Let me tell you about my Dad.

It’s Father’s Day today, so let me tell you about my dad. Like most people who have lived to my age, there’s a lot I don’t remember before I was 4 or 5, and there’s a lot of things I get confused over as to exactly when they happened. I don’t know if that’s universal, but it’s something I’ve noticed in myself. So please forgive me if things seem strange or I ramble.

My Dad. One of the first things that comes to mind is going to something that was called “Indian Guides” in a neighbor’s basement. This was something for kids who weren’t even old enough yet to be Cub Scouts. We wore headbands and did cool things like wood burning, and it was (as you can see from the badge to the left) specifically designed for fathers and sons. Each of us took an “Indian” name. I think (though I’m not sure, and I did check with my brother, who was also there, on this) that one of us was White Eagle and the other was Black Eagle. What I do feel reasonably sure about was that my dad was Bald Eagle. If you ever met my dad, who now well into his 80s, still has his hair, you’d get the joke. But I digress.

The next thing I remember is going to Cub Scouts, which seemed to me less about learning to do things and more about holding an endless stream of “Derby” events. There was the Pinewood Derby (of course); the Space Derby (for which we built propeller-powered rockets that zipped along a wire stretched across the school gymnasium) and the something-or-other regatta. I remember the Space Derby best (because rockets?); Dad worked, at my direction, to fashion the rocket out of what was, essentially, a pointy balsawood tube. In those days (as it is still) fathers did most of the cutting and shaping. And painting! My rocket had the coolest cockpit windows! But I also remember that Dad, who loved the water, knew that there had to come a time when I learned to do things for myself, and so he let me shape my own balsa boat for the Regatta (he advised, but I shaped it against his advice, and he let me).

We built lots of stuff together. While go-carts (strictly gravity-powered, usually with far too many nail points poking into the interior) were the province of my brother and I once we learned to use a hammer, everything else I learned from my dad. Together we built rockets (the first ones launched with a piece of fuse—very spectacular), airplanes (the one that sticks in my mind is Lancer—a balsa frame covered in tissue paper, later treated with dope. The construction was so light that a rubber band could make it go just about forever).  He taught me to solder and bolt and screw things together, to hammer (see above) and saw.  I watched him fix pipes in our basement, and from that gained the confidence (perhaps foolishly) to do some of my own black-pipe work.  He had this wonderful book of “projects for boys” that my brother and I were totally in awe of.  I don’t think we ever even contemplated building any of those projects, but they had inspired him, and they inspired us.

My dad bought me The Model Rocketeer’s Handbook. He bought me bikes—the blue Schwinn, the gold Columbia, the brown Schwinn and—finally and most memorably—the blue Raleigh that carried me through college and into adulthood. He supported my ham radio hobby, not only buying me gear that—in retrospect—was scandalously expensive, but in helping to put up not only wires across the side yard but a massive 40-foot wide beam antenna on a ten-foot tower on top of our house. He put up with me abandoning classic music for rock, and paid for a number of my guitars. I remember going to B Sharp with him around ’79 when he bought me a 50-watt Peavey amp.

He bought me lots of stuff. That amp, the ham radio gear, my first computer, a car. I’ve been embarrassed many times about how much I owe to my dad financially, and the sacrifices he and Mom have made on my behalf. But I will not deny that Dad has made my life much, much easier than it would otherwise have been.

When I decided to change religions in high school, he was angry and hurt, but he didn’t turn away from me. He let me learn and make (many) of my own mistakes. And he watched out for me when I did stupid stuff. Sometimes, being watched-out-for was embarrassing, but I’m glad he was there.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1971, it was thanks to him and my mom that I didn’t wind up in a hospital, like so many. They recognized what was happening to me, and got me taken care of. Because in those days the regime was to mix short- and long-acting insulin and adjust the dose based on that mixture (typically a 30/70 mix), he found a source for sealed ampules so that I could mix my insulin a week at a time, instead of having to mix it in the syringe each time I took a shot.

My folks drove me down to Chicago for graduate school, and I remember the look of concern on Dad’s face as we drove east along 63rd street, looking at the desolation. I remember him helping me move into my room in International House—I had brought zillions and zillions of books, and he helped get those up to the 7th floor and shelve them.

Dad was and is a great photographer. The walls of the house I share with my spouse and youngest child are covered with beautiful prints of some of his finest work. And there are a few of mine there, too, because my dad presented me, on (if I recall correctly) my 22nd birthday with a gorgeous, compact, Rollei 35 camera. I never developed his eye, but I had a lot of fun with that camera before it was stolen a little over a year later. Dad went with me to pick out its replacement, an all-manual Nikon. But it was Dad and that Rollei that taught me to love photography.

My dad, like all dads, likes to give advice. Is it always good? Nope. But on balance, on the whole it’s been good and comforting. It’s nice to know there’s someone out there ahead of you who has Gone Through Things before.

We haven’t always gotten along. Like (I suspect) most fathers and sons, we have fought like cats and dogs. Over religion, politics (though we’re reasonably aligned there), his stupidity, my stupidity, the best way to do things. But my dad gave me the confidence to know that I could do things, that I could change the world and not merely be changed by the world. From Penrod to Jules Verne. We watched Sesame Street and the Watergate hearings together.

So many memories. So very many. And of course, I haven’t scratched more than the surface here. Fireworks, camping the cross-country family death march, resident fish, trips to Gettysburg and Seattle, our cat, exploring France and Italy and sharing Calvados and Raclette…

Some people aren’t fortunate enough to have fathers in more than a biological sense. Others are estranged, or have lost theirs to time or illness or misfortune. I’m happy to say that I still have mine, and while I cannot thank him enough for all he has done for me and for my family, I hope that I can live in a way that honors him, today, and into the future.

So I’d like to hark back to that basement, more than half a century ago, and thank my dad. I’m old now, a father and grandfather myself. And I love my dad, and I’d like to think that—in spite of all the arguments and conflicts we’ve had over the years—the motto of the Indian Guides still rings true:

 “Father and Son, pals forever.”

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A False Concept of Value

Just a quickie today.

I love to browse Craigslist for musical instrument.  OK, guitars.  I’ve bought several over the years–it’s a nice way to try things out to see if you like an instrument.  My Craviola was a CL purchase, and I’m very glad to own it.

This morning I was on CL looking at guitars (not to buy; I’m full up at the moment) and this line caught my eye:

“Given their limited run, these guitars are very rare and are likely to increase in value going forward.”

You know what?  That’s a really bad reason to buy a guitar.

I see the same sort of thing in lots of places.  It’s fairly rare with respect to electronic devices (because, you know, electronics) but common with musical instruments, bicycles, artwork (especially).  That’s the notion that whatever it is you’re buying, it’s an investment.

That’s one kind of value.  It’s based on the notion of owning now, selling later.  But I think it’s a poor one, and not only because it’s speculative (nobody knows what the future will bring).

Another kind of value is use value.  That’s the notion that the value of something is what it imparts to you while you own/use it, not in some future transaction.

Obviously, I prefer the latter notion of value.

It militates against buying things for their investment potential, and against buying things that we don’t need or really want.

I suppose that if I was a stockbroker I might feel differently…but what good is a bicycle that I don’t ride?

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Confidence, Justice, and Judgment

A friend of mine was recently telling me, over breakfast, some details of a problem that had recently occurred at his institution.

She shared with me only outlines, as I thought was appropriate, and we discussed more generally the cultural implications of what had had happened.  Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing salacious, nothing that wasn’t already in the public domain.

Then she said something interesting:  “I’m telling you all of this in confidence, of course.”

I smiled and told her that if she gave me a penny, I’d be her lawyer.

We then joked around about confidentiality for a moment–she’s a minister, and so she and I (as an attorney) share some special legal privileges.  And then we went on talking.

The thing that struck me as interesting here was this:  Nobody should ever have to say that!

Knowledge is pretty much either public or private, and it’s generally pretty apparent when it falls into one domain or the other.  There are certain bits of information that toe the line, but context matters.  Exchanges between friends about someone removed from the situation generally fall into the edge category, but it’s pretty clear that context moves them into the private column.

Indeed, it is precisely this sort of thing that, when the designation is flipped to public, constitutes what we call gossip.

Herein lies the difference as well between justice  and judgment.  Justice tells you that if you have a certain legal status or relationship, then under the law (e.g., attorney-client) then certain things are definitely private.  Judgment, by contrast, tells you that if you stand in a certain relationship to someone else (e.g., friendship) , then certain things are definitely private, regardless of statute.

Justice requires the law to back it up; judgment does not.

So my friend should never have had to ask, and I shouldn’t have made that stupid joke.

This would be a far, far better world if more of us exercised judgment instead of relying on justice.  Just a thought for the morning.

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When I was a Hippie.

According to one dictionary, a hippie is

: a usually young person who rejects established social customs (such as by dressing in an unusual way or living in a commune) and who opposes violence and war; especially : a young person of this kind in the 1960s and 1970s

 I was on the tail end, starting college in the late ‘70s, but here’s what I recall about being a hippie, in a sort of stream of consciousness version:

Sandals; tiny rooms reached by ladders; the New Riverside Café; a guy who had a tiny music shop and sold (probably stolen) guitars next to the barber shop where my dad used to go. KQRS and KFAI (“Fresh Air) radio. Typewriters. Dinged up wooden tables and making wedding candelabras from 2x4s.

My girlfriend and I swaying at at a Bonnie Raitt concert, hands in each others’ back pockets. Laundromats. Bikes with suicide levers and toe clips. D’gadband. The Coffee House Extempore. The 400. Al’s Breakfast (still around).

Palmer’s bar and the VVAW upstairs playing pool.

Surdyk’s.  A blue hoodie.

Sandalwood incense.

Magnificent libraries. Not one, but two original copies of Bentham’s Works. On the open shelves.

Learning about oral sex from watching Coming Home.

Cedar Square West. The West Bank People Center. Drinking Retsina, because it was dirt cheap and came in big bottles. RHPS parties (and the Uptown). Watching The Jimmy Hendrix Movie while joints passed up and down the aisles.

Beer. Long hair and beards, L, G, J and many other friends. Midwest Mountaineering. Charlie Hoffman’s Guitars. Bellville’s guitar shop and Koa OO.

Stuffing flowers in the barrel of a tank’s cannon.  OK, the tank was a monument, but still.

The silver, tubular hall in Coffman Union.

Hearing Richard Thompson for the first time on Live, More or Less.

Records. There was a shop called “The Wax Museum” that I used to raid for used albums. Cutouts were the best.


35mm cameras.

Ragstock. Down parkas. Books, books everywhere.

All of the co-op stores; the co-op grocery (and later drug store); 2001 Riverside, where I bought guitar strings. The Sandwich Shop next to North Country hardware.


Too many things to remember. It was a pretty good time.

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Nothing You Do Matters.

The more I read it, the angrier I get. I had not read it until a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, but there’s a 2009 article in Orion Magazine by Derrick Jensen entitled “Forget Shorter Showers,” and it begins with this paragraph:

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Silly environmentalists, thinking they could stop Adolf Hitler by dumpster diving!

First, pardon me for being more than a little skeptical of any article that begins with a mention of Nazis. I’ve been on the internet far too long. But second, this is so clearly a straw horse as to be almost invisible.

No sane person would think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler because no sane person could see any connection between them. No sane person would think dancing naked around a fire could help pass the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act.

The one has nothing to do with the other.

So when Jensen gets to the paragraph’s ultimate sentence, the one where he’s supposed to make his point? Be very suspicious. Because what he’s about to say is that your personal solutions have no impact on anything, ever.

Jenkins’s next paragraph is telling:

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

(Emphasis added).

Let’s stipulate to a couple of things. Let’s accept the section I’ve emphasized in its entirety. Further, let’s assume that the impact of reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 22% on world emissions would be only 5%. That’s a far cry from 75%.

Now, suppose that you’re shopping for a new car, and you get a phone call telling you that you have just been granted the gift of 5% off any car you want. You’d say “sorry, that’s too trivial to bother with,” and hang up. Right?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d think “5% of $15,000 (sorry, I know most new cars cost considerably more than this, but I’ve never owned one that cost more than $12,000 new) is $750! Wow!”

So why is a 5% reduction in emissions something that we should ignore?

To be fair, Jensen’s point is actually not that we should all take hot showers until the water runs out. His point is that short showers aren’t enough, and that it will take concerted political action and sacrifice to get to where we need to be.

….At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one — if we avidly participate in the industrial economy — we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world — none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

(Emphases added again). So what Jenkins is really saying is that we need to completely change the world. That’s fine. That’s good. He and I agree, to a point.

What he and I disagree on is whether what he calls “simple living,” and what I would call sensible living, is effective. Because he believes that 5% is roughly equal to nothing, Jenkins concludes that sensible living is totally ineffective (I am reminded of the H2G2 conclusion that the Universe is unpopulated (retried from https://ttpv.wordpress.com/page/123/):

it is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. however, not every one of them is inhabited. therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the universe can be said to be zero. from this it follows that the population of the whole universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are the products of a deranged imagination.

In other words, Jenkins sounds a lot like an economist. But this is no time for mere insults. Jenkins reminds me of the bird in an S. Mueller cartoon (which, alas, the Internet has thus far been unable to retrieve from the depths of the 1980s: a monstrous parrot shouting “Polly wants it all!”).

Yes, we need concerted political action. We need to change to world. A professor of mine back in college once told me how disappointed he was when the Beatles essentially came out against revolution (“But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”). I do not want to tell you to put down the posters, or more specifically, to stop taking political action. What I want is for you to read the following paragraph from Jenkin’s piece:

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

…and shout “BULLSHIT! “ when he gets to the last line. Because that’s what it is. Bullshit. Social change has never come about without personal change. And while I don’t buy into the notion that the capitalist system is an unmitigated good, I think that there are ways that personal change can send a message to the military-industrial-political complex that will lead to it changing. And you know what? So does Jenkins. His ultimate paragraph says as much:

The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned — Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States — who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Let’s go back to the first paragraph. What caused the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pass? Partly, it was Lindon Johnson, waving the bloody flag of a dead President. But the act never would have been written if those brave people of who Jenkins ultimately writes hadn’t been willing to engage not only in political action, but in inconvenient personal action. Like walking instead of taking the bus.*

The real danger with Jenkin’s perspective is that it tells people that the tiny effects they make by changing their lives are unimportant—it equates small with null. Because if you convince people of that, two things happen: the first is that they stop making those small changes, and those small (not null) effects go away. We lose (among other things) that 5% reduction in carbon emissions. The second is that because they believe they can have no effect, people tend to give up altogether. They become disempowered. Being told that they can’t fight city hall, they stop trying.

We need massive change, but we also need personal change. Indeed, I don’t think you can have the former without the latter.

Well, I suppose that if you bombed every automobile factory in the world, you might effect massive social change without personal change. It wouldn’t last. Or you could impose a Stalinist system (sorry, I have violated a corollary to Godwin’s law) and we’d all drive some kind of Prius/Trabant hybrid.

But if we all stopped buying gas guzzling monsters, and when our current vehicles were beyond repair, replaced them with small, efficient gas/hybrid/electric vehicles, you know what would happen? Manufacturers would start to build small, efficient, gas/hybrid/electric vehicles. Initially in smaller numbers, but over time, in larger numbers. But the onus would be on us to maintain that approach. Hmmm. Could the political be personal?

*I should point out that walking instead of taking the bus wouldn’t have stopped Hitler, either.

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Bored Now. Less than Ten years in Three Acts.


Last week, I got picked for Jury Duty.  This morning, we all gathered, and nothing happened.  Apparently there was an issue which the judge will (or will not) tell us about later (sometime after 2:00).  Right now, it’s 12:42 and I’m sitting in a cafe on Orange Street.

So I need something to write about.

What presents itself is a weird theme in three parts.  A memory–a set of memories-that flashed by me early today.

PART I:  Summer Camp

When I was around 10 or 11, my parents shipped my brother and me off to summer camp.  It was a camp run by the YMCA about 40 miles from my folks’ house, and it was fairly typical.

There were sing-alongs, arts and crafts, and the piece de resistance, an overnight camping trip.

It’s the last that sticks in my mind.  We were equipped with large canvas backpacks with leather straps (this was the ’60s, remember), loaded with gear, and we hiked about ten miles.  The ten miles is what I remember being told, anyway.

We camped in a little clearing among trees and bushes, not terribly far from any road, but it was nice, except for the mosquitoes.  For dinner, I think we ate hotdogs and had smores.  The next morning, we cooked up some kind of farina (I think it was actually Malt-O-Meal) and put a can of pie filling into it, creating in me forever a fondness for improvised cuisine.

Then we packed up and hiked back to camp.  Along the way, we paused at an A&W and the counselor bought us a gallon jug of root beer.  Now, I had never had Root Beer in my life.  Like “eggplant,” it was something that sounded just too awful for words.  But when the jug reached me, I sipped, and then gulped.  I had never tasted anything so good!  Our little gang lay on a hillside and drank that gallon down, and then continued on our way.

When we got back, there was a ceremony, and a little plaque was affixed to the camp’s history board.  It was a little shield, and it had the names of each of the cabin’s residents on it.

PART II:  Diabetic Camp

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with diabetes.  So my parents did the best they could for me, and that included making me self-sufficient, something for which I will always owe them.  When I was 14 they shipped me off to–surprise!–the same camp.  I remember visiting the history board, and seeing that same shield.

However, my parents had not counted on what was going to happen.  I did not spend the week learning about diabetes care.  Instead, early the second morning we were all chased down to the camp’s main square (we had been cabined on the far outskirts) and told to get on the bus.  We were off for a week-long canoe trip.

It was wild.  The river was higher (and faster) than usual, due to a heavy rainfall in the area that spring.  On the first day, we actually broke the keel of one aluminum canoe going through a rapids, which flexed like a waterborne banana for the rest of the trip.  I think all of the canoes got overturned, and all of our food and sleeping bags were soaked.

That first night, we broke into an abandoned house, made a fire in the fireplace, and tried to dry things out.  I think we had Vienna sausages and crackers for dinner; the spaghetti that the counselor had packed had gotten wet, and turned into a solid brick.  We were not the first visitors, we learned from certain scatological evidence, so we didn’t feel too guilty.

The trip continued, with rapids, dunking, and rain–lots of rain–for the rest of the week.  I remember two more things.  The last night, it was once again pouring rain, so we slept on picnic tables, in our ponchos–some of which had been burned or melted in various campfires–under sheet metal picnic shelter roofs.  It was horrid.  We were all dirty and disheveled and it was just awful.

So the bus picked us up and took us back to camp and we were fed.  And nobody cared that we were diabetics–there was SO MUCH FOOD.  I think there was a moon landing on the TV in cafeteria.  All I remember clearly is food, including strawberry shortcake.

Then our parents picked us up, and I learned that I had received my ham radio license–WN0IKW–from the FCC while I was gone.

PART III–A Fine Romance

When I was 17, I was on the same grounds again, and saw the same shield plaque again.  As an honor student, I had been nominated to go to something like “Boy’s State,” but I took second place, and so was routed to this thing, run by some group like the Kiwanis club.

I don’t remember much about it other than that it was a weekend long, and that it had one major advantage (from my perspective) over Boy’s State:  it was co-ed.  At some point during the day, I fell in with a girl name Kathy from another city.  She thought I was creative and funny, and I thought she was cute.  And smart–she had to be, to appreciate me.  Right.

We had a great time; there was a dance that night in the rec hall, and we were exclusive.  She was impressed when I sang out the words to Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”–not great dance music, but that’s what we had.

Later that night we slipped away from the dance and made out on the steps below the rec hall.  I walked her back to her cabin in a daze.  We hung out the next day, too.  It was a Sunday and there was a priest giving communion and since Kathy was Catholic I got in line with her and took the wafer.  No big deal.

And then on Monday we all went to the state capitol for a tour and then it was all over and I never heard from or spoke to Kathy again.  Ironic, because the first thing I did when I got back was to break up with my then-girlfriend because of Kathy.  Ouch.  And so it goes.


I don’t know why Camp ___ popped into my head this morning, but it did.  It’s also funny that although all of the events I’ve described here took place within a period of less than ten years, I can’t make the chronology fit.  I have always thought that I was 13 when I went to diabetic camp, but that doesn’t work because there was no late-summer moon landing the year I was 13; I also thought I got my first ham license in 1971, but that would make me 13, and that doesn’t fit the moon landing.  I also remember talking politics involving McGovern and Eagleton, which makes 1971 hard to fit.  I guess things tend to blur over time.  I wonder if that plaque is still there.  I wonder if Kathy ever thought of me again.  I wonder about all the other campers.  I wonder if anyone else flashes on old memories the way I do…

Some questions, even the internet can’t answer.

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Here We Are, In The Calm Before The Storm

There was a time when we had an idea
whose time hadn’t come
They kept changing its name, so we could still pretend
it was not really gone
We heard our screams turn into song
and back into screams again and here we are again
Here we are in the calm before the storm, oh

–Lou Reed/Ruben Blades

(I will be returning to my promised discussion of good and evil fairly soon.  But (besides the need to repair my keyboard, now accomplished) other things have intervened.  One of them is the realization that however much things have changed, things haven’t really changed.)

This morning on the radio, there was (yet another) a discussion of the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  This rings especially powerfully for me because I was there.  Honestly don’t think the idea of nuclear weapons resonates for a lot of people.  It has been almost a quarter of a century since the collapse of the USSR, the state against which the US built a nearly unbelievable arsenal of nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry.  Most of the people who browse the internet, I suspect, were either not yet born or not yet conscious of the implications.

I was perhaps fifteen when I realized that we weren’t having tornado drills, but bombing drills.  I’ve discussed my fondness for apocalyptic stories before, so  it should come as no surprise that I was constantly cognizant of the possibility of immolation on 20 minutes’ notice.  And I started to try to do something about it.

I wrote letters.  I marched.  I participated in meetings and conferences.

And then, the teetering balance between the US and the USSR

stopped teetering.

When the USSR dissolved in 1991, we heaved a sign of relief; it was as if the world had changed, and it had, in many important ways.  Two years earlier, Nelson Mandela had been released, and South Africa was changing.  The Gulf War came–and went–without nuclear exchanges, and indeed, with the then-tottering USSR trying to calm the situation and restrain Baghdad.

We heard our screams turn into songs

The world felt like a much safer place; for about a decade, it was possible to believe that we were going to escape the WWIII of fiction, the “Flame Deluge” of Walter Miller.

Then came 9/11.

And back into screams again

But this time, we had been attacked, we had a noble cause.  And we went and destroyed the “enemy.”  Or did we?  Mission accomplished.

But far more important, we gave our military-industrial complex a new lease on life.  And I suspect that that may have played a role (though it really doesn’t matter) over the past decade and a half of the increasing bellicosity of the “Former Soviet Union,” i.e., Russia.

But now, Russia is only one of a number of nuclear states, and countries like North Korea and Iran would, if they are not already, very much like to be.

And back into screams again

How did we get here?

Well, neither of those states was on particularly good terms with the US to begin with.  But when the US reached out and smashed another country–or what was left of another country–I suspect that things changed.

Because nuclear weapons, since the time that the Soviet Union developed them, are not weapons of offense.  They are, ultimately, weapons of suicide.  Suppose that Iran developed nuclear weapons.  Suppose that it then used nuclear weapons on, let’s say, Israel.  Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Israel would retaliate with nuclear weapons?  Or that, assuming that literally nothing was left of Israel, that the United States would so respond?

And back into screams again

Do you honestly think that the leadership of Iran–or for that matter, anyone in Iran–is that insane?  Or better, that we are any less insane?

Once the nuclear monopoly ended, nuclear weapons were useful only insofar as they were not used.  They became guarantors of non-aggression.  A state with a nuclear arsenal, however small it may be, is like a Fugu Fish.  Nature says “don’t touch.”  Iran wants nuclear weapons–I think–not so as to be in a position to threaten their use against Israel or the United States, but so as to be secure against invasion.  North Korea, for all of its sword-waving, is likely operating in much the same way.

And back into screams again

Nuclear weapons are not going away.  Not until we change the world in such a way that states need no longer fear invasion.   There is a related point:  nuclear weapons are far less useful against internal revolt or revolution.  They can be used to end a revolution only at the risk of ending everything.

Maybe these are the ramblings of an old man who never thought he’d see thirty.  Or maybe they’re not.

But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the calm before the storm.

It may look like I’m exploiting fear here.  But I’m not telling you to live in fear–and certainly not to avoid change because of fear.  I’m telling you there might be something better.

Let’s go find out what it is.

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