War as a Way of Life

January 1, 2011

An older documentary.

“Each […] prepares for battle inflating a series of sacks, special tools for combat. Inside each sack are hundreds of thousands of weapons. It is a veritable silo of warheads loaded with toxins.

“But in order to deploy its weapons, each combatant must reach out and strike its enemy. And the fight begins. In slow motion, they deliver their devastating blows. […] battles can last for hours, even days. The fighting is brutal and can even lead to death. With each strike, thousands of poisonous weapons are unleashed, penetrating flesh, pumping soft bodies full of toxins. As the arsenal is used up, the weapon sacks are left empty and tattered” [0:18:26].

Silos, toxins, strike, warheads, arsenal, battles that last only hours. Sounds like chemical and nuclear warfare. What we are now hearing from the Koreas, both sides. Have been witnessing in Iraq and Afghanistan, both sides. Lived for a century. French sociologist Émile Durkheim studied in 1897 in Le suicide, “la plus grande fréquence de la mort volontaire dans les populations alphabétisées. L’Europe, alors en plein décollage, voyait croître de façon vertigineuse la propension des hommes à s’autodétruire, en attendant de s’entretuer à l’échelle continentale durant la Première Guerre Mondiale” [in Youssef Courbage & Emmanuel Todd, Le rendez-vous des civilisations, Institut national des études démographiques, Paris, 2007, p.31].

At the end of that chapter Crises de transition, the two French demographers follow up the violence that characterized Europe since Protestant Reformism to WWII, period of mental modernization: “Après le passage de la vague, les pays se calment. Ils peuvent alors regarder avec étonnement voire condescendance ceux qui les suivent. Cette erreur de perspective est révélatrice du très faible niveau de conscience historique qui caractérise l’Europe ou les Etats-Unis. Notre époque célèbre la mémoire mais pratique l’amnésie” [p.39].

These scientists look with astonishment at the Westerners who look with astonishment at the post-modern carnage in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Nepal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria etc etc. And we look with astonishment at the brutal fighting, the strikes carrying each thousands of poisonous weapons, penetrating flesh, pumping soft bodies full of toxins… for this is the work of cnidarians, an animal group including corals, sea anemones, and jellyfish. The first animals with an actual body of definite form and shape, also the first to bundle the power of nerves and muscles together, enabling them to move and act as predators.

This afternoon it was too cold to bike along the coast, so I rode inside and stuffed the very well-done Shape of Life 2002 documentary into the DVD player (Sea Studios Foundation’s first project on the great diversity of animal life on Earth produced for National Geographic Television and Film in association with PBS). When I watched the behavior of the earliest multi-celled animals who lived during the Precambrian period, it was as if seeing the United States and its so-called allies (although the latter seem to belong to another group of animals, the poodles) in action in Irak, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Territoriality, aggressiveness, predator behavior. “Animals have waged battles for dominance over hundreds of millions of years. Frenzied brawls for territories, deadly battles for the right to mate” [0:20:25]

While scientists have discovered so much, politicians and their partners have apparently learned nothing in … 600 million years. Or rather their mental development has remained stuck at the reptilian level. The one Carl Sagan described as follows: “The Reptilian complex is named for the most advanced part of the brain higher mammals shared with reptiles. It is responsible for rage, xenophobia, basic survival fight-or-flight responses, territoriality, social hierarchy, and the want to follow leaders blindly. Often times, this portion of the brain can take over rational brain function and result in unpredictable, animalistic behavior in even the highest of creatures who still bear this evolutionary baggage, humans included” [Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, 1977, in Wikipedia].

Logically, for they have reached the highest level in social hierarchy by using their reptilian complex to the full extent, U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spend billions, dominate millions, massacre hundred of thousands to duplicate what proto-organisms did on the sea floor millions of years ago. This explains how supposedly responsible officials behave that lowly way.

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is wrong to ask that Obama “resign if it can be shown that he approved spying by the country’s diplomatic figures on UN officials”, referring to the 2009 cable marked “secret,” in which “Hillary Clinton asked U.S. diplomatic posts to help update a list of sites around the world ‘which, if destroyed, disrupted or exploited, would likely have an immediate and deleterious effect on the United States’” [WikiLeaks reveals sites critical to US security, Sharon Theimer, Associated Press – December 6, 2010].

These two clowns just did what they are supposed to do, act as predators.

I am being unfair to the proto-organisms though. First, while the “Triumphant […] anemone spreads its tentacles, as though flaunting its victory. The vanquished retreats within itself and will eventually move away” [0:20:10], very gallantly, without spilling any blood. Then, a subgroup of cnidarians, polyps, although also predators, dining on plankton, do behave collectively, living together in vast colonies, and “instead of warring, they built” one of the greatest wonders of the natural world, a spectacle of colors and formations like no other, coral reefs [0:21:40]. A very small number of humans do the same. Fewer and fewer in our times of dying solidarity.

One last inspiration from this documentary. The simplicity of the cnidarian organization: two sets of muscles and nerves to activate them, up, down, sideways. That is all. “It looks so simple, but all creatures that crawl, soar, or swim today rely on muscles and nerves, their ancient inheritance from cnidarians. Appearances can be deceiving. Creatures that look slow and simple actually started the nimble dance of life. [Scientist John Jack Costello, Providence College:] Cnidarians made that huge jump, that jump to nerve and muscle tissue that made possible all kinds of motions. It’s an incredibly simple, but very effective system” [0:12:25].

Simplicity on two levels, the mind of these political predators is equally simple: they see territory, or people to exploit, and they see money, or riches to acquire (plunder) from this territory, minerals, water, geo-strategic advantages.

On the positive side, we have the proof that simplicity can be very powerful. No need for a lot of accessories to live, survive, win, progress. Humanity started with two sets of muscles and nerves. It is the opposite – many inventions, such as automatic garage door openers or cell telephones, make us lazy or distract us form the pursuit of the real purpose on earth, which is mental, not material. Or let me put it this way. They should provide us with more time to dedicate to our higher pursuits, but instead of remaining as means, they become the end.

A current reality.

North Americans don’t want to pay taxes, Europeans admire the U.S. model and try to emulate it. Then they all become angry when the response of the government services to snowstorms and other emergencies is poor. London got battered first.

“Most passengers could see that the airport owners’ priorities were not theirs. The acres dedicated to retailing compared to the paltry investment in snowploughs were signal enough of what British Airports Authority [privatised in 1986] cares about – generating the cash flow to give Ferrovial, the ultimate Spanish owner, the interest and dividend payments to make its over-expensive asset pay. […] an organisation which was expensively taken over by outsiders and which now has to create the surpluses to pay off the debts incurred in its purchase. […] together with Britain’s callow approach to ownership. British company law makes no requirement on shareholders and directors to have any obligation to be good stewards of their assets, their employees or their customers. Shareholders’ rights to do what they want with their shares to maximise their immediate value is more stark than anywhere else and directors’ responsibilities are only to serve the interests of these madly unconstrained shareholders. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/25/will-hutton-british-ownership-rules, Heathrow’s chaos is indicative of a wider national malaise, Will Hutton guardian.co.uk, 25 December 2010].

Same mentality, pay as little as possible, get as much as possible, the fastest possible.

To fly from Istanbul to London is to travel from the first to the third world. Ataturk international airport sparkles with steel and glass modernity – a monument to Turkey’s status as a rising power. Heathrow’s Terminal 3, scarred by broken travelators, exposed ceiling voids and filthy carpeting has become an emblem of national decline [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6c2aa45c-0c75-11e0-8408-00144feabdc0.html#axzz19yKBEe96, Britain shamed by Heathrow’s terminal misery, Financial Times.com, Philip Stephens, December 20 2010].

New York got it a few days later. “Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, who has often sided with the mayor, said the city’s response to the blizzard was the worst in memory” [City Struggles as Blizzard’s Impact Chastens Bloomberg, Russ Buettner, New York Times, December 28, 201].

Manhattan’s main streets were cleared, none of the others or in the boroughs. For instance a woman in labor in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, got an ambulance 9 and a half hours after she called, and lost her baby. The Sanitation Department is responsible for snow removal, “But the ranks of uniformed members have fallen to a planned 7,016 by next June from 7,733 in 2006, said Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for the city’s Independent Budget Office. That is the lowest staffing level since 1997”.

500 passengers got stuck on a disabled A subway train in Queens, New York for six hours. Ironically many passengers were coming from JFK airport where they had waited in vain for a flight. “It wasn’t like the storm just snuck up on us,” said David Kelley, 25, who tried unsuccessfully to get to his security job at Kennedy before being forced to turn around. “They were aware … They need to have a backup plan. This isn’t a Third World country. This is New York City” [Christmas Blizzard of 2010: Passengers trapped for hours on A-train disabled in record snowstorm, Erin Durkin, Daily News, December 27 2010].

“several diesel locomotives that don’t require third-rail electricity – valuable equipment in keeping the rails clear and rescuing stranded passengers – were stuck in outer-borough railyards”, “a diesel returned to the yard, apparently for a crew change, but no one was there to take over, and it got snowed in”, “Another diesel locomotive never made it out of the same yard, the manager said. And one of the giant snow-thrower trains – capable of removing several tons of snow an hour – also sat idle for at least part of the blizzard”, “some portable heating devices didn’t work”, “Several parked trains that normally would have been put in service remained parked in that yard because there weren’t enough crew members to operate them, the motorman said”

As a conclusion, “I’m appalled,” a veteran NYC Transit manager said yesterday. “I’ve never seen us fall apart this way.” [MTA dropped ball, failed to enact highest level emergency protocol until storm was well underway, Pete Donohue, Daily News, December 29 2010].

More to come in our neo-liberal times.

Same factual inconsistencies and psychological bias with the U.S. Medicare. People don’t want to contribute, but then they want Medicare when they are old. Clearly revealed in a recent poll [http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com/pdf/AP-GfK%20Poll%20112310.pdf].

“Initially, 63 percent of boomers in the poll dismissed the idea of raising the eligibility age to keep Medicare afloat financially. But when the survey forced them to choose between raising the age or cutting benefits, 59 percent said raise the age and keep the benefits. […]

When forced to choose, even a majority of Republicans said they would rather pay higher taxes (53 percent) than cut benefits (38 percent)” [AP-GfK Poll: Baby boomers fear outliving Medicare, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar & Jennifer Agiesta, Associated Press – December 29, 2010].

Exactly like in Greece. 2009 was full of major corruption scandals involving government ministers and church officials, yet there were no street demonstrations. But as soon as the new government had to cut down pensions due, among others, to past corruption, people went out protesting. The self-centeredness and short-sightedness of this age.

More fun from the capitalist front in the very last days of 2010.

1) Effect on health – Officially approved food poisoning and fattening.

Source: http://health.yahoo.net/experts/eatthis/truth-about-your-weight-gain, The Truth About Your Weight Gain, David Zinczenko, Dec 21, 2010.

“The Truth: Most fast-food hamburger patties begin their voyage to your buns in the hands of a company called Beef Products. The company specializes in taking slaughterhouse trimmings—heads and hooves and the like—that are traditionally used only in pet food and cooking oil, and turning them into patties. The challenge is getting this byproduct meat clean enough for human consumption, as both E. coli and salmonella like to concentrate themselves in the fatty deposits.”

The company has developed a process for killing beef-based pathogens by forcing the ground meat through pipes and exposing it to ammonia gas—the same chemical you might use to clean your bathroom. Not only has the USDA approved the process, but it’s also allowed those who sell the beef to keep it hidden from their customers. At Beef Products’ behest, ammonia gas has been deemed a “processing agent” that need not be identified on nutrition labels. Never mind that if ammonia gets on your skin, it can cause severe burning, and if it gets in your eyes, it can blind you. Add to the gross-out factor the fact that after moving through this lengthy industrial process, a single beef patty can consist of cobbled-together pieces from different cows from all over the world—a practice that only increases the odds of contamination.”

2) Effects on India – Stress, stress, stress.

Source: Road rage in India growing along with economy, Nirmala George, Associated Press – Dec 28, 2010.

“The city’s roads have not kept up with traffic growth. While the vehicle count has soared 212 percent over the past two decades, the number of miles of road has grown a mere 17 percent, according to the New Delhi Transport Department. […]

“And because vehicles are a powerful symbol of often-newfound wealth, any scratch can feel like an assault on a person’s status, he added. “So if someone scrapes their new car, they find it unacceptable and are ready to hit out.”

“Sociologist Abhilasha Kumari also senses a change in attitude as the country’s new economic wealth makes society more materialistic.

“It’s as if Delhi’s centuries-old culture of graciousness has been wiped off and has been replaced by a frenetic and pushy ‘me first’ ruthlessness,” she said.

“Migrants from nearby rural areas, some newly rich from selling their land for real estate development, have also helped change the city’s texture from a quiet government town to a thriving commercial hub.”

“People are more upfront in their aggressiveness,” Kumari added. “They believe if you have the money, you flaunt it, with your big shiny new car, and you assert yourself forcefully on the road.”

3) Effects on China – Money, money, money.

Source: Official: 580 Chinese fugitives in other countries, Chi-chi Zhang, Associated Press – Dec 28, 2010.

“Nearly 600 fugitives involved with economic crimes such as fraud and embezzlement have fled China and are hiding in other countries, a top security official said.”

“China’s rapid economic growth has been accompanied by an alarming increase in economic crimes, with almost daily reports of officials stealing millions of dollars from government offices or companies.”

4) Effects on the housing market – More of the bad, to be expected.

Source: Home prices falling faster in biggest US cities, Janna Herron, Ap Real Estate Writer – December 29, 2010.

“Home prices are dropping in the nation’s largest cities and are expected to keep falling next year, as fewer people purchase homes and millions of foreclosures come on to the market. […]

All cities recorded monthly price declines. The last time that happened was in Feb. 2009. […]

The 20-city index has risen 4.4 percent from their April 2009 bottom. But it remains 29.6 percent below its July 2006 peak.”

“This year is on pace to finish as the worst for home sales in more than a decade. High unemployment and tight credit have kept people from buying homes, despite some of the lowest mortgage rates in decades.”

5) Effects on employment – Companies versus the country.

Source: Where are the jobs? For many companies, overseas, Pallavi Gogoi, Ap Business Writer – December 28, 2010.

“Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn’t anyone hiring?”

“Actually, many American companies are — just maybe not in your town. They’re hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat. […]

The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8 percent last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.”

“But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute’s senior international economist.”

“There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy,” says Scott. [late discovery of what capitalism is about] […]

“Companies will go where there are fast-growing markets and big profits,” says Jeffrey Sachs, globalization expert and economist at Columbia University. “What’s changed is that companies today are getting top talent in emerging economies, and the U.S. has to really watch out.” […]

DuPont’s work force reflects the shift in its growth: In a presentation on emerging markets, the company said its number of employees in the U.S. shrank by 9 percent between January 2005 and October 2009. In the same period, its work force grew 54 percent in the Asia-Pacific countries.

“We are a global player out to succeed in any geography where we participate in,” says Thomas M. Connelly, chief innovation officer at DuPont. “We want our resources close to where our customers are, to tailor products to their needs.”

“While most of DuPont’s research labs are still stateside, Connelly says he’s impressed with the company’s overseas talent. The company opened a large research facility in Hyderabad, India, in 2008.”

“A key factor behind this runaway international growth is the rise of the middle class in these emerging countries. By 2015, for the first time, the number of consumers in Asia’s middle class will equal those in Europe and North America combined. […]

“Other economists, like Columbia University’s Sachs, say multinational corporations have no choice, especially now that the quality of the global work force has improved. Sachs points out that the U.S. is falling in most global rankings for higher education while others are rising.”


6) Effects on its tools – The addiction of money. The urge to show-off.

Source: Wall Street bankers, publicly modest, eye fancy toys, Phil Wahba, Reuters – Dec 30, 2010.

“Wall Street executives may face smaller bonuses and a public that still eyes them with suspicion, but that isn’t stopping them from rediscovering their love of luxury cars, oceanfront homes and private jets.”

7) On foreign affairs – Allies bought by money are not the surest.

Source: WikiLeaks show US frustrated with Egypt military, Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press – December 31, 2010.

“Egypt’s military, the biggest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel, is in decline, according to American diplomats, who blame the Arab nation’s top brass for failing to modernize and adapt to deal with new threats. […]

The disagreements, the memos show, are over a wide range of topics, with the U.S. pressing Egypt to focus its military toward terrorism, halting cross-border smuggling and helping out in regional crises. They also suggest that, to the dismay of the Americans, the Egyptian military continues to see Israel, its enemy in four wars spanning 25 years in the last century, as its primary adversary 31 years after the two neighbors signed a peace treaty. […]

The memos exposed that public talk of shared goals between the U.S. and Egyptian military is just rhetoric, says Steven Cook, a fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and the author of a book on the Egyptian military.

“There doesn’t seem to be much more and there hasn’t been much for a while,” he said. “The U.S. criticism further reinforces what the Egyptian military is all about – the ultimate instrument of political control. They are not there to project power, but to protect the regime.” […]

“Since its peace deal with Israel, Egypt has received nearly $36 billion in military assistance — an annual installment of $1.3 billion. […]

“According to the leaked U.S. memos, Egyptian officials told visiting U.S. defense officials they must convince Congress that Egypt was worth more than the $1.3 billion a year it is getting in military aid, according to a memo dated Feb. 28, 2010.

“Egypt has resisted sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and only recently started training military personnel from the two nations where U.S. forces are fighting stubborn insurgencies.

“Instead, the memos say, Egypt places emphasis on trying to achieve military parity with Israel through the acquisition of modern conventional arms such as aircraft and tanks. […]

“The U.S. should not impose on us reformulating our military the way it wants, which we think is ultimately what suits Israel and we don’t want to do what suits Israel.”

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