Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Deus Ex Homo?

According to the rules of natural selection, homosexuality should have disappeared long ago--at least if, as most educated people seem to believe, it is an inborn trait and not a freely chosen lifestyle.

So, why do homosexuals continue to pop up, in every culture (even Iran!!) and clime and time?

Solution 1:  God is responsible.  In order to create unity and a sense of common purpose among his Chosen, God creates sexual outsiders whom the Chosen can blame and persecute (instead of God) for all the evils of human existence.  Intelligent (?) Design.

Solution 2 (similar to Solution 1):  the Devil is responsible.  In order to spread evil and create divisions among the Chosen, Satan creates homosexuals to do battle for the Dark Side.  (He does this, presumably, using various Rosemary's Baby-type strategies.)  Nefarious Design.

Solution 3:  Homosexuals themselves are responsible.  People who say they are attracted to members of their own sex are, in fact, making a conscious Choice to espouse unnatural and perverted behavior.  They could change if they truly wanted to, but they have decided to be anti-human (and anti-God).  This explanation might be adopted by either theists or atheists.  Interior Design.

Solution 4:  Some peculiar gene, passed down by siblings or relatives rather than by homosexuals themselves (who usually don't have offspring), transmits homosexuality because, somehow, homosexual behaviors--in some small percentage of any given genetic line--are useful for the survival of that line.  Hand-Me-Down Design.

Solution 5:  Some hormonal imbalance (or divergence from the "usual") creates, in utero, a fetus that will be oriented toward his/her same sex.  In this scenario, once doctors have discovered the exact nature of this hormonal anomaly, homosexuality could be chemically eliminated--also in utero.  Hormonal Design.

Solution 5:  Homosexuals are aliens, deposited like cuckoo eggs, in human homes by some extraterrestrial forces determined to use them (the homos) to alter or influence the course of human social development.  (I doubt that many people subscribe to this solution, but it seems every bit as possible as the first two.)  Out-of-this-World Design.

Solution 6:  Nobody knows.  It is a mystery.  It seems unlikely that homosexuals--at least most of them--actually choose their orientation.  But likewise, there is no conclusive evidence about genetic transmission, hormonal anomalies, etc.  And neither God nor the Devil would probably give a crap--even if these two metaphysical "entities" could be proven to exist.  Hidden Design.

Frankly, I don't give a crap either.  The only thing that bothers me is that the LACK of scientific evidence might embolden the Evangelicals and Bible-thumpers in their denunciation--not only of the gay "lifestyle," but of the theory of evolution itself.  "Look," they might say, "natural selection, survival of the fittest, all that nonsense doesn't work--otherwise, homosexuality, which obviously does not contribute to genetic survival, would have died out millenia ago.  The fact that this perversion still persists is proof that God is in charge and that Intelligent Design is the only legitimate explanation for human nature."

Sigh.  I just don't want the persistence of homosexuality to be used as an apologia for the existence of God!

Monday, December 26, 2011


I generally enjoy reading The Guardian (and, occasionally, The Telegraph)--online, of course--in order to gain a bit of perspective on world events, most of which tend to be ignored or neglected in the parochial journals of self-absorbed America.

Recently, I have become fascinated with the Scottish independence movement--and with the whole concept known in the UK as "devolution."

What a curious and intriguing word!  While strictly speaking it denotes a rather neutral "transfer of power" from a central government to a regional or local authority, it suggests--in its connotative resemblance to "evolution"--a willful regression to something more primitive--a step backward in social or political development.

Backward to pre-1707, when the Acts of Union combined the English parliament and the Scottish parliament into a single body--with authority over both countries, thereafter known as the Kingdom of Great Britain  (later the United Kingdom)--and deliberating in Westminster, where the previously all-English parliament had sat.  Essentially, the Acts "merged" the two parliaments into one.

If my sources are correct, however, this merging of parliaments was often regarded by less-populated Scotland as an unfortunate "submerging" into an overwhelming English nation and culture. Still, the union offered Scotland enormous advantages:  1) an active and disproportionately powerful voice in the direction of an empire that was beginning to exercise world hegemony; 2) an economic union with the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and access to worldwide markets; 3) a guarantee that no hostile (i.e., non-British) invader would disrupt Scottish life and Scottish pursuit of wealth/happiness.

So, despite giving the English some influence over Scottish affairs, the Union also gave the Scots a great deal of  influence over English--and imperial--affairs.  Yes, the world continued to think of the whole island as "England," and yes, that carelessness persists, even today.  Still, it seems to me that, on the whole, Scotland benefited greatly from union with its much more populous neighbor.

What, then, has prompted the cry for "devolution"--for a return to a more primitive, less united, more exclusively Scottish "auld lang syne"?

Well, undoubtedly some of the economic and political realities have changed.  Clearly, Scotland is no longer in any danger of being invaded by France or Germany or Denmark.  Obviously, the Empire has vanished and the markets are now provided by the EU (which Scotland could presumably join as an independent country). Finally, the sheer exaltation of being a Briton in a world ruled by Britannia--the emotional attachment to the "Great" in Britain--is sadly faded, tarnished, disappearing.

Thus, as the advantages of union begin to seem less weighty, Scots have rediscovered the DISadvantages of the English connection.  They've begun to feel "submerged" again--not really oppressed or occupied or discriminated against but, well, well,'s hard to put in words...just "Englishified."  Heck, they even SPEAK a language called English.  Everybody talks about the Queen of England and English tea and There'll Always Be an England and The Bank of England and English muffins and the English parliament and English literature and Lie Back and Think of England.

It's just suffocating, isn't it?  Some people even think that golf was invented in England.  Enough evolution!  Gie us a wee bit o' DEVolution!

And so it came to pass that, in the 1980s and 1990s, certain vocal Scots made such an anti-English fuss--kilts flying and bagpipes skirling--that the Parliament of Westminster (remember, the merged parliament of England AND Scotland), decided to do something really quite extraordinary:  create a SECOND (sort of mini-me) parliament for Scotland--obviously in the hopes that this contrivance would pacify the Return to Caledonia crowd.  But wait, if the REAL parliament of Scotland is still the merged Parliament of Westminster, then what are we to make of this little assembly meeting in Holyrood and grandly proclaiming authority?

Apparently First Minister Alex Salmond and his "government" occupy themselves with legislation regarding fisheries, agriculture, tourism, sports and local chambers of commerce.  Most real powers, however, remain "reserved" to the real Parliament of Westminster.

Since Salmond is not happy about this "shadow" Parliament of Holyrood, he has promised a referendum on complete independence--which, if successful would, apparently, dissolve the "merged" parliament of Westminster and recall its Scottish members to Edinburgh, where the clock would be duly set back to 1707 and the devolved MPs would reassemble as the REAL Parliament of Scotland.

The Guardian reports that Scottish sentiment is currently in favor of complete independence...BUT only (how truly Scottish) if complete independence appears to guarantee improved ECONOMIC well-being.  All that talk about kilts and haggis and cultural domination--well, it was piffle, really.  It appears that what the Scots truly want, and what the Scottish National Party would love to ensure, is exclusive SCOTTISH control over the lucrative North Sea Oil deposits.  Surely black gold wealth would bring back auld lang syne.

So like the American Tea Partiers, the SNP primitivists want to "take their country back" (and, presumably, put it in the bank). No more of this BRITISH foolishness--and especially no more British Petroleum.  Kick the bloody English out and let 'em find their own oil.  SCOTTISH Petroleum, only, please.  And total devolution.  (At least until 2020, when the oil is scheduled to run out...)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nude Neutrinos

Today, the newspapers and blogs were full of chatter about CERN's disputed discovery of neutrinos that travel faster than the speed of light.  A number of learned commentators opined that this could not be so, since if it WERE so, we would have to change our understanding of how the universe functions.  Isn't that what people once said about Galileo?  And what they're now saying about Facebook?

Well, anyway, I'm rather hoping that CERN is right:  I was getting bored with E=mc2 and I have always felt that one-directional Time is totally unfair.  Hence, if something can move faster than light, that must mean that things that are happening now have, in fact, already happened--right?  And, if time is just a matter of human perception, then it would follow that, in some sense, I am getting younger.  The Past is the Future.

(This is going to piss off the math teachers who invent those Train A and Train B word problems:  now we know that both of the trains arrive before they left.)

OK.  Enough musing about relativity.  The REAL topic of this blog is San Francisco and how it, too, seems to "get there" rather before it has ever "left anywhere."

I.e., San Francisco is ahead precisely because it is so self-consciously, so theatrically and so immodestly behind.  Indeed, in its carefully studied decadence, dissipation and disdain for convention, San Francisco reminds me of the "nudes" in  Robert Graves' "The Naked and the Nude."  Slyly projecting an image of Gold Rush (or at least Turn of the Century) refined immorality, San Francisco delights in flipping off  the authentic, innocent "nakedness" of tourists from Oklahoma City and in embracing artifice, gimmickry and retrograde camp.

So we have "real" out-of-date cable cars, "real" previously-junked streetcars from other less affectedly old cities, "real" street fairs of leather- and fetish- dilettantes celebrating Barbary Coast pseudo-debauchery, "real" 21st Century Victorian architecture, "real" organic dog treats made from free-range chickens raised on the foggy slopes of Mt. Tamalpais.

In other words, nothing real at all.  It's all a wonderful pile of steaming artifice, as surreal as the preposterous hats in "Beach Blanket Babylon."  Pure nudity, winking broadly at the spectator and saying "take a break from convention!  Join us in this upside down, backward World of Naughtiness and Happy Hallucination. Give up your pathetic, honest nakedness.  GET NUDE.  BE A NEUTRINO:  GET AHEAD BY GOING BACK.  YOU'VE ALREADY BEEN HERE ANYWAY.  THE PAST IS THE FUTURE.  BUY A TIE-DYED LOIN CLOTH , GET A PRESCRIPTION FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA AND FREAK OUT, DUDE.  NUDE.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pele Sharia

I'm leaving Thursday for a holiday in Hawaii, so it's natural that I should be worrying a bit about, well, the Wrath of Pele.

The signs are pretty clear, aren't they?  The whole Bible Belt is sweltering in three-digit temperatures and, since Fox News has formally declared that global warming is not and CAN not be due to any human activity, I can only conclude that something superhuman--and very fond of HEAT--must be responsible.

Pele, goddess of fire and volcanoes is the obvious culprit.  Clearly, she's pissed (and rightly so, probably) with those uppity Christian fundamentalists and their drivel about wussy Jesus-turned-Judge casting sinners into lakes of fire.  I'm pretty sure that, as far as Pele is concerned, Jesus can walk on as much water as he wants, but she gets downright irate when people forget that SHE, alone, is in charge of molten lava and lakes of fire.

So Dallas is burning even as I write this.  And the Texas turf hasn't even cracked open.  Yet.  (I can envision a time, however, when Pele will just blow her top--and start erupting right on the 50 yard line of Cowboy Stadium--or just under the baptismal font in the Prestonwood Baptist Church of Plano. Now, that's messin' with Texas.)

It is Pele's ire, of course, that concerns me as my journey to Kona draws near.  Though Hawaiians have traditionally been pretty cautious about provoking Pele (and she, in return, has kept the lava flows under control and the temperatures generally mild), there has, in recent years, been a marked falling away from thoroughgoing Peleism on the Big Island.  Lip service is still paid, but human sacrifice has definitely been neglected--and consequently the goddess may be on what we might call a short fuse.

Thus, it's entirely possible that Pele could get pissed at even her chosen people, the Hawaiians, and pop the cork on Kilauea.  With considerable collateral damage to tourists from the mainland, alas.

Last year when we visited, she merely seethed a bit of VOG and let it go at that.  I'm wondering though just how far we should press our luck.

I mean, should we repent and embrace some sort of revival of Pele Sharia Law?  Sacrifice a random newborn by throwing him in the steam vent of a volcano?  Cut off some vital (albeit rarely used) body part?  Cancel our condo reservation and instead retire to a tiki hut in a kapu-free City of Refuge in order to purify ourselves of unPele-like behaviors?

One of my former students recently suggested that, at the very least, we might don grass-skirt burqas.  Maybe that would do it.  But grass catches fire awfully fast, you know.

For the time being, therefore, I think I'll just try offering Pele my first helping--hell, ALL my helpings--of poi at any luau I might attend.  I do hope the tetchy bitch is placated by my incredible edible generosity.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Leaving America: Mind the Gap!

I've been thinking a lot lately about what prompts people to emigrate from their homelands to someplace "more desirable" and yet, inevitably, alien.

As kids, most Americans were taught to be proud of our immigrant-friendly culture.  Never mind that this myth is essentially mendacious (established Americans have seldom been particularly friendly or welcoming toward newcomers).  Still, as school children, we docilely took for granted that our ancestors from Europe or Asia had wisely and successfully exchanged their native cultures for an unquestionably "better life" in America the Beautiful.

Seldom did anyone ask us to reflect upon exactly what might have impelled our ancestors to make such a momentous life change.  And it never occurred to ME, at any rate, to ask myself whether Great Grandpa Denne or Great Great Grandma Gjefle ever doubted the wisdom of their decision to migrate.  Why did they do it?  And was it worth it?

These questions resonate with me today because, quite frankly, at age 67!, I'm seriously considering leaving the America my ancestors "chose" and living out my remaining years in an alien, but more appealing, more welcoming land.

As my Norwegian and German forebears must have thought when contemplating their decision, three generations ago, to COME to America, I must now ask myself:  why would I make a comparable decision to LEAVE?  And would it be worth it?

Since neither of my grandmothers ever told me much about their family histories, I can only speculate about the motivations of all those Dennes and Hermanns and Gjefles and Kirkebys as they embarked on their steerage passage to America (the Kellys, my mother's paternal line, are even more inscrutable--they seem to have immigrated in the 18th century, perhaps even before the Revolutionary War).

And I can only conclude that my forebears were as dissatisfied with their fatherlands as I am with mine.  Whether this dissatisfaction was primarily economic, political, religious, or just psychological, I can never know.  But I cannot help but believe that they experienced a trauma equal to mine:  surely they did not look forward with unmixed enthusiasm to their departure from their native land.  But just as surely, they had concluded that ANOTHER land offered them at least the "possibility" of a happier life.  And, like me, they must have been so frustrated with their existing lot that the mere possibility of something better was sufficient to persuade them to take a frightening chance.

More frightening, in truth, than any chance I might take, since those nineteenth-century migrations tended to be irreversible:  once the Atlantic was crossed, there would be no economically feasible option but to persevere, coûte que coûte, in the New World.

I, on the other hand, am not similarly obliged to burn all my bridges.  In this, I suppose, I more closely resemble today's Mexican or Asian immigrants than yesteryear's huddled masses.  I CAN come back to America if conditions "there" turn out to be worse than I anticipate OR if conditions "here" improve in significant ways.

Well, I seem to be rambling a bit.  Let me return to the central questions that prompted me to begin this blog in the first place:  a)  WHY do I want to emigrate?  and b) Would it be WORTH it?  (i.e., is such a move likely to be successful?)

Yes, I want to leave the U.S.  Here are my reasons:

  • A political climate that despises the notion of community and social responsibility.  Greed and selfishness prevail almost exclusively in today's America. With breathtaking impunity, the moneyed class scorns and exploits the disadvantaged.
  • A religious climate that supports and nurtures the politics of greed and hate.  Religious fundamentalism so dominates all American culture that even those who do not go to church seem to find it necessary to proclaim themselves "spiritual" or "believers in something transcendental."  Atheists, agnostics and humanists are either hated or shunned.  Such God-crazed fanaticism inflames believers to condone both physical and emotional violence toward "outsiders."  Thus, we are little better than the Islamic religious nuts we so piously denounce.
  • An economic system (mostly unregulated, survival-of-the-fittest capitalism) that forces everyone to be afraid, every day, of losing his/her livelihood.
  • A willful failure to ensure health care for all.  And precious little compassion for the ill and suffering, whom the privileged classes disdain as a mere financial "burden."
  • An indifference to education that beggars belief.  Many Americans are actually proud of knowing nothing. People who think, on the other hand, incite suspicion and are denounced as "pinheads" (as opposed to know-nothing "patriots").
  • A totally unjustified arrogance about American "superiority" and "exceptionalism."
  • An unconscionable passion for weapons of all kinds and a willingness, even an enthusiasm, for violence and bloodshed as a legitimate means of "getting one's way," "getting ahead," or "solving problems."
  • A deep-rooted racism that prevents us from creating the just society that we hypocritically pledge allegiance to.
  • A narrow-minded parochialism:  a purblind refusal to cooperate with other peoples and/or to try to understand and sympathize with other cultures.
  • A political system that no longer "works" (if, indeed, it ever did) for the good of ordinary people.  The wealthy have established a banana-republic plutocracy which serves only to further enrich the few at the expense of the many.  And the many accept this as God's will.
  • A tendency toward dangerous fascism.  Some readers (if there ARE any readers) may find this concern ridiculously overstated or melodramatic.  But in the Tea Party movement, in politicians like Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Virginia Foxx, in the pledges and pronouncements of the vocal right wing, I find distinct echoes of early Nazism:  a populist rhetoric; rousingly cheerful and unabashed demonizing of subgroups; completely irrational and willful denial of reality and fundamental truths; in short--delusions, demagoguery, damnation.  These people harbor dangerous ideas--and they have no qualms about threatening violence ("reloading") to implement their mad schemes.
So I want to emigrate.  But since American Medicare will not cover me outside of the U.S., and since it would be foolhardy for a man of my age and medical history to consider any move that would deprive me of health care, I  find that my options for a new homeland are rather limited.  As a Francophile and former teacher of French, I would quite naturally prefer to live out my remaining years in France--which has always been my "pays de prédilection".  But alas, French health care for retired foreigners has recently become an incomprehensible tangle that seems to grow ever more byzantine with each passing year. And private insurance, for anyone with pre-existing conditions, appears to be either unaffordable or entirely unobtainable.  Similar impediments apply for most other European countries and Canada (though I haven't investigated Australia).  Only Britain, with its much-maligned, but still available (to "residents") NHS, remains an option.  (The big "if" here, I gather, is whether I would qualify for the UK's retiree visa--which is granted on a one-year renewable basis to non-workers who can demonstrate 25,000 pounds income per year and a "connection" to the UK--pretty subjective.  The NHS is currently requiring that mere tourists and temporary visitors pay for their non-emergency medical services.)

The United Kingdom, then, provided I qualify for "permission to enter" visa status?  Should I join that stream of Americans who have "returned" to Mother England?  Ah, here's where the second question obtains:  would exchanging the US for the UK "be worth it"?  Would the gains outweigh the losses?  What WOULD I gain?

  • Health care--as I already mentioned and with the provisos discussed above.  A sane national consensus about caring for the sick.
  • A fairly rational and straightforward political system:  the party in power actually makes laws and enforces policies without perpetual deadlock.
  • A general indifference to religion and a marked distaste for religious fanaticism.  I am especially attracted to this feature of British life, since it suggests that the British make their life decisions based on practical realities rather than on metaphysical fantasies / delusions.
  • A respect for honesty in interpersonal relationships.  I may be sentimentalizing a bit, but I've always found that the British have a low tolerance for bullshit and euphemism.  I think I'd enjoy that.  I'm pretty fed up with American hypocrisy and faux niceness.
  • No particular attachment to guns or firearms or explosives.  No knee-jerk belief that the best solution to any problem is to "shoot the bastards."
  • Decent (albeit expensive and inferior-to-French) public transportation. I like red buses.
  • Better universities than any other non-American option.
  • They speak English, though oddly, and occasionally and always in certain places, ludicrously.
  • TV is pretty good; so is theatre; so are movies.  
  • Though not immune to free-market and lame-brained trickle-down economics, the UK still provides a less cutthroat, more compassionate economic environment than the US.  The COMMONWEAL still matters.
  • The British constitution is conveniently unwritten and can thus evolve gradually to meet the needs of an evolving society.  The US constitution, on the other hand, is an ossified document whose 18th century mechanisms increasingly PREVENT us from evolving as a republic.
  • London is cool.  And everywhere is close to London.

And now, the drawbacks:

  • Distance from my family.  I'm not willing to cut myself off definitively.  I value my connection to my siblings and I wonder how they would react to a possible move on my part.  Would I cause great distress?
  • The house.  I'm half owner of this condo and I thus have financial obligations here in the US.  I couldn't just "unload" my half of the house without causing both economic and emotional hardship for my sister.  So I would never make such an attempt.  But could I then afford to move?  Could I guarantee the 25,000 pounds income?
  • Possible loneliness.  I know no one in the UK--and I don't make friends easily.  I suppose my timidity and reserve would be even harder to overcome in a foreign environment.
  • Unfamiliarity and uncertain legal status.  I love London and Southeast England, but I really don't know the entire country, nor do I understand how things "work." Moreover, unless I lived long enough to take out British citizenship, I would always remain an "alien," subject to politically or economically motivated alterations in legal status.
  • Money/income/cost of living.  This would/will be a problem whatever I choose to do:  the Great Recessions has wiped out a substantial amount of my little 401K.  If our current Congress brings about a default, I could stand to lose still more of my nest egg.  If CalStrs goes under and my pension dries up, I'll have no money to live ANYWHERE.  In any event, England--and particularly London--are very, very expensive for Americans living on a fixed income paid in dollars of dwindling value.
  • Additional health insurance.  Even with the NHS, I would probably need a supplement.  This must be investigated further.
  • Boredom and depression.  Would probably be the same anywhere.

There.  At least I've gotten this all on paper (or on a web server somewhere).  Now I can re-read and re-work it.  Perhaps the mere act of listing pros and cons will help me make a responsible decision about the rest of my life.  I must, after all, mind the gap!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Humpty-Dumpty Words

Blab, blab.  "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect ordain and establish this Constitution..."

Blab, blab, blab.  It sometimes "becomes  necessary for one People to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to other..."

Blab, blab, blab, blab.  Ours is a government "of the People, by the People and for the People."

I have very little patience with all these People--or at least, with the way in which these three "sacred texts" employ the term.  That's because "People" is a Humpty-Dumpty word--a word that, as the great Wall-Sitter himself observed, can mean whatever a particular speaker chooses it to mean--and, this, with no particular regard for (or perhaps a cynical disregard for) what the eventual audience might think it means.

Years ago when I was in college, I read a book by Stuart Chase entitled The Tyranny of Words.  As I recall, Chase was some kind of an engineer by training, but he dabbled in economics, politics and linguistics--just the kind of writer to appeal to someone of MY easygoing, not-overly-specialized intellectual habits.  Yet this unpretentious little volume made such a deep impression on me that, even today, when baffled by mind-numbing TV debates or inane dinner conversations, I sometimes catch myself muttering under my breath Chase's cardinal precept:  "find the referent, find the referent."  Because, as Alice pointed out to Humpty Dumpty, one simply can't be so arbitrary with words and still hope to convey meaning.  If each spoken or written symbol (word) does not have a commonly-accepted referent--i.e., if it does not refer to something real that both the speaker and the hearer agree upon, then minds cannot meet and communication is impeded rather than facilitated.

Of course, that's precisely what Humpty-Dumpty, at least, was seeking:  "Impenetrability!  That's what say."

Chase goes on to note that such verbal neglect of referents can have a number of causes, the most common of which is simple carelessness or laziness (i.e., words are employed heedlessly, tossed about with mindless abandon, often with amusing, embarrassing or even--sometimes-- dangerous consequences).  But words may also be carefully chosen for their  "fluff" quotient--precisely because they have acquired so many various, even conflicting, referents that they have been rendered functionally useless for actual communication.  Thus, like Humpty Dumpty, a speaker may deliberately choose such a word in order to be impenetrable, in order to give the illusion of conveying information while effectively uttering a semantic blank--blab blab.  More malignantly even, a speaker may also select a particular word precisely because its very lack of a referent has packed it with an emotional power directly proportional to its substantive vacuousness. And thus a kind of mental tyranny is imposed by Humpty-Dumpty words.

So it is with the term "People" as used by those great "communicators" Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln--and almost every other politician (as we call OUR leaders) or demagogue (as we call THEIR leaders--you know, the guys that run the planet's sundry Peoples' Republics).  Lacking any common referent, the term "People"--in all of our hallowed canonized documents--and in the mouths of most of ruling officials everywhere--is little more than blab, blab.

We the blab, blab of the United States...; it becomes necessary for one blab, blab, to dissolve the political bands...; government of the blab blab, by the blab blab and for the blab blab...

Oh, I know.  Someone will object that, of course, all of these magnificent thinkers were clearly referring to the "majority" of American citizens.  Such nonsense!  Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration--with a little help--on behalf of a tiny bunch of wealthy merchants and planters who called themselves the Continental Congress.  He may have thought that this exclusive body somehow "knew" the will of some mythical "People," but we can be quite sure that it would never have occurred to Jefferson to ask the tinker or the tailor what they thought about dissolving political bands.  Likewise, the Constitution was drafted (with input from many writers, but especially Madison and Hamilton) by a dubiously extra-legal Grand Convention (whose only legitimate "charge" was to propose modifications to the Articles of Confederation).  Were the delegates to this Convention elected by the "People"?  Surely you jest.  And when the Constitution was voted upon--was it by the "People"?  Only if, by this term, you understand the white, rich, male elite that sat in state legislatures.  Finally, what WAS Lincoln talking about in the Gettysburg Address?  His use of the term "People" borders on mystical incoherence--like most of the speech, this word is lacking any concrete referent--it is blab blab--clearly intended to bypass reason and logic in order to trigger an immediate emotional response of pure patriotic fervor.

Don't misunderstand me.  I am not criticizing the efficacy or the poetic qualities of Mr. Lincoln's speech.  Nor, certainly, am I criticizing Jeffersonian/Madisonian "rule by the elite"--not, at least, if we mean an elected meritocracy of qualified, educated individuals.  Indeed, as I suggested at the outset, I deeply distrust popular democracy (Lord save us from government OF the people and BY the people).  No, though I am pleased that the franchise has been expanded to include citizens of all races and both genders, I am quite content with representative democracy.  Legislation is too important to be effected by referendum--groups of elected "specialists" (our Congressmen and Senators) should deliberate, reflect, question and, in the end, make the decisions that the (small "p") people have too little time and too little training to do rationally and fairly by direct popular vote.  Surely my point is attested to by the unhappy example of California--with its debilitating, regressive and--let's be honest, just plain stupid--popularly-voted propositions about everything from lotteries to real estate taxes to saving the family from homosexuals.

But what I am objecting to is the tyranny of words.  I do not approve of the way in which the word "People" has been used and misused--whether carelessly or deliberately--by luminaries (Lincoln) as well as loons (Michele Bachmann).  No, saying absolutely nothing meaningful (blab blab) while simultaneously striving to generate politically useful emotion (sob sob) is both reprehensible and, as Chase made so clear, tyrannical. 

So please, people (!)--don't allow yourselves to be jerked around by politicos and their blab blab about People.  Insist upon "finding the referent" when you hear such talk.  And if, as I suspect, no such commonly agreed-upon referent exists, just dismiss this statement as another example of  either witless or willful Humpty-Dumptyism.  Alternatively, if you simply must have your fix of People, run out to the newstand and buy an issue of the eponymous magazine!  Then, as you reflect leisurely upon the mysterious bond between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, take a long slug of soda and ask yourself:  say, aren't THEY the PEOPLE who should be trying to form a More Perfect Union?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?

I'm struck by twin ironies:  a) those who most vehemently deny biological evolution (i.e., biblical literalists and fundamentalists) are usually also those who most fervently embrace "survival of the fittest" social darwinism in economics and politics (God Helps Those Who Help Themselves); b) those who most earnestly accept the truth of biological evolution (scientists, agnostics, atheists, intellectuals) are generally those who fight against the social darwinist practice of applying principles of natural selection to non-biological domains.

In other words, despite Christ's admonitions to help the poor, many Christians believe that government should keep "hands off" and allow the rich and powerful to dominate and exploit, since the rich are, presumably, not only the "fittest" but also "God's chosen ones."

Whereas, many non-Christians--myself included--believe that government should adopt Christ-like policies toward those who are economically (but not necessarily biologically) disadvantaged--thereby enabling truly superior people, regardless of their social circumstances, to take their place among the "elect" (and thus increase the survivability of our species).

Though I struggled for years to cling to God and Christianity, I ultimately had to admit that there's very little evidence that God exists, and even less evidence (if that's possible) that such a dubious divinity is able to "help" anyone at all.  No, the notion that the exploiters (those who help everything) are God's chosen is a self-serving fiction invented and perpetuated by the exploiters themselves. Yes, of course I acknowledge the obvious truth of evolution--of natural selection.  But the societies men have created are not "natural."  Humans, unlike other species, have evolved to a point at which we are capable of influencing our own evolution.  WE can, to some extent, shape the future of our species--in rational ways that actually "go beyond" the nature that has hitherto determined us.

And so--for our own good as a race, shouldn't the forces of civilization--and most especially the power of government--be used to ensure that all people, regardless of their birth status, receive an equal chance to rise to the top?  Do I believe that government should artificially place or maintain undeserving people of "disadvantaged" birth in superior positions?  Absolutely not.  But neither do I believe that superior positions should be occupied by "wellborn" but undeserving scions of wealthy families or by unscrupulous thugs who use violence and lawbreaking to acquire this status.

Some people assert, Ayn Rand-like, that it is "unnatural" for a human being to have fellow-feeling for anyone other than his/her genetic family.  In this view, selfishness becomes a virtue because it is, well, a basic animal impulse.

But once again, evolution, in gradually according sentience to human beings, has likewise accorded us that very "supernaturalness" that we sometimes (curiously) call "divine".  Ask yourself what we most admire as an ideal:  "natural" self-serving behavior typical of other species or "supernatural" behavior that rejects greed and embraces altruism?  For some reason (I do not know what, but it must be a good one), evolution has given us a conscience, a super-ego, a sensibility which actually goads us to transcend our purely selfish interests.  Perhaps that's why the fundamentalists find it necessary to use GOD to justify their more primitive inclinations to hate, exploit and destroy outsiders. They themselves don't want to take responsibility for this selfishness; rather they must plead that they are only doing "God's will."  And, deep down, they feel guilty--guilty because their evolutionary conscience (which they also attribute to God)--keeps telling them that such purely "natural" conduct is, well, WRONG.  Somehow, our natural evolution has instilled in us a strong feeling that human survival is best served by defying nature.

Can we say, then, that the truest human "nature" is the rejection of "nature"?  How odd.  And yet, perhaps not so odd.  Natural selection has indeed provided human beings with a way of dominating the world and perpetuating our species:  the self-awareness to manipulate our own evolution.  Isn't that what we mean by civilization? It is by CONTROLLING nature--and our primitive natural instincts--that we have achieved our dominion on this little planet.

So I reject categorically all the right-wing claptrap about the "evils" of social-engineering and the merits of laissez-faire "market" forces.  Civilization itself is social engineering--and government has always been and will continue to be a vital force in engineering the forms of our civilization.  It is both asinine and delusional to advocate some sort of return to a Rousseauian (at best) or Hobbesian (at worst) state of nature--where individuals take care of themselves and neither require nor deserve any outside support.  Even laissez-faire-ists don't truly believe in laissez-faire:  they just mean laissez-MOI faire.

I appreciate, of course, that government can do evil (anti-human action) as well as good (pro-human action).  But, in democracies at least, individual humans have, mas o menos, a small bit of power to influence their government.  On the other hand, individuals have almost NO (or vastly unequal) power to influence the wealthy exploiters who, according to their own lights, have God's authorization to help themselves to dominion. So I conclude that government (of the democratic variety) is the more human and more humanizing of these two great "engineering forces" currently struggling for dominance in American life.

I will therefore continue to support government in any effort it makes to help those whom the God of the laissez-faire bible-thumping robber barons does NOT (and obviously CANNOT) help.  In so doing--even though I have contributed no "genetic" material to human evolution--I may yet have helped passed on "memetic" material that will render our species somewhat more sapiens and, hence, more fit to survive.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

L'empire de la mort

I have recently returned from a six-week stay in Paris--during which I fully intended to write several witty and thought-provoking blogs.  In the end, I never seemed to have either the inclination or the time to undertake any writing longer than an occasional hasty post on Facebook.

Paris kept me busy, kept me entertained, kept me happy.

But now, I certainly have time. And even inclination, since I'm back in damp and dreary Minnesota, land of loons--where everyone is "nice" and, apparently, brain dead.  Back in the U.S.A., graveyard of dead ideas from sea to shining (and rising) sea.

L'empire de la mort.

In Paris, because my companion Carole loves death and dismemberment shit, I agreed to make my very first visit to the Catacombes--those former quarries which, late in the 18th century, became a kind of dumping ground for the remains of anyone previously interred in overflowing and unsanitary common graves throughout Paris.  

The skulls and skeletons were hauled to the disaffected quarries in wagons, hastily chanted and prayed over and then stacked up, sometimes in higgledy-piggledy mounds, sometimes in whimsically-designed and oddly elegant walls or benches of bones.

The work was finished in 1788.  The Revolution began in 1789.  Coincidence?

Well, of course, I personally cannot be sure that the grave-desecrating creators of the Catacombs actually CAUSED the Revolution, but post-hoc ultramontane reasoners have undoubtedly made that claim.

Might I not, therefore--employing another slight leap of logic--assert that herein lies a lesson for brain-dead American politicians?  Remembering the Catacombs and the Revolution, might I not encourage American politicians to abandon their obsession with dead and dying ideas--lest they provoke a 21st-century revolution right here in the Land Where Our Fathers Died.

The sign in the picture above reads:  "Stop!  This is the empire of the dead."

Good advice for brain-dead politicos.

--"Reducing spending creates jobs."  Stop!  Empire of the dead!
--"Tax cuts for the rich create prosperity for all."  Stop!  Empire of the dead!
--"Free market enterprise advances equality."  Stop!  Empire of the dead!
--"Social Security is bankrupt."  Stop!  Empire of the dead!
--"Gay marriage will destroy the family."  Stop!  Empire of the dead!
--"Sharia law is coming to America."  Stop! Empire of the dead!
--"Illegal immigrants are bankrupting America."  Stop!  Empire of the dead!
--"We're broke."  Stop, Stop, Stop, Stop, Stop....

If you enter this domain--and, devout Michele Bachmann, dedicated Sarah Palin, staunch Mitt Romney, lachrymose John Boehner,  I can see that you are well on your way--you will encounter only death.  Nothing fresh, warm, loving, caring, human--just dry bones.  LOTS of them, of course.  Quantity, but no quality. Almost, you could dive around in this copious death, like Uncle Scrooge in his money.  (Oh, I know you understand MONEY.)

But, whether you dive, swim or merely trek, after miles and miles of death, you wind up back at Place Denfert-Rochereau, formerly known as Place d'Enfer (Square of Hell).  From there, it's just a short metro ride to Place de la Bastille, where, incidentally (for those of you who don't remember much history) the French Revolution began.

Wouldn't it be better if you just didn't go there?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Planting Potatoes

Today is Good Friday, and I'm sad. Yes, the agnostic that I have become dearly misses the solemn mystery of Holy Week and Easter. It's quite unlike my experience of Christmas, which this year, for the first time in two decades, I celebrated without Christ--indeed, without any church at all--and scarcely noticed the absence.  That's undoubtedly because the traditions of Christmas are so profoundly UN-religious that I managed, with no fuss, to tuck Jesus away in a veritable manger of oblivion, even as I decked the halls.

Not so Holy Week.  Easter Bunny and colored eggs aside, there's very little for the secular person to delight in at Eastertide.  No diverting pagan traditions to compensate for the sorrowing with Tenebraes or the rejoicing with Easter Vigil Allelulias.

Just lilies and lamb and reruns of The Sound of Music on TV.

Well, it will have to do.  As much as I love the liturgies of the Triduum, I seem to have reached some kind of milestone in my spiritual journey. Alas, I no longer find it possible to believe (as the White Queen recommends) in "six impossible things before breakfast."  And, unlike Alice, I've had a great deal of practice, thank you.

For instance, I've worked very hard, over the years, to believe in the central assertion of Christianity:  that a loving God cares so much about human beings that he, himself, became one of us--and, like us, died in agony in order, somehow, to make it possible for us to NOT DIE.  Cut through all the metaphor, and Christianity's message is quite simple:  God loves us and will not let us perish.

What a wonderful notion!

And yet, it just does not scan.  It just does not compute.  Here's why:

1)  If God loves us so much, why didn't he simply give us eternal life when he created things way back when?

2)  OK, maybe God wasn't really responsible for the creation.  In other words, some other Being--an evil monster, obviously--actually brought the universe (and mankind) into being.  This would explain the manifest imperfections of humanity and the world (and keep God off the hook).

3)  So, in this view (basically some sort of Manicheism, I guess), God is a secondary force, himself subject to the Evil Monster who created the mess we call "reality."

4)  But God, in his pity for the creatures that the Demon created, figured out a way to save us:  he became a man himself and sacrificed himself to the Demon.  This, apparently, mollified the Demon--and allowed God to make a deal of sorts:  human beings could have eternal life, but only after they die--not on earth, as would otherwise be logical.

5)  But what's all the nonsense about saving ONLY those who "believe" in God?  Doesn't that makes God sound almost as petty and nasty as the Demon himself?

6)  And how could a "loving" God be so cruel, punishing the "victim" for his/her innate weaknesses (willed by the Demon, and not really the victim's fault)?  Surely, God's redemption must be for ALL humans, not just right-believers.

7)  Moreover, there's the question of evidence:  why doesn't God make himself known and visible to everyone?  Where IS heaven?  How COULD a God become man?  What is the relationship between God and the Demon?  Why should we put any trust in a God who deals with the Demon?

8)  Worst of all:  orthodox Christianity asserts that the Demon and God are one and the same--that GOD himself created this horribly defective universe, that God himself gave humans the power to defy him and destroy themselves, that God himself demanded a blood sacrifice before he would agree to forgive humans for the imperfections he himself created in them, that God himself is so incredibly petty that he refuses salvation to all humans who either ignore or are merely ignorant of his expectations.

No, it does not compute.  And it is, as the State Department says about human rights abuses in China, "unacceptable."  At least to me.

So, as I listen to Bach's sublime St Matthew Passion, I mourn.  I mourn that I cannot believe in the metaphor that inspired this beautiful music.  I mourn for humanity--which, despite these glorious chorales, has NOT been saved by any Sacred Head Now Wounded.  Oh, yes. Good Friday is, indeed, a very GOOD idea.  But it is also a lie. God (!) how I wish it were otherwise...

But there is nothing to be done except, as Candide finally concluded, "cultiver notre jardin."  Or as my grandpa always reminded us when Holy Week approached, "You have to plant your potatoes on Good Friday."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Off With Her Head

We all believe in equality, of course--especially for ourselves, whenever we're feeling oppressed and exploited by people who think they're better than we are.  Yet once we achieve the desired cookie-cutter parity with others, we very quickly develop a  taste for liberty--i.e., the freedom to think of ourselves not as equal, but as better than our fellows and, furthermore, as possessing a god-given right to exploit them.

In short, our allegiance to equality is, well, lukewarm and intermittent at best. Instead, our fierce animal cravings to dominate almost always trump our occasional pious yearnings for peace and justice.  And though we will cooperate with others in order to advance a personal goal, even then we secretly strive to be the "best" or the "boss." Heck, we just plain LIKE competition, conflict and confrontation.  Doesn't everybody want to be top dog, king of the mountain?  Or, if not "top" dog, at least superior to somebody, at least some of the time.

This is an important point.  At some moment in our evolution as a sentient species, we seem to have realized that EVERYONE cannot actually dominate EVERYONE,  ALL OF THE TIME.  Such "equitable superiority" would be the equivalent of the communistic heaven imagined by certain wimpy religious thinkers but found so totally unpalatable by actual holier-than-thou believers that both the Catholics' Paradiso and the Muslims' Jannah have been tricked out with a number of progressively higher circles of ever more perfect bliss (never mind the illogic of some saved people being more saved than others).

Anyway, in order to avoid the unpleasantness of both inferiority and equality, we humans invented  multitudinous and frequently overlapping hierarchies--ingeniously complicated social orders which, when they function properly, allow almost EVERYBODY to feel superior to at least SOMEBODY at least SOME of the time.

Now these hierarchies vary greatly in nature.  Some are institutionalized and thoroughly systematized, with clear delineations of each rank and status within the overall structure, e.g., military, ecclesiastical, professional, corporate, educational hierarchies.  Others have no "official" character, but are generally acknowledged within a given culture, e.g. status derived from wealth, ancestry, occupation, etc.  Still others are both unofficial and, in the minds of many, untenable--a condemnation that does not, however, prevent many devotees from thinking in these terms--e.g. hierarchies determined by race, gender, marital status, sexual preference, religion.  It should be noted, though, that rank derived from any of these third-category conditions, in Western countries anyway, tends to have weight and consequence only within groups of like-minded people (e.g., Mormons, white-supremacists).  And those who do not belong to the in-group often regard third-category "rankings" as fantasies at best, prejudices at worst.

The essential thing, though, is that we have created hierarchies in almost every domain of human experience and based upon almost every conceivable human condition.  Such variety is desirable, of course, since it affords almost everyone the opportunity to feel superior to others in some category or other of social or genetic reality.

Of course, we must also remember that not all hierarchies are equal, but that certain systems of ranking are seen as superior to others. For instance, there can be little doubt that much greater prestige accrues to a higher-up in the U.S. Army than to a higher-up in the custodial staff at Winona State University.  In other words, we have hierarchies of hierarchies.

And according to what criteria do we rank our hierarchies?  I'm not entirely certain, but I'm going to hazard a guess anyway.  I'm inclined to believe that we value most those hierarchies that are the least "user-friendly," the most demanding to enter, and within which upward mobility (not to mention absolute supremacy) is the most difficult to realize.

Consequently, I think we generally accord more status to hereditary monarchs than to elected heads of state or dictators of any sort, tinpot or terrifying.  Because, obviously, it's just awfully damned difficult to break into or move in any direction at all within, say, the House of Windsor.  Don't misunderstand.  I realize that Queen Elizabeth has considerably less real power than President Obama or even Kim Jong Il.  But the "slot" she occupies--because it is available ONLY to her--is regarded as superior, even if her actual responsibilities are inferior.  Unsurprisingly, then, she is accorded almost universal, objectively verifiable respect--because she is The Queen. Inversely, the status derived from being a born-again Christian--a slot available to anyone at all and superior primarily in the eyes of the born-again individual himself--is easily dismissed as subjective and therefore of very little real world significance.

All of which brings me around to subject which originally prompted me to write this blog:  the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

For several weeks now, I have been growing increasingly annoyed that every media outlet, every day, devotes a seemingly inordinate amount of mawkish, mushy prattle to even the most insipid details of The Great Big Windsor-Wales Wedding.  Why? I kept asking myself.  Why do seemingly intelligent human beings allow themselves to be mesmerized by two decidedly unexceptional individuals who will never do much of anything other than cut ribbons, ride in carriages, and read ghost-written speeches to people who aren't listening.

And then, finally, I was obliged to acknowledge what my friend, Carole, has been suggesting:  that what people really care about is the SLOTS these two mediocrities occupy within the most prestigious of Britain's hierarchies--the hereditary monarchy.  Their actual merit as human beings is almost entirely beside the point--they could be Beavis and Butthead and the world would still be enthralled.  Because Beavis (or is it Butthead) will one day be King of England and the other one, whichever that is, will be the Queen consort.

So I guess I'm going to have to put up with "news" about the train on Kate's dress or the nail-polish she has chosen or the groom's cake made of cookies (biscuits?) or the ring that William refuses to wear.

I do wish, however, that these tedious top dogs would provide a bit more entertainment.  Seriously, haven't things grown excessively dull now that Diana The People's Princess is no longer titillating the plebes with revelations about bulimia, boyfriends and break-ups?  Ah, how I yearn for another Henry VIII.  Now there was a real alpha top dog--someone who could be counted on to "pay for" his status with plenty of crowd-pleasing death and dismemberment--such as, for example, impalings, hangings, disembowelments, poisonings, and, of course, almost daily beheadings.

Now I have nothing against Kate Middleton, though she does appear to be something of an airhead fashionista (her similarity to Diana in this regard may be part of her appeal to William, who, for his part, is beginning to acquire the horsy features so characteristic of his line).  Still, I was rather hoping that, once Wills becomes William V, he might see his way to do to her what Henry VIII did to Anne Boleyn:  yes, chop off her head! OK, it's a bit mean, I suppose, and a bit less exciting than mad and lethal car chases in Paris tunnels.  Still a nice little hatchet job on the Tower Green might be a real morale-builder for the British royals--just the thing to keep the lackluster House of Windsor from slipping in hierarchical status to the level of that Other Defender of Still Another Faith--(elected, gasp, and Catholic) Pope Benny the Rat.

Kate actually looks a bit like Anne, don't you think?

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day

April.  Much has been written and sung about this month.  Mostly treacly happy-talk about showers and flowers and Paris and springtime, etc.  Since Easter usually occurs in April and since Buddha's birthday ALWAYS does, the fourth month also enjoys considerable religious prestige among those who believe in spiritual as well as agricultural rebirth.

Let us not, however, forget T.S. Eliot's sober and bitter judgment that "April is the cruellest month..."

Yes, April IS cruel--and not just because I always get older on April 13, or because Abraham Lincoln stopped getting older on April 15.

But rather, because in Minnesota at least, this supposedly happy month almost always disappoints--on each and every one of its 30 dishonest days, bringing blizzards instead of bunnies, floods instead of flowers. And just when we are SO ready for Whitman's field-sprouts and lilacs, BAM:  April snows on our Easter parade.

Haha.  April Fool. Poisson d'Avril.  I hate April.

Friday, March 18, 2011

No News Good News

Having pretty much abandoned any hope of landing another job in teaching, and finding myself still too compos mentis to devote my non-napping hours to cribbage at the Senior Center, I figure I ought to strive, at least when the weather is crappy, to PRODUCE something that would, you know, "help others" and at the same time funnel additional revenue into my personal coffers. So I'm thinking seriously about founding a new religion.

While there may be no actual NEED for such a product, I don't see why that tiresome little detail should stand in my way.  After all, needs can be manufactured (think about stainless steel wipes and feminine hygiene sprays).  America is still the land of opportunity, isn't it?  And of P.T. Barnum.

Yet needless to say, before I start marketing pre-orders and/or digging for golden plates in my back yard, I suppose I'll have to do a little planning (at least as much as Joseph Smith and Saul of Tarsus did).  I mean, I want to be sure that I can properly translate anything that the Angel Moroni (who presumably speaks only Moronic *sorry*) reveals to me, right?  Then, too, I don't want to waste my time founding a religion that no one will want to join and support with exceedingly generous contributions and egregiously rabid fanaticism.

So, let's begin by analyzing the "successful" existing religions--those which, in Tom Lehrer's words, are best at "selling their product."  Surely if I can distill the essential ingredients that all these lucrative movements share, I will eventually obtain a rich concentrate of tenets that I can recycle as the basis for my "nouvelle fusion" spiritual stew. Not that these commonalities will suffice in and of themselves. After all, if that were the case, then no NEW NEED could be created for MY personal version of Good News Gumbo.

Nonetheless, it's undoubtedly a good idea to include in my Credo at least some of the tried and true ingredients--before I attempt to tart them up with minty-fresh additives that the credulous good folks "out there" will find so desirable that they will simply be unable to resist sending me a sizable free-will offering in return for a laminated membership/recipe card (or a magic pair of polyester underpants--I haven't yet decided which).

What, then, are the common denominators of the current best-selling religions?  Hmmm.  Suppose we start by making a (non-exhaustive) list of "stuff people like to believe":

people who suffer are being punished by God
people who suffer will surely go to heaven
people who suffer should get over it
people who exploit others are serving God
people who exploit others are evil
money is bad
money is good
sex is bad
sex is good
bad sex is good
good sex is bad
good food is bad
pork is bad
beef is bad
eating is bad
eating is good only after sundown
God hates gays
God loves everyone
God hates sluts
fetuses are people
infidels aren't people
mosques should not have pictures
churches should not have statues
churches should have statues
statues should have no dicks
the best dicks are circumcised
the best dicks are not circumcised
women should keep covered so as not to tempt men, whether the latter are circumcised or uncircumcised
women should not drive, even if they're covered up
heck, we shouldn't even have cars
coffee is bad
wine is bad until you get to heaven
wine is the blood of Christ
the end of the world is coming
it's the Jews' fault

Oh, mercy!  the list is endless, isn't it?  Whatever CAN we make of it all?  Clearly, it behooves us to categorize a bit, if only to make this blog more coherent than Revelation, less mind-numbing than Leviticus.

Category 1:  suffering and exploitation.  Successful religions seem to manage, somehow, to make both sufferers and exploiters feel happy and holy.  The promise of "rewards in heaven" allows sufferers to accept their miserable earthly lot AND feel superior to their exploiters who, the sufferers assume, will ultimately be punished in some fiery bye and bye.  Meanwhile, those who exploit are reassured by Comforting Calvinism and "fat little pastors" that God rewards in THIS life those whom he has chosen as his eternal "elect."  These Chosen People--invariably rich and usually Republican--are thumpingly confident that their exploitation of inferiors is the predestined working out of God's will.

Category 2:  sex.  God cares a lot about sex.  We humans are, in fact, God's pornography.  Evidently, he watches us constantly and, like all pornography addicts, he sometimes has bouts of remorse.  Hence, in his manic phase, he tends to encourage our sexual appetites (Hindu Shiva-lingams, Wicca fertility rites, Japanese penis festivals) but, alas, in his depressive moods, he gives over to ranting about depraved queers and slutty women and blasphemous pole-dancers in the Sinai desert.

Category 3:  food.  God does not approve of most food, especially GOOD food--at least for human beings.  His tendency to forbid us mortals any pleasant form of nourishment is undoubtedly a sort of power trip.  He wants to make it perfectly clear that  he alone is in control and that he alone has the right to pig out on lobster à l'amoricaine.

Category 4:  infidels.  Truly successful faith groups (unlike flaccid Mainline Protestant denominations and mystical one-hand clapping Eastern sects) seem unanimous in denouncing all dissenters as inhuman and condemned to death, either in this life or in the hereafter.  It is therefore OK, to use CIA terminology, to "terminate with extreme prejudice" any such infidels.  Heck, God is going to kill them eventually anyway, after which he will cast their sorry-assed  souls into hell for all eternity.  So bloodletting in the service of religious causes is no big deal.

Well, that seems a sufficient distillation of the Essence of Ecumenism.  Now I can start planning my new and improved Gospel. To hell with digging around for buried tablets in the flower beds full of deer shit.  I'm just going to let the Angelic Messenger speak to me directly, in whatever language he chooses.  I am, after all, a linguist.  Hence, I should be able to "get it" at least as well as Moses or St. Paul or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. Surely if I follow their edifying example, emptying my mind of any vestige of rational thought, I should have no difficulty whatsoever finding Divine Inspiration for a sort of  latter day Sermon on the Mount--a snappy spin on some of the old time favorites (see above) followed by a compelling and thoroughly irresistible new twist as a conclusion.

(Here a bolt of lightning flashes across my computer screen.  Is it Moroni?  Gabriel?  or merely Pythia, the Screen Saver Oracle? Well, no matter:  mysterious chiaroscuro stuff always happens when religions are being hatched.)

And then, much as Breaking News Bulletins gush forth from Cable TV, my über Beatitudes spring unbidden and fully formed and infallible from the depths of my internal hard drive.  Verily, verily I say unto you, "Give heed now and listen up to the breaking No News Good News of which I am the prophet":

Tenet One:  (Exploiters).  Blessed are the overpaid CEOs, for they shall create jobs by trickling down on their workers.

Tenet Two:  (Sufferers).  Blessed are the workers and the persecuted and the poor.  They shall inherit nothing (probably not even trickle-down), but neither shall they live long enough to die of Alzheimer's Disease.

Tenet Three:  (Sex).  Blessed are those whose only sexual act is masturbating in the shower, for they shall be able to keep their abomination secret (unless hair starts to grow on their palms).

Tenet Four: (Food).  Blessed are the vegans, for they shall be neither sated nor constipated.

Tenet Five:  (Infidels).  Blessed are the warmongers, the bullies and the jihadists, for the Lord loveth a good bloodbath.

And now, the NEW stuff that should absolutely clinch the deal.

Tenet Six:  (Common Sense).  Blessed are those who use their reason to disprove or discredit any or all of the preceding tenets, for theirs is the Kingdom of Man.

And they, alone, shall truly be free.

Dang, I just botched everything, didn't I?  Well, I guess I didn't really want to be a prophet anyway.  I'll miss the money, though.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Kathleen Parker and others of her journalistic tribe are simply furious that President Obama hasn't had the, er, "audacity" to join the hallelujah chorus of red-blooded patriots who regularly and reverently recite their Credo that the United States is qualitatively "exceptional" among nations.

You know:  the notion that we're just better.  Our institutions are better; our traditions are better; our values are better and, moreover, our shit don't stink.

So the rules that apply to other nations don't apply to US.

Other nations may do evil things.  But not US.
Other nations may be surpassed.  But not US.
Other nations may decline and fall.  But not US.  

We are special--having, after all, been founded by GOD Himself.  We are number ONE and we always WILL BE NUMBER ONE.  In everything.  So get used to it.

And Mr. President, you had better start memorizing this Credo and reciting it regularly.  Or else, you go bye bye in 2012, and you'll have to live out your retirement in one of those nasty socialist, communist, fascist, atheistic countries that ARE subject to the forces of history.  So what if they have fast trains.

Shoot, Barry, just take a look around.  Anyone can see how exceptional we are.  The evidence is everywhere.

Number 1:  we are the only developed country (if we exclude South Africa) to persevere nobly in guaranteeing its citizens the priceless freedom of having no universal medical insurance.

Number 2:  we own more guns and firearms than any other people anywhere--so we are certainly exceptionally well-protected.  And we can reload mighty fast.  

Number 3:  among all the developed countries, we have the greatest number of God-fearing, church-going, born-again Christians who stand up, stand up for Jesus in defiance of scientists, evolutionists, humanists, common sense and documentary evidence.

Number 4:  we may not be very good at math or history, but by golly, we know the Bible, especially Leviticus.

Number 5:  we have the greatest disparity between the rich and the poor of any developed country (and the Census Bureau says the gap is growing impressively) .  Our very rich are just really, really, really rich.  Heck, Donald Trump could probably BUY some piddly little socialist country like Denmark.

Number 6:  we are the only developed country that continues to use the time-hallowed English system of admittedly irrational but oh-so-comfy weights and measures.  (Didn't the French invent the metric system, for Chrissakes? Let's have none of that!)

Number 7:  we have more miles (or even kilometers, if you insist) of decaying roads than any other country on the face of the earth. That's a lot of crumbling concrete, dudes. Think about it.  More ruins than even ancient Rome.

Number 8:  we are fatter/more obese than the people of any other country. According to the CDC, fully 34% of us are overweight.  In other words, we're SuperSized and you don't want to mess with us.

Number 9:  per capita, we consume more of the earth's resources than the citizens of any other country.   Also more Big Macs. 

Number 10:  our armed forces have the weaponry to kill more people more efficiently than any other army on the planet.  And we have an aircraft carrier called the USS Ronald Reagan which was built for this express purpose. 

Number 11:  we have Fox News for "fair and balanced" truth-telling.

Number 12:  we have Rush Limbaugh for culture and fine art.

Clearly, then, American exceptionalism is an indisputable truth.  There is just no way that we can be compared, as Barry Obama did in a press conference, to the effete British or the pederastic Greeks. Listen to his fatuous drivel:

"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

C'mon!  What in hell did the British or the Greeks ever do for anybody? What "exceptional" institutions or values or ideas originated in those pissy little countries?  Obama's waffling on this issue is simply unacceptable in an American president.  Next thing, he'll be telling us that the Chinese are going to become NUMBER ONE in 2019!

The Chinese!  How about that for audacity! I'm beginning to think that our president has been shanghaied--perhaps by the "pinhead conspiracy"--you know, those guys who keep wasting their breath trying to convince Americans that the earth is round.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Amendment Solutions

In my old age, I've become a rabid radical.  I just don't respect anything anymore.  Lately, for instance, I've been "disrespecting" the Constitution, particularly the Second Amendment, which seems to me to have been one of God's mistakes.

Like avocado pits.

Because, according to the vast majority of NRA true believers, the Second Amendment (unlike, perhaps, the Fourteenth), was granted to Americans, not by civil authorities drafting a social contract for a particular place and time, but by Yahweh Himself, speaking for and from All Eternity.  The Second Amendment, intone these zealots, enshrines the God-given right of each and every American to bear arms.

Rubbish.  Rubbish.  Rubbish.

The Constitution is a man-made document, establishing or affirming MAN-MADE values.  I find absolutely repulsive the notion that some "loving" God would want, indeed decree, that we should tote around lethal weapons in order to compensate for His inability to design and actualize a secure environment for His Chosen People.

No, a constitution is made by men, for men--and, most pertinently, for a specific society of humans. For as long as it works, this social contract binds a group of people to a distinct political structure and to guidelines for acceptable behavior.  Obviously, the document--both as a whole and in its various parts--is intended to ensure and advance the prosperity, security and overall well-being of that society.

It is NOT intended to negate or impede the achievement of those very goals.

The writers of our Constitution--themselves imperfect men (and NOT Yahweh)--soberly recognized their unavoidable inadequacies and, accordingly, clearly specified a means (albeit a very "prudent" one) whereby their document could be amended to suit changing circumstances or needs.

(Surely the very inclusion of an amendment procedure is proof positive that the Constitution is not in any way an expression of divinely immutable principles.  God's laws, if such exist, presumably could not be changed by anyone under any circumstances.  And yet, the Second Amendment is itself just such a "change," brought about by an act of Congress and approval of three-fourths of the states.)

In any event, it's pretty clear that the country's circumstances and needs HAVE changed since 1789 (or 1791, when the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution).  And even more significantly, popular thinking has evolved--not always in directions foreseen by those who drafted the Second Amendment.

Even the most cursory glance at the language of the Amendment reveals that the Framers were primarily focused on providing "security" for a "free State." People should have the right to bear arms in order to organize themselves into a "well regulated militia" and thereby protect themselves against invaders or, perhaps, a tyrannical government.  In other words, it is the interests of the STATE and the COMMONWEAL that must be served (not those of particular individuals).

But precisely because the remainder of the Bill of Rights, enforced by an elaborate legal system, has worked fairly well, citizens no longer have any desperate need to use firearms to protect themselves against tyrannical government or abuses of authority. Indeed, the gun collectors and hoarders have only very rarely organized themselves into "militia" in order to defend their liberties against agents of some despot--foreign or domestic.  Instead--with the notable exception of hunters and sportsmen--they seem to regard their guns as a legitimate means of advancing their own subjective interests--a "God-given" instrument for intimidating, threatening or coercing "lesser" citizens into a certain course of action--or else.

I fear that increasingly our American definition of freedom is both simplistic and anarchic:  "Shoot any son of a bitch who doesn't agree with me or pisses me off!" (So much for the FIRST Amendment, BTW).

This, I hasten to point out, is NOT the defense of the Commonweal spoken of in the Second Amendment.  Rather, it is aggression in the service of selfish interests or private grudges--Commonweal be damned.

Let us note here that the language of the Amendment says nothing specific about employing weapons for self-defense (against a personal attack) or for hunting or sport.  I assume that the Framers, living in late 18th Century America, would have considered such practices both reasonable and proper.  And, if  "well regulated," similar gun use seems appropriate for our modern world as well .


I very much doubt that the Framers had any such purposes in mind.  Unfortunately, their vague language has all too often been so interpreted, much to the detriment of our collective security. Statistics leave no doubt about the fearsome prevalence of gun deaths in America.  Indisputably, we own more guns than any other people--and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, we kill each other with guns at astonishing rates (14.2 per 100,000 vs., for instance 4.3 for Canada or .41 for England).

So, the Second Amendment, which was originally intended to ensure domestic security (NOT God-given rights to kill people we don't like), has, to paraphrase Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, become destructive of these very ends.  It therefore behooves us, again as Jefferson asserted, to "alter or to abolish" the offending writ.

Not by armed uprising, not by violent revolution (as advocated by Jefferson), but by the very prudent amendment procedure that established the Second Amendment itself.

I realize that this will be a very long process, especially given the pro-gun culture that now prevails in the U.S. And I am not naive:  perhaps we have grown so fond of our guns and/or so afraid of defying the NRA that we will be forever powerless to remedy our current Old West environment and restore some measure of domestic tranquility (the language of the Constitution's Preamble) to the general citizenry. Still, I continue to hope. Perhaps people of good-will and good sense will ultimately triumph.

So MY Second Amendment Solution is to trash the whole confusing and misinterpreted thing.  Replace it with a clear-cut set of rules appropriate for life in  21st Century America--rules governing the sale of weapons and permitting duly licensed/registered firearms for sport and self-defense. Period. Maybe then--sometime in the distant future, I suppose--we will begin to resemble the safer and more civilized democracies of the world--none of which (true believers please take note) seem to have the slightest yearning to share our "God-given right to bear arms."