Friday, December 15, 2017

Super Sonic Elixir Tonic

Do you yearn for a world of simplicity? While I do my best to entertain the notion, often it is to the chagrin of more cosmopolitan types. If given the opportunity, I undoubtedly could pass an entire day on the banks of a flowing river, coffee in hand and unexposed to modernity’s intrusions, contemplating the serenity that abounds. I find comfort, if not clarity, in such solitude, not secluded isolation as some may deem it. People nowadays have an inability to maintain undisturbed stillness for extended periods of time, any external stimuli interrupting them. Perhaps it is the understandable, and assuredly inherent, chaos of their own internal thoughts that cause issues, possibly as a result of those contemporary distractions. At times, I may find myself silently concentrating on a ladybug crawling across a leaf, curious about its thoughts and ideas on its own existence. Perhaps it is our overexposure to those things that detract from observing, let alone appreciating, these solemn occasions against the backdrop of a world evermore drifting away from simplicity.

At the same time, I duly embrace modernity both current and in the near future. We live in a prodigious age, on an amazingly beautiful planet in all of its natural and innovative complexities. Despite the latest talk about fake news and social disengagement - notwithstanding the rose-colored perception that past centuries had neither, gazetteers and tabloid provocateurs having thrived on the former to enhance the latter - humanity is more connected and engaged in various technological ways, particularly social media, than in any generation in history. Unbelievably, we are only on the cusp of such developments, even if in various remote corners of the globe this is not entirely the case. In an instant, we can communicate with each other or travel around the world without leaving the comfort of our homes. While we may lose ourselves - either literally or figuratively - in the infinite possibilities such advancements present from only a keystroke or swipe, we never truly can be lost given the prospects we gain from the real-time interconnectedness achieved thus far.

As the Irish saying goes, “may you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.” As a species, humans are complex creatures now evolved to the point of seeking, and especially in need of, uncomplicated answers to labyrinthine questions that may never be candidly forthcoming. If only to persist in the journey of exploring that condition, albeit what may seem a futile, if not fleeting, venture in the grand scheme. If anything, it is quite the opposite. Perhaps it is a tranquil moment in time shared with intimate company as the surrounding world is forgotten, or a nocturnal sojourn imploring the vast cosmos in a world yet again, consistently, on the brink of insanity. None of which and all of which matters, but only if one holds strong to what personally is needed to be believed and felt. To survive. To understand. To live. It can be difficult at times, yet also that simple.

©2017 Steve Sagarra

Friday, October 6, 2017

Save Humanity From Itself

How to restrict and/or ban firearms to protect innocent lives that does not infringe upon law-abiding citizens’ constitutional rights versus why someone with no apparent warning signs or violent history decides to commit horrific mass murder in the first place? This is the perpetually controversial debate, and maybe there is no comprehensive answer to the latter question. Before we yet again have that debate, though, is it impossible to refrain, no matter how brief, from the spewing of differing worldviews, political agendas and speculative vitriol out of respect to victims, families and friends? The act committed is horrible enough without the disgusting entropic inhumanity that oftentimes accompanies it in the immediate aftermath.

Now that some of us have taken that pause, what exactly could have prevented yet another latest mass shooting? More gun control laws? More background checks? According to official reports, like numerous incidents before it, none seemingly could or would have prevented the tragedy as no obvious red flags presented themselves. Never missing an opportunity, this fact has not stopped politicians and pundits from advocating such non sequitur measures. If the forest is burning down, is it logical to continue throwing water on a camp fire that did not start it? What might have prevented the forest fire in the first place? Environmental impact aside, the forest, like the Second Amendment that anti-gun activists find abhorrent, could have been bulldozed and obliterated to mitigate such incidents...but then there would be no forest in order to see the trees. Not every incident is endemically comparable to every other one, and any systemic blanket comparison is foolish in a blind effort to implement any further restrictions or changes to the law without understanding the root cause(s).

This does not negate the necessity of any reasonable measures that can be and, in many cases, currently are applicable. After all, bans and restrictions on camp fires exist for susceptible wooded areas; even so, this does not mean everyone obeys the laws or rules. The same is true with gun control. Now, you probably are thinking, and granted rightly so, that forest fires - whether naturally occurring or accidental - and mass murder are not even on the same level. Victims of gun violence are family, friends, neighbors and, probably for the most part, strangers, while forest fires do not cause mindless slaughter...except to the animals, insects, plants, trees, etc, that live there and die because of them. Any senseless loss of life is tragic, though, no? Or, is there an arbitrary, sliding scale on what constitutes an acceptable and unacceptable loss, simply because we, as sentient beings, identify more with humancentrist tragedy? Perhaps this is why politicians who advance stricter gun control have no issue with allowing the government-sanctioned slaughter of endangered species, like wolves, even as scientists explore the cosmos for the most basic forms of microscopic life.

The point is that until the mindset of humanity as a whole is enlightened to appreciate all life - especially in regions throughout the world where ethnic cleansing and mass genocide are prevalent - there never can be a comprehensive appreciation for any life on an individual level. No matter how much gun control legislation is implemented - even outright weapons confiscation that anti-gun activists preach, because to what would that extend and entail - the profound issue is individual, sentient beings who willingly take another life without conscience, remorse or repentance. The enduring failure to grasp this inherent concept will continue to prevent us from seeing the forest for the trees. That is the real tragedy, which will haunt us until the next one.

©2017 Steve Sagarra

Friday, September 22, 2017

Echoes In Eternity

For the majority of my life, I have been a student of the Second World War. I always will be, too. After all, it is the “good” war that justifiably, for the purpose of a succinct description, pitted the forces of freedom and righteousness versus atrocious evil. In correlation, the post-war era, particularly the Korean War and Cold War, is intrinsically associated with it. In recent years, though, I have become more attuned to and fascinated by the First World War. To be honest, I previously had never given the war its deserved acknowledgment. For unclear reasons, despite my grandfather and his brother having served, it never made any sense to me and never held much interest for me.

Of course, profoundly linked to the Cold War, I have studied the Vietnam War. In fact, my undergraduate thesis concentrated on the Tonkin Gulf incident. Yet, Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary, The Vietnam War, recalled for me the remarkable connection to the First World War. Officially, the United States entered the Vietnam conflict as a main combatant in 1965; realistically, the war had started decades earlier for the Vietnamese at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. In that singular event, not only was the seed planted for the next world war but also the “forgotten” Korean and the “quagmire” Vietnam to follow. For the latter, at least, pivotal moments highlighted in Burns' documentary did not make it inevitable until too late.

Inconceivably, numerous problems the world faces today, over a hundred years later in 2017, can be directly traced to the First World War. While the Second World War may have been the “good” war - and make no mistake, anti-semitism, Holocaust denial and the debate over nuclear proliferation sadly linger to this day - the repercussions of its predecessor still haunts the landscape of current foreign policy and international relations. Ideas about empire, nationalism, colonialism, self-determination, to name a few, are very much prevalent in tactful discussions, heated exchanges and direct clashes between the world’s nations and their citizens. Issues that engulfed the world in catastrophic war a century ago.

Thus, what we do now will not only affect the next generation, but also the one to follow. History has given us a roadmap for the consequential outcomes of those actions and decisions. Now is the time to choose wisely. Frankly, if history is any indication, I give humanity only a modest chance of learning from the past...because there always is some asshole seeking to bet against the odds in their favor. For as Albert Einstein so eloquently warned, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

©2017 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Keeping Up Relations, Again

With the announcement of a sequel to 1986's Top Gun, thought I would suggest a few plot points of my own for it...

*Iceman, on the previous recommendation of Viper upon his retirement, is commander of Top Gun. Maverick, like Jester before him and given his unpredictable style, is the lead instructor, using F-18s and 5th generation fighters to train a new class of fighter pilots for both modern and future warfare.

*Bureaucrats are attempting to end the program due to expense and ever-changing warfare strategies, and instead replace fighter pilots with unmanned drones. Iceman, Maverick and their trainees attempt to convince them of the necessity for fighter pilots and the human factor involved in air-to-air and air-to-ground operations.

*Maverick is married to the semi-retired Charlie, who still consults with the Department of Defense. They have a son and daughter, named Brad and Nicole for the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. Charlie works with Mav and Iceman to convince Washington of the necessity to continue the Top Gun program, even testifying before Congressional hearings over the matter on Capitol Hill.

*The ending involves a mock battle of planes vs drones, with Iceman, Maverick and their trainee aviators taking on drone “pilots.” In the end, both are proved necessary and effective components of an overall military strategy. The bureaucrats back off their plans to scrap Top Gun and other fighter pilot programs.

Opening scene:

Iceman is on a training hop with two trainees. As Iceman continues to purposefully evade, the pursuing trainees taunt him seemingly unaware.
  “You know, Iceman here was crowned top of his class back in the day. Of course, it was remedial.”
  “You don't say? Should rename him Caveman, given these outdated tactics.”
  “You just keep coming, trainees. You'll understand soon enough the importance of studying your elders.”
  Suddenly, another plane descends behind the trainees from the intermittent cloud cover of the otherwise clear blue sky. Maverick, flashing his typically boyish grin, targets both to simulate their elimination.
  “Great balls of fire!” Maverick howls. “Always be prepared for the unexpected, trainees. Or, you'll be writing checks your bodies can't cash.”
  “Wait, what? Where'd he come from? Nothing appeared on the scopes.”
  Iceman chimes in. “You focused on what you were told about the combatants in the briefing, you failed to anticipate any changes in those parameters once you were on mission and trusted your instruments, which can be fooled, more than your instincts. You never know who or what else might be lurking out there.”
  Like Viper and Jester before them, the two veterans have just given their new trainees their first lesson.
  “Time to buzz the tower, Ice.”
  “You're still dangerous, Mav.”
  Both heartily laugh, relishing in their once-antagonistic camaraderie that has evolved over the years into real friendship.
  Slider, also an instructor at Top Gun, watches the events through binoculars from the control tower.
    “God damn, those guys.”


©2017 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Censorship of Rock Lyrics [A #TBT Post]

[Note: Originally written for an argumentative, yet balanced, essay assignment in high school English class (April1990), highlighting my unintentional beginnings as an opinion columnist later in life. All grammatical and typographical errors have been left intact as originally written and formatted.]

    Satanism, suicide and sex are all supposedly linked to one thing – heavy-metal rock. Groups like Judas Priest, Metallica, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, KISS and Motley Crue have heard it before:  their music promotes devil worship and disregard for human life. Should these groups be censored before they turn youths into social freaks? Will censoring groups such as these stop their uncontrollable, rebel followers? Censorship of music lyrics may help control what teenagers listen to, but teens will still find ways to possess the albums. It would therefore be a waste to censor music lyrics.
    The heavy-metal band Motley Crue has as its emblem the pentagram, an inverted five-pointed star often associated with Satan. Members of Judas Priest clothe themselves in black leather and chains. Dio, another metal group, depicts on the album of “Holy Diver” a drowning minister that is powerless against a horned, cloven-hoofed devil. Small wonder that ministers, parents’ groups and law-enforcement agencies have reacted so strongly toward heavy metal. Critics blame big name entertainers for exploiting Satanism through visual images and lyrics aimed at teenage devotees. Dr. Paul King, a Tennessee psychiatrist, raises this question:  “Does AC/DC stand for Anti-Christ/Devil’s Child?”
    Defenders counter that most heavy-metal bands have nothing to do with Satanism. For those that do, they say, the devil is nothing more than a marketing tool.  “Your average 15-year old is not going to sacrifice a goat . . . just because he listened to ‘Hell Awaits’,” says Mike Jones, director of heavy metal productions at Combat Records. Offstage, many metal rockers have families and children. Not one says they worship Satan, but the reputation is still there. An unidentified preacher in the South came up with the idea that KISS stands for “Knights In Satan’s Service.”
    “I couldn’t be that creative,” says Gene Simmons, leader of KISS, “if I tried.”
    What of rock’s ability to do good though?  MTV has made a drive against drugs, known as RAD, or Rock Against Drugs. Often times these same rockers are accused of Satanism and the suicide of teens when they sing of drugs and alcohol. British rocker Ozzy Osbourne was sued by Jack McCollum and Geraldine Lugenguehl for the suicide of their son. They blamed it on one of Osbourne’s songs, “Suicide Solution,” after John D. McCollum, 19, listened to it and killed himself. Osbourne contends that the song is about alcohol and how uncontrollable use of it becomes exactly that – a suicide solution.
    “It is about living, not dying. People who really listen know this; the others, well I can not do anything about them. I’m not going to stop making music because they won’t listen.” He goes on to say that “ . . . it’s a bigger tragedy no one recognized his real problems went far deeper than music.”
    What are the usual problems that drive kids to suicide? Most come from broken homes, use drugs and alcohol and have a higher rate of sexual activity. Where is the parental involvement for these kids? The teenagers, usually 14-18, are drug abusers or alcoholics and feel there is no one to help them out of their situation. The parents should be there for these kids, rather than turning their backs on them. Due to impaired judgment from drugs or alcohol and the misinterpretation of music lyrics, the teens think low of themselves, think they are nothing and believe suicide to be the only solution. This is exactly Osbourne’s contention that his song is about alcoholism and drug abuse, and the downward spiral that can come from it without help.
    Still, others contend that lyrics and visual messages propel kids toward anarchy, immorality and self-destruction. They say the music did not make them into killers, but in their insane, drug-crazed mind frame they identified strongly with the lyrics. Defenders again counter that an obsession with heavy-metal’s anti-establishment values and self-destructive tendencies is an indicator of even more serious psychological problems beyond music lyrics.
    The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech. The lawsuit against Osbourne by John McCollum’s parents was thrown out on those very grounds. The Reverend Dan Kimball of Santa Rosa contends that resolving bad relationships and poor lines of communications – not silencing the music – is the answer to stopping kids from straying into Satanism or exploding into violence.
    “Government censorships is not the answer,” he says. “Adults should ‘hear the hurts’ in heavy-metal music.”
    What should be done to satisfy all? Is the music to be locked up, rock posters taken off walls and inspiration taken away? No heavy-metal t-shirts, no concerts? Or should real solutions be found for the troubled teens, giving them direction in their early lives? If the music, t-shirts and concerts were taken away and censored, teens would rebel even more because their favorite thing – music – has been taken from them. How is freedom of speech to be reconciled with censorship? Are rockers to be told to not make music that could have an unintentional influence on teenagers to use drugs, have sex or commit suicide? Perhaps warning labels on all albums would help caring parents make a choice. That way, teens could still listen to their music and government could have some control, without the all-out censorship of musicians and their craft. Censorship of an extreme nature would only add to the rebellion and not cure the sociopathic adolescents. After all, if one thing gets censored, where will it end?

©2017 Steve Sagarra

Monday, May 29, 2017

Inadequacies of Remembrance, and That Which Remains

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson re-issued a Lincoln-era amnesty proclamation to former Confederates - with particular exceptions for those ineligible - taking an oath to defend the Constitution and disavow slavery. A month earlier, the United States (“Union”) had prevailed over the seceding Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) by defeating it in its infancy. By most standards, that should have been the end of it. On the contrary, it was the beginning of an even more protracted clash. A struggle to reconcile a tumultuous past with an enlightened present, in order to solidify an equitable future and a more unified society. Currently, the U.S. is in the midst of addressing those issues over the symbols of and monuments to the defeated Confederacy.

There are few instances in history when the eventual losers of a conflict have been commemorated and memorialized. Undeniably, examples do exist of lost battles and those who fought them immortalized throughout the centuries, nothing less than a testament to the sacrifice that ultimately led to victory for their cause. Yet, for every Thermopylae or Alamo remembered, countless events that presaged only defeat and obscurity for its participants rather than continued reverence have gone unacknowledged by history. In numerous cultures, victors oftentimes completely erased vanquished enemies from the historical record. For the most part, this was an effort to secure their own place in history at the beginning of their reign - until time came for a similar fate to befall them as well.

On the one hand, it is understandable that certain Americans wish to honor their Confederate forebears. After all, those who fought for the Confederacy were Americans too, who believed states’ rights increasingly were being unconstitutionally encroached upon by an exceedingly overreaching federal government. Given current domestic affairs, an idea that sounds distinctly familiar in more recent times. Despite what revisionists wish to disseminate, this is, and always will be, the primary impetus that sparked the American Civil War. Of course, it is more complicated than that because the issue over states’ rights is directly tied to the agrarian-based economy of the Southern states and, especially, the heinous institution of slavery. As the war progressed, preserving the Union and abolishing the latter became synonymous.

On the other hand, the Confederacy lost. Thus, it should be placed upon the same ash heap of history as any other conquered movement. In the end, remember the history - both positive and negative - but ban the symbols and dismantle the monuments. While one hopes that the same will never be said of the United States, a day may come when it too finds itself on a similar precipice. After all, every triumphant civilization - from the Egyptians to the British - has had to consider such prospects as their influence and power waned in their own respective times of dominion. For as apocryphally foretold, all glory is fleeting - particularly in the attempt to maintain it beyond its expiration date.

What might be commemorated and memorialized by those who come after when, and if, that pinnacle is reached, and what will be forgotten? Will anyone remember, should anyone maintain the memory?

©2017 Steve Sagarra

Monday, May 15, 2017

Man-Made Mess Conflates Climate Change

There needs to be, or better yet circumstances absolutely implore, a complete re-evaluation and, ultimately, overhaul to levee systems that directly have caused flooding throughout the United States. This is particularly true for the Midwest. Over the last few years alone, there have been two 100-year floods in the St. Louis metropolitan area due to blockage of the creeks, rivers and streams natural flood plains that has unintentionally created artificial ones in both inhabited rural and developed urban areas. Each passing year, over the last several decades, it seemingly gets worse, the situation beyond ridiculous.

My own neighborhood offers a trifling small-scale, and albeit less destructive, example of the grander problem at-large. For many years, my patio was a semi-secluded refuge for barbecue, bourbon and brooding. A few years ago, they decided to develop the feral pond and woodlands behind it into something more upscale. Complete with a fountain, quarried rocks and a variety of small bushes encircling it, it is still a charming, although quite different, enclave. Yet, the innate ambiance is gone, and it is no longer a fixture for those, like me, who preferred the reclusive privacy. Fortunately, the abundant wildlife adapted to and rebounded from the changes after a brief period of time, highlighting the ability of nature to always find a way.

(Disclaimer: For illustrative purposes only; this is not my backyard)

However, storms and winds, even the most calm, no longer are buttressed and stifled by the trees…because they removed most of them. The pond itself, even in the least severe rain, now regularly floods…because no longer are there enough trees to naturally siphon the overflow. The rocks, so precisely placed, are washed over by the rising tide…because they failed to study the average water level before and after it rains to properly place them. All they had to do was ask, but they didn’t bother to consult me during the installation. Thus, typically after every heavy rain, along comes the grounds crew to pump water from the pond to uncover the rocks, rather than actually fixing the problem by adjusting them so that they don’t get flooded in the first place.

Occasionally, one must tear it all down in order to rebuild; beyond the aforementioned, and obvious, environmental concerns, this is true with numerous circumstances. This is neither irreversible natural or human-influenced climate change. With proper foresight, effort and leadership, this is quite reversible. Otherwise, nature yet again will shame humanity’s vain ego, and exhausted questions will arise anew concerning futile measures meant to prevent its unforgiving backlash.

©2017 Steve Sagarra