Saturday, December 31, 2005

German Media -- Iran Next in Line

United Press International has reported that several articles in the German media are indicating the Bush Administration "is preparing its NATO allies for a possible military strike against suspected nuclear sites in Iran in the New Year." This comes on the heels of similar reports by the Turkish media.
The Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel this week quoted "NATO intelligence sources" who claimed that the NATO allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options. This "all options are open" line has been President George W Bush's publicly stated policy throughout the past 18 months.

But the respected German weekly Der Spiegel notes "What is new here is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year."
The American public (that's you and me) have got to rise up before this war-hungry lunatic and his merry men start World War III. If Dubya has his way, he might actually usher in Armageddon -- which might be his ultimate plan anyway.

A Most Silly Holiday

Time is a human construct. It's a tool we use to help differentiate between various sequences, cycles and segments of reality. Were there no clocks nor calendars, the universe would keep right on ticking, not missing a beat.

For this reason alone, I have never been a fan of New Year's Eve. It celebrates nothing specific. It doesn't come at the end/beginning of a season. It has nary a thing to do with moon phases. There is nothing significant about the transition from December 31 to January 1. It's just an arbitrary dot on the map of human-created time.

I'm always amazed at the number of people who gather in Times Square (or wherever), waiting anxiously for the ball to drop or the clock to count down. When it does, they whoop, yell, cry, kiss, hug, set off fireworks and, a good many people, use it as an excuse to get drunk. And for what? One day becomes the next day.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Putting Words in Your [Virtual] Mouth

One aspect of the internet that a lot of people never think about is that it creates a virtual paper trail of our thoughts, ideas and opinions. Every time a person posts an entry in a blog, makes a comment on a blog or website, or even sends an email, our words are captured and stored away for later referencing, sometimes by not very scrupulous people.

It’s bad enough that we may write something somewhere that we later regret, but, due to the ability by some commenting services (Haloscan comes to mind), the ability now exists for the authors of blog sites to edit the comments left on their blog. In other words, it is now possible for ethically-challenged people to have the ability to put “words in your mouth” that will be recorded for perpetuity.

Let’s say you visit a blog and, through the comments section, you get into a fiery political debate. If the blog host is an unscrupulous person and they use Haloscan (I’m sure there are many other such services as well), they could easily discredit you by editing a comment to read, “I love Hitler. He handled the Jews just right” and they could block YOU from making any changes.

Of course, this comment will be picked up by, technorati and lots of other services too. Regardless of the fact you never wrote these words, they will forever be attached to your name. You may receive angry emails denouncing “your” statement. Who knows? You might lose your current job or not be selected for a future job because someone found “your” statement on the internet.

The worse part of all this is how do you prove that your words were reedited without your consent? It’s like trying to prove a voting tally is incorrect where there is no paper trail. You can post all manner of statements all over the net disavowing the statement, but the statement itself will still be there.

I have no problem whatsoever with blog hosts having the ability to delete comments they feel are inappropriate. However, I have a serious problem with blog hosts who have the ability to “put words in my mouth”.

You can rest assured your words are safe on The Rambling Taoist. I have consciously chosen not to use Blogspot’s “Moderate Comments” feature and I almost never delete anyone’s comments either.

You alone are responsible for your own words here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Whew! I'm Out of the Dog's House

Most people base opinions on some manner of a factual basis. While it's certainly true that we all are guilty of picking and choosing which facts we choose to utilize, it's still typical that SOME manner of fact is involved. This cannot be said for the blog, Where's Your Brain?.

As I've discussed here before, facts seem to irritate that blog's author to know end. Not only does it irritate her, but she has a penchant for removing fact-based comments from her posts.

Yesterday she slipped up somewhat by allowing me to post a comment. (She forgot that I had moved from Oregon to Washington and this meant she needed to change the IP address to be blocked.) In her entry of December 22, "A Merry Christmas -- Spy vs Spy", one paragraph states,
I have to admit I do a little of my own spying - like checking if people leaving hate comments on my blog are really that same person as someone else. I haven't had hate comments for many months - not since I exposed this jerk from Portland. He was coming in with the exact same IP address as others (with similar hate styles) yet claimed it wasn't him. So I banned his IP and BINGO - suddenly about 3 identities no longer posted.
Here was my response
You wrote: "I have to admit I do a little of my own spying - like checking if people leaving hate comments on my blog are really that same person as someone else. I haven't had hate comments for many months - not since I exposed this jerk from Portland. He was coming in with the exact same IP address as others (with similar hate styles) yet claimed it wasn't him. So I banned his IP and BINGO - suddenly about 3 identities no longer posted."

So, how many of us "jerks" have you banned? I know that I'm on your doggie "no no" list. However, since the person you refer to in this entry hails from Portland and until last month I hailed from SALEM, it's obvious you're talking about someone other than yours truly.

BTW, there is, of course, one OTHER explanation why 3 so-called identities quit posting. Since you have elected to screen comments left here, you could have just as easily deleted particular comments from different people so it would APPEAR that it all originated from the same source. Sort of like the Bush cabal.
Next came her rebuttal (which she edited and then reposted after my subsequent response to try to weasel out of an obvious lie):
Just you Trey. Portland? Well that's where you told everone on your site or comments or somewhere in that region - until you moved. Just another lie from Trey I guess.

No - the IP addresses matched exactly of all your identities. You posted your slams early in the am sometimes and the system log file showed when you entered and left - and you were the only one that left the comments.

This whining liberal scum tried to hard to slam me he even started a blog with a similiar name as mine - now closed because no one except 1 or 2 of his no-brain socialist wimps visited it.

You continue to lie - a common trait of socialist liberals - you just prove every point I ever post. Ah.. now to put your new IP on the ban list...
I then posted a follow up comment which explained that I have never lived in Portland nor have I ever claimed to live in Portland. Even further, whether or not I had made this claim was wholly immaterial because my IP header, which she "claims" was the basis for the block, would have indicated what city I was actually in.

Then I challenged any interested party to perform a Google Search using the search terms of "Trey Smith Oregon" to see if they could find any indications whatsoever that a) I had ever claimed to live in Portland or b) I had ever lived in Portland.

Since both JustaDog and I KNOW that such a search would have yielded no such information, she did the only thing a person not interested in factual information could do. She deleted the comment and banned my current IP address from future comments.

Consequently, we now know that the campaign of lies and distortions, in this particular instance, is not originating from the "socialist liberal", but from the "patriotic" conservative.

George Bush must be proud!

Little Security, Lots of Abuse

Over at the Uncommon Thought Journal, there is a superb essay on the spate of constitutional abuses perpetrated by the Bush Administration. Far from being an isolated incident here and there, the article aptly illustrates that the cabal has forged an eerie pattern, one that should alarm liberals and conservatives alike.

Below are some brief snippets. I strongly urge you to go to "U.S. Constitutional Abuses" to read the entire article. It offers keen insights and great analysis.
There are three critical "intelligence" events that have occurred undermining civil liberties and Constitutional protections: Bush's authorization of warrantless wire taps on U.S. citizens, the FBI's use of National Security Letters to avoid warrants, and the Pentagon collecting data on U.S. citizens and "dissident" groups. While these are three different agencies, the intent is clear and should be stated boldly. We are defined as enemies of the state...

All of these various activities are at the instigation of the Bush Administration. Everything is lumped under "national security" and the "war on terrorism." They show not respect for U.S. laws or the Constitution, and no respect for international laws and agreements. From a policy of preemptive war, to the use of nuclear weapons, to the Geneva Convention, to international bans on torture, the Bush cabal feels that they need to operate with total "freedom" and secrecy to "protect us." Well, I am not feeling "protected," I am feeling abused...

Some may be willing to trade freedom, and the protections from the abuses of government, for "safety." However, it is clear from every report, that such activities are not making us safer. The Bush "Plan America" is leaving us looking much more like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, than the "land of the free, home of the brave" United States. The oft repeated refrain from the White House in legitimating the ongoing war in Iraq is: "We are fighting them over there so that we don't have to fight them here." But what is now clear, is that "we" - the citizens of the United States - are "them" - potential terrorists.

Financial Advice from the Doggie Bag

One of my favorite fanatically conservative blogs is Where's Your Brain?. It's filled with rants against anyone who doesn't agree 100% with the blog's creator. Reading that blog generally leads any cogent person to ask, Where's Your Heart?

But, over the past 2 days, the annonymous author (who only identifies herself as JustaDog) has shown she does have a heart, albiet an extremely small one. She has chosen to offer her sage financial advice to help those buried under credit card debt.

Here's her formula:
  1. Run up a credit card debt (not including a mortgage or car purchase) of about $80,000.
  2. Locate a friend who will give you a job that pays $10,000 net per month.
  3. Work at the job for 6 months and use your $60,000 in net wages to reduce your credit card debt by 75%.
  4. Quit the job and use money from somewhere else (?) to pay off the balance.
Gosh! It sounds so darn easy. Before we know it, Justadog will be running fabulous infomercials on late night TV.

What Justadog has unwittingly admitted to is the formula that has made many a transnational corporation rich -- a subsidy. While she had the financial freedom to throw her wages into her egregious debt, SOMEBODY else was paying for all the necessities of life. Yes, either a spouse, partner, parent, child or rich pal was covering her rent/mortgage, utilities, food, insurance, clothing, travel (she's said on her blog that she loves to travel) and medical expenses.

Unfortunately, most consumers don't have this kind of luxury. Most consumers in debt must not only pay off said debt BUT also concurrently pay for the necessities of life. This is why it's difficult for people in the working and middle classes -- obviously Justadog is in neither of these classes -- to dig out from under debt.

This situation offers a quintessential example of how a rich person fails to understand the obvious head start they enjoy over the average person. Those who lick the silver spoon fail to comprehend what it's like for those without eating untensils. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, it's hard to pull one's self up by the bootstraps if said person has no boots.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Nothing Says "Merry Christmas" Like Spam

What with many of my cohorts off spending time with their families and many of the news services and/or email lists I subscribe to taking a needed break, I sort of thought the volume of mail hitting my in box would lessen greatly during the holiday season. WRONG! It seems the spammers of the world don't take vacations.

Over the past week, the overall volume of mail has only lessened slightly, but the percentage of spam has increased greatly. I shouldn't be surprised. According to The Register,
MX Logic, an antispam vendor, now estimates that 75 per cent of all email is spam, while in same article Postini Inc. jacks that number up to 88 per cent of all email. Think about that: only about 1 in 10 emails is legitimate.
Oh, wonderful.

Oops! Sorry 'Bout That

As a continuation from my previous entry, I'm going to offer but a few examples of human-caused unintentional consequences. Often, these consequences come about least at the outset.

The European Rabbit is not native to the Australian continent. According to Wikipedia,
Rabbits were originally introduced to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788, but the current major infestation appears to be the result of 24 wild rabbits released by Thomas Austin on his property "Barwon Downs" (near Winchelsea, Victoria) in 1859 for hunting purposes. Many other farms released their rabbits into the wild after Austin.
Here we have a classic example of unintended consequences. A landowner decides he'd like to hunt rabbit. So, without giving any regard to the effects on the ecosystem, he sets in a motion a chain of events still ravaging Australia today.
Within ten years of the 1859 introduction, the original 24 rabbits had multiplied so much that 2 million a year could be shot or trapped without having any noticeable effect on the population size. Rabbits reached the New South Wales border in 1870. The Premier of New South Wales, Sir Henry Parkes offered a £25,000 reward to anyone who could come up with a solution to the rabbit infestation.

The effect on the ecology of Australia was devastating. One eighth of all mammalian species in Australia are now extinct (rabbits are the most significant known factor), and the loss of plant species is unknown even at this time.
English ivy makes for lovely ground cover. It's a very popular plant amongst gardeners in North America. Unfortunately, english ivy is not native to this continent. The United States National Arboretum cautions
In the Pacific Northwest, English ivy invades the forest floors. Its evergreen leaves smother other native forest plants by denying them light.
Like english ivy, asian carp is another invasive species that has caused great harm in the U.S. Some of the carp were released into U.S. waters by our own government and others escaped from aquaculture facilities.
All four of the Asian carps that are established in the United States spread quickly after introduction, became very abundant, and hurt native fishes either by damaging habitats or by consuming vast amounts of food. Common and grass carps destroy habitat and reduce water quality for native fishes by uprooting or consuming aquatic vegetation.

Bighead and silver carps are large filter-feeders that compete with larval fishes, paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo, and freshwater mollusks (clams). In addition, boaters have been injured by silver carp because they commonly jump out of the water and into or over boats in response to outboard motors. Black carp, which consume almost exclusively mussels and snails, may further threaten our already imperiled native freshwater mussels should they become established.
Dioxin is one of the world's most toxic family of chemicals. As explained by ActionPA,
Dioxin is a general term that describes a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic compound is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. The toxicity of other dioxins and chemicals like PCBs that act like dioxin are measured in relation to TCDD. Dioxin is formed as an unintentional by-product of many industrial processes involving chlorine such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching. Dioxin was the primary toxic component of Agent Orange, was found at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY and was the basis for evacuations at Times Beach, MO and Seveso, Italy.

Dioxin is formed by burning chlorine-based chemical compounds with hydrocarbons. The major source of dioxin in the environment comes from waste-burning incinerators of various sorts and also from backyard burn-barrels. Dioxin pollution is also affiliated with paper mills which use chlorine bleaching in their process and with the production of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastics and with the production of certain chlorinated chemicals (like many pesticides).
As indicated above, no one set out to create dioxin. As scientists and inventors set out to develop new materials and processes to further the lot of society, they created material and processes that begat not only increased production but increased hazards. By the time the hazards were uncovered, the economics of the new materials and processes had become entrenched and now, despite the fact the hazards have been clearly identified, it is very difficult to convince the economic powerbrokers to move away from the very things producing the identified hazards.

To satisfy the thirst of millions of residents plus meet the needs of the agricultural sector, the Oglalla Aquifer is being drawn down at non-sustainable rates. As reported last year by the Environmental News Service
There are some areas on the High Plains where water is being withdrawn from the Oglala aquifer at rates greater than the aquifer is being replenished. In these areas, the aquifer will not be able to sustain withdrawals at current rates in future decades, new research by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has determined.

Underlying portions of eight states, including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas, the massive High Plains aquifer, also called the Oglala aquifer, spans 173,000 square miles and provides irrigation and drinking water for one of the major agricultural regions in the world.

But USGS scientists have found a six percent decrease in the volume of water stored in the aquifer from the time groundwater pumping began in the 1940s to the year 2000.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Even Small Pebbles Can Yield Big Ripples

From the perspective of many Taoists, one of the worst legacies of the Christian belief system is the idea of humankind's separation from nature. When the Old Testament urged the “chosen people” to hold dominion over the earth, this directive initiated human actions set toward raping and pillaging the planet. Even today, as scientists sound the clarion call, corporate giants continue to pollute and destroy the womb of creation and sustenance like there's no tomorrow -- One day we will find that this is a self-fulfilling prophesy!

It is the Christian concept of dualism (i.e., being separated from anyone or anything else) that has led us down this road toward ecological and, hence, societal catastrophe. Dualism has spawned the hegemonic truth of individual and/or national isolationism. It's as if far too many Christians do not understand the simple lesson Lao Tzu learned eons ago – Far from being separate, everything that makes up our universe inextricably is connected.

Once we genuinely recognize this connection, then we come intuitively to understand that every action causes a ripple effect that is felt in some degree throughout the cosmos.

This is not true because I believe it. It is also not true because some ancient Taoist sage wrote it down. No, it’s true because we can see this truth at work every day in nature and, incidentally, in the conduct of human interaction.

The natural world is always changing and reacting as a result of everything that goes on. If one locale receives more rain than usual for an extended period of time, it sets in motion a chain of occurrences.

Certain species flourish, while others suffer mightily and some may face extinction. Some species may migrate to a different locale altogether. Rivers carve out new channels. The overall climate may become altered. All these changes and far more occur as a reaction to the excess amount of precipitation.

In this same vein, human beings – who are part of this connected cosmos we call reality – impact the world by the decisions and actions we take. Because none of us has the vision nor wisdom to understand the totality of our reality, every act that we undertake spurs a chain of events we typically refuse to acknowledge. In common parlance, this is referred to as the law of unintended consequences.

While it is certainly true that it would be next to impossible to completely rid our world of these unintended consequences, we could greatly reduce the propensity for such by simply acknowledging the connection between ourselves and everything else. If I acknowledge that my decisions will impact my brethren AND future generations, then I will be more careful and cautious.

In my next entry, I’ll provide some examples of how some well-intentioned, but short-sighted, decisions and/or policies have led to some rather nasty unintended consequences.

Domestic Spying on a Military Mom

According to the mighty shrub and his cabal, we should honor soldiers like the son of Robin Vaughn. These brave souls are fighting to save the world from terrorists! But, while her son should be honored, it doesn't seem as if the Bushites believe that private citizen Robin Vaughn should be honored as well.

According to the Alternative Press Review, the military is monitoring a military support group Vaughn set up on the internet. Not only are they monitoring it, but they have threatened the families of military personnel who post to the site. So much for freedom of speech!
Letter From A Military "Mom": Domestic Spying & Incident of Intimidation of Military Families
Written by: Robin Vaughan

I am sending this letter to you in hope of finding a source to hear my concerns. It is something that has bothered me since the occurrence, and I know it is not something that should have happened, and I worry for my family's safety as I step out to speak about this.

During my son's deployment to Iraq, February 2004-February 2005: I created a small group website on MSN, for families and friends of our soldiers'’ deployed unit. It was a membership only site, and we were a tight group of mostly "Moms", from all over the United States, just trying to make it through each day. The support and help we gave one another is a singular experience of grace, I will never forget.

During the first few months of our site, the Army decided to call every single family on the site, informing them, that the site was not to be used by any of the families. The Department of Defense called families in the middle of the night to notify them to not use the web site. Most of the families were near tears, thinking they were getting "THE" call telling them their child or loved one had been killed or injured.

The information received via the phone call was to inform the families that the base did not condone the site, nor [did] the Army, and that it was not to be used; the gist was, families were not allowed to use the site, or they could get into "trouble". Some members reported their soldier calling from Iraq, telling them to be careful about using the site as the Army was monitoring it.

As Web Mistress of the site, I needed to respond and qualify this information, as well as to educate this commanding officer as to the rights and liberties of a private web site; which I did. I was told I would have to let a commanding officer on the site to monitor the messages; I did allow this, but I also informed the officer that this was a courtesy, as there is no such law, or right of the military to monitor, shut down or exclude our web site.

I believe we received this order, and treatment for a couple of reasons.

Occasionally we would voice our concerns publicly over what our government was failing to do to help our soldiers, or we would share or argue political opinion as well. The second reason may be: the armed services all have a group of their own family type support (FRG); as we were not local to the base our soldiers deployed from, the site was a means to provide that support, as best as we could.

The support group at our base, tried to force the site to be given over to them, which I refused. At this time I was told, I might want to be careful, as the government was monitoring the site as well. Soldiers in our unit, while in Iraq, were telling their parents to stay off of the site, or to be very careful of what they wrote. This came from a rear detachment officer in charge, and members on the site.

I reminded the Army I am a private citizen, not on base, with a private site making no claims to have any affiliation with any branch of service, but clearly stating we were families and friends of our unit in support of one another. We were treated to power by intimidation. It isn't hard to make that work, when you have someone's child in a war zone.

We were a group of 77 families from all over the country, at the time of the call. Every single family was phoned and told not to use the site; and I believe some 150 other families were phoned as well, as it was an official order from a commanding officer.

I have waited to speak of this situation until my son was home safe and sound, and also after his transfer to another base. Yes, I was afraid of repercussions that could have harmed him, one way or another. I called my local senator's office, 4 months ago, following up every 10 days to 2 weeks, and still have no answers or support.

I admit I am not comfortable writing this, as required to, as I am still concerned for my son and the other soldiers and families involved on the site. We didn't endanger them by means of displaying their photos with their names, giving up information about their location and actions. We were very careful to not breach Intel protocol, learning Ops protocol, as well as respecting and complying with it. We simply were at times, vocal about our displeasure with our president and government for how our military was being treated, or how the presidential election was being handled.

There are literally hundreds of military family, private support groups on the Internet. I truly believe we were singled out because of my refusal to hand the site over to the local F.R.G., as well as [my] outspoken political beliefs.

It's simply amazing that my son and others risk their lives for "”Freedom" in Iraq, when his own mother's civil liberties are threatened, and families are intimidated into silence, by the very same Army he is serving. I am hoping after reading this you may direct me as to where I can at least have this concern heard. Basically, are the following common practice, and legal?

**The Armed services can order families from communicating in a private forum?
**The Armed services can threaten private citizensÂ’ first amendment rights?

I want to make sure this is not happening to other service member's families. We live in a hell everyday during the deployment of our loved ones; we don't need the added bullying or stripping away our means of helping one another.

Any idea or direction you can point me in would be greatly appreciated. Also, this problem can be corroborated by other families if need be.

Why did it take so long for me to step forward?

Originally I contacted my Senators office, with no reply for six months, and have also spoken with the A.C.L.U; (with little hope of action due to the length of time that has passed) but until now was not willing to come forward in a public way. It took until September for my son to be safely stationed at another base, and other family's service members to either be out of the service all together, or be transferred as well.

We were afraid for their safety, our own, our relationships with them and their future in the service, all of these things could have been affected, and we couldn'’t chance one more problem or pressure being added to the already heavy load the families and soldiers live with. The intimidation worked. Is this just something silly I should let go?

It doesn't seems trivial to me, but I am learning unless it happens to someone personally, no one seems to care.

Thank you, for your time

Robin Vaughan

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Big Brother's New Best Friend

For decades, Republican candidates campaigned on the theme that they were the public's best protector against Democratic efforts to expand government. Often, conservatives would warn that liberals were pursuing policies to expand the role of Big Brother. As Tom DeWeese, of the conservative think-tank The American Policy Center, puts it:
Republican principles advocate limited government intrusion into the lives of the American people. Republican candidates campaign on the ideas of restraining Big Brother. Republicans have been given a majority in the U.S. Congress because the American people want some control over the massive power of the federal government.
So, would someone explain to me why the size of the federal government has mushroomed under the Bush Administration AND Big Brother's reach seems to be getting deeper and deeper?

The only explanation that I can discern is that conservatives aren't necessarily opposed to Big Brother at all. In fact, they love Big Brother provided that government is intruding on American life, not safeguarding the public from corporate might.

Discussion of Impeachment Coming from Different Corners

Many in the conservative blogosphere would have one think that calls for the possible impeachment of the mighty shrub are nothing more than a liberal-lead crusade. However, I've looked around and some of the publications that are now discussing the dreaded "I" word represent varying perspectives on the political spectrum. Here's a sampling*:

From the Macon Daily
For the past five years, many of us have been asking what happened to the sane Republicans, to the conservatives who believe in the rule of law, smaller government, fiscal responsibility?

In their zeal at having finally obtained absolute power--the White House, Senate, House of Representatives, and arguably, the Judiciary--many seemed to throw the traditional tenets of American conservatism out the window.

It seems that their love affair with George W. Bush might just be ending.

Our forefathers created a system of government built on checks and balances that they envisioned would protect a free people from abuses of their privacy, their property and their liberty at the hands of anyone, especially anyone in public office.

They never intended for an imperial presidency to rise above the legislative and judicial branches of government, for they had their fill of kings and emperors who ruled with absolute power in the Old World. They knew that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

They wanted none of this, and wrote a Constitution and Bill of Rights to enshrine the protections they knew were needed to keep Americans free and democracy healthy.

They crafted a system of government rooted in the principle that citizens have rights and presidents violate those rights at their own peril.

From the Falls Church (VA) News-Press
The nation is at one of its most precarious junctures ever at this very time.

If it fails to call the president to account for his admission of a widespread disregard for the rule of law, involving in principle and fact the most invasive violation of the public’s civil liberties possible by any government, then a critical moment will have passed. A precedent will be set that will forevermore forfeit the public’s right to privacy, to live free of Big Brother.

If Congress and the American people are so weak kneed in this case that they will not bring this outlaw president to justice by impeachment, it will have failed to protect the most basic of the nation’s freedoms, and no one of us will ever again be confident that we’re not being spied upon, and subject to the whims of whomever may be looking or listening in.

In other words, there is no choice but to impeach President Bush.

From the Denver Post
Who needs the Patriot Act? Not President Run Amok.

The president has now admitted to secretly authorizing what amounts to an end-run around the law that is meant, specifically and determinedly, to keep intelligence agencies from snooping on Americans at home.

In asking the super-secret National Security Agency to monitor - without any court oversight whatsoever - the international phone calls and e-mails of hundreds of Americans, President Bush has gone far beyond what even the Patriot Act allows. So why make a fuss over the Senate's refusal to extend it? Even if lawmakers passed it, Bush would ignore it.

From Barron's Magazine
Putting the president above the Congress is an invitation to tyranny. The president has no powers except those specified in the Constitution and those enacted by law. President Bush is stretching the power of commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy by indicating that he can order the military and its agencies, such as the National Security Agency, to do whatever furthers the defense of the country from terrorists, regardless of whether actual force is involved.

Surely the "strict constructionists" on the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary eventually will point out what a stretch this is. The most important presidential responsibility under Article II is that he must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." That includes following the requirements of laws that limit executive power. There's not much fidelity in an executive who debates and lobbies Congress to shape a law to his liking and then goes beyond its writ.

Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.
*Please note that the three newspapers quoted are in RED states. Neither Barron's nor could be accused of being members of the liberal media.

Parrish on the Ultimate Act of Courage

Geov Parrish wrote an excellent article, "Heroism With a Difference", in last week's Seattle Weekly. He discusses the plight of the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) who were taken hostage in late November.

Here's an excerpt:
"America's right-wing echo chamber has been having a field day with the CPT kidnappings -- —sneering, implicitly or directly, that the peace activists had it coming and were, at best, foolhardy idiots for wandering into a situation where they had no business to be. But they had every business being there. In the blizzard of kidnappings and both criminal and war-related violence plaguing Iraq, the lives of four Westerners are of no great consequence; but even with the massive scale of Iraq's violence, people die one at a time, and lives are saved that way, too. In the three years it has been in Iraq, CPT has saved countless lives through its work.

For citizens of a country like Canada, Britain, or the U.S. to renounce their comfortable lives and willingly walk unarmed into such a setting, fully knowing that by their very citizenship they are prime targets for deadly violence, takes more courage than is ever demonstrated by most soldiers, who usually are cocooned on their bases, surrounded by all the weaponry and protection in the world. Such a commitment takes not recklessness or foolhardiness but a deep and abiding belief in the sanctity of all life and a willingness to work to save the lives of others, even as one's own life is endangered.

These are exactly the traits that we celebrate soldiers for -- the willingness to risk everything for a higher ideal and, ultimately, peace. It's a sad commentary on our martial society that when people take such risks but kill (and kill innocents) for the sake of peace, they're considered heroes. When a few lonely, brave souls work toward the same objectives without the use of force, they are widely ignored, derided, and considered fools."

While I certainly agree that a soldier can perform heroic acts, such acts take on a greater significance when performed by someone who willfully chooses to disdain violence.

The natural human response to pain and threat -- as witnessed in children on any playground -- is to respond in kind. Somebody calls you a name and so you call them two names in return. Somebody pushes you in the back and you retaliate by pushing AND punching them twice as hard.

Pacifists choose, through intestinal fortitude, to not return a tit for a tat. To live in such a manner requires great insight, strength AND courage. As noted in my previous entry, this is the way Jesus, Gandhi, King and many others chose to live their lives.

Such people should be saluted, not denigrated. They represent the conscience of humanity.

Peace on Earth...Today

Two of the enduring themes throughout the traditional Christmas season are 1) Peace on Earth and 2) Goodwill toward all. It'’s truly unfortunate that, as we look around the world today, human society seems to be in short supply of both. To be certain, neither aim is completely missing, but, owing to an overall analysis, we all are falling miserably short of the desired targets.

The most surprising aspect of our failure is that success is within our own power. It's not that we CAN'T live peaceably and respectfully, but that we choose not to. We, as individuals and as nations, have chosen to wage war and to treat others in negative and destructive ways.

For example, today each of us could decide that there will be no war, now or in the future. If called upon to fight by our political leaders, we can simply refuse. Really, if a bunch of leaders throughout the world decided to have a war and no one signed up to fight it, the war would never take place.

I know that many people will argue that there are bad people in the world (i.e., criminals, sexual predators, terrorists) and that to refuse to wage war would then open up the planet to domination by such people.

My response is that there'’s a chasm of difference between aggressively waging war and defending one's family or country against the aggression of others. Malcolm X made this point as does Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching. It'’s one thing to defend one'’s self to defuse an attack (redirecting the force of the attacker to neutralize him) and quite another to escalate the violence into an ongoing conflict.

So, one could accurately support genuine defense as a method for dealing with physical aggression. In time, as more and more aggressors found that their own violent power was turned back onto itself, aggression itself would die away and we would be that much closer to the ideal of peace on earth.

Of course, there is a second method for dealing with aggression, one chosen by Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When each was attacked by the people of their day, each chose to turn the other cheek. Each chose an act of ultimate bravery --– looking injury and death square in the face and consciously choosing not to strike back.

These three figures (and countless others) intuitively understood that aggression cannot defeat a peaceful spirit. A person's freedom can be withheld. Their name can be vilified. They can be mocked and spit upon. Their bodies can be desecrated and destroyed. But none of these things is stronger than the spirit of love, goodwill and peace.

Today we each have a choice to make. It'’s a personal choice wholly independent of anyone or anything else. We can decide that we will be brokers of peace. Yes, we can each decide that in OUR individual worlds there WILL be peace on earth and goodwill toward all.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Kringle, Jesus Announce Cancellation of Christmas '05

North Pole (UPI) -- In an extraordinary move today, Kris Kringle and Jesus of Nazareth held a joint news conference in which they announced the cancellation of this year's "holiday" season. Both expressed a bit of sadness, but they felt humanity had left them no other choice.

"This is SUPPOSED to be the season of goodwill and peace," the Jewish carpenter remarked, "but, it's hard to see much of that going around with all the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq." He added that recent efforts by the U.S. Congress to reduce benefits to the poor and the passage of several state initiatives to ban gay marriage certainly violated the substance of goodwill.

For his part, the jolly elf said he'd taken a cue from current US President George Bush. "A lot of the children throughout the world have been extra good this year," noted Kringle, "but, their leaders have not." Since Mr. Bush has instituted the "you're either with us or against us" policy, Kringle said he felt that he had to judge society based on overall policies, not individual merit.

Both of these important leaders said they hoped things would turn around in 2006, but neither was willing to hold his breath. "The way the world is going," Jesus lamented, "we may end up scrapping the Christmas season altogether."

Asked what each planned to do this week instead of the usual, both were at a loss for words. Jesus said he'd probably go home and spend some time with his dog. Kringle and his wife plan to go to Antarctica for a little R & R.

Political Labels: An Exercise in Subjectivity

Over at the Abercrombie View, the blog's host is trying to generate a discussion on what people believe are the differences between conservatives and liberals. Mr. Abercrombie, a staunch conservative Christian, draws the following distinction:
"I believe that a lot of people misunderstand the labels of “liberal” or “conservative.”...My understanding of a conservative is one who is cautious about change. Not that he or she is opposed to change, but cautious. Perhaps the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” could be the motto of a conservative...Conversely, my view of a liberal is one who is not cautious about change. That person may want to change things just to be changing things. In many ways change is good, but to just want to change to be changing can, in my estimation, be dangerous." (Go here to read the entirety of his essay.)
Well, I can certainly tell you that I don't agree with his definitions at all. Here is a portion of my response to him in the comments section.
"My defintions are as follows: Conservatives seem to favor laws and policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many and the planet. In the conservative world view, everything boils down to the profit motive. If a particular law or policy maximizes short-term profits (even at the expense of long-term profits), conservatives favor it.

To the right of conservatives are the fundamentalists. They favor everything the conservatives do BUT they try to couch all laws and policies into religious terms. If any person doesn't happen to believe precisely as they do, then such people become person non grata.

Liberals accept the same base system that the conservatives do, but want to have the edges smoothed a bit. They support a broader picture which takes both short and long-term profits into account, plus they favor some remedial efforts to be made for the poor and the planet. Liberals tend to not back wholesale changes because many secretly hope they will one day join the top 10% and they will then profit from conservative efforts.

To the left of the liberals (my vantage point) are the humanists, Greens, Socialists and anarchists. We think the whole system stinks and should be thrown out. Most folks in this category do not favor a system that creates inequalities and destruction of our environment as a matter of course. In general, we favor community rights over individual rights, long-term stewardship over short-term profits, and the genuine respect for diversity over laws and policies that breed bigotry and mistrust."
Quite a bit of difference, don't you think?

How do YOU define the terms conservative and liberal? Please visit the Ambercrombie View and make your perspective known.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The One Poll Dubya Won't Want To Read

It's self-apparent that web polls aren't scientific. Their margin for error is significant as anyone can "vote" as often as they like (via several methods). Still, they do offer an inkling of public opinion on any given issue.

MSNBC is conducting a poll entitled, "Live Vote: Do Bush’s actions justify impeachment?" As of 9:00 a.m. PST, 85% of over 128,000 voters say YES with only a meager 13% saying NO! Scientific or not, that's pretty damn amazing.

Monday, December 19, 2005

No Snow Here

Over at OrBlogs, there seems to be a lot of discussion about the snow that fell in the Portland Metro area and beyond. I can easily remember the havoc snow, frozen fog and freezing rain can cause in the Willamette Valley.

I'm happy to report that it has not and is not snowing in Grays Harbor County. In fact, it's a balmy 50 degrees with light rain. I'm sure that one day the tables will be turned -- snowing here but not down there. But not today!

Build It On Your Own Dime

According to an article in the Seattle Times, a track developer wants to build a NASCAR speedway in Kitsap County (about 70 miles northeast of Aberdeen).
"ISC plans to ask state legislators to pledge $166 million in bonds to pay for almost half of the proposed $345 million track. The money to repay the bonds would come from new sales taxes on items ISC says race fans would buy. In addition, ISC wants to use a ticket tax to pay for about 4 percent of the track costs."
The article goes on to underscore that many state officials are wary of the projected economic impact of the speedway and are less than confident that the projected tax revenue would retire the bond.

From my standpoint, speaking as a former sports nut, I really don't care how large or small the projected economic impact is on the surrounding area. I don't care how many fans the developer thinks they can attract to a potential two major races per year. None of this should matter.

If ISC thinks this is a viable location AND they are able meet the various state and local building requirements, then they should build the facility WITH THEIR OWN MONEY. They will own the speedway and they are the ones who will earn the profits (or losses). Why should the taxpaying public subsidize their for-profit scheme?

The ONLY way I would support the expenditure of ANY public dollars is if the Green Bay Packers model was followed. This NFL football team is owned by the people of the City of Green Bay. Since the people own the team, it makes since to use their money -- taxpayer dollars -- to help support it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Setting a Bad Example

The media and blogosphere are alive with reports and commentary about Dubya's admission that he secretly authorized domestic spying on American citizens WITHOUT seeking approval through the judicial system, as required by law. While this certainly raises a great deal of legal and ethical issues, my chief concern is the type of message being carried to today's youth.

More often than not, adult behavior has a greater impact on developing minds than what adults say to children. The parent who screams at his/her children for abusing drugs, while concurrently self-medicating themselves through drugs and/or alcohol, generally has a great problem having their message heard (due to the obvious double-standard).

In this same vein, today's youth are learning about America's system of democracy from a president who is openly skirting and/or defying U.S. law. I fear the central message being imparted is that as long as you are in charge or on top, you can do what you damn well want. If the law isn't on your side, break it. If you run afoul of general ethics, screw 'em.

Of course, we can't lay the complete blame on our current [P]resident. He didn't invent this system. Corporate America has been playing this same tune for generations.

Mr. Bush needs to be held accountable as do countless multinational corporations. If not, we are setting the stage for a ruthless and lawless future as today's children grow into tomorrow's ethically-challenged leaders.

Peace in Olympia

Numbers can be deceiving. Though my old home (Salem, OR) is twice the size of the metro Olympia area, we had a lot of problems turning out sizeable numbers to protest the war in Iraq. Today, my wife & I joined a Peace Vigil sponsored by the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation.

I don't know how many hearty souls braved the cold weather, but we filled about 2 city blocks with people standing up for peace. We even had the opportunity to meet some area Greens, including one from Grays Harbor County! (See photo taken by Bob Ziegler.)

Now we know that we won't have to organize Grays Harbor County by ourselves!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Starting From Scratch

I've been in my new home in Aberdeen for a week now. Besides all the time needed to unpack boxes and get our family situated, I've spent a good deal of time looking for area progressive groups to plug in to. Thus far, I haven't found much.

The ACLU of Washington site indicates that there's a chapter in this county, but neither of the two emails I've sent have netted a response. The Washington Green Party contact for Aberdeen has a disconnected phone number and a bouncing email address (though I have made contact with the state office in Seattle). I have found no indications that there are any environmental, peace, and/or social justice organizations here.

In fact, the only two groups that might be considered a tad progressive are the Grays Harbor Habitat for Humanity and the Grays Harbor Audubon Society.

So, I guess my wife & I are going to have to create some of these local organizations from scratch. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it just means committing to a lot more work. It's almost always easier to join a going concern than it is to create and organize one.

Every community needs a radical left presence. We're here, so we will be THAT presence in Grays Harbor County.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Responsibility (But Not the Blame)

One of the entertainers who appeared on the last Ed Sullivan Show was impressionist David Frye. Frye earned his claim to fame as the most popular impersonator of one Richard Milhaus Nixon. One of his routines from "I Am the President" eerily addresses [P]resident Bush's recent admission that he takes responsibility for the war in Iraq.

In discussing the Watergate fiasco (PRIOR to Nixon's resignation from the presidency), Frye/Nixon explained that he was indeed responsible for the imbroglio BUT it was not his fault. You see, Frye/Nixon reasoned that people who accept responsibility keep their jobs; people who are to blame lose theirs.

And so it is with Dubya. The way he looks at it is that it's his overall responsibility because he's the Commander-in-Chief, but it's not HIS fault. No, the fault is placed with those who provided him with bad intelligence.

Of course, the one bug in the ointment is that the intelligence, for the most part, was dead on target. He simply ignored what he didn't like and blew out of proportion what he did like.

In the end, like the real Nixon, Bush is both responsible AND at fault.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I’m looking at this brochure which was included in my Welcome Packet [from my new credit union] which introduces newcomers to Grays Harbor County. On the back cover, there is an advertisement for “Washington’s New Authentic Beach Town”, Seabrook.

It seems that some young entrepreneur from Oregon hatched a plan to build a swanky new beach community out of the wilderness of the central Washington coast. While I’m certain this gentleman and his partners will earn oodles and oodles of bucks from their investment, there are a few aspects of this new venture that rub me the wrong way.

For starters, what is actually meant by the word, authentic? They are constructing a community where no community existed. They are building houses and roads where mighty trees once stood. The authentic area is a rugged forest, not a planned and laid out resort community. In addition, a truly authentic town in this locale would be an indian village of the Quinault.

From my perspective, it would have been far more truthful to state that they are “creating a beach town” modeled after other such communities.

The next aspect that rubbed me wrong is their description of the various houses for sale in this future community. While they certainly aren’t shy about extolling the opportunities to purchase near palaces, they also state that small cottages are available. Sort of gives one the impression that homes are available for individuals and families of varying financial standing.

Well, don’t fall for such illusions. Initially, the price range for homes in authentic Seabrook went from $400,000 - $650,000! In their most recent newsletter, the bottom figure has now increased to over $500,000!!

Obviously, this will not be an authentic community after all. Authentic communities have rich people, poor people and those folks in between. I don’t know about you, but I know of few people of limited to modest means who can afford a $500,000 home.

But what really gets me about the advertising glitz for Seabrook is the scant mention of normal weather conditions on the central Washington coast. The photos on the website show blue skies (maybe a few lazy puffs of clouds) and tranquil waters. Such pictures are the exception, not the authentic norm.

The site informs potential buyers that the weather in Seabrook is very similar to that of the central Oregon coast. This statement is only true if you view the word “similar” in extremely broad terms.

The area platted out for Seabrook (near Pacific Beach) gets a lot of rain. I don’t mean a lot as in 40 or 50 or 60 inches per year. According to The Weather Channel, this swath of the Washington coast averages over 112” of rain per annum. Folks, that’s a heck of a lot of water (about 0.30” per day).

Compare this figure to that of Newport, Oregon (the largest town on the central Oregon Coast). While Seabrook will average about 112” of precipitation per year, Newport averages 69.57” per year. That’s a difference of approximately 43” per year or, put another way, Seabrook receives an average of 62% more rainfall than Newport. (Maybe they mean the rain in the two locales has a similar wetness.)

Take a look at this breakdown for comparison. The first figure represents the average for Seabrook and the second figure represents the average for Newport.

January: 16.37” vs. 10.25” (about 60% greater)
April: 8.29” vs. 4.87” (about 70% greater)
July: 1.94” vs. 1.04” (about 85% greater)
October: 9.32” vs. 5.12” (about 82” greater)

For potential buyers who presently live within a few hours of Seabrook, the rainfall totals won’t come as a shock at all. They are well aware of what they’re getting into. What I worry about is those folks who hail from areas outside of the Great Northwest, like Southern California. Many such people wouldn’t be able to fathom 112” of anything per year!

Can you imagine plunking down $700,000 for a spatial home only to find out your next door neighbor is some guy named Noah and he’s building an ark in his back yard? Wouldn’t that tick you off somewhat?

How 'Bout Them Jugs!

Any time an individual or family moves from one locale to another, there's a tendency to judge the new digs as opposed to the old domicile. Upon arriving in Aberdeen, one of the first things my wife & I looked at was the area's recycling program. How would it measure up to the program in good 'ol Salem, Oregon?

Salem's program, run in conjunction with Marion County, is a fairly good one. Co-mingled recycling is picked up curbside and the number of items eligible is laudable. You can put batteries, paint, plastic containers, newsprint, mixed paper, greyboard, cardboard, aluminum, tin cans, motor oil and several other items out at the curb for bi-weekly pick-up. If you have items that don't fall onto the curbside list, you are still afforded the opportunity to dispose of most anything else at 3 transfer stations positioned around town.

While Aberdeen does have a curbside recycling program, it pales in comparison to Salem's or even Olympia's (a mere 50 miles to the east). While the Salem program provides a huge recycling receptacle for each customer's use, Aberdeen provides 3 little bins. The blue bin is for glass. The light grey bin is for tin cans and aluminum foil. The beige bin is for newspapers.

Aberdeen also allows each customer to place at the curb two paper sacks filled with mixed paper and corrugated cardboard. Milk jugs can be recycled too, but each family must tote them to the transer station themselves.

That's it (except for some provisions for hazardous waste)! What strikes me as rather odd is that while milk jugs are eligible to be recycled, no other types of plastic bottle are. Thus, yogurt cups, drink bottles, shampoo containers go into the trash with lots of greyboard. And all this gets transported to the landfill.

I guess I should be thankful that Aberdeen recycles at all!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Two Welfare Systems

Public assistance is supposedly for those most in need. There are income eligibility requirements. If an individual's or family's income increases to a certain point, they become ineligible...unless we're talking about CORPORATE welfare. Under the latter system, there don't seem to be any income eligibility requirements at all!

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,
"In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, the Bush administration and Congress are struggling to pay for the needed but costly rebuilding efforts along America's Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil recently announced a record breaking $9.9 billion in quarterly profits. Despite that success, Congress recently gave the oil and gas industry, including ExxonMobil, $10.7 billion in tax breaks."
In light of all the changes to the way this nation administer's public welfare assistance, this payout seems grossly unfair. Would anyone like to justify it?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ghost [Down]Town

As my wife & I are trying to familiarize ourselves with the Grays Harbor area (Aberdeen-Hoquiam-Cosmopolis), we’ve tried hard to stay away from the Big Box stores (e.g., Walmart) and the major chains. Instead of dropping by those kinds of stores one can find in almost any community, we’ve worked diligently at visiting locally-owned and run businesses.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Aberdeen has a health food store. Unfortunately, The Market Place doesn’t have the kind of selection we had hoped for. They don’t sell organic produce, they don’t have a deli or juice bar and their selection of soy milk is very limited.

One of the owners explained the reasoning for these shortcomings. For starters, Grays Harbor County (which relies heavily on the timber industry) is a very conservative place. Alternative health consciousness has not reached a critical mass here. This means that certain services like a juice bar are not yet economically viable.

While the lack of consciousness certainly plays an important role, the more important reason is the unfair competitive advantage that Big Boxes and chain stores play. All the major grocery stores in the area have an organics section, albeit VERY small ones – I’ve already checked each one out (except for Walmart which I REFUSE to step foot in)!

Because of their sheer economic size, the chains can often dictate to suppliers a very low wholesale purchase price, the kind of price that a small locally-owned company can’t come close to. Consequently, if a big chain store and a local mom-and-pop outfit sell the same item, you can be sure that the retail price will be far less at the chain store.

Of course, this means that the average consumer (the working poor and, often, the middle class too) will feel it a family financial necessity to shop where the price is the lowest. This is one of the chief mechanisms that [inter]national corporate chains drive locally-owned firms out of business.

Companies like Bitar’s – La Vogue Department Store in downtown Hoquiam. This family-run operation has been a fixture in Hoquiam for 95 years. Sadly, the owner told me, he has little confidence it will be around 95 years or even 30 years from now. In fact, he lamented the plight of most of the local businesses that have remained in the town’s once-vibrant downtown core.

From his perspective, the problem is easy to identify – strip malls, shopping centers and Big Box stores. They funnel citizens away from the center of town to the edges. As residents spend less and less time in the city center, they correspondingly spend less and less time supporting local businesses.

This owner asked the same questions scores of local business people in small towns ask across this nation: How do we revitalize our downtown core?

It’s not impossible to do, but, it will continue to be a difficult project as long as area residents lay out the red carpet for the Walmart’s of the world. Every time a new Big Box takes up residence in one town or another, we can be certain that a number of small, family-run local businesses will shutter their doors forever. And, too often, this is the very catalyst for destroying a small town’s central business district.

There is a slight glimmer of hope. Across the nation people are starting to wake up. They’re beginning to realize what is being lost through the Big Box revolution and some are starting to fight back. Walmart is finding that many communities are no longer welcoming them with open arms.

That, in and of itself, is reason to be hopeful.

Literal Rambling Leads to Writer's Block

For the 1st 6 months, I generally posted one or more entries per day on this blog. After that point, entries have become far more sporadic. Initially, this was the result of my impending Americorp*VISTA assignment. When that blew up in my face, I thought I'd return to my writings.

But a funny thing happened on the way -- My wife & I decided that since we were preparing to move [to Forks, WA], we would go ahead and move anyway with the only difference being our final destination. So, we up and decided to throw caution to the wind and we just completed a move to Aberdeen, WA.

Mind you, we don't know a soul in Aberdeen. We don't have any family here. We don't have new jobs lined up. No, we simply sold our house in Salem and found a nice house to rent in Aberdeen while we look for a house in the area to buy. In essence, we decided to do a little rambling.

Moving, particularly when one is older (more unneeded accumulation), is a time-consuming process. It leaves one little time nor energy to write. It's causes a sort of physical writer's block.

Hopefully, now that we're settling in, I can finally get back to daily writing.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Either/Or -- Go Fish

Most people have heard the saying, "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime." For me, this kind of message typifies the either/or society.

There are those that would argue that the art of fishing is fine, but the man is hungry and should be fed now. Worry about the present situation and let someone else endeavor to offer instruction on the methods of proper fishing.

Then there are those who would decry such a strategy. Look to the future, they say. Stave off future problems by teaching the man a skill for survival.

For me, both solutions are good ones. Instead of juxtaposing them against each other (either/or), they lend themselves well to a two-step strategy. Since the man is hungry right now, give him the damn fish (and maybe a bottle of wine to go with it). If he's open to the idea, share the meal with him.

Once he's fed, THEN teach him how to fish.

Studies have shown that school children who come to class hungry are less apt to learn. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Hunger has a way of impeding the learning process.

The underlying lesson here is that the short-term and long-term are equally important. Neglect one and we short change the other. From a Taoist perspective, this could well be termed trying to achieve balance.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A River Runs Through It

For most westerners, the word tao and the philosophy of taoism seem so foreign. Yet, despite this belief, taoistic thought is all around us. For example, the Star Wars' series was based on taoist teaching (i.e., the force). Another example comes from one of my favorite short stories which was turned into an excellent movie by director Robert Redford -- A River Runs Through It.

The final lines of the movie sound as if they were taken from a taoist text:
Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.
I bet if you look around, you can find numerous examples. They are everywhere.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Value & Red-Nosed Reindeer

I've grown to HATE this time of year -- endless consumerism and too many radio stations playing incessant Christmas music. My wife, on the other hand, loves Christmas music and we struggle to control the station choice whenever we go out in the family vehicle.

Yesterday -- having compromised with Christmas music on the way and anything BUT said music on the way back -- I was forced to listen to another rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. As is all too typical with me, I soon found myself analyzing the underlying theme of this cherished ditty.

While, on the surface, this story is supposedly about everyone finding their true place in the scheme of things, on further analysis, I think the central message is more negative than positive.

As I'm sure we all recall, Rudolph was shunned by the general Christmas town populace because he was different. However, his distinguishing feature -- his glowing red nose -- proved to be advantageous when Santa and his minions realized a terrible fog had settle over the North Pole. Suddenly, his uniqueness became chic and he was celebrated.

What rubs me the wrong way is the fact that the young reindeer was ONLY accepted into the "in crowd" WHEN it was discovered that his shiny red nose would benefit the plans of others. Had the thick fog NOT descended upon the North Pole, Rudolph would still be considered a "leper".

Beings should be valued. Period. Value should not be conferred ONLY when it benefits us. If not, then value is merely a self-serving construction and holds no intrinsic worth.

Somebody should write a song about that.

Postscript: An even better analysis of Red-Nosed Reindeer and artificial economic constructs can be found at This is Class Warfare. Check it out!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Desperate Times at the Five-Sided Building

Our government seems to be having a harder and harder time fighting a little war that they keep trying to tell us is a popular one. Not only are the Shrub’s poll figures falling month after month, but our armed forces aren’t coming anywhere close to their recruitment targets. If the “war” is so darned popular, why aren’t people volunteering in droves?

Convincing folks to sign up is getting so difficult that the military brass now are resorting to all sorts of gimmicks to pump up troop numbers. As Gene C. Gerard reported Wednesday at the Alternative Press Review, “Any Soldier Will Do”:
The Army has taken various approaches to its lackluster recruitment efforts. It increased it advertising budget by $130 million for 2006. Over the course of fiscal year 2005, the Army handed out $207 million in bonuses to recruits and those who re-enlisted. This was a sizable increase over 2004, when $125 million was distributed as bonuses. The Army gave a bonus of a least $1,000 to 53 percent of new recruits between October 2004 and June 2005; the average bonus was $5,589.
That’s a lot of greenbacks! But, according to Gerard, it gets worse.
Last Month, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey announced that due to the recruitment shortages the Army will now double the number of recruits it accepts who score the lowest on the intelligence test administered to all potential recruits. Secretary Harvey also announced that the Army was decreasing its requirement that the recruiting class each year be comprised of at least 67 percent of applicants who scored in the top half of the intelligence test. The portion has now been lowered to 60 percent.
While increasing monetary inducements and lowering test score requirements might seem bad, that’s still not the worst of it.
What has not been known until now is that recruitment shortages have resulted in the Pentagon calling up reservists who are ill or medically unfit. According to the GAO report, this includes reservists who have suffered from heart attacks, those with severe asthma (weather conditions in the desert exacerbates this condition), hernias, severe hypertension, and a woman who was four months into chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. It also includes reservists suffering from sleep apnea who need medical equipment to help them breath, yet large portions of Iraq and Afghanistan lack the electricity necessary to run the equipment.

Reserve forces that are diabetic and require insulin pumps have been called to active duty. A soldier was called up only two weeks after receiving a kidney transplant. Other reservists have required kidney dialysis. The GAO report also found that reserve soldiers have been called to active duty that suffer from psychiatric problems, including bipolar disorder. By one estimate as much as ten percent of the reservists who have been medically evacuated out of the Middle East was attributable to pre-existing medical conditions that could not be treated properly.
Ah yes, we live in desperate times!

Sunday, November 6, 2005

VISTA Not All Bad

While my Americorp*VISTA experience wasn't particularly long nor pleasant, I don't want anyone to think I'm not a strong supporter of the overall program. Such an assumption would be incorrect. The very concept of people sacrificing themselves for the good of others is something to be lauded.

Here's a brief sampling of some of the projects in Oregon & Washington:
A Ready*Corps Project--People for People 2-1-1 WA
Perform community based outreach in 12 county area of Washington State, educating communities to the benefit of the 2-1-1 system for disaster preparedness and response.

African American Health Coalition Inc. OR
Resource and Development program, which includes activities such as, grant writing, fundraising, resource development and special events planning and coordination.

Casa de Belen Homeless Shelter OR
Join the 16 member UCAN VISTA Team and develop resources to fight poverty in Douglas County.

Construction Mgmt./Habitat for Humanity-Spokane WA
Increase capacity through project management systems while enhancing overall efficiency of operations to provide more opportunities to help low income families obtain simple, affordable housing.

Friends of the Children - Programming Coordinator OR
Join our cutting-edge, early-intervention/prevention program serving at-risk youth to help break the cycle of poverty.

Health Access & Education WA
Coordinate community health resources to improve access for low-income people. Promote programs/resources for healthcare providers, social services and clients.

N.E. Community Center Association WA
Promote entrepreneurship as a viable option for low income families. Work with new or existing business venture(s) in low income neighborhoods providing technical assistance and linkage to resources.

Opportunity Council/Animals as Natural Therapy WA
This volunteer will assist a program where at-risk youth and adults use animals to learn about themselves and each others. The farm is located in suburban Bellingham, Washington.

Rural Resources - Healthcare Occupations Workgroup WA
New VISTA project with a focus on developing educational and employment opportunities in health care.

Volunteers of America Western Washington WA
Native American AmeriCorps*VISTA for Tulalip Tribes Child Protective Services, Family Support.
If any of these examples look interesting to you or you'd like to browse even more opportunities, please check out the Americorp*VISTA site.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

[Conditional] Freedom of Speech

I used to manage a progressive gift shop, The Peace Store. We sold various forms of merchandise that featured progressive and left wing messages (e.g., bumper stickers, buttons, T-shirts, mouse pads, etc.) One of the ways I advertised the store -- being a small nonprofit, we did NOT have an advertising budget -- was by plastering my truck with bumper stickers. At one point, I had nearly 40 on my rig.

Most of these stickers were overtly political and in-your-face. Since I was preparing to serve as an Americorp*VISTA volunteer (see the previous two entries -- this is the 3rd installment), I removed all but 5 of them. The ones which remained were the least political and two of them were quotes from famous figures.

Here are the 5 messages that remain on my truck:
  1. No one is free when others are oppressed -- MLK quote
  2. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind -- Gandhi quote
  3. Peace Begins when the Hungry are Fed
  4. Hell: It's not the heat, it's the humidity
  5. Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he'll be one mile away and barefoot
Compare these rather docile messages with some of the stickers I removed.
  • Boost the Stock Market -- Fire Somebody
  • Politicians & Diapers Need to be Changed -- Often for the Same Reason
  • I Love my Country, but Fear my Government
  • The Death Penalty -- WWJD
  • Under Republicans, Man Exploits Man -- Under Democrats it's just the Opposite
  • EVERYONE does better when EVERYONE does better
  • Subvert the Dominant Paradigm
Yet, despite the fact my right of expression is protected under the U.S. Constitution, this safeguard doesn't seem to protect a person who has been INVITED to serve in VISTA. Mind you, not yet serving IN VISTA, but merely invited to serve.

When Bobbie saw my stickers plus the peace flag flown on my antenna he must have decided then and there that a person who supports peace, nonviolence and justice is not moral enough to serve the poor.

This has led me to wonder: If I had different stickers on my truck, would the stickers have been an issue at all? Do you think Bob would have had his "change of heart" if I had stickers which supported pro-life, the troops in Iraq and I was flying an American flag on my antenna? My guess is probably not.

So, even though, by law, a person volunteering through VISTA cannot be discriminated against due to their political beliefs, that's precisely what happened in my case. I got bounced because I was too far to the Left of Bob-o!

[If you're interested in obtaining some great left-wing stickers, buttons or T-Shirts, please visit Northern Sun.]

Dress Code

As I outlined in my last entry, I was unceremoniously bounced from the Americorp*VISTA program. What vile thing did I do to incur the wrath of my potential supporting organization and the regional office in Seattle? (If some children are afoot, PLEASE cover their eyes now!)


Yes, you read that correctly. O-v-e-r-a-l-l-s. I had the audacity to wear my overalls to an interview with a local reporter. Mind you, I was not yet an “official” representative of the VISTA program. I paid all the expenses to travel to Forks, Washington (though, as a peace offering, they’re now planning to reimburse me). The interview wasn’t a mandated requisite of my position; it was initiated at my behest and I was participating in the interview on MY own time.

Unfortunately, trying to promote the sponsoring organization, I invited my now erstwhile future supervisor, Bob, to join me. Though he said NOTHING negative during the interview or in our short meeting afterwards, it seems that my overalls sent him into a tizzy.

[Note: I wear overalls a lot. In fact, I wear overalls almost everyday. I like overalls because I have an almost nonexistent butt. Belts have never seemed to work for me – no matter how tight I pull them, my pants slide down past my flat bottom. I do have several nice pairs of suspenders, but I had already packed for shipment to Forks most all of my nice pants.]

In fact, when “Bob” and I parted, he suggested that I go introduce myself to several people in the community, if I had enough time left over from house hunting. Now, is this the kind of suggestion someone would make if they felt one’s manner of dress was inappropriate? Acting as my future supervisor, I would certainly think that Bob might say something like, “Do me a favor and make sure you change clothes before going out into the general community.”

But he said nary a word about my wardrobe choice. In fact, as stated above, he didn’t have anything negative to say to me at all. He complimented me on a fine interview with the local paper and then we talked briefly about house hunting and some ideas about my future VISTA project. We shook hands and he said something about contacting me the next week to discuss more project ideas.

My wife & I finally found a possible home and then returned to Salem the next day. Once home, I checked my email. And that’s when the hammer dropped. Bob sent me a vague note stating that I had been de-selected as his agency’s VISTA volunteer. He didn’t provide anything specific.

What irritated me to no end was the fact that he sent me this email less than 24 hours after our little meeting. He sent the message via email to my home 300 miles away DESPITE the fact that he knew which motel my wife & I were staying at. He sent the message via email while my wife & I were looking for a house to buy in Forks – an unneeded activity if we had no reason to move to Forks. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon (the email was sent on Friday morning and not read by me until Saturday night) that I finally reached Bob to learn that overalls played a part in this sudden about face.

Well, it wasn’t JUST overalls. It seems Bob also didn’t like the bumper stickers on my truck. I’ll discuss THAT aspect in the next entry.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Unbound & Ungagged

It’s interesting how things can change in the blink of an eye. One minute you seem to be treading down a particular path, then all of a sudden, the path diverges toward a completely different horizon with a new set of challenges and expectations. Some people refer to this phenomena as karma, while others opine that a person is being led by the hand of God.

I don’t really care how anyone desires to frame the situation. Karma. God. Chance. Fate. Choose the term you like. All I know is that my world was turned upside down in the course of a scant 24 hours.

I had previously announced on this blog that I was choosing to refrain from offering political commentary for the next year or so. I had made this decision because I applied to and had been accepted to serve the poor of our nation through the Americorp*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America)…the domestic Peace Corps.

By federal law, VISTA volunteers agree not to express publicly opinions on partisan politics. Since I was preparing to go to my Pre-Service Training during the third week of November, I thought it would be best if I started practicing biting my tongue. Thus, I greatly cutback on the tenor and amount of entries here at The Rambling Taoist.

All that is water under the bridge now. I was bounced OUT of VISTA before I even began. While the Corporation for National & Community Services goes to great lengths to express the idea that a person invited to serve is NOT considered a representative of the program UNTIL they complete the requisite training, it turns out this is not altogether true.

While an invitee is not afforded any protection in terms of the procedures and policies of the program, for other purposes a person IS considered a representative of VISTA from the moment they accept an invitation. I found this out the hard way.

The reason I was de-selected for my upcoming VISTA assignment is that my potential supervisor didn’t like my wardrobe AND he didn’t like one or more of the 5 bumper stickers on my truck and the peace flag I fly on my truck antenna. Even though, at that juncture, I was still a private citizen supposedly covered under the 1st Amendment, it seems that exercising my constitutional rights was a big no-no.

Consequently, all the time and effort my wife and I have spent preparing to move 300 miles away to the tiny hamlet of Forks, Washington is all for naught. The decision to de-select me happened without my knowledge (I only found out about the “situation” after the decision had been rendered) and, because I was not yet a representative of VISTA, I found I had no right of appeal.

Over the next few days or so, I’ll share with you the particulars. While I’m understandably upset at the manner in which this ordeal played out, I am happy that my tongue is again unfettered.

The Rambling Taoist is back in business!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Up Side of Calamity

Few people relish the thought of getting caught in a hurricane, tornado, tsunami, flood, earthquake or a man-made disaster. Most of us try to avoid pain, sorrow and misery. Yet, for all the negatives a calamity bestows, there IS a silver lining.

Calamity tends to bring out the best in many people. If you don't believe this, consider the recent example of Hurricane Katrina.

While the response of the government (federal, state AND city) was woefully inadequate, this cannot be said of everyday citizens. Many people took it upon themselves to reach out to others in need. The media reported about many who drove hundreds of miles to make a positive difference in the lives of strangers.

More importantly, the labels we often utilize in our social relations seemed to vanish in thin air. Republicans and Democrats, young and old, black and white, straight and gay, Christian and non-Christian, rich and poor came together to lend a helping hand. People, who might normally never interact with each other, stood arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder.

The experience of calamity tends to reinforce the idea that we share more in common with our fellow beings than there are arbitrary things that separate us.

It's too bad that, once the adrenaline rush of calamity passes, we return to our self-built fortresses of intolerance and exclusivity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Learning to Bite My Tongue

I haven't written anything on my blog for 2 weeks. It's not that I haven't had anything to say, but my life is about to undergo some significant changes. For starters, I'm moving to Washington state. Beyond that, I'm entering a new "job" in which I am not allowed to voice PUBLIC political opinions.

For these reasons, I've altered my profile to mask my identity. I'm sure this sounds rather strange (maybe even fishy), but hopefully, in about 1 year, I'll be able to explain it to those of you who regularly happen by.

For now, I'll be posting entries less often, probably every week or two. I'll probably curb my political passions a bit. I think I'll focus on more arcane subject matter...just to be safe.

Yes, I'm going to have to learn to bite my tongue. I just hope that I don't find myself one day biting it off altogether!