Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Rankest Pair of Sox in the Hamper

I doubt that anyone hates a negative political campaign more than I do. I even took a three or four election hiatus from voting some years ago out of disgust for the character of the advertising the two main parties were foisting upon us.

It hasn’t gotten any better but a number of wise people managed to convince me that I wasn’t accomplishing anything by not voting. Their idea is that, even among a hamper full of sweaty clothes, one pair of sox has to be less offensive than the others. So a good citizen is obligated to sort through the dirty laundry and find the least soiled of the stinking sox to wear for the next four years.

I find that logic compelling enough that I’ve lifted my ban on voting, for the time being at least. And I’m paying some attention to the “negative” ads that play incessantly on the TV screen and pop up in my computer. To paraphrase a famous contemporary politician, my thoughts on those ads have been evolving. In fact I’ve come to the conclusion that a positive political ad is, perhaps an oxymoron. If not an oxymoron, it is at least a sure path to political oblivion. I’ll explain.

If a candidate – at least in our era – were to simply put out ads, or make statements, that highlight his or her capabilities for public office but did not try to contrast them with the ideas, and abilities of his or her opponent he or she would be telling the voting public very little that they need to know. It may be well enough to pull out the first pair of sox from the hamper, sniff them, check for holes, and declare them suitable for the task. But a little more effort, and some caparison with others in the hamper might allow the wearer to win the business contract or woo the heart of the one they seek to impress.

So I’m making distinctions (sorting sox) between negativity now. And I am declaring negativity okay if it:

·       Makes comparisons of the two candidates based upon the best factual evidence available
·       Clearly identifies the sources of any critical (derogatory)  material affecting the opponent
·       Only focuses on issues relevant to the candidates’ worthiness for the office they seek
·       Does not distort issues or images using doctored photography, sinister sounding narrators, or “spooky” musical underscores
·       Avoids any suggestion that an opponent is deficient in loyalty to the United States unless they have been convicted of a felony related to matters of public interest

Based on those criteria there are few ads being run today that I find acceptable. It is rare that I hear an ad from either party of which I could not dispute the factuality. That should not be. And it is particularly irksome when a smiling candidate steps forward, in full color, at the end of a deeply sinister, darkened, and photo-shopped ad to tell me that he or she approves that message.

If we insist that negativity have a noble purpose – to contrast the abilities and proposals of two candidates – we may still lack rose scented politicians, but at least we have some hope that the one we get will not smell like the rankest pair of sox in the hamper.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Who Says?

As an example of the kind of journalism one must wade through in an attempt to know something about the world we live in, the July 23, 2012 article on NBCNew’s web page is as good a specimen as one can find.

The headline reads: “Foreign leaders see ‘America in decline,’ Australian foreign minister tells Romney.” It sounds pretty ominous until one begins to unravel the details.

First, it is a case of Mr. Romney telling a group of supporters at a fund-raising event, that the foreign minister of Australia told him, at a private meeting, that other “foreign leaders” had (presumably) told him, in private meetings, no doubt, that they held the opinion that the U.S. is “in decline.”

What? Who’s on first? This is an anonymous quote of an anonymous quote of several anonymous quotes of unsubstantiated opinions, conveyed through an interested party to a group of partisan supporters, and then passed on to the “media”, for what purpose? To raise money for Mr. Romney’s campaign? To convince the nation that our “exceptionalism” is slipping under the current administration?  

Why didn’t the honorable foreign minister simply send an Op-Ed piece to the Washington Post and say publicly, what he had to say – with statistics and reasoned discourse to back up his opinion? Or he could have accompanied Mr. Romney to the fund raiser and delivered the message on his own, and then help Mr. Romney pass the hat. Or he could have transmitted his concerns directly through an interview on NBCNews or Fox.

But further, we’re told the secretive foreign minister had suggested an instant fix for America’s decline; i.e. ". . .  one budget deal" that helps balance the budget.” Presumably that would not be the budget deal worked out nearly a year ago which now Mr. Romney and his fellow Republicans reject, but rather one which Mr. Romney would gladly propose . . . with no details included. Details take time and talent to develop and they tend to addle the brains of some of his supporters who are struggling desperately to find reasons to continue their support for him.

Mr. Romney is starting a six-day campaign swing through several foreign countries, not the least of which is Israel. We can hope that he is making this unprecedented foreign campaign foray because he has tapped out the resources of his wealthy donors in the United States and is merely going abroad to withdraw a little extra cash from his tax-sheltered foreign accounts. We can be certain that his intense national loyalty would prevent him from encouraging foreign donors to  influence our politics by injecting millions of their dollars into our campaign. He wouldn’t! Would he?

I realize that NBC (and all the others) have a 24/7 obligation to keep the “news” flowing. Their obligation is to the advertisers who support their broadcasts and flesh out their web pages, not to their viewers who are mere numbers presented to advertisers as proof of the network’s ability to deliver an audience for the advertiser’s wares. (Note, if you will, the amount of time [or space on the web page] allotted to advertising relative to content.)

Without those advertising dollars we would have less “news” no doubt. But is it too much to expect that our “news sources” will be what their name implies; sources of news, and not of propaganda hand fed from opportunistic candidates and their campaign managers.

Enough of the “he said that someone told him that others are saying” stuff. That isn’t news. It isn’t helpful. It is either a case of a downright attempt to obfuscate, or it is inexcusably inept reporting. Neither case is a compliment to the news industry.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where Was Batman When They Really Needed Him?

The shooting at Aurora raises again the question of how these atrocities occur. Defenders of “gun rights,” granted they say, by the U.S. Constitution, are quick to tell us that guns don’t kill, that it is only people who kill.

But we who believe that America has gone crazy for guns and violence are not stupid. We know that guns don’t kill – without aid from humans in the form of either calculated malice or inexcusable carelessness.

But it seems that even a modicum of thoughtfulness would lead one to see that guns (and other killing machines) have as their primary purpose for existence, the taking of life, either human or that of animals we wish to prey upon. No doubt most gun owners never use their guns to take a human life – thank God for that. They either use them for legal “game hunting” (an interesting phrase) or for target practice.

For several months now, any time the issue of “gun rights” is raised, the local NBC affiliate here has been using a set of clips showing a man shooting at a target. After he fires off several rounds the picture switches to show the target he has been shooting at. It is the outline of a human form and the shooter has managed to put most or all of his bullets in its head. I’m sure he is proud of his marksmanship. If however, mere accuracy in shooting were his goal, a small bulls-eye target would serve just as well and would not be as suggestive of mayhem committed against a fellow human being.

Guns are not, in and of themselves, killers, but in almost every setting in which we see them used they are the instruments of killing – in movies, video games, and news reports of crime and war scenes. Most human beings, in ordinary circumstances are not likely to take up guns and murder those around them. But we are not always in “ordinary circumstances” and some among us are never in “ordinary circumstances’; some live constantly in a paranoid world, or a drug-induced world, or a mental illness clouded world that suggests to them that they are justified in using whatever force they can to control their fears or obey the “voices” in their head.

In most of the states in our Union we have decided to allow “law abiding citizens” of “sound mind” to strap weapons on their person (if they keep them concealed) and carry them into almost every venue including – in some localities – legislative halls and court-rooms. We have passed laws making it very difficult to prosecute anyone who has used their weapon against another human being if they can show even slight evidence that they were simply “standing their ground” against an aggressor, or “defending their “castle” against an intruder. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have applied for the right to “bear arms” under these new laws.

We have reverted to the “wild west” era of our history; descended to level of vigilante law that exists in the nations of the world where we send our young men and women (and our guns) to teach them how to live better.

I know few people who advocate outlawing ownership of guns capable of defending one’s own household and property. I know of few who would restrict the right of responsible adults to own and use guns appropriate for hunting “game” animals. I certainly do not oppose such uses of guns. And though it sends a chill up my spine to think of it, I can even tolerate the idea of specialized, military-type guns being used – by ordinary citizens, in controlled situations – for target shooting, using human silhouettes as targets if that must be. There seems to be deep need in some people’s psyche to exercise such powers. (Witness the popularity of the “paintball” war games engaged in as recreation by gatherings as benign as church youth groups.)

We cannot blame guns for the violence done with them. They did not create themselves and they do not spew death on their own. But we could decide, as a society, to take steps to make it illegal, with significant consequences, to obtain any gun without a license, and especially so for those weapons capable of creating massive carnage in a few seconds of time.  We could put reasonable restrictions upon their ownership and use.

It seems strange that a society that can restrict the sale of strong narcotic medicines, even to the point of requiring a signature to have the prescription filled, that can regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol, and even tobacco, that can require the registration of automobile ownership, that invests millions of dollars per year to stop Iran and North Korea from getting the “ultimate assault weapon”, could understand the need to put restraints upon the weapons that are turning portions of our cities, every day, into killing fields; that generate on too regular a basis the kinds of mass killings that occurred in Aurora.

But even more important than the restricting of weapons of certain destruction, we need, as a society, to ask ourselves why we take such delight in violence and carnage, in our movies, our video games, and our nightly news. From the gruesome campfire story to the written page; from the written page to visual media; from black and white to living-dying color; from two dimensions to three; from the virtual world of the screen to the horrific reality of flesh and blood, we have worn a path of sorry episodes that belie our claims to humanity.

Either we, as a race, are better than this, or we are lost; doomed to follow the bloody ways portrayed in all our doomsday movies. And, with no super-heroes to save us.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

In Defense of "Packing Heat"

      haiku for Colorado
             by Jim Rapp

death at Columbine
was not the fault of guns – no,
guns could not be blamed.

forest fires flamed
but guns should not be blamed – no,
guns are not to blame

midnight terror reigned
but guns were not to blame – no,
guns were not to blame

guns ubiquitous
but guns can not be blamed – no,
guns should not be blamed

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When You’re Up, I’m Down

       Tetter Totter Economics
                    by Jim Rapp 

If the economy is sagging
And the Congress can’t decide,
And the bills are coming due,

It’s no time for petty haggling,
Something really must be tried,
And the “fix”, my friends, is nothing new.

When you’re on a tetter totter,
And your butt is on the ground,
There’s no pain-free way to get it up again.

You must allow your opposite more “fodder”,
Or try, yourself, to lose a pound;
Either way your rise will cause you pain.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Taxing Times

                    Taxing Times
                          by Jim Rapp

The rich have always taxed the poor
but thirty years ago – a little more –
a trickster said, “Give me your vote; I’ll close that door.”

His words were resonant; they struck a chord,
and since, all politicians use that cry to reach the hoard,
securing, best they can, their room and board.

Now, no politician dare suggest that we should pay
for all the things demanded of our government, for they
can surely be procured in other simpler ways.

Hand them off to private enterprise to do.
The fees they charge are taxes – higher taxes – too,
but none of which the politician’s strictly party to.

Put them on the public “credit card”. Hey,
we’ll let our children and their children pay;
have our cake, and let them “eat it” on another day.

Now, spineless politicians try to pit
the poorer class against the rich; suggesting it
is only fair to make the wealthy bite the bit.

And sure, they should be pulling all their share,
but so should all who benefit be made to bear;
from each according to the way they fare.

These are taxing times – times to bare our souls;
times when politicians need pull their heads from holes
they’ve stuffed them in and banish all loopholes.

It’s time to pay!
Time for rich and poor to pay.
There is no other way;
It’s time to pay!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gimme A High Wall And A Retractable Roof

Can you believe that our American Olympic athletes are going to be performing in uniforms made in China? The scandal of it all! Every politician from the most rabid Tea Party republican to the most cynical Liberal is up in arms about it. It makes one wonder if they’ve checked the waistband on their Fruit-o-the-Loom underwear lately, or even the tag on their designer suits and sportswear.

I suppose the only way to keep American businesses honest is to build a high wall around our borders and cap our land with a retractable roof so we can keep foreign products out. Without those precautions human nature will win out every time; greedy Capitalists will seek the lowest paid workforce they can find and our American workers will lose out. Of course we’ll need to provide the means for our farmers, airplane manufacturers, industrial equipment suppliers, fast food companies, and a million small businesses to get their products to foreign markets and keep our American workers busy. It is only fair.

Americans have long since ceased to respect politicians as a class. (We do still often think the ones who represent us are a cut above the rest but even that confidence is eroding.) However, the hypocrisy shown by the politicians who are crying foul on this issue is immense. If they are so ignorant that they do not understand the interrelated nature of the world economy, then God help us. They are too ignorant to be in the positions they are in. BUT if they are merely pandering to an outdated notion that the world could operate without free trade between nations, it is worse yet. They are immoral and unprincipled.

Of course we need fair trade between us and our trading partners. But there is no suggestion that the company supplying the foreign-made uniforms for the Olympic team has engaged in any illegal activity. They are only doing what every major U.S. corporation does – and what every small business would like to do – and that is to maximize profits either by utilizing cheap foreign labor directly by manufacturing their product in a foreign country, or by using parts produced, or assembled with cheap foreign labor. It is the American way. It is the Capitalist way. It is the self-interested human way.

No doubt American companies, and American workers, are profiting from this Olympic competition. I suppose, since it is held in London, the Brits could (should) insist that all products used by athletes, news organizations, security details, food and clothing vendors, and on and on, be products produced in England. But it is the 21st century. And there are no high walls around nations (except on the Mexican border). We need to get used to the fact that we live in one world, closely knit together in a myriad of ways, one of which is economically.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hey! What Do I Know?

One of the most liberating statements in the New Testament is Paul the apostle’s declaration, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” It is liberating because, in it, he is implying, “I don’t know if my belief is right; I only know that I believe it. (That, by the way, is all that Jesus required of those who wish to be in his kingdom – “Whoever believes in me shall have everlasting life.”)

It is difficult at best – almost impossible most of the time – to have a good, rational discussion with a person who is possessed of irrefutable facts. Even the tone of their voice informs you that there is no need to express any alternative position; all alternatives have already been relegated to their ash heap of ignorance or irrelevancy.

You may find comfort in my admission that I know almost nothing. And I’m most comfortable when I’m in conversation with those who share my state of ignorance without embarrassment or regret. (There is a new book out, come to think of it, entitled: Ignorance and How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein – I’ve been intending to get a copy.)

Ignorance – acknowledged ignorance – has two beneficial effects upon ones character: 1) it promotes humility by putting its owner at a level no higher, in his/her own estimation, than any of his/her fellow creatures and, 2) it promotes inquisitiveness by allowing its owner to doubt his/her assumptions enough to consider that there could be a way of seeing things other than that which has been his/her longtime habit.

Acknowledged ignorance also lifts a heavy burden from one’s shoulders. Once you have sworn allegiance to a fact, you become its defender for life, regardless of what crazy career that fact chooses to pursue. Ask the flat earth folks about that. Or the Mayan end-of-the-world folks. Or the six-day-creationist fundamentalists. If you join one of those crowds early in life you can have a long illustrious career as a debater of lost and meaningless causes and go to your grave with not one victory to show for your efforts. But if you say, “I don’t know about those things – God only knows. All I know is WHOM I have believed,” then you are a free person.

It is enough to spend ones energies defending ones right to his/her beliefs without having to prove the factual basis of those beliefs. There may, or may not be a factual basis for them. We will never know until and if all knowledge is revealed to us. We can only do our best to understand the world we live in, form our beliefs around those things that seem to us – through lived experience, conversation with wise people, and reference to disinterested, trustworthy sources – to have the greatest validity, and then entrust ourselves to them, all the while knowing that they may be mere vapors about to dissolve with the next puff of wind.

I’m comfortable in a world in which we walk by faith and not by sight. I’m comfortable with the idea that God is pleased, and can ONLY BE PLEASED by our faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God).” The first sin, we are told, was an attempt to KNOW and to become like gods. It is a sin that puts a heavy burden on its bearer. Jesus calls us with the words, “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He requires us not to believe in anything but Himself.

I have OPINIONS about nearly everything. Those who examine my blog know that. But I KNOW practically nothing. I’m hoping most of my opinions are good enough to get my shoes on the correct feet, and do the other essential tasks expected of me. Very likely they are. But I can never be sure. I can only KNOW what my opinions are and HOPE that I’ve based them on something resembling reality.

I can also hope that my evident ignorance makes me a comfortable, approachable conversationalist for others who are on the journey of faith that we call life. I DO KNOW whom I have believed – and I’m persuaded the He will keep his promises to me. That comes close to being ALL I know for sure.