February 2011

Pay Attention. Please.

Eidos is a Greek word, a noun. It means the formal sum of a culture, its intellectual character, ideas, etc. (Pronounced: EYE-dos)

Fiction and history are the two areas where I devote most of my time reading. I’ve often thought why be redundant? History, in many respects, is fiction. That’s a joke folks. But there is a slight element of truth to it.

Legitimate history is an attempt to reconstruct events (times) with the “unbiased” eye of accuracy. We endeavor to agree on the facts but even that is a challenge, the nature of man being what it is. To then extrapolate what the facts actually “mean,” well, I reminded of the corny line from that early 1960s ABC TV series The Naked City that went, “There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them.” There are many interpretations of what the naked facts (stories) might mean.

The nation state is a manmade creation. Some historians trace its origins back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, others, quite legitimately, see it as a specific 19th century European phenomenon. Regardless, we might be in a period of history when the nation state is being eclipsed by different organizing principles. But that is grist for another column.

The United States, our always-at-war nation state, is unraveling before our eyes. There is no more “united” in our states. Increasingly, the message from America’s political Right is every woman and child for herself. We are being sold a bill of goods that in the name of freedom it behooves us to operate on the premise of every man for himself.

The politics, the governing by division has achieved such polarization within our population that the middle class is, laughably (sadly) more concerned with literally eating its own (itself) than focusing on the biggest income transfer of national wealth since America’s Gilded Age. We are becoming an oligarchy. The goal: cheap labor, cheap environment, cheap life. When the middle class is gone, America’s uber rich will sanctimoniously lament, “If only, if only they had worked harder.”

What is our eidos? Or rather, history will ask, what was America’s eidos? Anatole France observed, The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread. We are rapidly becoming a two-tier culture.

Either we are all in the boat together as Americans, rowing toward a shared future or we inevitably become just another once powerful, imperial power that couldn’t overcome the historical forces of corruption, monopoly, and concentrated wealth; an oligarchy of greed, short sightedness and perverse financial elitism.

Maybe that is our world’s brave new future, no nation states per se, just international financial interests “managing” the world’s resources for maximum profit. And humanity? Well, that’s one of those managed resources, don’t-cha see. An expense to be depreciated.

Some see a future where the world’s rich have more in common with each other than with their own fellow citizens. Please, let America not end there.

How could our national debate have deteriorated to such simplistic rightwing banalities? Why? But then I am reminded of what the Great Oz said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

That is what our special interest politicians would have us do.

Whatta Boob!

I sometimes talk to the television. I know. I fight it. I do. Someone’s prattling on, talking nonsense, gibberish and I’ll unleash a “Shut the fork up.” Any of the simplistic Tea Party morons or Rick Scott (one and the same) can provoke my ire.

How about the local TV promo? The must see Live at Five, unfolding “Motel Mayhem on the Trail” featuring some disheveled, impoverished shopping-cart-pushing, toothless old hag who saw it “all!” Only on Six!

Or, the TV weatherman, so giddy he’s actually drooling over the impending Armageddon of a “Grab the old ladies. Everyone goes!” approaching storm system. Oh, and screw your Super Doppler, X-Mo, Mabuse-Mo, Skydar-Raydar that sees around corners, under water and up skirts. Jeeeeeez.

You know who watches the national news at 6:30 PM? Men with, erec, uh, extension issues, people without teeth, women whose bones, that if caught in a stiff wind, might break and squirming white guys on job interviews who think that surreptitiously eating a piece of plastic will somehow magically diffuse the gas passing from that, never to be mentioned, orifice. “What are your salary expectations?” Toot! Toot! “That much!?!”

And sick people of every imaginable sort. Invariably, some gray-haired, old fogey, just a few years older than myself looks straight at the camera and starts whining about some aspect of his condition. He’ll reluctantly rub his shoulder and arm and start, “I have this deep, radiating pain . . .”

And I’ll calmly observe to no one, “Yea, it’s called life.”

I do not know anyone who does not have a plate load of life (pain) that they are dealing with. If not themselves personally (at this specific moment) then a family member. A long time unemployed nephew, a niece who can’t get pregnant, an alzheimeric father, an alcoholic sibling, disappointing children, a relative upside-down experiencing foreclosure, a worthless son-in-law, a shrewish, emasculating daughter-in-law, a friend with breast cancer, problems at work or school, any number of money-related issues, a failing business, divorce, disenchantment, disease, despair, depression, suicide, the middle-aged man who came out of the closet late and has yet to reconnect with his parents, broke, destitute, isolated and alone. Did I leave anything out?

Did I mention my boob? That’s right my boob. My pectoral. My breast. For the past five months I’ve had a lump in my right breast. It kept expanding until it was half the size of a chicken egg. In my breast! Just like a woman! Initially, I was a bit miffed. A lump in my breast? That’s what “goils” unfortunately get. Then I thought, “Hmmm, much better in my breast than in my, um, favorite “B” parts. If you catch my drift.

I went to the doctor. He wanted to give me a script for a mammogram. A MAMMOGRAM! Must I wear a skirt, too?

I had done my research. Only 1% of breast cancers are in men and my lump hurt. “Most” cancers do not hurt. So I said, “I’ll wait and see.”

Months passed. Folks (who care about me) got in my face. It didn’t go away.

And then I got the news I had been waiting for. My insurance actually pays for such procedures. Hah! No, seriously.

My x-ray technician said nice skirt and the doc proclaimed it was nothing.

Whatta Boob! I am.

America’s Drug Pushers.

Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year : 8
Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning : 29
Estimated percentage change since 2000 in the U.S. defense budget, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan : +80

Figures cited are from Harpers Index

America has been an imperialist nation since our 1848 war with Mexico. That’s 163 years we’ve been occupying, threatening, undermining or intimidating nations (people) around the world. We’ve killed, terrorized, tortured, maimed, slaughtered, kidnapped, “renditioned” every race and ethnic group imaginable. From the Chinese during the 1898 Boxer Rebellion, to the U.S. massacre of the Philippine Moros in 1906, to the Vietnamese at My Lai in 1968. We’ve occupied Latin American nations (almost beyond count), we’ve sent “strike” forces into African nations, intervened in Middle Eastern countries, taken over Iraq, Afghanistan, warred in Asia, Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean. We’re equal-opportunity imperialists. No race or ethnic group is immune (safe) from an American military intervention.

In the 20th century, America’s only “just” war was WWII. We didn’t need to invade Afghanistan to secure retribution. The rest were wars of choice: unwarranted, unjustified and unnecessary; but, you know what? They certainly weren’t un-American. What we do better than any other people on the planet and have for 100 years is war. No one maims, kills or destroys better than Americans. We’ve done it to benefit banana corporations in Central America. We do it for defense contractors in Florida, Texas and California. We’ll plan, prepare and prosecute wars and occupations in the name of democracy, capitalism, freedom, national security, of defeating terrorism—dare I mention JOBS—any ol’ euphemism that gets the ships built, the satellites launched, the cruise missiles updated and the troops armed, trained and deployed.

American aggression has become so part of our national DNA, so ingrained in who we are as a people that we can wage two wars simultaneously and it’s just, ho-hum, business as usual. Another day at the office, so to speak, for America. That’s what we do. We war.

How did this “siege state mentality” overcome America? How did America come to have over 700 military bases abroad? Station hundreds of thousands of troops in nearly every time zone on the planet? Waste trillions on national security, yet never feel quite secure? How can it be that you and I have stood by while our politicians (Republicans & Democrats alike), defense contractors, lobbyists, quacks and quislings appropriate our future through cynicism, fear and duplicity?

“She saw things at the window, she heard things at the door,” are lyrics from a Canned Heat classic titled, “Amphetamine Annie.” That’s America, folks. America sees things (terrorists) at the window. America hears things (enemies) at the door.

It’s over. The emperor has no clothes. We do not need (haven’t since 1945) the military our “special interest” militarists would bankrupt us to support. No imperial power in history has sustained itself indefinitely. None. The weight of wars, of maintaining the American empire will take our nation, take us all down.

An American had three times the chance in 2010 of dying from lightning as terrorism.
“She saw things at the window, America heard things at the door.”

We must kick the drug of militarism. America’s health depends on it.

Paper or Casket?

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

From the 1974 Stealers Wheel song, “Stuck In The Middle With You.”

Was I the only one who thought it perverse (ironic, too) that six people died and 18 were wounded at their local Tucson “Safeway?” Shopping the safe way? “Paper or casket?” Indeed.

These are morose times in America. I’m trying to put my finger on what it is that is off. I am, by nature, an optimistic skeptic. I don’t know if there is a single word for such a man as I. Fool, perhaps.

I often think of the song lyrics from, “Stuck In The Middle With You.” The chorus goes, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” That about sums America today. We’re caught between the clowns on the left and the jokers on the right. And where are we?

Historian Thomas Cahill observed that, “We are what we have been.” That suggests a mixed bag of attributes. If you had to sum-up what it means to be human, what would be your first qualities? Curious? Yes. Inventive? Unequivocally. Creative? See our “arts!” Aggressive? A timeless attribute. Warlike? Forever. Cruel? We try to be otherwise. We do. Mostly. Compassionate? At times. Loyal? Helps immeasurably to be blood. Superstitious? Cross my fingers and hope to die. Religious? Tragically so. Spiritual? Not enough. Loving? Not to Mother Earth. Short-term, pleasure seeking hedonists? Only when we can. “Shall we dance? But first, another flute of champagne!”

But I’ve been aware, for a long time, of what disappointing little monkeys we can be. Maybe it’s my advancing age that has me questioning the past and doubting the future. But it is the present in which I reside and it is only the “now” that I have any semblance of control. Mistaken even though that small illusion may be. And, bingo, I hear the refrain, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

I speak, actually I think as an American first. There is something, historically speaking, to the idea of an “American” perspective. Actually, it’s a western (as in culture/ Western Europe/those canny Greeks!) perspective. The future? Imagine it. A problem? Fix it. An hypothesis? Test it. A solution? Why not the “best” of many considered? Options? Rationally determined. Failure? Rethink the question/rethink the options/rethink the solutions.

But America no longer thinks or operates that way (perhaps we never did). We confront national challenge after challenge and if we are unsuccessful in actually postponing a decision (Congressional preference), we make either poor judgments or bad choices. That is what has me questioning our nation’s future. That is what has me thinking, well, I’ll just tend my garden and hope that America is somehow immune to the cards history has dealt every aging empire.

The rich are cashing in, the middle class are holdin’ (barely) and the poor, well, they’ve no chips, let alone cards.

And the fools on the left and the jokers on the right forever dicker over who’s in steerage and who has the cushioned deck chair. On the Titanic.