Electoral College Abnegates Responsibility

The Electoral College vote has now come and gone. Many of us held out hope – even a 1% chance, as I gave it – that the EC would hear the call and would be our last bastion of defense before plunging the country and the world into the Age of Unreason.

I guess they didn’t really even consider changing their votes, as it turned out. To those few who did – in the right direction – thanks.

I have to wonder though where we would be if other departments and agencies did their jobs the way the EC does theirs. Their one job, their entire reason for being, is to ensure that “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” That’s it, that’s their whole function.

What if the fire department were called to a house on fire and decided, “Well, we all have to go sometime, and the house was already on fire anyway. May as well let it go.”

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Icarus has fallen and Mrs. Ramsay has died.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Credit: Wikimedia)

A recent BBC article touched on something that I’ve always had a deep connection to: the background details, information, contexts, of our lives. Without knowing where, or when, or under what peculiar circumstances an action is occurring, it cannot deliver the full impact of its message to us. Quite often, in learning a single seemingly insignificant detail regarding a subject with which one may already have a high degree of familiarity, one can be transported to a wholly other understanding.

Alfred Hitchcock (or more correctly one of his cinematographers, Irmin Roberts) shocked us with his visual revelation of this in the dolly zoom (or vertigo effect) he used in a number of his films. By pulling the camera back, away from the subject, and at the same time zooming in on the subject, thereby keeping its size relatively constant, the background seems to come out of hiding, and suddenly dominates the scene. It changes the entire texture of the moment, from an isolated activity, to a part of a puzzle; from the general to the specific.

In the picture above, thought to be a copy rather than the original of Breugel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the background detail of a pair of legs disappearing into the sea, could be all but lost, as we admire the painting’s other qualities of scene, light, movement, activity. But that detail, the fact that it is occurring even as we look on, comes as a bit of a shock to our daily lives, thrusting us into the life of the picture itself.

We all know the story. Daedalus, inventor, fashions a pair of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape from Crete, where they have been imprisoned by King Minos (something about Theseus, and the Minotaur, but that’s beside the point). Daedalus cautions Icarus to fly “at a middle height.” Too low, and the sea water with soften the wings. Too high, and the sun will melt them. Ahh, impetuous youth. Icarus gets carried away with himself, flies too high, the wings melt, and he plummets into the sea, to his death.

And in the painting, this has just happened! Nobody knew it was going to happen. No one was prepared for it. They were just doing what they always do. The ploughman, plowing. The shepherd, shepherding. The angler, angling. Ahh, but there, Icarus falls! In an instant, an ordinary day has become extraordinary.

In her 1927 novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf spends the entire first chapter of the book, by far the longest chapter, telling the story of the Ramsays, on a visit to their summer home in the Hebrides, mostly as it relates to Mrs. Ramsay. It’s a lovely story, exposing the details of peoples’ lives with the deft hand of a master.

The bridge between that visit and the next (in the world of the novel, at least), is a chapter of a mere 20 or so pages, titled, Time Passes. Within this already slender chapter, bracketed at the end of section III, almost as a footnote, is this:

[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]

That’s it. That’s how we learn that this woman whom we have gotten to know so well in the whole of everything we know about this family, has died, and we only learn of it, literally, in passing. The shock of reading that sentence in that way, in that part of the story, remains with me 40 years on, so far. An ordinary story of an ordinary family, became extraordinary in that moment.

All of these examples serve to reinforce the importance of what’s not talked about, what’s not planned, what’s not provided for, in determining our entire relationship with the things that actually happen in our daily existence. In today’s world, it could be argued that the background is often deliberately obscured by the current events made to swirl around in front of it, serving as a smokescreen, trying to keep us from noticing it. It is there, however, and it is an actor in the events transpiring center stage. Our ability to detect it, or not, may not in any way change the outcome of what actually happens in that particular moment. But in seeing it, in witnessing it, it may indeed have a profound impact on what happens for each of us, as we move off-screen, to enact our own next scenes.

Is Trump really the Republican candidate?

Trump - Branson - Clinton
A recent Dailykos article captured Richard Branson’s reflections on two meetings, one with Donald Trump, and one with Hillary Clinton (Richard Branson: Trump said he would destroy those who wouldn’t help him after he went bankrupt). Very telling contrast, which we’ve seen over and over again over the last year. Well… most of us have seen it. There are still those who – bizarrely – fail to recognize Trump for what he is.

I do think however that it is counterproductive to refer to the two individuals (as this article did) as “the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the Republican nominee Donald Trump.” While Hillary may well be the Democratic nominee, the Republican party (those that have balls), and almost all of the died in the wool Republicans that I know, feel that Trump has usurped the Republican party for his own platform. He has taken the name and run with it, neither understanding nor respecting what the party grew out of.

Sadly, the Tea Party did the same thing previously. Both of these movements have left the Republican party in tatters. It can’t even recognize itself any more, let alone have a commanding presence in the political arena.

I am a Democrat. A sort of independent-Democrat. But I totally depend on there being at least two parties in the national conversation. Without that, we’re too often talking to ourselves, patting ourselves on the back, thinking we have all the answers, and yet leaving wide swaths of answer undelivered.

There are always different viewpoints. The bell curve keeps coming up time and time again because on almost any subject, there’s a mass of people clustered around the middle, with fewer and fewer outliers in either direction. If the goal of a political party is to garner as much support for its position as possible, it would seem that a Democratic party that’s one standard deviation to the left of the center, and a Republican party that’s one SD to the right, would be about the right place to be.

As both parties – but particularly the Republican party – pick themselves up and dust themselves off after this election, it is my greatest hope that the leadership of both parties will consider this reality and try to position themselves once again to be strong, identifiable, cohesive forces, each with an agenda, but not so far apart that they cannot possibly reconcile on the issues before them.

From this perspective, we might still achieve much of the kind of growth the Republicans seem bent on, without losing the care and egalitarianism focus of the Democratic party. In the real world, we can’t afford to have clear winners, because that entails clear losers as well. We must always strive to do the best we can, for most of the people, and not leave any to be sacrificed to “progress.”

Is expectation of men’s solidarity misplaced in light of Trump sex tape?

I don’t believe I have any women friends (or any other friends, for that matter) who are Trump supporters. So I don’t believe this jab is directed at anyone I know.

That being said… isn’t it awfully myopic, selfish and xenophobic for a good number of women to say that now, finally, with the discovery of “the Trump tape,” a line has been drawn in the sand and Trump has stepped over it? To say that “it’s a sign of how under-appreciated we [women] are?”

Don’t you think it was true that earlier statements were signs of “how under-appreciated Mexicans are,” or “how under-appreciated Muslims are,” or “how under-appreciated [insert name of any number of groups Trump has slammed publicly] are?”

Were you not willing to stand behind Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, or others in solidarity because you are not a member of any of those groups? Why now all of a sudden do you expect men to stand behind women in solidarity? They are not members of that group either.

I know that Republicans especially like to talk about the Bible. But they sure like to pick and choose. We could go to Matthew 25:45 for the very lesson that pertains here:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

Anyone who is only now deciding to abandon Trump or – perhaps worse – remains undecided, has to ask themselves what they truly do believe in. Because it surely does not appear to be “love of neighbor,” or “basic human goodness” that they believe in. It must be something else entirely.

This article is in part in response to:
“You deserve every charge of sexism thrown at you”: a conservative activist quits GOP after Trump tape [from vox.com]

Dallas police attack is the deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since …

The Dallas police attack has been alternately called “the deadliest attack on law enforcement since 9/11” and “the deadliest attack FOR law enforcement since 9/11.”

By “for,” what they mean is that among all of those who were killed, the community of law enforcement also suffered its greatest loss.

However, the 9/11 attack itself, of course, did not target the 72 law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the attack along with hundreds of other people.

The previous largest attack ON law enforcement – which I think is far more relevant to discuss – was the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, an attack in which federal law enforcement officers from specific agencies were specifically targeted.

Bringing 9/11 into the discussion only serves to link Dallas to another image of shock and awe. It demonstrates careless reporting, as it does nothing to further the understanding of the current event. It is regrettable that it – 9/11 – was chosen as the reference point, rather than the OK City bombing, which shared a motivation similar to the Dallas attack.

Breakfast. Mornings with my father.

Bowl of cereal
Breakfast. Mornings with my father.

[This article was written while on a spiritual retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, in West Park, New York. It’s an exceedingly lovely environment in which to re-find one’s self. I highly recommend it to any of a spiritual bent.]

Here, at the monastery, breakfast falls under the swath of the Great Silence, which began at 8:30 the previous evening and extends until 8:30 each morning. Breakfast is to be eaten silently; no talking, making as little noise as possible. It’s amusing to watch people trying to crack a hard-boiled egg silently. To eat a bowl of granola, silently. To chew, silently. But still, we’re conscious, and we try, and that’s the significant part.

But I never appreciated breakfast with my father, when I was a boy, as much as I did this morning. On the mornings that breakfast was a bowl of cereal, coffee, toast – as it was most weekday mornings – he would not put milk on his cereal until everyone else had pretty much finished reaching for this and reaching for that. When the coast was clear, he would move the milk carton close to his cereal bowl, move the sugar bowl close as well, pause for just a second, and then apply the two to his cereal and begin eating.

The cereal was never swimming in milk. Just enough to give it some fluidity and – and this is most important – a bit of cohesiveness. As my father ate his cereal, you could see a line maintained across the width of the bowl, as the spoon made its methodical advance. And he did this “silently.” Not silently in a way that would call attention to itself, not even like the Great Silence of this place. But silently in a way that you wouldn’t even notice, until reflecting on it some 50 years later.

Today, when I am out walking the dog, and it’s time to clean up after her leavings, I pride myself on being the best poop-picker I know. It doesn’t matter whether it was a particularly good one, or less so… my goal, nearly always realized, is to leave no trace. Obviously sometimes this is not possible. But I think about it. I have a method, which I use; it brings good results, and makes me proud to be a responsible steward.

I am the best poop-picker I know. I know where I got it from.

My father was the best cereal-eater I know. I wonder where he got it from?

The sad truth about drone warfare

Predator droneI’d like to comment on one aspect of an article that appeared recently in The Independent. To do that, I’ll start with a telling quote regarding the use of drones: “They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

The article in question is a guest editorial in The Independent, by Malik Jalal, titled, “I’m on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones.

I am not a militarist, as a general rule. And I’m not particularly fond of things flying overhead that can drop bombs or fire missiles at those on the ground. Hell, I don’t even like traffic copters hovering overhead.

Regarding drones, though… their opponents often adamantly decry drone warfare for the fact that for every viable target, 9 or 10 more people invariably end up being killed as well. But they’re not so adept at stating what the military alternative is. I’m not talking about what the political alternative might have been. We’re past that. I’m saying, if the decision is made that some kind of brute force method must be applied to a particular situation, what’s it gonna be?
Agreed, taking out 10 people for every viable target really sucks. But consider traditional warfare. How many people did the U.S. (and most of the Western World) want to “take out” in WWII? One: Adolf Hitler.

That’s not completely fair, because there were probably 10 top targets who needed to be eliminated in order to arrest Germany’s actions. Himmler, Eichmann, Goebbels, etc.

The overall losses of human life in WWII – the costliest ever – were around 75 million. Estimates vary. Military deaths alone were estimated at about 25 million. Non-military, civilian deaths due to direct military action and “crimes against humanity” were approximately 30 million.

Focusing on the latter number, not even taking into account the staggering number of people who lost their lives due to famine and disease during the war – just the 30 million innocents killed as a direct result of the war – means that the cost was 3 million “bystanders” for each one of those “top 10” targeted leaders of the Nazi regime.

The simple and unpleasant truth is, the ratio of collateral deaths and injuries per strike in drone warfare is several orders of magnitude less than in traditional warfare. Until there is a way to either make warfare disappear, or to make the available strategies even more precise than they already are, we’re going to continue to see drones used to launch campaigns against hostile targets.

Any unnecessary loss of life is tragic. But drones kill far fewer people than other methods currently known and used.