Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Unsinkable Molly Ivins

I'm not in a writing mood today. I just learned of the death of Molly Ivins. It's like a bunch of words died last night. The best tribute that you or I can give to this great populist is to continue to speak out against this illegal war in Iraq. I'm certain that, if we could end it, wherever she is now, she will be smiling.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Eureka! I've Got It!

One of the things that supposedly separates the human species from other life forms is our ability to conceptualize. While animals react based on instinctual patterns and plants behave as they do based on whatever, we humans are the captains of ideas. Utilizing our highly rational minds fused with the emotional spark of creativity, we have the ability to conjure up a solution to any problem or the poetic verse to paint any picture.

When faced with a problem or a project, we fasten on our thinking caps. Sometimes we do our thinking in solitude. At other times, we do it collectively. We bring together all the known information at our disposal and then we try to construct a new way of understanding.

Of course, the process isn't truly that straightforward. If it were, we could devise a simple recipe for the creation of innovative ideas. Too often, however, the very act of trying to develop an innovation causes our minds to freeze up entirely. Writers know what I'm referring to -- writer's block.

In time, we often are able to move beyond our mental gridlock. It's as if to say, "Eureka. I've got it". We then spend an inordinate amount of energy patting ourselves on the back for our sheer brilliance or accepting plaudits from our friends and colleagues.

But do we deserve the credit?

From this Taoist's perspective, no and yes.

Since everything -- the ten thousand things -- is part and parcel of the one universal reality (i.e., Tao), every idea is too. All the ideas, thoughts, and innovations that we could ever "think of" already exist. Consequently, there genuinely is no such thing as an independently original idea. None of us deserves credit for thinking one up.

There is a common saying that encapsulates this notion -- An idea whose time has come. It suggests the idea itself is already present and is only waiting for the proper time and place to make itself known!

If any credit is due, the credit should be focused on those who allow an idea to take root within them. Alan Watts explains this as allowing our brains to think without letting our minds get in the way!

If we allow ourselves to be open to the mysteries of life, we are more apt to find ideas alighting upon and within us.

In my book, instead of saying "Eureka. I've got it" it would make far more sense to exclaim, "Eureka. IT got me."

Monday, January 29, 2007

And the Cupboards Were Bare

There was a great article in the Sunday edition of The Daily World on the problems faced by our area food bank distribution center. According to Executive Director Jim Coates, "the center barely has enough to feed the more than 38,000 people — mostly children and seniors — each month that depend" on it. That's a lot of people for a 5-county rural area.

It seems just absurd to me that people in the United States would go hungry when our nation exports over $68.7 billion in agricultural products. Heck, in 2005, Washington State itself was responsible for a little more than $2 billion in such exports! [Note: The second link in this paragraph is to an Excel file.]

If we've got sooo much food that we can ship this much to others, wouldn't you think we'd have enough to feed our own people first?

Of course, as almost anyone should know, the movement of food has little to do with need and everything to do with profit. Despite the fact that adequate nourishment is a basic human need, it's treated like any other commodity!

For me, this illustrates yet another indictment on current modern society. In the land of plenty, hundreds of thousands of people go hungry each and every day. These people are forced to rely on food banks, soup kitchens and hand-outs -- At the same time, the Bush administration has cut back severely on the USDA commodities program!

I know that any conservative will tell you that the hungry need to go get a job (or a better job), so they can pull themselves out of their plight. That's a difficult task here in southwestern Washington where unemployment is high and living wage jobs are few. It's also hard to pull oneself up from your boot straps when you don't have the energy due to malnourishment or starvation.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Unto Others

Recent news reports indicate that the Bush administration seems intent on waging war on a plethora of fronts. While the November elections were viewed by most as a repudiation of the Bush warmongering policies, the man and his minions are intent in sending more human fodder into the fray. There have been indications in the past few weeks that Iran is next in line and the war on American citizens, in regards to the continuing evisceration of civil rights, continues unabated.

While I personally doubt this is tied to fundamentalist Christian values, this is the image the [P]resident continues to project. It's a war of good versus evil, we're told, the righteous against the unrighteous.

Yet, for all this blather of upholding universal Christian principle and doctrine, it seems to this observer that Dubya and company are very selective in which supposedly Christian doctrine they see fit to abide by.

According to Mark 12:28-31,
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
The latter commandment has been referred to as the Ethic of Reciprocity. Similar language can be found in most every religion and philosophy. It can be summed up by the notion of treating others as you would want them to treat you.

Consequently, if we apply this maxim to the Bush policy of preemptive war, then it should follow that the United States invades other nations because we want other nations to invade us!

But before I lay too much of the burden at the feet of the Bushites, it must be recognized that, for most Christians, this idea of treating others as we each would like to be treated only seems to concern people like us or people we approve of. If a person or group is on our "shit list", then all deals are off and we can treat such people any damn way we want.

If one looks at the annals of history, this conditional "love thy neighbor" precept is easily apparent. You can start with the "Great Crusades", wind your way to the slavery question in the US and land in today's world of vain attempts to outlaw homosexuality. In each instance, the Christian hordes only seem able to muster love and acceptance for people who look as they do, worship as they do, believe as they do and love as they do.

The ambiguity of the Christian Bible allows this kind of behavior. While the commandments of reciprocity seem very straight forward, there is enough verbiage throughout the canon that any person can turn any phrase on its head without much effort. As but one example, while many hold Jesus to be be a man of peace, there are just as many who believe that Jesus sanctions war.

While philosophical Taoists have no sacred texts, we do have historical works that we refer to. The most prominent text is the Tao Te Ching. (It's not sacred because we acknowledge it was written by people -- it represents human, not Godly, thought).

While the Christian Bible is often vague, the Tao Te Ching is most often clear. Its author, Lao Tzu, doesn't beat around the "bush". Here's the Taoist version of the principle of reciprocity:
The sage has no mind of his own.
He is aware of the needs of others.

I am good to people who are good.
I am also good to people who are not good.
Because virtue is goodness.
I have faith in people who are faithful.
I also have faith in people who are not faithful.
Because virtue is faithfulness.

The sage is shy and humble -- to the world he seems confusing.
Others look to him and listen.
He behaves like a little child.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With no exceptions.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

To Everything There Is a Season

One of the enduring "rules" for blogs is to publish frequently. By titillating your visitors with a constant stream of prose and pictures, you can build a loyal readership. The problem with this schema is that it runs counter to the cycles of life. Our lives exhibit a constant ebb and flow.

In recent days, I've tried to revisit several of my favorite blogs. Some have vanished completely, while others seem to be on an extended hiatus. Initially, my reaction was "Crud". I soon realized, however, that I too went through a rather long period when I wrote infrequently on this blog and I did so because of the ebb and flow of my life.

There is a time when many of us need to write and share our conceptualizations with others. That said, there are also times in which each of us must draw inward in order to pursue other ventures or outward to spend more time with family or the community at large.

Therefore, a person's blog is nothing more than the extension of one facet of our lives. Sometimes, after we've written what needs to be said, there is nothing more to write. At other times, the words come flowing out like millions of raindrops. Again, it merely reflects the inevitable ebb and flow of all things.

For me, personally, I found that I missed the portion of my life connected with this blog. Consequently, as any reader can plainly see, I've returned to posting almost daily entries. How long this will or will not last is anyone's guess.

In this vein, I thought I'd share the words of the Pete Seeger song (made famous by The Byrds), To Everything There Is a Season. If ever there was a Taoist anthem, I think this would be it.
To everything
(Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
Under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything
(Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
Under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything
(Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
Under Heaven

A time of war, a time of peace
A time to love, a time to hate
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything
(Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
Under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sow
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late.

Man's Best Friend?

For the past 33 years the gray wolf has been on the Endangered Species list. It needed to be placed there because mankind had decimated its numbers close to the point of extinction. Now that its numbers are on the rise again, the US Fish & Wildlife Service is preparing to allow the gray wolf to be pushed toward extinction again.

Unlike deer, most people don't shoot wolves for food; they do it to "protect" their prized herds or, even worse, for sport.

I can't think of a crazier idea than this. We spend 30+ years working to undo an injustice against another species only to buck the numbers up so we can commit the same injustice all over again.

It's madness!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Chasing Tales

As I've written here before, the words and thought of Alan W. Watts (see link on right panel) really speak to me. He has an uncanny way of pealing away the hubris to strike at the core of many of humankind's most vexing questions and he accomplishes this feat outside of conventional western Christian thought.

I do realize, however, that just because Watts makes sense to me doesn't mean he necessarily will seem as elucidating to you. Each person will embrace differing styles and pathways toward enlightenment. The trick is to find those pathways that inspire you.

I'm slowly working my way through one of Watts' earlier works, The Wisdom of Insecurity. The section I'm reading right now in Chapter 4 discusses humankind's efforts to try to catch the mirage on each horizon. I likened it to a cat chasing its own tail. We humans too often find ourselves chasing fairy tales.

Here's a glimpse of Watts' take on the situation:
This is why modern civilization is in almost every respect a vicious circle. It is insatiably hungry because its way of life condemns it to perpetual frustration. [As we have seen,] the root of this frustration is that we live for the future, and the future is an abstraction, a rational inference from experience, which exists only for the brain.

The "primary consciousness," the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. The ingenious brain, however, looks at that part of present experience called memory, and by studying it is able to make predictions. These predictions are, relatively, so accurate and reliable (e.g., "everyone will die") that the future assumes a high degree of reality --so high that the present loses its value.

But the future is still not here, and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements -- inferences, guesses, deductions -- it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead.

Modeling the Same Old Look

Several months ago my wife & I applied to our area NeighborWorks program for assistance in purchasing a home. In conversations with our housing counselor -- a salty woman of color -- we learned about a fledgling Diversity Task Force that had been formed in the Harbor to tackle the issues of prejudice and bigotry. She invited us to get involved.

After several stops and starts, the group finally held a meeting last night of which my wife & I attended. It was a strange, though not surprising, experience.

As we entered the meeting room, we surveyed the faces of the gathering. Aside from one person of color (our housing counselor) and two members of the Quinault Nation, every other face was lily white. While we did have a relatively equal balance between the genders, there was only 1 person involved under the age of 40.

Consequently, this task force predominantly was made up of progressive, middle class, older, white people.

It reminded me of a typical problem I have witnessed with many such groups in other communities. A bunch of progressive, middle class, older whites decide there is a diversity problem that needs to be addressed. Realizing their group is lily white, they go out and recruit a few minority members (what has come to be known as "token" members) so they can feel they are diverse. Yet, their lack of true diversity thwarts their chosen objective because they can't really speak the language nor from the experiences of the oppressed.

It is my view that for a group such as this to be successful, the dynamics of group leadership needs to be turned on its head. We white progressives need to be in SUPPORTING roles and members of the oppressed races, ethnicities and classes need to be the leaders. These leaders need to address the prejudices rampant in our community and the barriers they encounter in daily life. From this starting point, the leaders of oppressed groups need to formulate strategies to overcome these prejudices and barriers with input from white progressives.

Again, in my view, this is the only way such a group can begin to serve as the catalyst for genuine change. In other words, the Diversity Task Force needs to model within its leadership core the very changes we believe society as a whole must make. If not, then we end up mirroring the central problem that already exists.

Another way to express this notion is that it is very paternalistic. It's as if we white progressives know best about an oppression that we don't experience and how to overcome barriers that don't block our way. How can we hope to effect positive change if our starting point misses the mark entirely?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Houston, We Have a Problem

When visiting the doctor to discover the cause or origin of an infirmity, people want substantive answers replete with detailed explanations. Most of us don't want a diagnosis based on the flip of a coin or where a dart lands on a dartboard. Another answer that is rarely desired is for the doctor to shrug her/his shoulders and say, "Beats me".

A few years back, my doctor gave me a somewhat similar explanation. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Trey, my friend, you weren't put together very well".

During different periods of my life I have launched into a series of medical tests to try to ascertain what are the causative factors in a variety of symptoms I possess. I've visited with numerous medical professionals with complicated titles almost always ending in "ist".

For my first 30 years, more often than not, my conditions were consistently misdiagnosed. The only afflictions that were diagnosed correctly the first time around were flat feet and Perthes Disease.

Beginning around the age of 18, I started experiencing problems that mimicked Bipolar Disorder. I exhibited the characteristic moods swings from the highest highs to the lowest lows. For the next 15 years, several doctors assumed I had Bipolar Disorder or some derivation thereof.

My symptoms began to accelerate in my early 30s. My low periods were becoming far more serious with extended bouts of depression and some limited periods of suicidal thoughts. At one juncture, I thought of checking myself into an in-patient center and to begin lithium therapy.

Most fortunately, my mother intervened and sent me off for another round of medical tests. After one doctor ordered a very expensive hormonal test, it was quickly discovered that I had Klinefelter Syndrome (KS) -- My 23rd chromosome is XXY, not XY.

KS occurs in approximately 1 out of every 500 male births and it affects different males in different ways, though infertility is universal. The main characteristic is the body's inability to produce adequate amounts of testosterone, the primary hormone that makes a fellow male.

As one doctor explained it to me early on, imagine you're in a good sized lake. While most males have no trouble at all swimming from shore to shore, the male with KS can only muster the metabolic energy to tread water.

You struggle to keep your head above the water line. After awhile, you run out of energy and plummet to the bottom of the lake. You then use all of your available energy to claw your way back to the surface, but that's as far as you get and the cycle starts anew.

In some ways, it's easy to understand why my condition was misdiagnosed for more than a decade. The metabolic pattern of highs and lows seems quite similar to the Bipolar pattern of mania to depression. That said, the difference between the two was easily borne out by a simple blood test. Why didn't ANY of my previous doctors order such a test?

I'm posting this here today for any of my visitors who come to this blog utilizing the search term "Klinefelter Syndrome". I want you to know that you're not alone and that there are hormonal therapies that can change your life in a variety of beneficial ways.

Most importantly, I want to underscore the importance of obtaining the correct medical tests. Whether you suffer from KS or another condition, proper testing often is the key to a correct diagnosis and the ability to turn a negative infirmity into a positive and fulfilling life.

Reflection in the Mirror

Two recent surveys indicate that today's youth and young adults are more driven by material desires than previous generations. When asked what makes up their most important goals, over 80% of 18 - 25 years said getting rich was goal numero uno.

Am I surprised and shocked by this supposed revelation? Get real. There's nothing shocking about it all. I wouldn't even consider it breaking news.

The only real surprise is who some believe is the chief culprit -- parents. One psychologist said his research indicates that "when adjusted for inflation, parents are spending 500% more on kids today than just one generation earlier."

While I certainly won't argue that parents play a role in this changing dynamic, they are as much a victim in this rising sea of materialism as their children.

For me, the two prime culprits are the fused cousins of Christianity and capitalism. Both of these systems teach people that our worth as human beings is determined by our wealth as consumers and captains of industry. The more a person can accumulate, the more a person can control their own earthly destiny and get a better seat in heaven near the Big Guy.

It is a theme of separation. As isolated beings, our main concern is ourselves. How much can I get? How much status and power can I command? How much pleasure can I enjoy?

This is the explicit and subliminal message we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Therefore, since youth are mirrors of the overarching messages of society, is it any wonder that more and more young people crave riches?

I believe there's another dynamic here as well. Over the last two decades, particularly in the United States, the social safety net has been ripped to shreds and tossed aside. Far too many working families are struggling to keep up. Our children are learning that middle class status doesn't always mean access to quality health care or opportunities to attend college. These are the kinds of things the previous generation often took as a given.

The only way future adults will be able to guarantee these sorts of things for themselves and their children is by being financially well off. So, it stands to reason that obtaining wealth would be a chief goal.

If society wishes to reverse this trend, Taoism offers an easy way out of this materialistic quagmire. Since Taoists emphasize the interconnection of all things, this insatiable drive to feed the "I" is replaced with the desire to ensure the well-being of "All".

When the universe as a whole is our framework, materialistic goals simply don't mean much of anything.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Egos Crowd the Field

It seems like with each passing day someone new is announcing their intention to run for U.S. President. It's getting to the point that no name surprises me anymore. I won't be even a tad bit surprised if Barney (the dinosaur), Dr. Phil, Terrell Owens, Stephen Hawking, Newt Gingrich or Halle Berry announces their hat is going in the ring.

Why are there so many candidates so early? The main explanation making the rounds is that this will be the first election in a long, long time in which there will be no incumbent president OR vice president in the race. With no candidate with an automatic leg up, the field is clearly wide open.

For me, though, I think there's another explanation that goes hand-in-hand. We live in very egotistical times and running for president -- regardless of whether or not a candidate has snowball's chance in hell of winning a solitary vote in one primary -- is a big shot in the arm for a big ego.

Personally, I'm always suspicious of anyone who would WANT to be president. Such a person must think a great deal of themselves and, in my book, the best leaders are those who would prefer NOT to lead.

People who want to lead tend to crave power, status and wealth. People who have leadership foisted upon them (and are looking to remove it as quickly as possible) are almost always more humble and try to diffuse centralized power at all costs. The former try to lead with words, while the latter lead by example.

Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching has a lot to say about capable leadership. Of the many passages I could cite, here's Sixty-Six:
Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way, when the sage rules,
the people will not feel oppressed.
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition.
This really sums up the kind of woman or man I would like to have as my next president. Has such a person thrown their hat in the ring yet?

A Picture Out of Focus

If you're a regular working stiff, what generally happens if your work performance isn't up to snuff? What happens if you don't flip burger fast enough, make the beds as neatly as possible or make your quota of strawberries per day? You're handed a pink slip and told not to let the door hit you on your way out!

That's not the way it works for corporate CEOs. A recent Associated Press article reports that the CEO of The Gap, Inc. has been let go because he hasn't been able to turn around the company's downward slide. While on the job, Paul Pressler laid off workers, closed under-performing stores and missed his own self-defined profit target by $300 million.

Despite the fact investors lost confidence in Pressler AND they say he performed his job poorly, he is set to walk away from the company with a $14 million severance package.

In my book, that's quite a golden parachute for failure. I'm sure Pressler will be crying as he stands in the unemployment line. I'm sure the man will feel broke and destitute -- NOT.

Why is it when the rich fail they are eased into retirement, while the rest of us worry about making next month's rent or mortgage payment?

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Octogenarian Menace

I don't know about you, but I'm going to sleep far easier tonight knowing the men and woman of the Secret Service are on the job. News has come out that they've foiled another potential threat and saved America from the Octogenarian Menace.

According to,
Some might say Dan Tilli's opinion letters threaten conservative values.

But the U.S. Secret Service briefly worried the 81-year-old Bethlehem man's words threatened President Bush this week.

Tilli received a phone call from a Secret Service agent Thursday morning. The call surprised Tilli, but he was even more startled when he learned the caller and another dark-suited agent were sitting outside Tilli's Bethlehem apartment building at that very moment.

"They said, 'We're coming up,'" Tilli recalled Friday. "They were in the parking lot and they came up in two seconds."

The agents, who confirmed the call and visit Friday, grilled Tilli for nearly an hour before deeming him safe. Their concern was Tilli's letter to the editor published in Monday's Express-Times.

The letter referenced the execution of Saddam Hussein and ended with the line, "I still believe they hanged the wrong man."

The government apparently saw that as a potential threat toward the president.
In quick order, the G-men decided Tilli wasn't a threat. It makes me wonder if the quick assessment had anything to do with the man's age. Of course, if this is true, what might have been the result if Tilli was 50 or 30? Would he be sitting in lock-up today?

The Fine Print

After winning reelection, one of Sen. Maria Cantwell's first orders of business was to work to extend the sales tax deduction on federal taxes for Washington residents. She made a point of underscoring that this legislation "is critical for our state’s working families". Unfortunately, as with so many other things political, this assertion is only partly true.

Unlike Washington's senior senator Patty Murray -- who was a lot more up front about her support -- Cantwell's choice of wording muddied the real picture.

I'm not suggesting that this deduction won't benefit many families in our state. It will and I'm happy for them. According to statistics on Cantwell's website, families can expect an average savings of $519 - $575.

Here's the fly in the ointment: To claim your extra $500 or so, you must itemize and a great deal of working families don't have enough deductions to file a Schedule A. To make itemizing worthwhile, a couple filing jointly must have at least $6,600 in qualified expenditures.

Few families that gross $30,000 or less (like my family) have anywhere near that amount of itemized expenses. Therefore, we take the standard deductions and we don't benefit from this legislation at all! We don't get ANY of the money back that we paid in sales tax.

In other words, far from being a boon for "working" families, this savings most often will go in the pockets of the middle and upper classes, those of means.

Like it is often said, the devil is in the details.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Befelled By Life

I was driving home from the grocery store last night when I caught the tail end of a public service announcement on a local radio station. I'm not sure what tragedy has befell this certain family, but members of the community are being invited to a spaghetti feed to raise money for the family's needs.

It's unfortunate to say that these kinds of fund raisers are becoming both more typical and prevalent. I bet there are one or more such efforts taking place in this nation every single week of the year, every year. The simple fact that they have become so typical and prevalent offers a bad indictment on current society.

Each and every one of us may be a second away from a life-altering calamity. It's the nature of life. One minute everything is routine and the next minute our lives are turned upset down, never to return to a formal state of normal again.

Regardless of person's wealth or poverty, power or impotence, status or lack thereof, education or ignorance, or religious beliefs or non-religious perspective, each of us could be gripped by a strange malady, injured on the job in a freak accident or suffer some kind of debilitating condition.

Since these kinds of occurrences represent the norm, not the exception, it is sad that members of a community must go to extraordinary means to ensure the individual[s] and family are provided for in this time of dire need. Why don't we have this kind of assistance built in to the way our society operates?

My critique is not intended to fault the community members who come to the rescue of their friends and neighbors. Quite the opposite, such people should be commended for their compassion. It's just odd that such events require herculean efforts by a small portion of the community and not the community as a whole.

For me, I will return to a theme I've written of many, many times. It is the fact that far too many of us view ourselves as separated from the whole, the Tao. Consequently, an injury to one person or entity (e.g., the environment) is not viewed as an injury to ourselves.

If, on the other hand, we viewed all reality as part of one ultimate reality, then the calamity that befalls my neighbor is the same calamity that befalls me. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this same point when he wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

I long for the day when we don't need to hold fund raiser suppers or benefit concerts for those amongst us beset with tragedy. Instead of needing to plan and implement special activities, the community would automatically come to the aid of each sister and brother. This aid would be given freely with no strings attached.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Unlearned

We live in a time in which there's a lot of discussion regarding education: public schools, private schools, vouchers, funding, priorities, unions, test scores, and levels of achievement. We all want what's best for current and future generations; there is merely a wide divergence of opinion on which elements are most important and which criteria will deliver the greatest bang for the buck.

There's one element of the educational process that is rarely talked about -- that education involves de-learning.

On its face, this sounds like a straightforward contradiction in terms. Everybody knows that the foundation of education is learning, right? Lao Tzu would kindly disagree.

Consider the following thoughts from the Tao Te Ching:
Without going outside, you may know the whole world.
Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.

Thus the sage knows without traveling;
He sees without looking;
He works without doing.

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.

Less and less is done
Until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.
In other areas of his work, Lao Tzu suggests that we should all be like children, a metaphor used frequently by Jesus of Nazareth.

I don't think either man was suggesting that education lacks merit. It would be next to impossible to live in this modern world and NOT learn anything. In fact, people who tend not to learn are prone to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

I think what each was trying to express in his own way is that we tend to fuse together the concepts of education and learning. They are not the same thing.

Learning is something we can do and never open a text book. All we need is to be aware of the world around us and allow it to encompass our being. Consequently, "without going outside" or "looking through the window", we already possess everything the world has to offer.

Education, on the other hand, is from outside. It's rote statistics, other people's words and ideas, scientific formulae and social history, customs and mores. We tend to clutter our minds with this esoteric verbiage to the point that the learning from within is shunted aside.

Education teaches us to discriminate between objects, ideas and life beings. It teaches us to make comparisons and contrasts. In essence, education teaches that all things are separate and unequal.

And this gets us back to metaphor of the child.

Young children don't experience the world around them in this way. There is no separation, only interconnection. A child doesn't see a white or black face, but a face and that face is a reflection of them and they of it.

As we grow older and become "educated", we lose this ability to see and feel the connection. The more educated we become, the more we become estranged from the world. In the end, education causes us to learn less and to become more atomized.

We would each do best to heed the advice of Lao Tzu and Jesus. We would each lead more contented lives and our society would be far more just and peaceful if we would endeavor to unlearn our education.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shiva Shambho

Many of my most prized possessions are other people's cast-offs, items passed down through the family and inconsequential purchases. Aside from childhood, there has not really been a time that I've been caught up in the frenzy of consumerism -- needing a particular item to feel worthy or to enhance my place in the world.

One of my favorite CDs is something I purchased as an afterthought. I had been given a gift certificate for a funky (and now defunct) little gift shop in Salem, OR. After picking out some trinkets for my wife and a few bumper stickers for my truck, I was left with $5 or $6.

I looked around. Nothing really caught my eye. Finally, I decided to include a bright colored CD in my haul. When I got home, I put the CD on a shelf.

It was probably a week or two later when I decided to give the CD a listen. It captivated me completely. Though I understood nary a word of any of the "songs", I listened to it over and over again. In fact, of all the various CDs in my collection, I listen to this one more often than any other. All this happiness from an inadvertent purchase.

I remember as a child that the things I wanted more than anything else for Christmas never held that kind of lasting effect. I'd rip open the bright wrapping paper to behold my "must have" toy or sporting good. It would be the object of my attention for a few days, then get tossed into the closet to gather dust.

More often than not, it was the small and inconsequential presents (the ones my mother thought I would enjoy) that I used and cherished until they wore out or frayed beyond recognition.

In adulthood, a lot of my now favorite artifacts and every day items were purchased at garage sales or thrift shops. Others belonged to my deceased grandparents or mother. Whether from my family or someone else's, they have a long history that I continue to build upon. They aren't as glitzy or modern as a new item fresh out of the box, but their time-worn edges and grooves feel comfortable in my hands.

Ruminating about these things reminds of a story a woman once told me. She was a new mother who had a disabled child. She would often sit in despair as she watched her young son struggle to move around. He was born with a malformed hip socket and was forced to wear heavy and cumbersome braces until he was 3 years old.

While other children the same age were first learning to walk and then running around like little banshees, her little boy continued to crawl, dragging his bound up legs behind him.

One spring day, when the neighborhood children were running around with glee, she became teary-eyed as she thought about what her young boy was missing. All of a sudden, she heard a loud crash -- like the entire contents of her pots and pans being dropped on the floor. With visions of disaster streaming through her head, she flew into the kitchen.

There was no disaster to behold at all. The little boy she so worried about was happily banging the pots and pans, having the merriest time. You see, since the little trooper couldn't play with balls, tricycles and the various implements of childhood fun, he had appropriated for use the few things he could reach. While to the naked eye he was playing with pots, pans and lids, to him it was like a giant toy box with interesting shapes and sounds.

From that day forward, the young mother never again worried about what her child might be missing out on. She learned the valuable lesson that joy comes from within and that curiosity and spontaneity are far more important than things.

The woman who told me this story was my mother and that little boy was me. I think it goes a long way toward explaining why I can feel great joy in a 25 cent mug purchased at a garage sale or a certain CD purchased as an afterthought.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More Research on Linda Christas

It started out as a solitary blog entry, no more or less. However, because of frequent goading by supposedly Linda Christas' staff, volunteers and students, I have taken it upon myself to continue to perform research on this weird American enterprise.

This research has been slow going. There's not a lot of information out there and it's often incomplete. As I've reported here before, most of the names on the so-called Advisory Committee only pop up in Google in relation to Linda Christas. I certainly don't view this finding as very beneficial to the company image.

I recently discovered that one of the reasons I've had such a hard time getting a handle on this enterprise is that there is more than one Linda Christas incarnation. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), there are 3 Linda Christas companies: Linda Christas Education Services (LCES) of Cloquet, MN; and 2 different listings for the Linda Christas College Fund (LCFC), one in Sacramento, CA and another in Santa Ana, CA.

According to the BBB of Minnesota & North Dakota, the owner of the LCES is Ms. Christine Dusek, MS, a name I can find nowhere on the Linda Christas website nor has it ever been mentioned in any of voluminous correspondence I've received from LC-connected people.

According to the BBB of Northeast California, the principal person is Ron Bernard. However, in an interesting twist, Ron Bernard is also the stated dean of the Linda Christas Academy which it appears is owned by LCES. Seems a little murky to me.

According to the BBB, the other LCCF has no principal person at all. However, it does give this incarnation of the LCCF a CC Rating. Their are 11 ratings from AAA - F. The CC Rating is the 4th lowest.

According to the Linda Christas website, the enterprise is a private not-for-profit organization. My research has revealed that this statement is not completely true. From the BBB of Northeast California:
According to information provided by the company, Linda Christas College Fund is a not-for-profit political action committee advocating improvement of educational opportunities for middle school and high school students. The organization's website also refers to Linda Christas Tutoring Services. This is operated for-profit and sells on-line coaching and tutoring services. The tutoring service also offers recruits money making opportunities as tutors or college advisors working for the company and offers a two day training program. The program is intended to prepare individuals to market and administer the Christas program to the public. [emphasis added]

I've found nothing on the Linda Christas website that even hints at the fact that the educational services are provided by a for-profit company and that the advocacy services are provided by a PAC (note: ALL political action committees are not-for-profit entities). I'm also a bit confused because there seems to be yet another entity -- Linda Christas Tutoring Services -- that is not listed at all with any of the BBBs.

This information answers for me a nagging question I've had for some time. Most educational organizations on the web use .edu. I always thought it was weird that Linda Christas only used .org and .com. Now, it is clear that they don't qualify as the kind of institution that could use .edu.

There's another issue I'm trying to nail down too, but it may be a while until I figure out how to find a complete answer. Linda Christas offers a full-time academy that offers programs "which satisfy the requirements of the most elite colleges in the United States."

However, as documented in my last entry on this overall topic, Linda Christas is NOT accredited by any of the accepted educational accreditation agencies (so they created one of their own). Consequently, if a student enrolls full-time at Linda Christas, do they receive a high school diploma AND, if so, is that diploma recognized by anyone other than Linda Christas?

**** Addendum ****
Since the Linda Christas College Fund advertises itself as a political action committee, I realized I could look them up. I performed searches with the Federal Elections Commission and the California Secretary of States Office. Guess what? Neither have ANY listings for a committee with the words, "Linda Christas". Not a one.

In order to be a political action committee, a group must register with some governmental entity. So, this begs the question: What entity, if any, is the Linda Christas College Fund registered with?

Just to be thorough, I also performed searches on the IRS Charities database and the Charities Search with California Attorney General's Office. Again, I found zero (0) results. Finally, I tried the GuideStar search engine which records information on over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. As with all my previous attempts, there is no listing for Linda Christas.

Though I certainly won't argue this amounts to an exhaustive search, from what I've been able to discern at this point, the Linda Christas College Fund does NOT appear to be a political action committee NOR a nonprofit organization. My research has also indicated it is NOT an educational institution.

So, what are we left with? A for-profit business -- which is certainly NOT the way the LCCF present itself to the public.

**** ADDENDUM #2 ****
As quoted above, Linda Christas claims that their programs "satisfy the requirements of the most elite colleges in the United States." So, I decided to visit the websites of many elite institutions of higher learning to see what they had to say about this enterprise. I would expect there to be a few documents that mentioned the exploits of students who've been awarded scholarships by Linda Christas or collaborations with Linda Christas' staff on the development of said programs or, possibly, a recommendation or two about how the Linda Christas program might aid students in gaining admittance in this competitive world. Basically, I was looking for ANY mention of Linda Christas and its services.

As with every other search I've conducted on this topic, I came up with the big goose egg. Not one mention of any document or web page which featured the words, "Linda Christas". Not even a measly one.

The sites I checked are all Ivy League Schools (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton & Yale), Stanford, MIT, Amherst, University of Chicago and Swathmore.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A (Not So) Security Blanket

I'm often awake during the wee hours of the morning. I usually pass the time reading, doing accounting work for the Green Party, playing word games on my computer or writing entries for this blog. Sometimes though, I go downstairs and flip through the channels on the 'ol TV.

While channel surfing last night, I happened upon one of those ubiquitous infomercials for a Christian denomination -- I don't even remember which one. Our host was looking plaintively at the camera, "Is your life spinning out of control? Are you unhappy or stressed? Do you feel you're not as successful as you should be?"

He had the prescription for you -- become a particular brand of Christian! Get to know God and Jesus. Your life will change dramatically.

This got me to thinking. If Christianity is supposed to change one's life dramatically, why then are Christians beset with the same worries, anxieties and stress as non-believers?

Though I'm not looking at any particular studies or research -- I'm going solely on my own experiences -- the lives of most of my Christian friends and acquaintances are not altogether different than anyone else's. Christians (or a follower of any religion, for that matter) are prone to the same foibles, vices and shortcomings as the next person and these imperfections are the fuel of anxiety and stress.

It would seem that the security blanket of religion provides no security at all. In fact, in many ways, the religious are more hamstrung that the non-religious simply because the latter aren't constantly falling short of the former's rigid standards.

It's akin to going to the doctor because you're concerned with the potentiality of a certain infirmity or disease. The doctor tells you to follow a prescribed plan to ward off the illness. You try to follow it to a tee, yet, in the end, you contract it anyway or you worry just as before that you might contract it.

Wouldn't you be upset with the doctor? Wouldn't you complain that his prescribed treatment was bogus? Wouldn't you be just a tad bit upset with yourself for having wasted so much time and money on what amounted to snake oil?

For all the time devotees of religion spend praying, repenting, going to church and doing good works, they still wind up with the same fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of the meaning of life.

In essence, the security they so desperately look to religion to provide remains elusive and this elusiveness creates more stress and anxiety. This increased stress causes many to cling tighter to their religion which generates even greater amounts of stress and anxiety.

In essence, the cure becomes more intolerable that the original malady.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Life in the Balance

I've read a lot on the internet about the young woman who died of alleged water intoxication after participating in a water drinking contest sponsored by a Sacramento radio station. While the whole affair is certainly a tragedy, I think what has been missing from much of the discussion is the concept of balance.

Water is essential to life and the lack of it in humans means certain death of the body. Consequently, since it is an essential element, in some ways it seems counterintuitive to believe that one could get too much of a good thing. The problem here is that, regardless of something's intrinsic value, the key to a healthy life is balance.

Too much of anything is bad. It tips the delicate balance that we call life. Anytime you possess too much of one thing, other important elements are decreased and life becomes out of whack.

Some people believe a person can never have too much money, yet the super rich find no more security in their wealth than the average person. In fact, as they strive for more and more, other important facets of their life suffers.

The same can be said of pleasure. If our lives are filled with too much pleasure, we lose the ability to empathize with others. More importantly, when pleasure is not balanced with pain, pleasure starts to lose its intoxicating effect.

I dare say a person can receive too much love. Like with pleasure, it must be balanced with hate. Too much love can be suffocating and it tends to desensitize us to the workings of the world.

As both Taoism and dialectics teach us, the life of opposites is what provides a framework of meaning in our lives. Without comprehending both sides of any concept or sensation, we genuinely can't understand either. It is the balance of opposites that sustains us and leads to enlightenment.

Oh So American

A colleague from Corvallis sent me this short illustration of the American corporate way. It rings true.

A Japanese company (Honda) and an American company (GM) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River. Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese team won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was the Japanese team had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing. So American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.

They too, advised that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing. To prevent another loss to the Japanese, the American's rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 3 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 1 person rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the "Rowing Team Quality First Program," with meetings, dinners, and free pens for the rower. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices, and bonuses.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles. Humiliated, the American management laid-off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses, and the next year's racing team was outsourced to India.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Slowly Down the Path

Like almost every other man or woman who reaches a certain age of maturity, I'm going gray. It started out innocently enough -- a few gray hairs, here and there. One day I discovered there were quite a few more than I had realized and, lately, the gray ones seem to have overtaken the brown ones.

Not only is my hair changing color, but there seems to be a lot less of it. Both my father and younger brother developed "chrome domes" in their twenties. I'm still not there yet, but, as I prepare to turn 50 this Fall, I'm moving that direction post haste.

Mind you, I'm not begrudging these changes. In fact, while our society tries to immortalize youth, I welcome my changing seasons.

All things in our world go through cycles and I'm no different. While I certainly no longer possess the vitality of my youth, my increased knowledge and experience makes my life that much richer.

One of the great byproducts of the aging process is that we begin to slow down. We no longer take so much for granted. We come face-to-face with our own earthly mortality and become more acutely aware that our time is both precious and limited.

Until our last moments -- if we are wise -- we continue down our path. We just move a tad bit slower.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Adding to the Archives

The trolls at Linda Christas keep claiming that their business is a legit educational organization. So, I decided to visit the websites of several of this nation's leading educational magazines to see what they say about Linda Christas. Here's what I found (note: comments left by the trolls don't count):

American Educator - 0 hits
American School & University - 0 hits
Current Issues in Education - 0 hits
Education Next - 0 hits
Education Week - 0 hits
eLearn Magazine - 0 hits
Home Education Magazine - 0 hits
Rethinking Schools - 0 hits
Teachers College Record - 0 hits
Teaching K-8 - 0 hits

As you can easily see -- and verify by following the links -- not one of these publications has even mentioned Linda Christas in the same breath with the concept of education. They haven't endorsed them nor panned them. They are completely silent.

If you think about it for half of a second, that's really mind boggling. Here we have a supposedly well respected educational outfit that trumpets its plaudits on its own website, yet, when a person tries to perform some research on the topic, the result is zero. Nada. Zilch.

In fact, if you perform a search on the words, "Linda Christas" about all you will find in their favor are bunches of cut-and-paste comments posted on slews of bulletin and message boards. I know this to be true because I just spent the last hour looking at the first 120 entries on Google.

Is Linda Christas genuinely a bona fide educational organization? My continued research strongly indicates that it is not.

It Rhymes With SPAM

I'm sitting at home minding my own business and those pesky people at Linda Christas start sending me emails again. It's the same kind of nauseating blather as before. However, I was invited to check out the "new and improved" Linda Christas website. So, I did and it's even worse than the original one.

I won't bore you with endless analysis. I do, however, want to point out one thing that I think is really rich. The site lets you know that Linda Christas is accredited by the International Association of Schools and Colleges (IASC). Sounds really impressive, doesn't it?

Yes, it is impressive until you wind your way through their site to find the following statement: "A primary Linda Christas initiative, the I.A.S.C. serves to certify that an institution of learning is promoting a Student-First (SF) education model."

You see, Linda Christas has accredited itself! Since this is the only accreditation listed, it seems rather obvious that nobody else will accredit them. So what to do? Create your own important sounding accreditation organization, of course.

And, like almost everything else in my research on this questionable enterprise, I was unable to find ANYTHING on Google about the IASC, EXCEPT for references that point back to...guess who?

Me thinks this organization rhymes with a word that sounds like ham!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The World Anew

I'm often asked by people to explain and sum up Taoism. It's always a difficult proposition. Unlike a religion (like Christianity or Islam), there is no fixed or universal definition. The kernel of Taoism is different for each person. There's no question that there are some universal themes, but each of these is difficult to express in words.

Yet, words often are needed to convey ideas from one person to the next. This very blog is a feeble attempt by two brothers to express some of our beliefs about life and its meaning. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don't. Hey, but that's life!

While words can be very limiting, there are some words we recommend. If you want to climb outside of your perspective to view the world anew, one author immediately comes to mind: Alan Watts.

Watts, who died in 1973, started out as a priest, but left the priesthood in 1950. He has written numerous books about Taoist and Asian thought. I've read many of them and have found each one to be insightful and fresh.

I'm currently reading The Wisdom of Insecurity. Though written over 50 years ago, it reads like it was written yesterday. Here's a brief excerpt:
Yet it has always been taught in religion that "God" is something from which one can expect wisdom and guidance. We have become accustomed to the idea that wisdom -- that is, knowledge, advice, and information -- can be expressed in verbal statements consisting of specific instructions. If this be true, it is hard to see how any wisdom can be extracted from something impossible to define.

Monday, January 8, 2007

The Illusion of Humane Philanthropy

We hear about it weekly. Some huge foundation or corporation gives a nonprofit organization big money. The nonprofit bends over backwards to praise the granter of these funds. Many in the public point to the foundation or corporation as a model company of responsible citizenship and the company's image receives a lift.

Yet, there's a major problem with this whole scenario. As pointed out in Sunday's Seattle Times, Gates Foundation Money Works at Cross Purposes, there's an underside to this process of giving.
The Gates Foundation has poured $218 million into polio and measles immunization and research worldwide, including in the Niger Delta. At the same time that it is paying for inoculations to protect health, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total of France — the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe.
As the above excerpt clearly shows, most such foundations and multinational corporations are burning the candle at both ends. While it's true that they are supplying money to improve the lot of millions, their amassed fortune is the direct result of creating many of the problems their donations seek to combat. Even worse, they tend to earn far more wealth from these destructive investiments than they end up giving away.

Consequently, while they may look like knights in shining armor, it turns out that their armor is made of tinfoil!

As the article also points out, one of the chief reasons such enterprises give away money in the first place has nothing to do with trying to lift people up or solve societal ills. They do it because, by giving away at least 5% of their profits, they get to avoid paying taxes on their gains -- gains that help fuel environmental degradation, create public health issues and erode labor rights.

In essence, this whole game is nothing more than a sad charade! The minuses far outweigh any pluses.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Churchless Hits the Target

Over at Church of the Churchless, Brian has penned a great post, Eliminate the Middleman Between You and God. He discusses a concept you'll often often find here: The separation of beings inherent in religious belief.
My biggest problem with the God-human mediator business is this: the whole notion is founded on duality—separation. Jesus is considered to be the mediator between two estranged partiess, God and humankind. Similarly, in Sikhism (and offshoots such as Sant Mat) the guru reunites separated ones with God.

However, a central thrust of modern science is that unity lies at the heart of reality. Physics speaks of the space-time continuum and quantum connectedness. It seeks the Theory of Everything, not Theories.

So it’s difficult for me to believe that the spiritual realm, if it exists, is more disconnected than the foundation of material existence. But this is what religions would have us believe.

This idea of separation got me to thinking about a debate we're having in the Green Party of Washington State (GPoWS). Written into our bylaws is the idea that we will try to reach decisions via the consensus process. Mind you, we don't really employ the consensus process since, if there are blocks, we revert to super majority voting after two attempts to reach consensus.

A few of us would like to employ a true consensus process in our committee structure. Surprisingly, at least to me, most of my fellow members on the State Council are vehemently against this idea.

I'm surprised by their reaction simply because the Green movement worldwide stresses the concepts of community and cooperation, the very heart of the consensus process. I've tried to make this point, but I don't seem to be making any headway.

For me, majority voting highlights the separate provinces of each person. Emphasis is placed on what each person thinks is best, not necessarily what's best for the group. While people can certainly lobby each other and form voting blocks, when the secret ballot is employed, each person ultimately decides for themselves what they think is best for the group.

Utilizing the consensus process, the whole point is to arrive at a solution that encompasses the various perspectives within the group and thus, the group as a whole, renders decisions. Unlike majority voting -- which creates separation by having winners and losers -- consensus strives to create decisions that everyone participating can feel good about.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Exalting in Death

If you would believe all the things said about former President Gerald Ford over the past week, you'd think he was about ready to be canonized. The man has been presented as a saint above saints and one might surmise that a seat next to the Big Guy is in order.

Yes, Jerry Ford was a decent man, but he suffered from the same foibles as the rest of us. None of us is perfect in life...or death.

The ruminations on the life of Mr. Ford are not atypical. In fact, I'd say they're really run-of-the-mill. Every time a soldier dies in the Iraq War, we hear the same kind of laudatory language. Every time someone dies as the result of freak accident or heinous crime, we're told this person was the sweetest, kindest, most generous person ever to grace the face of the earth.

I'm not suggesting that loved ones and/or pundits spew forth with every skeleton in the deceased person's closet and I'm also not suggesting that the public be presented with a laundry list of each person's misdeeds. That said, I would just like some realistic balance.

More importantly, if a person is going to wax romantic over a loved one in death, I'm betting the deceased would have loved to have heard more of this kind of sentiment in life.

And let's be honest here. It's far easier to bestow saintly characteristics on a memory than it is to bestow the same on a living person who might not always behave or speak in a manner you agree with or make the kinds of decisions you would have made.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Like Waiting for the Cable Guy

Reading opinion polls can be quite entertaining...and a little bit scary! While nearly 95% of Americans believe that gas prices will go up this year, almost 1/4 believe the famous Jewish carpenter will make an appearance on earth sometime in 2007. Who knows? He might show up with Elvis!

(I'm going to be on pins and needles all year long.)

My greatest fear is that these folks are going to waste important weeks and months of their lives playing the waiting game -- sort of like waiting for the technician to come hook up the cable.

When my wife & I moved to Aberdeen, we wasted a whole day waiting for the Comcast people who never showed up. We were told to expect the technician sometime between noon - 5 p.m. on the specified day. Well, no one showed up at noon or 1 pm or 2 pm or 3 pm or 4 pm or even 5 pm. When we called the Comcast office around 5, we were told the office was closed.

We called early the next morning and no one could tell us why no one had come to the house. The receptionist apologized for the mix-up and told us we could be rescheduled for the next week.

What happens if Jesus doesn't show up on these people's schedule? Can they get a refund of their tithe for the year? Should they switch companies because the one they currently belong to doesn't meet their own deadlines?

All I'm saying is that they should receive something for their troubles. You know, a hand-painted picture of the Last Supper or maybe an autographed photo of John the Baptist.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Confusing Tubers in the New World

I've been on a personal campaign over the past few years to better educate Americans about tubers. Not all tubers, mind you, but two in particular: the sweet potato and the yam.

Go into almost any American grocery store or produce stand and you will find a sign, next to a colorful vegetable that looks like an elongated potato, that announces that this item is a yam. Be forewarned, it is not. It's really a sweet potato!

But, I hear you protest, there is another sign next to a similar vegetable that indicates this one is a sweet potato. The truth is both of the vegetables labeled "sweet potato" and "yam" are sweet potatoes.

According to the Wikipedia, a yam
is the common name for some species in the genus Dioscorea (family Dioscoreaceae). They are cultivated for the consumption of their starchy tubers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania. They are used in a similar fashion to potatoes and sweet potatoes. There are hundreds of cultivars among the cultivated species.
Yams can be quite huge, some weighing at least 100 lbs. The skin of this vegetable is tough and gnarly. And you've got to cook it before you eat it, lest you make yourself sick.

Contrast this to the sweet potato:
The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a crop plant whose large, starchy, sweet tasting tuberous roots are an important root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. The sweet potato is only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum). Although sweet potatoes are sometimes called "yams" in the United States, they are even more distantly related to the true yam (Dioscorea species).
As you can easily see, the sweet potato and yam don't even originate from the same plant family. While the yam sports a tough exterior, the sweet potato's skin is thin and can be easily removed. Sweet Potatoes can be eaten raw and they won't make you sick.

So please help me out. Next time you visit your local market, help spread the word that yams and sweet potatoes are not one in the same. In fact, few American stores carry yams at all.

If we can better educate American companies, produce managers and consumers about this important difference, then maybe we can tackle our next project -- world peace.