Monday, 7 November 2016

Toomas Karmo: USA Election, and Government Generally (DDO File as an Indicator)

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonably complete and (within the framework of the version 1.0.1, 1.0.2, .. process) reasonably polished job. 

Revision history:

  • UTC=20161108T0225Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo repaired a large inadvertent omission, adding the promised text of his "Peace Hymn". (He had had a mere placeholder phrase in the place where the text was required.) - He retained the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • UTC=20161108T0151Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his point-form outline into coherent prose. He retained the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • UTC=20161108T0102Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo lacked  time to be thorough, and so uploaded mere point-form outline. He resolved to get this blog posting revised into coherent prose, ready for polishing, at some point in the upcoming two hours. 

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some late points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears.]

1. "Resolved, That America is a Good Thing, and Ought to be Kept"?

Some school or university debating team somewhere in the British Commonwealth, I gather, in byegone decades tackled the following: Resolved, That America is a Good Thing, and ought to be kept. 

Many an eyebrow will rise. With what heroic contortions could one devise arguments for the Affirmative? America has always been (as Morris Berman puts it) a nation of hustlers, at its very inception practicing genocide on aboriginals. 

A few generations after the first "Indian Wars", America emerged as a polity on the world stage, through open military rebellion against the admittedly tedious Crown. The alternative to that 1765-1783 War of Independence is evident from the 1830s experience of Upper Canada, Québec, and Nova Scotia. In those calmer jurisdictions, the abuses of colonial administration elicited for the most part mere political protests - eventuating, in the wake of Lord Durham's 1839 Report, in a set of adequate remedies from London. We may indeed speculate that had America taken a gradual civic, as opposed to an abrupt military, path to independence, Britain's 1833 Slavery Abolition Act (with its 1843 extension) would have achieved Abraham Lincoln's necessary work of emancipation a generation before Lincoln. With emancipation completed by 1843 or so, even the 1861-1865 American catastrophe might (so one speculates) have been avoided. 

So how is the earnest, eloquent Sixth-Form or university-frosh debater supposed to argue that "Yes, America is a Good Thing, and ought to be kept?" 

One's bafflement, in one's hypothetical capacity of debate-team captain, grows all the more acute as one contemplates the concrete and practical realities of America. 

We have, for instance, that sugary brown fizz-water. It used to contain actual cocaine. But then (already back in Victorian or Edwardian times) Uncle Sam objected. So if you are hoping for actual cocaine in your "Coke" bottle these days, folks, you will have to make sure the truck has hauled your bottle to the Seven-Eleven from some really old warehouse. 

Or, again, we have that American wretch on YouTube who is stymied upon being asked to name "a country starting with U". Or that other American YouTube wretch who is stymied upon being asked the number of sides in a triangle. 

Or, again, we have Microsoft Windows. 

And yet, trying to do the best I can for America, I do sympathetically recall the philosophical and narrative magic of Huckleberry Finn

I also recall one of the most moving quarter-hours in my life, when I walked along that Massachusetts pond to the foundation stones of that celebrated cabin, and opened a copy of Walden, and communed in spirit with the greatest tree-hugger of them all. 

Further - although it is wicked to think this - I hearken back to the summer of 1969. The TV screen: a Saturn V booster rises, slowly, on a pillar of flame. On the side of that machine (bound from Florida for the Moon) three letters come into view slowly, in a political statement which I realize with glee - a wicked glee, I know  - proved ever so far beyond the reach of dear Comrade First Secretary Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev's earnest "kosmonautika" team. As the Saturn V rises, three enormous black letters come into view. First is a "U". Then comes an "S". Finally comes an "A". 


Being unusually upset with Uncle Sam in 2003, upon the invasion of Iraq, I wrote a "Peace Hymn of the Republic". My 2003 commentary on this writing adequately captures what I think today, on the eve of an ill-tempered American election. I copy everything - poem and commentary alike, but today with a revision  in the poem to improve its diction - from my In 2003, the poem  was  published in the Canadian hard-copy magazine Poemata

* 20161108T022000Z/version 0001.2000
  __made small improvement in diction, by changing
    "we fear the dark of war"
    to "we've loosed the dogs of war"

* 20030217T192953Z/version 0001.1001
   __supplemented background note
    in light of {roy.macgregor} Battle Hymn remarks
    in Toronto _Globe and Mail_ 2003-02-17 page A2
* 20030217T012912Z/version 0001.1000
  __corrected inappropriate triumphalist nuance in "city on a hilltop" 
  __made other small changes
* 20030216T055907Z/version 0001.0000


This poem was written at a time of public spiritual emergency, on 15
and 16 February 2003, when Washington seemed ready to launch an unjust

Is it presumptuous of me, a citizen of Estonia and Canada, to
rewrite the Battle Hymn of the Republic?  No. A line of thinkers going
back to John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, has correctly
proclaimed America a "city on a hill", a beacon to nations. America is
a political project, an intellectual and moral project, 
in which we all - regardless of our formal citizenship - 
rightly participate, and for whose integrity we all now rightly fear.

When Julia Ward Howe published her Battle Hymn of the Republic in
February, 1862, she was herself fitting new words to an existing
marching song, "John Brown's Body".  What she did, and what I am
trying to do here, others may well do, again and and again, as
circumstances change.

Howe, appalled by the violence of Civil War troops, devoted
her later life to peace. What we now know as Mother's Day might 
be considered a feeble echo of her 1872 mother's-day-of-peace

My hope is that my words will be sung occasionally at peace rallies as
we urge the present Washington officeholders to return to the liberal
ideals of America's founders.

Toomas Karmo 


This document is to be considered freely reproducible in all media,
and freely usable for any noncommercial purpose, in the spirit of the
GNU Free Documentation License available at
(( In reproducing the poem contained herein, it
suffices to append the following phrase:

     Freely usable in the spirit

     of the GNU Documentation License.            

     Version control information 

     and background notes are archived 

     on the Web pages of the author, Toomas Karmo,

     at (( 


Peace Hymn of the Republic



Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:/ 

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;/ 

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:/

    His truth is marching on. 

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/ 

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah;/

    His truth is marching on. 

We lived in ease and splendor and disdained the huddled poor,/ 

Raping soils and seas and foreign skies, in arms and gold secure:/ 

Now we've lost our proud twin towers, now we've loosed the dogs of war;/

    God's truth goes marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah;/

    God's truth goes marching on. 

Unhappy world, you grieve for us, and yet for you we mourn;/

Some billion souls seek sustenance, a tithing of our corn:/

From dying fields, from teeming slums, fresh terrors will be born -/

    Can truth go marching on?

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah;/

   Can truth go marching on? 


Our strength lies not in battle gear but in humility;/

Through anguished meditation we discern our destiny:/

Our city on a hilltop shall embrace humanity;/

    God's truth shall lead us on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah!/

Glory, glory, hallelujah;/

    God's truth shall lead us on. 

As God would have it (God is, in my experience, perpetually in-your-face, and so is helpfully pictured as American), this hymn got used in a 2003 liturgy, right in Massachusetts. A group of war protesters had assembled at some pond or lake, and they sang the hymn, and (as a lady from their number subsequently explained to me in her kind e-mail), an eagle punctuated their singing by winging its way over the water.  My correspondent's point really needs to be put into American English (alas, she communicated in writing, not in voice): that eagle winged its way over our pond, flappedy-flappedy-flappedy-FLAH-yupp


If America did not exist, some literary genius (Dostoyevsky, perhaps, or own own Tammsaare back home in Estonia, or somebody) would have had to invent it. Fortunately, however, America does exist, and so Dostoyevsky and Tammsaare have been able to confine their attention to Raskolnikov and Indrek Paas and stuff. Here, then, is perhaps a weak argument for the "Affirmative", which some skilled debater could develop with a verve and panache that presently elude me. 

2. Is This Particular American Election Particularly Relevant? 

I note the tendency of people on the one blog I read as a matter of unvarying weekly routine, John Michael Greer's, to write and write and write about this particular election. The tendency, so far as it goes, is predictable, indeed to the highest degree pardonable. 

Rather puzzling, however, is the fact that Mr Greer prefers The Donald over the Democratic candidate, despite the fact that the latter candidate not only is an elegant, or at any rate a correctly soignée, grandmother, but also possesses lots of  putatively relevant State Department experience. 

I presume it is the Democratic candidate who is going to achieve a (narrow) victory this Tuesday night, triggering much noisy shouting as the week wears on. 

It is easy to overstate the significance of this particular soap opera. Having worked on the David Dunlap Observatory conservation file - and having done a little with Soviet human-rights files toward the end of the Cold War, and having learned the meaning of fear in Lee Kuan Yew's well-policed 1980s Singapore, as a temporarily resident supporter of rights - I think I may as well venture here into my assessment of how government works. 

The people who actually understand any one question (this, folks, I "herewith respectfully submit") can be counted on the fingers of two hands, or even of just one. Some in this little circle - me, for instance, in the David Dunlap Observatory and Park (DDO&P) heritage-conservation question - are powerless. Some, on the other hand, do have power. Those specially fortunate ones decide what will eventually get done, by writing up "Policy Options" for the sketchily informed people nominally and ostensibly in charge. 

Let's call the people who both understand the question and get to write up the "Policy Options" the Powers That Be, or for short the PTB. 

In the case of DDO&P, I make a respectful suggestion, offering it as my own frightfully private, frightfully subjective opinion. I cannot be sued for thinking a frightfully subjective thought. And in Canada, Britain,  America, Estonia, Finland, and the like, I cannot even get sued for expressing my thought herewith, tapping it out on my trusty keyboard and uploading it to the Internet through my trusty rented modem-router.  

Here - fasten those seatbelts, folks - is my opinion: (a) the DDO&P PTB are a small group, drawn partly from the ranks of the would-be developer (on the developer's publicly stated board-of-directors, when I checked in 2015 or so, were just the hyper-rich DeGasperis and Muzzo families), and partly also from the ranks of Town Staff, and not including in their tight ranks any of the nine people nominally and ostensibly in charge (namely, our Mayor and our eight Councillors); (b) the PTB decided, way back in 2008 or so, that half of the 72-hectare DDO&P "Trapezoid" would be saved (to placate then-courageous friends of parkland?), and half developed (to give the commercial interests their profit); and (c) in the context of that PTB decision, everything unfolded in a way agreeable to the PTB, with Mayor and Council nominally and ostensibly presiding over the ensuing shipwreck. 

When I write here "everything", I have in particular in mind two things:

  • the report prepared for the Town in the first year or two of the DDO&P conservation crisis by outside  heritage consultant  André Scheinman, recommending to the Town that just half the "Trapezoid" be conserved; 
  • the Ontario Municipal Board hearings of 2012 and 2014, which upheld the developer's entire half-Trapezoid vision even in the teeth of expert-witness testimony regarding light pollution (this, and a related Divisional Court attempt to appeal the OMB, cost me the bulk of my life savings, to the tune of 500,000 CAD or 550,000 CAD; back then, I subjectively thought the OMB process to be more even-handed than I now subjectively think it is, and so I guess expected that at least some conservationist concessions could be secured).

Well, as I say, these are my private speculations. On this side of the Narva River, you can write out whatever is in your tiny little subjective addled brain, no matter how silly it may seem. Although the friends-of-the-PTB can then sue you, they are unlikely to win - or, if they do through some Bay Street cunning pull off some surprising legal-upset victory, then they render their victory Pyrrhic through scoring it in a blaze of media coverage. (In the case of DDO&P, the cheaply sensationalist headlines might read, more accurately than inaccurately, "DeGasperis Family: 'DG Group' Subsidiary Corsica Wins Court Settlement Against Impoverished, Lawyerless, Autistic Astronomer." This would attract readers even as far afield as Newfoundland and British Columbia.) 

So, to repeat: it is easy to overstate the relevance of the current American soap opera. Although I lack inside information, I do conjecture that Washington is a Town of Richmond Hill, writ large. I offer it as my private and subjective conjecture that America's real decisions get taken in America's finance-industry boardrooms, or on America's golf courses, or something, by some tiny empowered subset of that tiny group who understand the issues. I conjecture that those decisions then get presented as formal "Policy Options" to whatever hapless public face temporarily occupies the Oval Office - to the hapless public face, that is, who is nominally and ostensibly in charge. I imagine the preferred option being ever so delicately signalled, say as the "now perhaps specially prudent" line of action. Under those unhappy circumstances, an Oval Office occupant is unlikely to dare rocking the boat, unless perhaps (what is improbable) she or he possesses the moral strength of an FDR, the moral strength of a Pope John XXIII, the moral strength of some Lincoln or some William Ewart Gladstone. 


I have said that I am rather puzzled by Mr Greer's preferring Mr Trump to the Democratic candidate. If the PTB actually call the shots, how can it matter who wins? 

Mr Greer does, to be fair, see Mr Trump's failings. But he takes it as a proposition of faith that Mr Trump possesses some prospect of "shaking things up" - as I would put it, of knocking the PTB off their pedestal. Mr Greer has not so far, if I remember correctly, given arguments to support his proposition.  

As a corrective to Mr Greer's optimism, I want to end by pointing out some special dangers, even in my admitted context of governance-by-PTB, lurking in Mr Trump. 

Mr Trump does damage by demeaning the electoral process - as when he mocks a news reporter with a disability (I have seen the pertinent video); or when he remarks that upon winning the election he will work to have his Democrat opponent jailed; or when he states (I have seen the pertinent video) that in the event of losing at the polls, he might or might not concede (he said, when deftly queried on this by his moderator in the Third Debate, that he might choose to keep people "in suspense" - again, I have seen the pertinent video; though I have also, to be fair, noted the next day's BBC report of a partial attempt to backtrack on this particular Third Debate disaster). 

Mr Trump does damage by heightening America's communal - even its confessional - divisions, as in his suggestions regarding the advisability of surveillance, or screening, for Islamic individuals. 

Mr Trump damages America's diplomacy by suggesting that America might contemplate reneging on its NATO Article 5 treaty commitment. This is the Article that declares an attack on one NATO member to be an attack on all. To question this is to undermine collective European security, by encouraging Moscow in conceivable future Donbass-style Baltic-region adventurism.  

Mr Trump damages the already feeble Paris climate-talks process. In particular, Mr Trump's 2012-11-06 Tweet suggestion that (I quote)  The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order  to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive renders it politically easier for other countries to be uncooperative on the Paris file. Their own possible truculence is now rendered less egregious, less newsworthy, since that prominent USA personality has set a kind of precedent.   

My own assessment, then, which I respectfully offer as a correction to Mr Greer's, is twofold - firstly, that no occupant of the Oval Office, confronted with the PTB, has a chance to do much good, unless (what is improbable) she or he proves to be a moral hero of historic proportions; and secondly, that Mr Trump, qua person nominally-and-ostensibly-in-charge, would (like any conspicuously and distinctively eccentric figurehead, at any level of government in any jurisdiction) retain a power to wreak harm. 

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