Month: July 2015

THAT FLAG AND OTHER SYMBOLS

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OK. I can see removing the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds. Or not playing “Dixie” at public events. For some, those symbols are embarrassing or hurtful, bringing to mind something sordid or painful in their ancestral history. Kind of like Neo-Nazis asking Germans to fly the swastika beneath their national flag or having “Deutschland Uber Alles” played at sporting events. Why should folks be forced to endure public humiliation over and over?

But a wholesale change of names of streets, parks, and buildings? Tear down statues of Civil War Generals? Ban a television show because one of the props sports that flag? That really is carrying political correctness too far!

Things happened. Some really heinous things happened. And many people—many of them good, heroic folks—supported and fought under the auspices of symbols of some really heinous ideas. History is history. We cannot ignore it, for as a great philosopher once put it, those who fail to heed history are condemned to repeat it. The years of the Civil War (the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression—call it whatever you want to) were a period of profound division in America. In the last half of the 20th Century, we seemed to have finally made some inroads into conquering some of that division.

Now, though, it seems to me (profoundly worries me) that we emphasize our differences, draw lines in the sand, and argue over trivialities rather than try to find common ground on important issues. Compromise is a sign of weakness. So, we blunder along within America: conservatives versus liberals, red States versus blue States, Christians versus Muslims, this race or ethnic group versus that one—any division that signifies a righteous “us” versus an evil-driven “them.”

When do we stop this madness of judging entire groups of people by the actions of their most radical, out-of-tune elements?

My God! What is it going to take?

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THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

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I have no idea what will eventually happen with this deal regarding Iran’s quest for nuclear power. (Actually, I freely admit to having no more knowledge about it than the next average Joe Citizen.) But I do have some observations. Why are you not surprised?

The same people who were opposed to even discussing matters to start with were immediately on their soap boxes last week to denounce it the moment a deal was announced. Netanyahu, McCain, Boehner, McConnell, and a plethora of Republican candidates for President put forth vehement criticism BEFORE they or any of their staffers could possibly have read the document!

(And Hillary Clinton was out there with a carefully phrased cautionary word as well—apparently she wants to put distance between herself and the administration she once served.)

Is anyone else disgusted by so-called “leaders” who are so quick to vote in the forum of public opinion (or try to shape public opinion) before they have spent any time researching an issue? Don’t get me wrong: It goes on on both sides of the aisle. (“Well, the bill was 2,000 pages long! I can’t be expected to read all that. So I do what my party leaders tell me to do.” Oh. And is that what your constituents put you in office to do?)

But I stray from the issue of a nuclear arms deal with Iran. His opponents are quick to sneer at President Obama and label him an “appeaser” as though he were a modern day Chamberlain at Munich. I prefer to think negotiations fall more into the tradition of an earlier (Republican) President: “Speak softly but carry a big stick” (the “big stick” in the current situation being America’s military and economic might).

And who’s to argue that the stick might be used—or threatened continuously—Netanyahu and McCain notwithstanding? That constant rattling of bombs is getting tiresome. Would someone please inform the Prime Minister of Israel that he is not the POTUS? And while you’re at it, remind McCain that he lost the election.

Meanwhile, I would be very interested in seeing an objective analysis of that deal—in, say, Foreign Affairs magazine or even the Atlantic.

THE POLARIZATION OF AMERICA

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Perhaps I’m just an old curmudgeon looking at the past through rose-tinted bifocals, but I honestly do not remember a time when America was as polarized as it is today. Well . . . maybe when we were all either protesting the Vietnam War or arguing the dangers of the “domino theory.”

But that was one issue. Today it seems we see public discourse on all issues only in stark absolutes (and at a high decibel pitch!). No wonder we’ve had nothing but gridlock in Washington for nearly two decades now. And God forbid that an “opinion”—whether expressed on Facebook or on the floors of Congress—should be supported by statistical or anecdotal evidence! This is a democracy. All opinions have equal value. Moreover, they are invariably expressed as absolute truths. No room for discussion. No admission that there might—possibly—be alternative views of such evidence as is (rarely) presented. My way or the highway. That’s it! Take it or leave it.

Consider the issue of guns, for instance. WHY do some insist that any attempt to curb unlimited access to firearms is a red flag signaling that “they” want to seize all weapons and deny “your God-given right” to own one or several? (The right was not “God-given” at all; it was ensured by men, but that is beside the point.) Why can we not have reasoned discussions of this issue and put some reasonable guidelines in place?

Hunters and collectors—actually anyone who wants them—are entitled to their weapons! But, is it really too much to ask that legitimate ownership of firearms be granted on the basis of background checks and passing safety courses? True: Regulations would not give us a magical solution. (We license autos and drivers, but drunk drivers kill thousands every year.) Still, it would probably help. It is not an either/or situation. Just how many Columbines, Auroras, and Newtowns do we need?

Or take the issues of abortion, planned parenthood, and women’s healthcare in general. I fail to see the logic in closing down clinics because some among us believe that “life” is viable the instant that sperm wiggles its way into the wall of that egg. By all means, let us worry about this petri-dish stage of “life” more than the quality of life that will eventually ensue—or more than the quality of the life of the woman involved.

I would be far more sympathetic to the anti-abortionists’ views if more of them showed genuine concern for the lives of those they seek to “save.” That means ensuring proper feeding, clothing, health care, and education as well as merely breathing. Anti-abortion vs. pro-choice: the issue is too complex for the oversimplified, absolutist views in which it is often couched.

Or, take immigration, race relations, the Middle East, stem-cell research—you name it! “Us” versus “them”—how’s that been working so far in the body politic? Gridlock, anyone?

We need to get back to compromise as one of the basic tenets of the American system. But that would require listening to, trying to understand others’ points of views. Too few of us are capable of such a profound degree of tolerance.

DONALD TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT????

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TrumpYou gotta be kiddin’ me!!!!!

Just look at some of the things he said in that trumped-up announcement—complete with paid actors to cheer his idiocy.  (Yes, inane pun intended.)

I’m really rich.

Well, goody for you, Donald.

So you will try to buy your way into the White House. The influence of money on American politics is one of the most despicable aspects of the system, whether the money comes from an immensely rich individual engaged in self-promotion or from those buying influence—and access—through Political Action Committees. How many truly good potential leaders are precluded from even thinking of running in this dollar-driven nomination process?
Aristocratic elites though most of them were, I seriously doubt the founding fathers had this situation in mind when they drafted the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, or the Constitution. And I do wonder if the Supreme Court Justices who gave us that infamous Citizens United decision are still proud of what they did? Corporations as people, indeed!

I will build a great, great wall on our southern border.

Oh, yeah. That’ll work.

Walls—from those surrounding ancient and medieval cities to notable ones such as the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, and, in recent times, the Berlin Wall—walls are made to be breached. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . .” And human ingenuity being what it is, they almost always are breached. Besides, can the Donald simply wave a magic wand to deal more efficiently with those miles and miles of coastline? Maybe build great walls in the oceans at the twelve-mile mark?

I have a plan to deal with ISIS.

Oh, really?

This claim is eerily reminiscent of Nixon’s claim in 1968 to have a “plan” for dealing with the debacle in Vietnam. Turned out there was no such plan at all. It was mere bloviating hot air on the campaign trail. In other words, it was a lie.
Of all the things Trump said, this was the most pernicious. He has a plan, but he won’t share it until after January 20, 2017? How many people (including American military people) must die in the meantime? I would suggest that IF he really has workable plan, he’d not only be a shoo-in for the Republican nomination, but for the Nobel Peace prize, and probably sainthood as well!

ABUSE/MISUSE OF LANGUAGE

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Mine is probably the proverbial cry in the wilderness, but it seems to me that human beings—at least speakers of English—are regressing in their communication skills. Many of us, especially young people, rely heavily on abbreviations, symbols, and sign language to share ideas and emotions. It’s as if we never got beyond the colonists’ awkward attempts to communicate with natives in the New World.

English is arguably the richest, most versatile language on the planet. Not as pleasant to the ear as, say, French, but after WWII it superseded French as THE international language. It is, after all, the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare and the King James Bible. And we are forsaking this glorious tongue for something far inferior in the art of communication.

Of course speakers of English have long sprinkled our written language with abbreviations and acronyms in the interest of brevity and convenience. Mr., Mrs., e.g., and so on. Government and military entities are so full of acronyms (words formed of the first letters in a phrase) that they very nearly constitute a separate language—ETA, DEFCON, IRAs, for example. Some have even evolved into full-fledged words in the community at large—e.g., radar and snafu.

Human beings have made use of symbols for various reasons for centuries—in religion and commerce, for instance. The cross, the Star of David, the crescent. Our casual communications between family members and friends will often display a proliferation of Xs and Os to show our affection.

Perhaps the real explosion of such uses in modern times began with the smiley face. It existed before, but was really popularized in the early 60s. Then came other “emoticons” (and this new word to refer to them)—dozens of them. Today, we have “emojis” as well (and another new word) which constitute a language that is as undecipherable to the uninitiated as the American Sign Language is to most of the hearing world. Emojis. Google the term and you’ll see what I mean.

I won’t even get into the way Twitter has adulterated the language. r u rofl?—and so on. Trying to confine even the most profound ideas to 140 characters is an abomination to those who truly love this language of ours.

Yes. I know: I’m an old curmudgeon totally out of sync and whistling in the wind. But . . .