Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day of Atonement

Today marks Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. It is, for want of a better metaphor, a day of soul-cleansing, when a Jew is supposed to make up for any slights and insults committed against his neighbors by asking their forgiveness.

This is a good tradition to have, and it appears in nearly every major religion. Catholics have monthly confessions, Protestants believe in prayer at night to ask God's forgiveness...Christianity could take a page from Judaism here...Islam has the tawbah, and in fact discourages public confession of sin, altho it does permit the sinner to recompense the offended. Buddhism is unusual in that it is the offended that initiates the act of forgiveness to allow the offender to atone for it.

In all circumstances, atonement requires humility. It requires letting go of one's exceptionalism, if only for a moment, and acknowledging that one is as mortal as anyone else and prone to mistakes, then asking forgiveness for those mistakes. One puts one's soul in another's hands. There are few experiences more equalizing in the human condition than an apology.

As it is Yom Kippur, I want to focus on the Jewish tradition because there's a lesson to be learned here. The faith calls for making the body uncomfortable on Yom Kippur: no food, no bathing, no (leather) shoes -- altho I'm not sure how they view sneakers -- no perfumes or lotions, no sex.

By making the body uncomfortable, the thinking is, the soul becomes uncomfortable, too. The pain one has caused others then registers viscerally in this discomfort. The only way to ease the soul is to unburden it, to cleanse the soul.

I think it's time for America to come to this concept. I think a national day of atonement, both among the citizens as well as across borders, is in order.

America is an exceptional nation, this has long been believed here and in many ways, we are. We have abundant natural resources, safe borders, plentiful land, beautiful landscapes, mostly moderate weather, and have been a beacon of freedom to people around the world.

We are also an exceptionally evil nation. We lord it over everyone else that our way is the best way, the one true way, like Scientologists in a subway stall. Our culture, both the good but more importantly the bad, has infused itself globally -- to the point where more Iranians know who is running for President than Americans. When we can, we position troops to enforce our ideas of power.

Force is not power, by the way. Force is a display of weakness, of acknowledging that you do not have control of a situation. Children use force. Adults use power. If you don't believe me, try not doing your job for a week or so. Your boss isn't going to call in the Seventh Fleet.

For a brief shining moment in world history, we were literally the last nation on earth: Europe was rebuilding from World War II, Russia and China were emerging from internal revolts, Japan was scorched earth, India was a third world nation...only America had an economy poised to take advantage of the post-war expansion and rebuilding.

You know the old saw about being born on third base, thinking you hit a triple? While that's not entirely true of America, it's not that far from true. But for an ocean, we would easily have been England or France. And given that Germany had made such advances in rocket technology as it had, we were maybe a year out from being England.

But for the pairing of a great war and a Great Depression, we would have lingered in recession for nearly a decade longer. Public works were great programs (and we could use those about now, too) but it was the ramp up for war that kicked the economy into gear.

But for our natural resources, we would have had trouble keeping up with our needs.

We were able to exert power across the globe because other nations needed our goods, our products, our services, our resources. We were, quite literally, the Wal-Mart of the world, where you could buy anything, and we forced a lot of other outlets off the page for a while. When that started to dry up, we started throwing our weight around the world.

We're a lucky country, maybe even a blessed country in that we have such bounties, but that's no reason to believe we are somehow divinity. Yet, all too frequently, we act that way. We need a dose, a large dose, of humility.

Look at our Presidential candidates, for instance: how many of them have said "God told me to run"?

Indeed, one, Scott Walker, compared himself to Jesus, saying that he was called to lead by dropping out of the race.

He died for your sins, Ben Carson.

Is it not the height of arrogance to claim that a higher power sought you and only you out and spoke to you and only you about the state of the union? Wouldn't we rather have a President who listened to the people and not the voices inside his own head?

Yet, this is the face we wish to present to the world: the last humble man to sit in the Oval Office was Jimmy Carter -- and saying he's humble is by comparison to the others only. We revel in egoism. We bathe in it. And then when that President does anything to even slightly acknowledge that other nations might be in the same league as America, at least a loud cacophonous portion of us bang empty oil drums and rattle cans with stones about "selling us out".

This is why we have troops in nearly every nation on the planet, enforcing our imperial economic hegemony. We lead not by influence, but by force.

There are 7.5 billion people on this planet of which American make up about 4%. We have to live with these people, too. What we do affects them, and what they do certainly affects us, else why is there a refugee crisis from Syria? From Mexico and Central America? Why does our stock market get crushed anytime China's catches a cold?

America likes to think of itself as the CEO of Planet Earth, Inc. Maybe it's time we picked up a bucket and mop and saw things from the other side.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Adios, Jon Stewart

I'm going to miss Jon Stewart. That final speech (NSFW version) was a valedictory to carry on the torch of enlightenment, something those of us in Blogtopia (© Skippy) must keep burning. We will never be the concentrated force for all that is good and right in the world that he was (and still might be) but for sure, we can in our own ways make a difference.

It's been a tough twelve months for those of us on the left who take great pleasure in ignoring the false narrative of the corporate conservative mainstream media like FOX, and CNN, CBS, et al. We've lost Colbert. We've lost Stewart. We lost Letterman, even if he was light on politics.

And we're losing MSNBC to a madman who somehow believes imitating a network with a dying audience is going to improve his ratings.

Short term? Maybe, but long term, you want us liberals -- no, you NEED us liberals.

Thank god for Larry Wilmore, Bill Maher & John Oliver,  Free Speech TV and LinkTV (both of which stream for free on your computer. Thom Hartman, Amy Goodman, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press...that's a really great line up of progressive voices, beacons in the wilderness all).

And there are rumors...

Back to Stewart. I first noticed The Daily Show when Craig Kilborn was the host. In fact, if you search the outtakes of his tenure there, you'll find my shining face being interviewed by him (ended up in the dining bay, sadly, altho my daughter splashed across the screen).

I've been a fan ever since. I liked the idea of getting my news in an entertaining fashion. What I didn't expect, what I could not have expected, was to be informed as much as I have been. I will miss that. I will miss watching stories that the other "news" outlets had missed completely.

And Jon had his causes, and he worked hard to bring them to the forefront of the American conscience: the Zadroga Bill springs to mind, as does the VA hospital scandal. He was a liberal, but he held Democratic feet to the fire when it was appropriate (see: the VA hospital scandal). His sense of fair play never got in the way of a good story because his stories WERE about fair play.

And I think that's what I will miss most about Stewart: in a sea of bullshit, a cesspool of manufactured crises and FIRETRUCK! warnings, his show was a half hour (OK, eventually an hour, between Colbert and now Wilmore) where you could clamber onto terra firma and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. "Restore Sanity," indeed!

This is the torch you and I and everyone else we read and comment with must pick up, dust off, and run to the finish line.

In a world where a blowhard egoist can lead presidential polling for one of the two major parties, we have to stand by, prepared to make fun of his pizza-eating habits and to deconstruct his personality, demolishing his ego and its defenses brick by prick. Why? Because it's just fucking insane.

In a world where there is an huge disconnect between morality and morals, we have to stand guard against the invasion of morals into morality -- that is, to ensure that rational thought is held in the highest regard over the emotional gut punch of fear and hatred. Comedy, laughter, can do that.

And in a world where it's way too easy to take yourself too importantly, there's Arby's.

Adios, Jon. You leave us, but you've not left us. Thanks for the laughs.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Best Photo You'll See All Day

Courtesy HuffPo

That's a lunar eclipse, from behind the moon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Racism and White America

Racism is about power. It's about realizing that each of us in powerless in this great big world, and so we band together, and find some way to grab a little power for ourselves. Strength in numbers.

It's easier to find power if you've got people who are even more powerless than you are. That's where the racism comes in. That's where the bigotry and hate comes in, because at some level, we understand that, but for the grace of God, that could be me. And that terrifies us.

So rather than fight the power -- which would entail actually putting some skin (no pun intended) in the game and putting our necks on the chopping block -- rather than pick up a pitchfork or a torch and go storming the castle and grabbing power where it actually lies, we're content to snipe power where we can find it, even if it means hurting innocent people.