Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Up is Down, Down is Up

This week we had the murder of Alexey Navalny, Russian anti-corruption crusader and leader of the opposition against Putin and his tyrannical oligarchy. Putin killed him, either by direct order or by gradually poisoning him and then sending him to a brutal Siberian penal colony. In response to Navalny's murder, Donald Trump, who is a sociopathic narcissist incapable of empathy, sympathy or even seeing anything from anyone else's point of view, commented on Navalny's 'sudden' death that it made him more aware of how America was corrupt and in 'decline'. What he meant was that he sees himself as being 'persecuted' by the American legal system after two recent massive monetary civil case judgments against him, and two major federal indictments. Of course, the comparison to Navalny is absurd. Trump is an adjudged rapist and white-collar criminal who lives in a multi-million dollar Palm Beach estate. He is the exact opposite of a corruption fighter like Navalny, whose only crime was speaking out against Putin. Trump is using the news of Navalny's death to impugn American rule of law. In Russia, where using the term 'war' to describe the war in Ukraine is 'illegal', there is no rule of law, only rule by an all-powerful tyrant. To suggest that the rule of law in America bears any resemblance to what passes for a legal system in Russia is Orwellian. Navalny's persecution bears zero similarity to Trump's criminality, it's the opposite. By erasing the distinction, Trump wants to subvert the meaning of right and wrong and turn America into a Russia-style tyranny.

The world in which we live, the shape of reality, is constructed from words. Change the meaning of the words and the construction shifts and potentially collapses. It's that fragile.

We learned the truism of the importance of words, that they construct our world, in our biblical reckoning of how the world was spoken into existence. "And God said 'Let there be light / God saw that the light was good / And He separated the light from the darkness." Spoken words bring the physical world into existence, and the words embody meaning that separates opposites. When words lose their capacity to distinguish (light and dark), the foundational meaning on which the world is constructed collapses.

In his novel 1984 Orwell updated the idea when he described how the essence of (Soviet-type) totalitarian control over people hinged on subverting the dilalectical principle of meaning that undergirds civilization, with phrases like "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” If words mean their opposite, there is effectively no meaning at all. In physical terms it's like a negative and positive canceling out coherence and truth.  

These are some of the opposite-equivalences we are experiencing in the public informational sphere that are intended to cancel out meaning: 

Self-Defense is Genocide
Insurrection is Patriotism
Criminality is Innocence
Freedom is Subservience 
Losing is Winning
Justice is Persecution
Victimization is Virtue

This week, with Navalny's death, it felt to me like the foundations of global order were shaking. I couldn't comprehend why. Trump comparing himself to Navalny clarified it for me. Order slips into chaos when language loses its meaning.   

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Bob Barker (the song)

CLICK HERE TO HEAR THE SONG


A boy at home

Nursing a cold

Bored and hopeless

Watching daytime soaps

 

The game shows

Oh the game shows

Saved the day 

For a boy so bored


No one smarter

Than Bob Barker

No one smarter

Than Bob Barker


The way that he smiled

And the way he spoke

Made contestants excited 

Gave them hope


Johnny calls a name

Says come on down

For a chance to win prizes

Jump on stage and dance around 


No one smarter

Than Bob Barker

No one smarter

Than Bob Barker


An animal lover

Cause there's nothing cuter 

Than loving your pets   

So get them spayed or neutered


Bob Barker Bob Barker

Made the world better

Guess the right price

And you're the winner


No one smarter

Than Bob Barker

No one smarter

Than Bob Barker


Spin the big wheel

Nearest to a dollar

To the showcase showdown 

With Bob Barker


Bob Barker and his beauties

Janice, Dian and Holly

Will cure any boy 

Of his melancholy. 


 


 

Friday, February 16, 2024

The world is getting meaner

CLICK HERE TO HEAR AUTHOR READ


The world is getting meaner 

and so am I 


to a body the ocean

is personal


tread water or

sink


I’m learning how 

to work with the current


so I'm not dragged

completely under.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Hostage rescue, 1 for 100

News this week of the IDF rescuing two hostages from Rafah in southern Gaza. The hostages are 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har. Both men are in relatively good condition. The rescue operation involved police special forces and an IDF tank brigade entering a residential building where the hostages were being held. The hostages were found on the second floor “in the hands of Hamas terrorists.” Hamas militants were stationed in adjacent apartment buildings. The rescue comes at a time of widespread international condemnation of Israel, with US and European allies ramping up the pressure to wind down operations, and a threat from Egypt to withdraw from its peace agreement with Israel if it enters Rafah. The rescue operation came at the reported cost of up to 100 Palestinian lives (not sure how many of those are militants). Tough spot to be in. Rafah was supposed to be a safe zone where many Palestinians from the north of Gaza were told they could flee. What they weren't told is that when they arrived they would be used as human shields and therefore become criminally complicit. Hamas continues to violate international law and use Palestinian civilians as military tools. Is there any question remaining whether the continuation of Israel's military operation to rescue hostages is justified? If 100 Palestinians die for every hostage that is rescued (in this case it was 50), who is responsible for that? With a story like this I ask myself, if my wife and kids were being held hostage and I have to blow up a building to rescue them would I do it? Damn right I would (after warning the residents to get out). And who could blame me? To me it's analagous to a school hostage situation. The rule of thumb is to go in with guns blazing, because every second of hesitation is a second closer to greater catastrophe. Why isn't the world joining in with Israel's effort by coming down as hard as they can on Hamas to surrender and release the hostages? That is the surest way to save Palestinian lives. Every day of hesitation in that effort is a day of more lives lost. Israel's only moral obligation is to spare no cost to get the remaining hostages back (and remember 30 have already died) or force Hamas to give them up as soon as possible. The ball's in Hamas's court. They can decide to end the suffering of 'their people' tomorrow. But they don't, buoyed by the world's condemnation of Israel's rescue operation. It confounds the mind. Until then, we fight for the lives of every hostage.

Friday, February 2, 2024

What Happened to Parenting

Like so many, I watched some of the US Senate Judiciary committee hearing on the harm of big tech platforms to children. The performance politicking hit a particular low when Tom Cotton of Arkansas questioned Singaporean TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew repeatedly about his citizenship (not seeming to understand that Singapore was a country) and asked if he was a member of the Chinese Communist Party. That moment was only outdone by Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee accusing Mark Zuckerberg of wanting to turn Meta into the 'premier sex trafficking site in the country.' The irony was palpable that such 'gotcha' moments were designed to go viral on the very same social media platforms the Senators were vociferously attacking. Irony died with hypocrisy in Congress a while ago. 

The other moment that featured prominently on the nightly news was Zuckerberg turning to apologize to the assembled parents behind him, many of whom were holding pictures of their children who had been bullied or blackmailed online into committing suicide. He told them he felt bad for the pain and suffering they were enduring. Crocodile tears.

I understand the demands for social media platforms to do more to make online spaces safer for young people. They should do more to make them safer for the rest of us too, curbing hate-speech, antisemitism, racism, bigotry, misogyny, terrorism and political interference. 

Still, while watching the hearing the question I couldn't help asking myself was: Whatever happened to parenting? It's not as if I'm completely insensitive to the challenges of raising kids in the age of social media. Of our four daughters, one of them has never known a world without it, and the others have lived with it since they were adolescents. Three of my four children are subsumed in it, their lives barely exist outside of social media in any meaningful way, their online personas indistinguishable from their real-world ones. Like alcohol, social media can and should be understood as an addictive substance, and the dangers of abuse should be made clear to anyone who chooses to partake, especially adolescents who lack fully-formed brains. 

As parents there's only so much we can do, after a certain point in time. But my question about parenting relates to the years before that point is reached, before the die has been cast and your offspring is an independent agent in the world who will make their own decisions, good and bad, and any parental influence is henceforth negligible. The moment when your parental report card comes in, and all the work you've put in with your children, loving them, spending time with them, listening to them, nourishing them, teaching them, guiding them and helping them, either pays off or doesn't. As with any report card, when enough work hasn't been put in, it usually shows.

Extending the school analogy... my concern is how we've been offloading parental responsibilities on non-parents for years, especially in the schools. Schools no longer just provide educational services, they feed our children and provide them with social services and psychological services too. Teachers have been telling us for a long time that they are finding it difficult to do the job they were trained to do because they are overwhelmed with so many non-teaching aspects of the job related to the wellbeing of students. Burn out is rampant and fewer people are entering the profession because it's become unmanageable. Our eldest daughter was a post high-school CEGEP English teacher (Quebec's version of grade 12 and 13). The workload was too much for her to bear and the frustration level was off the charts. The job literally made her stressed to the point of physical illness. Her career lasted less than two years. 

Might the dearth of values and moral obtuseness we're witnessing in recent generations have something to do with the fact that so much basic child-rearing has been dumped from the home onto the system? 

Coincidentally, this week we saw the beginning of the unprecedented trial for involuntary manslaughter of Jennifer Crumbley, mother of Ethan, the teenager who murdered four high-schoolers and wounded seven others in Oxford, Michigan. Ethan's father James will be tried separately. The Crumbley parents purchased the murder weapon for their underage son as a Christmas present, apparently despite being aware of his unstable mental health. Without knowledge of the case against the elder Crumbleys, it's not a stretch to surmise that parental neglect was involved. Don’t take my word for it take Jennifer's, who wrote in text messages after the shooting, “I failed as a parent. I failed miserably.”

I’m no psychologist but might there be a connection between parental inattention, and disturbed children taking out their rage on their school? A kind of sublimation of anger actually intended at their parents? Ethan Crumbley’s journal was found at the scene of the shooting in which he wrote, “my parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist... I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the fucking school.”

I’m not saying Ethan’s criminally reckless parents are comparable to the parents whose children committed suicide after being cyber-bullied. But there is the same main missing ingredient in both cases, although in different quantities, with tragic consequences. One thing’s for sure, you can’t blame the kids.

[Update: The jury returned an involutary manslaughter guilty verdict for Jennifer Crumbley]

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Making Bad Decisions

According to the UN Gaza is on the brink of full-scale famine. Media images have started appearing of dirty children in soiled, ripped clothing in the rubble-strewn streets of Gaza holding metal cups and bowls clambering for ladles of watery soup, like a scene out of a Dickens novel. No doubt Israel will be blamed. CNN did a story the other day about the ten countries including the US and Canada who have suspended funding to UNRWA in the wake of a report that as many as 10% of the agency's 12,000 employees in Gaza have ties to Hamas, and a dozen are known to have physically taken part in the attacks against Israel on October 7th. The CNN story ended showing a desperate Palestinian woman pleading to the camera that if UNRWA ceases services everyone in Gaza will die. Count on CNN to focus, not on the corruption of the organization that has both implicitly and explicitly supported terrorism with their activities, but rather on a victim's heartbreaking plea for continued funding of that same corrupt organization. It's hard to fathom how by now everyone doesn't understand that the catastrophe of the Palestinians in Gaza (and the West Bank) is the responsibility of the Palestinians and their so-called leadership, underwritten, enabled and supported by the funding of the international community via the UN. It's somewhat heartening to see that the rot below the surface is finally being exposed. But I'm not terribly encouraged that anything significant will come of it. Unfortunately, some important funders of UNRWA, like the EU fearing a backlash from their Arab citizenry, are not getting the message. In a recent podcast, Sam Harris, in his inimitably calm rational way, lays out the moral and political stakes of Israel's war against Hamas. He covers most of the points I posted about in my Moral Clarity series (he calls them 5 myths), but much more clearly and succinctly than I do. It's one of his remarks near the end of the podcast that sticks with me most. A factoid I didn't know. Harris notes that when Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the October 7th attack, was in an Israeli prison, he was treated to remove a life-threatening brain tumour. I'm not suggesting that Sinwar should not have received the medical care he needed while in Israeli custody (although I doubt that the hostages in Palestinian detention are receiving anywhere close to the same care.) But think about it. Israeli surgeons in an Israeli hospital (at Israeli taxpayer expense) saved the life of the man who years later would plan and execute the slaughter of their citizens in the most savage attack on Israeli soil in its history. I can't think of a more straightforward example of the way that Israel and the Palestinians operate in separate moral universes. Of course, it wasn't only Sinwar's surgery that permitted him to become Israel's nemesis, it was also his release from jail as part of the absurd 1:1000 prisoner swap. All of it highlights how we in the west have continually undermined our own position because we fail to grasp how our (higher) moral standards have been leveraged against us by our enemies. They do it through our media. They do it through our universities. They do it through our international aid organizations and charities. I'm not suggesting we should lower or alter our moral standards. On the contrary, we need to do everything we can to raise and protect them. And to do that we need to acknowledge when we're being played and stop making bad decisions based on it. Our bad decisions have allowed the Palestinians to live in the delusion for decades that Israel will one day go away. They've chosen and supported their corrupt and genocidal leaders based on this delusion. We've enabled the delusion with our funding of UNRWA, with our anti-Israel demonstrations, with our anti-Israel universities, with our bleeding heart media coverage, and most importantly, with our own weak political leadership and decision-making, both in Israel and in the diaspora. Weakness sends a signal that we can be played with. As Harris says in his podcast, had Israel responded to hostilities with pacifism it would have been suicidal, had the Palestinians responded with pacifism, they would have had a state long ago. They had no incentive to act responsibly and take a reasonable position because we in the west have shown time and again that given enough pressure we'd cave. It's time that we helped the Palestinians, learn from their catastrophically self-defeating mistakes, by no longer showing weakness, and not making any more mistakes of our own.  

Monday, January 29, 2024

Resumé For An American President

Sexual assault.

Adjudicated rape.

Defamation.

Defrauding the public.

Bank fraud.

Insurance fraud.

Business fraud.

Falsifying business records.

Misuse of funds from a tax-exempt charity.

Tax evasion.

Accepting foreign emoluments.

Willful retention of National Defense Information.

Corrupt concealment of documents.

Mishandling classified documents.

False statements to a federal official.

Election interference. 

Racketeering.

Conspiracy.

Conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Obstruction of an official proceeding.

Insurrection.

Incitement to violence.

Dereliction of duty.

Impeachment.

Racism.

Bigotry.

Misogyny.

Adultery.

Draft dodging.

Bankruptcy.


Bankruptcy.