Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween: 1517

Ridgecrest Conference Center, NC – It was All Saint’s Day Eve, or All Hallows Eve; 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany. The parishioners waiting outside of the cathedral were there to receive absolution of sins, and to see the collection of “relics” inside. There were many relics circulating at this time, from what was supposedly the basin that Pontius Pilate washed his hands in, to a piece of dirt that Adam was made from. To top this all off, there was in Rome, a set of steps that reportedly were the one’s Christ carried his cross down.

It is difficult to say exactly which ones were on display that day, but certainly with such things floating about, a place as prestigious as Wittenberg at that time would have hopefully had some good exhibits. It certainly would have been an educational field trip for the children of that time, to see the multiple skulls of John the Baptist, supposedly they even had his skull from childhood, as well as the one from when he was an adult…Whatever, explain that one.
At some point during the day one of the teachers at the town’s university walked through the crowd and pounded a piece of paper to the door of the church, where he also preached. It was not an uncommon thing to do, the church door was an accepted notice board for statements and events that people needed to know.
In the old black and white film Martin Luther, in this scene a parishioner goes to the door, but quickly returns to his seat, telling a friend that it is just “something in Latin.” But that something in Latin wasn’t just anything in Latin. Penned by Martin Luther, the 95 thesis would be called various things, including the piece of paper that knocked off the crown of the pope.
In them, Luther denounced Indulgences, relics, etc. The church at that time, a thing that often spread terror just by its very name, began from that day to crumble. And crumbling led to teetering, and teetering led to the eventual fall of the Holy Roman Empire. And soon after, the entire face of the planet  forever. The church is still there of course. Perhaps it always will be. But it is a much kinder institution. No more thumb screws if you don’t agree with them. No more racks and bloody horsemen chasing people down for anything that could be labeled “heresy.”
And of course, on the other side of the coin, the Reformation began. John Calvin was only seven or eight years old. John Knox was even younger. But the ideas that Martin Luther put forth that day, the idea that the church was not all, were, in their time, truly frightening, and horrifying to many, as evidenced by the scrambled replies by many other clerics.
The Reformation would last a long time, and change many things. By the time Luther’s spark had finished its work, the New World was established, the king’s had mostly fallen, and the world was finally growing up. Of course, Luther could not know everything that would happen as a result of his nailing 95 ideas to a door of a church in a language that most people of the time could not even read. But certainly he must have known that it was something big, something revolutionary. For Luther, and as it would turn out for many other people as well, October 31, 1517 shaped up to be a truly frightening Halloween.

Andrew C. Abbott

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

People Hate Congress

Las Cruces, NM – Recently I heard a report that an estimated 13% of Americans still are against interracial marriages. Which is supposedly roughly the same percentage that believe they were visited, at some point, by Extra Terrestrials. However, even more interesting is that, as of today, that is roughly the same percentage -depending on who does the polling-that also approve of congress. In other words, it’s rare to find someone who thinks congress is, over all, doing their job right. As rare, it seems, or perhaps even rarer, then ETs.

But, surprisingly, or perhaps not too surprisingly, (it all depends on what surprises you) there is not often a massive turnover in congress. (Take the elections in two weeks, no large turnover is expected in the house, and everyone is still guessing about the senate, despite the basement level approval ratings.) And when there is a sudden flip in control, it is usually more of a referendum on a president and his policy, or a party and its mistakes, than it is about the actual congressman.
For most Americans who actually know who their congressman or woman is, they usually tend to think that he or she is doing a fine job. People are opposed to pork barrel spending. But if it is earmarked for them, they don’t seem to mind. Americans tend to hate congress. But they love their congressperson.
That can make it hard then, to cut spending. Everyone wants it done in a general sort of way. But begin cutting, and someone is going to start screaming. “Cut the pork, just not mine.” As long as plenty of representatives figure out a way to “bring home the bacon,” there won’t be too much complaining from constituents. That is not all that like to change. Perhaps less likely than that someday we will finally have proven that there really are little green men from Mars who kidnap people from the Bermuda Triangle when they bored, and helped to build the pyramids for the fun of it.

Andrew C. Abbott

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Out of Sight, Out Of It: Senator Pat Roberts

During the 2000 election, my brother Paul had heard about Al Gore, the man that was running against George Bush. In his not-yet-five-years-old mind, Paul imagined Gore, who was obviously a bad guy, in his world, since he ran against the good guys, as having horns. He was very, very surprised then, to see a picture of Gore in a suit, and without horns! In his words, his respect and image of Gore went up “a lot.”

Being seen is, in politics, really important. At least, if you want to seem like you’re not out of touch. Because if it looks to people like you are out it, you will be very soon out of office. And you may just have to remind the people every now and again that you do not, in fact, have horns.
As the Republicans try to regain the senate here in the midterm elections,  (they already hold the House of Representatives) they know that not only must they pick up at least six seats, they must also hold the ones they already have, which, in Kansas, a traditionally deeply Red State, may be a problem.
Besides the facts that he has served for seventeen years, he is now nearly eighty himself, there are other reasons why some young Kansans, (and even older ones) may feel that Orman, the Independent, who is Robert’s only competition in the race since the Democrats pulled their candidate due to lack of interest, is a better fit. The reason is that Robert’s doesn’t own a house in Kansas. He doesn’t even always go back there on his vacations.
He was once voted the funniest senator. But then, he stopped visiting his state. People said his rallies were more like wakes for the dead. He seemed, according to some, to really have no clue that all of a sudden, he was dropping in the polls, and dropping fast. And he wasn’t there, and he wasn’t visible.
Greg Orman was though. The man who will now say with which party he will caucus with in Washington if he wins. He began chasing Robert’s up in the polls, as “everything came up Orman.”
But the other part of the story of the importance of being visible is that now, that’s what Roberts is. He is back in Kansas, at last, with a new team, a new message, and new money. Quite a bit of it, in fact. The Republican National Committee is not risking losing this seat, and even Sara Palin showed up to show support.
It has helped. A lot. The race is competitive again. But the story is one of a man who was out of sight, and quickly went on the road to being out of it. He is in sight now, and once again in sight of reelection. He was once ten points ahead in the polls. Then he was below Orman. Now he is once again even. But that was a turnaround that never needed to be necessary.
It may very well be Pat Robert’s last election night, on November 4, whether he wins of not. He is getting old, and another six years in Washington may very well finish to the old senator’s long race. Until then he has to finish out one more campaign, while writing the textbook on what not to do.

Andrew C. Abbott

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kobani: The Important Place You Never Heard About

Its called Kobani, Syria. It is not a tourist spot. America never drew a red line here. We never promised to defend it. It is not the key to any massive defense system. It is not a new style Alamo. It does not even hold any real strategic significance. But if this little place that is more like a small town than a city falls, it could have implications that could figuratively rock the world.
If ISIS, (you know, the guys you never heard about until they were actually a problem) is able to take the city, which US officials admit is a real possibility in the upcoming days, than it could reveal things about the new American Airstrikes Campaign.
The UN is frightened of a possible massacre if ISIS takes the city. You can’t blame them. ISIS hasn’t shown much concern about the articles of the Geneva Convention, if indeed they even know what that is.
The town sits near the border with Turkey, who still sits mostly aloof from the fight. But that could change, some say, if the town falls. If it does fall, then that would mean that around fifty airstrikes by the United States, mostly in the last four days, were widely ineffective in bringing down ISIS and company.
This morning the militant terrorists made a drive toward the heart of the small town, but were pushed back in about ninety minutes of fighting. They are fighting both some of the town’s people, and Kurds, who, although having difficulty early on in getting the ball rolling, have come back with greater punch in the second round of the “World v. ISIS” war.
If Kobani falls, it will not only be a major media blitz for them, that they took a city America dropped bombs to save, but it could also potentially free up hundreds or even thousands of fighters, who could then put added pressure elsewhere, including places like Baghdad, which, if it were to fall, would be the biggest victory yet for ISIS, expect perhaps that they have finally become a household name, something they will need to recruit more troops if they want to continue this war against all things good.
Kobani, and Baghdad still stand. For today. Some US officials believe that too much emphasis is being put on one small town. But ISIS clearly doesn’t think so.

Andrew C. Abbott

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Rise of the Personhood of the Apes

Are apes people?
Napa, CA – It is the new monkey trial. Today, before five judges, Steven Wise, in association with the Nonhuman Rights Project, will argue that apes are people too. Don’t laugh, it’s true. A twenty-plus aged monkey, named Tommy, is currently living in what Wise describes as a “dark, dank, shed” in upstate New York.

The animal is owned by a man, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, named Patrick Lavery. However, Wise claims that it is not ownership, but wrongful imprisonment. Here’s the catch, animals cannot be wrongly imprisoned, only owned. Wise, who has been working for decades in an attempt to give more rights to animals, is going to argue that Tommy the ape is wrongly imprisoned, because he is, in fact…a person.
This is not the first time that a country has considered giving apes greater personhood protection. Spain ruled in favor the primates not too long ago. Of course, it’s a touchy subject. For those that want to blame evolution, which some claim is a contributing factor, it may be well to keep in mind that Charles Darwin, (if not the father of the theory, he definitely is a close uncle) would never have approved of something like this. Lamenting in his books that these animals were no killed off.
Naturally, legal theorists are on the case at both ends. If monkeys are people, (and by the way, even if Tommy is declared a person today after the hearing, he will not automatically be free, there will have to be another case on whether he is really wrongly imprisoned) than a whole host of issues arise. From can we still experiment on them, to what kind of person is a huge lumbering thing that can’t talk, eats monkeys, fights amongst themselves, and is incapable of obeying or even understanding the laws that all other “persons” are expected to observe?
Lawrence Freedman, who took two decades of his life to write his magnum opus, Strategy: A History, and one of only a handful of books that stretch beyond eight hundred pages and is still worth reading, began the work with a chapter on the strategy of the apes. Mostly it was about how they defend themselves. but it forgot to mention this bit, that they might just turn themselves into “persons” for the ultimate protection. There are a few, seen as cynical souls by some, who would wonder “who, in this case, is the greater monkey?”
Andrew C. Abbott

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Animal Farm

The humorous tale of political satire begins when farmer Jones comes back drunk one night to his home, Manor Farm. The famous book, Animal Farm was written by George Orwell, whose name was not actually George Orwell, but, since his real name would never have sold, or have been remembered, he was George Orwell.

After Jones has thrown himself into bed the animals creep to where a secret meeting has been called by an old pig, Major, who tells the animals it is time to rise and fight against the oppression that has held them down too long. He rails against man, who, he says, has held them down.
The ideas he puts forth that night are turned into an entire branch of thought, called Animalism, and secret meetings and societies are set up, while the old pig himself passes away.
Not long after that, the animals find themselves not being fed properly due to Jones’ drunkenness and his men’s laziness. They chase the men out of the gates of the farm, and begin creating laws and ordering themselves on the newly named Animal Farm. There is however, a little mystery. A batch of puppies goes missing, but no one complains, and soon they forget.
But things begin to go sour quickly. The characters are too varied and many to be held together easily. There is Mollie, Jones’ horse, who likes lumps of sugar and being patted on the nose more than she likes living there, and runs away early on. There is the stupid, but strongest of all animals, Boxer, the horse. And there are the sheep, who chant endlessly “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
But there are the more sinister characters. The pigs. Who quickly confiscate the milk from the cows and the apples from the trees, saying they do not even like such things, but they must be taken for their use, while they do “brain work.” Anyone who complains is cowed by the idea, no matter they are complaining about, that if it is not done, Jones will come back. And for that there is no counter argument.
Two factions soon form. There is Napoleon, the pig who rarely speaks in the debates, but always seems to have a following. And Snowball, the eloquent, the brilliant, and man of the people. (Make that pig of the animals.) He soon comes up with an idea (amidst fighting off an attempt at taking the farm back by Jones’ with tactics taken form a book by Julius Caesar) for a windmill.
Napoleon says he is against it, but will not say why. At the meeting however, just as Snowball is about to win the vote, the puppies, who had disappeared on the first day, return, as massive dogs, and break up the meeting. Snowball flees and never returns, and Napoleon states that he was a trader, and that he (Napoleon) is now in charge. Four young pigs leap to their feet to debate, but the dogs snarl, and when the rest of the animals begin to complain, they are told that all debates are from now on canceled, and the “Rebellion” is over. If these orders are not followed, Jones will come back. The sheep pick up their song again, and everyone is quieted. Boxer invents the motto “Napoleon is always right.” And peace returns. But so does the tyranny begin.
Quickly, Napoleon tells everyone that the windmill was actually his idea all along, and they are going to build it. And so they do. It falls down, and they build again. But this time things are harder, and the animals are beginning to go hungry. And yet always Boxer is there to stir them on with his spirit. But when the windmill is completed a second time, it is knocked down again, this time by dynamite from a neighboring farm.
And now the privations begin. The pigs take over the old house where the people lived when it was Manor Farm, and Animal Farm begins to be ruled by whips. The food gets less and less, and the work gets harder and harder. Yet always the animals of Animal Farm are rallied by their “comrades” the pigs, who tell them that they are happier than in Jones’ time, and much better off, proving it by figures no one but they understand.
But by now, Boxer is giving out. And one day he finally faints. Napoleon sells him to a glue factory, and executions of animals who go against him begin. And so the animals forget their tales of happiness and dreams of prosperity. The seven commandments are replaced by only one. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Until one day men from the surrounding farms come, to meet with Napoleon, who by now, with his pig cohorts, can walk on two legs and wear clothes and talk. He has changed the chant of the sheep to “Four legs good, two legs better.” And says that is what it has always been.
The old donkey and a few friends who still live from the time of Jones,’ creep up to the house, and to their horror, while they watch, the men congratulate Napoleon on having the farm in all of England where the animals work the most, and eat the least. And he laughs, and toasts. And then, according to Orwell, the faces of the pigs seem to change before the very eyes of the donkey.
As he looks from one to another, he can suddenly find no difference.  Napoleon calls out that the name of Animal Farm is to be changed. It will be called instead, Manor Farm, the old name under the humans. And then the wise old donkey realizes what has changed in the pigs faces. They have become like the men’s. He cannot tell them apart. They have already become the same.
The tale ends here. We are left wondering if the animals rise and form a new rebellion, or flee, or simply live out their lives in squalor and working “harder than slaves, and yet without chains.”
The parallels of course are there. They do not even need pointing out. Keeping them busy. The figures, the lies. No one needs to explain. We know. Mankind is not, in the unfree nations of the world, very different from the animals of Animal Farm. And every free nation must constantly against becoming like that.
But one is left wondering in the end. Does the donkey, (symbol of democracy) rise up and fight and conquer the pigs? Or is he, like Boxer, in the end shipped off to be made into glue? The question is undying, it is only the deeds of men that can answer it.

Andrew C. Abbott

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Square, 1989 and 2014

Today, in Hong Kong, thousands of students stand in the streets, declaring their anger against Beijing, who will not give them the right to choose their leaders the way they want. The police are standing by with tear gas and night sticks, and guarded by shields and barriers. Some protestors have already been arrested, and police threaten to break it all up if they attempt to occupy government buildings. Although leaders have agreed to talks with the protestors, which gives them, for the moment, an air of legitimacy.

Even worse than the police, for the students, are the members of the populace. Who stand yelling “go home!” and “pack up!” According to some reports they have even attempted to drag the protestors away. The age difference, according to all observers, is very marked. The protestors themselves are all very young, whereas those opposing them are much older.
In Tiananmen Square in 1989, protests also took place against the way things were run in Beijing. So this is not the first time. In the Square, in 1989, it was, as it is now, a protest asking for democracy. This time however, in Beijing itself, and it had the support of many of the town people themselves. Some estimates of the crowds in the square are placed at over one million.
But Beijing was the home of the Communist Party, and the protests were not tolerated. Over three hundred thousand troops were sent, and thousands of protestors died. To this day it is against the laws of China to celebrate those who died, or commemorate what happened.
The protests happening today are a major embarrassment, certainly, for president Xi Jinping. Especially ahead of president Obama’s visit to his country on November tenth. For the leader of the free world to show up and find thousands of young people asking for democracy, and not getting it, could cause more difficulties than Jinping would like to think about. There have been some watered down statements from the United States in general terms supporting democracy to the Chinese, with whom American diplomats usually attempt to keep the topic off of human rights. But America has been politely told to mind its own business.
Of course, all of this is assuming that the protestors are still around on the tenth of November, when the president steps of the plain. They could fizzle out, like Occupy Wall Street, (whatever did happen to them?) or-and it certainly would a horrible or-since China is still China, a repeat of Tiananmen Square, although admittedly on a smaller scale, could happen.
The agenda for the president’s visit officially has nothing to do with Hong Kong, although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answered “yes” when asked the question of weather or not America would like to see the protests spread to mainland China. The president is going to speak about things like Climate Change and Ebola.
There is no end of sources of friction between China and the US. From Japan’s borders to North Korea threatening every other week to blow us up, we don’t need thousands of students for an excuse to get mad at each other. But it certainly doesn’t help.

Andrew C Abbott

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Chinese Paradox: Trying out two worlds at one time

It wasn’t that big of a news story. Lots of Red Banners, dignitaries, probably some over eating, and generally a party about Communism. Basically like all parties, except for the bit about Communism, and a lot more police standing round. Yesterday, in China, they celebrated a day they have been observing for over fifty years, since the new country began after World War II, basically.

What was news was that the day before that happened, they also celebrated a new holiday, Martyr’s Day. A holiday only recently approved to be celebrated in the top down style of the self-styled “People’s Republic of China,” one of the reasons for celebration was, according to the Wall Street Journal, to remember those that “died for freedom.
It’s a paradox much like China itself. On the one hand celebrating freedom, and on the other celebrating Communism. China is one of the emerging countries, one of the countries garnering the benefits of trade from countries like the US and European Union Countries, with Chinese cheap labor and mass producing products, to the dismay of some, and the happiness of kids at Christmas.
The oddness of the situation is rather telling. The Chinese are members of the United Nations group of Permanent Members, the Big Five, and an organization obviously fighting for peace. Yet, at the same time, in the “US and Them” struggle of rhetoric and sanctions and territory across the Atlantic Ocean, between the United States and Russia, China is very much on the “Them” side of the deal.
The continuing position of China in the world is still unclear. They claim in some ways to be phasing out the most restrictive parts of their brand of Communism, while they are at the same time fast becoming one of the world’s largest economies. They would certainly like the West to think that they are like them. But besides for a few fringe people in the United States, they simply are not.
Here, we are constantly unhappy with the government, complaining tweeting, etc. No matter what party you are in, somebody somewhere at the top is going to cook your goose, and then you’re going to tweet that goose. Helping to keep the government in check, and, in some ways, making every citizen a member of the oversight committee, is what that becomes.
Not so in China. The Communist Party rules. Red is the color of the day. The one child rule is still very much in effect, although exceptions are now allowed in some cases. Poverty is not uncommon, nor is an hour wait for a bus, taxi, or mode of transport to and through the large cities, where sickness and pollution are pervasive problems, as is overcrowding, housing, and job shortages.
There have been some attempts to change this, but there are still hundreds of small, unclean, and unheard of villages, the children from whom have few prospects. In a country that is soon to have the largest subway system in the world, the other side of the coin is that people still eat the scraps from the pigs.
Nothing stays the same forever. Communism was nearly unheard of in China one hundred years ago. And the China of a hundred years from now will look very different from today. The change is already coming, what that change will ultimately look like is up to men raised in the Red of Communism.
The paradox is there. Celebrating the sacrifice for freedom and the rise of Communism on alternate days. Much like China’s alternate faces. One of the mask of global competitor and modern country, but the other, at its heart, an old world ideology, with ideas locked in since the dark ages.
Yes, change is coming. But what type?

Andrew C. Abbott