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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

America’s New Communists (not who you think they’d be)

A new, hideous, idiotic, and morally bankrupt philosophy has sprouted in the bosom of Western civilization, and the hydra-headed viper goes by the hideous, idiotic, ugly and awkward name ‘longtermism.’ 


Longtermism’s adherents rely on mathematical projections and sci-fi futurist imaginings, glommed onto old-fashioned utilitarianism (“the greatest good for the greatest number”), to argue that since projected future population numbers will be so much greater than the present-day population of earth, we should accept, even welcome, present human suffering for the sake of the happiness and flourishing of a much, much greater number of beings in the future beyond our own life spans. In this triumphal march of bean-counters (who calculate as if they know the future), wealthy trashers of the planet are elevated to the status of Utopian visionaries, seen to be hastening the glorious future, as I will get to in a moment.


But first it gets worse. 


Those “huge” numbers of future populations? They might not, probably won’t, even be human. They might be – they are imagined to be by longtermists – “transhumans,” or “posthumans,” even digital simulations. Imagine being asked to give up your place in a lifeboat, not for another human being, but for a digital simulation. To sacrifice your grandchildren’s happiness for such “beings.” Do you find this scenario appealing?


Traditional Native American reverence for the earth (a reverence those who insist on a sharp division between the Creator and the creation may consider “unchristian,” but let’s not pursue that now) has at its forefront the Seventh Generation Principle, which holds that we should live today so that our descendants seven generations into the future will still have access to earth and water and air and other natural resources equal to what we enjoy. Or better. (We have a lot of remediation to do!) The word ‘longtermism’ may suggest such a principle to your ear, but you would be deceivedLongtermism is diametrically and absolutely opposed to the Seventh Generation Principle. Longtermism advocates burning through earth’s resources as fast as we can in order to motivate space travel -- emigration from Mother Earth – and colonization of outer space. In the longtermist point of view, there is no obligation at all to care for our earthly environment: it is nothing but a launching pad to an extraplanetary future.

Longtermists are generally very wealthy or, if not wealthy themselves, sycophants of the wealthy, and you can readily see why. Longtermism involves no obligation to conservation of earth’s resources, no obligation to relieve human suffering, certainly no call to “live in the moment” and give thanks. Is it any wonder that American longtermists are flocking eagerly to today’s Republican Party? Longtermists and Republicans see eye to eye on quite a bit. They are natural bedfellows in their beliefs that greed is good, more is better, and environmentalism is contraindicated -- for countless reasons.


If you have ever read Ayn Rand’s We the Living, you’ll recognize a political party ready and willing to sacrifice today’s lives for those of the future, but did you in your wildest dreams imagine that the threat would come not from the Left but from the Right? I got over my youthful infatuation with Ayn Rand decades ago, but I’ll refer to her once again to remind you that in her tale of the post-Revolutionary Russian nightmare, Party loyalty was everything. At times the Party demanded the sacrifice of its principles for the sake of its principles – yes, a belief in contradictions was required – and those who questioned were shunned and purged. (Often, in her novel, they were driven to suicide, their idealism shattered.) Any recent examples (hint: RINOs) come to mind?


It is deeply ironic that the sacrifice of the living for the future and the placing of party loyalty above all other principles, Rand’s twin nemeses, should be joined today by what she saw as the solution to the nightmare. She saw selfishness as the answer, but today selfishness marches hand in hand with unquestioning party loyalty and disdain for present life.


Maybe you’ve feared Communism for decades, watched anxiously for Communists coming at you from the Left (“creeping socialism”), but take a good look around. While your attention was elsewhere, the danger was massing on the Right, behind your back. Today it’s the radical, hard-core, far-right Republicans and longtermists who most resemble the Communist Party of 20th-century Bolshevism after the Russian Revolution. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Artist as Impresario

For some reason one morning, I thought of my beloved David’s Shushy-Cats, an imaginary troupe of young performers he modeled somewhat after the wholesome Young Americans but without the nonprofit educational slant. In a long-running soap opera of ad-libbed episodes, his story unrolled between the two of us over the years – never publicly or even with friends, just between us. If only those episodes had been recorded! I don’t even remember the first, unexpected “Opening Night,” but the Shushy-Cats put on stage shows at an Up North resort, much like Boyne Mountain, musical reviews with choreography (their signature number was “Hooray for Youth”), even as years went by and many of the cast became long in the tooth. (Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? Think horses.) Once the Shushy-cats came into our life, they never went away. We might be riding in the car or sitting over coffee somewhere or lying in bed of an evening – I never knew when another episode might come my way or what outlandish schemes and revelations it would entail.


Whenever I overheard the Artist leaving messages on a friend’s answering machine, I was always amazed that he sounded so conversational, as if he were really talking to another person. It was hard to realize he was only recording. Similarly, when he launched into a tale of the Shushy-Cats, making it all up as he went along, he managed to make those stories sound like real life. “I’ve got an idea for a new number,” he might begin, just as he might start to tell me he had a new idea for rearranging his art gallery, and I could see in my mind the "new number" as he described the staging and named the roles each key performer would fill. Because the cast members all had names and personalities, like the members of the old Micky Mouse Club, personalities built up over months and eventually years of unscheduled, impromptu installments. Sometimes I jumped in to make an observation or protest that the stage number he had in mind was doomed from the start. “You have to consider your audience,” I would remind him, or “How are all those costume changes going to be done so fast? You’re asking a lot of the kids.” 


Because he always referred to them as “the kids.” The company had its ups and down, of course, and times only seemed to get harder and harder as time went by. Brian had back pain and trouble lifting girl dancers over his head. The girls – I should say “girls,” maybe – had complaints about their costumes, and it was true that they didn’t look as slim and lively in their cheerleader skirts as they had years before. Younger audiences expected different kinds of entertainment, too: more special lighting effects, a faster pace, sexier moves. The Shushy-cats were “old school,” good, clean family entertainment.


Not that “the kids” were angels. Oh, far from it! All believed, in principle, the adage, “There are no small parts, only small actors,” but naturally there were rivalries and jealousies, and one female cast member in particular was never happy if not the star. That was Brie – or Bree – we never wrote down anything, so I never thought about how it might be spelled. Brie (or Bree) could be counted on to complicate every situation, personal or professional, in which she played a part. She even followed us out West, settling in a New Mexico town with a little boy she tried to convince people the impresario had fathered! Can you imagine that? We could! We knew that little vixen Brie! There was nothing you could put past her!


Once at a party -- in real life-- a young man commented to me, “Now that we’re living together, it seems we don’t have as much to talk about, because we already know everything the other has been doing.” I told him, “Just make stuff up! That’s what David does,” and I told him about the Shushy-cats. He was delighted and enthralled. I wonder if that young couple ever developed an imaginary life to live alongside their real one.


After a while the Shushy-cats disbanded, gone their separate ways, but the story continued, and the impresario couldn’t give up the dream of a reunion. Onstage, of course. It seemed unrealistic to me. They had families now and lived all over the country. How could they afford the time to travel back to Michigan to put on a show together? And would anyone come to see it? 


Ah, but now, wouldn’t I give anything to have the whole gang together again, even that little trouble-maker, Brie? I miss them all. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Fun, Entertainment, and the Second Amendment

In any discussion of gun ownership, gun rights, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is repeatedly cited. We are told that owning guns is a right, and so the question of “need” can be dismissed, since if one has a right, justification is unnecessary. Need is irrelevant. No one is compelling me to speak out on the issue of guns or any other issue; I am not a public servant or elected official being asked my opinion; therefore, I don’t need to state my views. But I have a right to do so. I am not forced by law to own and operate a business, but I have a right to do so. Etc. “Because I can” is a favorite phrase of entitled Americans. It is part of the discussion on assault weapons, as well as other expensive luxury items. I don’t need a yacht, for instance, but I can afford it, and I want it, so I have it. I don’t have to show need to justify my purchase and possession. Well, I personally cannot afford and do not have a yacht, but let’s make it simpler and more pertinent to my own life: I don’t need as many books as I own, but I want them and have a right to have them.

Is the question of need irrelevant in the case of guns? Very important question. I don’t think so. The text of the Second Amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Amendment clearly points to need: the word “necessary” is right there, providing justification for what follows. The Constitution was signed in 1787. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. Young America had fought a revolution to throw off British rule but had good reason to be concerned for its “future security,” and so the founders saw a “well regulated Militia” as “necessary to the security of a free State.” Need was not seen by the Founders as irrelevant but as the very reason for that Amendment to the Constitution.

In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court’s decision held that, in the words of Antonin Scalia, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia [my emphasis added] and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Dick Heller had sued D.C., claiming that its ban on handguns in the home was unconstitutional, and the Court majority sided with Heller. Justice Scalia explicitly noted, however, that guns rights are not unlimited and that the right to own guns is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” I will note here that in addition to saying that “purpose” can be legally limited, he also denied that “any weapon whatsoever” was guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Just as there are limits on free speech (the usual example here is that one has no right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre), so there can be limits on kinds of weapons and the purposes for which they can be used, according to conservative originalist Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller.

There was a 10-year ban on assault weapons in the U.S., during which time the number of deaths from mass shootings fell markedly. Even though the horrible Columbine shooting took place during the decade-long ban, overall numbers were lower and the chances of Americans dying in mass shooting events lowered by 70%. When the ban expired, mass shooting deaths rose immediately and sharply. The average age of mass shooters in America is 33.7 years of age; therefore, although mass shooters in schools tended to be younger, it is far from clear that raising the age for purchase of, say, an AR-15 would keep the general public safer. 

The need for self-defense, whether of the nation or the person, is still an integral part of the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment as interpreted by the conservative opinion of the Supreme Court, who also added that the right was not unlimitedIf a majority of Americans want to rewrite the Amendment to read, “Fun, amusement, and entertainment being core American values, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed or in any way limited,” let them attempt to do so. Until such time, if young men want to “play soldier," let them join the National Guard, let them join the Army, let them join the Marines, and let them learn not only gun safety but also the difference between “fun” and serious defense in dangerous circumstances not of their own making, circumstances in which they themselves are also targets.


[I cannot explain why font and background of some sentences and partial paragraphs in this post are set off differently. I did not intend it but cannot seem to fix it. The italics, however, are my own.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Because in the long term, we'll all be dead.

🏠   🏠.  🏠.  🏠

A friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook that began, “Every short-term rental is a home that’s unavailable to permanent residents.” What riveted my attention, however, was her following sentence: 

“Nationwide, 40% of short-term rentals are owned by corporations and/or are used to launder money.” 

The very simple, very general definition of short-term rental is property rented out for periods of less than 31 days. The new investment craze in STRs, however, is something quite different from your neighbors having vacationers spend weekends in an apartment built over their garage or your neighbors renting out a “mother-in-law” cottage behind their house on a weekly or monthly basis. The new investment market is wealthy individuals and corporations buying up entire houses, often multiple houses. These people and corporations are not your “neighbors” in any sense of the word. They aren't even "newcomers." They only to milk the cow you so lovingly raised for as long as they can.

Until the rest of us figure out how to make finer distinctions about the kind of rentals we want in our beloved communities, we will be at the mercy of those whose only consideration is return on their money.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

My parents are rolling over in their graves.

Where are we going? Is that light up ahead growing dim?

A new standard operating procedure has emerged in the Republican Party: that of contesting results of what all know to have been legitimate political elections. If, that is, the Republican candidate fails to win. 


If a Democrat is elected to Congress, for instance, state election results are challenged, even where the sitting Governor and election officials are themselves Republicans. Lawsuits are filed, recounts demanded. No evidence of fraud is necessary. It is enough for a Republican to lose a political race for the party to spring into action, claiming suspicion of fraud, where said suspicion comes most often from baseless rumors claimants have themselves disseminated. (We all know the originator of this vicious practice, so there is no need to mention his name.) Indeed, such challenges are planned in advance of elections, contingent upon the results. 


Nor are partisan grievances confined to legal challenges. Ordinary voting citizens, stirred up by their party’s public statements and shenanigans, first mutter and then shout. Election officials receive threats, and across the country many of these honest, hard-working, experienced overseers of the democratic process are resigning. Some fear for their lives. Or fear a minor, innocent, technical error could result in crushing personal debt under new state laws. Others have simply had enough.


It’s hard not to see this loathesome practice as a long-range strategy aiming to put an end to free elections in the United States of America.

How anyone can remain loyal to a party behaving so reprehensibly and talk about its “principles” is way beyond me. My parents’ Republican party has turned away from principle, from conscience, from decency, and from the American way of life. If you couldn’t see it from the way the Speaker of the House treated President Obama, what do you say now, those of you who continue to call yourselves “conservative”? And please explain to me how undermining the democratic bedrock of our country – one citizen, one vote, all to be fairly counted – fits into any conservative agenda worthy of the name?

Moreover, hideous as this new political reality is, it doesn't stop at our shores. Would-be dictators and tyrants around the world are taking a tip from the new American playbook. Once again, we are leading the world -- this time, in a nightmare direction. Sometimes the light at the end of a tunnel is an oncoming, high-speed train.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Hearts Are Breaking All Around

Cloudy with slingshots

 I’m old enough to remember (though I was certainly not of voting age) the presidential race that pitted John Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Then as always, Americans on both sides of the political fence had strong feelings about their candidate and their candidate’s opponent. Remarks about opponents were not always generous or kind. There were some bad jokes and cartoons. But never in that time did I see signs in front yards that would, if featured in a movie today, have brought an “R” rating for language. 


Now, almost a year past the 2020 campaign, remaining signs and flags have become only more vile in their wording. What is it like, I ask myself, for young parents whose children have begun to read and ask the meaning of some of those loathsome words and proclamations?


Politics is never only politics, and the nastier it gets, the wider the ramifications. A neighbor and I can differ on fiscal policy or foreign policy or even what constitutes strong education, but when I drive past a house (none in my immediate neighborhood this nasty, thank heaven!) and meet with language that is like a middle finger raised in my face, my pleasure in beautiful natural surroundings is given a slap in the face.


Community. Neighborliness. Goodwill. Fair play. Graceful, gracious losing. How many of us have had our faith in those notions undermined in the past six years or more? What message are schoolchildren receiving when their parents protest against masks and at the same time scream that the answer to violence is more guns?


When death came to Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, or Chief Joseph, of the Nez Perce, in 1904, after the death of all his family and the loss of their homeland, the Colville Reservation physician reported that he had died of a broken heart. 


Philosopher Henri Bergson died on January 4, 1941, during the Nazi Occupation of much of France, including Paris, his health already poor, but you will never convince me that his death was due to anything other than a broken heart. 


These days Americans of all races and religions and political affiliations are going around with breaking hearts. Will there be an end to this in my lifetime?

Saturday, September 18, 2021

My Inner Editor’s Irritation (Over Admittedly Little Things)

In the early pages of The Midnight Library, a bestselling novel by Matt Haig, I screech to a frustrated halt on page 8. The character Neil “joined his hands together and made a steeple of his index fingers, which he placed under his chin, as if he was Confucius….” But he is clearly not the long-dead Chinese philosopher, so the subjunctive is called for in the sentence, which should read “as if he were Confucius,” and I’m mildly annoyed. 


A couple more flubbed opportunities to use the subjunctive correctly come along – and then, suddenly, on page 16, the author snaps into his grammar garb: “As Nora escaped the shop, she wished there were nothing but doors ahead of her…,” and I want to cheer! Too soon! We return to ragged error at the very next grammatical crossroads.


Then on page 25, a new demon rears its head. As Nora enters and begins to explore the magical Midnight Library, she is staggered by her surroundings. 


She turned down one of the aisles and stopped to gaze in bafflement at the seemingly endless amount of books


And once more my inner copyeditor screams out in pain. No, no, no! It is the number of books that astounds our Nora! Books can be counted, as can people. (A “large number of people” assembled for the event, not a “large amount of people.”) Sugar is measured in amounts (teaspoons, cups, pounds, etc.), as is sand and gravel -- also liquids, such as water or milk – and I have to say here that even the Word grammar-checker (not always my best friend) caught this blunder, double-underlining the word ‘amount’ in that sentence quoted.


And this is Viking, a Penguin Random House imprint, Viking, founded in 1925, that calls itself “a legendary imprint” on its own web pageI will continue reading the story but hope not to be amazed by the copyeditors’ oversights on page after page.

Of course, if I were seriously editing my own copy here for publication between hard covers, I'd eliminate this blizzard of italics. And that quote set in the middle of the page that's only two lines long, rather than three lines, is a boo-boo, too. A blog, however, is much more casual, more apt to let the author's voice go unedited.

Postscript: I finished the book and enjoyed it despite its flaws -- and despite having seen well in advance how it was going to end.