Saturday, December 31, 2011

Look Not Forward, Nor Back, But Within

As the hours close on another calendar year, this is often the time for reflection on the events that have transpired since the last time the calendar turned and the making of resolutions for how things will change in the coming year.

Maybe, however, we should not be concentrating on these things. Maybe, this would be a good moment to disconnect from the societal externality that surrounds us and withdraw within ourselves. Maybe, we should be dissociating ourselves from the things which drive us from the outside, and look to those things that should drive us from the inside.

Our modern world, in supplying us with a seemingly endless stream of information and drawing the various cultures of our globe in tighter toward each other, is creating an undeniable pressure on each of us, whether real or perceived. That which was local is now global; events we thought hidden from view are thrown into stark relief in the glare of attention. From its dark corners and dank places, the true breadth of humanity bubbles up, exposed to the light of day, and leaves us wreathed in fetid miasma. We are not the enlightened and social species we convinced ourselves we are; we took our societal progress to be a finished product, rather than the papering over it is.

We may strive each day in vain hope that Utopia lies within striking distance, but as a twist to the admonition goes, objects in society's mirror are further than they appear. Struggle though we have, gain though we may, voices raised in protest or in song, we have not breached the smog to find clean air, only pockets slightly less choked with the by-products of hubris and fear. Our moment in the calmer air is all too brief.

I often speak of human duty, that idea that lies dormant below the surface of many, wherein it is our responsibility to see others as we see us, to provide for them as we provide for ourselves, to do for others as we do for ourselves. While this is a noble aspiration, and many have known it full, it is not a state of being that can be attained without knowledge and understanding of the self. Without seeing our true reflection in the mirror, without reading the lines etched upon us by time and life, without casting a critical eye at each thought, action, or utterance, striving to free ourselves of our selfish tendencies is a course in futility.

Those of us who have worked tirelessly to alter ourselves, who have given up so much of us that we give more to others, have done so with the knowledge that in as much as we have done these things, perfection lies beyond our grasp. To deny discrimination, to suspend judgment, to reach beyond the surface to see behind and beneath the person... these are things that we find ourselves capable of doing, but not completely free to do. Breaking the last ties that bind us to a primitive past is not so easily accomplished.

We must accept that we are only human. Our cerebral capacity for free thought and free action is built upon a bedrock of primitive survival instincts, and the power of the modern neocortex to control all aspects of the human body through the auspices of mind is still easily sabotaged by unconscious mechanisms that dwell in the deep recesses. To overcome fear, ignorance, hatred, and malice is to start a war within, a war that is not always completely won, because the reptilian brain is not so easily chained.

So, at this moment, think not about what has passed, or what is to come -- think about who you are and where you stand. Take no pledge or oath, nor wallow in regret; instead, look down into your soul. There you will see yourself as you are; recognize that person, cherish that person, accept that you are both unique as an individual, and the same as each and every other human being. To change the world, you can start by changing yourself, not radically, but gradually. Enlightenment does not come in a second or a minute or an hour or a day or a year; it is built up each passing moment, through the length of a life and more. Take the time you have, use it well. Treat yourself with care, and you will find it easier to treat others that way.

I bid each and every person on this planet peace, prosperity, and long life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

America, The Incorporated

Even more ridiculous than the idea that a fertilized human egg is a human being, is that large, amorphous agglomerations of people can form a person. A company, a corporation, an interest group... that these clusters of people, brought together by similarity of thought or by economic necessity, are artificial creations, a form of human breccia, which cannot be construed as having a homogeneous mind and singular being. They are aggregated together from disparate portions of society, and are entities whose existence is totally dependent on human law for definition. They did not arise spontaneously from a primordial ooze, nor were they birthed by some titanic polyglot mother.

This is an important distinction, in that such groups of people in their various forms, believe that somehow their mere existence provides them the same access to rights and privileges that a natural-born person enjoys, namely in the area of freedom of speech, and under that, the ability to influence elections based on their desire for certain outcomes. The absurdity of this notion is lost upon corporate boards and self-important leaders, alike; their belief in the rightness of their cause or business is such that it blinds them to fact.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Human law and human beliefs cannot alter physical systems. No decree can change the motion of the Earth's crustal plates as they slide across the face of our world. No amount of determination can bend the Second Law of Thermodynamics to create unlimited energy. No declaration will place the Earth at the center of our solar system. No force of will can alter the motion of the stars through the heavens. No avarice can force chemical processes to turn lead into gold.

So, it is laughable to think that some in our country believe, wholeheartedly, that they can command the very mechanism of the creation of life through law, by declaring a fertilized egg a "person." At its most elementary level, the idea is farcical, and the stolid determination of those who seek to bring this about would be comical if they were not so earnest, and more importantly, if they were not in positions of power in government. The shame in it, is that ignorance cloaked in belief is being used as a yardstick for legality, and reason is being shoved out of the room. Worse still, is that there is no hue and cry from the vast majority of reasonable American, shouting down this travesty of lawmaking.

Let me, then, light the fire of outrage, as we take a little tour of why this execrable legislation and all its kin need to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Was Plan A?

Kathleen Sebelius does not strike me as an intolerant or ignorant person. Surely, being Secretary of Health and Human Services, President Obama had faith in her knowledge and ability. Why then did she feel the need to block the FDA's plan to push the Plan B pill to over-the-counter status? Further, why did she feel the need to engage the President on this issue, when he has more pressing matters to attend to, such as high unemployment and a sluggish economy?

The suggestion is that is was done for political reasons, and there might be some truth to that. A second term for President Obama rests in the hands of independents, especially those in key swing states, and to be seen erring on the side of caution would no doubt grease the wheels with some more conservative independents. But surely, there are not really enough of them to cater to in this regard, and as sex, sexuality, and teen pregnancy are polarizing issues, the dividing line is pretty firm. There is really no hay to be made through making this decision for political reasons.

Perhaps, the truth lies, as always, somewhere in between what we see and what we know

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Date Which Fades From Memory

Seventy years later and so few remain who woke to that tropical Sunday morning in the Territory of Hawaii, prepared for just another leisurely day in the sunshine. As men drowsily stirred, splashed faces with water, and stood in line for chow or assembled for the morning colors, most did not realize that their destiny was about to be writ in blood and cordite and shrapnel and smoke. On that morning, the subtle hints of the pending attack could not rouse a sleeping giant to readiness. A submarine being sunk, a large radar blip, the drone of planes where they did not normally assemble... it was not enough.

As bands struck up the anthems and flags were drawn to poles to be raised, the long, isolationist idyll of America was shattered by the snarling of aircraft engines, the howl of diving planes, the staccato bursts of machine gun and cannon fire, and the body-flexing crump of explosions as bombs and torpedoes found their mark. The seemingly invincible United States, "master" of two oceans, was caught napping in its island paradise. Ships were torn apart and capsized. Planes were wrecked. Buildings and men and women immolated, wreathed in fire. The Japanese nation, dismissed by many as near-sighted toy-makers, has pulled off a stunning coup, catching America flat-footed and wrecking the powerful United States Navy within the confines of its own "safe" harbor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Man Who Will Never Be President, Take Two

In April of this year, I outlined why Newt Gingrich will never become President. Now it is December, and after the implosion of several Republican candidates for President in varied and fantastic ways, we see something which makes me wary of the true intellectual capacity of the American voter: Mr. Gingrich at the top of the polls, challenging Mitt Romney for supremacy at the top of the GOP heap.

Perhaps it has been too long since he last held the national spotlight, and maybe you who have thrown yourselves in his camp have forgotten, so let me bring up a few things about the peripatetic Mr. Gingrich which you might deign to consider before you continue to support him...

  • We can start, of course, with everyone's favorite peccadillo, the divorce of his cancer-ridden wife for a new model, punctuated by his coming to her hospital bed to discuss how the divorce would proceed. Though much hyperbole has been attached to this happening, the bottom line remains the same: Newt was busy "trading up" as his current wife lay sick in her hospital bed. Mind you, this is the same man who so zealously pursued impeachment against President Bill Clinton for an ill-advised White House dalliance.
  • We could mention -- if it is not too inconvenient -- that he was and is the only Speaker of the House to be brought up for ethics violations
  • We might note the peculiarity of his taking millions of dollars from Freddie Mac for consulting work, an agency he spent a good deal of effort trying to close and which used to suggest that certain members of Congress be arrested and tried for malfeasance because of their support for it.
  • It may be noted that for someone who has taught history and claims to be steeped in it, his historical knowledge is many times, to put it politely, badly flawed.
  • Even one of his strongest character traits -- his ability to buck GOP convention -- becomes a weakness, because he is too willing to change course for the sake of pandering. Look at how he called out Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan for what it was, bad, and then proceeded to apologize when the party backlash became too strong.
  • For every cogent theory that he manages to come up with (health care reform), there are several that defy description (ending child labor laws). He is, in essence, a slightly less cantankerous, slightly less insensitive version of Ron Paul, with better bona fides in the Republican Party.
Now, probably about the only person other than a Gingrich supporter who is happy to see Newt at the top of the polls is President Obama. It would not be much of a stretch to say that the ethically-challenged former Speaker and his wild-and-wacky roadshow would be easy meat for the cerebral and well-spoken President. Still, if the GOP ultimately manages to install Newt Gingrich as its 2012 Presidential nominee, it will be solid proof that the Grand "Old" Party has lost complete touch with modern reality. Dragging up a GOP icon of the 90's with questionable personal and political ethics and using a patchwork agenda that relies on tired tropes of the same era, Republicans might be better served attempting to reanimate the fetid corpse of Ronald Reagan.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Morality Is As Morality Does

There are many who would claim a superior morality, owing to personal earnestness, religious certitude, and societal position. They feel it incumbent to tell the rest of us about our moral failings, to attempt to impress upon us their way of thought, as they see us incapable of making the "correct" choices for ourselves. They would, at every turn, attempt to harness us to the yolk of their faith, even though the bedrock principle of individual liberty upon which this nation is built and which is codified within our most sacrosanct document -- The Constitution of the United States -- says they cannot.

Morality is an artifice built of human mien; not a solid, load-bearing construction, but a more amorphous form, cobbled together from the vast swathes of human experience. A time comes at various intervals where the morality of society is tested, found wanting, and modified to excise those bits that no longer have relevance or were, in a new light, found to be barbaric, and to add new parts that modify or strengthen the remains, that we might all be brought closer together as a community without stripping away individuality.

Where morality fails us is when some choose to substitute their own judgement for that of society, attempting to bend the general welfare to their own ends.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The War At Home

If you were wondering, the United States is at war. It is not the war of declared intent and fixed enemies that we have fought over the centuries; it is an amorphous, shape-shifting war, in which the enemy can be anywhere, at any time, doing things we do not see until they raise themselves up into the light. It is the ultimate war of fear, where noncombatants -- read "civilians" -- are the avowed target of the enemy, and military combat is a sideline. It is a war that defies the use of conventional weapons and tactics. It is a war that may never, ever end.

As such, some in the United States have seen fit to codify and enshrine this war in the very fabric of the nation. Places like Guantanamo Bay, legislation like The Patriot Act, and processes like military tribunals are all being given extended value, becoming permanent fixtures in a the American landscape, rather than temporary expedients. This new type of war has given those who have sought an extension of American power an excuse to use the potential for enemy attack in many insidious ways on our nation the leverage to place into law the removal of restrictions on government's ability to infiltrate the life of law-abiding citizens, in the name of "national security."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Passes For Conscience These Days

Some nurses in New Jersey are garnering attention for the "stand" they are taking, in refusing to assist in abortion procedures at their hospital, because to do so violates their ethical tenets. Their "heroic" stand against abortion has garnered them the support of notorious women's rights foe Representative Chris Smith, who has come out in full support of their actions, because he has an election coming up and it is time to energize his base constituency: the self-appointed moral guardians of New Jersey.

If you've noticed a particular odor wafting through the air as you read, that is the taint of hypocrisy that clings to the air whenever a government official or some member of the community stands up and claims that to have anything to do with sex, the aftermath of sex, or abortion of a fetus goes against their "principles." I put principles in quotes, because in many cases, their moral and ethical system of values is so fraught with contradictory and confounding rules that it makes no sense. Conscience, as such people define it through their words and actions, involves denying others their rights because something those others do upsets them in ways that are usually tangled up more in belief than reality.

So let's examine this "conscience" these people claim is being so offended.