Thursday, January 31, 2013

Past all Dishonor

I think I may have used this title for a blog before, but as it is so descriptive of some human behavior I believe it is still useful. Unhappily, I think it applies to the behavior of one of our best known Senators who was once a war hero but has in recent years dishonored himself several times over. I am speaking of Senator John McCain of Arizona. I must say I thought his questioning of Chuck Hegel today was disgraceful. He and Hegel were friends, McCain had previously said he thought Hegel would be a great Secretary of Defense, and today he turned on him like a jackal. His treatment of his former friend and colleague was mean, unnecessary, petty and spiteful. I think it was mainly personal as well as political. I guess it had to do with McCain’s obsession with being right about Iraq when in fact he was completely wrong and does not want to admit it. And it also, I think, was a continuation of his constant revengeful attacks on President Obama for having defeated him in an election. When you demand a yes or no answer to a complicated question like “was the surge a success, yes or no,” you know the questioner is being completely unreasonable. Such a question could only be posed by someone simple minded enough to believe there are actually yes or no answers to everything. If you asked McCain, for example, if the Iraq war was really necessary he would no doubt answer “yes.” If you asked him if the sacrifice of 500,000 Iraq children was worth the sanctions on that country he would also probably, without doubt answer the same. So, Senator McCain, has our multi-billion dollar “war on drugs” been a success, yes or no? Is the Republican party engaged in a “war on women,” yes or no. Was “Custer’s last stand” necessary, yes or no?  Did we lose the war in Vietnam, yes or no?  Was the Civil War just about slavery, yes or no? Remember we are talking about a man who was willing to risk the possible fate of our nation to a virtually unknown basically mindless woman whose claim to foreign policy experience was that she could see Russia from her front porch and read all the newspapers and magazines put  in front of her, none of which she could name. Also, as I recall, she thought Africa was a country. McCain was at one time a war hero, also a sometimes reasonable “maverick.” How the mighty have fallen. He is a perfect example of why we should have a mandatory retirement age.
Of course it is only to be expected that where McCain goes his wimpy little Sancho Panza, Lindsey Graham, will follow. Graham’s concern, as near as I could tell, is to make certain that the world’s number one war criminal will be protected at all costs. Indeed, most of the criticism of Hegel has to do with statements he made in the past indicating that Israel might actually have undue influence over our Congresspersons. Heaven forbid that anyone could say anything in any way, even a teensy bit critical of Israel, a racist, colonial, criminal, murderous enterprise that has violated virtually every UN and international standard ever imposed, and that is knowingly engaged in a form of slow genocide of Palestinians.
As near as I can tell the attacks on Hegel are of two kinds, personal and political. Apparently McCain has some personal grudge, maybe a few others do as well, but the political part of it is more of an attack on President Obama than Hegel. It is also obvious for some of the critics the hearing is mainly being used as a place to get some air time and perhaps a “name.” Much of the questioning and posturing had nothing much to do with being Secretary of Defense, merely the usual Congressional obfuscation.
It seems there are at least some who believe that housewives should be armed with assault rifles to protect themselves from potential assaults by four or five (brown or black?) intruders intent on rape and pillage. Why stop there? I think they should also have anti-aircraft guns for the potential flying pigs. Really, are there no even imaginary limits too ridiculous or far-fetched for the NRA and the gun manufacturers?


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Stupid Party

Governor Jindal certainly has it right when he suggests the Republican Party has been the Stupid Party, whether he is the person to make it less stupid is questionable as he signed a controversial law permitting the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools. But it seems clear to me that the Republican Party has been pretty stupid of late.
Consider a Republican attempt in Arizona to forbid a rape victim from having an abortion because that would be “tampering with evidence.” Or how about the Tennessee Republican who wants to cut family welfare benefits by 30% if their child does not do well in school? And of course there are “nullification” efforts going on in several states that would make enforcement of Federal laws a felony (I guess they never heard of the Civil War). And don’t forget the claim that silencers for guns are useful because they protect children’s hearing, and perhaps the greatest and most stupid comment ever, “If slaves had been given guns from the beginning perhaps there would have been no slavery.” Nor should we forget to mention the claim that in “legitimate rapes” the female body had mechanism to prevent pregnancy, or that if a baby is the result of a rape it must have been “God’s will.”
These are only a few of the most recent stupid comments coming out of the mouths of Republicans. I think they are merely in the best tradition of the Republican tradition of stupid comments. The Republican Party has not always been the Stupid Party. I’m sure history would give us many examples of Republican stupidity, but I doubt there has been any extended period of time for Republican stupidity that would rival the past roughly forty years. I think it is convenient to begin with Ronald Reagan when reviewing the question of Republican stupidity. Surely his absurd claim that “Government is the problem” should be seen as one of the most stupid claims (as well as the most damaging) of all time. And of course Reagan was known for other stupid remarks as well, “If you’ve seen one Redwood you’ve seen ‘em all,” and etc.
President George W. Bush was certainly known for stupid remarks, far too many to quote here, but a couple of the best:
"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." --Washington, D.C. June 18
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." --Washington, D.C., Aug. 5,
Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" --Florence, South Carolina, Jan. 11, 2000
You might argue these are all merely slips of the tongue but I think if you take all of the Bushisms together they are revealing of an underlying at least mild form of retardation.
Of course many of the well known Republicans in recent years have said things every bit as stupid as Bush. Sarah Palin, for example:
"As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border." --Sarah Palin, explaining why Alaska's proximity to Russia gives her foreign policy experience, interview with CBS's Katie Couric, Sept. 24, 2008

Mitt Romney:
Newt Gingrich:
“The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument.”

Rick Santorum:
“There are no Palestinians. All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. There are no Palestinians. This is Israeli land.”

I could, of course, go on, but I think these few examples show that, as Jindal said, some Republicans have said really stupid things and that should change. But I don’t believe the current Republican Party can change, stupidity has become an integral part of who and what they are. Making completely stupid remarks is a daily routine for the likes of Republican spokespersons like Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, and others, and apparently there is a large audience of true believers for their stupidity. Many of them continue to believe President Obama was not born in the U.S., that he is a socialist, he will take away their guns, and so on. They continue to try to outlaw abortion and contraception, protect assault weapons, try to do away with Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, steal elections, insult minorities and Gays, and so on even though it is clear the American public is opposed to such attempts. I think this indicates a vein of genuine stupidity in the Republican ranks. Now they claim Obama wants to destroy their party, apparently too stupid to realize they are destroying themselves.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ah, Yes, 2016

President Obama was inaugurated for his second term only about a week ago and here we are already discussing the 2016 election. I suspect that only in the United States would anything so completely nonsensical happen, other countries are much more serious when it comes go governing. Of course we have to recognize that if 2016 was not going to be the focus for the next four years our news media might have to actually invest money in trying to discover if anything of note was actually happening anywhere else around the world. I feel foolish indeed for falling into the trap of talking about 2016, but as that is the main topic of conversation these days I decided to comment.
The primary concern, it seems, is whether or not Hillary Clinton is going to run for President in 2016. I would think this a pretty stupid question to ask about a woman who has apparently wanted to be President since she was in elementary school, who already attempted it once, only to be defeated by a nation so sexist they preferred a Black man to a more qualified woman, the ultimate and impenetrable glass ceiling. Now, however, I believe things will be different when she runs. Besides being an ex First Lady, a successful and popular Senator, she has also “made her bones” as a very successful Secretary of State, probably one of the best ever, and enjoys enormous popularity virtually everywhere. It is widely believed that if she runs she will be unbeatable. I believe this is true. However, there are a lot of “ifs.”
It is four years (a long time) before the 2016 election. As she is no longer Secretary of State she will have to do something if she wants to remain in the public eye, something that will help her to continue to maintain her unusual popularity and possibly even add to it. She will also run if she avoids any health problems (she will be 69 in 2016), if she and Bill do not become involved in some kind of scandal, if someone on the kooky extreme right doesn’t assassinate her, if there is not some unpredictable occurrence that might interfere with her plans, if Joe Biden gets the blessing of President Obama rather than her, if the Republicans somehow find a candidate so sane and charismatic he might actually challenge her, if the earth is not burned to a crisp by then, and if, for some unknown, unpredictable, and unfathomable reason she decides not to run, if the earth is not invaded and conquered by visitors from outer space or destroyed by a series of nuclear accidents, if it is not hit by a stray comet, or if women are defeated in the “war on women” and so disgraced they are back to being barefoot and pregnant wearing flour sack dresses in the kitchen as the Republicans would have it. She might decide she simply does not want to put up with the horribly unpleasant roviation they will no doubt have in store for her. Obviously most of these things are unlikely, but four years is a long time, anything might happen, which is why we should not even be thinking about this at least for two or three more years. But, as I say, this is the United States, being run by a conglomerate of huge corporations that might just decide to sell it to China rather than be troubled by it any longer.
I do not believe that any woman, especially Hillary Clinton, could possibly resist the temptation of becoming the first female President of the United States. We managed somehow to elect a Black man as President, the next step has to be a woman. It is pretty obvious that Obama is setting her up to run in 2016 to continue his democratic legacy, equally obvious that is why Bill Clinton has gone all out in support of Obama. It is also obvious that Obama and Hillary share the same values and goals for the country. Who could possibly be a better candidate to follow Obama? This is, as they say, “a marriage made in heaven.” If Hillary runs of course I would support her although she is far too “hawkish” for my taste. I am also not sure where she (or even Obama for that matter) truly stands on the Israeli/Palestinian problem. In any case who would represent the Republican opposition, Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, the moron Governor of Texas, maybe New Jersey Fats? I cannot see any Republican candidate that could realistically beat Hillary.
But don’t forget, many people thought she would be the inevitable winner against Obama, and we know how that turned out.  

   “roviate v. to smear, slime, malign, denigrate, and attempt to destroy an opponent through the use of innuendo, rumor, slander, outright lies and any other despicable means available. Roviation works more effectively when done in collusion with major media.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The "War on Women"

I am somewhat reluctant to comment on this issue as it is so controversial and also ultimately far too complicated to be dealt with in less than a book length attempt. And I am sure that whatever I say will be widely disputed by many, perhaps everyone. But throwing caution to the wind I will proceed.
I don’t believe the “problem” is basically about abortion or birth control. It is more fundamental than either of those two issues and has to do with the attempts by men in all societies to control women. The problem with women, through no fault of their own, is that they are women, and women, by virtue of their very being, are, I suspect, however unconsciously (or consciously)  perceived by men as threatening the social solidarity of human societies. It is not the existence of female sexuality itself, widely enjoyed by males everywhere, but, rather, the fact that women, both sexually and in other nurturant and loving ways, can and do come between men. There are few things that have the potential to come between brothers, clansmen, and even fathers and sons, more than females. In many if not most so-called “primitive” societies fights over women are fairly commonplace, and it is clear that even in our more “advanced” industrial societies men continue to sometimes fight over women. It is not only the threat women pose to the relations between men that is disruptive, but also the fact that women often also destroy marriages. Think of all the men who run off with their secretaries or divorce their loyal wives of many years for the “trophy wife” or the “younger woman” and so on. This is not the fault of women but simply the facts of life when there are two distinct genders or sexes, and especially when there are expectations of “masculinity” and “femininity.”
I doubt, for example, that most men are particularly troubled by Lesbians, except perhaps because they are not available to them. I’m pretty sure that if a man’s wife leaves him for a woman it does not affect him as much as if she leaves him for another man. I even doubt that most men are particularly offended by the love-making of two women, indeed, I know they will often pay for the privilege of observing such sexual activity. Aside from perhaps homosexual men, I doubt most men would pay for the privilege of watching two men engaged in sexual activity. I suspect that women  kissing each other does not bother most people, both men and women, as much as two men kissing each other (something becoming more and more common these days).   
Obviously sexuality plays an important role in the overall relations between the sexes, but there is much more involved in relationships between men and women. Both men and women, for example, often are attracted to members of the opposite sex that cannot be perceived as merely sexual attraction, people do not fall in love and stay married primarily because of sex. Often it is not at all obvious why two people “find each other,”  hence we often hear that “opposites attract,” or I don’t see what he or she sees in her or him, and so on. The fact is, men and women are attracted to each other for many reasons and unfortunately often in ways that disrupt the social order, cause trouble and even in some severe cases lead to jealously, unhappiness, murders and suicides. The basic biological and psychological differences between men and women, while delightful in their ways, can also be disruptive of the social order.
It is obvious that historically and even now to a different extent in different cultures the behavior of women has been controlled to a greater or lesser extent by men. Most societies have been primarily patriarchal, women have had a lesser voice in political and other important matters, and even in societies where descent is reckoned through females the effective control of those societies is in the hands of males (mother’s brothers, for example). It is interesting to contrast extreme examples of societies in which women are dressed from head to toe in burkas with those in which they go virtually naked in tiny bikinis and such. I suspect the presence of women as threats to society are not as different as we might suppose and the bikinis do not represent female freedom from male dominance as much as one might suppose. One could well argue that the wearing of bikinis only reinforces the image of women as sex objects in basically the same way the wearing of burkas does. It might be true that in some ways women have “come a long way, baby,” but in some very basic ways “things change but stay the same.”
Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their opressors.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Blogger's Block

I think I am suffering from Blogger’s Block and I don’t know why. I thought I might attribute it to “stress,” stress being a convenient explanation these days for not being able to do things, think things, perform things, manage your affairs, and even sometimes pay your bills and stuff. But then I started thinking about the concept of stress. First, stress is not a very precisely defined term, second, I think it is often merely used as an excuse, third, it is widely overused, and fourth, I find it difficult to separate stress from the natural course of events accompanying someone’s “Journey to the West “ Let me explain.
When I worked in a large Department of Psychiatry (my first academic position) there was a Psychiatrist (who will remain unnamed) who was doing (what I thought was somewhat questionable) research on stress.  He and his assistant had developed a scale of stress they believed would allow them to predict who might be the most prone to illness, accidents, or even death. Their scale dealt with assigning (arbitrary) scores to different events people might or might not experience. Things like being ill, getting married or divorced, having a child, losing a loved one like a spouse or a parent,  financial troubles, accidents,  and I don’t remember what all. What I do remember is that in 1965 I calculated that if I took seriously this scale I would have by then have probably died at least twice. You can only imagine where I ought to be by now, almost fifty years later.
Certainly there has been almost unending stress in my life in the past few months. My wife of thirty years died a completely unexpected death from a stroke four months ago, also I became a grandfather for the first time about four months ago, I inherited bills I didn’t know I had (plus bills I already knew I had), I now live alone in a large home stuffed with things I am having trouble coping with, and so on. On top of that, today I had to have my oldest (wife’s) cat euthanized. Besides, it snowed last night making my driveway difficult to maneuver. Thus, I should be suffering from plenty of stress that is keeping me from wanting to write this blog.
But in spite of my situation I somehow do not feel terribly stressed out. I do not really understand this but I doubt it is the reason I am finding it difficult to blog. Personally, I think American politics and government  have become so idiotic I just can’t be bothered to concern myself any longer. When one of the most important matters that concerns us is whether or not Beyonce lip-synched the national anthem during the inauguration I confess to losing interest in the matter. More importantly, when Republican Senators, supposedly grilling our Secretary of State on important matters, ask stupid questions and try to score cheap political points and bask in the spotlight rather than being serious about an issue already settled, I also lose interest. These Senators, among the most powerful leaders we have, merely exposed themselves as the basic partisan hacks they really are, making themselves look even more foolish than they already are.
And so, thinking back on my life, the deaths of my parents, the divorces, the children, my adventures in New Guinea and elsewhere, being in college and in the army, having surgeries, cancer, heart attacks losing most of my classmates and friends, I do not understand why I should still be here trying to write this blog. I have concluded that stress is perhaps merely a euphemism for “life” itself. That is, living is in most respects being constantly stressed by events and experiences beyond our control. Life is by nature stressful. Once you grasp this basic fact of existence it is not easy to claim stress as something so unusual as to cause your inadequacies or incapacitate you. Life merely goes on from one stress to another until your own personal Journey to the West comes to a merciful end. Concepts like “eternal peace,”  “eternal  rest” and “eternal  bliss” take on much more salience than “passed away,” “meeting your maker,”  “entering heaven,” reincarnation, or any notions of an afterlife. I am pretty much convinced the purpose of death is to allow one to escape any such further stress. I can think of virtually no fate worse than having to do it all over again in a different life or context. The thought of having to deal with forty virgins I find singularly horrifying. I like to believe that when you are dead, you are dead and thus not plagued by any further stresses.


Sunday, January 20, 2013


Anyone who has followed this blog for very long must have noticed it appears less often and more unpredictably than it did in the past.  I find it more difficult to write, I guess, for a variety of reasons: my wife’s unexpected death, the holidays, my increasing age and lack of creativity, the banality of what passes for “news,” and a general lack of motivation and inspiration. I also have been seized by a bout of genuine nostalgia.
I don’t know if things were better in the good ol’ days, but in many ways it seems to me they were. Looking back over my life I think probably the best period was during WWII when I was a teenager. I don’t know if this is because I was younger and not as well informed about the world as I am now, or if it  was, in fact, a better and more satisfying time. I don’t enjoy the image of myself as a cranky old man complaining about changes I don’t understand, and I don’t know how one would ever really know what period of time was better than others. It does seem to me things were different and simpler back in those days. Life was much less frantic than it seems to be now. The music was softer, gentler, more romantic, and you could even understand the lyrics. While it is true we jitterbugged and there was be-bop and boogie woogie, it was in general far more dominated by the big band era and sentimental music for dancing. To me much of what passes for music today is little more than noise and the pace is frantic, the lyrics unintelligible, and the dancing painfully unchoreographed.
Motion pictures, too, were very different. It is true we enjoyed mostly westerns and detective and gangster movies, and there was a bit of shooting and violence, but the good guys always won and when compared to what passes for movies nowadays they were genuinely benign. Violence and sex, especially the latter, were not the dominant themes and, like music, movies were more romantic, featuring musicals and romantic comedies rather than the ubiquitous sex and violence that dominates what we are offered nowadays. In general the pace of life was slower without computers and the internet. We wrote our schoolwork out by hand or at best on the typewriter, copying things was more difficult, and things, in general, required more thought and effort.
With no television we received our news from the radio or from brief news programs that usually accompanied movies. With no television and computer games we played outside and had to entertain ourselves through activity rather than simply sitting and watching. We were much more physical. Obesity was not a national problem. Medicine was more primitive, I do not recall anyone having health insurance. If you were sick and could afford it you saw a doctor, people died younger and no doubt suffered more but they did not tithe money to insurance companies as we do now. Health care has always been a problem and while it is better now than it was it is still a problem. A single payer system would obviously be the best solution but at the moment this would appear to be out of the question.
I wasn’t much interested in politics as a teenager, but I was certainly aware of the war effort and followed Roosevelt and Churchill as they eventually prevailed against the Nazis. There was none of the bitter partisanship that characterizes contemporary politics. While there were differences between Republican and Democrats both parties had the best interest of the nation in the forefront of their behavior, no one would have placed party ahead of national interest. We had no “empire” to defend, no troops stationed all around the world, all of that began slowly after the war years and has grown like a sort of cancer on our foreign policy.
I find it impossible to say that things are either better or worse today than they were in the 1940’s and 50’s. Some things are obviously better, cars are better, tires are better, refrigerators are better, people live longer on the average, Black people and women are better off than previously, and so on. But there is still racism and sexism, poverty may even be worse, our politics are a mess, global warming is a terrible threat, the national debt is a threat, our infrastructure has deteriorated badly, our educational system is a disaster, we are killing each other at an unprecedented rate, and our government is dysfunctional. Are we better off than we were? As an old man I don’t think so. I think I was much happier back in the 40’s and 50’s. Sadly, it doesn’t matter.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Untrue, Far-fetched, and Stupid

I guess Armageddon is going to be child’s play after what is happening now because of President Obama’s recent common sense proposals to help curb gun violence in the U.S. What an uproar, what a reaction, what hysteria, what overreaction, what consummate nonsense. Everything the NRA and many Republicans are now saying about Obama’s attempt to do something about gun violence is either blatantly untrue, entirely far-fetched, or unbelievably stupid. Their mouths are apparently no longer connected to their brains, if they ever were.
Obama is trying to do away with the second amendment is untrue as is Rubio’s claim that Obama doesn’t really believe in the second amendment but is unwilling to say so. The idea that the second amendment was created to protect citizens from their government, a common belief for many of these nutcases is completely false. The claim that Obama’s actions are a prelude to some kind of world government, or this represents a form of government oppression, or even an excuse to impose martial law, are all nonsense. Accusations to the effect that Obama is a Tyrant or a dictator in the form of Hitler or Stalin are so far-fetched as to be unworthy of attention. Calls for his impeachment betray a pathetic misunderstanding of the reality of Executive privileges. Nothing Obama has done offers even a remote possibility for impeachment.
The more extreme reactions, such as those suggesting the opponents just start killing, or begin a civil war, or just refuse to follow federal laws about guns, hopefully are just thoughtless loose talk made in anger, at least we should certainly hope so. If some states try to make enforcing a federal law some kind of felony, or try to refuse to enforce federal laws, it could presumably lead to some kind of civil war. One the one hand it is hard to take such threats seriously, but on the other hand it is possible that at least  some of the nutcases are crazy enough to actually start shooting. Virtually all of the claims that are being made about Obama’s suggestions are either untrue or far-fetched, and in a sense I guess you could argue they are also sort of stupid.
But stupidity reaches its zenith when you consider some of the other things that are being said about the situation. For example, the claim that Obama’s use of children during his presentation constitutes a form of child abuse, a claim that could only come out of the mouths of those looking for anything at all to hold against Obama. But even that claim pales in to insignificance compared to whoever it was that suggested that if slaves had been allowed to have guns perhaps there might not have been slavery in the first  place (I rather doubt that on a scale of stupidity this can ever be outdone). Of course whoever it was that argued for the use of silencers because “it helps to preserve children’s hearing,” isn’t far behind. And of course there is the famous ad featuring Obama’s children that accuses Obama of being an elite hypocrite because his children are being guarded while he is opposed to the guarding of other children (which, in fact, he is not, but this ad also reveals an apparent disregard of the reality of being children of a President). The NRA and its supporters obviously have no shame and have made it clear they are willing to do and say anything to increase the profits of gun manufacturers (they have been enormously successful in recent years).
One thing that surprises me, although it probably shouldn’t, is the tenacity with which they cling to their assault rifles. They seem completely unwilling to give up these military weapons even though it is perfectly obvious they have no function other than killing lots of people as quickly as possible. As they were for a time banned, which seems to have not been terribly onerous, and as they obviously have no hunting or sporting uses, it is difficult to see such complete resistance. I guess this is due to the paranoid and absurd belief they will protect us from our government, one of the more egregious lies we have been fed over time by the NRA in their attempt to increase profits for the manufacturers. I know people who actually believe,  I guess following Saint Ronnie, that government is the problem and etc. Once someone has this false belief it is virtually impossible to change them. They not only believe the government is out to harm them they also believe their puny little assault rifles will actually protect them from the full force of the military, police, and the massive weapons at the disposal of government, strange, these apparently mindless fools. All in all, having been following things fairly closely for the past four or five years, I have come to the conclusion it can be pretty much summed up with two words – He’s Black.

 “Achievement has no color”
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, January 14, 2013

Will Paranoia Win?

I have both seen and heard it said that Congress will not pass any ban on assault weapons. I find this interesting if for no other reason than why this might be so. I see no reason, logical or otherwise why private citizens should own assault weapons. The explanation they are for target practice is feeble in the extreme. The only explanation for the ownership of such weapons has to do with the belief it might be necessary to defend ourselves from our own government, a belief no more than a fantasy in the minds of the truly paranoid. These individuals argue that the Founding Fathers created the 2nd amendment so that citizens could protect themselves from their government, a belief actually quite the opposite of the truth. It is also a belief so transparent in its naivete as to be laughable. The idea that citizens armed with small caliber rifles, even grenades and rocket launchers, could defeat the federal government should that be necessary is simply ridiculous.
If it is true that Congress will not pass a ban on assault weapons it would seem to me there are only two possible reasons. First, there are enough Congresspersons who subscribe to the paranoid belief the government is their enemy (I guess we can thank Saint Ronnie for this stupid idea), or second, they are all being bribed by the gun industry to promote this idea in order to make more profits. In either case it  is paranoia that drives the market. Thus we are either at the mercy of the demonstrably insane or an industry that encourages such beliefs for the sole purpose of short term profits. If Congress refuses to pass a ban on assault rifles paranoia wins and sanity loses. At the moment I think I would bet on paranoia as the idea that President Obama is after their guns seems to have been well established among the not so gently mad.
Republican arguments against the reasonable, logical, and practical proposals of the Obama administration have now become so untenable they have had to turn to more personal attacks. They have resurrected an earlier claim that Obama is too antisocial and does not do enough socializing with Congresspersons, an argument so pathetic as to be simply ignored. Not only that, they have now decided their strategy to oppose Hagel should consist of a discussion of his “overall temperament.”  That is, does he have the proper temperament to run a large organization and etc., an argument not only pathetic in the extreme but entirely absurd. When you have no real arguments just bluff and obfuscate and create suspicion and confusion.
It is now being said that the Republican Party is going to have to change if it is to survive as a viable political party, change to keep up with the changing demography of our nation. I do not see how this is going to be possible given their inherent racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and completely dysfunctional economic theories.  These are deep-seated beliefs that are not going to be easily changed, certainly not in time for the 2016 elections and quite likely for a long time even after that, perhaps never (happy day).
It appears Republicans have finally realized the debt limit racket is not going to work for them this time. They are now focusing on other means of shutting down the government, causing Obama even more trouble, plotting to keep any progress from being made. It seems to me that Obama, as President, has been more than merely reasonable with his opponents and has, in spite of them, been in general pretty successful. The things that bother me about Obama, the hawkishness, drones, civil rights, and such, are not things that should bother Republicans. Thus I have to conclude their obvious, even growing hatred of President Obama is primarily racial in origin. They have not been able to overcome the basic paradigm of Western-European culture that featured the Great Chain of Being and the evolution of culture that placed white males at the very top of the scale and other races and genders below them. I suspect it will take at least two or three more generations before this insidious colonial carryover disappears.
 The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The National Death Wish

It is very difficult if you have been following developments in the United States for the past thirty plus years not to conclude that we have developed what appears to be(however unconsciously) a national death wish. I doubt that most U.S. citizens would acknowledge this and I suspect most are probably not even aware of it, but it is, alas, true, or so it seems to me. I do not know precisely when this began but I suspect it began in earnest during the Reagan administration. There is no indication I am aware of that either Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter, whatever their shortcomings might have been, were anti-government or did not have the national interest at heart. It was Reagan, the “Great Communicator,” who first told us that “Government is the problem,” and things seem to have gone downhill ever since. It is obvious there are those in government today that still cling to this rather ridiculous belief, the result of which has been extremely unhealthy for our well-being. As a nation and a culture we are slowly dying while doing little or nothing to prevent our demise. Consider where we are with respect to the most important problems we face:
Global warming, for example, is almost certainly the greatest potential threat to our continued existence on planet earth. What actions have we taken to attempt to deal with this terrible threat? The answer, I fear, is virtually none in any truly meaningful way.
What have we done to combat the serious problem we have with unemployment? Again, virtually nothing of substance, the rate appears to have stabilized at roughly eight percent.
Our infrastructure is widely known to be badly neglected and getting worse year after year. We have done nothing to deal with this trillion dollar problem.
Our environment, too, has been damaged and continues to suffer increasing damage as a result of unregulated or illegal business practices, especially from resource extraction and the demands of energy.
Our educational system, from the primary grades to the highest levels, is little more than a shambles, and, from a national interest standpoint is dysfunctional almost beyond belief. Our universities and colleges that should be geared to turning out intelligent well-rounded individuals, have become little more than trade schools, so expensive as to actually punish, with massive debt, those wishing to improve their lives and contribute to our betterment.
Our health care is a disgrace when compared to the rest of the developed world, far more expensive than health care in other industrialized nations, and demonstrably not always any better in spite of the greater expense.
 The U.S. political/economic situation has become so dysfunctional as to be almost useless when it comes to dealing with the abovementioned problems. Public service has been replaced with naked greed and the distribution of wealth, if not curtailed, will lead to even further disaster.
It seems obvious to me that all of these problems, if continued to be neglected and unsolved, are going to lead to the end of our nation as a viable socio-cultural entity. The most unfortunate part of this is that all of these problems could be solved, perhaps not easily, but almost certainly. If we fail to deal with global warming, unemployment , infrastructure, environmental degradation, education and health care how can we possibly survive for long in the modern world?
One final problem, perhaps the most serious of all, and inextricably related to all of them, is what seems to be the growing distrust of science. When 98% of the world’s scientists agree on the problem of global warming, and a few individuals in positions of power and influence can override them, you should know you are on the road to national suicide. Some of these individuals are known bible-thumpers and might actually believe in biblical nonsense, but others are in the pockets of greedy corporations who simply do not want regulations on their destructive behavior no matter what the long-term effects may be, short-term profits take precedence over the human condition.
I have no idea where Saint Ronnie came by his absurd belief that “Government is the Problem,” perhaps from Nancy’s Astrologer. In any case, insofar as this belief has informed our “Leaders,” and encouraged them to refuse to fund vital governmental programs such as education, health care, environmental protection, and so forth, it has done irreparable damage to our lives and threatens our very existence as a nation. It’s too bad science will not be allowed to clone dinosaurs so we could all ride them happily off to the West and ultimate oblivion.    

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Petty and the Pusillanimous

I don’t remember for sure but I believe it must have been LBJ who said, “If I could walk on water the headlines would read, ‘President can’t swim.’” This attitude would seem to be far more relevant for President Obama than any previous President. It seems there is nothing he can do, literally nothing, that Republicans will not criticize and oppose. I submit this is petty in the extreme. You might think Republicans would be interested in the serious problems that confront us: global warming, unemployment, infrastructure, health care, the deficit, whatever, but they are not, being consumed with opposing Obama’s choices for his cabinet (whoever they are) and vowing to oppose everything he wishes to accomplish. As none of his appointments are unqualified, and as Presidents usually are entitled to name their own cabinet members, this can only be seen as petty. John McCain has to be seen as the most petty opponent of all as his objections to Obama’s wishes are clearly driven by revenge for his defeat by Obama in previous election. Similarly, their criticism of Obama’s choice of four white male cabinet members because of the lack of diversity is, coming from those consistently “warring on women,” is simply laughable. There appears to be nothing Obama is for that Republicans will not be against, even things Republicans themselves previously approved. If this is not petty in the extreme I do not know what would be.
Their pettiness is overshadowed by their pusillanimous voting records. They are far too timid (or cowardly) to vote for anything that might upset the NRA, Israel, or the corporate interests that contribute to keeping them in office. They seem to be incapable of connecting their votes to the everyday lives of real, live human beings or what used to be considered the public good. Seemingly ideologically, rather than reality driven, they timidly vote as they are told, thoughtlessly and apparently without either shame or guilt. In fact it is not ideology that motivates them, as they claim, but rather, obvious bribes in the form of financial contributions, golfing trips, devious financial benefits, and so on. There is no longer any connection between public service and the public. The concept of public service has given way to the private enrichment that comes from serving your lord and master and remaining in office as long as possible.
You can take it as a given that wherever capitalism thrives the public and the environment will suffer. Marx may have been wrong about communism but he was right about capitalism.
Oh, yes, guns. It may be that assault rifles and high capacity magazines will become illegal. It may even be that a national register for guns materializes along with universal background checks. I am all for such restrictions on guns and gun ownership. I’m not sure I think it will make much difference as there are already far too many guns in the U.S. and they will quite likely go underground into a thriving black market. But any restrictions are better than no restrictions and perhaps over time (a long time I fear) if they are faithfully pursued it may ultimately make a difference. It is true, however, that we live in a culture of violence that will also have to change to make a real difference, a change that may prove to be far more difficult that improving our gun laws. If we obsessed as much with our culture of violence as we do with our obsessions with diet and erections perhaps something positive might be achieved. Don’t  bet the farm on it.


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

What the Hell's the Matter...

What in the hell is the matter with most everyone… when it comes to Iran? I absolutely do not understand the obsession we seem to have with Iran and the claim that Iran is somehow a mortal threat, not only to the U.S. but, indeed, to the world.  I believe this is not only ridiculous but also stupid almost beyond belief.
Today, while perusing the news on the internet, I saw some Congressman, maybe even a Senator (I cannot remember) claim, without even the mention of a disclaimer, that we have to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He said this as if it were a known fact that everyone knew for certain that Iran was in the process of actually developing such a weapon. I am obviously not privy to secret intelligence information about what Iran is or is not doing when it comes to such matters, but  the little I do know from the information I do have is that there is no evidence Iran is in fact even trying to develop such a weapon. They deny it, our own intelligence people seem to agree, and it seems to me there is more reason to believe they are not than to believe they are, and yet this assumption (accusation) seems to persist no matter what.
Chris Matthews, who talks incessantly when he should be listening, said something  to the effect, “I’m ready to go to war with Iran” (presumably if it is necessary). What conceivable reason would we go to war with Iran if it were not for the assumption they are trying to develop a nuclear bomb, which as far as I know they are not? This Iranian obsession seems to have taken over the country even though there seems to be no solid evidence that Iran is doing anything other than what they are legally entitled to do when it comes to enriching uranium. Furthermore, they have repeatedly tried to discuss this problem with the U.S. only to be rudely rebuffed by the Bush/Cheney administration and now by the Obama administration. It seems they are not be to allowed to do anything unless they agree to our conditions even before talks begin.
Now they are subjected to crippling sanctions designed to make them do the bidding of the West. The sanctions work terrible hardships on the Iranian people, especially women and children, but do little to bring about the changes we seem to be constantly demanding. It is perfect y obvious such sanctions do not work very well, witness our sanctions on Cuba and formerly on Iraq (where, according to one previous Secretary of State, the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was “worth it”). At first I thought the sanctions were put in place to placate the Israelis and keep us from an all-out war, but I gather they have some other reason making them, too, “worth it.” I think they are disgusting, disgraceful, and ultimately will have made the situation much worse than it ever needed to be.
I hear this constant refrain that Iran is a terrorist state, supporting terrorists and meddling in Iraq and so on. Yet every time I see them accused of providing arms or something in Iraq, two or three days later there is a retraction that denies there is any such evidence. And while it is doubtless true that Iran helps Hezbollah and Hamas, those organizations are terrorist organizations only in the eyes of the West that supports the criminal state of Israel. It appears that Iran, a large and heavily populated country in the Middle East, is not supposed to have any national interests there (at  least those that conflict with the interests of the U.S. and others far outside the region).
Recently I saw a headline claiming that Iran is a danger to the U.S. because they have been developing ties with South American countries. Apparently they are not only to be forbidden to have any interests in the Middle East, they are also to be denied interests anywhere else in the world. Iran is a proud country with a very long history of civilization (long before we gave up dressing in the skins of animals). We insist on treating them as just another inferior nation that should of course do our bidding without question. This has not, and will not work. It is a short-sighted and stupid policy that has alienated Iran further and further from the U.S. They have tried to use diplomacy in their relations with us and we have rebuffed them repeatedly. It is obvious the issue is not really over Iran having a nuclear weapon (which they are probably not developing and that would be of no use to them whatsoever), but, rather, over who is to retain hegemony in the Middle East. I guess this absurd obsession with Iran keeps attention away from the real source of trouble in the area – Israel.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

How? Why?

I was asking myself, “How could anyone vote against the Violence Against Women Act,” and that led to, how could anyone vote against unemployment insurance, food stamps, living wages, health care, Social Security, Aid for disasters, and etc., etc . I suddenly realized that was the wrong question, for how someone votes against such things is basically simple, you just vote a simple three letter word, either aye or nay, or you fill out a secret ballot that accomplishes the same thing. It’s very easy. You don’t even have to know anything about what you are voting for, nor do you have to associate it with the living people it may be going to either help or harm. Voting for your “principles” in the abstract, disassociated from actual persons, does not even require questions of conscience.
 The more important question is obviously why do people vote against such seemingly worthwhile measures? I confess I cannot answer this question, certainly not in most cases, as the explanations I hear rarely if ever make sense to me. In the case of the Violence against Women Act, for example, it would seem the only reason to vote against it apparently had to do with the fact that it focused on Immigrant and American Indian women. That only makes sense if you suppose that American Indian and Immigrant women are somehow less important than other women and that raping them is relatively unimportant. I can’t imagine those who voted against this Act would admit publicly to those reasons but what other reasons could they have? Perhaps because they thought it would cost money, an even more questionable and disgusting reason.
Why would anyone vote against aid for disaster victims, an unprecedented vote, given that such aid has always been given in the past? Some have suggested that prejudice against the Northeast may have something to do with it. Maybe that is true. But again, the arguments have to do with the cost. Of course the cost of aid for Katrina or most other such disasters has never really been raised, except after the fact. The same standard could have been applied in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut cases, but it wasn’t. It seems that disaster aid to the Southern States has always been quickly forthcoming but this case involving the Northeast is somehow different, why I do not truly know, but my suspicious mind is at work on it.
 The arguments involving “costs” has raised the issue of human hypocrisy to what is probably unprecedented levels. You will have noticed that Republicans cling to the claim the national debt is the single greatest problem facing us and demand an end to further spending at every opportunity. They are so obsessed with this idea they may be willing to even damage the credit rating of the U.S. and even the world-wide economy, a rather strange idea that would, of course, make things far worse than they are. They constantly rail against President Obama and the Democrats for being “big spenders” and conveniently forget that most of our massive debt can be traced to their own party under the  leadership of Bush/Cheney. Their two unfunded “wars,” a massive give-away to the Pharmaceutical Industry, and massive tax breaks for the already wealthiest individuals and corporations brought about the debt in the first place. Now their new found faith in an austerity program, if allowed to succeed, will make it impossible to recover from their destructive behavior. This will please the Tea Party folk who seem to relish the destruction of government at all levels. You might recall Cheney’s claim that “Reagan proved the national debt didn’t matter” (or words to that effect). Have they ever apologized for being so wrong? Of course not, they want to enshrine Saint Ronnie (who began our disastrous fall) on Mt. Rushmore.
I confess I do not know why it is Republicans are against virtually everything that might make life easier and better for ordinary working people, unemployment insurance, health care, minimum wages, contraception, abortion, food stamps, violence against women, unions, whatever. This is a new breed of Republicans, they were not always like that. Indeed, they used to try to do the right thing by everyone (even though their ideas of the right thing might have been different at times). They used to be a genuine political party rather than a conglomeration of greedy bribe takers doing the bidding for those on the forefront of exploitation, short-term gains, middle class and environmental destruction. As they can no longer be trusted with the public interest we need to find ways to govern without them in so far as that might be possible. Perhaps after the next election in 2014 we might mercifully be rid of them.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Does Not Play Well with Others

As I recall, when I was a boy in elementary school, there was a statement that sometimes occurred on someone’s report card which you had to take home and show your parents. Along with your grades in various subjects there were brief reports on your conduct. “Does not play well with others” was sometimes reported for those students who for whatever reason were disruptive and caused trouble in school, those who just did not get along well with other children. If the parents (or the teachers) could not change the behavior of such troublemakers and their disruptive behavior continued over time they could be transferred to another classroom, or, even eventually become expelled from school. The cause of their behavior was not the issue, merely their behavior. Similarly, a student who did not even intend to be disruptive might be forced out for their “bad” behavior. When I was in the second grade (yes, I can still remember this) the girl that sat at a desk immediately across from me wet her pants on a daily basis. This was very disruptive and of course I’m sure the poor girl suffered much more than her classmates, but that didn’t matter. I don’t know what happened to her but I do know she did not last long in our second grade class. Although I do not know precisely how they worked, there obviously were ways to deal with such problem children. What a pity we have no way to deal with such problem persons in Congress or other positions of power and influence.
Of course we do have a way of sorts, but it is too slow and inefficient to help very much. In fact in some cases, because of gerrymandering, it is now virtually impossible to remove certain Congresspersons no matter how extreme (or apparently “crazy”) their behavior. Having to wait for the next election to remove someone from office can lead to closing the door after the damage has already been done. I do not wish to name specific individuals but there is no doubt that we have some Congresspersons who for whatever reason are so extreme in their views as to be broadly conceived as way “too far out,” or even perhaps insane. Of course nowadays it is difficult to know whether someone is being paid to act crazy on certain issues (guns or oil or climate or drugs or evolution, for example) or whether they might actually be crazy.
Unfortunately, it seems we have at the moment quite a number of those who do not play well with others.  For example, when 98% of the world’s scientists agree on global warming, probably the single most frightening thing for human life, and there are still those who refuse to believe it, you know you are dealing with the truly deranged, “crazies,” “weirdos,” “religious nut cases,” or perhaps those who are willing to say anything if the money is right. For those who insist on believing the earth is only 6000 years old and people lived contemporaneously with dinosaurs I doubt the money has much to do with it (but I wouldn’t completely rule it out in all cases). Those individuals who simply reject science entirely are truly out of touch and have no business in office and should be expelled forthwith.
This is not to suggest people should not, or cannot have different opinions on important matters. But they should at least have some acceptable evidence or cogent argument for their positions. “The bible says…,” “It’s God’s will…,”  “My mother told me…,” or simply “I believe…,” do not constitute reasonable arguments for nonsensical beliefs that might well have harmful effects on others or the earth.
There are also those who make pronouncements about things that simply have no basis in fact. “Birthers” would fall under this category. “There are 78 or 80 members of the communist party among the Democratic caucus” would also have to be seen as simply nonsense. The problem with this category of apparent lunatics is simply that you can suspect they are making these claims for purely political points, or perhaps just to draw attention to themselves, but you know at the same time they are really stupid even for those reasons. I’m sure there will always be those who do not play well with others. When it comes to government and matters of critical importance to us all there should be quicker and more efficient mechanisms for getting rid of them. Why must we listen to the babbling of idiots for years before there is even any chance to be rid of them? The fact that such people can live and thrive in our government for years before any action can be taken is, I think, a basic flaw in our system. Yes, I know, there is also impeachment, but how often have you ever seen anyone successfully impeached (and I assure you we have some who should have been impeached long ago).  

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

What is "Natural?"

I realize this is a question so basically philosophical it could not possibly be settled (if settled at all) by a brief blog. But I am stimulated to consider it by the argument made by some that Gay marriages are “unnatural.” This is an argument that would seem to have some merit, depending upon what is meant by “natural.” If you assume that marriages are natural because they produce offspring, and Gay marriages do not, this position makes some sense. But many marriages do not produce offspring. Marriages between seniors, for example, do not result in offspring. Similarly, there are many couples who marry but have to desire to have children. There are also marriages between Gays and “Straits,” as well as marriages between Lesbians and Straits. Similarly, if you examine marriages around the world they do not necessarily involve the goal of having children, or even, necessarily, paternity. There are, for example, polyandrous marriages in which one woman has two or more husbands who take turns claiming paternity whether the particular husband is truly the progenitor or not. There are marriages in which a woman claims to be married to the ghost of her deceased husband and brings in a lover to actually father her child. Indeed, a woman can marry another woman to be considered the father of her child if the woman has enough cattle or whatever to marry. Among some American Indians there was a custom called the couvades in which a woman could marry as a husband or a man could marry as a wife. There is a long-standing claim that in at least one society (perhaps more than one) the role of sex in procreation is not even recognized, the fetus being given to a woman by an ancestral ghost or some kind of spirit.
Now you might argue that such strange customs do not constitute true marriages as we think of them. But as far as I know they all involve public ceremonies that recognize the legality of the relationships and also the parental rights and responsibilities that derive from them. You could, it seems to me, argue that “marriage” is itself somewhat unnatural. That is, no other mammalian species relies on anything like marriage to propagate their species. The human species could certainly, and often does, reproduce itself without the benefit of marriage. When you consider polygamy, serial monogamy, common law, and such, it seems pretty clear that while such unions may be “unusual” they are not necessarily unnatural.  So how does one distinguish the natural from the unnatural, and the unnatural from the unusual? I cannot say that I know, but I regard it as a most interesting question, and I would suggest that if someone does not know they should exercise caution before condemning things as unnatural.
What about left-handedness? Is this merely unusual or is it unnatural. Years ago some considered it so unnatural as to try to force the left handed to use their right hands, often resulting in undesirable consequences. What about someone like Phil Mickelson who is apparently “naturally” right handed but plays professional golf left handed, or the rare ambidextrous people who seem proficient with either hand?  They are, it is true, unusual, but are they also unnatural? It does not seem so to me. Similarly, when I look out my living room window I see a forest of various evergreen trees. They are all virtually perfectly straight, tall, and beautiful, except for one that has a strange and unattractive bend in it. Is that unnatural or merely unusual? How does one distinguish between the unusual and the unnatural?
If one person is unusually attractive and another unusually unattractive, does that make attractive more natural than unattractive? What about those unfortunates with physical defects, like harelips or club feet? If they exist in nature, as they do, how can they be considered unnatural? In order to make such judgments you have to have in mind some kind of standard, however abstract, of what a natural human is supposed to look like, a standard of “normality.” If one deviates sufficiently from this standard we say they are unnatural, or abnormal. But if they exist in nature in the same way “normals” do how can we say they are unnatural? You can say, of course, they do not represent God’s intentions, but how do we know what God’s intentions are? It was recently argued by one of our “leaders” that even when a child was conceived by an act of rape it must have been God’s intention.” Does that make sense? In some cultures those who are somewhat “insane,” or even epileptic, are regarded as especially gifted and can become shamans or perhaps seers, whereas in other cultures they can be seen as most undesirable. In some cultures speaking in tongues and falling into trances are regarded as perfectly normal, at least in some circumstances. While such individuals may be regarded as unusual they are not regarded as unnatural. Even human customs like headhunting and cannibalism have been seen as perfectly natural by some people but regarded as completely unnatural by others. I could go on but of course this seems perfectly obvious.
In any case, when you hear someone claim something or other is God’s will or a Natural right, bite the bullet, take a deep breath, pause for reflection, consider the source, look for the motive, and watch your wallet. Do we even have a right to be born: an American, African, Asian, wealthy, poor, healthy, sick, handicapped, brilliant, dull? I do not know, it is all part of the Great Mystery.