Tag Archives: In Case You Missed It…

In Case You Missed It… Hugo’s Great Glass Coffin

-Casey Klekas

What do Hugo Chávez, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, and Kim Jong Il have in common, besides giving Karl Marx a bad rap? They’ve all been mummified. Despite the will of the departed, these men have been stuffed full of preservatives and laid into glass coffins so as to have their lifeless bodies on display for generations to come.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died Tuesday, March 5 after a long struggle with cancer. Venezuela’s Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, said of Chávez’s remains, “We have decided to prepare the body of our ‘Comandante President,’ to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people.”

Embalming involves chemical and cosmetic treatments to keep a corpse looking fresh long after its natural expiration date. Since the human body starts decomposing immediately after death, the embalming teams have to get to work as quickly as possible. Formaldehyde is the sweet-smelling drink that is used to delay cellular decomposition and kill bacteria. It’s also what makes dead bodies so stiff. Because formaldehyde tends to make the corpses dry, the skin on the deceased must be moisturized. Apparently, Vaseline works as well on the dead as it does on the living. As most embalmings are only for short-term appearances, like open-casket funerals, formaldehyde solution is generally diluted with water. For bodies that are to be on display “forever,” they need a pretty strong cocktail, none of that watered-down stuff. The bodies must also be kept refrigerated. A glass sarcophagus keeps the cold air in, while keeping the germs out.

It seems that Vladimir Lenin, the revolutionary founder of the Soviet Union, set the modern mummy trend for sketchy socialist countries around the world. It has been suggested that Comrade Lenin was only preserved by old Joe Stalin as part of the attempt to legitimize his succession to Party Chairman. Lenin died in 1924 and his body was placed in a personal mausoleum on the border of Red Square in Moscow. The body has only been moved once, when the Wehrmacht were closing in on the city in late 1941. In early 1945, when the Germans had been pushed back into Poland, Lenin was brought back to the capital. He was joined by the corpse of General Secretary Stalin in 1953. But, alas, in 1961 Lenin was left alone again, as de-Stalinization sought to bury the bad memories of Stalin’s regime, which included burying Stalin’s frozen carcass. (As a side note, the preserved body of Vladimir Lenin bears a striking resemblance to Jesse Pinkman [Aaron Paul] from AMC’s Breaking Bad.)

Even though these figures have created cult followings, their demands haven’t always been met with obedience. Chairman Mao was among the first to sign the 1956 “Proposal that all Central Leaders be Cremated after Death.” Despite his wishes, Mao was embalmed after he died in 1976. Bereft of life, he rests in the Mao Mausoleum in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square where he receives hundreds of visitors per day.

The personality cults surrounding figures like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao have ensured that their heroic, all-knowing, god-like status follows them into the afterlife. Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, has been proclaimed the country’s Eternal President after his death in 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il, followed him seventeen years later, and has since been deemed the Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are both preserved in Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

I suspect this obsession with the dead comes from the same religious impulse that is freely expressed in Western democracies. In countries where religious devotion is redirected toward the Great Leader, the same sort of saintly idolatrizing shouldn’t come as a surprise. I am bothered by necrophilia in any case. Preserving revolutionary zeal shouldn’t take the form of actually mummifying the revolutionaries.

In Case You Missed It… President Obama Has Evolved

-Casey Klekas

On Thursday, February 28, the Obama Administration submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court in favor of ruling California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

The Administration filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief insisting that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A friend-of-the-court brief is an offering of case-bearing information to the court, which may be considered or thrown out. The brief also said that discrimination against same-sex couples deserves heightened scrutiny.

In effect, the Administration is siding with those who wish to overturn Proposition 8 and set a standard against similar laws across the country.

This seems to be another glimpse of the President’s “evolution” on the question of legalizing same-sex marriage. At one time he stood for traditional marriage, he but believed the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution, should be struck down. President Obama said this was an issue that should be handled at the state level.

This evolution was hurried along when in May 2012 Vice-President Joe Biden said at a press conference, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

This forced the President to publicly clarify his own views. On May 9, 2012 he said, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Since then, the President hasn’t been shy about his views on same-sex marriage.

He was the first president in our history to mention gay rights in an inaugural address, saying, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Nine states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized same-sex marriage, including Maine, Maryland, and Washington, which were the first to do so as a result of popular vote. In those states, same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as are enjoyed by opposite-gender twosomes. This includes tax benefits, Social Security, and family medical leave protections.

The new move by the Obama Administration to file the friend-of-the-court brief is worth noting because the Administration was under no political obligation to get involved. The President could have simply let the two California couples who are appealing to the Supreme Court continue unaided by the White House in their fight to overturn Proposition 8. In a White House briefing on Friday, March 1, President Obama said the brief represented his Administration’s position on the matter, and that he wanted to help overturn something he thought unconstitutional and unfair.

In my opinion, the fact that we’re describing the issue as “marriage equality” rather than “gay” or “same-sex marriage” is of great value to the cause. The vocabulary of equality and fairness appeals to our national creed. Instead of using identity politics and demanding that special treatment be paid to a long-oppressed minority, the marriage equality movement has perhaps unconsciously enlisted public support by phrasing itself in moral terms rather than merely political ones. This is heartening news at a time when we need to be reminded of our country’s greatness. Most of our successful progressive movements have played a similar tune—a tune that shows the timeless dichotomy between the young and the old.

Image by JUZ © from http://www.flickr.com/photos/youthoughtyouhaditgood/8507055361/

In Case You Missed It… Understanding Sequestration

-Casey Klekas

In case you missed it, sequestration is tomorrow. Funny word. What does it mean?

“The sequester,” as it’s being called, is a series of broad, automatic cuts to federal government spending. $85.3 billion will be cut from the 2013 budget, but it doesn’t stop there. Spending cuts will increase every year, for ten years, totaling a $1.2 trillion reduction in spending by 2022.

This is the newest in a series of our “manufactured crises.” Actually, it’s a leftover from a previous crises. Remember the debt-ceiling? Last year, part of the bargain in the debt deals was that in order to get Republicans to raise the debt limit, the other side of the aisle would pledge to get serious about cutting government spending. These cuts were supposed to take place once we hit the dreaded “fiscal cliff,” but congress agreed to move the deadline for the cuts three months down the road. The debt-ceiling gave way to the Budget Control Act which designated a super committee to produce a bipartisan “grand bargain” that would get our financial house in order. As an extra incentive, if they failed to come up with something, a sequester would cut programs that are dear to both Democrats and Republicans. In other words, the cuts are split evenly between defense and non-defense spending. This year, the military budget will be cut by 7.3 percent and domestic discretionary programs cut by 5 percent.

Most experts agree that this will have a significant drag on our economic recovery. That was kind of the point of agreeing to sequestration, that it would be a consequence so ugly that congress would be forced to do something about its spending problem. However, “the sequester” hasn’t inspired anything more than a blame game. This will just impair government function and won’t help to put us on a path to a sustainable budget.

Spending cuts will take effect on March 1–that’s tomorrow. But the really scary deadline is March 27 when we will face a government shutdown. Any thing deemed “non-essential” would be closed.Those directly effected by “the sequester” will be people who plan on receiving money from the federal government. It won’t touch Social Security, Medicaid, military pay, or any costs of the war in Afghanistan. But don’t plan a trip to a National Park, because it will be closed. Don’t try to file a visa or apply for a passport. Hopefully a pandemic won’t break out because the Centers for Disease Control will be on leave, as well.

I’m pretty sick of this “kicking the can down the road” business. You cannot operate a business with this kind of attitude, nor can you run a government. The greatest enemies of the economy should not be our elected officials. This bunch of old people, most of whom are wiser and cleverer than I, has grown stale. I’m convinced that every member in congress is genuinely acting in what they believe to be the best interests of the country they love. But their actions, or inactions, are convincing my generation that we have to settle for a narrow-minded, crisis averting, unimaginative system of self-government. I’m sick of it. We’re better than this.

Illustration by Lily Nelson

In Case You Missed It… Pope Stepping Down Raises Many Never-Answered Questions

-Casey Klekas

At the end of this month, the office of the Bishop of Rome will be vacant. Pope Benedict XVI will abdicate his position as leader of the Catholic Church and as Vatican head-of-state on February 28. The last Pope that resigned by means other than death was Pope Gregory XII in 1415 C.E., and the last one to do so voluntarily was Pope Celestine V in 1294. This leaves many technical questions left hanging. Why did the pope resign? Where will he live? Will the election of a new pope go on as usual? Will he go back to being called Joseph? Will he still have the power of infallibility (that is, saying things that cannot be proven false)? Will his personalized ring, the Ring of the Fisherman, be destroyed as is customary when a pope leaves office—though normally it’s because he’s dead? Will he get to keep his wardrobe? Could he theoretically be re-elected pope? Some of these questions are buried deep in Catholic law, and my Latin isn’t all that it could be, but others have already been answered in English.

The Pope has announced that health conditions brought on by old age are the reason for his early retirement. Benedict, now age 85, was the oldest pope to be elected in nearly three hundred years and among the top five all-time oldest popes at the end of their papacy. The Pope has been in poor health for some time, at least since his last spring break in Mexico when he hit his head (you’ve got to wear the pope helmet, Benedict!). It has also been revealed that the pope has had a pacemaker for several years, replacing the batteries only a few months ago. In his official announcement of resignation, he said, “in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Since then, he has added, “I did this in full liberty for the good of the church.”

Where will the Pope go after February 28? Most reports say he’ll stay in the Vatican for some time, and he has plenty of good reasons to do so. Initially after he steps down, he will spend the papal election season in Castel Gandolfo, a summer residence in the hills outside Rome. Then it’s back to the Vatican to live in a monastery, currently under renovation. There, Benedict XVI can stay out of the spotlight so as not to divert attention from the new pope. Indeed, many worry that the authority from the chair of St. Peter could be divided and a rivalry could ensue between papal factions. What if the new pope held views radically different from Benedict XVI, like in the handling of child sex abuse scandals? Would the former pope watch quietly?

When Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since May 2001, this has been the organization in charge of handling child abuse cases across the world and deciding the best course of action. The current Pope was accused of being personally responsible for moving around pedophiles and concealing crimes of child rape for the good of the church in his former occupation. These accusations gained further attention in 2010 when there was an effort to have him arrested when he traveled to the United Kingdom. When Benedict XVI is no longer the pope, he will not enjoy the level of security he has now, Popemobile included. This seems to have affected his choice to remain in the Vatican upon retirement. Inside Vatican City, he will receive protection and immunity from further investigations into his connections with child abuse scandals.

So, when walking the halls of the Vatican, enjoying his retirement in the presence of Michelangelo and Raphael, how are we to address his current Holiness? Will he respond to Benedict or will he be plain ol’ Joseph Ratzinger? Certainly he will not be called Papa, Papst, or Pope. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales claim he will go back to Cardinal Ratzinger, yet Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said it would be pretty weird for him to go back to being called cardinal.

Since nobody is really asking what will happen to his ring, his hats, and his papal slippers, it’s hard to get a straight answer. My guess is that Benedict won’t voluntarily relinquish his hat or slippers, and he’ll say he lost the ring (“I don’t know what happened to it!”).

Most importantly, will he keep his twitter account @pontifex, or will he create a new one? Will we see @stilldapope or @lostmykeys?

Image by Sergey Gabdurakhmanov from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabdurakhmanov/4365482009/

In Case You Missed It… My take on the gun debate – I’m confused and indecisive

-Casey Klekas

My gut and my head are at odds when it comes to gun control. Instinct has been useless for making decisions on sensible limitations to the right to keep and bear arms. Here’s my profile: I own three guns, I like to shoot for recreation, and I’m from Utah (Go Jazz!). I don’t own an assault rifle, but a number (alright, a good number) of my friends do. Three of my friends have their concealed weapons permit and only take their Glocks off their belts when they’re in the shower or making love. One of them I trust with my life; the other I wouldn’t trust with a marshmallow gun. Yet most troubling is that while the third friend is the most gun-loving person I know, he might also be the least mentally stable.

My friend, let’s call him Steak, is a model citizen. He is the consummate gun-owning young man. He’s intelligent and thoughtful and owns multiple firearms, including assault rifles. Steak doesn’t feel that he and the majority of AR-15 owners should be penalized for the acts of a handful of lunatics who commit mass murder. Steak also cites that the majority of gun violence is committed with handguns and resents that gun control is only given attention when a drop of the everyday violence in the slums of Chicago and Detroit spills into suburbia. Although Steak tends to side with deregulation, he agrees that requiring universal background checks on all firearm transactions is a practical way of keeping guns away from goons.

My other friend, let’s call him Ham, isn’t as open-minded as Steak. Ham is against any infringement on gun rights. Mostly, he fears that regulations will only limit the ability of the good guys to protect themselves from the criminals who give no regards to regulations anyway. In addition to his noisy and half-baked rhetoric, Ham’s actions have shaken my confidence in him. An example: on at least one occasion, he unholstered his semi-automatic sidearm and fired repeatedly at a defenseless street sign—whilst drunk driving, mind you (I can’t tell you how many laws you broke, Ham).

More worrying than Ham is another friend of mine, let’s call him Club Sauce. I say “friend” in the loosest possible definition. Club Sauce speaks in a wild, nasally Texan accent and his obsessions include guns, Gundams, and Ted Nugent. School days with Club Sauce were punctuated by his animal tirades complete with full sound effects. Thankfully, he moved away before we experienced further complications brought on by puberty. Club Sauce has since become the perfect Tea Partier as his every Facebook status—ever—will demonstrate. He writes things like, “Keep Your Laws Off My Guns!” and “Gun control made the Holocaust possible.” He “likes” groups such as “Gun control kills” and “We will protect the Second Amendment.” But, what frightens me more than his silly, conspiratorial, shit-headedness is that Club Sauce is probably mentally unstable, yet he is still allowed access to the same killing machines as Steak.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no way of getting the guns out of the hands of people like Club Sauce without infringing on the rights of people like Steak. Requiring universal background checks and psychological exams for gun ownership, including a license and registration, are good places to start. I think the greater the killing power of a weapon (ammunition capacity multiplied by fire-rate) the stricter the regulations should be. I think it should be difficult to buy assault weapons—a real royal pain-in-the-ass—but I don’t think they should be banned. Who among you wants the job of confiscating the arsenal of Club Sauce? Ideally, we would consider the Second Amendment thinking it was only Steaks out there. But, the unpleasant fact is that you can’t have Steak without some Club Sauce.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/95413346@N00/8439371212 by Elvert Barnes

In Case You Missed It… God asked to bless America, again

-Casey Klekas

I must have missed the performance of “God Bless America” during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, because it was the only thing absent from a full day of mixing religious rhetoric into political ceremony. Watching the inauguration, you would have thought we were living in a Christian nation, whatever that means. It seems God has a monopoly on our political ceremonies. I guess it’s natural that the main provider of rituals for life’s other great events—weddings and deaths—should be brought into governmental processions. The official theme of the day was, “Faith in America’s Future,” and was stressed by traditional invocations and benedictions, hands on bibles, and almighty welcomings. The question we should ask ourselves as citizens is how much use do we have for religious rhetoric in politics?

Whatever private consolation or strength a person gets from his or her religion is none of my business. On the contrary, it’s my business to make sure their beliefs are protected from infringement. It is not for me to tell them otherwise if they use their religion as motivation and guidance in political positions, just as they couldn’t tell me not to be ethically motivated by the writings of philosophers and poets. It would be impossible to imagine a scenario where the books we read couldn’t be used to justify beliefs we held in the public sphere. Even references to these texts shouldn’t be frowned upon. One man’s, “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness,” is another man’s, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Whether it’s John Stuart Mill or Jesus of Nazareth, I say to each his own.

There are at least two cases of religious language in politics that should be frowned upon: one is that these quotes are used to justify or incite hatred and intolerance. We should only have hatred towards and intolerance of people who are hateful and intolerant, and if they cite their favorite texts as justification, we should disqualify them from the argument. The other move that should be a disqualifier is if someone tries to force his or her private beliefs onto someone else.

In the case of the inauguration, I think that individuals, such as poets and presidents, should speak openly on their motivations and aspirations.  But, we should not make room in the schedule of our political events for the religious impulse. We should not have public prayers, invocations, or benedictions. I would hope that all God-talk would be kept to a minimum during speeches, and I’d prefer to be left out of the personal prayers of others. But, we should absolutely not be having opening and closing prayers as part of the procession. No inviting the nation to pray during inauguration day. No, thank you.

Lastly, in his inaugural address, President Obama should feel free to make reference to any religious tradition he’d like. If he wants to harness the momentum of the social gospel movements to limit cruelty and promote liberty, be my guest. He said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

If he wants to promote marriage equality through almighty references, I say power to him.

If he wants to promise equal opportunity to all children, to say of a little girl born into poverty, “She is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own,” I say hurrah!

If he wants to say we should face the threat of climate change and preserve our planet, as “commanded to our care by God,” I say Hallelujah!

If he says that his oath of office was not to party or faction, but “an oath to God and country,” as a way of saying he’ll do what he thinks is best for the country as if he were being divinely supervised, I guess that’s fine.

Still, I would prefer he didn’t end every speech by asking God to forever bless these United States. Divine favor hasn’t lowered the debt and it’s not going to pass immigration reform. Let’s try and stay secular people!

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/56619626@N05/8403967894

In Case You Missed It… Cheap Gas Saves World

‘In Case You Missed It…’ is a weekly current events post, offering commentary on some of our most pressing issues and some you might have missed. Casey Klekas is a senior at the UO and studies philosophy and history. He enjoys coffee when he’s not listening to Bob Dylan, but he refuses to combine the two.”

-Casey Klekas
In case you missed it, the average price for regular unleaded gasoline in Eugene is lower than $3.50 a gallon. Costco is dealing it out for a quarter less. Why the hell is gas so cheap? I don’t remember it being this low since Dubbya was in office. Aren’t we crippling Iran with sanctions, the world’s third largest oil producer? You bet we are! So, what’s the deal?

Well, it turns out the United States is weaning off the foreign oil nipple and has developed its own lactating knockers to suck on. The International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook released a report in November 2012 where they predict the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, and become a net oil exporter by 2030. But, as CNN columnist Frida Ghitis pointed out in an article titled “America, the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow,” the U.S. already exported more petroleum products like gasoline than it imported in 2011. After peaking in 2005, our reliance on foreign oil has decreased significantly. In fact, in 2011, we imported only 45 percent of the petroleum we consumed and more than half of that came from countries in the western hemisphere.

This is a good thing for many reasons. Chief among them, I believe, is having an approach toward the Middle East that is consistent with American rhetoric: it seems we’ve had enough of all the hidden fees and obligations that come with buying from foreign dealers. We can make it a general policy that we’ll no longer tolerate or support repressive regimes just because they’re selling us flammable fossilized zooplankton at a good price. Our lenses are cleaner for viewing the Middle East, and now we can just worry about whether or not Arab democracy is synonymous with political Islam.

Not only will it lessen our obligations to reactionary governments, but it could actually foster liberal democracy. There is a thing called the “resource curse,” where countries rich in natural resources rely heavily on this sector of their economy. This inherited wealth normally goes to a small group of people who’ve accumulated political power and can afford reactionary governments. But without the steady dough coming in from dealing out the oil, these nations won’t be able to sustain political repression and near-feudal inequality. Instead, they’ll be forced to invest in a middle class who can pay taxes. People will only pay taxes if they have a stake in their government, therefore we’ll see a burgeoning demand for political rights in the Middle East and Central Asia.

So, cheap American gasoline is good for us and it’s good for them. Surely, there must be some horrible catch.

Welp . . . Lower gas prices means less motivation for using renewable energy. The boom in hybrids, electrics, and the rest has been largely the result of the high gas prices of the last few years.  So perhaps we’ll see less of the Prius around town. (I was going to say “Priuses” but it didn’t look right. It turns out Toyota has officially declared the plural of Prius to be “Prii,” I’m guessing pronounced pree-eye, but you be the judge.)

But large reforms towards green energy have already been made and the public seems to have adopted the mindset of a moderate San Franciscan. The Obama Administration has already passed regulations requiring all new vehicles to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. And the drive toward low-emissions standards won’t be dulled simply because there’s cheap gas out there. According to the EPA, this also means less oil will be used overall, so we’ll be conserving what remains of our black, buried treasure while we switch to cleaner energy. This sounds debatable, but who’s going to question the EPA? You? That’s what I thought.

Gas is expected to get even cheaper in the next few years, and I just wanted to give a hurrah for a largely unnoticed move toward energy independence, something that was met with thunderous applause at every campaign rally over the past twelve years. It’s also nice to know that some Saudi prince will no longer rejoice every time I fill up my tank.