Sunday, November 25, 2012

GIVING THANKS … To Whom? For What?   

Yes, those are the questions that, unlike the Macy day parade animals that bring delight to children everywhere, float around unheard and unwanted.

Our pilgrim forefathers realized they were lucky to be alive. They had gotten through winter without starving because of help from their misnamed friends whom they called “Indians.” (Remember, they thought they had gotten to India.) In those early years, a concerted effort would have pushed them off the continent, so thanks were in order though perhaps misdirected. They could not have made it without their new buddies but, as is common, god gets the credit. Hallelujah!

Surely, we have much to give thanks for; we live on this great continent if not quite lords of all we survey it is still true that we can destroy civilizations should the mood strike us. We have done it in the past, look what happened to their buddies so it would not be a new enterprise for us. Japan might not exist now if the emperor had decided to continue the war. Curtis LeMay, the bomber general wanted to wipe them out; it’s a theme that is part of our history. Still, we are here and aside from hidden fantasies, we aren’t giving it back

I suppose slaughtering the bison is part of that as well as slaughtering turkeys. Note: Otherwise, we have no use for turkeys and, to our shame, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Snicker snicker, cackle cackle.

Well, I suppose given Native American culture, and European culture, the outcome was inevitable. No one in Europe would let all that free land go to waste. To paraphrase one of our civil war generals, “It would be a shame to leave all that land to nomads.”

Okay, some of you are thinking, granted we did all that nasty stuff we are finally living up to our treaties with them and we have something magnificent for ourselves. Well, yeah, but we treat it like dirt. Strip mining rips the earth and leaves scars; we make the planet hotter so that storms are far worse and more frequent than in the past; we are emptying the Oglalla Aquifer such that the middle of our country may again turn into desert; that great human invention, science, is denigrated and disregarded in favor of opinion, and people look to the heavens for that bearded supernatural being to lavish us with affection.

Actions speak louder than words and our actions inform us that giving thanks is not sufficient. Let’s not give thanks but try to fix the place before it becomes uninhabitable. And, in addition to turkey, we might also choose to eat humble pie.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


When I was a lad, there was a moderately popular phrase by some notable: “My country, may she always be right, but right or wrong, my country.”

It spite of knowing that it was the right way to think, I was also puzzled. Even at that young age, I knew that if things were wrong you sometimes have to give them up. We are a nation of immigrants who, in spite of their love for the motherland gave it up for a better place to live. Mexicans, with a sprinkling of other Latinos have come across our boarders because their country was so wrong they could not survive. My maternal grandmother never gave up mourning for Poland even though in those days it was not a comfortable place for Jews. Now, as a result of the election, dismayed yahoos babble about moving to Belize or some such place because, to them this country has become intolerable. To them, I say farewell though I really don't care if they fare not at all well.

Let me say it up front, there are things wrong with our country that we had better fix pretty quick or we are faced with disaster. The two most recent are Hurricane Sandy and the absurd voting process (I should really say, “processes,” because we have fifty of them.) I'll start with the storm and see how far I get.

The mindless ones refuse to admit that climate change is transforming the planet. They find data oppressive so when confronted with facts supported by 95% of meteorologists they pay attention only to the 5% who don't agree. The mindless ones proudly declare that their opinion is better than the scientists. They don't understand that the 5% provide scientific challenges, which keep the others from going off half-cocked. And, faced with evidence, some of the objecting bacteriologists change their perspectives.

Among the mindless, there are those who think a bit; those agree that climate change occurs, but deny that human beings are in any way responsible. Since the industrial revolution, we have been pouring carbon dioxide into the heavens enough to cause the gods to cough. There is no doubt that it serves as a blanket that keeps the heat close to the earth's surface. Glaciers melt raising the level of oceans. Oh well, let's just move back a few feet, so sayeth the semi mindless.

Because the glaciers are melting, the oceans have risen about a foot over the last century. When Sandy arrived shoving water toward the land, it had a lot more to provide to mess up NYC and you know that it did. There is no doubt that storms have become worse; there is considerably more wreckage in their aftermath and recovery takes longer and is more expensive.

The mindless and the semi-mindless represent resistance to change. The wind blows down power lines, so let’s put them underground. Wait, it's too expensive and the storms are only a freak of nature. The surging water can be restrained by setting up “islands” which blunt the water's movement. Wait, it's expensive and it is only a theory. Never mind that those pre-eminent ocean controllers, the Dutch have mastered the art.

See, most of our major cities are coastal, thus vulnerable to violent hurricanes; we can expect more Sandys with their attendant downed power lines, water everywhere, shortages of gasoline, food and water and disruption of health care, police and fire protection.

In spite of the warnings, this country has sat on its hands because the mindless have “opinions.” Well, their “opinions” are only fantasies of the abominable snowman and Loch Ness Monster sort. We had better get busy . . . or else.

((Maybe next week I'll write about voting.)

There once was a mindless old man
Who really didn't ever give a damn
When water smashed ashore
Oh my, what a bore
I can swim, do you know if he can?

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Scientists now pretty much agree that animals are conscious. I'm not sure if that notion is limited to land mammals but probably not. Conscious simply means that the animal is in touch with its environment and acts accordingly. We all share the basic needs for food, water, protection from the elements and reproduction and we all function in terms of the hedonic formula. And, we beasts all strive to survive.

We are all beasts, but humans have an additional characteristic: We are self aware. I know I exist, I know I am me. I know you exist and I know who you are. There is very little evidence that other beasts have this understanding but some research is provocative. Put a spot on a monkey's forehead and stick a mirror in front of it and it will likely stare blankly. Do the same with a chimpanzee and it will try to rub the spot off. Is that a test of self-awareness – no one can be sure.

I'm not sure that self-awareness is the best way to describe us, I prefer self cognitive. By this, I mean that the invention of language made all the difference. We beasts made beastly noises in response to events and with simple awareness we could cooperate with each other for personal benefit. As grunts took on meaning, survival increased and our brains gradually changed to do it more effectively. Those with betyter naxcent languaqge skills reproduced, and we call the result, language. Without language, we'd be nothing more than another animal.

As we became self-cognitive we could think about how to satisfy our beastly needs and desires. Language serves to inform the beast with information about life events, evaluate possibilities and predict the future. It made it possible to put up with today's discomfort for tomorrow's benefit. And, we talk to ourselves all the time. We learn about our perceived reality, put it into language and after a while, the beast accepts it without uncertainty; in essence it becomes an automatic, non-thinking beastly function. The issue settled, language becomes irrelevant to the task. For example, it is unlikely that most of you remember how you learned to tie a shoelace. But, you know how, without thinking, how to do it. Much of our lives appear to be so automated.

As thinking beasts, we became, sort of, the most dominant creature ever to exist, but, there is a hitch. An important characteristic of the beast is that it resists change. Is that a surprise? Most of us try our damnedest to convince it to cut back on food, to exercise, not to smoke, to be nice, etc., but no matter how much we tell the beast to shape up, the outcome is usually the same. New Years eve resolutions dissolve in a few days.

Or consider training an infant to become socialized. That beast wants to defecate, urinate and eat when the mood strikes. We want the damn kid to understand the difference between the kitchen and the bathroom. Well, it rarely happens over night. The beast has to accept giving up immediate pleasure for a higher cause, parental pleasure. We spend long years socializing our children and against long odds, we are moderately successful.

All this suggests there is tension in the relationship between our cognitive selves and our bodies. We know what is good for us, but getting the beast to change is a Herculean task requiring time, persistent retraining and the expectation of success. When Grant was in front of Vicksburg, he failed seven times, but expected finally to win, and he did. Still, the beast rarely gives up pleasure without major resistance. But, we do have an edge. Once the beast changes, it extols the virtues if its new self and reenforces the process. So, don't despair. If you can't get it done one way there is always another way to try.

If you are looking for a friendly, helpful pal
Don't turn to the part that's animal
It does what it chooses
And we thus often are losers
Like wild horses, your pal needs a corral.

Monday, November 5, 2012

ABORTION: A Great American Tragedy

I was going to rant about setting up a new wireless printer, but it turns out that on the way I became enmeshed in the tragedy of abortion. The damned issue was settled years ago when it became legal and socially acceptable. Of course, the wing-nuts, the Yahoos, and the religiously constipated did not agree and they sniped away gradually making abortion harder to get … especially for poor women. Still, it remains legal, at least for now. Someone has unleashed the screwballs.

We are, astonishing to contemplate a nation of scientific ignoramuses and worse a large part of our citizenry are adamantly opposed to scientific findings. Creationists insist the earth is 6 thousand years old (some argue for ten thousand years), there is no such thing as global warming or humanity's contribution to that incipient disaster, or the Big Bang, or evolution or safe vaccination … the list goes on. And, Mr. Boob, a US Senate aspirant says that raped women's bodies protect them from conception and lately a senatorial candidate tells us that if a raped woman conceives it is “God's will,” and thus must not be interrupted of completion.

Well, the religiously constipated are entitled to their absurdities, but when they attempt to foister their beliefs on the rest of us they are beyond arrogance. Assuming they are correct, that God wants a raped woman to bear a consequent child, what does that make the rapist? Clearly, doing God's will should give him special status in our society. Church bells should peal on Rapist day and medals honoring their religious zeal be strewn upon them. Speeches? Of course. “I saw this woman, realized she was the perfect vessel for God's grace and so I did my part. Of course, she complained but God must be served.”

But, what shall we do if there is no conception? Is that also God's will, did God act as a selective contraceptant choosing who would and would not bear his ordained children? No, that makes no sense because we all know that God wants a multitude of children: “Be fruitful and populate the earth,” (or something like that) is His command. (It's no surprise that God is a male.)

If there is no conception, it is clear that the rapist failed at his task and it is that failure that should be punished. What, you say there are a multitude of reasons that conception fails, how can he have failed? That would be his defense, but to no avail. No conception is no conception and throw the book at him!

The tea party has dredged up from the slimy bottom of the river the most bizarre collection of nut cakes ever to run for office. Never mind that they have no use for the truth (notice the small “t”) they actively reject it. When I think about such boobs occupying office, I tremble and wonder about the viability of our republic. Where do they come from and in their crowd I include Romney. If a fetus is a person, Ryan is right, a consequence of rape, or incest is a person and deserves life, liberty and property. Romney slithers around in his attempt to appear moderate. Fetus as person is a religious idea. God provides a soul at the moment of conception. But, history tells us of the many attempts to define “person,” all failed; it is pure arrogance for anyone to argue she/he knows the truth.

It should take only a moment of reflection
To understand that the consequence of conception
Is no more than a fetus
But lest the Yahoos defeat us
Lets give them all a resounding rejection