Thursday, March 31, 2011

Under Siege

The past is rife with the record humanity's clawing its way up the ladder of development, from simple wanderers, to farmers, to townsfolk, to city dwellers, to citizens of nations and empires. All along the path, cultures, traditions, languages, and religions were established, each scratching out an existence within the human milieu. These patterns, these delimiters, provided both an impetus for the growth of humanity and a handbrake on the true growth of humanity's soul. Where belonging to any of these groups was made an imperative, eventually conflict arose, and where more than one was at play, intrigues and insurrections brought down many a “civilized” society.

Our growth is retarded only by the dead weight of the past that we carry forward with us. Rather than taking the lessons of the past, using them to inform the present, to pave the way for the future, we stubbornly carry along the whole rickety architecture of previous centuries, as if it were some precious gift, rather than the rusted anchor it is. We have much we can learn from the recorded events of our history, many lessons we can take from what came before, but if we insist on holding on to the letter of them, instead of the spirit, we doom ourselves to remaking the same ineffectual and damaging mistakes we made before.

Fear, loathing, segregation, war, poverty, disease – these should all issues we reflect on merely for their historical value. Instead, we continue to perpetuate them by operating using the same tired strictures and obsolescent values, pursuing goals no different now than centuries earlier: greed for money, lust for power, separation of the classes, destruction of those who oppose us. Some of us cling to these precepts as a man to a life preserver in the middle of the sea, refusing rescue, preferring to be saved by drifting to land on the currents. The ridiculous lengths to which groups of people on this planet pursue courses which create conflict, rather than mitigating it, is staggering.

This is not to be completely dismissive of belief systems and organized forms of community different than our own. Everything that has come before us as provided the bricks and mortar that were laid down to create the foundation of humanity. Some bricks were forged in fire, some in blood, some in hope, some in tears, some in strength, but the sum total is far greater than the individual bricks. Still, it may be said that some of those bricks, while seeming sturdy on the outside, are, at their centers, hollow and unsound. A house may be built on a foundation that is not one hundred percent strong, but every percent below that increases the likelihood of eventual collapse. Perhaps there are too few bricks of the type in our home, but humanity cannot be sure, and cannot afford to turn a blind eye and hope for the best.

There is no blueprint for the perfect human society; human beings are too varied to fit one system to all. There will always be those in the human milieu who, no matter the bounty or peace that surrounds them, will agitate against such things, claiming they being stifled and their freedom limited, when that is furthest from the truth. One could hope that there will be new challenges and new frontiers that can absorb these malcontents and give them something to turn their energy towards, but until then, we must suffer along with their presence, as they attempt to divert us from our true destiny.

Those who align against reason, sanity, clarity, and logic are not going to be appeased. They will continue to fight tooth-and-nail against changes in “their” world, for that marks the difference between them and the rest of humanity – they do not see themselves a part of the grander scheme. They look upon those who do not follow their regimens and restrictions as “fools” or “the unworthy” or claim that their ultimate will be worse than the “faithful.” They seek to separate themselves from humanity, and seek to reinforce the dividing lines they have drawn, ensuring that they have the world they wish, without the interference of other forces constantly undermining them. They would return us to patterns of behavior that we passed by long ago as untenable, simply because those patterns are familiar and soothing to their minds.

We do ourselves a disservice to dismiss them callously, or impugn them, or lord our “superiority” over them. They, too, despite their societal flaws, are human, and by the rules we choose to live by, entitled to their opinion, even if we don't agree and it does not add to the peace and stability of society. We may pity them, or perhaps pray for them, but we should never think ourselves above them, for that leads us down the same road they and their ancestors have trodden. We would merely exchange one group of hard cases for another, only then we would find ourselves on the other side of the argument.

We will advance or fall together, of this there is no doubt. We should always keep that in mind. Disagree though we may, eventually we end up in the same place, perhaps slower than we would have liked, but just as inevitably. Let us learn to hold our tongues, extend our hands, and give ground where we can, to foster the creation of harmony, that we might seek a better end for all that much sooner. We have nothing to lose to try.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Each Another's Audience

The attempt to differentiate ourselves, be it how we dress, how we act, what God we do (or don't) pray to, and so on, is something that absorbs the greater portion of our lives. We want to be noticed for our individuality, even as we try to fit in with some social class we think is desirable. We value independence, even as we surrender our will to the whims of the crowd. We don't care how others feel, except to wonder what they think of us and imagine the worst, or worse, believe they think well of us when evidence suggests we do not. We want to stand on our two feet, even when we are most assuredly not even ready to crawl.

What most of us fail to realize is that we are, for all intents and purposes, as different as the next person. Our DNA writes a story specifically for us, shapes and molds us, sets up the conditions under which we integrate into our environment. The code of every living human is different, even where they may be “identical.” Variation is the name of the game evolution plays, and it seeks to keep us as differentiated as possible, to ensure that we retain the maximum adaptability of the species. That is the key to our survival – having the greatest range of traits available, to allow for the greatest number of useful combinations, encouraging the welfare of humankind.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Waters Of The Nile Reclaim Cleopatra

First, a mea culpa: I have had an intemperate thing or two to say about Elizabeth Taylor. The indiscretion of youth and the impertinence of intellect led me to make judgments that were no doubt colored by the fact that she was a "star," part of the Hollywood machine that takes young men and women and chains their souls to fame. Age has brought wisdom and above all, compassion, and I am able to see more clearly now what was not apparent to me twenty years ago: Dame Elizabeth Taylor was truly special.

One could laud her for her acting, begun at an early age, and carrying her through two Best Actress Oscars. One could twitter on about the many loves of her life, and subsequent marriages, finally totaling eight. We could list so many superlatives in regards to her beauty. We could continue to wonder at her close friendship with Michael Jackson, which seemed out of place. There are so many aspects of her life we could while away hours discussing. But let us, in addition to appreciating her for all the fabulous things she represented in her life, remember one of the most important things: her AIDS advocacy.

It was the death of her beloved friend Rock Hudson in 1985 from AIDS, and the lack of action by the Federal government (then in the hands of former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan), that spurred her to help start the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and subsequently, the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation (ETAF). She was a tireless promoter of AIDS-related causes at a time when it was still thought of as a "gay disease," and many on the religious right were lauding it as the "gay plague." To them, and to all those who lived in fear of the disease and homosexuality, she had this to say:

Why shouldn’t gay people be able to live as open and freely as everybody else? What it comes down to, ultimately, is love. How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and, God knows, from hate and from ignorance.
In decades to come, many a thing will be said and written about this glamorous, larger-than-life Hollywood icon. Among those things, let it be noted that she lived her life as she was wont, not as the world expected her to. Let it be known that she dabbled in love, having too much to give to any one man. Let it be said that she was beautiful, not just physically, but spiritually. Let it be written that she gave far more than she took.

And so now, let the water's rise, to take the barge with our Queen to her new resting place, in the cool shade of the palm trees, where no trouble may vex her still. Farewell, Our Cleopatra... farewell.

Monday, March 21, 2011

People Unclear On The Concept

In this age of information access and the free exchange of knowledge, it is amazing how so many of us decide to fall back on ignorance and inaccuracy to state our case. The backlash against reason, the constant rhetoric that decries “elitism,” the gutting of programs that would increase access to knowledge for millions of Americans, is staggering. The country we live in now is hardly recognizable as the nation that sent men to the Moon; in fact, a depressingly high number of Americans believe we didn't actually go to the Moon, that it was simply a government ploy. And this willful ignorance is not limited to areas of science and industry, but even religion, where the profusion of Christian sects that do not practice adherence to the words of Jesus and The Holy Roman Bible is confounding and confusing.

It is as if we live in a modern age wrapped in a dark age, a kind of yin-and-yang society, where intelligence and ignorance are attempting to coexist, but none too successfully. Intelligence tries to enlighten; ignorance tries to proselytize. Intelligence makes aware of real dangers; ignorance makes us fear phantoms and shadows. Intelligence seeks broad consensus; ignorance works to enforce its rules and ideals on others. Intelligence seeks to strip us of our burdens; ignorance seeks to make out yoke heavier and chains more sturdy. The problem is: the two disparate sides of the same coin have trapped us in the middle. The average American can be too easily swayed, and both sides seek to buttonhole us, forcing us to choose which shall rein supreme.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Uncivil War Begins

It is interesting to note that this year marks one hundred-fifty years since the start of the American Civil War, April 1861. What began with the bang and flash of cannon at Ft. Sumter, led to a wholesale change in the country that had formed not too far in the past. The sleeping dog of slavery, lying as it had at the feet of the Founding Fathers, tore loose from its chains, and wreaked a might vengeance upon the country. Families were divided and decimated. The poor fought for the rich. There was privation and disease, poverty and decadence. Dirty men fought and died while nattily dressed men harrumphed over the conduct of the war. A President, reluctant to end slavery, but given no choice but use it as a unifying cause, swept his foes from the field, only to have them exact final vengeance upon him. The last true shots would not be fired until the age of President Lyndon Johnson, who would enact sweeping Civil Rights legislation. Even today, the skirmishes are not truly over.

So as the anniversary day approaches, it is unsurprising that we find America at odds again, though the battle lines are not so neatly drawn as North and South. This pending war is being fought in the halls of legislation, in the medium of television, across the breadth of the planet via The Internet. It is a war that incorporates all the worst of human behavior, and at the same time, all that is forthright and true within our hearts. The sides are once more polarized, though it cannot be tied succinctly to one group. It is, instead, a confusing whorl of passions and prejudices, with battle lines so fluid as to be a jumble. If there is a constant in it, it is a fight between those who would look ahead to our destiny, and those who look behind, to pine for days passed. The tug of war between these forces may yet determine the continuation of our nation as the one conceived in freedom and liberty.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Societal Myopia

There is a movement afoot – and when is there not – to get the Ten Commandments placed in every courthouse in Georgia, as if the mere presence of this Biblical coda can somehow imbue all those who read them with the moral fiber they lacked previously. Strangely, these commandments have been around for centuries, but they do not seem to have made much of an impact despite the number of adherents to the faith from which they spring. It could be posited that these words contain no power, save where the individual who reads them chooses to incorporate them into their life as precepts to be followed. Other than that, they are simply relics of an ancient time, like hieroglyphs on an Egyptian tomb.

It would do no good, really, to go about putting such holy inscriptions on government edifices or government-supported public buildings, even were it not a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. For, to have any impact, these words would have to be seen, interpreted, and incorporated by those exposed to them, and they could be written on every wall and sidewalk and building, and have no greater affect than they do now, sequestered between the covers of a religious tome. Our society has developed myopia, a collective short-sightedness that does not allow us to see the true nature of the world around us, and therefore, we do not recognize what is put before us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Body In Motion

Newton's Laws of Motion were the first definitive set of rules that allowed humanity to understand its relationship to the universe. He was the first scientist after Galileo to determine how the inimical forces of nature acted upon things in their environment in a systematic way. Others had nibbled around the edges of the problem – Newton boldly set forth his bible of science, a cookbook for God's works, as it were.

One of the most interesting of the laws states that “a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force.” In the Newtonian world, rolling a ball along an infinite and frictionless floor meant that once imparted with motion, the ball would continue on forever in a straight line unless it encountered something with which to exchange energy (another ball, a bullet, a dip in floor, etc.). A profound bit of thinking, to which Albert Einstein would apply corrections later on to account for all manner of forces unknown at the time of Newton. But this simple rule would provide a deep insight into how the world worked, and prove the driver for scientific inquiry right up to this day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What To Do With A Law Like Sharia

It is ridiculous to think that any group could simply come to America and impose its will. Americans are a proud, stubborn, and above all suspicious lot, who are not liable to take well to anyone trying to make wholesale changes to their law and culture. Given how the United States is run, from local all the way to federal governance, there is little chance that laws could be changed sufficiently to create a fiefdom in the middle of the country which is subject to some other law. When groups have attempted to create their own laws outside the rubric of the normal avenues of governance, these attempts have usually ended badly.

So it is a bit puzzling, this wave of ballot measures in various states and municipalities, seeking to ban the imposition of Islamic Sharia law, as if there were some epidemic of it spreading throughout the land. It is, in part, fear-mongering, taking a queue from the waves of anti-Muslim sentiment that roll through the nation on a regular basis. More subtle than that, though, it is a reflection of the creeping ignorance that permeates the fabric of the Unites States, and is perhaps a poor reflection on our own educational system, that so many do not know enough about law and jurisprudence in our nation to realize that it would be virtually impossible to simply write Sharia law into the books.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pay No Attention To The Money Behind The Curtain

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has a small problem – the curtain has fallen away, and the citizens  of Emerald City are getting a good look at the “wizard” ruling over them: The Monied Powers. His strings are being deftly pulled by those who seek to gain the most from the economic nightmare, the financial vultures that pick over the carcasses of Middle America. Three weeks in, and his shadowy masters commanded that he end the stalemate in the State Legislature by whatever means necessary. And so, on March 9th, 2011, Governor Walker set aside consensus building, government by and for the people, and prudent governance, by relying on a parliamentary trick to pass the bill he has been trying to get through for so long, stripping it of all financial materials, leaving the naked ambition to break the unions behind, and passing it quite easily in the State Senate. The bill, already passed in the House, will now wend its way to his desk for signature.

In one fell swoop, Governor Walker has undone the compact – first lain down by our Founding Fathers and the reason for the blood spilled during The Revolutionary War – that stated that he was enjoined by the people of the State of Wisconsin to uphold, protect, and defend the State's Constitution and the citizens of Wisconsin. He has, instead, thrown his weight around, directed by those who hold his purse strings, the ones who can lend him the nearly unlimited funds to continue his Governorship. There is no longer any pretense; the people of Wisconsin have been sold to the highest bidder.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Islamic Witch Trials

His name is Representative Peter King of New York, and while “representative” might be his title, it is certainly not a functional attribute of his, for he does not represent anything a law-abiding, Constitution-loving American would espouse. What he does represent is that underbelly of America that has become so prominent right now: the retooled and reinvigorated “My America, Love It or Leave It” crowd. He has taken the phobia of many toward Islam since September 11th, and turned it to his political advantage, preparing to hold hearing on the “radicalization” of Muslims in America. That anyone would pander to a constituency by invoking the horror of that day nearly ten years ago is reprehensible enough, but Representative King brings a special spin to this tale, given his support for the Irish Republican Army during its heyday decades ago. In that, at least it can be said that he personally knows some terrorists.

Monday, March 7, 2011

From Woman Borne, Persecute Her No Longer

What woman has not brought a life into the world, of her choosing, and not been happy to care for it, raise it, and send it out into the world? There are some who, in circumstances we cannot fully comprehend, become a mother and are not so enamored of it; the vast majority are certainly not in that camp, or so we should hope. A mother raises a child to the best of her ability, and hopes to turn out a stellar example of humanity, trying though that path might be.

Still, it begs the question: why are so many male offspring of human mothers so hateful toward the female gender? One could imagine it if every boy were maltreated by a mother ill-equipped to handle the strain, but even some of the better-educated, intellectually-forward, well-raised men in our nation, seem predisposed to a venom and bile against women that they scarcely deign to hide it. Nowhere is this seen in greater profusion that in the halls of legislation, State and Federal, where male-dominated legislatures seek to impose heinous penalties and outrageous restrictions on women who merely seek to live their life as they see fit.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Lie's The Thing

It is far easier to be honest with ourselves regarding the state of things, than for others to be honest to us about these same things. Expediency and politics often overwhelms reason and logic in public discourse, and we are led to believe one thing, a thing that is far removed from the truth of the matter. Far too many of us have given up challenging what we hear, content to believe that those who speak to us do so in earnest and without prevarication, which in our hearts we know not to be true. Seldom is the public speaker telling the whole story, for enlightenment would lead to questions, and questions would lead to inquiries, and inquiries would lead to a lack of answers or worse, an ever-complicated fabric of lies which would fray at the slightest pull.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shots Unheard Around The Nation

In what can only be considered ironic, news from around the world about the uprisings in Middle Eastern and African nations, normally relegated to obscurity, are front page news. Normally, the American attraction to news from overseas is tepid; if it is not happening in our back yard, we scarcely think it matters what happens to people thousands of miles away. Of course, the easiest explanation for the wealth of coverage is that these uprisings affect the one thing that Americans cannot live without: oil. So the health and stability and democratic leanings of oil-rich nations are, for once, in our best interests.

The shame is that these events are overshadowing far more momentous events right here in our own nation, for a different kind of revolution is under way, a revolution that once more finds Americans throwing off the long arms of tyranny, and rebelling against forces that would take what matters most from them, without giving them anything in return. The current epicenter of this revolution is Madison, Wisconsin, and the people there have banded together to parry the thrusts of big money, and to wrest their lives from its selfish and self-serving grip. They have fired the first volley, and like their compatriots from two hundred thirty-six years ago, their defiance of ruling power stands to change the course of our history for a long time to come.