Archive for November, 2016


A Question Of Peace

November 17, 2016

The world has been mired in a cycle of war repeated for as long as there has been history. Nations have suffered devastation at the hands of other nations because of greed, xenophobia, misunderstanding, and vengeance. Political, ethnic, and religious groups have been both victim and perpetrator, and vilification of targeted groups has been used to justify their oppression or destruction as the instigators of violence take advantage by exploiting the emotions of the populace. The only thing that changes is the time, the place, and the method.

The lessons that should have been learned from this shared human past are many. Humankind has not been a very good learner.

I understand the need to protect oneself, and knowing one’s perceived enemies and keeping vigilant seems prudent. But each act of aggression by either side of any discord only foments further acts in response. Hatred begets hatred, violence results in more violence, and neither has ever led to any true resolution. The seemingly interminable chain must somehow be broken.

The continuous conflict that has afflicted mankind is deeply ingrained. The question is this: do we as a species intend to live in a perpetual state of combat, or do we find a way to peacefully resolve our differences?

It boils down to a question of tolerance. The intense animosities that have arisen between races, religions, nations, and tribes foster the endless fighting and even the perverse desire to eradicate the opposing group. The focus is always on some disparate aspect of the other group that develops into a seemingly insurmountable barrier.

However, our commonalities as humans vastly outnumber our differences, and the perpetrators of aggression need to be convinced to abandon the old ideologies to which they cling that justify their desire for dominance. The huge task of eliminating the manufactured boundaries between the peoples of Earth is the critical need; how to accomplish it is the ultimate problem. It will take a concerted effort by all who believe a lasting peace is both necessary and possible in order to attain this.

And why now? A few moments spent reading a newspaper or watching the news should answer that. How many atrocities inflicted on the innocent can we bear? How many areas of the globe balanced on the precipice or already immersed in armed aggression need to exist? How many threats of potential escalation into the ultimate conflagration must weigh upon us?

There are those who say it is in our nature as humans to do this. Maybe they are right. Others hold onto hope that the inhabitants of this small blue planet will some day come to their senses. I pray they are right. But as science and technology have created more numerous and powerful weapons than have ever before existed and nationalistic or religious dogma have fanned the flames of hatred and increased the will to use them, it will take more than hope alone to counteract this madness. This hope must turn into commitment and then to positive action in order to halt our march toward the potential annihilation of humankind.



Remembering Those Who Served

November 11, 2016



Today is Veterans’ Day, a commemorative holiday that should be of great significance to us all. But I wonder about the emotional connection that seems to be missing for far too many Americans.

I believe several factors have contributed to this. The mood of the nation has soured on military involvement abroad. More significantly, the advent of the all-volunteer army has insulated the vast majority of Americans from those who now are put in the position of fighting in our name. We all seem to forget when it is somebody else’s parent or sibling or child who is in harm’s way.

But for some Americans, this is a day that cannot be ignored. These Americans are the ones who have served in war. They are the fathers and mothers, the sisters and brothers, the husbands and wives, and the sons and daughters of those vets. This day is a time to acknowledge the sacrifices they have made, something in my opinion that should be done at every opportunity, not just on one day.

Since its institution as a holiday in 1919 to commemorate the November 11, 1918, cessation of fighting during World War I — supposedly the “war to end all wars” — there have been numerous occasions for American soldiers to be called upon to take up arms. World War II. The Korean War (or Korean Conflict for those who like to overlook reality). The Vietnam War. The Gulf War. The Iraq War. The War in Afghanistan. And if history is any indicator, there will be others yet to come.

We need to pay tribute to these Americans who have heeded that call even if we are not one of them. We need to think about those who went to war and returned forever affected by their experience. We owe them that much.

If you are not a veteran of war, if you have not been sent away from your home and friends and family to a strange and hostile far-off land, then you can’t know what it’s really like. You have not had to experience the often random and brutal death and destruction that is part of war. That is understandable. But you can do something to open your eyes to the realities that others have lived through on your behalf.

Read what those veterans who have served have written about these realities. They wrote what they did to try to get you to understand — at least a little bit — what it was like to be there, and what it is like to carry the scars, both physical and emotional, back home again. Read the poems of Yusef Komunyakaa about the soldiers’ perilous life in the jungles of Vietnam or those of Brian Turner who writes with such insight about the trials of serving in the Iraqi desert or the accounts of Owen West in The Snake Eaters, of Nathaniel Fitch in One Bullet Away, of Donovan Campbell in Joker One. The time and location may differ from war to war, but the essence of the experience remains the same. Whether you agree or not with these or any other wars, the people who are sent and who must make the sacrifices deserve your attention.

Talk to a veteran, at the very least to express thanks for his or her service. Talk to their family members to perhaps gain some perspective on the situation in which they have found themselves. Do something positive to aid a vet who is in need, or contribute in some way to those organizations which are already doing so. Check out their websites. Help in whatever way you can, even if it’s making a small donation.

So today on this Veterans Day, recognize the veterans who are undoubtedly around you. Pay attention to their stories in whatever form they present themselves. Remember their stories on normal days as well because their normal days in many cases have been forever changed. Though it is, I believe, our obligation to do so, I believe we should once again look at it as a privilege to remember and honor those who have served.



November 9, 2016

In perhaps the greatest irony (and there were many) of this Presidential election, Donald Trump’s concerns about a “rigged” election came to pass, though not in the manner that he foresaw. For the second time in the past five elections and the fifth time in our history, the candidate who had the most votes did not win.

Why? Because of the presence in our “democracy” of an archaic system called the electoral college. In this system, the principle of one person one vote is in actuality circumvented.

So why do we have this system in the first place?

One must go back to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 for the answer. The founding fathers had thought about a variety of different methods of electing the President, most of which did not involve any direct vote by the people themselves. When they settled upon the electoral college, part of the reasoning was to provide a degree of participation by the population. Tweaked in 1804 by the 12th Amendment and then again by the 23rd Amendment, the system remains essentially the same in that the deciding vote is that of the electoral college and not the popular vote. In this system, it is which states a candidate has a simple majority in rather than the more logical simple majority in the entire nation. It is even potentially possible in the current system to win a Presidential election with under 30 percent of the popular vote.

The 2000 election illustrates the inequity of this process. Before the Florida vote was finalized, Al Gore led George W. Bush in the nation-wide popular vote. He also led in the electoral vote 265 to 246. But a difference of a mere 537 votes gave Florida — and its 25 electoral votes — to Bush, and thus the entire election. How does this make sense?

Perhaps it is time for a change.

Just such a change was considered during the 91st Congress. A resolution proposed a direct election based on the popular vote with the provision that a run off would be required if no one received over 40 percent of the vote. In 1969 the House of Representatives passed this resolution, but the Senate did not.

I, for one, believe such a change is long overdue, not just because of the result of this particular election or any other, but because if we are to truly be a democracy, no other system makes sense.



Let the Buyer Beware

November 3, 2016

My seventh grade Latin class gave me my first exposure to the phrase caveat emptor — let the buyer beware.

This is a warning that has been necessary since the earliest days of civilization, a call for the consumer to be careful, for what they think they are getting may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Why? Because there have always been those unscrupulous individuals amongst us who try to sell us something that can’t possibly live up to their sales pitch, or worse, that is patently defective.

It is exactly that warning that is needed this election because there has arrived a snake oil salesman promising to cure all our ills the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time, if ever.

His name is Donald Trump, and he is selling himself as a savior who will lead the aggrieved to their promised land. He is not. He is a false prophet who has a lifelong history of serving only one entity: himself.

And just what would you be getting with Donald Trump?

A man who has no real allegiance to the Republican Party. He has switched party affiliation five times over the years to suit his own needs. The only allegiance Trump has ever displayed is to himself.

A man who used five deferments to avoid serving in the military, yet he demeans former prisoner of war veteran John McCain and disparages the Kahn family whose son sacrificed his life in service to his country.

A man who brags of sexual conquests, who committed adultery, who dumped a loyal wife of twelve years because — in his words — she no longer appealed to him sexually after bearing his children, and who has a history of questionable behavior towards women in general.

A man who boasts of his fabulous wealth (though he is in actuality only #156 on the list of American billionaires) as well as his manipulation of the system to pay little in tax money (unlike Warren Buffet, #3 on the list, and most likely you).

A man who has used undocumented immigrants to work on his buildings, Chinese steel to build them, and other people’s money to finance them (losing billions of it in the process).

A man who claims to be the champion of the working man but has a long record of stiffing vendors and contractors.

A man who thinks he knows more than generals though he has never been in war, a man who thinks he knows more than those who have experience in serving the public — something he himself has never done, a man who thinks he is the only one who can solve all the complex problems of a nation when he could not solve problems in the very business enterprises he ran.

A man who uses mockery, slander, and innuendo as campaign tools and lawsuits as a personal weapon.

A man whose path to the White House has been built on the flimsy foundation of “reality” show notoriety, hollow catch phrases, big promises lacking few details of how they will be achieved, and slick commercials rather than any substantial or relevant qualifications or achievements.

That is what you will be getting.

So let the buyer beware. Don’t fall for this promise of an “easy cure,” for there will be no refunds and no returns. What you will end up with is one very bad case of buyer’s remorse.

And the entire country will end up paying for it.