Monthly Archives: September 2014

RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM

At the heart of religious fundamentalism is the unquenchable thirst to dominate other people’s lives. To dictate to the populace what it can and cannot do. The self-gratifying, lustful power to reward or punish others based on how they respond to religious edicts. That power to include torturing, imprisoning or out-right killing other human beings should they disobey those edicts. This has been on-going for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years, or ever since mankind began forming into various types of societies such as tribes or clans. Most early tribal leaders had the power to destroy the lives of their fellow clansmen should they disobey the craven idols they had carved and called gods. Such power has always been too intoxicating for most leaders to ever relinquish.

Which brings us to the events going on in most Arab countries in the Middle-East. It was only a few years back that the world was enchanted by what was called the Arab Spring. Ruthless dictators that had been in power for decades, such as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, were being overthrown and the prospects of freedom and democracy throughout the Mid-East seemed to burn brightly. Today those dreams have turned to ashes, as most Arab countries have become hollowed-out shells of their former beings. You can thank religious fundamentalism for most of this, including the fact that people all too often make incredibly bad choices and turn out to be their own worst enemy.

In Egypt, after the fall of Mubarak, Egyptians were allowed to hold free elections that would determine their next government. In an act that can only be described as incredible stupidity, the people chose leaders of the Moslem Brotherhood to run their country. The Moslem Brotherhood had, over many decades, openly espoused and advocated for the imposition of strict Islamic fundamentalism for Egyptian society. Once in power, that’s exactly what they began doing. Who could have guessed? When those very same Egyptians that had voted the Moslem Brotherhood into power, began seeing the ugly face of Islamic fanaticism being put into practice, they cried and begged for relief. They held massive demonstrations and prayed that the military would intervene and save them. Fortunately for them, the Army did come to their rescue and overthrew the Moslem Brotherhood. Today, there’s a new Army General in charge of a government that allows and tolerates secularization in Egyptian society.

Most other Arab countries, however, are not as fortunate. It was not long after the Prophet Muhammed established the Moslem religion that two factions of Islam suddenly sprung up. Both factions pray to Allah, both recognize Muhammed as the prophet, so that the religious differences among the two sects are relatively minor; yet the two have created a chasm between themselves that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon. One faction is called Sunni and the other Shia, and their hatred of one another has led to deaths among Arabs in the hundreds of thousands or more. It’s all about the power and the ability to impose one’s religious beliefs on often unwilling populations. All this division and dysfunction has led to terrorist organizations being created, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS who view killing people and instigating atrocities to be such jolly good sport. Ostensibly their intentions are to kill western heathens such as Americans and Europeans. And, of course, Israelis and Jews. That goes without saying. But in the end, they wind up slaughtering  their own fellow Arabs and Muslims by the thousands. Much easier to kill Arabs since they’re right there in the Middle-East and so readily available. Today, Iraq, Syria and Libya have been almost totally destroyed by terrorism, while Jordan and Tunisia are tottering on the brink. The terrorists have carved out a huge hunk of territory in Iraq and Syria, with stated intentions of taking over the whole Mid-East. And somehow, all this derangement, slaughter and destruction, in the name of Islamic-Jihad has proved to be an attractive recruiting tool for hundreds of young Europeans, and even some Americans. They have gone over to the Mid-East to join the terrorists on their murderous quests. After all, why should only Arabs have all the fun.

In a way, it’s a bit unfair to cite Islam as the only example of religious fanaticism, since Christianity has its own bloody history. From the time that Roman emperors allowed Christianity to become the official faith of the Roman Empire, (a few centuries after Christ’s death), the Papacy was established and became a dominant power in the affairs of almost all European nations. Europeans that deviated from various papal proclamations were often imprisoned or burned at the stake. One of my favorite episodes on the top ten list of religious fundamentalist hits was known as the Spanish Inquisition. Started in Spain in the late 15th century, the Inquisition sought to convert mostly Jews, but some Muslims also, to Christianity in order to save their souls from hell and damnation. Those “heretics” that refused to convert were often tortured and then murdered. The religious theory behind the killings were that since these Jews and Muslems would be dying at the hands of God’s children, (Christians), their spirits would be pervaded by the wisdom and knowledge of God’s followers, and they would therefore be spared from the fires of hell, and be transported into heaven. The old kill the person to save their soul gambit. This practice went on for centuries before some semblance of reason and sanity finally did away with the Inquisition.

Today, Christian fundamentalism, at least in the U.S. and elsewhere, takes the form of trying to forbid a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, or seeking to deny homosexuals their basic rights such as marriage. Certainly a lot tamer than beheading those that are considered unholy heathens. But sort of the same mentality of trying to force their fundamentalist view of life and religion down the throats of people that don’t share their beliefs. As I’ve said before, religious fundamentalism is all about the power to foist one’s beliefs on everyone else. After all, wouldn’t God want it that way?

 

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SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES…AND LUNGS

“Now when laughing friends deride, the tears I cannot hide, I simply smile and say …. smoke gets in your eyes.” Those simple but eloquent lines were from a musical written by the great composer, Jerome Kerns, back in the 1930s. I could have written about that if only life was so simple. But I decided to expend my energies on something more substantive- the smoke that comes from a tragic fire  that destroys both the eyes and the lungs. One fire in particular, that goes back to a little over a century ago, that produced such horror as to change the course of human existence in America. So let us go back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, as the Lone Ranger would have put it. To March 25, 1911 to be precise.

The advent of the 20th century saw a huge increased demand for off-the-rack, mass produced clothing that could be sold in department stores. Prior to that, presumably, most households made their own clothes, or obtained hand-me-downs from such places as the Salvation Army. New York, at the time, was a city of wide disparities between a lavishly rich handful of people, and a vast majority of dirt poor. But as the Industrial Revolution was gathering steam, new industries were booming; and none more so than the manufacture of off-the-rack men’s and women’s clothing in New York. Factories that made this clothing had sprung up almost like weeds. But few examined the labor conditions in these factories during that period. These factories employed almost all women, some as young as 14. They were mainly Italian or Jewish immigrants with a few Germans, and were forced to work under the most miserable sweat shop conditions. Clothing manufacturer employees generally had to work from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. seven days a week. Even longer hours during the busy season. They were paid the enormous sum of $6 per week, and were often required to use their own needles, threads, irons, and even sewing machines. They had to work at tiny stations in poorly-lit, overcrowded spaces that lacked ventilation. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. To say that they were fire traps waiting for disaster to strike would be an understatement.

One such manufacturer was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was located in Greenwich Village. (Women’s blouses were often called “shirtwaists” at the time.) The factory was owned by Isaac Harris and Max Blanck , who were both rabidly anti-union. They were known as the shirtwaist kings because they could produce large volumes of garments for cheaper prices. It was a Saturday, close to quitting time, when workers began smelling smoke on the 8th and 9th floors of their 10 story building. The smoke rapidly became flames as a full-fledged fire broke out. Factory foremen had locked many of the escape exits with chains in order to keep out potential union organizers. Also to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks or stealing scraps of fabric. Perish the thought. Other doors only opened inward and were blocked by the stampede of workers seeking to escape with their lives. The New York Fire Dept. responded quickly but their ladders could not reach high enough to save the women on the 8th and 9th floors. Many women jumped to their deaths trying to escape what became a raging fire. In total, 146 girls and women died on that tragic day. But their deaths were not in vain, as they led to a new set of landmark government regulations.

Experts later concluded that the fire was likely caused by a cigarette dropped on a pile of scrap material that had been accumulating for almost 3 months. Owners Harris and Blanck were working on the 10th floor and managed to make it to the roof. From there they were able to cut over to adjoining buildings and thereby save their lives. They would later be indicted for manslaughter, but were never convicted. The judge told the jury that in order to be found guilty, the 2 men knew, or should have known that the exit doors were locked. Since that couldn’t be proved, they were set free. To their dying days they continued to rabidly fight the unionization of garment workers. As a result of this debacle, however, child labor laws were enacted as well as fire safety regulations, and other legislation to improve the lives of employees throughout the nation. The days of unbridled, laissez-faire capitalism were slowly being reigned in. Nevertheless, today there are many in Congress that would like to repeal virtually all laws that they believe hampers the full and free functioning of capitalism in our society. They consider such restraints on enterprise to be unconstitutional.

In 1902, shortly after Theodore Roosevelt became President, the coal miners of America went on strike. They worked long hours under the most unsafe and dismal conditions, and hadn’t had a raise in 20 years. Their lives were almost always cut short by the nature of their work, (inhaling coal dust 10 hours a day), or by the work hazards of mine explosions or accidents. America, at the time, ran on coal-from heating residences to providing energy to factories. Nevertheless, the owners of these coal mines adamantly refused to bargain with the miner’s union. They considered unions a form of socialism, and an infringement on their capitalistic rights. T.R. then threatened to nationalize all the coal mines. Angry coal mine owners told him he had no constitutional right to take such action. Roosevelt then responded that the constitution was written to serve the people-not the other way around. He further stated that the moral obligation to do what’s right for the people trumped any constitutional right. The owners finally and begrudgingly gave the miners a 10% raise and shorter working hours. But to the bitter end they refused to recognize the legitimacy of the miner’s union. Our current President might want to take a lesson from T.R.’s adamant defense of acting on behalf of the people.

Today, the political currents are running in favor of returning to the days of laissez-faire capitalism. Many in Congress, such as Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, given the chance, would love to repeal virtually all social legislation enacted from the days of T.R. or Franklin Roosevelt. There’s an election coming up in a few weeks. If you’re planning to vote, think carefully about which party heavily promotes less regulation and unencumbered capitalism. Which party, if given the opportunity, would turn us back a century, to the fun days of the the Triangle factory fire.

 

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THE TERRORIST MINDSET

Not too long ago I was walking across a large intersection buried deep in thought and oblivious to surrounding conditions. Sort of standard operating procedure for senior behavior these days. Suddenly I became aware of a large truck bearing down on me, full throttle. It was readily apparent that I had but the smallest fraction of a second to leap out of the way, or be flattened like a latke. I didn’t have time to deliberate on the fact that I’ve lived a long time, and with all my aches and pains and other assorted maladies, did I really want to continue being in this lifetime. Nor did I have time to ruminate over what horrible shape the world is in these days, and getting worse all the time. Who needs it all? In fact, I didn’t have time to think at all. The natural instinct toward self- preservation kicked in, and I jumped to safety in the nick of time. But for some people the instinct toward self-preservation seems to be in short supply.

I’ve written before about living in a seniors community here in Las Vegas, and about all the foibles of senior behavior. One frequently observes seniors with canes, or walkers, or in wheel chairs, or hooked up to oxygen tanks while in wheel chairs, frequenting smokey Las Vegas casinos seeking some diversion. As physically impaired as they might be, the quest to hang on to what’s left of their lives remains as powerful as ever. A few years ago a man we knew  in our community, in his mid-60s, who had led a highly robust life, came down with pancreatic cancer. An extremely nasty business, that pancreatic cancer. He fought it tooth and nail for almost 2 years before succumbing. Toward the end he could have gotten a part as one of the zombies on the TV show, “The Walking Dead.” Due to the ravages of cancer, no make-up would have been required.

So, if the natural human instinct is to preserve life at all costs, why do some men in their twenties (once in awhile there’s a female, but it’s almost always men) strap on a belt of dynamite and seek to blow themselves up, thereby destroying about 60 or 70 years of future life, as long as they can kill others they perceive to be their enemies. Welcome to today’s modern terrorist, whose mindset revels in death rather than life. While there have been terrorists throughout the ages, (in ancient times they were called barbarians,) modern day terrorism’s evil registered in everyone’s consciousness with the tragedy of 9/11. Nineteen young Islamic-Jihadists pulled off the feat of destroying almost 3000 American lives, bringing down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and damaging part of the Pentagon in an act of vengeance against hated Americans. Of course, they destroyed their own lives in the process, but that apparently seemed to be of little concern on their part. Interestingly, shortly before 9/11, these 19 men visited Las Vegas, apparently to experience a taste of the decadent life style they were committed  to destroying. And, as we all know, there’s been a slew of terrorist acts throughout the world, resulting in death, destruction and misery, in the ensuing 13  years since 9/11. The most recent being the beheading of 2 American journalists by a particularly vicious set of psychos known as ISIS.

It’s probably pointless to attempt to understand the psychology that goes into the terrorist mindset, but I thought I’d give it a shot. The first thing you need to understand about the terrorist’s thinking is the joy they derive from killing other human beings. It’s not unlike the serial killer who murders just for the pleasure and ecstasy (often sexual in nature) of snuffing out an innocent human life. Only the terrorist does it on a much grander scale. In other words, if you’re applying to join Al-Qaida, its probably not a good idea to check the “Yes” box on the application form where it asks-“Do you have any qualms about killing large numbers of people?” One is not likely to be accepted if they’re not willing to murder with impunity. If one is to be a terrorist, killing is the name of the game. Then there’s also the brain-washing factor to be considered.

A whole slew of radical Imams have sprouted up like poisonous weeds, not just in the Mid-East, but throughout the world. They preach intense hatred toward the West, toward Israel and Jews, and especially toward the U.S. They preach that it’s a moral imperative to kill and destroy all these heathens. Allah commands that the enemies of Islam should be destroyed. That a young man will curry great favor with Allah by sacrificing his life to kill those that would defile the Moslem way of life. He would, forever be considered a holy martyr, and his family would hold a place of high honor and distinction in Allah’s eyes, and in the Moslem world. And, sadly, to many young men, not only in Arab lands, but throughout the world, this is an appealing message. To young men, who at an early age are already down and out, with no prospects for any happiness or prosperity in their lives. Whose existences are already dismal and hopeless. Million and millions of such men populate this planet. This gives you some idea of what the world of sanity and the proponents of peace, are up against.

A couple of weeks ago there was a story about a young man from Minneapolis who despite being born and bred in the U.S., wound up joining and fighting for ISIS. Those that knew him said he was fun-loving and enjoyed pulling practical jokes. But most of all, he particularly enjoyed playing and watching basketball games. Basketball was his passion. Somehow though, along the way after high school and college, he met up with Islamic Jihadists and became brainwashed into joining their cause. Two weeks ago he was killed on an ISIS battlefield, at age 31. How many more Americans have gone over to the really, really dark side? Britain estimates that at least 500 of its citizens have joined ISIS. Almost all are of Moslem descent. Other European countries also have their citizens fighting and killing for terrorist causes. And there doesn’t seem to be any viable plan to cure this spreading disease.

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