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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

Fealty

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a rant about the noxious, obnoxious gasbag now serving as President. I haven’t felt the need, really. Most of the country opines about Trump non-stop, ad nauseam.

And it’s the same old story. The conservatives and their propaganda outlets — Fox “News” et al — stand obediently and cynically with dear leader Trump. So do the dim bulbs who voted for him.

Meanwhile, normal people and the real news media see Trump for what he is. Normal people and the real news media rightly are outraged, indignant, dismayed, appalled, and disgusted that Trump is in the White House.

Donald Trump. My God.

Let’s be real here. Trump is not only the worst president ever, but he also is a corrupt, immoral, incompetent, contemptible human being. He has no class, no scruples, no integrity, no shame. He has been that way all his adult life. He will never change, because being Trump got him where he is.

Thanks to the aforementioned conservatives and dim bulbs, aided by the artful interference of Russia’s gangster-led government, Trump is President.

And, as was easily foreseeable, he is careening through his term, wrecking norms, damaging institutions, straining alliances, and expressing a sick admiration for despots and autocrats.

But this week, I feel compelled to post another Trump tirade.

Why? Because he went to Helsinki and, publicly and shamelessly, expressed fealty to Vladimir Putin. If anyone had lingering doubts that Trump is beholden to Putin in some unsavory way, those doubts should be gone now.

Trump confirmed his true loyalties by ignoring the fact that Russia insinuated itself into our 2016 election in order to tilt the outcome in Trump’s favor. The meddling isn’t conjecture; the American intelligence community has presented ample proof.

Yet, Trump accepts Putin’s word that Russia is innocent. Astonishing.

(When he began taking fire for kowtowing to Putin, Trump responded by proposing a second summit. It was the kind of “Oh yeah? Take that!” reaction we’ve come to recognize as typical Trump modus operandi.)

Why Trump is under Putin’s thumb, we don’t yet know. I suspect Putin owns Trump by virtue of the Russians having propped up Trump’s businesses financially for several decades.

Also, being a KGB guy, Putin probably has personal dirt on Trump that could bring him down and/or put him in jail.

Is Trump guilty of treason, as some now claim? Legally speaking, apparently not. Treason can happen only when we are at war. Putin is a thug and a threat and a menace to us all, but Russia and the U.S. are not at war.

But this is what really matters: it is beyond contempt to side with Putin, a murdering gangster, over the country you swore an oath to defend.

At the very least, Trump is guilty of dereliction of duty. He has failed to confront Russia for cyber-attacking us in the past, and he has failed to take steps to protect us from future cyber-attacks.

It comes down to this: Trump is unfit to serve as President. He jeopardizes the safety and security of our country, he should be booted from office as soon as legally possible, and he should face all criminal and civil charges that the courts allow.

How this squalid business ends is anyone’s guess. The outcome largely depends on the results of the Mueller investigation and how, ultimately, Mueller’s findings play out legally.

Trump could face any number of charges, from plotting with the Russians to influence the election, to illegally enriching himself at public expense, to laundering money for the Russian mob. That list is just off the top of my head.

Up until now, the right-wingers have choked back the bile and stood by this terrible man, no matter how scandalous his behavior, how incompetent his performance, or how brazenly he uses the Presidency to benefit himself and his friends.

And, frankly, if the conservatives didn’t abandon Trump after the Access Hollywood tape went public, they never will.

Think what that says about a person’s character and lack of integrity.

Clearly, the Republican politicians and their allies — the NRA, the big-money donors, the Christian evangelicals — have sold their souls for political advantage. History will judge them as contemptible hypocrites.

As for the people who voted for Trump, and who support him still, my view is marginally more charitable.

As a group, I don’t consider the MAGA crowd to be hopelessly malicious, unkind, or prejudiced people, although many undoubtedly are. Rather, I see them as short-sighted, ill-informed, and misled.

Many are blinded by bitterness. They resent minority populations for diluting their European-based culture. They resent the liberal snobs who look down on them. And, after four decades, they still aren’t over their deep hatred of the hippies.

Speaking as a liberal and probably sometimes a snob, I can report that I don’t disrespect conservatives or hold them in contempt. Except when they earn it.

Lately, a fantasy has coalesced in my head, and it is this: one day, when the legal noose tightens beyond the comfort level of the Trump family, they will flee the country. Defect.

Possibly to Saudi Arabia, but more likely to Russia, where Putin and the oligarchs can welcome them, openly at last.

It’s only a fantasy, mind you. But if that’s the way this sorry episode in our history ends, fine.

In fact, the sooner it happens, the better.

Trump-Putin

 

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Sometimes, I hear it said that English (modern English, which is the fourth variation to evolve over the last 1,400 years) is a difficult language to learn. I also hear that it’s relatively easy.

The real answer is that it depends. Depends on the similarity of your native language to English. Depends on your brain’s affinity for languages.

And here’s another angle to consider: language weirdness.

A few years ago, Idibon, a technology company that specialized in the analysis of languages for global operations such as Google and Facebook, assessed the world’s languages based on how weird they are. In other words, the degree to which they are unique and unlike other languages.

On the weirdness scale, English was ranked number 33 out of 239 world languages. That’s fairly high, but 32 languages scored even weirder.

The prize for weirdest language went to Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in a remote part of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In second place was Nenets, the language of the Samoyed people, who are reindeer herders in Siberia. Number three was the Native American language Choctaw.

Being a wordsmith and knowing English relatively well (it is, after all, my thing), I consider my native tongue (1) pretty darn difficult and (2) seriously weird.

English grammar and sentence structure are fairly straightforward and sensible. But English is poised to trip you up because of constant contradictions and exceptions to the rules.

Why is the “h” silent in herb, hour, honest, and rhapsody, but not in house, home, human, and hospital?

If it isn’t words with multiple meanings that throw you a curve, it’s words with multiple pronunciations.

Or it’s colloquial words and phrases that don’t make sense.

Why in the world is a handbag called a pocketbook?

How can a newcomer to English know what “working the graveyard shift” means?

What about “It’s a piece of cake” or “I’ll take a rain check”?

You get the picture, right?

All in all, English is flexible, fun, quirky, and endlessly fascinating, but oh, so easy to botch.

Allow me to elaborate, beginning with an anonymous poem entitled “Why English is Hard to Learn.”

Weird-1

Methren. Shim. Very clever.

More examples of English weirdness:

— The word inappropriate means not appropriate; but the word invaluable means very valuable. Likewise, the word inconceivable means not conceivable; yet, the word inflammable means flammable.

— There is no egg in an eggplant; no ham in a hamburger; and neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.

— You can make amends, but you can’t make an amend.

— Goods are always shipped, whether sent by ship, truck, or oxcart.

— We park on the driveway and drive on the parkway.

— Your nose can run, and your feet can smell.

Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing; wise man and wise guy do not.

— Your house can burn up or burn down.

— You can fill in a form, or you can fill out a form.

— An alarm can go off, or it can go on.

— The words tear and tier are pronounced the same. But if you shed a tear and tear your pants, they aren’t.

— Quicksand works slowly.

— Boxing rings are square.

Weird-2

Imagine that you are freshly arrived from the old country, and you set out to learn English. How would you react when presented with these statements?

— The bandage was wound around the wound.

— I had to desert my dessert in the desert.

— A shot rang out, and the dove dove into the bushes.

— There’s no time like the present, so it’s time to present the present.

— Farms produce produce.

— Being full, the landfill refused my refuse.

— No, I don’t object to the object.

— The drummer put a picture of a bass on his bass drum.

— The boss needs to get the lead out and lead.

— That book I just read, it was a great read.

English is weird, man. Truly weird.

Weird-3

Weird-4

 

 

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The concept in literature and the movies of a fictional universe, a fully-formed imaginary world, goes way back. Thomas More wrote Utopia in the 1500s. Conan the Barbarian appeared in the 1930s. The Lensman sci-fi novels came out between the 1930s and the 1960s.

We have the worlds of Middle Earth, Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. Not to mention the endless parade of comic book superheros. (A tiresome fad that I wish would go away, but, alas, will not.)

This proliferation of alternate realities surely says something about society, the national psyche, and the mentality of the average Joe.

But I’m not here to address that. I want to gripe about something that has mystified me for years — specifically, since 1977, when the original Star Wars movie came out.

Why, I want to know, do the characters and places in the Star Wars movies have such dopey, feeble names? With very few exceptions, Star Wars names are turkeys. Gutterballs.

In most fictional universes, the creators take special pride in the names they choose. Names are an opportunity to make a statement. Names can be revealing, evocative, dramatic. At minimum, you want them to be appealing and memorable.

Not in the world of Star Wars. In Star Wars, the names elicit a “Whaaaa???”

Take, for example, this list of duds:

– Chewbacca
– Lando Calrissian
– Jar Jar Binks
– Qui-Gon Jinn
– Poe Dameron

Yes, I know, Star Wars is popular and beloved. Those names and others are now familiar, and people have become accustomed to them. But as character names, what were the writers thinking? Were the names generated at random? Did they just string a few syllables together and move on?

With those possibilities in mind, consider these misfires:

– Emperor Palpatine
– Grand Moff Tarkin
– Darth Vader
– Count Dooku
– Yoda

Palpatine? Grand Moff? Dooku? Huh?

My first suspicion was that Georgia Lucas simply has a creative blind spot for names. Indeed, that may be the case. But when Disney assimilated Lucasfilm in 2012, the names, if anything, got worse.

For example, here are the main characters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:

– Cassian Andor
– Jyn Erso
– Baze Malbus
– Chirrut Îmwe
– Bodhi Rook
– Saw Gerrera
– Mon Mothma

With a little effort, I was able to commit the first two names to memory. But the others? Ha!

In contrast, consider some of the character names created by J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling in their Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter novels.

Tolkien gave us these excellent and emotive names:

– Aragorn, son of Arathorn
– Thorin Oakenshield
– Smaug
– Arwen Evenstar
– Meriadoc Brandybuck

Rowling matched him with these:

– Hermione Granger
– Albus Dumbledore
– Severus Snape
– Nymphadora Tonks
– Draco Malfoy

As for place names, here are some destinations in Middle Earth:

– The Shire
– Rivendell
– Fanghorn Forest
– Mordor
Lothlórien

Place names in the world of Harry Potter:

– Hogwarts
– Little Whinging
– Slytherin House
– Ollivander’s, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC
St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Meanwhile, in the Star Wars universe:

– Naboo
– Dagobah
– Mos Eisley
– Tatooine
– Hoth

The pattern is clear and painful.

Part of the explanation may be that, as a creative enterprise, Star Wars doesn’t come close to Tolkien or Rowling. Mind you, I’m as fond of Star Wars as the next guy. But viewing them as artistic works, if Tolkien is George Washington and Rowling is Abraham Lincoln, Star Wars is Donald Trump.

That aside, being a lesser form of art is no excuse for:

– Padmé Amidala
– Obi-Wan Kenobi
– Darth Maul
– Biggs Darklighter
– Jek Porkins

Remember, I brought up this subject because I find it curious and a little baffling. I didn’t say it was remotely significant or consequential.

But Jek Porkins? Seriously?

Jek Porkins

Jek “Piggy” Porkins, X-wing pilot for the Rebel Alliance, call sign Red Six, a casualty of the Battle of Yavin. (Yavin?)

 

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Here are three stories about animal behavior that, to me, seems odd and unexpected. Presented with the stipulation that I’m a Journalism major, not a wildlife biologist.

Story #1

About a week ago, I was driving north on U.S. 129 toward home. I was in the northern suburbs of Athens where the speed limit is 45 and you encounter a succession of traffic lights. Ahead, a light turned red. We motorists coasted to a stop.

While I sat waiting, movement on the right side of the road caught my attention. I turned to see a possum emerging from the undergrowth. He stepped into the crosswalk and ambled across all four lanes of 129 in front of the idling vehicles.

It was an adult possum, rather portly, seemingly well-fed. He was calm and appeared to be in no hurry.

The cars turning out of the cross street, which had the green light, dutifully yielded to him, as if he were a normal pedestrian.

Just as the possum reached the left side of the crosswalk and disappeared back into the undergrowth, the light turned green, and I drove on. My first thought: wow, that was weird.

Possum

Story #2

The following morning, on my way to downtown Jefferson, I was paused at the stop sign where the road from my neighborhood meets Business 129. In front of me, in the middle of 129, four vultures were squabbling over a roadkill squirrel.

Traffic was fairly heavy. The vultures had to scramble constantly to avoid becoming roadkill themselves.

No one was behind me at the stop sign, so I was able to sit there and observe. Two times, I watched as a scrum of cars went by, causing the vultures to scatter frantically and then reassemble.

Finally, as they were taking flight for the third time, one of the birds grabbed the squirrel’s tail in his beak and carried the carcass aloft with him. He rose to about 20 feet and dropped the squirrel onto the grass, six feet off the pavement.

Whereupon, the four vultures reconverged on the prize, this time in relative safety.

I’ve seen countless vultures feasting on roadkill in my time, but I’ve never seem one remove a carcass from the road. Smarter than the average vulture, it seems.

Roadkill

Story #3

My house in Jefferson is built on a moderate slope that, during construction, made a retaining wall necessary. The wall makes the transition from the hillside to the level ground where the house stands.

The wall is built of railroad ties. It ranges from three to four feet tall and is about 30 feet long. A sidewalk along its base leads to the front door.

Wall

The wall is not only an interesting feature, but also a home to all sorts of critters. There are frog burrows at its base. Lizards skitter in and out of the cracks and crevices. In and around it are crickets, centipedes, worms, moles, ants, spiders, and, yes, snakes.

Most of the snakes are of the harmless variety, although I did encounter a small copperhead a few years ago, sunning himself on the sidewalk. I chased him into the woods.

Sometimes, the snakes use the tight spaces between the railroad ties to help wiggle out of their skins when they molt. The dry skins they leave behind are a common sight.

To the local squirrels, the top of the wall is a good vantage point from which to watch for predators while they feast on acorns. The shells make a terrible mess.

As I see it, the presence of these critters is a positive thing, and I do my best to coexist with them. I try not to bother them. I pull weeds by hand instead of spraying chemicals. The one exception: the time a colony of yellow jackets built a nest in the wall, and I had to call an exterminator.

A few days ago, as I was pulling weeds on top of the wall, I came close to stepping backward onto a rat snake (harmless, easy to identify). I don’t know which of us was more startled.

He was young, but still several feet long. He was backed up against the edge of the wall in a defensive crouch, looking at me, tongue flickering. Every time I moved, he tensed.

Rat snake

This snake was unusually antsy. Maybe he had a recent encounter with a dog or cat. Even though I stood motionless a good six feet away, he was agitated. He slithered rapidly along the lip of the wall in both directions, looking for a passage to safety. He found none.

He seemed to be in a genuine panic. And to prove it, he suddenly turned around, glided over the top of the wall, and launched himself into space. I was astonished.

When I got to the wall and looked over the edge, the end of his tail was disappearing into an opening at ground level.

At the spot where he jumped, the wall is four feet tall. That had to hurt.

Frog burrow

One of the frog burrows at the base of the wall. Sometimes, their little heads peek out.

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The late William Safire was a New York Times columnist and Nixon speechwriter who called himself a “libertarian conservative.” Clearly, Safire was not on my wavelength, because I think libertarians are naive and conservatives are selfish and mean.

But we were sympatico in one respect. In spite of Safire’s noxious politics, he was an expert wordsmith and devoted etymologist. I like that in a person.

From 1979 until his death, Safire wrote the weekly column “On Language” in the New York Times Magazine. During those 30 years, he wrote over 1300 columns about words, word origins, meanings, usage, and the evolution of language.

In particular, Safire is known for his list of “fumblerules.” He defined a fumblerule as a rule of language, humorously written in a way that breaks the rule itself. A masterful way to make the point with clarity.

Here is a list of Safire’s fumblerules. Some were published in his weekly column, others in his book “Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage.”

———

1. Remember to never split an infinitive.

2. A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.

3. The passive voice should never be used.

4. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.

5. Don’t use no double negatives.

6. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.

7. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.

8. Do not put statements in the negative form.

9. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

12. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

13. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

14. A writer must not shift your point of view.

15. Eschew dialect, irregardless.

16. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

17. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!

18. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

19. Always hyphenate between syllables and avoid un-necessary hy-

phens.

20. Write all adverbial forms correct.

21. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.

22. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

23. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.

24. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

25. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.

26. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

27. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

28. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

29. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

30. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.

31. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.

32. Don’t string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

33. Always pick on the correct idiom.

34. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation “marks.”‘”

35. The adverb always follows the verb.

36. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; they’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.

37. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

38. Employ the vernacular.

39. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

40. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

41. Contractions aren’t necessary.

42. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

43. One should never generalize.

44. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

45. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

46. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

47. Be more or less specific.

48. Understatement is always best.

49. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

50. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

51. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

52. Who needs rhetorical questions?

53. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

54. capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with a point

Safire W

William Lewis Safire (1929-2009)

 

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Insanity Writ Large

Well, we’ve had another school massacre, this time in Florida, and the gun reform issue is back in the news.

The high school protesters have been impressively sincere and articulate, but other than that, not much about this round of the debate is fresh or notable. Same song, 30th verse.

My opinion on this subject doesn’t count for much, but I’ll express it anyway.

Clearly, the US needs to put more restrictions on guns and gun ownership. We’re killing each other at record rates. Nothing gets done about it because the conservatives, malignant as always, block every reform effort, however modest. Because freedom.

For me, this is easy. We can reduce the numbers of gun deaths quickly and significantly. Other countries have done it.

I favor vigorous reforms to the gun laws for two reasons. First, it’s the right and rational thing to do.

And second, I simply don’t like guns. I have no use for them, don’t want to be around them. To my mind, firearms have no redeeming qualities except as necessary tools for police and soldiers in their official capacities. This isn’t the frontier anymore.

Further, I have no sympathy for gun lovers — be they hunters, collectors, or people trying to compensate for a personal shortcoming — because guns are too dangerous to be so easily obtained, brandished, and used.

My common sense tells me to avoid things that imperil me and others when I have no legitimate need for those things.

As a civilian in America in 2018, I have no reason to possess dynamite, nitro, TNT, nerve gas, cyanide, Samurai swords, or firearms. Especially when the restrictions on possessing and using them are so feeble.

It should be an easy call. My access to dangerous stuff should be either denied or severely restricted to protect me and the people around me.

Nationally, we regulate motor vehicles quite effectively, to the detriment of virtually no one. Couldn’t we manage firearms in a similar way?

At this point, gun people trot out the Second Amendment.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Dreadful syntax, archaic (227 years old), and vague enough to allow a range of interpretations.

One interpretation is that the Second Amendment was ratified so we can protect ourselves in case of a coup or an outbreak of sinister government trickery.

Another take: it was added to secure the Virginia vote in the ratification process, because well-regulated militias kept the slaves under control.

(The founders were accustomed to having, and comfortable with, separate state militias. There was no such thing as a national army until after the US was created. Actually, many of the founders opposed forming a standing national army.)

To my mind, the Second Amendment refers to arming police and soldiers, not to allowing every bonehead with a manhood problem to amass an arsenal.

Well, that’s a bit unfair. Not all boneheads have a manhood problem.

The Supreme Court, I realize, has ruled that the Second Amendment allows civilians to own guns. But the court also made clear that limits and regulations on firearms are acceptable.

The fact is, most Americans live in a bubble regarding this issue. People tend to pay attention to what goes on in the US, but they don’t understand, and usually don’t care, what happens in the rest of the world.

That’s a mistake. Understanding what happens elsewhere is important. Facts can contradict predetermined beliefs, and reality can be unsettling and annoying, but we need the context.

Let me lay some statistics on you.

———

In 2016, the American Journal of Medicine looked at total gun deaths in the world’s 23 highest-income nations during 2010. It found that 82 percent of the gun deaths occurred in the US.

The US had half the population of the other 22 countries combined, yet our gun-related murder rate was 25 times higher.

Of those 23 high-income nations, the US had the highest firearm homicide rate, the highest firearm suicide rate, and the highest total firearm death rate.

In 2010 in those 23 countries overall:

— Of the total gun deaths of people 14 and under, 91 percent happened in the US.

— Of the total gun deaths of people ages 15-24, 92 percent happened in the US.

— Of the total gun deaths of women, 90 percent happened in the US.

———

According to statistics, Norwegian police drew their weapons 42 times during 2014. Of those 42 incidents, two shots were fired, and no one was hit.

We don’t know how many shots were fired by American police officers in 2014, because, incredibly, keeping the stats is prohibited by federal law; however, we know that police shot and killed 632 people that year.

But Norway is a tiny country compared to the US. Consider how we compared to the UK.

In the UK, population 65 million, 51 gun homicides occurred in 2014. In the US, population 318 million, 8,124 gun homicides occurred in 2014.

In other words, while the US population is roughly six times that of the UK, we experienced 160 times as many gun homicides.

According to the World Health Organization, Americans are 50 times more likely than citizens of the UK to be shot to death.

———

More random facts to contemplate…

— Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by a gun and six times more likely to be killed accidentally by a gun.

— The US has more firearms per capita than any other country in the world.

— 31 percent of global mass shootings occur in the US.

— In 2007, it was estimated that 650 million guns were owned by civilians worldwide. Americans, accounting for five percent of the world population, owned 48 percent of those guns.

— Since the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, 1,600 more mass shootings (those involving four or more fatalities) have occurred in the US, resulting in 1,800 dead and 6,400 wounded.

— Annually, about 100,000 Americans are shot, and 30,000 are killed. Two-thirds of the gun deaths are suicides.

— 400,000 guns are stolen each year in the US.

— A 2015 survey found that about 50 percent of US gun owners possess just one or two guns, and 14 percent have between eight and 140 guns. That 14 percent, amounting to three percent of the US population, owns half of all the civilian firearms in America.

———

We all have beliefs and belief systems that we champion. On issues large and small, we instinctively take the side that makes us feel good about ourselves — makes us feel respected for our values, maybe accepted by a group we admire.

Some people share their feelings freely, some keep it to themselves, but the behavior is natural and universal.

When you do it right, it’s a healthy thing. When you engage your brain, apply your common sense, fire up your BS detector, and come to conclusions that are reasonable, honest, helpful, and fair, good for you.

But it isn’t healthy when you do it wrong. When you let the talking heads do your thinking for you. Or fall for propaganda. Or buy into conspiracy theories. Or accept the notion that entire groups, mostly people who don’t look like you, are a threat.

If you want to feel good about yourself, try using your intellect — your advanced reasoning abilities as a homo sapien — to decide where you stand.

If you want respect, earn it. Stop going with your gut and your reptilian brain. Break from the herd.

You might see that guns and gun ownership can to be regulated in rational ways for the public good, while affecting you virtually not at all.

You might realize that evil forces are not plotting to confiscate your guns.

You might conclude that, when a country has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, and even minor safeguards are stonewalled, that is insanity writ large.

SP-1

Student protests-2

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New Territory

Nothing clears away the mental cobwebs like a road trip. Especially a road trip to new territory.

Which is why, earlier this month, having a block of time when no obligations kept me home, I set out in my RV to see the Texas coast.

Somehow, at my advanced age, I’d never been there. I made no reservations. Had no plans to visit Austin or San Antonio. I was more interested in seeing the countryside and the small towns.

February, I admit, is a terrible time to go to the beach. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip out of simple curiosity, and I was stoked.

My plan was to drive down to Port Arthur, head south along the Bolivar Peninsula, cross to Galveston Island, and the rest would take care of itself. As is my custom, I would camp in state parks along the way.

Before the trip, I had a feeling I knew what I would find down there. And, pretty much, I was right. My observations:

First, much of coastal Texas is, no surprise, tourist-oriented. It being February, the attractions and shops were a bit sleepy, but no doubt they’ll be ready for the onslaught of vacationers when the season arrives.

Second, large parts of the beachfront are private and residential. I passed long stretches of homes, second homes, time-shares, summer rentals, hotels, motels, and resorts that go on for miles, unbroken except for occasional empty lots for sale.

Now and then, if you look carefully, a sign will identify a small public access point to the beach. You know — the beach you sometimes glimpse, over there beyond the private property.

Third, the terrain is flat and featureless, covered by a modest layer of low-growing vegetation. Bays and inlets are rare. So are sand dunes. No wonder hurricanes surge many miles inland instead of glancing off the coast.

Fourth, I was unsurprised to find that so much of the coast is heavily industrialized. You regularly encounter not only oil wells, refineries, and petroleum processing facilities, but also giant chemical plants and manufacturing operations.

I passed numerous industrial plants the size of shopping malls, with thousands of cars in the parking lots, a sprawling sea of gleaming, steaming pipes, and generic names that reveal nothing about the nature of the business.

Names like Texas Heavy Industries. MHI International. Direct Energy. Varco. Schlumberger — all quite mysterious to a passing tourist. The one thing they seem to have in common: belching smokestacks.

In sum, coastal Texas is what I expected. I was neither pleased nor disappointed. It is what it is.

My curiosity satisfied, I enjoyed a leisurely drive south to just short of Corpus Christi.

Along the way, I sampled the local cuisine as often as possible.

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Delicious char-broiled oysters.

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A superb shrimp po-boy.

And I had experiences not available back home in North Georgia. I shot this video on the ferry to Galveston Island.

To get from Georgia to Texas, I followed the Interstate highways, always a stressful and unpleasant experience. Once I arrived, I switched to ordinary federal and state roads. They were, almost without exception, well-maintained and lightly-traveled.

In fact, I was so impressed with the non-Interstate routes that I followed them, exclusively, on the return trip to Georgia.

Specifically, from South Texas, I drove north on U.S. 77 to Waco, then followed U.S. 79 to Shreveport. There, I picked up U.S. 80, which parallels I-20, and followed it across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and into Georgia. In Macon, I turned north on U.S. 129 back to Jefferson.

Those four routes are divided four-lane highways with minimal traffic. In Texas, the speed limit is 75. In the other states, it most often is 65.

Rarely did the roads bypass the towns. Which was fine with me.

The trip home was an easy and pleasant ride, and I remember it primarily for two reasons.

The first reason: the afternoon I spent at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, located midway between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. The Center is a museum, part of the Park Service’s “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.” It chronicles events leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If you recollect your history, blacks were demonstrating in Alabama in the early 1960s to protest the use of literacy tests to block them from registering to vote. At the time, the voter rolls in Selma were 99 percent white. That was not unusual around the South in those days.

In March 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, police attacked and beat a group of marchers. The episode quickly prompted a massive organized march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, led by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

When Gov. George Wallace refused to offer protection to the marchers, President Lyndon Johnson nationalized 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard and assigned them to escort the demonstrators.

The direct result of all that was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

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The film and exhibits at the museum are excellent. Moving and effective. Much more powerful than I expected. They reminded me of a time when the courts and our political leaders — most of them, anyway — were on the right side of important moral issues.

I miss those days, when I was optimistic about the future. When the government made me proud. It pains me that our progress toward fairness and social justice has slowed since those times.

Progress has slowed because, for decades, the terrified conservative masses — you know, the ones clinging to their guns or religion — have been steadily descending into paranoia, inflamed by the right-wing media, enabled by Republican politicians, and now, for crying out loud, abetted by Putin. No wonder we have a vulgar, incompetent clown as President.

But, hey — I digress.

The second memorable moment of my return trip to Georgia happened earlier that same morning in Selma. When I stopped for a red light near the center of town, I looked to my left and saw a man dancing.

Why the man was dancing, or to what music he danced (note the earbuds), I have no idea. I don’t know if it was a spontaneous, one-time thing or if he did this often.

Was he celebrating? Was he high? Are mental issues involved?

Whatever the answers, I was compelled to capture the moment on video.

From my standpoint, the music on my radio (Blue Monday, New Order, 1983) was a nice complement to the performance.

Road trips are, indeed, the perfect way to clear the mental cobwebs. Especially road trips to new territory.

 

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