Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Inspiration Is All Around

For me, one of the beauties of the blogging experience is having the opportunity to find inspiration from the thoughts and writings of others. While many blogs resemble nothing but talk radio (i.e., shout, shout, shout), there are just as many that deal with key and important issues in a respectful and thought-provoking way.

If I daily listed all the blog posts that inspire me, I wouldn't have the time to write anything of my own. Still, from time to time, I like to share with others a few of the blog entries that have inspired me. Who knows? Maybe they will inspire you too. Use the provided links to read the entirety of one or more of the posts listed below.

(Note: I've turned the comments feature off for this post simply because, if you have the desire to comment, I'm directing you to post your comments on the appropriate blogs.)
from The Yoga Loft
"Looking Away From Suffering" Jan 30, 2006
In America we have been taught to look away from suffering. I can remember when I was very little, my mother and I would shop in Pasadena and she would tell me not to look at the homeless people who were begging for money. My mother was teaching me not to care. When we look away from suffering, we deny ourselves the opportunity to understand about existence, our own existence. Since suffering exists in every aspect of life, choosing to not look at or experience suffering is choosing to not have all of life--to live superficially.

from The Useless Tree
"Curing His Addiction to Life" Jan 31, 2006
If we hold on to life too strongly, if we insist on seeing life as LIFE (an inflated image of what it really is), then we are not fully living but simply moving toward the realm of death. But if we let go of our overblown expectations of what we might accomplish in our lives, and simply live the life that is before us, there will be "no place for death" in us...

from Open Text
"It's Not Either/Or" Jan 29, 2006
God doesn't bother me, and I don't bother Him. He's happy for me to be a freelance Taoist.

Taoism's just the best thing. For example it teaches that nothing in life is black and white. Or I should say, everything is black and white.

There is nothing that is 100% good. Or 100% bad. Everything contains some good and some bad. Mother Theresa wasn't all saint, she used to like killing flies. Adolf Hitler was a monster, but he was kind to dogs and even kids.

from Transcendental Floss
"Flosstown Hall: Work" Jan 31, 2006
Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
–Zen proverb attributed to Wu Li

The latest in our Flosstown Hall series of discussion posts, it’s time to talk about work.

Do you subscribe to Wu Li’s teaching, that even the most ordinary daily tasks can be part of a spiritual journey? Or, are you more partial to the idea that true happiness is found by doing what you love? Are these two concepts even really at odds?

from Church of the Churchless
"Atheists in Foxholes Do Exist" Jan 16, 2006
Religious belief or faith is almost always individualistic. That’s a paradox, considering that humility and loss of ego usually is considered to be a religious virtue. It’s self-centered to believe that a God, guru, angel, Buddha, or whoever is going to bestow upon us the blessing of a miracle that isn’t available to all.

We are special. Divinity cares more about us than others. These beliefs underlie every intercessionary prayer. For if we merely wanted God to give us what is natural, normal, lawful, and regular, we’d merely say “thy will be done” (which, in my opinion, is the best prayer—if you feel the need to pray at all).

A Shadow of her Own

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was struck down by an assassin's bullet, it felt like someone had kicked us in our societal stomach and we couldn't breath. It was the end of an historic era. Many felt that King's dream might never be realized.

But out the void of his death walked Coretta. His widow, though beset with grief, decided to dedicate the rest of her life toward turning her late husband's words into reality. She became the first lady of the civil rights movement. Sadly, Coretta Scott King died yesterday.

She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She was an outspoken defender of civil rights and justice. In essence, she stepped outside of her husband's shadow to create one of her own.

I think Rev. Joseph Lowery, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said it best, "She wore her grief with grace; she exerted her leadership with dignity."

Wasted Days & Wasted Nights

I've noticed this really strange announcement in the "What's Happening" section in the local newspaper. Several times per week a group by the name Moms in Touch International comes together to pray for "their children, their schools, their teachers, and administrators." They meet in various area homes.

And what precisely are they praying about? Well, there mission is to "be a positive support and encouragement for public and private schools, praying that our schools may be guided by biblical values and high moral standards."

I checked out their website. Nowhere did I find any suggestion that these moms get actively involved in their local schools. There was nary a suggestion that moms join the PTA or volunteer in the classroom or run for school board or help out with extracurricular activities. No, the only thing these women are supposed to do is pray.

Look, I have nothing against meditation or prayer. If it helps you feel better about yourself or allows you to get in touch with the one, more power to ya. However, we live in this world and, if we want to affect change, we need to be actively involved in this world. Sitting around a coffee table praying ain't going to cut it.

Imagine if the women involved in this organization actually spent their time doing something proactive. Imagine them rolling up their sleeves to help deepen their children's educational experience. I bet they could get a lot accomplished.

But alas, I'm sure they will continue meeting several days a week wasting precious time. What a loss!

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Most Interesting Debate

Over at OlyBlog, what began as a discussion about Mal*Mart and the externalization of health care costs has now morphed into a wide ranging discussion about capitalism, business ethics and general economic principles. If such topics are the kinds that get you salivating, then why not hop on over and put in your 2 cents worth?

Who knows? Maybe we can solve all the world's economic problems online.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Memo to Homeland Security

I know you folks at the Dept. of Homeland Security have developed an insatiable curiosity as to what kind of materials we potential threats (i.e., people who openly criticize and detest the [p]Resident) are checking out of our local libraries. To make your job a little easier, I'm going to share with you what library material I currently have in my possession plus, as an added bonus, the two items I have requested holds on.

Checked Out Items
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eastern Philosophy by Jay Stevenson, Ph. D. (2000)
Meditations by Jiddu Krishnamurti (1979)
Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings Ed. John Dear (2002)
The Mystic Harp by Derek Bell (1996) Note: CD of Celtic Harp music
Nourishing the Essence of Life : The Outer, Inner, and Secret Teachings of Taoism by Eva Wong (2004)

Items On Request
The Jesus Sutras : Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity by Martin Palmer (2001)
Tao in Ten by C. Alexander Simpkins (2002)

I realize this list is probably boring by your standards. Nothing about bombs or violence. Sorry to disappoint you.

Muted Applause

Most people are now aware that Washington state -- after a 30-year fight -- has finally approved adding sexual orientation to legal protections against discrimination. I realize that the many dedicated people who've been involved in this process have the right to be happy and overjoyed, but my enthusiasm for this great victory is somewhat muted.

It just boggles my mind that legislation had to be passed in 21st Century America to insure that a respectable and productive segment of our population is afforded a certain measure of dignity. What does it say about us as a society that we had to pass a LAW to accomplish this?

Why is it so hard for people to just accept people (and all of life) as they are? We differentiate people based on color of their skin, sexual orientation, gender, economic standing, age and mental capabilities, to name only a few things.

Yet, for all these differences, we share so much more in common. We all breath the same [foul] air. We all need food and water to survive AND we all have to eliminate waste from our bodies. We all need love and nurturance. The list of commonalities is extremely long.

But do we focus on such things? Hell, no. We focus instead on the little differences and we magnify them to unreal proportions. We make mountains out of molehills.

And for what? So we can feel superior to others!

This is all so crazy when you realize we all come from the same essence, an essence where nothing is superior and nothing is inferior. Everything is one.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

We're All Animals

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Mohandas Gandhi
Located a scant 2 blocks from my house in Aberdeen is an organization (PAWS) dedicated to animal rescue. As there aren't too many progressive groups in this area, I decided to volunteer with PAWS.

The place is filled with discarded animals, mainly cats and dogs. The cats are housed in the main building, while the dogs are boarded with a local vet. The organization has one solitary paid staff person, Val, who has given 30 years of her life to these cast-offs. Aside from Val, the work is performed by volunteers like me and, I've been told, there really aren't enough volunteers.

Yesterday, a family brought in a 10-year old cattle dog who, they said, they could no longer take care of. Let me tell you, that was an understatement. This poor dog was skin and bones; it was very obvious they had quit taking care of it months ago!

For far too many people, pets are nothing more than another commodity. They enjoy them while the animals are young and fresh, only to discard them like an old newspaper when they grow in size.

It saddens me greatly when people talk of other animals as lesser beings. We were all created by the same cosmic forces; we all have our place at the same cosmic table.

We are all one with Tao.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nonviolence Resistence is Not Passive

Over the past few weeks I've encountered quite a number of people who seem to think that passive and nonviolence are one and the same word. When discussing strategies and tactics to oppose neo-Nazis or timber companies or whoever, someone always seems to say something like, "We've got to do something. We just can't sit around nonviolently waiting for things to get worse."

Though often not explicitly stated, the inference is that nonviolent resistence both is passive and a way to wimp out of confrontations. As both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi illustrated time and again, such thinking couldn't be further from the truth.

When someone hits you or screams obsenities in your face, the knee-jerk reaction for most people is to respond in kind or worse. It tends not to be a thinking response -- it's more a reaction than anything else. It's the easiest of responses possible.

It also tends to create a chain reaction of violence. Each person can convince themselves that the other party started or escalated the situation. In essence, each side views themselves as the victim who, by birthright, must now avenge the previous attack.

We see this in the world today in the so-called "war on terror". Many in the Islamic world feel they are victims of US foreign policy which, in their view and others, is terroristic. So, they return terror for terror. The US is attacked on 9/11 and so views itself as the victim. So, the US attacks Afghanistan and Iraq. All this does is create a never-ending cycle of attack, react, attack, react, attack...

The nonviolent approach consciously seeks to stop this cycle dead in its tracks. If somebody hits you, you don't hit back. If somebody yells vulgarities in your face, you don't yell back. Instead of reacting violently, the nonviolent person uses reason, strategy and, in some cases, overwhelming moral authority.

What surpises so many people about this strategy is that it works remarkably well. Dr. King used it to overturn legal segregation in the US. Gandhi used it to gain independence for India. Mandela used it to end apartheid in South Africa.

In all of these cases and more, nonviolent resistence was anything BUT passive and nonconfrontational. No, in each case the movements involved were very active and very confrontational.

For me, the difference between a strategy of violent reaction (large or small) and nonviolent resistence concerns the amount of thinking and planning. The former doesn't need much of either, the latter is thinking and planning intensive.

People tend to want what they want, right now. If a person is not willing to be patient, then a nonviolent strategy appears to be out of the question. Yet, the violent reaction actually increases the likelihood that the time frame for change will be elongated because, once initiated, it begins the cycle of back-and-forth violence.

A cycle that often never seems to end.

Stealing YOUR Vote

Every election season US citizens are encouraged to vote. Hey, it's our patriotic duty, you know. Yet, there is mounting evidence that our votes -- yours and mine -- are not secure AND, if any of us happen not to be a Republican voter, many such votes are not being counted or they are being switched.

Here's an excerpt from an Alternet interview with Mark Crispin Miller, author of the new book, "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too".
In New Mexico, for example, we're told that Bush won by some 7,000 votes. We know of over 17,000 Democratic voters who were unable to cast a vote for president because the touchscreen machines in their districts refused to record a vote for president.

These 17,000-plus New Mexicans turned out to vote in Democratic areas, and they didn't record a vote for president. Seventeen thousand is 10,000 more than 7,000. That glitch alone can account for the ostensible victory margin of Bush over Kerry in New Mexico. Greg Palast's new book will have a whole chapter on New Mexico. It's hair-raising stuff, and we haven't heard a word about it. The same kind of thing happened in Iowa, where Bush supposedly won by under 10,000 votes.

Tom Daschle was supposedly beaten in South Dakota by 4,500 votes. There was so much chicanery going on there, that it's easy to argue that John Thunes should not have won. I know Daschle believes he was robbed.

This isn't only a matter of the White House, it's also a matter of the Congress. I don't believe that this government represents the people of this country. The people of this country, however frightened some of them may be by terrorism, are essentially not theocratically inclined. They don't want a Christian republic. They were not happy with the way the government dealt with the Terry Schiavo case. Americans basically believe in the American system of government. Checks and balances, the separation of church and state.

The press kept telling us after the election that a huge outpouring of religious voters account for Bush's miraculous victory. Well that's nothing more than a talking point that the religious right itself put out after the election. There is no statistical evidence whatsoever that there was any increase in the number of religious voters.
Damn scary stuff, if you ask me.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What now, Georgie?

The current explanation (version #229) for the war in Iraq is that the US is there to bring democracy and peace to the Middle East. Yet, as James Ridgeway reports in today's Village Voice, the win by Hamas in Palestinian elections now means that 3 hardline groups head up the governments of Iran, Iraq & Palestine.

All 3 of these groups are militant toward the machinations of Bush's erstwhile foreign policy. So Georgie, how you going to spin this one?
Hamas's stunning victory in the Palestinian elections represents not just another setback in American foreign policy, but a real debacle. Ever since Khomeini took power in Iran, the U.S. and many of the Western nations have feared the creation of a militant Muslim presence stretching from Iran across the Middle East.

With Hamas's democratic victory yesterday, the people of Palestine have spoken, and what they want is George Bush's nightmare.

As things now stand, Iran remains under Shiite control. The recent elections in Iraq have resulted in a Shiite-dominated central government there. (That government is almost sure to shrivel as the country breaks into three parts--the southernmost is Shiite, and has control over important oil reserves.) With Hamas in power in the Palestinian territory, there is yet another militant Muslim group with a grip on the wheel of state.

Despite assertions to the contrary by the Bush administration, al Qaeda appears to have grown and spread its operations. The Taliban is once more active in Afghanistan. Where bin Laden was at loggerheads with Saddam Hussein before the war, now al Qaeda has inserted itself into Iraq where it operates with apparently considerable freedom.

All this is coming at a time when reports are showing the American military strained to the breaking point--as if that outcome should have been at all unexpected.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Defining Words

Since the beginning of time, one of they key problems within human communications has centered on how different people define words. Most of us assume that how we define a word is how everybody else does too or, at least, if there are different ways to define a specific word or term, everybody naturally understands that we are using such words or terms in a way that is consistent with our own particular definitions.

Here's but one example of this phenomena. In the Midwest where I grew up, dinner and supper are used interchangeably to describe the evening meal. However, in some areas of the south, dinner means a formal mid-day meal, while only supper is the evening meal. So, if I invite my southern friend to dinner, he/she may show up at noon and wonder why no one is sitting down to eat dinner. In this case, dinner is defined differently for the two of us.

As many people in the general Olympia Justice and Peace Movement have been discussing the Nazi presence and our community's response, it has occurred to me that there are different conceptualizations in regards to the term, nonviolence. I believe this represents one of the reasons that nerves have become a bit frayed and has caused many people to feel frustrated by the dialogue.

Below I will present what I feel are the general levels of definition for nonviolence.
  • Definition A: Do no physical harm to other people (or yourself).
  • Definition B: Definition A + Do no harm to the Earth or planet.
  • Definition C: Definitions A & B + do no physical harm to other creatures.
  • Definition D: Definitions A, B & C + do not cause damage to property.
  • Definition E: Definitions A, - D + cause no non-physical harm to other beings.
  • Definition F: Definitions A - E + do not even wish or think of harm to come to other beings.
Of course, there are certainly more combinations than listed above and/or each of you may group them differently. My point, though, is that through our various communications, we may often think we are in agreement or disagreement about definitions and such misconceptions can serve as the impetus for arguments, hurt feelings and frustration.

Personally, I define nonviolence via Definition F. How do you define it and why?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The American Gestapo

Thanks to Rob over at Bazz Fazz Flong Jompers more people are waking up to the fascist machinations of the Bush Administration. While there are more reasons than I can count to oppose the reauthorization of the so-called Patriot Act, the creation of a NEW national police force in the same vein as the Nazi Gestapo certainly heads the list.
A provision in the "PATRIOT Act" creates a new federal police force with the power to violate the Bill of Rights. You might think that this cannot be true, as you have not read about it in newspapers or heard it discussed by talking heads on TV.

Go to House Report 109-333 USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and check it out for yourself.
In the name of ethics, democracy and freedom, please check this out. And, after you've checked out, protest it by every peaceable means possible!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fueling Hatred

What serves as the motor than drives hate groups? Some would say the number one fuel is fear. Others would offer inadequacy as a possible explanation. In my estimation, the number one thing that generates hate is hate itself.

Hate feeds a fire within that generates even more hatred. It consumes the individual and scorches their soul. It becomes their be all, end all reason for living.

Reports from yesterday's counter rally in Olympia tell of a group of over 100 peace and social justice activists surrounding 9 members of the Nazi Party. From what I've read -- I wasn't there -- the Nazis and the counter demonstrators "freely exchanged jeers and insults" aimed at each other.

Some of the folks from the Olympia peace community are now flabbergasted that the Nazis are calling yesterday's event a success. I'm not amazed in the least. I believe the Nazis received the exact kind of reaction they had hoped for.

Like Bin Laden goading the Bush Administration to dig in their heels even more on the "war on terror", I genuinely believe that this Nazi group hoped to goad the peace activists into lowering themselves to the Nazis' level. And those activists who chose to meet slur with slur and jeer with jeer obliged them.

As the Nazi Manifesto is built upon a foundation of hate, it appears to me that this group doesn't care where the hate originates. It fuels their fire, regardless. And there's no question in my mind that many of the counter demonstrators HATE the Nazis.

As I've written several times before, I agree with Martin Luther King Jr.'s notion that hate begets more hate. If this belief is correct, then the Nazis came to Olympia hoping to syphon off a large dose of hate from the counter demonstrators to be used to fuel their faithful to greater solidarity and they received precisely what they so desperately wanted.

Hate. Hate. And even more hate.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hating Hate

The politics of hate and fear is an easy cause to advance. Decide on your goal, dehumanize the oppoisition , appeal to base emotions, and brand anyone who might disagree with you as a traitor to the cause. But how should progressive forces respond to such an agenda? How do we advance a completely different set of values without succombing to the temptation of hating the hate?

The key problem with hating hate is that one hate doesn't negate the other. No, all you end up with is more hatred. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

While, in the abstract, this is all well and good, how do we accomplish defeating hate with love? As mentioned in the previous entry today, how does a peace community stand up in love against Nazi sympathizers to say we reject your message?

There are no easy answers and, because of this, the peace and social activist community continues to discuss and grapple with appropriate responses.

I have no easy answers as well, but I do know one thing. Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others through the ages are correct -- We can't hate the hate. We can reject the message. We can object to the consequences hate begets. We can try to do everything in our personal and collective power to try to influence this world to embrace itself. We can and should do all these things, but we must not add more hate to existing hate.

To do so will bring us the exact opposite of what we yearn for.

Freedom of Speech

The Nazis are coming! The Nazis are coming! This is the call that is ringing out throughout the Olympia Peace Community. It seems the National Socialist Party (Nazis) are holding a rally and march today in Olympia, WA. The newspaper reports the organizers expect a contingent of only 15 or so.

Olympians for Peace plan a counter rally -- one that will drown out the Nazi message and will send the following message, "No Nazis in Olympia".

As a self-defined radical left winger, you might think I welcome such a counter rally and plan to be at the head of the procession. And, if you think this, you're wrong.

Do I agree with the Nazi message? Hell NO! I find it reprehensible, hateful and downright disgusting. BUT I also agree with the right of free speech and free assembly. Consequently, while I abhor all the Nazis stand for, I defend their right of free speech.

For me, this is what freedom is all about -- defending the rights of those you most oppose. If those of us on the Left only will support the rights of those who agree with us, we're no better than the Bush Administration -- an administration that seeks to silence any person or group that opposes their secretive and hateful agenda! We're no better than the fundamentalist bloggers who seek to control dialogue and debate by silencing those who disagree with them.

I have no trouble whatsoever with anyone holding a counter march against the Nazis in Olympia or elsewhere. I have no problem with trying to get out a message of love, respect and mutual understanding. Yet, it's one thing to counter with our own message of dignity and quite another to try to drown out them out and to tell them to go away.

They have the right -- just as we do -- to express their opinions and to assemble, no matter how disgusting and divisive they are.

That's what freedom is all about.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What If They Held An Election And...

...nobody showed up to vote? After the 2000 election, it was shown that Al Gore, not George Bush, won in the State of Florida. In essence, the wrong person took the oath of office for the presidency in January 2001.

Editor Joel Bleifuss, writing for In These Times, shows that potential voter fraud and/or tampering was readily evident in 2004 as well.
Concerned about reports of election fraud and vote suppression in the 2004 election, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, to examine the allegations. In September, the GAO released a report that found electronic voting systems "have caused local problems in federal elections--resulting in the loss or miscount of votes." In the 2004 general election, about 64 percent of voters cast ballots on one of two types of electronic voting systems: optical scan systems, which read marked paper ballots, and direct recording electronic systems (DRE), which have a touchscreen that voters use to make their choice.

The GAO highlights one major problem with electronic voting systems: They can be hacked because of woefully inadequate security systems.
What's the point in voting if we have no confidence our votes will be recorded accurately. It becomes nothing more than a grand charade!

Who's to blame for this problem? Both the Republican AND Democratic Parties! And, in my book, the Democrats are the most culpable.

Strong evidence exists that Al Gore carried Florida in 2000 and John Kerry actually carried Ohio in 2004. However, in both cases, the Democratic Party BACKED AWAY from a fight that would have delivered the presidency to them. In each case, they could have made a stand for the integrity of our voting system and, in both cases, they walked away.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Beyond the Boundary

Our life has a boundary, but there is no boundary to knowledge. To use what has a boundary to pursue what is limitless is dangerous.
So says Chuang Tzu (Chapter 3).
It's natural for people to want to know where they come from. We want to know how we fit into things and if we were planned. These are powerful questions and go along way toward explaining why a great many adopted children spend a lot of time and money trying to find their birth parents.

Yet, as Chuang Tzu aptly points out, there's a limit to what a human being can comprehend. While it's one thing to want to find your birth parent, it's quite another to try to understand the why and how all life began on this little orb.

And let's get down to brass tacks. No one knows now nor will ever know what sparked life from nothingness. It doesn't matter if you are a devoutly religious person, a philosophical Taoist or an atheist. It is a type of knowledge that is beyond the realm of human understanding.

Since it's impossible to understand, Chuang Tzu suggests you quit trying to figure it out. All you're doing is wasting precious moments of your finite time on earth.

Concentrate on what you can learn and comprehend; forget about what you can never know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rev. Pat Robertson Declares War on God

After today's news conference in which God renounced any connection with the Intelligent Design movement, Rev. Pat Robertson announced on nationwide TV that God should be assassinated. "If he's unwilling to accept responsibility for the human race," Robertson declared, "then I think we should get rid of him and replace him with a super being who is willing to accept responsibility."

Robertson said he would begin efforts to recruit sharpshooters to make up a Christian "hit squad". He said he was unsure what type of weapons would be employed, but promised the hit squad would be armed to the gills with self-righteous piety.

Christian leaders from across the nation condemned Robertson's declaration. "The man has finally fallen off the deep end," stated Rev. Barry Patch of Grover's Peak Baptist Church in Huntsville, MO. "It was bad enough when when he ascribed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke to divine retribution, but this shows the man has lost all touch with reality."

When reached for comment, God simply stated, "Pat, Bring it On!"

A Message from God

Washington, D.C. (AP) Today, in a celestial press conference, God said he was greatly alarmed by the controversy over Intelligent Design. He announced he has just hired a lobbyist, a PR person and, most importantly, a darn good lawyer. "I just want to make one thing perfectly clear," he boomed. "I've been misquoted."

Here is God's statement released to the press:
There are a bunch of my supposed followers (I'm making a list -- I know WHO you are!) who are running around America claiming that the universe, in general, and humankind, in specific, is so complex that only I could have created it all. While I am very pleased and think I should get a pat on the back for creating the universe, have you seen the shape of humanity? It's not the kind of thing I want on my resume, thank you.

To be quite candid, I'm not sure at all where people come from. Back in the beginning, I had no plans whatsoever to put human beings anywhere in the universe because I knew they would undo all of my fine handiwork.

I had just finished putting the finishing touches on the cosmos, when I had to take care of some personal business, and I look around and SOMEBODY dropped these two people onto planet earth. I considered simply erasing them, but they started worshipping me and you can't really rub out something that worships you, right? So, against my better judgment, I let them stay.

Talk about stupid decisions! People have made my life a living hell! If it's not one thing, it's always something else. You know, beavers, rocks and flowers give me no headaches at all, but people make me want to stick my head in the toilet.

Now, I know some of my most rabid so-called followers will insist that this message isn't coming from me --it's just Satan impersonating me. Well, for those such idiots, I've got something for you to chew on: Since I'm omnipotent and the smartest guy around, why would I have put an appendix in the human body?

The appendix serves no biological purpose whatsoever. It just sits there, waiting to become infected. Your heart pumps blood. Your liver produces bile. Your lungs breath. Your brain...well, let's skip that one. Your stomach digests food.

But what does your appendix do? NOT a damn thing.

Why on earth do you think a being as smart as I am would put a nonfunctional organ in your body? Was I just bored? Do you think I had a bunch of loose items sitting on a table -- horns, scales, tails, appendix, humps, fins -- and I just said to myself, "Hmm. I think I'll throw in an appendix"?

In closing, if someone tells you they support this kooky theory of Intelligent Design and they're advocating it on MY account, it's not true. Don't believe them. I readily admit that I created the universe, but somebody else created you hideous beings.

If you have any questions, contact my lawyer.

Something to Think About

The Tao doesn't take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn't take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners. The Tao is like a bellows: it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand. Hold on to the center. Chapter 3, Tao Te Ching

So how does this differ for you from typical western thought? Does it or does it not differ from the Christian perspective?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ain't Coming Back

Throughout the past two days I have seen a lot of comments about how much we need Martin Luther King Jr. today. While I devoted four separate entries yesterday to this man (who is one of my heroes), I believe it borders on dangerous to wax eloquently about a leader who died nearly 40 years ago. It shifts our focus to the past when we need to be sharply focused on the present and future.

There's no question that MLK would serve today as the same kind of beacon for hope and dedication as he did in the 50s and 60s. But folks, he's dead. He ain't coming back. Rather than rehash our grief at his assassination in 1968, we need to develop NEW leaders who will embody his spirit and more.

That said, there is one trait in our new leaders that should emulate the path taken by Dr. King. These new leaders must be chosen by the people, not chosen by themselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't set out to be the voice of the civil rights movement. He was often a reluctant leader. He would have been more than a happy to let the spotlight's glare fall on others. But the people chose him to be their standardbearer and he served because of them.

Today, we have a lot of people who go at this from the opposite direction. They tell us that they are leaders and then they go around trying to drum a devoted flock. They are consumed with fame and recognition and being a "player". We don't need that kind of leadership.

As I believe Dr. King exemplified, the best leaders are those who would rather not lead. Their emphasis is on the movement, not themselves. Because they are NOT so self-centered, they are more apt to listen to the counsel of others and to bring people together in solidarity to accomplish goals, not get "their" name in the paper.

As great as he was, Martin Luther King Jr. is dead. Dead men AND women don't lead movements. Live ones do.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Love Over Hate

Today I have written solely about the words, aspirations and dreams of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is so vitally important to remember what Dr. King gave to humanity.

He wasn't a perfect man, far from it. He had vices and foibles, just like the rest of us. Still, despite his imperfections, Martin Luther King Jr. was a credit, not just to his race, but to the entire species.

He provided hope to millions when there was little to hope for. He provided courage when fear was widespread. He provided a beacon when the skies were dark and foreboding. He provided a dream when many had given up dreaming.

Dr. King came into the national spotlight during a time in our history when fear, bigotry and hatred were rampant. If you look around our world today, this three-headed monster has reared its head again. We need another Martin Luther King, Jr. to rally the people together, to fight injustice with justice and to oppose violence with peace and love.

As in earlier entries today, I am going to share with you more of the words and thoughts of this great man. It is my sincere hope that these words will inspire not only you, but me, to greatness in the service of humanity.
Selections from The Strength to Love, 1963
  • If an American is only concerned about his nation, he will not be concerned about the peoples of Asia, Africa, or South America. Is this not why nations engage in the madness of war without the slightest sense of penitence? Is this not why the murder of a citizen of your own nation is a crime, but the murder of citizens of another nation in war is an act of heroic virtue?
  • The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
  • Is not fear one of the major causes of war? We say that war is a consequence of hate, but close scrutiny reveals this sequence: first fear, then hate, then war, and finally deeper hatred.
  • Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
  • Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Selections from Strive Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958
  • To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor.
  • To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe.
Selections from Where Do We Go from Here?, 1967
  • Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affectation, little more than what one would have for a pet. Love at its best is justice concretized.
  • Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism.

1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Unsurprisingly, a recent poll on the progess of race relations in the US was divided upon racial lines. By and large, white Americans felt significant progress had been made, while black Americans weren't as enthusiastic. White America believes the goal has been realized; black America thinks we have a good ways to go.

While there is no question improvements in the black-white relationship have been reached, one of the problems inherent in such a poll is that it doesn't consider the overall racial question. Even IF we had finally bridged the gap in black-white relations, I believe we have still taken several steps backward in the question of how we treat all racial and/or ethnic groups.

While blacks have borne the brunt of bigotry, discrimination and vigilantism over the past 250 years (though our American Indian brothers and sisters would argue that point), several other groups have had to endure much as well. Today, the primary focus of fundamentalists and white supremacy groups are Latinos and anyone who looks Arabic.

Does anyone really believe that, if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive today, he would believe we had made great strides in race relations while private armies patrol our southern borders and fundamentalist pundits rally their supporters to push for bans of social and educational services for immigrant workers?

Does anyone truly believe that Dr. King would not be appalled at the way the Islamic faith has been ridiculed and denounced? By the way people with Arabic names have been tortured, discriminated against and murdered?

Does anyone believe that King would be in favor of this so-called war against "terror" and of the US attacks against the nations of Afghanistan & Iraq?
Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.

It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.

It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than to win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.

Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monlogue rather than dialogue.

Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. (emphasis added) Stride Toward Freedom, MLK, 1958.
If you plan to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day, do it in a way that celebrates the life of this great figure. Openly oppose the war in Iraq. Treat everyone you meet -- regardless of their skin color or ethnicity or religion -- the way you would want them to treat you.

Follow in King's footsteps. Become the new Martin Luther King of this generation.

The Ultimate Respect

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. (Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Birmingham, Alabama, 16 April 1963)
This one of one of the great legacies of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And it's a message that seems to be lost on a great number of people on BOTH sides of the political spectrum.

Conservatives, of course, view openly breaking a law as being unpatriotic and, at times, even treasonous. Don't like a law on the books, they say. Use the appropriate channels. Lobby your elected leaders. Elect different leaders. Write a letter to the editor.

The problem here is that the so-called appropriate channels tend to support the status quo. Most of the people involved aren't interested in changing the law in question.

Yes, you can lobby...if you have the money. If you don't possess the needed financial capital, do you think anyone really listens?

Yes, you can elect different leaders who have been hand-picked by the power brokers, political candidates who AGREE on the major issues and only quibble about how soon or how much.

Yes, you can write a letter to the editor...but few such letters have ever resulted in any type of meaningful change.

But the group of people that has really missed the import of this message are those on the other side of aisle. Here I'm talking about those activists who strike a blow against the capitalist machine and then scurry like mice into the forest.

If you feel a law or situation is unjust, then commit your act out in the open and willingly accept the consequences (like the brave souls who protest at the School of the Americas every year). Don't run a guerilla-style campaign and then run off to hide.

Stand up for what you believe in by accepting what the power brokers dish out. In doing so, you will be living Dr. King's words.

King for More Than a Day

With the annual Martin Luther King Day upon us, let us not allow this great leader to be whitewashed again as usual. Besides being one of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement, Dr. King was also a steadfast advocate for economic justice. There is so much more to his legacy than the "I Have a Dream" speech.

While there is no question that King frowned on communism, he did support democratic socialism. Below is information on the often under reported side of this great man
His widow Coretta Scott King noted that "within the first month or so of our meeting," in 1952, King "talked about working within the framework of democracy to move us toward a kind of socialism," arguing that "a kind of socialism has to be adopted by our system because the way it is, it's simply unjust."

She commented that "Democracy means equal justice, equity in every aspect of our society," and that King "knew that the basic problem in our society had to do with economic justice, or . . . the contrast of wealth between the haves and the have-nots. Believe it or not, he spoke these words to me when I first met him. It wasn't something that he learned later and developed."
- The Radical Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Christian Core, Socialist Bedrock by Paul Le Blanc.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
- Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence MLK Speech

Perhaps it was no accident that he was murdered not during his campaign to end segregation, but when he began to challenge the foundations of American capitalism, militarism and imperialism.
-Remembering the Real Martin Luther King by Stephen Zunes

You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry.... Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong... with capitalism.... There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
-Wikipedia quoting MLK

How many know the King who told the SCLC that "the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people," King elaborated for his colleagues. "And one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there forty million poor people in America?' And when you beg to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question you begin to question the capitalistic economy."
-Martin Luther King, Jr. Democratic Socialist by Paul Street (no link, received via email)
When you remember Dr. King on Monday, remember the whole man, not the narrow view presented by the mainstream media.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Starting Point

A lot of factors go in to reaching a destination. We can look at the mode of travel, the speed, the diligence utilized for the trip, adequate planning for unforeseen obstacles and how well a person reads their map. While each of these criteria is important, the one aspect that is most important of all is where one begins the journey.

Let's say you want to move 100' to the west. If you begin this journey pointed west, there's a good chance you will succeed. However, if you set out moving solely north or south, you may never realize the goal. You will spend your life moving in circles, your chosen destination will appear to be beyond your grasp.

I've been reading a marvelous little book, "Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony". The author, Ming-Dao Deng, takes the reader into the world of Tao through the use of ancient Chinese calligraphy. Each page is devoted to a particular word like sun or field.

Two of the pages really got me to thinking about the starting points we humans choose. Below are snippets from Open (p. 27) and Purity (p. 30)
There is no curse on humanity. There is no original sin. There is no bad karma from previous transgressions. There is no spiritual wisdom forbidden to the people. The true spiritual downfall of humanity occurs only when people ignorantly and willfully close themselves to spiritual wisdom.

...The two leaves of each person's door are ignorance and selfishness. The ignorant think they know everything, and so they are not open to anything new. The selfish cannot think beyond themselves, and so they do not have the farsighted qualities needed to understand Tao. The wise open their doors wide and let the vitality of Tao flow freely.

Purity is the ultimate Tao...Innocence is to be absolutely clear, without the taint of selfishness. Innocence knows no ulterior motives, no lust for immortality, no drive to extraordinary. Innocence is simplicity.

The ancients taught that you are already innocent. No matter who you are, you have an inviolable core...It is not necessary to seek Tao in an intellectual way, or in an ambitious way, or in a selfish way. It is unnecessary to seek Tao for the sake of some supposed salvation. If you understand your own absolute purity, then you can see how unnecessary such methods are. You are already pure.
Tao offers an altogether different starting point than Christianity. According to the Christian religion, each person is born flawed, due to the concept of original sin. No matter how hard we try, we are each incapable of excising this primal blemish. Were it not for some outside force, we would be doomed from the outset.

It is only through the grace of God, through his son Jesus, that we may escape. We don't deserve to be pardoned; it's a gift based on faith. And, according to the fundamentalists of Christiandom, that faith has to meet very narrow guidelines or you may still be out of luck!

From the Taoist perspective, there is no original sin. We are each born pure and a measure of this purity exists in us, no matter how we try to cover it up. We don't need to look toward the heavens nor ask someone else for redemption. The power to return to the state of absolute purity resides in each of us. If we are open, unselfish and diligent, each of us can uncover our own core.

Two different starting points.

Two different world views.

Two different destinations.

Where are you headed?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Everything We Are

As a child, I had a fairly set routine. Monday through Friday I went to school. Every weekday at 4:30 p.m. I practiced the piano for 30 minutes. Sundays and Wednesday nights I went to church. Like so many others, my life was compartmentalized. In fact, this is an apt description for the vast majority of people in the civilized world.

Christianity -- particularly in its more conservative forms -- has sought to compartmentalize spirituality. The realm of God and worship is segmented from the rest of our lives. In order to get in touch with the divine, we must belong to a particular church, read particular books, listen to the words of particular clergy (who interpret FOR us the words in those particular books), and pray in a particular way.

Far worse, our spirituality is divorced from other aspects of our lives. This point is well stated in the current edition of Tikkun Magazine, "Making Room for Spirit". Materialism, the world of business, is of a realm different from spiritualism.

This helps to explain why a God-fearing conservative Christian feels no qualms whatsoever in running their business in a ruthless fashion. In business, it's okay to destroy the environment, alienate your workers, and treat your customers or consumers with callous disregard in an ever-charging sprint toward profit. Business is not bound by religious precepts.

So, after treating the world as their own personal fiefdom, the ruthless capitalist can go to church to mouth the sacraments and pray for forgiveness for their personal, though not their materialistic, shortcomings. After having performed their religious gig for the week, they return to the business world to pick up where the left off -- looting the planet and trampling people.

For the Taoist, there is no separation between spirituality and any other aspect of life. All are one in the same. How we conduct ourselves every minute of every day, regardless of the activity involved, reflects our spirituality.

As Ming-Dao Deng expresses it in "Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony",
Everything we do is Tao. Spirituality is not just "out there". It is all around us and in us. If we understand that, no matter where we look, spiritual revelations abound.
Whatever your belief system, live it in all you do. If you compartmentalize your spirituality from everything else, you divide yourself. And a divided house will fall.

It Rains or Shines, Regardless

One of the wonderful aspects of nature is that it just is. There are no pretenses. No ideologies. No belief systems. No vanity. No illusions. The sun shines and the rain falls...on everyone and everything.

You can be good or wicked, charitable or a scrooge, helpful to a fault or entirely self-centered. It matters not.

It's sad that more people refuse to learn and embrace this lesson. We live in a nation that has moved more and more toward faith-based social services. If a person is hungry and homeless, they are welcomed in with a slice of bread, a roof over their head and a [un]healthy dose of proselytizing. In time, if many don't mouth the sacraments, they are turned back out on the street as another "lost" soul.

Yes, we'll extend to you a helping hand IF you believe as we do. If not, get out of our sight -- there are more lambs to try to shepherd.

While I'm no fan of religion, I have no problem whatsoever if a person shares their faith in whatever IF asked. If a person in need, while being provided with assistance, asks what motivates the act of charity or what serves for the foundation of a helper's commitment, by all means share what serves as your fount of inspiration.

But charity should never be doled out with proselytizing as a mandatory component.

For me, this one of the things that truly separates a conservative-minded person from a liberal one. Conservatives support laws and initiatives that will benefit them and their kind only. The more liberal-minded person supports policies that benefit everybody, even those they completely disagree with.

An example of this is the push for universal health care. Such a health care system would insure that the medical needs of everyone are provided for from cradle-to-grave. It wouldn't matter if you were a conservative or liberal, a Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor. You would be covered.

Just like the sun and the rain.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why Blog?

Numbers. We're surrounded by them, especially in the blogosphere. Some people lament that their web stat numbers aren't large enough, while others trumpet to the world that their web state numbers are astronomical beyond belief. Who cares one way or the other?

Numbers aren't tangible things; they're symbols. While they can certainly quantify the number of people who visit a blog or the number page views per day, week or month, they can't reflect the impact any particular blog has on one or more of those visitors.

A million people could visit your blog today, yet none of them may be moved to think deeply about your chosen topic. On the other hand, only 20 people may visit your blog today and several of them may be moved to contemplate deeply your thoughts and analyses.

The big question each blogger needs to ask her/himself is: Why do I blog?

Is your life missing something so that all you really want is attention, a way to say, "Hey everybody, look at ME"? If so, then numbers will be very important to you. In fact, I would guess that the numbers themselves matter far more than the content you offer or the impact your thoughts and comments might generate.

If, on the other hand, you blog for more intrinsic reasons, then forget about the numbers. They genuinely don't matter.

As long as I'm posing this question, I'll share why I blog. For starters, I write constantly. Writing helps me better formulate my ideas and beliefs. Often, ideas in my noggin seem vague and nebulous, but really begin to take shape when put down on paper or the monitor screen.

I share these thoughts in a public space because I enjoy receiving feedback. Whether your comments are in agreement or disagreement, they make me analyze my thoughts anew. They force me to look deeper at my own biases and blind spots. In essence, the give-and-take deepens the experience for me.

Finally, another reason I blog is because I think I have a different perspective than many in my country. The vast majority of Americans know next to nothing about Taoism. Therefore, I see a key purpose of this blog as being educational, both for you the reader and me the writer.

I look at my web stats every day. This blog averages between 25-30 visitors. That's not a very big number. I don't care.

I don't write for numbers. I write for me and you.

That's enough for me.

Here are some blogs that I really enjoy. Maybe you will too.
The Useless Tree
Meat-Eating Leftist
Ratboy's Anvil
Swerve Left
This is Class Warfare
Three Wise Men
Under the Same Sun

What Are You Folks So Afraid Of?

I've recently noticed a rather alarming trend in the blogosphere -- Comment Moderation. It used to be something you'd run across now and again -- usually on conservative blogs in which the "moderator" preferred to showcase uniform comments (i.e., comments that agreed with the stated point of view).

Lately, however, scads of people from all sorts of political and philosophical bents seem to be employing this tool. What are you all so afraid of?

How can we ever expect people to better understand each other if we each try to control all sides of our conversations? In order to create genuine dialogue, it takes two to tango. While it's certainly true that another person might take issue with something you write, what's the big deal?

I know some people post a little comment about wanting to keep malicious comments off of their blogs. The problem here is that what's malicious to one person may not be malicious to the next. Why not let your readers judge for themselves if something is written maliciously?

If somebody wants to slander your name, leave it on your blog. If somebody chooses to threaten you, let all the world see it. If nothing else, their words might be used against them in a court of law.

Having trouble with spam comments or robo messages? If so, use the random word tool.

It simply blows my mind that we have millions of people in the world setting up blogs and posting their innermost thoughts for all to see. It's pure freedom to be able to write whatever you feel like. Yet, despite this one form of freedom, many of the same people want to deny others the right to express themselves freely in response.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Place for Intelligent Design

Before picking up the current edition of Tikkun Magazine, I most likely would have told you that I believed the best place in our school systems for the teaching of Intelligent Design was the nearest waste basket. I've had a change of heart though, after reading the column, "Evolution & Science Under Attack".

This unsigned editorial has embraced an idea central to Taoistic thought -- seeking change just as water silently changes its environment. As the editorial points out,
...there is another danger if progressives make the scientific account of evolution the only acceptable explanation of the origins of nature. Evolution is the only legitimate scientific narrative, but not the only acceptable account, because there are other ways to understand reality that science cannot reach.
This same message is conveyed again and again in Taoist writings. There is nothing wrong with employing our intellect to learn more about the world we live in, but it is a mistake to believe this is the only and best way to learn. Each person is apt to learn more about the mysteries of life by casting aside desire to meditate or contemplate the Tao.

Another basic concept of Taoism is that reality is so vast that the human mind will never be able fully to grasp it. No amount of scientific exploration will ever be able to quantify it. No scientific theory will ever come close to encompass it.

Therefore, there are ways that move beyond science that can help us understand the nature of Tao. And Tikkun has proposed an excellent methodology to incorporate both science and belief systems into school curricula.
...that we insist that alternatives not be taught in science courses, but instead be taught in mandatory courses on world religion and philosophy. In the context of such courses, the biblical creation story should be taught alongside the creation stories of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Scandanavia, India, China, Africa, and Native American cultures, and they should be assessed in terms of how well they provide foundations for a framework of meaning to our lives.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Is Nature a Brute?

Over at GreenInk, there's been an interesting discussion about cougars, wolves, nature, ranchers, human society and the planet. In arguing that the natural order isn't all it's cracked up to be, one comment suggests that nature can be brutish. My response? In strictly human terms, one could certainly look at it that way.

During the discussion, it was pointed out that people die from preventable disease and, though it may not be "natural" to try to prevent such, it was incumbent on society to attempt to do so. In this way, this particular commentator was trying to show that nature itself could well be improved upon.

From my standpoint, I think the problem with such an argument is bound up in this person's understanding of natural process. By nature, humans have been bestowed with the capacities to think sequentially and to formulate complex thoughts. We are thus able to understand, in a limited way, the workings of the human body and those behaviors, environmental stresses and organisms that might injure or conquer our bodies.

Therefore, it is not unnatural in the least for humans to try prevent disease. In fact, because all beings develop mechanisms to try to insure their very survival, it would go against nature if we did not try to prevent the destruction of our species.

Still, with all that said, it does not negate the question of whether or not nature or life itself can be brutish.

Things happen in our lives that we don't understand. A child is born with a debilitating condition (to read a marvelous book that deals with one family's struggle to understand their child's disabilities, I highly recommend you read Aidan's Way) or dies at a young age. A person happens to be in, what we call, the wrong place at the wrong time and dies tragically. A person, in the prime of their life, is struck down by a horrible disease or is waylayed by circumstances.

If such events involve people we know and/or love, the personal pain that we feel can often be brutish. There's no way to get around this and I'm not saying such feelings are trivial. They bore deep into our beings and sear us with a burning sword.

Once the immediacy of the pain has tempered, it's important to step back to realize that our personal tragedy fits somehow into the wide mosaic of reality. While it may seem senseless to us -- primarily because we have a most provincial view of the whole of reality -- it fits in to the constant ebb and flow of nature, that process that seeks to harmonize all life.

Some may say that's not very comforting. I guess it all depends on one's perspective. Personally, I've never found any solace at all in the Christian notion that the reason a person dies tragically is due to "God's" plan. Since no one seems to know what that plan entails, I don't see how that removes the brutish feelings one experiences.

In the end, there is no way fully to escape the human perspective of the brutishness of death, whether it be tragic or merely inevitable.

In the world of sentient beings, everything eventually dies. In other words, from the standpoint of nature (Tao, the Way) it's truly not brutish at all.

It just is.

[At a later time, I'll discuss if death is something we must necessarily fear.]

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Misunderstanding Balance & Harmony

While Taoism has no creeds, rituals, declarations or officially-sanctified doctrines, it does center around two congruent concepts: balance and harmony. I try to relate this perspective, both on this blog and in the comments I leave on other blogs. Over the past year, however, I've come to experience far too many times when it's abundantly clear that a great number of people don't truly understand what is meant by these two words in relation to our world and society.

The most common critique I encounter is that harmony and balance are mechanisms employed by those of us who seek to drive society towards the middle. It has been suggested to me, more times than I care to count, that what we (e.g., Taoists, environmentalists, socialists, liberals, etc.) want to root out is individuality. We want everyone to live in the same size house, drive the same type of cars and earn about the same kind of wage.

In a word, according to many, all balance and harmony will bring is a mad race toward mediocrity.

I believe the problem with this wide disparity of understanding boils down to the level of dimensional thinking. For people who hold a one-dimensional, fundamentalist view of the world, the concept of balance is seen as achieving the middle between two counteracting weights or forces. In essence, it's the attempt to negate both, leaving one in the nebulous middle.

Harmony is thus viewed as a mere repackaging of the word, balance. Taken separately or together, these concepts strike at the heart of the Christian ethos of dominion over the world and the capitalist mantra of a constant drive for ever-increasing profit. People who support the concepts of balance and harmony must therefore by non-Christians and socialists.

While, in many cases, this is an apt description (it certainly describes me), it is by no means a universal definition. I have many friends who are both Christian AND capitalists who still embrace the concepts of balance and harmony.

So, what differentiates them from others?

From my perspective, those of us who embrace these ideals view the world in multi-dimensions, not one. For us, balancing and harmonizing aren't linear exercises of counteracting only two variables. We view the world as an organism with billions and billions (actually far more than that) interrelated parts and processes. And it is because we view the world as a vast mosaic that the drive toward balance and harmony will rarely, if ever, land one in the middle.

One way to illustrate this point is to think in terms of music. From a one-dimensional perspective, counteracting all the notes and voices save one leaves a sterile monotone. Any song or piece of music that is robbed of its complexity and diversity loses the essential qualities necessary to call it music. (Imagine a barbershop quartet in which all four singers sang the same note in the same pitch for the entirety of the "song".) If this represents the way a person views the world, then it's quite understandable why someone would resist it and condemned it.

Fortunately, music is not one-dimensional. The notes, pitches and/or voices meld together to create something pleasing to the ear and spirit. In this instance, harmony and balance don't mean negating anything but enhancing everything!

And so it is for the world at large. Balance and harmony don't lead down the road to mediocrity but to a dynamic reality. It doesn't mean everything must be the same or strikingly similar; instead it means that everything must fit together to create one essence, one world, one reality.


Saturday, January 7, 2006

One Choice Among Choices

Over at Where's Your Brain?, yesterday's little diatribe was on the misnamed School Choice issue. The argument for that blog's author and several others as well goes like this: Republicans (more so diehard conservatives) want to offer parents the opportunity to place their children in any school they want and have taxpayers fund it. Liberals, on the other hand, oppose this concept. Ergo
There has always been this very false perception that liberals are the champions for the poor, yet time and time again the facts prove otherwise. The facts continue to prove that it is the conservatives that are the true helpers for those in need. Republicans as a whole want freedom of choice in education; Democrats do not want freedom of choice. School vouchers provide that choice and Democrats hate the concept.
Let's deconstruct this argument to discern if it's true or not.

The supporters of the educational voucher program do, in fact, favor providing people with a choice, but in only ONE aspect. The only time that choice is an issue is when it comes to parents and students having the opportunity to choose a school.

They do not believe that taxpayers should be offered any choice in the matter. What if I don't want to fund a school that teaches apartheid or injects God into every issue? Do I as a taxpayer have a choice of which schools my tax dollars will support? Not on your life. In this instance, conservatives are staunchly against freedom of choice.

They also don't believe that members of the community should have a say in how a private is run or managed or the curriculum taught. What if members of the community want foreign languages such as Spanish to be taught and private school administrators are against the idea? Should the community have the power to impel Spanish classes? Not on your life. In this instance, conservatives again are against a community's freedom of choice.

What if teachers at a private school decide they want to form a union? Should they be allowed to? Heavens no. Again, conservatives are against providing teachers with freedom of choice.

Finally, should a private school be mandated to accept any student who has the requisite funds to attend? Well, of course not! Private schools have standards! If such a mandate existed, private schools would be no different than public schools. So, while proponents of school vouchers do favor providing families with the opportunity to apply to any school of their choosing, it is up to the schools themselves to decide if that opportunity will become a reality.

As you can see, the choice argument collapses upon itself. It really has next to nothing to do with providing people with greater options.

A Pocket of Overflowing Zeroes

Back in 2003, I led an effort before the Salem (Oregon) City Council to denounce Bush's plan to conduct a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Over 180 citizens turned out to provide support and/or testify on the resolution presented. Not only did we make front page news in the Statesman Journal, but our effort was featured on PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer. (You can watch the streaming video here.)

Besides the event at City Council, many of us wrote letters to the editor. One of the points we hammered on was the potential cost to American taxpayers. We pointed out repeatedly that conservative estimates placed the price tag somewhere in the range of $100 - $200 million.

Well, you can guess what the response was from Bush supporters. "Those liberals are being overdramatic." "They're just trying to whip up hysteria." "It won't cost anywhere near that much and they damn well know it." "The president says it will cost far less and I believe he's being candid and honest." On and on and on.

According to an article in yesterday's Guardian, we hysterical liberals were indeed wrong! The "war" in Iraq isn't going to cost American taxpayers $100 - $200 million -- No, the bill will wind up being $1 - $2 TRILLION!!
The real cost to the US of the Iraq war is likely to be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion), up to 10 times more than previously thought, according to a report written by a Nobel prize-winning economist and a Harvard budget expert.

The study, which expanded on traditional estimates by including such costs as lifetime disability and healthcare for troops injured in the conflict as well as the impact on the American economy, concluded that the US government is continuing to underestimate the cost of the war.
Seems we weren't so hysterical after all.

Religion & the Concept of Exclusion

We increasingly find ourselves in an "us against them" world. While the Bush cabal uses this concept in an attempt to manipulate the American public to give their blessings on an ever-growing list of nefarious purposes, we would be shamely wrong to lay the burden of this mentaility at their feet. Neither Bush, Cheney nor Rove invented the "us vs them" scenario.

The Islamic fundamentalists who are warring against most things American utilize the very same rhetoric. And, if you look at almost any armed conflict throughout the eons of history, the "us vs them" theme is played out over and over again.

From whence does it come? Is it simply part and parcel of the human condition?

I'm sure there are many theories out there, but, for me, the impetus for this concept is borne of religion. While the Jews/Christians seem to hold a copyright on the term "the Chosen People", almost every religion sees their adherents in the same light (there are some exceptions like the Quakers or Unitarian Universalists). It should go without saying that, if their are CHOSEN people, then there are also UNchosen people.

(From a fundamentalist Christian perspective, this drive toward exclusivity has manifested itself both in the "war on terror" and the attempt to cast down the separation of church and state doctrine.)

In order to join the exclusive clique of true believers, one must purchase the moral cookbook and explicitly follow the recipe. If you decide to add a pinch here when it calls for a dash there, then you're informed that your souffle will fall and you can't even get a stinking refund!!

If, however, you're a good little boy or girl and you follow the recipe to a T, you're given the secret password to allow you into the celestial country club. Because you made it in, it's natural to look down on those who -- because of ignorance, apathy or willfulness -- didn't work as hard as you to follow the instructions.

You and your mates become the chosen people. Anyone not in the fold becomes a leper. By choosing to exclude all others, YOU have created your own enemies. If you look at what's going on in the world today, this explanation goes a long way toward defining the reason for the large amount of animus afoot.

This ongoing problem of willfull exclusion is one of the reasons I patently reject religion. Rather than bringing people together, it is a mechanism used to separate. Instead of being a methodology to create harmony, it is used to bring discord.

There is another way. Taoists (and others who completely eschew labels) view all of creation as being of one fabric. There is no genuine us or them, only we. There are no recipes to follow or, put another way, there are as many recipes as there are beings.

You can believe in Tao or reject it completely. You can try to live your life in harmony with Tao or ignore it. You can try to move close to it or run away from it. You can call it whatever you want.

In the end, none of these things matter. Tao just is and ALL of us are part of it.

We are ALL members of the same circle.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Hydrogen Boom or Bust?

I found a very interesting article at the Alternative Press Review. It covers a subject I know little, if anything, about -- the hydrogen economy. The author, Dale Allen Pfeiffer, argues that a shift toward hydrogen fuel is not all it's cracked up to be. What do you think?

Here's his opening salvo. Please visit his blog to read the article in its entirety.
There is a lot of talk about the hydrogen economy. It is at best naïve, and at worst it is dishonest. A hydrogen economy would be a pitiful, impoverished thing indeed.

There are a number of problems with hydrogen fuel cells. Many of these are engineering problems which could probably be worked out in time. But there is one basic flaw which will never be overcome. Free hydrogen is not an energy source; it is rather an energy carrier. Free hydrogen does not exist on this planet, so to derive free hydrogen we must break the hydrogen bond in molecules. Basic chemistry tells us that it requires more energy to break a hydrogen bond than to form one. This is due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and there is no getting around it. We are working on catalysts which will help to lower the energy necessary to generate free hydrogen, but there will always be an energy loss, and the catalysts themselves will become terribly expensive if manufactured on a scale to match current transportation energy requirements.

All free hydrogen generated today is derived from natural gas. So right off the bat we have not managed to escape our dependency on nonrenewable hydrocarbons. This feedstock is steam-treated to strip the hydrogen from the methane molecules. And the steam is produced by boiling water with natural gas. Overall, there is about a 60% energy loss in this process. And, as it is dependent on the availability of natural gas, the price of hydrogen generated in this method will always be a multiple of the price of natural gas.

Ah, but there is an inexhaustible supply of water from which we could derive our hydrogen. However, splitting hydrogen from water requires an even higher energy investment per unit of water (286kJ per mole). All processes of splitting water molecules, including foremost electrolysis and thermal decomposition, require major energy investments, rendering them unprofitable.

Oh, the Bureaucracy!

For any organization to function well, there needs to be a strong administrative foundation. In other words, bureaucracy isn't inherently bad. That said, it can certainly be a royal pain in the butt as my wife found out this week.

Since we're new residents in the State of Washington, we needed to trade in our Oregon drivers licenses for the Washington version. We trotted down to the Department of Licensing (DOL) at Aberdeen's South Shore Mall (which, by the way, is NOT on a shore). In no time at all, we both had new drivers licenses.

However, once we arrived back home, my wife realized they had printed her birthdate wrong on her interim license. According to the card, she was suddenly 1 year younger!

She decided to return to the DOL the next day, thinking this would be an easy thing to correct. How wrong she was.

She pointed out the erroneous date to the DOL rep. She pointed to the correct date on her old Oregon license. The rep pulled up her name on the computer and informed her that the date on her interim card was what showed up on the screen. She, of course, pointed out that it was incorrect.

The rep told her that the screen he was looking at was from the Social Security Administration's (SAA) database. She would need to go to the SSA office in Hoquiam to clear up the matter. Fine, she replied.

So off she went to SSA. Within a short time, an SSA rep was looking up her record. Guess what they found? The SSA had the correct information and couldn't figure out why DOL was blaming this problem on them. My wife, being a savvy women, asked the SSA rep to provide her with a written statement that indicated her information was correct in the SSA database. Ok, this should clear things up now, my wife thought to herself.

Wrong again. Upon returning to the Aberdeen DOL office and presenting her old Oregon license AND the official statement from SSA, incredibly the DOL rep insisted that the record he had accessed was from SSA still showed the same birthdate, the incorrect one. My wife, by now getting highly frustrated, told this guy to look at the SSA document to see that SSA did in fact have the correct date in THEIR database.

He was unmoved. First, he suggested that maybe they had changed it to the correct date when she wasn't looking and then changed it back after she left. Next, he admitted that maybe the problem was that somebody at DOL had entered the wrong date. BUT, regardless of what the precise problem was, he wasn't going to fix it.

No, the only way the problem could be rectified is for my wife to shell out $12 to get Arkansas to send an official copy of her birth certificate.

My wife even tried to get this situation resolved by calling the DOL state office in Olympia. She received the same kind of runaround from them too

For us, the $12 is inconsequential. It's the principle at work that bugs us. Though the problem falls squarely on Washington's DOL, we have to jump through the hoops to fix it.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

A Different Book

By now, almost everyone in the world has become all too familiar with the neocon's doctrines of pre-emptive war and an endless war on "terrorism". Under the [leadership] of the Bush cabal, the U.S. military has already laid waste to two nations -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- and there are many indications we're gearing up to attack a third, Iran.

Since Bush contends he is acting at the behest of the Christian deity, we must assume he's using the Christian Bible as primary source material. There is no question that selective parts of this text could easily be used to justify his nefarious actions. (Of course, there are just as many sections of the Christian Bible that would contradict his chosen course, but who pays any attention to THOSE parts, anyway?)

What if Dubya decided to use a different book as his blueprint? I'm sure there are scores of them that would lead the world down a different path. One of my favorites is the Tao Te Ching.
To always be the winner in conflicts with others is not the greatest skill. The sage knows to achieve goals without any conflict is the much greater skill.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Of This World

When people learn I'm a Taoist, a common remark goes something like, "Oh Taoism, yeah that's a religion from China." While there IS a religious form of Taoism -- it came along thousands of years later -- basic Taoist belief is philosophical. Hence, many people today refer to it as classical Taoism.

It's not a religion. In fact, many Taoists (like me) don't believe in religion at all. All religions share one thing in common -- The belief in something supernatural. Some are monotheistic, while others are polytheistic. Some have elaborate creeds, doctrines and rituals, while others are much less formal in their structure. Still, the tie that binds all religions together is this belief in a supernatural being that effects the world in some manner.

Taoist don't view anything as SUPERnatural. We view each entity that makes up the cosmos as part of the nature of the universe. If everything is part of one principle or force, then nothing can be above it. That's precisely what supernatural means -- above nature.

The Taoist view wasn't derived from ancient books handed down by the "Gods" nor from the words of a sage or two. We ground our view of the world in the world itself. As I've written before, everything is interconnected and an action in one realm causes a ripple effect throughout the whole cosmos.

When events occur that we don't easily understand, we don't presume that some benevolent or malevolent force is at work. We acknowledge that, as human beings, we are unable to grasp the breadth of the universe and so things that seem random to us are anything but random for the workings of nature. Somewhere there was a causative agent that set in motion the result that we experience.

It has been mentioned to me before that Taoism seems like a belief system bereft of joy. I think that couldn't be furthest from the truth. Watching a magnificent sunset, a caterpillar became a butterfly or the ebb and flow of waves on an ocean beach is like heaven to those of us who see ourselves as part of Tao, the one.

My major gripe with religion is that people spend all their time concentrating on what they can't see and experience directly, while basically ignoring the splendor that envelopes them. If more people would stop to smell the flowers and listen to the breeze rustling the leaves on a tree, they would fast discover that we each have far more in common with the world around us.

We are the world and the world is us.

The interconnected cosmos.

The one.


Tuesday, January 3, 2006

No Wonder Dubya Doesn't Read the Newspaper

We've all heard the [p]Resident's comments that he doesn't tend to read newspapers. It's becoming very obvious why -- They write down what he says and then expose it when he does the opposite. Regarding the question of the legality of NSA domestic wiretaps, James Ridgeway reports in The Village Voice,
...the New York Times revealed Sunday that when Bush couldn't get top level clearance for the wiretaps from deputy attorney general James Comey, two aides -- Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, and Alberto Gonzalez, then White House counsel and now attorney general -- went to George Washington University Hospital here, in a circuitous effort to get Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was recovering from gallbladder surgery, to sign off on it

Moreover, the AP reports that Bush, in Buffalo in 2004, was asked about a remark he made at an appearance in support of the Patriot Act, the president said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap," Bush said, "a wiretap requires a court order." He added, according to the AP: "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
Hmm. I guess if I had the propensity to twist words on a whim, I wouldn't read newspapers either.

A Very Quiet About-Face

One of Dubya's most oft used phrases is "Stay the Course". Anytime someone suggests bringing the troops home or ending offensive engagements, Mr. Bush sternly scolds, "Stay the course. Stay the course." Now, according to the Guardian Unlimited, our Commander-in-Thief has decided NOT to stay the course in one specific area -- Rebuilding Iraq.
The Bush administration has scaled back its ambitions to rebuild Iraq from the devastation wrought by war and dictatorship and does not intend to seek new funds for reconstruction, it emerged yesterday.

In a decision that will be seen as a retreat from a promise by President George Bush to give Iraq the best infrastructure in the region, administration officials say they will not seek reconstruction funds when the budget request is presented to Congress next month, the Washington Post reported yesterday.
So folks, there we have it. The country that we have willfully blown up and continue to blow up will soon have to rebuild itself. It is now painfully obvious that, what Bush stated in February 2003 in a speech at the Washington D.C. Hilton, is not the same as "Stay the course."
Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before -- in the peace that followed a world war.
Obviously "sustained" means something different to this man. For most people, sustained means "ongoing, maintain or prolong" (e.g., the Marshall Plan) -- Staying the course. But for Bush, these words only apply to aggression.

I was vocally against this "war" even before it began and I remain appalled at our nation's continued use of unmitigated military force on the small nation of Iraq. We have a MORAL and ETHICAL responsibility to clean up and rebuild the destruction we've wrought. To do otherwise is beyond shameful!!