- Politics and Social Issues
Living With Danger
At one time, or so we thought, we had to go to a James Bond movie to see a character deal with an assortment of killers, all focused on one thing, to "eliminate" 007. Now, we merely have to walk outdoors. In some cases, we might be in the kitchen or living room when a bullet ricochets off the sidewalk. Some of our fears are justified; many are the result of exposure to news stories, and, in some cases, rumors. Far, far away, radical, inflamed miitants dream of someday killing the whole lot of us. Nikita Krushchev threatened to "bury us". On the cushiony comfortable sofas of West End Avenue the intelligentsia can casually discuss the demons who want us dead and try to come to some kind of saccharine understanding. This is what you have to ask yourself: Is your life cheaper now than it was four years ago? The answer is almost certainly yes, but it has nothing to do with who is President.
Why is this happening? I believe it is true, that the U.S.A. is more dangerous than ever, though some would vehemently disagree. I hear all the time that the United States is the world's only superpower. But American individuals are routinely subject to a great deal of harrassment in various parts of the globe as well as at home, by other Americans. It is an unacceptably violent situation. Violence is not something that need be manufactured and exported. It is the ever-constant weed that grows everywhere. The electronic signs along I-17 in the West report close to 900 deaths this past year related to automobile accidents. Sounds high. "Accidents will happen," so an old pop song goes. So do killings. There's a time for everything, right? Well, guess what? It's payback time under heaven. Tragedies, when they occur, come from misunderstandings. Like the so-called peace process in the Middle East, somebody always gums up the works. In brief, we must be ever mindful of our backs, now more than ever.
Deadly Weapons for Sale
Crime and Quality of Life
This is a tricky subject. I can only write about what I myself have experienced. The quality of life in New York City can reach great heights. How that happens I cannot explain. At the same time, gangs compete for drug concessions and pay-offs keep "the man" placid. A comparable high level of the quality of life in North Shore Suburban Chicago can also be found. But, generally speaking, endless outcroppings of Starbucks, Costco, Best Buy, and Whole Foods are not the same as amphitheaters, aqueducts, architecture, and priceless art. Evidently, there are riches, fewer premature deaths, reputable high schools, and mentalities that, well, maybe do not always meet expectations. But to beat up on the suburbs of any great city would consist of low blows. I have some familiarity with the Second City and its suburban sprawl and malaise. All the same, given the choice, I might choose a Chicago suburb over New York City on the basis of spacious parking lots alone.
Sociologists can probably inform us in a more sophisticated manner. Life is complex. Cities are intricate puzzles. But between New York City and Los Angeles, there is a tremendous gap. Somehow the crimes of the big cities gravitated therein, but most of what makes New York City great stays back. I know nothing about Los Angeles. I have a psychological block against even visiting the place. But let's assume it is NYC West. It has some of the same characteristics. It is big and beautiful yet laced with crime. There is no solution to the one without effecting the other, that is, crime and quality of life. I do not presume to understand it. Interestingly, the traditional gangster has always taken for his model the likes of Andrew Carnegie and Jay Gould. To him, he runs businesses. That is his opinion. It is the Wall Street type or tyke who commits to memory the "wisdom" of Ghengis Khan, sells bonds nobody wants, then flexes the muscles of an unpromising ego. Somehow, the straight and the crooked in every sense of the words intersect. But that is not what is meant by the ubiquitous, multi-symboled bumper sticker, is it? Coexist? You have seen it, haven't you? So what about it? Can we all just get along or not?
9mm Assault Rifle
The Crime Lottery
You do not need to buy a ticket. Everybody gains entry, though the outcome is only in part predictable. Crime thrives in various regions. Some regions promote certain crimes above all others. Want to talk about murder? Senseless murder? Murder out of control? Mention Chicago and you will not sound like an idiot. But according to the FBI, there were well over 1.1 million violent crimes in the nation during 2014 -- statistics compiled in late 2015. To be a victim is to never know what it is to be alone. Property losses totalled over fourteen billion. Larceny theft accounted for 70%. According to one dictionary, larceny involves the taking of property without the use of violence or threat, such as in robbery. It seems gentlemanly and aristocratic. Burglary, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, false pretenses, blackmail, receiving stolen property, housebreaking, confidence games -- these fall short of the higher propriety of larceny. How does one become a victim, or not, as the case might be? I think this is a good question. In the end, if there is no sure way to protect one's property, then it is time to look for a new place to live. Or, to put it otherwise, lots of eyes must be looking the other way.
In terms of victimhood, it is not hard to be a winner. A distinction is made between grand and petty larceny, based upon the value of stolen goods. It seems to me that property crime is so rampant, so prevalent, and, given its size, so enormous, that only a fraction of what is purloined is ever recovered and perpetrators brought to justice. A reported loss of over fourteen billion means that larceny is not only a crime but a thriving business as well. For the younger crowd, just starting out, it might be something to consider for a vocation. I am joking, but it is dificult not to be cynical. Politicians bordering upon demagoguery often preach to the hard worker who never gets ahead, who plays by the rules, who pays his or her taxes, to the exact penny, and not uncommonly suffers. I have no answer. I can only guess that these politicians want to be elected badly. In the section above I discussed quality of life. Standards of living are another matter.
The Rio Grande in a Texas Canyon
Living Well in America
Most of us do not worry ourselves to death. The U.S. is still number one. But there are threats burgeoning. Once in a while, a more comprehensive litany can be heard from a panelist on one of the 24/7 news programs. China will be mentioned, as well as Russia, together with an assortment of lesser nuclear-armed nations. Iran is a wildcard. Economy, especially in its global context, is another sore spot. Pollution is certainly a factor, much more so than climate change, which gives the impression that scientists can effectively monkey with the whole universe, if they but put their minds to it. With few exceptions, we ourselves produce the means by which fatal diseases take lives. True enough, we cannot stop the sun from shining. Its rays are carcinogenic. But one need not smoke to catch lung cancer or drink to succumb to cirrhosis of the liver.
Compared to other nations, the U.S. remains the most powerful. Although it has an incomparable military, the population is none the poorer for it. Other powerful nations cannot make the same boast. They take food out of the mouths of their own citizens in order to build ships and tanks. Will these military mights ever meet? There is talk. Perhaps not inappropriate, many predictions of unprecedented economic collapse have come and gone. Inflation is underreported, but people live with it. As they do with so much else besides. These wacky predictions are not so unlike threats of annihilation. If I knew something bad was going to happen, I would send out a warning. All one can say is that the good times are not yet over. It is 2016. In thirteen years we will "celebrate" the centennial of the greatest stock market crash in history. Some problems remain much too persistent. Penury in the midst of abundance, is not anything to boast of. Homelessness is a thorn in our sides. It has not, however, gone unnoticed, or been ignored. It is being treated, however clumsily. We have a better nature after all that gets put to use.
An Artificial Chinese Island -- What For?
For a while, I was very impressed with snippets of war talk that would pop up every now and again on television by retired officers from the armed forces. Some terms were highly technical. I used to be, and still am, to a lesser extent, a military history buff. Apparently, war has come a long way. No longer can an enemy charge up a hill while we charge up the same hill on the other side. It is more complicated than that. Such a pity. We could then have learned just about everything needed to know in grade school. Despite everything I hear, which can only be very meager indeed compared to what is really being discussed, I am not confident that America should prep for a cakewalk. Other nations are different. Some are evil. Gradually, it appears, there is no longer a level toward which an unAmerican or anti-American nation can downwardly drift and be counted upon to come to a halt and go no further.
The two greatest powers after the U.S. are China and Russia. Neither quite respects the U.S., but both want to be careful. Our weaponry and ability to form strategies cannot be overlooked. Like ISIS, they do not care for Western values, especially as phrased by the forefathers of the United States whom we cherish. The long-drawn-out battle of East and West, of the despotism of the former, and the Republics the latter created in contradistinction to it, might well favor the East. If so, it will not only be a terrible blow to Karl Marx, who exaggerated man's ability to govern himself, but to any conception in which people might be counted upon to have a genuine say in how they are governed. Think of it. This is only a scenario, one among many, a square to place a chip on in a gambling casino, and not much more. But Russia and China are already allied with today's troublemakers. If they but join in, the odds will be on their side. We are on our own. There is no triumvirate to offset a potential disaster.
Cordial Relations in the East
The Fix is In/Out
How will America cope with the 21st century? I suppose suggested answers can be found on the Current Affairs shelves of the world's greatest superpower's practically solitary bookstore. What was it about books that offended American citizenry? The bookstores have closed. Newspapers are seldom read. If it is not printed on a t-shirt, why pay heed? Yet the solutions we seek require brainpower. Despite more gagetry than could ever have been imagined, I do not think anything can replace the book, literally-speaking. Open these books, and I suppose one will read fairy tales of how things might become in 2020, 2030, and 2040. None of these years can even be taken for granted. The power to destroy has never been greater, and, incredibly, it gets stronger all the time. But books contain the magic nonetheless.
Still, there is no fix. Not when the nuclear element is figured into the equation. Any country that makes use of a single nuclear weapon automatically becomes "next". No one in that country will sleep soundly or walk about in an atmosphere of business as usual. They are "fair game". This is not to say that countries cannot in anticipation of the use of nuclear weapons form close associative alliances. But the world has shown a great deal of pusillinaminity in this respect. Nations do not stick together like glue. If missiles are launched, it will not take much to persuade pledged countries to get out of the way rather than honor a signature. Still, no one is talking about such matters, are they? At least not publicly. It pays to bear in mind, however, that it is as easy to take a million lives as it is one when these sorts of instruments of war are put to use. Be well and prosper, my friends, while you can.