February 2009

It’s Obama’s war now.

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. G.B. Shaw

Americans have such a distorted, exalted sense of themselves and our history that we believe we are exempt from the “forces” of history that have brought low every nation and civilization before us. That’s a fact, Jack. This is not to say that our history doesn’t have glorious moments of exceptionalism, witness our nation’s birth—a creation mid-wifed by men extraordinary to any period in time.

I am proud of America for electing Barack Obama President. I am proud of my birth state Iowa for giving Obama a “chance” to seriously run for the presidency. An overwhelmingly white state said, “Yes, we can” have a black president.” I am proud of our way of governance that allows for peaceful transitions between governments. I am proud of America for largely removing religion from the table of how we govern ourselves. America is the culminating fruition (to this point in history) of the innate human impulse for individual rights (freedom), a largely Western cultural experience that can trace its “roots” back to Greece.

We have arrived “where” we are by intent and by accident. I’ve been reading of late on the Reformation. Martin Luther (arguably the worst anti-Semite in history) unleashed more than he could have ever imagined when he confronted the Catholic Church with all its 15th century corruption. The Protestant churches that bloomed during this time were inadvertently a catalyst for change for women. Priests could now marry. Imagine that? Think about the change in the status of women that that simple act implied.

More importantly women were now “permitted” to learn to read so they too could appreciate God’s infinite wisdom in newly printed, vernacular Bibles (thank you, Martin Luther). Give a woman a book and stand back. They might even imagine, over time, they are equal. Imagine that.

It was a revelation that a priesthood of men was not necessary to know God. Imagine that?

Inexorably, we have arrived in 21st century America, living as free as any humans have every lived since the inception of authority (human governance whether it be king, tribal leader, emperor, sultan, etc.). But because we find ourselves today with such unparalleled freedom (historically speaking) does not mean it is a given that that will always be the case.

History is about so many steps forward and so many steps back. I have always been curious about the status of women. I consider myself an unapologetic feminist. Why will the Islamic world remain inevitably mired in Third World poverty? Because half their good minds are imprisoned in archaic, male-dominated cultures. There is no equality of the sexes. It is profoundly sad for that part of the world and has such tragic implications for the rest of the planet.

Think about it. My grandmother, a woman from Iowa was “given” the right to vote decades after freed slave men were. America was once so misogynistic that former male slaves were given the vote before her “free” mothers and daughters. Granted, “it” was all wrong but it does give one pause to consider how the home of the free was sadly an all-male preserve.

There once was a civilization in 7th B.C. Italy that research today is showing had incredible, unparalleled freedom for its female citizens. The Etruscans were eventually absorbed by Rome but for a few brief centuries, women flourished as they seldom have/had in history. Sigh. Things come. Things go. Nations rise. Nations fall. Freedoms ascend. Freedoms descend.

History doesn’t care one iota whether the “experiment” we call America (home) flourishes. History is indifferent.

Barack Obama is my president and I am profoundly glad he is. He is making choices, however, that I feel will take the nation in the wrong direction. His economic team is little more than a collection of privileged insiders, of Ivy League shills (think Treasury Secretary Geithner) for the corporate interests that have manifestly corrupted the nation’s economy in the first place. I am unconvinced that these men have my interests and the rest of the nation’s interests first and foremost when they devise public economic policy.

Worse to me, President Obama is pursuing a policy in the Mid-East that is foolish and tragic. He has committed to sending thousands of more troops to Afghanistan, an impoverished, misogynistic Islamic hellhole that reminds me of the tar baby that Br’er Rabbit found so difficult to extract himself in Disney’s “Song of the South.”

What is it about men (community activists no less) that have them so quickly marching around saluting people as they get off helicopters? Does it inevitably fog your brain to have people constantly salute and say, “Yes, Sir!” Sure, Obama is Commander-in-chief. Obama is a civilian. Salute the Generals (an officer) if you must. Not the President. I laughed out loud every time I saw that little Banty Rooster of a President Bush salute. It was comical except it was so tragic.

By expanding the war in Afghanistan, it is now Obama’s War. This has such tragic implications for his administration and America. America is going to achieve what in Afghanistan? Pakistan just turned over an area the size of Delaware (within Pakistan) to the Taliban. Tell me again, the Taliban will do what if left to their own devices? And Pakistan did what? And we are going to achieve what where? Bring our forces home now. Leave the Middle East. Now.

The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events. Gerda Lerner, historian.

I chose to believe what Gerda Lerner asserts rather than what George Bernard Shaw says about history. Obama has decided to ignore what there was to learn regarding foreign invasions of Afghanistan. Sadly so. Obama’s War in Afghanistan will have consequences, domestically and internationally. Again, sadly so.

How about a staff historian, or two, or three in the White House?

Explanations. Excuses.

Ah, beauty. Is there any bigger “mitigating” consideration than beauty? Someone can be dumber than a box of rocks yet we inevitably add, “But, she is so beautiful.” It is almost tragic the waste of beauty on the ignorant or the stupid—as how can nature be so cruel?

The recent movie “Juno,” is just such an example. The storyline has a 16-year-old girl named Juno getting pregnant. I typically find such storylines repugnant as I think 16-year-old girls shouldn’t get pregnant and that as soon as they find out they are they should “terminate” the pregnancy. Have a baby when “you” can take care of it. That’s me. Call Planned Parenthood!

Juno, however, is this lovely, smart, zippy, wry, petite little woman who delightfully spins the audience with caustic humor and self-effacing irony. I would not have even remotely entertained the idea of seeing such a movie but for my understanding of the “star” of the story. Do I need to see yet another example of some mindless idiot of a woman child who finds herself unfortunately pregnant and decides to “have” it? No, that is all too sadly common in America. Yet for me, beauty and in this case, intelligence wrapped in beauty got me in the theater door.

I remember once sitting in a nearly deserted restaurant when a woman of such exquisite beauty entered and passed by my table, joining a small gathering within earshot nearby. She was of the caliber of beauty that you almost could not look at her, so remarkable was her appearance. Just as I was looking up to confirm my initial assessment, she opened her mouth and out came such ear-piercing blather as to be comically incomprehensible. I laughed out loud at my shallow self and recalled the adage of “Don’t judge a book by . . .” I so love such immediate lessons.

When I heard that actress Kate Winslet was to play a concentration camp guard in the movie “The Reader” I thought, “Ho-boy! Where are they going with this one?” I had not yet read the novel.

For nearly 25 years I have had an expression when dealing with human choices and what exactly could you see yourself doing in any given circumstance? I am tolerant of a wide range of human behavior. Because? I am flawed myself. I am not perfect. I have, at times, done “bad” things to good people. I have acted myopically and selfishly.

That said, the worst example of atrocious, unforgivable human behavior that I can imagine is to have been a “guard at Auschwitz.” To every morning, get up, eat breakfast, hug your wife and kids and to then clock-in to “work” your shift as a guard at a concentration camp is incomprehensible to me. Therefore, I put that as my extreme in/of examples of human behavior. I’ll say in conversation, “Well, at least he wasn’t a guard at Auschwitz,” which is a way of suggesting that “we” might back off from being too critical, too judgmental of someone’s behavior. Of course, we have the examples of individual abomination (think the fictionalized: Hannibal Lector), reprehensible human behavior, indeed. Not to mention the Bernie Madoff example of humanity. But being a concentration camp guard was a daily choice in a corporatized human hell that is beyond exculpation, beyond explanation. But is it? Beyond explanation?

That is what the movie “The Reader” attempts to do. Offer one “explanation” by way of a beautiful Kate Winslet as to why be a concentration camp guard.

I started thinking about this essay a couple of weeks ago and came up with, “There are explanations. There are no excuses.”

Without going into crushing detail, Winslet plays a German woman who cannot read. It is her deepest felt shame. Up for promotion at a Siemens factory during the war (WWII), she turns the job down and resigns because it will require her to read and she is too mortified to confess her shortcoming. The SS is hiring and she then takes a job as a camp guard. That is the back-story in a nutshell.
Ten or so years later after the war she has a short, torrid sexual relationship with a 16-year-old, coming-of-age boy who willingly, gratefully and eagerly reads to her for sex. What man wouldn’t with Kate Winslet?

The Winslet character is ultimately put on trial for war crimes and rather than acknowledge how and why she came to work for the SS as well as some of her decisions while working as a guard (mitigating considerations by way of an explanation), she goes to prison ultimately committing suicide the day of her release. She takes her life by hanging herself after standing, ironically enough, on a stack of books she kicks a way. She had taught herself to read.

If they had cast some talented wallflower, some heavy-thighed, goose-stepping Teutonic fräulein as the camp guard, we might not have been so intrigued with the plot. Winslet by most standards of beauty is a lovely woman. It’s a double whammy when, in this case, beauty cannot read and ultimately participates in arguably, the most horrific crime ever perpetrated against humanity.

But I left the movie realizing (confirming that) ruin can be a slippery slope and that even in the most horrendous circumstances, people can have arrived “there” without necessarily having been evil. Of course, what you then do is another issue. She stayed. She witnessed. She participated.

There are explanations. There are, however, no excuses.

If God is beauty, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent reinstatement of Richard Williamson to be a Catholic Bishop is an abomination and an affront to all that is holy. Williamson has denied that the Holocaust occurred and was recently quoted as saying that the historical evidence, “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed.”

If the church and one’s belief in God is a thing of exquisite and infinite beauty, what Pope Benedict XVI did by reinstating Bishop Williamson is, in a way, as ghastly an abomination as the Holocaust itself. Incomprehensible. Monstrous. Unacceptable. This is church leadership, by way of explanation? No excuses, please.

Beauty is as beauty does. Imagine God’s reaction. And the tears fall, yet again.

Letters From The Heavens

I write this with reverence and deference to Mark Twain, inspiration for us all, particularly his stories titled, “Letters from the Earth.”

Archangel’s Michael and Gabriel gathered totally perplexed after the Creator had dismissed them along with Satan. Satan strolled up with a sly smile on his face and said, “Boys, it’s been too long, too long since we last convened. It’s nice to get out occasionally, get some fresh air and I haven’t seen God in so long, I forget what an inspiration He is. You gotta give it to Him, He really has a way with words! Always has. I have to say He looks a little peaked, a little down at the mouth.”

Michael glared and said, “Oh, a lot you care, Satan.”

And Gabriel horned in with, “Yea, He thought you were responsible!”

Satan smiled his Satanly smile and his perfect teeth formed around a laugh so seductive that Michael’s knees nearly buckled and Gabriel swooned but caught himself and faintly asked how long he was out for?

“Because I was faultless on this one, God’s given me a few hours. I asked for one night to renew old, uh, connections with a heavenly angel or two. Know what I mean boys? Hubba-Hubba, huh guys! I get a pleading letter, now and then about how, uh, timelessly boring it is here in eternal heaven and that if ever I get a reprieve I should visit the Ol’ Dew Drop In, but you boys wouldn’t know anything about . . .”

“Stop it Satan! We know your coarse ways which is why God saw your hand in the recent perversions on Earth!”

“I have to say, Gabe, I would have liked to have had my, hmmm, hand in this one but I am as faultless as you are chaste,” sighed Satan.

Michael broke in, “No one can figure out what has gone wrong on Earth. Some are quietly wondering if, uh, you know, not everything is known, if you understand my meaning?”

“Well, I was amazed,” said Satan, “That He gave His creations a free will. That was amazing wasn’t it? What was He thinking? Ha! That they’d exercise judgment? Ha! Too funny. God is too funny.”

“Oh, like you care, Satan. Free will is your license to seduce and defile and wreak havoc with God’s creations!”

“Mikey, give it a break will ya! One of God’s more clever said something to the effect that as the twig is bent so grows the tree. I don’t have to work very hard, I’m telling you. And if heaven’s so fine, why the plaintive, pleading letters from some of your more heavenly compadres to stop by now and then?”

“Oh, enough already with your suggestive banter, Satan, I’m telling you God is disgusted and he may trash the whole thing! And you know what that means, no more business for you dear chum!”

Satan’s ears perked-up with that revelation, “What? Trash Earth?”

“Well, it’s not like humans haven’t trashed the planet already! Earth is an absolute dump. Humans have destroyed the jewel God gave them and they breed like there’s no tomorrow! And you know what? There just might not be,” exclaimed Michael!

“When God heard of that woman with six children being mechanically implanted and having eight more, well, He just had a royal snit fit and then, even worse, He went into such a funk that it lasted until He called for you to be delivered from Hell. And you missed what God did in a rage to that Black Hole in Ursala Minor! Nasty! Nasty,” shuddered Gabriel.

“Ah the good ol’ days of a raging, vengeful, God,” sighed Satan.

“NO! This is no joke, Satan. He’s seriously thinking of throwing out the entire kit and kabbodle, of erasing all humanity from time and space.”

“Yea, so. Good riddance to bad trash, huh?”

“Uh, Satan, he’ll clean house down below, too! If you catch my drift?”

“What? All because some wacky woman went postal with what God gave her, He’s going to wipe the slate clean?”

“It sorely troubles Him, that He created paradise and humans have so little love of His Gift that they destroy it with their relentless, uncontrolled breeding!”

“Well, He did give them the instructions with their nifty little, uh, kits to be fruitful and multiply, did He not,” asked Satan?

Gabriel gasped, “Yes, of course He did! But that was when Earth was empty of humans. It’s not empty now! Nor has it been for hundreds and hundreds of years. They breed and breed and breed and kill and slaughter and trash not only themselves but every living thing that He created. I sometimes hear Him cry and His sorrow is such that my soul aches. I cannot endure it. Several million angels actually evaporated in His sorrow.”

“You boys are too much. So what if the game changes. So what if God wipes’um out, they’re doing it to themselves good enough already. I am kinda sorry to hear they’ve given up reproducing the good ol’ fashioned way, if you catch my drift, Mikey Boy, but if He’s going back to the drawing board, eraser and all, maybe He’ll give butterfly’s free will this time around. Couldn’t end up any worse! Could be quite pretty! Ha!”

“Oh, you’re incorrigible, Satan!”

“Well, thanks for the update, Mikey. But I gotta a date with a beautiful angel and I understand there’s a glorious sight over in Ursala Minor. I tell you guys I’ll miss Earth. I will. They’ve a drink there called champagne and yes, Earth girls are easy but God, bless His glorious vision, made’um that way. Fertile, too! Ha! Love that free will! See ya at the new start-up!”

Should the poor reproduce?

Should the impoverished be encouraged to have children? A question such as this typically sparks a revulsion in human beings. I am unsure why this is because it seems a reasonable and legitimate societal consideration. Should poor people incapable of sustaining themselves multiply their (and our nation’s) impoverished condition by having more children? Let’s explore that question from a national policy perspective.

First, an assumption (from my value system). Every human being who is born becomes part of the American team (dream). This means the healthcare, housing, nutrition and educational needs of that child is a national priority and as such, America will tax itself to ensure that those four concerns are adequately addressed through national uniform standards, policies and programs.

Furthermore, any woman finding herself pregnant will have available superior pre-natal care. The mother will have access to nutritional foods and will be trained (if required) and encouraged on how to be the “good” mother.

Okay, with that groundwork established, let’s discuss how many more impoverished children does the nation require? Actually, I would put this question into the larger issue of how sizeable, population wise, should America become? We are geographically comparable to India and China, yet both of those nations have a billion people plus. America is at 330 million citizens. What is a good (sustainable, environmentally sound) number of people for America? 500 million? 750 million? 250 million? How many?

But today, I am interested only in how many more children do we require born of the impoverished?

Please recall now my earlier assumptions regarding those already born or on the way. But does that mean, as a society, as a nation we cannot encourage and reward wise family planning that has more of America’s children born to parents capable of adequately providing for their offspring? From my perspective, that not only seems logical, economically, but it is also the preferable approach to ensuring as many children as possible are born to parents genuinely capable of providing for their progeny.

“According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 16 percent of children (20 percent of children under age six) in America live in poverty. The child poverty rate in America is often two to three times higher than that of other major industrial nations. Poverty is defined as living in families with incomes below the federal poverty line ($21,200 for a family of four in 2008).” GovSpot.com

Some will argue that it is hard-hearted and immoral to suggest that the poor not reproduce. I am not one of those, however. Actually, I think it is absurd and ridiculous to not expect the “financially challenged” to exercise restraint, to bring forth children only when their economic circumstances warrant (change).

Poverty is wretched. It is horrible. It is doubly-so when burdened with the responsibility of children. It is one thing to be an impoverished adult, it is quite another to be a child under those circumstances. However you have arrived in poverty, through drug addiction, mental illness, bankruptcy, factory closings, whether you are a third-generation welfare recipient, how is society, how is America served by you bearing more children under impoverished conditions (whether temporary or lifelong)?

The sanctimonious Right to Lifers get all teary-eyed over the unborn. They scream, they rant, they cite Biblical text claiming that every egg, every sperm is sacred. How can folks who are so taken with the never born not seem to give a damn about the living?

The big majority of Americans, who are comparatively well off, have developed an ability to have enclaves of people living in the greatest misery without almost noticing them.
Gunnar Mydral

That is one of the most glaring ironies of all. America’s Righteous Right huff & puff about the sanctity of life but don’t give a damn about quality of life. Go figure.

Unless there is an unspoken “reason” to encourage America’s impoverished to reproduce, why would we not discourage folks who cannot afford children from having them? Seriously, do we have poor people so they can wait on us, sweep our public terminals, pick up our garbage, check us out at Quik Shops, or to be on welfare? Of course not. But the reality of life is there will be impoverished among us. That said and logically speaking, should they reproduce? Who benefits? Society? Our state and federal budgets? The children themselves?

The poor you always have with you. Jesus (John 12:8)

But that doesn’t mean they reproduce themselves willy-nilly with no regard for the consequences of their actions. Every child born comes with a cost. It is imperative for children not to be born into poverty. It burdens us all through additional costs (healthcare, housing, social services, etc.). To say nothing of the crushing psychological burden of being poor in America. Why have children in an impoverished environment? Particularly, if you have the power and means not to.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. Herman Melville

If you are part of the well-housed, fed and warm America, don’t ever claim superiority. What America’s poor require are the things you (we) take for granted. But nor can the poor take for granted life born into crushing, relentless poverty. There is a time and place for everything and poverty in particular is no place for children. Children do not chose to be born into hardship.

America needs to aggressively make available free, safe and accessible birth control throughout the nation. Optional, of course. But firmly encouraged. We need national educational programs promoting wise (and timely) contraceptive use. You want to change the numbers of impoverished in America? One way is to encourage family planning nationwide, particularly among America’s poor. If necessary, rewards and incentives should be employed to limit fertility. Let us make every effort to make every child a wanted, loved and sustained child. To the degree we can accomplish that as a nation, it behooves us to act.

Support Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando at 407.246.1788. Planned children make the nation stronger.