Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Different Perspective & the Job Market

As most people are well aware, we who live in the great Northwest face a very tight job market. The unemployment rate here is higher than most anywhere else in the nation.

For the past year, I've been traveling to interviews in Oregon, Washington and California for jobs in the field of social services. It's bad enough that each stop features hordes of applicants who desperately need a good paying job with benefits, but it's even harder for a person like me -- a person with a slightly different perspective than the average Joe or Jane.

Here's but one example. A lot of the interviews for jobs with the State of Oregon's DHS are group interviews. (It's kind of ironic that so many people desire to join the ranks of hated government employees!) One question that has been asked at almost every interview I've participated in is: Tell us why you are the best person for this job.

To a person, every other applicant provides a laundry list of their finest attributes. They declare that no one else will work as hard as they do or be as cheerful as they are. Often, I think that the first person to speak should list every positive characteristic that they can think of and then each subsequent applicant could save the rest of us a lot of time by simply saying, "Ditto".

When this question is asked of me, I provide a completely different sort of answer. As a Taoist, I feel it would be presumptuous to make any sort of declaration that I am indeed the best person for the job. How would I know that?

Unlike the other applicants, I don't view the interview process as a competition. It is my hope that each interview panel is looking for the individual THEY feel would best fit in both with their supervisory style and the members of their assembled team. Since I don't know what supervisory style is utilized and I don't have any way of knowing the current dynamics of the team, there's no way in the world I can know if I'm the best choice.

My answer to the question always seems to catch quite a few people off-guard. I'm sure some of the panelists most likely take my response as either a lack of self-confidence or a strategy to sidestep the question. And I'm sure I've "lost" a job offer or two because of it.

In the end, however, I firmly believe a person must be true unto themselves. I could easily play the game and provide the kind of glib answer they're looking for, but to do so, would violate one of my Taoist principles.

I'm ever hopeful that one of these days I'll attend one of these group interviews and the panel will welcome someone who doesn't fall prey to convention and will see the value of a person standing up for one's principles.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Child Abuse & Society

There's little question that almost every person is in favor of preventing or rescuing children from the grips of abuse and/or neglect. The problem is in DEFINING what conditions constitute abuse and neglect. Throughout our society, there is a wide divergence of opinion and this divergence places caseworkers of state agencies in a less than enviable position.

For some people, the use of any form of corporal punishment (e.g., spanking or slapping) is taboo. Such people believe that striking a child teaches fear, not respect. At the other end of the spectrum are many religious conservatives who hold firmly to the maxim, "Spare the rod, spoil the child". For them, the imposition of corporal punishments represents a manifestation of supreme love.

Between these two extremes is the majority. Yet, even among the general populous, there is no definitive definition of abuse or neglect. Often, the definition is fluid and depends greatly on the specific circumstances involved. In other words, an act that many may feel is excessive or abusive in one specific situation may be viewed altogether differently if one or more variables are changed.

This ambiguity of opinion makes the job of state workers, who investigate allegations of abuse and/or neglect, very difficult. I speak from personal experience as I served as a Caseworker-Child Abuse Investigator for state agencies in Arkansas and Missouri during the 1980s. (I'm trying to get back into this field today.)

Since most of the allegations investigated are not clear cut and fall within the grey areas both of state standards and public opinion, almost every outcome of such investigations will be wildly applauded by some and severely criticized by others. The role of the Child Abuse Investigator is being perpetually between a rock and a hard place!

And this leads directly to my second point. Not only is there no public consensus on what constitutes abuse and/or neglect, but there is also no public consensus on how far the state should go to protect the best interests of children.

We've all read or heard stories about children who "fell through the cracks". A preventable death or serious injury is reported by the media and it is invariably pointed out that DHS could have or should have intervened. When such stories are made public, there is an instantaneous clamor for tighter standards and oversight of a neglectful state agency.

Yet, for each case of this nature, there are personal stories reported that focus on the other side of the coin. The local newspaper or TV news team (or one of those melodramatic Lifetime movies) depicts a family that has been badgered or somehow harmed by overzealous state workers. Parents and significant others charge that the state has needlessly or maliciously torn their family apart as the result of an [erroneous] child abuse/neglect investigation.

When such stories hit the newswire, there is just as much clamor to reign in state power, cut funding for certain state agencies and/or to provide greater oversight of an overzealous state agency.

Child abuse and neglect is a serious issue confronting society. Until we are able to come to a better consensus as to what constitutes abuse/neglect and how much power we want vested in the state agencies mandated to protect the interests of society's children, no amount of oversight will cure the problem (see previous entry).

Oregon Legislature Wrestles with Child Abuse

There are two chief issues concerning how the Department of Human Services can serve the needs of our communities. The first of these issues concerns funding. Simply stated, DHS doesn't receive enough funds to perform the best service possible.

Instead of outlining my argument on this point, I will direct you to BlueOregon and my recent post there, "Oversight Not Key Remedy".

The other problem, however, is not one that the legislature itself can adequately address. Our society has yet to decide the precise definition of what constitutes child abuse/neglect and their are mixed opinions about how intrusive people want DHS to be.

I hope to discuss this second complex issue later this week.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Undue Influence

Wealth begets access. Access begets influence. Influence begets power. And power means you get to decide things or things get decided in your favor.

This is how American politics works. Everybody knows it. The folks in power advertise this principle amongst themselves. They pump out their chests and try to prove they have more access (or can guarantee YOU more access) than the next guy.

Yes, EVERYBODY knows this is the basic lay of the political landscape...until, that is, somebody states the obvious. Then, all of a sudden, the powerful act like they've never heard of such a preposterous concept!

I mention this because the Oregonian ran a front page article yesterday entitled, "Laws Make Following the Money Difficult". This story dealt with the fact that the reports submitted to Oregon's ethics commission leave a lot to be desired.

While I certainly agree with the main thrust of the article, the major thing about the article that jumped out at me is that there was NO discussion or even mention of the widespread problem of undue influence. No, the reporter's main beef was in the lack of unambiguous reporting rules.

Obviously, the concept of undue influence was considered so matter-of-fact that the newspaper felt no responsibility whatsoever to include it.

Yet, for me, this is the more crucial issue. Legislators being feted by powerful corporations transforms the very premise of democracy. Throwing around this kind of egregious money is the prime mechanism used to drown out the voice of most citizens.

Think about it for a minute. Let's say you are a state representative. You get invited to a conference in Maui (the article reports that several Oregon reps were, in fact, participants in December of a conference of this kind). Your plane fare and accommodations are covered by the corporations sponsoring the event.

While most Oregonians are enduring the dreary rain of a typical Oregon winter, you get to lounge around on the sunny beaches of Hawaii. Each day's events conclude by early afternoon, so you can sample the warm tropical air, shop, hike or take advantage of the night life.

During the conference itself, you get to hobnob with corporate execs who work very hard to get you to see issues from their point of view. You get to view powerpoint presentations, studies and legislative proposals created to help the bottom line of the sponsoring companies.

Upon your return to rainy Oregon, your contact with average citizens pales in comparison to your prepaid Hawaii "vacation". Some communicate with you via email, phone or mail. You may hold a Town Hall in a local library or senior center. You may even meet in the middle class home of a few constituents.

When it comes time to vote on various legislative measures, what's going to stick out in your mind -- the lukewarm coffee from a poorly-attended Town Hall meeting or the warm nightly breezes of Hawaii?

For most people, the answer will be the latter. It may well even not be conscious. Therefore, all the time and expense taken by the corporations who feted you in Hawaii will be worth it -- to them!

As long as we allow this kind of set-up to persist, this scenario will be repeated over and over again. The powerful of our society know this and it's the primary reason they go to all the expense. They know that you (the legislator) will associate your wonderful experience with the point-of-view they're trying to sell. And they know they can offer a kind of aphrodisiac that the average constituent cannot.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Have the Women Rule

I think most of the major religions and socio-political systems have things backward. In most cases, the men run things and women play a support role. I think we should try it the other way around.

I can't imagine a world run by women would be plagued with such things as war. It's easy to imagine a testosterone-laden male ordering others to go blow up a neighborhood filled with innocents. I know of few women who would ever consider such a thing!

Men are all about power, machismo and force. As a general rule, women are the peacemakers and the ones who provide nurture. That's what our society needs right now.

So, I say to the women of the world -- Cast of your chains and take charge of things. Restore sanity and peace. We need YOUR leadership now more than ever.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Borderline Double Talk

If Corporate America ever wonders why some people don't trust a thing about them, a recent story in In These Times offers a classic example of why. In an article by David Lindroff, General Motors comes off as a hypocritical behemoth of double talk.
What a difference a border makes. General Motors executives say soaring health costs in their U.S. plants are forcing them to seek health benefits give-backs from unionized workers, yet they insist that national healthcare is not an appropriate solution for America. As company spokeswoman Sherri Woodruff puts it, "GM thinks there has to be closer cooperation between the government and private sector, but we don't advocate a single-payer system for the U.S."
OK, so far, so good. This sounds like the same line parroted by most American corporations. But then the other shoe drops...
Yet just across the Detroit River in Ontario, the company's subsidiary...strongly endorses Canada's national health system. "The Canadian plan has been a significant advantage for investing in Canada," says GM Canada spokesman David Patterson, noting that in the United States, GM spends $1,400 per car on health benefits.
So, on one side of the border we have GM acting as a cheerleader for single-payer healthcare, yet on the other side of the border, they advocate against it. Sounds extremely hypocritical, doesn't it?

One might think GM would jettison the double talk since many analysts have predicted recently that the U.S. side of GM is in a bit of financial trouble. Their profit margin has been ever shrinking because of low sales and high costs. Rather than pursuing more union give-backs, they could save a huge wad of dough if America, like Canada, switched to universal health care.

Maybe GM Canada representatives could travel south of the border to explain this concept to their U.S. counterparts! Do you think they'd listen?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

US Supreme Court Says Lying Is A-OK

When I was a wee lad, I was taught that lying and cheating are wrong. Yes, both might seem to get one ahead, but sooner or later, the piper had to be paid. So you must understand my shock in reading an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal entitled "Supreme Court Reins in Suits by Shareholders".

Here's the situation: Dura Pharmaceuticals Inc. lied to stockholders about two of its products, its sales and its revenue. When these lies (the WSJ calls them "misrepresentations") were exposed, the company's stock fell 47% in one day and continued to fall precipitously. Several shareholders took them to court to get their money back.

The original court decided against the plaintiffs, but a Federal Appeals Court reversed that verdict. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court in a UNANIMOUS decision agreed with the verdict by the original court of jurisdiction. In other words, the message from the high court to the stockholders was "Tough Luck!"

The reasoning of the Supreme Court is what baffles me. No one is disputing the fact the company out and out lied. However, the Supreme Court indicated that the stockholders did not prove that the undisputed lies directly caused the stock price to fall.

At the beginning of the day on February 24, 1998, Dura stock was $39.125. It was on this precise day that the company admitted it had lied to its stockholders. At the close of the day, the stock had fallen 47% to $20.75 per share.

This is an obvious example of cause and effect. The bottom dropped out on the stock price ONLY after the company was forced to 'fess up. To say that there is no direct linkage is preposterous!

If this particular case does not show a direct cause and effect, what would?

It almost sounds like our high court is saying that being caught lying and cheating is not enough, that a company can lie and cheat and still not have to pay the piper!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Another Fine Example of Leadershit

George W. Bush -- the man who claims to be U.S. President -- has spent a great deal of time lately patting himself on the back for having such an "open government". According to him, there are no attempts to "fool" or hide information from the American populace.

What a bunch of unmitigated baloney! Just yesterday it was reported that the Bush Administration has decided not to publish the annual report on global terrorism. This report has, up until now, been published EVERY year since 1986.

So why has the Bush Administration decided to quash this report? Because they don't like the results!

While Bush has been bragging that his administration has made great strides in defusing and defeating terrorism worldwide, this government report was set to announce that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since the report was first commissioned.

Of course, Team Bush must have realized that such statistics would easily torpedo all of their pompous bravado. Since there really isn't any way that they could spin the information to their advantage, the have decided to bury it.

So much for open government!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Me, Myself & I

I often visit blogs which address issues from a perspective entirely different from my own. Not only do I read these different perspectives, but I leave comments.

Too often, each of us only likes to congregate with people who agree with us. This, of course, creates an inherent problem. If a particular world view is consistently featured and there are no dissenting voices or different perspectives offered, we each tend to come to believe that our narrowly-shared viewpoint is a reflection of universal reality and that anyone who has a brain MUST agree with us.

In this vein, I happened upon a conservative blog called The Abercrombie View. In the April 18th entry entitled "Me" Society, the author writes,
For Christians, we are called to do just the opposite. We are to put the best interests of our brother and sister, our friend and our neighbor, above our own best interest. We are called to build up the church as a whole by our actions and our attitudes. What would happen if the whole of society were to reorient toward the best interests of others, not to the exclusion of our own best interests, but at least putting the best interests of others above our own. Let me think…
Now I'm sure most Christians would say this passage offers an apt description of the Christian perspective. But coming from the Taoist tradition, I would say this is a BETTER description of Taoism than Christianity.

Christianity teaches separation, not community. (I also think a great deal of the blame for the "Me" society falls at the feet of Christianity.) Each Christian is urged to form an INDEPENDENT and PERSONAL relationship with the creator. Consequently, my relationship with God will be different from your relationship. This difference represents separation.

Christians are also urged to hold dominion over the earth. In order to hold dominion over anything, it must be separate FROM you.

In both of the above cited concepts, the main thrust is not on the commonality of each being but the distinctiveness of each.

In Taoism, we hold that ALL things are connected, that we form a community bond with every creation. In essence, I am an extension of everything else and everything else is an extension of me. When the world is viewed from this vantage point, then the concept of "me" takes on far less significance than it does under Christianity.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Final Curtain

Two weeks ago our household included 3 bunny rabbits along with 2 humans, 2 dogs and 2 cats. At 4:40 p.m. today I had to have my last bunny euthanized -- the other two died suddenly last week. Now, for the first time in over seven years, our home is bunny-less. :<( It boggles my mind how empty a house can feel with 6 beings still in it. Our house rabbits were a big part of our lives -- so big, in fact, that it's been over 7 years since my wife and I took a vacation together. At this particular moment, I have nothing profound to write. My bunnies are gone and I'm grieving mightily.

Have Car, Will Speed

A recent article by the Associated Press, featured on KGW Newschannel 8's web site, discusses the connection between an increase in drivers who exceed the speed limit and a decrease in the number of state troopers on Oregon roads.
Oregon citations for speeding at 90 mph and faster have increased 4 percent during the past five years, during a period when the number of speeding tickets overall dropped by 30 percent. Complaints about aggressive driving, including tailgating and weaving in and out of traffic, also have increased. Speeding was the sole cause of 35 percent of all traffic fatalities in Oregon in 2003, the most recent year for which crash statistics are available. By contrast, alcohol was the sole cause of 25 percent of traffic fatalities. Seat belt use by drivers hovers around 92 percent. Experts cite numerous reasons for the jump in speeding: drivers in a hurry to get where they are going; modern car engineering creating a deceptively safe-feeling and quiet ride; and, in Oregon, fewer troopers on the road to enforce higher speed limits on some sections of the interstate. Washington state, for instance, with 1.7 times Oregon's population, has 2.7 times the troopers -- 658 to Oregon's 241.
I can certainly attest to the lack of a decreased presence of Oregon State Troopers. Over the past 6 months, I've traveled throughout Oregon, Washington and Northern California going to job interviews. In both Washington and California, I've seen numerous state troopers patrolling the roads.

However, after a recent trip from Salem to Klamath, California, I did not see one Oregon State Trooper while covering over 500 Oregon miles during daylight hours over two days time. Not one! (I saw 7 state troopers in California in an area of less than 100 miles.)

Is it any wonder then that more drivers speed through Oregon? If there's little chance of being ticketed, most drivers won't give a second thought to driving as fast as they can.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Stone the Virgin!

For those of you who might think that only the US must battle the Religious Right, here's a disturbing story from Peru. An 18 year old female posted an ad offering to sell her virginity for 20,000 soles ($6,136.48) in order to help pay for her ailing mother's health care.

As reported in The Guardian Unlimited (here are some excerpts),
The advert has provoked a storm of indignation in Peru, where saving Graciela's virginity has become a question of national pride - while the reasons why she feels forced to sell it are largely ignored.

'Deciding to sell my virginity was not an easy thing, but what else have I got?'

Television presenter Pamela Vertiz, Peru's Jerry Springer, criticised her saying that the nation's reputation was at stake.

'Have you thought about how people would look at Peru if other young girls followed your example?' Vertiz said. 'This is not the way to do it, Graciela. You have good hands and legs to work with. This is no way to earn money.'

As the reporter aptly points out, while the religious zealots have framed the issue as one of depraved national morality, few have offered this poor girl any realistic solutions. More importantly, the national debate has avoided a discussion of the serious reasons why this young woman felt this was the only avenue open to her.

In the US, we face these same kinds of debates. Religious conservatives blame poor people for resorting to the selling of drugs or prostitution to put food on the table, yet refuse to back measures that might allow these very same individuals the opportunity to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Morality or ethics is fine for people with full bellies, but it's a hell of a lot harder for those who are hungry or destitute. Jesus (the supposed moral example of the Christian Right) understood this fact. On more than one occasion, he fed the multitudes BEFORE preaching to them. He understood that people are more apt to pay attention and to learn new ways of thinking or acting when their attention isn't on trying to figure out where their next meal might come from or who is going to pay for their sick mother's medical expenses.

For me, this represents the whole problem with conservative Christian morality. It amounts to nothing more than a blathering of words without the sincere actions needed to make those words meaningful. Self-righteous words and precepts are worthless without compassionate action. And that's basically what one gets from the Religious Right.

Raze the Ceiling

There's nothing like an intrusive moral dilemma (Schiavo), a famous person's death (Pope JP2) or a celebrity trial (Jackson) to sweep a key political issue off of the front page. A short time ago, there were quite a few headlines about the Bush Administration's push to GUT Social Security. Yet, as noted above, this pivotal issue has been pushed to the back page.

We might not be hearing about it as much, but please don't think for a minute that Team Bush isn't plunging ahead. I'm certain they are hoping it can be slipped in under the public radar like the so-called Patriot Act.

If Team Bush was GENUINELY concerned about the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund, there is one solution that could easily eliminate any potential near-future or later problems -- raze (not raise) the wage ceiling.

Right now only the first $90,000 in wages are subject to the tax. What this means is that the weight of the tax falls hardest on middle and low wage workers. The wages of a person who makes $20,000 or $40,000 per year are taxed at 100% -- in other words, every penny they earn is subject to the Social Security tax.

The wages of a person who earns $150,000 per year are ONLY taxed at a 60% rate. The first $90,000 are taxed and the remaining $60,000 are not. (Of course, such wages ARE subject to other taxes, but not Social Security.)

The more a person earns through wages, the lower the percentage. And this doesn't even take into account the fact that many of the rich receive income that is not in the form of wages at all. Consequently, a big corporate CEO pays a fraction of the percentage that a school teacher pays!

Imagine how much money the Social Security Fund would hold if there was no wage ceiling. Instead of concerns that the fund will begin to encounter problems with adequate pay outs in 2042, the fund would be flush with money.

All it would take to turn a possible shortfall into a robust account is this one simple change. Unfortunately, simplicity isn't popular on Capitol Hill because it doesn't enrich the special interests. It's that simple. :>0

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Shhh! (It's Class Warfare)

Anytime consumer advocates or public interest groups try to whip up support for measures that would benefit the vast majority of Americans, conservatives claim such proposals amount to nothing more than an attempt to usher in class warfare. Yet, for all their verbose rhetoric, it's the conservatives themselves who invoke class warfare on a routine basis.

Just take a look at two of the bills passed this past week -- so-called bankruptcy reform and repeal of the estate tax. The former is aimed solely at poor and middle class individuals. It shields the rich and completely ignores the need for reform regarding businesses.

According to Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly,
...the bill does nothing to address the growing use of "asset protection trusts," used by rich people to shield income from bankruptcy proceedings, or to rein in the unlimited use of the homestead exemption, which allows them to shield multimillion dollar homes from bankruptcy courts.

The Daily Kos reports that
The "Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection" in this bill occurs for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies - individual avenues of bankruptcy. Conspicuous in absence, evidently not needing reform, are Chapter 11 bankruptcies.

Want to guess what Chapter 11 covers?

You guessed it. Chapter 11 is bankruptcy for businesses.

While conservatives and ethically-bereft democrats are making sure that the bankruptcy bill only singles out the less well-to-do, their support for the repeal of the estate tax ONLY benefits the very richest Americans. They have continued to champion this repeal despite the fact that two of America's richest individuals -- Bill Gates & Warren Buffet -- have come out against it!!

If these two measures don't typify what class warfare is all about, what would?

President John Kerry

George W. Bush did NOT win the election for president in 2000 or 2004. In 2000, the US Supreme Court handed him the victory. In 2004, Team Bush had to resort to less-publicized means -- they cheated. There is really no other rational explanation.

Here's an excellent article that outlines why only a fool, a certifiable idiot (I mean someone who, through no fault of their own, has an organic brain disability) or a politically-blind sheep could look at the numbers and NOT conclude that something horribly fishy took place on Election Day.

The Silent Scream of Numbers
The 2004 election was stolen — will someone please tell the media?

Tribune Media Services

As they slowly hack democracy to death, we’re as alone — we citizens — as we’ve ever been, protected only by the dust-covered clichés of the nation’s founding: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

It’s time to blow off the dust and start paying the price.

The media are not on our side. The politicians are not on our side. It’s just us, connecting the dots, fitting the fragments together, crunching the numbers, wanting to know why there were so many irregularities in the last election and why these glitches and dirty tricks and wacko numbers had not just an anti-Kerry but a racist tinge. This is not about partisan politics. It’s more like: “Oh no, this can’t be true.”

I just got back from what was officially called the National Election Reform Conference, in Nashville, Tenn., an extraordinary pulling together of disparate voting-rights activists — 30 states were represented, 15 red and 15 blue — sponsored by a Nashville group called Gathering To Save Our Democracy. It had the feel of 1775: citizen patriots taking matters into their own hands to reclaim the republic. This was the level of its urgency.

Was the election of 2004 stolen? Thus is the question framed by those who don’t want to know the answer. Anyone who says yes is immediately a conspiracy nut, and the listener’s eyeballs roll. So let’s not ask that question.

Let’s simply ask why the lines were so long and the voting machines so few in Columbus and Cleveland and inner-city and college precincts across the country, especially in the swing states, causing an estimated one-third of the voters in these precincts to drop out of line without casting a ballot; why so many otherwise Democratic ballots, thousands and thousands in Ohio alone, but by no means only in Ohio, recorded no vote for president (as though people with no opinion on the presidential race waited in line for three or six or eight hours out of a fervor to have their say in the race for county commissioner); and why virtually every voter complaint about electronic voting machine malfunction indicated an unauthorized vote switch from Kerry to Bush.

This, mind you, is just for starters. We might also ask why so many Ph.D.-level mathematicians and computer programmers and other numbers-savvy scientists are saying that the numbers don’t make sense (see, for instance,, the Web site of Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips, lead statistician in the Moss v. Bush lawsuit challenging the Ohio election results). Indeed, the movement to investigate the 2004 election is led by such people, because the numbers are screaming at them that something is wrong.

And we might, no, we must, ask — with more seriousness than the media have asked — about those exit polls, which in years past were extraordinarily accurate but last November went haywire, predicting Kerry by roughly the margin by which he ultimately lost to Bush. This swing is out of the realm of random chance, forcing chagrined pollsters to hypothesize a “shy Republican” factor as the explanation; and the media have bought this evidence-free absurdity because it spares them the need to think about the F-word: fraud.

And the numbers are still haywire. A few days ago, Terry Neal wrote in the Washington Post about Bush’s inexplicably low approval rating in the latest Gallup poll, 45 percent, vs. a 49 percent disapproval rating. This is, by a huge margin, the worst rating at this point in a president’s second term ever recorded by Gallup, dating back to Truman.

“What’s wrong with this picture?” asks exit polling expert Jonathan Simon, who pointed these latest numbers out to me. Bush mustered low approval ratings immediately before the election, surged on Election Day, then saw his ratings plunge immediately afterward. Yet Big Media has no curiosity about this anomaly.

Simon, who spoke at the Nashville conference — one of dozens of speakers to give highly detailed testimony on evidence of fraud and dirty tricks from sea to shining sea — said, “When the autopsy of our democracy is performed, it is my belief that media silence will be given as the primary cause of death.”

In contrast to the deathly silence of the media is the silent scream of the numbers. The more you ponder these numbers, and all the accompanying data, the louder that scream grows. Did the people’s choice get thwarted? Were thousands disenfranchised by chaos in the precincts, spurious challenges and uncounted provisional ballots? Were millions disenfranchised by electronic voting fraud on insecure, easily hacked computers? And who is authorized to act if this is so? Who is authorized to care?

No one, apparently, except average Americans, who want to be able to trust the voting process again, and who want their country back.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Don't Call Me a Liberal

Commenting to one of my posts, one person referred to me as a schmuck liberal. Go ahead and call me a schmuck, if it makes you feel better, but PLEASE, don't call me a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.

Liberals BELIEVE in the current system; they only advocate that it be tweaked here and there to make it more fair and just. Therefore, in order to be a liberal, a person must accept our capitalist system as a reasonable option.

I want to make it very clear so there will not be any misunderstanding -- I do NOT accept the current system. I believe that capitalism is inherently flawed. No amount of tweaking will make that much of a substantive difference because capitalism itself breeds inequality and injustice.

If the apple is rotten to its core, no amount of cutting away the "bad" parts will do you any good. You can cut and cut and cut and cut. Before you know it, the apple is no more.

If you want to refer to me by a label, please use one that is more accurate. Here are a few: Taoist, spiritualist, left-winger, radical, socialist, militant or, maybe, progressive. Just don't insult me by calling me a liberal!

A Break from Technology

Technology isn't inherently bad; it becomes problematic, however, when we allow it take over our lives. You know you have this kind of a problem when you feel alone and naked without your cell phone, computer, ipod, or even a television.

I've been on the road for the last 4 days going to and returning from interviews in Newport, Oregon and Klamath, California. While trolling around in my first night in a motel room, I seemed a bit lost as to what to do -- My trusty computer was at HOME!

In short order though, I actually began to relish the fact that I had no computer at my disposal. So, I took my dog for a walk on the beach. It reminded of what life would be like without all of our modern conveniences.

I also spent some time staring at giant redwoods and meditating about the beauty of our natural world. In many ways, a 200-year old tree that towers above all is a lot more technologically advanced than a computer or ipod. The problem for we humans is that we take these natural wonders for granted.

For four days, I didn't.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Reality of Death

The reality of death has played itself out on the world stage over the past 2 weeks. Terri Schiavo finally was allowed to pass to the next realm and, this past week, Pope John Paul II took his last breaths. During this same period of time, many families had to deal with the deaths of loved ones without entering the public glare.

I didn't know either the Pope or Schiavo. Consequently, neither of their deaths touched me personally. Still, over the past week, my wife and I have had to deal with the finiteness of life within our own household.

Last Monday one of our pet rabbits -- Jack -- died. Earlier this morning, Jack's long time mate, Rose, had a horrific seizure and died as well; we believe she died of a broken heart. For some, writing about rabbits in comparison to two human "public figures" may seem trivial, but the death of any loved being -- whether human or not -- is always tough on those who remain here among the living.

As a childless couple, our animals are like our children. For us, we've lost two children in the span of less than seven days.

I don't know where the non-physical essence of beings go. I don't know if there's a heaven or hell or something else. What I do know is that two of our family members are gone and won't be coming back.

The reality of death is hard for those of us who still embrace the reality of living.

Friday, April 8, 2005

What Are We Fostering?

An article in the April 7th edition of the Oregonian details a recently released study on the effects of foster care that was conducted by Casey Family Programs and the Harvard Medical School. According to the article, "former foster children in Oregon and Washington are twice as likely to be depressed or suffer from anxiety as the general population".

While I certainly understand the need and motivation for this kind of study, the results should come as a surprise to no one. Regardless of the fact that foster care is the best current mechanism at our disposal to provide safety for children from dysfunctional homes, it still represents a defining moment in the life of a child.

I don't say this as an armchair quarterback. During the 1980s I worked both as a caseworker and child abuse investigator for state agencies in Arkansas and Missouri. Over the course of my career, I would estimate I removed over 100 children from abusive and/or neglectful homes.

Anytime I felt that removal was warranted, I invoked this action with a mixture of feelings. On one hand, I believe that the necessity of removal would provide the child[ren] with a measure of safety and sanity. NO child should be forced to grow up in a home environment in which they are subject to physical, sexual or psychological abuse and/or neglect. Studies (and common sense) have clearly shown that children who grow up in dysfunctional families are more apt to suffer moderate to severe psychological problems as adults.

On the other hand, removing a child from his/her home represents a horrific blow to the child's psyche. The family -- functional or dysfunctional -- represents a child's moorings. Cutting the line to this mooring leaves the child feeling adrift. No matter how many times a child is told, "It's not your fault", this belief is still somehow etched into the child's subconscious.

The foster care system itself only reinforces this subconscious feeling. Though the goal is almost always to find a permanent placement in the least restrictive environment, far too many foster children are moved from placement to placement. As the Oregonian reports,
Nearly 14 percent of children in Oregon's foster care system experience three or more changes in foster placements as they grow up, according to the Department of Human Services. Some counties have placement instability rates of 20 percent and higher, despite a national standard of 13 percent or less.
Each new move confirms to the child that the key problem is THEM, not their parents, social services or the system. It is no wonder then that these same children exhibit a great difficulty in establishing close or intimate relationships as adults or develop a poor sense of self.

So how do we improve the foster care system? As with most such issues, the best solution is prevention. Unfortunately, during this era in which people with problems are blamed for HAVING the problems, I fear we lack the political will to implement the necessary changes.

What we genuinely need to focus on includes
  • Fighting poverty;
  • Providing greater emphasis and funding for our educational and health care systems;
  • Implementing Living Wages;
  • Increasing unemployment benefits and job retraining programs;
  • Developing better parenting and anger management classes that will provided free to anyone who needs them; and
  • Creating a society in which each person feels respected and valued.
When you think about it, the solution is really straightforward and simple. We need to value people over things and accomplishments over accumulation.

Why must our society always take the simple and make it uncompromisingly difficult?

One Example of Hypocrisy

As I mentioned yesterday in "Censorship is Alive & Well", the owner of The Big Picture blog seems to be something of a hypocrite. Here's another example:
Isn't the Left Supposed to Be in Favor of Free Speech?

Sometimes it seems like that’s all you ever hear from the Left, is how much someone’s free speech is being violated. So what’s up with all this pie-throwing?

A conservative activist who criticizes what he calls the leftist domination of college campuses was struck with a pie Wednesday night at Butler University.

David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, had just started a lecture at Butler when he was hit.

...It was the second time in a week that a conservative lecturer was hit by a pie at an Indiana university. On March 30, William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, was attacked during a speech at Earlham College in Richmond.

For many on the Left, free speech is for everyone who agrees with them, while they would like everyone else to be not permitted to speak. That’s because they know they can’t win an argument on the facts.
After reading this post, I entered a comment that ACTUALLY supported a lot of what Vik stated. I agreed that many of my left-wing brethren have a tendency to want certain standards applied to them BUT not to conservatives they disagree with. (Note: My comment was deleted within 1 hour of posting.)

I also stated that I found it ironic that Vik would champion this cause since he has decided to delete my new comments from his blog. I'm one of the few people who do not share his conservative perspective that he has ALLOWED (albeit for a very brief time) to post an alternate viewpoint.

It's painfully obvious that Vik doesn't WANT a diverse discussion on his blog. He has a narrow-minded perspective and that's the ONLY perspective he wants featured. Consequently, his post above is reflective of us his own attitudes as much as anyone on the Left.

It's really sad when people undermine their own position by blatantly contradicting themselves. It's even more sad when they don't realize that they're doing this or they don't frankly care.

I urge any and all progressive-minded folks to visit his blog and inundate him with non-conservative comments. Let's see if he TRULY believes in free speech and informed discourse OR if his stance is nothing more than pure rhetoric.

I suppose he can always argue that, as a right-winger, HE doesn't believe in free speech!

Dangerous Shell Game

Each and every time I hear someone extol the virtue and safety of nuclear power it drives me crazy. How can anyone possibly believe that such an energy source -- whose byproduct in infinitesimal amounts is lethal for hundreds and thousands of years -- could EVER be considered safe?

Compared to nuclear waste, coal doesn't seem so bad!

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not here to shill for the coal industry. Most people know that coal is what we call a dirty fuel. It fowls the air and water. It also causes severe health issues.

Yet, for all the negatives of coal, it's certainly NOT as lethal as radioactive waste. A person could sit in a coal bin for a few minutes and, as long as they didn't stick their face into the coal dust and just suck it in, they could walk out to lead a normal life.

I don't know anyone who would suggest trying this experiment with nuclear waste. For one thing, it might just kill you on the spot. If, by chance, you were unlucky enough to make it out alive, it would certainly cause your life to be one of misery.

I bring this to your attention because the U.S. Energy Department is strongly considering moving "an enormous pile of radioactive waste off of the banks of the Colorado River in southern Utah" to a more sparsely populated area to the north.

It seems there are growing concerns that a flood -- the waste sits in a floodplain -- could cause the waste to contaminate drinking water that is used by over 25 million people.

Now, on a superficial level, this appears to be a good strategy. No one wants the people of L.A., Las Vegas or Phoenix to die or become sick in the event of a flood. The problem here is that, wherever they move the crap, people's lives will be endangered. Therefore, it turns into a dangerous and potentially deadly shell game.

I'm sure the people who live in or near Crescent Junction and Moab are none too thrilled with the new proposal. (For a point of reference, Crescent Junction sits on Interstate 70 and Moab is due south of Arches National Park.) To be certain, a lot fewer people live in these locales, but is the government saying THEIR lives are less important than the people in Las Vegas or L.A.?

For me, this clearly illustrates why we need to shut down the nuclear industry today. I know that some folks will argue that nuclear energy is less expensive than other energy forms (though that's ONLY true because of heavy government subsidies). To that, I say, who the hell cares?

The creation of nuclear energy creates a byproduct that is lethal to everything we hold dear -- ourselves, animals, plants, the life of our planet. No one has developed a way to detoxify it and we certainly haven't discovered ways to store it safely.

It's like we're merrily making a large noose to hang ourselves with!

Bush and the conservatives have lately been harping on the new buzz-phrase a "culture of life". How can anyone embrace the culture of life while supporting an industry that is building day-by-day and minute-by-minute the machinations of planetary death?

Thursday, April 7, 2005

What's Good for the Goose

On KGW News at 6, one of the stories concerned the damage done to farms on Suave Island by migrating geese. Environmental Reporter Vince Patton stated that area farmers want more state and federal assistance to control the goose population, including allowing increased hunting to pare down numbers.

Well, that WAS their position before they met up with representatives from several native communities in Alaska. Their Alaskan counterparts stated that the geese are an important part of the diet for some of the most impoverished communities in the nation. Cutting back on goose populations in Oregon would have a negative effect on such communities.

Two things struck me about this report. First, by bringing together people at both ends of the geographic (or philosophical) spectrum, it allowed both sides the opportunity to see the situation from the other's point of view. This is an exercise we should try to replicate in more situations.

As I've written before, it's far easier to demonize or trivialize someone else or their viewpoint IF they remain the faceless other. When we merely guess or theorize about a position different from our own we tend to impute motivations that often are inaccurate. In time, these manufactured inaccuracies become part of the truth for us. Even when it is later shown that certain facets of our beliefs about the situation are wrong, we nevertheless find it difficult to let go of the picture we've conjured up in our own minds.

By meeting face-to-face and being genuinely open to try to understand things from a different point of view, we build bridges in place of walls. We all should know that a bridge can span a divide, while a wall cannot.

The second aspect of this report that immediately sprung to mind was the farmer's initial idea of a "battle plan" to combat the geese. Why is that we humans are always quick to want to minimize other populations except our own?

Instead of seeking funding to limit goose populations, why not seek funds to mitigate the damage caused by the geese? If a farmer plants his crop and the migrating flocks settle in the farmer's field, why not recompense the farmer for the crops damaged?

By addressing the issue from this perspective, the farmer is paid for lost revenue, the geese are fed and the native communities in Alaska will have plenty of geese to hunt during the summer to provide needed sustenance. As some would say, this would be a win-win situation all the way around.

One Tough Sales Job

Yesterday I reported that the US Army is missing its monthly recruitment target by a staggering 32%. Today I learned from the Today in Iraq blog that military recruiters have decided to switch their focus for their pr campaign away from potential recruits to their parents.

According to an article in USA today, "Faced with wilting recruitment and ongoing violence in Iraq, Army and Marine Corps recruiters are turning their attention to those most likely to oppose them: parents."

Does the government genuinely think this gambit could possibly work? Everyday we hear news reports about explosions and ambushes and guerilla attacks and dead U.S. soldiers. How many parents out there are going to think, "Gee, it will do my son/daughter some good to go to a foreign land and be shot at"?

Do you think that George and Laura will decide to encourage their twin daughters to help protect American interests by becoming a human target in Iraq? It would sure be a great way to kick off this new campaign!

Think about it. What better way to sell other parents on this novel idea than to have the president himself vouching for the campaign. "Laura and I were skeptical, at first. But after visiting with the recruiters, we came to believe that it was the right thing for our kids to do. We hope you'll encourage your children to join our twins in spreading American-style democracy".

Too bad the military didn't think of this campaign sooner. If they had, maybe they could have convinced George & Barbara Bush to encourage Dubya to go to Vietnam instead of dodging the war by half-heartedly serving in the Texas Air National Guard!

Walmart - Always Low Wages, Ethics, Etc.!

There's a superb article posted on Alternet by Jonathan Tasini. Tasini is president of the Economic Future Group and writes his "Working In America" columns for on an occasional basis. Tasini will be participating in an April 6 nationally broadcast debate on the question "What's Good for Wal-Mart is Good for America?"

Here's an excerpt from "Wal-Mart's Culture of Crime and Greed":
And, to top it off, the Beast's business model could not operate without the connivance of the authoritarian regime in China. You probably never heard of a guy named Wang Jun, but he's one of Wal-Mart's main men in China. Aside from being involved in a company called Poly Technology, which is the weapons-trading arm of the People's Liberation Army, Jun runs a Chinese state-sponsored investment company and ensures that Wal-Mart's wishes are known and satisfied by those running the Communist Party. In China, Wal-Mart has a ready supply of underage children and under-waged adults to produce its products. The point here is that Wal-Mart is no free-market miracle: Its profits are a result of an artificial suppression of wages. Wal-Mart could not operate in a truly free market--if such a thing even existed. Instead, Wal-Mart is in cahoots with the Chinese government, raking in profits by condoning the violation of basic international labor standards.

Greed is a theme with the Wal-Mart family. The family, worth a combined $95 billion, has given a stingy one percent of its wealth to charity. By comparison, Business Week, writing about Bill and Melinda Gates in a November cover story on the country's philanthropists, observed that the Gates made "history this year by giving their estimated $3 billion Microsoft Corp. dividend to their foundation. It's one of the largest donations in history by a living donor. To put it into perspective, that one gift is three times bigger than the amount that America's richest family, the descendants of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton, has given during their entire lifetimes."

To read the entire article, go here.

Censorship Is Alive & Well

One of the interesting aspects I've found about conservatives is that they enjoy a good debate...provided you agree with every word that drips from their pen or lip. If, by chance, you might disagree with any point, then they don't want to discuss anything.

Of course, not desiring actually to DISCUSS any issues is the antithesis of debate.

I mention this because I happened upon a VERY conservative blog, The Big Picture. The blog's author, Vik Rubenfeld, spends his days railing against ANYTHING that might be considered peaceful, humanitarian, community-building, non-racist or non-Christian.

Usually, when encountering a blog such as this, I read a few snippets, shake my head and move on to another blog. However, this particular one was so outrageous that I decided that its readers would benefit from hearing a different take on the issues presented.

In his graciousness, Rubenfeld allowed me to participate in his one-sided discussions. We had several pointed debates. Unfortunately, those debates have ended as he has decided that ALLOWING a different viewpoint to be presented is dangerous to his readers. He has taken to deleting my comments from his blog.

I certainly understand that the decision to post comments is the purview of any blogger. My rule on this blog is that so long as you make cogent comments, I'm not going to touch them. In fact, the only comments I have deleted to this point are double-entered comments (I'm assuming the poster didn't mean to enter the identical comment twice) and a standard comment from one person who entered verbatim the same comment on several different posts. I did permit this one person to post their pre-fab comment the first two times posted.

None of us can learn from another UNLESS we engage in conversation. It's not about agreeing, but, if nothing else, getting a better feel for where someone else is coming from. When debate is unilaterally cut-off, it harms everyone.

Censorship polarizes people.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Such a "Popular" War

My conservative hawkish friends keep telling me that the war in Iraq is strongly backed by the American people. They point to the fact that the shrub was re-elected. If it's so gosh darn popular, why can't the US Army recruit enough soldiers?

I read an article in today's local newspaper that the Army missed it's recruiting target in March by 32%! They also missed there recruiting targets for the previous two months and EXPECT to miss their targets in the foreseeable future.

If, as my cohorts tell me, this war is so popular, why aren't droves of young people beating a path to sign up?

The answer is obvious. The war is NOT popular and most young people don't want to go to Iraq to become a human target. They want to go to college. They want to get good paying jobs. They want to get married and raise a family. They want to hang out with their friends.

They don't want to go halfway around the world to shoot people and be shot at.

Seems very sensible to me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

The Song of the River

One of the positive benefits of blogs is the way they provide a connection for people who might otherwise never meet. While it is true that such meetings are virtual, it still allows for an exchange of ideas and thoughts that impart a certain measure of dialogue and contemplation.

In response to my post The River Flows..., one reader (Diana N.) emailed to me a beautiful poem written by William Randolph Hearst, "The Song of the River". She wrote she "found a brittled, yellowed clipping cut from the San Francisco Examiner and tucked it into a volume of Walt Whitman".

Since she was kind enough to share it with me, I thought I'd share it with the rest of you.

The Song of the River
The snow melts on the mountain
And the water runs down to the spring,
And the spring in a turbulent fountain,
With a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river,
And the river flows on to the sea,
And the water again
Goes back in rain
To the hills where it used to be.
And I wonder if Life's deep mystery
Isn't much like the rain and the snow
Returning through all eternity
To places it used to know.
For life was born on the lofty heights
And flows in a laughing stream
To the River below
Whose onward flow
Ends in a peaceful dream.
And so at last,
When our life has passed
And the river has run its course,
It again goes back,
O'er the selfsame track
To the mountain which was its source.
So why prize life
Or why fear death,
Or dread what is to be?
The river ran its allotted span
Till it reached the silent sea.
Then the water harked back to the mountaintop
To begin its course once more.
So we shall run the course begun
Till we reach the silent shore,
Then revisit earth in a pure rebirth
From the heart of the virgin snow.
So don't ask why we live or die,
Or whither, or when we go,
Or wonder about the mysteries
That only God may know.

Pope & Circumstance

What makes you, you, or me, me? According to the Christian faith, it is our soul or spirit. Our bodies are merely the hollow vessel.

So why are millions expected to visit Rome to view the carcass of the Pope?

I've never understood the fascination so many people have with dead bodies. You dress 'em up like their asleep and people go by to gawk AT them or, sometimes, talk TO them. Yet, since the belief is that the soul is the person, not the body, it's like talking to a coffee mug that no longer holds any coffee.

I heard on the radio yesterday that Poles want the Pope's heart so they can bury it on home soil. Why? It's not the Pope. The Pope has gone elsewhere.

This morning one of my pet rabbits died of unknown causes. It was really a shock as he always seemed to be the healthiest and most energetic of our 3 house bunnies. I wanted to throw his lifeless body in the trash. My wife wanted to take it to the local Humane Society for proper disposal.

I relented on my position only because I thought it would help my wife's grieving process. (Note: We have no human children. Instead we have a brood of animal "children".) For me, whether Jack's spent body went to the Humane Society or into the trash bin, won't alter what ultimately will happen. Regardless of which place it went originally, it will be incinerated.

Now, if I were to behave as the Catholic world is behaving this week (typical of most Christians and other religions too), I should have propped up Jack's dead body on the kitchen table for a few days. I could invite the neighbor children who knew him to come in and say their last goodbyes. My wife & I could "talk" to him each night at dinner.

But why? Jack's no longer a resident in that body just as the Pope no longer resides in his body.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

The River Flows

It's been a difficult week for many. First, Terri Schiavo finally found peace and now Pope John Paul II has left behind the physical world. It should cause each of us to take pause as we contemplate life in the face of death.

From a Taoist perspective, life and death are two sides of the same coin. As with the yin-yang symbol, both flow seamlessly into the other.

Life would hold no meaning were it not for death and death would be hollow without a full understanding of life.

It's like a flowing river...

What begins as a drop of rain, eventually finds its way into the river of life. The water flows through forests and fields. Sometimes the river is wide and, at other times, the river is narrow. Sometimes the water flows quickly. Sometimes it flows slowly. Ultimately, that little rain drop -- which is now indistinguishable from the river itself -- travels all the way to the sea.

In time, it evaporates and returns to the sky, only to merge with others to fall back upon the land to begin the cycle anew.

Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II are two of the many raindrops. One day each of us will be as a raindrop.

Who is to say which represents life and death -- forming as clouds in the sky or falling upon the earth? Regardless of a person's beliefs, no one genuinely knows that answer.

All we do know is that the river flows...

Sticking One's Head in the Sand

There's a new web site, funded with taxpayer dollars, called It seeks to serve as a resource for parents who need to talk to their children about s-e-x. It offers a cornucopia of strategies. Some of the most prominent are abstinence, abstinence, abstinence and abstinence. Oh, and I almost forgot, abstinence.

While I'm certainly not suggesting that parents grab their 12-year old and say, "Sex is really GREAT...Go forth and multiply with our blessings", I do find it a bit narrow-minded to focus solely on this one issue.

If one or more of your children is having sexual intercourse with one or more partners, you will be doing them a great disservice if the only thing you talk about is NOT having sex. For one thing, they'll probably tune you out and continue on with their behavior in an uninformed manner.

To give you an example of how this web site illustrates what sticking one's head in the sand is like, consider the following information under the heading "What If Your Teen Has Already Had Sex"
If you find out your son or daughter has already had sex, it's important for you to take them to a health care professional to be screened for pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases. Be sure to tell your teen that having multiple partners in their lifetime can be one of the biggest threats to their physical and emotional health. Tell them it's not too late to stop having sex, that it's never too late to make healthy choices. They are worth it! If your teen decides to stop having sex, some tips you can give them for sticking to their decision to wait are shown below. These tips can also be useful if your teen has not had sex yet.
While nothing in the above suggestion is explicitly wrong, there are absolutely no suggestions offered if your child decides to CONTINUE engaging in sexual activity. Consequently, if your child doesn't proffer the answer anticipated, the conversation ends with a deafening silence...or maybe you can just yell at them for an hour or two. Ooh, I'm sure THAT will prove effective.

All this site proves is that it's yet another prong of the attack by the Religious Right. Try to make teens stop what you disapprove of and, if that doesn't work, leave them in the dark to deal with the possible ramifications later.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

One Voice Scribbling in the Wilderness

Growing up in the 6os & 70s, my favorite newspaper columnist was the venerable Mike Royko of the now-defunct Chicago Daily News, then the Chicago Sun-Times and, finally, the Chicago Tribune. As stated in the Wikipedia, Royko "could use biting sarcasm, [but] he never spoke down to his readers, always remembering that he was one of them."

After his death in 1997, I was at a loss. I sometimes enjoyed reading Donald Kaul, but his sarcasim didn't have the Royko bite. I also enjoyed reading the zany prose of Dave Barry -- whose columns sort of resemble a written form of Monty Python -- but his work lacks the penetrating ethos of Royko.

Over the past year, however, I've found one newspaper columnist* who generally inspires me. Unlike the great Royko, Leonard Pitts, Jr. is not a satirist; he's more a social commentator. Yet, in a world seemingly in the stranglehold of the Religious Right and conservative pundits, his words are like a voice crying in the wilderness.

If you haven't had the opportunity to read any of Pitts' inspiring columns, here are a few snippets from recently published commentaries.

April 1, 2005 -- on the death of Terri Schiavo
And maybe, if you were the praying type, you said, Hey, God, how about a little help here? When should we stop waiting on the miracle? When is it OK to give up hope?

But God, as far as is known, kept His own counsel. Maybe He felt He'd said what He had to say 15 years ago.

Terri Schiavo's death, hard as it was, feels like mercy. For her and for us. Once again, we can avoid confronting our irresolute feelings and fears.

There is, however, wisdom here, for those to care to seek it. Roughly distilled, it goes like this: To face reality is not to betray faith.

God answers every prayer, a preacher once said.

Sometimes, the answer is no.
March 30, 2005 -- re the shootings at Red Lake, MN
The people behind, for instance, want you to know they don't consider themselves white supremacists. They are open to anyone -- black, Asian, Indian -- who believes blacks, Asians and Indians should confine themselves to their own countries -- and that Jews are "vicious," "parasitic" "liars" and "hypocrites."

I won't subject you to a treatise on why these people are abhorrent. If you don't already know, you need more help than we can give you in a few inches of newsprint. I only note the sad incongruity of an American Indian boy asking to join their ranks.

Perhaps you concluded that this spoke to the self-hatred sometimes found in minority communities. But Weise's complaint wasn't that he hated Indians, but that too many of them were not Indian enough, that their culture was diluted by exposure to others. He was especially offended by those Native youth who enjoy hip-hop. He saw them as more black than Native.
March 4, 2005 -- re US Supreme Court prohibition on executing youth younger than 18
Less simply put, a civilized nation ought not be in the business of executing its children. Even if I considered state-sanctioned killing a proper and just response to the depravity of some criminal acts, I would still draw the line at imposing that penalty on young people.

Adolescents are, generally, less mature than their elders, less responsible, less capable of making reasoned decisions and more prone to committing foolish and impulsive acts. It's a truth we have long recognized in law and custom. That's why we protect young people from their own juvenility. It's why we say they are too young to sign contracts, too young to drink, too young to vote, too young to see a naughty movie without parental approval.

How, then, could they have been old enough to be executed?
* I just want to note that I'm not including magazine columnists. In that genre, there are many I read frequently like Molly Ivins, Howard Zinn, Matthew Rothschild, Will Durst (to name only a few).

Friday, April 1, 2005

At Least Our TRASH Is Safe!

We certainly live in an upsidedown world! Under the auspices of the US Patriot Act, it is LEGAL for the government to "wiretap phones, monitor e-mail, survey medical, financial and student records, and break into homes and offices without prior notification". The government can even compel libraries to release information on the kinds of books we check out.

But, according to the Oregon Court of Appeals, law enforcement can't search through your trash WITHOUT a warrant!!

In a unanimous opinion handed down on March 30, Judge Rick T. Haselton wrote
"Defendants did not implicitly authorize anyone else to paw through their garbage and view or take items of garbage. Rather, they placed their garbage in cans by the curb with the understanding that the garbage collection company -- and only the garbage collection company -- would remove the bags from the cans and carry the bags away."
So let me get this straight. My personal privacy can be invaded in a myriad of ways UNLESS I throw something away. If I throw it away, THEN it is protected?

OK, I guess I'll store all my important documents in the trash from now on.

I Want MY Wawa

Water. In Taoist philosophy, it represents a universal metaphor for the flow of life and the creative forces that we can't begin to comprehend. It is a substance without form; its shape is created by external forces. In many ways, it seems docile and tranquil, yet anyone who has been caught in a flood or tsunami knows that water can be one of the most powerful forces on earth.

For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, we're going to be hearing about and discussing water (and the lack thereof) for the next several months. I'm certain this conversation will grow deafening as we enter the summer months. While it's only the beginning of Spring, the formative discussions about this crucial natural commodity already are becoming heated.

A front page article in yesterday's Statesman Journal highlights the growing anxiety of many. In "Low Water Worries Residents", people from the Santiam Canyon met with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the condition -- both present AND future -- of Detroit Lake.

Of course, the central question on the minds of residents and business owners alike was Will the lake fill up?

It's easy to understand why this is such a pivotal question. Detroit Lake fuels the economy of Detroit and the surrounding communities. During the summer months in non-drought years, tourists flood the area to fish, camp, hike, swim, boat and take in the beautiful scenery. Those numbers will be greatly lessened if Detroit Lake resembles a mud puddle instead of a lake.

Yet, while I can certainly sympathize with Detroit area residents, their need for water is NOT the chief reason Detroit Lake exists. In truth, the chief motivation in the construction of almost all the lakes and reservoirs in the Willamette Valley region is "controlling runoff and providing flood control, irrigation, power generation, downstream navigation improvement, and recreation."

Please notice that of all the various purposes of Detroit Lake, recreation is listed last. It's not that recreation and the economic development it spurs is unimportant, but that care of the many ecosystems, assistance to agriculture and power generation are deemed to be more important.

And this pecking order has been in place for nearly 50 years!

The folks who came to meet with government officials didn't want to hear this. They want the pecking order changed so that recreation comes out on top of the heap. Unfortunately for them, such a change would be completely unrealistic.

I realize that, when a person's bottom line is threatened, it's often hard to see the forests for the trees. We each want to protect our investments and not lose any more ground than we have to. Yet, if these folks were able to lobby enough of the right people and were successful in getting the pecking order changed, it would create the potential for serious problems, not only for the ecosystem and people downstream but even the very folks demanding the change itself.

For example, if environmental concerns were thrust far down the list, the rich natural beauty surrounding Detroit Lake might decline over time. If this were to happen, fewer tourists might come to a filled lake because the environs weren't what they use to be. Business owners and residents would then find themselves in the same kind of financial pickle they are envisioning for this summer.

Another possibility is a sudden flood. If this area was hit with short-term torrential rains and Detroit Lake was full, the Corps would find they had much less control in channeling flood waters. Many area residents, who live above or below the lake, might find their homes flooded. The very same people now clamoring to fill the lake would likely be the same people complaining that the Corps did not have the foresight to carefully plan for such a potential problem.

In drought years, we all need to understand that water is precious. While we might certainly like to believe that OUR needs are paramount, the truth is that the needs of ALL must be balanced. Such a balancing act this year is going to hurt the pocketbooks of the folks who depend upon Detroit Lake for their livelihood.

That might sound callous to some, but that's the way it has to be. When we try to harness nature to benefit ourselves, nature has a way of reasserting who is the REAL boss.