Observations, Thoughts, Rants, Random Bits

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Our Children Are Watching

This morning a large brick fell on my chest. It’s hard to find the words to describe how I feel after the United States went to the polls yesterday to decide what type of country they’d like to be – and decided that what’s important to at least 60 million people is blaming immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and journalists for their problems. What’s important is venting rage against mostly phony targets. What’s important are scapegoats and staying as far as possible from self examination. The U.S. is a country without a collective consciousness sufficiently elevated to look in the mirror, and has played into the hands of a one of the most flawed and manipulative human beings on the planet.

What are we supposed to tell our kids and our grandkids now? Hey son! Want to get ahead in life?

  • Be a rude and crass sociopathic bully without an ounce of empathy for others.
  • Have a vengeful heart filled with spite for anybody who doesn’t agree with you.
  • Disregard the truth when it’s not convenient. Live in your own fact free reality.
  • Make fun of others at every opportunity. Bonus points if you denigrate their looks.
  • Create enemies even where they don’t exist. The people don’t care.
  • Treat women like shit. Kiss them without consent. Grab their pussy.
  • If you want to stop violence, kill the parents, grandparents, and children of those who practice it.
  • Be racist, bigoted, dogmatic, intolerant, and narrow-minded.
  • And don’t worry, you can just pretend to be pious. The country is full of religious hypocrites who just want the right words, not the right actions.

The U.S. has demonstrated that it doesn’t care about real human values. It doesn’t care about kindness or compassion. It doesn’t care about dealing with problems from the perspective of empathy or understanding. It doesn’t care about becoming a nation of more enlightened human beings. It has demonstrated to the entire world that self-interest and the desire to live only among those of the same faith, color and customs is what’s most valuable.

I weep for what my former country has become. I weep for those who are so ignorant of history that they are doomed to repeat it. You have elected a deeply flawed human being and in your choice you have revealed to the world your own hearts. This man has shown you clearly who he is, and in your fear, you have ignored his clearly stated intentions. Or worse, your own heart is equally as black and you’ve gone willfully into the darkness.

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The Idolization of Military Service

The Idolization of Military Service

In the summer of 1970, when I was 18 years old, I walked down to my local Army recruiting station and signed up for a three year hitch. I had some vague, noble notions of serving my country, other urges of moving from youth into manhood, the desire to vent an amorphous anger with three round bursts, but my main objective was to make my father (a world war II vet) proud. One thing that I never expected, asked for, nor wanted was public acclaim. I knew as well as anyone that soldiers returning home during this era of the Vietnam war were often reviled for participating in what was broadly seen as an unjust action.

Four and a half decades later, I saw a post on social media of a soldier holding a cardboard sign asking for viewers to “like this picture.” “We need your support,” it read. Following were thousands of comments, mostly of the “thank you” or “God bless you” for your service variety.

I have to admit the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. I saw this as a lazy way to support the military from the comfort of your chair, and – as I wrote at the time – the equivalent of “yellow-ribbon bumper stickers without the need to get up and go to the garage.” Plus, if a member of the military needs social media bonus points to feel good about his job, it’s likely that he’s in the wrong profession.

The public’s reaction to this request (and other similar requests since) reveals the extent to which a nationalistic fever has swept the U.S. to idolize those who serve in the military even though the causes the military serves are no more just today than they were during the era of my military stint, simply more rooted in revenge.

And, as anybody who is familiar with the films of Bruce Willis knows, vengeance sells. After the attacks of 2001, the fever of supporting the military has grown to the point that now everybody who enters the armed services, whether for the desire to serve, the desire to perform sanctioned kills, or just because it’s an available job, is lavished praise as if each one were a hero.

They’re not heroes, at least not the majority. But that’s not to say they’re bad actors, either. I understand well how inexperience and underdeveloped impulses can propel a young person into military service. And even how the desire to grow and perform well in your chosen field can impel someone to stay in the military for many years.

But there’s nothing romantic nor particularly noble about serving in the military. There’s nothing romantic nor particularly noble about serving your country, period. These are professions, or career paths, like many others. I appreciate those who serve, and I know it can be a tough job, but I don’t see a need to treat each one as if they’re exceptional.

I appreciate those who take on a variety of jobs, from collecting the garbage to taking care of animals to performing life-saving surgeries. These too are functions of society that must be filled. The military is important and necessary, but so are many other things that we don’t feel the need to commend with such fervor.

If nothing else, this gratuitous and reflexive torrent of support for anyone involved in the military has demonstrated how easy it is to sway public opinion with emotional appeals. Violence comes to the homeland and the hardest hit victim is rationality. But fifteen years is enough; the emotional bomb has burst. It’s time to usher in a new age of reason.

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The Other Idiocy of Censorship

The Other Idiocy of Censorship

A few days ago, after Tom Egeland, writer for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, posted to Facebook the iconic Vietnam War photo of a young girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack, Facebook removed the post and suspended Egeland for questioning their decision.

Much has been written about Facebook’s decision (which they later reversed due to the bad publicity), but the outcry and condemnation missed a vital point. Critics rightly argued that the nudity in the photo is not pornographic in any sense of the word, but is rather an important and powerful statement in respect to our shared history.

What’s missing in the criticism however is the idea that we can avoid the truth by covering it up with a little fig leaf of falseness. Take Facebook’s notice to the poster:

We place limitations on the display of nudity to limit the exposure of different people using our platform to sensitive content…  Therefore I ask you to either remove or pixelize this picture.

This is a perfect example of the other idiotic nature of censorship. Not the primary part where certain things are considered offensive in the first place, but the secondary aspect in which we think a small substitution will change the perception or the result.

Absurd. Pixelated genitalia are still genitalia. Blurring the image in this respect does nothing; the viewer knows what’s behind the pixilation and fills in the gaps. This pretense may satisfy a sort of puritan proof, a proof that the censor did indeed exert due diligence and control, but it changes nothing for the viewer.

This same do-something-that-accomplishes-nothing approach drives a television network to bleep certain words, even at times going to the nonsensical extent to blur the speaker’s mouth movements. This same impulse causes otherwise reasonable people to write site algorithms that change “asshole” to “a**hole”, or to say that fricking clown instead of that fucking clown.

Why bother? The speaker or writer is still communicating exactly what they wanted to in the first place. The reader or the viewer is not deceived.  The only thing that happens when this type of idiotic censorship is deployed is that we give the vulgarity (or the nudity), a slap-dash coat of cheap transparent paint.

It’s residual Victorianism that serves no useful purpose, an emperor without clothes. It only makes the company or person that employs these tactics look like dunces who don’t understand how people perceive and think.

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Dear United States of America

Dear United States of America

Thank you for electing Donald Trump as your new president. You’ve saved me a few sleepless nights where I might have been contemplating returning to the land of my birth. I hadn’t really considered it too hard (all the bullets flying every which way and all) but there is a lot that’s great about the USA, and it is tempting. Now, I’ve reconsidered.

Oh, wait. I forget too easily. The USA is a shithole. Don Trump says so, or at least he implies. He’s going to make it great again, as in once more. Meaning: it's fucked up now. He's going to restore its former glory and make sure no one goes without (offer not valid where prohibited by discrimination or by presidential decree.) He’s going to make sure you never have a negative thought about him.

Meanwhile, he’s got a long row to hoe. Speaking of hoes, did you hear the one about… oh never mind. This is a G rated rant. But seriously, D. Trump has a lot of work ahead of him. If he follows through on his promises, a lot of concrete contractors are going to get rich, and Muslims in the UStates will have nothing to fear except fear itself, the signup stations, and the hairy orange armbands. Can I get petition to go with my latte?

The United States of America has great freeways. They’re wide, well-marked, and easy to navigate. The USA has the best technological toys ever to be made in Japan. The US has great movies. I love me a good action flick where Gerard Butler (whatta hunk!!) kicks ass on the biggest bad-time gangsters, kicks them splat into a big concrete wall (paid for by Mexico), lets them drip dark red into a dumpster.

Oops, Gerard is Scottish, not a true US blood. No matter. My point is that the United States has a lot to offer. It has diversity, brains, know-how, can-do, Wal-Mart, glorious mountains, rigged elections (they say), Oregon beaches, long Louisiana bayous, jazz music, toe-tapping senators, holy mosaic rollers, superb artists (I know a few!), and the loveliest street preachers. The USA can make a terrorist kneel before the altar of market-cap and buy-back options.

But it won’t. Now that Donald T is the glorious president, expect an isolationist view (bombs not included). Must expel and remain compelled to bigotry. Must not look in the mirror. Must not look in the mirror. Must divide and devise new ways to keep farmers, shopkeepers, the unemployed, the uneducated (gotta love em!), the religious bakers, the power-hungry, and the average, everyday American Joe who knows in his heart of hearts that the message of Donald J. Trump, the freshest commander-in-chief, is utter bullshit, but has nowhere else to turn, from looking behind the curtain.

Who can blame them? It’s hard to look in the mirror, mirror. But now that you, the Absolute Authority of the North American States United in Bigotry, have elected as your supreme leader, Señor Donald J. Trump, please allow me to offer my congratulations.

You have won! Gold cup to you! A leader such as Trump is nothing without the people who vote for him. You have demonstrated your loyalty. I guess I will stand outside my new home and chuckle at your inability to comprehend the new world of people from other parts. Wave goodbye you grand collection of 50 states! It was nice knowing ya! Goodbye Columbus, goodbye Galileo, goodbye Steve Jobs, goodbye Martin Luther King. I was proud to be a small part of your discoveries, your observations, and your spirits. Goodbye.

Sincerely Yours,

Victor D. Sandiego (hopefully, a bad soothsayer)

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