Lives Over Money

Parkland, Florida. The crazed shooter and 17 dead. Over the past 20 years, just about every level of formal education, from those 1st graders at Sandy Hook, to Virginia Tech, has gone through what is now commonly referred to as the active shooter nightmare. Of course, gun-toting wackos have shot up businesses, malls, movie theaters, fast food restaurants, commuter trains and seemingly any place that is not as well monitored as White House Security.

Having a blog ago vented about our 2nd Amendment-crazed, gung-ho, gun happy country and the NRA’s death grip on congress, I will get to this installment’s main line of thought: maybe, just maybe, there is a serious sense of urgency and needed action that is resonating with young people. By young, I don’t mean college aged young as with the 60s and their take-it-to-the-streets protests and administrative building sit-ins protesting the Vietnam War, or civil rights or the women’s movement–or, as in the famous line from the 1950s-era film The Wild One, when Marlon Brando, wearing his badass biker leather responds to a small town local who asks “What are you against?” responds, with casual, contained contempt, “What have ya got?”.

At first a handful of the students who lived that recent waking nightmare in Parkland spoke up, articulating their anger and disgust with the plain-as-daylight disinclination for our government to do something to protect students everywhere from another possible instantaneous transition from being in chemistry class to it being in a kill-zone.  Righteous anger, for damn sure. But that NRA. They snickered at Sandy Hook and dared congress to tighten gun laws. I would expect more of the same and still might, except…

…there might be a chance that high school students across the country, and others far and wide might join in voicing their we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore! response. Perhaps now IS the time to discuss gun control, then force action that leans towards sane, rational regulations.

But it’s mostly the teens that have come together and confronted our politics-as-usual approach to responding to yet another mass shooting that has me thinking the NRA and their bought and paid for lackeys in congress might have met their match. It’s still a long shot, inasmuch as the media can decide not to let their voices be heard any more than minimally necessary. But maybe even the lap-dog media (which gave President Looney Tunes a couple $ billion of free campaign air time during the 2016 primary season) may not be able to shut out these young people and their demands for action.

Based on the  official reaction to the protestors by the NRA (rather hysterically calling the protests staged and a form of creeping European socialism) and even some red state governor’s willingness to tighten gun laws, perhaps there’s reason for hope. After all, if the current crop of high school students, who will ultimately become of voting age, tell their local NRA leaning reps that it’s gun reform or you’re out of office, then maybe the GOP and many Democratic as well will finally grow a spine. In that case, with a spine finally part of their political anatomy, they’ll choose, as one of the protesters has put it, to morally place life over money, and reject the NRA’s ugly, Neanderthal ideology regarding not infringing on that 2nd Amendment.

It’s still more a pipe dream in my world rather than a safe bet, but back in the 60s,  many of the youth of America looked around, recognized what they felt were significant wrongs, and then took action. What were they against? Well, there was a lot back then–as noted above–and there’s a lot now. Yeah, the environment, consumer protections, immigration, LGBT issues, a rigged economy (do you have to ask who it is rigged for?) and seemingly endless wars in which we have those all-volunteer boots on the ground. Oh, and did I mention the environment, as in our planet may be on life support in the next half century? But none of those issues are any longer important to those dead 17 students and staff at the high school in Florida. Or those killed by any of the other “active shooter” scenarios that occur with such frequency now that they have become less and less shocking, though ever-more saddening. It’s very difficult for someone to care when he or she is lying on a slab in the morgue riddled by bullets from large, lethal weapons.

So, I tip my hat to the Parkland protesters and their widening ripple effect that is reaching their peer’s ears and making them wonder, at far too early an age to have to worry of such a thing, that some legally mentally ill but still able to legally buy an AR-15, might be living in their neighborhood, and decide that it’s time for him to act. Shouldn’t teenagers have a less terrifying thought in their heads? The fact that in many cases that is the thought in their head is, possibly, exactly the catalyst for them to act. As some are!

Time will tell. Lives over money. Hard to argue against that choice, right? Sure. No doubt, though, too radical a concept for the 2nd Amendment gun nuts and the NRA, I’m sure. These vocal high school students have been radicalized themselves. It must be a shocking thing for the gun lobby to have to spin against money trumping life. But they will try. It’s up to not just frightened teens, but the public-at-large to act.  Call to action, folks.

No time to waste. You and I know, somewhere, right now: there’s a man with gun over there, telling us we’d better beware.

 

 

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Get a Grip

17 more shooting victims. Mostly high schoolers and some staff. Shocked! Shocked? No way. Disgust, yes, but who can be shocked any longer? In just the past two years more people have been killed in this country by bullets than died in the Vietnam conflict. That means more than 58,000 people have been shot dead. The Vietnam body count spanned 10 years.

I opined after the Sandy Hook school massacre of 26 mostly 1st graders, back in 2011, that when the response from our elected “leaders” was nothing but lip service, that our country’s NRA strangle hold on the non discussion discussing the grotesque gun problem was OVER. Finito. If those children’s lives taken by a wacko with access to deadly ballistic weapons didn’t muster enough moral courage by our government to finally get a grip on reality and legislate against the ease with which people can legally get a literal grip on military style assault weapons, what could EVER provoke some sanity against the 2nd Amendment fanatic, mendacious mantra that is used to preempt serious responses to the never-ending carnage?

The main response is either “it’s too soon” to talk gun control after each massacre (i.e. let’s not politicize the tragedy) or “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families”

Well, Sandy Hook is a bit more than six years ago. Not soon enough yet for that sober assessment of gun purchase policy, I guess. Not enough prayers either, it seems.

Oh, wait. It’s a “mental health” issue. The guns aren’t to blame. Big pharma to the rescue, with an uptick in ordering those straight white coocoo vests. Problem all solved! Guns don’t kill people. When will the rest of us finally understand?

Psycho babble…

…insane thinking. And that IS a problem. 80% of the public wants tightening of the swiss cheese gun legislation that currently permits the right to own guns of all sizes, and the right to use them no matter how fucking tightly wound and ready to snap may be the weapons-consumer;  no infringement on that 2nd Amendment!, and so the legal transaction takes place in purchasing a gatling gun, a bazooka, or a rocket launcher. No weapon is too badass, Rambo-ready for the next random splatter fest in the sociopathic pantheon of NRA slippery slope pretzel illogic

Well, I stand by Sandy Hook as the apparent exact point in time when the NRA could smugly claim END OF DISCUSSION. Seriously. No action even after that sickening episode of Gun Crazy?

So, what’s left? Oh, right those prayers! But to what god? I can’t think of any god who would approve of these savage acts of insane hate, so if the prayers have been going out, like desperate appeals to our legislators time and time again, I’d say both pleas for positive action are falling on earthly and heavenly deaf ears.

I know congress is bought and paid for by the NRA but…why…can’t our prayers be granted? Hey, up there. Will you please help down here?!

Cue the crickets…

Maybe the NRA has bought off all deities too. I wouldn’t put it pass that organization to at least try, goddamnit.

 

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If a Tree Falls in the Forest and No One is Around to Hear it, Does It Matter Anymore?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for 8 hours straight yesterday, apparently on behalf of the so-called “Dreamers” and in hopes of getting Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to bring a straight-up vote on the matter (which would likely result in the proposed  DACA legislation being passed to save said Dreamers from possible deportation). 

Well, bully for Nancy.

But it’s all political theater, of course. A farce, to be sure.

Farce? Politics? You may think I am channeling the current White House occupant and the GOP that runs congress. But no way!

Pelosi? Schumer? Tom Perez? Dick Durbin? These are the major mouth pieces of the Democratic Party. They are all useless fossils, still drawing paychecks (that we the people bankroll via taxation) and sounding the now 15-month plus battle cry of RESIST; FIGHT BACK; STOP TRUMP!…

I know I’ve ranted on this before, but when Pelosi decides to “step up” and hold court for eight hours (and in high heels; and at age 77) I just have to roll my eyes and then continue working on my time machine (I just need one more part!: a  3rd generation, time-phased, redundant solinoid). When I finish it, I want to go back to the FDR era, when the Democratic party was actually an opposition party and Franklin was ripping the “economic royalists” that populated the GOP and conservatives back then new assholes in snark-driven speeches.  Today? What? The stomach-churning GOP economic royalists are not getting any new assholes ripped open on them. They may BE assholes, but they are immune from accountability and certainly bereft of any compassion or concern for we, them peoples.

FDR and his empowered denunciations of the venal and heartless GOP from 70-80 years ago are,  well, are gone bye bye some 70-80 years ago now. Today, we get the Clintons, Obama and the aftermath of the DNC’s limp-dicked 2016 “leadership” that has allowed congress to be totally controlled by the likes of Paul Ryan and a crazy cartoon character with access to nuclear launch codes. Paul could not care less if Nancy was STILL standing and invoking him (directly or indirectly) to do the right thing. Why should he? He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t want to. And he won’t. And there’s not a thing, nada, the dems can do about it but act indignant and posture themselves as nobly laboring to protect the “little people”. Like I said, political farce.

And Nancy knows it. And so does Schumer and the lot of the DNC has-beens. They systemmatically have been losing elections to the cretinous GOP for decades, from statehouses to now the White House, the House of Reps, the Senate, the judiciary and likely every local dog catcher.

Maybe Chuck Schumer will promise to roll a peanut down Pennsylvania Avenue with his nose if Ryan allows that straight-up vote for the Dreamers. Sure, but my guess is he’d be stupid enough to let Ryan set the rules for the tradeoff, that being that Chuckie has to roll that peanut for 5 blocks FIRST and THEN he’ll allow the vote. 

Now, where’s that goddam solinoid I desperately need?

 

 

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2 Minutes to Midnight

The community in which I reside, a semi-diverse “village” seemingly grafted onto the western boundary of the city of Chicago, recently instituted a policy designed to reduce the use of those ubiquitous plastic bags. These bags have been referred to as potential “serial killers,” and their victims tend to be the wildlife of land and sea. How so? Well, they may be briefly utilitarian as we carry their contents home. Then, somehow, they often make their way into the environment. If in the waterways, a bag can be mistaken for jellyfish by other denizens of the deep, being devoured by whales, seals and turtles, with deadly consequences. More innocently, these cast-off bits of flimsy plastic can be found on power lines, in trees or simply swirling around in the wind, part of a dust devil moment, before heading to, well, somewhere else. Regardless of where the bag goes after its hand-off from a sales clerk to consumer-at-large, it takes up to 1000 years for them to decompose. 

By this time, dear reader, you are assuming this blog is about protecting the environment, and using my little village’s policy of charging 10 cents for further use of each in order to encourage reusable bags instead as a starting point. I do applaud the effort.

However, this isn’t really about those plastic bags much at all. Sure, our environment is under attack, by plastic bags but even worse are the venal science-deniers who claim climate change is a “hoax”.  I do believe our current head of the EPA is such a denier. Our country has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. So, those plastic bags are actually part of a much, much much larger problem. Science has shown the polar caps to be melting at an alarming rate and…

…oh, bloody hell, you must have heard all of this before, whether you believe the science or not. Need I really get into all of the grim prognostications of our planet Earth becoming uninhabitable, possibly with serious, disturbing symptoms of a gasping, wheezing patient on virtual life support by the end of this century and, as such, impossible to any longer deny?

What’s that you say? It’s not too late? Ban the plastic bags! Hold corporate polluters to account. Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Save the whales!

Damn straight! There’s still time to set things right. And not just as far as Mother Earth is concerned.

Resist!. Fight back! #me too! Black Lives Matter! Indivisible! Occupy Wall Street! LGBT rights! Racial equality! Social justice! Gun Control! Women’s Reproductive Rights! Yeah, lots of people are stoked, and taking to the streets, both the concrete and asphalt version and the virtual streets that connect one social media outlet to the next. 

See? It does take a village. Like the one in which I reside. Yeah, sure it does. Yeah, we can make it all good again, take back our planet and bring people together, and we’ll all become flower children, preaching peace, love and understanding. We can do it? Sure. Right…

…right…and bloody fucking hell and bollocks to it all, I say.  Are you joining in some march to express your disapproval and disappointment? Are you signing petitions? Are your shorts or panties in a knot, your sconce cudgelled, your dander waaay up? Are you mad as hell and you’re goddamn not going to take it anymore!?

Then great. Far out. Dig it. I be trippin on this kumbaya mojo of 2018. Never thought I’d ever again be reminded in the least of the activist/protest/let your voice be heard vibe that flourished back in the wild and crazy 1960s. 

Wait, hold on. I exaggerate what is going on in 2018. The 1960s and now? An invidious comparison, methinks. I mean, that decade (and a bit into the 70s) was the most volatile, mind-blowing period of time in my life. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, all assassinated (and JFK’s alleged killer himself shot dead on live television!). The civil rights movement, anti-war (Nam) movement, the women’s movement, the Democratic National Convention and its nationally televised police riot; the Kent State massacre. The fall of Saigon.  And more…like the incredible moon landing, which was must see TV!

Yeah. I’m at the point now where my mind is cluttered with these profound historical moments, some of which I was witness to directly, but even from afar, wondered to myself, what else could I possible live through in coming decades that might turn my head and make me take notice? 

Well, I’ve now lived to see a few things I never thought I’d see. Some good, mostly not so good. The Cubs actually won a World Series after 108 years of futility? Yeah, that was November 2, 2016. Then, on November 8, 2016, came that Twilight Zone edition of a presidential election.

Need I elaborate on the outcome of that election?

I won’t, but I will harken back to John Kennedy, and his squeaker of an election victory in the 1960 vote for President. A seemingly vibrant and attractive man of just 43 years of age. We all know he was assassinated (though by exactly whom and why, we shall likely never know). What I want to invoke about that President regards his very first day in office. More precisely, the morning of his first day in office, when he was sworn in as President and then delivered the customary inaugural address to the country–and by extension, to the world. In that 15 minutes and change speech, Kennedy spoke mostly about what at the time was still a new and menacing threat–to the U.S. and the world–that being the atomic bomb. In the speech he alludes to the atomic age as a product of the terrors of science capable of destroying the planet in a “planned or accidental” manner. It was a Cold War themed address. in January of 1961, with the former Soviet Union, like the U.S., also possessing The Bomb, he had to engage in some positive-mindedness regarding the obvious Nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over all of humankind. After all, we had a lot of bombs by 1961 and so too the Soviets. The deterrent was what is called Mutual Assured Destruction, meaning these potential end-of-the-world thermonuclear war scenarios would likely never play out precisely because of their capacity to enact the ultimate la fin du monde. 

Related to the Cold war and post-cold war nuclear age (and that nuclear Genie is NEVER going back into that nuclear lantern) there is this official Doomsday Clock. This (literal, actually) clock has a minute hand.  The hour hand is always pretty close to midnight, with the idea that its second hand can never reach the midnight hour. At that moment, it IS thermonuclear war. And these days the “nuclear club” has many more members beside Russia and the U.S.: France. Israel. Pakistan. India. Great Briton. China. And marginally, North Korea.

At the end of the Cold War, in 1991 (marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union) that clock was set all the way back to 17 minutes to midnight. Since then it has inched up to 14 minutes til (1995), 9 minutes til (1998), 7 minutes (2002), 5 minutes (2007), then back a minute to 6 minutes til in 2010, back to 5 minutes in 2012, 3 minutes in 2015 and in 2016 it was advanced 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes to midnight. However, jst a few days ago, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, its clockmasters listening to the nuclear rhetorical sabre rattling between our Twitterer-in-Chief and Kim Jun Un, the young and impetuous leader of the most creepy country on the face of our planet, North Korea, have set the minute hand at its closest EVER setting of a mere 2 minutes to midnight.

I said I’ve lived a long enough life to have been conscious of many momentous occasions, some disturbing, some life-affirming, but I am disheartened to know that since one of those wonderful developments–the end of the Cold War–and right now, the clock’s minute hand has virtually gone nowhere but closer to midnight (15 minutes upward, to be exact).

So, what to worry about? Those plastic bags and our environment? Indivisible? #Me Too? Resist!? Racial equality? DACA? and so on…

Whew! So many causes and quite possibly so little time. M.A.D. Mutual Assured Destruction, eh? Sure the clock is always ticking on all of us, but that Doomsday version? 

Well, that’s a disturbing development. But to invoke one of the Boomer aphorisms from back in the day (hmm, in 1968 it was 7 minutes to midnight) keep the faith. But just in case you might consider an underground shelter with lots of non-perishables, a generator and your dvd collection to watch, and reading materials. I’d pass on On the Beach, Dr.Strangelove, Fail-Safe, The Road, A Boy and His Dog, Children of the Dust, or Cat’s Cradle. But maybe have The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1950s edition movie in your post-apocalyptic colletion. Just jump to the last scene in that movie when Klaatu, a human looking emissary of peace and love from another planet reads the riot act to the United Nations leaders as far as their needing to restrain (by inference)  humankind’s recent development of that Ultimate Weapon. Klaatu, in so many words, tells one and all gathered that if such weaponized hostilities were to be expanded into other galactic reagions that he and other “visitors” will be back to reduce Earth to a burnt-out cinder.

No need to bother Klaatu. We may be about to save you the trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

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From Nader to the Nadir

2018, day 6. A year ago, it was January 20th when it became official here in the U.S. of A. that a new abnormal normal would be a kind of crazy quotidian surreal reality show to end all reality shows debuted. This turn of events was set off by its antecedent, the 2016 campaign for President. It was an ugly, absurd farce for some, a breath of fresh air for others. As the debate season droned on, with increasing dismay for some, delight for others, the former reality show guy became one choice for voters, a robo retread talking head another.

It was a classic case of the evil of two lessors. Again, depending on who one may talk to today among the public-at-large, the results were satisfying or shocking. Now, almost a year later, it’s likely the shock of who won still hasn’t worn off for some, and that the shine on the winner has dulled for some of those who chose to well, give the middle finger to politics-as-usual. Regardless, it should be apparent  for those winners and losers from election day that the national political landscape looks different. Different, as in the same as a landscape changes when a 8.3 magnitude earthquake rearranges things.

For myself, I am almost unable to look upon the wreck and ruin that continues to unfold from the aftershocks of the “earthquake”. It has become difficult to process the turmoil and tension the accompanies this abnormal new normal: the threat of nuclear war between two powerful sociopathic players; the cynical and sickening choices for the heads of government agencies, resulting in the gutting of the EPA’s power to protect the environment; likewise with the Departments of Energy, Education and Health and Human Services and more, put in place to seemingly destroy each agency as a viable part of striving to serve the people for a “common good”.  Profit over people. Profit and power trumps all, even the very lives of the those who need a helping hand the most.

How could this happen? Why the evil of two lessors, meaning it’s an inherent lose-lose proposition? Just two choices? In a country of over 300 million people? Well, it really, truly, honestly was NOT just two choices. Unfortunately any other possible choices–otherwise known as a 3rd party (or 4th or 5th…) are systematically suppressed by campaign rules and a compliant mainstream, corporate media, and thus one has to perform all the heavy lifting in order to learn much about any such additional options. But if a 3rd party candidate’s name is on the ballot, from President to precinct captain in local districts, one has every right to vote for that person.  And some of those alternative choices are candidates that have the common good in mind. And when I think of such a candidate, one name resonates more than any other: Ralph Nader.

Yes, Ralph Nader, who has run for President several times, most notably in 2000, when he garnered over 2.8 million votes. He was running as a Green Party candidate then, and did so again in 2004. He ran as an Independent in other campaigns. The fact that, in spite of there being virtually no coverage of his campaign in 2000 by major media, he collected nearly 3 million votes is at once a testament to his, dare I use the term brand?, and the apparent fear of Mr.Nader by the corporate print and electronic press, which colluded in not letting his message reach a wider audience. 

And yes, Ralph Nader has a “brand”. It’s called consumer activism, which he has been championing since he was a very young law student. In 1965, he wrote a now legendary book Unsafe at Any Speed that documented how recklessly dangerous American automobile manufactures were in the design of their cars. Mr.Nader formed his “Nader’s Raiders” in continuing his commitment to consumer safety and along the way his efforts resulted in getting legislation passed, including the Clean Air and Water Act; Consumer Product Safety Act; the Freedom of Information Act; Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; the Whistleblower Protection Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

In 2006, a documentary film about Ralph Nader was made entitled An Unreasonable Man. The title is, of course, intentionally ironic, given his ability to use sound reasoning to perceive problems and seek to rectify them. See above, that list of “Acts” in which his reasoning won the day. Today, however, as also noted earlier in this installment, who is using sound logical reasoning? Look around the rubble and rabble that has manifested itself since January 20, 2017. It’s disheartening to think that someone as magnanimous, morally responsible, and intellectually inclined as Mr.Nader is barely known to the general public, and that for many who do recognize his name, regurgitate the same scapegoating idiocy about how he cost Al Gore the 2000 election (Gore managed to lose his home state of Tennessee!). These people who know nothing about this man but parrot the sinister official naysayers who, even as Nader is about to turn 84 years old, refuse to relent on their attacks upon him. These Nader-bashing voices are the product of a massive ignorance that has reached nauseating new heights, given the 61 million voters who thought a buffoon was the reasonable choice to be given the White House and then appoint the Department Assassins set on, in some cases, literally destroying the lives of countless Americans for the sake of serving their wealthy donors, rather than their constituents. Those “average” folk who parrot this Nader-as-spoiler narrative simply can’t think for themselves. They have no idea of what critical thinking/listening is about. They are devoid of honest historical context on matters in which they assert, but provide no verifiable evidence as backup. They are fools.

Mr.Nader, seemingly tireless in spite of his age, continues to speak truth to power. He has recited so many times what are the glaring and galling dysfunctions of our current politics that he can lucidly deliver an hour-long lecture without barely a speaker’s note, pointing out the alarming aspect of the humanitarian vs military superpower imbalance in our country (do I have to explain which is on the short end of that imbalance?). He will explain how paying taxes in a system that “recycles” those tax dollars into programs that benefit our health, education, environment and the general welfare is a sound economic policy. He will explain how congress, the most powerful branch of our government, is rigged by “gerrymandering” of so many districts that, for both the Republican and Democratic parties, candidates are essentially choosing their voters rather than the other way around, as it was meant to be. Mr.Nader will explain what emotional intelligence is by alluding to Rosa Parks refusing to take a seat on the back of that bus during the viciously racist Jim Crow era in the South, calling her refusal to obey an example of having “a fire in the belly”.  A fire in the belly= not just feeling the injustices, but doing something about it. Mr.Nader will explain how even as he was studying law at Harvard 60 years ago, he sensed there being a lack of empathy in the teaching of the law, as in the manufacturing of  corporate, rather than people’s lawyers. He will invoke recent statistics documenting that 58,000 employees died owing to workplace diseases (OSHA); how 65,000 people died from preventable pollution (EPA); 100,000 cases of hospital malpractice (Harvard School of Medicine); and 100,000 cases of preventable induced infections occurred (Centers for Disease Control). Mr.Nader will tell you that more people die from air pollution every month than died from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. He’ll explain that the public owns the broadcast airwaves as part of the “commons” but have no control over its content, which is dictated by those corporations that are technically tenants, to the public being their landlords. Those commons and their implied public control thereof  also, he will reveal, include timberlands, the oil beneath our feet, and natural gas. Own them we may, but who even knows that is the case? He will explain that most of the technologies we take for granted and the pharmaceuticals that are marketed were created by research and development funded by our tax dollars, then essentially “given away” to corporations to exploit financially, R&D from the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the Department of Defense, among others.

Today’s absurdist, inane, reckless political reality comes flying in our faces from myriad media outlets. No heavy lifting needed to see this sickening freak show. Ralph Nader and his clear and matter-of-fact speaking manner is still buried under the thick layers of psychobabble, prevarication and posturing that consumes most of those citizen-owned airwaves. You must go to Mr.Nader, media-wise, because he is not permitted easy access to a public that mostly doesn’t see much reality other than that which comes to them via screens ever larger and ever smaller, screens that possess the eyeballs of pre-teens for 6 to 7 hours a day, game-playing, indoors, mastering a kill count or more innocent virtual realities that serve little or no redeeming value. In the meantime grown adults take pictures of their Potbelly lunch and post it on Facebook or Instagram. Let’s not even start on Twitter, okay?

Not a pretty word picture that I paint here, yes. Then again, my sincere hope is that, as a result of the debacle of the 2016 campaign, where vapid, trite, vulgar, platitude-laden rhetoric replaced thoughtful debate, hope there may be. Look what Bernie Sanders, an Independent disguised as Social Democrat who garnered 13 million votes, did. He demonstrated that the time is nearing when a 3rd party candidate CAN win. After all, Sanders, like Nader, got those votes in spite of virtually initial zero serious press coverage, and refusing any corporate money. He was channeling Ralph Nader. Sanders voice was thereby heard in spite of the same attempts at dismissing him as irrelevant, with the anti-democratic dogma of third-party candidates cannot win a national election mobilized by the mainstream media. 

So, maybe that’s my sincere hope. But there’s that cynic in me, for sure. Collective memories of one bad turn of events after another emanating from the voting booth. As I said way up there, I’m hardly able to contemplate the daily reminder of how dumbed down is the general public and what calamity that has wrought.

For all the “resist” and “fight back” and “indivisible” movements that I hear a little about via non-mainstream media, I can’t help but wonder where was all this electoral energy and righteousness years ago when it should have been alarmingly apparent to anyone who works for a living that things were getting worse and worse. So many bad choices made. Cause and effect. This could have and should have been so easily avoided, methinks. As Phaedrus famously asks: and what is good, and what is not good, need anyone tell us these things? But there is very little being done to right the wrongs. Just look around, okay? No not at those screens. Look beyond the end of the nose. Politically, I  feel about as despairing as I do about our environment and whether there is a future for a better reality–for either of those critical components of our daily lives. Have we reached a point to no return on either front? It’s particularly despairing knowing that, back in 2000, technically, there was a great candidate whose name was on the ballot for President: Mr.Ralph Nader. And anyone eligible to vote could have voted for him and he would have been President. He was the only rational choice, actually, for anyone who did hear his well reasoned, insightful ideas. But he was forbidden to be allowed on the debate stage, owing to the rigged set-up that requires a candidate to be polling at least 15%. But when he is given no coverage, no easily heard voice, how could he register on the radar of the broader electorate? Instead of Nader, we got, well, we got what we deserved. And so then as now, its political business as usual, though now we have reached the nadir of national politics. Can the bar be set any lower?

But, as Ralph himself can still tell you here in early 2018,: to know and not DO, is to Not Know. We are a country in decline, infested with those easily distracted, short attention spans, seemingly unable to identify personal opinion from an inference from a stone, cold fact. A confederacy of fools and dunces.

They know very little to nothing in the bigger picture. Not that they know that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ivory Towers, Trophy Cases

Shortly after Robert Maynard Hutchins became the President of the University of Chicago in 1929, at the ripe ol’ age of 30, he started to implement his ideas of what a university should be. Well, of course a university needed to be about education. In general, that’s students, classrooms, professors, lectures, labs and learning of course.

Hutchins was  a man with some pretty daring proposals that were implemented, not without initial resistance, and by the time he left his post as President, he had made a most indelible impression at the school. Most notably, he retooled the undergraduate program to follow a Great Books, Socratic dialogue pedagogical system. He eliminated fraternities and religious organizations from campus life. Most dramatically, President Hutchins eliminated the school’s football program. How was that dramatic, you say, since who follows the U of C football program anyway?  They’re a Division III school, barely a level of competition above a club sport, with a 2017 schedule that included some school named Macalester. They also faced off against St. Norbert. Uh, so, right. Who the hell follows U of C football other than those involved with its program, their family and friends, and maybe some of the general student body that isn’t too busy studying at their school, one of the most academically respected universities in the country?

Oh yeah? Well, Hutchins didn’t ditch a club sport at U of C. To understand what he did by ridding the school of its varsity football program, in today’s college football universe, it would be tantamount to whoever is today President at Notre Dame doing the same, at once causing the Fighting Irish Nation to freak, faint and then awake to spew vitriol and dissent, pitchforks and torches taken up, administrations buildings occupied, hostages taken, all the while Touchdown Jesus, as seen on the south panel of the school’s library that faces the football stadium, weeping tears for the such a cruel and callously inhumane act . Knute Rockne and Ara Parseghian would be spinning in their graves so furiously tremors would be felt for a 50 miles radius from campus in South Bend, Indiana. I wouldn’t doubt that frogs might start falling from the sky. I mean, Notre Dame is known for one thing and one friggin thing only: its football program!

Okay. Maybe it has a decent chemistry program too. Whatever.

Getting back to Hutchins and his decision to ashcan the U of C football program back in the 10930s, you need to learn a little history to appreciate how serious was the man about a university being about enriching the minds of its students, rather than testing their mettle on the gridiron. At the time, the varsity football team was a member of no less than the Big Ten football conference. You know, the one with Ohio State and Michigan, among other schools. In fact, not only were the U of C Maroons a member of a major football conference, they were pretty darn successful, winning two national titles (!) and 10 Big Ten championships. One of its players, Jay Berwanger, was the first recipient of the coveted Heisman Trophy as best player in all of college football.

That’s the football program for which Robert Maynard Hutchins felt had no practical place at the U of C. Why did he feel this way? Well, the man was quite insane, of course, owing to his reason for scrapping the scrappy team coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg (Stagg’s name still resonates at the school, the still standing football stadium bearing his name, a structure that also just happened to be the site of the first controlled nuclear reaction). Hutchins view of the attention the football team (and its successes) was that it was counterproductive to what the college should be known for, that being the aforementioned academic programs. I told you he was crazy! What? Academic successes are more important than any athletic trophy? Football was nothing more than a distraction in Hutchin’s eyes.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so academics was more pleasing to his eye than those gleaming throphy cases with their shiny objects encased for posterity,  and the press praising them as the most pleasing aspect of what the University of Chicago stood for. All snark aside, I really admire the man from afar, historically. Not that I don’t watch college football now and then. The admiration is a function of not just how improbable any such similar scenario would be a la the Notre Dame example above, but of what has become the tail wagging the academic dog dynamic of the many so-called “factory” schools of today. Factory for sure, as in football factory or basketball factory. The leading examples of such schools would be, well, in football, first and foremost, Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, U of Southern California, Louisiana State University, Clemson, Florida State. Seriously, do any of those schools conjur up rigorous academic institutions?  In basketball it’s Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina, Villanova, Michigan State, Arizona State. These schools and their athletic programs bring in the big bucks if not attract the big brains to their classrooms. Money corrupts, for true, and to emphasize how some institutions of higher learning see things much differently than Mr.Hutchins did 80 years ago, the coaches at these factory schools make anywhere from 4-9 million dollars a year. Hmm. Wonder what the head of the chemistry department makes back at Notre Dame?

At these modern-day universities where their names connote young athletes who can run, pass, kick, catch, dribble, shoot, or slam dunk so well that in both professional basketball and football, their scouts start salivating over the next pituitary case towering over his teammates at a middle school in inner-city Chicago or some crazy-legged powerhouse tearing up the Astroturf at Denton High School in Texas.

Okay, I’m sure there are actual academic scholars at all those “factory schools” who will graduate with honors and (hopefully) find a good job that rewards their intellect if not their time in the 60 yard dash. But when they do get that prestigious gig as Vice President in Charge of Looking Out the Window, at Acme Widget, and the next fresh-faced intern is at their beck and call, the VP’s Honors certificate from Alabama or Michigan or Duke won’t compel any inquiries into the rigors of the school’s School of Business. The intern will likely want to know if Mr. or Ms.VP had any classes with that BMOC, or if he/she can score any tickets to the upcoming Big Game.

Hutchins=Great Books program. Multi-million $ coaches at those factories= Great playbooks.

By the way, next Monday’s college football championship (remember, the U of C won TWO of them back in the day!) has Alabama as 4 and a half-point favorite over Clemson. Bama’s coach is highest paid in college football. Hutchins wouldn’t understand how in the world that would make any sense. No, Hutchins wasn’t crazy. But something else sure seems to be…

 

 

 

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Uphill Battles

Mountain Lions. Monarch Butterflies. Bison. Polar Bears. Allen’s Hummingbird. Whooping Cranes. The Borneo Elephant. Black Rhinoceros.  Bengal Tiger. Brown Bear. Polar Bear. Red Wolf. Cheetah. Crested Penguin. Albatross. Darwin’s Frog. Komodo Dragon. Butterfly Fish. African Wild Dog. Radiated Tortoise. Bactrian Camel. Monte Iberia Eleuth. Cross River Gorilla. Kiwi. Otter. Iguana. Jaguar. Mandril. Yak.

What do all these species have in common?

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

If you said, they’re all endangered, you are correct! Some of them critically so. Critical sounds bad, but it’s better than the Wooly Mammoth or the Dodo, which are extinct.

Is this the natural order of things, (a.k.a. natural selection) this shaking out of what species endure or die off, or uh, you know, is this situation aided and abetted by another species? A hostile one?

Bueller? Anyone? If you said the human species, you are again correct. And if you pointed the finger at Homo sapiens, then you must believe in science, because the extinction or declining populations of those noted above and many, many more species are studied and monitored  scientifically. Facts. Empirical observation. Testing of hypothesis. Rigirously so.  Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Audubon, and National Wildlife Federation and National Reources Defense Council are documenting the cause/effects of man-made climate change, poaching, and habitat destruction by commercial encroachment, all of which are not the natural order. 

These science-oriented members of humankind are NOT the hostiles. They have a truth-seeking agenda and a magnanimously oriented intelligence that their fellow,  adversarial, Homo sapiens apparently do not share. Their studies and data and conclusions, point fingers at exactly those who clearly create the hostilities to the environment, creating man-made threats to all earth-dwelling species, and our planet itself, and therefore require consciousness-raising battles that are always an uphill effort 

There is some good news, at least, from these eco and wildlife hill climbers, as in the creation of over a million acres of conflict free habitat via the Adopt a Wildlife Acre program. However, the information I receive (having donated a modest sum to a few of these organizations, and thus getting their newsletters/updates) related to species decline and environmental causes all use the same phrase to describe the dynamic of fighting the (unnatural) forces at play here: an uphill battle.

Battle. Right. Against the deniers. Against the willfully ignorant. You know, from the White House to–in the most cynical of examples–the anti-environment Environmental Protection Agency. All part of what I call the new abnormal normal. Hey, shrinking polar ice caps, rising sea levels, greenhouse effect global warming, groping women’s private parts, foreign interference in the 2016 election are simply labeled as “fake news”.  For those of us who have rational minds, now woeful and weary of trying to understand how things have gotten this bad, we wonder when deliverance will come. Or IF it will come before it’s too late? Sure there have been a series of disappointing administrations the last few election cycles as far as their acting to benefit the general welfare of We, the People. But this?! This?! W.T.F?

We now live in the era of multi-national interests, with international treaties, trade policies, globalization. But it is a struggle to feel there is at least a presumed default level of common wisdom at work to guide our global common interests. All for one, one for all, right?….anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

At least in theory, that is.

Remember, as children, we were exposed to the fairy tale world? We were told stories. Stories that embraced seeming unreal beauty, good luck, happiness, even perfection. Well, that’s for the teeny little ones to ingest and believe in, still. For awhile. You know, about the time we stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy and the fat man in the red suit. Apparently, it would seem, not all little children were read fairy tales that stuck with them, providing a sense that while the years go by and by and life throws curve balls, bean balls, trials and travail at us, there is great value in knowing that individually and collectively such difficult episodes of life can be overcome. You know, the balm of the happy ending.  It might be an uphill battle but nonetheless that hill can and oh, yes, will be conquered and at its top there can be some approximation of unreal beauty, perfection, even happiness.

Then again, as children we encountered the antithesis of the fairy tale: Monster tales! Tension and relief. Tension and relief. Be careful. They’re out there.

So, I’m thinking the current ethos, far and wide, is skewed far more toward a Monster scenario than any hint of a fairy tale. Those newsletters I get from those battling against the dark forces? It seems to be one step forward, at least one, if not two steps back. Hey, let’s open up some of the protected natural wonders to fracking. Let’s gut the Clean Air and Water Act. How about we drill for oil in ANWR?

Recall the now extinct Wooly Mammoth. It would be larger than the Indian or African Forest Elephant (both endangered species) if it were still around. It would be monstrously large. But that wouldn’t make it a monster.

But they are out there…banal, cold-hearted killers. Monsters. 

Monsters under our beds. Monsters in our heads. Monsters from the Id. Monsters full of dread. No, they don’t look like Frankenstein’s monster, or the acid-blooded Aliens, or the romping, stomping, fire-breathing Godzilla. Those are “make believe” monsters. I’m talking about the real ones: The nuclear bomb is a monster. Man made, sitting dormant but waiting to be unleashed on humankind. The science-deniers. The willfully ignorant. The indifferent. The alien-ated. They’re all monsters writ large or small in the many “uphill battles” for our environment, for creatures large and small, for the “common good”.  Size aside, they are all man-made monsters emerged from the minds of once little children, who quite possibly have never been happy or good. But the biggest of them, those with official power? Watch out. They’re looming large.

These are the “fake” grown-ups. They are the perpetual playground bullies, not yet having been put in their place.  They, rather, have been put IN PLACE. Unwittingly? Stupidly? Monstrously. They’re out there all right. And in plain sight. I’d like to think that maybe in another generation or two, if our environment can hang tough with occasional victories of good people fighting those uphill battles, plus those now slowly seeing the need to act, a bit of a fairy-tale reality might come about. Maybe not pixie dust stuff, or Bambi or Tinkerbell; you know, when the Cookie Monster is as bad as it gets, and the flesh and blood ones are on the endangered species list, and with some of that fairy-tale luck will eventually become extinct. 

 

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