Monthly Archives: April 2015

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’…..OF FRESH WATER

“Water, water everywhere, and yet the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Those immortal lines are from “The Rime of The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first published in 1798. It tells the story of a crew of sailors aboard a sailing vessel, and how one of the crew accidentally shoots and kills an albatross; then considered to be an omen of good fortune for sailors when at sea. By killing the albatross, the crew’s good fortune quickly turns bad, very bad indeed. The ocean winds necessary to propel the ship’s sails die down and become nil. The sky becomes nothing but sunshine, with no rain in sight as the thirsty crew begins running out drinking water. Their vessel becomes stranded at sea, “like a painted ship upon a painted ocean.” If you’re interested in how it all turns out, read the poem. Anyway I thought I would use this literary classic to segway into a discussion of the brutal drought that is currently afflicting California; which I’m pretty certain is not the result anyone killing an albatross. Instead, it’s been brought about by decades of overpopulating and over farming one of the driest places on the planet, the Southwest United States. And it’s not just California; the drought also affects southern Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico. But it appears, at this time, that Southern California is being hardest hit.

California is well into its fourth year of severe drought, with mountains to the north that would normally contain about 6 feet snow at this time, being completely bare. It’s the runoff from these mountains in the Spring when the snow melts that replenishes California aqueducts and aquifers, and what enables the state to maintain its huge agricultural industry. California is the 8th largest economy in the world, and this country’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables. With reservoirs beginning to run dry, farmers and county officials have begun to rely heavily on tapping into underground water in aquifers, which are now also being seriously depleted. As a direct result of the drought, the California economy is expected to lose more than $2.2 billion this year. More than 17,000 jobs, mostly agricultural, have also disappeared. Some farming operations have ceased to exist, especially in the dairy and livestock industries. The news just keeps getting worse with each passing day. The “wet season” is over now in California, and it won’t be until October at the earliest, that any hope for relief from the drought will occur. If there isn’t any significant rain or snow come next winter, Americans better get used to the fact that drought in the Southwest is the new normal.

Governor Jerry Brown has called on residents to reduce by 25% all water usage. A desalinization plant is being completed and should be on line within the next few months. One theory of solution is that if California could build a string of desalinization plants along its Pacific coast, it could suck in enough ocean water to fill its needs. The problem with that theory, however, is that desalinization plants are enormously expensive to build, and then would provide only a fraction of the water requirements for the entire state. One plant costs in the billions to build, so it would take hundreds of billions of dollars to construct plants up and down the state that would still provide less than half the clean water needed. Where would that money come from. Turning salt water into the drinkable kind is apparently a very complex and costly effort.

As I mentioned previously, the Southwest is vastly overpopulated, and the population just continues to increase. The entire region is desert dry, yet it’s inhabited by tens of millions, with more continuing to relocate there every day. I’ve written several times before about the dire water situation here in Las Vegas where I reside at the present. About 2 million people live in the Las Vegas Valley, which gets, in a good year, maybe 3.5 inches of rain. Las Vegas receives almost all its water from Lake Mead, which is provided for by the Colorado River. Or, as it should be more aptly called these days, the Colorado Streamlet. The same barren northern mountains with the missing snow pack, which is supposed to replenish California’s water reservoirs, also provides for the Colorado River flow. Just this past week, the local LV newspaper had a front page article about how the water level in Lake Mead is expected to hit a new all-time low, just in time for the big fight taking place Saturday night at the MGM Grand. A fight, I might add, where scalpers are charging tens of thousands of dollars per ticket, and unbelievably, some people are actually willing to fork over that kind of cash for a ringside seat. Wouldn’t it be a hoot and a half, if, after the fight, these big spenders went back to their hotel rooms, turned on the water facet or shower, and nothing came out. After all, MGM Grand never promised them free flowing water for their $2,000 a night room.

I may be old enough to where I can ride out the water shortage and drought existing here in the few remaining years I have left. But for young people moving to Las Vegas, or Southern California, or anywhere in the Southwest for the that matter, it could be a very rough future if unyielding drought does, in fact, become the new norm. Residents here could become like those mariners in Coleridge’s poem, stuck in a “painted ship upon a painted ocean.”

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IN THE TIME OF “THE TROUBLES”

For the past few years, the world has looked on with horror and revulsion as Islamic-Fascist terrorist groups  such as ISIS or Al-Qida have beheaded or otherwise murdered thousands of Christians, primarily in the Mid-East. It’s as if such mindless killings sought to deny the very essence of what it means to be a human being. But over a period of centuries, history has also been replete with scenes of Christian slaughtering other Christians, and again using the most gruesome of methods such as beheadings or burning people alive at the stake. Ever since a young priest named Martin Luther became so fed up with what he viewed as rampant corruption in the Vatican and with various church practices that, in 1517, he posted a treatise on on a church door in Germany describing such corrupt practices, have the killings taken place. Luther’s actions, of course, led to the Protestant Reformation, and it didn’t take long after that before Protestants and Catholics were at each other’s throats. In England, alone, the failure of HenryVIII”s  first wife to produce a male heir to the throne led to the British renouncing Catholicism and thousands of deaths in wars between Protestants and Catholics.

But one doesn’t have to go back centuries to find examples of Christians killing other Christians. One only has to go back a mere decade or so to view the spectacle of Christians spilling each others blood. To a time known as “The Troubles” that took place in Northern Ireland from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, when over 3500 Protestant and Catholic lives were lost in an exercise of utter futility. To begin with, it must be noted that Ireland has had a very long history of famines, starvation, suffering, poverty and hardship. This has infused the Irish people with an overwhelming fatalistic view of life in general. So when “The Troubles” began it was just piling on more of the same. But first a little background.

After centuries of conflict, southern Ireland, which is predominantly Catholic, broke away from the United Kingdom, (which consists of Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and became a separate country, officially known as Eire, and which no longer has any formal ties with the U.K. Eire was also highly desirous of having Northern Ireland  break free of British rule and join it in one large Irish Republic. The problem is that a good chunk of the population of Northern Ireland is Protestant, with no desire to join the Catholics that rule Eire. They would rather be united with Protestant England. Further, the Catholics of Northern Ireland have historically been poor, oppressed, and often unemployed; while the Protestants have represented the oppressive British side of the coin consisting of privileged classes with better job opportunities and better wages. A scenario constructed in Hell.

Eire and the Catholics of Northern Ireland were not about to go quietly into that dark night, however, and by the 1960s tempers had reached the boiling point. The situation got totally out of hand. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was formed by oppressed Catholics as a paramilitary organization with the goal of forcing Britain out of Northern Ireland so it could be reunited with Eire. Using typical terrorist tactics against the civilian population such as bombings and random shootings, it set off a wave of Christians killing Christians, as Protestants employed even harsher countermeasures against the Catholic population. The British sent its military into Belfast in an attempt to contain IRA terrorism, which, in turn, led to IRA bombings throughout London. It was called the time of “The Troubles.” Terrorism and murder were carried out by extremists on both sides. People suspected of terrorism were often thrown in jail without a trial and languished there for years. As I’ve said, at least 3500 people died out of a total population of just 1.5 million, during this period of madness.

On a personal note, I made a business trip to London sometime during the 1980s, and was fortunate enough to stay in a hotel room overlooking Hyde Park. On the day I was leaving, I had some time to kill before heading to the airport, so I took one last stroll through the section of Hyde Park that was visible from my hotel balcony. On the way back I passed a park bench and then continued back to my room. I went out onto the balcony for one last look at the park before the taxi arrived. As I stood there gazing, a violent explosion suddenly went off under the very park bench I had walked by less than 5 minutes previously.  Obviously the work of the IRA. When I told the taxi driver about this on my way to the airport, he kept muttering-“fucking IRA.”

Finally, in the late 1990s, fatigue had set in over the senselessness of all the death, destruction and misery that had been inflicted on both sides. Negotiations began taking place between the 2 factions, engineered, in a large part, by U.S. President Bill Clinton. A peace agreement was at last reached in 1998, and was overwhelmingly ratified in a referendum among the populace. Today, that peace agreement is largely holding, but the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast continues unabated. Belfast is a city that is almost strictly segregated between the 2 sides; with huge concrete walls separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Most children go to segregated schools. The old hatreds between Catholics and protestants is still thriving.

As I said earlier, the Irish people have experienced an enormous serving of human suffering throughout their history. Classical Irish writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett have brilliantly chronicled this aspect of the human condition among the Irish populace. And if one ever makes a visit to Belfast, they can view first hand, how “The Troubles” in Ireland just keep rolling on and on. And also view up close, the results of what it looks like when Christians were killing Christians.

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DONATING TO THE PIZZA JOINT

In about 500 to 1000 years from now, when historians begin to chronicle the demise of the American Empire, similar to the way author Edward Gibbon chronicled “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire,” I hope they take into consideration 2 recent minor events that, nevertheless, speak volumes about the American psyche. The very mindset that will ultimately lead to American self-destruction in a manner similar to the way ancient Romans brought about their own downfall. In the American case, it’s about individuals clinging to power through the deployment of religious fanaticism, and a gullible public that buys into the trappings of such fanaticism.

The first event took place on August 1, 2013, which was proclaimed Chick-fil-A day by former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. Chick-fil-A is a chain of fried chicken joints, mainly in the South and Mid-West, whose CEO, Dan Cathy, felt compelled to come out publicly against the “sin” of gay marriage. He uttered statements to the effect that if the U.S. goes against God’s will by allowing such “atrocities” as gay marriage to become legal, then God will stomp on us in retribution. He will simply crush us like a bug. Huckabee, a bible thumper going back to his days in Arkansas, was so impressed by Dan Cathy”s proclamation, that he stated on his TV show that God-fearing Americans should turn out on Aug.1 at Chick-fil-A outlets to show their appreciation. And turn out, they did. Most Chick-fil-A diners were so swamped with demand that they ran out of food before closing time. At the franchise outlet in Augusta, GA, the lunch line was several hours long. People were willing to stand on line for 2 hours or more, in the broiling summer heat, only to end up with a greasy fried chicken sandwich, if that’s what it took to stick it to those “queers.”  Huckabee said on his TV show after, that he was “giddy” about the outcome. In areas where there were no outlets, evangelicals had arranged for caravans of people to schlep for hours to the closest Chick-fil-A and then wait in hot sun, just to show their solidarity with Dan Cathy’s statements about gay marriage. What this episode tells us is that the delusional fanaticism surrounding the bible thumpers ideology has no boundaries.

The second event is on-going even as we speak. As we all know, the Indiana legislature felt compelled to show its appreciation to the evangelicals of that state that elected them to office in the first place, by enacting what is called the freedom of religion act, or some such phony nomenclature. Remember that Indiana is in the heart of the Mid-Western bible belt, so due homage must be given to these Christian ideologues, that always vote Republican by the way. In any event, despite all denials to the contrary, what this legislation does is simply promote bigotry.  It states that any business open to the public can deny service to anyone, if providing such service somehow conflicts with their religious beliefs. So, any shopkeeper that’s opposed to gay marriage, can deny providing food or a wedding cake to, or refuse to provide photography for, a gay wedding ceremony. This time, however, instead of rolling over and playing dead, the gay community and their supporters have attempted to fight back. Business conventions scheduled to take place in Indiana have been canceled, as well as a slew of other commercial activities. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, who replaced Steve Jobs, has also threatened Indiana with business losses. The uproar has caused the Indiana state government to somewhat modify the legislation in question, but, in essence, it’s still on the books in its basic form. Sort of reminds me of the 1960s when blacks attempted to de-segregate Southern lunch counters by sitting down and ordering off the menu. The white establishment owners would refuse service to any Afro-American by stating that since they owned the business, it was their constitutional right to deny service to whoever they wanted. Eventually those Jim Crow protections were struck down by the courts who ruled that any public establishment must provide service to the entire public without discrimination.

As an added wrinkle to all this fiasco, a pizza joint somewhere in Sticksville, Indiana, population 2000, has come out and publicly proclaimed that it would not provide any catering services for any gay marriages. Like gay couples from all over the country are just dying to have their wedding celebrations catered with pizza from Sticksville, Indiana. But the most fascinating aspect of this story is that, because of their stand on gay marriage, people from all over the country have been sending in cash donations to the pizza joint. So far, it’s claimed that over $850,000 has been collected with more coming in. Most of that money, I’m certain, is from people who are likely living hardscrabble existences. Nevertheless, their evangelical fundamentalism is so deranged, that they will gladly part with what fews dollars may have, if it feeds into their anti-gay bigotry.

Who knew that it would be that easy to have people part with their money once you can tap into their ingrained hatreds. I periodically get e-mails from places such as Nigeria, offering to deposit millions of dollars into my bank account if I would just give them my account number. Does anyone fall for these scams? It’s so much easier and even legal to scam people out of their money, the way they’re doing it at the Indiana pizza place. The deep-seated hatred of people making these voluntary donations is only superseded by their gullibility. As P.T. Barnum of circus fame once said, there’s a sucker born every minute. But the fact that such hatred and bigotry still seem to thrive in our so-called enlightened age, does not bode well for the long-term prospects of this country. The thing about hatred is that it corrodes from the inside out, until nothing but a shell or facade is left.

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