Monday, June 29, 2020

Americans Unmasked

    Many people among us refuse to wear masks because they perceive it to be an infringement of their personal freedoms.

    But if that’s true there are quite a few other strictures that could also be considered to compromise our freedoms. We’re not allowed to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We can’t cruise the Interstates at 100 mph. By law we must stop for school buses. We must wear seat belts. I’m a lifelong motorcycle rider and in my state of North Carolina I’m forced to wear a helmet or face a stiff fine. Do these laws compromise our personal freedoms? I don’t think so. Without such laws we’d have far more needless deaths and injuries, higher insurance rates for all of us, and higher health care costs. I don’t believe any thinking person wants a lawless society in which anybody can do whatever they want in the name of freedom.

    A recent study by the Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research projected that mask wearing and social distancing can cut virus deaths by two thirds, and statistics in areas that have observed those simple rules would seem to bear that out.

    At least if a motorcycle rider chooses to not wear a helmet, or somebody refuses to wear a seat belt, flouting laws which are intended to save those same people from severe injury or death, it’s only their lives that are in danger.

    But people who drink and drive or cell phone and drive or drive like NASCAR contenders or don’t stop for school buses are putting others at grave risk, which is of course why we have laws preventing such behaviors.

    As near as I can find out no other nation in the world protests the required or suggested use of masks to help fight this current common enemy of all humankind. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases, spoke out last Friday about people congregating without any recommended precautions. “They’re not physically distancing and they’re not wearing masks, and that’s a recipe for disaster.”

  In our current circumstances, those who flout the rules and the best advice of pandemic experts like Fauci and refuse to wear masks in public or to social distance because it compromises their sense of freedom are not only risking their own lives but also potentially exponential numbers of other people’s lives as well.

    And they have no right to do that.

    Even in free America.

    Especially in America, where we’re supposed to care about each other.


Monday, June 22, 2020

The New Social Revolution

    Two serious issues far too long embedded in our society have of course become increasingly clear in recent events. We still have an endemic racial bias against minorities—blacks, native Americans and others. And law enforcement in our country needs overhauling on basic levels. Hard to dispute that when certain cops blatantly use excessive force and commit murder after murder on video. Citizens by the hundreds of thousands are demanding reform through massive protests, and millions more support those events that have peaceful intent. But as usual the protests have brought out a rogue element of extremists and destroyers and looters, casting a shadow over the whole movement and tending to swing the pendulum too far the wrong way.

     Recently there’s been a rash of statue-toppling across America.

    One day in San Francisco protesters tore down statues of Francis Scott Key, lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner;” St. Junipero Serra, first US saint of the Catholic Church; and Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president who once bought a slave (whom he freed) but who led the Union with distinction against the slaver Confederacy. Nobody has yet attacked the imposing General Grant National Memorial in Manhattan. Another recent target has been Teddy Roosevelt, despite his many contributions including the preservation of wilderness areas and the establishing of our treasured protected national parks.

    Portland rioters even went so far three days before Fathers’ Day to attack and pull down a statue of George Washington, revered father of our whole nation. They wrapped a flag around his head and torched it because he was once a slave holder. We have a statue of him in Raleigh, so I suppose that will have to go, as well (protesters there have recently destroyed two other local statues, so they’ve had some practice). Of course, the name of our national capital will need changing. They'll also have to rename towns like Washington, NC, and any number of streets across America. It might be a bit too difficult to pull down the Washington Monument, but I suppose it can at least be defaced a good way up with graffiti using ladders. The history books will need to expunge George Washington Carver even though he was black. And what about Mount Rushmore? It’s not only racist because of Washington’s visage, it’s also sexist because none of the figures is female, although I heard there’s a plan to give George a dynamite nose job and some Sherwin-Williams makeup and rechristen her Georgina.

    We’ll have to be very careful about putting anybody up on a pedestal from now on lest the radical protesters come in the night with their righteous zeal, their ropes, and their spray paints.

    And if Aunt Jemima Syrup and Uncle Ben’s Rice represent racism, are Betty Crocker Cookbooks and Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal reverse racism? Col. Sanders’ Chicken and Granny Smith Apples must be ageist. And Mickey and Minnie and Daffy must be shameful symbols of creature denigration.
    Let’s hope the extreme elements on both sides of the racial and law enforcement issues will calm down and our country will see long overdue meaningful and lasting reforms emerge from the current chaos that will change our society for the better.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Things we’ve been told that are untrue

   There are many things our leaders and the media have convinced us to believe over the years that are simply untrue.

   How many generations of us learned that the adventurous hero Columbus discovered America in 1492? There's even a national holiday in his honor. But the guy was neither a hero nor did he discover our continent. Leif Erickson was the first to come here across the Atlantic Ocean 500 years before Columbus, but there have been natives on our continent for thousands of years, and they were obviously the original discoverers, who came here across the land bridge that once existed between what are now Alaska and Russia. Columbus was a cruel killer who sold thousands of Taino people to Spain as slaves, murdered hundreds of native people in what is now the Dominican Republic to quell a rebellion, and, because he introduced diseases for which natives had no immunity, killed some 230,000 more Tainos. Not a guy we ought to be proud of, and many cities and states have finally converted Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

   Ask anyone what the first words spoken on the Moon were and you’ll get Armstrong’s pre-written statement about one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. But those were not the first words.

   The first words spoken on arrival at the Moon’s surface were, “Okay, engine stop.” Followed by, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Armstrong only spoke his famous line seven hours later. When you land at a New York airport, the first words you’re likely to hear from the captain are, “Welcome to New York,” not something you might hear that captain say seven hours later while stepping out of a cab. You arrived in the city when the aircraft’s wheels touched down.

   We’re led to believe astronauts experience little or no gravity in the ISS. Not true.

   Gravity on the station is virtually the same as it is on the planet’s surface. Gravity is acting on the astronauts constantly but they’re also in constant free fall; that’s why they’re floating, and why they can have such fun manipulating apparently suspended objects. It’s the same sensation skydivers experience before opening their chutes. The whole ISS is also in free fall. Only its high velocity of 17,150 mph keeps it in equilibrium with the pull of gravity. As it falls, the curvature of the planet is receding at the same rate beneath it, thus it always remains in orbit.

   Our politicians at every level have often lied to us over generations, but only relatively recently have we had the almost instant ability with the Internet and other public avenues to fact check them and call them on their lies, which any thinking person can see have become routinely commonplace in Washington and Congress. As just one fairly recent example, we were convinced of the need to invade Iraq to hunt down horrible weapons of mass destruction and punish Saddam Hussein for his alleged evil ties to Al Qaeda. But both reasons were utter myths, and that ill-advised adventure cost thousands of young American lives, thousands more wounded, a hell of a lot of money, and an unknown number of Iraqi civilians dead including women and children.

   Except for watching the least biased and most objective national and world TV news we can find these days (often PBS), Naomi and I are Netflix addicts. There’s a documentary that caught our attention. Movie maker Oliver Stone directed and narrated “The Untold History of the United States” and it’s enlightening.

   What were the true factors that conspired to plunge the world into two great wars? What were the real and shifting motives of the major leaders throughout those horrendous conflicts? Who was Henry Wallace and what impact did he have on our world? What surprising big businesses benefited by selling to both enemy and ally? Was it necessary to drop two nuclear bombs on civilian Japanese targets? We’ve been led to believe it saved thousands of American lives, and we want to believe that, but it simply is not true. What sort of machinations went on offstage during the protracted and senseless Vietnam War and the fifty-year cold war?

   How often have widely accepted historical narratives been at odds with the truth?

   All too often, I think.

   But thanks to such documentaries and to many courageous writers of both fiction and nonfiction down through the centuries, we do get corrective glimpses of truth. We need to be perceptive enough to recognize them.
             “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” —Arthur Conan Doyle

See the new novel Killing Ground on Amazon in print or Kindle.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Law Enforcement Out of Control?

Federal Law Enforcement organizations:

FBI Police
U.S. Dept. of Justice
Homeland Security
Secret Service
U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division
U.S. Marshals
U.S. Immigration and Customs
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
CBP Office of Field Operations
U.S. Border Patrol
Bureau of Prisons
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service
U.S. Postal Inspection Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
Financial Crimes Enforcement
Dept. of Defense Police
U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Police
Air Force Office of Special Investigations
Bureau of Industry and Security
Office of Export Enforcement
Federal Reserve Police
Smithsonian Police
Supreme Court Police
Pentagon Force Protection Agency
Bureau of Indian Affairs Police
Amtrak Police
Hoover Dam Police
U.S. Treasury Police
Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
National Nuclear Security Administration

It takes several breaths to recite the whole incredible list, and I’m sure I left a few out.
Add to all this the thousands of state and local police agencies nationwide. In my home state of North Carolina, for example, all 100 counties have individual sheriff’s departments with deputies, all cities of any size have their own police departments, we have a statewide agency called the N.C. Law Enforcement Division, and of course we have a N.C. Highway Patrol. All other states have similar multi-tentacled law enforcement structures. And in case there’s not enough exiting law enforcement the National Guard can always be called in anywhere on special occasions.

As an example of just how ridiculous law enforcement in America can get, for the 2019 Superbowl in the Atlanta Mercedes Benz Stadium 50 different agencies were involved in security. Fifty. For a football game. Does anybody besides me question how that could possibly have been an effective, efficient, and economical application of law enforcement?

With such a mammoth collective law enforcing structure permeating every aspect and level of our society, why do we still have so much higher per capita crime rates, so many more murders, so many more gang and drug related crimes and ODs compared with, say, the Scandinavian countries where they manage to get along with far shorter lists of law enforcement agencies? When I was in Chile, for another example, I was impressed with their efficient nationwide Carabinieri, who seem to do just fine handling everything from protecting their national leaders to local infractions.

In considering American law enforcement and our sprawling government with its myriad agencies and our vast and expensive global military complex, is there a point when we should maybe ask when does enough become far too much?

This difficult year has exposed major cracks in our system of government on several levels and also in our society. We can learn from this and work to improve ourselves, or we can watch the cracks become irreparable fractures.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Things NOT cancelled:

    Many events, celebrations, games, and gatherings have been prudently cancelled to limit the virus spread and thus save thousands from sickness and death.

    But many things have not been and will never be cancelled, including:

          Spring and the other seasons
          Art in all its forms

    Be safe.