Thursday, March 31, 2005

The fall from Sky High

The fall from Sky High is the tragedy of the Idealist, the Romantic, the Altruist, the Ambitious Goody Two Shoes. As Mark Twain said (and I paraphrase for now), 'there is nothing more irritating than a good example.' And not many of us go well out of our way to be so irritating. The status quo - and the rocks in the troubled waters (our own and others) - come back to bite us in the ass.

I'm sure that at some point soon I should set about to define, deal with and discuss what I think Idealists and Romantics are - Idealism and Romanticism - and yes, those words all deserve capital letters in my book. My views of both are dear to my heart, deeply considered, soundly unconventional and (to quite a few) pains in the ass. (Ah, yes, righteousness can be its own feeble and oh so fallible religion, too - an R word I won't capitalize.)

But in the meantime, as a die-hard IR, I say it hurts when I haven't lived up to what I expect of myself, much less hope for for myself and others, when I have let myself or someone else down, when I disappoint or hurt myself - and in each case, others as well or not so well. In some ways, those disappointments are chronic, like the creep of time in this petty pace from day to day. In other ways, those disappointments just sear and ache and groan inside, the result of sudden mishaps, slips of the tongue, slaps of the brain, slides down into the dark side of fear and/or apathy or lack of sympathy or empathy, even (sometimes) hedonism or mental anarchy.

Two steps forward, and we smile. One step back, and we grimmace.

And then sometimes, it seems, one step forward, TWO steps back, oh my and ugh.

Sometimes, it may seem that our greatest loves are also our bitterest pills, so close yet so far, so personal yet so petty, we may feel, but this is not really the way it is. It is that the world weighs in, too, and turns what we think is love into angst and insecurity and bitter action. The bitterness we feel comes from our fears of and wrestling with the mightier demands of The Real World, as we call it, as if we as our own selves are not the real world. The Real World - chock full of discouragments and "duties" and disasters, petty and grand. True love can conquer much of this, but not all. And anyway, such love is rare, very rare, and in and of itself, a huge challenge. We must both press onward and be peaceful and patient about the progress we'd like to see in ourselves and those to whom we are closest.

Life can be such a challenge of light and dark, and here I am, middle-aged though young and even in some ways - too many ways? - adolescent at heart, just a meager pilgrim on the quest for love and virtue, still looking for the saving graces, literally the skills and graces that will save me, still hoping that the repressible and sometimes irrepressible ABSURDITY of "how life is" will remind us how much we need hilarity and hope, will put the smile on our theatrical masks, save the day and recharge life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Terri Schiavo controversy made simple

You heard it here first: Terri Schiavo is not in a fight for her life. She is not fighting at all. She is innocent to and seemingly unaware of everything surrounding her disease and her demise. She has no recognizable will to live or die. Her husband, her chosen mate, has interpreted her wishes to mean she would choose death at this point. Her parents, meanwhile, are not trying to interpret Ms. Schiavo's wishes at all; they are using their own agenda and bygone cultural values in their amazingly persistent and contentious attempts to prolong her life.

Who is really brave here? And who really deserves to decide? Will there be any heroes? And why is the public now so intensely drawn to this case?

Because it is/has become a stark case of life and death - and what each means - and what control we should have over our own lives and the lives of our children and spouses.

The fight for Ms. Schiavo's life is not her fight but a fight among factions trying to oversimplify not only the right to die or live but also how it is best to live - and whether living is always best.

There is much talk of "saving" Ms. Schiavo's life. Was her life "saved" up to now? Or was it prolonged? Isn't there some sort of distinction we should consider here? If Ms. Schiavo is kept alive, does that mean she is "saved"?

more soon.......

Monday, March 28, 2005

Resurrecting Jesus

OK, not your typical Easter-time post, but my gosh have we got some remedial work to do as a supposedly "Christian nation", getting this Jesus thing to synch with what's REALLY going on around here. As it is, we're not doing too well at being either a Christian nation or as a secular nation. We're pretty mixed up about the rules of spirits (our distracted and distraught consciences) and the "rule of law", the basis of fairness, social tolerance, conscientious compassion AND civil justice.

As many might know and many others might guess, I'm not a fan of this "son of God" stuff, but hey, ok, there probably WAS this rather charismatic guy named Jesus from Nazareth or thereabouts, back in the days of water buckets and ox carts, and he seemed to have some pretty good, if radical things to say - radical then and now - never a guy accepted by polite society, even decades after he'd died.

A couple of millennia seem to have confounded things so much. There is that notorious comment by the little old woman who said, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." But don't westernize Jesus: he wasn't a westerner. And don't Anglicize - much less Americanize - Jesus: he died centuries before English was invented, centuries even before anyone ever spoke "thees" and "thous." He'd never heard of democracy, and even our contemporary notions of religious "freedom" and human and women's "rights" would have seemed pie in the sky to him, though having tread so lightly and having remained childless by choice, he does seem to have been one of the original environmentalists.

Are we a Christian nation? Surely, there is plenty of sentiment to think so - but almost no reality. "WWJD?" "What would Jesus do?" the bumperstickers ask. Well, for starters, he'd probably walk or ride a bike to church, maybe drive an efficient hybrid car or carpool, rounding up his friends. Yes, Jesus was not a suburban kind of guy, nor was he a family man. He was more of a communal bohemian, hanging out day and night with his cohorts, rather a beatnik lot of fringe characters.

Even these days, a gen-U-INE Christian, a true "follower" of Jesus would not own much of anything really (plain and simple) and would in fact shun most worldly possessions - most but not all - I'm thinking you could keep your toaster oven but not a Nintendo set. A true follower would certainly be a pacifist to the point of not accommodating or encouraging any use of force. (Don't make excuses here for your patriotic friends and family in the armed forces - nothing suggests Jesus would have defended defenders using rocket launchers, sorry.) A true follower would be an anti-materialist and against the use of overly conservative, greedy or authoritarian power.

Jesus the man, the whatever, was communal, humble, a righteous moralist, a lover of allegory and fable and myth and hopes for even humbler people. It seems he was a pacifist but at the same time aggrevated by and indeed angry (outright angry) at authoritarian power. He would have loathed the imperialist American character as he seemed to loath the imperialist Roman character, taxing babies to pay for bayonets or bombs - or the slave-drawn bath water of the elite cronies and corporate vultures in power. (In his day and in ours, much is the same.)

If we were to really resurrect Jesus as a role model and hero in this culture, we would put Wal-Mart and Wall Street and the Detroit dinosaurs and Lockheed Exxon/Mobil on the skids in a month. If we were to really resurrect Jesus as the iconic and defining character of the "American character" we would rehire our soldiers to be builders and restorers and recyclers and rescuers. Our weapons of mass destruction would lose their luster, and we, as a people, would muster not for churning consumption and the religion of Capitalism but muster for fragality and satisfaction and diplomacy and tolerance and patience and peace. We would go to great lengths to curtail our anger and bitterness and austentation and imperial/material audacity.

We would be a better nation, a vastly different nation, like so many others now already adhering more closely to what Jesus practiced and preached.

More soon on this.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Friday I'm in...

... fill in the blank (!) with... LOVE, LIFE... with variety, with diversity, with adversity, with... adventure.

This week, I have been determined to get some sun on the skin and some tone around the bones, thinking my gosh, all this bloggerland b.s. keeps too many of us pounding away at the keyboard, basically feeding gossip and regurgitated morsels to ourselves. Life is about lots of other things besides, so seize life and live more on your own terms.

Which reminds me to ask: have you got your own terms? Know what they are? Can you make a list of them, a show of them? Demonstrate them?

This world is a physical world too - and a sensual world. As the poet (played by John Heard) says in the esoteric Fritjof Kapra film "Mindwalk," "Life feels itself!"

BUT, be sure you foster that feeling, and don't get too stuck too close to the screen. Life is OUTSIDE, going on NOW.

Cheers to all of you who "carpe vita"...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What a great thing

Around and around in the circle game - but, at least we're getting somewhere!

More soon, my wonderful friends....

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Ode to Cycling (continued)

For the gals: another great excuse to stock up on a colorful, oh, so stylish (and form fitting) and conveniently rapidly obsolete lycra wardrobe.

And for the guys: one of the few legitimate excuses to shave your legs.

Oooooh, sooooo smooooooth!

Yes, gents, step right up, grab that baby blue Venus3 razor, and GO! (I swear, must be more guys doing it because the new Venus3 "Divine" comes in a darker and even more masculine blue, soze we can avoid that girlie pink.)

Ode to cycling: gotta love it - the rolling fiesta thing, that mysteriously small saddle between your legs, the techy woven carbon and cold-drawn titanium frames, the lustrus alloys all around, hefting a mere 19 pounds of the most efficient machine ever devised by humans, the whirrrrrr of the wheels (those skinny little tires on the road - that can cost as much as car tires), the springtime flowers and springtime rain showers, the group dynamics and deft pleasures, ah yes, the tour rolls on...No wonder I can't shake this drug after so many years. Gotta ride, GAH... TAH.. RIDE!!!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cycling into spring

Everybody needs a sport - or some sort of athleticism - to muscle one's way into life, to feel life viscerally, to sweat, to breathe (hard), to come to grips with the physical world, feel gravity and sun and terrain.

There are, of course, many great sports and physical endeavors, and I love to hike and run and play. But cycling is my love because you get somewhere, you feel the earth, it's twists and turns and contours. Cycling is both sensual and worldly - not so gym-bound as weights or swimming, not so spiritually arranged as yoga, not so dependent on facilities as most ball sports or badminton or shuffleboard, for gosh sakes - none of that 'you could do this on a cruise ship' sort of thing. I mean, you can even 'golf' on a cruise ship, as long as you don't insist on retrieving every lost ball that disappears in the deep blue rough.

Cycling is dependent on the world as it is, far and wide. And as I say on my bike tours, it's not what you ride or even how you ride or even, why you ride - though why is always a factor. No, it's WHERE you ride that counts.

Close to home, far from home, long or short, a habitual commute, across a state or continent or around the world. It's WHERE. Where, expecially the most challenging and exotic places, show you things not only about your body and your mind but about those things in the context of the rough (the REAL rough) and ragged and pretty (if not pristine) world.

To be a really good bike tourist, a "natural," you need not be particularly strong or coordinated or tough or fast good or competitive or one to keep score. It's best if you are patient, observant, resilient, varied in your interests - and especially have an interest in small town life, terrain, old-fashioned kitsch, out of the way backroads, scenery, small talk, contemplation, coming face to face with weather (especially, yes, WIND), and have a particular appreciation for small town life and solace and some solitude, mixed in with the occasional roadside socializing.

May the road be long and the wind at your back - more often please.

A lovely, gracefully curving road rising and falling into the hills with a river view, too - that's following your bliss.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Spring into spring!


For the first time since starting this blog in mid-November, I am about to embark on a bike tour - leading a bike tour - and in that department, I may hold - yes, unsuspecting readers - A World Record.

I led my first bike tour in 1986 while I was still a grad student in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, going for my masters and working as a teaching assistant to Bill Goetzmann, a Pulitzer Prize winning cultural historian. I started big, with a three week, 1100 mile tour across Texas for the state's sesquicentennial and 42 participants.

Since then (this is my 19th year), I have led from one to about 10 tours a year, making a grand total so far of at least 130 tours, probably, it seems, more than anyone else in the world - tours I designed, promoted and led myself (not working for a larger bike tour company, etc.). There are few things, I would venture, as personal and intense and opportune as leading some sort of intimate, personal, passionate group tour, no matter what the travel mode. Leading tours - and so many tours - has certainly changed my life and given me so many adoringly positive strokes (along with the risks) that it is (literally) a nightmare to considering giving it up - especially after so long. (So how DOES one move on and achieve such a loving success while literally following one's bliss?)

I guess I'm pretty darned proud of that record. I have had my ups and downs, but I have had some very, VERY loyal participants over the years - some dedicated Coyote groupies have been on more than 30 tours! It has, for me, been a true "labor of love" in every sense of that phrase, I would have to say.

And today, Monday, marks the shakey beginning of my 19th year of leading tours, and I'd sure like to make it to year 20, even if some "burnout" has occurred gradually over the years, as I've gotten older - and the feelings of responsibility have grown and the sense of "been there, done that"/'know how it's going to go' has inevitably compromised the fresh adventure of it all.

But for better or worse, today is the day, with a straggling 7 people along for the ride, even in lovely weather with wildflowers galore and good times to be had by the hearty few. (I've led tours with as many as 62 participants - a real trip - though my favorite group size is, I've come to know precisely, 16-20 people.)

Life needs a lot of things, some mentioned over the first few months here at "A Better Nation." But one thing life needs has only been implied here, not mentioned so overtly - and that thing is GUSTO. Life, the good life, the rich life, certainly needs that essential quality - GUSTO.

So follow your bliss, but GO for the GUSTO!!!

Cheers and happy trails...

Lawrence, aka El Coyote, aka "Coyote Guy"

~~~ world record bike tour leader???

Friday, March 18, 2005

NEWSFLASH: Life feels itself!

Life feels itself! It's a good thing we are mortal. Otherwise, what would be there to remind us how precious (and alas, finite) life is?

Don't fret romanticizing death while you still have the chance to romanticize LIFE.

Be charmed by it. Be seized by it. Seize it. Make a story. Live a story. Be compelling and brave and daring. This is your one shot - or, at least, the only shot you're sure you've got. So as Woody Guthrie said, "take it easy, but TAKE IT!"

Cheers this weekend. LIVE.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Luck of the Outlandish

Wore green most of the day, even used a green towel.

But there will be REAL news and genuine INSIGHT (ha) in this spot Friday (which, as you know, is the new Thursday).

Cheers, LW

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Too bad caribou don't get to vote


"In wildness is the preservation of the world."
-- Henry David Thoreau

ANWR, "anwahrr," the Artic National Wildlife Refuge - sort of the Little Big Horn for America's (and in particular, the Bush administration's) current wars on wild lands and wild life - no, not the last battle for this particular refuge, much less wilderness itself, but a place and a battle that will resonate for a hundred and maybe hundreds of years, just as the defeat of "Yellow Hair" and the United States 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn still resonates with us (some of us).

After several failed attempts, the newly EVEN MORE regressive, Republican-fortified Senate voted today to proceed with a plan to drill for oil on 1.5 million acres of land we own. It's our land, remember, and I wonder whose side the Senators are on - not the caribou or me or you, that seems likely. A majority of Americans say they are opposed to this sort of aggressive and non-essential plunder of our lands. This land is your land - this land is NOT your land unless you stand up for it - and get your elected officials to stand up for it, too.

Seven Republicans voted against the measure (thank you, John McCain and the two fine ladies from Maine, et al), but three Democratic Senators voted for the measure - no thanks to the backwoodswoman from Louisiana. And what is it with the two Daniels from Hawaii crossing over? Maybe we should show more respect for Hawaii's need to become a sovereign nation once again - these wrongs aren't making a right. Jeez - if those three had sided with their party loyalists, we'd be sitting a bit prettier in the land of the fiercest and most majestic carnivore on the continent, who just happens to wear a lovely white fur coat.

Most of us may never get to Alaska, and if we do get there, it's highly unlikely we'll get as far north as ANWR. More likely, we'll buy an alabaster polar bear at a gift shop and 4th Avenue in Anchorage than actually see one. Can you imagine how few people actually see polar bears and vast herds of caribou in the wild? It's never been many, that's for sure.

And that's the point - is there anything we can't leave alone?

Two things are going on here:

First, President Bush's friends are in this for the money. And second, the Bushies are adamant on making war of all sorts - not just on terrorists and civil liberties and international law but on the notion that our public lands really ought to be controlled by the us, the lowly public. I mean, we're not even major stockholders in these get-rich quick schemes. Furthermore, the Moneymongers want to set a bold precident for invading our public lands for corporate convenience, corporate rule and PROFIT - and not just in far off Alaska but in Utah and Wyoming and West Virginia and Florida or in a pretty nice place near you. These guys would sell Gettysburg or Yosemite to Disney or Coca-Cola or maybe Wal-Mart if the sale would pad the funds payable to Halliburton and Lockeed and that big bad military-industrial complex - and if they could get away with it. (That's the only limit here: how much can they get away with? How much will we let them get away with?) These guys are not big fans of the long term view, the courage to promote innovative progress or even popular demand, much less majority rule. Like I say, a majority of us (via polls I do appreciate) are opposed to what the Senate just did. Most of us just say no to plunking down oil rigs amongst the milling caribou. But then, it's on days like this we're reminded we don't have the power, and they do, those high and might Senators do - and by golly, they're going to use it.

On a global scale, there's very little oil (about six months worth for the U.S., maybe thereabouts), but there are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made by the oil companies. Of all that revenue, what will the government pull in? About enough to fight the Iraqis for a few weeks. Only $5 billion, about a decade from now, will enter governmental coffers, but only half to the U.S. with the other half going to the state of Alaska, a state already so rich it pays every resident several thousand dollars a year just to live there - already a windfall from the other extractive industries plowing into and pumping out the wilderness - nothing like making the spectacular little village of Valdez look like a cross between a Norwegian fjord and the Houston ship channel, I say.

I've been to Alaska and to Valdez. I've even been a hundred miles north of Fairbanks, but I was still hundreds of miles away from ANWR. What I'd give....

This is a hard pill to swallow, and swallow it we should not. ANWR is a symbolic Alamo - "Remember the Caribou!" could be our battle cry. But it is not just about caribou, it's about US, who we are as a people, who we are as a nation. Are we going to be so spoiled and, generally, so uncaring about and thus duped by our greedily elected leaders and the ruling corporations [see "Ides of March" post below] as to [let them] fuck it all up?

How about something pristine, whether you see it as "God's creation" or as the only planet we've got. Nature rules, and like it or not, we depend on a healthy planet - though, come to think of it, it seems so many of think the idea of health is passé, so maybe we've already lost?

No - maybe we should invite a few polar bears to dine in the Senate, feasting on those rarefied blue-bloods who aren't even really willing to say, outright, that they are doing this for US.

I vote for the caribou, even if I never see them. I vote for a pristine place, crystalline and remote and magnificent in its short summer of endless light and long winters enshrouded in darkness and mystery - and so far unscarred by human machines, industries and schemes. I vote for "We, the People" - NOT plunder in our name.

ANWR - NOT in MY name.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Ides of March

The word "ides" might have a sinister connotation, but it didn't until 44 BC, that March day Brutus and a band of high up conspirators assassinated Emperor Julius Caesar. Ides simply means the middle of the month - every month has an ides, not just March. But it was on the "ides of March" that Caesar was killed, and thereafter, the Ides of March has taken on a vague sense of foreboding, sort of like Friday the 13ths but with a bit grander historical sweep.

Successive emperors of Rome and latter day leaders as well have taken the Ides of March to be a check on - a warning against - the greed of tyrannical power. Caesar had overstepped his bounds, in ego and audacity, and it was on that day some of his closest "allies" cashed in - to save the republic from incessant war and tyranny.

Centuries later, Rome crumbled to dust and scattered stones, and then over a millennium later, Rome got its modern day Caesar, in the form of Benito Mussolini.

Mussolini certainly was the Caesar gone wild of early 20th Century Italy, a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and Adolph Hitler. (Right or wrong, charisma sure counts for a lot, doesn't it?)

Some of the things Mussolini said ring relevant to some of this nation's and the world's woes today.

Mussolini said: "Inactivity is death," and, "It is humiliating to remain with our hands folded while others write history. It matters little who wins. To make a people great it is necessary to send them to battle even if you have to kick them in the pants. That is what I shall do." (And you're not the last, Il Duce!)

He said: "War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it." (None of this wussie State Department stuff... where's Condi?)

He said: "Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity, quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace." (Nothing like cashing in on a long, drawn out war... can anybody say Halliburton? Sure you can.)

Mussolini said: "Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy." (Yes, those accurate vote counts sure are inconvenient, aren't they?)

He said: "There is a violence that liberates and a violence that enslaves; there is a violence that is moral and a violence that is immoral." (Hmmm, sort of like, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists.")

Mussolini said: "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." (Yikes, folks, sounds awfully much like something the current Capitol Hill gang would NOT like to hear.)

Now of course, Mr. Bush seems merely cocky while our modern Caesar sounded downright cocksure - no beating around the bush for Mr. Mussolini.

But it gets creepier. Mussolini said, “If you give me the power to nominate, you can vote for whomever you please.”

Sounds like a joke Mr. Bush might make safely ensconced amongst his base - and a snarling aside a certain Mr. Cheney probably lets out about once a week.

If Mr. Bush were as blatantly audacious as his Italian role models, he might be speaking truth to his power. But instead, we marvel at his flaccid fallacies and twitchy torment - a dumb and dimmer tyrant-wannabe, even at the supposed height of his powers, washed up, adrift and shifty-eyed amidst the more cunning machinations of his power-grabbing mercenaries.

All of this especially apropos, it seems, on this day of ages-old dread for politicians who, without good hindsight or enough foresight, may have overstepped their bounds.

We citizens and fellow countrymen would be wise to "beware" indeed.

Monday, March 14, 2005

While You Were Out


While You Were Out:

Our not-always-so-handy blog writer-wrangler (that wily and wistful LW) has, shall we say, been experiencing technical difficulties.

Stay tuned - more soon.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Defining Wisdom

The Big W word, Wisdom, is a word not really used so much these days by anyone except self-help gurus trying to sell books and workshops to stressed-out, multi-tasking type A types.

According to the schlepping gurus and even the definition of the word itself, we might first connote wisdom with "the wisdom of the ancients," as if it were something old-fashioned and already solved - relegated to the distant past and not really so relevant to our oh so modern go-go lives - haven't got time for the higher plane.

But especially because our lives tend to be in our faces rather than out on some far horizon, I'd have to say, wisdom is one of those words and concepts that deserves more modern usage. It might seem like a sleeper, but whether you and the human race are paying it much heed or not, it'll be the essential ingredient that identifies, defines and motivates our saving graces - and I do mean saving, not just as in survival but in helping us raise the quality of our lives. And isn't that what we want - quality lives?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines wisdom thusly:

n., 1. Understanding of what is true, right, or lasting; insight. 2. Common sesne; good judgement. 3.a. The sum of scholarly learning through the ages; knowledge. b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages. 4. A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.

Some years back, I came up with a definition of wisdom which may seem slightly more homely, but I do remain pretty proud of it:

Wisdom is that awareness which does the most good for the most people for the longest period of time.

And of course, generally wisdom is really not much good without action, and so to act according to my definition above, is, I would say, acting wisely.

Thus, what do we need to act more wisely than so many of us currently are?

The most good: far-ranging altruism and cooperation

The most people: a "bigger picture" (truly global) world view

The longest period of time: become better able to predict the long range course of consequences.

I think this definition can work, though, in any given situation, large or small, global or up close and personal.

I'd be happy to hear of alternate definitions, relevant quotations and your thoughts.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

What goes here, Wednesday?

Friday WAS the new Thursday.

Now Wednesday's the new Thursday.

Kimberly, you got that?

Something here soon, LW

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Cutthroat Conservatives

Tax cuts? What tax cuts?

Oh, yeah, THOSE tax cuts....

The House is currently considering a new tax plan that would give tax breaks to those who earn more than $100,000 a year. That's right, folks, no tax "cuts" to those earning less. AND the real clincher: the poorest tax payers will pay about 5% MORE in taxes. Yep, that's compassionate conservatism for you - if most of your compassion goes out to the most affluent class of people on Earth.

This nation is upside down.

This sort of thing almost always happens when the greedy and conniving get into power and stay there too long without getting the boot. Americans must have tens of millions of get rich quick schemes because they sure haven't given these guys the boot (much) since Ronald Reagan lulled half the nation into thinking we were king of the world, heaven sent.

President Bush has certainly taken that errant myth to heart, like a ball for the gipper, and he's running with it as fast and as far as he can.

Wake up and smell the $7.98/pound coffee.

In the old days, a reformist would come along to steer the ship off it's collision course with caste system of fascism. "Trustbuster" Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt may be the best example, but even Dwight Eisenhower reminded us to beware the military-industrial complex.

Well, what can we say we've got more than a military-industrial complex these days? Maybe the "complex" is so many of the citizens' and voters' blindness to it - suckered in as they are by cheap Chinese goods, too lazy to see how not only their lawn chairs but their nation is leveraged to the hilt.

Why should America re-prove the old adage, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer"? Is that the American way? Just give in to a Darwinian "Lord of the Flies" situation and gut human nature? It's been worse, but it's been better.

We need a populist Bushbuster and how. But then we need a populace that knows what's good for it's future, that what's good for Wall Street isn't nearly the same as what's good for Main Street or THEIR street (or their sex lives, their kids' lives, their pets' lives, their vacation time, stress, and all the rest).

And speaking of kids: are you making sure your kids are getting the kind of education they need to solve this?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Bankruptcy Boondoggle

You, yes you: you're so proud of your vote and your right to vote. Don't be. That is peanuts compared to the power you need to deflect the wrath of Washington. It's almost as if giving "we the people" the vote is like feeding baby food to an infant while the lobbyists dine on zebra and lion flesh.

In their Lear jets.

In its greater greed (for more posh dinners with the lobbyists), the Senate is creating a new bankruptcy boondoggle as we speak. Credit card debt rankling you at 25%? No problem: soon it could go over 30%, and the Senate had a chance to stop that and cap it and said no. John Kerry let it go. Barack Obama voted for higher limits.

Seems the mega-wealthy credit card companies own this country already, and that's the way the insiders want it. Wouldn't want to hurt the banks, now would we? Screw the people who've been understandably sucked into the buy-Buy-BUY syndrome that is the essence of this great nation slash bargain bin.

Sure, bankruptcy might seem like a way to "game" the system, maybe even "an easy way out." Think so? Who in their right mind would want to file? Bankruptcy is a wreck, but it can keep a person's financially wrecked life afloat. Why let them drown?

And most bankruptcies filed in this country are due to these three things: the loss of a steady, divorce and, most often, large medical bills. So significantly tied into this is the fact that Americans pay more for their fat so-so health than anybody else on Earth. So who's really "gaming" the system? Seems to me the banks and property elite and wily investors and tax haven-types and medical pros and lawyers. They get you coming and going, and your duly elected Senate is on their side.

"We the Powerful" always rang a little more true than that dreamy old "We the People" anyway. But does it have to stay that way?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Your legacy: The 4P Process

On the wall above my computer, there's a bright blue sheet of paper with these four words writ large: Patience, Presistence, Passion and Practice.

They're, collectively, the 4P Process, for what we might really want to accomplish in life - the 4P Process for your LEGACY:

First comes passion (which includes the hunger and the creative spirit).

Next comes persistence (which includes focus and motivation).

Then comes patience (though it may seem ironic, it is essential to contentment).

And of course: practice, practice, practice.

Best of luck to you?

No... BEST OF SKILL to you, dear readers and friends.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Greenspan becomes the C-Tax Man


Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has finally jumped on the federal sales tax bandwagon formerly bandied about by the likes of such disparate politicos as Jerry Brown and Steve Forbes.

Good for Greenspan, I say.

For too long, this country has greatly ignored its vast disconnect between the urge to spend spend SPEND and the need to save save SAVE. How can we promote both for the good of all? So far, very little has been done to get Americans to save anywhere nearly as well as they can spend. Americans are lousy Savers and speeding, reckless, seemingly intoxicated Spenders.

And I think the wealthy have not encouraged the idea of an idea such as Greenspan's "consumption" tax not for the reason they say - that it is a regressive tax that puts an unfair burden on the lower classes and especially the poor. Balderdash. The wealthy don't want a consumption tax because they CONSUME. The tax on a $1500 watch a $60,000 car is pretty hefty, not to mention that $850,000 house and $480,000 vacation home.

Philosophically, a consumption tax goes against the grain of our trumped up and pumped up BUY BUY capitalism. Americans are in the hole on just about every level. Our stuff may be worth a lot, but we are leveraged out the wazoo for it, and at the same time, our government is NOT setting a good example, borrowing as it does $2 billion a day to make this country run. Yikes.

Many captains of industry and Wall Street might fear that a consumption tax would put the lid on capitalism, right there next to the sticker price - couldn't avoid it then. But then, that is what this nutty, decadent capitalism needs anyway and HOW and FAST - a LID.

Yes, put a lid on it! Let's fire up the consumption tax before Santa comes back to town.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Shades of Supreme Gray


Tweaking the law is often about determining shades of gray, which gray is too dark and which is just light enough, but such tweaking also points to the need for the judiciary to make more definitive decisions.

This has been a week of some notable and relevant cases before the United States Supreme Court. I'm particularly interested in two here: the case concerning whether or not minors should be eligible for the death penalty and the case regarding the appropriateness of allowing government property to host displays of the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols and doctrine.

There is freedom, and then there are ethics, then there are morals, and then there are laws. Laws are, by their very nature, restrictions of freedom. They are meant to represent "fair" and consistent compromises in what we think we "ought" to do and "ought not" do. Laws are altruistic in that they intend to extend and "protect" the spread of justice "for all."

But then the many centuries' old fight continues to get just the right shade of gray.

Let's say two guys, one in Texas, one in Minnesota, each kill someone - doesn't matter who - but by similar means and with similar motives. One is just shy of his 18th birthday, and one has been 18 just a few days. The United States is the only country on Earth that might allow the death penalty for the juvenile (as opposed to "minor") offender, which now it seems the court has decided is wrong.

State and federal laws will come into play regarding their sentencing and incarceration, and immediately the arbitrariness of laws, ages and dates come into play. This week, the Supreme Court ruled that it is now Unconstitutional for a minor to receive the death penalty because that should be considered "cruel and unusual punishment." The reasoning behind the high court's ruling deals with the relative sympathy we should have for a 17 year old vs. an 18 year old. That 18th birthday has never been such big stuff as it is now. In one day, you are tossed into the heap as an adult, from child to adult. But why should our sympathy and punishment decrease on that birthday or at any time in a person's life? That is the truly moral question the states and the feds must rightly consider. If it's wrong when you're 17, what defense is there to say any death sentence is right? And is it ever what's best?

If we were to extend the court's reasoning, we would have a good moral case for ending the death penalty for all citizens of any age.

Tough guys in this country say we have to keep the death penalty as a deterrant, but most other nations enjoy much lower crime rates without inflicting the death penalty as a deterrant. So that defense has got to go. Perhaps the U.S. wants to keep the death penalty because, as the reigning empire in power, we like to idea of using force and the threat of murder to contain and control our "enemies."

But it seems in parenting and in nation-building, sympathy and positive encouragement and civil training work much better than grim and angry incarceration. We must be a very unhappy and fearful country to uphold the death penalty (and while we're at it, a huge military) with such fierce and old-fashioned devotion.

Too bad our civil religion is not a more kindly and compassionate one.

And speaking of religion, the Supreme Court has been hearing cases about two displays of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of state capitols, in Texas and Kentucky. The court, making a fool of itself, seems to feel the stone monument in Texas might be OK (it's outside on the capitol grounds) while the tablets inside the Kentucky statehouse are, well, they're not so sure.

Since when should we or our courts be allowed to fuss over such tit for tat? Why not make it clear - NO allowing religious symbols or official religious acts on public property? The hoodlums on the right and the shameful sheep in the middle may say "this is a Christian nation," but it is not. It is a secular nation, ideally, so let's stick to that ideal - or more accurately, get back to it. That would be quite a reversal of direction for this lame country. Millions defend their Christian and religious crutches.

The United States chided the Soviet Union for being "atheistic, and it's true the Russians thought they might irradicate religion (even the wise Mr. Marx was naive about that). We don't have to be atheists or even agnostics, but we and our courts should uphold a strictly "secular" public sphere and government. Otherwise, we're just still floundering in a sea of gray.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Another blogger's brilliant burnout

Times are tough all over for those of us pouring heart and soul into shaking our keyboards at the Right. I wrote about burnout myself some weeks back. Now, John Emerson, who blogs with several collegues at the blog "See The Forest," writes:

"I won't be posting for awhile while I'm thinking things over. In the past I've always come back eventually, but I'm not promising anything.

"I really dread the next four years. I expect the worst from Bush -- specifically, war fever plus McCarthyism. There have been a number of positive changes in the Democratic party, but Democrats as a group still don't seem prepared for what's going to happen, and it may be too little, too late.

"At the beginning of my blogging career I was happy just to vent, but over the last year or so I've tried to figure out a way to make something of my political writing. That really hasn't happened -- I still seem to be speaking to the same small audience of people who basically already agree with me, without really getting my message out [to] the generic Democrats or the big-time bloggers -- much less the party leadership."

That is the fear of most bloggers - that not only most but almost ALL of us - no matter how eloquent, temeritous or hardcore - are tiny fish in a huge, tepid sea, adrift not in the dawn of a web and blogger/free speech revolution but actually fester in the backwash of a media glut. People can only take in so much information - even those whose daily hobby and passion it is to "stay fully informed."

And these days, with such sour news for progressives, a few hours' reading can render one disheartened, debilitated, even devastated. Some of us feel the need not just for commisseration but for meds and therapy.

Mr. Emerson gives a brilliant summation of his newly re-kindled burnout. His terse and efficient critique of the current political conundrum makes for a must read:

Mr. Emerson writes:

"I think that the academic and administrative roots of most Democratic leaders disable them for the hoodlum politics of today. They're used to describing reality as it is at a given moment, "managing" things, keeping the lid on, and judging people by their credentials. They're cool and civil and don't know how to respond to deliberate provocation, or to people whose goal is to shake things up and change things.

The Republicans, by contrast, hire semi-criminal entrepreneurs and give them a chance to show what they can do. And the Republicans win.

The whole 'reality-based' slogan is utter crap. Democrats deal with the world as it is, and Republicans deal with the world as it can be made to be. That's why the Democrats are always blindsided, and why the Republicans always win. The Democrats are yesterday, and the Republicans are tomorrow. 'The point is not to understand the world but to change it.'

"And for those who don't understand it yet, 'character' means, among other things, macho. The can-do hands-on do-what-you-gotta-do thing. The academic habit of discussing everything to death is not what you're looking for in the man in charge."

Emerson is right. No guts no glory. And it's high time we got back some guts and some glory - make that Glory! with a capital G and an exclamation mark.

So who's it gonna be? And not just who him or who her but who THEY and who US?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Getting back to the Golden Rule


I've been tested recently. It seems some of us, especially under stress and duress, can all too quickly, easily and conveniently disregard the Golden Rule. (Don't want a blow up? Don't cause one or participate in one. That's the general idea.) Now and then, I find the need to test myself again. Indeed, the Golden Rule suggests I do so, since I want others to deliberate, to use diplomacy, to be considerate and compassionate. OK, call me old-fashioned. Blame it on James Dean, Marlon Brando and Dr. Strangelove, cold wars or hot wars, any race to arms or markets or audience share - that sort of one-upsmanship and cynical cool still puts the frosting on our culture. Are we going to let a bunch of self-serving narcissists and players run the show?

What sort of society do we have - and how "compassionate" or "Christian" is our nation - when so many of us are such cynics that we would rather hide behind Darwin than stand up for Jesus?

Now I'm no Jesus freak (I'm agnostic, demurely so on a good day), and I see the revolutionary genius and wisdom in Charles Darwin. But since when has it been a lot better (and cooler) to say "dog eat dog" or "you get what you can get" than to say "treat others as you would want to be treated," much less "turn the other cheek"?

In fear and feeling trapped, we do quickly resort to Darwinian behavior, otherwise known as HUMAN NATURE. But why is it our fight or flight mechanisms have become such a pervasive (and permitted) mania, on overdrive all the time, like a ruthless slap dash montage of bitter sniper fire?

When the going gets tough, the best of us dig down deep, take time to consider things and come back up not swinging but making every effort to soften the blows already dealt. To live up to the Golden Rule, this has got to be a "no fault" or at least "minimal fault" policy. Life is complicated and traumatic enough, and frankly, anger seems to do no good. When's the last time anger worked for you?

And the same generally goes for impatience and rudeness, too. But even where there may be danger, distruction or mishaps, anger is the enemy.

Accidents happen. OK. Mistakes were made. OK. Someone is at fault. OK. Someone needs to take responsibility? OK, but not quite it: ALL need to take responsibility. That's better. Justice should prevail. Very good. The Golden Rule should help us determine our actions and reactions and even our feelings. The Golden Rule can be a stabilizing force - or thought exercise - to bring awareness, calmness and compassion to many situations.

Would you want anyone or even "expect" anyone to be angry at you? No? Then try/work to not be angry, yes, that's right, to anyone. Would you want to be reminded of the facts calmly, politely and with as much objectivity and lack of spite as possible? Yes? Then please do the same for others. Would you want others to care more about you and say so? Then care openly and say you do. Respect, not retribution. Wow, revolutionary stuff, and even Jesus wasn't nearly the first person to come up something as good as this. It's as old as the first successful clan. The Golden Rule is essential to the trials and tribulations of the tribe.

The Golden Rule works because you can and will feel better about yourself. I highly recommend it, even as I'm being reminded how hard it can be and how much practice it takes.