Pre-emptive Nuclear Strike? I’m Uninspired.

“Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms… The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”

– Unknown

If you think about it, psychologically and emotionally that’s a truism. A prime example is religion; it matters not if any of it – or all of it, regardless of whatever religion – is either truth or fiction, all religions are inspirational, all speak of a promise of a better way of living that brings about happiness in this life and the next, and they inspire us to think and act accordingly. On the whole, that is a good thing, and who can argue with happiness?

War is another prime example; once attacked, or perceived to be imminently so, governments (in democracies, at least) hasten to justify to their citizens the reasons to go to war and, once involved, inspired to continue them.

Unfortunately, there are always those hucksters who know the human bent to be inspired by, and believe anything, that promises a happy end and know how to manipulate the truth and lead people down the primrose path, inspiring them to believe whatever that prophet preaches.

When WWI broke out, President Woodrow Wilson, a highly religious man with a great aversion to war, who none-the-less led this country into that war, determined to end the penchant of our government to hide from its citizens at home the horrors of war by creating the Committee on Public Information, so that the “spirit of ruthless brutality [of war would] enter into the very fibre of national life.”  (A noble cause, and in no way do I fault him with his goal. As is said, war is hell, and if people are shown the horrors of it, they may be less inspired to allow their government to get involved in one, or more inspired to end involvement in one.) This committee’s creation was inspired by a presidential advisor who (all accounts I’ve researched name no name, but all agree that he – whoever “he” was) gave us the above quote.

Whether or not the person who made that statement was referring to what was expressed to the populus as the need to go to war in prior wars, or to whether or not what was told about the conflict was mostly true or false, I cannot say. Nor has it been reported how honestly the Committee on Public Information reported the brutality of WWI – was it under-reported or over-hyped – with the intent to inspire continued public support for the war, or to hasten its end?  

WWII came along, 12 years later (for US involvement), and while it was a different kind of war – a war of national survival as opposed to a war of (debatable) choice (as WWI had been) – the public was constantly innudated with films of actual combat (in theaters before the movie, as tv didn’t yet exist) in the effort to show the population how successful our and the allied armies were in overcoming the Axis powers and to inspire continued suport for the war effort.

Then there was the Korean Conflict (another debatable war of choice). Tv was just becoming a household thing and, while news clips of the war were still being shown in theaters, only ocassionally were they on the nightly news programs. People were naturally curious, but for the most part detached, merely trying to get their lives back together after the hardships of WWII, a scant 6 years earlier. It was President Eisenhower who negotiated the end of that conflict 6 months into his first term. He knew the horrors of war first-hand and he recognized 2 things: there is a difference between wars of need and wars of choice, and, as he stated in his farewell address, he warned us against a new unholy alliance, the “military-industrial complex”, that would in the futire actively encourage civilian administrations to consider war as a first option over diplomacy, and which would justify a large standing military as well as corporate profit-making at the taxpayer expense.

And yet (or because of that) barely another 10 years would pass before our military involvement in another (debatably of choice) war, Viet Nam. It grew incrementally as support for the French there until they failed and the US assumed control over the war. It was inherited by President Kennedy who said he would extract the US from it by 1964. Of course, had he lived and managed that, we would have been spared the horrors of that war which were viewed by the world, with graphic combat scenes, medevac extractions of wounded, and daily killed-in-action numbers. The nightly news services aired government provided footage that showed it to us, and that inspired the public outcry to end the war.

But something changed in how war was reported begining with our involvement in the Middle East from 1987 to the present. The government learnt its lesson from Viet Nam and has clamped down on disseminating daily information. In comparison to all the 20th century wars, there has been very little public awareness, other than our military is fighting there ostensibly to destroy terrorists. No government Committee on Public Information, no regular nightly news updates of the daily horrors. Ask anyone on the street how it’s going and you’ll likely get a shrug. Because they aren’t being told and they’re too busy in their daily lives to think about it. With so little reporting of what is actually happening on the battlefield, there is little to inspire for or against the war (all the while still inspiring support for our military members.)

The same can be said about whether or not we should use a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea, just because they are developing missiles capable (it is claimed) of delivering nuclear warheads to the continental US and are threatening to use them if we should attack them. (Have to remember, there was an armistice to the hostilities in Korea, and we are still technically at war with them, and both our and their leader seem inclined to start hostilities afresh if each continues to insult the other verbally.) There hasn’t been much public outcry over its even being considered by the president and his high-ranking administration figures. People are apparently too busy in daily living to give it much thought.

“Kierkegaard, in Either/Or, makes fun of the ‘busy man’ for whom busyness is a way of avoiding an honest self-reckoning. You might wake up in the night [thinking about all the things undone during your day]…or that you need to think about… the next day you have a million little things to do, and the day after that you have another million things. As long as there’s no end of little things, you never have to stop and confront the bigger questions…” (- Jonathan Franzen.)

The use of nuclear weapons as a pre-emptive option is one of those “bigger questions”.

I’ve stopped to consider that bigger question. 

To me it’s the ultimate war horror. There is no happiness to be found in its aftermath.

And in my book, anyone who tries to sell the idea that it is truthfully a viable option is a huckster and false prophet.

My only hope is that people will stop their busyness for a moment, think about where we may be headed, and be inspired to do what they can – even just a quick email to their congressional representatives – and speak out against any such consideration to use a nuclear pre-emptive strike without first exhausting every diplomatic resource and a united consensus of our intelligence services telling us there is no other option, the threat is not just real but imminent.

I’m not inspired to believe it is.

– Bill



Sports and Our National Anthem

“Sports and politics don’t mix.”

– Eric Heiden

Maybe they shouldn’t. But they do. And how that came about might suprise you.

How did a little known, mostly ignored, song about an incident involving our flag from the War of 1812 come to be the American national anthem?

But more importantly – given the on-going ruckus over the perceived disrespect by some to it and the flag – how did it become an intergral part of our sporting events?

“The Star-Spangled Banner” (adapted from an 1814 poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry”, written by Francis Scott Key) wasn’t our first “anthem”, nor was it a publically popular one for the first 117 years since it was first written. “Yankee Doodle” (1776) was the first. It was quickly replaced by “Hail, Columbia” (1798), which became the de facto national anthem (until an act of Congress proclaimed “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our official national anthem), and “America” (1832), which became an instant hit. Another, “America the Beautiful” (1910), has rivaled “The Star-Spangled Banner” – for more than 100 years there have been efforts to have it proclaimed a national hymn or as a second – or replacement for the current – national anthem.

In fact, “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t first non-militarily-only performed publically until an 1862 baseball game in Brooklyn, New York, and only became an on-and-off again baseball ritual after Game 1 of the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, when a military band played it during the 7th inning stretch, and it’s reported that the Red Sox third baseman, Fred Thomas (playing while on furlough from the US Navy) stood at attention toward the flag flying at the stadium.

“The yawn was checked and heads were bared as the ball players turned quickly about and faced the music,” read the New York Times’ account the following day. “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

Notice of that was not lost on the owners of major league baseball. While united in their support for American involvement in WWI in 1917, they where not pleased about their ball players getting drafted into the armed services. They also noted that, in addition to farmers, employees of businesses essential to the war effort were not subject to conscription. And morale-building was very essential to the war effort.

“Professional sports needed to define themselves as patriotic in order to be seen as a part of the war on the home front and center for morale rather than as an expendable entertainment which is how they were initially,” according to Mark Clague, an associate professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, one of the nation’s foremost experts on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

So, it would seem that it was in the team owners’ financial self-interests to insure the anthem was played, with players appropriately standing patriotically at attention before the fans at every game, that kept the players out of the draft and baseball not just viable but profitable.

Even though “The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially adopted as the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931, it wasn’t until WWII came along that professional Football also sought to wrap itself in the flag and the anthem; it had figured out that patriotism was good for business and protected them against being defined as a non-essential buisness, thus insuring its players protection from the military draft, just like the official national past-time, baseball.

And so, back to the ruckus over anthem etiquette at sporting events. It is nothing new (in 1954, Arthur Ellers, the WWI veteran and Baltimore Orioles’ general manager, once complained that spectators talked and moved around while the anthem was played.) Kaepernick (et al) are just the more recent incarnations of “disrespect” in the eyes of some.

That the NFL is in the center of the debate about what respect is due the anthem and flag is curious, when you consider that players weren’t even asked to stand for the anthem (with the exception of the Super Bowl) until 2009. That the current ruckus is over an only eight-year-old “tradition” is amazing.

Maybe the best solution is to stop playing the anthem at sporting events.

Sports shouldn’t be political. We have enough political drama everywhere else.

Shouldn’t we be allowed to escape it for a few hours a week?

– Bill

The Coffee-Sugar Connection

“Coffee and chocolate—the inventor of mocha should be sainted.

― Cherise Sinclair

Almost exactly a year ago (Nov. 14, 2016) I posted, “Caffeinate Me”, where I extolled the positive health benefits of coffee (and the very few negative effects it has on some), and, “Caffeinate Me – A Follow-Up” (Dec. 19, 2016), where I wrote how some of us have a genetic predisposition to crave the caffeine found in abundance in coffee.

But chocolate flavored coffee? Never. But with vanilla? Oh, my giddy granny, yes! Which leads me to where I want to go – caffeine and sweets.

Most of us consume caffeine in some form – coffee, tea or sodas – throughout the day. Whether or not we’re aware of it, we have adenosine receptors in our brain (adenosine is a naturally occuring chemical that regulates our internal clocks and gradually builds up throughout the day and, as it reaches a certain level, makes us begin to feel sleepy.) Caffeine blocks these receptors, resulting in a sense of energy and alertness.

But more to my point, researchers at Cornell University have also found that caffeine (they used coffee as the means of transmission) has a direct effect on our brains by dulling our sense of sweetness and actually increasing our desire to eat sugary things:  

Because many of us partake of caffeinated beverages throughout the day, the researchers suggest (based on previous research) that the ability to taste sweetness therefore remains suppressed and, as a result, causes us to seek out sweets – another natural craving (usually in high-calorie treats: donuts, pastries, candy and the like) – throughout the day. (My post on 6.1.2017, “Sugar Time”, detailed how sugar interacts with our bodies and how it is bad for breakfast, in the form of cereals, waffles, pancakes, etc.)

So it seems a steady diet of caffeine caused sweet consumption can obviously lead to bad health, tooth decay and obesity.

Not so unusual American afflictions.

Which leads me to a conundrum – to protect my teeth and to not put on any more weight – what do I do with all my leftover Halloween candy? I don’t want to cut down on my caffeine (8-10 cups of daily coffee) and I don’t want to toss the candy (I paid good money for it, and even though I don’t otherwise eat a lot of it, I hate to waste).

Decisions, decisions.

Maybe I’ll just give it to the grandkids, they’ll love me for it.

But, somehow, I don’t think the wife – their Nana – will agree to that.

– Bill

Who’s Your Best Friend?

“Friends are people with whom you care to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel like a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you.

“Friends understand those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With them you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities, and in opening them up to friends, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of their loyalty.

“They understand. You do not have to be careful. You can abuse them, neglect them, tolerate them. Best of all, you can keep still with them. It does not matter. They like you. They understand. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them.

“Through it all – and underneath – they see, know, and love you.

“What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself.”

– C. Raymond Beran

Friends are funny things – they can be false, fickle or faithful.

False friends are those who are friends only so long as you meet their needs and then discard you when you don’t, leaving you to wonder how you did them wrong; the fickle friend, the so-called “fair weather friend”, disappears when things get bad only to reappear when they are good, leaving you to wonder just how much time and energy (and trust) you should invest in them; the faithful friend is always there, through thick and thin, and is the rarest of people who you should cherish and never let go of, you never have to wonder if they’ll forsake you.

We’ve all had many of the first kind, probably several of the second, and maybe – if we’ve been lucky – one of the last.

A best friend may be someone we’ve had a long association with, through school or work, or a club or church, or a long-time neighbor. Or may be a family member, a parent or sibling or child, or spouse – they all come with a ready-made foundation, a predisposition to be faithful, friendly and protective.

But your “bestest” friend should be the one person who has been, is, and forever will be, the most important person in your life – yourself.

Be kind to yourself. Accept yourself. Revel in your accomplishments and forget your failures. Never give up on yourself. Believe in your own worth. Dare to be yourself, with…yourself.

If you can’t do those things, you won’t be able to do them for someone else. If you want some other to be a best friend, you must first be a best friend.

To yourself.

– Bill

American Paranormal Beliefs

“Yesterday, upon the stair,
      I met a man who wasn’t there.
      He wasn’t there again today,
      I wish, I wish he’d go away.
When I came home last night at three,
      The man was waiting there for me
      But when I looked around the hall,
      I couldn’t see him there at all!”

– Hughes Mearns

What do you believe in? I don’t mean religious things; religious beliefs (in an unseeable deity, for example) are by definition paranormal – “outside, beyond” (“para”) – the normal (“the usual, regular”), the observable, measurable, provable things in our world. I mean those other things – like UFOs, ghosties and beasties, and the like – that some claim to have observed but remain unproven.

When I posted, “Things That Go Bump In The Night” a year ago (October 5th), where I related an errie happening to me (little would I realize that it would become my most read post of all, worldwide), I felt the message in the quote above – I thought I saw, but did I see at all? I’m not convinced either way.

Apparently I’m not alone in my brush with the paranormal and, where I remain unconvinced, the vast majority of Americans are convinced in the reality of their paranormal beliefs; researchers at Chapman University ran a survey and found it to be so:

They found that more than half of us believe that advanced ancient civilizations like Atlantis were real, and that there are spirits (ghosts) that haunt; about a third of us believe aliens have visited in the past (and a quarter believe they are still visiting today), and that telekinesis (moving things using the mind) is real; and some sixteen percent of us believe Bigfoot (-feet? -foots?) exists. And large percentages believe in more than one of these.

Do you find yourself anywhere in that list? In their findings, they concluded with a description of the stereotypical American believer in the paranormal – I won’t pass judgement on their conclusion – but it was enlightening and you can read it for yourself with the above link.

The only thing I am convinced of and sure about is that in four days ghosts and probably aliens, among other out-of-the-ordinary sorts, maybe even a Bigfoot, will come a-knocking at your and my front door, in a not-so-paranormal event.

We call it Halloween.

– Bill

Student Online Reading and Comprehension

“I don’t choose between my house phone and my mobile. I don’t choose between my laptop and my notebook. And I don’t intend to choose between my e-reader and my bookshelf.”

― Sara Sheridan

In other words, there is a time and place for everything; one thing need not replace another. (Well, sometimes, maybe, they do – I did get rid of my landline phone, it took a few years after owning a mobile to finally realize it wasn’t cost effective to pay for both and it was more convenient to be untethered and just have my mobile with me even at home so I didn’t need to get up to answer. And I have replaced my personal library of a couple hundred books with a tablet for cost, convience and space considerations.)

It’s certainly true about the other things – my tablet is handy and convenient for somethings, like reading the daily paper online or just surfing the web or reading a novel, whereas the laptop is more useful for doing more complex work.  An e-reader is great for reading on the go and carrying a virtual library that no one could afford otherwise if in print, but a print book is somehow different (physically holding a book in your hands, the very smell and touch of paper and ink, the act of turning the page, somehow transcendently makes the reader an integral participant in the story) and has worth in it’s own right and is something I still enjoy.

In my post, “The Times, They Are A-changin’” (August 3, 2016), about all the changes that have occurred in our world, I wrote, “Consider books. The first real book (bound pages) was printed using woodblocks in 868. Seven hundred years later came the modern book using movable type. Five hundred and fifty-four years after that the first ebook appeared in 1998. While print books still dominate among the reading public, about one out of every four books bought are ebooks and most authorities agree that within thirty years printed books will go the way of landline phones today, which are increasingly disappearing from residential use.”

For casual enjoyment reading, either print or ebook will do, but what about serious reading for learning? Which is better, print or online? Now that school districts and universities across the nation are increasingly going electronic – issuing students e-readers instead of costly and heavy textbooks – does it make a difference in learning and comprehension?

(When I went back to our local college to get my library science certificate, half my classes [and reading resources] were online, and I actually got somewhat better grades in them – online averaged 7 points hgher – maybe because I could do my “homework” at my leisure at anytime during the week, and without having to wear more than my undies to log-on to the class discussions or for tests.)

But, aparently for some, to some degree, it does make a difference.  An article published in The Conversation, entitled, “The enduring power of print for learning in a digital world” (October 3, 2017) shows that for most students, for overall comprehension, print is usually more effective. You can read all about it at:

Researchers found that students overwhelming preferred to read digitally (“today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smart-phones, tablets and e-readers”), “students felt reading was significantly faster online than in print…students judged their comprehension as better online than in print… [but]…paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.”

One component is “the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension”; it is faster to read electronically (I’m reminded of something Woody Allen once said about reading quickly – “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”), but the faster one reads can result in merely scanning as opposed to reading, and thus failing to completely know and understand what is being read.

The researchers noted: “When the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students’ judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.”

So, it would seem, there is a time and a place for everthing, but maybe – unlike Sara Sheridan – it’d be wiser to make a choice between some things.

At least that’s how I comprehend it. 

– Bill

Demanding Comfort

“Comfort is not a goal [we should] seek… it is a place [where we] hide.”

― Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Make yourself comfortable!” are welcoming words to hear when entering someone’s home. When they are truly meant we can relax and be ourselves, to feel free not having to act out in formalized etiquette. Of course, one can never be totally certain to what degree of comfort, one still needs to remain circumspect in behavior; just because the seated host puts his/her feet up on the coffee table doesn’t necessarily give us license to, as well; or just because we’re told to help ourself to some refreshment doesn’t necessarily mean we can take that last slice of pie or bottle of beer in the fridge without asking permission first. One must always remember that the notion of “comfort” can mean different things to different people and what one finds comfortable may well cause discomfort to another. The one place one can be completely comfortable is inside one’s own home where one can say and do anything to one’s heart’s content.

But what about comfort outside one’s own home? What right of comfort is extended – or right to expectation of comfort is conferred – by the outside world? Does one have the right to demand – let alone expect – to be made comfortable when some uncomfortable things happen? Must anyone – everyone – else submit to one’s own expectations, demands of comfort? Why is it that some believe it should be so? Where is that written? It must be, somewhere, given the amount of discomfort vocally expressed today. It seems everyone has expectations and demands when others dare infringe on their comfort zone, and they believe others shouldn’t be allowed to and thus seek relief by making the politicians or courts so uncomfortable that they – seeking their own comfort – make them comfortable.

As in when others say or do things that aren’t “patriotic”, or have racial or ethnic overtones, or are religiously too forward – things that make some uncomfortable.

It has always been a tenet of our Constitutional law that, barring criminal exceptions, people are entitled to say and act in any manner they like, however they think or feel, no matter how it makes others uncomfortable. And as much as one finds it comfortable to do so, one has no grounds to demand that others think or act as one’s self does. But that tenet is quickly giving way to a new tenet – No one shall ever be allowed to say or do anything that makes another feel uncomfortable.

Wouldn’t it just be better for each of us to contemplate why others think and act as they do, for perhaps understanding and, possibly, then tolerance? But that is asking too much, it seems; introspection is a difficult thing – it is uncomfortable – for some, and it allows them nothing to hide behind – their own thoughts and beliefs are the only places where they are comfortable.

Yet, to them I’m willing to say, “make yourself comfortable”, even if their attitudes or expectations differ from mine and make me a little uncomfortable. I’m still comfortable enough to being open-minded enough to allow for our differences and I will not demand they agree with me or change what they think or believe. I choose not to hide in my own comfort zone, or behind politicians or the courts. I only wish they’d do the same in return. 

They could even put up their (soxed only, please) feet on my coffee table.

But hands off that last beer in the fridge!

– Bill