Monday, February 29, 2016

Super Tuesday: Casting the Die

In a few hours from this writing, Super Tuesday will be done and the votes will be counted. It looks very much like Donald Trump, the man everyone thought was a joke of a candidate just eight months ago, will have an insurmountable lead in Republican delegates for the nomination of his reluctant party for the office of the President. He may even find himself with clear majorities in several states, and if Ted Cruz does badly in Texas, I think it fair to say even he won't hang on forever. Marco Rubio made the observation that Trump under-performed in Nevada last week, which is coming from a guy who only got 22% to Trump's 46. Like him or not, Trump is the front runner and no one will dislodge him from that position on March 1. On the other side, Hillary Clinton seems almost as unbeatable among Democrats as Trump among Republicans. Two major differences appear: she has only one opponent in Bernie Sanders, and Sanders stands as a beacon for ideas that need expressing, not diatribes about sweat glands and what might or might not be hiding in tax returns. It seems only one thing is left to do now: get people out to vote. Democrats are convinced that high voter turnout translates into Democratic victories. Maybe having Trump running against their eventual candidate will help galvanize voters across the board into acting, and maybe, just maybe, if they come out in solid numbers, the Democrats can retake the Senate and maybe even the House. After all, politics as usual has not worked out well for the majority of Americans of late, and politics as usual has been dominated by a Republican-ruled Congress in both Houses. It doesn't matter who is President of the United States if Congress remains obstructionist. If we wake up to that fact, we can vote for change. If we don't, we deserve what we get.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Happy Birthday to Me

Today I turn 66. It feels strange. I don't feel a day over 65. I studied my face in the mirror and noticed my “old man eyebrows” were back. You know – bushy and wild and sticking straight up parallel with my nose. Tamping them down only works temporarily. Age marks the spot. I am told that with age comes wisdom. I don't think so. I don't see any more wisdom among the people who are my age or older than in people significantly younger. Once in a while my grandson will startle me with something that is utterly wise and sounds well thought out, right before he asks me, “So what are we going to do now?” Maybe that's the key to wisdom, figuring out what you're going to do next. I read a book with the title, Old is 15 Years Older than You Are Now. By that score, I'm old to anyone 51 or younger. I'm ancient to someone like Xander. But my brother is old to me. There is some comfort in that, though he'll probably outlive me, but not if I can help it. Conventional wisdom aside, I plan to live forever. I have not been contradicted so far. The clock may be speeding up from my perspective, but it takes me much longer to get off the couch to check the time. That might be a yin and yang thing, I'm not sure. I do know the days go by quickly, but I get less done. But, then, why should I sweat it? What I get done I enjoy doing, and that may be the greatest wisdom of all, Excuse me for now. I have decisions to make. Do I have dinner or watch The Blacklist? Wisdom says, do both, but do something. I know: I'm gonna trim those eyebrows, tame them, civilize them. Anybody got a wire cutter?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

From the Home Front

It is hard to be a pacifist in the face of something like ISIS. But the sad fact remains that wars are rarely fought for the stated reasons even if the soldiers and their supportive home front believe they are. Also, the victims of war are remembered only for a short time, then slip into that terrible word, 'statistics.' Stalin was right when he said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” He should know he was an expert at creating such statistics. The problem remains twofold: people fight, and when they fight they target whom they can. The targets are often those who got in the way, and their deaths, though lamented and avenged in the immediate, are forgotten in the long run. Those in power shrug. There is plenty more fodder for their war machines. Stalin knew. His state sponsored terror killed millions. Millions more sacrificed their lives in the struggle against Hitler's armies. But they remain nameless. Stalin we remember. ISIS destroys relics and churches and murders people. They are easy to hate. But, after the dead are buried, ISIS are the ones we think about, talk about, prepare to meet head-on. The living concern themselves with the living, often with murderous rage. The war mentality feeds itself happily. And someone, somewhere, is callously counting his profits. There are fortunes being made from all that carefully directed hate. Maybe it's not so hard remaining a pacifist after all, if you think about it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Travel Rock

In Holland, I met a rock called Sulfur and his lovely wife. They had come all the way from Java, Indonesia. They had been unearthed there in the only sulfur mine still dug by hand, meaning it was a pretty toxic place. Our friends Hanneke and Paul bought them there and brought them home to the Netherlands. Given the toxic nature of their former abode, Mr. and Mrs. Sulfur seemed glad for the move. Speechless, in fact. But then Hanneke and Paul gave them to us, so then they have made the journey from Holland to the United States and now reside here, in our rock curio cabinet. They have many fascinating neighbors, and I am sure they are settling in nicely and making new friends. That we “own” them is moot, I sincerely believe. My understanding is that rocks have no sense of ownership in their culture, and furthermore, they basically don't pay much attention to us. Rocks do like to travel. They like to travel in much the same way Diane and I do: to go to one spot and spend a good deal of quality time there, to really drink in the place. It's better than just driving by and pointing and then saying, “I was there.”. But rocks have immense amounts of time to spend, and they take their time doing anything. Their movements can be virtually undetectable unless aided by outside forces. Mr. and Mrs. Sulfur, for example, rode thousands of miles in a single day with Hanneke and Paul, and then again with Diane and myself. Most rocks travel downhill. It's easier. Some rocks sneak into people's shoes or get stuck on passing bare feet – if they are small enough to go unnoticed and unfelt. Others travel in garbage bins. Some deliberately offer their services as lawn and garden decorations. Others get pushed around by forces of nature such as heavy winds, rainstorms, floods, earthquakes, upshooting rock formations, rivers (always downstream), the ocean, volcanic eruptions, even melting ice. Some get mined from deeper hovels, cleaned up, and transported to curios and collections like ours. Those rocks have a good life, indeed. There are no quarrels or fights or brawls among them, at least in our curio. They seem unconcerned with matters of size or color or belief. Even rocks that have been polished do not shine above others. Pyrite and gold ore are equals here, as are sulfur and chalcedony. Mental illness is unknown among them. Even geodes do not suffer from split personalities. Rocks that have been petrified are afraid of nothing. Mostly, rocks keep to themselves. Rocks are quiet travelers. They make ideal guests, as long as they are not too large, and they never raid the refrigerator late at night or run the television too loud. I do wonder what they think of us, if they think of us at all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Getting Away From It All

Diane and I spent Christmas and New Year's in Europe, specifically, in the Netherlands. For eighteen days we did not have to listen to pundits talking about, reporters reporting about, or candidates complaining about Donald Trump. It was heaven. It reminded me that, as critical as the choice of America's next political leader is, there are more important things by far: family trumps Trump. That being said, the question we were asked most often by our Dutch relatives was, “Is Trump for real?” Still, on balance, the majority of our time away from the politics of the United States, the circus, really, was filled with revelations, hugs and good food that had nothing to do with big tents and blow-hards. It was a voyage of discovery. I learned things about my sister I did not know. I learned about feelings inside me I thought I had suppressed. I learned once again – a review course – that people actually, and surprisingly, love me very much, though I did not learn or figure out quite why. I learned about modern realism in art. I watched David Bowie's “Lazarus” video, then learned that he had died. I learned that conservatism and reactionary politics are not the same thing but could easily be mistaken for interchangeable. It is a matter of image. The Dutch have their own right-wing sociopath in Geert Wilders, whose views sound an awful lot like the Donald's, and who endorses Trump's candidacy. You just can't get away from it. But you can, for a while. In a theater in Houten, we were able to travel to a galaxy far, far away with 3D specs and a nice drink in hand. It was the most comfortable wild ride I ever experienced I discovered, in another corner of the world but still in Holland, a really good bear called “Forbidden Fruit.” Belgian White. We even got to Paris this trip. Well, the airport. Past all the shops, running to catch our connection. In all, the main thing I learned and always try to remember is this: one on one, people are usually pretty damned nice, even in uniform, even in France.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Supreme Folly

Several members of the Republican leadership have told President Obama not to even bother nominating a candidate for the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by the passing of Justice Scalia. Justice Scalia's body wasn't even cold when candidates for the Republican nomination made their feelings known, as well as the Senate majority leader. They have said that there would be no action taken on such a nomination because it is an election year. They even had the gall to say that such a nomination should not even be made during an election year, that it has not happened in decades and that it runs against the Constitution to do so, Once again, their memories are convenient. So afraid of a liberal appointee, they have declared themselves – once again – at war with the President. Michael Steele, former head of the RNC, has pointed out that these Republicans have put the cart before the horse by not waiting for the President to perform his Constitutional duty to make such an appointment, and then react. It may backfire for the GOP. All they had to do was wait, receive the nomination, and advise and consent or not consent: to debate, delay, even vote no. Instead, they put themselves ahead of the Constitutional process, arguing that the process is flawed when it is obvious that it is not the process they object to or fear, it is the President. Delay, to them, gives them the chance that a conservative judge will be appointed by the next President and approved a year to eighteen months from now. In the meantime, they are happy to see a Court with eight members and probable 4-4 ties on court rulings. A 4-4 tie means the case at hand reverts to the last decision prior to the court hearing. Good news for abortion opponents in Texas; good news for labor unions in California. But once again, the politics of obstruction is in full force. My hope is that this glaring revocation of responsibility by the majority party in the Senate will wake up the voters and bring them out on Election Day to overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates and return them to the majority in both the House and the Senate, but at least the Senate. While we're at it, lets reach the magic filibuster-proof number 60 Gerrymandering makes this hard even with a good voter turnout, but it can be done. The last time was only eight years ago. Then newly sworn in President Clinton can nominate Barach Obama to be only the second former President to also serve on the Supreme Court and be confirmed, 61-39. The other President to achieve this distinction was William Howard Taft, who also bears the distinction of being the first sitting President to throw out the first pitch to start the 1910 baseball season. That way, Mr. Obama has a job for life and his expertise on Constitutional Law will be put to good use. Of course, new President Clinton might make him Secretary of State first, for which he is also imminently qualified. Six former Secretaries of State became President. Hillary Clinton would be the seventh. No former President has become Secretary of State after leaving office, but Mr. Obama is youthful and vigorous and experienced. Whatever the process determines, let the Republicans stall and see what they wind up with at the end of the process.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Racism, Religion and IHOP

Racism, Religion and the Fundamentals of IHOP-----OR: Endorsements, Alphabets, and Race:: Racism, sad to say, is alive and well in America. For years it seemed that racism was receeding as a force in American thinking, but it was not: people became “politically correct” and more cautious about expressing their opinions but now it seems they have returned to blatant language to reveal blatant thoughts, Maybe this is better, that bigotry is open and exposed and obvious, so we all can see it when it comes around, even in the mirror. What is really disturbing is blatant racism among those running for high office, coupled with the popularity and support for those people. Endorsements come and go, and it is true that a candidate has no control over who likes him or her. But it is one thing to get an endorsement you don't want, and quite another to accept an endorsement with open arms. Pastor Mike Bickle of IHOP (the International House of Prayer) has said that Adolph Hitler was doing God's work in driving the Jews back to Israel. If anyone cannot see how racist that is, let alone sacriligious, he himself is one. Good and evil exist. They are human constructs. I suppose that without evil we would not know what good is. But they are human, an aspect of our sense of morality, which in turn grew out of our need for society. Is a cat evil because it plays with its prey? Is arthritis evil because it hurts? If God did send Hitler to do his work, then that is a God to Whom I will not subscribe. That God would be as evil as the humans who created Him in their image. The God I would put my faith in would not be that cruel, to murder half a race in order to push the other half out of Europe. If God did indeed use Hitler to tame the Jews, it would be the same as saying God sent the white man to the New World to tame the native populations and steal their land. Anyone using God's name as an excuse for horrific human behavior casts an abomination on His name and shows a fundamental lack of understanding for what God is, or should be. Mike Bickle leads a small flock, but his reach is expanding. God TV, with a viewership worldwide of over 95 million, is planning to broadcast Bickle's sermons. And Ted Cruz, leading tea party candidate for President, proudly accepted Bickle's endorsement. Should we be worried? David Duke, former head of the kkk (as another writer observed, they don't deserve caps), says that Donald Trump articulates Duke's own views better than he can himself. Bickle and Duke are bigotry defined, yet the two leading GOP candidates embrace them. I'm white and of an age, but my rage is against the machinery, not the people who, like me, are affected by it. We have gone far toward equality in my lifetime, perhaps the biggest area of improvement to which I can call myself a witness. But we have far, far to go, and these people with their strange and misinformed ideas are holding us back. Worse, they want to reverse course. Yes, we should be very worried.