Saturday, May 31, 2014

Last month I read Ken Follett’s Winter of the World set in the period between the end of World War One and the end of World War Two.  The novel is the story of Europe falling into chaos and ruin under the leadership of men whom history has labeled fascists.  Joe (the Plumber) Wurzelbacher, who was heralded by conservatives in 2008 as a symbol of America’s struggling middle class, was called a neo-Nazi and fascist after he sent a pro-gun rights open letter to the families of those gunned down in the Isla Vista rampage saying, “As harsh as this sounds - - your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”   I searched my old Greek and Latin dictionaries as I often do for enlightenment to find the original use of the word fascist to decide if I should think of Wurzelbacher and his compatriots as neoNazis or fascists or just plain nut cases. He lacks the intelligence to become an actual fascist, but maybe Nazi fits. In Latin, the word fascia is a bundle, a packet.  A bundle of sticks, a fasces, was in ancient times carried as the symbol of “right to rule” into an assembly before a ruler made a speech. The guy who carried the bundle of sticks with the hatchet sticking out was called a lictor.  I’m guessing lictors didn’t have to be very bright, so Joe the Plumber could probably be a lictor. 

The Follett novel is based, of course, on the actual histories of Germany, Spain, Italy, and other countries that were known as fascist states.  Of the heads of state in those countries, Hitler was the most notorious and most effective fascist.  He fit the bill by proclaiming that he was the rightful ruler of a new Germany, a Germany without Jews or homosexuals or Gypsies or Marxists or trade unionists or… and the list goes on to include infirm people in nursing homes and people suffering from mental illness… all selected to be euthanized because without them to drag everybody else down, the new Germany would be what God intended a country to be, a new world empire that would advance mankind to new heights of righteousness and purity.  Based purely on racism and classism, the new world would cleanse itself of “inferior” races, weaker classes, the sick and the homeless…  
Sound familiar?

In matters of politics and government we of the human species are slow learners…and impulsive, a dangerous combinations of traits. It’s hard to know where best to begin with examples of people voting and acting against their own interest. In the poorest sections of many U.S. cities, citizens routinely elect candidates for office who oppose programs that could help them.  Looking across the Atlantic, one wonders, given the miserable chaos and suffering through two disastrous world wars and the long cold war years that followed, how any people in Europe would want to embrace neo-fascism; but all over the European Union a definite growth of strength is developing in far-right parties which are increasingly anti-immigrant and homophobic.  Open racism and anti-semitism in Greece’s Golden Dawn Party, for instance, can be seen only as neo-Nazism.  Members of that and other ultra-conservative parties are openly expressing their belief in violence as an appropriate form of political action. Washington Post journalist and columnist Harold Meyerson points out in that paper today that “the groups identified as the Euroright are committed to their own national volk and its traditions and a disdain for, if not loathing of, any neighbors — Muslims, Jews, social democrats — who either aren’t part of that volk or don’t believe in the politics of intolerance.”  The drama being played out in Eastern Ukraine is a clear example of organized use of violent action to settle political differences. On both sides of the Atlantic, Putin’s distain for what he calls the moral flabbiness that comes with elevating democracy over traditional values resonates with American Tea Party folks and with conservatives all over Europe.  America polls indicate that while the most conservative citizens are generally older people, in Europe many right-leaning activists are young people. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

O.K., here’s what’s bugging me about the VA scandal.  Of course, it’s inexcusable to knowingly delay treatment for sick veterans. When healthy people who have the training and the skill and the responsibility to address and perhaps fix the physical and mental malfunctions of veterans hold back from doing everything they can in as timely a manner as possible, I am shocked and offended. How could I not be moved with compassion when I learn that a sixty-five-year-old man is near death and will almost surely die because he couldn’t be scheduled for a colonoscopy which almost surely would have saved his life? Members of Congress and the general public should be outraged when care for the sick and disabled is denied or delayed. 

What’s also bugging me is that members of Congress who are pounding the table and yelling loudest are the very ones who have delayed or declined to support bills introduced in their committees and to their assemblies to provide financial support for Veterans Administration health programs.  They are the ones who consistently vote against any request for any program if it comes from the Democratic side of Congress or from the President’s office.  They are the ones who continue to discredit the Affordable Care Act even after it has been clearly shown to be meeting the critical health needs of Americans. The Affordable Care Program, which Republicans continue to deride as “ObamaCare,” is clearly not the best program that was possible for Congress and the Administration to create for Americans.  A single-payer program would be better.

Whether it’s for an octogenarian veteran with AIDS or flu or a kindergarden kid stricken with leukemia or flu or a miner with black lung disease who worked for years in a West Virginia coal mine, in a civil society, especially one that is known to be the most powerful in the world, denying or delaying medical care is inexcusable and probably in the best of all possible worlds would be considered criminal.  Congress has the power, and some of us would say the obligation, to establish a single-payer national health insurance system which could with a single public or quasi-public agency organize health care financing for all citizens.  The nation already has a Medicare Program which could be developed to extend to all citizens.  A national Medicare Program for all could leave delivery of care in private hands. It’s basically a no-brainer.  Under a single-payer system, all residents of the United States would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive care, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs. Veterans already qualify for such health-care benefits if they have served in the active military and have not been dishonorably discharged.  About 9.3 million of the nation’s 22 million veterans are enrolled the VA health-care system.  Why not for all residents?  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Indian
The Presidio Park sculpture by Arthur Putnam

Midway through writing a brief paragraph for yesterday’s Blog post about Mission de Alcala in San Diego, I hesitated momentarily as I was composing the sentence that begins with “Father Serra… engaged the indigenous Kumeyaay People.”  Several words came to mind before I hit the keys to write engaged.”  The choice was deliberate because I knew at that moment I would come back to the scant historical record about what happened in “Mission Valley” between 1774 and 1777 as the first in the chain of California missions was being established. Devaluing all spiritual practices of Native Americans, the early Father in mission records present a Eurocentric picture of California Indian life before the Spanish came.  All Native Americans were thought by the church to be lost souls bound for perdition before missionaries came to save them. California Indians were described by church writers as having had no strong social, political, or economic structure.  They were described as having lived in misery before the missionaries came.  The church fathers said “the Indians had no sense of fidelity to each other,” so the friars deliberately worked to replace all native spiritual and cultural practices with the church sacraments and work in the service of the church.  Scholars have gathered accounts of brutality and degrading conditions imposed on the natives in order to save them… and to get the work done that was needed to build a mission.  The missionaries employed methods to convert Indians that wouldn’t be tolerated for missionaries to use today.  

In the middle of the last century a board of directors was established to promote the Junipero Serra Cause for Canonization.  Evidence of miracles was needed. A reported recovery of a nun from lupus led Pope John Paul II in 1988 to declare the beatification of Father Serra. He hasn’t been made a saint yet, but he is just one miracle away from being elevated to sainthood.   During his homily at Serra’s beatification, the Pope said: “Relying on the divine power of the message he proclaimed, Father Serra led the native peoples to Christ—and he sought to further their authentic human development on the basis of their new-found faith as persons created and redeemed by God.”

The San Diego Historical Society’s summer publication in 1989 included a review of The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide.  You can find it on the WEB:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

San Diego’s historic site equivalent to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts is on a hill near what is now Old Town. It can be said that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo “discovered” San Diego in 1542, but basically nothing happened that lead to a settlement until 1769 when a squadron of 50 Spanish soldiers and a few missionaries led by Father Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan friar, established a mission and a small fort near what is now Old Town.  Father Serra engaged the indigenous Kumeyaay People in building Mission de Alcala five years later at the eastern edge of what is now Mission Valley.  The Kumeyaay had occupied a village site there called Nipaguay for 2000 years before the Europeans came.  

I followed my friend Tom Fagan, the painter and muralist, around Mission de Alcala this afternoon while he located and settled into a spot in a courtyard to set up his easel.  He is an amazing man, a great talent.  

You can take a look at some of Tom's work at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In the Service of Ambiguity
Means Nothing

in the Service of Ambiguity
Means Everything
or Nothing

in the Service of Ambiguity

in the Service of Ambiguity

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dr. James Fudge, my neighbor and good friend, was at age 19 a young sailor on a boat delivering American soldiers to a Normandy Beach.  Now a very much alive and alert retired music professor, he is my favorite World War II Hero.  Jim makes a point of not celebrating war.  His life is a celebration of peace and good will.  I’m a dreamer… so reading the newspaper accounts of Pope Francis’ visit to Palestine and Israel, I’m thinking it would be a good idea for Jim to Join Pope Francis, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and President Shimon Peres  when they get together at the Vatican next month to talk about peace.

It’s Memorial Day …. a couple of days after Elliot Rodger’s “Day of Retribution” in Isla Vista… and I’m guessing it’s not a day of rest for NRA officials and sycophant politicians who are undoubtedly scrambling to find ways to continue their smug and smiling promotion and support of the absurd American gun culture that made Rodgers rampage possible… not just possible but easy.  The sadly demented Rogers legally purchased in his own name three 9mm semiautomatic handguns, and he had enough ammunition for a massacre- - 41 magazines with 10 round each. Of course, I'm dreaming when I suppose this new massacre might worry them.  The NRA and most Republican politicians rely on an ignorant fanaticism in America that holds sacrosanct a popular misinterpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Ours is a strange culture indeed.  Citizens of other nations economically and socially comparable to the U.S. are mystified and appalled by our way of addressing our societal problems. We have lots of churches and plenty of prisons — — but getting more of either of those institutions wouldn’t solve our problems.  Americans are already on average considerably more religious than Europeans where church attendance is steadily declining; and according to a New York Times report, the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. The U.S. has 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation.  China with four times the number of residents, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison.   If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up. So prisons and churches are not the answer.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day Honor and Dignity
My Friend Lawson Cooke

For the third time this spring we've got a mama hummingbird nesting in our yard.  I just yesterday discovered the nest with two eggs.  I can see it from my study where I sit preparing this Blog Post.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

After breakfast with my friend Bruce in North Park, I went off on my bike looking for difficult photographic subjects.  I found Anigozanthos, Red “Kangaroo Paws.” This plant is native to Australia.  It thrives in warm, dry climates.  The red, furry clusters command attention, so it’s easy to miss the tiny flowers that emerge when the red pods open. Continually surprised that the camera handles images that are no more than half-an-inch in diameter,  I’m giving the Sony QX-100 a good workout. The camera is a keeper.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Now that I'm back home... going out every day on my bicycle... continuing to test the new concept in cameras introduced by Sony in its QX-100.  Today I focused on macro photography. I like the results, so I'm sharing.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Being Home... 
Downtown from the Laurel Street Bridge

Balboa Park Reflecting Pool

San Diego Museum of Art