Coronatopia or Coronapocalypse?

There’s a poignant scene in the 1970s classic Soylent Green that has relevance for our own time. The movie is set in a future dystopia in which dazed survivors wander aimlessly down litter-strewn streets midst rundown buildings under a murky sky, sleeping in doorways and fighting over scraps of food. The main protagonists are an aged detective old enough to remember how the world was when he was young and his partner, too young to have experienced “the good old days”. One emotive scene has the two acquiring some fresh strawberries, the older man savoring them with nostalgic relish, while the younger, who has never seen a strawberry before, gets a taste, literally, of the world that has been lost. (I won’t reveal what “soylent green” refers to in case you are inspired to watch the movie.)

The scene I found especially poignant for us comes when the old man, haunted by memories too painful to bear, decides to take advantage of the government-sponsored option of euthanasia. The life-ending procedure involves the soon-to-be departed lying comfortably on a bed while scenes from the world of his youth are projected on the death-room wall: a field of poppies nodding in the wind under a deep blue sky flecked with billowing white clouds; a sylvan brook babbling its way to the sea, its sparkling water pure enough to drink; a city of gleaming skyscrapers where happy pedestrians amble down well-ordered streets, window-shopping  the bounteous offerings of a prosperous economy. Remembered joys light up the old man’s face as he slips painlessly into eternal repose.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all experiencing something similar to what the old man felt. With air and water pollution lessened consequent to reduced economic activity, we are seeing our world as it once was: mountains ringing cities, not seen for decades because of a shrouding smog, now visible on the horizon; the canals of Venice clarifying with the drop in tourism, causing fish to return to the now clean water highways; sea turtles returning to the beaches where they once laid their eggs as cautious sunbathers choose to forego a vacation in favor of staying at home.

Unlike in the movie, where the cause of the societal and environmental deterioration is not made clear, we know, or should know, the cause of our own malaise, a malaise inadvertently revealed by the side effects of the pandemic. It’s our addiction to economic growth. How much simpler would it be to deal with problems like pollution, climate change, resource exhaustion, even a pandemic, if we (by which I mean mankind) were not committed to an ever-expanding production of more and more goods to sustain an ever more numerous population.

Twenty years ago I wrote a manifesto entitled The Ethic of Zero Growth, in which I argued for replacing our growth-based economy with one based on what I call “ecostasis”: living in balance with the ecosystem. Obviously, the banner of ecostasis has not been picked up by many.  Critics argued (illogically, in my opinion, but apparently persuasively) that only a growing economy in a world of finite resources can assure prosperity. But maybe the shock of seeing all of a sudden what we have lost gradually, imperceptibly, over time will rally more dreamers to the cause (If you want to delve deeper into my proposal, you can read The Ethic of Zero Growth here or buy the booklet online.)

A post-pandemic coronatopia based on ecostasis is my dream. Here’s my nightmare. Imagine if the second wave of the pandemic, as postulated by the experts, is even more devastating than the first. Imagine the death count in this country reaching as high, proportionally, as that experienced in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918: 1 to 2 million Americans dead. Imagine the economy so completely shut-down that more important necessities than toilet paper—food, for example—is in short supply. Imagine rioting in the streets by frustrated, desperate people that far exceeds anything engendered by police killings. Imagine the whole nation looking for a scapegoat to blame their troubles on. Who would they choose?

No, not the Jews. The Chinese. After months of hearing the president refer to SARS-CofV-2 as the “Chinese virus” and blaming China for its spread around the world, the electorate would demand that China be punished—a call already voiced by some—so loudly, so rabidly, so venomously the president would be compelled to take some punitive action. Like the Japanese militarists who had instilled such a fervor for imperial conquest in the Japanese that when the United State demanded Japan withdraw from China, they felt they had no other option but to go to war, even though they knew that, barring a miracle, they would lose it, Trump would not be able to calm the masses he had stirred up by claiming he was just kidding about China being responsible (he doesn’t kid, remember). He would be forced to take some unwise military action, perhaps a confrontation in the South China Sea, which could quickly escalate into all-out combat.

To prevent such a disaster—compared to which the pandemic pales—it is incumbent on us all to do two things to counter the “Blame China” mantra:

  • Point out that where an epidemic first breaks out is not necessarily where the virus causing the epidemic originated; for instance, the Spanish Flu, whose first epicenter was in Europe, originated in Kansas. If it comes to be proven, or just believed, that the SARS-CofV-2 virus was manmade, it will be considered by most an indictment of the Chinese biolab in Wuhan. But this is not the only logical sequitur, as I’ll discuss in my next point. (One indication how widespread is the logic “Manmade virus = originated in China” came when a prominent alt-media journalist suggested the virus might be manmade and was roundly criticized by his fellow progressives for supporting Trump’s “Blame China” rhetoric.)

 

  • Demand to know why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shutdown the US army biolab at Ft. Detrick, Maryland in August 2019, shortly after an unknown pathogen killed a number of residents of a nursing home. The lab remained closed till November, suspiciously contemporaneous with the appearance of the SARS-CofV-2 virus in China (For further discussion of the possibility the virus originated at Ft. Detrick, see my posting “The Virus of Nationalism”).

Our demanding to know what’s going on in our biodefense (sic) labs is not without precedent. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) attached an amendment to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act calling on the Pentagon to say whether they had experimented with using ticks as disseminators of bioweapons at a lab on Plum Island, which is across Long Island Sound from Lyme, Connecticut . Many people believe, along with Rep. Smith, that Lyme disease originated at that lab. Because of the hotly debated issue over where the COVID-19 virus originated, we’re not likely to hear much about Plum Island any time soon; as, if it was revealed Lyme disease did come from there, too many people might ponder whether another disease might have been released, inadvertently, from another US government lab, say, one in Maryland.

To avoid a coronapocalypse we must act now, before the dire conditions I have postulated have pushed us so far down the path to war that those who oppose it are outshouted, ostracized, silenced. You can do your part by signing the petition calling for an international commission to investigate the origin of the SARS-CofV-2 virus here. That’s a first step. Don’t let it be your last.

Free Speech For All… sort of

A few days ago I sat in on a webinar featuring Suzanne F. Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America, who was  plugging her new book, Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. Contrary to its title, the book is actually a manual on what sort of speech should be banned; namely, words which offend. So, the next time you find someone lying, don’t call them a liar as they might take offense (Hear that, you Trump-bashers?) Say that they “misrepresent the facts” or some such euphemism. Or call them “prevaricators” on the assumption they won’t know what that word means. (What’s next? Weathermen hesitant to speak of devastating hurricanes, deadly tornadoes, and rampaging floods for fear of offending God and those who believe in his beneficence?)

It’s not surprising that an officer of PEN America would pen such an equivocating book, as the group generally restricts itself to lambasting free speech restrictions imposed by some tinpot dictator in some far off land—generally one at odds with our State Department—while ignoring gross violations closer to home, like the imprisonment in Europe of those with unconventional views on the Holocaust, a travesty which occurs despite the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union proclaiming “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.” (Whenever I hear someone charge others with free speech hypocrisy for banning speech in some instances and defending free speech in other instances (as was the case recently with regard to an Open Letter in Harper’s magazine criticizing the “Cancel Culture”), I ask the accuser his own view on so-called Holocaust denial—the acid test of fidelity to free speech.)

Any number of wise notables have stressed that tolerating speech which offends is exactly what free speech is all about. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” is the way George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel 1984, put it. Or, to quote a more contemporary writer, Noam Chomsky: “If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” And from a frequent target of unkind words: “I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so” – Barack Obama. President Obama’s representative in Congress while he resided in Washington has testified, “As a young constitutional lawyer, I was put to the first amendment test when I was called on to defend racists and neo-Nazis. I really had no choice. Surely now we know that none of us do. Free speech is unequivocal, unpolitical, and indivisible” – Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Trying to express your true feelings without offending is such a daunting task that even those with the most conventional of views might opt for silence, keeping their thoughts to themselves and thereby stifling debate. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis understood this, saying, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Woodrow Wilson expressed the same idea more bluntly: “I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking.” (Use of the “N” word has been so effectively taboo for so long I wonder whether the younger generation even knows what the word is. No, kids, it’s not “Negro”.)

Let me offer a personal anecdote along this line. Back early in the current pandemic, in a conversation with one of my siblings, I mentioned that the DC School Board had required parents to bring their child to school to receive a free breakfast, a rule they later modified such that the parents need only bring their child’s birth certificate. My sibling commented, “Fat chance the kids will see any of that food!”, implying the parents would gobble it all down themselves. I was appalled at the contemptuous opinion—and lack of compassion—my sibling has for parents too poor to provide their kids with breakfast.

I wondered if my sibling would express such an opinion in polite society as freely as to a brother. If not, others will have no opportunity to counter the scurrilous charge, as I hope to do on our next meeting, if only to determine if the contempt is race-specific or applied equally to impoverished white hillbillies (As fatwa-targeted Iranian author Salman Rushdie sagely opined, “Reprehensible ideas don’t disappear if you make them illegal, by driving them under the carpet you might feed them, or make them taboo … I’d rather know the racist in the room.” Of course, in discussing this issue with my sibling I’ll have to do my best to keep an open mind—as we all should when engaging in contentious discourse—on the assumption my sibling could be right!

We are fortunate in this country to have a sort of Ten Commandments for our leaders. Thanks to the Bill of Rights—in particular, the First Amendment—governmental restriction on free speech is limited to individual-level libel/slander laws and occasional violations by overzealous promoters of social cohesion through conformity. But that does not mean we are any freer of censorship than those in countries where censors redact with black ink. Consider the observation of a foreigner much respected for his views on America, Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured the country in the 1830s when governmental influence on much of anything was almost nil: “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America…. In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them” (from Democracy in America). Mark Twain paid tribute to the power of public opinion when he hailed the fact  “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”

Whether those “formidable  barriers” de Tocqueville spoke of are today erected by the majority, the intelligentsia, the media, or the Deep State, they are not erected by the government per se. As with many facets of our society, we hold ownership inviolate, so private institutions—universities, clubs, corporations—are free to regulate speech in their domains as they see fit… up to a point. The leaders of the giants of social media—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet—found out what that point is when grilled by Congress last week. The contentious hearing, with its criticism of the giants handling of “hate speech”, illustrated how government can pressure private enterprise into imposing censorship. Like our health care, our schools, our economy, it’s a bit chaotic, but it somehow gets the job done, if not as coherently as having a Ministry of Truth delimit the “barriers”.

Those who would curb hate speech love to quote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s line “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic”, but they seldom clarify, as Justice Holmes did, that “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.” Claims that “Blacks are mentally inferior”, “Jews control the world”, “Whites are brutal oppressors” are offensive but those who are offended must acknowledge such words manifestly do not “create a clear and present danger”.

In the same instance Justice Holmes delivered an eloquent paean to free speech: “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.” A fitting sentiment on which to end this soliloquy.

TEAR DOWN THAT STATUE!

A year or so ago I attended a panel discussion on world history at American University in Washington, DC. The panelists were three Assistant Professor-types, all hailing from various parts of the Third World. The diatribe they delivered against Euro-Americans, one of whom summarized the history of the last 400 years as the story of “White oppression of people of color”, would be considered hate speech if directed at any other group. Much as I applaud the correction made to our understanding of the past by historians of a  darker hue now that their voice is allowed to be heard, I found the historiography offered by these racists as distorted as the self-congratulatory paean to white supremacy (no caps intentional) for too long offered up by historians who share my lily-white hue.

I was amazed, and appalled, that the audience—20 to 30 mostly white kids—listened to all this without a murmur of dissent, even after I had opened the door by pointing out, with regard to the “genocide” of the American Indians, that the natives had been going at each other pretty well long before the white man arrived and that many a tribe happily allied themselves with the newcomers in their continual internecine warfare so as to benefit from the white man’s advanced weaponry. (Incidentally, do you know what the Indians called themselves in a collective, not tribal, sense? Redskins. And what did they call the Europeans encroaching on their land? Palefaces. Why is “Redskin” derogatory but “Paleface” not? Will “Black” one day be considered derogatory, as the mangled pronunciation of the Spanish word for black, “negro”, now is?

Had I not been getting such hostile looks from my own people (not to mention the panelists!), I would have gone on to point out that it was largely white people who were responsible for the Christian ethic which inspired many who had no need to fear being stopped and searched by the police to support the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention for the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. Let me make amends for my cowed silence here by offering some evidence of the ahistorical perspective of the panelists.

  • Abraham Lincoln did not run on a platform to abolish slavery but to preserve the Union. “What I do about slavery, and the colored race,” he said, “I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” While Lincoln understood that the South’s “peculiar institution” underlay the Civil War, his much heralded Emancipation Proclamation was motivated not by an intent to end slavery but a political ploy to coax the Confederate states into giving up their rebellion. Had the rebels considered their cause lost and therefore surrendered before the effective date of the proclamation—three months after it was issued—not a slave would have been emancipated at the end of the war, as emancipation only applied to areas “in rebellion against the United States” on January 1, 1863. As it was, very few slaves were freed as the federal government was in no position to enforce the edict in most of the South and emancipation did not apply to the Northern states, which were never in rebellion.

 

  • For many in the South the war was not about slavery as only a third of white families in the South owned slaves. For plantation owners it had as much to do with preserving their semi-colonial relationship with Great Britain: providing cotton for Britain’s textile mills. For others, it had to do with loyalty to a way of life fashioned over two centuries, which, were it not for its association with slavery, might be seen to have its attractiveness. My wife and I experience a vestige of the old, genteel South every time we drive down to Florida to visit the grandkids and know we’re in Dixie when people start telling us “Come back now, ya’ hear”, and we sense they really mean it. (Other than him being the creation of a white man, I don’t understand the objection of some to Uncle Remus, still entertaining kids, black and white, with his tales of Brer Rabbit, “Please don’t throw me over there in the briar patch, Brer Fox!” being one of the most famous lines in American literature.)

 

  • The first Africans who arrived in this country were treated as indentured servants, not slaves. It’s an open question how the status of African servants morphed into slavery. Maybe the 1619 Project will come up with the answer. (Seems to me the project would better be named the 1640 Project to commemorate the year a black indentured servant was first declared indentured for life, or the 1641 Project in remembrance of the year Massachusetts legalized slavery—20 years before Virginia!) This year’s Black Lives Matter protests have elicited calls for Americans to “confront our racist past”, but didn’t we do that during the integration struggles of the 1950s, or the adoption of affirmative action programs in the 1960s, or the Watts Riot of 1965, or the Rodney King riot in 1992, or the riots in Ferguson, Missouri just 5 years ago? Don’t we know more about slavery than about some of the other tragic episodes in American history? Most Americans have seen those graphics of how Africans were packed into the hold of slave-traders’ ships, but who’s ever heard of the “coffin ships”? Despite my degree in history, I never had until last year when I visited the port in Ireland from which many of the ships carrying famished Irish to America sailed in the 1840s, ships on which the death rate sometimes hit 30% (a slaver with a mortality rate like that probably wasn’t in business long).

 

  • Slavery gets a bad rap, and deservedly so, but white folks didn’t invent it. It’s been a near constant of human history as far back as when ancient Romans paraded captured blond, blue-eyed, Germanic slaves through the streets of Rome. Many of the cargos that filled the slave ships were not captured by Europeans but purchased from African chieftains (Which raises a question about reparations: should the descendants of freed Blacks who owned slaves receive reparations?). Was slavery as bad as it’s made out to be; for instance, in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. If so, how did it survive for over 200 years when slaves far outnumbered their owners in many places and an axe was almost as good a weapon as what the masters had to suppress revolt? Fear of a slave revolt is what motivated the masters to enact Slave Codes to regulate how the slaves were treated by their masters. Louisiana’s code mandated the sale of a slave who had suffered “cruel treatment” from his master. How did the lot of slaves in the South compare to that of free laborers employed in the coal mines and sweatshops of the North? Historians Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman argue in their controversial book Time on the Cross (1974) that , on the basis of quantitative data (invoices, wills, tax records, etc.), the material wellbeing of Southern slaves was better in many respects (diet, living space per person, wardrobe, life expectancy, etc.) than that of Northern wage slaves. Could be, since a slaveowner had a vested interest in keeping his “property” healthy and happy enough to work, while Northern employers had no such motivation, since they only needed unskilled laborers, who could easily be replaced from the pool of unemployed if their health failed. Which begs the question, “Why aren’t statues to our 19th century Captains of Industry, who worked kids for 12 hours a day/6 days a week in their mines and factories, being depedestalled? “ (I doubt if slave kids had worse jobs!) And what happened to the two types of slaves in old age? The wage slave was dismissed and left to fend for himself; the chattel slave remained on the plantation and was given less arduous tasks (like entertaining the kids with tales of Brer Rabbit). Of course, the North’s free labor didn’t suffer the supreme indignity of being sold like a head of cattle (or a professional athlete, to update the simile).

When the statues of Confederate heroes began to be toppled consequent to the Black Lives Matter movement, I was strongly opposed. It seemed to me doing so forsook Lincoln’s call for “malice towards none… charity for all”. Tearing down statues which honored the ancestors of a goodly share of the American people hardly seemed like a way to “bind up the nation’s wounds”, as important today as it was when Lincoln spoke those words in his Second Inaugural. My own great-great-grandfather owned a couple of slaves and provided beef to the Confederate army. Should the plaque by his gravesite, which hails him as “The Dean of Texas Cattle Drivers”, be taken down? If it is, a bit of Western lore—the story of his tragic last cattle drive (which was retold in the TV miniseries “Lonesome Dove”)—will be lost, no longer to enthrall and instruct not only his descendants but many other formative young minds.

But besides respecting others natural inclination to think highly of their ancestors and honor them, there was another reason I thought the statues should remain. I felt they were a reminder of one of the tragedies of war, perhaps the greatest tragedy: that in every war—civil or world–there are good people on both sides. You have to be a purblind, self-righteous zealot not to recognize this. Were there no good people—white or black—who fought for the Confederacy? Were there no good people amongst the millions who died for Nazi Germany? Are there no good people on either side of the debate over Donald Trump today? By all accounts, my great-great-grandfather, Robert E. Lee, and, yes, Thomas Jefferson were good people.

It’s hard for us to understand how someone who wrote “all men are created equal” could be a slaveowner. I think our bafflement arises because we tend to be unaware, or unwilling to accept, how we are all captives of our age, just as was Jefferson. We look back in outrage at the horrors of slavery, but do we consider how future generations will judge our own times… and ourselves? In the United States today millions of children go to bed hungry; 1 in 7 Americans is illiterate; 1 in 3 Black men are incarcerated sometime in their life; parents forego taking their sick kids to the hospital for fear of the bill; almost a million babies are killed in their pre-natal stage every year; our military is forever bombing hapless “enemies” all around the world. You can come up with your own horrific disgrace to add to the list.

It’s not so easy to pin individual blame in the case of current sins as it is in the case of slavery, but aren’t we all to blame? Most of you would agree, I trust, that the societal ills I’ve enumerated are reprehensible. So why do they exist and why have they gone on for so long? You probably feel, as I do, that they are beyond our control, that there’s not much we, as individuals, can do to remedy them. That’s exactly how Jefferson felt when he remarked, “Slavery is an abomination and must be loudly proclaimed as such, but I own that I nor any other man has any immediate solution to the problem.” Will our grandchildren absolve us of guilt for failing to find a solution to our reprehensible inaction, or will they tear down the statues we erected to honor our imperfect heroes?

Having learned—thanks to Black Lives Matter—the history behind the Confederate statues, that they were intended by some as a slap in the face and a warning to free but discriminated against Blacks, I’ve come to look more favorably on the statue-oclasts. Even before the current spate of deconstruction, I took offense at the fact most every traffic circle in the nation’s capital is graced by some pompous general on a horse looking like he’s ready for battle. Can’t we honor other than those whose claim to fame is having been successful at killing people?

My hope is that the pedestals which now stand bleakly unoccupied will serve as bases for memorials to a more diverse representation from our pantheon of heroes. How about a memorial to pioneer women, whose toils on a primitive, dangerous, lonely frontier make the daily drudgery assigned to their counterparts back East look like being sentenced to community service? Or to the man who gave us one of our national treasures: peanut butter (That would be a twofer as George Washington Carver was both a scientist and black)? Who would you like to see immortalized in bronze and placed upon a pedestal?

I’ve Been Hacked!

Last Friday morning I sent out a notice to my fans (both of them) that I would be participating in a podcast the next day. That night my computer konked out on me. That I would lose internet access just when I was about to make one of my infrequent appearances in cyberspace seemed too coincidental to be… well, a coincidence. As I have a reputation as being an anti-imperialist, a Global Warming skeptic, an anti-Vaxxer, a 9/11 Truther, and probably a believer in other iconoclasms even I have forgotten,  I assume I have offended some people in one way or another.

So, I got to speculating on who might have sabotaged my computer in an effort to deny me my fleeting 15 minutes of fame. The National Security Agency immediately came to mind, but I dismissed the idea as I assume it must be illegal for the NSA to do that sort of thing to an American citizen. Even if they do not have a reputation for strict adherence to the letter of the law, that they would consider it worth the effort to squash such an insignificant gnat as me struck me as unlikely. If they did, no wonder the Russians are having a field day!

No other likely perpetrator came to mind—except one. In addition to the aforementioned sins, I am also known as a Holocaust denier. (For the record, I believe that during the Second World War millions of Jews were uprooted from their homes and interned in camps where they died in droves. You might be surprised to learn that believing such does not absolve me from being charged with denial.) Defenders of Holocaust orthodoxy have openly thwarted my endeavors in the past—from campaigning against my election to a local citizens council to having successfully gotten an episode of my TV show, “Civil Discord”, removed from YouTube (You can view the episode here). Whether it was the Israeli government (unlikely), the Anti-Defamation League (more likely, though not under their own auspices), or just some computer-savvy indignant Jew, I’m convinced I’ve ID-ed the nature of the culprit.

In the end, I did make it onto the podcast, “False Flag Weekly News”, though only audibly. My role as cohost was limited to being a good listener while the host, Kevin Barrett, jumped from one news item to another, giving voice to every conspiracy theory I’d ever heard of and some that were new to me. I sort of regret having been on the show as I found it more of a revival meeting for believers than a path to enlightenment. To simply proclaim a conspiracy theory without mentioning  the evidence that supports it (as those who believe everything that happens is fittingly reported in the New York Times do in mocking such theories) invites being considered a wacko by all but the already convinced. That being said, I respect Kevin for his dedication to the cause of raising awareness and readily admit that he has enjoyed more success in this regard than I. Moreover, he also has a radio show,  Truth Jihad Radio, whose format allows for more substantive discussion of a selected topic.

(If you scoff at the claim that a restaurant in Washington was a hang-out for bigwig pedophiles, a theory known as “Pizzagate”, you might view the “Fake News” episode of my TV show to prove your own due diligence in examining  the evidence before arriving at a conclusion about a “conspiracy” theory.)

You may think I’m being paranoid about my computer going on the fritz at an inopportune time. You may be right. But consider the case of the WW II GI Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22. He was considered paranoid because he believed people were out to kill him. The people he feared were the Germans.  Was he crazy? Am I? As Heller sagely opined, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”


POSTSCRIPT: During a day spent working with Microsoft technical support to restore my computer to good health, I told them of my suspicion my computer had been hacked. They told me that was impossible for technical reasons. Turns out my problem arose from their performing an update to my Windows 10 operating system behind the scenes. You might think that would cause me to drop my belief I had been the victim of a hack by unknown assailants. You’d be wrong. Rather, I’m now convinced Microsoft was in on the plot, Bill Gates probably being personally involved. George Soros, too.

UPDATE (7/23/20): My computer konked out again and again the timing is suspicious. I had watched a video in which Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone commented on an Open  Letter signed by a hundred or so notables criticizing the Cancel Culture’s drive to suppress free speech (One of the signatories, Bari Weiss, recently quit the New York Times over a free speech issue). Max charged some of the signatories with hypocrisy as in the past they themselves had engaged in attempts to silence those whose opinions they didn’t like; in particular, Palestinian academicians in this country (Ms. Weiss’s specialty).

I emailed Max, suggesting he could prove he himself is not guilty of the same hypocrisy by featuring a piece by a Holocaust “denier” on his website. An hour or so later a message appeared on my computer screen advising me that my computer had been updated and would be restarted that night, giving me the option of doing the restart then or scheduling it for a particular time. As I was about to take my compulsory after-lunch nap, so I opted to do the restart immediately. An hour or so later, when I sat back down at my computer, it was dead.

The technician who fixed my computer said the message I had received about a restart was not from Microsoft, but from a hacker; so I am no longer paranoid. I am now a manic-depressive paranoid with a touch of schizophrenia. I suspect the same culprit as previously was responsible for this, my fifth blackout in two months; namely, the Defenders of Holocaust Orthodoxy, most notably represented by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Lest you find the self-diagnosis of my mental state compelling, let me give you a little backgrounder. Back in May I joined a webinar on anti-Semitism conducted by the ADL. During the Q & A, I asked, “How do you explain the fact that the presidents of six of the eight Ivy League schools are Jews?” Not surprisingly, the panelists ignored my question; but as it had been shown to the virtual audience, I did get some responses. One person asked what my point was; to which I responded, “Disproportionate Jewish representation in an important segment of American society”. Another corrected an error on my part: Jews are the president of only five of the eight Ivy League schools, he said. A third directed his question to the organizers, asking if there were not some way to bar anti-Semites from the webinar.

I never did get an answer to my question, so I proposed one of my own, asking “Raise your hand if you think there are so many Jewish presidents because Jews are smarter?” If the audience responded honestly and I could see them, I think a lot of hands would have gone up–even though some Jews consider thinking that Jews are smarter to be anti-Semitic. My own explanation for the enigmatic academic anomaly is that a major consideration in selecting the head of any university is a candidate’s ability to raise money.

I have no idea what the impact of my question was on other participants in the event (if I were a Jew and learned that five of the Ivy league’s presidents are Jewish, I think I’d be a little worried as to just what my Elders might be up to!). I think I can say with confidence, however, what the reaction of the ADL was: I became a marked man (or, more accurately in light of my previous activities in the same vein, a more marked man). The ADL is ever vigilant in wreaking Old Testament-quality vengeance on any heretics who question the True Faith. They generally act with impunity, benefitting from the guilt-ridden (or fearful) Gentile’s inhibition on saying anything critical about Jews; but sometimes they meet their match. In 2002, former congressman Paul McCloskey won a $150,000 judgement against the ADL for spying on him and others.

Whoever the elusive phantom crashing my computer is–if such there be–I just hope the machine doesn’t explode the next time I make some nasty, attention-getting remark; like, say, suggesting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being kept alive through transfusions of the blood of Christian babies.😉 Then again, if it does, I may have found someone to finance my golden years.

No Justice, No Peace

Inspired by the current uproar over police brutality, I came up with a skit I would love to perform at a Black Lives Matter event. I’d call a young lady up to the stage to pretend to be a policewoman trying to arrest me. I’d equip her with a shiny badge, a plastic baton, a cap pistol, and toy handcuffs. When she tries to cuff me, I’d push her away while flinging the vilest, porcine epithets in her direction. This would go on until, in exasperation, she wields her baton or reaches for her gun, either of which I would grab from her and use on her. I’d hope at this point a few burly types would jump onto the stage and pummel me to the ground. As I’m held down, perhaps with a knee to the neck, I’d gasp out the moral to my little fable: “Get it? This is what happens if you resist arrest.”

With 5’6”, 130-pound policewomen being called upon to arrest 6’3”, 250-pound linebacker types these days, resisting arrest must be an inviolate taboo, no matter how unwarranted the charge or obnoxious the arresting officer. That being said, I can believe “resisting arrest” is often interpreted quite liberally by nervous, frustrated, angry, and, yes, sometimes racially-biased police officers. But is brutality ingrained in our police forces? Last year over a thousand people were killed by the police in this country; in Great Britain, the number killed by police was THREE (equivalent to 15 in the US on a per capita basis). Proof of police brutality? In 2018 there were 16,214 murders in the United States; in Great Britain there were 732 (equivalent to about 3700 in the US). America is a violently brutal society. Our police—like our schools, our hospitals, our churches, ourselves—reflect the tenor of the society of which they are a part. No wonder the police sometimes act brutally! (Sidelight: In the months of protests in Hong Kong, no one has been killed by the police. Maybe we should be sending our police to Hong Kong to learn crowd-control techniques instead of Israel!)

Another lamentable tenor of American society is racism, spawned by our peculiar history, manifest sometime blatantly, sometimes subtly, always present. Speaking of racism reminds me of a revelation I experienced when I returned to this country in 1975 after eight years abroad. I was struck by the biracial composition of our population. I had lived in countries where less stark ethnic divisions made for centuries of animosity and repeated outbreaks of violence. As if understanding the black/white conundrum for the first time, I thought, “This is not going to end well.” With racial tensions now having migrated out of their antebellum breeding ground and spread from sea to shining sea, I’m tempted to gloat over my clairvoyant prognostication, were it not so tragic.

Will the death of George Floyd prove as transformative as was the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which led to the integration of Black Americans into many facets of our society—including, and especially, law enforcement? The demonstration that black lives matter to so many White Americans suggests it might; but, having lived through the violent opposition to integration in the 1950s, the turmoil in Watts and elsewhere in the 1960s, and the riot in LA over the mistreatment of another black man in the 1990s and hearing the same vacuous rhetoric today that was piously intoned on those past occasions, I’m not optimistic. (I …er, a cynic might argue the massive, global demonstrations against police brutality have more to do with the COVID-19 lock-down than empathy over the gruesome death of a convicted felon, bored homebodies being delighted to have an opportunity to get out of the house other than to buy groceries, see a doctor, or go for a jog.)

I would be more optimistic if the objective of the demonstrations shifted towards what I believe the ultimate solution to race-based injustices is: confronting the growing income inequality in this country. Remediating the poverty which afflicts not just our black population, leading to broken families, resort to crime, and destructive violence, is a cause most Americans could get behind (even the more socially conscious amongst those self-isolating on their yachts). Just as a video of a black man being suffocated by a knee to his neck sparked a movement to end police misconduct, a report on black kids and their parents lined up outside their COVID-19 shuttered schools to receive a basket of food could evoke transformative measures to end poverty in this nation, which boasts of its richness and equality. If the innocent faces of hungry black kids and the forlorn look of parents unable to provide breakfast at home doesn’t touch hearts hardened by racially-tinged callousness, the scene might shift to equally hungry white kids in some rural setting—say, Appalachia—lined up outside their school.

Changing the direction our country is headed with regard to income inequality should garner the support of Americans of every hue—white, black, yellow, brown or red. If the present demonstrations over police brutality morph into protests over the increasing impoverishment of large segments of our—and the world’s–populace, I might be moved to don a mask and violate the stay-at-home order.

The Virus of Nationalism

Though I have been a prophet of doom for decades, the various instruments of our destruction I have postulated (economic growth addiction, resource depletion, nuclear war) did not include a pandemic. Others warned of species extinction from a viral terminator, but I never heeded the warning sufficiently to educate myself on the subject and echo the tragic chorus.

But, as with a killer pandemic, all my threats are transnational in nature, and so—like every commentator intones about our current threat—require an international solution, i.e., demands we surmount our parochial, nationalistic centrism and cooperate at the global level. Cynical by nature, I often muse whether mankind is capable of coming together when faced with a common danger, even in the face of an attack by extraterrestrials. Now we are confronted by a terrestrial threat which might serve as a test case. How are we doing?

With the nations of the world fighting COVID-19 along mainly nationalistic lines and the world’s two superpowers engaging in an increasingly strident argument over where the virus originated, it seems my cynicism is justified. Starting in the nether regions of the internet, factually thin, contending accusations about where the virus originated are now being flung at the highest levels of the two countries’ power pyramids (or whatever the teeter-totter President Trump presides over should be called).

One popular argument for China being the terre natale of the SARS-CofV-2 virus is simply that it was there that the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred, but a cursory glance back in history shows how simpleminded that assumption is. The initial epicenter of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 was in the trenches of a Europe then engaged in an endless war, but the virus originated at an US army camp in Kansas. In like fashion, the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have started anywhere.

American charges of Chinese paternity for the virus focus on a lab in Wuhan, from which the virus is claimed to have migrated one way or the other. The Chinese counter that the virus was brought to China by the US delegation to the World Military Games held in Wuhan last October, citing the biolab at Ft. Detrick, Maryland as the maternity ward. Some on the American side believe they have fingered the very Chinese lab technician responsible for accidentally spreading the virus, while those on the Chinese side tag an American cyclist as the one who brought the virus to the Games.

Deborah Birx of daily presidential COVID-19 briefing fame has stated there is “never an excuse” not to share information concerning the virus. While Dr. Birx’s barb was aimed at the Chinese*, let’s see how we stack up with regard to transparency by looking at some of the opacities we have yet to clarify:

(1) Closure of the lab at Ft. Detrick by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last August: Why was the lab closed? What did the CDC find in its investigation? (The closure provides an instructive example of how censorship works in our quasi-governmentally, quasi-privately controlled infosphere. Midst all the hullabaloo over a leak at the Wuhan lab (i.e., after January), try to find any mention—in the mainstream or even fringe media—of the closure of our demonstrably leaky lab at Ft. Detrick–remember the post-911 anthrax attack?)

(2) Coronavirus research: Are there samples of coronaviruses in the inventory of pathogens at Ft. Detrick? If so, what research is being performed with them? Will we provide samples to outsiders for genetic analysis, as we have demanded the Chinese provide of their samples? (I suspect our complaint about the World Health Organization (WHO) having a pro-China bias has more to do with what might occur in the future than what has happened in the past. If the Chinese allow the WHO to inspect their lab in Wuhan, it would be unbecoming—and suspicious—if we did not accord the WHO the same access to Ft. Detrick. To the degree we can convince the world of past bias on the WHO’s part, the more legitimate appears our refusal to grant them access.)

(3) US delegation to the World Military Games: Will we provide the medical records of the personnel who attended the games, as the Chinese have requested? This information is readily available and extremely pertinent in determining if the virus originated on our side of the Pacific. If we have nothing to hide, providing the records would serve to debunk the Chinese claim; conversely, not providing the info implies we do have something to hide.

While some hold that the world community should be focusing on defeating the “plague” (Trump’s term), not arguing over who is responsible for it, I believe we can treat and chew gum at the same time. Let the doctors fight the virus while the epidemiologists determine its lineage. In this endeavor may both sides heed Dr. Birx advice and be totally transparent, while the rest of us reserve judgement until the scientists have spoken. (Whether we will be allowed to hear what the scientists have to say is an open question. I suspect the Trump administration’s plan to create a coalition of research labs in this country to study the genotype of the SARS-CofV-2 virus has more to do with bringing such research under government control than good science, similar to the Chinese government’s requirement that their researchers submit any of their findings concerning the origin of the virus for government review prior to publication.)

One thing we don’t have to wait for is the manifestation of nationalistic self-centeredness at a time of global crisis. While our National Academy of Sciences, the magazine Scientific American, and the British journal Nature have boldly published articles challenging the finger-pointing of the politicians, will scientists continue to find the courage to speak up as the pressures to conform to the drumbeats of the jingoists and their lackey journalists mount, threatening perhaps more than just the conscientious researcher’s career (The deaths—some suspicious—of more than a dozen microbiologists in the months following 9/11 might be relevant).

While many a gasping chauvinist will still be waving his country’s flag even as his ventilator is being unplugged, is there no more global response the rest of us might pursue? It seems no less than a Second Coming could inspire mankind to unite in fighting a common enemy, whether this pandemic or one of the threats inspiring my own doomsday prophecies. Is divine intervention needed to save ourselves? Perhaps, but I take heart in the fact most people would be hesitant to respond to a call to defend their faith with their lives but willingly volunteer to die for their country. Most people today–proud of their country as they may be–do not believe their country is divinely ordained (with one notable exception). If we are willing to sacrifice for something created by the hand of man as is the nation-state, perhaps human reason and human compassion can lead us to rise to a higher consciousness to confront the next species-wide, possibly existential threat. (I expound on one idea for redemption in my posting “Sapienism”) ___________________________________________________________________________

  • Incidentally, the chart Dr. Brix shows in the linked video so she could badmouth China’s claim of an extremely low death count from COVID-19 (.3 deaths per 100,000 population) is deceptive. Other countries of East Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea) have similarly low counts. Does she doubt their numbers?

UPDATE (5/6/20): Has the silencing of microbiologists commenced: a medical researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who is said to have been on the verge of an important discovery concerning the coronavirus was found shot to death last weekend.

UPDATE (5/8/20): A dramatic turn in the COVID-19 tragicomedy occurred this week. A French doctor discovered blood samples he drew from a patient he treated at the end of December for the flu contained the coronavirus, pushing back the earliest known case of COVID-19 in France by a month. In consequence, the WHO has encouraged other countries to look backward to see if patients diagnosed with the flu actually had COVID-19. In response, Cook County (Chicago) in Illinois is testing such cases back as far as November.

As with the case of a possible leak from a Chinese biolab in Wuhan, where FOX rants about the claim while CNN downplays it (fearing talk of a leak in China might lead to attention beyond drawn to our own leak-prone biolab at Ft. Detrick), China-bashers, braindead to the possibility of the virus having originated any other place than China, assume the further back the first case anywhere is found to be, the more guilty the Chinese are of having engaged in a covered-up, while the more astute realize the further back Patient Zero is found to be in places far from the Celestial Commune, the less likely SARS-CofV-2 originated there.

If it is proven the deadly, over gregarious virus did not originate in China, then the world owes an enormous debt to the Chinese for having been the first to recognize people weren’t just dying of the flu. If not for the Chinese ,we–clueless–would still be lamenting our especially virulent flu season.

UPDATE (5/10/20): Belated news: In early February, Frank Plummer, a world-renowned Canadian microbiologist, died in Kenya, supposedly of a heart attack. Sounds reasonable, as he was 67, but if deaths of prominent virologists mount, one is entitled to wonder. What lends intrigue to Plummer’s case is that he once was the scientific director of the Canadian lab in which a Chinese medical researcher was summarily dismissed last July, midst rumors she was a spy who transported coronavirus samples to China. Also of interest, Francis Boyle, a law professor who drafted the Biological Weapons Convention for the US Congress in 1989 and claims the US has spent more on bioweapons development than was spent on the development of the atomic bomb, has reportedly disappeared (Not sure about the reliability of the source linked to as he refers to Boyle as a microbiologist, which he is not. I emailed Prof. Boyle as to whether his disappearance was exaggerated but got no response).

UPDATE (5/19/20): A number of French athletes who participated in the World Military Games in Wuhan last October believe they were infected there with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and brought it back with them to France. If so, the COVID-19 Zero Patient in that country would be pushed back another month from the current recordholder, thought to be infected in early December. None of the athletes, of course, were diagnosed as suffering from anything other than a cold or the flu.

If the athletes did contract the virus at the Games, it raises the possibility that either the virus was present in China before the Games (the Chinese currently maintain Patient Zero in their country goes back to mid-November) or the virus was introduced to China by the US delegation to the Games (as the Chinese claim).

UPDATE (5/20/20): Here’s an intriguing tidbit: last July a mysterious respiratory illness swept through the Greenspring Senior Living Community in Springfield, VA  with 63 of the 263 residents falling ill and 12 dying. Nineteen employees of the facility also fell ill. Symptoms resembled a cold or pneumonia (fever, cough). According to the Fairfax County Health Department, respiratory outbreaks at such facilities occur 5-10 times per year, but this outbreak was uncommon in that it occurred in July whereas most outbreaks are in the winter/flu season. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigated but were unable to determine any specific pathogen that caused the outbreak. A couple of weeks later, the CDC closed down the biolab at Ft. Detrick for safety violations.

An intriguing sidelight: The senior living home is located almost across the street from Ft. Belvoir where the cyclist tagged by the Chinese as the carrier of the coronavirus to the World Military Games, Maatje Benassi, is stationed. Benassi said she was unable to catch her breath after falling in a race. She and four other American athletes went to a Chinese hospital in Wuhan for treatment during the games (symptoms: fever, shortness of breath). The team doctor thought they had malaria and requested a drug from the hospital, perhaps the now famous hydroxychloroquine.

UPDATE (6/28/20): Another bioweapon-related researcher bit the dust shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic commenced: https://toresays.com/2020/03/13/where-is-timothy-cunninghams-whistleblower-report-on-coronavirus/.

Think Tanks Go Virtual

As many of you know, in better times it was my custom to go into town a couple of times a week to attend talks, panels, conferences hosted by the multitude of think tanks we have here in Washington. My motives for attending such events are, in order of importance:

– To poke a hole in the bubble in which most Americans are encased (despite—or because of—our “free” press) when it comes to what’s going on in the world and our country’s role in it, by asking impertinent, provocative questions of the self-proclaimed, mutually adulating cognoscente

– To meet interesting (and, in particular, attractive) fellow attendees, such as just-out-of-grad-school interns, who cozy up to me in the mistaken belief I might be able to get them a real job (the coziness lasting only until they espy the $20 Casio I flaunt on my wrist)

– To enjoy a free lunch; or even, sometimes, dinner at some fancy hotel like the Willard or the Four Seasons, complete with real tablecloths, shiny flatware, and as many glasses of wine as you care to quaff

– To learn something about my field of special interest: foreign policy (in this I am invariably disappointed because of the narrowly uniform perspective offered by think tanks, both left and right)

With regard to my first motive, here’s an example of what I’m talking about. At a tribute to Zbigniew Brzezinski shortly before he died, hosted by the prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), I asked the former National Security Advisor to President Carter, “Are you proud of having initiated the policy of arming Islamic extremists?” He didn’t seem to understand the question, so I clarified, “I mean the mujaheddin in Afghanistan”. As Brzezinski mumbled something dodderingly incoherent, the moderator caught my drift and immediately turned to the audience and demanded, “Next Question”. (You can get a taste of my cameo appearances by viewing a video I made a few years back, “Adventures in Think Tank Land”.

Though my questions are directed at the speaker(s), I’m not really interested in the answer. I know it will be in accordance with what I call “the party line”, especially if the respondent is a State or Defense Department apparatchik. Nor do I hope to cause the “experts” to see things in a different light. Most are too deeply buried, headfirst, in The Washington Concentric, a red-white-and-blue blackhole which sucks in all independent thought. For example, with regard to enemies du jour, the range of acceptable policy options is limited to “Do we bomb _______ [fill in the blank: North Korea, Iran, Venezuela] now or later?”

So why do I bother, you ask. Good question. It’s with the hope that there may be some in the audience (which, if C-SPAN is present, is national) with minds open and inquisitive enough to ponder, if however briefly, the bubble-popping dart I have thrown. I have little to offer as testimony to the accuracy of my aim. If measured by the number of times someone has come up afterwards and thanked me for my question, I almost always miss. Especially disappointing is the lack of positive response from the career-preoccupied Y and Z generations, who are more prone to back away from me than carry me off on their shoulders.

On the second motive, one of the more interesting persons I have gotten to know is a university student from Russia, who, every time I see her at an event, is sidling up to some bigwig. One day we were walking down the street when Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to Bush, Jr. and still in the game, passed by. When I pointed out who he was, Natasha (nom de fabricatione) abandoned me in a trice to introduce herself to him. What with the farcical Maria Butina saga, I assumed Hadley would shun her as if she had the SARS-CoV-2 virus; but, in fact, they had an amiable conversation, ending with Hadley giving her his card.

With regard to my third motive, let me mention one hyperactive lady who sends emails around announcing what’s happening in town and noting whether one can expect to be fed at a particular event and, if so, how well. My own experience is that one of the best lunches is at the pro-Israel Washington Center for Near East Policy which always offers a tasty salad along with the de rigueur sandwich, chips, and cookie. On the other side of the Middle East divide, is the Gulf International Forum, which offers scrumptious Arab fare: hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves, lamb kabobs.

Now that we are all practicing social distancing and being homebound, the think tanks have gone virtual, switching from live audiences to webinars. There are some good things about this and some bad. I like that I can sit in a comfortable chair with my feet up on my desk, unkempt, unshaven, in my pajamas, and can scratch where it itches. And I don’t have to worry about some moderator who knows me all too well not allowing me to ask a question, as I’m free to join in the online Q&A on the same footing as everyone else. The downside is you have to make your own lunch. And I miss the interns.

You may ask what qualifies me to question the nabobs of the foreign policy blob with their wall of diplomas, bookcase of awards, bemedaled chests, and exalted positions. Another good question. All I can offer by way of a conventional qualification is a master’s degree in history from the American University of Beirut. But my attention has been fixated on international affairs ever since I was offered an all-expenses-paid trip to southeast Asia (i.e., was drafted during Vietnam). In consequence, I have travelled around the world (70+ countries) gathering a wealth of knowledge and a range of perspectives less fortunate Americans have not had the opportunity to gain. While not responding to the call to slug it out in the jungle with a tenacious people, I do feel duty-bound to share what I’ve learned, as I have come to believe our foreign policy is not only reprehensible in principle and practice but dangerous to the collective wellbeing of ourselves and mankind. It is for you to judge whether I am qualified to be a prick (literally and figuratively) and whether there is a bubble needing popping.

I was once flattered by an unknown admirer who called me “the bravest man in America” for voicing what everyone knows to be true but is afraid to say. Those who know me well will assure you courage is not my forte. I sleep soundly because I trust the obscurity in which I bask (you, dear reader, are a member of a select club) saves me from being Assanged by those in power. Hopefully, they consider me too insignificant a nuisance to be worth quashing (other than to delete a few of my videos from YouTube). So, please, don’t spread the word about my blog! 😉

But do inform yourself and “go tell it on the mountain”. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Vigilance requires opening yourself to the widest spectrum of fact and opinion; and perhaps, in consequence, abandoning some of your most cherished beliefs. We must all make the effort to see behind the “Top Secret” curtain drawn by those who conspire behind it for or against the commonweal. Question authority—impertinently, provocatively. You might just get a free lunch!

A Farewell Cruise

Here’s a COVID-19 related idea which could save the cruise ship business while relieving pressure on hospitals, medical equipment suppliers, and health care personnel, and allow the infected to pass with as much dignity as possible : cruises could be offered the terminally ill on which they might enjoy a final vacation with the expectation they would die on the cruise and be buried at sea. The passengers would understand that, if they opted for this voyaging, they could never return home.

Cruising is known to be popular with the elderly, the demographic most likely to constitute the majority of passengers on such cruises to nowhere. To the extent their physical condition allowed, the doomed could enjoy the same amenities enjoyed by normal passengers aboard a cruise ship: poolside drinks, fine dining, live entertainment, gambling, etc. The one attraction not available to the passengers would be going ashore while in port as there would be no port visits. It’s clear from prior experience that no port would be willing to have them disembark, but they would be able to marvel at some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world while sailing close by. And it all would probably be free. Health insurers—both public or private—might be willing to pay for the cruise as it would be cheaper to them than the alternative.

The sick would not have to go through the tedium of quarantining as everyone on the ship would already be infected. Nor would staff be needed to constantly swab down surfaces all over the ship. Ventilators would not be made available as, at best, they would simply delay the inevitable, though pain-relieving drugs might be offered. (Most of the elderly who are on ventilators today will die, if the experience with the SARS virus is any indication.)

The doomed could be in contact with loved ones through video conferencing, which is about as close contact as they would have if in a hospital ward. Their burial at sea could similarly be transmitted live to remote mourners, who would be spared the temptation of risking their own health to attend a funeral.

Supplying the ships with food, fuel, and other necessities is problematic, but offshore delivery of goods seems feasible, as would crew being replaced by the same means. Maybe even new passengers could be added to the ship’s manifest in this way as space became available. Periodically, a ship would need to return to port for maintenance. To enable this the ship would be thoroughly disinfected while at sea and held offshore in quarantine for the necessary length of time.

Staffing the ships is problematic as the uninfected are unlikely to be willing to risk their own health on such “coffin ships”. The feasibility of my plan, therefore, rests on medical science determining that those who have contracted the coronavirus are henceforth immune. If this proves to be the case, there are probably enough qualified personnel who contracted the illness on a prior, ill-fated voyage or on land but recovered to man at least a few ships.

This may seem a heartless, unrealistic proposal, but consider the alternative. If in the coming months the number of cases goes from the hundreds of thousands to the millions, hospitals would not simply be overcrowded, but not an option for most. Nor would life-extending ventilators be available to all in need. The final days would be more agonizing than they need be for both the dying and the grieving. Scenes reminiscent of World War II would replace the comparatively mild horrors currently reported in the media: piles of bodies being crudely cremated in public squares or shoveled into mass graves. The current reality is tragic beyond words but denying it may be even worse.

The Debt Trap

There’s an astounding bit of hypocrisy making the rounds of the foreign policy-oriented think tanks here in Washington. It concerns China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In case you’re not familiar with it, the BRI is a bold undertaking by China to reestablish the old Silk Road link between the Far East and Europe, this time adding a maritime route across the Indian Ocean (unintuitively, the “Belt” refers to the land route; the “Road” to the sea route).

Under this initiative China is engaging in much-needed infrastructure projects in the countries through which the belt and road passes, such as the massive Ghawdar port in Pakistan, the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia, and a “Friendship Bridge” in the Maldives. In 2017 freight train service from China all the way across the two continents to Great Britain was inaugurated. To finance the BRI projects China established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with a starting capital of $100 billion.

Needless to say, our timorous sinologists cast a jaundiced eye on China’s grandiose scheme. They caution infrastructure-deficient countries to be leery about a “debt trap” lurking down the Belt and Road, i.e., becoming so indebted to China as to be trapped in its neocolonial embrace. Here’s a typical statement of concern by one prominent critic: “The heart of the BRI is debt-trap diplomacy: China oversells the benefits of these infrastructure projects, offers credit for them on onerous terms (via its own export-import bank, or the supposedly multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which China de facto controls), and, when the bill comes due and its debtors aren’t able to pay, demands control over the infrastructure and influence in the region to compensate.”.

The hypocrisy manifest in such a recital is stunning. Emerging (think “endlessly indebted”) economies have been caught in a debt trap from long before the Chinese arrived on the scene, and we’re the ones who ensnared them. Our banks—both public and private—have been encouraging Third World countries to borrow like there is no tomorrow for decades (For insight into the commercial side of the loan-sharking business by one of the frenzy, see John Perkin’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man). I can recall oft-voiced concern about the growing indebtedness of Third World countries as far back as the 1970s, when the spike in oil prices stemming from the Arab oil embargo led our commercial banks to cajole cash-starved governments to borrow beyond their capacity to repay.

By the early 1980s concern had morphed into a crisis, especially in Latin America. First, Mexico announced it couldn’t service its debt, leading banks to halt lending to other heavily indebted countries. This exasperated their ability not only to repay their creditors but to provide for their citizens’ basic needs. The stagnation in economic growth that resulted caused the 1980s to acquire the sobriquet “the lost decade”.

A decade later the problem remained, not just in Latin America but globally. Compassionate onlookers of a religious bent used the Catholic Church’s designation of the year 2000 as a Jubilee Year–an event biblically prescribed to occur every 50 years, in which debts are forgiven, prisoners released, and slaves freed–to call for cancellation of Third World debt. Whether moved to jubilate by the global campaign for debt forgiveness or to act pragmatically by the realization deeply indebted countries were unable to repay their loans anyway, the World Bank, in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), undertook the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) in 1996.

To qualify for debt relief, a country had to implement an IMF-mandated Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), which required the country to constrain spending on social welfare (e.g., health, education, etc.) so more of its limited budget could be spent on repaying foreign bankers. The SAPs gained such a reputation for mean heartedness the IMF craftily renamed the belt-tightening squeeze “The Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility”, though the requirements for relief remain essentially the same.

Under the HIPC, $100 billion in Third World debt, mostly owed by countries in Africa, has been forgiven. That so much could be forgiven without causing a dent in the lending institutions’ solvency demonstrates how lucrative the usury business has been for the rich world’s banksters. Presciently but vacuously, the World Bank warns, “Challenges remain to ensure that debt burdens do not return to unsustainable levels”—a challenge not met considering the number of countries mired in debt to this day.

In addition to charging China with setting up a “debt trap”, China-bashers criticize their favorite bete noire for promising not to interfere in the internal affairs of countries participating in the BRI. Here’s China adopting one of the founding principles of “the international community” (as our smug provincialists refer to themselves)—written into the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, echoed in the charter of the United Nations, and intoned by every meddling leader of a Great Power—and for this it’s criticized! Our worldly realists contend China is being naïve at best, deceitful more likely, in believing they can refrain from intervening in its debtors’ domestic affairs if they should renege on their loans. China, they contend, will act just like every other lender has, should circumstances demand it: attempt to install, through covert action, a leader who meets his country’s financial obligations; if that doesn’t work, apply crippling economic pressure (loan denial, sanctions, etc.); and, if all else fails, invade the recalcitrant delinquent.

Ultimately, China may well contribute to the debt trap ensnaring so many countries and find itself forced to intervene in other countries’ affairs to ensure debt repayment; but until that happens, I think it’s only fair to give China the benefit of the doubt and to wish them well—maybe even collaborate with them—in their striving to build desperately needed infrastructure in countries along the belt and road and beyond.
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On a related note, China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic last October. As part of the festivities they put on a show—a “Gala Performance” they called it—in Tiananmen Square. I was so bedazzled by the spectacle I created a half-hour version of the two-hour-long show, which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRQWLm4Vfgk. Seeing the mass extravaganza provides some insight into how China was able to lockdown entire cities in combatting the coronavirus epidemic.

GENDEMIC

Is the Novel Coronavirus particularly virulent for Asian men? There are reports suggesting this. I am in no position to judge the veracity of this claim, but the possibility of it being true I find worthy of consideration. Could it be the deadly virus afflicting the Chinese did not spring from nature and targets a certain subgroup of mankind, causing what could be called a “gendemic”? (Those of you shouting “conspiracy theory” should at least be aware you are adding nothing to the conversation by doing so.)

The idea of a bioweapon that targets a particular genotype has been around for decades. In their blueprint for world conquest, Rebuilding America’s Defenses (2000), the neocons behind the Project for the New American Century (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kristol, et al.) postulated “…advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.” Gives new meaning to the term “genocide”, doesn’t it? (Cheap but irresistible shot: the Principal Author of the world-beating he-men’s manifesto, Thomas Donnelly, now goes by the name “Giselle”.)

If you assume that, if we were engaged in such a nefarious pursuit as devising an aimable, deadly microbe, you would have read about it in The New York Times, let me point out that Harry Truman, when he was Vice President, did not know we were working on the atom bomb. Here’s a list of some bioweapon-related events which probably didn’t make the pages of the nation’s newspaper of record:

1956: Air Force drops swarms of mosquitos on Savannah to test their survival rate
1960: Army exposes US troops to intentionally starved mosquitos in Utah
2001: US weaponizing of anthrax exposed when a Ft. Detrick scientist mails some to politicians post-911
2012: Army continues testing dissemination of several deadly diseases in Utah
2014: non-native, biting flies appear in Georgia after US biolab in that country performs tests on just such flies
2014-2017: outbreaks of several unusual diseases, including Swine Flu, Botulism, and Cholera, occur in Ukraine, a country hosting 11 US biolabs
2017: Afghanistan experiences a spike in cases of tick-borne hemorrhagic fever at a time the US is doing research on ticks as a transmission vector
Ongoing: Pentagon collects DNA/RNA samples of Russians and Chinese

These cases are but the tip of the febrile bioweapons iceberg. Francis Boyle, who drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act passed by Congress in 1989, estimates we have spent more (in constant dollars) on biological weaponry than was spent on building the atom bomb. Today we have biodefense (sic) labs in 25 countries and the Trump administration has reversed an Obama-era ban on “dual use” (offensive/defensive) bioweapons research.

Note that the Pentagon’s bioweapons research began before the UN’s “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction” went into effect in 1975 but continued unabated afterwards. We get away with this because doing research on ways to defend against biological attack are permitted under the convention, and to develop defenses against a certain biological weapon you have first to create the weapon. If you take solace in the fact at least there is a convention banning biological weapons, remember that the use of poison gas on the battlefield was prohibited by the Hague Convention a decade before all the major contenders in WW I used it.

As far as the danger of a misfire from such weapons goes, whether inflicting the lethal brain-childs of modern-day Frankensteins on our enemies is our intent or not doesn’t really matter. Accidents happen. Some believe Lyme disease, now endemic in New England, resulted from the accidental release of disease-laden ticks from a US biolab on Plum Island, which lies directly across Long Island Sound from Lyme, Connecticut. I believe the ebola outbreak in West Africa (where we have five biolabs) in 2014 was the work—probably accidental—of a Canadian company engaged in ebola research. Not to be outdone, the Soviets experienced their own mishap when anthrax spores were accidentally released in 1979 near the city of Sverdlovsk . Intriguingly, a top-level Chinese biodefense lab is situated in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Perhaps you find all this the paranoid raving of a cynical, demented old man. I hope it is. But just in case, ponder if there isn’t some way we can avoid a catastrophe truly existential by outgrowing our caveman-like propensity to engage in eternal and continuous conflict, a trait so characteristic of our species as to seem genetic. If we cannot, that other defining trait of species homo sapiens, our wondrous brains, may lead us to develop and deploy a virus so contagious, so lethal, that the consequence could be more than just a gendemic.

“This is the way the world ends,” mused T. S. Eliot in his doomsday poem, The Hollow Men, “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.” Can we rise above the worser devils of our nature so our world doesn’t end not with a whimper but a cough?


ADDENDUM: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) closed down the biolab at Ft. Detrick, Maryland last August. It was reopened in November, just about the time COVID-19 first made contact with a human body. Curious timing.

UPDATE: A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that there are three types (A/B/C) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus around the world. The type (Type A) prevailing in North America comes closest to the version found in bats. The study states “These genomes are closely related and under evolutionary selection in their human hosts, sometimes with parallel evolution events, that is, the same virus mutation emerges in two different human hosts. This makes character-based phylogenetic networks the method of choice for reconstructing their evolutionary paths and their ancestral genome in the human host.” Does this mean the virus originated in this country? If so, will Bill Maher start calling it the “American virus”, or more precisely, I suspect, the “Ft. Detrick virus”?

UPDATE (4/22/20): As the closing of the biodefense [sic] lab at Ft. Detrick continues to be a taboo subject on both mainstream and even fringe news outlets, I thought I would fill you in on some things I have learned. An article on our local ABC affiliate, WJLA, reported on the CDC’s findings consequent to its closing down the Ft. Detrick lab. (I don’t know whether this report actually aired on TV or only appeared on the WJLA website). Among the violations of proper procedures found by the CDC investigators and classified by them as “Severity level: Serious” were:
(1) An individual partially entered a room multiple times without the required respiratory protection while other people in that room were performing procedures with a non-human primate on a necropsy table. “This deviation from entity procedures resulted in a respiratory occupational exposure to select agent aerosols,” the CDC wrote.
(2) The CDC reported that the lab did not ensure that employee training was properly verified when it came to toxins and select agents. [The CDC] observed a laboratorian disposing of waste in a biohazardous waste bin without gloves on.
(3) The United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) had “systematically failed to ensure implementation of biosafety and containment procedures commensurate with the risks associated with working with select agents and toxins.” The violation involved “entity personnel […] propping open” a door while removing “large amounts of biohazardous waste” from an adjacent room, “[increasing] the risk of contaminated air from [the room] escaping and being drawn into the [redacted]” where the people working “typically do not wear respiratory protection.”

Sounds pretty serious to me, but what do I know. I’d like to hear from an expert, but I’m not holding my breath (I think I could get on TV to talk about the Holocaust more easily than to talk about Ft. Detrick [inside joke]).

Speaking of the USAMRIID, in March 2019 (i.e., 4 months before Ft. Detrick was shut down), they teamed up with Gilead Sciences, Inc. to test a treatment for Ebola. The name “Gilead” being biblical, I wonder if the company is intimately associated with the Israelis, our partners in crime on so many secret, nefarious activities.