Archive for the ‘old blogspot posts’ Category

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December 14, 2008

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Mirror Image of Sex

Imagine if we had a matriarchy where sex was decreed to be men performing oral sex on women. Occasionally the women would want intercourse and the male would have an orgasm, but intercourse was considered foreplay and not a real part of sex.

Most often, sex would involve men performing oral sex on women and nothing more. Women would have an orgasm and the men would just be happy to satisfy their partners.

That doesn’t seem so fair, doesn’t it?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Story – Freud Upside Down

A page from a future textbook – Freud turned upside down….

Sexual Development Theory in the Cooperation-based world of 2053

Normal Development

A child, when first born, learns immediately through the mother’s breastfeeding and attention that the mother provides her with nourishment, love, safety, and comfort. As she gets older, the child’s view is reinforced by the mother’s continued caretaking and nurturance. The child, appreciating these efforts, identifies with the mother. She both wants to be like the mother and to have a mate similar to the mother. The presence of other children propels the child into the “competition stage”. The child wishes to be the only recipient of the mother’s attention. Eventually the child develops the higher attributes (now called “world skills”) of cooperation, compassion, and harmonic coexistence as she moves into the more mature “cooperation stage”.

The father, being less involved in the process and in many families often non-existent, is seen as a distant and punitive figure, one not capable of relating on the more complex interpersonal and emotional levels. The child grows to realize just how fortunate she is to have been born a female and to be able to nurture relationships with other females, forming relationships based on the higher attributes of compassion, cooperation, similarities, and interpersonal abilities. The child at first finds it disheartening to find the father so incapable of emotional involvement (the “despair stage”), but later comes to understand that males have only one complete X chromosome, the other being broken (the “acceptance stage”).

The experience of the minority

Some children are born male. They do not have a “time of the month”, because they are affected by hormones every day of the month, leading to a greater likelihood of physical and sexual aggression. In addition, these children learn that they do not have the greater interpersonal abilities of communication and cooperation, or the greater emotional development of the female. They compensate by developing their physical strength and stressing competition over cooperation and compassion. Historically, these males dominated the more superior females by virtue of physical strength, and relegated women to the ranks of the dependent. Society, formed by these men, reinforced their notions so well that women learned to devalue their own superior strengths. The males limited the females’ contact with each other and trained them to be dependent on the male, thereby ensuring that for many centuries the males could overturn and control the natural order of the world. The males’ stress on competition led to many divisions in the world, between rich and poor, between countries, between the sexes. Many lives were lost to starvation, many to wars, many to subjugation.

The males’ control has ceased to exist, but males still compensate for their less developed abilities by overdeveloping their physical selves and by trying to stress the ancient, less productive ability of competition in the modern, progressively cooperative world. Instead of accepting that they are lacking a second fully developed X chromosome and trying to learn appropriate world skills as best they can, these males fall victim to “X envy”. They realize that they are basically “incomplete women” and to overcome this feeling of being second-rate, they remain fixated at the competition stage, always trying to prove themselves. As if to make up for the lacking part of their second chromosome, these males place inordinate emphasis upon their penises and they remain fixated at the immature penile orgasm stage.

A small number of men are able to overcome their biology and fit into the world. These men accept their genetic inferiority and are able to move past their “X envy” stage. They do the best they can to learn world skills such as cooperation and compassion, and they are able to experience mouth orgasms. Learning to appreciate the mouth orgasm is an important indicator that a man has reached sexual maturity and can finally, truly please those women who choose to have sex with a male.

Abnormal Development

Some children are very disturbed by the distance of the father figure and through a genetic disturbance, are more likely to take the father’s distance personally. They become fixated at this “despair stage”, and without therapy, will spend the rest of their lives trying to nurture relationships with men. These women are called “heterosexual”. They are consumed by a need to “tame” a man, to somehow help him grow and mature so that one day he might be more similar to how women are naturally, all in a misguided attempt to solve their childhood frustration at the alienation of the sperm donor. Women who are fixated at this stage are unable to fulfill their potential as humans, for their misspent energies keep them from developing normal, healthy relationships with female mates. Instead of growing in a relationship which supports and celebrates femininity, in which both participants are capable of higher interpersonal skills and cooperation, these fixated women are doomed to relationships with the less developed male of the species, relationships in which the women are held back.

The males in these relationships are threatened by the two complete X chromosomes of the females and respond with the ancient tactic of trying to make the women believe that interpersonal and cooperation skills are inferior to the competition that the male favors. The women in these relationships, without help, will never move forward into the “acceptance stage” and will never fulfill their potential.

It is hypothesized that nature will always produce some women who are genetically predisposed to become fixated at this stage, so that babies will be produced for the continuation of the species. It was long ago shown to be a myth that females born to such women and raised in such households are more likely to turn out to have this “heterosexual deviation”; the number of such abnormalities is just high enough to maintain population levels.

Healthy Compensation

Those males who do recognize the superiority of “world skills” seek out other similar males with whom to form families, thereby attempting to emulate the success of equality based female-female relationships. While they cannot fully complete their identification with the mother figure as they are not themselves female, they at least are not fixated at the competition stage as are other men and do not cause the societal fractures which lead to repressed women, wars between countries, or poverty.

Story – A Tale of Two Dogs

I have a black and white dog named Spot who is the love of my life. Spot has been with me for a very long time, and during the worst times of my life he has always been around to sit with me with his head on my leg. Spot and I found each other in Georgia around 13 years ago. The vet told me that he was at least a year old at that time, so he’s at least 14 years old now. Spot has the greatest personality. He’s a very happy and laid back dog. He loves people and he is always excited when company comes over. He likes checking out new people, trying to tell where they’ve been by their smells, and he likes the attention that they give him. He makes little jumping movements with his back legs when he’s so happy.

Even though Spot is a male, when the pregnant cat I took in gave birth to kittens, Spot would sit with the kittens and allow them to cuddle in his belly. I would have to take the kittens away sometimes so they could nurse, because he would growl whenever the mother would try to come near her own kittens. I kept one of those kittens, and his name is Koshka and he is now 8 years old and thoroughly imprinted upon Spot.

Spot doesn’t see very well anymore, and he hasn’t been able to hear anything at all for a long time now. He has a lot of gray now where once there was black, and his back legs are getting pretty weak. Spot has never had any fear of strangers, even though he spent his first year of life as a stray. Since he can no longer hear, he doesn’t bark at noises outside or at the sound of the doorbell. But he never really did; rather, he was always happy because noises meant company might be coming in for him to meet. To Spot, the world has always been an adventure, something exciting, something good.

About 8 years ago, when Spot was six years old, I happened upon a little black dog in Mexico. She was a stray and was only a few months old. I named her Sobaka, and she turned into a happy, energetic, loving, and loyal dog. She follows me from room to room and always sits next to me on the couch and sleeps with me on the bed. Her bark becomes a high-pitched screech of excitement when I come home each day from work.

But her personality is really different than Spot’s in regard to the outside world. She is very suspicious of people and has even nipped ankles twice. I now either keep her locked up when someone new has come over, or I put her muzzle on her. She is particularly protective of the couch and the bed – if someone approaches one of them, she jumps up on it and barks at the person and won’t let them sit down. I’ve always assumed it was because those are the places I sleep and she knows I am most vulnerable there. When I take a bath or shower, Sobaka always sits in the bathroom doorway, facing out, as though she is on guard. She barks at the slightest noise, she barks at the doorbell, and she even barks when she hears the familiar voices of the neighbors outside. She seems so on guard all of the time.

What I find most interesting is that the personalities of my two dogs exemplify two different sides of my own personality. I wonder sometimes if the different stages I was in when I got each one of them shaped them into dogs with two such different views of the world. When I got Spot, I viewed the world in much the same way as he does. Things had always gone well for me, I never wanted for anything, and change was always something that was for the better. New people were interesting and exciting. Life was an adventure, something to charge into and explore. I didn’t pay much attention to “red flags” because nothing bad ever came of them. I was in a long-term relationship in which I felt very loved and safe, and every day I was getting closer and closer to my professional goals.

By the time I got Sobaka, my life had changed completely. My ten-year relationship had ended, and the pain and my inability to deal with that pain had led everything in my life to fall apart. I left graduate school, I moved across the country, and I began living a life very similar to a fugue state. And I lived in absolute fear – fear of the creditors I could not pay, fear of the hoodlums in the huge city I now found myself, fear of losing my low-paying job, fear of being so close to having nothing. I was afraid of answering the phone, I was afraid of checking the mail out of fear of finding more bills, and I was afraid when the doorbell rang. My house was burglarized twice during this time, and I have no idea what may have been done to the dogs by the burglars.

I no longer found new people exciting and very seldom invited people to visit me, because they might be people who could hurt me, whether physically, financially, or emotionally. I no longer saw life as an adventure, because now it only seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I felt defeated and afraid. I became increasingly isolated, and I found solace only in the privacy and solitude of my own home. I didn’t want anyone to bother me there; I wanted just to be left alone. The outside world wasn’t welcome in my house, because it only represented unpredictability and caused me fear and anxiety. Change was no longer exciting, because now it only brought trouble.

Looking back, I can see how Sobaka so clearly manifests the same attitude towards the world as I had come to develop. I had stopped trusting people blindly and went to the opposite extreme of not trusting them at all. I sought isolation as a means to keep the danger of people away from myself. With those people I couldn’t avoid, I kept interactions very superficial and emotionally distant. Similarly, Sobaka is always on guard, particularly when she knows I am bathing, sleeping, or interacting with another person. She is most relaxed when we are all at home, sitting together, with no outsiders around. It’s almost as if she is the physical manifestation of my own defense mechanisms.

Spot and Sobaka are such different types of dogs, that it’s difficult to take them out for a walk in public at the same time. It’s emotionally draining and makes it hard to enjoy the walk when one dog is too vulnerable because he can’t see well or hear but wants to go excitedly and unwarily out to explore, and the other dog wants to bark and growl and chase any other people away.

I wonder if there is some way to shape the dogs to be a little more like each other and embody less the extremes. So that they aren’t cheerfully racing off blind and deaf into possible danger, but they also aren’t so guarded that they can’t even experience and appreciate non-dangerous situations and people.

Postscript: Spot died on July 19, 2004 at the age of 16. I’m hoping to honor the memory of my old friend by continuing to reclaim the side of my personality that he himself never lost.

Story: The First Sign of Spring

The Northerner was no stranger to winter storms. There were always predictable signs foreshadowing a storm’s approach and certain well-used actions the Northerner could take to ameliorate the storm’s impact. Her job required her to work in the forest and she was often called upon to rescue frightened hikers stranded by inclement weather. She was always able to find the quickest way out of the stormy woods and return to safety those dependent upon her expertise.

Late one fall, however, the season changed to winter suddenly and without warning. The Northerner was deep in the woods, absorbed in her work, and she was caught totally unprepared by the worst storm she had ever seen. Just as the sun waned and dusk settled in upon the forest, the Northerner discovered that the swirling snow was quickly covering the path leading home. Instinct told her leave immediately, but in her panic and confusion, the Northerner left her snowshoes behind at her worksite, so her progress through the rapidly accumulating snow was greatly hampered. In addition, her trusted compass, which had always served her well, seemingly was not made to withstand a storm of this strength, for she couldn’t get it to work.

Without the compass and with blinding snow swirling all about her, the Northerner’s bewildered guesses led her far astray. So the Northerner just kept trying to outrun the worst of the storm, not even aware of where she was going. She had an eerie feeling that no matter which way she turned, the storm was following her. She finally came upon a clearing and took refuge in an unfamiliar cabin, uneasily settling in to wait out the storm.

But that first storm of the season, that blizzard that came from nowhere, was fated to last the whole winter. The Northerner was cut off from the rest of the world, her adopted cabin buried in snow and ice and encircled by threatening winds. She became increasingly afraid to venture out, afraid of what might lie in this unfamiliar part of the woods, afraid to take a chance without the security of her usual compass and snowshoes. Soon the cabin windows were covered in a thick sheet of ice, so that her view of the world beyond was impeded and distorted. Oddly, this almost comforted her, for not being able to see the world outside helped at first to keep her from being totally overwhelmed by her plight. She had never encountered a storm of such proportions, one which she hadn’t expected, one which she couldn’t beat. She had helped so many people out of the woods in bad weather and yet now found she was unable to help herself. She began to feel very ineffective and defeated.

In addition, she didn’t even know how to let anyone else know that she needed help. The Northerner had never needed help before; in the past she had always been the one to help others. Yet now that she herself actually needed help, she had withdrawn to such an isolated position inside the eye of the storm that even if help happened by, she wouldn’t be able to see it through the ice-covered windows of her well-barricaded haven.

From time to time she could hear the sounds of animals rummaging about outside the cabin. They might have been nothing more dangerous than squirrels, but the Northerner had become so afraid, that it felt safer to assume the worst and stay away from them. She just made the cabin her whole world and tried not to think about the threatening hazards that lie outside the door. There weren’t many provisions in the remote cabin, but she thought there might be enough food to survive if she were very mindful not to let herself have too much nourishment in any given day. She used the firewood very sparingly to make it last, and the resultant constant chill in the air made her begin to doubt that she would ever even be capable of feeling warmth again.

Days passed, then weeks. The cabin was filled with shelves of dusty books, so the Northerner spent a lot of her time reading, finding some solace and reprieve in the distraction. The rest of her time was spent cleaning this new backwoods home of hers, trying desperately to feel some sense of organization, of belonging, of normalcy in this unfamiliar, sequestered world in which she had sought refuge. Mostly she was trying to keep her mind off of the storm swirling all about her. She was filled with such loneliness, with confusion, with despair at the meaninglessness of her current life, and with an overpowering sense of great loss. Perhaps it was a result of the coldness and isolation that enveloped her, or perhaps it served as an escape from the magnitude of the pain that threatened to consume her, but she often found herself in an exhausted state of near numbness and emotional paralysis.

But the numbness never lasted. Often during the night she would have dreams of the life she used to lead, dreams in which she was confident, happy, and successful. When she awoke and realized anew her situation, she was overwhelmed by a terrible aching, her heart feeling like a knife was being twisted deep inside of it. In those early morning hours, no matter how often it happened, it was each time like a brand new devastating shock to her system. Her head never forgot the reality of her situation, but when that reality would surreptitiously confront her unguarded heart upon awakening, it simply devastated her whole being. She would sit in bed doubled over with her head in her hands, trembling violently and feeling very disoriented, frightened, vulnerable, and – above all – alone.

No one came looking for her. Perhaps they didn’t know she had been caught up in the storm. But still, no one seemed to miss her. On top of her feelings of fear and isolation, she now began to feel very unloved and unwanted. No one cared enough to reach out to her, to rescue her from her winter prison. Her depression at her situation grew and grew until she no longer felt like she even deserved to be rescued. For after years of rescuing others, she now found that there was no one to rescue her. It was a devastating and far-reaching realization, one which only contributed to her growing feelings of unworthiness.

There was nothing the Northerner could do to abate the storm outside. She grew to feel a pervasive sense of powerlessness about her fate. The storm simply raged on and on, and as the months passed the Northerner actually began to doubt that she had ever really had the previous life of her memories. The past all seemed so unreal and far away now. All she knew now was her isolation and fear. All she was certain of was her need to stay safe from that tremendous storm. It was no longer a question of hoping to return to her previous life. It was now nothing more than the here and now, trying to make it day to day. Hope had faded almost as quickly as had her former warm, predictable, and secure life.

One day, after what seemed like an eternity buried in that cabin, the Northerner heard a bird singing outside. It was as if she were calling to her, beckoning her to come out. The Northerner tried to look out of the windows to see the bird, but her view was still distorted by the thick sheet of ice. From inside the cabin it still looked very cold and threatening outside. But the bird wasn’t afraid of the storm, and day after day the Northerner would hear that same bird, always singing, always calling.

As the dreary days passed, the Northerner came to look forward to the bird’s appearance from the moment she left until she would appear again the next day. She wanted to see who the bird was, and she also wanted the bird to know that even through the ice-covered cabin walls she could hear and appreciate her song. She was afraid the bird might abandon her and not sing her song everyday. The Northerner didn’t want to lose the only beauty in her forlorn new life – she had already lost so much. She wrestled with herself everyday, trying to gather the strength to open the door to the outside, but it just seemed too risky, too frightening.

She knew that before she could let the bird get too close, she had to make sure she wasn’t a vulture trying to lead her into a trap. She had to make sure she wasn’t a mockingbird imitating the song of a kinder bird, just playing games with her. The Northerner’s trust and faith had worn thin. She wasn’t sure if she could even trust in her own judgment anymore. If she was a good bird, perhaps the Northerner could depend on the bird to lead her to safety, for she might know the way out of the forest. But if it was all in her imagination, if she was merely hearing the song of a bird who wasn’t really out there, it would be just one more heartache in her winter of pain.

It was a terrible dilemma. The Northerner couldn’t go back to the life she had once led without leaving the safety of the cabin, but to leave the cabin she would have to face the storm, and she just no longer had the strength, tools, or confidence that it would take to battle it. The fierce winds could encircle her once she opened the door, and they might propel her out into the worst of the blizzard. Or the drifts of snow could come cascading like an avalanche into her refuge of a cabin and make it no longer habitable. It wasn’t the home she wanted, but it was all she had, and she couldn’t let the storm now take away the little it had left her.

But still, there was that bird. The Northerner was becoming increasingly afraid that the bird might leave if she never let her know that she could hear her song, but the only way to do that was to open the door and risk exposing herself to the dangerous winds of the storm. The Northerner became very consumed with this internal struggle, trying to decide whether to open the door or not. It seemed a very important decision, but also a very frightening one. She sensed that if the bird left, her only chance for salvation would fly away with the her; it was imperative that she somehow signal the bird that she wanted help. So finally she took a chance and began to peek through the slightly open door to watch the bird and listen to her sing, trying to see her well enough to know who she was. The Northerner was too afraid of the powerful winds and still too distrustful of the unknown bird to open the door very much, but she did keep trying every day by opening it just a bit and watching.

As the Northerner watched, the bird started perching closer and closer to the cabin, and day by day the bird began to seem more familiar and predictable. Reflexively, the Northerner opened the door a little wider one day and was surprised when the bird flew inside. She made a few passes about the cabin as though she knew her way around and then came to rest in the doorway. She kept singing her song, seemingly inviting the Northerner to follow her outside, as if by accompanying the bird the Northerner could face the storm and not be overpowered. In shocked astonishment, the Northerner realized that the season must finally be changing, for the bird was a robin redbreast, the first sign of spring. Spring, the time of rebirth, of change, of green, and of gentle winds.

It would certainly take some work for the Northerner to trudge her way through the snowdrifts, but she realized she would now be able to do it. For just as she opened the door, the snow began melting enough for her to see the first steps back to her home. All those months of isolation and fear and self-doubt had numbed her to any hopes of being saved. If the bird had never appeared or had flown away, the Northerner might have never chanced opening the door. But all it took to restore the Northerner’s hopes for the future was the appearance of that bird and the Northerner’s opening up the door enough to recognize it — the robin, always the first sign of spring — always the harbinger of growth, warmth, hope, and new life.

***** Written as a “thank you” to a wonderful San Diego therapist named Robin.


May 2006 posts

December 14, 2008

Are “patriotism” and “war” synonymous?

 From May, 2006

Patriotism is:

…driving a fuel-efficient vehicle
…donating blood
…being an active and caring part of your neighborhood
…treating your less advantaged neighbor with respect
…supporting local farmers and merchants
…fighting for better schools for all neighborhoods
…volunteering in your community
…taking care of the environment
…appreciating the diversity of your fellow Americans
…mediating peaceful compromises with those around you
…being one with the world not superior to it.

Patriotism is exemplified by our personal lifestyle choices, not by our actions in a foreign country.

How did we let this administration define “patriotism” as being synonymous with “war”? 

The new Christianity without Jesus

 Humans are capable of a wide range of cognitive and emotional expression.
We can be aggressive, tender, introspective, competitive, peaceful, emotive, judgmental, or caring. At some point early in human development, however, societies became patriarchal, and strength and power became the most valued qualities.

Although women and men are more alike than different (more differences are found within gender than between genders), patriarchal societies tended to exaggerate and encourage those differences. Work was divided along gender lines, as were the human qualities we are all capable of. Females were assigned the more peaceful, communicative, and emotive qualities, while males were assigned the more aggressive, stoic, and cognitive qualities. Just as women were considered inferior to men, so the qualities assigned to them were considered inferior and unimportant.

An alternative approach would have been to let everyone develop all of their human abilities and express each one depending on the situation, such as showing nurturance to a crying baby or showing competition when in a race, regardless of gender. People would exhibit varying constellations of the different human abilities, but it would be based on their individual personality, not on their gender. Feminism enabled many women and men to move past their proscribed gender roles, but our collective societal beliefs still cling to the past.

A comparison can be made to the God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament. God is presented as similar to the masculine gender identity; he appears arrogant, interested in his own power, judgmental, and advocates aggressive solutions, speaking of “an eye for an eye”. Jesus, on the other hand, has qualities representative of the feminine gender identity. He was humble, and he spoke of “turning the other cheek”, taking care of the poor (nurturance and compassion), and accepting diversity. He is emotive and does not seem invested in his own power.

More interesting – and disturbing – is that our current Christian political leaders seem to have substituted God’s “masculine” identity for Jesus’ “feminine” identity. Our guiding “moral” principles seem now to revolve around aggressive national power (“my country right or wrong” and “might makes right”), self-centered personal power (“I’m going to make my own financial fortune and I don’t care about the less advantaged”), and discriminatory social power (let’s take rights away from people who are different than I am”).

We are still a patriarchy, and there is still a stigma of inferiority attached to so-called “feminine” qualities. Power is still seen as the most valued human quality and war is glorified. Could this be part of the reason that Christianity has been “de-feminized” ? The world is quickly becoming an extremely volatile place, and a cowboy administration based on a “masculinized” morality seems likely to further fan the flames, particularly as recognized states are increasingly resorting to terrorist tactics of pre-emption, disproportunate retaliation, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

As a secularist, I don’t believe that religion belongs in government, but if we must have it for two more years, I’d prefer our “Christian” leaders start focusing on what Jesus stood for. A government that focused on Jesus’ values, rather than on religious identification and power, may very likely be able to prevent World War 3. We need to finally agree that humans are capable of a range of behaviors, stop glorifying and overusing our “masculine” abilities, and start appreciating those behaviors previously assigned to the “feminine gender identity”. Those “feminine” qualities might literally be the saving grace for our world.

Such a shift would open up to us a whole new worldview, and enable us to finally envision (and desire) prevention of conflict, as well as non-violent resolution of grievances. A good place to start would be to address the poverty that most of the world’s citizens live in. Jesus would like that. 

August 2005 posts

December 14, 2008
Hiroshima, cover-ups, and the nuclear race

 AlterNet: Lessons Learned, Lessons Not Learned


Sixty years ago tomorrow, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, the military dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki.

These are the only two nuclear bombs ever used in war, and with good reason. The devastation from the bombs was unfathomable, and as the extent of the destruction became public knowledge, the bombs themselves became a symbol of the atrocity of war.

Immediately after the bombs, once Japan had surrendered unconditionally, the U.S. military instituted a blanket ban on reporting about the effects of the bombs. It took seven years for the first photos to surface in Japan, and many more for the larger world to learn what happened on those two days.

Sadly, the threat of nuclear weapons seems to have faded from the public consciousness, even as the fear of terrorist attacks looms large. With all the talk of “dirty bombs” and “suitcase bombs,” the fact is that more than 30,000 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the eight countries that admit to having any. As Walter Cronkite says in a new radio documentary, “Lessons from Hiroshima: 60 Years Later,” “some 4,000 of these are on hair-trigger alert.”

One of the most interesting and damning points you make in the documentary is that if the cover-up had not happened, then possibly there would not have been an arms race, that nuclear weapons would not be the threat that they still are today.

Yes, you certainly have a strong argument about that. Obviously, no one knows for sure, and one of the journalists in the program makes the case that the arms race wouldn’t have happened. But without a doubt the debate would have been different. In the United States there was no debate about the legitimacy of having nuclear arms, the only argument was “Oh my God, how did the Soviet Union get it? The Rosenbergs must have stolen it.” That was the only debate; it wasn’t about whether it was legitimate to have these weapons, or for the U.S. to test them. Certainly it would have changed the nature of the debate.

I was in Hiroshima just after the 55th anniversary, and the city is incredible; it’s a monument to peace, there are paper cranes everywhere, there’s a Peace Museum, and it’s full of memorials. So in 55 years they’d turned from being the aggressor to being a proponent of peace, and in some way you could make the argument that if the war hadn’t ended like that …

Sure, but do you have to put people through that kind of death and destruction in order to become a monument to peace? It’s a credit to the people of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki both, that they’ve drawn on those lessons and they’ve made their cities leaders in the movement for peace, but you don’t wish that on anyone.

When you mentioned that the Japanese argument in WWII for invading Asia was to liberate them, do you see any other parallels between that war and what’s going on now with American policy?

Of course. Ironically, the U.S. has been encouraging the Japanese military and government to increase the sizes of its army and navy, including sending troops to Iraq. And that’s why it’s so telling that this Japanese soldier [is] completely opposed to sending troops to Iraq, because how is it any different from what they did in Asia?

But on a broader level, what the U.S. is doing now in Iraq is using a lot of the same logic, which is “We’re going there to liberate Iraq from a horrible dictator.” Of course, that’s not what they told us at the time. At the time it was to stop the weapons of mass destruction and to stop nuclear expansion [laughs], and when those arguments turned out to be totally phony, they came up with this latest one. It’s the logic of every aggressor, the aggressor never says “We’re going there to benefit from your oil and expand our military bases and our geopolitical position.” They go there and say “we’re fighting for democracy and to liberate you.” 

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hip clothing and sweat shops


If this summer’s fashion trends can tell us anything, it’s that the world is definitely getting smaller. Standing on Broadway in fashion-crazy lower Manhattan, the scene on the street is more Global Village than Greenwich Village: women running in and out of stores in saris and Native-American-inspired footwear, vendors selling African-style wooden beaded jewelry, and paisley-clad hipsters each trying to look more citizen-of-the-world than the next.

The only problem is that the ethnic patchwork is contrived. Young women who have never traveled out of their zip code are dressing like they just came back from a whirlwind tour of Nairobi, Prague and the Khyber Pass. While some girls really did get that embroidered blouse in the former Soviet bloc, most of them have patched together their summer wardrobes at the Gap, Urban Outfitters, or United Colors of Benneton. And most of them have done so in blissful — or willful — ignorance of where their clothing actually came from.

Most people are at least vaguely aware that much of our clothing is produced in conditions antithetical to the values of “one world” bohemianism. Aside from the “Made In ___” tag that identifies its country of origin, it’s impossible to tell just by looking at a piece of clothing whether it was manufactured by sweatshop workers. But odds are that it was. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

George Lakoff – War on Terror, RIP


War on Terror, Rest in Peace
By George Lakoff, AlterNet
Posted on August 1, 2005, Printed on August 2, 2005
The “War on Terror” is no more. It has been replaced by the “global struggle against violent extremism.”

The phrase “War on Terror” was chosen with care. “War” is a crucial term. It evokes a war frame, and with it, the idea that the nation is under military attack — an attack that can only be defended militarily, by use of armies, planes, bombs, and so on. The war frame includes special war powers for the president, who becomes commander in chief. It evokes unquestioned patriotism, and the idea that lack of support for the war effort is treasonous. It forces Congress to give unlimited powers to the President, lest detractors be called unpatriotic. And the war frame includes an end to the war — winning the war, mission accomplished!

The war frame is all-consuming. It takes focus away from other problems, from everyday troubles, from jobs, education, health care, a failing economy. It justifies the spending of huge sums, and sending raw recruits into battle with inadequate equipment. It justifies the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It justifies torture, military tribunals, and no due process. It justifies scaring people, with yellow, orange, and red alerts. But, while it was politically useful, the war frame never fit the reality of terrorism. It was successful at consolidating power, but counterproductive in dealing with the real threat.

Colin Powell had suggested “crime” as the frame to use. It justifies an international hunt for the criminals, allows “police actions” when the military is absolutely required, and places the focus and the funding on where it should go: intelligence, diplomacy, politics, economics, religion, banking, and so on. And it would have kept us militarily strong and in a better position to deal with cases like North Korea and Darfur.

But the crime frame comes with no additional power for the president, and no way to hide domestic troubles. It comes with trials at the international court, giving that court’s sovereignty over purely American institutions. It couldn’t win in the administration as constituted.

….. click on link above for the rest of this excellent article

George Lakoff is the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate’ (Chelsea Green). He is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Senior Fellow of the Rockridge Institute. 

Karl Rove and manipulating the masses

 Now it appears that Rove “outed” Valerie Plame to punish her husband for “outing” the administration’s lies in their march to war. This administration seems to think they are better than the rest of us. They are more interested in “getting their own way” through manipulation than they are in the truth or in democracy. A great country should not believe that the end justifies the means. The means should matter. This administration seems to only care about the end, and about getting the end that will personally benefit them.

When did we stop being a country that demands accountability, the separation of church and state, human rights, science, due process, honesty, and democracy? 

Friday, August 05, 2005

Propagandistic vs. investigative journalism


So now we know for sure. Those “highly placed Bush Administration sources” anonymously quoted over and over again in front-page and cover stories are, in fact, the likes of Karl Rove and Lewis Libby. The Valerie Plame affair has not only outed the chronic propaganda leakers in the Bush Administration; it has also exposed for the public to see the corrupt relationship between the White House and leading members of the national press corps.

It’s no wonder George W. Bush has such contempt for the media. His cronies must laugh regularly about how easily they manipulate reporters. Driven by ego and competitive pressure, they are willing carriers of the Administration’s propaganda, blinded by feelings of false power because they are close to the people actually pulling their strings.

As the New York Times said in a recent editorial (July 19) defending Judith Miller, if Rove and other officials are “concerned about getting out the truth, all they would need to do would be to stand up in public and tell it.” That is exactly right. What a different world it would be, right now, if most reporters for mainstream media refused the corrupt bargain and were willing to write stories spun by the Administration only if the sources were on the record and accountable. Shouldn’t that be the standard practice, with rare exceptions, instead of the opposite? As Americans consider what is happening in Iraq and at home, they keep asking why no one is held accountable, why no one seems to be responsible. A major reason is the habitual granting of anonymity to the executive branch by the Washington press corps.

We need a national shield law, but not to protect promises of confidentiality to some of the most powerful people In the world. We need it to protect reporters who place their jobs on the line–and frequently lose them–when they take the risk of exposing abuses of power by those inside government and without.

No, the first lesson of the Valerie Plame affair should not be about how better to protect reporters like Judith Miller, although reporters clearly need better protection. Instead, let’s first make it an occasion for soul-searching about how the mainstream media covers the President of the United States. 

More on Hiroshima

 AlterNet: MediaCulture: Hiroshima Cover-up Exposed


In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan almost 60 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.

More recently, McGovern declared that Americans should have seen the damage wrought by the bomb. “The main reason it was classified was … because of the horror, the devastation,” he said. Because the footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was hidden for so long, the atomic bombings quickly sank, unconfronted and unresolved, into the deeper recesses of American awareness, as a costly nuclear arms race, and nuclear proliferation, accelerated.

The atomic cover-up also reveals what can happen in any country that carries out deadly attacks on civilians in any war and then keeps images of what occurred from its own people.

At this point, the American public knew little about conditions in the atomic cities beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking many of those who survived the initial blasts (claims that were largely taken to be propaganda). Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent, or censored. Life magazine would later observe that for years “the world … knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction.”

Tens of thousands of American GIs occupied the two cities. Because of the alleged absence of residual radiation, no one was urged to take precautions.

“Nothing and no one had prepared me for the devastation I met there,” Sussan later told me. “We were the only people with adequate ability and equipment to make a record of this holocaust. … I felt that if we did not capture this horror on film, no one would ever really understand the dimensions of what had happened. At that time people back home had not seen anything but black and white pictures of blasted buildings or a mushroom cloud.”

Along with the rest of McGovern’s crew, Sussan documented the physical effects of the bomb, including the ghostly shadows of vaporized civilians burned into walls; and, most chillingly, dozens of people in hospitals who had survived (at least momentarily) and were asked to display their burns, scars, and other lingering effects for the camera as a warning to the world.

Despite rising nuclear fears in the 1960s, before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis, few in the U.S. challenged the consensus view that dropping the bomb on two Japanese cities was necessary. The United States maintained its “first-use” nuclear policy: Under certain circumstances it would strike first with the bomb and ask questions later. In other words, there was no real taboo against using the bomb. This notion of acceptability had started with Hiroshima. A firm line against using nuclear weapons had been drawn–in the sand. The U.S., in fact, had threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis and on other occasions.

“Original Child Bomb” went on to debut at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, win a major documentary award, and this week, on Aug. 6 and 7, it will debut on the Sundance cable channel. After 60 years at least a small portion of that footage will finally reach part of the American public in the unflinching and powerful form its creators intended. Only then will the Americans who see it be able to fully judge for themselves what McGovern and Sussan were trying to accomplish in shooting the film, why the authorities felt they had to suppress it, and what impact their footage, if widely aired, might have had on the nuclear arms race — and the nuclear proliferation that plagues, and endangers, us today. 

May 2005 posts

December 14, 2008

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

“National INsecurity cards”

 An interesting essay by Bruce Schneier at


…It doesn’t really matter how well an ID card works when used by the hundreds of millions of honest people that would carry it. What matters is how the system might fail when used by someone intent on subverting that system: how it fails naturally, how it can be made to fail, and how failures might be exploited.

…And when the inevitable worms, viruses, or random failures happen and the database goes down, what then? Is America supposed to shut down until it’s restored?

…What good would it have been to know the names of Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, or the D.C. snipers before they were arrested? Palestinian suicide bombers generally have no history of terrorism. The goal here is to know someone’s intentions, and their identity has very little to do with that. 

“Anti-war” must become “pro-democracy”

 A really good article on alternet by Naomi Klein, “War on Iraq: How to End the War”,

First excerpt:

When I was in Iraq a year ago trying to answer that question, one of the most effective ways I found to do that was to follow the bulldozers and construction machinery. I was in Iraq to research the so-called reconstruction. And what struck me most was the absence of reconstruction machinery, of cranes and bulldozers, in downtown Baghdad. I expected to see reconstruction all over the place.

I saw bulldozers in military bases. I saw bulldozers in the Green Zone, where a huge amount of construction was going on, building up Bechtel’s headquarters and getting the new U.S. embassy ready. There was also a ton of construction going on at all of the U.S. military bases. But, on the streets of Baghdad, the former ministry buildings are absolutely untouched. They hadn’t even cleared away the rubble, let alone started the reconstruction process.

The one crane I saw in the streets of Baghdad was hoisting an advertising billboard. One of the surreal things about Baghdad is that the old city lies in ruins, yet there are these shiny new billboards advertising the glories of the global economy. And the message is: “Everything you were before isn’t worth rebuilding.” We’re going to import a brand-new country. It is the Iraq version of the Extreme Makeover.

Second excerpt:

In looking at democracy in Iraq, we first need to make the distinction between elections and democracy. The reality is the Bush administration has fought democracy in Iraq at every turn.

Why? Because if genuine democracy ever came to Iraq, the real goals of the war—control over oil, support for Israel, the construction of enduring military bases, the privatization of the entire economy—would all be lost. Why? Because Iraqis don’t want them and they don’t agree with them. They have said it over and over again—first in opinion polls, which is why the Bush administration broke its original promise to have elections within months of the invasion. I believe Paul Wolfowitz genuinely thought that Iraqis would respond like the contestants on a reality TV show and say: “Oh my God. Thank you for my brand-new shiny country.” They didn’t. They protested that 500,000 people had lost their jobs. They protested the fact that they were being shut out of the reconstruction of their own country, and they made it clear they didn’t want permanent U.S. bases.

That’s when the administration broke its promise and appointed a CIA agent as the interim prime minister. In that period they locked in—basically shackled—Iraq’s future governments to an International Monetary Fund program until 2008. This will make the humanitarian crisis in Iraq much, much deeper. Here’s just one example: The IMF and the World Bank are demanding the elimination of Iraq’s food ration program, upon which 60 percent of the population depends for nutrition, as a condition for debt relief and for the new loans that have been made in deals with an unelected government. 

Feminism as counterterrorism

 An interesting article on alternet by Barbara Ehrenreich, “War on Iraq: A New Counterterrorism Strategy: Feminism”


So here in one word is my new counterterrorism strategy: feminism. Or, if that’s too incendiary, try the phrase “human rights for women.” I don’t mean just a few opportunistic references to women, like those that accompanied the war on the Taliban and were quietly dropped by the Bush administration when that war was abandoned and Afghan women were locked back into their burqas. I’m talking about a sustained and serious effort.

We should announce plans to pour U.S. tax dollars into girls’ education in places like Pakistan, where the high-end estimate for female literacy is 26 percent, and into scholarships for women seeking higher education in nations that typically discourage it. (Secular education for the boys wouldn’t hurt, either.) Expand the grounds for asylum to all women fleeing gender totalitarianism, wherever it springs up. Reverse the Bush policies on global family planning, which condemn seventy-eight thousand women to death each year in makeshift abortions. Lead the global battle against the trafficking of women. I’m not expecting such measures alone to incite a feminist insurgency within the Islamist one. Carmen Bin Ladin found her rich Saudi sisters-in-law sunk in bovine passivity, and some of the more spirited young women in the Muslim world have been adopting the head scarf as a gesture of defiance toward American imperialism. We’re going to need a thorough foreign policy makeover–from Afghanistan to Israel–before we have the credibility to stand up for anyone’s human rights. You can’t play the gender card with dirty hands.

If this country were to embrace a feminist strategy against the insurgency, we’d have to start by addressing our own dismal record on women’s rights. We’d be pushing for the immediate ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified by 169 countries but remains stalled in the U.S. Senate. We’d be threatening to break off relations with Saudi Arabia until it acknowledged the humanity of women. And we’d be thundering about the shortage of women in the U.S. Senate and House, an internationally embarrassing 14 percent. We should be aiming for a representation of at least 25 percent, the same target the Transitional Administrative Law of Iraq has set for the federal assembly there. 

Monday, May 09, 2005

Helen Thomas

 A really good article:

The Guards are Sleeping, by Gael Murphy
posted at:

White House correspondent Helen Thomas speaks about the herd mentality of mainstream media and challenging the administration on its rationale for the war. 

Excerpt: Democrats’ New Spine

 Mystery of the Democrats’ New Spine by Robert Parry
posted at


One explanation for the Democrats’ turnabout is the rise of progressive media, most notably progressive AM talk radio which has expanded rapidly over the past several months. Finally, Democratic leaders can go on sympathetic radio shows and make their case directly to listeners.

Before, Democrats almost always would find themselves speaking in unfriendly territory. Sometimes they would appear on conservative media, such as Fox News, or they’d face mainstream pundits eager to prove they weren’t liberal by being tougher on Democrats than Republicans, the likes of NBC’s Tim Russert.

Faced with hostile questioning, national Democrats often sought a safe middle ground, which made them look weak or indecisive, opening them to attacks as “flip-floppers” or “lacking conviction.” On the other hand, Republicans could count on friendly receptions from conservative hosts and mostly deferential treatment on mainstream programs. 

Oct 2001 posts

December 14, 2008

Honor those who died by respecting all lives


Little did I know that Afganistan was only the beginning….

October, 2001

I am a vegan. While “vegetarian” refers to someone whose daily diet does not include the flesh of other animals, “vegan” refers to an entire lifestyle. As a vegan I seek to avoid flesh, dairy, eggs, leather, zoos, anything that depends upon the suffering, killing, or exploitation of animals. As a vegan the organizing principles of my life are to respect life and to try to cause the least amount of harm.

I became a vegan because one day I asked myself whether I truly had the right to take the lives of other sentient creatures simply because they tasted good, or whether I wasn’t merely using the “might makes right” justification. Since September 11th, I have again been asking myself questions, such as “What does it mean to be patriotic?”, and “What does ‘justice’ mean?”.

What it your definition of “patriotic”?

Lately I hear people using the word “justice” when they really seem to mean “revenge”. I sense a desire for blood, for more killing. Will it be enough to kill the perpetrators, or will we only win when we have killed enough civilians to equal our own losses? Will it be enough if we demolish a poverty stricken, oppressed country? I hear a lot of talk of religion being a justification for killing on both sides of the issue. Yet I have not heard much talk about morality. Do we really have any more right to kill civilians than the terrorists did? Are we sure we have the right to take even *one* life, even a “guilty” life? Is this what it means to be an American or patriotic? To seek revenge? To “win”? To beat the “other guy” no matter the costs? Do we think that human rights apply only to Americans?

Isn’t it possible that being an American means standing by our values and laws, not just on paper, but even in the face of a terrible tragedy? I suggest that being an American means striving to leave the “us vs. them” mentality behind, whether that refers to sexism, racism, homophobia, speciesism, ethnicism. We’re not there yet, but Americans have been progressing towards a goal of acknowledging differences without attaching value judgments. Americans can be proud of moving away from lynch mobs and vigilante behavior and towards the principle of due process, of striving for fair, unbiased, and equal treatment.

I feel great pride in being American when I remember the people I met in line to give blood, when I see TV images of the tireless rescue workers, when I read of the veterinarians who volunteered their time to care for the search dogs overwhelmed by smoke. But I feel fear and disappointment when I hear “patriotism” used to refer to excited, gang-mentality talk of more killing, of violence on civilians, of revenge on “them”, of Christianity supporting “an eye for an eye”, and no thought seemingly given to what might be the moral way to approach our problem.

Honor those who died by respecting life

I think we should exhibit our pride, not by blindly destroying that which has hurt us, but by showing the world that we believe in the foundations of our justice system, in our professed regard for life. Couldn’t “winning”, couldn’t “American”, mean doing the right thing in the right way? Couldn’t “American” mean finally looking at the big picture and seeking to address worldwide problems rather than seeking angry revenge on the symptoms that have only now affected *us*? Couldn’t “American” mean being intelligent and compassionate enough to see beyond black and white? Couldn’t “American” mean leaving tribalism behind and joining the world?

Many lives were lost or forever affected by the events of September 11th. I fervently hope that our actions will show that we do value life – by not assuming our Muslim neighbor is also a terrorist, by looking at the big picture of this situation (including how U.S. actions have affected the lives of people in other countries), and by apprehending the criminals according to our own moral and legal codes. Let’s not be so arrogant as to assume that innocent Afgani lives are less important than our own. Let us try to do the least harm possible. Let us seek justice, not revenge. Let us honor those who have died by showing that we truly do respect life.

Don’t confuse patriotism with conformity.

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Nov 2004 posts

December 14, 2008

Friday, November 26, 2004

Morals as an ongoing process


There are useful lessons to be learned from any religious text. But I think that there is great danger inherent in taking any of them literally, in focusing on the “letter of the law”, rather than on the “spirit of the law”. I think that if we take these texts literally, then we stop growing because we stop questioning, we stop wondering, and we stop trying to apply basic concepts to our very complicated world.

I’ve been thinking about how we all approach questions of morality. I think that when contemplating morality and fairness, it’s possible to go back to the basic values that the bible and other institutionalized moralities started with. In other words , I don’t believe I have to start my moral questioning by accepting the precepts of any particular religion. To me that’s starting my questioning too late because I’ve already limited myself with someone else’s interpretation.

I’m an agnostic. I don’t know if there is a god. And I don’t think it’s within my power to know. I think this is particularly true if there is a god, because s/he made us mortal, “human”, and fallible. It is our essence to be imperfect, according to religions. So, I actually think that if there is a god, s/he never meant for us to make texts and believe them literally. I don’t think we were meant to assume that we now “know it all” – we’re imperfect and mortal! I think that if we are created by a god, s/he absolutely wanted us to spend our lives contemplating morality, making decisions based on general and inclusive principles of fairness and goodness, facing each new situation with a fresh and open mind.

I definitely do not think s/he meant for us to have a rigid, unchanging, hateful, and discriminatory approach to the world. I think taking a text literally (based on whatever translation/interpretation you have been raised on) and then assuming that you have the answers and have no need to contemplate anymore about what is right and what is wrong, is rather like acting like a god yourself. And maybe rather lazy and insecure, too.

And while I’m at it – I really, really don’t think that if there is a god, s/he really needs to have people jump through hoops in order to get goodies later. If god needs people to tell her/him who or what country to bless, s/he is not as perfect as religions would have us believe.

Furthermore, if god will only be nice to people if they constantly praise and tell her/him how great s/he is, then I think god needs a good therapist.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Abortion and gay marriage


In her Nov. 22 column, writer Deb Price suggests that we should get politicians to vote on particulars, such as “whether to protect gay families from job bias”, “whether it’s moral to leave gay parents especially vulnerable when a child needs emergency surgery”, and others. She points out that it would be tough for them “to claim, ‘I don’t have anything against homosexuals’, if they had to defend such votes as continuing to allow Social Security to exclude elderly gay couples from its protective safety net.”

I think this is so on the money. I think it amounts to the same thing I’ve been writing about, that we need to break down the buzz words if we are really to have a discussion about our values as a society. Let’s break down and discuss “gay marriage”, “democracy”, “patriotism”, “being American”, “civil rights”, and even “abortion”.

Let’s have a societal discussion about what abortion means to us all. Abortion foes like to portray abortion as people murdering fully developed fetuses, using photos of the very rare late-term abortions usually done to save a woman’s life, implying that all abortions look like this rather than the tiny minority they actually represent. I think the discussion on abortion needs to be about women’s lives. If this has to be a discussion about rights, then let’s do it. Let’s put the rights of women, fully grown humans with feelings and lives and needs, against the rights of undeveloped cells in a women’s womb. Let’s throw the buzz words aside and actually look at the issues.

Without abortion and contraception, women – the majority of people in the world – are put at an unfair disadvantage next to the minority, the men. Just because women have the incredible ability to create life, a gift which men lack, does not mean they don’t have the same right to an education, a career, or freedom from a life of parenthood. It’s society that has said that once pregnant, a woman must forfeit all dreams in order to raise a child. If men were able to have children, they would have made sure that society was formed in such a way that they weren’t tied down to homemaking. Even the responsibility for contraception was always left up to women – until AIDS, when men suddenly found a reason to use condoms. And let’s face it – abortions have always existed. By outlawing it, you are only ensuring that women will risk their health and lives seeking abortions from unregulated abortion providers.

All those women who voted for Bush, when it was common knowledge he would be going after Roe vs. Wade – have you noticed that they have already attached an attack against abortion rights in a spending bill? Left unchecked, I’m certain the fundies to whom Bush is indebted will be going after contraception next. Do you have any idea what life is like for a women with no protection against umlimited pregnancies? Do you have a college education? Do you have a career? If you voted Republican, you voted to deny those things to your daughters, because it is incredibly tough to obtain those things with continual pregnancies. As far as I’m concerned, you voted against life.

So, yes, let’s break down the issues in “gay marriage”, let’s talk about the particular rights we are denying to our gay sisters, brothers, children, parents, and friends. Let’s throw away the buzz words and openly discuss what we’re really talking about…

Fear and “Big bad daddy” politicians


I find the history of sexual abuse allegations against California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be very troublesome, but what really bothers me that I don’t hear an outcry about comments he makes in the present. First he referred to people who didn’t agree with him as “girlie men”, and then he referred to Democrats as “stupid losers”.

The term “girlie men”, just like the word “sissy”, demeans both genders of the population in one blow. It means that if you’re not an ultra-butch man, then you’re less than a man – you’re like a woman. It also means that women are inferior to men. It is very politically incorrect to make racial slurs – but women and anything “feminine” are still fair game. Why is that? Women are over half the population – they are the majority.

It seems to me that there is some relation between the election of Bush and that of Schwarzenegger. In their own ways, both are of the macho school of masculinity – force, whether through physical or political strength, is more valued than more so-called “feminine” qualities of contemplation, introspection, or mediation which would allow consideration of all points of view.

I’ve heard people say that they like Bush as president because he’s the kind of guy they would like to sit down and have a beer with. Well, I don’t want Joe Blow for president. I don’t want a paternalistic, overbearing, macho man saying “I know what’s best for you (God told me)” and “my way or the highway”. I don’t want a governor who calls half of the population “stupid losers” or insults many by using phrases like “girlie men”. These comments reflect on their views on people and on the world and should say something to us.

I want a president I can look up to, someone who is intelligent, who hears the opinions of the whole country, who is well spoken, and who respects science. I can only think that as a nation we were so frightened by 9/11 (and our fear intentionally kept high in subsequent years), that we have sought out leaders who represent strong, domineering fathers we hope will keep us safe. In our fear, we give up our right and our need to know about and participate in the details of our politics. We’re scared, so we hand over the reins to the big bad daddy and go hide under the bed.

But being under the bed doesn’t afford us a view of what the big bad daddy is doing with the unchecked power we’ve given him. Are we really so sure he has what’s best for us in mind? How democratic or patriotic is it to support what can become a dictatorship?

Democracy is not just a buzz word – it needs everyone’s participation – and not just at election time. Come out from under the bed and look around – before it’s too late and we find that our inaction has contributed to a world that is more frightening than our original fears.

At the very least let’s demand professional and mature standards from our politicians! We’re not little children who need paternalistic protection – we have the strength to face our fears and the intelligence and ideas to contribute to solutions. And the world really needs our ideas right now.

Buzz words and values


I really feel that this whole presidential election was run on unexamined “buzz words”. I think that the Democrats lost because they let the Republicans lay unchallenged claim to “values”. We need to stand up and be clear about our own values, Democrats and Republicans alike, and stop relying on undefined and undiscussed values buzz words.

For example, some people say that they are against gay marriage because they value the institution of marriage, and they have heard that gay marriage will destroy it. But why does the discussion stop there? What does “the institution of marriage” mean to them? I value the institution of marriage, too – but I support gays having the same rights as straights.

I value commitment, monogamy, the safe raising of children in those families who choose to have them, and the love and safe haven provided by a family – something which instills in us those psychological qualities we need to be productive members in a sometimes cruel society.

I suspect that those people who oppose gay marriage would echo my values. So why do people with the same values have different beliefs about gay marriage? I firmly believe it’s because no one has bothered to move beyond the buzz words and actually have a discussion about what our values truly are – which I think would lead to a realization that the basic values are the same. It’s only when people remain at the buzz word level and are vulnerable to fear mongering that we seem to fall into two different camps.


(For clarification, I should stipulate that we’re talking about civil unions, which all heterosexuals have. If they get joined in a church, then they also have a “marriage”. I think that churches should be allowed to marry who they want – which is a right they already possess and use. I think that since they are like voluntary “clubs”, they should be allowed to be as hateful and discriminatory as they wish to be. But I also think that our laws, which are meant to protect everyone, should allow gays to have the same civil union that all straights have.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Religion in the public schools


Today on Talk of the Nation on NPR, they were talking about proposals to have discussions of creationism taught alongside evolution in our children’s schools – in science classes, of all things. And of course, it’s always the Christian creationism story, not any other religion’s story. The guest defending this proposal kept insisting that it came from “family values”, and when asked if her version of “family values” came from religion, she sidestepped the question. And you know, for all the years that the term “family values” has been tossed around, I’ve never once heard a definition of what exactly it entails. Why is that?

For my whole life, I have been content to have religious people have their churches, and as I became more skillful at dodging the perpetual proselytizers, they have let me have my moral secularism. But in the last year or so, religion has been increasingly thrown into my life. It’s a very unwelcome intrusion. I don’t try to get religious people to “see the light” – why MUST they take over the public sphere and force their beliefs on everyone else? Actually, it’s not “religious” people. It’s Christian people. When’s the last time you encountered a Jewish person knocking on your door, trying to get you to be Jewish?

It amazes me how “family values” has come to be a euphamism for “religion”, and how “religion” has come to be code for “Christianity”. One rolls into the other, and “values” becomes synomymous with “Christianity”. The guest mentioned that since God has been “removed” from the schools, school problems have increased. I’m assuming that by “problems” she meant violence, teenage sexuality, and the like. But if we insist on believing that the only way to teach morality or good citizenship is through religion, of course there will be a void if “God is removed”.

And of course, religion works through the carrot and stick of heaven and hell. If instead we were to remove the carrot and stick from the moral education of our children and learned to talk to them about reasons for compassion and conscious behavior which are higher than the self-interest of carrot and stick motivation (yes! loftier reasons than religion!) , we’d actually be saying that we have faith in our children and in ourselves!

I am the first to say that I’d like to see more “moral education” showered on our youths. But my views on it are more general than those of any religion. The first thing I would tackle would be the rampant bullying we allow among our kids, shrugging it off by saying “kids will be kids”. Kids don’t have to be bullies. That we could have a rash of school shootings by kids who have had years of being bullied horrifies me. Where were the teachers, where were the fellow students, where were the parents? Every time they heard a student bullying or denigrating another child, they should have been right there calling them on their behavior. Why aren’t we teaching compassion, courtesy, and acceptance of others in our schools? And I don’t mean in a certain course, I mean as a part of every class, as a part of every recess, as a part of every lunchtime.

We’ve progressed far enough to no longer allow racial slurs (though perhaps that’s also the carrot/stick version of morality – people being afraid of lawsuits). If a child in a school were to cast racial aspersions at another child, they would be reprimanded immediately. But if a child continually denigrates and shatters the self-esteem of a kid in the “out-crowd”, possibly causing life-long emotional damage, no one bats an eye or raises a finger.

Religious people want to teach the “letter” of religion in the classroom. I want to see the “spirit” of morality taught. I don’t need my child being taught that some guy named Jesus supposedly walked on some water – that’s not a value, that’s a belief. I want my child to learn honesty, compassion for others, teamwork, and fairness, to name a few things.

We really, really need to have a discussion on what “values” are. We need to see what our different definitions are, and at what level they share common denominators. Without this discussion, “values” will continue to be seen as something religious. If we do have such a discussion, we might be able to come to some agreement about what should be being taught to children in public, non-religious institutions. We might finally truly get to a discussion of values, instead of having to constantly fight straw men.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sports and brawling


Today on Public Radio they were discussing the rapidly increasing amount of violence in sports, whether exhibited by spectators or between players. I think perhaps the fan violence is a secondary result, while player violence is a primary result, of the way that male coaches treat male athletes, starting from boys’ earliest experiences with sports.

As a general rule, female coaches tend to be more supportive and encouraging of their athletes. They are also more likely to promote a focus on competing against yourself, respecting other players, and feeling good about yourself for trying your best. Male coaches are more likely to denigrate their players, using a boot-camp style of negative leadership. I do remember watching a documentary about a well-known female college basketball coach – I think her first name was Pat – and she was so nasty and negative to her players. My first thought was, oh my god, she’s acting just like a male coach!

I think that the male style of coaching shapes the personalities of the players and leads them to become people who will be violent and impulsive with other people. The fans in the stands are likely past athletes, once subjected to the same kind of demoralizing, or perhaps the violence of the players just leads to a kind of “group think” about appropriate sporting behavior.

Athletes were once held up as clean living, hard working role models. I don’t think that it’s suprising that this has changed, because people who are routinely denigrated, taught that winning is “the only thing”, and feel they always have to “prove” themselves, are likely to resort to violence and poor sportsmanlike attitudes. I think that their experiences with sports have taught them that they can’t feel good about themselves unless they’re “on top”, either by winning a game -by whatever means necessary – or by beating someone else up.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Capitalism and Robin Hood Economics


Some people feel that social programs for the poor constitute socialism. They also protest that taxing the rich to help the poor is “Robin Hood Economics”, a form of stealing. I see a different moral issue with “Robin Hood economics”. To me, it would be immoral not to help those less privileged than oneself. Granted, I’m thinking right now about the extremes, but if we’re talking about a wealthier person having to forgo one luxury item in order for another person to have food in her/his stomach, I don’t see the moral conflict whatsoever. To me, that is not “stealing” at all. To me, the “crime” (or “moral defect”…?) would belong to the wealthier person who had a problem with it.

I think the original purpose of communities (even the original community of “family”) was to band together in order to survive together. This is not the same as outlawing capitalism and not letting some people be able to get ahead. It’s about not leaving anyone so far behind that they are suffering, that they can’t meet their basic needs or aren’t truly given the chance for improvement. If a moral reason isn’t sufficient, there’s also a utilitarian one: societies in which the gap between rich and poor becomes very great often fall victim to revolutions.

It seems to me that a purely capitalistic society will always have people who can’t “make it”, because capitalism seems to “need” the lower rung of society. The people at the upper rungs of the economic ladder, the “successes of capitalism”, and to some extent those in the middle rungs, no longer take care of everything in their own lives. They couldn’t enjoy their ten acre yard with spacious gardens, or their huge house, or even the tennis court at their country club, without minimum wage gardeners, maids, cooks, etc. They wouldn’t have time to do their job and take care of so much property and many belongings.

But even for those wealthy people who save their money and live modestly (I suppose there might be some!), their wealth may have been built on the backs of lower income workers. The CEOs and shareholders of places like McDonalds and Walmart would make far less income if they paid their many workers better wages and provided the same health care they themselves possess. (And income is not a determinant of how hard someone is working, or “what benefits they deserve”. I’ve seen many Mexican gardeners that I suspect work far harder than many CEOs. It’s just their bad luck that a capitalistic society values most what brings in the most revenue.)

So if capitalism does indeed depend upon many people not making it (in whatever terms – owning a home, having a savings acct, being able to send their kids to college, etc.), mightn’t it have an obligation to help those at the lower rungs of the economy? It’s very difficult to “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps”, when society is structured in such a way as to keep you down.

People who grow up in poor communities have so much more working against them than just their poverty. They have terrible school systems, media which let them know that they don’t look the same as those people who “deserve better”, all around they have a world which tells them on even a subconscious level that where they are is where they will stay. So some of them perhaps don’t try, some try but don’t have the tools, and some have the tools but are turned away. It’s just not as simple as “if they want/deserve it, they’ll pull themselves up by their bootstraps”.

It’s very, very difficult to change your life when you don’t feel hope and don’t have anyone showing you the ropes. I’m a strong supporter of mentoring programs (such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or those corporations which sponsor disadvantaged youths by providing role models), because I think that the need to foster hope and dreams in these communities is as real as the need for basic necessities – very similar to the hope that is essential to get even a middle-class person out of a depression.

I would bet that most of us “succeeded” not just because we worked hard, but because we had a lot of support throughout our lives – parents, teachers, etc., encouraging us, directing us, inspiring us. I think it’s easy to take the effects of encouragement, guidance, and hope for granted when they’re a regular part of your world. Perhaps if we really appreciated the role they played in our own lives, we wouldn’t be so quick to begrudge those less fortunate some help. We all deserve a personal world where people encourage us and guide us to a better life – but some of us are luckier than others. First we had the luck, and then we worked hard.

So I don’t see “Robin Hood economics” as “stealing” – I see it as “sharing the luck”. Social programs aren’t about handing a wad of one person’s cash to another person – they’re about creating better schools, teaching better parenting skills, instilling hope, cleaning up neighborhoods… they’re about one part of society banding together to give to other people what they themselves were lucky enough to be born into.

I don’t think that the best system is the one which produces the country with the wealthiest individuals – I think the best system would be one in which everyone is housed and fed. The U.S. leads the industrialized nations in numbers of starving children. But all we seem to focus on is the fact that we produce more multimillionaires than other countries.

Religious symbols and public property


I have heard people complaining that the Ten Commandments are not allowed in courthouses, and that this is yet another example of the left trying to engineer a society devoid of God. But I think that when Christians worry that they are being run out of town, they are forgetting that for a very long time they have had the field to themselves. Ask one of these people how they would feel about the Star of David – and only the Star of David – being prominently displayed in a courthouse. Trust me, they won’t feel that religion is being allowed back in public life.

While I can’t speak for everyone, it seems to me that what is really happening is that many people recognize that if the most powerful (and proselytizing) religion is allowed a monopoly on societal institutions, then this will suggest that everyone is religious, that they are all of the same religion, and that religion is better than non-religion. Seeing only one kind of symbol for “values” or “religion” makes it too easy to un/consciously view what that symbol stands for as some sort of “universal truth” or bedrock of our society.

There is a large cross on a mountain where I live. It can be seen for miles and miles. Every year there is a public discussion about whether it should be allowed to stay, because it is on public property. To subvert the community discussion, it was sold to a private party so that the cross could remain. The courts have since ruled that manuever illegal. I think that if the cross is the only religious symbol allowed on such a prominent location, it should be taken down. However, if Jews are allowed to put a huge star of David on a local mountain and Muslims are allowed a local mountain for their own symbol, then I have no problem with the displays.

Likewise, the Ten Commandments are not only religious, they are of a very specific religion. Personally, I don’t think they belong in a courthouse -but if they were to be allowed, I think they must be in a “special” place along with equal displays of other religions and with a display of values of non-religious people.

Because this push for the Ten Commandments in courthouses is not really about religion in general, and it’s not about values in general. It’s all about Christianity – about Christianity being omnipresent, and about it being the sole voice recognized by societal institutions.

The discussion shouldn’t be promoted as “religion vs. the government”. Instead, it should be centering around fairness and an equal playing field. Equating “values” with “religion”, and “religion” with “Chrisitianity”, disenfranchises many, many people – and I don’t think that’s appropriate for societal institutions, whose job it is to represent all of us, and to protect minorities from tyranny by majorities.


Religion: A means to an end or an end in itself?


To me, the issue at the bottom of the divide in our country is whether people see religion (Muslim, Christian, Judaism, or any other) as an end in itself or as a means to an end. Fundamentalists seem to see religion as an end in itself, which to me guarantees that we (the world) will continue to have wars, the majority imposing itself on the minority, powerful faiths impugning science, the end justifying the means (unnecessary wars), people insisting that “patriotism” means unquestioning blind allegiance, and religious people denying that secularists have values.

I really believe that if we all took a more moderate approach and could see religion as a means to an end, we could then accept that a person doesn’t need religion to have values, that religion is but one way to find values, and that there are different kinds of religions, no one “more right” than another – in other words, that humanism and the various religions are merely different “means” meant to lead to the same “end”.

What is that end? That would be a great discussion to have. I’m guessing it would involve very general ideas and principles, concepts which would be very inclusive. I think that we would find again the “spirit” of the law and the “spirit” of religion, and move away from the human-made, era-biased “letter” emphasis.

For instance, the current controversy about gay marriage – I wasn’t around when marriage was invented, but I’m aware it had a lot to do with protecting paternity rights and claiming legal rights to female chattel. Religious people would say marriage has to do with God proclaiming without explanation that the only love that can be recognized is between a woman and a man. Those two explanations fall under the letter of the law. But what about the spirit of marriage? How can we look at the “spirit” of marriage sans “letter”, and think that qualities such as love, compassion, protectiveness, caring for children, teamwork, etc. should be supported and validated in only one type of coupling? Are not the VALUES the same? It’s only the gender combination that is different…

I think that only when we see religion as a means to an end, and one of many means, will we be able to focus on the spirit of the law and have a true discussion of values.


“Values” and the election


When I was at the University of Iowa, I participated in several Take Back the Night marches. Women and many men were incensed that would-be attackers were “stealing” the night-time streets from women.

I propose that it’s now time to “take back the words”. After hearing so many times that Bush won because people with values voted for him, I have become very angry. I have values and I voted for my values. And I did not vote for Bush. The problem is that the neo-conservative right has hijacked the word “values”.

As a matter of fact, I think the first step to taking back our country and helping it more closely resemble what it purports to be is for us to open up a country-wide discussion of the meaning of certain words and phrases. At the very least, we need to stand up and lay our own claim to these concepts. I’d like to see a discussion of “values”, “freedom”, “strength”, “defense”, “democracy”, “Christian values”, “family values”, “intolerance”, “faith-based”, “security”, “patriotism”, “special interests” , “conflict resolution”, “morality”, “violence as a last resort”, and most notably, “pro-life”.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I realized that those who say they are “pro-life” are really “pro-human-cell”. I am pro-life. I support contraception, the right to choose abortion, and programs for the poor because I value life. I value the life and quality-of-life of women; I do not want to see their goals for education, careers, marriage, and happiness being shattered by unwanted children. I value the life and quality-of-life of children who are born to those parents who either didn’t want them or don’t have the emotional or financial resources to raise them. I am pro-life because I am concerned about the problems of overpopulation and people having babies simply because they are physically able to.

I am pro-life because I think a world-wide conversation is long overdue about the ethics of killing upwards of 10,000 actual innocent civilian lives of another culture in order to hypothetically prevent an unknown number of possible losses of our own. Isn’t such a “pre-emptive” war saying that innocent people of a different culture are less important than we are?

I am pro-life because I do not believe that we have the right to execute criminals. I am pro-life because I think that if a living being is able to feel pain and experience fear, it has a right to its own life; I think it is ‘might’ not ‘right’ that leads us to cause pain and death to sentient creatures, animal and human alike. I am pro-life because I believe that a priority of governments should be to make sure that the elderly, handicapped, and poor are taken care of. I am pro-life because I think the environment is a living organism itself and should be one of our biggest ongoing priorities.

Isn’t religion a “special interest”? Wouldn’t “family values” mean supporting the love and happiness of those children raised in gay households? Do “Christian values” include supporting the death penalty? Is “faith-based” of more utility than “fairness-based”? Doesn’t “democracy” suggest “live and let live”? Does “patriotism” mean “blind allegiance”, or could it mean mean driving a fuel-efficient vehicle?

Are you feeling angry? Depressed? We don’t have to wait 4 years to make a change. Don’t let the neo-cons define our value-laden words. Let’s help the spirit of the law triumph over the letter of the law! Think about your own personal definitions of these and other words. And let’s stand up together and take back the words!!


Dec 2004 posts

December 14, 2008

Friday, December 24, 2004

Patriotism and violence


I’ve been wondering…. why does “patriotism” always have to do with wars and killing? Why do we only consider authorized violence a means to “serve your country”?

Does “serving one’s country” only have to do with sacrifice? People who willingly take on low paying jobs because those jobs enable them to help others – such as teachers and social workers – they’re sacrificing – why aren’t they considered to be serving their country?

Perhaps we reserve “patriotism” and “serving one’s country” for instances where someone is potentially making the “ultimate sacrifice” by risking their life. Of course, we’d never get enough people to join the military if we didn’t romanticize this notion of risking one’s life or if we didn’t make the concept of “war hero” so glamorous, when in reality war, injury, hurting others, and death are anything but glamorous.

It reminds me of how when one person is rubbing another person’s back, the receiver makes sure to keep saying compliments, such as “oh, you should do this professionally”, to reinforce continued rubbing.

But while risking one’s life is a distinct type of behavior, I think it’s wrong to act as though these behaviors are the only way to be “patriotic” or to “serve one’s country”. I don’t think it’s healthy for individuals or for the world to equate killing and dying – in short, violence – with our highest regard.

And why isn’t “serving your world” of even more importance than “serving your country”? Why do we place the most value on doing things that put our country before the welfare of the world? Isn’t that something like institutionalized selfishness? Or, a word more and more frequently being applied to the U.S., isn’t it like arrogance? Why wouldn’t the “whole” be more important than a “part” of the whole?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Some vegan links


Vegan Action

Vegan Outreach – Ending Cruelty to

EarthSave International –
promoting a shift toward a healthy plant-based diet

Vegan & Vegetarian Recipes,
Articles, Health Resource

Vietnam/Iraq – from Ruth Rosen

In early August came the surprising news that Vietnam, a country most of us couldn’t find on a map, had attacked one or more U.S. Navy destroyers. On August 7th, Congress, with only two dissenting votes, quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that authorized the funding of the Vietnam War. Few of us who opposed the war the very next day could have imagined that it would shadow the next decade of our lives. And even now, after former Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara and many others have acknowledged that those attacks never happened, it’s hard to believe how little it took to convince Congress and the American people that Vietnam, like Iraq, represented an imminent threat to our country.

More on Ruth Rosen:

Rockridge Institute – Ruth Rosen

excerpt – George Lakoff interview

Back up for a second and explain what you mean by the strict father and nurturant parent frameworks.

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones — those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant — and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, “spoil” people by giving them things they haven’t earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

From that framework, I can see why Schwarzenegger appealed to conservatives.

Exactly. In the strict father model, the big thing is discipline and moral authority, and punishment for those who do something wrong. That comes out very clearly in the Bush administration’s foreign and domestic policy. With Schwarzenegger, it’s in his movies: most of the characters that he plays exemplify that moral system. He didn’t have to say a word! He just had to stand up there, and he represents Mr. Discipline. He knows what’s right and wrong, and he’s going to take it to the people. He’s not going to ask permission, or have a discussion, he’s going to do what needs to be done, using force and authority. His very persona represents what conservatives are about. 

Friday, December 17, 2004

“The Reason for the Season”


It’s December, and so the perennial billboards are up which state “Jesus is the reason for the season”, although of late they display the revised “Jesus is the only reason for the season”.

Perhaps the addition of the word “only” is to discourage the rampant consumerism we witness at this time of year. Or possibly it’s to put a damper on the Hannukah celebrations of Jews. Perhaps it’s to shame us for the secularism of our office Christmas parties. Maybe it’s a protest against the association between Santa and Christmas.

Basically, I think the message says that if you aren’t literally celebrating the (not actual) birthday of Christ, then you have no right to be observing and enjoying Christmas. But how many of us really experience Christmas that way? Certainly non-Christians don’t. And even though Bush won and everyone is jumping on the religion bandwagon, let’s be honest – many (most?) non-fundamentalist Christians don’t experience Christmas as a birthday party for a historical figure.

So all these people who enjoy Christmas but don’t experience it as a birthday celebration for Jesus, what exactly are their “reasons for the season”? Why do they feel such warmth and happiness during this season and what are they celebrating?

People have often commented that we see much more “good cheer” and “good will toward wo/men” during this season. Why do people feel so much goodness and generousity of spirit at Christmas time?

My guess is that immigrants to this country who celebrate Christmas enjoy the fun, the gift-giving, the decorations, the time with family and friends. But I think that the rest of us have strong positive emotional responses, in addition. Christmas conjures up feelings of warmth, family bonds, security, and joy (remember the magic of Santa and gifts when you were a child?).

In short, I think that Christmas takes us back to the emotional state we were in as children (assuming we were lucky enough to have been born in favorable family and financial situations). We looked forward to Christmas as freedom from school, a time of gifts and magic (you could even tell Santa what you wanted and then get it), a time when we could spend time with relatives who lived elsewhere, a time when the authorities (our parents) were in good spirits and went easy on us, a time with lots of good food and visitors and pretty decorations and lots of love all around.

Then we grew up and had responsibilities and bills and inflexible work hours and so many other stressors. We had to take care of ourselves and no longer felt the emotional security we grew up with. We got busy with our lives and lost touch with many friends and relatives, maybe even became less close to our siblings and parents.

But at Christmas time, every thing changes and the past returns. We all tend to continue to honor the tradition of reuniting with friends and family. We reach out to our neighbors and co-workers, even if we barely talk to them all year. We feel happy, and we feel a lightness in our heart. Why? I think it’s because the feelings of warmth, security, magic, and things being “right with the world” return. Those wonderful feelings from our childhood.

Christianity is the dominant religion in our country, and the media and governmental institutions all recognize it and honor it. The ubiguitous presence of Christmas in our culture at this time of year makes knowledge of the holiday unavoidable. Everyone – observant Christians, people raised as Christian but not fundamentalist in their beliefs, and people not raised in Christianity – all have their own experience of Christmas. And many, many have positive associations with Christmas, emotional reactions not related to a birthday celebration for Jesus.


I don’t think that Jesus would want to encourage the use of religion as a tool of divisiveness. I don’t think he would want people to focus on his (not actual) birthday, as though religion were meant to be an end in itself. I think he would encourage and rejoice in the spirit of goodwill, of love, of joy, of people reaching out to each other – once a year is better than never! I think he would want religion used as a means to an end, and that end would be love and compassion, leaving tribalism and divisiveness behind. I think he would say that the whole point is love, and it isn’t important if it’s this or that religion that gets you there, or if it’s your strong moral secularist values that get you there, or if it’s Santa who gets you there, or if it’s colored lights that help you see the world in a more enlightened and open-spirited way.

I think he would say that “love is the reason for the season”.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Immigrants and the American melting pot


I’ve heard many immigrants despair because their children are becoming Americanized and not retaining enough of their cultural heritage. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this subject, and I don’t agree that the original culture is the culture of the children. The children, born in America or raised for most of their childhood here, are obviously going to be, to a great extent, products of American culture. The original culture is something they learn by teaching or example from their parents, not something they experience first-hand. It’s only part of their identity because their parents have told them that it is. The culture the children grow up in and experience first-hand is the “American culture”.

That “American culture” has been shaped by the influx of immigrants’ cultures. Those original immigrants give a little to our culture, and take a little of our culture. In return, we do the same. That’s what the American melting pot is. There’s some kind of a constancy to being “American”, but it is always changing just a little bit with the ongoing addition of the input of immigrants.

But I think this effect is produced by the original immigrants, not by their children. I think that as time goes on, it is always the new immigrants who add a new aspect to our culture. It would be unnatural and probably cruel for immigrant parents to forcibly shape their American-raised children to be just as they would be had they not emigrated to the U.S. Plus, it would be disturbing the give-and-take of the American melting pot, for American culture would change, but the immigrants and their descendents never would.

Subverting the melting pot would lead to a much higher incidence of “foreigners” (for they would be seen as never acclimating) living in separate areas than “Americans”, and it would probably lead to more violence between Americans and immigrants, and between different immigrant groups. Plus, in many non-English speaking immigrant households, it’s the children who bridge the gap between America and the parents. If the parents did all they could to keep the children tied to the “original” culture, one in which they weren’t even raised, the children couldn’t bridge that gap very well. What’s more, the children would probably feel like they were living in limbo – identifying with a culture/nation in which they had never lived and not adjusting to the culture actually all around them.

So, while I understand that it must sadden immigrants to see their children becoming someone they themselves are not, I think it’s the most natural and healthy thing for the children to identify as Americans. Certainly, they will learn about the past lives of their ancestors, but they will integrate that “old” culture into their personalities in a much different way than their parents did.

There will always be new immigrants arriving to keep the “old cultures” alive in America. But second, third, and on generations are naturally going to be of a different culture. This situation is really the best of both worlds, I think – it allows America to give its own culture to the descendants of the original immigrants, and it allows for fresh immigrants to likewise give some of their original culture to America.

(BUT — I really do wish that immigrant children and descendants would help keep the native languages of their ancestors alive in America. Often immigrant children don’t want to seem “different”, and they refuse to learn the language of their parents. And I think that’s such a shame. Languages are so beautiful, and they’re so much harder to learn when you’re older. Speaking English *and* the language of their parents wouldn’t keep the children from being “real” Americans… )

A great commentary – CSM website


A couple of years ago I surprised myself by finding out I enjoyed reading editorials on the Christian Science Monitor website. They usually tend to be objective, non-judgmental, and non-proselytizing. Here’s the url to a recent commentary:
One Christian feeling hijacked by politics

The author speaks of no longer wanting to be a “public Christian”, because she worries that with the current political climate, that her personal beliefs will be used politically to make someone else feel uncomfortable.

Recycling is the “third R”


I really like the idea of recycling and I wish more people did it. But mostly I wish that those powers that be which promote recycling would put some energy into reinforcing ALL of the “r’s” of which recycling is the last option. The first, of course, is to reduce usage of any given thing. The second is to reuse the item. And only after those options do we then recycle.

To use the example of writing paper, we would first try to use less paper. That paper we did use, we would turn over and use another time. Finally, we would turn the paper into a recycling plant. In this way we use less paper and destroy fewer trees.

We really only hear about recycling in terms of newspapers and soda cans. We could certainly reduce our consumption of them, but it’s tough to reuse them. So I guess that’s why we only hear about the third r, recycling, in regards to them. But these three principles, or even one or two, could apply to many things we use today. I think that by emphasizing all three principles we might learn as a society to walk a little more softly on the earth, and we might learn to value such an approach to living.

Ancient religions as “myth”


I’ve been wondering why we refer to the religions of ancient civilizations (Greek, Egypt) as “myth”. We even take classes in high school called “Greek mythology”. If someone were to refer to a current religion as “myth”, there would be a great uproar. Does the difference in reaction have to do with there being no one left to stand up for the old religions? Is a religion only “true” or “real” as long as there is someone who believes in it literally?

If you were to point this out to a believer in a current religion, I think they would say that the ancient religions were myth and that they were silly and made no sense. I suspect that even the most respectful of religious people would at least *feel* that about even a current religion they don’t subscribe to. It seems that each religion on some level must encourage people to believe that theirs is the only “true” religion – in other words, I don’t think the average religious person sees religions as different but equal paths.

Really, what would be the point of learning all the intricate details of your particular religion, if it wasn’t the true religion? You’d be better of just taking from it the basics that all religions share, principles of goodness, honesty, etc. And you don’t need religion to learn those values – so then why would you need the religion at all?

So I’m thinking that any given religion can’t survive unless it continues to have people believe that it is the only true religion. Seen as equal paths, I think the different religions would begin to fade. People rarely choose their religion; they are born into it and simply believe what their parents believed. But no one is born into a religion with Zeus et al. anymore – so there is no one to be taught from infancy to believe in it, and there is no one to stand up and say that it is the true religion. So it’s okay to refer to those religions as “myth”…

So it seems we’re left with two choices – seeing religion as a means to an end (different but equal) and probably having them fade away (supplanted by other forms of “values education”), or seeing religion as an end in itself (believing your religion is the only “true” religion). One of the problems with this latter option, though, (besides not truly believing other religions or the values of secularists) is the amount of violence and war that results. I’m not sure we’ve made the right choice as a species….

Sunday, December 12, 2004

George Lakoff and reframing political discourse


National Public Radio/KPBS-San Diego has a great weekly program on words, called “A With Words”. It can be heard online at the following address:
KPBS – A Way with Words

Martha Barnett, one of the co-hosts, told me about a linquist at Berkeley named George Lakoff. His work includes explaining how Democrats have to reframe the issues and not let Republicans define what I’ve been calling “the value-laden words”. He has written several books (see end of post) and a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle refers to his work:
UC scholar to help Democrats refine message / Party is urged to control policy debate

George Lakoff’s books:
Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, (2nd edition, 2002)
Don’t Think of An Elephant (2004)
Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About The Mind (1987), Metaphors We Live By (1980; 2003) [with Mark Johnson],
More Than Cool Reason (1989) [with Mark Turner],
Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge To The Western Tradition
(1999) [with Mark Johnson]

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Christianity and hell


Fundamentalists feel that sins weigh more heavily than goodness. They feel that people will go to (a literal) hell if they have an abortion, have sex before marriage, engage in homosexual sex, and many, many more things. Apparently it doesn’t matter what else you have done in your life, the number of good deeds, the compassion in your heart, the gentleness with which you walk on the earth. All that matters is if you do something bad.

That just seems to me to be so obviously a ploy the religious people of long ago worked out to scare people into not doing things that they didn’t want them to do.

I cannot believe that a god would care more about some (human-labeled) bad things than about good things. This logic of fundamentalists means that a person who didn’t do the “bad things”, but didn’t do much good either, would go to heaven. On the other hand, a person who spent their life helping others, but had sex before marriage and then an abortion, would go to hell.

That’s a pretty screwy conception of a god. Seems pretty evident to me that it’s a human-made view of god, not what any real god would be like.

Especially since all you’d have to do is repent at the end of your life, reassure an apparently insecure god that s/he is really god and really is “great”, and then you could go to heaven.

What kind of a person would make up a god like that…..?

Confirmation and our “choice” of religion


I was baptized Presbyterian and confirmed Methodist. I remember when it was time for my confirmation, I went from person to person asking why this ceremony marked my “choice” of Methodist, when no one had taught me the other options. How was it a choice? How was it any different than indoctrination? No one cared to answer that for me.

I don’t understand how people feel so strongly that their religion is the “right” one, when they were born into it. Occasionally a person changes religion, but that’s usually due to marriage, I think. The vast majority of people continue in the same religion they were raised in. Which is fine. But how can you think that yours is the “right” one, or that any one is right?

People don’t study the different religions when they are of an age with higher mental faculties. They don’t make a true choice. They are taught one religion from an early age and are never taught any kind of comparative religion nor encouraged to find the one that makes the most sense to them. Let’s face it, they are indoctrinated.

So in these circumstances, knowing very little about anything but their own religion, how can they say that theirs is “right” or “best”? Since they didn’t chose it and they haven’t compared it, do they think that theirs is inherently the “best religion” and they were just lucky enough to be born into it? Do they even realize that they didn’t make an informed choice? That people in other religions feel that their religion is “the best”? Doesn’t that say anything to them? 

The relationship between veal and milk


I remember when I was growing up, my mother always said we couldn’t eat veal because it was just a baby animal and it wasn’t right. And yet she gave us lots and lots of milk. She didn’t know that it’s the milk industry that is responsible for veal. They have to keep the cows pregnant so that they can keep giving milk. The babies born are then deprived of their own mother’s milk, made to live in the dark in a tiny cage for about 3-6 months (so their flesh is tender – lacking muscle – and white), and are then eaten as “veal”. So if someone really doesn’t like the idea of eating veal, they really should give up milk.

I find it interesting that we’re the only species that drinks the milk of another species, and the only species that drinks milk past infancy. The milk of each creature is different, designed for the growing needs of the young of that species. Cows grow very big very fast and so their milk is very high in protein, because the whole point of protein is to make things grow. It’s more protein than a human should have – humans take 18 years to reach maturity, not 6 months.

I always worry when I hear that someone I know is going on a high protein diet – our bodies are designed to run on carbohydrates. And those people are cutting out the good carbohydrates and eating the bad ones. Now that there has been time to do some longer term studies on people using these diets, they’re documenting the harm that high protein does. They’ve also found that the short-term weight loss these people enjoy is not due to the high protein, but to reduced calories, which they could have done in the first place with a healthier diet. But people will probably keep doing it, because they want the short-term weight loss, regardless of what long-term damage it does to their internal organs….

St. Francis, patron saint of animals


St. Francis is the saint you always see as a hooded-monk statue surrounded by birds and little animals. He is the patron saint of animals.

I’ve looked and looked and I can’t find any reference to him being vegetarian…..

I don’t understand people who say they love animals, but they wear their fur and skin, eat their flesh, and cause them to live horrible and short lives…. I think what they really mean is that they are “pet lovers”, not “animal lovers”…


Cherry picking from the Bible


The following is circulating on the internet:

Dear President Bush,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them:

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not to Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

4. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

5. A friend of mine feels that, even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there “degrees” of abomination?

6. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

7. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

8. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

9. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Signed, Your faithful shee…er servant.

“Merry Xmas” or “Happy Holidays” ?


Today a woman I know was angry that society expects her to be “politically correct” and to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. She is Christian, a Republican, and she agrees with Ann Coulter that we should bomb the heck out of Iraq and convert the survivors to Christianity.

I told her that I like to say “Happy Holidays” to people when I don’t know what they celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, Ramadan… in other words, I think I should say to the people the greeting appropriate to their own religion, unless I don’t know what it is, in which case I use the general greeting.

She seems to be wanting to give other people the greeting from her own religion, no matter what the religion is of the other person. I don’t think that makes sense. That’s analogous to us telling people “Happy Birthday”, when it’s our birthday, not theirs.

Religion and evolution


Over the course of humans’ existence on earth, new facts and understandings come to light and society adjusts the way it views the world around it. Generally this adjustment acknowledges that while we are different, we are also equal. It seems that the more that we learn, the less we need to repress those who are different than we are. That seems to me to be a good thing.

It occured to me today that maybe the reason that fundamentalists have a hard time accepting changes in society is related to the fact that they don’t believe in evolution. Perhaps they are so focused on an old, unchanging book that they can’t see reality in front of them. Maybe they don’t understand that knowledge didn’t end with the Bible, that with each generation we learn more and incorporate that learning into our world, making the world an everchanging place.

Perhaps they don’t know that those who don’t adjust ——– die off….


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Taxing meat like cigarettes and alcohol


Here’s a link with more information:

I always wonder why as a society we are able to see the justification in taxing harmful products such as cigarettes and alcohol, but we pay no attention to the meat/dairy industry. Besides having an even more powerful lobbying presence in Washington than the tobacco industry, the meat/dairy industry produces products that are more harmful than cigarettes when you consider their impact on health, the environment, the economy of the world’s poorer nations, and the sentient creatures we choose to exploit.

I guess it’s because only some people drink, and even fewer smoke, but almost everyone eats meat and dairy. I think it’s easier for people to point the finger at the societal ills they themselves don’t participate in. And yet so many more people end up in the hospital because of their voluntary diet – and it’s not asparagus or rice that is sending them there.

I am a vegan for moral reasons. But it’s the health argument that meat eaters seem more able to identify with. I haven’t eaten meat since 1985, and I haven’t eaten dairy since 1997 (apart from the milk protein slipped into the occasional processed food). When you go for awhile without eating animals or their products, and then you go into a restaurant and try to order some food, it bowls you over to read the menu. Virtually every food has meat in it, and as the main part of the meal. If a meal doesn’t have meat in it, it has dairy.

It really strikes you that Americans are “addicted” to meat on some level. Americans eat meat for every single meal, and often as snacks. There are people who think they will die without meat – even die if they only occasionally go without it. There are people who think that humans are carnivores – not the omnivores that we are. Omnivore doesn’t mean we must eat everything – it means we are capable of eating anything.

Even though we’re omnivores, it’s harder for our bodies to digest animal products, something which vegans/vegetarians discover if they have a momentary lapse and eat an animal product which their body is no longer used to digesting. They’ll be in the bathroom with terrible gastrointestinal distress all night. I always feel bad when I think about that and what we must be putting babies through when we start them eating animal products.

Humans didn’t start eating meat until the discovery of fire and the invention of weapons. If we had to eat meat to survive, we would have never evolved – we would have died out before fire and weapons. The countries with the best health are those who largely live on a vegetarian diet. When people from those countries move to America and adopt our diet, their health statistics mirror ours.

It’s interesting to me to note that humans survived on the “gathering” activities (collecting fruit and vegetables, etc.) of the women before the days when men became “hunters”. I wonder if the emergence of hunting bred in us our propensity to dominate other species and “weaker” or “inferior” members of our own species.

…..different ways to walk on the world….

But I think it would really be more just to tax all harmful things, not just the ones that the minorities participate in….. It’s the American way (at least, we say it is) to treat the majority and the minorities alike…



Hypenated last names


I don’t understand why women still change their names to their husband’s names and lose their identity when they get married. What I understand even less is the more recent use of hypenated names, as when a woman uses her maiden name and her husband’s name as her new last name. Usually the children keep the father’s name, but sometimes the children have the hypenated name. I always wonder what happens when the one hypenated person marries another. Does the wife now have four last names? This solution seems unworkable to me, and still requires that the wife give validity to the husband’s name, even while trying to hang on to her own, and while he does nothing to give validity to her name.

If there must be similarity in names within a family, why must it be the children having the same name as the father? Aren’t we beyond insecure men having to prove their paternity? Aren’t we beyond only valuing and honoring the “male” side of the family? Right now women’s maiden names are from the male side of her family of origin. But if women were to start taking their mother’s maiden name and passing it on to their daughters, we would start a tradition of honoring female lineage as we have traditionally only done with male lineage.

Right now last names only tell you the family of the father’s side of the family and nothing about the mother’s side of the family. If girls had their mother’s last name and boys had their father’s last name, you still wouldn’t have all the facts, but at least we wouldn’t be perpetuating the sexist tradition of stripping women of their identity in their own names and in those of their children.

Carol Adams’ writings


My favorite author is Carol Adams. I love her mind. She is an incredibly intelligent and well-spoken woman. I’ve seen her speak on a couple of occasions and have always been captivated by her ability to identify processes and articulate them so cogently. I just really love the way her mind works, not just the subject matter it focuses on.

Here is a link to her website. This website also includes interviews with Carol Adams.

She has written many, many books. My favorite is The Sexual Politics of Meat.
Here is a list of her 17 books.

Her website mentions the video “A Cow at my Table”. I own and really love this film. It has great interviews, showing many different perspectives of how activists view our society’s treatment of animals. It’s a very interesting and well-made documentary.

Here are two links to information about this video:

A Cow At My Table – All Creatures Book and Video Review Guide- life, heaven, earth, peace, justice, Bible study, discussion, …

Media Acclaim

Saturday, December 04, 2004

“Religion” as a codeword for “Christianity”


I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the use of the word “religion” in society today. We hear about the issues of religion in the public schools and religion in courthouses. Discussions about bringing religion back into public life attract many people because of their desire to have more decency and civility in our culture. But these arguments are using the word “religion” in a very disingenuous manner; it is being used as a codeword for “Christianity”. Do you think that if the Star of David, and only the Star of David, were to be displayed at a courthouse, these people would feel that religion was being allowed back in public life?

Were these “religion in public life” supporters to actually use the word “Christianity”, it would be very clear that their main purpose is not to increase people’s compassion, honesty, and civic-mindedness, but rather to further proselytize their own narrow interpretation of “the way”. That’s why they know that the issue must be couched in the rhetoric of “religion” in general, and that’s why it’s a very specious argument. The generalized use of the word makes the argument seem to be about values, when really it’s about ideology.

To those of us who are concerned about values in today’s society, let’s remember that religion is only one way to build values, and that Christianity is only one religion of many. “Religion”, “Christianity”, and “values” are increasingly being presented as synonymous, and we run the risk of losing sight of the very values we need to be having a discussion about.

Let’s put Christianity aside for the moment. Staying focused on the present day and on what basic values we want to see encouraged in society (honesty? fairness? responsibility?) will make us more likely to stay on track and less likely to get lost in large ideological or historical disagreements between religions. We might actually find common ground and make some progress toward helping our youth and our world.

posted by Barrington | 2:36 AM |

Jan 2005 posts

December 14, 2008

Monday, January 10, 2005

Fascinating word research


Don’t delete this because it looks weird. Believe it or not you can read it.

–The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid —

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in wahtoredr the ltteers in a wrod are; the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the fristand lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and youcan sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos notraed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh! andI awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt!

Someone might take our capacity to read this paragraph as proof of the usefulness of the “whole-word” style of teaching reading. But I don’t think that’s true. We already know what these words mean and that’s why we can perceive what they really are. We may read familiar words as a whole, but I think we learn best with phonetics, as it teaches you how to “figure out” an unknown word.

But it’s still an incredibly interesting research finding!


Some of my favorite quotes


First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

by Pastor Martin Niemoller, Berlin, 1939.


“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be
heard or welcomed. Butwhen we are silent, we are still
afraid. So it is better to speak,remembering we were
never meant to survive.”

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)


Success: fall down seven times, stand up eight.

Emily Dickinson
Not in Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.


“Justice will be secured in Athens when those who are not
injured by injustice feel as indignant as those who are.”
–Solon, 6th century, B.C.

posted by Barrington | 11:44 PM |

SUvs and wartime sacrifices


We’ve all seen the movies from World War II and the sacrifices that people back home had to make. Many types of foods or materials were rationed or weren’t available at all. People knew there was a war going on; the war very much affected their everyday lives.

Today American military forces are involved in fighting in many countries. But unless we know someone in the military, our lives back home haven’t changed at all. It has really, really amazed me that we don’t have leaders exhorting us to do our part to diminish our dependence on foreign oil – by driving less, by carpooling, by using bikes or public transportation, and most importantly, by not continuing our love affair with either SUVs or gas-guzzling sports cars. This period in our history really seems like the most opportune of times to lead the nation in viewing fuel efficient vehicles as patriotic… To point out to us that we use the most world resources of any nation, even those with more people… and that maybe, just maybe, that’s not a good thing…

Politicians and government manipulate us all the time. Why not use those skills to help us walk more softly on the world, and at the same time, become more independent of those who might abuse us? They could have started a nation-wide movement to help us see ourselves in a new light – Americans as world-conscious, Americans as people who conserve resources rather than use than up, Americans as people who leave some of the world for the developing countries, Americans as something more than gluttonous consumers… it could all start by encouraging people to see fuel efficient vehicles as patriotic…

But of course, if you’re a government in bed with big business and the oil industry, you’re going to manipulate us instead to keep spending, to keep using up resources, and to keep supporting wars designed to maintain our dominance over the the “foreign oil pipeline”… 



The other day on NPR, Chris Rainier, a reporter for National Geographic, was talking about the Tsunami. I didn’t catch which country he was in, but he said that this people’s “mythology” told them to run if they noticed such severe weather/environmental changes. Many of these people subsequently survived; their “mythology” had served them well.

I believe he was talking about the religion of these people. Now, why is it considered okay for him to call it “mythology”? I still don’t understand why we call ancient Greek religion “mythology”. What makes one thing a religion and another thing a mythology? Certainly, the disbelief of the speaker – it isn’t his/her own religion. Also, the belief system in question is not a part of the culture of the speaker’s own country. What else? 

Palestinians voting


Why is it that the media are reporting that “Palestinians are voting”? Only Palestinian MEN are voting. And if Palestine is like most countries (not China, which aborts female fetuses), women outnumber men. So when the majority is still not allowed to vote, why is this event being portrayed as a huge democratic success?

If the Palestinians had decided that only light skinned Palestinians could vote and not the darker skinned ones, we would be crying foul – but about this, we’re mute. If they had decided that only educated people could vote, we’d be all over that. Apparently Palestinians don’t care about women, but with no outcry, maybe we don’t either…. 

February 2006 posts

December 14, 2008

Do we even NEED lobbyists?

 From February, 2006

The recent scandals involving lobbyists are very alarming. The most obvious method of addressing pending legislation would be for panels to present pro and con information to Congress as a whole. Each side would present its case, lawmakers could ask questions, discuss the issues, and then vote. A legislator who doesn’t attend these sessions couldn’t vote on the issue.

Highly paid lobbyists wining and dining legislators promotes bribery or arm-twisting. And groups that can’t afford lobbyists are not getting a fair or equal opportunity for their issues to be heard. How difficult is it to see the problem with lobbyists presenting their interests to selected policy makers one-on-one? It’s all about influence and no longer about balanced consideration of all options and their ramifications.

If our legislators have time to have lunch and play golf with lobbyists from one side of an issue, then they have time to listen to presentations about BOTH sides of the issues. Actually, it’s nothing more than their job. If we don’t insist on changes to the status quo, we are essentially partners in the corruption. 

Sept 2005 posts

December 14, 2008

The poor and politics

 From Sept. 2005

We’ve recently heard people such as Michael Chertoff and Rick Santorum basically saying that the people in New Orleans were told to leave, and if they didn’t, they had made their own bed. The President’s mother insensitively opined that the evacuees had come from poor backgrounds and were enjoying better lives in the Houston Stadium. Supercilious Rush Limbaugh declared that the people in New Orleans should have saved some money for such a rainy day.

I’ve heard people defending the Bush family’s insensitivity to and neglect of the poor by saying that the Bushes were born rich and so don’t understand. It’s one thing for a Bush apologist such as Limbaugh to exhibit such ignorance, but in my mind it’s absolutely unethical for any political leader to not understand the plight of the poor. People from disadvantaged backgrounds often do not have credit cards, savings accounts, or cars. They don’t have people to lean on who do have these advantages. Furthermore, many have internalized society’s negative messages towards them and have grown up feeling hopeless, powerless, invisible, and unworthy. These people could not feel confident in their ability to hop in their SUV, fill it up with over $3/gallon gasoline, and drive to their second home to wait out the storm.

When one out of every 8 Americans lives in poverty (the highest rate of any industrialized nation), it is a moral and political imperative for our leaders to understand the physical and psychological environment experienced by many of the poor. Particularly since capitalism requires a lower class working for substandard wages, we at least owe the poor more than disdain.

We like to think we are the greatest nation because we have a handful of the richest people in the world. Perhaps a nation’s greatness would be better measured by how well it takes care of its less advantaged.