Saturday, December 22, 2012

When is Enough Considered Enough?

Here's something the NRA won't tell you. Since Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and counting up to last week's massacre in Connecticut, the 44-year running total of murder victims in America whose lives were taken by gun violence is actually greater than the number of American military service members who have given their lives in all the wars undertaken by our country since the beginning of our history in 1776. In this comparison, the American Civil War is counted as a war rather than as domestic gun violence. No enemy nation (or group of nations) on earth can kill American citizens with anything approaching the furosity and frequency of gun violence inflicted by the American population on itself in just the last 44 years. No other nation on earth (including modern Syria and North Korea) kills its citizens the way that we do.

Of all the guns on earth owned and used as personal firearms, more than half are owned by Americans and are kept in the homes of individuals. We have more guns than people in America. And all of this is made possible by the Second Amendment. The problem is this... the Founding Fathers who wrote the Second Amendment never told us how many guns were sufficient. When is enough considered enough?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Creating and Killing The American Dream

The general election which concluded (mercifully) a month ago reminded us once again about the power of propaganda, and the force of myths that get repeated again and again. And chief among the many myths that permeate the American belief system is the myth that the American Dream is the result of our freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the 1930s, The United States was well on its way to becoming a third world nation, plagued by poverty and desperation. The Federal Government stepped in with numerous programs like the WPA and the CCC and many more, and while these programs didn't totally transform the bleak economic situation into an American Dream, they kept the situation from becoming worse than it was. Then came World War II, and jobs were created in abundance.... all paid for with Federal dollars. It's always worth remembering that military spending is the biggest job creation mechanism of them all.

In the post war years, returning GIs were granted college education opportunities under the GI bill. A college education is one of the main keys to the American Dream. The FHA (the F in FHA stands for Federal) made it possible for a man to buy a house with no money down. Home ownership is another key to the American Dream. Both of these programs were completely funded with government money.

In the 1960s, federal spending absolutely mushroomed with dollars flowing to the Pentagon for the Vietnam War, and to NASA for the space program, and to the Highway Department for construction of the Interstate system. Jobs back then were so plentiful that there was a job for anyone who wanted or needed to work. That's the very definition of the American Dream. And that period in time was the high point of the American Dream.

Contrast those four decades with the last four decades of the 1970s up to the present time. Nobody doubts that the American Dream is dead now. The jobs created in the 1950s and 1960s were outsourced by the millions until the number of jobs left in this country became insufficient to meet the needs of those who wanted to work. That's NOT an American Dream. It's an American nightmare. And here's the irony. The outsourcing was made possible by freedom.... the freedom of corporations to operate without government regulation, and the total freedom to pursue profit above everything else. Freedom, at least at the corporate level, became a dark force rather than a shining light.

I think the case can be made that, back when times were good in this country and the American Dream was a reality, much of the financial and economic impetus was fueled by the Federal Government directing tax revenues right back into the population in the form of jobs. There's a word for that. It's called Socialism.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What Happened After Christmas?

As Christmas time fast approaches, we are reminded that the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago was seen as a big deal. A really big deal. The mythology tells of shepherds and visiting foreign dignitaries and heavenly hosts (I don't have a clue what these are) standing by as Jesus came into the world, and even if we dismiss this as fluff and fable, we still have to admit that the notion of a human being springing from the loin of a virgin represents a decidedly atypical obstetrical event. Yes, that first Christmas was a very big deal. One would think this might have prompted some interest in following the subsequent life of the young Jesus.

And every Spring time when we get close to Easter, we celebrate the crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus as something truly monumental. So clearly, people at the start and the end of the life of Jesus recognized his coming and going as a thing of importance. So here's my question: What the hell was Jesus doing in the 30 odd years in between?

Mozart could play the piano when he was two years old, and he wrote his first symphony when he was four. As a result of his demonstrated musical ability, an ability that was truly exceptional, his life was chronicled in great detail by a great number of contemporaries. We know almost everything about Mozart at almost every moment of his life. But Mozart wasn't divine, and never claimed to be anything but a brilliant musician and composer. Mozart never went around claiming to be God. Contrast this with Jesus, a man who was (in my opinion) the biggest narcissist of all time.

As Christmas comes upon us, we need to ask ourselves: If Jesus was so remarkable, then why didn't his contemporaries remark about him for most of his life? In fact, if not for the Apostle, Paul (who never actually met Jesus), it's quite possible that nothing would ever have been set down in writing about his life. How does the son of God go unnoticed and forgotten for 30 years in a world of mere humans?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Just Not Cool

I’ve written it on this blog in the past, and I firmly believe it’s true— that there’s a high school analogy for everybody and everything in life. This is why I don’t understand the difficulty that media pundits and everybody else seems to encounter when they try to describe Mitt Romney, and try to explain his struggle in the Republican primaries. We know exactly who Mitt is, and we know everything about him. We know because we went to high school with someone just like him.

He was the rich kid. Not only did he come from a wealthy family, but he was the best looking and best dressed boy in school. For this reason, he could get a date with any girl in school, but the really bright, high-quality girls never went out with him more than once. When asked about it by their girlfriends, they would only say, “He’s just not cool.” He drove a new convertible every year, but those same bright, high-quality girls would never ride in his car because they didn’t want to be seen with him. He went out for every sport, but never lettered. Nevertheless, he always wore a letter sweater (even without the letter) because he thought it looked cool.

He was the guy who would buy you a candy bar at lunch time if you would sit with him in the cafeteria (not cool), and he would buy your entire lunch plus a soda pop if you would vote for him in the election for class president. So he became the class president, simply because he had the money to buy lunches and sodas for everybody, but he never could buy enough goodies to ever become what you could truly call, “popular.” Classmates were willing to sell their votes, but not their friendships.

Without his money and fine clothes and good looks, he would have been called a “loser,” but we all know that in this life, nobody gets labeled “loser” if they have a lot of money. That’s what big money does for you. But all the money in the world can’t buy the image of “cool.” That’s Mitt Romney’s fundamental problem. He’s just not cool. There’s a word for guys like him, and you don’t hear the word used often enough. Mitt Romney is “smarmy.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

We’re Doomed, But Not by the Asteroid

NASA announced last week that they’ve found a good-sized asteroid on a trajectory that could impact earth in 2040, but by then it may not matter. Our planet is running out of everything but human beings. Fresh water, edible fish, petroleum, and land suitable for agriculture— these are only four items on a seemingly endless list of resources that are essential and finite, but rapidly diminishing. And make no mistake about it, competition for these scarcities has absolutely become a zero-sum game played out between the nations and cultures around the globe. For maybe the last century or two, this has always been the case (to a lesser degree), but until recently the winners in this game could keep their good fortune off the radar as their own dirty little secret— somewhat hidden and unknown to those who were losing out. But those days are gone. Now, with ubiquitous social media and telecommunication, everybody knows what everybody else has got.

For 30 years or more, Americans have been spoon fed on the mythological crapola that much of the world hates us because of our freedom. The real truth is that much of the world hates us because we have the disproportionate lion’s share of access to fresh water, petroleum, and good fertile cropland. Individual freedom in America isn’t a threat to anyone, but the prospect of losing out to a more powerful player in a zero-sum game is very much a threat.

This competition to see who gets the right to deplete the planet’s scarce resources is being played out against the backdrop of an even bigger problem— exponential population growth. In my lifetime (the last 70 years) the global population has more than tripled, going from 2 billion to 7 billion. Current educated estimates put the population at 9 billion within 15 to 20 years, and probably at 10 billion by 2040 when the asteroid may or may not stop the growth permanently. For those who are mathematically ignorant and who don’t understand exponential growth, here’s a little fact. There are more people alive today than the number of people who have died since the dawn of the human race 100,000 years ago. To put it another way, more than half of all the humans who have ever walked the earth are alive and walking the earth today.

Faced with the biggest problem to confront mankind in all of history, the last 10 days in America witnessed something truly remarkable. Two influential institutions came together. The political ideology that gave us Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, and Rush Limbaugh teamed-up with the Italian religion that gave us 1000 years of unchecked child sex abuse, and together they came out against what they consider to be the scourge of modern mankind. They pooled their mutual influence and collective animosity to oppose— drum roll, please— CONTRACEPTION!!!

It just makes you weep with frustration and disappointment. We’re doomed, and not because of the asteroid..

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Highlight of the Grammys

I actually considered terminating this blog. For six years I’ve ranted about the pathetic and dysfunctional state of pretty much all American institutions— public education, and organized religion, and public health / medicine, and giant financial corporations, and the “traditional” heterosexual American family, and labor unions, and the United States Government together with their chief client— the Pentagon. It’s not that I’ve run out of critical things to say. It’s just that so many bright thinkers now are all saying the same thing, and for me to continue would be merely to overstate the obvious. I might as well blog every day that rich and healthy is better than poor and sick.

So now I’ve been reduced to blogging about the Grammys. Okay, going into it I knew it would consist of non-stop renditions of “I Will Always Love You.” What I didn’t foresee was that they would never once mention Dolly Parton who actually wrote the song and sang it in a film a full ten years before The Bodyguard. There I go being critical again. But let’s face it— the Grammys wasn’t about musicology. It was about idolatry, and the idol wasn’t Dolly Parton.

That’s not to say that the Grammys were a waste of my time. I got to see the most amazing and creative commercial I’ve ever seen on television. I’m referring to the animated Chipotle commercial done with a voice-over song sung by Willie Nelson. Yes— that one with the pink pigs stylized to look like piggy banks. Nothing aired during the Super Bowl this year, or any other year, was this good in my opinion. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that the spot will prove to be a commercial failure. It was far too intelligent and subtle to sell very many burritos.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Okay, Now I Finally “Get it”

I had the U.S. military pegged all wrong. I thought the function of the military was to preserve our national security by maintaining sufficient firepower to repel any foreign invasion, and to keep a nuclear deterrent force that would assure the destruction of any foreign nuclear power that attacked us. But dumb me. Now I know that this picture is SO cold war. Threatened by defense budget cuts, Panetta and his Republican toadies have given us a true picture of our military strategy— which is indistinguishable from our foreign policy. We need 800 billion a year, not just to stay safe, but (in Panetta’s words) to “maintain our foreign commitments.” We have a military presence in 130 nations, which is 60% of all the nations on the planet. These are not Marines guarding an embassy. These are American troops and weapons meant to assure the security of foreign countries so they won’t need to waste their own money and resources to provide strong armies and weapons systems and military infrastructures of their own.

There’s a high school analogy for everything in life. I used to think that the United States was analogous to the high school bully who threatened others with force and intimidation to get his own way. That’s the wrong analogy. The United States is the smarmy but clueless rich kid who buys lunch for everyone else and bribes schoolmates with whatever it takes to make him popular. Now that I know my tax money goes to buy American popularity in the world community, I have a solution for the problems of Iran and North Korea. Why don’t we just ask them how much we need to pay them to be our friends?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stupidity or Incompetence?

Each time Obama talks about reducing spending on the U.S. military, the Republicans carry the water for the Pentagon and declare that this puts American safety in jeopardy. Only two logical underpinnings can explain the enormity of the Pentagon budget. Maybe the U.S. really DOESN’T need to spend 10 times more than any other nation on earth on its military in order to be as safe as everyone else, in which case our level of military spending is just plain stupid. Or else, we DO need to spend 10 times more in order to be safe, in which case our military is just plain incompetent. It’s one or the other.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Touched By the Fickle Finger of the Lord

Timtim Tebow prayed yesterday, but the bloom seems to be off the rose in his relationship with Jesus— unless you consider a solitary field goal to be a gift from Heaven. True believers in Denver are saying that Tebow is so touched by righteousness that he can even make the playoffs by losing, but the truth is that The Big Tebowski might as well pack it in. Word leaking out from the odds makers in Las Vegas is that Jesus has discovered an NFL team composed of nothing but Saints.