Saturday, May 31, 2008
Last night Bibi and I went to the Panama National Symphony, the premier concert of a 10 day classical music festival being presented in Panama. We really enjoyed the concert in this beautiful century old National Auditorium which is styled after an Italian opera house and seats about 874 people (see photos and history of this wonderful theatre at http://www.teatronacionaldepanama.com/index.html ). During this wonderful performance I had a combination of reactions. One was a sense of loss that I have been in this city over 2.5 years and this was my first visit to the symphony. After being a 10 year classical piano student in youth and a lifetime of appreciating classical music, how could my life and interests get so consuming that I never checked out these fine arts in Panama? Believe me, I will make up for this.
My other key reaction was once again marveling at how this relatively small orchestra (I counted about 48 members plus the conductor) in this poor, emerging country could have developed such level of talent and cohesiveness. There appeared to be teenagers mixed in with “senior citizen” musicians…putting on an all Beethoven concert…and playing together so beautifully. It made me think of a recent “60 Minutes” piece I saw on TV within the last month on the Venezuelan Youth Symphony. This symphony was built from a program called “the system” in which over 250,000 children, rich poor, black white, from the city and country…work in various youth orchestras from around that poor (and now misled) nation to produce the best talents possible and provide a way out of their misery and poverty. The “end game” is to make it to the National Youth symphony, in Spanish called the “Coro Sinfonico Nacional de Venezuela”, where these children are enabled to travel the world and share the ecstasy of their art and accomplishments. I was very happy today to find a link to this fine CBS program, and suggest that anyone sane will find this story linked above both heartwarming and inspirational. It helps us imagine possibilities of unity and peace in a world that seems bent on destroying itself economically, politically, ecologically and spiritually.
Some of the thoughts that went though my head last night…and on the night I viewed this 60 Minute program…were:
Music is the “universal language” of the soul. Perhaps we just need to get all heads of state, global corporate board members, and religious leaders of the day to attend TOGETHER a concert at least once a month. Then after the concert they should get together and discuss calmly what is REALLY important to bring world peace and an end to hunger and poverty.
If poor and rich kids from an impoverished and under educated country like Venezuela can grow together into such a powerful, cohesive “band” of young people who can excel, the same can happen anywhere in the world. (I read a report online where the director of this Venezuela group is taking this program to the inner city of Los Angeles, CA…great idea). Learning music has been proven to stimulate capacity for learning in children at all other disciplines. Many leaders and innovators in technology and business were former…musicians. Alan Greenspan was a concert pianist. Condolesa Rice is reportedly a gifted classical pianist as well. Bill Clinton…plays the saxophone. :)
Music is more powerful than governments or religions in uniting people for a common cause or goal. Going back to my youth, playing in various bands both classical and popular genres, and attending one summer the famous Interlochen National Music camp
( http://www.interlochen.org/ ) , it was clearly evident to me that capacity for learning and excellence is not based on race, nationality, wealth, religion or political persuasion. It is primarily based on opportunity and encouragement. All our institutions… religious, government and otherwise…should simply focus on providing opportunity and encouragement to their own. This would more successfully in my opinion conquer our wars with terrorism, drugs and crimes. Dealing with the source of our problems versus the symptoms would more quickly eradicate our world of “evil”.
The “fine arts” transcend the passing of time, modern technologies, and commercialism in bringing meaning to ones life. So many Americans have NEVER been to a symphony, recital or opera which calls out to the higher values, disciplines and pursuits of humanity. If we are busy “making music” and trading together, we won’t have time nor reason for fighting with each other. We will recognize that in “God’s universal orchestra”, there is a place for everyone. If we don’t see the value in the drummer and eliminate him, we will lose our rhythm and cohesion. If we don’t like the sound of the oboe and eliminate that instrument…when it comes time for that lead part we will just be listening to “white noise” and lose our melody. If we looked at the world as “God’s universal orchestra”, we would continue rehearsing with each other, competing for excellence, encouraging and teaching those with lesser capability…with the abject goal of bringing everyone UP to our level instead of trying to competitively beat everyone else down.
We all need one another folks. One section of the orchestra performing alone and without recognition of the need for the other parts will quickly sound boring and monotonous. In life, we NEED the differences between us to continue the harmony of God’s universe. If we destroy sections of “God’s orchestra”, we will forever be left wanting and in disarray. The world will be in such dissonance that everyone will just stay home, alone, not learning, and dying a sad death…without “the music”.
Go to a symphony near you soon…and think about this. If your ears and spirit are open, I think you will experience this analogy as well. And by all means, support and invest in symphonies…not bombs.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
As we continue to debate and evaluate our “war” in Iraq against the “terrorists and radical killers” in this electoral season, I think it important to listen to the voices…and read views outside of the mainstream press…that have been over there or had more involvement than we average, non-military Americans. There has been quite a bit of debate and activity lately regarding the new GI bill that President Bush vetoed and which action John McCain has supported. It is amazing how we have so much money devoted to fighting the war, but not for taking care and providing adequately for our veterans. I don’t pretend to have exhaustive information or a fully educated view on this matter…but to me many aspects of this non-declared war have stunk for quite a long time now. I would imagine some people view my views as “unpatriotic”… much like this tag they have been putting on candidate Obama for not being supportive of the Iraq war. So be it if somehow we find reasons and ways to get out of this quagmire of lost lives and limbs, and NOT winning the war. It now appears to me that we ARE caught up in a civil war in Iraq between the Sunnis and the Shia (two versions of Islam), the religious versus secular Arabs, and all sorts of other factions that seem to be thrown into the mix in Iraq and elsewhere. And of course, there continues to be the “oil factor”.
Backtracking to the beginning of this conflict, I originally gave the benefit of the doubt to our leaders that Saddam needed to be taken out based on the many years of United Nations supported efforts to control the madman. Of course, our own government put Saddam in place to begin with. But like most children we spoil, they start demanding their own demagoguery ways. At some point in time when anyone, including governments, draw a line in the sand and make threats…they are going to have to back up the threats with action. That’s what I think happened 5+ years ago when we fairly single handedly took Saddam out militarily. What we obviously didn’t take into account was the lack of ready domestic leaders to step in the breach and provide any united leadership in Iraq. The reports of corruption and self-indulgence by the “puppet government” we have supported in Iraq are sickening to me. And the stress on and lack of support for our GIs has been appalling. It seems obvious to me our military was not ready for this commitment and this war continues to add a huge drag to our bleeding and breaking economy.
There is no doubt that our civilization faces a serious threat to our freedom from fundamentalist factions that want to see the world bowing down to “Allah”. Philosophically, most fundamentalist religions in the world would also like this kind of totalitarianism over the rest of the world. I believe the same mindset lies in those of our country who would have the government dictate and legislate morality according to their particular religion. This was never the intent of our forefathers or the constitution. But history, even recent history, is full of devastation left in the wake of cultures destroyed based on religious viewpoints and imperialism. In today’s world you have religious battles backed or confronted by government forces in many regions of the world…Israelis and Palestinians, monks in Myramar (Burma) against totalitarian government, Sunni governments versus Shia governments…the list goes on. And of course, many Americans now feel quite committed to fighting against Muslims everywhere even though our country has almost 3 million Muslim residents. If you are going to make this a religious war, then you find yourself sharing the same country where one out of every hundred neighbors are your enemy. I don’t think we want to go there.
Personally I think fanaticism has taken over our world. People are trying to simplify down to the lowest common denominator to make their world more rational and to feel more confident about their place in the universe. Unfortunately this carries over to government leaders who no doubt truly believe some of their own hyperbole, but come up short in understanding the total of global issues before meandering into international conflicts without a sustainable strategy. I believe that is where our American government is today.
What does all that have to do with “atrocities of war” and dealing with this generation of American GIs? I have met a number of young soldiers in recent years, running into many of them down here in Central America. Their stories and viewpoints in many cases support some of the critique the video of this blog represents. They are obeying orders to the extent they can. They are still proud Americans in many ways. BUT, they are starting to see the same crap happen again that some of us older Americans remember from the Viet Nam era. The constant politicizing of the war, the media twists and unbalanced coverage of what is really happening, and worse yet…a lack of real understanding or belief in the true reasons we are over there. This then causes us to turn away from those GIs who are over there fighting for “us”. We can’t bear dealing with the failure and shame of a system that is breaking down morally and financially. Army suicides are at an all time high in Iraq and Afghanistan in the history of our country. I would think that points to a morale issue based on unrealistic demands on too few forces…and a sense that they are losing buddies for no good reasons at all. I do not believe we will be able to sustain a presence and occupation over there like we have in Korea and like we have in various parts of the former European theatre. And by our lack of success, yet continued brash attitude about our role in the world, we are igniting a lot MORE anti-American sentiment…and even stirring up the old bear of Soviet Russia sentiments against us again. What is our end game? Are we playing right into the hands of those who would destroy us by spending all our resources fighting these battles abroad while imploding culturally and financially at home? Some are arguing that we are doing just that.
As for our up and coming leader’s spin on things…it is hard for me to stomach simple patriotic rhetoric related to this war. It does seem a majority of regular Americans are in support of the soldiers, but not the battle they are fighting. McCain is running on a platform where war and fighting is the only solution he can think of. Obama is labeled a “wimp” and inexperienced because he never served in the military and was not old enough to be involved in Viet Nam. He is heavily chided for wanting to “talk” to our enemies. Personally, I think dialogue and communication is a good thing…especially if it is not in front of the cameras, press and used purely for propagandizing everyone’s positions or beliefs. We have been doing most of our talking for a couple decades with guns and trade embargos. I don’t see where that has really helped push our cause forward in the global arena. Maybe it makes us feel better to push the world around based on our (former) wealth and sense of cultural superiority, but I don’t see that it has made us safer or freer in the process.
Finally, if our government IS going to commit us to wars, declared or non, they damn well better support their soldiers, the soldiers families, and find ways to gain the true support of the extended family behind them. Because for all the flag-waving and Bible thumping you can do, it will not overcome the stench of failure in committing our own atrocities in an unwelcome and intenible war that is once again dividing our country at the worst possible time.
Monday, May 26, 2008
I was reading this article today in The Panama News online at http://www.thepanamanews.com/pn/v_14/issue_10/opinion_07.html about “peak oil” and politicians with their heads in the sand. I have been trying to follow up my concerns about our oil crisis with some objective research when and where I can find the time. This article for me summed up the biggest scare in this whole scenario. While most Americans…and non-Americans…are complaining most about the PRICE of gas, and electricity, and heating oil, and airline tariffs…the real issues to me are much more grave than the costs to us consumers. The scariest issue is the worlds over consumption of a finite resource…with few apparent plans for when we run out.
No one seems to know for sure when this “Hubberts curve” will happen or if it already has…that being the point where production starts overwhelming supplies and the resources start declining rapidly. It seems from various sources that oil companies and the government have been lying or covering up this issue for a long time.
I wish I was able to attend the The International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change: Paths to Sustainability in Grand Rapids, MI this next weekend. I do hope that those who attend will come out with some specific game plans and answers to our national and international dilemma. It seems quite obvious none of the Presidential candidates are making this a hot item in their platforms. Obama was the only one rational and bold enough to state that the temporary elimination of federal gas tax this summer would do little or nothing towards the bigger issues of energy cost and consumption.
I hate to feel negative and dismal, but this issue and our country’s overall “hush hush” about the real issues give me the “willies”. It seems like our governments approach is to just continue fighting it out with our Arab enemies over control of mid-east oil and begging our “good friends” the Saudis to up production and sell us MORE of theirs. And believe me, with the amorality of all governments these days…I believe we will find reasons to invade or take out other governments/countries that stand in our way of fulfilling our greatest mass addiction…oil. As many people know…addicts are by definition dependent, compulsive, out of control, hooked on the stimulus, oblivious to the harm it causes self and others, and causes major withdrawal symptoms when forced to “kick the habit”. I see our world in this light when it comes to the oil/gas crisis.
I would like to leave you in closing with a few startling statements in the article I linked to above that are startling to me:
- In 2004, Shell finally got caught in a lie about the size of its oil reserves. The company had inflated the stated size of its oil reserves to keep stock share prices high because who wants to invest in a company --- or an industry --- that is going the way of the dinosaurs?
In a world where 850 million are still going hungry and 3 billion out of 6.5 billion live on less than $2 a day, stagnant oil production means an end to development models based on economic growth. The statistics show that oil production has been flat for more than two years now.
When speaking of energy issues, politicians will often use the euphemism of energy security, acknowledging that the US has only three percent of the world's oil reserves and warning that most of the rest of it belongs to unfriendly or unstable governments.
(Many) Republicans are generally in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) despite the fact that even at peak production it would meet only two percent of American's oil demand.
But we can't drill our way to self-sufficiency because you can't pump what's not there."
Friday, May 16, 2008
(Everyone should see this 5 part “Discovery Channel” program on “Addicted to Oil”)
Just when some of us thought we knew what our country’s biggest crisis were…Jihad, terrorism, the Iraq war killing our young soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis, global warming, or the collapse of our currency and economy…I’m here to tell you those are nothing compared to the issue of oil and sustainable energy sources. The oil issue is the “pink elephant” in the room of what’s really ailing the world. It is also conceivably the root of most of these other crisis previously mentioned.
Oil…is just a commodity, right? Yet, like most commodities, it can be used for good or for evil. It can be used in healthy ways, or un-healthy. Right now our world is running primarily on engines based on gas-combustion. It has been the fuel of our industrial era that has brought the first world its success, growth and wealth. On the other hand, it has also caused huge pollution issues and emissions of gas that brings us…tah-dah…global warming…which in my opinion also brings us the recent historic devastations via tornados, cyclones, hurricanes, melting of the ice caps, and yes, the quick extinction of Polar Bears. At the core of all this is our world’s consumption of oil and gas.
During the brief evolution of this industrial and energy consuming age, we have become blinded by our consumption, greed and personal comforts to the costs…and quick ultimate demise in supply…of this energy we are running on. We are “running on empty” both economically and morally in our pursuit of our addiction to consumerism…which is fueled by OIL.
The economics of this crisis are out of control as well. Our country is already by any traditional accounting practices broke, busted, bankrupt. What money we have budgeted for our energy needs are going into current infrastructure for…oil. Pipelines, transportation, refining, storage and distribution in addition to SOME exploration for new oil supplies are where our investments on a macro basis are going. That leaves no realistic government monies for exploring energy alternatives. And arguably, the huge oil industry funding of our political leaders doesn’t induce much passion for solving this energy crisis either.
China and India are just STARTING to consume their share of oil. The USA has been consuming 25% of the world’s total supply, but that quickly is a changing dynamic. This factor alone will quickly use up all fossil fuel supplies worldwide in much shorter order; continue driving up the prices per gallon of gas, and drive up inflation on everything including food and shelter out of the reach of the poor. At what point will the poor rise up and turn the world upside down with revolts and anarchy in response to their inability to eat or survive?
I am actually convinced that soon we will be forced, and when forced successful, at finding alternative sources of energy to run our cars, cool/heat our homes, and light our cities and streets. As Jim Pinto, an alternative energy expert, says…
”America already has the technology needed to develop solar energy. For less than the cost of imported oil (if the cost of military involvement is included) the US can get 100% of its energy requirements from the power released by sunlight radiating over the desert regions of the Southwest. American solar energy would be cheap, renewable and under our own control. To get to the practical stage, the initial hardware and infrastructure need to be publicly funded.
Electricity generated from America's solar energy can produce hydrogen gas by electrolysis of water, which can be used to power new hydrogen-fueled cars. Hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines have already been developed that will perform as well as existing gasoline engines, allowing the use of existing automobile technology for mass production.
Hydrogen is a clean universal fuel that can be used to power cars, trucks, planes, trains, buses, boats and ships. It can heat homes and commercial buildings, and generate electricity. It can replace all forms of fossil fuels. A nation that has converted all of its power systems to run on hydrogen will no longer be dependent on oil, because hydrogen can be made from many different sources of energy such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, fossil and nuclear.”
Developing these alternative energies would solve most ALL the other big problems our world faces. Gas emissions would be reduced with cleaner fuels which might correct much of our global warming and contamination issues. Our health would improve because we would be breathing cleaner air and eating/drinking less contaminated water and food products. We would have more money to invest in education, healthcare and new technologies to keep up with the worlds growing populations and their demands on our environment.
It is evident to me that if our business and political leaders had the fortitude and foresight to do so, they could make our country energy independent in relatively short order. The problem is they are all drunk on the profits and corruption of big oil producers. Until we stop the people at the very top of our political and corporate structures from profiting so much from OUR dependency on oil…we will continue to be victims and pawns of this dynamic, sending our money and tax revenues to our Arab enemies who continue to supply us with the fuel of our demise…oil. Meanwhile, those profits continue to buy them the weapons and knowledge of how to destroy us. And they continue building their cities and temples (like Dubai) from our hard earned dollars turned over to OPEC. Will we stop before we are destroyed?
As stated in the video above, this issue alone should unite environmentalists, investors, evangelicals, humanists, and all political parties to work together to get us off our “addiction to oil”. Otherwise, we may all end up speaking Arabic and bowing down to “Allah”.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I haven't seen this issue of "Vanity Fair" yet. I admit, it is one of the few print magazines I still buy and read from time to time...mostly when I am traveling and for light plane reading. I tend to like many of the authors they feature, and they do get down to the nitty gritty on many current event stories and popular figures of our time. They also feature alot of photos with their articles...with Annie Leibovitz being their most featured photographer most months.
This past week has seen a popular bruhaha over Miley Cyrus' cover photo showing us her 15 yr old naked back in what many have described as a "seductive" pose. This subject to me is all at once interesting, conflictive, alarming and amusing. Interesting combination of reactions, huh?
I find it INTERESTING because compared to many other images I see in the daily press and on TV, her image and pose was TAME compared to teen images we are confronted with everyday in stores/malls and catalogs aimed at teens, on MTV and other teen and adult related TV shows.
I find it CONFLICTIVE because on one hand, no one wants to see a "minor" manipulated to do something like this against their or their guardians will. Yet in this case, two different versions were reported about how this went down. As NYTimes reported April 28, the star herself seemed to change her tune based on what public perception was...I quote:
Disney spokeswoman, Patti McTeague, faulted Vanity Fair for the photo. “Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines,” she said.
The article, written by Bruce Handy, seems to support that claim, quoting Ms. Cyrus as saying, “Annie took, like, a beautiful shot, and I thought it was really cool. That’s what she wanted me to do, and you can’t say no to Annie.” She also said of the photo, “I think it’s really artsy. It wasn’t in a skanky way.”
Ms. Cyrus had a different view in a prepared statement released on Sunday:
“I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”
Beth Kseniak, a spokeswoman for both Vanity Fair magazine and Ms. Leibovitz said, “Miley’s parents and/or minders were on the set all day. Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley.”
I find this situation ALARMING because our society overall is so hypocritical on this theme. Many of the same people who criticize and call this photo "sleezy" or "opportunistic" (Disney of all companies saying this) are the same people who feast on celebrity news, the teenage pregnancy of Britney Spear's teenage sister, or watch all the pro homosexual and lesbian themes in MTV targeted at our youth...let alone the violent or realistically sexual video games that these same companies or propogandists promote and/or sponsor. I mean, this photo/image is NOTHING close to "sleezy" as those other pornographic programs and video games that kids are growing up on. So...why are they placing so much importance on these photos?
What could be called "amusing" about this situation is that EVERYONE involved is making money off this supposedly "negative" publicity. Both the Disney show Miley Cyrus is on,"Hannah Montana", and Vanity Fair magazine have seen increases in viewership over this "bruhaha" and coverage. And as was reported in the same NYTimes article... "Wall Street analysts... say retail sales for the franchise (Hannah Montana) are expected to total about $1 billion in 2008. A motion picture is in the works for 2009 and Ms. Cyrus signed a seven-figure book deal with the Disney Book Group last week. I guess Disney is taking their "disappointment" all the way to the bank! Now we know...the rest of the story.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I sent this message and video out to some family members today, but thought it worth a blog post. I have edited this message a little from the original email...
I saved this video to my favorites a couple weeks back. There has been a lot of controversy within Christian circles lately about Oprah and other stars or personalities who expound about their own particular twists on religion and Christianity in particular. With the many different faces of religion and Christian "styles" in the world today, it is no wonder these subjects are so much the lightening rod of discussion...much of which leads to yet more divisions amongst us based on whether we agree or not with a particular persons beliefs or lifestyle. This video features many celebrities...from all styles, races and backgrounds...who at this Oprah sponsored event seem to unite and "feel the Spirit" around a songfest about "Jesus"...in the unique and emotional style of black gospel music. I for one was touched by this video as it was obvious each individual there...whether "saintly" or not...was obviously moved by this music and message.
The historical person and message of Jesus is STILL a uniter more than a divider to me, though you don’t observe that in today’s world. Black, white, Latino, Indian, male, female, big sinners, small sinners, church goers, non church goers...like the old Andre Crouch song, "Jesus is the answer for the world today". If more people would emulate the real Jesus...most of this world's ills would be behind us or under control. More people would WANT to be "Christian". We would not see black, white, Asian, Indian...we would see and embrace a "brother". We would have enough food and clothing for EVERYONE...all 6.6 Billion or so...and it wouldn’t involve governments to do so. Guns would be unnecessary. A person’s word and/or handshake would be better than a multi-page contract and we wouldn’t need lawyers. The only law we would need is the "golden rule". That alone would save our nation $300 Billion of annual litigation costs which could be used to more productive humanitarian ends. We would spend very little time watching the media or sitting in judgment of our brother, because we would be too busy living, managing our wealth/blessings and helping those in need around us. We would not be in debt. We would have more time and freedom to raise and educate our children versus enslaved to our jobs or careers to create security and status for our declining years. We would have time, money and compassion to take care of our elderly instead of shuffling them off to some "facility". The need for drugs and other addictions to fill our empty souls would be gone.
Yea...I know...I'm dreaming. But, I think Jesus would go along with that program...
Monday, May 12, 2008
Beware when politicians talk about "compassion," especially when they hold a "Compassion Forum" to do it, which is what they did at the appropriately named Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa. Politicians identify with the messianic because they think they are God's gift to America.
The forum attracted Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but not Republican John McCain, who apparently saw it for what it was: an attempt by the Democrats to get back in the religion game.
You've got to hand it to Clinton and Obama. They did their Sunday school homework. They quoted Bible verses and told religious stories like it was testimony time at an old-fashioned revival meeting. "Yes indeed, brothers and sisters. We Democrats have seen the light. We once were blind secular humanists, but now we see into the electoral Promised Land! Vote for us and we will deliver you from the sin of ever having voted for a Republican!"
This is nothing new, of course. As recently as George W. Bush and as far back as the founding of the nation, politicians have invoked God in favor of their candidacy and policies. But God can't simultaneously approve of one political party or policy and its opposite. Abraham Lincoln gave us the best line on the idea of a schizophrenic deity when he said about Northern and Southern religious people in his Second Inaugural Address: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."
Does God favor the Democrats' proposal for an Iraq pullout? How could he if President Bush hears the voice of God and takes a different path? What was that you said, Mr. Lincoln, about a house divided not being able to stand? Oh yes, you were quoting Scripture, too, but you also once made a larger point; something about it being less important that God is on our side than if we are on God's side.
Before government hijacked charity in the form of the New Deal and Great Society, compassion and charity began at home. People were to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, care for widows and orphans and love their enemies. Those were biblical commands to individuals, not government. Democratic politicians see things differently. Apparently believing there aren't enough caring people, they want compassion to originate in Washington, depriving it of its true meaning. They define compassion as big and ever-growing government and a guaranteed check forever with no expectation - or requirement - the recipient will ever better his or her circumstances.
Traditionally, Republican compassion has encouraged private charity with government picking up the leftovers of what religious and other charitable institutions were unable to do. President Bush, through his "faith-based initiative," took this one step further by subsidizing religious groups with federal money. This removes the responsibility and privilege from individuals and turns it over to government. When that happens, religious organizations become one more constituency in the never-ending campaign for political support. Once, evangelicals "prayed it in" when they needed money. Now too many of them ask government to "send it in."
Can Senators Obama and Clinton get away with fooling Democrats as Republican politicians have sometimes fooled their supporters with God-talk? Of course they can.
At a press conference in a working-class neighborhood in Scranton, Pa., over the weekend, one questioner asked Sen. Clinton about the last time she went to church. She properly ridiculed the statement, finally admitting it was on Easter Sunday. What does that have to do with being a successful president?
People who want to hear Bible verses quoted by politicians ought to remember something. Satan knows Scripture, too. Look it up. When politicians appeal for votes by styling themselves as special favorites of God, they are tempting voters and setting them up for a huge disappointment.
Whether or how many times Obama and Clinton (or McCain) attend church services is no barometer for forecasting their potential presidency.
When politicians speak of compassion, put your hand on your wallet because they intend to spend your money, not theirs.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Those who know me know I am probably not the most traditional or romantic guy. I am admittedly hard on relationships because I am quite independent, live according to my own goals and passions, and I guess... I'll just repeat...not too much into "traditions" as a way of life. I also have high expectations of women, because I come from a family of very strong, self sustaining women...and I grew up with them. So...I don’t understand nor am very sensitive to "insecure", dependent, whiny female creatures. What complicates things further is that while "untraditional"...I do tend to be conservative in respect to male and female roles. I think feminism as a "cause" has hurt females in many ways, has caused a lot of confusion for men on how women think and want to be treated...and probably more importantly has been a significant cause of the breakdown of family values. I dont think women should try to be men...nor vice versa. I think when people have children, the best case scenario is to have one of the parents, preferably the mother, focused on raising them and sustaining the home. I think most women want a strong man in their life to bring support, security and comfort...and security for their children. And I think if men can live up to those expectations in a respectful manner, women will normally be true and supportive of them. At the same time, women ARE equal if not superior to men in many ways that are natural and helpful. So hopefully everyone understand that while I dont admire "feminism" as a movement and ideal...I do believe in equality between the sexes. I just support role differences. I preface with all that to say...I think I finally have found the perfect woman for me.
After a number of false starts...and during a time when I was absolutely NOT looking for a long term relationship...this woman walked into my life. I had seen her once across a public room a year before I met...our eyes made contact...and somehow she walked into my life almost a year later. Call it "Gods will", fate, luck...what have you...I'll take it. We had both been divorced almost at the same time two years earlier...and we both had our individual plans and adventures planned ahead. But, when we met...everything changed. We came from different backgrounds (she Latina, Catholic, youngest in her family...me "Gringo", non-Catholic, oldest in my small family), but somehow we connected on what I will call a "spiritual" level...which I also believe shows itself well in intimacy. We talked easily together even in my 90% Spanish and her limited English (which has gotten much better)...and we just melded together quickly and for a long "incubation" period to test the durability and reality of our situation. Now going over 6 years later, I would say we have had few major arguments, have lived through a number of ups and downs together...and weathered them all with our heads held high and integrity in place.
Today, I count myself a lucky man. I have a female partner who has demonstrated unconditional love for me time and time again. She lets me be me, knows she has the freedom to be herself, and we are growing TOGETHER in many ways. Our lives are an adventure together. I don’t recall one day in these many years...even on her worst day...that she hasn’t smiled at me. That smile and warmth you cannot make or buy in a person.
Neither of us is perfect. We both realize each others limitations...and I think the secret is ACCEPTING those limitations and loving even the imperfections. The sooner we learn no one is perfect, the sooner we will find mutually acceptable love.
So...as we prepare to leave for our anniversary night "out on the town"...I send out this message to my wife, and share it with my friends and family who read this blog. Happy Anniversary Bibi! I am learning and loving you more as each year passes.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Look at his “platform”, and then try and line up any current prospect for President against it. Who, if anyone, comes closest?
“Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
--Which candidate supports non-expansion of USA interests abroad?
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.”
--Which candidate supports strict adherence to the US Constitution and its amendments?
“(Political parties)… serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
--Which candidate is more independent and “uniting” versus “party affiliated”? Who has the most populist agenda?
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
--Which candidate supports and values religion and morality…for all?
“As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.”
--Who has the best plan for “balancing the budget”, avoiding debt and saving for our future posterity?
“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop…It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
--Which candidate believes most in “free enterprise” and competing with other countries economically instead of with military or political force?
“Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing;”
--Which candidate favors non-government intervention in markets and commerce?
“How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.“
--Which candidate’s history and public record best matches up to their current rhetoric?
“With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.”
--Which candidate is more inclined to find domestic answers to our economic problems, even energy, than looking outside our country for the answers?
“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”
--Which candidate is the most humble and willing to admit error…and to seek balanced counsel?
Based on this recent review of our country’s first President and overseer of our initial Constitution, I believe I will vote this year based on who most measures up to the values of our “Founding Father”. Throughout his leadership, George Washington was always a “reluctant” leader. He was not desirous of the position but rather pressed into service as a natural and trusted leader. Those who want it too bad in my mind are additionally suspect in their motivations.
Whichever leader gets our electorate nod for the next four years, I hope they are lined up closely with the original American President.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
For those who dont, I think his article is worthy of reposting here...and all I can add to it is "Amen and amen"...
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: May 4, 2008
Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.
They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.
Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.
We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”
That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.
How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.
And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”
Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.
Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.
I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”
It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”
Friday, May 2, 2008
Coming of age in the late 60s and early 70s, I like many of my contemporaries were caught up in revolutionary and reactionary causes of the day. In our youth we were struggling to cope with an un-winnable war in Viet Nam, the Civil Rights movement and the cultural revolution of "free sex, drugs and rock and roll". To many it seemed like our world as we knew it was coming to an end with the continued threat of the cold war with Russia, neighbors building bomb shelters and the periodic testing of the civil defense sirens that would let us know if the Atomic bomb or missile was heading our way. I guess now they figure we will see it launch on CNN or Fox which will be the quickest way to let us know destruction is on its way…no more sirens.
In the middle of all this there was also a "religious revolution" taking place..."The Jesus Movement". In my hometown I found myself right in the middle of this phenomenon since I grew up in evangelical Christianity but had long hair and enough of my own radical ideas to try and "change the world". For a year or two we had large Saturday night youth gatherings in the basement of a large traditional church in town where 200-300 long haired youth would gather on a very informal basis, sitting around in a mass circle playing acoustic guitars and singing folk or rock style Jesus songs, praying informally, and sharing together a freshly found faith in a radical Jesus who we hoped would lead us out of an empty, hopeless world. I couldn’t get many of my non-church oriented friends to go to church with me, but a number of them did find these Saturday night meetings intriguing and touching. Part of that reason was probably not having more than 4-5 people there over the age of 25. I still look back at that in wonder that you could get 300+ teenagers together voluntarily in a church basement every Saturday night...Catholics, Protestants, street people, non-religious people, curious Jews, black white and Indian...pursuing a real experience with Jesus. This movement continued to impact our lives for a long time...and while for some people it was a passing fad, I have seen the lasting results of this movement in the lives of some of my friends who have continued on in the faith. I continue to hold those experiences as highlights of my own spiritual pursuit of faith.
I recently was made aware of the death of Larry Norman who was labeled the "Father of the Jesus movement" as one of the original Christian “rock and rollers”. I think his (the?) first Jesus Rock album was produced in 1968...and as the video above demonstrates, it became quite a stirring movement alongside the secular antiwar and anti government movements of the day. I co-produced a concert for Larry Norman in my hometown back in 1974. We had over 800 people turn out in the city’s main auditorium...a strange mixture of secular teens interested in what Christian Rock was all about...and about half were church oriented folk with some of the same curiosity. It was actually quite a unique experience to see a whole audience who were not there so much as fans, but as "curiosity seekers" who all saw themselves as very different from this artist. In the end, responses were mostly critical because his music and message was too "religious" for the non-believers in the audience and too confrontational for the "religious" crowd as Larry was quite cantankerous towards organized religion in both his music and words. Such has been the case in history for all "prophets" according to the various scriptures. People dont like being chastised or criticized...including religious people.
So...in reviewing Larry Norman’s songs and this video from youtube.com, I can’t help but reflect on where all these "Jesus People" have gone and what are they like now? Thanks to the internet, I have found evidence or websites for many of the artists I knew back then...Randy Stonehill, Honeytree, Randy Matthews, Barry McGuire, DeGarmo & Key Band, Love Song and Petra among others. Some of these are still touring...and no doubt like some of the secular bands of the 70s and early 80's are gaining new ears and respect from younger listeners of this unique era from the roots of Rock and Roll. It doesn’t surprise me that many of today’s teenagers enjoy the old traditional rock after years of rap, trance and disco music being forced upon them. And it also won't surprise me if another wave of young freethinkers begins a new form of "Jesus People" tradition during these equally tumultuous times.
I have seen many former "hippies" and "Jesus People" become staunch conservative republicans with white collar jobs and short haircuts. Some others have become liberal, socially conscious Democrat types with strong senses of social justice for the poor or disenfranchised. I have also seen many of the "Jesus Movement" groups and churches turn into similar forms of organized religion or part of religious dogma that they were founded to avoid. I personally observed the "commercialization" of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) from the “inside”, going from "spiritually motivated" to "profits motivated". Back in the day, you saw a number of popular artists go Christian for an album or two (AKA… Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, U2), only to find themselves either uncomfortable in the traditional Christian circles, or unhappy with the smaller number of album sales. I also suspect a number of Christian artists were in that camp only because they could never make it as a secular artist. One of my biggest criticisms of the CCM craze was that the songs and the musicians were in my opinion almost always 2nd or 3rd rate behind secular artists...and I never figured out how God could accept or be happy being 2nd or 3rd best in any art form. Since those times I have come to believe that all GOOD music is of God...we don’t need the labels "religious" or "sacred" to describe spiritual music.
But back to this issue of where did all these people from the 60s and 70s end up. Like all of Gods world, I think it is a multi directional answer. Many of the young "Jesus people" were never really accepted or became comfortable in traditional Christian church settings. Many of those went back into the "party" lifestyle or lived the rest of their lives reacting to those traumatic "Nam Years". Others just melded back into traditional culture, went through programming (college) to gain a career, got married, had 2.5 children and are currently living the American dream paying off their mortgage before retirement and getting their kids through college. Many are now plugged back into traditional churches and religious practices, deacons and trustees of a variety of American churches. A few of us "strange" individuals have gone on our independent ways through life, still seeking truth and justice, and finding traditional religion and culture a drag on what we perceived to be "Jesus like". We have found it hard to see "Jesus" in traditional churches, government programs, or even modern day humanitarian movements. The commercialization of lifestyle which defines our pursuit of happiness is defined by media and big corporate spending. The simple message of treating your brother as you yourself want to be treated...of individual sacrifice for justice or to help your fellow man...of judge not less ye be judged...has flown out the proverbial window of all our institutions. We are now caught up in the global battle of the big three monotheistic religions; Christianity, Islam and Judaism, for controlling the dwindling worlds resources and minds of the masses. Belief and faith is about US versus THEM now...and we are all terrorized about how we are losing the war of the minds. Drugs and state welfare is taking over a large portion of North America’s social consciousness. The finger is always pointed at the other guy, or more often a “government representative”, when it comes to helping out our fellow man or meeting the challenge of a major disaster. There are a number of good citizen organizations out there…but they are dwarfed by the demand of the world’s crisis.
I confess to two conflictive personal reactions to all this. On one hand, I think we need to knuckle down in our country to some tough medicine, find what unifies us, work 70-80 hours per week to keep up with the global competition, give up some of our material pursuits and focus on being more productive citizens to solve our many problems and conflicts. On the other hand, I sure could use a few Saturday nights sitting around a large circle of fellow humans...hugging, singing, sharing our fears and tears openly, and counting on Jesus to bring us some answers.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
In my life I have worked on both sides of this equation related to labor and management of labor. In the USA we call this division white collar/blue collar. Lots of status and class consciousness stipulated in those labels. Throughout this last century, children have been pressured to go to college to attain “white collar” status in the work force. Kids not educated or wealthy enough have been somewhat relegated to “blue collar” jobs in the trades or working on assembly lines. Another label for these people is “working class”, which may inherently suggest that “white collars” don’t work very much. What it really tends to divide in my mind is those that work at physical jobs and those who work in primarily mental or intellectual capacities…or management.
The whole world seems now made up of this very lopsided division of humanity. The masses do the manual labor…and the “minority” who manage, direct, run the financials or design the products and services. This minority tends to control 80% of the worlds assets and bank accounts. On top of this, you have the most extreme minority who seem to run the world at large… the white collar “government leaders”, who produce nothing but spend everything we produce and get taxed on. Blue collars AND white collars tend to defer to this ultimate minority on matters of their sovereignty and security in life. These government minorities rule on trade agreements, when and where we go to war, and yes, even the level of labor and environmental protections they want to enforce in society. Let’s call this minority the “white collar bureaucrats”. Everyone needs a label here…or you just aren’t respectable.
So today in Panama…all these workers are on holiday. Banks and commerce centers are closed. Government offices and service are closed. Its mostly just casinos and bars still opening today since all these “laborers” need somewhere to go and something to do with this free day. There MAY be a parade somewhere celebrating workers rights and causes. I haven’t heard of any promotions to that end. Actually…many will take tomorrow off also for a long 4 day weekend…another “elective” vacation day of which a number are constitutionally protected for each worker. I heard from a casino executive here in Panama City that the day after pay day (the 15th and 1st of each month), 35% of his scheduled workers do not show up for work, or minimally are HOURS late. So…he has to overschedule and over hire in order to cover the work forces over indulgence in payday activities…and their apparent lack of devotion to their jobs. The bars and casinos are chocked full every payday…the people enjoying the fruits of their labors in festive fashion, no matter what day of the week payday falls on. It is truly an example of the main cultural difference between Latins and Gringos. “Latins work to live, while Gringos live to work”. This helps explain to some of us foreigners the lack of respect for time and even basic service mentality in these countries. You are supposed to understand that if someone is late or doesn’t show up for work on a given day…or for an appointment…they were busy “living” and you just need to understand and flow with that. The only way you will ever manage people successfully in Panama is to understand this fundamental cultural reality. You will not change a whole culture. Unfortunately, for Panamanians this attitude will keep them well behind the jobs and industrial growth curve of other cultures such as Asia…and yes, even the North Americans. North America has an expensive work force and many costly employment laws/regulations as well. But, so far at least, there is still a sense of competitiveness in services and efficiency there compared to Central and South America…though one could argue services and efficiency has been in decline in the USA also for the past 25+ years. For sure, the unions and labor costs have caused huge losses in the USA working class to globalization and other markets. The pendulum always swings to extremes in this game between labor, management and government interventions in the global arena of life.
All the above being said, how DO you change a culture’s work ethic? How do you increase effectiveness of a workforce and motivate people to take pride in their work? I’m not sure there are easy answers and it would take generations of protracted effort to bring this about. My current thinking is it comes down to education…led by example. I think there are core VALUES involved in promoting better workmanship. I think many people have never been taught that they can accomplish any reasonable goal they have in their lives by hard work. Most people just go along with the flow like their parents and grandparents did. I’m Catholic because my parents were Catholic. I am a lawyer because my Dad was a lawyer. I went to college because my parents went to college…or forced me to go. Very few young people seem self directed or goal oriented anymore. When they are, they stand out in a crowd. And some start out as stars sometimes let the system and peer pressure beat that independence right out of their spirit. The society is full of negativism for anyone who wants to make more of themselves than their brother or circle of friends. It is looked upon as egoistic to aspire to heights no one else in your circle has aspired to or attained. Have you ever thought about all the negative comments or responses you get to ideas about change…even with your closest circle of friends or family? Whether for yourself or others? Everyone can think of a million reasons why you can’t do something or change. No time, no knowledge, no patience, no background. Everyone else is like “this”, why should I aspire to anything different? I really think this is core to why the masses don’t grow or evolve to the level they could in today’s technological and information filled world. There are more “bosses” and dictators in the world than there are “mentors” and motivators. There are more “yes men” than there are independent thinkers or people with backbone. There are few role models in our society that rise above the norm and pursue excellence. The only ones in society that do this and get societies accolades are sports stars, pop musicians and movie stars. These are the role models that somehow our world has become focused on. Just see the news every night to see which “role models” are getting our attention. It’s sick really.
When I was a child, my fictional reading role models were “The Hardy Boys” detective novels and Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn. These books featured adventurers and independent type kids exploring life and solving problems themselves. Today’s kids seem all about “ninja warriors” and “video game heroes”. Is this evident to anyone else but me? Well, I guess there IS Harry Potter as well…but even those books seem rife with adult overtones/issues I’m not sure kids are quite mature enough to handle. Then again, kids today are forced at young ages to deal with homosexuality, drugs and guns in school…while at the same time not developing the basic skills of interviewing, getting and holding a job, or writing a complete sentence. Maybe I have gotten a little off topic on this diatribe, but I do think our core labor problems in the world starts at education and how we program our children. Are we raising them to be sheep, or leaders? To fall in line and do as society tells them to, or to excel and reach their personal goals and potentials based on their own sound reasoning and passions?
I pass though this May Day/Labor Day hoping that the world will renew its effort to foster competitive marketplaces and innovative solutions to the world’s problems. To this end we should strive to encourage children and even young adults to prepare themselves better, push themselves harder, in whatever positive direction they have passion for. Lately I have been asking younger people what their goals in life are. What they are passionate about. I am concerned with the percentages of blank, “deer in the headlights”, stares I am getting in response. Even in the work place, we need to lead by example more than words and challenge people to step up and grow. And somehow we need to focus more on rewards than on rights when it comes to labor and work. This is a competitive world and is getting more so. Those who want to eat well are going to have to win…and there will be no guarantees for losers. To produce winners, we need to start with realistic goals and expectations for each individual. That’s the reality of the world…and the competitive marketplace.