Monthly Archives: November 2010

Coming Up for Air

Posted by Mike

I’ve just been with family during the holidays. I never verbalized it to myself at the time, but I think after a while had I been able to sense my feelings and express them to myself I might have said, “Enough, enough. I need to hide. I’d rather be alone!” Saying that here, I wonder how much my experience is mine alone and how much is more universal. I used to think that people were pretty much alike beneath the surface, but I’ve given that up and now see us as maybe looking alike on the outside, but really quite unique and distinct on the inside; and the inside I’m referring to is our feeling experience of whatever it is that is happening. I suspect that we very much want to be like the others. I sense this when watching the crowd at American football games, like the ones that were prominent on television during the past week. There were 70 or 80 thousand people at those games. You see them wearing the same colors and responding to events in the field in unison. It’s impressive – and somehow rather scary at the same time. Those people really seem to want to be like the other – part of the One. The problem with the One – and by that I mean a crowd mentality – is that it can be so wrong some of the time, in ways that really matter. A football game doesn’t really seem to matter very much (although I suspect that if we explore the ramifications of football crowd mentally it would matter very much), but a Senate hyped up by propaganda and voting for war or a crowd following through with a lynching would matter a great deal.

In my defense, I’d like to say that sometimes I like to be with family. But the time on the calendar for family togetherness just might not be the right time for me – or for anyone else, for that matter – and so I guess if one is in such a situation, one just has to fake it. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. I expect that we all do a lot of faking it in our relating to others during our days and weeks. It’s a way of smoothing the rough edges of social intercourse. We are, after all, separate individuals, struggling to maintain ourselves in the morass of living – keeping our own heads above water, if you will. You noted that I said “morass of living.” That’s just my way of writing about it today. What’s the term you might use? In coming up for air we need to be able to see things fresh, just as they really are – at least for us. There’s how things are in the physical world, but our feeling experience is unique to ourselves. It’s allowed – to feel it just as it is for you – the good and the bad, the sad and the joyful. That may be the best part of being human. Sometimes we need to come up for air and see it all fresh and real.

Coming Up for Air is the title of George Orwell’s 1939 novel.

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Torture: Justified and Buried

Posted by Mike

Just in case you missed it, an article in the New York Times today reports that a federal prosecutor will not bring charges against any of the CIA officers who were involved in the destruction of video tapes showing the interrogation of Al Qaeda detainees. Nor will the former head of the agency’s clandestine branch be indicted. The tapes reportedly documented interrogation procedures which would clearly be defined as torture by the Geneva Convention. Jose Rodriguez, the agency’s former head, told federal investigators that the destruction of the tapes was authorized by CIA lawyers. Interestingly, although there have been reports over the years which clearly involved lawyers in the Attorney General’s office in making the legal decisions that authorized what many people would call torture, justified because the prisoners involved were considered terrorists rather than enemy combatants who would be protected under the Geneva Conventions, individuals higher up in the Bush administration have been quiet regarding their involvement in the decision-making that led to what some clearly see as torture of detainees.  The article in the NYT reports that George W. Bush, in his recently-published memoir, says “that he personally authorized the CIA to use the techniques after obtaining approval from his lawyers that the interrogation program would be lawful.”

It seems like if your lawyers say it’s legal, then it’s legal, even though we are parties to longstanding international agreements outlawing the use of torture on enemy soldiers who have been captured. It seems to me that it doesn’t take a lawyer to see that what we have done in torturing those captured in the fight against Al Qaeda is wrong. I’m thinking that the federal prosecutors have been going after the wrong persons. Clearly the responsibility lies ultimately with George W. Bush. Does he really think that he can disavow responsibility by saying that his lawyers approved it? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. We will never know the whole story, but I can picture Mr. Cheney and the President telling the Attorney General to find a way to justify the techniques that were either being used or going to be used. If you want to read more about this, see Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, by Philippe Sands.

It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows – Bob Dylan

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Going to Hell

Posted by Mike

Wikipedia reports that the expression “Going to Hell in a handbasket” is of unclear origin, but likely originated during the Civil War and means a situation headed for disaster. USCapitolbackside.JPGBeing a long-term Democrat and finding all neoconservatives, Tea Partiests, and Sara Palin the embodiment of evil, you can see why I’m reacting this way to the results of the current election.

It’s not the first time, of course, that the national population has acted stupid. It’s bad enough for the denizens inside the Washington Beltway to behave insanely, but worse when the population at large gets flummoxed. I know – you think I’m overreacting; maybe even think that I’m completely wrong in my assessment. You know, of course, if you do feel that way that you’re one of “them”!

Just in my lifetime, as a nation we’ve done a lot of stupid things that have had profound effects, perhaps mainly affecting those outside our borders, but also ourselves. I’m thinking of wars in particular. We could cite the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and our recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can’t blame the Republicans for all of this, of course. Truman was at the helm during the Korean War, and Kennedy and Johnson were responsible for Vietnam (regardless of what the biographers say).

It’s really sad, too, how Congress is generally set to go along with the President when they are only too willing to agree to his declarations of war. Perhaps we should trust Presidents and their coteries more on little issues and less on the big ones, like making war.

During the current election hardly anyone mentioned the current wars. It’s like they’re the horse on the dining room table. We know it’s there, but we all agree not to talk about it. There was a lot of talk, as you know, from Republicans about “rolling back” what they call Obamacare. Personally, I work in a health-related field and review so many cases of individuals whose only health care source is the emergency room. The lucky ones can get Medicaid cards, but there are more people out there than you can imagine who just don’t have access to any health care. You can’t go to emergency rooms and receive adequate care for chronic diseases. It’s true that in some communities there are nonprofit and volunteer-staffed free clinics, but for the average person without funds or resources, they make do until they are in extremis. Sometimes it’s too late to do much for them.

It seems like it’s never mentioned, but I think everyone deserves adequate dental care too. The only free dental clinic in our area was recently closed due to lack of funding. I imagine it served only a fraction of those needing care. The average low income person is not able to afford the charge for even one filling, much less any kind of regular dental care.

I’m not suggesting that society should assume responsibility for taking over the lives of the people in it. I do think that we have an obligation to provide help to those who lack the resources and who are unable to help themselves. Sometimes what people need is information and access to prevention. I see this in conception prevention. Do we really have adequate information available to young people to prevent pregnancy? Young people learn all about sex from television at an early age as well as from each other. We need to be teaching them more about how to avoid conception, and the problems  accompanying early and unplanned pregnancies. Obviously, we should also be teaching accountability and personal responsibility to children from an early age. Our society seems particularly deficient in such matters. I was reviewing a case file yesterday: the young woman was 25. She had five children. They were in the custody of others. She had already been in three drug rehabs, and is currently homeless, having left her court-ordered residential treatment program. Somebody was dropping the ball with this young lady; we can give her primary responsibility, but what was her mother doing? And the school (before she dropped out)? And her community?

I read our metropolitan newspaper daily. Without exception there is at least one shooting death in our inner city every day. The only person I heard mention guns during the election period was actually after the election. Mayor Blumberg was on a panel last night. In passing, he reported briefly on his major agendas, and included that he is “antigun.” Blumberg is an exception. Most politicians and mayors are so scared of the gun lobby to even suggest any tighter restrictions than the current regulations regarding gun possession.

Are we going to Hell in a handbasket? No, we’re not. If you look at a broad timeline, we are overall making progress, not only as a nation, but collectively worldwide as inhabitants of this vulnerable planet: Christians no longer burn heretics at the stake; we no longer accept slavery as okay, and African-Americans are no longer second class citizens – or worse – here in the United States; women have the right to vote and are taking their place as fully equal to men in virtually every work setting (maybe superior?). We have made tremendous strides in technology, in health care, in general understanding of how the world and society work, and in understanding the basic biological, chemical, and physical mechanisms upon which our technology rests. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go, and given the history of mankind, progress is going to be slow in furthering some basics, like true understanding, compassion for all, and generous provisions for the needy.

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