Monthly Archives: December 2014

A BOTTOMLESS PIT

In May 1974 a group of Palestinian terrorists entered Israel from Lebanon, and made their way to the Israeli town of Ma’alot. Over a period of days they murdered several Israelis and then entered an Israeli public school. Heavily armed with grenades and bombs as well as guns, they took 115 hostages, mainly school children, and demanded that a bunch of Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli jails be released. Israel refused to accede to their demands and the hostage crises dragged on for 2 days. Finally an elite squad of Israeli troops burst into the school and killed the Palestinians; but not before the terrorists had murdered 25 hostages, 22 of which were school children. Proving once again that the capacity for evil in the human condition is a bottomless pit.

I was reminded of this event when a couple of weeks ago, Taliban terrorists burst into a Pakistani school and slaughtered 150 people, a 132 of which were also school children. The concept behind this act, according to the Taliban mindset, was to have the parents grieve and suffer miserably for the rest of their lives, due to the loss of their most precious loved ones. Here it was a case of Muslims killing other Muslims because of ideological differences. The Taliban are fanatical Islamic terrorists, and those that don’t share their lunatic religious beliefs are fair game for slaughter. It’s the type of religious fanaticism that has given the world the recently formed ISIS terrorists who now control large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and are on the march to expand their empire. They love to feature beheadings of civilians they consider apostates, all in the name of being faithful to Allah. How many people over the centuries and millennia have lost their lives in the name of religion, by those who believe they’re invoking God’s will here on Earth.

So here we are on Christmas Eve when the world is overflowing with bright lights and gifts and all sorts of merriment and festivities, to say nothing of goodwill toward man. At least that’s the way it’s portrayed in most of the Christian world where Christianity is heralded as a religion of peace and love. And today, that religion that was begun by a  young Jewish Rabbi and his impoverished disciples over 2000 years ago does, for the most part, preach peace and love. But it wasn’t always so. One only has to go back to the Spanish Inquisition a few centuries ago when mostly Jews, but some Muslims also, were tortured or burned at the stake, in the name of Jesus, in order to save their souls. After all, isn’t that what God would have wanted.

Actually, Europe has a rich history of Christian hatred toward Jews going back  almost two millennia since the Roman Empire destroyed the state of Israel and dispersed its Hebrew residents into mainly various European countries. Almost from the beginning of the rise of Christianity in Europe, Jews were called “Christ-killers” and subjected to intense hatred and discrimination throughout the continent. Never mind that Jesus himself was a Jew, and had always preached a philosophy of peace. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” I believe is one of his more famous proclamations. All this was obviously ignored, as a series of pogroms against Jews throughout most of Europe was begun and continued through the centuries. Pogroms were where people got up in the morning and decided it would be great sport to set upon the town’s Jewish population, either killing or robbing them, or sending them into exile. It was rare to find a European that wasn’t anti-semitic, and persecution of Jews was the name of the game.

The end result of all this anti-semitism throughout the ages was finally the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in Nazi Germany and the ensuing Holocaust. Hitler, and his band of Nazi thugs, could not have thrived as well as they did had not Europe experienced a rich heritage of hatred toward Jews. The Holocaust could not have been as successful as it was, i.e. the murder of 6 million innocent people, had not hundreds of thousands of Germans, as well as people in the conquered countries, participated so willingly in the logistics of shipping millions of people to death camps, and manufacturing the chemicals necessary to cause their deaths. Indeed, Hitler’s intense hatred of Jews was itself a product of the anti-semiticism and persecution of Jews that Europe had experienced since the rise of Christianity. Virtually all Europeans had been brainwashed into believing that anti-semitism was really a good thing.Talk about the bottomless pit of evil in the human condition.

With the destruction of the Nazi empire in 1945, Europeans were supposedly being cured of of their anti-semitic beliefs. After all, they had experienced, first hand, the death and destruction those instincts had caused. But Jew-hating amongst Europeans never really went away; it just became more covert. It was no longer fashionable for Europeans to express out loud how much they despised Jews. But those that were able to overhear conversations among young like-minded Germans or other those in other countries, recognized that the affliction of anti-semitism was still thriving in the European blood-stream. In recent years, anti-semitism has moved from the shadows into the open once again in Europe, especially since the disparate number of deaths that occurred in the latest shootout between Israel and Gaza. Several European countries have now called for boycotts of all Israeli products as well as other harmful sanctions. Mass protests against Israel in most European countries have become routine.

For anti-semitisim, or any hatred toward any religious or ethnic group to thrive, two things have to occur. The first is that the group you’re venting your hatred for has to be a small minority, and thus, incapable of defending itself in the long run against the larger, more powerful majority. The second thing is that the hater must despise some aspect of him or herself, and thus seeks to deflect that self-hatred by seeking vengeance against a relatively defenseless minority. Thus, the bottomless pit of evil begins with self-loathing.

In any event, it’s Christmas Eve, so by all means go out and have your Christmas dinners, drink to excess, exchange gifts and party on. For some people, however, this won’t be possible. People that are lying in hospitals, too sick to get out of bed. People that will die tonight. And people that are unfortunate enough to live in those parts of the world overrun by by religious fanaticism and terrorism. The very bottomless pit of evil.

 

 

 

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FROM SLAVERY TO FERGUSON AND BEYOND

To better understand the tumultuous riots taking place in many American cities due to the recent killings of young black men by white cops, one needs to go back in time, to almost 400 years ago, and the beginnings of slavery in the Americas. Because what happened in Ferguson, and Staten Island, and Cleveland, (where the black victim was only 12) can be directly linked to decisions and actions initiated by by our earliest settlers in North America. Historians place the origins of slavery in the North American territories as beginning in 1619, or not long after the first pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It was the discovery of tobacco in Virginia and Kentucky, and what a valuable commodity it turned out to be, especially for export back to England and the rest of Europe, that set the whole process in motion. That’s when people of European descent, whose skin color was pinkish-beige, decided that great profit could be gained by enslaving people of African descent, whose skin color was ebony-toned, to grow and harvest this commodity. Free labor enabled those early settlers to charge rock bottom prices for tobacco and still make a handsome profit. Huge profit was also made by ship owners willing to sail to Africa and round up defenseless natives and return them to the Americas for sale at auctions. If some potential slaves died during the voyage back, due to being confined in the most squalid and filthiest quarters, and thereby contracting various diseases, well, that was just part of the cost of doing business. Charge it off to overhead.

With the discovery of the cotton gin, early in the 18th century, growing and marketing cotton turned out to be an even more profitable venture than tobacco, and the demand for slave labor increased significantly. Cotton was largely grown on Southern plantations where the weather was almost always hot an humid, similar to conditions in Africa. The slave trade mushroomed, and would not be discontinued until the early 19th century. By then there were so many millions of slaves in the U.S., that there was little need to import any more from Africa. Slaves on the cotton plantations usually worked from sun-up to sundown, at least 6 days a week. They were housed in tiny shacks with dirt floors, and fed barely edible slop that no plantation owner would allow his wife to put on his own dinner table. Their work in the hot, humid cotton fields was usually overseen by a white foreman, who would not spare the whip if he felt they weren’t working hard enough. They could be shot and slaughtered like cattle, if they somehow displeased the foreman or plantation owner, with no legal consequences. So if you ever wonder why there is still so much residual anger among so many black citizens, you might give a thought back to those wondrous days of yesteryear, when slavery was in full bloom.

And it didn’t just exist in the United States. England had a thriving slave market for working the sugar plantations on British colonies in the Americas, such as in Jamaica and British Honduras, (known today as Belize.) Finally, toward the middle of the 19th century, movements began forming in this country, that denounced the practice of slavery as being so morally reprehensible, that it must be totally abolished. The Abolitionist movement began growing in strength, and it resulted in the nullification of slavery in all Northern states. But the South refused to budge on this issue; and it was backed up by our Supreme Court in the infamous Dredd Scott decision in the 1850s, which ruled that the practice of slavery was permitted by the state’s rights clause of our constitution. We all know what ensued after that. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 resulted in a massive Civil War between the North and South with hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1862, and later codified by passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 finally freed blacks from the horrors and degradation of slavery forever in this country, after almost 250 years. But did it really? Well, not so much, as we shall see.

Lincoln made one fatal mistake, regarding this issue when he decided to run for re-election in 1864. He picked as his Vice-Presidential running mate, a Senator from Tennessee named Andrew Johnson. This man was a racial bigot in every conceivable way; but Lincoln chose him because he was one of the few prominent Southerners who opposed the South from seceding from the Union. Remember that Lincoln’s primary objective was to hold the Union together, and the abolition of slavery was secondary. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Johnson, of course, ascended to the Presidency. Under Johnson’s regime, white Southern politicians were allowed to establish a series of race-based segregation laws known as Jim Crowism. Schools, factories, restaurants, lunch-counters, housing, public bathrooms and water fountains, etc. were all strictly segregated. Poll taxes and other discriminatory laws made it virtually impossible for blacks to vote in national or local elections. If any “uppity” black person sought to challenge these laws and customs, the was always the Ku Klux Klan to act as enforcers, usually through public lynchings. Because he had allowed all this to transpire, the House approved articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson; but the Senate, by one vote, refused to convict and remove him from office. Hence, blacks in the U.S., if not technically enchained by formal slavery, were forced to live in a state of semi-slavery, or Jim Crowism,  for the next 100 years.

It wasn’t until the tumultuous 1960s that massive protests against Jim Cow laws and customs began to take place. In the 1950s that the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, finally outlawed segregated schools. But schools did, in in fact remain mostly segregated, until the 1960s; when led by a young Reverend out of Alabama named Martin Luther King, passive resistance and peaceful protest marches against Jim Crow laws and customs began occurring. King had actually adopted the passive resistance methods used by Ghandi to free India from British shackles in the 1940s. After huge peaceful and sometimes violent demonstrations during the 1960s the walls of segregation and Jim Crowism finally began to come tumbling down. Civil rights legislation was passed affecting voting rights, employment and housing practices, and many other areas where blacks had been denied equal opportunities by Jim Crow. The President pushing for these civil rights for blacks was, ironically, another Southerner named Johnson. This time it was Lyndon Johnson from Texas. So it seemed that blacks were on their way to achieving the same equal rights and opportunities as whites and other minorities. Somewhere along the way, however, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Because of 350 years of slavery and semi-slavery, most blacks were ill-prepared to mesh seamlessly into a mostly-white dominated society. Today, inner-city slums that are rife with drugs, prostitution, and crime are almost totally populated by the black and Latino communities. Black household income is, on the average, 40% lower than comparable white households. Blacks, although comprising about 12% of the U.S.population, make up about 38% of the U.S. prison population.Unemployment for young black men is more than double what is for young white men. Black on black crime, especially in the inner cities, is at horrific levels. I believe that all the anger and rage emanating from the white police killings of black men has a lot to do with the feelings that many blacks have of being second class citizens. They’re fed up and refuse to take it any longer.

The election of a black President in 2008 was supposed to have healed most racial wounds and scars that have occurred over the past 400 years. Instead race relations in this country have been frozen into prior and current recriminations. Since Barack Obama was elected, there has been a steady stream of invective and vitriol hurled on a daily basis at the first black President and the first black Attorney-General of the U.S. by the right-wing of the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh, on talk radio that I wrote about previously, bellowed on his program that “I WANT HIM TO FAIL” before Obama was actually sworn into office. Now, who could possibly infer that there has been anything racist going on.

I won’t pass judgement on the Grand Jury findings in the cases of the 3 killings of black men by white police. Except to say that I’m still naive enough to believe that all the evidence was carefully weighed, without racial bias, in reaching their conclusions not to prosecute the individual cops. I could be wrong. But in any case, if you’re ever stopped by the police for anything, whether you’re white or black, no matter how wrong you think it is, never, ever resist arrest. If, in fact, the police did make a wrongful arrest, you can always hire a lawyer after, and sue their asses off.

 

 

 

 

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POINTS OF INTEREST

Las week the wife and I flew to the east coast to spend Thanksgiving with our daughters and their families. The daughter whose house we stayed at in Northern Virginia, always serves a sumptuous feast, with each course prepared from scratch. No store-bought prepared dishes like stuffing or sweet-potatoes for her. And being the especially good-hearted person that she is, she likes to invite as many people over for this feast as her house will hold. And then some. A cast of thousands I used to call it. This year, however, because she has had to contend with certain health issues, it was only a cast of hundreds. Much quieter that way. In any event, I was able to discern a number of items affecting the human condition during this journey that I believe are interesting enough to comment on.

Point I.  Self-Loading Freight. No business or company would last more than a month if it treated its patrons as shabbily as the airlines industry treats its customers. From ever-shrinking seat and aisle-room, to the lack of anything resembling edible food, to the often lack of on-time performance, to grossly over-priced tickets  etc., airline customers have to contend with a whole lot of crap to get from here to there. If you fly coach-class, which about 99% of the flying public does, airline crews will refer to you, derisively, as self-loading freight. Behind your back, of course. And why shouldn’t they. You’re herded onto the aircraft down the narrowest of aisleways, until you’re shoved into a tiny cubicle, laughingly referred to as a seat. The leg room is so minuscule that if you’re any taller than a dwarf, your knees are often pressed up against your throat. You have to practically arm wrestle with the person sitting next to you, to obtain a quarter inch of arm rest space. If you’re broadly built, and sitting in an aisle-seat, be prepared for the flight attendants to continually bang into the shoulder that’s resting on the aisle side, as they hurry up and down. If you’re not in an aisle seat, be prepared to hold it in for 4-5 hours, since your opportunity to make it to a bathroom ranges from slim to none. I’m old enough to remember when the airlines actually served meals on their flights. Now you’re lucky if they throw a small bag of pretzels your way, and tell you to gorge yourself on that.

We flew from Las Vegas to the east coast via Southworst Airlines…..uh, I guess they call themselves Southwest. In addition to all the discomfiture on the plane, there’s the endless monotony of hanging around the airport when they so capriciously decide not to arrive on schedule. On our return flight, the airline decided how delightful it would be for the flight to show up 55 minutes behind schedule. There was no bad weather anywhere, or any real excuse for the delay. If there is bad weather, forget about it. It would be faster to travel by mule-train. I guess Southwest felt that their passengers were having too much fun. Can’t have all that frivolity going on. Meanwhile, the price of an airline ticket keeps going up, even though the price of jet fuel has been plunging. Oil prices haven’t been this low since 2010, but none of those savings, god-forbid, are being passed on to the consumer.

Yet virtually every flight on every airline is almost always jammed packed. So why are people willing to put up with all this crap. I guess the answer lies in speediness. If your plane leaves early enough on Thursday morning, you can fly coast-to-coast, and still have Thanksgiving dinner with your family that evening. As for me, I think I might like  to leave a fews days early, and give the mule train option an opportunity.

Point II. The Free Lunch Syndrome. As we all know, the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday, has become almost as big a deal as Thanksgiving itself. Some people, after they’re finished gorging on turkey and stuffing, will head for the nearest mall or department or electronics store, and camp out on the sidewalk overnight, if that’s what it takes to be among the first ones that get into the store on Friday morning. After all, who can pass up such huge bargains on the latest I-Phones, TVs, mattresses etc. being offered at deep discounts. Not one person will stop to think that none of this consumer frenzy will ever radically alter their life-style, which is usually pretty crummy to begin with. And that all the merchandizers’ are doing is reducing the already over-inflated profit margins on these goods, to more reasonable levels. And that what they think they may be saving on certain items, they will likely spend on other items in the store that are not discounted. I mean, as long as you’re in the store to begin with, why not shop til you drop.

I call this type of mentality the free-lunch syndrome, and you see it in abundance where I live, here in Las Vegas. I truly believe that there is no human passion stronger than the quest to obtain a freebie, even though almost everyone will admit there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The local casinos in Las Vegas, (those that are off “The Strip”) readily understand this human lust, however, and are ready to profit from it. So they will often issue to local residents, two-for-one coupons for their buffets, which generally cost in the $15-$20 range per dinner. Residents, and sometimes tourists, will often stand on line for over an hour at these buffets, just to save 20 bucks, and then knock down the slop that’s usually being served up. Then, after dinner, most will wander onto the casino floor, and drop maybe $200 or more without blinking an eye. After all, the important thing is that they got their free lunch, or dinner as the case may be.  Human nature is so immensely fascinating, especially in its predictability.

Well, I had intended to explore other human foibles, (outside of the political follies ever on-going in Washington), but I feel fatigue beginning to set in. I believe it to be that senior-thing, again. So I’ll have carry these thoughts over for the next chapter in trying to categorize the human condition.

 

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