Saturday, October 30, 2010

Viva, Viva, La Democracia!

So here's a dilemma: which congressional candidate to vote for.

--A long-term incumbent Democrat who has a good record of bringing federal dollars into the district. A large number of local working families benefit from the jobs made possible by this federal largess.

--A nice, "country club" Republican who promises to cut spending, taxes, repeal Obamacare, issue school vouchers, kill the inheritance tax, and make government smaller in general.

--A Libertarian whose platform seems eminently sensible (with a only few small exceptions), but who doesn't have a chance; a good way to "send them a message," but a vote for him may tip things toward the Democrat.

Tough one, eh? There's no doubt the public is in an anti-incumbent mood this year, and you hear a lot of "throw the bums out" talk. But is it a matter of relacing Tweedledee with Tweedledum? Quite possibly it is.

Most political action in English speaking countries revolves around two parties. Other countries may have several splinter parties that come together in a Parliamentary coalition, but the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have two parties. If a third party arises, it usually is based on a single issue or personality, and it's eventually absorbed into one of the major parties.

Once a congressman gets to Washington, he (or she) will have to align himself with one of the major parties, even if he was elected by third party. It's not as if some of the Tea Party-backed start-ups are really going to change anything, assuming they are elected. They'll be expected to pay their dues and "go along to get along" like everybody else.

So who does one vote for? The guy that will get an influential committee assignment? The challenger because change is good? The third party because "they" need a reminder that the "working man" is still out there, and he votes (sometimes)?

And then there's the problem that virtually no one is talking about the real issues. Jim Kunstler, perpetual predicter of doom, has summed things up today better than I ever could.

The proud winners of seats in congress and the senate might as well put on clown suits and little pointed hats on Wednesday morning and drive around the Washington monument in toy cars. There will be a desperate need for a new politics in this country, for people unafraid to tell the truth and act in the genuine public interest. If we can't generate it from the saner quarters of this country where people think thoughts that comport with reality, I'm afraid we could see some generals step into the picture.

Hoping, seemingly against hope, that we will somehow muddle through.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are We Wondering About This?

On Sept. 27, retired U.S. Air Force officials disclosed that on multiple occasions over the last 30 years, structured craft displaying flight characteristics inconsistent with any terrestrial technology appeared over diverse U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons facilities, while simultaneously nuclear missiles at the various sites were alternately armed and disarmed--not under the control of the facilities.

It seems that enough of these people with solid credentials--after all, they were in charge of our nuclear arsenal--have come forward, that we ought to be wondering what it all means. One retired Air Force man, since deceased, maintained that, although there were some "true unknowns," there had been "no meaningful contact." The story of nuclear weapons being remotely disarmed at the same time unidentified aircraft are seen certainly falls into the category of meaningful contact.
We can speculate endlessly about where they came from, how they got here, and what they're up to without ever coming up with a logical, reasonable answer. One thing should be obvious however: if we don't blow ourselves up, the next thirty years are going to be an extremely interesting time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Mindless Boosterism and Babbitry

We are living near a small rural town, the type of place where people are friendly, down-to-earth, and decent. As of late the town fathers have been presenting their plans for future growth. The economy has slowed things up recently, but during the go-go years leading up to the latest "adjustment," plenty of farmers made megabucks selling their cotton fields and pastures to developers.

The town built infrastructure for the coming real estate boom that didn't happen--yet. You'll see fire hydrants along country roads out in the middle of nowhere.

They're talking about attracting young people and new businesses. Mainly they were talking about franchised businesses. One fellow, who likes to voice his opinion on everything (he's a retired schoolteacher), said he would really like this-and-such a fried chicken franchise to come in. "It's a shame we don't have one of those, and a few others."
Who doesn't like progress? But the problem is, that if even one more franchised restaurant came within easy commuting distance, the first thing to happen would be that the good old boys' favorite breakfast places would go under. They're struggling to stay open now.

There's no point in saying anything about that, though. You'd get labeled a trouble-maker, or anti-development, or a Jim Kunstler type. What they don't realize is that what they have now is much better than any plasticine "miracle mile" seen outside every major American city.

Of course, American homogeneity seems to be what the public wants. But it's a shame some of the locals don't remember what their grandma used to say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

A Christian pastor who I know and admire once remarked, "I can't imagine allowing a yoga class in a Christian church."

I'm thinking to myself "did I hear that right?" He must think it's some kind of Eastern religion. I mean, I've practiced yoga exercises, even taken a few classes. I've known yoga teachers--even the late, celebrated physical education guru Ruth Bender, pictured on the book cover above. In all that time I never heard anything incompatible with "Christian doctrine." Our church even had classes in Tai Kwon Do for a while.

Yoga may have come out of Indian culture, and aspects of it did come out of Hindu tradition, but the simple stretching and breathing exercises associated with the yoga of American popular culture are basically just that. Moreover, it's a good idea, especially for an aging population.

But now Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler says the stretching and meditative discipline derived from Eastern religions is not a Christian pathway to God.

I've read many articles by Dr. Mohler in the past and generally agreed with him and found his messages to be inspiring. No, yoga might not be a "pathway to God," but that doesn't mean that it's not a really good way to make sure our bodies stay relatively limber into a ripe old age. Maybe if we called it "Christian Calisthenics" it would be acceptable to him.

Now the press has picked up on his putting his foot into his mouth--figuratively that is. If he practiced "Christian Calisthenics" he might still be able to do it literally. And bend over to tie his shoelaces without grunting and groaning.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dogs, Boats, and Politics

Bunch of the guys I worked with liked to go down to the Keys, when they got some free time. Capt. Gabby, who was “between jobs,” had two large skiffs sitting behind his trailer on an island just north of Key West. The guys needed a couple boats, Gabby needed money; we made a deal.

We spent the day snorkeling and fishing along the reef, where the shallow waters of the back country ease off into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the bunch, a nice enough guy by the name of Russell, brought along his dog, a husky. We let the husky run along the beaches on one of the islands, hoping to tire it out. It was young and excitable.

After the guys had a cooler full of fish, crabs, and assorted collectibles, Gabby, who had decided that the life of a fishing guide was not for him, shouted “I’m heading back!” He had his wife and some of the girls, who had had enough sun, with him. “You know the way!”

We knew the general direction, but without a chart finding our way through the basins and banks of the back country wasn’t going to be easy. We had only out been there a few times before. There were six of us on board, plus the dog. We hadn’t gone but a couple of miles, before it became apparent that we were lost. And after another mile or so of looking for a channel deep enough to get back in the general direction of Key West, we were out of gas. Thanks, Gabby.

As we sat there pondering what to do next, the dog began to run from one end of the boat to the other. I had been swimming with an old pair of Dacor fins. There was a sharp edge that always dug into the joint on my big toe. I usually brought along a pair of socks to keep this from happening, but hadn’t done that this time. “I sure hope that dog doesn’t hit me on the toe,” I thought. Sure enough, the next time through, he stepped right on it. I let out a yelp. To make things worse, the bottom of the boat was filled with sandy grit and oil. Every time the dog ran by he would step on my toe. As if it was working some intentional, insidious torture, every time it ran by, its long sharp middle toenail found its way into the place on my foot, grinding sand and oil into the wound.

After a while I thought, “This is going to be inevitable. That dog is going to nail me every single time, and there is nothing I can do about it but sit here and quietly endure the pain.” So that’s what I did. After a while somebody pulled out a bottle of rum. We passed the bottle around and swapped stories. That helped a lot.

The present mid-term political campaigns, with candidates leveling outrageous charges against each other and diatribes coming from the left and right, remind me of being in that boat with Russell’s dog’s grit-coated nail finding the hole in my foot every time it ran by.

Eventually a young kid in a small skiff came by and towed us in, wisecracking all the way about how stupid we were. When we told him where we were going and that it was Gabby’s boat, he got quiet and acted scared. I just read recently that that “the northern end of [that island] has developed a negative reputation and come to be known as ‘Little Beirut.’” Some things never change.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

War Is Hell

"It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation." --Sherman

A friend arrived home yesterday after a 36 hour trip from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. He's a reservist who served a short four-plus month hitch this summer. He looked tired, but very glad to be home. No one pressed him to talk about what he saw over there. He volunteered that his base had been attacked just before he got there and one man was killed. He said that he heard the sound of bombs in the distance almost every night. He believed that the period he was there saw the heaviest fighting since our involvement in that region had begun.

Suddenly the reality of the war was brought home. For a number of reasons we don't see nightly clips of the fighting. Our network news seems filled with meaningless fluff about female celebrities going into rehab. Pundits and polemicists handing down pronouncements on stimulus funds, bail-outs, and government spending seem filled with Yeats's passionate intensity. But we see very little about the guy that is actually doing the dirty work.

Whether we're pro-war or anti-war in general, we have to realize that we are involved in a fight with a rural commonality halfway around the world and an enemy that threatened both our security and our way of life. And those fighting for us are our neighbors--regular working people. They don't make the rules, but they do the tough stuff. For the most part, like our friend, they handle their job quietly and competently.

No one knows how long it will take and what price must be paid to achieve a satisfactory level of stability in the world. Looking back at the last century, it's fair to say that somehow we did a lot better in the second half than in the first. War is really Hell. And we're glad that our friend is home safe.

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars . . ." -- Matthew 24:6