Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Inalienable Right of Criticism

Since 9/11, it has become un-American to criticize our government. Suggest that the quasi-elected leaders of our nation are setting a dangerous course in the world and you're sure to be labeled as unpatriotic. It doesn't matter if you can document or substantiate the critique, it's still viewed by many as bordering on treasonous and abetting terrorism.

So, when the mighty shrub again tries to draw a connection between Iraq and 9/11, it doesn't matter if there is no proven link -- Anyone who points this out must be against U.S. national interests. For the fundamentalist sect, political criticism is akin to ungodliness!

Such conservatives bathe themselves in the good 'ol days of yore. They point to the Founding Fathers and a slew of foundational documents. Yet, like Christians who fail to realize that their Messiah was nothing short of a radical revolutionary, conservatives fail to grasp that the seminal document in United States history -- the Declaration of Independence -- is nothing short of one long rant. It is the mother of political criticism!

As we approach July 4, it would be a good idea to reread this declaration and to realize that our Founding Fathers urged the citizens of this new nation to be ever vigilant and critical of the government that seeks to serve us.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -- Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Who Dies?

According to, a euphemism is "an inoffensive expression that is substituted for one that is considered offensive". A current example is the term collateral damage. It was created by politicians as a way to desensitize the American populace regarding civilian deaths in war.

The term does this by promoting the idea that such deaths and injuries are inadvertent. According to this theory, civilians are not the main target, but sometimes are caught up in the hailstorm of bullets, missiles and advancing armies.

There is one tiny problem with this theory -- It's patently untrue! According to the United Nation's Human Development Report 2002, civilians account for over 90% of ALL casualties in war. That's better than 9 in 10!!

There are only two rational explanations for this horrid fact: 1) ALL of the military forces in the world are completely inept or 2) Civilians are INDEED an acceptable military target and there's nothing inadvertent at all about their deaths.

In other words, collateral damage isn't a mere euphemism -- it's a bald-faced lie!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's Called a Brain

My colleague in spiritual exploration Brian Hines has written an excellent essay called "In Defense of Uncertainty". He makes an eloquent point when he writes, "Religious belief is a conversation stopper...People who are absolutely certain that they are right aren’t interested in listening. All they want to do is talk. Preach. Proselytize. Pontificate. Since they can’t offer rational reasons for their political positions—faith isn’t rational—the simple question “Why?” is viewed as an attack."

Continuing on this theme, what has always struck me as odd, concerning fundamentalists of all stripes, is the negation in the utility of one's brain. We're supposedly created in the image of the great whatever and yet using one's brain to think rationally is viewed as a bad thing.

From such a perspective, if someone presents you with a religious precept that doesn't seem to make any sense, the last thing on earth you should ever do is question it. To question means you lack faith and a lack of faith means you've got a problem.

But if the ultimate source of life provided human's with thinking brains, doesn't it follow that this entity would hope that we would use them? We were given sexual organs for pleasure and procreation and we use them for these purposes. We were given the ability to eat, urinate and defecate and we do these three things.

It follows that we should use our brains as well for the functions that each possesses. And one of the main functions is the ability to ask why and why not.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Pacifism Does Not Equal Cowardice

One of the charges people who support any war level against pacifists is that pacifism is just a dressed up form of cowardice. According to this line of reasoning, only those willing to kill and pillage others are worthy of being called brave. If a person believes that killing and violence are ethically or morally wrong, they are just the wimpiest of wimps.

If this is true, then Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are the sultans of wimps. During each of their lives, when faced with great bodily harm and death, not a one of them backed down from their nonviolent stance and reciprocated violence for violence. Each stood his ground and accepted the consequences. In my book, that's bold courage!

Take a look at the life of Jesus. When the authorities came to arrest him, one of his disciples drew his sword and struck one person in the head. Did Jesus say, "Way to go, Peter! Throw me a sword and let's fight these guys"? No, Jesus instructed Peter to put his sword away.

Once arrested, Jesus was roughed up and later flogged. At any time, did he attempt to fight back? No, he didn't. In the end, he was nailed to a cross. Did he try to run away before this could happen or try to duke it out with the guards? No, he courageously accepted the sentence handed down.

According to current war hawks, Jesus should then be considered the ultimate coward. In the face of all kinds of threats of bodily harm, he REFUSED to fight back.

Gandhi and King both adopted this same kind of strategy. Gandhi was beaten several times by British authorities and yet he prayed for those who beat him. King faced down police dogs, fire hoses, high-handed police tactics and angry white mobs. In every single case, he REFUSED to meet violence with violence and he urged his brethren to follow his example to turn the other cheek.

Gandhi & King, like Jesus, paid the ultimate price for their steadfast belief in nonviolence -- both were assassinated. King died before reaching his 40th birthday.

As all three of these men exemplified, pacifism takes a tremendous amount of resolve and courage. The normal human reaction is to hit back when somebody strikes you first, to hurt those who hurt you. However, just because this is a natural reflex, it doesn't mean that people with strong convictions cannot will themselves to react otherwise.

In the final analysis, I wonder how today's war hawks would have reacted had they been present during any of these three men's lives. Would they stand outside Gandhi's or King's prison cells and taunt them for not fighting back? Would they have stood at the foot of Jesus' cross and mocked him for so meekly submitting to his sentence?

Would any of them have the courage to look Jesus, Gandhi or King square in the eyes and say, "You sir are a coward!"?

If I Was a Soldier...

As a pacifist, I never spent much time thinking about what it would be like to be a soldier in a war. I grew up watching John Wayne war movies, but, even as a young lad, I realized these flicks were over-romanticized and sanitized versions of reality. Suffice it to say, I thought war must be a dirty business and anyone who willingly served must be itching to kill somebody.

My perspective changed dramatically upon seeing the 1986 movie, Platoon. As my soon-to-be wife & I left the theater in Kansas City, my reaction to the film was far different than most of the other males headed toward their cars in the parking lot. I heard lots of comments like "Ooh man, that was cool" or "Hey, let's go see it again."

I was numb and somber. My fiance was worried about my reaction. I didn't say much at the time and I brooded for several days. To put it bluntly, the film blew me away.

As happens with most good films, I tried to put myself in the place of Charlie Sheen's character. How do I think I would have reacted in those situations? My answer to this question may surprise you.

Despite the fact I'm a devout pacifist, I really don't know how I would react to lots of people I don't know trying to kill me. I'm fairly certain I would be scared beyond belief. I also realize that absolute fear can cause people to do things they could never imagine themselves doing. I realize that there's a 50/50 chance that -- if placed in such a horrific situation -- I could become a capable killer!

If a person is overwhelmed with fear, people are shooting at you and you have an automatic weapon in your hand, one way to mitigate the terror for the moment is to shoot back and try to kill those trying to kill you. In fact, if fear becomes your constant companion, one might easily get to the point where, if anything moves, you shoot first and ask questions later.

We hear about cases in every war in which friendly fire is the cause of death for one or more of our own servicemen/women. Just as often, there are reports of innocent bystanders who are gunned down by trigger-happy soldiers. While such reports greatly disturb me, I understand that many soldiers have a reason to be trigger-happy; fear was in total control. They weren't thinking, they were on automatic pilot. Something moved; they shot it.

It is because of all these contemplations that I feel great empathy for some of those serving today in the US military. I say "some" because I believe there are two different types of soldiers.

I believe that the majority of service personnel have signed on for honorable reasons. They believe they are serving our country. If given the choice, they'd want to do almost anything other than go into combat to shoot people. In other words, killing the enemy is disturbing to them, but they do so out of a steadfast belief in duty.

There's a second group of individuals who join the military who I have no empathy for whatsoever. These are the men who seem EAGER to kill. These are the men who whine when there's a lull in the battle. These are the type of guys who mug for the camera and brag about gunning down gooks, ragheads or whatever other derisive name is "fashionable".

Fortunately, these "let's go gun 'em down" types are the minority. I'd be awfully worried about the future of humankind if they were the majority.

I'm glad that I've never been put in the position to be a soldier in any war. I'm scared to think how I would have handled it. This goes a long way toward explaining why I'm even more steadfast against warfare than before. As a person who cares about others as much as myself, I don't like the idea of placing other people into this situation. I don't like the idea of others wondering to themselves, "Will my fear turn me into trigger-happy killing machine?"

If there is no war, there would be no need for a such a question ever to be asked...or answered.

Contemplating War

If I had been born ten years earlier, I would have been eligible to be drafted during the Vietnam War. I'm so thankful I was born in '57, not '47! If the Vietnam conflict had lasted longer than it did, I still might have been draft eligible near the end.

If that had happened, I'm certain I would not have reported for duty. I would have gone to Canada or served time in prison as a contentious objector. I don't believe in violence and I certainly don't believe in war.

When I share this opinion with people, the gist of a common response goes like this, "Thank goodness, you're in the minority. We're lucky that other people are honored to serve. If everyone believed as you did, we'd be overrun."

Here's the interesting thing about this line of reasoning -- It's entirely incorrect! If the majority of the people in the world believed as I and other contentious objectors do, we would NOT have wars. There wouldn't be enough willing people to mount any acceptable level of a military.

There's no question that there will always be individuals willing to fight, some for very honorable reasons and others for not-so-honorable reasons. However, if the vast majority of the world's citizens refused to volunteer AND refused to serve, if drafted, political leaders would think twice before declaring war on anybody.

Instead of engaging in these massive armed conflicts, the few armed conflicts we did engage in would more closely resemble American Indian skirmishes. Most tribes did not engage in battles that involved large numbers of dead and wounded. One reason for this is that native people realized that, in our harsh physical world, today's enemy may be tomorrow's ally. It's mighty difficult to arrange a truce with a tribe you recently tried to annihilate.

If the vast majority was against the concept of war, the situation in Iraq today would be altogether different. Instead of sending in the armed forces to capture Saddam, the UN could have sent in an international police force to arrest him. Instead of a large occupying force of soldiers, the UN could have brought in a much smaller band of peacekeepers.

If there had been no invasion of Iraq (or Afghanistan), the rabid Muslim fundamentalists would find it next to impossible to draw on such a wide swath of anti-American sentiment. And, if the vast majority of Muslims were as much against violence as the rest of the world, there would be few people to recruit to become suicide bombers.

Look, before many of you get up in a dander, I KNOW the world doesn't come close to resembling the hypotheticals I've outlined above. I may be idealistic, but I'm not an idiot! We live in a world where war is an every day reality and violence is a common political AND personal tool to resolve differences.

That's not the point. No, the point is that, if more people believed as I do, the hypotheticals would be reality and talk of war would be the hypothetical.

Wouldn't each of us prefer that scenario more so than what we have now?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Media's Liberal Bias Part II

Discussion of the mainstream media involves a weird dichotomy: In one sense, the media DOES have a liberal bias and, yet, that bias itself is not very liberal. It's a differentiation in the use of the definition of liberal that causes this problem.

When used as a general term, as discussed in Part I, the media inherently IS liberal. However, when we use liberal as a socio-political term, the media is typically anything but. The way I tend to underscore this differentiation is to say that the media is only liberal WITHIN the parameters of mainstream thought which tends to be conservative, by nature. It's like saying Newt Gingrich is more liberal than Barry Goldwater -- both are still conservatives.

If you flip from channel to channel on your TV or radio, there are few decidedly liberal voices (with the exception of Air America). The same is true for most mainstream newspapers and magazines. People routinely don't get to hear from the likes of Holly Sklar, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, Winona LaDuke, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Manning Marable, Matthew Rothschild, Joel Bleifuss or Ralph Nader.

A few years ago, people use to point to CNN's Crossfire and hold up Michael Kinsley as an example of a left-wing voice in primetime. Michael Kinsley? That's like saying former Sen. Mark Hatfield is a diehard toe-the-party-line conservative!

The sad fact is -- were it not for the alternative media and the blogosphere -- most people would never get to hear the critiques and ideas of the Left. Such people are frozen out by the mainstream media. And thus, the bumper sticker mentioned in Part I IS true -- The media are only as liberal as the corporations that own them!

The Media's Liberal Bias Part I

We've all heard the charge before -- The media has a liberal bias or slant. For years I used to laugh at this allegation. I used to point to one of my favorite bumper stickers: The media is as liberal as the conservative corporations that own them. Aah yes, the (snicker, snicker) LIBERAL media.

Earlier this morning though, it dawned on me that there is much truth to the charge. In fact, in order for the [independent] media to BE the [independent] media, it MUST have a liberal bias. If it didn't, it wouldn't be independent, would it?

In Communist and other totalitarian countries, the media is run by the state and/or the central party. In such nations, news and state-formulated propaganda are interchangeable. Citizens are only told what the power brokers WANT them to hear. Simply put, TRUTH has no place.

For example, think of the Soviet Union and the Chernobyl disaster. Did the Soviet media tell the Russian people that a calamity had occurred? Did Soviet "news" agencies send out hordes of reporters to investigate the severity and culpability of the disaster? Hell, no. The state-run media purposely kept people in the dark, thereby endangering hundreds of thousands of lives.

Is that the kind of media you want here in the good 'ol US of A? A media that decides what information THEY want YOU to know?

If we look at the definitions of the word "liberal", it easily becomes apparent that any media, independent of the state, is liberal by default. defines liberal as
1. a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. c. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.

If the media is to be free of state control, it MUST be free of authoritative attitudes, views and dogma, and it must be broad-minded. It must seek to present more than one side or perspective on any given issue or topic. Put another way, it MUST be liberal.

The Bush Administration and the Republican Party recently charged that PBS is guilty of this liberal slant. Well, we should be thankful this allegation is true. Were it not true, then PBS would be a mouthpiece for whoever was in power.

If we are talking about 2005, PBS would be singing the praises of Dubya. If we are talking about 1997, PBS would sing the praises of Clinton. The point here is that it shouldn't matter which party is leading the nation at any given time -- We want a media that is independent of these people. The vast majority don't want a taxpayer-funded propaganda machine.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Just Plain Scared!

I've continued to visit several self-proclaimed conservative blogs and I've tried to have substantive discussions. It's a very difficult task indeed! I'm certainly NOT suggesting that there aren't any conservatives in the world who are willing to have a reasonable discussion -- I'm simply not encountering very many.

I've really tried hard to figure out what is the motor that drives such people. The answer I've arrived at is FEAR. Hard-core conservatives appear to be scared people.

There are few bounds to their fear. They are scared of people who
  • don't look like they do
  • don't think like they do
  • don't act like they do
  • don't smell like they do
  • don't worship like they do
  • aren't them.
They are a very EXclusive lot. They are absolutely terrified that someone might barge into their party and sample the onion dip.

It's a sad situation.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Level Playing Field

A Level Playing Field -- four words that cause most dyed-in-the-wool, pro-business, pro-capitalist folks to shudder and/or cringe uncontrollably. The words ooze off their lips like the bubonic plague. They use these words like a dagger; the final knife thrust of an all out attack against any suggestion of socio-economic fairness or justice.

The term is meant to show utter disdain and disgust. The term often is paired with other words like communist, anti-business, unamerican or (one term aimed at me recently) socialist do-gooder.

Yes, A Level Playing Field must be a bad, bad thing!

Well, that's not entirely true, even for the pro-capitalist folks. You see, it all depends on which side of the field you happen to be on. If a foreign country subsidizes a particular company or industry AND this has a negative impact on an American company or industry, then it's a totally different story. "In order to compete," says the American CEO, "we need to level the playing field."

Unfortunately, that seems to be the ONLY situation in which these 4 words are okay to utter. If a socialist do-gooder like me happens to suggest that we need to rein in corporate power, then the phrase A Level Playing Field again takes on its negative emphasis. "All a level playing field will bring us," whines the American CEO, "is the lowering of standards for all."

As mentioned above, the key aspect of the term is wholly dependent on whether you perceive yourself to be in the position to gain something or to lose something.

If you are in a strong position -- you possess goods, resources, power or status that others don't have -- you have no interest in A Level Playing Field. From your narrow perspective, leveling the field will provide others with an equal opportunity to obtain what you already have. If others do obtain it, then you will lose a measure of your status, wealth or power.

Conversely, if others possess something you desire, then leveling the playing field will allow you the opportunity to join "the club". From this narrow perspective, it's only right that you should have a fair chance to obtain what others already have.

Since America, in general, and the wealthy, in specific, have obtained certain rights, freedoms, wealth and power that the average Jane or Joe doesn't have, the distasteful form of A Level Playing Field is the dominant one in American society. It is so dominant, in fact, that many who would benefit from it are still adverse to the idea. (Aah, the power of hegemony!)

Again, from my perspective, it is the capitalist system that has created this entire situation. Because we are pushed always to want more and better, we view egocentric needs as being more important than communal or societal needs.

If we are one day able to leave capitalism in the dustbin of history, then I strongly believe that the term A Level Playing Field may well become the underlying principle of a new epoch. It will no longer be connotated with "dumbing down" or "lowering standards" but will be viewed as an all encompassing concern for all.

If we seek -- as individuals and as a society -- to live our lives in balance, we won't desire for anyone to face an uphill climb.

In the final analysis, that's what A Level Playing Field is all about.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Finding Balance (Part 3 of 3)

It's common when examining economic systems to use a cost-benefit analysis type of approach. This might be all well and good IF all the TRUE costs and benefits were discussed. That rarely happens though. In regards to capitalism, there's rarely an honest discussion of the various costs to the planet and general society. Such costs almost always seem to get swept under the proverbial rug.

For me, the greatest sin of a capitalist society is that short-term egocentric benefits are heralded, while long-term societal costs are given a short shrift. If a strategy or product will benefit somebody's bottom line, then it is promoted as a public good.

For example, if a timber company wants to mow down all the trees on a particular hillside, capitalist apologists will chortle that no one should stand in their way because it will benefit everyone, not just this particular company.

Yet, once the trees have been ripped away from the landscape, we often discover that such declarations are nothing more than self-serving rhetoric. With no trees to hold back the soil, landslides occur -- often destroying people's homes and injurying/killing innocent bystanders. The eroded soil often ends up in local streams, clogging the flow of water and thereby increasing the likelihood of floods.

If lots of hillsides in one area are clear cut, we soon discover that it has a decidedly negative impact on the flora and fauna that depended on these interconnected forests.

All of these examples and more are factors that should have been included in the cost-benefit analysis, but weren't.

So, what happens? The timber company reaps huge profits from the venture AND the public ends up paying the associated bill! Put another way, the company gets the short-term benefit, while the public pays the long-term costs.

If, by chance, this situation could be changed whereby the roles would be reversed, you know as well as I that the particular company would cry FOUL and demand that the situation be more balanced.

And this is the precise problem with capitalism -- It's not a balanced system!!

In order for a small portion of the population to be filthy rich, a much greater portion must live in dire poverty. In order for transnational corporations continually to increase their profits, they must continue to consume finite resources. If they are allowed to consume such finite resources at an alarming rate, then a great number of people must necessarily forgo their share of same.

This pattern repeats itself regarding every aspect of capitalist society. In order for there to be a few winners, there must be significantly more losers. Far worse, the losers aren't provided with an opportunity even to have a say about the process! By default, they will receive the short end of the stick almost every single time.

Consequently, the drive to live more simply and in balance is not only important on a personal level, but on a societal level as well. The person who finds harmony in their life will concurrently reduce the inherent stress in their life. The society that strives to find harmony will also reduce the overall stress on the planet AND the level of stress felt by society as a whole.

In other words, it would level the playing field in a positive, not detrimental, way.

Then More is Less (Part 2 of 3)

The central tenet of Taoism is balance. For years westerners scoffed at this simplistic sounding concept. They poked fun at anybody who promoted the idea of harmony; only a dimwitted hippie or a utopianistic dreamer would think something like that could solve any type of problem!

Beginning in the 6os though, the Yin-Yang symbol started to work its way into American pop culture. It became cool or chic to talk about the I Ching or to have a Yin-Yang bumper sticker on the back fender of your VW bus. Mind you, few people seriously contemplated the intricacies of the concept of balance, but at least the outward manifestations of it did become more accepted.

It's such a shame this basic concept hasn't been able to establish a foothold in the American consciousness. If people would objectively look at the world we'’ve created around us, it's readily apparent that a great deal of the pain and suffering that most of us experience is due to the fact our planet and society is so far OUT of balance.

Much of the blame for this sorry predicament must be laid at the foot of the western capitalist system. Capitalism is defined by two extremes: 1) A never ending drive to accumulate and 2) It's a decidedly egocentric philosophy.

As I discussed in the entry immediately below this one, capitalism creates stress by constantly driving us to crave more. No goal that a person, family, company or nation achieves is ever enough. As soon as you scale one peak, you immediately focus on the next highest one.

This constant drive to achieve more and more creates a constant state of tension or stress. It's something few can escape from. It follows us around like heavy ball-and-chain we must drag from place to place. It's like a constant yoke around our necks, squeezing away the ability to enjoy life for its own sake.

Since we must deal with its continual vise-like grip on our souls, we have a tendency to focus solely on our own needs. It's like having one of those monster headaches. Who cares about anyone else, their wants or needs? All we care about is getting rid of the damn headache!

Of course, the medicine we reach for to relieve capitalistic stress is the precise thing that fuels it! We think to ourselves, “If I can just work a little harder or make a little more money, then I can ease off a bit”. Unfortunately, this remedy never works because, as soon as we get to where we think we want to be, we realize there's an even BETTER place somewhere up ahead.

Because we live on the proverbial treadmill, we must necessarily concentrate on our own short-term needs and focusing on our own short-term needs too often conflict with the most basic principle of nature -- balance.

You see, capitalism only concerns itself with one side of this two-sided equation. The mantra of capitalism is more, an increase, to accumulate. Opposed to this philosophy is the reality of the universe which stipulates that an increase in one place or aspect means a DECREASE somewhere else.

In other words, if you increase an aspect of your life in one area, some other area will suffer a corresponding decrease. A classic example of this is increasing your workload. People who tend to put their careers first encounter deficiencies in their family life. They spend so many hours working (8, 10, 12 or 14 hour days), it leaves little time to get to know your spouse or children. And, despite the financial security such work might create, it's not uncommon that your spouse and children will greatly resent it!

In part III of this discussion (Finding Balance), I'll discuss the reasons why we each should willingly jump off the treadmill to work to create harmony in our individual and collective lives.

If Less Is More (Part 1 of 3)

One aspect of modern western civilization is our penchant for thinking WE know better. We often look at past civilizations or so-called primitive cultures within our midst and shake our heads condescendingly. If THEY only knew what we KNOW today...

In recent years, however, many in our society have begun to realize that this egocentric position is not all it's cracked up to be. Modern medicine is discovering that many of the old folkways of indigenous people were better clued in to the ways to regenerate the body than we once thought. Social scientists are discovering that many primitive societies had more effective social and political relations than we do today.

One concept that is gaining resonance with many today is the age old belief in simplicity. For centuries, the Aborigines of Australia knew that "the more you know, the less you need". This same idea is expressed in Taoism as "When seeking knowledge, much is acquired. When seeking wisdom, much is discarded".

Most of us in modern society have committed the offense of cluttering our lives. The capitalist system urges us constantly to acquire more and more things. We surround ourselves with gadgets, doodads, cars, furnishings, jewelry and even people. No matter what we have today, the push for tomorrow is ALWAYS to acquire more, both individually and collectively.

This constant activity leads to stress. We're always pushing and driving toward the next material goal; we rarely stop to smell the roses. And this constant drive is killing us!

Yes, I know that life expectancy continues to rise. People today live longer, on average, than people 100 years ago. But while our quantity of years continues to increase, I'm certainly not convinced our quality of life has kept step.

Medical researchers are finding more and more that stress plays a major role in disease. Some have postulated that our recent surge in auto-immune diseases ultimately will be traced back to increased stress as the trigger. Alcohol and substance abuse plague many of our communities today and the desire to escape the pain of stress is one of the causes of the overuse of such substances. Road rage, spousal abuse and child abuse are intensified by stress.

All of these diseases and behaviors are natures way of screaming at us, "You're stressing yourselves out". Unfortunately, too few are listening.

If we would only unclutter and simplify our lives, we would soon find that each life would be happier and less stressed. We would find that we could take the time to enjoy a good book, a serene sunset, quiet conversation and/or introspective contemplation.

In essence, we would come to fully understand and embrace the idea that The MORE we know, the LESS we need.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

One's Own House

I don't know very many people who would like for some stranger to show up at your home unexpectedly and then to critique your level of cleanliness and order, the paint color in the living room and/or the architectural style of the home itself. I think most people would say to themselves, "This person has got a lot of nerve!"

Most people would have even a worse reaction if you later learned that the critiquing stranger's home is just as messy or much worse than yours. That would be really audacious, don't you think?

For me, this is how religion plays out in our society. Far too many people spend far too much of their time examining other people's choices and condemning them based on their OWN religious beliefs. Yet, for all the time they spend critiquing and judging others, they spend a scant amount of time looking inward.

Whatever religious or philosophical belief a person calls their very own should be applied to themselves, first and foremost. If a person can bring their own house into complete order, then maybe they can go look at other people's houses.

Since Christians believe that we all are sinners, this should preclude Christians from passing judgment on anyone else. This is what Jesus meant when he said that you shouldn't worry about the mote in your neighbor's eye when you have boulder in your own eye.

If you've visited this blog before, you know I am very critical of Christianity. While it is certainly true that I feel there are a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions within this faith system, my main objections is not with the religion itself but with how it's practiced by so-called Christians!

On the whole, Christians seem too preoccupied with their neighbors. Instead of viewing their chosen faith as a personal relationship between themselves and their defined maker, they use it as a bludgeon in an attempt to beat people into submission, both within the flock and outside of it.

You don't see Taoists running around the world threatening others with eternal damnation. Taoism is an introspective belief system. The main concern for a Taoist isn't how others conduct their lives, but how the Taoist her/himself conducts our own lives.

If more people focused more energy on getting their own ducks in a row, they'd soon find they don't have the energy to be worrying about everybody else's ducks. More importantly, if more people took the time to walk on their own spiritual path and not worry about where others are walking, we would have a more harmonious planet by default.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Religious Conversion Cannot Be Legislated

Over the last decade or so, fundamentalist Christians have spent inordinate amounts of time and resources trying to alter federal and state laws to better conform to their so-called religious beliefs. I suppose the purpose behind this extraordinary effort is to try to craft a society that more closely embodies the kind of world they think their god desires.

For me, however, this effort undermines the basic tenets of Christian thought. Jesus did not seek to win hearts and, thereby, converts via the tip of a sword or spear. Jesus didn't back people up against the wall and say, "Do things my way or else I'm going to hurt you". Jesus never traveled to Rome to lobby for a change in Roman law.

Instead of concerning himself with these sorts of worldly mechanisms, he sought to change people's hearts, one-at-a-time. Instead of utilizing the force of the state, he tried to appeal to people's minds and souls that what he was saying and preaching rang true.

This is the essence of conversion, to try convince someone else that they should view things from an altogether different perspective.

True conversion never occurs by force -- You can't force a person to believe anything. A true convert comes to accept a different perspective ONLY when they voluntarily see "the light".

What happens to most of us when someone tries to force something upon us? Generally, our first response is to become defensive. It doesn't matter how worthy the idea or concept might be -- our initial reaction is to reject it out of hand. Sometimes, we may not only reject it but openly fight against it (even when fighting it it might prove ultimately to be against our own best interests)!

Yet, despite the fact Jesus never tried to win converts through any form of force AND most people become defensive when something is forced onto them, this is the precise strategy being employed by the Religious Right. It almost seems as if Christian fundamentalists are saying to their chosen leader, "Who needs your example? What do you know? We know what we're doing."

Let's consider the current efforts to define legally what marriage constitutes. From a conservative Christian perspective, the act of marriage can only take place between one man and one woman. By working fervently to make this religious definition a secular legal definition, fundamentalists are FORCING their belief on everyone else.

By forcing this definition on all, they are greatly lessening their opportunity to convince others of the correctness of their definition and, thus, they unwittingly are lessening the pool of potential converts.

As discussed in the previous entry, if you are a true believer in your faith, the one thing you certainly desire is to be in the position to convert as many people as possible to your religious truth. And it's very difficult to convert people to your way of thinking if you ram your ideas down their throat!

This is one of the reasons I think that religion needs to divorce itself from the civil union process. Since our government is supposed to represent all citizens -- Christian and non-Christian alike -- the granting of civil unions between consenting adults should be a general civic function.

If people then wish to solemnize their union in the form of a religiously-recognized marriage, they can go to a church to have a priest, reverend, pastor, rabbi or whatever preside over a religious ceremony. Those churches that define marriage as being between 1 man and 1 woman would not be forced to sanctify the vows of a gay or lesbian couple.

This would allow religious institutions to observe their own creeds and beliefs, while allowing people from all different persuasions the legal right to form civil unions.

Most importantly, it would provide conservative Christians with the opportunity to try to convince others that their definition is correct, while not forcing that definition on anyone outside of their faith community.

Few True Believers

We often hear about individuals who possess an utter devotion to a job, skill, sport or idea. Their lives seem to be focused on this one thing and every waking moment is viewed as an opportunity to hone or improve it. As Scott Adams points out in God's Debris, it's quite evident that few religious adherents show this kind of devotion to their God.

In this day and age, that might sound like a ridiculous statement. Here in the US, fundamentalist Christians seem to be trying to take over the country. Heck, fundamentalists in many nations (think Iraq) are showing an upsurge in national and international involvement. On the surface then, it would seem that more and more people are turning over their lives to a steadfast commitment and devotion to their supreme entity.

But, if we dig a little deeper, it becomes obvious that this couldn't be any further from the truth! Yes, people are going through the motions of being true believers, but only up to a certain point. In essence, it's a part-time, compartmentalized devotion.

As Adams' central character remarks
"Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in support of that belief. Rich people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone would be frantic to determine which religion was the true one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions.

"A belief in God would demand one hundred percent obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of this brief life on earth. But your four billion so-called believers do not live their lives in this fashion, except for a few. The majority believe in the usefulness of their beliefs -- an earthly and practical utility -- but they do not believe in the underlying reality."
In other words, if people genuinely believed in a supreme entity responsible for every aspect of their lives, every breath that they take would be in reverence to their God.

There would be no war -- people wouldn't have time for it. There would be no poverty -- people would insure the least were fed and clothed. Their would be no politics or nations -- everyone would be too busy serving God. Every waking moment would represent a continuous prayer to the almighty.

But this doesn't describe our world at all! For most of their lives, the vast majority of so-called believers behave as if there is no God. At most, they take a 1-2 hour respite from the world to go to church and go through the motions of godly reverence, only to return to life-as-usual.

For me, the most telling indication that we live in a godless society is that we strive for innovation through competition. All of our wondrous technological advancements serve no purpose IF we were true believers.

If God is truly omnipotent and we ARE his children, why do we need cars, tv dinners, iPods, jet planes, telephones and chemo therapy?

If God loves each person who believes in him, why do we feel the need always to outdo the next guy or gal? What godly purpose is served by being the best, the brightest or the richest? God might want us to be the best each of us can be, but that's altogether different than trying to be better than someone else.

The sad fact is that too many people believe in believing more than they truly believe. Religion is more a social institution than anything else. It provides people with a sense of belonging to something important, a kinship outside of themselves. It provides an institution where they can go to talk about believing as if talking about it is the ultimate end.

If all these people who SAY they are true believers TRULY believed in the absolute reality of God, our society would be altogether different. No one would have the slightest concern about the gay agenda, illegal immigrants, the war on terrorism, national interests or a business-friendly trade environment. These would be superfluous topics.

If people genuinely believed in an all powerful being that was responsible for their very life, they would commit every breath to prayer, devotion and reverence, and leave worldly concerns to the non-believers.

Maybe the Amish are the only true believers among us!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Faith & Fact

When discussing the topic of religion, people tend to underscore their point by describing their faith. After listening to their explanation, if you say that doesn't sway you, then a most peculiar thing often occurs. They will look you square in the eyes and say something like, "I KNOW it's true".

Unwittingly, they have created a conundrum. If a person KNOWS something with absolute certainty, then there is no room for faith. Faith can only exist where there is no certainty.

Faith is merely a strong belief. According to, the verb believe is defined as to "accept AS true; take to be true". This is NOT the same thing as knowing. To know is defined as "to perceive directly; grasp in the mind with clarity or certainty".

Consequently, knowing and believing are mutually exclusive.

I realize that some people may argue that knowing is a form of belief since we humans aren't certain about anything. I don't accept this argument because something/someone somewhere does know about each thing with certainty. Thus, for me, the ability to know and to believe both exist in our world.

Some of you may consider all this an academic discussion of semantics. You may have a point. Still, I do think it's a worthy topic of discussion simply because too many people who accept things solely on faith also contend that they know what they believe to be true. This absolute contradiction guides their lives and, too often, they attempt to use their own internal contradiction as a mechanism to run the lives of others.

This problem can be easily seen in current American life. Christian fundamentalists are working fervently to impose their world view -- a world view based on belief -- on the lives of everyone else. When others try to oppose their initiatives, we are told that they KNOW they are doing "God's" work.

However, as discussed above, they negate their own position. If they KNOW they're right, then they have cast aside their faith. Unfortunately, if they cast aside their faith, they are then repudiating the very essence of their own religious belief system. And, if they've cast the tenets of their religious faith aside, then how can they KNOW the God who says faith is the most important thing of all?

Every Speck

No one can ever know the precise intentions of another. As I finished reading God's Debris, I realized that the central thesis of the book could well be a modern metaphor of philosophical Taoism. I don't know, however, if author Scott Adams is a Taoist or if he even knows much about Taoism. In the end, it doesn't matter.

Adam's postulates that everything in the universe represents the debris of an omnipotent being that has destroyed itself. Put another way, everything is part of what was once God.

The supreme being chose to destroy itself because it lacked the motivation or curiosity in doing anything else. Because this entity is omnipotent, every thought or whim instantaneously became part of reality. It knows and sees all things past, present and future. The only way it could escape this all encompassing knowledge (what in human terms could be described as absolute boredom) is by destroying itself.

Our reality -- life -- contains the debris of this destruction and the purpose of life is to reconstruct the entity again. Consequently, rather than living our lives to return to God, we our living our lives in the hope of resurrecting God.

While I might not describe the essence of life in these precise terms, I do see much congruency between Adams' thought experiment and some of the theses of Taoism.

For the Taoist, everything is connected and everything shares an essence of the ultimate reality. The purpose of life is to try to find the best way to relate to all these entities we're already connected to. We try to reestablish this connection through the achievement of balance and harmony.

The above description could just as easily be defined as God's debris.

This Ain't No Dilbert

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, has written a most fascinating book, God's Debris: A Thought Experiment. First published as an E-book in 2001, it came out in paperback form last year. It's not the kind of book for a close-minded person. It challenges us to think about cosmic things in altogether different ways.

One of the first things Adams' writes about his book is that "It's designed to make your head spin around inside your skull". Since my brain tends to act this way on a daily basis, reading this work hasn't caused any new affects. Still, it's a very thought-provoking exercise.

I haven't finished reading the whole book and I don't plan to write a review of it. I will, however, pull from it some observations that are congruent with ones I've written about before. Expect to see references to God's Debris over the next few weeks.

One of the questions posed by one of Adams' central characters is "What sort of arrogance assumes God is like people?" I asked this same type of question in an earlier entry here. Since that initial post, I've thought about this topic some more.

From the Christian perspective, the acceptance of the idea that we humans are created in God's image represents a backward method of developing a sociological hypothesis. We observe what we believe is the finished product -- humankind -- and then postulate that, if we appear to be a certain way, then God must be that certain way too.

Imagine how this would work if we were looking at a loaf of bread. If we didn't know precisely who created the loaf of bread, looking at it would not get us any closer to the answer. If we theorized that it's creator must be a starchy substance with a dark brown outer skin and a lily white inner body, we'd most likely be wrong.

So, why do we presume to think that God has the same emotional makeup that we do? Why do we describe him/her as exhibiting anger, jealousy or happiness?

As Adams aptly points out, if God is omnipotent, God would not have the need to be angry, jealous or happy. We humans have that need because we can't see the future. But an omnipotent being sees and knows everything (past, present and future), so there is no need for emotion.

What is, is. What isn't, isn't.

When viewed from this perspective, it's readily apparent that it would be utterly impossible for humankind to be created in God's image.

Friday, June 17, 2005

My "Friends" at Linda Christas

For those of you who are regular visitors, you well know that I have engaged in quite a robust discussion with the staff and supporters of an educational tutoring outfit, Linda Christas. As a service, I thought I would update you on what they're up to.

For starters, as I think a counterweight to this blog, they started their own. Initially, unlike The Rambling Taoist, they did not allow comments. After I pointed out this fact, magically they decided to allow comments. Unfortunately, they must have changed their minds because they've now returned to the former policy of NOT allowing comments. (It wasn't because of me. I didn't attempt to leave any comments on their blog.)

Also, unlike The Rambling Taoist, you can't learn much about who is running their blog by looking at "View my complete profile". THEIR idea of "complete" is listing the name "LaTracy Renner". That's the ONLY bit of information they/she provide[s]. Makes one wonder what they would consider scant information to consist of.

I'm not a heartless person. I do feel a bit sorry for them. If you do a Google search with the words linda christas blog, their blog doesn't show up on the first page. Mine does, occupying the top two spots. Of course, as I've pointed out repeatedly, this is their own fault because THEY keep coming back.

If you change your Google search to linda christas blogspot, I still outrank them. I'm sure that is frustrating to them. It would be for me.

If you'd like to check out a potential career with Linda Christas Tutoring Services click here.

If you'd like to read past entry's on this blog about Linda Christas, including the interesting back-and-forth comments, use the links below:
Looking for a Few Good Saps
Getting Out the Heavy Lumber
The Continuing Linda Christas Saga

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Conservative View of "Discussion"

I can readily admit that I am sometimes a glutton for punishment. For example, rather than simply try to avoid those of a conservative bent, I often try to engage them in discussion. More often than not, this tact does not work because far too many conservatives will do almost everything possible to AVOID a genuine discussion.

These kinds of people see the world in stark black and white. There's one correct opinion -- their opinion, of course -- and they see no need to entertain any other possibilities. In fact, if a person might happen to disagree with one of their often unfounded assertions, such a person is trying to be divisive, mean or hurtful. Such conservatives simply can't accept the notion that a) a person may be merely asking a question about something that seems unclear or b) that someone might have a different opinion.

One of my "favorite" conservative (my way or no way) blogs is Where's Your Brain? The blog's author hides behind the moniker, Justadog. Here is a quote from the original entry about the so-called liberal media.
Liberals target people in attempted character assassinations. This is actually a tactic that is taught in any early college logic class or debate class - if you can't support your position then attempt to destroy the message of your opponent (however true it might be) by destroying the messenger. There is a lack of ideas, solutions to problems, or hope that comes from their programming. Liberals are very good at this.

From my observations of American politics, I would say this was an apt definition of rabid conservatives (think Swift boat people or Karl Rove). Since, in my personal opinion, Mr. Hound was turning this definition on its head, I asked for some documentation to back up this assertion.

How do you think he responded? By avoiding the issue at hand and attacking my character!

Don't get me wrong. If this unknown guy wants to attack my character, fine. I'm not going to get upset about it. No, what strikes me as so ironic is that this ultra-conservative is doing precisely what he accuses liberals of doing and he can't see it even though it's staring him straight in the face.

And this is no anomaly either. In discussion after discussion, the same scenario plays out. When he asks that I provide documentation of an assertion, I provide it. When I ask him for the same, he immediately tries to sidetrack the issue by calling me names.

As I written on this blog before, he is the kind of person who only wishes to engage in a monologue, not a discussion.

None of us can learn anything if the only voice we value is our own!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Missing Tether?

When most Christians come face-to-face with Taoism for the first time, there tends to be a lot of head scratching and questions. How do you know what to believe? How does a person know what is right or wrong? How can you survive in the world without [a] God to talk or pray to?

More than a few fundamentalist Christians have tossed Taoist thought aside because, in their opinions, it's far too individualistic.

Of all their various criticisms, I find this one the most absurd. Every single religion or belief system is based on personal experience, observation and interpretation. The main difference between Taoism and Christianity is that the former readily acknowledges this fact, while the latter seeks to camouflage it at all costs.

I don't know of ANY Christian denominations that agree on all interpretations of the bible or the proper practice of faith. The Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. have splintered into different incarnations of their particular denomination.

Even within specific denominations or congregations, you will rarely find any two people who agree on every single aspect of that church's doctrine and belief. Yes, many people may agree with almost everything, but there always seems to be at least one thing that each person has a problem with or misgivings about.

Stand on any street corner and you're bound to find Christians who are
  • For & Against the death penalty;
  • For & Against abortion;
  • For & Against war;
  • For & Against basic social programs; and
  • Open or Not Open to homosexuality;
If there is but one truth and this truth originates from the Christian God, why can't corporate and individual Christians seem to agree on what that truth is?

A Taoist knows the simple answer -- Each person must find their truth on their own. And, in fact, that's what each Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist or atheist does.

Ultimately, each of us makes our own final call.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What Money Can Buy

For most people, the thought of coming into great wealth generates visions of cars, mansions, boats, jewelry, clothes, vacations and fast living. While each of these things can certainly be bought one hundreds times over, the key thing that wealth allows you to buy is justice.

Over the past several years several big-name athletes as well as Michael Jackson, Robert Blake & OJ Simpson have been found not guilty of serious crimes. Maybe all of them are indeed innocent! Or maybe their innocence is a byproduct of their immense wealth.

I'm NOT suggesting that Jackson, Blake & Simpson simply "got off" because they are rich and famous celebrities. What I AM suggesting is that each was able to afford highly trained, highly experienced and highly skilled legal counsel -- A good defense attorney can poke holes against almost any charge!

Do you think any of the three would have been found not guilty if they had to rely on public defenders?

Monday, June 13, 2005

One Missing Word

In Sunday's Oregonian, there was an article (National Guard Stretched to the Limit) on the woes of the National Guard and general military deployment problems. For me, this report typifies the state of American journalism. While the reporters covered most of the important aspects of the topic, they neglected to cover the most salient issue -- a possible D-R-A-F-T.

Reporters David Wood & Harry Esteve did a fairly good job presenting information that showed that military numbers in Iraq will most likely fall off dramatically this summer as many units will return from their deployments and, due to shortfalls in recruitment targets, there won't be enough new troops to replace them. This will create a dangerous situation for those troops still stationed in Iraq.

The military brass is aware of this potentiality and they are worried, very worried. And, if they're worried, you and I should be worried too!

This is, of course, an inherent problem with an all volunteer armed forces. Military leaders have to hope that enough people volunteer to serve. If not enough people volunteer AND our nation is in the middle of a so-called war, there's only one other mechanism to insure we have enough soldiers to wage the battle -- A Military Draft!

Wood & Esteve take us to the brink of considering the possible inevitability of instituting the draft, but, for whatever reason, they failed miserably in taking the needed step. I mean, the step was crying out on its own. It was the obvious next question.

Unfortunately, it seems that the obvious question was the ONE question the Oregonian didn't ask.

The Paradox of Originality

Throughout the blogosphere there are millions upon millions of blogs and probably billions upon billions of entries. Encased in all these entries are trillions and trillions of ideas and concepts. To top it all off, I bet there are quintillions of phrases, words, syllables and letters.

For all this cacophony of information, not a wit of it is original and yet a lot of it is.

Thought belongs to the commons of humanity. Whatever I might happen to write this very moment has been written before and will be written again. The flow of thought is both ephemeral and perpetual, personal and universal.

When an idea or conceptualization filters its way through the reaches of my consciousness, its origins come from somewhere outside of me. It's as if I plucked an apple from a tree. The tree nourishes the apple and, by biting into the fruit, the tree has nourished me as well.

Ideas and the understanding of ideas follow the same symmetry. The ideas themselves exist in the consciousness of all humankind. We each select one of these [unoriginal] universal items and, through the processes of self-analysis, self-enlightenment and self-realization, we produce a personalized way of expressing this thought which is both original and not original in the least.

It is original because it springs forth from each of us as a butterfly evolves from a caterpillar, yet the idea itself is wholly unoriginal because, in the consciousness of the ultimate reality, it was already a butterfly to begin with.

Religion and science treat this natural paradox in two distinct ways. Religion takes the dichotomy between originality and unoriginality and affixes it to a particular point in time. Consequently, the original conceptualization of unoriginal thought becomes ensnared in the words and ideas of particular individuals (i.e., via sacred texts) and is not allowed the opportunity to spring forth anew as different variations of the ubiquitous butterfly.

Science or rational thought, on the other hand, allows the butterfly to spring forth again and again and again. Each time we "discover" a new aspect of a universal (unoriginal) concept, it adds to our wealth of knowledge. This new expression of an already present concept takes flight in our imaginations until which time a new expression replaces it.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Bearing Arms

If one listens to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most cherished of all American freedoms is the hallowed right to bear arms. Take away a person's gun and they become less of a human being. Well, I've thought about this issue for many years and I think I've come up with a great proposal to bridge the chasm between the NRA and those of us who are anti-violence and, therefore, anti-gun.

For starters, I've researched the verb "to bear". It contains a myriad of different meanings. However, of all the various meanings, not one of them includes the words to "own" or to "possess". Consequently, I've surmised that the right "to bear arms" means the right to have access to and to make use of.

If everyone of a certain age (like with a driver's license, a younger person could obtain a learner's permit to be used only in the presence of another with full rights) and not convicted of a felony possessed the right to have access to and make use of a gun, then their right to bear such would not be negated.

In other words, we could make it illegal for any private citizen to own a gun without removing their right to bear one.

Like books, videos, dvds and tapes, guns could be housed at a public facility akin to a library. If a person wanted to go hunting or target shooting, they would checkout the gun for a specified time period. At the end of the specified time period, they would return the gun to the public repository.

To make such a strategy work, we would necessarily need to stiffen penalties for crimes where a gun is used. If people know that they face a stiff sentence for any type of unauthorized use of a gun, it would lessen, to some degree, many people's desire to use a gun in the commission of a crime.

We would also necessarily have to stiffen penalties for people who returned their checked out gun late or who secretly owned one.

What do you think?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

One Tie that Binds

According to one Maryland high school, religious beliefs trump cultural heritage. Thomas Benya was denied his high school diploma from Maurice J. McDonough High School because he planned to wear a bolo tie honoring his Cherokee roots. The school's principal decided that the bolo tie was not wide enough to be considered a tie.

Another student was allowed to deviate from the dress code due to religious beliefs. As reported in The Washington Post, "One senior girl wore a headscarf and long pants for religious reasons." This was viewed as acceptable because "the First Amendment protects religion, and we do everything possible to honor that."

Beyond being culturally insensitive, what really angers me about this incident is that religion is a choice while cultural heritage is not. People are free to believe or not believe what they want. A person can choose to be a devout believer or an atheist.

But none of us gets to choose who our forefathers and foremothers are. We are borne of this ethnic stock. While it is true that we can choose to honor or not honor our ethnicity, we can't change these cultural bonds.

So, a young woman who made a choice in her beliefs was granted a measure of leeway, while a young man who simply wanted to honor his ancestry was granted none.

Shame on the school district. Shame on America.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Message to the Public -- GO AWAY!

Hollywood celebrities seem to have a love-hate relationship with ordinary people. On the one hand, they want the common folk to love them to the tune of forking over millions and millions of dollars to catch a glimpse of their latest work (e.g., movie, tv show, book, painting, album, etc.) Yet, they don't seem the least bit interested in the common people themselves.

It seems like a weird reverse on the concept of objectification. For the big wigs, people are seen solely as consumers, not distinct human beings. When they aren't trying to get us peons to fork over money to line their pockets, they'd almost act like we have no other reason to exist.

I bring this up after reading an interesting article in The Guardian, "Bulldozer Tactics by Malibu's Super-Rich". It seems the beautiful people who live in their beautiful homes on the Pacific Coast don't like the fact that the non-beautiful people like to frequent the PUBLIC beaches in front of their manicured estates.

So, what's a nose-bleeder to do? Answer -- Dig up the damn beach!!
The association representing owners of the 108 palatial homes that front Broad Beach - one of Malibu's most exclusive locations, where the residents include Goldie Hawn, Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman and Danny DeVito - has caused uproar by using bulldozers to remove the beach.

Tonnes of wet sand were pushed from the publicly owned area up to the high tide mark, creating a huge barrier.

According to a nine page letter of protest sent to the association by the California coastal commission, and quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the removal of sand has lowered the profile of the public beach so that "public access is cut off by wave run-up and standing water".

All I can say is that these people got a lot of nerve!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Everybody's Talking

"Everybody's talking at me. I don't hear a word they're saying, Only the echoes of my mind." This is what Harry Nillson told us back in the 60s, but he could just as well have been thinking of 2005!

We live in a world enveloped by a weird dichotomy: We're surrounded by a vast array of modes of communications and yet communication itself seems to be so lacking. Put another way, everybody's so busy "talking" that nobody has time to listen.

Many of the societal problems we continue to be plagued by either are caused by or exacerbated by a lack of adequate communication. The US divorce rate continues to hover near 50%. We have over 1.3 million runaways. Child abuse and neglect remains a serious issue. Far too many people succumb to substance abuse, spousal battering and workplace violence. And we spend far too much money going to counselors and mental health providers to try to help us figure out why we (or our significant others) are so screwed up.

If we were better able to communicate genuinely with each other, many of these statistics would quickly lessen.

It seems almost laughable to say that communication is such a pervasive problem in this day and age. We are surrounded by all sorts of gadgetry that has supposedly launched the communication and information era. We have Ipods, pagers, email, fax machines, television, movies, radio and the ubiquitous cell phone.

People are constantly yammering in one form or another -- Emails, text messages and endless conversations. Still, a common complaint is that people don't understand us or they don't get where we're coming from.

As indicated above, from my humble perspective, the primary reason we continue to have difficulty communicating is that we hear just fine, but too many people don't take the time to listen. There is a chasm of difference between hearing and listening.

You can hear someone without having to focus on what they are trying to convey. It's like grooving to a song with a good beat and/or melody. It can make you smile or tap your feet and you don't have to focus consciously on the lyrics.

Listening takes a good deal more effort than simply hearing. You can't have an ongoing conversation inside your head or be babbling yourself while you're listening to someone else. You must focus on the person you are conversing with. You must attempt to filter the information presented in such a way that you understand the message the person is trying to convey AND you must respond intelligently to what it is you THINK you comprehend.

Listening involves a give-and-take. And that's a hard skill to master in a world that puts too much emphasis on taking.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

A Little Masquerade

My post on acrylamide (below and on BlueOregon) generated a response from an organization called The Center for Consumer Freedom. Sounds like a real progressive group, doesn't it? Not so. It is yet another example of a special interest front group masquerading as a public interest organization.

Here's how they describe themselves on their website:
The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.

The growing cabal of "food cops," health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats, and violent radicals who think they know "what's best for you" are pushing against our basic freedoms. We're here to push back...

The Center for Consumer Freedom is supported by restaurants, food companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals. From farm to fork, our friends and supporters include businesses, employees and consumers.

In other words, this is a hatchet organization that seeks to undermine, discredit and attack any scientific findings or public concerns that might impact the bottom line of companies in the food industry.

This group seems to have it in for organizations like PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Earth First!, and the Center for Disease Control. Oooh, a cavalcade of menacing groups that is!

What They Don't Say

According to the Capital Press, a regional weekly agricultural newspaper produced in Salem, a proposed labeling requirement in California is bad policy. Advocates want "consumers of french fries and other foods to know about acrylamide".

What is acrylamide? Is it a substantial health risk? Neither of these questions is addressed adequately in the editorial.

In fact, the only information that deals with acrylamide itself is contained in the repeated idea that it's "a naturally occurring compound that can be created when potatoes -- or many other foods -- are fried or cooked at a high temperature".

Instead of discussing the health concerns of this substance, the Capitol Press attacks the idea because it would be bad for business.
In this case, growers, processors and retailers stand to pay the price for labels that wonÂ’t protect the publicÂ’s well-being and distract residents from the important real business at hand.

It sounds like acrylamide is nothing to get in a tizzy about. Yet, according to the FDA,
A potentially cancer-causing agent used to manufacture certain chemicals, plastics, and dyes has recently been found to be a natural by-product of cooking certain foods. The Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at this white, odorless chemical, acrylamide, to determine how much of it occurs in foods and whether it could pose a health risk.

In April 2002, researchers in Sweden discovered that cooking at high temperatures could create acrylamide in many types of foods, particularly starchy foods such as french fries, potato chips, bread, rice, and processed cereals.

Scientists know that acrylamide causes cancer in laboratory rats. They also know that contact with large quantities of acrylamide can cause nerve damage in humans. But no one knows whether the tiny amounts of acrylamide in cooked foods can cause cancer or have any other harmful effects when ingested by people. "As soon as we heard about this problem, we took action and laid out a solid plan to learn more about acrylamide and to reduce exposure to it," says Terry Troxell, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Office of Plant and Dairy Foods and Beverages.

Some critics charge that the FDA is grossly understating the issue. As early as 2002, the Center for Science in the Public interest (CSPI) reported that "the amount of acrylamide in a large order of fast-food French fries is at least 300 times more than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water."

I don't know about you, but I like the idea of knowing what I'm shoving down my throat. If it has the potential for causing long term health issues, it would be nice to know this on the front end.

Consequently, I think the Capital Press has woefully missed the mark. Yes, labels may add some costs to certain products, but isn't our health and well-being worth the miniscule cost?

Monday, June 6, 2005

Who Needs History?

If one listens to the Radical Right, the whole problem with contemporary American society is that we've moved so far away from the ideals of the Founding Fathers. We're told that the United States was erected on a Christian foundation and its the task of today's faithful to return us to these religious roots.

There's only one thing wrong with this analysis -- It's plain wrong. Not only were many of the beloved Founding Fathers NOT Christians but they took great pains to craft constitutional documents and laws that underscored this precise point!

A friend of mine recently forwarded to me an article about the Treaty of Tripoli (1797). Passed by the US Senate by a unanimous vote, this treaty states in Article 11:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Many of the senators who voted in favor of this treaty are the very same people the Religious Right likes to wax eloquently about. Many of these senators are the same people today's fundamentalists point to when stating we need to return to our Christian roots.

As many sites point out, a good number of our beloved Founding Fathers defined themselves NOT as Christians but as Deists. According to,
Deism is a free-thought philosophy, much like Agnosticism, Atheism or Pantheism in that it rejects the dogmas and superstitions of religion in favor of individual reason and empirical observation of the universe. Deism differs from these other free-thought philosophies in that it sees an order and architecture to the universe that indicates a Creator. The word "God" is used to describe this creator, not to be confused with the "Biblegod."

Deism notes that we as humans are endowed with the power of reason and an indomitable spirit. It follows that we are intended to exercise them. Therefore, skepticism and doubt are not "sins" but rather natural expressions of God's gift of reason.

Because skepticism and doubt are not sins, Deists view with extreme suspicion any efforts by other humans to claim divine authority, such as claiming to be a "prophet" or citing "sacred scripture" said to be written by alleged prophets (as in the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, etc.). Placing faith in scriptures, prophets, priests, churches, "holy" figures, or traditions is surrendering your personal reason to another source. Usually, this other source has far less interest in "the state of your soul" as the accumulation of wealth and political power.

With scripture and revelation removed, all that remains to know God is personal reason and observation of the universe. Essentially, this is getting to know the artist by studying the artwork. The only "Word of God" is the universe itself.

Deism has had many famous advocates throughout history, particularly during the Age of Enlightenment. Some of the most famous American examples were many of the Founding Fathers of America. Contrary to the assertions of Christian Fundamentalists today, America was not founded on Christian ideals. "Nature's God", as invoked by the Declaration of Independence, is a reference to Deism.

And which of our Founding Fathers considered themselves or were described by others as deists?
  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Paine (author of "Common Sense")
  • John Adams
  • James Madison
  • Ethan Allen
So, if all these leading lights were NOT Christian, who is the Religious Right referring to?

To get an idea of the breadth of information available on this topic, check out the following links:

The Not So "High" Court

Your doctor may prescribe for you all sorts of pharmaceuticals, many of which haven't been sufficiently tested and will later be recalled. Hey, it's legal! But if your doctor prescribes cannabis, you could be arrested!!

In a 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court decided that you can be arrested under federal law for inviting Mary Jane to visit your sick bed. According to a story from the Associated Press,
Federal authorities may prosecute sick people whose doctors prescribe marijuana to ease pain, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, concluding that state laws don't protect users from a federal ban on the drug.
Look, I'm not a personal fan of marijuana. I've never tried it. I've never been present when other people use it. (I've also never been intoxicated -- I'm a nerd.) But it's been proven that cannabis can help to alleviate the pain of certain conditions and it does so with the least amount of side effects. That should be lauded, not deprecated.

When you consider the witches brew of drugs that the FDA allows on the market, it seems so nonsensical to ban the use of medical marijuana. It actually makes far more sense to ban the use of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine -- the main ingredients fueling our meth epidemic. But, according to the Supreme Court, those drugs remain kosher.

We live in a strange world.

Now That's Democracy

Our ever-faithful shrub has declared over and over again that American foreign policy is guided by the principle of furthering the cause of democracy. If the [P]resident is serious, then he should be embracing the action's of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

As reported in The Christian Science Monitor, "Property tug of war hits Venezuela", the Chavez administration is set to take land from wealthy landholders to be redistributed to the poor. Now, before all you conservatives out there get into a tizzy, Chavez has been reelected by the people twice AND the land reform program passed the Venezuelan Congress back in 2001. This is called democracy in action.

Despite the fact that the actions of the Chavez government are based on democratic principles, Dubya, Blair and many a wealthy corporate head are fit to be tied. You see, conservatives LOVE democracy as long as it benefits the wealthy. They concurrently have little use for democracy when it benefits anybody else!

So Mr. Chavez needs to be on the lookout. I wouldn't be surprised if our own CIA isn't cooking up another scheme to try to remove him from office.

So much for the vaunted and publicized principles of democracy!

Sunday, June 5, 2005

A Rumsfeld Moment

For FY 2006, the United States is set to spend over $450 BILLION on the defense budget. This figure represents a tad bit less than 20% of the overall budget. According to Jane's Defence Industry, as of 2003, US military expenditures accounted for "46 per cent of the global total".

China has released its FY 2005 budget. It calls for a 12.6% increase to the astonishing total of...$29.55 billion. Please take notice of the difference in the figures of $450 billion versus $29.55 billion. The latter is less than 7% of the former. This despite the fact that China is both geographically and demographically LARGER than the US.

So, it seems rather strange that we find US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld criticizing China for its decision to increase its military budget. Even more interesting is Rumsfeld's rationale -- China is under no known threat from another COUNTRY.

Well Donnie, the US is under no immediate threat from another country, yet we consistently up our military budget. Yes, we face a terrorist threat, but so does every other country, even China!

Look in the mirror Mr. Rumsfeld. Now you know what a hypocrite looks like.

Friday, June 3, 2005

A Whiff of Trust

One of the greatest problems that plagues contemporary society is our penchant for turning anything we can get our hands on into a commodity. We have commodified education, health care, religion and even basic things like plant properties, seeds, water and human genes. Now, according to scientists, we're on the brink of commodifying human emotions!

According to a wire service report, scientists have isolated the specific hormone -- oxytocin -- that is an essential ingredient in the human capacity to build trust. In an experiment, the researchers had participants squirt oxytocin up their noses with a spray and then measured whether or not it increased the ability to trust another. It seemed to work.

While a discovery such as this may well have prove beneficial for individuals suffering from autism (who often lack an ability to build trust), I foresee far more sinister uses. Even one of the researchers stated that he is very worried about the hormone's potential application.

Oxytocin could easily become the next date rape drug. What better way to convince the girl at the party to have sex with you than to slip a dose of trust in her drink! Hey, the rapist says, she willing agreed to let me tie her up and have my way with her.

The hormone could become a new weapon in the war on crime, particularly with juveniles and the developmentally disabled. Having trouble getting the suspect to talk? Shoot 'em up with some instant trust, tell them all sorts of outlandish things and watch them incriminate themselves. Hey, the detective says, I read him his Miranda rights and he voluntarily spilled his guts.

What about the world of high finance? Having trouble finishing off a merger or hostile take over? No problem. Just make sure you slip a little liquid trust to the board and watch them agree to anything. Hey, the financier says, is it my fault the board of Company X agreed to sell at 50 cents per share below market value?

In almost every situation in human discourse, TRUST is an essential ingredient. It is something that must be developed slowly and nurtured. In other words, trust must be earned! To have the means to bypass this process could easily alter the whole of human society and alter it in a very negative way.

At the rate we're going, we are unwittingly destroying the very essence of our humanity.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Don't Settle for Unhappiness

A friend of mine is trying to deal with an unhappy and unsatisfactory marriage. For months now, she's tried to wear a good game face. She talks about future plans and all the wonderful things she and her husband will accomplish. But underneath her public smile is a woman beset with anger, frustration and doubt.

Last night she finally admitted to me (and probably herself!) that there is little love in this relationship. Her husband has many unresolved personal problems and, instead of trying to deal with them head on, he attempts to exorcise his angst by calling my friend names and constantly belittling her.

He tells her she's fat and ugly -- She isn't, far from it. He tells her she's lazy and good for nothing -- She's a hard and dedicated worker. He tells her she's stupid -- She is, in fact, extremely bright.

More often than not, she doesn't fight back, instead she internalizes her hurt feelings. Of course, hurt feelings have a way of working their way out. In her case, she has found herself lately being very sharp with her two young children.

She realizes that the kids are bearing the brunt of her continued frustrations. This makes her feel guilty and then she starts thinking, "Maybe my husband's right".

My advice to her is to believe in herself, her worth and her loving demeanor. If each of us can learn to value ourselves as individuals, we will be a lot less willing to put up with this kind of abuse or worse.

I realize a lot of people view divorce as always a bad thing, but, in my humble opinion, divorce is a far better option than allowing yourself to be subjected to a life of unhappiness.

When children are involved, I think getting away from a bad relationship is even MORE important. Children soak in the atmosphere of the family. If the husband is cruel to his wife, the children soon learn not to respect mom or women, in general. Sons often grow into a carbon copy of dad and daughters often marry men who will abuse them.

This is what is meant by breaking the cycle of violence and yes, emotional cruelty is one such form.

While I certainly agree that each of us must take great care when entering into long term relationships, sometimes things just don't go as planned. When this occurs, my advice is always the same -- Don't settle for unhappiness.