Archive for July, 2016

“God and Politics”

July 31, 2016


“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca – 62 A.D.

During his five-day visit to Poland last week, Pope Francis encouraged hundreds of thousands of young people gathered for World Youth Day to ignore computer screens and video games in favor of social activism and political interaction.

Both of our Republican and Democratic Conventions here in America prominently included mentions of Hillary Clinton’s Methodist upbringing, Tim Kaine’s Jesuit education, Mike Pence’s lifetime embrace of fundamentalist Christian values and Donald Trump’s unbelievably huge, bigger than anything you could ever imagine religious beliefs — the ones that everybody’s talking about.

Alleged divine initiation and encouragement of all parties involved in virtually every war in the history of our species is a matter of established record. God, by any name or concept, always seems to be on both the winning and losing sides of every fight. Our “Battle Hymn of the Republic” mentions Christ by name, even as Hitler’s Germany was a Christian nation of over sixty million souls, although Adolf was never called a “Radical Christian Terrorist.”

Christianity remains by far the world’s largest religion with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on the planet. Islam is second with 1.6 billion believers or 23% of the global population. Hinduism places third with a billion members (15%) and Buddhists come in fourth with a half-billion practitioners representing 7.1% of worshipers. Meanwhile, 1.1 billion “Non-Affiliated” folks (16.4% of earthlings) aren’t on board with anything traditional. This grouping includes atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. By 2050, demographers predict that Christianity and Islam will tie for first place with a total of six billion practitioners – around three billion each.

It seems embarrassingly clichéd, if not childishly simple to suggest that we all need to get along together, but anyone who denies the absolute, immediate, critical urgency of such a notion is nothing more than a dangerous fool.

With all this in mind as our contentious election cycle spins toward incomprehensible chaos, this seems a perfect time for serious reflection.

Dr. Andrew Fiala, Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Director of the Ethics Center at Fresno State University. Professor Fiala is well known to area readers for his excellent “On Ethics” column that appears every Saturday in the “Insight” section of our sister newspaper, The Fresno Bee.

Dr. Fiala has degrees from UCLA and Vanderbilt University and is the author or editor of a dozen books. He has published more than 50 scholarly articles and has written hundreds of op-ed essays. His scholarly research focuses on war and peace, politics, religion, and ethics.

As a member of the Executive Committee of the Oakhurst Democratic Club and moderator of our monthly meetings, I contacted Andy a while back and asked him if he would consider being a special guest speaker as we ended our summer hiatus in August – after the national conventions of both major parties concluded and things were really starting to heat up.

Dr. Fiala stated that he would be delighted to do so, but wondered what he should talk about. Flashing back on many challenging hours of Philosophy and Theology courses with those ‘Take No Prisoner” Jesuits at Le Moyne in Syracuse, I instantly suggested he speak on ”God and Politics.” Andy enthusiastically replied, “I’ll be glad to!” And he will.

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday for our August 6th Meeting of the Oakhurst Democratic Club at Denny’s on Highway 41. As usual, breakfast is served at 8:30 AM and our program with Dr. Fiala will begin at 9:30. He’ll speak for around a half-hour, then we’ll have plenty of time left for questions and discussion. Bring cool friends. It doesn’t cost anything. The general public is always invited, meaning you don’t have to be a Democrat to attend, but if you are and wish to join the club, please consider this a personal invitation.

Make yourself matter.

Get in the game.

November 8th is less than a hundred days away.

This one’s for keeps.






“Death Wish”

July 24, 2016


 Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes was one of the WSAI-AM DJs in 1964 who invited the Beatles to play at Cincinnati Gardens that year. This large photo from a press conference hangs in his conference room in the county administration building. Dusty Rhodes is top row second from right with the pipe, with the Beatles seated, from left, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney.

William Emerson “Dusty” Rhodes is one of my oldest and dearest friends.

We bitterly fought for audience as teenage DJ’s on competing radio stations in Syracuse while still in high school back in the late ‘50’s, but I was Dusty’s best man when he married Jo Anne after heading west and becoming Cincinnati’s top-rated air personality in 1962.

While remaining active in broadcasting through the years on a more limited basis, Dusty went on to enjoy great success as a Paine Webber stockbroker, simultaneously becoming involved in local politics. First elected as a Trustee in Delhi Township, Ohio; Dusty is now in his seventh term as Hamilton County Auditor, having held this office for the last 26 years. Hamilton County, with a population exceeding 800,000, includes the city of Cincinnati. For quite some time, Dusty was the only Democrat holding major office in County government.

Dusty Rhodes loves Donald Trump.

He called me Friday afternoon and right off the bat asked me what I thought of the Republican Convention. This is called “baiting” – which Webster defines as “to tease or goad so as to provoke a strong reaction”.

 Surely knowing better, I jumped like Pavlov’s dog and went for it. Initially exploding into an emotionally charged diatribe furiously filled with indisputable facts and undeniable figures, it soon became evident I was raging in vain.

Dusty, a graduate of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University and one of the brightest folks I know, doesn’t care if Donald Trump builds a wall, water boards prisoners, makes fun of cripples, demeans women or strangles tiny starving orphans with rusty barbed wire. I made that last one up, but should have thought of it at the time. Darn.

Dusty Rhodes wants Donald Trump elected because he wants “a change” since “nothing is working.” And Dusty hates Hillary.

I suggested that supporting Donald Trump requires complete dismissal of certain glaring realities and overt suspension of any pretense of fair judgment, but decided not to add that it also might be viewed as an act of moral abrogation bordering intellectual cowardice. Friends don’t talk that way, overheated rhetoric being reserved for bar room rants, back room brawls and newspaper columns.

I remain firmly convinced that Donald J. Trump is an oozing, open, festering sore on our American body politic. Yet many well-intended, otherwise responsible citizens seem to see him as a simple solution — if not sole savior as he so humbly self declares. As witnessed by Dusty’s mystifying allegiance, it has become uncomfortably evident they are deadly serious – mortally and terminally committed to see President Trump take office in January. I am therefore forced to speculate such folly represents nothing less than a classic death wish.

In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the demon of death. Sigmund Freud chose to use that word in defining the death drive – a powerful instinct toward chaos – ever lurking in our psychoanalytic nature.

According to Freud, we all basically have two life instincts; “Eros”, which drives us to thrive and survive, and “Thanatos”, which often causes us to engage in risky, self-destructive acts. It is theorized by some that this subconscious yearning for death masks a desire to return to our original, inorganic state, but we’ll leave such speculation to greater minds.

One primary quality commonly associated with a serious reflection on destructive behavior makes perfect sense in trying to figure out what’s happening with Trump. Simply stated, let’s consider the phenomenon of stress relief. Just letting go. The Rolling Stones might call it, “Some kind of ventilator.” In fact they have. Often we just can’t help ourselves.

Smoking. Racing. Cutting. Skydiving. Speeding. Fighting. Fasting. Overworking. Defiant drinking. Dirty dancing. Dangerous dating.

All bring temporary satisfaction offering genuine emotional release and a sense of immediate personal control as phony and fake as the empty promises of Donald J. Trump.

Even another old friend, Film Director Michael Moore, has come to believe that Trump will be our next President. Mike states with typical restraint – “This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full-time sociopath is going to be our next president.”

 Among other reasons, Mr. Moore cites “The Jesse Effect” — observing that the people of Minnesota once elected a professional wrestler as governor –“ just because they could” and “voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system.”

I know this all sounds crazy. We’re living in crazy times. If you don’t feel crazy – you’re crazy. I’m crazy too.

Crazy loves company.

But don’t vote for Trump.

“It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap” – Bruce Springsteen — “Born to Run” –1975










“Of Mice and Men”

July 17, 2016


 “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain (1893)

Most of my rowdy friends at local watering holes catering to the common man still call Hillary Clinton a liar. When pressed for specifics, they cry, “Benghazi!” After I amiably observe that I watched all 11 ½ hours of Hillary’s testimony under oath before the Republican led House Select Committee last October and they never caught her in a lie, my drinking buddies jump to “Emails!” as evidence of Secretary Clinton’s proven untrustworthiness. That’s when I quote those fundamentally undeniable, FBI certified, painstakingly established official numbers.

Of the more than 30,000 emails reviewed during more than a full year of investigation, only 110 were finally judged as containing classified material, although not one was ever labeled as such. There were 3 with tiny “markings” which might indicate confidentiality to the sophisticated reader, but it turns out even these were incorrectly placed.

Then I cordially mention in my loud radio voice from the end of the bar it has been established by FBI Director James Comey that Hillary never lied to the Bureau when interviewed for 3 ½ hours and Director James Comey also specifically stated: “We did not find evidence sufficient to establish that she knew she was sending classified information.”

 In conclusion I point out to my collective companions this means any charges Mrs. Clinton was not telling the truth when she said she wasn’t lying – are lies. By then they are sick and tired of hearing me talk.

I suggest a beer and a shot will shut me up. This works like a charm. I return the favor — then off we go – launching into more important matters such as following football, trimming trucks and gunning for gophers.

Hillary Clinton still has plenty of time left before the election for image improvement. An immediate challenge is dispelling those curious words “extremely careless” with which she was labeled by Director Comey just before he got around to finally saying in summary that she wouldn’t be charged with anything after all. This has provided Donald “Nothing But The Truth” Trump and his new running mate, Mike “The Poodle” Pence with valuable campaign ammo.

Having poured over everything Director Comey said in his surprise initial announcement on July 5th and subsequently repeated at length for almost five hours of sworn testimony two days later in another hastily conveyed “Let’s Hang Hillary” hearing, I can find nothing in Comey’s words to understand such a judgment except – Comey himself.

James Comey is the straightest man I’ve ever seen on national TV – the ultimate Boy Scout — as tight as a mouse’s rear stretched over a barrel. He is extraordinarily conscientious, perhaps even perilously proper to extremes. When he scratches an itch, he thinks it’s sex.

Director Comey allows that the “extreme” carelessness he observed during his investigation was not limited to the State Department under Hillary Clinton, but endemic to the institution long before she arrived. This now seems all but forgotten by pundits in the press

Knowing full well that his decision would be greeted with ridicule and derision by about to be former Republican friends, I suspect the Director wistfully hoped placing a pejorative adjective such as “extremely” before the word “careless” might offer a slight measure of embarrassingly apologetic consolation for his inevitable determination. And it has.

Trumpublicans have jumped on “extremely careless” with pit bull tenacity, growling and scowling with typically feigned ferocity. They are ignoring in the process a majority observation by clear national consensus that their new leader is emotionally immature –demonstrably unstable – and clinically nuts.

This week’s events have born that out.

The Democratic Party convenes next Monday in Philadelphia.

Kindly compare.






“Doofus Days”

July 10, 2016


Doofus: (doo’·fus) [do͞ofəs]) – (1) Stupid and incompetent (2) a foolish person who doesn’t have a clue (3) Utah Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

It was Representative Doofus who insisted last week that Congress provide the FBI with a referral request to investigate whether Hillary Clinton lied under oath about her handling of classified information. This would have been when the Secretary testified before Congress for 11 ½ hours back in October during the ill-conceived, thoroughly unproductive Benghazi Hearings that completely exonerated Clinton of alleged misbehavior — as did six other formal investigations on the same subject.

Chaffetz gleefully announced with a happy little laugh his firm intention to keep Hillary-hate alive in Congress as FBI Director James Comey dramatically testified for almost five hours before an “Emergency Hearing” of the Republican dominated Oversight Committee last Thursday. This gathering was hastily called into session by Doofus in a panicked response to Director Comey’s historic decision two days earlier that he not recommend any criminal charges be filed against Mrs. Clinton nor any of her aides in connection with their use of unauthorized Internet servers while working at the State Department.

In 2003 Representative Chaffetz had applied for a position with The Secret Service, an organization he now oversees. He was rejected. At the time the agency told him it was considering “better applicants.”

But here’s the official bottom line on Hillary Clinton after more than a full year of FBI investigation:

*  There is no evidence that Secretary Clinton, her staff or attorneys intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information.

* Hillary Clinton was truthful in all of her testimony provided to the Bureau under formal questioning.

* Of over 30,000 emails studied, only 110 were determined to contain information considered “classified.”

* Of these, none were actually labeled “Classified” and only three contained small “c” markings suggesting classification. That’s 3 out of more than 30,000.

* Director Comey, a long time Republican of unquestioned  integrity, went on record under oath saying he was unsure whether Mrs. Clinton had the technical sophistication to know what the tiny “c” markings buried somewhere in the material might mean. The Director plainly stated, “I think it’s possible she didn’t understand what a “c” meant when she saw it in the body of an email like that.”

* Of these remaining three emails, it now appears they were incorrectly coded in the first place and were never supposed to be considered classified.

* There was no “double standard” used by Director Comey in his recommendation that criminal prosecution was unwarranted – a determination unanimously supported by all of the agents and authorities involved in the investigation.

* The FBI could find no direct evidence of an intrusion into Clinton’s server by hostile foreign governments.

Representative Chaffetz is not alone displaying Doofus characteristics. Another would appear to be none other than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) who has formally asked Director of National intelligence James Clapper to deny Secretary Clinton access to classified information during the presidential campaign – an accommodation extended to major party candidates dating back to the Truman Administration.

In a letter to Clapper, Ryan wrote, “There is no legal requirement to provide Secretary Clinton with classified information. I firmly believe this is necessary to reassure the public that our nation’s secrets are secure.”

 It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this gratuitously pretentious, outrageously insulting statement from Ryan is accompanied by his newly discovered, awkwardly fawning embrace of the presumptive Republican nominee – a 180-degree turn of heart ordered at the highest levels of party control. This signals a Trump takeover. A fait accompli. The crazies appear to have won.

Get ready for some fun viewing – assuming one entertains an abnormal preoccupation with fiery car crashes, violent train wrecks or obsessively binge watching lost episodes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

The opening gavel of the 2016 Republican National Convention will pound to disorder this coming Monday, July 18th. Things will ricochet right along until a probable closing with Donald Trump crowned as candidate next Thursday the 21st — another dark date that may thereafter, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “live in infamy.”

The universe watches as our nation goes mad.






“Time Machines”

July 6, 2016


It’s the end of the first week in the year’s second half and it’s 2016’s third month beginning with a “J.”

There won’t be a fourth.

Summer offers a perfect time for random thoughts of minimal consequence – an opportunity to temporarily abandon elaborately detailed explorations of national trajectory or brilliantly structured insights into a myriad of topics otherwise remaining alarmingly mysterious and dangerously opaque.

And get away from all those big words.

Let’s take a break, leaving polarizing politics alone for a week.

There’ll be time enough for that when the conventions commence, starting in Cleveland on July 18th with Philadelphia in the spotlight seven days later.

How lucky we are to live where we do.

When visitors arrive, we get to take them places habitually reserved for special occasions, accessing an amazing environment easily available, yet enjoyed all too infrequently. Such was the case last week when daughter Colleen and granddaughter Riley arrived from Cincinnati, providing a perfect excuse to cut loose.

I love that time machine only a town away.

The Mariposa Museum and History Center was founded in 1957 and is dedicated to the discovery, collection, preservation, interpretation, exhibition and demonstration of material culture, visual objects and documents that best illustrate the history of Mariposa County. That’s what their website says. They deliver the goods.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington has gone on record stating that Mariposa offers “The best little Museum of its size west of the Mississippi.” It’s open year round from 10 till 4.

Walking through elaborately cataloged displays sweeps you back in time from the Native American and Spanish periods of the county through the early 1900s. Inside exhibits include an extensive Miwok Indian section; an interior miner’s cabin, a one-room schoolhouse and furnishings belonging to the West’s most famous explorer, Mariposa’s own John L. Freemont. There’s also an authentic Mother Lode saloon with extra big shot glasses for mountain men of righteous thirst.

Outside you’ll see the only operational 5-stamp gold ore mill in California and a fully functional Blacksmith Shop along with other significant pieces of mining equipment.

Loving volunteers eager to share their impressive knowledge of local lore staff the museum.

There was an authentic player piano offering pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper by ghostly, unseen hands. It was “Roll Out The Barrel” and who should be doing the rolling and operating the unit during our tour than the very much alive Ron Loya, President of the Museum’s Board of Directors.

Ron honored Eileen, Colleen, Riley and me with a quick peek inside “the vault” – a large, private research area, heavily secured with tight atmospheric controls to preserve yet more amazing archeology and artifacts. It was all quite cool, both environmentally and emotionally.

Shortly thereafter serendipity struck again at another time machine — this one at the Yosemite Museum in the village, completed in 1925 by architect Herbert Maier in the newly emerging National Park Service Rustic Style.

As visitors enter the foyer, a geology room occupies the first space to the right. From there, a U-shaped path leads through to natural history exhibits, a life zone room and an Indian room. As we arrived at this last, it wasn’t WHAT was there that proved to highlight Colleen and Riley’s stay, but WHO was there.

National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson has worked in Yosemite for 23 years of his 29-year career. Ranger Johnson appeared in Ken Burns award winning documentary film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” and was subsequently acclaimed as an “unexpected star” of the mini-series. Attending a preview at the White House on September 27, 2009, Johnson discussed the project with President Obama, a conversation he had an opportunity to renew during the President’s recent visit to Yosemite.

We entered the Indian Room to the soft, gentle sounds of an authentic Indian flute, expertly played by a superbly talented individual sitting unassumingly alone as though he was merely a casual part of the general background. Ranger Johnson was then kind enough to engage us in a wide-ranging conversation covering countless subjects, evidencing an awesomely knowledgeable, highly entertaining, thoroughly engaging representative of the National Park Service. Anyone who believes government can’t work hasn’t met Shelton Johnson.

Here in Oakhurst we are blessed and surrounded by many other time machines in our immediate proximity, such as the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa and smaller installations such as the Coarsegold Historic Society Museum on Highway 41, the Raymond Museum and Historic Town Site and the Sierra Mono Museum in North Fork.

Make the present more pleasant with a prolonged pause in the past.

It waits with awesome wonder.