Saturday, July 30, 2005

There Is a Season

If a person wants their blog to be read and/or highly ranked, one of the number one rules in the blogosphere is to post entries frequently. It is suggested that the blogger not only try to post at least daily, but several entries per day. Since I haven't posted anything for the past week, it should be obvious that the purpose of this blog is NOT conditioned on the hope that it will be ranked highly!

Back in the 60s, the folk-rock group, The Byrds, climbed the pop charts with the hit, "Turn! Turn! Turn!". Written by the legendary Pete Seeger, the song encompasses the Book of Ecclastiastes.
To every thing, turn, turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn,turn,
And a time to every purpose under heaven.

Put in the Taoist terminology of Yin-Yang, there's a time to write and a time to put down one's pen to ponder.

During the past week or so, I've spent more time focusing on the latter. In fact, not only have I not written on this blog for over one week, I've tried spending less time on my computer altogether!

For the past 3 days, my wife & I spent some time at the central Washington coast. No phones! No computers! Just the sounds, smells and views of the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Very peaceful.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kirk Stranded on Planet Surface

Things were getting tense. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock needed to get out of dodge...and quickly. Kirk grabbed his communicator and shouted, "Scotty, beam us up." There was no response. Growing anxious, Kirk yelled, "Scotty, do you read?" Still no response. Spock pulled out his communicator and calmly said, "Mr. Scott, are you in the transporter room?"

Alas, Kirk and Spock are stranded on the planet surface. Mr. Scott cannot answer; he is dead.

James Doohan beamed himself up.

Hitler & Stalin Back in Fashion?

Adolf Hitler & Joseph Stalin were despotic tyrants. They exercised nearly absolute power in ruling Germany and Russia, respectively. Many social commentators have grown increasingly worried that the United States currently is leaning towards those kinds of models. Where we once had 3 distinct branches of government who shared power, the presidency under the tutelage of the Dubya gang, is warping this principle.

Writing for Counterpunch, Chris Floyd states,
The United States long ago ceased to be anything like a living, thriving republic. But it retained the legal form of a republic, and that counted for something: as long as the legal form still existed, even as a gutted shell, there was hope it might be filled again one day with substance.

But now the very legal structures of the Republic are being dismantled. The principle of arbitrary rule by an autocratic leader is being openly established, through a series of unchallenged executive orders, perverse Justice Department rulings and court decisions by sycophantic judges who defer to power - not law - in their determinations. What we are witnessing is the creation of a "Commander-in-Chief State," where the form and pressure of law no longer apply to the president and his designated agents. The rights of individuals are no longer inalienable, nor are their persons inviolable; all depends on the good will of the Commander, the military autocrat.

I realize such an accusation will anger some of you. You will rightfully point out that our American president is NOT gassing citizens nor sending them to the Alaskan wilderness to perform hard labor. While these points certainly are true, there still are many things that DO resemble Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia.

The FBI is being turned into an agency not unlike the SS or KGB. Under the guise of the flimsiest evidence AND without judicial permission, our homes can be searched, our phones tapped and our library records pulled. The "government" doesn't have to inform us of why -- which means that a person has no way to defend themselves.

Average citizens and progressive domestic organizations are being watched and who knows what else. A recent government report indicates that organizations working for the public benefit are being scrutinized, while militaristic hatemongers aren't even on the list!

Also like Hitler & Stalin, we've taken prisoners who we deny basic rights to. Heck, outside of high government circles, no one truly knows who these people are and how many of them there are. And many are being held though not charged with a specific crime.

Finally, like Hitler & Stalin, if someone questions such actions, they are immediately labeled as unpatriotic and dissident sympathizers. When people look back in history, one question that often arises is: Why didn't people see what these two monsters were up to and stop them before they took over their countries?

Those same questions need to be asked today.

Monday, July 18, 2005


"When the Tao is present in the universe, the horses haul manure. When the Tao is absent from the universe, war horses are bred outside the city. There is no greater sin than desire, no greater curse than discontent, no greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself. Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."
~Tao Te Ching~

Saturday, July 16, 2005

ROVE-ing Mad

When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, the Republican Party wanted to string him up by his entrails. Now that Deep Throat has been exposed, many Republicans have called Mark Felt a traitor and an unethical S.O.B. Yet, Karl Rove knowingly exposed a CIA operative to the media -- which explicitly violates federal law -- and many of these same Republicans are slapping him on the back, saying "Way to go, Karl!"

As Paul Krugman writes in The New York Times,
"What Mr. Rove understood, long before the rest of us, is that we're not living in the America of the past, where even partisans sometimes changed their views when faced with the facts. Instead, we're living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth. In particular, there are now few, if any, limits to what conservative politicians can get away with: the faithful will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern...

"But what we're getting, instead, is yet another impressive demonstration that these days, truth is political. One after another, prominent Republicans and conservative pundits have declared their allegiance to the party line. They haven't just gone along with the diversionary tactics, like the irrelevant questions about whether Mr. Rove used Valerie Wilson's name in identifying her (Robert Novak later identified her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame), or the false, easily refuted claim that Mr. Wilson lied about who sent him to Niger. They're now a chorus, praising Mr. Rove as a patriotic whistle-blower."
But it's just not the Republicans. If the shoe had been on the other foot, I'm certain many Democrats would be singing the same chorus.

Just another fine example of partisan politics!

Friday, July 15, 2005

I'm a Linda Christas Kind of Guy

Back in March I wrote an entry about my experience and subsequent research into an online tutoring service for middle and high school students -- Linda Christas. It was just one little entry out of over 100 that I've written on my blog. But that one little entry -- plus the various follow-ups -- have put me on the map!

On many of the search engines, I hold the top ranking for various search terms which include the words "Linda Christas". In fact, there are many times in which I'm ranked higher than Linda Christas itself. I bet that really chaps their hide.

Since writing that first entry, "Looking for a Few Good Saps", I followed up with "Getting Out the Heavy Lumber", "The Continuing Linda Christas Saga" and "My "Friends" at Linda Christas". And now I'm writing about them again!

I've visited several alternative education sites and I've discovered something that appears quite odd. You'll see subject lines like "Linda Christas is a BIG Scam" or "Linda Christas is Bad for Children" and the entry does NOT match the title. These messages posted on various bulletin boards are ALWAYS singing the praises of Linda Christas.

Now, if you would take a look at your email In box, I will bet you that most of your messages have subject lines that are close to identifying the information contained in each message. Ya know, that IS the purpose of the subject header. I'm sure that, from time-to-time, the subject header and the body of the message don't match up, but these are the exceptions to the general rule.

Consequently, it appears that this must be a concerted and coordinated effort. It defies credulity to think that a bunch of parents and staff from one institution would all arbitrarily list fake subject headers for their bulletin board entries. No, the more obvious explanation is one of two things: 1) Linda Christas personnel encourage their people to do this (maybe with explicit instructions) or 2) There are a handful of Linda Christas staff who use form messages and sign fake names.

If this was such a fine institution, why would they go to all this trouble? Why not advertise in the usual manner? Why be sneaky about it?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

[Out of] Control

Of all the various organisms that inhabit planet earth, homo sapiens seem to be the ONLY one who try to control things. We've try to control the weather, the environment, nations and each other. For all of our laborious effort, we have failed miserably. Each time we think we have everything under control, we soon discover we are horribly wrong as everything goes haywire.

For years we've tried to figure out how we can control the weather. We've tried to "seed" clouds to produce rain and we've tried strategies to avert hurricanes and storms. Not only have we failed to produce ANY level of control, but we still can't even predict the weather!

We're told it won't rain and it pours. We're told there's a 100% chance of rain and nary a drop falls. We're told it will be cloudy all day and then not a cloud dots the sky. We're told to expect clear sunny skies and we're socked in by low clouds and fog.

We've pulled out all the stops to try to control the natural environment. We build dams and levees, yet we still suffer from devastating floods. We reinforce buildings to withstand earthquakes and tornadoes, yet buildings still collapse. We build homes on the oceanfront, in floodplains and in the forest, yet we are shocked when they are destroyed by tsunamis, floods and fires.

We mow down hillsides of forests like blades of grass and then we're stunned when the ground gives way and a landslide occurs or our reservoirs become clogged with silt. We kill off important habitat and then wonder why cougars, moose and bears are wandering around city streets.

We've created a host of dangerous chemicals to provide better yields for important crops, then are shocked to discover that our new wonder substance has fouled our water, air, soil or our own bodies. Undaunted, we're now dabbling in genetically-modified crops; who knows how this will one day jump up to bite us on the keester.

We try to control other nations, groups and people. It never works out they way it was drawn up. The people we're trying to control generally become upset and this often leads to embargoes, protests, civil disobedience, terrorism and war. We then try to control our bombs and missiles so innocents aren't killed, yet all of our computerized munitions end up killing the very people we SAY we aren't targeting.

We try to control our colleagues, neighbors, friends and loved ones. We've never come close to getting this down pat as domestic violence, crime, child abuse, divorce and serious arguments plague our species. The more we try to control others, the more unhappy and insecure we become.

Finally, we try to control ourselves and even this rarely works. Substance abuse, alcoholism, obesity, depression, alienation and lack of self-confidence touch almost every single human life.

Simply put, the more we try to control things, the more out of control our lives become. One would think this clear fact would find resonance with more people. Yet, the opposite is true. The more out of control our individual and collective lives spiral, the more intent we become on trying to gain control. The proverbial Catch-22!!

Snippets from Off the Beaten Path

If you rely on your local newspaper or the 4 major networks or CNN for news, you're missing a great deal. While the rest of the world gobbles up a cornucopia of important information each day, folks who rely on this country's mainstream media are often treated to mere government regurgitations and fluff.

I thought I'd share with you some of the information I publish each week in the Salem CityWatch Digest. Aside from listing progressive programs and events in the Salem, Oregon area, I include sections which detail ways for area activists to get involved plus important articles in the alternative press.

Here are some snippets from the stories and columns of the past week or so that you may have missed:

Who's Watching the Watch List? -- AlterNet
My name is on a list of real and suspected enemies of the state and I can't find out what I'm accused of or why, let alone defend myself. And I'm guilty, says my government, not just until proven innocent or a victim of mistaken identity--but forever. [Note: This column is written not by a progressive activist but by an individual who, until this happened to him, was a staunch supporter of "Homeland Security".]
Class Consciousness Matters -- In These Times
The myth of the self-made man is American culture's own special heart of darkness, helping to explain both its infectious optimism and ruthless greed. The idea holds enough truth and seductiveness to make it easy to forget its delusional dangers. To reprise Marx's famous formulation, individuals, like humankind, do make their own personal history, but not under conditions they choose. But in America, we choose to ignore the caveat about conditions at our peril.
The Original Flag Desecration -- TomPaine
When the House of Representatives passed the proposed constitutional amendment against "flag desecration," the politicians struck a blow not for patriotism but government thought control. Yet, ironically, our poorly educated right-wingers have now set America on course to criminalize the displaying of the Confederate flag, an accident that will leave many of them confused and scrambling to rewind their opportunism.
Yelm Residents Forbidden to Mention Wal-Mart -- New Rules Project
Residents of the small town of Yelm, Washington, have been forbidden to utter the words "Wal-Mart," "big-box," or "moratorium" during City Council meetings. "For a long time citizens have not been coming forward to challenge what the city council has been doing," said Christine Hartman of the Yelm Commerce Group (YCG), which formed to oppose a planned Wal-Mart superstore. Now that citizens are speaking out at council meetings, Hartman said, "They resent this. They don't want to hear what we have to say."
Exporting American Values -- The American Prospect
In this week when we commemorate the first proclamation of American ideals to the wider world, we should pause to contemplate which of our ideals are taking root today. Consider, for instance, the very self-interested testimony of Fu Chengyu, the chief executive of CNOOC Ltd., the oil company owned by the Chinese government, which is currently endeavoring to buy Unocal Corp. "The Chinese people and government are learning from the U.S.," Fu told the Los Angeles Times last Friday. "We are adopting the free-trade system very quickly. . . . We are using U.S. bankers, advisors, exactly meeting the processes of U.S. market requirements" for mergers and acquisitions.
And here's an entire (great!) article:

Pile High, Sell Cheap & Pay Well -- The Financial Times (UK)
Look!" said the first little boy to walk by with his parents. "Awesome!" the next child, a little girl, said to her mother, pointing at a vast inflatable backyard paddling pool suspended from the warehouse ceiling.

At Costco's Kirkland warehouse outside Seattle, the pool dangling from the rafters was apparently delivering what Richard Galanti, the US retailer's chief financial officer, calls the "wow" factor - that extra bit of excitement that it wants to produce in order to draw visitors to its cavernous, no-frills warehouse stores.

"If we have a floating inflatable ring for towing behind a boat, it will be the biggest there is . . . it will be 10ft across . . . and it will only cost $49.99," Mr Galanti says, speaking with rapid enthusiasm in his modest office at Costco's headquarters in the nearby suburb of Issaquah.

But, in the world of US retail, it is not just Costco's "stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap" approach to higher quality items such as organic spinach and balsamic vinegar that merits attention.

In a country where the retail industry has been convulsed over the past decade by the rise of Wal-Mart and rival discounters, Costco's discount warehouse club is part of the revolution. But unlike Wal-Mart, whose low-cost labour model has provoked increasingly vocal criticism, Costco has managed to remain competitive while providing its workers with the highest wages and best healthcare plans available anywhere in the US retail industry.

In the anti-Wal-Mart camp, "Costco is seen as the White Knight to Wal-Mart's Darth Vader," says Nelson Lichtenstein, a University of California professor of labour history, who is editing a new book on Wal-Mart's rise.

Costco was founded by Jim Sinegal, chief executive and president, and Jeff Brotman, company chairman, in 1983 - the year that Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, opened Sam's Club, a rival warehouse club.

Both follow the same broad philosophy, developed for small business operators, rather than for individual shoppers: sell a limited number of items in bulk to reduce handling overheads, use mass orders to win attractive pricing from ­suppliers and sell membership subscriptions to boost returns and guarantee customer loyalty.

At the Kirkland Costco on a Monday afternoon, shoppers pass the threshold every couple of seconds, flashing their $45 annual Costco membership cards at an employee at the door.

Inside, there are plasma screen TVs for $3,999.99, and three pounds of bananas for 99 cents. There are clothes piled on trestle tables, surrounded by warehouse steel stacks of goods.

All this is possible because Costco does not waste money on other things. There are no signs on the aisles and comparatively few staff, no money is spent on advertising, and there is no investor relations or communications department.

"Anything we can do to lower the expenses translates into being able to sell the merchandise for lower cost," says Mr Galanti. "So that we are the extreme value proposition for quality goods."

If membership fees of $960m are excluded, Costco made just $425m in operating profits from its sales of $47bn last year - less than one cent of every dollar it makes at the tills. Wal-Mart has an overall operating profit margin - which includes all its outlets, not just warehouse stores - of
around 5 per cent.

But Costco's frugality does not extend to pay and working conditions. The average hourly wage for a full and part-time US employee is $17.41, according to the company. At Wal-Mart's Sam's Club, the sum for a similar employee is around $12 an hour.

"It's important to pay people a fair living wage," says Mr Galanti, "and if you do, and it's better than everybody else, you're going to get better people - and they're going to stick around longer, and we see that." [emphasis added]

Costco has a staff turnover rate of 17 per cent annually, excluding seasonal hires, compared with 70 per cent seen in the rest of the sector. Only six per cent of new staff leave within the first year, which again reduces costs. "First and foremost, it's the right thing to do," says Mr Galanti. "And long-term, we know it pays dividends."

While Wal-Mart, Target and other US discounters have vigorously resisted union attempts to organise their workers, about 20 per cent of Costco's 84,000 US workers are members of the Teamsters union. Costco acquired the union-organised workers when it purchased Price Club's warehouses in 1993 - but, significantly, it has not sought to shun the unions.

"We prefer not to have them," admits Mr Galanti of the unions. "But we're not going to fight them. It's up to the employees to make that decision, not us."

Only one Costco warehouse has been organised by the Teamsters since 1993. But Roma Aloise, who heads the Teamsters Costco unit, says the company "has played it pretty straight-forward" during organising drives.

"Jim Sinegal believes in treating people right," Mr Aloise says of Costco's chief executive, who was a vocal supporter of John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid.

Wall Street has sometimes been less appreciative of Costco's high-wage model. In August 2003, the company's shares fell about 20 per cent after it reduced its earnings forecast, amid intensifying competition from Sam's Club and growing healthcare costs. Costco increased employee contributions to its healthcare scheme last year, easing some of the pressure on costs.

The company is also not immune to all the criticisms now being directed at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. It rejects calls for independent monitoring of standards at its suppliers' factories. It is also fighting a would-be class action civil rights law suit alleging a pattern of discrimination against its women employees.

But, for all this, the price fight with Sam's Club continues. Like Wal-Mart, Costco pursues the goal of low prices with an almost religious zeal. It also maintains a strict limit on how much above cost price it will charge the customer - 14 per cent for branded goods and 15 per cent for its
own Kirkland brand products.

"We're extremely fanatical and disciplined about prices," says Mr Galanti, using the shirt he is wearing as an example.

Costco started selling the shirt, which Mr Galanti reckons would cost about $40 in a department store, in three colours under its Kirkland brand for $17.99. It was so popular that they went back with a new, even bigger order, and got a lower price.

"Overnight, we lowered the price from $17.99 to $12.99. Now, as CFO, I'm going: 'How about $14.99?' But that's not how it works."

"Our view is that that is how companies get in trouble in the retail business," he says. "They turn around one day and they are not as special as they used to be."

Costco and Sam's Club opened their first stores in 1983. But the concept of membership-based warehouse club shopping had been launched in the US by Sol Price, one of the great figures of 20th century American retail.

Mr. Price, now 89, was a pioneer of the US discount shopping retail revolution, opening a chain called Fed-Mart in California in the 1950s. After selling Fed-Mart, he and his son Robert opened the first Price Club discount store in a converted aircraft hangar in San Diego in 1976.

Jim Sinegal, Costco's joint founder, was one of Mr Price's protégés, and Wal-Mart's Sam Walton started Sam's Club after a visit to Mr Price in California. Mr Walton, who died in 1992 aged 74, acknowledged in his autobiography that he had borrowed "as many ideas from Sol Price as from anybody else in the business".

But unlike Mr Walton, Mr Price was always sympathetic to unions and believed in paying above-market wages, reflecting what Nelson Lichtenstein, professor of labour history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says were his roots in the postwar order established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

Robert Price is now chief executive of the family's latest warehouse venture, Price Smart, which operates stores in Central America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.

One Example of Why They Hate US

If you listen to the rabid conservatives, the reason why some Iraqis and all zealot Muslims hate the United States is because of our freedom. If you believe this, then you should check out Brian Cloughley's report, "Cold Blooded Murders in Iraq" at CounterPunch.
"The news about the ambassador of Iraq to the UN revealing that US Marines murdered his cousin on June 25 has been swamped by cover of the terrorist bombings in London. The scale of the atrocities cannot be compared, but the moral difference is that the bombings were carried out by demented criminals while the murder was committed by people in uniform who are supposed to be exercising, abiding by, and illustrating by personal example, the laws of democratic societies...

"Nobody knows how many of these atrocities are committed, because the people killed are not cousins of the Iraqi ambassador to the UN. Bombings in London are important news, and justifiably so, because they are detestable and committed by anarchistic lunatics; but casual murders of Iraqis are treated as trivial incidents that do not merit reports (never mind condemnation) in the US media. All the Iraqis who have been murdered by US troops just disappear into nothing. It is, as the Apocrypha has it, "as if they had never been born" - except to their bereft and grieving families, naturally. And if their families are not related to an important Iraqi who has been a valuable ally of the United States they don't receive apologies and promises of thorough investigations."
To get the whole story, use the link above.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

New Iranian President Makes a Good Point

As you've probably heard, the US has charged that the recent Iranian national election was flawed. The Dubya gang has made this allegation because, of course, the Iranian people didn't elect the kind of government Bush and his merry men desired. Now, the new president-elect of Iran has issued a word of warning to the US -- treat us as equals, not as subordinates.

According to the UK Guardian,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech came during an exclusive interview with state-run Iranian television and indicated the new Iranian leader's apparent determination to not bow to US demands to curtail his country's nuclear programme.

"We are urging fair relations with the world, but people are being blocked by some who claim they promote democracy and freedom but act vice versa when they deal with Iranians," Mr Ahmadinejad said in an apparent reference to the US.

For those of you who wonder how the US could better relate to Muslim countries, Ahmadinejad's words offer a good starting point. Simply put, we must quit demanding things at the point of a gun. We don't bow to the demands of any other nation; why should any other nation with democratic elections bow to us?

If you think, "Well, how democratic do you think the elections in Iraq were?', I would merely suggest you ask yourself the same question in relations to Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Your Hate Becomes YOU

It's hard to smile when you are filled with hate. It's hard to enjoy things when you're filled with self-righteous angst. And it's hard to embrace the varied aspects of life when you're constantly seething with uncontrolled anger.

This is one point I keep returning to in my mind when I think about all those people out there who HATE Muslims or unions or liberals or non-Christians or Gays/Lesbians or the flavor of the month. Hate has become their constant companion. It's become their own intoxicating beverage.

It's one thing not to be in favor of something or not to like something, but HATE is an all-consuming emotion. It creates tension in one's mind and body and fuels a never-ending cycle of self-created stress.

In some ways, HATE is like a self-imposed cancer. It eats away at both the good and bad in each person. It sucks up all the vital life force and spits it out like regurgitated bile.

In time, a person's self identity becomes so enmeshed in the emotion of hate that hate becomes the person. When this happens, the soul evaporates and all you have left is a hollow container.

In essence, the maxim is true -- Your HATE becomes YOU.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Uncommon Courage

Somebody needed to point out the obvious and a former Reagan appointee summoned the courage to write it. In today's CounterPunch, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration Paul Craig Roberts writes that Bush & Blair hold a great deal of the responsibility for the London terrorist attack and those that will surely follow.

Here's an excerpt:
Why do Americans think it is heroic and honorable for our troops to massacre Iraqis with bombs, missiles, gunships, tanks, and heavy machine guns, but cowardly and barbaric when our victims fight back in the only way they can?

The US and Britain started this fight, not Iraq. We should be ashamed that Bush and Blair deceived us, tricked us into a pointless and unjust war, and that innocent people on both sides are paying with their lives and limbs for Bush's and Blair's lies. Our real anger should be directed at Bush and Blair who are responsible for the deaths and destruction.
To read the whole column, go here.

The Easy Way Out

From my readings of ultra-conservative and/or fundamentalist blogs and websites, one message comes through clear as day -- Liberals, socialists and the people they are apologists for are the kinds of people who always look for the EASY WAY OUT.

People on welfare are lazy bums who want to be taken care of through no personal effort of their own. People who engage in wanton vices are people with don't desire to put forth the effort to develop proper levels of self-control. People who choose not to follow the chosen religious orthodoxy are people who simply want to do what they want without a bunch of religious teachings to stand in their way. And this list could go on and on and on...

Yet, the precise thing that makes a person an ultra-conservative and/or fundamentalist (of ANY religion or ANY political ideology) is that they themselves are guilty of taking the easy way out. Their chief message is one of hate and hate is the biggest cop-out of all!!

When we perceive that another person or group has denigrated, slandered, insulted, disrespected or injured us in any way, the natural human inclination is to reciprocate, to mete out what we feel was lodged against us.

We see this behavior in young children. Child A hits Child B and, more often than not, Child B immediately hits Child A back and usually a little bit harder. This is a common problem in marriage as well. One spouse says something to upset the other and the argument soon escalates as each individual tries to respond with a nastier and more hurtful rebuke.

We respond in these knee jerk ways because it's EASIER to respond in kind than to take the time to analyze the situation, consider all the variables and then come to a well thought out position. Yes, it's far easier to react emotionally than to react rationally because the former takes no mental effort at all and the latter takes a lot.

Look at one of today's most important issues and you can see this dynamic in play. The Islamic zealots committing acts of terrorism are reacting emotionally to their perception of US-backed oppression. Instead of trying to understand the complexities of the global captalist system and trying to develop nonviolent mechanisms to mitigate its effect on their culture, they take the easy way out by merely hating any westerner or western-sympathizer and trying to do them in through gratuitous violence.

On our side of the pond, American fundamentalists follow the same tact. Instead of trying to understand the motivational forces that would drive a fellow human to turn themselves into a suicidal/murderous weapon, they react emotionally by simply stating we should go kill all or most Muslims.

In both cases, each set of fundamentalist is committing the very same sin. They have chosen to take the easiest way out by HATING what they refuse to contemplate and try to understand. In doing so, they have become carbon copies of each other and their philosophy of hate is negating the very principles they say they stand for.

Love takes effort; hate does not.

Friday, July 8, 2005

Manufacturing Polarization

We hear it all the time -- the American public is polarized. We are told that the perspectives on key issues are so divergent that it's next to impossible to find common ground. While this belief may true in some instances, I've found recently that a great deal of it is manufactured.

Over at Where's Your Brain?, the blog's author posted an entry entitled, "Who Really Hurts Our Children?". The topic centers on the Groene children and the man arrested for sexually molesting them (and possibly killing their mother, brother and boyfriend).

There were several back-and-forth comments about how possible organic brain dysfunction plays a role in those individuals afflicted with pedophilia. However, by and large, there was much agreement that pedophilia is adverse to a civilized society and should be dealt with via strong legal measures.

But finding common ground seemed to upset the host of that blog. She relishes the opportunity to blame all of the world's problems on "socialists" and "liberals". According to her, socialists and liberals (basically anyone who doesn't agree with her) are all morons who can't think our way out of a paper bag. It must pain her greatly to find an issue in which we agree on many of the parameters.

When I responded to one of her inflammatory comments by pointing out that we agree on most of the key issues on this topic, she immediately deleted it. I reposted it and she deleted it again. I tried this tactic a third time with the same net result.

In essence, she is trying hard to create polarization where none exists. She's so entrenched in the us vs them mentality that the discovery of common ground terrifies her. So, to restore her own sense of equalibrium, she has merely removed the opportunity for others to see that our positions on pedophilia aren't that far apart and, with some effort, a compromise might be reached.

I don't think she's alone either. Far too many people on the Right AND the Left fear coming together more than anything else. So, they erect artificial barriers and then point to these self-made barriers as proof positive that polarization exists.

For the record, here's the comment that has been repeatedly deleted from Where's Your Brain?
JustaDog's continued censorship of my later comments on this thread offer an apt example of why this nation has become so polarized. Here we have an issue in which the two of us share much agreement. We agree that pedophilia must not be tolerated. We agree that the sexual victimization of children is ruinous to children's lives. We agree that pedophiles should be arrested. We agree that they should be jailed. We agree that they should be permanently removed from society. The chief point where our opinions diverge is that JustaDog wants them put to death and I want them locked up with no possibility for parole.

Our positions are NOT that far apart. Yet, because I don't condone the death penalty, JustaDog is trying to make it seem like we are one million miles apart on this topic. She is trying to convince everyone that, because we disagree on one aspect, we are in complete disagreement.

She is creating polarization, instead of recognizing the wide swath of common ground.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Understanding Terrorism

If you read the blogs of rabid fundamentalists, terrorists are sub-human beings who delight in inflicting death, misery and terror on unsuspecting civilians. They are the vermin of the world. I have trouble getting my mind around such concepts. From my perspective, terrorism does not constitute depraved immorality but is a STRATEGY of warfare.

(Before anyone gets the idea that I am supporting terrorism by trying to understand its motivational factors, let me say that I abhor all types of violence. As a pacifist, I'm against war, terroristic acts, gang violence and neigborhood fist fights as well as spousal and/or child abuse. I firmly believe that the only thing violence ever begets is more violence. So this analysis is not undertaken because I approve of the strategy utilized.)

We generally define terrorism as being violence directed at noncombatants or innocent civilians instead of purely military targets.

In the days of yore, there were strict rules for military engagements. Two armies lined up against each other and duked it out. In some instances (noted in The Bible, for example), one military force would lay seige to a community, killing not only the opposition's military force but all inhabitants as well. Still, the prime initiative was to destroy the other sides fighting capability.

However, during the American Revolution, the colonists were at a distinct disadvantage. They were outnumbered and out-gunned. So, instead of lining up face-to-face, many battles were fought guerilla-style. Colonial soldiers lined the roads to pick off a few British soldiers as they marched.

If the colonists had fought SOLELY by the rules of the day (one army facing off against the opposing army), the revolution would have been a failure. The colonists would have annihilated by the superior British force.

The American Revolution and other historic examples taught future military leaders and strategists a valuable lesson -- there are no rules in modern warfare. Each side does what they have to do to gain the upper hand and to win the day.

The old rules of military engagement have been tossed in the dustbin of history. During World War I, both sides tried to GAS the other into submission. During World War II, all sides engaged in aerial bombing of cities -- not simply military targets -- of the opposition (e.g., London, Berlin, Tokyo, etc.) You want to talk about terrorizing people...

Today, we have a few nations with superior military forces and munitions. Most nations or groups do not possess the numbers nor the firepower to fight directly against the superpowers. As with the American colonists of the late 18th century, it would be suicide to fight these superpowers under the auspices of conventional warfare.

Regardless of your opinion of the situation, many Islamic nations, groups and people feel oppressed under the thumb of the United States and her allies. They believe the US is responsible for their economic impoverishment that has been impetus for much physical suffering and countless deaths.

Since, as indicated above, a miltary to miltary war is out of the question and they concurrently can't match the superpowers in economic and/or media terms, what other stategy is available to them BUT terrorism?

From THEIR standpont (not mine), if they can inflict enough terror among the citizens of the superpowers, the public will lose its resolve and will pressure their governments to meet the terrorist's demands. It's an ugly strategy, but the only one a weaker group has in order to defeat a more powerful group.

It is for these reasons that I and many others believe the key to halting terrorism is not attacking it militarily. Each time we meet force with force, it only enrages those utilizing terrorist strategy more. It redoubles their resolve to commit even more heinous acts. So, they attack us again and we try to retaliate even more. It creates a never-ending cycle.

Proponents of an increased military response say that those of us in opposition to it are coddlers of terrorists. They say that, if we don't smash them under a steel boot, we remain their hostage.

I think the exact opposite is true. Every time we kill one terrorist, we create two. If kill 100, we create 200. If we kill 1,000, we create 2,000. As long as we keep helping to create them, we insure that we remain their hostage and that terrorism will remain their most viable strategy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Live Simply So...

...others can simply live.

This sounds like such a straightforward concept, one that should be easy to implement. Yet, too few people accept the wisdom of this maxim and even those of us who embrace it have difficulty trying to work it into our harried and complex lives.

What does it mean to "live simply" in this modern world? Should we shun modern conveniences like the Amish? Should we give away our worldly possessions to join a commune or an intentional community? Or is it enough to be an avid recycler and to leave the car at home one day a week to take the bus?

There is no singular answer. The concept of simplicity is very subjective. What may seem like simple living to you or I may seem very wasteful to someone else or vice versa.

Yet, despite this ambiguity, there should be no question that when one portion of a community utilizes the lion's share of finite resources, the rest of the members of that community are left with not enough for a sustainable existence. For example, if one nation uses a disproportionate amount of the world's oil reserves, other nations must go without. On a more local level, if area developers suck up most of the community's available land for high-end condominiums and palatial estates, what will this do to the housing market for working stiffs?

One of the mechanisms some people have chosen to utilize to try to come to a more universal definition of "living simply" is to apply the 7 generations rule. It asks each of us to consider our choices in light of how it will affect people 7 generations from now. Another tool (one my friend Julian Snow is a strong supporter of) is to use the Ecological Footprint calculator. The calculator seeks to show the amount of acreage it takes to meet our health, lifestyle and consumer choices. I just took the test and, though my score is far below the average, if everyone answered as I did, it would only take 2.6 planet earths to satisfy our collective needs!

Over the past month my wife & I have decided to try to put our belief in "simple living" into action. Though I'm sure we don't possess the amount of worldly material goods as most of our colleagues, we've found that we have accumulated a lot of needless stuff. For us, the key question is, "What do we need?" We've discovered that -- more often than not -- most of the various doodads we own are not things we truly need (e.g., we have two food processors and we don't use either of them!).

This is my challenge to all of you. What do you NEED to lead a happy and secure life? What represents clutter, duplication and wastefulness? What can each of us change about the way we live and the consumer choices we make so that others may simply live?

Monday, July 4, 2005

Religion Is NOT Reality

Over at the Abercrombie View, the host wrote, "Belief in God is not religion, but a fact of life. It is in fact a principle of the universe, like gravity and the laws of physics. God is not religion. He is fact." I agree with this assessment, but not for the reasons of this particular author.

I think the vast majority of people in the world will agree there is some sort of universal entity, energy or force that pervades the universe. This entity goes by many names: Mother Earth, Jehovah, Allah, God, Tao and many more. Religion and philosophy are not this entity or force, rather they are different societal mechanisms which attempt to discuss, express and categorize this phenomena that none of us can truly comprehend.

If all the religions and philosophies that we know of were to vanish from the recesses of everyone's minds, this universal entity would still exist. The human ability and need to give it a name does not affect it one iota. It exists independent of how we describe it.

The problem we always have seemed to have in human society is that one group tries to impose its way of thinking about the phenomena on others and to present this conceptualization as the entity itself.

We see this activity in America today as Christians try to impose their particular view on everyone else. We see it in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine as Muslims try to impose their belief system on others. In Israel, it's the same thing. And you can find other similar examples almost everywhere in the world.

I'm sure there are even a few Taoists that try to impose their philosophy on others. However, since Taoism stresses that each person must climb the mountain themselves, I believe most Taoists aren't into imposing any sort of belief system on any other person.

I realize a few you might suggest that The Rambling Taoist is a vehicle to impose my beliefs on other people. Well, no one has to visit this blog; none of you are compelled to do so. And you certainly don't have to agree with what I write -- many of you don't.

Saturday, July 2, 2005

No Distraught Mothers

Aside from the usual fireworks, one of the July 4 traditions in Salem is the annual civil war reenactment at nearby Willamette Mission State Park. Men and youth from throughout the region will don Union and Confederate uniforms to revel in the glory of America's one major internal conflict.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this annual event. On the one hand, I can certainly understand the desire to explore American history in a way that moves beyond the sterile treatment of a book, magazine article or movie. On the other hand, however, it pains me greatly that war is being celebrated and that participants bathe themselves in the supposed glory of it all without gaining a true understanding of the genuine misery and agony war brings to far too many soldiers and their families.

As a youth, one of my favorite subjects in school was history. It's a love I have carried with me throughout my life. One year during spring break in college, when most of my classmates were off engaged in the frivolities of young adulthood, I curled up for the week with a 700+ page work of author Alvin Josephy and his historical look at the Nez Perce Indians. (note: I'm a slow reader)

Many of the books and magazines I regularly read involve an examination of various periods of history. My two favorite cable networks are the History Channel and A & E, both filled with documentaries of an historical nature. And most of my favorite movies (e.g., The Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, Finding Neverland, Field of Dreams, etc.) are steeped in the retelling of a specific historical event or period.

Consequently, I can readily understand why some people return to participate in this event year after year.

But a reenactment does an injustice to the ugliness of war. Participants are playing out sanitized versions of a dark reality. As reported in the Statesman Journal, "When the smoke cleared, the "dead" stood up, and the Union and Confederate Civil War reenactors returned to camp together." In other words, it turns a horrific event into a friendly social event.

By and large, soldiers on both sides of the War Between the States were ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-fed, and ill-paid. (A significant number of them were poor, illiterate immigrants.) Field medicine was in its infancy. Soldiers injured in battle were often left on the battlefield for several hours or even a day or two to die in agony. Those that were carried from the field of battle often died as ill-trained medics tried to tend to their wounds.

From the historical documents of the day, we have learned that, for most soldiers, the Civil War was not glorious at all. It was a horrible experience.

And it certainly wasn't glorious for many families. Some towns lost the majority of their able-bodied men. Some families lost most or all of their adult males, leaving behind destitute and distraught mothers, wives and children.

None of these negatives can be felt nor experienced in a reenactment. It is for this reason -- despite the part of me that loves to dive head first into historical research -- that I'm sickened by events of this nature.

War should never be glorified.

Distraught mothers should never be forgotten.