Friday, December 30, 2011


Note: As tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve there will be no blog until next year. So Happy New Year!

Well, first there is the rumor, claim, or belief, or whatever it is, that for the coming election President Obama will pick Hillary Clinton for Vice President and make Joe Biden Secretary of State. Robert Reich, who I have a lot of respect for has recently suggested this, but claims to have no inside information. Actually this rumor has been around for some time and is not an original idea of Reich’s. From the standpoint of the Democratic Party this makes a lot of sense. Obama and Clinton are apparently now considered the two most popular people in the country so this would be a dream ticket. If all goes well it would also make Clinton a sure candidate for President in 2016 with a great chance to become the first Woman President of the United States. As Biden has supposedly long dreamed of being Secretary of State, presumably he would be amenable to such an arrangement. Of course there is no evidence at the moment this is anything but wishful thinking on the part of a few who might like to see such a development. Hillary has already said she would not run again for President (but would the lure of becoming the first female President be too much of a temptation). As far as I know Obama has never mentioned this as a possibility, and it could be the case that Biden would not really like to be switched. I believe an Obama/Clinton administration would be far better for the Middle Class and the Poor than any conceivable Republican administration, but both Obama and Clinton are far too hawkish for me and also highly questionable on civil liberties (of course one can’t have everything). What we really need is Ron Paul’s foreign and drug policies (only, and without Paul himself), coupled with Bernie Sanders’ domestic policies. Sanders/Kucinich would be an ideal combination with Russ Feingold and Alan Grayson as high level cabinet members (fat chance anything like that would happen in our developing neo-fascist nation). Obviously I don’t know for sure what Obama will do. I was pretty sure on the Republican side it was going to be the Rich Guy and New Jersey “Fats,” but now I have some doubts. If Romney is forced to pick an Evangelical as a running mate, Fats would be out. On the other hand I can’t really imagine a Mormon/Evangelical ticket as I think that would be a too obvious warning of bad things to come. So I confess I have no idea what Romney will do after he is picked as the candidate that almost no one wants.

Then there is Leon (the Pathetic) Panetta, our current Secretary of Defense, a position I am beginning to believe for which he may not be well suited. First, he blurted out the unfortunate truth that a war with Iran would be disastrous, which has infuriated the Israelis and no doubt our neo-con hawks that seem to be obsessed with illegally and unconstitutionally attacking that country as we did Iraq. Although he spoke what has to be the truth, he should have known better. But a much more amusing gaffe (if such things can be considered amusing) was his recent claim that any cut in the Defense Budget would spell “doomsday” for the United States. This is an even more shocking claim than Herman Cain’s statement to Barbara Walters that he would like to be Secretary of Defense, that drew from the normally unshakable interviewer, her completely disbelieving, “WHAT!” Panetta would have us believe that a country that spends more on “defense” than all the rest of the world combined, that has a Pentagon and Military that can literally lose billions of dollars without even knowing what happened to them, that spends huge sums on military hardware that is known to be obsolete or unnecessary, and that siphons off a truly enormous percentage of our annual budget for an obscene military/industrial/political scam that converts taxpayer dollars into profits for corporations and the wealthy, cannot have its budget cut without spelling doomsday? This is such a transparently ridiculous claim I doubt even the hawks can believe it without actually laughing out loud. “Good ol’ Leon, he’s lookin’ out for us right fine.”

Let us not forget the astute Rick Santorum who actually said you could avoid unemployment (and poverty too, I guess) by doing just two simple things: complete High School and get married. I’m certain the millions of unemployed High School graduates and the millions of unemployed married men must be pondering this sage advice. I guess this is the kind of thinking that helps you surge in the Iowa polls. Not to be outdone for absurdity, Willard Mitt Romney has asserted that President Obama, raised by a single mother and his grandparents, doesn’t understand the plight of the Middle Class, whereas, by implication at least, he, Romney, born into wealth and sitting on a quarter of a billion dollar fortune, does. He has also assured us that he prays every day and goes to church every Sunday. The kindly old doctor Paul doesn’t understand why his awful racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic newsletters should be important to anyone, after all, he says, he didn’t write them (and claims apparently to have not even read them). I haven’t heard if he disavows the support of one of his supporters who believes Gays should be executed. Michele Bachmann is once again touting what a fine gun the AR 15 is, and what a fine shot she is (doesn’t seem to be helping her much). Newton Leroy Gingrich said if he won the nomination he might pick Sarah Palin as his running mate or for a cabinet position. He also said he can’t do “modern politics.”He seems to have that right. Rick Perry, the Texas embarrassment, according to Santorum, has flunked Anti-sodomy 101. When asked about Gay marriage he replied, “I love the sinner, hate the sin,” not very helpful.

You gotta admit, they’re an interesting bunch, each and every one, but not very Presidential.

A state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange...Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's Wrong with Us?

What I mean by “us” at the moment is the human species. After writing about the massacre at Mountain Meadows last night I began to think about a question that has occupied me for some time. There seems to be a fatal flaw in our makeup that I simply cannot really understand. It has to do with our propensity for intra-species violence, a type of behavior that seems to be lacking in any other species.

It is true, of course, that other species occasionally kill one another, usually in fights over territory or for survival, but there is nothing in the animal kingdom that comes anywhere close to our seemingly endless violence against other members of our own species. I find this rather mysterious. There is little doubt that biologically we are animals, mammals, primates, and hominids. Being mammals we share certain characteristics with all other mammals, being primates we also share many traits, as we do also with other hominids. Generally speaking there is nothing that sets us apart from other creatures. However much it may have damaged our egos, Darwin made it clear we are animals and as such part of a much larger biological universe. Some have attempted to set us (humans) apart from all other animals in certain ways, the use of tools, the control of fire, the possession of language, the ability to reason and so on. But research over the years, particularly in the last fifty or hundred years, has indicated these attributes do not truly set us aside completely from other animals. One of the most important claims for our uniqueness has been the claim of the possession of “souls,” but even this is somewhat doubtful as perhaps animals have souls as well. Besides, if you do not believe in the existence souls in the first place, this is not helpful. Biologically we remain at base, animals.

Strangely, at least it seems very strange to me, the one thing that seems to separate us from other animals has to do with our behavior. We often describe human acts as being “animal-like” or “beastly,” “wolfish,” or the like, and sometimes perhaps these are apt descriptions, but behaviorally we far transcend such comparisons. Nowhere, as far as I know, do we find animals committing genocide, for example, nowhere do animals attack and kill members of their own species in large numbers and only rarely kill each other at all. Certainly they do not torture and humiliate each other as we are wont to do. Animals kill each other for food, but they rarely cannibalize each other (although rarely in certain circumstances they do). They do not hunt heads, burn each other at the stake, cut off hands and feet and allow other creatures to bleed to death, hang them by their feet or thumbs, waterboard them, or keep them in solitary confinement. Nor do they kill hundreds and pile their skulls up as a warning to others, pillage their possessions, rape, burn their dwellings, destroy their crops, whip, brand, or otherwise disfigure them. Nor do they capture and employ slaves. Obviously there is nothing like this in the animal kingdom. But if you read the literature on colonialism you will find these kinds of behaviors commonplace. Such horrible things were done by every colonial power at some time, in Asia, Africa, Australia, Central and South America, Siberia, North America, in short, everywhere Western-Europeans expanded and captured lands and resources. It is a history so terrible we try to ignore it as much as possible. Such terrible deeds were not performed only by Western-Europeans, it is obvious that others were just as bad or worse, think of Ghengis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, some African kingdoms, Attila the Hun, and others. This intra-species violence is by no means just something that happened in ancient history. Think of the Holocaust, the Armenians, American Indians, Tasmanians, and others. And such violence still occurs daily in the form of wars and revolutions. Man’s inhumanity to man is something I find impossible to explain, especially as it has been and continues to be true apparently from the very beginning until the present. Humans seem to be little better at controlling their violent impulses now than before, evolution seems to have had little impact on our flawed human nature.

In most animal species there appear to be instinctive mechanisms that either prevent violence or at least stop it before it becomes fatal. Animals fight over mates and territory but the victors usually stop when their opponent bares his throat, assumes a subordinate position, or runs away. If a challenger is defeated he simply withdraws without being humiliated or otherwise punished. Perhaps that is where our problem lies, being without instincts we have no such built-in controls. Instead of instincts we have cultures, learned ways of behaving transmitted to us extra-genetically, but our cultural controls not only sometimes fail, they often even encourage our hateful behavior towards others. Animals are programmed to do as they must, humans are culturally programmed to do as they choose, and for whatever reason they often choose to do evil things. There is no evil in nature; evil is, I believe, entirely a human phenomena. We seem completely unable to prevent or overcome it. It’s as if the Great Mystery crafted a smoothly functioning ecological system where there was no waste, no environmental degradation, and no evil, and then, as some kind of cosmic joke added humans. Some joke.

“Huamani’s skepticism was substantial. He knew that men are a joke of the gods, sent to mortify the animals.”

Abel Posse (in The Dogs of Paradise)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Massacre - book

Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Jr., Glen M. Leonard (Oxford University Press, 2008)

This is a book written by three Mormons in an attempt to explain the circumstances that led up to and allowed the terrible wagon train massacre of September 11, 1857 to occur. They do not attempt to justify it, but to try to explain how it happened. They acknowledge the many other attempts that have been made to explain this remarkably aberrant incident in Mormon history, some trying to justify it and others condemning it, and strive to remain as objective as possible. Ronald W. Walker is a retired Professor of History who has specialized in LDS history. Richard E. Turley, Jr. is Assistant Church Historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Glen M. Leonard is the former Director of the LDS Museum of Church History and Art. Together they have done what I believe is quite a remarkable job of researching this tragic event, including providing lists of those believed to have perished, as well as those who were presumably involved in the massacre. This is information primarily intended for those with a more serious interest in the subject than non-Mormons. I believe they have tried to remain as objective as possible, but at the same time there is a built-in kind of bias in that they are all Mormons, by far the most useful information available inevitably comes from Mormon accounts of what happened rather than accounts of non-Mormons or outsiders. There is some information that was apparently gleaned from the accounts of the Indians who were involved, and little else.

I had heard of this massacre, of course, but I knew nothing about it. I also knew very little of the history of the Mormons. After reading this detailed account I have concluded this was perhaps the single most cowardly, deceitful, premeditated, unnecessary, and violent atrocity ever perpetrated on a small group of perfectly innocent people.

The attack was conceived and planned by a small number of Mormon leaders who were in charge of various militias that had been organized and trained for what Brigham Young believed was an inevitable war that was coming with the government of the United States. The original plan was to stage a surprise attack on this particular wagon train, to be carried out early in the morning, and to kill all of the approximately 150 emigrants, two-thirds of which were women and children (can you believe this). They recruited a number of the nearby Indians to participate and planned to blame the incident exclusively on them. No Mormons were supposed to be known to be involved. Indians were apparently offered some of the cattle, horses, and other loot that was anticipated. They were also told that when the Government troops arrived they would kill the Indians as well as the Mormons.

The initial ambush did not succeed as planned, apparently because someone fired prematurely. Although a few emigrants were killed, the others managed to arrange their wagons in a circle and dig themselves in for protection, a fierce resistance the attackers had not anticipated. As Mormons had been involved and had been seen they now feared that news would manage to leak out and they would potentially be punished for the attack. They decided, in a private meeting, it would be necessary to kill all the survivors, except for the youngest children who would not be able to testify as to what happened. They stationed the Indians hidden in the surrounding brush, approached the survivors with a false flag of truce (can you believe this), and convinced them they would try to save them from further harm. Although there was some suspicion on the part of the survivors they had little choice but to accept the offer. They agreed to put their guns and whatever other items they wanted to save in two wagons, along with the smallest children, that would lead the procession. Following the wagons on foot were the men and behind them the women. When they reached a certain spot they were attacked and killed, all but seventeen of the smallest children. Many were shot, others had their throats cut, and it was a terrible scene of blood and gore. The Mormons attempted to bury the victims in shallow graves but wolves and coyotes unearthed some and consumed them. In fact, different parties passing by that way were burying bones for months afterwards.

So how is it possible that Mormons could have done such a terrible thing? What led up to this horror? The authors suggest a number of factors were at play. First, there was the resentment about what had been done to the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois. There was also the fear they had of the impending arrival of Government troops they had vowed to resist. And there were the harsh words and threats they had endured by members of the wagon train when they attempted to buy much needed supplies and were refused. It was rumored that one or more of the emigrants had boasted of killing Joseph Smith previously, and threatened to return from California and kill Mormons. Somehow, according to the authors, all of this combined and grew out of proportion to the point where the emigrants associated these particular emigrants with the coming Government troops, became more and more enraged at the threats, and decided they needed to kill the emigrants before they could return and attack them. The authors suggest there may also have been an economic motive involved as this particular wagon train was believed to be wealthier than most, in cattle, horses, and even money. And finally they point to the general turbulence of the times when violence was commonplace and people often took the law into their own hands. They also very briefly mention studies of mob psychology.

This may well prove to be the best explanation possible for this tragic event as by now the various accounts have been garbled, interpreted and re-interpreted, until it is impossible to know the truth. For what it is worth, I do not personally find their explanations entirely convincing. First, it seems to me if they were truly fearful of the imminent arrival of Government troops, murdering a wagon-train filled with innocent people would have been the last thing they should have done. As far as the threats from the emigrants go, the Mormons had already heard many such threats before, and it is highly unlikely they could have believed that emigrants wanting to go to California in search of new lives would have felt strongly enough about being refused supplies they would have returned to kill them. The boast of having been involved in the killing of Joseph Smith they had also heard before from others. Trying to blame what happened exclusively on the Indians, when they had enlisted them to do it, also seems like a foolish thing to have done. The Mormons were on friendly terms with the local Indians and wanted them to fight with them against the Government, so blaming them for a massacre would have brought about a massive Government reaction against them and would probably have not endeared them to those who urged them to kill. What had happened to the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois was past history, there may well have been resentment, by why would this take the form of murdering innocents? My innate cynicism leads me to believe the economic motive may have been much more important than anything else. The Mormons, especially those living in the area, were not doing well, they were relatively impoverished even compared to Mormons in other parts of Utah. The perpetrators certainly looted everything they could get their hands on, including even the bloodstained bullet-riddled clothing. But remember, I know nothing of the episode other than what I read in this book and mine is a very questionable opinion.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows basically ends at the end of the massacre and then skips to a final chapter where John D. Lee, probably the most important of the perpetrators, twenty years later, is returned to Mountain Meadows and executed by a firing squad. There is no account of what happened during that past twenty years. This is because a second volume is intended to deal with the subsequent investigation and punishment.

So what does this tell us about Mormons, especially contemporary Mormons. Well, it tells us exactly what the genocide of the American Indians tells us about contemporary Americans, what the Stalin purges tell us about contemporary Russians, what the Holocaust tells us about modern day Germans, what the Armenian genocide tell us about modern day Turks, in short, nothing, other than the fact that the history of the human species is fraught with such atrocities. As Aleksandra Solzhenitsyn has said, “The battleline between good and evil runs through the head of every man,” which seems to be an unfortunate truth now as it has always been.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Black Cloud over Christmas

Well, I had what I can only describe as a marvelous Christmas. A fine tree we cut ourselves, decorations, presents under the tree, my son and his wife here on Christmas Day for the opening of presents, nice gifts to all, the complete American traditional holiday. Christmas Eve my wife cooked a wonderful Italian-inspired Duck Ragout with a locally organically raised Duck, on Christmas Day we feasted on a huge locally organically grown chicken (we waited too long to get a suitable turkey), with dressing, our own mashed potatoes and parsnips, beans and carrots, and, of course, cranberry sauce. It was all quite fine and of course I enjoyed it…except for the black cloud that hung over my head the entire time.

I simply could not get out of my head thoughts about the thousands of homeless children and the millions of people either unemployed or balanced precariously on the poverty line, thoughts that seemed to just hang there in the air refusing to go away, thoughts that led to further thoughts about my helplessness and the unfairness of it all. I wondered if all those with their millions and billions were having similar thoughts but quickly realized probably not. I personally find this rather infuriating. I find it equally infuriating that people are sleeping on the streets, in their cars, and going hungry in my country, a country I used to be so proud of which to be a member, people without health insurance, dumpster diving for food, without little hope for a better future. And it makes me angry to be asked to contribute to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the Firemen, the Policemen, to medical research, and so on. This angers me not because I am cheap or uncaring, but because I do not believe it should be up to me to help take care of problems that should not exist in the first place. What, after all, is government for, if not to look after its citizens? And why do we pay taxes if it is not to care for our needs? Where is it either written or decreed, for example, that we need roads, bridges, and dams, but we do not need food, housing, or health? Of course our tax dollars now are siphoned off for unnecessary “wars,” made artificially necessary to feed the military/industrial/political scam that converts taxpayer dollars into profits for corporations and the wealthy.

This is where I seriously part company with Republicans who seem to believe taking care of our fellow citizens is not the business of government, who seem to believe that national defense is basically all that matters (but then use national defense as an excuse to line the pockets of those involved in the military/industrial/political system at the expense of everyone else). In most human societies of the past, and some even now, one of the main purposes of “government,” no matter how “primitive,” is to see to it that its members are protected from hunger and famine as well as attacks from others. Even in New Guinea where I worked, about as “primitive” a society as you can find, no one went hungry, there were no orphans, old people were cared for, and people were concerned about their friends and relatives. During periods of drought they called on their trading partners to help them and received such help, something they in turn helped with when the circumstances were reversed. In so-called Peasant Societies much the same thing was/is true, there is a sense of community, the idea that they live together in society for the purpose of their common welfare. The idea that some few would cling to the available wealth was repugnant to them, and if someone were too greedy they were ostracized, if not actually killed. Sharing was one of the most important virtues.

Here in the so-called “modern world” things are quite different. The sense of community has vanished, people no longer live on intimate face-to-face terms with relatives and friends, often they do not even know their neighbors. These former bonds have been replaced with what are essentially legal contracts to buy and sell with no other obligations involved. If you believe, as some do, that government has no business replacing these bonds that were lost by acting in the best interests of their citizens it means people are now left completely on their own. If they cannot find a job they should, according to Bachmann, not eat (presumably be left to starve). If they cannot afford health insurance they should just die, according to Ron Paul. If they are poor they are fair game for the moneylenders. If they have no funds they should go without an education. No decent human society devalues their citizens like this, indeed, it is in the best interest of society to feed, clothe, educate, and provide adequate housing and health care for their citizens if they wish to continue as a viable group. From a cultural point of view it is suicidal to abandon children to poverty and despair. Who, after all, is going to provide for you when necessary in the future, when the last few billionaires shrivel up and die?

I find it laughable when I hear people say, “Why should the successful be punished, if they worked hard and managed to get ahead?” The fact is, in a capitalistic society like this one being successful is not a matter of hard work, it’s a matter of having money in the first place. If you have money you can be completely brain dead and still be successful. To equate success with having lots of money is little more than believing there is no limit on greed, and alas, that seems to be what we have come to.

Why do I think like this? It’s my mother’s fault (bless her) for always reminding me of the starving Chinese and the starving Armenians. Even as a small child I knew what a Chinaman was, but I didn’t have any idea what an Armenian was. I’m not sure my mother knew what an Armenian was, but she knew they were starving and that bothered her terribly. Also, by now, having lived in a variety of human societies, from “savages” to “folk,” rural and urban, and also being somewhat familiar with the extensive literature on sick societies, I believe I know what a “sick society” looks like. This one I live in now is truly sick and there seems to be nothing I can do about it.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

This is the true silly season, what with everyone out buying their annual supply of Chinese junk, the dreary music crowding your ears everywhere you go, and millions living in poverty and misery.I sincerely hope things will get better for those who desperately need it to get better. In the meanwhile please try to survive and continue to do the best you can. I love you all (well, most of you anyway).

Happy Holidays! Do not panic. Never give up.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Unpleasant Truths

Do I know what is true and what is not? Of course not. Are there things I believe are true, or at least probably true? Yes. You may not agree. For example, it seems to be accepted as true that Governor Perry is a reasonable candidate to become President of the United States, but is just not adept at debating and is unfortunately subject to gaffes. I do not believe it is true he is a reasonable candidate for President, it is true he is not good at debating and he does make gaffes, but the real truth is, I think, he’s basically stupid. I often take care to distinguish between ignorance and stupidity, in Perry’s case I believe the unfortunate truth is, he is both ignorant and stupid. This is, of course, merely my opinion, based on my observations of him to date. Stupid is as stupid does, and he does a lot of stupid.

Then there is the case of Newton Leroy Gingrich, self-proclaimed intellectual, idea man, egomaniacal savior of the world, and quite possibly one of the greatest con men in all history. The truth is, I believe, Newt Gingrich is simply a pompous windbag, a pretentious fake intellectual, and at best a kind of half-assed historian, who has somehow managed to get people to believe he is something he is not. I suppose you could count this as an achievement in its own right, but I don’t believe it makes him a credible candidate for President. He perhaps cannot be said to be actually stupid, but his false presentation of self is catching up with him. His defense seems to be to say, “If you can’t say something nice about me, don’t say anything at all.”

Rick Santorum is a somewhat more difficult case. I’m not certain whether he is really stupid or not. He is, first of all, apparently obsessed with other people’s sex lives, is terribly homophobic, that leads me to believe he is it at least pretty ignorant about human sexual behavior. What makes me suspect he may be stupid is his latest tirade about income inequality. He says he is all for income inequality, because some people work harder than others, have more ideas, and therefore deserve more than others. He also accuses President Obama of wanting everyone to have the same income. Now it is true that some people work harder than others, and if income was actually related only to hard work he might have a point. But as this is not the case his argument is simply beside the point. If he doesn’t realize this he is stupid. If he believes Obama is a socialist who wants everyone to have the same income he is either ignorant or stupid or both. The unpleasant truth is that people who make lots of money are those who already have lots of money and basically don’t have to work at all. Strange as it may be, money breeds. Is Santorum too stupid to know this?

The case of Michele Bachmann is almost too complicated to deal with, at least on an outpatient basis. It is difficult to fathom if she is really as stupid as she appears to be or is just blurting out whatever pops into her head at the moment without giving it any thought. She has said so many stupid things it is hard to keep track of them all. The one thing she has recently said leads me to believe she really is just plain stupid. She announced that Iran is building a nuclear bomb (for which there is no proof), something that many people seem to believe, but she then goes on to say they are going to use it to destroy Israel and also use it against the United States. If she just made this up to please the Tea Party, okay, but if she really believes this, she is truly stupid (or perhaps delusional).

I don’t believe Ron Paul is stupid, but some of his ideas are stupid. The idea that we could return to the gold standard, for example, is really a pretty stupid idea. On the other hand, his ideas about Foreign Aid and intervention are, I think, not stupid at all, just plain unrealistic. But what is truly stupid are his ideas about trying to live and exist in the modern world with essentially no government, or at least a very minimal government. While it may be true we managed to survive back in the days of minimal government, what with shooting and killing each other basically at will, being fiercely independent and jumping claims, stealing horses and cattle, and hanging those who angered our particular mob, I doubt such a system would work very well these days. I bet we couldn’t even find a corral in which to stage a decent gunfight.

As far as Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Herman Cain are concerned, their very idea they could be President is stupid. As most of the Republican candidates also appear to not believe in evolution, global warming, environmental protections, and apparently science in general, they are, in my opinion, too stupid and therefore unfit for high office. Furthermore, the thought of any of them with their finger on the nuclear trigger, waiting to hear from god, is more than I can bear.

As if there were safety in stupidity alone.

Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Definition of subversion:

the act of subverting : the state of being subverted; especially : a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within.

I would like very much to label the Tea Party members of the House of Representatives in particular, and Republicans in general, as subversives, which I believe they are. They have been clearly out to subvert the government of the United States, represented by our President Barack Obama, at apparently any cost to the nation or its citizens. But according to the above definition I guess I cannot so label them because they have not been working “secretly from within.” In fact, they have blatantly been working publicly ever since Obama was elected President and Rush Limbaugh, unacknowledged leader of the Republican Party, announced he wanted him to fail. This was followed by Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans, announcing that their (the Republicans) number one priority would be to see to it that Obama would be a one term President. Not only did they make these claims, they have faithfully done everything within their power to make it come true, opposing virtually everything Obama has attempted to do, even in cases where they themselves had first suggested it should be done. It is clear they have resisted all of the attempts by Obama to create jobs and improve conditions for our citizens for no reason other than the fact that Obama has wanted them. If this is not subversive I don’t know what is. I suppose that technically, because they have not done it secretly from within, you might say it is not subversive, but it seems to me that is basically mincing words.

There are other definitions of subversion as well. But they almost invariably define the act as having to involve physical or violent means, planning to overthrow the government by force. So here again, what the Republicans have done over the past three years is, strictly speaking, not subversion (although there have been random threats against the President, suggestions that he should be assassinated and so on). As these do not seem to be organized or necessarily involve the Republican Party as such, they, too, don’t count as subversion by the party. I’m pretty sure there must be laws against subversives, but they would never be applied to this situation. This Department of Justice (and Administration) has proven to be useless when it comes to prosecuting war criminals or fraudulent bankers. In any case they would no doubt say they haven’t done anything illegal. I guess subversion in the pursuit of politics is no vice.

There is clearly a bit of a problem here when it comes to behavior and language. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans, once said of their plans to bring down Obama, “Isn’t that always the case, the party out of power always tries to defeat the incumbent,” or words to that effect. As there is a bit of truth to this it might seem reasonable. However, I think you would have to suggest that while it is true, it has never before implied the party out of power would, in effect, simply stop governing for three years. There is no precedent for such a move on the part of a political party. The idea, at least as I would understand it, is that both parties have to be involved in conducting the nation’s business, looking after the welfare of the citizens as well as the welfare of the nation. You don’t just refuse to participate in government while trying to unseat the incumbent, at least as far as I know or can remember. This is genuinely subversive and makes a mockery of government.

There seems to be an example of this kind of subversion going on at the moment. The House of Representatives is apparently reneging on an understanding they had with the Senate, by refusing to agree to the compromise worked out in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans having to do with extending the payroll tax cuts. Someone pointed out that the Senate would not have gone home if they had known the House was not going to approve their bill. This makes sense to me. It makes me believe that Boehner had assured them the House would go along, but then when he was confronted by the Tea Party wing he had to renege. Knowing that if he brought it up for a House vote it would pass, and knowing the Tea Party did not want it to pass, he came up with the rather preposterous claim that he had not known it was only for two months, and that was not satisfactory for the House. This of course is utter nonsense and is nothing but an attempt to force the Senate to return to Washington to consider further the matter they had already settled on a bipartisan basis. It is a bluff to try to force President Obama into ordering the Senate back in session for a completely unnecessary reconciliation session. Reid and Obama have refused to do so, leaving the House Republicans in an extremely awkward situation. If they don’t back down and pass the bill, as of January first 160,000,000 million ordinary working Americans will see their taxes increase substantially. As Republicans are always opposed to any increase in taxes they will have egg all over their faces (or blueberry juice, according to the Reverend Al Sharpton). Boehner was apparently in favor of passing this bill and is being prevented by the Tea Party members of the House. You almost have to feel sorry for him. But Rachel Maddow suggested very early that Boehner may not be up to the job, and it seems to me that might well be the case. So what is likely to happen? Will the more traditional Republicans allow the Tea Party to lead them all to almost certain defeat in the coming elections? Will they cave in and finally pass the bill, however embarrassing it may be? Will they succeed in once more blaming Obama? Will Obama cave once more? Isn’t politics fun? Watch our country dissolve into a failed helpless giant begging in the streets while international corporations continue to slop their obscenely wealthy hogs.

Mighty hard to tell the people you love you’re a failure.

Laura Moncur

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Bear - book

The Bear History of a Fallen King, Michel Pastoureau (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London, 2011) translated from the French by George Holoch.

I found this an interesting book for several reasons. It is only marginally about real flesh and blood bears. It is a subject historians do not ordinarily spend much time pursuing (the history of animals), and it deals with periods of time about which I know very little. Similarly, it might as well have been sub-titled Bears versus the Catholic Church, something I would never have thought of at all until I read this book. The author is a cultural historian specializing, I believe, in the Middle Ages.

I knew, of course, there was a long history of the association of bears with humans. I had read A. Irving Hallowell’s work on Bear Ceremonialism in the Americas, and I was also aware of the importance of the bear among the Ainu, the ancient people of Japan. This work deals primarily with bears as they appear in European folklore, myths, ceremonies, the iconography and hagiography of the Middle Ages and somewhat before. It is obviously exceedingly well researched, the author clearly has command of the relevant materials, and it is a fine job.

Reduced to the bare essentials, bears, prior to about the year 1000, were thought of as closely related to humans, and were considered to be the king of the animals, as such they featured in rituals that more often than not had a religious connotation. They were the largest and fiercest animals on the European continent. They were also quite humanlike in their behavior as they could stand on their hind legs, use their paws much like hands, be taught to dance and do other tricks, they were omnivores, and in general resembled humans more than any other creatures. More importantly, in the folklore and myths of the time they were (erroneously) believed to engage in ventral/ventral copulation like humans and to lust after young women. There were many stories about bears capturing young women, taking them off to their dens and raping them, thus producing offspring that were part human, part animal. It was also believed that women were sexually attracted to them, partly because hair was believed to be sexually attractive to women. Bears, in short, had a mythical god-like aura and were venerated in different ways.

With the rise of Christianity, Catholicism, this came to pose a serious problem for the Church which could not tolerate animals, especially bears, to be compared with humans and worshipped. Thus the Church began a movement to not only eliminate bears by encouraging them to be deliberately killed, but also to insure they could not have a place in any way equal to humans. Bears that had been for centuries considered kings were now portrayed as inferior to humans. There were many stories of how bears had been dominated by Saints and had come to serve them in different capacities, as companions, beasts of burden, and helpers of various kinds, always because of the superiority of Saints that made it possible for them to overcome and make bears do their bidding. At the same time the Church was working constantly to get people to abandon their various forms of bear worship and trying to destroy any idea that bears were like humans. Bears were common in the menageries kept by Kings and came to lose their mystique and reputation.

After many years of this, and beginning about the year 1000, the lion slowly became considered the king of beasts. Where the bear had been featured on family crests, flags, banners, seals, and so on, they were slowly replaced with images of lions. Where formerly a man was ideally to prove his manhood by besting a clever and vicious bear in hand-to-hand combat, this theme disappeared and bears came to be seen as rather slow, dumb, obese, awkward creatures, that were no match for humans at all. Bears were demeaned, turned into entertainers, dancing, and doing tricks for people, greedily consuming sweets given to them, and acting as all around entertainers. Their position in the animal kingdom fell below that of stags, boars, eagles, and most other creatures.

And so it was that after hundreds of years the Church managed to replace the bear as king with the lion (that did not have the same human features as bears and were foreign to Europe as well). The destruction of the bear as quasi-human was very successful and bears even to this day are thought of as clowns rather than as kings. The bear mystique was always much stronger in Northern Europe than in the South, apparently because there were more bears in the North and they were much larger than those in the South (apparently these smaller bears were found as far south as Tunisia).

Pastoureau suggests the bear may have achieved a measure of revenge with the creation of the Teddy Bear, now beloved by children everywhere. As you may know this creation came about after an incident in which Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, refused to shoot a tethered bear, saying that had he done so he would not have been able to look his children in the eyes. A family that had as their business making stuffed animals made a bear, asked the White House if they could call it a Teddy Bear, received permission, and the result, as you know, has been a monumental success.

There is, of course, much more to The Bear than I have been able to cover here. If you are interested in folk tales, hagiography, iconography, and the literature of the Middle Ages, you will find this book of more than merely passing interest.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I think we can pretty much agree our political system is dysfunctional to the extreme at this moment in time. Many people seem to agree that one of the worst problems is the amount of money being poured into the elections, particularly after the absurd politicized Supreme Court decision that corporations are people and should be allowed to contribute as much money as possible. This means, among other things, the system is now corrupted beyond belief, and the fate of our elections rests in the hands of the corporations that can either buy them outright or inhibit anyone from dissenting by threatening to spend big money to defeat them. I grant this is an extremely important problem and needs desperately to be corrected. But as correcting it involves a constitutional amendment it cannot be corrected for a long time, if ever. This is, in my opinion, only one of the problems of obsolescence that seems to be in play.

Even if the money was taken out of the system, and even if it worked as a democratic system (which it doesn’t), it would still be dysfunctional because it is obsolete. Our democratic society, or Republic, if you will, was designed for a time that has long passed. It was all well and good at the time to pick leaders who seemed to be the best choices possible (mostly wealthy landowners). In those halcyon days most of the leaders were of about the same socio-economic level, and more importantly, knew much the same about the condition of the country both internally and internationally. You could vote for a Jefferson or a Madison knowing they knew as much or more about what was happening as anyone available. Not only that, things moved very slowly, there was always time to make necessary corrections, communication was primitive, and in the worst cases things had often sorted themselves out by the time anything could be done about it. Both domestic and international problems were well known by those “in the know,” and politics was much simpler then. But if the goal of “government” is to insure the well-being of the citizenry, and also to deal with international relations, things are very different in the modern world, fantastically more complicated, and thousands of times more difficult. The idea that one White landowner was much the same as another simply does not apply any longer. The requirements of office are much more demanding. That, I think, is where much of the problem lies. One candidate is no longer much the same as another, and none of the candidates are truly knowledgeable or suitable enough for the important offices they aspire to. We elect candidates who almost universally are not truly qualified. We do not have a large cadre of individuals with sufficient knowledge of either domestic or international affairs from which to select our leaders.

This can be seen clearly in the current crop of Republican candidates, but it is true of all candidates in general. I do not mean to be unkind but individuals like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Donald Trump are quite plain and simply not qualified for the Presidency. In fact, I would argue none of the candidates are qualified. Romney thinks he is qualified because he was a successful businessman, but is that really enough to be President? Running a large and complex nation is not the same as running a business. George W. Bush was certainly not qualified, even though he was a Governor of Texas, nor is Rick Perry qualified. This is because Governors, like Presidents, are not elected on the basis of their qualifications but, rather, on political grounds, who has the most money or at least access to the most money, and so on. In fact Governors as well as many others, can be just plain ignorant if not basically stupid.

Interestingly enough, in the United States there are no prerequisites for holding important offices, none. This is why you can have candidates like Herman Cain who basically don’t believe you have to know anything at all to be President, just be a “leader.” But a leader who knows virtually nothing cannot truly lead, at least not successfully. George W. Bush is a recent case in point. Nor do I believe being a lawyer is in and of itself a sufficient qualification for the Presidency, although knowledge of Constitutional law should help. This lack of expertise runs throughout the system. Presidents need to have the best advice available, but those in positions to advise are often no more knowledgeable than the President himself, such advisors can be chosen for very questionable reasons. Our Senators and House members are similarly elected for strange reasons and often know virtually nothing about what they should know in order to successfully decide on vital national and public issues. Many of them are lawyers, others are wealthy enough to get elected no matter how little they know, some are businessmen, and others are even exterminators or comedians. They may well be decent people, and even well-intentioned, but they simply do not command the knowledge they need to make reasonable and thoughtful decisions; witness, for example, those who oppose action on global warming or other environmental problems, or those who blindly follow their religious beliefs when it comes to Israel, or those who oppose stem cell research, and so on. This is not always merely just a difference of opinion, it is often a difference of opinion based on ignorance.

We do not take “governing” seriously. If we did we would not cling to this obsolete practice of electing people on the basis of whether or not we might like to have a beer with them, nor would we be so cavalier when it comes to examining their qualifications. You have to be examined to have a driver’s license, to own a gun, to become a plumber or an electrician, even a hairdresser, but you do not have to have any qualifications whatsoever to be the most powerful person in the world, with a nuclear arsenal and the most powerful military on earth at your disposal. I submit this is a ridiculous way to run a country. If we want to have a decent, intelligent, and smoothly functioning government, one that will look after our national interests in the best possible way, we should have a large cadre of people well trained for that purpose, perhaps a National University for those who aspire to enter government service at any level. They should be well versed in history, political economy, geography, management, science (at least to some minimal level), as well as ethics and government. They should know where to look for advice and be confident their advisors actually know their business. In the advanced years of their training they should be given internships and become familiar with the ongoing problems of the moment, international relations, domestic problems, and so on. Those who distinguish themselves should be able to move up in the system, run for office, and ultimately be able to make thoughtful, conscientious decisions about public welfare and international problems.

Yeah, I know, pie in the sky. This can never happen until: (1) money becomes unimportant in elections, and (2) we must get serious about the governance of our country. If we wish to continue as a nation and compete on an international scale we must get our house in order, educate our children, and speed up the decision-making process. This is not the 18th century anymore.

However much we talk of the inexorable laws governing the life of individuals and of societies, we remain at the bottom convinced that in human affairs everything is more or less fortuitous. We do not even believe in the inevitability of our own death. Hence the difficulty of deciphering the present, of detecting the seeds of things to come as they germinate before our eyes. We are not attuned to seeing the inevitable.

Eric Hoffer

Friday, December 16, 2011

Morally Reprehensible

I hate to say it, and I am not at all pleased about it, but I am finally forced to admit that I believe it is true, our country, the United States of America, is a morally reprehensible nation. I do not mean that only certain elements in it are morally reprehensible (although some are probably more so than others), I mean it is morally reprehensible from top to bottom, from corner to corner, from state to state, county to city, town to hamlet. Not only that, I believe our moral status in the world is not only reprehensible, it is irresponsible and indefensible as well.

We proudly claim to be the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, the wonderful “Beacon on the hill,” the land of opportunity, the model of democracy, the land of the free and the home of the brave. How do you reconcile such claims with the facts that one of every five of our children is living in poverty, one in every forty-five are homeless, and roughly one half of our population is living either in poverty or on the edge of poverty? We have children testifying they have been homeless all or most of their lives, do not have enough to eat, cannot see a doctor or a dentist, live in their cars or on the street, and have no hope for the future. Many of them realize their parents are doing the best they can, they work, but the best they can is not good enough because their wages are too low to provide an adequate living. This is true now, right now, right here in this country we profess to be so great. This is shameful, disgusting, reprehensible, immoral, and virtually unprecedented among the more industrialized, supposedly “civilized” nations on earth. And while we have the power to do something about it, we don’t, and haven’t for a long time.

I do not believe Republicans are uniquely responsible for the condition we currently find ourselves in, but at the moment they do constitute the single most important reason nothing is being done to alleviate the poverty and misery that now infects our country, taken over by a plague of greedy locusts consuming everything in sight. A small group of Republicans in the House of Representatives has managed to block every effort to improve the conditions of our lives. They have not themselves offered a single jobs bill, and they have opposed every effort on the part of President Obama and the democrats to create jobs. They are opposed to unemployment insurance, universal health care, a minimum wage, Social Security, and even a reduction in taxes for the Middle class where it is desperately needed. They oppose any effort to improve the lot of the Middle class and the poor while at the same time insisting that taxes cannot be raised even minimally on the wealthiest people in the country. And they repeatedly use blackmail to get their way, threatening to shut down the country if they cannot have their pounds of flesh. They are unmoved by the testimony of homeless children, impervious to the facts of poverty, and oblivious to the obligations of the offices they hold. They are beyond any doubt beyond shame, beyond guilt, beyond reason, and past all dishonor. They are morally reprehensible, human parasites feeding on the public trust, betraying their oaths of office, trashing the ideals upon which our nation was founded, and promoting completely unnecessary misery for millions.

Some of them profess ideological reasons for their sadistic behavior, but it is an ideology of greed, of the jungle, a primitive form of social Darwinism that decent people abandoned long ago. It is an ideology that basically denies the social foundations of human societies in favor of a “dog eat dog” system that pits individuals against each other in mad attempts to get more, more, more, always more. It is a belief in a form of unregulated capitalism that inevitably results in most of the collective wealth ending up in the hands of a few and the enslavement of the many. The basic idea of sharing, common to virtually all previously known human groups (that we refer to as “primitive”), has no place in such a system, morality becomes a foreign concept fit only for “socialists,” “communists,” and “suckers.”

Our country is not only morally reprehensible when it comes to domestic affairs, it is equally reprehensible when it comes to international affairs. Would you believe a candidate for the Presidency of the United States was roundly condemned for suggesting we should not bomb a sovereign country simply because we believe they might someday be a threat to us? Would you believe that one candidate actually said Iran was not only building a nuclear bomb (for which there is no evidence), but as soon as they had one they would use it to attack Israel and the United States, claims so idiotic they should have been uttered by someone already in a straightjacket. With one exception every Republican candidate has indicated they are not only willing but actually eager to start a war with Iran, ideas not only morally reprehensible but also completely irresponsible, totally thoughtless, and unworthy of anyone professing to seek the Presidency.

Congress consists of one third, more or less, scoundrels; two thirds, more or less, idiots; and three thirds, more or less, poltroons.

H. L. Mencken

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Interesting, at Least

However ridiculous the United States political process has become, and it does seem to me to have become ridiculous beyond belief, you have to admit it is interesting, in a kind of sick, nauseating kind of way. Consider the current situation: On the one hand you have Willard “Mitt” Romney, the candidate the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party can’t stand and refuses to support; on the other hand you have Newton Leroy Gingrich, the other leading candidate that the more conservative wing of the Republican Party (as it sort of still exists) cannot stand. The only other candidate in the lead at the moment is now exposed as a racist kind of Pa Kettle who would turn the clock back to the 19th century (maybe even the 18th). No one believes he has even a ghost of a chance of ever becoming President and the other two leading candidates are described merely as “average.”

This would seem to virtually guarantee that President Obama would be re-elected for a second term as even Republicans are dissatisfied with the slate of candidates they have. But once again, attempting to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Obama’s recent boneheaded decisions may well give these Republican dolts a chance. Obama, for whatever reason, decided to block women’s desires to have easy access to the so-called abortion pill. This has enraged women throughout the country and they are bitter about it. More importantly, he has now decided not to veto the Military Authorization Bill (or whatever it is called), which will give him and the military unprecedented powers to arrest, incarcerate, and presumably keep forever (or until the end of the terrorist threat, whichever comes first) even American citizens considered to either be or aid terrorists. They will be able to do this in the U.S. (for the first time) and merely on the grounds of suspicion, with no requirement for a trial. In other words, you could be arrested and locked up forever with no right to Habeas Corpus merely on the whim of whoever is President. Fascism has now arrived just in time for Christmas. Needless to say neither of these Presidential acts is pleasing to the Progressive base, nor should they be pleasing to anyone with a brain larger than a walnut.

President Obama seems to have an enormous amount of luck when it comes to his political career. He was elected to the Senate easily because he was running against one of the looniest of candidates for office ever, Alan Keyes, who did not even live in the state at the time. As I recall this was because his original opponent had to drop out of the race at the last minute. Now Obama’s luck may hold, not because he might not deserve defeat, but because his opponent, if he or she is one of the current Republican candidates, will be so dreadful Obama will be seen as the only conceivable choice. Romney probably would have the best chance, but he’s a Mormon (which shouldn’t matter but will), an almost pathological flip-flopper, and has neither personality, charisma, or connection to the ordinary voting public. Gingrich is regarded by those who know him as basically hopeless as a leader, egomaniacal, and a “walking hand grenade,” not exactly qualities likely to help him get either the nomination or elected to the office. And both Romney and Gingrich, along with the others still in the campaign, are apparently eager to start another war (with Iran) as soon as possible. Their appreciation of international relations seems to be on a par with Herman Cain’s statement to Barbara Walters that he would like to be Secretary of Defense.

It is interesting that they seem to have no understanding whatsoever about the Iranians. They keep repeating how it is that Iran is a “danger” to the U.S. and, indeed, the entire world. Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear bomb (that presumably they would immediately drop on either Israel or the United States), and we must at all costs follow the dictates of Israel whatever the consequences. This is beyond even bizarre. First, there is no evidence Iran is developing a bomb; second, they would clearly not use it if they did have one; third, Iran has not attacked anyone for more than 200 years; fourth, these accusations are the most nonsensical since those against Iraq; fifth, the Iranians have offered to negotiate with the U.S. on numerous occasions only to be consistently rebuffed. This warmongering over Iran is absolute hogwash. The only threat is that Iran obviously might like to have some influence in their own neighborhood which would be a threat to U.S. and European hegemony in the region. But imagine that, a country might want to have some influence with what goes on with their neighbors and don’t see why a nation 8000 miles away should take precedence. Some are saying war with Iran is inevitable. We had certainly better hope not and those who are promoting one should be considered as likely candidates for the men in the white suits with nets, looking for crazies.

Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important.

Eugene McCarthy

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Consuming the Children

You will recall Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal that the Irish could solve the problem of child poverty by eating their children, a proposal I revisited not long ago (Morialekafa 8-27-11). With one child in every 5 currently living in poverty, and one in every 45 homeless, we obviously did not follow Swift’s sarcastic suggestion. But there are other ways of consuming the children other than literally eating their flesh. Here in the United States we have been pioneering these methods for years.

Let me begin with what (hopefully) may be the beginning of the end of this rather absurd pioneering, the trillion dollars our young people currently owe as a result of having to borrow money to attend Colleges and Universities. You see, instead of GIVING our young people an education, or at least making it affordable, as most decent advanced countries do, we hit upon the scheme of charging them large tuition fees, making it necessary for them to borrow substantially from banks and others, or not be able to attend or graduate. Then, having squeezed every bit of money we could from them (and their parents) we release them into a situation where there are no jobs, thus relegating them to the scrap yards of the unemployed (and quite probably to the scrap yards of history as well). A decent education is not only good for our young people as individuals, it is even more important for the continuation and success of our culture, but not, of course, if it interferes with profits.

Consuming our children in this way did not begin with the relatively recent phenomenon of large student loans, it actually began many years ago with our educational system in general. It has been true since the beginning of our country that a successful democracy demands a well informed (and by implication, at least) a well educated citizenry. But a well informed, well educated citizenry is basically a threat to the powers that be, those in control of government, if they wish to remain in control. Thus it is in the best interest of the governing class (if their desire is merely to stay in power) to minimize education and information. This is unfortunately what has happened here in the U.S. of A., where serving in the public interest has been all but forgotten in the desire to serve the corporate masters and thus stay in office. To this end (unstated, unconfessed, even in some cases perhaps unintentionally) our educational system at all levels has been grossly underfunded and neglected for years. Teachers have been terribly underpaid, classes have been enlarged to accommodate more students for less money, school buildings and equipment have been allowed to deteriorate, and education in general has been underappreciated. In the lower grades many children come so hungry they can’t learn (and have to be fed). Our schools, especially our Middle and High Schools have been converted into little more than holding pens for our children, keeping them off the streets and labor market, infantilizing them, and providing them with little in the way of genuine educational opportunities. Many High schools are so bad large numbers of students drop out and never graduate (as many as 50% in some places) thus dooming them to wasted lives of poverty and hopelessness. Most of them who do somehow manage to graduate do not go on to school either because they cannot afford it or are so disenchanted with education they do not wish to, and many who do go on never finish. The ones that do finish, if they are fortunate, may find jobs, but often far below their abilities. The slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” doesn’t resonate in a culture that routinely wastes millions of minds year after year.

Not only is this true, the educational institutions at all levels have consistently declined in recent years. Our Colleges and Universities have been converted mostly into professional schools where one goes to presumably become able to get a job (or find a husband). There is no love of learning as such, no “intellectual osmosis with ‘great-souled’ minds,” and even fewer and fewer direct contacts between Professors and students. It is cheaper to use teaching assistants and part-time teachers than pay for the best. This terrible situation has even been exacerbated in recent years by the rise of more and more private universities, their goal being to make a profit rather than providing the best educations. Grades have been inflated (what difference does it make), requirements have been reduced, courses have been cheapened, those who do make it through have learned less and less. The money goes to the administration and the athletic programs while the Colleges of Arts and Sciences suffer.

This situation is virtually suicidal for any nation that wants to continue to exist and flourish. But now that nations are becoming more and more irrelevant while huge international corporations become dominant, some of them with economies larger than most countries, consuming our children becomes less and less of a problem. They can hire the talent they need from other countries that have not yet abandoned education, talent they did not even have to pay the educational costs for, and talent that is willing and eager to work for less money. If the nation and the children suffer, so what, profits are assured, the masses of unemployed workers will either starve or, in more enlightened places, be given some form of welfare to barely and begrudgingly keep them alive, but with no medical insurance and no hope for the future. People are becoming resigned to the realization their children’s lives and opportunities will be less than those they themselves enjoyed. Thus it is that we don’t eat our children, we merely chew them up and spit them out, without even realizing the nutritional value we might have gained from actually eating them.

America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week.

Evan Esar

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Yes, I fear it is that time of year, the annual celebration of excess and little restraint. I’m not crazy about Christmas, it’s okay, but very confused. I’m not a Scrooge, just a kind of semi-Scrooge. I don’t object to giving presents, provided I can order them on the Internet and never have to engage in ordinary shopping, a procedure I regard as close to a season in hell. After many years of marriage we have a system worked out that takes most of the problems out of shopping. My wife gives me a list of what she wants, I order it, and that’s that. At my age I only get two kinds of presents, socks and underwear and an occasional book. That is as it should be. Of course this takes away some of the mystery and all of the anticipation, but it’s worth it.

Of course there remains the problem of the Christmas tree. Buying a tree destroys my wife’s romantic view of how Christmas is supposed to be. Thus we have to find a cut a tree out in the “wild.” This is a bit easier said than done as really nice Christmas-type trees don’t exist in the wild except rarely. So every year at about this time we scour our six acres for a suitable tree, she in her knee length boots, me carrying the trusty “Swede saw” (it’s just not worth it to bother with the chain saw). Luckily this year there is almost no snow on the ground so the going was relatively easy. Unfortunately, most of the trees that grow on Sandhill are Ponderosa pines, not at all suitable for the purpose. But there are a few other evergreens and we usually find a tree that is satisfactory if far from perfect. But then the tree has to be put up in a stand of some sort that will keep it erect. This requires one person to hold the tree upright while the other crawls on their belly to tighten the screws. Although my wife insists on a wild tree she also has the strange idea that it ought to be perfectly symmetrical and stand perfectly upright. As this is an impossibility, it requires a long time and considerable effort to make it look exactly right (which it never really does). Eventually we reach a compromise and then the decorations have to go on the tree. Of course by now we have so many decorations this is very time-consuming, especially with the five cats who insist on “helping.” I saw a cartoon the other day that I wish I could reproduce for you, but I’ll just have to describe it as it is relevant to this problem: Two cats are sitting in a bar drinking. One explains to the other, “Every year they do this. They bring in a tree and they hang all sorts of bright dangling ornaments on it. But they freak out if I even go near it. That’s why I drink.” Anyway, you see the problem, especially if you have cats.

Then there is the problem of theology. Christmas, we are told, celebrates the birth of Christ, but for the vast majority of Americans I am quite certain this is not what they are celebrating. First of all, Christmas trees are a carryover from some more Pagan ceremony of the past. Second, I have never known anyone who seriously considered the birth of Christ while participating in this excess of commercialism without restraint. It is true that some people put out a plastic creche, but many more just string lights and decorations. These have little or no meaning to most people other than just another form of conspicuous consumption (he who has the most decorations and lights wins). Furthermore, I suspect many younger people have no idea what a manger is, and how many people know what frankincense and myrrh are, or even care? Given the performance of our Government in recent years I doubt they know even what a Wise Man is. It is true that as an Atheist I obviously do not celebrate the birth of Christ, but frankly, none of the religious people I have ever known pretended they were actually celebrating the birth of Christ. Christmas has obviously become a basically secular holiday, promoted by merchants who make a large percentage of their sales during this holiday season. The whole thing has become a farce.

For me, one of the worst features of Christmas is the dreadful music, Christmas carols. It is bad enough one has to hear them over and over for weeks but the lyrics are mostly either insipid or bizarre. “Round yon virgin, mother and child,” “Angels bending near the earth,” “And heaven and nature sing,” and so on. Actually, the lyrics to the original Christmas carols, although religious in nature and sometimes a bit strange, are far better than what passes for Christmas carols nowadays: “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” ”All I want for Christmas is my 2 Front Teeth,” “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” “Santa Baby,” and others even more dreadful. These newer “carols” seem to outnumber the traditional ones by far, but how on earth can they be reconciled with a celebration of the birth of Christ?” We have made a mockery of what was supposed to be a serious and meaningful celebration. We no longer praise the Lord, we praise the sales, the layaways, the bargains, while we buy junk imported from China for our children and items we don’t need or want for each other. Christmas has become an orgy of nonsense, a massive fraud, a time of gluttony, a period that represents our daily lives, only blown up by a thousandfold. And yet, paradoxically, there is still that little something about Christmas, a little spark that causes us to embrace it year after year in spite of everything else.

Even as an Atheist I regret what has happened to this holiday. I wish it was more serious and less nonsensical. As it no longer truly focuses on the birth of Christ, perhaps it could be renamed and broadened into a holiday that could be celebrated by all people simultaneously, people with true visions of the sugarplums of peace and good will to all, a period of reflection and thoughts of brotherhood and liberty and happiness and of a small world on a small planet where everyone works together for the benefit of all the wonderful creatures and plants that exist on it. Sigh!

In any case, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, be of good cheer!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Death, Slavery, and Maximizing Unhappiness

• Death, Slavery, and the Maximization of Unhappiness: I take this to be the current Republican Party’s Credo, their Bill of Non-rights, superseding the original statement in the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. While I am sure they will deny this, it seems obvious to me that both their words and acts of the last few years indicate it is a perfectly adequate description of what seems to be their agenda.

They have been and still are opposed to universal health care (unless you are wealthy enough to afford it). This means that many, many people will die sooner than necessary and inevitably in unnecessary pain as they lack proper health care. They support the Health Care Insurance business that basically makes their profits on the misery and death of their clients. You will no doubt recall some of their famous statements on this question. Ron Paul, for example, explaining that if you don’t have health care it’s your own fault and you should just be left to die. There was applause. Then there was that Nevada Republican Bimbo who suggested if you were sick you should see if your Doctor would take a chicken for his fee (lots of people have chickens these days). When it comes to death more broadly conceived, remember how they cheered when it was announced how many people had been executed by Rick Perry as Governor of Texas. And don’t forget they are opposed to regulations having to do with clean air and water, pharmaceuticals, workplace safety, and virtually anything that might protect people from environmental dangers, including global warming. And, of course, they are generally in favor of permanent war, sending our young people around the world to die for oil and other industries. The death of others, especially non-Westerners, seems not to bother them in the least. I remind you of Alan Grayson’s terse description of the Republican health care plan: “If you get sick, die quickly.”

As far as slavery goes, it now exists in a somewhat different form than it did in days of yore. Nowadays we have “wage slavery” and other forms of slavery as well. Republicans are opposed to a minimum wage, insisting the market should determine wages, and thus laying the foundation for wages so low as to keep people virtually enslaved to the low-paying job they are lucky to have, as there are masses of people with no jobs to replace them if they leave or get so uppity as to suggest anything as terrible as forming a union. If you don’t have a job they do not want you to have unemployment insurance. One of them famously said, “If you don’t work you shouldn’t eat.”They want you to have to accept the most demeaning jobs ever for the lowest wages ever. Most ordinary working people are also slaves to the banks because of usurious credit card rates. These high rates are basically the functional equivalent of slavery as once you fall into their debt they make it as difficult as possible to get out of it. Credit cards exist for the purpose of making profits for the “Masters,” just as slaves on the Plantations did. The only difference is they are not allowed to beat or rape you whenever they feel like it. When you are forced to work for what are basically slave wages it is difficult to stay out of debt, and once you’re in debt you’re in their clutches and have to struggle mightily to ever prosper. I am speaking here of ordinary credit card debt, they also have so-called “Payday Lenders” who at times manage to get as much as 300% interest. Republicans resist changing the laws to prevent this, just as they resist changes to the Credit Card industry in general and Bank regulations as well.

It should be obvious that all of the above contributes to the maximization of unhappiness. But there is more. They are opposed to Gay marriages, thus making probably as much as 10% of the population unhappy. They are opposed to women having a choice when it comes to their own bodies, thus forcing them to have children they cannot afford and possibly do not want to care for. This means that not only the mothers are made unhappy but their unwanted children are doomed probably to a lifetime of unhappiness as well. They don’t support subsidized child care thus making it as difficult as possible for poor women to work and buy food for themselves and their children. Similarly, when it comes to immigrants, they oppose citizenship for children born here and see no problem with splitting up families in order to enforce the law, the same laws their benefactors break to attract cheap labor in the first place. They are also attempting to create onerous laws making it more difficult to vote, especially for older and younger voters, and minorities as well. I cannot imagine this makes their lives any happier. They also oppose any restrictions on gun ownership, apparently believing it makes everyone happy to be able to carry their guns to school, church, and even into bars. I doubt this makes most people happy. They seem to seek out ways to make people unhappy, it’s like they fear that some Middle Class or Poor person, somewhere, somehow, someway, might actually have a moment of happiness. They even want people to abstain from sex, trying to ban contraception, birth control and even Planned Parenthood, and demanding “abstinence only “advice to teenagers (which seems to make them have even more sex). They insist that drugs be criminalized, filling up our jails with non-violent pot smokers (and lots of minorities), making anyone happy? You can be certain if there is anything designed to make the Middle Class and the Poor more unhappy than they already are, Republicans will be in favor of it. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness be damned. Their solution to all our problems: more of the same.

The object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but the happiness of the common man.

Lord William Beveridge

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Rich Kid

Why is it so many people just do not seem to like Willard “Mitt” Romney? My belief is, it’s because he is a perfect example of the Rich Kid trying to be “one of the guys” without knowing the culture well enough to become one of them. By trying to become something he isn’t he attempts to ingratiate himself with them. For example, he claims falsely to be a hunter when he has perhaps hunted only twice in his entire life, pretends to be a member of NRA when he’s not, and so on. Similarly, in his ambition to be President he uses the same technique of ingratiation, changing his position whenever he thinks it might help him. He seems not to understand that by doing this he is accomplishing the exact opposite of what he intends. By flip-flopping on every issue he makes himself even more of the Rich Kid trying to belong. When, for example, he claims that he, too, is unemployed he comes across as totally inauthentic, phony, and this is quite apparent to everyone. He doesn’t know how to talk with ordinary people, working people, and always appear either stiff or condescending or both. You don’t, for example, walk into a restaurant full of customers and say “what’s going on here.” He is, in short, the equivalent of a political “Nerd.” He neither talks the talk nor walks the walk. He doesn’t know how. He cannot possibly know how ordinary working people live.

In his obsession with becoming President he is willing to say anything, take any position, if he thinks it will help. In his latest embrace of the absurd Ryan budget, he seems to be pursuing it only because it is the opposite of the Gingrich position, a wonderful case in point. Paradoxically, and as unfortunate as it may be, even his emphasis on his stable 42 year marriage, and his belonging to the same church all his life, makes him suspect as that is not the typical life career of most Americans, it is in fact relatively unreal. If he were to proudly claim he was an Eagle Scout it would not work to his advantage (I am not saying he did claim this distinction). Most American boys do not become Boy Scouts, and few that do achieve Eagle Scout status, however desirable this may be. Having lived such an exemplary life is more likely to get you accused of being a “Goody, goody, two shoes,” than a “regular guy.” The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, Willard “Mitt” Romney is every bit as much the “Other,” as Republicans have tried to make Obama. Even his using “Mitt” rather than Willard is evidence of his trying desperately to be “just a regular guy.” I am not suggesting that Romney is a bad person, or that he has not lived an exemplary life, or that he suffers from a bad character, or is living a lie. He is, unfortunately, for himself, and perhaps even for the rest of us, too far out of the main stream of American culture to be a very convincing candidate for the Presidency.

I attribute Romney’s inability to connect with ordinary Americans (including other politicians) to his life history. Born into wealth and a Mormon family, sheltered, attending a prestigious Prep school for the very wealthy (he was not athletic), spending time as a missionary in France (where he was not very successful with the wine-loving Catholics not amenable to Mormonism, admitting what he was doing was rejected), later a year at Stanford (where he was opposed to the opposers), BYU, and eventually a special Harvard program in Business and Law (he was an excellent student whose classmates considered him “guilelessly optimistic). All in all he seems to have been the epitome of the “button down” conservative. While this experience no doubt fitted him splendidly for a career in business, it also kept him well apart from the mainstream of American culture. Thus it is true that from the standpoint of most ordinary Americans he lacks authenticity, he is not “one of them.” He is too perfect, too straight, too privileged, and too unable to “relate.” Strangely perhaps, Newt Gingrich with all his warts and baggage, is someone ordinary people can relate to, however sleazy he may actually be. Even more interesting when it comes to Gingrich is the fact that people do not seem to consider him what he actually is, or at least claims to be. That is, while he considers himself Professorial, a Historian and an Intellectual (and Professors and intellectuals do not usually fare well in American politics), people either overlook this or forgive him, seemingly thinking of him as basically a politician, or even a kind of “hustler,” someone who is more like themselves only smarter (he has successfully conned people into believing this over his many years of promoting himself). In any case, he is certainly not the “Other” that Romney is. Obviously you would not even consider having a beer with Romney, a non-drinking Mormon, but Gingrich might be entertaining.

Thus we have this bizarre situation where someone who has the background, experience, and means to become President, probably won’t, because he simply doesn’t relate well to others, whereas someone who is demonstrably unethical, only marginally moral, pompously egomaniacal, and disturbingly unpredictable, may have a better chance. Who says life isn’t stranger than fiction?

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

Mark Twain

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Sleazy - definition
a : lacking firmness of texture : FLIMSY b : carelessly made of inferior materials : SHODDY
a : marked by low character or quality b : SQUALID, DILAPIDATED

What a fine word, "sleazy." I haven’t heard it much lately. I find this a bit strange as it is by far the finest one word description of Newt Gingrich you will ever find. In fact, I find it hard to believe it was not first coined with him in mind. I was also surprised to learn his picture did not appear with the definition.

I don’t say he is sleazy because he has been married three times, lots of people have been married more than once, but when you confront your first wife with your demands for a divorce while she is lying in a hospital bed suffering from cancer, that’s sleazy. And then when you announce she was not pretty or young enough to be the First Lady, that’s pretty sleazy. Similarly, when having finally ditched your first wife, you marry your second, that’s not necessarily sleazy, but when you admit to having had an ongoing affair with her while still married to your first wife, that’s sleazy. And then again, while married to your second wife you are having an affair with who is to become your third wife, that’s sleazy. And what is super sleazy is leading a charge to impeach President Clinton for an extramarital sexual affair while you are engaged in exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, hard to beat that for pure sleaze. One might wonder how many other fine “adventures” one might have with a half million dollar line of credit from Tiffany’s.

Then, when you have made millions of dollars peddling influence, you claim not to have been a lobbyist, that is sleazy. If you are collecting money from clients you represent to members of Congress, claiming your influence there, and attempting to influence decision making on Capitol Hill, you are in fact working as a lobbyist. Trying to claim you were really acting as a historian while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars for your “advice” is sleaze, pure and simple, to say nothing of a lie so transparent as to leave you gasping.

Then, when Speaker of the House, you are charged with ethics violations (a mere 84 of them), fined $300,000, and forced out of your position in disgrace, that, too, is pretty sleazy, especially when you are the only person in the history of the country to be so disgraced and thrown out of office by your own party. Threatening to shut the country down unless you get your way is even more sleazy. You tried, and lost, but that doesn’t make it any the less sleazy. Of course making up a list of bad words to provide to your party for use against the opposition party is not exactly a procedure lacking sleaze, and dividing the country for political gain is equally if not even more sleazy.

Denigrating poor children as lacking a work ethic, having parents who likewise don’t work, unless in criminal enterprises, is almost below sleaze. It might help if you had any idea what the hell you were talking about, but that never seems to keep you from blurting out your spur of the moment idea that is going to solve our problems. It would, I suppose, seem obvious (at least to Republicans) that poor children should clean toilets and scrub floors, a truly brilliant idea to combat unemployment and the deficit. And claiming to be the only person to keep us safe from the fantasy of a “secular fascist takeover” is egotistical sleaze run wild, besides being utter bullshit. Constantly telling us how wonderful you are, how intellectual, how brilliant, how only you have the know-how to save the world, is in itself sleazy. Lying is also sleazy, although we all recognize politicians regularly lie. But your lying goes beyond the ordinary, being so fanciful and exaggerated that even a small child recognizes them for hogwash. President Obama is a socialist, for example, or he hates capitalism. Your description of your contribution to the defeat of communism and contribution to the Contract for America would make us believe you were one of the Founding Fathers. I’m surprised You haven’t claimed to have been with Hannibal when he crossed the Alps.

In short, there could not possibly be a better adjective than sleazy to describe Newt. He is a walking, talking, living manifestation of sleaze, the personification of sleaze, the Poster Boy of sleaze. It oozes it from his pores, it surrounds and envelopes him, it slides from his tongue so readily it can be mistaken for erudition by the morons he has convinced of his remarkable brilliance, he is Newton Leroy Gingrich, the King of Sleaze! It is remarkably fitting and symbolic, perhaps even inevitable, he be chosen to represent the Republican Party in the coming election. Rest assured, he will not hesitate to tell President Obama what’s what. I can hardly wait.

I was not lying. I said things that later on seemed to be untrue.

Richard Nixon

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Why Do They Hate Us?

For the purposes of this blog when I say “they” I am referring to Republicans and the very wealthy people and corporations they represent. I realize, of course, there may be some rare exceptions to the generalized “they.” When I refer to “us” I mean ordinary working people, the Middle Class and the poor, what might well be described at the moment as the 99%.

Why do I believe they “hate” us? Because when following what they say and do I think that best describes the situation, and I have no other better explanation. For example, they do not want us to have a living wage. In fact they want us to have the least amount of wages possible, even if that means living either in poverty or on the margin of poverty. They do not want us to have universal health care. They do not want us to have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or unemployment insurance, nor do they want us to have even food stamps. They do not want us to have an Environmental Protection Agency or even a Consumer Protection Agency, and they also do not want us to have clean air and water if that in any way interferes with their profits. They do not want women to have a choice when it comes to their own bodies and lives, even to the point of wanting to deny basic contraception, and they do not want poor women to even have basic health care. Basically they do not even want us to own homes and be able to feed our families. They do not want us to have a tax break by allowing an extension of the Payroll Tax deduction, in effect raising taxes on us rather than on those making more than a million dollars a year. In this case they have previously argued that tax breaks for the wealthy do not have to be paid for whereas tax breaks for us do have to be paid for. The promise they made to the illegitimate Clown Prince of taxes, Grover Norquist, never to raise taxes under any circumstances suddenly doesn’t apply when it comes to raising our taxes (either they do not understand hypocrisy or they just don’t care). They apparently do not really want us to have jobs, beyond a basic labor force working for minimum wages, as they have consistently blocked any attempt on the part of President Obama to create jobs (while criticizing him for not creating jobs). They also do not want any regulations that might interfere with profits no matter how egregious the results may be. In short, they do not want us to have anything whatsoever that might possibly make our lives easier or more pleasant. As I believe this is demonstrably true (just look at their behavior for the past few years) I conclude they must just basically hate us.

Well, upon reflection, perhaps hate is not the most precise description of their feelings toward us. It is probably more precise to say they “despise” us. In order to hate someone you at least have to be aware of them, know them at least minimally, and actively hate them. It is easier and probably more correct in this case to say they despise us, as that way it doesn’t matter if they know us or not, they can just despise us in general as a group. The obvious question that arises, whether it is actual hatred or merely a matter of despising us, is why? This is not a very easy question to answer, and certainly cannot be answered here. The most basic answer probably has to do with the change from living in small scale societies where relations are mainly between kin and friends, face-to-face, and tradition-based, to more formal large scale more dehumanized societies based more exclusively upon legal contracts between anonymous individuals. But I think it also has to do with the change from bartering to a society based upon monetary exchange, and ultimately, in our contemporary case, a form of unregulated capitalism whose only goal is profit. In such a system, as Polanyi so brilliantly pointed out, everything has to be perceived as a commodity, so land, labor, and capital all become commodities. But as labor is just another word for behavior, in this case work, it is itself dehumanized. Workers have no existence outside of the market place, they, like other commodities, are for sale and are easily replaced, just part of the larger system like nuts and bolts. As such it is easy to denigrate and dehumanize them, forgetting they are also human beings. Their only value is as labor, something convertible to capital.

Marx, of course, perceived this clearly, and pointed out, rightly I believe, that capital is essentially dead labor. Even Abraham Lincoln, surely not a communist sympathizer, perceived this situation clearly:

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
Abraham Lincoln

This is precisely the very opposite of the situation facing labor at the moment, and, indeed, throughout the history of capitalism. The history of violence between management and labor is well known, as is the difficult history of the 40 hour work week, the 8 hour day, paid vacations, retirement benefits, and so on. All of these hard-won concessions are even now subject to the ravages of management, as in Wisconsin and other states. Workers and their families are occupying the streets of our cities protesting the loss of their wages, homes, retirement benefits, and lack of health care, still despised by those with capital, a strange non-commodity with the ability to reproduce itself. It seems to me that once someone has accumulated enough capital they become creatures on another level of society. It doesn’t matter how they came by their capital, in some cases it is inherited, in years gone by some acquired it through crime and prostitution, in more recent years some acquired it through illegal drug sales, but once acquired it allows one to live a different life:

“Tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambitions ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.”

Julius Caesar
Act II Scene I

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Trump Trumped?

I think the Republican circus has now gone completely bankrupt. I can’t see how things can get any worse. If the previous dozen or so Republican “debates” have not been enough theatre of the absurd, the supposedly scheduled December 27th “debate,” to be moderated by of all people, Donald Trump, has now reached the lowest level of political silliness ever. Hopefully, to spare them any further humility, it may not even occur. It seems that Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have already declined to participate, and as of today it appears Mitt Romney has also declined (unless he flip-flops again). So will this “debate” actually occur? Perhaps it will turn out to be a real hit, something like “Springtime for Hitler.” I suppose it could go on, with Bachmann and Santorum versus “Idea Man” Newt Gingrich, but somehow that does not seem promising. The MSM have now carried the concept of “Infotainment” to a level not previously even imagined. But not to worry, Trump has already announced that if the “right” candidate is not chosen he will sacrifice himself for the good of the world and re-enter the competition. This is, dear reader, the end of the line for Republicans, proof positive they have given up any serious attempt to defeat Obama. Not only should they call off this proposed “debate,” they should probably just withdraw from the 2012 election, concede defeat, admit they are too stupid even to compete. On the other hand, perhaps their base will take it seriously, I mean, after all, they did elect George W. Bush, probably one of the most comical choices ever.

I cannot believe that even the current Republican leadership is stupid enough to refuse to pass the Payroll Tax Extension and continuing unemployment benefits. President Obama has cleverly maneuvered them into a corner (with perhaps some help from the Occupy Wall Streeters) where it seems to me they will have little choice but to agree. But with the ideologically insane it is hard to predict.

I can’t explain it, even to myself, but I find myself strangely optimistic for the first time in years. The stock market is up, unemployment is (at least statistically) down, Europe may be getting its Euro in order, the battle lines are now clearly drawn between the haves and the have-nots. If Obama keeps up the current pace and doesn’t agree to some stupid and unnecessary compromise, things may actually pick up for a time. There can never be a long-term solution to our problems of unemployment and the deficit without a complete makeover of our current economic system, the ridiculous myths of trickle- down economics, free market capitalism, free of regulations and hence “government,” the ridiculous ideas that brought us to our current problems. But maybe if we can get our house in somewhat better order we might eventually manage to govern ourselves more intelligently.

Maybe (and a really big maybe it is) we will also give up our militarism and attempt to rule the world and realize that diplomacy rather than constant “war” is more appropriate for the 21st century. We could slash our absurd “national defense” budget by half, withdraw our troops from the hundreds of bases we maintain around the world, use that money to rebuild our infrastructure, work on global warming, begin to truly educate our children, give everyone the health care they need, reduce our deficit, and perhaps even regain our international stature that was destroyed during the Bush/Cheney nightmare years. You see, even I, cynical as I have become, never abandon hope entirely (no matter how silly it may be). After all, what is the alternative?

There is only one optimist. He has been here since man has been on this earth, and that is "man" himself. If we hadn't had such a magnificent optimism to carry us through all these things, we wouldn't be here. We have survived it on our optimism.

Edward Steichen