Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bomb Them Back to the Stone Age

I'm always perplexed when people devise beliefs that run counter to human nature. They look at some global issue and treat it as if sterile robots are the main players. They somehow forget -- or ignore -- the fact that people don't behave in such and such a manner during the routine episodes and encounters of our lives.

One such example is encapsulated in a phrase I hear all too often: The way we're going to achieve peace in the Middle East is to bomb the "terrorists" back to the Stone Age.

Violence and strong arm tactics never achieve a LASTING peace. To be certain, one can achieve the illusion of peace, but resentment, revenge and hatred are almost always seething just below the surface. These volatile emotions may not come bubbling up in the present generation, but, sooner or later, they WILL see the light of day.

If you don't believe the above assertion, I ask that you step back to take a look at the routine emotions and behaviors displayed by you and others in the course of daily life. Here are but two examples.
  • You and a colleague are both trying to secure the same promotion. Your colleague, not you, gets tabbed for the position. More often than not, most of us will believe it's because our colleague manipulated the system to his/her advantage and we didn't get a fair shake. A lot of people in this situation will develop a grudge against the promoted colleague and will go out of their way to undermine and embarrass them.
  • Two or more people offer an idea or strategy for their group to follow (church, social club, nonprofit advocacy organization, business, etc.) All of these individuals compete against each other to curry the favor of the majority or the key decision-makers. Typically, one person is more aggressive than the others and so it's their idea or strategy that wins out. The "losers" tend to bear a grudge and wait for the day when they can put so-and -so in his/her place.
Both of the examples cited above clearly illustrate that most of us don't take kindly to being strong-armed. When we believe others have been overly-aggressive or mean and vengeful toward us, a natural response is to want to pay them back in spades. We look for every opportunity possible to get our revenge.

If we then extrapolate everyday experience to the world of foreign policy, it becomes quite clear that bombing our adversaries "back to the Stone Age" will not net the ultimate result our "leaders" so desire. All it really does is create more determined enemies; people whose sole purpose in life is to ensure we pay in blood ten times over.

Far worse, it creates a perpetual cycle. Each time one side strikes, the other feels victimized and so plots out their revenge. They strike and now the other side views themselves as the victims and plots out their revenge. And it just goes on and on and on...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I have moved to an area that has a lot of flying insects: gnats, flies, mosquitoes and several other insects that I can't name. It's not prevalent throughout South Bend, but seems to exist in pockets. Our neighborhood on the hill appears to be the victim of a stagnant pond located below us on Weyerhaeuser property. As if I didn't have enough reasons to despise Weyerhaeuser anyway...

The mosquitoes, in particular, have taken up residence in our 2 bathrooms. This is not surprising since mosquitoes need moisture to survive. Be that as it may, it's quite annoying to climb into the shower and have to swat mosquitoes.

As our weather is slowly turning cooler (night temps are now falling into the low to mid 40s), the blood-sucking insects seem a bit slower and less able to dodge my hands. I've actually become quite adept at smashing them between my index finger and thumb. If that fails, I flatten them against the wall in the shower.

Of course, the act of killing these insects -- who simply are doing what they must do to survive -- does cause me to take pause from time to time. I sometimes ask myself what right I have to decide these life and death issues. Though I'm certainly cognizant of the threat of West Nile Virus and the more benign irritant of itching, I still sometimes feel a bit unsettled about the path of insect murder.

I mean, here's a mosquito simply minding its own business and then WHACK -- it's now nothing more than a tiny red smear on the wall.

So, I was pondering about this predicament the other day and it dawned on me that we are all subject to the flyswatter of nature. We humans often die far too young and under interesting circumstances. Of course, we have coined words to describe these instances: accident, illness, war, crime, tragedy, holocaust, etc.

It's like we're flitting around in the mundane routine of life and then WHACK -- we're dead.

Just like a mosquito.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Everyone wants to a feel a sense of belonging; to be accepted for who they are. A lot of people spend a great deal of their lives trying to force acceptance through unnatural means. They pretend to be someone else so others will like them. They behave in ways that runs counter to their internal nature in the hope of finding a dock on which they can tether their boat.

While seeking acceptance from the external world consumes so much of our time and energy, the greatest journey in our lives is seeking acceptance from the being closest to us -- ourselves.

If you think that family members, friends, bosses and colleagues can be hard on you, the harshest critic in most people's lives is the one you see in the mirror. Because we each know the most intimate emotions and secrets of our own lives, these are the ones we examine, re-examine, rehash and pull our hair out over.

Why did I say such and such to him or her? Why did I behave in this or that way? Why do I feel empty? Why do I always thwart myself? Why am I not the person I set out to be?

I don't care who you are, how many friends you have, how much money graces your bank account or how much fame you've acquired in your lifetime. Each one of us struggles under the yoke of self-doubt. It's part and parcel of this journey we call life. From a Taoist perspective, each of us gains a measure of wisdom when we can slay the dragon of self-doubt and learn to accept ourselves -- with all our imperfections -- as we truly are.

I have been fettered with the chains of self-doubt during most of my life. It was particularly acute in my teens, 20s and 30s. I knew from an early age that I was different from most all of my contemporaries. I felt like the proverbial duck out of water.

My school years were extremely difficult in that I was NEVER a part of a clique or group. In fact, it was so bad that even the outcasts -- the dregs of the teenage hierarchy -- shunned me. You know, it's a bad state of affairs when even the nerds hold you at arm's length!

As I look back now, I think it's fairly easy to see why I never fit in. Even at a very young age, I was a very principled and philosophic sort. I simply was not motivated nor interested in any of the chic trappings of adolescence. While my contemporaries seemed all caught up in superficial appearances, I was far more concerned with what lay beneath the surface -- a facet of my personality that continues unabated today.

Though I was never a member of a group, a funny thing happened during my senior year in high school. The facets of my personality that had, for so long, made me a social outcast, all of a sudden thrust me into the limelight of popularity. Everyone seemed to like me and wanted me around. So, while I remained unattached from any of the cliques and groupings, I was one of the few people in my school who could move fluidly through and among any group I desired.

This new station in life carried through college and beyond. While it was certainly more favorable than being shunned, it still filled me with a sense of isolation and loneliness. I was now able to connect with a wide variety of people, but the connection didn't go very deep. People still viewed me as being very strange indeed, albeit in a benign way.

Always feeling like I was on the outside looking in is what fueled the bonfire of my self-doubt. And, at times, this bonfire almost consumed me. At times, I tried desperately to fit in, but I'd always fail clumsily because I wasn't being me.

I can't pinpoint when the break came, but, somewhere over the past decade, I came to accept myself for who and what I am. Put in the popular vernacular, I'm a philosopher and philosophers went out fashion a few centuries ago.

I no longer struggle with all encompassing self-doubt. To be certain, there are fleeting moments of it tied to particular circumstances or situations, but it no longer defines my existence. I still feel isolated from most of society, but it no longer rips at my soul. I've come to realize that we all tread different paths in this life and, for better or worse, this is my path. So, I've learned to accept it for what it is and to embrace it as my own.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Ultimate Pollutant

As the world's scientists tell us that we're edging ever closer to environmental catastrophe, it's become chic to argue about which variables are the biggest culprits. For some, it's our dependence on oil. For others, it's the combination of coal and nuclear power that we use to heat/cool our homes and keep the lights burning. Still others will tell us it's styrofoam, aerosol cans or dioxin.

Personally, I think they're all wrong to varying degrees. From my perspective, the greatest pollutant of all is humanity!

This is not to say that humans as biological entities are more dangerous to our planet's survival than any other species, but our consciousness and ability to manipulate the environment on a grand scale is what makes each of us the most dangerous.

While other species take the natural world as it is and meld their lives into its fabric, we take the world as it is and reconfigure it to meet our needs, wants and desires. And, far too often, it is this process of reconfiguration that wreaks havoc on the laws of nature.

We drive cars and fly in planes because we want to get to wherever faster than we naturally can. We eat foods that come from far away continents rather than accept what are local environs have to offer. We communicate via telephone and computer because it's much easier than visiting each person's house.

Almost every routine action we take on any given day is polluting something. This statement is just as true for the fat cat who eschews the notion of global warming as it is for the most steadfast environmentalist! As Janisse Ray writes today at AlterNet, "Can Environmentalists Live up to Their Own Standards?", the choir isn't all it's cracked up to be. Here's a sobering excerpt:
Many times I have attended some gathering or other to speak about environmental issues, and when the final word has been delivered, the final question debated, refreshments are served on plastic plates and in plastic cups. I prepare my remarks. I take a deep breath, step in front of the crowd. I rant, I rave, I weep and open my heart. I preach fire and brimstone, and the punch is served in plastic cups. I cannot tell you the horrible feeling that envelops me.
We each rationalize our decisions in terms of our impact on the planet. For every positive or beneficial action we take, we concurrently take far too many others that are based on crass desires, not simple needs.

In the end, none of us fully embrace the natural world that we are but a small part of, the Tao. It's this rampant disharmony that most threatens our planet and ourselves.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I'm a Sentimental Sap

Back when I was growing up, it was sort of understood that boys and men don't cry or, if you did, you didn't allow anyone else to see it. While the male gender has made some strides in the past few decades, too many men still cling to the vestiges of the "unemotional rock of humanity".

Of course, I've never come close to this stereotype. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I'm happy, you know it. If I'm sad, you know that too.

Truth be known, I'm what you might call a sentimental sap. I've never had a problem with crying. Tears can pop up in my eyes at any time for numerous reasons.

Dramatic music often leads me to tears. I don't mean I start bawling, but they easily drip down my cheeks. Two pieces that come to mind are Tchaiskovsky's 1812 Overture and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah. The latter has had this affect on me since I was young and it's even more pronounced now since it was played at my mother's funeral (my choice).

Movies also are prone to lead me to tears. Though I've watched Dances with Wolves numerous times, the last scene ALWAYS chokes me up. There are two different parts of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial that are guaranteed to open my tear ducts and I'm certain to go mushy watching The Wizard of Oz, Brian's Song or Titanic.

One movie that really gets me going -- and I'm sure it will surprise most of you -- is Harry & the Henderson's. I know it's not a top-rated film and the story is kind of hokey, but the emotions of separation still tug at my heartstrings. I just finished watching it on HBO and I had a good, healthy cry!

One of the things I really like about the latter movie is that -- like ET & Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- it turns the human tendency of the fear of the unknown on its head. We don't refer to the folk legend of a being in Loch Ness as an animal but as a "monster". In this same vein, the folk legends of Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yetis tend to depict evil ape-like monsters ready to kill and dismember unfortunate humans.

Do I believe that Sasquatch genuinely exists? I'm highly skeptical. But do I want to believe it? Yes, yes I do. And that's what this sentimental sap holds on to.

Friday, September 7, 2007

From Small to Tiny

This has been a most interesting -- and stressful -- summer. When it began, my wife & I lived in Aberdeen (Grays Harbor County) and as it winds down we now live in South Bend (Pacific County). We've gone from a small city with most routine services to a little hamlet with few services.

For example, I've been to both grocery stores in the area -- one here in South Bend and the other in Raymond. Neither store carries ANY organic produce. None. Zilch. Nada. They also don't carry frozen yogurt nor fresh bagels -- not even at the progressive bakery in town.

There is no curbside recycling. In fact, there's very little emphasis on recycling at all. The two local recycling centers -- places with giant bins -- listed on the county website aren't there anymore. The two have been consolidated into one location that isn't even listed.

And the meager recycling available is nothing to write home about! There's no place to take greyboard nor mixed paper (i.e., junk mail).

Far worse than the above inconveniences, I've learned that the largest owner of property in Pacific County -- owning almost 80% of privately-held land -- is none other than the mighty Weyerhaeuser timber barons. They've spent the last century destroying the fragile Willapa basin!

This rural county is interesting as it has only 2 major highways (other than on the Long Beach spit) -- US 101 that skirts the northern and western edges and State Highway 6 that goes east to Chehalis. On a typical map, it looks like the vast majority of the county is undisturbed wilderness.

Aah, but general maps can be so deceiving!! It turns out that this county is carved up with roads -- logging roads. They cover hundreds of miles, winding hither to yonder. And what might we find near many of these such roads -- clearcuts!

Yes, the proverbial clearcut is alive and well here. It seems to be the preferred method for "harvesting" trees. There's one fresh clearcut that can be seen across the Willapa River from our little downtown area. It's hanging there on the side of a hill directly above the road that leads to Tokeland & North Cove. It's a landslide waiting to happen.

I'm sure I'll be reporting on a landslide there this winter when the rains return.