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Bands / Tribes / Nations / Empires



That’s how humans organize themselves

Bands are small communities, typically no more than a couple of hundred people, almost always related by blood and where everybody personally knows everybody else. Leadership may be by consensus or by unofficially acknowledging someone in the group as the leader.

Tribes are related mostly along lines of kinship, and while larger than bands by an order of magnitude, people in a tribe know of everybody else in it, and relationships and reputations can be swiftly determined. Leadership may be loosely traditional or formally codified, but generally is older, experienced members of the tribe.

Nations are comprised of many different tribes, but almost always linked by culture / language and usually by geography (even nomadic nations are known by the territory they roam). Members of a nation know about others in the nation, but not necessarily direct first hand knowledge. Leadership is typically formally codified.

Empires are an amalgam of many different nations / cultures / languages. Typically formed by conquest and colonization, if run well an empire justifies its existence through mutual support / defense / benefit. Members of an empire do not know all the different tribes / nations / cultures that make it, and indeed empires can often contain groups strongly antithetical to one another; the great virtue of an empire is that it can tamp down these antagonisms through objective codified justice and leadership through which all groups feel they are treated fairly.

(The above is derived
from Jared Diamond’s

Guns, Germs, And Steel:
Highly recommended.)

The United States stopped being a nation and became an empire in the wake of the Mexican War, our first conquest of another group’s territory that absorbed the members of that group instead of annihilating them or driving them away. It was cemented as an empire in the wake of massive non-Anglo immigration and the emancipation of African-American slaves (slaves in general not being considered citizens but property undeserving of rights or respect).

This country was built on the theft of land and labor by whites to the exclusion of others. Out of necessity America was forced to include non-whites, but it never fully came to terms with them the way Rome came to terms with non-Italian peninsula citizens or Byzantium with its plethora of cultures or even the Islamic world at the height of the caliphate.

We are paying for that refusal to come to terms.


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Beware The Gulf Of Tonkin


lemon party hand job

There’s been a lot of people on the InterWebz recently warning “Watch out! Trump and Bannon are looking for a Reichstag fire!” to which a lot of people cry “Foul! Inappropriate use of Godwin Law!”

To which —

— I agree.

There’s no need to dip into the history of Nazi Germany and invoke the Reichstag fire as a warning against the Trump administration.

Not when America has its own Gulf of Tokin incident.[1]

On Aug. 2, 1964 the U.S.S. Maddox, a U.S. Navy destroyer, opened fire on three North Vietnamese torpedo boats.[2]

The Maddox was about 120 miles off the coast of North Vietnam conducting electronic espionage (Fun Factoid! Currently there is a Russian warship doing the exact same thing to us about 70 miles off the coast of New England and there’s not a thing we can do about it since they are in international waters). A South Vietnamese commando raid, vetted by the United States, hit a North Vietnamese radar station.

The North Vietnamese responded by sending three torpedo boats to shadow the Maddox. When the Maddox intercepted radio transmissions that indicated the North Vietnamese boats might attack, they opened fire.

The North Vietnamese fired back…from a distance of five miles. In the ensuing combat the Maddox and fighter-bombers from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga sank one torpedo boat, badly damaged another, and killed four North Vietnamese sailors.

The United States sustained one single bullet hole from an North Vietnamese machine gun, which struck the Maddox more by sheer chance than deliberate intent.

The next day the Maddox detected false radar readings that initially led them to believe they were being pursued against by North Vietnamese patrol boats, but eventually realized these were not real.

Nonetheless, President Lyndon Baines Johnson used both the real incident and the non-existent second one to justify escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, to the tune of 58,220 American dead by April 30, 1975.


Because he was afraid the alt-right was going to label him “soft on communism” if he didn’t commit ground troops to Southeast Asia.[3]

Johnson, to be fair, was in a tough position. Never a popular leader, he had accepted John F. Kennedy’s offer to be vice president in order to shore up the increasingly reactionary conservative Southern Democrats in 1960.

Kennedy’s assassination was terribly traumatic for the United States.[4] Kennedy was a popular president, though his handling of Cuba set pretty much everyone’s teeth on edge.[5] His assassination turned him from an average president with a mixed record and a philanderer’s potential for scandal into an American icon, and gave Johnson (a Southerner) the political leverage to push through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2 of that year.

The Civil Rights Act was massively important, long overdue, and absolutely justified, but the alt-right and their white supremacist allies had long been fighting against civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities, claiming the civil rights movement was actually a front for communist agitators to take over the country.

In this face of this bigotry, Johnson could ill afford to appear “soft on communism” and since fighting communists in America had the double drawback of (a) actually persecuting American citizens and (b) not having any actual communists in this country to fight, he opted to fight real communists halfway around the world.

Now, the next eleven years is a fascinating history, one that would be hilarious in its ineptitude if not horrifically tragic in its outcome, but doesn’t concern us today.

No, today we are looking at the following situation:

  • An administration facing large scale sustained opposition across the country
  • An occupant of the Oval Office who has repeatedly demonstrated again and again and again that he is untrustworthy, will lie about anything and everything simply because he doesn’t want to face the truth, and who has already betrayed and pissed off a huge hunk of his extremely narrow electorate
  • A chief advisor to said occupant who also has a long career as a demonstrable liar, albeit one driven by a far right / alt-right agenda instead of his so-called boss’ mere rapacious greed

This is not a reassuring position for the citizenry of the United States.

There is a great need for us to remain eternally vigilant in the face of evil people — both in our government and in other governments — who simply do not care about the lives of others so long as they maintain power.

They can be stopped, but only if we refuse to allow ourselves to be stampeded.[6]




[1] In a nutshell: Capitalists, particularly those of the robber baron variety, have long been opposed to organized labor. Their violent opposition and suppression to organized labor in Europe ended up creating the nascent socialist movement, and the violent suppression to socialism ended up creating the Marxist communist party, and the attempt to crush communism led to fascist governments in Germany, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Italy, and Spain and we all know how well that turned out.

But instead of learning their lessons and finding a reasonable accommodation with labor and the middle class, the far right wing capitalists (those whom we refer to as alt-right today) declared de facto war on communism and socialism before Hitler’s ashes completely cooled, and as a result from Sept. 3, 1945 to Dec. 26, 1991 anyone suggesting peaceful co-existence between capitalist West and communist East was branded a commie-simp-pinko and a traitor to America.

[2] A little more history:  After World War One, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson championed for every nation to be allowed self-determination. A delegation from what was then called French Indo-China that included Nguyễn Sinh Cung attempted to gain his support for their independence and self-determination.

Wilson blew them off.

During World War Two, Nguyễn Sinh Cung (now known as Ho Chi Minh) led the Viet Minh against both the French colonialists and the Japanese invaders in Southeast Asia. The United States supported his efforts and promised to recognize Vietnamese independence after the war.

Instead, we double crossed them and allowed the French to reclaim their colonies in Southeast Asia. Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh fought the French and their ex-Wehrmacht mercenaries, defeating them at Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954.

Now at this point, most of the rest of the world shrugged, congratulated Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh on their victory, and recognized them as the legitimate government of Vietnam.

The U.S., however, opted to set up a puppet government in South Vietnam, triggering a faux civil war (the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese, North and South, preferred Ho Chi Minh’s government over any government supported and influenced by the West; we knew this and kept the fake civil war and puppet government going regardless).

In the intervening decade, the South Vietnamese puppet government proved remarkable inept and corrupt but despite this managed to continue fighting although unable to gain any significant headway against North Vietnam. The United States set “advisors” to help the South Vietnamese but in the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War (54,246 American dead) there was great reluctance to get involved in another land war in Asia.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident was about to change all that.

[3] And the kneeslapper is that the alt-right labeled every American president “soft on communism” including Dwight David Eisenhower who had a true warrior’s common sense reluctance to provoke unnecessary confrontations that would result in millions of deaths.

[4] I would argue more traumatic than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and almost as traumatic as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

[5] He gave permission for the C.I.A. to attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro by landing exiled Cubans at the Bay of Pigs; this failed ignobly and in no small reason because the Cubans, like the Vietnamese, preferred one of their own as their leader instead of a foreign influenced government. Kennedy followed this by putting medium range nuclear missiles in Turkey to threaten the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union responded by setting up similar missile bases in Cuba. This lead to the Cuban missile crisis, which ended with the U.S. agreeing to take their missiles out of Turkey and stop interfering with Cuba in return for the Soviet Union withdrawing its missiles. Before this agreement was reached, however, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. came within an eyelash of nuclear war, including the U.S. depth bombing a Soviet sub carrying nuclear torpedoes.

[6] Some of you may ask “Well, what about the attack on Pearl Harbor or 9/11 in the context of the Gulf of Tonkin; weren’t those the same thing?”

In a word: No. Pearl Harbor was the first salvo in an all-out hemisphere wide attack by Imperial Japan against the United States and our Pacific allies, launched after they had already invaded and occupied mainland China. It was not a single incident in direct response to aggression by the United States and our allies but part of a well thought out and competently executed strategy to drive the United States and our Western allies from Asia and most of the Pacific, and only because of a slow typist at the Japanese embassy in Washington D.C. did it occur before Japan’s formal declaration of war.

9/11 is a closer fit, but here, too, it was a real event, a genuine attack coordinated and launched against the United States with a specific reaction in mind: To provoke a weak minded administration to commit to a course of action that would forever damage our credibility and influence in the Middle East. If George W. Bush had treated 9/11 as a horrendous but aberrant criminal act, much the same way we treated the white supremacist far right Oklahoma City bombing as a horrendous but aberrant criminal act, and not as an act of war, we would have still tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden and probably have crushed Al-Q’aeda instead of stirring up a stink pot in the Middle East that will never go away in our lifetimes.

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The Impossible Dream lyrics by Joe Darion


To dream…
the impossible dream
To fight…
the unbeatable foe
To bear…
with unbearable sorrow
To run…
where the brave dare not go
To right…
the unrightable wrong
To love…
pure and chaste from afar
To try…
when your arms are too weary
To reach…
the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a Heavenly cause

And I know
if I’ll only be true

To this glorious quest
That my heart
will lie peaceful and calm

When I’m laid to my rest

And the world…
will be better for this
That one man…
scorned and covered with scars
Still strove…
with his last ounce of courage
To reach 
the unreachable star!

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A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan


Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?

I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?

I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
I heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
I heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?

I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?

I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.;
renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

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Trouble Every Day lyrics by Frank Zappa


Well I’m about to get sick
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friend
Is anybody’s guess

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Wednesday I watched the riot…
Seen the cops out on the street
Watched ’em throwin’ rocks and stuff
And chokin’ in the heat
Listened to reports
About the whisky passin’ ’round
Seen the smoke and fire
And the market burnin’ down
Watched while everybody
On his street would take a turn
To stomp and smash and bash and crash
And slash and bust and burn

And I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Well, you can cool it,
You can heat it…
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it…
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all the unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head begin to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsman say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so

And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They will be the first to tell,
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

And if another woman driver
Gets machine-gunned from her seat
They’ll send some joker with a brownie
And you’ll see it all complete

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Hey, you know something people?
I’m not black
But there’s a whole lots a times
I wish I could say I’m not white

Well, I seen the fires burnin’
And the local people turnin’
On the merchants and the shops
Who used to sell their brooms and mops
And every other household item
Watched the mob just turn and bite ’em
And they say it served ’em right
Because a few of them are white,
And it’s the same across the nation
Black and white discrimination
Yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
‘N all that other jazz they hand me
In the papers and TV and
All that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

You know we got to sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many live
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no Great Society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store
You know that five in every four
Just won’t amount to nothin’ more
Gonna watch the rats go across the floor
And make up songs about being poor

Blow your harmonica, son!


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“These are grim times, in which the God of our fondest dreams is nowhere to be found.

“But down in the darkness below those dreams — in the place where all our notions about God have come to naught — there is still reason to hope, because disillusionment is not so bad.  Disillusionment is the loss of illusion — about ourselves, about the world, about God — and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for truth.  Disillusioned, we come to understand that God does not conform to our expectations.  We glimpse our own relative size in the universe and see that no human being can say who God should be or how God should act.  We review our requirements of God and recognize them as our own fictions, our own frail shelters against the vast night sky.  Disillusioned, we find out what is not true and are set free to seek what is — if we dare.” — M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

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In the 1950s and ’60s, scientists were alarmed by a series of experiments in which laboratory rats were given unlimited doses of opiates. The rats wasted away, not even ingesting easily accessible food or water. The implications were ominous: What would happen if people became hooked like the rats? The takeaway was that drugs are so addictive that people need to be kept away from them at all costs.

But the story wasn’t so clear-cut after all. Take heroin, one of the most addictive drugs, for example: Only 23% of users become dependent. By some measures nicotine is more addictive, possibly because tobacco companies made cigarettes more addictive by design. The actual rates for dependency are 15% for alcohol, 17% for cocaine, 23% for heroin, and 32% for nicotine. Marijuana clocks in at just 9%.

 — Tom McKay, The 5 Big Lies That D.A.R.E Told You About Drugs

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“For the entire history of modern conservatism, its ideals have been wedded to and marred by white supremacism. That’s [Avik] Roy’s own diagnosis, and I think it’s correct. As a result, we have literally no experience in America of a politically viable conservative movement unmoored from white supremacy.

“I’ve read dozens of conservative intellectuals writing compellingly about non-racist conservative ideals. Writers like Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and too many others to count have put forward visions of a conservative party quite different from the one we have.

“But not one of these writers, smart as they are, has been able to explain what actual political constituency could bring about this pure conservatism in practice. The fact is that limited government conservatism is not especially appealing to nonwhite Americans, whereas liberalism and social democracy are. The only ones for whom conservatism is a natural fit are Roy’s ‘cranky old white people’ — and they’re dying off.

“Maybe Roy and company will be able to solve this problem. I hope they do. America needs a viable, intellectually serious right-of-center party.

“Because we now know what the alternative looks like.” — Zack Beauchamp, A Republican intellectual explains why the Republican Party is going to die

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“We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other. I have pro-Brexit friends who say ‘oh, you’re going to blame that on Brexit too??’ But they don’t realise that actually, yes, historians will trace neat lines from apparently unrelated events back to major political and social shifts like Brexit.

“Brexit — a group of angry people winning a fight — easily inspires other groups of angry people to start a similar fight, empowered with the idea that they may win. That alone can trigger chain reactions. A nuclear explosion is not caused by one atom splitting, but by the impact of the first atom that splits causing multiple other atoms near it to split, and they in turn causing multiple atoms to split. The exponential increase in atoms splitting, and their combined energy is the bomb. That is how World War One started and, ironically how World War Two ended.” — Tobias Stone, History tells us what will happen next with Brexit & Trump

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“The establishment Republican ideology prioritizes capital above all else. For them, the market does not exist to serve people: people exist to serve the market. Unregulated capitalism can never fail; it can only be failed by those too lazy, useless and unproductive to serve and profit by it. It is a totalizing ideology as impractical as state communism but lacking the silver lining of its species-being idealism; as impervious to reason as any cult religion, but lacking the promise of community, salvation or utopia; as brutal as any dictatorship, but without the advantage of order and security. Worst of all, it blames its victims for its failure to provide solutions to their needs.” — David Atkins, The National Review Confirms That It Is, Indeed, Worse than Donald Trump

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