...And I'll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it... -- Bob Dylan

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Citizen Corporation vs. Birth Control

                It was perhaps inevitable that following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which solidified the claims of corporations to “enjoy” rights that liberal democracy has been trying to bestow upon people, that some such person-like entity would claim that his (or her?) right to practice religion is violated by government’s efforts to make sure all people are treated equally and fairly.  Indeed this has happened, as Ian Millhiser reports on ThinkProgress¸and a US Court of Appeals has lent credence to her (or his?) case.  The effort to help insure that people are treated fairly in question is the provision in the Affordable Care Act (the ACA, which I’ll pass on referring to by its pejorative name even though I think it’s bad legislation) that employers of more than 50 people must provide health insurance to all their full-time employees, and that said insurance needs to meet a number of various criteria so that people need not worry excessively about their inability to pay for basic healthcare, and among these criteria is a mandate that certain forms of birth control that are commonly administered as health care service be included. 
                There are many good, sane reasons why this provision makes sense:  birth control is commonly utilized by a vast majority of Americans, particularly women who, because of biology, bear the consequences of not using it; the cost of birth control is much higher for women than for men and women are generally more reliable users of it when it is available; alternatives to providing birth control outside of the medical system are there, but tend to be less reliable and more dangerous;  easy access to birth control is the simplest and most cost-effective way to minimize unwanted pregnancies and abortions; birth control for women is inextricably linked to many facets of health care in addition to preventing pregnancy.  There are more, I’m sure, but these alone constitute some very compelling reasons why the people, acting through the state, are justified in making sure that access to birth control, for those who choose it or need it, is available to as many people as possible – especially women.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crazy Walk

                I took a walk today.  Is that crazy or what?
                I mean, seriously, is that crazy?
                Before we consider that question with sincerity, I’ll say right off that I love taking walks.  I take them all the time – every day if I have the chance.  Sometimes my walks are long and at least a little rugged, sometimes way up in the mountains or on the shore of a lake.  But usually my walks are not very far – maybe a mile or so – and cover familiar territory in my neighborhood.  In fact, I have, in essence, a very well-worn path between my house and the nearest store where I do all my routine grocery shopping and whatnot.  I don’t have all the leisure time required to take walks every day, but I find if I combine my walks with errands, that allows me to take more of them, and, at the very least, not feel as if I’m “wasting” my time doing so. 
                It started over twenty years ago, when I had a suspended driver’s license (another story for another time.)  I wound up moving to a different state during the period of my license suspension, and was unable to get any limited driving privileges at all.  So long before it was at all trendy, I’d every few days grab my heavy-duty canvass shopping bags and walk a mile or so to the grocery store, buy as much as I could comfortably carry, and then hoof it home again.  And I grew to enjoy those outings; enjoy them so much that I continued taking them after I got my driving privileges back.  Since then, I’ve lived in a dozen or so different homes in different parts of the country, some in big cities, some in sprawling suburbs, some in remote rural areas, but wherever I’ve lived, I’ve tried to establish a routine in which I can take frequent walks and do my errands at the same time.  At a couple of the remote places I’ve lived this was pretty impractical; but most of the time it’s been great.   I’ve actually come to dislike driving my car – at least on short trips around town – so much that I do as much of my commuting and errands as possible without using my car.  And, I say with all sincerity, I love it.  I don’t do it because I have to or out of guilt, I do it because it’s enjoyable and good for my body and spirit. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

But WE Can Give them Stuff, Too!

            Let’s take a walk through the theater of the absurd.  Thanks to deranged folks at Fox News like Bill O’Reilly, it’s not a very long or arduous walk.
            We’ll start last summer, when President Obama, citing the repeated failure of Congress to pass something like the very reasonable and patriotic DREAM Act, instituted a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Under DACA, children of people who came to the US without documentation can avoid the threat of deportation as long as they meet certain requirements such as staying in school, staying out of trouble with the law, etc.  Conservatives cried “foul,” and claimed that Obama was “pandering” to Latinos for political purposes, apparently hoping that nobody in their audience would notice that pandering to anti-immigrant white people looks equally undignified. 
            Fast forward.  The DACA program is a (limited) success, the sky didn’t fall, and Obama wins the November election.  Enter O’Reilly, who grabbed headlines on election night lamenting that “it’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff.  They want things.”  (Read Jesse Hagopian's wonderful take on this, please!)  It doesn’t take a Poly Sci major – though it might take some elementary level of self-awareness – to recognize that people in O’Rielly’s “traditional” America (read: straight, white, middle-class English-speaking Americans) want stuff too.  Stuff like tax cuts, less spending on social programs, big defense contracts, property rights (to protect property they own at least in part because of their historical status,) and lots of tough-on-crime kinda stuff so they can feel oh-so-secure in their suburban enclaves.  Mostly, perhaps, they want to feel like the stuff they want is somehow more legitimate than the stuff other people want – stuff like a government that protects them from excessive exploitation in the labor market, and guarantees some basic necessities for living in a country that “enjoys” the widest gap in wealth and income disparities in the developed world.  That kind of “stuff” is – in their minds – illegitimate, and they can only get it by getting powerful politicians to pander to their needs.
            So far, I’m not sure this fits the definition of absurd – just the painful ironies of our incredibly immature political dialog.  But what strikes me as truly absurd was the reminder I saw yesterday about what Bill O’Rielly’s preferred candidate in this election said at the Republican National Convention only two months before.  Mitt Romney told the delegates – and the TV cameras, to be sure – “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet…” He said to jeers. “My promise… is to help you and your family.” How, Mr. O’Reilly, is a Presidential candidate promising to “help you and your family” different from people wanting “stuff?”
            The absurdity of this is the expanse of the hypocrisy; but I’m wondering – again – if it’s not something more.  I’m wondering again about this Jungian meme: do conservatives really hate liberals so much simply because they (liberals) remind them (conservatives) of themselves?  Even when they have to go to the extent to re-invent liberals in order to provide a straw man for them to hate?  Mr. Romney’s own admission is that liberals care about things other than themselves, things like oceans and planetary health; and his remarks also make it clear that conservatives are actually proud to not care about such things.  (At least in the “privacy” of their own conventions.)  By this logic, we can understand Mr. O’Reilly’s outrage as probably actually directed at his own allies: Mr. Romney and the many other Republicans who lost this election promising to deliver “things” to all those hard-working, middle-class (read: white) Americans.
            And so now we’re hearing that Republicans, praise the Lord, are “softening” their hard-line stance on immigration reform.  That’s a huge bet – that they can actually convince the very people they’ve been so dismissive of all these years that Republicans can give them stuff, too. 
            Let’s call it liberal envy.   And don’t worry, Bill O’Reilly, I’m sure there’s a therapist that can help you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Arrogant Storm

It's been a year and a half since my last post (a portion of which was published in Orion magazine -- how 'bout that?) and tonight I'm surfacing just after election 2012.  So the story that I could perhaps stick to could be that I've simply taken time off from blogging during this god-awful election season; and this god-awful election season really is about a year and a half in length.  So I'd better write quick before the next one starts -- if my goal is indeed to write about politics but in a manner completely separate from the two-party circus.

Truthfully, though, I've been prompted to write because I've been thinking about memes.  Sorry, the truth often isn't as funny or as interesting as the stories well tell ourselves.

I've been thinking about memes for the last week or so, after seeing a post on facebook by a friend of a friend.  The friend posted something about hurricane Sandy and possible links to climate change, and the friend of this friend commented on it by saying something like "it's pretty arrogant to believe that we humans can cause these kinds of storms."

On one level I can't resist the temptation to call bullshit when I see it -- though I did resist adding my comments to the thread.  So I've been prompted to write simply to respond to this nonsense -- believing that it is arrogant to suspect that human-induced climate change could contribute to stronger storms.  I suppose it is arrogant if one has absolutely no idea that climatologists around the world have been warning for the last couple of decades that yes, we humans are altering the atmosphere in a way that will probably lead to warming, and yes, this trend could likely contribute to more frequent and intense storms, and if one has no idea that the vast majority of scientists who study the weather all agree with this warning, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged global action to minimize these effects, and most every government on the planet has made some kind of explicit commitment to at least try to curtail emissions that could contribute to global warming.  Yes, if one has no idea about any of these things, then I suppose it would be rather arrogant to simply assume that because there's been a few more nasty storms this year than most that we humans must be behind them in some way, shape, or form.  As if nature is somehow incapable of whipping up a few nasty storms on her own.

But what if one does know about these things?  What if we actually pay attention to what the scientific method is revealing?  Is that arrogant?  Or is it arrogant to choose to ignore the science? Is it arrogant to know that human civilization is annually pumping some 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the global concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has been steadily increasing at a perhaps unprecedented rate and still believe that our emissions can't possibly have any effect on the actions of the very atmosphere we're demonstrably changing?

Arrogance is a complex thing.  It is arrogance, after all, that got us into this mess -- the arrogance that just because there's coal and oil and other burnable substances in the ground and we have technology to extract them then we should do so with utmost haste and assume there will be no negative consequences for this -- ever.  And when some people are faced with at least the prospect that our arrogance has caught up with us, then they respond to this by claiming that it is arrogant to stop being arrogant.

Are people really that dumb?  Or delusional?  This reminds me of Jungian psychology, on a political/social plane.  We're pointing to our own shadows as the cause of our distress while remaining totally oblivious that it is our shadows of which we are afraid.  What we fear most is ourselves.

My reaction to this facebook comment also stirred something on another level, which is why I've been thinking about memes.  I know that the subject comment was not the first time I've heard or read somewhere somebody saying something about it being arrogant to believe that anthropogenic climate change is a real danger.  I'm quite sure I've heard it before, several times.  Yet I don't know where that thought originated.  I'm willing to bet that some Rush Limbaugh-like character made some brief reference to it one day awhile back, without actually putting forth a coherent argument in favor of it (since no possible coherent argument could be made in defense of something so silly -- even by Rush Limbaugh.)  But a brief mention of an idea like this -- an idea that is logically ludicrous but carries a powerful emotional wallop -- just might be enough to make it stick in many people's minds.  And then they start repeating it, perhaps without even remembering where they first heard it, on facebook and in conversation etc, etc.  Next thing you know, we have a meme, and we have people everywhere believing something so utterly senseless yet so powerful.  Nobody wants to be arrogant, even though arrogance is a defining characteristic of post-industrial human beings.  And since nobody wants to be (consciously) arrogant, we slap and quiet ourselves next time we worry out loud that our actions have consequences that we -- or our ancestors -- did not foresee.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dry Beach Walk

Spring is drawdown season on Lake Roosevelt.   As the winter snows begin to melt, by some complex interaction of decisions by officials at various agencies, the water flows increase through Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam and the surface level of the over one-hundred-mile-long reservoir begins to fall.  As this happens, the sandy and rocky shoreline along this popular recreational lake begins to grow.  Between the dark blue waters and the deep green Ponderosa Pine forests that surround it emerges a bright whitish-tan oasis that wiggles its way around and through the lake’s many inlets and the region’s precipitous hills.  This is always an odd sight for those of us who live around Lake Roosevelt, still known by many around here as “The River.”  This year the sight was particularly impressive, as the lake level dropped by more than usual, some seventy five feet below the normal fill level.
                For those who haven’t seen it, a seventy-five foot drawdown may not seem like much in a one hundred mile long lake.  Engineers say that one hundred and thirty two thousand acre-feet of water is missing, which helps illuminate the scope of the project.  But to truly appreciate the amount of water that was not held back by the dam this spring and, by extension, the amount of water that is held back annually or even daily, nothing beats a little walk on these expanded beaches in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.
                This stretch of the Columbia River used to be the focal point of a tribal way of life that relied on the abundant salmon that migrated hundreds of miles upstream to places like Kettle Falls, where they were often caught by the native people who fished there.  Now the lake is the focal point of another kind of culture: as the spring drawdown reverses and the beaches revert to thin bands of sand dotted with boat launches, campgrounds, and swim platforms, the annual migration of tourists driving big recreational vehicles pulling even bigger boats to their summer playground begins.  Before these summer migrants arrive, locals like me can take a walk on these deserted and expanded beaches, and get a sense of what the area looked like seventy years ago before the water was detained.
                I took such a walk a few weeks ago.  I strolled past a marooned swim platform, and, a few yards further out, a string of chained-together logs that will soon float in formation to outline a designated swimming area.  But that was just the start, for the shoreline lies several hundred yards further out the gently sloping sand and dried mud bank that once contained orchards, roads, towns, and lots more Ponderosa Pines.  Going out further I found many stumps from the clearing of the flood area seventy years ago, and the remnants of an old road.  Entire towns used to be out here, and people and many other creatures called this slope home.
Then I turned around and looked toward the shore.  I saw the swim platform lying on the dry ground just a few yards away from the beach proper, and from the trees and picnic tables and parking area that are all in immediate proximity to each other.  I walked back toward the summer playground, and tipped my head back and gazed up at the imaginary water line that extends horizontally from the summer shore to a place that is about as high over my head as is the roof of a six-story building.  For a moment I saw the water above me and all around me as I stood on the bottom of this artificial lake.  I imagined all those seemingly massive boats floating up there, and, closer to shore, tourists by the RV load bobbing around in that tiny corner of water delineated by the chained-together logs, and I realized how small these things are compared to the one hundred and thirty thousand acre-feet of water that in a few weeks will be above my head.   Humans can do big things – build big dams and make even bigger lakes on which to put our big boats.  It’s truly impressive. 
This year’s drawdown was bigger than most because of worries about the nearby Odessa aquifer that has been declining in recent years.  And a new study by researchers at the USGS and the University of Washington reports that tree-ring studies show that mountain snowpacks have been dropping to levels not seen in almost a thousand years.  If these declines – which are attributed at least in part to global warming – continue, then water shortages will continue to grow, and, most likely, so will the extent of the spring drawdowns.   As reported in the Seattle Times, the findings “highlight a fundamental flaw in how the U.S. views Western rivers… Assumptions about how to allocate water have largely been based on early 20th century hydrology and flow patterns that may not be sustainable.”
Yes, humans can do big things, and often make very big mistakes when doing so.  We all may be taking more surreal walks on artificial beaches in the future, wondering what to do with all these blasted boats.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Message of War

So this week, as many Americans celebrated the death of the most evil man in the world, and proclaimed our “victory” in the war against al-Qaida, we were told by many commentators that this event marked the end of an era, a chance for closure from the horrific terrorist attack that happened almost ten years ago.  Yet not all of us celebrated – I, like many compassionate peace-loving people, felt no urge to dance, sing, or shout upon hearing the news that special forces of the US military hunted down and executed Osama bin Laden a decade after he claimed responsibility for the most significant terrorist attack against Americans, and some two decades after he became a declared enemy of the United States.  Some sense of relief, yes, and – yes – some sense of gratitude for the special forces personnel and all other hard-working souls who have in some way put their own lives on the line over the last decade or two pursuing this villain.  But celebration? No.  And closure? Quite the opposite, actually.
          No, my reaction was one of sadness – renewed sadness for the victims of that horrible act of violence on the East Coast many years ago, sadness for the violence that was broadcast on the news last Sunday night, and sadness for all the violence that happened in between, and around the world, every day and in every place.  This was just one more act of violence, one more death – several, actually – in a world that has become too tolerant of acts of violence large and small.  That many of my otherwise clear-thinking and compassionate brothers and sisters here in the US felt the urge to celebrate upon hearing this news was simply a reminder of how tolerant we've become, and how easily we dismiss another person's humanity because of perceived differences.
          So I hold up Julia Ward Howe's call on the first Mother's Day of Peace for women to “now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.. (to) meet first... to bewail and commemorate the dead.”   
         Soon after I first heard the news of what happened in Pakistan last weekend, I heard our Secretary of State declare that this act would “send a message” – as politicians love to say – to all the would-be terrorists around the world that engaging in terrorism against the United States has consequences.  While I'm sure that many messages were sent with this act, I doubt that that is the message heard by those who are drawn to commit acts of violence against the US empire.  I'm willing to bet that that particular message was intended more for US voters than any would-be al-Qaida operatives.  If I can imagine being a terrorist – a “would-be terrorist,”  I would probably hear two messages loud and clear:  One, that the US likes to “play ball” as much as I do, and is fully engaged in this ongoing game in which we commit acts of violence to send messages; and two, it took a decade or two for the mightiest military in the world to track down and execute this one criminal whose own influence and power has all but disappeared among his most loyal troops.  And we were only able to do this, it seems, by stretching our mighty military to the limits, declaring de facto war on one-third of the world, and bringing the biggest economy in the world to the brink of bankruptcy, all the while watching helplessly as other forces in the Muslim world take power into their own hands.  The message is, in other words, yes, we're in the game, and yes, we can be beat.
          Yet here at home, we celebrate.  Why?  Perhaps it is because on some level, we know this to be true, but we'll do everything in our power to convince ourselves otherwise.  To do so, we tell our stories, for stories are the basis of identity – not truth, but identity.  Well tell the story of old glory, of the rich and powerful U S of A fighting for justice and freedom, and prevailing.  And we tell the story of how our mighty military can do anything, even bring “closure” to a tragedy that was born of the very violence our military uses.  I'm afraid that this act does not bring us closer to closure, for that will only come to those who recognize the universality of suffering, and accept our powerlessness in the face of tragedy.  My thoughts and prayers, upon hearing the news of the death of Osama bin Laden, went to those who have endured the profound loss of death and destruction on September 11, just as it went to the victims of all this senseless violence in all parts of the world both before and after that day.  And my prayer is that all might yet join the spirit of Julia Ward Howe and “take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, and each bearing... the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”  That is where we'll find closure.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Season of Peace in a Time of War

adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ken Jones, delivered December 5, 2010

You ever have this experience when you pick up a newspaper just hoping for one nice little story of good news now and then? But then all you find is bad news?
Like the news that we're set to break the Soviet Union's record for the longest futile military occupation of Afghanistan.
Or like the news about the initiation of so-called “war games” between the US and South Korea, apparently in response to North Korea's own version of “war games?”
Or the news about that crazy outfit that published all these “leaked” documents from the US State Department, showing us that our high and mighty diplomatic corps is, at heart, not always very diplomatic? Or how they seem to relish the thought that some repressive Islamic kingdoms that happen to be friendly to our oil companies secretly want the US or Israel to attack some other repressive Islamic clerical states, drawing us further into a religious war between Sunni and Shia Muslims?
Or how about the news about that disturbed young man in Portland who almost blew up a van full of explosives in the middle of a family-oriented Christmas tree ceremony?
Or how about the news that the President we elected two years ago on an anti-war platform, has yet to demonstrate that his year-old “surge” in Afghanistan is doing any good? How about the continued stream of violence and mayhem that eminates from that country? Or about our inability to even be sure who the enemy is?