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.