We are rushing toward a World War I-like calamity but in the nuclear age; two crazy men face off…

July 30, 2017

The news is so bad, so depressing, so scary, about all I do is read the headlines — every now and then going in for more detail.

If ever there was a bad time to have a crazy man at the helm of our nation it is now. We have a nuclear arms buildup something akin to the arms and  war ship building race between Germany and Britain leading up to World War I and the rivalries among nations with conflicting alliances that could blow up like a power keg set off by a spark.

North Korea is rattling is sabers and threatening to hit the U.S. We had been told until just recently that North Korea was several years away from being able to threaten us but now seemingly overnight the story has changed to they could possibly hit all or much of the U.S. mainland and may already have or are close to having the capability of arming missiles with nuclear warheads.

And I am sorry to say all you Trump supporters, whoever you may be, we have an incompetent fool as president who is in way, way over his head. He is certainly not a leader; he has created disarray in his own political party and daily, mostly in the wee hours, dashes off silly and threatening statements via Twitter.

There is another mad man at the helm in North Korea — Kim Jong whatever his name is. Both men deserve each other but none of us deserve them.

At the same time, with the U.S. weakened to the point of near impotence due to the lack of leadership, we have Iran going ahead with its nuclear missile program, and even our ally South Korea reversing its previous position and looking to build up a missile arsenal. And did not Trump suggest that Japan should build up a nuclear arsenal itself and not depend upon the U.S.? Imagine, the only nation to have ever suffered a nuclear attack, at our hands at that, having to resort to building up a nuclear defense program. Yeah that’s what we need nuclear proliferation.

And don’t even talk about domestic politics. While I can understand some sentiment for returning to more conservative values (although turning back the clock is out of the question and impossible), Trump is just making a mockery out of human decency.

He needs to be stopped. Impeached. Removed for being mentally incompetent, or something (and I do not mean violence).

This is not politics talking. I don’t care what your political philosophy is. This what we are going through, and if it continues it cannot have a good ending.

The only good ending is an end to the Trump administration.

Actually he seems to be losing power, not being able to get anyone of import on his side anymore. Maybe he will self destruct.

I can only hope.

Okay, this was somewhat of a rant. And I did not go into specifics. No time. I am at work, at my real job, just taking a break. Maybe later I’ll get specific. But if you follow the news you have to know what I mean.

The World War I analogy was something like if we strike North Korea then China will feel obligated to strike us. And there could be other such disastrous chains of events as well.

We are rushing toward a World War I-like calamity but in the nuclear age. It might not be survivable.

 

 

 

 

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The way to learn a foreign language: use every tool available…

July 29, 2017

I’m preparing for my fourth trip to Spain. And I am brushing up on or continuing to learn Spanish.

One of course does not have to learn Spanish to go to Spain or the native tongue of any country to visit it. But I learned way back in 1968 when I was stationed in Germany that you miss out on so much when you do not know the language.

But of course if you have little to no interest in learning another language then really there is no point in trying to I think.

But the reason I am even mentioning this today is that I just wanted to comment on methodology of learning language.

There is an ongoing argument over how best to master a new language — such as traditional classroom/book learning versus immersion versus, well I don’t know what. I mean I myself am not up on the nomenclature. I know there is such a thing as the audio-lingual approach, but really I don’t care what it is called. My opinion or observation from my own life is that one needs to use anything and everything he or she can.

I did not get serious about learning Spanish until I was in my 40s and re-entered college. I had attempted it in high school but dropped out early — just could not comprehend. But I was serious and motivated the second time around and did well in the three semesters I managed to take. But could I then speak Spanish well enough to carry on any kind of conversation or to even read notices in Spanish? No. A little bit of knowledge can get one into trouble too. So, knowing just a little Spanish is probably useless and even dangerous. Miscommunications can either get you lost or punched in the nose.

And I did not go on to use my language learning for many decades. Oh, I had a brief encounter with it at a newspaper job I worked at. I actually used some in an interview I did. All came out well, but I was just lucky. I should not have ventured there.

And then I went into truck driving and encountered Spanish everywhere it seemed. But that was 22 years ago, and it was only in more recent years that I tried to get back into the language. If I had begun in earnest 22 years ago I might be fluent today. But even though I think it is fun it too is a lot of work. And there are always more pressing matters in front of one — everything from work responsibilities to family responsibilities.

But about four years ago I resumed my Spanish study. I have come along, although I am not at fluency — but I can use simple Spanish and I even know some of the verb tenses, so I am not always speaking in the present tense. I am not saying I go to Modesto when I mean I went to Modesto (voy a Modesto, yo fui a Modesto). And I can use the imperfect tense to say I was in Modesto (but not pin it down to a certain time or down to the minute): yo estaba en Modesto esta semana. Or if I want to be exact: yo estuve en Modesto a las dos de la tarde (I was in Modesto at two in the afternoon) .

However, I am still not getting to the point of what I want to say about learning Spanish or language. You have to use every resource at your disposal. You listen to the language, even when you comprehend almost nothing. You kind of tune your ears to it. You read texts. You read news articles in that language (hint: read ones you are up on in your own native language and you will begin to see words repeat themselves and will get familiar with them in that way). You talk about it and use your new language with native speakers or other language learners. And you have to dare to use your new language and not be afraid of being misunderstood or worse laughed at (it will happen from time to time) — however you might take care to avoid bad words, including innocent ones that in some contexts are bad — I know tough and impossible to avoid sometimes.

My father spoke some Spanish. He had studied it is school (just high school I think) and had used it somewhat when he was a reporter on a newspaper in El Paso, Texas; part of his beat was the city of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande. I first heard him use it when ordering a meal at a Mexican restaurant. And then another time I tagged along with him on a news assignment and he interviewed a family — well actually he had made a photo and I guess was just asking them their names perhaps — ¿como se llama usted? (literally: how are you called).

He told me at one point that he really did not know a lot of Spanish but on the other hand when I was taking Spanish in college I would use the language with him and he seemed to understand.

Oh, and I noticed a woman in my truck driving experience at a truck stop fuel desk who seemed to speak Spanish fluently but did not appear to be Hispanic (although all native speakers do not necessarily match our non-Hispanic idea of what appears to be Hispanic). She said she learned the language from watching Spanish TV soap operas (telenovelas). Well it sure seemed to work for her.

I’m not going to go on with this post much longer. But what I think is the first requirement for learning a foreign language is to be really interested in it. Then you use every resource at your disposal and as you progress you find out that you reach back, way back sometimes, to things you picked up along the way.

And one final thought about Spanish. Yes, there are many different dialects and geographical versions. One word or phrase in one place may not be used in another or have a totally different meaning — and this is sometimes fraught with peril. Trying to catch a bus in Spain may mean trying to have sex in Latin America. But when I hear someone say, well that Spanish you learned in school won’t do you any good because the native speakers don’t use it, I say that is a crock. You will be understood in most cases — but yeah, you do have to learn some of the tricky words that change meaning as I already alluded to. But really that’s part of the fun.

And then there was this hair cutter here in the U.S. who when I mentioned I was going to Spain asked me:

“What language do they speak there?”

(Well admittedly Spain does have different languages and several dialects of Spanish, but I mean Spanish is like the main language — it was derived from Latin of the ancient Romans, but Spain is the origin of Spanish — go figure.)

p.s.

I guess I got the notion to write the above after reading a criticism of a free on-line program I use (as part of my leaning effort) called Duolingo. I think the writer was saying that it was too mechanical. I agree, you cannot depend upon machines or computers. But I would recommend Duolingo to anyone — it works (along with other types of study — or might be a good jump start). But do not, I repeat, do not, depend upon computer translation. I will never forget when I was trying to do a German-American blog and me with little to no formal instruction in German trying to use it via a computer translation. I got an email from someone identifying himself as a native German in Germany imploring me to cut it out, my German did not make sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The absurdity of Trump pardoning himself; making a mockery of our system

July 23, 2017

Just now I tried to look up via Google (that is how I do research) if Nixon had considered pardoning himself if need be. I actually thought I had recalled such consideration at the time. Maybe some observer just suggested it, I don’t know. But of course now in the news is the fact that President Trump thinks he would have the right to pardon himself if need be.

Right now I am not concerned about the legality of such a thing. It is just another absurdity this presidency has cast upon our system, which at the moment seems to be falling apart. It is not irreparable I think, but it is in danger.

My sense is that the public in preoccupied with its social media — not news, so much as posting selfies (I’m guilty) and cute baby photos and such that it is somewhat tuned out or indifferent to everything else. And what can one do anyway?

To the extent the public does watch the goings on it might be more for entertainment that anything else. And there is a blur between reality and real.

And when Sean Spicer resigned as Trump’s press secretary because he didn’t get the communications director post Trump commented on what a great job he had done: “look at his television ratings”. I think he was referring to the ongoing Saturday Night Live spoofs of Spicer and his movable lectern that he used to chase after nasty reporters. That was not reality but it was TV ratings and that is what former TV star (or still TV star) Trump is all about. He is neither a statesman nor a leader (and by the way I never watched him on his TV shows).

It’s all a joke.

While I have often thought some people in government are a joke (albeit a bad joke), I have never thought of our government or our system as a joke.

But Trump is doing his best to make it all seem surreal. He is making a mockery of our system. And it is sad.

And that is a way for a demagogue to take over, make light of anything serious and to discredit established norms and to incite animosity between groups.

For Trump it is an ego trip. But there are those, at home and abroad, who are taking advantage of the weakening of our system.

Next time you get a chance, vote in people who can stand up to this denigration of our system, be they Democrat or Republican or whatever.

p.s.

And poor John McCain suffering from brain cancer and not given a long time to live. I heard a replay of his concession speech to Barack Obama. A study in grace and patriotism. Our current president would be incapable. He is too stuck on himself. And he dodged the Vietnam draft while McCain bravely did his time as a prisoner of war and even refused an early release that the enemy offered as a propaganda tool. Nothing to do with whether the war was right or wrong, it was our policy at the time. Some did their duty when called upon others skipped by. Actually I don’t blame someone necessarily for skipping by — but don’t be a chicken hawk later. Trump is a coward but he had the audacity during his presidential campaign to criticize McCain for becoming a prisoner of war. McCain also corrected a woman during his campaign who claimed Obama was a Muslim (implication that he was some kind of Muslim terrorist mole working his way into the White House). Trump would have just continued to stoke the flames of hatred and lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Could we just ignore Trump?

July 17, 2017

What if we all just ignored Donald Trump? Would he go away? I mean, yeah, he’d still be president, but maybe we could work around that. Other than the fact that through some almost unimaginable fluke he is president, how important are his antics?

I imagine is it dawning upon the rest of the world that the emperor really has no clothes.

And for now that is all I have, other than to say that it is not his party affiliation, his politics, or anything but the sheer nonsense of it all that bothers me.

I think he was elected because of our weird Electoral College system. I hope it is not a sign that universal suffrage (and I don’t mean the women’s vote) was not such a good idea.

But sooner or later it would seem that even Republicans would just start treating him like the crazy relative kept upstairs.

p.s.

It is troubling that he has the so-called nuclear button as his grasp 24-7. One would only hope that the word would be put out like was purportedly done with Nixon in his dark days (don’t let him do it or cooperate with him).

AND one more thing: I’m beginning to realize that vice-president Pence is scarier than Trump. Trump is a clown (albeit a dangerous one), Pence not so much.

 

 

 


Democracy’s need for a free press transcends what you might consider an accurate or fair one…

July 14, 2017

NOTE: I’m reposting part of my last post, what I thought was the most important part:


(Freedom of the press is included in the very first, or First, Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, known as our Bill of Rights.)

And let me just say something about  (President Donald) Trump’s continual attack on what we call “the press”. The press is not sacrosanct. Or maybe I should say it is not beyond reproach, but it is vital to our freedom. I hope that does not sound like a contradiction.

Those who would take away our freedom, dictators, fear the free flow of information and ideas. In authoritarian regimes they either have their own official press or they only allow a private press to operate if it carries the government line or at least does not stray too far from it.

Sometimes it is not the governments or just the governments, sometimes extra-governmental forces intimidate or physically attack those who don’t tow their line or who expose corruption. This is the case in Mexico. Journalists there are routinely murdered.

I take it that real Trump supporters — as opposed to those who just put up with him because they at least hope he will carry their agenda — don’t much care for a free press if that free press is critical of their man. And they go along with the line that the press lacks credibility and publishes fake news. Actually that is what the press does under authoritarian regimes — publishes fake news — we used to call that propaganda.

But here is how I look at it. To me, even though I prefer a responsible and credible press, I am more concerned that there be a free and uninhibited press. I am intelligent and well read enough to sort through the bullshit, but only because there are no restrictions on my sources.

My question is: would those who prefer a docile press rather just get their news from government handouts from the Trump administration or Fox News (same thing)?

If you buy a car, do you just take the salesman’s word for everything? People who have a vested interest in the outcome (making the sale on a car or public policy) have a habit of leaving problems out and using sales puffery (also known as lying).

Again, the press is not beyond exaggeration and inaccuracy and partisanship. One just has to hope that there are reliable sources out there and enough to where one can compare reports and judge credibility.

(And when I write about “the press” I am referring to authentic news organizations, as opposed to bogus ones. And “authentic” does not refer directly to quality. You can be not worth a crap and still be authentic.)

 

 


Too much effort on the Russian scandal and not enough on policy; a free press is more important than a perfect one …

July 13, 2017

Remember, it took a year or more to bring Nixon down, so it is not surprising that Trump is still in office. Actually it seems to me that barring some clear-cut evidence of major wrongdoing that cannot be argued Trump can last the term. And as outlandish as Trump is he might well win a second term if the Democrats cannot find someone who can excite their own base and make them turn out.

And as bad a Trump is (certainly the worst political disaster in my lifetime — I mean he makes me miss Nixon), unless he just becomes an impediment to the Republican agenda or too much of a public liability I would think he remains safe. Things can change, and overnight.

The Democrats may be wasting their energy going after Trump on the Russia controversy. I mean the investigation should continue, but it should be realized the Russia thing that has taken over the news has served as a near smoke screen hiding what is really going on — the wholesale attack on environmental rules, rules to protect laborers, and of course the all-out attack on decent health care for all Americans.

Outnumbered as they presently are, the Democrats need to convince voters they have a better way. I mean they are losing ground, failing to win in recent special elections. They better improve for the off-year elections in 2018 or it will likely be eight years of Trump.

And let me just say something about Trump’s continual attack on what we call “the press”. The press is not sacrosanct. Or maybe I should say it is not beyond reproach, but it is vital to our freedom. I hope that does not sound like a contradiction.

Those who would take away our freedom, dictators, fear the free flow of information and ideas. In authoritarian regimes they either have their own official press or they only allow a private press to operate if it carries the government line or at least does not stray too far from it.

Sometimes it is not the governments or just the governments, sometimes extra-governmental forces intimidate or physically attack those who don’t tow their line or who expose corruption. This is the case in Mexico. Journalists there are routinely murdered.

I take it that real Trump supporters — as opposed to those who just put up with him because they at least hope he will carry their agenda — don’t much care for a free press if that free press is critical of their man. And they go along with the line that the press lacks credibility and publishes fake news. Actually that is what the press does under authoritarian regimes — publishes fake news — we used to call that propaganda.

But here is how I look at it. To me, even though I prefer a responsible and credible press, I am more concerned that there be a free and uninhibited press. I am intelligent and well read enough to sort through the bullshit, but only because there are no restrictions on my sources.

My question is: would those who prefer a docile press rather just get their news from government handouts from the Trump administration or Fox News?

If you buy a car, do you just take the salesman’s word for everything? People who have a vested interest in the outcome (making the sale on a car or public policy) have a habit of leaving problems out and using sales puffery (also known as lying).

Again, the press is not beyond exaggeration and inaccuracy and partisanship. One just has to hope that there are reliable sources out there and enough to where one can compare reports and judge credibility.

(And when I write about “the press” I am referring to authentic news organizations, as opposed to bogus ones. And “authentic” does not refer directly to quality. You can be not worth a crap and still be authentic.)

From what I am reading and hearing, legal experts seem to differ on whether there have been any actual crimes committed by Trump or his administration and campaign before it in dealing with Russia.

It is becoming clear from the delayed admission of Trump’s own son that the Trump campaign at least tried to work closely with the Russians in trying to push the Trump candidacy, despite its continued denials. Emails indicate that the Russians wanted Trump to win. And he of course did.

Oh, and Trump Jr. only admitted meeting with a Russian agent (a lawyer but I would say an agent because this lawyer apparently has Kremlin connections) after he was forced to by a story in the New York Times — the free press at work. Forcing the truth.

Whether Trump won the presidency with the help of the Russians or without it they have to be happy with the outcome. The U.S. image on the world stage has been tarnished and the influence of the U.S. on the world stage has been severely degraded.

I can only hope the American people awake from their slumber and apply the pressure that can lead to a restoration of our honor. Strangely enough, it is ultimately in our hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


North Korea and Iran, if we let these nations continue with their nuclear armament programs, we have lost…

July 6, 2017

It seems that in the space of a year or less I have read that North Korea is still years away from developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the U.S. and then, well, maybe not so many years, and now, well, maybe it now has the capability of launching a nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland (at least Alaska), after test firing what may have been an intercontinental ballistic missile toward Japan. Poor Japan. But poor us too maybe.

While I don’t need to know or should know the details of our defense secrets or intelligence, I don’t want to be told untruths or given misleading information. The fact that a nation under the control of an apparent mad man — whoops I am not presently referring to United States (but come to think of it), North Korea, could launch a nuclear attack on us is something I want to know.

I have to think that either our intelligence on North Korea has been wrong or that for some reason our government did not want us to know what it knew or something like that, but I cannot figure how that helps.

I feel on this just as I felt about Iran. We tell them in confidence that we will not tolerate their threat but give them a chance to decide on their own to get out of the nuclear weapons game and allow them to save face. But if there is no cooperation from them, then we act and do what we must to rid ourselves of the danger (but not before considering the cost benefit analysis of our actions and what all of our options might be).

I know, sounds kind of reckless and dangerous. Well I don’t know what we would have to do. There may well be some way short of a full-out, head on attack by us. In North Korea’s case we would need to warn China and give China one more chance to somehow rein in North Korea. Most of this would have to be done in secret because it would not seem likely China would work with us in the open on this.

But this continual plopping of missiles aimed westward into the ocean by North Korea has to stop before it does pull us into World War III.

But overblown rhetoric will do no good on this. It appears as if President Trump has already fallen into the trap of drawing a line that North Korea could not pass but it has, so now what? Does he back down like his predecessor, thus confirming we don’t really mean what we say? Probably so. But with Trump that might be easier since he says all kinds of things and then changes his position without even admitting that he has changed.

From what I have been hearing and reading there are no good military options. A so-called surgical strike, the experts think, would likely trigger a major response from North Korea. That nation is capable, they say, of immediately firing a tremendous barrage of artillery that would threaten a majority of the South Korean population which lives relatively close to the border. And it might use tactical nuclear weapons.

And here’s a disappointing surprise to me: I mean all my life I have been aware that we have troops permanently stationed in South Korea, supposedly ready to repel the North (which we’ve never actually signed an armistice with since the end of active combat in the Korean War in the early 1950s). But what I did not know is that the force we have there currently could not hold back the North Koreans for any amount of time. We would need reinforcements from mostly the continental U.S. and that would take time. And the casualties (for all) would be astronomical, according to expert observers in the field.

So I don’t advocate some ill-advised and poorly planned pre-emptive strike and particularly not some spur-of-the moment thing like Trump does with his middle-of-the-night tweets or even that air strike in Syria, that seemed so well-timed but had so little effect.

One problem I have read is that all or much of North Korea’s nuclear apparatus is either underground or on mobile launchers, making finding them and getting to them with a surgical strike difficult to doubtful.

What we need and what we do not have is leadership that is calm and cool and deliberate but decisive.

It would seem China is the key, even though Trump has stated he has given up on it. I am sure in its public posturing China is not going to just go along with us but it has to be concerned about the threat of its errant comrades who seem ready to start World War III and risk wiping out the planet in nuclear winter just to be respected or feared on the world stage. And China fears the disruption of hordes of desperate North Koreans crossing the border into China in a war or crisis.

Behind-the-scenes diplomacy and negotiations are needed. China is really North Korea’s lifeline. And heavy sanctions by China against North Korea could well do the trick. In the past I know (I don’t know now), we have given North Korea food aid. We could let North Korea know (in private) that we are willing to continue humanitarian assistance to the starving people there and that we do not propose to meddle in the state affairs of that country, even if it is a rigid totalitarian state where the elite eat the rest starve. However, we have to realize that food aid does not necessarily get to those who really need it.

Over time things change. Populations do not forever put up with being kept down when others thrive, but that has to be left up to primarily those populations.

We need to keep our military pressure up too, though. You can be strong and even demonstrate your strength without the threatening rhetoric that paints one into a corner.

It was both our fortune to be the ones who came up with nuclear weapons first and our misfortune they were ever developed. The two bombs we dropped on Japan produced a decisive and timely win in World War II in the Pacific theater. But at the same time we let the nuclear genie out of bottle and nothing we can do will force it back in. Now we are forced to protect ourselves from those who would use the technology in unprovoked aggression.

p.s.

I did not say anything other than in the headline about Iran. Supposedly we have an agreement with that nation, signed during the Obama administration, designed to prevent that nation from developing nuclear bomb capabilities for so many years (and then what?). But there has already been evidence that it is violating the terms of the treaty. We meddled in the affairs of that nation decades ago and it has never forgiven us.