Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Being at Peace After Waging War

It is often said that a particular war is being waged to secure the peace. We've all heard this sentiment lately in regards to Afghanistan, Iraq and the "war" on terrorism. I've thought about this concept a lot over the past few days. And, to be completely honest, I think it's not all it's cracked up to be.

As anyone who's visited this blog before should know, I'm a pacifist. I've never been a soldier in the armed forces. I don't own a gun, not even an airgun or a water pistol.

I have shot a gun before though. Back in my teens, I briefly used a .22 that had been handed down from my paternal grandfather. I shot at tin cans a few times. However, like Atticus Finch remarked in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, the urge came to shoot at something that was not stationary.

So one day, I shot at a few crows. I hit the second one I aimed at. Shot it right out of the air! I watched it drop like a sack of rocks. I went over to examine my kill and discovered a lifeless creature. Yes, I had killed it for no apparent reason except for my fleeting enjoyment.

I returned the gun to my father. I've never held nor shot a gun since!

Shooting that crow left me with a very hollow feeling. I had unilaterally ended its existence. I had snuffed out its life. In the name of sport, I had committed murder!

Imagine this feeling multiplied by a thousand times. This, I believe, is the kind of feeling a soldier must harbor who returns from war. The soldier has been responsible for killing people, sometimes hundreds of them.

Now, I realize there are some differences here. The soldier has most likely been shooting at people who concurrently were shooting at the soldier. Still, whether speaking of sport or war, the person who has ended the life of another has committed murder. One is sanctioned as a sporting endeavor and the other is state-sanctioned, but both are pre-meditated acts of ending some being's life.

I know that as a youth I had a hard time living with myself after shooting the crow. I had trouble looking myself in the mirror. This one act is what led me to become a devout pacifist.

How must the soldier feel? I'm sure that, in many ways, the soldier is horribly confused. On the one hand, each must feel proud that they did their duty for God and country. Yet, on the other hand, they must live with the fact they've killed one or more people they don't even know! People who aren't THAT different from them.

While the people killed represent the ENEMY, they still put on their pants the same as you and I. They go to the bathroom, eat, sleep, make love, worship their religion and have families they cherish and who cherish them.

How does a person return to a normal life after participating in carnage and mayhem? How does a person resolve everyday conflicts without shooting anyone they might disagree with? How does a person live in peace after having lived in deadly war?

Obviously, SOME people are able to make this transition. Unfortunately, just as obvious, a significant number of returning vets are NOT able to navigate the transition well or at all! Their relationships fall apart. They lose their jobs. They lose their homes. And, far too many, lose their grip on sanity.

These are the vets that become homeless and/or addicted substance abusers and/or wife beaters and/or child abusers and/or non-state-sanctioned murderers. They seem unable to reconcile their lives as trained killers with their lives as loving sons/daughters, spouses, parents or co-workers.

In the end, for far too many people, there is no peace after waging war. The war never leaves them. It follows them wherever they go and it leads to never-ending torment, guilt, depression and sorrow.

Though they've returned to their homes in one piece, they remain a horrific casualty of war. They remain physically alive but spiritually dead (or dying).

In other words, for far too many soldiers and their families, waging war does NOT secure peace. No, it only secures a constant state of war within themselves. Sadly, it's a war that few ever win.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Honoring More than the "Physically" Dead

Today is the official day to remember the fallen servicemen and servicewomen who have given their lives while serving in our armed forces. While I certainly feel compassion for their families, my concern today is more for the forgotten dead -- those who return from war with a shattered heart or a dead spirit.

Some of these folks have outward manifestations of their injuries (e.g., disfigurement, a missing limb, a missing eye, etc.). Many returning soldiers, however, look as is if they've come out of the war unscathed. They look young and healthy.

But their appearance hides a sad truth. The person who patriotically marched off to war has died spiritually/emotionally and a different person -- hollow or tormented -- has returned in their place. Yes, it still looks like Bob or Debbie, but it no longer acts, thinks or behaves like the Bob or Debbie we once knew.

For these individuals Memorial Day must be a form of torture that few of us can even imagine. I would think it would publicly dredge up the phantoms they so desperately try to evade each and every day. Faces of dead comrades. Images of horrific carnage. Feelings of uncontrollable fear, anxiety and depression.

So, while there's nothing wrong with honoring those who didn't return at all, please don't forget those who did return physically, but not spiritually. One of the best ways we can each honor THEIR sacrifice is to push for greater funding for veteran mental health services.

For some, returning home is a punishment worse than death. These are the souls I honor today.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Close Bases, Not Towns

The Pentagon has produced its preliminary list of the next wave of military base closures. To this I say, WONDERFUL! I have long been a proponent of eliminating as much unnecessary duplication-- particularly when it comes to the military -- as possible. Not only will it save oodles and oodles of taxpayer dollars, but it should also make the military more efficient.

Yet, for all my joy, I'm worried about the financial health and well-being of the small communities that depend upon these bases. Today, I read about one such town: Hawthorne, Nevada.

This small desert community of 3,500 will be imperiled without the nearby Army Ammunition Depot. The Depot employs about one-half of the town's workforce. Consequently, if the base closes, so too will the town.

I'm sure that Hawthorne isn't an isolated case. I bet there are scores of small towns across the nation that now face a possible demise due to the closure list.

Now, I'm not suggesting we keep such bases open in order to save these communities from certain financial ruin. What is needed, instead, is to approach the situation from a more holistic perspective. If the government is going to take something out (i.e., a military base), then the government should put something back in.

Many of these base closures will necessitate Superfund clean-up. The people losing their jobs should be re-hired for this work. If they don't have the necessary skills, the federal government should train them at no cost to the workers themselves.

If Superfund clean-up is not warranted, the government should try to locate other government programs there (e.g., transportation, homeland security, etc.) OR they should provide these communities with a gradually phased out subsidy. The federal government should also provide funds to these towns for economic development activities.

You see, a person [like me] can be a steadfast dove and yet this doesn't mean we desire to see communities ruined or degraded by a military base closure. I realize that many small communities come to depend on such installations to fuel the area economy.

As outlined above, what is needed is to approach this issue in a comprehensive manner. It would be wrong for the feds merely to close a base and then say, "We're out of here. You local folks will need to deal with repercussions all on your own".

Saturday, May 28, 2005

So Many Paths

Everywhere one looks, others are trying to tell us of the ONE RIGHT WAY. The right car. The right look. The right tampon. The right breakfast cereal. The right cause. The one true way to live our lives.

Back in the 1970s there was a pop group from Australia called the Little River Band. One of the tracks on their "Sleeper Catcher" album is called So Many Paths. The chorus from the song sums up the Taoist belief in the "right way" of anything:
There are so many paths up the mountain, nobody knows all the ways, there are so many paths up the mountain, and the view from the top is still the same.
Taoism recognizes that everybody is different. Each of us observes the world around us in different ways. What appears beautiful to one person, may be ugly to another. What seems direct to one person, may seem completely indirect to someone else.

Because our experiences in the world are unique, so too is our understanding. Consequently, as unique beings, we must necessarily ply our own path up the mountain. It's certainly okay to follow others -- if we so choose -- but WE must take each individual step ourselves.

Religion, by its very nature, teaches the opposite. It postulates that there is but one formula and each of us must replicate it precisely, lest we get lost on our journey. Religion treats people as unintelligent creatures who must be guided and prodded along the one true path.

Again, Taoism runs counter to this conception. Taoists believe that human beings are intuitively intelligent. If we allow ourselves to listen to our inner most voice, we will be able to navigate the terrain.

A river doesn't need a Messiah to tell it how to flow to the ocean. A kangaroo rat doesn't need a holy book to tell it to hide from the hawk. A caterpillar doesn't need to memorize creeds and rituals in order to know when it's time to become a butterfly. (Note: Jesus made many similar points.)

If all these entities -- large and small -- can lead their lives without the need of an omnipotent guide, why can't you and I?

The key is to believe in the inner you, that part of you that is in common with all things. Then, like the river, the rat and the butterfly, you can make your own path up the mountain.

Remember, regardless of the path you choose, the "view from the top is still the same".

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Driving My Life Away

I've been on the road most of this week. In fact, I've spent a great deal of the past year driving around Oregon, Washington & Northern California (job hunting). I've noticed something odd. All of the crazy drivers seem to congregate in the Portland-Salem area of I-5.

I simply detest driving in or around Portland. No one drives any where near the speed limit, including the police. Drivers dart in and out of lanes as if being chased by demons. And, because most of them live in the area (meaning they have to put up with this insanity on a daily basis), far too many of them are ANGRY drivers.

Now don't think I'm musing about the all too typical rush hour mad scramble. I carefully plan my trips around Portland specifically to avoid rush hour. I will only travel through or around the Rose City from 9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. or after 7:00 p.m., unless it's the weekend.

This week I drove the length of I-84 through Oregon. For hundreds of miles drivers were very sedate. It was only when I reached Portland and traveled on to Salem that I ran into the insane drivers.

I hope I get a job in Eastern Oregon. It will be great for my nerves.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Compromising a Compromise

In a world with conflicting opinions, the ability to forge compromises is essential. In its truest form, a compromise necessitates that each participant in the discussion is willing to give on one or more points. The idea is that each side loses a little of what they want, but gains enough common ground to render a decision.

A compromise is never an easy thing. Most of us like to think that the strategies and solutions we offer are iron clad and perfect. The very idea of shaving off a point here or letting go a point there is tantamount to undermining the entire grand plan.

One thing that life should teach us though is that we are rarely 100% correct in the way we view the world. Each of us only sees a sliver of the overall picture. The overall picture is almost always far larger than our feeble eyes and minds can take in. If a person readily acknowledges this fact, then it becomes far easier to give on certain points.

One way to illustrate this contention is to look at our political system. Progressives tend to compromise a lot -- sometimes, it seems we compromise too much. We enter into compromises because we realize our strategy may not meet all needs and we understand that, in a world of competing and disparate perspectives, each side needs to give on some things in order to craft a solution that everyone can agree to.

Conservatives, on the other hand, don't seem to understand the art of compromise at all. From their perspective, whatever idea or solution they are offering is THE ultimate solution and every aspect of it is as important as its sum. It all goes to the heart of their belief in authoritarianism.
The strong father knows best and no one is to question.

Thus, conservatives are more than willing for everyone else to give on certain points of disagreement, but they don't seem willing to give a centimeter.

And this is why I believe it would be an oxymoron to describe someone as both a conservative AND a Taoist. Taoism teaches that the exercise of life is in finding and maintaining balance. In order to achieve balance, a person is always compromising one aspect of their life against another.

Friday, May 20, 2005

What's Wrong with THIS Picture?

For the past 8 years Congress has seen fit not to raise the federal minimum wage. It seems that insuring that the lowest paid workers are able to eke out a meager existence is not high on the Congressional agenda. While a lot could be said about this sad non-development, what is far more informative is to take a look at the raises that OUR senators and representatives have approved for THEMSELVES.

According to CRS Report 97-1011, for the years 1980 - 2005, our federal legislators have approved 17 pay hikes for each other representing an overall increase in their own compensation of 167%. Currently, each senator and representative is paid $162,100 per year ($13,508.33 per month). Taken altogether, taxpayers are putting out slightly more than $8.67 million per year.

Compare this to the fate of the federal minimum wage. According to the US Department of Labor, Congress has only approved 6 rate hikes during the same period for an overall increase of 78% -- less than 1/2 of what they've approved for themselves! While our congressional legislators pull down over $13,000 per month, a full-time worker paid the federal minimum wage will only gross about $886.00 per month.

While the above statistics may seem startling, in the period from 1997-2005, they are even worse. During that period, the minimum wage has remained stagnant while Congressional pay has increased 7 TIMES! If we expressed this ratio as a baseball score, we'd say the Washington team whitewashed the "visitors" 7-0.

So, I ask you, what's wrong with this picture?

[Note: The citations provided come from Yes! Magazine.]

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Making Headway

A lot of the time progressives wonder if we can genuinely make a difference in our communities. In this day and age of Bush and compassionate conservativism, this anxiety shows up most often in the electoral arena. We often wonder if its really possible to get bona fide progressive candidate elected to office.

If you've ever wondered this, the recent school board elections should provide you with a strong measure of hope. The five candidates endorsed by the Stand for Children Action Fund -- 3 in Portland and 2 in Salem -- each won their race. Please note that I'm not saying that 5 out of x number of the Fund's endorsements won -- EVERY candidate endorsed won!

In the southern Oregon town of Ashland, all 3 school board candidates endorsed by the Jackson County Pacific Green Party won too. Not only did they win -- two against incumbents -- but they all won with more than 60% of the vote! In Corvallis, another Green Party-endorsed candidate, Matt Donohue, beat the incumbent as well.

This clearly proves that we CAN win! But there are some secrets to this winning formula. First, candidates need to declare early. Second, candidates need to hammer on progressive themes. Third, candidates need to gather the endorsements of progressive groups AND those groups must provide the "foot soldiers" to get the word out far and wide.

The Salem City elections are less than 1 year away. The above results should galvanize our resolve to wrest control of our fine city away from Janet Taylor and the development interests that have choked off public participation. We can succeed in this endeavor IF we start to lay the groundwork now.

In other words, we need to roll up our collective sleeves and get to work.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Follow the Oil

What will Dubya say now? After spending the better part of the last year charging everyone and their uncle with undermining Iraqi trade sanctions, a highly embarrassing report was just released. It turns out (surprise, surprise) that the one nation that seemed to skirt the oil sales sanctions the most turns out to be...the good 'ol US of A!

As reported in the UK Guardian,
The United States administration turned a blind eye to extensive sanctions-busting in the prewar sale of Iraqi oil, according to a new Senate investigation...

In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together.

"The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions," the report said. "On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.
So much for the higher moral ground!

What does this tell us? When it comes to the almighty dollar, Dubya's supposed Christian morality flies straight out the nearest window. Far worse, wasn't it Dubya who crowed if you're not with us, you're against us?

Well, now that it's been shown that several major US corporations were giving kickbacks to Mr. Hussein, the sworn enemy of democracy and freedom, do you think the Shrub will go public and denounce them as the financial backers of despots and terrorists? Say nasty things about his biggest supporters?


Monday, May 16, 2005

Say What?

As a pacifist, I've never been a cheerleader for the war machine. Yes, I realize that each country needs a military presence, but, as the US has shown repeatedly, far too many resources are poured into military muscle at the expense of more humanitarian needs. It's a sad day when you find the nation's infrastructure crumbling and schools lagging behind, YET defense contractors are sitting pretty.

What's more, the US military seems highly adept at doubletalk. Who can forget hearing years ago about the insane rationalizations for $500 toilet seats or $81 hammers?

Today, a friend sent me another fine example of military mumbo jumbo. An article in The Independent (UK) reports the following:
As the death toll of troops mounts in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's military recruiting figures have plummeted to an all-time low. Thousands of US servicemen and women are now refusing to serve their country. Andrew Buncombe reports... Staff who run a volunteer hotline to help desperate soldiers and recruits who want to get out, say the number of calls has increased by 50 per cent since 9/11. Last year alone, the GI Rights Hotline took more than 30,000 calls. At present, the hotline gets 3,000 calls a month and the volunteers say that by the time a soldier or recruit dials the help-line they have almost always made up their mind to get out by one means or another.
Sounds like we might have a bit of a problem here. Aaah, but not to worry. Our military brass is on top of it.
The Pentagon says it does not keep records of how many try to desert each year. A spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Ellen Krenke, said the running tally had declined since 9/11 from 8,396 to the present total of 5,133. She added: "The vast majority of those who desert do so because they have committed some criminal act, not for political or conscientious objector purposes."
OK, let me get this straight. Though our military doesn't keep tabs on deserters, a spokeswoman assures us both that the numbers are down AND we now WHY most of the deserters desert.

Only in the US (well, maybe in London too) could a public spokesperson say such a thing with a straight face. If we aren't tracking such statistics, then how can Krenke provide statistics AND reasons?

There are ONLY two conclusions. Either we do track such things and the Pentagon is lying OR Krenke is blowing smoke.

My bet is that both of these things are true!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

My Word Is Rule

According to some recent visitors to my blog, my word is rule. In comments left, they have indicated that, if the "great" I disapproves of something, they can no longer feel good about it or have pride in it. I have a message for such people -- Get a Life!

It's downright difficult to live one's life always worried about what others might think, feel or believe. If you try to please everybody ALL of the time, you'll soon discover that you displease most of the people most of the time. Even worse, you'll one day discover that you are a person without a foundation.

I'm certainly not suggesting you disregard what others think or say. As social beings who find worth by being a member of community, none of us can be an island unto ourselves. However, we each make a dreadful mistake when we substitute the perceptions of others for our own.

Like with all things in life, we must each seek to strike balance. Pay attention to the needs and observations of others while not compromising who you are or the principles you live by.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Torturous Wellspring of Beauty

I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as...the wretched orgy of violent intent that permeates the abyss of my soul. Not the way you remember the famed poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer?

I think it's common that many of us like to envision that the authors of great literary works cast their words of beauty from a place deep inside just as radiant and poetic as the words that splash across the page. It's as if they are able to steal glimpses of heaven and to share these glimpses with us.

Unfortunately, I think our over-romanticized view of the wellspring of such authors is its own fantasy. More often than not, the majesty of classic tales springs not from great ecstasy but from the dark turmoil of troubled lives.

This point was again reinforced with me tonight as I watched the delightful movie, Finding Neverland. The movie concerns the creative impetus that spurred author J. M. Barrie to write the oft-loved classic "Peter Pan".

While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I know it pales in comparison to the real life of Barrie. As portrayed by Johnny Depp, Barrie finds inspiration in his playful relationship with the four boys of a widowed woman. It's the innocence of this relationship that causes Barrie to formulate Neverland and The Lost Boys.

How glorious this all would be if it were true! Alas, as is typical of Hollywood's treatment of historic figures, the story is purposely softened and blurred to remove its darker aspects.

You see, the real life Barrie concurrently was tortured and inspired by the tragic death of his older brother, David. His own personal writings show that, at age 9 when his brother's death occurred, Barrie's childhood stopped. In both real life and through his written works, he spent the rest of his lifetime trying to recapture the childhood he felt was ripped out from under him.

Barrie also seemed to have a problem with women, probably owing to the quixotic relationship he developed with his mother after David's death. Though he married once, there are strong indications he was never able to consummate his relationship with his wife nor any other later love, for that matter.

As can be readily seen from this brief glimpse of Barrie's life, he lived and fought with many demons. And this same kind of dark description describes the lives of a great many other renowned authors.

The point is that beauty often springs forth as the bastard child of agony, self-doubt, misery, nightmares and insanity. It offers the author a cathartic release from their life of uncertain anguish. The wellspring is the very opposite of the final product.

And this makes a work of beauty more beautiful than words.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Squashing Bugs

I was getting ready to take a shower when I noticed an insect slowly flying about my head. It annoyed me, so I squashed it against the bathroom window and knocked its remains into the wastebasket.

People do these sorts of things every day. We swat flies, set out mousetraps and roach motels, spray insecticides on our plants and take antibiotics to kill germs (living entities) in our bodies. We typically try to rid our lives of as much vermin, critters and insects as possible.

I must admit that sometimes these kinds of robotic and routine actions cause me to take pause. As a Taoist who believes that we are all part of one reality and that all beings are equal, I sometimes ask myself why it is that I should be one to decide life and death issues for other beings. Why should I choose to decide that this fly or that aphid or this germ should cease to exist at this particular moment?

We humans aren't concerned with some entity who might just arbitrarily decide today that it's our last day. No one smashes us against a window with a rolled up newspaper only to toss our remains in the garbage.

But then it dawned on me that maybe we TOO are subject to such whims. People die each and every day from accidents and for unexplained reasons.

A strong swimmer mysteriously drowns in a slow moving stream. A person, sleeping in their own bed, dies when a tree is blown onto their house during a storm. A gas main breaks and causes an explosion. Some unlucky person just happens to be walking by at that precise moment. A farmer dies when his tractor inexplicably runs over him. Etc., etc., etc.

Who's to say this isn't the arbitrary work of the higher being? Maybe this exalted one is having a "bad hair" day and it looks down on the world to see Bill or Mary just sort of buzzing around. The omnipotent becomes annoyed and ZAP, Bill or Mary are squashed from human existence like a fly against a window.

Maybe the only lesson here is that those who squash will themselves be squashed. Maybe there's no overriding message at all. Maybe death is merely a part of life and life is a part of death.

Simple as that.

$5 & a Can of Dog Food

Tonight, while out, I was approached by a homeless man and his dog. He asked me for some change so he could buy dog food. I gave him the few coins in my pocket.

I also had a $20 bill. I went to a local store here in Salem. I bought a can of dog food. I returned to give him the dog food plus a $5 bill.

In years past, I would have easily given the former, but not the latter. My worry about giving money to transients is that they might then use this donation to purchase alcohol or drugs. In this current situation, that assumption would be a good bet as this individual smelled of cheap alcohol and appeared quite tipsy.

My recent change of heart regarding monetary donations has come about because I've never been homeless. I don't know what it's like in the least. I'm certain it's a difficult way to survive and I wouldn't be surprised if it's even more stressful than NOT being homeless.

While I'm a big believer in the necessity of good (in my case, organic) food, who am I to say that food is the one thing this particular person needs at this given moment? Maybe a shot of whiskey or snort of whatever will allow this person to face another night of uncertainty in the cold under a nondescript bridge.

More importantly, I realized that, in my choice of a handout, I was judging people. I was trying to decide what was best for this stranger right now. Each time I waved away a plea for change and instead purchased a hamburger and/or a bag of chips to give to the person, I was imposing my will and beliefs upon them. That's not what they had requested and, regardless of their situation, it's not my place to confer such judgment.

All that said, I did STILL impose my will to a degree in this situation. To help insure the dog indeed would be fed, I specifically purchased a can of dog food (with a pull top, no less).

I realize the possibility exists that this man may eat the dog food himself. However, I think that is a remote possibility. In my past experience with homeless people with pets (generally dogs), I've often found that they treat their dogs better than they treat themselves. Their dogs are not only companions but provide them with a measure of protection. So, it's important to keep their protector happy AND fed.

I hope the dog had a good meal and the stranger used the money for what he felt he needed most tonight be it food, alcohol or whatever else.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Continuing Linda Christas Saga

Well, the people of or from Linda Christas continue to regularly visit my blog and leave comments. This has, as I've pointed out again and again, fueled my rise in the Google search rankings. This rise seems to upset them, so they visit again to leave more comments and, of course, they strengthen my ranking.

I'm almost beginning to think that they're doing this on purpose. Maybe they hope it will spur others to check them out. I don't know.

However, it seems that, among other strategies, they decided to launch their own blog called Linda Christas Faculty Comments.

I've visited their blog and offer two observations. First, they do NOT allow comments. Obviously, they want to control your interaction with them. For me, this seems in line with the overall way they like to operate. The seem to cherish one-sided conversations (which, in truth, isn't a conversation at all).

As you have noticed, I value freedom and the right to discuss opinions. This is why I have chosen to ALLOW comments. I write what I think or have researched. You, the reader, can agree or disagree with me. You can tell me what a wonderful fellow I am or you can call me an idiotic jerk. I cherish multi-sided conversations.

My second observation is that the LC blog seems to like to attack publicly-funded education. They don't come right out and say "Down with Public Schools", but their opinion of public education is not veiled.

Since LC's services aren't cheap, only families of a certain financial status can take advantage of the services offered. It almost sounds like they are advocating for a two-tiered education system: personalized attention for the rich and whatever one can muster for the poor and middle class.

We used to have an educational system like that, only it was maintained based on race.

Now let's wait for the LC minions to respond...which they will. They should just remember that I allow their comments; the LC blog does not!

Now I've Heard Everything

Just when I thought our world couldn't get any crazier, I read the following headline at the Guardian Unlimited, "Americans Seek Bodily Salvation through Jesus Diet". At first, I just knew it was one of those grabber headlines, the kind that don't actually relate to the article but DO get your attention.

But, no! The headline matched the article. Here are some tidbits:
Man does not live on bread alone, but Americans have become increasingly reliant on doughy carbohydrates in their diet. Now many in a rapidly expanding country are asking: "What Would Jesus Eat?"

That is the title of one of a growing number of Christian diet plans crowding the lifestyle shelves of mainstream bookshops. Other bestsellers include The Maker's Diet, The Hallelujah Diet and Body by God. For the persistently overweight, they hold the promise of spiritual and bodily redemption.

The selling strategies vary. Stephen Arterburn, the host of a Christian radio show and author of Lose it For Life, says: "If you want the world to notice Jesus, it helps to look and live like Jesus. We don't do this so we can look in the mirror and be more attractive. We do it so people can look at us and see Jesus."

In a country where 65% of adults are overweight or obese, few dieticians would argue with the Mediterranean-style diet these books advocate. But Marie Griffith, a professor of religion at Princeton University, said: "The negative part is that people feel they have failed God if they don't lose weight."

Doesn't the Religious Right have its hands full already? Isn't it enough to be rabidly Republican, anti-abortion, anti-working women, and anti-gay? I thought the next new key issue for these folks was the Right to Life/Death debate. Why do they now feel they must "save" people who are overweight while saddling them with enough self-righteous guilt to choke an elephant?

Think about it. Do you really want Aunt Millie or cousin Mike envisioning the crucifixion any time they reach for an extra piece of pie? Sounds to me like a recipe to increase bulimia nervosa!

I can envision the next great Christian saying -- Eat your fill, then puke for Christ.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Broken Promises Made Legal

Imagine working for the same company for decades -- Hey, it used to be not such a farfetched idea! Imagine forgoing raises, from time to time, in exchange for a promise that you would be taken care of in your later years. Imagine budgeting your retirement on benefits promised to you by your company.

Now imagine, years AFTER you've retired, that the company now wants to reneg on its promise. Welcome to the world of American capitalism!!

In a stunning decision, a federal bankruptcy judge gave United Airlines the green light to hand over its pension program to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a fund paid for by you and me through our tax dollars. In other words, their promise turns out not to be worth the paper it's written on!

Today is a sad day indeed!

Bush -- Down Under

In the future, Bush goes to hell. When he gets to the check-in desk, he finds the devil staring at a computer screen with a look of consternation. "You've definitely been sent to the right place," the devil says in a professional tone, "but I'm afraid we don't have any room at the moment." Clicking out of the current window, the devil rubs his goatee. "I'll tell you what I'll do. At the moment, we have quite a few residents who really didn't do much wrong. I'll send one of them out to free up a space just for you." Bush shifts to the right nervously. "And to make up for the inconvenience, I'll let you decide who gets to go."

So the two wind down a narrow passageway filled with bitter smoke, until they come to a room...

To read the rest of this witty gem, visit Swerve Left (note: It's the May 5 entry).

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Backward Thinking

I was always taught that the BEST way to solve a problem is to prevent it from occurring. Once the problem is allowed to arise, things can get complicated quickly. For example, if I don't wish to cause a forest fire while camping, the best way to insure a forest fire doesn't start is to make darn sure my campfire is out completely before leaving the site.

This seems like commonsense; unfortunately, particularly in politics, this kind of object lesson is rarely copied. If we envision Congress as a group of people camping in a National Park, they tend to be the kind of campers who would casually walk away from a roaring campfire (during the middle of a drought, no less!) If someone said to them, "Hey, what are you doing? Do you realize you're setting up the circumstances that could easily lead to a major forest fire?"

The campers wouldn't blink. "There's nothing to worry about," they'd say. "We've already called the local fire department, the US Park Service, the US Forest Service and FEMA. Once our campfire spreads and becomes a roaring blaze, those folks can put it out."

This may seem like a very simplistic example, but I would argue it exemplifies the manner in which too many politicians think about society's problems. Instead of investing in strategies and programs that might avoid or, at least, curb potential problems from happening, politicians focus on what to do about problems AFTER they've been allowed to occur.

This past week there's been a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about the need for federal legislation to deal with an increase in gang-related crime. One strategy that has gained a lot of media attention is to federalize several crimes that include gang-related activities.

What I find so ironic about all this talk is that this is the same Congress that has backed away from adequate funding for social programs like education, social services and job training. It's like far too many of our elected representatives seem incapable of understanding the cause-and-effect in the upsurge of gang membership.

The poverty that has a vise-like grip on many of our inner cities is the breeding ground of gangs. Children who grow up in these breeding grounds see unemployment, crime, violence and an almost universal feeling of impotence all around them. Membership in a gang wipes away this feeling of powerlessness and, believe it or not, helps create a sense of identity and self-worth for many youth.

The BEST method for successfully mitigating the appeal of gang violence and gang-related crime is to provide these kids with a sense of hope for the future. And the BEST way to provide hope is through programs that lessen poverty, strengthen education, offer living wage jobs and job taining, and to give these children a genuine reason to reject the gang lifestyle.

Unfortunately, these "get tough on crime" initiatives ONLY deal with the problem AFTER it has occurred. It's almost like saying that these kids don't matter to society UNTIL they run afoul of the law. When they do that, then all of a sudden, we're more than willing to spend money to lock them up!

This pattern is repeated time and time again. We say we want a more peaceful world, yet the vast majority of our spending is on the military which deals with conflict AFTER it has arisen. Instead of spending money to prevent war or terrorism, we pour billions of dollars into the institutions that can only deal with these problems once they are problems.

The old saying still rings true. An ounce of prevention...

Monday, May 9, 2005

Justice Ain't Colorblind

One of the greatest fallacies in the American criminal justice system is the belief that it is colorblind. Proponents like to chortle that our laws apply to everyone equally and don't fall more heavily on a person as the result of their race, gender, mental capacity or financial status.

In a manner of speaking, this belief contains a kernel of truth. However, the problem with ANY law is not so much the law itself but its application. And, when we speak of applying laws, then a person's race, gender, mental capacity, financial status or even where they live can make the difference between life and death.

This point has been driven home again by an Associated Press analysis of capital crimes in Ohio from 1981-2002. The study clearly illustrates that the application of justice in Ohio is based on a wide variety of SUBJECTIVE values.

For example, the AP reports that

  • Offenders facing a death penalty charge for killing a white person were two times more likely to go to death row than if they had killed a black victim. Death sentences were handed down in 18 percent of cases where the victims were white, compared with 8.5 percent of cases where victims were black.
  • Nearly half of the 1,936 capital punishment cases ended with a plea bargain. That includes 131 cases in which the crime involved two or more victims. Twenty-five people had killed at least three victims.
  • In Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold, just 8 percent of offenders charged with a capital crime received a death sentence. In conservative Hamilton County, 43 percent of capital offenders ended up on death row.
But the information gleaned from this analysis is nothing new. In 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan halted executions in his state because of a study from Northwestern University that suggested that many on death row might, in fact, be innocent. The fact that they had been convicted, in the first place, had a lot to do with the characteristics already stated above.

As Russell Cobb wrote this past week in The Daily Texan,

Rather than devoting all their time and resources into helping people like Tucker and Graham, however, anti-death penalty activists should remember why the Supreme Court originally ruled the practice unconstitutional in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia: Its application is arbitrary and therefore constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment"- a practice banned under the Eighth Amendment.

Receiving a sentence of death in America, Justice Potter Stewart said, is like being "struck by lightning"; for indigent defendants, a death sentence has very little to do with the severity of the crime and a lot to do with the luck of the draw of court-appointed lawyers and judges.

Recent research suggests that, despite the many attempts to "fix" the death penalty, its application is doomed to arbitrariness. David Dow, a University of Houston law professor and director of the Texas Innocence Project, points out in a new book that the death penalty - contrary to conventional wisdom - is not just given to the "worst of the worst."

The time is well past to take the death penalty OFF the table as most of the rest of the world has already done. It has nothing to do with being "soft on crime" OR a "bleeding heart liberal".

No, it has to do with the fact that the application of law regarding the death penalty is flawed by continual arbitrariness. To be arbitrary is, by its very nature, neither fair nor equal.

Sunday, May 8, 2005

The Twist of News

News is a peculiar animal. Depending on where one lives, a factual event or happening can be viewed as a spectacular victory or a crushing defeat, a spectacle which causes awe or an episode that engenders disgust.

Here's but one example. After the recent elections in England, the US press trumpeted that Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Labour Party scored a smashing win. If, however, you were to read of this election in almost any newspaper in any other part of the world, Blair & his boys merely eked out a victory.

In fact, while the mainstream US press continues to speak of Blair's "win" in glowing terms, the rest of the world is running headlines which tell of calls for Blair to resign after such a POOR showing (i.e., 63% voted AGAINST Blair).

I wonder if the mainstream US media will pick up on the REAL story?

Saturday, May 7, 2005

The Saga of Angry Bovine

Though Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) -- better known as Mad Cow Disease -- hasn't been in the forefront of recent news, the USDA assured consumers this past week that there is only a slight risk that the disease exists in the US today.

For some reason, these assurances don't instill me with great confidence. As the USDA admitted, BSE doesn't show up in cattle for years and the human-equivalent disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), doesn't show up after exposure for an average of 13 years. Consequently, while everything might APPEAR to be hunky-dory today, we could well find ourselves in a medical quagmire a few years down the road.

According to a PETA-sponsored site, It's Mad to Eat Meat, BSE is a scary disease.
Spongy brains, whether in humans, cows, or other animals, are caused by malformed proteins called prions. Researchers have traced recent outbreaks of the bovine version of the disease to farmers’ cost-cutting practice of mixing bits of dead sheep’s neural tissue into the feed of cows, who are naturally herbivorous. If cows eat the brains of other cows who already have BSE or of sheep suffering from a sheep disease called scrapie, the animals can develop mad cow disease. When people eat infected animals, thus far presumed to be cows, they could develop the human version of the disease...

The very idea of adding the remains of dead animals to cattle feed is a relatively new idea. Margot Ford McMillen, writing in The Progressive Populist explains it this way.
Government research, driven by industry, led to the decision to add leftover animal parts to animal feed. Each piece of the decision made perfect sense to researchers learning how to produce large amounts of food quickly. First, confine and raise huge herds in a small space. Exercise, which allows animals to walk off some of their fat, is an enemy if the goal is to raise animals to a large size very quickly, so good-bye to the wide open spaces.
To raise the animals even faster, researchers needed a source of protein more potent than grains like soybeans and corn. The researchers added bone meal and blood meal, two dry and relatively tasteless leftovers that could be mixed easily with the grains that animals are accustomed to eating. To make these palatable, researchers used molasses, a sweetener originally raised by farmers as their own sweetener. This was a familiar additive that didn't raise too many eyebrows; it had long been a treat for hard-working horses.

After researchers recorded gains with the bone meal and blood meal, they became more adventurous until animal feed became a dumping ground for all the leftovers of the livestock industry. "Offal," as the leftovers are called, consists of skin, bones, brain, intestines and so forth. These unprofitable parts are heated to a high degree, then dried, powdered, and added to grains and put in bins and 50-pound sacks marked "chicken feed," "hog feed," "cattle chow" and so on.

Many people know that, after a BSE scare in 1997, the FDA moved to change the requirements of the ingredients of feed fed to cattle. If you have a lot of time on your hands and you enjoy reading technical jargon, you can download 21 CFR Part 589.2000 from the FDA website.

While both the government and agribusiness believe the new feed restrictions are adequate to safeguard the health of American consumers, critics don't agree. Writing in the January 12, 2005 edition of In These Times, John Stauber reports,
Most Canadians and Americans believe that their governments have taken the necessary measures to stop the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy...For a decade the official line of both governments and the corporate meat and livestock industry has been that the disease could not occur in either country because of extensive safeguards such as the “1997 firewall feed ban” that officials claimed prevented the feeding of cattle protein to cattle, the means of infection for the deadly brain disease.

However, the regulations adopted by the United States and Canada in 1997 were too little and too late. For example, it is still legal in both countries to wean calves on formula containing cattle blood as a protein source.
In other words, the assurance by the USDA amounts to not much of anything. Beef cattle in both the US and Canada -- where most of the beef Americans consume comes from -- continues to be fed substances that we KNOW can cause BSE. Since, as indicated above, BSE doesn't show up in infected cattle for years, we could have a national epidemic on our hands and not even know it!

Personally, I'm not worried. I'm a vegetarian. ;-)

Friday, May 6, 2005

Getting Out the Heavy Lumber

One would think that a multimillion dollar corporation (with offices around the country) would have better things to do than go after one solitary blogger out of Salem, Oregon. However, it seems I've riled up the big wigs at Linda Christas, a company that offers online tutoring services to middle and high school students.

THEY approached me about a job. I did a bit of online investigating and decided their offer looked like a scam. So, I wrote about my investigation on this very blog under the heading, "A Few Good Saps".

This made them very unhappy. It seems they don't like any dissent or criticism. They bombarded the comments for this post. (Interestingly enough, my tracking software indicates that the only way they seem able to FIND this entry on my blog was to conduct searches with Google and Yahoo. One would think that once they had arrived here, someone would think to add it to their favorites or bookmarks.)

In fact, various representives of Linda Christas (maybe just 1 or 2 people "posing" as a lot of people?) posted so many comments that this entry rose in the Google standings for searches for "Linda Christas" and "Linda Christas scam". Currently, the latter is ranked 5th.

In one of my comments, I pointed out this fact. I wrote that they were unwittingly doing more damage to their self-defined reputation than if they merely ignored my blog. Still, they left MORE comments. (Maybe Linda Christas doesn't teach analytical reasoning skills.)

Because THEY were making the "Saps" entry so popular, more and more people have read it. So, they decided they needed to devise a strategy to try to remove my criticism from the internet. They decided to file a Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) complaint against me for supposedly using copyrighted material.

Did I plagarize their web site? Have I violated the law?

What they are alleging was a copyright infringement was merely my quoting their website and saying I quoted their website. According to the Anti-DCMA website,
Copyright, in the United States, is an attempt to maximize the intellectual resources available to all. People who create works - literature, art, software programs, music, and others - are given a limited right to keep people from making unauthorized copies of their work. This allows them to sell copies for a profit and provides a financial incentive to create more works.

In exchange for this, the public demands a number of concessions, primarily the following three:

1. Fair use is the right to make unauthorized copies of works for certain protected purposes - mainly for academics, reporting, or criticism. When a student quotes a book in a high school paper, she is making a fair use, and can't be stopped by the copyright owner.

2. First sale is the right to sell a copy over and over again, once it is made, as long as you don't make any new copies. When you read a book, then sell it to a used book store to be bought and read by someone else, you're exercising your rights under first sale.

3. Limited time - copyrights are granted for a limited time. After that time expires, the work goes into the public domain - it can be copied and used by anyone, for any reason.

Since my post was a critique of their published work (I wasn't using it to make a profit for myself), it SHOULD be covered under exception #1. I'm sure Linda Christas is well aware of this fact, but why should law matter to be a big corporation? As the anti-DMC website states,
Unfortunately, this law is very poorly written, and is now regularly used by corporations to restrain the three primary concessions of copyright and otherwise prevent free speech activity.
In order to fight such a complaint, a blogger must file a counterclaim. Google provides an explanation of the process and, it should be noted, it can cost a pretty penny! Since I'm a cash-poor blogger and Linda Christas is a multimillion dollar corporation, they've basically decided to try to squash me with their economic might.

They may regret that decision.

Addendum: To read even MORE on this topic -- admit it, you just can't get enough -- go here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

A Second Look at First Impressions

Most of us have been taught to make sure we start off with others on the right foot. The thinking here is that first impressions are LASTING impressions. And to be certain, there are a lot of people that place a great deal of emphasis on the first time or moment they meet someone.

From my humble perspective, accepting a first impression as anything more than what it is can be a big mistake. In fact, the way I attempt to size up others is almost always to THROW OUT my first impression.

I came to this conclusion years ago when I worked as a Child Abuse Investigator for the State of Arkansas. I realized that when I first met someone it was usually under circumstances that they would just as soon forget. No one wants to talk to someone who can potentially decide to have the family's child or children removed from the home.

Consequently, owing to the precise reason for our encounter, I came to understand that I tended to meet people under very stressful conditions AND I would probably see them at the worst behavior.

So, instead of making my mind up the minute I laid eyes on a person, I tended to not form any judgments until the second or third meeting -- after they had a chance to cool off. Often, my 2nd and 3rd impressions coincided with my initial ones. However, just as often, my view of the person changed radically. A person -- who initially came across as a raving lunatic, a hell bent troublemaker or an hysterical adult -- would often appear quite different later on in the process.

I began to realize that this phenomena applied across the board in most situations. In other words, it wasn't something that existed SOLELY because of this kind of specific situation.

When we encounter someone for the first time, there is often quite a bit of anxiety involved. Some people are simply uncomfortable making small talk with people they don't know. Others are out to impress the new person. Some people are overly talkative. (I can be that way when I'm uncomfortable.) Some people are painfully shy.

The point is that people tend to act differently than they might otherwise during initial encounters. And people too often make the mistake of judging or sizing up others based on what can be rather awkward situations.

Some people, in fact, form an initial impression about someone new and stick to it regardless of later observations. It's like they freeze frame the first few minutes of their relationship with someone and they use this mental photograph as a guide to interpret ANYTHING the person later says or does.

In most cases, they unilaterally alter the form the relationship could take. They objectify it and it becomes not a genuine give-and-take relationship but a caricature OF a relationship.

Expand your horizons. Don't allow first impressions to cloud subsequent observations.

KISN Their Fans on the Rear

For fans of 50s & 60s music in the Willamette Valley, KISN 97.1 FM was our radio mainstay. Not only did the music take us back to our youth, but it was refreshing to listen to a radio station with live DJs (not shock jocks or talk radio hosts) on every shift.

So you must understand the shock so many of us faced in late April when 97.1 on the FM dial featured the all new Charlie FM! Our oldies station had been abruptly moved to 910 on the AM side of the dial.

It would have been one thing if all that happened was a mere change in frequency. Unfortunately, the move only represents the tip of the iceberg! The way I understand it is that, on the day of the move, most of the staff showed up for work only to be handed a pink slip.

In one fail swoop, long time KISN personalities Dave McKay, Scott Tom, Brien Morris, Deb Janes, Steve Loid, CJ Carter, Scott Malone, Cyn Bolsta, Craig Adams, Scott Forest and Jim Conway were gone. Only Tom Parker (who, a short time ago, replaced fan favorite Jim Donovan) and John Williams were left. In place of most of the live format is sickening recorded station IDs.

A lot of people are upset at the fact OUR oldies station has been hijacked by corporate thugs! There have been lively discussions on Jack Bog's Blog and the Portland Radio Message Board.

I think one aspect of this highjacking which is so galling is that earlier this year KISN FM launched a new promo aimed at listener feedback. They urged listeners to call in to say what they like or disliked about the station and its format. I don't recall hearing any of the taped messages which said, "Trash your popular format. Get rid of most of your DJs. Alter the sound of your music by switching to AM".

No, most people liked the way KISN was being run. They liked the various personalities who trolled the airwaves day and night. They applauded management for keeping true to the KISN oldies theme.

And yet, despite ALL the praise they received, the corporate big wigs up and one day decided to dump what was working without any notice to their listeners OR the majority of their staff. It was like a royal slap in the face! It sent a cold and harsh message -- We genuinely don't give a rip about what you think!!

While I lament the fact that my favorite area radio station is now a mere shadow of its former self, I really feel bad for all the KISN FM employees who were shown the door. A lot of these people had been on the air for a good many years and now they're out looking for work.

The station's new motto should be "KISN Everyone (But We Money Grubbers) Goodbye!"

Monday, May 2, 2005

15 Minutes of "Fame"

It's becoming a disagreeable broken record -- somebody goes missing and the person responsible heads straight for the media and/or the police. "My children were abducted!" "My wife simply disappeared!" "We/I was taken hostage!"

Yet, in situation after situation, it's all a ruse. The most recent rendition of this phenomena concerns Jennifer Wilbanks, the woman who got cold feet prior to her large wedding. After turning up in New Mexico -- far away from her Georgia home -- the wayward bride initially claimed she had been abducted.

In short order, the truth came gushing out.

Part of the explanation for all these fake reports is easy to understand. People want to avoid being blamed for something they have done, often something sinister and criminal. It's like the child standing next to the shattered vase -- "Hey, don't look at me. I didn't do it".

However, there's more to it than that. We've become a society of too much information. News is everywhere -- TV, radio, the internet and in print. All by itself, Fox News (an oxymoron in my book) can transform the most arcane bit of information into a round-the-clock coverage replete with expert commentary of the every nuance of the situation.

So, along with attempting to avoid blame, too many people want their chance at 15 minutes of fame!

Of course, there are two key problems with all these fake reports. First, it wastes a lot of resources , time and people's concern over nothing. Second, and more importantly, it makes the public a bit jaded. Now when reports of this nature hit the airwaves, a lot of us immediately wonder, "Is this another fake story?"

Too often, the answer ends up being a resounding YES!! Therefore, when people are really in trouble -- through no fault of anyone involved in the media glare -- a time may one day come when the response will be slow because we automatically assume we're being told a big lie.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

What's the Verdict on New OSU Athletic Policy?

We've all heard or seen the reports before: A student-athlete is charged with a crime and yet seems to be in uniform for the big game. I must admit I've often suffered from the all too typical knee-jerk reaction -- "There going to let the SOB play?!"

On Friday, OSU Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis released to the media a draft version of his school's new discipline policy. On the heels of several highly publicized criminal allegations against OSU football players, the rules will be much harsher than in the past and may apply retroactively.

According to an article in the Corvallis Gazette-Times,
"We are not going to backtrack in this," De Carolis said. "I don't expect any retractions. It's a minimum (punishment level). I'd like to hear what the state Legislature has to say, and what other people have to say. I doubt anyone will say this is too tough. If there are any more changes, it might be more severe."
For minor offenses such as citations and misdemeanors, the act of being charged will set the disciplinary policy in motion. Depending on several criteria, a student athlete will be barred from participation in 10% of games or more.

If the charge rises to the level of a felony or indictment, the student-athlete will be suspended until which time they are cleared.

Is this genuinely fair? I always thought we lived in a nation in which a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet, under this new policy, a student-athlete will be punished regardless of whether or not they are indeed ever found guilty.

Imagine if this policy applied across the board to people from all walks of life! Would you think it was fair if you were suspended from work without pay or school without an excused absence merely because you were charged with a crime? I know it wouldn't sit well with me.

What happens if the police or prosecutor later discovers new evidence that exonerates the student-athlete? What happens if the case goes to court, but the judge or jury finds the student-athlete innocent?

How is OSU going to repay the student-athlete -- particularly a senior in the last year of eligibility -- for lost time away from their team? Are they merely going to say, "Gosh darn, we're awful sorry?"

It's a given that our society often places far too much emphasis on athletic endeavors. Student-athletes, just like the rest of us, have a responsibility to themselves, their families and their educational institution to try to be upstanding citizens.

Yet, while it's certainly true that many student-athletes don't take this responsibility as seriously as they should, they shouldn't be singled out by a policy that runs counter to American legal principles. In my opinion, the new OSU athletic discipline policy is grossly unfair.

What do you think?