Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not My Cup of Tea

The world is making me tired. There hasn't been a day go by in the last few weeks that I haven't been shaken by something happening somewhere. I need a day of happy news. Just one. Is that unreasonable?

When I was in grad school, studying Environmental Policy, I was introduced to Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus was an English scholar who proposed a theory of overpopulation, saying that at some point, the earth's population would grow beyond its ability to sustain itself. Once the earth reaches that point, the population would be checked by starvation, war and disease. Most of the twentieth century, economists and philosophers spent suggesting that Malthus was wrong; we were able to exponentially increase food production, and send minimum sustenance to every corner of the globe and prevent death by starvation. We are now in the third desperate famine in Africa that I can remember. We are doing the best we can to send enough food to the people in Somalia to prevent the slow, dreadfully suffering death by starvation and disease, despite the fact that many of the violent and corrupt regimes of the region are preventing some of the aid from reaching those most in need. Yesterday it was announced that on Halloween day, Sunday, October 31, 2011, the world population will reach seven billion. The world is on the downward slide with regard to potable water. Much of the farmland in Africa has been rendered un-arable because of war, drought, and the race for resources such as gold, oil and diamonds. Once the aid workers are gone, the same corrupt war lords will begin to kill with impunity again, using religion and race as an excuse, when resources are actually the reason for the brutal attacks. Malthus wasn't wrong, he was just early. We can increase our food production to a point, and we've come through so far. But those increases require more water and good land, which is becoming more and more rare as the population rises, the climate warms, and drought prevents the rain from watering the farms...and the circle is infinite.

Back in the 1980s I read several books by Stephen King. I loved the fact that, much like the television program, "The Twilight Zone," there was just enough reality to make his plots seem plausible. One of my favorites was "The Dead Zone." It was a story about a man who was in a terrible car crash and went into a coma for a long time. When he awakened, he could touch people and tell the future. One of the people he touched was a politician who was running for president. He touched the man, and knew that a nuclear conflagration would be the result of the election of that candidate. Something eerily like the feeling I got reading that story came over me when I saw this picture on the cover of Time magazine this week:

I'm sorry-there is just something frightening to me about this man. Despite the fact that, as Bill Clinton said, "He's a good lookin' rascal." It's not enough to make him un-scary to me.

I am an unabashed liberal. But I understand some conservative positions, and I come from a very conservative family. When political topics are broached, especially since I am usually outnumbered, I've become a master of the smile and nod, and the, "That's certainly a point of view," reply. But a conversation I had early in the Obama administration with a friend who is just as proud of her tea party activism and anti-Obama passion that was very telling to me as I look back. This particular friend lives in a very closed society-fundamental Christianity, in the deep south, and all of her world view is colored by that giant wall. I tend to believe this is true of all tea party members, including my mother. Most of this group decided that they hated Obama, and anything he might stand for well before he was elected and attempted to do anything. They have held their beliefs, no matter how often President Obama has done exactly the opposite of what anyone would expect of a liberal. But my friend exclaimed to me, when I asked her why, exactly and specifically, she disliked Obama so much, "He wants to CHANGE America." This remark has come back to me time and again, puzzlingly; and in the last month or so, it has come back to me again and again. I have realized that what the tea party wants is a return to an America that never really existed in the past, and certainly could not survive in the twenty-first century. In the days of fuzzy memory, blacks and gays didn't demand their constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. In fact, a black man walking down the street who looked at a white woman, or looked a white man in the eye, did so at his own peril. Homosexuals didn't want to get married-they wanted to hide their true natures so that they could keep their jobs. They never had "partners," they had "roommates." But the white folks lived well, and went to church every Sunday. They were there for their white neighbors, and their white neighbors were there for them. No one knew that George Washington didn't really chop down a cherry tree and tell his father the truth about it. No one ever questioned the Disney-fied history books, or dared to suggest that any of the founding fathers were promiscuous or flawed in any way. Men went to work, and good mothers stayed home and provided clean houses and good meals for the family. Freedom of religion was okay because everyone was Christian or Jewish. There were no atheists or agnostics, and certainly no Muslims or Hindus. There were no illegal immigrants-just gardeners and people who traveled around the country to pick fruit for a pittance that was impossible to live on. That was their problem though-white people had the right to make profit and do well. No one questioned that. But that world never truly existed, and most definitely does not exist now. American businesses can't make profits without going international. But in order to go international, we must learn something about the cultures with which we wish to do business. That may mean we can't steamroll over everyone in another country with the assumption that the only good country is the U. S. and the only good religion is Christianity, and the only good business model is the American one. Facebook and Twitter and the internet in general have made isolationism impossible. And the fact of the matter is, the world has changed, and was changing long before Obama was born in Hawaii. I've been told all my life that "Change is the only constant in life," and anyone who refuses to admit that is burying his head in the sand. Obama didn't cause this, but as the first president we've had in some time who is open to it, rather than trying to deny it, or forcefully and belligerently stop the change, he is still WAY ahead of any tea party candidate.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Time Spent Just Shaking My Head

The last few weeks have given me many, many opportunities to shake and scratch my head. I don't think I've ever seen anything as strange as the republican candidates for president in 2012, or the people who follow them. But personally life is just strange as well. For example, for the last forty years environmentalists have been complaining about the amount of packaging used to sell the products we use. But every day something is being introduced that is bringing more and more trash to our landfills. Now every coffee company is packaging coffee in plastic containers for individual servings. Even allegedly green companies are doing this, and I've contacted a couple of them-they admit that their individual serving cups are not biodegradable. We now have pieces of fresh fruit in glass jars and prunes in a waxed-paper container, then wrapped in individual cellophane wrappers. Grrrrrrrrr! Helloooooo-ooooo? Anybody out there?

I LOVE R&B singer John Legend. At times he's seemed to me the reincarnation of Marvin Gaye. He's touring this summer with Sade, whom I also like. But in a list published in my local newspaper recently, SHE was listed as one of the top grossing concerts this summer. Shouldn't he have been on that list as well?

How can we say we know what prevents cancer? There is a new story almost daily about something that prevents some kind of cancer-but people keep getting cancer, even though,as long as that list is, there can't be much left that everyone on earth does. So it seems that cancer rates should be going down.

I wonder if we set politicians up for corruption and arrogance when we talk about their looks. I can think of two who are about as smarmy and dishonest as any politician in history, Rod Blagojevich and Rick Perry, who have commonly been called "Governor Good Hair," that believe their crimes are not even wrong doing. Maybe good looking people in our world just get away with way too much, and come to believe that the rules don't really apply to them.

Who said that dogs don't really have a sense of time? When I recently babysat a dog for a friend who was out of town, interestingly, his behavior began to change about one and a half days before she returned. Nothing else that we could explain had changed.I  believe he knew "Mom" was coming home.

In Texas 2011, we have had the hottest summer on record. We even beat the dust bowl summer of Oklahoma in 1929. If we had a breeze this drought stricken summer, there was fire danger. If we didn't have a breeze, the heat created pollution alerts. I couldn't help wondering how President Obama, Eric Cantor, and other legislators in this country could reverse anti-pollution rules. Aren't they parents? Don't they know how many children are affected by pollution? I don't want to talk about global warming and its long term consequences. I want to talk about what we are doing to ourselves right now. We are making ourselves sick, and I don't want to live in a dirty world with dirty air. I have two grandchildren, and one more on the way. I don't want them to spend their childhoods in the ER getting breathing treatments because of the oil and coal lobbies.

This past Wednesday there was something called "The Tea Party Debate" with the republican candidates for president. Several years ago there was a giant kerfuffle in Texas when Governor Rick Perry made it mandatory for pre-adolescent girls to get a vaccine against the human pappiloma virus, which has been proven to cause cervical cancer. We have been vaccinating children against communicable diseases for about a century. Some of these diseases have been all but eradicated. But people got angry with the governor for this one. One reason was because of financial connections to the big-pharma company that provided the vaccine-reasonable argument. But I can't help but wonder if a part of the anger was because there might be something like "S-E-X" attached to this one. That certainly seemed to be the case with Michelle Bachman in her criticism at the debate Wednesday. And then she came back with a story of a crying woman who came to her and said that the HPV vaccine "gave her daughter mental retardation." Sigh. Yes, anecdotes are now science, right? So Rick Perry said-he attacked Bachman for taking the woman's story as fact when she had "no science to back it up." The explosion in my gut was hard to contain on that one, when just two weeks ago, Rick Perry was talking about the science on evolution and climate change not being in. Since when does Rick Perry know or care anything about science? He suggested that the pope who imprisoned Galileo was a scientist who just disagreed with Galileo's scientific theories at another debate. The far right of the republican party has been consistently anti-science and anti-intellectual for years. That's exactly why Sarah Palin has the following she does; she suggests that smart people who consider facts before they speak or pick a position are not real American "Joe Six Packs." I'm sorry, Governor Good Hair, you can't have it both ways. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Milk of Human Kindness

I work on the phone. Sometimes I get into long conversations with the people on the phone.  This happened last week, with an older woman who, like me, has family members in both the military and law enforcement. We talked about whether or not there are people in the world who have absolutely no good in them. I commented that I don't think so-even the most depraved people have some good in them, though it is buried beneath so much garbage that it can't be seen. She responded, "I can tell  you are a Christian." I honestly didn't know what to say. Obviously I couldn't say much, being in a work setting. But I wonder, as I have for years, where the notion comes from that to have a kind outlook on humankind comes from Christianity. I can point to so much evidence of Christians who definitely do not have a kind attitude toward their fellow man, and I know many non-theists who do. In fact, atheists sometimes refer to themselves as "humanist," and for most of the atheists I know, ethics is very important...after all, this world is all we believe we have, and how we treat each other is of high importance. 

There have been some articles recently about the "Christian Dominion" movement on the right wing fringes. This idea that fundamentalist Christians should run the world isn't anything new. The "K-Street" apartment house, at which some of the sleazier politicians who've been caught with their pants down, so to speak, is a part of this movement. They believe that it is okay for some politicians to screw around on their wives because King David did and God allegedly said David was "a man after my own heart." The thing they forget is that Christianity is supposed to be based on the NEW Testament, and King David was an Old Testament king. Nor was he allowed, by God, according to the myth, to build the temple because he committed adultery and murder. Nor was Moses allowed to enter the promised land with the Jews because he had committed murder. So the whole dominion movement is just a bunch of creeps who cheat on their wives and want to rationalize that their bad behavior qualifies them for leadership. Not only is every bit of this movement ridiculous, it is wrong headed in its alleged adherence to biblical values. It is also scary as hell and needs to be kept on the fringe. 

Speaking of politicians who've been caught with their pants down, I think it is noteworthy that none of them were wearing skirts. 

One legend about St. Patrick says that he used a clover, the three-leaved variety, to explain to the Celts about the trinity-three from one. So why is the four leaf clover considered to be good luck? 

In the last week or so I've heard several pundits referring to the Tea Party movement as "patriotic anarchists." Funny thing, on July 23rd, in my blog post entitled "Demagogue Is Not a Verb," question number 7 went this way, "7. Do the anti-government right-wingers realize that people who hate the government and wish to dismantle it are called "anarchists?" Anarchists used to be considered left wing. Does anyone but me see the irony in that? Anarchy in the USA!! Brought to you by Sarah Palin." So, can I get a little credit for pointing this out first? In fact, if you are going to read my blog and steal my ideas, please become a follower. I need more followers. 

So all this talk about the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution being a rationale for ending anything the federal government wants to do that they don't like. Candidate/Governor Rick Perry, of my state, Texas, likes to call on "State's Rights." He does it all the time. When the state of New York approved of allowing marriage equality, he said that it was fine for New York to do that-in his opinion that day, he said it was a matter to be decided by individual states. But yesterday, August 26, 2011, it was announced that he had signed a pledge to a marriage inequality group that he would support a new amendment to the constitution stating that marriage in the United States under a Rick Perry presidency would be that it is only between one man and one woman. Just one example of how conveniently the Grand Ole Party uses and rejects the Big Tenth Amendment. Which simply says nothing more than, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." That's it. Which demonstrates why it is so easy to find so many different interpretations.  And why its multiple uses must be carefully considered before it is used to reject every proposition from the federal government that any particular governor or candidate might like or dislike at any given moment. (Or in front of any particular interest group or donor!) I do remember a line from the Bush administration, quoting Reagan claiming that "government is not the solution, government is the problem." It was said that the second Bush administration believed that government is the problem, and then spent their whole time in government proving it. 

So, speaking of tea, there is an entire shelf now at the grocery store from which shoppers can buy gallons of tea in the ubiquitous plastic jug. Why would anyone pay from $2.95 to $4.29 for a gallon of premade tea? It doesn't make good economic sense. I pay a bit over $2.00 for a box of 100 teabags, and that makes 20 gallons of tea. Have we become that lazy? Nevermind. Except that lazy doesn't even do it for this one-it takes less energy to put some water in a kettle, boil it, add the bags and let them steep, then top off the jug with water and slip it in the fridge than to drive to the store, shop, maneuver around the aisle hogs, find where it's kept, put it in your basket, take it to the register, wait in line, pay, walk to the car, drive back home, carry in all your bags, put away all the groceries you just bought, etc. Make your own damned tea! We don't need all that many more plastic jugs in the landfills, on top of your soda and water bottles. And don't insist you recycle them; only about three-percent of Americans recycle their recyclables, and there have been billions and billions of plastic bottles placed in landfills in the last fifty years. We don't need unnecessary tea jugs on top of them. 

Since when is "nevermind" not a word? I just had to add it to my dictionary-as far as I know, nevermind is just as much a word as "alot." Which my computers keep lining in red as if they are not part of the English language. Where do they come up with this crap?

Has anyone noticed the evolution of the Exxon-Mobil commercials? First it was just that they are spending lots of money on R & D to find more eco-friendly ways to produce energy. Now they are talking about trying to frac without damaging ground water supplies. And there is one in which the spokesperson actually talks about the tar sands program in Canada, and he honestly says, "We can access this energy with about the same emissions as other forms of energy." WWWHHHHHHAAAAATTTTTTT???? The wording of commercials can be very instructive, and it is quite clear that it takes so much energy to remove the oil from tar sands that it is much worse for the environment than traditional oil production. Interestingly, I heard the Canadian CEO of the company building the tar sands pipeline say that all the protests in the US will only hurt us by sending 25,000 jobs to Canada, and that the oil will be produced anyway. And we always carry on about how "nice" Canadians are-now we are being held hostage by the guys who beat baby seals on the head with clubs.