Monday, November 29, 2010

Keep Away From My Junk

“We have met the enemy, and he is us”---Walt Kelly, via Pogo
When those people who hijacked those planes nine and a half years ago flew them into those towers and got their misguided point across, they had no idea what they really had wrought. How could they have known that what they really were doing was planting a seed of paranoia that still grows at a fast and furious rate all these years later.
First, our knee-jerk reaction was, correctly, to attack al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, a move that our then-president apparently decided was too difficult, and instead opted for invading Iraq, a famously incorrect and ill-advised move that got rid of a despotic dictator who had no connection to the attacks of 9/11, trashed the infrastructure and centuries of antiquities of one of the great civilizations of the world, and did nothing to help our country get cheaper oil or gas, the prices of which actually rose by more than a little bit.
Then, we find out that the “war on terror” brought us the shameful news that certain agencies and public officials had made the decision that it was okay to use torture in special cases, such as those involving terror suspects. Well, you know something, folks? It’s NOT okay to torture another human being, no matter what they are, or have done. That was why the Geneva Conventions were created, to try to keep a very uncivil act---war---from being any more barbaric than it already is.
Those hijackers also probably didn’t know that they were going to make life very difficult for good, decent practitioners of their own religion, since the less intelligent denizens of the land have decided that it is okay to vilify an entire belief system based on the misdeeds of a relative handful of radicals. Well, folks, that’s NOT okay either.
And now we have the current Big Controversy: the intrusive and invasive tactics of the TSA at our airports. I never thought I would find myself agreeing with Tea Party members, or Republicans, or even Democrats. It appears that NO ONE wants to have their naked body seen by a total stranger in a remote location or be patted down or groped by a different total stranger in front of a line of fellow travelers, who are also strangers.
This latest issue is the one that comes across as something to protest, and that is because it has the possibility to affect them personally, unlike waterboarding, or being threatened or intimidated for wearing Muslim traditional clothing.
I want to fly safely as much as the next person. The stated purpose of the TSA is to prevent would-be terrorists from bringing weapons or explosives aboard. The tally of terrorists caught at the airports by these methods to date: zero. So, am I feeling safer because of this? No. These full body scans of old ladies and little kids are ineffective, a violation of privacy, and just are not necessary. This is where the remaining vestiges of common sense have flown out the window. A friend of mine who works for TSA in Greenville, S.C. told me of having to pat down a flier who set off the machine when she passed through it, necessitating a hands-on search, only to discover that the alarm was from the new artificial hips that the woman---Betty White by name---had recently had put in. To her credit, Ms. White was very cordial about it, but in truth, she never should have been patted down. Folks: it’s NOT okay to search Betty White! Or me. Or you.
A solution: bomb sniffing dogs. They cost about five thousand dollars each, which means that 40 dogs could be purchased for the cost of one body scanner. And dogs, which are used to great effect in Israel, can detect much more than those scanners can.
Let’s not be our own worst enemy, folks. We already have enough.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


In some ways it is the greatest of holidays. Greater than Christmas, greater than Fourth of July, greater than any others. It’s not because of the big meal promised and enjoyed. It’s not because of the football games. It is because it is a day for us, as Americans, to take stock of what we have---no matter how meager---and give thanks. Doesn’t have to be to a god, doesn’t have to be to any person or entity. Just be thankful and grateful for what we have.
It is the last chance we have to give thanks before the orgy of consumption that immediately follows, and lasts until January. And when it is over, we walk away from the table and know we have work to do because taking stock also involves seeing what we don’t have, and where we need to fix the things that need fixing.
It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. But if we want it bad enough, it will happen.
We can change things. We don’t need presidents, senators, congressmen or politicians to do it for us, because time and time again they have let us down. Promises made give way to reality all too often, and every year it’s more of the same.
We don’t need them. We need us, and we need each other. We can make change. It doesn’t have to be as Americans, but just as citizens of the world. We have to get off our lazy backsides and get out there and do something. Taking charge of our own destinies is the only way that we can ensure that things will get done.
Being that it will be Thanksgiving, the first image that comes to mind is one of food. It is at this time of year that we often are made aware of the sad truth that in a world with enough food to feed every single human being on this planet, millions and millions of people go to bed hungry, including over 17 million children in this country alone. Proof that not everyone is created equal, despite what a piece of paper somewhere says.
It is time to change that. It is time to begin caring for and about each other. Being responsible for, and caring for others is the purest kind of love, and in recent years it seems that that love has vanished from the foreground. It’s time to change that. One of the great hypocrisies of the last century is this notion of being more holy, more Christian than the next guy and then acting in exact opposite ways. How some people can look at the misery of others, and not want to do something to help a fellow human being, especially when they have tremendous resources to do so, is beyond my level of comprehension. I hope it is also beyond yours too.
So, watch the football games, enjoy your lovely dinners with family and friends, and then go out and fix your country, and your world. Change things. For yourself, for your family, for your community.

Friday, November 19, 2010

America, America, Man Sheds His Waste on Thee

We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.
— Terri Swearingen
Keep Our Butts Beautiful —Bumper Sticker seen in Jackson, Georgia

You people should be ashamed of yourselves. The guilty know who they are. Those of you who are not guilty, feel free to join me in chastising those who are, because this affects all of us.
I’m taking a break from healthcare and other political issues to focus on something that really hit me hard this week. While taking a little five mile walk between Jackson and Flovilla, training for a planned cross country trek next year, I noticed that there were an awful lot of soda bottles and cans in the ditches along Highways 87 and then 42. As I looked a little closer I could not believe the absolutely massive amounts of trash that people throw out of their cars and trucks, and it’s not just cans and bottles I am referring to, but the entire gamut of garbage. There were pieces of furniture, old baseballs, food, an entire rotisserie chicken, still in its bag, various birth control devices, (and on the other side of that topic several dirty diapers), syringes, little baggies that I hear are used for packaging marijuana (these must have blown in from Griffin, since I have it on good authority that no one in Jackson smokes the evil weed), various business signs that have toppled, rotted and were never re-erected, cups, plastic bags from stores that are not even in Butts County, medicine bottles, clothing, shoes, hats, auto parts, tools (thanks for the wrench, whoever threw it in the grass near American Woodmark), broken plastic pieces that could have been anything, and much more general refuse and junk.
It is understandable that on occasion napkins and pieces of paper will inadvertently blow out of a car window when a passing truck stirs up the air, but they usually break down when it rains. (A note to the state: those losing scratch-off lottery tickets need to be made of a less hearty paper—there were more of them blowing around than any other single item I saw). The junk I passed was deliberately tossed out.
I have also noticed many times that cars and trucks will pull up in store parking lots and even in front of restaurants, doors will open, fast food soda cups and containers and bags will be covertly deposited on the asphalt, while a trash can often sits feet away. Are we that lazy that we can’t be bothered to dispose of our refuse the proper way? I can’t count the times I have gone shopping, and in the store’s parking lot not seen at least one folded up and taped up dirty diaper. To me this is the nastiest act of all, and all I can say is, “You know who you are, and you are a pig.”
I realize that inmates from the prisons are trotted out every so often to clean up the garbage, but, in truth it is not their job to pick up after non-incarcerated slobs. It is the duty of every American, not just in Georgia, but everywhere, to be responsible citizens. That is what we allegedly teach our children in school and at home. What kind of example are we setting by opening the window and tossing our trash out on the highway? A dog won’t soil where it lives, but people do. Who is more evolved?
Beautiful Butts is beginning to look more like butt-ugly to me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What a bunch of shit...

This is a column about a word. It’s a word that I cannot put in the text of the column itself, but if I am worth my salt as a writer, I should be able to maneuver around that little barrier.
Many years ago, comedian/wordsmith George Carlin performed a routine called “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television.” The “heavy seven,” he called them. To be sure, four of them are indeed “heavy” by anyone’s standards, and would be considered vulgar by just about everyone. Of the other three, one of them, a synonym of “bosoms” is just plain crude. Another word, slang for being “ticked off, ” is actually in common usage on television these days and really isn’t what I would call a dirty word.
When WBAI radio in New York played the Carlin routine on the air in 1973, they were taken to task in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was determined that the bit was, although indecent, not obscene. That decision lead to the current practice of allowing the use of certain words over the airwaves after a set time in the late evening. The heavy four mentioned above are out completely, but the “bosoms” synonym has been uttered a few times during prime time that I have heard, and the word for “ticked off” is all over the TV and radio, all the time.
Which brings me to my word. It is not what I would call a terribly pleasant word on its face. In fact, you wouldn’t want it on your face. It’s not, however, what I would call a dirty word. I have heard everyone from small children to one hundred old men use it. You, the reader, have used it, I can almost guarantee. Oh, sometimes you might drop your toast butter side down and say, “Shoot” but I can almost bet the farm that when you dropped the hammer on your toe, or slammed your finger in the door, it wasn’t “shoot” that you yelled. It was my word.
It’s not a sexual word, unless you are REALLY sick. It’s not anything that causes some kind of improper thoughts to form, nor is it a cruel word. When we hear something that we don’t agree with, we say, “That’s a lot of bull….” When we step in a pile of it, we often even say the word with two meanings in mind---one describing it and one of anger. Same word, two different uses. How bad can it be?
There is even a TV show on CBS called “$#*! My Dad Says”, starring William Shatner, who has been around a long time and who has appeared in some shows that are really a bunch of… well, you know. I’m not sure how the general public pronounces “$#*!” but I’m fairly certain the context leads them to say my word. I suspect that the use of it by CBS in their title is the first step to the word being more widely used, and that’s fine by me.
All kidding aside, words are just sounds we utter. Their meanings might make some of them objectionable, but my word isn’t one of them. I guess it’s a matter of “Freedom of Speech” as long as you don’t say certain words.
Well, shit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Veteran's Day

It’s coming up on Veteran’s Day. When I think of Veteran’s Day, my mind immediately goes to my father, Clement J. Abbott, who served for two years in Korea during that conflict in the early fifties. He came through it okay, didn’t suffer from any obvious signs of what is now called “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” but which was originally called “shellshock,” and went on to live a very productive, if somewhat short life.
I never talked about the Korean War with my dad, and he never offered up much information to me, or anyone. I guess war is something that is so awful that once you’ve been in one and make it out the other side, you tend to want to not bring it up if at all possible. Some things are best left buried.
That’s too bad, in a way. Sometimes terrible things need to be out there so everyone can see just how terrible they are. For instance, consider the case of our former Vice President. If Dick Cheney, who pushed President Bush hard to go into Iraq, had ever spent one second in combat, instead of applying for, and receiving five or six deferments, maybe the idea of sending young American men and women in to battle wouldn’t have been so appetizing. It kind of reminds me of that “reality show” Undercover Boss, where the heads of big companies take on the role of an employee for a while. They often learn pretty quickly that working in the trenches isn’t too appealing.
My dad got as far as the rank of Sergeant, with three stripes over one stripe. Since he died about 12 years ago I can’t ask him what he did in the war, but old photos that he took show a scene quite a bit like the set of MASH—a lot of tents and barracks in a valley, a lot of Army trucks and vehicles around, very dusty and sandy looking. There are also a bunch of photos of his buddies at some kind of club, apparently in Tokyo. Some of them have attractive young Asian ladies on their laps. I’m certain that the guys with the girls on their laps were the single ones, of course. Later, I wonder what they told their kids when they were asked ,”Daddy, what did you do in the war?”
Seriously though, and all politics aside, Veteran’s Day is a day to remember all the soldiers who fought for this country. I even think of the men and women who are overseas now, putting it all on the line for whatever cause their leaders have sent them over there to fight for. The politics of war are ugly, and often wrongheaded. War itself is ugly. In this world, you always hear about “survival of the fittest” and so on, and that as humans beings we are the most evolved and most successful of the primates because we have the ability to cooperate and get along and make concessions. We have these precious intellects that should make us smarter than we are, and one would hope that those intellects would allow us to be able to avoid ever firing a shot at another human being.
Until that day comes though, we still have men and women fighting for us, for their families and for their country. Honor them, as I do today.
Thank you for your service.