Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Living Hell of Half-Assed Democracy

"For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!” — From "The War Prayer", by Mark Twain

Half of us hate the other half. We blame the other half for almost everything that is “wrong” with our country, whatever that means to us. If the other half was struck down by lightning, our lives would be instantly cured of all problems. Considering ISIS is no more than 20,000 people, hating 165 million Americans must require a hell of a lot more energy.

When politicians and their followers say, "the American people", they  mean roughly half of a nation. When half of Americans say "make America great again", they mean, give me back my America. When the other half of America says "not my president", they mean, give me back my America... will the real America please stand up?

The unhinged extremes of "conservatives" and "liberals" were never opposite each other: they were always side by side. Think of a protest, where obnoxiously loud, heated exchanges take place. The extremes always find each other, with a mission to destroy the other. They blow up the ground they stand on, creating the Grand Canyon of democracy. The moderate watch from the safe distance of their respective cliff edges, polarized by the unchallenged belief that a force much greater than themselves created the canyon.

As long as both mainstreams continue to enable their unhinged extremes, the insanity will continue. The pendulum will swing every four to eight years. The policies will be done, then undone. Then done and undone all over again. 


"Half" is not a victory. We don't do half patriotism, half pride, half intelligence, half compassion, half jobs. No real leader would ever disrespect half a nation. Many of our forty-five leaders consistently showed us that they either never understood half our nation, or worse, chose the half they could profit from the most. The day a politician says, and more importantly means, "half of you have placed your trust in me, and you are getting your wish... but the other half does not like or trust me: they are a huge priority for me" is the day democracy will no longer be abused by the schizophrenia of nations.

...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Cincinnati, OH! (A Tribute)

It's not that Cincinnati is better than any other place on the planet. Every place has its greatness, and uniqueness. It's that every place deserves to be homaged. This is my tribute to the Queen City.


Credits: Drone Images by Third Eye Aerial, Steven Madow, and Phil Armstrong. Black & White Photography by Joe Yanes. Music & Lyrics by Leonard Cohen. Music performed by Jeff Gutt.

Compiled / Edited by Joe Yanes & The Daily Presence. A not for profit, not compensated production. For any questions, comments, please contact yanesjm@yahoo.com.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Silence Disturbed

Patchogue (NY) resident James Klein, a registered Republican
and a Navy veteran, hangs the American flag upside down
outside his home on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
Martin Scorsese's "Silence" is a brutal story of persecution. Going back to the early 1600s, Silence tells the haunting story of the first Christian missionaries in Japan. Not for the faint of heart, the film portrays  inhumanity to an extreme that makes you wonder if the universe is simply not better off without us. 

Leaving the theater, I experienced a revelation of sorts. It suddenly dawned on me that stories about religious, ethnic, or political persecution are all trying to convey the exact same message: persecution exists because the powerful minority will always posses a consuming fear of the powerless majority

I decided to read-up a bit on the subject of human fear, as it should be clear by now that politics is more about the management of fear than anything else it claims to be. The simple conclusion was that fear is the most basic, but ultimately most toxic of human instincts. It brands itself from early life as our protector-in-chief, a survival of the fittest superhero of sorts. Yet as honorable as mere survival can be, and as useful to evolution as it has been, fear often reaches dysfunctional overload when unchecked. We are coded to take even the hint of a minor threat and entertain worst-case scenarios in the kangaroo courts of our mind. When it comes to fear, sense has no voice in our decision making process. When it comes to fear, alternative reality makes as much sense as we need it to make.

Every generation since the dawn of man has witnessed the tragic impact of irrational fear. Ours is no exception, so it's best not to fall prey to nostalgic distortions. There is no way to sugarcoat it: fear, unchecked by either reason or faith, makes cowards out of mere mortals. 

Teddy Roosevelt, one of the great conservative presidents of the United States, best summed up the power of caution over fear with his famous maxim, "speak softly, carry a big stick". Such was the quiet strength of our leadership, one that was instrumental decades later in the defeat of boisterous Nazi Germany. Yet somewhere along the way we seem to have lost the lesson. America has apparently stumbled into a leadership tinkering with dystopian antics. A leadership that could now be summed up by an unbecoming speak loudly, spread a big fear.  

Much has been written in recent days about the parallels between our latest brand of leadership and Nazi Germany. The superficial similarities arguably exist, except for one important detail: Germany imploded during the Great Depression, America grew stronger. Germany devolved practically overnight from Weimar Republic to Banana Republic. The foundation-less Republik was no match for the strength of our checks and balances, making current comparisons premature. Besides, we have plenty of swept-under-the-rug issues that have plagued us for many generations. Never mind the dark specter of an American dictator. Worrying about a Nazi fate only clouds very real and unsolved problems. The kind of problems that will likely be the real undoing of the great American experience, such as our alarming rate of incarceration (US DOJ and Interpol statistics), murder rate by firearms (FBI stats), and real unemployment (US Dept of labor and Census Bureau). None of these problems have anything to do with ISIS, and although they are complicated by illegal immigration they will not go away if we stopped ALL immigration. 

That being said, our mighty checks and balances today are about to be tested like never before, much to the concern and contempt of half a nation. But consider the following: the other half, the one who ushered in this chapter of American history, held the exact same contempt for the previous leader. They fell back on the same kind of Naziesque warnings: Obama was a dictator that was hellbent on destroying America. It was a contempt driven by fear (much like the current contempt), and there was not enough consolation our checks and balances could provide. 

There is no doubt in my mind that one of the two sides of this dysfunctional marriage we call America is closer to the truth. A mediocre accomplishment, as almost-truths always are.

As I watched Silence in my own distressed silence, one particular word kept recurring in the story: apostasy. Apostasy is "the formal disaffiliation from, or renunciation of a religion by a person". Apostasy, it seems, is also what lurks in the shadows of America’s Heartland. A Heartland with a vindicated mandate to cleanse our "formerly great" nation from fear-inducing ethnicities and non-Christian religions. A Heartland who will no longer remain in silence. A silence, disturbed. A disturbance that now haunts those who call themselves The Resistance. A resistance that will swing the pendulum of democracy back within the next four years, so we can get up and do it all over again. 

Until then, those of us obsessed with making sense of it all might finally understand the words of America's subway prophets: "Fools, said I, you do not know: silence like a cancer grows..."


***


SPOILER ALERT on the video below. 
Do not watch if you've never watched "House of Cards" 
AND you intend to do so. Oh an also it's NSFW.


"Silence Disturbed"
A Videoblog by the Daily Presence-Joey
Video editing by Joey. Scenes from House of Cards
Song performed by "Disturbed", music and words by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Old Potomac Two-Step

Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson
Like Rex Tillerson, my father was an Exxon lifelong career man. When he retired from Exxon he became an industry consultant. In the mid 90's he and I worked together on a series of international oil companies projects, collaborating with major consultants including McKinsey, Accenture, and PA Consulting (UK). Contrary to popular belief, Exxon and most of the major oil companies have been spending significant time and resources on cleaner, alternative energy. My father collaborated with one or two universities, with a minor assist from my part, on studies involving the impact of improved engine efficiency, the gloomy future of oil prices, and the end of the oil industry as we know it.

Towards the end of the 90's, Accenture asked for our help on a project in Russia (Samara), not far from the Caspian Sea. Rex Tillerson was VP of Exxon's operations in the region at the time, Exxon Ventures CIS. We met with Tillerson on one occasion, he struck me as a straight-shooter. The culture at Exxon, one I experienced by osmosis at home growing up, has always been strongly pro-science. There was an exception during the administration of Lee Raymond (1993-2005), when Exxon took a skeptical approach to climate change. In 2006 Exxon changed leadership and self-corrected. The new CEO declared there was no question that human activity was the source of CO2 emissions, one of the leading causes of detrimental climate change. That new CEO was Rex Tillerson.

Now, I'm not going to go out on a limb for a politician. I don't know if Tillerson will do the right thing as Secretary of State, politically or otherwise. I really don't know if he has any skeletons in his closet, though I'm fairly certain he was picked by Trump-Bannon for his Russian stripes. Either way, it's not my turn to watch him. For those whose job it is to watch him, Tillerson's confirmation was not among the most bipartisan. That honor belonged to Gen. James Mattis, a true warrior and principled anti-torture dissenter amidst a lair of scorched earth high-anxieters. What has been said about Tillerson by his opponents is that his climate change position has made him a respected foe. 

For his part, unlike Mattis and Tillerson, President Trump has already demonstrated he lacks character and wisdom. Unfortunately for the majority of our country we’re stuck with him for at least four years. Unless he places us in clear and present danger, beyond the shadow of constitutional doubt, for the next four years we will be testing the structural strength of our mighty constitution. After all, what the Founders giveth the Founders can taketh. Don't hold your breath though, Donald Trump has mastered the "art of the deal": riding lawyers to a legal netherworld, a sanctuary of entitlement where you can turn six bankruptcies and 3,500 lawsuits into profitable exit strategies. Having said that, and in the meantime: just like Obama supporters pleaded with the opposing view to at least try and find common ground, perhaps a taste of the same medicine is now in order. 

For those of us who have lived long enough to see a few U.S. presidential cycles, and a few global recessional ones, the pattern is getting predictable. What isn't predictable, and therefore a threat to freedom and democracy as we know it, is irrational fear. Fear moves us in unpredictable ways, we don't like the unknown. So we adopt convictions through trial and tribulation as our road map. Then we set off on our journey according to our map, justifying our choices by seeking confirmation that we are on the right path. That confirmation bias is what makes us prey to the preachers of half-truths. It also distorts reality beyond recognition, creating fictitious alternate universes where no common ground exists. 

Thankfully for the fate of our planet, common ground is all we've got. It's the ground where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Atheists already coexist peacefully. Where rational conservatives and rational liberals currently work together productively. It's the ground where blacks, whites, and browns befriend and reproduce. Where straights and gays create art together without prejudice. It is the ground where Tillerson met with Obama multiple times, to plead his case on sanctions that carried unintended consequences. Where General Mattis was appointed by Barack Obama as Commander of the U.S. Central Command. It is, when all other ground has been scorched by the lords of war, the only ground that matters. Everything else is fear-based distortion of the weak-minded. It is the dancing in the dark of foes and fools.

To my oil industry phobic friends on the far-left: it seems to me that peer-reviewed science journals are as inconvenient to you as they are to the far right. Have you two met? Perhaps you can do dinner sometime. 

To my climate change denier friends on the far-right: How well do you know our new Secretary of State? You should reach out to him sometime and ask him where he gets his "fake, tree-hugging science". 

Has it ever occurred to both of you far-siders that it is getting more difficult to tell the two of you apart? In the words of another Donald, albeit a more poetic one:

What a tangled web we weave, go 'round with circumstance.
Someone show me how to tell the dancer from the dance”.

Don Henley / The Eagles (1973)



From Clear and Present Danger: (1994) "The Old Potomac Two-Step"




Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why We Can't Handle The Truth

Mark Twain is commonly credited in modern times as the author of the quote, "If you don't read the newspapers you are uninformed. If you read them, you're misinformed." Truer words are not often spoken, but either way those particular ones were never articulated by Mark Twain. Of all misattributed quotes, this one has to be the mother of all ironies. 

Let's just say that Twain, one of my favorite observers of humanity's insanity, was a contributor to that great quote. One that could have just as well been written for today's fake news-gate headlines. Take a look for a moment at the quote's evolution: as far as we can tell the quote's roots can be traced to Thomas Fuller in the 1600's, picked up by Thomas Jefferson in the 1700s, and enhanced by Twain's signature sting in the 1800s. The first known instance of the quote as we know it today was delivered in 1955 by Orville Hubbard, mayor of Dearborn (Michigan) at the time.

So why subject a simple quote to such a brutal dissection? And why does it matter where the truth comes from? Because a great truth, one that took three hundred years to be eloquently delivered, is still not understood by the average citizen today. This is a worrisome telltale sign of a mass learning disability. 

Yes, it matters where the truth comes from. It matters who it came through. It matters how long it took to be discovered. It matters how many people suffered and died needlessly because we did not understand it. It matters because we still don’t understand it. When it comes to the truth, everything matters.

For a generation that was raised on the urgency of "just do it" we sure take our time when it comes to our evolutionary hunger for the truth. If truth be actual food we would all be extinct by now. "Uh, Andromeda, this is HGS Beagle II... that's a negatory on minimal intelligence aboard that blue rock. Quite fascinating though, the place looks like a resort. Pity, what a waste of a habitable zone." 

Therein lies our tragic flaw: we still don't comprehend our evolutionary prime directive to seek the truth. Not the convenient truths, those are the few and easy ones.  It's the difficult ones that scare us. The ones that require we get out of our comfort zone. Oh but we sure pay lip service to hard truths. We fight wars in their name and we build monuments to them. We worship them in our churches, theistic or atheistic ones. Like any form of worship, fear is part of the equation. When fear reaches irrational levels, we give up our quest for the truth to someone else. Chiefly our priests and politicians.  

One way people neutralize fear is by submitting to a larger group. We're buying the protection they're selling in exchange for one warm body, one soul, one vote. Political parties are the closest mass behavior we have today to the pack mentality from our animal ancestry. Packs are much less interested in the truth than they are in the success of the pack. 

Should you find yourself drawn to a political pack, do as you will. Consider, nevertheless, the following lesson from the universe: the pack approach to life is a zero-sum game. For every pack organized, an equal but opposite pack will always find its way to the kill.

We can't handle the truth because we favor self-fulfilling prophecies over accountability. We can't handle it because we have a love-fear relationship with it. Like all dysfunctional relationships, we are wired for a painful long haul, even in light of overwhelming evidence: it is the difficult truths that will always set us free. Not our priests, and most definitely not our presidents.

...


"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? 

I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. 

You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. 

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. 

Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."


- Col. Jessup, "A Few Good Men"

The Living Hell of Half-Assed Democracy

"For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy t...