Oct 15

Art: The Good, Bad and Ugly

In Brief — A look at art in its varied forms: paintings, photography, sculpture, architecture, serigraphy, furniture whatever. What is art? What are its limits?

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The Eye of the Beholder —

Andy Warhol. Leonardo da Vinci. Pablo Picasso. Robert Rauschenberg. Shoji Hamada. Antoni Gaudi, Frida Kahlo. These are but a miniscule listing of the many people throughout the world recognized for their art.

Where there are artists, there are critics, tastemakers. Opinions on what is good or bad art are almost as numerous as there are people. Professional critics and average people see art in their own ways and for their own reasons. Here are the views of a few of the better-known critics.

Cartoonist Al Capp on abstract art: ”A product of the untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”

Journalist Ambrose Bierce defines painting as ”The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic.”

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy says, ”To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it.”

The romantic poet William Wordsworth says cynically, ”Pictures deface walls more often than they decorate them.”

In my snarkier moments, I’ve been known to agree with them.

Addressing my narrow views, my artist wife says that bad art is still art. She’s less opinionated than I, but she has moderated my views and expanded my knowledge. Indeed, in keeping with my great aunt’s view that travel is an education, I’ve learned a bit about art in my walks through many of the world’s museums. They’ve opened my eyes to what has been judged to be great art… but I’m still opinionated.

A good example of my opinionation is Jean-Michel Basquiat. A protégé of Andy Warhol, best known for his depiction of Marilyn Monroe and a can of Campbell’s soup, Basquiat’s sloppy painting of a skull raised my blood pressuret into the red zone. Art can sometimes arouse passions and experimentation, but the annointment of Basquiat’s drivel is too big a bite for me to swallow. Basquiat is an example of the questionable power of tastemakers. Is he an indication of a good artist? I think not.

Another example is Robert Rauschenberg’s urinal. My blood boils every time I’ve seen that urinal being honored in a museum. I accept the fact that even the most mundane object in daily life can be artistic, but this object is beyond the pale for me. Am I to look with awe at the receptacle of my urine that’s being funnelled into a sewer? I think not.

Art has sometimes surprised me at the most unexpected moments. Until I saw Salvadore Dali’s paintings in the St. Petersburg, Florida museum, I considered him just a bizarre painter. Suddenly, I found myself struck dumb by Dali’s monumental painting of Jesus on the cross. Pure genius. He may have been a shameless self-promoter, but he was a talent par excellence.

Another such occasion came along in Guernica, Spain. Confronted by a life-sized copy of ”Guernica,” Pablo Picassos’s famous abstract painting considered to be the most powerful anti-war depiction in history, I was stunned by the raw emotion captured by Picasso. So strongly did the artist feel that he refused to allow the painting in Spain until the country became a democracy. Now that Franco is gone, the original is hanging in Madrid.

Until I visited the Amsterdam Museum, Vincent van Gogh’s paintings had been only pictures in a book. Seen as they were painted, van Gogh’s oils came alive with their true colors and textures. It was a startling and educational experience. The moral to this story is that one can’t really judge the quality of an artistic work until one sees the real McCoy. Does this apply to Basquiat? Not to me!

There are genuine paint artists not included in these few remarks. I’m an admirer of Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe, Johannes Vermeer, Odd Nerdrum, Anders Zorn, Gustav Klimt, Carl Larsson, Egon Schiele and others too numerous to mention. You can see I prefer realism.

However, as can be seen, art covers a variety of areas. Architecture leaps readily to mind as do ceramics, photography and sculpture. Unfortunately, this blog piece is too short to permit me to express my tastes. That leads me to conclude that a Part 2 should be considered. So stick with me and share your preferences both to this part and whether a Part 2 is in order. Taste is in the eye of the beholder. You are a beholder.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on November 2016.

Oct 08

Party of Four

In Brief — What sounds like being seated in a restaurant is, in fact, your invitation of four people, past and present, to join you for an exchange of thoughts on topics of interest. [Written in May 2017.]

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Revelations of Values —

Who do you invite and why? The invitees speak your language regardless of where they come from, when they lived and no matter the changes that might have taken place in the world. The people you invite can share thoughts and insights with you or with each other. Your selection tells about your values, so you need to think carefully about the four you invite. No doubt there are many people who might be considered, but you can choose only four. Which four will you choose?

Don’t be afraid; there are no right choices, only your choices. We are all different. Your choices reflect your interests; mine reflect my interests. Remember that fear is the mind-killer.

Try to limit your explanations to between twenty-five and fifty words. I may exceed that number, but this may give you an idea of what I meant by “Who do you invite and why.

My Choices and Reasons —

There are tens of thousands interesting people who have lived or are alive today. Some may even be your hero or heroine, yet you choose another. Some examples are: Socrates, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Lao Tzu, Adolf Hitler, Neil Armstrong, Winston Churchill, Nefertiti, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Charles Lindberg, Mao Tse-tung, Nelson Mandela, Molly Ivins, Joan Baez, Satchmo Armstrong, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Warren, Jonas Salk, etc., etc.

Here are my choices and the reasons I chose them. Although some were on my list, I chose another. Doesn’t mean the edited ones aren’t important to me, but there were four others who made the cut.

Leonardo da Vinci — A true polymath, he was an artist, inventor, scientist, architect, sculptor, anatomist, pacifist and an all-round fascinating genius. Known best for the Mona Lisa, his famous art works are legion. Though a pacifist, he designed military weapons. Centuries ahead of his time, he drew a helicopter and other flying machines. It has been speculated that he was homosexual.

Bertrand Russell — A Nobel Prize laureate, he won the prize for his writing, not the mathematics for which he is noted. He was a philosopher, writer, social critic and active anti-war pacifist. A liberal socialist, he wrote on subjects as varied as human sexuality, religion, linguistics, metaphysics, ethics and logic. He was atheistic and opposed to any form of totalitarianism.

Nelson Mandela — The first president of post-apartheid South Africa, he spent twenty-seven years in prison for his political activities opposing the apartheid regime. A lawyer, he devoted his life to freeing the black population from the iron grip of the murderous apartheid system. Land reform, black poverty, HIV/AIDS were his focus. The Nobel Peace Prize recognized his tireless pursuit of peace.

My fourth choice was a dead heat between Clarence Darrow and Mark Twain. Thus, four became five. I considered Eleanor Roosevelt, but she ultimately gave way to the men.

Clarence Darrow was a lawyer who defended the downtrodden and victims of narrow-mindedness (Scopes), government persecution (Bill Haywood) and the unpopular (Leopold/Loeb). He was a leading member of the ACLU, a supporter of women’s rights, an agnostic and a lifelong civil libertarian.

By contrast, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was a prolific writer, humorist, lecturer and publisher. Opposed to the hypocrisy of religion, he nonetheless remained a Presbyterian despite his writings being scathing denunciations of organized religion. His humorous observations are as apt today as when he wrote them. Like Darrow, Twain/Clemens was an active civil libertarian. Even today his writings are being censored, not surprisingly by religionists and conservative politicians. He must be chuckling on that heavenly cloud.

These are my choices for some stimulating conversation leavened by humor. You may notice that all of my guests are from the past and that there are no females among them. I readily admit that there are many outstanding women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, but my guests are exclusively male. There may be room for some psychologizing there, but I can argue that there are practical reasons, too.

Let’s hear about your choices. Come on. Share. Give us a peek into your thinking process.

 

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on October 2016.

Oct 01

The Shame of Republicanism

In Brief — A frank look at why Republicans should be ashamed of their membership in a regressive political party. [Written in May 2017.]

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Backward-looking and Mean-Spirited  —

Imagine aligning yourself with ignorant scoundrels. A once-respected political party — Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt must be spinning in their graves — has abandoned governing in favor of obstructionist partisanship. Instead of negotiating with their political opponents, the representatives of the party have chosen to stomp their feet and turn their backs like spoiled children. Their supporters are proud of their representatives and far too often display racism, homophobia, ignorance and sexism. For the moment Trump leads the sorry parade and Republicans like McConnell and Ryan smile enthusiastically and follow.

It’s time to look at the definition of conservatism, the badge Republicans proudly wear.

The dictionary defines conservatism as clinging to traditional values and limiting change. Politically, conservatives want lower taxes, smaller government, freer business, a strong military, and an individual to be responsible for his/her personal needs in such areas as retirement and health care.

Real-Speak’s Spotlight —

Translating this into real-speak, it means conservatives cling to the old ways and are afraid of change. They let fear of the unknown whisper assurance. They’re afraid.

Politically, they want lower taxes so the rich can get richer while everybody else gets crumbs, less government while the world grows more competitive and dangerous, believe businessmen know better than anybody. They want a more muscular and bigger military renowned for bungling and waste, believe that people should be responsible in preparing for their “golden years” and that each person should see to his/her own matters of health despite abundant evidence that the average person doesn’t understand the fine print.

Let’s break that down into realistic, bite-size pieces.

  1. Conservatives look backward to an imagined simple past and are uncomfortable with anything new like sexual equality, freedom to love another regardless of skin color and gender, or LGBTQ folks having full rights.
  2. They want to pay lower taxes, particularly to benefit the rich folks who already get a bigger share of the pie. Simultaneously, the arts, science and people of color get the shaft…and a thumb in the eye.
  3. They believe that government must shrink even as the world becomes more complex and competitive.
  4. They believe that business is more efficient and more honest than government despite copious evidence saying the opposite.They believe that greed is rare in business whereas government is overflowing with people who are dishonest and inefficient. Let’s hear from readers who have worked in corporations…or government, for that matter.
  5. They want to give more money to a military that’s already acknowledged to be wasteful and bent on killing. They want other countries to dance to America’s tune.
  6. Conservatives believe that everybody has the money, foresight and knowledge to adequately prepare for old age despite abundant contrary evidence.
  7. To them, good health is assumed and insurance is simple, available and affordable for even the least of us regardless of income AND they’re doing all they can to assure Obamacare’s failure. Additionally, they believe everybody is knowledgeable about their own bodies, capable of predicting the future and familiar with the intricacies of the rich insurance industry that’s not noted for charity.

Do any of these beliefs conform with reality?

At the beginning, I said that being a Republican is worthy of shame. I’ve said that Republicans, whether in congress, at the state or local level, even as individuals, are backward-looking and mean-spirited. Additionally, too many are consciously or subconsciously racist, homophobic and sexist. Far too often, they wear their religion on their sleeve and are anti-science. As bad as all this is, supporting Trump is morally depraved.

The Proof is in the Pudding —

Undoubtedly a prime example can be found in the 2016 Republican Party platform. It is undeniably the scariest political document ever written. A party platform is the blueprint of what the party stands for…a wish list, if you will.

I know most readers feel they are too busy to plow through the propagandistic blather to find the juicy plums of substance. For those folks, be assured that the 2016 Republican platform is a political horror story. Please click on the highlighted area to understand why Republicans should be ashamed. [Using your cursor, swipe across the platform article to return to this blog.] On their face, many of the wishes buried in the platform’s blather look reasonable, but what the Republicans are actually doing shows the dishonesty of their weasel-worded platform and their true face. This is reality.

Readers who label themselves Republicans should read the Republican platform to see if they agree with the wish list of the Republican Party. Then they should honestly examine their beliefs against the values they hold. If they don’t agree, why are they voting for Republicans who are eagerly destroying everything America says it stands for?

Don’t let fear, ignorance and outworn tradition stand in the way of embracing a promising future. The 2018 elections give Republican voters a chance to shed their shame and breathe the fresh air of freedom.

A vote against Republicans doesn’t necessarily mean voting Democratic. That’s just one option. A vote for an independent party also carries a message of disapproval of Republicanism, BUT know what you’re voting for! A better future for America depends on your vote. Unless Republicans turn their backs on Republicanism, It’s going to get worse…much worse!

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on September 2016.

 

 

Sep 24

The Subversive Illusion of “I Can’t…”

In Brief — Some reasons why an old but eminently worthwhile book can improve your life. First, you must read it. [Written in May 2017.]


Negative Attitudes are Quicksand —

Last week it was an intriguing fantasy circus with its characters that we wish were real; this week a book that should be on every shelf and should be an integral part of every life. “Illusions” by Richard Bach, the author of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” is a vaguely autobiographical novel that presents aphorisms that require thought to grasp the truth hiding in plain sight.

The author meets Donald Shimoda, a fellow barnstormer who is more than a skilled flyer, he’s a messiah who not only astounds, but shares his philosophy with the author. Is Shimoda the real article or is he crazy? Are the maxims in his manual feel-good advice or wisdom that has the power to change lives for the better?

Some people believe “Illusions” is just another self-help book. Among many others, I think it has the power to make the obstacles between you and your goal mere hindrances, not blocks. I often say that the one unchanging fact in the universe is change. Can you accept change? Are you willing to go around that obstacle to achieve your goal?

Shimoda’s manual says, “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they are yours.” On the surface, that maxim appears to be simple feel-good advice, but go deeper and it is saying that you are building a defense around your comfort zone. It is suggesting that you need to find a way around that obstacle to achieve your goal. Self-help it appears to be, but it’s up to each individual to dive deeper rather than defensibly circling the wagons around a comfort zone on the surface.

Years ago I read a book titled “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” Basically, it said that a person needs to think differently, unconventionally, not in the usual way that’s blocking progress toward a goal. That’s what that little aphorism is saying. That’s not feel-good advice.

Here are a few of the maxims in “Illusions.” Do they resonate with you? Think before you answer.

“You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.”

 “The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or tear the pages.”

 “If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”

 “Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully.”

 “Every person, all the events in your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”

There are more, but not all will touch you. Some of these have no meaning to you. Regardless, let them simmer in your thoughts, in your dreams.

I close with this thought from “Illusions”…

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on August 2016.

Sep 17

The Best Fantasy Book I’ve Read

In Brief — A review of “The Night Circus” that reflects the author’s tastes. Will it reflect yours? [Written in May 2017.]

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Dreams of a Circus of Fantasy —

“The Night Circus.” My story about a story that stumbled out of the starting gate but crossed the finish line in first place.

It is said that a reader lives a thousand lives but a non-reader lives only one. If true, then I have lived a thousand lives. It seems I’ve been reading all my life. I was an asthmatic kid in his bedroom who read dictionaries while the neighbor kids played outdoors. The asthma disappeared in the high, dry climate of Santa Fe. In my early teens I was lucky in having a friend who introduced me to science fiction and fantasy. Since then, my reading has grown to include philosophy, history, theology, law, politics and other genres including fiction and, of course, fantasy.

“The Night Circus” was a gift from a former teacher friend who has generously fed my addiction with books she found particularly appealing. Unfortunately, unlike previous gifts from my special friend, this gift failed to materialize. I hovered over my Kindle expecting it to appear as others have done. It didn’t. Three days later after repeated complaints to Amazon, “The Night Circus” appeared as mysteriously as the circus does in this book.

As I said at the outset, this is the best fantasy I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down and could hardly wait to see where the author, Erin Morgenstern, would take me next. Not all readers will be as entranced as I, but this is my story.

Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this tale includes wizards, magic, fated lovers and just plain people who are aficionados drawn into the spell of an unusual circus, a circus we all wish existed in our lives.

The fated Marco and Celia are surrounded by Widget, Poppet, Bailey and a host of fascinating characters who populate “The Night Circus.” They are drawn into the orbit of the circus that appears and disappears unpredictably and is open only during the night hours. As a reader, I was drawn in along with them.

What you might expect in any circus can be found here, but it’s all better. The popcorn is popped to perfection, the cider or hot drinks are delicious, the chocolate and caramel taste wonderful. The performances are awe-inspiring. Is it real magic or just beautifully done? Each tent is unique…and there are many tents.

With the circus as a backdrop, Marco and Celia are bound to a competition that will determine who is best. The winner lives; the loser must die. It’s always been like this.

Whether you read it as a paper book or on an e-reader makes little difference other than esthetic. If you are not a reader or not interested in fantasy, I will only say that you are missing something in life. And life is to be lived with all its flavors. “The Night Circus” added flavor to my life. Maybe it can add flavor to yours.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on July 2016.

Sep 10

Love, Angels and Devils

In Brief — A passing flirtation with theology allows the author to explore the relationship between love in our hearts, those we feel are our angels and the bad things that can make life miserable. [Written in April-May 2017.]

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Life is Like a Box of Chocolates (Forrest Gump)

Your life is like a roller-coaster ride: ups and downs. As Forrest Gump wisely continued in his analogy, “…you never know what you’re going to get.” Up, down, good, bad, every experience, no matter how seemingly insignificant, adds to the person you are.

Imagine a graph with a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. Let’s arbitrarily say the vertical line is Love and the horizontal one is denominated Angels. Where the two lines meet in the corner, or the zero point, we will call the Devils. Each line is graded, up and horizontally from zero to 100. The people or the incidents in your life will fall somewhere on that graph.

With that as a starting point, I will take a look at my life and place significant people and incidents on that graph. I don’t have any enemies that I know of, but there are certainly painful incidents that have affected me. Good ones, too. You might want to think of your own life in these terms.

Richard Bach’s “Illusions” says, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.”

I will modify this wisdom only to the extent of saying that gifts come with every incident in your life, not just the problems that have plagued you. Accept those gifts in the realization that they are adding to the person that you are becoming. Whether you realize it or not, you are growing as a result.

The people in my life, wives, children and their significant others, friends and relatives sit somewhere on that graph. I’ll say only that my current wife, my children and my dear friends rest on the high end of that graph. I love them and consider them angels.

My former wives sit slightly lower on that graph, but I hasten to add that they have taught me more than they will ever know. Some of those lessons were painful, but I grew because of them and their gifts. For this I’m thankful. I hope they are, too.

One of my angel friends sends me books, sharing her pleasure and adding to the person I’m becoming. Other dear friends send me thoughtful articles, films, laughter, the latest news, pieces of the larger world and glimpses of themselves. All of these are gifts and become part of me.

Former girlfriends shared themselves with me. Most of them think I’ve forgotten them although I haven’t. Even though I have a suspicion they’ve probably chalked me up to a youthful mistake, they taught me about myself. More importantly (though they may not want to know this), we have both contributed to the individuals we are today.

I often complain of the physical limitations I’m dealing with since the operation, but if I look beyond the surface, I find that I’ve grown because of the limitations. I’ve had new experiences, time to think, read and reflect. I’ve been able to contribute in small ways to others. I’ve grown.

Look at your own life, the love, the angels and the devils. They’re there, sometimes hiding, often not, but they’re there.

Consider this quotation from “Illusions”: “Here’s a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on June 2016.

Sep 03

Euphemisms and Waste: A Poisonous Mix

In Brief— The author describes the corruption of our language and the prodigious military waste that robs Americans of precious dollars. He provides information about what is done in our name. [Written in March 2015. Revised in May 2017.]

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The Orwellization of Language—

Surprise! The American military not only wastes prodigious amounts of taxpayer dollars, it corrupts the language, using euphemisms when straight talk would tell us what they’re really about. Here are just a few examples of Orwell-speak.

Department of Defense. Soothing and inaccurate. Collateral Damage. How vague and deceptive. Insurgents. Crudely evasive. Neutralize. Vague and inoffensive. Extreme Prejudice. Evasive.

Department of Defense— Until fairly recently it was called the Department of War. What does it actually engage in? War!

Collateral Damage— These are real humans who have been killed by the American military and its allies. They may be opposing armed forces for any of several reasons OR they may simply be inhabitants simply going about their daily business. Some have been killed by drones and others have been killed by bullets or bombs, but they are just as dead.

Insurgents— These humans could be anybody from opponents acting for any of several reasons OR they could be civilians identified by the military as being opponents even though they are not. As we now know from reliable sources and the military itself, military documents reveal that the majority of victims are ordinary civilians that the American military deliberately calls “insurgents.”

Neutralize— This means killing other humans. Got that? Killing! Rendering another human dead.

Extreme Prejudice— This means killing another human. Publically released government reports show that Osama bin Laden was unarmed and in custody, but he was killed. Assassinated. The Obama administration simply didn’t want a public trial because his defense would have revealed America’s complicity. Anwar al-Awlaki and, later, his young son, both Americans, were killed by a drone strike ordered by Obama without the benefit of a trial.

Unprivileged Belligerent— According to the Pentagon manual, any reporting by a reporter that the American military considers unfriendly to American actions can be grounds for detention or killing. There goes the First Amendment.

These are just a few of the euphemisms that are used to assure us that “The Other” human or reporter is not one of us and that this once-living human has been killed in the name of the American style of “freedom.” These euphemisms are part of the propaganda we breathe. What’s just as bad, the print and visual media perpetuate the euphemisms to such an extent that they become embedded in our thinking.

The Propaganda Fish Bowl—

As pointed out in my blog piece “Propaganda is Us…and Them,” we swim in a fishbowl of comfortable myths that are more accurately called “propaganda.” Every nation and group has its own myths, and America is second to none when it comes to myths.

America has a first-rate propaganda machine. Most of the movies on foreign screens or on their TV are American. Much of the fast food and drink served all over the world is American. American businesses populate every corner of the globe. American news is read and watched everywhere. And the American government blankets the planet with the American story.

A huge part of that story is that America is defending everybody’s freedom. The War Department has become the Defense Department and the world is expected to respond to the dog whistle. Sit, World, Sit!

The Second Part: Military Waste—

Former Senator Everett Dirksen famously said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” Although vanishingly few Americans have even an idea of a million dollars let alone a billion, the American military wastes billions of dollars on phony wars and weapons that don’t work or are obsolete before they can be used. Politicians who want to get reelected give the military money they don’t need. The military motto is: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Trump and the Republican Party are busily increasing the excess.

So what does America get for the massive amount of money it feeds the War Department? Putting aside the Iraqi and Afghan wars that continue, does American “defense” get value for those billions? Just three examples will illustrate the extent of military waste.

Fact: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is obsolete, problem-plagued, overpriced and unneeded except by bought-and-paid-for politicians and the delighted contractor. Senator Bernie Sanders is a cheerleader for the F-35 because it’s built in his state.

Fact: The Litoral Combat Ship is problem-plagued, of doubtful combat effectiveness.

Fact: The USS Gerald Ford-class Carrier costing billions of dollars is beset by cost-overruns, untested technological systems and vulnerable to vastly cheaper missile attacks.

Back to the duplicitous euphemisms that blinds Americans to reality and the breathtaking waste that sucks money out of taxpayer wallets while pumping brains full of dangerous myths. Who is to blame and what can be done about it?

Every time you cast a vote for that representative who is supposed to represent you, you have a chance to change the words used and the policies that affect your life.

If you think you’re entitled to honesty and money intelligently-spent, your vote and your words in that letter to your representative or to the Editor, can have a profound effect on the direction the nation goes. Small acts done consistently can have a profound effect. The 2018 elections are your chance.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on May 2016.

Aug 27

Chronicle from the Old Folks’ Home — Part 14

In Brief — The author gives readers a glimpse of the hard-working personnel who care for all of the oldsters in his department. [Written in June 2017.]


Hard-Working, With Uncaring Management —

The new management of this warehouse apparently believes the personnel are endowed with super powers: They don’t get tired from the long, mind-numbing hours of seeing to the needs of both the elderly and the demented, they don’t need more money, and they never get sick.

As if that weren’t enough, management’s canned retort to personnel’s repeated complaints is that the personnel level is the same as under the old regime and, besides, it’s hard to recruit qualified people. No wonder. Why bust your butt for low pay helping smelly old folks! Don’t ask about the personnel union because the union reps might have to get out of the comfortable bed they share with management.

How do I know all this? I have an inveterate need to ask questions…and in the face of injustice I write letters to the powers who need to know. Contrary to the first, my latest letter was met with total silence. I am led to think I must be losing my touch or that we are now in the era of Trump. The latter may be true because when I moved to Sweden I was told that Sweden was five years behind America. The camel has at least its nose in Sweden’s tent.

With that as a background, here is a bit about the personnel who work so hard to care for us.

The Personnel —

My contact person, Irene, is hard-working, efficient, abundantly friendly, outspoken…and very well informed. Though rushed, Irene always makes sure that my needs are met. She knows the ropes around here and, unlike many Swedes, doesn’t shrink from telling management the truth about what it’s like on the front lines. I ask, she tells. To say she is loved and respected would be understating it. Well-l-l, management respects and depends on her.

Sven-Gunnar, one of the few men here, is quiet, meticulous, friendly and helpful in both of the departments on this floor. After almost six years of being in a reduced state after the operation, I always feel relaxed when meticulous Sven-Gunnar’s feeding me. My muscles relax when I hear his distinctive knock on the door before a feeding.

Note: As I write this notes in late-July, Sven-Gunnar has had a stroke. Fortunately, it was treated in time and he’s improving. Not yet 50, he shows that even relatively young people can suffer a stroke. If he returns, I plan to advise him to eat a vegan diet to help prevent a build-up of fatty plaque in his circulatory system. Fingers crossed that Sven-Gunnar can join us again soon.

To continue, there’s Kicki. Garrulous, helpful, overweight and something of a complainer about her assorted physical ills, Kicki may sometimes be repetitive, but she knows exactly what needs to be done and does it with a smile. She often volunteers to do small things for me like watering the drooping flowers guests sometimes bring. She’s priceless.

Tall, slender Charles, a 23-year-old Rwandan refugee who came to Sweden at 19, is smart as a whip, quickly learning exactly how I should be fed. Charles speaks four languages: his native Ikinyarwanda and Swedish (fluently), English and French (passably). Charles is pleased that I showed interest in his mother tongue by learning a few phrases that I use every time he appears. He smiles, responds in Ikinyarwanda and bows. When I asked why he bows, he replied, “Because I respect you.” When I responded, “I respect you, too, Charles,” he smiled…and bowed. The moral to that story is that we must never underestimate anybody.

Occasionally, Marie feeds me. She’s also an expert at taking care of our feet, often referred to as a pedicure. That expertise pays the rent. However, to be accurate, Marie cuts my toenails that seem to be beyond my reach. I know it’s time for her services when my toenails start snagging the insides of my socks. While that is certainly important, she is always cheerful and, more to the point, she never fails to get my feedings right. She obviously paid attention to Irene’s instructions.

There are other allegedly trained individuals anointed by management with the task of feeding me because of sicknesses, summer vacations or unanticipated absences. Of course, management stinginess may be in there somewhere. Mind you I’m not implying some personnel can’t grab their fannies with both hands — because some are sorta competent as well as always friendly — but let’s just say I have to watch them like a hawk and can’t relax as I can with those mentioned above.

I know I promised to tell you about the old folks in the next department, but you can look forward with ‘bated breath to some future installment.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the American readers who have to live with the antics of a nut-job and a mean-spirited political party bent on taking the country back to medieval times. At least the nut-job may be removed soon. About that political party, though…

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on April 2016.

Aug 20

Revenge vs. Learning: Which is Stronger?

In Brief — An examination of whether the death penalty is atavistic or useful to society. [Written in May 2017.]


Vengeance in the 21st Century —

Premeditated murder. It’s often referred to as first degree murder, but generally (excluding military actions) it is deliberately killing another human being. States frequently have their own variations on what it constitutes, but those are grounded on whether the killing shows “malice aforethought” (premeditation). Malice aforethought is interpreted to include several aspects, but in the final analysis it boils down to the killing being intended or at least reasonably conceivable. I urge you to inform yourself not least because your state may be killing in your name.

Prompted by the rushed executions by Arkansas and its eagerness to kill several men on death row — as well as my own opposition to the death penalty — I will show how the death penalty is not only hypocritical and illogical but a waste of a golden opportunity.

Since the victim is dead, s/he is no longer aware. What most survivors feel beyond the shock and emotional pain is a desire for vengeance against the suspected perpetrator. The victim can’t return to life, so why kill the golden goose simply because you like roast goose?

What if this a case of mistaken identity? Reams of research show that eyewitness accounts are often in error. What of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? Related to unreliable eyewitness testimony, what if the accused perpetrator is innocent of the crime?

Rationale for Incarceration —

In discussing the death penalty it’s necessary to know the reasons for imprisoning a person. Two or more of those reasons are hollow as you will see.

The purposes of incarceration are most often fourfold:

Retribution, i.e., society’s right to inflict harm on a convicted criminal who presumably harmed society. The death penalty falls within this category. In plain words, it is revenge;

2) Incapacitation, i.e., a convicted criminal cannot commit crimes while imprisoned;

3) Deterrence, i.e., the threat of punishment presumably prevents other people from criminal acts;

4) Rehabilitation, i.e., Changing for the better the convicted criminal. Rehabilitation is said to include vocational training, counseling and, if needed, drug treatment. Good luck with those!

For incarceration to be justified, the punishment must fall within at least one of the above.

A dead condemned person obviously will not harm society again. Therefore, retribution falsely appears effective as far as society is concerned.

When a condemned person kills another person in prison, one has to question whether incapacitation is effective.

Clearly, killing the alleged condemned person doesn’t stop others in society from killing. Thus, deterrence is totally ineffective at stopping such crimes. Indeed, in medieval times when there were public executions, pickpockets worked the on-looking crowds. Picking pockets was a death penalty offense.

Rehabilitation depends on the prison, the enlightenment of the prison’s administration and the political climate of the state where rehabilitation is supposed to take place.

As we see, at least two and possibly three of the reasons for incarceration are meaningless.

Illogic and Wasteful —

Here’s the nub of my argument. If the above doesn’t convince you that killing a condemned person doesn’t make sense, then consider the following.

Once a person is dead, learning something about why that person committed the crime no longer exists. The state has foreclosed the possibility of preventing another such crime. Wouldn’t it be better to explore why the crime was committed in the first place? The person who allegedly committed the crime is the best source. Sure, you might learn nothing, but you might learn enough to head society down a safer road. What do the prisoner’s genes and environment reveal? This is the waste I refer to when I argue that executing the alleged killer leaves us in a blind alley.

Does this mean that learning why the prisoner killed will result in immediate release? No, but it may result in lowering the sentence during which time the prisoner can receive additional therapy. However, if it’s discovered that the prisoner is innocent, only then will the wrongly convicted prisoner be freed.

Will such a change in the American justice system take place? Will the current unjust system become more just? Probably not under the present political reality, but that doesn’t mean that the goal is impossible. We can’t see the future.

My final and maybe the strongest argument is that the state is committing exactly the same thing for which it is executing the condemned person: the premeditated killing of another human being. It is vengeance, plain and simple. Do you want the state to kill in your name?

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on March 2016.

Aug 13

SCOTUS: Religion, Women and Death Penalty

In Brief — The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) — now back to nine justices with the elevation of Neil Gorsuch — determines the direction of the country. The author explains how the conservative justices will set the tone for the foreseeable future. [Written in April-May 2017.]

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Partisanship and Conservatism Rule —

“Theft” is what it’s been called. The Republican theft of a seat on SCOTUS is a stain on American justice that will go down in the annals of jurisprudence for decades. With ten months yet to go in his second term, President Barack Obama nominated the well-qualified moderate Merrick Garland to fill the seat that had been occupied by conservative Antonin Scalia.

Garland had been enthusiastically confirmed by Republicans and Democrats alike when he was named to the Appeals Court of the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997. What a difference from 2017 when the Republicans were in power.

For ten months, Senator Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues refused to give Garland a hearing in the Senate, saying that not only would they not “advise and consent” regarding Garland but if a Democrat were elected president, they wouldn’t approve anybody not to their liking. Thus, they made SCOTUS a partisan body.

Now let’s look at the odds of how SCOTUS will rule on cases dealing with religion, women’s rights and the death penalty.

Religion and the First Amendment —

The First Amendment to the Constitution essentially states — among other important matters — that there must be no interference with the religious rights of the citizens. Well-settled case law extends that right to others and those who don’t believe in a deity. It should be noted that notwithstanding this, several states still ban non-believers from holding office and Trump would deny entry to Muslims.

As I’ve previously stated, all of the conservative justices, including newly elevated Neil Gorsuch, are devout Roman Catholics. There is an old fable about allowing a camel’s nose into the tent. It is a warning that permitting even a small incursion can lead to a more dangerous one. SCOTUS has already allowed religion into public life. Today we have five conservative justices who are devout Roman Catholics. How are they likely to rule on cases dealing with religion? Such a case is before SCOTUS now.

By now you will have read my blog piece “Gorsuching the Supreme Court.” If you missed that, by all means go back and read it. If these two entries don’t light your fire, you aren’t paying attention.

Women and Their Own Bodies —

Conservatives — particularly religious conservatives — are slavering to control what a woman does with her own body. They lie when they say a woman’s pregnancy begins when a sperm enters the egg. This is a religious myth. In fact, pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the uterus. The myth fits well with the views of the conservatives on SCOTUS because it allows them to say that contraception and abortion are alike. It’s a genuine threat to science if SCOTUS holds that a woman’s pregnancy occurs as soon as sperm enters the egg.

.I’ve written only of contraception and abortion, but the Republicans have targeted Planned Parenthood, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, voting rights and much more, but this blog piece is focused on just three fronts in the war for America’s soul.

It’s long been assumed that legal precedent — what has gone before — should guide a court in deciding cases. That can be deadly when the blinkered past controls modern times, but when current medical science informs an issue, then precedent should rule. Will the Roman Catholic conservatives on SCOTUS allow Rome to control American law? Is the pope Catholic?

The Death Penalty —

Arkansas rushed to kill death row prisoners before the state’s supply of questionable drugs expired at the end of April. Although the state politicians’ motivation is abhorrent, SCOTUS conservatives — not least newly elevated Neil Gorsuch — eagerly approved the killings brought before them. What follows are the rationales for incarceration and the death penalty.

The purposes of incarceration are fourfold (sometimes fivefold):

  • 1) Retribution, i.e., society’s right to inflict harm on a convicted criminal who presumably harmed society. The death penalty falls within this category. In plain words, it is revenge;
  • 2) Incapacitation, i.e., a convicted criminal cannot commit crimes while imprisoned;
  • 3) Deterrence, i.e., the threat of punishment presumably prevents other people from criminal acts;
  • 4) Rehabilitation, i.e., Changing for the better the convicted criminal. Rehabilitation is said to include vocational training, counseling and, if needed, drug treatment. Good luck with that!

The possible fifth rationale for incarceration is that the convicted criminal has a chance of at least partially paying back the victim. This is seldom applicable.

For incarceration to be justified, the punishment must fall within at least one of the above.

Thanks to Trump, Sen. McConnell and the Republican Party what America now has is a partisan, religion-friendly SCOTUS. Do I need to remind you that the 2018 general election gives the American voters a chance to send the Republicans home with their tails between their legs? Will they?

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on February 2016.