♫ We Didn’t Start The Fire ♫

This Billy Joel song was mentioned twice in comments recently, by Keith and Ellen.  The lyrics are a stream of consciousness list of more than 100 events that Joel felt his generation was not responsible for. Many of the references are to the Cold War (U.S. vs. Russia), a problem his generation inherited.

we-didnt-start-fire

Joel says he got the idea for the song after a conversation with his friend, Sean Lennon, son of Beatle John Lennon, on the event of Sean’s 21st birthday, .  The conversation went like this:

Lennon: It’s a terrible time to be 21!

Joel: Yeah, I remember when I was 21 – I thought it was an awful time and we had Vietnam, and y’know, drug problems, and civil rights problems and everything seemed to be awful.

Lennon: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it’s different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties.

Joel: Wait a minute, didn’t you hear of the Korean War or the Suez Canal Crisis?

According to Joel …

I had turned forty. It was 1989 and I said “Okay, what’s happened in my life?” I wrote down the year 1949. Okay, Harry Truman was president. Popular singer of the day, Doris Day. China went Communist. Another popular singer, Johnnie Ray. Big Broadway show, South Pacific. Journalist, Walter Winchell. Athlete, Joe DiMaggio. Then I went on to 1950 … It’s one of the worst melodies I’ve ever written. I kind of like the lyric though.

Musically, the song does leave something to be desired.  Blender magazine rated this the 41st worst song ever in its 2004 article “Run for Your Life! It’s the 50 Worst Songs Ever!” Comparing it to “a term paper scribbled the night before it’s due.”

But the song carries a message, and that overrides the flaws in the composition, at least for me it does.

My thanks to Keith and Ellen for reminding me of this song and its message …

We Didn’t Start the Fire
Billy Joel

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”

Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charlse de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Songwriters: Billy Joel
We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Something to Ponder …

In this day where everyone seems to have to wear a label – democrat, republican, moderate, liberal, conservative, neo-conservative, snowflake – David Brooks is hard to pin down.  He has been dubbed a moderate, a centrist, a conservative, and a moderate conservative.  He has even been called “one of those Republicans who want to ‘engage with’ the liberal agenda” {gasp!!!}, “not a real conservative” or “squishy”.  To me, labels can mean whatever one wants them to mean at the moment, or nothing at all.

David Brooks is a Canadian-born American who is currently a columnist for the New York Times and commentator on PBS NewsHour.  Along with The Washington Post’s George Will and a couple of others, he is among the conservative writers who gets my attention, commands my respect, whether I agree with him or not.

Mr. Brooks’ column of March 11th  is, I think, worth reading and giving some serious thought to.  This particular piece is neither right nor left, conservative nor liberal, but it is, rather, a statement of our ‘techno-society’, for lack of a better term.  Give it a glance, then give it some thought.  Are we walking straight into the mouth of the giant alligator?  Your thoughts?


If Stalin Had a Smartphone

Suddenly technology has a centralizing effect.

David-BrooksBy David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

I feel bad for Joseph Stalin. He dreamed of creating a totalitarian society where every individual’s behavior could be predicted and controlled. But he was born a century too early. He lived before the technology that would have made being a dictator so much easier!

In the first place, he’d have much better surveillance equipment. These days most interactions are through a computer, so there is always an electronic record of what went on.

The internet of things means that our refrigerators, watches, glasses, phones and security cameras will soon be recording every move we make. In 2017, Levi Strauss made an interactive denim jacket, with sensors to detect and transmit each gesture, even as minimal as the lifting of a finger. Soon prosecutors will be able to subpoena our driverless cars and retrieve a record of every place they took us.

And this is not even to mention the facial recognition technology the Chinese are using to keep track of their own citizens. In Beijing, facial recognition is used in apartment buildings to prevent renters from subletting their apartments.

One Chinese firm, Yitu, installed a system that keeps a record of employees’ movements as they walk to the break room or rest room. It records them with blue dotted lines on a monitor. That would be so helpful for your thoroughly modern dictator.

In the second place, thanks to artificial intelligence, Uncle Joe would have much better tools for predicting how his subjects are about to behave. As Shoshana Zuboff wrote in her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” when you are using Google, you are not Google’s customer. You are Google’s raw material. Google records everything you do; then it develops models that predict your behavior and then it sells those models to advertisers, which are its actual customers.

Thanks to this business model, some of the best minds in the world have spent tens of billions of dollars improving tools that predict personal consumption. This technology, too, has got to come in handy for any modern-day Stalin.

Third, thanks to big data, today’s Stalin would be able to build a massive Social Credit System to score and rank citizens, like the systems the Chinese are now using. Governments, banks and online dating sites gather data on, well, everybody. Do you pay your debts? How many hours do you spend playing video games? Do you jaywalk?

If your score is too low, you can get put on a blacklist. You may not be able to visit a museum. You may not be able to fly on a plane, check into a hotel, visit the mall or graduate from high school. Your daughter gets rejected by her favorite university.

Back in Stalin’s day, social discipline was so drastic. You had to stage a show trial (so expensive!), send somebody to the gulag or organize a purge. Now your tyranny can be small, subtle and omnipresent. It’s like the broken windows theory of despotism. By punishing the small deviations, you prevent the big ones from ever happening.

Fourth, you don’t have to go through all the trouble of staging a revolution. You just seduce people into a Faustian bargain. You offer to distract them for eight hours a day with animal videos and relatable memes, and they surrender their privacy to you and give you access to their brains.

As online life expands, neighborhood life and social trust decline. As the social fabric decays, social isolation rises and online viciousness and swindling accumulate, you tell people that the state has to step in to restore trust. By a series of small ratcheted steps, you’ve been given permission to completely regulate their online life.

This, too, is essentially what is happening in China.

As George Orwell and Aldous Huxley understood, if you want to be a good totalitarian, it isn’t enough to control behavior. To have total power you have to be able to control people’s minds. With modern information technology, the state can shape the intimate information pond in which we swim.

I don’t want to pretend that everything will be easy for the Stalin of the 21st century. Modern technology makes it easier to control people, but it also creates a mind-set in which people get much angrier about being controlled.

When people have a smartphone in their hand, they feel that they should have a voice, that they should be broadcasting, that they should have agency and dignity. When they discover they are caught in an information web that is subtly dominating them, they react. When they realize that ersatz information webs can’t really create the closeness and community they crave, they react.

Angry movements and mobs arise spontaneously. What you get is a system of elite domination interrupted by populist riots.

Human history is a series of struggles for power. Every few generations, just for fun, the gods give us a new set of equipment that radically alters the game. We thought the new tools would democratize power, but they seem to have centralized it. It’s springtime for dictators.

Don’t Look Now, But …

It is the job of the free press to keep the people of this nation informed.  In order to do so, they must be given access to our government, they must be allowed to ask questions and expect to receive honest answers.  Yesterday, that freedom was cut short by Donald Trump, the bully-in-chief.  It would be a mistake to let this slide, for it is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that Trump has curtailed the freedom of the press.

It all began with a photo op with Trump and Kim Jong-un when a reporter for The Associated Press, Jonathan Lemire, asked Trump to comment on the congressional testimony of Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.  Another reporter, Jeff Mason of Reuters, had asked Trump a question about his commitment to de-nuclearization.  Note that this is common practice and every president in modern history has submitted to such questions.  But Donald Trump took umbrage.

As a result, mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that reporters from Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times would not be allowed to attend the dinner with Trump and Kim.  Sanders said that only photographers and television-camera operators would be allowed in … in other words, the American public would be allowed to see, but not hear.  Lauren Easton, spokeswoman for the Associated Press objected …

“The Associated Press decries such efforts by the White House to restrict access to the president. It is critically important that any president uphold American press freedom standards, not only at home but especially while abroad.”

Trump eventually allowed one reporter in … a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, owned by Trump’s good buddy Rupert Murdoch.  Whoopee.  Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, called foul …

“This summit provides an opportunity for the American presidency to display its strength by facing vigorous questioning from a free and independent news media, not telegraph weakness by retreating behind arbitrary last-minute restrictions on coverage.”

Methinks the American presidency has no strength to display, as became obvious when the summit became a bust and Trump flew home with his tail tucked between his legs, for he refused to compromise.  But that is a story for another time, as today the more important story is this one, the curtailment of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment by Donald Trump.

In recent months, the White House has sharply reduced the number of press briefings it gives and has cracked down on reporters who call out questions during the president’s public appearances. Reporters have publicly and privately been warned by White House aides that it is inappropriate to ask Trump questions in that context.  No, Sarah … No, Donald … it is NOT inappropriate!  There has been so much secrecy, so many blatant lies told to We the People, that reporters must work twice as hard to dig a rare gem of truth from this administration.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads …

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Denying access to an important … nay, crucial … summit meeting is an abridgement of the right to freedom of the press.  Hand-picking reporters who will be allowed to attend that aforementioned meeting is an abridgement of the right to freedom of the press.  Donald Trump and his mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders have stomped on our right to know what our government is doing.  We cannot … we simply cannot ignore this!

This is a clear-cut case of retribution and revenge taken on reporters for asking legitimate questions of the ‘man’ who is tasked with leading the nation.  Asking those questions was not harassment, but rather an attempt to get answers that We the People need, want and deserve.  Throughout history, the only presidents who have attempted to curtail the right of a free press have been those who had something to hide, such as Richard Nixon who, in 1971 attempted to prevent the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing materials belonging to a classified Defense Department study regarding the history of United States activities in Vietnam.  The Supreme Court, by the way, ruled against the government and in favour of the free press in that case of New York Times v. United States.

To wrap it up, I direct your attention to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.  A brief excerpt …

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion. The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.”

Need I say more?

Another Fool On The Hill …

Just when I think I have seen or heard it all, just when I think we have gone as low as we can go, somebody proves to me that there is yet another nether-layer in our government, our society today.  This latest came onto my radar yesterday and has set my teeth on edge.

The headline read …

“Echoing Stalin, House Republican calls for ‘purge’ of the Department of Justice”

The story …

On Tuesday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) called for a “purge” of the Department of Justice to root out officials who may be biased against Trump.

“People need a good clean government,” Rooney told MSNBC. “I would like to see the directors of those agencies [the DOJ and FBI] purge it and say, ‘Look, we’ve got a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here. Those are the people to see and know the good work’s being done, not these people who are kind of the deep state.’” – ThinkProgress, 27 December 2017

It should be noted that Mr. Rooney is a freshman Congressman who has no political background and until his election served as the CEO of his and his brothers’ investment and holding company.  Mr. Rooney is one of those wealthy politicians that inhabit our Congress today, owning  a $14.4 million waterfront estate in Naples, Florida, and a $2.4 million mansion in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Rooney-1

L. Francis Rooney III in 2012 while supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential bid

It has been estimated between 600,000 to 1,750,000 people died at the hands of the Stalin-led Soviet government during the Great Purge of 1936-1938, a campaign of political repression a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of peasants and the Red Army leadership, widespread police surveillance, suspicion of “saboteurs”, “counter-revolutionaries”, imprisonment, and arbitrary executions. Is this the path we want to follow?  I think not!

Some of us are, understandably, deeply concerned when we hear the word “purge” used in connection with our government, especially when used by our elected representatives who are expected to promote the good of the nation and its people, not necessarily the egomaniac in the White House.

Rooney’s statements stem from the calls by the far right to halt or discredit the investigation by Robert Mueller into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. You may recall that Mr. Mueller relieved one of his team of duties in the investigation because it was discovered that the man, FBI agent Peter Strzok, had sent a text message to his girlfriend in which he referred to Donald Trump as an “idiot”.  Mr. Mueller relieved Strzok of his duties in the investigation immediately in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, but Trump & Co. seized on the incident to attempt to discredit the entire investigation.  Give a dog a bone …

Mr. Rooney’s suggestion of a ‘purge’ to rid the Department of Justice and the Federal  Bureau of Investigation of all those who are not fans of Donald Trump, is chilling, for it is strongly suggestive of a path toward that autocracy of which I have been warning for a full year now. It is reminiscent of the oaths of fealty in medieval Europe, or more recently, the pledge of loyalty Trump asked of FBI Director James Comey.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his historic Gettysburg Address, which reads, in part …

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

You will note that Lincoln did not say, “… government of the Trumps, by the Trumps, for the Trumps …”  Mr. Rooney and others of his ilk might be well advised to study a bit of history before opening their mouths to speak.

Mr. Rooney later tried to walk back his comments a bit, but it’s funny, isn’t it, how the word, once heard, can never be unheard.  And he continued, even so, to maintain that the FBI should oust individuals he views as “politically compromised”, meaning not Trump supporters.  I have two thoughts on this:

  • If only Trump supporters are allowed to work in federal bureaus and agencies, I doubt we would ever be able to fully staff any of said bureaus and agencies
  • If only Trump supporters are allowed to work in the federal government, then we will be living under a dictatorship

Rooney’s use of the word ‘purge’ was foolish, and could be forgiven had it come from a kid working the drive-thru at McDonalds.  But it was spoken by a man who is in a position to make decisions that affect our lives, and from him it is unconscionable and unacceptable.  He is a first term member of the House of Representatives.  I hope that next November, Floridians will ensure that he is a “one and done” representative.