This Year’s Super Bowl

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I’m a New England Patriots fan, which isn’t a very popular thing to be, but I think I’m justified. I became one about forty years ago, before they ever won anything. That’s because I liked the play of quarterback Steve Grogan and the rest of the team. I had moved from Ohio to New Hampshire before they ever made it to a Super Bowl, from New Hampshire to Vermont before they made a second one, and from Vermont to Virginia before they ever won one. I do like to root for underdogs, and the Patriots aren’t anymore, but they WERE, and for quite a long time. Now I enjoy rooting for a winner.

They went to the American Football League championship (before the AFL merged with the NFL), and lost badly to the Chargers. They barely ever even got into the playoffs between then and their first Super Bowl. It took almost ten years from the time I started to like them for them to go to the Super Bowl, and they had the misfortune of running into the Chicago Bears, who had one of the all-time great defenses. The result was a blowout.

About thirteen years later they went again, this time against the Green Bay Packers who had quarterback Brett Favre. The result was the same, except that they only lost by two touchdowns instead of 36 points. But things changed after that.

The first thing change was that Bill Belichick became head coach. He had previously been head coach in Cleveland, where he didn’t have very good players, but that too changed in New England. Not immediately, though. He lost eleven games in his first season. He hasn’t had a losing season since.

Then Drew Bledsoe, the starting quarterback got injured, and Tom Brady took over. Brady was an obscure figure, having been mostly a backup quarterback at the University of Michigan, and taken by only a sixth round draft pick, but Belichick must have seen something in him. In the 2001 season the Patriots won eleven games in the regular season, went to the Super Bowl and won it. They were only mediocre the next  year, but returned to the championship, and won, each of the following two seasons, the only time that has been done.

Then they entered a period of being competitive every season, but not quite good enough to win a title. In 2007 they won every game of the regular season, equaling the record of the Miami Dolphins about 45 years earlier, but couldn’t win the Super Bowl.

The following year Brady got hurt early and missed almost the entire season. His replacement won eleven games, but the Patriots finished out of the playoffs. In 2011 they went to the Super Bowl, but played the New York Giants (who had beaten them in 2007), and lost again. But in 2013 and 2017 they won, and are back in the game favored to win this year. They’re playing a good team, as usual, so nothing is guaranteed.

The Patriots have been a dominant team in the league for seventeen years now, almost always in the playoffs, usually in  the AFC title game, and eight times in the Super Bowl. The last team comparably dominant was the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, when they won five NFL championships and two Super Bowls. New England has now equaled the record of championships, and is pretty likely to exceed it on Sunday.

One of the main characteristics of the Patriots over the last seventeen years has been the ability to adjust. Brady has been arguably the greatest quarterback in history, and has done it often without either outstanding receivers or running backs. They did win one or two championships with Corey Dillon, who had had a distinguished career with the Cincinnati Bengals, an undistinguished team, but when they had a world class receiver in Randy Moss in 2007 they went undefeated in the regular season, went to the Super Bowl–and lost. When they lost a defensive back to injury Belichick  successfully replaced him with a wide receiver, something virtually unheard of since football players stopped playing both offense and defense. The team has the reputation of being able to play any style of game, and to adjust to anything an opponent tries. They have great players besides Brady, but have won with only average players in the past. Intelligence of approach and refusal to give up has characterized the team for 17 years.

Sports commentators speaking about the challenge of playing the Patriots say teams feel each other out as a game begins. Each has a potential game plan, but what they actually do on each side of the ball depends on what they see from each other. The Patriots have been masters of making adjustments to what they see, so the other team has to be able to adjust to their adjustments.

The archetypal example of this came a year ago when the Atlanta Falcons roared out to a 28-3 lead. No team, and especially not one as good a defense as Atlanta, should lose with that kind of lead.

But New England made adjustments. They began to prevent the Falcons from sacking or hurrying Brady, so he was able to complete passes, opening up the running game, and keeping the Atlanta defense on the field longer and giving their offense less time to operate. Slowly the Patriots caught up, tied at the end of the game, and won in overtime.

In their most recent game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, they fell behind (though not as far) and had to come back again. As one of the commentators noted, when a team (and especially a quarterback) is playing badly perhaps the most difficult thing is to still believe they can make the plays to come back. Brady always believes he can, and has the history to prove it.

But that’s not to disrespect the Philadelphia Eagles, whom they will play Sunday. They have a deep team on both sides of the ball. When their young quarterback, Carson Wentz got injured people discounted their ability to win. Nick Foles, who had had one very good season as starting quarterback with the Eagles, but who had struggled since, took over and initially looked unimpressive.

That was before the NFC championship, though. Apparently he had taken several games to get warmed up, and maybe they had given him different plays to use, but he was brilliant against Minnesota, who also had a very good defense. Will he be able to do the same against the Patriots? Will the Eagles defense be able to stop Brady? I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

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A Very Strange Dilemma

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Author James Baldwin asked, “Why does white America need niggers?”

The first obvious reason has always been cheap labor. Black labor played a large part in the development of America, especially in the South (for which they received few benefits). But it seems as if there’s always been more to it than that.

The slave trade in North America really took off in the 18th century, if not the 17th. Was it really necessary? Weren’t there enough white people to provide labor in the colonies? In retrospect it doesn’t seem to have been very efficient to go all the way to Africa to get slaves and have many of them die on the return voyage. But the slave trade continued right up to the beginning of the Civil War.

And that’s in spite of the fear and resentment whites felt towards blacks. Part of the fear was because slave owners used their slaves sexually (probably not all owners), as can readily be seen by the range of skin colors in the black community even today. Southern whites in particular were afraid of black men doing the same to white women, and lynched a number of those they even suspected of the desire.

Another part of the fear was because on large plantations especially whites were badly outnumbered by blacks. They used brutality to intimidate blacks, and consequently feared what blacks might do in return.

One result of slavery in the Unites States was identification of it with black skin and further resentment of blacks after the Civil War supposedly fought to free them. In the Old World slaves could be of any nationality or skin color, and could fairly readily become free, even powerful. Identification of slavery with black skin necessitated the rationalization that blacks were inferior, and that having been brought to this country was somehow in their interest. But how could it be beneficial to have their own cultures erased and to be made to feel inferior because of their skin color, the different texture of their hair, their culture, etc?

The oddity of the relationship between white and black is underscored by the fashion for minstrels in about the 1850s, in which white musicians used makeup to look black when performing. What was THAT about? Was it done just to make fun of blacks, or was there something about the culture whites wanted to emulate? If so, what might it have been?

Could it have been an emotional and/or sexual freedom blacks possessed and whites usually didn’t? Knowing little about the era, I can only guess, and not with much confidence. Whites were later more willing to make use of black influence, if not to credit them or reward them financially. Jazz became the first purely American musical art form, but it was white musicians who more readily profited from it.

Whites came to resent blacks for their presence in the country they never should have been brought to. Perhaps the rational thing would have been to apologize and start over again, but whites were generally unwilling to admit their mistake, didn’t want integration, and sending blacks back to Africa, however desirable, wasn’t practical. Nor did all blacks want to go.

But a look at history reveals that blacks in general are perfectly capable of succeeding in America–when they’re allowed to. In each generation there were a few who became doctors, lawyers, or teachers in spite of the odds against them. In the 20th century particularly blacks were successful in music (though often taken advantage of by record companies and having their music copied by whites) and athletics. In the second half of the century they became successful in politics too. If not for segregation in most parts of the country, a form of white affirmative action which prevented competition no matter the rationalized reason, they would most likely have been successful in a wide variety of other fields too.

As it is, the resentment continues. James Baldwin’s question could be extended: why did Europeans need Jews? A recent article in The Atlantic focuses on the late 1930s when Nazi persecution of the Jews reached a higher gear, but before the Holocaust began, when Jewish professionals were forced to clean streets with toothbrushes. The article points out that they were treated this way not because they were subhuman, but because they were obviously human, to humiliate them. But for most of 2,000 years they had been Europe’s favorite group to persecute. Why was that? And why did blacks get awarded that position in the New World?

It seems to me the institution of slavery need not have taken the direction it did in the Americas. It would probably have been a corrupt institution anyway as power imbalances usually are, but it didn’t have to become identified with dark skin, nor did it have to be so cruel.

Why DID we need niggers? What does that say about us?

Martin and Malcolm and America

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That’s the title of a book I picked up the other day. It’s not that recent, but Is a useful comparison of the two men, their background, beliefs, and the way they responded to the challenges of the Civil Rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were about the same age (Malcolm X four years older), but came from very different backgrounds. King was from the black middle class, which influenced his point of view and strategy. He saw nonviolence as the best way for black citizens to get the same rights as anyone else, believing that appealing to the consciences of white people would persuade them to treat black people just as they treated whites.

Malcolm X came from the lower class. His father had been a minister working for civil rights along the line of Marcus Garvey, who had advocated a return to Africa for black people. Malcolm’s father died (it’s uncertain if it was accidental, or murder), his mother was left with eight children she had trouble supporting. They all got very hungry, she became demoralized because she had to accept help, and eventually had a mental breakdown. The children were put in foster homes and survived, but were deeply traumatized.

At least Malcolm was, and spoke bitterly about it in later life. He became angry and rebellious partly because of that, and partly because of the behavior of his white foster family. Not because they were overtly abusive, but because they frequently used the word “nigger”, completely unaware of how Malcolm felt about that. He lived an “integrated” life in that he lived with white people and felt controlled by them. By contrast, King had attended segregated schools and developed a sense of himself independent of immediate white control. Malcolm X also mentioned having wanted to become a lawyer, and being told by his high school guidance counselor that becoming a carpenter would be more realistic. He didn’t finish high school and became a hustler on the streets first of Roxbury, Massachusetts, then in New York City. He went to prison at about age twenty, where he was inspired to change his life.

Though King came from the black middle class, he wasn’t immune to racism, and experienced it fairly often in the form of rudeness that reminded southern blacks that they could be seriously mistreated without being protected by law or anything else. He later said he decided to hate all white people, but that his parents reminded him they were Christians and weren’t supposed to hate.

Malcolm X’s experience was in the north, and he remarked that he thought he’d have preferred living in the south where whites were very clear how they felt about blacks. Northern liberals, he said, would pretend to be friends with black people, then desert them. He pointed to his white foster family as people who meant well, but had no idea how he felt about anything.

King’s family believed in the value of education, Martin became very well educated. He said that he felt eternally in debt to white figures like Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich and blacks like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. He was also indebted to his parents who sacrificed so he could meet the residence requirements to get his PhD. Once he became ordained he decided to return to the south, feeling that he could best serve the civil rights cause there. Not long after he had taken his first post as minister came the Rosa Parks incident, in which she refused to give up her seat in  a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white person, and was jailed. He was practically drafted into being a leader of the movement in Alabama and Georgia.

Before this he had joined the NAACP and made speeches about social justice. And after the Parks incident author James H. Cone makes clear that he wasn’t telling blacks to love whites. He assumed that blacks already did because they were predominantly Christian, and didn’t behave violently towards them. Instead, he was telling blacks they it was appropriate for them to stand up for their rights, that segregation was an evil system, and their courage could change it.

Which it did. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted most of a year, and the bus company eventually capitulated. That’s what made Martin Luther King Jr. a national figure.

Malcolm Little, as he was known then, went to prison in 1945 at the age of about twenty. He was still angry, to the point of being nicknamed “Satan” because he swore so much. But that changed when he was told to cool down, and his brother would show him how to get out of prison. At about the same time another convict told him to start using his brains and got him to start learning to read and write.

This prepared him for the message of Elijah Muhammed, who claimed to be a messenger from Allah, and that the white man was the devil. Because of his experiences, this was a message Malcolm was prepared to receive, and he put all his energy into self-improvement, now feeling like a valuable human being, which he had never felt before. He began writing to Elijah Muhammed, as well as his siblings and some hustler friends. When he was paroled in 1952 he went to Detroit to live with his brother, got a job, and began attending the Nation of Islam (Black Muslim) temple in the city, and converting to Islam. Not long after, he met Elijah Muhammed in Chicago, and received his “X” from him. The X was because the name Little was a white man’s name, and his African name was unknown. It wasn’t long before he became a minister, and did so well organizing the Detroit temple that he was sent to organize the temple in New York City, and then became a sort of trouble-shooter for Elijah Muhammed, traveling all over to speak and organize.

Malcolm X’s view of the civil rights issue was much different from Martin King’s. King had developed intellectually and culturally, and he believed most other blacks could do the same if given the chance. Malcolm X’s experience on the streets convinced him otherwise. Poor blacks couldn’t believe white society had any interest in treating them with respect because they’d never experienced it. King had experienced racism, but not as often or in as severe a form as Malcolm X and the poor people he spoke for. In his autobiography, which I read shortly after it was published, he tells of a conversation he had with a street person in New York City which other black leaders he was with didn’t understand at all, since the person was talking slang they’d never encountered. This separation was the basis of much disagreement between him and King. Malcolm X disliked the idea of integration because it seemed something that whites could give to or withhold from blacks. He came from the Black Nationalist tradition which insisted that black and white needed to be separated so whites couldn’t interfere with black lives.

In the late 1950s my siblings and I had a comic book about King, Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery bus boycott. So I knew at least a little about him and his activities, though I didn’t follow him or them closely. I did happen to be watching with my grandmother TV coverage of the March on Washington in 1963, and heard his most famous speech, I Have a Dream. It made my hair stand up.

I encountered Malcolm X’s autobiography not more than two or three years later, and was greatly impressed by it. I have never had to change my opinion that both were great men and incorruptible in a way that few figures since have seemed to be.

King felt that justice transcended black and white, that all were simply human, and that integration was therefore his goal. He said that black and white had been put together in America at this time, and needed to work things out together. Malcolm X saw white people as evil, with few exceptions, though he began changing his mind in the last year or so of his life. King also saw beyond racism within the USA, and toward the end of his life began looking at injustice on the international stage, impelled partly by his view of the Vietnam war.

Malcolm X’s change of heart came partly because he was cast out of the Nation of Islam, partly because of jealousy of other less successful ministers, partly because he discovered Elijah Muhammed was corrupt and not interested in changing (Muhammed had been sleeping with his young “secretaries” and had produced several children out of wedlock). This was another trauma for Malcolm X, who had felt Elijah Muhammed to be his father, teaching him the right way to do things, including being very morally strict. Discovering his “father” was imperfect and didn’t wish to change was disheartening.

But it opened the door for changes for Malcolm X. He went on the Hajj to Mecca, and felt completely accepted there by white as well as black. He also visited African heads of state and got a more international perspective. On returning to the United States, he began his own organization to more fully take part in the civil rights struggle. He also went along with the view the national media liked, that he and King were opponents. Actually, at this time they had started to see each other as complementary, working towards the same goal from different perspectives and correcting each other’s mistakes. Malcolm X made a speech in Georgia, where most of King’s organization was, attacking King on several points, but afterward visited King’s wife to tell her he was attacking King because he thought that was how he could best help him. Malcolm’s being more extreme than King made King more acceptable to the powerful even as he became more radical.

1963 to 1965 was the time of King’s greatest popularity, the time of the March on Washington, his I Have a Dream speech, his reception of the Nobel Peace Prize, the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills. After this he became increasingly disillusioned. He had believed that most whites recognized that racism was unjust, and that it was only a few violent bigots that blocked equal rights for blacks. When he began campaigning for civil rights in Chicago he began seeing that the whole structure of society was stacked against blacks, and very few whites wanted that to change. He remarked that he had been working so blacks could buy hamburgers in the same places as whites. Now he began to feel that his work needed to help blacks be able to AFFORD hamburgers.

Northern blacks were stuck in ghettos, and couldn’t get out. Few if any whites wanted blacks in their neighborhoods, and few wanted more than a token few blacks to get good jobs. Powerlessness encouraged blacks to indulge in alcohol and illegal drugs. The Nation of Islam encouraged them not to use the substances, but their program stopped there. Malcolm X remarked that if, after you stop drinking and drugging you’re still poor, not much has changed, unless you have a reasonable chance at good employment. Hardly anyone wanted black employees, no matter how qualified, for anything but menial work.

Where Malcolm X and Martin King most differed was over method of protest. King believed in nonviolence, rousing the consciences of one’s enemies with love. Kenneth Clark noted that this approach was difficult for many poor blacks, who naturally resented being mistreated. It was a good strategy in the South, though, especially in the age of mass media in which everyone could see on TV the brutality of the Southern response to the demand for rights. Malcolm X saw this method as encouraging blacks to be passive in spite of terrible mistreatment, though King was giving blacks the same message as Malcolm, essentially: stand up for yourself. You have the right to decent treatment and equal protection under the law.

But Malcolm X also had a point: that blacks had the right to defend themselves when whites brutalized them. Whites had never been reluctant to use violence against blacks and others. Cone points out that in American history there have always been “bad niggers” whom whites were reluctant to mistreat. Famous basketball player Bill Russell’s grandfather was such a person, driving the Ku Klux Klan away from his house after being threatened by them. The problem is, that’s not a good strategy for the whole country, in which blacks are no more than 13% of the population. Ronald Reagan, at the time Republican governor of California, made clear where he stood after the Black Panther Party asserted their right to bear arms in self defense by instituting gun control laws in the state.

Both leaders emphasized the need for education. King hired well-educated people to advise him, and took retreats during which problems could be studied and workable solutions proposed. Malcolm X said he wished he could go back to school at the level where he quit and cover everything he missed, eventually getting a degree. Whenever he had time he rapidly absorbed books he thought he could learn from.

It was tragic that Malcolm X was assassinated just after he had left the Nation of Islam and his point of view was still evolving. It’s impossible to know what he could have been and done had he lived.

This was also the time of King’s disillusionment. He felt the loss of Malcolm X as terrible, but he had himself begun changing his view. He began to see the civil rights problem as being economic as much as anything else, and that racism was destroying the promise of America internationally, as well as at home. He abhorred  the war against the North Vietnamese, who had cited the American Declaration of Independence in their constitution, as a war against dark skinned people controlling their own country. Many urged him not to criticize the war, but he felt that God had commanded it of him, and refused to back down. That, along with his work against the Northern white power structure most probably led to his own assassination. It’s also impossible to know what he could have been had he survived.

In the last years of his life he joined Malcolm X in condemning white America and telling us that if we don’t eradicate racism and other forms of brutality, we’ll destroy our nation. The destruction may not be obvious yet, but it’s clear that we haven’t (at least in sufficient numbers) changed out ways. Some will dispute that,  but it seems pretty clear that African-Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of the largest prison population on earth. That the country supposed to be the greatest democracy in the world has more prisoners than China or Russia ought to be alarming. China makes no pretence of being a democracy, Russia makes no more than a pretence.

Racism and class warfare are strikingly similar. Class isn’t always based on skin color, but the categories often overlap: dark skinned people are often in the lower class, which privileged classes have historically felt free to use violence against. Class prejudices have incited violence against striking factory workers or miners, regardless of color. That’s why Martin Luther King was organizing a Poor People’s march at the time of his death. He saw that race and class were closely connected, and more broadly, that injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.

Both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were totally committed to the struggle for civil rights. King said it was a privilege to suffer for a good cause, and trusted in God when he began denouncing the Vietnam war. He knew he was likely to die of violence, as did Malcolm X. The latter said, “If you don’t have a cause you’re willing to die for, erase the word ‘freedom’ from your vocabulary.”

While both were imperfect, they were also incorruptible: nothing could stop them from speaking their minds and organizing, except death. I think we yearn for people like that, and make heroes of people we HOPE are incorruptible. As far as I can see, no one in this country has adequately replaced them. We’re poorer because we lost them.

Reducing Overpopulation

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There are too many people in the world, and they’re ruining it. This planet can comfortably support about two billion people. We have about 7 1/2 billion, and that makes a heavy contribution to environmental degradation. But there are historical solutions to this problem.

The Black Plague started in the Far East in the 14th century, and devastated both Asia and Europe. One estimate is 75 to 200 million died in Europe and Asia. In Europe, the estimates vary from 45-60% of the population. If the pre-plague population was about 80 million, about 50 million must have died. The plague continued to affect Europe and at least the Middle East for a long while, into the 19th century.

The time during which the plague was at its worst in Europe, 1347-1351, was terrifying; people felt it was the end of the world. But that turned out not to be true. In fact, it turned out that so much death created a financial bonanza for the survivors. There was much work to be done, and fewer people to do it.  Workers who might never have found good careers now did, and were paid better too. Something similar to the plague might be economically beneficial to the world. Fortunately, we have people who seem to be aware of the problem, and are working on a variety of solutions.

One strategy is to threaten North Korea. The government is certainly brutal and undemocratic, a good reason to dislike it, but it also has nuclear weapons (possibly with missiles capable of delivering them to our own country, and certainly to South Korea and Japan), chemical and biological weapons, and plenty of conventional weapons too. A war with them would ensure plenty of casualties, possibly enough to reduce population enough to save the world, more or less. But there are other such strategies in place.

One is to antagonize Middle Eastern countries. Progress has already been made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, but the real coup would be to start a war with Iran (possibly involving Saudi Arabia too). This would also have the advantage of being profitable for American suppliers of arms and military equipment. Propaganda against Muslims helps advance this strategy.

At home, initiatives to reduce funding for Social Security, Medicare (and healthcare in general), education, police, and firefighters will certainly cause more deaths and cripple the economy too, by not providing the workers for the kinds of jobs needing extensive training. Refusing to regulate guns, or at least to enforce the laws already existing may be only a minor contribution, are possibly a step in the right direction.

More effective measures are a new tax plan which reportedly benefits the wealthy disproportionately, as well as pollution. Pollution causes illness, especially among the lower classes, who can’t afford to live where they won’t be affected, and lack of health care can prevent them from making effective complaints about their situation. Recent legislation has made pollution more legal, a quieter way of reducing population than military action. The same applies to efforts to prevent their amassing enough wealth to challenge the status quo. Voter suppression and gerrymandering are part of this strategy.

Another strategy with increasing effectiveness is use of dangerous drugs. The pharmaceutical company that formulated OxyContin and aggressively sold it, advertising it as effective in pain control and not dangerously addictive, has resulted in an opioid epidemic. When addicts ran short of OxyContin, they discovered that heroin was cheaper. The result was an annual death toll comparable to that from auto accidents. We may not have seen peak efficiency of this method yet.

And that’s not counting alcohol or tobacco, which have been with us much longer, of course. Given enough time, deaths from illegal drugs may catch up with those.

Another strategy is to weaken central government, an area in which considerable progress has already been made. A private army (or secret police force) independent of the government has been suggested for the president. If that is established, can private armies for corporations and wealthy individuals be far behind? We may yet see organized fighting in the streets. Whether this would lead to a civil war (a particularly effective way to reduce population) is uncertain, but it would be gratifying to some. Private corporate armies could also suppress laborers’ demands for wages and working conditions. The Civil War of the 19th century also led to strong economic growth once it was over. Another might be similarly advantageous.

We can thank our current administration for legislation that will encourage population reduction, and for repealing over-protective regulations. Those actions, plus the strategies outlined above, may be the best way to make America great again.

Reducing Overpopulation

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There are too many people in this world, and they’re ruining it. A population of more than 7 billion when 2 billion would be a much better balance. If you had the power, wouldn’t you want to reduce the numbers to make it more pleasant for the rest of us? Fortunately, there are people working on the problem.

One strategy is to threaten North Korea. That government is certainly brutal and undemocratic, but it also has nuclear weapons and missiles that could possibly deliver them to our own shores. Even if they didn’t manage that, their resistance to a military attack would destroy South Korea, and probably Japan. This strategy might be enough in itself to significantly lower population, but there are others in place too, providing insurance.

Another strategy is too antagonize Middle Eastern countries. Progress has already been made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The real coup would be to begin a war with Iran which would also have the advantage of being profitable for American weapons companies and others supplying the military. Propaganda against Muslims helps advance this strategy.

At home, initiatives to reduce funding to Social Security and Medicare, police and fire fighters, as well as to education, will result in plenty of deaths, and cripple the economy too, providing fewer well-trained workers to take jobs requiring extensive training. Refusal to regulate guns, or at least to enforce already existing regulations is a relatively minor contribution, but may be considered a worthwhile example.

More effective contributions are made by tax schedules that one-sidedly benefit wealthy people and corporations, and by pollution. Pollution undermines the health of the lower classes before anyone else, and lack of health care prevents them from effectively complaining about their situation. Recent legislation makes polluting more legal A much quieter way of reducing population than employing military action. The same applies to preventing them from amassing enough wealth to challenge the status quo. Part of this strategy is to discourage them from voting through suppression and gerrymandering.

Another strategy, in which great progress has been made, is the use of drugs. We’ve recently seen a pharmaceutical company formulate a pain medication called OxyContin, which it aggressively advertised as being highly effective without being addictive. When patients with chronic pain discovered this was not the case, they also discovered that heroin was cheaper than the prescription drug. Overdoses have risen to nearly equal deaths in auto accidents yearly. That’s not counting deaths from overuse of tobacco and alcohol. These have been with us much longer, of course, but given enough time deaths from illegal drugs may catch up. As long as there’s demand, there will be suppliers, a basic axiom of capitalism.

Another strategy is to weaken the central government. Considerable progress has been made here too, to the point that a private army for the president is being suggested. Can private corporate armies be far behind? That could lead to a civil war, which would probably be the most effective way to reduce population in this country, at least, and would be gratifying to some, just as it was in our previous Civil War, and in World War I. War encourages inventiveness, and we now have many ways of killing large numbers of people at once. We only need  appropriate excuses, and propagandists are quite adept at manufacturing those.

We can thank our current government for encouraging legislation that in turn will encourage population reduction, and also for repealing regulations that reduce the efficiency of population reduction. Perhaps the answer is to repeal ALL regulations. Anything to enhance efficiency in this area.

Lenin

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A biography of Vladimir Lenin shows his face on the cover looking very intense, even satanic. Conservatively inclined people will tell you he WAS satanic, maybe even literally. People more likely to sympathize with Communism (especially Soviet biographers) have often thought of him as a sort of Communist saint who would never have condoned the monstrous behavior of Joseph Stalin. Dmitri Volkonogov, the author who was granted access to archives in the former Soviet Union unavailable to most previous biographers, sees Lenin as more satanic than not.

Volkonogov says he himself was originally a Stalinist, and gradually became disenchanted and rejected Bolshevik totalitarianism, and confesses that giving up his view of Lenin was the last step in that process.

How did Lenin reach the position from which he could influence so many and inspire such different interpretations? It began with his older brother, Alexander, whose complicity in a plot to assassinate the Tsar, for which he was executed That must have made Lenin think about why Alexander had done it. Could his motivation have been as simple as revenge? To begin with, probably so.

Shaping his path was the times. Radicalism had become popular in Russia as many began to feel that the government was unjust and inefficient. Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s novel, What is to be Done turned him away from liberalism (which he condemned for compromising) and towards fanaticism, probably fitting comfortably with his anger over his brother. This seems to have been the first book he read which influenced his politics, well before he read Marx. Anger predisposed him to favor coercion and violence well before he could inflict those things on anyone. He could condemn the violence and coercion of the Tsarist government, but applied more extreme coercion himself when he came to power. Unwillingness to compromise hindered his ability to eventually run a government that could be supported by many different groups. He could control the Bolshevik faction, but no more than that until 1917.

Another influence was Sergei Nechaev, who had advocated terrorism as a revolutionary tactic (and been condemned for it by Marx and Engels), and who had served as model for for the main character of Dostoievsky’s The Possessed. The novel was based on a murder of a student by Nechaev, who was a conspiratorial revolutionary who favored overthrowing and exterminating authorities. Lenin condemned him too, says Volkonogov, but willingly used his methods whenever convenient.

Why did revolutionaries have such extreme ideas in Russia? Tsarism was an authoritarian form of government without the sort of checks and balances a democracy has. In addition, 19th century capitalism didn’t have a good record in its treatment of employees. Factory workers crowded into big cities, living in slums where they were subject to deprivation and disease. Dostoievsky’s novel Crime and Punishment gives a picture of the hard lives of the period.

But Lenin never experienced the plight of the urban poor. Though his great-grandfather had been a serf, his mother’s family were nobility, and his father (who died relatively young) was in charge of education in the city where Lenin grew up. After he died, Lenin’s mother received a fairly generous pension. Lenin practiced as a lawyer for less than two years, got bored with it (and didn’t make much money), and never worked for wages again. His mother supported him for much of his life, and so did the Russian Socialist Party, which he joined in his twenties, sometimes through legal contributions made to the party, sometimes by illegal ones. He was always, says Volkonogov, concerned with money, but always had enough to travel at will through Europe (where he spent most of his life after a term of imprisonment in Siberia) and living comfortably. Never having been poor himself, he lacked sympathy for anyone except professional revolutionaries like himself.

It’s interesting that, as Volkonogov observes, he aged rapidly after attaining power through the Bolshevik coup. That’s because he’d never had political power before, and relatively little responsibility. He loved traveling and taking vacations, which makes his behavior similar to (though not exactly parallel) Adolph Hitler, who notoriously had a hard time concentrating on work for long.

He also, according to Viktor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionary party, “…did not value the creative search for truth, he had no respect for the convictions of others, no feeling for the freedom that is integral to any individual spiritual creativity. On the contrary, he was open to the purely Asiatic idea of making the press, speech, the rostrum, even thought itself, the monopoly of a single party which he raised to the rank of a ruling caste.”

Lenin’s innovation to Marxist theory was to organize a revolutionary elite to start revolution in the name of the laboring class (proletariat). As it turned out, it was this revolutionary elite that became Lenin’s constituency. While his Bolshevik party was most popular after the spontaneous revolution in February 1917, which caused the Tsar to abdicate, that popularity didn’t endure through the Bolshevik seizure of power and the civil war. Another of Lenin’s innovations was to organize a state with only one legal political party. That party survived because it violently repressed anyone who disagreed with it.

In the 1930s Nikolai Bukharin, who had been one of the powers in the party, married a much younger wife. After he was purged (tortured into confessing being a spy and other unlikely things) his wife was sent to the gulag. One of the other prisoners hated her because she was a Communist. This was strange for her because Bukharin’s wife had never met anyone who WASN’T a Communist. After only about twenty years the Communist elite had become totally isolated from ordinary Russian life.

So why did Lenin even begin a revolution if he wasn’t going to listen to the workers he claimed to represent? Volkonogov’s answer is hunger for power.

When I began reading about the revolution in Russia the narrative would say a little about the time between the spontaneous uprising that led to the Tsar’s abdication in early 1917 and the coup the Bolsheviks pulled off that October. It was mentioned that Lenin and his associates had ridden in a sealed train through World War I Germany, but it didn’t occur to me to ask how that came about.

The answer is the First World War. The war was too much for the Tsarist system, which began coming apart. Casualties were unprecedented and workers weren’t getting enough to eat, which prompted them to strike, as the only way they might gain any power to change things and survive. That’s why people rebelled and the Tsar abdicated. But the war continued, and Germany wanted Russia out of the war. They sent Lenin to Russia to get Russia to sign a separate peace, and supplied him immense amounts of money for propaganda. The plan worked better than the Germans probably had ever envisioned.

The Germans picked Lenin because he was totally against the First World War, and wanted it to be a Russian civil war instead, which would give him the chance of taking power. Not exactly a common sort of patriotism.He hadn’t foreseen the February revolution; he wanted to get to Russia to take the revolution over, and the Germans wanted him to do exactly that, to take Russia out of the war.  He wanted to start a revolution which he thought would rapidly spread over the whole world and create a utopia. The Germans wanted him to do exactly that (surmising that any government he set up couldn’t possibly last). A fortunate confluence of interests, which the Communists covered up. I never heard of German complicity in the Russian revolution until the last decade or so.

What Lenin was doing was against Marxist theory, which said that Russian society was too primitive to transition into socialism. So he can only have instigated the October coup to obtain power. That would explain the direction Communist Russia took. It would explain the Communist refusal to share power with any other political party (other than with one faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, for a short time), to create a totalitarian tyranny even worse than Czarist Russia had been, and to imprison and/or kill anyone they considered an enemy.

They didn’t treat industrial workers, their supposed constituency, particularly well, but it was peasants especially they treated as enemies, requisitioning so much of the grain they produced that they created an artificial famine that killed millions. That was during the civil war. Even worse was collectivization, when peasants were forced to live and work together en masse, and forced to give up their property. Even before this the Communists had been punishing, if not killing, the kulaks, or rich peasants who were supposedly taking advantage of the others. Another way of looking at it was that the rich peasants were the ones who worked most efficiently and productively–and were punished for it. Before World War I Russia had been a net exporter of grain. They continued to export it after the Communist takeover, but at the expense of the peasants.

The Communist regime was extreme, but the things they did weren’t totally unprecedented. Catholics and Protestants had fought the bitterly destructive Thirty Years War in the 17th century over their respective beliefs. European settlers in America tried to enslave the inhabitants when they weren’t trying to exterminate them. They did similar things in Africa, Asia, and Australia as well, killing millions to exploit the natural resources of those colonies. And Europe enthusiastically persecuted the Jews, culminating in the Holocaust. As bad as Soviet Russia was from the beginning, others had done similar things, often in the name of high ideals.

Volkogonov asks how revolutionaries like Lenin justified the gigantic social experiment Soviet Russia became. He might also ask about the abrupt introduction of technology with the Industrial Revolution, which created a higher standard of living than almost anyone had ever known (for those who could afford it), while also destroying the livelihoods of people in traditional industries. Some people used to throw their wooden shoes (sabots) into factory machinery, from which we get the word sabotage. Until the 19th century most people farmed, and were self-supporting. By the end of the century, and well into the 20th century, many farmers were forced out of their farms and into factories to support themselves and their families. For some (perhaps immigrants especially), factories were an appreciated opportunity. Others disliked the way they were treated there (long work hours and poor pay in dangerous working conditions), and began to organize strikes and unions. The way industries reacted to strikes may not have been as extreme as the behavior of the Soviets, but one wonders how they justified maiming and killing their employees.

The Communists had no patent on violence, but theirs was highlighted more than American and western European violence. John Wayne’s comment that our ancestors were perfectly justified in taking the land of Native Americans because they weren’t doing anything with it is a good example of the attitude of our ancestors towards violence against anyone they didn’t happen to like. So are American interventions into the affairs of other countries, which we would never allow to happen to us.

On the whole, it’s amazing the USSR was able to last as long as it did. Many people, including the Socialist parties in other countries, condemned their violence and intolerance of other points of view. I think they must have managed to inspire a lot of people with their vision, though by the end of World War II that faith must have been wearing thin for many.

Joseph Stalin surpassed Lenin in monstrous deeds, partly because he stayed in power considerably longer. But Lenin had set the pattern, and Lenin seems to have had charisma that attracted many to him.

After Lenin had a series of strokes he could no longer function as a politician, and died about two years later unable to care for himself or talk. The Party elite decided to mummify his body as a sort of holy relic to inspire Communist believers. They also mummified his ideas, which were fanatically narrow to begin with.

Russia managed to survive World War II in spite of having to do most of the fighting. When Stalin died millions of people must have been relieved. But, having made Lenin an icon, the government couldn’t question anything he had done,  nor right the wrongs he had commited. Khrushchev denounced the actions of Stalin (many of which he’d been complicit in), but didn’t dare touch the Lenin idol. That’s why the USSR collapsed about 25 years ago. Hardly anyone could believe in it anymore. When Mikhail Gorbachev instigated Russia looking at its past too many crimes were uncovered. ` The Communist form of government could no longer be justified, and the government fell with almost no violence, surprisingly. Those in power couldn’t justify violent repression. Lenin and Stalin must have turned over in their graves.

But Communism isn’t the only form of government that has justified use of violence to repress anyone opposing it. It’s been more extremely brutal (or obviously brutal) than many others, but force is the basis for any government. Future governments may or may not follow the Communist ideology, or be as openly brutal. A case can be made that tyrannies will (or maybe already are) following the pattern of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which citizens didn’t even notice their degradation. That kind of tyranny is even more difficult to resist.

How many people would be willing to give up a high standard of living for the good of their country, or the rest of the world? In this country, at least, we’re very attached to our comforts, even with evidence that our comfortable lives are destroying the ecology that keeps us all alive.

Even the obvious wrong-doing of Communism was hard for some to admit. Much more subtle wrong-doing will continue to be defended by many only willing to see one side of the question. People who benefit from wrong-doing rarely condemn it. If revenge was what Vladimir Lenin desired, he got it. Too bad his revenge victimized so many people, as did the vengeance of many others. Much of the history of the world is the history of ideologues persecuting anyone disagreeing with them. I don’t think the ideologues are going away.

 

 

The Vietnam Documentary

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Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary about Vietnam is impressive, but various people have criticized it. A number of criticisms seem valid.

One is that, with all the many interviews in the film, only a very few explored the experience of the peasants, particularly of South Vietnam, whose experience of the war was long and arduous. The film concentrated mostly on the view of soldiers–American, North Vietnamese, and South Vietnamese. One article noted that most soldiers served only for short periods, and didn’t stay in one place. Peasants, who didn’t have the luxury of moving (unless they left for a city to eke out a living in that environment), had to stay in one place and deal with soldiers of different allegiances, not to mention artillery, Agent Orange, etc. That gave a much different perspective, which arguably wasn’t represented in the movie.

Another criticism is that the broader perspective of Southeast Asia was hardly mentioned. The fall of the Cambodian government, due largely to bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in eastern Cambodia and Laos, prompted the ascendancy of the Khmer Rouge and their genocidal behavior. And while the presence of drugs in Vietnam, and the habits many soldiers brought back to the USA was mentioned, what wasn’t was that the CIA was largely controlling the trade in heroin, the opium being grown in the Golden Triangle, where, according to a NY Times article, some Chinese warlords settled after the Communists took over mainland China. The CIA, according to this article, has been involved in the drug trade since the Korean War.

The documentary hinted that the US had financial interests in Vietnam when it showed a clip of Richard Nixon explaining the Domino Theory and mentioning Vietnam’s nearness to Malaysia, from which we obtain rubber and tin, but never really talked about any financial motives for the American side of the war. Of course those who built military bases, military equipment and armaments must have made plenty of money, but there’s the question of whether there were natural resources we wanted from the country. I don’t know what they might have been, but won’t exclude the possibility.

Most of the reason for the war seems to have been ideological: The United States didn’t want any more successful Communist countries. There’s some debate about the situation, but briefly, the Communists under Ho Chi Minh had largely taken the country over by the end of World War II and wanted to remain independent. They had been a French colony, and the French returned after the war, trying to take the country back. The United States supported them in this, even though (most notably) President Eisenhower didn’t think the war winnable, and neither did Senator John F. Kennedy, an obscure figure at that time who later became president and committed the country to a larger military presence.

A friend, critiquing my previous post, defined the dynamic of our involvement as showing small left-wing countries who weren’t doing what we wanted that we could ruin them without suffering any great damage ourselves. Of course we DID suffer damage because of the war, but nothing like what the Vietnamese (both North and South) suffered. They lost 1-3 million people, many of them civilians, suffered ecological damage from substances like Agent Orange, and continuing problems from unexploded mines and artillery shells. The war also suddenly changed traditional patterns of life, often not for the better, as peasants who were displaced to cities often had to turn to prostitution and other corrupting practices to survive. A good many children of American soldiers were born to Vietnamese women, and probably weren’t well accepted. The USA lost 58,000 soldiers compared to millions of soldiers and civilians, and no damage to our land. Our damage was moral and psychological, primarily.

That’s not to minimize the suffering of our veterans, many of whom were physically and psychologically wounded. It’s only that far fewer of them were so badly damaged than the Vietnamese. That being so, US officials could see the costs of the war as acceptable, a “win” compared to Vietnam’s situation. That may have made us more willing to invade other small countries. The most notorious of these have been Iraq and Afghanistan, but there have been many others that we ordinary citizens have heard little about.

Much of the damage suffered by the USA has been division between people who found the war horrible and immoral, and other people who thought it justified and supported it more or less uncritically. Those divisions continue, and continue to cause distrust between people of different political beliefs, and between many people and their government. Many Americans thought their government would never lie to them. Few believe that any longer.

As my friend put it, it’s not accurate to talk about our involvement in Vietnam as a mistake that was based on good intentions. Our intention was intimidation. We made our point to other small countries, and then withdrew when it no longer suited us to fight. President Nixon had promised President Thieu that we would continue to supply the South Vietnamese army, but we didn’t. That’s at least partly because Nixon had his own problems with Watergate at the time, but things might not have been greatly different if he hadn’t. We never really cared about the Vietnamese, and when the war became too inconvenient, we abandoned them.

That was a moral mistake. I think it may have been a strategic mistake too. If we had been willing to help former colonies become independent we might never have had to have a Cold War with Communist Russia and China. According to the documentary, Ho Chi Minh became a Communist because of Lenin’s writings on colonialism. The USA didn’t have to accept the role the Communists cast us in. After all, we fought a revolutionary war ourselves, and left behind our colonial past. We could have conceivably had a hegemony based on friendship instead of power, where we persuaded various countries to do what we wanted instead of all but destroying some, and more or less forcibly meddling in the internal affairs of others.

Instead, we took on the role of the foremost colonial power, previously Great Britain (though other colonizers behaved no less viciously, only on a smaller scale), and repressed any small country whose behavior we didn’t like.

At one time, much of the world looked up to us. After the past seventy years I think fewer do, and we’ve managed to make ourselves hated in much of the world. We didn’t have to do that.