Thursday, September 22, 2022

Two Older Couples Walking on the Beach

               Two Older Couples Walking On The Beach


Two older couples walking on the beach, 

 separated by gender and 25 feet.


How about that Eagles game last night?

   How are your kids and grandkids?

Everything OK financially?

   Everything OK with your relationship?

Any thoughts on where we should eat tonight?

   Any thoughts on finding that spark again?

Can you believe that political ad we saw last night?

   Can you believe that men think they can legislate pregnancy?

Do you miss working sometimes?

   Do you wish he was still working at times?

We went to another funeral last week.

   We went to another funeral last week.


Where did the time go? Are kids really different than when we were young? Do you think about moving to a smaller place? Do you worry about aging ungracefully? About being alive but not living?


Do you worry that she will be OK when you're not there?

   Do you worry about being lonely when he is not here?

Can you imagine having not have asked her to marry you?

   Can you imagine not having said yes?


Two older couples walking on the beach,

   separated by gender and 25 feet.


______________________________________________________


This year, as I sat in the sun listening to the gentle crashing of the waves onto the shore, I noticed two older couples walking past, men a bit ahead of the women. Without thinking too hard, I tried to get into their heads to discern the difference in their conversational topics, and to wonder how those discussions mirrored those I have had during similar walks. The above is the result of those musings.

Two years ago, I wrote the poem below while on vacation with Nora at Dewey Beach, Delaware, a place where we have been visiting, first with the kids, and now just us, for 25 years. The very first time we went, we decided on the spur of the moment to spend a long weekend at the beach. We had no reservations, just the naive thought that we would find a hotel, and some quality time with the ocean and each other.  We did, in fact, find a place after only the second attempt, and have returned there, most years, ever since.


Two Old People Walking on the Beach


When I was younger, I would see two old people

walking on the beach.

Sometimes holding hands, sometimes holding sandals.


What are they thinking?  What could they talk about?

Passions burnt out?  Memories of bygone days?

Thoughts of friends no longer alive?

Thoughts of family no longer in touch?

Did they wish they looked as they did in the beginning?

Wonder where the time went, and how much longer

they might have together?


Two old people walking on the beach.

One is me, one my wife.

Sometimes we hold hands, sometimes sandals.


The view is magnificent today, she remarks,

and the sandpipers so cute.

Could we live here some day or would we get used to it,

take it for granted, stop seeing its beauty.

I like the pace, or lack thereof.  Perhaps we should come

more often.


I look in her eyes, see the beautiful girl I married, 

the wonderful woman still beside me.


Two old people walking on the beach.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Pro-Fetus

I have been pondering this thought for a while, so thought it about time I post my view that the pro-life movement should be referred to as the pro-fetus movement.  

Now, to be fair, there are many pro-life advocates who are truly pro life.  They believe that the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill, is an absolute.  That any killing is forbidden by God.  But the reality is, that is a very hard perspective to maintain, when compared with all the reasons that many of us are OK with taking a life.

Of course war, is our greatest exception. Whether due to a perceived threat to world peace, a preemptive attack to prevent possible aggression, retaliation for an attack, to stop the domino effect of countries falling under the influence of communism, or merely to defend our access to energy sources, America has gone to war multiple times in the past 100 years, with the idea that killing those who stand against us is justified, even desired. And if you were against any of these wars, police actions or whatever other phrase was used to name the invasion and killing of people in other countries, you were generally not in the majority. More likely, rather than being praised as pro-life, you were called anti-American, a coward, or some other such derisive name. As someone who was fortunate enough to have been just young enough to miss serving in Vietnam, but not so young as to see who was cheering our onslaught in that country, I was well aware of the evangelical community's position; communists are evil, against God, not deserving of life.

Capital punishment is another issue for which most pro-fetus advocates come down on the side of killing. Certainly, I understand that someone who commits a crime so heinous that they are sentenced to the death penalty, might be easy to grant an exception to a pro-life stance. I recall a paper I wrote in high school positing that keeping someone alive, in prison, for decades until they die, might actually be considered more cruel than a quick easy death.  Still, the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill, does not contain an asterisk with the words, except for those who commit certain crimes. Not to mention, it has been proven time and again that certain groups, lower economic and/or minorities, receive death sentences far more often percentage wise, than other groups. One might think that a pro-life person would see that when unequal justice produces a sentence as severe as death, then perhaps those in the pro-life camp might be better served to be against capital punishment.

But it gets far worse. The recent emergence of castle doctrine laws in some states, give an almost free hand to home owners to use deadly force against someone who enter their "castle" illegally. Now, like those who receive a death sentence, those who get shot while committing robbery don't generate much sympathy. But it is a far cry from chasing off an intruder with a gun (or baseball bat or big dog) to shooting them dead. I actually think that the everyday person who kills an intruder would not feel good about killing someone,  afterwards, especially considering that more than 60% of robberies do not involve an armed intruder. So, if you are pro-life, other than for self defense, defending or advocating for these type of castle doctrine laws might not reflect a pro-life attitude. 

As stark as these issues can be when one decides to proclaim that they are pro-life, what bothers me even more about the pro-life movement, and especially pro-life politicians, is that they don't seem to advocate as vociferously for a fetus once it becomes a baby, alive outside the womb. I mentioned in one of my previous posts about abortion that many of those states which have enacted the most severe abortion restrictions, have actually made it a felony to perform or even assist in an abortion, have the worst percentages in terms of child poverty and maternal death rate.

https://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2022/05/abortion.html

To be more specific, currently, the following states have abortion bans. Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana. 

Nine of those states have complete bans, with no exceptions for rape or incest. (Oklahoma bans abortion at the time of fertilization, which, as I have mentioned before, means some contraception that works to prevent implantation in the uterus would now be considered an abortion). Mississippi has an incest exception. West Virginia has exceptions for rape, incest and mother's health up to 8 weeks for adults, 14 weeks for children. Idaho has exceptions for rape, incest and mother's health, but has been challenged in court for not allowing doctor's to perform abortions to save a mother's life later in the pregnancy. Indiana's ban has very limited exceptions but is not a totally complete ban. Wisconsin's ban is over 100 years old, but is being actively challenged by the governor and district attorney of that state.

Georgia and Ohio have abortion bans after 6 weeks, but courts in both states have temporarily delayed those laws taking effect.

Now, let's talk child poverty. New data from 2021 shows a remarkable decline in America's child poverty rate since 2019, an unexpected decline considering many thought that the pandemic would result in an increase in child poverty. It did not because of the various government spending plans (which began during the Trump administration and continued into Biden's term) which pumped an unprecedented amount of money into the hands of lower and middle class families, especially those with children. Now, with rising inflation, there may be an increase when 2022 ends, but at least for now, child poverty is at an all time low of 5.2%. 

I found it difficult to find 2021 child poverty rate numbers by state, but did find 2019 and 2020 numbers. In both years, the child poverty rate was highest in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, all in the bottom ten. Oddly, all those states have total bans on abortion. Texas was just out of the worst ten.  Of the other states, only Wisconsin was in the top half of states as having the least percentage of children living in poverty. 

As a side note, the overall poverty rate in 2021 was 11.6%, which is hard to imagine, that one out of 10 Americans, live at or below the poverty line. And, it is estimated that over 26 million Americans over the age of 65 were boosted above the poverty line via their Social Security payments. Remember that the next time a politician talks about eliminating Social Security, or who advocates reauthorizing it every few years. Especially if he/she claims to be pro-life.

Unfortunately, those same states listed above, have the highest poverty rates among all age groups in America. Since almost half of women who had abortions cited financial reasons, one would think that states banning abortion might realize that those who will be forced to carry their unwanted pregnancy to term would be those least likely to be able to support a child, which means even more children will live in poverty.  When I see the pro-life movement protesting at their various state capitals for more funding for child care, higher minimum wages, and better access to overall health care, I will give them their pro-life label. For now, they are clearly pro-fetus.

As for maternal death rates, those same anti-abortion law states rank at the bottom, with the highest maternal death rates in America. Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas all in the bottom 10, with 6 more of the 14 listed in the beginning of this post in the next bottom 10.  Only Wisconsin and West Virginia have maternal death rates lower than most other states.

Again, I do know some pro-life advocates who do their best to adhere to that very difficult axiom of Thou Shalt Not Kill. But most I talk to are not pro-life when it comes to war, the death penalty, castle doctrine laws, or state policies that address child poverty, overall poverty and maternal death rates. So, again, the best we can call them is pro-fetus, with a side of anti-women, and a big old helping of anti-choice.  When one consider that freedom of choice is one of the foundations of our American experiment in democracy, it surprises me that so many pro-life people would exhibit such an anti-American attitude concerning restricting half the population from making a choice about their reproductive lives. 

Like so many issues, having a strong opinion about what you would or would not do in your own life, is not the same as creating laws that mandate that strong opinion onto others.  Especially when that opinion represents the belief of a minority of the population. In the end, be pro-fetus, be against gay marriage, advocate for the abolition of contraception or inter racial marriage by not having an abortion, not marrying someone of the same sex or different race, and not using contraception. It is your choice. 

Ah, the beauty of being pro-choice.



 


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

A Friend's Death

Earlier this year, I wrote a story about the loss within a month or so of two people who had shared a bit of my life with me. While neither could have been termed a "bosom" buddy, both represented different times in my life, different versions of the me that exists today.  Here is a link to that story.

https://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2022/03/death-and-friends.html

One of the results of that story, or I should say the sentiment in me that produced that story, is that I have spent the last 6 months or so trying to reconnect with various friends from my past. In one case, it was a couple with whom my wife and I, along with another couple, had spent many pleasant evenings with at each others' homes, especially before we all started raising families. Gradually, we lost touch with this couple, so, using my internet sleuthing skills and the info I could remember, I tracked them down. That first conversation, with Terry, was far more than I could have expected. It was as if that much time had not passed, a feeling I was to experience a few more times since. As of now, all 3 couples have met once, with a 2nd event planned, and Terry even turned my wife onto a sewing club.

The second task was far more complicated. To contact the 8 friends with whom I had spent thousands of days (and especially nights), irresponsibility wasting our youth in adventures and rebellion, living for the moment. One, I had already reconnected with after hearing of the passing of her husband, one I had seen as recently as 6 or so years ago, and a few I had seen at a 50th birthday party, 14 years ago, but we had not all been together for at least 40 years. 

Slowly, I was able to tick them off as I found a phone number here, an address there, and by June I had spoken to all of them, Audrey, Barb, Jim, Kim, Matt, Mike, Teri and Tracy. During July, I had even managed to organize 2 small visits, one with Matt and Mike at Matt's house, one at a restaurant with Audrey, Tracy and Kim, plus Sue who, while not at the center of the group, flitted in and out over time.

The conversations, the memories, the updates all seemed genuine, and so we planned an all encompassing reunion in October, that being the first Saturday everyone was free.

Sadly though, today, I learned of Matt's passing. While not sure of the scope of a service which might be held for him, our own Big Chill scenario which I had consciously hoped to avoid, is now forthcoming. And while that doesn't mean everyone will be able to attend a service for Matt, it does mean that our October reunion will have one empty chair.

I have recounted the story of my mission to a number of people these past few months. Many thought it cool, some even recounted similar stories or stated that maybe they would try to do the same as well. Of course, not everyone wants to reconnect with old friends. Many people want to leave the past behind, feel that there is no going back. I understand that perspective. Our memories of the "old days" can be both tinted by rose colored glasses and marked by the regrets of decisions made, or not made. And, the reality is that while everyone sounds the same on the phone (isn't that amazing?), we all wear the years differently. 

For some, it is safer to remember what your friends looked like at 20. Seeing them at 60+ only reminds you that you are 60+ as well, and can engender thoughts of whether you have made good use of those years and whether those years have brought you to a place of happiness and satisfaction, or sadness and discontentment. Not to mention the question of whether you can plan a future 20 year reunion with those friends, and wonder if who, even yourself, might be in attendance.

For now, I expect, memories of Matt will pop into my head, as I imagine they will for the rest of the group. Most have already heard the news, partly due to my efforts of reconnecting with everyone. I am not sure if that is necessarily a positive thing, but I do know that if I had not spoken to Matt, met with Matt, texted Matt in these last few months, and then found out, a week or a month afterwards of his passing, I would be far more sad, although the knowledge that Matt was one of the first proponents of our reunion, offering his home as the site, makes the loss even more painful.

I have proposed a number of versions of what Judgment Day might encompass in the course of my posting on this blog. Perhaps it is as simple as, the more people who call you their friend, the higher up in the clouds you rise. In Matt's case, I can envision him up towards the top, making stupid jokes with his fellow angels. His passing is sad, but I am glad to feel that sadness knowing that I would not be experiencing if if not for our friendship those many years ago. 

I am sure we all had someone like Matt in our life. If you are game, perhaps you should try to see how he is doing. 

Good bye Matt, I will always remember your laugh, and your sense of fun loving adventure. 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Student Debt Decision

I saw a commercial the other day which showed a series of blue collar workers complaining about Biden's decision to forgive some student debt.  At the end, it encouraged us to contact our legislators and ask them to tell Biden not to bail out rich kids.  Since, in my last post about student debt, I mentioned that my own children and son's wife would benefit from any debt relief (my post predates Biden't announcement), I thought it prudent to text my children and daughter-in-law to tell them that they were rich, just in case they were living some type of middle class life.  

Here is a link to that other post.

https://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2022/05/student-debt-crisis.html

I did some research on the sponsors of that ad, American Action Network.  They are a conservative issue advocacy group aligned to the Republican Party, which was formed in 2010 by Fred Malek and Norm Colemen as a 501 organization.  For those who don't know it, a 501 organization is a non-profit organization, many of which pay no federal taxes and do not have to disclose where their donations come from.  One of those dark money organizations (and yes, I know Dems have them too).  

Fred Malek (who died in 2019), worked for a number of past Republican presidents, and supported the more recent GOP presidential candidates (although, curiously, not Donald Trump).  He made his fortune via the Marriot Corp, Northwest Airlines, and a couple of private equity firms.  He received his bachelor degree from the US Military Academy and his MBA from Harvard.  While his childhood was certainly not of the silver spoon variety, his two children were certainly rich kids, probably more so than mine.

Norm Coleman has a curious bio.  Participated actively in the counter culture movement, (claimed to have been at Woodstock), a law school graduate, was elected mayor of Saint Paul, MN, as a democrat.  But switched to the GOP in 1996, and continued to be the mayor of that city. In fact, he was the last GOP mayor of St. Paul.  Also served as Minnesota's senator in the early 2000's. Like Malek, someone most people might label "elite": an attorney who has held a few elected offices.  

Not withstanding that there are hundreds of 501 organizations who take donations from very rich people to buy ads to advocate for their beliefs, if we assume that this conservative organization is against providing relief for young people with high student debt, why would they go out of their way to phrase this as a rich vs middle class issue, especially when we know that many of the donations to this organization come from very wealthy individuals? And that, chances are, they don't pay any federal income taxes.

Also, since the income level stress test for student debt relief is $125K for an individual and $250K for a couple filing together, aren't those numbers reflected of, at best, upper middle class citizens.  Perhaps I am off base, but I consider the definition of a rich kids as someone coming from a family with millions of dollars.  A family where the kids don't even apply for federal student aid.  A family where the kids most likely don't go to state schools, certainly not community colleges.

Also, while $10K is a nice chunk of money, at least for my kids and those I know who have graduated from a 4 year college, most graduates start with at least $25K in debt.  As far as I can tell, the data seems to suggest that perhaps 30% of those who receive this relief will have their debt completely paid off, while another 20% or so will see their debt halved.  That is a far cry from the ad's suggestion that Biden's plan will eliminate everyone's student debt.  Also, let's not forget that if a student who started with $25K plus in debt, paid $300 a month for 5,6, 7, 8 years, paid off the majority of their debt and is really only getting student loan interest relief.  That is the case for my son who graduated in 2014.  Finally, anyone who has $50K or more in debt, while certainly grateful, is far from student debt free.

If you read my previous post, I talked about solving the root causes of this problem, one of which is the high cost of college education. Sadly, while Biden's plan does not address this, it does alter the payment rules so that no young adult has to pay more that 5% (I believe) of their income towards their student debt, and can seek debt relief if they pay the minimum for 10 years, which kind of links to my idea of loaning this money with very little interest, and/or focusing on debt interest relief once the principle is paid.

But again, I return to the question, why does the GOP, a party with a reputation of catering to the rich, seek to drive a wedge between the blue collar workers of America and rich kids? 

Here is where I see the insidiousness of this effort by organizations like American Action Network (AAN).  First, they know most Americans will not do the research of who is sponsoring this kind of ad, instead assuming it is some kind of organization that advocates for blue collar, everyday citizens.  Americans are notorious in their lack of attention to details, which AAN would know.  This reluctance to drill down on issues, leaves far too many Americans vulnerable to information which, on its face might resonate, but when researched results in questions such as the one I posit above. 

Second, I think it reflects another part of the overall plan to paint college graduates as elite, people who do not work, people who do not reflect the values of "real" Americans, even though those very people who run and donate to these organizations are themselves, elite as defined in this way.  Remember, Senators like Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton who also oppose this plan, are Ivy League graduates.  But they know, like American Action Network, that the demographics  of recent elections show that voters without college education vote GOP more than DEM, and those with college degrees the opposite.  So, first they pretend to be on the side of blue collar voters, even though they themselves are far from blue collar, then they pass tax laws that overwhelmingly favor the rich while providing crumbs for the rest of us, all the while pretending that the fault lies in the elite who are out of touch with the common man. 

But ultimately, what really upsets me is that this kind of attitude, being against federal assistance for others when it doesn't help you, in this case, non-college attending citizens, reflects the level of selfishness that seems to be so prevalent in our country.  This "where is my share" disease, yes, like a virus I call it a disease due to its ability to spread from person to person, is fast becoming our national motto.  Like America First, it tells everyone that unless a policy or program helps me, I am against it, even despite the fact that it most likely benefits a niece or nephew, or a fellow church goers child, or the relatives of your co-workers.

The fact is, there is no such thing as a government program that helps everyone.  We can certainly debate if our tax money is being used most efficiently, but that is not the "don't bail out rich kids" message. Do we scuttle the child tax credit because not everyone has children? Do we cease spending money on mass transit systems because most people don't take the bus or train? Do we cancel the mortgage interest deduction because not everyone owns a home? Do we end school lunch programs because some people are able to provide their kids with lunches? When do we stop worrying about what we aren't getting, and appreciate those programs that help us, or be grateful that our health and circumstance and efforts have resulted in the fact that we don't need assistance, but know that others were not as fortunate.

I recently had a discussion with a neighbor, family man with 2 young children, who was lamenting about the cost of health care insurance.  That in itself is a fair discussion, and we both have had many examples of how health care costs have skyrocketed, yet we also know that a lot of that cost goes to insurance companies, not to medical providers.  We shared many complaints.  

But one complaint we did not share was the problem of having to pay for health insurance even though he was healthy. Now, clearly, as an older adult, I value health insurance much more than a young man would. I am sure his attitude will evolve when he is 60 years old. But for now, I tried to balance his concern over this "wasted" money with the idea that perhaps he should be happy that he is healthy, and that he doesn't need to make use of his insurance all that much.  Sort of like, I am not upset that I paid my life insurance premiums for 30 years, but never got to use the service, because I didn't die. Isn't it better to have insurance and be healthy, than feel you are getting your money's worth because you are sick?

It is bad enough when middle and lower class Americans are jealous of a program which helps some other person in their economic status but not them. But seriously sick when organizations such as AAN, organizations funded and run by wealthy people via a tax law that allows them to raise and spend money without paying taxes, sponsor ads that attempt to drive a wedge between Americans who should be working together to address the economic inequality that has rewarded those AAN affiliated people, and penalized the majority of us.  Remember, about 90% of Americans earn less than $125K, so we should be happy for those in our boat, even if it is not us personally, because it is "our" boat.  Please keep that in mind when you see TV ads sponsored by dark money organizations run and funded by the rich, that tell you that you should be against assistance to people who need help. It is those people, the people who earn middle class wages and purchase middle class products and take middle class vacations that are most like you. When you protest programs that help people more like you, you are falling into the trap of the rich who can use their money to twist an issue and take advantage of your needs by fooling you to believe that helping someone else takes money away from programs that might help you. They don't want any program to help any of us, and until we realize that, we will continue to vote against our best interests. 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Another Side of Oil

I began reading Thomas L Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded", a while back.  Reading it here and there, but not with any consistency.  Just finished Chapter 6 which is titled "Fill 'Er Up with Dictators".  To summarize, Friedman makes the case that there is a connection between high oil prices, and the advance of authoritarian regimes around the world.  

He posits that when oil prices are low, western nations have leverage to push for democratic reforms and freedoms, plus pressure from the citizens themselves for such changes also gains traction.  But, when oil prices spike, those same external and internal pressures can be ignored.  In fact, flush with money, authoritarian leaders tend to use that income to suppress political rivals, shut down newspapers which criticize them, and beef up their personal and military apparatus, while being able to trade concessions from the west for an increase in oil production that will reduce global oil prices.

In essence, Friedman is saying that our addiction to oil (and natural gas in the last decade), funds the very people who actively desire the decline of global democratic nations, or at the very least, want them  weakened.  He illustrates his theory with a chart that seems to reveal a correlation between these phenomenon.  What is really interesting is that "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" was written in 2008, so there has been another 14 years of the rise and fall of oil prices to check his theory.

But let me backtrack a bit.

I found a chart from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) which listed the US crude oil purchase price per barrel from OPEC from 1974 to May 2022.  Using the January price for each year as a benchmark, the cost was between $7 and $10 per barrel from 1974 to 1979, spiked to $34.59 in March 1981, dropped below $30 by Feb 1982, then steadily fell through the $20's until Feb 1986 when it went into the $teens until the end of the century with a short rise over $21 in Jan 1997 but also falling under $10 for a while in 1999.  Now, I know that this is a big generality, but weren't those years, especially 1990 to 1999, a time when America actually had a few balanced budgets, and, did not involve itself in many foreign conflicts?  Is it possible that because the tyrants of the world, did not have the money to fund their atrocities things were relatively quiet? 

With the new century, prices still stayed low (below $30) until 2004, when they began to rise steadily, into the $40's, then over $50 per barrel in 2005, then over  $70 in Sept 2007, over $80 in Nov 2007, over $95 in March 2008, peaking at $128 in July 2008. The economic meltdown gave us brief relief, but by 2011 we broke the $100 per barrel mark again and stayed over $90 until Sep 2014.  Is it a coincidence that Russia invaded Crimea that year?  

Another oil price crash from late 2014 through mid 2016 kept prices below $50 a barrel until mid 2017 but prices mostly stayed in the $50's and $60's until the pandemic of 2020 when oil prices fell back into the teens for a few months in the spring of that year.  At this time, most global oil producers scaled down their production as their break even points were far above this low price.  But when recovery from the pandemic outpaced the return to higher production, oil prices spiked passing $50 then $60 then $70 in 2021, then $80 in Jan 2022.  Which brings us to Russia invading Ukraine, and then a dramatic spike due to the western countries boycotting Russian oil.

Now, as they say, hindsight is 20-20, but were all those pundits wrong who did not point to rising oil prices as a reason for Putin's decision to invade? Or is it a coincidence that he became aggressive at the exact two times when oil peaked in price in the last 10 years?

Friedman, of course would have no way of knowing about that oil price spike leading to Russian aggression since he wrote his book in 2008, although he did correlate some of the reform attempts by Gorbachev when oil was low.  Mostly though, he focuses on the nations of the middle east, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran as examples of when oil was cheap, reformers were tolerated, but when oil spiked, leaders clamped down on freedoms.  

The sad part of all of this is that when oil was cheap during so many of those years before 2008 when his book was written, and since then, America and the European nations didn't take full advantage of the drop in cost.  Could we have kept oil prices at the pump higher by increasing the federal gas tax and investing that extra money in greener fuel sources?  Could we have continued to increase our average gas mileage standards, including trucks, to keep the pressure on global oil supplies thereby keeping the price down rather than reverting to our gas guzzlers when the price dropped down?

I have said a few times this past month, that we should not let the price at the pump drop much below $4 a gallon, certainly not below $3.50, but should instead raise the federal gas tax to match the drop in price, thereby providing extra money for green investments, rewarding those who choose to buy cars that either get 50 and 60 miles per gallon, or who buy e-cars, and also providing a first strike option to reduce the gas tax should prices take an unexpected turn due to an uncontrollable global event.  

Currently, the tax is only 18.4 cents per gallon (24.4 for diesel) and hasn't been raised since 1993. Compared to national gas taxes in European countries which are all over $1.50 per gallon, most over $2 and a few over $3, and it is obvious that we are not paying the true cost of our gas when you figure in the cost of pollution and greenhouse gases that are ruining our environment, not to mention that portion of our defense budget that goes to the various expenses related to the issues that Petropolitics have created ever since we helped the Arab world and Russia figure out how to get their oil out of the ground.

The main point of Friedman's book is that we should be focused on creating a green revolution which would not only begin to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources, but would also create tens, if not hundreds of thousands of good paying green industry jobs, demonstrate America's leadership in tackling the climate change crisis, and, bonus, defund the type of authoritarian leaders who use their petro dollars to suppress freedoms in their own country (Saudi Arabia, Iran), attack other sovereign countries (Russia), and indoctrinate and radicalize their citizenry to demonize western nations.

Of course, as I have said, this book was written in 2008, and, while oil prices were low as compared to now, America did not follow Friedman's advice.  We are still using more oil than we produce, despite US oil production tripling since 2008.  And, even in those months when we produce as much as we consume, oil is sold to the American consumer at global market prices, plus we still sell oil overseas.  While drill, baby, drill makes for a good bumper sticker or yard sign, the fact is we have been drilling, yet still we find ourselves whining about high pump prices.  And, in the meantime, global oil consumption and production is just about at 100 million barrels per day, so increasing our production by even 20% year over year, is only another 2 million barrels a day.  

Reducing and replacing our oil dependence is the only realistic way to become energy independent, and yet 14 years after Friedman's book we are only baby steps on our way, and even those steps are being constantly assailed by those beholden to the fossil fuel industry, and those who choose to ignore the data. 

Sadly, I found 3 posts I had written about oil back in 2010.  I say sadly because, at the time, I was reacting to the deep water Horizon oil disaster, and I say sadly because there wasn't enough done since then to try to prevent what is happening today.  Here are those posts.     




And lastly, as I have done before, here is a link to the story I wrote, in 2011, which cast a negative light on our energy policy, and foretold our continued dependence on foreign energy sources, although with a slight twist.


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Thank You Supreme Court Justices

I have posted a number of "thank you" blogs in the past few years.  They might generally fall under the heading of sarcastic thank yous, although I am serious in my praise of the subjects in that I believe that it is often human nature to only address a problem when forced into a corner, and so sometimes we must acknowledge those people or circumstances that inspire "good" people to get off the sidelines and act.

This theory also connects with the often stated belief that the truly horrific things that happen in life, whether to groups or individuals, occur due to the inaction of "good" people, as much as the horrible actions of those bad actors among us.

My last thank you was to Vladimir Putin.  In it I detailed a few silver linings which I hoped might emerge as a result of Putin's war on Ukraine.  From realizing that all wars, even those engaged in by America, result in refugees, dead citizens in the streets and families broken up by violence, to coming to terms with our addiction to fossil fuels, in general, and oil in particular, to applying our alleged belief in Christian values by condemning actions which illustrate a might makes right philosophy, it would be wonderful if in 20 years we all look back on Putin's war and conclude that humanity took a few steps forward as a result of rejecting sociopaths, and their methods.


Which brings us to the recent decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe V Wade.  

I have already stated in a few previous posts, that, in my opinion, the logic behind the majority opinion which reflects an originalist viewpoint of the Constitution, is misguided.  I not only find it hard to believe that the founders would have expected their words to be set in stone, with disdain towards future generations adapting their lofty concepts to social, political, technological, medical, etc, advancements, but find it unfathomable that they thought that as our democracy evolved, their efforts to expand the rights of citizens would be used to restrict freedom for those that, in the late 18th century, weren't truly recognized as included in the ideal reflected in the phase "all men are created equal".  While we might argue that they may have not considered that women, Blacks, and the LGBTQ community would someday be legally recognized as being equal to the white, elite, business and land owners of their time, I find it hard to accept that they would have been OK with restricting the rights of those groups simply because it took amendments to the Constitution to grant them some measure of equal, legal footing.  Or because it wasn't obvious that all men means all humanity, regardless of race, gender, etc.

Of course, we could debate whether they thought such unenumerated rights should be controlled at the federal or state level, although, again, I would like to believe that they so worshiped freedom, that they might be aghast at the necessity for federal laws to override state laws which restricted individuals from marrying someone of the same gender or different race, accessing contraception, and yes, even choosing an abortion which, for me, reflects as intrusive a law preventing a woman's freedom as any of the others.

Which brings us to why I am thanking the justices of the Supreme Court.

It should never have been necessary for the original Roe V Wade decision to allow a woman to control her reproductive health, just as it shouldn't have required SCOTUS to step in when some states had enacted laws which restricted the freedoms of Americans due to their race, sexual orientation, etc.  I am glad they did, but once time had passed and the majority of people realized that the sky would not fall in if people married outside their race or gender, these beliefs should have been codified in law, by Congress.  If it occasionally takes the highest ruling body in the nation to remind us that we are all not free unless everyone is free, fine, but once we come to acknowledge how our prejudices are one of the biggest obstacle to realizing true freedom for all, Congress needs to do its job and pass federal legislation that enumerates the rights that some claim don't exist, especially considering the outdated biases that still occupy the minds of certain state legislators.

Of course, each state could put the matter on the ballot and let the people decide as Kansas just did when it allowed the citizens to decide if there should be a (state) constitutional right to abortion.  I would certainly favor all 50 states doing so, as well as asking its citizens to decide if gay marriage should be legal.  Curiously though, I doubt such a wave of referendums will occur.  

For one, I think that the voters in very few states would actually vote to ban abortion, or contraception, or gay marriage.  Which is why you don't see state legislatures which lean towards banning some or all of these things, proposing such a referendum as they know they would lose most of the time.  Also, as has been seen in a few examples where a referendum was held, there are some state legislatures, and governors for that matter, who, at the end of the day, don't really care what the voters think.  It is easy to find examples of this arrogance by looking at a few marijuana referendums that passed but are actively being log jammed by leaders who don't agree with their constituents, and use their power to derail the real life enactment of those  referendums.

Not to mention, current and wanna be public servants who have not been shy about claiming that if elected, they will reserve the right to decertify the decisions of a particular state when they see fit.  The obvious example is all the cult members who think that if they are elected this November, they can roll back the election of Joe Biden in 2020, and name Trump the winner of their particular state.  Or do the same should the former president lose in 2024.

Funny how the decision at the polls which puts some people in power can be questioned about someone else's election, but no one ever claims fraud when they win.  I guess I will never understand how thinking Americans buy into the concept that our elections are rigged just because of one sore loser.  Nor do I get how these same Americans can believe that most of this fraud happens in someone else's state, not their own.  I mean, if our elections are rigged, shouldn't everyone renounce their victory and start over?  Aren't all the results suspect?  

But I digress.

So again, hats off to the justices of the Supreme Court.  They have recognized that, while they might be arbiters of the law, they should limit their creation of policy to a minimum, and have reminded all of us that we need to hold our public servants accountable to conceive of and pass laws that promote freedom, even for those who look, love and worship differently from us, and that we, the American electorate, need to demand such action.  We, and those serving us in our state capitals and in Washington, must make the hard decisions so that rights we think are sacrosanct can't be pulled out from under us due to our lack of attention.  And so the founders can be proud that we improved on their work in 1776, not just let it languish.





 


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Lessons from Aunt Fran

My Aunt Fran passed away 2 weeks ago.  Her sister (my mother), niece (by marriage) and great niece were with her when she left us.  Her heart had begun to fail a number of years ago, not surprising considering she was 83.  When she was admitted to a rehab facility to regain her strength, after 5 days in hospital, I had the feeling one sometimes gets when observing a downward spiral such as she had been experiencing.  The feeling that she might not return home.

Aunt Fran was a simple person.  At some point in her young life she was diagnosed as having a below average intelligence, which set her on a course quite unlike that of most people.  As this was before WW2, attitudes towards someone like Fran were, at best, tepid, at worst downright mean.  Judged as someone incapable of living a "normal" life, Fran never married, never worked outside the home, never learned to drive, never traveled anywhere she wasn't brought along to.   

I never asked her if she missed any of those things.  I fall back on the excuse that I was 12 years old when she and my maternal grandmother moved in with us, was just adjusting to a new life in a new place (we had moved to a larger home for a number of reasons, one of which was to accommodate those additions to our now extended family), then soon came high school, young adulthood when I behaved like so many selfish, self absorbed young people.  It is the same series of reasons I use to explain why I have much less memories of my aunt compared to my younger siblings, 3 of which grew up with her as a member of the family, always there.  For them, Fran was as much an older sister as an aunt, someone who babysat them, played board games with them, went on vacation with them, even shared complaints about our parents with them.  

But if am honest with myself, my limited memories of Fran, and my lack of really getting to know her, is part and parcel to my own personal perception of someone "like" her, someone on the fringes of society, someone considered non-productive, not interesting, not of consequence.  

When my brothers and I began sharing snippets of memories the day Fran passed, I contributed only a few comments.  While I did remember that she liked to assemble puzzles, did many paint by number paintings, liked McDoanald's fish filet sandwiches, Lipton noodle soup, and ovaltine,  I didn't remember that she liked to garden, put her name on certain food in the fridge and pantry so no one else would eat them, was good at finding things when others couldn't, ordered baked ham at the one of the local diners the family visited while on vacation (again, I was missing for most of these trips due to my age, my desire to rather be with my friends, and then not living at home anymore), talked of TV and movie star boyfriends she never met, painted her nails and gossiped about the soaps.  All the things that made her unique, but most of which I missed, or didn't try to discover.

There is a lot of talk about the "nanny" state, that Americans are getting too reliant on the government to take care of us, to protect us (from ourselves), to help us achieve personal happiness as if we can't figure it out on our own.  I understand that danger, understand that there needs to be a balance between personal responsibility for one's own life, while also providing assistance when circumstances create obstacles that are difficult to overcome without assistance.

For Fran, her circumstance, and the time when she was born, made her completely dependent on others.  Not necessarily because she was incapable, but because it was decided for her.  Fortunately, my grandmother, then parents, then my mother by herself when my dad passed, provided the comforts of life for her, helped, a bit, by a monthly check and subsidized healthcare from the government. 

Despite my lack of participation in knowing Fran, I at least recognized the sacrifices that were made, especially by my parents who most likely never considered taking care of her a sacrifice, as well as acknowledging that programs that are part of the nanny state, helped provide Fran with a modicum of monetary security.  When I hear people bemoan the "takers", it is Fran I see, along with my mom who lived her life for others and now is able to continue to help her family and friends in large part due to the social security check and medical coverage she receives each month, and my sister who, while not like my aunt in terms of mental deficiency, has been more dependent on others, family as well as government, to live her life.

Fran deserved better from society, but lived a pleasant life due to the love of her family.  She deserved a better nephew than I provided, but received much more love and attention from other nephews, nieces, and grand nieces than most people.  

If it turns out that we are judged, not by our possessions, or career accomplishments, or popularity or influence, but by how we treated those we encountered who were born with less, or were limited by society or situation and thus achieved less, then I might be on the short end of that stick in regards to Fran, certainly not in the same league as my mother. Fortunately, I have some time to improve the score, some time to correct my penchant to render opinion on others without getting to know them, by looking past my own biases whether they be influenced by race, gender, intelligence, religion, political views, or any of the other reasons we tell ourselves for not liking, or not trying to understand those we encounter.

More broadly, I hear a lot of Americans who worry about how strong our country is, or isn't. We will spend over a quarter of a trillion, that is trillion, dollars this year on our defense budget, but it is only monies being spent on veterans, poor children, healthcare for the elderly and sick, and environmental safeguards that get debated, negotiated, or voted down by the fiscal hawks. We have the strongest military in the world, the most weapons of destruction, yet we still worry about how strong we are.  Perhaps we are using the wrong measuring stick.

In general, Fran wasn't taken seriously enough by most, certainly not by society at large, to have taught us any lessons.  For me, her life is a reminder that all lives have a purpose, even, perhaps especially, if that purpose can't be readily divined by the usual methods of evaluation.  For America, Fran's life provides the possibility to realize that strength is all about treating the least among us with respect and dignity, and certainly not about who we can kill remotely, or how quickly we can assemble troops and weapons wherever we want. 

Fran was a simple person.  Well loved, if not always noticed. Heaven will be better now that she is there. 

  


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

A Promised Land

Not sure whether I bought it for Nora, or she for me, but one of us received "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama for Christmas, 2020.

I am sure I meant to read it before recently, but am glad that I waited.  Like so many books which are autobiographically in nature, this one being a recount of Obama's life from before he entered politics through his first term interspersed with glimpse of his childhood, it is often much more interesting for there to be some time having elapsed.  Considering all that has happened in our political world, the 2016 and 2020 elections, and the insurrection on 1/6/21, just to highlight a few, it was an amazing read.

Of course, an autobiography, by its nature, will mostly emphasize the positive parts of one's life.  Very few people spend money and time to tell the world what a jerk they were, or detail all their failures.  And Obama certainly presents his life with Michele, before and after children, the early part of his political career, the sudden rise to national attention, and his first presidential campaign and term in office, as an inspirational story.  

But he also expresses uncertainty, not with his family, but in some of the choices he had to make as president.  He reminds the reader that, as president, even one who may win a 55 to 45 percent decision, still must face the knowledge that whatever his policies, a significant number of Americans will disagree with his choices.  Not to mention, as the first Black President, nothing he does or says will be accepted by that small percentage of the electorate that holds onto the Jim Crow version of America that would never accept him, not even as an equal man, let alone the president.  Nor did it help him that outright falsehoods of his birth country were spread by influential members of the GOP.  While we know from our history that political partisanship was not invented during Obama's terms, political ideaological differences combined with our difficult racial past, does not equate to an environment of cooperation and compromise. 

But be assured, "A Promised Land" does not dwell on obstacles as much as on the perceived accomplishment of Obama.  From expanded healthcare coverage availability through the ACA, to the successful discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama details the inside workings of his time as president.  Even more importantly, and in direct contrast to his successor, Obama doles out much praise for the men and women who helped him accumulate and analyze the data towards making those difficult decisions.  From Michele to Vice President Biden to the innumerable public servants who served in his cabinet and other elected and appointed positions, Obama makes it clear that a successful presidency is as much about the team as it is about the President.  He acknowledges the achievements by naming those who helped them occur, and laments the disappointments without demeaning those who chose not to help him, with the understanding that American democracy requires all view points to be considered.  Those opposition leaders who blocked his policies did so because they represented the millions of Americans who did not vote for him, not just because they did not love America, as some people say when faced with opposition to their proposals.

It is impossible to know how the Obama Presidency will be viewed in 20, 30 or 50 years.  I expect he will fall in the middle somewhere, not one of the best, not one of the worst.  But I hope that all candidates for the office, and especially those who are elected to serve in the White House, spend some time reading his book.  His perspectives related to the seriousness of leading a country as diverse as America are priceless, as is his understanding of how such diversity, and the viewpoints that can be gained from seeking out opinions other than one's own, makes a leader as well as our country stronger. It is a lesson that seems to be on the decline in American government today

One thing for sure, Obama was ahead of his time.  Too bad not enough Americans realized that during his tenure, and since his departure from the presidency.  Let's hope that both parties can find someone with vision, future not backwards vision, so that we have a real choice, as opposed to the less bad of two poor options choice that we may have again.  I have often said that we need a Next Greatest Generation to bring us out of our current political morass.  In fact, I wrote a story about just such a generation in 2014.  (See below).  

https://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-next-greatest-generation.html   

I am hopeful that just such a generation will not only produce leaders who emulate some of Obama's best traits, but demand such leaders. Only then, as with MLK's vision, will the promised land for all of us become more than just a book title.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

I posted once before about Obama.  See the link below.

https://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2020/07/obama-or-trump.html

Friday, July 15, 2022

Different VS Special

I was thinking about how seemingly easy it is for certain politicians and pundits to assign blame for the problems that confront us to segments of the population that are different.  Of course, this is not a new ploy, rather it is a strategy with known success, having been utilized by all kinds of leaders; dictators, autocrats, populists, even popes.  Simple in its genius, identifying those that are different due to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc, supplies the majority with, not only an easy target to dehumanize, but also justification for avoiding self reflection.  

When it is someone's else's fault, we don't have to engage in that all too difficult exercise of analyzing what we might have done wrong, or where we might be off base in our own thinking.  

Yet, what is the difference between different and special?

For those of us in our more mature years, we remember when people with low IQ's were called retarded with all the negative connotations that were associated with that word.  It didn't matter that people born with low IQ's were created that way, by the same god that created those of us with normal IQ's, those people were different.  Now, I won't go into all the horrific things that were done to people born in the earlier part of the 20th century, forced sterilizations, etc, but it doesn't take much to remember that calling someone in the playground or neighborhood a retard, was not a compliment.  

Fortunately, great strides were made to remove the stigma from those that god created with a low IQ, so that now, while there can still be obnoxious behaviors exhibited towards those with this trait, there has also been real progress in labeling them special.  I can't imagine any better example of humans treating other humans properly than the fact that we have Special Olympic events occurring in thousands of towns across America, in an effort to bring this segment of society back into the fold of humanity.  

Special rather than different, or worse, retarded.

All which makes me wonder about some of the other groups that have been dehumanized in an effort to make the majority feel better about itself.  Clearly, there is a resurgence of hateful rhetoric about the LGBTQ community, specifically driven by certain religious groups who are using the theory that God doesn't love these people even though they were created that way, by God.  It is no wonder that religious affiliation among those 35 and under has continued to drop when they see that all that talk about being the best you can be and being true to oneself and making the most of your gifts were all bullcrap if one's best self didn't conform to a distorted vision of God's mercy and love for her creation.

But, Joe, I have been asked, what if everyone decided to be gay?  Our civilization would cease.  Well, I can assure you that no guy I ever went to high school with would have willingly chose to be ridiculed and bullied for being different.  So, clearly, while more people can finally feel comfortable with identifying with their own particular sexual preference, there are far more men who are still afraid to admit their "from birth" preference than those who are "choosing" to open themselves to the difficulties that are still ingrained in many cultures and religions today.

But I digress.

The main point I really wanted to address is how come some groups of people that are "different" are elevated to the level of "special", and some do not.  For instance, while I can attest to the fact that there were nuns who forced left handed children to learn to write with their right hand, we generally don't actively discriminate against left handed people.  While I put nothing past a populist looking to blame any minority to gain votes and power, I haven't seem anyone openly calling left handed people rapists or murderers, even though only about 10 percent of people are left handed.  In fact, if you can throw a baseball accurately or quickly, you can have moderate talent in relation to other baseball pitchers and still make millions of dollars a year, if you are left-handed.

And, speaking of sports, what percentage of Americans are over 6 feet 4 inches?  For men it is about 1%.  For women, only 1% are over 6 foot tall.  All these people are different, yet most are looked up to 
(ha-ha) at worst, glorified if they can shoot a basketball.  Not to mention all the mesomorphs who, if they are special in that they can block or run or tackle might be millionaire football players.  

In essence, all successful athletes are different, yet are treated as special.  

People with IQ's over 130 represent only about 2% of the population, even less than the percentage of people that are born gay.  Now, granted, there are certain politicians who bash the "elite" while pretending to be everyday people (although almost all of them occupy the top few percentiles in intellect, talent, wealth, social class etc, all the attributes of elite), in general we seek advice from those with higher intelligence, seek stock tips from those with wealth, even, at time, seek approval from those with higher social status.  

Obviously, there are many other examples of those who different being treated as special.

One could even go so far as to way that, while the desire to be normal, to conform, to be like everyone else, certainly creates a boatload of stress and anxiety in our culture, the desire to be different, to stand out, to be unique, also does the same.  To me, it is the ability to balance those two desires that makes a person happy with their life.  We strive to be recognized as the individual we are, while bending our nature, here and there, to be part of the group, to avoid being labelled different.

I have said this before, and will say it again.  Somehow, someway, humanity needs to evolve to a point where diversity among the miracle of the creation of humankind, becomes more than just words in a declaration or on a tablet or in a holy book.  It needs to be the stuff of epic poems and songs and dare I say it, political movements.  We need to stop pretending that we are grateful for the myriad forms of life which exist on Earth, including the amazing diversity of race, culture, and perspective, and actually glorify whatever god or deity or supreme being we worship by acknowledging that diversity.  While I do not believe that the universe was created solely for us, I do believe that such a magnificent achievement, whether for us or to be shared with other beings, demands that we start treating each other as special because we all possess some type of trait that makes us different.

If interested, these two links address the subject of prejudice as well.




    

Sunday, June 26, 2022

One Step Forward for American Theocracy, One Giant Leap Backwards for Womankind

Interesting article in this month's Smithsonian about women and divorce, especially interesting in light of the long awaited release of the Supreme Court ruling, or should I say dismantling, of the precedent of Roe V Wade.

The article details one woman in particular, and all women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who found themselves in a marriage that did not work for them.  Although she lived on Manhattan Island in New York, the particular woman, Blanche Molineaux, had traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to seek a divorce.  

During this period, ending a divorce depended on where you lived, as the concept was legislated at the state level, and was strictly limited to residents of each state.  In 1902 when this story takes place, South Dakota had one of the least restrictive resident requirements before one could divorce under its laws, six months.  And Sioux Falls, located at the eastern side of South Dakota, and served by multiple train lines, became a desired location for woman seeking to divorce from their husbands. 

While this may sound a bit far-fetched, women traveling thousands of miles to exercise what we today would consider a basic right, to be able to choose whom to love and marry, during America's first century woman were legally treated pretty much as property, so a woman divorcing a man was akin to a couch seeking a divorce from its owner.  

At this point, the story gets sensationalized, because it turns out that Blanche's husband is not only unloved by Blanche, but is a murderer to boot, twice over.  Blanche herself was no shrinking violet either, as one of the victims of Mr Molineaux was her alleged lover, but despite his actions, murder was not a legal reason to seek divorce in New York, only adultery, and only if committed by the husband.

Blanche did in fact, gain her divorce, did remarry, and in fact divorced her second husband as well.  Like many stories of those who choose to act outside the prevalent norms of society, hers allows us to wonder at the backwardness of past perceptions, and feel happy that no such laws and taboos exist today that would prevent an entire gender from seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as one such famous declaration stated.

Until this week, that is, with the recent decision by the Supreme Court.  Positing that abortion is not "deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition", Justice Alito, along with the four other justices who prefer a 19th century America to a 21st century one, have, for the first time in our history, negated a right which had been granted.

While I am sickened by this decision, Alito is correct in one aspect.  There is no deep rooted history and tradition of treating women as equal to men, just as there is no deep rooted history and tradition of treating black people as equal, and certainly no deep rooted history and tradition of treating the LGBTQ population as equal.  While I can understand why the four men voted to legalize 2nd class status to women, it seems astonishing that a woman would agree.  It makes me think that Justice Coney Barett she may one day be perceived on par with Benedict Arnold, in this case for betraying her gender rather than country.  

As for Justice Thomas, well, we had our chance to block him from appointment when Anita Hill revealed his true nature.  Sadly, as with Brett Kavanaugh's hearing, woman are, at best, not believed, at worse, treated with disdain by those who relish in the thought that they can do whatever they want to women (see Donald Trump) as long as they remain in good standing and abide in the unstated rules of the rich, (and generally) white-men-who-have-ruled-America-forever club.  

What alarms me just as much as this apparent return to men-will-be- men, and too bad for women who are now mandated to carry an unwanted child, no extra laws having been passed requiring paternity to be established at birth, and, at least, financial assistance be provided by the male in question, is the knowledge that the five justices who agreed with Alito's outrageous opinion, are all Catholic (or raised Catholic as was Justice Gorsuch).  Only John Roberts, also Catholic, was able to separate his faith from his adherence to the law (sort of like the separation of church and state, which sounds familiar in reference to our founders). 

In other words, we are moving towards a theocracy.  Now, don't get me wrong, a theocracy is better than an autocracy, in that at least with a theocracy we know the rules Catholics follow, where in an autocracy, who knows what wild hair will effect Trump when he rolls over his empty fast food containers and out of bed.

True, gay marriage is out.  As are any laws allowing people to express any type of gender identity that scares the pope and his male cohorts.  Interracial marriage, perhaps not in those Nazi states where white nationalism still holds sway. Sex education, no way. In fact, even birth control, other than those two famously effective methods of penis withdrawal before ejaculation and the rhythm method, would become law, although, strangely, the declining enrollment of children in parochial schools in the last 40 years might indicate that most Catholics already stopped obeying that "law". Fortunately for the meat industry, that whole no meat on Friday during Lent rule was allowed to go by the wayside.  

But with an autocracy, all bets are off.  Morals, norms, laws, equal treatment for all, all those ideas that represent our idealized (if not realized) version of American democracy, would be totally dependent on the whims of the not elected leader.  Free press, forget it.  Fair elections, yea, fair when the dictator wins.  

(As a side note, I saw that among other crazy notions, the Texas GOP's recently released platform calls for the 10 Commandments to be taught in schools again.  I wonder if any of those Christian delegates have actually read those commandments lately?  While teaching moral lessons is certainly a good idea, I wonder if they realize that replacing the rule of law with the rule of their god, sounds a bit like the Taliban's belief that sharia law should be enshrined in government.)

So, what is to be done?  Sadly, we are now embarking on at least a decade of legalized, unequal treatment of millions of women in America.  I say a decade because, once abortion is made illegal even in those states that allow an exception for rape, incest and the medical necessity to save the mother, it will take quite some time for women to regain their right to choose, especially in states that are red as blood.  A decade, at least, because it will take women to vote as a bloc to regain their status as equal to men, and there are far too many women today that are either nonchalant about the right to choose, perhaps never having faced an unwanted pregnancy, or too brain washed by their particular strain of religious thinking in which women should be, first and foremost, a vessel for children, wanted or not.  In other words, it will take the gradual changeover of women voters (and men, to a degree) due to the young becoming eligible voters and the old passing to another realm. 

In the meantime, the Biden Administration must guarantee that no state may prevent women from their state to seek an abortion in another state.  Also, if there is a way that the medications that are available to induce an abortion can still be mailed within those states that have banned it, that process should be pursued.  Perhaps in states where the legislature bans abortion but the governor still respects the right to choose.  And, to expose the hypocrisy, all pro choice candidates must push for equal responsibility laws for mandated pregnancies, so that the burden does not fall on women alone.

One last caution.  In the above paragraphs, I joke about theocracy being better than an autocracy, but the the real joke is thinking we will have a choice between the two.  Power is power, and those who seek it, above all, will not care what guise their power comes from, far right religious beliefs, white nationalism, anti-whatever makes people vote for me, or just lies and distortions.  

Democracy, Virginia, is not our birthright, not divinely inspired, not the inevitable result of our evolving nature towards fairness.  It is hard work, attention to details, and the ongoing battle to throw off the shackles of our past prejudices, while moving towards a day when we don't need laws to guarantee equal treatment, we just know it in our hearts and our heads, despite our religion, gender, race or origin.



Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Universal Guild

                                   The Universal Guild

As had been agreed upon through the last great treaty of those advanced beings who resided in Galaxy Seven, the half century evaluations were in process.  

The ships had been dispatched months ago although the use of the word ships was solely a nod to the past, a respectful recognition that vehicles for space travel had evolved from the time when exploration to worlds beyond one's own boundaries, meant navigating with vessels of wood and metal across vast oceans of water.  And so, in deference to those days, craft which now roamed the universe, continued to be called ships by many, even though they were more akin to advanced computers than ships. 

It had taken much cooperation, after much violence and bloodshed, for the peoples of Galaxy Seven, as it was referred to by the Universal Guild, to evolve to this point.  Many a times, some within the Guild had proposed a Cleansing of Galaxy Seven, or at least, an isolation ring.  Too much tribalism, too much selfishness, too little reason, empathy and perspective.  But, the slow process of progress interwoven with segments of backsliding had finally resulted in the year when Galaxy Seven was welcomed into the Guild, albeit as a probationary member, subject to the rules and restrictions of such a classification.

One such condition was the 50 year report on the progress of those planets which contained sentient life.  This report was both critical to the advancement of Galaxy Seven towards permanent membership within the Guild, and necessary for the evaluation of the planetary occupants themselves, if they wished their home worlds to remain in good standing within the galaxy.  

It was also the main mode of identifying planets for their own Great Awakening.

There is little documentation available detailing the struggles of the earliest beings as they attained the knowledge and social maturity which eliminated violence.  We know it was as full of fits and stops and starts as any other civilization's.  We also know there were many more failures than successes.  Still, there was a treasure trove of records that detailed the early, if not the earliest, trials and tribulations of the species who were able to leave their most violent traits behind, yet still have the ability to compete with grace, and cooperate above all, to attain the level of technological advancement and sociological empathy that nurtured all the beings within that particular society, not just those that looked, loved, or worshiped in a similar fashion.  

And even more critically, time after time, the passing of the threshold which almost exclusively separated those that survived and flourished from those that withered and died.  That important threshold in which a full understanding of the fact that material success, while desirable and important, did not give those who had won the birth lottery in terms of resources, economic as well as mental, to use that advantage to keep others less fortunate "in their place".  It was not enough for a society to realize that the physical advantages of the strong bodied should not be used to bully those who were weaker, it was necessary for the same realization, and cultural condemnation, to be applied to those who used their mental superiority to take advantage of those less fortunate.

In stark terms, it took the denizens of any particular planet to incorporate the philosophy that helping one another, specifically, those born with less by those born with more, towards the goal of all being given access to and opportunity for happiness and prosperity, was the one and only proven way for long term viability, and hence was the most important yardstick for evaluation.

As the space computers began arriving to have their data downloaded into the portal which connected all the various portals to the main computer monitored by the technicians so trained by The Guild, there was much interest in the data emanating from Galaxy Seven, and especially from the third planet orbiting around star 2790.  

Star 2790 was a relatively young star within Galaxy Seven, and like the many stars with similar traits, had been placed on the watch list after the standard waiting period of 4 billion years. Then, once it had been determined that the third planet in distance from star 2790 contained the raw materials for future life, both the star and that planet were moved to the next level of surveillance.  At that point, with the standard protocols in place, the waiting commenced.

Again, the archives of the Guild did not include all the accepted and rejected protocols that had eventually resulted in those that were now stringently followed, but the current process had been in place for millennia.  In summary, this process included the following:

- Assistance at the molecular level to begin the evolutionary process

- Continued tweaking at this base level to allow for the most diverse results in terms of plant and animal life

- An imprinting of sorts, that provided, at the DNA level, a latent connection to something bigger, something superior to itself

- Intense monitoring which sometimes included a cleansing, whether it be of just animals, or actual precursors of future intelligent life

- Routine visits (routine defined as intervals of tens of thousands of years) which reinforced the imprinting from the earliest days

- The "let alone" period in which, it was hoped, that the new life form would progress reasonably along the desired path, a period which had been determined to be within a fairly limited time frame, although that time frame, when compared to billions of years, still spanned thousands of generations.

- The science and technology phase, almost exclusively the last part of the process, in which the planet's occupants developed the ability to leave its home system for space travel

It was this last phase that always generated the most interest for the technicians of the Guild, as it was during this phase that the path was set forth for The Great Awakening, or obstacles instituted to restrict the ability for significant space travel for that planet's inhabitants. And it is this last phase that the third planet from star 2790 had been placed in a recent evaluation.

The technician in charge of this particular section of Galaxy Seven, was very experienced.  Caelestis had a reputation for fairness in her evaluations and recommendations, but also strict adherence to the guidelines.  She was not prone to sentimentality yet also understood that tolerance and understanding also needed to be applied when evaluating this most important phase.  

The computer which had just returned from Galaxy Seven had begun its download of data weeks before arrival, but it would still be a number of days before all the data was compiled, and still more time before the analysis would be auto-checked against the standards.  Only then would she be given the signal to begin her final evaluations.

In the meantime, Caelestis reviewed the previous records related to this planet, the raw data, the analysis which was done by the main computer, and her own recommendations.  While, in general, the planet's progress was within standards, there was an unusual manifestation of tribalism that revolved around the belief in a superior being.  This belief in itself, that "something" was the source of all life, was, after all, part of the imprinting process that the Guild had established in its efforts to nurture life in the universe. 

What was different in this planet's reaction to this implanted concept was their use of violence to, allegedly, prove the superiority of their own particular religion, as they called it.  For most civilizations, the idea of an all powerful creator was a unifying factor.  But for this planet, it had been responsible for an incredible amount of war and death and destruction.  It seemed that very few of those who declared allegiance to their particular version of the Almighty, understood the seemingly obvious point that all life forms, plants, animals and people, were created by the same superior force.  Especially those with consciousness.  And, by that common thread, all should demonstrate their fealty to the Almighty by treating all other people as they would want to be treated, and as a show of appreciation for the variety of life as given them.  To glorify their creator by recognizing that all men were made by that same creator, and should be treated equally.

Caelestis hoped that this new set of data might reveal some progress in this area, especially if there had been significant advancement in their ability to travel beyond their planet.  Space travel would be restricted, should there be the possibility that a respect for those alien life forms that would be encountered, could not be assumed.  If the peoples of this planet couldn't live in peace with themselves, there was little chance they could live peacefully with other worlds.

When the computer analysis was delivered, Caelestis scanned the charts and graphs, and reviewed the detailed information.  Her face slowly changed from serious scrutiny to a furrowed brow to a look of consternation.  She shook her head more than once, and put down the papers a couple of times and closed her eyes, before going back to her reading.  

When Caelestis finished her review, she opened the evaluation portal, keyed in her thoughts, read them, made a few changes, then closed the link.  She walked to the window, looking out without seeing the panorama of light and life.  She felt sorry for the people of this tiny planet in Galaxy Seven, for she knew that there was no other choice than to place an isolation ring around that planet for at least another cycle, and that they would not be eligible for their own Great Awakening for at least another century per Guild guidelines.

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As an occupant of the third planet from star 2790 within Galaxy Seven, it is hard for me to predict if and when we might have our isolation ring removed. We demonstrate such impressive generosity when we employ our traits of empathy and understanding, yet also such horrific cruelty when we follow demagogues who appeal to our worst instincts, our most selfish motives.  

Just these past few years we have witnessed tremendous selflessness by those who cared for and treated the early victims of the Covid pandemic, sometimes providing comfort for those who died without family nearby, sometimes getting sick themselves yet returning to the cause once they recovered, only to witness more death.  Yet so often too, we saw the very worst as well, exemplified by those who valued a misguided definition of freedom above the health of their own neighbors, friends and families.

When a militarily superior country invaded a neighboring country, we united in condemnation for such an outright act of aggression, pledging all kinds of support.  Yet within a few months, we forgot that sometimes a global gesture requires a global sacrifice, and so when our own energy prices began to rise, rather than mirroring the sacrifices made during the last global conflict when gas rations were accepted as part of winning the war over cruelty and saving democracy, we have reverted to only caring about lower gas prices even if it means ravaging our own environment.  

And then there is gun violence.  Alone among virtually all other western countries, America embraces the right to own a weapon of war over the life of its children.  A blind allegiance to a poorly interpreted "right" has now produced debates centered around locked doors and armed teachers, rather than addressing the problem head on.  When the country that purports to represent the best of our species, cannot control the use of guns to inflict injury and death among its citizens, what chance do we have to be accepted as members in good standing within Galaxy Seven? 

My wife often shares her idea that we should fill our sports stadiums with armed crowds of good guys with guns, set off a firecracker, and see how many good people get slaughtered by this absurd concept that all we need to reign in gun violence is more guns.  I can't help but wonder if her idea has somehow been communicated by the Guild, who have placed an isolation ring around our planet, keeping us from spewing violence into the galaxy while allowing us to shoot our guns at each other within a stadium called Earth.