Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shutdown and Shut Up

I think a very telling aspect of this “partial” shutdown of government is that all those wonderful folks in Congress are still getting paid. The 800,000 people who are not, apparently, don’t matter. The Tea Party folks call themselves “patriots.” I wonder if they know what that means. They are extorting the American people, they say, for our own good. The health care reform act was passed by both houses and signed into law. Now, guys like Ted Cruz are attempting to hold it hostage because they don’t like it. I’m not sure I like it either, but if I follow their example, I can pick and choose the laws I want to obey.

Well, I kind of do that already, so who am I to talk?

I’m not a Democrat and I’m not a Republican. I think both parties have damaged themselves with this gamesmanship. We (the American people) are mostly annoyed by the situation. This is kind of dangerous and can give rise to other interests gaining listeners (and votes). While that might be a breath of healthy clean air, it also bears watching very closely. People should study the politics of Europe in the late Twenties and Thirties of the last century. Peoples’ disenchantment with the regimes in power had disastrous results.

The only good thing, I think, to come out of this congressional ineptitude is that it is providing a rich, albeit squirmy, wealth of material for cartoonists and humorists. I really wish Mark Twain were alive and writing and Molly Ivins would be having a ball skewering Mr. Cruz.

It would be interesting to discover who the big insurance lobby is supporting during this whacko situation.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Follow the Money

Our illustrious government is trying have have it both ways. What I mean by that is in the 1980s, the Reagan administration knew full well that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons, not only on the Iranian army, but also on his own people, the Kurds. This is not conjecture, this is fact. It is also true that the Reagan administration was selling components to the Iraqis that were being used in the manufacture of mustard gas weapons. Recently declassified Pentagon documents confirm that we (and I use that term loosely) also knew about that. The United States condemned the use of chemical weapons, but imposed no sanctions and kept the pipeline of components open and provided battlefield intelligence about how and where to use the weapons against the Iranians.

So. Now we are outraged at the inhumanity of the Syrian regime using sarin on their own people? We are suddenly taking the moral high ground? We have been utterly complicit in a regime’s use of chemical weapons and now we want to attack an idiot because he used chemical weapons and, probably, got the strength of the mixture wrong? Why weren't we outraged when Iraq was the culprit? This dichotomy is how the rest of the world sees us. It's no wonder we might be just a tad unpopular.

I am seriously confused. It really makes me wonder what our government’s true motivations are. My cynicism tells me to take a step back and try to follow the money. All wars are about money, ever since the weapons were fists and stones. Who stands to gain if we launch a bevy of Tomahawks at Syria? I do not know the answer to that question. As far as I can see, everybody loses. Everybody. Well, except the few who won’t. I wonder who they are because they’re calling the shots in this ridiculous and egregious bullshit. I do understand that, should we attack Assad’s regime, the people of Syria will just be in the way and that we will just be adding to the unbelievable body count. And not one, not a single one, of those civilians deserved to die.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Personal Transport

Yesterday, January 29, marked the anniversary of Robert Frost passing from this world. He died in 1963. I was a couple months shy of thirteen. His passing was emotional for me because I loved what he did. His poetry was accessible to me. It was also way beyond me, but the stories he told were right THERE. The depth of his thoughts and vision wouldn't strike me for years, but I suspected something there. I just didn't have enough of a world view to find it. Besides, the world was all about me in those days. Sometimes, it still is and I miss things that I shouldn't miss. In this poem to honor Mr. Frost I've tried to emulate some of that for which he was famous and of which he was the master craftsman. I have no such pretensions. Hope it rings something in you.

Personal Transport

A steaming sip of fragrant tea
rouses mornings wrapped in fog,

walking beside the plumed dog
across a plain of memories,

calling the names of old
acquaintances, some deceased,

somehow puts my heart at ease
and draws me back into the fold.

The dog tugs freely at his leash,
reminding me gently of his need,

so I slow and pay him heed,
and wear the streetlamp halo I’m beneath.

The fog is silver, cold, and mute,
while I am upright, mulling there

adrift inside the familiar where
I cannot recognize my own wet boots

through my vague cosseted history
that ebbs and flows in this swirling fog,

yet dances like a happy dog
against the leash of mystery.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Hippy New Year

I’m sitting in the small community of River Meadows, between Sunriver and La Pine, Oregon, on the last evening of 2012. It’s been a hell of a year. Lots of good stuff, to be sure, but I have experienced more death this year than in any other year in my memory. I may look back on this year as The Year of Dying. I lost people very close to me and there were the very public deaths in the News. Wow. I could embark, here, upon a real downer of a story to post. Part of the situation, I’m sure, is my age. I’m currently sixty-two. People start dying right where I’m at. So, it goes with the territory. But still, I’m kind of a rookie at the personal part of it. The public part of it, mass shootings, stabbings, rapes, species destruction, genetic modification extinctions, all that stuff that drives us all nuts, well, it’s pervasive and has put an ironclad protective shield of dangerous cynicism around my normally airy sense of irony. It’s the Way of the World. It’s Nature. It’s Darwin at Work. It’s not about guns, it’s not about knives, it’s not about video games. It’s about people. If you want to stop the bleeding, heal the culture. Heal the people who are so marginalized and disconnected that they pick up a weapon and scream “Look At Me!”

But life is about choices. For this evening, I choose to leave that stuff under the rug. At least, for now and for the rest of this piece. Okay, so it’s a short piece. Bless all you readers. Bless your families and your loved ones. Bless us all. May the coming year be better than you hope and more than you dream. We all deserve it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Birthday Babe

It was my mom’s birthday yesterday. She would have been 92 years old. Born in 1920, she witnessed a lot of change, a stunning amount when you think of it. Probably one of the greatest examples she gave me was that she embraced most of it. She watched the advances in aviation through the eyes of my dad, whose long career was all about flying. Advances in medicine became commonplace. She was behind the curve a bit on the social and generational changes, but I think that is just human nature. I’m using myself as an example here. I’ve reached a point where I do not follow popular culture and have no idea what the latest trends are in that made-up social realm. When I see some young hot actor or actress on TV, I have no idea who they are or what has made them hot. Here’s the shocker: I’m just not interested.

My mother decided, early on, that computers were pretty cool. She got her iPad and became pretty proficient with it in her late 80s. She loved playing word games and Solitare. She also enjoyed email, but grew disgusted with the spam. Haven’t we all?

So happy birthday, Mom. Quantum Physics being what it is, I’m sure you’re still here somewhere and I hope you’re having fun.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ode to a Freezer

I’ve had an odd relationship with a Hotpoint freezer over the course of my entire life. I think it’s older than I am. That’s pretty good for a freezer. (All together now:) they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to. People are still made, pretty much, the same way we’ve always been made, but if practice really makes perfect, shouldn’t we be farther along as a species? Shouldn’t we know not to make so many people? Every problem we’re facing now as a species can be directly attributed to our overabundance of population. And not one of us is perfect, no matter how much practice has been going on.

But I digress…The freezer has been doing its thing, freezing things and keeping them frozen for over sixty years. My first real memories are of Buffalo, NY. The big ol’ white horizontal thing lived in the utility room just inside the back door because I’m sure that nobody was willing to wrestle it down to the basement. When I lived with my parents for all those years, it was mostly in the garage. It’s horizontal bulk has always been impressive. When I was big enough to peek over its edge I still wasn’t strong enough to release the latch, let alone lift the lid.

When I got bigger, I used to sneak things in there, just to see what would happen: worms, grasshoppers, lightning bugs…I was the perfect (?) little savage. It slowly dawned on me that the results were always strikingly similar and that the spark of life does not survive the interior of a Hotpoint freezer. It was a sobering realization and I stopped sacrificing invertibrate and insect creatures for the sake of my own personal curiosity. But when I caught my first trout, which I had to clean myself, it dawned on me that I could keep the head looking like a head by keeping it in the freezer. My mother resisted this, but I was persistent and eventually got my way. I’m not sure how long that fish head stayed in the freezer where I could look at it. I'm thinking at least two years. I'll bet my mom was glad to see it go when I finally lost interest.

My mother prepared food en masse and froze it so that she could, when she didn't feel like cooking or if we were in a hurry, feed us throughout the week by simply reheating the chunks of ice that came out of the big white box. This was way before the microwave revolution, so it can be firmly avowed that she was always way ahead of her time. The cycle of cooking and freezing continued to the very end. She was careful to instruct the rest of us, particularly my wife Laura, in the freezer’s proper care and use. I still find it odd that a reliable and steady freezing machine would have the name Hotpoint on it. Perhaps realizing that was my introduction to irony.

Today, my mother is gone, but, down in California, the freezer is still freezing to its little heart’s content. Mom and I joked many times that we should just bury her in the thing and be done with it. (I mean, you really could.) When it finally does, as it must, give up its electrical ghost, the true passing of an era will be complete. I'm hoping it will last a good long time yet.

Oh. Forgive me a shameless plug for my new website: www.jamesrichardstewart.com

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ideology is Not the Issue

I am staggering under the weight of this election year. This happens to me every time. I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I grasp tightly to the notion of being Independent. Yes, that may be an illusion, but dammit, it’s my illusion. I vote for people, not an ideology. I try to gauge intent and whether or not a candidate is a good person. I’m consciously na├»ve in that regard. Character counts. When the poop hits the propeller, I want someone who will leap on the grenade, if need be, just as I hope that I would.

I am appalled at what is happening to my middle class. Both sides point at each other and cry foul. I am also appalled that ANYone would take ANYthing that Ayn Rand wrote and find it useable as a philosophy. That shows me an egregious lack of imagination and a profound disconnect with reality. I don’t find any credence whatsoever in a greed-is-good mindset. By definition, it is the problem, not any kind of solution. Financially, we are being bled like sacrificial lambs. Since the 80s, the greatest money-laundering scheme in the history of the world has been eroding capital from everyday working people. It has not abated, no matter which “party” is in power.

There is no such thing as “the liberal media.” It doesn’t exist. I am so tired of hearing it said: “that liberal media just ignores crucial things.” Folks, it is a CORPORATE MEDIA. Hello? Ask yourself who owns the airwaves. Follow the money. Even when I watch my beloved PBS, I see the underwriters include Big Energy and Big Banking. To me, that’s as close as I can get to defining the enemy.

I reckon the bottom line for me is that the manifestation of greed shows itself in profit at the expense of everyday people. A perfect example is the plight of farmers in Pennsylvania who have methane bubbling up through their wells as a fracking drill operates nearby. The company line is that fracking is just great engineering and that there is no correlation to environmental degradation and that we all must sacrifice for the greater good. Say what? A very pertinent question to ask is how much of that “natural” gas will stay in the community and how much will be sold abroad at an immense profit. There is no common sense to any of it. The scenario repeats itself across the board when you look at Big Energy.

Small Business is the lifeblood of this country. It is the American Dream. I hear that government just needs to “get out of the way” and Small Business will thrive. But the way things work is that if government gets out of the way, it will get out of the way for the giants too, which will allow them to sit their bloated butts on the markets and squeeze cash flow for everyone. That “getting out of the way” will, in my opinion, create a one-way highway that will NOT benefit the mom-and-pop farm or the small grocery it sells to in any significant way. We cannot consume our way to fiscal well-being. That is the big lie.

Any philosophy that encourages profit over the welfare of people and their way of life is egregiously wrong. Period. No amount of rhetoric will heal the oozing wound in our national psyche. Be very suspicious of any talking head that demonizes an opponent with unsubstantiated rumor, innuendo, and fast-and-easy sound bites. Consider the source and how it is portrayed. Who stands to benefit?

Everybody who votes in the coming election should pay attention, use their brains, and not vote against their own self interests. Think. Trust yourself. Don’t vote an ideology. Vote for people.