Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Republicans and Democrats both appeal to the idea of neutrality

Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel, in his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? (p. 247), provides two very interesting insights into way Republican and Democrats appeal to the idea of neutrality.

Both major political parties appealed to the idea of neutrality, but in different ways. Generally speaking, Republicans invoked the idea in economic policy, while Democrats applied it to social and cultural issues.

Republicans argued against government intervention in free markets on the grounds that individuals should be free to make their own economic choices and spend their money as they pleased; for government to spend taxpayers’ money or regulate economic activity for public purposes was to impose a state-sanctioned vision of the common good that not everyone shared. Tax cuts were preferable to government spending, because they left individuals free to decide for themselves what ends to pursue and how to spend their own money.

Democrats rejected the notion that free markets are neutral among ends and defended a greater measure of government intervention in the economy. But when it came to social and cultural issues, they, too, invoked the language of neutrality. Government should not “legislate morality” in the area of sexual behavior or reproductive decisions, they maintained, because to do so imposes on some the moral and religious convictions of others. Rather than restrict abortion or homosexual intimacies, government should be neutral on these morally charged questions and let individuals choose for themselves.

What strengths and weaknesses do you see in each position? Can you think of something better?


Is Life still a "many splendored thing"?

Do people going about daily in their social interconnections create activities or movements that, like the earth they stand on, follow Nature? (Photo by
[Sunrise image by]

By Dan Bodine                                                        

Today's tendency among many people to “blame and complain” about something on one hand while complacently refusing to get involved in any remedial effort to help solve or correct it on the other is probably as old as Adam.

It's accented in our modern state by the U. S.'s move toward setting up a permanent safety net, or welfare state. Independent entitlement payments weaken bonds of dependency upon each other.

“If it ain't my dog involved, what're you up here in my face about it for?!” is the common street buzz now.

It's a put-off answer as old, indeed, as there've been competitive, economic markets probably. The old saw, “depending on whose ox is being gored,” didn't arise from some Arabian magical lamp.

A big difference today, of course, is the larger scale--when needs go unanswered, or critical projects can't be completed—of failure. Since society in general bears the brunt of it, the imprint of it is larger.

Indeed, lack of help on a project, or contributions needed to finance its completion, is Society's silent thief in many ways.

People will never know individually, for instance, what they could've been or could've done by not getting involved, nor what their country could've become. They've sat back silently and exchanged a certain degree of comfort for mediocrity (regardless if the exchange is real, false, or imagined upon them).

But is the welfare state – coming hand-in-hand, as it has, with a technological revolution -- the chicken or the rotten egg? It appears we're either tragically cruel or arrogantly indifferent at times. One answer lies in the degree of differences you'll accept in a class society, has been my usual reply.

Indeed, some look at our situation today and see us “slouching toward Gomorrah.” But historians, too, will point out it's a re-occurring theme thru the history of our civilization. Like good rainfall on parched lands, threatened lakes will re-energize with some good rains.

Some fishing holes will come back; some are gone forever -- existing only as a vague, rose-colored memory of a once was to someone – as the Earth continues to spin seemingly indifferently on its axis thru the changes.

Along with this — in rhythm with it at times even -- the natural condition of human sloth breathes upon us in larger or smaller degrees. It's been around probably as long as sexual discretion. Or at least since the Garden eviction, for sure. It's been a he-said/she-said world since. Exponentially expanding and contracting, too!

This whole topic was raised by my ol' blogging friend Jim Myers in an earlier post on The Country Cogitator.

For maybe 25-30 years he's donated his time to youth sports. No doubt he's keenly aware, for instance, of the problem of having angry parents in your face on one hand, because of a personnel decision, i.e., versus their invisibility when finances or help for common projects are sought.

There're people who give, and people who take. Sometimes forever; sometimes depending upon the year, or the season. Life tends to move in patterns that track how they're used, or not used in life.

Indeed, it's probably the oldest con game around. What many don't fully realize though is exactly who is doing the conning, and who is being conned.

In exponentially higher situations—which, yes, covers much of our stressed-out modern era—often the conner and the connee are one and the same.

When truth comes to that person thru enlightenment or revelation (e.g., a burning bush or a wife's skillet on the back of the head!) … Ah, then action! It explains why progress in the world moves in pulls and jerks—Folks pulling along fine here; then a group suddenly jerking there, to break things up. For what? Progress?

This is scattershooting some, of course, for I've spent the past 25 years in poor border communities on the Rio Grande. But most differences Jim and I (or any two people, really) may have gathered in our lives, vary according to how we've perceived class situations locally.

Human nature is human nature – even though overriding it to a certain extent, still, is a deep belief in the basic goodness of men and women.

But a common response, yes, anyone will encounter today in asking for community help is, flatly, “No I don't want to get involved”; or “No I can't get involved.”

It means the cause against the causee isn't popular enough yet with some of my social or financial connections for me to risk breaking them, not without, in the sum aftermath, of getting hurt individually in some way for it.

In becoming a diversified society, it appears not only have our differences been magnified but also the differences separating us, the intensity of our feelings, have grown, too.

The question of where or when that critical breaking point of too much will occur still lingers, however. And if history is still an indicator, a relapse to pulling in peace will settle back into the country for awhile.

Thus if “Peyton Place” chronicled the interconnectedness of the 50's village, Miley Cyrus and her twerks now reflect our separateness in the early 21st decades. But history hasn't written its next chapter yet, one can always argue.

Was social policy the chicken or the egg in all this? Or technology? The government's safety net, in effect, has made folks less dependent on each others' oxen, for instance. They have an additional source of revenue--government.

If a sacred cow gets gored, so what? But entitlements are iffy, flowing with political correctness. Technology has muddied (prolonged?) this cycle of change, essentially, by creating new opportunities.

The internet and YouTube et al, i.e.,  give you the freedom and opportunity to make another one! A connection. Another cow. And the beat goes on! We're still not holding hands together though.

If there's any relief for wearied old-timers – like Jim and I are rapidly becoming (in the face of this new-age thinking) -- it's in our awareness of history.

“This, too, shall pass” is a refrain we've lived thru sufficiently enough for it to be a true lesson.

The problem with growing old though is time. It shortens tolerance. And there's just not enough of it to listen to or to watch all this stuff! Meaning change our lifestyle cadence; to get in step with the times.

Hee, hee. That's why you see so many in the older generations spending so much time at domino tables somewhere. Or at home in their gardens.

They're elected to continue to keep up with what once was, rather than what now is. It's less disruptive. And it's still a free country.

Until another Big Jerk comes along. And forces them to do something out of their routine. For better or for worse.

Life. It's still a many splendored thing.

--- 30 ---

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Blame & Complain or Engage & Fix It

Have you noticed how many of the memes – pieces of information -- you find in your emails, on your Facebook page, receive via Twitter, see  on TV, to name a few, are about blaming and complaining? It is as if millions of people have had their brains programmed to believe that their most important role in life – the purpose of life – is to find someone to blame and then complain about whatever upsets them:

I have found someone to blame, I have told as many people as I can who to blame for whatever it is, and I complain about it every chance I get – I have accomplished my purpose for existing.  

Have you ever been around a place where a bunch of chickens lived? When I was a kid my grandmother had a “chicken yard” where she raised her chickens. I really enjoyed going with her to feed them and collect the eggs. The moment she opened the gate and we took the first steps inside – the chickens started squawking. As we walked towards their nests, they squawked louder and louder. They didn’t only squawk; they also ran away. Oh yeah, there is one more thing you could count on them doing – and you made sure you didn’t step in it. When I hear all of the blaming and complaining going on today – I think about those chickens.

But, I will be eternally grateful to some of the men who were my bosses and mentors in my early years of business management. By the time I was 20 years old, I was branch manager of a consumer finance company and responsible for over $1,000,000 in loans. My boss was teaching me some of the tricks of the trade one day, when he said, “When problems arise, most people spend their time trying to find someone to blame or just go around complaining about it. But the ones who succeed and are promoted to higher positions in the company -- investigate to find the causes of the problem and then take the steps required to solve the problem. His slogan was – Are you going to blame and complain or fix it!

So, why has blaming & complaining become like a virus of the mind for so many Americans today? I think the media, especially the news programs, plays a major role in creating this problem. News programs, especially on TV and politically charged talk radio, have evolved into entertainment programs instead of reliable sources of accurate information. We all know which programs support the Democrats and which support the Republicans. Instead of doing what reporters used to do, go out and investigate the matter and report the results in a way that could be understood by the audience, today they invite a few people from each side to come and try to persuade the audience to believe them. Showmanship is much more likely to be a greater factor than accurate information.

The goals of all of those involved appear to be to manipulate the emotions of the masses instead of accurately informing them – and that includes the reporters – who are making a whole lot of money when they drive up the ratings. I know a lot of them say that fame and lots of money doesn’t affect how they do their job – but I really have a hard time believing that one!

One thing about getting old is that you see a lot of things just because you happened to be alive when they took place. And, as long as the old memory works, you can compare similar things that you have seen throughout the years to each other. When I watch today’s star reporters, I think about another reporter that I heard a lot about when I was just a kid -- Edward R Murrow. If you have a few minutes watch this short video -- Edward R Murrow vs Joe McCarthy -- . I think it will give you a taste of what news reporting could be about.

Reporters like Murrow worked hard to dig and dig until they came up with facts and then reported them in a way that helped their audience understand, so they could see the entire picture. This brings up another important point – and a major problem that is continually ignored -- the increasing inability of the audience to engage in critical thinking so they can understand the facts. Reporting the facts doesn’t accomplish much if the audience can’t understand what those facts mean.

Another great reporter, in my biased opinion, is my co-cogitator Dan Bodine. He has been a reporter and editor for a number of newspapers. Watching Dan work on a story always reminded me of an old hound dog following the scent of the thing it was after. He would just keep on sniffing here and there until he found what he was looking for. I remember times when what he found were things that some pretty powerful people really didn’t want him to share with his readers. But somehow or another, he would usually find a way to get that information in the paper. Hopefully, he will cogitate on my comments above and share some of his thoughts on those subjects.

Finally, I would like to invite everyone that reads this to cogitate on it too and see what ideas we can come up with that will get us on the road to fixing it. You know, this is really a strange predicament to be in – in the information age! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Count your doves after this new "paradigm" hatches!

By Dan Bodine

A new paradigm!

A new paradigm! it is. I'm telling 'ya, we've entered a new paradigm!

Hee, hee. I've been hearing this new stuff since my first wife got pregnant from a Chinese Mynah bird almost 40 years ago, that day when I lost her several hours at the Waco Zoo!

We're living in a New Reality now! Expect the unexpected! all this buzz is.

But I'm still broke. Last week's doctor bills are still coming two months early. And the only way I can still stay sane is to go talk to some of my plants “out back.” Where's the Big Step Up?

I don't know what's new about all this. Other than you can “git broke” and run up doctor bills at least three times as fast now as any other time in our nation's history.

I was thinking about this riddle of new finance transformations yesterday, when I came upon a white-wing dove in our back yard. A little angry, she was.

Birds in our yard, first of all, aren't uncommon. We moved to the Las Tierras (insane) neighborhood of East El Paso over three years ago. Even then there were over 25,000 people living here, all squeezed together like angry mother-in-laws without arms. There may be 50,000 now.

But there were a lot of birds hanging around, too, making themselves at home – white-wing doves and many collared doves of some kind, really tame; fussy pigeons (more on Chief Huff-Puff Whappo later, maybe); and of course, sparrows.

Most of them, in fact, do live in the Las Tierras, I feel. On almost every house, in some nook or cranny of the roof-line, you can find their nests. The thing that bothered me though, the Las Tierras being a fairly new subdivision, was food. Where do they get it?

With very little landscaping around most of these desert houses to attract a food chain -- How far are they having to go to get food, I wondered? And then making it back here in time to sack out for the night? Jeesh! What a life, pobresitos!

Last March (2012), stressed out over three months of continuous sickness, staring at these birds daily on fences or rooftops (they strangely stay home in the winter, mostly), I upped and made God a promise.

I'll feed these damn birds for 'ya if'n you'll get me out of this sickness! Whaddaya think?

Wasn't exactly thunder or lightning that followed, and certainly no burning bush around, but I felt a gentle thump-thump in my chest. Affirmative, I took it. So off I was on the great bird project!

Lasted over a year (Yep, almost immediately my health got better, too); and damn near put me in the poor house just from buying birdseed! Forty pounds a week eventually!

But you can imagine after a month or so, where you'd find the majority of the wild birds in the Las Tierras most mornings—on fences and rooftops around ol' Bo's backyard waiting for El Whacko to come out with morning chow!

Thus I became a tad-bit unpopular among my neighbors. The poop was piling up everywhere!

In May, under the threat of a health lawsuit by the Mormon woman immediately behind me (she wadn't impressed at all that the poop may've been divine), I stopped the practice. And of course, in a few weeks, the birds had thinned back to normal.

I've always put out water for them, since moving in. Thus it's not unusual to find a half dozen or so flying around “out back” just about any time you go back there. Even now.

Coming across the white-wing yesterday was a little different though. She was walking. Casually.

Now the second of my great projects that's not sitting too well with my neighbor behind me is that I have a lot of plants. Trees, shrubs, bedding plants. Had to build some shade for them, those things, but I was up to. Barely.

But it means you must water often. Which attracts insects. In the desert, in summer, sometimes you can't go a day without watering some of the younger ones.

Thus yesterday, “out back” when I was pulling the water hose and doing my watering, I came across the white-wing.

She came ambling out from underneath a big arbor I'd built near a rear corner. Looked at me fussy-like, she did; and then ambled on over to another plant I'd already watered, and got under it. Had no intention of leaving, her attitude said.

Hmmm... I thought. She doesn't appear to be injured. No marks. What's the deal?

I continued watering, finishing up with a number of cross-Desert Willows in small pots I've kept alive since rooting 'em over winter, and was making my way with the hose back around the arbor, when she jumped out from underneath a tall cedar.

And her nose stuck high-'n-mighty in the air, took her time again in ambling back across my path and underneath the arbor again to, this time, beneath a large Philodendron I've named “Julietta” in memory of a friend back in Presidio.

And this time something clicked.

This is a mama bird! I thought. A mama-in-the-making, a mama wannabe, some kind of mama! And she's either built or is building a nest back in there somewhere! … Holy cow! You know how much you can sell those little suckers for, once they're old enough you can take 'em away from her, huh!?

And then that kind of New Reality thinking was quickly chased away by some Old Reality thoughts.

You got four dogs, Bodeen! Three of 'em spend most of their time policing this back yard to make sure none of the neighbors' cats are lurking about! A mama bird wants to raise a brood back here?!!

When I turned back around to the Philodendron, she'd already walked away somewhere. But I squirted water over toward it anyway. Just to leave a message.

Shoo!” I said “Waddaya think this back yard is?! … A'new paradigm' for 'ya!!

Today she wasn't out there.

That's what I like about back yards and gardens.

You can still make some old-fashioned sense of things!

--- 30 ---

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Don’t look at the moon through tree branches if you don’t want your house to burn down!

Dan’s cousin Baldy, probably in his middle teens, was a great joke & story teller. We were a few years younger than Baldy and all three of us worked for my dad at Myers Plant Co. – “Home of 50,000 plants.” Dad often put us to work with a sophisticated advanced technological tool called a “hoe” – a word that has definitely changed its meaning since we were kids.

When we were out in the field hoeing, Baldy would become like a “divinely inspired prophet” -- a channel through which endless jokes and stories would flow. Of course, an important part of this prophetic ritual was that it required Baldy to stop hoeing and used the hoe handle like a staff --  kind of like you see Moses leaning on. Of course, we had to also stop hoeing so we wouldn’t miss anything.

One day, after a house had caught fire and burned a few nights earlier, Baldy shared a mysterious insight from his wisdom, along with a deadly warning, with us. He pulled us in close and revealed to us why the house had burned -- he had looked at the moon through the branches of a tree the night of the fire. He warned us never to do it or our houses would burn too. Now Dan and I knew the secret and understood the burden that Baldy must have been carrying on his shoulders. He had caused the fire.

I remember many times in my life, beginning soon after receiving Baldy shared his revelation, that as soon as I realized I was looking at the moon through the branches of a tree – I would immediately divert my eyes as I recalled Baldy’s warning.  I did not want to cause our house to burn down.

Amazingly, long after I analyzed the event, knowing that my memories entered my mind when I saw the world through the eyes a kid, and that the source of those words was another kid – I still caught myself unconsciously diverting my eyes when I saw it! But, just becoming aware of how that event influenced my life and my reactions to something I saw, made me understand the power one person can have in another person’s by what they say – so, I started trying to identify other ideas that some other Baldy had planted in my mind so I wouldn’t be afraid to look at the moon through the branches of a tree.

Happy cogitating,

The Country Cogitator Welcomes its New Co-Cogitator - Dan Bodine

The Country Cogitator is a blog in which two old country cogitators, especially those who have been around for a while and understand the importance of common sense, good humor, decided to share their diverse inventory of cogitations -- opinions, beliefs, truths, facts -- or on numerous occasions -- just “plain old BS” -- with anyone willing to listen. The Country Cogitators are Dan Bodine & Jim Myers, who have been friends for over 60 years now. They grew up together, went to the same schools from elementary up and have discussed about everything possible, at one time or another. We hope you enjoy the things that found their way into our brains over the years. We hope they will make you laugh every now and then – and make your life a little better!