Friday, November 25, 2005

A River Runs Through It

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2005

Value & Red-Nosed Reindeer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody should write a song about that.

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

Friday, November 11, 2005

Desperate Times at the Five-Sided Building

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

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2005

VISTA Not All Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2005

[Conditional] Freedom of Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dress Code

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Unbound & Ungagged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rambling Taoist is back in business!