Superbowl Season

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I’ve been a New England Patriots fan about forty years, beginning with when they got quarterback Steve Grogan. That was the first time I’d seen them been successful since the beginning of the American Football League about 1960, when they won one of its first championships.
The success didn’t last, though. They continued to be also-rans through the remainder of the 1970s and most of the 80s. They did reach the Super Bowl in the 1980s, but were uncompetitive, getting blown out by the Chicago Bears 46-10. They reached the Super Bowl again in the 1990s, and were more competitive, but still lost.
So I was very gratified when they went Super Bowling again in 2003, and this time won in a very dramatic game. They repeated in two of the next three years, and I was ecstatic.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning had joined the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, and had quickly become one of the premiere quarterbacks of the league. But he had two problems: he had a lot of trouble beating the Patriots, even when he had the better team, and he was less successful in the post-season than the Patriots with Tom Brady, the other dominant quarterback of the last two decades. Coach Bill Belicek of the Patriots seemed always able to devise offensive and defensive schemes to frustrate the Colts, and though Manning was usually on good teams, his career somewhat paralleled that of John Elway, as always a great quarterback with a team around him that couldn’t seem to give him enough support to win in the post-season. Of course it may have been that he didn’t always play well in the playoffs too. I haven’t seen enough of his games to say. But he has won a Super Bowl, as everyone wants to do, so he is inferior only relative to Brady and the Patriots. Until this year.
This year Denver is stronger defensively than I remember them being since the 1970s. They have a pretty good offensive cast surrounding Manning too, and he has always been a smart player. Now he’s very experienced too.
It didn’t look like this would be his year, as he was sidelined with injuries for much of it, including plantar fascitis, a problem which causes a foot to hurt agonizingly. It’s especially not good for quarterbacks, who have to put lots of stress on their feet when throwing the ball. But now he’s healthy again. He made some bad throws yesterday, but not many, and I didn’t see anything to indicate that his feet were hurting. He was the aggressor as the Broncoes (to whom he moved several years ago from the Colts) scored on their first drive, and never lost their lead.
Meanwhile, the Denver defense was making Tom Brady miserable. Brady is always the key to New England’s offense, and if you let him do what he wants, you lose. Being able to KEEP him from doing what he wants is the problem, but it was a problem Denver had the answer to yesterday. They kept constant pressure on him, intercepting him twice, hurrying him often, and often forcing him to throw the ball away. The Patriots managed to keep the game close, but that was the best they could do, which is unlike them in the playoffs.
Probably part of Denver’s success was due to New England’s offensive line not being healthy, but let’s not diminish what they accomplished. New England was in position to go to the Super Bowl, and Denver took a page out of their book to stop them, preventing them from ever getting an offensive flow. Two touchdowns and two field goals were all they could manage, and with Denver’s pressure, they did well getting those.
In the second game of the day the Carolina Panthers won with the greatest of ease, and looked overwhelming, as both Brady’s and Manning’s teams have often looked. Unsurprisingly, they have an outstanding quarterback, just getting well started on his career, and a good team around him, beating a very good team in the Arizona Cardinals and hardly seeming to work up a sweat. Will Denver be able to beat them? That would make a nice story, but it doesn’t appear likely.
I’m told that Carolina’s offensive line is one of the best parts of their team, which New England’s was not, and their quarterback is equally threatening as a passer and runner, so the challenge is much greater. They also have a good defense. So the key will be for Denver to disrupt Carolina’s offense to some extent–they can’t reasonably expect to shut them down to the extent they did New England–while having an outstanding offensive day. It seems unlikely they will be able to overwhelm Carolina’s defense, even if effective against it, and I would guess that’s what they need to do to win. But I’ve been wrong before.

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Conservatives and the Environment

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Cal Thomas, a well-known columnist wrote about climate change in a recent column. He doesn’t believe the climate is changing, or that, if it were, human activities have anything to do with it. One reader of the local paper caught him lying about that.
He cited one source as saying the Earth hasn’t warmed in eighteen years. The source in fact said that the earth had been warming steadily in that time. The other two sources Thomas cited were run by like-minded conservatives, so we can probably assume they had no more interest in being impartial than he did. Conservatives dislike the whole idea, and like to dismiss it as a way liberals (and presumably a majority of scientists) have devised conspiratorially to dictate to everyone.
Why did Mr. Thomas get so emotionally involved as to lie? Why does anyone? We all have biases. But one reason might be that one’s complicity in an ongoing catastrophe may be hard to acknowledge, especially if your political faith is partly defined in denying it.
Whether or not you believe human activity is causing climate change (I’ve always thought it plausible), what should be apparent is that humans spread pollution all over the world, destroying many plant and animal species. Elephants, rhinos, and lions are merely some of the most visible.
It should also be clear that destroying plant life, especially deforestation, is detrimental to the ability of plants to change carbon dioxide into oxygen, which is more urgent when we pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere yearly. That’s just one of the more obvious ways we destroy the environment we depend on for life ourselves. It’s an example of liberty become licence, in the name of profit.
Profiteering is one of the things conservatives accuse liberals of in connection to climate science. Is that really likely? Profits from clean energy are mostly potential at this point, while profits from the fossil fuel industry are well-established, so the profit motive is much more likely to be projection on the part of conservatives. It’s the fossil fuel industry that has for years been casting doubt on climate science. They want all our eggs in their basket, even though their basket is poisonous. Is propaganda to stop a new industry the way the free market is really supposed to work? Conservatives in this country are wedded to the idea of the free market, but it isn’t an unmixed blessing.
A good example of negative capitalism is illegal drug trafficking. This is capitalism without regulation, and we see how it operates. Torturing and killing are standard.
Are they capitalism unmasked? One would hate to think so, but there’s no doubt they are capitalists. They produce and deliver a product for which there’s a demand, and they’re ruthless in accomplishing that.
Is that essentially different from oil and coal companies hiring scientists to cast doubt on climate science? What they’re doing is a lot less overt than beheadings, kidnappings and murders, but is on a more massive scale, and arguably more damaging.
It’s interesting how bitter Thomas and other conservative commentators get on the subject of human activity causing climate change. They really want the whole world to agree with them, and may be bitter in part not just because of the disagreement, but because a sizable portion of the world considers them immoral.
They aren’t immoral just for their beliefs, nor are they they only ones who are immoral. Living in this country it’s very difficult not to be complicit in the massive pollution that interferes with the natural processes that keep all of us alive. Think of all the products we manufacture that don’t biodegrade. Probably millions of tons each year that leave piles of eternal trash littering the world. The one thing you can say in favor of this trash is that it’s convenient.
I contribute my share of trash too. When I give patients medications I use plastic med cups and plastic cups, and throw them away after one use. When I started working in a hospital almost fifty years ago it was somewhat different. A lot of the equipment was metal, and we sterilized it in an autoclave for repeated use. Now bedpans, urinals, and wash basins are all plastic. IV fluid containers used to be glass, now they’re plastic. IV tubing and oxygen tubing is all plastic. So are the lancets with which we stick the fingers of diabetics to check their blood sugars. Syringes are mostly plastic, and are only used once. The facility where I work generates a lot of plastic trash every day, and then you can multiply it by many other nursing homes in this area, two hospitals in the city where I live, and others nearby, plus doctor’s offices. That’s only one region, and includes only the medical industry. Consider how many other things are made largely of plastics, including computers, phones, CDs, DVDs, toys, etc. All these things are attractive, but are bad for the environment, since they don’t biodegrade. And I don’t see us trying to find alternatives to any of these things.
That means we still aren’t serious about the problem. My meditation teacher said that pollution would continue while people called each other names about it. The name-calling hasn’t stopped, and the pollution continues.
Our country can be great when we truly face our challenges. Right now most of us aren’t willing, and Cal Thomas lying about what our problems really are doesn’t help matters.

How I Became–and stayed–a Liberal

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Probably the first instance of politics I became aware of and had some understanding of was the Civil Rights movement. That was because my parents bought us a comic book telling the story of Rosa Parks and the bus boycott in Birmingham, Alabama, in the mid-1950s, which made Dr. Martin Luther King prominent.
Other people obviously didn’t have the same response to the movement I did. Probably that had to do with my parents. A black friend recently told me how impressed he was when my mother invited him and his brother to play with me and my siblings. I was surprised, because I hadn’t thought that was such a big deal.
I was somewhat aware of the Civil Rights movement, but can’t claim to have had any deep understanding. If I ever acquired that, it was much later. Nor can I entirely explain my reaction to that comic book, or to witnessing Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech on TV. The latter was happenstance: I happened to be with my grandmother when she was watching coverage of the March on Washington. Hairs rose on the back of my neck as I listened.
I think I must have felt even then that the way black people were treated was unfair, and later extended that feeling to other oppressed groups: gays, women, immigrants, etc. I had little to complain of myself, since I lived a comfortable life. I think I felt others should be as comfortable as me.
That’s certainly how my mother felt. She had a black friend in the 1920s or 30s when that was very unusual for a white middle class girl. When I asked her about it years later she mentioned that her church didn’t object, which I think may have been even more unusual. Not everyone has a mother like that.
Another unusual thing was she married a man whose initial attraction was that he was a conscientious objector during World War II. That meant that he opposed war, and didn’t wish to support it in any way. One of his brothers was a doctor, and served in the war in that way. The other was an ambulance driver. My father didn’t want to contribute even in that way, so performed alternative service in Indiana and North Dakota, building and repairing things. During that time he and my mother corresponded, marrying after the war.
My father was a devout Christian who believed that Christians should stand together, rather than each sect condemning the other. Although, as a member of the Quaker meeting in the town we grew up in, he was not a minister, he attended regular meetings of the ministerial association. That’s how he met a retired black minister who was grandfather to the friend I mentioned. We got to know him and his wife a little, then his son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. I can’t say we were extremely close, but did consider them friends.
Another influence was the Quaker meeting I grew up in. Although our variety of Quakerism was called conservative, there were some pretty liberal ideas current in it. We didn’t think much of the Vietnam war, for instance, while being in favor of civil rights. Another instance was a surprising tolerance for homosexuality.
This was shown in the Quaker high school I attended where one of the teachers (my favorite, as it happened) was gay. If secret at all, this was an open secret. I found out about it my freshman year, when I had very little understanding about sex in general, so that homosexuality wasn’t something I understood in any depth. I got that it meant males having sex with males, and noticed that the very word “homosexual” carried a strong negative charge, which made it sound sinister. I was biased, though, because I liked the gay teacher, with whom I had conversations on a deeper level than with most adults. This may have been what led me to reason that gays probably had little more choice in their objects of affection than I felt I had. Puberty had come for me, I was interested in girls (though afraid of pursuing them), and didn’t feel I had any choice in that. I had no interest in sex with males.
That made three areas in which my background encouraged me to feel differently than probably the majority of Americans. I was brought up not to have prejudice against blacks, as well as not to think well of war. Meeting that high school teacher in that environment encouraged me to to be prejudiced against gays either.
About the time I entered high school, the book Silent Spring was published. It was the first book on the environment I heard of, and though I didn’t read it, I was inclined to approve its message. The concern always seemed rational to me, just as the later concern about climate change seemed plausible. At about the same time I read a long article by a journalist named Fred Cook about the military/industrial complex that President Eisenhower had warned us about. I don’t remember many of the details now, only that I found it appalling. The military/industrial complex remains at least as influential now as it was then.
Later in high school Vietnam brgan heating up, and I was caught up in the outcry against that, though I didn’t know much about our involvement there until later. I knew I had no interest in being a soldier, though my disinterest I think was less idealistic than my father’s. It was my family’s expectation that I be a conscientious objector, so I did that, and worked in a hospital for two years as alternative service after graduating from high school.
That didn’t make me stand out from my background. Some of my friends and acquaintances refused to cooperate with the draft at all, and spent time in prison. Others performed alternative service, like me. Perhaps the most outstanding person I knew at the time was a German exchange student who, after spending a year at my high school, decided to declare himself a conscientious objector, with a lot less precedent in Germany than here, and managed to convince those in authority to let him perform alternative service there.
I can’t claim to have done anything much in the realm of politics either, other than reading things to try to deepen my understanding of history and current events. I think my background has meant I identify more with underdogs than with wealthy and powerful people. This may be a generic difference between liberals and conservatives, as I think the latter tend to like how our society is structured. Although I recognize my advantages, I’d like to see more people treated fairly.
Had I been brought up elsewhere, and with a different background, my political beliefs might well have been different, though I’d like to think not much different. I think the passions in politics are often aroused by feelings of personal injury. My anger in political matters is generally less personal, more over situations that seem unjust to me. At some point I may suffer injury from politics, but haven’t so far. That might be called “white” or “middle class” privilege. There have been times I haven’t made a lot of money, but haven’t needed a lot either. I haven’t been persecuted for skin color, beliefs, or anything else.
It seems reasonable to me to believe that failure to prevent injustice will eventually make us suffer it, so I try to stand up for what I believe in small ways, though I doubt that I influence many people. I’m not wealthy, and don’t have a very loud voice. I do enjoy discussing issues with people, but if I sway them, I don’t know about it.
In the 1960s it seemed as if we were headed towards a more egalitarian society, but the trend has reversed since then. There are a lot more billionaires than there used to be, and correspondingly more poor people. There also seems to be more condemnation of poor people simply for being poor, which makes little sense to me. Not that I think poor people are automatically virtuous, but neither are rich people. Rich people who inherited their money don’t deserve to be congratulated for being rich, and those who didn’t only deserve adulation depending on what they did to become rich. Being rich doesn’t make a drug dealer a better person.
It did seem that we’d learned a lesson from Vietnam–for awhile. We did have “military actions” that weren’t worthy of being called wars, but then we got into wars that were successors to Vietnam in that they took a long time and we didn’t win a clear-cut victory. Once Vietnam was 25 years behind us people infatuated with our military power became influential again. The result didn’t make me feel more secure. For one thing, that was the beginning of the massive national debt we now have. For another it made a lot of people hate Americans because of our arrogance and because we killed so many people in the Middle East. We complain about Islamic terrorism, but we inspired a lot of it by our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We weren’t smart enough to learn from Vietnam for very long, nor from Russia’s intervention in Afghanistan. To be fair, Russia doesn’t seem to have learned from it either.
There are two particularly troubling issues at present. The first is climate change and the refusal, especially in this country, to take any substantive action to ameliorate it. That refusal is part of the second issue: that our country is controlled largely by corporations who have more influence over the government than almost any other group. That’s not how a democracy is supposed to work, and it means that concerns of the majority of citizens are often not addressed.
That means that many of the jobs that successfully made the American Dream come true aren’t around anymore. Factory jobs used to be jobs almost anyone could get because they didn’t require highly skilled labor. Once factory workers started getting well-paid, the middle class expanded, and more Americans were financially secure than before or since. Now the middle class is contracting, as employers look for ways to avoid paying most employees enough to have any financial security. Many seem to see employees as their enemies.
Some things have improved in my lifetime. I never expected gays to be so accepted or gay marriage to become legal. It’s interesting that the gay rights movement began at very nearly the same time as the resurgence of conservatism, and the two movements, though different in aims, have been successful for similar reasons: they organized, and got their message out there. We may or may not like either of their messages, but must acknowledge their success in promoting them.
On the other hand, a lot of things haven’t improved. Many people are at least somewhat environmentally aware, but degradation of the environment continues. Racism also continues, and contributes to our having one quarter of the prisoners of the world, making our claim to be a free country sound ironic. Not only do we mistreat minorities, but there have been more and more voices justifying it. It’s as if we don’t have the imagination to think how we would tolerate discrimination aimed at us. Of course there are always people who claim to be victims that really aren’t, which obscures the problems of the real victims. I don’t see any justification for the claim that Christians are being persecuted in this country, for instance.
I wish I could see my country in a more positive light. There have been bad things we’ve done since the beginning of the European migration to this hemisphere, but there have also been good things.
Organizing a government with at least the potential to be an actual democracy was an unlikely achievement. So was the American Dream, possibly best epitomized by Abraham Lincoln, who came, seemingly out of nowhere, to keep the Union together and free the slaves. The task he took on, successful at the time, was left unfinished, because there are always threats to liberty and decency. Each generation has to fight those battles again. My generation tried, but in many respects didn’t succeed. Now the dangers are even worse. I hope my country will make good choices in the coming years, but am afraid it won’t.

Political Correctness

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George Will recently wrote a column about how ridiculous political correctness can be. Of course it can be silly when taken too far, but what was the point of it to begin with?
Conservatives prefer to define it as something liberals devised to shame and dictate to them. In what way? By requiring good manners when speaking of minorities, or anyone else you don’t like. I think a lot of people who make a virtue of political incorrectness do so in nostalgia for the days when it was perfectly okay to call minorities demeaning names as a way of reminding them they could be subjected to arbitrary violence. That’s not what I’d call good manners.
If you use the “N” word to someone black, that’s politically incorrect. Your mother might tell you it’s also impolite. A friend of mine has told me, “A gentleman is rude only with deliberation.” In other words, a gentleman strives to be polite, unless someone else is being rude, in which case he reprimands them. A professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington tells students tells his classes they should expect to be offended, because free speech does include offensiveness. Let our speech be free, but let our rudeness not be gratuitous.
When I walk around the nursing home where I work at night I catch glimpses of TV programs, sometimes including Fox News. Two discussions I heard recently I find exquisitely ironic.
One was a discussion of “white privilege”. Conservatives seem to be offended by the very idea, despite its obvious history. I suppose they prefer their narrative that black people are mostly poor because they’re lazy. As one with a number of black co-workers, I can affirm that some are and some aren’t, just like whites or anyone else. As I understand it, white privilege is a term meaning, among other things, that whites stopped by police don’t have to fear for their lives. A number of news stories in recent years demonstrate that that’s not true for blacks. So does a study recently reported on in the New York Times. Traffic stops in Greensboro, North Carolina, over several years were studied, and it was found the blacks were stopped twice as often as whites, although whites were more often found with contraband.
The other topic was a cartoon in a college paper depicting the Republican party as Jihadi John, who is famous as a member of ISIS who has appeared in videos of beheadings. Apparently conservatives find this offensive, and respond by whining about it, just like liberals are said to do. My immediate response was, “Republicans can dish it out, but they can’t take it.” Apparently free speech isn’t so desirable when the shoe is on the other foot. Has anyone kept track of the number of names President Obama has been called? Is this still the party of he-men like John Wayne, or is it the party of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who never served in combat, but were pathetically eager to use military force when they were in a position to do so? President Eisenhower must still be turning over in his grave.
I might add that other prominent Republicans share the distinction of never having served, like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. And the Republican party has refused to give veterans the benefits they need and deserve. You would think Republicans would be grateful to veterans, but apparently you would be mistaken. I think that means the rest of us should be allowed to question their patriotism, as they question the patriotism of Democrats. ANY Democrats.
Republicans have been establishing that political INcorrectness is a virtue for the last thirty years or so. But we should note that it isn’t just honesty. It’s using one’s nastiest beliefs to intimidate, as encouraged by people like Rush Limbaugh. This is certainly bad manners at the very least, especially when the objects of abuse aren’t allowed to reply. It also calls into question just how Republicans feel about liberty and democracy. I don’t think they particularly approve, unless they are to have more power than anyone else.