Posts Tagged With: religion

GENETIC PREDISPOSITIONS: PART II

When I was young, (yes, electricity had already been discovered and was in general use) there was term often used by newspapers and other media to disparage or otherwise shame certain members of society. That term was “being on the dole” and it came to signify those unfortunates that were having a tough time financially and required governmental assistance to get thru the transactions of day-to-day living. That phrase originated in England in 1917 and was in reference to benefits being “doled” out by the government to generally poor souls that couldn’t otherwise provide for themselves. Since the U.S. at the time, had a hard-core, laissez-faire, capitalistic type of thinking ingrained into most people’s psyches, having to receive government assistance was considered especially shameful. The mark of a slacker, one too lazy or otherwise too indolent to provide for themselves. Indeed, according to newspapers that were published in those days, no criminal’s deeds were as heinous as that of someone “being on the dole.”

With the advent of FDR’s New Deal, however, the use of that term began to lose it’s luster. It turned out that with the creation of Social Security and Medicare legislation, virtually all seniors were eventually “on the dole,” so to speak. More social programs regarding veterans benefits, student loans, housing and other government assistance came into being, so it seemed almost everyone “was on the dole” at some point in their lives, and that inglorious phrase was eventually tossed into the dustbin of history. It was to some degree revived in a new form during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s. The term “welfare queens” suddenly came into existence as racist code to denote single black mothers who were supposedly having babies out of wedlock in order to receive larger government welfare checks. When it was pointed out that the preponderance of welfare payments were being made to white people, that derogatory phrase also faded from the public forum. But the on-going efforts of the fortunate to stigmatize the unfortunate in some shape or manner continues on unabated.

This is kind of a long way around to come to the main point of how genetics is often the determining factor in the way our lives will unfold and the destinies in store for all of us. Some time back I wrote a piece called “Genetic Predispositions” which still receives “views” years later, and I thought I would update the original with additional insights. In the original, I cited some extreme examples of how one’s genes are often the determining factor of the life being led. How, due to genetic malfunction, some fetus brains are bathed in an overdose of serotonin while in the womb. Hence, when these individuals grow into adulthood, they cannot derive pleasure or comfort from those activities that normally satisfy most of us, and thus, are often likely to turn out to be brutish rapists or serial killers to satisfy their lusts. Even when the brain develops normally, genetic make-up is usually the name of the game.

Those whose DNA is formed with a talent for fiscal matters often do the best in our capitalistic society. Bankers, Wall Street brokers, hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs etc. often accomplish the most financially, and are able to lead the most luxurious materialistic lives. Not that such bountiful materialism necessarily translates into lifelong happiness and serenity. Just ask those who knew Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston for starters. All four of whom had not only acquired immense riches, but, also millions of adoring fans and worldwide fame; but still managed to kill themselves at a fairly young age. On the the other hand, those whose DNA thrusts them into the artistic side of human performance usually receive the short end of the stick from a capitalistic oriented society. Very few writers, artists, musicians, etc. receive just compensation for their efforts and often live in poverty throughout their lives. This could also result in early demise. Think Vincent Van Gogh or Edgar Allen Poe, neither of whom caught a break as far as public recognition of their talents while they were still alive, and who also died at an early age

Most of the rest of us are somewhere in the middle, living anywhere from relatively lower middle class, to reasonably comfortable lifestyles, depending on the talent programmed into our DNA. But what I didn’t mention last time are the environmental factors that one grows up with, that also have a huge influence on our future lives, and must be considered along with genes as one of life’s determining forces. An Irish poet put it best when he wrote that “They fuck you up your Mum and Dad; they fuck you up real good.” Those coming from abusive or dysfunctional homes where parents might be alcoholics, druggies, or child molesters, hardly have a chance in life, no matter how strong their genes may be. Some hearty, brave souls do manage to escape an horrendous upbringing, however, and go on to thrive in life.

It the end it virtually all comes down to a matter of genetic inheritance and environmental upbringing. I think, though, that genes are more of the determinant factor. As for me, at this stage of my life, I’m quite content to be “on the dole” and receive my government benefits.

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Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, politics, Ronald Reagan, the Depression | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE UN-TRUMP

As the Trump Administration lurches from one pending disaster to the next, the latest being the ill-conceived firing of FBI Director James Comey, one would think that the Democrats would have at least several young, ambitious, potential candidates to challenge The Donald in the next scheduled mud-wrestling challenge. Sadly, the Democrats appear to be too demoralized and apathetic to even enter the arena. They’re truly in a state of shambles. There seems to be no Young Lochinvar to ride in from the west on his trusty steed to save the country from the machinations of a demagogic president and his henchmen. But if there were such a bold, brazen Democratic senator for example, he or she might want to pursue the following path to a likely victory come the next election. He or she could start out by visiting college campuses and deliver the following speech.

“Good evening fellow students of LSU. I say fellow students because I am an alumni of this fine institution, being an under-graduate not that many years ago. Let me start off by saying that I am the Un-Trump. I live in a state of reality and sanity, rather than in a parallel universe of delusional paranoia. I don’t indulge in pathological narcissism, and I don’t try to cover-up wrong-doings that might of occurred on my watch with serial mendacity. I don’t indulge, every other day, in Twitter tirades against perceived critics or enemies, with all the fervor of an adolescent teen-ager whose ego has been absurdly bruised. I would not continue on the campaign trail long after the election is over, in a pathetic attempt to boost my sagging poll numbers. I would not enlist the help of Russia or any other country to hack my opponents computers or otherwise spread false news to assist my election effort. I would not attempt to bar peaceful citizens of any country, or nationality or religion from entering the U.S. for legitimate reasons. And if I am elected your president, I would not have members of the Alt-Right white supremacist movement as my closest advisors in the White House. To the contrary, I would employ the strongest of civil rights advocates. As I’ve said, I am The Un-Trump.

“And one other matter above all else. I surely would never build that hideous 2000 mile monstrosity on the Mexican border that will become known as the Trump Wall, if it does become a reality. Erecting such a barrier would not only be the biggest boondoggle in U.S. history, costing tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money, its effectiveness in keeping out criminals or terrorists would range between negligible to non-existent. And that’s one of the reasons I’m appearing before you tonight. I need your help in assuring that the Trump Wall never becomes a reality. If, in fact, it appears that construction is about to begin on this fiasco, who among you will join me at the Mexican border to stand in the way of the tractors and earth-movers. In civil protest and disobedience, Ghandi-style. If a few thousand of us come down to the border and stand in the way of construction crews, this wall will not be built. Perhaps, if as many as 10 or 20 or 50 or even 100 thousand people show up to block construction, this hideous wall will never see the light of day. They couldn’t possibly lock up that many protesters. But remember, this would be an act of civil disobedience, with emphasis on “civil.” There can be absolutely no violence on our part, which would only serve to discredit such a protest. It must be 100% civil, the way Ghandi employed such tactics to free India from British colonial rule.

“In coming weeks I plan to visit more college campuses and other venues to elicit as much support as I can to block this impending insanity. So I ask, one more time, who will join with me in this act of conscience. Let me see a show of hands. Ahh, good. I see most of you are willing to support me in this crusade. It bodes well for the resistance. If it keeps growing, we can end all this craziness within a few short years. Remember, above all else- I am the Un-Trump.”

Alas, it appears, however, that there is no such young Democrat on the horizon that has that kind of energy and inventiveness. You might say Bernie Sanders; but he would be about 78 come next election, which really is too old. Elizabeth Warren is a possibility, but she’s not exactly a spring chicken herself. Lacking a Young Lochinvar, all you young people are faced with the bleak likelihood of enduring the Trump insanity for 8 long years.

One other thing. The crude vulgarity that Trump employed to fire James Comey was beyond comprehension, even for Trump. Comey had to learn about being dumped from a third party source as he was about to give a speech. It was obviously in retribution for the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump team’s collusion with Russia to alter the final election results. The unceremonious firing was ironic also, since it was Comey that handed Trump the election victory on a silver platter. It was Comey, who 12 days before the election, stated that the FBI was re-opening it’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails processed on a private server in Clinton’s basement. If Comey had kept his mouth shut, Hillary would now be sitting in the Oval Office. And for that, the thanks that Comey received from the president this past week was to be sacked as if he was the janitor in the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington D.C.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FRANCE CHOOSES SANITY

How come the French were able to act so rationally when it came to their run-off presidential election held yesterday, while the United States behaved so badly in its presidential balloting held last November. How come France, by a two-thirds vote margin, was able to elect the candidate of moderation and common sense instead of the one pushing an agenda of white supremacy, economic supra-nationalism, and favoritism toward Russia’s tyrant Vladimir Putin, while we in the U.S. did just the opposite. Perhaps it’s something in the drinking water; or the outstanding quality of French wines.

In yesterday’s presidential run-off election in France, independent moderate Emmanuel Macron easily defeated National Front far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win a 5 year term. At age 39 Macron is the youngest president in French history. His campaign rested on reviving France’s sclerotic economy which has been virtually on life-support since almost the end of WWII. France’s unemployment rate is more than double that of the U.S., and its economic productivity and growth rates are less than half of that in this country. Marine Le Pen’s demagoguery regarding those issues, however, never caught fire during the French campaign the way Donald Trump’s demonizing of those matters in the U.S. gave him an unexpected victory. Le Pen promised, if elected, to pull France out of the European Union, renounce the euro in favor of the franc, deny entry to Muslim immigrants fleeing into Europe from the Mid-East, and cozy up to thuggish Vladimir Putin in Russia while dis-engaging from NATO and the EU. Almost an exact female replica of Donald Trump. She called herself a “nationalist” as Trump’s key advisor, Steve Bannon, has described himself. In both cases, the term “nationalist” was code for white supremacist.

Of course, Le Pen was fighting a huge uphill battle to begin with. Her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who had founded the National Front party in the 1970s, was notoriously bigoted, especially toward Jews. He was a Holocaust denier exhibiting a distinctly fascist profile. Marine tried to scrub off her party’s bigotry, but her whitewash job didn’t work as well with the French electorate as it did here in the U.S. with Trump’s demagoguery. Perhaps the fact that France suffered for five years under the heel of a fascist tyranny until liberated by the Allies a mere 72 years ago might have been a factor. A five year span when virtually every French Jew was rounded up by French quislings and sent to Nazi death camps. In any event, Macron won handily as Hillary Clinton should have done in the U.S. election, except for monumental Democratic incompetence and blunders.

So now, instead of living with a Clinton Administration of moderation and rationality, Americans are forced to cope with the right-wing agenda and hysterics of the Trump follies. Jeff Sessions, the arch-typical white southern bigot from Alabama that Trump made his Attorney-General, wants to deny the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana, the right to do so. He would still have the Feds go after and prosecute marijuana sellers as well as buyers. (Whatever happened to the GOP’s insistence on “states rights.”) And forget about anything resembling civil rights enforcement coming out of the Justice Department. Meanwhile the top priority of the moment for Trump and his Republican Congress is to repeal and replace Obamacare. They shoved such a bill through the House, which is long on repeal and minutely short on replace. So what if the poor that can’t afford health insurance become gravely ill. I guess they should just curl up in a ball and die somewhere, so as not to bother us righteous folk that do have health insurance. Some 20 million people that were able to sign up for Medicaid under Obamacare, as minimal as that is, are now in jeopardy of losing that coverage under the Republican proposed legislation. Supposedly, the GOP plan will be drastically overhauled when the Senate takes it up.

And the beat goes on. Next up on the Trump agenda is income tax overhaul. The proposed legislation is once again distinctly Republican. Heavy tax cuts for the rich, with a few crumbs tossed to the middle and lower classes. Trump in this instance is following Ronald Reagan’s formula of large tax cuts for the upper classes while substantially increasing our military and defense spending. The same formula that started us on the road to the $20 trillion budget deficit this country now so sublimely endures. How does that line go- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Trump, always the comfortable occupant in his parallel universe of delusional paranoia, recently said words to the effect that a government shut down is needed in this country, and is long overdue. Current appropriations to keep the government running expire on September 30 of this year. Congress must appropriate and the president must sign new legislation to keep the government operating for the new fiscal year starting October 1st. Trump has threatened to veto any new appropriations that don’t contain funds to build his myopically insane border wall with Mexico, or don’t slash funding for agencies that he considers useless such as the National Institutes for Health, or the Environmental Protection Agency and a host of others.

These and many, many other examples are the consequences of a Trump versus a Clinton regime in the White House. The consequences of less than a hundred thousand votes going the wrong way in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Anyway, congratulations to the French for finally doing the right thing. After the Brexit vote in England, and the Trump victory in the U.S., it seemed like the end of Western civilization as we know it; but France has shown that it doesn’t have to be so. Perhaps we should all move to France.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT

It’s late 2015 and Donald Trump is having a small gathering at his penthouse at Trump Towers in Manhattan. His family is there including his children and grandchildren, as well as some friends and associates his known over the years. The conversation invariably begins to dwell on politics and how the upcoming 2016 primaries are starting earlier and earlier. Suddenly, Donnie Jr. loudly comments that- “You know, Dad, you could take another run at it. It’s not too late to get your name on the ballot for the Iowa caucuses.” “Right,” replies Trump. “Because it worked out so well for me in 2012.” But Donnie Jr. is persistent. “The only reason that went bust was because you let Corey talk into running as a “birther.” (He’s referring to Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager in 2012, and the first half of the 2016 campaign.) “That was a losing issue from the beginning. There just wasn’t enough true believers in the Republican base to convince that Obama was secretly born in Kenya. Besides this time, you would be running against Hillary, a much weaker candidate than Obama ever was.”

“This time you can focus on the stuff that has the Republican base all in tizzy,” continues  Donnie Jr. “Like all the Mexican illegals pouring over the border. Most Republicans really hate that. And ISIS terrorism and the flood of Moslems coming into this country as well as Europe are certainly issues to rile people up. Look at the recent attacks in Europe and California. Both of these areas could give you plenty of traction in the primaries.” “I don’t know Dad,” injects Ivanka, speaking for the first time. “Aren’t there like 20 guys running for the nomination. How are you going to stand out from the rest.” “By being different than rest, and politically incorrrect” declares Steve Bannon,” a close associate of Trump over the years, and head of the Alt-Right propaganda outlet called Breitbart News.  “I mean, look who he would be running against. Jeb Bush? Give me a break. Not only has his time come and gone maybe a dozen years ago, but I don’t believe the country is ready for still another Bush in the White House. Ted Cruz? Outside of Texas, his drawing power is diddly-squat. Rubio? Too young and inexperienced. The rest are just political pigmies.”

Trump turned to Melania seated next to him, and said- “You know, the kids pretty much run the business on a day-to-day basis as it is. It’s not like I don’t have the time.” “But you would be out campaigning for about the next year,” she protested. “I’d still make time to come home to you, every now and then,” Trump replied. Melania did not look pleased, but said nothing. Turning to everyone else Trump declared that- “If I did do this, I’m not going to spend a lot of my own money, I’ll tell you that. It will be a like a take it or leave proposition. This is who I am, take it or leave it.” And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Trump entered the Republican primaries with 16 other potential candidates. His ratings alongside the others stood at about 5%. That’s when he decided to be as politically incorrect as possible, as Steve Bannon had advised. He denigrated Senator John McCain’s service to his country when he was captured and held prisoner by the Viet-Cong in the hellish “Hanoi Hilton” for 6 long years. Trump stated that he- “liked people that weren’t captured.” (I’m still trying to figure out in what universe that’s a coherent statement.) When Megyn Kelly, Fox News host, was critical of him during a debate, Trump stated that “she had blood coming out of her whatever.” He said that Mexico was deliberately sending us “their rapists and murderers,” and promised to build a 2000 mile long wall to keep them out. He said he would bar Moslems from entering the country, and would “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” (I’m still waiting on some action concerning that last promise.) But the more outlandish the Trump remarks were, the more his poll numbers shot up. From 5% to about the 35-40% range.

Because Trump’s comments were considered so utterly vile, NBC fired him from their “Celebrity Apprentice” show. Macy’s fired him from being one of their spokespersons. But a large chunk of the Republican base really liked what they heard. Every white supremacist organization from the KKK on down considered Trump “their kind of guy.” The “Bikers of America” flocked to the Cleveland Convention Center to provide the necessary protection and muscle to assure that for the first time in their lives, they would have a kindred spirit occupying the White House. To this day, the large and growing white supremacy movement in the U.S. maintains nothing but adoration for Trump and his cohorts.

Despite his demagogic appeal to white racists and bigots, Trump still would have lost the election had his campaign not suppressed the voter turnout amongst blacks, Latinos and other minorities that normally vote Democratic. As I’ve said many times, elections are often decided more by the people who stay home and fail to vote, then by the numbers that do cast a ballot. The Trump campaign cast Hillary in such a derogatory light, that many voters that would have normally turned out for her were too discouraged to make the effort. Also, of course, if we didn’t have this unfathomable electoral college system, Hillary would be occupying the Oval Office today.

I wrote last time about the upcoming French presidential election (this Sunday), where the female version of Donald Trump is trying to use the same tactics of voter suppression on her opponents base. Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far right, who hopes to become the new French president, is telling her opponent’s base voters that it’s not worth their effort to come out and cast a ballot on Sunday.  It would be much more pleasant for them to take a liesurly stroll in the park. Interesting to see if that tactic will work a second time.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE FRENCH CONNECTION

No, I’m not writing about the excellent movie, a few decades ago, that dealt with drug dealers and won numerous awards. Instead, this piece is about the recently concluded presidential election in France, and its remarkable similarity to the U.S. balloting concluded last November. The only thing different about these two elections is the role reversal of the major candidates. In France the female candidate is the white supremacist, xenophobic candidate while her male challenger is the voice of reason, moderation, and sanity. The irony of these 2 electoral predicaments  couldn’t be more stark.

France has a slightly different method of voting than the U.S. In their first round of balloting held this past Sunday, 11 candidates ran for the office of the presidency. With so many choices it was predictable that no one would receive the 50% threshold level needed to avoid  a run-off. So on May 7, a second round of voting will take place pitting the 2 highest vote-getters, Marine Le Pen of the National Front far right wing party against Emmanuel Macron, an independent moderate. One could rightly view Le Pen as a female version of Donald Trump, as she is running on a platform of anti-immigration, white supremacy, withdrawal from the European Union, demonizing minorities, and cozying up to Russia while abandoning relations with other Western countries. She wants to withdraw from the euro as France’s currency and reinstate the franc. Macron, conversely could be considered a male version of Hillary Clinton as he seeks to strengthen ties to the EU, as well as strengthening France’s famous safety net for the poor and disadvantaged. He would keep the euro in French circulation. Right now, political pundits in Europe are claiming that all French citizens that are not neo-fascist will coalesce behind behind Macron and give him an easy victory in the May 7 round of balloting. Trouble is, these are the same pundits who predicted that Clinton would coast to a sure victory over Trump. London bookies were giving 5 to 2 odds on Clinton being the next president.

Marine Le Pen, aged 47 and twice divorced mother of 3, inherited the mantle of the National Front party from her well known father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who got the ball rolling on the far right of the political spectrum in France in the early 1970s. At first considered a fringe lunatic, Le Pen and his party has slowly gathered steam over the ensuing decades to the point that his daughter is now on the threshold of becoming the next French president. What held Jean Marie himself back from achieving that goal, was his openly virulent brand of anti-semitism. He would often pooh-pooh the fact that the Holocaust ever occurred in the first place, or that 6 million Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps. He stated that a 500 page book on WWII would hardly devote 2 pages to the gas chambers, so inconsequential was their existence. It appears that there was still enough decency in France to not allow that type of rhetoric to occupy its presidential palace.

Marine Le Pen, learning from her father’s mistakes, has down-played the National Front’s overt Jew-hating. Instead she focused her bigotry on the surge of Muslim immigrants trying to flee to Europe from the nightmare wars and acts of terror on-going in the Mid-East, especially Syria. As Trump attempts to slam the door shut in the U.S. to any further Muslim immigration, Le Pen campaigns on enacting the same Muslim prohibitions in France. As Trump’s demagoguery against Muslims (and Mexicans) gained big-time traction in the U.S. among white voters, Le Pen’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has found favor among a large chunk of the French voting populace. (At least she hasn’t expressed any anti- Mexican sentiments thus far.) While it’s true that France and Germany as well as other European countries are being swamped with immigrants from the Mid-East, it must be remembered that these people are fleeing for their and their family’s very lives; and to deny them safe refuge exhibits a special type of heartless disregard.

Some years ago, a movie called “Ship of Fools” was produced based on a real life occurrence that took place shortly before the out break of WWII. It told the story of a group of German Jews attempting to escape Nazi persecution, and hiring a cruise ship to transport them to a safe harbor in some foreign country where their lives would not be in jeopardy. They literally sailed around the world looking for a safe port of debarkation but every country refused them entry. Including the U.S., which then had Franklin Roosevelt as president, supposedly a great friend of the Jews. In the end, they were forced to return to Germany where they were then slaughtered in the Nazi Holocaust. Such was the mindset of their fellow human beings around the world.

So, it will be interesting to see if Marine Le Pen, like her fellow demagogue, Donald Trump, can parlay French fears of being overrun by Moslem foreigners, into the presidency of her country. If she does, it will have huge adverse consequences not only for Europe, and the EU, but for the U.S. as well. But perhaps this time around, the French will exercise better common sense and sanity than Americans did last November, and elect the candidate of decency and humanity to their highest office.

 

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, Isis terrorist attack in Paris,, politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE….”

I’m one of those people that faithfully reads the obituaries every day in the morning newspaper. Perhaps it’s because, as the old joke goes, I’m checking to see wether my name is listed there or not. Well, this morning’s obits had a bit of surprise for me. Listed as one of life’s casualties was a person that I had gone to college with named Reuben Goldstein, so many decades ago. He too was my age and born and raised in Brooklyn, but unbeknownst to me, was living in Las Vegas well before we had moved out here. I guess we were like two ships passing in the night. How unfortunate.

In those days of yesteryear (as the Lone Ranger might have said) I went to City College in Manhattan. It’s now called City University of New York or CUNY. Living in Brooklyn, I had to walk 12 blocks to the nearest subway station and take the train for about a 45 minute ride into Manhattan. A total joy in freezing cold, or rainy or snowy winter days. This station was elevated (above ground) and Reuben was often already there for the morning commute before I had arrived. When he saw me approaching, he would call out my name and shout that he would wait for me even if a train was pulling into the station to pick up passengers. And so he waited until I arrived and we then took the next train so that we could commute together and avoid the loneliness and monotony of those daily subway rides.

Reuben was not a great student as I came to realize when we sometimes did homework together after class. It turned out to be mainly a case of me helping him cope with subject matter that seemed to baffle him. In the end I wound up doing most of his homework in addition to mine. It wasn’t long after I graduated, that I latched onto a cushy assignment in Europe for three years (which I’ve written about in previous pieces) and lost complete contact with Rueben. That is, until now, when his entire life’s journey is summed up in a very brief paragraph in the daily obits. How sad. In those days, tuition at City College amounted to a $10 registration fee per semester for New York residents. When I had to spend $50 each term for school books, (used, of course) I considered it an outlandish rip-off. A subway ride initially cost a nickel then, and when it was raised to a dime, New Yorkers howled in protest, as if they were being slaughtered by Jack the Ripper. I don’t even want to know what obscene amount is being charged today. Garbage was picked up 6 days a week, even in poor neighborhoods like the one I grew up in. Now you’re lucky if they come around once a week. Is this what they call progress?

The title of this piece is taken from a song made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary. It’s an anti-war song about loss and death, which Reuben’s passing made me think of. Speaking of P,P,&M, the wife and I saw them perform here in Las Vegas when they were well into their sixties, or perhaps older. I’ve often written that Las Vegas is where dead performers can come back to life. For a fraction of the price that it would cost to see a headliner like, say, Celine Dion, perform at a strip hotel, one can see a has-been  perform at an off-strip hotel. Think Frankie Valli, and the Four Seasons. And so it was with Peter, Paul and Mary, who were well past their prime when we saw them go on stage at one of the local hotel/casinos. Peter and Paul were in reasonably decent shape but Mary had aged considerably. I remember in her youth, with her long blonde hair and bangs tossing about as she performed on-stage with huge vibrance and vitality.  Now she had gotten fat with multiple ailments and had to walk on-stage using two canes and sit while performing. Their voices were a whisper of past glories. The audience sat there respectfully, knowing it was likely to be the last time they would come together on-stage. Mary, sadly, would die not that long after, at the premature age 72. And so goes the cycle of life and death.

Today I also learned that a man my age, who lived in my community, and who we used to socialize and play cards with, also just died, this time from cancer. Add one more to the obits list. Indeed, where have all the flowers gone. Turned to dust, every one.

 

 

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IN GOD’S IMAGE

A few years back, the late author and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, wrote a book entitled-“God Is Not Great,” which, in my opinion, contained a very provocative concept. Hitchens stated that-“God did not create man. It’s the other way around. Man created God.” His theory was that because of man’s fear of the unknown, and of death, man had to create a being greater than himself, to provide comfort from the stresses of living, and an after-life to alleviate the fear of death. Over the millions of years these belief systems  evolved, first into pagan religions that worshipped idols, and then into the formal religions that we have today such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. But all these religions have one thing in common; they are all man-made. The Hebrew old testament, the Christen new testament, the Moslem Koran, etc. were all written by men. Not a single word was scripted by God. This, of course, left man, or at least the men that were writing these bibles, which went on to serve as the underpinnings of their religions, a free hand to create God in whatever image they desired. So let’s examine how man created at least one of these major religions, Christianity, since it’s the primary belief system in the U.S. And, of course, the time of year when Christianity is most celebrated.

While the new testament supposedly convey’s a message of love, compassion, empathy and respect for your fellow human beings, many conservative Christian pastors don’t quite see it that way. For example, North Carolina pastor Charles Worley (who has a huge following) recently sermonized about creating a gay concentration camp. “Have the fence electrified so the homosexuals can’t get out. In a few years they’ll die out… because they can’t reproduce.”

Or how about Kansas pastor Curtis Knapp, who, during a recent sermon about homosexuality, stated-“Oh, so you’re saying that we should go out and start killing them? No, I’m saying the Government should. They won’t, but they should.” Or maybe the colorful language expressed by Indiana pastor Paul Brewster might be considered more vivid when he said-“A decision to allow same-sex marriages today lays the foundation for the definition of marriage to become silly putty tomorrow…which is a recipe for children to be made victims of all sorts of abuse, and the welfare of our society to receive a fatal blow.” I would also be remiss if I left out Maryland’s pastor Dennis Letterman’s shouts from the pulpit, when referring to homosexuals-“Kill them all. Right? My flesh kind of likes that idea.”

Perhaps we should put pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona at the top of the homophobic and Obama hate list. A few of his recent quotes will show why. “Let me tell you something: Barack Obama has wrought lewdness in America. America has become lewd…. Obscene. Dirty Filthy. Homosexuality. Promiscuity… We don’t even know what lewdness means anymore. We’re just surrounded by it. Inundated with it.” Or how about, when referring to President Obama, stating-…you’re going to tell me that I’m supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children or babies killed through abortion….No, I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell….When I go to bed tonight, that’s what I’m going to pray.”

Well, you might say. These are just small time hate-mongers preaching to like minded rubes in the hinterlands. Okay, then let’s hit the big time. One such prime-time pastor is Mark Driscoll who preaches every Sunday to over 7000 congregants at the Mars Hill mega church in Seattle, WA. Besides his attendees, hundreds of thousands more people are estimated to watch his sermons on YouTube every week. He’s been preaching for over 15 years and he doesn’t view Jesus, or Christianity as being all that empathetic. Recently he stated that-“Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, he’s saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.”

Can’t you just feel the love. In 2007 Driscoll sneered at Christians who “recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair.” Instead he said that”Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make somebody bleed.” Of course, preaching a violent rather than peaceful or loving form of Christianity has a long history in the U.S. In the early part of the 20th century the Reverend Billy Sunday developed an immense following by sermonizing about the fires of hell and damnation that await all sinners, which included just about everybody older than nine. In the 1930s, Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience as he spewed forth a particularly virulent form of anti-semitism.

Not that other religions don’t spew forth hate and violence as well, all in the name of God. A prime example being the mullahs in various mosques around the world ranting on about Islamic Jihadism. But I don’t put the blame on any of these sermonizers. They’re just giving their audiences what they want to hear. As long as so many people in this world possess such huge quantities of hate and vitriol, you can bet that preachers in all religions will arise to give them what they’re asking for. If the demand is there opportunists will come forth to provide the supply. If, as Christopher Hitchens said, man created God, then man also has the option of defining or redefining God in any manner that’s suitable to his whims.

 

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IS GOD LISTENING?

Apparently not, at least regarding the recent devastation left in the wake of deadly tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and other parts of the country. Scores of people lost their lives for the simple infraction of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many others survived the storms with their lives intact, but lost their homes and all other material possessions. Yet the most intriguing facts of these events were that they occurred smack in the middle of the bible-belt states; and that those who did survive the storms only to lose their homes and all other possessions, nevertheless, professed that their faith in God had not been shaken one iota. If anything, their faith was only made stronger by the misery surrounding them. And why not? When reality is so brutal and destructive, as in the case of these storms, the soft cushion of delusion is so much more comfortable to sink into. Keep in mind also, that the material losses these people suffered will likely be replaced by insurance companies and Government assistance. So being homeless with no possessions will likely be a short term proposition for almost all that were affected. Thus, I for one would be the last person to tell these people to forsake their delusions that God is looking out for their best interests. At this point, what else do those that so tragically suffered, (the loss of a child, for example) have to fall back on.

But it raises the question of why events that humans have no control over,(hurricanes, deadly blizzards, earthquakes, etc.) often take their heaviest toll on those who have the strongest traditional beliefs in God, as espoused in both the old and new testaments. To put it more bluntly, why do bad things happen to good people. In fact, there was a book written some years ago with just that title.  Seems that the author’s view was that God was just testing the strength of our faith. Also, we only exist in this lifetime for such a small amount of time, whereas we’re over on the other side for, like, all eternity, so what difference does it make in the first place. Not very comforting answers as far as I’m concerned. So the following is my view as to why devastation occurs to some and not others, and why some people who seem to be as pure as the driven snow often die young, while other miserable, evil, lowlifes can lead full and enjoyable lives into a very ripe old age. Think Mafia leaders, serial killers who are not caught, tyrants and despots who often slaughter their own people by the thousands, and other miscreants. So here are my theories as to why all this transpires. The gospel according to me.

First of all, I’m not an atheist. I do believe that there is a higher power out there; I just don’t know what that higher power is. It could be the total collective energies of all living beings in the universe. Whatever that power is, I’m pretty sure it’s not an old man with a long white beard, wearing a white toga, and sitting on a golden throne somewhere in the heavens, as often portrayed in classical works of art. In fact, if God did have a gender, I would think it would more likely be female, since women provide the initial source of life. Secondly, I believe the bibles, both the old and new testaments, to be, basically, a collection of fable, mythology and superstition. Much the same as was written about Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, and the other gods in ancient Greek mythology. Religious fundamentalists believe the bibles to be the word of God. The trouble is, both testaments were written 100% by men, not God. Yes, there are some fascinating stories in both bibles, much the same way that Greek mythology had fascinating tales to pass on from one generation to the next. But, they were still completely written by men and contain all the fears, superstitions and myths that people over 2000 years ago possessed. And did I mention that they’re laden with one contradiction after another; i.e., is it an eye for an eye, or do we turn the other cheek.

So, in the gospel according to me, the Hebrew and Christian bibles are of little value. What is of interest, however, are a long list of near death experiences by hundreds of people, just in the past 50 years or so. While this is purely anecdotal, the similarity of these NDEs, and the volume of their happenings, would appear to suggest the existence of a spiritual after-life. And if such an after-life does exist, logic would indicate that a higher being also exists that has orchestrated this entire scenario. (Be advised, however, that some people who stopped breathing for several minutes, and then were brought back to life, did not experience the traditional NDE event. There was no light for them to go into, and no being waiting to welcome them with deep love. There was just- nothingness. So the possibility of an after-life is not necessarily a slam dunk. What you have now may be all you’ll ever get.)

But as I’ve said, the prevailing anecdotal evidence would suggest the existence of a higher being who created the mechanisms to get this whole universe thingy into motion. But once having done so, God, in effect, sat back and said his work was done, and all you living creatures out there are pretty much on your own. At least until you leave this material dimension, and enter his spiritual dimension. You may be on your own there too; who knows. Remember, it’s not just the 7 billion people on planet Earth that are involved. If God is omnipotent, then his realm is the entire universe where gazillions of planets exist housing gazillions of living creatures. It would unreasonable to expect God to be personally involved in the events of anyone of these life forms. And that is why bad things often happen to good people or vice versa.

It’s called randomness. Flip a coin a hundred times and it will like land close to 50 heads and 50 tails. Flip it 1000 times, and the 50-50 split will likely be very close indeed. So when you hear stories of how this couple prayed mightily to God to save their child who was in dire peril, and God answered their prayers and saved their daughter from some terrible affliction, remember that it could just as easily gone the other way. And often did for some parents whose children were not saved in similar circumstances. Like in the recent carnage at the school in Connecticut. I’m sure all the parents of those school children affected, prayed with ever ounce of their being that their child would not be one of the casualties, as they raced to the scene of that horrendous crime. And for most parents, their prayers were seemingly answered. But for 20 sets of parents, it appeared that God was indifferent to their pleas. Just call it the randomness of the universe. And you can take that as gospel.

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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Last week’s tragic events at the Boston marathon was a perfect example of what happens when religious fundamentalism converges with one’s sense of delusional victimization. Two young brothers, with virtually their entire lives ahead of them, decided to destroy those lives as well as the lives of as many innocent victims as they could kill. They were immigrants from Chechnya; but had been in this country for about 10 years and seemed to be melding into the the mores and activities of our society. The younger brother had even become a naturalized citizen. But somewhere along the way, the older brother allowed himself to be deluded by Islamic jihadist religious fundamentalists. The only true objective of these jihadist imams is the destruction of western society. To accomplish that, they preach the vilest hatred toward anything western, and by the force of their “religious” preachings, are able to convince scores of young, vulnerable minds to destroy themselves while committing acts of terrorism. Chechnya has been fighting decades-old wars with Russia to gain independence; so it would appear that the older brother’s beef would have been with Russian domination and suppression of Chechnya’s quest for for freedom. But young, vulnerable minds can be so easily manipulated, apparently, to the point of where the U.S. instead of Russia become the evil villain in the older brother’s delusional thinking process. He then, obviously, brainwashed the younger brother into also destroying his life through some holy grail act of terrorism.

There is a great divide in values between western society and those of mid-eastern Moslem nations. Osama Bin-Laden said it best when he stated that western societies value life, while mid-eastern Islam values death above all else. Thus, the highest honor for a jihadist is to become a martyr by killing others and himself in an act of terrorism. (Notice I made the distinction between mid-eastern jihadism and the beliefs of other Moslem societies. For example, Indonesia, which is the largest Moslem nation in the world, seldom indulges in such jihadist fantasies.) The delusions that fuel jihadist terrorism probably go back a thousand years to the time of the crusades; when Christian knights from Europe set off on a “religious” mission to rescue the “holy” land of Jerusalem from the Moslem “infidels.” Grievances can be nursed a long, long, time, and the human tendency to play the victim is woven into the very fabric of the human condition. But what the jihadists really despise, is how much more advanced western society is, when compared to most Moslem societies, in every aspect: scientific, technological, economic, cultural, living standards, and so on. So instead of working to bring Moslem nations up to levels achieved by western societies, jihadists act to do just the opposite. Destroy western societies through acts of terrorism so they descend down to Moslem-nations standards. Which is generally where the west was about 700-800 A.D. Although this will never happen, that bit of reality will never be allowed to enter the jihadist’s planet of delusion.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Russia brutally invaded Afghanistan and took over control of that country. When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he decided that the U.S. should provide military aid to Afghan freedom fighters fighting a guerilla war against the Russian invasion. In particular his administration provided Stinger surface-to-air missiles to the Afghans which was especially effective in bringing down Russian fighter planes. Eventually, Russia found it too costly to continue the occupation, and withdrew their troops back inside Russian borders. One of the Afghan freedom fighters was a tall, lanky guy named Osama bin-Laden. The Reagan Administration never considered what the follow-on consequences would be once the Afghans obtained their freedom. It never considered that once the Afghans, and the Islamists that came from other Moslem countries to join the battle, gained their freedom, they would then turn their wrath on the west and the U.S. in particular. It took less than a decade for the Islamists in Afghanistan to reset their focus away from Russia and toward the United States. By the mid-1990s various terrorist activities began cropping up in different parts of the world, including in this country, often as the result of a group no one had heard about before. They called themselves Al-qiada, but who cared about some obviously deranged individuals who were killing innocent victims just for the pleasure of it. Until 9/11/2001. Then the whole world took notice.

The terrorist mindset is always one of victimization seeking revenge. We, of course, know that in this country we have have our own breed of murderous nut cases. Less than a decade-and-a half ago, our own home-grown Timothy McVeigh, because of some imagined, delusional grievances against the Federal Government, managed to slaughter 168 people going peacefully about their business, by blowing-up a Federal office building in Oklahoma City. Scores of these victims were very young children attending a day-care center. On a slightly smaller scale, we’ve experienced a series of recent heinous murders in Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona because of deranged “victims” that were out for revenge.

We all know that delusional nut jobs exist in our very midst. Some of us may even know some one like that. Law enforcement can only provide so much protection. Since law-enforcement officials are still just human beings, people with murder on their minds will fall through the cracks. As the 2 brothers did in Boston. Eventually terrorism, either home grown or imported, will strike despite our best efforts at prevention. Yes, the FBI was provided certain information that might have prevented the Boston tragedy. But since FBI agents are also human, mistakes were made.With the enormous proliferation of hand guns, rifles, bomb-making materials and other weapons so readily available in our society, terrorist acts become ever more easy to pull off. So welcome to life in the early 21st century. Where terrorism, serial killings, revenge killings, or just plain, good old-fasioned acts of murder become the new norm; to live with on a day-today basis.

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THE FUN GODS

When I was in college, I was an avid reader and devotee of Greek mythology. I loved reading Homer’s- “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and other literature about the antics of the Greek gods. They were always getting into all kinds of trouble and mischief when they sought to meddle in human affairs. There was, of course, Zeus and Hera, king and queen of all the gods, up there on Mount Olympus. Then there was Aphrodite, the goddess of love and desire, whom I’m sure you’re all familiar with, and who needs no further explanation. Apollo was the god of learning and enlightenment, although a little on the vain side, I guess because of his good looks. Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. Ares was the god of war, always dripping with blood and causing mammoth destruction. His female counterpart, Athena, was less bloody and more of the intellectual force behind war making. And we can’t leave out Hades who was king of the underworld, where the spirit went after death. Not a fun place to be according to Greek mythology. Artemis was the virgin goddess of the hunt, sort of the direct opposite of Aphrodite. Among the major gods was also Poseidon, god of the seas. I guess we can blame major tsunamis on him. One other significant figure was Pan, god of the forests who was half satyr. He was always playing his flute, and being the playful sort, sought to lighten man’s burdens whatever they may have been. In addition, among mortals who became god-like were mighty Achilles, hero of the Trojan War, and Odysseus, another hero of that war, who encountered numerous adventures over several decades, on his journey home from that war.

I always felt what fun times it must have been to live in ancient Greece and have to contend with the exploits of these gods and goddesses on almost a daily basis. All this came to mind last night, when I watched parts of a new series on the History Channel called “The Bible.” Aside from some ham-fisted overacting, and really cheesy settings and costumes, this series tends to depict a very literal translation of the old and new testaments. And sure enough, the series shows how the playfulness and antics of the Greek gods are now replaced by the stern and wrathful actions of the Judeo-Christian god. It’s like one of the 10 commandments states that: “Thou shall not engage in any form of frivolity, whatsoever.” So there is the god of the old testament flooding the world thru 40 days and nights of rain, and killing every living thing except for Noah and his family and some animals he managed to schlep on board his ark. And there is god hurling balls of fire down on Sodom because of the supposedly wicked ways that occurred within the city’s confines. Or turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, because, heavens forbid, she dared to look back to see Sodom being turned a smoldering ash heap. Not quite the fun stuff encountered in Greek mythology.

So if the game afoot is a literal translation of the bible, I feel it leaves us with some unanswered questions. Lets start at the beginning with the whole Garden of Eden fiasco. First there was Adam and Eve, who had two sons, Cain and Abel. The world now has 4 people in it. Cain kills Abel (already mankind is off to a very bad start) and the world population is now down to three. Then some cockamamie fable is put forth that a talking snake seduces Eve into eating an apple from the tree of knowledge. God becomes wrathful again and expels Adam, Eve and Cain from the Garden of Eden. What nonsense. I have it on very good authority, that the reason for the expulsion was that Adam and Eve were underwater on their property mortgage. I mean, it’s not like Adam was a high roller on Wall Street. In fact, he had no visible means of support. He got behind on his mortgage  payments for Eden, and god foreclosed on this property the way banks foreclose on properties today. It makes much more sense than that whole talking snake/forbidden fruit gambit. But the real mystery lies in what happened after the expulsion. When we last viewed the situation, there were 3 people in the world, Adam, Eve, and Cain. But after exiting Eden suddenly we discover that there are all these multitudes of people beyond Eden’s gates. Where, the hell, did they come from? I have heard no theologian offer a plausible explanation for that one.

Let’s also examine that Noah’s Ark fable I mentioned before. God decides, once again, that mankind is comprised of nothing but despicable  lowlifes, and decides to kill them all off, except for Noah and his family. He tells Noah to build an ark, and ride out the next 40 days as the world becomes flooded. But Noah also has to bring aboard his ark one male and female member of every animal species on Earth, so life can carry on as before all this deluge unpleasantness. Laying aside the fact that you would need an ark about the size of Russia to house all these creatures, where would you store 6 weeks of food supplies. It’s not like they had refrigeration in those days. And how would you arrange it so that the lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards and other meat eaters, didn’t devour the sheep, lambs, goats, zebras, and other defenseless animals. And which family members were assigned the joyous tasks of shoveling out the shit from the animal quarters every morning. Nevertheless, there are millions of people, today, who believe in a literal translation of both the old and new testaments, and many are actively looking to find remnants of Noah’s ark, especially on the mountain where it supposedly landed.

One last thing. In both bibles, god is actively present in mankind’s affairs. In the old testament, he is continually setting forth instructions for Abraham to follow which subsequently leads to the formation of both the Hebrew and Arabic nations. He parts the Red Sea, so Jews can escape from the despotic slavery they were subjected to in Egypt. He gives Moses the 10 commandments so the Israelites can live in his ways. The new testament is, of course, all about Jesus and his teachings and ascendency into heaven. But once Jesus has risen, not a peep. Not a word, not even a fireball, in 2000 years. Where has god been all this time. He could try to communicate through some type of Skype arrangement, or at least send us a tweet or an e-mail. But there’s been nothing. Although I surmise that god is kind of an old-fashioned type of guy, and doesn’t cotton much to computers or I-Phones.

In any event, I still think that, if one is going to take religion seriously, the gods in the old Greek mythology were a hell of a lot more fun to believe in. And maybe next time I’ll explain to you why there are 10 commandments, instead of, say, 8 or 11 or 13.

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