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).  


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.


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.


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.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Seeing the Forests and the Trees

The May Edition of the National Geographic was all about forests with a focus on explaining the importance of forests, the critical role they play in protecting our planet from various climate related problems, and how the scientific and environmental communities are working to save them, and ultimately, ourselves.

From old growth forests in Europe to new clues about arboreal evolution to return to ancient methods for reducing the damage to forests caused by fires, to a glimpse at the Phantom Redwood, which is a rare albino variety of the redwood, the issue delved into everything forests and trees in an attempt to convey that, while trees are under attack from from climate change and other human caused disturbances, there is time to limit the damage with a concerted effort.

And, of course, as is typical with Nat Geo, the issue was replete with pictures depicting the wide range of the beauty of forests.

Among the many things I learned is that their is a world wide effort to bring tourism into play in an attempt to create a bridge between  interest in environmental concerns that exploring our natural world can inspire in individual tourists, and the communities which work to alter their behavior in order to create such ecotourist destinations, which, in turn can lead to a positive feedback loop between environmental groups and the public in general, who often perceive the environmental movement in a negative light; what we shouldn't do, and/or what we need to sacrifice in order to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gases.

It is that type of paradigm shift that is necessary to convince the public that working towards the goal of keeping climate change within another degree, or even half a degree, Fahrenheit, is a win-win situation.  Towards that end, I read of programs in various places around the world which feature canopy walkways.  These unique tourist attractions allow us to "return to the trees" so to speak by gaining a completely different perspective of our world from the top of a stand of trees. 

Another article related the effort by scientists to help trees migrate, a process that has been ongoing, naturally, for many decades as our climate has warmed.  The idea is to plant seedlings of tree species just a bit north of where they might ordinarily thrive in hopes that in the following years, the trees of these new forests will find the new weather pattern conducive to growth.  It is a delicate balance of choosing the right tree species, predicting the distance that the tree lines are already moving, and finding the right location.

There is also an interesting article about a renewed effort in Australia to learn, or perhaps relearn is the better word, the Aboriginal methods of using small, controlled fires to clear the brush during the wetter seasons, so that the eventual fires that occur during the hot, dry seasons encounter less tinder as fuel which reduce the loss of acreage to those inevitable fires.  

Just another example of working in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate her, a process that always backfires.

While it is always a pleasure to delve into a dedicated Nat Geo issue, and always inspiring to read about all the people who spend their time to learn about nature, whether it be animals or plants, we are in a the middle of a difficult time featuring intense pressure to put aside our concerns for the environment.  The war in Ukraine with its associated disruptions in the global supply of gas and oil, seems to be far and away a bigger issue than the "down the road problems" that will occur via climate change.  It is just another example in a long history of short term thinking that finds us in the same place as we were about 50 years ago when the OPEC oil embargo caused a spike in gas prices and long lines at the pump.  Despite that stark warning, that America would never be able to meet its energy demands without depending on some form of imports, and that, ultimately, even if we somehow managed to refine as much oil as we need, the price at the pump will always be effected by the global give and take of supply and demand, we continue to pretend that drilling for more fossil fuels is the answer.

And, while there are no easy solutions to both our energy supply issues and the environmental damages which human induced climate change is already creating, there are clear cut pathways to finding the balance which will address both at the same time.  You can say that we lack the will, or that we lack the vision, or that we lack the patience to take the steps we must take, even when there is short term discomfort.  In the end, however, it won't matter why we didn't do what was proper, only that we left future generations with a limited time and limited resources, both which we have been wasting for decades.

The good news is that those species seeing the forests and the trees in 300 years may still be able to witness such majesty, diversity, and life. The bad news is that one must wonder is the human species will be among them.     

Tuesday, June 7, 2022


As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently finished reading the April/May edition of the Lapham's Quarterly, called Migration.  As is generally the case, the edition expanded my perception of the migration concept, by presenting many articles and essays that did not address human migration, instead discussing animal, and even plant migrations.

Perhaps it is just another indication of the anthropocentric perspective that I have, that most of us have, in that I did not even consider that I would read so many essays detailing migration stories that did not involve humans.  Maybe that in itself, the continued realization (or maybe it is better phrased, the remembering) of the fact that while the human species may be at the top of the food chain at this time in Earth's history, it has only been so for a minuscule percentage of the existence of Earth, should be our constant reminder.  And that should we continue to act as if our survival is all that matters, that without some recognition of the need for harmony with nature, it may come about sooner rather than later that Mother Earth once again is occupied exclusively by plants and animals, not including humans.

Anyway, as is my recent pattern, I reviewed those posts which I titled Immigration, and have provided a link to the three most recent of them although the youngest is already pushing 5 years old.  Here they are:

So, returning to the Lapham's edition, I left bookmarks in a number of places, in hopes of mentioning them either specifically, or in general comments on the magazine as a whole.  Most are migration stories concerning a group of humans, one an excerpt from a book about the subject itself.

For instance, did you know that for the first century, America not only had no laws restricting immigration but openly courted people from around the world to come here for economic opportunity and social freedoms?  That even during the late 19th, early 20th century when the rumblings of xenophobia began to generate political campaigns and nascent laws to label specific peoples as undesirable, the sheer numbers of those crossing the Atlantic, and their ability to establish some level of acceptance through family, kept the serious migration- phobes at bay, at least for those emigrating from countries with people whose race was close enough to those clamoring against the coloring of America, and the invasion of new cultures and traditions.

Or how about the fact that in 1939 the trans Atlantic liner St. Louis left Germany with roughly 930 Jews, all whom traveled with papers that stretched the truth of their real reason for their trip so that they could flee their homeland where they were deemed unwelcome?  And that these people, half of whom were women and children, were repeatedly denied landing in Cuba, despite having official permits allowing them to land there, and the United States, even though most had papers declaring that to be their eventual end point? That they were forced to head back to Europe, despite the money they had paid for those Cuban and US permits, but that during that return trip, many countries witnessed anti-Jewish rallies and speeches, so, after 40 days and 40 nights on the water, various members of the group were grudgingly allowed to disembark in a few different countries where they were treated like all the other Jews of that particular country, depending on its willingness to embrace or fight Hitler's goal of eradicating the Jews.

Or finally, the story of the migration of black doctors to Europe in the decades before the Civil Rights movement in America?  A time when even black veterans from WW2 found in difficult to use their GI Bill money to gain access to US medical schools, instead experiencing a more pleasant experience overseas.

It is this last story, that reminds us that when we endorse restrictive immigration policies, especially those that target specific peoples based on race or religion, we are as much the losers as those we deem unacceptable.  Is it even possible to enumerate all the discoveries and innovations that had helped to propel America towards its current position of influence and power that exist due to the influx of immigrants in the 20th and 21st century?  Will someday historians mark the beginning of America's decline as the time when we turned to nativism and the scapegoating of those that looked or loved or worshiped differently from us, thereby sending that needed dose of new blood, fresh ideas, and a selfless work ethic to other countries? 

My wife and I had visitors this past weekend, and one of the topics was the work ethic of the immigrants, illegal and legal, that we have personally experienced or know of from discussions with other friends.  What was especially interesting is the understanding that those initial immigrants, the first ones of each family to venture from their homeland for better opportunity, are often the ones with the least work skills, but the most work ethic.  The ones who toil for long hours for low pay but who still manage to put enough money aside to send back to their country of origin, and/or, pay for more family to immigrate.  The ones who often work for a few years, then start their own small businesses.  The ones who make sure their children are better educated than themselves.  The ones who live to see that first, and often second generation of Americans, their children and grandchildren, enjoy freedoms, opportunity and even acceptance.  So many American success stories, just like those of our friends and my own family, whose ancestors took a chance on themselves and the ideal that if they worked hard, America would reward them.  

It doesn't matter if the old country is Germany, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Guatemala, or El Salvador, the pride of those who first emigrated passes down to that first and second generation who now claim America as their native land.  

I wrote a story about 10 years ago called The Debate.   It was futuristic, in that it depicted the controversy surrounding a proposal to legalize a certain type of marriage.  In some ways it is a negative story that reflects the fact that prejudice and xenophobia may be with us far into the future.  But it is also positive, in that it intimates that those tribal forces which compel us to circle the wagons and immediately fear social progress, evolve to include wider and wider swaths of people.  As the fear of the clan on the other side of the mountain became the fear of those who spoke another language, evolved to the fear of those who worshiped a different god, or loved a different way, perhaps someday our prejudices will have a more planetary basis.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Texas Massacre 2

After my last post, I remembered that I had written a story about what it might take to bring about new laws that would reduce the recurring gun violence that is, not just prevalent, but that defines America today.  It was written in July, 2013, after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, after the Senate failed to advance any kind of gun reform.  For me, that indicated that we, America and Americans, were OK with the occasional murder of our children in school as long as we could wave our flags and proclaim we were free. 

I am including it again, today, because I have very little faith that any new laws will result from the horrific murder of 19 children and 2 teachers which occurred in Uvalde.  Why should I think otherwise, when the NRA is holding a convention in Houston, the same state in which the slaughter occurred, and the actual senator from that state, Ted Cruz, and the man who most consider the leader of the GOP, Donald Trump, will appear and give a speech at the convention amidst acres and acres of weapons designed to kill people!

In my last post, I proposed a few common sense adjustments to our gun laws that are supported by a large majority of democrats, a majority of independents, and many, if not a small majority of republicans.  Yet, because of the power of one organization which is basically the advertising arm for the gun industry, and the power of the former president who wields an outside influence over millions of Americans who have long ago traded their humanity for the belief that wearing and wielding a gun allows them to intimidate anyone who expresses an opinion (not to mention looks, worships and loves) that differs from their own, we now demonstrate our exceptionalism by leading all similar countries in per-capita gun deaths by an extremely large margin.   

So, here is The Conspiracy that Changed America, a story which presents one man's reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre and the failed attempt to enact common sense gun laws.  I hope that the "solution" that inspired the lead conspirator is not the only way to address this problem, and I encourage anyone who would like to put forth their own thoughts to comment.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Mass Murder in Texas

I recently started reading "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama, and just finished reading the Lapham's Quarterly April/May edition titled Migration, so I assumed my next few posts would concern topics from those literary efforts.

And then came news of the massacre in Uvalde, Texas.

Before starting this post, I reviewed what I had written in the past.  Fortunately, my blog can be researched by topic, so I read the 3 posts which were under the heading Gun Control, two for which I am providing a link.

And then I remembered that I stopped labeling these kind of posts as gun control and started using violence control.  Sadly, there were 21 posts under that title.  Here are links to a few of them.

In the beginning, my posts were my thoughts on violence control in the area related to our overwhelming affection for guns, and the glorification of using guns to express our disagreements with each other and our government.  But as time went on, I was often motivated by especially horrendous examples of mass killings, and so there were posts following past mass killings such as those in Tuscon, Arizona, Las Vegas, NV, Sandy Hook, CT, Parkland, Fl, and (unfortunately) other places, and even a post about the murder in DC during a GOP softball game, and after a murder in my own small town. 

Far too many posts concerning a subject that, for me, defies logic. It is not rocket science.  Study after study demonstrates that more guns mean more gun violence and more death, and where gun laws are lax, gun violence is greater.  So, when your state legislature passes open carry laws, or removes the requirement for a permit to purchase a gun, or does not require background checks, or eschews training when a gun is purchased, they are increasing your chance of dying from gun violence.  In other words, you have voted to increase the chance that you or your spouse or your child, will be killed by someone with a gun.  

But what I also noted from my posts, is my emphasis on the belief that stricter gun laws which ban assault weapons and multi round magazines, that require background checks, that attempt to keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally unstable or have a history of violence, may reduce, but will not prevent gun killings until we decide that violence is not an acceptable response to frustration, not a solution to bridging the rift between our various religious and political ideologies, not the Christian way to interact with one another.

Until we admit that we are the outliers among those countries that we deem civilized in the way we allow our children to die at school, allow those with mental challenges to snuff out their own lives, and allow the misplaced dogma that links manliness and strength with guns and violence, to continue to be our yardstick.

I would offer the solution that we vote on a binding referendum in the November election with the following 5 questions, but I fear that even if the electorate votes yes on some or all of these laws, there would be endless court hearings on the constitutionality of such an idea or, most likely, court rulings that would even prevent such an act of democracy from occurring.  Can you imagine the outcry from the gun industry and those politicians in their pockets, allowing the American voter to  decide one way or the other to

- ban all assault weapons as defined by weapons that can shoot multiple rounds in seconds
- institute a national background check system which confirms that an applicant has not been convicted or recently been accused of committing a violent crime
-ban all multi round magazines
-require a license for all new gun sales which includes mandatory training and care and storage of the weapon
-require a national registry of all guns and the immediate reporting of the theft of a gun

As I have said multiple times to my wife, friends, relatives, we know what to do, even towards solving the most complex problems.  We just lack the will to do it, even when most Americans are in agreement on a possible way forward, let alone when every single utterance and issue instantly becomes the symbol of some type of political stance, or is countered by the most widely absurd conspiracy theory.  

For the last few years in which data is available, we have been killing each other and ourselves at the tune of 40 to 45,000 people per year through gun violence.  And, while it is true that we will never bring that number to zero, it is the height of stupidity, not to mention, cruelty, to not try to save future American families from the sadness of losing a family member to suicide, or the intense grief from losing someone to a sudden, violent death, or the incomprehensible horror of losing a child after dropping her off at school.

Perhaps we are just caught in the natural pendulum of backlash that occurs when social change outpaces the ability of a large percentage of society to absorb it.  It wasn't that long ago that violence was on the rise after a tumultuous time of social change.  Just look at the amount of unrest and violence that occurred in the 1970's following the changes which marked the Civil Rights breakthroughs of the 1960's. 

Maybe in another decade or two, when the white nationalist rhetoric revival related to the first elected Black President of the United States, has been summarily rejected by those just now coming of age, just as the more base beliefs that marked the early 21st century concerning the inherent inferiority of those without pale skin have been shown to be childish and mean, we will embrace the idea that treating others as we would want to be treated precludes the use of guns and violence.  In the meantime, use your voice and your vote to demand that your legislatures pass laws that protect you and reduce gun violence, not encourage it. 




Sunday, May 15, 2022

Student Debt "Crisis"

In my first Abortion post, I mentioned that I had been thinking about a post concerning the recent debates surrounding student debt relief.

First, I did some reading from various sources concerning how this situation developed.  Also, full disclosure, both my children have student loan debt from attending 4 year colleges from 2010-2017, and my wife and I also have debt from funding these efforts, initially borrowing money through the Parent Plus loan program.

There are a number of factors which have contributed to the current situation which finds over 40 million Americans holding student debt worth over 1.7 trillion (that's trillion) dollars, a number that was just about $500 billion only 14 years ago.  All of the articles agreed on some causes, but not on all.

What was agreed upon was that state aid to higher education has been reduced dramatically over the past 20 years causing the need to borrow more.  Some of those cuts can be blamed on legislators and governors who promise low taxes to get elected, then reduce budgets to fulfill those promises, the education budget being on the list of popular choices.  This is especially relevant to the rising cost of state universities where less public tax money has been available.

Another agreed upon factor is that it is just too easy to borrow money for college, both for students and parents.  There are no qualifications, other than filling out the forms.  Now, one might say that by making it easy to borrow, all students, even those from the middle and lower economic classes can now have access to college, but it is still true that since the government backs all student loans, there is no incentive to make sure that the money can be paid back.  Add to the fact as listed above that state assistance has been greatly reduced, and it is clear that more borrowing, student and parent, is required.

And then there is the skyrocketing cost of higher education which has far outpaced both the normal standard of living cost increases and the wages of pretty much every economic class below the very well to do, who generally don't borrow money for college anyway.  (And whose children tend to get into the "better" schools based on legacy and income, but that is another story).

So, you have steeply rising costs, partly attributable to simple supply and demand, as college is still associated with higher future wages, so more applicants mean higher costs can be charged, a sharp reduction in state aid to fund both 2 year community colleges and the 4 year state schools, and am ample supply of loan money.  

Also, a factor that I did not mention above, is that it does cost more to run a university, public or private, as student services have become more popular and costlier, educator pay has increased beyond those of other careers, and there is a need for more teachers and support staff than previously.

All those reasons, plus the fact that student loan interest rates are much higher than that of homes and cars.  For instance, while the Stafford loans for students, loan that are capped at an amount that has not kept up with the rising costs, are in the 3.5 to 5% range, when my wife and I borrowed money through the Parent Plus loan program, the rate was 7.9%. While it has dropped a bit since we employed the program, it is still over 6.25%, a remarkably high number given the historic lows in interest rates that we have experienced until just recently.


Like any problem, it is important to understand the causes while considering a solution.  From that perspective, merely forgiving student loan debt is, at best, a band aid on a limb threatening injury. I don't know if, as part of an attempt to address this situation, there is serious talk about digging deeper to address the root causes, but if not, then this situation will not go away, student debt forgiveness in the short run or not.

That being said, and while I know that my children will benefit from $10K or more being lopped off their debt, I would prefer that the whole idea of student debt forgiveness be rephrased as student loan interest forgiveness.  In other words, once a student has repayed the principle of their loans, the remaining interest should be forgiven.  This rewards the effort to repay, while eliminating the penalty of all that interest that has accumulated, especially since that money has been generated by what most people might consider higher than reasonable rates.  Also, and this is another example of Democrats phrasing an issue poorly, student loan interest forgiveness plays better in the heartland where people can understand their federal tax money being used to reward those who have paid their original debt, as opposed to what some believe is just the elimination of debt without the string of responsibility for paying something back.

This also connects to the idea of a new GI bill that would be created for those who serve, not just in the armed forces, but in the community as well.  Perhaps, in conjunction with the "free" community college idea, the free is only free when service is attached; it is earned, in other words.  Again, I believe that most Americans would be on board with their tax money used to pay for 2 year colleges for those who give back, whether it be in the military or a local assisted living community, or a school, or any other place where young people can provide support for those less fortunate than themselves. Or, if service without direct compensation sounds too much like indentured servitude, then perhaps most (or all) of the pay would be "paid" in a manner by which the student can choose to take a small portion of the money for living expenses if needed, with the vast majority targeted to their choice of advanced education.

And this idea of service, does not just apply to college.  It is very clear that some people prefer to seek their future in ways that do not include college.  We need to find a way to provide blue collar skills training, either through an apprentice type program, or some other way that allows for future electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, etc, to get the skills they need through real life experience without being made to feel that just because they aren't attending college, they are less smart, less important to our society, less worth the trouble to help.

It has been proven time and time again, that money spent in early intervention programs, is recovered 4 and 5 times over, sometimes even more.  What could be better for our national economy than to have a generation of young people who receive solid career counseling which offers the full gamut of possibilities, whether advice that steers the student to academic or trade options, who are encouraged to be involved in their communities while receiving the benefits of government provided assistance if they need it, then who emerge from whatever path they have chosen, partially or completely debt free with the skills that enable them to begin their life with knowledge and confidence.

And to be that much better positioned to become consumers, if I may be so crass, so that the demand for more goods and services will not be hampered by debilitating student debt first.

An investment in our youth to guarantee a growing economy, a trained labor force, and an educated public (educated defined in both the traditional way and as applied to acquiring life skills).

Ah, but that still leaves the actual cost of higher education.  This is where we may need government regulation that freezes tuition costs for a few years, then ties future tuition increases to a rate at or below what the average American worker nets in wage increases.  Had even that second part occurred since I attended college in the 1980's then today's tuition cost would not have been such a huge factor in the current debt crisis. For instance, one report I read calculated that college costs since 1980 have risen 213% at state schools, 129% at private institutions.  In other words, the days when summer income could pay for fall tuition no longer exist.

Finally, since all the reports I read point to falling education investments on the state level as a contributing factor, perhaps we also need to vote for state legislators and governors to increase (in real dollars) education funding.  While higher taxes may be a less enviable choice, a dedicated education tax in combination with some creative public-private partnerships, and an evaluation of where the state tax dollar goes towards prioritizing education, might be worth considering.  

As for easy credit, I can't imagine that Americans want their youth tested in high school to weed out those who should or shouldn't be allowed to go to college.  Yes, encourage each student and their families to make the choice by providing the full range of options, but we must still provide anyone who wants to the opportunity to attend a 2 or 4 year college.  But, with the knowledge that whatever assistance is provided, federal or state, must be repaid through service or money, and that those costs will not balloon above the student or parents ability to pay, and that the reward at the end of the process might be student loan interest forgiveness, but only after the principle is repaid.

Like all of our more complex problems, there are no easy answers, but simple solutions, like student loan debt forgiveness without any further discussion of the root causes of the problem, will not solve the problem.  In the end, it is always about priorities.  Do we want to prioritize the education of our children, or pretend that without support, financial as well as social, our youth, and consequently our country's future will be assured?   

Saturday, May 14, 2022

One last thought (for now) on Abortion

Since the leak of the draft opinion that would overturn Roe V Wade and send abortion rights back to the states to control, there has been numerous protests by Americans who are pro-choice.  While I am not a fan of people gathering outside the homes of some of the Supreme Court Justices as I would prefer that they confine their voices of protest to the workplace, in this case the Supreme Court Building, I support their right to advocate for their beliefs, and hope that those who choose to exercise their right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (that would be from the First Amendment of the Constitution), focus on the word peaceably, unlike those who chose to assemble outside Congress on January 6th, but then went further, attacking the Capitol police, breaking in windows and doors, chanting various threats concerning the elected officials within, and vandalized various offices and public areas of our Capitol building.  

A riot which injures over 140 police officers and damages public property in an effort to delay the peaceful transition of power, a tradition which is one of the main differences between our democracy and those countries which have weaker versions of democracy, is not even close to "peaceable assembly".  So again, I cannot emphasize the importance of those who are engaged in protesting the loss of a right, the first time in our history that such a loss might occur, do so peaceably.  If we (those who believe in a woman's right to choose to bear children or not) do anything less than this, if some among us choose to fall to the depths of those who attacked our Capitol and our hallowed tradition of a peaceful transition of power, then we are no better than they are, and can not pretend that we honor the rule of law.

At this point, most reporting seems to indicate that this opinion will stand.  There has been some rumors that Chief Justice Roberts would prefer a less aggressive ruling, perhaps some type of compromise that maintains a woman's right to choose within the framework of a reduced time constraint, perhaps something similar to the laws of many of the European countries, maybe 15 weeks (like Mississippi's law which is the basis of this SCOTUS hearing), but that seems unlikely unless one of the 5 who have signed onto the current opinion choose to recant.

I don't think it is untrue that the viability of a fetus outside the womb has been altered over the past 50 years due to medical advances.  Still, according to most medical research, babies born less than 22 weeks after conception have very little chance of survival.  And, of course this number drops to virtually zero percent, once we get below 20 weeks.  

Yet, the idea shouldn't be that if a fetus cannot live outside the womb, it should be eligible to be aborted.  Clearly, the fetus is alive, a future human being, and we should acknowledge that, and not pretend that a future person can be destroyed for any reason.  It is this callous thinking that gives fuel to those who are anti-abortion.  By recognizing that the fetus, even at 15 weeks, is a life, we can find common ground with the anti-abortion advocate, then attempt to make our case that the woman is not merely a vessel carrying this life, but also a person who has rights to make decisions about their future as well.

As I said above, I believe there is a middle ground in this controversy.  Not that I think that a compromise will satisfy 100% of the people; that is not possible in any difficult debate, and not something we should expect to achieve.  That is why I am aghast at the possibility that more than half of the states might have abortion bans by the end of summer. But I do believe that the majority of Americans, if asked by binding referendum at the 2022 November elections, would vote to:

Alter, if you like, Roe V Wade to allow abortions for any reason up to 18 weeks, and to terminate a pregnancy as decided by the mother and her doctor, for rape, incest, threat to the life of the mother, and clear indication that the fetus is medically compromised.

Again, I know this does not satisfy everyone, but it does maintain the right of a woman to choose within reasonable constraints, while providing for the protection of a fetus from a capricious decision to cut its life short.

That being said, it would be irresponsible of me not to say two things. First, I am a man, incapable of bearing and birthing a child, so I would defer to a woman who believes my proposal needs tweaking.  My goal is to present a compromise position that enables America to move past this controversy without exposing us to a restriction of other rights which are not mentioned in the Constitution, especially those rights related to privacy such as birth control and marriage.

Second, it is critical that we address the issue of lack of access to health care for far too many Americans.  I mentioned in my first post concerning abortion that, while the abortion rate in America has fallen dramatically since the 1980's, there are many countries in Europe, especially the Nordic countries, that have far lower incidences of abortion.  A main ingredient in that result, and remember, the foundation of preventing abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, is sex education, easy access to birth control methods, and a concerted effort to treat sex as a recreational act as opposed to a procreation act.  To eliminate the deep root of puritanism that views sex as a behind-closed-doors, necessary evil to keep the flock growing, as well as a way to punish and control woman who dare to engage in pre-marital sex, despite the fact that every pregnancy requires a man to participate.  

This issue, like so many of the issues of today, needs real debate, a bit of compromise from both sides, and a decision that reflects the majority of Americans, not that of one side or the other.  Like all issues being debated today, we are all Americans, and should remember that, especially in light of the horror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the atrocities occurring all over the world where democracy is under threat from autocrats and dictators.  Those kind of people thrive where there is confusion and doubt concerning the institutions of a nation, doubt that they first sow, then take advantage of by providing an easy scapegoat and simple answers to complex problems.  

Living in a democratic country is much harder than under a dictator because there are no hard choices to make, you just do as you are told, no questions, no debates, no input.  Wouldn't it be refreshing, and empowering, if America could come together, fashion a compromise concerning abortion, and move on to the next big issue.  It certainly would show the world how strong is our democracy, and how better it is to live in a country that respects all opinions while fashioning laws that are acceptable to the majority even when grudgingly accepted by a minority that had some hand in the creation of those laws, those compromises. 

Friday, May 6, 2022

More On Abortion

In my last post, I expressed my opinions on the recent disclosure that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe V Wade and return the  abortion issue to the states.  

In this post I would like to offer comments on what my research has shown in terms of preventing abortion, and why banning it is the least effective method.

But first, the Leaker!

I believe that, in general, those who leak information about how our government acts, or will soon act, is not in the best interest of our country.  There are some things, such as information relating to specific instances of our military involvement in the Ukraine war, that is better left secret until it makes sense to release it.  

However, I must also state that there is far too much secrecy taking place in the halls of Congress, the White House and other federal agencies that should not be "classified", just because a government official thinks so, as too often this justification is not for overriding security reasons but more to hide some type of nefarious activity.  That is why the existence of government watchdog agencies, both within the government such as the GAO, and without, need to be allowed to do their work, without threats or recriminations from those we elect.  It is why I was so appalled at the former president's statements regarding former US Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman who revealed his astonishment at the attempts to link arms to Ukraine for dirt on a political rival.   

In this vein, I truly hope that the Leaker of the abortion opinion has multiple statues dedicated to him or her, especially if it turns out that it is someone from the left who is appalled at both the opinion, its harsh comments for the Supreme Court justices who first created the Roe V Wade guidelines (it was a 7-2 decision, for those who forgot, with 5 of the 7 being Republican nominated judges), and the strong possibility that other non enumerated rights related to the right of privacy may also be "returned" to the states, such as marriage (interracial or gay), and birth control.  Not to mention any rights for the trans and LGBTQ community that have been recognized in the last decade.

This is a monumental ruling, the loss of a "right" for the first time in American history, and frankly, if it has been decided, should have been released immediately upon its adjudication. There is no reason, certainly no national security reason, for a decision like this to remain outside public knowledge for more than a few days, let alone months.

Also, just to emphasize how damaging this ruling could be, and using Justice Alito's own words in which he claims that a right must be "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition", it is not hard to imagine any right that is less than 120 years old, a time frame that would certainly not qualify as "deeply rooted", might also be returned to the states.  You know, trivial things like a woman's right to vote, civil rights, and even the right to travel, the right to a fair trial and the right to trial by your peers, all not specifically enumerated in the original constitution (if at all), but which we all believe are sacrosanct.  In other words, all the rights fought and died for by people not born white men.

Ok, enough of that.  

So, let's assume that most Americans, while not necessarily eager to exercise their right to an abortion, understand that such a difficult decision should be left to those involved and their physician, but who also would like to reduce the incidence of abortion.  In other words, most of us would like to see abortion continue to be on the decline, as it has been in America since its peak in the 1970's and 80's.

What does the research show?

First, here is a link to a reasonably recent study on when, where and why abortions happen.  What I learned from this report and other things I have read, is that abortions do not stop happening just because they become illegal, they just become more dangerous for the mother and fetus.  But, once legalized, abortions are not only safer, (we are concerned about the mother, right?), but they tend to decline over time when combined with increased education about birth control, better access to health care services, and other support from the various institutions that are involved in a person's life (political, social, religious, family) which empower woman to take control over their reproductive life.  In other words, if we teach women they have the ability to decide for themselves (along with their partners) when, and how not to become pregnant, we reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, hence the number of abortions.  There is no doubt. Sex education (which certainly can and should include abstinence emphasis for those under 18), an understanding of and access to birth control methods, affordable access to health care services for all women, and the understanding that punishing woman for having sex does not prevent abortion, will reduce its incidence.  Anything else is ineffective, and dangerous.


To put it simply, we need to devote our energies into strategies that prevent unwanted pregnancies, which means providing all the methods which enable sex to occur without conceiving.  Yes, I said it, sex is not just to procreate and any remaining vestige of that concept that still permeates our religions and culture is itself, one of the obstacles to reducing abortion.  

Speaking of sex, why is it that so much of the responsibility of these unwanted pregnancies, hence abortions, lie at the feet of the woman.  As far as I know, it takes a man's participation also.  Where are the accompanying laws banning abortions that require paternity to be determined and for the male to be at least financially responsible for the care and upbringing of this mandated life?  Or are the legislators from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc, setting aside state money to pay for these mandated children?  Oh, sorry, I forgot, they only care about the fetus, the baby is not their concern.

Finally, and speaking of Louisiana, I see that there is a law cruising through their house and senate that would declare a fetus a person upon fertilization, thereby placing a woman and her doctor who participate in an abortion subject to a murder charge.

There is just one little thing wrong with that idea; a number of widely used birth control methods (probably used by those very same legislators and their children), prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, such as an IUD.  In other words, this method of birth control would immediately become illegal, a grandfather amendment would have to be passed to allow those who have an IUD inside them to retain it (I guess they will have to be issued an IUD passport so they can't be arrested, although I am not sure what kind of search and seizure procedure would be initiated for those without such a permit), and, I guess, any doctor or pharmacist or health care provider who talks about an IUD could be charged with conspiracy to murder.  But hey, maybe those good old boys who are pushing this law through their hallowed halls aren't up to date on how IUD's work.  Or they just don't care.

Because you see, that is what this is really about; men controlling women.  I wrote a story a while back called The Switchback.  It is not about abortion, but about an event that causes a whole bunch of people to wake up a different gender and sex, how laws were suddenly altered to reflect the new "face" of those now in charge, and what happened when the effect switched back just as suddenly as it had occurred. You can read it by clicking the link below, if interested.


Along those lines, can you imagine how the abortion issue would change if men could become pregnant?  I would imagine that not only would abortion be legal and that all health care plans would include this service, but that there would be TV ads for abortion medicines.  Kind of like all the ads we see for boner pills for men, but meant to restore a guy's ability to get back in the saddle once that little "problem" is resolved, discreetly and over the phone, arriving in the mail in a brown paper bag.   

As I said in my last post, ask all candidates for their stance on abortion and if they do not support a woman's right to choose:

#Against abortion rights, take a hike