Saturday, February 6, 2016

Insecurity?

The initial 2016 edition of Lapham's Quarterly is called Spies.  It begins with a scathing essay by the founder of the quarterly, Lewis Lapham.  In it he details the loss of freedom that Americans have relinquished in the name of national security.  From the Patriot Act and its authorization of unlimited domestic surveillance of the citizens of our country, to the exponential growth of government agencies tasked with preventing future 911 attacks, to the everyday messages broadcast in our media asking us to be alert for subversives among us, and enabling that alert by providing the characteristics of those who would want to do harm via religious and racial prejudices, we have willingly traded freedom for safety.  But what does such a trade mean?


One of the first quote in Spies puts it bluntly, and is attributed to Rebecca West.


"I cannot think that espionage can be recommended as a technique for building an impressive civilization.  It is a lout's game." 


Her quote was in reaction to the number of British citizens who were put on trial after WW2 for spying, and in particular Anthony Blunt.  Her focus is as much on the fact that rich people are allowed to break the law without the same consequences as the poor, as it is that when traitors are discovered they are so often granted immunity to break their trust with the other side and reveal the others' secrets.  She seems to be saying that the cost of loyalty is easily purchased.  And, she also wonders aloud in The New Meaning of Treason, why those responsible for allowing such breaches of secrecy seem to be the very people conducting the trials of the traitors suggesting that this closed circle of secrecy is never full revealed to the citizens of the country those involved are supposed to protect.


For me, the ever extending reach of paranoia that routinely infects those at the highest levels of government (and business), might suggest profound insecurity.  Are we so distrustful of our beliefs, so faithless, that we believe that only in killing those with differing ideas can we protect ourselves?


Adding insult to injury, are the human and monetary costs of the path we seem to be following.  What have we spent in our war against terrorism since 2001?  Google "cost of war on terror" and $1.6 trillion dollars pops up a few times.  Military deaths - over 6700 lives lost with another 50000 injured, not to mention the psychological damage that so many of our veterans face after multiple deployments.  When news of the poor state of the Veterans Administration hit the papers, outraged abounded.  But proper medical care costs money, and in these 'lets slash the budget" times, we can't spend billions on defense, while providing the necessary care to those who do our dirty work, let alone fix our crumbling infrastructure, address our failing urban schools, or face the future cost of climate change. 


All the flag waving and patriotic fervor don't pay the bills, yet at the same time we all profess our love for America, we do our utmost to pay the least amount of taxes possible, especially those with the most.  Perhaps Uncle Sam should be renamed Mom and Dad Sam because it appears that, like children, we want all we can get from our government with the least amount of cost.  And, like children, we want to believe we are safe because we have the greatest killing capabilities on earth, as if ideas and ideologies can be killed.


Even worse, one might say we are bankrupting our country morally as well by turning a blind eye to the use of torture, or worse, condoning it in the name of saving future lives.  We condemn those we oppose when they commit atrocious acts in the name of their safety, yet commit those same atrocities to protect our own hides.


Is it not clear that we become, not just lout's in our use of subterfuge, espionage, assassination, and torture to thwart our enemies, but just like our enemies?


But Joe, certainly you are not suggesting that we allow foreign tyrants to kill their own citizens with impunity, and acts of terror to go unpunished?  Would it be so radical approach to try it once?  To show by example that freedom means being able to pursue one's own happiness while allowing others to pursue theirs?  To encourage democracy by actually voting in our own elections?  To stop the cycle of violence by not responding to violence with more violence? 


In Spies, there are many stories of people withstanding torture, some who were eventually freed and whose stories did as much to bring down their torturers as bullets and bombs, some who died but whose conviction inspired others to further the cause. 


We love to recount the success of World War 2 in defeating the evil of Hitler, and resort to that analogy when talk of dialogue with an enemy is proffered.  Yet we so quickly forget the actions of Gandhi who fought an enemy of a different nature and won the day.  Or those that used non-violent protest to bring down the walls of discrimination, whether they be in America or South Africa. 


Perhaps then, the greatest security cannot be found behind the tallest walls, or the biggest guns, or the most widespread surveillance systems, but in a certainty of beliefs, and a faith in humanity and humane acts.       



Saturday, January 23, 2016

The intermixing of religion

Massive snowstorm on the East Coast this weekend.  Everything closed, no reason to go out.    Listening to Yes, the Fragile album while typing.


Interesting articles the last two months in the Smithsonian.  One called "The Power of Mary", the other "The Search for Jesus". 


What I found particularly interesting is the intermixing of the faiths, especially Christianity and Islam, in perspectives about Jesus and his Mother.  According to the article on Mary, she is mentioned far more in the Quran than in the Bible.  When naming the best woman to ever live, it is documented that Mohammed named Mary (Maryam as she is referred to in that religious book).  In fact, the 19th chapter of the Quran is called Maryam, and it tells her story, including the virginal conception that resulted in the birth of Jesus.  She is considered just as strong a mother figure in Islam as in Christianity. 


Jesus is also mentioned in the Quran numerous times.  He is considered a Messenger of God,
al-Masih, which means the Messiah, in Islam.  His miracles, teachings, and life are recounted just as in the Bible.  It is only in the ending that the two religions differ.  Jesus is not crucified (for our sins) but is instead raised up to God, alive.  This is important to the Muslims in that their end of days scenario features Jesus returning to Earth to die a natural death before being raised to life again on the day of judgment.  


However, this is not the main points of the "The Search for Jesus" article.  The article instead focused on the search for historical Jesus from the standpoint of how the people lived at that time.  The search for Magdala, the town where Mary of Magdalene lived, its proximity to Jerusalem and Galilee.  What was the life of a young Jewish man at a time when Rome ruled the area.  The places they worshipped, foods they ate, their jobs, their relationship with the other peoples of the area.  As the article states, "the deepest insights have come from millions of small finds gathered over decades of painstaking excavation; pottery shards, coins, glassware, animal bones, fishing hooks, cobbles streets, courtyard houses and other simple structures".


Two great religions, with so much in common in their regard for two of the most important people to ever live.  Yet all we here today, is how these religions clash, how they differ, how one is better or inferior to the other.  Would it be so horrible, or so bold, for Fox to air a series on Jesus and Mary in the Quran?  Is it so preposterous to think that the true believers of both faiths share a respect for all life through the teachings of their prophets?  And, is it not true that the ideologues of both religions belie those beliefs with messages of hatred and intolerance?


One last point, as made in the Smithsonian article concerned Jesus as a Jew.  He was born, bred and raised in that tradition, notwithstanding our attempts to pretend otherwise.  But, whether called prophet, Messiah or the Son of God, whether depicted as beardless or bearded, dark skinned or light,  a healer or good shepherd, his message transcended religion and religious dogma.  Wouldn't it be nice if those who claim to worship and admire Him, put aside their steadfast hold on institutional structure, and focus instead on the spirit of the man, his message of Love?       


 


   



Monday, January 18, 2016

A Trilogy of Hope for the Future

Today we celebrate the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.  At a time when those born with darker skin pigments were routinely treated as inferior, even in America, the land of the free and the bastion of democracy, King worked tirelessly to promote peaceful resistance to the idea that those who had seemingly lost the birth lottery of skin color, should be destined for a life time of substandard education, judicial bias towards incarceration, and limited opportunity for economic success. 


He envisioned a time when men "will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character".   Despite the horrors of the Jim Crowe years, whites only public rest rooms and water fountains, and the random killings of black men, women and children, in church basements, private homes and public streets, King emphasized that equality could only be attained through peaceful means.  An eye for an eye philosophy of the Old Testament had to be replaced by the turn the other cheek message of Jesus and the New Testament.


Partly in honor of this great man, partly as a response to those who only see danger and evil in the world today, and partly because I truly believe that violence begets violence, and that only the power of Love can make the world as King wished it to be, I published a trilogy on Amazon for Kindle in the past week.  A Trilogy of Hope for the Future is three short stories written to describe a time when men not only judge others by their character, but when society rewards those who live to help others, while discouraging selfishness and greed.  It is a future which is created, building block by building block, by each succeeding generation, a future which began when men first formed communities, and created laws to protect the weak from the strong, and will culminate in the acknowledgement that we are one race, the human race. 


http://www.amazon.com/Trilogy-Hope-Future-Joe-Pugnetti-ebook/dp/B01AMB9BVU


King died in 1968, murdered for his dream of a truly integrated America.  I imagine that he would be proud of the progress made in just 40 years with the election of Barack Obama, but also disappointed that there is still much to be done to improve education and economic opportunities in minority communities, while decreasing incarceration rates for black males. 


But that is the point, the cup half empty or half full philosophical line that we all must recognize, and then decide which side we choose to be on.  A half empty perspective points to the continued discrimination by which police use deadly force, and uses these misdeeds to justify rioting and looting.  A half full perspective recognizes that these acts are now condemned by general society, in stark contrast to the routine nature that killings of this kind were considered in the past. 


It is by imagining the progress we could make in the next 40 more years, if we maintain a half full viewpoint, that inspires A Trilogy of Hope for the Future. 


To quote another dreamer, John Lennon


Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one



Friday, January 15, 2016

Climate Change

I didn't watch the GOP debate last night but I did read the Factcheck review of some of the statements presented by the candidates.  The most appalling seemed to be Trump's depiction of the Syrian refugees as predominantly young men, the bias being that, as young males full of testosterone, they would tend to be extremist and/or terrorist.  Not sure how much of that perception is jealousy, in that The Donald will be 70 years old this year, or whether all males of that age group should feel insulted.  Of course, he may be just worried that these young men will take all the landscaping and construction jobs which means he might have to hire some in the future!  In any case, the facts are that approximately 50% of the refugees, are women, and about 25% more are children, which puts the percentage of males over 18 at 25%.  Certainly, all politicians like to create bad guys to justify their rhetoric, it is just a shame, especially in this age of instant data retrieval, that when a candidate makes a statement like that, he/she is not called on it, immediately, because, unfortunately, there are many listeners suffering from xenophobia who will nod in agreement at his lie, and use it to further justify their discriminatory beliefs.


I received a survey by email from my federal representative last week, asking me to choose 3 topics which I hoped the president would touch on in his final State of the Union.  Glaring in its omission was climate change, although there was an "environment" category listed, last on his list.  I don't think it farfetched to say that my rep has been instructed by the GOP establishment to never use the phrase climate change in any mailings or correspondences.  I hope I am wrong, but I doubt if the subject was debated at either the main debate or the 2nd tier debate which occurred earlier.  It is obvious the most far reaching, potentially most catastrophic issue that faces America, and the planet, is a non-starter for the Republican Party.  I imagine that the recent Paris talks which produced some optimistic promises of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, will not be part of the GOP platform other than a vow to not participate.  Electing a Democratic president becomes even more critical knowing that Congress will remain a snake pit of short term thinking dinosaurs.


Interestingly, in the January edition of National Geographic there are articles on our national park system and the continued polar ice meltdown.


Oddly, our park system, which was began in the late 1800's, was championed by President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican.  Of course, the parties' philosophy has changed dramatically since then, and it is the Democrats who spend more effort to protect the national park system from the logging, mining and energy industries.  Perhaps I exaggerate, but it seems clear to me that when clean water and air, come up against the prospects of business and profit, the GOP is consistent in their stance to sell out to the highest bidder.  The fact that those same people donate large sums of money to the GOP election war chest completes the cycle.  From oil in the arctic circle to natural gas in Pennsylvania to mineral rights all over the country, corporate greed to take the most out of the land in the name of cheaper energy rules the day, despite the devastation those activities cause to the natural landscape.  Of course, it is easy to get behind such strategies when you don't live in the effected communities, and don't have to deal with the polluted air and water, and the health consequences which result from those poisons.  Perhaps a few well placed oil and natural gas wells in the backyards of certain GOP elected officials and presidential candidates might change their perspective.


The polar ice meltdown, another favorite topic of the GOP to not discuss, was dramatically described, in pictures, words and statistics.  Less "old" ice floes (ice packs which last multiple years), thinner winter ice, earlier seasonal ice melts, longer ice free seasons, all are documented in the article.  Predictions that there may not be any polar ice in the summers within 30 years seem likely.  Not withstanding the fact that the polar bear may not survive this change, and that the ecosystem which relies on the cooling and freezing cycle may be disrupted, what effects the reduced planetary cooling effect that polar air provides will cause, and the rising sea levels from continued melting will create, range from significant to devastating.  It is obvious to all but those scientists hired by the energy industry, that climate change is causing the polar ice melt, and that the larger tracts of sea water will absorb even more sun light and heat, increasing the pace of the warming trend. We will reap what we sow in the next 50 years, and all that garbage spewing from the GOP presidential candidates about concern for the coming generations, is just that, garbage.


I sometime wonder if the GOP establishment also has a ban on magazines such as National Geographic, the better to keep its members in a bubble of plausible deniability.







 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fashion and Perception

As promised, I am catching up on my reading.  Yesterday I finished the last 2015 edition of Laphams Quarterly, entitled Fashion.  Going into it, I thought Fashion to be an odd topic.  As a closet nudist, and a firm believer in the premise that money spent on clothes is largely a wasteful pursuit, I half expected to struggle through this edition.  Of course, as always, the essays, articles and viewpoints expressed within the magazine, opened my eyes.


First, it reminded me that not dressing up is in itself a fashion statement.  The magazine was replete with articles about anti-fashion trends, and fashion trends that emphasized casual, even slovenly look through out history.  Also, they reminded me that the jeans and affinity T-shirts that I generally wear identify me, categorize me, just as much as wearing a top coat and hat.  Our clothes say much about us whether we like to admit it or not.


And, if I were to be honest with myself, I would realize that the viewpoint that I am more than what I wear, hence I will wear what I want and expect everyone else to judge me for myself, not what I wear, is extremely hypocritical in light of the frequent judgments I render when I encounter a person with accoutrements that lead me to perceive them harshly.  We want others to judge us based on the purity of our hearts and the integrity of our spirit, yet all too often judge others as they look, whether that look includes a skin color, gender identity, or economic level that makes us uncomfortable, or even simply due to their hair length, tattooed ness, piercing or other such expression of individuality.


Oddly, I was reminded of this very observation during a partial viewing of Titanic yesterday.  You may recall the scene where Jack is put in a tuxedo by Molly Brown so he can attend dinner to which he was invited after saving Rose from jumping off the back of the ship.  As he waits for Rose near the entrance to the dining hall, he receives a number of nods and hellos in greeting by the other well dressed diners, and is accepted into the hall by the porters at the door as he escorts Rose and Molly in the exact way that all the other "gentlemen" escort their dates.  He is one of them, simply because he wears the same clothes. 


But the next day, when Jack attempts to enter that same room, guarded by those same porters, he is not allowed to pass because he is dressed in the clothes befitting of his station.  And, is reminded all too clearly that he is not to attempt future contact with Rose, but must stay in the area of the boat designated for those of his station. 


Later, in the most revealing scene of the attitude endemic in the minds of the first class passengers, when Rose points out to her mother that half the people on the Titanic will die as there are not enough life boats for all, her soon to be ex-fiancé says, to paraphrase, "not the better half".


Fashion, the concept and the magazine, help us identify those with whom we should idolize and emulate.  Fashion is the most obvious way to display ones accomplishments.  It identifies through fabric, color and style those who are successful in business, industry, entertainment, culture, religion, government, military.  As more than one writer expresses, how else could we identify who is who if not for what they wear?


Yet there are two seemingly opposite desires at work driving the multi billion dollar industries which comprise fashion.  The desire to stand out, and the desire to blend in.  We all wish to be both at once, part of the whole, accepted as a member of whatever thread of society we identify with, yet individual as well, more than just the clothes on our back.  It is this delicate balancing act that sends us online, or to the malls, and in front of the mirror before we go out. 


Still, I am drawn to a quote which is found towards the end of Fashion.  It is attributed to John Ruskin from 1862:


"As long as there are cold and nakedness in the land around you, so long there can be no question at all but that splendor of dress is a crime".


To me it suggests that dressing flamboyantly, spending large sums of money and resources, is a crime against nature, perhaps even God, when one considers how many plain clothes could have been created for that same amount of money and given to those with no clothes at all.


Imagine if we were to then expound that thought to include other indicators of excess wealth, owning dozens of cars or homes for instance, or even excess wealth itself when hundreds of millions of people on Earth today live in poverty.


They say that everything comes back in fashion eventually.  I am sure that there are many clothes hanging in closets just waiting for the day they can be worn again.  Perhaps we can all start by donating those clothes now to those who have nothing and take our chances with the next fashion trend.  And if there is an upside to climate change, maybe a little less clothing, a little more emphasis on the person might result. 


   

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, 2016!!




As always, it was a busy holiday season, hence the time gap since my last post.  As I did last year, I hope to take advantage of the vacation days I have built up so as to catch up on my reading and e-publish something new.  I did not receive a book this year for Christmas, but I do have to finish the last 2015 edition of Lapham's Quarterly, in addition to the January editions of Smithsonian and National Geographic, as well as the first 2016 Lapham's magazine.  My next literary effort (if I may use that term) will be a trilogy of short stories that present a hopeful opinion of the future.  Only one of the stories is actually new, but the other two have been revised a bit, and have not been presented in the context that I am targeting with this publication.  I will follow up with details when complete.



In the meantime, and along a similar line of thought, today I shall only touch upon positive points.



First, as is true of previous years, Smithsonian once again presented an edition noting a few of the innovators of our time.  Their work, whether it be in medicine, social science, the arts or technology, reminds is that there are many people among us today with visions of a better world, and who are actively striving to achieve that better world.  They are an inspiration to us all, especially in light of the focus that much of today's media places on reporting the negative and the bad. 




Of course, there have always been people of vision working to improve the lives of their fellow citizens, but what of the everyday people who occasionally resort to crime to enhance their income.  Strangely, and I say strangely based on the fact that everyday I hear someone say that the world is spinning out of control, the crime rate is trending down. 




https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/cius-home




If you spend a few moments at the site listed above, you will see that in 2014, violent crime was down over 2013 numbers and has been dropping since 2010.  Also, property crime is decreasing as well.  Unfortunately, good news does not improve TV ratings, sell advertising time, or inspire the base to vote, so it is bad news that predominates.  Too bad since the facts support the belief that we, the human race, continues to evolve socially (more accepting of others), and spiritually (more aware of the importance to respect all human life).  Certainly there are exceptions to this trend, and those exceptions are discussed ad nauseam on talk radio and opinion news shows, but they are not presented as the exceptions that they are but as the norm, which is just not true.




How about the infant mortality rates of the world?  Certainly, a telling gauge for the overall health of the human population might be found in this number. 




https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate




A quick glance at the tables at the above site will reveal that the number of deaths per 1000 live births has dropped significantly in virtually all of the world since the 1950's.  Even today, in countries with 90-100 deaths per 1000 births (that is 9-10% folks), the rate has dropped from numbers in the
180-230 range (18-23%!!).  Obviously, even in the countries where there is lawlessness, natal health care progress has been made through organizations like Doctors without Borders and other NGO associations.


How about deaths in war?  With the atrocities by ISIS and events like the Paris terrorist murders happening in what seems like at a weekly clip, virtually every google entry entitled deaths by war detailed a significant decline since the 1950's, especially when the increase in global population is factored in the calculations.  Additionally, most studies of how safe a person in 2015 was compared to a person living in the 15th century, or 9th century or 1st century AD, or 5th century BC, indicates that we are vastly safer today than the majority of humans who lived in any other time frame.  Yet, facts aside, I would guess that if 100 people were asked tomorrow if they felt more safe or less, a majority would say less, even those who may have been children during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or adults during World War 2 or the Cold War.  Unfortunately, again, more money can be made and more votes acquired when we paint a gloomy picture of death and danger at every turn.


So, again Happy New Year!  And smile! 


We are fortunate enough to have been born in the safest time in human history.  And, if trends like those noted above continue, we can trust that our grand children and great grand children and so on will be born in even safer times. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

God On Our Side

A burst of interest from Russia this past week.  Hard to tell which post has generated the increase but I have seen an overall jump in hits on my 2011 post called Assisted Suicide which I wrote to mark the passing of Jack Kevorkian.


I recently began borrowing CDs from our local library.  Among last week's bunch was Bob Dylan's 1964 effort called The Times They Are A-Changing.  Of course, the song of that same name is very interesting, a symbol of the intensity of the 1960's in terms of social change.  But the song that struck me the most is titled With God On Our Side.  I had never heard it before, but strongly believe it is worth, not only discussing in light of today's issues, but also worth replicating the lyrics.  See below.


Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side


Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side


Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side


Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side


When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side


I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side


But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side


Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side


So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

PA Budget

No chance to post last few weeks.  Sorry.  Working extra shifts and family obligations.


Just wanted to make a quick comment on the continued gridlock in Harrisburg concerning the next yearly budget.  Apparently a framework for agreement had been established and agreed upon by the principle negotiators, but was rejected by a small but vocal coalition of GOP reps.  They do not seem to believe that any compromise is needed.  As I recently said to a friend of mine, it is admirable that many in the GOP feel strongly about their principles.  There are times when I wish for such tenacity in the actions of the Democrats. 


However, when the electorate chooses a new governor, historically rejecting the reelection of a sitting governor as was done in the last gubernatorial election, then it may be incumbent for those elected in the House and Senate to understand that the public wants a new approach, and that the same old tired policies are not acceptable.  Certainly, no one expected that newly elected Tom Wolf would get everything he wanted in the new budget talks, but it seems that some members of the GOP have decided that he should get nothing, as if his election did not matter.


So, 5 plus months into the new financial year, funding for our schools, and public institutions which provide needed goods and services for the disadvantaged is still on hold.  Whether a new budget accord can be reached by Christmas seems doubtful which means that while our public servants in Harrisburg spend the holidays with their family and friends, enjoying all the benefits that their job and their citizenship as Pennsylvanians provides, thousands of our fellow state citizens will struggle through the holidays without the services and benefits that they need to survive. 


I would suggest that we deny our governor, state representatives and state senators an enjoyable holiday season by withholding their paychecks, or closing their homes due to the budget impasse, but that would just make me like them, public servants who have forgotten their duty to make the best, sometimes tough choices for all of us, but who prefer to swim in a pool poisoned with ideological blinders.  And spiteful to boot.


What is truly galling in all this, is that while, as I have said before, the window of opportunity to gain some much needed revenue from the natural gas industry is rapidly closing, we still could have provided a base tax, which, should the industry gain traction again when the current oil glut recedes, it has been clearly indicated by the GOP in our state that no additional tax shall be enacted.  Better we continue to rank in the bottom fifth of all states in terms of our contribution to public education, and that our infrastructure continue to fall apart.  


I am not sure when the GOP joined in lock step with the business community to decide that taxes should only be paid by individuals, but it seems clear that our democratic system of decisions made for the benefit of all citizens has been hijacked by those with the most money.  Capitalism, for all its benefits, is no better than any other economic system, if all the benefits flow to a small percentage of the population.  As a nation we seem captive to the influences of big money flowing from big business, and particularly in Pennsylvania, we are hostage to the belief that anything that helps the business community helps the state.  It doesn't seem to matter if by giving the business community a pass on their responsibility to share in the cost of life, we burden everyday working people with additional taxes, it only seems to matter if they provide jobs not withstanding if in providing those jobs they pollute our environment or pay such low wages that the citizens need additional local, state and federal assistance to survive thereby increasing the need for more revenue which results in higher taxes for the working class again. 


Like a noose around our neck, this cycle is strangling the middle class while our reps in Harrisburg argue over how much more they should tighten the rope.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Attack on Paris

While all the details are still not in, it seems clear that the recent bloodshed in Paris was the work of individuals either directly affiliated with or supportive of the terrorist group known as ISIS.  Yes, terrorist group, as I don't have a problem labeling them as such.  To me, using fear and actively killing civilians to make a point, political or otherwise, classifies a group as terroristic.  However, I agree with those who avoid using the label radical Muslims, not necessarily because it is untrue as many of the young men involved in these type of murderous attacks have been radicalized by some claiming to teach Islam, but because there are too many people who take the next step in believing that all Muslims are haters of the West and that the entire religion is itself a call to war against our way of life. 


This type of thinking is apparent in the many books written by various icons of the conservative world, and even present in the rhetoric of some of the GOP presidential candidates on the perceived absurdity (in their small minds) of electing a Muslim to office or allowing any Syrian refugees to immigrate to our shores, both of which have been broadcast incessantly on Fox News.


This being said, I will repeat the necessary message that all Americans should remember, in that terrorism inspired by religion can be traced to all creeds, and that terrorism itself is a matter of perspective.  I am sure the colonists of the War for Independence were labeled as such by the establishment of England, just as those who drop bombs on villages in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan may be labeled similarly by those living in those villages.  However, I will also say that there appears a difference between my ability to say the above, ideas that some of my fellow Americans may vigorously disagree with, and the lack of admonitions emanating from the vast majority in the Muslim community.  Perhaps it is a testament to the degree of freedom that we still enjoy in these great United States, perhaps an indication that the Muslim majority who would prefer to condemn this atrocious behavior lack the will or fear the repercussions of such statements, or perhaps, like the majority of moderate Republicans who know that men like Trump and Carson would make horrible presidents, those who stay silent do so because they somehow believe they can use this group to attain a goal or make a point that they believe essential, similar to those in the GOP who have used the tea party movement to increase their majorities in Congress and various state houses.


In some ways, allowing an ideology to prosper, even if by silence or lack of calling it what it is, makes everyone a party to its horrors.  For that reason, I call on those who represent Islam as a religion of peace to stand up to those abusing your faith.  American intervention in the Middle East through our addiction to oil, and our misplaced belief that our way of life is the only way, has certainly been a factor that has led to groups such as ISIS.  But standing idly by while that kind of violence is justified as a response to our indiscretions will not solve the problems of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, nor convince the West that the people of that region can solve its own problems and improve the livelihoods of the vas majority of people who live there. 


Which brings us to our response to these horrific acts.  Of course, it is easy to seek revenge for such instances of violence.  Perhaps even human nature.  But will revenge killing lead to peace or more revenge killing?  Is it our desire to bring peace to the world, or just to kill those who are responsible for the attacks in Paris, and who threaten more attacks?


I know it is easy to say we need to seek a path of forgiveness and love when I am sitting safe and sound in my upstairs bedroom while listening to Supertramp, Crime of the Century on my computer.   Would I think the same if my daughter had been studying abroad in France and been killed while eating dinner at a cafĂ©?  Would I think the same if the attack had occurred in my hometown, or the nearest large city, Philadelphia?  I would like to think so, but. unless faced with the situation, we never know our reaction to insane acts.  But, if not, then are we to blame those who live in places where their lives seem hopeless, where those in authority teach them that only through violence can they gain hope, and where their enemies bomb and kill their family and friends because they are called terrorists by the leaders of the West?


There is certainly a simple reaction to the killing of innocent people.  More killing.  Of course, we cache our killing in the belief that we are killing only the guilty, conveniently ignorant to the fact that there is no way to guarantee only the guilty will die when drones drop their bombs.  Collateral damage it is called in the war rooms where such decisions are made.  A dead wife or child is what is it called on the ground.


Those who plant the seeds of terror in the minds of the young men who join groups like ISIS are the real enemies of humanity.  It is those men who we need to root our and expose to the light, for once their true motives are revealed, power and money usually, all their grand ideas of God and justice wither and die.  But let's also keep a sharp eye out for those among us with similar goals.  Those who use prejudice and hate to further their careers, pad their bank accounts, gain favor with the uneducated or easily swayed. 


At the end of the day, the end of our lives, we will come face to face with the truth about whether we encouraged violence or understanding, joined the mob seeking revenge or said nothing while the mob did its dirty deeds.


Perhaps I am wrong, in that we do need a surgeon leading the way.  A surgeon able to save the body of man through the precise targeting of those who promote violence as a way to resolve our differences, regardless of creed or nationality, as opposed to the crude brutality of killing anyone with a different race, religion or perspective.  A surgeon who reinforces words of love and God with actions of a similar nature.


       

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A White Man's Game

I am someone who interprets the history of America from 1940 until 1970 as a time when everyday Americans beheld a bigger picture and, as a whole, lived their lives for the betterment of their country and their families.  That greatest generation, as it has been labeled, sacrificed, not only young lives during World War II, but the comforts of life in the form of rationing of gas, meat and sugar (among other items), and, even more importantly, participated in vast numbers in the drive to recycle metals to build the necessary war vehicles needed to win that war.  It was a national effort.  This is not to say that some Americans took advantage of others' willingness to give, nor does it excuse the leftover racism that resulted in the continuance of Jim Crowe laws, and the scientific experimentation that was inflicted on men of color. 


My point is that, the country rallied around the common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, and willingly paid a personal as well as a national price to see that job through to its end. 


(Perhaps that is why we still have such a fuss made about whatever enemies there still are in the world, even though those enemies, Ebola, ISIS, etc, are not in the same league as the Third Reich.  The belief that only through a common fear can we unite.)


I am also someone, although of the minority in this category, who believes that a next greatest generation will occur, sometime soon.  This generation to come will take on the issues of today, but will solve those issues, not by looking back in time for solutions that are rooted in hatred and fear, but will embrace the changing dynamics of America.  It will be a generation that removes the remaining obstacles for those not born with pale skin and male genitalia.  It will be a generation that realizes that it was the diversity of the United States, fueled by the immigration of hundreds of thousands of men and women during the early 20th century, that set the table for the great achievements of the years 1940-1970, and it will be this generation that understands the power of today's immigrants to provide new blood, new ideas and a new version of the American melting pot.


But, in the meantime, it is incumbent upon me to touch on the white man, at least from the perspective of American history.  Since the discovery of the new world, a statement in itself that pretends that Native Americans did not exist before our arrival, the tale of land acquisition is sordid at best, criminal at worst.  Clearly, the Europeans of the 16th and 17th century discounted the rights of those already living in the Americas, more often than not with (in their minds) the blessing of their God.  By slaughtering the native populations either actively through battle or inactively through disease and relocation, the European settlers "civilized" the North American continent. 


Once the country took its great leap at Independence, and its economy and industry began to develop, men of color were imported to provide the labor.  Fortunes were made, Americans prospered, and the idea that this country was better than the Old World began to take shape.  When the light of the idealism of our democracy mingled with the belief that our new governmental system came from on high was focused on the evils of slavery, a great Civil War ensued.  Despite the Union victory however, the South still held on to its notions of black and white, and it took another 100 years before new laws were created that reminded us of the power of that first declaration, that all men are created equal. 


Now, despite the more equal footing that women and minorities have been granted, our economy and government representation continue to be dominated by the white male, who, not only still occupies the bulk of CEO positions and state senate seats, but has managed to create some backlash laws that protect him against discrimination, as if the white male doesn't already hold all the cards. 


What is truly sad about such behavior, is that the freedoms of which we brag, the great democratic experiment which was forged in war that we hold on high, is not a process that we readily acknowledge others to follow.  Consider that when the urban riots occurred in the 1970's, much was made of the horrible violence yet is that not the way our forefathers reacted to the restrictive laws and mores of 18th century England? 


Or, when judges rule in favor of affirmative action or gay marriage, it is with a sneer that some white males discuss these "activist judges".  How dare they rule to provide equal protection under the Constitution for people different from me?


Paradoxically, many white males, so entrenched in their belief that they are made in God's image, no other race or gender, are enamored with the all that makes America great yet believe it to be so simply because of the contribution of those who share their race and gender.  As if "all men are created equal" assumes the word white in that phrase.  And so, when statistics of higher incarceration rates for black males are discussed, it is without the idea that those same crimes are being committed by white males, but that justice in those cases is not meted out in the same way.  (There is certainly an economic factor here as well, but the phrase white trash usually provides the way out).


Sadly, and this is sad, while America is still a great country, those who claim it to be the greatest now, or greatest ever, do so without the statistics to back them.  Mortality rates among children, death by violence, obesity rates, longevity, life satisfaction, education level; there are many ways to gauge "the greatest country" and America frequently falls short in those categories.  Yet the white male sings on about its greatness, I think, because they believe that America, by and large, was created by the white male and any acknowledgement that there might be cracks in our foundation must be ignored for those cracks indicate a flaw in the white males ability to create, and improve America, its greatest achievement. 


Is there hope for the white male?  Surely, once he realizes that being part of a great team (America) can be just as rewarding as being the leader of that team.  And, that by sharing the leadership and vision that will enable America to solve its problems, the white male can make an even greater contribution, because it will demonstrate that they place the betterment of their country and their families above the need to prove they are the superior race and gender.