Commercialism and War

George Orwell’s diary is starting to heat up. Is there any better notion why he is as cynical as he is than this?


I’m reading Orwell’s Why I Write right now. He is our grandfather’s generation’s Jon Stewart. I’m working more on this concept as it goes.

Blast from the Past

It’s amazing to read things from a decade or two ago and still have it be completely relevant.

It’s like that boring old history stuff is, like, worth learning or we’re doomed to something. Or whatever.

You betcha.

More Work For History

Following up on my post about the Texas Board of Education, the Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging the board’s social studies debate.

9:27 – The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.

9:30 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 – We’re just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

9:45 – Here’s the amendment Dunbar changed: “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.” Here’s Dunbar’s replacement standard, which passed: “explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone.” Not only does Dunbar’s amendment completely change the thrust of the standard. It also appalling drops one of the most influential political philosophers in American history — Thomas Jefferson.

9:51 – Dunbar’s amendment striking Jefferson passed with the votes of the board’s far-right members and board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas.

9:56 – Here is what the Library of Congress says about Jefferson’s influence: “Recognized in Europe as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson quickly became a focal point or lightning rod for revolutionaries in Europe and the Americas.” The Library of Congress notes, in particular, Jefferson’s influence on revolutionaries in France (including on the Declaration of the Rights of Man), other European nations, South America and Haiti.

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

Fighting For The Past

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

[From 1984 by George Orwell]

There is an easily understandable truth to the phrase, History is written by the victor. The victorious are the ones left after the battle to tell the tale, so it is their story. Even ‘his story’ seems like the etymology of the word, though it is not.

Logically, however, it seems as though it should not be the case. Fact is fact. What happened, happened. Right? The American Revolution went from this, to this, to this.

But we humans are limited, isolated souls. We cannot truly know anything beyond our own experience. So when we look upon the past, we see it through our own eyes and nothing more. Try as we might to keep the past even-handed, it remains clouded by what we believe actually happened.

And that belief as to what happens tempers our current state of mind. We justify our current decisions based on that foggy history, to either follow the path or run counter to it. The hardest to cope with of all is when evidence points to a different conclusion than what is believed to be true.

This is where a new battlefield has opened up, and it follows the words of George Orwell exactly.

In Texas, there is a board of education that controls the content of a huge amount of school textbooks. A single board, in one state, dictates the content they want in most schools.

How this is possible is through textbook manufacturing. Texas publishes a single list of approved textbooks for all of its schools. Texas is a huge state. So, if a publishing company wants guaranteed millions in sales, they cater to Texas. And since they’ve catered to Texas, those books become the books for much of the whole country.

As one would expect, Texas, as a whole, has stronger religious leanings than average. And this board has a solid voting bloc of religious conservatives. This fact would normally be balanced out by California’s liberal-secular leanings, but since that state won’t be purchasing textbooks for another half a decade (good planning, that’s what that is), Texas is now wielding far more influence over the market than it previously did.

Up now for their curriculum decisions is social studies. History. Our very past is going to be altered by the present. Alterations to make sure that there are well-mentioned gaps in Darwin’s and Galileo’s advances in our very world. Show Reagan as a hero, followed by the grandeur of Newt Gingrich. And be sure people see that our very founders were espousing Christianity and rule under Biblical law.

It is the last point that is most confounding to my knowledge. I have read our founders, not just read about them. Most of them were Christians, yes, but that was merely the default. The far more reaching fact about them was that they divorced their personal faiths (which were from numerous sects) and knew that their inspirations came from Enlightenment philosophy of reliance on themselves to get through existence.

These people honestly believe they are setting history right. That is what is so tough to fight. And it is a subtle fight over words. What is most impressive is that they are thinking in terms of generations. If they rewrite history now to deceptively emphasize the religions of our Founders over their actual beliefs, then it will be thirty years before the ramifications are fully felt.

As Mr Coates mentioned when I first read about this on his blog (also followed up by Mr Sullivan), it is hard not to leave this subject on a sour, depressing note. The effects of such an intellectual coup are difficult to see as too harmful in a world becoming coated with ubiquitous information. It also requires a vast amount of effort to maintain a campaign such as this over decades.

Still, it is always worth fighting against such willful acts of ignorance and deception.

Reading Lots

I’ve been reading a lot more. I knocked out Prisoner of Azkaban in just about a week. This week I read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Now I’m back onto Machiavelli after taking a break from it to read a couple of novels (and to catch up with my niece who is reading the Harry Potter series for the first time).
The speed reading is definitely coming along, I think. My retention is higher. I’m getting closer to my goal of reading about a book a week, plus I’m able to consume more delicious content online. Hopefully that’ll make up for the fact I can’t listen to podcasts any longer since my kids keep getting louder.

So here are a few lines from The Art of War that struck me. From Chapter 2, Waging War:

3. If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

Chapter 3, Attack by Strategem:

18. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Chapter 13, The Use of Spies:

4. What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

5. Now, this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

5.1 If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.*

6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

27. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are the most important element of warfare, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.

That all spoke quite a bit about what has happened in the world in the past decade, and even so about the Cold War as well. Who would have thought that actual, evidential knowledge would be useful in conducting war?

*Not actual quote from Sun Tzu.

Long-arms Lecture…

So while walking to school this morning, the boy asked me, “How do we kill birds?”
Now, my son isn’t vindictive toward our fine avian friends, he just knows that we as omnivorous mammals, meat must be killed prior to ingestion. Plus, my friend and I were talking about spotting birds (I had apparently seen a crane in flight while I was driving last night), so the whole thing isn’t entirely out of context.

I started by explaining that we have farms that raise chickens and turkeys for eating. The lad said he knew (I’ve explained it before), but how to we kill birds in the sky?

Well here we go. My son, being a five year old, has already seen and pretended to use many different weapons. Most of them have been blasters or phasers from science fiction, and I’m fine with that. But still I refuse to deny him knowledge of most things that he would find out anyway and would rather he know them properly.

I started with the fact there are handguns/pistols, and there are long-arms. That’s an easy enough place to differentiate small guns from big guns. So we’re talking about hunting, and unless you’re a friend of my dad’s, you hunt with a long-arm.

In long-arms, you can then break down into groups shotguns, rifles, and assault rifles. Assault rifles are used by soldiers in battle. That’s the only place they’re needed. Easy enough to understand.

Rifles, next, are used to hunt bigger animals like deer and wild pigs. They shoot a single big bullet in one spot. That’s what you need to take down larger animals.

So with smaller animals like birds, you need a smaller bullet. That’s when you use shotguns. Shotguns don’t fire one big bullet, they fire a bunch of little bullets over an area. So that’s what you take with you when you, for example, go out into a swamp and hunt ducks.

What about moose, dad? Can you hunt moose?

Sure you can. What do you want to use to hunt a big moose? Something that shoots a big bullet or little bullets?

A rifle.

That’s right, good job. Glad it makes some sense.

We continue walking.

Dad, look at this picture I drew. That’s the sun, that’s Earth, that’s Jupiter, and, uh, what other planets are there?

Lesson learned. I have no qualms with my children knowing about life and death, particularly since they’re so intertwined. I wouldn’t mind showing him how the different weapons work next time we’re visiting Granddad and checking out his collection of vintage toys.

Addendum: Since I have an inquisitive mind, I went ahead and Googled long-arms. Nothing. Apparently I’ve been using the wrong term for years. According to Wikipedia, the terms are long guns and short guns. I probably got mixed up with the fact that my mum has used long-arm quilting machines for years. Glad I didn’t bring up that fact and confound the boy further.

On The Memos…

Andrew Sullivan takes a look at The Bigger Picture

Mukasey and Hayden complain that the president has tied the hands of future presidents in this. Yes, he has. What Obama understands is that what is truly vital is that this dark and shameful period not become a workable precedent. It must be repudiated at the very heart of the American political system, and removed like the cancer it is.