Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Is Not Conservation Essentially the Quintessential Conservative Position?

When it comes down to the politically polarized issues about our environment, a good many people seem to be arguing about things outside their understanding.  It isn’t a new practice; it’s been going on for thousands of years–millions perhaps if you go back to the early beginnings of the hominids.  About 95% of our population is scientifically illiterate (according to Dr. Carl Sagan), and consequently fearful about what they don’t understand.

It is because of what they don’t know (and do not want to know), that they will presume to get their conclusions from other people.  The overwhelming majority are phobics, and as a large subset, get their opinions, not from research, or study, but from accepting the ideas presented to them by their bullies (dominators).  And as long as certain dominators are blinded by the prospects of a hugely profitable immediacy, the inability to postpone gratification, one of the basic character flaws found in individuals and societies as a whole, they will passionately pursue those profits, and support a campaign program of perception management to keep their phobic followers seeing everything as simple, and in some way similar to a pep-rally at a high school football game.  To them, it is just easier to see it as a game.  And during games, they will yell: “Hooray for our side!”

Some are not convinced, in the face of data they literally do not understand, that if we must err, it would be wiser to err on the side of caution.  Strangely enough, they have been convinced (which should give any reasonably bright person a clue to what is happening) that protecting the earth, air, and water in some natural way that can sustain life is some kind of communist plot. At the same time, the delusion has now spread so far as to insist conservation itself, which is the ultimate conservative position, is somehow a bad idea.

Furthermore, it is presumed bad by those who externalize good and bad to things outside themselves, especially if they do not understand them.  What makes it easy for dominators to benefit from such idiocy is the very nature of the phobics.  It is common for them to fear what is framed as “the opposition”, and fear it vehemently more so if it is not understood, or if at all, not very clearly.

And what irrational fear seems so profoundly expressed so loudly and so often?  What more so than the in-your-face insistence of an idea from someone seen to be of an opposing political or religious ideology?  In fact, since that very angst drives humans to become passionate about war, it appears that fears associated with threats they recognize (though not always rationally) to the fabric of their beliefs, will overwhelm even the fear of the loss of life and limb.  You’ve seen it in lots of places.  I’ve seen it on fields of battle.  You can find lots of evidence to support what I just said, if you’ll just look for it.

In the meantime, while incidences of melanoma continue to rise, while a glacier in Nova Scotia continues to melt risking thermal dynamic alterations to The Gulf Stream, while crude oil still leaks into the lower part of that Gulf Stream, while humans and their children have flammable liquids come into their homes through their kitchen faucets, since what was once thought to be an unlimited source of food in our oceans seen now to be endangered and very finite, while we continue to breathe air so unlike the air from just a mere century ago, people turn their backs to the problem, primarily because…they don’t even understand it?  And all of these things are happening whether anyone is willing to admit it, or not.

Oh, these issues are likely to bring sickness, pain, and death to some of the children and grandchildren of our people, but it is much easier to just not think about it than to risk the odd chance of becoming aware of the possibility that some things may have already gone too far.  And to turn our backs and not stand up to face these adversities is not a very responsible, or even a brave thing to do.  When others are seen to be not facing, and even hiding from things that could threaten them, it is often observed as the essence of cowardice, isn’t it?  Maybe we here in the home of the brave, should think about that a little bit.

I thought of some apparent confusions about irrational fearfulness and bravery the other day while looking at a photograph of a man carrying an AR-15 with him to the grocery store.  Imagine so many other people going to buy their daily bread without so much as a pocket knife on them.  Is it that they do not understand all the imminent dangers omni-present all around them?  Or instead, are they just enjoying the freedom that is found only in a peaceful mind?  And perhaps to some, is that not a peacefulness passing far beyond what others might have developed as skills, or ever made habits to even begin to understand?  Well, of course it is.

Human life exists on this planet, as does lots of other kinds of life, due to delicate balances within nature itself.   Some want to believe all this life, all this nature, is the good work and good gifts to us from an unerringly good Deity, yet they would trash it?  Hardly makes sense when you think about it.  But to think about it and want to understand requires an effort.  Those who are lazy with ideas and only want to stand on those built by someone else, some authority they’ve acquiesced their rights to self-reliant thought processing, will not think about it without becoming irrational, thus angry and even hateful.  Peacefulness, a by-product of understanding, is not the business of those willing to be enslaved by their own misunderstandings.

So the fearful will be sedated by the empty promises of their dominators, and remain faithfully in hope of being lead to safety.  And absolutely nothing outside those empty promises will be of any long-term benefit to the phobics, or to their children.

“Stop worrying about these rumors you’re hearing about Agent Orange.  It’s just a defoliant, and cannot cause any harm to people or other animals.”
 ~ Lt. Commander (name withheld), Civil Engineer Corps, USN, 1969, just outside DaNang, Vietnam.  I remember it well.

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Is “Governance” Reduced To Just Being A Game?

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.  Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past.  Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” ~ John F. Kennedy

*****

While what John Kennedy said makes sense, the prospects of that happening in an uneducated society is slim. A part of the difficulty lies with those who don’t understand the ideologies they insist they believe in. And it is made more complicated that they understand even less about other ideologies they’ve been bullied into being afraid of.  By saying that, I don’t mean that all fears are irrational.  But they do tend to begin to appear that way once you get people talking to you about what is inside their belief disorders.

People often get emotional over terms such as “fascism” and “communism”, but cannot intelligently tell you what they mean.  The same is true with the words: “liberal” and “conservative”.  In fact, some people who insist they are strongly one or the other, fail to recognize when their emotions have carried them to the exactly opposite position.  Examples of this are when fiscal “conservatives” are against measures of conservation, and fiscal “liberals” are against measures of liberalism.  When it comes down to “social” liberals and conservatives, logic often breaks down into differences of superstitions and dogma.

Irrational “phobic” behavior empowers dominators (bullies) who cannot sustain themselves without the control of the fearful people that do the bully’s work for them.  And the phobics depend on the bullies, too.  A lot of that dependence is the illusion of being protected from the other bullies.  A system like that allows gangs of dominators to assume huge chunks of power.

Some bullies are just “intermediate” or go-between bullies.  They have no real power themselves other than the appearance of support from some higher bully that they themselves are afraid of.  So it seems to get worse when the elected officials, though often seen as the bullies themselves, are also members of the large subset of phobic and uneducated people, such as we have in congress today.  This continues in spite of the huge disapproval congress receives from the American people.  And that disapproval has been in the red for a very long time, no matter which polls are consulted:

http://www.pollingreport.com/CongJob.htm

The irony of all this is, that for my entire adult life, I’ve been hearing the man on the street yelling:  “Throw the bums out!”  But doesn’t it seem apparent that when they do, they just seem to replace one bully with another one?  The new guy gets the lobby dollars instead of the old guy, and representation seems to continue to favor whoever can afford to pay for the influence, doesn’t it?

Kennedy’s suggestion to “…seek the right answer”, and “…accept our own responsibility…” would direct us to the intelligent process of open dialogue. That’s a far cry from just the art of rhetoric, which is a principal tool of argumentation and debate.

The goal in collegiate debate is to win. And just as in the game of basketball, it is particularly important to do EVERYTHING YOU CAN to prevent the opposition from scoring any points, even if that means to use some of your “maximum number of allowable fouls”. They actually admit it to be the reason for obstructing progress, a thing most reasonable people would be ashamed of in ANY setting other than a mere game.

So is governance now reduced to being just a game? Are the fans on the sidelines yelling battle words at each other and praying to the Most High for a victory to boast about? Is that it? If it’s a game, that means it’s playtime–it’s not important. But some feel what we have at stake about what we choose to allow and disallow IS important. After all, for some it is a matter of life and death.

While I continue to hope (wishful thinking?) they will do better at some time in the future, I’m reminded of something George Bernard Shaw said a long time ago:

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

I Love Jury Duty!

“We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don’t know anything and can’t read.”  -Mark Twain

You have the right to remain…in the jury room all week.  What a great job!  It’s the only place most people ever report for duty where the truth is of any value whatsoever!  What a rare and wonderful experience!  But, there are some drawbacks.

By and large, they wanted us to look at evidence without any prejudice or presuppositions of any kind.  The amount of ignorance that is required to serve is almost impossible to accomplish in one adult lifetime.  Witnesses and jurors are asked to deal with only truthful things, and on occasion, some of them do.

But such a requirement is apparently not always extended to the prosecuting and defense attorneys.  Since their motive is less about truth, and more about getting an opinion that favors their argument.  In fact, they get to dance all around the truth cautiously as if it might bite them, and in some cases, it will.  The truth is allowed to take a chair in the back of the room or go outside and smoke, since it’s services will not be required by the barristers.  This practice is similar to the workings of the U. S. Congress, which is comprised largely of lawyers who couldn’t make an honest living in the private sector.

While they themselves are not bound to speak truthfully, it is expected of all who would testify before them.  Lawyers and congressmen are allowed to get angry and act indignant if any of this truth might offend their sponsors, but the jurors who are not allowed to have sponsors, are supposed to behave, and not yell insults at the witnesses.  Jurors are to act impartial.  Imagine having to sit in the bleachers forced to watch a ballgame with no emotional interest in who wins, and not allowed to cheer or boo should you take sides.

Witnesses and jurors are not supposed to take money for any reason that might alter their opinion, and neither can the judge.  But the lawyers on both sides can, and do.  In fact, it is expected of them.  It’s a part of their training in case they ever wind up in the Senate.  Since these attorneys are in charge of a great deal of the entertainment, it is really up to the rest of us to dig out and identify a truth if one happens to show up.  But whether a truth shows up or not, all jurors instructed to appear in person had better do so.

Reporting to the jury room is mandatory, and has a deadline, though nothing happens right away.  The wait will vary from one jurisdiction to another, but it could last from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half.  During this time, breaks of any kind are not allowed.  After a while, roll is taken.

Then, for those who are not familiar with the sixth amendment to The Constitution of The United States (there are always some who seem to have never heard of the constitution or any of its amendments), an explanation of trial by jury is given.  We are told how glad we would be to have such a system should we ever be accused falsely of a crime, and would have a group of our peers hear the evidence against us, and render a verdict.

Now the seeds for the idea that the law exists due to the prospects of false accusations have been sewn.  That, and along with the large number of people asked to report for duty, could cause some to believe it is a serious and regular occurrence.  Defense attorneys hope the belief is widespread, and the prosecutors hope no one was paying attention.

While listening to these instructions and explanations, do not look around the room for your peers, because they are not there.  Furthermore, they are not on their way, either.  Looking around hoping to find a single soul that will have any empathy with you whatsoever will just make you feel bad.  It is a cattle call.

The jury room  is where all the citizens that live in a certain county have to report periodically unless they are already in jail.  Folks in jail are excused, but very few others, except your peers.  Most of the people summoned are pleasant enough, and act neighborly.  But a few seem committed to letting everybody else know they are being inconvenienced, and consider jury duty okay for the rest of us peons, but that they have things to do!

Most people behave and dress properly for this occasion, but I wish to point out a few things I’ve noticed that do not tend to impress the Clerk of Court in a favorable manner:

*  Naming all the people in your neighborhood that you hope are on trial this week;

*   Bringing a piece of rope with you regardless of the knot,

*  Dressing up like Wonder Woman, or any other comic book character,

*  Turning to get an opinion from your imaginary friend each time you are asked a question,

*  Playing the theme from Clint Eastwood’s “Hang ‘Em High” on the kazoo,

*  Wearing a “Pick Me” T-shirt from “The Price Is Right”,

*  Using Bourbon or Tequila as a cologne or after shave (which is not to be confused with taking the fifth),

*  Making noises like one of The Three Stooges whenever you name is called,

*  Canvassing the room attempting to score anything,

*  Volunteering to serve as Bailiff whenever any officer of the court walks into the room,

*  Wearing undergarments on the outside of your other clothes,

*  Raising your hand, and saying “May I be excused”, and then laughing every five or ten minutes.

One girl was a bit peeved when she discovered there would be no free lunch, and she would not be reimbursed for mileage.  She announced so all could hear that she suffered from a mental illness, and needed to be excused to keep an appointment with her therapist.  She said she was full of prejudice; hated everybody, and felt that should be sufficient to have her dismissed.  Additionally, she was dressed like a circus clown.

Of course they called her name for a selection lineup.  As she headed off to the courtroom, said she should be able to bring suit as the pay they offered jurors was below minimum wage, and that this meant she probably wouldn’t be able to get married in the morning.  She was picked for a jury, but did not return after the lunch break to serve, nor did she come back the next day, either.  For this, she will probably be elected to serve on the school board.

When the first group goes off to do battle with the infidels, the rest of us remain behind doing absolutely nothing for thirty minutes to an hour, then are told to take a fifteen minute break.  At the end of the break, we wait for another hour or so until we break for lunch.  Lunch breaks are long, and allow time for the attorneys and judges to get in a round of golf.  After lunch, whether you are picked for jury selection or not, no breaks will be allowed for at least an hour.  During that time you must just stay in the jury room and wait until they decide to either call you for a jury, or tell you to take another fifteen minute break.

The lineup is a body of about three times as many folks as you’d need for a jury, and these folks are paraded to two other staging areas before going into a courtroom.  There is a reason for having so many more than will be seated in the jury box.  You see, most people are not remotely qualified for jury duty.

To qualify, you have to believe the battery of poorly phrased, and often incredibly stupid screening questions they ask you are reasonable, and make sense.  Yet the result of this inquisition tends to generate some of the stupidest remarks ever uttered by humankind, though most folks in the room including the attorneys, act like they don’t notice it.

In a courtroom in West Virginia, a chaplain was asked his opinion of the death penalty, and he replied:

“West Virginia doesn’t even have the death penalty, so I don’t have to answer that question.”

The lawyer was indignant, and insisted the chaplain answer, but the judge said the chaplain was right: since the state didn’t have such a law, the question had no bearing on anything to which they would have to render a verdict.  That chaplain happens to be a friend of mine, and upon hearing of this, I asked him:

“So, they don’t have the death penalty in West Virginia?”

He answered:

“Well we do have one, but it’s not legal.”

As the questioning begins for jury selection, each lawyer tries to make as good an impression on the prospective jurors as possible.  To appear amiable enough, both prosecutor and defender begin with asking each person:

“And how are you feeling today?”, to which everybody answers “Fine” whether they are, or not.  After about the seventh person in a row had been asked this important question at least twice, the judge felt quite moved, and called upon to speak out:

“Excuse me.  Everybody is fine.” Then, looking at us: “Is everybody feeling fine?  Are we all fine today?”, and we all nodded “yes”.  Then the judge continued:

“Okay, now that that burning question has been answered, let’s move along just in case you two fine scholars might uncover something of interest to the court that would have some bearing on our proceedings here.”

I guess they feel this attempt to get some personal warmth with the jurors is needed in lieu of persuasive evidence.  Such evidence as that is often only available on television drama programs where ballistic and forensic laboratories have unlimited budgets for exotic evidence processing equipment that has not yet been invented.

Here are some (but not all) of the questions that have been directed at me, and a few of my responses:

ATTY:  “Do you have a relative or close friend who is in law enforcement?”

ME:  “Yes.”

ATTY:  “Who would that be?”

ME:  “My cousin.”

ATTY:  “Would that be a friend, or a relative?” (judge looks at attorney, and shakes head)

ME:  “My cousin?  Both.”

ATTY:  “What would you say are your cousin’s regular duties as a police officer?”

ME:  “He is the Captain of the homicide division.”

ATTY:  “Does he have arrest authority?” (judge still shaking head, and staring at attorney)

ME:  “I think if you commit a murder in his state he can at least write you a ticket for it.” (judge covers mouth with hand to hide smile)

ATTY:  “You indicated you have been a victim of a crime.  Was it a homicide?”

ME:  “No, the burglary took place when I was not at home, so they did not have to kill me.” (judge stares in disbelief at both me and the attorney)

ATTY:  “You held up your hand that you have been in an at-fault accident while driving a motor vehicle.  Could you tell us about it?”

ME:  “I hit a tree.”

ATTY:  “What were the circumstances?”

ME:  “Due to a hurricane, tree limbs were twisted, and some were hanging over the road.  I swerved to dodge one on the left, but clipped another branch overhanging on the right with the top of the truck I was driving.”

ATTY:  “Was the other driver charged?”

ME:  “What other driver?  It was a tree.  The tree did not pull out in front of me, or anything like that.  The tree was standing perfectly still.  It was not the tree’s fault, so no, the tree was not charged.”  (judge rolls eyes)

ATTY:  “Have you ever seen someone you felt was too drunk to drive even though they displayed no behavior that might indicate they were drunk?”

ME:  “Just looking at somebody that was in no way acting intoxicated?  No tell-tale behavior?  Without any noticeable behavior, what would I have to go on?  A hunch?  Do you think I have some kind of telepathic intuitive blood-alcohol detection system built into my eyes?  Maybe  there is an app for that available on cell phones?” (judge rolls eyes, and rattles papers)

ATTY:  “So, you have children that attended college.  What would you say is the main thing they intend to do with their education?”

Me:  “Understand things, and be able to solve problems.”

ATTY:  “Did any of them aspire to a particular career or job?”

ME:  “I think the oldest one thought at one time he might want to become President of The United States.” (judge covers face with hands)

ATTY:  “Was your child successful with attaining that goal?”  (audible groan from judge)

ME:  “If he did, he never mentioned it.”

ATTY:  (Responding to the statement that I’m still married to my first wife,) “Have you ever been married before?”

ME:  “Probably not that anyone would notice.” (judge now making a stream of grunting noises)

ATTY:  “Do you have any personal beliefs that would prohibit you from sitting in judgement of your fellow man?”

ME:  “Wow!  They want me to be the judge? I thought they just wanted me for jury duty!” (judge clears throat; eyes doing loops)

Some days are easier than others for jury duty.  For example, “Talk Like a Pirate” day is fine as long as everybody is doing it, but I hate “Talk Like Elmer Fudd” day when I’m the only one who honors it.  While walking into the courtroom single file, we were instructed to keep silent until called upon.  My turning to the others to say:  “Be vewy, vewy quiet!” was not necessary, nor was it appreciated by anyone other than a deputy sheriff in the hallway who probably just didn’t see it coming.

Please take note that the only advice in this entire letter is about things you should not do.  Ignoring this, or attempting to repeat things I may have said could result  in your being charged with “Contempt of Court”, which will not look good on your resume.  If you do not think you can control such impulses, do not speak at all.  Your right to free speech (and almost all other personal freedoms) could be put in jeopardy, and you may find someone telling you that:  “You have a right to remain silent…”

The Constant Background Noise of Silence

I sent this link to a friend.  Please view it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

After watching this, my friend said in a note back to me:

“…my gut feelings about the subject matter and the studies’ findings were in key, now for the right band to turn it up loud enough to be heard over the noise of  “What Is”, whose shrills have become the constant background noise of silence…”

I’ve been thinking about the “constant background noise of silence” now for more than half a year, and I keep coming back to this profoundly interesting animation.  I’ve sent the link to several other people, but the only conversations about it that have occurred were when I initiated them.  Is it because the video is not interesting?  Quite the contrary!  It is fascinating, and the arguments in it are quite valid.

Almost eight and a half million people have viewed it.  So why do we not hear people talking about it?  In fact, what we continue to hear more often suggests that people believe the opposite of what is said here is true.  Another friend, when asked to comment on the matter said:

“Well, it did make me think.  A lot of it makes sense.  But the fact is, that I’ll never get to work with a company that thinks like that in my lifetime.  We’re all ‘carrot and whip’ where I work.  I’d love for my boss to watch this, but I sure would hate to be the guy that asked him to watch it!  It might just make him mad, and then he’d be looking for a way to get rid of me for being a trouble-maker or something.”

That was it.  There is a constant background of things we don’t ever hear, but whether consciously or not, may be listening for.  Sometimes, if we think about it, the distraction of what we are listening for but don’t hear can significantly overpower what we do actually hear, but are not listening for.  Think about all of the sounds that you, willfully or not, tune out every day.

What are you hearing?  There are sounds constantly around us whether we are listening to them, or not.  It is almost like an avalanche sometimes, yet unless it is something unusual, or highly impacts our senses for pain or pleasure, we seldom remember it.  Think back three or four days;  just pick a time at random, and try to remember what you were hearing.  Chances are, you won’t remember anything in particular.

A professor once told me that the sound of his own thoughts often drowned the mayhem that was constantly all around him.  He said further, that if he concentrated on the deluge of meaningless noise all the time, he’d go crazy.  Perhaps for some of us, the discipline of a self-imposed deafness did not occur in time.  All in all, what you don’t hear can sometimes be more significant than what you do hear: when all the birds get quiet, or when the dog does not bark.

When you ask people to tell you about the Great Depression, expect to hear tales of unemployment, poverty, hunger, doing without, and the prevalent sense of hopelessness.  Sometimes we can also hear a story of cooperation, sharing, neighbor helping neighbor, and a determination of many wanting and committed to making things better.

But while such positive stories can be uplifting, they tend to draw smaller audiences than tales of gloom and despair.  Then there are those who would prefer to not have to think about it at all.  Their silence, whether it is about the good or the bad, is what roars to deafening levels.

Simon and Garfunkel’s song: “Sound of Silence” followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy in a reflective way.  Some things became silenced, including anything Kennedy could have said in the future.  Other things became silent not because of being made physically mute, but by choice.  Troubled times followed in the sixties, and the term “the silent majority” was used to imply that those who did not speak out or protest must be of a common mindset.

It was not true then, and it is not true today.  But there is often an assumption that silence means acceptance: that if you are not verbally against something, then you must be for it, and vice versa.  But the truth is more likely that the silence is more likely to mean that some people just don’t wish to deal with it at all.

Fact is, as can be seen in any country where tyranny is the rule, people are often silent not because they agree with their tyrannical rulers, but that they are afraid of them.  There are still countries where women are treated barely better than cattle or other property.  Though they make up roughly half of their population, they remain silent often in fear for their lives.  They dare not even speak of the oppression.

In 1938, did the German people believe Hitler when he told them they had to invade Czechoslovakia for the reason that if they did not, the Czechs would attack Germany?  Some did.  But many knew better, because  Czechoslovakia didn’t really even have a significant standing army at the time.  The German people who knew it wasn’t true, thought better of speaking out.  The background noise of silence drowned out reason.

It has been said that a mob can be moved to do something stupid that no single member of the mob would ever choose to do on their own. But once in a mob, even a rational thinker is not likely to yell out: “Excuse me, but are we about to do something stupid?”  They don’t because even though they are a part of the mob, they are also a bit fearful of the mob.  Though some may think something stupid is going down, the background noise of of silence on the subject will block any hope of expression otherwise.

Before Mr. Kennedy took office, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address.  One of the things he said in that famous speech was:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

He received some applause, and some said it was a good speech.  After all, General Eisenhower had been a hero of World War Two, and was a popular president.  But Eisenhower knew what he was talking about.  He inherited that military-industrial complex from Roosevelt and Truman, and even participated in it himself by continuing military and economic controls in the Middle East.

Our posturing against the Soviets, as well as the control of petroleum that could flow into Europe and the Balkan states (thus allowing leverage on global prices), maintained for us a position of strength in Saudi Arabia and Iran in spite of tremendous human rights violations that would not have been acceptable in even the most backward parts of our own country.  But people didn’t talk about that.

In the years that followed, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon provided us with additional fulfillment of Eisenhower’s prophetic remarks by our involvement in Southeast Asia.  Many spoke out in protest, and many who knew it was true remained silent.  Some remained silent out of the fear for their jobs, and for their standing in the communities that sustained the lifestyles of them and their children.

The United States went off the gold standard in the summer of 1971.  By 1973, oil had virtually replaced gold as the standard for the global economy, and it was not considered reversible.  Some remained silent out of ignorance, but not all of the ignorant remained silent.  Still, the silence became louder.

By 1979, three things happened:

(a.) The Rock Band, “Pink Floyd” released the album “The Wall”which included the hit song “Comfortably Numb”.  In the same year, it was released as a single with “Hey You” on the ‘B’ side, both written by band members Roger Waters and David Gilmour.  Perhaps many didn’t understand the lyrics, but I think some others who did found a “comfortable numbness” in not having to think about some of the absurdities all around them.

(b.) There was a movement to change the perception of “the silent majority” (which still did not hold to any single mindset) to calling it “the moral majority”.  But this time, it was to become an institution (though not even close to a majority).  Many of those presumed to be a part of said majority, yet not, made no point about it at all one way or the other.  Their silence blocked out the few who did.

(c.) After almost three decades of oppression, The Iranian people revolted against their oppressors.  Most Americans were shocked, and could not fathom how those people could see the United States in such an evil light.  They could not fathom it, because most Americans had no idea what we had been doing in Iran since 1951, therefore, they had no idea why we were so hated.

At the time, most people here had little knowledge of Islam other than that Cassius Clay had changed his name to Mohammed Ali, and refused to be drafted because war was against his religion.  While the world learned of the idea of a holy war, terms of cultural differences between Sunni and Shiite had no conversational street value here in the United States.  Even today, most people who hold such deep rooted hatred for the Moslem faith have never read, nor will they ever read the Quran.  But it is also true that the most militant among the Moslem world will take no time with the Torah, or the New Testament, either, even though all of these books have the same root in the monotheistic beliefs of the children of Abraham (which they all claim to be).

Because of the hostage crisis that began in Iran in 1979, the military-industrial complex was about to get a shot in the arm beyond its wildest dreams.  Even if you do not believe in the “October Surprise Conspiracy Theory”, it is a fact that the American hostages in Iran were released within 20 minutes of Reagan’s inaugural address.  There was some clamor about it, but since people didn’t want to believe it, the silence became much louder.

Additionally, most Americans today cannot discuss intelligently the details of the Iran-Contra Affair, but they do believe neither Ronald Reagan nor George H. W. Bush had anything to do with it.  They believe instead that a dozen or so of the president’s closest advisors did it behind his back.  That may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, but the fact is, we did sell arms to Iran during that time when they were at war with Iraq.  Somehow, this did not make Saddam Hussein love us.  The silence got louder still.

I’ve been looking at what people speak loudly about: it seems to have a lot to do with what they are afraid of.  This is not so different from other primates, and other mammals, as well.  When threatened, many animals run away, but cry out when cornered.  I watched a documentary on a group of chimpanzees, and it was common that these apes would be very vocal when endangered, or made to feel tense about anything.

People are also silent about their fears sometimes.  Sometimes by ignoring them, there is a hope that they will go away, as in the case of global warming, or the lack of massive movement away from a dependency on fossil fuels.  Sometimes the silence is that the fear of reprisal for those who speak out is larger than other fears.  Either way, the silence is a constant background noise in the minds of those who wonder why others don’t see the problem.  Ha!  Maybe there is no problem, and that we cannot recognize it is what the confusion is all about.  Regardless what you may think, you have to admit that most folks don’t even want to talk about it.

So is there a silent majority, and if so, what are they silent about?  As long as folks feel their fears are kept at bay, they will not screech too much about them.  But there is another silence that is a concern.  What about those times when a neighbor helps you?  Or a stranger?  What about when you’ve helped someone else?  What about when a teacher does the right thing for a student just because it is the right thing to do?

Every serious professional in the restaurant business knows fully well the dangerous chatter that follows the dissatisfied customer.  The practice is to tell everybody about bad service, or bad food, and to bring it up often.  But the good dining experience seldom enjoys the same notoriety.  Are we so addicted to bad news that we’ve come to think that bad news is what everybody wants to hear?

No, that isn’t exactly true even though it does seem prevalent.  Remember the story: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen?  That the fabric was real was an illusion, and further it was said that it would be invisible to fools.  For that reason, no one wanted to admit they couldn’t see it.  When the Emperor (who also dared not admit he couldn’t see it) paraded to display his new garment, some in the crowd said it was beautiful, and others just said ooh and ah.  But many were silent.  It was what was not being said that made the most noise until a child spoke.  The news that the emperor was walking naked in the streets could not overcome the fear of looking foolish.

A child could hear what was not being said.  The child could see what was not being seen, even when there was nothing to see.  The adults had lost the ability to do that, and were even fearful of acknowledging the voice in their head that spoke the truth.  And because of the phobic condition that paralyzed their ability to face up to adversity, they gave in to what dominated them, and to what they believed would sustain and protect them.  And so by doing, even without a conscious effort, they turned up the volume of the “constant background noise of silence”.

A Storm Passes

“It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms…” – Mark Twain

As I write this on March fourth, I am reminded that long before this day, many have marched forth before.  A lot has happened since the first of the year to keep me preoccupied, so there has not been a dawg letter now for three months.  But let’s not blame it on the dawgs, or at least on the ones in my backyard.

The other day, I noticed clouds moving in quickly, but that’s to be expected since we live at the bottom of a hill.  I’m sure the wind would travel slower if it were to turn around and go back uphill, but it didn’t.  The dawgs were being fairly still moving only slightly to grab small pieces of the passing breeze with their noses.  A nose is quite a remarkable tool for a dawg.  It’s how they read their newspaper.  It lets them know what has happened around here recently, and what is presently happening that might be of any interest to a dawg.

It also is used to predict the future.  A storm was brewing, and they both knew it.  I could see signs of clouds gathering to block the sunlight; the movement of branches in the trees, a noticeable drop in temperature, and feel the wind against my face.  But they could smell it.  My coming out onto the patio seemed not to disturb them, as they were able to ignore me as if I were just a speed limit.  Usually, they’d rush right over presuming my appearance might be connected with a treat or permission to engage in some kind of fun, but not today, or at least not at that moment.

The March wind was stripping pink blossoms from dancing plum trees ruining the chances of them becoming fruit.  It was just as well, as my small family wouldn’t be able to eat that many plums, anyway.

I lit my pipe, putting on quite a show considering how the wind was kicking up.  But the dawgs paid no mind of it even though I went through half a box of matches and a vocabulary list that would normally cause a sensible dawg to want to hide under a bed.  The matches were having trouble staying lit long enough to ignite the tobacco, but several of them flipped out of my hand quickly enough to  burn my face.  One landed with pin-point accuracy in the corner of my eye, causing a sermon to erupt.

Ashley Cooper and Cosmo Topper continued their vigilance with not so much as a nod or a tail-wag in my direction.  So with little else to entertain me, I just stood there looking out across the yard.  The clutter included bits and pieces of a fallen tree, some of last year’s leaves, sticks, the skeleton of a lawnmower that had been savagely stripped of dignity and any hope of revival by a couple of curious boys, what may have once been part of a magazine, and an old sock that would never again comfort a foot.

At the first clap of thunder, the dawgs shifted gears.  With no small sense of urgency, they both began to move towards the house.  As a finger of lightning switched on some unseen shower head, it began to sprinkle.  Topper and Ashley followed me into the den, and laid down without bothering to thank me for holding the door.  I’m sure they both thought my doing it would’ve been the only reason I’d come out there in the first place.

Once upstairs, I went back to my television.  Some things in the news had taken over a part of me, and I couldn’t let it go, no matter what time of the day or night it happened to be.  Saddam Hussein of Iraq had ordered the invasion of Kuwait late last summer.  It didn’t make sense.  Watching the television didn’t help it make sense.

At the beginning during a news conference, General Colin Powell was asked about his strategy.  He said:

“First we’re going to cut it off, then we’re going to kill it.”

The strategic would position itself for what would become tactical.  The coalition forces moved quickly to do just that.  But as they moved closer to Bagdad, a good bit of the Iraqi army laid down their guns and disappeared.  I watched little else on television for a while, then it was over.  And for some folks, I’m sure it was.  But for others, it might go on a spell.  Some children live and die never knowing much else, but there is nothing new about that to the human race.

A good bit of the news had been about how the coalition against Iraq would fall apart if Israel was brought into the conflict.  The Americans and British had to convince Israel to stay neutral, and that they guaranteed their defense.  The agreement seemed made with the contingency that all bets were off if Israel was attacked.  Such prospects as that appeared to be requisition for a real mess.

On the evening of January seventeenth, I was backstage preparing to address an audience as Mark Twain.  I had intended to close with the prose/poem piece Samuel Langhorne Clemens had written in protest of American military intervention in the Philippines.  It had been turned down for publication, and never made it into print in his own lifetime.  But with some effort, I’d decided to keep it alive during mine.

Right before I walked on, the stage manager, who’d been listening to a radio with headphones, told me Iraq had just launched missiles against Israel.  She knew how my speech was to end, and wanted me to consider how an anti-war piece might be received at this time.  It was hard news.  With great misgivings,  I decided not to delete it, even if they would lynch me afterwards.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, with the precedent of all the brilliant decisions I’ve witnessed by people wrapped in their emotions, it did seem like a possibility.

I stepped in front of the audience with a heavy heart, not so much about how I would be received,  but with thoughts about three young sons in a world rolling out of control towards chaos.  I had a memory of another war not so long ago, and remembered how all that I thought it would be could not match up to the ugly face it wore when I saw it up close.  If I had a prayer left in me, it was for my children to never have to see it.

But that night I had to move my mind quickly back to over a century ago, and wrap myself in the persona of a man of letters.  In his image and person, I had to be witty, to be thought provoking, and be entertaining.  Somehow it wasn’t about me at all, but about the people out front and what they’d paid to come to see.  When it came time for the last story, there was a lump in my throat so big I thought it would choke me to death.  Later on, I was pleased to find out the audience didn’t see it, so some credit was due to the large tie I wore, or perhaps to my former acting teachers.  It was a huge lump, so it had to be something other than my own doing to cause it to go unnoticed.

The audience was kind to me that night.  The next day, the kindest thing was a phone call from a teacher who’d been in the auditorium the night before, and wanted to know if I knew about the missile attack before going on stage.  I said I did, expecting to be chastised for my undiplomatic decision.  Instead, the teacher said:

“Good.  I think that took courage, and I’m glad you went ahead with your program.”

A day or so later, I received a note from another teacher who’d attended the performance.  It read:

“If every student I teach could spend time with your Mark Twain, I believe that they would understand the beauty and depth of Twain’s words.  How lucky you are to be Mark Twain for an hour or so; I envy you.  Thank you for a wonderful evening.”

That note was the best thing that could have happened to me, and the flavor of it took away the bitter taste of self doubt that was dissolving my soul.  Is it normal for folks who say they pray for peace to feel guilty when they speak against war?  Less than a month before that program, people far and wide were singing songs of “Peace on Earth, good will towards men” all over the place.  But right then I feared a desire for such as that in the face of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” was about to be seen as an awful thing, and it worried me.  So being fearful of condemnation, this is not the confessions of a brave man.

Until getting that nice note, I thought perhaps it would’ve been more courageous to consider the feelings of the people in that town, and conjure up other material to end the program.  Though I had lots of other stories and material in the pigeon holes of my mind, maybe going on as rehearsed was just the easy way out.  Because of the news received just moments before walking on stage, it wasn’t my decision to go ahead and deliver “The War Prayer” that was so hard, but just staying in character.  It became one of the more difficult things I’ve done in a long time.

When arriving home that night, my dawgs were glad to see me.  They of course had no idea where I’d been, or of the concerns I may have had, and they had no idea about war.  They could hold their noses into the air to tell if a rain storm was coming, but other storms far away caused by a different kind of cloud wouldn’t make any sense to a dawg.  And I suppose it is no grand compliment to the human race that it should claim to make sense of it, either.

http://warprayer.org/