Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some Amazing Pictures Displaying Diversity & Beauty of Poland


Seriously, why would anyone even bother visiting Poland?

TatrzaƄski Park Narodowy
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https://farm7.staticflickr.com/6083/6127009466_35d5cbdac2_b.jpg&imgrefurl=http://polska.pl/en/tourism/national-parks/tatra-national-park/&h=683&w=1024&tbnid=pUC8Phe-I1ksmM:&zoom=1&docid=OOlQMl2_92TDAM&hl=en&ei=n4HxVPunLYmMsQTzqIH4Dw&tbm=isch&ved=0CB0QMygAMAA


So, I noticed my girlfriend posted this link to her Facebook the other day, and after perusing it myself, must say that I was even more impressed with Poland after reading it then after visiting it a couple of years ago. Now, I'd like to visit far more of it!

In any case, this was a pretty cool link that reminds me of another, similar one for New Jersey, which like this, also had derisive comments next to beautiful pictures. Not sure where it comes from and, frankly, it kind of gets in the way of appreciating the pictures and history a bit. Or, maybe that's just me.

Anyway, these reveal some beautiful sides to Poland, and I would recommend it to anyone interested.

Here's the link:

27 Reasons You Should Never Visit Poland A complete waste of time, tbh. by Anna Neyman BuzzFeed Staff,  Feb. 27, 2015:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/annaneyman/27-reasons-you-should-never-visit-poland#.ilEvjVbqdA

Can Publicly Financed Elections Actually Work? They Already Do in Maine

So, one of the big debates in the United States in recent months and years, and perhaps particularly in recent weeks as the build up to the 2016 presidential elections begins to grow stronger is if it is appropriate, or even in the democratic spirit, that so much money comes into play for elections, both on a national, and on a more local, level.

An increasing number of people are voicing their concerns that big money in politics is posing the biggest threat to American democracy that it has ever faced. Private individuals and corporations can pour tons of money to help a candidate of their choosing. This, of course, raises an obvious conflict of interest for free and fair elections, since candidates that are provided substantial money and gifts from private donors are far too often guilty of voting in the interests of those wealthy donors. Enough of this over time, and you get what we are beginning to resemble: a state with a de facto policy of corporate supremacy.

Now, I understand, and can on some level sympathize with traditional arguments that eliminating this would be tantamount to a breach of free speech. However, by this point, we need to recognize that the balance has shifted, and far too much weight is given to big money in politics, at the expense of the people. And remember that this is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was never intended to be a government of the wealthy and corporations, by the wealthy and corporations, and for the wealthy and corporations, at the expense of everyone else.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing in American history not to have happened was the passage of Franklin D. Roosevelt's proposed second Bill of Rights, which would have provided working Americans with a minimal degree of rights that, nowadays, we are relegated to thinking of as privileges. Things like a decent wage, things like affordable health care. It was defeated, although it took a foothold in other countries, such as in western Europe. Eventually, almost every industrialized country became more advanced in this regard than the United States.

Let us remember that the standard of living in the United States in the post-war years was the envy of the rest of the world. The United States not only enjoyed the highest standard of living of any nation in the world, but it ranked highest in other categories, as well, such as education and infrastructure. Couple that with being the world's leading power economically, militarily, politically, and culturally, and Americans rightfully felt that their country was sitting pretty, on top of the world in many respects.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. I have heard the year 1973 (the year before I was born) as the year of the turnaround. It was not immediately obvious, although by the end of the decade, it was clear that Japan had risen from the ashes economically, while the traditional dominance of the United States in the economic sphere was being more seriously challenged than ever before in the post-war years. If we have been in decline since then, and many argue that we have, then 1973 appears to be the year that can be isolated, statistically, as the beginning of a downward turn.

Over the course of the succeeding decades, other countries began to catch up to the living standards that Americans enjoyed. At first, it seemed more of a fluke than anything else. White South Africans had caught up to Americans and surpassed the living standards, but that was under apartheid, which was a semi-slavery state.

In time, however, other countries began to catch up and, yes, pass, the living standards of Americans. Eventually, Canada, numerous Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, and Australia all had comparable, if not superior, quality of life standards. Much of western Europe, if not officially caught up, were pretty close. In the meantime, the standard of living in the United States continued to decline, although it happened at such a slow, truly glacial pace, that many really did not notice.

After decades of such policies, however, people are noticing. Yes, it took decades for people to begin to understand the real nature of these policies, supposedly for economic freedom,and known by the sweeping generalization label of "deregulation". Many people still swear by it.

It seemed to have had it's root during the Nixon administration, particularly the health care reforms that leaned more heavily towards privatization and which, in retrospect, we can see have proven quite catastrophic to millions of Americans.

There was a brief respite during the Carter years, although the propaganda machine was able to convince the public that Carter was a far worse president than he actually was. Reagan won the 1980 election in a landslide, of course, and "deregulation" began to accelerate from that point onward. Reagan proved so popular, the right man for the wrong message for America, and things began to deteriorate from that point on. Corporations received tax breaks and incentives, as did the wealthy. Unions were pressured, those on strike laid off, and the tone was set. The middle class was beginning to feel the crunch.

However, that was only the beginning. It became more obvious over time, although it was disguised by major distractions that occupied the attention of many Americans, including the Panama invasion in 1989, the situation in Saddam Hussein's Iraq invading Kuwait in 1990 that eventually led to war in 1991. George H. W. Bush lost the 1992 election to mast politician Bill Clinton, and soon thereafter, there was an economic boom, most likely largely because of the internet.

When George W. Bush announced that he would run for president in 1999, he was essentially given the title of heir apparent to the throne in a new American political dynasty. Some people did not like it, although the major news media kept telling us that his strength was "likability". He lost the general election by half a million votes, and apparently realistically lost the election in the key state of Florida under very suspicious circumstances, with strange ballots, and weird road blocks that lasted only one day (election day), as well as a number of other strange circumstances that, quite frankly, raised eyebrows (such as Jeb Bush, George's brother, being in charge of overseeing the fairness of the election). Despite all indications that he lost the election, George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd President, after a Supreme Court decision, and a transparent record of a ton of money financing his campaign. People were beginning to notice that something was really, really wrong.

Of course, the corruption and government heavy hand, cloaked in a velvet glove, was plain to see for the next eight years. Numerous corporate scandals, the spirit of union busting and the further erosion of healthcare and other benefits, more government programs spent, all contributed to a major - and noticeable - decline in the standard of living among Americans. All of this happened while corporations and the very wealthy were getting massive tax breaks and other incentives, often referred to now as "corporate welfare". Add to that two costly wars and a massive economic crisis, and the picture gets clearer about the acceleration of the American decline during the second Bush administration.

Yet, we have yet another Bush, with an obvious sense of entitlement, making major waves and headlines now, seeking his term in office. Jeb Bush is praising his brother as a great president, although he claims to be his own man, and would, supposedly, run his presidency differently.

Sure.

While things seem to be getting worse everywhere, things look different depending on where you are. The threat of extremism in Europe looms large. Everyone seems afraid of the rise of extremist, nationalist governments there.

Here in the United States, however, there is a different problem. The problem is not a strong reaction, particularly in any election.

No, here, the threat is that things will continue going on as they have been going for some time now, and without interruption. That is a threat whether Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Jeb Bush takes the oath of office in January 20, 2017, or some other candidate from one of the major parties will be inaugurated.

Because ultimately, the extremists on this side of the pond are already in power, and more entrenched than they are in Europe. Only, they are not politicians, but controlling politicians through their purse strings, enacting a play that, it seems clear now, is a tragedy, as far as American democracy goes.

That will not change, until we get big money out of politics.



Maine Shows That Publicly Financed Elections Really Can Work February 26, 2015 by Andrew Bossie

Friday, February 27, 2015

RIP, Leonard Nimoy

When I was a child, I remember thinking of Mr. Spock instantly whenever Star Trek was mentioned. Even though I never became a "Trekkie" or anything like that, I always enjoyed Star Trek episodes during childhood, and am not averse to them now that I am older, either.

Plus, he did some other things, as well. He hosted documentaries, and just seemed like an interesting character outside of the Hollywood world. There was something about him that just implied a high degree of intelligence, and not just in his role as Mr. Spock.

So, I was saddened to hear of the news of his passing earlier today.

He was known best for his iconic "Live long and prosper" saying on the Star Trek series.

Indeed, I think we all profited from the presence of such a man as Leonard Nimoy, and I wanted to honor the man today, saddened that we lost a legend, but rejoicing that we got to enjoy and appreciate him in the first place.

More on the Vonnegut Documentary




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Hearing so much about this new Kurt Vonnegut documentary soon to be released got me in the mood to revisit my own experiences with one of my very favorite authors.

For a few years, I was completely obsessed with his writing, and devoured his books. But my obsession went further than that. I went to see one of his plays, collected many of his films and difficult to obtain books, and even got some posters.

The one thing left to be done was to actually see him in person.

Then, I finally got the shot in 2004, when Vonnegut was to be the Commencement Speaker at the Lehigh University graduation ceremonies. It was a rare opportunity to see him, and by that point, everyone knew that he was no spring chicken. This was a veteran of World War II, after all, having been a prisoner of war in Germany and, famously, being housed in a slaughterhouse in Dresden (Slaughterhouse-5, which was the name of his most famous book) on the night of the infamous firebombing of the city. That wound up being the biggest overnight mass slaughter in European history, if not world history. Dresden had been an open city, and had not been subjected to the bombings that other German cities had faced. All of that changed in February of 1945, just a little under three months before the war ended.

This event had a profound impact on Vonnegut's life, and greatly influenced his writing. He elaborated on that topic, and not just in Slaughterhouse-5, but elsewhere, including writings about war, as well as some interviews. He and the other POW's that he was with were among the lucky few who survived the firebombing.

When I learned of Vonnegut's imminent appearance at Lehigh, It was an open ceremony, which mean that, barring rain, the graduation ceremonies were held inside of a stadium, and no one would be excluded. I knew that I would make a point of taking off from work that day, and making sure that I would be there for the event with my then wife. Were we the only ones there to see Vonnegut specifically?

Possibly, although there is no way to know for sure. But it felt like a huge privilege to finally see the man in person. He passed quite near us just prior to taking the stage to deliver his commencement speech, where he spoke about numerous things, including the sorry state of the country at the time (and not much had changed for the better), as well as the highly unpopular war that the nation found itself engaged in, once again in Iraq. He mentioned that the last time (which was also the first time) that he had given a commencement speech at Lehigh, the country was engaged in another unpopular war in Vietnam.

It was a thrill to finally see him! One of the most memorable events for me, truth be told.

Then, a couple of years later, I had yet another chance to see him in person. This time, it was a speaking engagement with other authors, and you had to buy tickets. It was in Hartford, the Connecticut Writers's Forum. So, once again, I saw Vonnegut in person, the day before Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. Some people were showing their support for the Steelers, and Vonnegut wondered why, since it was in Hartford, and they could root for the New England Patriots, who had become a highly successful team by that point.

About one year later, Vonnegut died after a fall.

But he lived a rich life, and contributed greatly to American letters. I still miss his witty arguments and observations. I miss being able to look forward to new books by him.

At least the option is still open to honor the man in this way, and to (hopefully) look forward to the upcoming documentary!

For now, let me just add a few things that would possibly be of interest to Vonnegut fans. The first is my review of the 10th anniversary of seeing Vonnegut at Lehigh, which included a recap and pictures from the Connecticut Forum. Also, there is a video of the evening in Connecticut, with Vonnegut and Joyce Carol Oats, as well as Jennifer Weiner. Finally, at the very bottom of this blog entry, there are more links pertaining to the Vonnegut documentary, including how you can contribute, if you are so inclined. Enjoy!










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The Forum Channel


Yes, I remember the day well. May 24, 2004.

It is amazing, even staggering, to think that this was ten whole years ago. Frankly, it feels like it could have been one year ago, tops, if even that. Those times, and those events, feel so very recent. But I look at the calendar, and it does not lie. As old as it makes me feel, it has indeed been a full decade, and I sound like an old man, talking about how quickly the time goes by.

At around that time, Kurt Vonnegut was probably my favorite author of all. I had gotten into him a few years before, not long after September 11th, and around the time when WMD's and the possibility of an invasion of Iraq, as well as the suspension of civil liberties with the so-called PATRIOT Act and the debate over how much we can get away with before it is legally considered torture dominated the news.

And I read Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-5", an anti-war novel that spoke about time travel, and touched on some other subjects, too. It spoke to me in a way that few novels have before or since, and I began to follow Vonnegut. Suddenly, I was ordering more of his books, and devouring them (most of his books are quick reads). There were online articles that I pursued and read, and before long, I was beginning to be a collector of all things Vonnegut, completely taken by the world of his writings. In a world that seemed to be losing it's way and making less and less sense, Vonnegut's rather weird and wild world, ironically, served almost as an anchor. There seemed to be just a sense of decency about him, reflected in his writings, that felt right in a world that seemed outwardly polite and healthy, but inside, seemed rude, self-centered, and very, very sick to the core.

It would be fair to say that I was quickly becoming a huge Vonnegut fan, and as an aspiring writer, he was one of the few writers that truly inspired me to begin writing on my own. In fact, I might go as far as saying that while other writers made me feel like I could write (most notably Stephen King), it was actually while I was reading Vonnegut all of the time that I truly did begin to write, and believing versus doing makes a world of difference.

There were other authors, and books, that I really enjoyed at that point, and many more that I have grown more acquainted with and gotten to enjoy since. But the two big ones (for me) were Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut. Both had some incredible ideas, for which they are deservedly very well known. The actual writing of Stephen King, the way that he describes characters in particular, breathes life into them, and I aspired to be able to do that myself. As for Kurt Vonnegut, I admired his ideas (and enjoyed the weirdness of them, as well), but was most appreciative of the way that he was able to bring ideas of morality, of simple right and wrong in the midst of a complicated world into his books and stories really spoke to me. That through it all, we just need reminders of the simple ideas of decency, that was something that perhaps society, or even the world culture that has come to dominate this world de facto, is something that Vonnegut was always able to convey, no matter what it was that he was writing about.

But there was one thing: I had never seen the man, and he was well over eighty years old. I knew a couple of people who had seen him, and one of them told me I had better hurry up and see him, because he was no spring chicken.

I kept looking and looking, searching online for Vonnegut appearances. But there was rarely anything to be found. More frustratingly, when there was, it had just happened.

There were times that I came close. Particularly, his play "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" began to play in New York City, and I went to go see that. Vonnegut had made an appearance at the show's opening, and answered some questions from the audience. But when I went, some days later, he was nowhere to be seen.

But finally, I found out that he was scheduled to be the commencement speaker for the graduation ceremonies at Lehigh University in 2004. I did some research, and found that this event was scheduled to be held at the outdoor stadium, weather permitting, and that it did not require a ticket. You could just show up.

So, I did.

It was a beautiful day, perhaps the first really warm and sunny day of the year. Before the day was out, I would have gotten a sunburn, and there was a little bit of worrying, admittedly, about what I would say if anyone asked me at work the next day why it was that I had a sunburn the day after calling out sick.

But that is neither here nor there.

I wanted to make sure to arrive there good and early, and so we left quite early (this was with my then wife), and got there early enough. No problems there. We found a halfway decent place to sit at the stadium, fairly close to the field. And I got my video recorder out, because I intended to record all of Vonnegut's speech, if I could.

First, the graduates all lined up, with the special guests, including Kurt Vonnegut, coming just before them.

His speech was not that long, and I was able to get all of it. It was not really the most original speech, amounting to mostly a compilation of some of his written works and words of the past.

Vonnegut started off by claiming that he had uncovered a conspiracy during his brief visit to Lehigh, and claiming that the admissions office allowed only beautiful women to attend. Then, he talked a bit about the previous time that he had spoken at a Lehigh Commencement, back in 1970, when "another unpopular war", started by the martyred President Kennedy, was then being fought in Vietnam, with Nixon as President. He then mentioned the shootings at Kent State University around that time, when four students were killed, and the police not punished, as it was claimed that they had acted in self-defense.

This served as a segue for him to talk about some of the darker chapters of American history, including slavery, inequality of the majority of the population (women), with women only getting the vote a few years before he was born.

Going back to his previous appearance at a Lehigh Commencement, he mentioned that most of the kids graduating had not even been born yet at that time, and how they were about to get "kicked out" of Lehigh, comparing the years of study here for the students as "the Garden of Eden."

He then mentioned that American could and should have been a utopia, instead of a place where it costs an arm and a leg to get a higher education, like the one the young graduates had received at Lehigh. Now, they were leaving "this Garden of Eden", and many of them would be burdened with huge debt, so much, Vonnegut claimed, that he could buy a Hummer with that kind of money and "speed up global warming".

Then, he mentioned that he was sorry that this country did not have a health care system that provided affordable, universal coverage, "like Sweden and Canada", where, he said, "it works much better."

He then applauded institutions of higher learning, and said that these were good to "make war not on terrorism, but on ignorance, sickness, and environmental degradation."

Vonnegut mentioned Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite, and then, perhaps to assuage his guilt, set up the Nobel Peace Prize, with a prize of one million dollars. That amount, Vonnegut claimed, is "chump change", at least by the standards of the highest paid athletes, CEO's and Wall Street executives. It would make a huge difference in the lives of any graduate  in attendance on that day, but it would not pay the salary of a defenseman on either the Eagles or the Steelers for even one season.

For anyone interested in really irritating their parents, he said, the "least you can do is go into the arts."

"As you leave this Garden of Eden," Vonnegut requested of the audience, "please sing and dance on your way the hell out of here!"

Vonnegut then told the graduates, and those family members attending, that the older you get, the more you begin to ask yourself what this thing life is all about. He mentioned what his son had told him in response, when he had placed this question to him:

"Father, we're here to see each other get through this thing, whatever the hell it is."

So, he advised everyone to write that down, so that they could put it in their computers and then forget it.

He then wondered if he would get away with what he was about to say next, and declared that human beings need extended families as much as they need food and minerals, and talked a bit about how there are no extended families anymore, "with the exception of the Bushes and the Navajo."

That was the root of all arguments, he claimed. When it seemed that a husband and wife were arguing about money or the future for the kids, what they were actually telling each other is: "You are not enough people."

Vonnegut then mentioned his uncle Albert, who once remarked that human beings hardly ever noticed when they were happy. So, he had taken to saying, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

He requested that everyone remember that, and take note when they are having a good time, even repeating these words that his uncle used to say.

And then he made one other request, asking for a show of hands to anyone who had, at some point, had a teacher that had made them feel "happier to be alive, prouder to be alive, then you had previously believed possible?"

He then asked everyone who had such a teacher to turn to the person next to them, and mention the name of that teacher.

Kurt Vonnegut concluded his Lehigh Commencement Keynote Speaker address with these words:

"If this isn't nice, I don't know what is. Thank you for your attention. Take care of yourselves, you hear?"

He received his honorary degree (not his first from Lehigh University) a little later on.

Admittedly, it was a strange way of seeing Vonnegut for the first time, since this was a graduation ceremony for college students, and not really what most people would categorize as a public event. I did not know anybody graduating on that day, although no one seemed to notice.

Still, it was great to finally see him in person!

Afterward, we stopped briefly at Lehigh, driving around the campus, then a bit through the town of Bethelehem. It was perhaps noon time, and after a bit of a visit, we decided to head back, and to Wawayanda State Park in New Jersey, where we could enjoy the beautiful weather. I had taken some Vonnegut books with me to read, obviously, and remember being happy, sitting by the babbling stream, and just relaxing, reading Vonnegut. You can't get a much better late spring day than that!

That day ranked with some of the other memorable days in terms of seeing someone that I had long wanted to see. I would perhaps compare it to the first time that I saw Stephen King, or Jimmy Carter. Or, perhaps, some of my favorite bands, like Pearl Jam, Ringo Starr, or Paul McCartney, or the first concert of my own choosing that I went to, seeing Metallica and Guns N' Roses. It felt great!

Now, I should mention that the opportunity to see Vonnegut again did present itself, and I jumped on it! Again, he was no spring chicken.

This one came as an official event, where Kurt Vonnegut would be one of three noted authors in discussion. The other two were Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Weiner. It was called "An Evening With Our Favorite Writers", and was held on Saturday, February 4, 2006, the day before Super Bowl Sunday. I remember that, specifically, because for whatever reason, people kept mentioning the Steelers (it was a pro-Steelers fan base there), and a couple of people on stage (not the authors) were showing their black and gold to support their Steelers! At one point, Vonnegut even asked why people in Hartford, Connecticut, would care about the Steelers so much.

Good question.

In any case, this was more of an event, if you will. In college graduations, speakers like Kurt Vonnegut are special guests, but the stars of the show are the graduates themselves, of course. And deservedly so.

But on that evening, clearly, the speakers were the special guests, and the focal point. And Kurt Vonnegut, arguably, was the biggest draw on stage on that day.

It was perhaps appropriate that this event took place in Hartford, since the comparisons to Vonnegut and Mark Twain, who greatly influenced Vonnegut, can easily be made, including the physical resemblance. Both wrote biting commentary, both used humor richly and had wicked senses of humor, and both contributed greatly to American letters.

When I look back on those times, I find it amazing just how quickly I got into Kurt Vonnegut and his writings, and in such a short period of time! It is almost surprising that I never encountered his writings earlier, like during high school, or at least college! Yet, it happened. But once that discovery was there, I was hooked!

It had taken a while to see Vonnegut for the first time, and less than two years later, the opportunity came to see him a second time, and this time, to hear him in actual conversation, which was particularly special. In between those two, Vonnegut would publish the last book of his that would come out while he was still alive. It was called "A Man Without a Country", and on the cover, it featured his playful autograph. That autograph has his self-portrait in profile, with his signature attached. There are autographs you can get from certain writers (and other people of fame), and then there is something like that, which Vonnegut really "created" for you to enjoy! There are subtleties within it that only a real fan of Vonnegut would be aware of. Or one subtlety in particular - the asterisk, which is Vonnegut's drawing of an asshole. His famous sense of humor bleeds through even in something as simple as an autograph.

A little more than a year after that event, Vonnegut fell at his home, and sustained injuries that would prove to be mortal. He died in April of 2007. It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on some of the events that have happened since, such as the economic collapse of 2008, and the controversy surrounding the "too big to fail" banking institutions that were given huge sums of money in the bailout, designed by then President George W. Bush, and approved by, among others, future President Barack Obama. It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on Obama, both during the most promising times, during the election season in 2008, as well as the less glamorous reality when he actually occupied the White House. And what about the official end of the war in Iraq, or the coming end in Afghanistan? What might Vonnegut have said about Russia and the Ukraine? About the war in Syria? The genocide in Darfur? We can only wonder what he might specifically have said, although we can probably get a good idea on what his general stance would likely have been. But when you die, you lose your chance to speak on matters that occur afterward, of course.

Since his death, three more books written by Vonnegut have come out. I am reading the last of those three, and will be writing a review of it, hopefully to be published tomorrow. Vonnegut may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten, and his wisdom and humor remain in his writings, that allow a part of him to continue to be with us still, even though the man himself is not.



"An Evening With Our Favorite Writers" - February 4, 2006 (some links from the conversation that evening):


Here is the profile from the program that was given out to those who attended this event:

https://www.ctforum.org/panelist/kurt-vonnegut

Vonnegut Clips from the Connecticut Writer's Forum in February of 2006:


http://www.theforumchannel.tv/timemachine.aspx



Forum Clip: "Kurt Says Writing is a Mystery, Joyce Calls His Bluff"  1:15

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Joyce-Carol-Oates-Colin-McEnroe/Kurt-Says-Writing-is-a-Mystery-Joyce-Calls-His-Bluff/1



Forum Clip: "Vonnegut`s Message to Future Generations: The World is Ending!"  2:37

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Colin-McEnroe/Vonneguts-Message-to-Future-Generations-The-World-is-Ending/5



Forum Clip: "Practicing Any Art Makes Your Soul Grow"  1:41

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Jen-Weiner-Colin-McEnroe/Practicing-Any-Art-Makes-Your-Soul-Grow/7


Forum Clip: "What is the Single Most Beautiful Thing You`ve Ever Seen?"  2:33

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Colin-McEnroe/What-is-the-Single-Most-Beautiful-Thing-Youve-Ever-Seen/9


Forum Clip: "Kurt and Joyce Have a Great Exchange about Feminism  and  Sexist Pigs"  1:21

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Joyce-Carol-Oates-Colin-McEnroe/Kurt-and-Joyce-Have-a-Great-Exchange-about-Feminism-and-Sexist-Pigs/10


Forum Clip: "Serious  and  Funny Answers to: What Keeps You Up at Night?"  2:34

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Joyce-Carol-Oates-Colin-McEnroe/Serious-and-Funny-Answers-to-What-Keeps-You-Up-at-Night/11


Forum Clip: "Alter Egos and Pseudonyms in Writing"  2:56

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Joyce-Carol-Oates-Colin-McEnroe/Alter-Egos-and-Pseudonyms-in-Writing/2


Forum Clip: "Kurt Vonnegut: We Are A Disease, Joyce Carol Oates Sees It Differently"  2:12

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Joyce-Carol-Oates/Kurt-Vonnegut-We-Are-A-Disease-Joyce-Carol-Oates-Sees-It-Differently/6


Forum Clip: "Mark Twain`s Best Books and a Clunker."  1:21

http://www.theforumchannel.tv/video-clip/Kurt--Vonnegut-Joyce-Carol-Oates-Colin-McEnroe/Mark-Twains-Best-Books-and-a-Clunker/8



On America' Addiction to Oil:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRlwtgaxO20


On War, History, and Women:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxd6QuDynXA


Kurt Vonnegut & Joyce Carol Oates on Censorship:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xgfDcLzv7A




Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time by Robert Weide and Don Argott:





Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time documentary gets a Kickstarter  by Will Robinson, February 10, 2015:




A Kurt Vonnegut documentary is a Kickstarter you might actually want to back By Jason Abbruzzese 2015-02-10:






NEW VIDEO: KURT VONNEGUT DISCOVERS TRALFAMADORE

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1468288415/kurt-vonnegut-unstuck-in-time/posts/1147508




Kurt Vonnegut graphed the world’s most popular stories By Ana Swanson February 9, 2015:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Browns Reveal New Logo to Mixed Reaction



So, the Browns made a big thing of their new logo, announcing the unveiling and claiming that it was symbolic of new fortunes for the long-suffering franchise, and their fans.

Instead, the new logo and helmet really did not look all that different than before.

The helmet has a different shade of orange, and now features brown face masks. Nothing enormous or all-encompassing, however.

The new logo is a picture of the face of a bulldog in brown, on an orange background. Below is the name "Browns" in brown lettering.

Many fans expressed their disapproval, suggesting that the team made a big thing out of almost nothing, and that this was, in fact, just the most recent disappointment in a long line of disappointments that the franchise has provided for their fans.

New uniforms for the Browns are set to be launched in April, with no word as to how much the uniforms will change or not.

We'll see what happens. But please take a look at my article on the Guardian Liberty Voice on the subject, by following the link below. Also, I included links to other articles that helped me write the article about the new logo for Cleveland.




Browns Reveal New Logo to Mixed Reaction





Cleveland Browns unveil new logos 254   By Kevin Patra Around the NFL writer Published: Feb. 24, 2015




Browns tweak helmet color, logos By Jeremy Fowler, February 24, 2015:





Cleveland Browns unveil new logo that's just as boring as before  Yes. That's a new logo. No, seriously. It is.  By: CHRIS CHASE, February 24, 2015:







What if the Cleveland Browns redesigned every NFL team's logo? By James Dator, Feb 24, 2015





Browns Unveil New Team Logo, Mocking Ensues By Dan Carson , Trending Lead Writer Feb 24, 2015

Feeling Sick

I am not going to be able to write as much today as I have in blog entries of the past, since I feel fatigued, worn down, and crappy.

Yesterday evening, my throat hurt a little - but only a little bit. It kind of felt like my throat was dry, but I understood that it might be sickness. As the night progressed, and I felt progressively worse, certainty was achieved. I was sick.

Now, a day later, and it feels worse still. It was a sore throat, sniffling and coughing yesterday. It has grown to feeling achy all over my body. It is not too severe, but I feel that mild pain on my arms and legs, and my limbs feel shaky and weak. Basically, I'm dragging.

But I must get through today, the work day. Tomorrow is a day off, and I can catch up on rest.

For today, however, there really is no choice but to get through it.

As of right now, I will go back a bit to some past blog entries that have not yet been published, and see if any are ready and fit enough to be published now.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Today is George Harrison's Birthday

I try not only to acknowledge, but also to honor the birthdays of the Beatles, since they are all not only decent guys, but had such a profound impact on the world, both with their music, and with their passion outside of music. They not only were from the sixties, a time of turbulence, experimentation, and change, but they also helped to mold the sixties, to let it become what it became. It remain influential and provocative to this day.

George Harrison was known as the "Quiet Beatle" and was also the youngest member of the Fab Four. He was particularly known for his spirituality, and bringing an Indian influence to the Beatles, with the sitar in particular, something that had not been heard in western music before, but became popular afterwards.

He grew as a songwriter, with the obvious privilege of working under legendary songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Eventually, he wrote some of the most iconic tunes that the Beatles are known for in his own right, and went on to have a pretty amazing solo career as well.

His concert for Bangladesh set the tempo for tribute concerts since.

Years later, he joined numerous other legendary musicians to form the Traveling Wilburys, a "super group", if you will, for it's day.

Harrison died of cancer in 2001, but his music and memory lives on in so many ways.

On this day, his birthday, I pay tribute to him.

Link to GLV Article: ISIS Brutality Continues to Spread

I wrote a blog entry yesterday about ISIS, and mostly, it focused on their brutality.

However, I decided to write an article about it on the Guardian Liberty Voice and, in the process of doing so, while researching the subject, I was actually quite surprised to see that things were even worse than they seemed to be!

These guys are not only killing people, which was pretty widely reported, but they were doing so in a particularly gruesome manner (and with obvious religious symbolism to the methods) - by crucifying people!

Simply unbelievable!

Also, quite typically, the tyrants in charge have secured live of privilege and plenty for themselves, and those among their ranks. Of course, this comes at the expense of everyone else.

In that sense, they are a very typical fascist organization, and have stripped locals of their rights, confiscating passports and executing those who are captured trying to escape. They are forcing hundreds of women into forced marriages to ISIS fighters, and other women and girls are being taken as sex slaves.

The book burning (it was actually the entire public library of Mosul) destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts of historical significance, and there is no reason to believe that ISIS will simply stop there. It reminded me a little of the historical case of Nazis burning books in Germany decades ago, but there are also similarities to when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues, which were many centuries old.

It's scary to even think about what else might happen that might draw more negative comparisons to historical tragedies of the past, although my suspicions are that, one way or the other, ISIS will be on their way out very shortly.

This was never built to last.

In the meantime, however, the people of northern Syria and parts of Iraq are suffering tremendously, which means that unfortunate headlines will continue to be made, like the ones that came out of the region this past weekend.



Here is the link to my article on Guardian Liberty Voice. Please take a look, and much appreciated!

ISIS Brutality Continues to Spread

http://guardianlv.com/2015/02/isis-brutality-continues-to-spread/

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ISIS Burning Books & Destroying Libraries in Mosul

A lot of people seem to make the comparisons between ISIS, or ISIL, and the Nazis in Germany or, to a lesser extent, the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. Those two chapters are generally considered, at least by westerners, as the most tragic chapters in history, when the world witnessed what extremism in action can do.

Yes, the Islamic State is an extremist group, and right now, they are in control of much of Syria and Iraq. In fact, they are looking even like even bigger extremists than the Taliban in Afghanistan, because these guys seem to make a point of making videos of their cruelty in order to document it better. I do not know how much killing the Taliban was outright responsible for, although they surely did their share. But it seems to pale in comparison to the Islamic State. And while the Taliban reminded people of the Third Reich when they forced non-Muslims in the country to wear yellow identifying markers, the Islamic State seems intent on drawing even more comparisons to Nazism, as they just had a major book burning over the weekend in Mosul.

I am not advocating a war by any stretch, and I think comparisons to Nazis are more than a little trumped up. But damn! Do these guys have to make a point of displaying their idiocy and intolerance to the extent that they do? How many hundreds, if not thousands, have they killed? Now, they are burning books, destroying libraries? It's like they are making a point of trying to draw comparisons to the Nazis, even though they are nowhere near as powerful as Germany was, and never will be. This is just a tragedy!

Further comparisons to Nazis are not entirely out of the question, either! These guys sure seem to be trying hard.

However, once again, it is important to keep in mind that the Nazis never had the restrictions on their power placed upon them to the extent that the Islamic State has on them right now. Germany was one of the major powers of the world at the time, as was Stalin's Soviet Union. The area controlled by the Islamic State is mostly desert, and they would hardly qualify as a real state, let alone one of the most powerful nations in the world. They are rich and powerful enough to control those regions of Syria and Iraq now under their control, but that does not mean that they actually constitute a serious threat to the entire world, or even to the entire region of the Mideast.

Indeed, it is a tragedy, what is going on in Iraq. They certainly deserve to be removed from power. Let us see what the proposed Arab military alliance that Egypt is pining for may become, and what they may do. Let us see if the Islamic State does not unravel on it's own, for that matter. These are desperate moves, after all.

Yet, despite their brutality and essentially fascist nature, I do not believe that this is a situation that calls for yet more of a war effort on the part of the United States. Things have consistently grown worse in Iraq since we got involved there, one way or the other. Getting even more involved now would likely have dire consequences attached.





ISIS Burns 8000 Rare Books and Manuscripts in Mosul.  By Riyadh Mohammed, February 24, 2015:

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Son, the Bear

Last night, my son "graduated", if you will, to become a bear.

Also, it was the awards ceremony, and he received the following awards (see pictures).

Pretty cool stuff!





















Bet You Didn't Know Some of These Facts About the Washington Monument










Okay, one more thing that's related, at least kind of in a way, to President's Day. And since it is still February, and since this is not really about a president, but about a monument in a president's name, it seemed appropriate to share.

When it was built, the Washington Monument was the tallest free standing structure in the world, surpassing Cologne Cathedral, although a few years later, it would be far surpassed (almost doubled, in fact) by the Eiffel Tower, which itself held the title of tallest free standing structure in the world until it, too was passed by the Chrysler Building and then, one year later, the Empire State Building.

But I digress...

The Washington Monument still apparently remains the tallest Masonic structure in the world, and it is the tallest structure in Washington, and the centerpiece, if you will, of the National Mall in Washington.

I revealed too much already, so please go ahead and click on the link to the below article if you are so inclined. The only thing that I can tell you about it that I myself learned while on a trip to DC as a child is that it sinks two inches into the ground every single year.


Here is the link:

10 fascinating facts about the Washington Monument.  By NCC Staff  February 21, 2015

Some Rare Presidential Trivia Knowledge

Okay, so now I guess there really are no more excuses for dwelling on Presidential trivia any longer, since President's Day is well over with, and even Washington's Birthday was yesterday and done.

Still, I ran into these links below, and thought some of them were really fascinating.

One focuses on the parallels and unofficial debate between two competing visions of America between the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln, and the President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis.

Interesting stuff.

Then, there are some 50 odd facts about Abraham Lincoln, surely indeed great for trivia questions.

The third link is about how surprisingly high Bill Clinton ranks historically among presidents (he is the highest ranking of modern presidents). Obama and Bush, not surprisingly, rank closer to the bottom. Bush ranks in the bottom third but, frankly, given where this country was before he assumed office (without winning the election) and where the country was after eight years of his administration, he should probably go down as the worst president. Other bad presidents had scandals that plagued their terms and their historical legacy, such as Harding with the Tea Pot Dome scandal. Bush had numerous corporate scandals associated with his administration that, I suspect, will define his legacy for many decades to come. From Enron to Halliburton to Blackwater to the banking scandal and subsequent bailout in 2008, as well as the whole "no bid contract" nonsense during the unjustifiable invasion of Iraq, as well as his failed response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush also conducted himself in a certain manner, with an unjustified swagger, that came across horribly too often. It was almost as if he were mocking the people affected by the situations that he helped create. America's reputation took some strong hits during those long eight years, and I do not think the country recovered fully. Frankly, I am suspicious that the country will ever actually fully recover from the second Bush White House, and am just hopeful that we will not have to be exposed to a third one.

The next link is not about presidents but, rather, men who almost succeeded into the highest office, but never actually got there. Al Gore, officially the loser of the 200 election, is included.

Finally, for any teachers out there, here is a link that reveals presidents that were formally instructors in some capacity or another.

So, there you go! Enjoy! Here are the links:



Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln: Dueling inaugural addresses February 18, 2015 by Scott Bomboy



50 interesting facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life February 12, 2014 by NCC Staff




Bill Clinton ranks high in new historical presidents study February 17, 2015 by NCC Staff



10 people who very nearly became President February 16, 2015 by NCC Staff




10 U.S Presidents who also worked as teachers May 6, 2014 by NCC Staff



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some NFL News: Possible L.A. Teams & Cleveland Browns News & Logo Changes

The NFL season is over.

Yes, I know, some so-called experts and pundits on the radio and television would claim that any "real fan" knows that the season is not over, that news continues to be made all year long, and particularly, that the NFL Combine among young hopefuls, as well as the upcoming NFL Draft, are huge news makers.

Still, when there are no games played, and will not be for many months, that means that the season is over, and this is the relatively long off-season.

Indeed, however, there is some news coming out of the NFL right now, and pretty major news, at that.

The first and most notable piece of news is that two franchises, the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, have announced plans to possibly move back to Los Angeles (both teams used to be located there at different times in franchise histories). They have announced possibly intentions to jointly build a stadium that they would share together, much like the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium in east Rutherford, New Jersey (host stadium of Super Bowl XLVIII). The stadium would be located in Carson, California, just outside of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is, of course, the second largest city in the United States. Yet, it has famously been without an NFL team since the end of the 1994 season, when the two then existing Los Angeles franchises - the Raiders and the Rams, both relocated. Both franchises have been weighing their options to a possible relocation back to Los Angeles, and the discussion extended also to the San Diego Chargers. There was even some speculation about a few other franchises, particularly the Minnesota Vikings and the Jacksonville Jaguars making moves out west. In Minnesota, however, a stadium deal was reached to keep the Vikings in Minnesota.

Some other news in the league has involved the already tumultuous off-season for the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that always seems to be troubled and perennially in a state of confusion. they are mired in a controversy regarding texting during games. If this had been the New England patriots, the story would have exploded and been all over the news (and not just sports news, apparently). But, since it is the Cleveland Browns, and it never helps them to be even serious playoff contenders, let alone title contenders, nobody seems to take notice, let alone care. General Manager Ray Farmer did offer an apology over the scandal.

Of course, there is also the matter of star quarterback Johnny Manziel, who checked himself into a substance abuse clinic, amid a swirl of controversy and debate about his future.

Perhaps to try and remedy all of this bad news, or at least to deflect some attention away from it, the Browns have decided to make some changes. They announced that they will change their current logos (which presently is simply the image of their plain orange helmets). They will also change their jerseys, although I am not sure that is wise. The Browns are one of those old, established franchises with conventional jerseys and overall uniforms that have changed minimally over the course of the decades. It might behoove them to retain that much tradition, at least (although admittedly, I personally am not a huge fan of uniform changes for the older franchises like this).

Before I dismiss this, let's see what it will look like. The new logo and uniforms are set to be revealed on Tuesday, two days from today.




Here are a couple of links to interesting sites regarding these two pieces of news concerning the NFL:





2 NFL teams just shocked everyone by deciding to build a shared $1.7 billion stadium right outside LA Business Insider By Cork Gaines February 20, 2015

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/nfl-suddenly-too-many-teams-152349367.html



Cleveland Browns to unveil new logo by Courtney Danser, Feb 18, 2015

http://www.newsnet5.com/sports/browns/cleveland-browns-to-unveil-new-logo

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lazy Winter Day

Okay, so I am having an incredibly lazy day!

Just woke up from an unexpected nap, and realized that I had not done much of anything today. Woke up early, and usually, I like to get things done early, too. But instead, I just kind of lounged around, catching up on the 12 Monkeys series, and having a relatively late breakfast.

I did go out a bit, just to pick up some things at the Polish Deli, then to Cablevision to pay the monthly bill, before the snow fell.

We ordered some food in from a place that my girlfriend recommended, and have been sitting and watching television for most of the day since.

Oh, except for that nap.

Perhaps I needed it. Really, I have been feeling unusually tired, almost worn out recently. My suspicions are for the winter, which started off here quite mildly, with minimal snow in December and most of January.

But then, we began to hit a stretch where we got snow once every few days, and this seems to be getting extended week by week. I know that, now, the winter really is coming to an end, and that it is now just around a week away from March.

At the moment, however, it just feels exhausting, as we watch yet another snow storm dump more of the white stuff on us. Later, it is expected to be hail, which is far worse. I will take measurable snow any day over ice.

Then again, at least we are not Boston! Or Buffalo! Remember that Boston hit a stretch where they got four separate snow falls that dumped snow measured in feet within the span of two or so weeks on them, and some snow in between. They had so much snow, that they did not even know what to do with it all! And Buffalo late last year got pounded with two massive snow storms in quick succession that dumped up to seven feet of snow in some parts of the greater Buffalo area!

So, I probably do not have the right to complain.

It's just that, there reaches a point where it grows tiresome. When you just get sick of seeing the roads white with crushed salt, when you get tired of walking carefully on sidewalks that have a layer of ice on them, and when the temperatures are painfully cold, well below just freezing.

Indeed, the days are getting longer, and noticeably so, at that. It was a bit after six in the evening the other day, and I noticed that it was not really even fully dark. And March is often one of my favorite times of the year, once we reach the point when it seems unlikely that we will get another snowfall or, failing that, when it seems unlikely that we will get any significant accumulations, because it is getting too warm.

Still, that's a bit off into the future yet.

It just would be nice to go outside and not have to bundle up. Not have to wear boots because anything else would get covered in snow, and then that would eventually get in my shoes, melt, and make for wet socks. Not have to go to my car and see all of the gray dust and salt from the slushy roads on it.

Right now, I long for a nice hike in the woods, and see some greenery. Perhaps even build up a sweat. But just to be able to wear regular, comfortable clothes. Sneakers or hiking shoes. Perhaps do some camping with my son, build a fire. Or, just sit on a lawn chair on our little deck, and read a book.

Anything, but to see the daylight draining out of yet another day that feels wasted, because we could not go to the park, or to the woods, and enjoy the day. Perhaps play a little tennis, or maybe basketball. Perhaps even have a little picnic, or barbecue.

This winter, there reached a point where I essentially stopped doing my daily walking, which is part of my exercise regimen. I do not remember such an extended winter when I felt so lazy, on an everyday basis. I'm sure it will take a lot to burn off the extra calories.

I happened to glance at myself in the bathroom mirror after that nap, and saw dark circles that look unusually pronounced under my eyes. I look as tired as I feel, and cannot remember the last time that I had a day feeling extremely well rested.

For whatever the reason, this winter has been more draining than most. And it's not just me saying that. It seems to be everybody.

Last winter was worse for me. It felt worse, because it was so freaking cold, and there was so much snow from beginning right through to around this time last year (it mostly ended in February at some point). Also, I got eliminated from a job (all part-timers there did), and was facing some hardships that were unusual at the time, and which I am still feeling today.

No, this winter has not been as bad. Yet, I find myself more than ever just wanting it to end, and let the spring begin, and rejoicing whenever birds are chirping in the trees, and at any other signs of the upcoming spring.

Like most at this point, I am just waiting for the spring to come.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Islamic State's Threat: Exaggerated or Real?

The numbers are in and, rather surprisingly, 57% of Americans now approve bringing in ground troops in the military effort against ISIS. Indeed, 65% of Americans believe that the Islamic State is a "major threat" to the United States.

It's looking more and more like we are going to war.

President Obama assures Americans that ISIS is going to lose. Of that, I have little doubt. Much like Saddam Hussein in the last war that the United States engaged in in that region, the stated enemy will surely have the life choked out of them.

But to me, that is not the problem.

The problem is, who wins in a war like this?

After all, if we can agree that Saddam Hussein definitely "lost" in the last war, being forced from power and eventually found, quite literally, in a hole in the ground, then who exactly won the war?

The United States? The so-called "Coalition of the Willing"?

That hardly seems possible to any objective party. After all, even if Saddam Hussein was ousted, and even if nobody was lamenting his forced departure from power, the fact of the matter is that the war in Iraq proved to be a fiasco. Some suggested, and with some reason, that it possibly ranked as the biggest blunder in the entire history of American foreign policy.

Whether it did or not, it is hard to argue that the Iraq war was a huge success. It lasted much longer, proved far more difficult, and far more costly both in terms of people lost and people injured than the rosy predictions prior to the war. Not to mention the unbelievable price tag on the war, which has been estimated as somewhere between two to three trillion dollars, which is just a tad over the estimated costs by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prior to the actual outbreak of the war, when he predicted that it would cost somewhere between $50 to $60 billion.

War is costly, and war destabilizes. The Islamic State may indeed pose a threat, but I still cannot help but wonder what would replace it if, indeed, it is eliminated from Iraq and Syria.

After all, American forces were in Iraq for a decade, and the Islamic State filled in the vacuum of power and order in the region that most likely resulted from American military involvement to begin with.

Remember, Iraq was not a hotbed of terrorism before the Iraq invasion of 2003. However much we might have abhorred Saddam Hussein, he was not exactly a terrorist, even though that was part of America's "Global War on Terror".

Now, of course, there is undeniably visible terrorism from inside of Iraq, as well as Syria. Indeed, the Islamic State appears to be, as President Obama suggests, terrorists.

But will another war there really cure all the ills? Is the third time a charm with a war waged against some evil villain in Iraq? How many casualties will be suffered on both sides? How many injured and maimed? How much will such a war cost the American taxpayers? How much will Americans continue to support the war when the inevitable bad news breaks through? If the war goes on and on, from weeks into months and years, even if the enemy this times around, the Islamic State, is thrown out of power? And what if they, like the Taliban, begin to have a comeback some months or years down the road?

Do we really have the stomach for another war? And at what point do we need to admit that we are, indeed, addicted to military ventures, to war? How often can we be moved by images of soldiers returning home to their families after long tours overseas under dangerous conditions, before we begin to question how much we actually need to send the troops out there to begin with?

This all seems pretty amazing to me. We never seem to learn.

Vietnam should have taught us something. Instead, we as a nation turned to an ugly, flag-waving, chest beating form of nationalism when President Reagan came to power, and believed in the invincible military machine that was portrayed to us. We rejoiced after the invasion of Grenada, then Panama, and finally, the big one: the first war against Iraq.

That was the victory that, some suggested, vindicated the American military following the fiasco of Vietnam. We were back!

This was around the time that the Cold War (at least the first one) was wrapping up. The Soviet Union would be officially disintegrated before the end of 1991, and so many Americans felt that they were floating on a cloud. The United States now ranked as the world's only real superpower!

That sense of euphoria died down a bit after an economic recession that cost George H. W. Bush the election, but an economic boom again had Americans feeling good about themselves in the nineties.

Our sense of invulnerability, of course, did not last. It ended on the morning September 11th, in 2001. By then, of course, we had another Bush in the White House, and he and his administration shamelessly used that tragedy to launch a war of aggression under false pretenses against Iraq, and that while we were already involved in a war against Afghanistan (and while Bush was continuing to emphasize across the boards tax cuts (particularly for the richest and most powerful among us, of course).

That war of aggression was Iraq.

Iraq had seen a lot of war over the decades. A war against Iran in the eighties. The war waged against it by a U.S. led, and U.N. backed, coalition that pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, which he had invaded and then annexed in 1990. Air strikes against it in later in the nineties, under the Clinton administration, as well as massive deaths resulting from the embargo imposed on Iraq by the United States. Then, of course, the military invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the longer lasting war that followed for the next decade.

Now, just after President Obama  officially ended the war in Iraq, he is asking us to consider engaging in yet another war involving ground troops in Iraq. Air strikes only have proven effective to a limited extent, because apparently ISIS has American military manuals instructing them on how to get through air strikes and continue their war effort.

And again, I wonder how ISIS got so damn powerful, so damn quickly? Have they managed to do it by somehow getting their hands on American weapons? If so, what would that mean with the prospect of bringing yet more American military personnel and weapons into the region?

At what point is war not going to be the automatic solution? Is it not supposed to be an absolute last resort? So much for that!

So, an American president is, once again, calling for a global effort to oust a terrorist threat in Iraq. This would mark a third war against Iraq by American military forced in three consecutive decades now. For Iraq, it would be the fourth major war for a fourth consecutive decade.

We will be asked to believe that, this time, the buck stops here. This time, stability and peace will be built to last. And no, we are not at war with Islam, even though we just seem to go to war against predominately Islamic nations time and time again.

For a long time, Americans seemed hesitant to engage in another war. It was almost as if they just might have learned something from bad experiences of the recent past.

But I remember a poll a year or two ago that suggested that most young Americans, knowing what they know now, would still repeat the Iraq war exactly as it happened. That bears repeating: knowing all of the facts, including the lies that led up to the invasion of Iraq, they would still enter the war and do things pretty much as they were done.

And now, we seem on the precipice of another war, yet again. And, once again, it will begin with a majority of Americans supporting a war in Iraq.

History repeats itself.



For the First Time, Americans Support Ground Troops Against ISIS The Islamic State's brutality has dramatically shifted public opinion in the United States. ADAM CHANDLER, FEB 19 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chinese New Year

Today, which for us is February 19, 2015, is the day that the Chinese will celebrate the Chinese New Year's Day.

It is based on a lunar calendar and, in China and much of Asia, it is a big deal. Much like Thanksgiving or the Christmas holidays here in North America, it entails much traveling and stress for the Chinese.

I did not get to write much about it today, as I originally wanted to, since the entry on Obama asking for Congressional approval for the conflict against the Islamic State took up most of my attention, energy, and time.

However, I did add some interesting links regarding the Chinese New Year, if you'd like to take a look:




New Google Doodle Honors Chinese New Year by Kevin McSpadden , Feb. 18, 2015:




Lunar New Year celebrations begin in China and across Asia by Martin Patience, 18 February 2015:




Space in Images - Beijing, China:

Obama Asks Congress to Approval War Against Islamic State

President Obama will be looking to Congress to essentially approve one of the keys to his foreign policy in the Middle East - military intervention against ISIL, which has spread to parts of Iraq and Syria. I wrote about this topic yesterday, and recently also found this article by a man that I have tremendous respect for, and try to read and follow with some measure of consistency - Andrew Bacevich.

Bacevich points out the Obama is seeking ex post facto congressional approval for a military intervention that he already essentially has been conducting. 

What this means is that Congress is presented with a unique opportunity to actually debate the foreign policy not just of the Obama administration, but of the United States dating back many years - to at least the Bush administration and, perhaps even dating back to the first Bush administration in regards to Iraq in particular. Here is what Bacevich says, drawing a historical comparison:

Imagine that Congress takes up Nixon’s request and debates whether or not to give its consent to what he has already done. What would be the tenor of that debate? Would members of Congress confine their inquiry to the specific question Nixon had posed: Whether or not to okay the Cambodian invasion? Or would the Cambodian issue open the door to a more searching examination of the premises and conduct of the Vietnam War and indeed of the Cold War itself?

Drawing historical comparisons, Bacevich argues that this request by the Obama White House essentially offers this Congress the opportunity to debate the wisdom of this never ending Global War on Terror, an opportunity denied it in the past with President Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia:

Back in 1970, when the predicament was the Vietnam War, those questions demanded urgent attention. Today, the enterprise once known as the Global War on Terrorism, now informally referred to as the Long War or the Forever War or (my personal preference) America’s War for the Greater Middle East, defines our predicament. But the questions remain the same as they were when Cambodia rather than the Islamic State represented the issue of the moment.

We never really got the chance for a public debate on the wisdom, or potential lack thereof, of our Cold War strategy, including the Vietnam War in particular, and the more expansive and draining arms race against the Soviet Union in general. An arms race that supposedly should have ended when Gorbachev disbanded the Soviet Union and, effectively ended the Cold War. Yet, the military budget of the United States these days seems to exceed Cold War-era military budgets!

However, Obama's request gives this Congress that unique opportunity to actually put this strategy into question. The names and locations and specific situations have changed, but the questions largely would be the same: Is our strategy working? How badly is this draining us economically (to say nothing about actual lives lost and destroyed because of the war)? Should we continue pursuing this, or should we begin to rein in our empirical tentacles around the world at some point?

Remember, the American public was sold on the rosy predictions of the Iraq War. We would be seen as liberators, welcomed on the streets with open arms. The war would last days and maybe, at most weeks, but certainly not months. In fact, it lasted over a decade. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed an estimated cost of $200 billion in total of the war by Bush's economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, and instead, there were official estimates that suggested that the total costs of the war would instead be somewhere between $50 to $60 billion. In fact, the Iraq War has been estimated to have cost between $2 to $3 trillion

So, just how costly has this so-called "War on Terror" been (and not just the one in Iraq)? By some estimates, the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined that each lasted more than a decade after they began is costing roughly $75,000 for every single American household! Those two wars combined cost an estimated $6 trillion! Again, the war in Iraq alone drained us of somewhere between $2-$3 trillion. 

And remember, the Bush administration doggedly stuck to policies of tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporate welfare throughout, and that was while waging the supposed "War on Terror". Of course, this came from the same administration that brought the American economy to the brink of collapse, and it nonetheless entered what has been called "The Great Recession". The Bush years in general saw just a ton of corporate scandals, even if these did not make for juicy headlines gobbled up by the American public like the various sex scandals of the Clinton administration that preceded it. But these scandals, and the scandal of a war fought on fabricated reasons, have obviously cost far more than any sex scandal ever did, in so many more ways. It cost trillions of dollars, and cost thousands of Americans (and over 100,000 Iraqis) their lives, plus seriously injured countless more! Plus, it hurt America's reputation around the world far more than any sex scandal that Clinton was involved in. 

Not surprisingly, given the failures of the Bush administration, the outcome of the war was not nearly so rosy as predicted. They did not greet Americans with open arms, and a stable democracy was not what resulted after years and years of a draining and seemingly endless war. In fact, Iraq was further destabilized by the conflict. Is it really that shocking to think that war would destabilize a whole nation, and possibly region, the way that this one did? Hasn't war generally done that throughout history?

But at the time, most Americans did not want to hear dissenting voices. Bush himself suggested as much, famously declaring: "You are either with us, or against us." Indeed, if you were against the Iraq war, you were accused of being "weak" and sympathizing with terrorists. There was a stifling lack of debate, and a lack of responsible media presenting the actual facts to the American public. Instead, the media focused on an ugly and aggressive spirit of jingoistic, yellow journalism. France, a traditional ally that happened to be opposed to the war, became the enemy. Instead of concentrating on the factual evidence of WMD's and Saddam's supposed enormous and imminent threat to world peace, and his alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, Americans were given more fuel to the fire of war fever griping Americans, as a spirit of French-bashing came into vogue. French jokes reined on late night tv shows, and news headlines covered the story of the word "French" being censored in the Congressional cafeteria, being replaced, irony of ironies, with the word "freedom". While gobbling "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast", Americans happily dove into an ill-advised war. Indeed, so sure of a quick and decisive victory were many supporters, that some Americans sported t-shirts and bumper stickers that suggested that, after Bagdad, the next destination should be Paris. 

The world recoiled in horror from this ugly, nationalistic (bordering on xenophobic) Americentrism, and the narrow-mindedness (and blindness) of those who engaged in it. 

Again, however, there was really no debate. Major media outlets spoke admiringly of Tony Blair's decision to team up with the United States in the war. Matt Lauer spoke of Blair's bravery, even though some people who were interested in actual news, and not opinions, wondered why Lauer, or anyone else, would chime in with their opinions. Forget that! Opinions were all that mattered. Bush's opinion that we needed to wage war won out, and Americans focusing on being resentful of so much of the rest of the world that opposed our actions won out. Bush's approval ratings were high, and dissenters were labeled "un-American". Remember?

No room for debate there. And the American people gave Bush the authority to wage a ridiculous and unjustifiable war. A war that turned into a fiasco quickly, and eventually, became a more long-lasting quagmire. 

Here we are, almost 12 full years now since the Iraq war began, and we are, once again, discussing the possibility of entering another war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was the argument back in 1990 in the lead-up to war in 1991. Saddam Hussein's imminent threat to world peace and his non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's) were the urgent arguments for the necessity of war in 2002 leading up to war in 2003, even though these claims were unfounded. Now, in 2014 and into 2015, we are told that the Islamic State poses an enormous threat to the region and to American interests. 

To those ends, President Obama authorized military strikes, using his executive powers in order to do so. Much like Nixon before him, he went ahead and engaged in the military strike before without seeking Congressional approval. Or, apparently, at least, he did so before seeking Congressional approval, because he is now going to Congress to seek approval, and to seek legitimacy to engaging militarily against the Islamic State. 

Let us return to Bacevich's assessment about this rather bizarre scenario and, indeed, as Bacevich refers to it as, an opportunity for the American people and for Congress to actually hold a meaningful debate on the collective wisdom of our strategy in the Middle East in general, and Iraq in particular, and how all of this relates to the "Global War on Terror":

So President Obama’s requested Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) could not have come at a more propitious moment. The proposed AUMF presents the Congress with an extraordinary opportunity — not to rubber stamp actions already taken, but to take stock of an undertaking that already exceeds the Vietnam War in length while showing not the slightest sign of ending in success.

I still find it so ironic that this latest request for a war is to be fought, in all places, in Iraq. We all know that we have gained an extensive history of costly military involvement in that country. Let us remember that this would not be the first, or even the second, time that we pursued military intervention there. In 1991, Americans hailed the outcome of a war there, but it was limited in it's scope. The United States, and the U.N. backed coalition fighting alongside it, only aimed to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and succeeded. Americans celebrated with ticker tape parades, and declarations that the success of the war vindicated the  nation following the debacle in Vietnam.

Yet, 12 years later, there we were again, getting involved in another war in Iraq. This time, we would get the big, bad dictator. We would achieve "regime change", and he would be captured. Indeed, those things happen. But we still would have a hard time viewing that war as a success, because it did not achieve it's aims. Instead of stabilizing Iraq, it was thrown into chaos. Instead of making Iraq a solid partner in our war against terrorism, we made it a hotbed of terrorism. 

So now, here we go again. A massive movement that Obama assures us consists of terrorists, and not religious leaders, has taken over much of Iraq, as well as Syria. It's time to go to war again, and this time, we will throw out these terrorists, this Islamic State. 

Let us do this time what we failed to do last time. Namely, let us think. Debate. Ask questions. Scrutinize how much we are being told the truth by authorities with vested interests in the conflict. Let us actually learn from the lessons of the past and, given the checkered history of our military involvement in the region in general, and Iraq in particular, let us give some real pause for thought before committing to yet another costly (in every sense of the word, surely) military conflict. Let us not simply dive headfirst into yet another war that we cannot win. 





Here is the article on Bill Moyers webpage, written by Andrew Bacevich, that got me on this particular topic (for a second day in a row, admittedly):



Obama’s ISIS War Request Is an “Extraordinary Opportunity” for Congress February 14, 2015 by Andrew Bacevich:

http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/14/asking-right-questions/







Here are just a few of the articles on the actual costs (in dollars) of the war, which should be revealing for many Americans, if they actually were provided with this kind of black and white, monetary figure, in order to be made to understand how much these wars actually bleed from our tax dollars as the years pile up:


US Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq to Cost $6 trillion  by Sabir Shah for Global Research New, February 12, 2014:





Can the U.S. afford another $3 trillion war? By Linda J. Bilmes, Special for CNN, August 27, 2014:





The $3 Trillion War BY JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ AND LINDA J. BILMES




Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study BY DANIEL TROTTA NEW YORK Thu Mar 14, 2013: