The Nazis and the Thalidomide Disaster

Part of a chapter in a book I’m reading, Corporate Crime in the Pharmaceutical Industry, by John Braithwaite, deals with the Thalidomide disaster. While it is exceptionally difficult for me to work my way through the descriptions of birth defects, I feel that I owe it to the victims of that horror to steel myself and endure the details of it all. In so doing, I was impressed strongly that this sort of corporate crime should be every bit as infamous as that of the Nazis. That it is not so, I find gravely troubling.

Sane people of this day excoriate the Nazis, and rightly so. They were a political force that devastated the lives of millions with aggressive wars, political purges, and, ultimately, genocides. But they did so not as a unified body of believers, but as a set of individuals making seemingly normal decisions, the sum of which produced the monstrous barbarity of the regime. At the sharp end of Nazism, there was extreme brutality and violence, but almost immediately, there were administrative layers to separate those actors from other persons within the regime. Consider the lot of a train station operator: was he able to approve shipments of food or resources while denying transport of victims to murder camps? Is he complicit in the crimes of his regime? Is he innocent? Perhaps he’s stuck in an awkward, greyish middle, where he condemns the crimes, but feels powerless to halt them because of fear or because he knows that he cannot alone overcome the bureaucratic inertia that put the process into motion. He can rationalize that his role in the crime is small, or that he has no choice but to participate in the crime. Those thoughts can get him through the night without pondering his fate overly much.

I find myself, and, really, anyone else in Western Civilization, to be like that train operator. We may know or we may not know, but we all participate in the crimes of our civilization at least to the extent that he does. If we drive a car, use things made of plastic, or eat food we have not grown ourselves, somewhere in that chain of production, there is the shedding of innocent blood or the pollution of a remote village where petrochemicals are exploited. Can I stop using gas? Can I produce my own food, all on my own with no aid from outside? Perhaps so, but, even then, am I still somehow complicit in the crimes of the world if I do not actively oppose them?

Most people shrink away from that precipice of judgment. Perhaps that is necessary in order to keep on living, to try to do what is right in other areas to overcome our shortcomings in being unable to destroy or convert a system too large for us to fathom completely. But, in so doing, how far does one go before one is adding layers of rationalizations to make a more active role in evil seem palatable?

This brings me to the Thalidomide disaster. A certain drug company, Chemie Grünenthal, produced the drug with the hopes that it would be a huge seller – a sleeping pill that was completely safe, that was the marketing line. Given the normal dangers of sleeping pills, such a thing would be a massive hit. However, Grünenthal’s marketing was a Göbbels-like “big lie”, in that it did not mention the horrific side effects it would have on people and unborn babies, in particular. Even though doctors doing trial tests noted those issues, Grünenthal chose to cherry-pick test results that showed favorable conclusions for Thalidomide. After all, they wanted the authorities in various nations to approve the drug for sale as an over-the-counter pill. All data is subject to researcher conclusions, isn’t it? So why not focus on the positives?

When Thalidomide went on sale in various countries, it received multiple brand names. While the drug under one brand name would be recalled in, say, Germany, the same drug would continue to be sold under a different brand name in, say, Sweden or Brazil. Now, the question facing us is this: is it wrong to use different brand names for the same thing? In this case, it resulted in additional, avoidable deaths.

There were pharmaceutical salesmen in Australia whose wives used the product while pregnant, only to deliver babies with the outrageous birth defects associated with Thalidomide. They reported these tragedies up the line, but nobody within Grünenthal moved decisively to halt the distribution and sale of the drug. Worse, when an Australian study was submitted to the British medical journal, The Lancet, the editors of that journal rejected it, citing pressure to publish other papers. A German physician published a paper about the dangers of Thalidomide, but Grünenthal attacked both the physician and the journal that published the paper as being sensationalist. Grünenthal did withdraw the drug from sale in Germany, not out of safety concerns, but due to the negative publicity the drug had received. Grünenthal admitted no wrongdoing in that case.

Even though the FDA did not approve Thalidomide for use in the USA, Grünenthal worked with a US firm, Richardson-Merrill (itself guilty of a major pharmaceutical fraud with the drug MER/29), to distribute the drug as part of a test trial. Richardson-Merrill salesmen told US doctors that they had been specially selected to participate in the trial, but supplied no placebos and told those same doctors that they didn’t need to keep accurate records. Just prescribe it and be part of a money-making enterprise, that’s what the salesmen told the doctors. Did the salesmen themselves invent those lies and deceits? Were marketers culpable? Were executives that wanted to increase profits ultimately to blame for creating a system that wanted to sell a drug without regard to the horrors it would inflict upon those that took it?

The pharmacologists at Richardson-Merrill knew the drug could cross the placental barrier and become a threat to fetuses. But was it a crime to say the drug might be a threat instead of it will be a threat? It’s hard to condemn a person for choosing a conditional term instead of an absolute term, but given how that conditional term then enabled another deviation from an ethical line down the road, which itself led to another and another, it should be just as hard to shrug and say that there wasn’t anything wrong with using a conditional term.

Richardson-Merrill also committed outright frauds. Their own employees created trial information and put the names of fictional doctors on the covers of those reports, then submitted them to the FDA as part of the approval process. But could a director or other executive claim to not know what was going on and, thereby, be innocent of that wrongdoing? Of course. Also of course, that same executive wouldn’t hesitate to approve the dismissal of an employee that wasn’t producing positive results to boost revenue. That same executive would also not hesitate to give more work to clinical testing labs that produced consistently positive and helpful findings for his firm. As long as he never officially knows of any wrongdoing, he can feel insulated from whatever crimes are being committed.

And that brings us back to the Nazis. Hitler did not personally stand at the controls for the showers in Auschwitz to deploy the nerve gas instead of water. Göring did not personally receive victims to burn alive in ovens. Himmler did not personally load Russians into an Einsatzgruppen van, where they would receive the carbon monoxide from the engine exhaust for half an hour, killing them. Himmler did witness executions, but it was always someone of a lesser rank that pulled a trigger or flipped a switch or buried a body. Himmler produced innovations in processes that made exterminations more efficient, but he left it to others to carry out those exact details. If he had had access to enough paper shredders and a corporate legal team, he could have claimed no involvement at all in the Holocaust.

And that, then, brings us back to the corporate world. Grünenthal executives in Germany had broken the law, a prosecutor determined, and would stand trial. In their defense, the Grünenthal executives claimed that unborn children did not enjoy legal protection under German law, except in the matter of a deliberate, criminal abortion. The Grünenthal executives then brought forward a parade of experts to say that they had no conclusive knowledge of fatal and worse birth defects being linked to Thalidomide. Two years into the trial, Grünenthal employees were still at work, threatening anyone that was being publicly critical of the firm and its drug. Grünenthal executives made a public plea that they would continue the trial, even if it meant using all the resources of the firm, but would consider an out-of-court settlement to end the affair. Of course, they would not admit guilt in such an event, but would merely be making the settlement so as to get on with its business and to give some measure of comfort to those that believed they were wronged in some way by Grünenthal or its products. Grünenthal paid an amount equal to $31 million, and that was that.

Grünenthal continued to make settlements, often with a condition of non-disclosure and non-discussion to go along with the money. Given that it makes roughly a billion dollars per year of late, such payments would be a noticeable, but not devastating hit on profits. Grünenthal has since had multiple citations from regulators, so they are by no means a group of choir boys as a result of the Thalidomide disaster. They paid their blood money, but spent no time in jail. Such is the lot of a corporate executive that has not been deprived of his access to corporate resources.

It is also the lot of a person who has done some very bad things, but whose knowledge or position is such that he is too big to fail for, if he should fail, then he takes down much of the structure of society that supports him. There were Nazis that had important scientific knowledge: they escaped trial. There were Nazis that acted as informants against the Soviet Union: they escaped trial. There were Nazis that were willing to fight against Communists in Latin America: they escaped trial. Today, we see bankers that sat atop massive frauds that also escaped trial.

And, by keeping the settlements secret, Grünenthal also prevented the formation of a class-action lawsuit. Only one Thalidomide case ever went to trial, and Richardson-Merrill (the defendant in that case) arrived at an out-of-court settlement during the appeal process.

Thalidomide resulted in more stringent laws around the world to control pharmaceutical safety, but access to money and power means there is always the opportunity for a pharmaceutical company to circumvent those laws. Just as the Nazis’ access to money and power provided legitimization for the regime – witness all the global firms that did business with the regime in spite of their connections to criminal activities – so it is for corporate actors.

So what if the Nazis never got involved in the Second World War? They would have been brutally murderous, yes, but their infamy would be no greater than that of the Ottoman Empire during World War One, or one of many US-sponsored Latin American military dictatorships. Consider even the reputation of Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin: those men headed up regimes more murderous than the Nazis, but they never lost their access to power and money, so they are frequently viewed as more benign than their German counterparts. American slave owners, the British East India Company’s opium trade, right-wing death squads acting against Communist rebels… the list goes on of persons and collections of persons that retained access to power and money and thereby avoided facing full accountability for their crimes. The Nazis simply present an unusual chapter in history as a corporate group that lost its access to power and money and, therefore, had to face some sort of responsibility for its actions.

Thalidomide the drug is itself infamous. But the manufacturers of the drug, Grünenthal, continue to do business. They released an apology in 2011, but did not move to retroactively offer additional compensation or admit wrongdoing, even though a mass of documents points to not only a large number of breaches, but a large variety of breaches, as well. Grünenthal does business and there is no immediate name recognition for that company name to connect it to Thalidomide, much in the same way as a black swastika in a white circle on a red field is instantly recognizable as a symbol intimately connected with evil. Grünenthal is representative and typical of the powerful: the Nazis are the exception, the group that abused absolute power and faced punishment for it.

First Impressions of San Francisco

I got off the plane and stepped into an odd place that combines Europe, America, and Asia. I like the quirks, don’t get me wrong. But, taking public transit from the airport to within .2 miles of my hotel? That’s not American, most places in the USA. My hotel, Hotel Bijou, is a quirky place across the street from two Indian restaurants and a 6 minute walk from Dottie’s, where I’ve been told that I simply MUST eat a breakfast at. There’s no AC in the room, but this is San Francisco, where I had to put a coat on as I made my way through the town. It’s an odd sort of penetrating chill in this city, but it’s quite refreshing.

My trip here was great fun. The shared ride in Dallas was lively, what with the Ethiopian Gospel music and the discussions with the other passenger about her upcoming trip to Germany to study abroad there. On the flight, I sat next to a materials engineering student who was making her way to New Zealand to study there. The battery on my phone held out well, which was good, considering that our flight arrived a little late. No worries, though, as I had plenty of time to finish reading my CCDA book.

For, yes, I am here to attend Cisco Live and I will take my CCDA exam on Monday. I plan to have Indian food tonight, but both places across the street are equally highly rated. Which one do I go to? What a lovely problem to have.

Atheism and The West

I recently read a discussion in which both of the participants expressed atheism, but one had a softer application of that way of thinking, in which he did not seek to ignore religion, but to eventually phase it out. He called it a “soft atheism.” Well, it was hardly a barn-burner, as the participants differed only by slight degrees. It’s on the level of two intelligent design gradualists speculating on how much of the creative process was autodrive and how much was the hand of God.

I read that discussion and reflected on my own religious experience. To tell me there is no God is as ludicrous as trying to convince me there’s no such thing as Oklahoma. My own experience tells me it is a reality that I must account for as I deal with the universe. The existence of God is not a matter of personal choice: it is a fact as stark and insurmountable as the moon.

To me, the arrogance of Western Civilization demands that there be nothing unseen in order to sustain its thought processes. All depends upon the discovery and the eventual arrival of the human mind at the frontier of the infinite. The West demands of its participants a towering yearning towards the goal of human supremacy. Even its major religious turmoil – the Reformation and Wars of Religion – was fought over the notion that perhaps man needed one less intermediary between him and God than was supposed in the Roman Catholic dogma; a notion that can, to me, be clearly placed on a continuum between the statements in that article and the Renaissance, which itself was a questioning regarding who an ultimate authority should be, man or God?

But in that quest to place man at the head of all things rational, there is no safe place for any thought that raises a question of man’s ultimate destiny to be a God unto himself, with no need for any other concept of God. In spite of eyewitnesses with testimony to the contrary, God must be dismissed as a non-factual construction of minds affected this way and that by certain chemical reactions in the body and mind. Ultimately, the same must be done for other spiritual concepts such as love and devotion. Either they are outputs of biochemical processes or they are simply myths.

For, to me and to many others, God is synonymous with and equivalent to love. I find no explanation for my love, or for the love of others, save that I love because I love. Biochemistry tells me that infatuation is explainable by a rush of chemicals that lasts from 18-36 months. Is my body somehow faulty and in need of a cure if I continue to experience the symptoms of infatuation towards my wife some 27 years after meeting her? Or are there deeper, spiritual mechanics at work that do not fit tidily into the notions of man and his place in the universe as determined by The West?

A friend of mine recently linked me to a document that amounted to an 87-page compendium of arguments regarding the grounds for deeming my religion to be inconsistent with itself and therefore false. Prior to any factual refutation of those arguments, I have in front of me not only my personal witnessing of God, but that of my ancestors and people of their day. God spoke to me, and he spoke to them. We are witness to the fact that God is God.

Is the experience a repeatable one? Absolutely, but the preparation is non-trivial. Much as one does not simply pile up enough cut stone and labor and proceed to construct a Rome in a day, one does not simply say, “All right. Let God speak to me, too, then I shall believe in his existence.” The belief in his existence is a prerequisite to experiencing his existence. It is not enough to believe, either: the mind must be ready to receive a word from God, and that involves a re-ordering of influences in one’s life. Just as moving quickly through a forest while listening to music through headphones and looking only at a cell phone screen will render one incapable of noticing the birds in the trees, so exposing ourselves to stimuli that diminish our spiritual sensitivities will render us incapable of noticing God.

But I and many others have prepared ourselves, and we have experienced the truth that God is God.

There are those that had once been prepared to receive God, but who participated in activities that diminished their spiritual sensitivities. They are those that believe no more. There are those that received God in one way, but, through different thoughts born of their experiences, now receive him in a different way. There are those that never truly prepared to receive God, who think they have prepared correctly, who then testify quite vocally and sincerely their experience that God is not God. So be it. But I will not let a blind man try to tell me that colors are ultimately imaginary and that I really should focus on the good things that I associate with colors rather than the colors themselves. Likewise, one who squints or closes his eyes or refuses to look in a certain direction cannot inform me that I am in error. I know what I know, because I have prepared myself in the way I have been told will produce a successful reproduction of the results of others’ experience with God. I prepared and I let myself be patient, and the word of God came to me.

A close analogy to this to me is that of a hunter or a fisherman or a farmer. To succeed as any of those, there is much preparation, but there is also great patience involved. One must not only have the right gear, not only be in the right place at the right time, but also have the right frame of mind to be patient, to understand that every rustle in the bush is not a target, every tightening of the line is not a bite, and that no plant will bear fruit overnight.

Indeed, consider further the experience of the farmer, for that is a frequent analogy in religious teachings. Weeds can spring up among the desirable plants, and they are nearly indistinguishable in their early stages. Droughts can pass over a land, leaving barren the fields of hope. Vermin can devour the fruit in the field. All these and more can plague the farmer: the patient among their number will abide another season. The impatient will abandon the profession. I’ll end the analogy there.

No, I won’t. The supermarket, where all those non-farmers will get their food, is itself a massive demonstration of faith that, despite a massive amount of unknowns, the food will be there when we desire it, and all will be well. It is a massive expression of that ideal from The West, that man will triumph through better organizational methods, better scientific knowledge, and better understanding of how a society should work.

But who does not trust in mankind the way The West does so powerfully in its supermarkets and other economic structures? Survivalists, those who hoard up food and other things because they suspect that the whole business of The West is capable of sudden implosion, are certainly those that do not share the belief that others will provide food for them. They want to be self-sufficient in that category. So it can be with God: rather than trusting that the beliefs of others will lend a salubrious effect to eventually calm and heal humanity of its rages and woes, those that choose to believe in God are those that wish to be self-sufficient in the healing and calming categories.

There are those that profess to believe in God that offer neither healing nor calming to humanity: I assure you that such persons are not true believers in God.

Anyway, back to the idea of Survivalists: they certainly do not trust other men to be their salvation in the world. Before the wave of millennialist defection from the trust in The West that we see today, however, there were others that chose to not only keep a supply of food always handy, just in case man made mistakes about supply chain management: They also kept a faith in God handy, just in case man made mistakes about biochemical determinism explaining all the phenomena associated with spiritual experiences.

I am one of those people, and my ancestors were numbered among those people that did not place trust in the arm of man. I suppose I can say that I come from a long line of defectors from Western Civilization. I can look back to a will written in 1745 in which William Webb passes down to his descendants a testimony of his grandfather’s about the reality of God, the imminent day when he would restore his church, and the reality that we can all join with God after this mortal existence, even if we were born before the day that God’s truth was again restored to the earth.

I read that 1745 document and I see in it a powerful wording of basic Mormon doctrines. I do say “powerful”, for there is a spiritual effect upon me as I read it. It is more, far more, than the feeling I have when I realize that I am correct in a guess about something through someone else’s confirmation of experience that I was not privy to. No, there is more to that feeling I have and I can only say it is through preparation that I experience that feeling. But I see my faith, the tenets of my religion, expressed by a voice from the dust. Now what am I to do with that other than face my religion and either accept the truths I know it embodies, or to reject the truths and create a paradox in my life in which I must actively deny what I know to be true? Absent your own personal experience with God, you do not have such a dilemma. Absent an experience with God, you cannot have such a dilemma. And, knowing that there are those that do not share my religion but yet believe in God, this experience will confirm to you the portions of your own faith that intersect with mine.

For me and my family line, most of us have defected from a bargain with The West. Even my relatives that don’t share my core religious beliefs still persist in a suspicion that The West is not as permanent as some would make it out to be. The Webbs that I know tend to hoard a little food, a cache of weapons, perhaps more ammunition than may be deemed necessary for recreational purposes… now, does this mean that I’m from a distinguished line of nutcases that shares a common delusion that Western Civilization is headed for a collapse, which underlines a possible biochemical explanation about why I identify so strongly with both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as economic observers that point to flaws in the system? Perhaps my family are all nutcases – and I am further delusional in imagining that, somehow, we are distinguished.

Or, perhaps, we might be sensitive to the flaws in The West because of our experiences and those of the people around us. My family on my Father’s side comes from Arizona. If you’ve ever spent time in that state, you know it to be a place where, generally speaking, there is a strong sentiment towards opting-out of Western Civilization, particularly in regard to how California used the structures of The West to appropriate rather a lot of water from the Colorado River. Dissent from The West runs high in Arizona, and that dissent is born of a common experience there. When I discovered that dissent, I found that it fit in with my own dissent from The West.

My own personal dissent from The West began long before I joined up with the Mormons on an official basis. I recall the powerful effect that James Burke’s “Connections” series had upon me – the first episode most strongly. In it, Burke asked what happens to us when the lights go out because technology itself fails. It’s happened before, and then the lights came on again. What happens if they don’t come back on? What then?

Burke asks a very rational question that casts a shadow of doubt over the idea of The West as a perpetual expression of human civilization. Through technological arguments, he constructed a scientific extension of Oswald Spengler’s assessment that The West, like other civilizations, would experience a downward cycle as surely as it experienced an upward one: an ending as surely as it experienced a beginning.

And what of the thoughts of The West, after the civilization that gave them impetus is no more? I believe that when the noise and distraction of The West is no more, we will have a great stillness around us. In that stillness, it will likely become much easier to prepare to hear the word of God. And, while I know there are people that would deny the existence of God to his face, a great many more people will one day affirm the existence of God without having seen his face at all.

A Fun Idea

If you’re lucky enough to be able to work with little kids, try this idea out. I’m talking about kids aged 5-8, by the way. Anyway, strike up a conversation with the 5-8 year old by asking a question. If the question is the start of a riddle, so much the better. Do it totally straight and don’t plan on giving the punch line, because the story that kid is going to tell is going to leave you wondering why in the world Hollywood isn’t having 5-8 year olds write film scripts.

I had one such conversation today that started with “Why do sharks like to swim in salt water?” The riddle answer, of course, is “Because they sneeze too much in pepper water,” but the 6-year-old I put this question to told a sweeping tale of undersea drama, adventure, and harsh consequences for hapless humans that don’t respect the habitat of the salt-water shark. It was delightful.

He then asked if I knew how to play rock-paper-scissors. Of course I did, and we started into the game. Pretty soon, we had rules for dynamite, lizards, guns, swords, the number four, Transformers (which can be beaten by swords, in case you did not know), tornadoes, and what do to when both players play “rock”: do a fist bump and say, “BROS!”

I remember watching Bill Cosby and Danny Kaye working with kids. When I was a kid, I loved those interactions. As an adult, I love them just as much, even if now for different reasons. Don’t argue, don’t try to correct, just ask lots of questions and be enthusiastic about seeing the possibilities in what the kid suggests. I’ve had fun discussing all kinds of things with kids over the years, including what’s the difference between elephants and prunes, what’s worse than finding a worm in your apple (hint: it’s an alligator in your apple), and the possibilities of earning a hundred dollars A MINUTE as a lawyer.

Welcome to the Wilderness

Years ago, I started blogging with a site called Sobaka.com. There were some incredibly interesting voices there, and all the writers did their homework. They found connections between some of the most horrific evils perpetrated in the world and some of the most globally esteemed world leaders and organizations. When I started to write there, I worked at making the connections… and I found myself in the wilderness.

The USA’s invasion of Iraq was just underway, and I was one of the few that was saying it was a terrible idea and that it would not end well. I said what I had to say and endured being ignored. Other voices joined with me as the years wore on, but that didn’t draw me into the mainstream. They joined me in the wilderness. They, too, got ignored.

The Panic of 2008 hit and I was there to find connections. I was used to being in the wilderness, so I was used to being ignored. At that time, though, I noticed there were many more people with me that were being actively ignored by those that walked in the halls of power. They were surprised to find that, as a majority of voices in a land that claimed to be based upon democratic principles, their voices counted for very little.

I read, with a complete lack of surprise, a recent scholarly article that concluded, based upon the high correlation between the passage of unpopular legislation and support for that legislation among elites, that the USA was no longer a republic of the people, but an oligarchy. There is the occasional concession to the notions of democracy here and there, but only to sustain a hopeful illusion that popular voices in the USA still have a meaning.

The good news is that life still goes on under an unrepresentative oligarchy. Yes, your government ignores you and you grate under a system that treats those outside of power with unrelenting cruelty and allows those in power to commit all manner of heinous crimes and then pay a few pennies’ worth of fines, if not walk free altogether. Yes, it’s a dread to realize that your government fears you to the point of keeping the general population under surveillance, and that it will forcefully move to smash any movement that threatens to upend the existing power structure, even if the movement is simply an appeal to human dignity.

Life goes on, indeed. Such was the world of Jesus. Such was the world of Gandhi. Such was the world of Martin Luther King, Jr. Such is the world of the USA. I choose those names because they embodied lives of truth, honesty, and love – and a refusal to compromise on their values. Yes, they were all killed for those uncompromising lives of truth, honesty, and love, but at the end of the day, their lives had those values, and therefore, their lives had value.

To me, the message of Jesus is most important. He that truly had all the power, but the proper use of his power was not to dominate, but to find the people in the wilderness and to bring them in, to bring them together. He used his power to teach and to give true hope to those that were completely outside the worldly power structure. His message was simple: love will be your reason to live.

So, as I live my life in a nation that promises me freedom, but would kill me without a trial in an instant if I was so much as just near someone that it considered to be a threat, I do not plot how to take power. I do not plan how to join the power structure. I do not desire any of that. I look to Jesus’ example of life in the wilderness. The most important message to deliver is his message of love, for that is what sustains us. Not freedom, not justice – which can be stolen by those in power – but love.

The May 15th Incident

In much of the public mind, there are only two organized political threats to freedom: Nazis and Communists. In the public mind, both those movements are over, save for a few Nazis that serve to validate Godwin’s Law on demand in Internet debates. In reality, the threat to freedom came from a variety of vectors. Just because America is not currently going down the road that Germany took in 1933 or Russia in 1917 does not mean that it’s not on a side street that runs parallel to what happened in Japan in 1932.

On 15 May 1932, 11 Japanese naval officers assassinated the Prime Minister and then took taxis to the police station, where they turned themselves in. Even though they had murdered the head of government, public sentiment was such that they received very light sentences. Four years later, on 26 February, army officers attempted the same thing. Although the 26 February 1936 plotters were dealt with harshly, their action resulted in a more complete takeover of the nation’s politics by the military. The time of “government by assassination” was over, but the assassins were now themselves the ones in charge.

As I read that in my World History class on Coursera, I reflected on how the USA has a similar situation, but with bankers. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial wipeout, none of the parties that caused it faced any sort of punishment, unless appearing before a Congressional committee is some sort of substitution for prison. No, instead of punishment, the bankers were rewarded with even deeper hooks into the government and the financial flows of the nation. Fear became a tool for the bankers and their supporters in Congress and the bureaucracy to extend their hold on government.

Now, there are rumblings about high-frequency trading. These aren’t just people crying about it in the wilderness: these are actual, official, rumblings. These HFT guys have gone too far, so say the rumblings, and they’re going to get punished. If 2008 was our banker’s own May 15 Incident, the HFT traders are going to be made to take the fall when the market crashes again – our own February 26 Incident. They’re expendable and their fall will make for more fear and chaos that the bankers will easily exploit. The criminals will end the exploits of the HFT gang, but the cost will be that they will have near-complete control of the government. Not just the current high degree of control, but they will be primary among the elites that vie for influence in government.

Whether or not the bankers stay in charge depends on whether or not Mao was right. Power does emerge from the barrel of the gun, but does it originate with the gun itself, or does the money control the gun? We shall find out, I believe.

A Voice From the Dust

Just today, I read a comment from a job seeker who was giving up on pursuing his goals. He was frustrated, and quotes from famous people that were very, very successful only seemed to make him more depressed. I wrote a response, because I was in the same position. Believe me, there were times when seemingly inspirational quotes only reminded me of how low my position was. What I needed then was a voice on my level. Thankfully, I have access to such a voice.

No quotes from famous people here. Just my great-great-gradnfather. In 1912, he had to flee Mexico with his family – children and grandchildren – because of the revolution there. He left everything behind. This was not the first time in his life he had to abandon everything and take his family miles and miles away from where he had settled.

He was 65, and arrived at Tucson, Arizona just before summer started. Summer in Arizona is brutally hot. He and his family lived in tents. Although he was a skilled teacher and had started schools across the West, he had no teaching jobs. Although he was a skilled brickmaker, there was no demand for that trade, either. So he got a job pulling mesquite tree stumps out of the ground. In Arizona. In the summer. While living in tents.

When asked about his situation, he said, “Next year will be better.”

And it was.

It wasn’t better because he knew it would be better. It was better because he believed and hoped it would be – and he took the actions he needed to take in order to make those hopes and beliefs become a reality.

If you want to give up hope, that is your choice and your decision. As for me, last year I was ready to leave my career of teaching and become a networking professional. At this time last year, I was saying “Next year will be better.”

Well, I took my great-great-grandfather’s example to heart. I worked hard – thankfully not pulling up mesquite stumps in the desert heat – and got my CCNP. I had some very very old experience in systems and networking, but I know it was the CCNP and the skills I learned in pusuing that cert that got me my internship, first job back in IT, and from that, the job I have now, which I enjoy greatly.

If you decide right here, right now, that “Next year will be better,” and are prepared to make great sacrifices in order to realize that goal, you can do it. You will prevail at finding the goal that others have abandoned, simply because you will still keep trying and the ones that abandon your goal will make room for you.

This much I do know – if I had kept my certifications active during the 11 years I had been a teacher, I would have had an easier time in my initial job search. I had an expired MCSE and CCDA. I’m going to recertify on the CCDA this year and then pursue CCDP/CCNP R&S after that, because as nice as things are now, I have decided that “Next year will be better.”

So never mind Edison, never mind Michael Jordan, never mind Martin Luther King, Jr., and never mind Gandhi. Never mind Thomas Jefferson, never mind Abraham Lincoln, never mind Steve Jobs, and never mind any other inspirational quote from someone that attained heights you think are unattainable. Listen instead to my great-great-grandfather, Edward Milo Webb, Jr. Listen to a voice that speaks from the dust, the dust from which he pulled up mesquite trees, and the dust upon which he spread his tent. Listen to a voice that came from behind a smile that endured the hardest of hard times and that spoke of a hope that fueled his soul all the time it was on this earth. Listen to the voice that spoke truly, and make it your own voice:

Next year will be better.

C’est la Vie, C’est la Guerre

Terry Kincaid spun around in his ergonomic chair while the proto-punk blasts of the MC5 blared at nearly unbearable volume inside the Launch Control Center of the 17th CIA Nuclear Weapons Division. Terry always did stuff like that when he was flying on acid. It helped to while away the hours and he didn’t have to leave the LCC – which made it better than smoking. Besides, it was so cheap in the commissary, so why not?

Terry’s buddy, Chuck Burzus, staggered into the LCC with a fully loaded water pistol and proceeded to discharge it all over Terry. Terry responded by drawing his sidearm and firing, barely missing Chuck’s head.

Chuck spun around to see where the bullet struck the wall, just a half-inch away from the fire alarm. He laughed, “Dude, no way can anyone die here.” Chuck took another beastly swig from his bottle of Jack.

Terry laughed right back. “Not until God says it’s time to die! Whoo-hoo!” He started to pound randomly on his keyboard and the buttons at his station. Several red lights started to flash, repeatedly and urgently.

Chuck pointed at the flashing lights. “Armageddon rave!” He proceeded to dance the Frug. The dance seemed rather macabre, what with him performing in front of the melted remains of a bulkhead that had fallen victim to a time when the pair brought a flamethrower to work.

Terry was laughing his head off as he played out a drum roll on his station, knocking his coffee into the innards of some sort of vitally important equipment. Smoke began to rise from the stricken system. That only made him laugh harder.

Chuck wasn’t doing acid, though: the liquor was starting to make him think. “Hey, Terry… Terry?”

Terry stopped laughing and focused what was left of his brain cells on what Chuck had to say. “Yeah?”

“You know how, uh…”

“Yeah?”

“Like, in science fiction stories… there’s like, always, an ironic ending?”

“Yeah?”

“You think that’ll ever happen here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like with all the insane stuff we do, you think we’ll accidentally start a nuclear war or something?”

“Naaaah.”

“Really? How do you figure?”

“That stuff is only in stories. This stuff here…” Terry held his arms high and made another ergonomic spin. “This is reality, dude. If God wanted nuclear wars to start accidentally, that would have happened back in 1948.”

“So, no irony for us?”

Terry shook his head. Only irony we’ll ever have is if we launch and blow ourselves up by mistake.”

Chuck knocked back his bottle and wiped his lips on his sleeve. “I dunno. Maybe we’re tempting God with all the stunts we pull.” Chuck threw the empty at an important-looking computer, whose lights suddenly went dark.

Terry kept shaking his head. “No way, dude. God loves us. That’s why we’re here with the best job in the world. We keep America safe and nobody gives a flying flip how we do it.” Terry then had a funny idea and wondered where he could get a box of hand grenades.

Chuck looked at the broken glass by the broken computer. “I still say something ironic is bound to happen. To us, even.”

Terry went back to shaking his head. “No way, dude.”

The red phone rang. Terry answered.

“Yeah?… Really?… OK, then… yeah, we got it… no problemo, sir.” Terry hung up.

“What was that?”

“We got a go code. Time to launch one.”

Chuck’s buzz went along well with the rush of adrenaline. An actual launch. Chuck sat in his chair and typed in his username, followed by his password, “password.” Having unlocked his launch control station, he selected one of the CIA’s best and brightest missiles to shoot into the sky. He clicked on the missile, armed it by typing in the arming password, “password1,” and then asked Terry, “OK, dude, where does this one go?”

Terry squinted, hoping it made what he was about to say all the more dramatic. “Take a guess.”

Chuck thought hard, hoping against hope that this was the ironic moment he anticipated earlier. “London!”

Terry made an honestly surprised face. “What the hell, dude? That’s not even funny. Guess again.”

Chuck composed himself. He remembered their mission and who their targets were supposed to be. There wouldn’t be anything ironic in this LCC. Not now, not never. “Boston?”

“Close. Providence.”

Chuck selected “Providence” from the drop-down list of targets on the CIA launch control program and then clicked on the “Launch” button. He then clicked the “OK” button on the confirmation screen. He turned to Terry. “OK, bro. Bombs away. One less nest of rebellion and terror.”

Terry pulled out a bottle of wine. “L’chaim, dude!”

Chuck produced two coffee mugs. “L’chaim back at you, bro! Time to pour!”

Terry poured and enjoyed his inebriating draught. “Life is good.” Suddenly, Terry suffered a massive stroke.

Chuck’s eyes widened in amazement. “Holy crap! Irony!” He watched Terry die as he kept drinking the wonderful wine.