Thursday, June 30, 2022
A pit-viper is a dangerous animal. That's your rattle-snakes, etc., so-called because they have a little pit on each side of their skulls. My adopted country is full of pit-vipers of many varieties. (No rattlers.) They are not very large snakes, but they do have very impressive fangs, backed by large sacks of venom. Two kinds of venom, actually. Either necrotizing, or neurotoxin. Some lucky examples of the type have both! If you get bit, you must get your ass to a hospital ASAP, or else. That's the bad news. (Hospitals in Thailand are all stocked with anti-venom, so not to worry about poor Mr. Blogger. Only pythons and large monitors by me.)
The good news is that pit-vipers are more afraid of humans than humans need to be afraid of them. The snakes can always hear you coming, and they stay clear of people if it is at all possible. If you hear of someone being bitten by a snake, it is likely that they put the snake in a position that made the snake feel cornered. Having no alternative, it struck. And then split the scene, no doubt. A hominid, especially a full grown hominid, is not a fit dinner for a pit-viper. An anaconda, sure, but that's another animal.
Our modern society has put religion on the back foot. In America and Western Europe, more people every year are answering “no” to the question “do you practice religion?” Also popular are the answers, “no preference,” and “I am an atheist.” The majority of people in the Western Democracies have realized that gay people are not a threat to anyone, that race is not an issue unless you make it so, and that religion is most essentially superstition. Religion, cornered, is striking back.
European cultures seem to be handling this transition away from superstition very well, or at least better than the United States. Religion in America has been taking a beating in popular culture for the last fifty years or so, but our experience, we Americans, has seen the religious among us circle the wagons and return effective fire. That prick Reagan welcomed them into his Republican party, and after that they just took over the joint. Now we see a very white, Christian, militant brand of religion emerging and perfecting the technique of minority rule in our ever weakening, vulnerable form of democracy.
The people who are taking control in the name of religion are not generally religious themselves. They cynically convince people to vote for them in the name of “family values,” or “anti-abortionism,” or homophobia, or more tribal appeals to get rid of races that are out of favor with the white soon-to-be minority.
Their tactics have worked all too well. Much to our detriment. Religion, in power, gravitates towards totalitarianism, and America is no exception. We have already been deprived of many of our much bragged about civil and political rights. Voting has become a joke, probable cause is now a lost dream, the right to counsel now only awards the defendant seven minutes of attorney time, and reasonable searches and seizures now include a gunshot to the head, if you're black.
This defensive reflex of failing religiosity is noticeable not only in America, but in many countries around the world. And it's not only Christianity taking the hostile position, it's different religions wherever you look.
There are Majority Muslim countries suffering unrest against minority religions; there are countries and regions where different sects of the same religion are at each other's necks; we have seen the rise of something that I would have thought impossible: Buddhist terrorism (confined to one country, but even so an amazing development); a majority Hindu country has fallen into fits of self-aggrandizement and exceptionalism; at least one majority atheist country is striking out at all religions and the very concept of religion. In effect, the entire snake-house at the religion zoo is throwing itself at the people in front of the glass simultaneously.
Being American, I worry most about America. The preferred religion in America is Christianity, which is the poster-religion for internecine warfare. All of Europe was solidly Christian, and Catholic, before the coming of the Renaissance, which cleared the way for the Protestant Reformation, which precipitated four or five hundred years of religious wars between very similar Christian sects. The majority Christian sect now ascendant in America is the Prosperity Gospel of faux Christianity of the Mega-Church variety. What a bunch of snake-handlers, if I may return to our earlier theme.
When I was a young man, those types were considered beyond the pale. They were expelled from polite society, Christian society, and forced to make a living out in the woods with nothing but a Bible, a tent, and a collection plate. Now they run the United States. The Rubes still go for the speaking in tongues routine, and the phony faith healing, but now the Rubes are watching on TV and sending the unaffiliated “preachers” money from all over. Tax free. “The more money you send me, the more Jesus will love you!” Gag me with a spoon.
Back then, real Christians were affiliated with established Christian sects. In big cities, these sects were older and more established, and their politics was mostly centrist. It was all much more polite. The mainstream Christians had even learned how to coexist with the Quakers and the Amish. In smaller, less enlightened cities, the many sects of Baptists or Congregationalists held sway, but they were still less disposed to extremism than our current crop of Christian cultists. They had learned to tolerate Catholics in their midst. That collegiality is gone now. All of the really Christian things, like charity, good deeds, kindness, peace, and love, have gone out with yesterdays garbage. Our mega-church Christians have gone full MAGA.
And now, as the minority-rulers of America, they are coming for the rest of our rights. They have been handed the Supreme Court of the United States by misguided Republicans who foolishly believed that they could control the demon that they were summoning. The last few weeks have seen habeas corpus further degraded from its already moribund state, the fifty-year precedent of Roe v. Wade overturned, and guns legally put into the belts of every gangster and juvenile delinquent in America. That Roe thing, I hate to tell you, means that all of substantive due process is next. Say goodbye to condoms and say hello to new sodomy laws. Bob and Steve, you're not married anymore. Mr. Justice “pubic hair on my Coca Cola can”, you may not be married to your fascist wife anymore in some states either. The “law of unintended consequences” is just getting started.
Praise Jesus! If you don't know how, you'd better learn quickly.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Monday, June 20, 2022
It was the worst job that I've ever had, but it fit my schedule. Driving the cab four nights every week left me three evenings to take classes at our university, which was a twenty-minute walk from our apartment. My wife was a full time student, and I took care of our young son during the day. For fun, I faithfully attended the five-pm class at a neighborhood Taekwondo gym on the nights when I had seven o'clock classes. I also went to the noon classes on Saturday, before showering and running out to the taxi garage to pick up a car.
I kept that up for well over a year. The energy of someone that age is hard for me to imagine now.
You learn a lot about people driving a taxi. You learn about people in general, and you also learn some of the secrets that many people carry around with them. You, the taxi driver, are a perfect audience for a confession. You have no idea what the passenger's name is, where they work, or who they know. You will never see each other again. It's late, and the interior of the cab is dark. Oh, brother, do you hear the damnedest things. Especially after the confessor has had a few drinks.
Sure, the job was demanding. New York traffic is no picnic. Just a small radio on the seat next to you for company most of the time. Twenty-five to thirty-five mostly boring rides up and down the avenues and across the streets of the Big Apple. Walking home after two-am could be a lonely moment. I must admit, though, that it did get interesting occasionally.
You need to get up off of your couch to hear people confess to murdering a group of P.O.W.s twenty five years previously, in the Korean War.
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Coming to the end of a long journey often brings a melancholy feeling. You've been traveling for days, but finally you can see it up ahead, the destination. A long drive; an interstellar adventure; a walk through the woods to grandma's house. You've done the hard work, but now you can see it, the object of the exercise. How do you feel?
You set off full of resolve. You found the rhythm of the road, and you rode it. Maybe you saw remarkable things. Maybe you overcame setbacks or surmounted obstacles. Now, you can see it. You are almost there. How do you feel?
Life is like a strange, stupid game. You must be lucky to avoid all of the snares and traps that life sets in your path. The unfortunate truth is that you cannot be lucky enough to beat the game of life.
The lucky ones among us cruise through the early phase of life, through grammar school and high school, with friends, even girlfriends, perhaps we discover talents within us. Maybe get married, maybe have a couple of healthy children, maybe make some money, maybe even achieve some happy equilibrium within the constraints of life's many rules and surprises. Keep the ball in the air, as it were, because we all know, to an absolute certainty, that when the ball comes to rest, it will spell doom for our sad little bet. The house always wins in the end.
It is, to me anyway, a melancholy thing to approach the end of life. It gradually comes into focus, beginning around the age of forty, but it starts out easily. As my father told me when he was about eighty-something, “fifty is nothing, you don't even notice it; sixty is the same; but seventy will kick your ass.” I can now officially add my two cents: whatever kind of life you have led, seventy falls on you and it hits you like a house. It hits you like a train. That's your three score and ten, brothers and sisters. Was that in the Bible? I believe it was. It accelerates the process of disintegration that has already begun to spread through every subsystem of your body. And life, before long, will bury you as sure as you were born.
As our seventies flip by, rather quickly, we must concern ourselves not only with suffering the ministrations of an increasing number of medical professionals, but also with coming to terms with death. Or not, I suppose, some people prefer to dance right into death with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That's probably a good plan, now that I think of it. No worries. You barely have time to change the expression on your face. Then you are in the clear, back in the undifferentiated void of potentialities from which we all spring.
Most of us will wonder about things in the meantime. In five years, will I still be able to walk? Will my hands start to shake soon? When must I give up my drivers' license? Why am I getting shorter? Is my memory degrading? Have I always been so cranky?
You may already have reached my stage of life. The test is: when you lay yourself down to sleep at night, do you give a passing thought to whether you will ever wake up again?
I hope that many of you are at an earlier stage of life. Ideally, at a much earlier stage. This message is really directed to you. You will never regret taking some care with your physical selves, although you must never forget to have a lot of fun while you are being a bit careful. Small acts of kindness, of which only you are aware, will contribute to your self esteem. Be generous and kindhearted with your family, your friends, your wives, your children, and even with strangers. Be a good boss; be a good employee.
Love your parents without reservation, even if they have proven their lack of regard for you. They are just regular people to me, but they are mom and dad to you. I may criticize their parenting skills, but you must accept them as the only parents that you have.
Regarding mankind in general, I have found no simpler expression of the life well led than is found in the three rules of Buddhism: do good things; don't do bad things; try day by day to become a better person.
May the road come up to meet you, dear reader, and for the religious among you, may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Thursday, June 9, 2022
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
It was 1972 when Kim Phuc became famous. She was called, “the girl in the picture,” or, “Napalm Girl.” The famous photo, still available for viewing everywhere, shows a group of very frightened Vietnamese villagers running towards the camera. They include a girl, about ten years old, who had been directly in the path of a napalm explosion. Her clothing was all blown off of her, and she was covered in burns. She holds out her arms as if to keep burned skin from rubbing against burned skin. The expression on her face is pure desperation and terror.
Our news coverage was very different then. They tended to show everything. They certainly showed this photo on news programs of every visual medium. There were no questions of consent in those days. Nor were there any qualms about displaying a completely naked little girl. It was news! That's all there was to it.
No doubt about it, this photo had a powerful effect on people. While it is true that by 1972 the number of people who were firmly against that war had grown into a majority of Americans, there were still a lot of Americans sitting on the fence. They had been anti-demonstrator and pro-government, but they were starting to wonder. Richard Nixon was still the president, and there were a lot of Americans who still backed him 100% and were waving flags and attacking protesters. This photo moved many of the fence sitters into the anti-war camp.
I got to thinking about Ms. Kim the other day in connection with all of the mass shootings in my country. I, like most people, find the often shockingly successful school shootings completely horrifying. No offense to high school kids, but I find the mass murder of younger grade school children to be the worst category. Why not, I wondered, show the photos of those kids blown to shit by military grade ammunition, low-mass, high-energy bullets that would go right through most body armor? Wouldn't that help to change our ridiculously permissive gun laws? Why does anyone need an AR-15 anyway? If you think of a good reason, let me know.
Today, showing the photos is out of the question. The blown to shit children, of course, cannot consent. They are also far beyond caring if, or for what purpose, the photos are used, but that does not matter. Of the parents, many would talk about their privacy, and some, maybe quite a few, would hire lawyers who broached issues of copyright and money. Children's Rights groups would file Friend of the Court briefs complaining about the dignity of the children and their rights to their own images, and “adding insult to injury,” etc.
I wondered my way through this landscape of political correctness and the illogic of what passes for privacy and dignity these days, and then I came up against the deal breaker. We can't make these photos public. Without reference to the dead kids and their parents, I came to consider the effect that it would have on our living school children. They don't miss a trick. They have the Internet. All of the children in America would see the photos. Hell, they're already afraid to go to school, just from watching the stupid news coverage that we get already. They also know, and now they're sure, that their own “Protect and Serve” police forces WILL NOT LIFT A FINGER TO HELP THEM. If they saw the photos of the dead children, with those huge holes in them, and the blood everywhere, and the guts and brains splashed over the classroom, they'd never go to school again!
“Mom, no offense, but hell-to-the-NO on that shit. Uh-uh. No way.”
I guess it's “no” to showing the photos at this point. Then the usual script will play out. People will forget about Uvalde. These things only get fifteen-minutes of fame now anyway. Next week it will be a new crop of dead kids. The Republicans won't move an inch from their “freedom” agenda. They cherry-pick the Constitution just like they cherry-pick the Bible. They love that Second Amendment, but don't talk to them about Substantive Due Process. (For the uninitiated, that's abortion rights, and gay rights, and contraception, among other things.) Republicans hate activist judges, unless the activism is to overturn precedent that they don't like. (See also: Roe v. Wade.)
Re: the Bible, they love the parts about homosexuality bad, and women subservient to men good, but I notice that they do not grow beards, they do allow their wives to sleep in the house while they are menstruating, and they do love their pulled-pork sandwiches and their shrimp. They don't seem too worked up about fornication either, as long as it's them doing the fornicating. You can forget the New Testament all together. Keep a lid on all of that blessed are the poor shit, and welcoming the needy stranger. Jesus loves Trump! Prosperity Gospel my ass.
Miss Kim seems to have come down on her feet. Back in the 1980s, the Soviet were flying her from Cuba to Moscow and they stopped to refuel in Canada. Miss Kim and her new husband asked for political asylum in Canada, which was granted, and I'll bet that it was granted pretty damn quickly too. Welcome to Canada! After some much needed high-quality medical care on the old burn scars she regained her mobility and went on with her life. To her eternal credit, she is an activist for forgiveness and peace.