Saturday, January 13, 2018

What's Wrong with Charities

I contribute money to a lot of things that can be called charities: Social-change organizations, feed the children, help animals and wildlife, save the environment, cancer research, political organizations--the list goes on.

It ticks me off that so many of them, when you send them money, reply, in effect, "Thanks, but now send us more!"

And I'm getting even more annoyed at them over a variety of practices: When they want a contribution, their solicitation will come in an envelope that says something like, "Second renewal notice," which I feel makes me look like a deadbeat (okay, only my mail carrier would notice and he most likely he doesn't concern himself).

Online solicitations have their own particular tricks. They say something like, "If you could contribute just $3, it would help us. . . " Then you click and go to the contribution page, and is the default amount $3? No, it's $25.

Also, by default you are agreeing to make it a monthly contribution. You have to uncheck a box to make it one-time. I already make monthly contributions to four or five organizations and basically do not want to commit to any more.

I believe in being charitable. My religion (more or less) commands it. However, I have found, lately, that I've been giving to so many groups: usually small amounts, but a few dollars here and 10 or 15 bucks there, it adds up to hundreds before you know it.

And yet, I go online and here's a "Help my campaign" or "Donald Trump has done such-and-such, help us fight back"--and I can't resist.

It's been making me do some thinking about my finances and just what I can and cannot afford. Wish I knew how long my retirement nest egg needs to last me. . . .

Copyright © 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

Three Religions Have This in Common

Fundamentalist Christianity, Fundamentalist Judaism, and Fundamentalist Islam all condemn homosexuality. Their agreement on this point, and most likely a number of other points, does not make them correct. But it does make me wonder why they have this (and presumably quite a few other things) in common.

So here are my thoughts: The molders (and I use that word with much careful consideration, so as to encompass both ancient, historical personages and modern religious leaders) of these religions feel that life needs to be tightly controlled and regulated--presumably by their scriptures and their clergy. So they see life--behavior--as being about a lot of rules, for what we must and (maybe more importantly) what we must not do. What clothes we should wear, how we must wear our hair, what we should (or, more likely, should not) eat. Maybe there is a view of human nature implicit here: we are all wild, savage beasts, and our natures--our lusts and other baser impulses--need control, examination, regulation, corseting.

And what about the people who are drawn to these sorts of religion, who embrace them and gladly follow them? I believe there is a certain personality type that positively likes having a lot of their conduct prescribed. I'm not sure whether this is the same personality type as the "molders" I referred to above, or a complementary type that fits that of the molders like two pieces of a jig saw puzzle.

Well, it's usually believed in modern, western democracies that people should believe and observe what they want. That's fine; but too often the attitude is, "I don't think such-and-such is right, so I am going to try to prevent you from doing it"--whether it is  homosexuality, abortion, or any of countless things which most of us feel a human being ought to be free to do.

Copyright © 2018

Monday, November 6, 2017

Yet Another Shooting

Yet another shooting.

It just goes on, even getting more frequent. And the National Rifle Association, which has lots of members, lots of money, and a very effective lobbying apparatus, nips in the bud any talk about imposing new restrictions on gun ownership.

Donald Trump said, "It's a mental health issue, not a gun issue."  Speaking from Tokyo, he said, "We have mental health issues, just like any other country." Yes, Mr. Trump, but have you thought at all about the fact that most other countries don't have these mass shootings? If every country has mental health issues, and mental health problems in the population cause these shootings, then why don't those other countries have numerous and frequent mass shootings similar to ours? Simple logic shows that Trump is wrong.

In Great Britain, just as an example, it is illegal to own a gun. There are still a few guns anyway, and no doubt guns are sometimes used in the commission of a crime. But do we hear about mass shootings in Great Britain? If my rhetorical question needs an answer, No, we do not.

In fairness, it must be admitted that it's not quite so simple as just widespread ownership of guns. I understand that, on a per capita basis, there are a lot of guns in Canada. There are a lot of guns in Switzerland. But those countries don't seem have the equivalent gun use in shootings.

One thing that may make a difference: I have said before, the United States has a gun culture. Possibly this is as simplistic as some other comments on our mass shooting problem, but I think that Western movies glorified, and normalized, using guns to shoot people. Some people in other countries think all of America is the Wild West; and to some extent that's true.

If we look at other countries' experience with gun control laws, it looks like they do work. Australia had a problem with mass shootings. For example, motorcycle gangs were engaging in wars with guns. A turning point came in 1996. "The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control legislation in Australia. 35 people were killed and 23 wounded when the gunman opened fire on shop owners and tourists with two semi-automatic rifles. This mass killing horrified the Australian public [Wikipedia, s.v. Gun laws in Australia]."

Under Australia's new laws, no one may own a gun without showing a good reason. With money raised from a levy, a million guns were bought back by the government. The result?

Between 2010-2014, gun related homicides across all of Australia had dropped to 30-40 per year. Firearms in 2014 were used in less than 15% of homicides, less than 0.1% of sexual assaults, less than 6% of kidnapping/abductions and 8% of robberies.
Since the 1996 legislation the risk of dying by gunshots was reduced by 50% in the following years and has stayed on that lower level since then [Wikipedia, s.v. Gun laws in Australia].
I don't understand why no one in the US Congress calls the attention of the public and the rest of the government to the experience of Australia.

Copyright © 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Donald Trump and "Fake News"

Whenever Donald Trump is criticized, he lashes out in retaliation. When he is criticized in the media in any way, or caught out in one of his many, many lies, he responds by labeling it "fake news." What is sad is that many Americans evidently believe Trump when he suggests that the media are wrong (or maliciously lying about him, etc.). A recent poll indicates that 46% of Americans believe Trump's accusations of "fake news" coming from the media.

Manipulating or discrediting the news media is nothing new. In the administration of Richard Nixon, Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, was evidently charged with the task or attacking the media. He was part of the program to defuse criticism of Nixon, who famously said "I am not a crook." Ironically, not only was Nixon proved to be a crook (or at least a liar, who wrongly denied his involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal), but Agnew was also a crook, who had to resign the vice presidency amidst evidence that he accepted bribes when he was governor of Maryland.

And Franklin Roosevelt, reportedly, was masterful in manipulating the media.

I submit that when the media is wrong, it usually is because they were fed incorrect information by the White House or the Pentagon. This became apparent during the Vietnam War, when the public was misled, many times, because the media were lied to by the government.

A free press is vital to a democracy, and it's important that citizens be able to trust the media. It does not help that cause when the President systematically attempts to discredit them with his accusations of "fake news." I think the public should be more inclined to believe the media than Mr. Trump.

It's getting off the subject, but mentioning Spiro Agnew and the Nixon administration suggests this thought to me: When there are crooks in a government (as Agnew in the Nixon Administration), should the President be guilty by association? That proved to be the case with Agnew and Nixon. Now, with scandals in the Trump administration--several of his nominees for government positions withdrawing because of adverse news, and at least five of Trump's appointees being accused of taking trips on private and luxury flights, thus incurring unnecessary expense to taxpayers--we need to ask ourselves whether this casts any pall on Trump himself. Will we believe him when he tells us, "I am not a crook," as Nixon did?

Copyright © 2017.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tired of Hearing about Mass Shootings

I am really, really tired of blogging about the problem of gun violence in America. Of course it's much more strain, pain, etc., for those whom it has touched more directly.

Let me simply say, once more and maybe for the last time, that I cannot understand how anybody (e.g., the NRA and Republican congressmen and senators) cannot see, or refuse to admit, that there should not be such easy access to assault weapons as we have in the US. It's just ridiculous. In Great Britain it is not permitted to own guns, period.

Copyright (c) 2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump's (Latest) Unwise Words

Today, Donald Trump, in a speech before the United Nations, referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as "Rocket Man."

According to the protocols of international diplomacy, one national leader does not publicly disrespect another national leader in that way. It just is not done.

Plus, make him angry enough and Kim might just send one of his nuclear missiles our way.

Trump's handlers need to keep him under better control.

I am not a Twitter user so please, anyone who reads this and agrees with me, please send a tweet to @realDonaldTrump.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled and scan the sky for a North Korean ICBM.

Copyright © 2017.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Christians and Muslims, Historically

At one time there were Islamic societies which led the world in their arts and sciences: notably mathematics and astronomy but also medicine, architecture, philosophy, and poetry. We owe to Muslims (and the Christian Byzantines) the preservation of much of the literature and knowledge of the ancient Greeks. By comparison, the Christian West was generally backward, and I am sure that the Muslims regarded it as even barbarian.

So how and why did the Islamic civilizations decline? I am not a historian but from what I do know, I think I can say this with hopefully only slight inaccuracy: wars with the Christians were a big factor.

In Spain, where there was quite a glorious Islamic civilization, with advanced medicine as well as philosophy and other arts and sciences--and, incidentally, generally remarkable tolerance of non-Muslims (Christians and Jews)--centuries of war (the so-called Reconquista or reconquest by Christian Spanish kingdoms) culminated in 1492 with the fall of Granada and thus the ending of the last Islamic kingdom in Spain. (In 1492, not coincidentally, Spain's Jews were expelled; the Muslims were granted tolerance but that promise lasted only some 30 years.)

In the Middle East, where notable Islamic civilizations centered on Baghdad and Persia, there similarly were several centuries of wars between Christians and Muslims, centering on the Crusades, which supposedly had the aim of recapturing Jerusalem for Christians but which caused enormous killing and destruction over a larger area. Wars between Christian states and Muslim powers lasted at least until the eighteenth century.

The last of the Muslim temporal kingdoms--and this is starting to get off the subject--was the Ottoman Empire, which had absorbed the Byzantine Empire (culminating in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople) but weakened over centuries until its final collapse with World War I.

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