Friday, July 28, 2006

on mainstream media

It seems to me that a large number of Americans are deliberately courting ignorance by refusing to consider the value of the mainstream press. When they ignore the mainstream press because they think it is biased or omits important items, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to the voices of those who are decidedly biased: those publications on the right or the left. We need the mainstream newspapers and television news to keep up with the facts of what is going on. Maybe it takes more than one source. I usually read three or four mainstream newspapers and magazines a week or more and a lot of science and general interest news as well. I also read some of the more radical (on both sides) publications and I realize that those who adhere only to those sources, even if they agree with every word, are really not getting what they need to make an objective decision about what is going on in the world. I think it may boil down to a refusal to think. And when the mainstream press attampts to provide a balanced report of the consequences of an event the non-thinkers who don't agree fail to see what's behind it and take on the "balanced" view of one wing or another. It may be the most serious moral problem this country faces: the refusal of the electorate to become informed on the issues.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

on danger

Wow, according to the Dept. of Homeland Security, we Montanans are in serious danger, much more than some of the more populated states. According to a New York Times story, Montana, which ranks low in population has 1,538 possible terrorist targets. They don't name them; too busy citing the sites in Indiana which has the most of any state. But I would guess, the Western Days Parade, the St. Paddy's Day Parade, First Intestate Bank and Wells Fargo Bank buildings are on the list. What else? And to think I was smug enough to think that the only time I faced danger from terrorists was when I flew to California. It only has a bit over 3,000 sites.

CORRECTION: Dyslexia strikes again. I reread the Times article again today and the figure is 1,358. I got the right numbers the other day but in the wrong order. And it does make me feel safter.

Friday, July 07, 2006

On morality

With the political thunderstorms around the questions of morality or lack of it, let us consider that question for a moment. Those who would assert that morality exists only from an outside figure, such as a God, obviously have not take a very good look at what morality is. If we look at the last eight of the 10 Commandments, for instance, we get a clue, particularly when we compare them with similar rules from other religions. (I'll come back to the first two in a moment.) Jesus is reputed to have said, in essence, that morality is treating others as you would want to be treated. And in that statement, I assert, lies the birth of morality among humans.

Humans are a gregarious people, as are most of the primates. If we look at the primates to which we are related, we see that they have various rules that organize their groups. I won't call them morals, exactly, but they do enable the group to live in relative peace. Humans descended from the same ancestors as other primates. We have, from all the paleontological findings, existed in groups of various sizes since our earliest times, unlike animals such as big cats who are solitary except when mating. To enable us to live together, we adopted a set of rules. Originally, I'm sure, they developed much like the rules of other primates: a power struggled where the strongest dominated the weakest and the weakest curried favor with the strongest (we see that in government and group action even today).

Originally, humans lived in small groups where the leaders kept the members of the group in line and fought or negotiated with the leaders of other groups. The rules that deposed unsuccessful rulers were based on strength and human activity. Although the groups propitiated the spirits of the storms, the volcanoes, the falling trees, the rocks rolling down the hills and the dangerous animals, they did not worship them or believe that death and disease were necessarily tied to anything but, in some cases, the spirits that each object carried. Those spirits were not worshipped. Only when groups became much larger and settled in larger units such as towns and, later, cities, did it become necessary to develop an enforcer. I suggest that the morality of the gods arose from this need. That morality was what was necessary to enable us to live together without killing each other, to live together successfully. The first gods we see in history were often animals, such as the cat Bast and the bull. Then they developed with the heads of humans and the body of animals, or the reverse, as in Egypt, and only toward the beginning of the first millennium BCE did they become fully human. And gods became the source of morality.

I suggest that if we look long and hard at this origin of god-centered morality, we can find ways to return to the basic premise: Morality consists of those actions which enable us to live together successfully, not just those postulated by some real or imagined enforcer who follows a hard-line. Morality should be based on the real-world, not a fantasy world.

on being Liberal

It amazes me that the goppers have successfully managed to demonize "liberals" in politics. They are trying to label Jon Testor as a "liberal" in hopes that it will shake his support in this "red" state. It is beside the fact that by all definitions, Testor is no Liberal. He may be slightly to the left of the Democratic center but no more than just a degree or two. I would have hoped that he would have been much more liberal than he is.

Let us look at some of the presidents in the 20th Century who might be classed as "liberal." The first one would be Teddy Roosevelt, the great trust buster, who went after the companies that were feeding us bacteria and poor medicine. Then we might (questionably) place the Wilson of pre-WWI days in there until he began his subversive laws and imprisoned liberals for being against his war. FDR was a major liberal providing a Depression-era jobs and establishing the social security program which has kept many of our older folks from living in poverty. JFK and LBJ combined were also liberal and provided other assistance to the poor and the downtrodden. Since then we've probably had no true liberals as president, although Clinton tried to be one with his health plan that was shot down by the lies of the medical insurance profession.

What then is a liberal? A liberal is one who believes that the government should spend its resources on "butter" rather than "guns". It should help provide a safety net for those who cannot be successful in this competitive society. And before anyone jumps on the bandwagon of everybody has an even chance let us be aware that every society is doomed to have its failures. There were serfs in the middle ages who couldn't hold a candle to the knights for one reason or another. The knights lasted until gun powder changed the societal equations. In emperial China, the intellectuals ruled the country while the merchants were second class citizens. In the mercantile days the merchants ruled in the west but they have been ousted by the managers as the big cheeses of this world.

In the future it may be the scientists, particularly the biologists, that will rule. The point is that every society has those who profit from their ability to deal with it and every society has those who cannot. Should we let those who cannot fit within this society fall by the wayside to be buried in unmarked graves? We go on as if this nation is going to continue as it is through our lives and those of all our grandchildren. Yet, if we look at history, only one great culture has lasted longer than a few hundred years and that was ancient Egypt, And it had its interregnums and other pains. Society exists to protect its citizens, not to balance itself on the least successful.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

on bad examples

This weekend we've got a lot of Harleys in Billings, the big motorcycle rally, with folks spending money, supposedly, like they own the mint. Bartenders, motel and restaurant owners and souvenir shop operators are cheering big time. But I wonder if they've looked at the example being set by a large number of the rally riders. Last night I ate dinner in a restaurant on First Avenue North and watched the motorcycles pass. About one in 10 of the riders wore a helmet. I don't think that's a very good example to set for young people who may be taking up the practice. I don't care if the Harley riders who don't wear helmets do an accident properly and kill themselves in a single vehicle accident. But I don't want them to turn into public assistance vegetables or give someone else a lifetime of guilt because they were in a minor accident with a car but bumped their head on a curb and died.

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