Saturday, November 21, 2015

Even More Random Thoughts

At every stage, there always seems to be the need for further credentials. Diploma to Bachelor, Bachelor to Master, Master to Doctorate, and so on...but where does it end? How expert does one have to be before being “the expert” in the room? Is it when there are no longer challenges, or when the challenge is no longer? (And is this why The Master and The Doctor are archenemies?)

There are people going to and in jail for ambiguous matters, while there are public officials who should be going to and in jail for unscrupulous matters. Thus, there seems to be ambiguity about what is unscrupulous in today’s society. As such, nothing really has changed since the time of Marie Antoinette allegedly voicing her famous line about frosted baked goods for the people.

My idea for a “cookbook” is The Pantry Cookbook©. This is an improvised cookbook that contains no specific recipes, or at least those to which you must strictly adhere. The concept is to create meals simply using only random products found in your pantry or refrigerator; this can include leftovers, and does not involve heading to the store for any missing ingredients. In other words, you use what you have on hand. I would write such a book, but, in reality, it would be very short with no included recipes.


Chicken or egg; chicken crossing road; playing chicken; everything taste like chicken...what is our obsession with chicken? There is even a tuna brand called the "Chicken of the Sea." And thanks to an insurance company and a football player, we all have chicken parm on the brain and in our bellies...because, truthfully, it really is tasty. (FYI Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish pair nicely with a fish sandwich.)

A Philly cheesesteak does not use Philadelphia cream cheese, cream of tartar (a by-product in wine production) is not an ingredient of tartar sauce (mayonnaise and tarragon-based) and, unless your bartender or vodka is from Russia, no Russians actually are used in the making of the Black or White Russian cocktail. In fact, the latter are attributed, respectively, to a Belgian barman, Gustave Tops, at Brussels’ famous Hotel Metropole in 1949 and an advertisement in California’s Oakland Tribune on November 21, 1965. That abides, dude.

In most instances, as the saying goes, the book always is better than the movie. For a few, though, I have found the opposite to be true. Why is this? Perhaps the story is enhanced or simply told better in visual form, or maybe the cast brings it more to life. There simply are certain actors and actresses who can have that affect on a movie by their mere presence - even if it is a brief cameo or nothing more than a voiceover. (Think Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman or Jack Lemmon...see, you already like the movie better.)

In principle, I am not a fan of prequels for established characters or storylines. I dub this “The Anakin Skywalker Rule,” which dictates not ruining the preeminent characterization of a lauded incarnation with a potentially censured one later in a prequel (which this mainly applies, but can be used for sequels as well). In rebooted franchises like James Bond or Star Trek, it can work, to a degree, because they are a different interpretation/alternate universe not constrained by previous incarnations. But, generally, not at all. Think about a character - good or bad - who you liked, thought genuine, etc, when first introduced. Did they make a prequel? Did the character still hold up to what you already knew about them or who they would become? Chances are, no. For example, the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the sequel-prequels to the GREATEST TRILOGY EVER CONCEIVED is a joke and betrayal of the iconic character of Darth Vader introduced decades earlier; in my opinion, it is inconceivable that whiny, sniveling punk becomes the intimidating, force-choking Lord of the Dark Side. (That said, I will be seeing the proposed Han Solo prequel...but good luck finding someone to live up to Harrison Ford's legendary performance of the character.)



©2015 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Coalition of Meh

During the Second World War, a real fear existed of infiltration by Nazi spies and saboteurs among fleeing European refugees. There is nothing wrong to guard against the same - or worse, suicide bombers - with Middle East refugees‬. And it is deja vu all over again. No one with common sense or decency is arguing to not aid refugees; it is a matter of national security from a volatile region swarming with those who seek our destruction and who openly threatened to use the refugee crisis to infiltrate regions. Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General, even concedes that it will be a challenge to vet all of them. And as newly-elected Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, also stated, “the ultimate solution to this crisis is a strategy to defeat ISIS.”

There's Hysteria When It Comes to Syrian Refugees, But Some Concerns Are Valid

Those who have talked about doing something for years and have failed to act or address the threat are the same delusional ones who continue to endorse the current failed “containment” strategy (ironically, a holdover mantra of the not-so-bygone Cold War) as working. With no plans to alter them, they still are unwilling to acknowledge, prioritize and fully commit against the threat and eliminate it with forthright and overwhelming military force so the refugees can in fact safely return home. All despite recent current events, and especially calls for action and help from the likes of the Jordanians and Kurds who actually have been doing something for several years now. It is a welcome sign that French president
François Hollande is trying to organize a coalition that might finally unleash such a response.

Weak World Leaders Are to Blame for Rampant Islamic Terrorism

As usual, it is unfathomable that there always is constant blathering of never letting something like this ever happen again...until it happens again, and we yet again repeat the whole cycle to the brink. It has happened many times before, and it will unquestionably happen again in the future given the continual ascension of feckless leadership throughout history.


©2015 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fighting Tigers Fight For Mizzou

Need to speak my piece concerning generalized disparaging and negative perceptions about my alma mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia a.k.a. Mizzou. What I have heard and read over this past week in the media and by pundits has been both disheartening and enlightening. Though other options were considered, I chose Mizzou because of my love for the school and growing up a born-and-bred Missourian as my dad's “Missouri Tiger” (all of which you can read about in my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life, among other in-depth topics). As a proud graduate of the school, I, like my fellow Tigers in their respective fields, have had a rewarding and successful career as sort of a jack-of-all-trades historian, journalist and writer - albeit, perhaps not as financially desired (*cough* buy my books *cough*) - thanks to my college education.

Other than when my buddies and I gather for our annual trip to a football game, I have not been on campus on a regular basis in decades. Thus, it is difficult for me to comment on the current daily activity that happens on it. When I was an undergraduate, I can recall several incidents and protests that occurred aimed at the administration concerning discriminatory acts and student hardships. For the most part, though, they were few and quickly addressed without further calamity and broader upheaval. To concede a point, maybe my friends and I simply were insulated from these occurrences tucked away in our isolated enclaves and alleged privileges.

Since the American Civil War, Missouri has had a dualistic and volatile history. Yet, indicting the entire university, faculty, staff, students and alumni for the actions of a few is no different than blaming all gun owners for mass shooters. I was born (figuratively) and raised (literally) color-, gender- and, to an extent, orientation-blind. My parents taught me not to see the world in such terms (the latter, honestly, never an issue raised in my formative years), but on character and merit - which, full disclosure, makes me cynical toward and hate on all of humanity equally in general. Perhaps, ironically, this also has blinded me to the biases and prejudices apparently still prevalent even today in the 21st century. Either way, please do not insinuate or presume to define and equate proud, successful and, especially, tolerant Mizzou alums based on current events.

We fight not only for Mizzou’s soul, but also for the hearts of all Tigers; the same can be said for this nation as a whole. Thank you for reading, end rant...MIZ!!!
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Friday, November 6, 2015

Rising to the Occasion

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
-Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862

We are a year away from the next presidential election. In the most recent ones, I unsuccessfully endorsed John McCain, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney - endorsements I vehemently evermore regale given the current administration’s seven years of devastating failure and disastrous performance both in domestic and foreign affairs. Yet, I am hesitant to outright endorse a specific candidate this time around. Precisely because no one ever seems to listen until it is too late; much like Butch in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I never get sick of being correct. That said, I do lean toward and favor Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio.

I always have held an ardent reverence for Carly, a strong woman who helmed and shaped several Fortune 500 companies and overcame hurdles, tragedy and sexism to achieve it. She also can rock a pair of jeans or look elegant dressed to the nines. More importantly, she has a record as a pragmatic and stout decision-maker who does not pander to her base simply to garner votes unlike some other candidates. In the media, her time as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, unsurprisingly, has been maligned by those who oppose and dislike her. Why? Because she made decisions that did not sit well with some of those same people affected by those decisions in order to save the company - one that stands today as a leading technology company. That is business, and this country desperately needs to get back into business with a president who will lead from the front - unlike the current one who does so from behind, no less in his mom jeans - no matter who might be upset by their decisions and policies.

Then there is Marco Rubio. The current junior U.S. Senator from Florida, and former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, he has the political acumen without the Washington entrenchment of most of the other candidates - especially the two leading Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, whose tenures date back decades as bureaucratic insiders. A Cuban-American, a characteristic personal to me having a Cuban-born grandfather, he is the son of immigrants who came to cherish and relish in the dream and promise of the United States. As the president, this is a trait important to upholding the fundamental values of the nation - juxtaposed to the current one who regularly chastises all that is grievous with it rather than celebrating all that is worth preserving about it. By all accounts, he also is a regular, middle-class family man who understands the burdens and struggles of average Americans.

Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, a smug, unethical opportunist with a closet of pantsuits - among other things - currently under numerous federal investigations and a cantankerous, doddering socialist advocating funding everything with unicorns and fairy dust lead the Democratic candidates. Quite the distinctive pairing of diversity politics, and both completely out-of-touch with reality. The one candidate I admired, Jim Webb, came across as honorable, principled and unassuming. Unfortunately, he, literally, was forced to leave the party because of those traits - illustrating all that is needed to know about the state of the Democratic party. As such, we are on a precipitous divide in this country, in which those with any modicum of common sense want to continue being the beacon while others, for no other explanation, apparently wish to see it broken.

To paraphrase the knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, choose wisely this time around America.
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Brief History & Culture of the City of St. Louis

Given recent coverage of events shining a negative spotlight on the city as a whole, I want to shine a more positive one on a city in which I was born, raised and currently still reside. Despite its acknowledged problems, I still love St. Louis and wish for others to appreciate it again as well.

Founded in 1764 by Pierre Laclède and his stepson Auguste Chouteau, the City of St. Louis offers an eclectic experience for both local residents and tourists alike. Whether self-guided or in an organized group tour, its rich history and culture can be revealed on the cheap too. From the centrally located Forest Park – housing renowned fixtures like the
St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Public Zoo, St. Louis Science Center and Muny Theater – to the award-winning Missouri Botanical Garden, cultural institutions abound for days of exploration. Or, there are local favorites like Anheuser-Busch, with its popular brewery tour, and Grant’s Farm, with its family-friendly petting zoo. Alternatively, those with tastes that are more eccentric can visit the City Museum, Contemporary Art Museum or the artful Museum of the Dog (located in west St. Louis County). Of course, one cannot forget to visit the iconic Gateway Arch guarding over the city from the downtown riverfront. Visitors can take in the breathtaking view from the top or learn the history of westward expansion throughout the Louisiana Territory in the museum below.

With its multicultural population, the area has always boasted a diverse and unique array of neighborhoods, establishments and cuisines for every discerning palate to enjoy as well. Between the Blues, Cardinals and Rams, visitors can attend one of three major sporting events depending on the season – on the rare occasion even in the same day. And while cities like Austin, Memphis and New Orleans garner attention for their music scene, St. Louis is no slouch in that department when it comes to musical entertainment. As it is, opportunities are plentiful for both the novice and the discerning visitor to the city. St. Louis also is home to a handful of Fortune 500 companies, including Edward Jones, Express Scripts and Monsanto, who very much invest in their adopted hometown through their charitable, although occasionally maligned, philanthropy.

As a born and bred St Louisan who still loves his city, I hope we can rebuild its prominence as a class city known for its worth rather than remembered for all its ills.
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Connecting Heroes of Yesteryear

In The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, the Lone Ranger ("John Reid") and Tonto are after a gang, the Hooded Raiders, whose leader wears a red hood:


As part of future canon, it is established that the Green Hornet ("Britt Reid") is the son of the Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid Jr. [The Green Hornet radio series (October 22, 1936; November 11, 1947)] - all characters having been created by writer Fran Striker. Green Hornet would later appear in the 1960s Batman series, thus establishing that all three (Batman, Green Hornet and Lone Ranger) exist in the same universe:


As everyone knows (duh), Batman's archvillian is the Joker...who, at one point depending on continuity, went by Red Hood and was leader of the Red Hood gang. [Detective Comics #168 (1951); Batman: The Killing Joke (1988); Batman #0 (2012)]:


Thus, by all logical probability, it's all connected...the Hooded Raiders are the original Red Hood gang, and two lone masked crusaders have stood against their various incarnations throughout the ages! Hi-yo Silver...away to the Batcave!

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Long(-winded) Road of Campaign Season

The 2016 presidential election is still over a year away. Yet, the campaign has been in full swing for months, with rampant infighting happening in both parties to weed out candidates. Leading this charge are the known candidates - Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. If you have never heard of either of these people, please crawl back under your rock and do not vote next year. Yes, I just disenfranchised all rock-dwelling citizens. This is not a hit piece to bash Hillary Clinton though. With her various scandals, she is doing enough damage to her campaign and should be vetted more for prison than the presidency. (Okay, I lied about not bashing her.)

More to the point, Trump is the current leading candidate - both on the left and the right - because of what he is saying on the campaign trail to disgruntled and weary voters. Are the concerns he raises about the various issues facing the country legitimate, and is he being honest in his statements addressing them? On the former, yes; on the latter, only time would tell. The problem is that we have been through all of this before seven years ago, when candidate Barack Obama said what disgruntled voters, awash in Bush backlash, wanted to hear. Without vetting him or his statements, disgruntled and weary voters swept him into office on the promise of “hope and change”; seven years later, many of those same disgruntled and weary voters - again, both on the left and the right - yet again are still searching for it. Although Trump for the most part is a known commodity - unlike Obama in 2008 - the question is do voters want to follow that path again?

Why are voters disgruntled and weary, though? Has the utopia promised by Obama not come to fruition? Quite the opposite, in fact. Oh sure, we now have affordable universal health care (that is not affordable, universal or about health care), same-sex marriage across the nation (which has done nothing to ease debate or presumption) and have rid ourselves of the national scourge that is the Confederate flag (which has only galvanized its supporters). Unfortunately, we also have had over these past seven years a dismal economic outlook that still has not rebounded to pre-recession levels, a weakened global presence that cannot even maintain our unsecured borders and deadly enemies at the gates that threaten our very existence. Meantime, President Obama spends his days touting a climate change, gun control and income inequality agenda as he jets off to his next partisan-celebrity fundraiser or taxpayer-funded vacation while bashing the skeptical law-abiding who support free-market policies.

Why should voters be disgruntled and weary about such a failure of (divisive) leadership?

So while voters should pay attention to Trump, they likewise should be cautious. After all, voters have been down this road before of being told what they want to hear, and we have already seen where that path can lead with the current (worst-)administration(-ever). Voters need to be more skeptical and discerning, making certain not to turn a blind eye yet again to a more suitable and resonate candidate perhaps overshadowed by the bloviating and rhetorical nonsense. Otherwise, like Rome before the invading barbarian hordes, we will witness the continuing downward spiral of this exceptional nation put in motion by false hope and damaging change from an unknown and unvetted president unfit to hold the office.
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Monday, August 3, 2015

Fund All the Things

Screw the voice of the people, right?!! I mean, who do they think they are wanting a say in how public money gets used!!! Well, we (theoretically) do elect people who, as part of their job, are supposed to speak for citizens on the spending of public money. And on certain things, we as taxpayers do have a general consensus on what we are willing to accept or not, and (again theoretically) “voice” that every election. I know, I sound like an idealist that our system really works like that but maybe it is because we have let too much apathy seep in and accept it. I do not know.

Judge Says No Vote Needed To Use Public Money For New NFL Stadium (KMOX Radio)

In the particular instance of funding a new football stadium in downtown St. Louis, there is the city ordinance for a public vote on the matter that a lone judge has decided to ignore. And so, millions of taxpayer money that could be used elsewhere will go into a shiny new sports stadium right across the street from the "obsolete" one for a bunch of whiny millionaires. Yes, it will create jobs, boost the economy, etc...but where does it end??? And then there will be the angrily wondrous uproar when the city asks for other bond and tax increases due to budget concerns because they cannot cover emergency services, trash services, transportation, etc...but we will have a shiny new stadium that the people did not get to vote on!!! And while I am sure the vote probably would pass, it is the principle of the matter.

Oh look, there it is. That did not take long...

St. Louis Voters To Decide Fate of $180 Million Bond Issue On Tuesday (STLToday.com)
 

Not sure how spending $400 million of taxpayer money on a new stadium that could be used to address a city that is broke, and getting worse - while also currently asking for a $180 million bond from increased property taxes (which will be perpetual, not one-time) to do that very thing - will reverse that trend if the current stadium obviously has not had that affect. Undoubtedly, despite the same rhetoric from 20 years ago, any revenue generation for the city from the new stadium again will go toward paying off the bonds - just like with the current stadium, which is still being paid off - and not get funneled into the fire department, public schools or anything else. Frankly, I would rather just see taxpayer money going directly toward those services rather than toward some millionaire's ego who cannot fund his own stadium.

Perhaps I am just too much a fiscal-minded curmudgeon sick and tired of taxpayer waste on the ever-expanding cost funding the unneeded, unwanted and uneconomical given the price tag. But yes, let us subsidize shiny new sports stadiums, act on the political junk science that is “climate change”, spend on ill-conceived illegal immigrant programs rather than simply investing in securing the border, etc, with taxpayer money while our emergency services, infrastructure, schools, etc, crumble! So by all means, fund all of the things...and all of you get off my lawn!

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Friday, July 24, 2015

Josef Mengele Would Be Proud

I come from a long line of medical doctors, my grandfather faithfully dedicating half his career as an obstetrician/gynecologist. I, like my grandfather, am for women’s healthcare, and I am for choice. I am for choice because I do not believe intrusion into our daily lives by any persons or entities, especially government, that would restrict our choices is warranted by our republican system. Women should have the right to do as they see fit to do with their bodies, and to have full access to all measures of medical services. In full disclosure, though, I also hate most of humanity because, in my opinion from decades of being a chronicler and witness to it, it is evil at its primal core. Thus, whenever someone wishes to mitigate the circumstances of population increase, I am very supportive. Yet, as GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina succinctly stated, “It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re pro-choice or pro-life. Every woman, every man has to look at these videos and think, what has gone wrong in our nation?” Exactly. When situations other than providing medical services come into play - such as describing “crushing” a fetus in ways that keep internal organs intact for the sole purpose of marketing to the highest bidder - the debate is no longer about simply providing healthcare.

Fetal Parts, the Dismal Sequel (Washington Times)

‘Medical Research’ Can't Whitewash Baby Body Parts Atrocities (The Federalist)

Planned Parenthood Harvests Body Parts from Butchered Babies (American Center for Law and Justice)

How can any sane person not be sickened and shocked by the chillingly garish admissions of Planned Parenthood personnel concerning their fetal organ harvesting program? Especially, female medical staff who so callously describe - seemingly without an ounce of motherly instinct or remorse - the mechanisms and procedures for harvesting fetal organs like that of a detached technician as if working on inanimate equipment. Frankly, killing babies to sell their organs is scientifically unethical, goes against any reason given latest medical breakthroughs and, simply put, is inhuman behavior for civilized society. Admittedly, it is obviously beyond my own ethics, reason and values to understand how anyone who supports ethical science, reasoned inquiry and humanistic values cannot be disturbed by actions that go against all of those principles.

As Lila Rose, president of pro-life group Live Action, stated, echoing the sentiment of Edmund Burke, “Silence in the face of such atrocity is complicity.” We thought humanity had learned that lesson with the downfall of the Nazi regime and their depraved experimentation on children and adults alike. Apparently, we were wrong. In the end, it increasingly seems to depend on the life whether “all lives matter,” or if it is more arbitrary than we, as a civilized society, care to admit. After all, we have already seen what happens when mob mentality dictates that idea.


©2015 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What If...

What if my grandmother had not thrown away my dad’s comic book collection in the 1950s? As I detail in my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life, my dad’s uncle owned and operated a corner drugstore in New York City, and often would give him comic books. But then, as happened to many boys of that era, the most dreaded of youthful incidents occurred and the comic book collection was no more. Often, I have thought about “what if” that collection had been intact upon the passing of my dad. Of course, I would have saved some special ones, but, undoubtedly, I would have sold off most for an astronomical sum. In other words, I - and my immediate family, of course - would have been financially set for life knowing what I know now about what undoubtedly was in his collection. What path(s) would that situation have taken and/or altered?

At the time of my dad’s passing, I was in high school. For the most part, those friendships were cemented which, for arguments sake, lends me to believe very little might have changed on that front. I simply would have been the teenager now with more money, who did not have to rely on allowance or part-time employment. Perhaps, buoyed and consoled by the financial windfall, I even would not have grieved so much for my late dad; money is funny that way some times. But would I have been more responsible and grasped opportunities more, or even more reckless and shortsighted than I actually was in my youth? Naturally, little things probably would have turned out different, but, again for argument sake, nothing on a catastrophic level, right?

  

There is no question that I would have graduated from high school alongside those same friends. Unlike a lot of people, and despite certain aspects, I actually had an enjoyable experience. That said, now is where the story gets murky. Would I then have attended the University of Missouri-Columbia (“Mizzou”), or would I have taken another path that maybe would not have even involved college? Again, for reasons described in my book and for argument sake, lets believe that I still would have attended Mizzou upon acceptance. Being financially secure, though, I probably would not have had the need for a job during those four years. Thus, I never would have become a delivery driver that ultimately led to the demise of my 1970 Ford Mustang (the repairs simply became too costly). In this alternate universe, however, my Mustang would live because, given my financial circumstances, I would have had it properly restored rather than piecemeal repaired.

That caveat, though, is a minor aspect of this “what if” exercise, because there is a larger issue than the memory of an old car now long since gone. There are the memories of the friendships rooted and cultivated over that same period of time. At Mizzou, would I have met those few souls I now count among my best friends? For argument sake, probably not or, at least, not under the same circumstances. For starters, having no need of student housing given my financial circumstances, I definitely would not have lived on campus and in the dorms where we met. Having the means, I undoubtedly would have either rented or bought a nice, somewhat secluded off-campus house; I know this because I hated people even back then. So, that one little change of residence could alter everything. Then there are the summer months, in which, again, I probably would not have had an urgent need for a part-time job given further money-making investments of my comic book money. Thus, I probably never would have worked, or at the very least maintained my longevity, at Riverport Amphitheatre, where, by my unscientific estimate, it seems half my life was spent and one-third of my current friendships were gained.

And all of this “what if” because my grandmother never threw away my dad’s comic books that I eventually would have sold for millions upon his death! So maybe it is time that I forgive her for throwing them away? Nah, I still hate her for it! Happy Father’s Day!
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Racism, Symbolism & the Quest For Civility

Racism aspects aside, the Confederate Flag was, and still is, a symbol of rebellion and states’ rights - not to mention secession and treason - for a cause on the losing side of the American Civil War. Question is how many losing sides throughout history ever have been allowed to maintain and display their banners? Not many. It would seem, 150 years later, the United States is still trying to confront that question and reconcile the idea with American values and principles.

Don’t Tear Down the Confederate Battle Flag (National Review)
www.nationalreview.com/article/420060/confederate-flag-should-stay-charleston-shooting-debate

Two Thoughts on the Confederate Battle Flag (National Review)
www.nationalreview.com/corner/420015/two-thoughts-confederate-battle-flag-reihan-salam

Charleston Shootings Have Revived Demands That South Carolina Stop Flying the Confederate Flag (Reuters via Business Insider)

www.businessinsider.com/r-in-south-carolina-shootings-reignite-debate-over-confederate-flag-2015-6

The problem of racism in the US goes far deeper than any flag though. While ridding ourselves of its symbolism from our sights may bury some feelings, it will not change institutional and ingrained racism that exists in hearts and minds. That is what needs to change, and it begins with parents and ends with proper education. Our education system is too focused on “teaching” self-esteem and sensitivity over honesty and truth toward understanding that lends itself to learning both. In some instances, for example, teaching the Nazi Holocaust is banned because of this mentality - despite its importance in learning how intolerance unchecked can manifest in one of humanity’s worst atrocities. This is one of several reasons I dropped out of education school years ago in my pursuit of becoming a high school history teacher. Even while doing my required teaching observations, I could tell that “teaching” had become parody. First with the self-esteem movement (which was just gaining traction at the time) and now with Common Core (which is neither “common” nor “core” in its methods and subjects), it is even worse.


Pundits and politicians want to hide behind the old and tired narrative of gun control whenever incidents like the recent Charleston shooting happens. In yet another of his narcissistic interjections, President Obama even called for the rejection of the “new normal” of mass shootings. Then, in true leadership fashion, he jetted off to fundraise and play golf. But, Mr. President, it is not the “new normal” because normal, law-abiding gun owners do not go on mass shooting sprees. As more details emerge, clearly this incident, like so many others, was a racially motivated one by yet another deranged individual...but yes, clearly it is our gun laws that need fixing. No, it is the deranged, the ignorant and the racists that need fixing. That is not a gun problem; it is a societal problem, that will continue to be discussed until we honestly and truthfully confront and reconcile it. 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Keep Alexander Hamilton, Replace Andrew Jackson


Letter to 
United States Secretary of the Treasury 
United States Department of the Treasury

We, the undersigned, hereby petition the United States Department of the Treasury to reverse and revise its recent decision concerning the design of the U.S. $10 bill. As such, it is our request that the former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, remain on the $10 bill, and that the former president, Andrew Jackson be removed from the $20 bill in favor of a historically significant American woman yet to be determined at a later date. 

In support of this petition, we present the following: 

Alexander Hamilton: Renowned aide-de-camp to General, and future president, George Washington during the Revolutionary War; co-writer of the Federalist Papers in support of the U.S. Constitution; supporter of abolition; first Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the U.S. financial system, including the Bank of New York and the First Bank of the United States.

Andrew Jackson: Despotic General and president; slave owner and trader; opponent to the Second Bank of the United States, and instigator and supporter of economic policies that led to the devastating Panic of 1837; slaughterer of Native Americans as both military officer and commander-in-chief, and staunch supporter of Native American relocation including the controversial Indian Removal Act (1830).

Sign the petition! - www.change.org/p/united-states-secretary-of-the-treasury-united-states-department-of-the-treasury-keep-alexander-hamilton-replace-andrew-jackson

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Countering Counterfactual History

Let me preface this by saying that I love the website HowStuffWorks. Recently, they posted an article about what would have happened if the American colonies had lost the American Revolution. Thorough in its depth, they get the first question correct of what probably would have happened to the colonists. But then things go a little awry in my opinion...

What If America Had Lost the Revolution?
http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/what-if/what-if-america-lost-revolution.htm

1) Great Britain and Spain would have engaged each other over territorial control in the Americas after 1776, as Spain controlled the territory west of the Mississippi River at the time - constituting almost 2/3 of North America - after France ceded all their territory a decade earlier to both following the Seven Years War (Treaty of Fontainebleau; Treaty of Paris). It's possible that both countries may even have reached a detente of sorts, as the British were in no hurry to expand beyond the Mississippi and banned colonists from settling the area west of the Appalachians in order to maintain that buffer.

2) There would have been no Mexican Empire, because there would have been no American or French revolutions - itself inspired by the American Revolution - to inspire them to rebel against Spain. I am just not a fan of the inevitability of either. Pull that one small thread of a failed American revolution against a powerful empire, and I see others not being as bold to revolt against their own despite their circumstances. The French revolutionaries especially were deeply influenced by the words and deeds of the American founders, who, I believe, would have been executed regardless for their part in the rebellion against Great Britain.

3) Whichever European power seized majority control of the Americas, if any, eventually would have encroached upon, and probably slaughtered, the indigenous nations like the Comanches. 

Certainly, there are other subtle nuances of changes to the timeline that could be added to the discussion. But, in my opinion, these are the main highlights of the "what if" scenario.


©2015 Steve Sagarra

Monday, June 8, 2015

More Random Thoughts

The Middle East needs a community improvement project akin to The Marshall Plan in post-WWII Europe. From 1939-1945, the Allies blasted, bombed and broke the European continent in the steadfast effort to destroy the Nazi regime. Afterward, Europe was rebuilt and emerged modernized and stronger. The same can be accomplished in the Middle East...but there must be the uncompromising will to blast, bomb and break before rebuilding in order for it to join the modern world. Otherwise, we will continue to confront hostility and terrorism from regions seemingly unchanged since the time of the prophet that shall not be drawn. As it stands right now, though, it seems some have lost - or more accurately never had - the will to maintain the effort in favor of grandiose delusion and narcissistic self-promotion.

The two actresses America Ferrera and Vera Farmiga are the female version of the celebrity brain-twister game of Dermot Mulroney and Dylan McDermott. Given the continuing trend in Hollywood, the four should remake the 1969 movie, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The entertainment value just from hearing critics and journalists stumble over their names alone would be worth the price of admission. Besides, its subject matter on honesty and openness in questioning notions about love and sexuality seems ripe for an updated version in this era of same-sex marriage and gender transitioning debate.

Once upon a time, yellow and blue made green. At the very least, you knew for certain that the plastic bag was properly sealed. Now, blue and purple make for a hopeful guessing game of frustration. There are many “modern” items, though, that have violated the age-old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule, all in the name of so-called “progress.” You didn’t dare squeeze the Charmin®; now bears doing their business in the woods worry about it adhering to their hindquarters. Things were either Hefty® or they were wimpy; you knew which one to buy. Calgon® was an “ancient Chinese secret” that could take you away; now, it would be considered a stereotypical racial insensitivity that could put you away.

The history of agriculture and humanity’s development because of it is a familiar one taught since elementary school. But, there is an underlying element: a desire to alter perception. Before humanity even thought about cultivating crops, we as a species have experimented with all kinds of mind altering substances - alongside those gathered and hunted for nutritional sustenance - since the beginning of our existence. How else to explain such “primitives” discovering and using them in their daily lives and communal rituals; as Hydra says, “discovery requires experimentation.” From tobacco to cocoa, farming only made it easier. In the modern era, moral grandstanding and prohibitive legislation aimed to curb these desires essentially are antithetical to humanity’s history of drug use.

Who knows you best? Is it the first person you ever met, or maybe the last one? Every time you meet someone new, you must share your life story with them. Or, at least a condensed snippet of it. What you share is what they know, so different people may, and probably do, know different aspects to your life. Your closest friends may know about your habitual fantasy world, while your friends-with-benefits maybe know only your deepest fantasies. Over time, this becomes exhausting to acquaint and indoctrinate these to the latest member of your ever-expanding circle. It explains why some find it a challenge to embrace new people. Upon occasion it just feels good to re-connect with an old friend who already knows you, rather than attempt to connect with a stranger - because they can take you away, without the prerequisite experimentation.
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, May 24, 2015

You Gotta Be Kidney Me!

Typically, I have a high threshold of pain and try to maintain proper hydration. For the most part, I have gradually cut down on eating junk food and drinking soda over the years. But, I recently had a very bad kidney stone experience...which on a scale of zero to Bo Derek was about a Spinal Tap! Although my third time, the other two were mild in comparison. It later turned out to be a common calcium oxalate stone. As such, I had to seek professional help. They pumped me with fluids - my bladder and kidneys were floating!!! - and pain medicine. After some careful analysis of my dietary intake, the stone in fact was caused by drinking too much apple and cranberry juice - which I would drink on a daily basis - and, of course, consuming the dreaded soybean/soybean oil THAT IS IN EVERYTHING! According to several sources, all three are extremely high in oxalate - apple juice being the worse, as it turns out - and are really bad for those susceptible to calcium oxalate stones. It just eventually built up. Nuts, spinach and sunflower seeds too are high in oxalate, just to highlight a few other things which I regularly consume. So much for trying to eat “healthy”!

Ever since, I have been reading about the benefits of lemon juice - and adding more citrus in general - to increase citrate levels that can help block both calcium oxalate and uric acid stones. I am not a huge fan of lemonade, or tart food in general, but probably will start drinking more lemon-flavored water. Coconut also is touted for its benefits, not just in hydration but in preventing stone formation. (Fortunately, it is only the consistency of coconut I dislike rather than its taste.) There also is the argument for consuming a “normal” diet of calcium, because, oddly enough, it will combine with the oxalate in the intestines before it can reach the urinary tract. For this, I will actually have to decrease my dairy intake...because I still love drinking milk and eating cheese (another problematic food)!!! Fiber-rich (artichokes; beans; rice) and potassium-rich (bananas; potatoes; tomatoes) foods are good too, although some like beans and potatoes also are high in oxalate.

There is a lot of contradictory information out there, even from leading authorities on the subject. What it comes down to is proper judgment in tweaking guidelines and recommendations for what works for the circumstance. Naturally, the best advice, as always, is to drink more water and follow the mantra of moderation - presumably, neither of which I have been properly adhering.

Kidney Stone Prevention: ‘Fact versus Fiction' (Renal and Urology News)
www.renalandurologynews.com/commentary/kidney-stone-prevention-fact-versus-fiction/article/217239/

Kidney Stones Raise Atherosclerosis Risk (Renal and Urology News)
www.renalandurologynews.com/kidney-stones/kidney-stones-raise-atherosclerosis-risk/article/198278/

Prevent Kidney Stones (NaturalNews.com)
www.naturalnews.com/031618_kidney_stones_prevention.html

Did Drinking Iced Tea Really Cause My Kidney Stones (KidneyStoners.org)
www.kidneystoners.org/information/does-drinking-iced-tea-really-cause-kidney-stones/


©2015 Steve Sagarra

Friday, May 15, 2015

Still Misplacing Blame Knowing What We Know

The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it.” -Ayn Rand

Knowing what we know now” arguments are irrelevant to history, i.e. the Iraq War. We cannot study it through that prism, because decisions were based on what was believed at the time. Besides, what is it that we supposedly “know now”? That Saddam Hussein indeed had weapons of mass destruction, and impeded United Nations-mandated weapons inspections for over a decade? Check. That Iraq harbored terrorists throughout that time? Check. That we are still fighting terrorism, despite those who wish to ignore that fact? Check. That current instability in the region is a direct result of U.S. troop withdrawal and failure to secure a Status of Forces Agreement? Check. And that ISIS grew from this failure? Check. So, what is this “new” information warranting yet another re-visiting and second-guessing the reasons for the war?

A decades-old argument - “Would a president drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima knowing what we know now?” - has morphed into the current discussion - “Would a president invade Iraq knowing what we know now?” Since hindsight has a perfect record, this always is a flawed debate. On both accounts, information at the time said yes; any present circumstances - which are due to many unrelated factors - is irrelevant to that decision. The best example of this in more recent memory is the equally divisive and oft-compared Vietnam War. A conflict that epitomizes the Cold War, it was supported early as a fight against legitimate communist aggression that potentially could cascade across Southeast Asia and beyond. When that “domino effect” failed to materialize, critics attacked the validity for the war in the first place. Remember too, at the onset of the Second World War, the U.S. was only fighting Japan until Germany declared war on us as well. The focus then shifted to a two-front war, but as part of a larger picture; in my opinion, and for many like-minded people, a similar situation existed with Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, we have pulled out and failed to maintain a military readiness in either country to counter the continuing cascading threat from the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS.

Concerning the lead-up to the Iraq War and its fallout, I still wholeheartedly support - as do many of those same like-minded people - the decision by the Bush Administration and our allies to act in 2003. Saddam Hussein and his tyrannical regime had to go, as a threat to the Iraqi people, to the region and in the grander scheme of fighting terrorists and those who harbor them. After a decade of disregard and obfuscation by Iraq over its WMDs, who finally was going to force them to comply? The ineffective U.N. that cowered and had been duped by Saddam over that time? How much more time would he be allowed? Another decade? The U.S. and its allies took the initiative lacking in the useless U.N. in order to enforce that compliance. Even more, the critical attacks on the intelligence for WMDs now have been shown, at the very least, to be without merit themselves given “what we know now”...which some of us knew all along concerning Iraq’s weapons program:  they had them.

In comic books, it is becoming evermore a rarity to have purely good superheroes, because even they must exhibit a darker side to have value in an increasingly cynical world. That is the problem with the world today. Every decision is second-guessed in hindsight as a consequence of this attitude, forgetting the valid reasons for it at the time. In doing so, we perform a disservice by tearing down good while raising up evil. For his part, President Obama's “legacy” will be remembered as a failure, defined by ineffectiveness, weakness and retreat in the face of that evil born from that cynicism. Meanwhile, the legacy for those opposed to the Iraq War - both then and now - will be the still cynically misplaced blame on the “evil” President Bush for that current situation. All because of the ambiguous assertion over “what we know now.” 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Take: Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

Batman vs. Superman:  Dawn of Justice opens in less than a year. As soon as it was announced, I decided to have some fun and create my own version of the opening scene as follows:

Events of the battle of Metropolis are witnessed once again. Approaching its ultimate climax, the scene pans out to a darkness illuminated only by the light of an oversized monitor. A cave, the nocturnal activity of its residents echoing. Attached to the monitor is an advanced computer terminal, before it a fashionably dressed gentleman, his hair coiffed neatly to match his designer cufflinks, sits in a high-backed chair. Through his chiseled and stoic appearance, he keenly observes the action between Superman and Zod play out on the monitor.
      The gentleman pushes a small, black button on the console.
      “Alfred, I believe it’s time for that meeting with Alexander Luthor in Metropolis.”
      “Very well, sir. Will you be visiting in your typical manner, or just as Bruce Wayne?”
      “Both.”


[END SCENE. ROLL OPENING CREDITS, DISSOLVE INTO NEXT SCENE]

With his personal servant and bodyguard, Alfred Pennyworth, leading the way, Bruce Wayne disembarks into a private hangar at Metropolis airport. He is approached by a throng of the city's media personnel, none more visible than Lois Lane.
      “Mr. Wayne, why have you come to Metropolis? Are you here to help or to exploit?”
      “Ms. Lane, isn't it? I am here to offer the resources of Wayne Enterprises to assist LexCorp and the citizens of Metroplis rebuild this great city from the destruction caused by this so-called ‘Superman’ and his people.”
      “We all witnessed Superman save this city, and the world, from his people. Do you not believe his motives in protecting us?”
      He winks at her. “I tend to take a more skeptical approach than those who sensationalize them in the media. After all, we witnessed him kill one of his people. Seems we should question the danger he could pose to all of us.”
      Not allowing questions from any other reporters concerning Wayne's trip, Lois Lane further presses him on the topic of Superman.
      “What about other stories uncovered that portray him as a savior? Do those not allay any fears we should hold concerning him?”
      “I'd say more urban legend fabricated by an enthusiastic journalist than definitive proof of his intentions.”
      She smirks, glaring at him. “Like Gotham City's ‘Batman,’ Mr. Wayne?”
      “Exactly, Ms. Lane. Nothing more than a rogue vigilante who should let the real heroes do their jobs. Now, if you'll excuse me I have a meeting to get to with Mr. Luthor. Thank you everyone.”
      Alfred escorts Bruce to a waiting limousine, and they drive away.


It can be subtle, but I want references to Batman's former partners…whose real names don’t turn out to be Robin (screw you Nolan!), but rather are called “Robin.” Especially, Jason Todd, the second “Robin” after Dick Grayson, and the memorial established in the Batcave by Batman after his death. There is speculation that Grayson's Nightwing is to make an appearance, possibly along with Carrie Kelley who became Batman's partner in Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. It would be cool to have a cameo by Tim Drake as well, who became the third “Robin” after Jason. (All of which could lend itself nicely to a solo Batman prequel/sequel movie centered around either the New 52’s “Court of Owls” or “Death of the Family” story arcs while reflecting on past adventures. But, I digress…)

Despite all the hate he receives from critics, I always have enjoyed Zack Snyder's films. In my opinion, 300 (another Frank Miller creation) and Watchmen (Alan Moore, who automatically disowns all film rights, be damned) are two of the most faithful adaptations of a comic book/graphic novel. Although I was unfamiliar with the source material at the time of each movie's release, both have the look and feel of it (again, Moore be damned). I have faith that once again Snyder will be faithful to the source material, while exploring and expanding upon it to bring his nuance touch to DC Comic’s signature cinematic universe. (I'm sure Moore would disagree though.)


©2015 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Not-So-Free Market

How many times must it be said? You cannot, and should not, be penalized for refusing to participate in commerce, or likewise restricted in doing so. We have already seen, and continue to see, this argument play out most recently in the courts concerning the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). Free-market capitalism depends on this dynamic in order for it to work as it should in creating a competitive environment.

On a more general level, apparently businesses that refuse to do business with a customer now warrants fines and penalties. Not saying it is right, but it is a business' right to refuse to do business with a customer for whatever reason in a free-market economy. Same as customers have the right never to do business with them again. I mean, why would you even want to do business with someone who is discriminatory toward you? I certainly would not want to give my business to them. That is the part I never understand. If a business in some way makes a customer not feel wanted or appreciated, guess what most normal people do? Take their business elsewhere, because it is a free-market economy with plenty of other businesses more than happy to have it.

Imagine, if you will, a person who does not want to associate with someone because of their differing beliefs and values. I think it is safe to say that a majority of people have come to that crossroad at least once in their lifetime. As such, you probably would be okay with that individual making that decision, right? Now imagine that "person" is a business...is it still ok? Or no? See, the argument is not whether it is right or wrong for anyone - or in the latter case, any entity - to deny the association, but rather if we, as a collective body, have the right to dictate right or wrong over whom one chooses to associate. We do not have that right, equally as much as any individual or business holds the right, if they so choose, not to engage in commerce with a particular entity or group of customers. While that might seem antithetical to the basic tenets of capitalism, it is their choice to conduct themselves in such a manner.  

On a personal level, apparently being a faithful, albeit casual, eBay seller with a stellar performance rating for over a decade means squat. Currently, I am trying to sell a prized collectible of high value, but the company instituted a “seller limit” a few years ago. Whatever is meant by that anti-capitalism sounding restriction. Meanwhile several people with less years and less items sold but similar rating as me have the exact same item for sale at the similar amount that I wish to list. Thus, I requested an increase to my limit to match their same level; they refused, based on a case-by-case determination that they could not relent on. In essence, they are hindering my ability to engage in free-market commerce because I am only a casual seller who has not reached their mandated arbitrary plateau. 

My dad - like Jack Lemmon's George Kellerman in the movie, Out-of-Towners - always maintained a figurative “little black book” of businesses that pissed him off, and then never did business with them again. I have become the same way (sans black book), but more people should learn that lesson. 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Friday, April 17, 2015

'Historic'? More Like Disheartening

The meeting between United States president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro has been described as a historic one between Cold War adversaries. Personally, I am thrilled that relations between the two countries hopefully are moving beyond one of antagonism. Nevertheless, as a Cuban-American whose grandfather was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba - never to return even to visit after Fidel Castro’s takeover - and whose family and relatives suffered at the hands of the Castro regime, I am less enthusiastic. [For more on the subject, read my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life.] While communist Cuba may no longer have the wholesale support of the former Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.), it is still an oppressive adversary that is the antithesis of liberty and justice. And the U.S. president - so-called “leader of the free world” - met and shook hands with one of its architects, who has sworn to maintain the Communist Party of Cuba that reflects his hardline socialist stance. For several years, there has been speculation Castro wishes to reflect a variant of the communist China model in order to preserve it, which leads to my next point...

Despite what President Obama and his advisers may believe, the Cold War is anything but over. He was wrong during the 2012 debates, and he is still wrong. Go figure, his reality not matching facts. At the very least, it went on hiatus - but only as concerns the former Soviet Union. What is forgotten, and hardly ever mentioned, is that there were always THREE players in the Cold War: the United States, the U.S.S.R....and China. While the U.S.S.R. collapsed, China is still communist and adversarial economically, militarily and politically toward the United States. Sorry, Mr. President, but they didn’t get the memo about the Cold War ending. Honestly, relations between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. really only thawed rather than warmed throughout the 1990s, as the new Russian Federation reformed and stabilized in its wake. Lest it be forgotten too, up until September 10, 2001, U.S. policy both politically and militarily still was geared toward a Cold War mentality; that only changed to an anti-terrorism focus following the September 11 attacks. Hardly the 1980s calling, Mr. President. Yet, despite this shift in focus, Obama continues to refuse acknowledgment of the continuing threat of terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc, which leads me to my next point...

This is the same president who believes the most recent Iran deal is a good one toward the abject failure that is “peace in the Middle East.” The number of times I have heard that phrase over my lifetime, only for it to sour time and again. This current incarnation is no different. Iran - long-time backers of Hamas and Hezbollah - seeks no less than to reformulate a Cold War of its own making in the region...and, again, has been doing so since the 1980s, Mr. President. For four decades, Iran has sought to become a nuclear power. One would think that the constant taunt of annihilating Israel - an historically close ally that Obama consistently throws shade at, but eagerly will meet with the likes of Castro - coupled with “Death to America” chants would raise some alarms. Not with the Obama Administration though, who, like Neville Chamberlain with Germany before the Second World War, has handed Iran everything they have ever wanted in a deal that gives nothing in return except their continued support of terrorist groups and blind trust that they will not build nuclear weapons. (At least with Iraq, useless weapons inspectors stood ready to uselessly inspect Saddam’s secreted weapons cache that he vehemently refused them to properly inspect. We know how that turned out.)

‘Historic’ meeting(s)? Hardly. More like disheartening, and dangerously naive.
 

©2015 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stanley Cup or Bust

Four months ago, at the midpoint of the NHL 2014-'15 regular season, I expounded upon the St. Louis Blues chances of winning the Stanley Cup. They haven't been in the championship game since their inception in the late 1960s, with their last best chance coming during the 2000-'01 season with an appearance in the conference finals (which they eventually lost to the Colorado Avalanche). Now, as the 2015 playoffs begin and despite a few personnel changes since that post, I feel even stronger in the sentiment that there will be a parade on the streets of St. Louis in June...because if not this team, then when?



LET'S...GO...BLUUUUUUUEEESSS!!!


©2015 Steve Sagarra