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Our Own Worst Enemy

A friend directed me to an excerpt found in the Nov./Dec. 2006 Pennsylvania Gazette, “Lowering the Temperature,” from Ian S. Lustick’s new book, Trapped in the War on Terror.  I found this to be a very realistic approach to terrorist activity,... one that encourages “confident resilience, not debilitating hysteria, and leaders acting out of courage and discipline rather than impulse and bravado.” 

 

In an interview, Gazette senior editor Samuel Hughes asked Dr. Ian Lustick:

 

Some people say we’ve abandoned protecting our infrastructure—the chemical plants and ports and whatnot. Is there a real threat to them, and should that be addressed better than it is now? Or is that part of the hysteria?

Dr. Lustick replied:

 

Consider this. For a Democratic candidate, the easiest thing in the world is to say what you just said, that instead of fighting the war in Iraq the government should be protecting refineries, ports, subways, cattle herds, the milk supply, skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, and power plants. But if a wise policy is defined as that which protects every important thing in the country from any bad thing anyone might think of doing, then no policy can be wise and every official can be made to look foolish. My point is that to be drawn toward that tempting kind of argument is to be drawn into playing the War on Terror game and helping it to become even more in control of our lives than it already is.

 

We’ve got to turn away from a definition of the problem that gives every interest group the ability to invent the enemy and the dangers that it would profit from most if they existed. Instead we must concentrate our resources on the real enemies we have, and especially on making sure that nuclear-weapons grade materials do not get into the hands of the wrong people. That’s not done through warfare; that’s not done through loud, politically sexy campaigns. It’s done through discreet, professional intelligence and law enforcement, with surgical and mostly clandestine use of military force when necessary. It requires close and trusted cooperation with our allies in Europe and in the Muslim world. The kind of War on Terror rhetoric we’ve been pursuing is exactly what interrupts those important efforts and complicates them.

 

Since the election this past week, I’ve been reading about the pragmatic influence newly elected Democrats should bring to Washington and cities across America.  There is speculation on whether the Democrats have any good ideas on how to get out of Iraq without creating wider terrorism.

 

The question remains whether we’ll see a more rational approach in general to terrorism such as Dr. Lustick proposes or whether we’ll see more politicians playing into the War on Terror game set up by some of our current leaders. 

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Buddy Holly in Grand Bend

Yesterday I traveled to Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend, Ontario to see the musical “BuddyThe Buddy Holly Story.” The Buddy Holly storyline itself ended up with a cursory treatment, providing framework for what turned out to be essentially a focus on Buddy in concert. And what a performance!

This energetic musical plays through August 12 at this theatre, and I would highly recommend the show for anyone looking for entertaining diversion and within reasonable driving distance of this locale. The musicians are great and the show totally rocks!

“Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue - oh how my heart yearns for you
oh Peggy - my Peggy Sue...”

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Eyes, Cheeks, and Brains

escoles has resurrected antikoan.net with a thought-provoking post about The Singularity, involving technological development of superhuman intelligence. Vernor Vinge posits what might be called intelligence amplification (IA) instead of artificial intelligence (AI). He envisions the possibility of a more cooperative, benevolent world.

I ask myself whether humankind is capable of saving itself. What kinds of human flaws would invariably be translated into this technological ideal? If some proposed superior being’s intelligence would expand creativity and insight, how would these qualities be directed? To bring about a more cooperative society or to creatively discern more effective means of destruction?

Currently, intelligence doesn’t automatically stave off anger management problems or avarice or envy or hubris or various other foibles one would like to add to the list. Would greater intelligence afford more self-knowledge or ability to control irrational parts of humanness? Then again, we might be compelled to redefine what is human. One can only speculate.

There is more in the human package to think about than increasing intelligence. This was brought home to me upon reading an op-ed in today’s New York Times, “He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn’t” by Daniel Gilbert ~

Every action has a cause and a consequence: something that led to it and something that followed from it. But research shows that while people think of their own actions as the consequences of what came before, they think of other people’s actions as the causes of what came later.
[...]
What seems like a grossly self-serving pattern of remembering is actually the product of two innocent facts. First, because our senses point outward, we can observe other people’s actions but not our own. Second, because mental life is a private affair, we can observe our own thoughts but not the thoughts of others. Together, these facts suggest that our reasons for punching will always be more salient to us than the punches themselves — but that the opposite will be true of other people’s reasons and other people’s punches.

Research also has demonstrated that escalation of force occurs as...

... the natural byproduct of a neurological quirk that causes the pain we receive to seem more painful than the pain we produce, so we usually give more pain than we have received.

Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

A physically induced, lopsided “eye for an eye” provoking escalation of violence?

Here’s the kicker:

Until we learn to stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves — there will continue to be tears and recriminations in the wayback.

Trust people themselves, not only what your own brain tells you about them. Some people do try to counteract insularity through a process of self-knowledge, understanding their own motivations, and by way of empathy. But once a combative spiral starts and trust gets thrown out the window, who will turn the other cheek first? That’s a tough one sometimes, isn’t it? Would “IA” or “AI” proponents take this into consideration?

Reality Behind a Canceled â??Realityâ? Show

According to a recent New York Times article ["Television Cul-de-Sac Mystery: Why Was Reality Show Killed?" by Jacques Steinberg, January 21, 2006), the reality of a show originally scheduled to air last summer proved to be too sensitive to some people.

Choreograph a TV series wherein families â??cast, at least partly, for being African-American, Hispanic, Korean, tattooed or even Wiccanâ? enter a contest to see who can win a big house in a Texas neighborhood of primarily Christian, Republican residents, and what do you get?

Canceled.

Ten days before the first episode was to be shown, ABC executives canceled "Welcome to the Neighborhood," saying that they were concerned that viewers who might have been appalled at some early statements made in the show - including homophobic barbs - might not hang in for the sixth episode, when several of those same neighbors pronounced themselves newly open-minded about gays and other groups.

GLAAD responded with mixed feelings about ABCâ??s decision. A gay couple, Stephen and John Wright, and their adopted son, Eli, had won the contest.

The New York Times also quoted representatives from two religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention, who now state that broadcasting â??Neighborhoodâ? might have complicated their support for the movie, â??Narnia.â? (ABC is owned by Walt Disney Company.)

Marketing maneuvers aside, there was a successful story behind the scenes. The Wrights won a new house and have standing dinners two nights of the week with two different neighborhood families. And neighbor Jim Stewart, an early antagonist, made a turnaround, not only by becoming a supporter of the Wrights, but also broaching his own sonâ??s sexuality with him for the first time. No one involved in the show initially knew that Mr. Stewart had a 25-year-old gay son.

Score a big one for a positive outcome in the real world.

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Resolution Review

I managed to spend an entire New Year celebration without even once thinking about making a personal resolution for 2006. And now that January days are skidding along, Iâ??m just now coming up with a resolution to discard any thoughts of unrealistic vows bound to be broken. My personal self-improvement program is a lifelong venture, a daily opportunity. Resolutions can be good, but sometimes grandiose, impracticable promises can lead to unwarranted guilt. And Iâ??d rather take small steps forward than be flung backwards.

So many of us are dissatisfied with the way we look, feel, deal with others, and the list goes on. By what standards are we grading ourselves? Whose values?

In a recent interview, Gloria Steinem, now a vibrant 71-year-old woman, was asked:

If she could go back and give young Gloria Steinem some advice, what would it be? "I would certainly have much more compassion for her than I did at the time," Ms. Steinem said. "You know, I wish our future selves could meet our past selves and say, 'It's OK, it's OK. Do what you want to do. That's the important thing.'" [â??Gloria Steinem, Power Geezerâ? by Sheelah Kolhatkar, New York Observer; posted January 11, 2006 on AlterNet]

We can learn from all kinds of experiences, as long as they donâ??t swallow us up first, I suppose.

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Happy Holidays

As the year-end approaches, I kind of feel like Iâ??m rolling down a hill, gaining momentum along the way. So as not to hit a boulder while traveling at full speed, Iâ??m slowly putting on the brakes via a fun train trip to Montreal this last week of the year.

I toast those of you who do observe the holiday in some way or another, as well as those who donâ??t.

Have a merry time, and Iâ??ll see you in 2006.

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Ethnic Excuses

In todayâ??s Detroit Free Press, Susan Ager decries lame excuses based on ethnic or human stereotypes used by people who â??canâ??t help themselves.â?

Get drunk if you want. Kill your enemies if you must. But don't blame your ethnicity, or your humanity, because the rest of us aim to do better.

These types of excuses for abominable behavior are bad enough, but perhaps equally troublesome are reasons based on ethnicity used to define acceptable behavior or up to standard inclusion.

I once worked with a woman who was of Polish extraction. Her life was â??everything Polish,â? except, of course, that she was an American. Her husband had both German and Polish ancestry, but, according to this woman,... he was Polish. Nothing else would have been good enough. Holidays included only homemade Polish delicacies and traditions. She was especially happy if her children dated Polish people. And there was an added bonus if these dates were Polish Catholic. This woman didnâ??t mind sharing these tidbits of information with us non-Polish-Catholic heathens. There was a place for acquaintances or coworkers in her life, but those who didnâ??t meet her specifications would never be worthy of her inner circle. There was a publicly identified, carefully delineated wall that outsiders did not dare penetrate.

Personally, I find tradition to often be a healthy, unifying part of society, especially when those of varying traditions attempt mutual understanding and respect. However, for some, the idea of community often meets a dead end with divisive, hubristic, arbitrary boundaries, justifications.

Some of the rest of us aim to toast human diversity, not ethnic restrictions.

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Great Big Voices

Breath control! Support your voice! Support, support!!

Those words ring in my memory as I recall instructions from past voice teachers of mine, like Avery Crew, whom I studied with in high school, and Rosemary Russell, my college instructor. Avery Crew responsibly would not take any students under the age of 16 because voices took time to mature. Ms. Russell was an organist and didnâ??t even know she could sing until her beautiful, low mezzo-soprano voice gradually began to mature.

These teachers were not deterred by young, unwieldy, big voices. They were part of an era that understood the importance of technique and ability to project voices in a concert hall. They were not in a hurry to push young voices, especially ones such as mine that wouldnâ??t blossom fully for another decade or so. I was a young contralto, a minority among other female singers. I used to envy the versatile sopranos as I lumbered along, attempting to harness my voice through proper technique and taking care of my health (big voices donâ??t always come in big bodies). I learned to project my voice (especially important for low ranges) and sang without the Microphone God appendage. I didnâ??t overuse my voice and never had problems with vocal cords, etc. Singing eventually wasnâ??t my fulltime career, but I never stopped solo performing, part-time, professionally. And Iâ??m still going strong decades later.

Today I read with interest Anne Midgetteâ??s New York Times article, â??The End of the Great Big American Voice.â? Oh, to be endowed with not just a big voice, but that rare Great Big Voice, a voice that unreservedly could envelop a captivated audience with its spiritual radiance! Such were the voices of opera greats I remember and admired from afar. But surely, itâ??s not the end?

Listening to Anne Midgetteâ??s audio presentation accompanying her article, I wonder if the Big Recording God would not be willing to share the throne with beautiful Great Big Voices that donâ??t always record as well as small voices, yet display their magnificence more fully with good technique in an opera house. Nothing at all wrong with smaller voices. But not all music was written for small voices in a recording studio. Truth is, Iâ??d rather listen to Pavarotti than Bocelli on a concert stage. Just my not-so-humble opinion.

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United Methodist Accountability

The United Methodist Church has called for Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The board also issued a strong statement against torture, urging Congress to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate detention and interrogation practices at Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is my hope and prayer that our statement against the war in Iraq will be heard loud and clear by our fellow United Methodists, President Bush and Vice President Cheney," said Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the UMC's Board of Church and Society. "Conservative and liberal board members worked together to craft a strong statement calling for the troops to come home and for those responsible for leading us into this disastrous war to be held accountable." [â??Sweet Victory: United Methodist Church Calls For Withdrawalâ? by Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation. November 1, 2005 (via Common Dreams NewsCenter)]

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney must be feeling all warm and cozy hearing their fellow United Methodistsâ?? supplication that those responsible for leading us into this war should be held accountable.

It is heartening to see liberal and conservative UMC members working together.

Perhaps they can continue to work together calling for those responsible for bigotry within the church to be held accountable.

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Large Christian Families

Large Christian families or large families in general are not a new phenomenon. In years past, there were mothers who had many children with hopes that a few of them would survive infancy and later childhood. For instance, within a period of 21 years, Susanna Wesley, Christian mother of Methodist founder John Wesley, gave birth to 19 children, many of whom died in infancy.

So, why is Mark Morford so bent out of shape about Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar recently having their 16th baby?

Morford mulls over his reaction in his SFGate column (October 19, 2005):

It's wrong to be this judgmental. Wrong to suggest that it is exactly this kind of weird pathological protofamily breeding-happy gluttony that's making the world groan and cry and recoil, contributing to vicious overpopulation rates and unrepentant economic strain and a bitter moral warpage resulting from a massive viral outbreak of homophobic neo-Christians across our troubled and Bush-ravaged land. Or is it?

Obviously, nowadays here in America, modern advances have increased the probability that babies will survive. And there are many people who would question the Duggarsâ?? judgment in choosing to turn out yearly â??screaming spitballs of joy.â?

Mark Morford inquires:

Perhaps the point is this: Why does this sort of bizarre hyperbreeding only seem to afflict antiseptic megareligious families from the Midwest?

Even though the Duggars are from Arkansas, a state Iâ??ve always thought of as a Southern one, the operative word that struck me in Morfordâ??s question was â??megareligious.â?

Certainly there are many Christian families who love children but do not desire large families. Among the ones who do want big families, I propose that not only is love of children, as expressed by the Duggars, a reason, but also, for some others, these multitudinous little blessings from their God are part of a strategy to fully proselytize the Good News. Overpopulating the world could even mean overtaking the heathens, by golly!

In Nancy Campbellâ??s list of â??101 Reasons for Having Children!â?, #84 reads:

I want another arrow for God's army.

Ouch.

Mark Morford ends his article:

Ah, but this is America, yes? People should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want with their families if they can afford it and if it's within the law and so long as they aren't gay or deviant or happily flouting Good Christian Values, right? Shouldn't they? Hell, gay couples still can't openly adopt a baby in most states (they either lie, or one adopts and the other must apply as "co-parent"), but Michelle Duggar can pop out 16 kids and no one says, oh my freaking God, stop it, stop it now, you thoughtless, selfish, baby-drunk people.

No, no one says that. That would be mean.

Balderdash! Define â??mean.â? There is a time for politeness, and there is a time for, well,... protective measures.

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Miers and the Far Right

Matthew Rothschild ruminates about â??Miers and the Rightâ? (The Progressive, October 12, 2005):

Iâ??m trying hard to figure out the intensity of the far rightâ??s anger about the Harriet Miers nomination.

Seems unlikely to me, anyway, that Bush and Cheney and Rove would have picked someone who was not a doctrinaire conservative.

So why are the reactionaries reacting so badly?

Because Harriet Miers was not one of their tried and true chosen few.

[...]

They crave jihad, and Harriet Miers doesnâ??t seem like a bomb thrower.

For many rightwing fundamentalists, itâ??s not enough that they stack the court. They also want justices to berate the rest of us as sinners as they take their seats.

Bush just hasnâ??t delivered for them, has he? Would Bush chance a possible GOP split?

In any case, weâ??re not hearing a lot from Democrats right now about this holy war surrounding Miers. Not surprising.

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Catholic Bishops Offer Guide to Symbolic Passages in Bible

A friend directed me to a Yahoo news article (October 6, 2005) from The Scotsman entitled â??Church stops believing in the Bibleâ? by Stephen McGinty. As I read further, it became apparent that there was no way the Catholic Church in Scotland was ending belief in the Bible. The Church had simply published a guide explaining that not all Bible passages were literally true.

The idea of symbolic language in the Bible is nothing new. But an official guide from the Church in Scotland could help combat what the bishops say are "significant dangers" involved in taking a fundamentalist approach to the Bible.

In the United States there is a debate among some Christians who wish the story of creation as told in the Book of Genesis to be taught as an alternative to the theory of evolution as explained by Charles Darwin.

However, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which gives two differing stories of creation, cannot be considered as "historical" according to Scotland's Bishops.

[...]

Father Michael McMahon, a lecturer in scripture and a priest of the Paisley Diocese, who co-wrote the report, said: "In order to believe that every passage of the Bible is the literal truth, you have to suspend your critical faculties. You have to suspend the God-given ability to reason."

I wholeheartedly am glad to see some official views expressing dangers of a fundamentalist approach. However, there remains the possibility that if the bishops were to succumb to critical reason entirely, they might also question why they accept as factual some tenets like The Virgin Birth and bodily resurrection. If they indeed have given this some thought, there still comes a point when decisions to interpret some passages metaphorically and not others can create some confusion in the total doctrinal picture.

For instance, if the Genesis creation stories are to be considered symbolic, are we to assume that Adam and Eve are not historical figures? If so, what about Adamâ??s â??original sinâ? that has implicated all of humanity? St. Augustine claimed that transmission of original sin occurred in the semen of the male. This very material doctrine of original sin required Maryâ??s immaculate conception so as to be conceived free from all stain of original sin.

Regardless of symbolic creation stories, the Virgin Birth is still considered factually correct by the Catholic Church in Scotland. I donâ??t have a copy of their newly published guide. Perhaps the bishops explain further how symbolic the figure of Adam is, the one, according to doctrine, whose stain literally inherited by mankind required a literal immaculate conception of Mary, not to mention the doctrine that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary without agency of a "stained" human father.

The mystery continues...

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Gay Teen Battle

After reading a new Time Magazine article, â??The Battle Over Gay Teensâ? by John Cloud (read here or here), I had mixed feelings. There is much good information in this piece, but why does it have to be wrapped with such a contentious theme?

From the article:

It's important to note that nearly all mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one's homosexual impulses will usually be fruitless and depressing--and can lead to suicide, according to Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association, who has studied programs that attempt to alter sexuality.
[...]
Few young gays actually want to change: six surveys in The New Gay Teenager found that an average of just 13% of young people with same-sex attractions would prefer to be straight.

That said, why is there so much content in this article allotted to Christian fundamentalist groups that are dedicated to making gay teens straight in orientation or lifestyle in some attempt to depict a â??battleâ?? Fact is that there is still bigotry in this world and there are positive strides being made to counteract this. And we should expect to see a backlash from the far right, even though the gay â??movementâ? is not a contingent of just some stereotypical, far leftie, out-of-touch whackos waiting to be pigeonholed in a polarized setting.

Certainly there are many other Christians who have no desire to alter sexuality and even those who have no problem with homosexuality. The far right groups attempting to change sexual orientation are small in number, but obviously not in organized political influence when it comes to publicity. It seems that right extremists have become so comfortable in our culture that their polarizing pressure has seeped into many aspects of our society regardless of facts.

Fact: Not that many gay kids want to become straight. And these kids come from all kinds of backgrounds.

So, whatâ??s the real battle here?

White Bread

What would you do if presented with a mound of 3,960 slices of white bread, from 180 loaves minus the end pieces but with the crusts? Eat it? Give it away? Torch it? Squish the bread and roll pieces into gummy balls?

Artist Beili Liu dried the pieces and created â??Breadth,â? a wall of white bread -- length about 20 feet and more than three feet high -- displayed at a University of Michigan dorm dining room.

"I want the work to encourage questions about what you think about food," Liu said. U-M nutritionist Ruth Blackburn responded by saying, "If you have to use white sandwich bread, it's better to use it for art than eat it."

I suppose that might depend on the kind of white bread, for me at least. Iâ??d agree with Ruth Blackburn when it comes to the fluffy, tasteless, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth variety. Blah. But I wouldnâ??t turn down an occasional piece of homemade, crusty French bread.

Thereâ??s been a lot of research recently regarding the perils of eating white bread using refined flour. But results often fall on deaf ears of white bread aficionados. So, in response, the food industry is offering a whole grain white bread. Is everybody happy now?

What do I think about food in general? Well, is anyone really interested in a dissertation? Iâ??ll keep it short, for now. I like to eat food. It helps keep me alive. I like to cook food. I even find preparation and partaking of food to be a creative and sometimes sensuous experience.

If sticky, insipid processed white bread were the only food available to me, Iâ??d hold my nose and eat it. Otherwise, please pass the whole grain bread. It tastes better to me.

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Human Potential

I havenâ??t been writing a lot here lately. Iâ??ve been involved in a personal project that has thrust me into idealistic mode. Or rather, what might seem incongruous to some, my realistic/practical idealistic mode. I donâ??t believe in a material utopia in our imperfect world. Yet, I have always felt an inexorable pull of the Ideal in the sense of human potential for good, where, practically, in our world of becoming, we can be informed by the Ideal. In any case, I thought Iâ??d spare readers here what could come across as a squirrelly visit back to naïve pie-in-the-sky, adolescent meanderings,... well, to even a greater extent than usual.

But then I read todayâ??s local paper and changed my mind. Columnists were writing about the larger picture, about altruism and working for social change. I had recently engaged in discussion about educational opportunities in the U.S. with one of my pragmatic idealistic friends. Money handouts, public education, college quotas are ways to provide opportunity. However, potential can be suffocated, in spite of good public school teachers, before even considering any future opportunities by way of college admissions policies, if, for example, a young student comes home after school to a mom on crack and her boyfriend who beats the child.

Americans have a heritage of individualism, but the ability to express uniqueness becomes compromised if we ignore public ills that affect all of us as interrelated members of society. This is nothing new, but what cure might seem obvious philosophically isnâ??t always translated clearly to satisfactory action. Social workers and other professionals have their hands full. They need continued caring, loving support from individuals, families and neighborhoods by way of community involvement and early intervention.

In todayâ??s Detroit Free Press, Rochelle Riley talks about second chances.

What if our corrections system were changed to punish those who are violent and rehabilitate those whose crimes should not preclude them from voting, becoming part of a neighborhood, teaching others to not do what they did?

What a sensible thought.

Imagine what would happen if we pledged to spend more on public and life education on the front end instead of prison on the other. Maybe we'd stop making killers of inmates who had no such tendencies before entering prison.

The front end. Exactly. And I particularly appreciate Ms. Rileyâ??s mention of not only public, but also life education. Consideration of a personâ??s whole environment, not just one aspect is imperative. Too expensive a venture? Consider that it costs $4 million a day to run Michiganâ??s Department of Corrections. How about emphasis on â??correctingâ? by offering more alternative sanctions for rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders and additional, effective â??front endâ? education? There is work in this area and hopefully weâ??ll see more.

David Crumm also comments in his Detroit Free Press article today about a retired businessman, Leon Tupper, who volunteers in his community and helps nonprofits, â??from groups combating bigotry to groups aiding battered women and the homeless.â?

The idea is that life should have three phases. First, there's growing up. Then, there's establishing a career and home.

And then? Well, Tupper and a growing number of other people think life's third phase shouldn't be limited to fishing or golf. Or, as Tupper puts it, "In this third phase, we should use the talents we have accumulated to give back to the community."

With any luck, not all of us baby boomers will end up too senile early on in our upcoming retirements to preclude helping and mentoring others. We shouldnâ??t expect perfection. The mundane world is not the ideal one. Nonetheless, whether motivation is viewed as coming from a spiritual source or not, the sensible action of giving to oneâ??s community can enable the flowering of noble, gracious human potential.

And, hopefully, more and more people who believe in good human potential will keep talking about this and matching deeds with words. This path often involves struggle. Another alternative is to give up. I donâ??t choose to follow that particular alleyway to agony.

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Confrontational Creationists in Museums

Creationists are seeking converts by building exhibits, such as roadside dinosaurs and a Creation Museum. But their influence doesnâ??t end there.

Now, sometimes aggressively, they are challenging proponents of evolution education on their own turf. These are not the thinking, polite creationists, touring museums, minding their own business. These are systematic badgerers.

In other words, these particular creationists are making their stance quite clear. This is a war of ideas, even with other Christians whose views of explaining â??creationâ? differ. And museum directors are taking note by training their docents and staff members how to politely but resolutely confront these soldiers of religious fundamentalism.

Every now and then there comes a time when ignoring the adversaries doesnâ??t stop their advance. Telling them they are wrong either falls on deaf ears or fuels the fire.

You simply hold your ground by stating your position, thereby demanding the right to be able to express it as you respect othersâ?? rights, without fear of harassment.

I hope this works. I wonder whether this only involves an issue of respect. As a friend recently observed, â??The right to exist cannot be found amongst those who believe you have no right to exist,â?... unless their power is removed.

God's Penguins

From Guardian Unlimited (The Observer) today:

If ever the world needed reminding about the oddities of America's Christian Right, its espousal of the film March of the Penguins provides us with a perfect example. To the movement's intellectuals, this French nature documentary - with its images of birds blinded by blizzards but still battling to protect their young - affirms decent, traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing. Boys and girls have been urged to watch with notebooks to write down pious musings as they watch this life-affirming work. Penguin decency needs shouting about, it is argued. It shows us The Way.

But surely the penguin is only one of God's works. Earth also has Bonobo chimps, whose jaw-dropping sexual athleticism would make Hugh Hefner blush; well-fed cats that cruelly toy with their prey; and praying mantises that eat their spouses. How do we know that these creatures do not point The Way? We don't, therefore we should remember the words of the film company executive responsible for March of the Penguins: 'You know what? They're just birds.'

No, they are not. They are evidence of Godâ??s intelligent design in nature. It doesnâ??t matter that the filmmakers are strong proponents of the theory of evolution. It does not matter what they think or intended with this film. It also doesnâ??t matter what science tells us about emperor penguins and that they are usually monogamous with a particular mate for a year, not for life. Monogamy, serial monogamy, whatever. Itâ??s still monogamy. Facts are simply facts. They do not supersede Godâ??s message of monogamy, which is self-evident in this film.

It doesnâ??t matter what you think or whether I think. God has spoken. Just ask all those good girls and boys taking notes in the movie theaters. Theyâ??re learning how to spend lots of time with their heads underwater, just like their parents. Just like those emperor penguins who spend up to 75 percent of their time underwater. See? More proof, if thatâ??s what you want,... heathen.

Roberts and â??Rule of Lawâ?

Jesse J. Holland reports (ABC News):

Roberts tried to reassure Democrats that he would use the "rule of law," not his personal beliefs, to judge cases that come before the high court.

I learned about using the â??rule of lawâ? in a college business law course. What one personally considers as â??fairâ? or â??humaneâ? is not relevant in deciding a case by â??rule of law, â? according to my instructor at the time, a female lawyer with strong personal convictions about protecting womenâ??s rights.

At least I knew what her views were. What are Robertsâ??s opinions about abortion rights? Itâ??s one thing to claim to not be an ideologue, but another not to divulge oneâ??s opinions about certain matters.

Robertsâ??s views on abortion rights remain unexpressed. And his beliefs would be important to many people. Rules are overturned on occasion, after all. Roberts has said he tried to avoid making any commitment about any case that may come before the court. Do his current views about a subject equate to some kind of commitment? Of course, the issue of abortion rights is a volatile one right now. At the very least, even expressing views on this charged subject might smudge his very carefully polished figure of servant of the law and his avowal of having no agenda.

Excuse me while I get my sunglasses and fall to my knees. I am blinded by the bright light of a mysterious, white knight, right out of a textbook, it seems.

What exists behind this radiant image remains to be seen.

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Mother Nature and Human Nature

As I listen to people talk about rebuilding the City of New Orleans, I hark back to an article I read in the Detroit Free Press a few days ago. Ron Dzwonkowski asks, â??Do We Invite Disaster?â?

No, we don't go looking for trouble from Mother Nature. She just seems to want, from time to terrible time, to remind the most powerful nation on Earth what real power is. And maybe she's also trying to teach us some lessons that we don't want to learn.

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be years recovering from Katrina -- sure to be one of America's least popular names for newborns for the next decade -- and experts will spend at least that much time trying to figure out if more could have been done ahead of time to minimize the damage and save lives.

Sure. How about evacuating New Orleans years ago when somebody realized it wasn't smart to pack 470,000 people into 180 square miles of a hurricane-prone area below sea level and between a huge lake and the Mississippi River? This was a place living for decades on borrowed time and a network of levees that, until last week, kept the water back.

Ron Dzwonkowski writes a hard-hitting article, demanding us to look in the mirror. People are not always smart. Even considering the choice to â??pack 470,000 people into 180 square miles of a hurricane-prone area below sea levelâ? surrounded by large bodies of water, there could have been a better response in regards to mitigating the destruction of human lives.

But where there are people, there are politics. President Bush is carrying on an investigation. We should feel so reassured.

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Ending Impunity

Norman Solomon of AlterNet writes about â??Ending the Impunity of the Bush White Houseâ?:

The man in the Oval Office is fond of condemning "killers." But his administration continues to kill with impunity.

"They can go into Iraq and do this and do that," Martha Madden, former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said Thursday, "but they can't drop some food on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, right now? It's just mind-boggling."

The policies are matters of priorities. And the priorities of the Bush White House are clear. For killing in Iraq, they spare no expense. For protecting and sustaining life, the cupboards go bare.

The problem is not incompetence. It's inhumanity, cruelty and greed.

Solomon calls for us to create maximum pressure for an organized, adequate rescue effort, at the same time demanding political accountability.

That means depriving Bush, Cheney and their congressional allies of the power they ruthlessly enjoy. And that means ending their impunity, so that truth has consequences.

In case anyone needs any more examples of â??truth,â? the One Thousand Reasons website provides a venue for articles documenting failures of the Bush administration. You can even post your own editorial, should you be so inclined.

Consequences depriving cruel power unequivocally demand following through on warnings. Anyone who has raised teenagers knows the importance of standing oneâ??s ground. Empty threats fall on deaf ears. And unfortunately we have an administration that conjures up its own truth without much heed to consequences.

Itâ??s time to plant our feet firmly and demand accountability, even as weâ??re drenched with recent events. We donâ??t need any more reasons, do we?

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Trittinâ??s I Told You So

Claus Christian Malzahn of Spiegel Online serves a curve in the blame game as he blames German Minister of the Environment Jürgen Trittin for eliciting an â??I told you soâ? to Bush instead of sympathy for the victims of the hurricane.

Malzahn writes:

Apparently the Americans had it coming: "The American president has closed his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes such as Katrina -- in other words, disasters caused by a lack of climate protection measures -- can visit on his country." Who wrote this? None other than Jürgen Trittin, Germany's minister of the environment.

At a moment when the dead on the Gulf Coast are still being counted, the German minister of the environment could think of nothing better to do than -- in an essay published Tuesday in the center-left daily Frankfurter Rundschau -- to blame the US itself for the catastrophe. The piece is 493 words long, and not a single one of them is wasted to express any sort of sympathy for the victims of the storm. The worst of it is that Trittin isn't alone with his cold, malicious tenor. The coverage from much of the German media tends in the same direction: If Bush had only listened to Uncle Trittin and signed the Kyoto Protocol, then this never would have happened.

Bullshit. Trittin's article is a slap in the face to all the victims.

Not all scientists agree with Trittenâ??s global warming priorities. And whether or not global warming has a direct relationship to Hurricane Katrina is debated.

But that's hardly the point at the moment. Right now, the situation calls for empathy with the people in the American south who are suffering the after effects of the massive storm.

It's not the American people's fault that the storm hit and they couldn't have stopped it. The Germans, on the other hand, could have done a lot to prevent World War II. And yet, care packages still rained down from US troops. Trittin's know-it-all stance is therefore not only tasteless, it is also historically blind.

Americans couldnâ??t stop it because more wasnâ??t done beforehand to avert the catastrophe. Even so, Malzahnâ??s point rings true. Bad timing for Trittenâ??s callous comments.

Barbs aimed at Bush fly fast and furious from Americans and foreigners alike. Some hit the mark better than others do. And critical assessment of this disaster is important. Right now though, during this stressful time, Tritten's biting, self-serving remarks do not feed or clothe or house or medicate suffering victims of this disaster.

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WHINSEC Whitewash

Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) is the new name for the School of the Americas (SOA), a Defense Department military training facility at Fort Benning. Why bother changing the name?

Continuing scrutiny, including protests and lobbying efforts of the SOA Watch, might have something to do with the name change and PR campaign.

But while WHINSEC proponents talk about democracy and human rights, there are activists who donâ??t buy what appears to be a whitewashing effort,... activists like Clare Hanrahan, who, though imprisoned for their protesting efforts, continue to speak out against injustice.

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Forests and Trees

Ayn Rand, President Bush, and Pope Benedict XVI might not only have something in common with each other, but also in common with Westerners in general: a black and white view of the world. This possibly would contrast with East Asian people who have a more holistic philosophy, observing objects in relation to the whole.

Richard Nisbett carried out a study at the University of Michigan regarding contrasting worldviews.

â??Figuratively, Americans see things in black and white, while East Asians see more shades of grey,â? says Nisbett. â??We wanted to devise an experiment to see if that translated to a literal difference in what they actually see.â?

The researchers tracked the eye-movements of two groups of students while they looked at photographs. One group contained American-born graduates of European descent and the other was comprised of Chinese-born graduate students who came to the US after their undergraduate degrees.

Each picture showed a striking central image placed in a realistic background, such as a tiger in a jungle. They found that the American students spent longer looking at the central object, while the Chinese studentsâ?? eyes tended to dart around, taking in the context.

Harmony versus goals

Nisbett and his colleagues believe that this distinctive pattern has developed because of the philosophies of these two cultures. â??Harmony is a central idea in East Asian philosophy, and so there is more emphasis on how things relate to the whole,â? says Nisbett. â??In the West, by contrast, life is about achieving goals.â? [â??Westerners and Easterners see the world differentlyâ? by Zeeya Merali, NewScientist.com, 22 August 2005]

Interesting study. Would these researchers consider themselves living proof of â??black and white,â? goal-oriented Westerners?

I donâ??t consider myself to hold an entirely black and white view of the world. I like to think that I view many things contextually, that I see grey. How about you?

I suppose some of us are anomalies.

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Elizabeth Edwardsâ??s Support for Cindy

Eleanor Clift of Newsweek writes (Aug. 19, 2005):

Sheehan has been latched on to by lots of groups, with the notable exception of the Democratic Party. The party as a whole is terrified of doing anything that would leave them vulnerable to accusations theyâ??re not supporting the troops, or theyâ??re weak on national security, so they donâ??t get into the debate in any memorable way. Their risk-averse tactics bring back memories of the Kerry campaign, which was so frightened of making a wrong step, they couldnâ??t make a right step. The protest that began in Crawford and is spreading around the country got no help from the institutional Washington Democrats. It sprang from the grass roots, and thatâ??s why it may endure after Bushâ??s summer solstice ends and hound him for the rest of his days as president.

Well, it looks like some Democrats might not be entirely terrified, if Elizabeth Edwardsâ??s letter (via AlterNet) calling for support of Cindyâ??s right to be heard is any indication.

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