THE DEVIL IN WASHINGTON

Ted Cruz not only seems not to have learned his lesson during The Shutdown, viz., that Americans are tiredtiredtired of gridlock and partisan politics merely; incredibly, he seem to have been emboldened by it all, ready and willing to trumpet out louder blasts of rancor and meanness while pursuing an anti-American agenda of more and more for the top 1% super-rich and less and less for the bottom 85% suffering poor.

Of course, he never—The Right never—tells the truth; The Right is trying its hardest to protect the average American, so it says—by opposing Obamacare(!)—failing to mention how millions of Americans, without Obamacare, are unable to afford ANY health insurance at all: or failing to mention what Michael Moore revealed in his film on healthcare, Sicko (2007), viz., that big health insurers consciously opposed insuring people in order to increase their profits, profits that doomed these uninsured (including children) to die because their families could not otherwise afford the procedures without health insurance! This injustice Obamacare would eliminate.  But nothing is too sordid, or too amoral, for presidential hopeful Ted Cruz to champion. The Tea Party is emphatically “politics as usual”: more for the “haves,” less for the “have nots.”

What speaks volumes about the state of education today is that Cruz was graduated from Harvard Law School—a top student according to a well-known Harvard Law School professor, Alan Dershowitz. But Cruz did come under harsh criticism from Dershowitz for his conduct during the shutdown, saying that Cruz’s antics were “unconstitutional” and would have appalled a Hamilton or a Madison. That a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing anarchist can graduate from our top law school, then be elected to political office, become the spiritual leader of one of our two political parties, and an aspirant to the presidential office to boot, I find absolutely horrifying—and very depressing. It speaks volumes about the diseased nature of politics and education in our nation today.

An argument Cruz used repeatedly during the Shutdown—as justification for it—was his opposition to a medical devices tax: how unfair it was, and how it would stifle a company’s R&D by lowering its profit margin. But an independent medical research group tackled Cruz’s points and—no surprise here—found his arguments to be without a shred of truth.

The naked truth is this: Companies which sell these medical devices don’t put much money into R&D even when they do make good profits (!); that these companies force doctors and hospitals to sign an agreement not to disclose their prices so hospitals and doctors can’t shop around for the best prices; that hospitals and doctors pay 50% more in the US for these devices than in other countries where there are open prices, controls and checks; that these companies, furthermore,  lobby Congress, giving money to its members in return for their support. Cruz and others thus work not for the American people but for these medical devices companies.  And Cruz thinks he operates on “principles?” And just what “principles” might those be that enrich his own pockets at the expense of the average, poor American’s?

Len Sive Jr.

GOD-TALK: THE DIVINE TEA PARTY

God:  How are things down below? At your insistence, I gave you nine years of great power. Are you making life better for everyone?

Ted Cruz: Yes, Lord, and we’re having a ball, too. You wouldn’t believe those Democrats,  mealy-mouthed, weak-willed nothings…No wonder our country’s in trouble. Who cares about the little guy? Does the little guy help our great country? Does he start new businesses, develop real estate, invest in new products? No, he’s  just a sponge. Let him mop floors, that’s all he’s good for. It’s the richest 1% that matter, not the bottom 85%…And Obama, that non-US citizen…. Just between us, Lord, I hate that guy.

God: Now, Ted, you surely have read where I state very clearly that you are to love your neighbor.

Cruz: Well, to be honest, Lord, I haven’t actually read it personally. No offence, but  I just have more important things to read, books by von Hayek or von Mises, for example. “ Loving your neighbor”—No offence, Lord, but I just don’t see the point.  I mean, realistically Obama’s not my neighbor. And if he or his kind ever did move into my neighborhood, I and all my friends, we’d move right out—before the value of our real estate dropped. In fact, Lord, we in the Tea Party think that  the world would be a better, saner place if everyone just called a spade a spade. If you hate a guy, be a man and tell him exactly how you feel. That, Lord, is honest and manly. And if he takes umbrage and wants a fight, by all means, just take out your AK-47 and let him know who’ boss.

God: And what about my Ten Commandments? I spent a billion years working on them, trying to get them just right.

Cruz: I think, Lord, the different time zones up here must have  confused you; You mean  you spent 5,000 years, don’t you?—Listen, Lord, you’re a nice enough fellow, but things have to change. Your old way just doesn’t work anymore. So the Tea Party has voted to shut down heaven and hell unless you defund these silly Ten Commandments—and especially that ridiculous law, to love your neighbor as yourself. You must have had a little too much ambrosia to come up with that one, sir. Look, Lord, on a practical level, I really love myself; I just don’t see how I could love another that much. It just wouldn’t work. And those other commandments—“Thou shalt not steal”—are you kidding? How do you think politics works? Enforce that one and everything grinds to a halt. Effective politics is when you steal from the poor and give to the rich. It’s a good policy, too; been around a long time; well ratified by law and custom. Corporations, banks, insurance companies, investment firms…they all love it. Of course you never ever say that. No; you sound noble: “We need to lower the deficit, lighten the tax burden on the rich, the corporations, etc.”

God: But Ted, haven’t you read where I said, “What you do unto the least of these you do unto me.”

Ryan: Let me field that one, Ted. I may have heard it read in church once, I’m not sure. Never meant much to me, though. Listen, Lord: Has anyone told you that sometimes your language sounds too antiquated? I know; you’ve been around 5,000 years. Still…Listen, for a small retainer fee, I can help you spruce up your language. Anyway–Lord, as a pretty powerful personage yourself, you must know that power is where it’s at. It’s the same thing on earth. When, for example, you’re dealing with Democrats, immigrants, Obama, you’ve got to show them who’s boss. That’s why we voted to shut-down the government. We’ll talk only if they get down on their knees and beg…You just can’t treat these Democrats as equals. That’s one of the things we have got to change. Like our heroes who ran those big slave plantations, you’ve got to let them know who’s boss—keep them in their place.

God: And what about “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”? I spent ages working on that one.

Ryan: Now, Lord, how the hell did you ever come up with that one? That’s the dumbest one of all. You simply can’t get elected without lying about your opponent. It’s impossible. You have to wound them any way you can.  And the bigger the lie, the better. You know, Obama’s a Muslim, a socialist, not a citizen (Trump takes care of that one for us)—whatever you think will hurt your opponent the most. Now, Lord, about our shutting down of heaven and hell….

Len Sive

REPUBLICAN BRINKMANSHIP: FINANCIAL TERRORISM

The Republican Party is risking the financial health of the United States, and what recovery the country has made since the 2008 (Republican-made) economic crisis, in order to fight national health care in general and “Obamacare” in particular. So fanatical, so anti-rational, so ideological are these Republicans, that even risking the financial rating of their own country, and its further economic stability, take a back-seat to their “all government is bad government” Tea Party ideology.

Republicans are acting like financial terrorists—willing to destroy the country’s credit and economic health for the sake of their anti-government ideology (ie, government for the poor), failing to recognize that the Affordable Health Care Act is already law, having been passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. So when house representatives, with support from Republican senators fail to honor law, they undermine democracy. The kind of government envisioned by Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Adams and others—for which they risked their possessions, their names, their honor, and their lives—that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” as Lincoln wrote, is then effectively a dead letter.

Let’s review first the Republican mantra that national health care is “socialism”. If you should travel to other countries, you would see that it is simply not true. I have lived abroad, East and West, and every modern industrial nation—except the US—has (affordable) health care for all its citizens and not just for the wealthy. “Socialism” is a bogey man used by rich Republicans to frighten ill-educated masses with. “Affordable” is the key term here. A country whose citizens cannot be healthy because health care is beyond their financial means is a demonstrably weak country. And in any event, Republicans cannot win on this issue. Public opinion is not with them, so they must somehow try to emerge from this crisis without looking like the malevolent politicians they in truth are. If ever one had doubts about how patriotic these Republicans are, doubt no more. Patriotism is held hostage to ideology.

But on a deeper level, let us never forget: History judges nations on how it treats all of it citizens, especially its weakest and most vulnerable. The Republican Party is today the Supremacist party: everything for the richest 10% and little or nothing for the bottom 80%. This dogfight over Obamacare must be seen as but one act in this drama, albeit a particularly dangerous one, with our country’s economic and financial health  hanging in the balance. All rhetoric aside (“socialism” and the like), it boils down to this: Is America for all Americans or only for rich Republicans? As Americans decide on this fundamental issue, so goes the fate of America—and democracy.

Len Sive

A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS: OR THE DEVALUATION OF WISDOM

In today’s globalized market, where things, or ideas that can eventually produce things, are the only real global currency, the ancient Greek concepts of episteme (systematic knowledge) and sophia (wisdom) hold little value. In the US, both conservatives and liberals alike increasingly view education as merely a means to an end and not as an end in itself, i.e., as the way to deepen, enhance, and “heighten” life  through the passionate and life-long pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—regardless of their market value. In other words, education, as we have known it in the West now for over 2500 years (called “the liberal arts”), has been reduced from wisdom and the joy of discovery (including self-discovery) to mere job-training and job-seeking. Wisdom has been set aside for the single-minded pursuit of profit and (therefore) power. And in the process, humanity has forsaken its true home in the realm of the sublime, which alone makes life worth living, in order to embrace instead the intellectual vacuity of vocational education. And along with this fundamental change in the purpose and conduct of education goes any chance of forging an ordered, well-regulated, rational society and government: For a people without rationality can never govern itself wisely.

Ever since Socrates, education was meant to counter the nihilism of a person wrongly valuing riches, fame, sensuality, and power in order to rightly value the passionate and life-long search for truth, goodness, and beauty, a quest begun here in this life but continued into the next.  From Socrates and the great Greek tragedians (among many others) have come that wisdom which is cathartic in expelling vice and ignorance, and which has been handed down in unbroken succession in the West—until now—for over two and a half millennia.

But with conservatives, foundations, think-tanks,  and CEOs stressing education simply for jobs; universities stressing increasing profits; and liberals stressing education merely for the glorification or indulgence of self; the passionate and life-long search for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, which has given western civilization its Homer and its Sophocles, its Shakespeare and its Dante, its Goethe, Newton and Tolstoy, among others too numerous to mention—these monuments to intellect, goodness and beauty are no longer forming, or informing, our youngest minds. And the result, if finalized, can only be a permanent desiccation of their intellect and soul that cannot but make life even more difficult and more troubling both for them and for society than it already is.

A Liberal Arts education is the one true oasis in the desert of specialization and job-training. It is literally what men live and die for—what makes life worth living. Without it, we become merely obedient and clever dogs—we can (for either government or employer)  run on cue, chase our tails, and bark at shadows…but most assuredly we cannot think—not  as human beings should think, and were created to think. Humans alone share this ability to think, this capability, with God (“man was created in the imago Dei,” in God’s image), and it is this, the thinking of “divine” thoughts, that separates us humans from all other creatures on earth. For only we can aspire to and sacrifice for truth, give of ourselves to others out of goodness, and create works of indescribable and lasting beauty—that can wring tears from our souls, expressive of life’s deepest and most profound meanings.

But so little does this view of education obtain today that one is tempted to say that it is dead—moribund it most certainly is, but in many places, alas, also dead… and buried. And if this is true in the US, with its long and storied history of liberal arts, that once turned our European barbarian ancestors  of earlier ages into more civilized human beings, and along the way gave to humanity (and not just to the West) democracy, the rule of law, justice tempered with mercy, constitutions, the separation of powers, universities, hospitals, the arts, philosophy, the theater, opera, mathematics, literature, science, inter alia—one must expect it to be true a fortiori in Asia where there is no millennia-long history of liberal arts to draw upon, and where technology, and the use of technology, now passes for “culture.” But lap-tops, cell phones, and TV are not, nor can they ever become, the equal of a Shakespeare, a Plato, a Bach, or a Michelangelo.

In Korea, e.g., where I now live and teach, and where the traditions and wisdom of a Confucius or a Buddha seem largely forgotten (or where remembered, so watered down as to be of virtually no help for living), education, as in so many other Asian countries, is merely for the sake of obtaining a well-paying job, period: And test-taking is the sole means to that end. Education in Korea, put in classical Greek terms, is mere, and only, techne (Gk. skill), not a broader search for truth, understanding, or general principles with which to guide one’s life by, let alone a passionate love of and devotion to truth and wisdom in order to bring joy and peace to one’s soul, and to make a contribution to one’s family, community, nation, or the world.  As we know from Socrates, education was to reach through the individual to the larger community in which he lived. It was never intended to be an idiosyncratic (private) pursuit which could not help, directly or indirectly, one’s fellow citizens on the path and pilgrimage of Life.

So strong is the idea in Asia in general, and Korea in particular, that education is simply for jobs; and so willing and eager are Koreans to pay high fees in order to achieve this positive job-result, that offering to teach education for free, as I have done, simply for the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty for their own sakes, is taken to be either a sign of madness or incompetence or else a subterfuge for baser motives. For no one here takes the western liberal arts view of education seriously. The life of the mind here (as our great teacher Socrates instructed us as to how it should be) in Korea is a “dangerous idea”, just as it was in Greece for Socrates himself (who was accused of “corrupting the young” and “introducing new gods” and was executed by Athens as a result—he, Socrates, the wisest and best man of his time according to Plato).

There is indeed nothing so dangerous, so revolutionary, so upsetting, both to families and to governments, than an individual’s life-long, single-minded devotion to the pursuit of truth, and the living out, as best one can, of a life of goodness, supported by deep and passionate attachment to beauty (in its various guises of poetry, piety, art, architecture, empathy, self-giving love, literature, etc). Forget the dangers of revolutionaries like Marx. Nothing in history has proven to be more dangerous to the status quo than a person who can think—truly think—for himself. As tyrants like Kim Jong-Il of North Korea know only too well, you can kill the body but you cannot kill an idea—and so it is with ideas—especially ideas of justice, goodness, and righteousness—that make every tyrant’s soul tremble the most. (This trembling, of course, being but a foretaste of divine judgment.)

The whole revolutionary idea of Western culture, of the liberal arts, may be conveniently summed up in the extraordinary words of Jesus: “The truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Alas, there are many among us who choose to continue to live in prisons of their own making. And when they do so, they thereby encourage tyrants, like Kim Jong-Il, to make prisons for their bodies as well. For prisons of the mind inevitably and necessarily lead to shackles for the body. Only the Truth can set man free.

Len Sive

Electronic Stimulation And Addiction, Nature, And John Keats

A group of neuroscientists, as reported in a NYTimes article, went on a vacation in Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Utah, in order to see for themselves if, and possibly how, Nature might affect their brains, long accustomed (if not addicted) to electronic stimulation via cell phones, emails, computers, etc.

They already know (what most don’t) that too much stimulation has a negative affect on the brain. Dr. Strayer of the U of Utah says that “too much digital stimulation can ‘take people who would be functioning O.K. and put them in a range where they’re not psychologically healthy.’” Another scientist who has studied teenagers’ compulsive use of cellphones argues that “heavy technology use can inhibit deep thinking and cause anxiety.” They know, further, that “(b)ehavioral studies have shown that performance suffers when people multitask.” And all are mindful of a seminal U of Michigan study “that showed people can learn better after walking in the woods than after walking a busy street.” Hence their trip to Glen Canyon and away from the city and the university with all its pervasive electronic stimulation. They want to see for themselves what kind of power Nature possesses in counteracting our modern-day over-stimulated lives.

After three days in the wilderness a state of relaxation called “third-day syndrome” sets in, in which time “slows,” one is more in tune with nature, has more energy, including mental energy, and with clearer thoughts as a result.

Now let me share my experiences, which mirror what these neuroscientists have discovered on their trip “back to nature.”

For three years, from 4th through 6th grade, our family moved to a farm outside of Cincinnati, where my father worked. He chose to drive to work, over an hour each way (when doing so was uncommon) in order to enjoy the benefits of living close to nature. For us it wasn’t a great adjustment, however, since my parents’ best friends already lived on a farm and growing up we spent many weekends, and many holidays, visiting them. After class in my rural school was over, and after a three-mile walk home, I spent before-supper and after-supper time roaming in our fields, or riding our horses, or exploring our little streams and banks, or swimming in, or ice-skating on, our ponds, or playing all sorts of outdoor games with my sisters and our friends. Life on our farm truly was never boring: and “nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”

When we moved back to Cincinnati, I lost part of myself which, all these years later, I still mourn, so wonderful was that experience.

A decade later, during spring break from college, a friend and I went on a 10-day canoeing trip on a big lake in Canada. We paddled all day, slept on little islands in the lake at night, and ate (inter alia) fresh sturgeon with eggs, which was indescribably delicious. We brought no electronics with us. We lovingly took in nature and her beauty, talked, read, thought, contemplated, drank from the lake (so pure and utterly delicious and refreshing was its water), admired the sparkling stars at night, and felt a one-ness with nature which was almost a mystical experience. When our trip was over and we returned to our car, by reflex I turned on the radio—and such a jarring, unnatural, unwelcome “noise” assaulted our ears that I had to turn it off immediately. We then drove the long way home (10 hours) without music. Years later, when I was studying German in Freiburg, Germany, I would hike in the Schwarzwald (The Black Forest) every day after class, through all seasons, fall through summer, for a minimum of three hours. It was then, and has remained for me since, one of life’s most wonderful experiences. However harried I may have been after class, or however lonely for my family and friends, I was always renewed after my nature-hike, and could then return, refreshed, to Freiburg and to class.

I mention these personal experiences because the neuroscientists’ surprise at being “re-made” in nature is only a surprise to those who have never experienced her beauty and grace before. One need only read (eg) poems of Keats or Wordsworth or Coleridge to find out how much they themselves were restored by nature and healed of the negatives effects of living too long “in (a) city pent.” But the same restorative powers of nature I feel sure apply to electronic stimulation/addiction too: Nature brings us back to our real selves, and provides a healing which cannot otherwise be had.

In my English classes in Korea, an ultra-wired country with addiction to technology being a real problem among young people, I daily see the negative effects of the omnipresence of cell-phones and texting, and of hours daily spent playing computer games after (or before) school and how this saps the minds of so many of my students, leaving them distracted and unable to think, making learning for them almost impossible—which harmful effects, by the way, are clear to all of us teachers. A return to nature would certainly be one way to restore, insofar as possible, a sense of normality to these students’ lives. But one doesn’t need to be a neuroscientist to discover this. Just take a walk out into nature yourself sometime, sans cell, laptop, iPod, etc, and Mother Nature will awaken depths long-forgotten and unused. And life will have restored to it much of its lost beauty and grace—and the joie de vivre which seems to be absent among so many young people today.

“To one who has been long in city pent,
‘Tis very sweet too look into the fair
And open face of heaven,–to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
Who is more happy, when, with heart’s content,
Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
Returning home at evening, with an ear
Catching the notes of Philomel,–an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet’s bright career,
He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear
That falls through the clear ether silently.
–John Keats, To One Who Has Been Long In City Pent

Len Sive

CHILDREN AND THE TYRANNY OF THE RICH

In France there are many women who believe that being a mother should take second place behind a woman’s primary “vocation” of being alluring and feminine. Historically, French women have indeed been so, and it is a role they delight in. Having lived in France, I can attest to their success in this. French women are second to none in the world for beauty and femininity. Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that “Eve” be a French name: for the first woman created must have been preternaturally beautiful and alluring, coming, as she did, fresh from the hands of the Creator.

But surely French women hold to an erroneous idea. While not underestimating the power of beauty or femininity, nonetheless what makes life so wonderful is—children.

Who can fail to be cheered, in our troubled and vexed world, by the lovely simplicity, innocence, and charm of children? To be sure, children have their moments; and a badly-reared child is a reproach not only to himself but to his parents, whose primary role is to raise well-mannered, kind, creative, loving, responsible, and well-educated children. Indeed, children well-raised and well-educated are “the world’s fresh ornament,” and bring a blessing to the earth as nothing else can. Love might seem to be a rival, but it isn’t: love is (or ought to be) the begetter of children; and children, therefore, ought to be the offspring of love. Children can provoke a kind of wonderment at God’s creation, and are, perhaps, in the scheme of things an eternal reminder of how life was once in the Garden of Paradise: fresh, simple, innocent, receptive, and endlessly entertaining.

This is one reason why war and poverty are so terrible: they despoil what for children ought to be life at its purest and most innocent, and disfigure and scar both their body and soul, with life-long consequences.

The Iraqi war-logs, for example, show how terrible and out of control violence is during war-time—even for Superpowers with advanced and precise weaponry; and how all too often it is the innocent who suffer and die. War is a plague; once unleashed it destroys and maims as it will, and none may control it. For just this reason Jesus called peacemakers “blessed.” For without peace nothing else is possible. And Africa today serves as a painful reminder of just how widespread, destructive, and searing is the condition of poverty in much of the world—how political corruption, mismanagement, and greed give rise to poverty in the first place, and thus how intractable it can be.

Within the Catholic Church, its crisis over child abuse is all the more terrible because church officials thought only about controlling a damaging scandal to the church—and perhaps were fearful, as well, of civil or criminal charges being laid against the priests and bishops involved—but gave hardly a thought to the emotional or spiritual damage done to its young charges, whose safety and health is, or certainly should have been, a fundamental duty and responsibility.

And within each society this is also why education and health care are of the first importance and ought not to be politicized: a proper education must train young minds to think, and to think well, if society is to flourish and not stagnant; and a society that intentionally politicizes health care, calling national health care “socialist” (a bogey man which conservatives use to frighten uneducated people with) so that the medical profession, hospitals, insurers, and pharmaceutical companies can continue to reap their exorbitant profits off the sick bodies of its citizens, young and old, is an affront to God and His purposes in creation. Avarice rightly is numbered among the seven deadly sins.

In politics, then, the care and maintenance of the whole society at all times ought to take precedence over individual greed and the destructive avarice of large corporations. But in America today the worship of money and power has superseded all else, with the corporation, and its single-minded drive for profit, now ruling over our lives whole and entire. In the pursuit of unlimited wealth and power in America the value and sanctity of human life has been left behind.

The good of the whole society is the rationale and raison d’être of any government. Under no circumstances can the “welfare of the people” be altered to favor only the powerful and wealthy few. It then becomes tyranny; and as Jefferson has urged, all tyranny must be opposed.

Leonard Sive, Jr.Daily Babel

JULIAN ASSANGE

Robert Wright, in an article about Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, argues—drawing on the New Republic’s John Judis for support—that what Assange has done, viewed over the long term, is positive, even beneficial, because it exposes a US imperialist agenda, as well as revealing when our government lies to its people, as in our fighting in Pakistan and Yemen.

This, however, misses the main point—tellingly not even mentioned by Wright—that no government can possibly exist, let alone function, without the ability to hold candid and open communications with its government employees, or in talks with diplomats from other countries. Secrecy is vital, not just tangential, to a government’s ability to function at all.

To make this clearer, let us suppose you are married. And let us further suppose that every single word between the two of you, meant only for each other’s ears, nevertheless is captured and splashed across the Internet the next day. Could such a marriage survive? The question answers itself: No. What is true in marriage (or friendship) is true, a fortiori, in diplomatic talks and dispatches. No government can for long engage in talks with another government without absolute privacy of communication—just as no marriage can function without absolute privacy.

All governments, being staffed by humans, are fallible and sinful. That is a given. The Enlightenment ideal of eternal amelioration of the human condition, a utopian ideal, by definition can not exist, and never has existed. There are times, then, when the revelation of wrong-doing—engaging in unjust wars, for example, as in Viet Nam or Iraq—can and must be countered with the truth of why we are there in the first place and what is actually occurring. Hence the release of the Pentagon Papers by Ellsberg and Assange’s Iraqi War-logs (with the important qualification, however, that all sensitive names should have been blacked out by Assange beforehand) were good things. Moreover, if there is evidence of a crime, then the proper recourse should have been the Whistleblower route—which ought to be enshrined in our democracy as a highly civic and virtuous act, and so properly rewarded, since sinful men do unjust and criminal actions, and must be punished for the sake of the country as a whole.

But this is a different category altogether from the premise that all communications of a government are, and ought to be, in the public domain. For under such an absurd premise, who would ever serve in government? Adverting once again to the marriage analogy, only with the assurance of absolute and total privacy can any marriage be successful: so with any and every government.

There is no absolute right to privacy where there is evidence of criminal activity, either in one’s home or at work or in government. But there are legal and rational steps one may take to seek remedy. The absolute loss of the right to privacy, however, is no such remedy, but only makes the cure worse than the disease, crippling any government from functioning. Assange, in releasing the diplomatic communiques, has crossed the clear line of propriety and therefore ought to suffer the full consequences of his actions.

Len Sive Jr.

THE RIGHT WING, SIN, AND THE DEMISE OF AMERICA

David Brooks, a NY Times columnist, Right-Wing ideologue, and irrepressible apologist for big corporations and America’s plutocratic 1%, in an opinion reflecting on the shooting tragedy in Tucson, Az., called Obama’s speech “wonderful”, in part because “He didn’t try to explain the rampage that occurred there.” (As an inflamer of intolerance, prejudice, and hatred, Brooks must have taken great solace in that.) Brooks then goes on to reflect (among other things) on “civility.” “Speeches about civility,” he writes, “will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened…Civility,” he goes on to say, “is a tree with deep roots,” which are “failure, sin, weakness, and ignorance.” (His thesis, by the way, which he then goes on to propound, is totally unconvincing, if not absurd.) He ends his opinion piece with a quote from the famous Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in which Niebuhr reflects, “Therefore we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

What is amazing about Brooks’ fantastic piece of sophistry, equaling some of the sophistry that Socrates and Plato also had to deal with, is that Brooks is really criticizing those politicians and citizens who disagree with his extremist Right-Wing rhetoric (when he refers to “intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness”) which has so polarized our nation, and which has led, if only indirectly, to fanning the nihilism of a deluded and mentally unstable young man. (Let us also remember: mentally unstable people, of which our nation has its fair share, are never moved to social acts of self-giving love and forgiveness but to acts of violence either against themselves or against others—acts encouraged by ignorance, intolerance, and hate speech, not to mention our sinfully easy access to dangerous weapons.)

Brooks himself, however, takes no personal responsibility for our present climate of intolerance, hatred, and violence. Instead, he tries to cover his sins, and by implication Palin’s, with high-sounding phrases and biblical language while pointing his finger at others, and incredibly, even concluding his remarks by talking about love and forgiveness! It is a virtuoso performance of supreme narcissism, self-righteousness, indifference to human suffering, culpable blindness, and unrepentant sinfulness. His only recommendation for healing the political divide—or starting the process—(and this unmasks his real motives!) is to have a bipartisan “comprehensive tax reform” as a way “to get people [of different political parties] conversing again.” His real agenda is thus unmasked at last: more tax cuts for the wealthy 1% who already own 42.7% of America! Evidently even this incredibly high percentage is not yet sufficient for Brooks and the plutocrats ruling America. They don’t want the majority of the wealth of America—they want all of it!

Krugman, of the NY Times, rightly says that, Obama’s beautiful speech notwithstanding, our politics are and will remain polarized. He is right. And he is right for a reason Brooks (ironically) mentions: sin. It is the pervasive sin of the Right Wingers that has permeated our nation and is now destroying it. The Right-Wing, quite simply, in the most profound biblical sense, is unrepentantly sinful—it worships mammon and not God; it treats the powerless and the poor with outright contempt, forgetting (or ignoring) what Christ says, “What you do unto the least of these you do unto me.”; and ignores blithely Christ’s call to “love and to serve one another,” instead caring only about themselves and their rich friends. So when Brooks mentions “sin,” he isn’t really talking about sin in its biblical sense. For Brooks, “sinners” are all those who disagree with his anti-democratic, plutocratic, and pro-Big Corporation politics.

This is what is so dangerous about the Right Wing: they are morally and spiritually blind and corrupt, blithely and self-righteously subverting every great principle of the Bible, and are implacably anti-Christian. Of course, they pretend to be moral and biblical, as when Brooks facilely quotes a great Protestant theologian, without however ever having understood a single word that he is quoting.

For those who love America’s founding ideals, have deep faith, and selflessly desire to transform our divided and diseased nation into a healthy nation of caring and tolerant individuals, with opportunity for all, knowing all this is brings no consolation, for our nation before our very eyes is self-destructing, with more craziness and violence sure to follow. Being powerless in the face of such pervasive evil now gripping our nation (the theme in the rise and fall of nations), one can only address these issues spiritually. What remains for those who do care about biblical morality, about love of neighbor and about caring for every citizen, are the words—and the warning— of Christ: the axe is now laid to the roots of the tree; and those trees which do not bear good fruit (that is, those who oppose God’s law of selfless love and the caring and helping of others) will be cut down and thrown into unquenchable fire. This, after all is said and done, is the final lesson, and judgment, of history. God will judge us by our acts of love—and condemn those who work merely selfishly. And that is as it should be.

Len Sive Jr.

America’s Education Failure

The Necessity of Reappropriating Our Cultural Heritage

Thomas Friedman, in his article “U.S.G. and P.T.A.”, highlighted the failure of America’s educational system, and said help was needed from both sides: “top down” from the government (U.S.G.), and “bottom up” from parents and teachers (P.T.A.). He is correct. But we need more than that: We also need to reappropriate our Western culture, which is our national heritage, and without which we can not exist as a country, since all of our ideals, ethics, and mores come from it. Indeed, an important part of our current problems stems from our “cultural amnesia” regarding this irreplaceable intellectual and cultural inheritance—which loss can be seen most graphically in the cynicism, ignorance, selfishness, and mean-spiritedness now running, and ruining, our nation whole and entire.

The Tea Party is the culmination of a degenerate politics since the multiple assassinations in the 1960’s of Martin Luther King, Jr, John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. These killings, we now know, were political assassinations carried out by the US government through the initiative, knowledge, and support of the wealthy one percent, in order to stifle in America the basic values inherent in Western culture and Christianity, i.e., economic assistance to minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the sick—along with other initiatives to make society as a whole fairer and more equitable; and on the other hand, not to allow large corporations to run roughshod over Americans or America, which, under JFK, meant concretely, among other things, not to get dragged into the Viet Nam war, for which Corporate America and the military lobbied so insistently. In hindsight we can now see what have been the tragic consequences of the deaths of these three great Americans: numerous, costly, and debilitating wars; an absolutist Corporate State; economic decline and hardship for 84% of Americans; a degenerating, and increasingly malfunctioning infrastructure; an inadequate and expensive health care system (now, under Obama, finally about to be improved, unless stopped again by Republicans); a grossly inferior, and deteriorating, public school system; no relief from our dependence on fossil fuels (and therefore our continuing engagement in the Middle East); environmental catastrophes one after another; little progress in trying to stop global warming; the loss of America’s prestige, honor, and influence through unjust wars and the mistreatment and torture of prisoners; and a new “banana republic” status due to an unbelievably high income disparity. These are both the intended and unintended effects of the assassinations—the intended effects welcomed by Tea Party people and Conservatives (Republicans mostly, but also some Democrats).

But mere “structural changes” won’t effect ini themselves a change in America or how it is governed. We need to probe deeper. We need to return to our cultural, intellectual, and spiritual heritage, to the Greeks and Romans, and also, in an informed and spiritual manner, to our Bible, to reappropriate the history and foundational ideas of Western culture—to enflame our hearts once more with the highest ideals, from Moses and Homer on down, which have inspired men to strive for wisdom, goodness, truth, and beauty, no matter the cost. From these historic Western ideals have sprung new ideas of governance, of how citizens ought to behave towards one another, and of how the state ought to act. Just compare, for example, a Saudi Arabia or China or Russia—their governments, and how they treat their citizens—with any modern Western state, and we see how profoundly important our Western cultural heritage really is.

In part, this renewing of the Western mind and soul will need, as an aid, a return to the classical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; for a full and profound appropriation cannot be accomplished without a knowledge of the sources speaking in their original tongues. A classical and liberal arts education is, I know, hardly a fashionable prescription, though a necessary one. For language is more than a cultural artifact: it is the only means by which a culture can be effectively appropriated. For our nation, in these troubled times, it would be a decided boon: instead of a distorted, false, and propagandistic Fox News, for example, we could read for instruction our Genesis, Isaiah, or John; instead of the empty and mindless entertainment offered on TV, computers, and cell phones, we could be enriched, deepened, and delighted by Herodotus, Sophocles, or Shakespeare; and instead of listening to the empty and twisted sophistry of a Palin or Beck, we could hear the wise and sonorous counsels of a Plato, a St. Paul, or a Cicero. In this educational reform hearkening back to our cultural roots, then, there would be much to be gained and nothing lost—except our cynicism, our ignorance, our empty pride, and our (Republican) uncharitable hearts.

America is at an historic crossroads. We can embrace fanatics and lunatics, like the Tea Party, and go down to destruction—or we can be renourished and sustained by the historic wisdom of our Western culture, and thrive both individually and collectively. But we cannot do both.

Len Sive, Daily Babel

ISLAM IN CRISIS: THE MULTICULTURAL LITMUS TEST

Germany has been rocked in recent weeks by questions about its “multicultural” society, and in particular about whether it will ever be able to integrate its 4 million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent addition to the controversy, saying that “multiculturalism has utterly failed,” while undoubtedly a political move to win over some of the 66% of voters who are disenchanted with Germany’s Turkish Muslims, merely ratchets up the heat without providing much light on the subject. But there is an irony here that no one seems to have seen: Islam is itself monocultural, with very few exceptions. There’s the Islamic way and no other way. Islam, so Muslims believe, is not a world religion but the world’s one true religion. Everyone else is an “infidel,” even so-called brothers of “The Book”, Jews and Christians.

In Turkey the irony of its Muslims being upset with Germany’s disenchantment with multiculturalism is even greater: in 1900, in Istanbul, there were over 500,000 Christians (500 years earlier, of course, its many millions were all Christians, as Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) was the Christian Church’s Eastern center). Now, however, only a few Christians remain (and these are mostly “religious”), the rest having been oppressed, persecuted, killed, or taxed out of existence. And let us also not forget, less than 100 years ago Turkey committed the first modern holocaust, against a million and a half Armenian Christians, men, women, and children—which ethnic and religious “cleansing” Turkey to this day refuses to accept responsibility for! Indeed, even to mention it in Turkey is a crime against the state! (This holocaust, incidentally, would later give Hitler the idea of doing something similar to the Jews of Germany and Europe.)

This, then, is a parable of how Islam treats non-Islamic cultures. To say that Islam is against multiculturalism is but to speak in gross understatement. Non-Muslims are not, and perhaps never will be integrated into Muslim societies. Even today, for example, it is not safe to be an open Christian in most Islamic countries, and one may not proselytize one’s Christian faith, on pain of death—and to convert from Islam to Christianity brings an automatic repudiation by one’s family and, in many Islamic countries, an automatic death sentence as well! So much for Islamic tolerance and “multiculturalism.”

The crisis in Islam, then, is precisely this: How can it continue to complain about western countries’ treatment of Muslims while it itself oppresses and persecutes, and refuses to integrate and accept its own non-Muslims? Indeed, Islam even persecutes, and kills, its fellow Muslims if they are members of a different Islamic sect! The hypocrisy of Muslims, then, complaining about non-tolerance of its own religion in western countries is both irrational and truly maddening.

Indeed, even after 1400 years, since the rise of Islam, Muslims have yet to allow non-Muslims to be fully integrated into their society, or even to live normal lives. For example, as recently as the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Christian churches in Muslim-controlled Palestine were not permitted to be renovated! Only after Israel had won the war, and taken control of part of the territory, could Christians carry out long-needed repairs to their churches. (But the persecution of Christians in Muslim-controlled Palestine has continued unabated, with some towns, like Bethlehem, losing almost all of its Christians.) And in all Muslim lands, the building of new churches is either strictly forbidden or sharply curtailed. And there are few signs of anything changing in the long term, much less the short term.

Westerners—including Germans—aren’t blind. They see these things, and it worries them. For once a population of Muslims achieves a certain degree of numerical power, as in Lebanon, then Christianity (or any other non-Muslim religion) is forced onto the defensive, since Islam is strictly “monocultural.” There is simply no such thing as Islamic tolerance, let alone full, complete and permanent acceptance, equality, and integration of non-Muslims. No Muslim country, for example, has a “bill of rights”(both de jure and de facto) to protect its non-Muslims and to guarantee them full equality and acceptance; and no Muslim country is multicultural in the same way that almost all Western countries are. This rightfully worries countries with growing Muslim populations.

Moreover, It is not even certain that most Muslims wish to be fully integrated since there are so many professions Muslims refuse to enter, and academic subjects they refuse to study, let alone obtain a degree in—fields such as world history, philosophy, world religions, the philosophy of religion, Christian theology, a history of the Church, biblical studies (not to mention Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist studies, or the study of primitive and prehistoric religions ), inter alia, let alone verboten subjects like the fine arts. When I was studying in Germany, in my classes I met and befriended a Turkish lawyer and his lawyer wife. They spent almost every weekend for several months meeting with young Turks in Berlin, trying to persuade them to study, stay in school, integrate, become part of their new society. But they were unsuccessful in their appeals—and this was nearly 10 years ago. Evidently little has changed since then.

Should we ourselves in the West, then, be multicultural? Should we accept Muslims since they in their own countries don’t accept us? By all means. That’s what’s so important about the Judaeo-Christian western culture: from Christ comes the commandment to love and to serve others—Muslims included! These commandments are what make western culture so vital, open, flexible, dynamic, and creative. But on the other hand, Muslims who “become westernized”—i.e., those who come to the West to live—must then adopt their host country’s laws, due process, constitutional rights, and western ways of approaching life—which many still refuse to do. (“Honor” killings, the treatment of women and children, and bigamy are but three examples of their refusal to adapt to their new country’s different laws and mores.)

If Muslims wish to be fully integrated, then the challenge is for them, too, to be open and tolerant and accepting in their own cultures—i.e., to be “multicultural” even as they expect the same treatment from western countries. But this must mean, first and foremost, to lay aside permanently their eternal war with so-called “infidels,” including those people they deem to have been disrespectful of Allah or Mohammed, and therefore must be “punished.” Not to do so opens them to the crippling charge of hypocrisy, and puts at risk their lasting acceptance, and final integration, into Western societies, to which they have come voluntarily seeking a better, more open, more dynamic, and more secure way of life.

We in the West have no stomach for their religious fratricide or wars against “infidels” (ours ended for the most part well over 200 years ago—and was in any event a negation, not an affirmation, of Christianity!). The beauty and wisdom of Christianity lies precisely in its counsels to love, to serve, and to forgive—and to seek genuine and lasting peace among all men.

We do not wish, as a culture, to give up these precious ideals, and to substitute for them instead endless warfare with and hatred of “infidels”. History has moved on—in the West—beyond such insanity and sacrilege; there can be no going back now to that earlier, barbaric, less tolerant way of life without also destroying everything good that we presently enjoy in western culture.

Islam, then, is in crisis: It may stay where it is and risk rejection from the West—or it can adopt tolerance and acceptance as its twin modes of being, and be at peace with both itself and the world—and therewith become a vital, vibrant and contributing part of the world community. Let us hope it has enough wisdom to choose the right path—for its own sake, as well as for the peace, security, and happiness of the whole world.

Len Sive, Daily Babel

Korea: Between Life And Death

Nothing is stranger than war. Or more disturbing. It reveals graphically, and tragically, how fragile the flower of life really is. One minute there is peace, and things are settled, certain. The next minute war—and nothing is certain, except that life is all too brief.

We Americans are not used to knowing the dangers of war at first-hand—hence our collective shock at 9/11. Rather, we are used to bringing war to others: Viet Nam, Cambodia, Panama, the Balkans, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan. Then (so we supposed) we were in control. War was terrible—but from the safe distance of TV and the Internet (excepting the battle-line soldiers and their families, of course). And our lives went on as usual.

In South Korea, where 25,000 US soldiers are based, and where (like myself) thousands of teachers are working, war threatens at any moment. And like last week, sometimes strikes. War is only a few miles away at any given moment: within the easy range of an artillery shell, seen graphically last week when N Korea shelled a disputed, inhabited island, killing four and wounding many. It was the third attack on this island in a little over a decade. Koreans have lived with the possibility of war since the cessation—without a treaty—of the hostilities that marked the end of major fighting in the Korean War. Since then war has always hovered in the air as a possibility, even a probability.

Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean communist dictator, like his father before him, plays a high-stakes craps game with the South, stirring up shadows of war in order to blackmail the South into giving aid and food to a starving N Korea, whose government spends all its monies on the military and nuclear weapons and so has nothing left over for its own people. It banks on South Korea’s indulgence and pacific ways, and its fear of war, which would be much more devastating for a developed South than an undeveloped North. But one day the North may well push too hard. China indulges the North for fear of having a united Korea, and US ally, at its border—but in doing so, she risks North Korea getting out of control and a war enveloping all of Asia.

I was teaching when the shelling started. My students were terrified. Two girls in the front row held hands; one was near tears. An unnatural silence hovered about us. I did my best to be calm and reassuring, but as a foreigner unused to the proximity of war it was a difficult role for me. Evil men are by definition irrational. Hitler at the end ordered the army to destroy Germany! Such men act unpredictably and without regard to consequences. JFK felt pressure from the military to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the missile crisis, but resisted heroically, thus saving civilization from utter annihilation. (Interestingly, Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, joined JFK in resisting his own military too, and paid a high price for it: JFK was later assassinated, and Khrushchev was deposed less than two years later.) JFK had reason, and was a man of deep faith. Kim Jong-Il evidences neither reason nor faith.

Koreans have lived with the specter of war for over 60 years; for the most part they are stoical—though there is a certain “live for the moment” attitude in South Korea as a result, a kind of “eat, drink, and be happy now” attitude—paradoxically admixed with a severe work and study ethic—that permeates all of society.

One day Kim Jong-Il’s high stakes game of craps will fail, and the South’s military will feel compelled to respond aggressively, not just defensively. Then millions will die a senseless death brought on by the unreason and atheism of N Korea’s leader, leading both countries back into the dark ages.

All of which reminds me of the essential helplessness of the human condition. Against the Enlightenment, we are not, and never have been, the captains of our fate—though we are, for good or ill, stuck in one big boat together.

The words of Jesus—“Blessed be the peacemakers”—have taken on a much more personal meaning for me now. Life is sacred, and peace is blessed.

Len Sive Jr, Daily Babel