Violence and Pacifism, An Either Or Proposition?

04torture_span-articleLargeLet’s be clear. I have no answers here. I have questions and beliefs, and that is all. I’m not suggesting what we should do, other than have this conversation, no matter how unpleasant and uncomfortable it makes us.

Anyone who suggests there are easy answers, or who whats to “leave it to the experts” and sweep it under the rug of “not my pay grade” be damned. You can’t avoid your complicity by refusing to be a part of the issue.

The discussion of war/pacifism, torture, rules of war, and so on, have confronted the human mind since the beginning of human interactions. While a certain defense of one’s personal integrity seems genetically normal, beyond that, we argue through the ages about how much is too much, when, and how?

As I said, there are no easy answers. It is for instance easy for me to come down on the side of pacifism, since it is my natural proclivity to choose life over harm to every and all creatures. Yet as a carnivores, I am immediately confronted with my hypocrisy, though I can respond quickly with “well exactly what do you propose to do with pigs and cattle, turn them out to fend for themselves as easy prey for predator animals?” Not your problem?

The world consists of very few individuals who will willingly stand still in the face of a direct lethal attack, and say, “do what you must,  I will not lift a hand to defend myself.” And by doing so, do you contribute to the violence of another?

Both these are acts of violence whether you accept them or not. A strict pacifist can neither consume meat nor defend themselves against attack.

Trying to cut them out of the mix, and then say, well all else, I come down on the side of no violence is just as fraught with exceptions. One can, and I do, argue that I will not kill 2 to save 10, but figure that fate must be allowed to play out as it will. But turn that figure into killing 10 to save 10 million, and you see the dilemma. Now it looks quite a bit different. Surely Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified on such grounds.

The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strike proved a disaster and surely violates in principle and act, the idea of “just war” theory. The Bush Doctrine might prove workable in the hands of a bright, moral being, but proved horrific in the hands of a stupid man egged on by arguably evil men at his side.

Just war “sounds” right, and surely has the imprimatur of the Catholic Church, but is it really just? How about all that talk of “rules of war”? Does not tidying up the killing to MOSTLY the perpetrators just prolong what would otherwise be so horrendous as to cause cessation? Do we appease the warmongers by pursuing military targets and not civilian? Was not some of the reasoning behind the US entry into WWII the magnitude of the killing? Was it not motivated in part by the inhumanity of the German war machine with its blitzkriegs, and the indiscriminate unfairness of the Japanese “surprise?”  Would it all have been better if they had followed the “rules?”

It is not as ugly to push buttons from Colorado to kill convoys in Yemen, where yes, we allow for “collateral” damage? Would it not be better to force humans to face up to the bodies they produce? Was not part of the argument about pilots the nicety of not having to see the mangled flesh they produced by their bombs?

Torture has been in the human playbook for as long at least as recorded history. We burned and drew, quartered, and stocked, long before waterboarding came along. Technology brought us advances which brought electrodes, cattle prods, chain saws, drills, and a host of other household items to the torture table. We justify all this of course by the need for intelligence.

We do the unthinkable because it is necessary to protect the greater good, so we tell ourselves. Our television screens are full nowadays of “heroes” who regularly break, stab, beat, human bodies in the quest for the information necessary to “save lives” and protect our way of life.

What way of life are we protecting in the end? The life that condones and is willing to survive as a result of such human acts?

Where is the line? And who calls it? Is Jack Bauer the one you want to decide? Or a feckless Congress who measures everything by political leverage and opportunism, all too often limited to their own personal professional lives? Do you want to throw the dice on an individual you vote for when the entire game is now rigged by the rich and powerful whose interests are almost never going to be yours and who live by the credo, that the birds do not consider the interests of the ants they eat?

Are we any better than they when we do what they do in the name of stopping them? Do we want to be better than they? Do we care beyond our own hides in the end? If not, then we need to stop flooding the world with our proclamations that we are moral and they  are not. We need to stop accusing them of violations when we are committing them at an even faster pace.

There is a reason we armed the Taliban against the Russians and then proclaimed them our enemy after 9-11. There is a similar reason interred the Japanese during WWII. We arm the bad guys all over South America because they agree to our long-term goals, while their peoples writhe in agony from the tortures they employ. We enlist countries with “softer” rules to be our locations where we can avoid our rules of law, and mistreat humans in the name of saving democracy.

I say all this and then I sit with my head in my hands because I don’t know where to come down on the oft used scenario: you have in custody the man who knows where the hydrogen bomb has been planted in NYC. You have six hours to find it. If it goes off, millions will die, and the country may well fall. Well? torture him or not?

Perhaps the scenario is unfair, perhaps using the worst-case scenario is unnecessary and unfair. But once you allow for it, then how about Springfield? Or Kalamazoo? How small does the scale have to get before we say, too far?

Does justice demand something else? Does it demand an all or nothing? Or does it ask us to submit to a conclusion unpalatable but possibly real? As long as humans care about living, we have to admit we are natural killing machines, and do it as efficiently as possible with as little collateral damage (innocent death) as possible?

Is there a philosophy that can cut through all this and make it a simple argument that cannot be denied?

I surely wish for one, but so far, I have not found it.

I remain sickened. I know what I would stop, but I can’t give you a logical play it out to the end answer that works for all things in all times.

If you can, please tell me.

But damn don’t avoid the issue, for we all are complicit whether you like it or not.

Eric, My Dude, Wha’ Happened to Ya?

Cantor-0bcf9-4269 Frank Luntz really got one thing right. “The GOP is lousy when it comes to doing polling.”

By all accounts, Eric was blindsided by his rather convincing loss to a third-rate “economist” called Brat. He dinna see it cummin’ as they say.

As all politicians do, they manage to put on a thin smile as they stumble to the podium to admit their loss and congratulate the nobody who was somehow good enough.

The punditry is all awash in ‘splainin’ how this happened.

Some say it was his flirt with immigration reform. Other’s his watering down of a bill that would have but a stop to insider trading by congress people, who are as you know, so danged overworked and unpaid that it’s only fair that they should be able to do what nobody else can do without going to jail.

Some say Eric was just a total shit, arrogant and dismissive, failing to act, ya know, like one of his constituents, on those “hanging out  in the district” times. He was in a word, (words actually) full to the brim with the sweet smell of his own poo.

He will likely be replaced by an even more odious (ideologically speaking) commodity, the Brat guy. Who is some sort of economist, but apparently not much of one, who when asked what his position was on minimum wage increases, said he hadn’t had time to work out a “fully crafted statement” on that yet, or some such bullshit. What freakin’ economist doesn’t have a thought on a subject that, ya know, DEALS WITH ECONOMICS?

But I guess one shouldn’t wonder since his economic philosophy seems to be “Brat believes in free-markets as run by some curious amalgam of Presbyterian theology and Ayn Rand’s economic sociopathy.” If that don’t make your head spin I don’t know what will. The atheist Rand married to a dude who claims that his win was a “miracle from God”. I can’t wait to see how it pulls that off.

It is however, most comforting to know that there are plenty of GOP tenderfeet waiting in the wings for their chance on the national stage.

As well as some old has beens who are still trying to be relevant to something that passes for significance in this political world.


Enter one John S. McCain. A meme last week on Facebook asked commentors to sum up Johnny in three words. My favorites were “still not relevant”, “still not President”, and “Sarah Palin, seriously?”. Fresh off his flopping like a dead flounder all over the Bergdahl mess, he ‘s moved on to utter more stale bullshit to an increasingly deaf audience.

You may not have heard, but Iraq is being overrun at the moment with Al Qaida–you know–the crazies who came into Iraq when George W, following orders from Cheney and Rummy, decided to invade it, because they wanted to? That war. The war that we sorta fought to a tie, which gave us our escape window? And we escaped. And like everyone on the planet knew that chaos (or more chaos I should say) would ensue until the damn country became a bloodbath? And a few hundred people have died in that country every month, but Syria was worse, so we didn’t notice? Until the deaths started being several hundred a week? Now ya remember?

Yeah, well, now Johnny, setting aside his blatant memory loss, has declared that we won that war, (more specifically George did after following John’s instructions), and now Obama has gone and lost it, and his entire group of foreign security advisors should be fired, and replaced by the old crew from George’s tenure, and hell, while you’re at it, let George take over, cuz God we all felt so much better and more secure when he was at the button. Such is the way John sees things, or forgets things.

MillerMeet Jeff Miller, (R-FL).

Look carefully since Jeff, is a zombie. Not walking dead, but walking brain-dead. He is shown holding on to his head, for it would float off to the ceiling if he didn’t. It’s full of nothing but helium.

Florida, as you may know, if one of those areas of the country that will soon lose half its sovereign soil when the oceans rise due to climate change. It is of some minor concern to its residents not all of whom are ready to trade their land based homes for boats.

So in their brilliance, they, in part at least, elect this fool.

Jeff, make no bones about it, is a fool, in CAPITAL LETTERS.

Frank has that wonderful ability to hold lots of facts in his empty brain that are in utter conflict.

First, Frank says that scientists are not agreed about who is causing this particular climate change. That’s not true, of course, for they are, to a degree of more than 97%; the rest being dismissed as owned and paid for by Koch brother enterprises and others in the fossil fuel industry.

Frank chooses to side with the paid-for deniers, and of course reminds us that “the climate is always changing”, as indeed it is. The planet we call home has, over billions of years, undergone plenty of change, most of it taking millions of years to build up. No doubt Frank doesn’t believe this because he must stay on the good side of the funny-gelicals who don’t believe the earth is more than 6,000 +/= a few hundred years old. But, for purposes of this argument I guess he believes that climates change over time.

His proof? Oh the dinosaurs. How in the heck could the dinosaurs have been axed if climate change wasn’t a “natural thing”. After all, he says, man wasn’t there (oh no screams Ken Ham–he’s an atheist!), and they weren’t driving around cars and such.

So the fact that the dinosaurs disappeared means that climate change isn’t man made. (Get the ropes and pinions, that jump across that chasm of logic is mighty wide!)

What Jeff doesn’t have a clue about is that the climate was rolling merrily along in old dinosaur land, when a comet or asteroid hit the planet and threw up so much dust and dirt, that the climate changed massively in a very short time (hint, hint like today’s human activities), and produced an unlivable situation for the dinos quickly. (purists note that this is the Alvarez theory to which I generally adhere or the catastrophic extraterrestrial theory. There are other serious theories which we aren’t going to get into here, suffice it that it has no effect on the argument.)

In other words, there is climate change which is normal and then there is that which is abnormal. What is happening to the earth today is abnormal, proceeding much too rapidly, and is demonstrably man-made.

The point is, there is no connection between the dinosaurs and the reality of man-made climate change. Never was, never will be.

And so we end, “Your week in GOP shenanigans and really stupid stuff.”


The Shaming of the GOP

iran-contra_cards_coverI mean ya gotta hand it to the GOP and their corp of clowns. I swear the term chutzpah must have been invented just for them.

Given all the back-walking going on within the GOP ranks on this issue of Sgt. Bergdahl, it still remains stunning the degree to which folks like Fox Noise continue to look down their noses at the drooling sycophants that pass as the usual Fox viewer.

Case in point, is one Ollie North, criminal/traitor extraordinaire who was recently on Newsmax to give us the benefit of his wisdom on the negotiated release of Sgt. Bergdahl from the hands of the Taliban.

You remember Ollie. He participated along with candidate Ronald Reagan, in a secret deal with Iran (terrorists) to sell them missiles and then turn that money over to the Contras in Nicaragua (more terrorists). In return Iran was supposed to turn over  hostages, but not until the election was over, so Carter couldn’t get the benefit of it. This was not only negotiating with terrorists, it was downright treason.

Yet, Fox figured Ollie was a good choice to weigh in on the matter of the Bergdahl release. I mean seriously!

From there we move to Johnny McCain who just cannot to this day live with the fact that he is not the President.

homer-pyle-and-sgt-farter-copyBack in February of this year, Johnny suggested that he could probably get behind a trade of Taliban Gitmo detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl, though he would “have to see the details”. This seems in line with the information that this negotiation has been in the works since 2011, and that the appropriate members of Congress were informed of both the negotiations, AND the subjects of any exchange.

John was enraged when this was pointed out to him. He sputtered, accused journalists of “lying” and then abruptly changed his tune, and suggested that it was a done deal, and we should move on. Then the next day, he was back on the bandwagon, screaming for “his head”.

Joined at the hip, Kelly Ayotte just on Memorial Day was calling on citizens to “remember Sgt. Bergdahl in their thoughts and prayers” and declaring that she was pushing the military to do everything possible to return him to his family. Of course now she’s singing a different tune.

Ayotte, is of course, no different from Lindsey Butchmeup Graham, who get their marching orders from Johnny, came to lately McCain, and both can be forgiven their turnabouts, since it’s all just too confusing to them in the first place. Lindsey of course is facing a primary next week, and so he’s desperately trying to remind everyone in his state that he has a mighty big job in just zipping up his trousers over that massive load of junk he’s carrying.

Their story is not singular as it were. A host of those who were congratulating America on having brought back a prisoner, quickly scrubbed their congratulations from their Twitter feeds when advised that the GOP was tacking once again. At least six Republicans have done so, advised by party leaders apparently that things “had changed”.

This all falls into place when one realizes that the rabble of the Tea People are making their anger heard throughout the faux news blogs that cater to the trailer brigade. Facebook pages, and the usual stories rebound around the likes of WorldNetDaily, Breitbart and Fox Noise, all attesting to the fact that Bergdahl was “probably a traitor”, “probably a deserter”, whose father “looks like a Muslim” and on and on. Impeachment echoes through the halls of crazy land.

None of this has anything to do with the decision of course, but in the usual fear of upsetting the grossly ignorant, GOP politicians run scared. The mill around the Capital, asking each other what to do, after all, elections are at stake, and NOTHING is as important.

The degree to which the GOP jumps when the fringe furrows it’s collective Neanderthal brow, is stunning. Just last week, the NRA after having declared that the crazies in Texas wandering around cheap food establishments with assault-type rifles and camouflage, should just go home, was met with an uproar from these thugs, and beat a hasty retreat, claiming “we made a terrible mistake”.

Such is the state of the GOP that they are drug around by the nose by a band of motley ill-educated morons who have basements full of canned goods, and lockers full of assault weapons, all ready for the coming revolution. However shaming this is to them personally doesn’t excuse the selling out of their soul in exchange for a greasy fingered vote.

The bottom line is quite simple. There are few facts that are known, other than the following.

  1. Prisoner exchanges have always been part of a President’s duties, going back to George Washington.
  2. Prisoner exchanges are done by most countries, including Israel with Palestine. In fact one of their more famous exchanges involved 1 Israel for over a THOUSAND Palestinians. Both sides call the other side terrorists.
  3. This negotiation has been going on since 2011. There seems to be evidence that some Congressional leaders of the appropriate committees were aware of the negotiations, and the general parameters of those discussions.
  4. Sgt. Bergdahl has been charged with no crime. And even if he were, that is no reason whatsoever by any military standard not to secure his release.
  5. The exchanged Gitmo detainees were Taliban, not Al Qaeda. There is a serious difference.

This smacks, as so much of GOP opposition usually ends up being, as nothing more than, whatever the Black guy does, we hate it. Note that as usual, the GOP prior to this event, demanded the release of Sgt. Bergdahl, but as usual offered NO concrete terms of how that should be done. (See Syria, and the Ukraine for similar demands without specifics). So they demand action, refuse to specify what that action should be, and then when ANY action is taken, it’s the wrong action, and still there is no statement of what right action would look like.

This is a pattern of opposition. This is not governance, it is pure mean-spirited obstinate opposition. It is in truth a pandering to the fringe crazies which now seem to run the GOP. These people are satisfied with nothing other than venomous denial to everything this President presents. Of course they have no alternatives. Do you expect to get alternatives from seven-year olds?

Perhaps someday, normal men and women will pick themselves up from the mud, wash themselves off, and decide to reclaim the GOP as a party worthy of listening to. Not today however, not today.



warIt’s been a year since Sandy Hook. It’s been a frustrating year for the most part for those of us who see the proliferation of guns in our society as so obviously insane that it begs the question that we are still having these conversations at all.

I’m not going to bore you with statistics. If you want to see what has transpired in terms of our response to the horror of Sandy Hook and Aurora and all the hundreds of children and adults who have died from gun violence, go here. It ain’t pretty. More loosening of gun regulations, the NRA with more money, fewer people having guns but more guns in a growing minority of very frightening and frightened people.

No, today I want to talk about war. After all, much of the argument around guns stems from our ideas of war doesn’t it? Was not the 2nd Amendment formulated so that states could call up their citizens in the face of invaders of one nature or another? How that all got bollixed into some personal freedom to carry a high-powered rifle to shopping malls is beyond my comprehension, but that’s not the issue either today.

It’s war itself.

War is the admission that we have progressed not so very far from the plains of Africa and the caves of France. We are still a species who settles disputes or responds to fear with weaponry and killing. Some suggest it’s in our genes, others that it is learned behavior, a product of our environment. As I have said many a time, no war ever ended war, though the motto of one, WWI was just that: the war to end all wars. It was but twenty years later that the greatest war of all occurred. So how did that work for ya?

My views about war are and were shaped by three things mainly: a book, a book, and a TV show. Sorry right-wingers, my passivity is not the product of elite liberal universities. No my opinion, my dedication to peace was formulated from reading the Bible, a book by Norman Mailer called The Naked and the Dead, and Star Trek, episode 23, A Taste of Armageddon.

As to the Bible, who can not be moved to ponder the following:

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. . .(MT 5:39-40)

This is Jesus, and while there are some interpretations that suggest that Jesus was in fact making it impossible for the aggressor to accomplish the second strike, the import of the words are clear. Returning force to force is not the answer. Regardless of how we might come down on the issue of faith or religion, surely Jesus and His teachings are worthy of emulation. If they are, then war is unthinkable, nothing more than returning force for force on a massive scale.

Mailer wrote The Naked and the Dead about his experiences in the Philippines during WWII. He wrote it in 1948. Say what you will, it paints a picture of war in decidedly unheroic, unglamorous terms. In a word, war is truly hell. It is dehumanizing, fear is palpable, death is only a shot away. Death surrounds and envelopes the characters. It’s unbearably hot and humid, it stinks, it’s lonely and it’s boring, and death stalks. It is shudderingly realistic. It would make NO one run down and sign up.

The Star Trek episode involved a planet that has suffered from war with another planet within its system for years, so many years that they were both in dire straits. If the war did not end, both planets would be utterly destroyed. So they hit upon a solution. They agree to a computer simulation of war actions. The computer assesses the “battle” and assigns casualties. A lottery system calls up the victims on each planet to report to “disintegration” chambers to voluntarily suicide. They have been doing this for years too, while their infrastructure is undamaged and life goes on.

Kirk and company put an end to the computer and the resultant real damage brings chaos and terror. Forced to confront the realities of war, Kirk hopes that they will rush to the peace table. The lesson is all too real: remove the overt ugliness of war, and war will go on forever.

Last week was another anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a so-called infamous day, because the Japanese made a sneak attack while diplomats were engaged in discussions in Washington on how to avoid war between them. This was viewed as a violation of the “rules of war”.

Things have not changed much. It is considered a violation of the “rules of war” to bomb civilians. It is considered the same to use certain types of weapons, such as chemical or biological ones.

I have to wonder at such limitations in general. For I truly get the logic of war being so God-blessed awful, so ugly, so painful, and so damaging that we will do nearly ANYTHING to avoid it or stop it. My husband tells me that I am a student of Sun Tzu:

Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live.

I take that to mean, that if you put the utter fear of death into your enemy ,  he will race to the peace table. My husband tells me that there must be rules of war, otherwise there is not path to peace. He may well be right.

I prefer to make war so ugly that no one considers it a viable option. I am a pacifist.

Left to my own devices, I would allow people the possession of paint guns to stalk and “shoot”  game. I would allow people to go to shooting ranges to shoot targets. I would allow no other weapon ownership.

I am a pacifist.

I would declare gun manufacturers and shops to be “eminent domain”, paying them a fair price for their companies and giving them free education in another line of work.

I am a pacifist.

You are free to disagree, but you will follow my rules in my kingdom. And they say that Obama is a socialist! HA!

Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.
Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.
Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.

Items to Make You Queen of the Watercooler Next Week

large_overworkedSee that’s me. I mean, imagine a woman instead of a man, and that’s me. I’m spend hours reading just so that you don’t have to. I mean you can if you want to of course. God forbid that fine education goes to waste, but I have burned up the Intertubes in an effort to find all the news that you missed.

And I read it all. And some of it was crap upon further inspection, and so I ditched it. And the rest, well you gotta know this stuff. Especially if you want all your friends and aunt Tilde to think you are just a real smart ass. (meant in the kindest way of course)

So, let’s get to it, in no particular order.

Paul Krugman has a fine op-ed in the NYTimes detailing the crazy party, AKA, the GOP. What he says is very true. The GOP argument for deliberately toying with the very health of our economy goes something like this: I have put a gun to your head and demanded your money or your life. If you refuse to give me your money, it’s your fault that you’re dead. I gave you the option to live after all!

On the other hand, this may all go to prove that one can actually get admitted to Harvard and get through it with flying colors and still be utterly and profoundly stupid. Ted Cruz may be set to be one of the most spectacular blazing super nova that sputtered out in record time in the history of horses asses, err, super novae.

If it is true that humans have an individualized predisposition to violence, is it equally true that humans in community have a predisposition to violence in the form of war? It seems many assume this to be true. But evolutionary biologist, David P. Barash argues that this may in fact not be true. The latter may be only a capacity rather than an adaptation. Want to learn more? If you don’t think it matters, think again. We base our defense systems on assumptions of what other groups are likely to do. If we assume all people are driven to war to achieve ends, we build a different defense system than if we do not. And we’ve sure got the tax bills to reflect that.

I know that most of you are just thrilled every time you get a chance to read about quantum mechanics, I mean what self-respecting grease monkey or grocery check out lady  isn’t obsessed with the working of the universe at the extra-tiny scale? Ever heard of an aplituhedron? I bet not. It all means that all the complicated mathematical twists and turns are eliminated as well as the super computer to do the computations. Now little Bobby can explain the most complicated sub-particle interaction with nothing more than a pencil and paper again!

If you are going, uhh, okay so what? Well, you all know that physicists have been since the beginning of time, trying to join the big universe with the small universe (macro and micro forces?) and it has just never fit well, and well, the don’t call it the elegant universe for nothing. Everybody who knows this stuff figured the answer would eventually be simple. This might be it. I’m not a physicist as you might have guessed by now.

I mean this is simply delicious early fall reading. Get to it.  :)

Now I know you will love this one. There is a new book out there that you probably will want to get. I can imagine about half a dozen of you will be on Amazon in moments. It’s called Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing, by Melissa Mohr. Colin Burrows review of the book is worth the reading. Now read it your grouthead gnat snapper!

Steven Pinker from Harvard has written a book that details how we are becoming less violent as societies over time. He also argues that the world would be better led by science than by the humanities. Some beg to differ. A great essay from The Berlin Review of Books, and Gloria Origgi, A Reply to Steven Picker’s Scientific Manifesto.

overworked4111Love words? Lots of words? Okay.

The American Scholar has a fun essay called Is There a Word for That? Words are being made up all the time, but you knew that. Want to know who created some words we now take for granted? Who is responsible for katydid? Or neologize ? Or Anglophobia? Blurb? Gerrymander? Bromide? Oh I bet I got your attention now.

Similarly, if you have ever remembered the quote but not the quoter, and the more you looked the harder it got? Who Really Sad That? You would be surprised at how often we get the attribution wrong. Amaze your friends by correcting their quotes!

“Whoever is not a socialist when he is 20 has no heart; whoever is not a conservative when he is 30 has no brain.” Usually attributed to Churchill. Actually? Nobody knows.

Enter the fine world of WAS–Wrongly Attributed Statements.

I betcha thought that the human mind created the gear, that round thingie that has “teeth” and meshes with other objects similarly constructed? That together makes things turn and other things go up and down and maybe side to side? You would be wrong. Scientists have found a gear in nature for the very first time. And YOU are some of the first non-specialists to know that, so don’t you feel so very proud?

A cute little guy called a planthopper (he has a very important scientific name you need not memorize) has a couple of gears in his back legs that mesh together and then when he calls on them to, spin backward sending him off on a leap across the earth that looks pretty fun. I’m sure it made sense to him too in terms of escaping predators or getting up as high as he wanted to feed. It’s called evolution folks. There is a little embedded video so you can watch him go!

Must a life be meaningful in order to be happy? Do we prefer meaningfulness over happiness if we can’t have both? They are not the same by the way. Happiness in part is getting what you want or need in life. Meaningfulness can have zero to do with this. Similarly happy people report that health is essential, yet health has nothing to do with meaningful lives. Happiness is apparent in the now, while meaningfulness tends to be a future assessment. This is a long article but one that raises lots of questions to think about. Well worth your time.

Nautilus brings us the ever-beloved essay on dinosaurs. The discovery and explanation of our bird predecessors have had a varied history as scientists working from small numbers of bones, continually revised their thinking of these creatures over time. As is usual, it is the unsung tiny dinosaurs that have done the most to correct our understanding over time of what these cuties looked like and how they lived. For the kid in all of us, this article will satisfy. I still wish there had been Brontosaurus, they were so neat!

With the advent of all the cute devices we have now from phones to tablets to readers to computers, all with calendars and reminders of one sort or another, there is less and less reason to have to memorize things. Nobody has to write down a phone number or address. The call is registered, switch it to contacts and it’s saved forever. Enter an address in your Google maps app, and you don’t need to record that address again. And maybe, just maybe that’s a good thing. Memorization may be a much over-rated thing. Curious? Read on.

How many late night gab fests have lingered long into the night over the ever-present question– Why was Spinoza excommunicated anyway? I mean this guy was ostracized with a big O, like in members of the congregation being order to be no closer that four cubits to the man. That’s some serious excommunication! Worse, payment of a fine served to dissolve most bans. Spinoza’s was life long. Spinoza himself never spoke of the harem, most of his works and fame came long after it. What is as interesting as why is by whom: Jews who had escaped forced Catholicism in Spain and Portugal and once free in Amsterdam, practiced a form of Judaism that was anything but normative. All in all, quite fascinating.

Happy reading everyone, and to all a good day!


Tales in Humility and Gratitude

CampHopeThere is little that grows in Hope City. It is too hot and dry. There is a small “community garden” that sits adjacent with a few struggling plants pleading for moisture. A lonely and very tiny apple tree grows alongside, producing miniature fruit.

A wigwam sits in the center of this small community, encompassing no more than ten tents. We are told that four of the ten are veterans.

We have come to meet Bob and Mary, two residents. We read about them in our local paper and I soon realized that the location was behind the food pantry and soup kitchen.

We went to see how we could help. Bob and Mary, so it was reported, had a couple of pups and we hoped perhaps we could at least help with the dog food bills.

We were met with smiles and invitations to “come sit on the porch”, a small enclosure made with plastic, and bits of wood that supported a billowing covering against the slow drizzle that was falling. First real rain since last summer as we recall. The dogs were excited at seeing somebody new but soon went back to digging in the soft earth, smelling every few seconds.

Bob is the veteran, having served during the early 70’s. When he was denied a hardship transfer from Germany home to be with his dad who was ill, he turned in his papers and left the service. Mary had raised three kids in Kentucky, moved to Florida, and was happily employed at a good paying job and had a nice home when she met Bob.

They fell in love, married, and life seemed good until one of Mary’s daughters called and told her mom she needed help. Mary quit her job, sold the house, and they headed to Kentucky only to find upon arrival that the daughter had reunited with her abusive husband and their help was no longer needed.

As Mary put it, things just seemed to fall apart after that.

The ended up traveling to Las Cruces because of job offers. Those offers fell through when it was learned they had no car. The car they had? Well that was repossessed when Mary got ill and, although they had paid off a good two-thirds of the note, the car dealer wasn’t interested in giving them a bit more time. The car was repossessed.

So they found themselves in Hope City. Their tent was big enough for a nice air mattress and not much else. Three portable coolers kept their water and food. No cooking allowed, too much of a fire hazard. No electricity.

Even with all they endured they had found the compassion to seek out these two woeful looking mutts and give them some semblance of a home. The smaller of the two had been found in a ditch with all her legs broken and two ribs, a batch of still-born pups still within her. She was a happy tyke now, as was the other larger one. Both had elements of terrier and goodness knows what else in their lineage.

Mary was a full-time student at NMSU on a Pell grant. She has applied for disability SSI and they are hoping.

Bob is 63. He gets work as a day laborer whenever he can. Mary is a year younger.

We found out what the dogs liked to eat, what they might use most, and left with promises to return on Saturday.

We went to lunch at a fairly upscale Italian restaurant and then on to Lowe’s to pick up a new microwave, since ours had conked out earlier that day.

As we moved from lunch to shopping we discussed how best we might help these two and the others Hope City.

Later at home, the Contrarian walked in after some time and looked at me. “You know, we lived pretty tight for a lot of years in the meadow,” he said softly. “Yet, it wasn’t the same. We knew that we would sell the farm and reap a benefit, and live very well after that.”

“Yes,” I nodded. “When you know it’s not forever, it’s not so hard, and well we never lived like Bob and Mary. I would be terrible at living like that.”

His eyes, moist, he too nodded. “I can’t imagine being in their shoes.”

And we can’t truly.

But we looked at each other in those moments and I know we both felt the same thing. Utter humility. For they had “lived right” by anyone’s standards, making no more mistakes than we all do. We choose the wrong mate, the wrong job, the wrong career. Some mistakes we can fix, some we live with, some cause us pay heavy prices. But we don’t expect to end up living at the age of 63 in a damn tent.

Nobody deserves this.

Yet, Bob and Mary are often lumped into that group of lazy folks who just enjoy the “good life” on the government dole. One of the patrons at Camp Hope was in his 80’s. He too was a veteran. He finally agreed to go to a facility operated by the VA when he got to where he could no longer look after himself. That’s a hell of a way to end one’s final days.

We first thought to take dog food with us. Then we remembered that taking away choice is a mean thing to do to people who have nothing. I hear lots of anecdotal stories about how the “poor really don’t want food”. The story is always how they asked for a couple of bucks in lieu of the half eaten pizza so magnanimously offered. It’s always about seeing the poor buy things “they shouldn’t”. We know what they should eat after all. We aren’t poor are we?

We don’t bring soap either. The Contrarian becomes livid at that. People always want to give the poor soap. People don’t want to smell poorness. They don’t want to see the dirt of poverty. Clean up and I’ll feel a lot better about doling out the lunch I think you should eat! Keep back, don’t touch me. I don’t want lice!

If such a scene doesn’t make you feel small and mostly useless, I don’t know what will. If it doesn’t make you feel grateful for all the stuff you take for granted, than you have a heart of stone.

You really don’t have to do a lot. Most churches collect food for the poor. Every town larger than one thousand probably has some sort of food pantry or informal mechanism for helping those who need it. Just do something. A lot of small somethings make a big impact. It really does.

By the grace of God, fate, and any of one thousand choices we all make, go any one of us. And just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t.

I’m nobody special. I don’t do enough. I have too much. I live life well. I am not a saint, nor am I working at all hard to become one. I’m just exactly like you probably not as good. But I can’t live with myself and do nothing. And that makes me human. And being human is a good thing. We are all in this together.


And the Nominee for STUPID is. . . .The GOP

bobbyjOh my head hurts. I mean seriously people, the list of nominees for MOST STUPID is the most widely contested race of all.

Shall we poll the Internet denizens?

Here are some of the nominees. Feel free to add any you can think of. The winner will receive a dead fish wrapped in the NYTimes, delivered by a pony express rider wearing a Dior gown of sparkling crystals.

1. Proving that he can’t read, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin says he will sign a new bill requiring an ultrasound of any pregnant woman seeking an abortion. Having learned nothing from what happened in Virginia when Governor McDonnell also planned to sign the same sort of thing, Walker announces that “I don’t have any problem with ultrasound”. No I guess HE doesn’t. But perhaps if it were required that all men who decide to treat women like children and tell them what to do with their own bodies, should undergo a lobotomy, he might, just might, change his tune. But then again, maybe not.

2. Arizona House Representative, Trent Franks resurrected the old “rape victims block the pregnancy” argument of Todd Akin, stating the “incidence of pregnancy following rape is very low.”  This was in support of a bill introduced by Franks making abortion illegal after 20 weeks. Democrats had introduced an amendment making an exception for rape and incest. It appears that Republican man are raised to believe that they are doctors by osmosis. It’s a male thing.

sarah-palin-stupid-republican-quotes-dumb-republicans-best-republican-quotes 3. So utterly against any immigration bill are some Republicans that they don’t even want to debate the issue. The reasons are obvious. The final bill may well pass the Senate, and then it’s on the House where Boehner will wring his hands and insist that he’s only there to help the House speak it’s will. The likes of Steve King and Louis Gohmert and Steve Stockton, will provide the show there. For now this group joins in a team effort to win the golden smelly carp award: Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), John Boozman (Ark.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), James Inhofe (Okla.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Mike Lee (Utah), James Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David Vitter (La.). A finer band of brothers in stupid cannot be found.

4. Virginia Lieutenant Governor nominee, E. W. Jackson wrote a book, and published it. It is called The Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life. Trouble is, he misspelled Commandments to Comandments in the title. Then he said that yoga would lead to satanic possession.

5. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is somebody you probably never heard of. I suspect you can continue to not hear of him. He took to the floor last week in the House and ranted on about how the President was “a vengeful liar who lacks the moral compass” to lead the nation. He likened himself to Patrick Henry. He thinks he did a good job. Trouble is, I guess he forgets that the polls suggests he may be the one without a moral compass. It’s improper to cast such vitriol on the House floor. But alas it’s nothing new for the crazy crew. And by the by, all his reasoning was based on factual untruths. ALL of them. So I guess he’s intellectually impaired on top of being a flagrant abuser of the mouth.

6. Darrell Issa claimed through selected editing of testimony, that the order to select “conservative” applications for tax-exempt status came “from Washington”. He promised that the full transcripts would be released shortly. Of course the full transcripts said just about the opposite. The person who has owned up to the screening methodology, describes himself as a Conservative Republican and says he doesn’t believe there was any political motivation in the process, but merely a method to extract those applications that would undoubtedly necessitate deeper analysis. Issa now claims that release of the full transcripts would be “dangerous and irresponsible.” He now claims it is Cummings who is the problem.

Santorum_dunce17. Now I admit, this is not a Republican. But well, we have loved Carl Levin for many years. But we are pretty darn happy he’s decided to retire. He voted to keep the decision-making on rape charges in the hands of command. It was wrong. He sided with the military men. It was wrong. This kind of thing makes no sense on any level. It doesn’t promote cohesion in the ranks. It promotes distrust. Shame on him. And on Clare McCaskill who also voted this way.

So that’s my line up for today.

As I said, please add your favorites.

It’s hard to miss a week without Gohmert being on the list I know.

But he’ll be back in the top ten. He won’t let us down.



Vote often.