So Sad


It’s sad, really. My PC does my spellchecking, but it is limited in its vocabulary, which requires me to check the spellchecker, not to mention the almost worthless grammar-checker. I didn’t study copyediting so that I could argue with a ‘user-friendly’ (read ‘dumbed-down’) grammar-checker. I have enough writing problems without heckling from my word-processor. Just ‘add’ the words to my PC’s ‘dictionary’, you say? Screw that—there’s no good mechanism for ensuring continuity of one’s own dictionary—and if they think they can glean new data from user input, I have no agreement in hand from MS giving me fair value for both my inconvenience and my input. Either way, MS Word is a fixer-upper, off-the-shelf app—just like it was twenty years ago. Like McDonalds, it satisfies the un-involved writer—for a serious writer, it’s about fifty-fifty, half convenience, half pain in the ass.

Rich people are manipulating the US Government to bail out their collapsed pyramid scheme called ‘investment and banking’. It is clearer than ever that these two industries should be kept separated, but the rich people are clamoring for a return to pro forma ‘regulation’, wherein these investors’ only rule is ‘don’t be left holding the bag’. The rich people also want to be given a pass on paying taxes—why should the government tax the wealthy when this country is full of helpless, hardworking, regular folk who can’t push back when they don’t like the deal?

The rich make me sad. They are so unconnected to reality that they fear poverty more than they appreciate their wealth. They’re not having as much fun as they hoped to while sailing their yachts and flying their private jets—but there’s one thing they’re dead sure of—they never want to find themselves on the street, among the 99%.

There are copyright-caretaker businesses that slap a ‘copyright-infringed’ on any recording of my piano-playing YouTube-uploads that aren’t my own, original works. Not just on my Beatles-song covers, or my Beach Boys covers, which I would expect, I suppose—no, they slap a ‘copyright-infringed’ on my classical piano performances, as well. Now, if their charge were that I was mauling these composers’ works with my horrendous recitals, they’d have an argument. In fact, I mostly post those types of things to demonstrate to anyone out there, who thinks they haven’t the right to post their perhaps-sub-par classical performances, that it is indeed not nearly as bad as that-guy-that’s-on-YouTube-already—my own personal ‘musical-empowerment’ project to any young, timid music-lovers across the globe.


Can you imagine the chutzpah of these cretins who charge me with copyright-infringement for posting Bach’s, Chopin’s, or Tchaikovsky’s piano works? Unbelievable! Just because their legal-watchdog agreements have one, single recording artist’s recording of the same Bach piece; they slap an ‘Invalid’ on my upload. Not only does YouTube condone this process, but they warn users like myself that, if I challenge any copyright accusation and fail, that they will cancel my account and remove my ‘YouTube channel’ from the internet. In more personal terms, this would be the total erasure of 900+ musical video uploads that I have placed on YouTube in good faith that they will not erase all my four years of work without a good reason.

Indeed, I have challenged all of my classical-music related accusations—and the good news is—YouTube will see reason when I point out that even Tchaikovsky’s compositions are well over a century old, not to mention Bach’s works being three times as old as that. Still, I feel insulted that the anti-infringement policies of YouTube favor the grasping law-clerks and place the onus of proof upon the accused. It makes me sad.

There are lots of things in this world that make me incredibly sad. The ones that sting me the worst are the situations in which stupidity has won the day, and money becomes the only real law. I used to feel that way about Big Tobacco, until someone finally nailed their asses to the wall. But nowadays it’s just as bad in the ‘war on drugs’—there are over one million prison convicts guilty of no violence other than growing, using, or having intent to sell some controlled substance. If that prison population could make me say that it’s much harder to buy drugs these days, maybe then it would make sense.

But, as it is, the law simply infringes on our rights to do things others may disapprove of (even though they will not be affected in any harmful way) and it doesn’t change the fact that drugs are grown, distributed, bought, sold, and used without interruption, every day, since Nancy Reagan announced the ‘just say no’ program—and did so for centuries before the issue became a ‘crisis’. Saddest of all, she’s right—people who are afraid of drugs, or see them as a danger, should say ‘no’—but those of us who are a bit lax about drug use because it is no more dangerous than alcohol or driving with a cell phone, should be given the personal freedom to look after our own health and choices, to say ‘yes’ where no victim is present and no violence is done.

In a larger sense, the poorly-named Patriot Act is a parallel notion on a wider scale—just because some powerful people have decided we all need protection from terrorists more than we need to keep our civil liberties and our privacy—we shouldn’t be asked to endure pat-downs every time we use mass transportation (or walk down the sidewalk—a brand-new totalitarianism just introduced in NYC). We are asked to suspend the rule of law whenever law enforcement gets nervous, suspend habeas corpus for suspects of terrorism—not for proof of terrorism, just suspicion. If our civil rights and our liberty are so non-essential in the age of terrorism, why did we bother enshrining them in our constitution, anyhow? It’s sad, how the cowardly have a monopoly on policy.

It makes me sad because I grew up during the Cold War—people forget what that was like. Let me tell you what it was like. It was just like the Republican and Democratic Parties of today, but with an ocean between them, and their leaders in possession of nuclear weapons. We were constantly arguing that our USA was superior to their USSR in every way. We allowed religions of all kinds—this was proof of our liberty-loving ways compared to the enforced atheism of the Soviets. We put big-shots in jail—even Nixon was driven from the Presidency by a caste-less, classless, populist nation. In the USSR, anyone who bad-mouthed Stalin got sent to the prison camps—and millions who didn’t do anything along with them. Our educational system was the Mecca for all foreigners with prowess in the sciences—no other nation innovated and invented like the good ol’USA. The Soviets taught their children political theory instead of science—and got nervous about giving anyone a chance to spend time in the free world, for fear they might not come back.

But now the big-shots control the media here—they don’t get exposed like they used to, when the fourth estate was a truly separate part of the media. And now, we do what the dastardly Commies used to do—arrest people without charges, without legal representation, and torture them during interrogation. That was one of the most awful things we dissed the Soviets about—their lack of respect for the individual. They are gone, but their methods live on. It makes me sad to see all those once-external evils now cropping up in our own neighborhoods. The Cold War is over, but I don’t know for sure whether the American people won that fight, or if the super-wealthy defeated both sides without anyone noticing.

Unsettled In My Ways


Once there was an expression that went: ‘they’re set in their ways.’ This expression would often be used to describe individuals, nationalities, and cultures. When describing an individual who was ‘set’ in his or her ‘ways’, it denoted a maturity that, having been reached, allowed him or her to settle into their knowledge-base and neither add nor subtract from that gestalt for the rest of that person’s life.

I personally experienced this in the form of my (late) paternal grandmother, who insisted on denoting African-Americans by the term ‘darkies’. Many were the occasions when I’d attempt to explain that hate-speech was no longer acceptable, even at the dinner table. My gentle reproaches fell on deaf ears—grandma was ‘set in her ways’ and after eighty years of using her own vocabulary with no problems, she was not about to modify her speech, at her advanced age, to please others.

I would love to be ‘set in my ways’, if only it were still an option. I have been ‘set in my ways’ a hundred times in the last fifty-something years. I became a minicomputer expert—they were replaced by desktop PCs; I became an expert in MS Basic—it was replaced with dBase—and dBase was replaced by object-oriented, WYSIWYG, windows-based GUI Visual-dBase (and C++); I got used to pin-feed, multi-part ‘green-bar’ printer paper used by matrix- and band- printers—they were replaced with sheet-fed, ink-jet, color printers. Each half-year, at least one of my skills became obsolete—and a new manual, or guide, or user-instruction needed reading—and many of those early support documents were awkward, opaque translations from the original Japanese!

From standalone, to LAN, to DSL-internet, to Broadband—from point-to-point-Modems, to ‘bulletin-board’ file transfers, to dial-up web browsing, to HTTP/FTP over a T-1 via ISPs—from free-for-all systems design, to off-the-shelf apps with differing file-formats, to ‘Suites’ of Office Applications that permit shared-online documents and spreadsheets, etc.—all these things happened in tiny increments, sold as enhancements, upgrades, new versions, standardized versions, beta versions, and more powerful, smaller hardware with exponentially greater capacity and speed.

After twenty years of riding that wave, I had been kept too busy to go to college and get a bachelor degree. But as I left that job, the world suddenly decided to overturn the old wisdom, the notion that a college degree wasn’t necessarily a proof of intelligence—or even of education. Now I found myself, a capable office-manager, customer-service manager, and systems administrator of nearly twenty years, unemployable because I had no degree!

I still have no degree. My atrophied brain, my frayed CNS, and the PTSD that, in office drones, is called ‘burnout’—all these changes make a degree, at this present moment, a futile goal. But I tried the Continuing Ed. Courses, back before my liver transplant. And I tried the online-courses, afterwards. In every case (and this was also true throughout my first seven colleges/universities, from before I joined the workforce) I ended up becoming an extra study guide or TA, the person who sometimes helps bridge the gap between the teacher and the denser students. Invariably the teacher asks me something along the lines of, “You seem to know more about this class than I do—why are you taking this course?” When I explain that I’m trying to get certified with a degree, and I need the credits, or the mandatory courses, whatever—then the profs would usually ask if I wouldn’t mind tutoring the other students. I even earned my tuition for two years at one Castleton State College, in Vermont, by doing work-study as a calculus tutor.

I have also had great success as a tutor for high school mathematics, English, and science—but that was long ago. I can only brag about past proficiencies—I have accomplished nothing of note in over ten years. But even unemployed and virtually house-bound, I still can’t become ‘set in my ways’. TV becomes Cable/Satellite becomes VOD becomes “hulu”. Windows goes from “Windows NT” to “Windows 2000” to “Windows XP” to “Windows 7”. Laptops become PDAs become I-Phones, I-Pods, I-Pads, etc. My old ‘dictation’ digital audio recorder has been replaced with my ‘newish’ digital-camera/video/audio recorder with USB connector and a charger that only takes three hours (I remember when it was 24-hours and still didn’t hold the charge as long). I have a 1 terabyte external drive no bigger than my wallet. And all these handhelds and peripherals come with another User’s Manual. Still, I’m lucky I’m not a gamer—my 24-year-old son has been gaming since he was a toddler and the changes and evolutions of both online gaming and social apps are even more frequent and arcane.

But forget about the electronics—let’s just look at their collateral effects. There was a time I dreamed of owning a bookstore—now, they are nearly extinct. When our children were babies, we bought an Encyclopedia Britannica, which took up more than a yard of shelf space. Encyclopedias are no longer printed on paper—and for good reason: (1) That’s a LOT of Paper, and (2) Changes happen every minute, every second in our present lifestyle—far too quickly for the deliberate and exacting scholarship of the old encyclopedias to keep up with. Phonebooks, also, are rarely used—as are retail stores. I saw a sign at the A&P last week, offering delivery of one’s online-shopping-list postings! Actually, that is as much a step back as a step forward—groceries were often delivered by the grocer’s stock-boy in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

The immense changes, the obsolescence of so much of Americana, the removal or transfer of old businesses and services to online sites—the cultural changes that occur almost daily make this life a far more changeable one than that of our parents and grandparents. Plus, at the other extreme end, our children are spinning off into internal, digital worlds that make our changes seem like clumsy pokes at the new texture and complexity of the Information Age.

The scurrying to keep up that most people my age are doing is only just enough to keep us from losing the thread of progress—and we know that if we let it all get too far ahead of us, we may never participate in modern society again! Doctors, Lawyers, all professionals are required to take ongoing, continuing education courses in their field—and read a great deal of professional journals, besides—just to stay current in their field. Our legal system is perpetually digesting new crimes into legislation in a valiant, but perhaps doomed, effort to keep the law current with each new day’s opportunities and advances.

Many a geriatric has had to flip-flop on the issue of ‘computer stuff’—where once they swore they were too old to start learning all this new-fangled-ness, they are now flocking to the internet to talk to their grandchildren, download pics of their new-born great-grandchildren, play bridge with distant friends, find out about the latest medicinal breakthroughs, and re-connect with people that would have stayed, in the old way, mere memories (for good or ill).

And when I consider what pressure must have driven them to the internet, to email, to Facebook or MySpace or Google+ or Twitter—I shudder to think how much new stuff I’ll be forced to cram down my brain-stem at their age (I should live so long).

Thus, I am of the first generation for which there will never be an age ancient enough to allow us to become ‘set in our ways’. The alternative (i.e. apocalyptic collapse of the developed countries’ economies and governments) is no rosier, particularly in the case of senior citizens. So society has taken on aspects of the ‘moving sidewalks’ found in transport hubs and airports—we move forward even when at rest and, when walking, move at a run.

The old ways of civilization were much more integral with nature. As we aged, we became slower and duller, but more respected for our greater experience and wisdom. Now, our experiences are obsolete data, and wisdom—well, that was always as hard to come by as it was easy to ignore—nothing new about wisdom. When we wanted privacy, we simply took a walk around the block. When it got late at night, the mass media ‘signed off’ until tomorrow. When it was the day of rest, all the stores were closed and the streets were deserted. All these things were organic to a natural life. We move away from that integration with every new chipset-invention and global phenomenon. We are in danger of making civilization ‘user-un-friendly’. All this progress and change is of questionable value if the trade-off is increased stress and discomfort added to each individual’s lifestyle, or the splitting off of a new class structure, discriminating the tech-savvy from the digitally-illiterate.

And there is the basic activity of our old ways—walking, working, building, self-amusement, siestas, mid-day naps, and after-dinner constitutionals—almost gone already. How much joy will we squeeze from a world that sits at a keyboard and stares at a screen all day? I think I’d rather grow old getting ‘set in my ways’.

Oh, Come On, All Ye Faithful


Oh, Come On, All Ye Faithful

The world is full of sad, suffering, bitter, frightened people—so much so that there are even those who have been ‘broken’. We once had an unspoken agreement in our society that anyone who was obviously psychotic or deeply stupid would be nudged away from any responsible role in civics or business. Not that we didn’t like them—just that we could see their behavior as problematic in any ‘position of authority’, where the broken may not see such a problem within themselves. I guess Bush, Jr. put an end to that tradition—if not his election then, certainly, his re-election—and now the floodgates of ‘stupid and mean’ have opened wide.

Additionally, we now have evangelical politicians (that used to be an oxymoron in this country) who disregard all the serious people who, for generations, kept their religion on simmer—just to avoid that all-too-easily-approached position wherein a person may choose their faith’s dogma over common sense. Not to mention this unspoken Neo-Con campaign to change America from the ‘land of religious freedom’ to the ‘land of Christian theocracy’. And how the public figures dance around this issue, being coy and arch and never coming out and saying the thing they truly believe—because they know the real world will take their bald admission of their loyalty to the church and hold it up as the childish bedtime story it really is.

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Admittedly, this issue is skewed, publicly, due to the fact that morons will shout their stupidity to the mountain-tops, but reasonable people of faith will allow for the give and take of scientific reality and mathematical truth and, more importantly, are too busy leading productive lives to make nearly as much hullabaloo as the extremists they far outnumber. But it remains a major point of cognitive dissonance in politics. While science professors in top colleges would not be reluctant to admit they’re Atheists, politicians must still keep to the establishmentarian position of ‘morals by religion’ and no other avenue of ‘understanding good and evil’.

The evangi-lantees  (you like that? I just made it up.) take advantage of this virtual strait-jacket whenever they imply that ‘godlessness’ is synonymous with ‘evil’. Most of my friends and acquaintances would scruple (I certainly hope) at describing me as Evil. Yet the holy-rolling, bible-thumper set would have me, an Atheist, be seen as a threat to my country, my community, and my family. No national candidate for high office has as yet proclaimed their atheism (not to my knowledge, anyway) yet the greatest horrors of our times—9/11, genocide, warring and bloody revolutions in the Mid-East—all these violent upheavals were perpetrated by certain people claiming religious motives or religious authority for their behavior.

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Shouldn’t the Atheists be preferred as being more objective about religious dogmas and the different cultures and life-styles of different religious groups? If we only accept some sort of Christianity in our political candidates, aren’t we enabling the evangelicals’ “Freedom of Belief as Long as its Christian” agenda. Why should we accept different views in our teachers and scientists than the views we expect from politicians? It’s a conundrum. Here’s another: Why don’t Europeans see this happening in their countries? Why is the USA the only country that sees the rise of evangelism and pseudo-Christian extremism? Is it because they’d already gotten over their Reformation by shipping all the crazies over here?

The fundamental divide between Atheists and Christians (or Theists in general) is in our ‘reality’s. True believers live in a reality where God is real. Atheists live in a reality that excludes specific faiths and precise dogmas—we see civilization as the progress (or evolution, if you will) of humanity from ignorance to enlightenment. We see the churches of today as vestiges of a time when the world had no better solution to the riddle of existence than myths. We see the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition as a movement from very primitive, multi-divinity traditions into a monotheistic paradigm. This gives us a perspective in which today’s major faiths are only different from Greek Mythology in that there are still people that take their ‘myths’ seriously.

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This accounts for the accusations of rudeness, crudeness, and anti-social tendencies that Christians will often make against Atheism. They think we are insulting an actual ‘being’. And we Atheists are trying to find a way to tell adults, “there is no Santy Claus” without being condescending—or going crazy ‘banging our heads against a wall’.

This is where the idea of religious freedom breaks down—two types of adults can try to discuss their differences, but in this case we are attempting to discuss our different underpinnings of our respective realities. Truly, it is easier for Muslims and Christians to discuss their differences than it is for either of them to debate Atheists. It’s kind of funny, in a way—if I told a Christian I didn’t believe in Islam, there wouldn’t be a problem; if I told a Muslim I didn’t believe in Christianity, again, no problem. There is an Atheist joke that points out how theists disbelieve in every other religion except their own, so Atheists are just off by one more religion. Funny, but true.

It doesn’t help that ‘enforced Atheism’ was a property of the old ‘Commies’ during the Cold War—the idea that people could be arrested because of their religious practices is the opposite of religious freedom. It was one of our main points of ‘superiority’ over the ‘Iron Curtain’ countries—in the Free World, we had no limits on religiosity. It seems ironic, now, what with Islam becoming a ‘suspect’ religious group—and not just for their being blamed for the fundamentalist extremists who flew the jetliners into the two towers, but also for their apparent misogyny and their concept of sharia law (pretty much the opposite of ‘separation of church and state’.)

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As always, the differences between theist and atheist are aggravated by the polymorphism of language. Fundamentalism, Extremism, Zealotry—words that once meant ‘deeply religious’ have been transformed by Terrorism into buzz-words denoting ‘random, delusional violence’. By the extremists’ insistence on hardline dogmatism, they make life difficult for the average believer in more ways than one. Being co-opted into implicit guilt of terrorist attacks is one way. Having their beliefs extended to the furthest extreme by the fundamentalists, thus highlighting the cognitive dissonance of any faith in the modern world, is another difficulty—in that it makes the majority of a faith’s believers begin to question their choice of outlook. In other words, terrorism (never a sane approach, for whatever objective, in the first place) may have the effect of driving away the majority of a faith’s more moderate and nominal adherents. Where the churches once created communities and connections, they are now in danger of being recognized as sources of conflict.

Atheists have their own problems—in my case, it is my reluctance to change my ethics to be in line with my discarding Catholicism. I’ve been consistently troubled by this issue for most of my life—if religion is false, what are the reasons for social behavior? I’ve always preferred to be a polite person, kind and sympathetic—and I hope that I have, by and large, been so—and I also know that, at times, I have not been what I hoped. But having given up any hope of taking any religion seriously ever again, I have never been changed in my feeling of the rightness in being the best person one can be.

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But, without any explanation or evidence, I have no formulation of logic that leads to my behavior—in the Atheist’s existence, there is no true rationale for anything, for being nice, for being helpful or having any care for others, not even for staying alive. And the closest I’ve come so far is this: There is no reason for anything, but there is likewise no reason not to care for anything. It’s not much, but I’ve used it for a long time and, frankly, I’m afraid it may be the only ‘answer’ to that particular issue. In other words, for me, ‘meaning’ is a subjective thing—but no less integral to happiness, and no more changeable than another’s faith, regardless of being my ‘choice’.

At ten years old, I announced my conviction that, having thought it all over, this God business was a crock. In my teen years, I tried out several other churches services in search of a believable faith—the Bahá’í seemed the closest—Quakerism was also pretty sensible, as was Unitarianism. These other faiths appeared to be far more humane than my childhood faith, but none could offer anything more sensible than Catholicism, in terms of logic and reason. In almost all cases, another religion would be far less silly than Catholicism—but that didn’t change the core concepts—unknowable being, constant surveillance from cradle to grave, life after death, souls—all the things that in a different context would be called ‘paranormal’, perhaps even ‘delirium’. In other words, if I had been shopping for a better religion, there were several contenders. But I was looking for a religion that was true—like science is true.

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Thus I became an agnostic, still willing to entertain new evidence and different perspectives. But then I ran across the archeology of religion. I learned that modern-day faiths were evolved from earlier forms, not set in stone from day one. I learned that many religious holidays were superimposed on dates that were held sacred by pagans prior to the intrusion of monotheism.

I learned that witch hunts and burning people at the stake were as much part of the destruction of the older faiths’ perspective as they were a ‘Jihad against Satanists’. Witches were revered matriarchs in Pagan culture—they were experts in medical lore, botany, midwifery, and other important contributions to their communities. They were living demonstrations of a Goodness unconnected with the churches—and they were far more effective and successful than the newer, so-called Doctors. That made them unbearable members of society in the eyes of both the new leaders and the professionals of this new, Christian ‘way of things’.

Fraser’s “Golden Bough” was a ground-breaking book published at the turn of the last century. It cataloged the many threads that wound through civilization’s history, connecting our present day beliefs to traditions begun by far more primitive belief-systems. It is basically impossible to read that book and still take modern religious rituals as seriously as when one assumed one’s religion was ‘made from whole cloth’.

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Most troubling of all is that the book was archeological in nature—it didn’t defend or attack any specific faith. Fraser diligently searched out carvings, scrolls, parchments, temples, and historical documentation for what would become his conclusions. Worse yet, it wasn’t long afterwards that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered—an Archive of older versions of today’s Bible, displaying far-ranging variations on what was previously ‘known’ to be a single, full compendium of Christianity—the New Testament.

We may not see the excitement-factor in such musty scholarship, but to the Vatican these scrolls were a potential death-blow. They sprang into action, acquiring the majority of the ‘treasure’ and spending years in so-called translation of these bomb-shell documents. Eventually, serious people started getting impatient with this suppression of such important historical material, and the scrolls were released to public study. A library found at the Nag Hammadi (Nag Hammadi Scriptures and the Gnostic Gospels) added its own confusion to the pile-up—including one very surprising “Gospel of Mary Magdalene”!

So, maybe it’s just me but, after many years of digging to get to a truth of my own, I felt I had found it—religion was evolved from our earliest, most primitive thought-processes—our fear of death, our preference for an ordered life-style, and our curiosity about the big ‘Why’s—Why does the universe exist?; Why are we here?; Why do we live, only to die? The worship of the Sun, of nature, of animals, of father-figures in the sky—all these things were part of how human ratiocination operates. They seem natural and real, because they are the natural result of our thought-processes.

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And I had seen my own changes—as a boy, we Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays; Catholic priests celebrated the Mass in Latin; and the congregation remained silent throughout. By my tween years, the ‘no meat on Friday’ strictures were dropped—(a real blow to seafood restaurants); the Mass was performed in English; and we were suddenly being taught how to do antiphony—the ‘call and response’ portions of the Mass. It takes some strong faith, in God as well as in oneself, to make alterations to the rituals of one’s faith. To a youngster like myself, it seemed little different than saying all my study of the Catechism was just a joke. “We’re changing things around—we may change again—nothing is set in stone.”—that’s what I took away from the experience. And what is the good of belief if it isn’t set in stone? I asked myself—belief should have the same permanence as arithmetic.

That’s me all over—I took Catholicism too seriously as a kid, then I took their changes too seriously, then I took science too seriously. I have found, in my older, more recent years, that everything has a ‘balance’ to it—taking something too seriously has the effect of creating an ‘imbalance’. So I try to take things less seriously now—but it is my nature to be demanding, compulsive, and fussy, so I have little success in my attempts at sensibility.

I admit my life is worse for not having joined a faith—much of society is oriented around religion. But how lucky I was to be born in a time and place where my lack of faith wasn’t a death sentence. Society wasn’t always merely oriented around religion; it has been for most of our history as accepted-as-fact as arithmetic was—indeed, if there were to be a lack of agreement between arithmetic and the church, it would have been the arithmetic that would have been ignored.Image

The acceptance of Science as our baseline reality is a surprisingly recent change in civilization—so recent that many parts of the world still live their lives in thrall to dogmas, rituals, and mysticism. That their society and their religion are inseparable presents a problem when these far-off lands are negotiating with the developed countries—once again, the very foundations of their realities differ so much that points of contact are elusive and mercurial. And the many people in the developed world who retain their families’ faiths, but take them with a grain of salt, so to speak, are as repugnant to the true believers as Atheists like me.

In some ways, I side with the zealots on this issue—if I did truly believe in my religious precepts, I wouldn’t half-ass around about it, either. I have always had great respect for the Shakers—they believed that, if original sin was a sin, then they would never commit that sin. They lived in celibacy—the only new members of the Shaker faith were orphans and runaways adopted by the Shaker community. Still, there came a time when they were all gone—they had obeyed their God by never having children—now, that’s faith, bub! They had their own Rapture, by sheer commitment to their faith. We who remain on Earth today could well be waiting for a Second Coming that already came and went.

So, I can take the high ground here if you all are the type of church-folk who skip services during football season, or cheat on your taxes, or cheat at cards, whatever… And the rest of you—keep the faith, baby! (If that’s your thing.)

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Tea Party is Un-American


Okay, first there was the way Bush ‘elbowed’ his way into office while more rational people still had questions about the actual vote tallies. Then there was the way 9/11 was used by Bush to create a department of Homeland Security (cops without rules) and pass the ‘Patriot’ Act (a rescinding of the Bill of Rights) and use the political climate to declare war on Iraq under false pretenses. Then, having destroyed Iraq’s government, he allowed chaos to rule Baghdad, which led to the destruction of the infrastructure of the city we were supposedly ‘liberating’ (with severe loss of irreplaceable museum pieces–anthropological artifacts from man’s earliest civilizations—there’s something vast and sweeping about that BIG a screw-up).

Then he bumbled his way to a complete, global economic meltdown just as the country elected Bush’s opposite–a thinking, sincere, and respectable President, Barack Obama. And from the very first, the GOP behaved like a spoiled child–swearing that no matter what else happened, they would discredit our newly-elected president. And, true to their word (for once) they have spent the last four years trying to distract us from Obama’s sterling performance, from their own bankrupt, disproven policies, and from their religious zealotry. They have forestalled important legislation for four years to give themselves something to blame Obama for (how they expect the public not to see through that is beyond me–I call it treason, plain and simple).

Confederacy of Dunces

The richest people on earth ‘own’ the GOP–there’s no other way to explain their psychotic strategies and insufferable ignorance. I could fill page after page with a list of their incoherent behavior all through this dawn of a new millennium–some of it just stupid, some of it almost comic in its clumsiness, some of it terrifying to see held up as ‘family’ values. Whoever is touting Family Values in a country with a 50% divorce rate is living in a fantasy world, a world where we still haven’t seen through the pompous pieties of ancient religions, revived anew by good ol’ boys who willfully turn away from proven science, and use 21st century hi-tech communications and marketing techniques to snow their supporters.

I am speechless on the subject of the Tea Party. I shall hereafter refer to it as the Em-Tea Headed Party. I cannot fathom how Mitt Romney supposes we can support tax breaks for rich people–does that man actually know arithmetic? I don’t think he does. And his efforts to stay within the bounds of insanity delineated by his Republican base are hilarious. Apparently, even a blockhead like Mitt can’t support the more extreme idiocies of his party’s majority. If you lie down in a trailer park, you’re gonna get up with white-trash fleas–sorry, I couldn’t help it.

I’m not trying to be snippy. It’s just so hard to discuss some neo-con positions with a straight face. Are we supposed to have forgotten that the legalization of abortion was first hailed as an end to back-room abortion horror stories, and an end to centuries of men interfering in women’s rights? We men don’t even know what it’s like to have a single menstrual period! Yet we feel justified in telling the other half of the population how they should have unwanted children for the sake of some biblical mumbo-jumbo about an old man in the sky.

The most cherished ideals of the United States of America have been ‘separation of church and state’, religious freedom (which includes the right to not have one), and all people being born equal. By those lights, the GOP should be renamed the Anti-American party. Or maybe just the ‘death to all who refuse to bow down to the almighty dollar’ Party–but that name’s kinda long. Well, you know what I’m saying.

Because most Republican agendas for the last ten, twenty years have all been attacks on what were once touchstones of the American Spirit. They try to ignore–and get us to overlook–their trampling on our Constitution and our Bill of Rights–except when they want to distort it to their own advantage, as with this Chik-fil-a garbage being ‘religious freedom’ and ‘free speech’, when it is clearly hate speech dressed in red, white, and blue bunting.

It has me dazed–I cannot handle the volume and frequency of their desecrations of our way of life, or their purposefully and knowingly lying about Obama, the Democrats, and a host of other middle-to-liberal regular folks who got in the way of their vituperation. They have made celebrities of people like that druggie radio-nut and the former Governor of Alaska (you betcha). This is a woman who complained about Katie Couric innocently asking her what newspapers and magazines she read–because her answer was ‘none’. Now, whose fault is that, really? The anchorwoman who assumed anyone vying for executive office would read at least one gol’durn newspaper–or the pit-bull with lipstick on?

Sartre comes to mind. Are just about half of this country’s voters really behind these evil people, and their views and plans? These are the same people who fought slavery in the1860s, who supported anti-Semitism in the 1950s, who fought integration in the 1960s, who railed against the women’s lib movement in the seventies—the same people who still, today, want us to hate all homosexuals, when homosexuals clearly don’t hate us. Aren’t all those deluded people as ‘out of work’ as the rest of us? Can they really blame the guy who took office virtually the day after the ‘economy-bomb’ exploded on Wall Street—instead of the party that spent eight years getting us into that crater?

That new guy, btw, has been doing wonders with our economy, especially since he’s had to drag the Republicans kicking and screaming towards some kind of stimulus, regulation, and recovery. The GOP-led House of Representatives has carped, obfuscated, and turned up their noses at any attempt to restore this country, simply because it would be a Democrat President who would sign the legislation. Treason! There’s no other word for it.

But the past is prologue. They have crossed a line now. Now, they are trying to keep Democrats from voting, using the same old ‘Jim Crow’ bull that they used to use only on the African-Americans! How naked. How obscenely overt. How definitively reactionary. I must be going crazy. This is not the USA that I grew up in. That USA was far from perfect, I can’t deny that–but this nightmare landscape of devolutionary Social Justice, this macabre festival of Spin, Lies, Racism, Sexism, Evangelicalism, Greed… –and their lust for Power overriding any sense of responsibility to the ‘Land of the Free’. Ha. Not if they get their way…

A political party that purposely makes it more difficult for the poor, the elderly, and any-other-demographic-that-skews-left to cast their Votes! If they can manage to obstruct enough of the disenfranchised, they think they have a shot against a second term for Obama. I’m hoping this election will break their hearts as badly as they have broken mine, not only for the eight years their ‘W’ind-up Monkey trashed our nation, and its reputation, but for the last four years of their unabashedly irresponsible behavior towards the most dis-respected President that ever was. They should be ashamed of themselves, but I’m not sure they know what ‘shame’ is.

Fascism and Drug Policy


Veil Nebula

Wednesday, August 01, 2012         2:57 AM

Fascism Lives—And It’s Just Saying ‘No’

When Fascism first hit the world stage, it was hailed by many as an absolutism that would remove the unsightly wrinkles from our modern nations by insisting that each nation’s government had a right to categorize and control all the citizens of their nations. Today we call ‘categorization’ by its true name, ‘genocide’. We still fight governments over control of our lives, which has a tendency to creep up—but more importantly, we see few governments reversing their policies on surveillance and control—always creeping forward, but never moving back to the former, less-rigorous condition.

The governmental control over the Nazi’s lives was ultimately defeated, but it was defeated in part by America’s patriotic love of our ‘free’ way of life, which manifested itself as Americans’ willingness to cede control over their own fate and pull together to fight the enemy. Not only were military personnel expected to take orders without question—even the home front bought into the need for rationing gasoline, rationing food, blackout curfews, the Japanese-American concentration camps, metal and rubber drives, and even the presumed sacrifice of part of ones paycheck to buy ‘war bonds’ to support the government’s war activities. This was quite a different picture from the public response to the Viet Nam war, when our government’s military actions weren’t so fervently supported by its citizens.

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The modern ‘Free World’ is a more sophisticated arrangement. Firstly, while we roundly condemn any hint of genocide, we have nevertheless become a culture which clearly separates the rich from the poor, with the resulting effect of making us all 2nd-class citizens whose laws and activities are unilaterally determined by the smallest upper-class, proportionately, that history has to offer.

In this respect, western civilization has returned to fascism with but the one caveat—that we are all Jews now, at least insofar as our needs are being addressed by those in power. And I use the phrase ‘in power’ advisedly, since we can all agree that we live in a democratic nation in which no elected office-holder was given less votes than any other candidate. (Most of the time, anyhow.)

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But those in power are not these elected officials. The powerful are the super-wealthy, and the top management executives from the major corporations (domestic or otherwise), and the owners of mass-communication companies. Any one of the powerful may well be all of these things, but no one without at least one of these points of access is in a position to make a sea-change in the way our culture operates.

As a private citizen of no great notice, I will agree that I can vote for whoever I like at each and every election. But I will not concede that I am, therefore, influencing my country in any meaningful way. The candidates that make their way onto the ballots are chosen for me by both parties’ internal systems and are carefully chosen so as to play one against the other in frivolous, superficial arenas—while never brushing up against any substantive issue that might pit the citizens of our country against the wealthy-and-powerful’s established business and finance policies. The surface roils with issues of a personal nature, which entitle everyone to have an opinion, and to argue, before, during, and after any important choices are surreptitiously made for us by the ‘boys in the back room’.

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Secondly, our control over our own fate is tamped down severely by the incessancy of mass media, an entertainment industry that still pretends to inform us objectively and thoroughly. This ‘mass-media-amalgam’ has chosen to buy into the two-party democracy story-line, in an era during which neither party has done much in the way of serving the public, i.e. at a time when we need third-, fourth, even nth- party, candidates in our politics—local, state, or national. The Nazis called this ‘propaganda’. We call it ‘cable’ and pay for it every month.

Nothing is changed more than by narration. The rich and powerful decree to their enthralled news-reporting businesses what POV is to be used, and all the news is told to us as it is perceived by the powerful. No, it’s worse than that, it is couched in language that purposely presents an audience with a biased POV—not sharing the elites’ misperceptions, but misleading us as to the reality behind the news events. And while we are barraged daily with this drenching of nonsense, no substantive public debate can begin on the issues our elite would like to keep any attention from.

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Take this example. The gigantic downfall of the derivatives market was presented in the media as something that happened on the day they reported the plummeting of global markets that triggered. We are expected to believe that dedicated journalists had been haunting the offices and hallways of the executives in control of our financial institutions, and those running their corresponding governmental overseers. We are not expected to ask why none of this Credit Armageddon was reported on in the previous years, months or even days.

Here’s another example. DEA administrator Michele Leonhart recently responded to the question: “Why is marijuana bad?” with “Well, all illegal drugs are bad.” This condescension is meant to imply that all these bothersome details are above reproach, and always were, and always would be. The bitterest part of this ‘positioning’ is it’s implication that authority should not be questioned.

No, I take that back—even more embittering is that we citizens seem to stand still for them while they fit us with their ‘little peon’s’ driving-harnesses of oppression (Patent Pending). We are seeing employment figures rise by tiny increments over years of time. We are finding minimum wage employment, and being grateful for it. We have lost that American tradition of walking out on a job when our boss is too big of an ass. The only fear we need to fear is Unemployment—Liberty, sadly, takes the Silver in that race.

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Friday, August 03, 2012

8:49 PM

 

Let me come at the drug problem in a pragmatic way—maybe then I can change your mind… Are drugs dangerous? Yes. Without question. And, even, really dangerous, deadly dangerous—yes, drugs are dangerous.

Do we fear for our children’s safety? Yes, again. Yes we do. Ours are grown now, but all through middle school and high school we lived in fear of their safety. We still do, but it has become a more amorphous fear, the yang to the yin of our hopes for their success. But back in those school days—every night was a horror movie—no, a veritable Cineplex of horror movies running through our parental minds as we waited for the phone’s ring or the car’s headlights swerving across the ceiling, signifying that both of them were still breathing for one more day. And it wasn’t just drugs we feared for their safety’s sake, there are plenty of other fear-options—ask the parent of a teenager.

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To recap: Drugs are dangerous. They put our youngsters at risk every day, not to mention several types of adults—and the children they parent. It would appear obvious that drugs should be illegal. What is there to discuss?

I should like to discuss that which isn’t obvious—criminalizing drugs makes the problem worse. The drug problem has nothing to do with the law—well, no, that’s wrong—the drug problem has even bigger problems because of the law.

One of these additional drawbacks is the acquisition of great wealth by criminal organizations. The second drawback is that this black market economy is outside of both the domestic economy and the various governments’ (local, state, fed) taxation. When black market drugs are booming, none of that cash flow interacts with established businesses and NPOs. The money lost to drug lords is money that won’t be taxed by the government trying to control drugs with Customs, ATF, and DEA.

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A third drawback of criminalized drug policy is the surreptitious distribution methods that black markets require. By using secret, compartmentalized means of distribution, the destinations are unlimited—they include schools, social venues, bars, restaurants, and residential neighborhoods.

Taxed, controlled drugs sold only to adults (as with alcoholic beverages) would make the acquisition of drugs by minors more difficult. Plus, the loss of income suffered by black market drug suppliers would put them out of business, curtailing the flow of uncontrolled drugs to the ‘street and schoolyard’ locations. Plus, it would be difficult for them to match the prices on officially sanctioned drugs—so, even if they kept going, we would soon price them out of business. Their serpentine methods of harvesting, processing, smuggling, and dealing would cost far more than an aboveboard operation of the same commodity.

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We are afraid of drugs. We are especially afraid of drugs getting to our children. We want drugs to be illegal—they are too dangerous to allow the public to have legal access. It seems to make sense—but it doesn’t. What makes sense is for us to face the drug problem and stare it down. We need drug users to be visible, we need kids doing drugs to be visible, we need to treat addicts, we need to inspect the quality and purity of drugs being used. We need to study drugs as a part of our society.

Drugs are here. I could easily find a source for any illegal drug, if I wanted to. And everyone who wants to, finds a source. That drugs are criminalized doesn’t make them go away—it only drives them into the shadows where good people never look. Illegal drugs isolate the drug user from normal society—addiction isn’t treated until the most advanced condition presents them to the ER, half-dead already. And these separations of the drug-user/-abuser from the rest of us turn a mere black market into a full-fledged underground society, with pocket concentrations in the most underserved of neighborhoods.

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Would making drugs legal give our children the idea that we condone hard drugs? Not necessarily. The businesses would still have drug tests—getting a job, particularly one requiring responsible behavior, would still be out of reach for drug abusers. Traffic cops would still arrest drug abusers who drove while under the influence (just as with alcohol). Licenses, much like liquor licenses, would control the number of retail drug sales establishments and, more importantly, would be accompanied by regular inspections by the drug control authority (just as bars and nightclubs are inspected and restricted in the manner of selling and the rules of permissible customer behavior). The children themselves would be barred from any place that sells drugs or any venue that offers drugs for use, which would tell them, just as the liquor and tobacco rules do now, that these are dangerous substances that only adults can be responsible for.

But it would tell them one other, important thing—that the government doesn’t tell people what to do, even if it is dangerous. It would tell them that liberty includes the right to be an idiot—a truism that we see proved virtually daily on the news. Prohibition gave us a lesson in banned substances—it creates a criminalized society, it empowers outlaws and organized crime, and it doesn’t ever stop the flow of the commodity to market, because the market never goes away.

One other benefit would be to relieve the enormous pressure of inmates being held in prisons—releasing every non-violent drug ‘criminal’ would create a much needed reduction in our national prison capacity. I think it is high time we ‘grasped the thistle’ of drug abuse—to forgo our fantasies of a drug free society and begin the real work of having drugs in our society.

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