29 November 2013

From Nasty Snowflakes and Things That Go Bump In the Night, Oh Lord Protect Us; And Other Tales

I will confess to discomfort that I do not faithfully follow my own counsel. 

Scribes, I say, should exert the strength of words and ideas toward bringing the vessel of society onto a better course. Almost the universal modus operandi of tinkerers with the alphabet, however, is to point out how rotten, unfair, unjust or hypocritical things are – and then just put it a period there.

I do it to.

For heavens sake, though, there is so much hypocrisy, malignant triviality and general nitwitery out there to identify!

A favorite topic of conversation is the weather. It’s safe. It’s outside our control. We can bitch harmlessly or express content without being seen as run-amok optimists, for those who find that embarrassing.

As a younger version of myself, I enjoyed “matching wits” with Nature and predicting Her behavior over the next day or so. Things like the color of the sky in morning or evening, how sounds carried and behaviors of wild life had meaning. Mostly, it was harmless fun – I never could do anything about the weather.

The advent of satellites and weather radar gave a science nerd like me a few more playthings. Making them available in real time online became positively a distraction.

So lately, I’ve gone back to the color of the sky and so forth.

Not so the harpies of public panic.

Within the past four days, our temperatures have dropped and we’ve gotten a bit of snow. Tuesday, I was cruising various news sources and found a reference to an attack by “Boreas.”

Who the hell is Boreas?

As it turns out, that unidentified “they” has begun naming winter “storms,” like weather services name hurricanes and typhoons.

Maybe one can make a case that this is an improvement over calling this “the snow we got last Thanksgiving.” But I don’t buy it.

This is merely an amalgam of a cutesy trivialization of any slightly technical information and a personification of some new evil to fear and from whom we want to seek protection – by Somebody Else, of course.

The dumbing down of America has been a topic of discussion in these Dispatches and will be again  – just not today.

This new brick in the wall of the Wussification of America annoys me.

We got snow and cold. When that happens, we need to respond in certain ways. When I was a kid, that meant we got up an hour early to install tire chains. Nowadays, folks need to dress warmly, sweep sidewalks and so forth.

We are not invading Poland. This is not Gettysburg in July of 1863. We are not being attacked by a pissed off angel who must be confronted in desperate battle or appeased.

It’s winter. Winter happens.

Oh, but if we give it a name, we can fear more!   Wringing our hands in our 74̊ homes and wondering if the toilet paper and milk will last out the storm enables us to feel oh-so-victimized and out of control.

And when (whew!) finally the storm abates, we will not have had some snow, we will have “survived storm Boreas.” Just as we didn’t have a bunch of wind in June, we were “hit with the derecho.”  

Quick, somebody needs to print the T-shirts.

Our predilection to see things and call it suffering is pitiful. And it does harm to society when it diverts us from seeing actual suffering. It diverts us by leading us to feel sorry for ourselves to the point that we have no room to consider ways of bringing concern for those in need some physical world action.

If our shoulders are stooped, our eyes hooded, and our arms crossed as we stand shivering at the window, we are not going to have room in our minds or hearts for anyone who has to behold the snow without an intervening window. So we’ve given up another little piece of our courage to some public relations engineer.

This notion of some new little demigod, this one named Boreas, means that we voluntarily diminish ourselves.

Pansies are pretty flowers. They make weak building material.

Khat Got Your Tongue?

Reuters two had two separate stories today, totally disconnected, which together create a really delicious irony.

Government health agencies have long targeted tobacco as a Real Bad Thing

Mind you, no Congress or Parliament has the character to go ahead and ban it. So governments take mainly administrative actions.

“Branding” and colorful packaging are familiar targets.  The health agency in the UK is proposing that cigarettes will be packaged in plain, white packs, without logos, etc.

That’s tokenism, if you ask me. As long as King Cash keeps making political payoffs (and as long as we tolerate politicos soliciting them or extorting them legally) that tokenism is about all you’re going to get.

At the same time, a government agency in the UK is having a case of the vapors over a proposal to ban khat, a medicinal plant grown in the Horn of Africa.

Khat is a controlled substance (i.e., an illegal drug) in the United States and Canada. You cannot import it, you cannot sell it, you cannot possess it.  

Khat has physiological stimulant effects including hyperactivity and increased heart rate and blood pressure. It has behavioral effects including euphoria and depression.  It has long-term effects such as a risk of oral cancers (it is chewed like chewing tobacco) and an increased risk of heart attack. And, of course, as with any drug or food product, there is always the risk of hypersensitivity in particular individuals.

It is not unusual that the list of proscribed drugs is modified (usually expanded) over the years. The khat proposal has met with a lot of resistance in the UK.  

The reason? It may anger immigrants.

I told you the irony is delicious.

Francis and the Golden Calf

My status as a sort of mainline Christian never ceases to amaze me. 

Certainly, Catholicism is in the mainstream of Christianity. But, wow, Pope Francis is right on the cutting-edge. I really, really admire that dude.

One of the middling conspiracy theories of the 20th century was that Pope John Paul I was assassinated because he was too honest and progressive. I’m thinking that the papacy of Francis is putting paid to that conspiracy crap.

The papacy has not been an institution of unblemished honor. I’m thinking there about the Borgia and Medici popes, among others. Francis, on the other hand, appears to be the kind of guy who really does read the red letters. His comments about our worship of Daddy Warbucks as that new Golden Calf needs no improvement. His example of not just talking about but physically embracing the poor, the sick, the deformed, the down and out, “the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on” puts the rest of us pathetic putzes to shame.

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