Monthly Archives: March 2013

Yikes! Will It Be War?

 

Yikes! We may find ourselves at war with North Korea. Soon. Kim Jong-un has verbalized his intent to target four American cities with nukes. We are assured that we have a system of anti-missile missiles which will explode these nukes high above the Pacific Ocean. Even if we do manage to bat the nukes away as if we have our own personal superhero, we will probably have to go to war with North Korea. How can we ignore such a provocation?

I must admit that I am terrible at playing chicken. I think the game makes no sense. Either someone backs down, thus crushing his/her (usually his) tender ego or some terrible outcome becomes reality. We have been playing chicken in Washington for the past four and ¼ years and it has gotten old and we are ready for a new game. But at least our politicians have not been playing chicken with nukes.

Does Korea want to dominate the world, to be the new #1 nation? Well I would guess that they have to get in line. There are quite a few countries ahead of them and unless they all form a coalition (yikes10) North Korea seems least likely to gain most powerful nation status. Do they just want some respect? Do they want sanctions lifted? All they have to do to get those two things is to join the slew of nations who do not feel the need to surround themselves with seven veils of secrecy. All nations are, of course, somewhat secretive, but at least they don’t isolate themselves and wall themselves off from the nations who share this tiny (vulnerable) planet. Most countries maintain somewhat civil diplomatic relationships with others. Most countries use their words, not their nukes.

 

Unless Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans win world domination what positive outcomes do they see coming from an attack on the US (or even an attack on South Korea which will be like an attack on the US.) They apparently see themselves as a warrior nation with imperialistic plans. How can we defuse this escalating situation? How can we appeal to a nation that has hedged itself within such a powerful defensive stance that there are almost no opportunities to make a deal that is mutually beneficial, that will allow North Korea to stand-down their ego and will allow the rest of the world to share the wealth? How would the leader of North Korea ever back down now?

We seem to have the advantage militarily but we have not done so well in our recent wars. Observing this may be raising Kim Jong-un’s confidence level. But we had problems in Afghanistan and Iraq that we will not have in North Korea. We were at war with the leader or with one faction in those Middle Eastern nations, and yet not at war with the people of those nations. We were trying to keep civilian deaths to a minimum. We were also dealing, in each of these cases, with sects within these nations that were at war with each other. Complicated hatreds and alliances made sorting out issues more difficult. In North Korea this will not, I assume, be the case. Since the people of Korea seem to be firmly behind their leader, whether by choice or by duress, being at war with Kim Jong-un will mean being at war with the entire nation of Korea. We also take nukes off the table when we fight modern wars. North Korea is leading with their nukes and that means weapons of mass destruction are on the table, although I believe America will try to avoid using them unless given no alternative.

Whatever happens this is a sad state of affairs. It benefits no one. Not America, not North Korea, not the North Korean people and not the world. The truly manly thing to do would be to find a way to deal with the world that did not involve nuking it. There is still time. Take the bold approach that opens up your nation, frees your people from military endeavors so they can turn their zeal to living productive and happy lives with their families, and be the patriarch of a happy nation. You will probably be flooded with modern technology. It is inevitable. It is like a gas which spreads to all available empty space until equilibrium is reached. It is a mixed blessing and I can see why a nation might want to hold on to the traditional. However, I think we are highly unlikely to put this genie (or Pandora) back in the box. Don’t nuke us, join us. We will all try to keep the worst aspects of the high tech revolution at bay together.

 

Still Manipulating the National Agenda

The Republican Party’s activities are sort of like waves that erode the shoreline slowly, but inexorably. They are trying to win the national dialogue by acting locally and they have very powerful allies who fight for them. Conservative groups of wealthy supporters are working behind the scenes to push the Conservative agenda wherever possible in the hopes that small actions will snowball into major policy changes.

We see this in the actions of the anti-abortion groups in North Dakota who are testing the limits of Roe v Wade by trying to pass laws that make it impossible to get an abortion. Since a fetal heartbeat is first heard at six weeks into a pregnancy, they have passed a law that makes abortion illegal after 6 weeks. This may have to travel to the Supreme Court before it is either upheld (which would essentially mean the end of Roe v. Wade) or tossed.

In a few key states the Republican Party is trying to change the way these states count their electoral votes. Instead of giving these votes in one bloc to the winner, they would be given proportionally to each candidate according to the number of votes received, a tactic that has been shown to favor the Republican Party.

Michigan has been in the vanguard of a war on labor unions and we are seeing an increasing number of right-to-work states who bypass unions.

Thomas B Edsall wrote about this “underground movement” of the Republican Party while also discussing whether the Republican Party is turning left. (NYT, March 27, 2013, A Republican Left Turn?) He suggests that even though some Republicans may be talking about becoming more inclusive, extremely conservative positions still hold sway in the party.

”The party, Kohut warned,

is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns. They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage. These staunch conservatives, who emerged with great force in the Obama era, represent 45 percent of the Republican base. According to our 2011 survey, they are demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old.”

He goes on to quote Grover Norquist on the subject:

Grover Norquist, one of the leading architects, organizers and cheerleaders of what he calls the “leave us alone” coalition, is bubbling with enthusiasm.

Norquist told me in a phone interview that he thinks policies initiated by Republicans at the state and local levels, by breaking the link that joins individuals and families to government, are laying the groundwork for a continuing expansion of the conservative electorate.

Nearly two million children are now home-schooled, Norquist said, and their families have rejected government-run public schools and decided that they can do a better job on their own. Some eight million men and women have concealed-carry handgun permits, with the result that they feel “more self-assured, more independent, not as worried police will draw chalk marks around their body” and certainly less inclined, according to Norquist, to support a pro-gun-control Democratic Party. Along similar lines, Norquist notes, the number of poor students receiving vouchers to attend private schools is rising steadily as the passage of state right-to-work laws is gutting dues-paying membership in public employee unions, a financial mainstay of the Democratic Party.

“I’m reasonably confident that at the state level we are creating more people who want to be part of the ‘leave us alone coalition,’ ” Norquist said. He predicts that within the next decade, Republicans will take control of the Senate and regain the White House.”

Here is the link to Edsall’s article which has more to say and graphs to back it up.

The Republican Party also has the support of the corporations and the financial sector because they defend these groups even when doing so hurts middle class and poor Americans. We see how effective this is especially in the area of health care. Corporations with interests in the health care sector can increase prices of health care until we cry “uncle” and beg to have the Affordable Care Act repealed. These health care entities win two ways by raising prices: they increase their profits and they fight a plan that they perceive as counter to their interests (the people be damned, pre-existing conditions be damned, and no caps on lifetime care be damned).

Doesn’t it make you upset when you see this kind of stealth activity? On one level it can just appear to be strategy for the next election, but on another it can be seen as moving America to the right whether it wants to go there or not.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty Break – Flowers

 
 

There is something so blowsy and baroque about those enormous floral arrangements painted by the master’s and copied by the moderns. They speak of aristocracy, of polished tables in sunny well-kept rooms with turkey carpets. They speak of estates with huge gardens maintained by gardeners who were treated with great respect by their employers and who were often supported for life. These talented gardeners were often kept on the staff long after they could no longer care for the actual garden as they still directed those who did the planting and upkeep of the grounds. Only such beautifully planned and constantly tended gardens watched over by a gardener with an eye for beauty and a real green thumb could produce the variety, profusion, and quality of the blooms we see in these classic floral masterpieces. I suddenly have a yen to look at some of these floral paintings because the dreary edges of winter are calling out for a beauty break.

Playing – Music

 

Congress is away on Spring Break so they are not getting on my last nerve this week. There are always serious things to consider; things that freak us out everyday. Today N. Korea shut down its line of communication with S. Korea. Acts like this register in our limbic nervous systems and start our brains on a problem-solving cycle. How can we change North Korea’s relationship with the United States? How can we stop N. Korea from lobbing deadly bombs at people they don’t like without lobbing our own bombs at them? But I have decided that I cannot resolve this situation today. And Congress is on vacation. And Spring is finally showing up. So I think I will play.

What I offer up today is for the Google+ music circle that I am following, and for anyone else who likes lists. I once took the time to make a list of the albums I owned in the 60’s. I did it because I was writing a book about my wasted youth and music was one of the best parts of it. The book I wrote is available online in another blog called Zoe Taylor’s Story, also on Blogger. It is, please remember, a fictional memoir if you decide to take a look. It is posted backwards, so you have to begin with the earliest post and work your way to the latest, because I don’t know how to switch it around. Anyway, here is that list of albums, and yes, they were actual vinyl albums and they had a great sound.

              

*The Young Rascals, 1966
• Cream, Disreali Gears, 1967
• Rolling Stone albums: Beggar’s Banquet, 1968, Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1968, Let It Bleed, 1969
• The Beatles: Rubber Soul, 1965, Revolver, 1966, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967, White Album, 1968, Magical Mystery Tour, 1968, Abbey Road, 1969, Let It Be, 1970.
• Steve Miller Band, Sailor, 1968, #5, 1970
• Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow, 1967, Volunteers, 1969
• The Doors: The Doors, 1967, Waiting for the Sun, 1968, Strange Days, 1968, Soft Parade, 1969
• Jimi Hendrix: Axis, Bold as Love, 1967, Are You Experienced, 1968
• Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963 Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, 1967, John Wesley Harding, 1967, Nashville Skyline, 1969
• Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, 1968
• Creadance Clearwater Rival: Bayou Country, 1968, Green River, 1969
• King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
• Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Blood, Sweat and Tears, 1969
• Led Zeppelin: Debut Album, 1968, Led Zeppelin II, 1969
• Grand Funk Railroad, Closer to Home, 1970
• Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority, 1969
• Crosby, Stills and Nash, Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1969
• Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, 1969, After the Gold Rush, 1970
• Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Déjà Vu, 1970
• Joe Cocker: I Get By with a Little Help From My Friends, 1969
• Pink Floyd, Ummagumma, 1968
• Blind Faith, Blind Faith, 1969
• Santana, Santana, 1969
• Neil Diamond: Touching Me, Touching You, 1969, Taproot Manuscript, 1970
• Simon and Garfunkel: Bookends, 1968, Sounds of Silence, 1968, Bridge Over Troubled Water, 1970
• Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf, 1968
• Van Morrison, Moondance, 1970
• Judy Collins, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968
• James Taylor, Sweet Baby James, 1970
• John Denver, Rhymes and Reasons, 1969
• Mother Earth, Living with the Animals, 1968
• Roberta Flack, First Take, 1969, Chapter Two, 1970
• Laura Nyro, New York Tendaberry, 1969
• Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed, 1968, Threshold of a Dream, 1969

Besides the Economy…

There are a number of other important issues besides the budget coming up in Washington in the near future. It is not that I do not feel these issues are important because they are. I have a small hope, however, that there will be some bipartisan interest in passing laws in some of these areas. Immigration has inspired a lot of good ideas and it looks like we should be able to come up with an approach to making a pathway away from the fear of arrest and deportation for illegal immigrants in America, although it sounds as if the GOP will insist that some “punishment” accompany the journey. It also sounds like the best ideas we have heard so far will not be the ideas we adopt. It is a bit insulting to suggest that American workers and innovators are so weak that we need to import talent, but the notion of not letting talent slip through our fingers is a good one.

All of Dianne Feinsteins’s good work on gun control looks like it will be brushed aside in favor of inciting American paranoia about the government’s plot to overturn the Second Amendment. Let’s give the whole issue to the NRA and have them work on an excellent plan that will allow them to stockpile all the weapons of semi-mass destruction they wish while at the same time making weapons unavailable to those who are mentally ill or have criminal intentions. I believe they could, upon reflection, come up with a workable plan acceptable to all parties. If the NRA doesn’t oversee it, this one can’t be solved by Washington since the NRA is more powerful (or more strident)  than our government, including both houses of Congress.

We do need to continue to discuss the rules about the use of drones for warfare and the use of drones domestically. Saving the lives of our soldiers is very important to us, but we have also given the world a tool that could invade our air space someday and bring war to America. We have to remember that all technology can have good and bad applications and we have to decide how to counteract the bad while refining the good. We have to discuss the morality of using drones and how to eliminate collateral damage when using drones for warfare.
 
Foreign relations around the world are very troublesome right now. The world is like a garden waking up and expanding and growing, but a garden without a plan and a garden that contains a number of lethal or possibly lethal poisonous plants. Americans are not very popular right now. Totalitarian leaders around the world are happy to blame America for unrest. We are also the giver of sanctions that must be very vexing to world leaders who don’t want to play nice. The world is like a giant stir fry wok right now with ingredient after ingredient hopping into the hot oil and creating temporary chaos. I wish I thought all this jumping and crisping and blending would produce a tasty global dish, but it does not look good. Perhaps we have not found the properly compatible ingredients yet or we are missing a really great sauce.

 
The environment is always an important area of consideration and, although we know what we need to do, we hope we can change slowly. Do we have the time? It’s a gamble.

Gay marriage is being considered by the Supremes today, so in truth the jury is out on that. This is a civil right and America is a country that protects civil rights, often with surprising reluctance however. Let’s see what the top court decides.

So I am in waiting mode again. I don’t see much that I can do except to keep typing away and trying to make a dent on the hard-headed haters who appear to have the loudest voices right now. Will this Congress get off its high horse and accomplish any of the people’s business? Not right now; they are on a two week break.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

Trying to Bring the Message Home

I have had my say about politics for now, at least I doubt I will be saying anything new; although, I will, of course, be fighting the good fight, since nothing is decided and the two dueling budgets will be going head to head (a metaphor for our two political parties). Sadly, the budget is not just a metaphor. It will drive our future and our American story.

 
 Will we continue to kowtow to the wealthy and corporations. Corporations used to be our partners in the American success story, but now see most of us as burdens they carry in huge canvas sacks over their shoulders; now that they have escaped our insistence that they find ways to keep a clean environment. The American people are not burdens, however. Our spirits are strong even if our pocketbooks are temporarily empty. So perhaps, instead of passing laws that make the wealthy richer, this time we will pass laws which offer those of us who are not wealthy a hand up.

We need to feel that we can still progress as a nation, especially in updating our schools, our infrastructure, and our energy sources. We need to trust that our safety net, which we paid for, will not be yanked from under us at least until the American economy has re-invented itself, righted itself, and is ticking along to produce satisfying lives for Americans. Maybe we don’t have to live as if progress means only more, more, more and up, up, up. Maybe we can kick back in our American way and let inspiration have its way with us.

Maybe for a while we can just live and tweak the things that need tweaking. How can we hope to shut out all the noise of those who are trying to prod us back onto a production line that is going nowhere right now? How can we hope to listen to our muses and tinker with the future if there are those who wish to turn us loose to do that struggling our forefathers already did, because they think a hardscrabble life will be what transforms America as if did once before? This is not 1890. Why would we want to give up all the ground we have gained as a society and go back and wrestle in the dirt? Is there any proof that this would produce the innovations we need? We can’t recreate the conditions that pertained when Henry Ford and the Rockefellers did their thing and assume that this old cauldron would nurture a new fire.

 
 
I have been very clear about this. Don’t dump us into the dust and dirt of the last century. We are already near the bottom, despite our puny safety net; stuck in the cul de sacs and the “projects” here at the turn of the 20th century. We don’t need to move backwards. We don’t need to shred the safety net. We need a carrot, a prize to chase. We need to feel valued rather than redundant and we need training. We need jobs, or we need patrons. There are people in America today who are as creative as any people who lived here two centuries ago. Scrap that Republican budget and give the people the budget they voted for and I bet you will see plenty of growth. OK, I guess I did have something to say, but it is just beating the drum with the same message hoping someone responds to the beat. So pass that Senate version of the budget and get on with it please. We have lives to live Cha-Cha!

This is the view from the cheap seats.

An Excerpt from 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson – NYC

I hope this does not challenge the copyright laws. It is a long quote from the book 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, but I have included attribution. In this particular chapter, where KSR describes a New York City after the ice caps have melted we see a perfect example of his ability to describe worlds that don’t exist (or don’t exist yet). I guess you have figured out by now that I enjoyed this book.

 


Swan and Zasha from 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, the hardcover edition, (pp. 90-93)

Earth’s thirty-seven space elevators all had their cars full all the time, both up and down. There were still many spacecraft landings and ascents, of course, and landings of gliders that then reascended on the elevators; but all in all, the elevators handled by far the bulk of the Earth-space traffic. Going down in the cars were food (a crucial percentage of the total needed), metals, manufactured goods, gases, and people. Going up were people, manufactured goods, the substances common on Earth but rare in space – these were many, including things animal, vegetable, and mineral, but chiefly, (by bulk) rare earths, wood, oil, and soil. The totals came to quite a flow of physical mass up and down, all powered by the counterbalanced forces of gravity and the rotation of the Earth, with a bit of solar power to make up the difference.

   The anchor rocks at the upper ends of the elevator cables were like giant spaceliners, as very little of their original asteroidal surfaces were left visible; their exteriors were covered with buildings, power units, elevator loading zones and the like. They were in effect giant harbors and hotels and, as such, extremely busy places. Swan passed through the one called Bolivar and settled into one of the hotel cars without even noticing it; to her it had just been a complicated set of doors and locks and corridors, getting her into yet another set of rooms. She was resigned to the long ride down to Quito. It was an irony of their time that the trip down the elevator cable was going to take longer than many interplanetary voyages, but that’s the way it was. Five days stuck in a hotel. She spent the days attending performances of Glass’s Satyagraha and Akhnaten, also dancing hard in a grueling class designed to get people toughened up for one g. which sometimes hit her pretty hard. Looking down through the clear floor, she got familiar again with the great bulge of South America, gaining definition below them: blue oceans to each side; the Andes like a brown spine; the little brown cones of the big volcanoes, bereft of all their snow.

 

It was almost an ice-free planet now, with only Antarctica and Greenland holding on to much, and Greenland going fast. Sea level was therefore eleven meters higher than it had been before the changes. This inundation of the coastline was one of the main drivers of the human disaster on Earth. They had immensely powerful terraforming techniques off-planet, but here they usually couldn’t be applied. No slamming comets into it, for instance. So they bubbled their ship wakes with surfactants to create higher albedo and had tried various levels of sulfur dioxide injected into the stratosphere, imitating volcanoes; but that had once led to disaster, and now they couldn’t agree on how much sunlight to block. Much that people advocated, and many of the smaller projects that were in action already, cut against other proposed or ongoing projects. And there were still powerful nation-states that were also corporate conglomerates, the two overlapping in Keynesian disarray, with the residual but powerful capitalist system ruling much of the planet and containing within it its own residual feudalism, there to fight forever against the serfs, meaning also against the horizontalized economy emerging with the Mondragon. No, Earth was a mess, a sad place. And yet still the center of the story. It had to be dealt with, as Alex had said, or nothing done in space was real.

In Quito Swan took the train to the airport and got on an airplane flight to New York. The Caribbean’s cobalt and turquoise and jade were brilliantly vivid: even the brown underwater outline of drowned Florida has a jasper sheen. The stunning gloss of Earth itself.

   A much steelier ocean crashed whitely into Long Island as they descended over it, bumping and slipping in the air. Then they were landing on a runway somewhere on the mainland north of Manhattan, and at last she was out of various travel containers, the rooms and vehicles and corridors and hallways, and under the open sky.

   Simply to be outdoors in the open air, under the sky, in the wind—this was what she loved most about Earth. Today puffy clouds were massed overhead at about the thousand-foot level. Looked like a marine layer rolling in. She ran out into some kind of paved lot filled with trucks and buses and trolley cars, and jumped around screaming at the sky, then kneeled and kissed the ground, made wolf howls, and after she hyperventilated a bit, lay on her back on the pavement. No handstands—she had learned long before that handstands on Earth were really hard. And her rib still hurt.

   Through gaps in the cloud layer she could see the light-but-dark blue of the Terran sky, subtle and full. It looked like a blue dome flattened at the center, perhaps a few kilometers above the clouds—and she reached up for it—although knowing too that it was just a kind of rainbow made glorious. A rainbow that was blue everywhere and covered everything. The blue itself was complex, narrow in range but infinite within that range. It was an intoxicating sight and you could breathe it—one was always breathing it, you had to. The wind shoved it into you! Breathe and get drunk, oh my, to be free of all restraint, minimally clothed, lying on the bare surface of a planet, sucking in its atmosphere as if it were an aqua vitae, feeling in your chest how it kept you alive! No Terran she had ever met properly appreciated their air, or saw their sky for what it was. In fact they very seldom looked at it.

   She collected herself and walked over to the dock. A big grumbling water ferry took on her and many others, and after negotiating a crowded canal, they were out in the Hudson River and going down the Hudson side to midtown. A few parts of Manhattan’s ground still stood above the water, but most of it was drowned, the old streets now canals, the city an elongated Venice, a skyscraper Venice, a super Venice—which was a very beautiful thing to be. Indeed it was an oft-expressed cliché that the city had been improved by the flood. The long stretch of skyscrapers looked like the spine of a dragon. The foreshortening effect as they got closer made the buildings look shorter than they really were, but their verticality was unmistakable and striking. A forest of dolmens!

   Swan got off the ferry at the Thirtieth Street Pier and walked on the broad catwalk between buildings to the High Line extension, where people filled the long plazas stretching north and south. Manhattan on foot: workers pushing narrow handcarts on crowded skyways, connecting island neighborhoods suspended between skyscrapers at differing heights. The rooftops were garnished with greenery, but the city was mostly a thing of steel and glass—and water. Boats burbled about on the water below the catwalks, in the streets that were now crowded canals. All the aerial plazas and catwalks were jammed with people. As crowded as ever, people said. Swan dodged between the bodies of the crowd, working the border between the two directions of traffic, glorying in all the faces. They were just as heterogeneous as any spacer crowd, but the people were very much closer to an average size—rather short at that—with many fewer smalls and talls. Asian faces, African, European—everyone but Native Americans, as she always thought in Manhattan. Talk about invasive biology!

   A building she passed had pumped out its old floor and now operated down there in a kind of big bathtub of air. She had heard that submarine and intertidal real estate was booming. Some spoke of pumping out the subway system which still worked wherever it had run aboveground. Below her the slop of water threw up a big ambient sound. Human voices, and water splashing, and the cries of gulls back on the docks, and the rush of wind through the canyons of buildings; these were the sounds of the city. The water below was completely chopped up with intersecting wakes. Behind her, down the avenue to the west, mirrorflakes of broken sunlight bounced on the big river. This was the thing she loved—she was outdoors, truly in the open. Standing on the side of a planet. In the greatest city of all.

She hopped down some stairs and got on a vaparetto going down Eighth Avenue. The ferry was a long low-slung thing, with seats for about fifty people and room for another hundred to stand. It stopped every few blocks. She hung over the rail and gazed up and down the canal: a river canyon, with buildings for canyon walls. Very Futurismo in appearance. She got off at Twenty-Sixth Street where it was bridged by a long esplanade, extending east all the way to the East River. Lots of the east-west streets had overhead platforms like this, and the crowded canals under them were shaded almost all day long. When the sunlight slanted through slots, it laid a bronze glaze on things, and the blue water turned pewter. The New Yorkers did not seem to notice this effect, but on the other hand, there were twenty million people living here despite the flood, and Swan thought that beauty was not completely irrelevant to the phenomenon, even if people chose to keep mum about it. Tough guys, it made her laugh. Swan was not a tough guy, and not a New Yorker, and this place was astonishing and she knew the locals knew it. Talk about landscape art! “’The geography of the world is unified only by human logic and optics,’” she chanted, “’by light and color of artifice, by decorative arrangement, by ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful!’” You could sing Lowenthal’s entire oratio on the catwalks of Manhattan and no one would care.

She moved into the sun whenever she could. That was the direct radiation of Sol, slamming into her naked skin. It was amazing to stand in the light of the sun without dying of it. This was the only place in the solar system where that could happen; the bioshell surrounding a star was as thin as a soap bubble. Thickening the life bubble—maybe that was the human project. That they had pulled the bubble around Mars was a remarkable thing. If they pulled it inward to Venus, even more so. This, however, would always be the sweet spot. No wonder the mystics of this old world, stunned by all life’s changes. Metamorphosis suited Earth, and never stopped. The great flood had become a fortunate fall, had brought on an exfoliation into a higher state. The world had been watered. Flowers popping out of the leafy branch. She was back.

 

A Spring Do-Over

Last week I wrote Spring Ahead but I actually gave spring very short shrift and my fantasies went right to full blown summer. Yet even in spring we do begin to stir from our toasty nests and travel forth to complete our spring rituals. We may have to forego our lighter-weight clothing and our cute footwear in order to sally out and about without freezing, but there are things to do.

Our favorite spring events involve issuing “hellos” and “good-byes” to winter guests and spring arrivals. We hang our cameras and our binoculars around our necks and go to say “hello” to the migrating birds returning to the North Country. The Montezuma Wildlife Refuge is one of our favorite places and we journey here again in the fall to say “good-bye” to migratory birds leaving to fly south.



We go to Derby Hill in April to say “hello” to the hawks who gather there on the shores of Lake Ontario because wind directions favor this spot. We often still go bundled in puffy winter coats and water-proof boots with hats and gloves handy in case the wind is sharp. We return home with sore necks from looking up with our heads bent back so our eyes can scan the skies for sightings which may be only specks without a zoom lens or two. We listen to those experts (or fakers) around us who say they can distinguish one hawk species from another and who are happy to explain how they made their determination. We may doubt their veracity but when we are asked to list the kinds of hawks we saw, they are our anonymous sources.

We find a wildflower walk and we go to say “hello” to the tiny, delicate wildflowers emerging shyly in sunny meadows and shady forests. It is best to find a wildflower walk that is lead by an experienced guide because it is surprisingly difficult to locate these dainty plants. Tuning in to something so lovely and evanescent is a form of meditation that tunes us into the micro-cosmos and tunes out the noise of our technological age. It connects us to our ancestors who enjoyed a good walk and could identify the species that shared their outdoor environment.

Sometimes, on a warm spring day we may go to the Tug Hill Plateau in the North Country in the foothills of the Adirondacks and strap on our cross country skis and take to the trails in one of the few places where snow remains that is ski-able. Often only a light jacket may suffice if you don’t stay too late and if the sun is not intermittent. This trip is about saying “good-bye” to winter, which for some hardy people has not been a time to hibernate but a time to glide through the snowy woods amid the silence of softy falling snow.

Some springs are too rainy for these pleasures, or all of the sunny days fall during the week when working people cannot indulge. Some springs find us still so deep in snow that migrating birds arrive before we can easily get out to see them and the wildflowers must wait or bloom under the snow and perish. This does not look like it will be one of those springs. It looks like our spring will arrive in a timely fashion and perhaps even bring us some blue skies to dispel the grays of winter. Am I tempting a spring blizzard? Maybe. I just can’t help myself. So don’t forget to say “hello” to spring.

Economically Stuck

 
 
Many Republicans feel that all buying and selling or any transaction that involves trading goods and services must be accomplished through structures that meet their definition of free market or capitalist activities.

cap·i·tal·ism

noun \ˈka-pə-tə-ˌliz-əm, ˈkap-tə-, British also kə-ˈpi-tə-\

Definition of CAPITALISM

: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

They obviously feel that things like health care are products and that if the government coordinates even something as necessary for all citizens as health care, services must be provided within the system of capitalism as recognized by Conservatives in America. First of all I am not at all sure that health care services count as “capital goods”. In the second place, our Constitution does not limit us to any particular economic system. I read the Constitution and I did not find the spot where it said that all business in America must be conducted by private owners or corporations. I do know that the very invocation of the word socialism strikes terror in the hearts of many Americans. I suppose bad things have been done in the name of socialism, but capitalism has not always produced absolute fairness or compassionate behavior either.

Does Social Security qualify as socialism? I always thought it was a retirement plan that the government administered for the people. Since we are “the people”, and since “the people” are the government of America, I fail to see how Social Security qualifies as socialism.

Do Medicare and Medicaid qualify as socialism?

so·cial·ism

noun \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\

Definition of SOCIALISM

1

: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2

a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3

: a stage of society in Marxisttheory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

 

As socialism is defined here, our public health care programs, although administered by the Federal government, do not qualify as socialism. Medical services do not qualify as either a means of production or a distribution of goods, except as interpreted by the private health insurance industry who is trying to turn medical care into an assembly line. The American people voted to have certain aspects of health care administered at the Federal level because it promised the lowest costs. Health care should not be a for-profit business many of us feel. Since we, the people, are the government, we own the public health care system. It does not belong to a government that is separate from the people and therefore does not qualify as socialism.

Societies learned through sad experience that a certain level of support is necessary to keep society free of disease and that it is humane to ameliorate misery so that everyone has some level of creature comfort in his/her daily life. We have learned that the free market cannot be expected to provide for these basic societal niceties since there is little or no profit to be gained by providing these supportive services. If we can harden our hearts to ignore the sorrowful lives some children were forced to live when governments did not provide a basic safety net, then we can stop offering a basic standard of living to those who dwell at the bottom of the economic scale. Of course, we will have to live with children who are sick, improperly clothed, and unhygienic, and we will probably live with more pests and a lot of guilt. In these enlightened times every culture that can do so must and does provide for the less fortunate members of the culture. I am stunned every time I hear the GOP suggest that we get rid of the safety net and that we do so in the name of forcing people to climb up out of the muck. That will not happen and they know it. It is possible that charitable groups and churches will try to take on these tasks, but they weren’t very successful in Charles Dicken’s London and I doubt that they would have more success today. That is a very uneven and haphazard way to provide aid. Some things need to be administered at the Federal level and that does not make us socialists. That term is thrown around way too often to incite fear and to bring everyone back into line as what the Republicans would describe as good little capitalists.

America is a free society. I don’t know why we have to limit ourselves to only one economic model. We should be free to apply the model that fits the needs of the people at that time. We will usually chose capitalism when it comes to straight business, but not necessarily for services that are basic to keeping a healthy and civilized nation. We are stuck economically, stuck with a choice that is being parsed in terms from the 30’s and 40’s and which may be too limiting in light of modern needs and population numbers.

The Republican Party is guilty of trying to dictate to the America people that there is only one correct way to conduct all business and service in our nation and they supposedly are doing this in the name of democracy. They are doing this, in part, by attaching emotional labels to the programs Americans use to insure that poor children and their families will have a floor under their poverty and the programs Americans use after they are “excused” from their careers and allowed to spend some time “in the pasture” before they die. If you put on a nasty face and lump all these programs together under the category of “socialism” or worse you are trying to dictate how the people achieve their service goals. By placing our choices in taboo categories you are hoping to achieve a totally separate outcome, small government, which attempts to take compassion and pragmatism out of government because they are “too expensive.”

Does anyone else see the contradiction in this? I know some of us see the greed in this. If our nation is so poor that we truthfully cannot provide for our poorest members and our seniors and our sick then it would seem that this dire condition would be clear to all of us and not just the GOP. Is the American economy really bankrupt? Is it true that we cannot afford compassion? If so we may have to admit that our nation is in decline. Or is this just another case where we are stuck because we are so busy looking backward we can’t see what’s ahead?

Iraq War – Ten Years Ago – Some Thoughts

 
 
The Iraq War began 10 years ago. That seems impossible.
I was not in favor of the Iraq War. I sided with those who said that there were no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq. Of course, I had to base my decisions about this war on what was available in the media, as I must rely on the media for all distant data. I did not admire Saddam Hussein and I knew he did unspeakable things to some of his people, but we were supposed to be hunting for and finding those who attacked America on 9/11 and it was clear that they were not in Iraq.

I remember those days right before the war began because they were dark days for America, at least in my estimation. If I had this blog in those days I would have been afraid to speak my mind. It was the first time in my life that I felt that if I exercised my First Amendment rights I might end up in a CIA file or worse. The Patriot Acts were passed which gave the government the right to, among other things, get access to our library reading history. Since I read mostly fiction I’m not sure why I felt nervous about this, but I guess it seemed as if someone (the government) had stepped over a line. I worried that, in the name of fear, we would lose more and more of our rights. People who did not support the war were considered to be unpatriotic. What is the opposite of patriotic? That’s how it was; support the war or chance being proved a traitor. I was not old enough when Joe McCarthy was hauling suspected Communists in front the Un-American Activities Committee to have experienced what it might feel like to be hunted down by our own government. Now that I have felt that little frission of fear about my own freedom of expression, I hope I am never in that position again.

I think Saddam Hussein pushed a lot of buttons around the world with his arrogance and his swagger. He acted like the school yard bully and made it seem like he was aching to be taken down. What we didn’t understand was the delicate balance between sectarian groups provided by Saddam that kept Iraq somewhat peaceful. Still, Saddam was a crude leader who used terror to keep the various groups in line and I don’t think the world misses him. I’m sure the Iraqi people do miss the security that allowed them to pursue a day to day life that had some order in it, that allowed Iraqis to raise their children in peace and enjoy their families and their businesses, as long as they did not run afoul of their government. That is what Iraq lost and seems unable to get back.

What we lost was men and women, American men and women. They did sign up to defend America and it was their job, but it still seemed like we abused these soldiers. They had to keep going back for one tour after another. I think it finally made many Americans cringe to send them back so many times. We also watched so many young men and women come home with terrible injuries, both mental and physical. Yes we are better at keeping seriously wounded soldiers alive and our prosthetics are better than ever, but they are still nothing like having your own limbs. The brave way our soldiers deal with losing limbs is an example to all of us and gives us hope that we would face such injury just a bravely; although I don’t think that I would.

So I stand in my kitchen making dinner and I curse the snow still falling from the March sky and then I remember Iraq. I remember that people there live simply with few of the comforts of life that I take for granted every day. And whether we were right or whether we were wrong is perhaps a question we will never all agree on. But I believe we do all wish the Iraqi people will get their peace back and that they will get a benevolent government which, despite its wish to improve life in Iraq, knows how to firmly keep the peace between all the sectarian groups of Iraqis. I worship the simple, everyday rituals of a peaceful and productive life, I love when families get to shop and play and nurture their children and work each day at whatever trade they must to support the life they live. I guess I am like one of those beauty queens (although only in this way) because if you ask me what I wish for most I will answer, “World Peace”.

This is the view from the cheap seats.