Posts from — August 2008
Back in 1934, the year I was born, an American book called “The Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Arms Industry” caused quite a stir. Written by H.C. Engelbrecht and F.C. Hanighen, this low-key treatise spotlighted how companies like Krupp, DuPont, Vickers, Bethlehem Steel and to a lesser extent Colt, Remington, and Winchester were involved in triggering World War One.
The arms industry was relatively simple back then, so documenting its machinations, while not easy, was possible. I doubt that an army of journalists could do anything like that today. The arms industry is too massive and too complex.
As we have seen from the ongoing U.S. presidential elections, journalists prefer short, simple “sound bites.” They can’t be bothered with shadowy, complex topics. So the “merchants of death” ply their bloody trade beyond the bright lights of television and the scrutiny of the press.
However, I was able to find some information on the Web. You might even own shares (at least through your 401k) in one or more of the public corporations involved. Here are some of the major companies that are listed as being involved in arms merchandising:
Lockheed Martin (US), BAE Systems (UK), Boeing (US), Raytheon (US), Northrop Grumman (US), General Dynamics (US), Thomson-CSF (France).
I found an article that said world military spending is estimated at more than $1,000 billion a year (the article didn’t say who did the estimating but I saw the figure repeated in several other articles). Also, a recent report put small arms circulation at more than 500 million around the world. That’s small arms, like rifles and pistols, not the big stuff like ground-to-air missiles and bunker busting bombs.
The figures I found don’t include nuclear weapons. That’s another story. And I couldn’t find an estimate for spending on biological warfare, either. I doubt that such an estimate exists. However, I saw evidence of trade in biological weapons, and those weapons were listed as coming from the United States. A report quoted Judith Miller in “Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War,” as claiming that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq purchased “starter germs” from the American Type Culture Collection, a supply company in a Washington, D.C., suburb.
The difficulty of tracking the “merchants of death” is compounded because just about anyone with the resources can manufacture and sell arms. A manufacturer doesn’t have to be government owned or sanctioned. The industry includes private companies, which are not required by law to disclose their shareholders or business dealings as publicly owned corporations are.
Interestingly, I found a Web account tracing the Bush family fortunes back to Samuel Prescott Bush, who founded the Buckeye Steel Castings company of Ohio in 1894. In 1918 he became chief of the ordnance, small arms and ammunition section of the War Industries Board, this report stated.
As head of the Remington Arms Company, Samuel Prescott Bush made and sold arms to both sides in World War II – according to the account. The writer claimed that four generations of the Bush family have made fortunes in oil and arms. That claim seems to support other accounts I’ve found that list George Bush, senior, and others close to the current U.S. President as prominnent investors in the Carlyle Group, which is said to be involved in arms manufacture and merchandising. And I don’t see any denials from the Bush family.
Apparently, there are organizations that try to keep track of the “merchants of death.” Simon Harak, anti-militarism coordinator of the War Resisters League, says arms merchants “literally call the shots of the U.S. government’s war making policies.” Their power and influence are so great “it is … accurate to say that they are making war for profit,” Harak declared.
The “merchants of death” are huge contributors to U.S. election campaigns. And they can afford it. Consider the enormous profits American arms dealers have made from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And America is not the only country where arms are produced. The U.K, Russia – even India – are among the many other countries in which the arms industry flourishes.
I wonder at the lack of attention this segment of society receives. It seems to me that with so much money at stake and so little public accountability, the “merchants of death” in the 21st century could threaten the world’s very existence.
August 21, 2008 No Comments
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the cold war is over, and she is supposed to be an expert in Russian-American relations so I don’t want to argue with her. But I wonder whether Ms. Rice has spoken to Vladimir Putin lately. It seems to me that by building a “missile defense shield” in eastern Europe (with American tax dollars), the Bush administration is turning back the clock, and once again Russia and America are on the verge of a deadly stand-off.
Bush justifies the missile defense project (photo at right) by warning that an Iranian threat is imminent. But Putin insists the shield is designed to undermine “Russia’s nuclear deterrent.” The fact that Putin thinks in terms of a nuclear deterrent is eerily chilling. But I have to agree with the Russian strong man that the possibility of Iran attacking Poland seems remote. I would think Iran’s most logical target would be Israel.
A Russian general warned recently that by accepting a NATO missile defense base, Poland is in danger of an attack from Russia. He did not rule out the possibility that the attack would be nuclear. Ms. Rice signed the agreement with Poland today, anyway. She dismissed the Russian general’s comments as “bizarre,” and added that the U.S. has a “firm treaty” to defend Poland’s territory “as if it were its own.” Russia is “probably not wise” to threaten Poland, she cautioned.
“The cold war is over,” Ms. Rice said, adding that the “Russians are losing their credibility.” She also said that Moscow would “pay a price” for its invasion of neighboring Georgia.
Meanwhile, to counter the missile defense system. the Russian navy is producing new submarine-based missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It’s part of a massive arms build-up made possible by the recent rise in global oil prices.
I find these developments frightening. From everything I’ve read, the Russian leaders are cold-blooded killers who would weigh the pros and cons of nuclear conflict without any qualms. They are not likely to shrink from the prospect of burning babies to cinders and poisoning vast areas of the earth for generations to come.
Of course, another cold war would probably mean huge profits for America’s military-industrial complex.
I understand – from my research on the Web – that this sector includes the Carlyle Group, a private investment company. According to various Web sources, George Bush senior and other members of the American president’s intimate circle are among the company’s shareholders.
The plot thickens when you consider the possibility that John McCain could be America’s next president. McCain is even more bellicose than Bush.
There’s something bewildering about John McCain’s reckless militarism, and I wonder whether it has anything to do with money. Jerome Corsi, who recently authored a book slandering Barack Obama, today took aim at McCain in an article on the Web, linking the Republican presidential candidate’s fortune to “organized crime.”
Quoting a Phoenix New Times story by Amy Silverman and John Doherty, Corsi described McCain’s father-in-law, James Hensley, as a convicted associate of mobsters in Arizona.
I hesitate to rely on Jerome Corsi because his Obama book is such a pack of lies, and I certainly can’t blame McCain for his father-in-law’s murky past. But I wonder whether there’s more to McCain than I know. Remember his ties to racketeer Charles Keating Jr. who was convicted in the savings-and-loan scandal back in the ’80s? There was a lot of talk back then about the savings-and-loans collapse being engineered by mobsters.
It’s all very weird, and I wonder what is going on behind the scenes. The thought is preposterous, I know, but are thugs on both sides engineering a new cold war for financial gain? Would anyone be that monstrous?
Maybe not, but Americans must not forget these words from President Eisenhower’s famous 1961 speech:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
August 20, 2008 No Comments
If John McCain were a black man, I bet the pundits would have found his remarks during the Pastor Rick inquisition extremely uppity. But he is white (is he ever white!) so his remarks were “precise,” “confident” etc., etc.
I cannot believe these talking heads on television are taking this stub of a man seriously. McCain struts and swaggers like some Olympic medalist, and as far as I can see, he has nothing to back it up. This 72-year-old might-have-been looked Pastor Rick in the eye on Saturday night and proclaimed himself ready to defeat evil.
That brought roars of approval from the assembled evangelicals. Our Father who art in Heaven, deliver us from morons!
The question Pastor Rick asked both candidates was something like: Does evil exist and how would you deal with it – negotiate with it or defeat it?
Both McCain and Barack Obama said evil exists. Obama said he would confront it. McCain said he would defeat it.
Looking into Pastor Rick’s pudgy face, I had no doubt that evil exists. I was looking at it. I could hear the words of Jesus echoing in my mind, “For it is written that my house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
How else would you describe these TV-based pseudo churches with their pandering doctrines and their multimillionaire pastors?
Translated, what the “pastor” was asking the candidates was, “Are you going to negotiate with Iran or blow it off the face of the earth?” But the political query was phrased in philosophical terms. It was a technique dear to the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ time. Pastor Rick is a modern-day Pharisee. The neo-scribes would appear on television later to complete the deception.
I am flabbergasted by the media’s description of evangelicals as Christians. To me, they are anything but! These bigoted, self-righteous bullies are, in the words of Jesus, “whited sepulchers” with rotting bones inside. Behind the ritual and self-praise is the sanctioning of political oppression and social injustice. These are the spiritual descendants of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s unrelenting Puritans, ever-ready to prepare scarlet letters for those who stray from society’s strictest moral precepts.
Anyone who disagrees with their view of the universe is “evil,” and they are ready to take up arms against all dissidents: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before!”
The cross of Jesus? But Jesus said:
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? (From the Gospel according to St. Matthew)
The concept of waging physical war against evil is anti-Christian. Jesus called upon us to love our enemies not blow them to Kingdom Come! But like some latter-day Napoleon, John McCain is ready to march. And those misguided sheep in Pastor Rick’s flock are ready to follow him. God help us all if John McCain, that puffed up little popinjay, becomes commander in chief of the most powerful nation on earth.
August 19, 2008 No Comments
Ask anybody today whether they believe the Spanish Inquisition was a Good Thing, and I bet they’ll say, “Of course not!” (Those who know what the Spanish Inquisition was, anyway. The others will say something like, “Duh?”)
But the shadow of the Inquisition fell across a stage in California last night as a latter-day Fray Tomas de Torquemada (pictured at left) cross-examined the two U.S. presidential candidates. Television cameras duly recorded the event and the usual suspects duly provided cable-TV viewers with an analysis afterwards.
The penalty for heresy is no longer torture and imprisonment, but to a U.S. presidential candidate it’s close – loss of political support from America’s multitudinous evangelical community.
From what the pundits said in their analysis of the event, Barack Obama would have to undergo a lobotomy to win that support.
The inquisitor, whose name is Pastor Rick (pictured at right), was a smug multimillionaire who writes self-improvement books when he isn’t preaching to a flock of millions at the quaintly named Saddleback Church. This self-anointed prophet asked the usual questions that define the dogma of the Religious Right in America.
Do the candidates believe in abortion and stem cell research?
Does life begin at conception?
What do they consider America’s greatest moral failing?
What was the candidate’s most grievous sin?
Does evil exist and what would they do about it?
And so on…
Obama (pictured at left), who is nothing if not earnest, struggled with the answers. He does not believe in abortion but he supports the right of women to choose their own reproductive destiny, and he would leave some room for medical considerations in banning “late-term abortions.” He doesn’t seem to know whether life begins at conception or not. (Do you?) He doesn’t see anything wrong in using fertilized cells for research if the cells are destined to be discarded anyway. And while he would confront evil, he does not promise to defeat it all over the world. He thinks that’s a job only God can handle, and he has faith that God will handle it.
McCain’s answers (photo at right) conformed precisely to the script of the catechism. He believes …
- Roe v. Wade must be reversed to outlaw all abortions.
- The Supreme Court must be stacked with anti-abortionists
- Americans should be called to serve some cause “greater than themselves.”
- Evil exists and he would defeat it. (Think about the implications of that response!)
As I listened to this simplistic nonsense, I recalled a sign that sat on the desk of Ran Ide, my boss at the Ontario Educational Communications Authority back in the ’70s. It said:
The trouble with the world today is that there are too many simple answers and not enough simple questions.
McCain had the simple answers.
Pastor Rick provided the simple questions.
But what must educated viewers all over the world have thought of America as they witnessed this display of bigotry, self-righteousness and dangerous simple-mindedness?
August 17, 2008 No Comments
I have to admit that I was misled about the Georgian blood bath. From what I heard at first on television and read in the newspapers it seemed that – out of the blue – Russia had launched an unprovoked attack on its tiny neighbor. I was ready to believe this version of events because Russia’s leaders are ex-KGB thugs who give lip service to democracy but blatantly rule through intimidation and trickery.
They have also been fingered in spy-meets-spy murders abroad. You know the old adage: Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him. So I was too quick to place all the blame for the Georgian mess on Vladimir Putin and his gang .
But I have since searched the Web for background information and I have found the Russian attack was not sudden or unprovoked. The situation in Ossetia and Abkhazia has been simmering for a long time, and Russia has actually been involved in a peacekeeping role.
South Ossetians first rebelled (unsuccessfully) against Georgian rule nearly a century ago. And when the Soviet Union started to disintegrate, South Ossetian separatist guerrillas took up arms once more. That led to the then-Georgian government calling in international peace keepers. A force with 500 troops each from Russia, North Ossetia-Alania (part of Russia), South Ossetia and Georgia has been monitoring a 1992 truce between South Ossetia and Georgia. South Ossetia has even been using Russian rubles as its currency.
What’s the beef in South Ossetia? Most of the people there belong to a separate Iranian ethnic group driven from their homes along the Don River by invading Mongols more than 500 years ago. Only about a fifth of the province’s population are ethnic Georgians. The non-Georgian South Ossetians have long complained that they have been discriminated against culturally, socially, economically and politically. In a 2006 referendum, full independence was supported by 99 per cent of the province’s voters.
When Mikhail Saakashvili replaced Eduard Shevardnadze as president in the “Rose Revolution” of 2003, Georgia’s political climate changed. Saakashvili is a western educated lawyer who rose to power on a platform of anti-corruption and economic reform, which emphasized free market solutions and privatization.
He has been working closely with the Bush administration and has brought in U.S. advisers to train and arm Georgian troops. He has made huge purchases of Israeli and U.S.-made weapon systems, expanding his country’s military budget from $30 million to $1 billion (U.S.) a year. He has also applied for membership in NATO, a move the Russians regard as provocative.
It was Saakashvili who suddenly sent his army into the breakaway provinces in an effort to bring them back under Georgian rule. Putin accuses him of “genocide” in that operation.
Several anti-U.S. world leaders are accusing the Bush Administration of ordering the Georgian putsch, and Vladimir Vasilyev, the chairman of Russia’s State Duma Security Committee, put it this way: “The Americans have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals.”
I know, I know, the Russian leaders lack credibility – to put it mildly – so why should we believe them? Still, it is a fact that the U.S. helped arm Saakashvili’s forces.
August 16, 2008 No Comments
I was looking at a site called electricbikes.com and I was impressed by the progress that has been made in developing electric vehicles. Certainly, an electric car or bike is all most people need for urban transportation. But I would feel vulnerable driving one of those things in the midst of the mammoth vehicles that clog the streets of most cities today.
If I were a municipal politician, I would explore the possibility of banning gas or diesel powered vehicles from all, or parts, of my community. I realize goods must be delivered to businesses and that often calls for large vehicles, but with today’s technology those are becoming increasingly available. I can also foresee problems with providing taxi and bus services, especially to airports, and for police cruisers and fire trucks. But I am sure vehicles are being developed to address this kind of challenge.
This is crisis time in our world. We have no time to spare. A radical change in transportation habits is required. It is not enough for governments to prod auto manufacturers and heighten public awareness to the urgent need to reduce pollution.
With high gas prices awakening drivers all over the world to the necessity for change, this would be an opportune time for all levels of government to join the crusade.
August 16, 2008 No Comments
If I were (more?) paranoid, I would suspect the media of conspiring to sabotage the Olympics. Or maybe it’s the Olympics committee that’s to blame. But whoever the culprits may be, I find the telecasts and reports of this year’s games confusing and dull.
Here’s an example:
This morning, while the two men’s 100-meter dash semifinals were being run, there was a soccer (football) game on my TV. I think the teams were from Brazil and the Cameroons. It wasn’t a final or anything, just a qualifying match – and an excruciatingly dull one.
The fact that America’s star sprinter, Tyson Gay (pictured, middle), finished fifth in the second semi-final and did not qualify for the final may have something to do with it, as I understand the events are tape-delayed so the TV producers know who won what before they put events on the air. But even so, two other American sprinters made the finals, albeit far down the list.
Who finished first and second? Need you ask? Jamaican Usain Bolt (right) won the first semifinal and Jamaican Asafa Powell (left) won the second. A third Jamaican, Michael Frater also qualified. The other finalists were (by the time you read this the finals will most likely be concluded): Darvis Patton, United States; Richard Thompson, Trinidad & Tobago; Walter Dix, United States; Marc Burns, Trinidad & Tobago; and Churandy Martina, Netherlands Antilles.
(It’s 9:37 a.m. EDT, and not a word has appeared on Yahoo News so far. I had to go to the official Olympics Web site to find the results.)
So far, I’ve seen some interesting gymnastics and a lot of foaming water as (American) Michael Phelps is shown winning medal after medal. The fact that one swimming event looks exactly like the next (to me, anyway) doesn’t seem to matter. The TV producers have shown us every minute of the Phelps saga, from what he eats for breakfast to how he gets himself massaged for the next heat. No doubt about it, the guy is a great swimmer. No doubt about it, swimming isn’t much to watch on TV.
But it’s more exciting than archery. Yesterday, I watched a South Korean woman and a Chinese woman shooting arrow after arrow. I watched them draw back the bow and release the string. Then the camera showed an arrow plunging into the target. It may have been more interesting than watching my grandfather clock’s pendulum go back and forth, but not much.
Oh, yes, there were some other “sports” on the TV when I switched to NBC (or MSNBC) from time to time – beach volleyball was one, weightlifting was another, and I think I saw a few seconds of a water polo game before changing channels.
Talk about boring!
Thankfully, I only have to endure this every four years.
BULLETIN 11:20 a.m. - Bolt won the finals in the record time of 9.69 seconds. Thompson came second and Dix third. Powell was a disappointing fifth.The 6-foot-5 Bolt is the favorite to also win the 200 meters next. He would be the first men’s Olympic sprint double winner since American Carl Lewis in 1988.
I still haven’t seen a 100-meter race on television. Wassup?
August 16, 2008 No Comments
If you’re as old as I am you may recall the days of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, the Strategic Air Command and the Nuclear Deterrent. If my memory can be trusted, these were parts of a strategy that would make America invulnerable. The missiles were aimed at targets in such threatening places as Russia, and they would carry nuclear warheads. This controversial and very expensive program was designed to keep the Russians and other Bad People at bay.
To find out, I searched the Web and found an enlightening article in an edition of Air Force Magazine posted some three years ago. The article described a complete overhaul of the American missile defense program (at a cost of billions). It told how older missiles have been scrapped and newer missiles put in place. And it described in detail the deliberations that have taken place about the use of conventional – as well as nuclear – warheads.
Here’s a paragraph I found especially interesting:
For the Air Force missileers, life hasn’t changed much and it won’t for the foreseeable future. Two-man missile combat crews still sit in buried, blast-resistant capsules under the Great Plains, each team directly responsible for overseeing and controlling 10 missiles while providing support for 10 more.
Presumably, the government expects to fire these missiles some day. As former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said on Larry King’s CNN show last night, when nations stockpile arms the arms tend to get used. So what will the targets be? And what about the probable repercussions?
I wondered about these things today when I read a news report quoting Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn (photo at left) as warning that if NATO establishes a missile defense post in Poland it would invite attack, possibly with nuclear weapons.
America’s conventional forces are stretched to the breaking point by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, so there is little probability that Russia’s provocative invasion of Georgia and saber rattling opposition to a NATO missile shield would trigger a response by conventional U.S. forces. But what about those ICBMs? Is some highly placed U.S. official pondering their use as I write this blog?
Is the world teetering on the brink of annihilation while those talking heads on TV chatter on about John Edwards’ infidelity, and the most important item in Yahoo News is Tyra Banks’ latest hairstyle?
August 15, 2008 1 Comment
I have an uneasy feeling about the Democratic Party convention. I realize that my fears are probably baseless, but this troubling picture looms at the edges of my mind…
August is almost over, and the Democratic Party Convention is under way in Denver, Colorado. The mood is ugly, the delegates are on edge. Clinton supporters have clogged the streets for days with protest marches, handing out fliers proclaiming Barack Obama’s presumptive nomination a fraud. Newspaper ads have blasted the party’s nominating process, claiming various “irregularities.”
The climactic moment arrives. A sign-waving delegate nominates Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the party’s candidate for president. A large, unruly section of the crowd cheers wildly. Chants of “O-ba-ma!” are drowned out by screams of “Hill-a-ry!” The convention hall is in an uproar. Delegates push and shove each other. Scuffling breaks out…
Police are called to quell the crowd inside and outside the building. The scene is reminiscent of the debacle in Chicago in 1968 (pictured below). Once again, the world watches on television as violent discord flares at a Democratic national convention, presaging sure defeat for the party in the forthcoming general elections.
When some semblance of order is restored, the votes are counted. And the winner is … Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Impossible? Don’t be too sure. The Clintons have said all along that the race isn’t over until all the delegates’ votes are counted, and they have said that under the rules of the convention, delegates can change their minds. With the delegate count so close, a few defections could spell defeat for Obama.
Yes, after all that has passed, the person addressing the crowd in the Denver football stadium could be Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama.
The reverberations of such a cataclysmic upset are impossible to predict. I see cars overturned in the streets, buildings ablaze, riots sweeping the nation at such a scale that the memory of Watts pales by comparison. But maybe not. This is not 1965. America has grown older and more docile in the past 43 years – hasn’t it?
August 15, 2008 No Comments
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they said unto him, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they who heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” -From the Gospel according to St. John.
So who was qualified to cast the first stone at Riell Hunter? Or John Edwards (photos at left)? Certainly not Bill O’Reilly (photo at right), that scurrilous sinner, whose (well documented) sex life would make the Marquis de Sade blush. Yet this shameless Pharisee fulminated at length on his Fox News show about John Edwards’ transgressions.
And what about the other breast beating critics who have rushed to gather stones with which to pelt Edwards? Who knows what they have done under cover of darkness and out of sight of society?
The burden of their rant is that Edwards is automatically disqualified from public service because of his extramarital love affair. If the U.S. Constitution contained such a provision, think how many Presidents and other prominent politicians from Benjamin Franklin to Bill Clinton would have been lost to America. Some of the world’s most valuable public servants, including (to my undying surprise!) the sainted Dwight Eisenhower, have been philanderers.
(I hate to mention it but the list of documented philanderers includes John McCain, so if Edwards had been nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, the scales would have been even – at least in that category.)
As a practical matter, the pious bleating about “family values” is a disservice to voters. We are supposed to elect a person with the skill set required for leadership of a world power, and history has shown some of the best leaders were not the most pious family men (or women, for that matter). I doubt that the Pharisees in today’s media would approve of Elizabeth I of England or Louis XIV of France, yet from what I learned in school they did a pretty good job running their respective countries.
I am not defending Edwards. He did something really shameful. I am sure he is sorry, if for no other reason than the pain he has caused his darling of a wife. He will have to deal with that in the privacy of his thoughts. We all pay for our sins, one way or another. But we all have access to forgiveness.
August 14, 2008 No Comments