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Washington’s governing elites think we’re all morons

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a study in the mighty and their lowly, knowledge and ignorance, truth and falsehood ]


Vice News, Washington’s governing elites think we’re all morons


First, if you’ll permit, the simple truth:

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

That’s Laurence J Peter, and it’s a quote so succinct and powerful that Jeff Conklin puts it, in large print, above the title of his pamphlet on wicked problems:


The simple truth is that the truth is complex, beyond the minds of elites and morons, deplorables and desirables alike.


Next, the untruth:

The untruth is in a view down the nose from one human person at another, or at a group, a crowd, a mob — a diversity of others.


You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables’. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.


There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. .. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. .. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Such sentiments remind me irresistably of the Magnificat — given here in my own version:

He is not one who is ashamed to show his strength,
and buffets proud folk about like leaves in a gale.
He upsets those that hold themselves high and mighty
and rescues the least one of us.
He feeds the hungry,
and tells the rich they can go fetch their own food.


And then the nuance..

Let’s start with the fact that I’m a snob. I’m an almost equal-opportunity despiser. I prefer not to act on my snobbery, except when choosing which sorts of books and music I wish to consume, but it’s there in me, like an undertow, like an unrest.

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s the setup, as described in What Washington Gets Wrong:

73 percent of government officials think the public knows little or nothing about programs aimed at helping the poor, 71 percent of them think the public knows little or nothing about science and technology policy, and 61 percent of them think the public knows almost nothing about childcare. In fact, when it comes to fundamental policy areas like social security, public schools, crime, defense and the environment, it was hard to find government officials who thought the public knew “a great deal.”

Assuming Americans know so little, government officials tend to use their own judgment rather than the people’s when making policy decisions. With issues of science and defense, more than half of officials think they should “always” or “mostly” heed their own opinions. With crime, welfare and the environment, at least 42 percent of officials who felt the same way.

Okay, first off, government officials — how well do they stack up?

This is from Counterpunch — it’s a succinct summary of a Jeff Stein piece from the New York Times:

There are very few people in the U.S. government who understand basic Islamic history or even regard it as important. In 2002 Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), the incoming chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was asked by a reporter whether al-Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite. “Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he responded stupidly. And what about Lebanon’s Hizbollah? “Hizbollah. Uh, Hizbollah . . . Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?” He later added, “Speaking only for myself, it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.” Obviously the Intelligence Committee chairman was unaware that Hizbollah is a Shiite organization aligned with Shiite Iran and Shiite-led Syria against al-Qaeda-type Sunni Islamist forces.

Jeff Stein, the national security editor of Congressional Quarterly, wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2002 highlighting the (bipartisan) ignorance among Washington “counterterrorism officials” including key Congressional committee members about the divisions within Islam. He had asked many of them the fundamental question, “What’s the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” and was shocked by their responses. “Most American officials I’ve interviewed,” he concluded, “don’t have a clue.” Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Republican Congresswoman from Virginia then heading the subcommittee overseeing much of the CIA’s work with Muslim assets, told Stein, “The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa.” (In other words, all Muslims are radical; it’s just a question of degree. Talk about Islamophobia. And talk about ignorance!)

Alabama Republican Congressman Terry Everett, head of a subcommittee on tactical intelligence, told Stein after some briefing, “I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something. Now that you’ve explained it to me, what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult.” In 2001, after FBI counterterrorism chief Gary Bald had publicly revealed his ignorance about Islam, FBI spokesman John Miller declared such knowledge to be unnecessary, and indeed made it a point to belittle it. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” he told Stein. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. … Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.”

That was in 2006, ten years after Osama bin Laden’s Decxlaration of War against the United States, and five years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

In fact, one might say, when it comes to fundamental policy areas like defense.. government officials aren’t necessarily terribly savvy. And I’m relieved to know that by March 2014, at least, the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, knew that ISIS has an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.”

Of course, if Dabiq falls, as it very soon many, that strategic vision may get stretched to breaking point..


So much for government officials. What of the general population, down on whom those paragons of virtue look?

In November 2002, a year after the 9/11 attacks, according to National Geographic News:

In a nation called the world’s superpower, only 17 percent of young adults in the United States could find Afghanistan on a map, according to a new worldwide survey released today.

Ast forward to 2006, and a National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs Geographic Literacy Study of American youth between ages 18 and 24 finds:

Six in ten (63%) cannot find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, despite near-constant news coverage since the U.S. invasion of March 2003. Three-quarters cannot find Indonesia on a map ñ even after images of the tsunami and the damage it caused to this region of the world played prominently across televisions screens and in the pages of print media over many months in 2005. Three-quarters (75%) of young men and women do not know that a majority of Indonesiaís population is Muslim (making it the largest Muslim country in the world), despite the prominence of this religion in global news today. Neither wars nor natural disasters appear to have compelled majorities of young adults to absorb knowledge about international places in the news.

Of course, that’s young people.

Young people today .. if you want to dismiss these findsings .. or young people are our future .. if you want to let the impact settle in.


Here, for my convenience, is a map kindly provided by The Washington Post in 2013, in an intriguing Ezra Klein piece aptly titled Most Americans can’t find Syria on a map. So what?


Maybe Firesign Theater had it right when they titled their 1971 album: I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.

Sunday surprise 5: once in a blues moon

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — time for some more surprises, this time in stone and jazz — plus an afterimage of WWI ]

First, a master-class in the craft of the blues:

Second, the moon:

And third, because of the violence in Kenya, Pakistan, Syria … get me a globe and I’ll spin it… and because I’ve talked with you before of my friend Heathcote Williams and he mentioned this to his followers today, here are his meditations on World War I, prepared for its centenary next bloody year:

Neither he nor my father ever explained the war to me. It was just something that had happened to them. Something irrational that hung over them. A grisly cloud of spectral blood. A tumor that fogged the psyche. Something in their history that had spoiled both their lives.

And them’s the blues for this week: go well, stay well.

Some interesting pre-debate readings, left and right

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — first, the humor, then the serious stuff — including insider and outsider claims as to who belongs with what religious grouping ]

Two items from my inbox on this day of the Presidential Foreign Policy debate play humorously with the, for want of a better term, issue of Muslims and Mormons:

On the top, Tim Furnish, author of the book Holiest Wars and an expert on Mahdism, heads up a brief post on his MadhiWatch blog with an image out of South Park and the caption: The quintessential Mormon v. the original Mahdi! It’s ON! That’s from the right.

From the left, Frank Schaeffer, who “left” the movement his influential “right” father, the evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer, helped found, and is now an Orthodox Christian of a more sacramental and liberal stripe, plays a rather different game in his Huffington Post piece, posted under their Comedy header, and purportedly describing an “alternative USA somewhere on a planet far away and not so long ago…”

Okay, that’s the fun. The serious part, for me, boils down to these two things:


Schaeffer has a point, I think, in mocking the Billy Graham organization’s sudden and opportunistic dropping of Mormonism from the list of cults on their My Answer page.

I support the right of Latter-day Saints to call themselves Christians, since they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as they understand them.

I support the right of other Christians to view them as non-Christian, should they feel obliged in good conscience to do so, since Mormons consider the revelations of Joseph Smith on a par with the canonical gospels, much as Moslems consider the revelation to Muhammad as a completion of the Towrat and Injil (Jewish and Christian revelations).

And I don’t much like the term “cult” as applied to people whose beliefs differ from one’s own in any case, since it tends to dehumanize those to whom it is applied, as witness the tragedy of the Branch Davidians in Waco not too many years ago.

I am not entirely opposed to the idea of adjusting religion to suit a changing world, but I have to say this move on the part of the Graham organization appears to be a totally inauthentic PR move, made for political and not theological reasons, and wide open to the appearance of hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, it leaves all concerned more willing to respect each other as individuals across theological borders, that’s something I can readily applaud.

As usual, there are nuances within nuances to be considered.


And Tim Furnish’s use of an image from South Park (I imagine it’s from their Super Best Friends episode) is pure eye-candy. It’s an attention grabber, all right, and it’s function is to point you to Furnish’s recent piece on History News Network, titled What Would a Mitt Romney Foreign Policy Look Like? We’ll learn more about that tonight, I imagine, but Furnish’s column makes interesting preparatory reading:

Ironically, rather like Obama, Romney sees the events of the “Arab Spring” and the abortive “Green Revolution” in Iran through neo-Wilsonian lenses, as evidence of Middle Eastern masses yearning to breathe free — a “struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.”

Interestingly enough, the question of who can or should not be tagged with a particular label is central to Furnish’s post. Discussing Romney’s use of the term “extremism” seven times in his Virginia Military Institute [VMI] addresss, he writes:

Only once, note, did he preface the term with the adjective “Islamic.” However, by that one example of intellectual honesty, Romney locates himself light-years ahead of the Obama administration, which actively discourages honest discussion of the fact that 61 percent — 31 of 51 — of the foreign terrorist organizations on the State Depatment’s list thereof are Islamic and which, further, sanctions counter-terrorist trainers who dare to utter words such as “jihad.” One wishes he would simply call an Islamic extremist spade a spade — but Romney is allowing himself to be constrained by his stable of advisors, as well as, perhaps, the pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Someone needs to tell the Governor that naming Islamic extremism in the defense of Western civilization is no vice.

FWIW, I am in favor of recognizing that jihadists are influenced by their own versions of Islamic doctrine, within widely varying degrees of flexibility, so the phrase “Islamist extremists” makes some sense to me. And I am equally in favor of allowing those Muslims who see the jihadist’s theology as alien and contrary to their own Muslim tradition to make it clear that in their understanding of Islam, the “jihadists” represent an aberration from the faith. Nuance again, nuance.

Okay, that reference above to the “pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” is linked to another of Furnish’s pieces for HNN, in which he asks Has Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Influenced His Views on Islam? — in which Furnish quotes Romney thus:

I spoke about three major threats America faces on a long term basis. Jihadism is one of them, and that is not Islam. If you want my views on Islam, it’s quite straightforward. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and the great majority of people in Islam want peace for themselves and peace with their maker. They want to raise families and have a bright future. There is, however, a movement in the world known as jihadism. They call themselves jihadists and I use the same term. And this jihadist movement is intent on causing the collapse of moderate Muslim states and the assassination of moderate Muslim leaders. It is also intent on causing collapse of other nations in the world. It’s by no means a branch of Islam. It is instead an entirely different entity. In no way do I suggest it is a part of Islam [emphasis added].

Here’s where the delicate balance is required.

On the one hand, we need to be clear — especially on the analytic and policy-making levels — on the ways in which Islam can be and is being interpreted as providing divine sanction for sustained campaigns of terroristic violence.

And on the other, we should in no way encourage — particularly at the level of popular public opinion — the idea that we are “at war with Islam”, an idea which leads to such things as the dehumanizing and killing of American (not necessarily even Muslims) citizens within our own shores, and an increasing sense that America is in fact at war with Islam in the minds of some few Muslims here and many more abroad — who then become prey for further radicalization, as rage on each extreme fuels the other in the multiple echo-chambers and feedback loops of YouTube and the net.


And for what it’s worth, Tim F and Frank S — you should both talk to your editors about proof-reading. Tim, the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if I’m not mistaken, with a hyphen and lower-case “d” in “Latter-day” — strictly FTR. And Frank — you get Dinesh D’Souza‘s first name right on two occasions — why spell it Dnish and Dinish on two others?

Oh well, we all make mistakes. I tried to type the word “to” the other day. You might think that’s simple enough, but I spelled it “typo”. Oops!

Feel free, y’all, to let me know what I’ve mis-spelled, misunderstood, or just plain missed, okay?

The most contested piece of real-estate on earth

Friday, July 27th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Jerusalem and apocalyptic sentiment, not at the emergency crash warning level, but still something to keep an eye out for ]


If you’re interested, as I am, in the ways that end-times theology impacts geopolitics, whether in its Christian, Judaic or Islamic (Sunni or Shi’ite) formulations, then two recent articles in Ha’aretz deserve your attention.


The first, published July 27, has Ari Shavit interviewing Gov. Mitt Romney on behalf of Ha’aretz, and asking the following question:

Governor Romney, you’ll be arriving in Jerusalem on Saturday night, on the eve of the day on which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Many Israelis feel that the fate of the ‘Third Temple’ relies on its strong bond with a strong America. Can you assure them that should you be president, you will reverse the trend of American decline? Can you guarantee that both America, and Israel’s bond with America, will be strong once again?

Gov. Romney does not speak to the Third Temple issue in his response, though the rest of the interview will no doubt interest those with a focus on foreign policy – and policy with regard to a nuclear Iran in particular.


The second Ha’aretz piece, posted almost a month earlier, gives some context on why the issue of the Third Temple is important – it is part and parcel of Jewish messianic prophecy. The problem here is that the rebuilding of the Temple would presumably take place on the site that’s currently considered the third holiest in Islam – the plateau that Muslims term the Noble Sanctuary and Jews the Temple Mount.

And that could mean trouble:

In 1990, after Muslims became concerned that the Temple Mount Faithful would come to lay the cornerstone for the Third Temple – as they had several times in the past – the muezzin of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the mount called on the thousands of worshippers there to defend the site against such a move. This led to what became known as the Temple Mount riots, in which 17 Palestinians were killed and several Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall were injured. The riots led to a serious toughening of the police stance regarding the Temple Mount, but it did not stop attempts by the various right-wing organizations to restore a full Jewish presence there.


As the navel is set in the centre of the human body,
so is the land of Israel the navel of the world…
situated in the centre of the world,
and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary,
and the ark in the centre of the holy place,
and the foundation stone before the holy place,
because from it the world was founded.

— Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim.

Tisha B’Av, the day on which Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, begins in the evening of Saturday, July 28 this year, and ends in the evening of Sunday, July 29.


Gershom Gorenberg calls the plateau “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth” — and his book The End of Days is the definitive text exploring the different apocalyptic expectations asspociated with it in the three Abrahamic religions.

In it, he notes that according to one Jewish source, the fight between Cain and Abel arose over a dispute as to which of them had the better claim to the Temple Mount.

It’s an abomination!

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the perils of adding scriptures to scripture, tearing or burning them — and flags, paper money too ]


It may be that the last time you used the word abominable it was in relation to a snowman. It’s not a word that’s frequently on my tongue, I have to admit, but an Israeli MK apparently used it — or it’s Hebrew equivalent — to describe the New Testament, which he was in the process of ripping up.


Shades of Pastor Jones burning a copy of the Quran!


The thing is, when you have a sacred scripture it’s delimited, it’s hands-off! And if someone else comes along and adds a slim volume or two, it’s an abomination, almost by definition, sight unseen.

Thus the New Testament is an abomination to Knesset member Michael Ben Ari, according to YNet:

“This abominable book (the New Testament) galvanized the murder of millions of Jews during the Inquisition and during auto da fe instances,” Ben Ari said adding that “Sending the book to MK’s is a provocation. There is no doubt that this book and all it represents belongs in the garbage can of history.”

And please note, I am definitely not suggesting that Ben Ari is representative of all Jews — nor, for that matter, Pastor J. Grant Swank of all Christians. Yet from Swank’s perspective, the Tanakh and New Testament are scriptures, but, and I’m quote him:

Obama’s so-called holy writ is the abominable Koran.

The Qur’an is a later scripture, neh?

And Swank’s tirade gets better. Still speaking of the President of the United States, he continues:

His hope for eternity is unknown; but if he becomes a suicide bomber for Allah, he will be guaranteed pronto a score of virgins for everlasting. His hope for the present seems to be his reliance upon Islam’s Koran furthered by his clandestine support of Islam World Rule via czars and a shadow government given to overthrowing our Republic.

And then on the other side of the political aisle there’s Mitt Romney‘s Latter-day scripture, The Book of Mormon, which bills itself as Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It too has been considered an abomination.

I don’t know if people still use the word much when talking about the Book of Mormon, it’s considerably less controversial these days than the Qur’an — but abominable was what Arthur Cleveland Coxe called it in his 1855 Sermons on doctrine and duty, writing of Joseph Smith:

an obscure and illiterate individual, in our great West, was busily forging the abominable “Book of Mormon,” which, fourteen months later, he foisted into the world…

People really don’t like other people making add-ons to their scriptures, do they?


Scriptures — and flags.

Look, I weep for a religion some of whose adherents kill when their scripture is burned or defiled, and I am glad for a religion that condemns such killings. As you might expect, there are tearers and burners in all three Abrahamic religions, and all three religions have those who object to such tearings and burnings.

And yes, the ratios of religiously-provoked modes of destruction vary across religions and across centuries…


But what of flags?

I raise the issue because a fellow in Pakistan who manufactures flags for burning, Mamoon-ur-Rasheed, was in the news recently, and made this point:

Isn’t flag burning positive, compared to American atrocities? And also compared to the Taliban? We’re not attacking mosques. … We’re not targeting American embassies. We’re not killing anyone. Nor are we flying drones around, we’re just burning flags, mere pieces of cloth, and then we’re done. It’s over.

Setting aside Rasheed’s political opinion, Matthew Wallin at American Security Project asks the right questions in the security context:

Is it really over after the deed is done? Does anger against the United States dissipate? What do people do after they have gone home after a flag burning?

A key question to answer is: how much of these protests are translating into actual violence? This is an element that must be understood to determine if flag burning is simply a form of protest, or if those involved are planning more sinister actions. We must also seek to understand to what degree these protests endanger traditional diplomacy efforts and the challenges faced by members of the Pakistani government attempting to pursue diplomatic cooperation with the United States. If they are harmless expressions of anger and frustration, we have an obligation to understand this.

But that’s really just the beginning of a much wider-ranging discussion, philosophically speaking, which Rasheed’s comments also address:

what’s the relation of a symbolic object to the reality is symbolizes? If a flag is hurt, does it hurt the United States? If a Bible is burned, does it hurt Christianity? God?

If the word “spider” was an actual, live spider, arachnophobes couldn’t read the rest of this sentence… Is Picasso’s signature on a two dollar check worth as much as his signature on a check for a thousand bucks? Come to that, when paper money goes up in smoke when a house catches fire, where does the value go?

And yet, and yet, we are very attached to our flags, our scriptures — and our money.


The poet Coleridge in his Statesman’s Manual suggests:

On the other hand, a Symbol is characterized by a translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General. Above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal. It always partakes of the Reality it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative.

So. Do we find this translucence in our scriptures, in our flags, in our money, in our fellow humans — in the world around us?

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