Tuesday, November 14, 2006

on the election

Various thoughts on the election one at a time:

Thought 1: The Democrats are in control of Congress. Maybe they will return to checks and balances with a Republican President. Our country would be better served by an impeachment of the current President in order to undue the damage he has done to the Constitution. His actions in declaring the terrorism situation as a war and then refusing to treat terrorists as soldiers is a shame. His signing statements that let him ignore the will of Congress is a crime. His denial of our liberties through the illegal wiretapping schemes and bypassing individual rights in our courts all deserve condemnation. More importantly, they need to be denied to future presidents.

Thought 2: The Democrats cannot get us out of Iraq without the danger of more claims of "cut and run." But we must deal with the facts over there. First, we should never have been there. The American people bought a bill of goods (as Rice {not Condy} puts it "the greatest story ever sold") and doesn't really want to change its mind. But we ignored Afghanistan, where the real danger was, and went after a dictator whose people would probably like him back if we weren't pushing his death sentence. We did win the second Iraq war when we overthrew Saddam's government. But we are now in a lose-lose situation because we are trying to build a government that is an unnatural one for that location. I suspect that however we leave, when we are gone the government will tumble and will be replaced by a Shia theocracy unless the Sunnis win again and make it a Wahabi theocracy. Secular government is done in Iraq. We will lose no matter how we exit.

Thought 3: With the Democrats in charge, perhaps we can get back to considering our own people who are victims of the economy and the increasing debt. We need a single-payer system for health care so we can get our lives and personal finances back from the health system, particularly the insurers. We keep believing in this country that insurance is the answer to health care when, in fact, it is part of the problem. We also need to start rebuilding our bridges and other infrastructure. We need to worry about the minimum wage. I saw a person on television last night crying alligator tears because she's going to have to pay more to her employees. She talked about affiliated costs like unemployment and FICA increases, but she didn't mention that if her employees earn more than the minimum wage, she gets a bigger business credit for the amount over that wage she pays.

Thought 4: Montanans once again bought into the Republican lies. I'm not sure where this comes from. The lair Roy Brown got elected in my district along with the nonentity Tom McGillvary. They claim they will do a lot of things they didn't do when they were in charge for 12 years, but I'll bet the only thing they will try to do is once again to cut taxes. Thanks to Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow for saying what many of us have thought for years: the current Republican party in Montana is no place for moderates. Tax cuts are irresponsible when we need schools and tuition cuts for colleges and roads, etc.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

on our world situation

For various reasons, the last few days I've spent a great deal of thought on the concerns of the world as of 2006. Why is the world so divided? Why are we having such crises of religion, of politics, of life? I like to look back at the past to see if there are any answers and I give a basis for at least some of my thinking to several books by Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August and the Distant Mirror. If we could conceive of reading one of our fairy tales, such as Hansel and Gretel, to a small child used to today's world, we might be asked: if they were lost, why didn't they call someone on their cell phones? Actually, I suspect even teenagers watching some of the old black and white movies might wonder why the actors didn't take advantage of the various electronic marvels that we have available. We could make an enjoyable movie a few years ago called "You Have Mail" (II believe that's right) and before the cast has time to grow old it is old hat.

When I was born, radio was still in its early days. Hoover had made the first nationwide radio broadcast by a president only eight years before. Television was there, but most people didn't know much about it, if anything, even after it went to public at the 1939 New York World's Fair just four years after I was born. World War II was fought with planes using propellers. Air travel was in its infancy; most people still traveled cross country by car, train or bus. And car travel had only become truly a major part of our lives in the thirties. Teams were still used on most farms before WWII. For many years, humans had a relatively calm existence. We had the usual wars and plagues and other outbreaks, but life was much the same with slow changes that many people never saw in their lifetimes. It did not affect them. Then came the Industrial Revolution. Many, many people made the trek to cities. Today's "traditional" family of dad, mom, and the children formed. it was something that few people had conceived of before then. We'd always, most of us, lived near enough to each other to have the extended family with similar beliefs and traditions. That began to hit shallow waters of disruption.

In the 19th Century, the changes speeded up. Eventually we reached the point where new inventions were almost obsolete before the first ones produced had sold out. Life speeded up. We wanted to resist change, but we also wanted to take advantage of change. We hit snags. Life move so fast that for many of us the traditional ways make no sense. Knowledge of ourselves, our world and our universe changed so rapidly that the old standards no longer worked. To continue the river analogy, we had hit the rapids, the cascades, the world turning and spinning in the rivers of change. So now we come to 2006. We face a world in which science is changing again. In the next half century, if their are no interruptions, I suspect we will see changes in control of genetics where we can determine the sex and brain capacity of our children at the time of conception. We might be able to create soldiers and athletes with double-muscled bodies so that steroids are no longer an issue. We may be able to expand our brain power through direct connections with computers. We may create artificial intelligence that will once again change our views of what it means to be human.

And these changes will be resisted. The traditionalists, the old order, will try to hang onto a past that they conceive of as perfect, the golden ages of many mythologies. And many of us will rush headlong into the future without thinking it through and come up with a successful way to approach it. And, in the end, those in the middle will eventually come to grips with the changes, if we survive global warming and other stresses and come up with a new morality that enables us once again to live with some definition of what and whom we are.

on religion

I'm positing a new approach on religion after reading a number of negative reviews on Richard Dawkins new book, The God Delusion. I haven't read the book, only the reviews. However, knowing Dawkins from previous books, I'm sure that some of the reviews contain some elements of accurate criticism, mostly because it is really hard to prove a negative such as the concept that gods do not exist. (I say gods, because in this country their are 100s of christian gods promulgated from various pulpits, although Time Magazine recently broke them into four main groups.) However, some of the reviews cite the old Scholastic arguments as proof that Dawkins doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm not including the question of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" when I cite scholasticism. What I'm talking about is the claim that since we can conceive of a perfect being, that perfect being has to exist. That is a tautalogical argument, no matter how many ways you try to refine it. Saying something exists because we can conceive of it doesn't make it true. It makes as much sense as saying that because I can conceive of little green men from Mars, they exist. No matter how the theologians build on that claim the foundation thesis is false. If you believe this, build me a brick house on a cloud.

My approach, that I haven't seen a great deal written on, is to start from the basic approach: what has a belief in god, a religion, done for humans that wouldn't have happened otherwise? The quickest claim believers would make, I believe is that a belief in god led us to morality. I doubt that. From all the history and prehistory I've read, morality may have led to a belief in gods, not the other way around. I suggest that morality is nothing more than the human adaption to its need to live together in groups and to be able to survive and be happy in those groups. Long before gods became more than shamanistic spirits in rocks and volcanoes and storm clouds, people had to learn to live together, in small family and clan groups at first, eventually in cities, then nations, and now the world. The gods were developed in the early cities when the kind needed a kind of external, all-seeing power to spy on the miscreants.

A second claim is altruism. Why do some people say people want to help others. Over the years, developments circling around the prisoners' game and similar game plans have shown, indeed, that altruism, in many species, is the key to survival. It is genetic, not religious, although some believers seem to think their altruism comes from their belief in an outside spiritual force.

And, finally, for this post, I think that spirituality as people like to call our concern with the mental impact of a beautiful picture or a meditation is nothing more than various functions of our brain going through a process of healing and of soothing.l

on taxes

The campaigns are over now along with all the bitching about taxes of one kind or another. But one of the Burns' ads caught my eye during the last couple of weeks. It was the one where the small business owners like Bob Keenan and others were complaining that Tester raised their taxes. Actually, he didn't, nor did the state of Montana, it just left in place a tax that was already there from a number of years so long ago that no one probably knows without a lot of research who first put it in place. I was really caught by the farm wife, who in her non-Montana voice, said "We'll be paying thousands of dollars we shouldn't have to." Why shouldn't they? Any farmer or rancher who has to pay income tax needs to get a new accountant. They claim to pay a lot of property taxes but if you compare their bills with those of us who live in cities, it doesn't seem that much for all the land they own. Why shouldn't they pay taxes on some part of their livelihood just as the rest of us do?

We also hear a lot of talk about the tax cuts saving the economy. I don't believe that the tax cuts, except for the increase in the child tax credit (which I didn't get because all my children are gone), did that much for the economy. The child tax credit increase produced a peak in spending which showed across the board. But all the tax cuts did was to produce a much larger deficit and, while modern economists want to downplay the role of a deficit, they can't deny that in classical economics and in practical economics deficits usually produce a rising economy, usually an inflated one. We don't have inflation now because the extra money and debt is being siphoned off outside our borders. What will we do when the bills come due?

And further, all the anti-taxers out there are forgetting a few points. They say this country was founded by efforts to stop taxes. They don't seem to realize that it was actually founded by "taxation without representation" not anti-tax per se. They also seem to forget that not paying taxes is irresponsible when their are services they want. The usual answer to that is, "I don't want some of the services." Tough. There are some services I don't want either and I can't choose which ones I want to pay, and not just at the federal level. My county tax, for instance, includes a few dollars a year to fund a business attraction group. I don't want to pay for that; new businesses have never done me any good, particularly when they get tax breaks so they don't have to pay for services.

People have short memories. They don't realize and history doesn't teach them that the last time we tried to pay for guns and butter (the Vietnam era), both guns and butter suffered. Now, the Republicans can't wait to turn their guns on social security and medicare. I paid enough for them over the years that if they halted them now, I'd join a class action suit in a New York minute.

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