped to create a harvest that secured survival for the winter and boded well for the colony's eventual success. A harvest-home celebration was held some time toward the end of the summer after the crops were in. It might have been in September or as late as mid-October. It was certainly not held in November which in New England is already too cold. There was (wild) turkey, but almost certainly other meat as well. There was squash and corn (maize). There was no sugar and (hence) no cranberries. It was perhaps a bit individualistic--each house creating its own meal: There was no communal dinner in the way we somehow imagine, but seemingly some visiting house to house. Nor were the local people actually invited, but they did come by to see what was going on, and were welcomed well enough. There was discussion, and a treaty was made--a pact of cautious friendship and non-aggression.

Cautious, because on both sides there was doubt. For the colonists' part, opinion ranged from the view that they were dealing with intelligent animals, or perhaps worshippers of the Devil, to the the view that the locals were obviously people, who though conspicuously different, must be part of God's plan as their ways plainly worked and suited them. For the native people, the idea that the Law could come out of a Book could not have been more different from their experience of the Law as the actual workings of the world, but they did not make it their concern what others thought for themselves.

Both sides wanted peace: The natives were being pressed by an aggressive tribe from the interior, and the small amount of land the Pilgrims were using seemed neither a serious encroachment nor a threat, if their intentions remained friendly. The Pilgrims were still uncertain about their future, and wanted allies, not enemies. There was no shortage of land, nor reason to imagine fighting over it.

The pact lasted forty years. An entire generation kept faith: Their descendents broke it. The religious fervor and conviction that had brought the Pilgrims to the New World gave way to materialism and greed. But perhaps the greed should not be over-emphasized, for in forty years many things transpired which eroded the basis of the agreement.

One of those things was the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which within a few years was setting up the nearby city of Boston. From the first, Massachusetts Bay was concerned with expansion and genocide. Almost immediately they were fielding search-and-destroy missions: One ranged as far as New Haven harbor. (New Haven was yet to be founded. What today is a three-and-a-half hour drive on the freeway was then a major trek by foot and horseback). At the same time they were attacking the native people physically, they were attacking the rights and legal perogatives of their English neighbors, including Plymouth Colony. By the time the treaty was broken, Plymouth was already a backwater of small political import, and the lands of the native people had largely been over-run by others.

As a religious community, Plymouth suffered from a flaw, and that was that it was financed as a profit-making venture that had to produce a return for its shareholders. So almost immediately they turned to dealing drugs as a way of making a profit. Then as now tobacco was the most addictive substance known to man. Somehow, the native people understood its danger and reserved it for spiritual use (and to deter insect pests in their gardens) but Europeans--specifically the Dutch, the French, and the English--found it a greater source of profit than gold. From the first, the high profits of tobacco attracted the adventurous, the ruthless, and the unscrupulous--murder, theft, and slaving were routine aspects of the trade. The colonists at Plymouth were really not suited to this sort of work, and were soon outclassed by others in North America.

Perhaps worse, Plymouth was undercapitalized. Where this told was in the fight with Massachusetts Bay: As Massachusetts grew Plymouth found itself unable to defend its rights. Plymouth survived, but disappeared into insignificance. The Plymouth Congregation still exists, and today--in keeping with its original religious idealism ;)--is Unitarian-Universalist.

So that's what we just celebrated. Nor is it such a bad story: What a different people we would be, if we had followed the way of Plymouth rather than Massachusetts.

But of course, we did not.

(My thanks to Robert K. Stephens, who was my source for facts.)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Looking up (Moon occults Jupiter)

On Monday night/Tuesday morning 6-7 December the moon will occult Jupiter for eastern North America (US and Canada). Disappearance will be as early as 02:40 CST for Kansas, 03:50 EST for Eastern Time Zone states, and as late as 05:10 AST for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia: Time zones aside, the further east you are the later it happens. Reappearance will occur as little 20 minutes later for Florida or as much as 70 minutes later for the mid-Atlantic states. Reappearance will be visible as far west as the Rocky Mountain states and eastern Alberta shortly after moonrise. For most latitudes north of Florida--including southern Canada--the occultation will last 50 minutes to an hour. The Moon is waning so its reappearance will show dramaticly against the Moon's unlit limb.

Save the date! Good luck and clear skies!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A Game of Go


For me, his is the dead season of the year. From the end of October to the midst of January it feels like I can hardly think at all. The world seems dead and my heart dies with it. I don't think it's Seasonal Affective Disorder: It is the daylight that bothers me. Once the sun goes down I am (almost) fine. Such a good excuse! Do I need one?


My sluggish thoughts are possessed of an image--of a game of go. Like chess, go is a war-game--a game of strategy. Players of both chess and go tend to say that go has the deeper strategies.

I know why this image is in my head: Our last national election has revealed that the bonds of trust that made the US a nation are irretrievably broken. Those who want the destruction of democracy have seized power, and that seizure is no longer open to legal challenge. America is no longer a We, based on a respect for rights and a rule of law--or an intention of this. It is now a state of conflict without commonly respected rules. In a game of co-operation there may be sub-games of conflict, but now conflict dominates. Co-operation is not possible.

Go is deceptively simple: Players alternate placing black and white stones on the cross-points of a 19 x 19 board. The goal is to wall off territory, and the player who does this best wins. As in chess, it is possible to capture the opponent's pieces. But this happens only occasionally, although the potential for it shapes the game.

Sometimes one over-extends, and the opponent envelops a group of one's stones and threatens them with destruction. Each new stone that is put into such a group will be a liability if the group is captured, so it is necessary to assess correctly if the group can be saved. If it cannot, one must find a new position to build that will not be so vulnerable. Finding the new position is hard because the loss of the old group creates a large area of weakness that favors the opponent.

Of course, the campaign of our last national (s)election is the over-extended group. What is the position of re-grouping? I have been making no progress on this at all.


Melanie writes (and reads and posts) a lot. Yesterday is already in the archives. In "More Peaceful, More Free" she cites a number of articles about the run up to next January's Iraqi elections, and the deteriorating security situation.

She adds:"Declare victory and get out, George. You don't really have another choice." But of course, he wont.

Deep Dark replies:"These stories are not isolated events.

"The cost of trying to prop up a Potemkin Fallujah will draw US resources heavily, and trying to secure it will tie up even more. Meanwhile Baghdad continues to deteriorate and the airport road is a litmus strip.

"In the very heart of the occupation, the airport - Green zone axis, the US is losing control. Bombs on commercial jets, the key highway a no-go zone after 20 months of growing warfare. The Green zone itself is being mortared and rocketed regularly, the car bombs and suicide attacks are taking place inside the safe place where only months ago smart young Americans could walk and play in their new territory.

"All the signs are gathering, the Iraqis are winning this thing and the end is much closer now than the beginning. The centre cannot hold. It will be all over soon.

"Then the real war can begin."

Melanie: "Deep Dark, As near as I can tell, the real war started in July/August of 2003."

So I add: "Well, there are levels. Properly speaking, I suppose the war began in March 2003. But as you say, in July or August it reached a new level: The Walkover became the Occupation, and the Occupation did not go as well. First there was the stripping away of America's allies, which was effectively completed the following spring. By summer that had moved on to the occupation by the Helpless Puppet, and that is going less well still. Soon will come open defeat--which Deep Dark seems to be alluding to. Already US forces are being coaxed out along thin, unsustainable supply lines reaching from Kuwait in the south to Kirkuk in the north. The cutting and encirclement that some of us expected last August may be being saved for this winter. After that, the war does not end: It escalates in several directions hard to predict. In Iraq itself decisions will have be made about who controls what--this might expand into civil war. Meanwhile a US invasion of Iran is already being prepared, surely meant to occur after the Inauguration in January. On the other hand, the Crusade--the Clash of Civilizations--that Bush has openly proclaimed, has, by force of evidence, been accepted as a fact by much of the world. Yesterday there were anti-American riots in Morocco. Morocco! What does that have to do with Iraq? Precisely nothing, which is why, though a minor sign, it is a truly bad one. The war will spread through the Middle East, and the US attempt to secure oil supplies will accelerate the spread. This will cause the war to move into Africa--places like the Sudan, Nigeria, and Chad. More: Indonesia or Malasia. Then the really imponderables: How will China weigh in? Against the US surely, but by what means and when? They may have already guaranteed the Iranians a nuclear bomb--but nobody is sure, and they are too deft to admit it. Europe will try to remain aloof--and fail; They will try to keep their casualties down and will depend on non-military measures and a sort of double-dealing that will be hard to come to grips with. They will fare better than we will.

"We still have one window that I am aware of. The US dollar is already slipping against the world's other major currencies, for reasons that are structural and amount to trade and national policies that are destroying our nation's good faith and credit. This could lead to an economic crash within two years; the war will accelerate the timetable. The crash, with its resulting hardship, will open up the chance of changing policy and leadership: The war might end: That is the hope. If we blow off that window I do not believe the US survives at all."


Does this make any sense? Our infrastructure will be wrecked; People will be in bankruptcy; Young people will be unemployed and broke or overseas fighting in disastrous wars; Food will be a problem; Water may be a problem; One or more of the epidemics waiting to punch through the ever-widening holes in our public health system may be on the loose. Why is this an opportunity?

This will be our head-in-the-toilet moment, the moment when our drinking-binge, drug-binge, faith-based fantasy binge reveals itself as the direct road to death. Do we want to survive? That will be the time to decide. How do we prepare for a positive decision?

We need to imagine what will be, in the context of the general disaster.

Food: Currently food depends on oil, which means it is going to go. Plant a garden; Find local farmers and support them: This will make the difference between life and death.

Water: Most water supplies are local; This is fortunate. Keep control of your local government and make sure the water infrastructure is maintained. Don't privatize: If you privatize you have no water--it is as simple as that.

Energy: Get off the grid. Unrealistic? Maybe; But there has been a solar-powered 12-volt movement that has been quietly growing for years. Maybe it's time to become part of it. If you have any assets, put some toward this: Sometime after the crash dollars are going to hyperinflate and become worthless anyway.

Media: The media is our most direct enemy. Even if it did not willingly serve as a propaganda machine for the Bush regime, as an engine of addiction it is part of the fantasy-based world. New information channels are needed. Right now the internet is serving as part of the new information system--That is why we are here! With the crash, more people will be ready to give up the lies that have become too plain to ignore. They will be ready to seek real information--it needs to be available.

Economics: Capitalism, as practiced in the US, has failed us utterly. The New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt was a partly successful attempt to save capitalism by adding stabilizing goverment controls. With the oil crisis of 1978 government control was increasingly viewed as a failure, and was sold as such. A move to instability was begun. The crash will be the culmination. It is unlikely that Americans will be persuaded to socialism. What then? My one thought is that until people are valued inherently, and the economy reflects that, we will not start resolving our problems. My one reminder, that perhaps I will elaborate on later, is that corporate enterprise is inherently a form of government, but differs from public government by being private, secret, unnaccountable, and irresponsible. These flaws cannot be fixed--They are part of its nature. Corporations have succeeded because they facilitate aggression and theft, but of course these are reasons to suppress them rather than encourage them.

Share: Units of co-operation will need to be built up, and these must have identifiable insides and outsides. Larger groups will be formed by linking up smaller ones.


Hope will have arrived when we no longer believe we can buy our way out of our problems. Our history weighs against us on this. And right now everybody is playing the lotto, and everyone is hoping to escape. But our history also includes the taking of practical decisions. We need to be ready.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004 / News / Politics / Presidential candidates / A lesson for the liberal elite / News / Politics / Presidential candidates / A lesson for the liberal elite

Bernard Moon writing for the Boston Globe's Op-Ed page takes a stand for moderate American Christians.