Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Republican Primaries: A Downfall?

The election cycle seems to be getting considerably clearer now. For a long time, the Republicans seemed almost not to know who they wanted to represent them in the major election for the White House. It always seemed that Romney was the frontrunner, but that Republicans were uncomfortable with having him represent them. I would be, too. The guy really does not seem all that likeable, much less real. He is one of those consummate politicians, where it is hard to imagine the real person underneath all that political makeup designed to look pleasing to the voter. So, at some points, it was Michele Bachmann who was a strong outside contender, then it was Herman Cain, then Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and finally, once again, Rick Santorum's campaign finally came alive once again. Got all that?
            Yet, perhaps finally, Mitt Romney may have cemented his status as the Republican frontrunner with the big win in Michigan, in particular, last night. That was supposed to be one of his "home states", along with Massachusetts, so winning that seemed a must. Santorum seemed to have so much momentum there for a while, that many observers were beginning to wonder if Romney had what it took to even get out of the Republican field at any point.
            Increasingly, though, all signs point to an Obama victory in November. The Republicans, for once, looked disjointed and lacking unity and cohesion – usually the forte of the Democrats. I just read a headline that says the markets are preparing for an Obama victory, and most of the polls suggest that Obama holds a lead, often quite sizeable, against the leading Republican candidates. So this race almost looks like a race to see who gets the privilege of being the one to make history in losing the election that gets Obama reelected – something that seemed almost unthinkable, seemingly, not all that long ago, when his approval ratings sagged.
            It was not all that different when the last Democrat to hold the White House, Bill Clinton, seemed destined to be a one-term President following the midterm elections, only to bounce back and look strong, almost unbeatable, for the next election cycle, ultimately winning handily to get the second term. Clinton managed to do so only after enduring a wave of Clinton bashing from a rising right wing contingent, led at the time by your friend and mine, Newt Gingrich, and his "Contract for America", and not backing down after the threat of a government shut down. Now, Obama seems to have done the same, only this time, it was called the "Tea Party", and he also needed not to blink in the face of the prospect of a government shut down.
            The thing is, I have never seen the Republicans look so weak. Even when it seemed clear that Clinton was going to win again in 1996, the Republicans looked more unified and together. Not sure what happened this time, but the major Republican field looked ridiculously comical up to this point. Not that I am complaining, far from it. I am just saying, it is surprising that the Republicans look as irrelevant, at least in terms of the Presidential elections, as the Democrats traditionally did when I was growing up.
            Entering into the season, perhaps the brightest Republican prospect was Sarah Palin – herself not far from being a comedy routine and a mockery of the political system. Michele Bachmann proved to be a comedy act in her own right, of course, as did Herman Cain. Ron Paul was entertaining, and even, at times, refreshingly honest, at least. His politics are too extreme for me, and he believes in a much too rigid version of deregulation that likely would not work. With all of the obvious examples of corruption and corporate supremacy in our world, and in this country, especially, how is letting them have the "freedom" to pursue agenda with even less restrictions than ever going to help us fix that? Yet, his supporters were quite vocal, with many of them seemingly seeing only the opposition to the war in Iraq, and to all the wars in general that we are fighting, as well as his stated desire to legalize pot, as some of the huge points that many, if not most, Americans would actually agree with.
                Gingrich rose again, albeit briefly. Clinton said that he was not at all surprised, rather expecting Gingrich to play the part of the comeback kid. Still, his hypocrisy proved too much even for the Republicans, and his campaign faded away. At that point, it seemed to be all Romney.
Enter Santorum, again. Suddenly, he was running strong, and his smug self-satisfaction became among the highlights on the nightly news. Republicans were hesitant to just give the race to Romney, and so everyone tried to prove that they were the best to embody "true conservatism". Santorum seemed to go the farthest to the right, seemingly attacking a woman's right to choose abortion even under circumstances of rape, he aggressively criticized the traditional stance of the separation of church and state, claiming that a John F. Kennedy speech many decades ago favoring maintaining this separation made him want to "vomit" (his words). He criticized President Obama for saying that he wished every American could go to college, dismissing these as liberal elitist institutions, almost designed to brain wash people. He holds degrees himself in some of those institutions of higher learning, by the way. Hypocrisy? Not a first for the man. Eugene Robinson wrote an article about Santorum's tendency to gravitate to the extreme. In his article, "Rick Santorum’s rhetoric goes to the extreme", Robinson states that:
"For all his supposed authenticity, Rick Santorum is not what he seems. Beneath that sweater vest beats the heart of a calculating and increasingly desperate politician who has gone beyond pandering all the way to shameless demagoguery."
            So that leaves us with Romney, a rather comical figure in his own right. I remember David Letterman, in 2008, claiming that Romney looked like the owner of a casino. Romney is, again, the ultimate politician, and it seems impossible to see a real man in him, beyond the cloak of the be all politician. He wants so much not to offend, that he goes to the extreme in maintaining the least controversial positions. It angers him that he is not considered a true conservative, and he has been pounding home a more conservative image in order to win the Republican nomination that has eluded him. In the process, he probably has given Obama even more to work with, once the main election gets under way. Assuming, of course, that Romney can hang on to the victory this time – which given the recent history, is hardly a given.
            Let me close with a quote that I think is apropos, regarding conservatives and their tendency to blame Obama for everything lately. They say that they want to "take back" the country, and their arguments have been spinning more and more extreme. I think this quote goes far towards explaining the current political situation and debates.

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
John Kenneth Galbraith

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oscar Hang Ups?

The other night, the Oscars were the big thing that everyone seemed to watch, and since then, everyone seems to be talking about them. Even on the French news, the major story was that a French guy won an Oscar, and then gave a lively speech upon acceptance.

Not everyone is impressed with such festivities, of course. A former classmate of mine, who considers himself a conservative Democrat, made a comment on Facebook the other day, saying such things are the reason that the world hates us. Perhaps, in part, he is right.

Still, it dominated the news, and many people loved to talk about it. When something unique happens, like when Angelina Jolie shows off her legs, it makes headlines, gets people talking. As I understand it, it has become a popular picture that has circulated on Facebook and all over the internet, with her legs being photo-shopped onto other pictures (such as the painting, "Whistler's Mom").

As for me, I never really paid much attention to them, or to the Golden Globes, and the other acting awards where the stars come out to shine in glittering Los Angeles in front of an eager television audience throughout the country and, perhaps indeed, in front of the world. It never particularly interested me, although I do not knock it, either. Some people really enjoy it. Sure, there is an air of superficiality to it, but is that not the case with just about everything, these days?

But is that the reason why Americans are hated throughout the world? Of that, I am not sure. That seems to be a superficial judgment by that one guy about a domestic event that has reached worldwide status. I would tend to think that the focus of much of the resentment, and even hatred, of the United States is aimed not so much towards Los Angeles, which is arguably America's artistic capital and certainly the entertainment capital, but rather at Washington, the national capital and seat of the government, where all of the decisions, including who to bomb, takes place.

Sure, there are many resentments towards Hollywood and the luxurious lifestyles and indulgences of those who live their lives like that. It is a major cultural export, no doubt, and likely has in fact done damage the world over, casting it's shadow over the unique cultural expressions of individual nations, which simply cannot compete with the machine that is Hollywood and it's unique culture - often referred to, probably quite accurately, as the "entertainment industry".

I have found, however, the more people the world over are upset by the attitudes of those in power on the other coast of the United States, in Washington, and among many of the voters who regularly place the corrupt politicians in power, and who support them in their actions, even when it serves against their best interests. America is an empire now, and when it cuts corners in order to save money in the name of being more competitive, people suffer. That is the reason why greed reigns supreme, and why we do not have a functioning health care, why social security is steadily going away, and why we fight stupid and unnecessary wars, which reflect far more poorly on our national priorities than Hollywood, or the actors that populate it, ever could.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Has this ever happened to you?

Does this sound familiar? Has this ever happened to you?

You are driving along on a beautiful day, and since driving is the time that, for whatever reason, you seem to do your best thinking, you often come up with your best thoughts while driving. For a few years, I was carrying around a little pocket notebook for just such occasions, and would jot down quick little notes for later use, and would write down what thoughts might come when I could, even when driving. hell, even when I went to bed, my notebook would not be far! So, when I was in front of the computer later on, I would instantly "remember" my thought once I could read it, and then elaborate on it. Sometimes, it truly seemed brilliant, even by daylight. Other times, you wonder just how awake you really must have been to consider that thought brilliant. You anxiously turn the next morning, and see something written that either makes no sense (I remember vaguely having been drifting off to sleep once, but having what seemed like an urgent thought, only to find a color jotted down. It had seemed so important the night before, but I could not make any sense of the color

Another major problem, at least if you're like me, is that what you are writing might just be illegible. This can be particularly pronounced when I am only half awake, or when the thoughts are coming so fast and furious, that I am rushing to try and race to jot them down before I lose any of them.  My handwriting is, admittedly, bad enough when fully awake and alert, so when I'm asleep? Or when I am writing in a rush? Fuggedaboudit! Might as well not bother writing it in the first place.

Any way, I have unfortunately been getting away from this trend lately, and have more often than not been without a notebook as of late. Not entirely sue why, and sometimes, when I have a thought that seems urgent to get back to and work on later, when time permits, I can just kick myself!

That is what happened yesterday, as I was driving on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. The thought related to recent posts on the same topic that I have written about these last three or so days ( I know, I know, get over that subject already, right?), but it seemed so simple, and made so much sense, that I recited two lines repeatedly, figuring I could keep reciting them all the way to work, then jot them down with a pen and maybe some receipt, or other expendable paper that was available in the car, or my wallet, or whatever.

Of course, I lost track at some point, probably less than ten seconds after I had begun reciting! Can you say annoying! Before long, I was at work, and rushing to get inside and prepare for the shift. I remembered that I was supposed to remember something, just not what it was. It occurred to me that it was a thought, and then I take a step back and retrace my steps. the memory of driving and thinking this "brilliant" thought was there. i can even remember reciting words, but not the actual words I recited. The memory is lost, kind of like perhaps a song that comes on that you are enjoying, and then perhaps not being able to remember the song later on, or maybe the artist who performs it. Then, you go nuts trying to recall it, and you curse your memory for not being able to. Something like that. That happens to me all of the time, and not just with songs or artists, but with my own thoughts!

Anyway, so be it. Part of me did not place greater emphasis on keeping the notebook because, well, I never actually planned to do away with it, but once I stopped carrying it with me, it seemed I constantly forgot. Like it was meant to happen that way. Not a big deal. Also, Stephen King mentioned this about writing notes, and I am inclined to agree. He wondered how good a thought can truly be if you cannot even remember it? I remember that to provide comfort whenever these thoughts escape me. Really, how good could it be, how much of an effect could it possibly have had, if it was not on my mind enough to even remember it?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Old and the New

Sticking once again to the theme that I have touched upon the last few days, I just wanted to clarify, or perhaps a better term for it would be to elaborate, on some of the things that I meant in those last couple of days - particularly about my point in yesterday's posting, and how the experience and subsequent perceptions of war in Europe are radically different than those here in the United States, and how that plays a factor on current attitudes in regard to war in both.
Allow me to be clearer, then. Europe was devastated and obviously weakened by both World Wars, but particularly the last one. Everything had to go towards rebuilding, and many European countries only really started to truly bounce back a decade after the end of the war. Not only had millions been killed, and many more suffered the inevitable consequences  and excesses of war, including millions of civilians, but also, the reputation of a few European nations had been tainted. Germany, France, and Italy had played a role that cast a suspicious and dark cloud over them, as well as other nations where collaboration had been prominent. the stupid rivalries that had lasted ages had now cost these European nations greatly, and they were all the worse for it. Many of the people in these nations had nothing left but to pick up the rubble of this recent past failure, and rebuild, literally and figuratively. They had suffered greatly, and had been humbled, and just wanted to move on with life. Indeed, this suffering was the consequence of an "old" mindset that Europe could ill afford. So, it was forced to scrap it.
By comparison, the United States reaped a rich harvest off of both wars. It had become known as the "Arsenal of Democracy", after all. Following World War II, the United States became known as the world's leading "superpower". It had been on it's knees, like much of the rest of the world, during the Great Depression. Formerly rich farmland was now the "Dust Bowl", and the formerly thriving economy had been under severe pressure, to say the least.
The war changed that. While Europe suffered, going from the economic depression to the horrors of the most extreme war in history, the United States absolutely thrived. Roosevelt came into office with his "New Deal", and with the geographical separation between itself and the warring European states, the US once again profited greatly, restoring it's economy. When joining the war became inevitable, the United States once again played the role of liberating heroes, although the history behind that is a bit more complex than many people - particularly Americans - recognize. So profitable was it, that the United States stood as the richest country on Earth following the war, as well as the most powerful, and they just kept it going after that. War is profitable, that is the consensus thinking. The mantle seemed to have passed at that point from a traditionally war mongering Europe to a United States that had been more peace-loving than it would soon become. 
Kurt Vonnegut, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the fire bombing of that city in early 1945, once said that World War II was perhaps the last really necessary war. that it may have been, but wars were really only just beginning for the United States. Unfortunately, so were the shady ties in the unholy marriage between mainstream corporations and the war machine. Lyndon Johnson had corporate ties that benefited and profited from Johnson's decision to wage a war in Vietnam. Decades later, the Bush Administration fell under similar scrutiny and suspicion for the corporate ties that Administration had to companies that made a killing, literally and figuratively, in Iraq, with "no bid" contracts (see the article link below). 
War profiteering was in, peace and isolationism were out. American arrogance and the sense of superiority (formerly the domain of "Old Europe", if you will) that came with it were in, and wisdom and restraint were out. the United States had become a de facto empire, and now, the focus was on pursuing and maintaining it's economic interests, whether outright in the open, or through covert operations. 
Perhaps, given that, it was only a matter of time before we witnessed the things that have come to pass, because that arrogance begins to spiral downward, it snowballs, gets bigger. The stakes get higher. And we reach the point where we are at now.
The Old World and the New World. Old mindsets and new mindsets, right?
But here is the thing: the old mindset has consistently pervaded on the American side since World War II. When many pro-Bush war advocates defended the militant actions of that Administration by claiming that this is how things had always been, that spending vast sums of the country's wealth on the military, a growing percentage despite the absence of a clear enemy like the former Soviet Union, was wise. Sound. Yet, it fosters the spirit of war, as the drumbeats grow louder and louder at times. they are growing steadily louder again, as the latest "crisis" in Iran begins to grow. But the United States has largely discredited itself by lying about the reasons for that war in Iraq. Now, people the world over are more skeptical, automatically - and with good reason! 
War is reflective of an old mindset - a mindset that Europe, through painful experience, learned to be skeptical of. It is not "Old Europe" that was opposed to war. it was a new Europe, trying to be a unified community, warning the "New World" United States of the dangers and potential pitfalls of an old mindset. Perhaps it is that old mindset that also sees the United States now lagging behind all other industrialized nation in terms of health care, where it stands as the only nation where it's citizens truly worry about the size of their medical bills, or why guaranteed vacation here was a fraction of what it is in other industrialized nations, or why people are losing their benefits left and right. Old battles that had seemed won are now being waged again, and unions are in trouble again. workers rights are viewed with skepticism, while the rich are getting richer, always getting more tax cuts and breaks. The loopholes are growing in a system that was designed for greater fairness, and people wonder what is going wrong in the United States. it seems obvious to me: a by-product of an age old arrogance. After all, Americans did not know their limitations, but there was nobody in the world strong enough to keep them in check after 1991. So it only seems fitting that the implosion is from the inside, with the same arrogance: the arrogance of the rich and of a corporate culture that is too arrogant to understand or appreciate any sense of limitations. It is all about getting what you want, and! 
Yet, I think it is important to make the distinction, and understand that there is nothing "new" in this, it is an age old story. The old mindset does not respect life. It is time to move beyond the dangers of thinking in the past, and start living in the present, always with an eye towards the future.

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The New World and "Old Europe"

Following on the same theme as yesterday's post, I wanted to address something that has always bothered me about the perception of Europe shared by far too many Americans. Specifically, I am referring to this notion, or perhaps it is better, more appropriately called a label, of Europe as "Old Europe".

Such a label suggests that old would imply outdated, stuck in their ways, and also largely irrelevant, meaning that Europe should just get out of the way of new, young, vibrant and relevant America.

Of course, those claims became especially prominent during the height of the build up towards war with Iraq, when Americans felt absolutely outraged that so many "old" and irrelevant European nations should dare oppose the United it's desire for war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Anyone who lived through that might remember that the Presidential Administration and it's loud supporters claimed that it was absolutely urgent to initiate a preemptive strike immediately on Iraq, that it was part of the so-called "Axis of Evil" (a term borrowed from World War II, with the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy), that Iraq had a mass arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's), that Saddam Hussein had forty five minute response time, and it was almost implied that he had terrorist links, that he there Iraq was harboring terrorists, and so on and so forth.

Of course, all of these claims were greatly exaggerated, and although bush's approval ratings dipped, they did not dip enough that he got voted out of office in 2004. Also, the war became increasingly unpopular among Americans, but not enough to pull the troops out and end the war, as happened in Vietnam, and certainly not enough for Americans to actually apologize for any mistakes on their part. In fact, i do not recall President Bush even taking responsibility for any of it, because it seemed he was always too busy pointing the finger elsewhere, at the CIA or other internal intelligence bodies, or at the British, or whoever else he could find. The Administration acted with shocked outrage and indignation any time the most obvious scenario was actually voiced: that the Bush Administration, with so many who had vested interests in oil, were aggressively pining for the war in order to rake in all of the cash, and to keep the empire alive and well, and that not finding a legitimate reason to initiate what had been planned all along, since before the Administration actually took office (see the signatures affixed to the oath given by the Project for the New American Century - PNAC), then falsified reasons and "proofs" had to do. An ill-informed majority of the American public approved gullible, and perhaps even bloodthirsty, enough to be in favor of the war. Just as the Administration had hoped for. every possible piece of the puzzle fell in place for them, and the result is that we are still paying the price to this day.

The opposition domestically, which was actually surprisingly large (although still a minority, seemingly) was largely silenced, and certainly not strong enough to actually prevent the war, or stop it once it was being fought. That left the main opposition outside of American borders, and again, many Americans felt so superior to the rest of the world, that such opposition was automatically eyed with suspicion. Countries such as France became the butt of jokes, and a topic that should have been very serious, literally life and death, was made a mockery of, as the jingoistic drum beat of war resounded loudly. When Saddam Hussein fell, predictably, Americans celebrated the "liberation" of Iraq. Only when the war continued long after Bush unofficially declared victory, only when American soldiers continued to die in growing numbers, and the world saw that the "proof" of WMD's simply did not exist, and that corrupt corporations with ties to the Bush Administration were continually being rewarded no-bid contracts, (an obvious conflict of interest), did the majority of Americans really even begin to voice their displeasure at how the war had been conducted.

So, why mention all of this? Because that drum beat is beginning to sound again. We hear it in reference to iran, and we may even hear it in reference to Syria.

Yes, Americans have begun to scrutinize the Administration more carefully, but now Obama is in office, and largely being held responsible for the errors that occurred on his predecessor's watch. Bush and Cheney and many of the other prominent figures of that administration cannot travel freely about the world, because they are viewed as a war criminals. But here in the United States, where they were rewarded for their incompetence with another four years in office, people place poster's of Bush's face with the caption "Miss me yet?", and it is not some kind of a joke. Many people are serious. They dislike Obama so much, that they still wish Bush was in office!

So, here's the thing about "Old Europe". It has been around far longer than the United States, and seen many more wars than America has. Even among the wars that the United States has fought in, many were fought far away from American shores. Other than the Revolutionary War hundreds of years ago; the War of 1812 a couple of hundred years ago, maybe; and the Civil War, which was also a very long time ago and fought mostly in one region, the South, of the nation, the country has barely been touched physically by war. Oh, yes, it got attacked, during Pearl harbor and again during September 11th. But those were limited to one instance in each.

For Europe, the experience of war was much different. Wars were fought over and over again between competing rivals for power. At different times, many European empires fought bloody wars and occupied other lands in order to get ahead in advancing their imperial desires and claims. Greece rose, and fought wars to expand their territory. The Roman Empire did the same, until barbarians eventually overran the empire. The Dark Ages that followed were filled with violence and quick strikes, most famously perhaps by the Vikings, but Charlemagne fought some wars to expand his empire, as did the Byzantines. When Britain, France, and Spain rose in power, wars were the natural outcome between these rival powers. Other countries got into the act, as well. France was invaded by Britain and occupied for a Hundred Years, before Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake, largely propelled the liberation of France. There was the "Thirty Years War" fought over religion. Louis XIV fought wars against allied nations that tried to keep France in check, and then the same happened during the days of Napoleon. Then Prussia rose in power, largely through their strong ability to fight wars effectively and efficiently, and eventually secured it's place as the dominant state in a newly unified Germany, but particularly after defeating the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire in war, and then crushing the Second French Empire of Napoleon III, after an incident when one statesmen allegedly disrespected the other. Italy unified after numerous regional wars. There was a holocaust in Turkey with the Armenians there as the instability of the old Ottoman Empire was becoming more evident. Then the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire, and the necessity of this empire to ally itself to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rising German power, helped strongly contribute to the outbreak of World War I, which was the most devastating war ever fought to that period. Europe had barely recovered as a new round of wars were initiated. Germany rose to power, and Italy began to swagger, as well. A bloody Civil War was fought in Spain, with countries taking different sides in a prelude to another huge and global war. Russia invaded Finland. And, of course, World War II, particularly in this case the European aspect of the war, which far surpassed World War I for deadliness and devastation. All of this was on European soil, and I did not even mention the conflicts between European powers outside of Europe itself.

Europe knows war. It has fought many, many wars over the course of centuries, even millenniums. These wars were largely the product of arrogance and short-sighted stupidity. Over time, the effects of the war got increasingly more extreme, and the powers that fought them were greatly weakened. the nations themselves had to focus on rebuilding afterwards, more and more, as the level of devastation grew. Millions died in the process, many more were also injured, physically and/or mentally. When clips of the idiotic leaders of these nations with marching armies during World War I or World War II are shown today, it causes much discomfort and embarrassment, because the result is well known. Europeans know the folly of war first hand. Their relatively weakened position in the world is reflective of this new humility, and it came at a great cost.

By contrast, what was the American experience of war? To sweep on in to Europe during the two wars, and act as liberating heroes. Many Americans also died and suffered, but the nation as a whole was not destroyed or damaged, and in fact largely benefitted from the war, economically. It helped Europe to rebuild, and also played up the part of liberating heroes. Americans had been wiser about war going in, but since they had been so triumphant, it seems that American attitudes towards war changed, and they began to feel it was their responsibility to protect and police the world.

In the meantime, America became the most prosperous of all nations, and people here lived a privileged life, while Europe (as well as Japan and China) focused largely on rebuilding, their cities and towns, their reputations, and their lives. That was the cost of war. They finally had learned their lesson.

By contrast, Americans seemed to believe in war, and the isolationism that had been their traditional stance was replaced with an increasingly war hunger. Korea, Vietnam, became the next big conflicts, and down the road, Iraq and Afghanistan. That makes no mention of other American involvement in other nations, including outright invasions of Grenada and Panama. American military bases spanned the globe, and many Americans portrayed themselves as "the good guys with the white hats" (those words belonged to my 8th grade history teacher, who also advocated racial segregation. War was good, was was profitable, and Americans seemed to get more into the spirit of trying to display their supremacy and might through war. Spending went through the roof, to the point that even President Eisenhower, formerly a leading general during the European aspect of World War II, warned Americans to beware the "military industrial complex" -  a warning that was not heeded nearly enough.

Now, America finds itself entangled in wars that cost lives, cost money, and increasingly, are costing Americans much of the goo reputation they once had. Instead of liberators, Americans are increasingly viewed as unwelcome occupiers. And for what? To keep oil prices down? To maintain the illusion of power, to maintain the empire that America has clearly become?

On top of it, the United States was warned that this might happen. France warned the United States thatit was a bad idea to get involved in Vietnam. Most of Europe, and indeed, much of the rest of the world, warned the United States that there were no WMD's, and that war against Iraq would be a mistake. perhaps more importantly, history serves as a lesson, the strongest warning off all, against excessive militancy and false patriotism, marching to the drum beat of war. This history is particularly relevant with the example of "Old Europe".

The thing is that "Old Europe" seems to have finally, finally learned some valuable lessons with all of this, and they know the cost of war. The people approach it with wariness, and know to proceed with caution. War might happen, but it needs to be a last resort. many Europeans have learned this lesson (although maybe not the governments, who always have their own, secret designs). The wars of "Old Europe" actually produced a new mindset, and a new approach towards war. Changes have come, however many problems might still exist with these. Europe tried to unify more than ever before with the European Union, and the war in the former Yugoslavia was the first war on European soil in decades, and truly shocked Europe to the core. Finally, progress has been made, and a new mindset seems to be taking hold.

Although the United States has much more modern weapons and speaks in official language, claiming not to be war hungry, the old mindset of war, however, seems alive and well in the United States. Many American leaders claim that they, and the country as a whole, are "peace loving". History shows otherwise, and the disingenuous nature of their doublespeak and the inconsistencies with the language that they employ versus the actions that they still take shows a certain strand of arrogance and an overall lack of maturity by these Administrations, the corporations that hold these political leaders in their pocket, and by an American populace too comfortable and too accustomed to being fed these comfortable lies and illusions to believe in to actually think on their own two feet about issues of life and death, all of it seems to suggest that it is America, and not "Old Europe", that is stuck with an old and outdated, largely discredited mindset.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping Other Cultural Ties Alive

I will write today about keeping connected to cultural roots, so to speak. This is something that I think too many Americans, in particular, have lost sight of, since the focus in the United States always seemed to be about acclimating in order to better and more efficiently join what came to be known as the “melting pot”. It might have been that, but it came at a high cost, as well. People call themselves all different nationalities here (I'm Irish or British or German or Dutch or Italian or Greek or whatever the case may be) when they are really referring to their distant family background. Most of these people are far, far removed from these “nationalities” of theirs, and many of them (far too many), have no real interest in exploring these backgrounds any more than mere mentioning of the nationality. Almost as if, to do so would imply they were somehow less American, which is ridiculous. It also has contributed to a national mindset of arrogance and an inability to see beyond the American borders, to see that there actually is an entire world out there!
For me, having lived most of my life in the United States, and as such struggling to keep alive the other culture of which my life is a part, that being French, it can be a real challenge. First of all, there seems to be, at least on some level, some real hostilities between the two, and the responsibility is on both of them. Just some mutual disaffection, and on some levels, there are people in both societies that seem to want to maintain this degree of antagonism and suspicion towards the other. That was always a challenge, and in both countries.
Similarly, living in the United States, which remains the world's leading superpower (for now, although I would posit that China, and even arguably the European Community, might be seriously challenging America's traditional dominance in this role), means adapting to a certain measure of cultural uniformity – more so than in France (or any other western European country that I am aware of). There are reasons for this. The United States is a very strong nation, and has been, historically, for a long time. It is geographically, and thus also culturally, far away from Europe and other powerful nations (such as China and Japan). France, which used to be the most powerful “superpower”, if you will, of it's time, always had strong neighbors to keep it in check, bordering as it did Germany, Italy, Spain, and being very close to the United kingdom, it's main rival over the course of the centuries. So, it never had the unparalleled lack of challenges that the United States did. China is the rising superpower, and it was invaded by the Mongols, borders India, Russia, Korea, and Vietnam, and is relatively close to Japan, as well, which it got invaded by only a few decades ago. Russia, which not long ago dominated the Soviet Union, the world's other superpower, had a history of being invaded and kept in check, if you will, by other countries close to it's border. Why, in the twentieth century alone, Russia was attacked by both Japan and Germany, and had armed scuffles along it's border with China. It felt so threatened after the German invasion, that it built a buffer zone of satellite states, known as the “eastern Bloc”, or the countries of the “Warsaw Pact”, the other side of the Iron Curtain, during the Cold War that followed the Second World War.
The United States? By contrast, it has relatively weak neighbors. There were wars, but the United States tended to be more the aggressors. They fought a war on largely fabricated grounds against Mexico, and got a huge chunk of the present day territory of the United States as a result, in the southwest. Similarly, there were wars and battles with Canada, and the United States established their border to the north largely on the threat of war. If you go up to Quebec City, it is the only walled city in North America, but these walls were built by the British, who destroyed the original walls built by the French. They did so not to guard against the French, who no longer had a real presence on the North American continent, but rather to keep the Americans in check. Invasion was a real threat, they felt, too. After all, Americans had already tried to invade Quebec City during the American Revolution, albeit unsuccessfully, when Montgomery was killed, and Benedict Arnold retreated in defeat. Prior to that, Montreal was outright occupied by Americans. There was also the War of 1812, and Americans invaded certain parts of Canada again. So, from a British perspective, it was necessary to do what they felt they had to to protect little Canada (in terms of population, anyway) from it's bigger, stronger neighbor to the south.
Of course, it is not all about strong military or economic rivals near one's borders, although the lack of a strong power nearby geographically to keep America in check, so to speak, certainly did not hurt it's growth and ultimate rise to superpower status. It is also about cultural strength, and again, America went about a course that was far different, and more geared towards exporting it's culture, than anything any neighbors were able to muster, and perhaps even, arguably, anyone anywhere in the rest of the world could muster. With it's ability, good or bad, to scrap it's historical ties and focus on changes, particularly in regards to technology, the United States was able to export it's culture with increased persistence over time. By the time that the Second World War was over, and most of the other powers were either on their knees or still largely recovering from the toll that such a monumental war had taken on them, the United States stood virtually alone and unchallenged as a burgeoning, growing world power, and not just militarily or politically. American movies, which had already been perhaps the most popular, became the unchallenged leader worldwide, and the trend towards the massive exporting of American movies and music had begun. American cars were more popular at the time, as well. While that in particular has died away, it has been replaced with many other American products that regularly find themselves on foreign markets, especially in neighboring countries, and in Europe, where there are more McDonald's per block in Paris than there are in Manhattan, and where you can find everyday products like Coke and Mars bars and the same major toys that Americans children play with. American culture, for better or for worse, dominated, and the impact of this domination is still very largely in effect to the present day.
So Americans took pride in this, and they began to assume that their was just something about their culture that was inherently superior. I would suggest that the roots of the American malaise in recent decades actually was a product of this arrogance, which also was growing with each decade of American dominance. After all, historically speaking, every empire has essentially imploded and lost it's privileged position by becoming overly inward looking. I do not see how the American example is any different in this regard, and the comparisons to the decadence of the ancient Roman Empire are not entirely misplaced. Indeed, I would even argue that Americans have allowed themselves, collectively, to indulge in certain measures of arrogance, particularly regarding their perceptions of America's dominance and privileged position the world over, and that this arrogance has been the green light that allowed further arrogance to blossom and thrive, as it has today. I am speaking, particularly, of the arrogance of corporate America and of the greed and unprecedented corruption that is all around us, working to undermine everything great that America has brought to the world. Not that everything America brought to the world was necessarily great, mind you. But there were some great things, and yet, even these, Americans have largely undermined, and are still undermining, by their stubborn refusal to let go of the arrogance of being “Number 1”. For example, if they were to give up the burden of being that they placed upon themselves of being the world's policeman, an approach and attitude towards the rest of the world that many, many people the world over are less than thrilled with, it would allow the United States to spend much, much less on imposing their presence throughout the world. Americans have military bases on almost every continent, many times over. This costs a lot of money, and I did not even mention the wars, of which their have been quite a few, with some prospective wars still lingering. Americans like a strong defense, which has been traditionally a sound argument, but can such vast sums of money readily given to the military industrial complex each year really strictly be for “defense”? I was personally opposed to the Iraq war, and I remember answering someone's claim that Saddam had a massive arsenal and had built it up, obviously with the intent to use it by saying the same was obviously true of the United States, which was aggressively pining for war at the time, after all. He was angry with the response, but he did not exactly refute it, either. He gave some typical answers about American responsibilities and protecting the world (as opposed to aggressively promoting it's own self-interest, like any empire does), but those could not actually count as real refutations, right?
Nowhere in the industrialized world is this more important to take a step back from what is popularly accepted, it seems, than right here in the United States. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of cultural uniformity, which tends to interpret patriotism with a xenophobic, “America First” attitude, where all other countries should be so grateful fr America's presence as a gift to the world, that they should swallow any differences that they have, and accept American paternalism and dominance, politically, culturally, and militarily. So long as such an attitude persists, we will likely see more wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, which have hardly illustrated American dominance.
Anyway, all this to say that it is important to keep other cultural ties alive, at least to the extent possible, in this regard. To have an open mind to other ways of seeing things and doing things, to a different language – literally. To a different history, a different experience, a different, if even diminished, world view.
So, I am an American, but I am French as well. There are aspects of being American and French to be proud of, as well as ashamed of. After all, everyone pretty much has skeletons in their closet, right?
I am glad to have kept my cultural ties alive to the extent possible, and am trying to do so more over time than ever before. At a moment when, perhaps predictably or typically, Americans are grasping at every illusion of superiority that they can as their dominance seems to be slipping away before their very eyes, it is more important than ever to be able to bridge that illusion with the new reality of a world that relies less and less on the cultural ascendance of some rising or already established superpower, like China or the United States, but rather to take a m,ore balanced, to say nothing of realistic, perspective of our place I the world, with a particular eye as to our limitations. In this day and age, as a global citizen, perhaps there is nothing more important than this.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Republican Debate....

Ron Paul had claimed that Rick Santorum was "fake", and when asked about that claim last night, he simply repeated it. I will have to admit that it was both funny and refreshing that a prominent politician made a claim like this, and did not back down once questioned about it. When asked, he could have said anything, but simply reiterating his assertion that Santorum was awesome! Even better was seeing Santorum's reaction. He was clearly not amused. But is there anyone more deserving of being told such a thing on such a stage, before a national audience that he hopes votes him into the highest office? If so, I cannot think of such a person, unless they shared the stage with Santorum last night.
            The thing is, although I myself am not a rabid fan of Ron Paul, like many of his followers, who lose all objectivity and seem to think the man can do no wrong, there are aspects of him that I do admire. He is, at the very least, honest, seemingly. More honest than other politicians, and he basically raises a banner, and makes no bones about it. The message being, seemingly, "This is what I stand for, take it or leave it."
            That said, I am leaving it, because what he stands for is not just what his admirers talk about – that he is anti-war, anti-establishment (allegedly, anyway), and favors legalizing pot. All of that sounds really great, but he is not a liberal, by any stretch of the imagination. He sees no conflict with church and state, and feels churches are more important and useful to the people than the government. He seems to oppose homosexuality in general, although not as loudly as Santorum, who has been making headlines with that (which I will get into a little later on in this piece). Paul's tax proposals would also disproportionately favor the rich and corporations, as would his desire for further and even more absolute deregulation. His record with allegations of racism may or may not be baseless, but the fact that he claimed he would vote against the Civil Rights Act if he could today certainly cannot help dissuade such rumors. He also wants to get rid of social security, Planned Parenthood, and FEMA (the organization that helps people out following disasters, such as hurricanes). If he had his way, he would also favor eliminating the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and would eliminate student loans that grant less moneyed kids to actually attend colleges they otherwise would not be able to afford.
            Now, as for Rick Santorum, his idiocy and bigotry has spoken for itself, and loudly lately. He sounds like a homophobe when he speaks, and criticizing President Obama about his religious stance is low, even for a politician. Maybe I am just weird, but it turns me off when someone claims to be religious and wears it on his sleeve to promote his political ambitions, and shows no sense of reserve, but rather loudly proclaims his self-righteousness. Fake, indeed. That does not even begin to cover it, as far as Santorum is concerned. Yet, if he were to win the Republican nomination, which hardly seems entirely implausible, that would probably work strongly to the benefit of the Democrats and Obama's hopes for reelection. It is a dangerous gamble, though, because if he somehow gets into the White House, he is a man who could do a lot of damage. We already recently had one supposedly religious man in there, who even claimed that God was on his side and wanted him to be President, and look at the damage that he did in his eight years in office (I am talking about George W. Bush, of course).
            Of course, Santorum is surging like he is because people just do not trust Romney, and why not? Because he is slick, plays it overly safe, like a typical politician. He comes across not as a real person, but as someone who maintains an image to such an extent that the real person that is surely inside is never seen. Romney wonders why cannot fire people up, but there is no fire in him to warm people to him, which cannot be said of his other competitors, really. What he does have is money, plenty of money, and with all of that money, he buys advertisement time, and throws negative publicity, mudslinging, against his opponents. Very political, as well. It is effective, but no wonder people cannot like this guy. He cannot stand on his own merits, but instead, throws money at the problem  - obviously another thing that people simply cannot trust. It works, for now. But this is the Republican field. Can such strategies work on the national level, for the whole prize? Also, if he is struggling so much as the alleged frontrunner to lock up the Republican nomination, what does that say about his chances in the general election, when he has to face Obama. He was apparently too scared to face Gingrich in a debates not long ago, so how does he think he will fare against Obama, who famously has a way with words, and a certain style that Romney likely cannot match up to?
            Finally, Gingrich is still in the race. Gingrich. The man who wanted to impeach Clinton for getting a blowjob, and then had to resign form his government post himself after it was proven that he had extramarital affairs. He has a loud mouth as well (they all do), of course. He calls himself a true conservative, and claims that he is too intellectual to be an effective politician. Still, that does not apparently stop him from trying, again and again and again, and he caters to people who, allegedly, distrust intellectualism. Hmmmm…
            So, Obama will likely win the upcoming election. The question I would ask is, does he deserve it? We have lost sight of the existence of any positions, or really any way of thinking, period, outside of the two major parties that are supposed to represent the nation. My question is how can two parties possibly encompass the full range of diversity that a population of over 300 million will produce?
            Yes, Obama will likely win the election, and yes, I would prefer him over any of the Republicans that I already mentioned. But does that mean he will get the country going in a better direction? I generally do not vote for either major party, personally, but would lean more towards the Democrats than the Republicans. That said, how could I vote for Obama, when he will go down in history as the President who in effect eliminated the guarantee of habeas corpus? He talks a big game about environmental policies, but what steps has he taken? Kudos to him that he has a good singing voice, and that he still has some star power, but that does not a President make.
            So, I will be so bold as to make a claim here. What would be best for the country is not another four years of Obama, much less four years of Republicans in the White House again. What would be best for the country is to get other alternatives than these tow parties, that tend to agree with each other entirely too much for my taste. We need people who will put the interests of their country before their own narrow political ambitions, but we are too mired in the way things have seemingly always worked to think outside of the box, and we are too stubborn as a nation to seemingly ever try anything really different. At least, that is, until we perhaps lose even more, until maybe we will reach that point when we no longer have a choice in the matter. It is just a shame that it has to come to that, as it seemingly, assuredly will. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I grew up on Star Wars. The original movie that got the ball rolling, "A New Hope" came out in 1977, when I was not yet even three years old, and still living in another country, on another continent. The second movie, "The Empire Strikes Back", came out shortly after we came back to the United States. Then the final installment of the first trilogy, "Return of the Jedi", came out in 1983, and was the first of the movies that I saw in the theater. I still remember how much of a thrill it was, and it still conjures pleasant memories when I think of that particular movie (as well as E.T., back in 1982).
The next trilogy came out many years later, lasting from 1999, with "The Phantom Menace", going through to 2002 with "Attack of the Clones", and finally culminating in 2005 with "Revenge of the Sith", where we finally see Anakin Skywalker's conversion into Darth Vader.
Star Wars blends the best of the action genre and space fantasy movies with a good amount of romance and drama, and juggles along with this some mythological themes worthy of Ancient Greece. It has captured the popular imagination, and no less an authority on mythology than Joseph Campbell has called it, with some validity, "American mythology". That, plus the movies are beloved by millions the world over, and such figures as Darth Vader, Yoda, C-3P0 and R2-D2, to name just a few, are instantly recognized through much of the world. So, it has some credentials, to say the least.
Of course, it has not all been rosy. George Lucas has been criticized for trying to squeeze every last dollar that he can out of the franchise, and has altered the movies themselves, released them only very slowly, and then with different versions, if you will. He received criticism for the second trilogy, which most Star Wars fans consider not quite on the level of the first trilogy (and I happen to be among those who feel this way), and even with the toy line, where some of the "rare" figures have such subtle differences that you really have to shake your head and assume it's just a money-making gimmick. The marketing for it is huge, and of course, George Lucas certainly cannot complain about not having received enough money for it, so the popular opinion has turned against him, seemingly assuming that he is excessively greedy.
Be that as it may, the movies themselves have remained the same, largely, alternate endings or not. There are actually supposed to be nine installments, although Lucas has insisted that the six that already exist are it, and he has no plans on making more of these movies. We shall see. It has been almost seven years since the last movie, but it is hardly inconceivable that he would make another trilogy – although I have seen the brief stories behind them, and they seem kind of weird, admittedly.
There are similarities between the trilogy of movies that exist already. The titles, for example, all seem similar in the order that they are placed. "A New Hope" suggests an invisible presence, as does "The Phantom Menace", "The Empire Strikes Back" is clearly about some kind of conflict or battle, as is "Attack of the Clones". The closest association is between "Return of the Jedi" and "Revenge of the Sith", especially since the 1983 movie was originally going to be titled "Revenge of the Jedi", until Lucas decided that it was not accurate, spiritually, and that an enlightened figure like a Jedi would not seek revenge.
It is not just the titles that are similar, but similar things happen, often at similar times in the movies. Much of the first installments take place in Tattoine, the desert planet. In both of them, the bearded fatherly figure of a Jedi Knight is killed while the younger accomplice looks on. The younger Anakin bears a strong resemblance to Luke in the original movie. In both of the second movies, we see the introduction of the "Fett" characters, Boba in 1980, and Jenga in 2002. Also in the second movies, we see a Skywalker (Luke in 1980, and Anakin in 2002) lose their right arm, their fighting arm, in lightsaber fights where they seem hopelessly outmatched. We see the vastness of the armies in both trilogies, as well, and perhaps especially in the second ones for each. The last movies in both trilogies see the temptation to the Dark Side, albeit with very different results, and both movies also see the triumph of different forces, the Dark Side for the more recent trilogy, and the good side for the older trilogy. There are similarities, to be sure. Even some of the characters make appearances, albeit sometimes in hidden form. We see C-3P0 and R-2D2 in all of the movies, and Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader are both prominent characters in all of the movies, as well. Yoda is in five of the six, and Chewbacca, Jabba the Hut, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia all make appearances in each trilogy.
Star Wars is great for all ages, and the cross referencing, if you will, of fans shows remarkable diversity. I personally know quite a few fans, including some that I would never have guessed would be fans of such a series. You the reader probably know quite a few fans of Star Wars yourself.
Anyway, I am writing this because I took my son to see "Phantom Menace" in 3-D last night. I grew up on Star Wars as a kid, and it's fun to watch my son's enthusiasm now as an adult, although he kept asking if I was still awake throughout the movie, which was actually better than I remembered it being. Plus, seeing it in 3-D was, admittedly, pretty cool! You can really get a fuller effect by seeing it like that on a big silver screen, and it enhances the experience considerably. All in all, not a bad way to share an evening together with my little son, who is starting to rival me at a much younger age, as far as Star Wars is concerned. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Sayings of Mark Twain

"It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." – Mark Twain
This is one of my personal favorite sayings, and something that I have tried to live by for quite some time now. It was written by Mark Twain, who seems to have endless sayings and small bits of truth, all with a particularly American accent to them, if you will. He is perhaps the greatest of all American authors, and his works, as well as his truths, have withstood the test of time. He largely remains the father figure, in many respects, of American letters.
He is a fascinating figure. Mark Twain was not his real name, of course. Samuel Clemmons was his actual name, and Mark Twain was the pen name, inspired by the terms used to mark distances during his years on steam boats. They would "mark" the units of measurement by calling them out, so it sounded like this: "Mark one…..mark twain….mark three….." and so on and so forth. He seems to have taken a liking to this, and taken it as his pen name – one that continues to live on today!
That all sounds like a success story, and yet, Mark Twain/Samuel Clemmons was a figure who seemed to embody extremes. He had tremendous success on many levels, and was America's (and perhaps the world's) first real modern celebrity, if you will. His written works have achieved a measure of immortality that few ever come close to. His sayings are strong and memorable and he remains quoted to this day. He had several homes, including the very lavish house up in Hartford, Connecticut. Anybody who paid a visit there was under no illusions that this was just a typical man, living within his means. He may have been a lot of things, but that is not among them.
Yet, his life had more than it's share of tragedies and embarrassments, as well. He made fortunes, and squandered them. He has a beautiful family, and then watched each one die well before he did. He had seen slavery in the South growing up, and spoke out against it. He also saw the clouds of war that were beginning to hover over Europe not long before his own death.
All of these experiences had given him what at times could only be seen as a cynical outlook. Look at this quote, for example:
"Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world."
Or this:
"Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved."
He did not just express this for his own example, but sometimes for all of humanity:
"There are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce."
Not exactly the sunniest outlook, right? Then again, would you disagree with him? Some would, surely. Vonnegut would later knock my socks off by saying something very similar, and claiming that possibly a majority, perhaps even a wide majority, of people would choose death if they absolutely knew that there would be no negative ramifications for them in the afterlife.
            Of course, he was known for such pessimistic one-liners, and a lot of them were quite funny.  Here is one on humanity, compared less than favorably to a canine:
            'If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."
            Here is another sunny gem:
"Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person."
            Here is one that applies to politics and religions and all manner of powerful conspiracies by large groups of people, including modern day corporations:
            "'When whole races of peoples conspire to propagate gigantic mute lies in the interests of tyrannies and shams, why should we care anything about the trifling lies told by individuals?"
            Here is another timeless quote that is as true today as when he first expressed it, and which the world would likely be a better place if they understood the truth of this, and applied it to their own behavior:
            "We despise all reverences and all the objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our own list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to us."
            How about this quote, which seems to talk about science, and how our academic understanding of the world was enhanced at the expense, all too often, of our sense of wonder:
            "We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that the savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter."
            About how people view themselves and the history of their own race, religion, or nation:
            "The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice."
            Of course, he himself understood how little people would be able to grasp the truth:
"I never could tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe."
Here is one that is perhaps not so well known, but which remains true to this day, regarding a wide range of prejudices that we tend to hold in our hearts:
"Reverence for one's own sacred things – parents, religion, flag, laws, and respect for one's own beliefs – these are feelings which we cannot even help. They come natural to us; they are involuntary, like breathing. There is no personal merit in breathing."
A more famous one that illustrates his capacity for effective brevity was this gem:
"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."
I always find it enjoyable to turn back to Twain every now and then. One of the most brilliant short stories that I know of, and which he wrote and made sure would not get published until after his own death, was "The War Prayer". A lot of people have a hard time understanding why he would have written than, yet they do not get it. Twain felt that it was the truth, and as such, he felt that it should be published only after he had died, because the truth, according to him, only came from those already dead.
He is known for some incredible works, of course. Yet, his sayings, which I have focused on here, obviously, hold some strong value on their own, and live on, because they have an immortal quality to them. He is known best for his sense of humor, which shines through in most of his writings and sayings. So, it seems appropriate to conclude this short piece with a quote of his regarding humor:
"Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Anna Quindlen's "A Short Guide to a Happy Life"

This was not the first time that I read this book, and already, whenever someone tells you that they have read a book more than once, it more than likely means that they regard it highly and enjoyed reading it. Such is the case with this book.

It is a short read, and you can probably get through it in under half of an hour, if you really want. Certainly, less than an hour, if you read at a relatively regular speed (whatever that would be). I read probably on the normal to slow side, and it did not take long at all. But believe me, this book will likely be worth your while and the effort to read!

It is short, and has an unofficial, informal, almost conversational feel to it. it is compact, but she chooses her words very well, and to beautiful effect! Describing in brief an event that changed her life, her mother dying while she was still only a young college student of 19, she talks about how that literally changed her life, and what that taught her about character. From being a college student with normal college student activities and the college lifestyle to think about, she suddenly found herself in the suburbs, taking care of someone, her life completely altered. She describes it as the moment in her life when she can define the "before" and "after" this pivotal event. It seems that she got the most of it, and gained valuable wisdom, to boot. In her words:

"I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get."

Powerful stuff.

She mentions how she came to be talking to a homeless man towards the end of this book. This was a man that society looks down upon, a man who struggles to find a place to stay warm on those brutally cold winter nights (which we have had startlingly few of so far this winter, by the way). He is not a power broker or a mover & shaker on Wall Street, not a prominent politician positioning himself for some higher office, not a religious figure, or anything like that. He does not hold a regular job. Yet, the wisdom that she shared with her offered a different perspective, and she ends the book with it. He responds to her question of why he did not find a shelter or go to detox, and try and get himself cleaned up.

As she puts it:

"And he stared out at the ocean and said, "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view." she says it is sound advice, and she still applies it to her life even today.

She gives quite a bit of good advice based on her own experiences, as well, and I strongly recommend that you get a copy and spend perhaps an hour of your life with her words. It just might be an eye opener!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Instant Results! Order Now!

It takes a long time to build towards something that you truly want to accomplish. When there is something that you care enough to make every effort to make it happen, it might take just about everything that you've got. If not, it almost always takes a lot of focus and dedication and patience, which tend not to be among the virtues that our society truly recognizes or honors.

What we are led to believe, even if this message is never directly, explicitly mentioned, is that you can have everything, and right now, with little to no effort. There are twelve step programs to break addictions, twelve step programs to getting the job that you want, or to achieving financial success. Turn on the infomercials late at night, and you will find other can't miss deals that it's best to steer clear of. You will have a limited time offer to buy your very own Sham Wow, and if you order in the next few minutes (because he can't keep doing this type of deal for everyone, all of the time - even though the same commercial plays over and over again for everyone, all of the time), you will get a second Sham Wow for free. Not only that, but they will throw in the Super Duper Sham Wow, all for a small monthly installment plan. Not interested? How about this incredible exercise machine to finally get you the results that you want for the perfect body? They will show you the torso of a perfectly sculpted man, every muscle rippling, a serious and focused expression on his face. If it's for women, they will show you a gorgeous woman with dream curves, usually bending in skin tight spandex. the body that you want, and it takes just ten minutes a day. You can see results within the first week, and if you don't get the results you want within eight weeks or are not completely satisfied, they will guarantee your money back! So order now, and don't delay, because these are going fast - although like the Sham Wow, you see these same products being advertised on the same infomercials over and over and over again.

Of course, these are the most extreme examples of an unfortunately growing trend that seems to reflect the sense of entitlement among adults in this country that would be more appropriately placed among children. Usually, a child will see something desirable and wish to have it, right away, not understanding the work and dedication it takes to reach that goal. When I was a little boy, I was no different. I would read comic books, and wished that I had many of the super powers that these super heroes had. I wanted the rippling muscles that wrestlers and boxers had. I wanted the money and power of the big movers and shakers in the world. I wanted to be super smart, to achieve academic success, and for it to come easily (at least for me). I wanted to achieve the independence and seeming wisdom of adults, and was too impatient for results "down the road", or to achieve any or all of this "some day". Everything that I saw around me that was desirable, was what I wanted to be, what I wanted to have. I would have a beautiful wife and healthy and happy kids and a big home and a fancy sports car and a dream existence. Of course, I would have the perfect body, and everybody would be envious of me. I see the same thing now from an adult perspective this time, as a father. My son wants huge, rippling muscles, reminds everyone within ear shot that he is incredibly strong and super tough and can knock you down. He wishes that he could grow claws out of his knuckles, like Wolverine, and asks me if I do not wish for the same for him. There are toys that he wishes he could have. The list of wants is endless.I guess it's fair to say, like father, like son, because I was indeed the same way.

Things change, however. My experiences were different than I had expected, yet this was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I rather enjoyed the different path that my life went along in, because it was different that that of most others, as well, and it was real. I do not have those rippling muscles. I do not have the fancy sports car, or the spacious and mansion with the rich decor, situated on the large estate, and with a nice long driveway (maybe circular?) to park that awesome sports car of mine on. Nope, I don't really have any of that. My life is not always dreamy, as I imagined. Happiness is hard to come by, and does not seemingly get easier with age. At least, that has not been my experience so far. Adulthood is in large part about coming to terms with the reality that eluded us during the height of our childhood dreams. We put away childish things, and try and come to terms with a more realistic future. It is not easy, but we know we have to try. We can look longingly towards childhood days, but if we can succeed as adults, we had better learn to adjust and compromise in just about everything. I like the way Sheryl Crow put it:

"It's not having what you want, 
it's wanting what you've got"

Of course,I do not have all that I wanted as a child. Yet, I am not completely unhappy with my life. True, I have yet to fully learn how to appreciate all that I have been blessed with, although I am making improvements with this everyday. Far from perfect indeed, but I am not all that bad of a person to be. I do not have those wrestler or boxer kind of muscles, but I never took the steroids that most of those guys took to get them, either. I am in decent shape, and am appreciative for the good health that it is my privilege to enjoy. I do not have a McMansion and a manicured estate paid for by a high salaried position, but I also am not working in a place that actively makes people's lives more difficult and stressful, like many in the financial enterprises do, and now seemingly more than ever before. I used to dream about being President, or having some influential office like that, but I see those who are viewed as viable candidates, and find myself glad not to be able to relate to the ego and arrogance on display among them.

I do not have all that I dreamed of, but I am pursuing my adult dreams little by little, slowly, trying to build something real up over time. Patience is what it takes, and I am trying. It remains to be seen whether these efforts will meet with success, ultimately, but at least I am trying.

What gets me is that a lot of adults seem to take childish positions. They might not admit it out loud, but they want the instant results that they have been led to believe in, that has been marketed to them. We collectively have been fed lies for all of our lives, and still we collectively swallow what we are given to swallow. We have grown up in a rich country that it's citizens believe to be "Number 1", and we hear our supposed leaders confirm this, perennially claiming this to be "the greatest country" on Earth, and sometimes, we hear it referred to as "God's country" even still. It goes without saying that people want to believe this, and once they do believe it, believing in certain other things, whether or not true, becomes a lot easier. After all, people believe what they want to believe. Especially the affluent, and it is true that the United States was, for a long time, the most affluent nation of all. What is happening now in our country, the way things seem to be falling apart all around us, all at once, is a product of this arrogance that we allowed ourselves to indulge in, collectively. Like spoiled children, we believed so much, that we never questioned it, and lived a way of life that we could not actually afford. Now, it has come back to bite us, but we are still collectively too spoiled to really try and understand that changed need to be made. When Obama was first elected, he was deified by many, and very quickly once he assumed office, he was demonized just as quickly, because it was proven that he did not have a magic wand with which to fix all of the country's numerous problems, and instantly. In both instances and extremes, people had mistaken expectations - namely, that one man was going to allegedly come in and fix everything quickly. Put to right what was wrong. No wonder our problems just grow worse and worse.

Aside from politics, we are experiencing some kind of collective moral break down, as well. As much as our government is in debt, we individually tend to be highly in debt. Borrowing money to live a standard of life that we cannot actually afford has become our way of life. It is now the "American way". Much like expecting instant results without actually putting in much, if any, actual effort.

We seem to have lost sight of the well known truth that anything worth having takes time and effort. When we see a star athlete performing heroics, or some boxer, perhaps, that is sculpted full of muscles, we only see the final result of the hard work and dedication that likely took a lifetime to achieve. Similarly, someone who worked hard to achieve financial success had to endure a lot, and more than likely, it was a result of hard work and dedication to achieving a dream that took a lifetime.

We need to stop looking for short cuts, and to start building up our patience, as well as our appreciation for what we have been blessed with. In the west in general, and in this country in particular, we have been blessed with a lot that we should feel thankful for. There really is no reason to complain. The question, then, is why is everybody complaining, and so loudly, to boot?