Thursday, April 12, 2007

About the Imus controversy...

To all those ganging up on Imus as if he's the epithomy of racism in America—for calling a dominantly black basket ball team members "nappy-headed hoes"—while it'd be easy to join you because I personally don't like Imus, you're obviously comfortable calling for censorship, something I'm not comfortable with. Censorship flies in the face of the Constitution, the way I see it. Imus wasn't calling for actions against black women. He insulted them. Bad call. If you want to censor the airwaves, vote with your dial. I have long decided that Imus, Limbaugh, Hannity, Stern, and a whole bunch of others have every right to be assholes and that it's my right to tune them out. That said, I welcome the discussion about race and who can and cannot use certain words, because America isn't done yet with its past. Maybe it will lead to liberating the word "nigger," "niggah," and all its derivatives, currently held hostage by members of the black community, sanitized for your protection with the nomer "N-word." Being Caucasian (you know, from the Caucasus, where the white people come from), I can buy rap music with lyrics containing these words, but not sing along in public. How idiotic is that? How racist is it that black people can say "nigger" and white people can go to jail for it? Chris Rock can say nigger, bitch, and ho 500 times in his show and get away with it. Should he be banned? Everyone in the audience is laughing, because it can all apparently be taken with a grain of sugar. So why not Imus? Ask yourself, have you alway been politically correct? Even in your thoughts? Stop censorship. Accept we are all assholes at times.

I just learned that Imus has been dropped by MSNBC. Is this the beginning of the great sanitazion of the airwaves? I bet not. Imus did not break any laws. The aforementioned assholes will stay on, trumpetting their bigot attitudes to their bigot audiences, protected not just by the First Amendment, but by those profitting from or aiding and abetting bigotry, for political reasons or otherwise. Racism is as alive in America as it's ever been, and as long as no one is actually hurt by it, we have to acknowledge that it can be pretty funny as well, as evidenced by Martin Lawrence's, Chris Rock's, David Chapelle's and a host of comedians ability to cater to their audiences' sense of humor and relevance. If Imus had had the ability to wrap his remarks in a comedic sense, something he utterly failed at, he'd still be bazooning his sour commentary at MSNBC, a broadcaster that like many other broadcasters has failed to give equal air time to non-white talk show hosts...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

In response to "When Black Republicans Go Bad" by Trey Ellis

I think the posting of Trey Ellis's view "When Black Republicans Go Bad" contains some disturbing elements that appear to escape most responders. Now, Mr. Ellis makes it obvious that he is dark-skinned by posting his picture along. I guess that makes him somewhat of an authority on matters of race, although last time I checked I was still labeled "Caucasian" so by the same token that should make me an authority of whatever sums up us "white" folks.

Now then, I hereby willfully distance myself from that notion and rather go by the merits as Mr. Ellis presents them. If I get this right, Mr. Ellis's major gripe is with "blacks" that don't act "black" politically and his references focus on Claude Allen and Justice Clarence Thomas, who, as I perceive it act according to him— perhaps along with Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell—as "blacks" suffering from an Uncle Tom syndrome.

The gist of Mr. Ellis's rant is the question of "why are we so surprised that Claude Allen, until recently the President's chief domestic policy advisor, is being accused of scamming Target out of over $5000?"
Well, he may be surprised, but mainly it seems because Mr. Allen is " a black man who got his start working for Jesse Helms, the former Senator who had the delightful habit of calling all black people, "Fred."

In my personal opinion, anyone, from any background has the right to associate themselves with whomever they choose, even if that may lead to their downfall. So, as a "liberal" I simply accept that Mr. Allen apparently feels some kind of ideological kinship with Jesse Helms. Perhaps Mr. Ellis will next ponder the insanity of many "blacks" that associate themselves with Jesus—who is not being portrayed as "black" by church or media, while he most certainly was not as "white" as he's commonly depicted...

Then, Mr. Ellis introduces the nigger/Fred parable as further evidence that Mr. Allen is not only "black" but also crazy (a crazy nigger). Yet, Mr. Allen has no accusations as such levied against him. Rather, he's being charged with defrauding Target of $5,000. What's unfortunate is that he's "black" and now Mr. Ellis not only holds it against him that here is a "black" man who plays Uncle Tom to his "white superiors," but also conforms to the biased view that "blacks" would more than anyone engage in crime and violence. More than Republicans, or almost as much as Republicans? I'm missing the point.

Yes, Mr. Allen must be crazy and criminal because he also associates with other crazy Republican "blacks," one of whom "sees pubic hairs in a can of Coke."
Hell, and that happens to be a Justice of the Supreme Court. Mind you, still an Uncle Tom anyway according to Mr. Ellis. (By the way, the Coke phrase originated from Senator Orin Hatch's questioning during Thomas's confirmation hearings and is not on record as confirmed by Thomas)

Poor "black" people! They just can't shake the stigma of being stereotypically "black," no matter how hard good-willing nigger-anecdoting "blacks" like Mr. Ellis try to explain their duty to other "blacks" to not think for themselves but align without restraint with the spineless Democrats that have failed to grasp power in the previous two and possibly next elections. How about "blacks" that think for themselves and want to associate with winners? Are they like Jews for Christ? How screwed up is that?

Mr. Ellis goes on to expose "black" Republicans like Mr. Allen and Justice Thomas that subscribe to a "hyper-whiteness," by "staking out positions that even whites in the South grew out of in the Fifties." Excuse me? Justice of the Supreme Court? Chief Domestic Policy Advisor to The President? Here Mr. Ellis's reasoning begins to fall apart, but he blindly continues by asserting the stereotypes "blacks" and "whites" (and Asians, and Arabs, and Eskimos?) apparently have when he states that it's "no wonder" that [black Republicans] "every now and again snap" by associating "petty criminality with 'blackness' and [romance] with "the size of [their] schlong[s]."

And there we have it. Mr. Ellis's own views don't seem to reach beyond these stereotypes and he certainly doesn't offer any other views here.
Therefore, his final wag of the finger whereby he lectures Mr. Allen and Justice Thomas not to associate " blackness" with crime, violence and sexuality is as lame as an, uh, lame dick.
Mr. Ellis seems quite content with the example he chooses of a Willie Horton whom he calls not "the sum of us [blacks]." His article does nothing for the "black" psyche of a free people, free to choose, and free of being a slave to their own history. In a way, Mr. Ellis has described himself, or rather summed himself up as someone who is confused about his own blackness. That's fine. The finger points back.

If I may then sum it up myself: there are plenty assholes, and they exist on either side of the very narrowly defined American political aisle, no matter what the color of their skin is. So, where's the hype? A greedy bigot Republican ought not to be defined otherwise than for what he or she stands for. Mr. Allen has merely operated in agreement with the current neo-con culture of deception, corruption, misinformation, murder, and torture. One day, he and his ilk may face greater consequences than being accused of stealing $5,000. Mr. Ellis, in my opinion, has written a racist piece and that's what I accuse him of.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Intelligent Divide...

When you have a headache do you rather take a pill, or pray to the Almighty? If you answer, pray to the Almighty, this blog’s for you, Bud.

Let’s travel back to 1925. Darwin's evolution was put on trial by a bunch of creationists. They accused a Tennessee teacher of lecturing that humans descended from a single cell. The idea! Creationists believe they’ve been modeled from play dough by a really big hand, sometime in the year numero uno. The teacher won. Darwin won, and science created the headache pill.
Now, in 2005, the whole shebang is getting a makeover, this time under the headliner, “Intelligent Design vs. Science.”

Sorry, Bud, but it was on the news. I guess you know, you don’t belong to the most informed nation in the industrialized world. Jay Leno even had you on Jaywalking a few times, to make a point that ordinary Americans are a hilariously under-educated bunch. As a subscriber to Darwin-principled science I’d go even further by saying your Intelligent Designer doesn’t seem to have favored you with that which has helped the rest of us evolve as a species: a large brain.

Of course, you may disagree, so let me sucker-punch you: besides my native Dutch I was taught three other languages in public school: French, German, and English. Right off the bat we learned there were more countries than our own. Made it easier for me later to pick up some Chinese and Indonesian—languages, dude, not food. You, on the other hand, still can’t differentiate between "your/you're," "its/it's," “were/where,” “hear/here,” “their/there,” “quit/quite/quiet,” and “to/too.”
And that makes deciphering your blogs hard work, mon!

Now, when we meet, you immediately notice I have “some kind of European” accent even before I have finished my first sentence. Besides not hearing what I said you fail to find The Netherlands on the map. Granted, it’s not a big blob like your country, but since you assert that I’m “from Scandinavia” I at least expect you to point to those countries that unlike The Netherlands make up that geographical group. You can’t. That spot your finger’s on is the Czech Republic. No, no, Turkey ain’t correct either.

During the eighteen years I’ve lived in the U.S. I’ve experienced you repeatedly assume I must be a political, cultural, religious, or economic refugee, someone you graciously shelter and share your “American Dream” with—which, by the way, may be a dream for you, but is a nightmare for many outside of your borders. Dude, I'm no refugee! The Netherlands is so advanced, they have national healthcare, multiple political parties, liberal drug policies you can only dream of, bicycle lanes, and sophisticated systems to keep the ocean out of their back yards.

Meanwhile, knowing squat about other countries, you thumb your nose at an increasingly more sophisticated world in which brown-skinned people, once they’re done stitching your Nikes, wipe their ass with every grade level of private education you so proudly support on your SUV’s Ivy League bumper stickers. If your Harvard can deliver a nitwit to the White House, don’t be surprised if I tell you Indians (no, not native Americans, you dummy) are running universities, businesses, and institutions that rival America’s. Now, they’ve had a “No Child Left Behind” policy for the last hundred years, enforced by every parent who could afford to buy their kids shoes and a schoolbag.

Sorry! I know, right now I have maneuvered you dangerously close to your threshold for criticism, and the little neurons in your brain have begun firing off pre-programmed pulses that translate into “Euro-trash,” “America-hater,” “Socialist,” “Communist,” or... Or what? Running out of labels already? How about “Moron,” “Asshole,” or “Prick?” After all, you feel only you have the right to criticize America, but how? Admit you’re not very creative when it comes to introspection. It’s always easier to just point your finger at your political opponents, be they “Liberals,” or “Conservatives.”
Well, you’re neither liberal, as in “free from bigotry and authoritarian dogmas, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others," nor conservative, as in "moderate, cautious, tending to conserve and preserve the use of natural resources.”

Is it because you basically live under a near-totalitarian regime, a frail and continuously faltering two-party system, in which the ruling 51% makes life miserable for the 49% that lost the last election? Is it because your idea of democracy is to relentlessly sabotage the other side’s political efforts, unrestrained by lies, treason, bribery, and character assassination? Is that why you have been trading in your hard-earned civil liberties lately without nary a stir from a population too preoccupied with reality shows to notice?

Still, you behave as if U.S. branded democracy and freedom are commodities no country can be without. Especially no Muslim theocracy. Yet, you are rapidly turning the U.S. into a Christian theocracy yourself, complete with the similar insane fanatical fundamental neoconservative religious extremists you say we must fight “over there.” Well, I wish you would learn to recognize their vermin counterparts “over here,” like fanatical right wing “religious” leader Pat Robertson in 2005 calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Did anyone protest? I mean, any Christians? Is it because “kicking butt,” has become second nature to you, and you need little incentive to start spreading mayhem that may cost the lives of tens of thousands?

Is it because you have long forgotten how to have a decent and entertaining discussion, now that you’ve been conditioned to see everything in black and white, good and bad, left and right, red and blue? I have watched you quietly disintegrate during conversations, when confronted with facts like, for instance, Henry Ford supporting Hitler and the Nazis. Is it because you don’t know your own facts? That when it comes to ethics, freedom, democracy, and justice, America often behaves like a Mafia Don, more than a dove with an olive branch? Could that begin to explain why you could have helped create the very terrorists that are now defecating on your flag? I’ve tried Bud, but instead of looking for an answer you ask with tearful eyes, “Why does everyone hate us?”

And here lies the rub, dude; most people don’t hate America and Americans. There’s much to admire you for after you wiped out the buffalo and the Injuns, but no one cares for your ignorance of the facts and your standard “fuck you” response. Most people may even think Americans are funny and a little odd with their “best country in the world” syndrome. Dude, many of you have never even crossed state lines, let alone visited Belgium! You know, their neighbors, the French, are crazy about Jerry Lewis, and the Germans will always laugh at Dick und Dumb (Laurel and Hardy). The Dutch? Well sorry, Pal, they think you’re pussies for not being able to keep your backyard dry.

Which brings me to another thing: will you ever look abroad for solutions you desperately need at home? You think you know everything. True, Tommy Ridge taught us that duct tape can protect you from chemical terror attacks, but you couldn’t find any WMD’s after you started a whole war just to locate them. I’ve met you while traveling. You’re usually lost, and that while you’re just trying to find a MacDonald’s so you don’t have to eat the local food. Now that you are in Iraq, have you learned anything about the culture? Ate a falafel? Rented an Iraqi DVD (hint: they’re in the foreign movie section)? Or, explored Iraqi music at your local record store? See, you don’t give a shit! How can you liberate a people you don’t care about? You’re like the boy scout carrying an old lady through traffic, while all she did was wave at her grandchild on the school bus—you know, that smoke-belching pre-WWII yellow scrap you carry kids around in. What’s up with that old shit, dude? Aren’t your kids the future? Don’t they deserve modern buses? That reminds me of your furniture: most U.S. designers seem to get their inspiration from the All In The Family set and create furniture for Archie Bunker’s behind. That’s a long run for the La-Z-Boy, boy.

Maybe that’s the reason why America, while arguably more modern than Cuba, still seems mired in the past. Your roads are in need of repair, lacking sidewalks, street lights, and street signs; old ugly utility poles litter your skyline, your offices and living rooms have fake veneer walls, and your vinyl siding is made to look like wood.
Is that the American Dream you speak of at every opportunity: everything just like the real thing? Fake tits, fake pearls, fake dog testicles, fake orgasms, fake Christians, and now fake science: “Intelligent Design…”

No wonder, you live in a fantasy world in which you’re king; Mattress King; Tire King; Grocery King. And next, Oil King! But hold on buster, you’re an emperor with trillions in debt—you don’t actually own anything and have to borrow from the Saudis and your grandchildren’s social security funds. And yet, calling you on your bullshit is tantamount to treason. Well, I have news for you; your country’s being kept afloat by other nations that haven’t quite collected the last bloody dollar from your Treasury Bonds.

These nations used to be friends, but on your last escapade few came along, because you resorted to lies, name-calling, and French fries renaming. You are no longer welcome where you used to be. You’ve isolated yourself. So then, prepare to live out your days in the gated community that America has become, complete with Mexican guards. You will have to eat your unsigned Kyoto Treaty, choke on your own pollution, your chemical rivers, your acid rain, and the genetically engineered tasteless micro-waved crap you call food. And if you aren’t killing each other first with your gazillion handguns, Uzis, AK-47’s, and other assault guns, you might as well just sit tight and wait until the terminally-pissed-off terrorists get a hold of the WMD’s you yourself have stockpiled within your own borders.
Yep, it’s all working out quite neatly for you, isn’t it, dude?

Could you have done anything differently? Probably not. I’m afraid you religious creeps have become so predictable there’s not an original idea coming out of you anymore, but then you surprise everyone with a rerun of creationism, this time deceptively relabeled “Intelligent Design.”

By now you may have concluded, along with the rest of the world, that “America,” “Intelligent,” and “Design,” are words that don’t go well together in one sentence. Don’t understand me wrong, I do know that you have some smart folks amongst you that in the past have engineered stupendous stuff, like the Chrysler Building, the atomic bomb, and telescopes that can fly past the moon, but these folks are a dying breed, and you know it. They’re the bespectacled intelligentsia; engineers, architects, and scientists—coincidentally, once your ‘A’ students, children every parent would be proud of. In theory they could fix some of the humungous problems you helped create, like global warming, or improve levees that keep out the ocean, but where you are going intellectuals and their stem-cell research are not needed, because from here onward you’re riding the A-Train to Armageddon.

After all your hard thinking, you have concluded that life’s too complex for your burdened brains and that only some super being like, let’s say, the omni-present, yet invisible, terminally-pissed-off and cruel Almighty of the Catholic Circus could have been tinkering with the little cells, veins, fins, flapping wings, leaves, and trees. Oh, suddenly everything in nature fits neatly your “My Pet Goat” story for grownups called “Intelligent Design,” a thinly disguised version of Genesis that contains none of that confusing evolution stuff that first has fish crawling onto land and turn into birds. Oh no! As evangelical realists you put your faith instead in a talkative snake, a babbling bush, and a lone rib that turns into a complex woman. Makes for a great movie. Something Tim Burton could sink his twisted teeth into.

So, gradually it's coming to this: after Pol Pot in Cambodia, Hitler in Nazi Germany, Stalin in Russia, and slews of dictators, madmen, and syphilis-crazed kings before Bush, you are now about to muffle the U.S. intelligentsia, its thinkers, its innovators, engineers, programmers, architects, teachers, chemists, professors, and every scientist you can chase down. Before you ship them off to your concentration camps, to your mental institutions, your gulags, and labor camps, you may offer them to save their hide by denouncing Darwin’s theory of evolution and instead go with the Pope’s and Pat Robertson’s sanctioned legend of a carpenter, a fisherman, and a whore who, if they visited today would be appalled to learn what evil has been and is about to be committed in their name.

Just like the Muslims can’t forget that the Crusaders kicked their cottoned heinies hundreds of years ago, so have the idiot fundamentalist abortion clinic bombing Christians been brooding on kicking the collective ass of intellectuals with an open mind and a critical attitude that makes short work of their ancient cult, its priests’ abusive practices, and detrimental influence on society’s progress.
The idiots among you that are now challenging evolution do that 80 years after the first Monkey Trial and 313 years after the Salem witch hunts, right at a time when we have made enormous progress by applying Darwin’s principles in every aspect of science, be it medicine, biology, biophysics, biochemistry, or anything else with which we try to explain our physical existence. Scientists are about to find a cure for cancer when your prayers could not; and scientist will be the ones to find a cure for AIDS—not your Intelligent Designer you suspect of giving it to us in the first place to punish us for our sins, something He seems to be quite fond of.

Unlike religious fanatics whose narrow world view is based on an old book with cryptic contributions from many writers, for a scientist life is ever evolving, based on forever questioning, and ever inching closer to discovering another truth, revealing itself like layers of an onion being peeled back, promising a cure, a new possibility, a different view. Science is a state of constant wonderment, and much has been accomplished by the curious.
Your Christian demagogues on the other hand may lead you into Bible prayer groups (and into forking over money), but don’t seem to know how to interpret Jesus’ words without creating war upon war, slavery and oppression, discrimination and inequality, and constant suffering wherever they bring the “good news.” Your religious leaders ask you to make sense of a God that can ask you to slaughter your first-born son, but if you actually hear His voice, like Pat Robertson claims he does, you'll find little sympathy even among your fanatical peers if you carry out such an insane request, and you will go to jail, or more likely, a mental institution. That’s because reasonable people have devised laws that protect us from religious fanatics.

Still, the stakes are high, as we edge closer to a totalitarian theocracy with every victory you extreme fundamentalist evangelical Christians score. This time, the deluded "scientists" who defend intelligent design during your new Monkey Trial are well-groomed debaters, but nevertheless they are effectively saying not to bother with research because hey, it’s way too difficult.
As species we got as far as we have by applying logic and cleverly bypassing the church’s ominous and stifling influence whenever possible. Otherwise the world would still be flat, the sun would be turning around the world, and we would be riding horse-drawn buggies, wear tall black hats and long beards. Not to mention, many scientists would have died a natural death, rather than burning at the stakes that you always seem to keep preheated. If you want proof of what a theocratic society looks like, look no further than Arab countries and how time has largely stood still there.

Now America’s powerful and political religious zealots want to return to biblical times as well and drag us all along. Soon, Hollywood will burn. Hemlines will drop to below the knee, and de-liberated women can start growing hair again in previously undesirable regions. Men will go on crusades to spread the freedom you’re denying our own women, our own homosexual children, and try to steal the oil that keeps our economy moving. Meanwhile, your greedy eyes are fixed East for the return of the “Son of God.” As if you deceptive, lying, cheating, and murdering bastards of all people would know how to treat someone who makes that claim. Hopefully, you’ll recognize Him before he’s picked up for behaving suspiciously near The Green Zone, sent to Abu Grahib, crucified by the CIA, and raised from the grave for an autopsy.

If you find that scenario even remotely plausible, you’re showing to have a sufficiently large brain after all. Doubt is the way to salvation, Pal, not dogma. Why not debate how our brains’ size may have evolved over supper? If you turn out to be an entertaining and interesting guest it doesn't have to be our last one...

© 2005 Rudolf Helder

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Socrates Superstar...

I don’t know who in the next century will be remembered as this century’s superstar, but my guess is that it’s probably not going to be J-Lo. For those that’ll come after us I hope that unlike us they won't be stuck with the same old All-Time-Cast-of-The-Ages. First, there’s Jesus Christ, by far the most popular and a real superstar, but after Mel Gibson’s portrayal there’s not much room for a sequel. A prequel perhaps...
So, in our ongoing thirst for historical drama we’ve feasted on a whole legion of lesser players that nevertheless made it to Hollywood stardom, such as Ben-Hur and Sinbad-The-Sailor. But, with Gladiator and Troy, we are fast running out of suitable heroes.

I know, there’s still Castor and Pollux, and I thought for a moment about their storyline that goes something like: Castor and Pollux were the offspring of Leda and the Swan (problem #1). Leda gave birth to an egg (problem #2), from which sprang the twins. Helen, their sister, who later became famous as the cause of the Trojan war, was one day kidnapped from Sparta by Theseus and his friend Pirithous (confusing) and rescued by Castor and Pollux. Next, the twins went on the Argonautic expedition (The Life Aquatic?). During the voyage a storm arose, and Orpheus (who?) prayed to the gods, and played on his harp, whereupon the storm ceased (problem #3) and stars appeared on the heads of the brothers (problem #4).

For the life of me, while this is a terrific script, I can’t see it turned into a believable movie, except for the kidnapping part.

Then there’s that Minotaur (recycle into a Phantom of the Opera story), Hercules (very old hat), and a slew of lesser bit-players, but how truly exciting were any of these guys in real life? Eating grapes during ongoing orgies doesn’t make for holistic family entertainment. No, if we as true Darwinians want to evolve further we will have to start selecting heroes of a different kind, with a more uplifting storyline. Football-player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman was on my list for a while but his tale of opportunistic Pentagon propaganda combined with vengeful friendly fire has yet to be written with honesty. Of course, as hero Jesus has much to offer, but when I once offered the other cheek it didn’t work out very well, and come to think of it, neither did it for him. So, it’s time to put the smacking, punching, stabbing, machinegun fire, poisonings, and beheadings behind us.
I think we need a different kind of historical hero. One that can teach us something other than that screwing your own mom is a bad idea. Really, what has Troy, or Hercules, taught us that you can wrap your mind around and have a solid discussion about?

I’d like to see a movie about Socrates.
Socrates’ life marks such an important point in history that it’s defined by pre- and post-Socratic periods. Having lived a few hundred years before Christ, Socrates could be a sort of transitional hero with a storyline that has no daggers but still an itsy bitsy poison before the lights come on.

As a young man, Socrates became fascinated with new scientific ideas and listened to debates by local philosophers.
He was a searcher and soon neither science nor philosophy could satisfy him. He wondered: “What is 'self?'” While the temple of Apollo at Delphi prominently displayed the phrase, “Know Thyself!” it proved to be a maddingly difficult task. Socrates felt that in spite of all the philosophizing people had little curiosity about the status of a self; in a way they were a little like today’s partying-like-there’s-no-tomorrow “conservatives,” comfortable in the belief that “self” is constantly needy for more pleasure, more prestige, and more power, or money. Socrates’ peers further thought that no one would ever act against his or her own interest, regardless of how people talked as though they would. Socrates reasoned that until we know what true human nature and excellence is we are engaging in false pretenses.

Socrates stood for the development of moral character through the practice of open dialogue. He devoted himself to free discussion with the young citizens of Athens, insistently questioning their confidence in the truth of popular opinions. Socrates declined to accept payment for his work with students, many of which were fanatically loyal to him. Their parents, however, became displeased with his influence on their offspring, and his association with opponents of the regime had made him a controversial political figure. A jury found him guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens and interfering with the religion of the city, and they sentenced him to death in 399 B.C. Gracefully accepting this outcome, Socrates drank poison and died in the company of his friends and disciples.

I think that more than a bunch of primitive power brokers slaughtering each other’s CGI armies, a portrayal of such a thoughtful man seems just about the right kind of hero in a time we’re about to slit each other’s throats and turn the US into another Serbia.

Socrates’ struggle may offer us a spellbinding assessment of the current battle between steadfast ignorance of looming environmental disasters and the absence of critical inquiry into extreme far-right doctrines. Socrates wanted to destroy the illusion that we comprehend the world and make us accept our ignorance—something many have an inert problem with. Socrates believed in the possibility of acquiring knowledge, by discovering universal definitions of the key concepts governing human life.

To me, Socrates appears as a man for our time, at once satisfying our need for a historical context of our own humanity and offering faith in a livable future, as well as providing an example of believing in one’s own need for truth and honesty, especially in a time when our leaders lie to us and try to stifle our intellect with the most ridiculously notions of science backed by medieval religion.

It’s important to mention that Socrates dismissed the notion of piety, of doing whatever is pleasing to the gods—the external authority of his days. He argued that defining morality in reference to (god or government), suffers from a logical dilemma about the origin of our own inherent "goodness," which he viewed as originating from within. But, during his imprisonment he also argued that an individual citizen—even if the victim of unjust treatment—can not refuse to obey the law. With that statement he miraculously rises above the status of rebel, or even that of insurgent. He merely accepted that after laying down the truth as he saw it he could do no more than placing his fate in the hands of corrupt and misguided individuals who acted with a political agenda and merely sought to snuff out his flame.

That makes him a martyr in my eyes—a hero who tried to carefully investigate the nature of virtue itself. Most remarkably, Socrates states that knowledge and virtue are so closely related, no human ever knowingly does evil: we all do what we believe to be best. Improper conduct, then, can only be a product of our ignorance rather than a symptom of weakness of the will. In other words, one can regain one’s true virtue by being open to reason and being willing to change. In a time where Christian and Islamic doctrine are heading for a massive nuclear fueled confrontation under leadership of near-fascist theocrats, Socrates’ value as an independent and open-minded thinker can not be emphasized enough.

Hollywood hooligans, what are you waiting for?

©2005 Rudolf Helder

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Shooting at Shadows...

“Then the terrorists will have won.”
You’re familiar with the phrase. It’s used to bolster our resolve, inflame our fighting spirit, and shut up the Administration’s critics that beg for our troops to come home—kids of eighteen shooting at shadows, getting killed daily by a faceless and stateless enemy, variously labeled “suicide bombers,” “terrorists,” “insurgents,” “islamists,” “radical Muslims,” “jihadists,” “intifadah,” “mujihaddeen,” “al-jazeera,” “hamas,” “al qaeda,” “Taliban,” or simply “extremists.”
Indeed, it’s as maddening as hearing “liberals,” or “neocons” and not knowing what sets a Neo Conservative apart from a regular Conservative.
Without the Administration defining it any better, “terrorism” is quite too broad a term to dedicate a war to. It worries me that a war without a clear focus could in principle extend to become a catchall for everything that doesn’t jive with those in power. Kind of like the way it is in a totalitarian regime—such as the former Soviet Union. Or a Muslim theocracy—like Iran. Or a Christian theocracy. You know, the one we’re rapidly moving toward…

We need to demand a clear definition of what it is we’re supposed to be fighting, or next we could be taking on the entire pissed-off Muslim world or anyone FOX-News labels an extremist with a liberal agenda, like uh, Cindy Sheehan. Or do you rather stick with the handy term “insurgent?” According to my dictionary an insurgent is one who justly opposes the tyranny of constituted authorities…
Hm. Odd that the Administration has made that its favorite term.
Could we be fighting opponents of tyranny? What kind of tyranny could we possibly impose on Muslims? Invasion and destruction of holy sites? Christian doctrine? The siphoning off of oil fields?

Not to worry, folks, the quagmire's going to be over soon according to Vice President Dick Cheney, who said on Larry King that the insurgency is in its last throes.
Now, you should know, I’m very fond of the word “throes” and I use it all the time. It means “a condition of agonizing struggle or trouble.”
Wouldn’t that make you almost sympathize with these underdogs in their throes?
Not if we paint them as elusive killers with supposedly Russia-obtained nukes that have us trembling in our Nikes.

Sure, for the next round the military will retrain its decimated forces. The CIA will get it right. We will purchase new, more effective weapons: Mini helicopters for snooping on the enemy— turbaned teams of Kalashnikov-hugging men in a dusty Toyota pickup truck threatening our way of life; Cave-busting drones to ferret out old-what’s-his-name.
The made-for-TV game of hide and seek and stealthy attack will continue, but I believe the War on Terror was lost the day it was declared. Like the War on Poverty, The War on Drugs, The War on Whatever, it is an unwinnable event, wrapped around a catch phrase, for which there’s not going to emerge a “winner,” an all-American hero to be played by Mel Gibson or Russell Crowe.
Instead, Americans will need to get used to the images the hurricanes Katrina and Rita have anchored in our not-so-sub-conscious, images of tens of thousands of citizens in peril, filing out of a region in barely moving, slowly-running-out-of-gas SUVs. Hell, who cares about terrorists in some faraway place when the weather and corrupt politicians conspire to kill you first? Terrible events for which there’s no duck tape will inevitably take place. If anything, the Administration has made that clear, when Bush recently referred to, “the mistakes of past administrations.” That’s getting mightily close to admitting that we have created the shadowy terrorists ourselves. It’s like admitting that perhaps we’re creating these “natural disasters” ourselves. It’s like admitting we could be doing things equally wrong today. But the policies haven’t changed and they aren’t bound to. They’re still lining the pockets of Halliburton and the richest contributors to the GOP’s election campaign.
We’re learning that all that’s left to expect from our governing friends are cleanup operations and acting like you’re wearing a thinking cap when you’re too dumb to correctly name your enemy, or comprehend the Kyoto Accord’s significance in fighting global warming .

So, if we can’t expect foresight, vision, and educated talent to solve the problems facing us where are we as citizens supposed to turn to? The church, that protects priests but not our children? A church, that is witness to “acts of god” that are manmade? A church that’s powerful enough to have politicians mandate scientists stop exploring areas that cause theological schizophrenia? Think again. The men of the cloth aren’t exactly problem solvers. Not in Iraq and Iran and not in Rome or Washington. So, without anything going to change we can be sure that the problems will multiply to finally strangle us—be they terrorist, or environmental, or both… Am I the only one who pictures bin Laden watching CNN and discussing how to create Katrina-like events based on our ignorance and unwillingness to create security for everyone, including, yes, including the terrorists, those shadowy figures we helped create, much in the way Mickey created the mops in Fantasia?
Without correctly identifying and acknowledging our problems and opening a dialogue, better get used to vehicles clogging freeways as liberals and republicans alike flee their homes. It’s not going to matter if your government’s ineptness did you in or the terrorists’ resolve—they’re dancers in a deadly embrace.

Yes, America is losing its innocence fast and it’s high time.
Maybe this time a Green Party will look like a valid alternative with an emphasis on the environment. Clearly, we can’t keep voting for the same guys that are making today’s mistakes. Are you comfortable with the idea of your eighteen year-old shooting at shadows in some oil-rich region of the world?

©2005 Rudolf Helder

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Face Value...

Class, today we’re going to be talking about subjective interpretation, or, taking things at face value. Now, in life we learn many things, from our parents, teachers, supervisors, peers, and whatever we retain is what we base our decisions and opinions on. With me on that?

Okay. Let’s make a quick jump to the week Hurricane Katrina hit. Remember President Bush’s demeanor? While New Orleans catastropically tanked, the news informed us Bush was busy campaigning, playing guitar, and most of all vacationing, in spite of his homework of having to skim through Mark Kurlansky's book “History Of Salt,” John Barry's “The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918,” and Edvard Radzinsky's “Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar.” Light reading for you and me, but a gargantuan task for someone who has been spotted holding “My Pet Goat” upside down.

Now, for subjective interpretation. Remember how disgusted the entire nation was, including the ever-forgiving Religious Right, when the president failed to acknowledge in a timely and compassionate-conservative manner the horrific events taking place in New Orleans? When he finally strode into New Orleans, wide-armed, shirt sleeves rolled up, it was too late to erase that first impression, no matter in how many directions he pointed from that truck he climbed onto. All fingers were pointing at him. We, as a nation, had taken him at face value, and no spin or blame game was going to change that. It was like that photo op with the bullhorn and firemen on the twin tower rubble never happened, and all we remember is how the president of the United States had sat through two terrorist attack reports in a preschool classroom without stirring once.

You see, when we take things at face value, we instinctively judge things before our rationale—or FOX-News’s spin—have a chance to dilute our first impression with glib, intelligently phrased, "objective" chatter. Sure, there’s a place for rationale, discussion, pro and con in our thinking, but what if we’re constantly being told that first impressions don’t count? That Brownie is doing a heck of a job? What if you subscribe to some political, religious, or social platform, and those doctrines dictate that you think accordingly, before your subjective interpretation has time to start a process of reflection, questioning, doubt… and arriving at conclusions that are all your own? Subjectively yours.

Class, I’d like to make a case for subjective interpretation, and I’d like to make you revisit the judge John G. Roberts hearings, and how quickly you dismissed shots that revealed our senators body language and showed that some, after asking a question, contently crossed it off their list without listening to the judge’s reply or pose a follow-up question. What does that tell you? Class, these are the people you vote into seats of power and I want you to begin paying attention to such signals. Simply put, I want you to start taking things at face value. Be subjective.

Anecdote: For a while I was seeing this Japanese woman. She’d lived in the US for several years, but was neither interested in politics nor fluent in English. One time, as we watched the news she told me she liked democrats. Why, I asked. Well, she’d noticed that every time a politician had a friendly, calm face it was a democrat, and every time a politician’s face showed anger, or discontent it turned out to be a republican. I made me laugh, but the point had been made: she’d taken these people at face value and the interpretation made sense to her.

So, I’d like to give you an exercise and subjectively interpret the faces of the following lia.., uh, people: John Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld… Any rightwinger will do. Then, pick some politicians of the opposition and repeat the exercise. Of course, you must try to see—not just look.

What can we learn from this? That we’re born with a blank expression and have a lifetime to plaster our demeanor onto it. So, my conclusion is that what you see is what you get. Now, in life we learn many things, from our parents, teachers, supervisors, peers, etc. Then there are things you got to figure out for yourself by using your gut. You can call that subjective interpretation. Fine. Take it at face value. Reports due next week. Class dismissed!

©2005 Rudolf Helder

Friday, September 23, 2005

Intelligent Design...

I have lived in the US for almost 20 years. Why that is significant, is because I find myself regularly comparing the US I encountered at my time of immigration and the US I experience today as a resident.
Coming from Europe, where everything old is quaint, and everything contemporary is well-designed I have often stood astonished at America’s widespread disregard of its history. I’m not talking about the almost propagandistic US history taught to America’s youngsters—at the exclusion of world history at large. I’m talking about its buildings, bridges, houses, neighborhoods. You’ve seen the dilapidated streets in large cities. Neighborhoods and buildings with character left to rot, houses in Victorian style ready to fall down, or an entire city wrecked by the shoddy engineering of a bunch of brittle levees.

In a lowest-bid-wins world, when there are no higher ideals, no higher aims, no desires to preserve, to restore, to improve, everything is allowed to slowly turn into the abandoned cardboard homeless people crawl under to keep dry.

Today, there’s a lot of talk about intelligent design. If you don’t know what it is you can look it up. I’m all for it. Foresight, rather than intelligent design was available when the first levees were built in the late 1800’s, but intelligent design was still absent when their purpose was last evaluated.

If you want to attribute intelligent design to your god, that’s your prerogative, but god doesn’t build levees, the Dutch do. If you’re more interested in attributing intelligent design to someone or something you can’t see, feel, or smell, yet created the heavens and the pimple on which we live maybe you’re overlooking the intelligent design that should go into every man-made project. The cars you build should not blow up and burn everyone inside, and neither should your levees break and if one does, there should be intelligent design that deals with such a “what if” scenario. Like, duh, a second levee, or a system of dikes, ditches, and containing walls. A system that could allow flooding of one area, but not all areas…

If you’re unfamiliar with the intelligent design the Dutch applied to safeguard their below sea level country from the ocean you really ought to study the Dutch Delta waterworks, especially if you are Army Corps of Engineers long associated with America's appaling slate of yearly floodings and faced with an annual review of a historical American town below sea level, like, for instance, New Orleans.

Then again, putting the protection of dry land into the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers may not be such a good idea, as their recommendations may be compromised with low bid contract awarding, resulting in a single cement wall to keep an entire ocean at bay. The Dutch on the other hand, having spared no expense built themselves a protection system that not only takes into account the threat of the elements, but also consecutive threats if the first defense fails. Systems of dikes, water management, levees, and pumps are intelligently designed to thwart as much as possible occurrences as have taken place in, let’s say, Bangladesh, or New Orleans.

Did I mention I’m Dutch? Imagine my growing bewilderment when at least three weeks went by after Hurricane Katrina and the demise of New Orleans before anyone (I believe it was Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball) mentioned the Dutch storm-water systems.
Days later Al Franken, of The Al Franken Show on Air America, featured a Dutch ex-minister who illuminated him on what the Dutch installed to protect their country.

Now, as I write this, the levees in New Orleans are breaking again, this time under pressure from Hurricane Rita’s rainfall. Is it not maddening that after 4 weeks a second flooding identical to the first is occurring? Whatever had been done to stop the first flooding apparently did not include shoring up the levees that had not broken yet.
Now, what I’d like to hear next time someone mentions intelligent design, is the good news that the best heads have come together to design a practical and lasting solution for a long-ignored problem. And, this is probably hardest for Americans to accept, but think Nike, think call-centers, think Wall-Mart: if you can’t get it here, go overseas and outsource. I’m sure there are some excellent Dutch engineers sitting by the phone right now, ready to apply intelligent design to any dike worthy of their twiddling thumbs…

©2005 Rudolf Helder

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Checks and Balances...

As I write these blogs, I wonder who my audience is. You see, I'm becoming convinced that it's increasingly a matter of us and them. Or, as Kipling remarked, "East is Left, and Right is Wrong, and never the twain shall eat." Exactly such a divide is splitting America in two. There are those that see it the Republican, and Libertarian way, and those that see it the Democrat, or Liberal way. Wedged in between exists a gray mass of the Undecided. Well, if you're undecided, my feelings are that you should support through your taxes whichever party is in ruling power. However, with decisions on either side often being controversial and unacceptable to the other side I feel that a new and fairer method of Checks and Balances is in order.

I have lived in this country for almost 20 years and I cannot say I have witnessed before the disregard currently reserved for those on the other side of the political aisle. I've seen cases of nose-thumbing where the Republicans felt they could stick it to the Democrats for losing the election. I've read up just a bit on the American Constitution and it strikes me that such animosity wasn't at all what the founding fathers had in mind.

Now, the Constitution has seen many amendments and I believe it's due for another one, this one with respect to how a ruling government's causes are being funded. What I propose is that sympathizers of both political ideologies officially proclaim their allegiance and are thusly identified for tax purposes. I further propose that corporations and businesses do the same, and wear their political affiliation on their sleeve, right next to their company logo. These measures will help citizens with specific leanings put their money where their mouths are, and it will enable the IRS to funnel tax payers' money to those causes that these citizens and their party support. For example, if the GOP decides to invade another country it will have to recruit from its Red base and the Undecided population, while the Blue base, being in opposition can be comfortable in the knowledge that none of their resources are going to be used for a cause to which they don't subscribe, not even if the Draft is reinstated.

This new system of Checks and Balances will also afford political parties ways to keep a closer tab on what the voter feels about the way they're being represented. Ultimately, when a funding stream begins to dwindle because certain causes are no longer supported by the population their representatives will be forced to pay close attention.
People will be allowed to switch parties, but only after a cooling-off period in the Undecided pool, so as not to create a sudden imbalance of power. When the next elections come along they are permitted to re-assign their allegiance.

Companies that make contributions to a specific political party should be allowed to do so, as long as they are identified by allegiance. Thus, a Blue company cannot make contributions to a Red party, whereas an Undecided company can make contributiions to both. Naturally, the Reds may not be in favor of organized labor. Consequently, those that are may align themselves with the Blue base where social concerns are more a way of life.

The scope of this blog prevents me from going into too much detail about my proposal, but it's my vision that in the future we will see a transition to a system where ideology (or the absence thereof) is directly related to its funding stream.

Now, what if a President bungles, ah, let's say, an emergency response to a large scale disaster, such as a breached levee? In such a case, if people strongly disapprove they can withdraw support by giving up their base color and moving into the Undecided pool. While that becomes a measurable indication of people's support or lack thereof, it will not immediately cause an interruption of funding. That may happen if they switch to another party when the elections come around.

Of course, this amendment in the way that taxes are levied, may give rise to new political parties, perhaps with specific environmental agendas, like a Green party. If senators of parties are in agreement about health care measures, or otherwise, fundings from all three parties' members can flow toward such cause, but Green citizens should not have to pay for measures their Green representatives do not vote in favor of.

It's like going Dutch for lunch, but with a political twist.

All in favor for more fairness say "Aye."

©2005 Rudolf Helder


If the people of Germany would've had email and Internet in 1933, could World War II and the extermination of 6 Million Jews have been avoided? Would anyone have started a blog on February 27, 1933 criticizing Weimar Republic President Paul von Hindenburg for appointing Adolf Hitler Chancellor?
Would anyone have questioned the circumstances under which a feeble-minded Dutch "communist," Marinus van der Lubbe was quickly captured, accused, and executed as the arsonist that burned down The Reichstag—Germany's Parliament, a building as significant as, let’s say, The World Trade Center?

When soon thereafter, upon declaring a national emergency, Hitler began suspending civil liberties including expression of opinion, freedom of the press, and right to privacy, and created his version of Homeland Security, which included the later much-feared SS storm troopers and Gestapo special police forces, would anyone with a yahoo account have notified the world of possible dire consequences?

Today, as citizens within an age of electronic communication we can ask ourselves, "what are we witnessing now?" "Where do all these seemingly loose ends lead?" "Why did Dick Cheney lie about WMD's?" Or, "Who are the modern-day Herman Görings, the Rudolf Hesses, the Joseph Goebbels?"

The conditions that gave rise to Hitler's Third Reich, can be recreated anytime by instilling a fear within the population for great external threats, such as weapons of mass destruction (in other hands than ours), terrorism (not carried out by us), and epidemics (not released from a lab by us). The "evil-doers" are not referred to by name, except in the case of Saddam. The name bin Laden is seldom mentioned, whereas the invisible "Al Qaeda," is what we are told to fear, even as we publicly disclose our latest security holes, such as shipping containers loaded abroad.

While historians may not agree if a communist plot involving Marinus van der Lubbe, or the Nazis themselves had a hand in the Reichstag fire, can we be sure that a similar scenario is not being played out by those whose abilities to make deals with powerful corporations far outdistances our scrutiny?
It’s for this reason that I keep thinking about the people who after WWI witnessed the Nazi state rising out of the ashes of a devastated Germany. A large incident, such as the Reichstag fire worked out really well for the Nazis (to paraphrase Barbara Bush's comment at the Super Dome). Well, 9/11 has worked out really well for the Bushes. Now they have set their sights on making Jeb Bush the next emperor in the dynasty they're seeking to establish. At what cost to us? To the world?

One has to wonder what magnificent powers are at work that within a nation of 350 Million, 3 members of the same clan—none appearing too brilliant—can become leaders of the "free world." Can someone ask Bill Clinton that question? What's he smoking these days that he keeps cozying up to the Bushes? Doesn't he have a dynasty of his own to attend to?

In 1933 the Nazis were able to advance their cause at the expense of surrounding nations, the Jews in Germany and other nations, and later at the expense of many Asian nations by teaming up with the Emperor of Japan. The extent of suffering that resulted from Hitler's quick rise to power in 1933 is simply incomprehensible.

Should we then not be vigil, when we are witnessing the foundation being laid for a new Empire? Should we not reserve the right to question every move by an Administration that acts more and more like the Catholic Politburo, but is really just a fraternity of old friends?
When Mao had everybody waving little red books, children betrayed their parents and many died terrible deaths in prison camps during what is now regarded in China as an unfortunate and embarrassing period. So then, can it not happen here with all the “God in The White House” rambling going on? Are we that different from the fearful families under Hitler, the trembling parents in Mao's Cultural Revolution, the manipulated masses under Saddam, the terrified citizens of New Orleans, flooded out of their houses because of the Bush Administration’s appetite for war funds? Society is head over heels militarizing. There are now at least 3 channels on my TV related to military might—and its culture of death and destruction.

Ask yourself, as someone living in the new Millennium with cool wireless access to electronic media, how would you feel if years from now you realized you had witnessed evil rise and had done nothing but turn up your iPod?
Do you know how many Muslims and other terror suspects are currently held in American prisons without due process?
Do you care? Do you care if your government bombs Afghanistan, then rounds up anyone with a gun, kidnap them, and imprison them in Cuba, bypassing the Geneva Convention a previous Administration had ratified? Do you care if your government is found to torture Iraqi and Afghani civilians, or have it done for us by Syrians and Egyptians? Do you care what citizens of other nations think of an America that can no longer lecture China and Burma on human rights?
Perhaps this time we are empowered as individuals to see through the new laws that enable Government to hold its own citizens without due process for unlimited time. Maybe you think Jose Padilla had it coming, but the same law pertains to you, your neighbors, your friends, and your children...

Soon, another election comes around. During the last one the Secret Service played a questionable part in keeping non-Republicans out of the circus tent. Why? It all looks so innocent. Arnold sure will make us laugh again.
Yes, I mustn’t be paranoid, but don’t you sense it when something isn't quite right? I can't quite put my finger on it or see the end game, the way Rummy can. I believe the Jews are safe within their self-erected Patriot missile defended ghetto. It could have something to do with oil, nuclear energy, and Christian doctrine administered by Marines—quite possibly to President Chavez of Venezuela, just like in the fatwa from religious Nazi Pat Robertson (no doubt drunk with righteousness after his voodoo doll took out Judge Rehnquist to make room for John Roberts).

Within one year, with just a few short strokes of the pen Adolf Hitler became dictator. It happened in Germany, in Stalin's Russia, Iraq, and Mao's China, but of course, it couldn't happen here, not with that charmingly bumbling, folksy, deeply caring, church-going chap W.
Or could it? Has anyone seen the plan?
If history has taught us anything, it's that status quo can be destroyed by a single large crisis, followed by elimination of civil liberties and increasing police and military powers. Let's say, under those conditions a whole airplane can disappear into the Pentagon, never to be found... Let's say under those conditions a President could invade a country that has absolutely not threatened us... Under those conditions elections will be rigged... Under those conditions whoever dissents shall be silenced...

Imagine, if we wouldn't have email and Internet today.
Well, we do, so perhaps we have already thwarted a catastrophe.
If you believe that, you can go right back to sleep.

©2005 Rudolf Helder

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

And The Real Guilty Are...

The real guilty are those that voted for George Bush and the Republican Party the first time and voted again for them once the lying had become fact, the dead soldiers had come home, and all the indications were there that the GOP and this Administration do not function for the good of the people. Not just the common people. Not even just the American people...

Yes, the finger-pointing has begun, and some carefully selected heads will roll, but let's not leave out those Americans that like to shrug their shoulders over global warming, environmental protection, lost pension funds, energy fraud, Saudi Arabian dictators, and think that Liberal stands for Communist, Terrorist, America-Hater, Traitor, or worse, Pro-Choicer, or Gay-Lover.
Indeed, America's grossly misinformed and easily manipulated masses must share the blame for the ineptness of its leaders.

However, rather than condemn the ignoramuses that live among us, who rather believe the lies, support the ad infinitum repeated crappy rhetoric of the Administration, the spin of the evil-eyed Bill O'Reilly, the beligerent uncommon sense of Joe Scarborough, the twisted hate of that snake face Hannity, the deceit of Rush Limbaugh, and the false evangelism of Pat Robertson's, to those we must extend the scepter of Reason, Introspection, Redemption, and a pair of highly corrective eyeglasses.

Your misguided Christianity and gluttonous lifestyle have turned into the toxic sludge that festers under the quiet waters reflecting the blue skies over New Orleans. Together, you have choked that city and every living being in it; moreover you have already polluted our rivers, muffled our media, lined the pockets of the corrupt politicians and their cronies, ambushed our right to privacy, and turned this country into a breeding ground for extremist religious fanatics like Eric Rudolph, a place that like a slowly ripening stinking cheese is creeping toward an ideological war between its Red and Blue denizens. Serbs and Croats used to live side by side before they turned on one another. Perhaps now is the time to look inward, replace un-nuanced one-liners with lively discussion, forego cartoon-kicking the elusive "bad guys" asses, stop playing god over the inhabitants of faraway oil-rich, but uncomfortably religiously fanatical lands, and confess that you've been an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny wrong all along. But as Bob Dylan sings, "Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters." Indeed, you're finding yourself parked in a handicapped stall and it's not too late to back out before Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and George Bush, the three lying, treacherous meter maids of evil axis demagogue, arrive to tow us all up shit creek in a leaky swift boat and leave us with a bible for a paddle.

Let's hope that you will find the courage to reflect on your own complicity and begin to understand that being conservative means "to conserve," not "all for me, and screw the rest of you." Let's not even define what a "compassionate conservative" is supposed to be. We've just had a dose of that magic potion and it's lethal. It's just plain old vanilla compassion that's helping the victims of this Administration's decision to allocate funds to a vanity war—rather than shoring up the levee. That kind of hands-on compassion springs from our humanity and not exclusively from cash-heavy tax-exempt faith-based corporations and it works just fine as long as we remember we're all in this together as planetarians, not property owners.

To Liberals and Democrats I say: wear your affiliation as a badge of honor and never again be intimidated by your own Government into having to hide it as if it were a bad skin disease.
Those of us who oppose the terrorist-breeding tendencies of the GOP and its fear-mongering front-men, have long felt swept under a large rug by the likes of John Ashcroft, to experience the plight of other "losers" like limousine lesbians, lipstick liberals, activist environmentalists, and annoying judges, and whatever snide nickname could be thrown the way of 50% of America's families who vote Democrat in a disgustingly infantile game of mud-slinging. Well, there's plenty of dirt now, the kind that hits the fan, and now it's on all of us, white, black, child, or elderly, and emperor George Bush is wearing a see-through Cat In The Hat suit. Caveat emptor: he will soon begin cleaning up the mess in a way remarkably similar to the way Dr. Seuss portrayed it. Bush's first post-hurricane initiative? Proclaiming September 16's flooding—hopefully his Waterloo—a day of national prayer and remembrance. Prayer, by decree? Oh yeah, prayer worked wonders to keep the levees intact! What's next? Bush putting Homeland Security in God's hands?
Poor people of America. They have lost their activist-judges' selected President. In its place they got a self-appointed Pope, a modern-day Bonaparte!

So, now that the blinders are peeling off, it's clear that suddenly—and unexpectedly—the much vilified Liberals and Democrats have won, long after the last fraudulent and rigged election. Just by keeping a cool head. Some not-so-cool heads will soon roll. Sure. Sadly, it's not a time to celebrate, but to look forward. Except perhaps for that old initiative to have people register to vote at the pump, America's mighty shrine, at which we kneel and pray, and for whose glory we send our sons and daughters to die...


©2005 Rudolf Helder

Monday, December 06, 2004


A Hawaiian word that means native-born; host; native plant; child of the land...

The word “kama’aina” may mean what it says in the Hawaiian dictionary, but today’s reality is that a local driver’s license is enough proof to get you the kama’aina rate at hotels, car-rental services and many other places. So, if I am kama’aina there, how come I’m not kama’aina in the eyes of local people? Except maybe when one gets to know me and declares at one point, “Eh brah, you okay, you know. You kama’aina!” It’s hardly a moment to schlep the dictionary into the brotherly conversation and look up the true meaning. So, kama’aina may more than anything mean a state of mind, a sense of belonging and acceptance of Hawaii and its people, and to that notion I subscribe wholeheartedly. As a transplant from another place—northern Europe in my case—it’s nice to feel you have become part of your new land of choice. Or rather, island in the case of Hawaii.
For me that moment came when I left Hawaii after many years of domicile because I was hired as an art director for a Dallas paper. Not a moment too soon. The price of the paper my bank statement was printed on had approached the combined worth of the checking and savings accounts listed on it.
Hawaii was going through an economic downturn and the Mainland had become a beckoning refuge with jobs available, affordable rents, and living expenses way below Hawaii’s.
So I exchanged the Hawaiian winter for the Texas winter. Bad as that was, the difference was so extreme, anyone would have accepted me lamenting my new climate. However, when the summer came around it proved even more difficult to accept my new home state. Especially, when the job evaporated when a new editor was hired who insisted on bringing in her own art director.
Once jobless, things quickly took a turn not dissimilar from the situation I had faced in Hawaii and one day I found myself staring at the flat Texas landscape washing in colorless light by a blaring sun perched on a silvery cloud. Was this a landscape I wanted to stare at in the future?
I wanted to be back home—not in Europe, but in Hawaii. But how? Soon I would not even have money to buy food. For several months I lived hand to mouth on a few meager freelance jobs that came my way. I felt displaced and for the first time since arriving in the United States I felt like a decidedly non-resident alien.

Every evening the same Mexican came knocking on my door, selling fresh hot tamales from a cooler. Challenged by my lack of finances I tried to make the best of the situation, conveniently deciding it was a good time to shed some weight—by way of starvation. It wasn’t easy, though. All day long I smelled home cooking, pumped out of surrounding apartments by slaving air conditioners. At night barbecue parties spilled out of the front doors to underneath the corrugated metal roofs of still sweltering parking stalls. From my balcony I watched Mexican and African-American neighbors wave their chicken wings at me. Or was I already hallucinating? I had lost eleven pounds. I began to regret throwing out pants that had become too tight. Finally overpowered by hunger I’d drive up to the Taco Bueno window and order the Taco Platter: guacamole, risotto, shredded lettuce, sour cream, refried beans, and two chicken tacos—everything in minuscule quantities, yet the most wholesome variety $3.89 could buy.
Then came the day I had just enough money to leave.

As the DC-10 began its descent, I leaned closer to the window. It had been a while since I had seen land so green and luscious. Gliding past the coast, the miniature pop-up world glistening in the noontime sun, a kid in the next row over recognized the landmarks and began calling them out excitedly: “Diamond Head! Ala Moana! Aloha Tower! Pearl Harbor! Honolulu Airport!”
I quietly shared his excitement, absorbing the progressively more detailed scenery of strewn litter turning into neighborhoods, of beetles turning into cars. My lingering agony about the future began to ease, and hope that perhaps this time around everything would be less cataclysmic began to fill me.

With the trade wind blowing through my shirt, I watched Honolulu slide by, sitting next to my chattering pick up party in his vintage ‘58 Chevy BelAir. Honolulu never looked better. Except maybe the first time I arrived. It was beyond me how I could no longer appreciate the pastel colored storefronts; the waving palm trees; and the smell of big white Gardenias. I had come home and it was good.
My friend had grayed much since I'd last seen him. Nine months now seemed like years.
“Nice to have you back,” he had grinned. “No idea how you could survive in that fucking Texas. Not after living here!”
“I guess you have to leave Hawaii to realize it’s paradise after all,” I answered with a smile.
"Like a marriage," he mumbled.
We swung into downtown where office buildings just spewed hordes of secretaries.
“Pretty Asian girls everywhere,” remarked my friend, following my gaze. “Have you missed them?”
Then, with a drum roll on the steering wheel he bypassed my answer.

On Kaimana Beach people watching comes naturally. Twenty feet to my left a man with a body like a gym bag full of dumbbells rigidly installs himself on a towel. In front of me, silhouetted by the low sun, a curvaceous Asian girl in yellow bikini emerges from the sea, carrying an orange air mattress whose reflection sets her skin afire. As she rinses her toy in the shower little rainbows dance around her like elves revealing themselves to whoever believes in them. Near the lifeguard tower stands Patrick, E.R. nurse and sunset surfer who only wears shorts sewn by his mom in Miami. Behind him maneuver distant sail boats and dinner cruise ships, positioning themselves for another perfect sunset. I close my eyes and lean back on my towel, inhaling the mouth-watering scent of keawe wood firing up the barbecues of families gathering on the grass behind the beach. Someone’s soothing flute playing completes the allegory of my senses.
There’s no place like home for a kama’aina.

©2004 Rudolf Helder

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Meaning Of Aloha And Kokua...

Kokua is a Hawaiian word, that translates as "extending loving, sacrificial help to others for their benefit, not for personal gain..." Hawaii indeed has something to teach the world, other than the Hula. If you remember, Hawaiians embraced visitors from the outside world with a smile, flower leis, and their word for 'welcome' and 'love,' "Aloha."
And what did Americans do when they were thusly invited as a guest into their beautiful islands?
American businessmen, with the help of a garrison of US Marines overthrew Hawaii's queen by arresting and imprisoning her and claimed Hawaii for America... Hawaiians will never forget that.
Yet, they smile, drape a flower lei over your shoulders, and say softly, "Aloha."

The world is a global economy and America has long dominated it with little regard for the wellbeing of people abroad, often supporting dictatorial regimes that brought harm to its own citizens, including those of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Marcos in the Philippines, Pinochet in Chile, Batista in Cuba, and many more. In Hawaii, it set up a new government and abandoned the Hawaiian monarchie, not to liberate the Hawaiian people, but to control the strategically situated island group and carve up its resources so that greedy businessmen could build legacies that to this day bear their names (and shame as plunderers of 'paradise'). The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has a long and tainted past, with few Hawaiians having benefitted from its programs. A once proud nation reduced to entertainers and workers at Waikiki hotels...
You may not agree with my sketch of American-Hawaiian history, but it does illustrate a policy of greed, military might, and mingling in the affairs of independent nations. Any parallels with the present are, of course, purely coincidental, but one may deduct that "freedom," when administered by US Marines, may be harmful to your wellbeing.

As responsible global citizens we ought to extend 'kokua' to the global community and people in less industrialized communities or countries striving to establish a valid economic existence—often engaged in agriculture and the production of handmade products. The politics of the past have not quite resulted in creating 'friends for life' overseas, and American corporations have further eroded goodwill with predatory practices. Still, as American businesses we should be encouraged to design and manufacture either locally or abroad, without bringing harm to the American worker—a current theme of 'Buy America' protectionists that are nationalistic in sentiment.
If anything, small businesses are able to bring products to market at a fair price that otherwise never would have been produced in the United States, including Hawaii. So, that 'Hawaiian' puka shell necklace you bought in Haleiwa on Oahu's North Shore may have been manufactured in the Philippines. Does it really matter?

Let's not become myopic at a time when the internet is empowering communities around the world and enabling people to trade with one another products and ideas in a peaceful manner. That the large multinational corporations (who themselves are exporting and outsourcing tens of thousands of American jobs) may not like our new trade model is just too bad. Have you been laid off or fired by one of them already? Ebay may be your next source of income. Perhaps if large corporations had behaved as responsible world citizens (think of Dow subsidiary Union Carbide and the environmental disaster in Bhopal, India, that has yet to be cleaned up) people abroad would view American corporations differently. It may be up to us, as consumers, employees, and entrepeneurs to engage in responsible trade that brings pride and approval to all involved, and makes the end-user feel good about their choice. A little Kokua goes a long way. Then, when we are respected as friends we can share our values and perhaps—and never at the point of a gun—spread our personal interpretation of 'Aloha.'

Sure, there will always be large companies trying to dominate one another in the global marketplace, and powerful businessmen will keep finding ways to secure themselves of profit with the aid of politicians and at the cost of shattered lives at home and abroad. It's up to each of us to counterbalance that and engage with one another by spreading Aloha and Kokua. Let every decision be one of vision. A long-lasting vision for long-lasting peace. This we understand better when someone smiles, drapes a flower lei over your shoulders, and says, "Aloha."

©2004 Rudolf Helder

As an internet-only venture, Hawaiian Days (, located in Honolulu aims to be a company that believes in Aloha and Kokua. As a publisher of vintage Hawaiian images, they aim to educate their visitors about Hawaii's history—an ongoing project that involves writing copy for some 500 prints in their portfolio. In the process, Hawaiian Days is growing to become a resource for lovers of all things Hawaii. In addition, Hawaiian Days brings other tropical and island-style products, always handmade and of the best quality. The company promotes the Hawaiian economy with products made in Hawaii or imported directly from small companies or communities abroad.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Hawaii, The Beautiful Lie...

Hawaii... All kinds of thoughts come to mind when one hears that name, with few of them probably having anything to do with the 'real' Hawaii. After all, Hawaii is a state of mind, not just a state within the United States.
Hawaii is the eternal tranquilizer, putting people in a natural state of bliss, just by hearing its name.
Hawaii is where you're going to die—of happiness!

True, Florida may be a better known destination for those seeking a place with a mild climate to last out one's life.
Hawaii's not (yet) marketing itself as the final resting place for US Mainland's seniors.
So, let's look at Hawaii as a place not to visit, and certainly not as a place to come to to die, but as a place for those who already live here and for whom the dream that Hawaii is, or was, or could be is more fact-based.

After all, at the rate things are going, Hawaii may lose its dream aspect in the future, due to inadequate planning, inability to protect its environment, pandering to big business and 'developers,' and greed by the pimps who have turned this group of lush islands into the flophouse of the North Pacific.
Yes, indeed, one enduring myth is that Hawaii lies in the South Pacific. "Come for a visit to the warm North Pacific," probably didn't cut it with the advertising agencies and travel services trying to sell Hawaii.
So then, let's face it: Hawaii is a lie.

Don't get me wrong. Hawaii still is beautiful. I love these islands. Yet, when you live here you also begin to see things that slowly fill you with sadness. Things the ocean cannot wash out of your consciousness anymore, after a while. Look around, and what do you see? The steamroller of mislabeled urban renewal, coagulating the unique with the mundane, in its wake another office tower with a built-in Wendy’s. Project that against a backdrop of waving palm trees and mountain ridges as sharp as torn paper. Paradise is being paved over. And fast. Never mind. I am not complaining, just noticing. We’re alive and don’t need central heating. Not here, at ninety degrees Fahrenheit in winter.

The fertile red soil of the plains, where once sugarcane and pineapples waxed, colors a landscape rapidly being developed for urban housing. Trash is beginning to litter the roads, as do roadside signs from businesses that claim to have 'adopted' a stretch of roadway. Everything's for sale. Oahu is scrambling for space, and commuter communities are springing up everywhere as more visitors stay for good. Hawaii has no quota restrictions. Not for the influx of people. Not for the influx of cars. Not for the rate of development. It would be anti-American, but there aren’t jobs for everybody, and the roads are jammed. Affordable homes start at a quarter of a million dollars. Paradise will soon desist. Hawaii is an organism that needs visionaries, or its ecosystem will collapse. It may already be too late. Meanwhile, the politicians are getting rich. The developers are getting fat. The people are going bankrupt. The little children are neglected. The women are beaten. The prices go up. The quality of life goes down. Crime wins every time. I am not complaining, just contemplating as the sun shines.
And the breeze whispers.
Hawaii, the beautiful lie...

©2004 Rudolf Helder