Thursday, March 31, 2005

Looking for a Few Good Saps

With unemployment in the Northwest continuing to be higher than the rest of the nation, many people are becoming desperate to find a job, ANY job. Knowing this, there are businesses, far too many of a questionable nature, ready to pounce upon desperate job seekers. I've discovered one such organization -- Linda Christas (LC).

Actually, I didn't discover THEM; they discovered me. Since I'm looking to change careers, I've posted my resume on several internet job sites. While I hope this helps me land a job in the field of social services (my vocation during the 80s), I've come to realize that it also makes me a target for many dubious outfits.

Here's the initial email I received from a "Sarah DeSoleil":
One of our School's human resources volunteers (They are retired good people with HR backgrounds who donate hours of free service to the community) has referred your posted resume to our office. He believes you are a viable candidate for the Academic Advisor position we currently have open in your area.

The resume was sent to Ben Bernard, one of our General Partners.

The Academic Advisor position we are recruiting for serves the function of briefing families of middle school and high school students regarding the Linda Christas programs, either in a seminar format or one-on-one. (The method of delivery will depend on your personal preferences and style.)
I was encouraged to check out this organization's website to learn how I could become an Academic Advisor. Unfortunately for Ms. DeSoleil, she had sent her email to a person who possesses not only a degree in journalism but a person who has worked as an investigator. It took me little time to quickly realize this smelled like a scam!

For starters, the Academic Advisor (AA) turns out to be a euphemism for SALESPERSON. The AA's primary function is to sign-up families for LC tutoring and internet-based middle or high school programs. With price tags ranging from $2400-$6500, the programs offered are only manageable for families of a certain financial standing.

In order to become one of the chosen Academic Advisors, the applicant must pay $400 to enroll in an online Professional Administrative Services Credential (Tier II) course. This program is taught by independent educational consultant "Dr. Ann Voisin" who, when Googled, only returns one solitary entry...Linda Christas.

The $400 course fee is refundable (giggle, giggle) provided the applicant meets several criteria, all benefiting LC. One of these criteria is that, after completing the online course, the unwitting sap (oh I'm sorry) the applicant must complete a practicum which consists of making 7 sales (sorry, again) I mean, 7 educational consultations which result in sign ups for LC programs.

Now, once the 7 consultations plateau is reached, then LC will generate mailings to prospective families FOR the AA, PROVIDED the AA meets a monthly quota of 5. Of course, prior to becoming a full-fledged AA, the applicant must shoulder the total costs of sending out mailings themselves.

From my vantage point, this is a very clever system. LC does a great job emphasizing the perks of the position while, simultaneously, doing a splendid job of covering up and masking the inherent costs. I'm sure they pull in a good number of desperate people who only realize they've been had once it's FAR too late.

Here's what I think is a likely scenario: Desperate job seeker is contacted via email by LC "volunteer". If the job seeker bites the hook, we now have an applicant. The applicant visits the web site and is dazzled by the seemly great pay for little effort.

To wit:
[section deleted] Explanation: Linda Christas is so FEARFUL of criticism that they filed a DMCA complaint alleging a copyright violation, this DESPITE the fact I indicated I was quoting THEM. Supposedly, according to law, you can quote somebody else's work IF you are commenting about it or criticizing it.

Now I could have decided to fight their complaint, but chose not to. Why? Because I'm a poor schmuck and Linda Christas is a multi-million dollar corporation. I'm sure THEY had this fact in mind when they filed their silly complaint.

Think about this for a minute. Why should this huge corporation feel so threatened by one blogger? Could it be they don't like having their own deception thrown back in their face?
The applicant thinks, "Wow. $500 or $1000 and appointments only take about 1 hour. Sign me up". So, the applicant spends $400 to enroll in the on line course.

Once the "course" has ended and the applicant enters the practicum stage, I bet most people come to realize that this is going to cost them far more than they thought AND that making the 7 required sales will not be easy at all.

For starters, as mentioned earlier, the costs -- postage and printing -- for the initial mailings to approximately 10,000 students must be borne by the AA who, conveniently, is an Independent Contractor. As someone who has worked for many years in nonprofit fundraising, I've calculated that said costs could be upwards of $5,000!

In other words, before seeing one penny in compensation, it is quite likely that the sap, I mean, the applicant will be out $5,000 or more. If the applicant struck it rich and signed up 7 families for online courses, this would mean a pay out of $7,000.

Unfortunately, as indicated above, the AA is an Independent Contractor. Therefore, self-employment taxes would be owed on that $7,000. Using rough figures, let's say the $7,000 is subject to a 30% tax reduction. This means the $7,000 becomes only $4,900 and, instead of having a big pay day, the applicant basically breaks even. (Note: If all of the 7 sales were for turtoring or a mix between tutoring and online instruction, the applicant comes out in a hole possibly a fairly deep one!)

But this result is based on the assumption the plebe ACTUALLY makes 7 sales. Anyone who knows anything about fundraising KNOWS that "cold call" letters generate a very negligible response rate of 1%, 0.5% or less. Consequently, 10,000 letters mailed would, at best, generate 100 people who are mildly interested. Of that 100, only a fraction will become seriously interested and of that small fraction an even smaller fraction will buy the product.

An average person could easily spend 100 hours to make 1 sale. If it took an average Joe or Jane 100 hours to generate 1 sale, they would soon realize their pay rate is less than minimum wage!

It's at some point during this practicum that I believe most people will realize they've been had. So, they will drop out of the program. Because they did not successfully complete the practicum, their $400 course fee becomes nonrefundable. And, since the person is an "Independent Contractor", they are also out however much money they spent on recruiting and marketing efforts during the practicum period.

From the way this operation has been cleverly put together, I believe that LC hopes that the vast majority of saps DO, in fact, drop out. It's an incredibly easy way to pocket hundreds (if not thousands) of $400 payments. Not only that, but LC most likely gets thousands of dollars of free advertising from applicants mailing out prospectus letters at the applicant's expense!

It would seem that ALL the benefits of this program favor Linda Christas and all the liabilities fall on the potential Academic Advisor.

To read more of the continuing saga, go here.

[If anyone reading this has had any dealings with the many faces of the Linda Christas programs, I'd be very interested in hearing what you think about them.]

Monday, March 28, 2005

Awash in a Sea of Hypocrisy

I wasn't going to write more on the Schiavo situation, but new information has come to light. I just visited Doug Ireland's blog, Direland. As usual, Ireland seems adept at uncovering crucial information. In his most recent post, "MORE HYPOCRISY: SCHIAVO'S FATHER PULLED THE PLUG ON HIS OWN MOTHER", he exposes the ever-evolving hypocrisy of the Schiavo situation.

Here's an excerpt from what both Ireland and The Raw Story uncovered from a 2003 article in The Guardian,
"But, given the vehemence with which he has been fighting to prolong Terri's life, it is a little surprising to learn that Robert decided to turn off the life-support system for his mother. She was 79 at the time, and had been ill with pneumonia for a week, when her kidneys gave out. "I can remember like yesterday the doctors said she had a good life. I asked, 'If you put her on a ventilator does she have a chance of surviving, of coming out of this thing?'" Robert says. "I was very angry with God because I didn't want to make those decisions."

According to this weekend's Los Angeles Times, Rep. Tom DeLay -- Congressional leader of the "Save Terri" federal legislation -- agreed with his mother to have a feeding tube removed from his dying father. And now we learn that Robert Schindler, father of Terri Schiavo, made a similar decision in regards to his OWN mother.

The "Save Terri" cadre appears to be drowning in their own hypocrisy!

Not Quite David v. Goliath

We all like to hear stories of an underdog overcoming adversity or a small business socking it to Corporate America. In today's Oregonian, there's an article, "Skip the Insurance: 2-Doctor Practice Takes Pre-Paid Patients", that on first-blush sounds like a classic David v. Goliath story. However, when you think about it a little more closely and figure out the math involved, it turns out to be something altogether different.

Here's the basic story line: Two doctors, who grow tired of the hassle in dealing with the medical insurance industry, decide to practice their trade by accepting pre-payments of $1,100 per month from patients. In exchange for the monthly fee, patients "receive unlimited doctor's visits, house calls and around-the-clock medical advice".

At this juncture, I found myself saying, "Good for you"! I mean, anyone who can thumb their nose at the likes of the Kaiser Permenentes of this world is a-okay in my book.

But I got to thinking about the $1,100 monthly payments. Who could possibly afford that much EXCEPT the rich?

Beyond that, one of the doctors said that he and his partner were going to limit themselves to only 100 patients each in order to provide more personal services. He stated that he had currently signed up 40 patients per day, "about 10 more than he needs to break even".

At this point, I grabbed my trusty calculator and began to compute what this all means. The total amount paid in 1 year by each patient is 12 x $1,100 = $13,200. [Note: Surgery and specialized care cost EXTRA.] If he needs 30 patients to break even, then he's calculating his overhead to equal about $396,000. If he winds up with 100 patients, he will gross ($13,200 x 100) $1.32 million per year. Subtract his expected expenses from this total and he would wind up with a profit of $924,000!!

Consequently, I don't think the underlying theme is accurate. These doctors aren't THAT upset about the hassles with insurance carriers -- It seems to me that they simply want to make more money, A LOT more. In the end, the whole story looks more like a tug of war between 2 greedy doctors and several greedy insurance companies.

So much for the David v. Goliath analogy!

A Disincentive for Good Service

A few weeks ago readers of our local newspaper, the Statesman Journal, were treated to a delightful series of rants by several tightwads in the Letters to the Editor section. The topic focused on waitresses/waiters and whether or not they deserved to be tipped.

These conservative writers reasoned that tips should only be offered to those who go up and beyond the call of duty. General service should not necessarily be rewarded because that is what the hourly wage is for.

So, it would seem that the narrow-minded among us support the concept of providing cash incentives -- tips -- for those hardworking and industrious folks who serve us food and drink.

Aah, but not so fast. The forever-conservative Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA) is pushing several bills in the current session of the legislature which would penalize these same workers for busting their butts. One bill in particular, HB 2049, establishes a threshold of which, if reached, allows the restaurant owner to reduce the amount of the worker's minimum wage by 20 cents per hour.

If passed, this wonderful piece of legislation would go hand-in-hand with another bill that seeks to freeze the minimum wage and not allow for voter-approved annual cost of living increases.

According to the ORA,
HB 2409 attempts to remedy the lack of a tip wage in Oregon and is also moving forward. With 43 other states and the Federal government recognizing a tip wage, Oregon’s restaurant owners are not asking for special treatment, but rather to level the playing field and stay competitive in attracting new business and growing current establishments.
Here we have the age old argument of "others have low standards, so we should too". Yes, let's drive down wages to the unfathomable levels of other states and the federal government!

So, what is this vaunted threshold, you ask. Believe it or not, it is set at the STAGGERING amount of $30. Not $30 per hour. Not $30 per day. Not even $30 per week. No, it's $30 PER MONTH. Any tip-based workers who receives $30 or more per MONTH in tips becomes subject to the law.

A person would both have to be the laziest worker in the universe AND also the unluckiest not to amass the piddly amount of $30 in a month! (I say unluckiest because, even if the worker is slow, obnoxious and incompetent, some people provide tips with their bill as a matter of habit or principle.)

To look at this another way, a full-time waitress (20 days per month) would have to average LESS THAN $1.50 PER DAY in tips to avoid meeting the threshold. A half-time worker would have to average LESS THAN $3.00 PER DAY. I'm not sure if it's even possible to earn such small amounts in tips per day.

If nothing else, it would seem to serve as a disincentive for good service. Why bust your butt only to have your meager base wage -- folks, no one gets rich on $7.25 per hour -- reduced because of your outstanding efforts? What's the incentive in that?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Oops! (Housekeeping Note)

I just added HaloScan trackbacks and comments to this blog. In doing so, I inadvertently deleted all previous comments. Much apologies to each and every one of you who had taken the time and made the effort to offer feedback and constructive criticism. I'll try to insure this does NOT happen again.

(Added note: I decided I didn't like HaloScan's comments at all, so I've switched back to Blogger's, while retaining HaloScan's trackback feature.)

Was Jesus A Taoist? (original)

In general, almost everything you will find on The Rambling Taoist is authored by yours truly. However, in this instance, I'm going to share a fine article from a now-defunct website, The Tao Temple. It is written by a fellow who goes by the moniker Disciple Dan. I think it's a great exposition!
Before beginning this article, let me say that I have been a follower of Jesus of Nazareth since I was thirteen years old. I was ordained as a minister in the Christian Religion in 1972, and have spent more than thirty years in service as a minister to that religion. I feel, therefore, that I have an established understanding of what Christianity teaches, and am able to speak candidly about that faith. Without the slightest hesitation, I can say that I love Jesus and deeply respect his teachings... but I am no longer a Christian.

The foundation question that must be asked before asking if Jesus was a Taoist, is to ask if Jesus was a "Christian." This question probably evokes laughter from some, and others would exclaim with contempt, "Of course he was! The Christian Religion is founded on Jesus and his teachings!" I beg to adamantly differ with you.

Christianity was not founded on Jesus nor his teachings. Jesus was a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who never gave the slightest indication that he intended to leave the Jewish faith nor institute a new religion. On the contrary, Jesus followed the Jewish law and encouraged others to do so. He was circumcised on the eighth day and attended the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem. He would, in fact, die while attending a Passover Feast in Jerusalem. When he cleansed the lepers, he told them to go to the Temple and make the proper religious offering according to the Jewish law. Even when he was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the leaders of his religion, he told his followers to obey the Chief Priest because he "...sat in Moses seat."

The single motive of Jesus seems to have been the reform of his own faith. When approached by a non-Jewish woman in search of his favors, he told her that he had been sent to the "...lost sheep of Israel." The scriptures teach that it was his custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day... a habit that he maintained until his death.

Those people who followed him were also Jews. When he died he was removed from the cross early because the Jewish Sabbath was about to begin, a clear indication that his closest followers were still devout Jews. His followers buried him in a Jewish burial place according to Jewish customs. Later on, when the Apostles had a difference with Paul of Tarsus, it was over the matter of circumcision and the keeping of the Jewish law. Again, this is tacit proof that the Apostles were still very much orthodox Jews with no intention of leaving their religion.

If Jesus had intended to start a new religion, he would have certainly committed some of the things he intended to be taught or observed in his religion into written documents. No such documents exist. In fact, there is not the slightest reliable indication that Jesus ever wrote anything, even though we know that he could read and write, and was educated so well in the Jewish law that he was able to impress the scholars at Jerusalem with his brilliant scholarship when he was 12 years old.

There were a number of Jewish sects in the region where Jesus lived. A Jewish sect would be like a Christian denomination. There were the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Essenes, the Herodians, and a number more. It is obvious, I believe, that Jesus didhis new sect? intend to start a new sect, because he clearly appointed leaders in his group, but the thought of beginning a new religion separate from the Jewish faith was unthinkable to Jesus. If so, three questions need to be asked. First, If Jesus did not found Christianity, then who did? Second, Who originated the central beliefs of the Christian Church if Jesus did not? And third, what did Jesus intend to be taught in

It is clear to any honest student of the Christian religion that Paul of Tarsus was the founder of Christianity. Therefore, it would behoove us to have a close look at this fellow Paul. He began his life as a rigid, devout Pharisee, probably the most conservative sect (denomination) within the Jewish religion. There is not the slightest indication from New Testament Scripture that Paul ever saw Jesus nor heard a single lesson Jesus ever taught. Paul had a "vision" on the road to Damascus. Even in the vision there is no indication that he actually saw Jesus, but he did see a "light." This vision, much like the vision of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, was a major turning point in his life. Paul did not seek out the Apostles of Jesus after this vision, as one would expect, so that he might be instructed in the fundamentals of this new Jewish sect. Instead he set off for the wilderness where he spent several years developing his very own, unique, never before heard or taught set of doctrines which became the foundation of a new religion which he personally forged from these novel ideas - many of which were 180 degrees out from the teachings of Jesus, whom he had never actually heard. He was never appointed an Apostle by the authorities in Jerusalem, and, in point of fact, boasted about this fact in the first chapter of Galatians. He claimed his appointment to be an Apostle was an act of God.

Based solely upon his personal reason and logic, this prolific writer and charismatic speaker redefined the sect that Jesus had founded. He now preached a radical new idea that righteousness was no longer a requirement for salvation. He said that righteousness was now a matter of correct "thinking" rather than correct "actions." It boiled down to what you "believed" rather than what you "did." This was, of course, the exact opposite message of Jesus who repeatedly admonished people to practical acts of compassion and righteousness, warning them that if their righteousness did not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, they would not "see" the Kingdom of Heaven. Most significantly, Paul prescribed a new way to have your sins forgiven. He now preached that you must accept Jesus as being none other than "God" if you wanted your sins forgiven. He of course had not heard Jesus, nor those who had firsthand knowledge of him, when he made this pronouncement. Jesus had said that no one was good except the "Father" in Heaven, hardly something he would have said if he thought of himself as God. He had never claimed the attributes of God. He grew in "wisdom" just as other children did. He learned to walk, talk, run, and play just like all the other children in Nazareth. He had to be "potty trained" just like the other children, and his mother Mary wiped his nose and cleaned his behind. When hungry one day in Jerusalem, he hiked over to a fig tree to see if it had any figs on it. Had he been God, he would have known whether or not it had figs. When it didn't have figs, he lost his temper just like you and me.

Paul's new formula for the forgiveness of sins was totally at odds with Jesus' formula. Jesus had said that if you want your Father in heaven to forgive for you sins, you must simply forgive those who sin against you. When asked by a young lawyer what was necessary to obtain eternal life, Jesus had replied, "Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will have eternal life." This simple answer from the mouth of Jesus was drastically out of line with early Christianity's highly exclusive formula about accepting Jesus as "God," being baptized, being "confirmed," celebrating the Eucharist, etc. etc. etc. It is clearly obvious to any honest student of the New Testament that Jesus and what he taught do not resemble Christianity and what it teaches. Paul's religion, when devoid of illogical defense, boils down to a primitive religion with a deity demanding a literal "human sacrifice" for his appeasement. Paul would make Jesus be that sacrifice in his theology.

Questions one and two mentioned above can therefore be answered with one word, "Paul." Paul founded the Christian religion. Paul originated its creed. He began to preach that baptism should take the place of circumcision. This concept was foreign to the official group of Apostles in Jerusalem. The very fact that these Apostles were still obedient to the command of circumcision is once again proof that they were Jews with no intention of leaving the Jewish faith. They merely wanted to found a new "movement" or "sect" within the broader Jewish religion. To them, being a follower of their movement did not preclude you from participation in every Jewish rite, ritual, and feast. It would be like a Baptist man today who was also a member of the Lion's Club. One had very little to do with the other in their eyes. To them. Belonging to their sect would only make you a better Jew and member of the Synagogue.

Paul, however, had other ideas. He came to the first Church Council in Jerusalem and argued that Greeks and non-Jews should be included in the new sect. He further argued that these new members should not be circumcised or become Jews. The Apostles had no problem with their becoming members of the new sect as long as the outsiders became Jews. Paul, the eloquent speaker and brilliant debater won the day and a brand new religion, outside the Jewish faith, was born in Jerusalem on that fateful day. Because Paul was by far a more educated man than the fishermen and tradesmen who made up the Apostolic Brotherhood, and because Paul was brilliant in the arena of debate, and chiefly, because Paul was a prolific writer who wrote more books on the new Christian Religion than any other person, Paul's new religion spread like wildfire, while the narrow Jewish sect that had hoped to be a reform movement in Judaism withered down to nothing.

By 312 AD Paul's new religion had adherents throughout the kingdom, chiefly because of Paul and his companions untiring efforts at evangelizing and proselytizing from one end of the empire to the other. When Constantine made Paul's Christianity the State Religion in the Empire, the new faith quickly absorbed many of the pagan customs, rituals, feasts, and holidays of the various religions of the realm and swallowed up massive population groups. Deliverance from hell could now only come by complete obedience to the Bishops and Priests of the new Church, giving Constantine immense power over the populace. Many were forced to accept Paul's religion by threat of physical harm. It is a matter of record that the Christian Church killed more people during the first hundred years after becoming a legal religion of the realm, than had all its persecutors during the one hundred years prior to 312 AD.

The final question previously asked, might be a bit harder to answer. What did Jesus intend to teach in his new sect? Of course, there is the obvious answer: he intended to teach the simple message of the early gospels which taught a path to peace with God that included only two elements; loving God and loving one another. One thing can be determined with certainty: he did not intend to have a set of written beliefs - a creed, if you will. Had he intended this for his sect, it is obvious that he would have written it himself. No other possibility makes any kind of logical sense at all. He was intelligent, schooled, and able to read and write. He opened the scrolls in the synagogue when it was his turn to teach and he read the Scriptures. He wanted no creed for his new sect because he wrote no creed for his new sect. He wrote nothing because nothing needed to be written. This idea of living by intuition and practical goodness without a set of written commands is Taoist to the core. Ancient Taoism had no creed and does not presume to tell a single individual how he/she must behave.

The rest of what Jesus intended must be inferred by the example of his living. He lived very simply. He told his followers to go about spreading their message taking no provisions for their journey. He said that while foxes had holes, he had no place to call home. He practiced simplicity to the very extreme. When he was hungry, he plucked corn in the fields to eat as he walked along the way, having brought nothing to eat for himself. This life of utter simplicity is a foundation teaching of Taoism. It is repeated over and over in Taoist thought... simplicity... simplicity... simplicity.

Jesus taught humility. He told his disciples that the least among them should be counted the greatest. He told them to lead by serving and not by demanding. It grieved him when they tried to maneuver themselves to positions of higher authority or esteem. Little could he have possibly imagined that a religion would one day be established in his name whose leader would be called the "Supreme Pontiff" who would dwell in the largest, most posh palace in the entire world where people would vie for the opportunity to have audience with him and kiss his feet. Could he have dreamed of the vast treasures of wealth and art that would one day be hoarded in Vatican vaults under lock and key in his name while thousands of the people he loved so much went without the basic necessities of life? No, Jesus taught humility. Humility is a core foundation of Taoism. One of the three treasures of Taoism mentioned in the Tao Te Ching, is humility.

Jesus taught simple, even illogical, trust in the Father. He told people not to worry about what they would wear or what they would eat. He told them not to practice what they were going to say when questioned about their faith. He told them tomorrow has enough problems of its own, just live in the moment. Trust in the Tao - the loving "Spring" of all existence - is a foundation in Taoism. Living in the moment and flowing like water, allowing the circumstances of the day to dictate the acts of spontaneity that propel us forward, are pure Taoism.

Jesus taught that knowledge cultivated apart from intuitive reflection was of no value. He told his followers to consider the lilies of the field, and the carefree manner in which they addressed each day. Any yet they were arrayed in royal splendor. They didn't struggle to "be", they just were. He told them to consider the birds of the air and how they survived on intuition alone without forced intention. He even sat a small child before them, ignorant and unlearned, and told them that they must be as the child to "see the kingdom of heaven." He placed no value in the wisdom of the learned mind and repeatedly lifted up the ideal of teaching by example and common sense fueled by compassion. This truth that the things worth knowing are known intuitively in the depths of the human heart and cannot be learned nor taught is a foundation of Taoism.

Jesus practiced a "live and let live" kind of life. When those outside his religion approached him, there is not a single instance of his taking the typical Christian position of "You must be "saved" in the manner prescribed by my religion to enter Heaven." There are no instances of him telling anyone outside his own faith that they needed to adopt his faith. When a Pagan Roman Centurion approached him about healing his sick child, Jesus not only granted his request, but as he walked away he exclaimed, "I have not seen faith this great in all of Israel." Never is there the first indication of his proclaiming exclusivity in matters of spirituality to this man at a point in the grateful man's life when he would have definitely been willing to listen. Jesus knew that spiritual peace was not a matter of lining up brain cells to fire in the proper sequence to believe certain dogma, but rather, in a life of humble simplicity and service to others. For the Taoist, spiritual peace is achieved by living a life of absolute child-like trust in the One beyond our ability to understand and comprehend; in a life of humility where good works are performed without the desire for recognition or ego-bulging praise; in a life of simplicity where "less is better"; in a life lived in spontaneity where we trust the Tao to provide and direct the course of the day's events; and finally in a life of compassion toward others, allowing them to progress spiritually in their own time and way. Does this path sound familiar?

For most of my life I have been a Taoist - but I did not know it. Perhaps that's the way it was for Jesus. I lived as a minister in the Christian Religion, daily forcing my mouth to say things that my heart did not truly believe. This horrible way of living brought me much misery and even a breakdown in my health. Finally, my Teachers from the Other Side brought me to the shores of this ancient Ocean of pristine Wisdom, thousands of years older than Christianity. I stood in humble awe. The crude, leaky vessel of my Christian faith was no longer needed or adequate. The time-worn ship of intuitive experience had brought me to the ever-waiting shores of enlightenment.

Was Jesus a Taoist? He was definitely not a Christian. He lived his life as a Jew but, like me, was in constant conflict with the faith of his youth. He was in so much conflict with his faith that its leaders finally killed him for his demands for reform.

Was Jesus a Taoist? He was more Taoist than he was Christian. He was more Taoist than he was Jewish. His message was clearly more Taoist than either of these religions.

Forty-one years after officially becoming a Christian, I made the conscious decision to make a sincere effort to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That is precisely why I could no longer be part of the Christian religion. Was Jesus a Taoist? All things considered, if we carefully consider the religion he practiced rather than professed, I believe he was.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Red & Dead...Enough Said

On Monday, March 21, 2005, a terrible tragedy played out in Red Lake, Minnesota. Ten people were dead, with more injured, as the result of yet another school shooting. So how did US President George W. Bush react to this senseless loss of life?

On the day OF the shooting, he made NO public comment. Ditto for the day after. Ditto for the next 3 days as well. In fact, the president didn't get around to make any comments on the shooting until Saturday, March 26, during his weekly radio address.

Five days of silence!

As the leader of the United States of America, the president is supposed to represent the hearts and prayers of the citizens. In most cases, when some type of tragedy occurs, past presidents have tended to be quick to offer condolences and sympathy. After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, then-President Bill Clinton didn't wait the better part of a week to express public sorrow.

Ironically enough, then Texas Governor George W. Bush issued a statement of condolence within 24 hours of the Columbine shootings. He said,

"My heart is broken...What's so tragic is not only the loss of life but the fact that there are people in our society who disregard human life to the point where they will act out their fantasies and aggressions with weaponry."

"I wish we could legislate love ... I think it's important for mothers and dads to understand that the most important job they'll ever have is raising a child to respect others. Love happens at home."

So why is it that Gov. George W. Bush would be quick to offer sympathy for one tragic school shooting while Pres. George W. Bush would be so slow in a similar case?

One answer is that, in 1999, Dubya was RUNNING for President and he didn't want to be the ONLY candidate not to issue a statement. It certainly wouldn't have played well for a man portraying himself as a "compassionate conservative".

However, the most obvious and troubling explanation has a lot more to do with ethnicity. The students at Columbine High School are predominantly white and from well-to-do families. The students at Red Lake High School are American Indians who live on a reservation beset with grinding poverty and high unemployment.

The parents of Columbine students hail from a "Red" state and might well be counted on to vote for then-candidate Dubya in his quest for the presidency. The parents of Red Lake students come from "Blue" state Minnesota and, besides, Mr. Bush is none too popular with most Indian communities.

I realize that things are never so simple as they appear. There are probably a few variables that factor into this situation that I don't know about. Still, when you consider how much concern and empathy Dubya has expressed in the case of Terri Schiavo -- even cutting short his vacation to get back to the nation's capitol to sign a bill -- his 5 day silence regarding the Red Lake shooting is not only inexcusable but embarrassing and shameful!

Letting Go

For all I've written and, in fact, all that so many have written on Terri Schiavo, the time is growing near to let go, to say goodbye and fare thee well.

While I certainly believe that her loved ones should have said goodbye a long time ago, we must all admit that saying goodbye is a damn hard thing to do, particularly when it's a final farewell.

For all the pontificating about heaven, hell, the afterlife, reincarnation or nothingness, none of us knows for sure what comes once the light is snuffed out for good. It is this uncertain mystery that breeds our anxiousness about death and causes most to want to hold onto to the lives of loved ones, even when those lives become only a shell of the former self.

While I certainly don't agree with the efforts of the Shindler family, my heart goes out to them nonetheless. Besides, who among us can say that, if it was OUR child or spouse, we might not behave so different from them? Yes, in the sterile blogosphere, we can say we would never act that way, but who really knows what actions each of us might/may take when it's OUR family member.

This whole tragic ordeal has forced the rest of us to think about death, both our own and for those we love. As many have written and we all should know, each of us will die someday. If we want to go, in a particular manner, it would behoove each of us to provide directives for our care.

If nothing else, this will become Terri Schiavo's legacy.

Friday, March 25, 2005

If Jesus Returns, Karl Rove Will Kill Him

I just read a superb essay by Harvey Wasserman at Free Press. It makes the point that the historical Jesus would go absolutely bonkers at the attitudes, behaviors and actions of many of those who today invoke his name to spread the message of hatred, suspicion and intolerance.

Here's a snippet. I invite all to go read the whole tract.
As we enter another Easter Season, it's become all too obvious that if Christ returns, those who hate in his name will slime him, then kill him.

Christ was a long-haired peace activist who would have been sickened to his soul by the war in Iraq. "Blessed are the peacemakers" Jesus said in his defining Sermon on the Mount. "Turn the other cheek...Love thy neighbor."

Such hippie-radical ideals are the "Christian" right wing's worst nightmare. The GOP would never tolerate an upstart like Jesus gathering a following in the face of their corporate-fundamentalist crusade. These are self-proclaimed Christians who love power but would despise the actual Christ, just as they love a Zionist Israel but believe actual Jews are doomed to Hell.

In the wake of Jesus's inspiring life of non-violent rebellion, a perverse liturgy weighted by twenty centuries of intolerant bloodthirsty bigotry has erupted in his name. Attacks on people of color, on nations with oil, on humans of the same gender who love each other, on youth who enjoy sex….all have become staples of a new fundamentalist crusade doing in Christ's name things that would have left him horrified.

In large part through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus came to be viewed as Divine because he spoke eloquently for a gracious, loving God.

Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, George Bush and their corporate-fundamentalist minions speak to and for a very different kind of God, one at war with the Deity described by Christ.

My Social Insecurity

I'm not a trained economist and I don't play one on TV. I'm just a lowly taxpayer. Still, I have a solution or two for the social security imbroglio.

The way I understand things is that, in past years, every time the federal government found themselves short of cash, they dipped into the social security account. IF (and I don't really believe the problem is half as bad as Dubya wants us to think) my information is correct, wouldn't the most ethical solution be to put back what we borrowed?

In light of the recently passed anti-bankruptcy bill, it would seem to me that federal leaders should be managing our collective money the way they want the rest of us peons to manage our own personal affairs. If they can't come up with the funds previously pilfered, why don't we just sell off some of our less important national assets?

We could have a national garage sale. I'm sure there are a lot of corporations -- both foreign and domestic -- as well as many well-to-do folk who would pay top dollar to own the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite National Park or the Johnson Space Center.

I mean, do we citizens really need to own these national treasures anyway? We're already being charged money and fees to visit most of these places now, so what's another buck or two?

I can just envision it now. We could have the Enron White House, the Microsoft Jefferson Memorial, the Dupont Mount Chemical Rushmore, Rupert Murdock's Yosemite Park, and the Fox News Space Center. Each of them has a kind of a nice ring, don't you think?

If I'm unable to persuade enough people to support THAT idea, I've got Plan B. Why don't we simply tax all INCOME at the prevailing rate for Social Security? Instead of only taxing the first $90,000 of wages, we wouldn't have a ceiling of any kind.

Consequently, if you make $25,000 per year at Old Navy, all $25,000 would be subject to the Social Security Tax. Conversely, if you're the head honcho of a major corporation and you make $1.8 million per year, all $1.8 million would be subject to the same tax.

I think this proposal would really cut down on administrative costs because you wouldn't need workers whose job was to figure what should be taxed and what shouldn't. Since all income would be taxed the same, it would simplify the whole process.

I'm still waiting for Fox News to contact me for an interview. I just KNOW they will contact me any day now since I've come up with two very simple and workable solutions for this complex problem.

If any of you run into Bill O'Reilly, would you tell him to give me a call?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thwarting God's Plan?

A newborn dies as the result of a rare disease. A husband of four dies suddenly in a work-related accident. A young mother loses life and limb as the result of a terrorist attack.

In each case, the family of the deceased tries to cope with the tragic loss of a loved one. As they search their hearts and minds for a reassuring explanation for this seemingly senseless loss, their conservative Christian friends and family members are bound to say, "I know it's hard to understand now, but it's all part of God's plan".

To the fundamentalist mind, everything happens for a reason. Though humans do exercise free will, God knows what each of us ultimately will choose at any given moment. While many situations, including unfortunate deaths, might not make sense to we mere mortals, every moment DOES fit in to God's overall blueprint.

While I personally think this kind of sentiment and belief is pure hogwash, it is amazing to me that, the people who hold such beliefs so dear, are the very same people jumping on the "Save Terri" Schiavo bandwagon.

Were it not for the now-controversial feeding tube, Terri Schiavo would have died over a decade ago. It should have been the kind of death explained by the "God's plan" line of reasoning. Therefore, for me, it seems that the fundamentalists who SAY they cherish God's plan are trying thwart it by artificially keeping this brain-dead woman alive.

Maybe the Christian God was trying to send a message via Terri's death to her parents and siblings. Maybe he has a special job for her lined up in heaven. Maybe he planned to conduct a miracle -- before all these histrionics got going -- by providing a divine cure.

But all these things have been scrapped because her parents and supporters won't allow God to put his plan into motion because they won't let Terri's body die. I know this sounds like a weird way of looking at this situation, but it makes perfect sense if you believe that God has a plan for each of us.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Inherent Spectrum of Religion

There's one thing my liberal Christian friends want more than anything else -- to wrest control of their religion from the fundamentalists. They fervently believe that, once this is accomplished, the fundamentalist aspects of Christianity will fade into the background and, possibly, disappear altogether.

In my humble opinion, this is, at best, wishful thinking and, at worst, simple ignorance. There is no way to remove fundamentalism from religion because fundamentalism is an inherent part of ALL religions.

The very essence of religion is the belief in a diety (or dieties). In some form, the Supreme Being[s] transmits to mortals a way of looking at their world and a set of "rules" by which to live by. This perspective and the guiding principles generally are laid out in sacred texts, creeds, rituals and established practices.

Because the diety is always hidden from the naked eye and the rational consciousness, people must interpret for themselves and others what this perspective and the associated rules MEAN within the framework of the society.

As we all should know, each human interprets things differently based upon our own unique personalities, observations, experiences and knowledge. This is the kernel of the problem for religion.

Anytime there is a rigid standard that necessitates interpretation, different people will ALWAYS interpret this standard in different ways. Some people -- the fundamentalists -- will view the issues and situation with a very narrow lens. Others -- the liberals -- will view the same issues and situation with a very broad lens. Still others -- the moderates -- will use a lens that's approximately halfway between these two extremes.

Layered on top of this principle is a second element. People REACT to what others think, say and believe. If Mary says she believes x, some will immediately think that Mary is applying her interpretation too broadly, some will think she is looking at things too narrowly, some will agree with her and some will form no opinion on the matter whatsoever.

Consequently, the only way liberals could conceivably remove the fundamentalist element from their chosen religion is to remove themselves first. Of course, this wouldn't REALLY work because as soon as somebody said they believed x, it would set the process in motion anew.

The only way to remove these turf wars from the province of religious matters is to remove the deity, which means, of course, to negate the religion itself. Unfortunately, I do not believe that either the fundamentalists OR the liberals would be willing to go this far. So, like it or not, they're going to have to to learn to live and deal with each other.

A Complete Waste of Time & Money

In yesterday's Statesman Journal, I found a rather ridiculous article. It told of a study which uncovered the startling revelation that people involved in happy relationships tend to enjoy better health than those in unhappy relationships. Gosh, who would have ever guessed?

Why on earth did some group feel this needed to be researched? The article didn't say who funded this glorious study -- I certainly hope it wasn't with taxpayer dollars -- but that's wholly immaterial. Whoever did provide the funding could have just as easily taken their wad of cash and flushed it down the nearest toilet!

The "findings" of this dubious study are readily self-evident. We are creatures made up of mysterious biological AND emotional processes. It shouldn't take a rocket scientist...or a social figure out that a positive frame of mind will improve one's quality of life.

People who are joyous, secure and content don't tend to allow life's pitfalls to derail them. An unhappy person often views life's travails as roadblocks that thwart their objectives whereas the more content person merely sees a challenge or something to step over or around.

This study returns me to a theme I have written of before and will undoubtedly write about again. We humans THINK too much; instead of falling in step with the rest of the universe, we feel a need to over analyze everything. So, rather than simply allowing ourselves to BE happy, we study it. We cut it up it and examine each piece looking for clues.

And by totally dissecting the concept of happiness, we trample upon it.

As Derek Lin wrote in one of the entries below (The Rage Within Us), you can't strive to be or do something for striving negates the experience. We each need to surrender ourselves to the mysterious forces of the universe and, in doing so, we will find that we ARE indeed happy and content.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Terri Schiavo -- A Computer Malfunction

The life and times of Terri Schiavo is a prime topic of the media and the blogosphere. It's easy to understand why. The moral and ethical questions embodied by her situation have forced most of us to confront issues that we diligently try to avoid at all costs. Yet, because of Schiavo's situation and the court proceedings swirling around her, people are now talking about life and death issues around the family dinner table.

One of the tools I often employ when looking at complex issues is the use of analogy. I frequently find that, if I change the setting or the characters while leaving the basic questions in place, I am able to see the situation with a new set of eyes.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, it would appear to me that her circumstances aren't all that different from a malfunctioning computer*. It seems like a good analogy because those of us who write and read blogs would be lost if our computer[s] decided to go kaput.

Coming at this from the perspective of most doctors who state that there is a zero chance that Schiavo can regain any type of minimal consciousness, we can say that Terri is like a computer with a hard drive crash.

You can turn this computer on. When you do, you'll hear some whirring noises and see a light or two flash or blink. But without an operating system and any type of data stored on the hard drive, what looks like a fully operational computer is not. The monitor virtually is blank and, no matter what you do, it will remain virtually blank.

From this perspective, what's the point in leaving this computer on?

Now, let's approach this situation from the other direction. Let's take the perspective of the Schindler family and the few doctors who say Terri does have minimal consciousness and she may one day POSSIBLY have more. In this case, Terri's hard drive is fine; the problem is her CPU.

With a dysfunctional CPU, you can't even turn the machine on. There may be millions and millions of bytes of data stored on the hard drive, but there's no way to access the data. The computer tower LOOKS to be functional and many of its parts are. You might be able to get a fan to turn on. You can remove some of the components and plug them into other machines and they will work fine. But, despite the fact this computer LOOKS like a functional one, it isn't.

Now imagine we're again talking about a human being, not a computer. Wouldn't you think that living in this state would be sheer purgatory? It would be like the most severe case of Parkinson's Disease. Your mind remains operational, yet you can't communicate, feed yourself, or will your body to make ANY kind of voluntary movement. In such a situation, your body would become a self-imposed prison!

For me, this is what I find most reprehensible about the Schindler's position. Regardless of which of the above viewpoints one accepts, it appears that the Shindlers (along with the rabid Religious Right, the Congress and the President) are projecting their desires on a woman who represents either a brain functional or physiological blank slate.

In other words, because she either can't think, can't communicate to others that she can think or can't convince her own body that she's in control, what Terri Schiavo has become is nothing more than a mirror. The reflection people see when they look at this poor woman is not Terri but themselves. Therefore, regardless of their stated intent, what they say they want for her is nothing more than what they selfishly desire.

[*Note: I just want to say that I KNOW the computer analogy is an imperfect one. For one thing, if a hard drive crashes, there are ways to retrieve some or most of the data. If a CPU fails, one can always replace it. However, our technology regarding the fixing of humans is not as advanced as our technology for fixing computers. For example, we can't simply remove Terri's brain and drop it into a new body.]

The Rage Within Us

Whenever we hear about the act of human rampage -- like the high school student in Minnesota yesterday who killed 10 and wounded at least one dozen -- it should cause each of us to take pause. The obvious despair and rage which necessarily serves as the wellspring for such acts is inherent in each of us. While we might not be able to fathom the wanton violence on an intellectual level, we each should be able to identify with it on an emotional level.

I realize that to many of you this sounds preposterous. You may think to yourself, "I could never take another person's life" or "I would never go over the edge like that". But, if you are a sentient being, I think you're only deluding yourself as a defense mechanism. You feel as if you must, somehow, separate your self-identity from those who commit such acts.

Life is all about conflict, frustration, aggravation and a feeling of being thwarted. Each of us strives to fulfill our singular needs and desires and, far more often than many of us may choose to admit, those needs and desires are not met. Because we view ourselves as separated from everything else, each time we are thwarted in achieving our personal ends, we harbor anger and resentment.

If we are able to vent these feelings at appropriate times, we lessen the pressure and tension that wells up in each of us. If we become unable to vent our feelings, then the pressure and tension begins to build. At some point -- like a balloon that contains too much air -- we are bound to burst. When this occurs, all the hurt and resentment comes rushing forth at once and overwhelms our sensibilities. We then become capable of committing all sorts of atrocities.

Still, I hear many of you saying, "OK, I accept your general thesis, but I don't go around randomly shooting people". My response is that your balloon has not completely burst.

While most of us do not fatally injure others when we let off too much built-up pressure, we do injure and maim others in different ways. We scream at our loved ones for minor transgressions, often imaginary ones at that. We gossip about friends, co-workers or the boss -- our way at striking back against those we believe have wronged us. And, just as often, we engage in behavior that is self-destructive and, by extension, negatively affects those within our social network.

If we allow ourselves to tap into our reservior of naked anger and come face-to-face with our own violent feelings, each of us should be able to trade places with this Minnesota high school student. We should be able to envision ourselves gleefully pulling the trigger, destroying the hopes and dreams of others. We should each be able to comprehend how such an act would relieve the overfilled balloon of our self-ego as it breaks forth in an orgy of self-importance.

It's a scary proposition. It's scary because we each want to feel that we are superior to those who commit these heinous acts. If we acknowledge that we harbor the same kinds of resentments, then the wall of moral/ethical separation is removed and this should scare the hell out of each of us!

The only way that I know to break away from this pattern of built-up resentment, hurt and anger is to let go of our feelings of self-importance. When we view our lives as part of an all-encompassing whole, the petty inconveniences of life don't take on the level of self-importance we give them.

Below is an essay, The Tao of Forgiveness, by Derek Lin from Tao Living that illustrates this point far more eloquently than I ever could.

One day, the sage gave the disciple an empty sack and a basket of potatoes. "Think of all the people who have done or said something against you in the recent past, especially those you cannot forgive. For each of them, inscribe the name on a potato and put it in the sack."

The disciple came up quite a few names, and soon his sack was heavy with potatoes.

"Carry the sack with you wherever you go for a week," said the sage. "We'll talk after that."

At first, the disciple thought nothing of it. Carrying the sack was not particularly difficult. But after a while, it became more of a burden. It sometimes got in the way, and it seemed to require more effort to carry as time went on, even though its weight remained the same.

After a few days, the sack began to smell. The carved potatoes gave off a ripe odor. Not only were they increasingly inconvenient to carry around, they were also becoming rather unpleasant.

Finally, the week was over. The sage summoned the disciple. "Any thoughts about all this?"

"Yes, Master," the disciple replied. "When we are unable to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden to us and, after a while, it festers."

"Yes, that is exactly what happens when one holds a grudge. So, how can we lighten the load?"

"We must strive to forgive."

"Forgiving someone is the equivalent of removing the corresponding potato from the sack. How many of your transgressors are you able to forgive?"

"I've thought about it quite a bit, Master," the disciple said. "It required much effort, but I have decided to forgive all of them."

"Very well, we can remove all the potatoes. Were there any more people who transgressed against you this last week?"

The disciple thought for a while and admitted there were. Then he felt panic when he realized his empty sack was about to get filled up again.

"Master," he asked, "if we continue like this, wouldn't there always be potatoes in the sack week after week?"

"Yes, as long as people speak or act against you in some way, you will always have potatoes."

"But Master, we can never control what others do. So what good is the Tao in this case?"

"We're not at the realm of the Tao yet. Everything we have talked about so far is the conventional approach to forgiveness. It is the same thing that many philosophies and most religions preach – we must constantly strive to forgive, for it is an important virtue. This is not the Tao because there is no striving in the Tao."

"Then what is the Tao, Master?"

"You can figure it out. If the potatoes are negative feelings, then what is the sack?"

"The sack is... that which allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended.... Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance."

"And what will happen if you let go of it?"

"Then... the things that people do or say against me no longer seem like such a major issue."

"In that case, you won't have any names to inscribe on potatoes. That means no more weight to carry around, and no more bad smells. The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to not just to remove some potatoes... but to relinquish the entire sack."

The conventional approach to forgiveness, as the sage points out, is focused on striving. The well-known poem by Shenxiu describes this precisely:

Body is the bodhi tree Heart is like clear mirror stand Strive to clean it constantly Do not let the dust motes land

It is all about constant, diligent practice. The process never stops, because there will always be more dust falling on the clear mirror. Just when you think you've got it perfectly clean, another speck of dust has landed. The disciple noted that as long as he remained at this level, his sack would never run out of potatoes. Similarly, as long as we're stuck in the conventional approach to forgiveness, we'll never run out of transgressors to forgive.

But why is there a mirror for the dust to fall on in the first place? And does it really need to be there?

The mirror in the poem can represent egoism – an exaggerated sense of conceit and vanity. Although it does not exist as a physical thing, we treat it as such. Our language is full of references to this assumption. We talk about the "bruised" ego, or how the pride is "hurt," or how one's dignity can be "wounded" – as if egoism is part of the body, like a limb or an organ.

And yet egoism is nothing more than a construction of the mind. It springs from the false perception that we are separate and different from others. That sense of separation and difference leads us to skewed comparisons, which in turn lead us to a false conviction of superiority. When this elaborate illusion is under attack, the illusory injuries seem quite real. But as soon as we see through the illusion, it fades away, and so do the damages against it.

This is the basis of the Tao approach to forgiveness. Zen Master Huineng's response to Shenxiu's poem illustrates it perfectly:

Bodhi really has no tree Nor is clear mirror the stand Nothing's there initially So where can the dust motes land?

The mirror doesn't really exist. Although the dust motes keep falling, there is nothing for them to land on or cling to, and there is nothing to wipe clean. Egoism is something we created for ourselves, so it is something we can dismiss with a simple decision. Without egoism there is nothing to bruise, hurt or wound. Without damages or injuries to the ego, pride or dignity... there is also nothing to forgive.

This is how the sage transcends beyond the ordinary teachings of forgiveness. By recognizing that the true self can never be hurt, and it is only the false projections of the ego that are damaged by criticisms and insults, we bypass the constant striving to forgive others.

Not many people realize this particular realm of the Tao even exists, but once we have truly arrived - absorbed the lesson completely - forgiveness for us will require no effort at all. Forgiving becomes an obsolete and unnecessary action; this Tao takes us through life with the smooth, effortless ease and elegance of wu wei.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Class, Race & the Right to Life

We have two scenarios: 1) Court allows hospital to remove ventilator from 5 month old BLACK baby with a severe genetic disorder -- no political outcry; 2) President & Congress fight to "save" the life of a WHITE woman in a vegetative state whose parents are God-fearing Christians.

While no one should dispute the fact there are key differences in these two cases, it still seems surreal that conservative politicos are pulling out all the stops to "save" one life, while completely ignoring the value of a second life, one that eerily mirrors many of the complex issues of the Schiavo case.

As has been pointed out in my previous post on this topic, More on Schiavo, the News Hounds blog reported that the very law that allowed the doctors and court in Texas to make a life and death decision for Sun Hudson WAS SIGNED INTO LAW by none other than one George W. Bush! The same George W. Bush who this weekend flew back to the nation's capitol to be available to sign the bill that, in essence, removes Michael Schiavo's right to determine the fate of his wife.

So, what are the salient differences between these two patients? Why is Terri Schiavo's life worth fighting for, while Sun Hudson's is not*?

According to MSNBC, "Sun Hudson had been diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder called thanatophoric dysplasia, a condition characterized by a tiny chest and lungs too small to support life." Under the impression that there is no known cure for this condition, the hospital felt "it would be unethical to continue with care that is futile and prolongs Sun's suffering".

But on a web site called The Homeschooler's Curriculum Swap, Flamingo Sherri writes,
Thanatophoric dysplasia is an unpleasant and rare form of dwarfism that occurs once in about 35,000 births in the US. CNN does not properly describe the prognosis of the disease, however. It is not always fatal, although nearly so in the neonatal stage. Usually, thanataphoric dwarves (the name is Greek for "death bearing") only live for hours, or days at the most. Once a baby gets past the neonatal stage, survival is possible, although the child will never have hope for a normal life. The limbs usually have significant deformities and the spinal column as well.

What makes this case significant is that Sun Hudson had lived for five months, which presumably meant that he could have survived longer and perhaps even overcome some of the difficulties of his affliction, although that was a long shot.
In Terri Sciavo's case, most doctors agree that there is no cure for the woman's condition. However, her parents believe there is a possibility their daughter could have an improved quality of life.

Therefore, in both cases, doctors felt that the prognosis was/is bleak and there was/is little hope for a miracle turnaround.

An obvious difference between these two cases involves two things that the mainstream media and politicians don't like to discuss -- race and class. Sun Hudson was the child of a single black mother. While I didn't find any articles that explicitly stated that Wanda Hudson was a POOR black mother, almost every report I did find made sure to point out that the cost of the child's treatment was being borne by Texas Children's Hospital.

People of means generally have some manner of health insurance. While I'm certainly NOT suggesting that such insurance will always cover the tremendous expense involved, it generally will pick up a portion of the tab.

Related to the issue of race and class is the manner in which Wanda Hudson and Terri Schiavo's parents are portrayed in the press. In the former, several media sources have gone out of their way to question Hudson's mental state -- maybe with good reason, maybe not.

According to NBC5,
She believes her child was conceived with the sun in the sky, which is why she named him Sun. "No one was with me when I was alone on a cold, winter night being shown the beauty of the earth. I've never seen the moon and the stars the way the sun above showed the moon and the stars to me," Hudson said.

Maybe Wanda Hudson IS delusional. Maybe this quote was taken out of context. Who knows? Maybe this quote was simply manufactured.

Compare this, however, to the way the press portrays Bob and Mary Schindler. These people are praised as concerned parents whose Catholic faith has provided them strength throughout this trying ordeal.

All in all, it simply strikes me as odd that these two tragic situations that SHOULD be linked, by timing and circumstance, are wholly divorced. While it would be too simplistic to argue that class and race are the sole determining factors in the differences between these two lives, it would be just as simplistic to state that class and race don't play key roles.

What do you think?

*Note: In a case similar to Sun Hudson's, Ohio Children's Services is seeking custody of Aiden Stein, a comatose 16-month old, in order to remove the child from life support.

Blogs I Like to Read

Yeah, I know I've got a blogroll over there on my side panel. Still, there are several blogs that I'd like to highlight, if for no other reason than I'm really impressed with their body of work. If you're one of my regular readers -- and even if you're not -- you too may decide to frequent these sites. So, here's a brief list with an excerpt or two from each:

#1 Church of the Churchless
From Reason unites, faith divides (2/22/05)
Reasonable people can spend an evening together pleasantly conversing even if their views are widely divergent. Faith-based people can’t. True believers aren’t able to interact with non-believers in a genuinely humble and open manner. The reason is simple: they aren’t genuinely humble and open. True believers believe that only they possess the truth. They aren’t interested in opening themselves up to new ideas, new facts, new ways of looking at the world, new avenues of approaching God.
From How to talk to a fundamentalist (11/27/04)
Fundamentalists, especially those of the Christian and Muslim faiths, have a bad habit of wanting to force other people to live in accord with their beliefs. Another bad habit is making dogmatic statements unsupported by objective facts, and then feeling offended when someone challenges their dogma. Bad habits like these should be discouraged, not encouraged.
#2 K Marx The Spot
From Steroid Madness (3/20/05)
Does any rational person truly believe the abuse of steroids is even in the same league as alcohol abuse? The number of lives destroyed by alcohol is a multiple of those destroyed by steroids; a multiple that is in the thousands, tens of thousands or hundred of thousands. Does it really matter that one drug requires a prescription and the other only requires the user to reach an age of maturity that varies from state to state. The Feds can investigate steroids; they can usurp a husband’s right to pull a feeding tube that has kept his wife’s heart beating for over a decade; but they don’t seem to care about the age kids can buy alcohol.
#3 Silver Rights
From Law: 'Mind control' theory could scuttle cult case (3/4/05)
It appears that the outcome of a domestic abuse situation remarkable fot its violence will turn on whether jurors grasp that an abuser can be effective without being the person who pulls the trigger. Marcus Wesson, who styled his family on that of cult leader David Koresh, is said to have convinced his adult offspring to kill the children and themselves if the government attempted to intervene. One of his older daughers, like her sister and cousins a parent to a child by Wesson, may have been the person who shot nine family members, including herself, dead last year. Wesson himself emerged from the home unharmed.
There's a lot more out there in the blogosphere. I'll try to feature more blogs and snippets in the future.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The New Face of News

In Friday's Christian Science Monitor, the staff has penned an editorial entitled, "What is a Journalist?" That is a salient question, particularly in an age when the government is producing "news", party hacks are being credentialed by the White House and a great deal of the mainstream media is shilling for Corporate America.

The Monitor begins their diatribe as follows:
The answer to that question was once easy. Until the Internet, journalists were typically attached to an established organization that could afford to own and run a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station, TV network, or cable news outlet. Their credibility was both individual and institutional.

For all of its flaws, and despite often high entry costs, this marketplace of ideas has flourished. Journalists know that transparency and fairness in how they cover the news are critical.
While the Monitor admits that traditional journalism often involves "high entry costs", it seems as if they fail to grasp what it is they are actually asserting -- News and the reporting of such should be reserved for the rich and well-to-do. I mean, we can't expect average Jane's and Joe's to understand this complex world we live in, right?

There's a bumpersticker I really like, "The liberal media are as liberal as the conservative corporations that own them". This slogan points to the obvious fact that the idea of a liberal media is more myth than reality. I'm sure the idea of liberal media bias sprung forth from the far right-wing power brokers who believe that anything that don't control absolutely -- though it is certainly becoming true that they control the media to a great extent -- must have a bias against them.

One point made by the Monitor certainly is accurate: Just because information appears on a blog (like this one) doesn't mean it's necessarily news and it certainly doesn't mean it's necessarily trustworthy. Unfortunately, this is also true of information that appears in print or on the airwaves from mainstream media sources!

In my humble opinion, the great advantage of blogs is that through a variety of means -- description, profile, blog rolls and mottos -- the reader can easily discern the perspective of the author[s]. I'm fairly sure that anyone who reads The Rambling Taoist would not come to the false conclusion that I'm a steadfast member of the Republican Party or that this blog is owned by Time-Warner.

In other words, there is a certain level of transparency in the blogosphere that does not exist in the mainstream media.

The venerable New York Times wants you to think that they only print the news that's fit to print. But who decides the fitness of news and what biases color such decisions? At a quick glance, this might be hard to determine. However, if you look at the corporations that advertise in the Times, this will certainly provide an important clue.

You don't need to uncover clues to figure out my biases. I make it easy for you; my biases are in black-and-white at the top of this blog. And, knowing my biases and perspective from the get-go, makes it far easier for you, the reader, to decide if what I write each day is news or is pertinent or is something that makes any difference to you.

More on Schiavo

The News Hounds blog [slogan: We watch FOX so you don't have to] has a very interesting report today, "Bush Hypocrisy on Terri Schiavo Ignored by FOX".

Here's an excerpt:
While FOX News reporters fall over each other trying to prove their concern for the life of Terri Schiavo, nobody is reporting about the cases in Texas where life support is being removed by hospitals over the objection of family members. The law allowing that to happen was signed in 1999 by then-governor George W. Bush.
Lest anyone thinks this is a case of Bush "evolving" in his opinions, just five days ago a Texas hospital removed life support from a baby over the objections of his mother. Yet Bush never made a peep. Neither did FOX News.
Other bloggers and commentators have pointed out that it seems strange that the Bush Administration and GOP leadership is making so much out of this one case, yet little concern is given to the millions of people suffering in this country and around the world. If they can show this much compassion for one brain-dead woman, why can't they show even a scintilla of concern for American children dying from poverty and inadequate health care or the thousands maimed and killed in Iraq?

My blogging compatriot Brian Hines, author of Church of the Churchless, writes in "Religious Zealots Run Amok in Terri Schiavo Case":
My wife and I can’t understand why those who claim to believe in Christian everlasting life are so afraid of letting death happen naturally. Methinks their lack of faith betrays itself in their reluctance to let Terri pass to the other side, where Michael, her legal guardian, is convinced she wants to be.
I agree with Brian's assessment and even think it can be taken further. The woman's parents contend that there is still hope that a cure for her condition is possible. Well gee, if their faith in the Christian God is so strong, why are they worried about the feeding tube anyway? God don't need no silly feeding tube! If he can part the Red Sea or raise a dead person to heaven, this should be a piece of cake.

Finally, a link provided by Brian, Majikthise, tries to set the record straight by debunking a lot of the misinformation swirling around this case.
The Schiavo case presents no intricate medical, ethical, or legal dilemmas. Abstract Appeal's comprehensive legal chronology shows just how straightforward this case should have been. Michael Schiavo is Terri's legal guardian, the courts have determined that Terri wouldn't want a feeding tube, and Michael asked the doctors to take the tube out. That's really all there is to it.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Head of the Household

One aspect of the Schiavo case, that simply doesn't make any sense to me, is the fact that conservative Christians are coming out of the woodwork to argue AGAINST the right of the husband to decide the fate of his wife. This from the very same people who, in almost ANY other situation, would argue the exact opposite.

One of my many criticisms of fundamentalist Christians has always concerned the way they view the roles of the genders. They always point to Biblical verses that THEY say gives a husband the right to rule the roost in any way he sees fit. Not only that, but the wife doesn't have the right to question or criticize the man of the house because God has ordained that husbands come before wives in the sacred order of things.

Yet, in this singular instance, this long held belief is being tossed aside. The conservatives are insisting that THIS husband has not been granted the right that THEY say has been bestowed upon any other Christian husband for the past 2,000 years!!

For me, this is why fundamentalist Christians are so maddening. They will rail against or for something on supposedly bedrock divine principle and then turn around to argue the other side, when fancy suits them. And they will refuse to acknowledge that any kind of contradiction exists!

It just boggles my mind.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Outdated Roadmap

Maps, in all their various forms, are what we rely on to make sense out of a sometimes jumbled world. Not only do we utilize maps to help us navigate from Point A to Point B to Point C, but we use them as well to provide definition to the societal landscape. Consequently, possessing a map that is accurate should be very important to each of us.

Imagine for a moment that you have entered The Twilight Zone. You find yourself sitting in your vehicle parked in front of the State Capitol building in Salem -- but you don’t recognize what it is or where you are. In the backseat are boxes of marionberries.

You seem to be the ONLY person in town. Everywhere you look, there is no movement of any kind. You happen to glance at the passenger’s seat. You notice a list sitting on top of a map. You grab the list and read the following: 4 boxes – Lincoln (General Store); 3 boxes – Eola (Inn); and 12 boxes – Corvallis (Public Library).

None of these towns sound familiar to you, so you grab the map. A giant star indicates where you are now and there is a highlighted line showing your general route. However, try as you might, you can’t find these 3 towns anywhere near your route or, for that matter, in this state called Oregon…

As it happens, the character in this story is befuddled because he/she is looking at a map from 1850. In that year, the town known today as Lincoln was called Doaks Ferry. Eola today is an area, not a town, but in 1850 it was the thriving hamlet of Cincinnati. And, in its earliest days, the town that we now call Corvallis was known as Marysville.

As time marches forward, things change. Rivers alter their course and cut new channels. Natural and manmade disasters modify the landscape. Towns and industries thrive, only to disappear. What was once farmland located miles outside of town is soon swallowed up by the growing metropolis.

If your map doesn’t stay current with the inherent changes of civilization, you will have a difficult time navigating from place to place. But what’s even worse is the person who is shown that their map is inaccurate and yet they cling to it like the Holy Grail.

For me, this is an apt description of almost every religion. The map of their belief system was etched in stone hundreds or thousands of years ago. Each may well have described and explained in perfect form the landscape of their day. But we no longer live in THAT time and yet millions of people cling to these inaccurate directions.

Like a person trying to find Corvallis on a map that only shows Maryville, so many of these people are lost in the world and can’t figure out why.

It’s simple. Their map is woefully outdated.

Hey, to check out another perspective on this general theme, I recommend you visit Brian Hines' blog, Church of the Churchless, and his post Why Don't Religions Evolve?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Duh Doesn't Work Anymore

Each time we learn about a new CEO being named to whatever corporation, what are the kinds of words used to describe the new head honcho? Words such as brilliant, a strong innovator, a visionary, and a hands-on leader usually are employed. So why is it that, each time one of these strong leaders is caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar and hauled into court, their primary defense amounts to "Duh, I had no idea what was going on"?

As pointed out by Greg Farrell and Del Jones in USA Today, this defense is not very tenable. What they are basically saying is that they weren't doing their jobs! What a glorious defense strategy that is!! "Yes, I've been making money hand over fist, but I don't have the foggiest notion what's really going on in my company."

Of course, I shouldn't be so hard on the Bernie Ebbers of the world. I mean, let's get real. What else can they say? Any CEO would be a fool to say something like, "Sure, I knew it was illegal, but I thought I was above the law." or "Hey, it was worth it. I may lose everything now, but it was gravy for a good long time".

We all know that neither of those kinds of explanations would sit well with the general populace. Therefore, the only rational strategy is the "I Don't Know Shit from Shinola" defense.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Art of Selling Lemons

Gee, I thought I had heard of everything. But no! The Bush Administration continues utterly to amaze me. I just read an Associated Press article that reports that Dubya has nominated Karen Hughes for a position in the State Department designed “to change Islamic perceptions about the United States”.

Talk about an impossible job!

I can just hear the sales pitch. “Hi there. We just want you to know that we are the good guys. We don’t mean you any ill will.” [muffled explosion in the background] “Pay no attention to the bombs and missiles blowing up your countrymen. It’s only a little collateral damage”. [wink, wink…impish smile]

When will these people get a clue? The best way to shore up our reputation in the Islamic world is to QUIT attacking them AND supporting every move made by the Israelis. If we ONLY changed these two things, a great deal of the vitriolic hate we are engendering would evaporate.

The creation of this position – Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy – typifies the hucksterism so pervasive in the World of Bush. It’s all about putting a “happy face” spin on dastardly actions.

Still, I guess, it’s consistent with the Dubya mentality. If this administration can convince a significant number of Americans that the No Child Left Behind initiative is not REALLY leaving thousands upon thousands of children behind, why can’t they convince the Islamic world that killing and maiming thousands of their people isn’t just another way of saying, “I love you”?