Thursday, July 30, 2015

UNBELIEVABLE...AGAIN


Beverly Scott had to resign from the directorship of my beloved MBTA here in Massachusetts shortly after the new governor, Charlie (not stuck on the MBTA) Baker, was inaugurated. Why? Well, in her tenure as director, Beverly tore down an already crippled public transit system to the point it was largely disabled whenever stressed. The past winter, 2014-2015, was a mass transit nightmare here in Boston. In my 55 years of using the MBTA, I had never seen whole-system closures on this scale.

Beverly ran from Boston. She had reasons. Her directorship was market by long absences and lavish travel on the public dollar. There wasn't a conference she didn't attend, it seems. She managed to run for any photo op or interview she could get with the media here in Boston as well. She did a great job of conning the public and fleecing the state's taxpayers.  

Lo and behold, she has been nominated for a 5-year appointment to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) by President Obama. Really? It is noteworthy that Ms. Scott is African-American. Now why would our African-American President choose to nominate an incompetent bureaucrat to a national post with a big salary and benefits?  Cronyism? Now wouldn't that be unbelievable?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

FIRE, WATER AND BEES

Strip mine near Billings, Montana.

Our planet's ecosystem is a closed bubble of balance. It is enclosed within the thin envelope of our atmosphere and two magnetically generated radiation belts. This means that nothing can stop the balancing of the chemical and physical composition of the planet. Human technology could influence that balance in favor of our species. However, it has not. Instead, it has set off a sequence of balancing events which will severely challenge human sustainability.
 
Climate change has accelerated desertification of vast acreage across the planet. This desertification has in turn increased global temperatures. Now, these global temperatures and the accompanying drying of the atmosphere has led to huge forest fires in once verdant areas of Northwest North America, including Alaska. This deforestation will lead to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing global temperatures more rapidly.
 
The exploration for petrochemicals by a greedy and desperate global petrochemical industry is also marring the Earth's topography as well as corrupting ground water. Strip mining oil sands and coal beds is still occurring on a massive scale. Strip mining for precious metals is also being accelerated by the demands of the technology sector. Water supplies are challenged by overpopulation, as seen in the shutdown of large segments of California agriculture.
 
The global collapse of bee colonies and populations of other pollinating species will add to the challenge to food production. As the human population spirals out of control, leading to larger and larger megacities, the likelihood of feeding and hydrating those megacities diminishes. And this is as it should be. The Earth is balancing and the human species, which once considered itself immune from the balance of Nature, will soon learn that it is perhaps less important in that process than a species of tiny, flying pollinators.

Friday, July 24, 2015

TRUE COLORS

Anti-gay rally in Africa where Black lives matter...not LGBT lives.

President Obama, crowned King of Neo-Liberals by an anxious Rightist media in the West, will visit a country which has an abysmal human rights record concerning its LGBT citizens. But this is an afterthought, as Obama tries to seal his legacy as an African-American President before leaving office. The hypocrisy of Obama's Neo-Liberalism is not new.
 
As a gay adolescent, I endured the sanctification of John F. Kennedy, who, with his brother Robert, maintained the status quo of American queer-bashing in the good old-fashioned Roman Catholic way. And, they were enabled by a gay FBI director who was among the most twisted of gay men in history, along with Ray Cohn and Eugene McCarthy.
 
Obama has remained loyal to his cultural roots. He has grudgingly tackled gay issues, like gays in the U.S. military and gay marriage. However, his lack of enthusiasm in supporting these basic acknowledgments of the humanity of LGBT people has been glaringly evident. It will be interesting to see if Obama yields the advice of Kenyan politicians and social leaders to avoid speaking of LGBT rights.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Islamophobia?


Gay man being thrown from a building in an ISIS video.

This report from BBC World Service today explains clearly why I believe Islam to be an evil force in the world. It is a violent tool, physically and/or psychologically, of male patriarchy against women and homosexual men. As a gay man, I will never support any politician, group or cause which allies itself with Islam in any form. If I did, I would be no better than a Jewish supporter of Nazis or a Russian supporter of Putin/Stalin.

Monday, July 20, 2015

FALSE COMPARISONS


I recently saw this (above) picture on Facebook. I suppose the poster thinks it is funny. I don't.
 
This picture represents the lack of serious thought in a society driven by social media, which are basically pages of gossip, exhibitionism and hocking products which people don't need. In many ways, social media are like the community cable channels of an earlier time. Unfortunately, social media are taken seriously by too many people. Community cable was a joke.
 
This picture is an insult to a thinking descendant of legal immigrants to the U.S. of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is drawing a parallel between our ancestors who were legally imported as laborers in the Industrial Era to the current wave of migrants who are illegally crossing borders with no clear likelihood of employment.
 
The Ellis Island (and other ports) immigrants came to the U.S. to work in factories. They were often recruited by relatives who had preceded them. Many were housed in factory dormitories, as rural Chinese workers of today are housed in Chinese industrial centers. My Baltic immigrant grandparents lived next to textile mills in Maynard, Massachusetts. They could easily have looked like the people in the above picture as they sailed into New York harbor in the early 20th century.
 
Industrial Era immigrants were not covered by labor laws. They worked six or seven days per week. They worked twelve-hour days at the discretion of their masters. They worked in poorly heated and poorly ventilated factories in all weather. If they were injured, they were cast out to be supported by their struggling families or by some good Samaritan in their immigrant circle. Some just died on the streets or managed to get back to the poverty of their homelands.
 
After slaving and scraping together savings from their meager wages, some escaped to small subsistence farms. Some of the women chose domestic servitude to factory work. There, they were given even lower wages and worked around the clock on demand. Some, like my grandparents, escaped the mill town for the city. My blacksmith/machinist grandfather got a job in a small metal works and my grandmother worked in sweat shops as a seamstress. Their lot was no better, perhaps even worse.
 
These legal immigrants were not guaranteed anything. They had no social security when they arrived. They had to struggle to learn the English language to even approach citizenship. That process took many years for most. And, they did it, because they were grateful for the chance to participate in American democracy and wanted better for their children. They did not expect Americans to adopt their children by putting them on a jet or sneaking them across a border. They wanted to earn their place and then contribute.
 
If I were to utter the slogan in the picture above, I would be commenting on those migrants who come here illegally to collect, not contribute. I welcome those immigrants who come to this country through the system to contribute to the system. I welcome refugees who come here and immediately apply for refugee status with legitimate needs for asylum. I don't leave the doors to my house unlocked, but there is a doorbell at my front door.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

MOURNING


I don't mourn the dead. I mourn those who will be born to a dying planet. Their lives will be worse from the start than the lives of those before them.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

NONVIOLENT? REALLY?

Crack addicts on the street in Brazil.

President Obama's Justice Department has decided to free crack dealers from prison before they serve their sentences on the premise that they are nonviolent offenders. Really? Have you ever known a crack addict? I have, as a health care provider.
 
Saying that someone who sells crack to an addict is not a destructive (violent) criminal is like saying the person who sells stolen handguns to teenaged gang members is not a violent criminal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

FENCES


There's a lot of touchy-feely talk about migration (illegal immigration) in the press. Some of the talking heads are abysmally out of touch with what it means to walk on planet Earth. In other words, they are part of a privileged layer of society, which includes the likes of Harvard and Oxford professors. There is little practical science or economics in what they have to say. Almost none.

I recently planned and contracted the installation of a border fence with a (legal) immigrant between our driveways. My neighbor and I are subsequently planning the sealcoating of our driveways. This hasn't changed our boundary. It has improved it and our communication about it. It has improved our neighborly relationship. Why? Because it is based in mutual respect for our individual financial and aesthetic needs, which are quite different.

We like our fence. We like our privacy. We understand that we each take care of our own property for the benefit of both of us. We could be a functional team if we need to address issues with the city or other neighbors about our properties. Neither of us is expecting anything but cooperation and respect from the other.

In our neighborhood, we have several people who routinely trespass to rifle through trash bins. They leave behind litter when it suits them. They open closed gates to enter yards and leave those gates open when they leave. One of them, an apparently psychotic young man, smashes glass jars and bottles in the streets while screaming at passing cars.

I have evicted two of these trespassers from my own driveway, where my trash bins sit. I have chosen not to place a gate on my driveway. I approached both trespassers, one a petit Asian woman and the other a tall man with dark skin, with quietly stated information, "This is private property. Do not come in here. You have not been given permission to." Neither responded. They have not returned. They pass my property by when I see them on the street with their carts. One of them now greets me in passing with a half smile and a mumbled 'hello'.

I see myself as much a custodian as owner of property. After all, I do not really think I can own a piece of a planet which has been spinning for many millions of years and will likely be spinning many millions more after my passing. Similarly, I see governments as custodians of their territories for the benefit of the citizens/taxpayers who fund them. And, I see those who live in war-torn or corrupt nations as responsible for the custody of their own territories. In other words, rather than running away from conflict with evil, I think staying in place and fighting evil is the only effective way to defeat it. The partisan movements of Europe during WWII and the guerilla movement in Vietnam against American imperialism are cases in point.

The love affair which the media have with migrants, because they are an endless supply of heart-rending stories which can boost the consumption of their products, is symptomatic of the problems facing the civilized world. Largely nonviolent and civilized national governments are prone to sympathize with migrants and also to infantilize them. While some of the migrant population are legitimately nonviolent protesters against oppression in their native lands, the others are fleeing systems which they helped to create by collusion with evil, silent complacency or refusal to get involved in activism of a progressive nature.
 
How can progressive change occur in the native lands of these illegal migrants without a resisting population of dissatisfied citizens? If those with means and intelligence leave, who is left behind to resist whatever horrible conditions prompted their running away? Western governments have long used the rationalization that taking in these unexamined migrants somehow promotes change in their native lands remotely. Given the state of violence in the world at this time, I have to question the validity of that premise. It seems more apparent that these migrants are more likely to have a corrosive effect on the civilized standards of the countries they invade.
 
I am fortunate to have my immigrant neighbor. He works hard and has invested considerable effort to be a lawful and contributing member of our community. I have a great deal of respect for his efforts. Our fence is a symbol of the way our world currently works. I do not like the way it works for the most part, but I have always felt that working nonviolently and persistently within the environment I have inherited is the only way to promote peaceful progress. Boundaries, whether personal or international, delineate responsibility and require constant tending to avoid inevitable conflict.
 
 
 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

DOING



I have learned most of what I know by doing. That is not to say I haven't had some good teachers. While teachers can show you what to do, they cannot do it for you. Doing is the true test of learning.
 
The blatant hypocrisy of most religion is rooted in the failure of preachers to become practitioners. For example, Pope Francis, who preaches on the need to reach out to the poor and heal the environment, lives in a castle surrounded by lackeys and wears Prada slippers. He is not helping the Vatican gardeners to grow organic vegetables for the street people of Rome.
 
I call myself a practical humanist because I seek to practice what I learn to appreciate as ethical and sensible in a social and environmental context. Nothing more. I do not have delusions of grandeur. I do not think I will bring about world peace. I do not think most of what I do or think daily would appeal to most of the people in my environment. I am not about living anyone else's life but my own. Paradoxically, I see this as a form of compassion.
 
Doing what I feel is ethical and sensible (good, in some parlance) has its own effect on my environment. I do not need the symbols or pageantry of religion to convey what I aspire to be about. I maintain my property, I maintain my quiet gardens. I attend civic association meetings. I promptly pay bills and taxes. I say 'hello' to people on my daily walks in my environment. I help my neighbors when I can with the simplest of things. I pick up papers off the streets and sidewalks. I report dead trees along sidewalks. I could go on. In other words, I do what seems the right thing to do for my own self respect and the maintenance of my environment.  
 
I have attended many small group meetings in my life. I have listened to group members whine and complain, cry and wail, about the injustices of their lives. When I was younger, I did my share of processing my anger and sadness in these settings. But ultimately it was all just talk. And talk is cheap. Change comes with doing. Many of the people I shared those experiences with seemed to think that verbalizing or feeling was the doing. I believe that is simply wrong. The doing is transforming those epiphanies into a daily practice which makes your own life and the world a better place. This isn't religion. This is action, motivated by education, persistence and love of oneself and the natural world.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

NEIGHBORS


Hong Kong Apartment Building

The increased density of urban living will only work to benefit human society if human beings learn to cooperate and consider their effect on their surroundings. These qualities are increasingly seen as un-American, as people in the U.S. retreat into the scope of their electronic devices. American politics, and politics elsewhere, reflect this trend. The Greek debacle within the E.U. is a current example of a neighboring nation, committed to contracts of cooperation, defaulting loudly and proudly.
 
The 2008 financial collapse in the U.S. accelerated the 'me first' culture here. The mishandling of the crisis by government for the sake of banks and Wall Street fostered a nationwide sense of abandonment by social systems. Liberals, like President Obama, worsened the situation subsequently. By taking the stance that individuals who defaulted on their mortgages are entitled to keep their homes after not making payments, politicians sent a message that fiscal and social responsibility get you absolutely no consideration. In other words, you may as well be a financial deadbeat.
 
The same messages are now being given concerning the problems of tens of thousands of mentally ill vagrants who wander our city streets nationwide. Rather than developing a system of residential mental health treatment and addiction treatment, government is trying to convince the public that homelessness, insanity and publicly practiced addiction are valid individual life choices. This is a nifty way for politicians to save tax dollars for other uses, like corruption and nepotism. It absolves the increasingly self-centered public from any organized social obligation to the dozing addicts on cardboard boxes in urban alleys.
 
I experience daily annoyance at antisocial behaviors in my urban environment. Dog owners do not curb their dogs or pick up after them. Dog owners leave unattended dogs to wail and bark all day long on back porches. People routinely discard trash as they walk along sidewalks or idle in cars at stop lights. Young people push past elderly and disabled people to board busses and subway cars in order to take seats that are designated for elderly and disabled passengers. They use their earplugs and mobile screens to pretend they do not notice the weary or disabled swaying on their feet in the aisles. Cars speed through or stop on crosswalks with pedestrians in them. I could go on.
 
The occasional eruptions of violence by the disenfranchised are greeted with shock and dismay in the media. This is just plain hypocrisy. Everyone knows that this country's culture is deteriorating and has been for some time now. The descent into vulgar disrespect for intelligent rationality in favor of religion, crime and/or hedonism has been exploited and promoted by the same media which bemoan its inevitable results.
 
The divide-and-conquer tactics of the Republican Party in favor of big business after the 911 terror were a blatant attempt to de-socialize the U.S. population. These tactics have worked very well because the Reagan Era had laid the financial and political groundwork for these tactics. By privatizing and dismantling institutions for social services, like mental institutions and detox centers, the Republicans have been slowly implementing an Ayn-Rand agenda. Dick Cheney and Alan Greenspan were prime architects of this agenda. They were both acolytes of Rand in their formative years.
 
There are elements in U.S. society which are poised to exploit the culture of 'me first'. Corporate and investor elites have found the cultural shift a bonanza. They have all but destroyed unions and their pension systems. They have turned the remaining unions, many of them governmental, into allies against the general working population. They have turned law enforcement into a militarized tool against anticipated revolution. This has dampened rational, nonviolent protest in the U.S.. Here in Boston, after the Marathon bombing in 2013, de facto martial law was declared with no due process before or after.
 
You needn't be a conspiracy theorist to believe your own eyes and ears in the public space. People are texting in their cars next to you every day at stop lights. They are cutting lines wherever you go. They are looking down at their phones, not up at your eyes. These are your neighbors. What will they do when something disastrous happens in your neighborhood? How easy will it be to motivate them to work together to fix a problem or to get government to intervene? We have gone far beyond Frost's "good fences make good neighbors" observation on country life of the 19th and 20th centuries. Our urban fences are now plasterboard walls and fences which demarcate narrow driveways. Earplugs and video screens will not save us from real harm or real disasters. Social engagement and cooperation may.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

THIRTEEN AND COUNTING


A redevelopment project in my current Dorchester neighborhood inspired me to tally all the Boston neighborhoods where I have resided. I spent at least one year in all but three. I have owned property in two of them. I lived with my parents through college. I graduated at age 20 in 1970. I moved from my parents' house to a dormitory at Tufts Dental School in Boston's Chinatown. Chinatown was the first of thirteen Boston neighborhoods I have resided in. The list goes as follows:

Chinatown

Symphony

Back Bay

Roxbury

Beacon Hill

Copley

South End

West End

Fenway

East Boston

Jamaica Plain

Charlestown

Dorchester

Friday, July 3, 2015

INDEPENDENCE


The issue of independence becomes more complicated in an overpopulated world with diminishing resources. The individual's capacity to live independently is becoming more and more unlikely. The days of mountain men and remote independent farmers have passed in most areas of the planet.
 
The current U.S. obsession with entrepreneurial independence is somewhat delusional. Small business loans come from big business banks. The goal of entrepreneurs is often to go public and make a fortune on the stock market. Entrepreneurs often turn to government assistance in the form of tax deductions and grants.
 
While touting financial independence, capitalists devise more and more ways to get wealthy off the masses in the form of corporate welfare or selling less for more. July 4th is a celebration of the Declaration of Independence in the U.S.. That declaration has sustained its popularity because of its assertion of a human rights agenda, not just because it avowed freedom from unfair taxation by aristocratic power.
 
If all citizens were secure in their equality and basic human rights in the U.S., the issue of the day would not be isolated self-determination. The issue of the day would be how to best serve the individual needs of the people through enlightened governance and social activism.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

COMPLACENCY


People who are depressed are complacent. Chronic fear transforms into depression if it is not addressed. The trauma of terrorism, in my opinion, is leading to a societal depression in the developed world. This depression takes many forms.
 
Yesterday, a cashier at the supermarket greeted me with a canned "Hi, how are you?" I looked directly into her middle-aged eyes and said, "I'm fine, and you?" Her face clouded. ""I'm great," she said while processing my items over her scanner. "Well, let's hope we stay this way as the day progresses." This obviously bothered the cashier. Her face twisted into a scowl. "Doesn't matter, " she lecturer grimly, " It's all good!" From then on, I felt she couldn't get rid of me fast enough.
 
It's all good? When these words are thrown at me with a "Heil, Hitler." nuance by an obviously unhappy worker, I don't feel that is at all good. Do you?
 
Complacency is a refuge of those who convince themselves they are powerless. It often takes the form of behavioral and/or conceptual conformity. For example, the political correctness of our age in some social groups defies logic, but it is a method of those who are feeling too afraid or just too lazy (depressed) to engage their brains to skeptically analyze the opinions of non-conformists.
 
Stoned hippies were often complacent and unengaged in the activism of the sexual/political revolution of the 1960s-1970s in the U.S.. These individuals used a depressive drug to squash their discomfort with the status quo which was used by other to protest and challenge authority. "Chill out, man." That was their response to those who went to the streets to face riot police. We now see a similar force at work in U.S. society, sponsored by many state governments which are licensing marijuana dispensaries and dispensing methadone by the gallon. The current level of alcohol consumption in our society rivals that of the Soviet Era in Russia.