We Have Met the Enemy and he is us

What’s missing from the debate about our borders? The reason why.

People don’t just pick up and leave their ancestral homes and extended families without a good reason. In so doing, they face a dangerous and expensive journey in search of a new home. Yet despite the risks and hardship, these folks feel they have no choice.

What we hear is news about brown-skinned folks mobbing our borders, crossing rivers and sneaking into the promised land. We see them standing in lines, tear-stained kids’ faces, our media swamped with shouting heads about illegal immigration. Build a wall! Trump yells.

What does any of that do to solve the problem?

Nothing.

The problem is ours. It is we who have caused this, maybe not us individually, but us as part of a Western culture’s willingness to overrun and exploit anyone weaker than us in order to enrich ourselves.

As reported on the PBS Newshour last night,[1] most of the current surge of immigration comes from three nations: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These are collectively among the most violent, poverty-stricken areas of the Americas. To fully understand the terrible state of affairs in these countries, one must go back several centuries to the Spanish conquest when everything of value was stolen from the people. Since then, land ownership by rich plantation owners and all-powerful foreign corporations has removed people from their traditional way of life and left them with nothing but poorly paid jobs, if that.

The role of the United States intensified during the 20th century as socialist ideals filtered into Latin America. People embraced the idea of taking back the land from foreign interests and the wealthy power brokers in their country. The U.S. took an active albeit secretive role in destroying such efforts, as described in an article in the May 2016 issue of The Nation:[2]

…the active role Washington played in the “dirty war” in El Salvador in the 1980s, which pitted a right-wing government against Marxist guerrillas. The United States sent military advisers to help the Salvadoran military fight its dirty war, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid.

The United States went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador. The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.

In March of 1980, the much beloved and respected Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered. A voice for the poor and repressed, Romero, in his final Sunday sermon, had issued a plea to the country’s military junta that rings through the ages: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”  The next day, he was cut down by a single bullet while he was saying a private mass…

Eight months after the assassination, a military informant gave the US embassy in El Salvador evidence that it had been plotted by Roberto D’Aubuisson, a charismatic and notorious right-wing leader. D’Aubuisson had presided over a meeting in which soldiers drew lots for the right to kill the archbishop, the informant said. While any number of right-wing death squads might have wanted to kill Romero, only a few, like D’Aubuisson’s, were “fanatical and daring” enough to actually do it, the CIA concluded in a report for the White House.

Yet, D’Aubuisson continued to be welcomed at the US embassy in El Salvador, and when Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s point man on Central America during the Reagan administration, testified before Congress, he said he would not consider D’Aubuisson an extremist. “You would have to be engaged in murder,” Abrams said, before he would call him an extremist.

But D’Aubuisson was engaged in murder, and Washington knew it. (He died of throat cancer in 1992, at the age of 48. Abrams was convicted in 1991 of misleading Congress about the shipment of arms to the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua, the so-called “Iran/Contra” affair. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, later served as special adviser to President George W. Bush on democracy and human rights, and is now a foreign-policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.)

Then there was the murder of three nuns. The Nation’s article continues:

No act of barbarism is more emblematic of the deceit that marked Washington’s policy in El Salvador in the 1980s than the sexual assault and murder of four US churchwomen—three Roman Catholic nuns and a lay missionary—in December 1980, a month after Ronald Reagan was elected president.

The American ambassador, Robert White, who had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter, knew immediately that the Salvadoran military was responsible—even if he didn’t have the names of the perpetrators—but that was not what the incoming administration wanted to hear.

One of Reagan’s top foreign-policy advisers, Jeane Kirkpatrick, when asked if she thought the government had been involved, said, “The answer is unequivocal. No, I don’t think the government was responsible.” She then sought to besmirch the women. “The nuns were not just nuns,” she told The Tampa Tribune. “The nuns were also political activists,” with a leftist political coalition (Kirkpatrick died in 2006).

This history and the criminality of U.S. behavior in El Salvador is but one of many similar circumstances across Latin America. Our violent suppression of activists like Che Guevara and other native leaders occurs time and again. We’ve been unwilling to allow local people to reclaim their lands, now largely functioning as an extended plantation for multinational agri-business.

El Salvador has always been a largely agricultural country and despite recent shifts agriculture has continued to be a mainstay of the economy. Conflicts and peasant uprisings over the land date back more than four centuries, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. Since the last 19th century, the most fertile lands have been concentrated in few hands, “An oligarchy known as las catorce (the original fourteen aristocratic families, which has later expanded in number) and used to grow coffee for export, forcing small-scale farmers onto marginal quality lands and making their subsistence increasingly precarious. In the second half of the twentieth century, an alliance of conservative civilians (dominated by las catorce) and military officers ruled the country until the late 1970s.

“A vicious circle was created whereby concentration of land by the wealthy furthered inequality, which led to land degradation and caused conflict that finally escalated into full scale civil war in 1980.” The long civil war decimated the environment, a result of the government’s “’scorched earth’ strategy designed to decimate the insurgency’s base of support in the countryside.” [3]

This destruction resulted in large-scale migration to urban areas which has placed further stress on the country’s delicate ecosystem. A long term result of the war and the ensuing shift in demography has been continuing conflicts over land and the ecological impact of its use near urban areas.

“… the real cause of the civil war in El Salvador is the issue of agrarian reform. The oligarchy tries to prevent it at all cost. The party of the landholding elite has close ties with the death squads…[4],[5]

Its topsoil depleted, its forests all but gone, its water and air polluted by chemicals, livestock, and human waste, El Salvador is a picture of where we’re headed. It’s the canary in the coal mine, a predictor of Western hemisphere futures where overpopulation, lack of environmental protections, and concentration of land ownership are allowed free rein.

Trump’s eager rallying cry against evil gangs—in particular MS-13—barely skims the surface of the real problems facing El Salvador and, by default, the rest of us.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the city’s Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

Originally, the gang’s main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and African-Americans.[6]

With over 30,000 members internationally and its power concentrated in the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, MS-13 is a cautionary tale for us all. But that’s not the full picture for El Salvadorans:

The defense ministry has estimated that more than 500,000 Salvadorans are involved with gangs. (This number includes gang members’ relatives and children who have been coerced into crimes.) Turf wars between MS-13, the country’s largest gang, and its chief rivals, two factions of Barrio 18, have exacerbated what is the world’s highest homicide rate for people under the age of 19. In 2016, 540 Salvadoran minors were murdered—an average of 1.5 every day.

While a majority of El Salvador’s homicide victims are young men from poor urban areas, the gangs’ practice of explicitly targeting girls for sexual violence or coerced relationships is well known. Since 2000, the homicide rate for young women in El Salvador has also increased sharply, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. To refuse the gangs’ demands can mean death for girls and their families.[7]

This explains why increasingly the people surging north to U. S. borders in search of safety are single young people and especially young women. It also exposes the ignorance and immorality of the Trump Administration’s recent decision to no longer accept gang violence as an adequate reason to offer sanctuary to immigrants and of its plans to reduce foreign aid to El Salvador. As further evidence of the administration’s deaf ear to the very real crisis of the region, it has reduced the immigration quota for people from the Caribbean and Latin America from 5,000 to 1,500.[8]

As you sow, so shall you reap.

~~~

 

[1] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/migrants-risk-the-dangerous-trip-to-the-u-s-because-its-safer-than-staying-home

[2] https://www.thenation.com/article/time-for-a-us-apology-to-el-salvador/

[3] A. Weinberg, ICE Case Studies, Case Number: 22, Case Mnemonic: ELSALV Case Name: El Salvador Civil War. May 1997. http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/elsalv.htm

[4] M. Dufumier, “Reforme Agraire Au Salvador,” in Civilisations, Vol. 35, No. 2, Pour Une Conscience Lation-Americaine, Prealable A Des Rapports Sud-Sud: Centra d’Etude d l’Amerique Latine (Institute de Sociologie de l’Universite de Burxelles: 1985. 190. http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/41229331.

[5] https://www.trustingpeace.org/blog/english-version/land-use-in-el-salvador-who-owns-the-land-and-how-do-they-use-it-a-basic-human-rights-issue#_ftn8

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-13

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/el-salvador-women-gangs-ms-13-trump-violence/554804/

[8] Ibid

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Works of Man and Nature

A few days ago I headed out to explore a road I’d never been down before. It’s less than fifteen minutes from where I live and in my current work-in-progress on the history of the West Fork valley, the road is mentioned often. I thought I should see it.

I was not prepared for what I found there.

Winn Creek Road. Named after the creek and Zadock Winn, a man who drowned there back in the early days of settlement. Other Winns established homesteads up that valley, too, and maybe the road took that name before Zadock drowned back in 1852. The road veers off southwest from Woolsey Road south of West Fork amid wide flat pastures framed on either side by steep, thickly-wooded hillsides.

You know you’re getting to the good part when you see the “Pavement Ends” sign. The road narrows. You slow down as tires hit the gravel and a cloud of dust rises behind you. The valley attenuates to its essential elements and tree canopy encloses the roadway in welcome shade.

To the right, the hillside rises sharply, its massive rock outcroppings mostly hidden in dense undergrowth and hardwood forest. I imagine how it must have looked to the first man to blaze this path, hacking his way through brambles and vines. I imagine how he eagerly awaited the next curve of the creek as it curled through the 30-foot deep ravine to the left, perhaps thirsty, perhaps eager to splash water on his sweaty neck.

Creeks were the roads before roads, paths cleared by regular torrents where in times of low water, man or beast could walk without fear of ambush by tick or cougar. Infinite generations of rocks large and small line the creek bottom. Pale brown, gray, occasionally black where the roaring water has undercut shale, limestone and sandstone claim the greater share of the lithic congregation. I pass a few houses, some buried on deeply wooded hillsides with “No Trespassing” signs at the driveway, others laid out alongside barns and white graveled drives.

The valley and its waterway curl under the dominating rise of these northern slopes of the Boston Mountains. Here and there ancient landslides or silted bends form little meadows suitable for a house, a garden, even pasture. I drive along watching the land slowly rise as I pass further south. I think of pioneers who claimed these places as their own, the long process of clearing fields to plant their wheat, corn, oats, cotton, and tobacco. I think of their log cabins, the children they raised, perhaps descendants living here still.

I’m immersed in the past when travel through places that required heavy wagons pulled by mules or a faithful horse to pick its way across the rugged land. I think of the millennia before white men, when Natives crept through the underbrush watching buffalo herds graze. I think of the millions of years it has taken this tiny place on our planet to form, primeval seas that covered the land then receded, the rush of glacial melt carving its way through countless layers of primordial continent with its fossils of all that came before.

Finally the road and creek bed approach the same level. I could stop, walk past a broken down fence line, and wade. I could sit and watch the water sparkle in sunlight as it rushes along its path.

I round a last curve and stop mid-breath. My heart leaps into my throat.

A surreal scene spreads across the narrow valley. My mouth falls open in shock. I’m instantly transported to a science fiction world. It’s almost more than I can take in.

There, straddling the stream and rising so high I must lean forward to see the top, are massive square steel pillars that hold up Interstate 49. The juxtaposition of the interstate and its structural supports against the backdrop of this venerable wild landscape is almost too much to absorb.

I stop, take pictures, try to come to terms with this bizarre reality. I examine the way the highway engineers planned to use the upper canyon wall as a launching pad for the roadway to fly across this valley. I study the exposed layers of earth and stone cut over countless eons by this now-trivial stream, laid bare as if pages of a book waiting to be read.

Not so trivial, even now, it seems. Evidence of raging flood mark the edge of the roadway, grass twisted and brown with silt, knots of weed tangled in fences. I think of Zadock Winn who believed he could cross even though the water foamed and seethed in its torrent. I thought of how, in all things, Nature will always win.

She will win here, too. For now, traffic clatters and roars far above my head, the steady drumming of tires, the regular lub-dub lub-dub as one after another vehicle crosses each section. Some bracing rattles more loudly than others, perhaps already loosening from its original moorings. There is no peace in this valley.

I drive on. Another quarter mile up the road, the creek takes a ninety-degree bend, providing me the fullest view of its intrinsic beauty.

I peer down from the road where it hugs the hillside forty feet above the water. This is the widest point of its course, ornamented in sparkling ridges as layer upon layer of rock gradually step down through the curve. I can almost hear children laughing as they splash and play in the shallow cool water.

Ahead, if I ventured another three miles or so, I’d arrive at Highway 74 where a left turn would take me to Winslow or a right turn would drop me into the wonderland of Devil’s Den State Park. I turn around and go back the way I came.

I drive home slowly, jarred from my normal frame of mind. The experience of that creek and its valley remains an arresting memory I won’t soon forget. It compares with the best stories I’ve seen or read where astonishing realities intersect with the commonplace. The interstate and its undergirding simply do not belong in that landscape.

Yet I’m twenty plus years past any of this being new. Surely the people who lived here during construction grew familiar with the mind-boggling scale of the interstate’s design. Surely the workers laboring day after day through the pouring of concrete and operation of massive cranes to erect these towers saw their labor as being rooted in the ground. It is rooted in the ground. No doubt the foundations for these support towers are driven deep into the strata far below the creek bed.

I wonder how long it will stand, this high-flying roadway built to accommodate a life lived too fast for contemplation of creek bottoms and tumbled rocks. How many decades will these pillars remain? I imagine a future time when only the towers still stand, the path for vehicles long since rusted and crumbled by the forces of weather, traffic, and time. How much of the concrete will fall to this scenic valley? What will it look like here in a hundred years, a mere blink in geologic time?

I’m disappointed in my words and even the photographs to adequately describe my visceral experience of this location. It’s worth the drive to put yourself there, to stand staring up at the work of man while surrounded by the work of Nature. Questions of time, space, and existence arise spontaneously. Of our place in the continuum, of what the future might hold.

What Is Common Space?

From http://blog.urbannatureculture.com/?p=220, a wonderful site well worth your visit.

A recent flap in Eureka Springs focused attention on the peculiar activity of ‘yarn bombing.’ This is where people obsessed with knitting/crochet apply their talents to public spaces in the name of art. In Eureka Springs, this includes wrapping tree trunks in complex patterns of colorful yarn.

Yikes!

No wonder a resident who sees these vibrantly adorned trees in the park across from her home allegedly, under cover of darkness, cut the yarn and freed the trees.

I do understand how the artist(s) who had applied themselves to these difficult tasks would feel hurt that their artistic talents were so rudely destroyed. On the other hand, I’m afraid my sympathy in this case lies with the vandal. Parks are, after all, supposedly places where everyone can enjoy the beauty of nature, set aside in cities where everything else bears the heavy hand of humanity.

Why gild the lily? Aren’t trees fascinating and beautiful enough on their own? I get that creations of yarn probably don’t stand well on their own in a public venue, but then, perhaps that’s a challenge for yarn artists to figure out rather than glomming onto nature’s talents.

And while I’m on the subject, what about those stacked rocks now cropping up in public spaces around the country? Who exactly wants to go to a wilderness like the Buffalo River and come across someone’s self-important effort to be noticed? Wow, man, how cool is that guy, stacking all those rocks so carefully?

Who gets off on venturing to a remote rural stream only to find the tracks of other humans? Isn’t that why we go out to embrace Nature in the first place, to leave behind the streets, noise, neon lights, exhaust fumes, shouts and cries, and all the other overwhelming and increasingly inescapable evidence of human habitation?

It doesn’t matter if the trace of other humans appears in the form of discarded fast food containers, rusting appliances, or yarn art. What matters is that we somehow come to an agreement that common spaces meant to preserve some tiny fragment of Nature remains exactly that—Nature.

Same goes for those Western lands currently contested by farmers who think they have some kind of God-given right to use public lands. If it’s “public lands,” that means it’s for all of us, NOT for an individual. Federal law needs to change so that no one gets dibs on public lands, not to be leased for running cattle any more than they should be leased for oil and mineral exploration. These destructive processes permanently mar the landscape, change the entire ecosystem, and leave only the heavy footprints of humans.

No. Just no.

So about those hiking/biking trails through our Northwest Arkansas cities. Why must these be pockmarked with works of art? Are we really so inured to the natural wonders of our environment that we can’t exist without putting our mark everywhere? Artworks are fine in museums, in front of fancy buildings, and even in the public square. Why is it necessary to drape the natural landscape of trail routes with reminders of people?

This is similar to the systematic abuse of music, another art form, by layering it into every single waking moment–television programs and movies, elevators, every store and office, every trip to anywhere. What about extended periods of silence? What about music as a singular amazing rendering of an art form worthy of our attention?

I have nothing against art. But putting art where it doesn’t belong is as much a violation of art as ignoring art entirely. Let’s create art parks where people visit to enjoy visual art. Maybe rotate installations surrounded by tended beds of colorful flowers, fountains, and other contributions from the natural world. But art in such settings is the key feature, not a bit thrown in here and there where people visit for other reasons besides art. Art museums, art galleries, art installations in designated public places—these are venues where art belongs, not superimposed on places meant to be natural.

Maybe this is a discussion to be held in any community. Where does art fit best in our town? Where can we preserve Nature for everyone’s enjoyment? If we’re trying to preserve Nature, can we limit our invasion to the creation of a pathway for us to walk/bike and leave the rest untouched?

Can we not at least agree to set aside places where the ham-fist of humanity is not allowed? Can we not recognize the rights of animals and plants to live undisturbed, at least in a few tiny corners of our world? Can we not pull back our tendencies to claim territory and preserve some fragments of nature amid urban spaces?

That means no yarn bombs on parkland tree trunks—unless that park is a designated art park. It means no cute stacked rocks along river banks and shorelines. We can improve on our cities by the use of Nature, but we cannot improve on Nature with the use of art. If the urge to leave your mark overwhelms you, keep it in your yard.

~~~

NOW HEAR THIS!

 

With apologies to The Men’s Shouting Chorus, http://www.acappellanews.com/archive/003086.html

Once upon a time, people reserved loud outbursts for very special occasions.

HELP!

FIRE!

CHARGE!

In each case, the raised voice with its guttural message alerted anyone within earshot that an emergency required their immediate attention. Or in the case of warfare, now was the time to kill or be killed.

Polite company abhors a loud voice, such breech of manners considered the province only of drunkards, boors, or madmen. Like the boy crying wolf, making a loud noise with our voice serves us when normal communication fails, calls attention, and provokes a fight or flight response in those who hear it.

We respond to shouting both physically and emotionally as adrenalin dumps into our system. Our hands may form fists, our jaw clenches, our heart rate accelerates. Psychological studies have shown the negative impact of shouting:

Yelling activates structures in the limbic system that regulate “fight or flight” reactions. Repeated activation to these areas tells the brain that their environment is not safe, thus the interconnecting neurons in these areas must remain intact. …At work, overreacting creates a perceived unsafe environment and can also put others into constant fight or flight mode.[1]

Countless studies and publications warn against shouting at children, spouses, or employees. But why? Here’s an explanation.

The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person — or of an organization. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function, which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving; in other words, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain’s internal resources are taken away from them.[2]

Most of us realize that shouting is bad form. We also recognize that we don’t like to be the target of shouts. Then why do some of us tolerate shouting on a daily basis?

In the mid-1980s, a certain conservative radio announcer discovered that shouting on air provoked a rewarding response – people listened. Rush Limbaugh had been fired from previous radio jobs but finally found his niche after Congress repealed the Fairness Doctrine.

In 1984, Limbaugh returned to radio as a talk show host at KFBK in Sacramento… The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine—which had required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast—by the FCC in 1987 meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. … Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from…liberal media domination.”[3]

It’s no surprise that the media had become, in some views, rife with so-called liberal viewpoints. Journalists are exposed to higher education before qualifying for a media job. Not only do journalists study literature, history, and political science which paint the broad picture of human suffering, but also upon being hired to a media job, journalists are immediately thrust onto the front lines of all the world’s social ills—crime, disease, prejudice, and injustice among them. Through these experiences, many journalists embrace a point of view that can be described as ‘liberal’ – by definition, “tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others” and “concerned with general cultural matters and broadening of the mind.”

Professional journalists and the media outlets where they work must adhere to professional standards.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.[4]

Not so with Rush Limbaugh, a college dropout. His admitted objective in radio is to sway people to a conservative point of view. People not only listened to his bombastic style but became agitated as if whatever was said in this shouting voice carried greater meaning, more importance, and undoubtedly revealed a threat heretofore unnoticed. His attention-grabbing delivery gained purchase among a vulnerable demographic.

The lesson quickly spread to other media, most notably to FOX News who came on air in 1996 with commentators who never miss an opportunity to shout. Few of these ‘announcers’ are professional journalists. As noted in a 2017 report in the Washington Post,

With the departure of credible centrist and conservative voices and professional journalists (e.g. Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren, George Will, Major Garrett), the alternative-reality programming seen in the Fox evening and afternoon lineup and on “Fox & Friends” now overwhelms the rest of the operation.[5]

Neither Sean Hannity nor Glenn Beck, both popular FOX News commentators, completed college and are not journalists. Yet their audiences believe these men are delivering unbiased news.

The success of both outlets in hooking rapt viewers didn’t go without notice among other media.  Some CNN reporters stepped up to the plate and began shouting as well, in particular Wolf Blitzer who doesn’t seem capable of speaking normally. Thus the current political and social crisis was born.

The Rush Limbaughs of the world use shouting not to intimidate listeners as might a parent, spouse, or employer, but to signal alarm. LISTEN TO ME! I’VE GOT NEWS! Whatever the content of such commentary, it’s not simply information that we can take or leave or interpret in comparison to equal but opposing information. This is life or death information. Dangerous. The context screams EMERGENCY!

Not only are listeners held captive by the threat of such emergencies, they suffer physical and emotional damage that makes them vulnerable to manipulation.

Researchers have long known about the infectious nature of stress… Studies have shown that there is “crossover” stress from one spouse to the other, between coworkers, and “spill over” from the work domain to home. The stress contagion effect, as it’s known, spreads anxiety like a virus. Our mirror neurons help suck us into the emotional eruptions of others. …Emotions are highly contagious, as film directors and fear-mongering propagandists know, especially negative emotions.[6]

Held captive by unconscious physical and emotional response to shouting newscasters, listeners become victims of a kind of Stockholm syndrome, “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”[7] An urgent need to hear what the shouters say takes over normal intellectual function. There’s an emergency and they’re telling us about it. We have to listen.

No one questions that regular shouting at a spouse is a form of domestic abuse, or that shouting repeatedly at children is a form of child abuse. So why do so many people not question the harmful impact of loud-mouthed media personalities?

What could be a more perfect explanation for the masses of people walking around seemingly without the ability to think rationally about matters of critical importance in our nation’s politics? While liberals may gravitate to quietly spoken news of the day uttered by a calm commentator on the PBS NewsHour, many conservatives seem to require regular doses of shouting. There’s probably a clear connection between being shouted at with its rush of body chemistry and the acceptance of a point of view that seems to solve the problem just described in those shouts.

What any reasoning adult should know is that shouting is a theatrical tactic used to capture the attention of listeners/viewers, a form of bullying meant to hold its beleaguered  audience. Sportscasters shout in order to build visceral excitement for whatever game they’re announcing. But why would we want the adrenaline rush of sports when we’re hearing news?

Isn’t ‘news’ at its most basic concept a source of information about important events around the world? About electing those who will steer our nation through challenging times? Do we really want to unquestionably accept a shouter’s point of view on such critical topics?

Limbaugh, FOX and other conservative shouters groom their audiences by occasionally lowering their voices, providing strokes to calm those just incited by the shouts. “Here, here,” the shouters say. “It’s not so bad. Here’s how to think about this.” And then the prescription is delivered, a calming pill of hate and prejudice, of unthinking narrow-mindedness convinced that any further information is not needed. The audience becomes like other sufferers of Stockholm syndrome, eager to defend their captors, afraid to turn away from the source of their agitation.

~~~

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu

~~~

[1] https://mindfullifetoday.com/yelling-and-the-brain/

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/stop-yelling-at-your-employees-its-making-them-stupid-2009-9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_Limbaugh

[4] https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2009/10/27/30-reasons-why-fox-news-is-not-legit/156164

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/05/15/fox-news-undermines-a-free-independent-press/?utm_term=.90a81b4a1232

[6] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-robinson/dealing-with-stress_b_4097921.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

Religious Zealots Strike Again

A recent letter to the editor here in Arkansas perfectly portrays the bizarre mindset of certain Christians. The author wrote not about morally-bankrupt Trump, nor about people dying from chemical warfare and barrel bombs, nor about the continuing horror of mass shootings in our gun-mad country. No, that wasn’t the source of this woman’s righteous indignation.

She’s upset about a comic strip.

I wanted to express my outrage at the blasphemy and sacrilege in this cartoon [Wumo]. This disgusting disregard of Christianity expresses all the evils in troubles in our world today… A holy family, Christians, as [a previous letter writer] said, is fair game for those who want to bully and disparage those with whom they do not agree. (Satan is working overtime.)

People should be very careful when targeting others, especially those of us who will indeed make a stand for our God and his precious son, our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and our love for spiritual and heavenly knowledge and healing far supersedes anyone or anything this world (earthly) has to offer.[1]

The letter writer, a woman from Marion, Arkansas, goes on to demand the comic strip be removed from the newspaper. She concludes: “Christians are offended.”

Oh, my. Where to begin?

Might one suggest that she and others of her ilk SIMPLY NOT READ WUMO?

I mean, does that not seem the logical choice here? I go to the comic pages pretty much every day, but I only read four. Those are the only ones I enjoy. Perhaps this Christian extremist doesn’t understand the concept of enjoyment but rather flogs herself through a daily exercise of holy suffering by reading comics that enrage her.

This would be highly amusing to the rest of us if it weren’t for the awful reality that such people have no idea how ridiculous they are. They are convinced that the world must operate by their rules and anything that draws their personal censure is surely Wrong.

A long list of human tragedy unfolds from this viewpoint. The Inquisition springs to mind, an endeavor of the Catholic Church beginning around 1100 AD and continuing in various forms for the next 600 years. Any form of “blasphemy and sacrilege” could result in church leaders taking offense similar to our letter writer.

Sometimes it was difficult to guess, as any of the following were considered serious crimes: changing bedding on a Friday, not eating pork, dressing in certain ways, wearing earrings, speaking in foreign languages, owning foreign books, casual swearing, criticizing a priest, or failing to show due reverence to the Inquisition… People were executed for failing to fast during Lent, for homosexuality, fornication, explaining scientific discoveries, and even for professional acting..[2]

Or, in our case, publishing a cartoon.

Leg crusher

Generously, inquisitors utilized various forms of torture to provide the greatest possible opportunity for the accused to confess his or her sins. Serious effort went into the invention and construction of torture devices including the infamous ‘rack’ and various other gleeful methods of inflicting pain.

When a suspect was convicted of unrepentant heresy, the inquisitorial tribunal was required by law to hand the person over to the secular authorities for final sentencing, at which point a magistrate would determine the penalty, which was usually burning at the stake although the penalty varied based on local law.[3]

Historically, other than the necessary torture required to bring a confession from those blasphemers in order to declare them guilty and then burn them at the stake, religious extremists have demonstrated a fervent interest in killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view. Is this what the letter-writer threatens in her statement that: “People should be very careful when targeting others, especially those of us who will indeed make a stand for our God.”

What exactly is she suggesting? Would her “stand for God” include Inquisition-style discipline on the newspaper publishers or the creator of the Wumo comic strip?

Sadly, we don’t have to look far, even today, to find exactly that kind of violence bestowed upon those who draw the critical attention of religious authorities. Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat dared to make fun of certain leaders in his cartoons. Assailants hunted him down and used clubs to break his hands.[4] Chinese censors called for a “severe punishment” for a star TV anchor over jokes he made at a dinner party mocking the People’s Republic of China’s founding father, Mao Zedong.[5] Then there was the Islamist terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo which resulted in the deaths of twelve people.[6] Their justification? Charlie Hebdo made fun of Allah.

There’s a reason we Americans treasure our right to free speech. We can criticize our leaders, laugh at Saturday Night live skits, and even poke fun at entrenched religious views, all without fear of having our hands broken or being burned at the stake. Somehow in all her years of life, this letter writer missed out on all but the first part of First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

All this brings to mind the question of why certain religious types find it imperative to force their point of view on everyone else. Is that they are so insecure in their beliefs that they’re comfortable only if they’re certain everyone around them believes the same thing? Isn’t faith the foundation of religious practice, the assurance that no matter what happens, God’s got your back? Wouldn’t that pretty much cover being the only Christian in a sea of infidels? Why so insecure?

Is it that they see it as their duty to convert the rest of the world to their belief system? This certainly seems to be the case, a duty not only to police the statewide newspaper’s comics section for blasphemy but also to righteously demand enforcement of their judgement against a comic deemed offensive. After all, “Christians are offended!”

Do these folks not understand that this exact attitude is responsible for most of the world’s suffering? Most of the wars? Most of the violence currently taking place in the Middle East?

Education is a wonderful thing. But in a state where parents merely need to sign a form to withhold their kids from public schools and then indoctrinate them with whatever folderol fits their world view, people like this benighted letter-writer proliferate, aided and abetted by fundamentalist preachers who don’t hesitate to cast judgement despite the Biblical edict against judging.

Matthew 7: 1-3

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

National educational standards exist for a reason. They put us all on a more-or-less level playing field where we all understand the basics of our rule of law, our history as a Western culture, and yes, even the good bad and ugly of religious traditions. Public schools also help us learn to exist in a multicultural, multiracial world where even cartoonists like the creator of Wumo possess as much right to their opinions and creative efforts as the person who goes to church every time the door opens.

It’s a sad testament to the modern evangelical movement that such intolerance is not only accepted but encouraged. This letter writer seems oblivious to the irony in her remark about being “fair game for those who want to bully and disparage those with whom they do not agree…” That would be a thought to reflect on.

~~~

 

[1] Letters to the Editor, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Saturday March 31, 2018. 7B

[2] http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/gbg_inquisition.htm

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/arab-cartoonists-walk-a-fine-dangerous-line/a-18184330

[5] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/chinese-tv-host-mao-jokes-814168

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo_shooting

What You Might Not Know About China

With trade politics thickening the air like an April snowstorm, you might be intrigued to know a bit about China’s past history with exports and imports. As in, we should be very careful.

We all know China’s civilization is one of the world’s oldest with historical records dating back at least to 2000 BCE when the Xia dynasty began. Legendary emperors introduced natural medicines including ephedrine, cannabis, and tea—the latter being the crux of a trade matter that would come back to haunt Westerners today.

Over 3000 years passed as the country went through various changes in leadership and cultural developments but here’s the important thing—they stayed within their borders. With all their advancements, they seemed content for all those centuries to keep to themselves.

Just because the Chinese did not use their advancing sophistication in efforts at world conquest did not meant they didn’t trade. Bits of Chinese silk have been found in Egypt from around 1000 BCE. The famous Silk Road, established around 200 BCE, accommodated the trade of Chinese silks, herbs and spices, and cultural ideas ranging from Buddhism to use of horses. Only with the Mongol invasions in the early 13th century were the Chinese forced to deal with outside forces.

The Chinese bounced back with the founding of the Song dynasty, considered the high point of classical Chinese civilization.

Empress Zheng (1079–1131)

The Song economy, facilitated by technology advancement, had reached a level of sophistication probably unseen in world history before its time. The population soared to over 100 million and the living standards of common people improved tremendously due to improvements in rice cultivation and the wide availability of coal for production. The capital cities of Kaifeng and subsequently Hangzhou were both the most populous cities in the world for their time, and encouraged vibrant civil societies unmatched by previous Chinese dynasties. Although land trading routes to the far west were blocked by nomadic empires, there were extensive maritime trade with neighboring states, which facilitated the use of Song coinage as the de facto currency of exchange. Giant wooden vessels equipped with compasses traveled throughout the China Seas and northern Indian Ocean. The concept of insurance was practiced by merchants to hedge the risks of such long-haul maritime shipments. With prosperous economic activities, the historically first use of paper currency emerged in the western city of Chengdu, as a supplement to the existing copper coins.

The Song dynasty was considered to be the golden age of great advancements in science and technology of China …Inventions such as the hydro-mechanical astronomical clock, the first continuous and endless power-transmitting chain, woodblock printing and paper money were all invented during the Song dynasty.

China’s military and imperial ambitions did eventually lead to imperialistic ambition. By the 1400s, Chinese colonialization in foreign lands extended to Japan and Vietnam. That was small potatoes compared to the Europeans who had begun far-flung expeditions to virtually every corner of the earth. In fact, by 1500 a strong isolationist fervor developed in China. When contacted by Western powers such as Portugal in 1520 and the Dutch in 1622, the Chinese vigorously repelled any and all attempts at collaboration.

Meanwhile, the West had begun to thirst for all things exotic including spices from Indonesia and India and especially tea, silk, and porcelain from China. Despite rich colonial profits from Caribbean sugar and tobacco to American cotton, African ivory, and Mexican silver, imperial appetites were insatiable. Just like today, the West—especially the fanatical tea-drinking British—suffered a terrible trade imbalance with China. China didn’t have much interest in the woolens and other commodities offered in trade by Britain and insisted on silver payment for its tea. By the late 17th and early 18th century, Britain faced a monetary crisis over its trade with China.

And here’s where it becomes very instructive as to our current trade situation with China, “we” meaning Americans, that peculiar offshoot of the British Empire who fired its first shot over the king’s helm by dumping, yes, you’ve heard this before, crates of tea overboard in Boston Harbor. British efforts to shore up its finances meant hiking taxes on tea, and the colonists weren’t having it.

Meanwhile, among its other conquests of empire around the world, British invasion of India brought them local merchants dealing an ancient and powerful substance known as opium. Clever Brits thought to import opium to China in the belief that it could balance its trade debts from tea. It didn’t take long for Chinese authorities to recognize the threat to their social order posed by widespread opium use. In 1780, the Qing government issued an edict against opium and other restrictions soon followed.

… Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor wrote to King George III in response to the MaCartney Mission’s request for trade in 1793: “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders. There is therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.” Tea also had to be paid in silver bullion, and critics of the tea trade at this time would point to the damage caused to Britain’s wealth by this loss of bullion. As a way to generate the silver needed as payment for tea, Britain began exporting opium from the traditional growing regions of British India (in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) into China. Although opium use in China had a long history, the British importation of opium, which began in the late 18th century, increased fivefold between 1821 and 1837, and usage of the drug became more widespread across Chinese society. The Qing government attitude towards opium, which was often ambivalent, hardened due to the social problems created by drug use, and took serious measures to curtail importation of opium in 1838–39. Tea by now had become an important source of tax revenue for the British Empire and the banning of the opium trade and thus the creation of funding issues for tea importers was one of the main causes of the First Opium War.

Delicate business, trade. By the early 1800s, Americans also began importing opium to China as a blend of opium and Turkish tobacco. The resulting competition between America and Britain brought opium prices down resulting in easier access for the average Chinese resident. By 1838, Britain alone imported more than 1,400 tons of opium to China. It was estimated that 27% of adult male Chinese were addicted.

China’s emperor wrote an impassioned letter to Queen Victoria, explaining the harms of opium use and questioning Britain’s “moral judgement.” Sources say the queen never received the missive, but it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. The economics of trade meant that the nation’s leaders bowed to commercial interests.

Under the new law in 1839, Chinese began boarding British ships and confiscating opium. In one raid alone, authorities destroyed over 1,200 tons of opium on a public beach. Outraged, British importers demanded the assistance of British military. Matters devolved as Chinese banned British ships from taking supplies or water at Chinese ports and various skirmishes ensued, leading to debate in British parliament. The House of Lords (which included owners of most of the ships and trading companies) wanted war with China. The House of Commons, more sympathetic to the problems caused by opium, wanted the opium trade to stop.

No extra points for guessing who won. In a military buildup of British ships and personnel beginning mid-1840 and supplemented by Indian dragoons by 1841, Western powers with their heavily armed gunships and superior technology sailed up the Pearl River and destroyed less-well-armed Chinese vessels and troops. The British blockaded Chinese ports up and down the coast. In July 1842, British warships steamed up the Yangtze River to Canton where they destroyed Chinese forts protecting the city. Ultimately, China had no choice but to surrender and accept terms including stiff fines payable in silver and British control over Hong Kong and Singapore, initiating what the Chinese called “The Century of Humiliation.”

Meanwhile, the East India Trading Company [British] sent Scottish botanist Robert Fortune to sneak into China to steal tea plants and a few Chinese men who knew how to grow it. Vast tea plantations in India were the result. Under British control until 1947, India’s tea crops bypassed China’s, thus ending the need to trade with China for the tea supply.

I don’t think I need to belabor the point. It seems the Chinese have learned their lessons well.

~~~

Quoted passages pulled from Wikipedia articles:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_China#Xia_dynasty_(2070%E2%80%931600_BC)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Opium_War

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Fortune

More Ignorance in Arkansas

Opium Poppy

Willful ignorance is a pathetic condition I’ve written about before, but a new and unexpected manifestation came to my attention in the Saturday paper.[1] In an extended interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dr. J. Carlos Roman voiced his thoughts on the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act and the various twists and turns on its way to becoming a functioning service to people in need. Among those thoughts was this stellar quote: “What are we going to do as a state and culture to make sure medical marijuana doesn’t become the next opioid crisis?”

Oh please, Scotty, beam me up now.

It’s possible Dr. Roman made this statement in an attempt to be politically correct, considering that he’s under fire for possible conflict of interest in his role as one of five members of the commission that oversees the licensing of Arkansas’ first growing and dispensing facilities. As such, he gave the highest score to the Natural State Medicinals Cultivation group. Entities that didn’t score so high were understandably miffed that Natural State was one of only five chosen for a license, considering that Dr. Roman’s friend Dr. Scott Schlesinger is one of the Natural State’s owners. Consequently, several of those potential licensees not chosen have sued for bias.

Roman argues that he didn’t expect or receive any quid pro quo for his ranking of Natural State. He also pointed out that he has worked for years in his role as a pain management physician to fight the opioid crisis. He says his reason for accepting the voluntary role on the licensing board was in part to “ensure that the medical marijuana industry gets off the ground responsibly.”

He goes on to admit that he was initially opposed to the amendment that voters passed in 2016 legalizing medical use, not because he was totally opposed to marijuana’s medical use but because of public “ignorance” and so-called false information about its medical potential touted by many supporters of the new law. He concedes a few benefits of natural marijuana might be in its use in appetite stimulation and anti-anxiety and admits he will “reluctantly” certify patients to receive ID cards required in the program.

He’s such a great guy, isn’t he? And now, through no fault of his own, he’s being villainized by permit applicants who didn’t score as high as the group co-owned by his friend.

Sometimes you have to appreciate karma. Because this scandal about his potential conflict of interest is exactly the kind of spotlight that’s needed for people like Dr. Roman.

Why? Because who should be more qualified or informed about medical research than a physician? Yet here we have a physician who specializes in pain management worrying that marijuana could become the next opioid crisis. Talk about willful ignorance.

Farmer slicing opium flower pod to harvest the resin. Condensed resin forms raw opium.

Any physician, especially a specialist in pain treatment, should be fully aware of the history and effects of opiates. The opium poppy has been used medically as far back as 4000 BCE. For that matter, so has marijuana. But opium has served a greater role in pain relief.

Not content with what nature had to offer in the opium plant, chemists in the 19th century began tinkering. The first result was morphine, introduced in 1827 by Merck. But after the Civil War with thousands of injured soldiers becoming addicted, Bayer Pharmaceuticals gallantly invented heroin which hit the marketplace in 1894 as a “safe” alternative. Less than twenty years later as the addictive potential of heroin became more widely known, German chemists synthesized oxycodone.

This new “safe” alternative medication spawned generations of synthesized opiate clones, each touted as safer than its precursor: Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Tylox, and Demerol, to name a few. Now we have the latest spawn, Fentanyl, at fifty times the strength of heroin.

Now, in order to capitalize on marijuana’s therapeutic gifts, the chemists are busy again. Already pharmaceutical grade THC, one of many active ingredients in marijuana, has been synthesized for legal sale as Marinol. You see where this is headed. Soon, coming to a town near you, we’ll have a potentially lethal form of marijuana.

But not yet. What Dr. Roman should know and apparently doesn’t is that marijuana is very different from opiates is two important ways. It’s not addictive. Opiates are. And marijuana is non-toxic, meaning no matter how much you manage to ingest, it won’t kill you.

And therein lies the absurdity of his statement.

Not to single him out. I’d wager that most physicians in Arkansas and elsewhere have made zero effort to learn more about the chemical properties of cannabis.

…In a large-scale survey published in 1994 [by] epidemiologist James Anthony, then at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and his colleagues asked more than 8,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64 about their use of marijuana and other drugs. The researchers found that of those who had tried marijuana at least once, about 9 percent eventually fit a diagnosis of cannabis dependence. The corresponding figure for alcohol was 15 percent; for cocaine, 17 percent; for heroin, 23 percent; and for nicotine, 32 percent. So although marijuana may be addictive for some, 91 percent of those who try it do not get hooked. Further, marijuana is less addictive than many other legal and illegal drugs.[2]

Please note that “dependence” and “addiction” are two very difference things, no matter how Anthony and others might interchange them.

Addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease, with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving.[3]

Psychological dependence develops through consistent and frequent exposure to a stimulus. Behaviors which can produce observable psychological withdrawal symptoms include physical exercise, shopping, sex and self-stimulation using pornography, and eating food with high sugar or fat content, among others.[4]

Marijuana plant showing leaves, generally not containing much of the active ingredients, and flower buds, the primary medically-useful portion of the plant.

“Dependence” in itself is simply an adaptive state associated with a withdrawal syndrome upon cessation of repeated exposure to a stimulus such as the ‘high’ associated with marijuana. Some studies report that ending heavy marijuana use causes some users to experience wakefulness in subsequent nights and possibly headaches.

Compare that to opiate withdrawal. Within six to thirty hours of last use, symptoms include tearing up, muscle aches, agitation, trouble falling and staying asleep, excessive yawning, anxiety, nose running, sweats, racing heart, hypertension, and fever. Then within 72 hours, more severe symptoms ensue and last a week or more, in including nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, goosebumps, stomach cramps, depression, and intense drug cravings.

But more important than symptoms of withdrawal are the risks associated with use, most critical being the risk of overdose death. And this is where Dr. Norman’s ignorance takes center stage. People die from opiates at an increasing rate, about 181 people per day in 2017.

…Victims of a fatal [opiate] overdose usually die from respiratory depression—literally choking to death because they cannot get enough oxygen to feed the demands of the brain and other organ systems. This happens for several reasons… When the drug binds to the mu-opioid receptors it can have a sedating effect, which suppresses brain activity that controls breathing rate. It also hampers signals to the diaphragm, which otherwise moves to expand or contract the lungs. Opioids additionally depress the brain’s ability to monitor and respond to carbon dioxide when it builds up to dangerous levels in the blood.[5]

Compare that to the effects of marijuana.

Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”[6]

Here’s a wake-up call to Dr. Roman and others in Arkansas playing this Mickey Mouse game over marijuana: in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, opiate-related deaths have decreased.

Over the past two decades, deaths from drug overdoses have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States. In 2011, 55% of drug overdose deaths were related to prescription medications; 75% of those deaths involved opiate painkillers. However, researchers found that opiate-related deaths decreased by approximately 33% in 13 states in the following six years after medical marijuana was legalized.

“The striking implication is that medical marijuana laws, when implemented, may represent a promising approach for stemming runaway rates of non-intentional opioid-analgesic-related deaths,” wrote opiate abuse researchers Dr. Mark S. Brown and Marie J. Hayes in a commentary published alongside the study.[7]

We are nearly two years from the day Arkansas voters approved a measure to provide medical marijuana to citizens of the state. With these lawsuits filed against the commission for potential conflict of interest, the date when persons in need might obtain legal weed moves even further from reach.

Dr. Roman’s apparent failure to educate himself is only the last of so many failures regarding public health and marijuana. Prohibition propaganda remains deeply entrenched in those who don’t bother to become informed. Legislative foot dragging has never been more egregious than in the months of throwing everything but the kitchen sink in front of the voters’ choice on this measure. The tragedy is that while all these men and women responsible for the public welfare fiddle with the law’s implementation, people are suffering needlessly. And dying.

~~~

[1] March 31, 2018 issue, page 1

[2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-pot/

[3] https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=15

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_dependence

[5] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-opioids-kill/ 

[6] See https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq#section/all; also https://www.leafscience.com/2017/10/17/overdose-marijuana/

[7] https://drugabuse.com/legalizing-marijuana-decreases-fatal-opiate-overdoses/