Sunday, December 31, 2006

Is Everything for Sale?

I just finished watching the 2004 documentary, The Corporation. I would suggest it for any of you who need to sober up quickly after a night of New Year's Eve imbibing. While I didn't learn much of any new information from the film -- since I'm already well-versed in the evils of globalized-corporatism -- it underscored for me the motivation to stay active in trying to create a more sustainable world.

Of the volumes of quality information presented, there's at least one aspect of the corporate monster that I believe too few people are aware of: patenting of seeds.

In this documentary, the producers focused on Monsanto and their drive to patent seeds. (It should be noted that Monsanto is not the only agribusiness to pursue this strategy.) It would be bad enough if companies like Monsanto merely were patenting strains of crop seeds that they had developed through their own research, but they are bringing suits against farmers who retain seeds from non-Monsanto seeded crops AND the seeds they are creating have a built-in mechanism to ensure that the new crop doesn't produce any need seeds itself.

So, in essence, they are building a market for their product by ensuring it only has a one-time use. Farmers who get duped into this process must now buy their seeds each and every season.

What on earth could be the rationale for this set up (other than greed and profit)? How does this strategy benefit anyone other than Monsanto or like-minded companies?

The short answer is -- It doesn't.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Private Grief in Public View

In November 1963, I was a 1st grader in Mrs. Thrall's class at Hale Cook Elementary School in Kansas City, MO. I had just turned 6 years old the previous month. Life seemed good...until one fateful Friday afternoon.

I certainly don't remember what we were doing in class that day, probably immersed in discussions of Dick and Jane or working on critical theorems like 1+2= 3. At some point, however, the principal showed up and asked our teacher to go out into the hall. While we couldn't hear the conversation, I do remember hearing Mrs. Thralls' gasp.

When she returned to the classroom, she was in tears. This was probably the first time most of us had seen an adult, other than maybe our parents, cry. In a barely audible voice, she told us that the president was dead. Now we were all crying.

The import of this event was lost on us. Yes, we vaguely knew that John F. Kennedy was the president of our country, but that fact doesn't mean a helluva lot when you're only 6 or 7 years old. I believe that our anguish was motivated by our teacher's obvious anguish. If she was upset, then the president's death must be a really bad thing.

The bus ride home from school that day was surreal. It was the only such bus ride I can remember in which there was no yelling and screaming, and nobody acted up. We all sat quietly in our seats, awaiting our time to disembark.

For the next 3 days or so, the Kennedy assassination and proceedings dominated our small television screen. I remember watching the casket of the slain president moving its way slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue. I remember the state funeral and the flag-draped coffin.

More than anything else, I remember the public view of the Kennedy family's private grief. There, for all the world to see, stood Jackie, Caroline & John Jr., grappling with their own personal loss while light bulbs flashed and video cameras rolled. Even worse were the ridiculous questions posed by the various reporters to members of the Kennedy entourage -- "So, how are you feeling about now? I bet the president's death must have come as a shock to you."

These echoes, whispers and images came bubbling up to the surface this afternoon as I briefly watched the service for former President Gerald R. Ford. There, in the glare of the camera spotlight, was Betty Ford. Just like Jackie Kennedy before her, she was trying to keep a stiff upper lip and not completely breakdown.

Whether one agrees with the politics of a president or government leader, on a base human level, my heart goes out to their families during their time of grief. It's hard enough saying goodbye to a loved one; it's quite another thing to do it with millions of people watching.

1 + 1

For the past 2 years The Rambling Taoist has been the labor of love of one solitary individual. However, as we move into our third year, my younger brother is joining the blog and hence The Rambling Taoist has become The Rambling Taoists.

From my perspective, this is a grand development. One of the central ideas in Taoism is that there are as many different paths as there are different people. To date, this blog has featured the wanderings along only one path. From this point onward, readers can now glean the wanderings of two paths.

While my brother and I certainly agree on many things, there are things we don't agree on or take a slightly different run at. So, the interchange of thought will be a welcome mosaic.

I could say that this change is our way of welcoming in a new year, but I personally view the change from December to January as insignificant. Time is a human construct and, in the overall scheme of things, I don't think any other beings or entities care one wit about moving from one "year" to the next.

Like everyone else, I look forward to Sean's first post here at The Rambling Taoists.

Hang Over

It should shock no one to learn that Saddam Hussein is dead. While there seems to be a lot of jubilation in various parts of the US, a great many Iraqis greeted the news with a shrug of the shoulders. It doesn't mean a lot to them, except maybe even more gratuitous violence.

As I watched CNN, a lot of the talking heads seemed puzzled as to why the former Iraqi dictator was executed tonight. Several pointed out that the crime he was found guilty of -- the executions of about 140 men and boys as a reprisal against an assassination attempt -- paled in comparison to the slaughter of at least 100,000 Kurds. Why didn't they execute him AFTER he was found guilty of this horrendous crime?

I have a theory: The US (i.e., Dubya, Cheney, et. al.) didn't want THAT trial to go forward because it might have proven embarrassing to the US administration. As I hope many of you will recall, the US government was aware of the Kurdish slaughter and voiced little outrage at the time. In fact, this slaughter took place during that period when Saddam was looked on as a friend of US interests (he was at war with the "hated" Iran). I have even read some reports that the US had some complicity in this act of atrocity.

You can be certain that the Hussein defense team would have dredged up these facts and you can be just as certain that Team Bush wanted to avoid this kind of spectacle at all costs.

So, they decided to "kill two birds" at once. Hussein is dead and now the case of the Kurdish massacre most likely is too.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

All Wet

When my wife & I moved to Aberdeen from Salem, people told us to be prepared for more rain. That was quite okay with us as we like the rain. Still, this year has been phenomenal. Eighty inches per year is not atypical, but this year -- even for soggy Aberdeen -- it seems we've set a waterlogged record.

We passed 100" for the year two days ago! That's a lot of rain, folks. And there's still a few days and at least one more storm to go.

The stats themselves mean nothing, but it certainly does illustrate how a difference in climate can alter one's outlook or daily routine. When we lived in Pendleton, 14 inches of precipitation for the year -- most of that in the form of snow -- was considered a deluge. We received nearly that amount -- almost ALL in rain -- last January.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I'd Rather Be Wise

My brother and I were talking last night about the group, Mensa. It's a social group for eggheads. There's only one requirement for membership -- an IQ in the top 2% (148 or more). My brother believes that I would qualify. Me thinks he is overestimating his elder brother's mental capabilities.

I'm not suggesting I'm a dummy. As a youth in elementary school, I was placed in the accelerated classes. Yes, I was a youthful egghead. In 6th grade, our class studied college algebra, among other things.

Unfortunately, I was only a minimal egghead. I occupied the bottom rungs of my class. I struggled to keep up. I missed many a recess period while I stayed behind with Dickie Henderson & Nathan Metzger, the three of us struggling to master the most basic elements of algebra or trigonometry.

Years later I told my parents how I wished they would have left me in regular classes. Instead of being one of the dim bulbs, I could have been one of the scholastic stars. Who knows? I might have been at the top of my class!

But that wasn't in the cards for me. Every team needs to have that one last player on the bench -- the one that NEVER gets sent into the game -- and that was me. So, if nothing else, I did serve my classmates by playing a most important role: intellectual doormat.

Of course, I've always followed the beat of a different drummer, even during my earliest days. Consequently, maybe I had the highest IQ of our group. Who knows and, for that matter, who cares?

Personally, I think rote intelligence is greatly overrated. I know a great many gifted individuals who have about as much commonsense as a heap of cow dung (ok, maybe that's being a bit unfair to the dung). I also know many other extremely bright people who, though they exhibit a good amount of commonsense, seem to completely lack compassion for others or even a modicum of ethics.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather keep company with people of average intelligence who possess compassion, ethics and commonsense. Not that intelligence is a bad thing, but it's certainly not THE important thing.

In fact, intelligence can only get you so far in life; wisdom is what will lead you the rest of the way.

That's why I'd rather be wise, than smart.

Monday, December 25, 2006

More Humbug

It should be more than obvious by now that I'm NOT a big fan of the Christmas season. It irks me to no end that a lot of my favorite radio stations switch over to full-time holiday music this time of year. I mean, how many renditions of Jingle Bells and O Holy Night should any person be subjected to?

You can't open the newspaper or turn on the TV without being barraged with glitzy ads selling products that few people truly need, but most everybody wants. (One of my favorites, from year's passed, was the hot dog cooker. All this crazy contraption would do is cook hot dogs, nothing else.)

Everywhere you go people are wishing, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays", yet their words are superficial, at best. It's like when the cheery sales clerk or casual acquaintance says, "How ya doing?", but doesn't really give a flip how you're REALLY doing. Most times, they don't even wait for an answer before turning to another customer or launching into a long monologue about whatever is on their mind.

Despite how it may appear from my recent posts, I'm not anti-joy or anti-festive. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love to laugh and I do it quite frequently. My chief gripe with this holiday season is that the joy on display is too often artificial. It follows the societal form without getting anywhere near the substance. It's as if too many of my fellow brethren are following a strict recipe, "Add 2 ho-ho-hos, sprinkle in a salutation or two, wish someone you despise 'Merry Christmas', then simmer for 20 minutes."

What's even worse, for me, is that many of the people who are pushing the orthodox Christian version of this one-day observance of "Joy to the World" are the very same people who support the illegal and immoral war in Iraq, the building of a fence along the southern US border and any law that seeks to separate them from anyone who thinks, looks, believes or acts differently than they do.

One day platitudes just don't cut it! If they truly believed in the words of "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "The Little Drummer Boy", then they'd realize that you can't encapsulate love and peace in one day or one season per year. You've got to practice what you preach 365 & 24/7.

But, alas, they don't seem to get this at all! In essence, then, the yuletide season turns into nothing more than a salvation-based form of mental masturbation. It's quick. It's easy. And then you can get back to hating everyone different than you in the wink of an eye.

Humbug! I Say

Though I no longer celebrate the Christmas holiday -- there's no decorated tree, holly or tinsel in our house nor ANY depictions of a bunch of vagabonds standing around a barn looking at a newborn -- the one vestige of the holiday season I still keep is watching Scrooge (1951), starring the great British actor, Alastair Sim. However, as I've aged, the message I get from the movie is far different than when I was younger.

Throughout the early portion of this film adaptation of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", our title character runs around saying, "Humbug!" to anyone who will listen. Now, according to this tale, he later realizes that there's no humbuggery at all to Christmas and turns over a new leaf which embraces this "giving" season.

Personally, I think he had it right the first time around! Christmas, as it is typically celebrated in this country, comes close to the definition of "humbug".

According to my New World Dictionary, humbug is defined as "something made or done to cheat or deceive; fraud; sham; hoax." And doesn't that pretty much sum up Christmas in our profit-driven world?

Christmas is all about unfettered consumerism -- buy, buy, buy. Buy early and often. If you don't purchase the things your children or other loved ones covet, then you obviously don't carry the meaning of Christmas within you and you should be strung up in the town square.

So, while we're told that Christmas is all about giving, it's really about filling the pockets of the big brass of the Walmarts of the world.

Now, I know some of you out there will say that Christmas is all about the baby Jesus and the anniversary of the little newborn's birth has been hijacked by these commercial interests. While I might agree that is the origin of the holiday, things change and, I'm sorry, but that's not what most people are celebrating today.

So, just let me say, Humbug!

But while the consumerism of our society rubs me the wrong way, I've come to realize that the story of "A Christmas Carol" isn't even all it's cracked up to be. In fact, in my estimation, the moral is rather pathetic.

When Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, does this cause him to have a change of heart? No way.

How 'bout when the Ghost of Christmas Past comes to visit? The answer is still no. The Ghost of Christmas Present doesn't do the trick either. While these two spirits do move him emotionally, neither is able to melt the cold fortress of his heart.

What then finally brings him to the gates of redemption? It's the Ghost of Christmas's Yet to Come. Put in the simplest terms, it's fear that moves him to change his hard ways.

In my book, that's one of the worst reasons in the world to do the right thing. If you do something positive only in order to avoid some sort of future recrimination, your focus is on you and NOT the person you aim to help. You're still behaving as a selfish little wretch. Your heart hasn't really changed at all -- only your outward behavior or actions have.

And to that, I shout HUMBUG as well.

If Only Trees Could Fly

According to a recent AP-AOL news poll, over 80% of Americans believe in angels and I don't mean the kind who play pro baseball in Southern California! Not surprisingly, nearly 97% of self-defined white evangelical Christians believe that angels are for real. Not that many have ever seen one, mind you!

What is it about our species that causes so many to believe in what they can't see, explain or possibly know, yet they don't seem to believe in so many things that stare them in the face every day? Yes, most people believe in winged cherubs, but try to convince them that trees or butterflies are sentient beings and all they do is shake their heads and run away from you.

We can see this disconnect in the way our overall society operates.

Take a tree. Far too many folks don't see a living being; they see profit or utility. Some have no qualms whatsoever about mowing down every tree in sight, if it means that someone will hand them buckets of greenbacks.

Do you think such people would so readily strike down a tree if they thought its spirit might hang around? The ghost of trees of chopped down past?

I could make this same kind of argument for a multitude of beings -- rocks, streams, the sun, our air. These are entities we see or interact with daily. In fact, all of these entities sustain us. Without them, there would not be life -- at least as we know it.

Despite this tangible reality, people believe in winged-spirits flitting around the cosmos trying to ensure we stay out of harm's way.

If only trees could fly...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Santa's List Myth

I'm sure most of us know the story about the morbidly obese man who doles out gifts and trinkets around this time of year -- each and every year. It's about this same time when people start discussing and debating the various myths that encompass the secularized Christmas holiday.

While most folks concentrate on the quantum physics angle of the jolly elf and his team of flying Cervidae, I want to focus on the list.

As the story goes, St. Nick tabulates this never-ending list of who's been naughty and nice -- according to legend, he checks it twice -- so we are all need to be "good for goodness sakes".

The mistake that most Americans seem to make is that they draw a parallel between the words "nice" and "good" when, in actuality, the true parallel that this Claus fellow obviously is making is between the words "naughty" and "good".

Under the capitalist system, nice guys (and gals) finish last. When capitalism is fused with fundamentalist Christianity, the word good takes on a whole different meaning that what you or I might suppose. People who are rich and powerful are good. People who are poor and powerless are bad.

Consequently, since the American ethos is about being #1, it stands to reason that being naughty -- the opposite of nice -- will lead to a good result and, thereby, the naughty people are the good people.

Taking this one step further, the story of Santa Claus makes it clear that being "good for goodness sake" equates to behaving in a ruthless (i.e., naughty) manner by squashing everyone under the weight of our mighty boot on the road toward power and wealth (i.e., goodness).

A recent article posted on Common Dreams underscores the fact that many capitalists have understood this connection far longer than most of the rest of us. To wit,
The richest 2 percent of adults in the world own more than half the world's wealth, according to a new study released by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University. The study's authors say their work is the most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken. They found the richest 1 percent of adults owned 40 percent of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10 percent of adults accounted for 85 percent of the world's total. In contrast, the assets of half of the world's adult population account for barely 1 percent of global wealth.
Something to think about as you enjoy a cup of nog with the family.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Tale of Physiology & Football

With the college football bowl season in full swing, it hearkens me back to my pigskin glory days. Ah yes, the roar of the crowd, the parties after the game and any cheerleader I wanted...Oh wait, excuse me. Those must have been someone else's glory days -- I didn't play college football (I earned my varsity letter on the college Bowling Team) nor did I play high school or even junior high school football.

In fact, the only time I played quasi-official football was on my 5th & 6th grade YMCA flag football team. I played the center position. The quarterback was always several yards behind the line of scrimmage -- shotgun formation.

Every play had the same script. I'd look back between my legs trying to figure out how far I had to hike the dumb ball. The quarterback would call out his cadence and, if I happened to remember the snap count correctly, I'd hike the ball at the appropriate time. After snapping the ball, the defensive lineman across from me would give me a big push and I'd land on my keester. While on the ground, I'd stick my legs out hoping to trip a defender or two rushing to kill the quarterback (who I didn't like anyway).

You see, in YMCA flag football, the officials rarely called any penalties. As an offensive lineman, about the ONLY way you'd get called for a penalty is if you tackled someone on the defense, you pulled his hair or bit him! Holding or tripping your adversary was par for the course. And I was a darn good tripper!

While I didn't play on my junior high team, I did go out for it. I soon learned that, in this league, the officials frowned mightily on holding and tripping. I was going to have to learn to block people with proper techniques.

Since I was a robust lad, I stayed on the offensive line, but fortunately was moved to the guard position. This meant that I no longer had to have my head between my legs on every offensive play. I thought this was a good deal.

However, I soon learned that I wasn't cut out for football. You see, according to our gruff line coach, the proper way to block someone was to give them a right uppercut around the Adam's apple and then, while they gasped for air, push 'em down on the ground and maybe stomp on them.

In drills, the coach was constantly in my face because I wasn't employing his chosen technique. "What the hell is wrong with you, Smith?" he would scream. "You got make your opponent hurt!"

And you see, that was my problem. I was okay with blocking someone, but I had no interest whatsoever in consciously hurting anybody. Needless to say, my peaceful sentiments didn't sit well with the coach nor with most of my teammates. I soon after left the football team and became a soccer goalie (we won the city championship, though no thanks to me).

Nearly two decades later I learned I had Klinefelter's Syndrome (KS). One of the telltale traits of KS is the body's inability to produce adequate amounts of testosterone and it's testosterone that creates much of the aggression in males.

So, while most of my classmates were dealing with testosterone-fueled puberty in junior high school, I missed this phase completely. I simply didn't have the physiological make-up at that time to exude aggression and to have the will to impose physical pain on others.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Great Deflector (with apologies to The Platters)

Oh yes, I'm the great deflector
Pretending that I will stand true
The need is such I deflect so much
To ensure that most states remain blue.

Oh yes, I'm the great deflector
World peace is the name of my game
I'll stand so tall until near the Fall
and then my resolve becomes lame...
I'm showing my age here. Of course, this is a parody of The Platter's 1956 #1 hit, "The Great Pretender". In my version, the song is sung by none other than Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

As most of you have probably heard by now, Kucinich has decided to launch another bid for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Supposedly, his move is being made to give greater voice to anti-war supporters, but, after watching Dennis fold up his tent in 2004 by parroting the party line afterwards, I think there is a far different motivation at work.

Instead of being a champion for peace, I think Kucinich's true motivation is to attempt to deflect the possibility of a third party anti-war candidate garnering as much support as they might. His campaign will attract most of the support and money because people will say that Dennis has the most viable shot at winning. My response is that Kucinich has as much chance of securing the Democratic nomination as I do of spewing gold doubloons from me arse!

No, it's far more likely that we'll see a repeat of his 2004 performance. In the earliest days of the campaign, he'll come out swinging by speaking the tough talk. As the campaign gets into full swing, he'll tone down his rhetoric a tad. Once the primary season is ushered in and he finds himself coming in near the bottom in each state, he'll promise to push ahead all the way to the convention and to ensure that anti-war voices aren't ignored in the party platform. At the convention, he'll be a virtual no show and next to none of us campaign planks will appear in the party platform. In the end, being a good party man, he'll urge his supporters to back the pro-war Democratic candidate -- just like Washington state's own Mark Wilson!

The anti-war movement doesn't need a part-time candidate! We need to support someone who will carry the banner of peace and justice from Day 1 all the way to Election Day -- just like our own Aaron Dixon. And we need someone who will champion the environment, solar energy, labor rights, universal healthcare, gay marriage, progressive taxation and host of other issues.

Dennis Kucinich has already proven he is not the right person for this important job.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Three Cheers for Lust, Gluttony & Sloth

For reasons I can barely fathom, my wife likes to watch the TV show 7th Heaven. In tonight's episode -- of which I watched very little as I finished my supper -- TV dad Rev. Stephen Camden gets a glimpse of what heaven will be like. In one scene, he's offered all the various foods he's had to give-up due to a heart condition. He gobbles down every last morsel.

From the many Christians I've known and spoken to over my life, this brief scene sums up what most believe heaven will be like -- all the trappings of this life with none of the guilt!

Yes, all of the things that we have been told are bad for us or to stay from are now fair game. You like to engage in sexual indulgence? No problemo! Choose any partner you want or as many as you want (and don't worry about pregnancy or STDs). You've earned it, bud. You're in heaven now!

Are you a gambler? Bet the family fortune every time -- You can't lose!

Tired of housecleaning or picking up after yourself? Don't worry 'bout it! What do you think them angels are for?

On and on and on...

For me, this kind of thinking is completely irrational (and more than a bit self-indulgent). If some omnipotent entity informs us that certain acts or behaviors are bad or negative, what difference does it make where you happen to be? I mean, if these activities are big no no's on earth, wouldn't it also follow that they'd be doubly bad in heaven -- in the house of the Father?

It just appears to me that too many folks view heaven as nothing more than an adult-rated Romper Room.

Good thing I don't believe in the concept of heaven at all.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Looking Back...Or Not

I've always looked far younger than my years. Once, when sent to purchase wine for a party (a rather interesting choice since I don't drink and know absolutely nothing about wine), I got carded. The clerk looked really embarrassed when, after examining my driver's license, she figured out she had carded a 38 year old.

I mention this story because the other day I had a similar experience related to someone being astonished about my youthful appearance (though it didn't involve purchasing an item). The young man asked me if I had entered my mid-life crisis. "No," I replied, "I think I'll skip it."

Many of my contemporaries like to spend time strolling down memory lane. Most are able to laugh about missed opportunities and questionable decisions, but most everyone I know has regrets.

I spend little time looking backward and, though I've made my share of mistakes and missteps, I don't regret them at all. Everything that has or has not happened to me to this point makes me who I am today. If I had not made this mistake or that mistake, I might be a different person altogether.

Besides, each of us could have trod down any number of paths. When we each come to a fork in the road, none of us has the power to see where each road will take us. Some roads look dismal and harrowing, yet bring us into the light. Other roads look easy and well lit, but lead us into darkness.

In essence, life is a crap shoot. Sometimes you roll boxcars and sometimes it's snake eyes. Consequently, for me, it's not that important to analyze the cards you're dealt, how you play the hand is more important and, once each hand is completed, you move on.

I'm certainly NOT suggesting that each of us shouldn't learn valuable lessons from our missteps and misdeeds, but nothing good comes from wallowing in the mud of regret. What's done is done; no amount of grousing, regretting or self pity will change that.

So let go of it and cast your gaze forward.