I personally made the above image of the crossed-out robot to symbolize “AI Free Zone,” in order to stick it on my website. It took me days. Shucks, using AI, it probably would have taken mere seconds. But then that would have defeated the purpose. (And try explaining that to a robot.)
For years we’ve been hearing about the steady approach of the age of artificial intelligence. It sounded to me like dystopian sci-fi but I was too busy listening to old Bing Crosby LPs to spend any real time worrying. I bet the same goes for you. Then, whoops, I go look at Twitter and everyone’s talking about ChatGPT, which has come out of the “OpenAI” project (and it turns out that project is not so “open” anymore). In this and other incarnations AI is coming online but fast and it’s a highly commercial proposition. It’s about ready to do your job, supply your news, buy your house and play pretty melodies of its own composition on a banjo while you retire to another realm entirely.
You haven’t heard as much about it as you should have in the mainstream press, but then, by the time you read this, AI itself might be writing all those stories about the Trump indictment and the price of eggs, and supplying evidentiary photos and videos to boot. One of the things we’re going to have get used to most quickly is that AI does not merely have the ability to generate false news (on an unutterably massive scale) but because this ability exists it will be increasingly hard to persuade any critical mass of people (remember them?) of the undeniable truth of any actual news. And you thought it was hard enough already to keep track of which conspiracy theories have come true, which ones will come true in six months, and which ones will take another couple of years to mature. The existence of AI will demand a much larger set of file folders to separate each day’s mis-information, dis-information, mal-information, and that rare but potential actual plain old information. The good news is that AI can print all the necessary labels for you.
Do you want to listen to music composed by AI, or read stories and poetry written by a machine, no matter how seemingly beautiful and compelling? I don’t. I think the very concept has a strong scent of evil about it. Yet, I’m fully anticipating that anyone who thinks like me will very soon be regarded much like a member of some primitive tribe in the wilderness who thinks that having his photo taken steals his soul.
But advanced computerization is not really the problem. It can achieve amazingly good things, like new medicines and more evocative emojis. The problem is to whose service the technology is ultimately devoted. Is it for average Joes? Well, it’s not an auspicious time to be born as an average human being. Populations have been in decline in many societies across the globe, and this extinction syndrome is spreading. Notwithstanding this, humans continue to be under attack at the beginning of their lives, with abortion, and at the later stages, with euthanasia, and increasingly at points in-between, with judgments being made about the worthiness of the lives of people afflicted with any kind of suffering that defies easy cure.
And since multiple generations of schoolchildren have been taught that humans are responsible for world-ending global warming, many self-identifying homo-sapiens are inclined to believe that the universe would be better off without us.
Enter artificial intelligence, which promises to be able to do many of the things that used to be the sole bailiwick of the human animal, and the average Joe and Jill are soon going to be wondering what they’re even here for. They won’t be the only ones wondering. AI becomes the latest tool which the powerful possess to corral the regular folk into being controllable citizens.
Somebody once wrote:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
That was some pretty good stuff someone came up with, before the computer, before the typewriter, before the ballpoint pen, before paper. That notion of the human being having been made in the image of God has been a touchstone; it has not made this world perfect, but it has been invoked countless times to reverse great injustice and horrible cruelty. Even if you’re an atheist, you need some rationale that asserts a special sanctity to human life, or else everything becomes utilitarian, and people are valued only for what they can do, instead of simply for what they are.
Artificial intelligence is going to test such notions to an extent they’ve never been tested. And it’s screaming into the station at about 200 miles per hour. The only thing the techies seem to agree on is that the engine has no brakes. And they built it!
* * *
But never fear. Anytime you need a goofy little article by a flawed piece of flesh and blood on music, occasionally one about a book or a movie, maybe with a bit of topical commentary, and a good indigestible swirl of half-baked philosophizing, this human will be somewhere in the vicinity of this website writing one (or at least thinking about it).
That is, until my plug gets pulled, by AI, or the real Big Guy—whichever comes first.
In New York City a few days ago, a deranged and homeless 61-year-old man pushed a 40-year-old woman directly into the path of an arriving subway train, causing her immediate death. It’s far from an unprecedented crime, and the New York news has been filled with disturbing events for some time now, but this was one of those incidents that rises above the stream and engages people’s sense of horror for a little more than the typical 10 minutes. The woman was by all accounts an exceptionally lovely and decent person, and one who actually did voluntary work on behalf of the homeless. The man pushed her in front of the train without warning and for no reason at all. Later he publicly confessed the crime, shouting to reporters, “Yes I did. I’m God, I can do it.”
It’s a haunting statement, even from a lunatic, because we can actually understand his logic. “I’m God”—I possess the power of life and of death. That woman was alive, with friends, family, energies, affections, things to do, a future; he just gave her a quick push and now she no longer exists in the material realm. He delivered death, to be sure. Unlike God, however, he does not have the power to give life. That’s where his logic breaks down. He can neither create life where none is manifested nor resurrect what once was living. Dishing out random death is a cheap and evil imitation of God. But it does get people’s attention. This man should have been receiving compassion and help—in the form of mandatory treatment as needed—as should countless other broken human beings wandering the streets of New York City and similar places. Allowing them the right to horribly degrade and destroy themselves in full public view is not compassionate, as if that should even need to be said; and yet this society is so off the rails that it does need to be said.
Nevertheless, that statement of his—“I’m God, I can do it”—has been lingering in my mind, and it has seemed to me that he is far from alone in that aspect of his derangement. There are a lot of mad things going on in the world. And two particular afflictions which have descended upon us in very recent years can both be seen to be springing from extremely arrogant and ham-handed attempts to take the place of God.
The first, I would suggest, is the COVID-19 virus, and its associated global dislocations. When it first emerged in Wuhan, the desperate attempts at cover-up undertaken by the Chinese regime were strong evidence that it had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where it was well known that they were experimenting with coronaviruses. At this point—over two years later—the continued refusal of the Chinese regime to release all of their data, along with the total global failure to identify a natural origin, make it a lead-pipe cinch that it did indeed come from that laboratory. If the Chinese regime could provide strong evidence to the contrary, they would assuredly have done so by now. The conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies (who have unlimited resources!) some months ago that they couldn’t come to a conclusion on the origin of Covid-19—because the Chinese weren’t being open enough!—is laughable to the point of obscenity, and is alone reason to burn those organizations to the ground and build something superior in their place.
Yet for everything that has happened due to COVID—five and half million deaths and counting, the disruption of every aspect of human activity—there remains a stunning lack of interest in identifying the true cause of the disaster and taking action to prevent a repeat of something similar or even worse. We fight amongst ourselves about masks and lockdowns and vaccine mandates, and meanwhile as far as we know there are continuing experiments being done in China (and other places) on dangerous viruses, to enhance their transmissibility and lethality. It is as if we just accept that this is OK. Or, at least, it’s probably OK; it just doesn’t rise to the level of real concern. Time is much better spent yelling at each other about masks. Well, maybe it is OK: maybe that experiment that went wrong has been worth all of the deaths, the suffering, the damage to societies all over the world. After all, the smart people seem to think so. In 2012, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States anticipated such a turn of events and said it would be worth it. Addressing the risks of gain-of-function viral research, he said:
In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic? Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?
Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks. It is more likely that a pandemic would occur in nature, and the need to stay ahead of such a threat is a primary reason for performing an experiment that might appear to be risky.
However, there’s no evidence that this pandemic came from nature, despite the continued attempts to obfuscate by the Chinese regime and others who have an incalculable stake in evading blame. So it seems the wrong bet was placed. The consequences of this kind of experimentation going awry have now been felt, and are continuing to be felt and to multiply. Should we not be asking, and very, very loudly: Was it worth it? And what can we do to prevent it happening again?
Yet other than a precious few, those in a position of responsibility in our societies don’t seem to be asking these crucial questions at all, and the rest of us in the seething masses seem satisfied enough to continue being consumed with our distractions. The man who made that statement in 2012 about how it would all be worth it is currently the Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States, and someone we all know very well from listening to his advice these past two years about how to protect ourselves from this escaped gain-of-function experiment.
To summarize: the rationale for doing work that some would simply call evil on its face—fiddling in a lab with viruses to deliberately make them more contagious and more deadly—was that it was scientifically necessary in order to “stay ahead” of a similar virus appearing in nature. But how “ahead” were we, for all this experimentation, when COVID-19 did emerge? Two years into it, the best U.S. and global medical scientists are still utterly failing to come up with a way to end the pandemic and its associated miseries. And since it’s all but certain it didn’t come from nature, we can add that scientists have also failed to come with a way of stopping the very menace that scientists themselves created in a laboratory.
Simply put, this is unacceptable. These gain of function experiments which have cost the world so much constitute a clear example of recklessly and stupidly playing at being God. They create new and lethal pathogens which no one can prove that nature would ever generate on its own. Yet, instead of outrage, it is as if a fog has descended on everyone’s mind. We argue and brawl on the sidelines while the architects of the disaster supply us with brickbats to use against one another. Why are people so far unwilling to rise up and demand a certain end to this horrific research, in China and anywhere else it may occur, and for accountability from those who created and (we can only assume) accidentally released COVID-19?
One reason, I’d suggest, is that science itself is today held up as something to revere, and never to question. Yet science is merely a method of acquiring knowledge through experimentation, and through trial and error. It is a tool: an effective one, but one which has no consciousness of its own. Science as such possesses no inherent rightness or morality or concern. It is up to us to impose and expect those things of those who use the tool, i.e., those who practice science. As with any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. You can worship science if you like—and it seems many do—but you would be just as well off in worshiping a rock. Just like the rock, science as such has no knowledge of you, and has no salvific quality in and of itself. The rock can fall and crush you and it will never know or care. It is exactly the same with science. And scientists who believe themselves to be qualified to operate on a God-like level are deeply wrong and they are among the most dangerous people on Earth today.
This fallen world possesses countless diseases already. Science should not be put to work in devising new, Frankenstein viruses that no one can understand or control. It is appallingly arrogant and plainly evil to do so. How about devoting those brains and resources instead to creating broad spectrum medicines, therapeutics and treatments aimed at making people well? That, God knows, is the proper business of scientists.
The second example of an affliction of very recent years that I’d suggest has sprung from a false sense of being God is the amazingly successful movement to abolish the concept of biological sex. The idea that maleness and femaleness are simply social constructs has been around for a long time, of-course, brought up intermittently by lovable kooks. But the lovable kooks have turned into therapists, doctors, teachers, administrators, bureaucrats, lawmakers, judges, and much more. This doesn’t make the abolition of biological sex any more sensible or based upon fact. A denial of reality on that scale, for an individual or a society, can only end in catastrophe. We are already seeing the blowback in terms of an increasing number of those who “transitioned” since the hysteria began on this subject seeking “de-transitioning,” but the abuse inflicted upon their bodies and minds by ready and willing medical professionals will never be completely undone.
There used to be a line you’d hear—I’m sure it’s out of fashion now—that goes something like: “God doesn’t make mistakes.” There are variations. “God don’t make no junk.” But lucky us: we’ve moved on from all that kind of thinking now. Another mantra used to be, “Love yourself.” Also there was the idea of demanding others to “accept me as I am.” All of these concepts can be abused, but they all are getting at a fundamental truth. You are neither born useless nor broken. Everyone is precious and has a purpose and worth in the eyes of his or her Creator, and should likewise be valued by others. When it comes to sex, there have always been girls or women who favored more “masculine” styles or pursuits, just as there have always been boys or men who have inclined towards the “effeminate.” This is not even to talk of sexual behavior, which is, after all, another subject; this is simply about personality and identity. There’s nothing wrong with being a butchy female or a flamboyant guy, or anything along the spectrum. There never has been anything wrong with it. People get made fun of, naturally, especially as schoolchildren, but it’s the people making fun who are in the wrong.
Or at least that’s how decent people used to think. We’ve forgotten all that now. Now, being a somewhat masculine female or a slightly feminine male is something that is all wrong; in fact it’s something that needs to be fixed. You need surgery, hormones: you need to shape up! Chop off the breasts, slice up the genitals, get the silicone, swallow the chemicals: get right, get happy! Now kids are being raised to look in the mirror—even as toddlers!—and question if they’re in the right body or not. (And I thought childhood in the 1970s was hard.) This is all so utterly crazy and cruel that no amount of browbeating and politically correct intimidation should ever force anyone to accept that it is in any way right.
Life is very properly a journey in finding out both who you are and who you want to be, but this is in a holistic and especially a spiritual sense. Allowing your body to be mutilated by unscrupulous quacks in the name of “fixing” some mistake allegedly made by your Creator is not a path to happiness, but rather an exercise in self-hatred. People, and children most of all, should not be encouraged to hate themselves. They need to be encouraged to hold themselves in high regard, despite the inevitable confusions that are part of growing up. And they need—what’s that word?—oh yeah, love.
The other notion in vogue—that people can simply call themselves by any gender or invented gender they like regardless of their biological reality—is obviously even more absurd, although at least bodies aren’t wrecked by it if it goes no further. But compelling others to use patently false pronouns and other deceitful language is an assault on truth that seriously impoverishes and demeans us all.
At the root of these problems, again, is a failure to acknowledge the role of God, and to instead take it upon oneself, or to be taught that one needs to take it upon oneself. But we didn’t create ourselves, and taking knives and chemicals to supposedly make our bodies match our identities is like trying to use a hammer to bang a snowflake into a better shape. It is destruction and not creation. Those who are at the present time successfully selling this hideous lie to helpless children ought to rethink it, or failing that, find themselves some millstones and a sea to swallow them up.
In all of the above, and much more besides, things seem so wrong these days. But in the long-term, the terrible conceit inherent in presuming oneself to be God and acting accordingly always brings its punishment upon itself, and a correction occurs. As someone once sang, “There’s a law, there’s an arm, there’s a hand.”
Of-course what one longs for is an ultimate correction, so we can’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
That, I guess, is still somewhere beyond the horizon.
In part simply to try and retain my own tenuous grasp on reality in this ever more deranged world, I’m offering the following review of the situation in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, this August 20th of 2021.
For the first time in 20 years, the Taliban are operating at will, without fear of bombardment by the U.S. or anyone else. They are free to organize, bring in reinforcements, prepare and plan future actions.
The Taliban surround the airport in Kabul, in which are currently penned something like 6000 American troops.
The Taliban are free to operate because Joe Biden has invested everything in the hope of getting out of this situation without a fight. In any other circumstance looking anything like this over the last 20 years, all holy hell would have been rained down on the Taliban long ago in order to prevent them from building up strength to attack a U.S. position.
The American troops in this situation are at a strong additional disadvantage because they were inserted on an emergency basis, with limited numbers and equipment and assigned an uncertain mission in an impossibly volatile environment. Over the past 20 years, nothing like this ever happened. Troops were only deployed intentionally, with ample preparation and planning. No massacre of U.S. troops was ever going to happen under those circumstances. But now it is different.
This is not a situation that all the smart and highly-paid people should have allowed to develop, in case that’s not obvious.
At this point, there are simply no positive resolutions possible, unless the Taliban are actually changed men, and desire to allow the U.S. troops (who have spent the last 20 years blowing thousands of Taliban soldiers to pieces) to complete their mission and leave peacefully and proudly. I would suggest (albeit that I would prefer to YELL it from the roof) that this potential positive scenario is simply not going to transpire. The Taliban have a golden opportunity — and they surely see it as handed directly to them by Allah — to do to the Americans what has been done to all other invaders over the course of Afghanistan’s history; that is, to deliver them such a brutal parting blow that they will never, ever consider returning.
And please add the following to the mix, in case the Taliban might have any hesitation on their own (which I seriously doubt):
The Iranian regime dearly wants to repay the U.S. for Soleimani (and just on general principles for being the Great Satan). They look on Kabul airport today and they see fish in a barrel. They will not attack directly, but they must be scrambling to find any and every way they might aid and encourage the Taliban to turn this into a massacre of U.S. troops.
The Chinese regime is already delighted beyond expression with the way in which the U.S. has made itself appear impotent and untrustworthy in this turn of events, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like it to get much, much worse. What are the odds that they are informing the Taliban that if they should see it clear to doing whatever they can to massacre the U.S. troops at Kabul airport, that they will be taken care of, with future military supplies, trade, outright bribes? — you name it.
The Russians would also be delighted to see the U.S. deeply damaged by a catastrophe in Kabul, but whether Putin really has the money to spend to underwrite it is another question. (If he does, he’s spending it.)
Bottom line: This is a much deeper and difficult-to-solve predicament for the U.S. military than anyone seems to be acknowledging (least of all the ones who have the most solemn obligation: Joe Biden, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff). The advantages the U.S. had over the Taliban for the last 20 years have all evaporated. We should all be praying intensely for the lives of the American soldiers in Kabul. And for the rest of the Americans still in Afghanistan, likewise: God please help them, and in the same way all of those Afghans who have sincerely if vainly tried to serve the cause of freedom in their nation.
In terms of Joe Biden himself: We have been living the story of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes, and we are quickly approaching the final page. That’s all.
The others — Joint Chiefs’ Chairman Milley, Defense Secretary Austin, Secretary of State Blinken — ought already to have resigned, because the situation they allowed to develop is already inherently a catastrophe. In truth, they ought to have resigned in advance rather than attempt to implement Joe Biden’s rambling senile goal of removing all U.S. troops before September 11th, in the middle of the long-established Afghanistan fighting season, and regardless of the success that the Taliban were having on the battlefield.
A final reiteration of the current reality: If the Taliban choose, at their own discretion and on their own timing (and with all of these days to prepare) to initiate a battle to the death for Kabul airport, there is no big red button that Joe Biden can press to somehow instantly defeat them and rescue the U.S. troops. The Bagram airbase was surrendered on July 1st. There is no way to bring in U.S. reinforcements to the airport in Kabul under intense fire. There is nowhere to go at that point except a return to all out war in Afghanistan, albeit beginning from a considerably greater disadvantage than the U.S. faced in the autumn of 2001, when there was a strong organized opposition to the Taliban in the form of the Northern Alliance.
And yet Joe Biden’s intention here was to end the war in Afghanistan?! The bind that he now finds himself in is far beyond his mental capacity to comprehend and deal with in practical fashion. For him, however, we need have no care or regard. It is — as far as this writer is concerned — a criminal matter that a clearly cognitively impaired individual occupies the office of the presidency of the United States.
But for the soldiers at the airport in Kabul, dropped there to clean up this inconceivable and insoluble catastrophe, we ought to be praying. Let us truly pray.
Maybe the world’s always been divided between those who’ve actually listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and those who never have. Today, however — the day of his death — this feels dramatically true.
Rush was a phenomenon on multiple levels. With all that’s being said about him today, it would be redundant of someone like me to go on about how much he transformed the American radio industry and influenced the political landscape. However, you could never appreciate what Rush did or how he did it without having listened to his show. It was his ability to be there for three hours a day, five days a week, and to be engaging, entertaining, provocative and human: this is what made him without peer. If one was getting one’s view of Rush from what the big media outlets said about him — generally only in moments of controversy and/or ginned-up outrage — then one would merely know a caricature. What made Rush tick with his audience was not the single soundbite, but the whole of what he did, even the rare uneven moments. Listening to just one show was always a journey of sorts — let alone the decades of indefatigable work.
As much as he was a giant, proven by all the achievements and numbers, I wonder how people in the future who never listened to him in full roaring topical context will possibly be able to understand what he was all about and how important he really was. Perhaps this is similar to how no one really knows anything about Will Rogers today, except that he was huge in his time. Yet, even if so, that’s OK: Rush’s thirty-plus years of ruling the moment from behind that golden EIB microphone will stand in the ether of time and resonate forever. There’s just no taking it back.
He’ll be missed not only by those who loved him and what he did, but also by those who hated him, even if they don’t realize they’ll miss him yet (and even if they never consciously realize it). If he did anything at all, he made those who felt scorned and ignored by the east coast/left coast media elite feel that they had a voice in their corner, and it was a big, cheerful voice, a reason not to despair in depressing times. Despair is dangerous. After the last 12 months of general horror and chaos in much of America, this writer can’t escape the nagging but unwelcome perception that Rush’s death and disappearance from the radio constitutes one more brick taken away from what remained of coherence in America’s body politic, after so much else has already fallen apart.
In a time of waiting for the next shoe to drop, a very big one just did.
I remember well when I first listened to Rush. Maybe all of us Rush-listeners do. It was about 25 years ago, when I was working an office job in New York City — a mind-numbingly boring niche in publishing — and one of my co-workers would have his headphones on through a large part of the day, and was frequently laughing to himself, albeit vainly trying to suppress his giggles. (In other moments, he seemed pretty normal.) One day he made reference to who he was listening on the radio: Rush Limbaugh. He emphasized that he didn’t agree with his politics — and I believe he meant it — but said that he just found him funny. Having no concept myself about Rush Limbaugh other than the media caricature already referenced — ideas like “blowhard,” “hate radio,” everyone knows the rest — one day I decided I might as well get a laugh if one happened to be available, and I fired up my Sony Walkman AM/FM cassette player and stuck the headphones on. American talk radio was a world unknown to me (one factor at least being my growing up in Ireland). Politically speaking, I was out of my youthful socialistic fantasies but not particularly committed to any other ideology. Rush was in a way a perfect voice to clarify the thoughts then floating around in my cranium about political correctness, which I’d flirted with as a young skull full of mush but had come to loath. Rush made me laugh about it.
It was the Clinton years, his second term, and El Rushbo was firing on all cylinders. There was zero real fear of what Bubba might do to the nation, at least as I recall; it was instead all powered by laughter at the looney things the left was trying to do, undergirded by a certainty that it would backfire and fail. Halfway between agreeing and disagreeing with Rush’s stance on various issues (idiot that I was), I couldn’t help but be carried along by his good humor and humanity about it all. Paul Shanklin’s musical parodies were delightfully outrageous and in the same spirit.
Having discovered AM talk radio via Rush, I naturally thought that there must be so much more great stuff out there. However, keeping the radio on didn’t take me to similar places. It turns out that it’s kind of hard to talk for three hours on topical issues and keep it fresh and entertaining. Other hosts veered into repetition and excessive reliance on callers and other gimmicks, and too often fell into being shrill and monotonously negative. Of-course there are — now as then — ones who are better and ones who are worse. But — now just like then — there are none with the perfect touch that Rush was able to deploy, that deft way with the microphone that simply recreated radio and gave an unexpected gift to America. It can only be something he was born with. Exactly like he said to his dying day, “Talent on loan from God.”
God has called back that loan. His timing is His business. He always has a plan.
Times changed for yours truly, and I couldn’t always listen to Rush at length in recent years, but he was always there, like a good friend, someone who’s point of view mattered, and with whom I could check in and share a laugh. Millions of us have lost that very good friend, and I think we all wish him Godspeed on his next adventure.
As much as Rush was so funny about so many things, he was serious about some. You could tell these things if you listened to him. He was serious about his love for America and the ideas of its founding. And he was serious about his joy on hearing about people who bypassed the weaponized misery of the American left — sometimes thanks to time spent listening to his show — and who took their fate into their own hands and embraced optimism, by starting their own business, or just by shaking off the shackles of victim-think, and learning to love freedom.
There’s much else that could be said about Rush, and much else being said. The hate-filled things that are being widely propagated only highlight the mindset of those who are unwilling to tolerate honest discussion. They are the ones saying “Shut up!” all the time: a command increasingly being enforced these days by Big Tech and other sanctimonious authorities, some of them armed. Rush was the one they never succeeded in shutting up, despite extraordinary efforts to do so. We shall all see what happens next. And we are all going to miss El Rushbo.
I was deeply saddened to hear that Paul Westphal passed away yesterday, at the age of 70, having been diagnosed with brain cancer last August. He was a legend in the world of basketball, but, as the remembrances currently flowing out everywhere are indicating, he was also legendary in a much more important way: that is, as a truly good man who touched and impressed just about everyone he brushed up against during his life.
In the archives of this website is an interview I conducted with him some years back, when I was pursuing all things related to Bob Dylan, and talked to a few public-type figures about their own interest in Bob. Paul was enthusiastic and insightful on Dylan’s music. He was deeply tuned-in to the spiritual grounding of Dylan’s work, and very sensitive to Dylan’s journey in Christianity (an area where many of the famous critics seem to find themselves quite lost). Being privileged to meet Paul a few times — he was generous in his friendship and his support of my little bits of writing on Dylan — there was never any mistaking his own deep, intelligent and burning faith in God. Nor his love for his wife Cindy and his family. And these are the things that carry on, to be sure.
Seven months ago, in the Paris jihad attacks, 130 people were killed. Then there were 14 killed in the jihad attack in San Bernardino in December. In the Brussels jihad attacks, three months ago, 32 were killed. About 12 hours after at least 50 people were massacred this morning in Orlando by a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS before he began shooting, the President of the United States went on national television and said this:
Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate.
Is that all we know? Are those generic characterizations the best that those in charge—those with all the inside information—can come up with? Will the President go back on national television later to fill everyone in on the details once they’re certified, or are the real reasons behind this just too insignificant to trouble ourselves with?
Fifteen years ago, and about a month after the 9/11 attacks, the singer Bob Dylan (of whom I’m fond) was interviewed by Rolling Stone, as he happened to have a new album out. The interviewer asked him for his reaction to the recent events, and he said this:
Those people in charge, I’m sure they’ve read Sun-Tzu, who wrote The Art of War in the sixth century. In there he says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself and not your enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat.” And he goes on to say, “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Whoever’s in charge, I’m sure they would have read that.
And of-course everyone’s read Sun Tzu. You can pick that kind of thing up for virtually nothing and impress people with your cool references and deep thinking. It’s all just too obvious to bear, isn’t it?
At the time, it seemed there was a spirit of highly serious purpose in the wake of the killing of thousands in the attacks in New York and Washington DC and Pennsylvania. The enemy was al-Qaeda, whose leaders were clearly promulgating a virulent form of Islam, sheltered by the Taliban who advocated the same ideology, and by eliminating those players and establishing democracy and freedom in Afghanistan, the enemy might be defeated. That, at least, seemed to be the plan, though concepts like “democracy” and “freedom” somehow did not vanquish all that lay before them in that part of the world.
And, the more time went by, it seemed the lines between things became less and less clear. Words are important; yet generic terms like “terror” muffled more precise characterizations. Then came the war in Iraq, and—while the military did their job with honor—more and more at the level of political leadership things became blurred in a mish-mash of goals and justifications. A new president eventually replaced the one in power on 9/11: one eager to repudiate all that had preceded him. Focusing on the precise nature and motivation of the actual enemy became, even more, something to be avoided at all costs. And, indeed, it seems that there are costs.
… when you don’t know who you’re looking for, how in the world are you going to find them?
The dead perpetrator of this particular massacre, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, was “on the radar” of the FBI, reportedly interviewed twice in 2013, and once in 2014. Whatever scary jihadi-like statements he had made which attracted their attention, they decided that he was not worthy of the kind of surveillance that could have prevented him from freely marching into that nightclub named “Pulse” with a variety of guns and explosives and murdering more than 50 people at his leisure.
And, after all, when you don’t know who you’re looking for, how in the world are you going to find them?
Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, those “in charge” seem to know the enemy only dramatically less than the enemy was known even back then. It is a decidedly strange phenomenon.
This slaughter in Orlando has been the worst terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, and the worst mass shooting ever in the United States. Yet, I doubt I’m alone in sensing a lot less of “Je suis Charlie” in the aftermath and a lot more of “J’ai l’ennui.” If so, what a conspicuous harbinger of our decline. By this, I refer not to the lack of slogans and hashtags, but rather to the absence of a willingness to even pay serious attention for more than 5 or 10 minutes to the war being waged on our increasingly sad civilization.
A few years back I wrote in this space about a public school in New York City that was utilizing the Hindu concept of karma to teach good behavior to its students, as evidenced by prominent signs both outside and inside the school referring to karma and relating it to specific behaviors. That was the Robert F. Kennedy school (PS 169) on the upper east side of Manhattan. The ultimate point of my piece was to highlight the double standard inherent in this vast official employment of a Hindu religious concept in an American public school, whereas posting the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes would have brought speedy intervention by those who are out there trying to protect young and impressionable minds from any Judeo-Christian influence. Why would the latter amount to a “state establishment of religion,” while plastering the entire school with postings about karma was regarded as entirely benign? I concluded that I didn’t really have a problem with the karma stuff, if it worked, but I did have a problem with the message implicitly being conveyed to students that Hindu religious concepts are fine to teach and follow, while the banned Judeo-Christian ones must be somehow toxic. Continue reading “Karma Comes Up Short for Robert F. Kennedy School”