Archive for the ‘Social Trends’ Category

Of Statues, and Past History

August 26, 2017

Fitzhugh Lee, writing about his father, probably knew Robert E. Lee better than anyone. He served during the Civil War and later as a general in the Spanish American War.
His analysis of Lee’s thinking in 1860 is pertinent.
He pointed out that prior to the war, it was not illegal for a state to leave the union. That became so after the war; had it gone the other way, the union would be a lot different! But the issue was settled by war.
What I see in the current discussion is lack of empathy, of being unable to put yourself in Lee’s place AT THE TIME, knowing only what he knew then.
We cannot accurately judge a historic figure if we use only modern perceptions and ideals. We must look at their history and their times.
The USA had come into existence less than a century before. States were fearful of handing too much power to the newly-formed federal government. We ACCEPT that same federal government without question now (mostly!), but in the 1850s things were very different. STATES were considered to be independent. Hence the name, the UNITED STATES of America. We view a ‘state’ as a subdivision of ‘nation’. But state can also mean an independent nation. Such was the situation in the 1770s.
Lee’s father had fought in the Revolution (‘Light-horse Harry’). Family and ancestry were very important to his family; the ‘melting pot’ was still in the future. Family was not only the Lees who had settled in Virginia (successful, for the most part). There were others, including the Washingtons and many of the early presidents, who intermarried and formed extended families.
Fitzhugh makes the point that R.E.Lee wasn’t willing to lead an invasion of his home, his county, his neighbors. He understood what most didn’t; that it wouldn’t be a short, easy war, that invasion and conquest would be necessary.
So in a time when states were wary of the federal government, he made a choice.
It’s illuminating to look at what Lincoln intended to do and how Grant carried out the terms of Lee’s surrender. Neither intended to humiliate or punish the Confederates or the states of the Confederacy. Including Lee.
That came after Lincoln’s assassination.
It’s fashionable now to claim that the only issue for the Confederacy was slavery. Not so. Lincoln did not free the slaves immediately; that didn’t happen until 1863,  a year and a half after the war began.
There WAS no confederacy at first; individual states made the decision to remain in the Union or leave. Had the Federal government simply decided to leave them alone, there would likely have been no confederacy and no war.
Slavery as an issue would have vanished within a short time. Simply put, machines had already begun to take the place of people. Economics ruled then, just as it does now.
And we’d have a very different history.
But we have to deal with history as it is.
We know a lot more about slavery now than most people did then. We know a lot more about people, period. Not only the people who write history, or lead nations, but about the ordinary person who has no say in what happens. More on that in a moment.
Right now, history is less important than what a significant segment of our American population believes: that the statues represent the worst of the old south, bigotry and white supremacy (hatred came later).
I suspect they’re right. And for that reason alone, the statues have to go.
As some have suggested, we need at the very least balance, where the crime against humanity called slavery is held up for what it is. Because that’s what it was; legalized kidnapping, where the government supported an industry based on raiding, on taking human beings by force. On systematic murder, where victims were chained in a ship under conditions almost unimaginable. Where a significant portion of them died. Because black lives were cheap and economics ruled; a fast trip, very profitable, and if a third of the cargo died, hey, it’s just capitalism. Investors profited. Capitalism then, capitalism now; foreclose, turn people out, let them beg in the streets. Or die without medical care. It’s not about human beings, it never was. It was, and is, about money.
We know more now. But how many knew it back then?
How many now know of the Enclosure Laws in England? (Look it up)
How many know of the Potato Famine in Ireland? (Research that one too).
How many know of the moneyed classes, who ran governments, ALL of them, and how they treated people? Look that up too. Of how press gangs kidnapped men and brutalized them on the British Navy’s ships. Of soldiers who were considered subhuman, gutter sweepings, ordered to charge into cannons because their lives were worthless, and if not killed outright were turned out to starve or beg when they could no longer serve. It’s worth your time to look at WWI, of conditions in the trenches, of incompetent generals and the ‘nobility’ who sent a generation into machine guns to die.
Of the highly moral people in New England who saw nothing wrong with introducing disease into Indian lands to reduce the population, of forcing them systematically from rich lands so that whites could settle it. Slavery was evil; genocide less so. One was unprofitable. Guess which one that was?
Read the full history of the times, the 1700s, the 1800s, and even the 1900s. Understand it.
Then, and only then, can you really judge Robert E Lee and the others in the old south.
But judge softly; future generations will judge US just as harshly as we judge our ancestors now.
They’ll judge us by how many homeless there are in our society. By our inequality. By our unwillingness to make healthcare a human right. By our unwillingness to educate our people, by our willingness to turn a blind eye when our youth are exploited. By our unwillingness to deal intelligently with social issues such as drug use and care for our mentally ill.
By our unending wars, most of which are based on profit for the few, death and misery for the many.
Of our unwillingness to face head on the global climate change that WE, not our ancestors, caused.
By our stubborn resistance to change that would benefit all, not just the few.
You may judge our ancestors (and the statues they put up) harshly.
I, who live in this age, cannot. I lack the moral authority to do so.



Recommended: An Amendment to the US Constitution

May 18, 2016
There’s a failure built in to our system of government. It’s lack of accountability of our federally-elected officials.
Part of this has to be laid at the feet of the two major political parties who control our government. But regardless of who’s to blame, it’s time for a change. It’s time to hold our national elected officials accountable to the populace they were elected to serve.
I suggest the following be added to every national election. Since that’s held every two years, holding officeholders to account after that period of time gives them time to do the job that the Constitution and their oath of office requires. If they aren’t doing the job, we, the taxpayers who pay them, can demand their resignation and if that isn’t offered, fire them.
Add the following at the end of the ballot every two years:
‘Shall Senator/Representative Blank be permitted to continue in elected office? _____ Yes _____ No.’
If a majority of voters choose ‘Yes’, then the Senator can continue to serve and the Representative can stand for reelection. If no, then he/she will resign or be fired after 30 days. If a politician loses this vote of confidence, that’s it; no running for the same office later on. Rationale: their activities affect the lives of all of us, but only a few from a limited geographical area get to decide whether they should continue in office. And that is controlled by a political party, which in turn is controlled by special interest groups with the money to hand over thinly-disguised bribes called ‘campaign contributions’.
Whether any party truly has
our interests at heart is questionable, but unquestionably both parties work for themselves first, the public a distant second. As for politicians in general, they  work for themselves first, for special-interest lobbyists second, parties third, and if that leaves room for the voters, they’re a distant fourth.
So what would happen if a politician is forced from office?
We already have a mechanism for that. The state governor appoints a replacement, who will face the same referendum in two years. If the one forced out is a Representative, the governor would be required to appoint a new Representative from the same congressional district.
Meantime, that new replacement and his/her party will be watching voter attitudes very carefully.
While you think this over and perhaps shake your head, consider this: the Congress has an approval rating overall that’s abysmal. It’s somewhere below the 20% rating and occasionally dips below into the single digits. And there’s not a thing we can do about it.
Instead of voters, politicians listen to the NRA or other special interest groups. The Senate Majority Leader has publicly said that he won’t hold hearings on the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court, despite having a Constitutional duty to do so, and he further stated that he wouldn’t hold hearings of any nominee who was not acceptable to the NRA. This shows the failure of the original Constitution, which was written before parties and special interests with money subverted the original intent.
It’s time for a peaceful revolution. This is one way of accomplishing that.

A Recommendation

February 5, 2016

I signed up yesterday with They send a nonfiction excerpt to your email every day. I got my first one this morning and I was very impressed.
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with, nor with the authors of any of their source documents.
As with any email, you’re free to read the excerpt or trash it. I read today’s short excerpt, an article about Thomas Jefferson and how he dealt with what he perceived to be corruption. You can find the excerpt here:

I recommend you also keep an eye on the author of the book, Zephyr Teachout. You may one day get the chance to vote for her to be president of the USA. I won’t be around then, I doubt she’ll be ready in less than 20 years, but many of you will be. She may well turn out to be the philosophical successor to Bernie Sanders. Google the name, then think about it.

What do you think?

Society, and the Judicial System

May 17, 2015

I’ve been commenting about the decision to execute Tsarnaev for his part in the Boston Bombing case. I’ve read other comments about Charles Manson and similar ones that have to do with a different aspect of our system: correction, or punishment?
My first post was about society’s responsibility to remove a danger to society. This time I’ll look at a different aspect: punishment, or correction?
‘Punishment’; what’s the purpose? Think about it for a moment.
We punish children. Why? Consider that too.
Is it done to correct a person’s behavior, or is it a kind of societal revenge? Manson and Tsarnaev harmed our society, so we must have vengeance? Neither will be, probably cannot be, ‘corrected’. They’re a danger to the rest of us.
The main problem with correction is that we don’t have a way to ensure that it happens. Prison doesn’t do it. Far too many come out worse than they went in. Death won’t do it, because the person executed is permanently removed, not ‘corrected’. Society is safer, but that’s it.
Those who favor the death penalty believe that it provides both revenge and conditioned avoidance, in that it will frighten others from doing what got the convicted one executed.
I don’t see that working. Are there fewer crimes in Texas? That’s the state with the most executions, yet murders and crimes of violence still happen there.
How about long years in prison? A judge was convicted recently of selling people, including children, to a private prison company to be locked up. He got 28 years behind bars. If he survives, he’ll be an old man when he gets out. Will this encourage others not to become corrupted? Will he be ‘corrected’? To what end? Can he become a productive member of society when he gets out?
This same question applies to anyone who is incarcerated.
The number of people in prison or awaiting execution in the US tells me something different: our society has failed, is failing.
Too many of our people are exploited, hopeless. They see no better future ahead, just work, be exploited by the neo-nobility until they finally die. And their children will fare no better. They rebel.
To me, the cause of our societal problem is uncontrolled capitalism and corruption. There’s more to it than that, but it’s where the rot starts. Religion plays a part too, as does a kind of faux patriotism. Taken all together, it’s an unholy mix.
It’s a failure. We can do better. And we should. We must, or it will only get worse.
While you’re muttering ‘communist!’ at me, think about sports.
Football and basketball are good examples.
“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” Ever heard that?
The New Orleans Saints put a bounty on opposing players. Cheating. The coach got a year’s suspension, now he’s back. Tom Brady is facing suspension for cheating, but it won’t be a heavy one. Why? Both men are draws, moneymakers. And professional sports is about money, not sportsmanship. Basketball? Even notice why it takes so long to finish the final few seconds of a close game? Deliberate fouls, deliberate breaking the rules. Cheating. Two or three free throws, no problem. Fifteen yards penalty for deliberate cheating, holding a defenseman or a wide receiver, no problem. If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’.
And oh, the uproar when ‘fans’ hear that their team is moving to another city! More false patriotism, in a sense.
My team right or wrong is pretty similar to my country right or wrong. We never seem to ask why we shouldn’t make both right instead of blindly supporting their wrongs.
Back to ‘justice’. How do we ‘correct’ early offenders? The judge scolds them, gives them ‘probation’. Over and over again. It’s expensive to lock someone up, you see. And they have no money to pay fines. As for the economic conditions that caused them to act out, nothing is said about that. Nothing will be done in Baltimore or Ferguson, either. Rioters will be scolded, most will be released, maybe a few policemen will get fired, nothing changes.
And unless we force it to happen, nothing will change.
Oh, and that youthful offender? Probation, probation, a short lock-up in a juvenile prison (maybe), until he grows up…then lock him up forever.
Or execute him.
After all, he got due process. Right?

Christianity, and Fakes

May 14, 2015

Christianity is more than simply declaring “I am a Christian.” The religion is based on source documents, most of which are readily available for everyone to read.
Any argument there?
Those source documents prescribe a system of behavior and a code of morals. Those things are not ‘optional’. You really can’t cherry-pick among them. You can’t stand up and declare that someone is a traitor and he should be killed (that has happened several times, sometimes by preachers, yesterday by someone who claimed John McCain was a traitor and should be killed.
If you can’t accept “Thou shall not kill”, you’re neither Christian nor Jew (Jews rely on the Torah, which includes Exodus, one of two places the Ten Commandments are found).
But Christianity is based largely on the New Testament. “Turn the other cheek”; ever heard that one? If your idea of Christianity involves carrying a pistol, you’re a disciple of the NRA, not of Christ. Guns enable people to kill with the squeeze of a trigger, which is incompatible with that first Commandment.
There are other parts of the code that pinch, too. Accumulation of personal wealth, for example. Feeding the hungry; you no longer need rely on loaves and fishes, grocery stores and restaurants work pretty well. As do contributing to charities, food banks, and soup kitchens for the homeless.
If you can look at a homeless man and not love your brother as yourself, you’re not a Christian.
Get the idea?
I’ve never met a real Christian. Mother Teresa came pretty close. But she’s gone now. We may never see her like again.
Public claims and posting articles such as the one in the beginning only underscore the reality: if you speak but don’t act, you’re living a lie.
I don’t depend on exhortations from preachers in expensive suits who drive expensive cars to tell me how to act. Whether atheist or religious, that ‘golden rule’ is still a pretty good guide to behavior. I suspect that I, an atheist, come closer to living that rule than most of the self-identified ‘Christians’.