Thursday, November 30, 2006


Yes, dear readers, it's true, Merry Christmas seems to have won "the War on Christmas." If you remember, 2005 was the year that the Christian right declared that they were doing holy battle against the evil-doers who were waging a War on Christmas. Who were these evil-doers? People like me, and many others who were simply saying "Happy Holidays" to friends and family who do not celebrate Christmas because - well gosh - they aren't Christian! Many retail businesses were also using "Happy Holidays" displays and advertising to attract consumers of all religious beliefs. And many people, myself included, objected to religious displays on public property, such as courthouse lawns.

"JUST SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS" was the rallying cry of the Christian right, and they crusaded mightily against the heathens among us who would object. Separation of church and State - bah humbug!

The 2006 holiday season is upon us - I'm sure you've noticed. And guess what? It looks like Merry Christmas is the winner. Every advertisement by Target stores for a recent major national television program was a Merry Christmas advertisement. "Merry Christmas" ads and banners have sprouted everywhere in retail land. Starbucks is once again selling their Christmas Blend, but try to find a bag of the Holiday Blend and you'll be very disappointed, even though the Starbucks staff will tell you that they're supposed to have the blue bags and labels for the same beans that are in the red bags. A very reliable source at Starbucks tells the following story: a customer asked what the diference is between the coffee in the red Christmas Blend bags and the blue Holiday Blend bags (it seems some stores have the blue bags). The Starbucks person explained that it is the same coffee, just in different bags. "Oh, I get it," replied the customer, "the blue bags are for Jewish people, and the red bags are for Americans!"

Just say "Merry Christmas."

Saturday, November 25, 2006


The Oregonian ran a front page article yesterday about huge clouds of soot and mercury drifting across the Pacific to Oregon and the rest of the United States. Major sources of this pollution are the coal-powered electrical generating plants in China. China presently has about 2,000 coal-fired plants, and has plans in place to build another 500. Impacts in Oregon of these Chinese plumes include hazy skies, increased particulate matter in our air, and increased levels of mercury in our rivers, leading to increased mercury levels in fish.

I've written previously in this blog about the basic laws of ecology, as posed in the 1970's by Dr. Barry Commoner, including "everything is connected to everything else." There are direct links between the Chinese air pollution and each Oregonian. I'm sure that like me, you've often noticed that almost everything we buy these days is made in China. Chinese manufacturers provide low cost labor, low cost materials, and an aggressive manufacturing and exporting sector based on scant government regulation regarding worker health and welfare, environmental impact (i.e. pollution), and other issues that increase the cost of goods made in the U.S.A. As a result, the Chinese economy is a raging tiger, trying to keep up with both the foreign demand for manufactured goods, and the domestic demand for modernity and a higher standard of living (in other words, the Chinese want to be like us Americans).

I pulled some data from the U.S. Bureau of Census web site about the balance of trade between China and the United States. Below is a graph of the data I pulled (sorry about the quality - I really struggled to import this as a graphic). The graph shows, for every year from 1985 until 2006, the dollar values of goods exported from the USA to China (blue line), imported from China to the USA (red line), and the trade balance, or difference between the import and export (yellow line). The vertical axis is millions of dollars, and the values shown on the axis are therefore $100 billion, $200 billion, etc.

In 1985, the US exported $3.85 billion and imported $3.86 billion in goods. By 1995, the US exported $11.7 billion and imported $45.5 billion. By 2005, the US exported $41.9 billion and imported $243.5 billion of goods from China. The trade balance (US exports to China minus US imports from China) went from minus $6 million in 1985, to minus $33.7 billion in 1995, to minus $201.5 billion in 2005, and is projected to be about minus $221.7 billion in 2006. Household and electronic goods account for a major portion of the imports from China.

Yesterday was the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in America, and is always the biggest shopping day of the year. Stores open at 5 and 6AM with big sales, and people line up to be there early. The TV news showed shoppers with carts full of big-screen televisions, video games, stereo and video equipment, and all manner of electronics and toys and household items, mostly bought on credit (US consumer credit debt is another topic). A majority of these consumer goods are probably manufactured in China.

Everything is connected to everything else. The pollution drifting through the atmosphere from China to Oregon is directly linked to the buying habits of American consumers. We want our "stuff," and we don't really think or care about where it comes from - we only want it at a low price. Unfortunately, the dollar price we pay at the store is not the true price of the item. The true price includes the ecological price tag that comes - hidden - with each item we buy.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Maybe I tend to be too cynical, but, as Lily Tomlin said: "no matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up." I know that the media tends to focus on negative news, and that good things are happening in some places; but everywhere I look there are telltale signs that human civilization is hosed. A few examples from the recent headlines:

  • In 2005, 35.1 million people in the United States were "food insecure" (a government term for spinning the term "hungry"), meaning that they didn't have enough food for an active, healthy life.
  • The number of Oregon school children who are homeless increased by 16% last year compared to the previous year, to a total of 13,159.
  • Siberian bears are not hibernating, Arctic sea ice is at very low levels, Arctic sea temperatures are warmer than historically, shrubs are taking over large areas of Arctic tundra, and permafrost isn't very "perma" anymore - all signs of global warming.
  • The Deputy Ambassador of the United Kingdom is traveling through California, Oregon and Washington looking for state and municipal partners to combat global warming. The British have given up looking to the Bush White House for leadership on this issue.
  • President George W. Bush thinks that the U.S. A. can win the Iraq war if "we don't quit" like we did in Viet Nam.
  • Genocide continues unabated in Darfur as the world watches.
  • The U.S. foreign policy in relation to nations such as Iran and North Korea is to call them names, refuse to talk to them, and crank up the machines of war.
  • Israel and Hamas continue to throw explosives at each other.
  • And finally, people are camping on the sidewalks in front of retail stores - for days - in order to purchase the new $600 Playstation 3 video game console.
Walking around the city of Jerusalem last month reminded me that human civilizations have been around for many thousands of years. But we don't seem to learn anything from history. Why is it that humans cannot get past what seem to be the most basic and troublesome behaviors of hate, mistrust, intolerance and greed? One would think that a species that has evolved such tremendous mental capacities could find its way out of primitive thinking and destructive behaviors. But then, one would have to think!

Friday, November 03, 2006


OK, now that I've ruled out the role of god in dealing with Iran (see my previous post), does that mean people should do nothing? Certainly not. (As an aside, our Israeli cousin, after reading my letter in the Jerusalem Post, said that she agrees with me - George Bush is not god's operative who has been willed to destroy Iran - but her take is that god should bomb Iran!)

The Israeli Prime Minister yesterday chastised the world community for not being tough with Iran, and for being too slow to do so. Israel is rightly concerned about Iranian moves towards nuclearity (a term I just invented), considering: 1) Iran's announced intention to develop nuclear weapons, 2) the Iranian President's continuing declarations that the Holocaust was a fake, 3) the Iranian President's stated goals of wiping Israel off the map, and 4) the televised tests by Iran yesterday of missles capable of delivering warheads to Israel.

I'm certainly not a statesman or a diplomat, and I won't pretend to be one. I also don't think we can change the direction Iran is taking by saying "pretty please don't" or something like that. But I can't accept a military response as the first response. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is, in my opinion, justified in criticizing the international community for moving too slowly on this threat. The world community, including the NATO countries, China and Russia, as well as many others, need to take a very strong and very vocal stand against Iran's moves towards nuclearity. Economic moves should be clearly designed to hurt Iran in the pocket book (and I don't mean by starving the Iranian people), and diplomatic moves should be designed to isolate Iran as a country moving in a dangerous direction.

But - and this is a major but - channels of communication with Iran should be kept open, and new channels developed to move towards agreement on basic principles. Unfortunately, the United States does not operate this way under Geaorge Bush. Instead, the U.S. administration uses name-calling (Axis of Evil) and threats of war to try to bully our "enemies" into submission. The foreign policy of the United States is a simple one - no policy at all, and don't talk to people we don't like. Every action gets a reaction. And the U.S. President has not made and kept friends around the world who are eager to stand with us; instead, Bush has pissed-off many governments around the world, and not built bridges of understanding and cooperation. Do I think Bush is the problem vis-a-vis Iran? No, but he has made matters worse in a very short time.

Let's not kid ourselves, Iran is a direct threat to Israel, the Middle East, and world stability. If the rest of the world diddles around too long, Iran might do something stupid, which will have very dire consequences for large numbers of people and for global relations. Maybe they want that to happen (they being the present rulers of Iran). So my message to all you world leaders who are regular readers of my blog is: do something now before it's too late.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


In his November 1, 2006 OpEd column "An appeal of faith to President George W. Bush," Michael Freund implored the American President to accept the will of god and attack Iran in order to save Israel.

Mr. Freund urged President Bush to accept the responsibility of carrying out the mission for which he has been chosen:

I know you believe, as I do, that God guides the destiny of men and of nations. And I know you believe, just as I do, that He raised you up to the helm of power precisely at this critical period, to serve as His agent and His instrument in this world.

The God of history has chosen you, Mr. President, just as He did Churchill, and He has entrusted you with a sacred mandate: to save the world from the designs of a madman.

My response to this was published in the Jerusalem Post Letters to the Editor the next day. I think we would live in a better world if people didn't use the "God told me to do it" excuse!