Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Think Outside The Party

Things are not working like they’re supposed to. We set out to elect a president who is supposed to be a president for all the people, yet in the campaigns leading up to the elections we see Republicans demonizing Democrats, Democrats disparaging Republicans, and Independents calling both parties the ‘same party in different suits’. Actually, the Independents probably have that right, but as they grow to actually be a party equal to the other two, we will then have one party masquerading as three, but in different suits. There is also the ‘Peace and Freedom Party (I’m not willing to protect my family from the bad guys, and I’m not willing for you to protect them for me either). There’s the Green Party (you should give me your money so I can use it to protect the environment from people like yourself, and for people like me). There are other parties as well. In fact, I am even the sole member of my own legally registered party, the ‘T.U.F.T. Party’ (Tell Us the F___ing Truth). I hope that Independents will not become a major party. I hope they will be people who vote for the person they feel is best suited to serve the interests of the country, without the blind loyalty to party affiliation, but I don’t hold out much hope for that. If I vote for the Independent Party candidate because I am a member of the Independent Party, I am, in effect, just signing on to an ideology that is no different from the Democrats or Republicans. I have voted the party line. Once I have done that I have relinquished the power I hold as an individual. How independent is that?

So anyway, after all the personal attacks hurled back and forth during the election season, we then end up with a new president who pretends he never said any of those things about any of those people, or that his henchmen were not on the payroll to deliver the blows for him. Even though only half the country voted for him, he now pretends that he is the President of ‘all the people’. Some candidates are more adept than others at that pretense, and at the illusion of unity, even while disparaging half the people in the country for not sharing their views. I, for one, don’t mind a President not sharing my views, but I do mind the disparagement, and I do mind the pretense. I am not about everybody thinking the same. That makes for a dangerous concoction. I don’t want everybody thinking like me, and I certainly don’t want to follow somebody else’s thinking either. I’m more about making stew. Throw in a little of this, a little of that, a little of the other, and whaalah, we’ve got something cooking here. I would bet that most of you who read my blogs disagree with me on many issues, or at least on some. Disagreement is how we achieve balance, and that’s how we protect ourselves from, ultimately, being ruled by the new aristocracy.

But back to candidates disparaging one another. A politician usually attacks his opponent if he has nothing of value to put forth himself. What if they actually advanced ideas to be elected on, rather than ideologies, or personalities? What if they actually had a plan? Ideas, and workable plans that would benefit the American people, rather than simply garnering favor with their particular party? What if they spent their time convincing the voters that they were intelligent enough, qualified enough, and persuasive enough to actually carry out their plan? Instead, they spend their time arguing and attacking each other, or their rival parties, but, at the same time, trying to appear to be humble in the not-so-subtle deification of themselves. I happen to like Barack Obama as a person, but if you have listened carefully to him over the past few months you will note that it is exactly what he does. However, because he is so eloquent, it just doesn’t seem like he’s doing it. I have some respect for John McCain, but he does it also. Because he’s clumsy about it you’re more inclined to notice. In this country, our freedom of speech is supposed to be protected (that’s another matter altogether), but just because we can say something about somebody doesn’t mean that we should. It’s cheap, it’s unbecoming, and it’s not leadership.

What if these candidates knew they would end up working together, and for each other? What if, rather than having strategically chosen a vice presidential running mate, someone who could bring in the votes of a particular demographic, a presidential candidate knew in advance that the loser of the election would become the Vice President? I’m not talking about a Vice President with little, or no, real responsibility, but one with significant power and influence. For instance, the president would get to submit names, to be approved by the Congress, for Secretary of State, the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and Secretary of the Interior; but the Vice President would get to submit names for approval for positions like Secretary of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development; but they would, for instance, have to agree upon jointly, and submit names together, for Secretary of Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security? The President would get to choose his own non-cabinet officials and appointments to the Supreme Court. But think about it, Al Gore and George Bush would have been thrown together. Gore would have continued on through Bush’s second term, or even run against him, were he, rather than John Kerry, endorsed by the democrats. Barack Obama and John McCain. Think about that. They would be required to compromise for the good of the people. They would be forced to conduct themselves with political dignity, to cultivate ideas, to extend a measure of respect for one another, to set the example for Congress and the Senate. The bi-partisan infighting and filibustering would be minimized among those representatives. Everyone would have a political stake in co-operation, rather than in elitist petulance.
There could be numerous political parties represented in the general election. Only the two highest vote getters would be appointed to office, but at least the majority of Americans would be represented.

Many regard the Constitution as a sacred document to be framed and guarded behind tamper proof glass, and some regard it as a living organism designed to serve its authors.
I am of the latter. I’m not a constitutional scholar, or a political scientist, but I do know that the Constitution provides a blueprint for governing our country. I don’t know what it would take to enact these kinds of changes, but I do know that it would have to come from the people. The politicians would never support such an idea. They have too much at stake in the status quo.

As some of you know, we are not a democracy, but a republic, with every state having its own representation in congress and the senate, but also having autonomy from the federal government. And in the great tradition of federalism, cities, towns and other communities defer certain powers to a central government, such as foreign affairs etc., but retain for themselves the power to enact and enforce their own elections, laws and practices. That is our freedom, and that is how it should be. The way the politicians seek to break the back of that independence is to consolidate everything under one roof, their roof. And we’re all aware of how these same officials offer cities, towns and communities funding in exchange for their co-operation. Or in effect, withholding government subsidies earmarked for local projects in order to illicit the co-operation of a particular local government.

It’s important that we have more than one party in the political process. History shows us that when there is only one party, or one primary, dominant party, the end result is, more often than not, a dictatorship. A benevolent dictatorship, or a brutal dictatorship. Often a combination of the two. It is why it is so important that, in this country, we not allow the political parties to continue to blur their differences. The ‘unity’ politicians are, in fact, those most likely to believe in a ‘one world government’. It is they who are most determined to lead our country into a ‘one party system’, but they pretend otherwise. They will never say it in those particular words, but they will enact laws to accelerate its arrival. Be very careful about political saviors. Be just as careful about long established, and entrenched, politicians. One will lead us over a cliff, and the other will keep us stuck in the mud. But if the two had to co-operate on policy, and strategy, it is far more likely that the American people would be the beneficiaries of that co-operation. It is only when people begin to think, and vote, independently that we will begin to raise up public servants, rather than the usual array of carbon copy politicians.

And it is only when politicians, of differing parties, are forced to work together
that they actually will.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

There Should Be No Hunger

Snow falls on the mountain. As the snow melts the mountain absorbs as much water as it needs. The excess begins its way downhill in trickles, fingers of runoff, seeking a freer flow as it picks up momentum. In search of the path of least resistance, it meets up, and merges with other flows to form small streams, which in turn become creeks, which feed rivers. The rivers empty into gorges and valleys, low lying areas where the water accumulates to become lakes, until eventually overflowing their own banks, and the process of trickles, streams, creeks and rivers begins again, filling up even lower level valleys where the overflow continues on down, and out, to the sea. Many tributaries bypass the lake stage altogether, moving swiftly, freely, and unencumbered, through the hills and valleys on their path to the ocean. The water eventually evaporates, rising up to the sky to form clouds, which drop rain and snow on the higher elevations again to ensure the continuation of the cycle. It is the natural way. It is how the planet was designed to work.

There is no need for anybody to be hungry in our country. There is enough abundance to provide for all. The problem is not in the supply, but in the distribution. The problem is not about resources, but about direction of flow. It is about accumulation, and it is about power. It is about those on the bottom feeding those on the top. It is about water flowing UP-hill rather than following it’s natural course.

If we, as a people, took it upon ourselves to help care for, and raise up, those who are financially, and circumstantially, beneath us, the distribution of food and services would move unabated from the top down to the bottom, from those with the most, eventually down to those with the least, as it should be. But it must involve people at every level. The comfortable need to give to the less comfortable, the poor to the poorer. The natural cycle must move un-interrupted. Far too often we consider it to be the responsibility of the wealthy, or the government, to take care of everybody in need. But in actuality, it is our own responsibility. It is mine, and it is yours. It is part of what makes us whole and complete as human beings.

When a government agency comes in and builds a damn to restrict the natural overflow of a lake, that government can then control how much water to release, when to release it, and what community to direct it to. We see that all the time in Northern California with Lakes Shasta, Mendocino, Sonoma, and the rivers they empty into. Constant maneuvering and politicking by special interests to manage the rivers to protect the fish, or to release more water to this community for irrigation, or less to that community for recreation etc. When we allow the government to collect our money, hold it, and distribute it to the needy for us, more often than not, ‘needy’ will best be defined in terms of political expediency, or to put it more simply, ‘votes’.

When relying on the government to care for our fellow humans, we lose the ‘blessing’ that would, otherwise, be connected to the giving. I believe that not only do we lose our own blessing, but that the prospective recipient of the giving loses it as well. When the government welfare programs anonymously prop up the underclass, the underclass has no motivation to want to do well. They continue to be recipients of shame, rather than of life, expectation and promise. There should be no expectation in the giving, but there should be, in the receiving, a responsibility for the gift. “My neighbor gave me these tomato plants. I will grow them, with gratitude, and give some of the tomatoes to my other neighbor who is not doing as well as I am. And I will also teach him how to grow his own.” This is how life should work. This is how people feel valued, and motivated, rather than devalued and paralyzed.
When help comes from the top directly down to the bottom, and all the in-between levels are passed over, all those people (the majority) are cut out of the distribution chain, robbing them of participation in the act of living, and encouraging them to continue to feed the government so the government can ‘feed the needy’. It is the damn in the lake.
It is the interruption of the natural flow.

The government loves to have the people beholding to it, rather than having people beholding to other people. It enables them to control us. It is, in essence, the government paying us for our co-operation. When we give them this kind of control we give up our dignity, and our ability, and propensity to rise above our circumstances. Never has this been more evident than in the Katrina Hurricane disaster, where in New Orleans, an inordinate number of poor people, many of them welfare families, depended on, and waited upon, the government to rescue them from their circumstances. When the government failed them they perished. A sad and tragic consequence of the conditioning of government reliance. Prior to the hurricane, had self-reliance, and independence been nurtured, rather than discouraged, many of these people would have survived. Had the natural flow of giving been in practice prior to the disaster, the natural distribution of assistance would have already been in place as well. As it were, the rich and the comfortable got out of town with the early warnings while the poor were left, unequipped, to fend for themselves. What if people at every socio-economic level were looking out for those at the level even just beneath them? And what if those with means had made commitments to assist those who were without?

Unfortunately, we have been in the habit of paying ‘up’, and it has infected and influenced our culture to our own detriment. We pay big politicians to elect themselves to office, ostensibly for our benefit. Then we pay the big government to protect us. We pay the big insurance companies to protect our financial investments. We pay the big corporations for our goods and services. We give our money to the big ‘Non-Profit’ agencies to distribute our donations, even though most of them have administrative budgets of between 60 and 85 percent of their gross fund-raising, executives making obscene salaries, and political agendas that would make you want to take your donation back. But we continue to pay ‘up’ because, well, we just do. Ever notice how people usually give the most elaborate parties, and the most expensive gifts, to those who are above them on the socio-economic ladder? Ever notice how we attend the parties of our ‘superiors’, but not of our ‘inferiors’? Ever notice how much quicker we are to laugh at the jokes of our bosses and ‘social superiors’? Ever notice how willing we are to offer our assistance to those who don’t really need it, to those who can afford to buy their own assistance, but how slow we are to offer it to those ‘beneath’ us, those who maybe can’t afford to buy it? We are all social climbers, of sorts, and things need to be re-evaluated. They need to change.

As I have said, “there is no need for anybody to be hungry in our country. There is enough abundance to provide for all. The problem is not in the supply, but in the distribution. The problem is not about resources, but about direction of flow. It is about accumulation, and it is about power. It is about those on the bottom feeding those on the top. It is about water flowing UP-hill rather than following it’s natural course.”

Water needs to be allowed, once again, to flow downhill, free and unencumbered.
Find a way to help provide for someone who is struggling beneath you.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Things Have Changed

I liked it when kids could go outside and play barefoot all day at the park, around the neighborhood, or down at their friend’s house. They could ride bikes all over the place as long as they came home by dark. No play dates needed, no supervision, no structured agenda. Just kids being kids, free and spontaneous. Sure they got hurt, they missed lunch, they forgot to head home sometimes in time for dinner, they got in trouble, got grounded, and then they’d do the same things all over again when they got off restriction. Kind of a natural cycle of being a kid. Too much to worry about now.

Things have changed.

I liked it when we could work on our own cars, in our own garages, or in the driveway out front of the house. Cars are too complicated now. They’re all highly specialized, computer synched, and even if you’re savvy enough to understand how all of that works, you still would need the specialized machines and tools. It’s not like when you could just go down to the auto-parts store and pick up a different sized wrench. It’s all being taken out of our hands now.

Things have changed.

I liked it when you could drop by somebody’s house unannounced, or when they could drop by yours. Before everybody got so busy, before our time became so precious and guarded. Before our personal space became more precious than gold.

Things have changed.

I liked it when friendships were formed around what we had in common, the differences were not quite so important. Seems like today our resistance to friendship is more profound than our embracing of it, and the process is, more likely than not, defined by counting the number of differences and measuring them against an ever-diminishing list of what we do have in common. Consequently, fewer friendships are formed, and of those that are, fewer still will last beyond the honeymoon phase.

Things have changed.

I liked it when we were more inclined to trust somebody from early on, and then they had to earn your mistrust. Seems like nowadays we mistrust everyone until they earn our trust. I don’t know, maybe that’s how it should be. But I do know that. . . .

Things have changed.

I liked it when you could jump in the car and take off for a little spontaneous adventure, maybe visit an out-of-town friend, or do some car-camping, or whatever. Drive as long as you wanted, pull over and jump in a lake, or rock-hop up a river or creek, stop when you felt like it, sleep where you wanted. Now it all has to be well planned. Have I made my reservations? Have I left emergency numbers with friends or family? Have I put the newspaper delivery on hold? Do I have my night-light timers set at home? Has my car been serviced recently? Is my auto insurance current? Is my AAA roadside service up to date? What about my GPS? Do I have my cell phone, charger, computer, credit cards, maps? Something to read? My CD’s? My IPod? Do I have some light clothes, some warm clothes, a jacket for any occasion, some shoes, sandals, boots, gloves, hats? Have I remembered to reschedule the appointment with my therapist? Or should I wait and leave after the session?

Things have changed.

I liked it when people acknowledged gifts with a thank you note, or at least a phone call. And when they actually let you know that they appreciated something nice you may have done for them. There’s a lot of silence today around those kinds of things. People seem to feel like acknowledgement of something somehow creates a personal indebtedness of sorts, even if it doesn’t. And people don’t want to feel any kind of indebtedness to anybody. It’s pretty common. I’ve experienced it quite often. As an example, I’ve given, or sent, many of my new CD’s as gifts to people I know, or have known. I would say that 85 to 90 percent of those people have never even acknowledged having received them, let alone acknowledged having listened to, or appreciated them. Even writing an email only takes a minute. It’s not even about whether or not they liked the music. It’s about common courtesy. Fortunately, I don’t give gifts for reciprocity. I give them because I want to. But the silence never seems healthy, and it doesn’t seem right.

Things have changed.

I liked it when we didn’t have so much stuff. When we enjoyed what we had, when we used what we had, repaired things if they got broken, and eventually passed things down to our siblings, or friends, saved them for our children, or even donated them to the Goodwill. Our stuff was a part of us. We had an investment in the things that gave enjoyment to us. Today we acquire so much, and use so little of it, that it has no meaning for us. It has no connection to us, and it has no lasting value. Everything is buried in the closet, lost in the garage, tucked away in some storage facility, or left to rust in the back yard. Eventually we just throw it all away. But the thing is, we keep getting more and more new stuff. We don’t repair what gets broken, cost too much to repair, and there’s always a bigger, better, brighter, newer model of just about everything constantly calling to us from the TV like a Muslim call to worship from a loudspeaker in the center of town. We just have too much stuff.

Things have changed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I was down at the creek the other day with my grandson. He’s not yet three years old, but he was having a pretty good time wading, exploring around, and throwing rocks in the water. Just being a kid. Being pretty free to do what he pleases, within reason of course, but not a care in the world, really. It’s fun to see him like that. He’s being brought up to enjoy nature, and the outdoors, but also to respect it. You know, the concept of sharing this world with other living things, and people. He lives in Marin County, CA., just north of San Francisco. That is both the good and the bad of it.

Marin County is a beautiful place, a collection of small towns scattered around the foot of Mt. Tamalpais, towns that house some pretty comfortable people. Towns that tend to be at the forefront of many important cultural issues, like conservation (recycling, alternative energy, voluntary water rationing, natural foods, etc.). But it is also an environment that has always been at the forefront of the ‘human potential movement’ (meditation, yoga, EST/personal coaching, laugh therapy, dream analysis, spiritual feminism, goddess worship, etc. etc. It incubates and breeds a multi-faceted pallet of new-age therapeutic modalities, along with a smorgasbord of eastern religious philosophies to choose from, like ice cream flavors at the local Baskin-Robbins. In other words, there are a lot of people living around here with a lot of money, and a lot of time on their hands. And these theologies spread out from here, up and down the west coast and across the country.

While my grandson played uninhibited in and around the creek, another child, about 4 or 5 years old, was trying to enjoy the same things while the mother did everything in the PC handbook to keep this particular child from being free, or having any fun. The profound and enduring image I have, the image that has prompted me to write, is that of the child grabbing hold of a thick branch on a sturdy creek-side bush, and giving it a little shake just to hear the rustling of its leaves. The child was told by the mother to “please stop doing that”. “Why?” asked the child. “Because”, said the mother “the bush is alive. You’ll hurt it.”


And I think she actually wanted to say “You’ll hurt its FEELINGS.” I have no doubt that, had I not been there, she would have told the child exactly that. I’ve heard it all too many times before. It is the new child-rearing theology. Everything is ‘feelings’ based. Everything takes a back seat to sensitivity. I see it, and hear it, constantly from mothers and fathers around the communities. I have been well aware of the trend (tsunami actually) for a very long time, but being out and about with my grandson has given me increased, up-close and personal, exposure to it. On the playgrounds I hear fathers asking their 3 year-olds for permission to run an errand on the way home. I hear mothers asking their children if it’s OK to have lunch now, if it’s OK to leave the park, if it’s OK if mommy talks to another mother while the child plays in the sand.
If the parents are not busy getting their children’s permission to breathe, they are busy instructing their kids to be offensively sensitive and polite.

Example: At a children’s playground (sandbox with swings and jungle gym) I heard a father instruct his son to ask another child “is it OK, please, if I play NEAR you?” Then the mother of the other child asked her daughter if it was OK if the little boy played near her. After getting her daughters permission, she then instructed her little girl to say to the little boy “Yes, you may, thank you for asking”. And then (I kid you not), the father of the boy instructed his son to thank the little girl for thanking him for asking.

Aaahaharrrrhaaah!!! Somebody please kill me now!

Besides torturing their children with such obnoxious displays of fake civility, I also see these mothers and fathers cow towing and acquiescing to every whim the child has, and to every demand the child makes. I see adults wanting to be friends with their children, rather than parents to them. And I see these very same parents pretending deep involvement with their children while simultaneously carrying on incessant, and equally insufferable, conversations on cell phones permanently attatched to the sides of their heads. These children, and their deeper reality, are actually being ignored. They cry over a moderately raised voice, an occasional ‘No, I’m sorry’, or a barely visible bruise from an accidental fall on the soft grass. In a climate so steeped in political correctness, the kids are being conditioned to be afraid. They are growing up to be unusually polite, but they are also, quietly, becoming very, very angry. Eventually they’re going to turn to their parents and say “I’m really tired of making all your fucking decisions for you. Make your own damn decision for once in your life. I’m not your parent, and you’re not my friend.” At that point I would fully expect the parents to cry, particularly the father, who has, over the course of time, been disrespected, marginalized, and fully emasculated by his own unwillingness to reject the very culture that has been diminishing his importance and stealing his confidence like a thief in the night.

When a community lines up en masse to buy the PC manifesto, those people have already surrendered their individuality, and their power. It is a sad thing to see, and it will have enormous, and pathetic, consequences for their children. The fathers of these children are becoming feminized yoga-heads, fully embracing these theologies because it has become easier for them than actually (uh) BEING A MAN! And because the women might be offended by their maleness.

Let’s call PC what it actually is.
Personal Cowardice.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I’ve been feeling like somewhat of a social orphan over the past few years. In an era where everybody seems to have their own personal community, it appears to me as if I have been overlooked. I’m sure it was not intentional. After all, oversights do happen. They happen to the best, and to the worst, of us. But I’m looking for a community to join because I’m pretty sure that the IRS, or my next employer, or a Credit Card company, or even the DMV will be asking me, on a government form or important application, ‘to which community do I actually belong?’ At this point I don’t know how they’re going to quantify, or qualify, me if they cannot even categorize me. They used to ask for my ethnicity, but I believe that’s illegal now (as it should be), or if not illegal, at least politically incorrect. ‘Community’ is rapidly taking the place of ethnicity, and I feel left out.

There’s the Conservative community, the Liberal community, the Conservative Christian community, the Fundamentalist community, the Secular community, the Secular- Progressive community, the Republican community, the Democratic community, the Native American community, the African American community, the Hispanic community, the Asian community, the Muslim community, the Feminist community, the Gay community, the Lesbian community, the Tech community, the Blue-Collar community, the Art community, the Music community, the Environmental community, the Gated community, the Community community, and so on, and so on, and so on. And each of these ‘communities’ even have sub-divisions of themselves.

I looked up ‘Caucasian Community’ in the phone book, and googled it on my computer. There doesn’t seem to be a chapter near where I live. Or anywhere else for that matter. I looked up ‘Western European Community’, ‘Old White Guy Community’, ‘Straight Caucasian Western European Guy Community’, American-born Anglo-Saxon Caucasian Straight-male Community’, ‘Middle-aged Caucasian Heterosexual-Judeo/Christian Western European American-born Community’. No Luck whatsoever.

But even more disturbing, I couldn’t find an “American Community” either.
I’ll have to keep looking.

Ever notice how the politicians who boast the loudest about being the ‘Party of the People’, who brag about being uniters, rather than dividers, who wear the ‘Social Compassion’ banner across their chest like beauty queens at a county fair, who denounce labels like they were demons unleashed, always seem to be at the forefront in creating the very divisions they pretend to so vehemently renounce? As my grandson (he’s two and a half) has taken to saying lately, “what’s the deal with that, grandpa?”

In whose interest is it to slice up a population of people like it were a pie to be served to the aristocracy at some phony political fund-raiser? As they say, “follow the money.” From the grass-roots political activist level all the way up to the White House, it is in the interest of the politicians. Divide and conquer. But to conquer, one must first divide. As a politician, maybe I designate taxes to be used to pay down our existing debt, or I allocate funds for a much-needed pedestrian sidewalk along a busy street. That would benefit everyone, but bring little notoriety to my campaign, and consequently, no one in particular would be beholding to me. But if I allocate funds for the La Raza Community Center, an Asian Cultural Center, a Jewish Memorial, a Christian Day Care Center or a Gay Pride Parade, now I have each of those ‘communities’ in my pocket. Their future votes will move me along to the next level of politics, and eventually, as far as I might like to go. If I continue to pick up other ‘communities’ along the way, then, well, the sky is the limit. Politicians understand this principle like I know my own name. If people want to divide themselves into comfortable little communities (which, by the way, is human nature), so be it. Let them raise their own money for their own special interests. But if politicians want to designate ‘communities’ as being worthy of special consideration by virtue of their very existence, it is, without exception, for political expediency. It is beyond disingenuous, it is a divisive, calculated and exploitive act, designed to pander to the population it is supposedly intended to benefit. How ugly does it need to get before we stand up and refuse to trade our dignity for another handful of colored beads?

And one last thing, lest I forget, there’s the much revered, and all-too-familiar, “International Community!” Let’s see if I understand this. An elite group of politicians, lawyers, bankers, filthy-rich industrialists and chief executives of multi-national corporations all get together, in collusion with one another, to pillage, rob and exploit the rest of us, and to determine who among themselves will be elected as leaders of the New World Order. Uh, I mean the International Community!
Is it just me, or does that sound like the mob, but without the gold chains and bad vocabulary?

I believe, as humans, we are capable of rising above our natural tendencies to divide ourselves into like-minded and like-looking groups. As a people, as a funky and disparate collection of the indigenous and the immigrant, individuals from all over the planet, in order to not be conquered by aggressive, greedy, self-serving monarchs and politicians, on a national and international scale, we must eschew the herding of ourselves into small, myopic, and isolated little communities, in favor of, and in solidarity with, the strength we can find together as Americans.

Then, perhaps, we can be of even greater significance, and more lasting value, to the world at large.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Pall Over The Land

There has been a pall over the land.

I live in Northern California where, for the past couple of weeks, hundreds of wildfires have been burning hillsides and forestlands in an effort to destroy anything that has taken root. All that is living, standing independently, or struggling to grow and survive, has become food for the voracious appetite of this inferno, fuel for its consuming energy and power. It has swept across this land like a bad disease, indiscriminately devouring everything of beauty, feeding on all that has quietly been formed through the patience of evolution, or fashioned knowingly by the skillful hand of man. The fire has had no regard for individuals or circumstance. It has gone wherever it has chosen to go, it has dominated and engulfed whatsoever it has wanted.

The smoke has been hanging in the air like fog, causing eyes to water, lungs to burn, breath to quicken. People have taken refuge inside their homes, windows closed, air purifiers humming like an incessant chant for mercy to the gods of our own making, or imagining. I have felt an inordinate measure of claustrophobia, an increasing sense of things getting out of control. Something about the environment closing in around me, covering my skin with the ashes of its own death, clothing me in a paupers coat that cannot be washed, or even taken off or traded in.

But I have been feeling this way even before the fires began. Something about the devastation of my country, the erosion of my freedom, the myriad of laws and taxes that continue to be enacted for my own protection, to save me from the likes of myself, to save me from my own way of thinking, to protect me from the evil independence of my past. Something about the social engineering that is taking root beneath my feet, the government, and the courts, defining for me what is in my own best interest, and who and what I must bend over and pay homage to. Something about the herd, the sheep in men’s clothing masquerading as liberated followers of a cultural revolution. Would ‘liberated follower’ qualify as the ultimate oxymoron, or am I just being difficult again? Something about the politicians, on the one hand pretending to be my friend, and on the other hand sleeping with my wife, stealing my chickens, poisoning my dog and kissing the ass of my enemy. Something about the bad becoming the good, the good becoming the reviled, the deviant becoming the norm, the norm becoming the socially and spiritually marginalized.

But y’know what?
“I know what’s right, and I know what’s wrong. I don’t confuse it.”

This wildfire continues to rage out of control, casting a pall over the land,
even though a myriad of brave men and women fight, day and night, to prevent the rest of us
from becoming victims of its sinister intent.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We Were Just Kids

The late 60’s.
It was a long time ago.
Jon was one of my good friends.

Actually, he was one of my best friends. Jon was a quiet kid. Just eighteen. Very good looking. Straight blond hair. Contemplative. I wouldn’t say he was a particularly deep thinker, but he was thoughtful. Insightful even, and soft spoken. He would think about what he was going to say before he said it. Who does that? He was also very meticulous in his appearance and behavior. One might say controlled. His hair was always combed, clothes always neat, environment tidy, possessions organized. Always had his things arranged in cool little boxes, separated just so. Actually, he always had everything arranged in cool boxes, or leather bags of some sort, his intentions as well as his possessions. He didn’t label things, but in remembering Jon, it is something he might have done if it had occurred to him.

Jon played guitar very patiently, attentively. More smooth than passionate, but beautiful. More refined than how the rest of us played. We were a little more rough, as it were. Maybe we just didn’t play as well as Jon, I don’t know. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, Jon was very careful, very precise, and very hard on himself when he made a mistake. His parents were much older than the average parents, more grandparent like. Jon was an only child, and some would say spoiled. I’d say borderline. The Buffalo Springfield is the band he most closely identified with. And Neal Young in particular, even before he went solo. Learned to play all his songs. Sang with a kind of nasal, but clearly defined quality to his voice. Liked the upper register, as Neal did. Jon also liked the Byrds, Roger (Jim) McGuinn and David Crosby, and resembled them in style. We’d play music together just about every day. We communicated with each other through songs, as has always been common among teenagers. The music spoke directly, and deeply, to us. More than anything else, it’s really how Jon and me first got to know each other. We also bonded around drugs, and the outdoors. Jon loved birds of prey. Caught them, raised them, and taught them to fly to his gloved hand. Was working on hunting with them.

Among my friends, Jon was the most organic when it came to drugs. He preferred pot to pills, and mushrooms, or peyote, to acid. Like everything else, Jon was meticulous in preparing for a drug trip, thought everything out, had everything in place. Knew exactly how much to take, how long the trip would last, where he was going to be, whom he’d be with, what he could expect. Even planned for the unforeseen.

I was much more spontaneous. Some might say a bit reckless. I say trusting, not of the drugs necessarily, but of myself. I was also lucky. Very lucky. I cannot deny that. Drugs often made Jon paranoid, pot in particular. He became self-critical, and way too introspective. Reclusive even. The lingering effects of his use separated him emotionally from his family, and increasingly, from his friends and girlfriend as well. Robbed him of his ability to be present in a given situation. Stole his motivation for honesty within himself, and with others. Jon, unlike some of us, didn’t really have much fun doing drugs. It was more of an escape from self for him. I guess that was the case for the rest of us as well, but we viewed it as an exercise in controlled discovery. What did we know?

Jon was not a particularly happy kid anyway. He worried a lot, and he was in a great deal of pain. Inside. Inside of his insides even, where it hurt the very worst. The kind of pain a parent’s divorce visits upon a child, or the death of a sibling. Wouldn’t really talk about it. Wouldn’t let me or his other friends in that deep. Because of the age of his parents, I think he might have been adopted as a small boy, and that might have been the issue that fueled his pervasive unhappiness. But I don’t really know for sure. It would have been a family secret.
Secrets can be pretty dangerous.

I loved Jon, and I know he was extremely worried about the military draft, as were the rest of us in those days. Jon was not a particularly brave young man, in his life, relationships or circumstances. But who was at that age? He had very little emotional fortification. More pampered and protected really. Never had much chance to be tested as a developing young man, but I think he knew he would fail that particular kind of test anyway. I know I would have. The military would have been very tough on a kid with a passive, and even pacifist, nature. Jon disagreed, politically and morally, with the Vietnam war. We were in close agreement. But more than that, the prospect of going to war scared him. . . . . terribly. In the same way he was scared of the police.

And then his draft notice came in the mail.
Jon swallowed a handful of barbiturates that night.
He never woke up in the morning.

We were just kids.