Monthly Archives: June 2012

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

A new HBO series started Sunday night called “The Newsroom.” It’s written by the same guy who wrote “The West Wing” so it has some very sharp and smart political give and take. During the broadcast, when the main character was in heated discussion with some of his staff, he made the comment that the country is more politically polarized now than at any time since the Civil War. And we all know how well that turned out. I have to agree that there is currently extreme polarization among the electorate, with the Obama haters going into full fury mode in an attempt to win the election for Mitt Romney. It’s a battle of the the billionaires, with most billionaires on Romney’s side, willing to contribute as much as it takes to buy the election for the Republicans. Two of those billionaires operate here in Las Vegas: Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. They both own mega-resorts from whence their wealth is obtained. So if you come to Las Vegas and throw your money away on the stingy slot machines in their casinos, you’ll also be contributing toward buying the election for his Mittness. Which, if you’re a Republican, I guess is a good thing.

I’ve written before about the many failings of a democratic form of government. Democracy is based on the notion that a majority of voters who cast their ballots, will inevitably decide what is best for the nation. What nonsense. The truth is that most voters are total idiots when it comes to the important issues of the day. Their votes are usually predicated on which set of obnoxious, untruthful commercials they see on television, or irrational fears and paranoia of what will happen if the other guy succeeds. Then their are those that try to use underhanded methods to game the system. For example, the Governor of Florida, a Republican, is trying to “purge” the voter rolls of supposedly ineligible voters. Trouble is, almost all of these “ineligibles” are minorities that usually vote Democratic. Other Republican governors throughout the country have succeeded in passing voter ID laws, again directed at the poor or minorities who often lack drivers licenses or similar ID. If they can intimidate or otherwise prevent enough lower-class people from voting, the GOP then has a lock on all future elections.

Two illustrations readily come to mind about the folly of the democratic process. In the first, poll after poll during the past couple of years show that people have an extremely poor view of Congress. Congressional approval ratings have recently dropped to an all-time low of about 13 percent. Well who put these Congress men and women there in the first place , if not for us, we the people. Maybe the populace believes that beings from Pluto came down in spaceships and took over the halls of Congress. And they’re doing such a horrible job in retribution for the fact that, a couple of years back, we down-graded Pluto from being an official planet in in our solar system. And who could blame them. I mean, we had no call to down-grade Pluto just because it was smaller than the other planets. No wonder all those Plutonians that now occupy the House and Senate are so pissed off at us, and doing such a rotten job. It couldn’t possibly be because we, the voters, keep screwing up over and over.

On a more serious note, the democratic process in Egypt has just taken an ominous turn. Egypt had been ruled by fairly benign dictatorship for the past 30 years or more. It was a secular dictatorship, but people were given a stagnant economy and very little freedom. That dictatorship was overthrown last year, and after much turmoil and chaos, Egyptians finally got to vote for their president. So, in full democratic mode, the election was held last week and the winner was finally announced a couple of days ago. It was an extremely close election, but the winner turned out to be the candidate from the Moslem Brotherhood, which is a notoriously fundamentalist Islamic organization, with chapters throughout the Arab world. The military in Egypt still seeks to retain the dominant political power, but it is likely, inch-by-inch, that the Moslem Brotherhood will slowly turn Egypt from the secular state that currently exists, into a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy. Think of Iran to understand what that’s like. The people of Egypt have voluntarily, through the democratic process, voted to give up their secular freedoms for a new kind of religious dictatorship. By the time they realize their blunder, it will be too late to reverse course. And it’s not only bad news for Israel, but for the U.S. as well.

I believe that there is a large segment of the population in this country that would like to foist a Christian theocracy  throughout the land. I think of them as the Christian Taliban. They’re comprised of what we call evangelicals, as well as fundamentalist Baptist organizations, and other religious fanatics. The first thing to go under such a religious theocracy would be legalized abortion. They have already succeeded in ridding the state of Mississippi of even one single abortion provider. The next to go would be gay rights. Gays would have to get way back into the closet, if they wanted to function in such a society. Of course, there are Jewish religious fundamentalists too, who would seek the same objectives, but their numbers are too small to have any real impact. The point is, however, that through the democratic process, people often make really bad choices, that they later regret, when its too late to remedy the situation. Choices like voluntarily giving up freedoms that are too often taken for granted.

Years ago, there used to be a cartoon strip called “Pogo.” It was about an amusing group of swamp animals and all the antics they would get into. One great quote that came out of that strip went as follows: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Think about that when you go into the voting booth in November, to vote for the best candidate the billionaires can buy.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE SUMMER SUN

Huddie William Ledbetter was a black musician in the early part of the 20th century. He came to be known as Leadbelly, and he wrote gospel, blues, folk songs, and other types of music, all of which have a haunting and distinct style. But Leadbelly was perhaps best known for his chain-gang songs, since he often displayed an angry temper which frequently landed him in trouble with the law. As a result he did some serious jail time in Southern prisons during which he usually had to work on chain-gangs throughout the year. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment which is supposedly banned by the 8th amendment to the Constitution. In any event his experiences in doing hard labor led to some great folk music. The opening lines of perhaps his best chain-gang song goes as follows: “Look over yonder, hot sun turning over. Look over yonder, hot sun turning over. And it won’t go down, Lord, it won’t go down.” Which is kind of a long way around of getting to the point of discussion, namely the hot sun during the summer months here in Las Vegas.

For 9 months out of the year Las Vegas weather is usually mild and pleasant. But from about mid-June thru mid-September, the temperatures sizzle, the sun blazes down with unyielding intensity, and if you have to spend any considerable amount of time out-doors, especially in the afternoons, you’ll like feel a lot like Leadbelly working on the chain-gang. Because it’s a dry heat, when temperatures are still in the low 90s, one can usually get by without using air-conditioning. But once temperatures reach the upper 90s and then plunge directly into the 100s, the a/c is cranking away for the rest of the summer. July and August heat usually settles in at temperatures of between 105-110degrees, but can, and often does, reach heights of 112-115 degrees, sometimes for extended periods. Very unhealthy levels. If you go to the store or a restaurant during the day, and have to leave your car parked in the sun, you’ll be entering an oven once you get back in the car. Over the years, there’s been more than a few cases where parents have forgotten that they left their infants in the car when going shopping, only to return and find the most tragic of consequences. Other acts of stupidity resulted when people brought their pets with them, and left them in the car, broiling in the sun, with the same deadly results.

Those on the right are continually demonizing illegal aliens. But here in Las Vegas, where almost everyone that owns a house, especially seniors, has a gardner that monthly tends to their landscaping, who do they think is trimming their bushes and blowing the leaves out of their yards. Certainly not native citizens who would rather go on welfare then get out in the sun in 108 degree weather. It’s virtually always illegals, as  all of us know by the fact that they often can’t speak English. In our community, besides individual homeowners having their private gardening service, there’s a landscaper the the development hires to take care of the common areas, and who has people out there working almost every day of the year. The workers are all illegals. Who would do this work if we suddenly shipped 12 million undocumented workers back to Mexico. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the word “hypocrisy” is not in the vocabulary of the denizens of Right-Wing Looney-Tunesville.

When we first moved to Las Vegas, many a-moon ago, we would sometimes get relief from the heat through afternoon or evening thunder storms. At times there would be a heavy deluge, where more than 3 inches of rain would come pouring down in less than an hour. Las Vegas at that time didn’t have a sewer system capable of handling such deluges, so lakes would form at major intersections, bringing traffic to a grinding halt. Waves would form in these lakes, and one could literally go surfing. When more than one motorist drowned during these episodes, the city got serious and went on an expensive binge to build an adequate sewer system. Just about the time that they finally finished, the entrenched drought that we’ve been experiencing clawed its way into our year-round climate. Now there isn’t even the hint of a thunderstorm. Each day  sees clear, blue, cloudless skies with a burning sun and no relief. I literally cannot remember the last time we had a decent rain. It’s as if, once we built the required drainage, the universe decided to give us the middle-finger.

Because of the lack of water, the ground here is like solid rock. I think that one could more easily dig through an 8-inch concrete block, than dig a hole in the yard to plant a bush. Yet, somehow, certain shrubs and trees seem to thrive in this rocky soil. Desert plants they call them. Like the sumac trees we have in our backyard that were shorter than me when planted, but now tower over our roof as well as the roofs of adjoining houses. Olive trees also do extremely well as do cactus shrubs. I don’t know how the roots can spread in such hard soil, but somehow they do. There is also a thriving wildlife, at least in our development. We have a wide variety of avian life such as quail, ducks and geese that like to hang out in the small lakes we have on the golf course or in the common areas. We also have a large contingent of rabbits as well as tiny bunnies that bounce around the development like tennis balls, after the rabbits give birth. And because of that we have our share of predators. Besides snakes there are coyotes and bobcats that feed on the rabbits. With water from the lakes, and plenty of available bunnies to eat, what’s not to like.

And so the summer heat and the broiling sun are upon us once again. For relief, we can always go to restaurants and casinos, where air-conditioning is blasting away at sub-artic levels. This often necessitates taking heavy sweaters with us, especially for the seniors set, to put on when coming from the outside heat into in the in-door frigidity. Don’t think the irony of that goes unnoticed.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BASIC HUMAN INSTINCTS

Go out onto a crowded city street and start gazing up at the sky. Then, after awhile, count how many other people on that street are staring up at the same sky, likely convinced that there is something up there that they just can’t see for some reason. Otherwise, why would all these people be looking up at the sky? There is a basic instinct in all of us that if the crowd is going in one direction and we’re going the opposite way, there must be something wrong with us. Smart politicians and business owners often fully understand this, and often cleverly know how to manipulate these human instincts for power or profit. And there is no better place to observe basic human instincts, and the attempts at their manipulation, than here in Las Vegas where I’m currently residing.

For example, there is a strong impulse in all of us to get something for nothing. A freebie, a handout, a free lunch, whatever you want to call it. (By the way, this instinct exists in animals as much as it does in humans.  If you live near a wooded area, and leave food out a couple of days for say a deer, it’s guaranteed that deer will be in your backyard every day thereafter.) Anyway, that unending quest for a freebie is why department stores and other vendors are always having “sales” or markdowns on their merchandise. You know the store is still making a profit on those sales, but the appearance of of getting something for nothing is often too strong to resist. This freebie instinct is what drives up the volume of visitors to Las Vegas, and hotel and casino owners know just how to exploit it.

We usually eat home during the week, but on a recent Thursday night we decided to visit a local hotel (located in the Summerlin suburbs, versus the mega hotels that are located in and around “the Strip”) and have dinner in their buffet where prices are a lot less than the Strip buffets. Of course the food isn’t the same quality as those in the mega resorts, but hey, sacrifices have to be made from time to time. In any event, it being a Thursday night, we expected fairly light hotel attendance and plenty of parking as had always been the case before. Imagine our surprise when we got to the hotel and found that every parking space in sight was taken. They were even parked on the roof. I was about to turn around and head out of there, when someone pulled out of a space and we grabbed it. Upon entering the casino, which as I said, was usually lightly attended, we instead found mobs, or hordes of people everywhere. The buffet, which on Thursday nights usually had more empty tables than customers, now had long waiting lines. We had to wait on line for well over half an hour, whereas previously we would just waltz right in.  What in the world had suddenly caused this out-pouring, we speculated during dinner.

To cut to the chase, it seemed that the hotel had mailed out cards to their favorite customers. (Ours came a day late.) These special cards contained “prizes” or freebies hidden under sealed flaps. But you were not allowed to open these flaps at home, or you would be disqualified from claiming the prize. Instead you had to bring them to the casino on each Thursday night in June, and have them opened by a casino employee at the club card desk. As at the buffet, there were huge lines in front of that desk, as people waited forever for the “prize” that would bring them instant riches.  Except that what they got in virtually every case was something of nominal value, maybe worth a few bucks at best. Of course once inside the casino they were almost sure to gamble, as evidenced by the fact that almost all machines were being played. Another promotion going on at the same time was one, where if you accumulated a certain amount of points playing the slot machines, you might qualify for a free buffet. Hence, if you threw $300-$500 into the machines, you could earn a free $15 meal. Another local casino is giving away free buffets in June just for showing up. Because of this, the lines are about an hour or more long to get into the buffet. Well worth it, wouldn’t you say, to save $15 on a meal.

On the other end of the spectrum, we recently inquired about seeing a show at one of the Strip hotels. Now there are a lot shows in Las Vegas that are either free or of nominal cost. The trouble is, they are usually so bad that you need to bring along  toothpicks to keep your eyelids propped open. The Strip shows, however, are entirely different. They have first-rate entertainment, but usually at a steep price. My wife inquired about getting tickets to see Celine Dion playing at Caesar’s Place. It’s supposed to be one of the  better shows in Las Vegas. But if you want to sit on this side of the Mississippi, the minimum price per ticket is about $250. If you want to sit close enough to where you can actually see the performers on stage, prices can go as high as a mind-boggling $1400 per seat. I think if I were rich, I would still be reluctant to spend that kind of money on a theater ticket. But people do, as evidenced by the fact that her shows sellout at every performance.

But that basic instinct for a free lunch draws millions of visitors here annually.  More than a few hope to get rich in the casinos, and maybe one in a million actually does. Most, of course, drop a considerable amount of money before they leave. Las Vegas also seems to entice a disproportionate amount of smokers, and you can see them puffing away as their money goes up in cigarette smoke at the craps or roulette tables. But casinos are about the last frontier where a smoker can puff away without being hassled. And so they come here, and smoke ever more intensely, as they feed their dwindling cash reserve into ever-stubborn slot machines. All that second hand smoke, though, is another good reason to stay out of the casinos.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

THE PROBLEM WITH LIFE

Scientists estimate that the the universe began about 14 billion years ago with the big bang theory. The theory goes that a relatively small clump of matter suddenly appeared on the scene, and then exploded and sent forth smaller pieces of matter that evolved into the infinite number of planets and other material that comprise the universe as we know it today. Which is kind of ridiculous. I mean, did this chunk of matter suddenly appear out of nowhere into what was then a total void. Where did it come from? In actuality, the universe has always existed, perhaps in a different arrangement of matter, but nevertheless, it has always been there. The universe is infinite, a very difficult concept for people to grasp, but there is no beginning or end to it. It’s not as if you were traveling in a space ship and suddenly came upon a sign that said : “Universe Ends in Two Miles.” Upon traveling those next 2 miles there would be a big chain link fence with another sign saying: “End of Universe.” Like space, time is also infinite, in that there always has and will be time. I believe time, past, present and future, occurs simultaneously, but we can only see the present in the dimension that we currently occupy. Perhaps when we enter a different dimension, more fondly known as the afterlife, time will have a whole different meaning and we will be able to see time as circular, rather than linear, as we mortals currently view it. In any event, time and space are inexorably linked, as Einstein and other scientists have pointed out, but we can only see both in limited contexts.

Which is a rather long way around of getting to the topic at hand, which is the problem with life as we know it on this planet. That problem is that we begin to age  from the moment we’re born, and then, eventually die. Of course, most people fight and strive to stay alive as long as possible. But even under the best of circumstances, even if you live to be 100 or older, (less than one percent of the population does), it’s still only the tiniest sliver of time compared to the age of the universe. After that you have to spend like forever, better known as eternity, in the next dimension. Or perhaps there is no next dimension, and what you get in this world is all she wrote. I suspect that most people harbor such thoughts no matter what their religious beliefs may be, and that’s why they strive so hard to stay alive as long as possible. When one is young and in good health, such ruminations are seldom are entertained. But when you get to be my age, they seem to crop up more often. As I’ve written before, the young person looks down the road of life, and unless they’ve inherited some serious genetic defect, that road looks sunny and clear as a bell. But when you get to my age and look down that same road, you can see Death flitting among the bushes, or peaking out from behind a tree. It’s like the lines I quoted in my last entry from the poem by John Donne: “Ask not for whom the bells toll. They toll for thee.”  Donne had worked in a church whose bells would slowly peal whenever a church member died, so the poem’s meaning is quite clear.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I fixate on this. I’m generally in good health, but I do have a few problems, the biggest one being my rotten teeth. I spend almost as much time at the dentist as I do at home. I was there a couple of days ago for work on a tooth implant. My gums are still sore. Because of all the work I’ve had done, implants, bridges, crowns, fillings, etc., my wife says I have the equivalent of a Mercedes in my mouth. Probably more like a Rolls Royce. I also have glaucoma, treatable with prescription eye drops, but requiring periodic visits to the eye doctor. And lets not forget deafness, requiring hearing aids that are virtually useless in a noisy environment. This requires periodic visits to the hearing aids people to fine tune the devices. Thus, you get a picture of what you have to look forward to if you make it to old age. Nevertheless, one of my daughters says, I should count my blessings that I don’t have worse problems, which is true.

As you know, I live in a large seniors community, and hardly a day goes by when an ambulance blaring its sirens doesn’t go tearing through the streets. Another senior is about to be rushed to the hospital, or perhaps, is already dead. Over the 12 years that we’ve lived here, we’ve known a fair amount of people that have died, usually of cancer, and often before their time. Others we know are battling seriously debilitating diseases. One individual we know has a condition where the fluid that continually bathes the brain is not draining away as it should. This required the insertion of a stunt to properly drain this fluid, but still leaves him weak with serious disability. Still he manages to keep positive and in good spirits. Another woman is battling serious breast cancer, but also maintains good spirits. A lot better spirit than I would have under similar circumstances. In any event, being a senior means learning about a whole slew of health issues, many of which you had never previously heard of. Many seniors make so many doctors visits that they often become better diagnosticians than most doctors. One’s health also often comes down to genetic makeup. We know seniors that will make it well into their nineties or older, because they inherited what I call caste-iron genes. I try to compensate for a poor genetic inheritance by going to the gym every day, although I often feel, “lots of luck with that.”

In any event, it helps when things get especially tough or dispiriting, to remember what a tiny amount of time we spend in this form on this planet. Perhaps in comparison, when we do cross over to the other side, it will make the pain and suffering we’ve had to endure in this life form, seem pretty trivial and insignificant. Which, in the end, would the best perspective we can have on life.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

THE SPREAD OF FASCISM

A little while ago there was an excellent movie on HBO called “Hemingway and Gellhorn.” Hemingway was, of course, the famous writer, Earnest Hemingway, and Gellman was war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. They came together in 1937 when both were covering the Spanish civil war, and eventually married, but then eventually separated. Each one had a fascinating life story to tell. Hemingway was part of the famous American expatriate movement of writers and artists living in Paris during the 1920s, and receiving much acclamation for their works. Early on he assumed a highly macho persona, both in his writings and personal life experiences. But as the world soon learned, much of that machoism was to cover-up deeply held feelings of inadequacy and depression. His father had committed suicide as did two brothers, and Earnest, himself, put a bullet in his brain in 1961, at age 62. That streak of depression seemed to be genetic, because a son also eventually committed suicide as did a granddaughter in the 1990s. Martha Gellhorn, on the other hand, suffered from no bouts of depression, but was instead an intrepid war correspondent who in WWII went fearlessly into fields of battle and trenches with fighting soldiers, as bullets and bombs were exploding all around her. She covered both Europe and the Pacific during WWII and then many other war zones in the ensuing years. She lived to the ripe age of 90, and died of natural causes in 1998.

Hemingway always had fought fiercely against the rising tides of fascism during the early part of the 20th century and his experiences during the Spanish civil war were chronicled in perhaps his most famous novel: “For Whom The Bells Toll.” (Ask not for whom the bells toll. They toll for thee.) But watching that HBO movie got me thinking about the rise of fascism and the enormous toll it has taken on all of mankind. Fascism, which has probably existed for thousands of years, is defined by its extreme form of nationalism, the scapegoating of usually defenseless minorities, and virulent military aggression. It can officially be traced to the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy in 1922. Mussolini rose to power through democratic means, but once attaining power,  made himself dictator for life, and destroyed any semblance of democracy that may have existed in Italy at the time. He also got rid of anyone who might have posed a threat to his political power. He had grand delusions about Italy reclaiming the power and territory of the old Roman Empire. Of course Italy did not have the resources or wherewithal to achieve the grandeur of ancient Rome so Mussolini eventually had to settle for smaller ambitions. In the meantime, a little man with a funny mustache, but an ability to speak in a powerful demagogic style, was taking notes in Germany.

Adolph Hitler made no secret of his admiration or sympathies for for Mussolini’s brand of fascism. Hitler, like Mussolini came to power, largely through the democratic process. But like Mussolini, once in power he eliminated all opposition and became a tyrannical dictator for life. Fascism in Hitler’s Nazi Germany thrived, largely because of the Nazi scapegoating of the small minority of Jews that lived in Germany and throughout Europe at the time. Coupling that with vicious military aggression, and you have what’s fondly known as World War II. I’m assuming that everyone knows the horrors that took place then, so I won’t go into gruesome detail, except to say that 60 million people had to die in Europe alone, before the cancer of fascism was finally expunged. Except it wasn’t eradicated in Spain when Francisco Franco took power after winning the Spanish civil war that Hemingway wrote about. Franco was also a dedicated fascist, but was somehow smart enough to keep Spain out of WWII, despite the pleadings of Hitler and Mussolini to join the Axis powers. As a result, whereas Hitler and Mussolini met death during WWII, Franco died in bed in 1975. Thereafter, democracy finally returned to Spain. (As a side note, when I visited Barcelona during Christmas of 1961, there were still small squads of military troops stationed at busy thoroughfares to assure there would be no uprising against Franco. When I checked into the hotel, they sent my passport to the police for 4 hours to make sure I wasn’t someone sent there to assassinate Franco.This was a full 25 years after Franco became dictator.)

Fascism wasn’t just relegated to Europe during WWII. In the Pacific, Japan’s militaristic brand of  fascism took hold, and a brutal war ensued throughout that region that claimed millions of more lives. Japan’s brutality toward nations it had invaded was every bit as vicious as Nazi brutality in Europe. Japan might have still been ruling large chunks of the Pacific with an iron fist, had they not made the fatal mistake of bombing Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Until then Congress would not authorize the President to enter WWII. After, however, we entered the war on both fronts. Not that a strong dose of fascism didn’t exist in the U.S. For example, the Ku Klux Klan with its extreme hatred and violence toward blacks and Jews, gained enormous strength and had membership in the millions by the 1920s. Then there were large numbers of Nazi sympathizers and Hitler admirers that continually advocated for us not to join the war in Europe on the side of Britain and the Allies. President Roosevelt knew better, and would have brought us into the war sooner, but as I’ve said, his hands were tied by Congress, until the disaster at Pearl Harbor.

Today the tentacles of fascism still slither throughout the landscape, both here and abroad. Psychologically the roots of fascism are based on the strong urge to blame, or scapegoat others for one’s personal failures. Thus, “it’s not my fault that everything I’ve tried to achieve has been disaster. If it wasn’t for all those illegal aliens and foreigners getting all the good jobs, or all the preferences or affirmative actions shown to minorities I’d be a huge success.” Or so the thinking goes. I guess as long as human nature is what it is, the eradication of fascism, once and for all, will be beyond our grasp.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.