Number 587 October 22, 2015



What am I talking about?

Well, it's Week #2 of the


That's what I'm talking about!

Many, many thanks to those of you who have already sent in your Pledge renewal. And a SPECIAL thanks to those of you who are first-time Pledgers! I can't tell you what it means to me.

Honestly, now, which would you prefer over the next 12 months: Would you like an endless diet of the antics, promises, hair-dos and gaffes of Donald Trump, Hilary, and the rest of the would-be Presidents? That's what the corporate media will be offering. Or would you prefer the thoughtful, radical, challenging and original news and analysis that comes your way in the pages of Nygaard Notes?

I thought so.

If you prefer substance to spectacle, if you like to look at what's swimming below the surface of the political, cultural and philosophical waters, if you like to practice matching your values with your thinking, then you want to support Nygaard Notes. As long as YOU and other readers of the Notes keep supporting me with your referrals, recommendations, feedback, AND financial Pledges, you'll continue to see this crazy newsletter in your inbox. Promise.

As often as I can generate an issue that's as good as the readers have come to expect, that's how often you'll see a copy of the Notes on your screen, or in your mailbox. And here's the key point: The more Pledges I receive, the more often I can produce a new and original edition of this newsletter. That's because YOUR support is what allows me to slag off my other jobs and do what I consider to be my REAL job, which is my work as a public intellectual, of which Nygaard Notes is a big part.

I sincerely hope that you are actively engaged in making the world a better place. And one part of making the world better is to support grassroots efforts like Nygaard Notes.

Have you sent in your 2015 Pledge yet? NOW IS THE TIME!

"Quotes" of the Week: Notes About the Notes
Have You RENEWED Your Pledge?
Memory, Context, and Perspective: The Role of the Public Intellectual
Sunset of the Empire: "Sealed Without Notice to the United States"



This issue is mostly about raising money, as you can see. But the last piece is about the Empire. I couldn't resist.

Thanks for your support!



"Quotes" of the Week: Notes About the Notes

One of the best things about a Pledge Drive is that people send in nice notes along with their Pledge contributions. Here are a couple of excerpts from messages that I've received during the past week, which we all know was Week #1 of the Fall 2015 Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive:

Roger added a note to his Pledge, saying,

"Keep up the 'good' work. You amaze me with your skill and dedication!"

Maureen said:

"Thank you for providing a unique perspective on U.S. and world news events. Your Notes provide a more in-depth analysis than the 'sound bites" we see printed in the Star Trib and hear on MPR. We hope our small pledge of $100.00 will help keep the Notes coming for another year."

And Frank added,

"Great work! Keep it up. It is so crucial to our future."


Have You RENEWED Your Pledge?

For the past couple of years the Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive has occurred but once a year. I used to have them twice a year.

One of the things that means is that, for many of you, October is Pledge Renewal Month. I've received renewals from quite a number of you already in this Drive, but some of you have been procrastinating. In that spirit, here is a list of people whose Pledges come due this month.

(I realize that "Sue" could be any number of people, as could "Richard" or "David." But this is a reminder list, not a Hall of Shame, so I only ever use first names.)

So, if you see a name that COULD be yours in the list below, take it as the nudge you need, and send in your renewal TODAY! Now for the relevant clichés: No time like the present. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Today is the first day of the rest of your life (that doesn't really fit, but it's kind of funny). Et Cetera.

You get the idea. It's easy to get your name taken off of the Procrastinator List: Send in your Pledge NOW, if your name is:



Memory, Context, and Perspective: The Role of the Public Intellectual

Nygaard Notes often talks about the role of what I sometimes call "social forces" in shaping our lives. Social forces include things like the current political climate, the dominant ideology of a society, or the prevailing wisdom (which sometimes is not very wise at all). I use everyday examples, often drawn from the daily news, to help illustrate how and why our world is the way it is.

All of us are constantly absorbing messages about the state of the world, from all kinds of sources. If you think about it, I suspect you'll realize that most of the information we receive about the world skips the step of talking about the social forces that are shaping the news. In the daily news cycle—including in social media—it can seem like things "just happen," or that they happen because some strong individual or group made them happen. That's a powerful message, and I think it is a very dangerous and misleading one. But that message is not the result of any conspiracy to deceive us. Rather, it's a predictable message that grows out of the way our information systems are constructed.

Most of the information we get in the course of a day, week, month, or year is presented to us with the assumption that we will make certain kinds of meaning out of it. And not other kinds of meaning. Again, not through anyone's conscious intention—for the most part—but just because certain ideas are so widely shared that they are rarely noticed, let alone debated. That makes them very powerful, indeed.

This idea—that some very powerful ideas get into our heads without being stated—is the first point I'm trying to make in my current series, Ten Concrete Tips for Media Propaganda Self-Defense. In fact, the very first Tip is "Never Use the News Media to Introduce Yourself to a Subject." The point is that any story we come across can only be properly understood if we have some working knowledge of the history which preceded it, the relationships between the people and institutions involved, the economics and culture of the community or nation in which it occurred, and so forth. That's what I mean by "context." Daily newspapers usually lack context, so they are really the worst places to educate ourselves about an issue. That's why we will almost always be better off getting our background on an issue from something other than a daily news publication.

The people who work to provide such background and context are what I call "Public Intellectuals." What is a "Public Intellectual?" Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, and arise from different places, but they all have a similar social function. They are the people who have the time and inclination to do the thinking and communicating necessary to help the rest of us sort out and try to make sense of the flood of information to which we are subjected every day of our lives.

Public and Private Intellectuals

U.S. culture has lots of "non-public" intellectuals. Corporations employ untold numbers of people to think about how to make more money for their companies. Maybe we could call these people "private intellectuals." Schools and colleges have lots of scholars on their payrolls. They sit around reading, thinking, doing research, and talking. If they talk only to students or other professionals in their fields, then they are simply scholars and teachers. That's important, but it doesn't make them Public Intellectuals. Maybe they are sort of "Semi-Public" Intellectuals.

What distinguishes a Public Intellectual from any other person who spends a good deal of their time thinking and talking is that a Public Intellectual consciously attempts to make herself useful to the public at large. You will find a Public Intellectual out in the world—speaking, writing books and articles, attending political meetings and conferences, and in many ways attempting to make her or his knowledge and skills available to people who are doing the hard work of organizing people to change the world.

Public Intellectuals are generalists, big picture thinkers, context-providers. While they may have a specific area of expertise, they must also have the broad general knowledge necessary to understand the social importance of the details they know. Perhaps the biggest thing that Public Intellectuals have that distinguishes them from the general population—and enables them to do what they do—is that their lives are arranged to allow them TIME. Time to think, time to consider the Big Picture, time to reflect on the context for all of the information that shapes our understanding of "how the world works."

Does U.S. culture support Public Intellectuals? Yes and no. Some scholars make their living by teaching, and do their social intellectual work "on the side." Some people are employed by "think tanks," which raise funds and use the funds to actually pay people to be Public Intellectuals. A lot of the people you see on the TV political talk shows or read in the editorial pages fall into this category. Naturally, many of these people tend to use their abilities to defend the system we have, since the "winners" in this system—that is, the wealthy and powerful—are more likely to support intellectuals who will defend this system than those who are more critical. They'd be sort of crazy not to do so.

What All This Has to Do With Nygaard Notes

While anyone can be a Public Intellectual, only some of us have the desire and the inclination to spend a lot of time using our brains in this way. Thinking is real work—it isn't magic—and it takes time to do it. And it takes even more time to communicate it to the public at large. I love doing it, and I think I'm good at helping people do their own thinking, which is why I produce Nygaard Notes. Not only do I consider myself a Public Intellectual; I think of myself as a Working Class Public Intellectual. By that I mean that I write from the point of view of those of us whose only hope for a better life comes from hard work and solidarity. People of wealth and power can pretty much take care of themselves, as individuals, by deploying their resources in certain ways. That's what power means, in part. On the other hand, while some working class and poor people may "make it" to that level someday through good luck or entrepreneurial skill, most of us won't. To improve our lot we will have to rely on united action, social solidarity, and love.

Some Public Intellectuals can also kind of "make it" as individuals, since they are so well-known that they get paid a lot of money to speak, or they can sell enough of their own books that it allows them to live. But they didn't start out able to do it on their own. Somebody had to support them. In my own case, I rely on the readers of Nygaard Notes to read, talk, forward, recommend, and financially support the project. So far, I've received enough support to keep putting out the newsletter you've come to expect. I've been doing it for seventeen years now!

Will I continue to do this, for at least another year? Well, that's up to you. If you appreciate my work as a Working Class Public Intellectual, and understand the importance of this kind of work, then perhaps you will make a contribution in support of the project. If you do, it will be greatly appreciated! If not, keep reading, and keep questioning the dominant ideology.

If you have a really long memory, this essay may seem familiar to you. That's because big parts of it appeared in an early article in an earlier Pledge Drive. In 2005, to be precise. If you remember that, I salute you.


Sunset of the Empire: "Sealed Without Notice to the United States"

On September 27 the New York Times ran a story on the front page headlined "Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS," also known as the Islamic State. The story explains how Russia has just "moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Reporter Michael Gordon (whom I have criticized in these pages before), says that "the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials . . . were clearly surprised" when they heard about it. They only heard about it when the Iraqi military announced it to the world on September 27th.

There was a time when no country would dare to "surprise" the United States, certainly not by entering into a secret agreement with a country that the United States had recently invaded and occupied. Indeed, there are still "about 3,500 American advisers, trainers and other military personnel" in Iraq, doing something-or-other.

There was also a time when the sheer power of the United States deterred anyone from engaging in direct resistance. Yet, as the Empire weakens, that deterrent effect also weakens, leading the Times to report that, "the Pentagon program to train and equip the moderate Syria opposition ... has yielded only a small handful of fighters," while "new volunteers have been arriving to replenish the ranks of the Islamic State even more quickly than they are killed." (And, by the way, when it comes to Syrian fighters, no one knows what "moderate" really means.)

The U.S., says Gordon, has been "trying to enlist Russia's cooperation in Syria," but nonetheless "the Kremlin has continued to jolt the White House with its unilateral military and political moves," a process that is accelerating as the weeks go on.

One of the ideas justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the hope of turning Iraq into a U.S. ally. But the Times quotes one Washington insider saying that "Neutrality is the best Washington can hope for in Baghdad."

Global rivals "surprising" Washington. Hoped-for allies going "neutral." That's not how an Empire works! Is it...?