April 2009

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?

Moral Crime Scenes

As a proponent of, gasp, situational ethics, I would like to review two modern American moral crime scenes. Morality plays if you will. Both deal with motherhood and both require yellow crime-scene tape around them. Yet only one mother will be imprisoned.

We have become such a fatuous people, we Americans. Our inability to separate the wheat from the chaff of life is a continuing source of amazement and amusement.

Do we not, as a species, have this unquenchable desire to gawk at the countless car wrecks of life that so many of us make of our lives.

Mother Wreck One: Casey and Caylee Anthony. In case you just sauntered off a tramp steamer from Brazil, a young Orlando, Florida mother named Casey Anthony is in jail and accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter, Caylee Marie. The state announced last week that it will seek the death penalty for the mother of little Caylee.

Casey Anthony is a young, vibrant and attractive woman. As a guy, you just know that you’d have a giggling good time with her at a party. She has “that” wiggle in her walk. You know. Early on in this case, you got the feel about the woman that she’d sooner be partying than mothering. And that is perfectly okay with me, providing you don’t already have a child. Well, to make an extremely long story short, and I’m judging the case before all the evidence is in, I think/believe that she did, in fact, kill her daughter. The question becomes (to me) was it accidental or intentional?

I, personally, do not have a problem with capital punishment except we seem to execute innocent people at times. Those who say that is a small price to pay in order to achieve justice are either stupid or don’t see the irony.

A question that will surface as the trial of Casey Anthony progresses and as the state makes its case to put her to death will be: Will we execute Casey Anthony if her daughter’s death was an accident?

Public sentiment in Central Florida, according to polls, overwhelming wants Casey Anthony executed, particularly if found guilty. The reason why, from my perspective, is that she was kind of cheery, too cheery at times. You see Caylee Anthony was missing a month before the police became involved and there are numerous smiling photos of a partying Casey Anthony on some chap’s lap—all the time it is now clear that little Caylee was already dead and decomposing mere blocks from mom’s house.

But what’s a mom to do? The child is already dead, it was an accident. She was so sorry and remorseful (privately of course). She just wanted to put little Cayle to sleep with the chloroform and well, you know, she was no scientist or doctor and well, she got the dosage a little wrong, don’t-cha see. Now what? Not go on living? Not party? It was an accident for cryin’ out loud!!

So, all of you capital punishment enthusiasts, do we execute Casey Anthony because she unintentionally killed her daughter and then had the temerity to go out and party and was too cheery? Because that offends your sensibilities of what a murdering mother should feel? Understand, of course, the woman “ain’t” the brightest bulb in the pack. Speaking of which.

Mother Wreck Two: OctoMom Nadya Suleman. I had an immediate visceral reaction to this woman, so repugnant a human being she is to me. I had the good fortune, if one would so describe it, of watching the Dr. Phil Show when OctoMom first hit the airways. I was aghast. Within minutes I was muttering darkly at the screen at this mindless shell of a mother from California. She was on welfare. On welfare! On the dole. She already had six children (under the age of seven!). Two of which are “handicapped.” And she consciously had implanted eight more embryos that in turn were prematurely born. There were pictures of a beaming hospital staff. Go figure on that one. Each child would cost society, oh, let’s roughly guess $250,000-$500,000 a pop to get each out the door, to be able to survive after leaving the hospital.

Again, OctoMom popped-out yet more “handicapped” specimens and when questioned why she would have eight more children when she already had six on welfare, spoke of the sacredness of life and that it would be “MURDER” to dispose of the unused embryos. I nearly swooned.

We require a driver’s license. We require building permits. You‘re even required to secure a death certificate. Yet any woman with a functioning uterus (and an obviously nonfunctioning brain) can bring as many healthy and unhealthy children into the world, regardless the consequences to society (the environment, the planet) and to the overall health and welfare of any existing children, consequences be damned.

The doctors should have repeatedly slapped her instead of the babies. What moral should we take from the OctoMom? Well, ironically enough and contrary to the obvious dollar expense, life is cheap. Particularly by the dozen! Or so.

I am taken by the nation’s interest in both the Anthony and OctoMom cases. They both involve certifiably criminal mothers. Monsters, they are. They both focus our superficial umbrage with, “How could she!?!” This allows a certain cathartic relief during these troubling times. It allow us to absurdly take our eye off the ball of how America genuinely cares for its at-risk children (minimally or not at all) and that we do a dismal job of educating (preparing) America’s teenagers on the tremendous responsibilities required (work & wealth) with having children. Effective, safe, accessible and affordable birth control (for every American) should be dispensed (and consumed) like soda pop throughout America. As ubiquitous as air, as available as tap water.

Both women had no business (if by business you mean what is good for society) having children. Both murdered the idea (and practice) of motherhood, of what it means to be the “good” mother.

There is no more important gift in life than being born to the “good” mother. Take away every advantage life might offer, the last you would forfeit, statistically speaking, would be the advantage of being born to the “good” mother.

Any home Nadya Suleman ever occupies should be required to be circled with yellow crime-scene tape. Pedophiles have to register when they move into a neighborhood, why not the OctoMom? She intentionally committed her crime, unlike, perhaps, Casey Anthony. She is as much “a” criminal as little Caylee’s murdering mother.

If, “true” costs to society are of any one measure.

Get Thee To An Ice Floe

I was driving back from Ashville, North Carolina last weekend listening to Pachelbel’s Canon when it occurred to me that this would be excellent music to die to. I’ve been in a number of hospital rooms as people lay dying and it is antiseptic, sorrowful and too often, eerily quiet. If I were on my final legs, so to speak, the cocktail swallowed, a dimness to my consciousness slowly approaching, my breathing labored, a numbness in my extremities, why not the melodic beauty of Pachalbel to transition (ease) the way? My daughter joked upon hearing this idea that we could put together a compilation CD (for those “special” deathly times in your life) for just such an exigency but that we wouldn’t want to get premature. As to when we started playing it. Ha! Ha! That daughter!

I’m a Boomer and sadly, “Time is not on my side.” Contrary to what the Stones sang. For America, it is going to have staggering implications for the nation when we Boomers start cashing in in big numbers. If you are so inclined, now might be the time to go to mortuary school. You’d be on the cutting edge of a Booming (pun definitely intended) career. Seriously, from 1946 to 1964, 78 million Americans were born. We are going to start dying in big, big numbers in, oh, 15 to 20 years. Around 2025 to 2030. That’s a short chip shot from now.

My question is can we afford the Boomers dying? Not in the sense you might imagine. I mean it literally. Will the United States be able to afford so many Americans dying within a relatively short time from a medical care perspective? Most of you are aware that roughly a fourth to a third of all Medicare expenditures are spent providing healthcare for folks in the last six months of their lives. The last six months! It is a staggeringly large dollar figure. The Boomers dying will make the current financial bailouts look like chump change, mere walk around money.

You’re old, you fall down, break a hip, statistically it’s over. A lot of the Boomers are chug-a-lug, smoking fatties. We’ve packed on the pounds in our thirties and 40 or 50 years later, we’re wheezing diabetics, our veins and arteries all larded-up and clogged. We’re little more than walking stroke bombs waiting to explode our national medical budget. Triage? Sure. For our economy.

You’re wheeled into a modern hospital and by gawd, they’re going to keep you breathing regardless the cost.

My father had a stroke when he was 80. He didn’t tell any of his four children. He was in the hospital for a week, checked himself out, put his affairs in order and a year later was dying on his bedroom floor (his intentional choice) when his girlfriend on her own volition let herself into his home and Nine-One-Oned him. The medics came and sure enough brought him back from death and he spent a week in the hospital in a genuinely and legitimately angry condition, paralyzed on his left side. He wanted no one to ever see him so compromised and here he was in a gawd-awful hospital bed denied the right to die as he saw fit. He didn’t linger.

How well we die, in the best of circumstances, should be a reflection of how well we have lived. Yet, so many us are so absolutely petrified of dying that we give up whatever dignity and grace we exercised while living. We, or our relatives say “YES” to every imaginable treatment no matter the prospects or chances of success. A life (a death) that might have “reasonably” run its course is prolonged, postponed and denied until the individual is an emaciated husk, a poked, prodded, cut, “chemoed,” and radiated former shell of herself. To what end?

We are reduced as human beings by our current “healthcare” process and in turn, our dying without dignity is guaranteed to bankrupt the nation. Boomers need to consider (confront) this issue straight on as they have so many other of life’s opportunities, as a “life style” choice, in this case, as a “death style” choice. We need to reexamine our assumptions on living and dying and determine that how we die is as important a consideration as how we lived.

We need to develop a national “Get Thee To An Ice Floe” mentality. Life is ending, death is coming. Embrace it such that your children proudly say, “My what a life!” You do that by thinking about it before it is too late to act on your own. Living wills, do not resuscitate instructions and for the more strong-willed among us, salting away the ingredients for that final end-game cocktail (Whiskey & Barbiturates. Sigh, better than Johnny Lee Hooker’s Whiskey & Wom’n but only, only in these particular circumstances). Be a patriot! Take one for the team!

Death is too important to leave how you die up to someone else. Ask yourself this question, “How do I want to die?” With dignity? In control? Your answer will be determined by how you have lived. It is suggested a coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave die but once. Modern healthcare all too often offers the cowardly death. Resist the coward’s end.

America is a family and it’s time for the pain.

How did it come to this? That’s a familiar lament when your marriage or “relationship” is heading south. A favored quote from one of my favorite authors, Leo Tolstoy goes, “All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s one of those quotes where you say, “Yea, I get that,” but upon closer reflection it doesn’t really hold up to analysis. I believe humans have so much in common that we are all pretty much happy and unhappy for similar reasons.

There are only so many things, after all, that can go wrong. Different backgrounds. Different experiences. Different personalities. Different ambitions. Different expectations. Different ways of communicating!! What else? In marriage, all those factors coalesce around two autonomous adults (hopefully adult) and if the stars are aligned you last as a couple or you don’t.

You’re happy or unhappy over status (within the relationship), whether or not there is fairness (childcare, work, decision-making, money, etc.), whether your needs are being met (sexual, personal, worldly), whether or not you are respected (for your contributions or, simply, for just being you) and whether your autonomy as an individual is considered—all in some “greater” context of the two of you as a unit. Having shared dreams and aspirations helps, too.

Quite a number of decades ago I was introduced to the idea that there are only so many themes to the human story. It is an amazingly small number. We think we are sooooooo complex and deep as a species but, in actuality, we are just clever little monkeys. Not even sometimes. Clever.

I can get my mind around why or why not a relationship does or does not work. A marriage fails, a couple parts ways and you may think you know the reason(s) but unless you are (were) there day in and day out, it’s all conjecture. “Vas you dere, Charlie?” I particularly revel in comments like the following, “Oh, they seemed so happy, I simply cannot understand what could have gone wrong!” See above paragraphs two & three now.

Many of us operate on the idea of “greener pastures” over there, of “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp - or what’s a heaven for?” I laugh out loud at such notions and recall, “Be careful what you wish for.” It could be and frequently is that marriages/relationships fail because as Carly Simon sang, “I haven’t got time for the pain.” Relationship failure I get.

But how did it come to this nationally? I occasionally listen to the gibberish that passes for conservative talk radio. Glen Dreck, Rush Bimbo, Shawn Hilarity. These clowns passing as conservatives, ur, hmmm? Clowns? Conservatives? Why be redundant? The clowns of talk radio are apoplectic and apocalyptic. But when are they not? I’d take these dupes more seriously if they hadn’t all been, well, such flat-footed stooges for the tragic fool who passed for our last president.

How did it come to this? How do we (America) find ourselves on the ropes? Why are we going trillions into debt? Is it complicated? Or, is it classic greed, crime and corruption merely on an unprecedented scale?

Folks, we need to muster all our righteous (if we have any remaining) indignation and demand an accounting. We are being royally “screwed” and the way it is being handled by President Obama will only ensure that the “problem” will one day be identified as the “problem” Obama inherited but didn’t properly address. I do not want that.

If our Justice Department will not conduct investigations into the causes and culprits involved in America’s economic meltdown, if the Senate and the House will not conduct public hearings with sworn testimony, if charges of fraud are not brought against culpable leadership and management of America’s large banks and financial institutions, if jail terms and appropriate fines are not handed-out, there will be no resolution to what currently ails our nation.

Free TIP to any honest Republican:
Want to ensure your re-election? Publicly and insistently demand that the President, Congress, the Justice Department and law enforcement conduct public investigations into what went wrong with our financial system. Who did what when? Insist on punishment and restitution! Demand it! Loud & often! Insist on economic justice for all of America. You might even be swept into the White House.

Free TIP to Charlie Crist. You always seem to be campaigning for the next office. Charge your Florida Department of Justice (Attorney General) to investigate the banks and financial institutions operating in Florida for fraud and corruption. Hold public hearings and demand accountability. You can do it, Charlie! It just might be your ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Not one more dime of bailout money to any corporation until America finds out exactly who is responsible. Not a dime. Too many crooks are still cooking the books.

Bill Moyers of PBS interviewed William Black (Savings & Loan Scandal investigator) on April 3, 2009. To read a transcript of that incredibly damning interview go to: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04032009/transcript3.html

It is much, much worse than you think. It is worse than you imagine. Many of the CEO’s of America’s largest banks and financial institutions committed fraud. They are criminal. We need justice. They need jail!

How did it come to this? At an individual level, we may not have time for the pain, but as a national family it is imperative that regardless the pain, we take the time, make the effort and insist that we determine the unvarnished truth.

Hopefully, it will set the nation free and the culprits to jail.

The Fool On The Hill.

I must have started this column half a dozen times and nothing seems right. I am keenly, deeply disappointed in Obama for committing us so much deeper into Afghanistan. I want to weep. What in the hell are we doing in that gawd awful cesspool of male craziness called Muslimland? Are we nuts? I just do not get it. Call your stockbroker now and invest in the manufacturer of body bags (Bodybagsdirect.com). I see growth. And we win when, we leave Afghanistan how?

I simply do not want to think about America’s never ending warfare. Is that what this nation is all about? Will we ever in anyone’s lifetime quit killing people around the world in the name of peace and freedom? Are we so colossally stupid as a people that we do see the worst irony imaginable in America’s endless warring for peace? Orwell wrote about it in his book, 1984. “War is Peace! Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

How many armed Chinese troops are there (have died) in the Middle East? Uh, uh, uh? Hmmm? And what do the Chinese pay per barrel of oil? No! Not the same as the United States. Tell me it ain’t so!

We’re always at war but few ask why that is? Why is America always at war? In my 60 years of life, we’ve been warring all over the planet. Constantly. We have not known peace. America is either preparing for war, going to war, threatening to war, at war or pulling back from war. But it is sooooo good for business (some), don’t-cha-see. What was it Ike warned the nation about? Oh, but what did that old goat of a General know? It is argued, the world is a nasty, scary place. Indeed it is. Particularly for the mindless, pitiful warrior, better known as the United States of America.

The only war in the entire 20th century I would have unequivocally committed American forces was WWII. Much of the rest of our warring was criminal intervention. Profoundly criminal in the sense of what the nation lost in men, resources, wealth and stature. Imagine if we hadn’t warred in Viet Nam, hadn’t bombed Cambodia, hadn’t “egged” China on in Korea, hadn’t practiced imperialism (ironically/hypocritically) on Spain, hadn’t occupied Iraq? Not to mention the countless decades of our many despicable interventions in South America.

So now our President, the man I enthusiastically voted for, ratchets up the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan just turned over to the Taliban the Swat valley, a Delaware sized chunk of that nation. Tell me again, why we are in Afghanistan? To prevent that nation from once again becoming a terrorist “camp” from which to plan and execute attacks against America. That is it, correct? Are we going to now invade or attack the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, too?

Recall the chorus lyric from the 1957 Coaster’s song Charlie Brown, “Why is everbody always pickin’ on me?” Oh, it’s because America stands for goodness, Wonder Bread, wholesome family values, Bonanza, short skirts and unfettered financial markets (Gollleee Gomer! Just like the one’s Ronald Reagan & George Bush unleashed!). Seriously, over the dinner table tonight, poise this question, “Why does so much of the Islamic world have such animosity (fear & hatred) of the United States such that their sons will fly suicide missions into New York City buildings? Or, bomb our embassies around the world? Or attack our warships (the Cole) in port? Why?

Oh, it is argued, for two reasons: 1.) America’s support of Israel at the expense of Palestine and 2.) America best represents the epitome of Western modernity which is so “at odds” with Islamic history, religion and culture. But go ahead and throw-in America’s meddlesome history throughout the Middle East of propping-up corrupt regimes for access to oil. Sigh.

I sincerely question whether our foreign policy and national interests are inextricably tied/linked to Israeli national interests. But to suggest as much in America is political suicide. I believe many of America’s Jews are in a quandary. They unquestionably love this nation but for all the apparent reasons (and legitimate justifications) they are tied to Israel, too. I do not have an answer for Israel’s problems. They have the extreme and profoundly sad misfortune of being a 21st century island democracy surrounded by a roiling sea of 12th century idiocy.

It would be funny except it isn’t. I’ve talked to a number of Muslims from that part of the world. Do you know how they referred to the Palestinians? They used the same derogatory language to describe Palestinians as did much of America when once referencing blacks before integration (The “N” word). Go figure that one.

We can mind our own business, however when it comes to modernizing the Middle East. I am profoundly sorry for the women in that part of the world. Their status is an affront to humanity and I’ve written countless essays on the subject. The Middle East is severely handicapped and will continue to be a backward hole of repression (and Third World) as long as the women there are considered unequal to men. As sad as that is, I do not want our soldiers dying because Islamic women are repressed.

That ties into America’s history of propping-up questionable regimes. Iran continues to beat that drum loudly because of how America once supported and propped-up the Shah. The oil nations want to sell their oil as much as we (the industrialized world) want to buy it. China has clearly demonstrated that a nation does not need to have any troops in the Middle East in order to have access to oil. So why does America?

Obama now has his war. And it is HIS war. It’s America war. It’s what we do best. Sadly.

“No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.” Alexis de Tocqueville.

“It would indeed be a tragedy if the history of the human race proved to be nothing more than the story of a [fool] playing with a box of matches on a petrol dump.” David Ormsby Gore.