A country with no defense.

As the pandemic rages across America, social media is filled with memes and personal declarations about the ‘right’ to choose to wear a mask when out in public.  Earlier this week, President Trump ordered that hospital data regarding COVID19 will no longer be sent to the CDC.  Instead, it will be sent to the White House.  A little further digging showed that the data will actually go to two private companies both owned by friends of the President. There is a coordinated campaign by the White House to undermine the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci as his statements regarding COVID19 are “undermining the President’s message.” The White House views this pandemic as a PR battle, not as a battle against a pathogen that is killing Americans and threatening to overwhelm our healthcare system to the point where it may very well collapse completely from both the number of cases and the attrition of healthcare workers from the virus.

I could provide example after example of the dysfunction in our political leadership and in our citizens in failing to deal with this pandemic. What is clear is that the American response to COVID19 has been a failure by any objective standard one wishes to use. The end result is that we must resign ourselves to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, the crippling of thousands who are lucky to survive a bout with the virus, and the damage to the economy that has yet to be fully grasped. We may very well feel the effects of this for generations.

The response by the foreign press and my friends who live outside of the United States is quite sobering.  The most common sentiment I see is pity and confusion.  How could the United States, the world leader in science, be crippled by this virus? How much needless suffering is being imposed on Americans?  Why does the United States refuse to follow the practices of all the other countries that have beaten this virus and now report zero cases at their hospitals for days and, in some cases, for weeks? There are attempts by many political pundits to understand why this has happened but there is one fact that they all agree on: The United States was wide open to both the introduction and spread of this virus.  It has neither the infrastructure nor the will to fight this virus. The infrastructure has been dismantled by the Trump administration and various media outlets have convinced a significant number of Americans that science is only one opinion among many. The eyes of our friends and allies are filled with tears as they watch us suffer through this.

There are other eyes watching the goings-on here that are not filled with tears. They are watching intently at our catastrophic failure to deal with a pathogen that has a five to ten percent mortality rate at best. They see the rest of the world walling us off; a US passport is essentially useless at this point.  These eyes are also in possession of military-grade pathogens that have been engineered to be incredibly effective at killing their hosts. We are talking about mortality rates of 50% or better. At this point, it is even questionable if we could identify the pathogen before it killed millions of Americans.   Were we to uncover intelligence that something like this was about to happen, our intelligence communities would not be believed by a significant number of Americans and politicians. Our once great laboratories have been shut down and defunded and hundreds of scientists who specialized in the field of pathogens have been given their walking papers. The scientific capability to identify and fight something like this is gone. Our pathetic response to COVID19 shows every bad actor in the world we are completely defenseless against a concerted biological attack against this country.

We live in a culture that has become detached from reality.  We have people here in America that believe the earth is flat and is only six thousand years old.  Some of these people hold positions of immense political power.  The Vice President comes to mind as does the Secretary of State. They have deluded themselves to the point where they have left this country completely defenseless. Let us hope that none of the existential threats that are out there decide to take advantage of this situation we find ourselves in.

 

 

Sic Semper Tyrannis|The cry of cowards.

Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots coming to the aid of the protesters to defend their Constitutional right to be there protesting? No where to be found. 

Sic Semper Tyrannis, which means “thus always to tyrants”, is a shortened version of Sic Semper evello mortem Tyrannis.  This Latin phrase, which means “Thus always I bring death to tyrants” has been attributed to Marcus Iunius Brutus ( et tu, Brute!), one of the people who participated in the murder of Julius Caesar.

Karl_Theodor_von_Piloty_Murder_of_Caesar_1865

Let’s fast forward approximately 1900 years to the Ford Theatre where John Wilkes Booth has just shot Abraham Lincoln.  Before jumping on his horse he shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!”

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Today we see Sic Semper Tyrannis being sported by various right-wing militias, white supremists, 2nd Amendment advocates, and various other ‘anti-government’ organizations.  Their existence, they claim, is to prevent a tyrannical government from taking over the United States and taking away our constitutional rights.  For this, it is argued, they need guns and not just any guns.  These guns need to be military-grade weapons in order to stand a fighting chance against the fascist soldiers and secret police who will certainly be armed with the same. This is and has been the claim. Recently, the clarion call to defend first amendment rights has been issued.  It is interesting to see what has happened. Before we look at that, a little background information on your’s truly, the author.

I’ve had some first-hand experience with fascist and totalitarian governments.  I was a Russian linguist in the United States Air Force and was stationed in West Berlin from 1979 to 1982.  Berlin, both East and West, was a geopolitical hot spot, with the Berlin Wall being an ever present reminder of the state of the world: fiercely divided

Berlin_Wall

Looking across that no-man’s land full of “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” was the Soviet-controlled East.  The East Germans were subjected to not one but two Secret Police organizations, the East German Stasi and the Soviet KGB.  These are the people who would come for you in the middle of the night if you were a dissident or a reporter who was not following the party line and writing “subversive” articles.  On that side of the Wall, there were none of the freedoms we have. The desire to live in a world where those freedoms existed motivated many to try and get across that wall.  Many made it, others did not. We were told that the government in the East was a fascist and totalitarian one and rightly so.  They were. A brief study of history is enough to show that repression, fear, and control of information are the tools of the trade of any fascist regime no matter what flag they fly.

Fast forward to the present day.  The streets of America are filled with protesters exercising their Constitutional First Amendment right to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The press are also out in the streets documenting the happenings and the goings-on.  This is the same press that has been under attack by the current administration for the last three years. At night, the protests turned violent as clashes between the police and protesters escalated.  The President and the Attorney General both issued statements that elements from Antifa, a far left organization, were responsible for the violence and took no questions from the press regarding that claim. Soon enough, the President wanted to designate them a ‘terrorist organization’ as are groups such as the Taliban and ISIS.   But as the FBI gathered intelligence and arrests were made a different picture began to emerge.  Right wing groups were the ones responsible for the violence.  A number of specific right-wing groups, according to an ex-FBI agent interviewed on TV. These right-wing groups were using social media to tell their members to go down and cause havoc. Their job, as they saw it, was to turn peaceful protests violent.  As the violence escalated, the police turned their weapons on the press.  One officer, when asked why he was shooting at a press crew filming, apologized and said, “he was just following orders.” Freedom of the press was being trampled on by barrages of rubber bullets. Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots defending the press? No where to be found.

Lafayette Square, where peaceful protesters were fired upon with rubber bullets, tear-gassed, and attacked by riot police so the President could get a photo op holding a bible in front of a church, has been renamed Black Lives Matter Square. While history is still being written, BLM Square will be remembered as the spot Freedom to assemble was trampled on.  Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots coming to the aid of the protesters to defend their Constitutional right to be there protesting? No where to be found.

As it turns out, these “patriots”, as they often describe themselves, had the opportunity they have supposedly been waiting for.  An authoritarian government was and is trampling on our Constitutional rights.  Here they were, aiding the government, by trying to cause havoc to validate the government’s narrative. Riot troops, with no insignia or identifying patches, began roaming the streets.  Who they were and what government organization they came from was a secret, in other words, they were secret police. If you haven’t felt the urge to fly the American flag upside down, now is the time to start thinking about it.  Where are the Sic Semper Tyrannis chaps fighting this no-name army of secret police patroling our streets?  No where to be found.

 

 

 

Memento Mori

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” – Seneca

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius

One of the epiphanies associated with adopting the secular worldview is the realization that this is the only life we have.  There is not a single shred of evidence that there is anything waiting for us on the other side of death.  Oftentimes the contemplation of this fact prevents some from adopting a secular viewpoint in spite of being convinced by the arguments and evidence.  I’m sure you’ve heard the objection, “I can’t believe we live and die and then that is it.”  This fact is so unpalatable for some that it elicits an emotional response that overrides the conclusions of reason.

For me, this realization was a very visceral epiphany.  The understanding that this is our one and only life, rather than being a strictly intellectual acquisition, resonated deep inside me and caused me to reevaluate just about every aspect of my life both in the present and what I had planned moving forward in the future. Prior to this, I felt like I had all the time in the world and if I didn’t get to it in this life well, there was always eternity (of the Catholic variety) waiting and there would certainly be time o’plenty to get to it, whatever it happened to be. All that changed with the realization that once you got that tap on the shoulder letting you know it was time to leave the party, that was that.  The party wasn’t over, it would continue on but you had to leave never, ever to return.

What goes through your mind, dear reader, when you contemplate this fact?  Is it something you push to the side, glancing at it occasionally with averted vision or is it something you embrace each day?  Some might say that to constantly focus on one’s death is a morbid view and an unhealthy thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

The Stoics, Greek and Roman philosophers, understood the importance of meditating daily on the idea of Memento Mori, roughly translated “One day you too will die.” They exhorted those practicing the Stoic disciplines to keep this fact in mind each and every day. In addition to being a philosophical framework, Stoicism is also a mental discipline and, like any discipline is something that is to be practiced.  Was your experience of the realization of your eventual death something that motivated you and caused you to appreciate even more this one and only life we all have?  Then the Stoic practice of being constantly cognizant of this fact each and every day will continue that even more so.  More importantly, it will motivate you to change your behavior. Speaking from personal experience the awareness of my own unavoidable death is the driving force that provides meaning to what I choose to invest my time and energy in.  I don’t have an unlimited amount of time and each and every day I am taking more and more from less and less.  Every second is precious to me and I am careful about how I spend my time and the activities I invest that precious time in.  Far from draining the value of our life as the religious would have you believe, it adds meaning to it which is the very thing the religious claim is lacking in the secular worldview.  There are other philosophies that also take somewhat the same view towards death as the Stoics but I have found that the Stoics have a special appeal to people who hold to a secular worldview.  There is other wisdom to be mined from the Stoics but nothing as transformative as Memento Mori.  If you are looking for a framework upon which to hang your secular worldview give the Stoics a good look.  Practice the different disciplines starting with Memento Mori and see how transformative it can be.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin

 

Trump’s Maginot Line

As we enter the longest shutdown of the U.S. government in our country’s history over the building of a wall spanning the US-Mexico border one wonders how shutting down the government and causing so much pain to almost a million Federal employees is going to force Mexico to pay for this wall as was promised on the campaign trail by Donald Trump.  To be sure, in classic Orwellian fashion, Trump, while admitting he said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall in the same breath denies that he said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

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But what is this wall Trump is so hellbent on building no matter how many Americans he hurts in the process?  The wall has gone through various iterations and as of this writing it has become a fence built with steel slats.  Its purpose is to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, drugs, and human trafficking from Mexico which now, according to Trump, have reached emergency proportions although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) DHS Border Security Metrics Report says otherwise.  Quoting the report, “Figure 2 depicts available data on estimated undetected unlawful entries for FY 2006 – FY 2016, the years for which data are available. As the figure indicates, estimated undetected unlawful entries fell from approximately 851,000 to nearly 62,000 during this period, a 93 percent decrease.”

figure 2

Trump is proposing building a modern day Maginot Line, a multi-billion dollar wall  rather than investing in the technologies and methodologies that, as anyone can see, works in reducing the amount of illegals successfully getting across the border.

The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a 943 mile long wall of fortifications built along the French-German border in the 1930s intended to deter German aggression against France.  As history shows, specifically images of German troops marching as conquerors past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it was considerably less effective than was originally thought. It has become a metaphor for expensive efforts that offer a false sense of security.

Trump, ignoring all factual evidence, is proposing to build a modern day version of the Maginot Line on our Southern border claiming it will work where all other attempts to use a wall on scales such as this have not worked. What has worked is an investment in the most modern technology and efficacious methodologies that employ them.  Opponents of the Maginot Line, most notably such as Paul Reynaud and Charles de Gaulle, argued for investments in other technologies such as armor and aircraft to repel the German forces and the war against Germany may have had a different outcome had their suggestions been heeded.  The historical legacy of the Maginot Line was that it was an extremely expensive way to provide the French people a false sense of security.  Trump’s wall, a modern day Maginot Line, will do exactly the same.