Iraq War


Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be . . .

Sometime during the spring of 1966 my family and my father’s best friend’s family were on a picnic in Stone Park, just outside my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. The war in Vietnam was raging and the topic was always on people’s minds. The two fathers got into it over whether or not they would recommend that their sons volunteer to fight in that war.

My father’s position was that under no circumstances would he recommend that I, or my brother, “serve” in Vietnam. He reasoned that Vietnam was an unjustifiable war that America had no business waging and that his sons would be fools to enlist.

My father’s friend offered the “My country right or wrong” cliché, popular at the time and that his four boys should serve. They went at it, hot and heavy, the remainder of the picnic. Their friendship was never quite the same after this heated exchange. It, too, became a casualty of Vietnam.

I was recently listening to a TV interview with a woman who was discussing the economy and the “quality” of her life, all the while straightening up her garage with her young daughter. Abruptly the conversation shifted to her son enlisting in the Army. Eyes welling, her voice cracked as she said she was unsuccessful in dissuading her son from enlisting, that she had had a prolonged year-long conversation with him during his last year in high school. He would enlist against her misgivings.

What should a parent, in this case a mother, do to protect her child? I am immensely grateful for the sanity of my father regarding Vietnam. There was no family expectation that I go to Vietnam, actually just the opposite, that I lucidly avoid the potential death, disfigurement and violence of that ill-conceived tragedy. Survive. Thrive.

Here are the latest figures regarding military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a recent AP report, 45% of the 1.6 million veterans of those wars are filing for disability benefits for injuries that are service related. That is nearly one out every two returning war veterans are requesting injury compensation.

As a mother, what do you say to a child for them to grasp the idea that warfare is not a lark, that “To be all that you can be” means that, today, there is nearly a 50% chance that you will, my son, come back “less” than what you were. Physically, mentally or emotionally.

At this point, the conversation quite reasonably shifts to the legitimacy of the state’s argument for war (and any claims for our children to fight them). Arguably, America had one justifiable war the entire 20th century, that being WWII. We wrongly, immorally invaded Iraq and why occupy Afghanistan when it was Osama Bin Laden needing taken out?

Democrats and Republicans alike are militaristic fools and jingoistic blowhards. Our military is tragically and repeatedly used for fool’s errands and rather than strengthening—making the nation more secure—we are more fearful, more of a garrison state than we’ve been since the American Civil War.

The trajectory of the West (since Ancient Greece) has been a focus on the individual and his/her ability to reason. The state tells you it needs your child as cannon fodder. Think. What do you logically, reasonably conclude regarding that request? Act.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be . . .

A 9/11 Accounting.

What was missing from the 9/11 commemoration? An accounting.

We remembered (and honored) those who died and make no mistake, their deaths were unnecessary but I continue to be amazed that so few Americans ask, “Why?” What is it about America that compels Muslims to kill themselves (and us) in suicide missions? That simple fact should compel all of us to wonder what drives young Muslim men, lads who might be wooing some comely, almond-eyed Scheherazade, boys who might be so in love with life (and living) that dying for any cause repugnant. But that does not seem to be the case.

Asking why is a controversial question. It suggests that those who died were somehow culpable in their own deaths. That is a ridiculous connection. The specific people who died on 9/11 were innocents slaughtered but that does mean we, as a nation, should not examine what motivated the 19 Muslims to want to kill us (and themselves in the process).

Americans, as a people, are an ignorant lot. We frequently elect presidents (and legislators) who are woefully uncultured nativists. Many do not study history beyond the simplistic platitudes concerning our Founding Fathers. Worse, we think of today as having no antecedents; that today arrived in a vacuum disconnected from any cause and effect.

Why didn’t the 9/11 hijackers target Brazilians, the Chinese or South Africans? Why Americans? And your answer would be?

I’ve asked this question before. How many troops does China have stationed in Islamic nations? Incidental to the answer of “no troops” is the uncomfortable realization that China pays what per barrel of oil? China pays the same for petroleum as America without the added surcharge of our dead military personnel and a $3 trillion bill of indebtedness.

Osama Bin Laden was clear in his statements regarding what he found offensive about America (the West). He clearly wanted American troops out of his holy land of Saudi Arabia. He wanted American troops out of Islamic countries, period. He disapproved of our liberal, secular culture. He aspired to construct a modern day caliphate governed by sharia law. He disapproved of America’s support of Israel.

Our nation has mucked around in the Middle East for decades, supporting oppressive regimes, clandestinely involving itself in the internal affairs of Islamic nations—deciding winners and losers. For what? For oil. And for ego. Because we’re the noble Americans who cloak our intrigue under the guise of promoting democracy and capitalism. That might sell in Little Rock but for any reflective Islamic nationalist, America is an oppressive, imperialist nation, no different from the 19th century Russians and English (and others) who once played “The Great Game” in The Middle East.

America was struck on 9/11 because we are a meddlesome imperialist nation with an unfortunate history of Middle East involvement. We were struck because America represents modernity (change) in an area of the world administered by men with 12th century mentalities and beliefs. We were struck because we are the “Big Dog” on the world block and successfully striking America, unfortunately for us, garners the biggest bang for the buck.

It is for the women of the Middle East that I mourn, for whom I empathize. But it is not America’s moral responsibility to ensure their emancipation.

Bring our troops home. No more American forces (or meddling) in the Middle East.

That would be a reasoned final 9/11 accounting.

The New Mourn. Do Not Despair.

The day after voting we awoke to a “new mourn” in America. The Holy Roller Luddite Party of Righteous Republican Know Nothingism achieved significant political gains throughout the nation. It will be “High Fives” and “Hosannas” all over America’s corporate boardrooms. “Praise the Lord! The fools bought our crap yet again!” What rubes we are.

I marvel at how clever our moneyed interests are. “They” neither underestimate our collective stupidity nor lose track of what is important. To them. What I do not totally understand is this. You can only feast so long on the blood, on the weakened body of America before it becomes a corpse. If the light flickers, if the spirit of our nation wanes, it won’t be because some shuffling, gray-haired, minimum wage Wal-Mart greeter asked, “Please sir, can I have more porridge?” Grasping, ungrateful, no doubt liberal, old socialist hag that she is!

Biblical verse Luke 12:48 has been lost on our privileged class, “For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” It now reads, “For to whomsoever much is given, what, there must be more!” And so it goes.

I get ballistic over the nation’s course but folks, we have to let it go. Or as Carly Simon sang, “I haven’t got time for the pain.”

I’m 61 years old. That is old. Any way you add it up. It is real time. I’ve approximately 22 years left if family history be any marker. And I am totally at ease with that. Jepson men are strong until they aren’t and then poof, relatively speaking, we’re dead in a week.

Now, I’ve consumed far less whiskey and red meat than either my father or grandfather (although I am not so free of vice but who among us is), so I might get a bonus six or nine months at the end, maybe not; yet if I’m lucid, I’ll willingly grab the extra days.

Whatever an election’s outcome there will always be (regardless the goons/flaks in office) good books to read, toe-tapping music to hear, stunningly beautiful flowers to smell, light as air champagne to sip, new ideas to ponder, delightful people to love and conversation. And laughter. Of course, laughter. And art.

No empire lasts forever. Any student of history understands this. Each generation must fend for itself. Yet, I so hope the center holds (metaphorically and literally speaking).

But we mustn’t despair. Even if the Huns are at the gate and Rome lost. As Pogo said in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

And that is the crux of the issue. To me. Any pretense of America’s moral authority is a chimera, so many decades has our nation been a meddlesome, imperialistic power. At home our nation deconstructs before our eyes as our leaders spoon-feed us pabulum while ladling-up backroom pork for the special interests. And the irony, the tragedy is we elected our own executioners. Dupes (I have met the enemy and . . .) that we are.

And until that day when heads roll (ours), do let the band play on.

Ah, yes, the band. As I understand it, the band played while the mighty, unsinkable Titanic sank. Deck chairs for all! For all.

Are You A Liberal?

What is fair? As in what is a fair amount of taxes for an individual to pay to local, state and federal governments? I recently read that approximately 45% of American households pay no federal taxes. At all.

This seems inexplicable to me. Do you not travel on federal highways? Do you not enjoy the protection of America’s armed forces? Have you not been in a national park or forest? So, why would you not contribute “something” to the national pot? Because, the argument goes, I/you don’t make enough to kick-in any amount.

I am occasionally asked, “Jepson, are you a liberal?” And, I unabashedly answer, “Yes.”

I come to my “liberal” position from one essential perspective. But before I explain why I am a liberal, I must confess that I am a liberal, not from the heart but from the brain.

I am fundamentally (to use labels) an independent, mind-your-own-business, leave-me-alone, I’ll take care of my own business anarchist, thank you very much. I do not want anyone, anytime in my face even remotely telling me what to do, when or how. My favorite quote is “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.” I will chose exactly whom I will help if I deem them worthy. My heart does not break for those who have made poor choices. Live the consequences of your decisions. And, by gawd, leave me alone to live mine.

I don’t like whiners, hangers-on, sycophants, suck-ups or deadbeats. Or bootlicking, whimpering simpletons. I am singularly unimpressed with those who have inherited wealth (although I support generational transfers) and who have ended-up dissipated and desiccated with/by their lame, conservative thinking. Little is more laughable than listening to an over-stuffed turd-blossum whose wealth was acquired through granddaddy’s initiative yet who talks as if he has some keen insight into how to live. Puh-leaseeee.

I don’t have a soft spot for humanity cuz we’re so cute and cuddly. I don’t get dewy-eyed over the aborted unborn. I’d rather invest in art museums than homeless shelters. Guns don’t bother me and if some duffus of a gunowner’s child blows his foot off because daddy left a loaded pistol in his nightstand, well, unfortunate and as tragic as that is, perhaps it’s Darwainism working on that particular genetic line.

Capital punishment is okay by me. (Except for the unresolvable problem of executing the innocent.) Some crimes against humanity are so egregious as to warrant expulsion from the tribe. Pedophiles, rapists, “some” murderers, “some” swindlers (Think: Bernie Madoff), war criminals—all just might warrant execution. Are we short people in the ol’ rowboat of humanity such that all men are needed at the oars? I don’t think so. Well then, as the Red Queen so succinctly uttered, “Off with their heads!” And why not? It is not as if they have endeared themselves to the tribe through exemplar service to mankind.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the shiftless, lazy hangers-on of society. Whose only effort some days is tearing open a government support check. Who, worse, breed and breed and breed and have child after child after child they cannot afford and expect “US” to support. I, personally, do not want to support another man’s child. I simply do not. You have babies, you take care of them. You house, feed, insure and educate your children. And, I’ll do the same for my kin, thank you very much. That is what responsible adults do.

You know what though? A lot of what I wrote above was much more appropriate for an 1840 America than a 2010 America.

While I am an anarchist at heart I am a liberal through reflection. What else can an intelligent person be?

America is well on its way to 400 million people. If we lived in the best of all possible worlds (read: Votaire’s “Candide”), all adults would be thoughtful and responsible. All children would be planned and properly cared for with “Lake Wobegon” abilities. There would be no crime and if there were, there would be no extenuating or mitigating factors. There would be no shades of gray, no ambiguity, doubt or uncertainty as to the right and wrong ways to live or how to conduct one’s self. Businesses and corporations would be honorable. They would play by the rules and would be as interested in the “morality” of what they do as they are in making profits. Humans wouldn’t be killing (consuming) the very planet they call home. Governments would be stellar reflections of an honorable, generous populace. Graft, corruption, avarice and murderous thuggery wouldn’t be in our vocabulary. Wouldn’t be in our bloodstream, our DNA, wouldn’t be what we are. Alas. Sigh.

If America is at 325 million today and 10% of the population is incapable of sustaining itself, what do we do with such folk? That’s 30 million plus people. If corporations, left to their own devices, would not unconscionably rape and pillage the environment for profits, well, that really isn’t the case is it? If our financial institutions and banking industry were conscientious corporate citizens that placed profits and community service as equal objectives, well, again, that isn’t the case either. If only responsible adults had children I wouldn’t have to be concerned with their children’s welfare. But that isn’t America’s reality either is it? Children do not ask to be born to bums, drug addicts, whores or reprobates.

Let alone the nation’s wretched stain of slavery and racism.

I, once upon a time, worked for an organization that provided funding for legal services for poor Americans—folks so impoverished and destitute that their children sometimes had teeth literally growing into their cheeks. They would be forced to seek legal assistance (a lawyer) to force the Social Security Administration to pay for their child’s dental care. This after months of pain for the child. Americans detest the poor and they dislike nothing more than a poor person with a lawyer. But so what? That child needed help and our government, that’s us, was too indifferent, too bureaucratic to care.

But what kind of people are we who mouth the simplicities I stated earlier? Goofs, that’s who. It’s one thing to spout, as did I, the platitudes of “rugged individualism,” to even attempt to live such a life, oh, say, back when the pre-industrial North American continent was virtually empty, when the weak did, simply, die along the way. But that ain’t America today and hasn’t been for well over100 years.

We live in a complex and complicated world where life relentlessly dishes up victims (humans in great need) like so much cannon fodder. They are real, suffering people with real problems that only through our collective action (that’s government) can we, with any hope, begin to address.

I embrace liberalism because historically as America has grown, all the problems associated with being an urbanized, industrialized nation have grown, too. And liberalism is and has been the only legitimate attempt at addressing and rectifying those problems inherent in our system. Liberalism is imperfect to be sure, but nonetheless necessary.

The unsophisticated, somewhat infantile Tea Party rhetoric I feel emotionally (of my don’t tread on me individualism, etc.) isn’t what is required to solve America’s problems. Simplistic, chest-beating rhetoric espousing conservative values won’t house the poor, clean the environment or protect the nation (us) from rapacious business practices.

But I still would like every American to, at least, put a little in the kitty, other than just their hand taking something out.

Fore! Game On!

Part of me is intrigued with the Tiger Woods jaunty line drive into a fire hydrant and part of me is not. I genuinely do not care who schtupps who, although I did Google the alleged “schtuppee,” Rachel Uchitel and found her appropriately fetching. Memo to Rachel: Wear contrasting panties when photographed in a parteee mode. Didn’t your sorority sisters teach you anything!?!

No, what would perplex me about the whole affair, if true, would be the why question. Why have two babies with a woman (your wife in this case) if you are not going to be there to finish the “round,” so to speak? Ah, there’s the rub. Indeed.

One of my favorite-all-time sights is to be walking down Park Avenue and up ahead I spot a guy in his 50s, early 60s. He’s got this “What in the hell have I done?” crazed look in his eyes as he holds the hand of his runny-nosed progeny and beside him his new model wife pushes a pram with a crying baby. It absolutely warms the cockles of my heart. It is too funny. Best of luck, fella! Have another one! No doubt his other children are just finishing college.

Last Saturday night I was in Sanford having dinner at the German Restaurant, the Willow Tree. Lots of Oompa-pa-pa music and laughter. We then headed around the corner to The Sanford Wine Company and listened to a great, genuinely sublime singing duo (They’ll be back the weekend of the 13th). In walk two couples. I’d guess the men to be in their late 50s, professionals, either doctors or lawyers. You can tell by their shoes. You can. The gals were in their 40s. Pretty. I intently watch the interactions of each couple.

One woman (no ring) is all over one of the guys. They’re out dancing and she’s listening ever so intently to every word “her” man utters, laughs uncontrollably at his wit and has her hands all over him. It’s sweet. It is.

I turn to the barkeep, whose been slyly watching the same show and say, “Well, it’s obvious they haven’t been married ten years,” and we both knowingly, Ha! Ha! Ha!, laugh. No wife, no woman finds her man “that” amusing given enough time. Sigh.

I’ve repeatedly read that the seven-year-itch is really closer to a four-year-itch, that we evolved with the need for the male to stick around at least that long to ensure the survivability of any offspring. If the seven-year-itch is accurate, I’d venture two children have been born of that relationship. Statistically speaking.

If I were to give marriage counseling, and that, in and of itself is hysterically funny, regardless, I’d give women two pieces of unsolicited advice regarding how to achieve a long term relationship. My advice to men would be much more lengthy and nuanced.

To women, I offer two things for a long(er) relationship: Laughter and fun. There is no real way to get around it. Life is genuinely sorrowful. It comes at you relentlessly, by the wheelbarrow load. How do you counteract that?

Aside: I am going to write an essay on what percentage of our daily life we should be happy. Happy 50% of the time? 75%? 40%? 25%? Happiness, as a daily (hourly) pursuit, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Our ancestors did not necessarily “feel” that was life’s goal. But what the hell did they know?

So all around us, all of the time, relatives are dying, cousins are getting breast cancer, nephews are shipped off to Afghanistan, children are deconstructing, jobs are lost, homes in foreclosure, failing businesses, divorcing neighbors, parents are becoming sponge-brained shells of their former selves and are now moving into the bedroom just vacated by your college-bound child, the chickens ain’t laying, the milk has soured and the roof leaks. And that, perhaps, is a good day. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on an environment that should have us all weeping, a government out of touch with reality and the infinite tragedy of an America at war all the time, forever. Sigh.

Men, shallow creatures that we are, are easily (genetically?) distracted by the shiny new bauble that sparkles and shines and sits dewy–eyed enthralled by the mush that spews forth from our mouths. So sad but true, ladies. Men, perhaps more than women, require fresh ears to give them validity—that our meager lives amount to something more than HE was born, HE bred and HE died. Ha! Ha! He! He!

And laughter, when all is said and done, is just the tonic for the human condition. Irony makes me laugh, caustic S.O.B. that I am. Yet irony is but one “type” of humor. I like it all. Infantile, middle school boy humor that centers on bodily functions, noises and secretions. You bet. Ethnic humor. Humor that takes a stereotype and turns it on its ear. Slapstick humor. Sexual humor. Mmm-Mmm Good! Puns. Word plays. I don’t even so much mind when I’m the butt of the humor (Gawd only knows I so deserve it at times). Sheer goofiness. Un-huh. Irreverence. Nearly my favorite. Humor that sees the precariousness of the human condition and laughs at it. Humor that deflates the pompous, inflates the vulnerable and conflates what it means to be human, to be alive. I love a woman who sees the humor in life and that the joke, perhaps, is on all of us.

Tiger is in the “rough,” to employ an overused golf analogy. And the world is all atwitter about this and that as it pertains to his life and marriage. And part of me says, “Are you kidding? Obama is getting ready to drive America further into the ditch, into the morass called Afghanistan and we’re focusing on whether Tiger has his driver out, swinging away on an, uh, unsanctioned, uh, hazzard?”

But then I’m reminded of the time when Arnold Palmer and his wife were on the Johnny Carson TV show and Johnny asked Mrs. Palmer if they had any pre-tournament rituals for luck? Mrs. Palmer said yes, she, “Kissed Arnie’s balls for luck?”

Quicker than lightening, Johnny said, “I’ll bet that keeps his putter up.” Evidently, the Mrs. didn’t see the humor. Ladies: please see earlier paragraphs on the importance of laughter.

All I know, is if the “typical” man while hurriedly exiting his home crashes into a fire hydrant at 2:25 a.m. and the wife within mere seconds, mere seconds is out with a nine iron clubbing out the back window we cannot automatically assume it is to rescue the poor fool. We only have her word, after all, that he was knocked out, bloodied from the actual car accident. Fore! Game On!

Such Is Life.

My brother’s third wife recently died of alcohol poisoning. Over 20 years she poisoned herself to death with alcohol. Alcoholism is an illness that “many” of us, myself included, don’t have much tolerance or sympathy for. If Martha had died over 20 years fighting cancer, we’d say, “What a fighter she was.”

I’d see her around town, at the grocery store, glassy-eyed, yet with enough presence of mind to be chagrinned upon “running” into me in an obviously inebriated state. Martha hated to disappoint anyone, particularly me because she rightly understood that I am a judgmental person. What she didn’t quite grasp was “So what, I think you’re a drunk, you’re still a human being I deeply care for.”

All my brother’s four wives have been remarkable women, I’ve truly loved’em all. Talented beauties they were and are. People sometimes say to me, “Four times! How can someone be divorced four times?” I laugh and inwardly think, “Well, everyone of my brother’s marriages ended for explainable, understandable reasons.” Marriage is a crapshoot in many respects. Whether you marry young or old, once or several times, each time is with a unique individual that you really don’t know, perhaps, all that you need to know when actually marrying. But isn’t that wonderful, too, and marry we do.

Martha’s alcoholism began after divorcing my brother. Uncle Stevie, which is how I refer to my brother, worried that in some way, shape or form he contributed to her drinking problem. In reality, being married to my brother prolonged her life. My brother didn’t drink a drop of alcohol for nearly 20 years as a result of getting so sickenly-bombed at my cousin’s wedding when he was just 21 years old. So disgusted was he at how sick he became that he became a model of sobriety for two decades. We laugh at this. Moderation, I say to my brother. Ha! Ha!

The marriage ended, as all marriages do for familiar and unique reasons and the “governor” was now gone and the drinking began. Whether out of sadness or disappointment, whether to mask or dull the pain, whether out of guilt or the sheer need for a drink, the long slog to an addictive alcoholic death began. And the guilt we all feel for not “stepping in,” for not intervening, for not doing enough to save Martha’s life, an unspoken sorrow.

Intellectually, I know better. And, I am not so troubled by “guilt” as some I know. I really do believe, “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way,” but when the deaths are of people you love and they were “weak,” thoughts do surface that if only I had said “X” or acted more forcefully “when,” things just might have been different.

I have attended Al-Anon meetings, which are for those affected by an alcoholic in their lives. My son is an alcoholic and it is for me a tragedy and an on-going sorrow like no other in my life. I’d give my right arm today, this moment. I’d let my arm be macheted-off and I’d have to “belt-up” the bloody stump myself and make it to the emergency room on my own, if that would balance some cosmic scale such that my son never had another drink in his life. I’d do it in an unthinking heartbeat. Alas.

There is a part of living that I think most reflective parents can agree. As a parent you are no happier than your most unhappy child. Life with a child alcoholic is one constant, “What if?” What if I had intervened earlier? What if I had better screened his peers for “X?” What if I had said no to “X” and yes to “Y?” What If I had given more? Or, given less? Did I not do enough? Love enough? Was I too hard? Not hard enough? Where did I fail as a parent? And no matter the time of day or year, I can find myself asking, “What is the point of all this sorrow?”

And, of course, there is no point. It just is. I know that. Mythologist, Joseph Campbell said that life is about embracing it all. Sorrow, too. But I must note that Joseph Campbell never had any children, sick children in particular. While Campbell is correct, in my opinion, about acknowledging and accepting the enormous amount of sorrow associated with life and living—it goes with the territory of being human—a sorrowful child is like no other pain a human will ever experience.

Your babies come into life with such promise that it makes the more reflective among us shudder with what an awesome responsibility that is. The gift of life is just that and for that life to end up in an alcoholic hell is, well, an ongoing purgatory for the parent, too. No matter the degree of detachment you put in place to protect yourself.

There are situations in life that are beyond our control. And, I do genuinely believe that how we talk to ourselves is critical to our own mental health in such matters. But you know what? Even if you are able to rationally understand that you are not “responsible” for that person drinking or doing drugs, that all of it really is beyond your control, the associated sorrow nonetheless can be, at times, crippling in its sadness.

No public meeting or self-help clinic or private counseling session, no bookly wisdom or “kindly advice” can ever eliminate the bubbling, just below the surface thought of, “What fresh hell is my child now, this moment, experiencing?”

Martha is dead. My son lives. What sorrow.

And Icarus fell to the sea and the farmer continued, unaware, in his fields. Such is life.

In Faux Control.

I no longer sleep the sleep of youth. Ah, remember. You’d fall sleep and awaken hours later, rested, virtually unaware that any time at all had passed. As an organism, my body rhythms have always allowed me to easily fall asleep. That hasn’t changed. But now four or five hours into the night, I awaken. Fortunately, this has never been particularly bothersome. I actually enjoy this time. I often drift in and out of a semi-sleep distantly aware of the sounds of the night, a foraging armadillo, the who-who-whoing of an owl, the far-away rumble of a car. And now the Night Blooming Jasmine offers a sweet blanket of fragrance that borders on suffocating. But, oh, sweet life smother me more.

Ideas, images, words flow in and out, moving my consciousness from lucid to dreamy. I try to focus on my interests at the moment. I have an uncanny ability to not dwell on whatever might be distressing to me in the daylight; what would be the actual point? I am a fervent advocate of the Scarlett O’Hara approach to living, “Fiddley-dee! I’ll think about that tomorrow.” And why not? Whatever it is that is smacking you around in the day (metaphorically speaking) needn’t intrude into the delight of the night.

I’ve been thinking of late about the idea of free will. God, it is asserted gave us the gift of free will. And. I met the most charming woman during a Garden Tour of Sanford this past weekend. It caused me to completely re-evaluate my thinking on actually living in “old” Sanford. Regardless, I was chatting with a married homeowner about her lovely backyard and she indicated that she had once been a nun. “Oh, my,” I thought. I absolutely could not pass up such an opportunity and said, “I, in no way want to be presumptuous, but if you are comfortable could you share with me why you gave up being a nun?”

She couldn’t have been more warm and forthcoming. She said, “I could no longer bring myself to believe what the church was saying or doing.” She indicated she still be believed in God. When I volunteered that I did not believe in a personal God she asked why. I went through my litany of reasons. Example: It has never been satisfactorily answered for me as to why would God have Viet Nam pilots unload bombs from 40,000 feet on to sleeping children such that they run screaming down the street with melting flesh dropping from their innocent bodies.

We briefly discussed the notion of free will. I said please explain to me that if God is omnipotent and omniscient and knows everything that has ever happened or ever will happen, why would God not “tweak” the model in order prevent man from one day dropping bombs on sleeping Asian children? Why not “tweak” Adam such that his offspring will be less the beast and more the angel? I mean he knows all, correct?

I was reminded of the astute observation by Epicurus that goes, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but is not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” Those Greeks!

But our conversation circled back to the notion of free will and later it delightfully occupied my nighttime reveries and crept into my dreams and out of the fragrant ether, of Jasmine swollen air came an insight from the gods, “In Faux Control.”

What is it we all want as human beings? To be in control. Perhaps not when it comes to sex—Ah, sweet abandonment!—but that’s another story. In full control! I am in full control. Of my life! From the moment we have consciousness, we struggle (work) to achieve control of our lives. From learning how to walk, to purposefully walking to “there.”

I remember once heatedly arguing with an individual about controlling a situation and by implication me. I got eyeball to eyeball and said, “You want to control this situation? You can have this situation.”

Free will has been described as “the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies.” Hmmm? It has been logically asked, “Can a mental state be other than conditioned?”

Is it an illusion, the full control of one’s life? In full control. In Faux Control. A context is the notion of free will, God granted or not. Free will? Oh, do you mean we all have free will beyond that which is governed by genetics, cultural parameters, family dynamics or the soupy chemistry (hormones, et al) that all came together in uterine and birthed you? Sure, then, of course, there is a free will. Where exactly might we exercise total free will? Yes, of course, I’ll have a Big Mac over a Whopper. Coke over Pepsi. Uh, uh, uh, cheese, too! See! Free will!

But even that is suspect. Children as young as three or four have been so intensely marketed as to prefer specific brands and products. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (or be disgusted) over that “economic” development. It is uggifying.

It’s largely an illusion, free will. That we are in full control. I want to believe that I can consciously override what “life” has imprinted on me. Oh, I am not speaking of some “devilish” force that is secretly controlling our fates, nothing like that. But if you believe that you are somehow immune from what genetics dictate, or for that matter immune to familial and/or cultural imprinting, well, go ahead and claim that you are in Full Control. It’s Faux Control.

If you believe God one late Saturday afternoon some 7,000 or so years ago tapped Adam on the shoulder and tagged him with a free will, well, either you don’t understand modern human biology or you have succumbed to religious gobbledy-gook. Either way your thinking is, ironically enough, a clear example of anything but the exercise of a free will. If thinking for yourself is ever the “only” legitimate counter argument in this discussion.

“I find it impossible not to think that I can now choose.” Good mind that Henry Sidgwick, but his observation was that of a 19th century philosopher, not a 21st century scientist.

In faux control. With faux disclosure. Where might we ever exercise our freest will. Sweet dreams?

Reciprocity is the lubricant of life

It’s crisp $50’s time again. I will be turning 60 next week and I just know so many of you will be left wondering what to get the man who has nearly everything. For a guy whose motto is “It’s art,” please don’t give me art. No clothes. Books, no. Music, no. Cash is king. (I once had a staff give me a money clip with that motto inscribed, “Cash is King.”) Particularly when compared to anything else at the moment. Crisp $50s are always appreciated. It’s a decent bottle of champagne with a bag of M&M’s left over. Know what I mean?

There are so many birthdays in one’s life that are supposed to mean something. I was listening to NPR recently and someone remarked how important becoming ten was to them. Never again would that individual be single digit young. For a guy (me) who actually didn’t start thinking until he was 36 or so (seriously) I found that a little deep.

Turning 18 is supposed to be a watershed but I believe that is more a factor of graduating from high school which most of us do at age 18. Again, 21 is supposedly a biggee because you can legally drink but I hadn’t paid much attention to that restriction since I was, oh, 17 and then I was in college and drinking anyway so that was of no particular consequence.

Growing up and coming of “age” in the 1960s, turning 30 was allegedly a benchmark. We were advised to not trust anyone over 30 for some inexplicable reason. I never did quite grasp the meaning of that but more importantly you moved from still being young to something else at age 30.

Women it is alleged are more concerned with aging than men. Perhaps. Men are as vain as women about most of the same things women are accused of being overly (overtly) vain about. We (men) just don’t have it shoved down our psyches on daily basis to the same degree. That does seem a bit unfair. I acknowledge that.

About age 22 I figured out I really was going to die. Me personally. Oh, I knew concretely that life ended, I lived on a mink ranch and participated annually in the killing and pelting of the herd. But all that life you have within you just doesn’t seem to allow the notion of your own mortality. Until. I was reading a lot of Russian authors at the time and I actually refer to this time as “My Russian Period” when it just sank in—I was on-the-clock. So to speak.

It was at this point in my life when I calibrated my remaining years based on my grandfather’s length of life. My father had yet to die. Gramps died at age 83 so I figured I had approximately 60 years to go and I tucked that bit of information into the back recesses of my mind but do periodically drag it out and announce (to anyone who will listen) my updated death watch. 54 years to go. 40 years to go. 32 years to go. Gallows humor, huh? I figured I might even get a few additional years because I could never in two lifetimes equal the amount of red meat and whiskey both my father and grandfather consumed. Different times.

It has never disturbed me that I am going to die and that will be it. I grew up in an atheist’s home and am glad to not have been handicapped. I didn’t have to overcome any of the gibberish that passes for spirituality. Thank you, Father. Now that sounds spiritual. Yes, indeed. Thank you, Father.

I have a saint of a lovely daughter who is nearly as old as I am. Ha! Not true but she’s closing in on 40. I started telling her when she was so very young that we’d someday sit on a front porch together, each of us in our own rocking chair. I particularly like that image. Always have.

Other people’s birthdays, particularly their births have been momentous for me. I was in the delivery room for both my son’s births, as well as my grandson (seminal events all). They wouldn’t let a man into delivery for my daughter’s birth so different was the time then. Goofy, huh?

You move. You work. You move some more. And the years pass. And the birthdays come and go. During my 50s, each additional year I would add that good old Anglo-Saxon swearword in between the 50 and the year I was in. For example 52 became Fifty-Fxxxxxx-two. It rolls off the tongue so smoothly. So alliterative. And everyone laughes and acknowledges a certain point. My 60s are going to become Sixty-Sucking-One, etc. I haven’t decided on my 70s. I refuse to be repetitious. How about Seventy-Sexy-Seven? One can only hope.

What have I learned in 60 years? I’ve learned to MYOB. Mind Your Own Business. I want to have lived such that if I fell off a cliff and passed a rose growing out of the side of cliff during my fall, I would have enough presence of mind to say, “My gawd, what a gorgeous flower.” Splattt. Ha! In the moment.

I’ve learned that you can spell fun with a capital PH. Big Phunn! I’ve learned that stuff ain’t all that important but if you do have stuff, why not have beauty surrounding you? I have not learned to carry a tune. I’ve learned that relationships are an integral part of a rich and full life. You know, Rich & Full. I’ve learned to laugh a lot. At myself, too. I’d sooner live the “explored” life than the unexplored life. Beauty is more than skin deep. But, oh my, such skin. Books, art & music matter, so too ideas. Have more flowers in your life. And laughs. And friends. And family.

I may have a tombstone that reads, besides my name and date, “Reciprocity is the lubricant of life.” I coined that as a summation of how this enterprise called life works. Believe me, to a degree, that is it in spades. You get as good as you give.

Now back to those $50 bills. Send them to the Observer c/o “That Liberal Dude!” Remember: Crisp New Fifties Now!

If not, send a contribution to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando or WUCF 89.9 Jazz. One is fighting for women’s rights and the life of the planet, the other is beauty for the ears (mind)! Do both.

Dearest Santa:

I think we’ve been bad, Santa. Very bad! Now I know it’s not your “thing” to get into punishment, you know, whippings and executions but I really do think public floggings, followed-up with an execution or two would have a salubrious effect on (for) the nation. Maybe we’d have to go with the major media markets. With Orlando being the 21st largest market, we’d hit the top 25 with advertised floggings and hangings in each. Would that work for you, Santa?

I’m sure we’d achieve 90% coverage of the nation using the Top 25 markets. It might even spur a kick to the post-holiday shopping season. January is looking pretty grim, retail wise but public hangings (and all the associated hoop-la) just might be what is needed to jumpstart the economy. Just a thought, Santa.

I thought about writing God but, sigh, I’m losing faith. Really, Santa, I am. His “free will” clause seems to completely let the Big Guy in the Sky off the hook. He exonerates Himself when He trills, “I’m leaving it all up to you-ou-ou,” meaning, “Hey Now! Yea, I know I made the clowns down there but I gave’um the choice to be good and you can see where that’s got me. Hell’s filling up faster than a Florida subdivision during a housing boom. What’s a God ta do?” Whine, whine, whine.

Who does that leave to mete out justice, Santa? We haven’t had a “good” Inquisition, you know, since, well, God knows when. Four, five hundred years? Where’s the Catholic Church when you genuinely need it. You could always count on them for a great “rack” and a really, really fine public burning of the sacrificial. Oh, those were the days, Santa. What better for the nation than to resurrect the roasting confessional, a tried and true extravaganza that lets the crowd (that’s America, Santa) cathartically release its national pent-up anger and frustration.

And since Santa, you’re always claiming to know who has been “naughty or nice” and that you see us even when we are sleeping, well, I think you’re just the guy for the job. I mean, you do whip the reindeer don’t-cha, Santa? Rudolf’s been talking, Santa.

Okay, where to start? Santa, America was lied to. Our leaders got us into an illegal, immoral war. Thousands of our boys have died for a lie, Santa. We sold our national soul and illegally imprisoned and tortured people, Santa. All based on the lie of fear. Our government corrupted itself and we just stood by and watched it happen. We are weak, Santa, cowardly, too.

Our government and courts do nothing to the perpetrators of the lie, of the war, of the torture, of the subversion of our ideals. They do nothing, Santa. Actually, they hand out Medals of Freedom to the thugs and call’um patriotic. I don’t get it, Santa. It’s like Orwell never wrote “1984.” Pretty soon, Santa, all the criminals will leave office and go back to their regular jobs of skimming the government financially. Speaking of which . . .

Santa, you’ll never believe it. America is on the ropes economically. Hard to believe, isn’t it? With all of America’s natural resources, it’s democratic history, it’s ingenious, hardworking people, America still couldn’t stop from eating itself alive. That’s right, Santa. And we might have to flog and hang a common man or two just to be equitable about the whole thing. As much as I hate the idea of flogging a George Bailey, you know, of Bedford Falls, we need to. Sigh. George got greedy and stupid, too.

But Santa, this is where I really need you. So many of our businessmen and women have whored themselves to mammon that America is now at risk of collapse. I kid you not Santa. We are on the ropes. Everywhere you look, there are examples of financial malfeasance and gross corruption. Many of America’s corporations are run by incompetents and hoodlums. Our automobile corporations are run by the biggest “doofusses” imaginable, yet nothing actually happens to them except they collect their bonuses and “Golden Parachutes.”

Worse than the incompetents are the hoodlums that were just “last week” revered as pillars of our communities. Santa, they’ve ravaged and sacked our economy time and time again and nothing happens. Hundreds of thousands (millions) of responsible, hardworking salaried employees are losing their jobs because hoodlums are running our corporations and our government winked and said, “Go for it, boys, bring the fruits of capitalism home!” And boy, did they, Santa! They brought the fruits of capitalism into their homes and pauperized the rest of us.

It is so sad, Santa. America didn’t have to end up like this. We desperately need justice, Santa. But, I can tell you right now, we are not going to get it. Oh, sure, a few hands will be slapped but unbelievably, Santa, the newly elected American President has “hired” an economic team that I would actually investigate and possibly incarcerate, yet, the President-Elect asserts they are going to lead us to economic soundness and viability. Sigh. It sounds like just another Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, Rick Wagoner fairy tale to me.

Seriously, Santa. Can we not hang the corrupt, the venal, the incompetent in the name of the greater good? Is there no longer a “greater good?”

Santa, in your big bag of presents pull out the biggest gift you could give America—justice. And, I don’t want justice in another life. And I don’t want one level of justice for the rich and powerful and another for the rest of America.

Hang’um. Hang’um all. Hang’um for the lies. Hang’um for the deaths. Hang’um for the corruption. Hang’um for distorting our ideals. Hang’um for weakening America!

Thanks Santa for listening. You’re the best. And have a great holiday season.

See you soon at the gallows? Do bring Rudolf. And an elf or two. Americans so love a good show.

When Pigs Fly

There are two international examples (models) I offer as appropriate options for dealing with America’s financial “crisis.” One is Japan, the other is China.  Both are acceptable to me.  Both include death and humiliation.

In China, when confronted with gargantuan issues of fraud and malfeasance, the executive responsible is summarily executed.  I particularly like this approach for its salubrious affect on business practices.  If greed and corruption become the standard operating principles, what better way than execution for eliminating such cancers?

In Japan, we have examples of company executives performing seppuku (better known in America as Hari-Kiri).  This ritualized ceremony consists of the humiliated business executive to voluntarily get on his knees, take a razor sharp knife of suitable proportions and insert said knife inches above the pubic bone and pull up with force into the chest cavity and if this is done correctly the offending businessman then falls neatly onto his knife, completing the act of contrition.  It saves the nation court costs and the offending family members continued humiliation.  A win/win situation.

I lean to the Chinese model of dealing with “greed.”  As an aside, I have a local example that if I were emperor for the day (or Pope) I would employ the Chinese standard.  It became cruelly apparent after the deluge of Tropical Storm Fay that there are numerous Florida housing subdivisions that had no business ever being approved and built (Think: in Debary & Deltona).  Why not hang a few government officials (former city council members, county commissioners, water management district administrators, etc.) for approving said subdivisions as well as the owners of the development corporations.   Granted, some of these gentlemen may no longer be living, but those that are, let’s hang an appropriate number. I recommend right at the entrance to the submerged, destroyed subdivisions.   Leav’um up till the crows pick their eyes out.

Long Live The Emperor!  The Emperor is dead.  Capitalism is dead, folks.  Whatever myths you have been operating under, let’s put this one to bed.

Capitalism (American corporate style) is when, by gawd, you leave business the hell alone.  Get rid of the onerous regulations, the oversight and let the Adam Smithian, invisible hand of unfettered markets unleash the power of the American worker!  Let capital flow.  Let profits ring forth and build that shining city on the hill!  Can you feel it? Is the spirit in ya!  GA-LA-Glory. Hallujuah!

Well, uh, Golleee Gomer, we done gotter-tit in a’ringer!”  And the pigs are flyin!

Hey, all you lemmings who once so proudly put “W” bumper stickers on your cars, what do you think of your President Bush now?  Oh, I know he got us into (and you so support it!) the never-ending war cycle America so loves and seemingly requires to keep its Mo-Jo.  War Yesterday!  War Today!  War Tomorrow!  War Forever!  Think:  the invaluableness of amorphous terrorism.  (Please recall now Eisenhower’s January 17, 1961 exit speech.)

But what do you think of capitalism now?  Your Republican President calls for and is going to preside over the biggest act of governmental intervention (socialism?) imaginable. Oh, let’s call it what it is: a bailout.  Capitalism had a bit of a stumble, don’t-cha see, and now requires a crutch or two just for a bit.

Yes, let me see how this is going to work.  Capitalism is good when it is good for “me,” particularly. Bad decisions were discussed, planned, voted upon (or not) and implemented.  The wheels came off the car (America).   And, Golleee Gomer, we shore do need da’ family car.

Solution: take the banks' bad loans, giv’um to America (that’s you and me, kids), express contrition, take the regulation (It’s only temporary don’t-cha see).  And be real, real sorry and say, “I’ll do better, boss.”  Oh, and publically perp-walk a couple of the more egregious financial types (preferably a Jew and a Wasp) and call it a day.  Take everything they have and get a picture of the pampered wife, crying, forced to move into a doublewide in Santa Barbara.   Sigh.   Soooo sad.  (Wipe tears now.)

That seems to me what is going to happen.  We assume the bad debts.  The banks (financial institutions or iterations) express contrition and reluctantly accept regulation.  And, if the stars are aligned, and the gods are distracted or supportive, we’ll survive.  America will pull-up its boots, we’ll pull-in our financial belt and put the spurs back on and get back to focusing on our real enemy.  Terror!  Islamic fascists!  WAR! Now and forever! (Question: How many armed troops does China have in the Mideast and they pay what, for their petroleum?  Hey now!)

What is it that is said about paying the Piper?  To do anything in America takes money. Save the wetlands. Pave the roads.  Hire the police.  Even to wage war.

America’s financial house seems out-of-order.  In so many ways.  Get America’s brightest businessmen and women together, ones who first have a conscience for their employees and their nation and “plan the work and work the plan” to right our economic house.  I nominate Warren Buffet to be a Team Leader.  And legitimately, government is a player.

When pigs fly.  If you said George Bush would someday willingly preside over the biggest corporate bailout in American history, many “W” Republicans would have said, “When pigs . . .”

Well.  No matter how much lipstick you put on this pig, my “W” Friends, you’re wearing it, too, you, you socialistic liberals, you.

Welcome to the barnyard, citizen.   Lemme hear an, “oink!”  C’mon, pucker up.

Fondly recall now, comrade, that timeless question playfully asked of Ned Beatty in the movie, Deliverance

More lipstick?

09.25.08

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