Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for November 13, 2013

Why don’t people realize that we rise and fall as a unified society?

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I think the main problem at large is that people have forgotten (or simply don’t realize) that by living as part of a society you inherently sign a social contract. Everyone born into any given social community is opted in automatically without choice or consent. What this means is that you are, by right, part of the community, you benefit from the community’s gains, and you are protected by that community. Now, you can opt out; only if you remove yourself from the social structure and stop taking the benefits provided (i.e. stop paying taxes, move to a different country with a different social structure, become a cave hermit in the remote wilderness) But if you don’t, then you have taken on a set of rules and a responsibility that coincide with the right to all due benefits (the chief responsibility of our society being the stupidly cliché and simplistic “golden rule.”) If every member of the community is eligible, then every member must be responsible to ensure the benefits’ continuous availability. (Although it partly is, this is not solely about money; also respect, security, safety, happiness, and human-rights etc…) This is where the misunderstanding comes in. You aren’t being an ‘evil-commie-socialist’ by giving back to society. It is required of you by the contract, but it’s also in your best interest.

The principle is not based on actual or perceived need, but on potential need. Obviously, there are people that need a lot, as well as people who need for nothing. The important point, though, is that everyone has roughly the same potential to end up in need. Anyone could get sick, anyone could get robbed or cheated, everyone needs access to get an education, everyone will die, anyone could be oppressed. That is the point of the contract; it’s why we have formed our society like this and not a cannibalistic anarchy. By ensuring none of these things could happen to the whole community you are ensuring they can’t ever happen to yourself. No matter how safe and sound you feel, no matter how impermeable or untouchable you think you are, no matter what your station in life may currently be; things change, and tragedy can strike anyone anywhere at anytime.

I’m not talking about a utopia, seriously, just a completely attainable place where people finally understand what it means to live in a community. Just play your part and pay in your share for the society that got you to where you are (You didn’t get there alone, be honest. Everything from your school, down to the road worker and garbage man are deserving of your respect and a return for their labor.) Just imagine, for a minute, a millionaire (whether his money comes from a company he built, his parents, the lottery, or back-breaking work,) he could only have accomplished it on the shoulders of the investors, engineers, teachers, gamblers, doctors or neighbors. That person would not be a millionaire if other people hadn’t held him up; If a doctor hadn’t delivered him or immunized him, if his neighbor didn’t respect or trust him, if a stranger hadn’t lost everything thereby making an opening or an opportunity, if there were no roads or trash collectors or farmers. With out the support of a society in people’s lives, it would be impossible for them to be “successful” in the way most people imagine it to be. There is too much work to be done and too much at stake to try and survive on your own. You can’t have an empire without resources, you can’t run a bank without customers, you can’t be a star without fans. When treating everyone else as less important than yourself, you convince them they aren’t needed and they will start to treat you the same.

Another thought, part of the problem with some of these people is that they haven’t really thought through their priorities. Some of them tie up their happiness in the pursuit of money. If you achieve gaining more money than you need, but you still need to gain more because that’s what makes you happy, isn’t the never ending cycle obvious? It will never be enough, so you will never be happy. Once you’ve gotten to the point that you’ve made so much money that you and each of your children could never spend all of in your lifetimes (and it’s still not “enough”) you should probably try and find something that would actually bring you meaning and happiness (how about instead of living for the profit, you live for the happiness your product brings, or the adventure of scientific discovery?) Wanting money and being rich aren’t inherently bad things, at all. But it is bad doing so for no other reason than selfishness. Not saying you should give all your money away (unless you want to…?) But don’t continue to make a sport of making money at the expense of your community without ensuring other people the same protection and support you had. To those who aren’t millionaires but still have plenty to be comfortable; I’m not saying you didn’t earn your comfort, but as I said before, it wasn’t only you that paid for it. Make sure you aren’t denying others the chance to have your level of health, happiness, comfort, or respect. Tomorrow your house could burn down, your bank could collapse, you could be diagnosed with a brain tumor, an earthquake could destroy your city, a silent majority could try and put you beneath them, or you could be ripped-off, raped or beaten. Where would you be then if society at large wasn’t a force to enable you to stand back up and fix the broken pieces.

A lot of these feelings of overestimated strength, egotistical independence, selfishness, and indifference, are products of an earlier era where these were needed. It was a time where only the strongest or most cunning genes would survive. But it is no longer beneficial to behave this way, we have vastly evolved from the small social groups requiring militant selfishness and ruthlessness. To behave like this now sets you apart from the “new” shift in social structure, which is based on strength in numbers. It damages your relationship with the community, leaving you vulnerable if you alienate yourself. Just because it was/is justifiable on the basis of animal instinct, doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. We have evolved a consciousness that is able to decide to not behave like animals. We can do the right thing for the sake of it being right, not just because it benefits us (which it ends up doing in this case anyway) In all honesty one person wont make or break it. Whether you decide to play along or not, you will still be enjoying all of the rights and privileges that the community tries to make sure everyone has. Until you’re not. If enough people decided to play the game on their own then society will fail. Not for some distant stranger, but for you. In that case, good luck. You’ll need it.

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I think Elizabeth Warren expressed my opinion on the social contract very well:

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Capitalism: Never Enough?

“How much is enough?” If we as a society are really committed to the notion that “more is always better” and if we believe we can sustain economic growth indefinitely.

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life … that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption… .We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever accelerating rate.”

But as an engine for humanity, it is not sufficient to simply buy and sell. Many economists today are suggesting we must not rely on growth as our sole criteria for judging a ‘healthy’ economy — that we must find ways to measure the quality of people’s lives and the impacts we are having that are not based on just dollars and cents. We have all heard that money can’t buy happiness. Now we’re having to acknowledge that happiness is not a commodity to be bought and sold, and we can no longer afford to be addicted to consumption.

I am not against the theory of Capitalism as a means for distributing goods and services, just as I am not against alcohol. I am, however, against Capitalism or any economic theory when it becomes an ideology, just as I am against a pervasive culture of drinking and drugs in which individuals lose their capacity to choose (or even question their choices).

When our practices become so pervasive that they ‘take over’ people’s thinking to the extent they self-destruct (for example, through excessive drinking or excessive debt), then we need to stop and ask what is really going on. We need to challenge our most basic beliefs and assumptions about what we want, how we are living and the choices we are making.

Creating any new habit is difficult. And getting beyond an addiction can be extremely challenging. But having the courage to take stock and get clear about what we want is the essence of what makes us who we are. This is exactly what we need to do to create the foundations for whatever possible future we want.


The Bombing of Dresden

“The destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized community life throughout Germany [is the goal]. … It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.” – Air Marshall Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris.

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Dresden is well known as quite possibly the most controversial British offensive in the second world war. 80-90% of the city was flattened:

*The attack was to be centred on the Ostragehege sports stadium, next to the city’s medieval Altstadt (old town), with its congested, and highly combustible, timbered buildings

*The main bomber force, called “Plate Rack”, took off shortly after the Pathfinders. This was a group of 254 Lancasters carrying 500 tons of high explosives and 375 tons of incendiaries, or fire bombs….The high explosives were intended to rupture water mains, and blow off roofs, doors, and windows, creating an air flow that would feed the fires caused by the incendiaries that followed

*The mix of bombs to be used on the Dresden raid was about 40% incendiaries, much closer to the RAF city busting mix than that usually used by the USAAF in precision bombardments

*The Pathfinders therefore decided to expand the target, dropping flares on either side of the firestorm, including the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, and the Großer Garten, a large park, both of which had escaped damage during the first raid. ( surviving people starting fleeing in the part away from buring houses, the second wave then targeted the park. THE PARK !)
•in which a second wave of bombers would attack three hours after the first, just as the rescue teams were trying to put out the fires

*The historian Alexander McKee has cast doubt on the meaningfulness of the list of targets mentioned in 1953 USAAF report and point out that the military barracks listed as a target were a long way out of town and not in fact targeted during the raid

*It is also pointed out that the important Autobahn bridge to the west of the city was not targeted or attacked and that no railway stations were on the British target maps, nor were the bridges, such as the railway bridge spanning the Elbe River

*Commenting on this Alexander McKee stated that: “The standard whitewash gambit, both British and American, is to mention that Dresden contained targets X, Y and Z, and to let the innocent reader assume that these targets were attacked, whereas in fact the bombing plan totally omitted them and thus, except for one or two mere accidents, they escaped”

*it is difficult to find any evidence in German documents that the destruction of Dresden had any consequences worth mentioning on the Eastern Front. The industrial plants of Dresden played no significant role in Germany industry at this stage in the war”

*During his post-war interrogation, Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich, indicated that Dresden’s industrial recovery from the bombings was rapid

*In the north of Dresden there were remarkable military facilities in the Albertstadt which were not hit by the bombings. Today they are still there, used as officer education buildings for the German Bundeswehr and hosting Germany’s military-historic museum (from stone-age to modern times).

*In diesen 15 Minuten wurden drei Viertel der Dresdner Altstadt in Brand gesetzt. Gezielte Treffer einzelner Gebäude waren bei diesen Nachtangriffen der RAF weder beabsichtigt noch möglich. Vielmehr sollte ein Bombenteppich die gesamte Innenstadt großflächig zerstören ( in this 15 minutee 75% of the old city were bruning . aimed hits on buildings were neither planed nor possible by night raids. Planed was to destroy the entire inner city)

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Ethics on the Bombing of Dresden:
Was Dresden a legitimate target? My answer is yes, Dresden was a legitimate target. It was at the time the major rail cross-roads for German troops heading to the Eastern Front (In the briefings, many RAF crews were told that the bombing was at the behest of the Russians) as well as one potential north-south escape route that may be utilized as a part of a guerilla campaign. Dresden was also known to have an industry revolving around high-precision glass, such as that used in telescopic sights (e.g. sniper rifles) and bomb sights for aircraft. I have also heard some rumors that Dresden was linked to making ceramic parts in furnaces, like those used in death camps… So Dresden was a legitimate target.

Having determined that it was a legitimate target, there was no reason to not attack it. In terms of tactics, you have to keep in mind that the best way to protect bomber crews from flak was to put as many aircraft over the target as possible, which make it impossible to hit an individual building, so it was more common for an industrial area of a city to be targeted. In order to maximise damage, the aircraft involved were loaded with a combination of 4000lb “cookie” bombs (high blast) and incendiary bombs. This was to ensure that the target was destroyed by burning it.

In terms of targeting morale, Operation Thunderclap (as the bombing of Dresden was called) was arranged so that the civilian population would see the might of the Allied airforces. The USAAF was supposed to attack in daylight on Feb. 13th, targeting the rail yards, with the RAF coming back that night to hit the same target; whilst the USAAF and RAF were due to come back the next day to finish the job. Churchill has been quite vocal about such a heavy attack for quite a while, although he was very quick to back off his support when voices were raised in protest.

Dresden was a military target attacked for mainly military means. Churchill called for such an attack only to back away and condemn the attack only after public opinion swung against it.

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Civil War veteran Samuel Decker built his own prosthetics after losing his arms in combat. Date unknown.

Civil War veteran Samuel Decker built his own prosthetics after losing his arms in combat. Date unknown.

Seattle grunge band Soundgarden would later write a song paying tribute to Decker and his accomplishments, aptly titled “Spoonman.”

He designed the prosthetics and guided his wife through building them. He later went on to become an official Doorkeeper at the U.S. House of Representatives.

 


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What was it like to be shelled in World War I?

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Here’s one description, from German officer Ernst Jünger’s 1920 memoir Storm of Steel:

“It’s an easier matter to describe these sounds than to endure them, because one cannot but associate every single sound of flying steel with the idea of death, and so I huddled in my hole in the ground with my hand in front of my face, imagining all the possible variants of being hit. I think I have found a comparison that captures the situation in which I and all the other soldiers who took part in this war so often found ourselves: you must imagine you are securely tied to a post, being menaced by a man swinging a heavy hammer. Now the hammer has been taken back over his head, ready to be swung, now it’s cleaving the air towards you, on the point of touching your skull, then it’s struck the post, and the splinters are flying — that’s what it’s like to experience heavy shelling in an exposed position.”

 

And several more, collected in Arnold D. Harvey’s A Muse of Fire: Literature, Art and War(1998):

Here is some descriptions of the sound: 

“For the civilians herded into the ranks the sounds of shell and bullet were strange and unexpected as well as frightening and called out for description. At close quarters an artillery barrage sounded ‘as though the earth were cracking up like an egg of super-gigantic proportions tapped by a gargantuan spoon’: it created, according to the same witness, ‘A veritable crescendo of sounds, so continuous as to merge and blend into a single annihilating roar, the roar of a train in a tunnel magnified a millionfold: only the rattle of the machine-gun barrage, like clocks gone mad, ticking out the end of time in a final breathless reckoning, rises above it’. At a greater distance it was ‘like someone kicking footballs — a soft bumping, miles away’, or a noise, felt rather than heard ‘like the beating of one’s heart after running’. A German infantry officer recalled, ‘If you put your hands over your ears and then drum your fingers vigorously on the back of your head, then you get some idea of what the drumfire sounded like to us’.”

“The sound of an approaching shell, it was claimed, ‘can be imitated by a suitable rendering of the sentences, “Who are you? I am (these words being drawn out to full length) — (a slight pause) — Krupp (very short and sharp!).”‘”


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Algerian Bedouin cavalry (attached to the French Army), escorting a group of German prisoners taken in fighting in the West of Belgium, WWI.

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An Imperial German Army Lancer, carrying a M1893 Lance with steel eyelets. A pennant would have normally been flown from these, indicating the soldier’s home providence. (Sometime during the First World War, Western Front)

An Imperial German Army Lancer, carrying a M1893 Lance with steel eyelets. A pennant would have normally been flown from these, indicating the soldier's home providence. (Sometime during the First World War, Western Front)

Something tells me he’s not going to survive that charge against the British machine gun.


The Invisible War – An investigative documentary about the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the US military.

After watching this documentary, one can only come to one conclusion: Our military does not take rape seriously.

I think this is one of the many scenarios where a feminist issue is a human issue. Many studies have shown that rape isn’t about sexuality, its about power. If the military doesn’t take rape against women seriously, then it probably won’t take rape against men seriously either.


“Hitler was was elected by a majority of the people, and that the first acts he took were to establish national health care and take away German citizens’ guns.”- some crazy, paranoid and absurd people in American politics

Hitler started in the communities:

No, not really. He joined a national organization and leveraged their already existing structure, and later completely reorganized that national organization. He didn’t start in the communities. (To be honest I don’t know how that’s supposed to be a bad thing.)

Hitler was made Chancellor on January 30, 1933. The Reichstag Fire happened less than a month later, and Hitler used that fire to urge von Hindenburg to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended many basic rights of German citizens and allowed for detention of suspects without trial. Hitler used this opportunity to attack the Communist Party, arresting and jailing thousands of them and effectively shutting them down.

The next major act to be passed because of Hitler was the Enabling Act, which allowed Hitler to pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.

…with national health care:

Germany’s health care laws go back long before Hitler. Hell Otto von Bismarck established a national health insurance plan in Germany in 1883 which covered most of Germany’s workers. Then in 1884 an accident insurance program was established, and in 1889 a pension/old age insurance program was established. The social programs under the Weirmar Republic were expanded, including health plans and health clinics.

In 1918 Germany established an 8 hour work day, labor reform, agriculture reform, local social welfare (costs to be split between the local municipality and the state), and increased national health care benefits.

…and gun control:

Absolutely wrong again. Gun control in Germany went back to the Weimar Republic, which passed gun control laws partly because of restrictions laid on them by the Treaty of Versailles. Guns were outlawed in 1919, long before Hitler had any sort of power or influence. In fact Hitler actually relaxed the gun control laws in Germany, with a law passed in 1938 which said that the previous restrictions only applied to handguns, not to long guns as had been the case before. (Of course none of this applied to the Jews, who were not allowed to keep firearms.)

To quote from this excellent article debunking the myth:

Prior to the 1938 law, only officials of the central government, the states, and employees of the German Reichsbahn Railways were exempted. The age at which persons could own guns was lowered from 20 to 18. The firearms carry permit was valid for three years instead of one year.

There are a few great resources on the interwebs for debunking this particular myth.

This one, written by Chris Miles. This one from the Straight Dope, and this one from Salon writer Alex Seitz-Wald.

…and Hitler was elected by a majority of people:

No he wasn’t. He never received a majority of the vote of the German people. In 1932 Hitler challenged von Hindenburg for President of Germany, but lost. In the first round of voting von Hindenburg got 49.6% of the vote, Hitler got 30.1%, and Ernst Thälmann of the Communist Party got 13.2%. Since no candidate had received a majority, a second round of elections was held, with Hitler again losing to von Hindenburg. This time von Hindenburg got 53% of the vote, Hitler got 36.8%, and Thälmann got 10.2%

As for the general election of July 31, 1932, the Nazis got 37.27% of the popular vote. In the November 1932 elections the Nazi party got 33.09% of the popular vote (this after massive intimidation and voter violence by the SA). In the March 1933 election the Nazis got 43.91% of the vote (this after tens of thousands of Communist Party members and leaders were jailed because of the powers given to Hitler by the Reichstag Fire Act and the Enabling Act).

In November 1933 there was another election, but this one was a complete farce. Hitler had already seized complete control of the government, and the Nazi party was the only legal party. Of course they finally got their majority with 92% of the popular vote.

Neither Hitler nor the Nazi party ever got a majority of the vote.

A good summary of the events leading from the 1932 election to Hitler assuming total control can be found here.


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Portrait of Australian Antarctica pioneer Cecil Madigan, taken during the first Australian Antarctica expedition between 1911-1914

Portrait of Australian Antarctica pioneer Cecil Madigan, taken during the first Australian Antarctica expedition between 1911-1914

…he was fine, don’t worry. He never returned to the Antarctica though. He instead preferred e.g. to explore the Simpson desert by camel.

( I found another picture of him Here.)