Friday, October 16, 2009

Larger than the continental United States

Common Dreams featured this piece by John Gibbons Time to pull the plug on the bottle water swindle from the Irish Times

Plastic is one of the world’s most chronic pollutants. A colossal floating mass of waste trapped in the north Pacific gyre between Hawaii and Japan is estimated to contain more than 100 million tonnes of a floating soup of plastic, some of it there since the 1950s. The contaminated area of ocean is larger than the continental United States.

Nor is this problem specific to the Pacific. The UN Environment Programme calculates that every square mile of the world’s oceans contains an average of 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. More than one million sea birds a year die from ingesting plastic. This toxic cocktail makes its journey full circle to humanity via contamination of the marine produce we in turn eat.

Almost too painful to think about.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Somebody was always invading somebody in our God-forsaken world

I was in seventh grade for the school year 1963-64. In November, art class was interrupted by the announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. In the spring Mr. Saint John, the English teacher, gave us an in-class creative writing assignment with a choice among four or five topics. I chose to write about the soldiers in a war somewhere with the hero of my story jumping on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. This sounds like a movie I probably saw. The culture had obviously prepared me to consider such sacrifice as worthy. To question at that time just why it was the who it was that we would have been fighting never would have entered my mind.

Slightly more than six years later in the summer of 1970 my friend King and I watched the lottery drawing that determined who would be drafted into the military. The accident of our births sheltered us. To question at that time just why it was the who it was that we would have been fighting never would have entered my mind, despite my Uncle Jim having been killed in combat in Viet Nam.

Flash forward to August of 2002, and it was clear to me that the United States would invade the sovereign nation of Iraq. Based on what I had absorbed in the intervening years about such undertakings, my gut told me that a much larger military force than the US then possessed would be required. In November of 2002, my son would turn 18. And then, and only then, did I ask just why it was that we would be waging war upon the Iraqi people.

By any traditional measure, I had received a very fine American education. But the system had failed to provide me with the tools to ask this basic question: what purposes and whose interests are served by the waging of such wars?

An American educational system designed to teach critical thinking skills in the arena of life and death would have them reading material such as the following, which I read in Retrieving Bones: Stories and Poems of the Korean War, an anthology edited by W. D. Erhart and Philip K. Jason. The passage below is excerpted from the book The Secret: An Oratorical Novel, written by James Drought who served in the military from 1952-1954.

The unfortunate thing that I discovered next, in the years of the Fifties, working like a slob for the finance company, not much different from the slobs I was trying to pump some money out of―was that the fat-cats are not content to exploit us, bleed us, work us for the rest of our lives at their benefit, but they want us to win them some glory, too. This is why every once in a while they start a war for us to fight in. Like everybody else, I suppose I read about the North Koreans invading the South Koreans, and just like everybody else―including the South Koreans it turned out later―I just didn't give a shit. Somebody was always invading somebody in our God-forsaken world and I couldn't keep up an interest in who was taking over who. And I can tell you this: I sure as hell didn't think this invasion was a threat to me, my family,my country, or even the whole goddamn world. But Harry Truman did. He decided that Americans―under the age of twenty-five of course, which left out him and the Congress and the businessmen and doctors and teachers and scientists and ministers―that we were going to defend South Korea. “We'll teach those bloody Communists!” Harry said, waving goodbye to the troop-ships, and Congress agreed and began appropriating all kinds of money to pay the businessmen for weapons and war materials―plus a profit, of course. It's a funny thing, but a lot of the experts saw we were surely headed for a Depression if it hadn't been for the Korean War; and the shot in the arm that this war gave to production to business and even to religion―since right away everybody returned to church to pray for their brave sons overseas―was something that the fat-cats had to have or they might have gone under and suddenly become poor folks like the rest of us―a situation they were quite ready to try anything to avoid. So suddenly we were at war, although the term applied was a little more subtle―”a police action,” Harry called it; but still it was the same old thing, the flag-waving in the newspapers and on the movie-screens, the speeded up draft, the processing centers, the crazy uniforms, the guns, the firing ranges, the squad-training, the troopship―and then war, death, murder for all under twenty-five, while Congress resounded with virulent speeches, much chest-thumping, and the artists began to “soul search,” and the businessmen pocketed the profits, as did the elderly war workers, the housewives, the physically unfit, the “professional patriots,” and the grey-haired ministers who gleefully led their flocks again in something worthy praying about. Again the fine and free Americans were being inflated with death. Oh, there was much band-playing and march-tingling and “we'll-kill-them” shouting, and everyone including General MacArthur predicted the war would be over in a few weeks. The military journals explained “Korea will be a useful testing ground for our young field commanders,” and everyone expected to gain something―except, that is, those under twenty-five. And even for these younger souls, slipping into their uniforms provided them at a tidy profit, there were voices like old Ernie Hemingway's which told them that war gave them a once in a million chance, a way to test their manhood, their courage, and all that was in them. You can tell how great you are, the young were informed, by how willing you are to give up your life, to charge the blazing guns for your for your buddies and for your country, and when it is over you will never be afraid again, because you will have discovered yourself. Nobody mentioned what those would discover who lay ripped open after the battle, bleeding, dying, dead from monstrous wounds.

An eloquent maker of promises

Howard Zinn on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize:

People should be given a peace prize not on the basis of promises they have made – as with Obama, an eloquent maker of promises – but on the basis of actual accomplishments towards ending war, and Obama has continued deadly, inhuman military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Reminded me of an evaluation of Timothy Geitner from Capitalism: A Love Story (paraphrased)

He's failed at every job he's ever held.

So why does he hold this important position?

Because he tells people what they want to hear.

A teller of pleasing tales.