Monday, May 27, 2013

The Honored Dead . . . Just as Dead

Today is Memorial Day. When I was young, it never was much a big deal. Traditionally it was regarded as the beginning of summer. It got to be a bigger deal for me when I worked for the Fed because it was always attached to a three-day weekend. Lately, however, Memorial Day has become somewhat of a media carnival. No news report today is complete without shots of the president laying a wreath or some other important personage giving a speech, and virtually everybody talking about the "ultimate sacrifice" that past "heroes" made for our "freedoms."

Of course, one would come off as a despicable clod to give voice to other takes on this holiday, at least if one disturbed the universal public adulation of the hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed from our wars. And of course, the adulation for all of those veterans of military service (of which I am one) for their "service." In point of fact, back in my day, back in my generation's war, Vietnam, "service" was not always voluntary. People got called to military service because they weren't rich enough or lucky enough to avoid it. Now of course, we have done away with the draft, and our "heroes" are all volunteers not rich enough or lucky enough to avoid "service" to their country. And, our country still sends these young people, women now constitutionally included, off to get killed, maimed, ruined for life in their heads, some of them, to fight wars against whatever current bogeyman the national government has decided requires chastisement in the name of liberty and freedom and, let's not forget, national security.

Forgive me if I'm a skeptic about Memorial Day. The United States, of course, is participating in and perpetuating an ages old charade: that war is honorable, and that to die in one for "one's country" is one of the most moral and notable things a person can do. No one, except me and a few others, considers these people victims, not heroes. Victims to avarice, cruelty, and madness. For what has war ever solved? What has war ever produced, except the "reason" for the next war? Every age, every country, follows the same script. It glorifies war dead, because to do otherwise would be insensitive, inhuman, cruel to the survivors, and disrespectful of the dead. I just think we ought to be aware that we never stop digging graves for war dead, that were never stop maiming our youth in the name of patriotism and "freedom". And it's always going to be a tragedy, crime, not something to be celebrated and mythologized.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


I was musing during the drive back today from Houston – 7-8 hours from Norman to there – just how vital family is. We were coming back from a wedding of one of my nieces, Stephanie Brown, who is about 30 years old out of school and working. It was a great wedding, as all the weddings of the Gremillion family are, but only one thing was missing. My kids are not going to like this, but they were missing. Everybody asked about them and inquired about their lives and what they're up to. And to tell you the truth, I was embarrassed (and I think Susan was too) that of all the families represented there, mine was the only one that didn't have any of my kids.

Oh, they all had valid excuses: going on a long trip, just coming back from a long trip, starting for the bar exam. Certainly legit. I won't quarrel with that. But there's something about their seeming reluctance to join family functions that involve the larger families on both sides that bothers me. I'm at the stage of life where it's completely apparent that very little in life, certainly not the things that are so important to us in our early life, actually matters. I narrow these important items down to two: family and friends. Because in the end, that's all you've got. That's all you can rely on. That's the love you can count on. It's your blood, and it's always going to be your blood, and it's always going to be faithful. I don't like to think that my children somehow are not aware of this. I like it even worse to think they are aware and just don't care.

They will argue that "they don't have anything in common" with the other members of the family. Well, to a certain extent that's true. We've always lived away from Baton Rouge, where just about all of Susan's family lives, and we've been away for quite a while. I would not disagree that this is true on a superficial level. But on the level it really matters, it's not true at all. Because this is blood we're talking about, and blood is thicker than discomfort around people you "don't have anything in common with." Besides, as families go, Susan's family is fantastic. They are good, good people. Generous and kind. It would be a great blessing for my kids to know them all better. And that blessing would run both directions.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Big Blow

Susan and I watched the whole thing on television. This part of the country is so inured to terrible weather, mostly in the spring months, that whenever these terrific storms kick up the likely spawn tornadoes all the local TV stations are on it. With maps and radar and pointers and smart whether people to explain what's going on – endlessly. So when that monster killer tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, yesterday, we already knew down here in Norman that it presented no danger to us. But we could tell that it was a huge storm. And it stayed on the ground for a real long time, like 21 miles in 40 minutes. And although we could not see what it was doing at the time, the commentators, the storm chasers and the guys in the helicopters who are tracking this thing closely were awestruck.

And when the cameras finally did get on the ground and we got a look at the destruction, it was terrible beyond belief. At this point they don't know how many people have been killed, and a lot more have been hurt. The swathe of destruction through a neighborhood in Moore that we know well is simply beyond past the ability of language to describe. The old biblical description of not a stone being left upon a stone is apt. There is nothing more destructive than a tornado, and this one was a killer. Of great size, power, and duration. We will know more in the coming days, but this storm will rival the one that blew through the same area just about in 1999. That storm packed winds of over 300 miles an hour. It doesn't seem that this one was that strong, but it will be just as destructive, if not more so.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wanna See Something Really Cool?

Just think if you were a little kid at the ballpark and you got to do this? Are you kidding me? You would not forget it for the rest of your natural life. And I tell you what: I'm a lifetime fan of Gio Gonzalez now.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another One of Those "Life in the Dying Empire" Posts

National Priorities

And you wonder why we are the way we are. Do you need any more evidence of the misplaced priorities and utter madness of public policy in this country? Why isn't anybody just completely outraged by this? I am.  (Source)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Somehow . . .

Somehow in my gut I always knew this sort of thing was true. Now we have verification. A recent article in The Atlantic made this statement up near the beginning:
 One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.
The article, which isn't really very long, goes on to probe the obvious question: why should this be so? The long and the short of it is, the more exposed you are to need, the more likely you are to be generous. And if you live in a really rich neighborhood, as opposed to one more heterogeneous, the more likely you are to be a stingy donor. And then there's this
Last year, Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, published research that correlated wealth with an increase in unethical behavior: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff later told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.” They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”  
Somehow, although I readily admit this to be a generalization with many exceptions, in my gut I always knew this was true too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What Do You Think They Should Do to This Guy?

You know the guy I mean. The guy who kidnaps three girls, two of them teenagers at the time, the other like 20 years old, and keeps them for ten years as sex slaves locked up in his house in the middle of Cleveland, Ohio. His name is Ariel Castro. He rapes them repeatedly. Subjects them to beatings. Chains them up. Starves them and  beats 'em in the belly when he impregnates them so they will miscarry the child. (Doesn't succeed in one case because there is a little six-year-old girl that was born into this hellish nightmare.) They are allowed to leave the house maybe twice in all that time . . . to go into the yard and garage.

Ten years of these women's lives, their entire formative years in the case of two of them. It's just beggars the imagination. I'm a pacifist, trying my best to live the kind of life that Jesus did. I cannot suborn torturing or executing this monster, but these are the kinds of cases that severely test my Christian resolve. You just don't think--or rather, mainly feel--that somebody like this should escape some of the punishment he inflicted on these innocent girls. It not what we think he deserves.

There are not many people anywhere who would agree with me on this.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mothers Day!

Bystanders comfort a shooting victim after gunfire injured 19 people during a Mother's Day parade
in New Orleans on Sunday
I spent my childhood in New Orleans. I loved the place. I could not believe it when the family moved to Baton Rouge, only about 90 miles away when I was a junior in high school. I thought my life was ending. I could not imagine living anywhere but this city that I loved so much. And, as a matter of fact, I still do love New Orleans. But I would not live there.

This incident, where some crazed guy with a gun just shoots into a crowd of people at a Mother's Day parade, a spontaneous so-called "second line" event that the city is famous for, and hurts 19 people (one has since died, I learn) is also the kind of thing the city is famous for. It and its sister city Baton Rouge up the road are infamous for the amount of crime they suffer, especially violent, life-endangering crime like this.

But let's all remember, even as we try to wrap our minds around these kinds of disconcerting facts, that guns don't kill people, and gun controls cannot possibly diminish such crimes.

We are a doomed people, I tell you.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Down the Road

Susan and I drove down to Lawton, OK, today. It's just down the road from us about 90 minutes to the southwest. I must say Lawton is one of the true hell holes of this state. How can it not be when it's in the broiling southwest and is the site of Fort Sill, a huge army base that's home for the the headquarters of Army artillery school? They teach guys how to shoot the big guns there. OK, so you know army bases are real good for crime, pawn shops, strip joints, and cheap bars, right? And when the base is huge, you get a lot of these things. Plus you have a large retired population that kinda just stays around the last place they were stationed. Only in some kind of alternate universe would I consider such a locale to be desirable, but in the alternate universe we already inhabit, this is considered a great thing to have one of these horrors located in your town. Why? Well, jobs and money! What other unalloyed goods do we have in this world?

We went to visit an old friend, Fr. Joe Ross, who is pastor at Blessed Sacrament Church in Lawton right there at Gore Ave and N 7th Street. Poor Joe has got Parkinson's Disease, and he looked like hell to me. He's my age, 69, and he says he's just hanging on taking ideas about retirement "one year at a time." He likes what he does, pastoring, but it's getting harder for him to keep up with. Joe and I and Susan spent a lot time together during our first stay in Oklahoma, and he was always funny, well informed, generous, and vital. He's all of these still, except he labors under the burden of the huge handicap this disease gives you. It really made me sad to see. You always promise when you part after such visits that you will do it again, but you always wonder if maybe that's the last time you're going to see somebody. I don't expect this will the case here, but one of things they don't tell you about getting old is you have to bear the burden of watching people you love age too.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Quite a Surprise

Season 3 of the Great American Fantasy League (GAFL) began today. I play in three fantasy leagues, but this one is the most involved of the lot. The other two are more or less conventional, with a draft at the beginning, the season running from the beginning of the regular season to the end of it. You pick your lineup any trading get players off the waiver list throughout the season, and those players determine your score. But in the Great American Fantasy League the 162-game season is played one game at a time, once a week. Each manager has a team of all-time great players from one team. For example, my team is the Texas Rangers, and it's composed of players who played throughout the life of the franchise. That is, it includes guys who played for the old Washington Senators from 1961-71. I got involved in this about 50 games into last season and the Rangers were terrible. If I recall correctly, they lost about 108 games. To say the least, it was a forgettable season.

But lo and behold, they open this season with a win. I just played the game today against the Seattle Mariners, and it was a beauty. Ranger pitcher C. J. Wilson pitched a complete game shutout giving up only three hits. The score was 4-0. I do hope that this is a harbinger of better things to come for the GAFL Rangers this season. The pitching staff has been improved, and I picked up a couple of new hitters who should improve the lineup. Will see how keep you advised as we go along how the Rangers are doing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Recurring Theme with Me

Here's a snippet from a recent essay on counter-punch:
In 2008 Rick Shenkman, the Editor-in-Chief of the History News Network, published a book entitled Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (Basic Books). In it he demonstrated, among other things, that most Americans were: (1) ignorant about major international events, (2) knew little about how their own government runs and who runs it, (3) were nonetheless willing to accept government positions and policies even though a moderate amount of critical thought suggested they were bad for the country, and (4) were readily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic solutions, irrational fears, and public relations babble.
Unfortunately, we learn, that this is the default position for all countries. It's pretty depressing. The majority everywhere are either ignorant or stupid, if not both, and narrowly focused only on those matters that affect them or a close associate directly. But it's really no surprise for anybody who is paying any attention. There are factors that explain this phenomenon, such as geography and ideology and even bureaucracy, but as the article also observes that this doesn't make the facts any less depressing.

Be that as it may, it is in the national interest of countries to keep critical thinking at a minimum. Which is why it doesn't get taught, and even if it does, critical thinking presupposes knowledge of a subject at hand, and that's hardly ever there. If people only think about things critically when the matter impacts them directly, that's fine with most governments. This is just what's needed to keep the population hostile and always primed for whatever propaganda the government wants them to believe.

So what's the bottom line? I'm afraid it's been a recurring theme with me: there just aren't many critical thinkers and the ones that do practice the craft aren't popular even with governments or with the people around them. If they really get annoying, we know what societies do to them.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Encouraging News of a Sort

Results of some recent polls (source)

A Fox News poll : “Would you be willing to give up some of your personal freedom in order to reduce the threat of terrorism?”

45 percent said NO, which is good. But 43 percent said yeah, OK. Be glad. This is a great improvement on a month after the 9/11 attacks when 71 percent of Americans were willing to sacrifice their liberties for the promise--not the actuality--of safety from terrorists. This is also the first time since 1996 that more people are saying NO than are saying OK.
A separate Washington Post poll: Almost half (48%) of Americans are worried that the government has gone too far in investigating terrorism. 41% don't think it's gone far enough! Who in the hell are these people? Logically enough, 57 percent of people don't have a great deal of faith in the government's ability to halt terrorism. But 15 out of a hundred have a high degree of confidence. Again: who in the hell are these people?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Droning On

I read this morning that by 2020 there are going to be 30,000 civilian drones. (That's the kind that don't kill people, the non-military ones.) And the FAA thinks that over the next ten years drones will be a $90 billion+ industry and--get ready for it--100,000 new jobs! Well, we can stop all questions about this right now. All those jobs! All that money! What can be wrong with something like this?

Well, I'm here to tell you that you can kiss any rights you thought you had to privacy goodbye. Snooping technology is beyond anything you can possibly imagine right now, not to mention 10 years hence. And I have no confidence whatever that we're going to be smart enough not to deploy these damn things everywhere, putting them in the hands of police and local/state governments in the name of safety, efficiency, protection, security or some other nice-sounding goal.

Our Constitution's 4th Amendment says that we're supposed to have the right not to be snooped on by government and not to have them poking around in our property and privacy without strict limits. But people don't care about this anymore. Money, money, money. Jobs, jobs, jobs! That's all that matters. In fact, I'm beginning to think that if it's abstract (save of course good ole "freedom") it doesn't matter. That of course would include "privacy."