Friday, October 25, 2019

In Observing...

Not sure exactly when I wrote this poem.  Probably in my early 20's, at a time where I was far too negative, hopeless, certainly dissatisfied.  A time of questioning the true meaning of life, the odds of being happy, and my own place in the scheme of it all.

I thought it important to share this poem because I expect to be focused on the environment in my next posts.  And, not from a hopeful perspective.

Look for the hidden message.

In observing the beauty of a
Sunset, I began to question the
Trueness of the feelings of the current species on
His only home.  Unlike the first men of
Eons ago, modern homo-sapiens' only concern is
Racing from place to place in search of
Exotic pleasure fulfillment.  Our predecessors were
Hourly amazed with things no more complex than
Oranges defying gravity or the subtle change in
Position of that tide-controlling ball which many
Eager wanderers tried so desperately to reach only to
Fall back in frustration.  When huge, dark clouds crossed
Over his sky, he sat in awe at nature's way of
Ridding her domain of impurities.  Now, a storm is a
Mere inconvenience for us, the technologically advanced strain.
Although many look upon the days of the dinosaur and
Neanderthal with pity, I do so with envy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Right to Choose

I caught the end of a Star Trek Next Generation episode today.  It was the one where the Federation, through the lead of one of its most brilliant robotic engineers, has decided to "decommission" Data.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, Data is a highly advanced robot, played by actor Brent Spiner who interacts with the other crew members (and the audience) as if a real person, although, like Spock from the original Star Trek show, Data is always working on his emotions.   At the conclusion of the episode, Captain Picard presents a case for bestowing the right to choose on Data, by appealing both to Data's obvious intelligence, awareness of his situation, and awareness of self (criteria often put forth as qualifiers for sentience), but also, by acknowledging that it is inevitable that other Data-like being will one day be created, a race of them, one might say, and that by ruling that Data is property, no more, with no choice to decide his fate, the Federation would be establishing a legal justification for the enslavement of future Data-like beings, even those who are created with even more human like capabilities. 

Laws which protect property over people.

The fact of the matter is that humanity has been struggling with the definition of property for all of its existence.  Legally speaking, men were often protected from the ramifications of spouse and child abuse due to the long held beliefs that they were the property of the man of the house.  Not to mention the hundreds of years of slave trade where people of color were sold in the marketplace right alongside cattle and sheep. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Self-evident perhaps to white men about white men and their possessions, who themselves often treated their children, spouse, and certainly men of color as property, perhaps even despairing at such beliefs but perceiving them necessary for economic reasons.  The decades after these words were written are marked by both amazing accomplishments, and horrific instances of denying those very unalienable rights to the Native Americans who populated our land before it was the United States, and those American born citizens who happened to be the wrong color.

Which bring me to the Turkish invasion of Syria.

Sadly, the focus of Americans seems to be that either President Trump tacitly gave Turkish President Erdogan the green light to invade or that we should not be involved in a country protecting its borders.  There is very little talk of the choices available for the people who live in this area of the world, people whose only crime was to be born there. 

Now, let's be clear on this.  The situation with the Kurds, is extremely complicated.  They exist primarily in an area which is labelled Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, on a map; upwards of 30 million people without a country of their own, perhaps the largest such distinction in the world.  Since a large share of Kurds live in Turkey where they press for there own self-governed territory or more representation in government, sometime violently, the PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, and other countries around the world, including America.  Yet, it was Kurdish forces which did the yeoman's work on the ground to help defeat the ISIS caliphate, and who currently guard the prisons where many ISIS fighters are held. 

In essence, the United States used the Kurds to help defeat ISIS, while condemning their acts of terrorism within Turkey to gain political independence.  If you see parallels to the events of the 1770's in colonial America, you shouldn't be surprised.  Syria, which is run by a Russian ally in Bashar Assad, a man condemned multiple times by the West for his awful treatment of the Kurds in his country, (just as ex-ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was vilified for gassing Kurds in nothern Iraq), is being turned to by the Kurds to help them maintain their land in northern Syria.  Whether Assad gives a shit about the Kurds or just wants to act as a thorn in Turkey's invasion of its land, is certainly debatable.  All the while, an Erdogan led Turkey, which is a NATO country, is becoming far too friendly with Putin and Russia.  I guess dictators and tyrants have their own club too.

And so the wheel keeps spinning with the Kurds looking to, literally, anyone to help them fight an assault that is creating over a hundred thousand refugees (where will they go, Turkey, Iran, Iraq?), destroying their villages and killing their soldiers. 

All because they do not have the right to choose and are fighting, among other things, laws which protect property (country sovereignty) over people.  President Trump is fine with allowing Turkey to defend its borders (he probably wishes he could create a buffer zone between America and Mexico) as that is one of his major political stances.  Russia is giddy with the idea that they can be the peacemaker, cementing their importance in the Middle East drama.  Syria is glad the line in the sand is now being drawn against Turkey.  And Iraq and Iran want anything except an independent country for the Kurds (especially if they get to control the oil reserves in the northern areas of these countries) so don't mind the Turks doing the dirty work of cleansing the area of Kurds, cleansing being the proper term.

The right to choose.  It is certainly a Utopian dream to believe that those uplifting words which helped create America, would actually be brought to fruition throughout Earth.  It would require a paradigm shift of the highest magnitude in so many phases of the tenets of civilized thought, none less important that the legal structure which protects property over people. 

The Kurds have fought, and will continue to fight, to protect their families and their culture from being forcibly removed from their homeland, a land where they have lived for centuries regardless of the name assigned to it on a map.  Yes, they are a tribe caught between many countries, sometimes to the detriment of their cause, but a family nonetheless.

Is it possible for a family to encompass such a large population while living in multiple jurisdictions?  Is it possible for a family to encompass multiple countries while sharing religion, culture or strong moral values?  Is it possible for a family to include all races and creeds, despite the variety of ways in which they speak, worship and love?  Is it possible for a family to be the family of Earth, as seen from the perspective of a being not of this planet?

Can we extend the right to choose to all the members of the family of man?  Do we want to, really?  Humanity has a long was to go before the words of the Declaration are applied to all the humans who inhabit our planet. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Climate Musings

I just finished reading the Fall Edition of Lapham's Quarterly, called Climate.  As usual, an amazing compilation of essays, notes and observations concerning the planet and its climate.  And, also as can be expected, a compilation that reaches thousands of years into our past, and even a few which describe possible future scenarios.

I bookmarked a number of the articles towards purchasing some books for Christmas, some of which are. 

The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eisely

Man and Nature by George Perkins Marsh

When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head

the Muqaddimah by Qalat ibn Salama

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Down to Earth byBruno Latour

How the Little Ice Age Transformed the West and Shaped the Present by Philipp Blom

The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire byKyle Harper

Many, if not all of these books exhibit a common theme; as mankind has experienced the boom in technology, industrial capacity, robotics, and modern medicine, as we have learned that we can control our environment, manipulate bacteria, extract more and more valuable commodities from the planet, we also take one more step towards a disconnection from nature and its cycles, so that while we have certainly advanced in a remarkable fashion from our humble beginnings, we have also misinterpreted that dominion over the flora and fauna of Earth equates to controlling and conquering nature, as opposed to the more responsible definition which includes taking care of and being responsible for the continued flourishing of the beauty and sustenance that nature provides.

In Climate, we have accounts of people working with the land, using its resources responsibly, so that they remain for future generations, side by side with depictions of men denuding forests for all its lumber, then moving on the next wooded area with no concern for the devastation left behind.  In both cases, these stories teach us a lesson about valuing what we have, and working with nature to improve our lives, as opposed to improving our lives despite the consequences to the natural world, as if the two are not intertwined.

Nora and I went to the movies last weekend and saw Ad Astra.  At one point in the movie, when describing the lunacy of men fighting over the resources of the moon and other planets in our solar system, the main character describes humanity as "world eaters".  The phrase is stated with the backdrop of malls and consumerism on the moon, all to distract us from the reality that our petty wars over resources, rather than been solved before we left our big, blue marble, came with us to the other rocks orbiting around our sun.  Is the epitaph "world eater" destined to be our legacy should others visit earth after humans are gone?

It is difficult to predict what the world may be like in 20, 30, 50 years from now.  I imagine that if we were to speak in depth with people born in the early 20th century, those who have seen the massive changes in transportation (horse drawn carriages to rockets), communication (telegraph lines and limited distance phone lines to instant world-wide access in your hand), medicine (millions dying and maimed from the ravages of polio and flu to the mapping of the human genome and targeted treatments based on individual genetics), and global interconnections (from alliances based on blood lines to ones based on money and natural resources), we would come away with the feeling that most of these scenarios could not have been foreseen, and that the aged are as much lost in the times of today as they are in the hurt that results from the death of their generation.

But what is easy to predict is that if we don't come to grips with the effects of the Anthropocene Age, especially the damage we are causing to the natural cycles of our environment, our future will be as unpredictable as the present is for those who lived 100 years ago. 

Will we be like the frog who doesn't notice the warming water until it has been boiled to death, or will we be able to pry our future from the deleterious effects that result from unrestrained capitalism and its crony, uncontrolled resource extraction? 

Can we take a step back from the idea that we are judged, we will be judged by future generations with a yardstick labelled profit and loss, and replace it with the understanding that history might reflect a new morality where the degree in which the Earth's population suffers, or does not suffer, from poverty, treatable disease, or a lack of opportunity for education and economic sustainability, was addressed with environmentally friendly solutions that not only promoted humanity's survival but did so in conjunction with nature not in opposition to it?

The other interesting take away I realized from Climate, is the pretty large trove of history that connects natural disasters with cultural and even social change in humanity.  And on a fairly large scale as well.  It is just another example of how understanding history, or at least understanding the importance of valuing historical lessons, can help bridge humanity's efforts to a more peaceful future.  Perhaps some of those connections as described in Climate are the result of connecting dots after the fact towards a result one wishes to find, but it can certainly bring one to pause when we consider how horribly we are treating Mother Earth, and how she may react, in light of past social and cultural upheavals that seemed to coincide or were inspired by a large scale natural phenomena, especially those associated with humongous volcanic eruptions and the change in world wide climate that a few of them caused. 

It is no surprise that we are experiencing an increase in human migration due to climate fluctuations, if one studies the reasons for past human migrations, migrations which compelled early hominids to seek more hospitable environs.  In essence, humanity has been searching for Eden ever since we became conscious of our discomfort, sometime driven by the search for better food sources, sometimes water, sometimes shelter, but often as the result of a climate change that made "home" less hospitable.

Just as no man should be above the law, humanity is not above nature.  If we continue to treat it as just another commodity, I fear we will be vastly unprepared for the ramifications of our folly, and not able to break the paradigm that put us in this mess, which will result in mankind engaging in the same actions which brought us a climate crisis, unable to shift quickly enough once the true danger is realized.  Certainly the lessons of history, and many of the entries in Climate, would lead me to conclude so.  Let's hope history is not repeated and I am incorrect.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Impeachable Offense

As is the normal cycle when Donald Trump is accused of something, the recent time line starting with the release of the whistleblower complaint and now, reflects the same pattern. 

First, denial that the wrongdoing occurred.

Then, acknowledgement that it happened, but not the way it has been reported.

Then, yes, it happened as reported, but was taken out of context, and by the way, this person did the
same thing and we should be investigating them.

Then, regardless of its legality or morality, when the president does it, there can be no legal ramifications (similar to Nixon's claim).

Mixed in with these steps are various permutations of shadow efforts to do the very thing he is accused of, use of all the legal and illegal methods that the rich and powerful have to escape responsibility from accountability, and use of his power (now, presidential power) to sway various factions that to go against him would be detrimental to their future.

Donald Trump, as candidate, actively welcomed foreign interference of the 2016 election, then used his presidential powers to interfere in the investigation, all the while denying his guilt.

Now, President Trump has actively lobbied for foreign investigations of one of his primary political candidates through is personal attorney and some high ranking public servants, while simultaneously tying aid approved by Congress to that foreign leader, all in the hopes of improving his chances of winning the 2020 presidential election.  One would imagine that if successful again, he will contrive of some way to alter present constitutional law to win the 2024 election as well, since being dictator is his true goal.

Curiously, most current GOP elected public servants, either remain blind to his crimes, or mitigate the depth of them by saying they would not impeach over a phone call, as if that was the only problem.

Now, of course, the GOP is not the only party that includes hypocrites when it comes to defending their leader to the detriment of the country.  I detailed the numbers related to the Clinton impeachment in a previous post which showed very few Democrats voted to impeach despite Clinton's lies to a jury and to the American people.

Still, we are here, now, and Trump's continued use of the powers of the Office of the President of the United States to squelch investigations into his awful diplomatic contacts, his apparent love of the really bad tyrants and dictators on the planet, the padding of his personal fortune via use of directing military personnel as well as foreign visitors to his properties, his continued attacks on the free press when it has the temerity to disagree with him or report on his dishonorable actions, and the blatant disregard for the public trust by not releasing his tax returns, all add up to an individual who is not fit to be our leader. 

Whether he lacks a moral direction, or never had it, whether he is incapable of thinking beyond what is good for himself, or actually believes that what is good for him is good for America, or whether he is the spawn of Satan, and not an orangutan as jokingly posited by Bill Maher, Donald J Trump should become the third president in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives, and if the words of Lindsay Graham (see below) from 1999, are still true, Trump should be removed from office by the Senate.

"You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Whistleblower, Act 1

I watched a few hours of the testimony of Acting DNI Chief Joseph Maguire today.  I also read the whistleblower complaint;

All I can say is there may be a time in history when we will be asked where we were when the impeachment proceedings against President Trump began, and what was our opinion of the proceedings, and I for one will know precisely my answer to those questions.

A few thoughts.

What is transpiring in live action is the result of decades of erosion in the balance of our three branches of government.  While one might say that for the most part, the Supreme Court has avoided too serious a lurch in the favor of one political party over another, hence has released rulings that have favored and irritated both sides, the legislature has incrementally abdicated its power to the executive branch.  Rather than tackling the difficult topics of the day, Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have punted the really hard decisions down the line, leaving the presidents to handle them through executive action, or resulting in non-action, which has created a lack of trust and respect in the electorate.  Additionally, a number of opinion papers within the judiciary of the executive branch have moved the needle of executive privilege and, hence, non-accountability, to the point where, as we speak, there are lawyers representing the president in court claiming that he can not be indicted or investigated while in office.  In other words, we are seeing the idea of "president' moving ever closer to King.

The good news is that there are whistleblower laws within our government that specify that complaints must be evaluated, investigated and brought to the attention of the appropriate entity, and that the whistleblower must be protected from retribution.  And while I have no doubts, after watching acting DNI director Maguire's testimony, that he believes that he followed the law, I do have doubts that had there not been reporting of this particular complaint in the news, we may have never learned about this complaint, at least not through the proper channels.

Clearly, Maguire believes the integrity of the whistleblower, and the Inspector General (IG) who received the complaint, investigated it within the appropriate time frame, deemed it credible and urgent, and then passed it onto Maguire.  But just as clearly, Maguire also believes that it is not within his job description to evaluate the actions of the president, regardless of the seriousness of the accusations, and that his only recourse for this "unprecedented" complaint was to refer it to the justice department for its legal advice.  Perhaps this reveals a naivete on his part, in light of Attorney General Barr's handling of the Mueller report, and the current spate of rulings that seem to elevate the president to a place above the law, and perhaps when he referred it to the FBI he expected they might investigate, but. like Robert Mueller, he missed his chance to demonstrate a patriotism that transcends the law, a patriotism that compels us to reveal the illegal machinations of a CEO, a state representative, or the POTUS, despite a ruling or opinion.

Mueller should have indicted the president after detailing the double digit instances of obstruction of justice, (if you haven't at least glanced at the Mueller report, why?), and Maguire should have turned over the complaint to the Intelligence Committees as required by law, without checking with the accused, his lawyers and his lap dog Attorney General, as to what to do.

There are times when principle stares us right in the face, when our true character is revealed, such as the recent video of a neighbor helping firefighters rescue children from a burning home by catching the kids as they were dropped by their dad.  There are times when we must act, without covering our ass.  While I do not blame Maguire for his decision, I fully believe that when one works in a bureaucracy or corporation, it is wise to learn to follow the rules as laid down by those above you, without question.  It is a good recipe for advancement, but not the best attributes for leadership.

There were a number of questions asked by GOP representatives.  Some chose to laud Maguire for his public service to date, which is, in fact, an admirable achievement.  We need men and women like him to do the everyday work of protecting our country and serving the public good without regards to politics.  Some emphasized that he did his job to the letter of the law, which, as I have explained is a bar not hard to reach, but perhaps one which needed to be leaped over, in this case.  More than one apologized to Maguire for having to appear, as if his testimony was an affront to decency.  Isn't it the job of the legislative branch to investigate these exact type of issues? And some alluded to the idea that the whistleblower might be a "leaker" and that perhaps he/she should be investigated, which I found to be an incredible insult to the entire concept of providing protection for those who truly see illegalities before them.

None of the GOP questioners, however, touched on the actual complaint, although one emphasized that the person willingly stated that much of the complaint was not witnessed by him/her, but based on multiple accounts from multiple people.  And, of course, none of them brought up the fact that the IG is a Trump appointee, which reveals as high an act of patriotism as one could imagine in this bipartisan environment.

My biggest problem with Maguire was his insistence that the complaint was not related to election security when the white house released notes which detail Trump broaching the subject of investigating the Biden's multiple times (remember, this was in July when Biden was comfortably leading in the polls), and the president's statements that he would have his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the Attorney General call him to hash out the details.  Additionally, the fact that Trump mentioned Crowdstrike in his phone call, also indicates that he is still trying to absolve Russia from interfering in the 2016 election, a belief that runs contrary to our own national security infrastructure.

The real issue, the one that is staring us all in the face in regards to Donald J Trump, is the danger of imbuing the power of the presidency of our great country into the hands of a person who has demonstrated time and again his belief that he can do whatever he pleases.  His entire life of business dealings and personal relationships reveal the same insidious thread; abuse of power whether that power has emerged from his father, his own wealth, his influence through "donations" to public servants of both parties who were far too willing to due his bidding to preserve their office or line their pockets, the hundreds of non-disclosure agreements that he foists on almost all who enter his world, and the nonchalant way he suggests that anyone who disagrees with him is a bad person.  He has convinced far too many Americans that if you are not pro-Trump you are not pro-America. 

His tweets questioning the party affiliation of the whistleblower reveals it all.  No one on my team questions me, so anyone who questions me must be against me, and by extension, America.  He has no ability to entertain the thought that someone might disagree with him and love America, it is just not possible.  His publicly stated disappointments with ex-Attorney General Sessions for not having his back, adds even more fuel to the fire, as his love of himself justifies his use of, and control, of all other public servants.  They all work for him, not America.  And so, we have handed over immense and awesome powers to a person who calculates every move, performs every action through the lens of what is good for Donald Trump. 

Trump demands loyalty above all, even when that loyalty runs against the good of the country.  His GOP enablers have demonstrated the loyalty he requires, placing the importance of the party over the needs of the country.  This is not to say that the Democrats have not done the same thing in the past, did not ignore President Clinton's obvious flaws, and lies.  At the time, 4 articles of impeachment were voted on by the House, two passed (perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice), and two failed  (a second vote on a different instance of perjury, and abuse of power).  Five Dems voted for 3 of the 4 articles, one for all  articles.   Five Republicans voted against the first article, 8 against the second resulting in those two moving along to the Senate, while 28 Republicans voted against the third article, and a whopping 81 against the abuse of power article, which is why those two did not move onto the Senate.  In the Senate, where 2/3 majority is required, all 45 Democrats voted against the two articles thereby making them mute, but also 5 Republicans voted against the perjury charge and 10 against the abuse of power, making, that last article a bipartisan rejection of impeachment. 

It is not certain that there will be an impeachment vote in the House and trial in the Senate.  If there is one thing for sure, the Democrats are great at misplaying the obvious.  They have let us down more than once by checking the direction of the wind, rather than leading the electorate, more worried about polls and gaining political power than doing what is right.  But just as certain, Nancy Pelosi is shrewd, and appeared to have been waiting for just the right misdeed to galvanize her caucus, waiting for President Trump to go just a bit too far.  The fact that both House and Senate voted unanimously to compel the release of the white house notes and whistleblower complaint, is a possible first crack in the bubble that has protected Trump from bipartisan scrutiny. 

If I were to predict anything, it would be that at least two articles of impeachment would be presented, relating to using taxpayer money to extort foreign interference in the 2020 election, and abuse of power.  I would expect the Democratic majority in the House to garnish enough votes as they hold 235 seats and only need 218 for passage, not withstanding if any members of the GOP caucus vote their conscience. 

The Senate however, is a far different animal.  If all Dems and the 2 Independents vote to convict, that still leaves the necessity of 20 Republican Senators to vote for impeachment.  It is one of the main obstacles that drove Pelosi to express doubt about the wisdom of impeachment, up until now.  In addition to what seems a futile gesture, I had also had my doubts about impeachment from the standpoint of exacerbating country disunity, and the reluctance to void the democratic election and decision by the people of America to elect President Trump.  I would imagine that perhaps that last thought was in the mind of the brave GOP representatives who voted not to impeach Clinton, determining, maybe, that bad personal behavior is not enough to cancel out the voice of the citizenry.

Unfortunately, I believe we are far past just bad personal behavior.  And, not withstanding Maguire's clearly stated loyalty to the office of the presidency, I don't believe Trump has earned such loyalty.  He has besmirched the office in countless ways, not the least of which is using its power, and the monies designated by the Congress, to extort "a favor" from a foreign leader so as to help him win the next presidential election.  And, not to make too fine a point on it, a favor that would not have required any actual facts behind it, as Trump clearly demonstrated with his use of lies and misinformation in the past, most notably the insinuation that ex-President Obama was not born in America.

I was hoping that we might see a resounding defeat of President Trump in 2020, as a way of repudiating a man who believes that all that is good emanates from him, and all that is bad comes from those who disagree.  But it appears now, that Trump was not going to let that happen without using the full powers of the presidency to make sure he is elected again.  Just like those world leaders he admires so much, Putin, Jinping, Erdogan, and the like, Trump will do whatever he can to retain his power,  regardless of the rule of law or the preciousness of our American democracy.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Personal Happiness vs Global Anxiety

In general, I am a happy person.  Yes, I experience drops of water from my eyes in many situations, but I truly believe in tears of joy, and upon analysis have discovered that far more of my eye leakage reflects overwhelming emotions related to triumph over odds, and empathy of others epiphanies, rather than tears over tragedies.  I see a father in a movie on TV who is ecstatic over the happy marriage of his daughter, and imagine myself trying to get through a toast at the wedding of either of my children.  Instant tears.

Now, to be fair, I am a white male who has been blessed with many advantages.  Born of loving parents who were willing to sacrifice their own wants for their children's needs and future opportunities.  Born in America, where democracy still rules, albeit with the fractures of the influence of money and power on who we are offered as candidates.  Born with a strong constitution, rarely sick, high level of energy.  Born with a relatively healthy mind, just your average vices, although I do have a bit of a martyr complex that can bedevil me.  Born with a love of reading, which enables me to seek information to mold my perspective, and to access the thoughts of the greatest minds and most highly evolved spiritual beings who have graced our planet.

In reality, there should be less a question of my being happy, as wondering why someone like myself would not be happy.  I imagine that in the coming decades, as sociologists and psychologists and historians delve into the causes of so much violence and anger which permeates our culture, in addition to the toll that self destructive behavior is exacting on our population via opioids, alcohol, and easy access to guns, there may be some revelations about those among us who seem perpetually angry, always on the edge of violence, and eager for a fight, despite our collective advantages of being born in a country with far more freedoms and ease of living than, literally, billions of other people on our planet at this very moment.

I suspect that those in power, consciously or subconsciously, encourage the apparent jealousy and hatred that some Americans feel towards people born south of the border, or in poverty, or with difficult circumstances that have everything to do with the cards they were dealt at birth.  Directing our anger towards those with less, painting them as invaders who want to steal our advantages, or highlighting the small percentage of those who do take advantage of the social networks aimed at those who are struggling, while pretending that the vast majority of people who need a christian helping hand, are truly in need, and could be us if we were faced with an unexpected hardship or accident, is a good plan when the true leeches on society are the greedy rich who care only for accumulating more wealth, and the corporations which were formed precisely to divert responsibility for illegal and immoral behavior while reaping the benefits when everything is rosy.   

Or maybe it will ultimately just be because we have succumbed to our collective addiction to privilege, and can not handle it when we need to work through our problems, address them in the eye, acknowledge our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and act in concert with our brothers and sisters to solve the issues of the day, whether they be personal or national.  I have in my mind a book called
The Rise and (Hopefully not) Fall of America, which details why we need to reflect a little more on where we came from, and where we are headed, and turn, at least a portion of our selfish tendencies inside out so that Earth First, or even Humanity First replaces the insidious mantra that is harming the soul of our country, and impeding the progress that has been made in response to the evils enacted on humanity by the last country who's leader promoted the "Fatherland above all", and the superiority of the Aryan race.

I have seen much more mention of the angry liberal, since the 2016 election.  I see examples of it on certain news shows which depict progressives in the face of those who disagree with their politics, or who deride those who wear certain red hats, or who express such outrage at those who voted for a candidate other than their own, that they make the supporters of the other party, feel just like those among us who are afraid to acknowledge their crime of illegal border crossing, or who stay in the closet concerning their sexual preference, or true gender identity (some liken the idea of "coming out" to the debutante's coming out party of days gone by), or who are reluctant to enroll in the various social support programs to avoid the stigma which they or their children might experience.  Sometime karma can be a real bitch!

At first I scoffed at such attempts to paint liberals as angry or violent, and now I realize I was wrong.  Just as in any movement, from the battle for women's suffrage, to equal rights for blacks, to the struggle to acknowledge that AIDS is a disease, not a punishment from God, there are always people who tire of waiting and turn to violence.  I believe that the first such organized example of this was the War for Independence.  So yes, I guess there are some angry, violent liberals who believe so strongly in their cause that they lash out at those who they see enabling the very thing that they find the most despicable, the most harmful for America and Earth. 

It is hard to hold true to the notion that if you are right, then continued, non-violent, demonstrations, relentless publicity about the correctness of your cause, total devotion to what you truly believe is the right, and moral, path, will not win the day.  However, when time passes, and progress is slow, and suffering continues unabated, it is understandable that enough can become, literally, enough, and frustration pushes a normally patient person to act in a way that they don't normally act.  I imagine that like people, movements have their breaking points as well, and once reached, either fade away (Occupy Wall Street), or develop a new strategy.

I do not advocate violence in any shape or form.  As liberals, we need to be better than those who use intimidation and violence to make their point.  While America may have a history of this kind of behavior, from our treatment of the Native population that was here before us, to the current separation and jailing of children at our southern border, it does not mean we should fall to the level of the opposition.  It is not an easy path, and there will be times when we stray.  Like most people, I am in a hurry for real climate change action, real immigration reform, real support of democratic values which exclude the influence of money and foreign enemies.  But, if there is justice, the reforms will happen whether we get to see them or not.  History is filled with people who worked tirelessly to create change, only to die before that change came to fruition.  It is probably the hardest realization one can have when involved in something bigger than one self.  And if we are not right, or if too many Americans continue to be blind to their selfishness, then...

Which brings me to Global Anxiety.  Can a happy person as I believe myself to be, also acknowledge and experience the dread that some of us fear when it comes to the future of our planet?  Can one be happy, and still be anxious, and do the actions of someone who is passionate about the alarming data related to climate change, actions which may seem angry to those who do not sense that danger, actually indicate an unhappy person?  Or to put in another way, can someone who is unhappy with our national nonchalance about climate change, be happy in their personal life?

Oh, the complexity of the human animal!

I guess, like so many things, we must strike a balance.  Acknowledge the good things in our lives, the love of our family, the good fortune that enables us to sit and type on a weekday, or read the words someone else has typed on our WiFi connected phone, or personal computer.   Look around at the beauty of nature, the unfathomable size of the sky above us, and yes, even at the great accomplishments that man has created, and smile, be grateful. 

It is OK to feel the privilege of living in America, as long as you recognize that there are those among us who do not share in all the privileges, or who have come here looking to earn those privileges.  It is OK to spend a leisurely day at the beach, unwinding from the stresses of everyday life, as long as you recognize that we need to protect those same beaches from plastic trash, and to enact policies that restrict the dumping of poisons into our oceans.  It is OK to laugh, make love, watch mindless entertainment, as long as you also recognize that those moments should also fuel your desire to see all people be able to have the same moments, whether they be a white male from Jamaica Estates, or a black girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

I guess I have concluded that Personal Happiness does not negate Global Anxiety.  That both can exist in your life, and heart.  And, perhaps, that both should!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Last Resort (Revisited)

When I was a young man, I kept a journal for quite a few years.  At some point, I encountered the song
The Last Resort written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles.  I remember writing it down (yes, with a pen and paper), and commenting on it within my journal.  Last week, I heard it on the radio for the first time in quite a while.  It still gives me chills.  Here are the lyrics.

"The Last Resort"

She came from Providence,
the one in Rhode Island
Where the old world shadows hang
heavy in the air
She packed her hopes and dreams
like a refugee
Just as her father came across the sea

She heard about a place people were smilin'
They spoke about the red man's way,
how they loved the land
And they came from everywhere
to the Great Divide
Seeking a place to stand
or a place to hide

Down in the crowded bars,
out for a good time,
Can't wait to tell you all,
what it's like up there
And they called it paradise
I don't know why
Somebody laid the mountains low
while the town got high

Then the chilly winds blew down
Across the desert
through the canyons of the coast,
to the Malibu
Where the pretty people play,
hungry for power
to light their neon way
give them things to do

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes,
and Jesus people bought 'em
'nd they called it paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea

You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina
just like the missionaries did, so many years ago
They even brought a neon sign: "Jesus is coming"
Brought the white man's burden down
Brought the white man's reign

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny
and in the name of God

And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning
They stand up and sing about
what it's like up there
They call it paradise
I don't know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye

Of course, reading the words are no where near as powerful as hearing Don Henley sing them.  His tone, his emphasis on certain phrases, his use of pitch, all combine to project one's mind to see what he is singing about, and feel the sadness when we wonder why man tends to destroy what he finds beautiful.  I invariably turn up the volume, sing at the top of my lungs, and cry as Henley sings

"I don't know why" in a falsetto, then finishes with "You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye" with the true disgust that we should all feel when we become aware of our treatment of nature.

Whether we harken back to songs like this, written in 1976, or Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, written in 1962, or John Muir's iconic photographs of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, or perhaps even President Theodore Roosevelt who was extremely proud of his conservation accomplishments, it is abundantly clear that concern for Planet Earth, while recent, has a rich history of advocates across political, social and economic lines.  

It is even more interesting to me, to see how the words of The Last Resort continue to ring true, perhaps even more so in these times of climate change deniers, severe melting of the Arctic, and more violent severe weather occurrences, along with the ever on-going battles by Native Americans to protect what little land they have from further destruction. 

"We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God."

While I certainly disagree wholeheartedly with the current actions of Brazil's president who rejects interference from other world leaders in relation to the burning of the Amazon as if we all do not have a stake in this situation, I can understand his anger when he comments that we already burned our forests, so isn't it a bit hypocritical for us to condemn his country for doing the same.  We conveniently forget that much of Europe and America were forests before we turned the trees into homes and businesses or just paved them over to improve our transportation systems.  Do as I say, not as I do (or did, in this case). 

"''Cause there is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here".

Yet we continue to act as if technology, or divine intervention, will save us from ourselves, or worse, choose to pretend that new shipping lanes in the Arctic will improve business, therefore improve the world.  All the while imagining that we can escape to the moon or Mars, which of course, means that even if we somehow make it off this rock, it will only be those with the money and power who will get to repopulate those places.  The only choices ordinary people will be offered is where to die, and with whom to share that last experience. 

But Joe, it is such a huge problem, and I am just one person.  What can one person do?

Well, fortunately, people like T Roosevelt, J Muir, R Carson and D Henley, did not just throw up their hands in frustration, but did what they could to bring attention to our suffering environment.  Now, don't get me wrong, it is nearly impossible to live life in the 21st century without adding to the problems of greenhouse gas emissions, single use plastic waste, air and water pollution.  But awareness that there is a problem, does not take any effort other than listening to the Earth and the scientists who study her.

Once we allow that concern to enter our mindset, actions, perhaps small at first, will follow.  Use real silverware and dishes rather than plastic ones.  If there is recycling at your work, make the effort to throw in your recyclables, and if not, establish a collection area.  Same at home, separate your trash from recyclables and investigate where they can dropped off, or when your town might pick them up at your house.  Invest in a water container that you can reuse rather than buying 32 or 36 packs of water every week.  (It still amazes me, a child of the 70's who drank water from a backyard hose, that the bottled water industry is valued at hundreds of billions -  that's B for billions - of dollars).

And, if possible, choose to drive less, especially if you can car pool or combine multiple trips into one trip with a few stops, and choose your next vehicle with an eye towards gas consumption, whether that results in a more fuel efficient car, or a hybrid or an electric.

From there, it might not be so big a step to volunteering at a local chapter of the Sierra Club or some other organization that contributes through water way or highway clean-ups, awareness seminars at local schools and churches, or other such activities that produce positive results.

And, as I did today, sign up for email updates from the National Geographic Planet or Plastic site, and visit the site for more info on just how precarious the state of our planet is becoming.

Finally, give a SHIT.  Stop hiding behind "well, I'll be dead soon, so what do I care", or "I am just too busy to care about the planet", or "it is all fake news".

This is real folks, it is happening, and pretending that we are not changing our home for the worse is the same as pooping on your own lawn and advertising the strength of the stench. 

Sometime in the next 20-40 years, we will know for sure the extent of the damage we are doing.  I implore my readers to side with our Big Blue Marble, do what you can, and engage in positive conversations, so when those born in the 21st century are making the decisions, they might be able to thank us for trying, rather than condemn us for our lack of vision. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Greenland and David Koch

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you have heard me mention that I watch Real Time with Bill Maher.  While Maher is a comedian by vocation, he mixes political satire as well as political and social debate into his show via his guests and topics.  Real Time is one of the few places where one can find
actual differences of opinion (albeit often with humor interjected) concerning the topics of the day, as Maher does his best to invite people who will present a perspective that is to the right of his own.  While I generally agree with his opinions, I do not agree with all of his opinions, especially those which often appear to me to be a bit Islamophobic. 

On last week's show, Maher made a comment about the death of David Koch, noted conservative, billionaire, and major source of funding of anti-climate change propaganda.  Maher's comment, that he was glad that Koch was dead, was extremely insensitive.  When I heard it, I wasn't sure at first if he was going for a laugh, as many of Maher's comments during his opening monologue are intended to be humorous.  If not every week, he very often directs a jibe at the Democratic Presidential candidates, the leadership of that party, ex-President Obama, and the often outlandish actions of some far left liberals, especially in the area of politically correct thinking that results in the shaming of those who do not agree with that particular viewpoint.  And, of course, he makes fun of President Trump very often. 

For me, and for Bernie Sanders who I read scolded his audience at a rally when they cheered the news of Koch's death, this is a step too far.  There are far too many serious problems that we can debate, real differences of opinions that we can refer to when commenting on the actions of men like Koch, without resorting to a cheap shot when he has passed.  David Koch spent tens of millions of dollars in an effort to challenge the science of climate change, and man's role in it, while reaping the benefits of an industry that pollutes our planet.  His efforts to gut environmental regulations, emasculate unions, and water down worker's rights are legendary.  But, while I understand Maher's distaste for the man and his actions, he should have either said nothing, or limited his comments to the hope that those who lead Koch Industries may take a different approach to climate change.  We must remember that his family is grieving, his wife having lost her husband, his children having lost their father.  They do not deserve to be hurt, even if we think David Koch was less than charitable towards Mother Earth.

For me, I truly believe that Koch will realize his wrong doings, be fully cognizant of the harm he has wrought on the planet, and spend a considerable time in the afterlife regretting those decisions.  Perhaps even, like Bob Marley, be assigned the task of warning his brothers to make "humanity, the business of men".

Which brings us to Greenland.

It was all over the news in the last couple of weeks that President Trump was thinking of buying Greenland from Denmark.  At first glance, it seemed to be just another distraction by the master of illusion, but there was actually a planned visit to Denmark to discuss it which was cancelled after the reports that the Danes were not interested in selling.  The President's reasons for this idea, one which was actually broached in the 1930's by President Truman, were not fully explained, but I have heard some defenders of the thought list, among others, mineral and other natural resource rights, and new Arctic Sea routes, potential areas of profit and improved industry which will most likely occur as a result of global warming. 

Is that where we are now?  Climate change is happening, but there will also be good things as a result, so we should make sure we get a piece of that pie.  I am reminded of the scene in Dr Strangelove, when, while discussing life after the nuclear devastation that is about to take place, there is concern over a "mine shaft gap", which might occur if the Russkies procure more mine shaft space to breed, thus emerging when the earth is habitable again in superior numbers, thereby taking over the world.  In this scenario, we are worried about an "arctic sea route gap" whereby Russian and/or China, especially China, get the upper hand and monopolize the control of those new sea routes.  "Mr President, we must not have an arctic sea route gap"! 

The irony, or is it just complete denial, is that those in the war room with Dr Strangelove, like those discussing the positive effects of global warming, skip conveniently past the immense loss of life after a nuclear war in the case of the movie, and skip past the immense environmental harm that rising sea levels, hotter and longer summers, larger and more devastating storms will bring, not to mention the displacement of tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of people who currently reside within 60 miles of the world's coastlines.

What is truly SAD, is that there is real glacial melting occurring in Greenland, real serious melting.  This summer's record heat will contribute to upwards of 400 billion tons of ice melting or calving from Greenland's giant ice sheet.  In one 5 day period, it is estimated that 58 billion tons of ice melted from the surface.  One particular glacier, the Helheim, has retreated 6 miles since 2005.  And that only documents what we can see, above ground.  Estimating the effect of warming sea water at the base of this frozen island is just beginning to be understood,  In other words, higher temps are causing melting from above, creating higher sea levels, which warm the oceans creating a second front on the glaciers from below. 

So, while pundits joke and businessmen plot and our president does, I am not sure what, we are experiencing the first few episodes of "As Our Planet Warms", and yet, at best, we remain oblivious to the signs, at worst, bury our heads in our TV's, 401K statements, and social media likes.

At the end of Maher's recent show, he made a personal plea to President Trump to do a 180 degree turn concerning the environment.  To recognize climate change as a serious global threat, to encourage the growth of green energy sources, to address the burning Amazon Forests, to call on our business leaders to replace single use plastics, and to put the protection in the Environmental Protection Agency again. 

For this, Maker pledged to vote for Trump in 2020.  As do I.  It is in your hands now Mr President.  You know you have your base, but if really want to win the popular election, really want your face on Mt Rushmore, really want to Make America Great Again, you will become the environmental warrior that we need.  Anything short of that, and I am afraid you may be remembered as just another leader of the early 21st century who put personal interests and short term thinking above the planet.   


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Post-coital naps

Many years ago, I had a professor in a Creative Writing class at a local Community College who spent one of our sessions discussing writing about "dirty laundry".  When I first began my blog, I was talking to a friend of mine who suggested I use more inflammatory titles and language in my posts.  In both cases, I was exposed to the idea that to get a reader's attention, one must grab it from the outset, and that posts with provocative titles, or with extreme opinions are more likely to accomplish that goal.

Clearly, the popularity of tell all biographies, scandalous exposes, far right or left ideologies, and even inflammatory tweets, provides proof that this approach will certainly attract attention.  Perhaps it is the one true belief that drives our president, even when he seems to flip from one perspective to another.  Regardless of the topic, give them outlandish quotes, IN ALL CAPS IF NECESSARY.

So, when the phrase post-coital naps entered my brain two days ago, I thought, what a nice post title.  Get their attention, then hit them with the real topic.  But, silly me, I began to think about the topic from the perspective that it is a real thing, to want or need a quick nap after sex, and did a bit of research on the subject, only to find much more data than I bargained for.

First, while some may consider a post coital nap indicative of a typical male who gets want he wants then does the next best selfish thing, the fact is that there a number of physiological and emotional factors that contribute to the desire for a nap. 

First, of course, if done properly, both partners should seem a bit shagged out.  So, men, before closing your eyes, you might want to check on the alertness of your female friend.  If she is wide awake, it could mean you have some work to do. 

Also, many couples have sex in the evening, so falling asleep after love-making seems like the most logical activity.  When my wife occasionally laments that she is having trouble falling asleep, I have often suggested sex.  Perhaps I should lose the wolfish grin when I broach the idea, but seriously, I am just thinking of her!  Still, considering the increase in people experiencing insomnia and turning to sleepy teas, background music and nature sounds, droning political commentary shows, and the endless variety of prescription sleep aids, just once I would like to see a commercial for sex as a sleep aid on TV, the first scene with the wife sitting up in bed with her book, a clock displaying 2:13 in the background, then the second scene showing two sound asleep, smiling adults, 2:42 on the clock.  (Or 3:13, if your are lucky!).

Regardless of the situation, the body produces a host of chemicals in response to the sex act, oxytocin among them.  Additionally, vasopressin, prolactin, serotonin, nitric oxide and endorphins also come flooding into your blood stream from the brain.  In some cases, orgasm is needed to fully release these neurochemicals, and in the case of prolactin, it is the main culprit which produces the refractory period for men, which, despite what you might see in some movies, creates a time frame wherein the majority of men cannot achieve an erection.  So, assuming the man achieved orgasm, and the woman came a bit short, it may explain why he is already sleeping, and she is reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

Even more noteworthy, is that sex between two people who trust each other, who are comfortable with each other, and able to be vulnerable with each other, may also contribute to sleepiness, as a result of being emotionally spent.  Giving your all, emotionally, can be even more tiring than all out physical exertion; just ask any stay at home mother of 2 or 3 young children. 

The stereotypical reaction of a partner who was looking for sex only, who afterwards uses any excuse to leave the bedroom, demonstrates a partner with zero emotional attachment.  The sad thing is that he (well, usually it is the he) leaves as silently as possible, perhaps helping the female gain sleepiness through orgasm, but not through any sort of emotional bond.  While there may certainly be examples of when a one night stand leads to something more tangible, it is most likely the antithesis of the post-coital nap.

Perhaps then, the post-coital nap does not deserve its negative reputation.  Sure, it can be used by the selfish among us to avoid extending intimacy.  But when the post-coital nap is the result of two people giving their all, physically and emotionally, in an effort to give and receive pleasure to someone they care deeply about, in a fashion that includes an accepted vulnerability, trust and comfort in each other, then it should be the GOAL of every sex act, making a baby a distant second. 

So, here's to the post-coital nap.  I wish all my readers a plethora of them in the coming year!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Easy Rider

I taped (OK, recorded, sorry) Easy Rider a few weeks ago and finally watched it yesterday.  I had imagined that I must have seen this movie at some point in my life, but if I had, I did not remember much of it so it was like seeing it for the first time.  While many scenes are dated, and those at the end which depict the two main characters along with the two women they were with, experiencing a "trip" of some kind are surreal and hard to fathom, I was struck deeply by two particular scenes.

For those who may not recall East Rider, or may have never seen it, the movie details the cross country motorcycle ride of Wyatt (played by Peter Fonda) and Billy (played by Dennis Hopper).  The two "hippies", (which in itself is a label that I may need to discuss in some future post), complete a drug deal in California, then decide to travel cross country on their chopped Harleys. 

I have no idea how this movie was viewed in 1969, but for me, the Billy character was presented in a limited way, reducing him to the most basic stereotypical version of a hippie, while Wyatt demonstrated some depth to his reactions and outlook.  One example of this was during their visit with a commune in the desert.  One of the women asks Wyatt if they could take her and her friend for a bike ride to a nearby place, a swimming hole it turns out.  Billy balks, telling Wyatt that they are not travel guides, or some such statement, while Wyatt calms him and says it is OK, reminding Billy that they had just eaten their food, which is portrayed in the movie as hard to come by.  Wyatt repays kindness with kindness.

Anyway, along their travels, they encounter a parade and join in with their bikes.  It seems harmless and just good fun, but the next scene finds them in the local jail.  This is where they meet George Henson, played by Jack Nicholson.  George is the rich kid of a local big wig, lawyer, drunkard.  He is treated deferentially in jail, unlike Billy and Wyatt but he also takes a liking to the two travelers, and gets them released from jail after paying a small fine.  When they mention they are going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, he reveals that he always wanted to go there, and that he has a free pass for a good time at one of the best whorehouses in the city.  So, off they go, George riding on Wyatt's bike.

The first scene of the two I mentioned in the beginning, occurs when they pull into a small town and stop for lunch at a local store.  It's funny, because the South has long been regarded as one of the most polite, friendly places in America, and by my experience, that is true.  Unfortunately for our 3 travelers, the South is also known for deep seated prejudices against those that seem different.  So, when the trio enter the luncheonette and sit at a table, they experience these 3 reactions:

  -  the waitress ignores them and does not approach to take their order or even offer them water
  -  the local men, including an officer of the law, make degrading comments about them in regards to
their long hair, and mode of transportation, using dehumanizing terms like gorilla.
   - the young girls at a nearby table, whisper among themselves, clearly interested, and there is even a
point where one of the girls is dared by another to get up and talk to the men. which our trio notices

After a few minutes, Wyatt suggests that they leave, but as they prepare to get on their bikes, the girls approach, asking for rides.  The men do not acquiesce, fully aware that the local men are watching their every move, just waiting for a reason to respond.

The second scene takes place a few miles out of town, the men camped near a fire, chatting before falling off to sleep.  Billy, again a character who seems perpetually stoned and oblivious to what is happening, wonders why they received such a cold shoulder in town.  George says it is because they are afraid, not necessarily afraid of them, but of what they represent.  He alludes to the all-American belief in freedom, but not the kind of freedom that allows for different forms of expression, different ways of searching for truth, different ways of looking and acting.  He comments that it is hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace, an obvious reference to consumerism, and the need for all of us to purchase things we don't need to fill holes in our lives that material objects can never fill.

Later, as they sleep, the men from town descend on their camp, beating all three seriously, George to death.  Billy and Wyatt continue on their trip, eventually reaching New Orleans where they use George's "free" pass, and party with the two girls as I mentioned above.

They say that fashion repeats itself.  What was "in" will eventually be in again, or at least with some minor tweak.  The challenge is, will you still fit those clothes!

Similarly, prejudice seems to be always in fashion, although its victims change over time.  I was certainly a hippie, or at least I took on the appearance of one in my youth.  My hair was long, I smoked pot, I hitch hiked around the country looking for truth, read Kerouac and Ginsberg, turning on, tuning in, dropping out.  A phase, I imagine, one I do not shy away from, but which seems so far away after having married, raised 2 children, and worked two jobs for 20 years to do my part for consumerism.
While I was never treated the way that Billy and Wyatt are, I do remember being offered a job at a local candy manufacturer.  The job was mine if I cut my hair.

The last two scenes in Easy Rider feature a pickup truck pulling alongside Billy, the passenger having said to the driver, let's scare the hippies.  When he points his rifle at Billy, Billy flicks him the finger.  Not surprisingly as I write this, but a bit surprising to me yesterday as I watched the movie, the passenger shoots Billy at close range.  Wyatt turns around, sees Billy in severe distress, and heads up the highway in hopes of finding help.  The shooter in the pick-up truck, having passed Wyatt, says to the driver that they better turn around.  In my naivete, I am thinking they are returning to help Billy, but as they pass Wyatt, another round of shotgun blast sends him skittering off the road, the bike in flames.  No loose ends.

I am not sure if it is ironic, or just incredibly sad, but the fact is, more Americans are killed by Americans than any other group.  It is not even close.  Terrorists?  A few thousand, 18 years ago, and we lose our collective minds.  Certainly horrible, but if we acted as strongly, addressed the problem of violence committed by our own citizens against each other as directly, educated our young that violence is not a solution, it is the problem, we might begin to make some inroads on the hate and fear of "others" that leads to tens of thousands of death per year, over 1 million deaths per year since the making of Easy Rider, if we include suicides, homicides and accidents.  Talk about a national crisis!

There is one point that is true about the typical gun-rights-above-all answer to gun violence; mental illness is a problem in America.  While we are certainly not more crazy than other nations, we do have much easier access to guns, which is why our gun related murder rate is 25 times that of other high-income nations.  And one big reason why, while our population is half of those other 22 nations, the US accounted for 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed with guns, 91 percent of children under 14, and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24.  When we do have issues with mental health, or simply have a bad, or series of bad days, we resort to violence which becomes all the more deadly due to the easy access that exists for weapons.  And so often lands those we know best, or ourselves, in the morgue, public mass shootings aside

As I have said many times before, what do you call someone who lashes out by killing his spouse, kids, friends, neighbors, or strangers the day before his break with reality?  A law abiding citizen.

Easy Rider delivered a message about freedom, societal rules, prejudice, perception.  Substitute the wave of refugees and immigrants that are fleeing unstable countries, environmental changes, poor living conditions, etc, real problems, I might add, when compared to just riding across the country seeking truth, and the same old xenophobic reactions come spilling through.  Throw in some dehumanizing rhetoric from powerful leaders, along with hateful doctrines from long standing groups formed to correct white replacement trends, and it is no wonder that jailing children is accepted by self-proclaimed Christians, and laws and policies are invented which will legally keep "those people" from our country. 

Jim Crow laws aimed at a different shade of dark, length of hair no longer a yardstick. 

Not sure what lessons those who made Easy Rider were focused on, but for me, the most important one is that prejudice has no favorites.  Today's version of the vermin approaching our town, or country was different in the past, will be different in the future.  The lesson is that when you join the ranks of those advocating for the dehumanization of some "other" group, you continue the tradition of hatred, and perhaps, enable the conditions for your progeny to be the next generation of victims, the next group that is labelled "others".

Monday, August 5, 2019

Domestic Terrorism

Under current United States law, set forth in the USA PATRIOT Act, acts of domestic terrorism are those which: "(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended – (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States."[2] [3] [4] This definition is made for the purposes of authorizing law enforcement investigations. While international terrorism ("acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries") is a defined crime in federal law,[5] no federal criminal offense exists which is referred to as "domestic terrorism". Acts of domestic terrorism are charged under specific laws, such as killing federal agents or "attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce".

With the latest public mass killings fresh in our hearts and minds, the term domestic terrorism may become more prominently spoken and discussed.   I did some research on the topic before beginning this post, in hopes of increasing my knowledge of the topic, and to review the incidents which have been labelled as domestic terrorism in the past.  The Wikipedia entry was helpful.

And just so you know I didn't just look at articles that might agree with my politics, I include a link to an article about domestic terrorism in the 1970's that was far left driven in its ideology.

One thing I did not see mentioned, although perhaps I did not search enough, was a link between the Civil War and domestic terrorism.  It seems to me that a civil war which claimed the lives of over 600,000 soldiers, in addition to upwards of 50,000 civilians, and which until the Vietnam War, had claimed the lives of more American soldiers than all other wars combined, would be held as the ultimate in domestic terrorism.  If you doubt my assertion, glance back up at the definition as set forth in the Patriot Act and see if all three major points are not checked.

I also reviewed President Trump's tweets on the subject, and was happy to see that he specifically called out white supremacy and bigotry.  I applaud him for these remarks, and also for his suggestion that perhaps it is time to truly attempt to make America great again (see my last post)  

by addressing the culture of aggression that suggests that violence is a form of conflict resolution when it should be the last and least used form, that it is time to improve background checks to winnow out those who should not own guns, and that we can reduce the prevalence of guns, especially those which allow someone to fire dozens of rounds in a minute, while respecting the spirit of the 2nd Amendment.

It is not all or nothing.  We can limit the access and availability of guns in America, while still allowing our citizenry to use guns for recreational use, self-defense, or just as a collector.  

I would also call for our legislators to go further and consider passing in full or with necessary amendments, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019

Additionally, I implore all elected officials, left, right and independent, to refrain from using inflammatory rhetoric at their rallies, town halls, interviews, debates, and any other place where they speak in public.  Words matter, and words which stereotype a group, whether that group be Jewish or Palestinian, Catholic or Muslim, white or black, gay or straight, citizens or immigrants, tacitly empower those with weak minds or overdeveloped prejudices into all kinds of horrific acts.  In a country with the freedoms that we possess, there is an even stronger responsibility for us to temper our desire for votes, popularity and power.  We sow what we reap, and when we sow hatred and prejudice, violence and killings will be the natural result.

This is not something that will changed overnight.  It will take years, perhaps decades, to tame our tendency towards violence.  Even the suggestion that we use the death penalty to punish those responsible for this past weekend's massacres, a sentiment I would imagine is shared by the majority of Americans, reflects our desire for violent revenge rather than justice, and solace, and change.

Think about the state of mind of a young man who has internalized all the vitriolic rhetoric about the changing face of America and how that face has a darker skin that his own, and who then coldly calculates that he can hit a soft target close to the southern border and kill a few dozen of the "others".  Killing him will not change the perception that drove him to such a hateful action.  He is only 21 and we are far too eager to see him die!  Even reducing the dehumanizing words which may have helped spur him to his action, will not erase the deep seated prejudices that flow through our country.  But, if we don't start now, when, and if we don't each participate, who?

As I said before, I am happy to see President Trump call out white nationalism and bigotry.  We all know he has used that sentiment to his advantage, from his "birther" program to de-legitimize President Obama, to his justification for jailing children who cross illegally into America.  Let's hope that this past weekend's deadly toll has created a turning point in his perspective, and that he follows up his words from today with continued condemnation of those who espouse white supremacy ideologies, that he empowers the FBI to infiltrate and bring to light those groups who advocate the "make America white again" policy, and that he is willing to craft an immigration policy that protects our borders without destroying families, scarring children, and perhaps even creating tomorrow's domestic terrorists.

We know that if a foreign born, non-Christian, dark-skinned man was responsible for either of these two deadly killings, or the Las Vegas Casino, or Pittsburgh synagogue, or Charleston Church killings, that we would act definitively towards identifying the origin or radicalization of the individual, develop a program to address and remedy it, and have full support of all Americans to do so, just as we did after 9/11/01.  It is always easier to find the faults in someone else's life, belief system or country.

Will we be just as determined, just as relentless in understanding and combating the radicalization forces at work in the homeland?   Are we willing to look in the mirror and face our own portion of guilt by honestly addressing the historically horrendous treatment of the Native American population, the decades of slavery, and then Jim Crow laws which legalized the 2nd class treatment of a population, and the justifications we employ for describing people fleeing horrible conditions in hopes of a better life in America, as rapists, murderers, vermin?

The people who approach our southern border today, are very similar to those who did the same in the early 20th century, the ancestors of many of those reading this, including my family.  Just as we have done in the past, we are afraid of them because they are are different, physically.   It is this fear, this xenophobia, that is one of the sources of the white nationalism that produces domestic terrorism.  It is this fear, and a focused attempt to educate those afflicted with it, that needs to be part of our approach to combat the radicalization of our citizenry that results in such mass killings.

I hope our leaders, current and to come, are able to inspire us to reject the notions that lead Americans, especially young adults, to author such atrocious acts.  And that they lean towards facts when describing our southern neighbors, while eschewing rhetoric that inflames.  See below.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Goals, and Defining Greatness

I was remiss in not mentioning the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's historic moon landing, and Neil Armstrong's iconic first step, and accompanying phrase, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".  (Side note, Armstrong actually said, small step for a man..., referring to any individual, but the "a" was not heard on the audio.  After a while, Armstrong began to doubt that he included the "a", as it was not evident when tapes were replayed.  Eventually, advanced sound technology and investigation revealed that he had included it.  Perhaps it is best that we assume he was referring to all mankind when he first stepped foot on the moon, regardless of the "a" being stated or not).

What reminded me, other than the many TV specials that were on last week to commemorate the event, is an article in the July National Geographic, which I am still reading.  It is an extensive summary of how the space race evolved, focusing on a few of the advancements in technology related to protective suits and the rockets themselves, a spectacularly detailed pictograph of our solar system with  every mission that has placed a ship (with or without a human) into orbit, a depressing look at where many thought our space program might be as compared to where it is, but then an equally exciting look into the future of space travel as imagined by those involved today, especially those in the private sector.

Many people forget that when JFK declared that America would reach the moon by the end of the decade, NASA had no definitive plan, no proven mathematics, and no certainty that it was even possible to accomplish such a feat.  Sure, America (and the Russians) had successfully placed a man in orbit around the earth, but traversing the 250,000 miles to the moon, landing a spacecraft with humans aboard, then successfully leaving the moon and docking with the "mother" ship to return to Earth, was theory at best, fantasy for many.

Yet, a mere 8 years later, at a cost of upwards of $25 billion, ($150 billion in today's money), and a number of American lives, this astounding goal was achieved.  It is certainly possible that future historians may rank it as the greatest accomplishment in mankind's history, as defined as setting such a far reaching goal and then actually bringing its completion to fruition.  Considering that it took mankind thousands of years to attain flight then only 66 years from that fateful day at Kitty Hawk until the moon landing, it is truly a remarkable triumph.     

And now, of course, we have a Make America Great Again philosophy as the winning phrase in the last presidential election, and perhaps the next one as well.  So what goals have been set for us to reach that will make our country great again?  (Side note: if America wasn't great before 2016, then why did President Trump not go back to where he came from, since he is a first generation American?  To the contrary, he successfully ran for president, and is now able to create the agenda for what will bring greatness back to our country.  I would appreciate it if he gave the same respect to those who are critical of those policies he touts, who have successfully won an election of their own, and who are verbalizing their beliefs in what will make America great, just as he did in his campaign).

But I digress.

So again, what goals have been set for our country to reach to become great again? 

Stricter immigration laws that keep undesirables out of America?

New trade agreements that favor our interests only?  (The Art of the Deal)

Less restrictions to allow business to prosper?

Lower taxes so all people have more money?

Access to quality health care, at a reasonable cost for all Americans, even the sickest ones?

Clean air and water?

National parks and monuments left undeveloped so Americans can enjoy them now, and into the future?

Educational opportunities for all, at a cost that does not create decades of debt?

A transportation infrastructure that provides safe roads, and ample and extensive mass transit? 

A modern energy grid that addresses the growing requirements of the planet's energy needs while balancing the effects that the source of gleaning that energy has on the environment?

Income distribution that provides a working class person the means to live in reasonable comfort, while also enabling them to afford opportunities for their children that they may not have had?

The ability for middle class Americans to save for retirement, and then live out their remaining years with choices as to where to live?

The freedom to choose whom to love, and whom to marry?

Guaranteed personal liberties that assume choices are made with the best intentions, even when those choices might conflict with the tenets of someone else's religion?

Yikes, that is quite a list!  (Not sure why I am using the word Yikes lately).  And I am sure there are many that I left out.

But isn't that the point?  To be truly great, don't we need to set the bar high?  To imagine a goal that we don't even know how to reach, and then to "Do the math" as Mark Watney says in "The Martian"?

Frankly, I feat that we are no where near daring enough to chase greatness, let alone achieve it, at present.  We are spending money like a drunk sailor on leave, with no concern for when the bill will come due, at a time when our economy is doing well.  Wouldn't a great country know that you reduce debt in boom times, knowing that you may need to increase it in bad times?

We have accepted a false narrative that claims we can't address climate change without harming our economy.  Wouldn't a great country be able to accept a slightly less growth rate now, to address the pitfalls that the changing climate will bring us in the future?  Or, even better, take on the challenge of climate change by accepting our role, then developing long term plans which generate a cleaner energy system, and the jobs needed to make it happen.

We are so in love with the idea of individualism, that we are willing to sacrifice millions of individuals that do not look, love or worship like us.  Wouldn't a great country recognize that today's downtrodden are tomorrow's innovators, and that there is no way to know what nationality the next Einstein or Lincoln might be?

We believe so much in American exceptionalism, that we embrace attitudes and policies that reveal us to be bullies and hypocrites.  Wouldn't a great country acknowledge that the people which are now Americans, are descendants of all the other countries of the world?  In other words, we are great through the combined contributions of the planet.  Is it too much to remember that it was German scientists, in large part, who created some of the technology that led us to the moon in the first place?
Is it too much to recognize that we will prosper or perish as a species?

We can certainly claim small victories and proclaim greatness in attaining those goals.  If you set the bar low enough, anyone, and any achievement, can be labelled as great.  Additionally, we can label anything as great that fulfills our needs, even when it does not fulfill the needs of a significant  proportion of the rest of the country.  Many Americans claim our health care system is the greatest in the world, yet millions of people don't have adequate insurance or access, so for them, it is just words.  Wouldn't a great country be able to provide health care access and affordability to all its citizens, regardless of health issues, or ability to pay?  Perhaps it is only obvious to the sickest among us that sickness in itself, reduces ones ability to earn a living.  I often say that hell may simply be an eternity of reaching for what one needs but falling inches short. 

We are in the beginnings of a new presidential election cycle.  We are facing 15 months of debate, and talk, talk, talk.  I am hoping a candidate with the guts to challenge Americans to envision lofty goals, perhaps even seemingly unreachable ones, will emerge.  Even more though, I am hoping that the American electorate will be able to recognize such a candidate, will be able to separate empty slogans from bold vision, and will have the courage to realize that greatness requires more than just being nice to those you like, and who like you.

True greatness, by its definition, is hard to achieve.  Impossible, if it is based on dehumanizing people from south of the border, or who love, dress or worship differently from you.  Whether it be nationalism or any of the other dangerous ..isms, we can no longer pretend that America can claim greatness, or become great again, with policies that pit the environment against business and human health against profit, or which uses country of birth as a yardstick in deciding who is human and who is vermin.     



Friday, July 26, 2019

7 Cakes in 7 Days

More than five decades ago, my parents discovered a place in the Bartonsville, Pennsylvania area which offered housekeeping cottages, and a pool, surrounded by woods.  Those first few years, we rented one of the smaller cabins, jamming three generations of family members into a two bedroom cottage.  We did not visit every year, in the beginning, but as our enjoyment of the area grew, other family members visited us, planting the seeds for what was to develop.

Over the years, our visits expanded to multiple weeks, in bigger cabins, and included various cousins, aunts, and uncles.  During those years, many new friendships were also born with families with multiple generations like ours.  While in many ways, our family was unique in that my parents had six children over the course of 22 years, we were not unique in seeking a place to go each summer to relax, play with other kids, and just be together.

Back then, there were very few places to purchase food, or take a meal out, which meant that my mother began squirreling away the paper and dry goods we would need for weeks in anticipation of the trip.  Then, in the early morning hours of the day of our departure, my dad would spend a considerable amount of time lashing the boxes and suitcases to the top of our station wagon.  When he finally finished we jumped into the car for the endless trip up 611, the highways of today not having been carved into the land yet.

My participation was brief, being the oldest, and being a young man who sought enjoyment outside the family unit, but my younger brothers and sister, spent the vast majority of their childhood summers looking forward to the 1, then 2, and even 3 weeks at the Poconos. 

As time passed, and I became a father, my wife and I began to bring our kids to visit my parents at this retreat, sometimes spending the week, sometimes only a weekend.  The bug soon infected my children who found pleasure in visiting with their cousins and spending time with their grandparents and various aunts and uncle.  Over time, they came to feel what my younger siblings felt, but which had eluded me as a teenager.  Eventually, a week at the Poconos also became a yearly rite for us as well.

In the meantime, we slowly took over the string of cottages which compose Countryside Cottages, expanding our usage to roughly half of the cabins while establishing a hold on the same week(s) every year so that we were vacationing with the same people in those cabins not occupied by us.  We had expanded our reach beyond blood lines to include members of other families who had continued their yearly trek, many of which had also begun in those years spanning the 70's and 80's.

Through the years, we drank endless quantities of alcoholic beverages by the pool, discussed the events of the day in voices that often became raised or excited, played games in and around the pool, and ate countless meals together, sometimes at the pool, sometimes in a huge gathering at one of the cabins, and sometimes in smaller groups at the local diners and restaurants.  Then at night, despite, or perhaps because of the arguments which may have punctuated the daytime, we gathered at one of the cabins to slaughter some more brain cells, play all sorts of card, board, and verbal games, laugh, remember, and create the memories we would recount the following years. 

This past year, which just ended today, included all 6 siblings, my dear mother, one aunt, 4 spouses of the 5 boys, 10 grandchildren, including the spouse and fiance of 2 of those, our cousin and her husband, various one day visitors, and even one ex-wife who came to participate in a baby shower for the wife of her son.  Conspicuous in his absence, as he has been for the past 7 years, was my dad who passed in 2012, but as many people have commented, my middle brother looks more and more like him every year, reminding us of the patriarch of this event.

And the cakes?

Well, as is typical of my mother, she makes sure that she recognizes each of her family members, as they reach certain milestones of their lives.  This year featured an 80th birthday cake, a 60th birthday cake, an engagement cake, the aforementioned baby shower cake plus an accompanying cheesecake, a 50th birthday cake, and in no small feat, a surprise 85th birthday cake for my mom, who handled it with her typical aplomb by saying it wasn't necessary, and then helping to serve each and every person a slice of what was the best chocolate cake of the week.

There was a time when I worried that when the day came and my mother no longer graced us with her presence, that this family event may break down, as we all know that mom is the glue that holds us all together.  But, happily, my youngest brother and his family have embraced this area, making upwards of 10 visits a year.  In addition, the young adults of the family who have not begun families, continue to share in the family joy, and the younger children of the six siblings have internalized their parents love of the Poconos, so I no longer worry about the longevity of the event.

There is much talk of the disintegration of the family unit.  We scatter to the wind to find love, jobs, happiness, often limiting contact with our siblings and parents to weddings, and funerals.  We too easily excuse why we can't see our relatives, using the pressures of our hectic lives, and the wedges that continued absence from one another creates as reasons.  Even our extended family, despite this wonderful yearly get together, includes people whom I could pass on the street tomorrow and not recognize. 

In the end, it takes effort and usually just one incredible person to make it their purpose to see a family stay in touch.  For us, my mother is that person, someone who organized so many family events that I would not be able to calculate the number.  But more importantly, someone who impressed on all those who know her, especially her direct family, the importance of family. 

So often we bemoan the lack of heroes in our time.  When you find yourself uttering such thoughts, think about the person in your family who has done the most to keep you in touch and in contact.  That is your hero.  And, should there not be one, take on the mantle yourself so that someday a niece or grandchild will be able to recount the story of your family's togetherness as reflected in your own particular version of our yearly vacation in the Poconos.