Here we go again

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Engraving, 1598

This month’s issue of National Geographic magazine features an article about human efforts to get to Mars. It has a gee-whiz tone about the technology involved, describes participants’ devotion to the quest and quotes justifications offered.

Its focus is limited to one question, put in big, bold type. “Everyone seems to agree: If humanity has a next great destination in space, Mars is it. But how attainable is it?”

No question is raised about whether we have the right to colonize and plunder another planet.

“…the spreading of life to what is now barren territory, is a morally desirable endeavor for reasons beyond how it benefits humanity,” according to the National Space Society  (NSS), whose corporate members include aerospace contractors and an adventure travel company.

Lucky Mars, to be the beneficiary of these generous imperialists (ed: strike that) forward-thinkers! Though survivors among colonized peoples may question whether it was life that was being spread or that their territory was barren, typically it became so after natural resources were extracted and much of the native population unfortunately perished upon contact with more civilized cultures.

Nobody knows whether there are living, sentient beings on Mars, or whether they’d want to share their planet, but let’s assume there are not. Why should we go?

Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company aims to land people on the Red Planet in 2025, believes a colony on Mars would be mighty handy in case some possibly self-inflicted catastrophe makes life on Earth less feasible for many. It’s not just for the bragging rights.

“There’ll be fame and that kind of thing for them,” he says. “But in the grander historical context, what really matters is being able to send a large number of people, like tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, and ultimately millions of tons of cargo.”

But what would people do up there? Not to worry – there’ll be jobs on Mars!

“We can reduce the human population of Earth not by reducing the total human population,” (thank goodness!) “but by moving people to space settlements,” say the visionaries at NSS. “Much of our mining, agriculture, and industry can also be moved to space settlements.

“The Earth can largely become a very environmentally friendly wilderness area with some parks and places of historical interest.”

No doubt that adventure travel company with the NSS will be happy to arrange vacation transport back to Earth for anyone who can get several years off from the farm, factory or mine and scrape together the $500,000 fare.

Maybe the fare will include a souvenir “Occupy Mars” T-shirt, worn by SpaceX employees, which they probably think are tongue-in-cheek. Unless, as Musk suggests, they put it in a grander historical context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From words to deeds

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Alec Cook, accused of multiple sexual assaults. Photo by John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

Men are entitled to sex with women and women are not entitled to say no.

This bone-deep belief is the bedrock of rape. It’s so embedded, in men and women alike, that we have trouble identifying it and bringing it to the surface for examination.

It’s simultaneously masked and enforced by stereotypes about male aggression and female passivity: expectations that being manly means being forceful,  put-downs and taunts about women being “over emotional” if they object or “unladylike” if they so much as raise their voices.

The most insidious aspect is that women have been taught they aren’t entitled to trust themselves. If you are constantly told you are too emotional to think straight and that your reaction is not justified, you’ll doubt yourself and what you saw, felt and know.

Thus the confusion of the young woman who texted to her brother how the accused had held her in a “death grip” and kept yanking her back to him as she tried to leave: “I don’t feel like I was assaulted…I don’t think. But I feel very weird.”

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Donald Trump, Republican candidate for president.

The behavior that becomes rape starts with words that express the attitude that women can’t be trusted. “Women have one of the great acts of all time,” today’s self-proclaimed alpha male, Donald Trump, said in The Art of The Comeback. “The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are killers.”

So, no need to believe women’s protests when men take what they feel entitled to. In this view, the lying, manipulative bitches are getting what they deserve.

Too much of a stretch? Not fair?

One of these men publicly boasted about grabbing women’s crotches. The other jammed his fingers inside them. Not a big stretch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Biggest Loser

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The closer we get to election day, the more candidate Trump morphs from bully to whiner.

My microphone was faulty! The media’s out to get me!

Next will come the crybaby: I was robbed! It was a conspiracy! No fair!

Despite dire predictions of chaos and revolution after the ballot count shows Clinton won, I think it’s safe to say most people just will heave a sigh of relief that it’s over. And some of us won’t be able to resist yelling at the self-proclaimed victim of injustice as he stomps, pouting, out of the schoolyard:

Nyaaa, nyaaa – LOSER!

The landlord game

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The latest applicant for a lease – let’s call him Mr. X – insisted I would not regret renting to him and his wife.

I very much wanted to rent to someone. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom mid-century modern he had just toured is the most expensive of the three houses I own. It had been vacant for two months, putting a considerable dent in my income.

Job loss, bankruptcies, piles of debt and the Great Recession created millions of foreclosed houses to be snapped up and potential tenants to fill them. Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

By the time Mr. and Mrs. X came along, a handful of people had filled out the seven-page application for a lease and agreed to let me run background checks on them. They included:

-A couple with six children who had racked up three evictions in 10 years and whose current landlord, asked if he’d rent to them again, said “Hell no;”

-A man whose application listed one year in prison for a drug offense that actually was two-and-a-half years for aggravated assault and being a felon in possession of a weapon, along with the drug charge;

-A guy who arrived in a Porsche and made lots of money, but had refused to pay a doctor’s bill until ordered to by a court;

-A couple with $125,000 in school and car loans and a history of uncollected debts who gave me a disconnected phone number for their current landlord;

-A couple who casually mentioned that occasionally, on weekends when they would be out of town, they would allow bridal parties of six to eight women use the house.

Other applicants had jobs that paid so little they would spend half of their monthly incomes on rent and utilities.

It’s hard asking people to bare their histories and submit to scrutiny, especially when the resulting judgment is, “not good enough.” They might be especially galled if they knew that not even I, the house’s owner, would qualify to rent it.

My income, cobbled together from rents and earnings as a pet sitter, isn’t high enough and fluctuates. The job market ejected me years ago. The lump sum of cash (from selling a life insurance policy I owned) that enabled me to buy foreclosed houses and fix them up was gone. I have no pension, no spouse and very little savings.

So I have to be picky about who I trust with the literal keys to my current and future financial security.

That didn’t prevent me from taking on tenants who had been in prison for stealing cars or who had declared bankruptcy. But they told me about these events upfront. There were no unpleasant surprises in their background reports. The former car thief had matured and reformed. The job loss and cancer that caused the other tenant’s bankruptcy had not been avoidable. They had good jobs and enthusiastic references from their landlords. I approved their applications.

Mr. X and his wife claimed a yearly income of $300,000 from her pension  and his business in Africa, but provided not a single document to verify this. No bank statement, list of pension benefits or tax return.

As it happened, Mr. X. was Nigerian. I tried not to think about the emails in which Nigerian strangers had assured me they were rich enough to pay me back for the little bit of financial help they needed immediately due to the unfortunate predicament they found themselves in through no fault of their own. Then I reviewed Mr. X’s background report. It revealed prison time for having failed to declare $1 million in income.

Several weeks after I turned down their application for a lease, Mr. X emailed me. Not to worry, they’d found a place, and if he’d been in my shoes, he wouldn’t have approved his application, either.

 

The rise of the bully boys

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Trump, Putin, Duterte – Bully boys are ascendant.

They stoke hysteria in the already fearful with exaggerated pronouncements of crisis, then offer security in the form of a Big Daddy-knows-best arrangement. Scapegoats are targeted to justify aggression or oppression.

Their supporters believe themselves exempt from harsh tactics. Average citizens tell themselves that they aren’t one of “those people” causing problems. The wealthy or powerful think they can keep the guy from going too far. All accept the bully’s implied reassurance, after ranting threats at supposed enemies, “I don’t mean you.”

In the art of breaking deals, that will be just one more broken promise.

If you need a reminder of how far and how badly this can go, read “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis or “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer.

 

 

Trump’s America: land of the tweet, home of the craven

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The contest this November is between fear and hope.

Those who are fearful of the world, the future, the unfamiliar, of change and of Others have given up on our democracy. They feel (often rightfully so) that they’ve been lied to, cheated and used. They see no security in their futures and don’t believe they can exert any influence over the forces that control their fates.

The hopeful also feel they’ve been lied to, cheated and used, but haven’t given up. They see change as an opportunity instead of a threat, a chance to reinvent themselves and maybe the country for the better. They aren’t looking for scapegoats. They’re willing to take the risks of tolerance and to give up some security to forge a path into the unknown.

One group sees democracy as a zero-sum game whose rules are rigged against them. They think they’re falling behind because Others are getting ahead.

The other group thinks that if everyone follows the rules, nobody will fall too far behind and everybody has a shot at winning.

People in these two groups have one thing in common: they’re all angry with each other. The fearful view the hopeful as dupes who will only bring on more of the same. They want reassurance that somebody powerful will seize control to protect them, and they’re willing to let that person blow the whole country to hell because they believe the system can’t be fixed. They confuse bluster with bravery, bullying with strength and compromise with betrayal.

The hopeful will have to drag the fearful, kicking and screaming, into the future of an imperfect democracy. In this country, we dare to venture forth instead of hunker down, we value liberty over security and we strive to overcome fear with courage.

 

 

Customer disservice from the Chicago Tribune

photo from Wikipedia

photo from Wikipedia

The Chicago Tribune wants to dump its print-delivery customers, but doesn’t want to say so.

It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Or maybe they only want to dump Northwest Indiana, typically treated as the unwanted bastard child of the region.

For months, papers for Tribune subscribers here have arrived very late, then not at all.  Local retail outlets such as Walgreens would be allocated only one or two copies.

Sometimes I’d find a Wall Street Journal or a Post-Tribune in the driveway, neither of which I subscribe to, with these words scrawled on the plastic bag: “Sorry ran out of Tribunes.”

I finally cornered a carrier on one of the occasions he showed up with a Tribune, about 11 a.m. He said the Tribune had transferred its delivery duties in this area to the Northwest Indiana Times, headquartered in Munster. He said some carriers had quit. Those remaining, accustomed to having 500 papers to deliver, found themselves trying to deliver 1,000 papers. Since that many won’t fit into a carrier’s personal vehicle, they’d run out and have to drive back to the distribution point in Portage for more, then drive back to their customers in Lake County.

The Tribune’s customer-service phone number rang unanswered this morning before disconnecting itself. The message at the NWI Times customer-service number was, “Due to delivery challenges in recent days, your wait time may exceed 15 to 20 minutes.”

As in other crumbling relationships, the Tribune has been behaving badly for a while, probably hoping that its print-delivery customers would give up and go away because the paper lacks the courage to tell us it’s over.

Things probably aren’t much better in the newsroom, where many jobs have been axed and others outsourced. The remaining reporters continue to produce first-class journalism, but their heroic efforts are undermined by a system so shoddy it can’t deliver their work to customers. We’re being herded to the online version, kicking and screaming.

I’ll ask a few people at both papers if they’d like to comment on this. Maybe someone actually will.