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Stephen Paddock did not “snap”. He meticulously planned to do evil. It is my suspicion that he did this to prove that he could do it – to prove that those idiot amateurs were incompetent and anyone with half a brain could do tremendously more damage. But that’s irrelevant. Stephen Paddock is depraved. So are we.

You see it all the time; someone else’s kid grows up to be a drug addict and you tut-tut-tut at their parents and you look at your angelic kids. I’m better than those parents, a silent, hidden commentary says. But then your kids do the same. The families of mass murderers are always mystified and stunned. Don’t think they are just naive. YOU are naive. That could be your brother or father or son. The drug addled woman that leaves her kids in a hot car at Wal-Mart could be your sister or daughter. The jilted lover that takes out revenge, the loving father with a penchant for prostitutes, the trusted accountant with the off shore shell corporation, the kind housewife with an urge to steal things she doesn’t even want, the police officer whose mind goes blank for just the minute around the time when he shoots an unarmed perpetrator, the guy in the pickup who rams the distracted teenager off the road, the mom who drives home after one too many drinks and kills a toddler. These people are not remarkable. They are not outliers. They are representatives of the human condition, guilty of the corruption that infects all of mankind.

You included. Me included.

Thinks you’re better because you don’t murder? Jesus has news for you. The same infection is in your soul. Think maybe this is for one class of people, but not your class of people? You go to church! You are a police man! You are in the military! You are kind to animals! You donate time and money! You help the helpless! No, you are a whitewashed tomb. And no, you’re not exempt. No one is righteous, not even one.

This condition is not new, it’s as old as there are people. It’s restrained by the rule of law and the societal norms of morality. Both of those are crumbling around us. During the Enlightenment, humankind felt that it was getting better, smarter, more compassionate, more illuminated. Then we killed 100 million of our fellow men and women in a decade’s worth of World Wars. We will not heal ourselves. We will not evolve out of this. Evil, as a general trend, increases proportionally to the population. Sure, for a decade or two things might look better. Sure, specific societal ills may decrease. But our true nature will break through in the end, and we will, sometimes, shoot 600 people. Stephen Paddock was not an Other. He was an archetype of the depravity of all of us. Don’t think yourself immune, lest you too lose focus and expose the evil of your soul.

For all that it has been abused over the centuries, this is one of the key draws of Christianity. Biblical Christianity does not make believe that we are perfect. It acknowledges our universal brokenness. It points to a second archetype, a new Adam, in the form of Jesus. It doesn’t make believe that we become Jesus, it surrenders to that fact that we can’t, and instead falls upon its knees to humbly beg Jesus to save us. From ourselves.

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House of Cards

Every few years, a deck of playing cards is generated immortalizing the “most wanted” within some band of miscreants. There was one for Iraq, one for Al Qaeda, one for ISIS, and more I’m sure. I don’t mind Trump’s choices for several roles. For instance, McMasters and Mattis seem to be perfectly acceptable picks. Others I really don’t know enough about to have an opinion. For the remainder, here’s my list of Trump Cabinet and Adviser playing cards. They are in order of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, sorted by how much I’d like to see them removed from their position. I’ve left the originals and included their replacements if they are likewise deplorable (though such an organizational scheme is not really extensible).

Ace: Trump, Bannon, Pruitt, Kushner
King: Miller, Sessions, Pence, Ivanka Trump
Queen: Zinke, DeVos, Conway, Spicer
Jack: Priebus, Flynn, Price, Mnuchin
10: Tillerson, Huckabee Sanders, Scaramucci, Perry
9: Gorka, Ichan, McMahon, Pompeo

That’s about as deep as I can go. Now, if we were including Congresspeople, this would be a much harder list to make – lots of tough decisions near the top for the spineless collaborators.

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Automata

Some jobs don’t require humans. In the last 300 years, the number of humanless jobs have increased exponentially. This increase has led to an increase in the overall quality of life of mankind. Without first beasts, then machinery, humanity could not support the billions of people on the planet as we currently do – few would say that agricultural automation has been bad for mankind.

At the time, they did. At the time, machines that would spin cloth were thought to be disruptive to the economy. But we would not have drawers full of clothes without them. Automation has, without question, improved quality of life. More goods, and higher quality goods, at less cost.

But in every age, there is a subset of the population resistant to these enhancements. Don’t automate Wendy’s ordering, for instance, because that will put 18 year olds without a GED out of a job. They need some way to make money. Don’t automate manufacturing jobs, because where else will those people work? But time and again, more automation has led to cheaper, higher quality goods. Do we intentionally hamstring society to provide busywork for the uneducated?

But what about those people who lose their jobs to automation? In theory, we should start working less hours, while the machines generate the wealth (in the form of inexpensive cars or clothes or hamburgers) on our behalf. In theory, there should be less of us – birth rates always decline as a function of societal wealth. But in practice, there will be millions left in the lurch until society adjusts to the new norm. Millions that would prefer their well-being over the “greater good”. And rightfully so. Millions didn’t get an education for one reason or another (some would say it was their fault for not working hard – I wouldn’t always agree with him), 50 of whom can be replaced by a single machine. So do we “make work” to keep them busy? If we had a different sort of government, we might find ourselves with a new WPA, where the state flushes the economy with jobs for the greater good – while bankrupting itself. If we had a different sort of government, we might have a guaranteed minimum income; enough for those left in transition to survive, but still too little to disincentivize some from wanting to earn more through more education and hard work. But nanny states are expensive.

I don’t know the solution. But to me the solution is never willful ignorance. One way or another, time and technology marches on.

By the way, side note…the only way to curb inequality is through cataclysm. Perhaps we’re on the right track after all.

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Preaching to the Choir

I haven’t heard anything back from the Honorable Senator from Montana. Many representatives do not care at all what non-constituents think, even those representatives who sit on committees that impact the entire nation. No matter. I’ll write to our Maryland representatives, even though they already are opposed to our current executive and his feckless policies. Anyway, here’s what I just sent to my representative. It’s some words and then my feelings on gerrymandering. I don’t expect he would have read that far – tl/dr, but what’s the harm. I’m effectively sending blog posts to congressmen.

Representative Cummings,
I wish to offer you encouragement in this difficult time. Without a majority in either the House or Senate, and with a President seemingly unfettered by the bonds of civil decorum or basic human dignity, the majority of Americans can do nothing to affect policy. From the so called Muslim Ban to a multitude of measures meant to enrich his fellow billionaires, most disturbingly those at the expense of the natural beauty of this great nation, there is little to be encouraged about from this legislature and our executive branch.

But even in this time, the seeds of change have been sown. The people have embraced their civic duty and risen united against the perceived tyranny. Our President’s approval rating is at an historic low. At this stage, though you may have few political options, you do hold something more dear: the moral high ground. I encourage you and your fellow Democrats to shine a light of dignity and respect that stands in stark contrast to the darkness that otherwise surrounds us. Embrace your colleagues across the aisle who also operate with integrity in opposition to unamerican orders. Right now, the best thing that we can do is to show kindness and restraint in the face of bluster and blunder. The contrast will be clear come Fall of 2018, when the people will ensure that their voices are again heard in the voting booths.

I would like to take this moment to also encourage you to take a stand against what I believe is the central political evil that brought our country to this current situation: gerrymandering. I know that you did not draw our 7th Congressional District, but its tentacles and holes are illustrative of the problem.

When congressional candidates run for office in a “secure” district, they must embrace more polarized views in order to make it out of the primary. We are left with a legislature that does not represent our national centrist tendencies. Instead, we have a House full of extremists, who answer to the most vocal minorities on the far left and right at the peril of being flushed in the next primary. With no room to compromise with those in the middle, the legislative branch deadlocks. Presidents from both parties rule by fiat via executive orders to fill the void left by an ineffectual legislature.

Because of this, I believe that independent redistricting is the only way to elect candidates that properly represent the rank and file citizens of the Unites States. Please consider supporting all measures that would free our country from its comically intertwined districts and allow the majority of the people to have a say in our government.

Thank you for your time, I appreciate your service, and God Bless America,

Eric Furst

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Spacious Skies

My letter to Montana Senator Steve Daines, chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks:

Senator Daines,
Several years ago, my brother and I spent six nights in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Though I’ve been on many trips before and since, my visit to your great state and its jewel of a park sticks with me. We saw more wildlife in that week than in any other trip before or since; moose by the dozen, grizzlies, black bears, bighorn sheep, foxes, trout (on my plate), and the biggest owl I’ve ever seen. We spent four nights on the same itinerary as an Army Ranger and his wife – his pack was more than 70 lbs, I swear they brought a cast iron skillet or something. We met a man who hikes hundreds of miles a summer in the park in Crocs and a Jansen book bag. We picked up tips on how to eat like normal humans on the trail, we swam next to a glacier in a mountain lake at Stoney Indian pass, and we celebrated our trip with a huge pizza and a couple of delicious beers.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t have a specific agenda. I want to offer you encouragement. There may come a time when someone who doesn’t know anything about the wild places of our national heritage wants to make decisions that imperil those places. Those of us who love the wild look to folks like you to protect it – fellow backpackers who understand that these places are national treasures. Please look out for our national parks and our state parks. In 20 years I want my daughters to see the same big skies, the same cascading waterfalls, the same stark rock faces, and the same grizzlies (whether the glaciers will be there is a different topic). I want them to toil for 20 miles under a heavy pack to earn vistas only seen by those who seek with determination and struggle.

While I have your ear, I encourage you to support our National Park Service workers. I’ve never met an NPS employee that I didn’t respect and admire. They share in our love for the outdoors. That they are also idealistic and politically active makes them true Americans, even if not everyone agrees with their opinions. I am proud to live in a country where we can safely voice our views, where we practice the refined art of checks and balances both via our governmental structure and directly through the voices of our people, and where the protectors of our sovereign lands would also stand up as protectors of our ideals. Please look past the political inconvenience of their acts to the heart behind them.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your great state, and thank you for your beautiful public lands. I hope to visit again soon.

Eric Furst

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I’ve been thinking a bit about patriotism. For instance, if you see a pick-up truck with three American flags flapping in the breeze, you can say “this is a guy who wants to make America great again.” I roll my eyes and check to see if truck nuts are dangling from the back. The question is, are these ostensible displays really indicative of a more profound love for one’s country?

As I take a step back, I wonder what it means to love one’s country. Is it because of something intrinsic in the nature of the country? Because of what the country stands for, what it represents, what it means to others? Is it because the country gives you something? It is irrespective of any properties of the nation itself, but instead a function of the sacrifice made on its behalf, as though the effort used to forge it imbues value into an inherently neutral apparatus?

And why should I love my country? I love people, is that the same? I love God – is his entangled with this country above others? I love my family – but doesn’t everyone in every country? What makes this country special, and more worthy of love? Or does that miss the point? You love the country because you’re there, if you were somewhere else, it’s your duty to love that place just the same.

What is the currency that this country communicates its value to me? What aspects of the country are worth defending? What, if lost, would leave this place different, other, less lovable? What things make America itself and not something else?

When I think of America, I think fondly of the following – and probably countless more, but at least these:

  • Free Speech – simply “freedom” is too vague; define it please.
  • Freedom of the Press – no power answers to no one.
  • Freedom of Religion – that the nation provides a refuge from whatever theocracy would impose its belief system forcibly upon any people.
  • National Park Service – the crown jewels of the world, specifically the backcountry.
  • State Park System – the land of the people, for the people.
  • Interstate Highway System – the land, all of it, free to all the people.
  • Wartime Mobilization and the Ass Kicking we dealt in WWII and to a lesser extend WWI as a result – those moments of clarity, collective will, civic duty, and unshakable resolve.
  • That we didn’t start a nuclear war during the Cold War – that civilians could think of more than military goals when considering what was good, right, and smart.
  • 4th of July – freedom from tyranny, the voice of the people.
  • Tired and huddled masses – melting pot; take the best from the nations and incorporate them into our social fabric to make us more distinctive, stronger, and smarter.
  • Land of opportunity – to the extent that it exists, to the extent that it is available to certain peoples.
  • Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, and TBD – philosopher leaders, thinkers, brilliant people.
  • Martin Luther King Jr, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and more – exceptionalism in word and deed.
  • Amber waves of grain – open spaces, majestic skies, towering mountains, rolling hills, dense forests, regal deserts, rivers, lakes, the oceans…and America the Beautiful the song.
  • That we went to the moon when we tried – that it hasn’t happened in 40 years, a testament to our ability if given focus.
  • The Postal Service – people hate the USPS, but imagine the mission they have – to provide mail to every address in the entire nation daily; daunting.
  • Public Libraries – so useful, so worth whatever we pay for them.
  • Public Radio – the vector of free speech, the press with the least motivation to skew.
  • Our engineers, scientists and soldiers – the reason why others have to steal our work rather than try to make their own.
  • The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail – interstates for seekers who can find anything they look for within the very land itself.
  • That our Founding Fathers had such high minded ideals – they were attempting to make a different kind of nation.

I wonder what other items should be on my list. As you can probably see, I value things that are not valued by everyone. I see two thirds of these items as being threatened by forces at work in our current administration.

One thing that I would point out: this list is not a list of demands or a list of what the country owes me. It doesn’t owe me anything. I was born wherever I happened to be born, to whatever parents happened to bear me. I wasn’t owed a factory job, inherent in my DNA. That I came to a land that represents life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness is a fortunate accident. I am grateful, and not resentful. It seems that many feel that the country, the land itself, must give something of itself to make it worthy of their adoration. That it exists to service their fancy. And maybe it does; a country is not a physical thing, it is a construct upon which people are invited to exist in a certain way. Perhaps they should expect that the country do their particular bidding. I don’t know.

Just don’t mess with my national parks, or I will come for you.

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The Crucible

I was considering live blogging election night, and apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking I should. So, here we go. I can’t imagine this having any where near the density of calamity of the debates. I have no idea what I’ll have to say. I do know that I drank a bunch of water just now with the express purpose of not waking up dehydrated after my double shot of Talisker scotch.

2035: I’m going with George Stephanoplous (or whatever) and ABC for election coverage. They have like 14 people on their panel. Impossible to get the mike on at the right time. They need to raise their hands or pass the conch or something.

2042: I’m rooting for Clinton here, even though I myself didn’t vote for either of them. So far, VA and Florida don’t look very good. I wonder if they’ve counted Richmond or the DC suburbs yet?

2048: But NC and OH look pretty good. Those two would more or less lock it up.

2049: I’m going to blog whatever my three year old whines about when Jen or I go visit her.

2049: There is an inexhaustible supply of analysts here on ABC. They just went to a war room with a pile of people, and then a secret table.

2052: There are these strange, random interstitial messages that keep interrupting the show that we’re watching. I’m unfamiliar with these things. For instance, one involves chasing a dog, but having psoriasis. I don’t understand these strange messages.

2054: I think I sat on the remote a few minutes ago, because now we’re watching CBS. That explains why there are so many new analysts.

2056: Remind me never to go to Kentucky: 2:1 for Trump.

2100: The second the midwest polls close, the states turn red.

2104: I like NE and ME. Why would you not split your vote? We should split it at the county level. At the individual level! Get rid of the college!

2106: The way I see it, Trump will definitely arrest a few hundred dissenters in the first 6 months after he’s elected (if he’s elected). I feel like I’m maybe at the 10,000 mark? 5,000? How many people would Trump have to elect before he came for me?

2111: Sadly, my three year old is asleep already. I was wondering what she’d harass me about, and what adjective she would use to describe my whiskey breath. Because this is boring.

2119: So, the thing about Florida – Boward (or however you spell it) is half reporting. Trump has a 100,000 vote lead, but in Boward, Clinton currently has a 200,000 vote lead. If you extrapolate that difference, Clinton flips it. But, most people don’t understand thing sort of crazy addition and will instead claim that it is fixed.

2125: I don’t understand how the … no idea what I was talking about.

2136: Is this the first time Pence has been in the same place as Trump?

2140: Stephanie Rawlings Blake from Baltimore on ABC! She’s kinda foxy, was unaware.

2146: I think the late precincts are going to be the city districts. Because they make the city people sit in line for four hours, whereas I sit in line for zero seconds since I live in a place with a real infrastructure.

2201: I need some food, depressed.

2216: Nate Silver just said that betting markets have Trump as a narrow favorite. That’s not good. They don’t tend to lose money.

2232: Our ABC affiliate is covering the Baltimore mayoral elections. And the Senate elections. I need more national fear mongering.

2243: I can only hope that Republicans will impeach him in a few months. It all depends on how Michigan shakes out when the cities report.

2254: Maybe I’ll go to bed and wait for Abby to wake me up and check it then.

2303: I’m done. If this isn’t a spectacular disaster, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. The power of low expectations may define the Trump presidency.

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