Ramblings

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The Memory of Your Kiss

Memory

 

TV ADS

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OK. Yes. I know: advertising is vital to capitalism. Madison Avenue ranks right up there with Wall Street and Main Street as a pillar of the American system. But, really, does it have to be such an obnoxious element in what is probably our most important means of entertainment? (Well, generally, anyway. MY first choice for diversion is still and always a BOOK.)

Why on earth must TV ads be so LOUD? You tune the program to a level that is tolerable to your ears and then the ads come and blast you out of your comfort zone. Was there, or was there not, a law passed a few years ago that forbade that practice? If not, why not? And if so, why is no one (FCC?) seeing to its enforcement?

We all know that REPETITION is one of the basic principles of propaganda (and of education). TV producers are famous for gearing their programming to the level of twelve-year-olds, but even twelve-year-olds just tune that stuff out after the second or third repeat. Pause for commercials and you get 10 to 12 ads and often as not the VERY SAME AD at least twice in a two-minute ad cycle. And then in case you dummies didn’t get it before, you get the very same stuff during the next pause! If I have to watch that poor man eat that one piece of kale one more time, I think I will throw a shoe at the TV. (A slipper, mind you—I still want to see NCIS.)

I heard or read someplace (Facebook, probably) that the AMA or some other group of doctors had come out against ads on TV for prescriptive MEDICINES. Hear! Hear! “Ask your doctor . . .” but be sure you ignore his or her advice and insist on thus- and-such a miracle medication. Then the ad goes on to say don’t take this medication if you are allergic to it or its ingredients. For God’s sake! What sane person (even a twelve-year-old) would knowingly ingest something to which he or she was allergic?!

Madison Avenue’s primary stock in trade is SEX. There seems to be absolutely NO product whose sales cannot be increased by adding some sort of sexual allusion. Buy this brand of toothpaste or kitchen wrap and he or she will find you irresistible. Yeah, sure. Of course those ads for erectile dysfunction and feminine itch are beyond the pale. In prime time yet! On “family” shows yet! Arrgh!

Why don’t state legislatures—any legislative body—take up some of these issues instead of trying to close down Planned Parenthood or trying to circumvent gay marriage rulings?

EMPATHY

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Empathy: the ability to identify with or vicariously experience thoughts, feelings of another.

If you watched the Academy Awards show to its end, you caught Lady Gaga’s moving tribute to victims of sexual assault on college campuses. The song told us repeatedly that “you can’t know how I feel because you did not experience what happened to me.”

I disagree.

The ability to do precisely that is what being human is all about. Empathy is at the core of all art—witness Munch’s “The Scream” or Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” But it is never stronger than in the literary arts. I need not engage in patricide or incest to relate to the terrible anguish Oedipus suffers on discovering he has killed his father and lain with his mother. Nor do I need to lose a rebellious, treacherous child whom I have loved dearly to understand the depth of sheer pain in David’s cry, “Absalom! Absalom! Oh, my son Absalom!” It is empathy that allows me to share Wordsworth’s feeling of humility and wonder as he is overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of that scene near Tinturn Abbey.

On a much more mundane level, it is empathy that brings the audience to share the scariness of scenes in a horror film or the eroticism in a romance novel. Isn’t that why we choose the films we see and the books we read? We want to share, to feel vicariously. Perhaps this is what Aristotle really had in mind with the term catharsis.

So, yes, you survivors of the unspeakable—I do feel your pain. Of course, I am grateful that I am not suffering it directly, but that fact in no way lessens my understanding of what you suffered—nor my empathy in sharing the pain you still endure—NOR my sincere hope that you can move so far beyond it that your experience comes to be but another “something” you endured and learned from. In learning from heinous experiences, let us hope the “lessons” are not so much about the physical reality of the abuse one has suffered, but that we realize our own resilience and ability to move far beyond it.

Everyone—everyone—has scars and handicaps. Some of them show; some of them don’t. So, please, do not underestimate another’s ability to understand the pain.

TERM LIMITS?

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Bear in mind that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I am still not a firm believer in term limits. (I don’t like the idea of messing around with the constitution unnecessarily.) I have always seen the concept of term limits as limiting the people’s right to choose whomever they wish to represent them. Republicans, frustrated by FDR’s unprecedented third and fourth elections, managed to push through the 22nd Amendment to limit a President to two terms. I have always thought that was a mistake, even though without it we might have had another decade of Ronald Reagan in the White House—Alzheimer’s notwithstanding. The checks and balances built into the system should take care of such anomalies.

The key word in that last sentence is should.

Unfortunately, lack of term limits on members of Congress has given us at least a decade and a half of gridlock in Washington. So—I am slowly (ever so slowly) coming to Warren Buffet’s view that we should limit the number of years that one can occupy a chair in either the House of Representatives or the Senate—or even the Supreme Court, for that matter. It does take a certain amount of time to settle into a new job and it helps to have some old hands who have “been around” to teach the newbies how to get on. Limiting senators to two terms and representatives to five, seems a reasonable goal—one that exceeds the maximum for a President. Supreme Court justices need to be free of any sense of obligation to the man (or his party) who appointed them. The present life term does that, but probably a limited term of, say, 15 years would work as well.

And while we are in the business of limiting their terms of office, how about doing something about the inordinately high salaries and cushy retirement bennies members of Congress have managed to set for themselves?

Trouble is: these ideas would require a Constitutional Amendment. Can you see Congress initiating such an amendment? Even more improbable is the idea that such initiation would come from the electorate or from State governments.

Still—consistency be damned—one can dream . . .

A WOMAN PRESIDENT—IN THE U.S.???

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The idea of a woman as President of the U.S. is appalling to many. I suspect that, often as not, those who say, “I am not opposed to a woman President. Just not this one” are really ignoring—or unwilling to acknowledge—their antipathy to the very idea of a woman in the highest office of the land. This attitude is usually held by men “of a certain age,” but, sadly, some women (brainwashed by such men?) also hold the view that a woman is incapable of performing the tasks of the highest office of our land.

They fail to recognize that women have, in fact, already performed some of those tasks—and in America yet! Edith Wilson was probably much more than merely her husband’s mouthpiece after he suffered a debilitating stroke. Nancy Reagan, who was invariably at her husband’s side during public appearances in the last years of his Presidency, showed a remarkable understanding of issues that must have been discussed previously in the oval office or the White House situation room. Eleanor Roosevelt was so outspoken about public affairs after her husband’s death that it is hard to see her as merely a “stand-in” for her crippled spouse at public events during his Presidency.

In recent decades, we have seen women perform ably as the chief executives of other countries: Golda Meier in Israel, Indira Gandhi in India, Benazir Bhutto next door in Pakistan, Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Angela Merkel in Germany. But not in the United States, though women in Congress have shown remarkable understanding and insights to issues affecting the body politic, not to mention those who have served as governors.

Moreover, earlier history also gives us examples of women leaders who commanded tremendous power. Think Cleopatra of Egypt, Elizabeth I of England, Christina of Sweden, Catherine the Great of Russia, for starters.

If you oppose a particular individual because of his or her policies and/or previous performance, fine. But gender should not be a factor in choosing public servants.

THE PRIMARIES

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One of the best innovations in American politics in the 20th Century was the institution of primary elections to select candidates for public office, especially the greatest of public offices: President of the United States (POTUS).

Heretofore, candidates had been selected in the not-so-proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” by party hacks in their respective party machines. In theory, the primaries were supposed to allow the ordinary citizen a voice in whose names would appear on the final ballot for everything from county dog catcher to POTUS. And in practice, they do—sort of.

Unfortunately, American voters stay home in droves for the spring primaries. (They do so for the main election in the fall, too, but the numbers there are a little better.) Voters who do turn out for the primaries tend to be the “true believers” in both parties, the extremists, if you will. Not quite party hacks, but…

And those who do turn out (for both elections) tend to be older voters, not younger ones—the 18- to 24-year-olds who will actually be affected for a longer period of time! Primary elections are an improvement over the old system, but only just, because so many care so little about exercising a fundamental American right—one that is denied millions of others with whom we share this planet.

Sadly, in the fall, we often hear folks saying that they won’t vote because they don’t like any of the candidates running for office. But if you ask them if they voted in the primary, 60 to 65% will have to say they did not. We simply accept a 35 to 40% turn-out as normal!

Admittedly, registering to vote and then actually voting is sometimes difficult for people who don’t drive or those who must take time off work to fulfill this civic duty—especially if they must wait in interminably long lines to do so! It is nothing short of outrageous that many politicians are not only reluctant to do anything about this issue, but actually offer more impediments to the voting process!

My plea here—regardless of your political affiliation—is simple: IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO SO, VOTE! Voting is both a privilege and a right—and a civic duty we owe ourselves and our fellow citizens.

THOUGHTS: TOTALLY RANDOM AND OFF-THE-CUFF

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Sometimes even 500 words (+/-) is too much on the same topic . . .

–Where does the term “off-the-cuff” come from anyway? (OK. I just looked it up. Apparently it comes from speakers and actors having prompts written on their cuffs.)

–I’m a political junkie and I’m biased—but despite Hillary’s and Bernie’s shrill sniping at each other, I thought there were more substantive issues discussed in more specific terms in the latest Dem activities than in the Repub dos.

–I have yet to see an example of a math problem in the format being taught these days that I understood at all! Guess I need a third grader to explain it to me.

–P.D. James was one hell of a writer! I have long been a fan of her modern murder mysteries and her police detective, Adam Dalgleish. (What’s not to like in a policeman who writes poetry?!) But two weeks ago I happened on her Death Comes to Pemberley. Pemberley! Jane Austen! Pride and Prejudice! I usually hate when someone presumes to do a take-off on the saintly Jane’s work, but I have to admit that P.D. James did an excellent job—especially in the first section where she is “catching us up” on the story. Suffice it to say that the dastardly Wickham is accused of murder and his idiot wife is as silly as ever and James captures the characters and the times splendidly.

–My cup runneth over! PBS has a three-episode series of Death Comes to Pemberley. (Available on NETFLIX.) A really good production. While it takes a few liberties with James’s text, it does not alter her story greatly. If you like period pieces, you’ll like it.

–Do wish the Repub candidates for POTUS would recognize that, in the REPUBLICAN PRIMARIES, they are running against each other, not Obama–and not Hillary—YET. I want to hear about their plans and policies—in some specifics, please—not merely “I will do it better because . . . uh . . . well . . . uh . . . because I’m better.”

–Didn’t Congress pass a law some years ago that the volume of television commercials should not exceed that of ordinary programming? If not, why not? And if so, why is it not enforced?!

–I do wish Facebookers would stop posting those “Come to Jesus” and “God is Great” messages. Seems to me that those that are gonna come to Jesus already have—or they will do so in their own good time, and that yes, indeed, God is great—in ALL His (or Her) manifestations! Undue repetition becomes mere cliché and cliché loses its effect . . .

–Friends are among the very best gifts of God—and I have the very best of the lot!

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

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Every four years when the Presidential election season is upon us, we hear cries that the Electoral College is an outdated, anachronistic institution, that we should just get rid of it and rely only on the popular vote to elect the President. After all, the one-man, one-vote principle works well enough as we select members of legislatures and governors, does it not?

I agree that the system is overdue for change, but I should hate to see us “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

The founding fathers, judging by their own situations, nevertheless seem to have been decidedly prescient for our times, too. Those men (they were, of course, all men—more’s the pity) worried that heavily populated States would ride rough shod over the smaller States. They wisely left most electoral matters within the States themselves up to the States (see the 10th Amendment), though the 17th Amendment in 1913 allowed for direct voting for members of the U.S. Senate.

The problem in 1787—and today—is how—in a federal republic—to make the States more or less equal in selecting the chief executive position—the President. The solution was two votes: a popular vote and a vote of the Electoral College—groups of citizens chosen by each State to equal the combined number of members that State has in the national legislative body. As Congress increased in numbers, so did the Electoral College. Today, that number is 538 which equals 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators, plus 3 for the District of Columbia which by law is to have a vote equal to that of the smallest State (though its population exceeds that of the smallest State).

Thus did the founders seek to balance the small and large States. And thus do we today have California casting 54 votes in the Electoral College and Alaska, 3. Within almost all States, it is a winner-take-all matter. As a system, it is by no means perfect, but I would argue that it does accord the smaller States a measure of power they might not otherwise have and that it helps balance the vote of the individual in Delaware with that of the individual in Texas or Florida. Were we to rely on the popular vote alone, few candidates or political organizations would ever bother with the smaller States (like mine—Nevada).

Over the years, there have been a number of alternatives proposed—any of which would require a Constitutional Amendment. The most simplistic (and the probably least likely to survive the amendment process) is to rely only on the nationwide popular vote. There are two other proposals that I find quite attractive. (1) The Electoral College vote in each State is distributed by percentage according to how the State’s popular vote went. So, if 40% of the popular vote in Kentucky went to candidate A, he or she would get 40% of Kentucky’s EC vote. (2) Another plan (the one I like best) calls for each EC vote to go in the same direction as each Congressional District voted, with the two votes equal to the Senate being on a winner-take-all vote for the entire State.

I’m sure that one can go on line—or consult a civics textbook—and see not only the pros and cons of the several alternatives, but also how recent Presidential elections would have been decided by any of them.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE LATEST (Jan 14) REPUBLICAN DEBATE

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In the interest of full disclosure: I am a moderate (leaning left) Democrat, but I am a full-fledged political junkie. So, yes, I watched the latest Republican debate last week—until the final segment which was to be on economics and I gave up and went to bed. Economics, which I do recognize as being of paramount importance, has just never interested me very much, though I am savvy enough to know that the dollar is strong now, the unemployment figures are way down, and until the few days the stock market had held pretty steady.

That said . . .

Jeb Bush showed more life and political acumen than I had heretofore credited him with. But, like his brother, he seems to me to be too eager to send other people’s children off to war.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are birds of a feather. About equal in ignorance and arrogance, and both scary. I would not welcome the idea of either of them with his finger on the button.

John Kacik is hanging in there—seemingly a voice of reason among a gaggle of “shoot from the hip” types. Kacik, who actually seems to listen as well as talk, and who probably has more, and more varied, real experience in government than any of the others on the stage last week, could prove to be the worst nightmare of whomever the Dems put up.

Christy and Rubio struck me as “also rans” in this latest debate, neither of them contributing substantively to the Republican discourse. Hard to take their campaigns really seriously.

There. Did I miss anyone?

Oh, yeah. Carson. He strikes me as a nice man, but just sadly out of his element. He may be great in an operating room, but I have doubts about his expertise in the oval office. I’m inclined to think he’d be about as successful in dealing with the Washington establishment—not to mention any number of foreign leaders—as Jimmy Carter was.

Overall, what struck me most in this debate was the constant picking at Obama—and in the vaguest of terms at that. News flash, Repubs: Obama is not running! STOP telling me (the voter) what Obama did wrong and tell me (the voter) exactly what policies and programs YOU will put forth. That line of “I will do it better than the guy in the oval office now” is simply not convincing all by itself. You’re going to kill “Obamacare”—fine. And replace it with exactly what? YOU know how to deal with ISIS? OK. Credible specifics, please—and do NOT even think of beating that “boots on the ground” war drum. Over 7,000 American dead in the Middle East—not to mention tens of thousands wounded—is enough already.

Arrrrgghh. Wake me up on Wednesday after the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, please . . .

DONALD TRUMP—AGAIN

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Along with thousands of others, I thought it absolutely laughable when “the Donald” announced his run for the Republican nomination for the Presidency. At the time, I thought the man a buffoon and, frankly, I believe many thinking Republicans (yes! there are still many of those in our midst!) shared—and share—that view. But now I have to admit that his poll numbers are downright scary. How on earth can so many people be taken in by rhetoric that offers almost nothing in the way of specifics, by tirades that feed into people’s prejudices and fears; by such blatant appeals to all that is worst in the human condition? What do those numbers say about us as a nation?

I keep wondering if ordinary German people in the late 1920s and early ‘30s found themselves simply shaking their heads in disbelief at what “that man” was saying? Then, too, a demagogue was taking advantage of people’s discontent to advance himself through a sort of personality cult.

However, the German population’s being so duped is more understandable than what we see in some parts of the American electorate today. Germans were in the midst of perhaps the worst suffering of any nation during the Great Depression—when it often literally took a wheelbarrow of Deutschmarks to feed the family on a given day. And who knew what it would take on the next day? The jobless rate was astronomical. The nation had just come through a disappointing (to say the least!) and ill-advised military venture. Veterans returning to their homes were having a rough time of it.

Then, along comes this Pied Piper promising that he alone knows how to deal with these problems, that he alone can “make Germany great again.” What’s more, in the minority Jews, he offers citizens a ready scapegoat on which to load their suffering, their uncertainties, their fears.

One cannot overlook the fact that America has just come through our worst economic situation since the Great Depression and that a good portion of our citizenry have not yet seen a full portion of the benefits of the on-going recovery. We, too, worry about our losses in a recent military venture and about how to help those trying to reestablish themselves at home. But, however ineptly at times, our system does seem to work. We are taking care of our own. Despite Trump’s rhetoric, we are not facing anarchy and chaos.

While I am not a Republican (how’d you guess?), I do cringe at what Trump and his ilk are doing to the Republican party, for I think they are undermining the very basis of the two-party system that has always served our nation so well. Not since the last days of the Vietnam War or the chaos of the Watergate period have we experienced such uncertainty in the body politic.

We survived those by letting the system work. We did not resort to elevating a demagogue as some sort of father/savior figure. Nor should we do so now.