Sunday, April 29, 2007

Stand By Whom?

My wife & I listen to different radio stations. She favors country and modern pop, while I prefer a weird eclectic mix of 50s & 60s rock 'n roll, American folk, Celtic, bluegrass and classical. You can easily tell who last drove our truck by what radio station pops up at ignition.

This morning I went down to the store for a little grocery shopping. As the radio came on, it reminded me my wife last drove the truck. There was a female recording artist -- I have no inkling who it was -- singing, "I'll Stand By You", a song previously recorded by Rod Stewart and The Pretenders.

The following lines jumped out at me:
When the night falls on you
You don't know what to do
Nothing you confess
Could make me love you less.
Isn't that going a wee bit far? I mean, if my lover confessed to gunning down a slew of nuns, orphans and puppies, I think I might indeed love her far less. Heck, I might not even LIKE my lover anymore.

When I was a young lad, like so many others, I believed in the silly sentiment, "Love conquers all". As I've grown older and wiser, however, I've come to realize that, on at least one level, that's a nonsensical statement.

Love, trust and friendship are built on shared values. While a person can certainly have a strong physical attraction for someone they have nothing in common with, it's near impossible to sustain a relationship with someone you don't really like. Heck, it's hard enough sustaining relationships with people you do like and find common ground with!

Now I know some of you will say something to the effect of "You can love the person, while not approving of the behavior". I don't dispute this at all, but this principle should apply to everyone, not just those one is intimate with.

All people fall short of maintaining harmony within their lives. Consequently, we should look beyond anyone's behavior -- and this includes people like Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Daumer, Saddam Hussein or even George W. Bush -- to love the person.

In essence, "I'll Stand By You" could just as easily be the anthem of humanity. We should all endeavor to stand by each other because we are all of one reality.

Friday, April 27, 2007

We're All Environmentalists!

All throughout my adult life I've heard the term "environmentalist", often in a pejorative manner. For most of that time, I've thought the popular understanding of this word is utter nonsense. How can any living, breathing person NOT be an environmentalist?

If you would each take a moment, What does it mean to care about the environment we all share? We'll come back to this in a minute.

Generally, when we fashion words to categorize a person or a group of people, it describes something unique about them. If you refer to Baptists, you mean to describe Christians who hold to a specific set of beliefs and interpret the Bible in a particular way.

Likewise, if you use the word "Republican", you're referring to an individual or group of people who subscribe to a certain set of beliefs and share the same general world view.

If you say, "Firemen", you are making a reference to individuals who, as a profession, seek to put out fires -- unless, of course, you're speaking in terms of trains, then firemen means something different altogether.

But how does this apply to "environmentalists"? Every person needs a healthy environment to exist. None of us can survive for long without air, water and food. If our environment is compromised, then these essential elements are compromised too.

About the only way a person could not be an environmentalist is if they repudiated the human need for air, water and food. In other words, if any of us GENUINELY didn't care about these 3 things (and a host of others too), then our only alternative would be to kill ourselves -- divorcing ourselves from these things we loathe.

And yet, that wouldn't work either!! Even in death, each of us will continue to interact with the environment. Our bodies will decompose to provide sustenance for all sorts of microbes. Our death will provide life for others.

Even if we choose to have our remains cremated, the ash will take up space somewhere and, eventually, the ash will return to the soil, thereby giving life to other beings.

Consequently, not only can't we escape the environment, we ARE the environment.

So, how can any person -- alive or dead -- not be an environmentalist by default?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Anything But Cowards

I don't know why so many Americans continue to associate the word coward with suicide bombers. There are quite a few words that I can think of to describe these individuals, but "coward" certainly isn't one of them. Regardless of how one feels about suicide bombing -- as a pacifist I abhor violence in all forms -- I think it should be easy to see that purposely blowing one's self to smithereens is not a cowardly act.

Individuals who join the armed forces or serve as policemen/women know that, on any given day, they may die in the line of duty. Being able to cope with this knowledge takes a certain amount of courage. But it's a completely different animal when you KNOW that in carrying out your mission you will die -- no ands, ifs or buts.

So, one word that could be aptly used for suicide bombers is bravery.

But that's not the only word that could apply. Another word that I believe fits is misguided. Why anyone would think that harming innocent fellow human beings would bring one glory and closer to one's God is wholly irrational. Almost every religion that I'm aware of frowns on the act of suicide and yet that's precisely the act a suicide bomber is committing, besides wholesale murder.

And this leads to another word, manipulation. I fear that many of these poor souls who are blowing themselves up (along with a number of random others) have been manipulated into believing it serves some higher purpose. I'm sorry, but, in my book, slaughtering scores of people serves no purpose other than slaughtering scores of people.

And this leads me to my final word for this entry, fanaticism. Fanatics -- regardless of their philosophical or religious bent -- are dangerous people. Most all of them suffer from the grandeur of self-importance. They tend to lead and manipulate others to do some really evil and nasty stuff, while they sit back on the sidelines. Their world view is myopic, rarely extending farther than their tip of their own nose.

There are many others words that we could employ to talk about the issue of suicide bombings, but I firmly believe the word coward doesn't belong in the conversation.

If you disagree, then I got a question for you: Would you be willing to blow yourself to kingdom come for a cause?

I don't see anyone raising their hand.

Monday, April 23, 2007

For Lack of a Close Friend or Two

In examining the many variables that led Cho Seung-Hui to commit unspeakable horror at Virginia Tech, pundits, "experts" and the public alike seem to be focusing on a variety of formal criteria. Many point to perceived failures by the mental health system, campus security, the university's administration or the laws pertaining to the purchase of firearms.

All of these topics should be examined critically and I certainly don't begrudge anyone for shining a light on the shortcomings of these various systems. Still, the one thing that I've seen next to no discussion on is the most elementary variable of all -- Cho appeared to be friendless.

Each of us needs to feel valued, loved and respected by others. We aren't isolated islands merely drifting through the sea of life. We need social relationships to survive and flourish. When these types of interdependencies are lacking, our world view becomes skewed by loneliness and rejection. Any person who feels scorned and alone will react to the world far differently than others who have adequate support systems.

For me, this appears to be the theme of the profile of the various individuals who, in the past decade, have committed acts of unspeakable horror. The two young men of Columbine were treated like social outcasts. Kip Kinkle of the Springfield (OR) shooting was viewed by his peers in the same manner.

This very same profile has again raised its head with Cho Seung-Hiu.

What if any of these young men had been befriended by someone with an adequate social system? What if the majority of their classmates had refrained from laughing at them in class or ridiculing them in front of others? Could these types of random acts of kindness have averted their infamous claims to fame?

We will never know the answer to that question. But we can each change our behavior now to help avert future horrors.

We need to remember that -- no matter how weird or strange any of us can be -- we all possess the same kinds of feelings and emotions. None of us wants to be rejected by the world around us. We all crave acceptance in some form. If we are more willing to accept others, then they will feel less isolated and may well be less prone to take out all their frustrations on random individuals.

Finally, I realize that some people might argue that people like Cho Seung-Hui aren't looking to make friends. To that I say, poppycock! Everybody needs and wants friends (even if they tell themselves they don't).

Being a friend to someone who doesn't make friends easily or who acts as if they don't need friends is a tough task, but, if we are patient and persevere, it can be a life-alerting experience, both for the other person and yourself.

What if one or more of Cho's classmates had broken through his self-erected wall to befriend this troubled young man? It's a question that should haunt all of us.

Friday, April 20, 2007

There Is No Magic Pill

After the tragic events at Virginia Tech University, a lot of people are coming out of the woodwork to analyze how something of this nature could happen. Lots of theories and conjecture fill the air. What amazes me, however, is that every pundit and so-called expert points to one solitary explanation and has one concurrent solution to the problem.

I suppose I shouldn't be so amazed because we live in a society that always seeks a magic pill to cure our ills. Every day of the week -- in the wee hours of the morning -- you can find a host of magic pills displayed on cable television. Are you a big flat slob? Hey, take this pill and you can lose thousands of pounds without exercise or eating better! Do you feel unpopular and unloved? Buy this product or get our credit card and people instantly will love you! Living in abject poverty? Well, simply scrape together all the money you have in the world, send it to us and we'll send you the instructions on how to become filthy rich while doing little actual work!

As Duff Badgley remarks above in the Sound Off! section of the upcoming edition of Greener Times, many Greens have embraced fully biofuels as the sole solution to the peak oil problem without considering that this solution too generates its own set of problems and dilemmas.

There is no magic pill! There is no singular solution to any of the world's problems. We must instead embrace a multitude of potential solutions with the understanding that each partial solution will also bring us its own set of inconsistencies and problems. If not, we will be easy prey for the hucksters and isms of our world. We will become so focused on a singular remedy that our blinders will keep us from looking at new and innovative ideas.

To use a boxing analogy, it's like a boxer who looks to score one knockout blow. More often than not, the opponent is pecking away with jabs and feints, piling up an insurmountable lead in points. As the match moves into the later rounds, our "knockout artist" becomes more desperate to score that one big punch by swinging wildly, thereby leaving himself open to being knocked out himself.

In this same vein, if we spend our lives looking for that one singular solution, our planet and society will grow ever more fragile. As things worsen, we will be bound to latch onto any idea that seems even remotely plausible. People who are motivated by greed and power will find us easy to manipulate as we grow more desperate. In the end, because we spent our individual and collective lives looking for a mirage, life as we know it will die.

And we'll only have ourselves to blame.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Not So Unfathomable

Every time there's a horrific mass shooting -- like today's tragedy in Blacksburg, Virginia -- I hear people express the common sentiment of being unable to fathom how an individual could commit random mass murder. As I've written here before, I truly believe that what makes incidents of this nature so frightening is NOT that they are so unfathomable but that almost all of us DO understand the anger, frustration, and the feeling of hopelessness that serves as the catalyst for these acts.

Put another way, what scares us most is that we can, in fact, fathom what took place.

Almost every person I have ever known has experienced the deep pain of lost or unrequited love. Someone that you have loved -- inexplicably one day -- no longer loves you or someone that sends you into an emotional rapture doesn't share a reciprocal feeling. It feels as if someone has ripped out your heart and casts a pale over every aspect of your life.

At times like these, our pain-induced anger and sense of abject rejection causes a great many of us to imagine all sorts of sordid things -- some of which can be extremely violent.

Fortunately, because of adequate social supports and other people who love us, these kinds of feelings abate over time and we "get on" with our lives.

The vast majority of people who commit these sorts of atrocities lack the social support systems needed to move beyond the all encompassing anger and rejection. With these intense emotions and other gnawing away at their very being, they finally explode and implode.

Were it not for our support systems, any of us could easily become one of them. And, whether conscious or not, most of us realize this singular fact.

For me, that's the most frightening aspect of all -- There but for fortune go you or I.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What's Left?

When you live in a rural community -- one that's off the beaten path -- things that big city folks take for granted are really neat. While talk radio seems to permeate the dial in most of the rest of the civilized world, there's not much of it in soggy 'ol Aberdeen. What little we have falls squarely to the right...until now!

Dr. Gary Murrell, a history instructor at Grays Harbor College, has launched a weekday left wing talk show here in the harbor. What's Left? airs from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m. on KAYO-FM 94.3 (in Aberdeen) and 92.9 in the Olympia area.

Check it out!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Iceberg, Dead Ahead!

I'm something of a Titanic buff. I've read numerous books and watched several documentaries that tell of the tragedy that befell this mighty ship in the early days of the twentieth century. The chief cause of the Titanic's sinking is that, despite several reports of 'bergs directly in its path, Captain Smith ordered the ship to move ahead at full speed. Of course, when the lookouts spotted the huge iceberg straight in front of them, the ship was moving too fast to port around it completely and thus scraped one side. The "unsinkable" vessel was doomed on its maiden voyage.

Over 1,200 souls lost their lives that fateful April night.

I am certainly not the first person to see the parallels between the Titanic tragedy and the trajectory of current human society. We seem to be moving full steam toward some type of cataclysmic calamity. Recent reports by the world's scientific community warns humanity that global warming is both real and a lot worse than many originally thought. Yet, despite the fact that we're being forcefully told that there are humongous icebergs in our path, the Bush administration and many of our fellow citizens are pushing us at a madcap pace toward the abyss.

What can we do to try to avert this impending tragedy? The answer is both personal and collective.

On a personal level, we each need to change the ways we live. We need to drive less, refrain from using toxic substances, recycle/reuse habitually and give more thoughtful consideration to how we utilize the earth's finite resources to ensure that future generations HAVE a future.

On a collective level, we need to return to promoting the environmental message. It's interesting to me how the Green Party has morphed into a progressive voice that, too often, neglects promoting protection of our little orb. This party was founded on the concepts of ecological stewardship and sustainability, yet these days we seem to be organizing around every issue BUT the environment. Greens seem to be hard at work protesting the war in Iraq, calling for impeachment of the president, advocating for instant voter runoff and campaign finance reform, and helping to defeat draconian right wing ballot initiatives.

I'm not suggesting that any of the above issues is unimportant -- each one is! But we seem to be trying to separate ourselves so much from the image of tree-hugging hippie activists that we've left the issue of saving our planet in the dust. In the final analysis, if civilization renders our planet uninhabitable, then what will it matter if there are no wars or better voting systems?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Land of Milk & Honey

I've been hearing the usual yammering lately about the so-called illegal immigrant problem. According to the narrow-minded, illegals take a lot from our social services system and give little, if anything, back. If we could only rid our nation of these vermin, they say, America will again become the land of milk and honey.

While this makes for good old-fashioned, self-righteous, patriotic rhetoric, it turns out that it bears little semblance to reality. It turns out that these farmworkers give a lot back to each of us in ways too few people fathom.

For argument's sake, though, let's say that our nation decided to embrace this xenophobic mentality. We devised and implemented a plan to round up all the illegal farmworkers (and their extended families) across the nation and shipped them back home. We next built 50' high walls across the full expanse of our southern AND northern borders. We also implemented a new strategy to keep these illegals from sailing or flying into the county.

Would this make the narrow-minded among us happy?

As they used to say in the Hertz Rent-A-Car commercials, Not Exactly!

You see, we'd soon find ourselves in a heap of economic doo doo. For starters, who's going to pick the crops? Agribusiness depends on illegal farmworkers to do the kind of dirty work most Americans shun. The bosses of the big factory farms also depend on the meager wages they pay to these same farmworkers to line their corporate bank accounts.

If there's no one to pick the crops, they'll just rot in place and rotten foodstuffs don't equate to hefty profits. So, while conservatives blame these hardworking illegals for a wide host of societal problems, the farming industry would go belly up without them.

Now, I know that some will say, "Hey, unemployed native born Americans will jump at the chance to do these jobs". While THAT statement is farcical to the max, let's go ahead to accept it as true. It still spells trouble for agribusiness.

I'm fairly certain there aren't too many native born Americans who would willingly toil away for hours on end in the hot sun -- performing backbreaking work -- for give-or-take minimum wage. A lot of desperate people might give it a try, but most would decide there are better ways to be poor. Consequently, turnover would be exceedingly high.

In order to entice more desperate native born Americans to give farm work a try, corporate agribusiness would be forced to offer higher wages and, possibly, even some meager benefits. This, of course, would not be good for the bottom line. Higher expense generally equates to lower profit...

...which leads us to the other problem -- consumer prices would shoot through the roof as agribusiness passed all these new expenses onto us! You think $1.69 for a head of lettuce is high? Try $3 - $4 a head! Dissatisfied with 10 lbs. of apples for $9.22? How do you think you might react if that same 10 lb. bag cost you $15.75?

As one can easily see, the so-called illegal farmworker gives all of us a tremendous amount to keep the American economy humming. They perform the jobs we won't do. They do this hard work for little money and they risk exposure to all sorts of vile toxins (pesticides and herbicides).

In the final analysis, they put in so much more than they take out. So, for all of you narrow-minded people out there, I have two words for you: SHUT UP!!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Green 4 Green

In many ways, I'm really glad to see more and more people thinking g-r-e-e-n. Consumers are starting to pay better attention to what goes into a product, how far it must travel to reach us and the cost to our land, air and water to produce it. Such things bode well for the future of our planet.

Unfortunately, there's still one pervasive problem that intersects mightily with the so-called Green Revolution -- it takes a lot of green to be green. It's far easier to live an environmentally-friendly life if your bank account (not to mention other forms of financial wealth) has five or more numbers to the left of the decimal point. If you're one of the billions of people on this planet who struggle to get by month-to-month, you don't have the luxury to decide which product is the most green -- you go with what is the least expensive!

For my family, this is not some esoteric discussion -- We're proud members of the working poor! We would love to buy only organic and non-GMO foods, but the price of these items, too often, simply is beyond our means. While my wife & I REFUSE to shop at Walmart on philosophical grounds, I can readily understand why most of my neighbors do shop there. And we'd love to drive one of those shiny new hybrids, but...well, let's get real!

The best environmental choices -- replete with a variety of snazzy tax incentives -- were not developed for people like us. While I would bet that we're more environmentally-motivated than the average family, our current Green Revolution is driven by the same time-honored system that created throwaway plastic bottles, the Hummer and George W. Bush -- capitalism. And all that capitalists care about is maximizing short-term profits.

Enter the Green Party. What began as a political movement focused squarely on the environment has now blossomed into a political force that views the environment, economics and social justice as different sides of the same coin. We realize that, in order for our society to move toward a sustainable utilization of finite resources, we must alter the way society views all three of these interconnected variables. In other words, to reach our goals, all three must be altered simultaneously.

It's a gigantic task, but one that is needed now more than ever, both for the survival of our planet and the myriad beings that call it home.