Trump’s America: How We Got Here

Trump 4At this point in American history, the Democratic Party is a lot like a henpecked husband. Kicked out of the house, he stands on the sidewalk with his meager possessions strewn around him, wondering what just happened, and why. Meanwhile, the GOP is the spiteful wife, eagerly, viciously, turning the kids against him, telling anyone who will listen what a miserable bastard he is, and planning how to take for herself the house, the car, everything they once owned together. The point isn’t just to get all the stuff, it’s to leave him with nothing, to destroy him in every possible way.

Obviously, this didn’t happen overnight. It built up over years.

Here’s how I think we got here.

Just FYI, my observational baseline stretches back to John F. Kennedy. At a fairly early age, I was kicked awake politically by three events. The first was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the standoff over nuclear weapons that had us practicing duck and cover drills under our elementary school desks. The second was the space race with the Soviets, and the grand vision, dear to my science-fiction-loving heart, of Americans going to the moon. The third was the assassination of JFK, announced in mid-afternoon shortly before Thanksgiving break by my sixth grade teacher.

If you’re younger than me, that probably all sounds like ancient history. Dry facts stuffed away in the past that have no bearing on today. But we doddering older people experience it as MEMORY – real events that have had an effect on our lives and the lives of others.

In my memory, at least, it pretty much started with Nixon. Whatever you might think about presidential politics, in the modern era it MOSTLY proceeded with honesty and honor, with some large amount of respect for the powers, limitations and image of the office. But whatever good Nixon did, and there was a lot of it – opening relations with China, establishing the EPA, traveling the world to meet with foreign leaders – was overshadowed publicly by his actions in Watergate, where he oversaw the coverup of GOP operatives breaking into Democratic Party headquarters. Never admitting any wrongdoing, Nixon resigned rather than be impeached. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier amid allegations of bribery, tax evasion and money laundering during his term as governor of Maryland. The two of them had a hostile relationship with the news media for most of Nixon’s term, resulting in an almost paranoid presidency that placed a high value on secrecy and loyalty to Nixon, rather than to the nation.

Note I used the word “publicly” in the previous paragraph. What none of us knew until later was that Nixon started his first presidential campaign – against departing president Lyndon Johnson, and his chosen successor Hubert Humphrey – with an act of pure treason.

In late 1968, Nixon knew there was a pending breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks. Johnson would announce a halt to bombing in North Vietnam and Vietnam and the U.S. would negotiate further agreements in the cooler atmosphere of a cease-fire. That action would bolster the positive image of the Democratic team, possibly cementing a win for Humphrey.

To prevent such a result, Nixon dispatched an aide to talk to the South Vietnamese ambassador, telling him to withdraw from the peace talks until after the election, as he would get a better deal from Nixon. Note that this is not mere conjecture – there were actual tapes detailing the acts of Nixon and others. Nixon not only committed treason in order to win the White House, he deliberately prolonged the war, resulting in further deaths of American troops on the ground in Vietnam.

Nixon actually campaigned with the argument that the Johnson war policy was in shambles because they couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Once in office, he escalated the war with military intervention in Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives – quite apart from the lives of the Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese caught up in the new offensives – before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within our grasp in 1968.

Something especially enraging to me personally, Nixon also oversaw the 1970 murder of four unarmed war protestors, college students, at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. The National Guard fired 67 rounds into a crowd of unarmed Americans, killing four, wounding nine, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The dead were Jeffrey Glenn Miller; age 20; Allison B. Krause; age 19; William Knox Schroeder; age 19; and Sandra Lee Scheuer; age 20.

So:

Point One: Nixon the secretive, calculating traitor, blessed with callous disregard for human lives. A Republican.

Point Two: Another Republican President, Ronald Reagan, a man famous – and popular – for his homespun, non-intellectual approach to matters of state. Also a man who was, arguably, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

And again, Reagan did a lot of good. Pushing a massive military buildup in the U.S., he helped along the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War. But he also helped destroy unions, famously firing more than 11,000 air traffic controllers striking for better wages, better equipment and fewer stress-filled hours. He backed a constitutional amendment favoring prayer in public schools. He kicked off the War on Drugs and ignored the AIDS epidemic.

He also oversaw the criminal covert sale of arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, with the proceeds used to fund the human-rights-abusing Contra rebels fighting against the democratically elected Nicaraguan government. Funding the rebels had not only been specifically outlawed by Congress, it violated international law and breached treaties with Nicaragua. Though Reagan himself emerged squeaky clean from this arguably treasonous act, the scandal resulted in 14 indictments and 11 convictions of members of his staff.

Point Three: George W. Bush, Republican. I have described Bush privately many times as being just about bright enough to run a tire store, and watching him over his presidency, I was continuously amazed that Republicans saw him as an extremely intelligent man who never told a lie, never made a mistake, and whose worst problem as a president was that he was soundly hated by “libruls.”

This rich, privileged frat boy took more vacation time in his first year than any president in history, taking off the entire month of August, 2001, all the while U.S. intelligence agencies were trying to interest him in a report titled “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.”

Shortly after, he presided over the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history. I watched the video of him freezing into immobility in a classroom of second-graders after getting the whispered word, “America is under attack.” His empty face showed not decision and strength, but a profound inability to process what was happening.

He and his team lied America into a second war, with Iraq, on ginned-up evidence, resulting in the deaths of more than 4,000 American men and women, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced Iraqis. Also not to mention the huge price tag – estimated at a trillion dollars or more – entirely unbudgeted, of the Iraq War.

Yes, the Iraq War was backed by Congress, but it was a Congress lacking vital information – in fact, operating solely on lies supplied to them by the White House – and forced into a pro-war stance through fears of appearing weak after America was attacked. Lying us into war, the Bush administration was guilty of treason in spirit if not in letter of the law.

Hell, he played golf while we lost an American city, New Orleans, and applauded the limp-dick response – “Heckuva job, Brownie!” – that left 1,833 dead, and 30,000 people trapped in the New Orleans Superdome for five hellish days without water, food or working toilets.

One of the things I especially disliked about Bush was the empty-headed posturing, best illustrated by the “Mission Accomplished” dog and pony show on the USS Abraham Lincoln in May, 2003. Returning from combat operations in the Persian Gulf, the ship was actually held offshore so Bush could make his overly theatrical and expensive stunt of landing in a jet fighter, while a gaudy banner prepared by White House staff was hung as a backdrop to his speech.

My conservative friends, even knowing the facts of the Iraq War, and having seen clearly his administration’s failed rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina, still see him as likeable, intelligent, honest and capable. At worst, they see him as having been taken advantage of by Dick Cheney, or failed by appointees. Any argument about the facts of Bush’s presidency always seem to include “Well, but Clinton, but Obama, but Hillary!”

There has been a progression of betrayal and incompetence in Republican presidencies, probably with the disinclusion of Bush Senior, but GOP White Houses have shown a callous disregard for law, for American ideals, and for American lives, with their right-wing constituency fed a steady diet of false arguments, obfuscations, justifications and outright lies – including insanely vicious attacks on liberal rivals – to keep them firmly on the side of the Right. If you can make your opponent look like a traitor in public, you can actually BE a traitor in private, and less-educated, progressively less rational voters will still love you.

In the mere 10-year reign of Fox News and associated right-wing bum boys such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, the news media itself has come under attack, being indelibly and probably permanently branded as lying, slanted and untrustworthy. The media has responded by cozying up to the name-callers, moving inexorably rightward, swallowing and rebroadcasting party line attacks on Obama and Hillary Clinton. The result is that, in fact, the news media IS untrustworthy and slanted.

Meanwhile, in a perfect storm of diminished national attention span and a rapid-fire volley of quick-hit memes and catch-phrases on social media, transparently false accusations and half-truths gain ground over actual facts and research.

One huge mistake made on the left is the belief that the instigators of all this stuff are stupid. You’re stupid, they’re stupid, that’s stupid. When in fact, the people pushing it are brilliant at achieving their goal, which is not factuality or truthfulness, but the sparking of strong emotions – fear, hate and paranoia – among their contituents.

Point Four: Republican traitors in Congress. It’s no secret that GOP now values party loyalty over service to their country, working for Obama’s eight years to oppose EVERY SINGLE ACT of the President, no matter what his intent, no matter whether it would benefit American citizens or not. (Hell, they and their voting base are PRAISING Vladimir Putin, after proven interference in this American election!)

Enter the showman, Trump. He’s not Point Five, he’s the QED, the end result of all this.

Like the clumsy magician he was, we could SEE what he was doing, but his main audience, half of America, childlike and unhappy, ready for any distraction from the faked-up horror show which was Obama, saw only the magic. Trump dropped a drape over their already blinded eyes and pulled their emotional levers – “Make America Great Again,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Deport Muslims,” “Build a Wall,” “Bring Back the Jobs,” “Dismantle Obamacare” – and they eagerly applauded and voted.

This was not ALL the doing of the Right. I blame the Left for

1) Swallowing the lies about Hillary – Benghazi, the emails, dishonesty, Wall Street insider, the image of the vicious bitch who would stop at nothing to grab the reins of power, and who has left a trail of dead bodies in her wake.

2) Being stupidly perfectionistic, expecting miracles and settling for nothing less. And yes, if you voted for Bernie or Jill Stein, if you sat out the election in smug protest, if you were one of those who said in your whiny little voice “Well, I’d rather vote for Donald Trump than Hillary!,” this is definitely your fault. You helped it happen, and Trump is YOUR president, you ignorant little self-involved twit.

(There is a third large factor, but it’s not only something quite a bit more difficult to explain, it’s something most of us on the left would flat-out deny. Because there’s no way WE could be wrong about our basic beliefs and goals, right? Whatever, it’s not something I’m going to get into, because I’m sure few would even listen, much less agree about it.)

In the end, I don’t see any way back from this mess. We have a White House soon to be occupied by someone who probably qualifies as a textbook narcissist — literally mentally ill — of no great intelligence, we have a permanently broken trust in media, and we have a tradition of greed and treason at the uppermost levels of government with which those on the Right are wholly comfortable.

Worse, we on the Left keep foolishly HOPING that this or that will save us. Oh, the Electoral College will save us! Oh, the recounts will save us! Oh, Hillary will fight this! Oh, we can do this or that to oppose Trump! We’ll start a petition! We’ll write letters! We’ll win in the end!

Nope. We lost. And I think the roots of that loss go even deeper than I’ve covered here.

The current great hope is that Congress will impeach Trump pretty much as soon as he enters office. But again, nope. I tend to doubt that will happen.

Even if they despise him, he’s a known quantity, a man willing to make deals, to give them pretty much anything and everything they want, as long as he feels he comes out on top. Whereas simple-minded little Bush was a Humvee that could only occasionally be driven here and there by the Right, Donald Trump is a Star Trek transporter that can beam them anywhere. Lacking anything ordinary Americans might recognize as a conscience, lacking any sense of honesty or fair play or American ideals, lacking any desire even to be publicly consistent, he will go anywhere without fear or concern for long-term effects. And the media will let him.

Once they get a handle on how to flatter and appease him, he will be a right-wing dream machine of bills, Supreme Court nominees, corporate favoritism and military buildup. He will dismantle everything Obama has done, he will finally destroy the middle class, even blithely breaking the law to achieve whatever goals his flighty little head sets on. Better yet, he will look away in boredom while they party in right wing ecstasy.

So yeah, we’re screwed. Things look bleak as hell. To me, it looks like civilization itself is on the line.

The ONE hopeful thing I see coming out of this is the situation’s utter hopelessness.

I HOPE Americans will finally understand that we live in a real world, with real-world consequences for our actions, and that the choice before us is utter ruin (and I’m talking Mad Max-level nastiness) or some sort of muscley response – minus the pissy little whiners – that will get us rising up and forcing real change.

I don’t expect it. But I do hope for it.

Petition the Veep: Stop Evil-lution in Schools!

COE 235Ooh, sign me up!

A petition addressed to VP-elect Mike Pence asks for (drum roll, clash of cymbals!) …

A NATIONWIDE MORATORIUM ON THE TEACHING OF EVOLUTION IN SCHOOLS

(A “moratorium.” Just until we can figure out, you know, whether it’s really true or not.)

They’re looking for (drum roll again, even louder clash of cymbals)

>>> OMG!! ONE THOUSAND SIGNATURES!!! <<<

—You know, a stunning tidal wave of deep passionate concern from Americans.

Some absolutely verbatim excerpts from the petition:

It is obvious to us that Evolutionism-Darwinism is an anti-Christian atheistic dogma masquerading as science. According to renown (sic) philosopher of science, Professor Michael Ruse blah blah blah blah.

Evolutionists, indeed, themselves speak about their “theory” blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah “the scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail.”

Blah blah blah denying the work of a divine creator in the natural order blah blah blah sweeping theological contention blah blah blah!!!

Blah blah blah blah the Neo-Darwinian paradigm is on the verge of collapse blah blah!!

Blah blah blah! Blah blah its flawed historical narrative of origins which includes telling students that humans are walking sarcopterygian fish! Blah blah blah!!

It ends with:

We therefore urge you to persuade President Trump to issue an executive order imposing a nationwide indefinite moratorium on the teaching of evolution in public schools. For it to be effective, this order should clearly state that it supersedes the decisions of state and district boards of education regarding the science curriculum. Those schools that don’t comply with it should be completely denied federal funding and aid by the Department of Education, just as it is proposed that cities that provide sanctuary to illegal aliens ought to be denied assistance. We hope that you will act upon this very urgent matter and uphold truth and the American way of life we hold so dear.

(Yeah, one peep out of you freedom-hating bastards and we’ll jerk your funding so fast your head will spin! But hey, no pressure. We’re all about that “equal exposure and then letting the kids decide for themselves.”)

I’m seeing an opportunity in the comments section.

 

Beta Culture: Honoring the Fallen … of Science

joy adamsonI’m not a big fan of that pro-military, jingoistic “Support the troops” and “Freedom isn’t free” crap, mainly because it compresses a very complex situation down to a simplistic slogan, with an added “with us or against us” flavor. When I visit Washington DC, I’m always impressed with how MANY memorials there are glorifying war, how few there are — zero — glorifying peace.

Also, in counterpoint to the two national holidays we have honoring soldiers, I’ve suggested a national holiday, SALT Day, to honor Scientists, Artists, Librarians and Teachers. You know, those OTHER people who make American freedom possible, and livable.

So I was happy to find this:

The Wall of the Dead: A Memorial to Fallen Naturalists

The site honors those who have died in the pursuit of KNOWLEDGE, and I can’t imagine anyone who more deserves hero status. It delights me in this way, too: It ignores the lines of nations, presenting honorees as citizens of this other country, Planet Earth.

I don’t know most of the names on this list, so it was nice to be able to read over it and gain exposure to them. (It’s weird how many died of poison darts, spears and such.)

Some of the ones I did recognize:

Adamson, Joy (1910–1980), a naturalist, artist, and author best known for the book and movie Born Free, found murdered, age 69, in her camp on Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, by a former employee.

Adamson, George (1906 –1989), British wildlife conservationist and author best known through the book and movie Born Free, shot dead, age 83, in Kenya’s Kora National Park by Somali bandits.

Cousteau, Philippe (1940–1979), French oceanographer, diver, and filmmaker, second son of Jacques-Yves and Simone Cousteau, author of  Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea, died, age 38, when his PBY Catalina flying boat crashed in the Tagus River near Lisbon.

Felzien,Gregory (1965-1992), predator biologist, killed, age 26, by an avalanche in Yellowstone National Park while tracking mountain lions.  He was experienced at back country work but is said to have remarked, “If I ever have to die, I want it to be here in Yellowstone tracking cats.”

Fossey, Dian (1932-1985), leading primatologist and conservationist studying mountain gorillas, found murdered in her cabin, age 53, in the Virunga Mountains, Rwanda (case unsolved).

Gambel, William (1823–1849), American naturalist, namesake of Gambel’s quail, age 26, of typhoid fever in the Sierra Nevada.

Leopold, Aldo (1887-1948), father of wildlife ecology who helped found The Wildlife Society and the Wilderness Society, died of a heart attack, age 61, while battling a wildfire on his neighbor’s property.

And one I knew personally:

Gaines, David (1947-1988) , birder in the Sierra Nevada,  author of  The Birds of the Yosemite and the East Slope, and the main impetus behind saving Mono Lake from SoCal’s unquenchable thirst. He died, age 41, in a car accident near Mono Lake. Here’s a good biography (but disregard the dates).

I’d like to see this same effort for all of science, every field, all the researchers, boundary-challengers and explorers of reality who died in the course of their work.

 

Well … Wow.

President Trump, with A GOP Senate and House, in Washington DC.

Yes, I’m joking about the game of Clue, and what looks like the murder of America.

I suppose I should feel worse, but … I already think civilization is coming to an end. I thought it would be in about 2030, but it looks like things are speeding up. One wonders if those women who ask the police for protection from abusive husbands feel one small moment of satisfaction — “See? I TOLD them he’d come here and kill me!” — in their last terrified minutes.

I’ve already seen people blaming this on Hillary, but I don’t. Hillary was a fantastic candidate suffering from too many lies and smears. She was America’s pit bull puppy, languishing in the animal shelter not for anything she’d done, but because of idiot public perception.

Thank you, Mrs. Clinton, for taking this on. I’m sorry WE let YOU down, and I wish you all the best in the future. Ditto to President Obama and his family in the coming years.

The real blame lies on those people who voted for Donald Trump. Not Hillary, not Democrats, not anything or anybody else. (And I kinda don’t even blame them. They’re reacting pretty much as I expect.)

With two small exceptions.

Bear in mind that I voted for Ralph Nader back in 2000. I defended that choice for years, but I finally realized I — and a lot of people like me — really had handed the White House to that little weasel George W. Bush — whom I have described as “a 110-volt man in a 220-volt office,” and “just about bright enough to run a tire store.” (I don’t think even that highly of Trump.)

But to all those people who voted for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, yes, thank you for adding the phrase “President Donald Trump” to the national dialogue. Donald is YOUR president, YOUR accomplishment, and I hope you’ll be happy with what you’ve done.

And the news media. You failed us, you miserable bastards. You can’t ever get back the respect and trust you threw away, and oh-my-god, now what?

With Donald in the White House, and a GOP-controlled Congress, we can look for a lot more fracking and fracking side-effects. No action on climate change. The final victory of corporatism over democracy. The faster and further loss of esteem from the rest of the world. An end to public lands, and science education.

A conservative Supreme Court will mean saying bye-bye to same-sex marriage, to women’s reproductive rights, to ObamaCare and maybe even Social Security and Medicare. Not to mention an end to separation of church and state, and probably all pretense of democracy. —But at least we’ll all have plenty of guns, right?

I’m expecting a slow-rolling wave of shock over the next four years, as Trump voters — some of them, not all — realize what they’ve done, and what it’s doing to us. Right now, they must be celebrating big-time (I’m already seeing some crowing from the Jesusians), and I wish them the best during this brief moment of victory.

OWN this moment, Trumpsters. But also own everything that comes after. I don’t think it’s going to be anything like what you wanted, but you bought it. Now you get to unwrap this bitch and try to figure out where the batteries go and how the thing works.

Elsewhere: I’m imagining a great deal of fear right now in the LBGT community, among American Muslims, possibly among Latinos, and probably even among seniors.

To the limits of my poor ability, I’ve got your back. We all have a common enemy — not Trump, but the stupidity behind him, the willful ignorance that made him president — and I like to think we’ll face it together.

Ha — Beta Culture is looking better than ever.

The Death of My Dad, Five Years On

Dan for FacebookDaniel Franklin Farris, b. March 22, 1934, d. Nov. 6, 2011

I’m writing a piece for American Atheist with the working title “The Idea of Souls,” in which I look into some of the civilization-wide cost of believing in ensoulment. The writing of it coincides with the 5-years-ago-today death of my surrogate Dad. What follows is a feelings-level reaction to dealing with that anniversary.

This is an atheist — me — grappling with the death of a loved one. Nothing in atheism says we don’t feel all the same feelings goddy people feel — the same sorrows, the same yearning for it not to be. The difference is, we don’t fall into permanent fantasies of eternity and immortality, into imagining that every life is cosmically significant and that someday, someday, we’ll all be together again in glorious paradise. We accept the fact of death — real death — and simply live with it.

Someday I’ll write a book about it.

____________________

People die. And I hate that more than anything.

I’ve thought a lot about … not just the deaths of loved ones, but death itself. How it takes from us the bright lights of civilization, and replaces them with darkness. With nothing. So that we have to struggle to create new lights and put them out there.

I was never a great fan of Lucille Ball. There was something about her comedy that bothered me. The heart of what she did was often about personal embarrassment. She would do something silly that turned into a disaster, and the funny part was how mortifying it was. It just wasn’t my type of humor. But other people liked her, eventually enough that she was one of those legendary superstars, known to everybody.

Bob Hope was the same type of star. Timeless, immortal, forever.

And yet …

If you asked young people today about Bob Hope or Lucille Ball, they would say “Who?” Or maybe “Oh wait, wasn’t she on a TV show or something? And he was like this guy who’d go over and put on shows for the troops? I think my parents knew about them.”

One of the funny things about getting older is there’s all this stuff that happened in your life, events and people you consider Memory, but that younger people consider History. To them it’s a lot of dry, dull stuff that happened way in the past. Genghis Khan, John Glenn, it’s all the same. Eventually, it’s all the same.

I like to think there could be people who were so accomplished, or so good, they’d be nailed into the fabric of reality forever. I’m talking about something more than mere History, where names and dates and victories are recorded in books. I mean they’d be embedded in the bedrock of the Universe, so that everyone and everything that came after would be aware of them. You and I could look up at the sky and just KNOW things. “Vorpal Grishnak? Oh, yeah, he’s the guy who lost his life saving billions of Randalians from that plague on Zarefia IV, in the Korbin Sector.”

And “people” out there could look up at their sky and say “Oh, yeah, Dan Farris. Hank’s Dad. He’s the Earth-human who devoted 60 years of his life to mule packing, taking people into the Eastern Sierra mountains to camp and fish. Helluva story teller and all-around good man.”

To my sorrow, there’s nothing like that. Hell, we can’t even manage History, most of the time. I see cemeteries all over Upstate New York that have pre-Revolutionary tombstones in them. Some of them are so old, hundreds of years, that the chiseled inscriptions have been worn away by rain. I asked at an old church one time, “Are there permanent records somewhere that tell who these people were?” The guy chuckled and said “Paper records get burned in fires, eaten by rats, damaged by water. The stones ARE the permanent records.”

Who would ever imagine a carved granite stone would ever wear away to nothing? And yet they do. The names fall away into darkness, following the people who sported them by only a few years.

I saw a picture at a museum in South Lake Tahoe a ways back, a dozen or so loggers standing on and by a huge felled tree. A dog had wandered into the frame, and a team of mules stood in harness nearby. I realized that every one of those men had lived lives as long and as memorable as mine, or anybody’s, and yet today not only are they gone, but everybody who ever knew them, or even heard stories about them, is gone. The entirety of the impression they had left on the world was this one picture, a shadow-play of silver crystals catching one brief moment in their lives, showing their faces but telling nothing of their story.

And here’s Dan, who meant the world to me, falling away into that same darkness.

He had his day in the sun. He took life into his hands and shaped his own course. He had his victories and his disappointments. He was treated both well and shabbily by the people around him. He found love, and gave love, lost love, and gave still more. He packed mules, he wrote, he told stories. Breaking bones, skinning his knuckles, dessicated by the dry air and the high country sun, he unfailingly stood tall, stood strong, stood steadfast, making a rare impression on the people who knew him. By no means did he come away from life with everybody loving him, or even respecting him. But he lived on his own terms, rock solid, and I see that as victory of a sort many of us never manage.

I have thought many times that we humans have this two-part gift, that we get to be Human and Beast both. We have our Humany parts – which are language and humor, intelligence and creativity, in the heart of our cities and civilization. And we have our Beastly parts – which are things like eating and sleeping, fighting and carousing with our packmates, at our best delving into the wilds around us, becoming one with it.

It seems to me that to be the best person, a COMPLETE Homo sapiens, you have to be not just a good Human, but also a good Beast. And Dan was a good human, intelligent and funny and creative. But he was also a very good Beast – not just good at living in the wilds, but feisty and lusty as well, in every part of his life. Glorying in his beastliness, he ended with memorable scars and stories, but he lived up to the best of both roles.

He’s one of those people who should be branded on the hide of Earth, recorded and preserved forever for all who come after. There should be a story, a vivid memory of him, floating in the clear air and the crystal waters of the Eastern Sierra, so that anyone who came after, the moment they took their first deep breath of the backcountry air or drank the cold, delicious waters of a Sierra stream, would instantly know him. They’d look up in surprise, the water still dripping from their lips, and go “Oh! Dan Farris!” as the memories unfolded in their heads.

But … we have nothing like that. Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, Genghis Khan and John Glenn. And Daniel Franklin Farris. They fall away into darkness, and nothing but words on paper, carvings on stones, hold them here.

We live our lives, creating our own memories and impressions, but also loving and cherishing the memory of each other to the best of our ability. What immortality there is, we provide it, for as long as we ourselves live and retain the memories.

Some of us get stones, some of us get stories in history, some of us even get statues. But some get only memories in the minds and hearts of the people around them.

To a writer, one used to putting down thoughts and words on paper, those memories are as vivid as any bronze statue, recorded for me in a timeless Now. I see Dan as he lives his life on the sunlit trails of the Sierra. The creak of his saddle sounds in the crisp air of a mountain pass, the clink and thud of horse and mule shoes ring and thump on the dusty trails. I see his strong hands on rope and tarp and pack box. I hear his friendly voice as he tells stories by firelight, hear his laughter at the punchline of a joke. I see the last dying light of a Coleman lantern strung overhead, and hear its final little pop.

In the darkness, five years past, I feel him give my hand a last squeeze, see him smile briefly from a hospital bed, a smile that lights the infinite night for me, a light that will – no matter who else remembers or cares – carry on with me for all the years of my life.

For me, it will never be “Here Lies Dan Farris — little-known man of this one small place.” It will be “Here STANDS Dan Farris, A Good Man, A Mule Packer and Mountain Guide, A Rare Specimen Of The People Of Planet Earth, Unforgettable And Unmatchable In All The Worlds.”

The world is poorer for his loss, and there will never come another like him.

But maybe … for this life, for this history, for me, the one was all I needed.

.

Ha — of course that doesn’t stop me from thinking, pretty much every day, “Dammit, Old Man. I miss you.”

What’s That Sound? Oh, Shofars. Cool. Now Everything Will Be Better.

Someday I’m going to write a long, detailed piece about something I call “the 180-degrees-opposite thing.” Religion is mostly based on it. Once you become an atheist, you see it everywhere.

For instance: Rather than “Yeah, it’s sad, but people die. They just stop existing.” it’s “Oh no, death is just the beginning! We live on! We live on FOREVER! In paradise! With all our loved ones!”

Yeah, like that — 180 degrees opposite reality.

So here’s this:  Sound the Shofars in the Nation’s Capital

( BTW: According to Wikipedia, “A shofar is an ancient musical horn made of ram’s horn, used for Jewish religious purposes.” —Hey, if I want some musical instrument played in The Nation’s Capital, I want a CHRISTIAN instrument, possibly a pedal steel guitar borrowed from a smoke-and-beer-smelling honky tonk, or a red-white-and-blue banjo made from the casing of an unexploded artillery shell. Not some nancy Jewish instrument made from a ram’s horn that nobody even knows how to play a tune on. /snark )

The event itself is this:

Nov. 6, 7 and 8—three nights leading up to the most important presidential election since the Civil War, concerned citizens will be gathering at the Upper Senate Park across Constitution Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to pray for the election and the nation’s future.

The rationale for the event is this:

The organizers believe that prayer, not politics, is the only hope and answer to America’s problems. “Where people are praying, there is hope. When people pray things happen,” says Pastor Dan Cummins, an associate pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California, and the onsite pastor of The Jefferson Gathering Worship Services which are held weekly in the nation’s Capitol building for members of Congress, staff and all federal employees.

There’s the 180-degrees thing.”When people pray things happen.” From seeing to the medical needs of children to having some real effect on the larger world through hands-on action, this is the exact opposite of the truth.

But, hey:

“Skyline Church is involved because we understand that America is in a crisis moment. The nation—as we know it—is gasping for air.  This is neither melodramatic nor defeatist. It is simply fact,” says Dr. Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego and oversite pastor of the Jefferson Gathering. “The kingdom of God will be fine—with or without America. But America may not survive. We pray for voters to enter the voting booth with a healthy reverence of God, casting a ballot for biblical concepts and principles.”

Wait, that wasn’t a shofar. Sounded more like a conservative dog whistle.

Though the event is advertised as “non-partisan” the focus of its prayers will be for the nation and the election. Organizers believe that it was upon the influence of Judeo-Christian ethics that America was founded. They hope that this election will be influential in bringing the nation back to its core values.

Let’s see. Careful denial of partisanship. But then “bringing the nation back to its core values.” Yeah, that does sound dog-whistley. And ooh, there’s that clever mention of “the most important presidential election since the Civil War.” And sure, I guess we have gotten far away from those “core values,” what with this NEGRO in office, and this WOMAN poised to continue his anti-American policies.

“There is a steady undercurrent of targeted efforts to remove God from every vestige of American life and culture. These battles confirm a tangible reality that the things we hold sacred are slowly eroding away all around us,” says Lea Carawan, president and executive director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. “Thankfully, God’s people are unifying with one heart and one voice in prayer for the country and those who lead her. God has been and always will be our only source of hope.”

The focus of evening prayers will span from the White House to every house in America. The Supreme Court nominees and the judicial system will be a center of focus.

Heh. Heh. Heh. “Supreme Court nominees.” There’s a whiff of anti-abortion if I ever smelled one.

This bit tickles me:

The organizers ask that no political clothing, apparel, banners or signs be worn or brought to the event. This also includes any type of musical interments or shofars.

So, SOUND THE SHOFARS IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL!!

But don’t bring any shofars.

 

Surprise! —Trump Supporter Dishonesty

I saw this on Facebook.

Hillary FBI meme

I replied to it:

1) Nobody is “rigging” an election. If that were possible, don’t you think the Democrats would CONTROL Congress? (Also, “the fix” is not in for the Clintons. If the fix was in, they never would have impeached Bill Clinton.)

2) The FBI is not “reopening an investigation into Clinton.” The messages were neither sent by nor received by Clinton, did not appear on any computers used by Clinton, did not involve Clinton, and contained no classified info

About every 3 days during this election cycle, a new “story” has appeared, trumpeting >>> THIS IS IT!!! THE SMOKING GUN THAT WILL BRING HILLARY CLINTON DOWN!!!! <<<

… and NOT ONE of those stories has turned out to be anything other than smears and innuendo. Hateful lies.

Listen carefully: The GOP hates Hillary Clinton with a blinding passion. During the 25 or so years they’ve been after her, they have controlled the Senate, the House, the White House or all three for some substantial portion of the time. She’s been accused of everything from murder to selling off American parks to the Russians.

IF IF IF there was anything they could have nailed her on — hell, jaywalking, a simple parking ticket — SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN INDICTED.

The fact that she hasn’t even been charged with anything in all those years, with all those breathless stories about her supposed crimes, is just about rock-solid proof that there have been precisely zero illegal acts.

You’re letting people lie to you — over and over and OVER. Doesn’t that bother you?

Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president. She’s going to beat Donald Trump by a wide margin BECAUSE MORE AMERICANS ARE GOING TO VOTE FOR HER.

Including me. I will be so glad when this election is over and Hillary Clinton is president.

The replies were … typical. Here’s one, by the woman who posted the pic:

LOL was the only response I could muster knowing that when you’re that far gone, there’s no helping you anyway.. But I still find a bit of humor in it.

1. I think he’s a troll.

2. “he” might not even be a he.

3. Only a Hillary supporter has enough time in a working man’s day to write a big long essay like that… On Facebook… On someone’s Facebook who they don’t even know or are friends with. I guess he’s trying to get her in office so his welfare check doesn’t get cut off.

4. I’m not stating my political stance either way, and I’m not here for a debate. I simply found a bit of humor here and decided to share it..So, my most serious question… What kind of person takes a meme so.. seriously!

I wrote a reply:

First, regarding the “big long essay”: I’m a professional writer and editor, and this “big long essay” took very little time.

Second, regarding writing during a “working man’s day”: This was on a Saturday, my day off. I worked on my house, climbing under it and repairing some insulation. I also installed a towel rack in the bathroom and did laundry. Went out to eat. And still had time to write this “big long essay.”

Third, my “welfare check”: I’m 64 years old and have been working — often in blue collar jobs — since I was about 16. Still waiting on that big, sweet welfare check.

Next, that big long essay “on someone’s Facebook who they don’t even know or are friends with.” Besides the fact that it showed up on my own Facebook wall, making it fair game for a reply … lies are lies, and you have to fight them wherever you find them. Otherwise you and everybody you know will have to live in the world they create.

Finally, I don’t get the bit about me being a troll, or “he might not even be a he.” That’s some serious Way Out Of Left Field shit.

A bit later, I added,

Take note that my reply contained facts and solid political analysis, but that all the responses contained nothing but personal attacks. Not one of you made any attempt to refute my reply. Instead you went straight for the insults. Which sort of implies you’re not able to argue with any of it, right?

I came back later to see if there were any replies. My reply had been deleted. I wrote:

I notice you’ve learned to delete replies that embarrass you.

Came back later and that had been deleted too.

White Whine in the Sunset

I’m not liking the fact that the Trump candidacy has set off this sneering assault on White Men.

Yeah, I get it that there are a certain number of Trump supporters — “white” men — out there who are making some bad decisions this election cycle.

But there are a lot of OTHER white men — I suspect a majority — who are kind, decent, intelligent, diligent, respectful, generous and caring. I know a LOT of them. (This does not mean they will agree with you on every possible thing you believe, or support everything you support.)

There’s a thing that happens with every catastrophe, where one or more people leap instantly on stage and attempt to USE the tragedy to sell their own position.

Horrible deadly tornado? —Gays caused it.
Economic meltdown? —Tax and spend Democrats.
Deadly plague? —Atheists.
Sept. 11? —Squishy liberals who want to destroy this nation.

The Trump presidential campaign? —Oh, that’s because of racist, misogynist WHITE MEN.

This is the kind of thing someone with their own agenda — quite different from the central issue — would say.

I have yet to hear anybody say SOME white men, or CONSERVATIVE white men, or even THOSE PARTICULAR white men, the ones who actually support Donald Trump.

Oh no, this is WHITE MEN — ALL white men.

You know, the way ALL Muslims are terrorists.

So just watch where you fire those rhetorical bullets, okay? Some of us are standing out here in the target area.

The Root of Transcendence

Dan MountainsAs an atheist, you hear it all the time – the in-your-face assertion that Humans are “wired for God.” We believe in gods, we’re told, because it’s natural to us. Because we have something in us that NEEDS a god or gods. Maybe because it carries some evolutionary advantage, so we evolved to have it.

The conclusion, in the mind of any faith-professing Christian, is that we’re this way because there really is a god, or at least some sort of “something bigger out there somewhere” that makes it so. We believe because we need to, because we have to, because to do anything else makes us less viable organisms. Lacking a god-need is an evolutionary dead end.

In how many conversations have I had someone tell me “Well, I don’t necessarily believe in God, but I think there’s something out there. Something beyond anything we know.”? I’ve heard that a LOT. Even people I would otherwise consider full atheists have said such things to me.

I’ve felt that pull myself. I’ve thought many times, “We live our lives on a human stage. Everything we do is for other people. But is that enough? Isn’t there anything … more?”

I actually think there is. But it’s not God or gods or mystical superbeings of any sort. It’s this whole other thing, something real. But it’s something so much a part of us we fail to notice it.

I’ll tell you what I think it might be.

First, here’s me: Atheist. Beyond atheist, in fact. I independently came up with the term “antitheist” to describe myself 20 years or more ago, long before it was in vogue. Rather than the current fashionable pronunciation, “an-tee-THEE-ist,” I pronounced it “an-TITH-ee-ist.” I described it humorously as “Not only do I not believe in gods, but I don’t think you should either.”

But I’m also a realist. You have to face the real world and take what it gives you, even if you don’t like it, even if it flies in the face of things you think you know. So whenever I’m presented with a woo-woo idea, something I know isn’t right as presented, but which nevertheless seems to have some sort of substance to it, rather than dismiss it with “No, despite what it looks like, there’s nothing there,” I have to 1) accept whatever realness it presents, and then 2) see if I can figure out a real-world explanation for it that makes sense.

So do we have a need for gods? Are we wired for that? If not, what is it we DO have? Let’s explore a couple of conceptual trails and see where they lead.

Most of us, when we talk about going hiking in the woods, or camping in the wilderness, talk about it in terms of “going out there.” We live in cities, and we “go out” when we head away from the city into the wilds.

But it’s the other way around, isn’t it? Because cities are NOT our natural environment. Our natural environment is … the natural environment. It’s where we grew up, where we evolved to be. We’re not going OUT when we go to the wilds, we’re going BACK. The only time we go OUT is when we trek from the wilds into a city.

Our home, our real home, is in the woods, on the mountains, in the midst of trees and creeks and blowing wind. It is out in the sun and rain, in the dirt and dust, the pollen and bugs and mud. It’s out where we can stomp around in our bare feet, filling our toes with mud, seeing wild animals and birds and distant valleys, blue sky and fluffy clouds, nights filled with full moons and stars. Where we can taste berries and ripe fruit, where we can smell waterfalls and flowers and our own sweat, but also skunks and even blood and death.

I know you’re thinking all this is some kind of artsy-fartsy poetic allusion, but I’m dead serious. CITIES ARE NOT OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. Cities are alien. Artificial.

They’re not even all that good for us. Yeah, we’re comfortable in our engineered and sanitized ’burbs, but we’ll also eat until we weigh 300 pounds, and then whine that we feel sick all the time. We’ll tolerate noise and pollution and chemically-adulterated foods until it weakens and kills us.

Think about all the animals we’ve invited out of the wilds, bringing them into towns and cities to live with us. Compared to their wild cousins, domestic animals are almost invariably weaker and dumber. More fragile.

Wild animals are generally tougher, stronger, faster and fiercer than our pets and livestock. We’re used to how soft and cuddly kittens and puppies are, but pick up a baby raccoon – which I did, years back – and you’ll be shocked at how hard it is. The little bastards are tough as boiled leather.

Just as our pets are, we humans here in cities are soft. Less robust. And probably a lot dumber than whatever wild cousins we once had.

But there’s a deeper point than that our real home is in the wilds. It’s this: That we’re a part of the world around us – profoundly inseparable from it. We’re no more alive without the world around us than a toe is alive when removed from its foot.

Allow me to argue the point:

Say we wanted to define “human.” We’d probably have a fairly involved description, possibly accompanied by a picture of some individual person, maybe some other animals for comparison. But what we wouldn’t have is a full understanding of what being a human means. Because we never really even think about it.

You’re sitting there right now believing yourself to be a complete individual, a discrete quantity of personness, probably picturing your exterior, your skin, as the boundary between “you” and “everything else.”

But your skin is NOT the boundary. In fact, when you really think about it … well, think about this:

Take a human. Hang a large sign around his neck, “Human.” Have him stand on a stage with no other person around, and take a picture of him. QED, this is a human, right? This is all a human is, all there needs to be. No, because you still haven’t separated him out from a great deal of other stuff.

But take that same human and drop him through a portal that deposited him someplace where he could REALLY be alone – say 50,000 lights years away, out in the space between galaxies. What do you have? A dead person.

We never think about it, but the definition of “human” has this hidden implication – that the human is alive, and that quite a lot goes into that aliveness. We never think about the food and water, the gravity and atmosphere, a solid place to stand, other people around to make life work, other animals and plants, a lot of them, somewhere nearby to eat.

The atmosphere we breathe doesn’t just go in and out of our lungs, it seeps into and out of our skin, penetrating us on a cellular level, maintaining a pressure without which we’d die in seconds. The food and water we consume, and later excrete, forms a flowing river of input and outgo, without which we’d also die in short order. And the thing is, the food and water comes from somewhere, the air comes from somewhere.

So we are linked, bound into, an entire system of processes that extends backward in time and outward in complexity in a way that no end can really be found. The oceans? Part of us. The mountains? Part of us. The rainforest, the arctic, the deserts? Part of us. The clouds, the rain, the snow, the bees, the plants, the rocks, the crustal plates, all part of us.

The sun? Oh, yeah, part of us. BIG part of us.

And WE are part of IT. We don’t just live on Earth, we’re nailed into it, soaking in it, connected to it in a way that allows no separation. Even the International Space Station astronauts can live for only a brief time before they start suffering serious health effects – and they get continuous supplies from Earth.

There is only one way to define “human” without also including all this other stuff – the way that specifies “dead human body.” To have a live human, you have to include everything else … at least as far out as the sun.

We say “we” and we say “I” but those are rhetorical conveniences that have no true reality. The view of ourselves as separate and individual is purely subjective – a view which is fantastically, stunningly, titanically oversimplified from the real situation.

The truth is, our mysterious and powerful “something out there” is the natural world. Yet here we are off in cities, acting in our vast ignorance as if we’re discrete individuals, separate from our larger inclusionary selves.

On some level, I think we know this. We yearn for that larger part of us. We reach for it. We desire to be a part of it, to touch and be touched by it.

But divided from the natural world in cities, ignorant of it, we think the missing “something out there, something larger” is a god, or gods, or some other mystical formulation.

It’s a drastically wrong, tragically misleading answer. But sadly, it’s all most of us can understand or accept.

Donald Trump & The Adaptive Limit

dead endI’ve recently been toying with the idea that each of us has an “adaptive limit.”

The adaptive limit is that point at which growth and change becomes impossible.

Some people are flexible and adaptable for almost their entire lives. They’re the ones who can take on new ideas, new thoughts, new viewpoints, and not get bent out of shape by them. They can hear arguments that don’t agree with their own and calmly consider them. They can be creative, they can change and grow.

Others have a lower adaptive limit. For these people, new or contrary ideas, new conditions, literally cause a stress reaction. The way they avoid that stress — which might be mere discomfort, or might rise into fear that can verge on panic — is to avoid the new idea or situation.

The adaptive limit can change within one’s lifetime. Education — the gaining of new knowledge or skills — can raise it. Conditions that enhance personal empowerment, such as better diet and physical fitness, can raise it. But various other kinds of of stress — illness, injury, aging, emotional trauma, the death of a loved one, fear, even simple poverty — can lower it, temporarily or permanently.

Those who reach or approach their adaptive limit become less able, sometimes unable, to think about new things. They simply reject them. All they can handle is simple, or simplistic, concepts.

That rejection, by the way, can range from simple refusal to think about a thing to violence — an attempt to destroy the new thing, or the person who embodies it.

The thing is, reaching one’s adaptive limit is probably not something you can hold against a person. For instance, I don’t think people voting for Trump are necessarily evil or stupid. It may be (probably is) that they’ve reached their adaptive limits, and simply can’t think about contrary new ideas. They’ve grown comfortable in that Fox News / Teabagger cradle, and can’t even imagine leaving.

One of the things this means is that calling them stupid or evil is actually counterproductive. It stresses them more and causes them to react with even greater stubborn (or even violent) adherence to whatever position they hold.

Another thing is that if you WANT to lower someone’s adaptive limit — in order to make them easier to control or manipulate, for instance — you just need to scare them, to keep them scared and paranoid. You end up with a bunch of people who are neither creative nor thoughtful. People who will take no chances and who, when in doubt, will default to obedience to traditional leaders or beliefs. Willing drones, in other words.

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Side Note 1: Nothing I’ve said above implies that you have to enable whatever sort of destructive effect an adaptive limit victim visits on you. You have to stop them, but it’s because of the destruction rather than because you don’t understand their plight.

Side Note 2: Also by the way, I don’t think Donald Trump’s problem is a low adaptive limit. It’s more that, as a child of vast privilege, he’s grown up with stunted empathy and conscience. In short, he’s a rich asshole.