Monday, August 18, 2014

I'm baaaack....and this will be a different blog from now on.

You, dear reader, may have noticed that I have been gone from this blog for over a year.  I reached a point where I felt that all I was doing was commenting on how much of a mess our society has become.  And, to be sure, that has value, but it felt for me that it served only to deepen my personal negativity.

So, I took a break from it all.  In the intervening year, I have painted, taught painting to some very fine souls who are learning beyond my hopes and expectations....and lived.  I am sixty-eight now...about to turn sixty-nine in October, and the days, weeks, months and even the years seem to be going by like a fast freight in the night.  It is an observable change how fast time is passing now.  I notice it when we finish a tube of toothpaste, a bag of dogfood,, or the car is due again for another oil-change.  These little markers are like a kind of collective metronome, tick, tick, ticking my life away.

Next month my high school class will gather in Princeton NJ to celebrate our 50th reunion.  Holy Shit!!  I will not be there because I don't have much interest in fossils, or spending time talking about who has had a heart-attack (...uh, that would be me too) and who plays golf seven days a week.  Nah.  My time is better spent musing on painting, our home-life with a small menagerie of animals, walking in the Maine woods every morning, and riding my bike around town each day.

The sum of these activities is that I feel younger than my chronological age would seem to indicate.  When I am out there in traffic on my bike, I am like a maniac.  People cut me off, turn-in on me, crowd me against the curb....and I fight back, with a small electronic horn that sounds like somebody has just broken into a bank, fairly SCREAMS at lax and stupid drivers, who thereupon almost snap their little necks as they realize it is screaming at them.  I weave and dodge like a Manhattan bike-messenger...and, so far, I have been lucky to not weave when I should dodge.  It makes life much more exciting when people are trying to kill you without even realizing they are.

I have spent much time during my hiatus reflecting on the state of our society. I cannot help it; it's what I have been doing since I was an adolescent. It's why I majored in the philosophy of ethics at Penn State. I have a thirst for understanding why people make bad choices...and it seems a time in human history when some whoppers are being made. So, I remain somewhat fascinated...sort of the same way a bird is fascinated as a cobra fixes its gaze on it and--according to myth in India--uses its 'magnetism' to draw the bird down to its demise.  We are watching something that will only be fully understood by subsequent generations....assuming some of us survive this mass extinction that is already underway.

Only the few souls who have been isolated on remote islands in the south Pacific..and those who feed on the bullshit pouring out of Fox News...will be surprised by the fact that The Sixth Great Extinction is happening already.  This is easily documented by pretty near ALL of the scientists who don't work for some oligarch or major corporate interest.  Species are dying out and changes to our planet are happening that seem like something out of a sci-fi movie.  And, yet, they are real.  The time for denial is gone...the time for action is NOW.

So, if you will bear with me over the next however many months or years I can manage to write this blog...I will offer you not only a recitation of pivotal events that seem to witness and chronicle what we are doing to ourselves...but, I will also do my very best to offer items that make watching it and being a part of it all just a bit easier, if not quite digestible.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why I quit the NRA....

Let me start by giving you a little personal history.  I have been a shooter since early childhood.  My grandfather taught me to shoot when I was eight years-old and I have been a dedicated sport shooter ever since.  I shot my way onto a Policemens' Benevolent Association team when I was ten and that was the beginning of my competitive career.  In the decades since that time I have been on numerous rifle-teams, including the First U.S. Army team at Ft. Dix, where I won the post small-bore championship in 1965.  After the army, I tried out for the Penn State varsity rifle team and won a spot on it.  We beat both Army and Navy that year...but got our asses kicked by the mountain boys of West Virginia. 

In subsequent years I have competed in handgun, shotgun and rifle events, won three state championships, and put countless rounds downrange just for the fun of it.  You would have to look hard to find a more devoted shooter than I am.  But, recently I decided to not renew my membership in the NRA, and I have been a member since childhood.  My reason for making this decision is that I finally got to the point where the rhetoric coming from the NRA leadership began to sound just plain stupid.  That's it.  I finally could not stand the rigid unwillingness to support even common sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.  Enough is enough.  How much more mayhem has to happen before the whacko far right realizes that living in a country where even mental cases can go out and buy a simply undoable, unacceptable and STUPID?

No background checks at gun shows?  Not on internet or private sales?  What are you really doing when you create such easy access to essentially unlimited firepower?  What is the ultimate message here?

Then there is the fact that the list of speakers at the last NRA convention was a laundry list of far-right whack-jobs: Palin, Beck, Perry, etc. etc.  I can't stand the bullshit that pours forth from ANY of these people and now the NRA considers them 'keynote' figures.  Well, that was really the straw that did it for me.  I couldn't imagine going to such a meeting and being surrounded by people who admire Glenn Beck...or Sarah Palin.  I need to be around people who don't lie at the drop of a hat, who believe that an intelligent public discourse is necessary to the well-being of our democracy.

So, bye-bye NRA.  I admired your ideals for decades, still believe that the right to keep and bear arms is our best insurance against the rise of a despotic government....but, I also know that there are far too many people now who should be denied that right....lest they run loose among us sowing destruction and death.  We take great pains to keep drunks from killing us on the it's time to start identifying the mentally unstable and the socially malevolent and preventing them from arming themselves. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Another milestone......

 Here is a link to a piece of reportage on CNN.  If you are not willing to be disturbed or may want to avoid opening it.  It is about how human beings are treating the animals who have been our partners in life and our friends unto torturing, killing and eating them.

I came across this story within a few minutes of seeing a photograph of a dog resting his paw on a policeman's coffin. The cop was killed in the line of duty, shot by a felon, and it was clear that his K-9 partner keenly felt the loss.  The grand irony of the juxtaposition of these two stories hit me like a freight-train.  Dogs have been with us since we were hunter-gatherers, wearing animal skins and hunting down our food or starving.  The original dogs were wolves that researchers now believe had a special gene that made them inclined to bond with humans.  They were pre-disposed to being more tame than their fellow wolves and this enabled them to strike up a partnership.  Their senses and hunting ability is so much better than ours, but our killing ability is accordingly so much more efficient than theirs--via weapons and guile--that it was a match that proved to be symbiotic.

On balance, it remains unclear who got the best deal.  We lavish care and love on our dogs, yes.  There are a host of folks, like my wife and me, who treat their dogs like they were our children, and we're not at all embarrassed to use that comparison.  On the other hand, millions and millions of them fall through the cracks and become so much excess baggage that we euphemistically 'put down'.  We kill them because they are unwanted.  Then there is the above canine holocaust. This is treatment so devoid of any compassion, so bereft of any sense of humanity that it becomes a living enactment of hell on earth.  The dogs are purposefully tortured, skinned alive front of the other dogs--who clearly know what is happening and therefore what is about to happen to them.  This terrorizing is intended to render dog meat that is more tasty due to being infused with maximum amounts of adrenalin.  There are people who choose to make a living doing this, and people who choose to eat the product of this horrific undertaking.

This is another milestone that is, for me, more laden with import than the recently noted passing of the 400 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere, which level has not been in place for at least 3 million years, possibly as long as five million.  The conventional wisdom around that was that we have passed the point beyond which massive and catastrophic climate change is now inevitable. But, for me, this treatment of animals--the very ones who befriended us all those millennia ago, and made our survival at least easier if not possible--in such an intentionally cruel, heartless and self-interested telling us that we have also sunk to a sub-human level of behavior.

When you get right down to it, it is only our compassion that makes us human in the end....if we are to infer that the very term 'human' implies something nobler and more worthy than the beasts upon the plains of Africa, where we first stood upright and began separating ourselves by our ability to rise above and to become somehow special, 'better'.

Well, now you know that our noble aspirations and our vainglorious pretensions that we are the 'Blessed Ones' are just so much bullshit.  We are demonstrating to ourselves..and to the entire population of sentient beings on this planet, that we're the ones who are truly capable of creating a living hell our of what might otherwise be The Garden of Eden.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

You know you're a redneck if......

Every once in a while I come across something that just seems like it could never be surpassed.  There just simply is no way to top it.  Well, just the other day I found myself behind a beater of a pick'em-up that made me reach for my camera.  As I crept up on his bumper at a railroad crossing...being careful not to annoy or otherwise piss him off, in view of what I was looking at....I almost could not believe my eyes.

It should be noted that there have been bullet-hole decals and stickers in auto-parts stores for decades. Apparently there is a certain 'je ne sais quoi' about at least having the appearance of being shot at.  I'm not exactly sure why that should be so.  Is it the implication that a jealous husband took a couple of whacks at you as you drove off into the night...his wife's panties flagging from the rear-view mirror?  Is it--even more daring--that the cops were chasing you and, unlike Bonnie and Clyde, you escaped with only a few large caliber perforations in your truck.  BTW: it is always a pick-up truck that has these faux missile impacts.  They even make decals that simulate bullet-holes in glass, with all the little spidering around them.  Pretty cool, huh?

But, as I drifted perilously close to this truck the other day, I could clearly see that these were definitely real bullet-holes, most likely from a .38 caliber or 9mm pistol.  So, I naturally began to wonder how they got there.  Was it indeed an angry rival in a love triangle?  It seemed too far-fetched that he'd be casually riding around town in a truck that had been involved with the discharge of a cop's gun.  I imagined a variety of titillating scenarios, and, then ........ I noticed how evenly spaced the holes were, and how conveniently they missed anything of functional relevance. In fact, they were placed just about where I would have put them if I were putting DECALS on a truck. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the driver of the truck had most likely shot his truck himself.  Maybe he'd had a little too much Allen's Coffee Brandy, the 'anti-freeze' of choice in these parts.  Maybe he took a good hard look at his ride and realized it was a rolling shit-heap. Perhaps one of his buddies remarked how cool the old Dodge Ram would look with some 'gen-u-ine 9mm holes' in it.

Whatever the case, as a piece of art it succeeds magnificently.  It is a statement about rural America, about backwoods Maine, about trucks and the proudly red-neck dudes who own them. It is even a clear-cut statement about the Second Amendment.  It is also extremely capable of evoking a strong reaction from anybody who finds themselves behind this I did.  I mean, do you really want to piss this guy off? 

So, real or not, shots fired in anger, or just some coy tinkering around with a pistol, I give this guy good marks for being creative and making a gesture that communicates so effectively....accompanied by the license frame, which lends an even more cryptic and yet authentic feeling, "I'd rather be getting TATOOED".  

Which, on reading it, cause me to ask, "Do you mean you'd rather be tatooed than shot...or rather be tatooed than driving your shit-heap around town?"

Ah, folk art, eh?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guns.....a Third Category of Disqualification

By now, in the ongoing debate over guns in America, it is beginning to be apparent that the conservative and liberal viewpoints are in such extreme opposition that any kind of agreement on what laws will be made is unlikely, perhaps impossible.

But, there is an area of overlap.  Both sides seem clear about the fact that we need to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, and the mentally unstable who could be dangerous.  It's just so utterly obvious that for either of these groups to have access to firearms is going to lead to more crime and mayhem.  At least we agree on this one point, although the far extreme right and left will remain stuck in their positions of supporting 'no gun laws whatsoever', and 'confiscate all guns'.  They are both unrealistic and just plain stupid.

Speaking of stupid, however, there is a third category of people who should not have access to firearms and they popped-up in the news just the other day:  people who are just too g-d dumb to handle a gun safely.  At a gun show in NC, a man brought a shotgun in a case, intending to sell it privately at the show.  At the table where all weapons are to be checked and rendered 'clear', he managed to discharge the shotgun as it was apparently being removed from the case.  He's the type of person I am referring to.

This was not the only such incident to marr, "Gun Appreciation Day" nationwide.  A man shot himself in the hand loading his .45 at another gun show, and two other equally inexcusable breeches of common sense, gun handling protocol and basic human intelligence happened.  In each case, people were needlessly yet unintentionally wounded.  It boggles the mind.

Too many years ago, when I was an EMT on our local rescue squad, we responded to a call in which another such fool had pulled a deer-rifle out from under his mattress, grasping it by the barrel, and shooting himself in the groin.  Clearly, he had stored the rifle there in a loaded condition and with a round in the chamber.....ready to fire.  It was one of the bloodiest scenes our squad ever encountered, but the fool lived. 

The point is: stories of this kind of massive stupidity are all too common.  It's not that there are too many guns in the country, but that there are far too many people who do not exercise even a tiny modicum of common sense in how they use, handle and store them.  Were I so inclined, I could write a grand tome describing such instances....and I wouldn't even have to draw on incidents from outside of my own state. 

It has been my contention, indeed, my hope, that the 'dumbing' of America has just about culminated, that it will not continue much further lest we become a nation of Alfred E. Neumans.  But, the fact is, there is already a vast host of people who do stupid things as a matter of routine. 

Here in Maine we have a recitation of their antics on the local news every evening.  They drive their snow-machines on lakes with large sections of open water, and thereby drown.  They fly down the country roads in their vehicles without seat-belts on, and are inevitably flung from said vehicles, hit solid roads and trees....and die.  They ride around on Harleys without exhaust mufflers, frequently bouncing their heads off roads and cars and become broccoli.  They drink heavily and then amuse themselves by undertaking activities in which having at least some bodily awareness would seem necessary....and they die.  But....there are still plenty of them left to carry on the grand tradition of Social Darwinism.  We seem to have an inexhaustible reservoir of idiots.

So, all you lawmakers out there who are clamoring to do SOMETHING, hell, ANYTHING about our gun 'bout figuring out how to keep guns out of the hands of idiots? 

Now there's a challenge for you.....

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Face of Evil...

This is a mug-shot of William Spengler, the man who set fire to his house and a vehicle in order to set a trap that would bring firefighters to the scene in Webster he could, in his own words, (via a note he left), "Do what I like doing best, killing people."

This same monstrous creature beat his 92 y.o. grandmother to death with a hammer in 1980, and he served a long prison term as a result....but, apparently not long enough.  We will learn in the next few weeks how it was that a convicted felon obtained at least 3 guns, one of which was the same type of weapon used in Newtown, and in Aurora by the mass-killers in those tragedies.

What I want to know is this: What did his neighbors know about him?  Did they not have a clue that he was a convicted murderer, that he was in a mental state leading to more murderous behavior?

For God's sake, LOOK AT HIM!!!  Does this look like a person that you would want in your neighborhood, someone you would trust to act in a civil and law-biding fashion?  His insanity is written all over his face.  So, why was he not on anybody's law-enforcement radar?  How was he able to buy those weapons....which, it will be noted, he was forbidden to own by New York state law?

So, in the midst of the furious conflict that is already arising about how to control GUNS, what can be done to address this man and those like him?   How do we prevent him from being the living equivalent of a raging beast in our midst?  This is the real question.

I have yet to see a mug-shot of one of these deranged maniacs who looks like anything other than......wait for it......a DERANGED MANIAC.  We have laws specifically put on the books to keep people like this from obtaining the means to commit mayhem.  How can any reasonable person think putting more of the same laws on the books will make any difference whatsoever?

You can direct all the rage you want at the NRA.  You can point your finger at us, carry signs saying we are killers.  But, to any intelligent person, it must eventually become clear that it is people like this man, Spengler, who are the land-mines in the minefield that we walk across every day of our lives.

STOP THE MANIACS!  Somebody tell me how we can do that, and stop wasting time whining about the fact that there are too many guns.  They are simply a fact of life in America, have been since we were colonists....and, ya know what?  That was not a major problem until people began to decide that punishing innocent people for their own pain is okay.

How we got here is a good question.  A better one is now what are we going to do about it?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our National Heartbreak.....

I was driving home from an appointment when the news came over the radio of the massacre in Newtown CT.  At first, I just could not comprehend the scope of it....but, as it sunk in, tears came and a deep sense of sadness settled into my heart.  We have a grandson just the age of some of the victims, and a son whose first name is shared with another one of them.  These facts just made it that much more clear that this happened to ALL OF US.  Yes, of course, nobody can take on or relieve the grief of those parents who lost children on Friday.  But, unless one's heart is in a state of relative torpor, the impact of these murders is immense.

Adam Lanza, the killer, was, according to all accounts extraordinarily bright, something he appears to share with James Holmes, the Aurora theater killer, and many others who have suddenly decided to inflict monstrous acts of violence on people around them.  In many cases, as in Newtown and Aurora, the killer has not even known the people he attacked. It appears they are just 'targets' for his rage,  symbolic souls that I believe represent all of us to some degree.  In the Newtown rampage, the killer seems to have gone out of his way to choose victims that were innocent and young, surely hoping that this would vastly increase the pain created by his actions.  He was right; it worked. 

So, is this the last straw?  Is this event so far beyond the pale that we will finally stop setting aside the question they have all demanded be asked: how do we stop the carnage?  Is this slaughter of innocent young children finally going to force us to recognize that something is dreadfully wrong in our society?  Will we now come to face the terrible fact that we have a society that is somehow causing these human-beings to decide to become monsters?  For surely nobody in their right mind can continue to assume that these are just the appearance of random deviant personalities.  People are raised in families, but also in villages, in tribes, in a society that has both expectations and influences on who they become.

Well, we have pretty much excised the idea of a village or tribe being an extended family. And, with two parent families now on shaky footing, it is becoming apparent that at least some children are growing-up with a proclivity towards deviance.....on a grand scale, not just 'being a little odd'.  How is this happening?  It is way too easy to jump to conclusions; perhaps the best we can do right now is to make a list of factors that seem to be implicated.

I would start with a good hard, side-long look at the fact that so many kids have traded-in such pastimes as 'sand-lot baseball' for sitting in front of a flat-screen playing games like World of Warcraft.  A couple of years ago, I wrote how this 'game' has stolen the normalcy of my grandson, and essentially ruined his life.  I have not changed that opinion, and I ask you to consider how it would be possible for a young and impressionable person to fantasize killing for eight hours a day....and NOT HAVE IT CHANGE THEM PROFOUNDLY.

The 'experts' can opine for the next few decades as to whether or not such violent fantasy games, and equally violent movies, television shows, etc. have egregious effects on developing personalities.  That is what they do: offer opinions, usually in line with some agenda.  I know in the depths of my being that this is a major factor in how young people are learning to see the world around them.

The other element that is implicated...although, yes, there are many and it's not my intent to imply that this is all very clear and the growing deficit of COMPASSION.  In many circles now, compassion is regarded as being something for weak-minded people.  I recently saw a group photo of a sorority at my alma mater--dear old and now bedraggled Penn State--of the young women dressed in mock Mexican garb....sombreros, and serapes....holding up signs that said such things as: "We don't cut grass, we smoke it."  WTF?  Apparently, these all white middle-class young women had no clue that this might be both racist and entirely offensive to latinos. Again, wtf?

If you have the eyes to see it, look around you, and notice how the quality of compassion is being trampled in favor of both self-interest, and voluntary self-isolation of groups.  Only when something like Newtown happens do the people who are clinging to their own humanity come forward and remind us that it is PRIMARILY compassion that renders us human.  Without it, we are in danger of falling far short of the ideals that term implies.  Spend some time listening to Rush Limbaugh if you really want to understand the passionate viewpoint of pure selfishness.  He models it as well as anybody out there.

Now a few words for all those whose immediate reaction to this latest atrocity is that we should impose strict gun control laws.  We are a gun-saturated society, have been since our inception.  The true number of guns in America is somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 million, though it might even be as high as half a BILLION.  Unless you want to have a police-state, there is no possible way that we will even reduce that number, much less get rid of them.  Do not waste our time suggesting that we become England, Canada, Japan or name your 'gunless' society.  IT WON'T HAPPEN HERE. There are just too many factors in play that will prevent a return to innocence, a miraculous state of harmlessness.  It's nice to contemplate....but it's a pipe-dream.  Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S.  It made no difference to Adam Lanza.  He was a time-bomb; his mother knew it, and yet, he was able to steal her firearms and commit mayhem.  How do you stop that?  We will never get an explanation from her as to why her guns were not under lock and key.  And, yet, she even warned a baby-sitter to never turn his back on the then 9 y.o. Adam.  WTF.....again.

So, what we must do is learn how to live with guns being available and we need to start learning how to identify high-risk individuals and get help for them.  We can no longer say, "Well, we knew he would do this someday. But, what could we do about it?"  That is now-I fervently hope-
unacceptable.  These shooters have almost unanimously been isolated, rejected, shunned, regarded as 'outsiders' and their intent in planning and executing such monstrous atrocities is to punish us, to make us feel pain in the extreme.  It is the biggest, most powerful way they can conceive of telling us, "FUCK ALL OF YOU."

So, what are we going to do about that?