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Mother Nature always bats last October 26, 2010

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“Cheap oil allowed industrial humans to increasingly live on environmental credit for over a century. Now the bill is due and no amount of money can pay it. “

http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2010/10/algorithms.html

Meditation on The Great Escape October 26, 2010

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When I wrote the essay for my application to law school nearly 20 years ago, I said that the story that most influenced my life was that of the British and American prisoners of war at Stalag Luft III. Their story was told in a book by Paul Brickhill titled “The Great Escape,” which was made into a movie of the same name. Because it was a movie, many of the characters were fictionalized, or amalgams of two or more real-life personalities, and timelines were greatly compressed, but all in all the movie was true to the book. Hundreds of men worked together for over a year: digging tunnels; forging papers; making civilian clothing, maps, and compasses; designing a ventilation system for the tunnels and a dispersal system for the sand; finding, making, or stealing the equipment they needed, including a camera, film, and developing and printing equipment; bribing guards; escaping and allowing themselves to be recaptured, just so they could report on the roads, terrain, and towns just beyond the prison camp; having one tunnel discovered by the Germans just days before it was ready to break out; recovering from the loss and carrying on.

Many of the men had been P.O.W.s for years; they had every excuse to sit back and wait quietly for the end of the war that had to come. But they didn’t. Big X made sure they didn’t. He knew or found out what each man’s special talents were, and then made sure that everyone who wanted to participate in the X organization (their code name for the escape committee) had an opportunity to do so. No one was allowed to be idle if he had a skill that could make the difference between success and failure. Every hand and every mind was needed.

In the end, 76 men escaped on the night of March 24-25, 1944. Fifty men were shot and killed by their Gestapo or SS captors, by order of Hitler himself. Thousands of troops all across the Reich had been diverted from their assignments to go chasing those 76 men, and for that alone the prisoners of Stalag Luft III had done their duty as officers.

The film came out in 1963, and after I saw it I read the book. And then I read it again. And I’ve reread it probably a dozen times since, and listened to the audiobook read by Robert Whitfield. I’ve never gotten tired of the story. It thrills me on subsequent readings the same way it did the first time. What an extraordinary accomplishment! Even if they hadn’t been starving, lonely, scared, and weary, it still would have been extraordinary. Hundreds of men, from all walks of life, cooperated to achieve the impossible.

Several years ago I went to New York City to see Gabriel Byrne, Cherry Jones, and Roy Dotrice in “A Moon For the Misbegotten.” I loved the show and was excited about getting Gabriel Byrne’s autograph, until I found out that Roy Dotrice had been in Stalag Luft III, captured after a brief career as a young R.A.F. air gunner and wireless operator. The other actors were all but forgotten. If I had met the Queen Herself, I would not have been more excited.

I often think about the story of the Great Escape when I read the news these days. The original motto of the United States was “E pluribus unum”–“Out of many, one.” Now it seems to have been replaced by “Every man for himself.” We’re all about rugged individualism. Competition, not cooperation. Every man (and woman) is an island. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Pay your own way. Stand or fall on your own. Don’t expect a handout. Or a hand up.

What if the men of Stalag Luft III had felt that way?

Could we ever pull together that way again? Could we ever repeat anything on the scale of the Apollo program of the 1960s? Maybe we still have the skills–although I’m not too sure about that–but we certainly don’t seem to have the will to tackle such a project. We’re really good at destruction, but not so good at planning, building, or cooperating.

Maybe we don’t have a cause that’s big enough. The so-called war on terror seems like a big cause at first, but if it’s so important, why are so few of us being asked to sacrifice for it? Why are we allowing all our energy to be sapped by the endless wars over ever diminishing natural resources? Isn’t the survival of the human race a big enough cause? Because it feels to me like that is what is at stake, whether we’re talking about climate change, or endless wars among the children of Abraham, or solving our energy problem, or feeding and clothing and educating all our children, or employing all of our human resources to the fullest extent of each man’s and each woman’s abilities.

Not your father’s Republican Party September 1, 2010

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Yes, once upon a time, the G.O.P. had a progressive wing, back when “progressive” wasn’t a dirty word. Teddy Roosevelt was its voice.

The August Day Plutocracy Would Love Us to Forget

Best gay rights posters August 23, 2010

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The church v. the community center August 23, 2010

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It’s amusing to me to read how many people are concerned about St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church being rebuilt. That’s the little church that sat at the foot of the WTC. When I was a kid, growing up in Texas, the Orthodox Church was invisible. And if it was known about, it was in the same category with the Catholic Church, i.e., not “really” Christian. (This was way before the practice of holding an annual food festival became widespread.)

There are conflicting reports as to why the St Nicholas project is stalled. That’s unfortunate. But the point is that St Nicholas has to deal with the Port Authority, and the Islamic community center does not. That’s because the Islamic community center is not AT “ground zero.” If the St Nicholas community is adamant about rebuilding in the same spot, then they are going to have to deal with more bureaucracy. If they are willing to sell their property to the Port Authority and move a few blocks away, I’ll bet they can find plenty of suitable properties.

We have met the enemy, and he is us August 22, 2010

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The heart of it: “Our goal in at least one of our Middle East wars is to rebuild a government in our own image — with democracy for all. Instead, we are rebuilding ourselves in the image of those who detest us.” What must the Iraqi and Afghan civilians, whose hearts and minds our troops are trying to win, be making of this? How much harder—maybe impossible—is this making the job of our troops on the ground?

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/real-americans-please-stand-up/

Legal Services and Family Planning for the Poor February 2, 2009

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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/02/opinion/02mon2.html

While the poor are caught increasingly by foreclosure, eviction and food-stamp fights for their daily bread, deficit-bedeviled statehouses across the country are cutting support for legal services or dropping the programs outright.

If the Republican establishment had set out to accomplish Grover Norquist’s goal of making government small enough to “drown in a bathtub,” wouldn’t their plan of attack look a lot like what is happening now, and what has been happening for the past 30+ years? The social safety net has been shredded, possibly beyond repair, and the Treasury is effectively bankrupted by the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the bailout of Wall Street. Has George Bush’s “base” decided that it doesn’t need the vast majority of poor and middle class Americans, only enough of them to clean their homes and perform essential personal services? Are the poor just supposed to crawl under a bridge and die quietly? We’ve seen what happens in other countries when the poor decide that they no longer have anything left to lose. We’ve even seen it here, when Socialist Eugene V. Debs received nearly a million votes in his run for President in 1912.

I thought it was OUR money? January 30, 2009

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Let me see if I’ve got this straight. The party that has for the last 30 years been telling us that “it’s not the government’s money, it’s YOUR money,” has voted, in lock-step, against the stimulus package that the people WE elected–Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid–have presented as a plan to get the economy moving again.

House Passes Stimulus Plan With No G.O.P. Votes (January 29, 2009)

I think if the Republicans  really and truly believed that it’s OUR money, they would have countered with a proposal to take the $819B and divide it up among everyone who files a tax return for 2008, the same way they did with that paltry $600 last time. We’ll spend it–you better believe we’ll spend it. We’ll pay off our cars or buy a new one; we’ll pay down the mortgage; we’ll pay off the credit cards; and if there’s anything left over, maybe we’ll put it in a bank. Yeah, we know what to do with $819B.

That’s what the Republicans would do if they really believed their own hype. But they don’t.

Ricardo Montalban January 16, 2009

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khanThe Star Trek universe is a little bit emptier this week. Ricardo Montalban passed away on Wednesday, January 14. The first version of the New York Times obituary (since updated) mentioned only his role as Mr. Roarke on “Fantasy Island.” To us, of course, he’ll always be Khan Noonian Singh.

And not a moment too soon January 8, 2009

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I guess WordPress doesn’t allow Javascript or other embeds. So, as of 7:52pm EST, there are 12 days, 11 hours, and 7 minutes on the Bush Countdown Clock.

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