Congressional Boot Camp

In theory, members of congress represent the will of their constituents, but in practice that hasn’t been the case for quite some time, with few exceptions. They know it. We know it. Their decisions are based entirely upon their personal ideologies, and that of their financial backers. To hell with the people. We, the people, mean absolutely nothing to them.

It always astounds me that politicians are elected and paid to pass legislation on issues that they know absolutely nothing about. How is it possible for someone to sit in judgment on topics that are completely outside of their realm of experience?

Here’s a thought. If we dismantle the fundraising mechanism for congress, if we cap the amount of money one can spend to run for office, level the playing field, as it were, prohibit contributions by corporations, and make all funds go through a general pool so that no politician can determine the source of the proceeds and therefore is beholden to no one, then the public will be running the country once again.

This would also free up a lot of time. Congressmen spend the bulk of their time in fundraising activities. If this were no longer an issue, there would be greater opportunities to do the things that they should have been doing all along: familiarizing themselves with the issues they are weighing in on.

For example, how can people vote about whether or not to go to war when the vast majority of them have never set foot in a war zone? Before they can vote on such an important issue, they should either have to live in a war zone for two months, or send their children to fight on the front line.

Don’t think waterboarding is torture? Before you can say that, you should have to experience it yourself, and also subject someone else to it.

Against abortion? I’ll take you seriously once you’ve adopted a crack baby with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Making policies that impact the homeless? Sleep on the street for a month. Preferably in winter.

Weighing in on immigration? Let’s take everything away from you, surround you with people who want you dead, and kick you out of your homeland. Then we’ll talk.

All this could be avoided if everyone in congress possessed one quality: empathy. The ability to imagine what life is like for others, particularly the less fortunate. The concept that just because something isn’t a problem for you, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Until you have some moral authority, as far as I’m concerned, you have no authority at all.

End of rant.

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Peace Day

If I were getting a masters degree in world history, my thesis would be an attempt to answer this question: Was there even one day in the recorded history of mankind when no one on the planet was at war? I’ve honestly wondered that my entire life.

Of course, you’d have to create a firm definition of war first. For example, America may have tried to call the war in Vietnam a police action, but I’m sure those covered in napalm were pretty convinced they were at war. Perhaps “non-peace” would be a better term.

By that definition, it would be easy to eliminate huge swaths of time. World Wars I and II. Civil wars. Revolutions. Invasions. Pogroms. Genocide. Hostile occupations. Coups d’etat.

After that, you’d be left with a patchwork quilt of time frames, and you’d have to look at each country and/or culture’s individual history. I’d suggest you go with the big and/or influential countries first. America. Russia. China. England. They are the troublemakers. They’d eliminate a bunch of dates on your calendar. (Of course, reconciling the various calendars so that we’re sure we’re discussing the same day would be an additional challenge.)

Then perhaps go to the more tribal areas of the globe. Whenever you create a scenario that is “us” vs. “them”, you are sure to have conflict. Should we count terrorist activity? If people are getting killed, I’d say yes.

I guess my point is, humans in general are a violent species. I want there to be a day that we can all look to and say, “See? We are capable of peace.” Just one day. I need to know that day exists to give us all hope that it’s really achievable.

I hate to say it, but I doubt we’ll find it.

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Feeling Helpless About Syria

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you know what’s going on in Aleppo, Syria right now. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty darned helpless about it. People are being slaughtered and I’m looking at my empty guest room. I’d take them all in if I could. I’d stack ‘em up like cordwood. At least they’d be warm and not have to worry about the world exploding around them.

But it’s not that simple. I wish it were. Contrary to what the Republicans would have you believe, it is extremely difficult to sponsor a refugee. I’ve looked into it.

This is the same level of helplessness I felt during the slaughter in Rwanda. And it’s the same frustration I continue to feel about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. No government seems to be willing to step up and do something about this atrocity. Everyone is looking the other way. People are starving. Children are dying. Women are committing suicide rather than be raped. Men are being blown to bits. And even the UN, despite various resolutions, seems loathe to intervene.

I did find a little comfort in this fundraiser for The White Helmets. This group of heroes has been saving lives in Syria, on a purely volunteer basis, since 2013. They’ve put themselves in the path of the bombs to pull people out of the rubble, and according to their website, have saved 73,530 lives to date. The stories on this website will break your heart.

They risk their lives every single day, while I stare at my empty guest room. I feel sick. And while raising money for this amazing group of people doesn’t seem like nearly enough to do, it’s all I can think of to do at this time. Won’t you help? Even as little as $5.00 will buy them a pair of safety goggles to protect their eyes. That’s better than sitting here watching the tears flow from mine.

I just donated enough for 5 goggles. I wish I could afford to contribute enough money for a gas mask or a defibrillator. I wish I could do more. But together, we can do a lot more than just sit and wring our hands. That counts for something, right?

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The Majority Minority

The other day I was listening to an interview on National Public Radio. The woman who was speaking was a refugee from Yemen who had to flee that country under a hail of bullets, and had lost everything she ever had. She was discussing how hard it had been to get out of the country, and how no one, and I mean no one, wanted to help her.

I sat there for a long time after the interview, trying to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by people who won’t let you leave a war zone and only want you dead. I tried to picture myself in a situation where everything I had worked for my entire life was taken from me, and there was no positive future on the horizon.

My reality is one in which I’m relatively secure. I don’t fear waking up with a gun pointed at my face. It’s a safe bet that the vast majority of the people that I love will not die violent deaths. And while I’ve had to struggle to get where I am, and have, indeed, suffered more than one setback in my life, I’m fairly certain that an RPG isn’t going to detonate in my living room. I won’t even be racially profiled by my local police force.

I can’t imagine how it must change you to live a reality other than mine. What do you become? How do you see the world? How do you survive? I haven’t done anything to deserve the luxury that I enjoy. And safety is a luxury. I just happened to be born the right color in the right place at the right time.

I am considered part of the majority. But as more of the world is war-torn and suffers from senseless tragedies, I have to wonder if my “norm” isn’t really in the minority, and if, perhaps, the darkness is not advancing. The sad thing is I have no idea what to do about it. But the very, very least I can do is appreciate my good fortune.

Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.
Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.

Epic Journey

If you read no other blog besides this one (I’m so freakin’ modest), you absolutely must check out that of Paul Salopek on the National Geographic website. He is the man who is taking the Out of Eden Walk, a seven year, 21,000 mile journey from the cradle of civilization in Ethiopia to the tip of South America. Currently he’s walking through Anatolia in Turkey, and his blog entry makes you feel as though you’re experiencing the tastes and sights firsthand.

A seven year commitment to anything in this era of twitter and divorce and all things instant is to be commended, but to do it on foot, all year round, in the harshest of weather… I can’t even be bothered to walk across the street to the mailbox when it’s raining out. I can’t imagine offering myself up for being footsore, tired, exposed, lonely, and vulnerable for seven weeks, let alone seven years. And this is a Pulitzer prize winning writer. It’s not as if he were desperate for work. Amazing. I want to meet this guy!

Following his journey will teach you much about culture, geography, hunger, climate change, politics, history, and war. It will cause you to think globally. I can’t imagine a more epic way to start the new year.

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[Image credit: NationalGeographic.com]

A Horrifying Anniversary That You May Know Nothing About

I’m 49 years old, and I’m just learning about something horrendous that happened on this day only a few years before I was born. I have no idea why this should be the case, other than the fact that I had a spotty and typically subpar Florida public school education.

I knew about the Algerian War in which that country ultimately gained its independence from France. That independence was hard-won indeed, and that war was extremely dirty on both sides– full of torture, disappearances, bombings and atrocities too numerous to mention. What I didn’t know about was the Paris massacre of 1961, in which at least 40, but quite possibly 200 people died.

On October 17th, 1961 in the city of Paris, 30,000 Algerians staged a protest about the Algerian War. According to Wikipedia, “Many demonstrators died when they were violently herded by police into the River Seine, with some thrown from bridges after being beaten unconscious. Other demonstrators were killed within the courtyard of the Paris police headquarters after being arrested and delivered there in police buses. Officers who participated in the courtyard killings took the precaution of removing identification numbers from their uniforms, while senior officers ignored pleas by other policemen who were shocked when witnessing the brutality. Silence about the events within the police headquarters was further enforced by threats of reprisals from participating officers.”

In 1998, the French government finally acknowledged the death of 40 people on that tragic day. In 1999 the national assembly finally passed a law that allowed the term “Algerian War” to be used. What a shocking level of revisionist history to participate in for nearly half a century. But I doubt that any government can escape that accusation. God knows America can’t. I know I will never gaze upon the Seine in the same way again.

I couldn’t even tell you about how I recently learned about this event. It got overshadowed by my utter disgust that it isn’t more widely discussed. It made me wonder what else I am blissfully ignorant of. We live in a world in which there are so many brutalities that more and more of them fall by the wayside. So I decided that on this day I would bear witness in my humble blog, because 200 lives, even one life for that matter, is too precious to forget.

Please join me in a moment of silence.

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I got this image from an amazing article that can be found here.

Swamplandia

I’ll be the first to admit that I have entirely too much time on my hands. My imagination can sometimes take me to very strange places. Anyone who knows me well tends to shake his or her head and smile weakly at me when forced aboard one of my flights of fancy. This is one of those flights, so fasten your seatbelts.

Have you ever thought about how lucky we are to have the sun for reasons other than unrelenting heat? Because of the sun, the natural order of things it that everything tends to become dryer, not wetter. Imagine living in a world where we somehow still had warmth, but where soggy was the natural state. No one outside of Seattle can probably fully comprehend this concept.

In that type of environment, everywhere would be swampy. It would be hard to construct anything because the ground would be unstable. Everything would be slippery and slimy, and the air would be thick with the smell of mold and rot. We’d be more apt to move about by boat than by car.

People couldn’t wear clothing because it would become increasingly damp and heavy and you’d have a permanent case of raisin-finger, only all over your body. We’d probably have to evolve to have feathers and a thick layer of blubber just to stay warm and dry. Our mindset would have to be completely different to avoid going insane. The drip, drip, drip alone would probably do my head in.

Land on higher ground would be at a premium, and rich people would avoid the waterfront properties rather than flock to them as they do today. We would still wage war over oil, unfortunately, because that would probably be the only thing that would burn well, and people’s ability to have fire would be the key to their survival. Fire tenders would be esteemed members of society.

Isn’t it amazing how much we take natural law for granted? Aren’t you glad you’re dry? We really do have a lot to be grateful for.

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Swamp, by JJcanvas on deviantART