Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A value without value is something else!


“The best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made.” That’s quoting George Duhbya Bush’s quote from a letter written by Lt. Mark Dooley to his parents before his tragic death in Ramadi last year. More about this in a minute.

In his Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, the Bushwhacker played fast and loose with the rhetoric as he downplayed his own complicity and guilt in starting and perpetuating the Middle East debacle dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” What a load of propaganda that’s turned out to be. (Hint: “Propaganda” and “bullshit” are synonymous.)

It should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention that the only thing Bush wants more than to duck accountability for his part in the Iraq fiasco is unfettered access to the billions of barrels of crude that lie beneath Iraq.

Now that I’ve vented about Bush’s motives and hypocrisy, let’s revisit that quote I mentioned at the beginning of this rant.

“The best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made.”

What does this mean, exactly? Because I haven’t seen Lt. Dooley’s letter, I can’t comment on the meaning he intended to convey. Perhaps he referred to a soldier mowed down in a fusillade of enemy fire as he attempted to rescue a wounded buddy (a sacrifice worthy of value and respect). Perhaps Lt. Dooley referred to something else. Context is everything, but for now it remains unknown.

Bush’s use of the phrase is less ambiguous. Clearly, he meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq. What comes through, however, is a meaning he almost certainly didn’t intend. “ . . . to value why a sacrifice was made” is key to a deeper meaning.

Okay, so let’s examine why so many lives have been sacrificed in Iraq before assigning any value to the reasons. Why were lives sacrificed? They were sacrificed because of avarice and arrogance and stupidity, but most of all they were sacrificed because of a lie—the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—that Bush told to justify a large military presence in the Middle East.

Do I pay respect to the lives that were lost or shattered in Iraq by valuing the reasons why they were lost or shattered? Hell, no! I’ve never valued greed or incompetence or lies. Do I show respect for lost or shattered lives by sending others to die or suffer the wounds of war? Hell, no!

What I do is support bringing the troops home, now. That’s the most respect I can give them, and the best support they can get.

2469 U.S. troops killed, 17,869 wounded since March 20, 2003. Also, numerous coalition troops and countless thousands of Iraqis. Waaaaay too much carnage for a species that calls itself civilized.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Elusive Present Caught Between Past and Future

Have you ever tried to pin down the present?

Can’t do it, can you? Neither can I, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Stuff that’s about to happen comes at us from the future. Stuff that’s already happened recedes into the past. But, what about the present? You know . . . the stuff that’s happening right now? Uhhh . . . now! I mean . . . now! Okay . . . now! Oh, all right . . . now! Dammit . . . now!

Elusive little bugger, the present.

You still don’t get it, do you? The present doesn’t exist, except in the abstract. There’s only stuff that’s about to happen, and stuff that’s already happened.

Let’s look at this another way. Think of the present as being a moveable interface separating the past from the future. It travels at the speed of time along a timeline that extends from the beginning of time to the end of time. No matter how small you make the time interval that separates the past from the future, no matter how narrow you make the window that defines the boundaries of that illusive and elusive thing you call the present, you can never achieve the present.

Think of the present as being to time as a point is to space. It’s a reference point, a marker that has no bulk, no mass, no weight, and no dimensions.

Does time travel exist? Sure, it does. We’re all time travelers. But, so far, we’re only able to travel in one direction in time—into the future. Unfortunately, our limited time travel is further limited by the speed of time, itself.

We know that the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second, but how fast does time travel? The easy answer is one day, one hour, one minute, one second, one millisecond at a time. A more complicated answer is that it’s relative depending on your own speed in relation to the speed of light, and on your own position in the universe in relation to the clock.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m not Albert Einstein, or Stephen Hawking, or even Herbert George Wells. I’m just someone who’s messing with your mind.

The past! (We can visit it in our memories or in our history books.)

The future! (We can visit it in our imaginations or in our science fiction books.)

That’s all there is. There is no present.

Well, maybe, on your birthday . . .!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

FBI Running Amok

A failing government is a paranoid government, and when governments get paranoid, one of their primary objectives is to spy on everyone. Another primary objective is to put as many people as possible behind bars.

The FBI, complicit with other assorted agencies and associations, such as the CIA, NSA, ASPCA and NHRA, in failing to detect and prevent the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, is still in panic mode, still bumbling along trying to regain some of its lost credibility.

A management shakeup didn’t help. Trying to implicate Brandon Mayfield, an innocent attorney, in the Madrid train bombings didn’t help. Failing to enlist Portland’s help in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force didn’t help. Taking part in the government’s scheme to eavesdrop on millions of innocent Americans hasn’t helped, either. I hate to say it, but things actually worked better at the FBI when J. Edgar Hoover was running things.

So now the FBI is trying to plant a mole in Portland’s City Hall. Just goes to show you that there’s no end to “Big Brother’s” stupidity or misdirected sense of duty (when all else fails, dump on the little guy).

On May 11, Special Agent Jeffrey Pritchett approached a midlevel city government employee in a failed attempt to recruit her to snitch on her colleagues at City Hall. Fortunately, the as-yet-unidentified woman was having none of it, and she snitched to her boss, instead. Now, the FBI is once again trying to cover its ass.

Frankly, the whole thing smells like a serious case of revenge gone awry, with the FBI trying to exact a measure of payback against Portland Mayor Tom Potter for his refusal to permit Portland’s involvement in the JTTF.

It’s admirable that the FBI cites fighting public corruption and white-collar crime as major priorities of the Justice Department. But, c’mon, if the FBI really wants to clean up corruption in government, maybe it should start a little bit closer to home. You know, like in the White House.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Does the idiot cowboy have a hidden agenda?

Is President George Bush’s apparent ineptitude a true reflection of his abilities, or is it a carefully crafted smokescreen meant to conceal a hidden agenda? Because Duhbya is devious, duplicitous, disingenuous, and an accomplished liar, we might never know the truth.

If we take a close look at Bush’s accomplishments during the five-plus years he’s been in office, we find that nearly all of them fall on the negative side of the ledger.

While his misbegotten Iraq adventure succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, Bush has yet to reveal a viable plan for pulling our troops out of Iraq. In the meantime, he’s all but given up on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and he’s threatening to launch an invasion of Iran using what amounts to the same pretexts as those used to justify the Iraq invasion. Evidently, one disaster wasn’t enough.

9/11 is Bush’s mantra, his scapegoat for every bad decision he’s made. “9/11” is to Bush as “Denny Crane” is to Denny Crane. Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s used it as justification for awarding no-bid contracts, for conducting surveillance on American citizens, for weakening Constitutional protections.

As much as I wish it were not so, the more I study the evidence the more I believe that 9/11 was an inside job. There are just too many inconsistencies, too many coincidences and too many unlikely events happening within the context of 9/11 for it to be otherwise.

With the federal budget deficit and the national debt at unprecedented levels and spiraling out of control, with government, businesses and individual citizens living on credit, and with home prices skyrocketing and jobs fleeing overseas, the U.S. economy seems to be caught crosswise in the asshole of global trade.

That Bush has done nothing to help achieve energy independence, address numerous environmental problems, or deal successfully with myriad domestic social issues only increases their severity and raises the costs of dealing with them in the future.

Bush’s failed policies put future generations of Americans at risk. Not only will they be saddled with the obligation of repaying this enormous debt, but they’ll also be living in a less secure world while they do it.

If our President’s many screw-ups result from mere incompetence, then history will surely judge him as an oaf, a doofus, a fool, a bungling, bumbling idiot.

But, what if George Duhbya Bush’s real intentions are to bring down the US of A, because it’s one of the few remaining impediments to a New World Order? If that’s his real agenda, then history will judge him an astounding success. Our country teeters on the brink of disaster, and it won’t take much to topple it over the edge.

The Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines, got it right! She should take back her apology to President Bush. She doesn’t owe him one. It’s Duhbya who owes an apology to the rest of us.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Failed Policy Builds Better Attitudes

As a subscriber to a number of online activist group newsletters, I often take advantage of opportunities to sign petitions or send e-mail to various political or corporate leaders on behalf of worthy causes. The Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, NARAL Pro-choice, DefCon, and Biofuels4Oregon are just a few of the organizations with which I engage in political activism.

Normally, I’ll get behind any movement that favors protecting the environment or wildlife, preserving civil rights and liberties, or legalizing drugs. Generally, I oppose drilling for oil in the ANWR, lower taxes for the wealthy, and televised basketball games lasting longer than an hour.

When the DPA sent out their newsletter on May 18, soliciting my participation in helping to stop the ONDCP from spending taxpayers’ money on those disingenuous anti-marijuana ads one so frequently sees on television, I was eager to make it a done deal.

However, as I read DPA’s arguments for blocking the ads, I came to this paragraph (quoted in its entirety directly from the DPA newsletter), which caused me to rethink my position:

“As you may know, five government studies have found that the ads have not reduced marijuana use - and two of the studies found that the ads might make some teenagers more likely to start using marijuana. Now, a new study by two researchers at Texas State University-San Marcos finds that 18- to 19-year-old college students who view the TV ads develop more positive attitudes towards marijuana than those who do not.”

Pay particular attention to the second sentence in that paragraph. Excuse me? Isn’t that what we want? Wouldn’t more people developing more positive attitudes towards marijuana hasten its legalization?

Even though the ONDCP anti-marijuana ad campaign is backfiring big time, I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that it’s an enormous waste of taxpayers’ money. In fact, I think it’s a case of the taxpayers’ money being exceptionally well spent. With results like this, we can probably expect to see marijuana legalized within the next year or two.

So, with that in mind, rather than endorse the letter to block the ads, I’m going to send the ONDCP a large contribution to help them run more ads.

Heh! Heh! Just kidding!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Loosen the corporate grip!

Ours is a government of the people, by the people, for the people? Yeah, right! Not since a bunch of corrupt Supreme Court Justices decided that corporations were entitled to the same rights that are guaranteed to individual citizen under the Constitution, anyway.

Now, what we have is a government of the people, by the corporations, for wealthy corporate investors. Yeah, it’s that bad, but what did you think would happen when corporations were given the power to take over the government? Did you really expect them to let a golden opportunity like that slip away?

Maybe it’s time for citizens to take back control of the government rather than allow corporations to maintain control. Commercial interests have a stranglehold on the national economy, on national politics, on the global environment. They’ve proven, on numerous occasions, that their only allegiance is to the corporate bottom line. They’ve proven, time and again, their willingness to sacrifice, on the twin altars of money and power, the essentials of well being for the illusion of well being.

How to wrest power away from entities that have controlled so much for so long remains the big question. Is it even doable? Maybe, but only if enough citizens take enough interest in the political processes that control every aspect of their lives and demand that enough politicians take enough appropriate actions to effect meaningful change.

Maybe the answer lies not in revoking corporate Constitutional rights but by achieving true parity between corporations and individuals by giving them all the rights and responsibilities of individuals, not just the ones that work to their advantage.

If corporations had to achieve 18 years of age, from the date of their inception, before they could enter into contracts or make major financial decisions, it would probably have a dampening effect on corporate activities. Corporations should also face mandatory retirement at age 65 and automatic death at age 75. It's ludicrous to give corporations the rights enjoyed by individual citizens and endow them with immortality, too.

Tax corporate stockholders at individual income tax rates. Hold them liable for any damage the corporation does on their behalf. Limit corporate CEO pay to no more than 20 times the amount paid to the lowest-paid corporate employee.

Finally, get rid of the lobbyists and take away corporate ability to fund political campaigns and influence government policy. Corporations are in business to make widgets, not run the damned government.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When the oil runs out . . .

Americans, either in extreme denial or just plain ignorance about the effects of the “Great American Dream” lifestyle on global environments and economies, continue their profligate ways as if the good times could roll on forever. Few of them think about the consequences of global warming-induced climate changes, or how deeply the coming oil shortages will impact their lives.

What can I—or anyone else—say or do to get their attention? Probably nothing! Can anyone make them understand that the threat is real, that it’s serious, and that failure to plan now will only exacerbate the problems later on? Probably not!

Few people realize that society in 2050 will more closely resemble that which existed in 1850 than it will society as it existed in 1950. I’ve seen many good reasons why this should be so, and no credible evidence that it should be otherwise.

Have you ever wondered what the world will be like after the oil runs out? Have you ever stopped to consider just how much every aspect of your life depends on oil? Without oil, will you still be able to get to and from work? Can your job exist without oil?

Everything near and dear to the American way of life depends, directly or indirectly, on oil. When the oil disappears, so too will the comfort and ease and all the things in your life that an abundance of oil made possible.

Are you capable of growing your own food? You’ll have to, you know, unless you can coerce a generous neighbor into growing it for you. Without oil, Big Agriculture won’t be able to grow or harvest crops, or ship produce to processors or markets. There’ll be no way to transport manufactured goods, in the quantities we’ve needed and come to rely on, over long distances.

Without oil, the global economy will collapse, as will stock markets, real estate values and banks. Many governments, too, will fail, and life in civilized countries will seem a little less civilized.

In a future that’s closer than anyone thinks, self-sufficiency and sustainability are the keys to survival. Are you prepared to survive? Or do you even care?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The leisure class has the working class surrounded!

One of the reasons I’m such an ardent fan of fiction is that writers of said fiction generally manage to integrate little nuggets of wisdom into their stories, often in unexpected but always delightful ways. I’ve come to think of these valuable nuggets as learning tools, something to expand my knowledge or at least help me to see reality from a new perspective.

Last night, as I was reading Free Fall, a compelling page-turner of a novel by Kyle Mills, an author previously unknown to me, I came across this priceless gem: There’s a leisure class at both ends of the social spectrum.

It took a few moments for the truth of that simple statement to sink in, and when it did I realized I’d never before given the matter so much as even one brain cell’s worth of critical thought. But yes, Mills is absolutely right; there is a leisure class at each end of the social spectrum.

At the upper end you have the idle rich, who survive on a mixture of greed, power and, more often than we like to imagine, ill-gotten gains. People at this end of the spectrum don’t have to work. They let their money do the work. It’s the capitalist’s version of “let your fingers do the walking.” Hey! There’s no point in lifting a finger if you don’t have to.

The leisure class at the lower end of the social spectrum consists of the idle poor, an underclass of citizens who can’t work, or, for whatever reasons, choose not to. Sometimes it’s a matter of taking the road less traveled, or of following the course of least resistance, and sometimes it’s a matter of having no choice at all.

Caught between these two leisure classes is the working class, but that’s to be expected. Somebody’s got to do the work.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Plea for Sensible Laws

Someone (I think it was Robert A. Heinlein) once wrote that whenever you pass a new law you create a new class of criminals. There’s a great deal of wisdom in this thought, and it should inspire all of us to be careful what we wish for in regards to legislation.

Law is necessary in a civil society to maintain order and preserve the commonwealth. Wise laws are the wise servants of the people, but only laws that apply equally to all members of society should make it into the books or be allowed to remain on the books. Frivolous, regressive, repressive and purely punitive laws should be immediately stricken from the books and banished forever.

Prime examples are the laws prohibiting marijuana. Laws that punish one group of people at the expense of a second group of people for the benefit of a third group of people are not just laws. They are laws of tyranny and oppression that make a mockery of justice and damage society far more than they benefit it.

Striking anti-marijuana laws from the books would serve society in a myriad of important ways; achieving energy independence, building a stable, sustainable economy, protecting the environment, saving taxpayers money, and freeing up jail space to incarcerate dangerous criminals are among the most obvious.

If we really need to have stupid laws on the books, let’s consider a law making it illegal for people not to know how to find Iraq on a world globe. Punishment for violating such a law could be a two-year tour of duty in Iraq, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Not only would this solve the military’s enlistment problems, but it would also give incentive for students to learn their geography lessons. Best of all, it wouldn’t cost the taxpayers an arm and a leg to fund it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Slinging mud and other campaign b.s.

As the primary elections draw near, the politicians and their campaigners are ramping up the rhetoric. They’re going into attack mode, now. The gloves are off and the political candidates are resorting to the typical dirty tricks that have always been part of the election process.

Name-calling is a tactic that always seems to work. Candidate A calls candidate B an inexperienced newcomer. Candidate B retaliates by calling candidate A a career politician. Career politician?

Stop and think about it for a minute before you automatically assume that this intended slur carries any weight. What, exactly, is a career politician? Isn’t a career politician someone who was elected to office by the will of the majority of voters and remains in office at the will of the majority of voters? The majority of voters can end a career politician’s career simply by voting the crook out of office.

What does candidate B really hope to gain by calling candidate A a career politician? Isn’t he really hoping to defeat candidate A so that he, himself, can become a career politician?

Career politicians are the ones that get elected, and reelected. All the rest are inexperienced newcomers, a.k.a. also-rans.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Patriotism? Let's vote on it!

Okay, you’re more patriotic than the next guy, right? Or so you say. In the absence of quantifiable proof, let’s put your high opinion of yourself to the test.

Are you registered to vote? No? Then how are you going to vote in the May primary elections? Oregon’s May primary takes place on the 16th. It’s possible other states hold their elections on different dates, but I don’t know this for a fact. I don’t vote in other states.

If you are registered to vote, are you planning to vote? No? I guess convenience defines the limits of your patriotism.

If you are planning to vote, have you familiarized yourself with all the candidates and issues so that when you cast your ballot you will do so as a responsible, well-informed voter? Or are you going to take the same approach to voting that other self-professed patriots took in the last election? You know! The one that left us holding the bag for the bad decisions and insane policies of the idiot cowboy that currently occupies the White House.

Of course, if you are registered to vote, are planning to vote, and are fully informed about candidates and issues, then you really are a patriot. You understand that patriotism is more than just waving a flag. You understand that patriotism also means getting fully involved in the political process.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Rising Gas Prices

Well, it finally happened. Today, gas prices topped $3.00 per gallon, the fourth consecutive increase in as many days. Just 45 cents to go to hit the $3.50 per gallon by Labor Day that I predicted last September. 45 cents is not an unreasonable figure. Prices have risen that much in just the past month.

Evidently, people haven’t had enough, yet. You still see them, one person to a car, mired in rush hour traffic. Perhaps no one’s driving more these days, but for damned sure few people are driving less.

Conventional wisdom says that when people are fed up with higher gas prices they’ll change their behavior. They’ll walk more, bicycle more, use public transportation more often, buy smaller, more economical vehicles, make fewer trips. Of course, conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong.

While most people would argue for lower gas prices, what we really need is higher prices, something to discourage them from driving SUVs, or even from driving at all. Higher gas taxes would serve that end, as would vehicle weight/mileage taxes and a progressive luxury tax on vehicles costing more than $25,000 (hybrid economy cars excepted).

Maybe gas rationing is the answer. If people were allotted only so much gas a month, surely they would curb their gasoline usage, either through driving more economical vehicles or through driving less.

One thing seems certain, though. If we don’t break our addiction to fossil fuels, our addiction to fossil fuels will break us. Get over it, then get on with it.

And welcome to the new reality.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Time flies when you're old enough to see the obvious.

As you’ve gotten older you probably noticed that time seems to be picking up speed, as if it were trying to leave you in the dust. Do you ever stop to think that maybe it’s just you trying to return to the dust?

Admit it! Things aren’t like they were when you were a kid. Back in the day there was time enough for everything. Those were the days when the hardest things you did were to learn to do the things you now take for granted; tie your shoes, tell time, read and write, the multiplication tables, stuff like that.

Back in the day, time slowed to a crawl as you fidgeted your way through the school day, hurried out to play, then struggled to get your homework done in time to watch an hour of television before your nine o’clock bedtime. The school year seemed to last forever, but when summer vacation finally came, it lasted long enough that by the time the new school year started, the previous year was only a distant memory.

Those were the days when you didn’t have to stop to smell the roses. You could smell them as you pedaled by on your bicycle, just as easily as you could smell the dog shit squished between your toes as you raced, barefooted, across the yard, or the aroma of fresh-baked cookies wafting from the open kitchen window as you played catch with a friend. You didn’t have to stop to do anything. Only rarely did you even slow down.

Whatever happened to those good old days, anyway? Today, it seems as if your plate is always full. Too full. You plod along, knowing that whatever remains on your plate from today gets added to your plate for tomorrow, ensuring that you won’t finish tomorrow’s tasks, either. The backlog builds; the days grow shorter.

The sun comes up, you blink a few times, go through a few motions, and then the sun goes down. There never seems to be enough time, in one day, to do all the things you have to do. But, there’s always tomorrow.

Few people who have entered into middle age will argue the point; most people agree that as they age, time seems to speed up. One day blurs into the next and pretty soon another year is gone.

I think Einstein’s theory of relativity adequately explains this time distortion phenomenon. I’m pretty sure that in there somewhere he postulated that time slows down as one moves faster through space.

The answer is simple, then. Kids move faster than aging adults do, so time goes by slower. Aging adults are slower than kids are, so time goes by in a rush.

It’s all relative.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Words that Hurt

“You’re not smart enough to be a writer.”

Stung by my father’s words, I fled the room in anger. No bee swarm could have inflicted more pain; no knife cut so deep, no fist hit as hard as did those eight words, uttered in a mean-spirited moment of carelessness some 46 years ago.

The words came in response to my simple statement that I’d changed one of my elective classes to high school journalism, journalism being as close to creative writing as one could get in those days. The first day of my sophomore year was over; at age 15 I was high on life’s possibilities, wired into the future, proud that I was beginning to take charge of my own life. Evidently, my dad wasn’t similarly impressed.

Looking back, I can see now that that’s where the problems started.

The following day I canceled the journalism class, signed up for a class I no longer remember, and proceeded to tune out of the high school curriculum. Soon, falling grades became failing grades. By the time I entered senior year I realized that school was failing me just as surely as I was failing at school.

Ironically, the two subjects that I failed were English and Social Studies, both of which would be among my top subjects were I to take them today. Sometimes the right things come along at the wrong time.

Is there a moral to this story? Of course there is.

If you are a parent, a role model, a mentor, employer, authority figure or friend, I urge you to engage your brain before you move your lips. Beware that the words you’re about to speak have awesome power, and that they should not be used thoughtlessly.

Language is mankind’s most powerful, most useful, and most commonly used – and misused – invention. Without language, few other inventions could exist.

Words of a spoken language – any language – are aural expressions of ideas. Words of a written language are made up of symbols that are visual representations of the sounds contained in the spoken word.

The words we say and write have infinitely greater power than most of us realize. Every day we use words in casual or careless ways, or in meaningful and purposeful ways, sometimes not fully aware of their incredible power.

Pundits and politicians use words to forge public opinion. Historians and futurists use words to rewrite history or shape the future. Scientists, academicians and philosophers use words to express complex theories, carry on intellectual discourse, or debate high ideals.

Words have the power to start wars or stop them, to build confidence or generate fear, to inspire to greatness or relegate to the dustbins of mediocrity, to express love or show contempt, to praise or ridicule, to wound or to heal.

When you talk to those who are important to you, beware that the effects of the words you use can last a lifetime.