What’s the Goal?

[Note: All images posted to this article are efforts to damage Democrats and/or progressives.]

Hardly a day goes by on my Facebook newsfeed that doesn’t include a bashing of Democrats. And this by those who consider themselves liberals or progressives. This is deeply troubling.

For one thing, what other party has a chance of stopping the Republican power play that has brought us Trump? Some of my friends who post these tirades against Democrats like to believe that the Greens, or the Democratic Socialists, or Libertarians are a viable alternative to Democrats. To that I say, what are you smoking?

No third party has won a presidential election since … uh, never –

The last third party candidate to win a state was George Wallace of the American Independent Party in 1968, while the last third party candidate to win more than 5.0% of the vote was Ross Perot, who ran as an independent and as the standard-bearer of the Reform Party in 1992 and 1996, respectively; the closest since was Gary Johnson in 2016, who gained 3.3% of the vote running as the Libertarian nominee. The most recent third party candidates to receive an electoral vote were Libertarian  Ron Paul and Yankton Sioux Nation independent Faith Spotted Eagle who received a vote each from faithless electors in 2016.[1]

You’ll note that among those names of third party ‘winners,’ not one of them has become president.

Not that this bit of logic holds any sway with rabid anti-Democratic Partiers who insist on calling themselves progressives.

Note the not-so-subtle bow tie signaling the likelihood this man is gay.

Oh, I get it. We’re tired of not getting the reforms we’ve championed for a generation. Corporations have become more empowered, not cut down to subhuman status where they belong. We need universal healthcare, an end to the drug war, and foreign policies that do not involve our military in 150 countries around the world. It’s a long list of disappointments for a generation of idealists.

Never mind the advancements Democrats have achieved in reproductive rights, gender rights, labor rights, healthcare, and minority rights, to name a few.

The visceral anger voiced against Democrats seems to stem from many sources. Sadly, one of the loudest voices in that anger is that of people who see themselves as progressives, perhaps most notably those who supported the failed campaign of Bernie Sanders. An entire industry of conspiracy theories has sprung up to explain why Bernie did not win the Democratic nomination rather than Hillary Clinton. The most popular of these theories is that she and her henchwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz somehow changed votes in key states in order to cheat Bernie out of the nomination.

There has never been a shred of evidence that anyone changed votes or didn’t count votes in the Democratic primary elections which ultimately gave Clinton the nomination. Intense scrutiny by multiple interested parties has concluded that no laws were broken. The “yeah, but” claims rise from the Ever Faithful Bernie Supporters who argue that Bernie didn’t get a fair shake, no matter whether laws were broken or not.

But there’s a larger context that is more important than what happened at the DNC and is getting lost in the back and forth over joint fundraising agreements and staffing power. The Democratic Party — which is a different and more complex entity than the Democratic National Committee, and which includes elected officials and funders and activists and interest groups who are not expected to be neutral in primaries — really did favor Hillary Clinton from early in the campaign, and really did shape the race in consequential ways. ..The irony is that Sanders was a prime beneficiary of this bias, not a victim of it. The losers were potential candidates like Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Warren, or Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — and, thus, Democratic primary voters, who ended up with few choices in 2016… [2]

A similar conclusion by the Washington Post stated:

Clinton received 3.7 million more votes than Sanders did — and it is questionable that this was due solely to the timing of debates. For this reason, there is an important difference between the DNC’s preferring one of the presidential candidates and its rigging the nomination process.

In short, two things can be true simultaneously: The DNC tried to help Clinton’s campaign, but this did not have much impact on whether Clinton won the nomination.[3]

These details and scores of other similar conclusions carry no water for the Bernie faithful. Every possible conspiracy against Bernie is held aloft as his supporters do their best to undermine the Democratic Party. “Oligarchy” is the buzz word for this angry cohort–any wealth that supports Democrats is evil.

It’s not just that the DNC subjected itself to unfavorable opinion doing what other political parties have done since the beginning of time. It’s that key figures from Clinton on down have been singled out for hate campaigns, arguably incited in part by Russian propagandists who have seized on any and all means to eviscerate the progressive movement in the U. S.

This image and the article attached was posted on Facebook by a progressive friend of mine who apparently never questioned the source. The image has been altered to make Pelosi look evil. Not surprisingly, the origin of this post is the Free Beacon, an extremist rightwing group. http://freebeacon.com/politics/pelosi-trashes-inconsequential-democrats-new-leadership-following/

But why do otherwise intelligent liberal/progressive voters suddenly despise the Democratic Party?

It’s as if they don’t understand that the party is made up of local committees peopled by hard-working volunteers who elect local representatives to go to state conventions where decisions are made about the position of the party in that state. At the state level, delegates are elected to carry out the party’s wishes. These people then go to the national convention where they become active voters on the party’s platform and formalize the primary vote into an elected candidate.

So we’re pissed that the Democrats lost and want to blame anyone within range. That anger is directed not only to Clinton, but to party officials like Tom Perez and Democratic Congressional leaders.

Is it Bernie’s fault for taking advantage of his outsider status to undermine Clinton’s support?

Is it the DNC’s fault for allowing Bernie to run as a Democrat?

Is it Hillary’s fault for her pattern of support for big money interests and political maneuvering and being Bill’s wife and whatever you want to say about her work as Obama’s secretary of state?

Was Hillary a flawed candidate? Yes—she’s the perfect example of an empowered woman lacking the charisma that political figures must have.

Did unconscious gender bias impact her campaign? Of course it did. Women are supposed to be nurturing and submissive, not aggressive and powerful. Did this cognitive disconnect cause her to seem dishonest, i.e. not a ‘real’ woman?

Would Bernie have won the election if it weren’t for the bad acts of the DNC?

Personally, I think it’s highly unlikely. Even with the full support of the Democratic Party, Bernie would have suffered massive campaign assault for his embrace of socialism, even if it was/is ‘democratic socialism.’ It’s the word ‘socialism’ that makes this position vulnerable, not necessarily the policies it espouses. It’s too fine of a point to expect a majority of voters to understand the difference between communism, socialism, and democratic socialism.

Bernie’s continuing call for raising taxes wouldn’t have helped either. Whether his identity as a Jewish American would have been a factor remains unknown, but it is worthwhile to note that a Jew has yet to be elected to the presidency. Not to be forgotten, also, is his out-of-wedlock son and a honeymoon visit to the Soviet Union in 1988.

It’s easy to romanticize a curmudgeonly white-haired man who says all the things the left wants to hear. But it’s foolish to lose sight of the real question here. Losing sight is what put Trump in office.

Yes, the Democrats have done plenty to provoke progressive ire starting with the devastating 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago where the party’s powerbrokers allegedly encouraged Mayor Daly’s assault on protesters, undermined the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, and defeated the anti-war effort. The result was the election of Richard Nixon.

Similar angry disenchantment with the Democratic Party came into play when Bill Clinton not only did nothing to advance progressive causes like marijuana legalization but also managed to get caught messing with an intern. Then there were Hillary’s actions as Obama’s secretary of state that caught her in the web of controversy in big money, corporate maneuvers, and foreign debacles like Benghazi. Evidently neither Clinton recognized the potential for their enemies to use such activities against them.

Which is another big complaint about the Democrats — we’re not mean enough, not vicious enough, in fighting the oligarchs/conservatives/fascists of our day.

But none of that compares to the harm caused by Republican administrations, a list that needs no repeating here.

Nothing would please our adversaries, foreign and domestic, more than to convince us not to support Democrats.

What matters is the outcome. With the help of hate toward Democrats, we now have Trump.

Two factors must rule the end game in any political contest: (1) Which is the more progressive choice and (2) Which more progressive choice has an actual chance of winning. Compromise, whether we like it or not, is the bedrock of politics.

The choice is simple–move forward toward a better future (progressive) or step backwards toward a mythical ideal past (conservative).

 

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_third_party_performances_in_United_States_presidential_elections

[2] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/14/16640082/donna-brazile-warren-bernie-sanders-democratic-primary-rigged

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/11/04/no-the-dnc-didnt-rig-the-democratic-primary-for-hillary-clinton/?utm_term=.2a736b57ee42

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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

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

Now It’s Drone Bees

I recently read a news report that Walmart is investigating the use of drones in pollinating agricultural crops.[1] That just about knocked me out of my chair, but then, on reflection, I saw the Walmart dream: total control of our food supply.

Granted, the bee die-offs are a serious problem for farmers, a result—according to most experts—of our love affair with poisoning our food. You see, spraying herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides on our crops to kill off pests like, well, anything that hurts the crop, also kills off the bees. Without pollination that bees perform so expertly, we’ll have no food.

How clever of Walmart to attempt some redress of this terrible problem! Their concept is to enlist drones with “sticky material or bristles” to spread pollen as they move from plant to plant.  Of course the elephant in the room is the obvious question: if poisons used in agriculture are killing the bees, what are they doing to us?

Already we’ve heard—and mostly ignored—reports that frogs and other amphibians are experiencing reproductive deformities[2] due to environmental pollutants like Round-up’s glyphosate, now banned in Europe, and atrazine which is applied to tens of millions of acres of corn grown in the United States, making it one of the world’s most widely used agricultural chemicals. A powerful, low-cost herbicide, atrazine is also the subject of persistent controversy.[3]

“Atrazine demasculinizes male gonads producing testicular lesions associated with reduced germ cell numbers in teleost fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and induces partial and/or complete feminization in fish, amphibians, and reptiles,” according to years of study by scientist Tyrone Hayes whose reports on his research are the target of relentless attacks by atrazine’s primary manufacturer, Syngenta.[4]

Atrazine is just one of many chemicals in wide use across the United States known as endocrine disrupters, “shown to disrupt reproductive and sexual development, and these effects seem to depend on several factors, including gender, age, diet, and occupation… Human fetuses, infants and children show greater susceptibility than adults… in diseases such as cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders.”[5]

Then there are the hundreds of other chemical cocktails we are forced to routinely ingest not only in our food but also in our drinking water. Tens of thousands of chemicals are released into the environment in products ranging from shampoo to toilet bowl cleaner, few if any of which have been tested for potential harmful effects on human health and which, at last count, only a handful are tested for or removed from drinking water supplies. Not that anyone has any idea how to remove them from the water. This is part of the don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy of the chemical industry which is not required by law to test human health effects unless and until some harm is proven.

Europe, more intelligently, requires testing to prove no harm before new chemicals can be used. What a concept.

It’s such a downer to the chemical and agricultural corporations that someone might want to avoid cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders. What a hero Walmart will be for its clever solution to the bee die-off, allowing for continuing and possibly increasing chemical poisoning of our food supply through the use of drones! According to the report, its grocery business will be “aided by farm-related drones, which could be used to pollinate crops, monitor fields for pests, and spray pesticides.”

If we could believe for one second that Walmart’s concern is the nourishment of Americans, we might also be sold a bridge somewhere in Manhattan. We already know from years of experience with this corporation that its objective, at least since ole Sam Walton died and left the biz to his greedy kids, is only the bottom line. Squeeze producers to make the cheapest possible product. Eliminate warehousers and trucking firms. Pay employees wages so low they qualify for food stamps. Pocket the difference, a method that propels these money grubbers to the top of the wealth lists and gives them extra spending money to proclaim their ‘generosity’ with projects like Crystal Bridges.

They care nothing about American jobs. Sam was eager to advertise that his products were made in American. His body had hardly cooled when the kids were over there making deals in China. It’s hard to find any product in Walmart today that’s made in America.

Or customer service. They can’t work fast enough to eliminate those damn middle management jobs like department supervisors. If the computer models show that a particular inventory item isn’t the very best selling product, the motto is to shit-can the damn thing. It doesn’t matter if people have been purchasing that product at Walmart for the last twenty years. Thus was the case last week when I rushed in to purchase a battery for my camera, already late for a photo-shoot appointment for a book I’m working on, only to discover that Walmart has eliminated its camera department.

Then there’s the Williams seasoning mixes we’ve relied on for chili, tacos, and spaghetti, now swept from the shelves because Walmart is rolling out its store brand seasoning mixes. Okay, now if you really want to set my hair on fire, this is the right topic. How many times have you or I visited Walmart for a particular brand-name product that we especially enjoy only to discover its shelf area filled with Walmart’s Great Value brand. I wrote the corporate CEO: “First, let me say that I’d rather live the rest of my life without chili than to buy a brand I’m being coerced to buy.”

Do I have to tell you there was no response? Oh, and by the way, there’s no online email complaint method and in order to get the snail-mail address for the CEO, you have to spend an hour dodging through multiple departments who are trained, probably on threat of death, to take your complaint and “deliver the message.” Or to direct you to the store where you encountered your problem…

Then there’s the total incompetence of Walmart’s grocery buyers who don’t know the difference between a sliced almond and a slivered almond. Since last October, Walmart stores have had only sliced almonds. Big fat bags of sliced almonds. Great Value brand, of course.

The point is, if Walmart has no idea what it’s doing with almond inventory and no sense of patriotism about supporting American industry and no honor or reliability in customer service, then what will they do to our food supply? Already we can see a hint of how that will go with their careful bait and switch methods in supplanting traditional brands with their store brands. Once they’ve got their thumb in the pie from crops on up to the shelves, we’ll be completely at their mercy.

Yes, I’ve shopped other stores. But so many of us haven’t that the other stores have one by one folded up shop and drifted into shadow. There’s no local stationery store, unless you want to call Office Depot by that name. Which they’re not. They’re as bad or worse than Walmart. No nice little note cards on thick vellum paper. Now even the standard four-squares per inch graph pads have been supplanted by the smaller five per inch, no doubt some efficiency expert’s idea of customer service. Where is McRoy-McNair with their dusty basement of old colored paper and clasp envelopes in every conceivable size?

For years I’ve made it a point to buy everything I can from anyone but Walmart. This year I’ll be especially interested in farmers’ markets in the area where I live in order to support local farmers doing things the old fashioned way. I’ll be growing my own tomatoes, peppers, squash, and niceties like dill, thyme, sage, and basil. I live in the woods where there’s still a modest bee population, and I’m planting more bee-friendly flowers like lavender, rhododendron, California Lilac, and for my cats and the bees late into autumn, catnip.[6]

It’s dangerously late in this game when they start using drones to replace bees.

~~~

[1] “Walmart imagines drone-aided farming,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sunday Mar 25, 2018. 1G

[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2002/12/pesticide-cocktail-amplifies-frog-deformities

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137807/

[4] https://www.sott.net/article/317851-Biologist-targeted-for-exposing-the-gender-bending-pesticide-Atrazine-poisoning-America

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138025/

[6] Big list at http://beefriendly.ca/25-plants-for-bees-in-your-garden/