Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Confront life

Everyone, at some point in their lives, is faced with tragedy. It varies much from the mildest to the most horrific, and the responses vary in like fashion... but today, in the aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech, we are faced with a lesson we spend our lives deliberately ignoring at all costs:

Tragedy happens, and there is nothing we can do, short of total isolation from other living things, to avoid it.

My personal lesson came with the passing of my mother, who at the age of 63 had lived nearly two lifetimes worth of experience, much of it negative. As we put it to the doctors who feared our blaming accusation at the manner of her passing: her body simply had no more to give. She gave up.

The lesson continued through the next 18 months or so after her passing, starting with a psychotic breakdown that required 13 months of weekly therapy to reconcile. To say that her passing caused it would be wrong; to say that she was at the center of it would be completely accurate.

I cannot, except by extension -- having parents who survived, separately, one of the most violent spans of time in human history -- know how it feels to be confronted with violent death. Violence sickens me, physically. I'm one of those who will react as he must during a violent crisis, but will toss his cookies (even if there are none to toss) afterwards. But, despite several opportunities, I have never had to confront violent death.

The beloved and loving survivors of war casualties know this next part very well -- and I can assert that because I have yet to meet such a person who didn't know it. We dishonor our dead if we refuse to recognize their manner of death in the time and place -- the context -- in which it happened. When a soldier dies in combat, this recognition is easy. When children are gunned down by a psycopath in the context of everyday life, that recognition can be beyond difficult... but it is no less important than the recognition we offer our soldiers who die in combat.

So, for all of us who are grieving, at whatever proximity or remove, the death of children at Virginia Tech, we must -- for their sake -- understand the context of their deaths.

We must avoid quick judgment of the situation. We must withold judgment of the murderer until his background and motivation can be ascertained; and, with that, we must refrain from speculative conclusions about him and his motivation if we fail to obtain the necessary facts to come to a rational conclusion about him.

Above all, we must avoid stereotyping the situation or the people involved. The British author J.R.R. Tolkien has entered the mass consciousness in recent years, with the Peter Jackson movies being so widely seen, so I won't hesitate to use a quote from his novel The Lord of the Rings:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

This expresses the importance in both ways. We can, not because we think he deserved it, offer the murderer compassion. We may never know for certain, but that he was a student at the school narrows the possibilities of his motivation. Was he a social scapegoat? Was he under more pressure than he could handle? Was he that rare case of a psychotic just waiting to explode? These and other, similar, possibilities point to one thing: there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent his actions. If we can, as is appropriate, console the survivor of a suicide in like fashion, we must extend this notion to our college campuses, because the real crime would be if we turned them into armed fortresses, made them into gated communities cut off from the surrounding culture. I promise every parent who might say, "yeah, I want that" one thing: it will happen again despite the best of any such effort.

If we do nothing else, we must teach our children one thing: to live life to its fullest, to confront all that life might bring, and to never let fear rule life.

I will end with one other bit of wisdom from Tolkien's pen. I offer it as both solace and recognition of our grief.

"I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."

May the Great Mother take you to her warm and loving embrace.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Hang Imus from the tallest tree, but first you must answer these questions three:

I have a question to ask, but I especially would like to hear from people who enjoy gangster rap:

Why am I supposed to feel any respect for the reactions to Don Imus, when the very people calling for his figurative head have been basically silent about black rappers?

What is the difference between ruining Imus' career and trying to beat or kill him?

Show me the evidence that any woman on the Rutgers team has been or will ever be harmed by Imus' words?

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Rush to Judgment

I've struggled with expressing myself about the recently concluded events in the waters off Iraq and Iran. I've had to walk away from the computer twice, just this morning, to avoid writing a post that should rightly be deleted (this, in a blog in which I have some personal investment as a participant); I'm not sure, even so, if what I posted will not cause enough offense to be deleted.

So, before my head explodes, some thoughts and rants about judgment, honor, and the idea that we (in general) know a damn thing at all about the hearts and minds of others.


I am the son of a warrior. I phrase that deliberately. My father was born to a militaristic culture. His schooling was militaristic in the literal sense. His expectation upon reaching his majority was primarily an officer's commission in an army. He was, himself, special in his native skills, so the expectations of others were if anything well beyond what any young man might have on his own.

He had, in my never humble opinion, as accurate a sense of honor as any person I can name. And, in any rational sense, he was completely unworthy of my personal trust.

In his own culture, he was eminently sane. In the US, he was rightly diagnosed with clinical paranoia, and the only reason he was not involuntarily committed was because a judge wasn't convinced that he was a threat of physical injury to himself or those around him. The emotional scars he left in myself, my siblings, and my late mother were, of course, of no matter. [end brief sarcasm]

But that in no way contradicts the fact that he was an honorable man, that he comported himself with honor while a soldier, and that he accurately commented on the state of military conduct in the US. I have his letters and personal notes, collected over 40 years. They are lucid, direct, and in some cases brilliant.

Yet, in his personal life, he could not trust others, thus preventing him being in any way trustworthy in himself.


We are faced with a mindset, in our contemporary world, that is by itself capable of more destruction than any other single mindset I know of. It is, in short, the notion that one's faith, ethnicity, form of government or nationality are somehow more important no matter the circumstances than one's own life, or short of that one's own personal dignity or physical well-being.

We see it in action every day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We see it in hate crime legislation (more details about that in a future post). We see it in the current debate over the behavior of the captured sailors and marines held in Iran, and I find it exceedingly difficult for anyone to offer the slightest criticism of that group of men and one woman at any point prior to knowing exactly what transpired during their incarceration, and without knowing what their standing orders were from their commanders concerning being caught in that sort of situation.

I find all of the commentary, even the parts that praise them prematurely, cowardly posturing at best.

Do them a favor. Say nothing about them until you know all the facts, on both sides of the question. Every commentator has a completely random chance of being either completely right or completely wrong. If nothing else, that random chance should cause one to hesitate.

But no. In this journalistic world of me-first, get the prize, scoop the world regardless of the confirmation or even possession of facts, we get inundated by personal takes on a situation that most writers have never faced, not even vicariously through someone close to them. We get inane comparisons with isolated (but oh-so-well documented) cases like that of John McCain, inane because every logical point in the comparison is ignored; only the outcome matters. And, in the end, being the one to publish commentary about the outcome before it manifests is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007



I have acquired, in some circles, a reputation for online civility. While I join those who know me in real life in some chuckling over this, I can also say that the reputation is deserved.

There are several key elements to online civility in its practice, but it all starts with the internal processes, the attitudes and perspective of the person. In my never humble opinion (all puns intended), the ego is the prime culprit in lack or loss of civility.

At the top of my list of personal practices, kept in mind especially when an egregiously uncivil forum is encountered, is the notion of acknowledgement of feelings.

This notion is simple: before replying to a post or statement, before exploring my personal feelings and reactions, I take a moment to acknowledge the feelings of the author whose words I just read. This is simple, non-judgmental, and in no way assumes or implies that I agree with the statement or the feelings. They exist, they have been expressed, and a fundamental component of respect for others is recognizing common ground, that being in just about every case being human.

In most instances, I don't have to state the acknowledgement, at least not beyond a bare "Okay" or "I hear you". Usually, my response is composed to show the acknowledgement, even in the subtlest ways. However, sometimes it is profitable to both parties (and to those reading) to explicitly write that acknowledgement, in direct proportion to the strength of the feelings: the stronger they are, the more attention they deserve.

My personal proof of this notion is also simple: whenever I forget to use it, I find myself quickly becoming embroiled in argument rather than discussion, I expend much greater effort to be understood, let alone heard, and my own feelings become more likely to get in the way. In short, I fall in the ego trap that is present in every uncivil forum. Indeed, I can point to many a thread where an immediate improvement occured because someone acknowledged my feelings.

So, do please try this at home. Injuries incurred by the confluence of head with desk, monitor or other unyielding surface is the responsibility of the user. Management will disavow any claims of philosophical validation. This message will self-destruct in 1,000 years or at the advent of the next ice age, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Witches on TV, oh my.

Here is the blog postings about yesterday's (Monday, January 29) broadcast of The Tyra Banks Show "Witches and Other Controversial Topics". I'm not providing the URL for the show synopsis because the address refers to "yesterday's program" and obviously is not permanent. You'll have to navigate to find it.

The synopsis is worth reading, I do emphasize. Judging from the outpouring of upset on the blog (my first post in it was one of the earliest, and can be found near the bottom. I use my mundane name...), Ms. Banks was rude, cutting people off before they could complete sentences, and played up on the promotional video used before the show aired, where witches in general were "Halloweenized" to the max. By all accounts, she even commented on the air that she wanted to use a cleansing ritual with sage after the pagans left the stage. The synopsis is mild by comparison and might be construed as deceptive. It certainly mentions nothing of what has been complained about.

I urge my siblings in faith to remember certain things. Those who are afraid of us, and are adamant in their beliefs, are not going to be convinced no matter what. They are a lost cause, and while their behavior should be monitored, they can as individuals be ignored. Those who hate us, and are likely to or intend to take action against us, are also not going to be influenced one way or the other. I will reiterate a caution I made to one of the show's guests who chatted with me in email a bit: take this lesson to heart, and be very careful about the sort of media invitations you receive from now on. Do not be gulled into participating in your own smearing. Set terms and conditions and stick to them, including walking out if you were deceived or the agreement is broken.

But most importantly: don't let this show stop you (in general) from making an ongoing effort to educate society-at-large, to make your beliefs understood in their proper context, and to help dispell ignorance.

I'm thinking that should be disspell ignorance. Has a ring to it, dontcha think? :-D


Are the times changing?

I apologize for my long absence. I hope this is the start of a regular posting pattern from now on.

The setup of this one will be a bit long, I'm afraid, so please bear with me. I promise that the punchline will be short.

Bush Admin acts to take control of regulatory activity.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

As a former, professional participant in a regulated industry and contributor to the regulation-development process (public testimony, etc.), I can state without hesitation that the analysis of cost and benefit is a part of the legislative process, not the regulatory process. I'm not saying they do it particularly well in all cases, don't get me wrong on that.

Climate scientists who are also federal employees assert that scientific findings are being changed or suppressed by Bush Admin.

The Union of Concerned Scientists distributed a survey to over 1,600 federal climate scientists, which asked for information about the state of federal climate research. Responses were received from 279 scientists. Results of the survey include:

* Forty-six percent of respondents perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words “climate change,” “global warming,” or other similar terms from a variety of communications.
* Forty-three percent of respondents reported they had perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review of their work that changed the meaning of their scientific findings.
* Forty-six percent of respondents perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work.

I have to wonder: did the over 1,300 non-respondents not respond because someone was looking over their shoulders, or because they were in some way afraid for their jobs? What margin of error do we need to use these findings on the larger population, in light of the large non-response?

So, my question is this: are we seeing the symptoms of a theocracy, an anti-science mentality that refuses to acknowledge facts and evidence as well as the considered analyses and opinions of those who are accounted experts in those analyses and opinions?

It could be, instead, a garden-variety attempt at cronyism and influence peddling. I like asking the edgier question, is all. :-D

Monday, October 23, 2006


Don't waste the vote

Many people, moreso for this election cycle than any in living memory, are expressing disgust and anger at the lack of choice being offered by the two major parties. This note is meant for each person whose disgust or anger may cause you to stay away from the polls on November 7th.

Don't waste the vote. Go to the poll, and vote for a write-in person for every office where the other candidates have nothing politically acceptable to offer you for your vote.

We hear or see almost nothing concerning the write-in vote. It remains a legal option in every state of the Union. It should be available to every voter for every elected-office race on every election day. If it is not, go to your local election enforcement officials and complain loudly.

Now, here's the thing: a write-in vote requires much more effort on the voter's part than just choosing a candidate. You have to actually find someone who you think deserves your vote, who will -- if elected, and don't laugh because it is always possible -- serve in the office effectively. You may be surprised in your search to find several people actually running as independent, write-in candidates, and you just might find one for whom you can vote.

Vote. Don't let the cut-from-a-mold idjits in the Republicrat and Democan parties force you to stay away. If you think voting for a write-in is a waste of your vote, at least it's better than not voting, and get this: if enough people use the write-in, even if no one person gets any significant number of such votes, the media will have a field day writing about how the major parties have failed.

Wouldn't that be something?

If you like this idea, and can think of someone who can benefit from it, please, pass it on.


"Defense" of marriage

I'm rather sick of the whole "defense" of marriage schtick as it is, what with a 50% divorce rate embedded in our social consciousness well before anyone thought about "non-traditional" marriages in any context, let alone in the context of civil rights.

Where were the religious right when divorce began to skyrocket? Were they perhaps too busy having their own divorces to bother with it?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

Friday, October 20, 2006


The Superiority of Christianity

Over the last several years, and particularly in the most recent couple of years, I've heard and read a number of commentaries on how the US is descending into a pit of sin, and that the only way to reverse this descent is through Jesus Christ. That's a terrible over-simplification of the rhetoric, and I apologize for that, but it does capture the gist of it.

I'm here to call for proof. I want to see numbers. I want to see actual, verifiable evidence.

Here's what I do know:

Somewhere between 75% and 80% of all Americans self-identify as Christians.

The vast majority of crimes in the US are committed by Christians (hereafter meant as a direct reference to self-identify as Christians).

The vast majority of our political office-holders, judicial appointees, law enforcement professionals and legislators are Christians.

The vast majority of all places of worship are Christian.

100% of the men involved with the sex scandal in the Roman Catholic Church are Christian.

What I want to know is the actual foundation in observable fact that being Christian will make my society better than it is. And to those who choose to answer, I give fair warning: vaguely worded statements, vague references to holy text, and assertions made without direct citations will be rejected out of hand. The "promise" of salvation is not evidence; indeed, believers in Jesus Christ seem to me to be the bulk of the problem up to now.

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