Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stormin' Norman (Don't Close Me Out)

I had an amazing biology teacher in highschool.  His name was Norm Rubel.  The kids liked to call him "Stormin' Norman" because of the passion he brought to his lectures.  Let's face it, there aren't many who can make DNA synthesis "sexy", but Norm had a way of breathing life into the dead weight of those beat-up textbooks.  You see, Norman loved science the way I loved Rock & Roll. He didn't write on the blackboard, he danced across it,chalking out double helixes, mitochondria's and permeable cell membranes. He also had his own theory on I.Q.  It had little to do with native intelligence and everything to do with recall. 

I.Q., in Rubellian Biology, was simply a function of reinforced memory created through repetition and accessed by association.  At the opening of each lecture, he drew a small circle in the upper left hand corner of the blackboard.  Around this hub were spoke-like arrows pointing to symbols that represented the key topics in each chapter we had covered.  As the year progressed, the symbols became more abbreviated, but each class always began with this quick review of our studies to date.  I don't know if it worked for everyone, but I can still give a pretty in-depth description of how a cell reproduces, including the names of the nucleic acids involved, even though I haven't picked up a
bio text in over twenty-five years.

Anyway, the reason I bring up Stormin' Norm, is that he had a catch phrase he used whenever he saw he was losing a student... four words that he considered to be the science equivalent of a Buddhist mantra, four words that held the power to move civilization forward, that were at the root of invention, creation and genius. Those four thunderclaps still echo in my ears:  "DON'T CLOSE ME OUT!"

It was Mr. Rubel's belief that scientific law, those indestructible building blocks upon which the definition of our universe is based, are nothing more than theories which have yet to be proven false.  It
is the job of the true, creative scientist to continually question these laws, to metaphorically hack away at them with every tool at his or her disposal with the hope of disproving them.  If a new theory succeeds,
we leap forward in an belief shattering "my God, the world isn't flat," realization.  If it fails, the established Law prevails as an ever-stronger foundation for scientific & intellectual exploration.

Let's start with the premise that the military action we are involved in Iraq is actually a Holy War; a war brought home to America by the 9/ll attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  The objective of this war is the annihilation of the Judeo-Christian belief and the reunification of civilization under the guiding hand of Allah.

When George W. Bush labeled our military response to Bin Laden's attack as a "Crusade against Terrorism,"  he lent credibility to the Holy War concept as well as striking a deep nerve within' the Arab-Muslim Community.  The Christian Crusades and slaughter of Muslims is a very real, living memory in the hearts of present day Arabs, much as the American Civil War is still very alive in the collective consciousness of indigenous Southerners.  Perhaps this is because the Civil War and the Crusades share a prominent feature in common; it was not the army of one nation doing battle with the army of another, but forces attacking the civilian populations as well, plundering the territories through which they passed.  This made the Crusades and Civil War very personal, with many painful recollections passed down generation to generation. 

Propaganda or "spin" as we like to refer to it now, was also rife in both eras.  Today, most public school Yankees like to think the Civil War was fought to free the slaves.  Many are surprised when reminded that President Lincoln, a moderate Kentuckian whose brother-in-law served in the Confederate Army, did not issue the Emancipation Proclamation until the second year of the war.  Until that time, Lincoln was afraid such a move would be ineffectual within the Confederacy, yet ostracize the border states by perverting the core issues of the rebellion.  To placate the urban abolitionists, so vocal in the northern press, Lincoln put forth the idea of compensation to any slaveholder willing to free his "property".  The US government would pay $300.00 a head and then ship these freed-folks back to Africa or possibly Central America.  Lincoln held that the cost of compensation for all the slaves in Virginia would not exceed the expenses accrued in one day by McClellan's "Army of the Potomac."  It was not until the conscription riots staged by Irish -Americans that the Republic began seeing the benefits of forming black brigades from emancipated slaves.  Soon over 100,000 blacks were serving in the Union Army.

As for the long-ago Crusades, the first ghastly trek east was incited by Papal propaganda aimed at consolidating military force under the mast of the Catholic Church.  At the time the Pope had little
political power in Rome and he found Arab bashing a real crowd pleaser. Invented tales of atrocities against Christians, disembowelments and the like, really stirred the congregation's thirst for vengeance; and then when he lead his primarily illiterate followers to believe that Jerusalem, the birth-place of Christianity, had been recently sacked by cut-throat Arabs, the call to arms was soon to follow.  Actually, Jerusalem had been in Arab hands for more than four hundred years and the inhabitants were religiously tolerant international merchants who had no idea what kinda shit was about to hit the fan.

When Biblical passages speak of blood flowing in the streets, it is meant literally. As the Christian Crusaders arrived in the Middle East, theyproceeded to slaughter the locals with uncommon religious zeal.   You see, the Pope, God's spokesman, had promised every solider complete absolution of sin and a free ticket to heaven for participating in the carnage.   Then there was the extra bonus of land and possessions that any second born son of a Roman citizen might find appealing since big brother back home was destine to inherit the family fortune.

Now lets jump forward a few more hundred years to the opening of the bloodiest of all centuries, the 20th.  Remember, that during the later part of the 1800's, Coal was King.  It fueled the factories of the industrial revolution, it ran the new steam locomotives, and it powered the pistons of every ship in the British Admiralty, which happened to be the largest fleet in the world.  Enter Winston Churchill.  An aristocrat by birth, Churchill was bred for the glorious life of a militarist and politician.  Before many
years had passed he found himself admirably employed by the British Navy.

A young, energetic leader, Winston was hypnotized by the ever-expanding world of technology and its potential for modernizing the Empire's war machine. He loved aero-planes, dangerous though they were, and was often heard singing their praises as the weapon of the future. Tanks were another Churchill blockbuster, and to his credit, he was considered solely responsible for their development during the First World War.  But his crowning achievement occurred while still with the navy.  Long before he became the Prime Minister of England, Churchill had the foresight to realize the value of oil.  It was so much more efficient than coal, so much better for fueling the fighting vessels of the Empire, that he envisioned converting every ship in the fleet into an oil-fired steamer.  Unfortunately those fledgling wells in the oil fields of Western Pennsylvania (where John Wilkes Booth had lost a small fortune before
becoming the first man in the nation to assassinate a President)) certainly couldn't pump enough to supply her Majesty's ships.  No there had to be a better solution.  Then lo& behold, just east of Turkey in the land of the Kurds, eureka, black gold, Arab-tea.  Yes, when opportunity and preparation meet the rest is history.  Soon Great Britain was making deals, carving up the desert into countries, installing governors to oversee lands which were once the stomping grounds of nomadic Arabs and you guessed it, the oil was flowing, flowing west toward the Black Sea and the fueling docks of the British Navy.   (And to think that Tony Blair just happened to support George W. Bush in his Crusade on Terrorism.)

Now as much as white American has been taught to respect it's Anglo-Saxon roots, the British Empire's foreign policy was not without blemishes.  Recall which nation owned the slave ships that sailed from Africa to budding southern states, who bought the sun-belt's cotton and who teetered on entering the
Civil-War against the our Republic in order to supply their homeland textile mills with a commodity won from human bondage.  Let us not forget the Opium Wars, China's struggle to free itself from the noose of the British drug trade.  It is an embarrassing, fact that revenues gleaned from opium production in British
occupied India paid three-quarter's of the British Navy's operating budget. And then there was Lawrence of Arabia, the dashing young English officer who's exploits in Arabia captured the imagination of so many starry-eyed youth.  In fact, T.E Lawrence developed such respect for the Arabs and such disdain for the Queen's self serving "flip-flop" policies in the region that he resigned his officer's commission, returned to England, and attempted to reinvent himself by enlisting as a private under an adopted name.

If there is truth in the human experience, it is to be found in the murky 
suspension we call history. Little wonder why the ancient library of Alexandria was torched or why a certain group of Republicans felt it
necessary to break into the Watergate Hotel.  Just think, there's a whole new generation of Americans who have no personal memory of the Pentagon Papers or why Nixon resigned.  I remember.  I remember when those documents were published.  I remember Nixon on TV giving his farewell speech.  The War ended when I was a sophomore in high school.  It ended because we should never have been there in the first place and the bullshit didn't work any longer. As candidate John Kerry said in the first Presidential debate, "do not confuse the integrity of the warrior with that of the war."  History shows us that Vietnam was a huge cold-war tactical error.  Kennedy saw the folly of digging in deeper in Southeast Asia and had devised a withdrawal strategy prior to his assassination.  Had Kennedy lived, you would not have gone to Vietnam.  Many of the POW's that languished in the Hanoi Hilton would never have been imprisoned.

Last fall I met a retiree named Bob.  He was in Vietnam as an advisor when LBJ inherited the White House.  Bob's job was to make maps of the North from aerial photos.  He told me that the country
reminded him of something out of National Geographic, that when they flew in just above the treetops, the awe-struck faces of the villagers portrayed a people that had never seen an airplane, let alone a jet.
He also reminisced about the reports forwarded to Washington and how Johnson's people cautioned them to present positive appraisals of the deteriorating situation as the election was coming up.  It is tough for me not to remember Vietnam and compare it to Iraq.  Both are places we went where we did not belong.  Just as Great Britain did not belong in our Civil War, we should not have been involved in Vietnam struggle.  Our political justification:  save a third-world country from Chinese communist
domination, a flood that was sure to consume all Southeast Asia.  The historic fact:  North Vietnam had been at war with China for a thousand years.  The south had been dominated and exploited by the French. The Vietcong were fighting for a unified, independent nation.

Think of it, Laos, Viet Nam's neighbor to the west, did not have a written language until 1954.  Land-locked would be an understatement.  The CIA, experts in propaganda and political manipulation, had little trouble convincing these illiterate farmers to aid the US cause.  Some 30,000 Laotians joined up to form a secret, American-financed, allied army.  20,000 died, either in combat against the Vietnamese or in the slaughter by the Pol Pot led revolution that occurred after the US withdrawal in 1974. Yes it is hard for me not to compare the promises the American government made to the people of Laos to the promises we are trying to make now as we enlist Iraqis to fight the insurgents.  Who should these largely unschooled Muslims believe, the Americans or the leaders of their local Mosque?   Most of the educated Iraqis, in order to earn a decent wage, had to belong to Sadam's Bath party-- sort of like you join the Union or you don't become an autoworker-- Since the US occupation, we have forbidden all who were part of the Bath Party from working within the new regime we are attempting to create.  The result is a brain drain that is turning the most talented and skilled Iraqi's against us.  Under George W.'s leadership, America is becoming the proverbial "bull in a china shop".

In the late 1970's, years before he was hit and killed by a New York City taxi, Jerry Rubin came to the social-hall on the SUNY Binghamton campus to share his memories of life as a political activist during the Vietnam era. I had first heard of Rubin when I was a freshman in highschool in Battle Creek, Michigan.   It was an election the year.  The year Chicago's Mayor Daley had Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman ("Steal This Book") and a host of other dissidents arrested for demonstrating against the war at the Democratic national convention.  Maybe it was because we lived just off I-94 , halfway between  Ann Arbor (the Yippie capital of the world) and downtown Chicago, or maybe it was because my older brother was reaching draft age, but the Chicago Seven, as they came to be known, became famous in our household. So when I saw the advertisement hawking Jerry's lecture, I headed out to see what a radical from the sixties was really like.

Bottom-line, the guy was funny.  He told great stories.  Pacing the floor, punching the air, he described the pranks he and Abbie Hoffman invented to garner media attention; spoofs mocking an administration that was dropping more ordinance on the thatched roofs of  North Vietnam than had been delivered
in both theaters of combat during the second World War.  By the time they were arrested in Chicago, Jerry and Abbie were experts in performance theatre.  With a few extra dollars left over from bail money, the dynamic-duo went clothes shopping.

On the opening day of the trail, the defendants filed quietly into the courtroom and found their assigned seats. The bailiff then ordered all to rise as the Judge entered from chambers.  "You may now be seated"
the clerk announced and everyone in the courtroom sat back down, except, you guessed it, Jerry and Abbie.  The two young men remained standing, clad in the costumes they had purchased the evening before... black judges robes. Spontaneous laughter erupted, but it was put down quickly by the banging of Judge Hoffman’s gavel.  Face beat red, sputtering saliva, the Judge pointed at the defendants and through thinly controlled rage roared "REMOVE THOSE ROBES!"

At this point in the lecture, Jerry stopped. Like a great comedian, he understood timing and lifting a glass from the edge of the podium, he took a punctuating sip of water.  "You see," Ruben continued, "Abbie and I had started to get, well...competitive.  I mean, it wasn't nasty or anything, but we'd started comparing who was in the paper more, who had a clip on the evening news, that sort of thing.  Being part of the notorious Chicago Seven, it was only natural that we put some thought into our costumes. I figured that if we weren't banished from the courtroom we would be ordered to remove the robes, and what better way to grab center stage than to give them a real show.  So when Hoffman demanded we remove the garments, I complied, and voila, I had nothing on but my jockey shorts... the communal gasp that rippled across the room was so intoxicating that it took me a moment to come to my senses.
Everything was happening in slow-motion, the judge rising from his seat, the stenographer's hand coming to her mouth, the bailiff moving toward us and then, beaming with pride, I tuned to look at Abbie, but Abbie wasn't looking at me.   No he was frozen in time, his hand saluting the Judge, the gold
amulets on his blue Chicago police uniform sparkling like a thousand flash bulbs. Fucking Abbie, beneath his robes stood the real strong-arm of American justice!"

Ruben went on to rehash the Watergate scandal and the downfall of Richard Nixon.  He described his job as an activist as simply a guy who shook the fence, forcing those clutching the middle ground to fall on one side or the other.  He reminded the crowd that he and his leftist buddies had no idea what went on behind the closed doors of the West Wing, but they had vivid imaginations and so accused Nixon of all sorts of devious stuff.  What was ironic, Rubin pointed out, was that Nixon, in his own paranoia,
overreacted, and in a sense, through actions like Watergate, screwed himself.

So what's the point?  Well remember, as Nixon came crashing down, George Bush Sr. was on the rise.  He learned a lot from Nixon's mistakes and he learned a lot from his position as head of the CIA.  First and foremost, the key to success is to keep quiet.  Go about your business, but by all means, stay away from the Press, or if you must, feed them distractions.  It only takes a few months, and no matter what kind of jam you find yourself in,America will forget.  Too busy chasing the next story, the next trend.  If
Nixon had just sat tight, stopped with the televised interviews, press conferences and the like, he could probably have finished out his term and come out smelling like a rose. 

For example, when was the last time you heard anyone mention the S&L imbroglio that occurred after the savings and loan industry was de-regulated by the Reagan/Bush Administration.  It was part of that "trickle-down" economic plan the Republicans had come up with.  Lower taxes for the rich and they will
invest more.  It takes money to make money.  Don't make cash so hard to borrow.   Get the government out of it and make banking more competitive and more folks will take out more loans and more things will get built and then everyone from the investors to the blue-collar worker will benefit.  Yeah,
I guess that makes sense as long as everyone plays by the rules and greed is taken out of the equation.  But since when aren't capitalists greedy.  It's a jungle out there boys, Darwinian theory rules, survival of the fittest, may the best man win, that sort of thing.  That is why anti-trust laws were created, why industries were regulated after the Great Depression.  But just like those thorny Nebraska hedgerows that were planted after the dust bowl, with irrigation, heck, who needs 'em?  Tear them out, plant more corn!
We need every inch for expansion!  Crops pay, windbreaks don't.

So the Federally insured Savings and Loans, decided to go into the commercial real-estate and building market and along came some Floridians and Texans who knew how to break ground for a shopping mall, knew how to secure the huge loans to make the girders rise, but oops... hey, where's the
roof?  Where's the plumbing, the electric... where's the guy who borrowed the money?  Yes, billions of dollars just disappeared, a few guys did some time, but Neil Bush, George W.'s brother, well, a slap on the wrist and he walked away with over $100,000... but what's $100,000, hardly enough to pick
up the tip at lunch.

When one starts to look into the Bush family history, the money trail leads to some amazing revelations concerning the moral character of the genetic tree.  I am sure you have seen Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."  He does a far better job connecting the dots then I could.  He shows the Bushes
hanging with the Saudis, points out how George SR. was in a meeting with one of the Bin Ladden's when the Pentagon and the Trade Towers were attacked, shows how on 9/13 when no one in the USA was allowed to fly, the Bin Ladden clan boarded jets and exited the country with presidential blessings.  The Bin Laddens' are Saudi Arabians, not Iraqis.  Sadam was in control of the world's second largest reserves of crude and certainly was a threat to oil interests, but he did not attack America.  The "black-sheep" of the Bin Ladden family did. Could it be that the Bush and Saudi Royal family spun attention away from their relationship and used the opportunity to take out a pesky competitor?   The old expression, "to kill two birds with one stone" would certainly seem to apply.

Here's a little statistic I saw the other day.  As an American citizen, your chance of being killed by a terrorist is one in nine million.  Your chance of being killed in a car is one in seven thousand.  Ask yourself, why the Hell aren't we bombing GM into oblivion?  Simple, we need them, we like our
pick-ups and SUV's.  It would appear that the Bushes are sweet on the Saudis, and we don't want to upset them by killing off family members.  After all, they own 7% of America.  If they pulled their money out of the US, think what would happen to the stock market.  Think what would happen if they shut the oil taps off or kicked our military out of their country like the Iranians did, like Sadam tried, or
as the Taliban would like?

Come on, how can this be called a Holy War? The way I see it, the only part God is involved in is welcoming home the dead.  The Iraqis didn't attack our country, a fanatic named Bin Ladden did and he is a member of a family whose religious orientation is shared withless than 2% of the Muslim world.  A Holy War?  Make Iraq a beacon of freedom and democracy?  What were we doing in Vietnam, making Southeast Asia safe from communism?  Answer me this; is Vietnam better off now than it was in 1969?  I think the answer is pretty obvious... after all, it isn't being bombed.

So when you listen to the propaganda circulated by Veterans for Truth, do a little digging.  You will find that their PR firm is working for a number of ultra-right wing organizations.  Notice how their ads are not based in fact, but opinion, thus sliding under laws prohibiting slander.  That candidate John Kerry spoke out against the Vietnam War, as did many veterans, does not diminish him in my eyes.  In fact, I respect him more.  It was people like Kerry, who in the proper political forum, helped bring the war to a close, who in truth, helped free the POW's.  "Do not confuse the integrity of the warrior with the war."  Revisiting our politically misguided actions in Viet Nam should make the electorate think twice about voting for a man who will send more Americans through the mental and physical trauma of armed conflict.  It is never too late to re-evaluate your position based on new information.
                                                                                                                                                                  As Stormin' Norman (and history ) would say:  "DON"T CLOSE ME OUT!"

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