Monday, May 18, 2015

Tsarnaev verdict confirms: US is no "Christian" nation


Last week the sentence came down: Death to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The verdict, zealously sought by federal prosecutors, dispels any right-wing pretense that the United States is a "Christian" nation. Or it ought to, anyway.

Consider: Tsarnaev is no longer a legitimate threat to others. Live or die, the man will never again be able to harm anyone. Not even himself. Howsoever long his life may last, he will spend his days in a prison cell, isolated from humanity. If he lacks remorse, as the prosecution asserted, he will have ample opportunity to learn it in the long years of emptiness that await him. (Ask Sirhan Sirhan about that!) And if he did somehow maintain his hatred over the course of his life? If he continued his defiance and anger? Would that not be a fate worse than death? Decades of impotent rage! God save us all!

None of this is to say that human beings should not do what they can to protect themselves. For example, in the case of Osama bin Laden, death was necessary for a dangerous man who remained a threat to civilization. There was small difference between him and a renegade grizzly bear (an analogy I've made before.)

But how quickly do we desert our purported faiths in favor of primal satisfaction? (I refer Christians to Matthew 5:39). 

Fifty-eight percent of the residents of the (very blue and very Catholic) state of Massachusetts, including family members of some of the victims, oppose the sentence. But in the larger pool of the United States' general citizenry 53% support it. And the justice system came down on their side.

It's a fascinating and revealing phenomenon. And, make no mistake: the sentence is not about Tsarnaev or even what he did.

It's about us. It's about who we are.

Killing this man fulfills some primal need humans have for vengeance. It's residual behavior from our Stone Age state-of-existence. In the ~10,000 years since civilizations first arose, there has been much progress, but barbarous relics like the death penalty remain.

We're not a Christian nation. Can we let go of that ridiculous notion?

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Hillary's immigration remarks demonstrate real political savvy

Disclaimer: As I stated in a previous post, for the 2016 Presidential election, Bernie Sanders is my man. So long as he's in the race, he has my vote and my support. This post is in no way an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Let's see how many commenters (here or on Facebook) misinterpret it.

This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side. Make no mistake, not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second class status. --Hillary Clinton, May 5, 2015, Las Vegas, NV
Hillary Clinton made these remarks last Tuesday during a campaign event in Las Vegas and in doing so demonstrated formidable political acumen. Her Republican counterparts, those that haven't thrown in with quixotic xenophobes, have got to be tugging at their collars while they're thinking about how to respond.

Besides having the virtue of being true (bring up immigration reform in a Republican forum and watch how quickly the conversation devolves into racism and xenophobia), Hillary's remarks are a dagger thrust right at the Republican field where they are most vulnerable. Specifically, the dismal demography of the shrinking GOP base.

Consider: In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney won a whopping 59% of the white vote, nationally. Twenty years ago, that might have been an electoral landslide in his favor. But with demographic trends being what they are, Mitt still lost the general election by 4%. And a big part of his defeat was due to the drubbing he received from hispanics, who went for President Obama by a 71-27 margin. Simply stated, if Republicans cannot find a way to appeal to hispanics and other minorities, they are, as a party, doomed.

For some GOP candidates (Ted Cruz is the most obvious example), none of this makes any difference. They've already determined that their own electoral success lies in stoking up the anger and self-pity of the Republican base. You know? The people that are convinced that President Obama is a Muslim and a Kenyan and is planning to invade Texas and force everyone to attend gay weddings. For these candidates, Hillary's remarks are helpful.

But the numbers aren't lost on thoughtful Republicans. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, for example, know the delicate path they must walk if they hope to succeed. On the one hand, to survive the Republican primary system, they've got to reassure the vociferous base that they sufficiently despise President Obama, that they are sympathetic to the fears of the diminishing white majority, and so on. But, on the other hand, if they want to avoid Romney's fate in the general election, they can't completely alienate hispanics. It's a difficult position and it is one the Republicans made for themselves when they put all their eggs in the Far Right basket.

So, Hillary, with her remarks, has highlighted this dilemma and brought it to the fore. Soon enough, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and any other serious Republican candidates are going to have to state their positions regarding a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And no matter what they say, they're going to alienate some portion of potential supporters.

Further, Hillary's tack puts her on the offensive. Rather than responding to white noise pseudo-scandals about emails or Clinton Foundation funds, she is staking out a position that is aimed right at that demographic that Republicans are so desperate to reach.

As far as the merits of her position, for my part, it only makes sense to find a way to bring the 10 million plus undocumented immigrants in this country into the fold, as full United States citizens. They are here. They're here to stay. And, being human beings, they deserve the same rights and privileges as anyone else.

Impressive, Mrs. Clinton.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Bernie Sanders for President!



Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced this week that he will run for President of the United States in the upcoming national election.

The media is treating his candidacy with disdain, predictably enough. And really, I don't blame them. In today's political climate there are (at least) two sound reasons for doubting the Senator's chances.

Reason #1: Senator Sanders is running to be the Democratic nominee. That means he is running against Hillary Clinton and the well-funded, ruthlessly efficient Clinton political machine. A formidable (and if we're to believe the prevailing political wisdom, perhaps insurmountable) obstacle!

Reason #2: Although Senator Sanders is running as a Democrat, he is actually an independent and more specifically (hang on to your hats, right-wingers), he's a capital-"S" Socialist. He advocates raising taxes on upper incomes. He advocates a single-payer health care plan. Closed-minded right-wingers will be unable to see past those things.

But, unlike so many politicians from Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush and everyone in between, Bernie Sanders doesn't run away from his political positions. He defends them. Here's a video: Bernie Sanders announces run for Presidency.

 I've followed Senator Sanders for years and from my perspective, he knows exactly what this country needs. He recognizes and rejects the seemingly inexorable drift from democracy to plutocracy. He sees the disastrous resource gap that exists between the middle class and the affluent. He sees the importance of addressing the looming climate change catastrophe. He vociferously opposes the unfair trade deals that have decimated manufacturing jobs in this country.

But that's just the beginning. You can learn more on his Facebook page.

For you Democrats out there: Were you really all that excited about a primary season that was shaping up to be little more than a Hillary Clinton coronation? Like many of you, I was resigned to voting for her, if I had to, but what little enthusiasm I had for that endeavor was due solely to her not being a Republican! I really didn't look forward to the endless equivocating, empty populism, and spineless pragmatism that characterizes Clinton politics. And I especially resented the presumption of supposedly in-the-know Democrats and media pundits who assured us that the nomination was hers for the taking. I wonder how nervous they are now, knowing that Senator Sanders raised $1.5 million in small donations the very first day of his campaign!

Open-minded right-wingers, I urge you to listen to Senator Sanders. Listen to what he has to say. Here's a video of him on your favorite news network, talking with Chris Wallace last Sunday: Bernie Sanders on Fox News.

Senator Sanders is running a populist campaign and he's aiming right at every American who has to struggle to get by in this land of plenty. All of us: rural folks, city folks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, blacks, middle class, working class, and working poor.

I'm behind him all the way. Please join me.

Bernie Sanders for President!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday breakfast at Mickey Dee's


At McDonald's this morning for Sunday breakfast. Maty is working today, so I'm on my own and I really want to write. I need to start writing regularly again.

I've found, believe it or not, that sitting in this environment, taking advantage of the Mickey Dee's wifi, drinking coffee is helpful. The clientele at McDonald's is my community. There is much inspiration in sitting amid one's community, watching and listening.

At the table next to mine, a happy family sits and plans their day. The mother sits with her back to me. She's wearing her jacket. Feeling chilly, apparently. I can see that she is a proud woman, content with her lot in life. I can see this by the set of her shoulders and the neat cut of her well-combed hair. It is pretty hair and it is the color of carrots fresh from the ground. As I watch her she gets up from the table and turns and our eyes meet. She smiles and I smile back. Across from where she was sitting is her husband. A man about my age, maybe a few years younger. He's dressed in a gray hoodie and sports three-day salt-and-pepper stubble. His face has not known a razor this weekend. He sits back against the bench cushion, amiable and relaxed. His arm is draped across the back of the bench. Next to him sits the boy. He's about thirteen and he's a good-looking kid. Tall and thin, with an open face and a full rack of braces on his teeth. All the bloom of youth is about him and it is apparent that he is the source of the joy, the good vibes that emanate from their table. When Mom returns they joke with each other and talk about plans for the day to come, the month to come, the year to come.

A Mexican family, a father and two sons, sit at the small table near the window. The father is in his thirties, dressed in workman's jeans and sweater. A key ring jangles from his belt. His older son is paraplegic, in a motorized wheel chair. Maybe 12 years old. He has a big awkward head and a skinny body. He smiles and laughs. Beside him is his little brother, about 7 years old, with wide dark eyes, and a solemn expression. The young one seems wise, as if, at this tender age, he is aware that there is much to learn. All three of them have cocoa skin and a shocks of unruly black hair . The father's moustache is also black. They munch their food and chatter in Spanish, the boys asking questions of their father and he answering around mouthfuls.

These two families make a pleasing and beautiful sight. As I watch them, discreetly and without revealing myself, I realize that I want things to turn out well for them. Overcome by a sudden rush of brotherly affection, I realize that I love them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book review: Replay


Remember the 1993 Harold Ramis film, Groundhog's Day?

If you've seen the movie, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, you'll recall that the protagonist, Phil Connors (Murray), is stuck in a temporal loop that requires him to relive one particular day in his life until he gets it right.

Ken Grimwood's novel, Replay, first published in 1986, reminded me of that film. When I read Grimwood's novel, and realized its premise, my first thought was of the Ramis flick.

The comparison is manifestly unfair, of course. Grimwood published his novel seven years previous to the film. So to the extent that the concept of reliving one's life while retaining memories is original, the credit goes to Grimwood.

You see, as the novel opens, the protagonist, Jeff Winston, a 43-year-old radio journalist, dies of a massive heart attack while on the phone with his wife only to return to his life 20 years earlier as a college student in Atlanta, retaining the memories from his previous existence.

Something of a mind-blowing concept, no? If you had a chance to do it all over again, with foreknowledge of what is to come, how would your life choices differ? Jeff Winston gets the opportunity to find out. Several times.

Over the course of the novel, Jeff repeats his life multiple times, each time choosing a different path: fabulously rich tycoon (his foreknowledge of events allows him to make millions betting on sporting events), ascetic hermit, humanitarian, and more. Whenever he reaches the age of 43, he is again felled by a heart attack. However, after several repetitions, he notices that each return to life advances his starting age slightly. As the novel progresses, Jeff and his reincarnating companion, Pamela Phillips, begin to wonder what will happen when they return to life at the precise moment of their respective deaths.

I enjoyed this book, but mostly because of the originality of plot and story line. Grimwood is imaginative and readers will recognize the love that the author put into his work. (Grimwood himself succumbed to a heart attack in 2003. Kinda eerie, eh?)

But I found the novel's prose to be overburdened and awkward, and frankly, I found the characters to be rather flat. And then, the novel's core supposition (dealing with the limits of free will in a clockwork Universe) seems contradictory and un-thought-out.

Replay is a fast and worthwhile read, though. I'd recommend it as a great vacation book. Good beach reading.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Peaceniks: Now is the time to prevent war with Iran

Fellow peaceniks, take a trip back in time with me, if you will. Go back to March 19, 2003.

Do you remember that date?

I do.

It was one of the worst days of my life. That was the day the Machine pulled the trigger on Iraq. That was the day Junior Bush sealed his legacy, not as a mere well-intentioned bumbler, but as a figure of historical infamy. Forever and eternally.

I recall that day. I watched the military-approved pressers on teevee. I saw prancers and fakers from both political parties shape their faces into expressions of solemnity and heard them utter platitudes about determination and sacrifice.

I was overwhelmed. By horror and disgust. And grief. And contempt. And a deep, burning anger. Only two days before, I'd joined 30,000 other individuals on the streets of the Rose City to register my protest. Worldwide, there were 10 million demonstrators. But by the time we got organized and took to the streets it was too late. The Machine had ground past us.

The gullible American public had been manipulated into accepting a war brought about by obvious and demonstrable lies.

On March 19, 2003, over 12 years ago, the killing that continues to this day, started in earnest.  Both the killing and my anger will continue through the day of my death.

Do you feel that way, too?

Well, fellow peaceniks, take a look around, because it is happening again.  But this time, the target is Iran.

The shaky negotiations currently underway between the United States, Iran, and other interested parties are hopeful, but not enough, in themselves, to halt the slide toward war.

Those who would benefit from it are relentless.

A lot of the very same personalities that endorsed the Project for a New American Century (Jeb Bush and John Bolton, to name just two) are now leading advocates for an aggressive Iran policy. (Recall that PNAC advocated war with Iraq in 1997, four years before 911!)  And there are plenty of jingoes in Congress who are playing right along. Recall the letter, penned by freshman senator Tom Cotton and signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues, that attempted to undermine the negotiations.) It's as if peace is offensive to these people.

Iranians flashing peace signs at Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
The Iranian people don't want war any more than we do. And if we don't want war, the time to act is now.

Let me urge you, fellow peaceniks: Make known your demand for peace! To anyone and everyone. But most especially to your elected representatives. Up to and including the President of the United States.

I don't want any more of that anger that will never go away. I don't want more death, waste, and destruction. Nor do you, peacenik.

Demonstrate! Advocate! Make yourself heard!

The time to stop the war with Iran is now.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Procedure: Determining Your Place in the Universe

Note: On this April Fool's Day, I send this out to all my fellow technical writers. A content-modeled procedure for determining your place in the Universe. 

Determining Your Place in the Universe

Abstract

You can approach enlightenment by accepting what must be.

Prerequisites

Live for enough years to understand that you are not the prime element in an infinite and (perhaps indifferent) Universe

Procedure

  1. Contemplate instances of triumph and defeat in your life.

    Note: This may lead to unsettling revelations about one’s existence.
  2. Realize that these events came about because of the infinite circumstances that defined each moment.

    Free will was not involved.
  3. Read Tolstoy's War and Peace.
    • Examine Tolstoy's portrayal of Napoleon Bonaparte.
    • Contrast the world views of Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Bolkonsky.

  4. Wrestle with the implications of your demoted position in the Universe relative to your previous beliefs.
  5. Don't despair.
  6. Proceed as described in the following table:

  7. If you want to ...Read...
    LaughBlood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
    CryThe Mysterious Stranger (Mark Twain)
    Rage at the injustice of it                 Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

  8. Recognize the freedom in submission.
Results

Your consciousness should approach that depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. New Awareness

For More Information

Consult the following writings:
  • Torah
  • Bible
  • Koran
  • Upanishads