Life in the Time of Covid

Writings of David Cogswell

Search HeadBlast archive

Social Media Tie-ins
Instagram: @cogswelldavid
Twitter: @mrdavidcogswell


  • Life During COVID
  • Travel
  • Essays
  • Reviews
  • HeadBlast
  • Media Roulette
  • Political Commentary


    May 30, 2020

    A Rebellion Against Health Practices

    Those first few days in March when COVID-19 burst upon us, it came on so fast and hard that it was disorienting. It was like suddenly being thrust into a sci fi movie. Things were happening that were too monumentally horrifying to accept as reality.

    The rapid speed with which it spread around the world, the number of people infected, the spiraling numbers of deaths, the ghastly reports of kind of death it was, the way the disease suddenly mushroomed so that a person could go from mild symptoms to death within a day, it was all just too much to assimilate. I felt like I was in a daze, never really comprehending the full magnitude of what I was hearing, of what other people were going through. I don’t even know how many weeks went by in that state of maximum emergency.

    I guess many people didn’t ever assimilate it and now want to forget or not believe it ever happened. Maybe none of us have fully grasped it. How can you make sense of “100,000 deaths” in something like two months? How can one human being fully understand the reality of that? If it didn’t affect you personally, I guess you could be convinced that it was all a big hoax.

    Now the emergency has let up a little. New York is no longer a battlefield with bodies piling up in trucks, quiet nights pierced only with the sounds of sirens, people dying because there aren’t enough respirators and other hospital facilities to provide for what they needed to survive. Now even though the virus is still spreading rapidly throughout most of the country, people are understandably tired of being pent up, and worse, that their incomes have vanished. Of course everyone wants to see businesses get going again so they can survive.

    In some European countries they have taken a different approach. They are having the government compensate people for staying home and participating in the national effort of stopping the spread. That way people don’t have to risk their lives in order to restart their income.

    That idea doesn’t fit the dominant American political philosophy, so it’s not happening here. Unfortunately, opening too soon will probably extend the health crisis, so we’ll be in it longer. Even though it will allow many businesses to get going again, if the pandemic gets too far out of control it may hurt them later.

    But America is the laboratory of Social Darwinism and laissez faire capitalism, and although our death rate for COVID-19 is far higher than any other country by any measure, ideology trumps all. If you want government “small enough to drown in the bathtub,” which was the conservative motto coined by Grover Norquist and embraced by virtually all the big Republicans since Reagan, then you can’t expect much better when a crisis hits. You asked for no government and you got it, right when it would hurt the most.

    New York is over the hump now, still suffering from the disease but not in a full-blown crisis any more. Much of the country is still in the early phase of their own episodes of it.

    I just read that two weeks after the Supreme Court of Wisconsin overturned the governor’s shut down order, the state has seen a big spike in COVID cases and deaths.

    I worry for the people who think wearing a mask is an infringement on their constitutional rights. Someone told me she objected because it’s “government overreach.”

    I told her if she was about to get run over a bus and someone threw himself upon her to knock her out of the way, her right to not be assaulted would have been infringed. But if he saved my life by pushing me out of the way of the bus, then his infringement on me would not be what would be on my mind.

    It’s not government overreach when someone we elected to look out for our “general welfare” institutes a policy in an emergency that will help save us all from harm if we all join in. And we join in not because we are being tyrannized, but because we believe the person we charged with the responsibility to take care of those kinds of things has proposed a reasonable policy for that situation. It’s a major emergency, and that’s the way a society has to behave in an emergency. We have to join forces and follow sensible guidelines.

    Margaret Thatcher, who led the conservative revolution in the UK at the same time Reagan had his revolution in America, famously said, “There's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

    But as a government official, I think she must have realized that there are some things that require some kind of community effort, even government action. A pandemic is one of those kinds of things.

    The pandemic was such an emergency, so devastating that it required leadership. I was happy when the governor of New York took charge and met the challenges. I didn’t feel any need to rebel against the idea of wearing a mask or social distancing. I don’t tend to “go with the crowd” on most things, movies, TV shows, books, products, new trends or fads of any kind. I’m very resistant to such things. But in this case, it seemed to make good sense and I was happy to join in.

    I guess there’s about a two-week lag time in watching the effects of loosening the restrictions. I’ll be watching closely, hoping for the best. But with the hard facts of cause and effect it looks like COVID is probably going to be around a long time.

    May 20, 2020

    A New Journal of the Plague Year

    It’s been two months now since the lockdown began and people seem to be getting over the shock and starting to settle into the new realities that were difficult to even comprehend when the Coronavirus first came rushing upon us in mid March.

    It all came upon us with such a rush, like an invisible tidal wave, that it was hard to get one’s bearings or to even keep track of events. Now that the changes seem to have slowed down a bit, I’ve decided to keep a journal of life during the time of the Coronavirus to mark the changes from here on out.

    The speed of the advance in March was breathtaking as the numbers screeched up from zero to thousands and thousands in only a couple of weeks. The whole world was shell shocked to suddenly be forced to recognize the factual existence of this terrifying science fiction threat to humanity. It threatened to decimate our economic system, and maybe even our social cohesion. The way the numbers were skyrocketing in exponential progressions, it seemed as if it might even be the end of humanity.

    Our mighty species, dominated by the great economic powers of the world, was forced for once to bow to nature. To admit that we were overpowered and had to beat a retreat. We had to hole up in our homes until the scourge had passed.

    Who could say how bad it could get once the chain reaction of exponential growth was underway? Would our social order collapse into some kind of savage tribal warfare from the pressure put on individuals of a collapsing world order? Was this the lead-up to the social collapse that was the backstory of The Hunger Games? Who could have known then where things were headed? And still now, in late May, who knows what will happen?

    But now after two months of it, to have had New York, which became the tragic global epicenter of the disease, finally prevail over the disaster, the shock is wearing off. The reflex to quickly jump right back to where we were, to pick up exactly where we left off, is strong. It’s a natural reaction whenever one is hit with a shock, to scramble to recover one’s bearings as fast as possible and to return to the previous state with minimal disruption. But that reflexive impulse is bound to bump up against some of the same natural barriers that caused the lockdowns to be a necessary survival measure in the first place.

    As much as we may wish to return to where we left off, the world is now different, irrevocably so. We want to recover as much of the best of those times as we can, but some aspects need not be dragged into the future.

    It is a new world, there is no doubt about it. There is nothing anyone can do about that. The change is already manifest. There is no turning back the clock of history. The prerogative we do have is that it is now up to us to make the new world that we now inhabit as good as we can. We are building this new world now through our actions.

    Nature Tames Humanity

    Soon after observing the awesome power of nature seize the fate of humankind through the the Coronavirus I came involuntarily to a view of it that many may find offensive, but nonetheless I couldn’t shake it from my head.

    If you look at all this from the standpoint of the many animals we humans have driven or are driving close to extinction, all the habitats we are destroying, the way we are ravaging the earth and even disrupting the natural cycles of climate, then it is easy to see us, the human species, as the antigen, and the Coronavirus as the antibody.

    From the standpoint of the natural system, human beings had become like a cancer. We were overpopulating, draining our environment of resources, turning beautiful places into garbage dumps. We were making the earth an inhospitable environment for human habitation. And yet we could not stop. We were locked into cycles that fed the big machine. Our legal system, our institutions, our economic system forced us to stay locked into that wild cycle even as we could see that our way of life was leading to an unsurvivable future.

    We could see it, but we couldn’t act on our knowledge. The machine had too much momentum. Everything had to keep going to keep everything else going. Even as wildfires ravaged California and Australia, the savage destruction of the Amazon increased in momentum. We were like a species gone mad, ravaging the earth.

    Then suddenly nature produced an antidote to that kind of behavior. The virus showed us that if we couldn’t stop ourselves, we could still be stopped. And we were. We will surely pick up again and try to get roughly back to the civilization we left behind. But it will be different. It has to be. And that can be something good.

    When Charles Koch, the surviving Koch Brother and shadowy puppet master of the Republican Party, started putting out the word through his Heritage Foundation and his networks of political control that the economy had better get churning again, Trump and the Republicans quickly dropped into lockstep to obey his order. When Koch threatens to turn off the money faucet, Republicans get into motion. When he threatened to turn it off if he didn’t get the major tax cut he wanted before the 2018 election, McConnell’s do-nothing Senate and Paul Ryan’s similarly unambitious House of Representatives, suddenly managed to produce some legislation to give the Kochs and the other oligarchs another large chunk of the public’s funds.

    So now the marching orders are to open the economy, and since American Way of Life doesn’t allow government assistance to citizens such as European countries are providing, Americans are desperate to get back to work.

    And there’s an election coming up. Eric Trump went on Fox News a day or so ago and said the pandemic was nothing more than a hoax to try to unseat Trump and that it will disappear after the election. It’s being used to stop him from doing rallies, Eric said. So now we may see lots of Trump rallies get going again, and they may well spread the virus widely. So we shall see how that develops.

    Though the changes may have slowed down for the moment, there is little doubt that we have many wild and turbulent events to look forward to in the coming months. So now I am beginning my Journal of the Year of COVID to mark the events and comment on them. Thanks for reading up to here.

  • Self Portrait

    Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from dictates of governments and the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their minds -- sometimes only a little bit.

    Some of the changes have amounted to profound transformations -- for instance the transition fomr the Roman Empire to Medieval Europe, or from the Middle Ages to modern times. Others have been more specific, such as the constitution of democratic governments in England and America, or the termination of slavery as an accepted institution. In the latter cases, it is largely a matter of people recalling that no matter how powerful the economic or political or even military institution it persists because it has legitimacy, and that legitimacy comes from the perceptions of people. People give legitimacy and they can take it away. A challenge to legitimacy is probably the most powerful force for change to be found in history.

    To the empowering principle that the people can withhold legitimacy, and thus change the world, we now add another: By deliberately chagning the internal image of reality, people can change the world. Perhaps the only limits to the human mind are those we believe in.

    Willis Harman Global Mind Change


    June 3, 2020

    On the Streets Where You Live

    Now while the COVID pandemic is still raging, and while the country is still engaged in a war over whether to open things up and let the disease spread where it will, we are now plunged into a new war, ultimately a much worse one.

    It looks as if the evil specter of slavery that has been haunting this country for 400 years is demanding a reckoning. It’s not just a natural disaster hitting us this time, but a confrontation with our own history, our still-unresolved issues of race that have their root in that horrible, barbaric institution, which flourished in this country for a longer time than it has been outlawed.

    COVID still is a natural disaster of unprecedented dimensions, a crisis still in progress, and now we are hit by another crisis of great magnitude, and now the two crises are interacting with each other in ways no one can predict.

    This crisis is a natural disaster of human nature. We sometimes look at nature as if we aren’t part of it, but COVID has been a cosmic crack of the whip to disabuse us of that naïve notion.

    Now the brutal murder of George Floyd by a gang of police officers has become the catalyst to ignite a nuclear chain reaction of events that is fueled by the energy of all the millions of similarly heartless and savage murders that have taken place over decades and centuries without justice. Even now in 2020, police can murder human beings with no consequences.

    We are seeing now a resurfacing of issues that have burned hot underground for America’s entire history, first as a colony and later as a nation.

    The initial reckoning took place in the American Civil War, with more than 600,000 Americans dead, but was left uncompleted because the leader who had the moral authority and the temperament to administer the transition to a post-slavery world “with malice toward none” was cut down.

    We would have been a much better country today if Lincoln had not been murdered. Slavery, the curse of America, has still not been eradicated. The essence of slavery, the culture of slavery still has a strong presence in American life.

    It seems the time for reckoning with that lingering infection cannot be put off forever. Eventually the “terrible swift sword” must come.

    Slavery started in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. It was outlawed in 1865, 246 years later. It’s been outlawed for 155 years.

    I guess it should be no surprise then that the attitudes that underlay slavery have not been fully routed out of this country. And that is the underlying conflict that we are seeing explode during the last several days. Unresolved issues from the time of Lincoln. He was killed before he could administer the actual abolition of slavery. With his moral authority he could have done a much better job of managing the transition than his successor, the southerner Andrew Johnson did.

    The military occupation of the south was curtailed by President Johnson before the reform had time to set in. With the withdrawal of the Union armies, the former slaveholders and racists were able to re-establish their society, with its cornerstone belief in subjugation of the Africans. Though the outward form of slavery was abolished, what followed it continued much of what had gone before.

    After the change to a post-slavery society didn’t take place during the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War, things settled back to a modified version of the former status quo. With the best opportunity for reform missed, it never really did happen. The spirit of white supremacy continued to thrive and wield a lot of power in the South. And just as in the time of the Civil War, white supremacy was not confined to the South. That culture had its adherents across America. And it still does.

    Trump was able to capitalize on the underlying racism of the country, to signal to the white rage that went along with so many people having their lives ruined by the Crash of 2008. Trump channeled that rage, which was already misguided by Tea Party propaganda, and used it to gain power. A big part of his power is that bloc of white supremacists, so he is constantly signaling to them, arousing them, inciting them.

    Now the pandemic and the economic catastrophe it has brought on have brought many of these seething issues underlying American life to a head.

    Now while the pandemic is still raging, we are plunged into a new crisis that is deeper, and could cause a great deal more trouble. And this crisis is on top of the pandemic. The danger of people gathering in large groups spreading the lethal Coronavirus will no doubt be greatly worsened by all the demonstrations and civil unrest.

    So we are back to where we were in March in the sense that we barely know from moment to moment what calamity is going to take place.

    These are highly challenging times. Everyone’s adaptability is being tested.

    May 24, 2020

    A New Relationship with Nature

    I had a terrible day in which I got hit with a bunch of fraudulent charges on my bank account from some scammer and the bank was not helping me and I spent hours on hold, or battling with voicemail robots or tangling with actual humans trying to persuade them to help me, and it was a miserable time. Finally, when I had done all I knew how to do and was overcome with futility I took a break and walked outside.

    And wow! I saw the trees in their voluptuous spring bloom against the bright blue sky, breathed in the rich sea hair, chilly with a spark of warmth to hint of summer coming on, and I felt instantly different. I was re-grounded and much better. And it reminded me of what I learn over and over: that nature is the most reassuring friend.

    Of all the changes the global human community has gone through during the havoc created by COVID, I think the most profound change underlying all the rest is a new relationship with nature.

    Nature has spoken to us in a language much more profound than any political ideology, or all the propaganda we ever heard that promoted environmental destruction. In America we’ve been indoctrinated for a generation into a belief system that holds that greed is good, that money is the greatest good, and if something doesn’t make money there is no reason for it to even exist, and that extends to human beings. But nature reached its limit with us and with one crack of the whip showed us where the real power is, and forced us to change our ways.

    Of course most people want to get “back to normal” as soon as possible, but we know that we will never be quite back to what we were. And no matter how much Charles Koch may order his politician and media army to force the world back to the previous normal, that message from nature was a lot more powerful than all the pro-fossil fuel propaganda of the last 20 years.

    Having traveled to many of the world’s most beautiful and often endangered places, I have developed an image of a society that is operating according to a system that is not sustainable. Economic principles are often leading to absurd tragedies, such as the fact that the existence of a market in Asia for rhino horn as an aphrodisiac is leading toward the extinction of the rhino.

    This is an example of a process that leads to an outcome that benefits no one, beyond the immediate demands of a market. If rhinos go extinct, even the people buying rhino horn will not be happy. And yet it goes on, and it does threaten the extinction of the rhino, though great efforts are being made to stop it.

    The same kinds of absurdities are playing out all over the world. The Amazon Jungle, the last great jungle, the “lungs of the world,” consisting of ancestral forests that have evolved essentially for eternity and cannot be replaced, is being destroyed wantonly, rapidly, almost feverishly, by profit seekers who seem to be almost rabid to pull whatever profit they can out of destruction.

    The scientific experts in these matters warn us of climate change and a myriad of other dangers brought about by our rapaciousness. The most intelligent people around the world with the most acute survival instincts pay attention to those experts and know that our present way of life is not sustainable. And yet no one knows how to stop it. The machine cranks on. We all take our place in our part of it. We donate our life energies to fuel it, and it proceeds to destroy our planetary home.

    As a species we are intelligent enough to understand what is happening, that our present ways are leading to destruction. But we can’t stop. No one knows how to put their hand on the lever and stop the machine. Conscientious young prophets like Greta Thunberg call us out on our insanity, our paralysis in the face of a planetary mortal threat: Why aren’t you doing anything? And we shrug.

    It’s as if we are hypnotized by our own habitual ways of looking at the world. And now suddenly a global catastrophe has stopped us. Nature has shown its might and forced us all to pay attention. It’s a “be still and know that I am God” moment. Nature has much larger forces it could unleash on us. It’s being gentle. It’s time we paid attention, while we still have a habitable environment in which to live.

    The change has already taken place, and now we will see how it manifests as the shockwaves move through all the structures of civilization as the world works through this change. What will the world look like after the COVID period? And rest assured, COVID will have its name on a period. This is a huge event, far too big for us to perceive this close to it.

    We will watch how it manifests now. There will be no turning back. But I’m quite optimistic about the future, oddly enough, even when there seems so little to indicate any positive outcomes. Still. The foundation has been shaken, our civilization will reassemble itself on a new footing. What that will look like is yet to be seen. But I do have reason to be optimistic.

    This catastrophe in which 100,000 Americans have already died has laid bare the weaknesses of our society as it is structured to deal with any incident of any magnitude that may strike a society in the 21st Century.

    The weaknesses of our society to deal with a variety of problems such as natural disasters are revealed to us in various incidents, Hurricane Katrina, the devastation of Puerto Rico, the human rights catastrophe at our southern border. The spotlight shifts from one disaster to another, and then public attention moves on to the next news cycle and the next disaster, or scandal, or Trump’s latest attack.

    Now we have an incident that focuses the consciousness of practically the entire world on a single point. As vulnerable as democracy is to ignorance and demagoguery, I find myself trusting the majority when it comes to considerations such as the destruction of the planet. It’s really only a small minority who think it’s profitable to destroy the environment, and therefore it’s justified. Most people really don’t believe that.

    So I think the massive natural disaster of COVID has delivered a message that has already changed humanity a little, an amount that may prove to be highly important when we look back in coming years. Now that it’s happened irrevocably, I’m eagerly anticipating the changes.

    March 22, 2013

    Why I Wrote Unions for Beginners

    This is adapted from a presentation I made at a book launch party at the Hoboken Public Library

    This book became necessary because America had evolved into a sort of post union period where the influence of unions had faded. The awareness of them had been wiped out of the national consciousness to the point where it seems that most Americans had very little idea of what unions are or were and the role they played in our history. Americans took for granted weekends and the eight-hour day and 40-hour week and healthcare benefits. As these benefits slip away, many people have no idea that those benefits only came about through a great deal of struggle over many decades in which many people were brutalized and many killed. It was a struggle that must really be characterized as a long war, a class war.

    At the same time that union membership declined to a very small portion of the population, the standard of living of the majority of Americans was slipping year by year and the resources of the country were being controlled by an ever smaller minority. Unions came to center stage of the political arena in recent years when Republican governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, doing the bidding of rich patrons like the Koch brothers, tried to make it illegal for state employees to bargain collectively, to join forces to defend themselves and negotiate for better pay and working conditions. Unions had pretty much been eradicated from the private sector, but still had a foothold in the public sector and the big corporate forces behind Republicans like Scott Walker wanted to wipe out what was left.

    As I looked into the rapidly declining standard of living in America and tried to figure out what had happened to create such a precipitous decline in my country during my lifetime, I kept coming back to the growth of corporate power, the increasing control that major corporations exercise over all aspects of American life. Increasingly big corporations have come to control the political system, the legislative system, the regulatory agencies and the media. They leveraged their financial power to decide who could win elections and when they got their candidates into office they were able to use their financial power to influence politicians through huge donations, which earn them in return much larger payoffs, usually at the taxpayers expense. We were the ones left out. And lately the .01 percent seems to be going in for the kill. Winner take all.

    It is a vicious cycle and for middle class and working Americans it is increasingly a losing battle and a downward spiral. Everywhere I looked as I studied these trends I saw that these patterns have repeated themselves through history and that the rights of working people have never been given through the generosity of the owners and bosses, but have had to be won through bitter struggle. One person opposing the mighty powers that control society doesn't have a chance. But many people joining together can exert a powerful force.

    This has proven itself over and over throughout history and in many realms of life. When we think of unions we tend to think of factories and mines and so forth, but this basic principle of people banding together to fight for their rights applies in many spheres. We saw it in action very dramatically in America's civil rights struggles in the '60s and in the struggle to end the Vietnam War. The historical record now makes it clear that the Vietnam War was ended because of the activism against it, which finally became so tumultuous that the war was no longer a profitable venture for the military industrial complex that perpetrated it. The history of the struggle for civil rights is also clear. If African Americans had waited for their rulers to grant them their Constitutional rights they would still be waiting.

    The same kind of processes took place earlier in the historical progression of the unions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The right wing corporate powers who now control our media and even our educational system have effectively eradicated this history so people no longer realize where their rights and privileges came from and the struggles that took place to give middle class people the rights and relative prosperity of the late 20th Century.

    The old maxim resonates very powerfully today that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, and this is what has been happening in American life. The middle class is shrinking, people are falling into poverty and homelessness in alarming numbers. Our rights and protections are being taken away piece by piece and people see it happening but don't know what to do about it.

    The politicians stripped away regulations on banks and speculation that had helped America maintain economic stability since the Roosevelt days, and when that led to the collapse of the world financial system, the politicians bailed out the criminal banks with our tax money and then turned around and started trying to balance the budget by taking away our Social Security and Medicare. They call them entitlements, but we paid for them. They are insurance policies we all pay into. They are contracts with the American people, and the politicians, under the bidding of their corporate sponsors, are now preparing to steal them from us, to break the contracts and take away the retirement funds and medical insurance we have all paid for all our lives. It's clear that something is very wrong, but as Americans watch helplessly as this process unfolds they do not know what to do.

    So how do you fight a power that is so strong it controls markets, the government, the politicians, the media and practically every aspect of American life?

    In my research for this book as well as for my previous books on Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, I kept coming back to the unions. Before the Civil Rights struggle, before the anti Vietnam War struggles there were the unions. The unions were the forces that laid the groundwork for the empowerment of the working people of America. That struggle created the middle class and the economic infrastructure for prosperity. And what were the unions? They were not some great force that appeared on the scene to rescue the people from oppression, they were the people themselves. They were people who had been empowered by an idea, a principle. It was an idea that was very dangerous to the big capitalist owners who were used to pushing people around any way they wanted and getting their way easily. Since it was such a dangerous idea to the established powers, it was suppressed with great brutality. And believe me that brutality is still there ready to be unleashed at any time that the establishment cannot get its way peacefully by hypnotizing and drugging its subjects into voluntary submission. Unfortunately humanity has not evolved beyond this kind of barbarism.

    But unions, the idea of banding together, of collective bargaining, can form the necessary counterbalance to corporate power that can keep capitalism a healthy system. Unrestrained greed is a basic tendency of capitalism, but it is a self destructive force when there is no countervailing force to balance it, to moderate it. When too much is controlled by too few, the system collapses and then everyone loses, even the big capitalists. That's the situation we're in now: an economy that no longer works. People don't have the money to buy the things the big capitalists produce and everything is stuck. There are scores of empty homes foreclosed on by the banks, and similarly large numbers of homeless people living on the streets. Things are out of whack.

    It's clear that the time for that great idea has come again. It is time for Americans to relearn their history, in particular this part of history that has been effectively suppressed by those who have profited most by the decline of unions. Therefore the For Beginners publishing company decided to bring out this book. And I was lucky to be the person they chose to do it.

    The For Beginners series is designed to take ideas that are considered to be difficult to understand and to break them down, simplify them and discuss them in a way that is understandable and accessible to regular people. The challenge is not to cover a subject exhaustively down to every detail, but to distill the essence of an idea into a 150-page format that is approachable and accessible by people who are not experts or necessarily scholars, but are beginners to the subject.

    You may have heard the quote, "I'm sorry to have written such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a shorter one." That is the challenge of the Beginners series, to cover a subject effectively but briefly, to distill it to its essence.

    So Unions for Beginners looks at the history of unions and tries to come to grips with the essential ideas that powered that movement as well as the epic story of the blood-and-guts struggle that it took to put that idea into action and make it an effective force for lifting a population out of oppression and poverty. Unions gave regular people the leverage to fight back against the power of big money. And that's why that idea is so important today.

    Book Credits:


    In the 21st Century, being naive to the workings of corporate media can get you killed.

    Chomsky For Beginners written by David Cogswell, illustrated by Paul Gordon, published by For Beginners LLC, is a documentary comicbook about Noam Chomsky the man, the linguist and the political voice, but more than anything, it is a guide to media propaganda, how the corporate-owned mass media are designed not to inform you but to manipulate you for the benefit of the owners.

    Order Chomsky For Beginners from Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

    Interviews with Noam Chomsky

  • Chomsky Interview 1993
  • Interview with Noam Chomsky 1997

    Post Script, Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President by J.H. Hatfield, second paperback edition, published by Soft Skull Press, 2001

    For more on the late J.H. Hatfield, who wrote the controversial Bush biography Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, see below

  • Behind the Bushes: Fortunate Son by J.H. Hatfield
  • Dilulio and Hatfield: A Study in Terror
  • Hatfield on bin Laden, Bush and attacks by hijacked aircraft

    The following piece was written for the French and Spanish translations of J.H. Hatfield's Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, published by Editions Timeli in Geneva, Switzerland. (See www.timeli.ch.)

  • The Death of Jim Hatfield [5.15.03]

  • The French language version: La Mort de Jim Hatfield is included in the French translation of Hatfield's Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, published 2003 in Geneva by EditionsTimeli.

    Le Cartel Bush

    More Book Credits:

  • Introduction to Ambushed By Toby Rogers
  • Introduction to America's Autopsy Report, John Kaminski


    The Web HeadBlast

    9/11 Links

  • Existentialism For Beginners Existentialism For Beginners

    Unions For Beginners AVAILABLE Zinn For Beginners

    Zinn For Beginners. Now available at Amazon.com


    Featured Pieces

  • Andrew Kreig's Presidential Puppetry Who pulls the strings?
  • Ken Burns on Jazz, Filmmaking and America [March 2013]
  • Chomsky Interview 1993
  • Interview with Noam Chomsky 1997
  • The Corporation: It Doesn't Have to be That Way
  • Rediscovering McLuhan [October 28, '07]
  • Martin Luther King and Existential Politics [1.17.03]
  • Alternative Media and the New Paradigm [5.15.02]



    May 25, 2020

    COVID Made Us Kinder

    The last two weeks of March were when COVID devoured the nation. It totally consumed the consciousness of practically everything. It was exhausting, a full-time job just to keep up with it and watch it develop via the news. The country was overwhelmed by an invisible tidal wave that brought disease and death.

    It completely overwhelmed the healthcare systems of New York. We had heard of what had happened in Italy, the sudden wave of mass death. It sounded like a science fiction horror story. It was hard to believe it really happened. And then COVID unleashed its fury on New York. It was stunning and disorienting. It felt as if the world changed at that moment.

    Days stretched out till they felt like weeks. So much was packed into each day that it felt like an extended period. But underneath the horror, in spite of it and even because of it in a way, we also saw something else happen. People evolved. As concentrated as the time was, as heavily weighted with events as each day was, events also exerted influence on people. We were experiencing something new, something with a greater magnitude than we had ever imagined. And it couldn’t help but cause changes in people.

    Fortunately for the most part the changes I saw in people’s attitudes and behaviors were positive. The great thing about disasters is that people help each other. In the middle of all the horrors, it’s the natural inclination of human beings to help each other. That’s how we’ve been such a successful species, in spite of our flaws that sometimes seem self-destructive enough to cancel out all we’ve accomplished. Human beings are among the most social animals. Our greatest accomplishments were possible only through a high degree of cooperation. In this case, when COVID burst onto the scene, I saw an elevated level of compassion and caring in people in general.

    People started adopting the safety precautions, social distancing. Masks started to appear. When people kept their distance from you in a grocery store or on the street it was a gesture of respect and care. Even while driving in my car on the highway I sensed a new level of awareness and courtesy among drivers. They seemed to be social distancing even in their cars on the highway.

    Everything changed almost instantly. Social distancing recommendations evolved into shelter-in-place orders. Nearly everyone was staying home most of the time. Suddenly Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah were doing their night-time comedy shows from their homes. Stores were closed, except for those offering basic necessities. Everything changed practically overnight.

    But while all these frightening, deadly things were playing out, the basic change in people seemed to be toward more care and concern for each other. Social media evolved to a whole new level of importance. An elderly lady I was in communication with said the “the miracle of social media” made it possible for her to stay in close touch with remote family members in spite of the pandemic.

    Since the initial reaction, which was a wave of compassion and concern of people for their fellow humans there has been a counter-reaction, a politically driven reaction against any change, people asserting that it violates their rights to have to wear a mask when going into a store. But these are politically driven and funded by those who most want to go back to the previous normal that fit their needs so perfectly.

    We don’t know how much the next normal will resemble the previous normal. But this has been too powerful a disruption to pass unnoticed and leave the world exactly as it was before the pandemic. We’re starting to move back toward a more normal level of activity. But I believe people have changed. We’ll see how much the change is sustained. I think people are kinder and more compassionate, both to each other and to the rest of nature.

    June 30, 2018

    Camus on How the Resistance Found its Footing

    We have now had thousands of children ripped from their parents and caged in our names as Americans, state sponsored kidnapping and child abuse, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders is upset because she was asked to leave a restaurant. She was politely asked to leave because the staff was uncomfortable serving an accomplice to child abuse.

    Are we Americans aroused yet?

    You may be uncomfortable with the word "Nazi" but Donald Trump himself is surprisingly comfortable with it. He said the Nazi group that carried swastika flags attacked and killed people in Charlottesville included "some very fine people."

    Donald Trump is openly authoritarian, and increasingly obvious about it. There is no mystery about it. So isn't it past the time when we have to be so concerned with being polite to the Trump regime? The Democrats seem to always go with a knife to a battle against antagonists with semi-automatic rifles.

    But at this point it's not about Democrats or Republicans, it's an all-out attack on what America historically has been. Now it's democracy versus fascism.

    It has the look of an endgame, this assault on our country by a small minority of greedy and power-hungry people who are intent on tearing apart the historical social order of the country, destroying the innovations of the New Deal period. They want to destroy all social programs and to take the country back to the 19th century when private industrial barons ruled the land and the great majority were like leaves in the winds of vast economic forces they had no means to resist.

    We are beginning to resemble a failed state.

    We Americans have some fine traditions to maintain, including a sense of humanity and belief in human rights and dignity that would preclude these barbaric practices against children and families. And yet they are happening, and in our names.

    Let us not go down in history as our generation's version of the "Good Germans" who went along with Nazism passively, without evil intent, and yet their compliance was essential to the success of a small minority of fanatics in seizing control of the country and using it as a vehicle to act out their insane visions.

    Those Americans who do not want to be a party to such crimes against humanity need to get beyond the hesitation and to take action, whatever that may be, to ward off this infection of American values, the very things that have made the country great in the past. We cannot allow our country to lose the luster of the values on which it was founded. That is our greatest strength.

    History Repeats

    In the past, when this country fought fascists, they were an enemy outside of the country. Now we have the rise of fascism playing out within the United States. It didn't start with Trump, but Trump seems to be the ultimate coup, the drive of the right wing to take over, wipe out all opposition and drop any pretense of belief in democracy.

    Trump is increasingly open in his hatred of any restraints from law or the powers of the co-equal branches of government. He wants to do what he pleases with immigrants and everything else and doesn't want to have to comply with any kinds of legal restrictions or courts.

    The hesitation and the compulsion to be polite and behave by the rules has been well exploited by the right wing during the last 50 years or so. In our time it seems like the Democrats are always outwitted or overwhelmed, and often it is because the right wing will use the Democrats insistence on being just and in the right as a weakness. In the moment of hesitation they are overwhelmed and defeated by a determined, vicious and amoral enemy.

    I discovered some very encouraging writing on this subject by Albert Camus in the book "Resistance, Rebellion and Death. It was based on Camus' experience as part of the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. Oddly enough, Nazis are Nazis and as surprising as this turn of events may be, what we are dealing with in America now is very similar to what happened under the Nazis in France.

    The French, and the western democracies in general, were hesitant in facing the Nazi threat. They were caught off guard by the brutal Blitzkrieg. The behavior of the Nazis was so far beyond the normal decorum of the time. They blatantly broke their word and seized whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Anything that attempted to resist them was mowed down brutally.

    The Nazis respected nothing but power and brute force. It took a while for the west to regroup in the face of such a lethal enemy. But in the end, the Nazis fell, probably almost as much from their own inner corruption and sickness as from the attacks from the west.

    How to Defeat Fascists, Even with a Late Start

    Camus, in Combat his newspaper for the French resistance to the Nazi occupation, published a series of letters between him and a former friend who was a German who supported the Nazis. It follows the brutal introspection that took place by the French during the occupation as the allies prepared to match the Nazi savagery with brute force of their own.

    Camus wrote of how the French hesitation cost them dearly in having to experience the brutal, humiliating occupation of their country. But when they did reach the point at which they were outraged enough to take up the sword themselves and feel justified to murder, they had the added advantage of having the sense of justice being on their side.

    Camus' letters are the timeless cry of rage of a freedom-loving man to tyrants.

    In an argument with his German friend a few years before the war, Camus had said, "No, I don't believe everything can be subordinated to a single end. There are means that cannot be excused. And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice."

    His German friend said he put his country "above truth, and beyond despair." If Camus would refuse to do the same, it meant, "You don't love your country."

    How do you defeat people who will go to any length to get their way and will never have any moral or legal restraint? Could be a tough question for a person who has a moral code and tries to live within it.

    After three years of Nazi occupation, of being dominated and suppressed by violence and murder, an embittered Camus had the answer to the question of how freedom-loving people are able to defeat tyrants. And in another letter to his former friend, he articulated it passionately and eloquently.

    "I want to tell you at once what kind of greatness keeps us going," he said. "But this amounts to telling you what kind of courage we applaud, which is not your kind. For it is not much to be able to do violence when you have been simply preparing for it for years and when violence is more natural to you than thinking."

    The Nazis saw intelligence as weakness. Pausing to think, to ponder ethical questions, to yield to humanitarian impulses -- all that was weakness. And in one moment of weakness you could be overpowered by an attacker.

    At first, Camus said, there was a desire to emulate their oppressors. For there is always something in us that yields to instinct, to contempt for intelligence, to the cult of efficiency. We become ashamed of our intelligence, and sometimes we imagine some barbarous state where truth would be effortless.

    "But the cure for this is easy; you are there to show us what such imagining would lead to, and we mend our ways."

    Having a conscience is a weakness when you are up against someone who has no restraint or hesitation.

    The time it took to recognize the threat and act was well exploited by the Nazis in their blitzkrieg. Camus said, "This is why we were defeated in the beginning: because we were so concerned, while you were falling upon us, to determine in our hearts whether right was on our side."

    The French also had to overcome their image of a peaceful destiny, Camus said, their reluctance to mutilate mankind.

    While the French were trying to determine their own truth, they were defeated. Camus said they had to make a detour to get to where they were ready to fight.

    "It is a detour that safeguarded justice and put truth on the side of those who questioned themselves," he wrote. "And, without a doubt, we paid very dearly for it. We paid for it with humiliations and silences, with bitter experiences, with prison sentences, with executions at dawn, with desertions and separations, with daily pangs of hunger, with emaciated children, and, above all, with humiliation of our human dignity.

    "But that was natural. It took us all that time to find out if we had the right to kill men, if we were allowed to add to the frightful misery of the world. And because of that time lost and recaptured, our defeat accepted and surmounted, those scruples paid for with blood, we French had the right to think today that we entered this war with hands clean --- clean as victims and the condemned are -- and that we are going to come out of it with hands clean -- but clean this time with a great victory won against injustice and against ourselves.

    "For we shall be victorious, you may be sure. But we shall be victorious thanks to that very defeat, to that long, slow progress during which we found our justification, to that suffering which, in all its injustice, taught us a lesson. It taught us the secret of any victory, and if we don't lose the secret, we shall know final victory. It taught us that, contrary to what we used to think, the spirit is of no avail against the sword, but that the spirit together with the sword will always win out over the sword alone. That is why we have now accepted the sword, after making sure that the spirit was on our side.

    "... this is why we were the stronger -- because of the detour that took us out of our way to seek our justification, because of the delay occasioned by worry about our rights, because of the crazy insistence of ours of reconciling everything that we loved. ... we paid dearly for that detour. Rather than running the risk of injustice we preferred disorder. But at the same time that very detour constitutes our strength today, and as a result we are within sight of victory...

    "For three years you have brought night to our towns and to our hearts. For three years we have been developing in the dark the thought which now emerges fully to face you. Now I can speak to you of the intelligence."

    For You Europe is a Property.

    "What is spirit?" asked Camus. "We know its opposite, which is murder. What is man? There I stop you, for we know. Man is that force which ultimately cancels all tyrants and gods. He is the force of evidence...

    "If nothing had any meaning, you would be right. But there is something that still has meaning...

    "Even the gods are mobilized in your country. They are on your side, as they say, but only as a result of coercion. You no longer distinguish anything; you are nothing but a single impulse. And now you are fighting with the resources of blind anger, with your mind on weapons and feats of arms rather than on ideas, stubbornly confusing every issue and following your obsession. We, on the other hand, started from the intelligence and its hesitations. We were powerless against wrath. But now our detour is finished. It took only a dead child for us to add wrath to intelligence, an now we are two against one.

    "...among the reasons we have for fighting you... there is none more fundamental than our awareness of having been, not only mutilated in our country, wounded in our very flesh, but also divested of our most beautiful images, for you gave the world a hateful and ridiculous version of them. The most painful thing is seeing a mockery made of what one loves...

    "You speak of Europe, but the difference is that for you, Europe is a property, whereas we feel that we belong to it...

    "For all those landscapes, those flowers and those plowed fields, the oldest of lands, show you every spring that there are things you cannot choke in blood. That is the image on which I can close. It would not be enough for me to think that all the great shades of the West and that thirty nations were on our side; I could not do it without the soil. And so I know that everything in Europe, both landscape and spirit, calmly negates you without feeling any rash hatred, but with the calm strength of victory... The battle we are waging is sure of victory because it is as obstinate as spring...

    "Henceforth we have a superiority that will destroy you..."

    This World's for People (Not Corporations)

    An Anthem

    The government has fallen under control
    of a corporate criminal class
    with the power to cause a rupture so big
    it knocked the economic system on its ass
    and when the smoke had cleared it was plain to see
    the heist had been complete
    The wealth had been taken from working people
    to the hands of the corporate elite

    This world's for people
    not for machines
    not corporations
    that's what I mean
    This world's for people
    and that's a fact
    so move on over
    we're gonna take it back

    Politicians feed at the trough
    of corporate donations
    then take the side of their generous friends
    when it comes to legislation
    they live it up and turn deaf ears
    to their constituents' frustration
    When it comes down to it
    the way it is
    we've got no representation

    This world's for people
    not for machines
    not corporations
    that's what I mean
    This world's for people
    and that's a fact
    so move on over
    we're gonna take it back

    The greedy and powerful never learn
    the lessons of the past
    you can only push people down so far
    before they push back up at last
    And I wouldn't want to be in your place
    when it comes round to that day
    when the change comes like a tsunami
    you'd better get out of the way

    This world's for people
    not for machines
    not corporations
    that's what I mean
    This world's for people
    and that's a fact
    so move on over
    we're gonna take it back

    By David Cogswell

    Contact: DavidCogs@aol.com

    Make Noise! Be an Active Citizen!
    Write letters, send faxes, make phone calls to all legislators.
    For a database of Congressional contact information see this Congressional Contact Database or thisCongressional Database. The Congressional switchboard number is (202) 224 3121.

    David Cogswell
    except where noted

    Any copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use Act:
    (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

    Back to Home Page