To Boldly Go

Posted on September 7th, 2016 in Personal, Politics, Religion | No Comments »

 “We work to better ourselves, and the rest of Humanity”
– Jean-Luc Picard, “First Contact”

As I write these words, we are two months and one day from history being made with the 2016 Presidential election. Two candidates who have polarized America in such a way as to lay open deep wounds, which may never heal in my lifetime. Eight years ago, I supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama; now I’m not so sure. Clinton’s position seems to paint her as a moderate Republican rather than a progressive Democrat. Charges of corruption and the influence of deep-pocket Wall Street donors paint a less flattering portrait of her than I saw back in 2008. Her opponent is a puffed-up tycoon who appeals to the populist vote by saying whatever he thinks will work at any given moment. The fact that he’s running neck and neck in this election speaks volumes to the depths in which both parties have lost touch with voters, and how decades of under-funding education, promotion of belief over science and the rise of jingoistic blind patriotism has finally come home to roost, with a vengeance.

 Throughout the United States, I see the fall of empire, the dissolution of a dream. The great experiment of a new nation is beginning to fail. A government exposed as corrupt and totalitarian,  run by career politicians who will say anything to maintain their grip on power in order to keep being fed by wealthy special-interest groups. A populace who pay lip service to the ideas but year by year lose interest in the vigilance required to maintain their liberties, distracted by glitter and sheen and vacuous indulgences. Dumbed down by a faulty education system that is continually challenged by lack of funding and under constant attack from those who wish to impose their ‘faith’ over facts. Graduates who care barely read or write, were told Moses was a historical figure, cannot make change and never taught the basics of reproduction, or how to protect themselves from the consequences of their natural urges.

We live in an Orwellian world of double-speak, where ignorance is wisdom, giving up our freedoms makes us free and to question is to be wrong. Edward Snowden languishes in Moscow instead of being hailed as someone who told us what our government is doing in our name. A football player who refuses to stand for the national anthem is treated as if he somehow offended the military who fight and die in futile wars far away for no good reason. We are not allowed to ask why we sacrifice our troops; just “honor” them. Every day, people are killed on the streets of this once-great nation and no effort is made to overrule the gun industry and limit the weapons that take so many lives and destroy so many families. Not even the slaughter of schoolchildren in their own classrooms can stop it; money can cover anything, even the blood of the innocent. An idea as logical as banning assault weapons and universal background checks is treated as an attack upon the Constitution and the second amendment; but Congress votes to increase secret surveillance of innocent Americans, violating the fourth amendment, and it’s seen as good and proper.

America was once the leader of the free world; that claim is dubious now, to say the least. Other nations have better standards of living; free health care, better education; a happier, safer populace, not dominated by the obsessive need to feed the military whatever it wants, or the need to kowtow to obsolete, nonsensical religious claptrap. Other nations don’t have a crumbling infrastructure, with bridges built nearly a century ago and failing to cope with the increased demands of more and more cars. Other nations recognize the role we play in warming the planet, making every Summer ‘the hottest on record’, year after year after year.

We expect ‘regimes’ to keep innocent people locked away, with no trial; tortured and sometimes killed. To use their armies to attack and murder women, children and babies in their own homes. To spy on their own citizens and deal harshly with anyone who opposes the official party line. With every drop of blood, the United States of America becomes that which we supposedly hate; that which we supposedly stand in contrast to; that which we thought we would never be. We are now.

Next week will mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I have spoken before about how we were a different people then. So much has happened to us since that clear, blue morning. We were shocked to find that some could hate us so much that they would do such a terrible thing. It was terrorism of the worst kind, brought home from distant shores half a world away and deposited on our own doorstep. Now we look around at the hate, the shrug of the shoulders to the constant wash of violence, the nonsense and lies spouted off by our leaders and wanna-be leaders, and it’s difficult to deny that we have become a cruel, deluded people, with perhaps our best days behind us. The journey from innocence to cynicism in breathtaking speed.

I still believe that one day, we will rise up and become the people we think we are capable of being. The statement by the captain in Star Trek could ring true as a motto for us all. It is true for some people now, around the world. But there is a long, long way to go in order for it to apply to the majority, never mind the whole of Humanity. I wish I could see it, but I know I won’t. More importantly, I wish I could see it start to happen. I hold onto the hope that it already has.

Thoughts Of America

Posted on September 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Today is September the Eleventh; the thirteenth anniversary of one of the darkest days in modern history, certainly of my generation. Like December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963, it remains imprinted upon the psyche of those who experienced it, almost certainly for life. However like all historical events, it is moving away in time. As amazing as it seems, post-9/11 children are starting to enter their early teens. Soon enough, the twentieth anniversary will be upon us, then the twenty-fifth. And so it goes. There will be a whole generation of Americans who will not recall that glorious, crisp blue morning when the last moments of innocence were swept away in a series of terrible events. A demographic who did not exist before that day.

So where are we now? The news this week is full of how Russia is poised on the border of Ukraine, determined to defy the West, whatever the cost, if it keeps NATO from the door. President Obama has just announced that he will pursue airstrikes in Syria to crush the threat of ISIS. In the future, how will these headlines have panned out? Will they be of interest years from now, or just footnotes in the long march of history across the pages of textbooks yet to be written?

Current events aside, what about America? The news I feel, is not good. After thirteen years, the wound of that fateful day continues to cause damage. America today is a true paper tiger, a shadow of its former self. A country once bold and beautiful is now cowardly and corrupt, terrified of any threat, real or imagined, and prepared to go to any lengths to protect itself from unseen enemies. It shames me to think of the Land of the Free able to use torture to wrench confessions from people held with total disregard for due process. A government that thinks nothing of spying not only on the phone conversations of its friends and allies, but intercepting and recording the chatter of millions of citizens, innocent of any crime, real or imagined.

Two years ago I was in a large international airport for the first time since November, 2001. I saw a ridiculously oversize flag hung overhead in a needless display of jingoism, while everywhere there were armed police and the bane of modern travelers, the tinpot dictators of the TSA, scurrying around in their quasi-official uniforms, with “Homeland Security” badges sewn to the shoulders. I felt depressed that Orwell’s horrific vision had indeed come to life. Maybe the reason for the large flag is so that when people like me blink hard and look back up at it, we can at least be slightly reassured that it’s not a Swastika. Maybe.

What has the TSA done, at any rate, other than harass and steal and humiliate honest American citizens? They have done nothing to make the skies safer. They are reactive, not proactive. Someone tries to sneak explosives on board in their shoes; only then do we have to take our shoes off. Not before. Same with belts. Wait until someone tries stuffing a bra with plastic explosives. Meanwhile the staff are rude, lazy and like any other bureaucracy, burdened with being underpaid, understaffed and overworked. A few times a year, some journalist manages to sneak a fake gun on an airliner; there’s an outcry, then nothing happens. If future terrorists take control of a plane with judo, will we all then need to be handcuffed before we can travel? Homeland Security is a joke, and a bigger threat to America than the phantom evils they claim to chase.

And then traveling in the area for a few weeks, I was struck by the huge number of large, gaudy and expensive churches I saw everywhere and what has apparently become the national mantra, Support Our Troops. In a country that for so long has led the world in science and technology, god has taken a firm hold, and anyone who dares voice dissent with the mission is also slandering the brave solders being sent to die for it. People are rejecting reason for blind faith in droves, and the line between poorly thought-out & executed foreign policy and the people trying to carry it out is subtly blurred.

All of it makes me sick. In Vietnam, it was clear to anyone outside the administration that the US policy was banal, pointless and ultimately destined to fail. But there was a clear separation between trying to prop up the discredited domino theory and the poor bastards being killed or maimed in its name. Not anymore. To be critical of what we’ve done in Iraq or Afghanistan is to also be critical of this current generation of poor bastards, also dying for an idea.

I understand why Edward Snowden did what he did, and I think that while he’s technically guilty of breaking the law, he will in time be considered a great patriot. Rather than pay lip service to what America used to legitimately stand for, he did what the Founding Fathers did: broke the law for the people of this (once) great nation. The events of 9/11 allowed agencies like the NSA to succumb to their worst paranoid fantasies. It saddens me to see the USA so terrified that the most heinous and illegal acts are sanctioned. More and more, the outside world sees America as a regime, not unlike Putin’s Russia, or the Chinese. Maybe it’s always been so, and the events of that crisp sunny day years ago just allowed it to come out into the light. But I’d like to think that was not the case. That we were a different people thirteen years and one day ago. I wish we were still the same people now.