Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Under Your Very Nose

I'm a lover of words.  My kids have often tormented me about how I always have a story about where something came from--the derivation of a word, or a story about its use.  They say I'm a "font of totally useless knowledge."    I told my youngest  some years ago it was ok, because I had a ten year old who knew how to use the word "font."

So, as a lover of words, when I read in an essay the non-word, "myscopic," I was intrigued.   The essayist said it was a word his dad had used, and I gathered that it was a pun on the word "myopic," which of course means near-sighted, as in, only able to see what is under your very nose.  I'm very myopic--can't see two feet in front of me without glasses or lenses, but myscopic is, I gather, a little different. 

Apparently, this man's dad had coined this word to refer to those parts of reality that are in your face, or right under your nose.  And because I found this word intriguing, I'm going to expand upon it and extrapolate the term myscopy,  which is the practice of closely examining that which is right under your nose.

Myscopy.  Humans are very untalented at myscopy.  We zip past all kinds of myscopic reality all the time.  You might have noticed that many times you do something, like drive home, and you don't actually remember the detail of doing it.  You can sort of prove you did it, because you're home, in your driveway, in your car, and you are in fact behind the wheel, but as far as being able to say exactly what happened during that drive, not so much.  It is as if you sleepwalked there.

I've been known to do something similar in other situations, like at the grocery store.  I find myself on an aisle that I always go to, but I can't for the life of me remember deciding to go there, or why I decided to go there.   

When I was in law school, one of my professors did a demonstration about the powers of observation, where he had some people run unexpectedly into the class, steal something off the professor's desk, and run out.  Then we were all supposed to write down a "witness statement" about what we had seen happen.  We couldn't agree on what the people looked like, what they were wearing, what they had taken, or even whether they were male or female.  Apparently, people have mental "sleep in their eyes" most of the time.   The failure of myscopy.

We need to develop our skills in myscopy.  We need to focus on what is under our very noses because that's the only stuff we actually have a chance to participate in, change, or really enjoy.  When we zoom from thing to thing, speeding past the scenery like a revolving movie set, we get there all right, but only to find we don't even remember the drive.   And so, we wind up living only slivers of our lives--only really focusing on the parts where we're sitting on the driveway confused about how we got home.   The rest--probably 90 percent--is just a blur.

With a consistent practice of myscopy, we can learn to slow down, shut down the distractions, and LOOK at stuff.  We can examine that which is under our noses.  We can take a moment to pay attention to the lady in front of us in the checkout line (hell, we could even say hi, if we were feeling REALLY daring).  We could notice the sky, how the air smells, what kind of car is in front of us, that cute baby in a stroller, or maybe even how it all makes us feel.  We could actually experience our lives instead of mindlessly trading them in for a blur on the way to the driveway or the grocery aisle.   And, if what we see is good, we might just enjoy it more.  And if  what we see is bad, we might just be moved to try to change it.

So now that I've stolen a word, I'll paraphrase a slogan.   Myscopy--just do it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Be The Weed

My daughter's poetry class is turning out to be great blog fodder. 
by Julio Noboa Polanco

Let them be as flowers,
always watered, fed, guarded, admired,
but harnessed to a pot of dirt.

I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed,
clinging on cliffs, like an eagle
wind-wavering above high, jagged rocks.

To have broken through the surface of stone,
to live, to feel exposed to the madness
of the vast, eternal sky.
To be swayed by the breezes of an ancient sea,
carrying my soul, my seed,
beyond the mountains of time or into the abyss of the bizarre.

I'd rather be unseen, and if
then shunned by everyone,
than to be a pleasant-smelling flower,
growing in clusters in the fertile valley,
where they're praised, handled, and plucked
by greedy, human hands.

I'd rather smell of musty, green stench
than of sweet, fragrant lilac.
If I could stand alone, strong and free,
I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed

As I read this poem, it occurred to me that it drew a distinction virtually lost in our current culture.  You see,  most people in our society are flowers.  

They look good.  They encase themselves in the 'right' clothes, the desireable homes in fashionable neighborhoods and the 'car of the year.'  They get plastic surgery, take diet hormones, and inject strange substances in their wrinkles,  to try to buff away any sign of uniqueness and outrun all evidence of the lifetimes and experiences that they should be celebrating.  They turn themselves, at great cost, into little more than manufactured goods.  Pretty and packaged.

They live in clusters in cities, in an atmosphere of relative plenty, like that fertile valley.   They're fed and watered by the work of others, rarely appreciating where their food, clothing, or stuff comes from, and not much caring, either.  They are tended by their jobs, their pensions, government programs and the wealth that we in our country take so much for granted.  They're even admired by those who self-righteously proclaim that they have all this because they're 'exceptional' or because they 'deserve' it. 

But, it's becoming clearer by the day that they too are chained to their 'pots.'  Races, ideologies, political parties, social classes, modern-day tribalism and a hundred other meaningless distinctions are used to set them apart--to keep them neatly in their places, waiting for the next visit from the gardener.  Few would know how to sew a garment, cook a meal that doesn't start in a package, grow a head of lettuce, or milk a cow.  Many can't start a lawnmower or change the oil in their car.  Few understand the the markets for goods that they trade ignorantly in every day.  And few would care to learn.  So they trust, blindly, that someone will come and tend them.

 They are grown to be picked with greedy human hands.  They get tended as long as they're useful and not too much trouble.  The gardeners let them work, to help the garden profit, but when times get a little harder,  and there's drought, they're the first to go.  When some employer or politician says that promises made won't be honored--for wages, security, pensions, or prosperity, the helpless flowers will sit for a while in their pots, perhaps screaming bloody murder--but nevertheless still stuck in their pots because they've never known or wanted to know what it was like to grow anywhere else.  For a while they will cling to a life with no blooms and little verdance, and then, when no gardener arrives to save them, they will shrivel and die. 

I may be biased, I'll admit.  I can't think of a single person I've ever known who would say I'm a flower.   My whole life, I've been a half-step off the beat.  I didn't do it on purpose--there was a time when I would have given anything to be beautiful and feminine and stylish and to fit someplace.  But I never looked right in the 'right clothes.'   I never found friends in the 'right neighborhood.'  And when, briefly, I lived in the big house, it never felt like home.   I've always been a little too blunt, a little too plain, and a little too open about my eccentricities to really seem like one of the gang in the pots.   It seems I'm a weed.

Reading this poem helped me to embrace my slightly weird weediness. And not a moment too soon.  As our systems--political, economic, and social--begin to break up,  I'm grateful that I never fit in the pot, because the days of pots being nice places to live are just about over.  And the folks who will grow through the surface of the stone and thrive will be the weeds.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Are We There Yet?

The cliche of the family road trip always has the family just pulling out of the driveway when the kid in the backseat says, "are we there yet?"    It's not just realistic, it tells us something about human nature--we're always looking somewhere else.  Not now--not at the present.

I'd like to take a moment today to invite you to look back and forward and then put your attention on right now.  Here we go.

Remember the morning of September 11, 2001.  The  press and government sources quickly pinned responsibility for the attacks on muslim 'extremists' and the march toward war and the ironically named Patriot Act was under way.  

We had to go to war,  first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, then in Afghanistan again (and Egypt, and Syria)  they said, to be safe.    But then, because a single crazy person could still take a bomb on an airplane, we had to forego rights, to be searched and scanned before getting on airplanes, to be safe.  And we need to catch these guys before they get to the place with the bomb or the gun--we had to have pretty much global surveillance, to be safe.   We had to be wary of all muslims because they are all warlike jihadists, and we must suspect them to be safe.   It was all a journey toward safety.

Now think about the future we're headed towards.  Our president has claimed the "legal" authority to murder an American citizen, but he says the legal reasoning that authorizes it is "classified."  Congress has passed (and the President says he will sign) a law allowing American citizens to be imprisoned, possibly for life, with no proof, no charge, no trial, whenever the president decides to accuse someone of "substantially aiding" terrorism  (you tell me, does criticizing the U.S. government "substantially aid" al-Qaeda?).  

In our future, we'll have a court ruling that the American people have no right to choose what we eat or drink. We'll have decisions saying that, without any probable cause, a government can put a GPS device on your car and track your every move.   We'll have the law that they can come into your home with a warrant they write themselves and search for God-knows-what.   And we won't be able go out in the street and protest what we don't like about our government without getting beaten, shot with tear gas canisters, and pepper sprayed because they don't like what we're saying.

In our future, we'll  get stopped at checkpoints, groped and scanned before boarding a plane, surveilled at every turn.  We have no privacy in our phone conversations, our email,  our cars, our internet habits, or even our homes.  

So now I'd like you to focus on the present.  For over ten years now, we've fought the 'evil muslims,' we've enacted all the legislation, we've been subjected to the searches, the surveillance.  We're spending over $700 billion a year on "defense" that includes offensive wars all over the place.  We have a military expenditure that is greater than all the other nations on earth combined, and more than four times as much as our next biggest competitor, ChinaWe've dropped millions of tons of ordnance on Iraq and Afghanistan, killed hundreds of thousands of people in those countries, and effectively changed the governmental regimes there.

So here's the question--are we safe yet?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Way Things Are, or The Death of a Liberal

Over the past few days, I've had some communications that have made me realize just how unaware and uninformed people are.  It's political silly season again, and people are once again throwing out sound-bite ideas as though a three word phrase, or a one-sentence idea is all we need to come back from the abyss we're staring into.  Interestingly,  the phrase or idea is always deceptively simple and appealing to people who don't want to face the complex and behemoth problems of a system gone terribly wrong.  They're all ideas parroted from TV ads or think tank talking points like 'tax the rich' or 'end foreign aid' or 'cut waste fraud and abuse.'  My one-word response:  hooey.  Believe me, I don't like where I've wound up in this little research project.   I'm pretty liberal in my thinking--I like a government that helps people, and my conclusion is oddly conservative, in the old-fashioned meaning of conservatism.  But facts don't lie, and politicians do.   So here goes:

We have gotten here--and here is a whole lot worse than where we were when I voted in my first Presidential election--through a whole bunch of Congresses (some controlled by Ds, some controlled by Rs), lots of different Presidents (some Ds, some Rs), and a lot of changing conditions (my first cell phone was the size and weight of a brick and my first computer didn't have a hard drive), so the decline is not due to who's in office, who controls Congress, or any housing/financial/whatever bubble. It's a systemic problem.

After the facts, I will offer my not terribly humble opinion about what that problem is.


48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be "low income" or are living in poverty.

Approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be "low income" or impoverished.

There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 , but we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.

About  20 percent of all U.S. adults are currently working jobs that pay poverty-level wages.

In 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs. Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.

The total net worth of U.S. households declined by 4.1 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2011 alone.

48.5% of all Americans live in a household that receives some form of government benefits. Back in 1983, that number was below 30 percent.

According to a study that was just released, CEO pay at America's biggest companies rose by 36.5% in one recent 12 month period.

The "too big to fail" banks have grown larger than ever. The total assets of the six largest U.S. banks increased by 39 percent between September 30, 2006 and September 30, 2011.

Between 1979 and 2007, net income for the top 1% income earners in the U.S. grew by about 275%, while net income of the bottom 20% of earners grew by only 18%.

The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have a net worth about equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans combined.

Right now, spending by the federal government accounts for about 24 percent of GDP. Even in 2001, it accounted for just 18 percent.

For fiscal year 2011, the U.S. federal government had a budget deficit of nearly 1.3 trillion dollars. That was the third year in a row that our budget deficit has topped one trillion dollars.

Bill Gates' entire fortune would only cover the U.S. budget deficit (not the whole budget, just the shortfall) for about 15 days.

The U.S. government has now accumulated a total debt of 15 trillion dollars. This amounts to about $48,850 for every man, woman, and child in America, and a little more than $195,000 for a family of four. That's more than most people's house is worth.

If the federal government began right at this moment to repay the U.S. national debt at a rate of one dollar per second, it would take over 440,000 years to pay off the national debt.  But of course, we're not beginning to repay it--we're incurring more at a rate of  over $41,000 per second.

Out of a total 2011 budget of about $3.7 trillion, the U.S. spent $738 billion (almost 3/4 of a trillion)on the military, almost 19.4% of the total budget, and slightly more than half of all discretionary, non-entitlement spending. By contrast, the combined amount spent concerning natural resources, agriculture, education, and energy is less than $196 billion. Social Security and Medicare combined total about $1.24 trillion. Interest on the debt is about $251 billion, all by itself.

Notice that to eliminate the annual budget deficit (balance the budget) and pay interest on the debt, without raising taxes or affecting military spending would require complete 100% elimination of Social Security and Medicare, plus another $60 billion of cuts in discretionary spending.   Or, you could cut around 88% of all non-military spending except interest on the debt, Social Security, and Medicare--that's every federal agency from the FDA to the EPA to the FBI, and all the other letters of the alphabet.  88% 



Over the last couple of decades, regular people have been taking it in the shorts. There are fewer jobs available and more people competing for them; the jobs that are available are increasingly insufficient to live on; and regular people are losing net worth (wealth).   Meanwhile, big banks, big business, and the rich are doing just great, thanks.

The reason is that the system is rigged.  The government has, for a long, long time expanded its power so that it can enact policies that benefit the high end at the expense of the low end.    When we have unending wars for 'security,' who dies?  Regular people.  Who makes a lot of money?  Big military contractors and the banks who own the Fed, who manufacture the money for the war and charge us interest on it.   When we offer tax breaks to oil companies, who pays in the form of decreased revenue?  Regular people.  Who benefits?  Oil companies with record profits and the banks who manufacture the money for the deficit spending and charge us interest to use the fruits of our own labor.

When we set up regulatory systems, regular people pay for them, both with their tax money to run the agency, and then with higher prices as big companies raise prices and blame it on increased regulation (e.g., the healthcare law has resulted in huge increases in health insurance premiums, and hasn't even gone into effect yet).  Then companies use some of  their increased profits to pay the regulators to look the other way as they screw the regular people  (did the massive regulatory system stop BP from using a broken blowout preventer?)  So basically, with regulation, we pay the government to help business screw us.

Even entitlement spending that is "for" regular people winds up going to the top.  When my mom and dad get their social security check, they're not putting it away getting rich--they're spending it at Walmart. When Medicare pays for their doctor visit or their prescriptions, that money goes to ensure the continued (record) profits of Big Insurance, Big Healthcare, and BigPharma.  And, we still get to pay interest to the big banks who own the Fed on the money they manufactured for those benefits to be paid.

So you see, it doesn't matter whether we buy warfare or welfare, R or D.  Like a casino, the odds are fixed in favor of the house--the people at the top always win.   As I opened my thinking to not just accept partisan accounts of what's going on, but really analyzing it, I've been becoming more aware that the system--financial, business, and political--isn't working for regular people because it's been hijacked by the powerful and carefully, slowly, intricately been designed, precisely NOT to work for regular people.


We only stop digging the hole we've been making by taking big cuts in the whole budget--the military, every agency, Social Security, Medicare, the whole shebang--cuts of 40% overall would be required to eliminate the deficit. And then we'd have to figure out where to come up with $50k each to pay the debt. But between you and I and the lamppost--as long as we have the current political and financial system, that's never going to happen.

The numbers make clear we can't fix this problem by raising the retirement age, cutting waste fraud and abuse of Medicare, ending welfare or foreign aid, or by taxing the rich (much as I'd like to), or any other goofy bumper sticker solution that most of the politicians are setting forth. To try to do so makes as much sense as saying, 'well, the roof is shot, the foundation's crumbling, the plumbing doesn't work, and it's a fire hazard, but otherwise, it's a good house.' The truth is that the house is a wreck from top to bottom. To fix it, you've got to build a new house, not install new curtains.

So, basically, we have to get a new political and financial system!

We've got to stop thinking in terms of Ds or Rs. The Ds and the Rs, with very few exceptions, work for the same people, and it isn't us. 

We've got to stop thinking of and listening to how to tweak the current system. The current system is set up to do one thing: no matter where the money goes first, to make sure it ends up the same place--at the top.

We've got to stop pretending that raising taxes on the wealthy, or taking little bites out of this budget or that budget is going to change anything.  The numbers make it clear that's like spitting in the ocean.   

In short, we've got to stop clinging to the very institutions that are robbing us and the world of prosperity by systematically funnelling resources to the most powerful, the most unscrupulous and the most ruthless. 

And so, a lifelong registered independent with liberal ideals has become, in less than a year's time, pretty much a libertarian, because the ONLY way out of this mess is a convergence of the following three things:

1) to end the system of banks printing money and charging us interest on their imaginations (see my series on Money if you don't understand this statement);

2) to stop the money in politics where the big money interests pay legislators to make policy that funnels money up; and

3) to cut entire swaths out of the federal government--BIG swaths, and then let people and state and local governments have back the authority to handle more of their own affairs, where the politicians are closer to the folks where we can keep an eye on them.

Then we have to get real.  We can't bomb our way to peace.  If we could, then war would have long ago ceased.   We can't borrow our way to prosperity.  If we could, wouldn't a $15 trillion debt mean our economy was booming?  We can't control every bad thing happening in the world with laws and regulations.  If we could, wouldn't drugs, child abuse and air pollution all be gone?

We can't fix the world when our own country is horribly broken, and as long as we think we need to fix the world, it's going to stay broken. We can't grab and scratch and claw for more, damn the consequences, and then lament that others grab and scratch and claw back. And we can't turn over our lives to other people, turn up the TV and ignore it for 40 or 50 years and expect that when we tune back in, it will all be as we want it to be. 

We must begin to engage.  We must think more deeply than liberal vs. conservative, black vs. white, D vs. R, rich vs. poor.  Those distinctions, like all others, are used merely to set up false conflicts that distract us from the real issues--and always have been (see my post called The Arch).  We must see that the world is not a series of bumper stickers, but a complicated and easily imbalanced system.  We must stop thinking that big problems have easy, painless answers.    We must see ourselves as we are--as parts of progressively larger entities--communities, countries, a world.

And finally, we have to start thinking and acting on the principle that what's good for all is good for us, because ultimately, the whole world will drop to the level of the lowest, and right now, that's pretty low.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Good Day

I've mostly ignored the world today, which explains much of why it's a good day.  And then, when my youngest came home, she had written a poem at school.   I wish I were as good a person as my baby is.  I wish everyone were.

I Am

I am joyous and free-willed
I wonder how people can be so cruel
I hear the cymbals of joy over the bells of mourning
I see the love of animals, persistent, even to those who are touched by evil
I want to break away and fly free
I am joyous and free-willed

I pretend to be calm and humbled when inside I feel fireworks
I feel like I can soar at times
I touch sorrow each day but continue on my journey
I worry I will have to leave my mother's side one day
I cry at others' sorrow and pain
I am joyous and free-willed

I understand imperfection and embrace it
I say everything has love
I dream of a carefree world
I try to ignore the pointless things of sorrow
I hope I never lose my spirit
I am joyous and free-willed

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Oath

When people become U.S. Citizens, they take this oath:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

When people enlist in the active military service, they take this oath:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

When people become police officers, they take an oath something like this:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution
of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ______ according to the best of my ability...

When I became an attorney (and every state requires a similar one), I took this oath:

I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Colorado, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counsellor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability.

Many readers of this have probably never taken any of these oaths, but if you are a citizen of the U.S., you should consider whether you are ethically bound to any less standard than someone who moves here from another country.  I'd say no.

Notice that none of these oaths say that they will do so, unless Congress passes a law to the contrary, or unless it will get me fired, or unless anything.  

It's time that all of us live up to our oath, actual or assumed, and defend our Constitution from its enemies.  Right now, most of its important enemies are in Washington DC.    

It's way past time, folks. 

Friday, December 9, 2011


A week or so ago, I posted on the subject of cats, and how humans could learn a thing or two about what love really is from the furry, sometimes annoying felines.  Now it turns out that even rodents can teach us how to be better people.

The journal Science is reporting today that recent studies at the University of Chicago prove rats have empathy for the suffering of fellow rats and will act to alleviate it.    Researchers Jean Decety, Peggy Mason, and Inbal Bartal placed pairs of unrelated rats in cages for 2 weeks to get to know each other. They then put one of the rodents into a small plastic tube inside the cage.  The tube was fitted with a door that would open when it was bumped from the outside.  Not surprisingly, the trapped rats gave out ultrasonic distress calls, which, it turned out, were responded to by their free rat buddies.

In the studies, three-quarters of  rats with trapped cagemates learned how to open the door.  Only one rat in six without a trapped cagemate learned to do this, showing that rats whose friends were trapped were motivated to learn how to free them.

Moreover, each free rat who learned to open the door kept liberating its trapped cagemate again and again, as many times as its buddy was trapped, which researchers felt ruled out mere curiosity as the motivator of the free rats.  The rats freed their trapped friend even when the trapped animal exited into a separate cage, showing that the free rat wasn't only acting to get itself the reward of companionship.

And the rats freed trapped cagemates even when they had the option of bumping open an identical container to obtain chocolate, their favorite treat, demonstrating that their motivation to help was at least as strong as their desire for self gratification with food. In fact, half of the time they even shared their chocolate, leaving some for the trapped rat.

So, even RATS seem to be able to set aside their own selfish desires, show empathy for the suffering of others,  and help one of their own kind in distress.     I wonder when people will catch on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Hard Truth

I don't go to a lot of movies in theaters.  The huge visuals and way too loud soundtracks are too much for me, so when I do go, the experience is always memorable, no matter what the movie is like.   One I especially remember is Titanic; the sequence where the ship is going down has been stuck like a sliver in my brain ever since.  That's the part where the people in the few lifeboats feverishly paddle away from those dying in the freezing water.   Watching that scene was, for me, like someone hitting me in the gut.  The visual image confirmed all too graphically that humans would turn away from their fellow men and women just that callously,  and later they would say they couldn't have done anything because they might also have died if they helped.

Of course, that had already been proven again and again.  There was WWII, when soldiers killed millions of innocent people because they were told to, and lots and lots of regular people stood by as a dictatorship took hold.  Then they watched their neighbors get herded into ghettos and concentration camps and many just went on with their lives, presumably making up some reason in their mind why they didn't need to do something.  Later they would say there was nothing they could have done because they might also have died if they tried to help.  Of course, there was similar silence when Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps, only the silence wasn't blamed on death, but "safety."

There was Vietnam, where officers gave, and soldiers followed, illegal orders to massacre civilians.  Some lost their minds later after it caught up with them what they did, but others probably told themselves that it was ok because they were just trying to stop Communism, or they were just following orders, and they might have died or gone to prison if they tried to oppose those orders.

And there's every day for the last 20 or so years, where we see reports of genocide, war, displacement, disease, abject poverty, and famine.  Bosnia.  Sudan.  Somalia.  Haiti.  And most of us--me included-have stood by and watched.  Were we on the phone every day to our representatives in Congress?  Not me.   Were we foregoing luxuries like cable or video games and sending every available dollar to help feed the people?  I didn't.  Were we protesting to demand changes in foreign policy or the end to the wars?  I haven't.   Joining the Peace Corp?  Not I.

And now, there's our government, which is gradually taking more and more liberties with human rights--ours and others'.   They've bombed villages full of civilians, and we allowed it, saying they 'must have been terrorists."  When images appear that show small children dead or with their limbs blown off, do we insist that it stop, loudly and persistently, because clearly these babies cannot be terrorists, or do we look away, and call them 'collateral damage?'  

When grave questions have arisen about the official story of the Oklahoma City bombing, or 9/11--questions that make clear the official story cannot possibly be true--do we demand action?  Or do we look away, afraid that if we learn the truth, it might force us to do something we don't want to do--like re-examine everything we've believed to be true?

When civil liberties like privacy of email or phone conversations, or freedom of speech is abridged in the name of  'security,'  have we screamed bloody murder and demanded it to end?  Or have we said, "well, that's not so bad if it keeps us safe, and anyway, it will only hurt people who are up to no good?"

As it has become clear that millions of Americans, who have lost their jobs in the last years due to globalization, the banking crisis, and so on, have we acted?  Have we compassionately sought to help by donating to food banks, or advocating for relief efforts, or helping people we might know personally?   Or, have we sought to blame them, or said, 'Phew!  Glad it's them and not me" and gone back to our Facebook? 

I know what I have done--not much, compared to what I could have done.  And, I'll bet there are people reading this right now who, if honest, would have to give the same answer.   And there are a couple of things I'm absolutely certain of, after living the life I've lived:

1)  The world is getting more and more harsh and wicked and out of control, not because of governments or shortages or global warming, or some other conveniently-out-of-our-control-excuses, but because people are showing less and less human decency and caring.  We are all too willing to close our eyes to injustice and hardship and suffering that's affecting someone else, but not us--yet;

2)  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

The examples I've given show me that  we have the world we deserve.  We live in exactly, precisely the reality we've created with our own actions and inactions.  We tolerate horror, so we live in it.  We engage in division and hatred, and so we experience it in return.  We've made a world where things are a lot "fairer" if you're one kind of person or living in one kind of place, and much less fair if you're not.     The big problem for most  average Americans right now is that we are, for the first time, becoming the latter.  Not surprisingly, we're not liking it much.  Averting your eyes and paddling past the people in the water is a much better plan from the perspective of the lifeboat.

The problem is, the only way this cycle stops is if it stops for everyone.  If it's ok to paddle past anyone, eventually that anyone is going to be us.  If we close our eyes to injustice or unfairness against someone we don't like or don't know,  the standard is set.  And eventually, it will be us who are not liked or known.  If bombing babies is just 'collateral damage,' eventually it will be our babies.  The universe is cyclical.  What goes up comes down.  Tides that go out always come in.  And what we sow, eventually, we will reap.

This was the long way of saying something that has been said for a long time--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   That said, here's the hard truth:  If we expect anything to change, the first thing we have to change is us.

It's True

You're only paranoid if they're not really out to get you.  :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peace on Earth

It's December, and the mad rush of people scurrying to buy this year's version of the Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo is supposed to be upon us.   I've never understood the psychology of buying whatever is said to be the hottest new thing, and I've certainly never understood the buy now pay all year mentality of Christmas.  So the headlines about what a mad success the retail holidays are this year are perhaps a bit lost on me to begin with-but this year it's even more true.

On Black Friday this year, as is our custom, my family and I studiously avoided the mall.  We did a little grocery shopping, went to the park for a walk, and played games at home.  The thing that surprised me all day that day was how mild the crowds looked everywhere we drove past.  The mall had parking spots.  The Target store was downright civilized.  Traffic was reasonable all over our city.  Then we got home and I looked at the headlines of mad crowds and people pepper spraying each other and excellent retail sales, and I thought it must be a fluke. 

Since then, I've been shopping a couple of times.  Both times, stores weren't crowded; there were lots of sales, but fewer shoppers.   My own online retail business is distinctly average this year.  Not a lot worse, nor a lot better than previous, so I'm not buying that everyone is shopping on line.

Here's my theory.   I think that people may be getting it, finally.   There are always going to be those who get up at three in the morning to get an Xbox or a talking teddy bear, but I think people are shopping less this year.  Maybe the knowledge that the world is swirling round the cosmic bowl is causing a moment of reflection in American humanity.  Maybe people are seeing the stupidity of buying plastic crap with a plastic card and spending two or three months eating macaroni and plastic cheez food product to be able to pay for it.  Maybe the knowledge that our elected representatives have voted to be able to pick us up and toss us in the slammer for life by merely calling us a name is putting a damper on our acquisition instincts.  But I think people are getting it.  I certainly hope so.  After all, according to the story, Jesus was born in a stable, not a food court.

If we can't make it happen anywhere else maybe we can at least make it happen at the malls--Peace on Earth.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Arch

One of the strongest forms in architecture and engineering is the arch.  It's been done, in various ways, since the Roman Empire. 

The idea is that all the operative forces push against each other--side to side shear on each side pushes inward toward the middle of the arch, and the downward force of gravity presses down and out.  It makes a very strong portal. 

Interestingly, it also makes an incredibly strong political positioning strategy and way to divert forces around a central core of what someone really wants to get done.  Here's how it works.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Feel Better

Recently, I have been facing a real problem.  I've found myself really really liking a Fox News contributor, Judge Andrew Napolitano.  I've even linked to a couple of his segments on this blog.  I've never liked a Fox News contributor before, and it's something of an existential crisis. 

Then, on top of that, I've found myself seriously thinking that the only candidate I might be able to vote for next year is Ron Paul, because of his stance on monetary policy, and especially the Federal Reserve.   Cognitive dissonance with my usually sort of left-leaning self. 

Today, I feel better.  My favorite person today is Jon Stewart.  Watch this .