Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#214 - The End Is In Sight - At Last

We're in the final death throes of yet another ugly Presidential campaign. Since television became the major medium for communicating with the masses, it seems each campaign has tried to outdo its predecessor when it comes to mudslinging, half-truths, and just downright overall nastiness.

It is now six days until we either unleash Armageddon or jettison our remaining American traditions (depending on which candidate you support and assuming the other person gets in). I am discounting all of the third and fourth-party candidates because they, sadly, have no chance of being elected under our current system.

I do not like, admire, or respect Donald Trump. I admit that off the top. (It is difficult for me to respect or admire someone who brags, as Trump does, about avoiding taxes.) Nor do I tend to believe much of what he says. However, in one respect, I think he is right on the money, although not in the way he intends.

Trump has used the word "rigged" on several occasions during this campaign, hinting that the results will be rigged if he fails to win the White House. In that regard, he is mistaken. I do believe that the process is rigged to eliminate consideration of third-party candidates and to ensure that either a Democrat or a Republican is elected.

If memory serves, no third-party candidate has been invited to participate in the Presidential debates since Ross Perot in 1992. That is, in fact, the only time a third-party candidate has ever been invited to participate in a Presidential debate.

I suspect the 1992 election sent shock waves through the corridors of power, seeing how popular Perot's message was, and the money men on both sides of the political divide (despite some gains by women in terms of access to power, I suspect men still pull most of the strings) took steps to ensure no future "fringe" candidate ever got as close as did Perot to the Presidency.

Given the strong feelings against both of the major candidates, this election cycle might well have benefited from the participation of the Green Party"s Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson. If nothing else, the answers to some of the debate questions might have had a better chance of staying on-topic.

Every four years, we go through this madness. Every four years, we complain about the candidates, saying this candidate will set back progress in some area 50 years or that candidate will destroy traditional American values. Every four years, we realize it didn't happen because the system is set up to protect the only traditional values that matter to those who actually control such things - power and money. Everything else is just window dressing.

I have no answers, no possible solutions. When I began writing this, I thought perhaps an election system similar to Britain's, in which third parties seem to be more valued, might be a possibility, but I'm not sure it could work here.

Instead, I suspect this "grand experiment," as America was once referred to, is slowly grinding to an end. America could well dissolve in the next few generations into a number of smaller nations based on shared geographic and cultural values. We have simply become more divided than we are united. Perhaps we have always been so and it ha simply become easier to recognize in this always connected world in which we live.

The good news is: the election is almost over. The bad news is: regardless of who wins, the vast divide between the two major political parties will continue to make it all but impossible to accomplish anything. That, and the fact that the next Presidential campaign will likely begin within a week of this election's conclusion.

We have the 24-hour news cycle and the 365-day political cycle. The noise no longer stops; it just becomes a constant hum in the background of our everyday lives.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

#213 - I Tried, Really!

Sunday night, I sat down to watch the second Presidential debate. At least, that was the plan.

I watched in hopes of getting an idea of specific policy points from the candidates, specific arguments in support of their stands on the issues. You know, an actual debate.

What I saw instead was more akin to an elementary schoolyard war of words: "Did not!" "Did too!" "I know I am, but what are you?" "Takes one to know one."

Beyond that, Sunday night's debate seemed an attempt by one candidate to browbeat and bully the other candidate (as well as the moderators) into submission through the use of continued interruption.

After 40-minutes, I'd had enough and could no longer watch. I knew I would get nothing of substance from the debate. Instead, I would only get more of what passes these days for political theater or reality TV. If I wanted either of those, I would watch an episode of Madam Secretary or Survivor. (For the record, I concluded that Clinton's non-answers were closer to being on-topic than were Trump's, as he seemed to only be interested in talking about emails.)

I also had a pretty good sense of how the day-after debate news cycle would run. Trump supporters would declare him yet again as the debate winner while hammering the moderators for being members of the "liberal media" and Clinton supporters, something Trump himself set the stage for when he complained about the debate being "three against one."

From the vantage point of my easy chair, it seemed the moderators were only trying, with limited success, to do their jobs. They have basically four responsibilities: ask questions; try to keep candidates on topic; try to get candidates to keep their answers within predetermined time constraints; and perhaps most importantly, keep candidates from interrupting while another candidate is speaking.

I give the moderators a B-plus for effort and a D-minus for execution, although the lack of execution is not really their fault given that they have no power to truly control the candidates' behavior or actions during the debate.

Donald Trump has taken Teddy Roosevelt's "bully pulpit" and inverted it, turning it into a pulpit from which to bully those who disagree with him. His behavior during the debates seriously suggests Trump would be unable and, perhaps worse, unwilling as President to listen to or consider opposing viewpoints and scenarios from advisers.

A President has to be able to consider all options before becoming locked in on a course of action and must be able to change tactic when a specific action is clearly not working. Trump's actions, words, and behavior during the campaign suggest he would be unable and unwilling to make such changes and would instead "double down" on the action or tactic already shown as not working.

I do not think Trump is capable of or is willing to change his behavior and demeanor before the third Presidential debate in one week's time. At least not without some help in the form of a change to the debate rules.

This leads me to a suggestion I humorously made on Facebook but one which I think deserves some serious consideration. This will require some real strength of spirit on the part of moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News and debate organizers. I don't expect such strength, but in the spirit of hope springing eternal, here goes.

First, enforce the two-minute limit of candidate responses. The two-minute clock located in the candidate's line of sight is clearly not working in and of itself. How to remedy this? At the two-minute mark, the moderator says "fifteen seconds" to give the candidate a chance to wrap up their remarks. At the 2:15 mark, the candidate's microphone is turned off and not turned back on until it is the candidate's turn to respond to another question.

Second, keep candidates on topic. How can a moderator do this, you ask? Especially when candidates seem to think (based on past Presidential debate history) they can simply take any question in whatever direction they want to go? Enter the microphone strategy again.

If/When a candidate begins to veer completely away from a question's topic, the moderator should remind the candidate once to return to topic. If/When that fails, the candidate's microphone should be turned off (I think you're beginning to see a trend here), and the moderator should say, "If you are not going to answer the question, we will move on" to either the other candidate's answer or to another question.

Third, keep candidates from interrupting one another during answers. The first offense should result in the moderator politely asking the offending candidate to refrain until it is his or her turn to respond. The second response should result in a candidate's microphone being turned off, with no further warning, until it is his or her turn to speak. This process should be automatically repeated (i.e., the microphone turned off without warning) for the remainder of the debate whenever a candidate interrupts.

While these proposals are designed specifically with Donald Trump and his verbal-bullying tactics in mind, they should be applied equally to Hillary Clinton should she transgress. I have no hope of these ideas actually being implemented, but they would, even if artificially, restore something sadly lacking in the debates and in the overall campaign, civility. (Of course, they could also result in some truly entertaining political theater should Trump storm off the stage because he isn't being allowed to rampage through the debate like a bull in a china shop.)

Based on the 40-minutes of the debate I watched Sunday night and the numerous Internet memes I've seen on Facebook, I'd say civility is something we are sadly in need of in this election year. However, I think it is safe to say that one has better odds of winning the lottery than of witnessing anything resembling true civil discourse during the remainder of the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#212 - Making The Best of a Bad Situation

I've been thinking about this post off and on for a while, eight weeks to be exact. That's how long it has been since my last post.

Part of that delay is not knowing exactly what to write about. Part of it is due to everyday life getting in the way, but part of it is knowing I needed to write this while dreading it at the same time.

I don't fool myself into thinking that I have many readers of this blog. However, I'm pretty sure that the few readers I do have are not all aligned politically, culturally, religiously, or any other -ly. (Which is why I normally shy away from writing about politics, in particular.) So, I suspect whatever I have to say in the following paragraphs will not be agreed with or appreciated by all.

It has taken me until this day, exactly six weeks before election day to firmly decide which candidate for President would receive my vote. For several months, I had convinced myself that I would vote for one of the third-party candidates, a refusal, if you will, to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Having lived through a number of Presidential elections now, it seems that too many of them have been a choice between the lesser of two evils, regardless of which side of the ideological spectrum you stand on. This coming election may yet be the clearest example of that.

On the one hand, you have Hillary Clinton, the first woman Presidential nominee from a major political party. She is shrewd, clever, intelligent, and also calculating, possibly devious, and perhaps a bit disingenuous. I firmly believe she moved many of her positions to the left because of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

I don't really trust Hillary Clinton to do many of the things she says she will, even if Congress were inclined to go along. I suspect she will only do what she thinks she has to do to win and stay in power.

Now, before I am accused of being misogynistic, let me say that two of my favorite bosses during my working career were women. Let also say that, in spite of my misgivings and mistrust of her, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton in November.

The simple reason is that, on the other side of the ticket we have Donald Trump, a man who wouldn't know a fact if it bit him in the ass. Just as I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton is a politician in the worst sense of the word (I know some don't think there is any other), I also believe Donald Trump is a liar and a cheat (his good points) as well as a racist, a bully, and a misogynist. Not to mention a complete and utter egomaniac.

Trump has changed direction on various issues and topics so many times over the years, I'm not sure he could find north on a compass if someone pointed it out to him. (Others have documented some of these reversals and apparent "lapses of memory," so I won't bother here.) He speaks for whites afraid of losing their all out of proportion privilege and power and promises things he knows he can never deliver. (Just how will he "make" Mexico pay for his proposed wall, anyway? Does he plan to declare war on that country?)

Donald Trump is a bit like this century's version of Joseph McCarthy, he of the Communist witch hunt fame from the 1950s. Trump makes wild accusations, which he then fails to back up and says he did and said one thing when the record clearly shows he did and said the exact opposite (President Obama "birther" issue, anyone?).

Donald Trump is like a David Duke wet dream, promising to restore an America that thankfully died long ago, one where white men were in complete control, women knew their place, and minorities were treated as the second-class citizens he seems to believe them to be.

Trump plays upon the fears of whites who see the world changing in ways they don't understand, of gun owners who believe their rights are being taken away (even though that won't happen), of tinfoil hat wearers sure the government is out to get them, of and of individualists who believe we can return to the days of the open West when people were free (supposedly) to do what they wanted and make their own way, including those opposed to federal government regulation of any kind.

This latter group fails to understand that clean air and water are too important to leave to individual states and fails to accept that what one state does can and will impact its neighbor, if not now, somewhere down the line. After all, air and water to not recognize artificial boundaries drawn on a piece of paper.

For some time, I considered voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Her views, especially on the environment, align with mine closest of any of the candidates. Since I live in Idaho, I figured my vote would not help elect anyone anyway, especially since I never had any intention of voting for Trump, his numerous robo-calls (especially at meal times) not withstanding.

In the end, however, I decided I would hold my nose and, despite my misgivings about what exactly she stands for, vote for Hillary Clinton. Because, while I'm not sure what Clinton might do as President in terms of policy, I feel confident that I know exactly what a Trump Presidency would lead to, and that vision scares the hell out of me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#211 - Pokemon Go Has Got To. Go, That Is

I just realized it has been entirely too long since my last entry (51 days, to be exact). I can only apologize for my laxness and blame it on the fact that I have been camping, singing, writing, and otherwise having fun.

One thing I have noticed people (including my son and a few of my friends) having fun with is Pokemon Go. While they do, I wait for it to go the way of all fads, into oblivion.

I'll be honest, I simply do not see the attraction or the appeal of Pokemon Go, except perhaps for cell phone companies. I'm sure they simply love it. After all, Pokemon Go encourages players to use copious amounts of cell phone data searching for Poke-Stops and various Poke-creatures. I'm sure there hasn't been this much excitement about anything poke (or pokey) since the days of Gumby and his sidekick, Pokey.

There are those who credit Pokemon Go with encouraging people of all ages to exercise, as they walk around in searching of the ever elusive virtual beings. others say the game encourages teamwork. These are, to me, only incidental and accidental side benefits, icing on the cake that is increased profits for cell phone companies and a spike in the net worth of Pokemon's parent company, Nintendo.

I have to wonder how long that financial high can last before it comes crashing to earth just like a person on a sugar high crashes an hour or two after eating that last donut. My guess is that after one or two months of outrageous cell phone bills, a number of parents (and perhaps children who never grew up) will curtail the playing of Pokemon Go.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps enough people have unlimited cell data plans or are already used to high cell phone bills that they won't say no to Go, at least not for that reason.

It may be that safety or crime prevention may hold the key to stopping Go. There have been reports of people trespassing onto the property of others to try and capture a Pokemon and at least one report of someone being shot and killed while playing the game.

Because I don't really pay attention to the game, except to the extent that my son continually talks about Pokemon, I don't know the validity of any of these stories. To me, Pokemon Go sounds like a slow Jamaican in need of a trip to the bathroom.

Thinking about it, though, I guess I can see some appeal. Many of the people who play Pokemon Go are likely also attracted to YouTube, reality television, and videos featuring animals doing something they probably shouldn't be doing or shouldn't be able to do.

There are a number of things I don't understand about Pokemon Go, why people play it simply being the most obvious. For example, although Nintendo's net worth skyrocketed after the game came out, I don't understand how the company makes money off of it, since the game is free to download and play. (I suspect there may have been a licensing fee paid to Nintendo by the game's developer, but that alone cannot justify the increase in net worth.)

I guess I also don't understand how we can hope other alien cultures (if they exist) will see in us signs of intelligent life if we are all convening at Poke-Stops, cell phones in hand, hoping to capture a Poliwhirl, a Charizard, or even a Squirtle. Perhaps that's the ultimate goal of Pokemon Go, to encourage alien cultures to pass us by and see us as no danger to them. At the rate we're going, I suspect the only danger we are going to pose while playing Pokemon Go is to ourselves.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#210 - Pardon Me, Lest I Offend

In the wake of the horrific shooting in Orlando, I have read a plethora of posts on social media ranging from those calling for love in the face of hate to those saying this was God's judgment on a godless America to one from a Facebook friend calling for the use of nuclear weapons on the Middle East in order to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth once and for all.

At some level, I understand the rage and the outrage, the anger and the desire for revenge and retribution. Getting even has been part of the human psyche for as long as there have been humans on the planet. (Cain and Abel, anyone?)

However, I think all of this misses the mark in that the true problem, in my mind, is being overlooked. So, at the risk of offending anyone who happens to stumble across this humble entry, let me tell you what I believe the real problem is. Hint: it isn't radical Muslims, Tea Party Republicans, leftist Democrats and gun control advocates, or President Obama. It is religion.

Many of my friends and family are professed Christians. As such, they might be prone to see other faiths as un-Godly. Some of them believe Muslims should not be allowed in this country. They see the actions of a relative handful of radical Muslims as an indictment of the entire religion and cite Islam's holy book, the Qur'an, in support.

One thing they forget is that at roughly the same stage of Christianity's development, some radical Christians engaged in a little "terrorism" of their own against Muslims (and Jews). You may remember it; it was a little thing we call the Holy Crusades.

Another thing many Christians forget in cherry-picking verses to support their views against this or in favor of that is that the Bible has other verses in support of things like slavery and polygamy and against things such as eating shellfish. Yet, Christianity has evolved to the point where slavery and polygamy are seen as wrong, and it is okay to enjoy a dish featuring your favorite crustacean (as long as you aren't concerned about mercury poisoning). Yet, Christians don't seem willing to allow for that same evolution in another faith.

This is all a roundabout way of getting to the main point I want to try to make. I do believe there is a God or Higher Power. I don't believe any religion has a true handle on that higher power. I think most, if not all faiths have selected aspects of that Higher Power to support whatever agenda was being supported at the time the faith's holy texts were being composed.

In the simplest terms, God is God. Love is love. God is love. There is more than one way to reach the mountaintop, but we need to help one another, Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, to make the climb. Together.