Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Real Enemy Lies Within.....

     Well, it's been a wild ride hasn't it? It seems like there is something in the news every time we look at it that just makes one wince, or feel angry, or saddened.  This is not just a matter of the fact that there is a mentally-ill man in the Oval Office, and all the damage he is inflicting on the lower and middle class of America, not to mention the environment, immigrants, people of all minorities....and, perhaps worst of all, the collective American  psyche...our sense of who we are and whence we came.  In the world community at large, we are now causing other nations to ask,"What the hell is going on in America?" And, unless you have been snookered by all the lies, particularly those coming out of Fox News, you know that there is a full-on assault on our democracy in progress.
     Most Americans have grown-up in a society that has seemed so grounded in individual choice and personal freedom that it is inconceivable that it could ever go away.....just 'Poof!!!' and it's gone! But, we are suddenly and steadily becoming aware that it can.  In a series of well understood and previously recognized steps, the freedoms and the quality of life that we have taken so for granted....are being abrogated, destroyed, eliminated.....set aside.  What is coming at the hands of not just the Orange Fool, but the GOP at large, is something altogether different.  The term, 'autocracy' has been used a lot recently, but there is also 'kleptocracy' (rule by thieves) and 'oligarchy', as well as 'plutocracy'.  They all mean one thing: that a tiny number of uber-rich manipulators are getting the control of us that they have craved for so long.  They have created the means of not just generating affluence, but of funneling the vast majority of it to the very uppermost strata of society, i.e. big energy, big finance, big pharma, higher education, big medicine, and they are using this astonishing inequality of wealth to complete the process of gaining control of our society. With the onset of our national tragedy, i.e. the Trump presidency, one would have to say that the kleptocrats are not far short of obtaining their goal of total dominance.
     This bears little similarity to some kind of a 'coup d'etat'....far from it.  It's more like a slow burning fire in a seam of coal beneath the ground that we're standing on. And it is slowly destroying any semblance of the democratic process by which people have a role to play in deciding how our lives are affected by both government and business.  Even prisons are now making billions for these faceless rulers, and we watch all of this as it is happening with a sense of both disbelief and outrage.  WE KNOW IT IS HAPPENING.  And, yet, we are mostly feeling powerless to stop it.
     In his small booklet, "On Tyranny", Timothy Snyder lays out how a tyranny comes into power, and how clearly this is happening right now.  He also tells his readers that we have only a very limited time frame in which to resist this, and if we fail to do so, that it will be hell to pay trying to overthrow it once it is firmly ensconced in the halls of power.  This is so because the processes of control will all be managed/manipulated by the plutocrats, and once they have control of the congress, the executive branch and the justice system, nothing short of a full-on national emergency and revolt will make a dent in their ability to remove or destroy any resistance.
     We watched as they brought in a panoply of thugs, military and police to deal with the people who were resisting the Keystone pipeline.  Nouth Dakota even passed a law that made running down a protester with your car more or less okay; Tennessee and North Carolina are doing the same thing. This is what tyranny does; it eliminates it's opponents by the most stern and violent means it can get away with at that time. Partially, this is to discourage further resistance, and partially it is because these are people who have no room for compassion or compromise in their methods. They want what they want, and by God you'd better not stand in their way. And, as the laws and policies are modified to suit their plans (by the legislators they have bought and paid for, of course) these means of elimination become all the more terrifying and draconian.  Ultimately, tyrants rely on terror to maintain their iron grip on a society. Think 'Gestapo' here.  If you want to see this in action, you have to look no further than Turkey, Syria, Iran, North Korea...oh, hell, there's a list of them.
     Once a tyranny is well and truly ensconced in power, it has the means to maintain long as it has either the actual support, or at least the acquiescence, of  a significant segment of the population. If it cannot use it's well-developed propaganda machine, i.e. LIE GENERATOR, to flummox the population at large into thinking this is what they both want, and need, then it will come tumbling down.....but, perhaps not before it has inflicted great pain and suffering.
     I once interviewed an elderly man who had been a Luftwaffe fighter-pilot during WWII.  He had been in the SA, 'Brownshirts' and had a clear sense of how it had all come to pass.  His comment that stuck with me, even years later, was that, "....there were 15% who resisted in some usually subtle manner, 70% who went along to get along, and another 15% who were devout Nazis."  In other words Hitler maintained his terror state with only a small minority of the people fully behind him.
     The Orange Fool is still obsessing about how big his inaugural crowd-size was.  Some part of him knows that he's not there with a mandate to rule America as if he was a bannana-republic dictator, but that he needs to constantly lie and manipulate so that least some of them....think he's the most popular and effective president since Old Hickory.  It's no coincidence that his presidential culture-hero is Andrew Jackson....a deeply commited racist and a man who didn't hesitate to inflict pain and suffering on whomever he identified as standing in his way.  This is the driving force behind the so-called, "Trail of Tears".
     So, here we are.  It's about to become 2018, and The Idiot's agenda is gaining some traction.  The congress passed a 'tax reform' bill without any of the trappings of consideration or negotiation that most such important laws would need.  They just shoved it through because they had the votes to do it, and it will take some weeks and months before the American people realize that--once again--they've been had. Initial indications are that it is a big windfall for corporations and the uber rich. Jeezum, didn't see that one comin', eh.

So much for the dire state of the nation.

Now, we need to ask ourselves,"Well, what are we going to do about all this?"  And, recently, I have been bumping into people who answer this question with a shrug and,"Nothing I can do will make any difference.  So, why bother?"

OUCH!!!!!  Feeling beset by all that is happening is very understandable, and a lot of Americans are indeed feeling helpless in the face of all of this.  But, to toss one's hands up and decide to just become apathetic.....well, that is exactly the response that the robber barons would prefer you to have, i.e. NOTHING.  Just sit back and let it all go down, because, hell, what can we do anyway?

WHAT WE CAN DO.....AND MUST DO IS TO RESIST!   I do not care if you feel discouraged, or hopeless, or angry, or just lazy.  It is not about you now; it is about America, and if you would like to feel good about being an American again, NOW is the time to get off your chair and let your feelings be known. Yes, of course, it feels impotent to stand outside an office holding a sign,"Do the right thing senator."But, staying home, avoiding looking the situation in the eye and pretending that you are ever so much worse.  You have no right to complain if you're not willing to make an effort to let the elected representatives know that what is happening is in no way acceptable.

The Womens' March, last January is a perfect example of making a difference.  My wife experienced it first hand in Boston.....175, 000 people turned out and let the world and the new president know that all of this is NOT ACCEPTABLE.  What she was a part of in Boston, was simultaneously happening all around THE GLOBE, not just here in America.  Millions of people turned out to make sure that The Orange Fool knew he wasn't going to have hands-off smooth sailing ahead.  It changed her understanding of what people can accomplish once they make up their minds to do it.

And......we're not done yet.  Vote, March, call and write your elected whatever comes to mind, just do it and do it soon.

Because the real enemy is the APATHY INSIDE YOU.  If you surrender to it, you have just given away the only thing that can and will make a difference.  You have let the kleptocrats and the Orange Idiot win without putting up a fight.

Please don't do that.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Truth About Who a Person Written in Their Face.

Mystics have known this for thousands of years.  You can perceive the salient qualities of a person's individuality in the physiognomy of their face.  For decades I knew this before I discovered that it is common knowledge in mystical circles.

But, first, let's clear up a common mis-understanding:  mysticism is not what most people think it is.  The popular view is that all things mystical are mysterious and kind of 'out there'.  We tend to think of 'mystics' as airy-fairy individuals who see things that aren't there.  The reality is that mysticism is a means of learning about the presence of God by direct experience.  It turns its back on 'belief' or dogma, theory and scriptures,  in favor of actual experience.  In the early stages of mystical training the need is to give up all of one's beliefs. And, when you think about it, 'belief' is something that one holds to be true...on faith. A True Believer is one who doesn't know God in the first person, but is willing to take what any particular religion offers as an article of faith. A mystic is one who, via the practice of various exercises and such means as meditation, mantra or wazifa, and led to their own personal experience of God's Presence.  This is not a 'belief' but rather a 'conviction' because one is not taking anything on faith....but basing what they 'know' on actual experience.

So, when I say that you can see the qualities of a person's inner being in the features of their face, I am not asking you, dear reader, to believe that but rather to begin--if you haven't already--noticing how this is true.  An example might be: you meet a person whose features are open and express a certain lightness, happiness and perhaps they even seem luminous.  Really....have you not noticed that some people do seem this way?  And, as you begin getting to know them, you realize that this is really the essence of 'who they are'.

I had this experience just last week...again.  Some weeks ago, I was told about a young woman that it sounded like I might want to meet.  I am a painter who often paints people who are uniquely themselves.  She is a seventeen year-old who works in a local country store.  I reached out to her via her employer and made contact by leaving a copy of my portfolio for her to look at.  She expressed an openness to meet, and at the appointed day and time I went to the farm where she has grown-up and met her parents, many siblings, a grand-father and did indeed take some images of her.

Her face absolutely beams with positivity and projects a sense of joyous appreciation of life. I am not going to publish her image or tell you her name out of respect for her privacy, but, I will tell you that this is a remarkable person.  Just being around her makes a person feel 'light' and happy.  If she can hold onto this essence as she undergoes the challenges of living in these times, she has a wonderful life ahead of her. She will doubtless touch many people that she comes into contact with. She radiates an energy that I must refer to as 'light'. This is an indication of the condition of her soul.

Likewise, you might meet a person who is 'tight-lipped', their mouth forming a thin line on their face, and who appears to be 'wincing' and holding tension in their features.  I can almost guarantee you that if you have the opportunity to spend a little time getting to know them, you will come away realizing that the sum total of their life experience has rendered them at least somewhat bitter and even angry. This has happened to me far too many times to doubt that what I am offering you is true. Angry people become angry looking people, their features make you almost afraid to speak to them because they look like they might snap at you. It's not always fair to avoid contact with such people, but it is helpful to prepare yourself and not take it personally if they are unpleasant.

So, why am I telling you this?  Well, I am inviting you to begin looking at the people who are now front and center in our lives via the 24/7 news cycle, and who are playing somewhat pivotal roles in determining how our country and even our own lives are conducted.  Watch peoples' faces as they speak, and notice their facial gestures. Listen to what they're saying and notice from the viewpoint of a neutral observer what qualities this particular person is putting forward.  I am trying very hard here to not single out the most obvious players.....but, I will bet that you have already guessed who would be the most interesting and revealing to watch in this manner.

You can learn a lot more about who a person really is by watching them speak and observing their features as they do, than you ever can by listening to what is coming out of their mouth....especially now that we live in the land of 'alternative facts'.  Take a look at the following images and ask yourself what qualities are there in these faces and their expressions. I have tried to select images of each person that caught them in a moment of being un-posed, and not stylin' for the cameras.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

So, What's a Nazi......Really?

A surprising number of people don't know that 'Nazi' is an acronym for "Nationalsozialistiche Deutche Arbeiterpartei".  Translation: National Socialist German Worker's Party.  So, even the name it started with was a cynical lie.  It was always a fascist party, based on the principle that the state is supreme, including the elite who run it, and as workers in the Third Reich quickly found out, you toed the line or you got scooped up by the Gestapo, i.e. The Geheime Staatspolizei, secret police.  If this happened it was likely your family would not even be informed of your status, and you would very possibly end up in a concentration camp.  Dachau was created very shortly after the Nazis came to power in '33.  People who were sent there, if they came home at all, would not even speak about it.

The NSDAP (Nazi Party) was founded on goals of becoming a totalitarian terror state....and, it was, from it's early days, intent on elimination of all those who either stood in its way, or were considered undesirable or inferior, i.e. Jews, gays, pacifists, social democrats, communists, dissenters of any kind and simply the entire rest of humanity beyond the boundaries of the Aryan race.  If the inferior peoples were not to be outright exterminated, they were to be enslaved and their labors used for the benefit of the Nazi state.

Most people do know that Adolf Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party and of the German state, was called Der Fuerher, The Leader, and led the Axis powers into World War II and orchestrated the Holocaust.  But, I don't believe that many people actually realize what life was like in Nazi Germany or in the countries and territories that the Germans occupied. Life in a totalitarian terror state is being modeled in various countries around the globe today, particularly, in North Korea, but also numerous other third world countries where people live in a state of knowing that they could be arrested and even murdered at any time, if they are perceived as being 'out of line', or if someone even accuses them of being so. Hence the term 'terror state'.  Duterte is doing a fair job of creating a terror state in the Philippines. Because he is largely focused on murdering anybody who is involved with drugs, many Filipinos are going along with his agenda.  History shows, however, that people like Duterte often have broader ambitions for their power and once they have become firmly entrenched it is very difficult to stop or even hinder them.  Kim Jong Un is a good example of this.

In the countries and territories that the Nazis overran before and during World War II, the people were subjected to brutal oppression at a level that most people who live in democratic and free societies cannot really comprehend.  You could be arrested for reasons that were never even made clear, and you had no rights....none.  Your life was subject to the whim of local SS and Gestapo commanders, whose brutality became infamous.  You might be tortured, or sent off to a slave labor concentration camp, or simply be shot...all because you came to the attention of the Gestapo, perhaps because a fellow citizen accused you of just about anything at all that the Nazis didn't tolerate.

In any discussion of 'Good and Evil' when one of the participants wants to clearly define 'evil', it is often easiest to use the Nazis as an indisputable example of what constitutes evil behavior. And, this brings us to trying to understand who the people are--and what they really believe--who are marching in the streets of America, and in Europe too, carrying the swastika flag of the Nazis.

They claim that they just want 'white power'.  They often make statements that white people are now endangered and that the growing diversity in our society poses a lethal threat to Caucasians.  The people who have dominated the globe for many hundreds of years, enslaving and wiping out untold legions of indigenous people, carrying on as if it is their 'right' to be the dominant and domineering race on the planet, as if God put them in charge somehow, are now on the run.  Right?  Riiiight...

The neo-Nazi agenda espouses a 'race war' fought for the very survival of the white race. It is merely a continuation of what the original Nazis wanted: to either subjugate or exterminate all other races. Nobody in their right mind would claim that they are either 'harmless' or well-intended.  Their plan is lethal to all but conforming white people....notice I said, 'conforming', because they would also exterminate whites who are not going along with the planned hegemony.

For any of the current Nazis to claim that they are less odious, less malevolent, less dangerous, than their predecessors is simply to put up a smoke-screen.  The most famous Nazi smoke-screen was on the iron-work gates over Dachau and Auschwitz, and perhaps other camps:  "Arbeit Macht Frei". This must at least be a leading contender for the most cynical statement of all time.  It means, "Work Will Set You Free"......over the gates that led toward the gas chambers and the ovens beyond.  In the minds of the craven sub-humans who created these gates, it was likely a way of getting the prisoners passing underneath them to cling to some faint hope that they were not really on their way to their doom....and therefore they might remain more they were 'processed'.

If you want to give yourself a first-hand perception of  the notion of 'Pure Evil', look-up some film footage of Reinhard Heydrich...and glimpse Mephistopheles himself.  There is one particular clip where he is leaving a meeting and comes toward the camera, looking directly into the lens as he passes.  It makes my skin crawl.  Here's a link to one short.  And, here's another, longer, viewing of just exactly who the original Nazis were.

Reinhard Heydrich. One Evil S.O.B.

And, here we are, in 2017, with a man in the White House, who says things that seem intended to mollify, reduce or otherwise disguise the fact that anybody who considers themselves to be 'a Nazi' has embraced evil on a massive scale.  People at large are reacting to this with vehemence and disgust.  It is wholly unacceptable that Nazism should emerge as a legitimate political orientation once again.  As the enraged man shouted at Peter and me: "I have seen too many good men die fighting that!"

It is not enough to turn your eyes away.  It is insufficient to simply shake your head and mumble about what the world is coming to. It is an egregious avoidance of responsibility to say, "But, what can I do about it?" You can....AND MUST.....make your voice heard, even as one of millions--in fact, particularly as one of millions--who refuse to accept that Nazis and Klansmen and all others who espouse 'white supremacy' should have any say whatsoever in the political and societal conversation about what America needs to do to become a country that we can feel good about again.

Because, as of this date, it has some real problems and we need to get involved with working them out.  The rest of the world is watching us with some valid and deep concerns.  We need to be the people our parents' and grandparents' generations believed we were.....and, we need to do it soon.

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Symbols: What's in a Swastika?

I'm not going to honor the 'Hooked Cross' as it is called in German--Der Hakenkeuz--by reproducing it on these pages.  But, I am going to make the argument that it qualifies as a symbol for the ages that will always carry a level of potency that cannot be either morphed into something good or minimized to mean less than it really does. Here's a story from my boyhood that I believe will make this point:

My friend, Peter, and I spent a lot of time on his family's farm outside of Princeton NJ.  They were neighbors and raised about 150 Shropshire sheep. The dad was an executive who commuted into Manhattan during the week and the mom was a wonderful woman who just loved the earthiness of their country lifestyle and ran the farm. It was about 1957,so I would have been 11 or 12, and all the kids I knew had fathers who had fought in World War II.  After only twelve years, 'the war', as our parents always referred to it, was still hanging in the background of our lives.

There was also a profusion of 'war trophies', souvenirs, that had been brought back from the Pacific and Europe. My own uncle had brought back sundry souvenirs from Europe, Nazi uniform hats and medals mostly. And, I had come into possession of a Nazi flag at some point. It was one of the banners that festooned Nazi Germany from one end to the other during those dark times, part of a campaign to completely saturate Germans' visual surroundings with the vivid scarlet and the bold black swastika on its white field.

There came a day when Peter and I were messing around and we decided it would be fun to fly this 'bad guy' flag from a fence-post near the end of the farm's driveway. So we put it up and it fairly over-hung the road. We had no sooner gotten it up, when a passing car came screaming to a halt, all four tires leaving great black stripes on the road as it did so.  A man jumped from the driver's seat, leaving the door flung open and started screaming at us: "You take that goddamn thing down right now!  I saw too many good men die fighting against that! Take it DOWN!!!"  We couldn't move fast enough and it was down in a matter of seconds.

All these years later, I can still see his face, and hear his outrage. Peter and I both knew that something had just happened that transformed how we felt about this piece of cloth....and we never 'played' with it again.

Now, we have Americans who think that they can parade this symbol through American towns and cities and claim it's their constitutionally protected right to do so, and they want us to let them do if it were any other symbol from history. IT IS NOT!!  It will never just mean, "Hey, we're white and we want some respect."  It will never mean, "White people have rights too."

It WILL always mean, "Evil is our creed."  "We believe in hatred and cruelty."  "Death is what we want for all those unlike us."  "We believe that the white race is superior and we would like to kill, or enslave, all others."

So, we're going to sit back and let this message proliferate under the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States?  It is my profound wish that we could travel back in time and interview all of the individuals who signed the Declaration  of Independence. I would be talking to my great grandfather, six generations removed: Richard Stockton.  His blood flows in my veins, so I get to hazard a guess, with some attached 'gravitas', as to how he might feel, and I am telling you that he would find the idea of protecting people who want to commit mass murder unacceptable.

After all these generations since the Declaration was signed, we now know that the right to free speech is not without some limitations.  Of course, the most cited of these is that you cannot be free to yell 'fire!' in a crowded theater.  It would directly cause harm and even death as the panic ensued.

So, how in the world is it any different, walking through the middle of an American city carrying a banner that says, "I would be pleased to murder you if you aren't like me"?  You cannot argue with any credibility whatsoever that the Swastika flag means less than that.  It is impossible to separate it from that legacy and claim that it means something else or something less.  It is no more a harmless symbol of 'white power' than a rattlesnake is a cuddly little pet that you'd like to have wrapped around your neck.
That is the SS Death's Head, and the SS slogan, "Blut und Ehre"...
Just in case you have any doubts what their 'message' is.

The evil power--and it is 'power', make no mistake-- of the swastika is also embodied in the Hitler salute. When you extend your right arm and shout, "White Power!" or "Sieg Heil!" you are invoking the entire Nazi legacy....and all that comes with it, including the Holocaust, and the murder of five million people beyond even the six million Jews: Slavs, gays, pacifists, dissenters of all ilks...eleven million souls in total.  You are making an aggressive statement that you are aligning yourself with ALL OF IT.  You cannot pick and choose.  It's a package deal.

So,when our very own 'Dear Leader', aka the president, tries to say that there is 'evil' on both sides and there are good people on both sides, he's either astonishingly obtuse and ignorant, or he's just lying as he so often prefers to do.  The Germans long ago realized the inherent evil embodied in all the symbols of the Third Reich, and they outlawed them....all of them.  In view of what they went through, and, especially, in recognition of what they inflicted on the rest of humanity, it was a sensible and important choice to do that.

Americans who think the freedoms protected by the Constitution are always so sacred that there can be no exceptions.....are going to find out that when you protect pure evil, you give it power that is going to proliferate and eventually it will take away all of those rights that the starry-eyed idealists hold so sacred.

Johnny Rivers, and a few other singers, recorded a song about a young woman who rescues a half-frozen snake....she cares for it and ultimately gets rewarded by being bitten, along with the admonishment:"But you knew I was a snake...when you took me in."

Ask yourself this: would you be willing to extend the protection of the Constitution to a throng of marching people who were flying the banner of ISIS, and were chanting,"Death to the Infidels"?

No?  Then why is it okay for another band of armed and dangerous thugs to be shouting 'Sieg Heil' and giving the Hitler salute?

What is the difference?

And, we haven't even gotten to the symbols of the Confederacy......

Friday, July 14, 2017

On Compassion, Part One

We are living in a time when some basic assumptions about the condition of 'being human' are being called into question.  And, in some quarters, qualities that had once been taken pretty much as basic to what makes us 'human' are even being shunned and abandoned.  Foremost among these is the quality referred to as 'compassion'.  Just so we are clear about what the term refers to, here is a dictionary definition:" A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

That is pretty straight-forward. It means you care. When you begin to look at the world at large, and political realities in particular, you will notice that this is increasingly uncommon.  It is certainly not an integral part of how people look at the suffering of others in these times.  One might even say it is the stuff of the saintly souls among us, whereas it was once assumed that a person who was lacking compassion was somehow lacking, not complete, not a 'whole' human being. Whatever else they might have, if they didn't have a degree of compassion they were less than human. Compassion has been regarded by some as one of the defining characteristics that indeed makes one human.  The term, 'inhumane' refers to this very deficit.

Perhaps the noticeable retrograde of compassion in our society has something to do with the constant bombardment of the news, and its ever improving ability to put high-definition images of great suffering in front of us...and to do it with 24/7 regularity.  We see clips and photos of starving babies, drowned refugees, innocents being blown-up by militants...and on and on...on a daily basis.  Obviously, there is plenty of suffering--heart-rending, dramatic, violent and mind-numbing--to go around.  We are a species in extremis, by any reasonable definition.  So, it is understandable that we do shut-out much of what is happening.  War, famine and disease, extreme poverty are all happening on a world-wide scale that should tell us that we are not okay, as individuals or as a species.

Then you pile-on the news about what we are doing to our host planet. Unless you are an idiot or an ostrich, you know that the thousands of scientists who are monitoring, analyzing and documenting, the physical state of the planet are not all involved in a grand conspiracy to deceive us.  If you are not a self-deceiver you know that we are well on the way to destroying earth's ability to support life as we know it, and because of our deep dependency on carbon-based energy sources, we are headed for a series of changes that are now widely understood and being referred to as The Sixth Great Extinction.  And, it has the further distinction of being the only such scenario to be created by one of the species that will be extinguished: us.

ASIDE: If you are one of the people who still don't believe that science is 'factual' and that climate change is being caused by human activity....then you are probably not going to agree with or accept anything in this blog, and you might as well stop reading here. If you are inclined to troll me, don't bother; your words will have no audience here. 

On top of all of this, we now look out on a political landscape in which the opposing sides are at each others' throats, and our elected president is being identified by some very authoritative sources as being 'unstable' and even 'mentally ill'.  At the very least, his behavior is bizarre, immature and a source of morbid embarrassment to millions of Americans. So, is it any wonder that people are feeling negative and put upon by the sum total of what they observe around them these days?

Here's the thing, however: the worse things get, the more we need to make conscious decisions about how to conduct our lives.  Otherwise, our most painful complaint will be a feeling of floating down a stream like an autumn leaf...helpless and out of control.  As all of these factors interact to create deepening feelings of insecurity and fear, it becomes critically important to take control of not only our own lives, but to consider how others are getting along in their lives and make decisions about how to be a part of this community of souls we call a society.  If we give in to our inclination to withdraw and to isolate ourselves.....we begin to slowly die inside.  We are social creatures, whether we cop to it or not.  Isolation is a form of punishment, even torture. (And we use it as such in the penal system, don't we?) When we decide--either consciously, or by default--to ignore the suffering of others, and take on the attitude of somebody like Ayn Rand, which says, essentially,  "I've got mine, and it sucks to be you", we have begun the process of creating our own hell.

If you look at situations where pain and suffering were/are extreme and ubiquitous....for example, London during the Blitz in have people not care about each other and just operate on some kind of self-preservation auto-pilot would multiply the misery and deepen the pain of being in such terrible circumstances. To take the position that "I'm okay...and I really don't give a tinker's damn about you." would be unconscionable.  What actually happened in London was the exact opposite: people, with few exceptions, felt like they were all in it together and caring and kindness became commonplace.  I had an aunt who was there with the Red Cross during the Blitz and her dominant memory in later years was of how heroic ordinary people were. Instead of destroying their spirits, it deepened their determination to survive and a part of that was the certainty born of knowing that they were in it together.

So, here we are in 2017, and it's beginning to look like it has the potential to become a Blitz of our own.  Things are pretty good for most people as I write this, but in 2008 we learned that the idea of a stable economy and a predictable and rosy future is ephemeral.  One major terrorist attack, one major financial hiccup, one earth-based disaster....the 'big one', as Californians call it, or a tsunami, or you name it....and all of this apparent stability is gone, gone, gone.  And, as we saw, it can happen almost overnight.

And, despite the absence of some over-arching disaster, there are plenty of people who are already suffering. Do you need me to really explain how it feels to live in an inner-city neighborhood that has nightly gang shootings?  Or what it is like to have a serious illness and not have adequate health care?
Do you want me to tell you how being extremely poor and without hope of changing that for your kids...grinds at your soul, day in and day out?  Do you really want to live in a society where a large segment of the people are just written off as, unworthy of living decent lives....or of LIVING AT ALL?

For a society to succeed in the long term, it needs to have an awareness of itself as a whole. If a small part of it becomes isolated by means of having extreme affluence....and extreme poverty is the condition of an entire population, the formula for self-destruction is in place. Don't take my word for it, read the history books.  When an elite part of society loves only itself and ceases to care about the base of the pyramid....compassion is no longer in the mix, and its counter-part is going to grow strong: hatred, resentment...and eventually violence.  Because people who do not have a sense of meaning in their lives, and who find themselves without HOPE.....will not ever just fade away.  They will not go quietly into the night.

Bastille Day, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pants on Fire....

Someone said recently that we're living in a 'post fact' world.  That sounds suspiciously like they want it to be okay that lying has become so common that it is now acceptable.

I don't buy it for one second.

So, let's take a look at why telling the truth is not only not obsolete, but one of the key factors in keeping a civil society civil.  For starters, there is our legal system that would become meaningless and unable to function if we no longer have any distinction between truth and falsehood.  When a witness is about to testify in a civil or criminal proceeding, they are required to stipulate under oath that they are about to, "....tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth."  So, imagine if this morphed into something like, "Do you swear to tell the truth only when it is convenient and causes you no difficulty whatsoever, so help you God?"

The entire system breaks down.  Once we embrace the idea that 'truth' is a relative concept, no longer anchored in 'reality', whatever that is, we have no firm ground to establish guilt or innocence, culpability or exoneration.

Here's an example from the real world: a few years ago, my step-son and I were riding motorcycles on a beautiful October day, not far from home.  A sub-contractor was re-building that particular road and had set-up a construction zone.  We knew this and were riding accordingly. As the crew tore-up the original road, into baseball sized chunks of rubble, they created a situation wherein we rode into a 'booby trap'.  The requisite "PAVEMENT ENDS" sign was missing, and the rubble zone began on a curve at the top of a hill.  By the time we could see what was in front of was too late to even slow down and we were only going about 30-35mph,

Long story, short: I crashed.  I was injured and my motorcycle was totaled.  Two years passed before the inevitable law suit came to court, and when a local police officer was asked, under oath, about the absence of the 'PAVEMENT ENDS",  he answered, "I don't recall."  In fact, I had angrily confronted him at the scene with the question: "Where the hell was the 'Pavement Ends' sign?"  But, now he was lying because it served his purpose. Maybe the contractor got to him, or maybe he just didn't want to be known as having taken the side of an 'outsider' against a local business.  I will never know why he lied, but at that moment the case was lost. Truth and, ultimately, justice took a back seat to self-preservation and self-interest that day. Apparently, the fact that this officer of the law was giving sworn testimony meant very little.  He had already given himself permission to lie.

And now we are entering a period in American history where some people, including the president of the United States, want us to believe that this is the new normal. If it suits your own interests, lying is okay, even necessary. The moral imperative to tell the truth has been retired, and, let's be honest, it was just for boy scouts and suckers anyhow, right?  Personal and professional integrity is now an endangered species.

If we are to accept this idea, we are leaving firm ground behind permanently and venturing out onto a vast peat-bog of unknown hazards.  Peat-bogs are famously treacherous and a person can step on a thin spot and go right through, perhaps even disappear completely and not be able to find their way back to the surface. Glub!

But, lying becoming widely accepted as a practice has much, much wider and darker implications than just those for the legal world.  Start to imagine what the overall quality of life becomes when you can no longer trust what anybody says.  Is it even possible to have a society remain livable when trust is gone?  Your doctor could feel justified in lying because he/she just doesn't want to be the bearer of terrible news....or because he/she should have seen the tiny indications of cancer on your imaging results, and knows it was an oversight, i.e. a litigable mistake.

How about relationships?  There has always been a degree of lying between spouses and partners, but it has also always been considered low-life behavior.  So, is it okay now?  Husbands and wives can just lie their asses off and feel fine about it?  This doesn't sound like a solid foundation for any kind of marriage, friendship, partnership or professional relationship.  Once trust is set aside and we have a feeling of not quite trusting anybody or anything we're told.....what is left? It makes me queasy just thinking about living that way.

We are already living in a society that seemingly causes depression. And, that is actually not a very controversial statement.

"From 1999 to 2012 the percentage of Americans on antidepressants increased from 6.8% to 13%, according to a report published this week by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)". And a larger number of children are taking them every year. If you look at what people are dealing with on a daily basis, your reaction might be similar to mine: "Little wonder."  In a country that once prided itself on having inspired ideals and was the gold standard of Freedom, we now have an over-abundance of hatred, venomous invective directed at fellow Americans, much of it racially and socio-economically inspired.  It is becoming more difficult to identify anything one might call 'the meaning of life'.  For many Americans life has indeed become depressing, and stressful. There are many causes of this national malaise, but that is for another day.

And, now we're being pummeled with the idea that we don't need to know 'facts', that we should just accept that because some self-interested Donald Trump...says something, it must be true.

Well, I'm not buying it, and I hope you won't either. A lie is still A LIE. And, invariably, lies are told in order to deceive, and to gain some kind of advantage by that deception. Trump wants us to believe that Russia had nothing to do with his getting elected because it's going to be a big problem for him that they did. So, he lies. It's the easy way forward. And, he has appointed lots of people who are willing to lie for him....about almost anything you can name: health care, taxes, jobs, terrorists, inauguration crowd-size, three million fraudulent voters  and on and on. He lies because that is all he knows how to do. He's been doing it all of his business life and apparently doesn't see the harm in it. If you believe him, he's won. And a large segment of Americans do believe him. And, many of them know he's lying but accept that is just what you have to do to be effective against those who tell a different story.

 For people who accept that lying is a viable strategy for 'getting ahead', or thwarting the opposition, life is not and never was a morality play. It is a reality-tv contest, a lot like Survivor, and you do what you need to do to win.  When Boston Rob was called to task by a fellow contestant who trusted him and was then back-stabbed by him, Boston Rob's response was, "Hey, we're playin' for a million bucks up here."  Lying, cheating, back-stabbing are all okay if that's what it takes to win in today's world. Right?

When one of his 'spinners', Kellyanne Conway, introduced the concept of 'alternative facts' on camera, you could see her wince. She said it as if she half-expected it to be thrown back in her face. And, it has been, time and again. There may be a part of America that is ready to abandon the truth, but there are still legions of us who will never accept that a lie has any value or credibility. The only'value' of a lie is in it's ability to deceive. It's that simple. If you are ready and willing to be deceived then I question your intelligence and your personal integrity.

So, carry-on, America.  If you think we will achieve a level of harmony, peace and LIVABILITY, a society that a sane person would imagine creating and enjoy living in each lying and always trying to gain the upper hand by taking advantage of others, especially those less advantaged, you are just deceiving yourself.  We will NOT get there that way, but if you don't believe that, just keep on doing what you're doing and you'll find out that, hell, that's what they make Ambien and Prozac for.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Dear America.....WTF?

Okay, okay....that was a false start three years ago.  I really did intend to re-start my blog and to do so with a more positive outlook on things in general and our country and its politics in particular.

But, then, reality intervened. As a person who has been observing and caring for over six decades now, I found myself struggling with what is happening to us, as people, as a society and as a planet. There is just no getting around the fact that, regardless of how you look at it.....we're in big trouble. I simply could not find a way to be positive about the fact that we're A) destroying the environment and so many are still in denial about it.  B) becoming less and less compassionate towards others, right down to actually attacking those who don't share our own beliefs. C)  making political choices that seem to indicate we're headed deeper into the swamp, not out of it.



A large segment of the people seem to believe we're in danger of becoming a socialist welfare state in which wealth is 'stolen' away from those who have earned it...uh, amassed it?...and re-distributed to the teeming masses of people who don't deserve it and are unwilling to work for a living. At the same time, another large segment seem to believe that a tiny portion, i.e. .01%, of the people have more wealth than all the rest of us put together.  The safety nets that were put in place by FDR, and LBJ, among others, are in danger of being either stripped away, or being mutated so that they become vehicles for big money to make more profits from them.

Further complicating this scenario is the fact that simple facts are becoming elusive.  The 'truth' is now considered to be--by too many--what any one writer or site or paper says it is at any given moment.  We have been introduced to the novel concept of 'alternative facts' and the idea that there is no such thing as The Truth.  To the people who still want to believe that certain things are simply factual and true, this is an infuriating way of dodging reality. It is also a known and well-proven method of moving a society towards the goal of becoming an autocracy.....yes, a dictatorship.

The actual and factual simple TRUTH is that we are a people divided, and badly so.  It's not just a matter of some feel this way and others feel that way. Oh, no!  It's more like: if you don't believe what I believe, then you are my enemy, and furthermore you are EVIL.  The invective...on both sides of this great chasm....has become so venomous and so hateful that it would be alarming and astonishing, but for the fact that we are now becoming inured to least, a lot of people are.  It is becoming, the 'new normal' and that, in and of itself, should be terribly concerning.  It is paving a formerly faint path and becoming a direct route to the eventuality of violence.

There are now so-called 'alt-right' voices espousing rounding up 'the democrats' and 'getting rid of them'.  This is a form of rhetoric that is so extreme that I had to read it several times before it sank in. What?   So, they want to have concentration camps?  Who are these people?  Are they so mentally aberrant that this is actually a serious contention? This is just one example of parties getting so worked up over the opposing viewpoints of conservatism and liberalism, aka 'right' and 'left' that we are starting to put forward ideas that are stark and would have been unthinkable, just a very short time ago.

These two ideologies are so vehemently in opposition that terms are being routinely used such as, 'the war on the middle-class', or 'the war on black people' or 'the fight for justice'.  We (most of us, anyway...some have been there ongoing) are at the early stages of imagining we might actually accept violence as a way of settling these issues.

 And, we have done this before, haven't we?  It seems odd to me, somehow, that my own great grandfather was in the American Civil War.  In fact, he was a drummer-boy in a Pennsylvania regiment at Gettysburg, and watched Pickett's Charge from Cemetery Hill.  He stared through the pall of gun-smoke at a massive body of troops as they advanced across the open fields.  He watched as cannonballs and grape shot tore gaps in their ranks....and on they came.  We know how it culminated; Pickett's troops made it to the Union positions, but were so decimated that they had to ultimately retreat back across the same blood-soaked fields. William Henry Sayen, was a boy of fifteen, and watched as thousands of Americans killed thousands more Americans that day.  I can only imagine how this must have affected him for the rest of his life.

A 2012 re-calculation of casualties in the Civil War indicated that approximately 750,000 Americans, on both sides, died in the line of duty.  Disease and primitive medical capabilities figured greatly in this number, far more than any other war in our national history.  But, we went to war over a national chasm between ideas....and three-quarters of a million Americans died.

Now, just try to imagine if we somehow manage to talk ourselves into another national conflagration.  Weapons are much more efficient, our population is about ten times what it was in 1860 (31.4 million vs. 321 million in 2015).  If we persist in ramping up the sentiments on both sides of this national rift, to the point that violence really does become a reality....there is a mind-boggling potential for how lethal and cataclysmic it could be.

This is such a terrible thing to contemplate, that most of us...who are not already there....likely consider it to be 'unthinkable'.  But, pause to consider this: we are collectively the most heavily armed populace to ever comprise a modern society....hell, any society.  The rhetoric continues to heat up, both sides are becoming more choleric, more invested in coming out on top, more intolerant of divergent views.  All the ingredients are in place; just add heat and stir.

I majored in the philosophy of ethics in college. My mentor in the phil department at Penn State was Doctor Ernst Hans Freund.  He was a professor emeritus on the verge of retirement, but he took me on because he could see that I was earnestly seeking some answers about 'right' and 'wrong' as they apply to our daily lives and to our society at large.  Dr. Freund was a Quaker.  His family had fled the Nazis and come to the U.S. and he was one of the most reasonable and kind people I have ever met.  Were he alive today, I can imagine him just shaking his head with a sad look as he contemplated what we are doing to ourselves.

The problems we face are not insoluble. Quite the opposite; they are easily solved....but, only if we are willing to pull back from rabidly held positions that consider the opposing views to be evil, wrong, malfeasance on a terrible scale. Perhaps it sounds simplistic to say it, but we do have goals in common.  Both sides, and even the extremes of same, want to be happy, to have a shot at living decent lives, raising their families and taking advantage of the same opportunities as others.  It is only a very small percentage of Americans who really crave being lavishly rich at the expense of others.  Most people just want to feel like their lives are doable, enjoyable and that they have a feeling of optimism and hope about the future.

I cannot believe that most Americans wish ill for others, here or around the planet.  They just want to feel that options are open to them, and that life is not an ever-accelerating treadmill on which " simply must run twice as fast, if you wish to keep up".

There are answers, and it is my intention to explore some of the possibilites in this blog.  Check back and see what those might be.