THE SHAME OF AMERICA

Over Spring Break in Florida, a young college co-ed lay unconscious on the beach. She was then gang raped in broad daylight, watched by hundreds of male and female college students—who did absolutely nothing to help this defenseless young lady. Not a single college student even called the police. This is an atrocity—and every observer that day participated in it. It is a shame they must live with for the rest of their lives. And it is a shame America must live with as well..

This is a parable about what happens when sexual mores are thrown to the wind, and sex ceases to be a sacred act between a husband and wife; when faith lapses; when Judaeo-Christian morality is dispensed with. Then the unthinkable occurs. Sodom and Gomorrah rise from the ashes and pollute man, woman, and city . That this publically sanctioned rape occurred in the Bible Belt testifies to the ineffectuality, if not the demise, of Christianity.

What has happened is that we have placed a premium on Movies, Internet, Cell Phones, Sports, Reality TV, boxing, wrestling, and Mixed Martial Arts, while at the same time allowing the Judaeo-Christian faith to take a back seat. How many Christian families do you know that read Scripture together and pray together? I don’t know any. The number of skeptics (19%) now equals the number of people who pray four or more times a week. That bodes ill for our future. Our faith, which has helped make western culture the envy of the world, is now imperiled. And the US is among the most “religious” of nations, too.

There are many reasons why Christianity no longer influences: corporations are open seven days a week; the hypocrisy of right-wing “Christian” Republicans, who care more about profit than about people; the lack of study of the Bible in school; the absurdity of the fundamentalist’s anti-science campaign; the sway of the MI-Complex; a general lack of literacy; the arrogance of youth; a sensationalist, often anti-Christian bias in the media (Huffington, for example); a church generally anti-intellectual; et al.

For all these reasons and more, our culture has lost its moral compass and its spiritual ties to God. Daily we witness unthinkably horrible crimes unheard of a generation ago. Families are being rent apart by poverty amidst class oppression, intolerance, and prejudice. Police brutality and racism are commonplace. The black family today is virtually non-existent. 79% of juveniles in prison now are young black men. Civility is only a memory. The people à la Lincoln no longer rule, but the richest 1%, who care only about enriching themselves. Instead of JFK’s “What can you do for your country”, we have the Hobbesian “every man against his brother”—the natural

result of abandoning Christianity and worshipping Mammon, sensuality, power, looks, and fame.

Long ago this decline was predicted—eg, by Toynbee and Spengler and Sorokin. Toynbee and Sorokin wrote about this 50 years ago or more. They believe that only a religious awakening can halt our cultural degeneration and promote reason, goodness, and a love of truth. The time is ripe for it, but who is there today who can start a culturally effective Awakening, which at the same time emphasizes and utilizes reason and science? For the sake of our culture, he or she had better step forward soon. Our nation has entered into another Civil War—and our nation’s future hangs in the balance.

Len Sive Jr.

SEX IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

My hypothesis has proven true.

The wrenching of sex out of its life- and biblical-context, as conservative as that may sound, is, I believe, nevertheless the correct view in the diagnosis and therapy of our culture’s obsession with sex. Our cultural separation of sex from its natural context of marriage has weakened our culture intellectually and spiritually. The violation of this God-given understanding of the nature and reality of sex has caused untold damage to countless numbers of people, has fueled a sex trade and sex-slavery, driven the divorce rate sky-high, led to an epidemic of college and high school rapes, including by teachers both male and female, left countless numbers of people dissatisfied sexually, and cheapened an inestimably valuable gift from God which ought to bring two people together in rarified physical intimacy. And—it is the means by which we establish a family, which is, or ought to be, the most valued aspect of our sensate Life.

In my research, I focused on two questions: How does the Internet contribute to our sexual malaise? and Is there a remedy for our sexual malaise?

The first question, for me, has a clear answer: the Internet promotes sexuality apart from marriage simply by offering a surfer an infinite number of sex websites, which are predicated upon separating flesh from spirit, pleasure from commitment, and the “I” from the “We” in marriage. Through video and photo, sex is treated as a thing-in-itself rather than as an act embedded in an emotional and spiritual context apart from which sex becomes superficial, obsessive, and tragic in its manifestations. But the media too—all of which maintain an Internet presence—are obsessed with sex and the body. It is impossible today to find media which refuse to cater to sexuality. As a consequence, kids are caught up in sex in a deeply harmful way. It is this omnipresent sexuality in our culture that fuels child porn, sex-slavery, inappropriate teacher-student relationships, and a general confusion today about what the function of sex is in human society.

This trend began more visibly with Kinsey in the 50’s, the women’s movement in the 60’s, the hippie/counterculture in the 60’s and 70’s, the cultural acceptance of a couple living together unmarried from the 60’s, the sexualization of the media (talk shows, reality TV, etc) from the late 70’s, the gay/lesbian revolution in the late 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, the ordination of clergy who are not celibate (if single) in the 90’s, and a general hyper-sexualized social media-aided culture created, and fed, by the Internet since its inception.

I wrote an article last year about how even in some elementary schools inappropriate discussions of a person’s sexuality have entered into their education. (For example, asking a student in class what kind of sex he or she has engaged in.) Indeed, sex is now so generally pervasive in society, and so ubiquitous in all the media, that one hardly questions its presence.

Sex in context is, as I see it, so clearly the issue that I am in wonder that this fact hasn’t completely permeated society. In my researches, the lack of context meant that the couple could not truly appreciate the sex act. What are some of the factors that make up context? Age, marital status, personality, and religion.

Age: Sex in the modern world is not meant for young people. Marital status: Sex is meant for people who are married, i.e., are in a committed, life-long relationship. Personality: Sex depends on people who are mature; who are sensitive, caring, and giving. Sex is meant to be one of many factors in our development as a human being. The sexual act is meant to be the cement to bind the two more closely together. It was never meant to be the essence, or the entirety, of the relationship; it only assists the relationship. All true relationships are founded on depth of personality, including depth of intellect—something our culture despises. Religion: It ought to sanctify sex rather than, so often, condemn it. God created us as (inter alia) sexual beings. But—in context, as only one factor in human life and personality.

This in-context is particularly important in the black community, where single-parent households are the overwhelming parental model. It is an issue the black community continues to ignore, with tragic results. One-third of all black men will have spent time in jail during their lifetime; 58% of juveniles sentenced to prison are black. That this isn’t taken up as a crusade by the black church is simply incomprehensible.

Ironically, blacks are willfully doing to their culture what Southern slave owners did. In the 1800’s in the South, relationships were interfered with on a massive scale, by owners raping their female slaves, having mistresses, or just breaking up the family and/or relationships for economic or punitive reasons.

There is so much domestic violence in society in part because of our emphasis on sexuality. People come together for sex rather than out of an interest in personality. Hence the relationship lacks one or more of the key factors mentioned above. But without these factors the relationship can’t be put on a mature footing. A major reason I undertook to research and write this article is because I feel that an easy attitude towards sex also makes violence more prevalent, a hypothesis I can’t, however, prove. Still. Statistics can be compelling. 1 in 10 men and 3 in 10 women were raped last year. 1 in 3 female homicides are by a current or former partner. Children who come from families where there is violence suffer abuse or neglect at high rates (30-60%). Boys who witness or themselves have suffered from violence become abusers themselves. Half of all men and women have experienced psychological aggression. Parents and relatives are hurting our young today, scaring them physically, mentally, and emotionally, because the parent(s) should never have had a child in the first place. The low graduation rates from high school, let alone college, also contribute to this malaise of emotionally scarred/immature kids having kids, whom they in turn scar. It is a serious social problem. Can we fix it?

Most people who read this article will be scornful—and dismissive— of my conclusions. Some may even say “It isn’t possible to be celibate before marriage; it’s not part of human nature.” But if one’s faith is sincere, if one wants to change one’s behavior, and if one believes that chastity before marriage is vitally important both for the couple and for society-at-large, then I believe one will be enabled to be chaste.

Unfortunately, our society no longer values marriage, fidelity, chastity, purity of heart and mind, or the intellectual or cultural life—and yet these factors are absolutely essential, in my opinion, to having a happy, fulfilled, committed marital relationship. In vain will one search for these things on TV or in the movies. All one has to do is turn to Fox or Huffington or

“celebrity” web-sites to see how cheapened sex has become (along with the news, one might add). They can’t let a single day go by without bringing in sex somehow. “Sex sells.” Yes, unfortunately it does, to the detriment of society.

God created sex to be part of a life-long, committed relationship, which is meant to be mature, giving, and forgiving. The relationship ideally should also have an intellectual component (since only humans have reason in the degree that we do); this strengthens the relationship, deepens it, and provides different venues for conversation. It is a component which our society never mentions, even though it is one of the strongest ties binding two people together. Ideas matter. Period.

The only way that I see for society to move beyond its sex obsession as well as its penchant for domestic violence is for a return to (intelligent, compassionate, wise) religion. This will not strike many people as very progressive, I’m afraid. It is, however—like it or not—the foundation of our western morality. It is also the only thing which I am aware of that can make us alter our life’s path, and bring to our souls the depth and height of God’s love by which lives are changed.

Christ promised those who believed in his name that we can become new creatures. If our society is to be redeemed—to reduce rape, sexual slavery, promiscuity, not to mention aggression (physical and psychological), domestic violence, crime, etc.,–I believe that only the fullness of religious conversion can remake us in His image. With God, all things are possible. Man sins, but God redeems, and glorifies.

Len Sive Jr.

PUTIN’S EVIL AND THE COMPLICITY OF THE CHURCH

“No man can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6:24)

Putin ordered the hit on Nemtsov as he has done on seven others: Paul Khlebnikov, Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Anastasiya Baburova, Stanislav Markelov. Putin, the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world, is nothing but a serial killer. He would have done Stalin proud as a KGB-politician where reason, commonsense, honesty, incorruptibility and freedom of speech are eschewed for the more brutal political arts of deception, corruption, dishonesty, propaganda, and murder. It is baggage Russians just can’t seem to get rid of. From its founding under Peter the Great to the present day, Christian morality has had little or nothing to do with Russian governance. Power alone is worshipped. Truth, Goodness, Wisdom, Temperance, Simplicity—these have had no influence on Russian life whatsoever. The only honest leader Russia has seen in many centuries was himself a victim of these evil forces—Mikhail Gorbachev.

The root problem is the Orthodox Church. Historically, it has made a pact with the devil. The Kremlin says “Don’t enter politics, and as a reward we’ll let you continue to hold your (poorly) attended services. Just don’t mix politics and religion—and your future will be secure .” To which the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, historically, has willingly and obediently responded with an enthusiastic Yes! And so, in exchange for a bit of earthly power, the Russian Orthodox Church has closed its eyes to oppression, corruption, cruelty, dishonesty, and murderous domestic and foreign policies. Instead of allowing religion to change the hearts of men, so that a new society can emerge, one devoted to the entire nation’s spiritual and material well-being, it has allowed evil to flourish, mistakenly thinking that its true power comes from man and not from God.

Without strict morality, no government—or church—can lead its people well and truly. We in America like to point fingers at other countries or leaders while ignoring the overwhelming stench of corruption everywhere present. The Republican Party, for example, is brazenly corrupt, being nothing but the hand-maiden of the 1% richest in the land. (As one example, it has sided with Corporate America in its campaign against the idea of climate change, so corporations won’t have to spend money to eliminate pollution. The welfare of the US and the world counts for nothing here. Naturally the biggest polluters reward their servants handsomely come re-election time. And so it goes in American politics.) Moreover, the only religion that seems to gain adherents today in America is the religion of complicity with evil, the religion of gross ignorance, and the religion that talks of Christ but in practice embraces the (d)evil in the guise of Avarice, which issues into mere Power—power to serve the richest 1%.

Russia, situated as she is between the East and West, could have proved to be inestimably powerful in a good way as a mediating force between two different, and often competing, world-views. Instead, her rulers—evil almost to a man (or woman)—have thought only in terms of increasing their own mundane power and wealth. Sadly, the Russian Orthodox Church could have played a world-historic role in Russia as the guarantor of Virtue and Wisdom, with all that that implies politically. Instead, it sold its soul to the devil for a handshake and little more.

Len Sive Jr.

CORE REPUBLICAN PARTY VALUES: RACISM, ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER, AND CORRUPTION

No one has asked the obvious question about the fraternity at U of Oklahoma. And that is: What are these fraternity boys’ parents’ political affiliation? I would bet that the overwhelming percentage are Republican, perhaps even all of them.

We have seen in the rise of extreme right-wing Republicanism a racism, a cultural insensitivity, a boorishness, an anti-intellectualism, a shameful dishonesty, and moral turpitude that I have not seen in my life-time. This fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was displaying (proudly until caught) the same ignominious behavior they have always shown. What’s shocking is the fraternity’s feigned “ shock” as well as that of their parents. Ask how many blacks are in SAE.

The Republican Party is the reversal of the party’s Civil War heritage, when it was the Democratic Party that was racist. But given that change of party stance, the racism of 1861 hasn’t changed from that day to this. Even the selling of firearms has a racist element—to protect oneself from the black man, just like in the 1800’s.

47 Republican Senators wrote a letter blatantly interfering with US foreign policy, the Obama Administration’s sensitive nuclear negotiations with Iran—an unprecedented interference! These shameless morons are like the neighborhood bully, picking fights with whomever, and wherever, they want. Republicans are far-left radicals in that they are heedless of tradition, commonsense, reason, and protocol. Like SAE, these senators believe they have the right to do whatever they wish. It is what I call the 1% hubris factor. The richest 1% in the country think that they control Everything….And they just about do.

The same obtuseness, intellectual and moral, can be seen in the 1%ers denying climate change, or severe and lasting ecological damage through fracking et. al. oil/gas production methods and delivery systems. Is it just a coincidence that OK is a big oil producing state?

Just as in almost every other country historically, today we exhibit an “optimates” vs “Populares” division in society. Class divisions and antagonisms were some of the reasons Rome fell. The Republican Party, on all fronts, is leading America to outer ruin as well, through class divisions, the death of the middle class, through ceaseless wars that only enrich the 1% (Military-Industrial Complex) and through inner dissolution from corruption, graft, and favoritism, along with a shameless anti-intellectualism and a massive racism. As I have written many times before, this is our New Civil War. But this time there’s no Lincoln to rely upon to guide us through.

Len Sive Jr,

TORTURE: IMPOLITIC, UNETHICAL, UNCHRISTIAN, AND UNAMERICAN

11“I want to shatter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”

–President John F. Kennedy

 

The recent release of many CIA documents by the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee detail: 1) the CIA’s secret and systematic use of torture after 9/11; 2) the CIA’s repeated denials that it was using torture; and 3) the CIA’s testimony before Congress, the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, and the American people that these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were highly successful in obtaining vitally important information about terrorist activity, and thus justifies its (continued) use. But there is only one problem: What the CIA said is not true! As we can now read in the newly-released documents by the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, torture was in fact used for many years after 9/11, though its use was a well-guarded secret; and that little valuable information was gained by means of these “enhanced  interrogation techniques.”

As if this weren’t enough—to cast further doubt on the CIA and how it operates, John Brennan, its current director, knowingly violated  the Constitution’s  separation of powers clause by having the CIA (the executive branch)  spy on the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee  (the legislative branch) by hacking into its computers. When the committee revealed to the American people that the CIA was spying on Congress, Brennan publically and forcefully denied it. “Nothing,” he emphatically told Congress, “could be further from the truth.” “We wouldn’t do that.”  Yet it turns out that the CIA did in fact do it—and not only so, but that it was Brennan himself who ordered the hacking of the Committee’s computers in the first place!  So Brennan, it now appears, has been lying all along. He lied to Congress, he lied to the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, and above all he lied to the American public. To highlight his contempt for Congress, he has refused to co-operate with the Committee by turning over the names of those agents involved in the planning and execution of the break-in. Unfortunately for our country, deceit, lies, and non-compliance by the CIA are simply business as usual. One can now perhaps better appreciate Kennedy’s anger and frustration towards an agency that believes and acts as if it is above the law.

President Truman himself, who created the CIA in 1947, slowly began to worry about its focus on clandestine operations. But it was not until the assassination of JFK that he finally took steps to share his concerns openly with the American people. One month after Kennedy’s murder, Truman aired his concerns.  “For some time,” he wrote, “I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment [intelligence gathering and assessment]. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government (emphasis mine). This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.” Offering the only effective remedy he could think of, Truman urged that the CIA’s “operational duties” be “terminated.” Allen Dulles, the Director of the CIA, was livid with rage. In a stormy private meeting, Dulles tried to persuade Truman to retract his statement. But Truman stood his ground. Dulles, acting with complete disregard for truth and legality, then forged a retraction by Truman and slipped it into an official file!  Luckily, Truman found out about it and wrote a second letter reiterating his concerns about the CIA. But that Dulles would forge a letter by a president of the United States, with absolute disregard for the truth—and suffer no consequences (not even losing his job)—is breath-taking in its audacity, shamefulness, and illegality. One wonders now what documents regarding the CIA are in fact genuine. How much of what they say or do can we really believe? This is but further proof that the CIA is indeed a “rogue agency,” above the law, accountable to no one.

Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, saw first-hand that the CIA had become a rogue agency. Robert Kennedy, Jr. quoted his father Robert F Kennedy on the out-of-control CIA in an article for The Rolling Stone dated November 20, 2013, almost exactly fifty years to the day of the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy. In this article, Robert  says that

[t]he Joint Chiefs, already in open revolt against JFK for failing to unleash the dogs of war in Cuba and Laos, were unanimous in urging a massive influx of ground troops and were incensed with talk of withdrawal. The mood in Langley [the CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.] was even uglier. Journalist Richard Starnes, filing from Vietnam, gave a stark assessment in The Washington Daily News of the CIA’s unrestrained thirst for power in Vietnam. Starnes quoted high-level U.S. officials horrified by the CIA’s role in escalating the conflict. They described an insubordinate, out-of-control agency, which one top official called a ‘malignancy.’ He doubted that ‘even the White House could control it any longer.’ Another warned, ‘If the United States ever experiences a [coup], it will come from the CIA and not from the Pentagon.’ Added another, ‘[Members of the CIA] represent tremendous power and total unaccountability to anyone.

The documents released by the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee describe in detail these “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And they are absolutely shocking—rectal hydration, beatings, endless nights without sleep, standing for unbelievably long periods of time, being forced to live in a small coffin-like box, water-boarding (i.e., virtual drowning, endlessly repeated), hypothermia (resulting in at least one death), extreme isolation, sexual assault, threats of harm to their spouse and children, etc.  Sometimes the CIA even knew that the “terrorist” being tortured was in fact innocent (!),  yet they continued with the “interrogation” anyway!  Only an amoral person would do that. Is that the kind  of  person we entrust our security to? Do we really want amoral individuals in important and  sensitive areas of government?

Worse yet, this shameful episode in CIA history—or should I say US history?—is only  part of a larger unbroken sixty-eight-year-long chronicle of illegal and immoral activity, including: brain-washing, deception and lying, sexual entrapment, blackmail, forgery, drug-running and drug distribution, propaganda, suborning the press, planting of evidence, perjury, threats, extortion, breaking and entering, intimidation, theft, partnership with the Mafia and former Nazi SS officers, coup d’états, murder, inter alia.  Yet the most troubling aspect of all is that the CIA answers to no one, as we can see clearly  in the behavior of its  current  director,  John Brennan, and his agents.

The CIA does whatever it wants because it believes that its ends justify the means. Yet it is axiomatic: one cannot effect good ends by evil means, for the evil inevitably taints the ends themselves. No, the means must be commensurate with the ends; and the ends do not, and cannot,  justify any and all means. Terrorism, we all know, is Western civilization’s greatest threat. To combat this threat we must bring these terrorists to justice—but not by any means, and certainly not by means of torture. We must not descend into their Inferno and use their policies, their programs of hatred, or their instruments of terror. For in doing so we only become like them, and in the process sacrifice our humanity,  our legal  standing,  and our moral high ground.

Moreover, terrorism is not just “irrational violence.” Properly understood, terrorism is about competing ideas of virtue: theirs versus ours. As we know from Socrates/Plato, the path to virtue is exceptionally arduous—by turns treacherous, difficult, exasperating, painful, lonely, humbling, frustrating and not seldom dangerous, if, like Socrates, one goes against the grain of society;  which is why so many pilgrims on the road to Virtue drop out along the way.

In our Western culture the supreme virtue is Divine Love, which nourishes and sustains all the other virtues (justice, beauty, goodness, etc.); while hatred, by contrast, disrupts, degrades, and destroys everything good and beautiful in its path. The essence of being human, as God created us (in His image, let us not forget), is to love and care for one another just as He loves and cares for each of us. Community, then, is strengthened and deepened by Divine Love, but loosened and dissolved through hatred.  Terrorism, which is nothing but ideology wrapped in hatred, rejects God’s saving Love and substitutes in its stead the “negative virtues” of cruelty, evil, injustice, etc.; but this only returns mankind to an earlier, uncivilized epoch,  where barbarity, futility, and death reign undiminished and unchallenged. Like some giant black hole, religious extremism swallows up everything good, beautiful, and divine in its path. That is why we Westerners must not use torture. Torture degrades its practitioner; it separates him from the love of God; it poisons his spirituality; and it weakens his reason. Why? Because man was not made for evil. He was created by Divine Love for acts of Goodness. The strength of our cause and the cause of our strength lie in our culture’s supreme belief in the infinite worth and sanctity of every human life.  But if for any reason we undermine this noblest and most sacred principle of all—which makes Life the wonderful gift it is meant to be—which undergirds, supports, sustains, and nourishes the whole of our Western culture—then our beliefs, and our actions, become indistinguishable from the terrorists whom we oppose.

Because of its on-going malevolent history, the CIA is profoundly incompatible with who we are as a nation and with what we represent, both to ourselves and to the world. That is why it must be dismantled, and a new agency, dedicated solely to intelligence-gathering and assessment, must be erected in its place: an agency that is indisputably moral, incorruptible, and prudent, yet practical and effective; which cannot, and will not, interfere with domestic or foreign policy; and which obeys and reveres our sacred constitutional way of life.

Every generation in our nation’s history receives the inestimable gift of the constitutional rule of law, both in life and in government (a blessing which terrorists will never know or bring to their government); but it is up to each of us to safeguard it and to pass it on intact to our children and our children’s children. It is the supreme gift that any nation can bequeath to its citizens: thus it demands our unwavering obedience, our  deepest  affection,  and our  enduring  vigilance.

Len Sive Jr.

WAL-MART: THUGGISH CORPORATE CAPITALISM AT ITS WORST

“All hope abandon, ye who go through me”—Wal-Mart’s Employee Credo

     “A truth forgotten is a truth lost.”—the author

 

I went to a Wal-Mart in Santa Fe, New Mexico, last Saturday. I had grave misgivings about doing so, knowing a little of its sordid dealings with the cities in which it locates and of how inhumanely it treats its employees.  Nevertheless I decided to shop there, curious to see what life was like at a Wal-Mart here in liberal Santa Fe.

The staff at this huge store was clearly harried and stressed out, rushing this way and that, barely stopping even to answer my queries—but their duty done, away they flew. No staff were smiling. They seemed in fact like an undermanned army about to be over-run by the enemy—anxious and fearful.

My shopping finished, I gathered up my purchases and went outside where I was to await a shuttle at a pre-arranged area to take me back to St. John’s College, where I’m a first-term graduate student.

It was a sizzling Saturday afternoon. Outside where I waited there was precious little shade with which to shelter oneself from the stifling heat. Three male employees, on break, stood nearby, smoking cigarettes and talking. I decided to ask them about Wal-Mart, partly to make the time go by faster, and partly out of curiosity.

They were all very nice, courteous and respectful. I asked the first man how he liked working at Wal-Mart. He could barely contain his disgust. “I don’t like it at all,” he fumed. “Why?” I asked. “Because although we work full-time, we’re classified as part-timers, so we don’t get any benefits.” I asked the other two what they thought of Wal-Mart; both gave similar answers.

I asked what the annual turnover rate was at this Wal-Mart. “About 70%,” answered one of the men, with the others nodding their heads in agreement. I was shocked. That sounded way too high, even for Wal-Mart. Not sure whether I should believe them or not, I decided to get the opinions of some other employees.

As it happened, at that precise moment two girls had just sat down on a nearby bench to take their break.  I was curious to see if they felt the same way the men did about working at Wal-Mat.

So I walked over and introduced myself. Then after some small talk, I asked them how they liked working at Wal-Mart. The young woman sitting to my left looked up at me and, smiling, said, “It’s a great place to work.”  I asked each one several more questions. All the responses were uniformly positive. This was very perplexing. Who was telling me the truth? Both couldn’t  be right.

It was then I noticed that the girls’ eyes were riveted on something behind me. I turned around to see what it was—and there stood two huge security men, aka “assistant managers”! They were mere inches from me. The name tag of one of them read “BIG MIKE.”  He was almost twice my size and several inches taller. The other big “assistant manager” stood next to him. Here was a classic example, right in front of Wal-Mart, of gross physical intimidation—but for what reason?  What had I done to deserve the unmitigated wrath of Wal-Mart?

“You can’t speak to employees,” growled Big Mike, his face cold and unanimated.  The two young women got up quickly and hurried back to the store. I glanced over at the men: they were gone too. Fear spreads quickly. Now it was just the three of us: two burly Cyclops—and myself.

This entire incident was so foreign to me. I had just spent six years teaching English in South Korea and had never once experienced anything even remotely close to this. Now I’m back home in the “Land of the Free” and….

“You have to leave the premises now,” said Big Mike firmly, his fierce eyes announcing that he was ready for battle if necessary. Defiant and angry, I looked up at him and said: “No, I’m not leaving; I’m waiting here for my shuttle. It’s coming to pick me up.”  Then I turned around and faced the parking lot, hoping the shuttle wouldn’t be too late, and wondering, too, whether a physical confrontation was imminent.

I paced nervously up and down the sidewalk in front of our pre-arranged pick-up area, now and then stopping to search in both directions for the van.  And always but a few feet away, watching my every move, as if the fate of the entire world depended upon it,  stood Big Mike and his fellow assistant manager.

Twenty minutes went by; then the other “assistant manager” left and went back inside.  But not Big Mike, who had taken up a position leaning against a wall, while still watching with hawk eyes my every breath and move.  Finally the van came. A door opened; I climbed up and took the last empty seat, by the window.  As we pulled away from the curb, I turned around to get one last look at Big Mike. There he stood. He hadn’t moved one inch, but was watching the van closely to make sure it left Wal-Mart’s premises. I must’ve been a serious threat to Wal-Mart to have garnered such complete attention!

One of the most disturbing aspects about all this is that in my research afterwards, I discovered that employees in point of fact do not have free speech—not in the work-place, and, incredibly, not even when an employee returns home! Case after case showed how businesses can, and do, completely control the speech of their employees.

So where is our vaunted Freedom of Speech, I want to know?  Is this what our Founding Founders envisaged when they wrote the First Amendment? What kind of country have we become when one can carry a military-style assault weapon into any establishment, including church and college, yet one is forbidden to speak to another even while on break?  or to voice different views while away from the work-place,  without getting fired? Thomas Jefferson is reputed to have said, “The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.” Clearly as a nation we have not been vigilant enough!

Having newly returned from South Korea, where a customer is never threatened, verbally or otherwise, and with whose staff one may speak freely, whether on-break or off-, I had wondered what shopping would be like at an iconic American discount store like Wal-Mart, in a liberal city like Santa Fe. I found out.

It is so much easier to criticize the human rights record of other nations, as we do so often, than to ensure that one’s human rights record at home is beyond reproach. This of course is a truism,… but a truism today all but ignored and forgotten.

Len Sive Jr.

THE EVISCERATION OF THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

Admiral William McRaven, head of the US Special Operations Command, has been chosen as chancellor of the University of Texas system upon his retirement in the fall from the military. And he is not the first military officer, or national security official, to be chosen to head an American university or college, either. Is he the right man for the job? Here’s a sample of the kind of wisdom he will bring to the job: “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.” Now, the premise here is that by making your bed “to perfection” (his personal goal for those serving under him), you transfer that energy and diligence of effort to everything else. In McRaven’s words, “Making the bed will also reinforce the fact that little things matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” Let us scrutinize more closely this proffered path of wisdom.

First, we must reflect upon the source. McRaven is an admiral in charge of a secretive military command, which includes the Navy Seals. The Seals have a training regimen wherein every tiny detail does indeed matter. When a military mission is established, the training for it rests upon countless small details executed to perfection. A failure in the small things here will almost certainly mean grave difficulties somewhere down the line. So for McRaven’s troops, his wisdom isn’t “decorative,” but may well prove to be the difference between a mission’s  success or failure, and a Navy Seal’s life or death.  The difficulty here, of course, is that he will now become the chancellor of a prestigious university system. Are the two—the military and the university—similar enough so that his vision, wisdom, and expertise in the one area can be transferred successfully to the other? Or are the two fields sufficiently different in nature that success in one does not automatically imply success in the other?

Let us examine the nature of education. Education is, or ought to be, chiefly about inquiry and self-growth: the gaining of knowledge and insight, and especially, in a good liberal arts program, the gaining of a general, but deep knowledge, of reality itself.

But making one’s bed—where does this fit in? In my opinion, it doesn’t! And that is what is so worrisome to me about having an admiral become head of a university. Making one’s bed, like the mandatory daily polishing of one’s military-issue shoes, is merely an act of obedience; it signifies nothing more. Inquiry, on the other hand, drives, or ought to drive education; but that is the opposite of what McRaven has spent a life-time doing, viz., ordering people to carry out his commands. Men under him don’t question his orders; they blindly execute them. That’s what makes the military the efficient force that it is. An admiral commands: a soldier obeys, period.

But nothing could be further from the Academy than obedience for obedience  sake; where inquiry, or dissent,  thereby is stifled.  Academics need encouragement and freedom in order to strike out in new or different directions. Can McRaven reverse sails so late in life, encourage  freedom of thought, and tolerate dissent when up to now conformity and obedience were his twin gods?

What is troubling to me is his use of the metaphor of making one’s bed in an academic context. Ideas are not obedient soldiers. And academicians do not blindly follow others but think for themselves, choose their own goals as well as the means to achieve them. Courage, not obedience, is the chief virtue in the Academy, as can be seen clearly through the lens of history, where new ideas all too often have encountered intractable resistance and even violence. The history of astronomy painfully attests to this resistance to truth and the pressures to conform to the prevailing opinions—or the current national shame of creationism, which confuses belief with fact, and is summarily dismissive of the scientific method, which is one of the indispensable pillars of the Academy. Can one used to ordering others suddenly encourage, even promote, independent thinking and acting?

There are other issues as well—for example, the small numbers of blacks in the UT system. How does “making your bed” address the problem of racial under-representation? Or address the sinister shift in the goals of education, through the money and influence of Corporate America, which wants to train students merely to be good and productive employees for their business, rather than train their mind for life’s challenges that lay ahead.

Education is further endangered by its dependence upon, and glorification of, college athletics. Education today often seems to be less important to a university than having a championship team. And with athletics so closely tied to multi-million dollar media contracts, the importance of education is diminished amid the media-hype of sports and the deification of athletes—even to the point of institutional grade-fixing. Adding to the problem created by the media is a professional athlete’s multi-million dollar salary. When student-athletes leave school early in order to sign a big contract, the message they convey to our young—a message supported by the university—is “Sports are more important than education, and for a good athlete, more lucrative.”

With all media today owned by only a handful of individuals or corporations (this by itself constitutes a grave threat to our democracy), and being right-wing to boot, society rarely gets treated to the presentation of an issue which is (more or less) free of ideological bias. Education ought to be the one place where independent inquiry is pursued for its own sake, with the results informing society. If instead of inquiry for its own sake we have corporate money, ideology, sports, and the media influencing education, then are we on the fast track to educational irrelevance. Given these circumstances, I worry whether a chancellor who believes in the perfect execution of small (unimportant) details, can, in a non-military setting, provide the kind of leadership our universities need if they are to be the agent of both change and stability that has historically defined them. Can one used to unflinching obedience change course mid-stream and welcome debate and disagreement? Can one not just tolerate but honor the “arrogance of dissent?”

Common wisdom has it that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” And that is precisely my worry.

Len Sive Jr.

EVIL UNOPPOSED

Europe today is experiencing déjà vu: a frightful reliving of the accommodation to evil of the 1930’s, when France, England, and Italy permitted Hitler’s seizing of the outer rim of Czechoslovakia  which bordered  on Germany, called the Sudetenland, and   home to Czechoslovakia’s approximately three million ethnic Germans. The Sudetenland was an important industrial and banking area; it also formed Czechoslovakia’s formidable defense perimeter—a perimeter so heavily fortified that Hitler himself acknowledged that had he been forced to attack it, his troops would have suffered very heavy losses. But he didn’t have to worry: for Europe handed it to him, gratis.

Hitler’s pretext for wanting to absorb the Sudetenland was the skillfully managed propaganda campaign of public discontent among Czechoslovakia’s three million Germans. Putin has surely read his history, for he accomplished the same feat in Crimea. This manufacturing of discontent today among Russian-speaking peoples, in the Ukraine and in other nations, is Putin’s rationale for seizing the former territories of the Soviet Union. This is the same pretext for intervention that Putin used earlier when he invaded Georgia. And just as Hitler counted on a muted response from the West to his annexation of the Sudetenland—and was not disappointed—so Putin harbors similar expectations: If he invades eastern Ukraine, as now seems a real possibility with the buildup of tens of thousands of heavily armed Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, buttressed by tanks, artillery, missiles, and other heavy weaponry—Putin is counting on NATO being too timid to engage Russia’s upgraded, well-trained modern military.  In this he is undoubtedly prescient. Europeans have so far evidenced no stomach for war, least of all on European soil. To the world’s shame, it appears that Ukraine must stand or fall by her own efforts. The European powers in the 30’s sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s ever-growing geo-political ambitions, through its policy of appeasement, hoping that his libido dominandi would soon be sated…but it wasn’t. Churchill said at the time to the appeasers, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” Is it déjà-vu in Europe?

It is always surprising to see, in every age, how many people either turn a blind eye towards evil, or rationalize it, or else sanction it by adverting to the Bible, in their bid to clothe their complicity in the garb of righteousness. France is adamant about honoring her military  contract  with Russia for the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault warships, which will undoubtedly be used in the future against other former Soviet Block countries as Putin proceeds step-by-step with his plan of Russian Empire-reconstruction. France is selling these powerful ships in spite of Russia’s dishonorable direct support, and now open leadership, of the Ukrainian Separatists, the downing of the Malaysian airliner with a Russian missile causing 300 deaths (which the UN says may well be a war crime),  evidence tampering at the crash site so that no direct evidence can  link Russia to the passenger jet, the looting of personal possessions from the bodies of the dead, the Separatists’ refusal to collect all of the bodies strewn helter-skelter around the crash site, and an unending stream of bald-faced lies and childish, pathetic  responses from Moscow.

The British, too, until now, have refused to allow any broad economic sanctions against Russia, fearing that they might hurt London’s commercial banking/investment business; and in Germany, arms manufacturers are anxious to finalize their quarter of a billion arms sales to Russia, which includes an important battle simulator, since not to do so would result in lower earnings for the arms sector. For the modern corporation, to its shame, it is always profit before honor: Profit ueber Alles!

We are on earth, at our longest measure, for 6 or 7 fully productive decades, then comes The Final Wait, when our life-journey’s trajectory shall, upon death, be  scrutinized in the harsh light of eternal principles. Yet there are many who nevertheless prize these few decades above all law and morality. Putin is one of them. U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden brazenly told Putin that when he looked into his eyes, he could find no evidence of a soul. “Then we understand each other precisely,” replied Putin, agreeing completely with Biden’s psychical diagnosis.

Long association with evil, as has been true with Putin, does indeed destroy one’s soul. But so too does accommodation to evil. The West has yet to stand up fully to Putin, fearful of suffering either economic or military consequences. But by not doing so they stand with Putin, not against him.  There is now talk of real economic sanctions being levied against Russia after the downing of the aircraft. If true, they come none too soon. Like it or not, righteousness is a strict Either/Or. We either oppose Putin in unity, sure of our just cause, come-what-may, or else we join hands with him in aiding and abetting his unjust cause. But we can’t do both.

Len Sive Jr.

BOREDOM : THE DEATH OF CULTURE AND THE RISE OF ELECTRONIC NIHILISM

Many people find it difficult to use their minds to entertain themselves…In this modern age, with all the gadgets we have, people seem to fill up every moment with some external activity.”

–Timothy Wilson, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

 

Professor Timothy Wilson devised, for our technological age, an important experiment to see what are the psychological and mental effects of gadgets on today’s population. He put volunteers, one at a time, in an empty room and asked them to sit down and think for 15 minutes, with no distractions from gadgets or music or TV. His volunteers—over 800 in all—came from all age groups. They were recruited from disparate locations, such as churches and farmers’ markets, and not only the university, in order to get as wide a population sample as possible. The results? Most people could not sit alone and think for 15 minutes. The anguish of soul-crushing boredom for these volunteers was simply too great. Indeed, some even preferred to administer mild electrical shocks  to themselves  rather than endure the hell of uninterrupted meditative silence!

Since all true culture originates in solitude, when the soul is alone by itself, this is indeed a disturbing experiment. But its results we all know to be true: For today one cannot go anywhere without seeing a majority of people using their cell phone, or tablet, or some other electronic device, while completely indifferent to, and oblivious  of, their own immediate surroundings. Gone, too, are the days when one would see not a few people on a bus or subway immersed in reading a book.

Culture is the end-product of a long, often painful inner process of thinking deeply and feeling deeply about some idea or other—of rendering in art or in books or in music a new connection not seen before, or something felt more deeply or more expansively than in the past. All true culture—as against “pop” culture, which is superficial and profit-based—depends on reflection, inner substance, quietude, and silence. But when a society’s modern “culture” produces only shallow, unmelodic music, an array of mindless sporting events, simple-minded movies, biased and superficial news, along with childish TV shows, as our modern “culture” has, then are we witnessing first-hand the slow (now centuries-long) dying of western culture.  Especially when one can’t abide being alone with one’s own thoughts for a paltry 15 minutes, then is our culture nearing complete irrelevance and spiritual bankruptcy.

Ours is a lost age; an age without wisdom, depth, or meaning; shorn of Beauty, and devoid of Goodness and Truth. The greatness of western culture which has nourished and guided us for over three thousand years, and given us Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus; Pythagoras, Euclid, and Apollonius; Caesar, Virgil, Horace, and Cicero;  St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Anselm; Petrarch and Dante; Chaucer and Milton;  Shakespeare and Wordsworth; Goethe and Tolstoi;  and a hundred others—they sustain us no more because  we prefer the shallow to the wise: the clever or shocking to the true: the solipsistic, individualistic,  and narcissistic  to communal Good: wealth and power over compassion for  others: love of self over love of neighbor.

Len Sive Jr.

                       PEDESTRIAN FARE

By Len Sive Jr

 

I pulled the curtain back to glimpse the modern world!

but grieved to see pyres of dreams,

fires of visionary gleams,

that once consumed a nobler world:

the sceptered stars of ages past,

now frozen ashes in a dark outcast.

 

On earth’s darkling plain remains

a solitary country lane:

a remnant country lane lonely

’mid copse and grove bounded

everywhere city bound,

and everywhere the same.

 

The glory of the reign has passed,

what is now will never last—

but who is left to care,

now that we are bounded

here and bounded everywhere

—and who is left to care?

 

Who cares now to bear his name on faded lanes

now all the same,

on crowded thoroughfares bounded everywhere,

the same pedestrian fare,

everywhere the same

—and who is left to care?

ALTRUISM VS SELFISHNESS: OR, CAN WESTERN CULTURE BE SAVED?

        Only the supersensory, superlogical, unmediated merging of the object and subject into
seamless oneness allows an adequate knowledge of the object or the true reality.

                                                                                                                        –Pitirm A. Sorokin

For well over a century now, several of the West’s deepest and most sensitive thinkers and writers have been experiencing what they believe to be a gradual, but real, decline in western culture. And increasingly today many others also feel this cultural malaise deep in their soul. Something–we know not what–appears to have gone drastically wrong with our life and culture.  Our world since the 1960’s has been slowly disintegrating before our very eyes. Reality has become increasingly disorienting, meaningless, uncharitable, harsh, violent, selfish, unforgiving. Participation in creative activities, such as writing or painting, or participation in a religious institution, may, for some, momentarily counter their disorientation, hopelessness, and anguish; but subconsciously they remain aware of how close we are to another world war, this time possibly a nuclear one; aware, too, of a society witnessing a breakdown of family values; a decline of morals; a lack of common decency; disregard for law and order; a growing, and dangerous, sense of boredom and despair; a lack of “love of one’s neighbor,” and a worrisome grandiose narcissism and solipsism.

Nature, through global warming (which the Right, for merely selfish pecuniary reasons at the behest of Corporate America, refuses even today to acknowledge), contributes to this sense of impending doom through its increasing climatic fury, winter and summer. The gentle, nourishing (“Mother”) Nature felt body and soul by the English 18th c. and 19th c.  Romantic poets (a Nature which I too knew and loved as a boy) seems now but a distant memory amid increasingly catastrophic rain and snow storms, earthquakes, Tsunamis, tornados and hurricanes, withering dry spells, gigantic forest fires, deadly flash floods, extreme temperatures, and other disturbing climatic phenomena. It seems as if Nature now at long last is betraying the heart that never truly loved her. Her relentless fury and unpredictability, superadded to our sense of foreboding of our cultural decline, on top of a world-wide recession brought on by the unrestrained, and unregulated, greed of our banking, real estate, and investment sectors, has only increased both our individual and collective sense of anomie and despair.

So, what can we do? How can we, in our own small way, make a contribution to a world in desperate need of a new way of being ? Pitrim A. Sorokin, a name not widely known today, though very well known in the middle  part of the last century—the founder of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University and later The Harvard Research Center in Altruistic Integration and Creativity—has studied altruism in depth. Not surprising to those who have sought to live a life of giving rather than taking, of loving rather than using or hating, Sorokin finds that altruistic personalities “exhibit a remarkable vitality, a long duration of life, an unperturbable peace of mind, and an ineffably rich happiness. In opposition to a sensate utilitarianist or hedonist, it could be said that ‘it pays to be unselfish, loving, and saintly.’”

This, then, is what our western culture desperately needs: a new orientation through “the energy of love,” as Sorokin has termed it. If our culture and race are to survive, then we must band together to seek the welfare of people everywhere: a true sense of “globalization,” founded not on economic imperialism, but rather the virtues (and divine attributes) of love, goodness, truth, and beauty. Only then—if then—can we hope to head off a further decline in western culture, strive to undo the malicious effects of global warming, and seek for all, as our national creed,  a life that begins and ends with “service to others” rather than the all-too-common, and death-dealing,  creed of  “Me–first, middle, and last.”

Len Sive Jr.

YAHOO’S SHAMELESS DISTORTION OF THE NEWS TO FAVOR THE NRA

We all know that most of the media is owned by a handful of people or corporations (e.g., General Electric owns NBC and Rupert Murdoch, FOX), and that nearly all media are run by ideological right-wing Republicans; and we all know further that the last thing right-wing Republicans offer the public is impartiality of news and commentary. (Fox News is its own best witness to this shameful fact.) But Google-owned Yahoo—solidly in the right-wing camp as any perusal of its on-line news reporting and commentary can verify—shamelessly left out 50% of the recent Santa Barbara shooting story.

A father of one of the students who was murdered spoke to the press about the pain and grief of his son’s death, and of his anger at the politicians who refused to pass gun restriction laws after the killings at Sandy Hook, CT.  Yahoo left out, conspicuously, the father’s loud and very emotional condemnation of the NRA for its role in facilitating gun violence .Because his “whole body and soul” anger at the NRA was so visceral, visibly shaking every fiber in his grief-torn body, it is all the more surprising that this was edited out of the story so that not one mention was made of the NRA! Yahoo’s reporter, Dana Feldman, is either completely incompetent as a journalist or else (more likely) was instructed by her superiors to edit the father’s speech so as not to blame the NRA.

Is there anywhere in the US where the NRA’s influence does NOT extend? The Right has complained about Big Government’s influence in our everyday life. But government’s influence is nothing compared to the NRA’s. Ironically, the Tea Party folk—NRA advocates one and all—support a movement that is profoundly un-democratic! It is their patrons—the wealthiest 1%–who now rule undemocratically. But they are too blind to see it—or they approve of it.

The anguish of Mr. Martinez, the dead boy’s father, could have turned even hearts of stone to wax—except of course those of the NRA, with its many psychopathological gun enthusiasts.          These people suffer from a combination of several severe psychological disorders. They evidence an utter lack of emotional maturity and self-confident masculinity; they possess a grossly underdeveloped intellect, and with no ability to reason logically; they have no capability to empathize with others; and, additionally, they suffer from paranoia and grandiose narcissism.

As Jesus knew only too well, it is all too easy to bring violence and hate into the world; but the kingdom of heaven is reserved for peacemakers.  It’s peopled only by  those who bring love and mercy,  goodness and truth,  to our harsh and broken world. Of that unimaginably beautiful world, God’s kingdom, where reason and love rule high and low, the NRA and its proselytes can have no part, for they fundamentally oppose His  message of a kingdom of Peace, Non-violence, and Love. Heaven is for those who have practiced God’s love in this life through endless trials: hell, for those who have rejected God’s love for lust of violence and hate.

The NRA, through its lobbying, exercises almost absolute power in Congress and across America. Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, just vetoed a modest gun proposal that would have limited the number of shells in a gun clip. Not even that (token) gun measure gets passed due to the power of the NRA. No doubt Gov. Christie heard the “clink, clink, clink” of campaign cash contributions as he signed his name, vetoing the bill. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.” And if this further imperils our nation’s children—well, so much the worse for our children!

Len Sive Jr.

THE PUTIN GAMBIT—CHECK!

There are some people for whom the most elementary truths are just beyond their ken. Putin is one of these. He just doesn’t get it. People—nations—want to be free. It is just that simple. His KGB background, which depended ultimately on coercion, has saturated his soul so that it is impossible for him to think otherwise. Evil is blind.That’s its fatal weakness. Putin doesn’t get it because he has used force, intimidation, or coercion his entire adult life, with impunity. That’s his vision of reality as well as his personal modus operandi. But people inherently want and need freedom and self-determination. Man was born to be free. If the power of the Soviet Union should miraculously come to life again, so would its fatally coercive nature. Such affects the entire society top to toe, from foreign and domestic policy to academia to personal freedoms and human rights to economics. This many former Soviet Block countries understand only too well and so want nothing to do with Putin’s play for power. Putin blames the West for this, when in reality he has no one to blame but himself.

It is pathetic, yet comical, to watch this ex-spy at work—threatening and bullying (Putin’s a classic bully) to try to keep the West from encroaching on the territory of the former Soviet Union. What is beyond his understanding—and this then makes him a tyrant (and God’s enemy) –is that in foreign policy as in life, threats and bullying are self-defeating. Christ’s “Love your neighbor as well as your enemy” is something Putin, like all tyrants, just can’t understand—because they don’t want to. Had Putin showed the same kind of helping spirit that the EU has shown, earlier to Georgia and Moldova, he might then have got his Ukraine at no extra cost. But to ask a tyrant to become a saint is, of course, impossible. When Putin meets his Maker to receive his judgment, as we all must one day, he will hear this ringing in his ears: “What you did to the least of these, you did unto me.” Only then will tyrants like Putin begin to understand the power and the glory, but also the judgment, of Love—but then it will be too late.

All tyrants and dictators, but also the very wealthy, fail to understand that ALL power, earthly or otherwise, belongs strictly to Almighty God. In imitation of God, all power is meant to be a path to helping others, beginning with the weakest and most vulnerable. Power is never meant to increase one’s wealth or privileges. The powerful on earth stand “in loco parentis,” in place of God the Father. The shepherd uses his position, not to slaughter his sheep but to feed and care for them, and to keep wolves at bay.

God rules with love, our duty (and joy) is to emulate that rule. Such alone satisfies the soul’s hunger for ultimate meaning, and covers all despair, loneliness, and fear—as well as makes life the wonderful gift it is, and ought to be. But to seek earthly power for power’s sake, to glory in it, to use it to dominate and intimidate, to get rich by it—these all go against the grain of God’s Law of Universal Love. Compared to force and violence, threats and intimidation, Love seems out of its league. So the foolish always, in every era, think and believe. “Only the strong survive.” But that inescapable day of judgment skulks all of us, catching us, some sooner, some later, but in the end—everyone. Then shall we see that true power is Love.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:13-14.)

Len Sive Jr.

GILEAD SCIENCES: $84,000 OR YOUR LIFE

John C. Martin, CEO of Gilead Sciences, a pharmaceutical company, has set a price of $1,000/pill in the US for the newly-approved drug Sovaldi, which has recently been proven to cure Hepatitis C. The full treatment would require 84 pills, which in combination with other drugs would raise the price of a cure to around $150,000 per patient. Since Hepatitis C patients are largely from minority and low-income families, most would not be able to afford the high cost of this life-saving treatment even with private insurance or Medicaid.

Drug companies routinely charge more in the US than in countries that set price controls. By way of comparison, the same treatment for Hepatitis C of 84 pills that sells in the US for $84,000 sells in Egypt (and with a profit) for a total of only $1,000—a whopping 8400% increase for the American market! This is nothing less than institutional rape. At this extortion price, treating patients with Hepatitis C would cost in the billions of dollars, bankrupting Medicaid. The wisdom of establishing price controls over medicines ought now to be apparent. This extortion price of $1,000/pill would cause untold suffering, since it would take Medicaid monies away from other patients in order to fund Hepatitis C patients, or else it would mean treating fewer patients with Hepatitis C. Either way this high price will cause senseless suffering and death—despite an affordable cure at hand!

How much does Dr. Martin make as CEO of Gilead? In 2013 he made over $15 million dollars—that’s $41,000/day! In just two days he earns more than most teachers earn in a year! No wonder Martin has little sympathy for the suffering poor. Perhaps now we can understand more profoundly the sayings of Christ about the rich, which were no doubt born of the same frustration dealing with them in his day as we feel in our own: “The rich will have a difficult time getting into heaven” and “It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.”

To be wealthy carries with it responsibilities and duties, something the rich in every era do not want to contemplate. This current case of pricing a cure beyond the reach of the sufferers enables us to see very acutely that wealth can be a blessing or a curse, depending upon one’s character. Andrew Carnegie, the richest man of his day, upon retiring said: “The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry…To continue…with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond the hope of permanent recovery.” By “idolatry” Carnegie meant that the end—money-making—justifies any and every means. Morality is sacrificed on the altar of Money-making. Instead of worshipping The One True God, the money-maker worships his one true god, Avarice.  And none shall exist beside it.

The Republicans and Tea Party folk would of course applaud, as we all would, the ingenuity of Gilead in developing this wonder drug; but they would then undoubtedly add: “To the victor belong the spoils,” i.e., it’s Gilead’s right to charge whatever it thinks the market can bear—and “(big) government” stay out! Let the market itself be the “corrector,” not the government!

On the surface this has a certain plausibility to it: If the market can’t bear the price, then the market will correct it (so goes the Free Market theory). But life—and economics—is rarely so cut-and-dried. Two things are operating here that don’t fit this neat little schema. First, the government cannot allow too many of the sick to die, at risk of alienating the public and of being accused of indifference to the sick and dying (which tension I am sure Gilead is only too aware of); and secondly, health insurance (Medicaid, for example) is not taken into account in discussions of a Free Market. That is, the buck stops not with the individual (his free will choice) or with the larger workings of the Free Market, but with Medicaid (the government’s “artificial” path to help those who otherwise would not be able to afford the high price of US medical care and medicines). Thus this is not a pure market scenario of supply and demand, as Conservatives would no doubt preach, but one “distorted,” if you will, by ethics and compassion as well as the politics of the sick and dying.

The “Achilles’ heel” of the Free Market argument resides in the fact that the fullness of human nature is not taken into account; specifically, man’s sinful nature is left out of the picture altogether. Anytime a theory of human action lacks this crucial component of human nature, it can’t work as it is supposed to. (This was also true of Communism, and why all such Utopias are impossible to effect.)

In a realistic economic model, one must take into account avarice, corruption, price-fixing, monopolies, extortion, coercion, manipulation, deceit, worker slavery or virtual slavery, ecological disasters, indifference to human suffering, inter alia, which the “pure” economic model of the Free Market cannot, and does not, effectively or realistically deal with, if it deals with it at all.

This is only one argument for a strong Federal government–but a compelling one. Tea Party politics is at bottom sheer Utopian nonsense. Why do we assume that man left alone in the marketplace will be virtuous, or at least law-abiding, when we know that man in all other contexts, when left alone, is almost never virtuous? Which is precisely why we have commandments and laws, and rules and regulations, not to mention a large judicial branch to enforce them. Life without law would quickly descend into sheer chaos and conflict, murder and mayhem. It would be a Hobbesian Hell.

Gilead is operating in the US market with extreme avarice because it is betting that it can legally get away with it with the support of the Republicans, The Tea Party, et. al. In Egypt, on the other hand, Gilead knows it cannot set whatever price it wants, so it does not even try. Supply and demand, let alone reason, have nothing at all to do with Gilead’s pricing, in the US or elsewhere—but greed and expedience only.

Capitalism as we have known it for the last 150 years has proven itself to be a failed theory, leading to one economic crisis after another, and to an oligarchy of, by, and for the richest 1%. It is time to venture out and try new theories, ones that take into account the fullness of human nature in all of its complex manifoldness, including man’s inherently sinful nature. Then perhaps we might see Gilead begin to price rationally—and its CEO earn not the highly absurd $41,000 a day (no single person on earth is worth that much money!) but a more palatable and reasonable (say) $100,000 per year.

Then, too, we might begin to see the resurgence of the (now defeated and trampled on) middle-class; and perhaps witness as well the end of the pernicious, unbelievably high income disparity now ravaging our country, making a mockery of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, whose foundation stone is the equality of man, not the ruler/serf economic model rapidly developing in our vicious form of Capitalism.

Our historic “land of opportunity,” unique in human history, is fast disappearing, and with it the last saving hope, the last bright light shining in the darkness, for the world’s poor, huddled, teeming masses. Historically, our greatness as a country has come from enabling incoming poor to rise to middle-class security and respectability. But Conservatives have, since 1980 when they put Reagan into office, remade America into a paragon not of equality and justice but of inequality and injustice: where money and power rule, not what is just or right or good.  Soon our historic greatness will be only a tattered and faded memory—with no power to inspire one to strive, to change, or to remake. Our once-fluid society is increasingly become an encrusted caste society, like India’s. “From rags to riches” now reads “from rags to rags.” And “a government of, by, and for the people” is now become “the government of, by, and for the rich and the powerful.”

The America of historic opportunity has become an America of rigid race and class lines. The only thing today that Conservatives conserve is their own power, wealth, and privilege. In this they are not classically conservative but rather radicals of the most extreme stamp—what would in Lincoln’s day be anti-unionist Southerners. At bottom, Tea Party members and Republicans have the mentality and politics of slave-holding Southerners, angry with “big government” for having freed their slaves. This is why right- wing fantics attack Lincoln today, and why they loath the federal government. Substitute “guns” for “slaves” and we now see clearly their political agenda. With the Tea Party insisting upon state’s rights, we are  fighting the Civil War all over again. And the outcome will determine whether we shall remain a united nation or a mere confederacy of states, which is what the Tea Party and others desire and are working for.

Len Sive Jr.

THE RESURGENCE OF UNTRAMMELED POWER OF RUSSIA AND CHINA

When the Berlin Wall fell, its crashing din was heard around the world: and for millions of people it was music to their ears. This was not just any event—here was final proof that the evil and, what was equally important politically and economically, the utter impracticality of Communism could not be sustained because it ran directly counter to human nature. Its rhetoric, of course, like all propaganda, was positive and hopeful, but its reality proved altogether different. In practice, Communism created even more injustice, more absurdities, more practical problems, more suffering and death in history by far than any other economic or political system. Communism, and its historical partner in unequalled savagery, Nazism, will for all time remain lasting monuments of unexampled hubris, unreason, atheism, and unalloyed evil. If some men and women can be saints, these two movements show starkly that under their influence many more can become devils.

While history does indeed appear to show that the rich inherently seek ever more power and wealth at the expense of the middle- and lower-classes (without of course ever acknowledging such), the utopian image of Communism set up unique expectations of an everlasting earthly Paradise: where mankind would now be free of avarice, of cruelty to his fellow man, and of the naked lust for power. Communism’s power was that it proclaimed a new humanity. But in reality, of course, it could accomplish no such thing. For human nature doesn’t change. The old class structure was replaced by a new (Communist) class structure. The freedoms, and limitations, of the old system were swallowed up in an all-embracing savage totalitarianism.  Big Brother had arrived. The Utopia so blindly hoped for, and believed in, was revealed to be just another earthly hell from which millions sought to escape—so many in fact that Communism had to build walls to lock its people in, which is why its sudden, dramatic crashing downfall was the cause of such hysterical jubilation world-wide.

Now we see, in both China and Russia, a new era of libido dominandi—of the lust for power. Of course, they can’t and won’t publicly declare this—since when does evil ever speak the truth?  Still, evil, in its unconscious bow to goodness and reason, must pretend at least to operate under the highest motives; but its actions show unequivocally that power and domination are China’s and Russia’s twin goals.

Russia’s motives revolve around pure power. Putin (and Russia’s military) doesn’t want Russia to be thought of as a second-rate military power—and, being the little man that he is, personally wants to be accorded respect, as well as to be feared, by the world, but especially by the US. It wants a share in world dominion; and it chafes under the greater economic and military power (and he would add hubris) of the US. Putin is a small man with a large ego. He cares little about his own people or their future, otherwise he would develop, or allow to be developed, Russia’s economy in all of its diversity instead of making it depend entirely upon the exportation of oil and gas as it now does. In this Putin shows himself to be anything but a statesman, or to have any other real goals than power for power’s sake. He hears the siren call of libido dominandi. And in this he adds his name to an endless list of tyrants in history.

China has a similar desire to dominate. But unlike Russia, which is trying to relive the good old days of Soviet domination, China seeks world power in large part to make itself an irresistible economic powerhouse. It has now, and will have much more in the future, great economic problems at home it must deal with: lack of vital minerals, oil, gas, etc.; millions of homes, buildings, and schools that are unsoundly built and therefore vulnerable to earthquakes or other natural disasters; lakes and rivers dried or drying up; forests denuded; corruption top to bottom; pollution of unimaginable intensity and duration, etc.  China, for political as well as military reasons, doesn’t want to be dependent on the outside world. So it seeks regional domination in order to remain the economic engine of Asia, and will enforce that superiority militarily more and more over time. Its words do not match its actions: its rhetoric is peace and conciliation, but its actions spell confrontation and conflict. Once China gets used to exercising the full panoply of power throughout Asia, it will add world dominion to its desiderata.

The world fondly hopes, and fondly believes, that war, especially world war, is an outworn relic of a bygone era; that the human race, having endured so much suffering and death in the last century, has finally come to its senses and will neither engage in nor permit another such global tragedy.  But the storm clouds of war are slowly gathering once again. Communism, past (Russia) and present (China), is not yet finished cursing the world.  Incalculable suffering, in Europe near the former Soviet Union and in Asia, is only a misstep away. Tyrants—Xi Jinping of China and Putin of Russia—are strutting the world’s stage once again. The lessons of history have already been forgotten. And so, pronounced Santayana, we shall be forced to repeat them.

Len Sive Jr.

VOYEURISM AND THE FAILED AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM

A few days ago at San Diego’s Woodland Middle School, in health class, 8th grade students were asked to stand under signs that indicated how far they would go sexually when they started dating. The signs read variously “Hugging,” “Kissing,” “Above the Waist”, “Below the Waist,” and “All the Way.”

So, here you are in 8th grade, at a notoriously awkward age, not yet dating, and you are to tell the entire class (and via rumor, the entire school!) how you might behave sexually in the future! This artful little game was something the “innovative” principal, Brian Randall, found in a community clinic, which was his defense in using it. (Randall’s logic: It comes from a community clinic; all things from a community clinic are educationally valuable; since this comes from a community clinic, it must be educationally valuable.) This exercise was billed as a way for parent-child communications to be opened up. How exactly that might happen was left unexplained.

And more to the point, how does this school arrogate to itself the right to ask questions proper only within the family (and most decidedly not in front of other students and staff!) or between a licensed therapist and his or her client?

I should like the school to put up signs for principals like Brian Randall to stand under (“I found this one at a community clinic, so it must be good”). Here are the signs: “I have not yet committed adultery, but I’m thinking about it,” “I have committed adultery, but regret it,” “I have committed adultery and enjoyed it,” and “Fidelity in marriage should be optional.”  This little game of mine, by the way, is “to open up communications between husband and wife.”

Just imagine this game: all the teachers are there, their spouses, the janitors even, perhaps a reporter or two (our rumor mill). And you must stand under one of the signs before the curious gaze of everyone present. Now it’s only a guess, mind you, but I think there might be one or two who would balk at playing this game, with privacy being the reason given.

Such “New Age” educational material is one reason why our school system is so poor; why we test almost last in comparison with other nations, developing and developed; why the media now broadcasts on a 5th grade level (news broadcasters, unfortunately, seem hardly better educated than that themselves!); and why we now see the dumbest productions on TV and in the movies.

Woodland’s descent into voyeuristic games in health class must surely be an indicator of the school’s overall intellectual quality. Do they teach Latin or Greek there, or French or German?  I would be very surprised if they did.  Can the students read good books (“Classics”) with both edification and enjoyment? Can they write well? Do they know how to diagram a sentence? How well prepared are they for entering high school? If Brian Randall’s use of logic is itself any indication, the intellectual strength of the school is on the short side of rigor and excellence.

The hard work of learning Latin in middle school or high school is today mostly just a memory, and yet those few students today who do take Latin easily outscore their non-Latin peers on standardized tests. The time taken to learn Latin rather than time spent on embarrassing voyeuristic “games” would aid a student incalculably more.

But one thing you can bet on from Principal Brian Randall, the path that should be taken to improve his school will not be taken. Why not? Because in response to parental criticism, he simply turned defiant and refused to take their criticism seriously.  In his mind there is no other truth than his own.  But as Socrates taught us two and a half millennia ago, real education is the search for Truth (not a defense of one’s opinions), but this presupposes humility and openness, neither of which Randall appears to possess. Since a school’s educational philosophy is largely determined by its principal’s, one may assume from Brian Randall’s defiant close-mindedness  that there is no great love of Truth at Woodland Middle School, and this would inevitably color what, and how,  a school teaches.

Our American education system is broken. One way to judge this is to look at the effects of science on our views of the universe. And what do we find? Science for half the country has had little discernible effect. 46% of American adults believe that the universe is 10,000 years old or younger. This view is called Creationism, which also advocates that God created the universe, as well as the first humans ( Adam and Eve), in just 7 days! It’s as if no progress in science has been made in the last 3000 years! Intellectually, there are many in the United States who are still in the Dark Ages! One often reads a lament about how we are not training scientists today. With Creationism believed so widely, one can see why the sciences have taken a back seat to unreasoning belief. The Bible is not and was never meant to be a scientific handbook. It is a book about God’s sovereignty (Genesis, Exodus)—a “Who the final authority is and our relationship to Him” and not a detailing “How the universe was created,” which is and ever will be a complete mystery, all the present and future scientific advances notwithstanding.

This simple fact, however, is too scary for the average Creationist to believe. Their faith is not strong enough to hold the sacred cup of mystery, their narrow minds too desiccated for the rich luxuriance of metaphor and symbol. Mankind is homo symbolicus; the Creationist on the other hand is homo timidus. But where there is no courage, there can be no true or lasting knowledge. The search for Truth is not for the faint of heart. To be numbered among God’s true followers is an essay in courage—and an adventure not of the spirit only but also of the mind. Only those who courageously  seek Truth truly live, truly embody the spirit of God. The fearful shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Woodland Middle School shows graphically how our education system is a failed enterprise. The reasons are many, however, and transcend easy criticism of Brian Randall. But he is surely part of the problem. He sets the school’s tone. In approving of a 14-year-old declaring publically what he or she would do sexually in the future is both pathologically voyeuristic, potentially psychologically harmful, inexpressibly inappropriate, as well as a bellwether of the continuing decline of the American education system.

Len Sive Jr.

THE NEW CIVIL WAR

There are several new books out on Lincoln which purport to reveal the true man behind the mask. To adapt a line from Shakespeare: “They have come, however, not to praise Lincoln, but to bury him.” These right-wing authors have ascribed the worst possible motives to everything Lincoln said and did. It is a revision of our history that in the wildest imaginings of my youth I would never have thought possible. It is also one of the surest signs of our nation’s current, and dangerous, state of being, our new “civil war.”

Disparate groups like the Tea Party, the NRA, the Republican Party, corporations, the largely right-wing  media, fringe groups like those supporting Clive Bundy, the KKK (a virulent white supremacist group), and other anti-government  groups and individuals, have declared war on our historical way of life. It is a new civil war, funded by, among others, the far right-wing billionaire Koch brothers.  And like the first Civil War, it’s a fight for the future, and soul, of America.

Below is part of a letter I wrote last year in response to these calumnies. It unmasks the preposterous image of Lincoln put forth by the right, by revealing  through a single incident–Lincoln’s ministrations to  a dying Confederate soldier–how uniquely humane a president he really was, and how utterly fortunate we were as a country to have had him as our president.  It is literally inconceivable to imagine any Republican today—let alone a Rand Paul, John Boehner, Clive Bundy, or the Koch brothers—heart-feltly ministering to their sworn, deadly enemies, “With malice towards none, and with charity for all….”

“Lincoln had served in Congress with many later Confederate leaders; they had been on friendly terms before the war, and Lincoln never abandoned their friendship even during the war. Given his nature and sensibilities, Lincoln would have had a very different form of “Reconstruction” than that which was instituted after his death. You are quite right to quote from the Second Inaugural as pointing out the path of reconciliation he would surely have taken. To say “With malice towards none” with the deepest sincerity (as he did) can only be done if it has already been embraced in one’s soul.
“What makes Lincoln our greatest American (and not just our greatest president) is that he was also a deeply loving and profoundly reflective Christian, who wrestled openly and honestly with those aspects of his faith which he could not understand, but who sincerely and reverently lived out that which he could understand. His was a costly and prophetic faith, to be relied upon to inform one’s daily thoughts and actions in all the myriad trials, sufferings, temptations, and uncertainties which everyday Life presents. But it was especially during wartime, with the horrific suffering and innumerable deaths of so many soldiers, both Confederate and Union alike, along with the death of Lincoln’s much beloved youngest son, Tad,  that deepened Lincoln’s faith the most, as he took upon his shoulders  the inexpressible grief and anguish of both the North and the South.

“To say that Lincoln was crucified by the war is only to speak the truth.  His was no tepid, bland “Sunday morning faith” that superficially satisfies so many Christians.  His faith burned hotter, and purer, tempered as it was in the intense fires of a fratricidal civil war, of brother against brother. I cannot think of another world leader, alive or dead,  who endured what he endured—nor one his equal in intellect, faith, charity, and humility, which makes his demonization by the political right so profoundly disturbing.  Moreover, Lincoln, unlike his many current denouncers, was absolutely incorruptible. His Tea Party and Republican accusers, on the other hand, have a long and sordid history of accepting cash for votes, from the NRA, JP Morgan, GE, Exxon/Mobil, et. al. These corrupt politicians, like Faust, have struck a bargain with the devil, while Lincoln alone stuck to the high, costly road of sacrifice, faith, integrity, and charity.

“The following anecdote, which not surprisingly was left out of these books on Lincoln, unveils the authentic Lincoln, the deeply humane, caring, and giving human being that he really was. I read about this incident a decade ago in a library in graduate school and here retell it from memory–faithful to the facts, but told in my own words.

“Lincoln had spent a long day at an army hospital visiting and comforting the many Union wounded and dying. As day gradually turned into evening, an exhausted and emotionally depleted Lincoln departed the hospital, climbed wearily into the presidential carriage, and  began the slow return to the White House, where  a late evening’s work  still awaited him. A hospital orderly suddenly ran up to the presidential carriage and shouted out, “There’s a Confederate soldier who wants to speak with the president.”  Lincoln, although clearly exhausted, stepped down from the carriage and with weary steps re-entered the hospital.

“The Confederate soldier was a young man, who, upon seeing Lincoln in the flesh for the first time, remarked naïvely, ‘You don’t look at all like the ape pictures I saw in the South.’  The two of them talked for some time. Then the young man asked if Lincoln would deliver a letter and heirloom to his family. Lincoln promised him that he would. Lincoln then said that he had pressing business still awaiting him, and was there anything else he could do for him. The dying soldier pathetically replied, ‘I was hoping you’d see me through (death).’ So this impossibly busy wartime president shunted aside all official business, and forgetful even of his own exhausted state, stayed with this enemy soldier until the very end, ministering to him and comforting him, weeping as he clasped the dying soldier’s hands in his own. True to his word, Lincoln made sure that the family received the young man’s personal effects.

Need I remark that this is exactly how Lincoln would have treated the South after the war  –with dignity, charity, mercy, and reason. What might our country have developed into with a Reconstruction based not on hatred and retribution but on mercy and charity for all?”

This incident clearly and unambiguously reveals what kind of president he really was: a deep-souled, caring, forgiving Christian whose tenderness, charity, mercy, intellect, moral stature, and self-sacrificing nature on behalf of the nation he was elected to serve—and harboring no ill-will towards the forces bitterly arrayed against him in an epic Civil War—are, so far as I am aware, unmatched in the annals of history, ancient or modern.

The destructive fires of our new “civil war”, which these revisionist histories of Lincoln are meant to stoke, continue today unchecked: ideological gridlock in Congress; hateful, petty Republicans calling for Obama’s impeachment every other week; lies and half-truths  on important political issues that are a staple of Republican incendiary rhetoric; adversarial politics of the meanest and vilest kind; the inability of the Obama administration to get its many, and important, appointments passed; votes openly bought in Congress in exchange for campaign contributions; a Congress meanly subservient to the wealthiest 1% while caring not a whit for the middle or lower classes. Two well-respected and very-influential political scientists, in fact, one from Princeton University and the other from Northwestern, in an empirically-based 20-year-long study of how Congress actually works, have openly declared thatour democracy is dead. “We are now,” they pronounced, “an oligarchy, a nation governed solely by the few on behalf of the interests of the wealthiest 1%.” And they have the irrefutable evidence of over 20 years’ research data to back up their claim.

“Our democracy is dead.” In these disturbing times, what we need are the intellect, courage, faith, charity and moral stature of another Lincoln to guide us through these turbulent and treacherous waters. The future of our cherished way of life now hangs precariously in the balance.

Can we still reclaim the dreams of our forefathers and bring good, honest, intelligent, and caring government to every American citizen? Can we both as individuals and as a nation seek truth, goodness, and beauty with unflinching zeal and steadfast devotion, working daily for peace and concord among all citizens while disavowing diatribe, division, and discord? Can we once again prove to a skeptical world that our once-cherished and highly-regarded democratic way of life is not yet dead and buried. That our democracy can justly represent all economic classes; that it can honor and aid both our poorest and most vulnerable citizens as well as our richest and most successful; and that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can, like the immortal Phoenix, rise once again triumphantly from its own ashes!

Len Sive Jr.

HENRY NEVILLE: THE REAL SHAKESPEARE!

I am just an interested reader, but several things about the Neville authorship argument strike me as compelling. First, from what I understand, Shakespeare had small Latin and no Greek at school yet obviously is highly learned in both languages. He also knew no Italian, yet translated from Italian for one of his plays. Having spent years working on the classical languages myself, I know how hard it is to master them. Is it conceivable that William Shakespeare could find the time, money, and tutor to manage this multi-years’ task (even excluding Italian) along with all his other acting duties and responsibilities, etc?

Secondly, is it probable that our greatest writer would have come from illiterate parents, married an illiterate woman, and raised two illiterate daughters? And died without a book to his name and with no copies of his work? I just don’t buy it. I don’t know a single literate person who doesn’t own at least one book. Books are to writers what paintings (or copies thereof) are to artists, or musical scores to composers: they are absolutely necessary for one’s artistic growth. Or solace: Queen Victoria kept In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennysonby her bedside; that’s the power and importance of books. And yet our “Shakespeare” had none? That’s simply impossible! To live in a world surrounded by illiteracy on all sides and devoid of culture and ideas may be a life fit for a mere actor in those days, but hardly for our greatest and most profound writer.

Thirdly, as a struggling poet, fiction writer, and dramatist myself, I find the argument about Neville’s switching genres, and writing his most profound works due to incarceration and impending death for treason, to be wholly convincing. Writers don’t write in a personal-social-political vacuum–least of all a Henry Neville, a Lancaster, Parliamentarian, former Ambassador, and friend of Essex, the leader of the rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I, who had become quite tyrannical in her old age.

Nothing comes of nothing. Your personal situation added to constant re-readings of your favorite books, being drawn to new books and ideas that mirror your changed opinions or life-situation, with new understandings of your life and purpose arising therefrom, and thus mandating a change of topics to write about–this is just plain ole commonsense. This is how we grow and change–and how a writer’s life–or any artist’s life–changes also. An exquisitely sensitive man as Neville must have been must be expected to be changed by his new, tragic circumstances, all the more so given his depth and rare genius. (And these few obvious points regarding Neville’s authorship don’t even begin to touch upon the bookfulls of evidence in favor of H Neville as presented by Brenda James et al.)

Fourthly, Shakespeare’s works are endowed with high culture and an aristocratic and highly intellectual ambiance which would have been impossible for William Shakespeare to fake, let alone to acquire. Like it or not, we are to a very large extent determined by our socio-economic situation, then as now. The stamp of our upbringing only grows more visible over time. In days of old when the caste barrier was most impregnable, only those “to the manor borne” could’ve written about Princes and Kings and Queens so facilely and convincingly.

Fifthly, “Shakespeare” knew the world of commerce as well as the gentile world. Neville’s background fits the bill here too.

One last, intriguing idea: Neville’s Oxford Don (master), Henry Saville, was put in charge of translating parts of the Bible. Could it be that this is why the King James Version (KJV) is so lovely, that one of its writers was “Shake-speare” himself, Henry Neville. Nothing comes of nothing.

Len Sive Jr.

CORPORATE GREED AND INJUSTICE IN HEALTHCARE

John and Donna McShane, citizens of Alberta, Canada, spend part of each year on vacation in Arizona in their mobile home. In 2012, while vacationing in Arizona, Donna developed a bad cough; she was advised to go to the Western Arizona Regional Medical Center, in Bullhead City, for an examination. Since she had health insurance from AMA, which is owned by Manulife Financial, both of Canada, there was no hesitation in recommending that she enter this regional hospital for tests.

During her five days’ stay at the Western Arizona Regional Medical Center, she underwent different tests, none of which proved conclusive; and even spent 2 days in isolation on the fear that she might have tuberculosis. (She didn’t.)  After a five day uneventful stay in the hospital, she was released, with only a prescription for steroids for her troubles. Her total bill: $105,000!

That’s not the worst of it. Her insurance company, AMA, obviously not wanting to pay the hospital bill, said that, on closer examination, they had “found an error” on the McShane’s insurance application form regarding prescription medication, and as a consequence nullified their policy, making the McShanes, who live on $30,000/year, liable for the entire amount! This is an all-too-common subterfuge employed by insurance companies to keep from honoring a policy where large outlays are to be paid. And, unfortunately, they usually get away with it.

What are the notable points here? First, a simple mistake on an application, found only after a large outlay was to be paid to the hospital, is used as a pretence for cancelling their policy–although no such problem had been detected so long as the McShanes were paying into AMA! But as soon as AMA was faced with honoring their contract, suddenly the McShanes’ application came under the closest scrutiny and—surprise—was decreed wanting.

Secondly, it is nothing short of obscene that after only five days in a hospital—however, not in the ER or ICU, and not involving multiple surgeries, limb replacements, organ transplants, or other expensive, labor intensive procedures—the hospital could charge her $105,000.  Given what Donna McShane underwent while in the hospital—or perhaps one should say what she didn’t undergo—such a huge bill is simply incomprehensible.

Years ago I worked in a hospital in the Northwest and became good friends with one of the ER doctors. He was in charge of organizing lectures, at the hospital, for the physicians. For that year’s lectureship, he invited a well-known physician/professor from an Ivy-League medical school who was an expert on hospital pricing. What he said was unbelievable. Costs—the expert  used as one example open- heart surgeries—astoundingly, were arbitrarily set—literally “picked out of the air;” in this case a “cost” of $5,000 per valve. Not because it really cost that much—it didn’t. None of the costs he mentioned were grounded in reality. They were simply—incredibly—arbitrarily decided upon.

Let’s examine this $20,000 per day expense more closely. A bed at a nice motel might cost $70/night.  That’s a far cry from a hospital’s $20,000 per night, even granted the obvious differences between the two! (Indeed, is there even a super-luxury hotel that charges this much?) Clearly someone—or many people—are making lots of money with these super-inflated costs. As for me, there’s no possible argument that can make me believe that resting your head on a hospital pillow, plus a few tests, could cost $20,000 per diem!  By way of contrast, I see my doctors in Korea for about $4 per visit. I had an endoscopy in the hospital for around $100 dollars. I see both my orthopedist and his in-house physical therapist(s) for about $12 combined. These prices put into stark relief the absolute unreality of the hospital’s $20,000 per diem price tag.

When health care is left up to doctors, for-profit hospitals and clinics, and insurance companies, cases like the McShanes are rife; for their sole concern is how much profit can be made, while the health of the patient is always of secondary importance.

This is why health care is one of many aspects of our modern life that the federal government must take complete charge of–contra the Republican party’s no-government-at-all platform—in order to serve the greater interests of the nation and its denizens. Infrastructure, including the development of mass transportation systems and the repair of bridges, gas and electricity for homes and businesses, the funding of new forms of energy, well-maintained streets and highways, conservation, worker health and safety, the establishment of a livable minimum wage, affordable medications, etc—these are some of the areas in which, for the sake of our nation’s health, safety, and welfare, the federal government MUST take control. Corporations, with their eye exclusively fastened on profit, are unfit to control these vital sectors of our common life. The CEO of Exxon/Mobil put it memorably when he stated, “I don’t care about America, I only care about Exxon/Mobil.” In a nutshell, that’s what makes corporations so dangerous.

Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 13, states: “The true statesman…wants to make his fellow-citizens good ….” That is, or ought to be, the true aim of every politician. Today, however, the only thing politicians care about is how to make their corporate clients richer, how to extend the corporation’s (and its lobbyist’s ) power into every crack and crevice of our modern life—but clearly not how to make America’s citizens “good.” Yet until and unless we elect to public office men and women who do fully subscribe to Aristotle’s view, such manifest injustice as has struck the McShanes must continue to wreck and ruin the lives of countless others—all the while making the 1% even richer, more powerful, more callous—and more evil!

Goodness or Profit: Democracy or oligarchy: that’s our modern era’s strict either/or. We are in a fight-to-the-death. Either we win and reclaim democracy for America or we lose and become mere slaves of the oligarchic Corporate State. The choice is ours to make.

Len Sive Jr.

THE NEW DARK AGE

A young German, Diren D., an 18-year-old exchange student from Hamburg, Germany, was fired upon with a shotgun and killed while entering an open garage in Missoula, Montana: yet another death that can be traced back directly to the NRA and its Republican and conservative Democratic backers.

This death seals America’s reputation overseas as an irrational, gun-toting, free-wheeling country unrestrained by education, the rule of law, ethics, morality, or religion. It is becoming, and in large part already is, the land—not of opportunity as it once was (corporations in America who run all things have dealt a death blow to that once-heralded idea) but a land of right-wing fanatics, without culture, commonsense, education,  or any genuine spiritual formation.

Take a Nazi; subtract his Germanness; add a lethal dose of Christian Fundamentalism; invest him with extreme anti-rational individualism; subtract all traces of the humanizing effects of Western Culture and of a Liberal Arts education, and you have the new right-wing, Tea Party Republican fanaticism that is the equal of al-Qaeda in its antipathy towards our modern, Christian, constitutional, tolerant, and humane way of life.

This anti-government movement is not a simple return to the frontier-life of the Old West, as the notorious cattle baron Clive Bundy and his ad hoc group of assault-weapon-wielding thugs would have us believe, but rather a return to the Dark Ages, when chaos ruled, and reason, like Oedidpus, was by emotion self-blinded, and everywhere life was without the humanizing effects of culture that alone make us rise above our mere animal nature.

The mind cannot sustain itself by its naked self alone. Subtract 4000 years of culture embedded in a liberal arts education; reduce Christianity to either  strict literalism or convenient liberalism; and this is what prevails—man’s merely instinctual, irrational nature.  God’s once-proud creation has been tragically humbled by excess, greed, sensualism, unreason, and the paucity of true culture, logic, and authentic  spirituality.

Let no one underestimate the power of culture and of a genuine liberal arts education in humanizing our rough animal nature. Spirituality alone is insufficient. For we must always make choices, and choices depend upon reason, logic, culture, education, and commonsense.

We are now becoming more and more bereft of these all-important humanizing qualities. And as a consequence we are now entering our own Dark Ages, with its chaos, lack of respect for human life, fearful insecurity, obsessive greed, sensualism run amock, self-satisfied blind ignorance, and a titanic narcissism.

The Age of the Enlightenment, whatever ameliorative effects it once ushered in, has long been over. Darkness and Chaos increasingly exert their baleful influence on our once-praised and emulated American way of life.

Len Sive Jr

THE GREAT HOAX

“You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”  Abraham Lincoln

A young professional athlete just got his first contract: 144 million dollars for 6 years! I did some calculating. That’s 24 million dollars a year, or 65,000 dollars a day, every day, for 2,109 days. A high school teacher, on the other hand, if well-paid, might make 65,000 per year. In a little over one month this athlete will have earned more than the teacher would have earned in 35 years of teaching. His salary would support 2215 teachers! Our society has gone mad.

This is the great hoax and it is we ourselves who perpetuate it. Nothing could be more absurd to any rational human being than the paying out of such exorbitant sums…to an athlete of all people, whose value to a society at any time in history, realistically speaking,  is only a little more than that of a fevered gambler.

It is one of the ironies of history that those who contribute the least to society earn the most. And those who contribute the most—nurses, teachers, care-givers, foster parents, writers, artists, poets—these all too often have to scrape up odds and ends of a living even though they are our society’s engine, and the source of all that is good.

Ask yourselves this: Your loved one is in the hospital gravely ill. Do you call up a rich athlete for help? The question answers itself. You rely on nurses and other care-givers; into their hands you entrust your loved ones. This single test tells us whose value is greater. Yet who makes more money? Who is more esteemed? And for what? What do athletes contribute to the advancement and welfare of society? Absolutely NOTHING.  They play games—sometimes painful games, but games all the same. And that’s it. That’s their total contribution. Nothing shows more clearly than this just how wrong-headed are the values of our society.

It’s all a big hoax. We have been brainwashed by those who benefit from sports—the owners first and foremost, then the athletes, the advertisers, the media, etc.—into thinking that sports are important, that athletes are special.

More repugnantly, education at the high school and collegiate levels is all too often twisted and defiled just to accommodate an athlete. Recently on the Internet there was a piece about the University of North Carolina, a top university, which had created non-existent classes just for its athletes to take and to receive an “A” from. An entire university twisted and bent into lying and deception solely on behalf of its athletes! Our society’s most important institution abused for the sake of sports. Plagiarism is a capital offence at universities—but lying and cheating on behalf of athletes is OK! Nothing shows more clearly, more emphatically, how off the mark our modern society is. Sports—to coin a phrase—are  just sports, nothing more.

The big hoax is that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking otherwise.

Len Sive Jr

THE EXXON/MOBIL FRACKING HYPOCRISY

“This type of dysfunctional regulation [of fracking] is holding back the American economic recovery, growth, and global competitiveness.”  Rex Tillerson, CEO, Exxon/Mobil, 2012

“I don’t care about what’s good for America. I care only about what’s good for Exxon/Mobil.”  Rex Tillerson, CEO, Exxon/Mobil

“Do as I say and not as I do.” (The hypocrite’s word of wisdom.)

“Poetic justice: An outcome in which vice is punished and virtue rewarded usually in a manner peculiarly or ironically appropriate.” Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Rex Tillerson has recently joined an anti-fracking law-suit which seeks to stop fracking near his Texas home on the grounds it lowers property values. Many see (long overdue) poetic justice in his joining a lawsuit to stop fracking near his house.

What is so interesting here is that he has been denying this affect on property values up to now in order to go fracking in anyone’s backyard whenever he desires to. His anger at regulating fracking when it involves your house or mine is reflected in the above quotation of Tillerson’s of 2012. As is so typical of corporations (ie, of their CEOs), they never tell the truth—certainly not the whole truth. He knew fracking was bad for property values, but that was never publically acknowledged  in order for Exxon to go fracking wherever it pleased.  Truth and Corporations never were on good terms. But now that fracking is scheduled to start near his house—well, that’s a horse of a different color. The hypocrisy here is incredible. But what is even more so is the rueful fact that no one is calling him on it. In vain do we search for an intrepid reporter to lock horns with him on this.

And no one is connecting the dots here, either. This is how corporations operate; it’s their modus operandi, their method of operation. In vain will you search the operations of your typical big corporation and see transparency, honesty, ethical behavior, and concern for the public and its welfare. Tillerson’s comment that he doesn’t care about America is crucial here to understand the mindset of a (especially large) corporation. It’s not just rhetoric for Tillerson. He’s deadly serious about that. And Americans praise corporate CEOs like Tillerson? Corporations are like a kingdom within a kingdom—with this qualification: they are often stronger than the country they reside in. FDR found out that many Fortune 500 companies were helping the Nazis DURING the war, but was powerless to stop them. THAT’S why large corporations are so dangerous: they are a law unto themselves. Tillerson’s credo: “I don’t care about America, only about Exxon.” Let Americans remember that the next time we hear the media—or Republicans—praising corporations and how important they are to our country.

 Len Sive Jr.

REFLECTIONS ON A WORLD GONE MAD (Issue no. 1)

1. Now that Obama has hit Russia with sanctions, we can see how “free enterprise” works in Russia’s  so-called democracy: If you are fortunate to be a friend of Putin’s, then you will find yourself owning, or the CEO, of one of Russia’s financial/banking sectors or of one of its  industrial, mining, or gas/oil  sectors. Putin’s multi-billionaire friends are everywhere to be found, his enemies, impoverished, cowed and/or jailed by Putin,  are nowhere to be found—at least not owning or heading any important parts of Russia’s economy, or wielding any significant political opposition to Putin himself. In Russia, Putin is all in all. He reigns over a comradeship of thieves, stealing the wealth of Russia and concentrating it in his own hands as well as those of his closest friends and allies.

This authoritarian government, run by and for Putin and his friends as if they themselves held land-title to all of Russia, was run the same way under Communism. Then, communist leaders and their friends, and other important officials, all became exceedingly rich, while the average (proletarian) Russian suffered the indignities of a cruel, unpredictable dictatorship heaped upon bone-chilling poverty and inadequate health care. These Communist leaders of the Proletariat were regal in all but name—just as now under (Czar) Putin.  Forget free enterprise, forget democracy, forget human rights. Putin, like Stalin, has in his political vocabulary only three (five-letter) words, whether in affairs at home or abroad: might, power, and force. That’s his escutcheon, which is also a summation of his personality. He’s an insecure, egocentric psychopath, hence he brooks no opposition, no contrary views. Ice-water runs in his veins. He’s a little man with a big swagger, rough talking and rough acting. He believes in, exalts, and worships violence. Reason, debate, inquiry are for him dead letters. Faith as the true guide to practical living he utterly rejects. Such is the present leader of Russia, a great country but ever in tears of sorrow and anguish, from Peter the Great up to the present day. For in Russia, there exists no clock: the past is the present, and the present is the past, and both are prologue to the future.

2. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, a six-grader saved a fellow student from serious injury when she saw him cutting his wrist with a razor and rushed over to him, grabbing the razor and throwing it away. For her swift, meritorious conduct—for the love of her fellow human being—what reward did she get?—suspension from school, and possible termination!

But the one person who clearly needs to be terminated is not our young heroine but the principalherself, for such an egregious decision of the first order. Since when do we punish noble acts? Where are our values? our commonsense? our fellow-feeling?  our kindness? Are we become so vicious, so right-wing a nation, so dumb of heart and mind that this little girl’s courageous, noble, and Christian act brings only official reprisals, and condemnation heaped upon her head? O America, America, for thee I do weep.

Len Sive Jr.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: THE PARTY OF WOOLY MAMMOTHS AND NEANDERTHALS

“At every crossway on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.” (Maeterlinck)

      “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” (Voltaire)

It is absolutely stunning that in the 21st century we have people who hold great power, many of whom also aspire to the highest office in the land, who are themselves intellectual, spiritual and moral throwbacks to the Wooly Mammoths and Neanderthals. To use another image, they are “flat-earthers;” and no amount of science is able to get them to see the earth as a “sphere rushing through space around the sun.” For them the earth is flat, the sun travels around the earth, and the earth is 5000 years old—and nothing, least of all science, can change a “flat-earther’s” mind!

Armed with an amendment sponsored by Republican Rep. Max Teeters, the Wyoming Republican Governor Matt Mead has just signed into law  a bill that prohibits state funding for the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS)—an attempt by states to have uniform science standards nation-wide—because it accepts as facts both human-induced global warming and evolution. Does one weep—or laugh hysterically? Or perhaps both: first laughter at such insanity, then tears over such implacable, ideological ignorance as not even a lunatic would rejoice in. It is shameful beyond all reckoning, and shows just how ignorant and benighted are Republicans who hold political office.

Opposition to human-induced climate change has come from ( inter alia) the coal, auto, and oil industries, which have given hundreds of millions of dollars to fight controls on greenhouse gas emissions by secretly funneling money (for example) through (Republican) Think Tanks and other conservative organizations so as to give, deceptively, the appearance of intellectual inquiry, rigor, and debate on this issue. But it is all an elaborate charade. Yet again we witness how the wealthy and corporations diabolically influence public opinion in order to further their single-minded goal of unlimited profit and power—and the public weal, indeed the entire globe—be damned.

The NRA wrote and lobbied for and pushed through, thanks to overwhelming support by Republicans, a bill allowing guns on college campuses in Colorado. Never mind that unanimous opposition exists among police chiefs, professors, college presidents, and others directly affected by this bill. The NRA made sure that the bill, in the House, would pass over any and all objections. That’s what deep-pockets buy—unhindered influence. And that why lobbying as a source of influence, and the NRA, which uses lobbying to push it narrow objectives while ignoring the larger issue of public safety, are together America’s Public Enemy No. One.

The Right-wing speaks of “big government” and how it is taking over control of our lives. But the truth is, it’s big corporations, and organizations like the NRA, The (Right-wing) Enterprise Institute, and other ideological, conservative groups, that increasingly threaten the safety, health, and welfare of both our individual and communal lives—whose sole purpose is to increase corporate wealth and power.

Corporations far outstrip the government in reach and power, and thus are the real threat to our constitutional way of life—indeed, the danger of big government, by comparison, pales into insignificance. When year after year, now, the weather has become more bizarre and fantastically dangerous, not just in the US, either, but around the globe; and every credible scientific community unanimously cites human-caused greenhouse gases as the culprit—the super-rich and corporations still refuse to acknowledge the evidence because it would mean added costs on their part to lower such human-caused greenhouse gases. Forget what’s good for America or for the world; money is all their god—which is exactly why they are so dangerous.

If America is to move forward—and not backward; if it is to enter the 20th century (let alone the 21st) and provide affordable, and multiple, mass transportation systems for the whole nation (as ALL other industrialized nations have); if it is to stop human-caused greenhouse gases, and instead develop safe, renewable and sustainable sources of energy (and to hell with the auto/oil/gas/coal industries self-interested opposition); if  we are to have sane gun laws that make our nation safer rather than more dangerous (and to hell with the devilish NRA); if we are to focus once again on family, church, local (well-paying) jobs, education, and a rich and varied local communal life where small is decidedly better (and to hell with globalization, and bigness, and “made in China”—if we are to do these commonsensical things, then our great nation may once again thrive; but if we do not, it will surely die—slowly, painfully, and tragically.

Len Sive Jr.