Where is a Socrates when you really need him?
I was born in 1932 during the Great Depression. I was brought up in a tiny farmhouse without electricity or plumbing. I walked two miles to a little country school for eight years, uphill both ways, of course. So many fascinating things have happened in my 85 years, I wish I could live at least another twenty.
We have just found 15-foot-square footprints of dinosaurs in Australia that lived 130 million years ago that make Ty Rex look like a little cousin. And then we have the Florida “toxic tush” fake doctor who got ten years in prison for killing a woman with a flat buttocks who desired a well-rounded butt. The “doctor” injected cement, caulking, and a guaranteed dose of Fix-A-Flat tire sealant to round her out. We still have a lot to learn about humans and the planet before we destroy it.
For a long time, Christian theologians and philosophers have tried to convince us that human beings are “better” than animals because we have souls that go to some supernatural place when our old bodies rot. Are we just at the top of the animal chain?
Elephants exhibit greater empathy than humans. The broad field of science, particularly genetics, neuroscience, and psychology, has tended to show that humans do not have that “divine spark” that priests and ministers chant about while burning incense. Most societies believe that it is a crime to kill an innocent human but go on doing it in large numbers anyway through wars and other conflicts. Like Islamic honor killings, Roman gladiators, and the Holocaust.
A lot of animals kill other species for nourishment, but usually only kill each other by accident in mating rituals and border violations. The human race, at least a part of it, is very curious about us and where we fit. I want to stick around for a time to see what humans can come up with. There’s a mind-blowing article in the latest National Geographic by D.T. Max called “Beyond Human,” that reviews some of our latest scientific advancements.
Improving the human with antenna and computer chips
We now have about 20,000 humans in the world who have antenna and chip implants in the brain or body to enhance their lives. One computer company, Dangerous Things, claims to have sold 10,500 do-it-yourself kits of Radio-Frequency Identification Devices (RFID): chips that are installed under the skin that allow them to open doors or start their computers without touching anything.
RFIDs started in 1998 with Kevin Warwick, professor of engineering at two English universities. He worked in buildings that had computerized locks and heating and lighting controlled by sensors, so he had chips implanted to control his work environment. He said he wanted to be as smart as the buildings he worked in!
Other types of implants are used to control medical conditions. Over 100,000 humans with Parkinson’s disease have implanted brain pacemakers to control tremors. Artificial retinas are implanted to control some types of blindness and cochlear implants allow humans to hear again.
A lab at the University of California is testing various chip implants to see if they can be used to recover memories in Alzheimer’s patients or in victims of traumatic brain injury. The University of Pittsburgh is working on implants that will allow the brain to transmit electrical impulses to control robotic arms and legs on patients with chips.
A Cleveland man paralyzed in a cycle accident fed himself for the first time in eight years after doctors implanted sensors in the part of his brain that controls hand movements. Electronic messages from a computer were sent to one of his arms.
A 34-year-old Spanish man had never seen color from birth because of a very rare condition. Now he has a fiber-optic antenna sticking out of his head that picks up colors around him. A microchip embedded in his skull creates vibrations into sound frequencies that are then translated into colors by his brain. Friends can send him colors through his cell phone. He still appreciates black and white. Don’t ask me to explain that cell phone process. This is amazing stuff. It’s hard to imagine what the world will be like in 20 years if we continue to fund and explore this kind of research.
It’s hard to know what a miracle is any more in the field of medicine. Ten-month-old Dominique from the Ivory Coast in West Africa was born with parts of a parasitic twin sticking out of her back. She was burdened with an extra pelvis, legs, feet, toes and two spines intertwined. She was flown to Chicago’s Advocate Children’s Hospital where a surgical team of fifty took six hours to remove the extra appendages. She would have died soon from trying to support those extra parts. The team had studied her body for weeks with MRIs, MRAs, CAT scans, x-rays, and a CT pyelogram to see how they could operate. She was discharged from the hospital only five days after the operation.
Can the Greeks make Athens great again?
Leading world historians have considered Athens to be the greatest nation-state in the world 2,500 years ago. Now Greece is labeled the worst basket case in the European Union. What happened in the land of Socrates and Plato?
Philosopher and historian Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, a professor at New York University, has written a terrific article titled “Making Athens Great Again.” She compares Athens and Trumpistan and analyzes why Athens probably will never be great again—and why King Donald will not make America great again.
Like some Americans, Athenians thought they were exceptional. They were, in some sense, but they were arrogant about their patriotism and morality.
Socrates roamed around Athens, questioning Athenians about their moral superiority and their democratic state. He asked such embarrassing questions that Greek politicians lost patience with the old gray man in flip-flops when he questioned their morality. Brought to trial for his sharp opinions, Socrates was sentenced to death by 501 citizen-jurors. He died by drinking a cup of poison hemlock.
But from the Greeks we learned about democracy and how it should work. The Romans followed Athens to some kind of greatness and lasted about 400 years. Italy today has overpowering debt and probably ranks next to Greece in the handbasket of failure in the European Union.
Lately we have suffered from the thought-farts of George W. Bush for his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and his 2007 Great Recession. I thought it would take about a decade to recover from his gut reactions and lack of knowledge. Barack Obama almost succeeded in making that recovery in his eight years.
Now we have King Donald, a pathological liar who is even ignorant of all of his ignorances, campaigning to “make America great again.” We have been powerful but we have never earned “great.” A country that authorized slavery, segregated its citizens, and allowed 15,000 people to watch a black being lynched as late as 1936 has never been great. Even Rome 2,000 years ago treated its citizens better.
Roman senators selected 51 people by lot from the bottom 90% to form what was called a tribunate. They were able to veto one statute, one executive order, and one supreme court decision, and were licensed to call a referendum and impeach federal officials. That’s good enough for the title “great.”
Obama: “Income inequality is the defining challenge of our time”
King Donald’s ghostwriter of his book The Art of the Deal said that the billionaire had the attention span of a gnat. Neal Gabler of Alternet describes Trump’s language patterns in his article “Gibberish Is the White House’s New Normal”: “Now we have a president who, when he speaks, spatters the air with unfinished chunks, many of which do not qualify as sentences, and which do not follow from previous chunks. He does not release words into a stream of consciousness but into a heap. He heaps words on top of words, to overwhelm meaning with vague gestures. He does not think, he lurches.”
A perfect description of verbal diarrhea. Obama, who always paused to think before speaking, said that “income equality is the defining challenge of our time” because in order to maintain the American Constitution we must have a large and thriving middle class.
Every country that has been considered close to great in the past, including Greece and Rome, fell victim to income inequality and the fact that the coexistence of the very rich and very poor leads to two possibilities: (1) The rich can rule and enslave the poor for a period, (2) the poor can raise their pitchforks and confiscate the wealth of the rich. It has happened time and again.
Let’s see what happens when thousands of coal miners realize that King Donald can’t bring their mining jobs back. The rich always think they are much better than the poor and continue to increase the income gap. The poor finally turn to a demagogue such as a Hitler or a Mussolini or a Trump who overthrows the government. But then they want to become rich themselves and become tyrants or oligarchs. Then the country collapses.
It takes a lot of tax money to be great
The demolition budget that King Donald recently vomited guarantees future trouble. We now have more American families, and one in five children, in poverty, and his budget has unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, assistance to distressed cities such as Detroit and Flint, nutrition for new mothers and babies, heating assistance, and “Meals on Wheels” programs.
He wants to spend $54 billion more on the Pentagon, a 10% increase, when we already spend more on the military than the next seven countries.
He wants to cut $3.9 billion from Pell Grants for poor students and $6 billion from low-income housing that benefits 4.5 million households.
He wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31% because he thinks climate change is a hoax. This cut would eliminate 20% of the EPA budget and cut 3,200 positions. He wants to cut the State Department budget by 28%. That’s the one that prevents war. Health and Human Services would be cut 17.9% and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated. The National Institutes of Health, the research arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, would also suffer large cuts in disease research such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. But the rich would get huge tax cuts.
This is a morally small budget created by a small thin-skinned sociopathic maniac in a huge job he doesn’t understand. King Donald is ignorant of our history so he has no idea about greatness and “making America great again.”
A cartoon in the New Yorker sums up our presidential embarrassment. Two big American bald eagles are perched together on a tree limb. One says to the other: “Now when I go abroad I tell everyone I’m a Canadian goose.”
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