Category Archives: Opinion

Status Rights

Dead Confederate soldiers. What the hell were these fools fighting for, anyway?


An age-old debate persists as to why the Civil War was fought. Some claim it was over slavery, while others argue it was over state’s rights.

I disagree with the slavery crowd. Most Confederate soldiers were poor white men who couldn’t afford slaves. Why in the hell would they want to take up arms to protect the property of rich plantation owners?

And slaves were competition to white workers. This was one of the more popular appeals made by the Abolition movement. Moral arguments about the cruelty of slavery were not nearly as persuasive to some white folks as was the competition argument.

Slaves worked for free. Therefore, they drove down wages and kept them low for white laborers. So it was in the economic interest of southern whites to end slavery, as this would help drive up wages and improve their employment opportunities.

And yet, white men donned the Confederate uniform and fought to break apart our nation.

So if the preservation of slavery wasn’t their motivation, they had to be fighting for state’s rights. Right?

Well, no, not in my view. After all, who the hell gives a damn about state’s rights? The issue of state’s rights is too wonky for ordinary people to give a shit about. Intellectuals in suits and ties might enjoy verbal jousting over this matter, while slurping down brandies, smoking cigars, and watching the burning embers of a fireplace die out. But I have never observed ordinary, non-political people making a case for state’s rights.

And I’ve never seen anyone pledge their allegiance to my state flag, or to any other. Nor have I ever heard of anyone proclaiming their willingness to lay down their life to protect the sovereignty of their state. It seems to me that nobody gives a flying fuck about their state. Well, except maybe a few Texans.

Who the hell in their right mind would take up arms to protect their state, of all goddamned things? If my state asked me to do this, I’d laugh myself to death. And no way in hell would I serve a cause like that.

So no, I strongly doubt that the Civil War was fought over something as eggheaded and wonkish as state’s rights.

But Confederate soldiers did fight hard and very bravely. Many fell in the battlefield for a cause that maybe they couldn’t quite put their finger on, yet believed in passionately.

My theory is that maybe they were fighting for state’s rights in name only. But in reality, deep in their guts, they were fighting not for state’s rights, but for status rights.

Southern whites during the antebellum days always had one thing going for them. No matter how low their fortunes might become, they could never sink down to the status of black slaves. No matter how piss-poor a white man could be, he could always look over at those slaves picking cotton and say to himself, “At least I’m not as bad off as those poor, miserable fuckers.”

So the thought that the slaves might shed their chains and become equals under the law to whites must have left many whites feeling shook up and irked. They were accustomed to guaranteed socioeconomic status at least one rung above blacks. And they wanted to keep it that way.

Those were the days when men fought duels to the death over insults. Pride and status meant everything, especially to southerners, where it seemed to be ingrained in their culture.

But even today status means a lot to people, and not just to southerners. Status is a basic human need. Your status in your community can help you to be trusted by others. Or distrusted. It can help you to maintain your livelihood. Or it may keep you from being employed. And it can keep you safe from those with vigilante mindsets. Or it can get you beaten to death in a dark parking lot.

People spend thousands of dollars for fancy cars, jewelry, and designer jeans, just to enhance their status. People brag and exaggerate for reasons of status. And sometimes they fight each other viciously and violently when their status is on the line.

Status is damned important to human beings.

When the Civil War ended, the black population of the South immediately rose in status. They could no longer be called slaves. They were no longer cemented to the bottom, as the lowest of the low. In fact, they now had a chance to rise up. Just imagine how insecure white people felt about this.

And so came the birth of the Ku Klux Klan, and other efforts to keep black people under the white people’s heel. The apartheid policies of Jim Crow were all about status. Keep the blacks backwardly educated, in poorly-funded schools. Keep them at the back of the bus. And make them enter public buildings through the back door. Make sure they, and everyone else knows, that their status is always at the back.

In my view, status rights was at the heart of the Civil War, and has also been at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. The racial tensions of the 50s and 60s were all about status. Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus because she believed her true status was different from that prescribed by law.

The Civil Rights movement helped black people to immensely improve their status in society. And leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr and Barrack Obama have demonstrated the wisdom of accepting black people as equals to whites.

And yet, the black population still suffers from lower socioeconomic status. According to Pacific Standard magazine, “Blacks are nearly three times as likely to be poor as whites, and more than twice as likely to be unemployed. Compared to whites with the same qualifications, blacks remain less likely to be hired and more likely to earn lower wages, to be charged higher prices for consumer goods, to be excluded from housing in white neighborhoods, and to be denied mortgages or steered into the subprime mortgage market.”

It seems that since the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, racial discrimination has become more and more subtle, with carefully engineered deniability. It’s out of sight, yet it still continues. We know, because it’s all right there in the statistics.

So let’s change the debate about race a little. Let’s consider that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery or state’s rights. When boiled down to its essence, I believe it was about status rights. And the race issues we face today, are also about status rights.

Therefore I will never be convinced that racial discrimination has ended, until one thing happens. Black people and white people must enjoy a similar socioeconomic status. Then, and only then, will I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream has come true.

Because only then will black people have completely overcome.

Fabric Softener

Many years ago I started doing my own laundry. I got tired of having to ferret through piles of clothes in the garage to find my shirts, jeans, socks, and unmentionables. That was my wife’s system. Clean the clothes, then leave them in a giant pile.

My wife would be happy to do my laundry. She’s very domestic, and not one of those women’s libbers who think that men should do housework, too.

No, but I’m one of those women’s libbers. I liberate her from the cleaning jobs she doesn’t do well at. Which is just about everything.

But as for laundry, she does hers and I do mine. Hers ends up in a mountainous pile. Mine ends up neatly folded and put away.

I try to make the job as easy as possible. So I don’t use extra stuff, like fabric softener. At least not intentionally. However I have used it unintentionally on plenty of occasions. That’s because it looks so much like a bottle of liquid detergent.

Try to guess, which is the detergent, and which is the fabric softener?

Why the hell do women have to have fabric softener? If they want soft fabric, why don’t they just feel the fabric before they buy their clothes? And if fabric softener really worked, clothing could be made of gunny sacks, and be a whole lot cheaper.

I feel the same about anti-cling dryer sheets. I’ve tried them a few times, and yes they do save me from having to unpeel every article of clothing from each other. But half the fun of folding clothes is hearing the frizzle of static electricity, as I exercise my origami skills.

So I don’t use them. Unlike my wife. What’s crazy is that after several rounds in the dryer, these sheets always end up on our garage floor, looking like lifeless lambs, killed by continuous lightning strikes. I find myself picking up these crumpled creatures and tossing them in the trash, because no one else deigns to bend their back.

Why do people use extra little products to get a simple job done? All they do is create confusion and add to their work. I’m a true believer in the KISS method of doing laundry. Keep It Sudsy Stupid. And that’s all you have to do.

And what’s with all the different cycle choices? I always use the Normal Wash cycle. It has never damaged my wool socks or flannel shirts. I refuse to buy any clothing that won’t hold up under a Normal Wash cycle.

My wife does most of the shopping, and she always buys the cheap detergent. That’s the liquid detergent of some brand nobody ever heard of before, and never will again. We’ve had brands with names like Old Nellie’s Froth, Red Tide, and Lye By Night.

There are never any instructions on the bottles concerning the proper amount of detergent to use, for the size of the load. So I usually err on the side of caution and measure out way more than is probably needed. And there goes all the savings from buying the cheap stuff.

But we do save money on detergent in other ways. It all works out in the end. Because I get absent-minded a lot when I do the laundry. And then I end up walking around in smelly but very cuddly clothes.

All because I accidentally grabbed the bottle of fabric softener.

The Once-Forbidden Fruit

I recently visited the state of Colorado, which is one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. During my peradventure at the high altitudes, I noticed a profusion of advertisements for this leafy product.

This service station in Colorado offers an unusual mix of products.

The ads left me curious. I wanted to try the substance myself. I’ve never smoked marijuana, but there was that one time many years ago when I got a buzz from second-hand fumes. In other words, I’m the opposite of Bill Clinton. I’ve never smoked it, but I have inhaled.

The stuffy relatives I visited were all against grass, and did not like their new, libertine laws, so I decided not to wear out my welcome by experimenting. But in less than six months, recreational marijuana will be available for purchase right here in my great home state of California.

California, you usually lead the way in liberal social trends. What the hell has happened to you? Why have you been lagging so far behind?

But better late than never. In six months I’ll be able to sashay down to a local pot shop and pick up a dose of cannabis, and all in the name of recreation rather than some fake medical excuse.

I suppose if they ever legalize prostitution in Colorado, their service stations can offer gas, grass, and ass.

So now I’m debating internally as to whether or not I should actually try it. Shall I pluck the once-forbidden fruit and consume it? Will it open my eyes? Or will it destroy my personal Eden?

I decided to do some research, and see what the experts have to say about the dangers and benefits from marijuana use. Here’s what I have discovered:

TRAFFIC DANGERS
A 3% increase in collision claims has occurred in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. ~ Highway Loss Data Institute.

TRAFFIC BENEFITS
No significant increase in vehicle accident fatalities. ~ American Journal of Public Health.

Highway fatalities in Colorado are at near historic lows. ~ The Washington Post

Traffic searches by highway patrols in Colorado and Washington dropped by nearly half after the two states legalized marijuana in 2012. ~ NBC News

It’s nice to know you don’t have to buy marijuana in order to get gassed in Colorado.

HEALTH DANGERS
Casual marijuana use is linked to brain abnormalities. ~ Northwestern University

Marijuana disorients the mind, affects memory, reduces physical coordination, causes rapid heart beat, causes bronchitis and cancer, sterilizes men and disrupts the menstrual cycle of women, deforms sperm cells, and causes birth defects. ~ Foundation for a Drug-Free World

HEALTH BENEFITS
Marijuana improves memory in older mice. ~ University of Bonn, Germany

It’s a myth that marijuana causes sterility, and marijuana has little evidence implicating it in fetal harm, unlike alcohol, cocaine or tobacco. ~ http://www.canorml.org/healthfacts/healthmyths.html

Marijuana is unlikely to cause head, neck, or lung cancer. ~ Daniel E. Ford, MD, John Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore

VIOLENCE DANGERS
Continued use of cannabis causes violent behavior. ~ Journal of Psychological Medicine

VIOLENCE BENEFITS
Legalizing marijuana will eliminate much of the violence and corruption that currently characterizes marijuana markets. ~ Cato Institute

SPIRITUAL DANGERS
Marijuana use has adverse effects on your aura and soul. ~ http://cosmic-living.com/uncategorized/is-marijuana-ok-from-a-spiritual-point-of-view/

SPIRITUAL BENEFITS
Marijuana balances your system, alleviates worry, expands the mind, heightens consciousness, facilitates meditation, improves self-knowledge, and puts us in touch with universal spiritual values. ~ http://www.benefitsofmarijuana.com

MY CONCLUSION
With all the contradictory information and opinions I’ve read from all the above experts, I can only conclude one thing:

They’re all smoking it!

Nice Guys

operation_castle_-_romeo_001

(A fictional account. So far.)

He could have saved the world today. But he didn’t. He could have reached over and grabbed the hand of that officer sitting next to him, before he made the fatal move. But that’s not the kind of guy he was.

No, in fact he was just like that officer. A nice guy. He made no waves. He respected authority and did what he was told. He complied with the established order. He lived his life trying to be as normal and humdrum as possible, in his every thought and action.

He was very nice.

So when the order came down to launch the preemptive nuclear strike, and he saw that the officer sitting next to him was going to comply with that order, he froze. In his mind, just for a split-desperate-second, he grabbed the officer by the arm and wrestled him to the floor. And saved the world. And his family. And himself.

But he quickly rejected that thought and braced himself for inevitable annihilation. Because he was just too nice a guy to do anything else.

Just like all the other nice guys who responded to orders today without question, but instead with a “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am”.

And that is how the world came to an end today. Not at the hands of bad guys.

But at the hands of nice guys.

Down and Out

My down comforter has leaked feathers for years, gradually losing its amazing thermal insulating power. I didn’t want to endure another winter of freezing my unmentionables off, so I went online in search of a new comforter.

That’s when I discovered something very discomfiting.

Bald geese.

A goose that has been live-plucked.

A goose that has been live-plucked.

Bloody, bald geese. Geese that have been live-plucked for their downy feathers.

There’s a movement afoot to discourage people from buying down products. Animal rights activists claim that most of the down we get from geese is harvested using a method called live-plucking. You can read more about it by clicking here.

A goose is held down and sometimes tied up, and then it’s feathers are plucked until the goose is bald and bleeding. Often the flesh is ripped open from the plucking, and then sewn back shut with a straight needle. No anasthesia or pain killer is given the poor, suffering goose.

If you’re not too squeamish, and have already eaten breakfast, try watching this video produced by PETA. It shows live-plucking in action.

IKEA and Patagonia are two businesses that no longer use down in their products, due to their opposition to live-plucking. But many companies continue to use and sell down products. I wonder if they’re hoping the general public won’t catch on to the animal cruelty we finance when we buy their feathery merchandise.

The good news is, there are plenty of excellent synthetic alternatives to down.

My research discovered the best substitute is Primaloft. Primaloft was developed by the U.S. Army in the 1980’s. It possesses nearly the same insulating power as down, and retains 96% of its insulating capability when wet. Down, on the other hand, is useless when wet.

Primaloft is also lightweight. But I must concede, it does not seem quite as lightweight as down. Just the same, it sure can take a heavy burden off your conscience.

A good Primaloft comforter also costs less than a good down comforter. I bought one for about $150.

I used it for the first time a few nights ago, when winter got into a battle with our late-summer weather, and sent us a crushing cold front. I slept cozy as a coyote. In fact I had to stick my legs out, to keep the prickly heat away.

Down is down and out, on my shopping list. I can’t get the image of bloody honking geese out of my head. But at least I can sleep better knowing that perhaps a few less geese will be tortured, due to my recent buying decision.

The F-Word

The bard.

The bard used the F-word. But in those days it meant something completely different. And if rumors about Shakespeare are true, I doubt he’d ever use that word today.

I haven’t used the F-word in many years. But there was a time when I thought nothing of deploying it. It fell from my lips as easily as any other slang in common usage.

I remember my classmates and I freely and frequently speaking this word in elementary school. We used it on the playground. We used it in the classroom. We used it in front of our teachers. Hell, sometimes even our teachers would utter this epithet.

Nobody thought it was that bad of a word. But it could occasionally incite an angry exchange or even a fistfight. It was used to playfully or maliciously put someone down–especially other males. It often peppered the badinage and persiflage of our masculine repartee.

I continued to use the F-word after entering adulthood. But I found myself feeling less and less comfortable with it. When other adults used it, they seemed to color it with a tinge of hatred and contempt. I guess I didn’t share their level of contempt.

One day I used the F-word while speaking with someone whom I held in great esteem. He responded with a long silence. I felt puzzled and a little embarrassed. I knew he didn’t live that kind of lifestyle. He wasn’t one of “them”. So why the silent treatment?

But he knew others who lived that way. And as I opened my eyes and mind, I realized I did too. And these were folks who were like anybody else, except for that lifestyle. Most of them were honest, considerate and, like all of us, they were smart in their own way. And their “lifestyle” usually wasn’t much different from the rest of us.

So I stopped using the F-word. I don’t like the banning of words. My mind bristles when people try to tell me what I cannot say. I think that’s natural. We all love freedom of speech. But there are some words that have been used for generations to fuel hatred and justify violence.

You may have already guessed that the F-word I’m referring to is not the four-letter one. Hell no. I love that fucking word. It adds color, character, and emphasis to our language, and enjoys special status in the cockles of my heart. No, this particular F-word is either three or six letters long. At one time it referred to firewood and cigarette butts. But nowadays it’s an unambiguous hate-language word, and reflects bigotry and ignorance.

Those who have used this word have unwittingly or wittingly fueled the hatred that has contributed to the violent deaths of many innocents. Matthew Shepard met such a demise in Wyoming in 1998, at the age of 21. He’d been pistol-whipped, tortured, and tied to a barbed wire fence.

And just last year, on November 1st, gay rights activist George Zander was beaten to death in Palm Springs, California. That’s only a few miles from where I live, for God’s sake. He was the victim of an alleged hate crime. Local news reports describe him as having been a wonderful, well-liked human being. He was even honored posthumously with a star on Palm Springs’ famous Walk of Stars.

And then there was the Orlando nightclub shooting this last Sunday. Dozens of other wonderful, well-liked human beings perished at the hands of a man who hated their sexual orientation. I suspect this man both heard and used the F-word many times in his life. When he heard others casually flinging this term around, did it make violence seem okay for him? How could it not?

So for me, the F-word is out of my vocabulary. I want to avoid contributing to the violent deaths of innocent people.

Because that would just be too fucked up.

Ancient Hike

I took a walk through history the other day. Actually, it was just another hike. But aren’t all hikes through the wilderness a walk through history? This virgin desert hasn’t changed much from the way it was hundreds, or even thousands of years ago. It looks the same, smells the same, and even sounds the same, except for the occasional passing airplane.

Once you get past the cities and campgrounds, things haven't changed much over the past several thousand years.

Once you get past the cities and campgrounds, things haven’t changed much over the past several thousand years.

It tastes the same, too, if you’re as brave as me, and willing to sample some of the herbivorous offerings growing underfoot. It’s never killed me to do this, which is a little surprising.

Purple Sage is blooming this Spring--one of my favorite wildflowers. If Prince had ever seen this flower, I'll bet his famous song would have been given a slightly different name.

I call this Purple Sage, even though it’s blue. But there are many different sages called Purple Sage, so I have license. It’s one of my favorite wildflowers. If Prince had ever seen this flower, I’ll bet his famous song would have been given a slightly different name.

The ancients who hiked these hills before me had the same kind of worries, too. After all, I take care to avoid stepping on serpents, just like they did. But one of these days a rattler’s gonna get me, I’m sure. I’ve come close a few times, but so far the vipers have kept their fangs to themselves.

I can’t say the same for the two-legged vipers I’ve encountered, in that place we call civilization. But even the ancients had to deal with scoundrels within and without their tribes.

Bees love Purple Sage, also.

Bees love Purple Sage, also.

I’d sure like to get to know these ancestors. But the closest I can come is to walk through the same wilds they walked, and stomp the same hills, and keep the same watchful eye for buzzworms.

I wonder what they considered their reason for living? I doubt it was to be my progenitors, though that would be flattering. I’ll bet they, like us, could not quite put their finger on it. Everyone probably had their own theory.

This rock is so old, it's developed wrinkles.

This rock is so old, it’s developed wrinkles.

The purpose of life, according to my finger, is just to experience life itself. There’s no life in boredom, pain, or endless hard labor. That’s death, in my book. So I try to avoid those things. And when I do, what’s left is simply life itself, with its purpose automatically fulfilled.

I wonder just how old my theory is. How many ancients, who walked these hills, would have agreed with me?

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