Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Life Goes On

So, now, life continues. My dear brother has left his life and our lives.
One of the issues too complex to fully grasp is this notion that life goes on. Most of us are so consumed with ourselves, that we think the rest of the world must be also. And if not, why not? After all, I’m so terrific, I deserve all your attention all of the time. And then we go, we disappear into the netherworld, and the rest of the world (at least some tiny part of that world) grieves briefly, a day, a week, a month, a year, and then moves on, captured again by that larger world to which we all belong, whether we know it or not. And move on we must.
So what are we to make of this sense of self-importance that is in fact so completely ephemeral? It is not, I believe, that we are actually unimportant. Oh, we are to most of the larger world, but our purpose in holding this sense of ourselves, may lie in how we connect to that larger world. If nothing lies beyond, one surely reasonable assumption, then what matters is our brief time here. For we hold no influence over the great beyond, religious dogma notwithstanding. Rather, our purpose seems to be to forge connections to other persons, connections that will bring some small joy, and connections to this larger world, connections that enhance rather than damage that larger world.
So, when we are kind and true to our loved ones, we bring joy, and that joy may spread to others around this globe—the butterfly phenomenon. And when we protect the little ones, in their hours of need, we serve the larger purpose of sustaining those who depend on us. A Native American writing on this issue proclaims:

“It doesn’t interest me to know where you live, or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,
Weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.”

Then, when we depart this life, and depart we must, we will have left something behind that lives beyond our brief term here.
Each of the people who preceded me and touched my life, affected who I am. In turn, I affect those whose lives I touch, even briefly. If my touch is gentle, they may remember, and my purpose is fulfilled.
So did my brother, and now he is gone. And so our lives continue, briefly, but meaningfully. The world continues, and that is a good thing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Good Man

Siblings: Bill, Richard & Ruth

My brother just left this life. Another truly good man has passed on.

Brothers are many things. Siblings squabble as they compete for attention with parents and with the world. But this particular brother was special and occupied a special place in my life. He was the most important man in my life.

We were part of a dysfunctional family. My father was unable to cope with being a husband and a father. So, he drank, often and to excess. My Mother was left to cope with her three children and her aging parents. When he was home, he was unpleasant, so when he left, which was most of the time, we all breathed easier.

My sister was ten years older, and so she seemed part of another generation. So, my brother took over as the man in my life. We lived in Manhattan. My Mother worked to support us, and my brother and I were like Don Quixote (Bill) and Sancho (me), tilting at windmills all over the city by ourselves. When he went to Central Park, he took me along. Sometimes, we actually fished in Central Park Lake. We played in the streets, stickball, or War, or marbles, using the sewer grates as the marble home.

Bill played baseball and basketball,. And he dragged his little brother along with him to watch. Once, we went swimming at some public pool uptown, and someone stole our clothes. We walked back to our Second Avenue flat, in wet bathing suits to await the return of our Mother.

If I ever tried to do something stupid, as little brothers are wont to do, he stopped me, acting as my protector. We played together at home after school, sometimes dueling, playing our game of war. Other times, we sat quietly, listening to The Shadow, or Inner Sanctum, or the Jack Benny show on our radio in the front room.

No one in our family had ever advanced beyond high school—most never finished high school. Bill was admitted to Stuyvesant, a competitive school for very bright kids. When my Mother moved us out of New York City to a little community in Rockland County, Bill moved too, despite having to leave Stuyvesant. We lived in a little house, a one-time tiny community clubhouse that my carpenter grandfather turned into a two bedroom home. While my Mother continued to work in Manhattan, my ne’er do well father was supposed to be caring for us and working in the area. One morning, a cold winter’s morning, after the oil heater failed, he just left his two sons alone, in a cold house, as he could no longer cope. My brother coped, and my Mother came to our rescue, as she always did.

Bill finished high school in Spring Valley. He graduated early, at age 16. He decided that he was too young to go to college, so he went to work for a year. Then he was admitted to college, and worked full time while he attended school full time. He married before completing college, but he finished and went on to complete graduate school in chemistry. He was a determined young man, determined to succeed in a world that valued achievement. He achieved.

But in his striving for success, he never forgot to be a brother, and a husband and a father. He was devoted to his wife and his children, til the last breath took him from us. And he received love in return. He died in the arms of his family, at home, where he wanted to be. He is gone now, physically, but he lives on in my mind— and in the minds of his loved ones--my memory bank is full of good memories. They remain vivid. A brother who fulfilled and surpassed my needs and my expectations of a loving, caring brother, and mentor. I miss him, but I hold him close.

I add below some very old pictures, of days past, mostly happy memories of a baby, a young boy, a young man. he may be out of our reach, but he is very much within our memory banks.

Bill and our grandma Schmidt, by The East River

Bill was a secular humanist, but earlier, a choir boy, with sister Ruth:

Bill, maybe age six, with sister Ruth and GP Inglis in Brooklyn, circa 1937:

Bill and Richard, swimming  in New City park Lake, circa 1946?

Bill, Richard & Mother Daisy

And Bill as a young married man, with Edythe, baby Claudia and the Schmidt clan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Games

As I said, "let the games begin" and begin they have. Right out of the box, we now have death threats and other threats of violence coming from the right wing. Violence seems to be their preferred dispute resolution mechanism--democratic processes, like voting are not high on their agenda.  They are after all, heavily armed and, now, dangerous.
Tactic #2, after violence or the threat thereof, is patent obstructionism, of the kind practiced yesterday by senator Burr of North Carolina. He "objected" to an upcoming meeting of high level military and defense officials, many of whom traveled thousands of miles to be in Washington to present their needs to Congress. Senator Burr, deferred to his cranky Republican colleagues who wish no progress on any front. Why? Well, just because they can. The US Senate is nothing if not dysfunctional.
So, after many months of "just saying no", Republicans are now cranking up their campaign to obstruct progress toward resolving problems facing the Nation--many of which came about because of Republican strategies. Fairly clearly, Republicans care less about America than they profess. In fact, one might reasonably ask when the Republican party turned anti-American. They are yelling about "states rights", they yell about seceding from the Union, they are threatening violence against lawmakers, and now they simply "object" to formal meetings at which our hard-pressed military can discuss what they need in the future to defend America.
And on the sidelines, their cheerleaders, the Faux News Network, owned by foreign money (Mr. Murdoch as we all know is right wing Australian), scream on, with psychotics like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck urging the population to revolt.
All this because of a legislative enactment to provide health care to some 40 million Americans, and to rein in insurance industry excesses.  Apparently, Republicans are opposed to you getting decent health care that you can afford.  They, after all, have plenty of money to buy any level of health care they wish. For the rest, "let them eat cake."
Or maybe it has nothing to do with health care per se. Maybe it's that old thing that lingers in America--racism once again raising its ugly head.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let the Games Begin

So now, onto Stage Two. That's the stage in which Republicans deny that they have lost a conventional legislative battle--one side had more votes--why how tyrannical of those dems. They actually chose voting as a way to resolve disputes. Republicans seem to prefer demagoguery (or just lying) and shouting/crying on their main PR outlet--the Faux News Network.
So now the standard Republican strategy of last resorts--States Rights. Let's see, when was the last time, they used this strategy? Why, I think it was in the 1960s, when they attempted to roll back the Civil Rights legislation. It was also used in the argument that produced the Civil War.
This would all be more interesting if it were about anything more than simply attempting to deny Democrats a victory. Because that's how the Republicans have cast this great battle--it's a "Win-Lose" game. From the beginning, even before there was a health care bill, they mounted their all-out assault, specifically to kill the Obama Administration. Any legislative victory by Obama was to be denied--anything really large, like Health Care Reform, they would use any ammunition they could find, or really invent. So, they resorted to their main tactic--lies. They lie with great facility. And they can't claim it is some guys off in a dark corner doing this--no, their main republican partners--from Sarah Palin to the ever-present Willy Krystol, and their Darth Vader character, Dickie-bird Cheney--all are in the business of lie-creation. Because that's who they are.
All this, so as to deny health care to some 40 million Americans. Way to go Republicans.

Monday, March 22, 2010

health care reform . . sort of

So, the Dems finally did the right thing and voted to change the way we finance health care in this vast, screwed up nation—at least some of them did. Our own congressperson, Larry Kissell, decided that he would join the republicans , thereby assuring that we would not vote for him again come this Fall. The reform leaves out the main thing I wanted to see—a single payer system, and they couldn’t even muster the courage to include a public option. Still some progress to cover the uninsured, and nullify the worst excesses of our rapacious health insurance industry, remains largely good thing, a plus for the American people.

I realize that many people will be disappointed, even “shocked, shocked” to discover that congress would dare do such a thing. Those who seem most outraged are the small army opposed to Gay rights, and a woman’s right to choose. They are supportive of life in the womb, while remaining opposed to life outside the womb.

And it remains to be seen how the American people will react to this mostly courageous act of congress. The bullies at the Faux News Network and its tail, CNN, will of course begin screeching immediately. But they screech about everything Obama wants to do, since they are both racist and fascist. I wonder sometimes how the actors who play reporters on the Faux News Network feel each day as they assume their roles as either crazy people or neo-fascists. I wonder whether any of them actually regret taking all that money to dupe the American people daily. Still, if you’re a failed actor who couldn’t make it on Broadway or in Hollywood, I suppose a daily gig on the Faux News Network is not all bad.

So let’s see whether the Senate has any cajones.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pope Apologizes

The Pope apologizes for the ongoing and historic abuses of children (and adults) entrusted to their care.
Can the Pope excommunicate himself?
But, what am I thinking? He's an infallible Nazi.

Altogether now . . .
The Catholic Church sat on a wall,
The Catholic Church had a great fall,
All the Pope's horses,
And all the Pope's men,
Couldn't bring Catholics together again . . .

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

High Speed Rail in China

Here's one look at how China is using the money we allow it to make through our deficit spending, initiated under George W. Bush. While China advances its technology and its infrastructure, the US continues to dither and act like another third world nation.
From an article in "Tree Hugger" (Team TreeHugger [newsletter@treehugger.com]):
"While it attempts to kick-start its struggling auto industry, the U.S. is talking about building a high-speed rail network with an initial $8 billion in stimulus funds. Meanwhile, China is investing over $300 billion in high-speed rail through 2020, in a bid to speed ahead of the rest of the world's train systems.
The numbers alone are head-spinning: 16,000 miles of new track by 2020, requiring 117 million tons of concrete just to construct the buttresses on which the tracks will lie. Top speeds from Beijing to Shanghai will approach 220 miles an hour, halving the current travel time to four hours. This year China Railway Company plans to hire 20,000 young engineers. Can we say leapfrogging?
China's high speed rail build-out is at the front and center of its stimulus spending, in large part out of fear: little is more intimidating to Beijing's leaders than the sight of thousands of unemployed workers. So far the construction of the Beijing-Shanghai route alone has employed about 110,000 people.
The rest of China’s stimulus program is focused on building airports, highways and environmental projects, particularly water treatment plants.
Here is a map illustrating China's eventual plan to link Beijing and London via high speed rail.

Stunning Rail Plan
Most of the new high-speed links will not be considerably faster than European trains. Thirty-five lines for trains traveling at 125 mph or more, measuring 6,800 miles in total, will be brought into service by 2012, officials say, with 4,350 more miles by 2020.
But the first phase will include five major routes – three running north to south, two east to west – with trains reaching 217 mph or 236 mph.
China spent $44 billion last year -- up from $12 billion in 2004 -- on rail.
“I don’t think anything compares except maybe the growth of the U.S. rail network at the start of the 20th century,” John Scales, the transport coordinator for China at the World Bank, told the Times."

While here, Republicans work their magic to assure that nothing our President proposes will ever see the light of day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lehman Mess and Auditors

A recent report on Lehman brothers, by Marian Wang, reported in ProPublica (http://www.propublica.org)/ states:
"A post-mortem report on Lehman Brothers revealed a shady accounting maneuver through which the bank hid its financial troubles for nearly a decade. We take a closer look at the parties pleading ignorance and the auditors who admit they knew, but insist they did no wrong."

The central issue in the financial mess, in which we are enmeshed is the role of accounting firms. I believe strongly that we need to blow up our nation's auditing system and invent a new one. The primary problem currently is the potential for corruption and obvious conflicts of interest on the part of the audit firms who are hired and paid very large sums of money by the firms they are auditing.

We need a new system:

1. The Federal government would create a new agency operating out of the Treasury Department or the Commerce department (it doesn't matter where).

2. That agency would enter into 3-5 year contracts with auditing firms to provide auditing services to publically traded companies.

3. The companies would pay into a public fund, the fees needed to finance the audits. The amounts to be paid in would be related to the size and complexity of the work to be performed to complete the audits.

4. The companies would have no say in which firms are to complete their audits. Companies could file complaints with the Federal agency in the event of disputes about the audits.

5. The auditors would be changed every 3-5 years (much as we change embassy staffs abroad to prevent staff from being "captured."

6. The reports would be delivered to the company boards of directors, and the federal agency. All audit reports would be public documents.

7. This new system would cover all publically traded entities.

Unless and until we separate the auditors from their corporate sponsors, we will continue to have debacles like the Lehman Brothers. We know the bankers and investment brokers are crooks, but too few knew their auditors were complicit--partners in crime so to speak.

Church Imploding

I have been reading about the latest round of Catholic church scandals in Ireland and Germany. It brings to mind an old nursery rhyme:
The Catholic Church sat on a wall,
The Catholic Church had a great fall,
All the Pope's men,
And all the Pope's horses,
Couldn't put the Catholic Church together again.

Friday, March 12, 2010


A recent article in the on-line magazine Salon, concerned atheism. It is one of the very few articles I have seen written to explain atheism in terms not connected with devil worship. The author wrote kindly about atheists, noting that they are generally ok folks, who largely are open to many points of view, who do good, just because it's the right thing to do, as opposed to doing good because otherwise God will punish you. While the article drew many comments, mostly kindly ones, one comment on the article seemed to me to be representative of many good Christians (surely not all, but too many I think). The comment was as follows:

"Atheism is actually a primitive form of religion in which the monotheistic deity is replaced with worship of self, money, idols, material objects, status, power, etc. The atheist conforms to the rules of society and is law abiding in order to avoid punishment, not because of a belief in a greater good. Atheism as a form of primitive religion has been with us since the beginning of human civilization and hasn't really changed over the past two or three thousand years. What is the most popular TV show? American Idol. We are a nation of idol worshippers." Jeffrey Dach

Mr. Dach reveals himself to be an insecure person, angry, and holding a rather dismal view of himself and humankind in general. He believes that people only act to do good because otherwise God will get them. In other words, humans are essentially evil, and need an overseer to keep watch over them. What a sad view of life. It makes me wonder how people like him, presumably educated in good Christian churches, manages to get through life, and even get through each day.

How sad.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hurt Locker

We watched Hurt Locker last night, at the same time it was gathering Oscars out in Hollywood. All in all, a pretty good picture--lots of razzle dazzle, flash-bang, and shock und awe stuff. Good acting, minimal dialogue.

I came away from the film thinking three thoughts:
1. What the hell are we doing in Iraq?
2. Hell does actually exist; it's called the Middle East.
3. The film is a great argument for abortion. Suppose their collective motherhood had decided to abort George W. Bush, Dicky Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Don Rumsfeld , Richard Perle and Bill Krystol. The world might be a better place.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Evolution & Intelligent Design

I am a great believer in evolution and in science generally. The notion that some bearded guy somewhere waggles his finger and causes things & critters to magically appear seems just too wacko for my mind to comprehend. But lately, I have begun to wonder.

I just read an article recently confirming the theory about the disappearance of the dinosaurs a few years back.. The prevailing theory was that a giant asteroid hit the planet, causing a huge cloud of dust to rise above the earth blotting out the sun, which in turn produced a long lasting winter. That long-lasting winter virtually eliminated the ability of dinosaurs and other critters to find food and so, they gradually died out. That theory was under some challenge from alternative theories—a series of massive volcanic eruptions in central India, a string of asteroids, perhaps all of the above at about the same time—65 million years ago.

So what? Well, lately I’ve begun thinking about what I’ve started calling The Great Dumbing Down of America. As our school systems continue to churn out fewer graduates than we might expect – 35-40% drop out rates seem ok with the American public (Obama disagrees, but he’s only one guy)—the failure-to-graduate set continues to produce babies. And around the world, we have the Catholic Church continuing to demonstrate its ineptitude as a moral force by refusing to promote family planning techniques, and other cultures more or less following the same course of producing too many kids, I begin to wonder about evolution.

What’s my question? Well, I wonder about the relative evolutionary advantage to the species (us) of the dumber people outproducing the (relatively) smarter people. Eventually, the smarter people would become endangered, and could well shrink in numbers even more.

And since a dominant characteristic of the dumber people is that they tend to arm themselves heavily, and they seem to like violence as a dispute resolution mechanism, they could begin to threaten the existence of the planet as a whole. How could that happen? Well, think an even dumber version of George Bush (I know, it’s hard, but use your imagination). And think of that person’s control over our massive collection of nuclear weapons. And then, project a bit and consider that scientists have concluded that a massive exchange of nuclear explosions could trigger what they like to call a nuclear winter. That’s what the dinosaurs experienced, and then they disappeared.

So what does this have to do with evolution vs “intelligent design”? Well, suppose we are all here because of a decision made a few years ago (some would say 6000) by a creator. Maybe the creator gets bored periodically and decides to play around and see what happens. So, maybe she decided a few years ago to create dinosaurs just to see what they could provide in the way of entertainment. The dinosaurs lasted a while and filled virtually every niche available. And then, the creator got tired of watching these critters lumber around the earth and began considering alternative play toys. But, first things first. The creator had to eliminate those big old critters and so, she tossed a few asteroids at our earth, just to see what would happen (well, actually she knows everything, so I suppose there wasn’t a big mystery there). So the big winter sets in and the big old guys started dropping like flies so to speak. It took a while, but hey, she’s got time.

So, then, after the big guys vanished, she created a different set of toys—people. These would be a lot smaller, but would have fairly large brains for their size. So, arguably, they might be capable of providing a richer entertainment base.

And sure enough, the little guys with the (relatively) large brains began to fill up the earth also, and for a while they were great fun to watch. But then she noticed something. As they matured and they began filling their brains with stuff—knowledge—they began doing a lot of really dumb things—like starting wars that killed off a bunch of their own kind. And while wars are a source of considerable entertainment, with the flash-bang and shock and awe stuff, maybe she was tiring of these toys also. Enter the dumbing down the population thing.

As the population dumbs down, the toys begin to create greater and greater ways to destroy themselves. And then, one day someone emerges as The Leader, who decides it would be nifty to just blow up everyone who disagrees with him and others of his ilk. So, he gets his other dumbed-down followers around him and announces his plan. They all start cheering, while drooling at the prospect. So, The Great Leader executes his plan and nuclear winter follows and all the toys begin disappearing until none are left.

And then the earth is quiet for a while, until grasses and trees and termites reappear. And then the creator decides to just rest for a spell, while she ponders the next generation of toys—maybe butterflies???

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I have entered a state of malaise, or ennui, finding myself increasingly unable to listen to or read analyses of the day’s events. I fear I have been overcome by the repeated lies emanating from the enemies of our current regime—they wish “regime change” it would seem. Mainly, I’m just worn out by lies. The opposition simply makes up stuff and then feeds it into their well financed PR outlets, such as the Faux News Network, but really all of the news outlets. Their lies become amplified, and repeated until they are accepted as fact, by repetition alone. And then, when the lies are exposed to truth, they go on to other subjects, undeterred.

Leonard Pitts wrote of the tea baggers that their extreme anger is not borne only of simple racism, but of a larger fear that “their world” has been usurped through the election of Obama. Yes the fact that he is an articulate, highly intelligent black man is part of their rage. But he believes that they see their world crumbling, and they are, as a result, damned mad, and not going to let it rest.

I argued back that there are many differences in the land between what would have been with a republican victory and where we are now because Obama sits in that National CEO seat. Certainly, I have greater confidence that decisions made by the chief executive will be made from positions of honesty, thoughtfulness and with an eye fixed firmly on the future of our nation. But I doubt that the tea baggers have any clue about such things. So what gives rise to their potentially violent approach to our current government? Well racism is certainly one explanation. The notion that a Condi Rice as president (they make this claim) would have been welcomed by these same people, thereby nullifying any charge of racism, seems to me hypothetical poppycock. That is, because such a proposition is not a real possibility--never was--it allows them to argue at no risk that they would have welcomed her with open arms, despite the race thing.

But even if we assume that is true, what then are we to make of their cherished beliefs? They can be seen with little effort as people without serious principles at all. It comes down to their extreme hatred of Democrats, or Liberals?? But what's that all about? I am forced to conclude that these people have been so captured by the right wing media machine (thank you Rupert Murdoch) the right wing corporate money machines (thank you Supremes), and their local right wing churches that they have been inflamed and made into some kind of robots, incapable of rational thought. Perhaps they never were terribly rational to begin with.

But they are also inflamed by lies, invented out of whole cloth by unscrupulous republican thugs who wish now to regain power at any cost to the nation.

Indeed, our current “national debate” about almost any subject is so filled with absurdities, that we must be the laughing stock of the world. Dispiriting does not begin to describe my feelings about our little world

And elsewhere the South Dakota state legislature passed a law requiring that their schools teach their kids that global warming is simply a theory, like evolution, and that many possible explanations exist, including astrological and they are equally valid. Apparently, drawing up horoscopes for the world is next.