Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Good Tidings from Yellowstone

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

John Muir, The Yellowstone Park, 1901

And there's a guy who didn't have a Ford Expeditious to get him hither and yon. He was probably eating bark and elk meat and sleeping in a lean to for weeks just to get to the park.

And much more recently, Muir's tidings conjured even more broadly, called, in a word, "reverence," a virtue, if rightly placed, we need all we can get:

"There is overwhelming evidence that most of the [native] tribes that used the Yellowstone area (especially the hot springs and geyser basins) saw it as a place of spiritual power, of communion with natural forces, a place that inspired reverence. For all the other things modern society might learn from the American Indian experience, and for all the things that went wrong, even near Yellowstone, in the dealings between Euramericans and Indians, there is this one remarkable reality that binds us together. The magic and power of this place transcend culture; it is a compelling wonder not for just one society but for all humans, whatever their origin."

Paul Schullery, Searching for Yellowstone: Ecology and Wonder in the Last Wilderness, 1997

Addendums and more tales from the wonderland Thursday....

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Sudden Change of Seasons

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WY: Yesterday, lounging on the benches, waiting for Grand to go off, feeling the hot sun, wanting to take my shirt off, soaking up some rays. Today? A blustery morning, capped off by an ever so brief snow flurry about 1. So it does seem as if yesterday was the last day of summer here, and today is the first day of fall. There will be a warming trend over the next few days and maybe even a few more toasty days in early September, but chilly bursts are the triggers for the bison to get on with their mating season. Such a little blue-ish norther must tell the age-old internal clocks in the elk that the serious season of the rut is coming up and soon. From sun to snow in an hour, in America's most famous wonderland.

Today, with a 30 degree drop in temperature, the steam billowing around the geysers is so much more billowy, so much more prominent. The rockets of water get lost in the clouds of steam.

And we find ourselves in the change of seasons.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Yellowstone Travelogue

After such an epic bus ride, by a twist of fate, I ended up leaving Bozeman after one toasty but lovely afternoon and a mere 12 hours, arriving in "West" for a very good dinner (yes, in elk meat country, but surprisingly, the Chinese in "West" is better than even the best bison burger in the state of Montana).

Sunday was "Heritage Days" in El Parko Grande, and so I got to ride in a 1937 White Motor Co. touring car, yep, the kind with the canvas roof that folds back and the rows of seats for about 20 passengers to see the park, including Old Faithful, the old-fashioned way. Also: it was a shame to go indoors at all on such a sunny day in the Upper Geyser Basin, but I'm glad friend Judy convinced me to catch two great slide shows, one on the architectural career of the Robert Reamer, architect of the Old Faithful Inn, and one called "Yellowstone Then, Yellowstone Now," with before and after pictures of all sorts of sites in the park, buildings and bridges and roads and a few geologic formations long gone, replaced, for better or worse, by other structures and conditions. This, the world's first national park, makes for a great case study of how we choose to build on, develope, display and value our wondrous wild and scenic places. Development continues, and the buildings tend to be less descript fortresses to meet modern codes, but it's interesting to note that there are fewer buildings in the park now than there were in 1930. Our ecological thinking has, in many ways, become more logical and "sensitive," but human egos continue to march onward, wanting so to put their stamp on the land, even as they say they want the land itself (and it's "natural, wild" inhabitants, from beaver to bear) to be the stars of the show.

After that, it was time for the sparkling wine (aka "champagne") welcome in the parking lot with views of Old Faithful to the right and grand old Castle Geyser to the left. A few park rangers passed by our tailgate party, but we were subtle, respectful, and the rangers were cool. There are few finer places in nature to enjoy an ironic and toasty happy hour toast. Here's to geothermal activity!

So now, on Monday, I'm cruising my beloved boardwalks again, feeling the ground gurgle and churn, smelling the sulphur scent of minerals bubbling up from down below. It is an amazing place, definitely, along with Yosemite, one of my most significant and rehabilitative churches.

Then there are the friends, the park personnel and the throngs of tourists who populate this scene. I'm noticing that my most anxious and miserable friends are those who can't separate themselves at all from the daily discourse of sour headlines, those really addicted to getting their media fixes, 'having to stay connected to what's going on.' Even the wonders of the wild have a hard time helping give solace to these anxious types. Then there are those who can go with the flow of travel's unknowns, its inherently unpredictable and unexpected and adventurous nature. Like life. Just like life, really.

I'm strolling among rare geysers still thinking of my friends stuck in the detritus of the modern world, some needing better friends, some needing solace of some sort, some needing meds. I guess I don't fear or are currently angry enough at 'the world as it is' to let it sour me every day. I am learning yet again that "love is letting go of fear." And certainly, love is letting go of anger.

We can't be angry at beavers or bears or geysers. To me, they - those sorts of wild treasures of all sorts - are really easy to love. Whether dangerous or not. Nothing in the wild is angry at humans, unless provoked eye to eye, way too up close and personal. Yet so many of us humans take our petty grievances and chips on our shoulders and fears and even angers all over town, down the highway, across the globe and even into the wild with us.

No, I'm feeling the sunshine and the steam. I'm finding lots to smile about. Solace, genuine friends and solace. The yearning to be in Yellowstone is working pretty darn well for me today.

I just got back from watching Grand go off, Grand Geyser, "the world's highest predictable geyser," well worth a two hour wait on this fine day.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Update from Billings

Now I'm at the public library, and my 44 hour bus ride was supposed to be over a little while ago. But here I am, just 140 miles shy of my destination, Bozeman.

That smooth running bus ride turned into a parody of professional service (or uppity up decision making, it wasn't the drivers' faults at all). The good news is: we got to detour from a mundane course via Gilette to take the much more scenic route through the Wind River Canyon and up the Big Horn Basin, into Billings from the backdoor, as it were. But an hour and a half late, too. So my 44 hour bus journey will become a... 55 hour trial.

But I'm actually rather happily camped out at the Billings library with a/c, time to kill and high speed web access. I'm in that dalai mode thing, remember it's all easier than traveling by bullboat, as Lewis and Clarke did, or by covered wagon as some of our relatives did. We don't even have to go out and kill our own dinners, and I probably won't get caught up in some mysterious and foul pandemic during this petty little delay.

As a tour guide, I'm always a little taken aback when participants go on and on about this and that little hardship, most likely at the airport or in their accommodations. Baggage was delayed, or the bed was too soft. I think of sleeping for a solid season in the rain, with mold growing inside my cranium, eating nothing but grisly, salt-cured meat for weeks on end. Now that was... living, since it was centuries of that that got us to this - our newfangled ways to breeze across continents and oceans and space. Too bad one nasty side-effect is that so many so easily become spoiled and pissy and petty about any slight discomfort. People are still afraid to travel, really, more territorial and homebound than they realize. I think they often take a trip to remind themselves how good it is to be home - and how being bored there is usually more comfortable than trying out strange foods and cloudy water and funky mattresses.

Me, I really do travel to go, as Robert Louis Stevenson suggested. It is the movement of the thing, to go. And Misters Whitman and Kerouac understand that as well, to wander out into the world for real, to see it for ourselves, for the deepest parts of ourselves, and thus to wander out into our inner selves at the same time, in the same exercise, the same Buddhist "be here now" mode, dalai acceptance and awareness mode.

I go because I love it, love being gone, a little lost and more found.

And I am never ever homesick.

Not for a minute.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Update from Denver

Lovin' the bus this time, smooth goin', and miles and miles of this country rolling by... Pike's Peak, that sentinel inspiration for the line "purple mountain majesties," and I've seen lots of the "rolling waves of grain," too - along with those well-lit not so clean and so visually jarring gas stations and truck stops - and some pretty scuzzy people whose IQs seem to keep them lost forever muddling in the fog between real world mishaps and their next drag on a cigarette - all of which keeps them mystified, edgy and on the verge of angry, paranoid little tirades - in your face if you give 'em the eye.

But all in all, I've got those road gears rolling inside, a certain American kind of feeling, that nomadic, moving, at once satirical and sacarin "On the Road" sort of sentiment, al Jack the Man Himself, Mr. Kerouac, a misty-eyed boy and cynical guy wrapped into one.

Got that literary, urban-tinged Beat meets bumbling hick America thing goin' on, watching the country in all it's seedy and bountiful glory rollin' past.

Another night and day to go, and I'll be in the Bozone and the tilting, hot and frosty wildish island known to some nature geeks (and ok, sometimes to me, too) as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It really does stand for something, you know, a crowning achievement of the plant's innards but also of American's outwardness toward the wild world - keeping something wondrous and alive and rather big and raw handy for all to see and slip into, at least a bit, to touch the ground in some of the old-fashioned ways and to touch something in themselves as well. So, you see/ The Walt thing is coming out in me, too, and I don't mean Disney. I mean that most sensuous of American laureates, Mr. Whitman, who could also wax both cynical and saccharin about this tumult of life and the beady-eyed bastardizations of his fellow (and oh so courser man). Yellowstone, a little heaven on Earth, as close as it gets, grizzlies, wolves and ALL....

A weathered old hand-painted billboard I saw overlooking Route 66 westbound in Amarillo at dawn this morning, simply: "The Road Does Not End."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Speaking of the Dog Days of August

I am about to get on a bus tonight. Yep, I'm going Greyhound, taking The Dog, as they say, for a rather epic little journey of 1,729 miles, from Kerrville, TX, to "the Bozone," Bozeman, MT. That would be "Big Sky Country," Montana.

For $79, me and my two bags are carried for 44 hours up the length of the Great Plains, San Angelo by midnight, Amarillo by morning, then veering north by northwest toward Raton Pass, gateway to the Epic West, past Pike's Peak, and up the Front Range to a longish layover and dinner the next evening in downtown Denver, then on through the SECOND night across/up nearly empty Wyoming, coming from the south into Cheyenne and departing to the north above Sheridan to the foot of that grassy knoll at Little Big Horn and then even more westerly into Billings and a final bus transfer (of about six) to cross the braided Yellowstone River a few times, and at last drop down over Bozeman Pass into the Zone, an attractive and intact yet freshly-franchised waystation of civilization along I-90.

From I-10 to I-90, now that has to be a ride.

So I'll be out there for 44 hours and my measly $79 (and screw your high gas prices), practicing what I preach. Getting moving but treading lightly. Not hounding the ground with a Hummer when a humble seat on The Dog will do.

And remember, it's WHERE you ride that counts, the journey AND where you get to. In a week, I'll be hiking the high and mighty mountains of the Gallatins and the Absarokas and the Yellowstone. Man on the land as I was meant to be.

Cheers all, and... happy trails.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Asteroids Floating Around the Web

OK, ok, I know some of you have seen this drivel before, especially those who have more than two or three friends who forward uselessly inane hoaxes and hoopla and so-called "humor," i.e., smarmy detritus that's been floating around the asteroid belt of the World Wide Schleb. But why not? It's the dog days of August. President Bush and half of Europe are on vacation, so here goes, thanks to friend Phil in Eugene for keeping me so enlightened and informed.

Herewith, just a sampling of asteroids that came by...

>- Toilet Seat -

> It isn't widely known, but the first toilet seat was invented by a Polish scientist in the 18th century. The invention was later modified by a Jewish inventor who put a hole in the seat.


>- Government Emblem -

> The government today announced that it is changing its emblem from an Eagle to a condom because it more accurately reflects the government's political stance. A condom stands up to inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed. Damn, it just doesn't get more accurate than that.


>- Ten Commandments -

> The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a Courthouse! You cannot post "Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" and "Thou Shall Not Lie" in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians! It creates a hostile work environment.


> - Zero Gravity -

> When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside-down, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 C.

The Russians used a pencil.

Your tax dollars at work, and we now accept VISA and MasterCard.


>- Our Constitution -

> "They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and hell, we're not using it anymore."

Monday, August 22, 2005

"Are We There Yet?": Wither the FSWRT?

FSWRT... that would be Family-Station-Wagon-Road-Trip....

Used to be families got to enjoy August as a full on vacation month, especially back in the days before schools were air conditioned, and no sane superintendent called the kids back to class in the summer swelter. Now, a/c and work-a-mania mean some kids start marching band practice in late July, and a few pass out in the heat. "Ok, kids, now guzzle that Gatorade since band has become a contact sport about as tough as football - and each of you's still got more brain cells to keep alive than all of your school administrators put together."

Families just don't seem to relish the family vacation like they used to. It used to be the family station wagon, a venerable vehicle, perfect for separating fighting siblings between the back seat and the "way back," or as we called it, "the deck." Back in the deck, we could create nests and sort of camp out in the car at 60 mph. We didn't have to wear seat belts back there, and so, of course, we could create more mischief or just get some solace and read or look out the back window of the big, wide tailgate as the highway slipped away behind us.

Now kids have to face forward and wear their seatbelts at all times, which is a good thing. But they also seem to want to face forward so they don't have to look out the windows at all, maybe staring ahead not at the highway at all (what's out there, anyway?) but at game boys or PDPs - Personal DVD Players.

Life seems to have gone the way of the FSWRT, from anticipation and motion and narrative and plot to shuffle-playing all the ho-hum days.

There's a huge generational difference here. I know people who are over 40 for whom looking out the windows of a moving vehicle is about as good as it gets - even on seemingly mundane stretches of the prairies and plains. Things don't have to change all that much; it's just that there is so much out there, so much there there, even in the proverbial "middle of nowhere."

I am still a kid in a car on any road I don't frequent. It could be a hundred miles from Oklahoma City or Guatemala City, Memphis or Madrid. I love looking out the window and thinking my own background thoughts of solace or current events, so much so that I can go a thousand miles 'forgetting' to turn on the radio or music. Just the sounds of the road, the car, and the air seem to be enough, like a comforting white noise of being someplace besides home, anywhere but there and the norm.

Maybe to modern kids, there's no abnormal out there enough to compete for their buzzy radar like the pyrotechnics of blaring music and movies. And we thought computers were the heart of the virtual life. No. At least a computer is a distraction from domesticity, not Wichita Falls or Souix Falls, Yosemite Falls or Niagara Falls.

I might have been born to a couple of particular and critical parents, and I might spew some critiques and crass remarks of my own, but still it seems the world out there is more than enough for me - and why not for most of us on a highway? Why have we sentimentalized the idea that it's the journey, not just the destination, and yet, as a culture, we seem to want to arrive as soon as we've just started out.

Do kids all over the world ask "Are we there yet?" in that voice that so strangely (and tellingly) juxtaposes being spoiled and being boredom at the same time?

My parents were the valedictorian types (and downright Victorian in a few ways, too), but they actually thought it was their job to impress upon us kids that the world was ripe with smart people, inventors and explorers and those of daring do - and even a few heroes - and that we might oughtta get in the old Mercury Colony Park tankasaurus, loaded up with 30 gallons of leaded, and hit the highway to go see stuff.

I hope that even as some band members melt out there on the practice field and as most others dive back into Back to School shopping sprees to make sure they're mod enough for the first day of school, that there are still a few million families still out there, on the road, loping along, ambling here and yon, seeing this and that, taking time out for quirky museums and kitsch and byways and detours. You know, is it really so old-fashioned for parents to actually coach their kids into the Real World of Paying Attention and Expressing Wonder and Interest in All Sorts of Stuff? Don't they know that "How Things Really Are" is KEY to our American birthright, the keen-eyed "Pursuit of Happiness" (which, btw, ain't the same thing as the vaunted "American Dream"...)

I hope for a few weeks or even a month, there are a few million left out there who've turned off "Reality TV" and turned on "Reality Mobility," up close and personal.

The Real World - even the outback of Kansas - is a pretty amazing place.

Friday, August 19, 2005

ABetterNation: My 200th Post

Some months ago, I flew right past 100 posts without even thinking about it. So now I suppose I see this, my 200th post at A Better Nation, as a milestone of sorts.

I'd been active on the NY Times discussion site Abuzz starting around the 2000 election, but I'd never read others' blogs, much less been a regular blogger on my own until I started ABN in mid-November 2004, just a few weeks after we were hit hard by the news we'd have four more years of Bush and His Old Testament Neanderthals.

I said then that I'd post five times a week, once a day Monday through Friday, and I'm glad to say I have kept to that, only a few times missing my deadline for that day's date, at 2 AM Central Time. (I am in Central Time, but I use the Pacific Time clock on Blogger to give Night Owl Me some breathing room. Often, the ideas and inertia get going after 10 or 11 PM.)

For me, writing and posting that regularly is truly a good thing. I've needed a writing "habit" (and a deadline clock) for years, and now I have one.

I've mostly stuck to the theme of "A Better Nation." Some posts have veered into the personal, and those tend to be the ones that get the most comments (both to the blog itself and to me via personal e-mail and in conversation with friends).

My thanks to friends who have stuck it out many days and continued to read much of this blog. When you write a blog and care a lot about it, as semi-professional writing and thinking, you find out who your friends are. Even a little support reminds me that I've "gone public."

But another thing that reminds me that I've gone public are the slamming comments, often insulting, usually vague - and almost always "anonymous."

I don't surf much, and so far, I've not become a regular reader of anybody else's blog. I get my news from NPR and the NY Times, mostly, with some Salon and Slate and a few others for good measure. And sometimes, I take sabbaticals from reading the news, since I often don't want to hear about the same old-same old from the White House or Iraq. (Whatever we might think of Mr. Bush, it is safe to say that however mysterious and deceitful, his is not a surprising administration; some of us saw all of this coming a decade ago when Bush was Governor Shrub here in Texas, the state from which I write.)

I surf enough to see a little of what's out there in the blogosphere, but I am not much of a voyeur or a diarist, and I find most others' political and cultural analysis to be luke warm leftovers. But it is hard to imagine searching out blogs to slam. Why not just move on to something one likes? This dwelling on what we don't like, in such a huge and free marketplace of free, cheap and easy speech, just doesn't make sense to me. I would love to find a few blogs that I'd consider carefully written and deeply compelling. I'd want to reassure those bloggers that their work, however obscure, does not go out into the ethos in vain.

Two hundred posts, and for me, each post is not just a snippet but a short essay. I know that this slower, deeper approach is not the MTV way of the web or of chatty blogs. Many days, I sit down not knowing what I'll write about, and I get going and whip off a longish draft in a little over a half hour. It goes fast, faster than any writing I ever used to do before writing on the web. I'm not a reporter, and I don't have to be as careful as reporters need to be. "Culture critic" sounds too harsh, and "analyst" reminds me of couches or money bean heads. So far, I'm just a C-Lister at Blogebrity, just one of what David Brooks calls something like 'the cultural commentariat.'

I welcome your cheerful and/or constructive comments.

And hard cold cash works too.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

BTK All the Way

BTK UPDATE: This evening, the CNN online poll is asking if readers think Dennis Rader should be protected from other inmates? At nearly midnight CDT, I voted yes (of course! ALL inmates should be protected!). But 88% of all respondents so far had voted no. This is so discouraging. What DOES this say about "the American character"? It seems almost nine out of ten Americans want the same sort of brutal vengance Rader wanted, the ancient an eye for an eye, a sadistic slaughter for a sadistic slaughter. Don't they see the connection? Voyeurs who disparage a narcissisist. When Americans should be sad, they turn mad, even scary.

All inmates, no matter their crime, deserve the constitution protection of NO cruel or unusual punishment. The American people, at a ratio approaching nine to one, seem to not understand or agree with that constitutional protection.

I have rarely been as disheartened myself about this nation not by the existence of a few deeply disturbed killers like Rader but by the millions who so easily suggest savagery as a solution to any grievance.


The heart of a sociopath is selfishness, and in the case of Dennis Rader, a cold-blooded and brutal narcissism. And apparently, the same could be said of some grandstanding district attorneys. CNN not taking a commercial break for over three hours straight, what a compelling afternoon of real-life Law and Order.

Mr. Rader had said viewers should bring their tissues to his closing statement, but we needed was a window into his brand of evil. A short while earlier, several of the victims' family members had been eloquent, others dipping over the precipice into verbal violence, teetering on the edge of vengeful terror themselves.

But for most, it all remained a mystery. Outside dreams, imagination doesn't seem to run rampant in the human species. Rader was an extreme, and he was so atypical he wasn't even a typical serial killer. But his imagination wasn't particularly outrageous. It seems a lot of people have hobbies that include realistic and even sadistic aspects of his homicidal rituals. Maybe that's part of the fascination for some - that Rader is NOT so different from some aspects of some people.

I don't have sexual or sadistic fantasies, but I have certainly learned enough about how humans are built to understand how and why some do. And as I say, for some of your neighbors, some B and some T make for a memorable Saturday night. It's just that your neighbors don't often go for the K part.

But back to Mr. Rader's closing remarks. What did we expect? What did we want? A new man? A rehabilitated man? A man with the rosey glow of sorrow and eloquent statements of remorse? We didn't get that, maybe just the barest hint with a few tears. But Rader's remarks were the laborious corrections of a maniacal micromanager. By spending most of his time thanking those who'd helped him in the "175 or so days" since his arrest and not by dwelling on the 31 years of damage he'd caused before that arrest, he proved himself BTK All the Way.

And all afternoon, the media were Bound, the audience was Terrified (or at least Horrified), and then the DA bounded out of the courthouse gaily implying that she hoped Rader would be bound, tortured and perhaps even Killed in prison, the sooner the better. She spoke to the camera in such a way as to prove those right who'd said she was grandstanding the whole case, hoping to ride the coattails of the case to fame - and the very media attention victims' family, witnesses, prosecutors, defenders and defendant seemed to both feed on and deeply disdain.

What a Catch-22. Whether serial murderer, DA or talking head on TV, all seemed to want to gripe about the presence of the press - and to see themselves on television.

No one should assume that we're all hungering for the death penalty. No reporter should use adjectives even in such a case as this. But definitely a dose of human nature. Perhaps monstrous but not, literally, a monster. Perhaps a seriously, dangerously, selfishly sick human being but a human being. Perhaps peculiar, "perverted" and "pathetic" but not "not a person."

It doesn't seem that hate and vengance are the best lessons to get from this. But now that's a lot of what we're seeing, media-driven vengance, some o' that good ol' Kansas plainspoken spite.

Perhaps this too is just as human, a rather vile catharsis, the therapeutic winding down of pent up rage, with a jumbled mix of sentiment and anger. And there seems to be public outrage that so much was televised. But then didn't those who are complaining watch. Seems they could turn off anything they don't want to see. What they really don't want is the awareness that human life can be as harsh and heinous as this.

Oh, we're all so, so human, some so humane, some so much less.

"It's just a shame."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cindy Sheehan: The Politics of "Private Grief"

CNN's midday "Your World Today," broadcast from London, has just called for comments via e-mail about Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey, the insuing social scene and media blitz outside Crawford - as well as, of course, Sheehan's requesting Bush to answer her question, "For what noble cause did Casey die?"

Some fault Ms. Sheehan for making her "private grief" public - and for making it political, as if there were something wrong with that.

It would seem good of all of us to share the grief and political implications of every violent death, whether military or civilian. Whether Casey died in Baghdad or in a car wreck in Bakersfield, violent death is a public concern.

Why should grief be private? To say it should stay private seems to me a politically correct way for the irritated public to say, 'hey, keep it to yourself.'

And when the death is caused by employees of the public, all the more reason to make even one death a public cause. Of course some are irritated by Sheehan's plight and by her persistence. It reminds us that we are responsible, however indirectly, no matter how small are our cogs in the great machinery of the military-industrial complex. But it's up to us to exercise and maximize our freedom to speak freely.

Because not only do we have the right to speak freely, we have the responsibility to speak up and speak out. As Thomas Jefferson said early on in this American experiment, becoming informed and getting involved are essential to the health of any and every democracy.

And in that vein (or is it, in this case, vain?), here's the e-mail post I just sent to CNN:

Hello CNN,

RE: Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey

Some are criticizing Cindy Sheehan for turning her stay near Bush's
ranch into a media spectacle, somehow taking advantage of the media.
Well, that's exactly what President Bush has done since taking office -
taken advantage of media attention to create his own telegenic moments
to push his own causes - the most infamous of which was his landing on
the deck of an aircraft carrier over two years ago to declare victory, a
bit premature, to put it politely. At least Sheehan's press conferences
and sweat seem much more sincere and truly peaceful than the president's.

Lawrence Walker
Kerrville, Texas

Bush uses tricks, I'd say to push his media-mongering events/propaganda.

I am very glad that Sheehan is, by no trick of her own, getting the publicity that so many proponents of peace and an immediate end to this war have deserved for several years.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Taking It All In, Getting It All Out

I've been standing around in my yard a lot lately. I don't see much of my neighbors, except when they jump in their cars and scurry off. One tanned and natty neighbor takes care of his carefully arranged plants and waters gingerly, always wearing his chino shorts, white polo shirt and Wafarers, boat shoes or barefoot - classic. I work in my more motley yard, too, sometimes industrially, with a saw and loppers and wheel barrow and big limbs - but NEVER insecticides or chemicals. And a lot of the time I just stand there, looking around.

I stand out there a lot as if I have nothing better to do - or as if I have too many "better" things to do to face them. So I go out to catch some of the zen aura of Yard Standing. And even out there, all alone, wondering really why most everyone else is so busy, it seems, running around their cars, pushing papers, working 40 hours a week, for crying out loud, I also take on that zen aspect of realizing I am my own best audience. I have a rich inner life, and it's one I have always wanted to get out, to you, to readers, to an audience, to a crowd.

But I don't always have to have an audience. I can percolate alone, ruminate alone, even elucidate alone. I am an extravert, but I have come to realize that I am probably stuck with being my own best audience.

A friend of a friend made a profound comment (regarding my dear friend and me) about that chasm between being an extravert and being an introvert. I have found that that chasm can go deep and wide. And even spending as much time alone these days as I do, even standing there in the yard alone, I feel extraversion is my religion. Why? A very good reason, actually: because I see extraversion, warped or brilliant, quirky or brave, as being at the very heart of the lives, the mentors, the art and literature I most admire. I think I became a rich person through the extraversion (which we could call the profound or intense sharing) of others, and I want to return the favor to those less fortunate.

I know the phrase "less fortunate" might rub some the wrong way. Who's he to say who's more or less fortunate? Well, I am looking at what I see - even at what our culture acknowledges all day every day.

From what I've found (and seen in everything from intimate relationships to the world news), most (at least many) introverts - perhaps not you - feel less fortunate because they envy storymakers and storytellers, leaders and celebrities and people on stage - people with a publicly disclosed narrative to their lives, people who, at least as long as we hear about them, are participants more than spectators. And most introverts seem to feel shy about or threatened by others knowing things. For one reason or another (and there are many reasons, many legitimate reasons), the introverts, those who are reticent, feel the pain and the closed in feelings of their inhibitions. We all - mee, too - wish we were a lot more brave, downright fearless, in fact. Boy, do we wish!

Most people don't want to be shy, but they grow accustomed to it and find some comfort in their quiet, less risky lives and accept their shyness or introversion as their lot in life, letting others take the stage. Surely, actors can relate to this. But even many actors are introverts in that they need to go into a character to take the stage - it is not their lives they are splaying out before the flood lights for all to see and savor or savage.

My act, yard standing, blogging, leading adventure tours, having heart to hearts, getting intimate, going public, is just me, not a character. Or perhaps more accurately, I turn myself into a character, not unreal, just artfully revealed. Of course we extraverts risk becoming charicatures of ourselves or even deluded narcissists, but I think those of us most longing to share outwardly know these risks and wouldn't trade them for a seat offstage.

Yes, the divide between extraverts and introverts can be deep, especially when the intro is very careful and reticent. For those of us wanting to take it all in and get it all out, we just can't afford to be so careful, and we tend to jump in whether we know how to swim or not. We tend to be more dogmatic than diplomatic, though as some especially charismatic leaders have shown, we can be both masters AND miserable failures at both. Yes, it's a very different life - and one to consider in the making of many relationships, both at home (even home alone) and away from home.

I know the dangers of dogma, but still, it's just too damn much fun. And of course, I love debate as well, at nearly every turn (though the older/more wisened I get, the more diplomatic/compassionate I want to be).

Above and beyond all the verbal and expressive pyrotechnics, I am glad to feel I have so few cul de sacs. And I too am sad to feel that others seem to have so many cul de sacs - retreats and reluctances, inhibitions. Not that anyone should be irresponsible or careless, mind you. This is not about perfecting selfishness; it is all about caring and contributing, about sharing our perceptions of and passions for life.

When it comes to expression and revelation and the urge to press the details and depths of their lives onto others - the charge of telling things, revealing plainly or artfully, even obtusely - not just to reluctantly reveal but to always feel, as I do, I feel this is my little way of giving back to all of us who struggle with life, who wonder, who wish, who want - to say things my way, in a voice I can call my own, whether my notions are oft-turned classics or radically (maybe even uselessly) new and novel. I feel at least I am trying to share.

As for the yard, I feel all of the above even when I am standing in the
yard alone. I am attaining at least a sliver of that "flow," that zen-like peace which says I can be my own audience - and am already the best audience for my life. I am probably the only person who will ever get me enough to satisfy me, at least in certain ways. And so in those ways, it may be that no "partnership," no 'ultimate intimacy' is possible - except with myself. Yet we extras keep trying.

And that is the journey and the quest most therapists and self-help helpers and mystics and gurus and worldly clerics suggest - to become intimately knowing of oneself, to at least function within the knowledge of oneself, without guilt or worry or fear or dead ends....


Monday, August 15, 2005

Cindy Sheehan Takes on Goliath

Cindy Sheehan is lucky, but then, of course, she is unlucky, too.

She's unlucky because somehow her son Casey was convinced that signing up a job in the military was a good opportunity. Sheehan says that when Casey signed on in 2000, at the age of 19, he had no idea he's actually have to go into combat. So Sheehan is unlucky in that her son was naive and didn't see the real purpose of the military behind the flashy ads showing glitzy tech and a proud sense of belonging to something bigger than he was.

He just didn't know how big it was - and how, once in, there is sometimes no good way out. And I'm pretty sure Cindy Sheehan didn't know her camping out near Crawford would bring so much attention to her taking on an imperial Goliath. Now, like her field of dreams, many are making to pilgrimage to stand and sit in the shade and scratch at the chiggers with her.

And so Ms. Sheehan is also lucky in that, as opposed to many who sit at home and sulk, she got off her duff and made her son's death her cause. It doesn't have to have been his cause or anyone else's. By showing up alone she proved that. And for better or worse, the parents of children who have died young (let's say under 35) have a special sway in the public consciousness. It's Cindy's life, and she gets to do what she wants to do. Sheehan does best when she asserts that she is speaking for herself, and she does so well enough and better than most who have suffered sucha loss and aren't quite sure what to make of it. Ms. Sheehan has now come into her own and has decided she does know what to make of it. That's why she's fast becoming the Rosa Parks of the simmering anti-war movement in this country. Cindy Sheehan is famous for sitting down when and where she'd draw attention all around the nation (and now all around the world), just like Parks.

Ms. Sheehan has got a high soap box because her beef is not so much with death as it is about deceit and lies. Misguided motives and maligned morals are all too often at the crux of war.

Cindy Sheehan is lucky to have a cause and now a voice and a growing audience. She's not just a victim. She is finding a heroic strain within herself, and others are showing up and talking about her to prove she's onto something. It's nice to be hurting and be angry and not be left alone. A week ago, she was nearly alone on that little, out of the way road to Rancho Busho, and why? The anti-war movement had become a footnote over the past year, right where Tricky Dicky and the Rove Hound wanted it, but then Ms. Sheehan sat down in the ditch to give it a face and a new birth of compelling news power.

I've been to Crawford. I attended an anti-war rally on the first anniversary of the War Against Iraq, March 20, 2004. Bush wasn't there, and so even with about a thousand of us there, we only got a smidgeon of news coverage. But Sheehan hit it just right, with the prez in rez and a bunch of reporters hanging around in the slultifying heat with nothing better to do.

Turns out Casey Sheehan's mom didn't have anything better to do, either, and those of us opposed to this war from long before it began are thankful.


Starting this Wednesday, there will be well over 300 vigils coast to coast in honor of Cindy Sheehan and Camp Casey and all who ask for a wrong war to be put right with our sincerest apologies, best wishes and farewells. Ask about a vigil in your area, and please, join some of your friends who see the sense in peace.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Gasoline: Cheap At Twice the Price

Oh, all the hullabaloo about gas prices being "through the roof," and even at $3.00 a gallon, gas would be cheap considering inflation and it's true worth. You'd think we were spoiled. (Didn't know those trucks and SUVs would look like dinosaurs so soon, did you?)

Why is it that for so many years, a gallon of gas cost so much less than a gallon of milk?

And why is it that over the last decade, a gallon of gas cost less than a gallon of fancy water?

Of course, the Coca-Cola Corporation and its deciples have proven that Americans are not addicted to water. Nah, they can darn near well do without the stuff, except for showers, plants, lawns and dogs. But drink the stuff? Why, it tastes like... water.

Come now, not a botiquey microbrew, but you can get a gallon of decent BEER for about six bucks. Now why shouldn't a gallon of decent gasoline cost about the same as a gallon of beer? I mean, like water, milk and Coke, beer is renewable. It's a very simple substance, mostly grain. No fancy supertankers, offshore drilling, tundra trashing or putrified refineries required. And some of the OK beers cost less than "the better" waters, too, so go figure.

Now whoa and hey, come on pussyfooters - or lead footers, more likely. This country, this PLANET would be better off if gas cost $6/gallon. Sure, there'd be some pissin' and moanin', but soon and for decades, the nation would be better off. We'd learn real fast how to make up for gas at not only twice but even thrice the price of the not so good ol' days of dirt cheap gas. Because that wasn't just dirt cheap gas, it's been dirty cheap. We've made a stinkin' mess of things with $1.20 gas and even $2.40 gas. And it's been reported this week that we may not see even the slightest decrease in demand for gas until it tops at least $72 a barrel and $3 a gallon at the pump. (And no wonder: adjusted for inflation, gasoline was most expensive around 1920, through the 1930s, and for about two years in the 1979-81 era. Since the late 1980s - for the last 17 years - we've gotten used to by far the cheapest gas prices EVER.)

Watch the Middle East ease off (us and each other) when we proove we can get along with, oh, let's say, a mere 85% of the gas we're consuming now - millions of barrels a day - A DAY! Americans suck it up in their gas tanks a lot more than they suck it up and do what's right for everybody else and themselvs included.

The only bad thing about pricier gas is that the oil companies are already making obscene profits. And the new energy bill (shame on all who signed it!) just handed many millions more to those self-same oil companies in subsidies, encouraging them to drill. Let me tell you, at anything over $50 a barrel, they're encouraged to drill alright, and at $70 a barrel, they're laughing at the rest of us. No, if we're going to have pricey gas, let's do it the way the Europeans do, not with outrageous profits but with fuel taxes that go directly to solving the pollution problems the fuel consumption causes. Now friends, THAT makes sense. So with every gallon, we'd be contributing to solutions and better health for all, not just wreaking havoc all around us.

The airlines have just announced a round of price hikes, attributable mainly to rising jet fuel costs - and also the summer demand. They want to charge as much as they can, of course. And Americans aren't backing down yet, so charge 'em, that's capitalism. (Can't have rampant, boom growth capitalism and complain about rising prices at the same time - that's the blood of this money roulette.)

But let me tell you. With just a one week advance ticket, you can get on a bus and ride from Seattle to Miami for $79. Why, it would cost you that much in gas to get from Seattle to Twin Falls, Idaho (the state next door) IF you had an efficient car. You'd be paying considerably more than the price of that bus ticket just to get half way - and still have way almost 2000 miles to go. Go figure that one on your pocket calculator.

Sure, a lot of other nations are smaller and more compact than we are. That's not their fault, and it's not not our fault, meaning it is our fault in terms of how we've laid out our towns, cities and driving habits with lots of waste. And the way we're going, this will come back to haunt us and our phenomenal energy consumption.

So let's go smarter. Let's go less. Let's move closer together and closer to shopping and work. Let's make those precious gallons count. And let's take a stroll, take the train - or hop a bus.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Did You Hear the One About the Woman in the Hot Air Ballon?

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost.

She dropped down a bit and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me. Can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago. But, I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS, and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes North latitude, and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes West longitude."

She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Democrat."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But, I have no idea what to do with your information. And, I am still lost. Frankly, you have not been much help to me."

The man smiled, and responded, "You must be a Republican."

"I am! How did you know?"

"Well...", said the man, "You don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large amount of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep. And you expect me to solve your problem. You are in exactly the same position you were in before we met. But somehow, now it's all my fault!"


Thanks to fellow Deaniac and DFA Meetup host Shirley Meckley for sending this along.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Bears At Home In New Jersey


[Trenton, NJ] In a surprise move this week, due to an increase in damage and nuisance calls about scavenging black bears, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Welfare determined it was necessary to remove 2.37 million people from the state of New Jersey.

Apparently, the state of New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation - for people and perhaps for black bears as well. So about one in four state residents must relocate by October 31, 2007, in order to make way for the bears' denning and birthing season that winter and the following spring of 2008.

At the state house this morning, Governor Grizzly Adams proclaimed that, "2008 will be a fresh start for the bears. They'll have room to roam once again without startling little Timmy on the way to the school bus."

Officials decided that, in spite of burgeoning population growth, suburban sprawl, Superfund sites (108 toxic waste dumps alone - a national record) and the dumping of dead bodies wearing tailored suits named Jimmy and Grego, that far too much of the Garden State remains prime black bear habitat. The bears have been showing up in backyards and campgrounds more often than in previous years, as people and bears try to live on more of the same acres.

The New Jersey Fish and Game Council estimates that there approximately 3400 bears in the state, up from about 2200 only several years ago. The United States Census Bureau reported the state's human population in the 2000 Census to be 8,414,350, and a more recent report has put the state's 2005 population at 8,698,879, an increase of 284,529 in just five short years. Yet it seems the bears continue to roam and scavenge in plain sight, especially in the northwest corner of the state, thus staking their claim to their ancestral homelands. No bear has caused injury to any of the human residents, but it was decided to move out several million residents who have moved into prime bear habitat before anyone gets hurt. (In the past, bear hunts were ordered, but a newly enlightened state legislature has decided against another hunt.

"Big" John Brown, the director of the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife, said that there were as many as 3400 black bears now in the state of New Jersey, and that it was clear some of the people would have to go. The first to go will be those who live where the bears most want to live. Asked how he knew those locations, Mr. Brown replied, "We'll start with those folks who filed damage and nuisance complaints. Obviously, they're coming into the closest contact with the bears. They're in the bears' backyards." Preferential treatment to remain a resident of New Jersey would be given to those who had lived in the state for over 20 years, had not had children, AND who lived within ten miles of an establish central business district (CBD) or what used to be known as a "downtown."

New Jersey covers an area of 8,722 square miles. It is the 47th state in size. Yet it ranks 10th in human population. There are about 1050 people per square mile (13 times the national average). Mr. Brown said, "Well, you can do the math. There are only .32 bears per square mile - that's just shy of a third of a bear - so obviously it's the people who have to go."

Besides the highest number of toxic dumps, New Jersey is known for some other national records as well. It has the largest seaport in the U.S., it has the largest oil storage facilities in the country, and it is the nation's largest producer of chemicals. And this just in: NJ is the world capital of car theft. Newark alone suffers more car thefts than New York City and Los Angeles combined.

Many things humans like were invented in the state: the light bulb, the record player, the movie camera, the drive-in movie, and baseball. Few may know that the science of paleontology was first practiced on a set of dinosaur bones within the state. And many may be surprised to learn that the Statue of Liberty is actually in New Jersey, not New York.

But Governor Adams said Wednesday, "Enough is enough. Good or bad, we just don't need this many people in something called 'the Garden State,' and it's become increasingly obvious that the bears would like for us to leave them alone. So some compromise had to be reached, and I am sure many of our residents will take pride in giving up their hard-earned acreage and move into condominiums where there are fewer bears needing to forage."

The only segments of society immune to the move order are the faculty at Princeton and the upper management at the casinos in Atlantic City.

Officials say that at least 2% of the people are happy with the decision but that 93% agree it is the best thing to do for the land they love and all species concerned. It has been reported that some people in the nortwest corner of the state most favored by bears are already dismantling their houses and reserving moving vans.

"The bears are home already," Governor Adams said, "and it's time for us to deal with the real root of this problem and pack up. I became the leader of this state to do the right thing for the great state of New Jersey."

[NOT! Now see this.]

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Discovery "Safely Down on Earth"??

Somehow as I open this blank page, I'm hearing Mary Travers sing "500 miles, 500 miles, 500 miles from my home." Except with Discovery, it's five million miles, five million miles... actually just shy of two full weeks, traveling 5.8 million miles, 219 times around Earth.

California here they come. And can you imagine sailing down to a dark runway at a descent rate 20 times faster than the last time you got butterflies on an airliner? And these guys have a lot more to be fiddling with than their setbacks and tray tables.

I hear there's a Lance [Armstrong] for president web site. Well, that might be a goofy idea (fame/focus/diligence and political acumen/charisma are two different things), but how about Eileen Collins for something? She's just 48, already retired as a colonel from the air force, and this was probably her last space flight. Collins spoke so well of her mission, both technical and tactical - putting it in the perspective of human achievement, an astral ambassador (a la Neil Armstrong or even John Glenn) for the future. As Collins' 79 year old father, James (a retired postal worker), said today, this is "the day of my life.... We're always the parents of Eileen, [but] Eileen right now, to me, belongs to all of us. Right at this point, I can say she belongs to the world."

I'd say so, and I think "Eileen" might really have the right stuff for politics and people. She's a sharp choice for NASA envoy. I've got a crush on that calm "We are ready for whatever we need to do" voice. Gotta say I'll bet there are legions of anxious STS-114 watchers who have noticed in themselves a growing urge to hear Collins' voice safe and sound.

As could be seen in reporters' repeated questions about "the ghosts of Columbia" and "anxious moments, and as opposed to the robotic sort of space exploration others more squeamish (and perhaps "practical") prefer, human space flight, with its blue jump suits, friendly faces and allusions to human frontiers and The Quest, appeals deeply to the sentimental and romantic side of the beleagured American character, still wanting something grand, glorious and peaceful for all those tax dollars.

And so, welcome back, commander and crew, to life as we know it - not as it is in the heavens.

Now for the really tricky part - with so many more variables than space flight - the adventure that is... life back on Planet Earth.


Monday, August 08, 2005

The Drama of Discovery

We fret about seven astronauts aboard Discovery because it's an amazing feat that they are up there in the first place - and because it's good human drama, with a plot, a past, anticipation, risk and the romance of cutting edge exploration.

Meanwhile, many, many more than seven Americans have died in all sorts of mundane and grusome ways - in hospitals and slums and cars and firefights and vehicular bomb targets far away.

Why do we fret so about the demise of Peter Jennings and the first post-Columbia astronauts and not about our own dangers much closer to home? Let's not forget: driving a car is the probably the most dangerous and potentially destructive thing we'll ever do. The astronauts could land safely and the get creamed on the Gulf Freeway heading to the mall or commuting to work at the JSC for their 9-5 jobs a few months from now.

Last night I got 'The Drama of Discovery' bug, though. I'd pulled a muscle in my back so badly I couldn't much sleep, so around midnight I fired up NASA TV (via Real Player on splotchy dial up, no less) to watch the stop and start video feed and to overhear the sporadic and indecipherable communiques between Mission Control in hellaciously humid Houston and the Discovery, prancing around in a refreshingly dry and sparkling orbit 120 miles above the Earth. Mostly matter of fact, even mundane check lists back and forth, "Now copy," "Roger that."

Then it came at just after 4:05 CDT, the call from the Peter Jennings-like calm of mission communicator Ken Ham, himself an astronaut: "We just can't get comfortable with the stability of the situation for this particular opportunity, so we're going to officially wave you off for 24 hours."

A bit later he called up: "We regret not getting you guys home today, but we feel pretty confident about tomorrow."

Mission Commander Eileen Collins replied: "Well, you guys made the right decision, and we're with you. We're going to enjoy another day on orbit, and we'll see you on Earth tomorrow."

Collins seems like a pleasure. I'd want her to be in command of my mission. And I've been reading about Mission Specialist Steve Robinson, a guy with a great grinnish smile who seems to see the humor, the humility and the awe of his own job, a sort of a regular and rare guy with a renaissance range of interests, the curious and intrepid wonder of a true frontiersman, and the mind of a philosopher at once aware, scientific and sentimental. He gets my vote for Astronaut-I'd-Most-Like-to-Meet. Yes, a lot is riding on that last hour.

But whether on the ground or many miles up, what would that extra day be like this time - the first time that a two week shuttle mission has really been mostly about its last hour of flight? Yes, that's the real drama and potential for spectacular disaster this time around, the Discovery's nearly miraculous-seeming descent from 220 miles up going 17,500 mph to just about zero feet above sea level and zero mph.

You were suited up and about to fire the brakes, a one way trip into the atmosphere, and it was called off ten minutes shy. Back track on lots of systems, become seemingly idle tourists slipping past the black and blue edge of space, thinking the whole time about getting down, getting your feet on the ground.

I was out riding my bicycle in the craggy, quiet, oak dappled and cypress-shaded, svelte-like hills of Texas this weekend, and a red fox ran across the road not too far in front of me. A red fox, light and more graceful than any domesticated creature, wild with a smile, sharing a planet. And here tonight, I just walked outside to see dozens of bats swirling around in the dark with their awesome accuracy, sonar skills and silence. Yes, the world is an amazing and priceless place to come back to and to call home. See what you might lose, reminded how fragile it all is, and you adore it all the more. Yes, that last hour of Discovery's dramatic descent will mean a lot to millions and to the future of mankind, near and far.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Hillary '08 and the "Likes People" Theory

I'd read the article "But Why Can't Hillary Win?" in Slate recently and generally agreed with Jacob Weisberg's assessment of Hillary's chances and her potentially crippling negative - that she's not likeable (enough).

But for years I've had a different take on Senator Clinton's dynamic. I say it's the converse: that Hillary doesn't like people enough.

I have this theory (which I think history supports, except maybe in a few cases - Nixon's?), that the elections for president are won by the person who seems to like people the most (and as a corollary, is "likeable" him or herself) - meaning a person who doesn't treat "the people" like cattle. In other words, no CPAs, no techno geeks (even too much wonking is alienating, MGore and Kerry), no angry mavericks (even Teddy Roosevelt got too Deaniac-ish and went Bull Moose on the masses).

Sympathetic cheerleaders who stick to their guns win. And an optimistic charisma (or even naivete) helps. Now don't get me wrong, an opponent seen as "weak" can probably tip the scales either way. So there are other criteria involved, but I'll stick with my "likes people" theory as being paramount.

I've been saying for quite some time that Ms. Clinton probably won't become president because she simply doesn't like people enough. She exudes a Demmed down policy wonk, though with more than the usual spite and spit. So the likeability factor runs both ways.

And this relates to GWB, the nation's current choice for president.

Enough people/voters mistakenly thought (and some may still think) that Mr. Bush really, really, sincerely, genuinely likes people, and they are partly right but majorly wrong. Mr. Bush likes his Friends/Capital & Corporate Club Cronies. For the record, ye hapless judges of character, that's not the same as liking People, as in WE the People.

As for Margaret Thatcher, she was the "Iron Lady," not the "Dragon Lady." There's a difference there. Even the sound of one's voice makes a difference, and Hillary's oratory ain't exactly patrician or matronly. It's an "ouch!" It might have backbone, but it's got bite.

It ain't happenin'.

Mrs. Clinton makes a worthy senator for the great state of New York. Best leave it at that.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The War on Whatever

Hey, at least we're getting this vision thing cleared up about what to call the administration's ongoing War on Whatever.

Or are we?

Seems some uppity ups in the administration have been meeting since January to reframe their label and thus their message on (and our perception of) what used to be called just the good ol' "War on Terror," period.

But this is a "war" that's always been in a gray area in more ways than one, never quite cleared with Congress - and, shall we say, advertised and promoted with about as much honesty as a millionaire's infomercial on late night TV. The president on the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner that said "Mission Accomplished." Now how long ago was that? About 1400 lives ago?

Well, even though Rummy runs rough shod over the war room and rumors of war, the Rumster must have gotten a might nervous about too much "war" talk, so via "internal deliberations," some Defense Dept. all stars coined the nifty and quite PC term, "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism." Does using the word "struggle" get this round of Nixons, Haldemans and Westmorlands out of the "It's Another Viet Nam Syndrome." Perhaps, almost four years down the road since 9/11, they're hoping so.

Now, as of yesterday, the president, back on home turf in Texas, made no mistake about it. He knows a good, simple, dumbed down whatchacallit when he sees one: "War on Terror," plain and simple.

In a speech yesterday in Grapevine, TX, near DFW airport, the president used the phrase "War on Terror" no less than five times, just to be sure he'd gotten it right. And in an amazing stunt of subliminal education, Mr. Bush was able to fit the word "war" into his speech a whopping 14 times - even though it was a speech that was primarily about domestic policy. Now the president must be feeling this "war" word is working pretty well for him. We probably got wars all over the place and don't even hardly know about half of them - or why they're wars or what we're really warring about.

"Make no mistake about it, we're at war," the president said.

The day before Mr. Bush's Grapevine speech (appropriate locale, eh?), Mr. Rumsfeld had also given a speech in which he expressly and in no uncertain terms meant to clear up some of the confusion he and his highly decorated ostriches had caused. "Some ask, are we still engaged in a war on terror? Let there be no mistake about it. It's a war."

Yes, Mr. Secretary, it is a war, but a war on what, exactly? Just terror? You didn't say terror. More than terror? Hmmm, we thought so. But what else? Oil perhaps? Israel perhaps? Empire perhaps? To which, if he were feeling as smarmy as he sometimes does, Mr. Rumsfeld could have responded, "Oh, it's a war on whatever we want it to be on."

You got it. This administration will run around in circles, wagging whatever it can, to promote and prolong its 'war on whatever' as long as it's got a say so - even as most of the soldiers, officers, and generals who have to get the body bags out and send the coffins home wish it were already time to Call It Quits.


For more, see the article "President Makes It Clear: Phrase is 'War on Terror'" in Thursday's New York Times.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Multicultural Malcontents

Recent polls show there's been a backlash to the London bombings, at least a backlash of opinion among the British, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. And some scholars are once again chiming in with at least anecdotal evidence (such as there terrorist acts) that cultural harmony heavily depends not just on tolerance but on conformity as well.

In the wake of the 9/11 airliner attacks, there was a backlash in America, too. As the frontier of terrorism encroaches closer to our homes and those of our "allies," some wonder about that great experiment of multiculturalism, the so-called "melting pot." From the working class to the ivory towers, many wonder if we can "all just get along." Everywhere cultures class within societies or nations, out comes a heretofor smouldering resentment, which then, for some, turns into angry resistence to racial, ethnic and religious minorities and cult groups wherever they are around the world.

The "melting pot" idea seems inevitable in the long run, even globally, but in the short term, multiculturalism causes such strife for a nation or culture. It does seem that for the "melting pot" idea to work, we need more melting, meaning more educated, more cosmopolitan, more secular assimilation. It seems we will have to be more alike and more cooperative to make multicultural nations and globalization work optimally and, above all, peacefully.

Ideally yes, we'd all get along (and even want to share the responsibilities and rewards of universal goals for the long term good of life on the planet). But it doesn't seem too difficult to trigger people's urges to not get along.

Tribalism - especially the tribalism of various religions, downright dangerous for millennia and disastrous for multiculturalism - tribalism seems so engrained that we shouldn't expect nationality to trump religion, at least not yet in the course of human events. (Of course I think ridding ourselves of religion and religious animosities and competitions is the answer - but how?)

We need the religious freedom to ween ourselves of religion - more, much more than we need religion itself. We need freedom FROM religion a LOT more than we need religious freedom. That's what religious freedom ought to stand for, ideally - the freedom from religion. (But of course, we must discover that for ourselves, through improved education, and this is an issue of global education. Secular wisdom, facts and realism/pragmatism are the greatest tools we've got to eradicate fundamentalism and tribalism, much more so than fascism or other means of force. We've got to be free to let go of the old tools that cause such bitter divisions.)

But for now, it seems we're still too primitive (and dependent on superstitions and faith) to make enough progress to get along optimally and peacefully.

The spread of education, equality and human rights all around the world seems surely much of the answer, but that seems more difficult than we imagine. And every act of resistence, especially violent, is a setback. Or is progress still on the march?

I may be speaking from an idealistic and paroachial perspective here, not having considered or studied this as much as others. I'd be curious to learn of others' perspectives.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tony Campolo: Preaching for a Better Nation

There is an article in the August issue of The Progressive magazine titled, "Meet Evangelist Tony Campolo." I almost skipped it because of that E word - evangelist. Yikes. I rarely find anything admirable about pious and righteous types. And there are only a few overtly Christian writers whom I'll read eagerly and enthusiastically (C.S. Lewis, Lewis B. Smedes, Anthony de Mello and John B. Cobb Jr. come to mind). But this being The Progressive - one of the few magazines I read cover to cover every month - I dove in.

Tony Campolo is the associate pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in West Philadelphia and an emeritus professor of sociology at Eastern University. On the Eastern campus is the Campolo School of Social Change.

Here's how Campolo often begins a speech:

"I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. [And third] What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."

Well, that ought to get their attention - and yours. This guy is pretty darned unconventional - and in many ways, fearless. Campolo says it's "time to take the gloves off" and openly fight the religious right. Much to the chagrin if not outrage of most any flock I would think, Campolo has said that "to be a Christian in today's world is to be opposed to America."

Here, in his own words, is more from Tony Campolo:

To be a Christian in today's world is to be opposed to America. Why? America believes in capital punishment, and Jesus says 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.' America says, 'Blessed are the rich.' Jesus said 'Woe unto you who are rich, blessed are the poor.' American says, 'Blessed are the powerful.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.'

We have reached a stage of idolatry when, in any given church in America, you're going to run into more trouble if you remove the American flag than if you remove the cross.

If one embraces [the virtues espoused by] Jesus, one has to raise some serious questions about the American way of life, especially its consumerism. Here's a society that has us buying new cars all the time, and has got us caught up in fashion models, and every year, women and men are getting rid of their clothing because somebody in never-never land has decided that these clothes are out of style. What we are discarding in this consumeristic society, because the dictates of custom have decided are out of date, is appalling. People are spending huge amounts of money on cars that are basically status symbols, and it's contrary to the teachings of Jesus. We are wasting so much money in catering to our pleasure, while we allow the basic needs of others to go unmet.

[Advertising promises us that products will] meet our deepest spiritual and psychological needs and create well-being, a sense of joy, give us friends, and make us young and happy. Jesus says, 'Why do you spend your money on that which satisfies you not.'

Jesus refers to the poor over and over. There are over 2,000 verses of Scripture that call upon us to respond to the needs of the poor. And yet, I find that when Christians talked about values in this last election that was not on the agenda, that was not a concern. If you were to get the voter guide of the Christian Coalition, that does not rate. They talk more about tax cuts for people who are wealthy than they do about helping poor people who are in desperate straits.

The major factor influencing the evangelical vote was Christian radio and television. What scares me is that Christianity in America today sees nothing wrong with being allied with political conservatism. Conservatives are people who worship at the graves of dead radicals. Stop to think about that. The people who started this country, George Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, these were not conservatives; these were the radicals of the time. In fact, conservatives always look back on people who they despised and make them into heroes.

When you deal with these issues that are plaguing this country, do you frame them as moral issues or as economic issues? The Democratic Party made a very serious mistake. All the issues were framed in economic terms: How many jobs are we going to create, how much money is it going to cost to do this, that, and the other thing. What they should have been saying is, 'This is what is right, and we're going to do it, because it's right.' When we begin to frame the issues, as liberals, in moral terms, talking about what is right and what is wrong, rather than what is pragmatically efficient, I think the American people, who are looking for moral leadership, will flock to the side of thos who can give it.

It's about time we realized that Christianity is a call not to conservatism but to change. Jesus came to the world not to conserve the system as it was but to change the world into what it ought to be. That's where I am, and that's where I want to be.


In my book (or at least my blog), Tony Campolo is an American hero - and a genuine minister of Christian values, values with which I align myself and to which I myself aspire.

Please consider subscribing to or donating to The Progressive, one of my favorite magazines.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Good News Gone Bad?

Why do the vast majority of people watch the news? To become "informed"? To become "good citizens"? To become policy wonks? Surely some do, but according to what I think is a highly enlightened cover story on this week's New York Times Book Review, most watch the news for more primitive reasons.

People watch the news for the same reasons - make that with the same feelings or urges - as they watch sports: to see sound bite, slo mo point-counterpoint skirmishes of right and wrong, them and us, Democrat and Republican, home team and invader, humans vs. nature, good and bad, left and right. Some might complain about "polarized" and even combative news coverage, but most news consumers crave (or at least are drawn to) the standoffishness. They want the dueling drama of "Crossfire, " the confrontations of "60 Minutes," in general and ad nauseum, the hyped rhetoric of dangers, disasters and dystopia.

The vast majority of people turn to the news for emotional reasons, not for unresolved issues but for reaffirmation, resolution, reassurance - NOT generally to educate themselves, not to weigh their ideals and prejudices against alternate and opposing views to take stands or push their agendas. Thus, with the media slaves to the freemarket - they are all for profit enterprises, after all - democracy and the common good may suffer, though nothing is sure yet, because of wild cards like the advent and onslaught of blogs, etc. The market changes more than the consumers do.

So argues Richard A. Posner in this absolutely brilliant analysis of the news media, "Bad News," published in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Rarely have I read anything lately that seemed so profound and right on. Posner challenges the well-meaning and well-informed among us who think everybody else pays attention to the news for the same high brow reason we do - to form substantive opinions. Posner says few are reading and watching for content so as to judiciously assess policies, programs, plots and history. Not so, says Posner, whose media analysis is like George Lakoff's "framing" paradigm; it will change the way you think about why we're where we are.

Posner is so good at this, I feel I've got to quote him at length. Speaking to the heart of common misconceptions about the function of news and thus the production and end product of news in our culture, Posner turns the tables on " of the points on which left and right agree - "

...that people consume news and opinion in order to become well informed about public issues. Were this true, liberals would read conservative newspapers, and conservatives liberal newspapers, just as scientists test their hypotheses by confronting them with data that may refute them. But that is not how ordinary people (or, for that matter, scientists) approach political and social issues. The issues are too numerous, uncertain and complex, and the benefit to an individual of becoming well informed about them too slight, to invite sustained, disinterested attention. Moreover, people don't like being in a state of doubt, so they look for information that will support rather than undermine their existing beliefs. They're also uncomfortable seeing their beliefs challenged on issues that are bound up with their economic welfare, physical safety or religious and moral views.

So why do people consume news and opinion? In part it is to learn of facts that bear directly and immediately on their lives - hence the greater attention paid to local than to national and international news. They also want to be entertained, and they find scandals, violence, crime, the foibles of celebrities and the antics of the powerful all mightily entertaining. And they want to be confirmed in their beliefs by seeing them echoed and elaborated by more articulate, authoritative and prestigious voices. So they accept, and many relish, a partisan press. Forty-three percent of the respondents in the poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center thought it ''a good thing if some news organizations have a decidedly political point of view in their coverage of the news.''

Being profit-driven, the media respond to the actual demands of their audience rather than to the idealized ''thirst for knowledge'' demand posited by public intellectuals and deans of journalism schools. They serve up what the consumer wants, and the more intense the competitive pressure, the better they do it. We see this in the media's coverage of political campaigns. Relatively little attention is paid to issues. Fundamental questions, like the actual difference in policies that might result if one candidate rather than the other won, get little play. The focus instead is on who's ahead, viewed as a function of campaign tactics, which are meticulously reported. Candidates' statements are evaluated not for their truth but for their adroitness; it is assumed, without a hint of embarrassment, that a political candidate who levels with voters disqualifies himself from being taken seriously, like a racehorse that tries to hug the outside of the track. News coverage of a political campaign is oriented to a public that enjoys competitive sports, not to one that is civic-minded.

It is important for us to remember that this media machine is a Frankenstein of our own creation, a monster of our own market-forces, of not just hype but human nature. Not everything is as it seems. We've got some testing of our media prejudices to contend with before, during and after we "catch" the news. I highly recommend the entirety of "Bad News," to you.

Richard A. Posner is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and, along with the economist Gary Becker, the author of The Becker-Posner Blog.