Jun 022013
 

Family Values

Captain Chan Huy Gan stood before his assembled crew and spoke to them with conviction and urgency:

“It has been a full season since our sea-barge and its company of four hundred ran aground on this shore. There is no doubt that we shall not see our former homes and families again without being discovered by another expedition, and we know that no other such expedition was planned to explore these unknown far reaches. Therefore, our ship’s governing council, with the consensus agreement of our accompanying Scholars, has determined that we must put all consideration of return behind us. We must commit ourselves to permanent residence in this place. Further, we must commit, not only to our continuing security, but to extending our prosperity and our progeny for all time henceforth in this land.

“We have met with hostility from the native peoples. But our fortifications hold strong and they will be further strengthened and expanded. You have submitted well in transforming from a ship’s crew to a community of farmers, herdsmen, craftsmen, and guardians. Many of you have been humbled to necessarily forget your royal lineages and government appointments. We have only survived by all willingly doing what is needed, in service to our common good.

“We bear no ill will to the natives beyond our walls and protected fields. Yet, they do not approach us kindly and will not tolerate us to approach them. Sadly, it is only by experiencing the superior strength of our weapons that they have been persuaded to give us some distance and a measure of peace. We have not even been able to unravel the mysteries of their speech. We have taken some from among their raiding parties captive, but they are proud and strong; they refuse to speak or even eat and, by so doing, they give themselves up to their gods.

“We continue to give honor and gratitude to our few precious Scholars who, although being women and our guiding council, have, like every man of the crew, sacrificed for our company’s survival into the future. Remembering that they were born as women, they have, each one, consented to lay aside their veils of mystery, submit to a man among us, bring forth progeny, nurse, and nurture children. However, it has become obvious that, to increase our numbers sufficient to survive and prosper into future generations, we cannot continue to rely upon only these women who traveled with us. We must also take wives from among our neighbors.

“We shall prepare new homes inside the innermost walls. These will be comfortable as befits the most honored guests. Necessarily, to prevent the possibility of these girls giving themselves to their gods, the homes will be secured. Open central courtyards will be provided for access to sun, gardens, and if fortune smiles, the raising of children and the entertaining of friends. As they mature into women, these girls shall discover that they are honored for their service and welcome as citizens of our community. They shall receive the better portions of our goods, whatever education their aspirations allow, and our reciprocal service in caring for their needs and responsibilities. To the extent possible, we shall embrace them as our privileged own.

“We will begin immediately to spy-out villages and fields in our region. Teams will observe the age, health, vigor, and emotional disposition of girls. They will not select over-many from any single village. Nor will they select any who are known to already be mated. But, at an appointed time, as many as possible of these selected will be brought back to join our community.

“In time, the girls will be introduced to men from among our crew. Our Scholars will exercise their best judgment in deciding these matings and their circumstances. All related matters will be at the sole and exclusive discretion of the Scholars. We intend that the girls will be allowed to select temporary or permanent mates to the extent that they choose to cooperate. All crewmen will be expected to comply for the benefit of our community and without concern for their individual preferences.

“It has been decided.”

Twelve years later, Chief Banimbu stood before his gathered warriors and spoke to them with conviction and urgency:

“Your tribe needs you and so I have commanded that you assemble here in advance of an important raid. For years, the intruders on the coast have taken our land, taken our children, and murdered those of our people who approached them. Their vile weapons have given them the power to slaughter our best warriors. We have, in the past, been forced to retreat. Now, we have an opportunity to take our revenge. You men are the knife edge destined to spill their blood and reclaim our stolen fields.

“Our spies have weakened one of their walls in a neglected area and we are ready to break through, catch them unawares, and repay justice for their evil. We will form into teams, enter their houses by first-moon dark, and kill them in their beds. May the gods of earth, water, and sky bless your blades and strengthen your strong right arms.

“I grieve with you for the loss of our kinsmen and the theft of your daughters. You, Yalkan, gave your firstborn son in an early valiant raid on their walls. You also had a beautiful daughter taken while harvesting bushbeets in the eastern fields. I still feel the sting of tears for my beloved Jasitan, taken in the firstyear raid. I often wake at night, remembering the way that she would stand and stare with adoration into deep behind my eyes. Not just me, but so many of you have suffered such losses and endured such painful memories.

“This outrage is not to be permitted. We must defend our children and grandchildren against all threats. Why should we give our fertile lands to loathsome strangers? Why should we allow our daughters to be stolen and sacrificed to their gods? We see that they do not keep but a very few women. It is men who work their fields, bending their backs and knees as women should. It is men who walk their streets.

“Surely the bellies of their gods must cry for the blood of women. We cannot tolerate the outrage of our daughters being taken as sacrifices to call forth blessings from their gods. Why, they must surely also give our daughters to even call forth curses upon us! Raise your voices now and join as brothers in taking vengeance for the evil done to us these past years. Raise your swords, for we shall spill their blood to run back into the sea from which they came! Let none remain; execute justice to the last man, woman, and child!”

The next evening, Chief Banimbu led his fourty men to the intruders’ village. They finished boring through the wall and dispersed to do their work. They walked with stealth and struck with well-planned deftness. They did not shout out their victories, but kept the silence of unpleasant duty and honorable labor.

In the third house that Chief Banimbu entered with his team of four, his lieutenant opened a sleeping chamber door, only to draw back quickly with a quiet gasp and the glistening of fresh blood on his forearm. Chief Banimbu could see the form of a women outlined in the door. She wore a beaded gown with a sash of rank. She brandished a small dagger and stood protectively in front of a small brood of children. She suddenly froze where she stood, staring with adoration into deep behind Banimbu’s eyes. The lieutenant, his surprise and pain turning into anger and outrage, raised his sword to run her through. The Chief knocked the sword aside and stepped into the doorway, ready to defend his child and grandchildren against all threats.

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Jul 312012
 

Last week, I talked about the inevitable presence and place of elites in American Society. While we believe that all men are created equal and certain of their rights are unalienable and should never be threatened, we understand that some of us have advantages and abilities that others do not. Nonetheless, we hope that our children and grandchildren might yet find exceptional success for their efforts.

America has continued to struggle to define, expand, and guarantee our liberties. American slaves have been granted the rights of citizenship. Their descendants are increasingly able to vote freely, serve in the military, and sit, as free people, on any free seat on any bus. Women have been given the right to own property, vote, earn equal wages, and use birth control. Recently, more of us have received additional health care protection so that we don’t face the choice of staying healthy or dying quickly.

Nonetheless, America has always faced groups determined to twist government to favor their private wealth, power, and industry. In the years before World War I, this was called “The Gilded Age.” Corruption was open, corporations organized violence against their workers, stark poverty ravaged the lives of the poor crowded into tenement housing. If you were hurt on the job, you could consider yourself fired before you hit the ground.

The “Panic of 1893” was the result of corporate corruption and embezzlement on a massive scale. They even got the US Army to intervene in labor disputes. The “Great Depression” preceding World War II was triggered by the collapse of unregulated financial speculation by financiers. The Financial Collapse of 2007 was also the work of bankers and financiers trading in fabricated instruments derived from bundled lots of high-risk investments. Greece, other countries, and banks bought these investments, thinking that they could lower their own interest payments. The inevitable collapse shook the finances of not just Europe, but the entire world.

Today, self-serving business interests seem to have seized the reigns of the Republican Party. This goes far beyond the conservative or liberal dispositions of voters. They are dismantling needed regulation of finance, pollution, and labor practices. They are undermining and trying to privatize public workers including teachers, law enforcement, and even the military. They are outsourcing and cutting jobs while reducing wages and benefits for those who do still work. They are making it harder for most students to get or afford the college degrees that are demanded for entry into everything but minimum-wage service jobs. And, they are even trying to eliminate the minimum wage.

Today, well into our struggling recovery from the collapse of their economic house of cards, corporate profit margins are again at record highs while U.S. wages, as a share of our economy, are at record lows. If there is “class warfare” going on, they started it. Income inequality is stunning and it is getting worse. I believe that Americans of both parties need to push back against those who are intent on compounding their private wealth and power at the expense of everyone else.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jul 112012
 

This morning, one of our neighbors dropped off a clipping about Harry Truman. We had been discussing presidents after my column mentioning FDR. The piece was complimentary and praised President Truman especially for his modesty and humility after retiring back to his home in Independence, Missouri.

I have to tell you that I have a soft spot for Harry and Bess. I was raised across the river from Independence in Liberty, Missouri. How about those city names for symbolism? (Then again Peculiar and Normal are city names in Missouri. Go figure.) Kansas City still embraces “Give ‘em Hell Harry” as a beloved native son.

Anyway, the clipping mentioned his few personal assets including Bess’ house, an Army pension, and a special allowance granted by Congress. He did not “enjoy” Secret Service protection after leaving the White House. Harry declined corporate positions saying, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.” Of course, this would be a great place to take a pot shot at the corporate interests that seem intent on buying power and influence in our government, and putting one of their own where he can sign their regressive legislation into law,  but that would be out of place and beneath me, so I won’t mention it here.

In balance, the clipping seemed to be a nostalgia piece for simpler, kinder, and gentler times. I like the comfortable, warm memories of earlier days that it invoked. That was a time when people knew what to expect, every man stood on his own two feet and was often too proud to take charity and too quiet to talk about his service in the Great War. Except, it wasn’t exactly like that at all. World War II killed an estimated 50-70 million people – over 2.5% of the world’s population. About 416,800 US servicemen gave their lives. It was a dangerous, disruptive, and complicated time.

Our current president is getting a lot of flak for personally authorizing selective drone attacks on targeted individuals (and any anyone in a twenty-foot radius.) The United States fire-bombed entire cities during World War II and President Truman personally authorized nuclear weapons over two large cities. Our current president is getting a lot of flak for limited support of other economies. President Truman signed the Marshall Plan to help rebuild seventeen countries of Western and Southern Europe. Our current president is getting a lot of flak for getting a law passed letting our gay and lesbian sons and daughters serve in the military. President Truman signed an Executive Order forcibly integrating the armed forces, letting our black neighbors serve their country.

The fact is that we now live in especially complicated and difficult times. And, I for one, am proud to support our current president – a complex man of family and community, yet gifted with courage, intelligence, vision, and the capacity to inspire us to nurture the goodness that we all hold and the empathy to care about our neighbors.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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May 062012
 

Extract from famous 1936 speech in Madison square garden….

“For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away.

Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair!

Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent. For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace‹business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs.

We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me‹and I welcome their hatred.”

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Jan 312012
 

I read the article in “The Daily Beast” – The Path to Victory in November for Barack Obama and the Democrats by Michael Tomasky. One of the comments pointed out that President Obama doesn’t get credit for all the changes that he has made to support America’s recovery and that he doesn’t spend enough time explaining the economic benefits of focusing on fairness to the wage-earners, just the social benefits. Here was my response:

“Yeah, I thought the connection was more intuitively obvious. Perhaps the dots need to be explicitly connected.

When businesses or investors get more money, they tend to take it out of circulation; they save it (Apple is now sitting on about $100 Billion) or buy things like bonds, mutual funds, or other companies. When businesses or private equity firms buy a business, they often take it apart, sell some pieces, and lay off employees as they squeeze operations for fast profit.

When private citizens get more money, they tend to spend it on products and services. This money continues to circulate multiple times as the people they give it to also spend it on products and services. Eventually, companies and/or taxes reduce the circulation. When the government gets more money it also tends to spend it on products and services. There is no truth to “trickle-down economics;” there is only “bubble-up investments.” However, if you let private citizens and progressive governments spend, you stimulate the virtuous cycle of a recirculating self-reinforcing economy.

There is an exception in the case of some conservative governments. Although a war can stimulate the economy through increased manufacturing and payrolls (as in WWII), It can also damage the economy if its costs are funded by printing money (as in Bush’s Iraq/Afghanistan). Plus, at the end of such a war investment, there is no significant tangible domestic benefit such as improved infrastructure.

Thus, President Obama is right to shift the emphasis from the last 30 years’ trend that favors robbing from the wage-earners (who make money by working) and favors making it easier for businesses, banks, and investors to make money from moving money. He is right to shift the emphasis from hoarding the fruits of American’s labors to planting, growing, nurturing, and replanting what we earn in ways that help more people to work and more people to earn more.”

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Oct 042010
 

A Flippant Rant on the Use of Violence

by David Satterlee

Although good fences may be said to “make good neighbors,” hatred, blood-feuds, violent lust for revenge, and terrorism do not make good neighbors. Terrorism is often considered to be the use of violence by disenfranchised (not yet victorious) organizations or individuals against non-combatants to coerce political, social, or economic change. Similar violence by established authorities is often considered “counter-terrorism” and “collateral damage.” Similar violence by successful “freedom fighters” is often considered heroic. In any event, targeting civilians is generally considered bad sportsmanship and should be frowned upon and credited as unworthy of true gentlemen.

Likewise, Westerners may prefer to discuss the “ignominious French-Algerian War,” while North Africans refer to the glorious “Algerian War of Independence.” In any event, this war ran from 1954-1962, after over 120 years of French “international support” (or “imperialist colonial occupation and subjugation.”) History records similar atrocities committed by, and against, both sides during this war, regardless of issues of just or unjust causes.

Because history tends to repeat itself, thoughtful men have carefully examined this paroxysm of French-Algerian violence to learn lessons so as to avoid confrontation (or to prevail) in the case of similar circumstances arising again. One hopes that the motive in examining past terrorism is not isolated to refining more-effective tactics of violence. Happily, many historians have begun to conclude that such violence is inherently counter-productive if you ever again want to sleep soundly while living in the same neighborhood.

From ancient history, the most reliable way to fully pacify an area (and plunder its resources) is to sustain the determination to murder every man, woman, and child, and be willing to do the same to their alarmed neighbors. This is just bad mojo, and out of the question in our modern world. So, the basic lesson of French-Algerian terrorism, with only a cursory glance, is “don’t even start.” As an alternative, try everything else, and keep on trying. End of story.

Prefer diplomacy. Even the poor widow of parable eventually received justice by her persistence. If you want something and do not have it, make your case while maintaining the moral high ground. If you are weak and stand to risk losing the little you have, do not imagine that poking the beast will make it consider your cause with empathy.

If you have superior force, forget about defending honor and saving face. You have the big stick and everybody knows it. You do not have to pick fights, just end any fight as quickly and surgically as possible. Do not occupy foreign territory; if an area’s population does not currently prefer to salute your flag, it is foreign territory. if you build a foundation for your tent, you have been there too long. Cultivate friends; if you make friends, you will have spies everywhere.

Do not get into the middle of someone else’s blood feud. If they still have such primitive values, you are not going to improve matters by taking sides. Your side will flaunt their new influence and the other side will feel unfairly disadvantaged. Only a fool will grab the ears of a mad dog. Many a friend has intervened in a family dispute, only to have both parties turn on him. Back off.

You are a sovereign nation. They, even if you perceive them as truly pathetic, are a sovereign nation. If you believe that diplomatic persuasion is ineffective and forcible intervention is required, do not organize a mob of peers. Get the neighborhood together and elect an honest-to-god sheriff, vested with the authority to enforce law uniformly, fairly, and without bias. And, especially if you commit to responsibility as a deputy, you had better be willing to fully submit your own house to that sheriff’s authority. Just because the big rancher has enough resources to throw his weight around does not mean that he is entitled to unilateral intimidation of any of his neighbors.

Do not be covetous or greedy. Your friends will not trust you and your enemies will despise you. Do not succumb to quaking fear in the face of terror; that is terror’s purpose. Decisions made on the basis of greed or fear are all suspect; they are very often terribly poor and destructive to yourself and others. Admire the clarity and purity of purpose that cohabit with virtuous motives, self-respect, and peace of mind.

Do not complain. Complaining is the last resort of the weak and impotent. Listen to the complaints of the weak and impotent. Discern the source of their distress and act with compassion to ease their suffering. Terrorism is the most desperate last resort of the weak and impotent.

There is pure evil. Actively resist evil. Shine the light of truth mercilessly upon evil. Do not waver or tire out. Show it for the outrage that it is. Squeeze it out of your heart and purge it from your lips. Do not tolerantly listen to it from your neighbor. Vote it out of your legislature. Hound it back to its deep holes and dark corners and reflect goodness back upon it until it cannot continue to abide itself. Do not be evil.

I do not believe that I am a blind pacifist. Individual, cultural, and national aggression demands a response. But, a good first response is to look down and see if you have been standing on someone’s toes. My kittens have scratched me when I stepped on them. I understood, immediately lifted my foot, forgave them, and opened a can of their favorite liver snack. Conversely, I have never caged and starved my dogs until they got mean.

I suppose that I could make a defense of organized violence as a logical response to interminable oppression and war as a necessary response to armed national hostilities. The thing is, damn it, can we not find a way to avoid getting into these escalating scrapes in the first place? And, to press the issue, how the hell did we get to the point of concluding that there were no better options then firebombing the population centers of cities like Dresden, and Hiroshima? What moral high ground and international honor did THAT achieve? Oh, and by the way… When I see scenes of plazas full of angry men shouting “Death to America,” I am reminded of the most primitive precedents of ancient history and it gives me a bad case of the creeping heebie-jeebies.

Copyright 2009, 2010 David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.

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