Sunday, December 31, 2006

BYE BYE 2006 - BUY BUY 2007

Another year down the tubes, another year beginning. While I tend to focus on the negative, I am also hopeful that the coming year has the potential to see many positive things happen in the world. I only wish that we in the U.S. of A. had some real leadership.

Our dear President Bush has been talking about "a new way forward." This phrase should actually be in caps because it is his latest slogan (the man loves slogans). The world is anxiously awaiting his message about The New Way Forward in Iraq - I'm not holding my breath.

But Bush gave us a hint of what he's thinking at a recent press conference (might have been December 20th). Here are his words:

As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. … And I encourage you all to go shopping more.

You all certainly remember that this was also his advice to us following the September 11 attacks. Go shopping! The Bush M.O. is very clear - spend, spend, spend. "Strengthen our military" in the above statement translates to "we're going to spend a lot more money on the military" - the cost of the Iraq war is now at $2 billion per week (see footnote). "Meet the challenges of the 21st century" means figuring out new ways for consumers to spend more so Bush's supporters (puppet masters?) can reap even larger obscene profits than they already are (have you read about the record CEO compensation packages in 2006?).

The implications of the Bush "go shopping/spend" policy are very far-reaching. An excellent article by Anatol Lieven discusses the relationship between global warming and western free-market democracy - an important read. A previous post of mine discussed the relationship between American consumerism and global air pollution from China. So don't be fooled by G.W. Bush's down-home folksiness - this is bad shit, and generations to come in the USA and around the globe will be paying for it!

Bye bye '06 - buy buy '07!

Footnote: The number $2 billion is difficult to grasp. Think of it this way - if you are fortunate enough to make a salary of $100,000 per year, it would only take you 20,000 years to earn $2 billion.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


TO: Grand Council of Science
FROM: Investigator Qzrkstynlptyr (8i4412121212zpq)
SUBJECT: Investigation of Planet Blue Liquid (S+3): Preliminary Life Form Observations

Council Members:
I respectfully submit this report as per my investigative assignment under the Inter-Planetary Scientific Survey Protocols of 0695534, Section a666, Sub-x. Since my recent arrival on the Planet Blue Liquid 14 parmuns ago, I have spent considerable time conducting non-contact, non-visible observations to determine which life forms are dominant and potentially approachable. This report summarizes my initial observations of the apparent dominant life form on this planet, which I shall refer to as Life Form D06 (LFD06).

I selected as the setting for my first contact an area known as a "park," based on my observations that the dominant life form frequents these areas regularly. Curiously, all of these creatures bring with them to the park area another life form, which I have coded as LFH8, with which they have a peculiar relationship. Each individual LFD06 in the park area is pulling one specimen of LFH8 by means of a length of material, often a synthetic or hide strap. LFD06 has a loop of material around the area between its head and trunk to which the length of strap is attached; LFH8 appears to be grasping a loop in the other end of the strap in one of its two articulated upper appendages.

I should describe here that LFD06 is a quadra-pedal life form, while LFH8 is typically bi-pedal, but has a second set of appendages with articulated endings with which it manipulates objects. LFD06 is fur-covered over the entirety of its body; LFH8 typically has scant fur except on the head, although many males of the species have much less fur even in that location.

After considerable study of these organisms, I have determined the following behavioral patterns:
1. LFD06 is dominant, and pulls LFH8 behind it, sometimes with great effort, along pathways, through shrubbery, and under trees.
2. LFD06 constantly inhales through special openings in its head as if sampling the air, particularly close to the ground and on vertical objects.
3. LFD06 stops frequently to void liquid, and occasionally to deposit solid material on the ground.
4. LFH8 uses a thin plastic membrane pouch to collect the solid material deposited by LFD06 and transports it for the remainder of the travel through and out of the park area.

My conclusions thus far concerning these behaviors are: a) LFH8 is subservient to LFD06; b) LFD06 has trained LFH8 to follow specific behavioral commands, although LFH8 sometimes exhibits resistance, particularly when being pulled by a strap; c) LFH8 values the solid material deposited on the ground by LFD06 (perhaps as food??), and collects and carries this material with it.

The next phase of my investigation will be to attempt contact with an individual LFD06. I have many questions about this life form, including its relationship with, and apparent tolerance of, the less intelligent LFH8.

Until my next report.

May your quarks flow randomly; may the nebulae align favorably; and may the interests of galactic study always be foremost in your active neurons.

Investigator Qzrkstynlptyr

Monday, December 25, 2006


"The finest structure can house the worst evil." This was the message inside my fortune cookie today at our neighborhood Chinese restaurant. (I searched the internet for the origin of this saying - all I could find was a lot of other people who had the same message inside their fortune cookies also wondering who said it!) I'm a big fan of fortune cookie wisdom; I have often received sayings that had a particular relevance to my life or my thoughts. This one, received on Christmas Day, is no exception.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the capacity of human beings to perpetrate evil. A headline today about world leaders calling for peace, on Christmas Day, urged me to write about this topic. In many ways, the human animal is "the finest structure," a result of millions of years of evolution (obviously I'm not a creationist). Humans have an intellectual and creative capability that is, as far as we know, superior to any other living organisms on Earth. Part of this superiority is the ability to recognize and distinguish between "good" and "evil" (these words are in quotes because I don't want to even try to define them - I'll leave that to you). But throughout history humans have committed what can only be termed "evil" acts against other humans. A quick trip around the world today finds terrorism, genocide, occupation, torture, bigotry, humiliation, and other actions in every corner. History repeats, and we humans never seem to learn from history. Why?

On a recent "Journey of Peace" to Israel and Palestine, we met with Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian, philosopher, and the President of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. I recently read one of Dr. Nusseibeh's presentations, “Identities in conflict: Masters and Slaves,” given at the International Conference of the Human Development Capability Association in Netherlands, September 2006. His discussion of human identity is very relevant to my questions about evil among humans. Dr. Nusseibeh talks about the "wide range of identity-layers, or layers which together make up or constitute an identity." In other words, each of us has multiple factors which together constitute our identity. Each individual, however, manifests an identity to those around him or her, and the choice of identity is "the degree to which one is a master or slave of one’s identity - a degree which can be taken to be at once a measure of one’s freedom, as well as a function of the propensity to prejudice-propelled conflict or violence."

It is the choice of identity that I believe is the key to understanding the manifestations of evil by humans. Dr. Nusseibeh states that "to the extent that one can make those choices one can be said to be master of one’s identity; and to the extent that one particular layer comes to dominate and in an exclusivist manner therefore to limit one’s choices one’s capability range, or freedom, is diminished, thereby reflecting the transformation of the agent from being master to being a slave of their identity." Do we as individuals consciously choose our identities, or do we allow external factors, including other people, to choose our identities for us? "Are we destined, as human beings, to be victims of our self-prejudiced identities?" Do we make excuses for our own behaviors by blaming the behaviors of others? "If we admit we have been turned into monsters only by the violent actions perpetrated by the other side, what else should we expect to find on the other side as we carry out similar actions but monsters, too."

As "the finest structure," we as humans can choose our identities; we can choose to reject evil and promote good. Humans also have the capacity to teach and learn - we are not just biologically programmed to act out the same behaviors over and over. "Being able to master sufficiently one’s identity, and to shape it, can be a powerful tool in helping shape the identities of others."

My identity as an American is seen by many in the world as the identity projected by the actions of my government, many of which I presently do not support. It is my goal, therefore, to actively choose and present an identity that is aligned with my core values and beliefs. And, while I often find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude about the world and the actions of my fellow humans (read some of my blog posts), I know that I must continue to focus my self-identity on the parts of my humanity that are "good," all the while rejecting "evil" and speaking out against it.

The finest structures can house the worst evil. But the finest structures can also house the greatest good. There are many good people on this planet, and we need to tell their stories more often as examples for hope. The choice between good and evil is ours - each of us - and I still, despite the evil rampant in the world, trust in the true goodness of humanity.

Friday, December 15, 2006


On December 16, 2006, President George W. Bush praised outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a farewell ceremony. According to the President:

Don Rumsfeld has been at my side from the moment I took office. We've been through war together. We have shared some of the most challenging moments in our nation's history. Over the past six years, I have come to appreciate Don Rumsfeld's professionalism, his dedication, his strategic vision, his deep devotion to the men and women of our nation who wear the uniform, and his love for the United States of America.

Well, I suppose it would be a bit tacky for the President to actually tell the truth about Rummie, so I'll do Mr. Bush a favor and do the dirty work for him.
  • Don Rumsfeld's professionalism: "Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said." Donald Rumsfeld
  • Don Rumsfeld's strategic vision: "Stuff happens. It's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." Donald Rumsfeld
  • more strategic vision: "The Gulf war in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months. But it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that." Donald Rumsfeld
  • Don Rumsfeld's deep devotion to the men and women of our nation who wear the uniform: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." Donald Rumsfeld
  • a combination of strategic vision (military) and devotion to our people in uniform: "We know where they (WMD) are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." Donald Rumsfeld
  • another combo, as above: "We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead." Donald Rumsfeld
But why stop here? How about some examples illustrating the need for a sharp mind and a keen sense of the world that makes a Secretary of Defense great?
  • "If we left Iraq prematurely, the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they’d order us and all those who don’t share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines." Donald Rumsfeld
  • "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." Donald Rumsfeld
Who could have predicted the result of the appointment of Don Rumsfeld to the position of Secretary of Defense? And who can predict how the new Secretary will do?

"I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past - I think the past was not predictable when it started." Donald Rumsfeld

Heckuva job, Rummie!!

Click here for these quotes and more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Sir: Based upon knowing your keen interest in history and the fairness of historical representation, as evidenced by your recent international conference: "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision," I would like to invite you to a newly announced international conference: "Review of Iranian Whining: Global Historic Revisionism." This conference will examine the truth behind claims by the Iranian people about their history, and reveal many interesting, and sometimes startling, actual facts.

A recent American television propaganda piece about Iran by the Jewish journalist Ted Koppel (whose parents did not escape from Nazi Germany - this is another great lie) included numerous supposedly Iranian people reminding Mr. Koppel that in 1953 the United States had overthrown the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran and replaced him with the Dictator, Shah Reza Khan, a puppet of the U.S. The international conference will expose this fraudulent myth for what it is - a fraudulent myth. Iran never had a democratically elected Parliament and Prime Minister; the United States did not overthrow this supposed Prime Minister and put him in jail and house arrest for the remainder of his life; and there never was a Shah Reza Khan - this is one of the Big Lies promulgated by the Iranian people, who are opposed to truth as history (they should be wiped from the map)!

Similarly, there are those among the population of Iran, and other countries I might add, who claim that there was a long war between Iraq and Iran between 1980 and 1988. These same false-witnesses to history also claim, among other lies, that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian troops, that some Iranian prisoners of war were not returned until 2003, and - the biggest fabrication of all - that the United States was complicit in its support of Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The infamous photo of the smiling Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein is obviously a photo-shopped fake!

So, Dear President Ahmadinejad, please accept this invitation to our international conference as the Keynote Speaker. Your presence will lend immeasurable legitimacy to this event as a gathering of committed individuals (or those who should be committed). Please tailor your keynote address to the following topic: "History and Truth: Ramblings of a Madman."

Thank you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I've developed a habit of studying landscapes as I travel the world. By "studying" I mean not just seeing landscapes as they roll by, but sensing their realities of geology, ecology, and human use. As we've traveled through Israel and Palestine (the West Bank), I've internalized a deep sense of the harshness of the landscape. With the exception of the coastal plain of the Mediterranean Sea, most of what I've seen in those lands is a beautiful, but harsh landscape of desert and rock.

Several years ago we drove the road from Tiberius in the north, south to the Dead Sea and then west to Jerusalem. The highway generally parallels the Jordan Valley, which is seen below as a green ribbon at the boundary of Israel and Jordan. But the more immediate landscape is desert sand and rock - hot, dry and with a sense of unforgiving. We passed small towns and individual dwellings, and imagined the effort needed to scratch out a living from this land.

This year we traveled into northern Israel again, to the area between Haifa and Tiberius, where we have family in the city of Carmiel. This landscape is dominated by rock, as pictured above. As I walked through an undeveloped area on the edge of town to take pictures, even the thorny plants reminded me that this landscape can be unforgiving. The rock itself is old and weathered, appearing ancient like everything else in this land. What stories could the rock relate if I could only find its language?

People occupy landscapes, and often change them to suite their needs. Forests disappear, grasslands yield to pasture and row crops, cities grow where nature once ruled. But there is something about the landscape of Israel/Palestine that conveys the sense that nature rules here. Perhaps the harshness of civilization in this land, the seemingly endless conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs (Muslims and Christians) and Jews, Muslims and Christians, is a reflection of the land itself.

For millenia, people have learned to live with and on the harsh landscape of these lands, to accept the land for what it is and reach an accord with it. My hope is that someday people can learn to live with each other, to reach an accord with the social and political landscape and turn its harshness into peace.