Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Politics Again: Quoting Kurt Vonnegut

I wonder why the obvious remains so well hidden from those who refuse to see it. How many sledgehammer blows does it take? The entire Presidential primary process has been screaming loud and clear to Washington: “We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore.” I think the message is indeed that simple. Business as usual will no longer suffice. Not to the People. The People have had enough. They have been given very little recourse to actually effect change and they know it, so, from both sides of the aisle, the People are screaming. Failure to listen could be very dangerous for those who choose deafness. On the Right, Trump's popularity represents a backlash against the perceived loss of control and power by whites, especially old white guys like me (but not me). On the left, Sanders' support suggests that the stalemate of politics as usual has stalled progress, and they want progress. There is a natural conflict between those who want to move things back to what seems to have been a better time and those who want to see progress happen, but it seems that very few on either side want things to stay as they are. Maybe the conventions both should be presented as Car Hop Laser Shows, to give both sides something to cheer. I think that's called compromise. A man of color has been President for eight years. He has done a good job. He wasn't perfect, but considering he was fighting an obstructionist Congress made up mostly of old white guys, he did damn well. He moved America back from the brink of economic disaster, and he moved us forward in many arenas. Many people don't like the things he did, but he managed to act, to work toward the progress that has to come. On balance, more people liked than disliked what he accomplished. The country is better off today than it was when he took office. When the dust settles and history judges, as it will, Barach Obama will get good marks. I admire Bernie Sanders. He has accomplished great things in the field of awareness in our country. Trump, on the other hand, has shown us that there is great ugliness among us still. In that sense he has done us a tremendous service as well because we cannot politely ignore what and who we are as we move forward. All I know is, the old white guys had their chance and I don't see them doing a whole lot of good in this new Century. We need to give it up. Now it's the women's turn.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Three A. M. Blues

I would never get up at three a.m. by choice. In fact, alarm clocks should all be rounded up and placed within segregated walled-in camps, with prejudice but without discrimination. I would get up at three a.m. to catch a flight somewhere fun or get a head start on a log driving trip. So I guess (some) alarm clocks may have limited usefulness. But to volunteer to get out of my cozy bed just to experience the joys of the middle of the night, not so much. This is why I am grateful for my job that gets me up at three a.m., because, once I struggle with the concept of “awake,” I go outside toward my car, and more often than not the sky takes my breath away. Sometimes the stars shine perfectly still and too numerous to count. Sometimes the full moon acts like a subdued closet light illuminating everything, but nothing clearly. There were no stars this morning, nor a moon to see. Instead, there was an electrical storm pounding like timpani at a laser show. Lightening bolts streaked across the sky. Some arced in a jagged line, right to left. Others crackled straight down toward the earth. One potato, two potatoes, thr...none were further than three miles away. The storm lasted just one hour, then was gone. The sun started its own version of “light the sky” less than an hour later; there was not a single cloud left to challenge it. I would have slept in this morning, if I could, but I had to go to work.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Grimm Future for the Blacklist: Fall TV Is Coming!

A Grimm Future for the Blacklist: This Fall on NBC: The cliffs are hanging on two of my favorite guilty pleasure indulgence shows: Grimm and The Blacklist, and looking ahead to the Fall Season the future looks grim, indeed, for several of the key characters Through no fault of his own, Captain Renard did a good thing. Will Black Claw turn on him? Will he take over its leadership? Will he take over its leadership and turn on them? And what will his daughter do next? Juliette is back! Cured by the Splinter of the Holy Cross, What does that mean for Nick and Adelind? Can Juliette adjust to being “normal?” If Adalind can figure out a way to get back to Nick and Juilette is still there, will daughter Diana kill Juliette? Kill Nick? Kill her baby brother? Turn good? Stay tuned... Elizabeth Keen is back! She faked her own death! All that angst and mayhem to get her life back to “normal” and it didn't work – Daddy found her anyway! But normal around Red Reddington just isn't going to make for good TV. But I have to ask: why is it that the writers have so much trouble getting rid of characters whose story lines have exhausted reasonable expectations from their actors to portray growth? They kill 'em but they can';t keep 'em dead. It's a zombie apocalypse. I don't begrudge Bitsie Tulloch and Megan Boone the work, but when it's over it's over except when it ain't, and American TV writers are notoriously bad at figuring out when the end should come.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

This Day in History: Custer's Last Stand

It was hot by the time the battle began. Custer's men were tired from a long forced march. Custer, following a strategy that had worked so well eight years before at the Washita River, split his forces into a three-pronged attack. In his experience, and in his firmest belief system, Custer knew that the natives were no match for the United States Cavalry and particularly his own command, the 7th. He had a simple plan: draw the warriors into a fight at one end of their camp, forcing the women and children to flee in the opposite direction, Then Custer himself, with 225 men, would overtake the women and children, capture them, and – given his ruthlessness – this would force the warriors to surrender. Catch the women, tame the men. He had been ordered to wait. Two whole armies were coming to rendezvous with him in one more day. But commanders have the leeway to make contrary decisions based on conditions on the ground. Custer saw an opportunity to end the conflict in one stunning blow,. He, of course, miscalculated. 140 years ago today, he and all 225 men who rode with him died in a battle that took less than thirty minutes, It was the most stunning defeat suffered by the U. S. Army in the entire Plains War, but it only postponed the inevitable push to crush Native American freedom. So I mark the anniversary of the Last Stand, June 25, 1876. In the grander scheme of things, it was a temporary setback to western expansion and a temporary boost to the warriors who fought, but it remains one of America's most iconic historical events. Many books have been written about Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I hope to add my own to the mix. As Rachel Maddow might say, “Watch this space.”

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Sit-In: Democracy at Work

Hats off to the Dems. Showing an unprecedented unity in both spirit and action, the Democratic members of the House of Representatives staged a 26 hour sit-in over the last two days. It was done to force the House and its speaker, Paul Ryan, to call a vote on two moderate reform measures on gun control. It was impassioned and formed in solidarity with the victims of gun violence. Ninety percent of Americans want the reforms. The Republicans refuse to even consider it. Tempers were high, but at least the American public and the American voter knows where everyone stands. The minority party fell back onto the politics of demonstration to tell the world their position, to call out the members across the aisle, and to stand together as one voice on a very specific issue. That kind of demonstration is technically not allowed in the House. The Senate has the filibuster, but the House has no such recourse. But peaceful demonstrations, legal or not, have been a major force in United States politics for generations. This one yielded no vote, no concessions, no compromises. It looked like an exercise in futility, but in reality it was a symbolic line drawn in the sand. It made its point loudly and clearly. The Second Amendment is not being challenged here. The reforms are precise, and directed specifically against the ease by which people intent on mass murder can get the weapons they need to accomplish their terrifying goal. It does not look to limit gun ownership except under specific circumstances. It does not address the wider problem of gun violence: America's streets are a battleground in which a human being dies from gun violence every forty-eight minutes. It addresses limiting suspected potential enemies of the State from getting guns. The other side argues that it limits all citizens' rights to bear arms, that it violates civil liberties. Right now, I am concerned with the civil liberties of the 49 who died in Orlando on June 12, the 9 in Charleston, the 26 in Newtown, and on and on, plus the 30 a day who die one by one and two by two, not even tallying the suicides that are pandemic in this country. The participants in the sit-in were not asking for the moon. They only wanted the chance to vote. What they got was our attention. Will they get our vote?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What History and Anniversaries Show Us

75 years ago today, an army numbering four million men, mostly Germans and Romanians, crossed the Russian border in a pre-dawn invasion along a front measuring 1,800 miles. It was a three-pronged attack directed against the cities of Leningrad, Kiev and Moscow. Despite Napoleon's failure in 1812, Hitler was confident. He would spend and take as many lives as was necessary to win, but he lost. He lost entire armies, and eventually he lost the war. It was called Barbarossa. When we tell the tale in our history books we rarely mention the names of common soldiers whose actions and deaths paved the way for victory or defeat. Hitler did this, Stalin did that. Zhukov did this, von Paulus did that. If it weren't for Tito's rebellion in Yugoslavia, everything would have been different. But the mass graves remain unnamed. Ten days less than 25 years earlier, July 1, 1916, was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The slaughter that day alone was incomprehensible. Yet it was just one day in a war lost in the trenches that went on and on, and on. The dead screamed out but no one listened. Oh, they heard the screams for a time, but got used to the sound, like tinnitus. It will be the centennial of that horrid event in just a few days. June 25 marks the 140th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, commonly known as Custer's Last Stand, wherein one commander's arrogance and impatience cost the lives of hundreds under his command. There is a battle to remember for every day of the year. I have spent my life in quiet optimism, believing, as Hendrick Wilhelm van Loon wrote a hundred years ago, that Progress does happen. It comes incrementally, but it comes, and with it we evolve as a species. In the face of everything – in the face of history – I still want to believe. But the same drums beat. The same young men get fired up and ready to fight. The same old men still think that killing others is more than okay, it is righteous. The winds of war are always blowing. The fields of death are always waiting. Wise men rail, poets lament, mothers weep. It doesn't seem to matter. Arm yourselves. It's still legal to do so. Prepare for the apocalypse: it is of your own making. But count me out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Black Rhino, Mosaic Tailed Rat, and the US Senate

I keep wanting to write about happy things. I'm a happy guy, and much in my life is happily reported. Happy things come up. But before I can get a streak going, I strike out against something sad or horrible or tragic, like a slider down and away. And I find I have to take note. The Western Black Rhino, subspecies of the rhino, is officially extinct, poached to oblivion by humans for its horn. It's a fact; it's a thing. On a small island off Australia called Bramble Cay, a rodent called the mosaic tailed rat (Bramble Cay melomys rubicola), which was indigenous only to that tiny island, has disappeared. Rising seas destroyed its food sources. Global warming, i.e., climate change, has risen seal levels enough to cause the rat's extinction, the first extinction linked directly to human activity's impact upon climate. It's a fact; it's a thing. The United States Senate failed to pass even the most rudimentary compromise legislation on background checks and restrictions on people on the no-fly list for buying guns. In the aftermath of the horrific mass murder in Orlando, 85-90 percent of Americans favor better restrictions. It is a non-partisan opinion, but the Republicans in the Senate stood firmly with the NRA and the 10-15% very vocal minority. It's a fact; it's a thing. Seems to me, the wrong small group of mammals died out this month.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday on the Lake

It's Sunday, Father's Day. The weather on the Flathead Lake is beautiful, still cool and cloudy but the rain and thunder rolled through yesterday. It will be the last cool day for awhile as temperatures creep up to the mid-80's next week, just in time for swimming lessons for grandkids Xander and CharleeRose. A grey fox ran the length of our lawn this morning just after I got up after a delightful lie-in. It was a magnificent fox, with a full, bushy tail at least two-thirds as long as its body. The tail flowed behind the fox like an engine pushing a great train up a mountainside. And for a moment, just the briefest of times, I couldn't breathe. It was the longest real look I have ever had at a fox in the wild (if my lawn can be called 'the wild;” it seems to be a convenient, manicured flat for the creatures up here). But it was not long enough for me to grab my camera, turn it on, focus, aim and shoot, so you all will just have to take my word for it. But it was a great start to the day, which happens to be Father's Day. I think the fox is drawn to the cottontail bunnies who live up here. We saw one of them scampering about in our back yard yesterday. I hate to think of the fox catching one, but that is the circle of life. I like the circle of life, where everything seems to fit together. And it is good, so good, to spend a Sunday thinking about all that, for a change.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Two Donalds & A Box of Straws at the RNC

I thought I could stay away from politics for awhile, but politics has this nasty habit of not staying away from me. Every day I am astounded at the plight of the Republican Party. I want it to self-destruct, or at least to wind up with tiny minorities in both houses of Congress once the dust settles on Election Night. But if the “Grand Old Party” dies, what takes its place? So the Republicans, many of whom seem oblivious to their presumptive candidate's ramblings and insensitive self-promotion, has some serious soul searching to do. Do they really want what is about to happen, to happen? Of course, it may go the other way, but how comfortable would they be with that scenario? Can the Republican Party tell Donald Trump, “You're fired!”? Or do they have to wait for the American people to do it for them? And if we don't, what then? Can Trump be impeached before he takes office? Will the Donald, in all his infinite wisdom, create a dystopian society like the one in The Hunger Games? Will he become President Snow? I will say this: as ruthless as Snow was, at least he looked a great deal like Donald Sutherland, with Sutherland's incredible, pleasant, mischevious face and beautiful white hair. The RNC has the wrong Donald, if you ask me. Unfortunatley, Sutherland is Canadian, and a liberal. So we have Trump. But if this is reality TV, or a futuristic horror story unfolding, somebody ought to be able to change the script, find a last-minute plot twist, and tell the Donald, “You're fired!” I volunteer. I imagine the line gets longer every day. It leads all the way to the voting booth. So, what would disqualify Donald Trump at the Convention in Cleveland? Would it take a revolution on the Convention floor? Is there any little trick, some hidden clause waiting to be deployed like a last-minute hail-Mary pass? Being foreign born, I know the Constitution disqualifies me from ever becoming President of the United States. Presumably, this is because of an inherent conflict of interest: if we ever go to war against the Netherlands where would my loyalties lie? The Trump is US born and raised, but what about his wife? Melania Knauss Trump was born in Solvenia, part of former Yugoslavia. Saying nothing against a fellow immigrant and naturalized citizen personally, does her birth status create a conflict of interest with her husband, if ever Slovenia and the United States go head to head? Should that, could that, would that disqualify the Donald? I know this is a ridiculous argument, but it is a ridiculous year in politics – funny if it weren't so sad and dangerous. I know I'm grasping at straws, but the RNC needs a bagload of straws right now, a box full, a truckload. Donald Sutherland cannot be President of the United States. I can't be President, either. Donald Trump shouldn't be President of the United States. Pick a reason. I'll drive the truck.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Leviticus Chapter and Verse

In the wake of the Orlando Massacre, I heard incredible hate rhetoric citing Leviticus. One “pundit preacher” went so far as to say the only tragedy is that more gays weren't killed. This comes from a 21st Century American stuck in 2100 B.C. I don't know how old the texts of Leviticus are, but they came out of a much older society with a very harsh impression of a very harsh God, According to Leviticus, Chapter 20, “Penalties for Various Sins,” Verse 13, homosexual acts are a capital crime, that is, punishable by death. It's the verse the pundit preachers like to quote as justification for their venom. It is the word of God, after all. But if you're going all Old Testament in your condemnations, you can't just pick and choose. There is an extensive list of capital crimes, verses 9 through 21. Your life is forfeit for cursing your parents; for sleeping with your father's wife; for committing adultery of any kind; marrying both a woman and her mother; sleeping with your daughter-in-law; for having sex with animals; and for telling fortunes. Generously, death applies to all parties involved, even the poor unsuspecting critters. So if you line up all the active LGBT community against the wall, you have to add everyone who's ever done any of the other things on the list. Since adultery is a seeming constant among our political leaders, at least half would have to go up against the wall...not to mention anyone who ever filled out a horoscope or read a palm. And make room for the fundamentalist, family values spouting preachers who have admitted their own adultery. It's going to have to be a big wall. Verse 21 declares that if you marry your brother's widow you shall be childless. That one started a whole new religion. I think the things on the list mostly have been decriminalized in modern society. Divorce court may thrive on them as grounds (especially sooth-saying), but stoning and burning are more or less frowned upon in most Western circles. Interestingly, the same firey language repeated throughout the Old Testament has this to say about immigrants: (Exodus 23.9) “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves, in the land of Egypt.” It begs the question, just exactly how much of the Old Testament do we pick and choose for our arguments? Do we take only the parts that support our opinion, and omit the parts that might call our very integrity into question? I suppose we can get all New Testament here, perhaps in a combo-pack with the Ten Commandments: let (s)he who is without sin cast the first stone, and Thou Shalt Not Kill. One came from the mouth of Jesus and the other from the Big Fella Himself. The Commandments reinforce most of Leviticus, specifying in particular not to commit adultery, but none of the Commandments is directly about homosexuality, or about immigrants (aliens, foreigners). Maybe those two were on the third tablet, the one Moses dropped climbing down from the mountain. Words are easy to twist around to fit any argument. Perhaps we do not even need to go back to the Old Testament in a purely literal fashion. After all, they came from an old civilization catering to the needs and expectations of the time. Times change, knowledge grows, opinions evolve. A new testament emerged, itself now over 2,000 years old. The Koran is younger still, but dates back 1,500 years. Humans interpreting things much bigger than themselves have made assumptions and mistakes again and again. Maybe the time is coming for another Way to reveal itself, But, in the meantime, this phrase sounds pretty clear to me: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Some people like to build walls. I think they're dangerous – both the walls and their wannabe builders.