Oh, (Big) Brother

April 27th, 2009 by Gid

I know some people who literally faint at the sight of blood; I’m one of those whose been known to watch surgical documentaries over dinner. In addition to an innate lack of squeamishness, I was further desensitized to human anatomy (in whole or in part) from an early age through repeated exposure to and education about the holocaust, as well as multi-media accounts – and some first-hand experience – of crime. My reaction to viscera is detached fascination rather than dread. I’ve been emotionally desensitized to it to a degree as well. I don’t recall when it was that such things first lost their impact, but after so many pictures, documentaries, and reports about concentration camps; after too many history classes documenting countless other wars; after a steady diet of rape, murder, torture, psychological abuse, poisonings, arson, and bombings from news media; after fictional reinforcements depicting psychopathic rampages of every flavor, I learned that this was “normal.” There is no horror, no shock, only a sense of sadness that some people have suffered, and a dull surprise that some people can have so little regard for others.

When I first graduated college, I had a degree in teaching. I was good at it, and for the most part, kids learned. For much of my life, I was anti-political. What little I bothered to learn about the current events in DC had little to do with what I’d learned in civics class, and it seemed that those in charge hadn’t progressed much beyond kindergarten. Instead of hearing, “If you won’t play by my rules, I’m gonna take my ball and go home!” one would hear, “If you don’t vote for my bill, I’m going to attach a housing tax hike to your animal rights proposal.” It wasn’t too long before my naïveté gave way to the realization that the same lamentable epidemic of political games that plagued the capitol had spread to the school systems. Shortly thereafter, my teaching career ended.

Further conditioning led me to pay scant attention to what was happening in Washington. In the first presidential election for which I was eligible to vote, Reagan was elected.  This began almost 30 years of a Republicant-dominated administration and resulted in the tragedy of ShrubCo. I still voted, and made occasional noises at those in charge, but the Republicants remained firmly entrenched, and few enough agreed with my views that they could easily be ignored. Again, I watched with that same dull surprise as scandal after scandal came to light; while Clinton was impeached for sexual impropriety, others literally got away with murder – or worse.

Finally, enough people realized that the poisoned policies of the prevailing party were imperiling our patria – indeed, the planet – and the Repug Republicants fell from power. Now the news is turning to the report card for the first 100 days of the new regime. Still, I’m under no delusions that the new administration is comparable to a Paladin arriving in the hour of need. Just as the BBC reported their report on Obama’s first days in office, there are still some flies in the proverbial ointment.

While I won’t bother to swat all the flies (you can see the Beeb’s report for yourself), I find it particularly disheartening that after protesting ShrubCo’s abuse of executive authority in warrantless wiretapping by the Nat’l Security Agency, Obama now invokes Sovereign Immunity from prosecution by those whose civil rights and constitutionally guaranteed privacy have been violated, claiming that “all of plaintiffs’ claims in this case would require or risk the disclosure of information properly protected by the DNI’s [Director of Nat’l Intelligence’s] assertion of the state secrets privilege.” No crime, therefore, exists if none of the illegally gained information is shared publicly.

It used to be considered quite chic for the US elite to follow in the footsteps of those “on the Continent.” Unfortunately, some of the Powers That Be in the UK now seem to be on the verge of following in some of our shadier footsteps, calling for a new system that “would track all e-mails, phone calls and internet use, including visits to social network sites” for use by the police. It seems that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is leaving quite a legacy behind, inspiring Big Brothers everywhere to keep diligent watch over their littler siblings.

Though it’s been years since I’ve felt anything close to this, I’m fairly sure this is called “horrified.”

Pests in Perspective

April 2nd, 2009 by Gid

I have a green thumb.  I’ve always appreciated plants; never mind the hours I spent in my mother’s yard pulling up weeds by the dozens, and that one unfortunate incident involving a weeping crab tree and a tractor mower.  There were a few houseplants around every summer growing on the screened-in back porch, some of which were taken in every fall to wait out the winter.  One of them was a jade plant, which grew very, very slowly.  It took me a while to get the knack of taking care of that one; I eventually did, but it still grew at a very slow pace.  After 20 years, it got to be about 2½ feet tall with a trunk the size of a toilet paper tube.

One of the few classes I liked in school was art.  Not that I was particularly good at it, although I do have a few creative genes that assert themselves periodically, but I liked my art teacher very much.  She was a cool ex-hippie, who also had an affinity for plants, including some that would have gotten her immediately fired and summarily prosecuted, as she once shared a particular plant with me to inspire my creativity.  There was a pothos growing in the room, and I begged her for a cutting of it, so I could grow one of my own.  And it grew.  By the time I was in high school, my sister had gone off to college, so I inherited her old room, which was larger with a big window facing east.  Before long, it was full of plants.

Although I’m a suburbanite, I’d say the air quality in my apartment is still above average.  In this room alone, there are five assorted cacti, a blooming orchid, a huge aloe, a coleus, two dracaenas, a wandering Jew, a bromeliad, a pothos, a elephant’s foot palm, a philodendron, and a geranium, all happily doing what plants do best.  My green thumb does have some dark spots, I’m afraid.  I’ve never had much luck with scheffleras, I have a very unhappy anthurium (it did not take kindly to being moved) and an English ivy sitting in a vase because it doesn’t want to grow in dirt.  And then there’s the problem child: a window-box full of gerbera daisies, which somehow came down with a case of fungus.  Despite washing every single leaf and keeping it treated with rosemary oil, it still wasn’t getting any better, and the little white tendrils kept reappearing.  I had just about given up when I noticed a teeny little speck moving across one of those tendrils, heading for a big orange blotch on another leaf.  The orange blotch was moving.

I’ve always gotten along well with bees; they periodically approach me, I inform them of my non-floral status, and they go about their business.  I don’t mind ants or spiders, providing there’s not a major infestation causing problems – like the time I came home from a trip to find a swarm taking up residence in my bed.  I like butterflies, grasshoppers, and I’ll even put up with the occasional wasp, as long as it keeps a healthy distance.  But I have a deeply rooted revulsion to most other members of the insect world, and my reaction is often to kill first and ask questions later.  I try to warn them, but their little buggy sense of persistence brings them back to test me, whereupon I find the most immediate and expedient means of sending them on to their next incarnation.  I do not do this with maniacal glee, nor do I bear them any enmity, I merely want them dead.  And so it was that the orange blotch was introduced to neem oil, and hundreds of vermin bit the dirt, rather than the gerberas.

I was watching a movie yesterday, which made me think about those mites.  If I use the zoom-out key to change the perspective a bit, I can see a big mud ball floating through space, crawling with a different sort of vermin, devouring air, water, vegetation, and breeding exponentially, with little regard to the dwindling resources of the organism on which they’re living.   Looked at in this way, I can almost feel a fleeting empathy for the mites.

Which leads me to the Republican’ts.  I’m not comparing them to vermin, though I will defend the right of anyone to do so, since civil rights came back into vogue on January 20th.  Yesterday, I heard part of Paul Ryan’s presentation of the April Fools version of the Obstructionist budget, wherein he said that “… to take advantage of peoples’ anger and anxiety, it may make good politics, but it’s not leadership.”  After I regained my composure, I wondered if he meant to defend, or obliquely apologize for his party’s actions since 9/11/01.  But under other circumstances – say, if a brick were dropped on my head or someone slipped me a dose of a psychoactive drug – perhaps I could believe that spending cuts were the answer.  Perhaps Mr. Ryan truly believes that applying failed ShrubCo policy would this time strengthen the economy instead of making it worse.  Einstein could have been wrong; it could be perfectly reasonable to try the same thing and expect different results.

Now imagine little Dickie Cheney at recess back in 1950.  He was frightened that the lump in the big kid’s pocket was not a brownie left over from lunch, but a rock to be thrown at Dickie’s head.  Therefore, arranging for the big kid to fall off the monkey bars and bash his head on the way down is perfectly justified – and that brownie sure was yummy.  It’s possible that this was a defining moment that lead to his actions as V.P.  Perhaps he truly believed that torturing suspects in black prisons was the best way to keep the country safe.  Perhaps he truly believed that Halliburton represented no conflict of interest.  From this perspective, greed and paranoia are actually sound policy.

I can understand this M.O.  Dickie, Mr. Ryan, and the other remains of their party, even hangers-on like Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly (no they’re not parasites, they’re just people who receive free meals in return for amusing or impudent conversation), they’re only following what they see as right course of action according to their nature.  Of course, they’d still be easier to understand through the aid of the aforementioned brick or psychotropics.  And I still want to get rid of those pesky vermin – the ones in the gerberas.