But the price of freedom is high, it always has been. And it’s one I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.
I was scared the moron’s moron would, inadvertently, take us into the Third World War (delayed). I’ve got a roof over my head, enough to eat, and quite like being alive. As Malcolm X said before he was murdered ‘the chickens have come home to roost’.
The 45th American President, the pedlar of hate and conspiracy theories—who got into the highest office in the land, with Fox News help, a Facebook disinformation campaign, and the Russian President Putin providing logistical support—under the pretext of a taking back control, incites riot and unlawful assembly. A mob army to dispute an election he lost, we’re back at Charlottesville here, with ‘those very good people’ that are gun-toting, flag-waving white and right.
Not since 1812, we’ve been told has this happened. General MacArthur brutally dealt with a citizen army, many of them veterans of the first world war, that had come to Washington and demanded government help during the hungry thirties. It will be interesting to see what happens to those moron moron’s supporters, who, for examples, filmed themselves sitting in Presiding Officer’s chair. That’s how dumb they are.
They believe that the purity of their brand of patriotism will protect them from the law. Without the moron’s moron in office how can there be any law? Just or otherwise?
The bankrupt 45th American President, who when called to fight for his country in Vietnam, but said he’d a sore foot, ends in farce. When it comes to taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich, I’m a revolutionary. This was no storming of the Congress by Captain America surrogates, but was dis-United America showing its face for the television and the mass media. Andy Warhol’s everyone requiring their fifteen minutes of fame in La-La land. Poetic justice as the moron’s moron bows out.
History doesn’t run in straight lines. Robert A. Caro has focussed on a fixed point to talk about power. What it is? How it comes about. Who wields it? And how do they use that power? And in his biography of Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), in this first of four volumes, we follow not only the tale of LBJ, who becomes 36th President of the United States, but the story of the United States, a modern history.
Novels begin with flawed characters that need or want something. LBJ was born 28th August 1908 in the Lone Star State of Texas. His grandparents had fought against the Indians and the Mexicans and this was the frontier in which nothing grew but farms. Land was cheap, farmers with little water and poor soils were literally dirt poor. His father Sam Johnson great dream was that his son would be a lawyer. His mother Rebakah’s was a college graduate and her father was a prominent attorney. Mr Sam Johnson was something, he strutted rather than walked:
‘You can tell a man by his boots and his hat and the horse he rides.’
Mr Sam Johnson was an elected official, people liked him. He had the best and his first son had more and better than most. LBJ had a baseball to play with, but would only play when he got to bat. His rules or nobody plays was a rule he lived by then and in later life.
In novels flawed characters get their comeuppance. Mr Sam Johnson was a romantic. He tried to live in the past when his forefathers had their own ranches in the Hill County and run cattle hundreds of mile to the railway line and brought home bucketfuls of dollars that would last more than a lifetime. Mr Sam Johnson gambled his all to buy land and invest in cotton, which was on the up and up after the First World War. He borrowed from the banks, and from neighbours. The price of cotton crashed. Mr Sam Johnson, his wife and four children has to retire from public life, move from Johnson City back to live in a dog run in the Hill Country.
People have long memories. Locals loved nothing more than chewing over when Sam Johnson thought he was something and now couldn’t pay his store bills in town. Women mulled over how Rebekah didn’t know how to keep a clean house. She wasn’t thrifty. She didn’t know how to bottle and can pears for later so her children wouldn’t go hungry. Nothing had prepared her for life in the Hill Country.
One of the strength of Cato’s biography is not only that he should turn over the pages of every of the tens of millions of government documents concerning LBJ, which took seven years, and talk to local people who remembered him as a boy and young man, but also that he went to live in the Hill Country to find out what it was really like. There are frequent markers about rural poverty. A farmer’s son, for example, rides for twelve miles clutching twelve eggs to sell them for fifteen cents. Kids not being able to go to school in winter when it snowed because they’d no shoes. But only until chapter 27 of 37 chapters when LBJ as a congressman tries to break the monopoly of the utilities companies and get electricity to farms on the Hill Countries—prior to the Second World War—does how hard these women’s live were become apparent. Monday was washing day and Tuesday was ironing day. In dog runs with metal roofs above their heads, working in temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius, women had to chop wood, carry and boil buckets of water to heat the irons in them to work with the crumpled washing they’d cleaned on Monday. Irons were lumps of metal with metal handles, because handles with wood coverings cost a few cents more. This was in addition to all other chores, like feeding the animals and a large family. Farmer’s wives were round shouldered and old by the time they were thirty. They couldn’t afford doctoring so the perinatal tears most of them suffered from frequent childbirths went untreated. In the Twentieth Century they lived in the Middle Ages.
Sam Johnson frequently whipped LBJ for not doing his chores, for refusing to carry wood or water for the mother he so much loved he wrote to her every day when he went to college and demanded letters by return post. An escape route for the poor was education. LBJ baulked at it, but he went. He was never more than an average student, but a pattern emerges here that was to follow him all the way to Washington. He was known as ‘Bull’ (shit) Johnson to most other students. Garrulous as a manic depressive on an upcycle, his one subject and fascination was with himself. Later, when at parties and the subject wasn’t himself or his achievements, he had the ability to fall instantly asleep. He was always ready to take the next step before others realised there was another step. To get ahead he was ready to sacrifice everyone and anyone. To paraphrase what others in the dormitory he shared in Washington with other secretaries of Congressmen and up-and-coming talent. Whatever way the (political) wind blows that’s the way Johnson goes. His great talent, his ‘very unusual ability’ was secrecy and jumping before he was pushed.
Apart from getting others to do what he demanded, LBJ’s other ‘very unusual ability’ was hooking onto older men as mentors to smooth his path. ‘A professional son’ they never had, and asslicker of the highest order. LBJ had a preternatural talent for saying exactly what they were thinking. President Cecil E. Evans of the little Redbook college which ‘Bull’ attended, for example, paid Johnson four times in a semester to re-paint his garage because he was out of money. Similarly, Sam Rayburn a principled and laconic Speaker of the House of Congress treated LBJ as a son, even after finding out about his betrayal. President Roosevelt never did find out about LBJ’s volte-face on his Keynesian, New Deal policies, because the latter was a distant speck in his orbit and the face he was presented was always deferential, smiling and joking. Roosevelt put a stop on investigations into tax fraud involving LBJ’s backers that involved millions of dollars. LBJ could read a man and read a room in the same way most folk can read a familiar book. He was a professional politician of the first degree.
There’s irony in LBJ’s defeat when he ran for Senate representing Texas in 1941 to a cartoon figure ‘Pass the Biscuits Pappy’ O’Daniel, a wildly popular radio talk-show host who didn’t have a policy, but embraced the flag, the Star Spangled Banner, talked about Jesus and how every farmer’s son loved their mom. This was an election LBJ had bought for him, he was already celebrating victory, when he was gazumped by other business cartels that simply bought more votes than LBJ and handed them to Pappy O’Daniel. Common electoral practice that was to spring up again when Texas interests demanded a recount of the chads in Florida after Al Gore had won the election to be President in 2009. Oh, dear, a mistake was made, business interests said it should have read George W C Bush. LBJ knew how the electoral system worked, inside out and upside down. We know how LBJ was later able to rig his next bid for a seat in the Senate and steal enough votes (volume 2). Bush had to be told and told who he was working for and why because he was so dumb. That’s power for you. I never thought we’d have a President dumber than Bush. Now we’ve got the moron’s moron going for re-election before he starts the Third World War, Pass the Biscuits Pappy and reach for the sick bag. Now we’ve got Bull Johnson as British Prime Minister whose only policy was economic self-mutilation and getting it done quickly. History isn’t meant to be funny.
Seventy-five years since the end of the Second World War. We’ve had a few close calls. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for example. Like an old Corporation bus running late the apocalypse rumbles into view. All writers are prophets for hire, waiting for the Virgin Mary to make an appearance before we take the fare. Here we have a Vision of Geronda Ephraim Addressing the Ukrainian Situation and casually flinging in his bombshell, don’t worry about that it’s the beginning of the end.
In Buddhist theology, that isn’t a theology, the perfection of wisdom can take more than one lifetime. The stage before that VIPAŚYANĀ offers a different kind of insight. The baggage of the past is let go and the tyranny of the future holds no fear. Bodhisattvas and saints go on right on doing what they are already doing. The Buddha gets his begging bowl and begs.
Great men, of course, never beg. They’d rather set the world aflame that admit human weaknesses. There’s a certain beauty in the idea that we are all each other. The ideology of hate and contempt for the other, the so-called beggars, drives us apart. Beggar’s belief drives us to war.
God’s plan is straight, the path to achieving it is not. When we play the all-or-nothing game we must think we can win. Viktor Frankl warned us not to forget Auschwitz or the dropping of the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima. That generation is dying off and their antiquated beliefs with them.
In any narrative there’s the smoking gun and ticking clock. In Marxist narratives it was called the contradictions of capitalism that would usher in a new age of the proletariat. We’re still waiting. In the most advance industrial nations, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. Technology, once thought of a process that would free workers, now speeds up this process.
More than half the world’s wildlife is in decline. Climate change undermines our ability to think rationally.
Whether you believe in God or your body is a simple carbon receptacle that rot and dust will return to dust, enriching the soil and feeding plant life the end is still the same, we are reliant on water. Our ecosystems are falling and failing. Without water we cannot feed ourselves. Every puddle, stream, and river becomes a battleground.
Yet the biggest public share issue that outstrips the value of Apple is based on oil wealth from Saudi Arabia. Fossil fuels are the most valuable bits of paper you can own. Contradictions of capitalism are for now paper talk.
A finger pointed at the moon is not the moon is a Buddhist dharma. A Greek orthodox priest predicting the end of the world is nothing new. Every decade brings its own apocalypse. But how do we nurse our planet back to health and prove him wrong? Write your answers in the wind or it will be written on the bodies of your children.
Carlo Revelli (2015) Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segree.
We’ve got a floor plan. In a reductionist world two features of space and time stand together in the battle-scarred macroscopic twentieth-century theories of Einstein. He explains how the cosmos came into being and hangs together. Contrast this with the mirrored microcosm of Bohr’s theory of how elementary particles work, the flickers of the creeping subjectivity of the observer effect and creating seemingly something from nothing. We have something that undermines the mechanical movements and objectivity of classical physics, but does not undermine the beauty and grace of Einstein’s equations. It complicates what is complicated – the architecture of the cosmos. Theories, like the individuals that produced them, don’t stand still. They say prove me wrong. The sky doesn’t fall down, but we can move onto the next theory that explains why it is still above, or indeed, below us.
Rovelli in his third lesson traces the scientific visions that have gone before and the revolution in thinking that has increased our understanding of how we ‘see’ reality.
In his first box, a figure of a little man (or woman) stands like an X with the earth below him and the sky above. For millennia, thousands of years, for any man that could see, this was unquestioned reality.
Borelli tells us that Anaximander twenty-six centuries ago questioned this reality. He asked how it was possible for the sun, moon and stars to revolve around us. His answer was that the sky was not just above us, but also below us. Thus in the second box the sky takes up the four corners and the little X-man is standing on a block of earth and has his arms raised to the sky, and his counterpart, another upside-down X-man, has his arms raised to the sky.
There is uncertainty in Borelli’s attribution of who first though of the earth as a great floating stone suspended in space, whether that honour goes to Parmenides, or Pythagoras (perhaps both and it took different cultural paths into our understanding?). Here the resultant diagram is no longer a box, but the more recognisable Ptolemaic system of circles within circles of unnamed stars and moon with the earth a shaded bullseye, and a little X-man standing on it, at the centre of the known universe.
The Copernicus revolution was the end of the Ptolemaic worldview. The earth was no longer the centre of the universe, but just one, among other planets, bigger and smaller than ours, in a diagram of a rock, with an X-man on it, circling the sun.
Here I’m going to step outside Borelli’s high-speed chase through time and interject Galileo Galilei. The Renaissance astronomer and polymath famously was forced by the Catholic Church to recant his proofs that Copernicus was correct and to swear that the Ptolemaic worldview was the only model that worked in allowing God to put X-man at the centre of the universe and give God parental visiting rights. The mind of a visionary and the heart of a visionary may be pulling in different directions.
A contemporary comparison would be global warming. Scientist at the end of the 1960s charted the greenhouse gas effect of fossil fuel use in parts per million. The Third World War has begun with the loss of human life far more likely to be greater than the First and Second, and indeed all previous wars, combined all within two generations. A child born now will see the start, but not the end of it. But in terms of the solar system that’s not even a blink of light.
With improved instruments our measurement of the solar system has improved exponentially. The Hubble telescope which orbits the planet and allows us to see deep into space, studded with splashes of galaxies moving endlessly in time since an estimated fifteen billion years ago; the earth a small ball exploded into being with the other planets that surround it, lies not at the beginning or the end, but part of time and space.