January 2010

Full Of Sound And Fury.

poor player

That struts and frets
his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more:
it is a tale
 told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare (Macbeth)

“OK. This one is right on.”
The Other Lee.

“Chris, when you chew up the messenger, you lose site of the message. Sometimes you can be so “right on” and then you give us this.” The Other Lee.

I have a genuinely thoughtful reader, The Other Lee, who on one hand thinks I’m spot-on regarding my lack of faith in religion but then slaps me upside the head for my equivalent lack of faith in Republican values. He thinks when I ridicule a Republican hypocrite such as the drug abusing Rush Limbaugh or characterize Dick Cheney as a horribly compromised Darth Vader or question the intellectual bona fides of Sarah Palin that I’m missing their heartfelt and sincere message of Republican values.

I have one response to that: “What Republican values?”

Would my more reflective (could be tough) Republican readers please send their ideas into the paper as “Letters to the Editor” on what exactly are Republican values “these” days. Be specific. List all your accomplishments during the Bush years.

Republican values? Let’s see if I can identify a few “alleged” Republican values. I’ll place them in order of “relative” importance. 1.) Low taxes. 2.) Less government. 3.) Less regulatory oversight of business. 4.) War/Terror. (Planning for war, arming for war, actual war. It’s a never ending circle of planning for war, arming for . . . War now. War tomorrow. Terror forever.) and, of course, the good ol’ 5.) Family values.

First, let’s connect the disparate yet symbiotic parts of the Republican universe. You have the “fiscal” Republicans and the “family value” Republicans. Of course, both wings of the Party get behind the War Now/War Forever dogma unleashed by 9-11. Real patriots.

Aside: don’t-cha just love it when Republicans say, “Well, at least President Bush allowed no attacks on America during his watch!” Uh, uh, uh and 9-11 happened when? Under which administration? I just hate it when facts get in the way of one’s misconceptions.

My father was a fiscal/small government Republican. But those kind of Republicans simply do not exist anymore. Really folks, once upon a time there were actual Republicans who believed the nation should live within its means but, sigh, alas, we only have to go back to the last Republican administration to see exactly how dead such fiscally responsible Republicanism is. Republicans today fight their forever wars and never even ask for taxes to pay the piper. Imagine that? Go figure.

Low taxes? Hmmm? I get the idea of low taxes. I do. I mean, really, who wants to pay taxes!?! Not only that but look at all that the government does that is simply repugnant. Food stamps for the poor. Housing subsidies for the impoverished. Unemployment relief. And on and on and on. All those unnecessary, profligate programs for “less-fortunate” Americans. You know what though? All those programs that Republicans get their undies all in a knot over add up to chump change as compared to their actual percentage of the overall federal budget.

Look at what we spend on military and security? Staggering amounts. Obscene. Medicare and Medicaid. Mind-boggling. Oh, healthcare in America and rationing? I want all the dipstick-numbskulls out there who think rationing isn’t going on right now in America and who are all aghast over government healthcare to understand that rationing is, indeed, a fact and it’s the for-profit insurance companies that are doing it, that are the administrators. Horrors, if that task were ever shifted to government officials.

Taxes? For about 100 years, we have subscribed to the idea that we have a progressive tax system (see 16th Amendment). The more you made, the more you paid. That has fallen out of favor. And now, for all intents and purposes, if those with more are to pay less, the economic burden will be shifted to the vast, but dwindling middle-class. Which is distinctly at odds with the financial interests of the average “family value” Republican.

Historically the rich cats in the Republican Party don’t give two-whits about the social issues that inflame the “family value” Republicans. Oh, sure, there is the occasional Fat Cat Republican who gets all atwitter over the rights of the unborn and how every sperm is scared (or is it, every egg is sacred?) but by and large, the fiscal wing of the Republican Party is strictly interested in their pocketbooks and have deftly manipulated the “family value” Republicans into essentially sacrificing their own economic self interest in the cause of the unborn, or the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, etc., ad nauseum. Point this out (who specifically benefits from such and such economic policy) and the “family value” Republicans simply stutter, “Uh, uh, uh. . . The unborn! The unborn!”

Small government/deregulation. These are essentially code words for eliminating government agencies that have any responsible oversight of the corporate and financial sectors of the American culture. It is as if Republicans think we do not have any overarching national concerns that are frequently at odds with corporations. Clean air, water and land. Worker’s rights? Business practices (see 2009-10 Recession). Any number of a myriad of legitimate areas of economic activity that corporations would, if left to their own devices, ignore or subvert. Pure and simple.

We need responsible government agencies looking out for the interests of the “average” American. That’s us, kids. History has demonstrated time and time again that corporate interests will subvert public interests and that they even have the gall (cojones) to call their behavior patriotic. And the “family value” Republicans fall for this nonsense every time. Suckers that they are. Dupes. Dopes. And Dunces.

A word to “family value” Republicans. The times they are changin’ with all due respect to Bob Dylan. Younger Americans simply do not care about the issues that so ring your bell. Gay Marriage? If not now? Soon. You’re dinosaurs and the more astute among you may grasp just how tenuous your hold is on “moral” America. Take your family now and buy those 40 acres in remote Obscure, Idaho and hunker down. When your kids want to rejoin the “modern” world, don’t be surprised that they don’t come around so often.

I quoted Shakespeare at the beginning. This is what I think of modern day Republicans, Massachusetts Senator Brown in particular. Or, Jim Demint of South Carolina. Or, Marc Rubio of South Florida. Or, that weasel Chuck Grassley of my beloved Iowa. Or, . . . You are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And to my faithful reader, The Other Lee, until the Republican Party stands for something nobler than their empty-suit, special-interest rhetoric (and policies), I’ll continue to call a spade a shovel. They are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” What message? That is the Republican Party of America. Welcome to the club, Senator Brown. Welcome to the Party. Yeeaaah Baby!

When Men Are In Control.

There is a certain inevitability of detachment whenever the latest human “tragedy” flares up on our nightly news. We watch our TV screens or computer monitors, even our phones fixated on the current story of unfolding sorrow. It runs a familiar course of amazement at the size and scope of this “specific” misfortune. Foreign aid is rushed in and then over a few days (or weeks) “this” tragedy is inexorably replaced by the sales at Wal-Mart, the latest Tiger Wood’s revelation and our local high school football scores. That’s the way it goes. Life goes on. Our focus is difficult to sustain. Our moral outrage temporary, for after all, there is much to be outraged.

The Haitian tragedy had/has the feel of Katrina. Of course, there is no comparison in the loss of life. But the faces, black faces of despair, hopelessness and just over wrenching poverty are reminiscent of the images broadcast of Katrina. The fact that I can make that comparison/observation is an indictment of America but that is grist for another column.

What transfixes me about so many of the tragedies in the Third World are the scenes of impoverished children. Hundreds of them, thousands. Carried on their mother’s hips. Dragged around by their hands. Standing, crying, abandoned. Protruding bellies, flies circling their forlorn, crusted eyes. Or dead, stacked like so much cordwood. Dumped into mass graves because their culture cannot afford to bury them let alone educate them. Or house them. Or feed them.

And I rage at such images. How can “these” women be having babies in such poverty? What is the logic or sense in that? Why? Why bring child after child after child after child into arguably the poorest place on the entire planet? What woman consciously says, “Oh, I’m not quite impoverished enough. My life is not sufficiently tragic with the four children I already cannot sustain, I’ll have yet another. And if that doesn’t quite do the trick, I’ll squeeze out more. Until my body is spent, my teeth have fallen out and my rickets-plagued children are dying like dogs in the streets. That’s the life I aspire to.” Tragic yet fulfilling. Motherhood unleashed, damn the results.

If you are a woman reading this essay, ask yourself the following, “How many children did you have while you were living in acute poverty, incapable of adequately taking care of your existing children.” Oh, you say, “I was never in poverty.” Fine. I am asking my intelligent female readers to project, that being the woman you are, exactly how many babies would you bring into the world if you lived in the bone-crushing poverty of Haiti? Or, the Ninth Ward of New Orleans for that matter? How many?

I’d sooner chop off my left arm than have a baby under those circumstances. But I’m a man. I have the answer for why women have babies in impoverished circumstances.

My father had an expression when I would assume “more” than what was called for that went, “Who died and made you Pope?” We’d laugh. Hah! Hah! In this particular discussion, being the Catholic Pope is a handicap; I’ll be emperor for the day.

If I were emperor for the day with unquestioned power, I’d empower all the women of the world to be in control of their own fate, in control of their own bodies. Exclusively. No woman, but herself, would decide what is “good” for her. No government, no religion, no man (as in male) would ever tell a woman what to do. Unless such acquiescence was a freely given prerogative.

If I were emperor for the day, I would make birth control safe, accessible and free. I’d educate all (men & women) to its use starting before the age of fertility.

If I were emperor for the day, I’d give all women of the world the complete and unequivocal right to determine for herself if, and when she becomes pregnant and if and when she takes any pregnancy to term.

If I were emperor for the day I’d instill in women the moral imperative to not have children unless the circumstances are advantageous to their actually flourishing. That having children in impoverished circumstances is unwise, unsafe and it is a burden to the family and society and harms the welfare of any existing children because it dilutes parental resources and attention.

So why do women all over the planet have babies they cannot sustain? Because they are ignorant, oppressed and impoverished. They are the Lethal Three that plagues the status of women worldwide.

But basically, it is men. Men in goofy clerical robes spouting scripture that is so out of touch with reality on planet Earth that it would be comical but that it is so tragic. Goofy, allegedly celibate men who claim to speak for women and families when they are so utterly clueless as to what it means to be pregnant or to adequately sustain a family. Men who declare, “Do as I say,” as the tragedy of profound poverty traps her family and kills her children. Priests who say they speak for God, but who pronounce in religious corporate-speak (absurd dogma), 10th century gibberish for 21st century challenges. Men who claim infallibility but who are an anachronism, a wretched accident of history. Must they forever plague the planet with their anti-female rhetoric. Be they Christian, Hindu or Muslim. Or, Jewish for that matter.

It’s men, everyday men all over the planet who feel/think/consider women are secondary to them. Who tie their masculinity (their worth) to how many children they produce. Who do not insist that their cultures make accessible free, safe and effective birth control. We require men who take pride in what the women of their culture become, in addition to being mothers. Men who are confident enough in themselves to want women of equal confidence and accomplishment in their lives. Men intelligent enough to know that equality is not just a word but an integral part of what it means to be human.

Nothing will change in Haiti until the women of that nation are educated and empowered and are in complete control of their sexuality. For the impoverished to continue to have child after child, well, those babies just become fodder, so much grist for the next tragedy whether it be an earthquake, tsunami, famine or whatever horror mankind inflicts (war, etc.).

When again we will look up, perplexed, from our books or knitting and go, “Tch, tch, such sorrow. What are we going to do now? Such poverty. Look at those poor children? Where do they come from?”

Not where but why?

For religion or government or “a” man, any man to restrict any woman’s right worldwide to reproductive choice, well, how moral is that? And you might as well consign the results (the impoverished babies) to the dungheap of history. See: modern day burial practices in Haiti.

Any redevelopment money invested in Haiti must include educating and empowering the women of that island and in making birth control safe, accessible and it’s use, a moral imperative. Anything less, “Well, Tch, tch, such sorrow. What are we going to do . . .?”

A Stroke Here, A Stroke There . . .

A stroke here, a stroke there and pretty soon you’re thinking like Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh. That’s my theory on what has happened to the Vice President. I’ll bet he’s had a series of small strokes over the years (decades, actually), imperceptible to the casual observer, but cumulatively, devastating to his cerebral cortex. Little burned out brain places that prevent him from ever connecting the dots, not only that, but from connecting with humanity.

For all we know Dick Cheney might be working with the equivalent of an advanced “Alzheimeric” brain, Swiss cheese, in other words. Hopefully, his heirs will insist upon an autopsy come that fateful day when what remaining life that remains in him finally evaporates. Envision an image of one last, final wisp of snarling bleakness inexorably coiling into oblivion. An autopsy will undoubtedly reveal that the Vice President was for all intents and purposes brain dead for nearly 35 years prior to his actual demise, only his brain kept spouting Rightwing rhetoric. Poor Dear just couldn’t help himself. Thank goodness for Depends, particularly during those stressful times when you blast a fellow hunter in the head.

Rush Limbaugh fried his brain on illegal prescription drugs secured by his black hired help. Too funny. He pled guilty to a crime he once-upon-a-time thought warranted castration and a lifetime of incarceration. But not for white boys, don’t-cha see. He destroyed his hearing with drugs and now wears hearing aids the size of Texas and occasionally pops into an emergency room with chest palpitations but not to worry, Limbaugh has a Grinch’s pinched little heart matched with a simpleton’s mind. Again, a perfect match. Reduced mental capacity – Rightwing dribble.

Speaking of which, Sarah Palin is the Republican Party’s best presidential candidate. You know what? It’s true. By 2012, Sarah will have actually read a book or two. Which immediately qualifies her for higher office. Republican standards being what they are. Oh, I’m sorry. It’s not that Republicans don’t read, it’s that they all read from the same book, ur, excuse me once again, not the same book, unfortunately, it’s goofiness gleaned from all reading the same page. Not even an entire book.

Oh, that’s not right either. Remember how, once-upon-a-time, we were all so utterly fascinated with Ayn Rand’s work. She’s the Republican’s rediscovered (yet again, sigh) intellectual darling of the moment. You remember don’t-cha. I was 15 at the time (1964) when I fell in love with Howard Roark of “The Fountainhead.” Ooooh, the rugged individual incapable of bending to the masses, unwilling to compromise with mendacious totalitarian mediocrity. Love it. I do.

Then Rand wrote “Atlas Shrugged.” Which causes modern day Republicans to be nearly orgasmic, so excited they are by the idea of all the “smart, unyielding” right thinking, virtuous entrepreneurs withholding their talents as America crumbles and the dissipated left is crushed, left to mindlessly mutter, “Who is John Galt?” As the nation rebuilds itself, Phoenix like, on the righteous virtue of Republican selfishness. With Tom Selleck and John Voight seamlessly tap-dancing out “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir belting out “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” All gloriously choreographed in the finest Busby Berkeley tradition! And Sarah Palin is crowned Queen of North America, ur, President of the United States and wait, what’s this, Dick Cheney is persuaded Lazarus-like, to again serve the nation as Vice President. Oh, Happy Daze. Huzzanah! Huzzanah!

Wouldn’t that (2012) be just the bestest Republican Convention of all time!! A Palin/Cheney ticket. No brain and Swiss Cheese brain. Hmmm? We’ve already done that you say? (Think: 2000/2004 elections.) Gosh. We have. Uncanny. Yet! Republican Redux!!!

Actually, that is patently unfair. Sarah Palin does have a brain, contrary to all those nasty left-leaning reports by the “drive-by” media. She does read books (Any number of the Gospel of Wealth screeds. She, like totally man, internalized the following: Jesus wants ME, personally, ME to be wealthy! He does!). Palin listened to that message on Books on Tape (The unabridged In-Tongue version.) Palin is reported to have started “Atlas Shrugged” several times but found a much better use for that voluminous book as a doorstop. I have to agree on that one. Sarah ghostwrote a bestseller that sums up her life and philosophy as follows:

“I’m so pretty. I’m pretty simplistic. But that’s okay cuz I’m soooo pretty. I’m your grrrrl. Vote Simplistic. Vote Republican.”

Whatta ya think!?! I don’t know. That sounds a lot like the last few Republican presidential campaigns.

America confronts monumental challenges in the 21st century but what do “our” Republicans do but trot out simplistic 18th century rhetoric and run it up the Founding Father’s flagpole and require we all genuflect or we are somewhat suspect. Unpatriotic for sure.

Hey, you rightwing numbchucks, dispsticks if you will, if the good ol’ days of our Founding Fathers are the golden benchmark of our democracy, why don’t we reinstitute the voting standards from those halcyon times? If only white, propertied men were who the founding fathers saw fit to vote, why change the standards? I mean you are a strict constructionist (original intent, etc., ad nauseum)? Uh, uh, uh.

Oh, and please, let’s not forget an even more sacred text than the American Constitution, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” a book that presents the foundations of capitalism 101. Capitalism is but one expression of one form of human activity. My only criticism is that in “some” circles that “one particular expression” has become the end all/be all manifestation of what it means to be a human being (and how we organize ourselves). Simple thinking, yet again.

It’s like the Republican Party (since Nixon) has had a series of collective little strokes, much as Vice President Cheney in a probability has experienced. Either that or they’ve all drunk the same Kool Aid of simplistic thinking. No taxes. No regulations. Terrorists everywhere! America FOREVER! At war.

Oh, before you get your Republican undies all in a knot, I am going to sink even lower next week. What can be lower than “dissin’” the Republican braindead? So sorry for the redundancy. What can be lower than “dissin’” Republicans?

Democrats! At least Republicans have an excuse. They don’t pretentiously claim to have the intellect. See: Sarah “I’m so pretty” Palin.

Next Week: “On Electing President Brainiac: Just Another Suit.”

I Have No Faith In Religion.

I have no faith in religion. Quite candidly, I am amazed when any thinking human expresses an allegiance to one particular religion over another. It seems inexplicable (to me) that one is Catholic, rather than an Episcopalian or a Missouri Synod Lutheran as opposed to an American Lutheran. But then again I am not versed in the intricacies of specific religious dogma.

I have never once found myself asking, “What is God’s plan and how do I fit in it?” The closest I ever came to experiencing an omnipotent force was when living under my father’s roof. I knew his plan and I knew that any questioning of his authority a problematic proposition. I knew to be home by 6:00 PM for dinner (unfailingly), to never be disrespectful of Mother and that loyalty to family paramount. That is about as much creed as my father expected or demanded.

As a result of how I was raised and what I think constitutes “reality,” I find any reliance on religion and/or superstition an unnecessary impediment to living. The idea of God simply gets in the way. Much as clouds might, under certain circumstances, obscure the genuine splendor of a clear sky. Not to in any way denigrate the incredible beauty of nature (clouds in this case).

So I find myself somewhat at a loss to understand the world we now inhabit. As a student of history, I appreciate the “trajectory” of our story. As a believer in Darwinian Evolution, I believe Mother Earth bore us out of her fertile primordial juices and that once upon a time we shared a common ancestor with modern apes (six maybe eight million or so years ago). Evidently, if polls are to be believed, I am in a distinct minority as most Americans subscribe to a level of religious nonsense that is laughably absurd. Of which I am, for the most part, okay with. If life is so formidable, so frightening, so confusing, so “unbelievably” miraculous that no other explanation but “religion” gives it (you) meaning, well, go for it.

But here is the rub. Our religions are killing us. “Oh,” you say, “Jepson, tell us something new.”

Our religions have always been killing us. It’s been one constant slaughter. I won’t even say one after another because there has never been a break. It’s relentless. Invent a God. And the slaughter starts anew. Or rather resumes under a new name. A variation on the “infinite” theme. Allahu Akbar!?!

Perhaps it’s just a pretext. We are genuinely nasty little monkeys after all. Is it that our real pleasure is found in killing (maiming, torturing, raping, slaughtering ad infinitum, ad nauseum) one another? And doing so in the name of God, well, a mere ruse. Which came first? The slaughter or the “excuse” for the slaughter? Maybe that is religion’s function. To give meaning to our relentless, mindless slaughter of one another. We can’t be killing for no reason!?! What God would want that? Hmmm? The human kind, perhaps?

But we had such high hopes. Recall the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason? Learned minds opined that there was another way. Many of America’s Founding Fathers were “Enlightened” men and America was to be a nation born anew, populated by a “new” man, that on his shoulders the best hope for humanity rested. But where does America find itself today but at the vanguard of a religious war with Islam. President Bush actually invoked the word “Crusade” in describing it. Sigh.

I cannot satisfactorily (completely?) answer why Islamic suicide terrorists want to kill us. Can you? Seriously. Why are we at war with Islamic fundamentalists? Why have terrorists singled out America (and the West) for constant attack?

Is it because America unequivocally supports Israel? And by direct association the suppression of the Palestinians? Which is roundly perverse to me in a profoundly hypocritical way since I have personally heard a number Arab men use the “N” word to describe the Palestinians as the “N’s” of the Middle East. Is it because America has supported “thug” Arab governments in order to secure oil from the region? Is it because we have subverted democratic, nationalistic movements in the region? Is it because we have instigated revolutions and installed governments that would obediently do our bidding (think: Shah & Iran)? Is it because we have troops stationed in numerous Islamic nations? Is it because we are fighting two wars there? Are these not plausible reasons?

Or, is it the “poor dears” have a serious inferiority complex? That once upon a time, oh, let’s say the 14th century, they once held sway and were a force to be reckoned with but, alas, no more. Modernity inexorably passed them by.

Or, is it that we are experiencing but a “hot” time of conflict in this timeless, ancient religious conflict? Islam vs. Christianity?

I highly recommend Christopher Caldwell’s “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe,” a book on immigration, Islam and the West. It’s fascinating. And in some respects, Western Europe is toast. Sadly so. This book will make you weep. If America had the same percentage of Muslims as France there would be 40 million living in America in a few concentrated cities and regions. Whether or not America’s Muslim community is similar to Europe’s will play out in the future.

The irony of what has happened, is happening in Europe is that a humanistic, relativistic (byproducts of the Enlightenment) culture has let in (under the tent so to speak) people (through immigration) who do not have the same history of, and/or appreciation for the aforementioned humanism (tolerance) or relativism.

I use the example of democracy in a number of Arab nations. Elections are/were held and the victors immediately outlaw(ed) the opposition. And suppressed freedom. The process (democratic elections) is gamed and used. And ultimately subverted.

Remember in 2001 when the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the two Bamiyan Buddha statues. These were 700-year-old works of art, each over 120 feet tall and they were destroyed under the name of Islamic, Sharia law.

The very values I place a premium on, freedom, humanism, relativism, a societal respect for the infinite diversity of ideas, freedom from religion have all made Europe vulnerable to a determined, seemingly unassimilable influx (with high birth rates) of disgruntled and disaffected religious zealots. And, oh, woe be to Europe (Mother of America).

Yes, we are at war. Forever. With our own ignorance. Religion, by any other name.