Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Last Best Hope

When I tell someone that I’m an American I am conveying not just where I’m from, but in a larger sense, who I am. Today, I’m no longer sure who that is.

I served in the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1981 and during that time I served in a number of different countries. Most people I met in these places invariably admired Americans. They always wanted to shake my hand. It may be that they idealized us. I know they thought everyone in America was rich. But more than that, I believe that they saw America as a model to which other countries could aspire; that “shining city on a hill” that former President Ronald Reagan spoke of when he said that we Americans are “the last best hope of man on earth.”

I was proud to be a person thought to reflect the grand idea of America. I knew that America was not perfect, nor was I -- we were never perfect -- but never have we been so imperfect.

At one time admired and respected for our sense of decency and fair play, we are today justifiably reviled for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the abomination that is Guantanamo, the injustice of extraordinary rendition, and the evil and hypocrisy of enhanced interrogation.

Envied for the freedoms we enjoyed and admired for the physical and intellectual courage we demonstrated in earning those freedoms, we are looked upon today as a country, gripped by fear, meekly acquiescing to spying on our fellow citizens, and teetering on the edge of a police state.

And where so many other countries struggled valiantly to light the torch of democracy, and we were looked to as a beacon in the surrounding darkness, now that beacon flickers and dims as our elected representatives sell their votes, gerrymander congressional districts to favor their party, and deny the vote to minorities and the poor.

As for being rich, America, once the world’s biggest creditor nation is now the world’s biggest debtor nation. We have for more than 3 decades failed to address our energy future and now find ourselves held hostage to exponentially rising energy costs. We are spending borrowed money to pursue an ill-conceived and executed military strategy of preemptive war, and prioritizing military spending over education, healthcare, science, and economic opportunity programs for the growing proportion of Americans (some 13%) living in poverty – today, 37 million.

I want an America with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and a people unwilling to permit the erosion of human rights that is a legacy of that government. I want an America that has faith in its leaders, its institutions and its self. And an America whose faith in a higher being is an individual choice that manifests itself in acts of compassion and generosity towards its citizens and its neighbors. I want an America that values not material wealth per se, but the wealth of talent, ingenuity, and spirit that create the quality of life that we all work to afford. I want an America that abrogates to no nation leadership in exploring the frontiers of knowledge. I want an America whose conquests are of hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance, deceit, and hate, at home and abroad.

I want my America back, my last best hope.

The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia. On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power.

The Russians were ready. Was the United States?

See the analysis at the STRATFOR web site.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Intelligent Design – The Joke's on Us

The average price of a gallon of gas in the US last week was over four dollars a gallon. It’s hard to know what’s causing the steep rise. Some say hedge fund speculators. I suspect it’s God, angry with us for being fat and lazy. It makes sense. Jack up the price of gas we’ll have to walk more. The price of food is also going up drastically. Clearly, God’s doing that to make us eat less (too bad about the starving Africans). Now that I think about it, God’s probably behind global warming, as well – make us sweat off those extra pounds. I’m less sure about these wild fluctuations in the stock market, but I’m sure there’s a supernatural intelligence of some kind behind what’s happening in our economy (the Devil, you say?).

Yes, these and other developments in our world may be troubling, but it’s comforting to realize that one doesn’t have to work at understanding them, any more than we have to puzzle about how we evolved, if indeed, we have. The answer is in God’s intelligent design. You have to admit though, that as intelligent as God most assuredly is, she sure has a peculiar sense of humor.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Stars

The stars
They do not see you
Stretching to the beginning of time
They do not see you

Lie upon your back and stare
Look out as far as you can see
Look upon infinity
And wonder

They do not see you
They do not hear your plea

Dance your dances
Around fires
Or in the colonnades
Make signs

Seek recognition
From the heavens
Seek an answer
At least that

Why am I here
Ask them

But they do not see you
They do not hear you sigh

And when you die...

The stars

Friday, August 8, 2008

The same clear glory

Smog is again blanketing the Chinese capital the day of the Olympic Games opening ceremony, despite it being declared a public holiday, with fewer cars on the roads. The Olympics venues in the centre of the city are barely visible from even a few hundred meters.

Full Moon

Isolate and full, the moon floats over the house by the river
Into the night the cold water rushes away below the gate
The bright gold spilled on the river is never still
The brilliance of my quilt is greater than precious silk
The circle without blemish
The empty mountains without sound
The moon hangs in the vacant, wide constellations
Pine cones drop in the old garden
The senna trees bloom
The same clear glory extends for ten thousand miles

Tu Fu, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Eating the Earth

“They're not creatures you can fight--they're an elemental--an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they'll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones. I tell you if you don't clear out at once there'll he nothing left of you but a skeleton picked as clean as your own plantation."

Just as the voracious Army Ants in Carl Stephenson’s short story, Leiningen Versus the Ants, devour all before them, we seem a people insatiable, searching every last shore, aquifer, forest, plain, and plateau desperate for that last barrel of oil, that last board foot of lumber, that last drop of water. We stumble on imprisoned between ignorance and greed, to be delivered into the annihilation that is our god.

The earth has existed for some four and half billion years, created in some cosmic catastrophe of colliding matter and formed from toxic fumes and molten rock, its history replete with cataclysmic events of unimaginable magnitude and violence. It was 800 million to a billion years after the earth’s fiery birth before the first vestiges of primitive life were created in the form of cyanobacteria that ultimately reacted with other elements to transform the earth into an habitable planet. And along came man. But not for billions of years.

Homo sapiens, or “modern man” emerged only about 120,000 years ago. That makes man’s time upon the earth clock about 2 seconds out of 24 -- a blip of miniscule proportion. But, like a bacteria, we have morphed and multiplied many times over.

At the dawn of the first millennium A.D., the world’s population was around 300 million people. Growth into the second millennium was modest, but by the time of the American Revolutionary War, the population of humans on earth had grown to over a billion, despite the ravages of the Black Plague in the thirteen hundreds. Human population is today, some 230 years later, over 6.7 billion and growing exponentially. By 2050, 42 years from now, the number of people on earth will increase by over 40%, to 9.5 billion.

It is unreasonable to expect that a presence of such magnitude and rapacious appetite would not change the earth upon which it dwells. According to some geologists, humans have so drastically altered the earth that the Holocene epoch, which started 10,000 years ago, has ended and we have entered a new epoch - the Anthropocene.

Early humans, hunter-gathers -- had little impact on the planet. But with the advent of technology, the human footprint grew disproportionately. Man is dominant on the earth, and like the cyanobacteria of eons ago, is reshaping the earth dramatically, but not in ways that make it more habitable. We are making the world hotter, drier, dirtier, and biologically less diverse. We have destroyed over half of the world's wetlands and original forests, polluted rivers and the ocean, and poisoned the land. We cause the extinction of an average of 100 species per day. Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson predicts that if we don’t slow our consumption of natural resources, we’ll extinguish half the species of plants and animals by the end of the 21st century.

According to Lord Robert May, Professor of Zoology at Oxford University, and winner of the Royal Society’s Copley medal, the world’s oldest prize for scientific achievement, "We stand on the brink of a global extinction event -- the sixth episode in the history of the Earth." The most recent extinction event, approximately 65 million years ago, closed the Cretaceous period and ended the reign of dinosaurs. "The difference is that the current global extinction event is being caused by the actions of a single dominant species rather than a 'natural' event," said Lord May. We are part of the Earth's great fauna, but we are also its greatest menace.

The human species has become a plague on the face of the earth.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth...for it repenteth me that I have made him.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Laughing Matter?

A lot of Americans are exercised over the price they pay at the pump for gasoline. This is important, because it’s the only exercise most Americans get. Who can blame them for being irritable? The nominal average price at the pump has gone up over the last 4 years from $1.74 to $3.87 per gallon. That means filling up those GMC Yukons, Chevy Tahoes, and Ford Expeditions is costing drivers over $100 a shot. Heck, you can buy a month’s worth of lattes for that (assuming you’re limiting yourself to only one a day). In real terms – price adjusted for inflation -- we’re paying almost as much now as we did in the 1980s, when U.S. automakers’ fleet fuel economy averaged 12.9 mpg.Due to the onerous “CAFE” standards imposed by resolute congressional lawmakers, these SUVs are today averaging a whopping 13 to 14 mpg on the way to Wal-Mart.

Pressed at the pump, Americans now resonate with arguments promulgated by concerned oil company executives (and picked up by savvy politicians seeking further corporate contributions) for removing restrictions on offshore oil drilling, and drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Both presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, previously opposed to drilling in these environmentally sensitive locations, sensing the mood of the public, have changed their tunes, seeking something American drivers will consider music to their ears, which are plugged with cell-phones, MP3 players, and, for concerned seniors, wax. Obama said recently that he would be willing to compromise on his position against offshore oil drilling if it were part of a more overarching strategy to lower energy costs. He said he’d always felt this way, but apparently only revealed his true feelings to Michelle, who gave him a fist bump for his willingness to compromise, and to do the dishes. McCain said, “What was the question, again?”

The Energy Information Administration, a government agency whose studies and analyses are followed closely by almost no one, certainly no one in government, argues that lifting the restriction on offshore drilling won’t lead to any additional domestic oil production until 2017 and at its peak in 2027, the extra production won’t have any significant impact on oil prices. Drilling in ANWR won’t produce crude before 2018, would peak in 2027, and during that time, won’t have any significant impact on oil prices. Who do they think they’re fooling? McCain said just the other day that industry executives told him that they could produce crude in a matter of months (120?). Well, he’s talking to the right people. They know their business. After all, they made the highest profits in history last year.

A lot of market-savvy politicians have argued that just lifting the bans on drilling would lower the price of oil and in turn, gasoline. Markets look to the future, after all, unlike most politicians. Someone pointed out that if world oil markets continue to work as they do today, OPEC could neutralize any potential price impact of offshore or ANWR oil production by reducing its oil exports by an equal amount. Sure, like that’s gonna happen.

Still, every little bit helps make us less dependent on those terrorist-loving Middle East nations, our politicians pronounce, proudly wearing their flag lapel pins, and ignoring the fact that we get over 50% of our imported oil from Canada and south of the border – holla! Cumulative oil production resulting from the opening of ANWR from 2018 through 2030 will produce a whopping 2.6 billion barrels of oil! That’s not chicken feed (chicken feed is what KFC workers are being paid). It is, however, just a little less than 3% of our current 8 billion barrels a year consumption. Gosh, that is a little bit. But it’s our little bit!

Well, I just got back from a vacation to Austria and need to post my photos. Boy, was it expensive over there. Hmm, I wonder if the declining value of the dollar has had any impact on the price of oil?

Friday, August 1, 2008

River Walk

I walk along the river
Stepping from stone to stone
Pausing at mirror pools
Watching for things that live here

Such lovely water
Blue-green swirls
of Arabic script
That fade and blur

Beneath the surface
I see shapes of things
I see shadows
Swirling in the mist

My mind at peace
Gentle, quiet
Flowing as the river flows
May it never cease

On either side of the river, was there the tree of life...and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.