Friday, April 23, 2004

Casual Friday Philosophy edition, Issue 1

I.
Oldman prediction review


Well, as it turns out USA Today has some spiffy articles out that agree with the oldman. First there's an article about whether or not there's a Housing Bubble, and then right next to is a "your money" article reciting all the reasons why interest rates are going up soon.

In fact, mortgage rates according to USA Today are already going up. With mortgage rates rising and prices already high, there's nowhere for them to go but down. I don't subscribe to a view of a mass bankruptcy scenario at this point, but the industry is going to get bogged down in a slump as people have paid high prices on low fixed interest rate mortgages and can't recover the costs at market prices and so will be loathe to sell unless forced. With the fifth straight rise in 30-year interest rate yields I think it's safe to call it a trend.

With durable good purchases rising, Greenspan will soon have no excuse but to raise the Fed Funds or short term interest rate for overnight bank loans. Estimates vary but they will likely rise to 3.5%-4.5% from about 1% currently. The rest of the rates including savings and mortgage prices will probably rise as well following that. This will push the DJIA below 10,000 if it doesn't beat that watermark all by itself.

Meanwhile the US plans to deploy deathsquads, or in Pentagon speak elite military native counter-insurgency units.

That's not the right way to do things. The right way to do things is to set up a regular army, build barracks with family housing units, embed US units with the Iraqi units, and do joint patrols and check-points. Only by building unit cohesion, allying them through daily cooperation, and using them to bridge the language and cultural barrier in field operations can we successfully help the Iraqis and save ourselves from grief.

The kind of people who are going to sign up for these elite squads don't come from nowhere. They're the same kind of guys who did the bully work for Saddam when he was in power. Ditto for their intelligence side. So it's official. The United States of America is getting back into the deathsquad business. "The U.S.-led coalition is recruiting Iraqis for an elite volunteer unit that would fight fellow Iraqis resisting the occupation of the country." That'll do wonders for morale and local sentiment toward us.

Actually in my scheme of joint patrols, we would eventually send in military videocamera guys to do a "COPS": IRAQ version to show how nice and civilized we can be using joint patrols. I can just hear the music now ... "Bad boys, Bay boys, whatcha gonna do? ... When the Cops come for you!!!"

But I get tired of screaming at the idjits in the White House. They are going to have to find out the hard way. Just like the best way to take Fallujah is to send in large numbers of ground forces, pincer off, cordon, sweep, and search building by building and using scanners, sniffers, and non-lethal tech like tear-gas to flush insurgents or rubber bullets in hostage situations. However they'll probably just roll in there and level the place. And then try to bribe the locales with $77 million in reconstruction money afterwards. Really. That's their plan now, to spend that money in Fallujah to buy off the people after they level the place.

Clueless gits.

II.
A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED,


A blogger whose been friendly toward me is Akim of Empty Days blog but recently he's posted some rather depressed writings.

***
Perhaps I am not in my right mind after all. When the whole world says one thing and your mind says something else, that's alienation - classical.

The failure of imagination to extricate oneself from an over-powering nightmare otherwise known as the picture of the world. I certainly did not paint that picture - yet at the same time it is all distinctly mine and there is nothing to suggest that it is shared by anyone else on the entire globe. Interesting. I'd like to know how the mind is supposed to overcome its own creation.

***

Hopefully the writing itself is therapeutic but as it turns out Col Lounsbury is in a foul mood as well.

Well I can't really do anything to fix their problems directly, but I would like to offer a meditation.

Recently a friend of mine, Beth a school teacher in Des Moines, asked me do whether I think money and power really matter in the end? It would have been easy to dismiss the question. I mean clearly wealth and influence can improve one's health and institute social policies that one believes in. On the other hand, I was struck by the images of average Iraqis either looting archeological dig sites or enjoying the splendour of the artifacts in museums.

Indeed as the Romans used to say, all is vanity and as Shelley put it so poetically in 'Ozymandius' the mighty become dust as everyone else and empires that once loomed tall crumble into dust.

Sting also has lyrics in 'Mad about you,' that tell of

"...a city in the desert lies
The vanity of an ancient king
But the city lies in broken pieces
Where the wind howls and the vultures sing
These are the works of man
This is the sum of our ambition
"

So is that all there is, fatalism and the passing away of all we know in time?

I think judging our works by far future events isn't the right standard however. Indeed, as GWB so succintly put it, we don't know how history will judge us since we'll all be dead. Yet something else is as profoundly true. It is that the everyman, the ordinary guy whether raiding ancient digs for artifacts or the Iraqi citizens standing before the splendour of the restored artifacts on display is the inheiritor from the past. Montuzuma's descendents and the kith and kindred of his descendants all live everyday with the consequences of his choices, good and bad. The everyday life of people is shaped by the choices of the past, and the common folk are the heir good or bad of the results produced by previous choices.

Today in America, who is the true benefactor of the Founding Fathers? Isn't it the average guy, especially the Rush Limbaugh loving guy who get's to live in a free and prosperous country that at least struggles to be just and preserve individual rights? That is their legacy, that each and every American great or small can enjoy the works of those superlative as well as very human men who achieved something quite profound and left a historical legacy that has endured well over two centuries now.

In the present moment in Iran and North Korea, there is an entire generation who has come to live their everyday life shaped in either restriction or dire famine in the latter's case by the choices made by their father's and their grandfather's. The forces that made the present day political structure were one's made in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's. In the United States it is still the Baby Boomer and Vietnam War generations created by post-WWII conjugal procreation that enjoy unchallenged political power.

In this struggle is the hidden and not-so hidden hands of many intellectuals in many fields, many politicians, many leaders, businessmen, and ordinary people whose sometimes clashing and sometimes chorusing cacaphony has brought about our present day with all its warts and flaws. The attitudes of the American public toward politics were shaped in the curriculums of high-school history classes in the 1970's and the 1980's. It is not an easy thread to follow, and it is not a simple or entirely beneficial one.

III.
THE TIME THAT WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN


However the story of history is the story of big messy clusterf*cks. In the words of Billy Joel's song "We didn't set the world on fire,"

"...We didn't start the fire
It was always burning,
Since the world's been turning.
We didn't start the fire
Well we didn't light it,
But we tried to fight it.
"

In the words of Gandalf the Grey, we might indeed wish that great burdens had not fallen upon us but then again "... so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Every generation has its challenges, and the greatest challenges of the 21st Century have only begun to reveal their true forms. The quest is not for a perfect world, or even a perfect understanding of the world. The quest is for a perfect peace with how we have lived within the world. We are the heirs of yesterday, and our deeds the endowment of tomorrow. They will have their own cares, and look back and wonder how we muddled through our messes. Even as we look back and wonder how the past generations muddled through theirs.

This is not an argument for fatalism, rather the reverse. This is not the best of all possible worlds to recall the criticism of Voltaire, it is the world that has been fashioned for us by the past. If we would fashion a better one for tomorrow, then it is up to us and no other. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Every decision counts, and I am not the least among the shirkers.

Long have I walked strange paths, and studied odd wisdom, hiding myself away from a world I did not care to frustrate myself upon and did not believe could be convinced to see sense. All things spring from the consciousness, from the fundamental qualities of character and the aptitude of the psyche, that each person cultivates and encourages within themselves and others. Give a wastrel a fortune and he will waste it or worse than waste it - destroy everything about him with it. Give a wiseman a mere mote, and he will build that tiny gift into a legacy to endure for many generations or touch the lives of many.

I think I've been a little bit of both. Let me share a dream I had a few nights ago.

In this dream, I was sitting on the pews of the Calavinist church that I'd attended as a youth. During my fidgiting during the sermon the shoe on my right foot came off. Well I couldn't find it as I turned around and about. Well finally I had to stop looking for it, putting it off until later when I could get down and look beneath the pew. Then the congregation passed the collection plate and I put nothing in it because I thought I didn't have anything to put in, not even a quarter. A bit later after the song, they passed the plate again. This is something they actually did once in a while, passing the kitty twice especially if there was a special cause that they were taking collections for. Well this time as the collection plate came to me, I reviewed my dressing myself that morning and passed on the plate absolutely convinced that I had nothing to offer at all. Then one of my hands snaked down to check my pockets, just in case. As it so turns out there was a big roll of quarters in that pocket and a wad of some cash as well. Then I looked down and realized that somewhere along the way the shoe had gotten back on my right foot.

There's a bit more, but to get psychological about it the theme of the dream seems to be that I didn't feel that I fit in - the missing right shoe in a sort of reverse Cinderella archetypal theme - and because of that I felt that I didn't have anything to share with the community despite my presence. Then in the dream I find out that I have my shoe on after all, indicating as the old saying goes "if the shoe fits..." that I had found my place, and in addition to that I had more to give and share with others than my earlier thoughts had indicated.

So we can all do things differently, and do them better. I guess it's the oldman's turn to chip in with the kitty instead of being a tight-wad cheap-skate miser. ;-) In turn, those who have already given or given up should take hope. The fat lady ain't sung yet.

There are still choices and paths, and while some ends are not as good as others, there are things that can be accomplished within our lifetimes.

So we struggle and we try to come together and we do the best we can, because that's all we have and because there is still a sweetness in life and for all the difficulties there are still triumphs and for all the impermanence of things some choices still matter. So that's what we live for, because if we want to we can still find real joy in life even fully knowing all the shadows that sorround us.

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