Category Archives: Rants

Guns, God, and beer

Here are some thoughts I’ve been having recently. They’re not necessarily coherent. They’ve just been on my mind.

Guns. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, a lot of people have been considering their position on gun control (though Gawker reports that gun sales have reached unprecedented numbers, especially assault rifles, since the shooting, which makes no sense to me). While the gun control discussion will probably lead nowhere, one of the predictable cries is “GUN CONTROL! NO OMG THAT MEANS THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE OUR GUNS AWAY!” which is, of course, just BS. Gun control does not equate with taking away guns; it means massacre prevention.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the Second Amendment. I think it’s archaic and has long passed its usefulness (the ratio of innocents killed by guns to tyrants overthrown in the US is pretty high). When the Founders passed it, guns were unreliable, took ninety seconds to reload (if you were practiced at it), and were just as likely to blow up in your face as they were to fire accurately. The Founders did not anticipate the existence of assault weapons, nor that such weapons would be used to murder two dozen children. Then there’s that whole “well-regulated militia” thing; a lone gunman in a school or a shopping mall do not a well-regulated militia make, and neither does the NRA. Of course, the Second Amendment will never be repealed and the NRA will always be a potent political force, so the whole question is moot; but, in summary, I believe that gun ownership ought to be considered an earned privilege, like driving, rather than an inalienable right.

However, the biggest issue related to the Sandy Hook massacre is, of course, access to mental health care. It’s hard for poor people to get access to affordable mental health care in our country, of course. It just seems that it’s easier to get guns. I disapprove.

God. On Sunday I attended the Christmas Cantata performance at the Dixon United Methodist Church. The Cantata was entitled “A Night of Rejoicing”, and the title was appropriate. The music was joyful, full of good cheer, and really brought home the message that Christmas is a time of jubilation, and not materialistic commercialism. And this made me think: Christianity really ought to be a religion (and not a “philosophy”, as Bill O’Reilly put it; and in spite of my background in philosophy, I feel this statement really sucks the spirit out of the faith) of rejoicing and cheer, gladness in the presence of a God who came down to Earth to become one of us, just for awhile, and who weeps with us when tragedy strikes.

Unfortunately, it seems that Christianity, as it is most loudly practiced in the United States these days, is a game of “Us Vs. Them.” When faith goes from being an expression of one’s spirituality to a weapon to be used against people who disagree with you or live in ways or do things that you disapprove of, you end up diminishing your relationship with God, not enhancing it. As they say, God loves everyone, even those you don’t like. Remember Jonah, and how his story ended*; Jonah desperately wanted to see the people of Ninevah smited, but God ended up not doing so, much to Jonah’s irritation. I suspect that sort of thing goes on all the time.

One of the most odious things that came out of the Sandy Hook massacre was Mike Huckabee’s statement that it happened because we have kicked God out of the public schools. It’s certainly true that public schools are government institutions and therefore cannot favor one religious faith over another (to do so would be a violation of the First Amendment, which I am a big fan of); but individual students are perfectly free to pray or express their own faith in ways that don’t infringe on the rights of other students to do so. As others have said, as long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in public schools.

I don’t know for sure what God’s up to, but if the Gospels are any hint, then a lot of people are going to be surprised — and possibly even disappointed or outraged — when they get to Heaven and see who else managed to make it.

I have a lot of thoughts about religion and faith, but this seems like enough for now. But given these thoughts, is it any wonder that I’m an Episcopalian?

Beer. Not much to say here. I brewed up my first batch in fifteen years on my anniversary, and it came out pretty good. I’m going to brew another batch, possibly a vanilla stout, on Christmas Day. And that’s it.

Conclusion. As the great ones said, “Be excellent to each other.” That’s all I have to say.


* Note: I’ve been pondering for some time writing a novel that would be a retelling of the Book of Jonah. I don’t know. I just think he’s the funniest of all the prophets.

Blast!

From ThinkProgress.org: McCain To Deliver Keynote Speech For Creationists

I used to have a great deal of respect for John McCain, but he seems to be lurching ever more heavily to the right these days; and now giving the keynote speech for the Discovery Institute?  Why, John, why?

Scientifically, there is nothing at all questionable about evolution.  To be sure, there are some scientists who quibble over how some taxonomies evolve, or how specific anatomical features showed up, or why some species have features that seem to serve no purpose; but this isn’t the same as questioning whether evolution actually happened.  Most scientists, even the ones who quibble over specifics and mechanics, accept evolution as having actually happened.

I have heard some scientists who question the entire process of evolution, but these have, without exception, been scientists who do not work in the fields where evolution would be relevant.  A geologist doesn’t really have much to say about organism evolution, and people who think he does are committing the fallacy of false authority.  It’s like a bicycle mechanic who denies the existence of internal combustion engines.  He has no authority over the issue.

The debate between evolution and creationism is not a scientific one.  Nor is it, really, a religious one; most mainstream branches of the Christian church — the Roman Catholics, for example, as well as the Episcopalians, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the Methodists, and so on — as well as most non-Christians religions have all made their peace with the idea of evolution and gone on to find that the idea is not at all at odds with their faith.  The debate is a political one.  It’s a conflict between the proponents of an extremist form of Christianity who want to impose their theology, and ultimately their morality, on our nation and the world, and those who would prefer that science and intellectual inquiry be allowed to carry forward without hindrance by dogmatic authorities.

Yes, that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Deal.

Anyway, the fact that McCain has agreed to do this keynote speech for the Discovery Institute makes me suspicious.  Granted, I have no idea what he plans on saying, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to come down on the side of free scientific inquiry and the teaching of science only in our nation’s schools.

D'oh!

Early returns are in; and, contrary to intelligence and common sense and democratic principles, we went and recalled our governor and put an action movie star in his place.

But at any rate, now that Californians have proven to the world what a bunch of gullible idiots we are, I feel that I can safely voice my vision of what will happen over the next few years.

First, I predict that the California economy will improve. It won’t happen quickly; it will take a couple of years. Schwarzenegger will be governor, so he’ll be able to take the credit for it. If it takes longer than three years, then he’ll be voted out of office for being as incompetent as Gray Davis, even though he won’t be any more responsible for the state of the economy than Gray Davis was.

Remember the national recession? The fact that 48 other states and the national government are all running massive deficits, just like California? Remember the dot-bomb? Remember the stock-market crash? Remember the energy deregulation debacle which led to manipulation of California energy markets by Enron and other corporations — a deregulation which Republicans inflicted on us? Arnold says that he will put market forces to work to solve our energy problems — um, pardon me, isn’t that the kind of thinking that got us into the mess we’re in anyway? But I digress…

Anyway, the economy will go through some ups and downs. If the slump lasts longer than three years, then Schwarzenegger will be voted out of office in 2006 (which is when this gubenatorial election should have happened) and a Democrat will be voted in. Then the economy will improve again, not because of anything anyone did, but simply because that’s the way these things will work. Then the economy will slump again, and Republicans will come back.

The thing that bothers me the most about all this is that Republicans now pretty much have the state in a grip as far as the budget is concerned. True, liberal Democrats still have a majority in the Legislature, but not the two-thirds majority needed to make a budget work. The Republicans have just enough votes in the Legislature to bully the Democrats around. What bothers me about this is that we basically have a one-party system in place with regards to the budget, and that is never a good thing. And yes, I would have said the same thing if the Democrats controlled the Legislature completely and a Democrat had just been elected governor.

Frighteningly, I think that makes me a Libertarian. Except that I also believe that certain part of the infrastructure just shouldn’t be under the control of big corporations since that leads to political corruption and a weakening of the same infrastructure.

At any rate, it’s said that people get the leaders they deserve. I really wish that we deserved better than what we got.

Some Things Never Change

Personally, I find the California recall race very reassuring. It’s nice to know that there are some things that never change, including the fact that elections like these haven’t changed all that much from the days when we were voting for class president in sixth grade. For example, I remember that when I was in sixth grade, we had one of those elections for class president, and this one kid, Jason (not his real name — I didn’t change it out of respect, I just changed it because I can’t remember what his real name was; for all I know, it really was Jason), was running.

Jason was a schmuck. There’s no doubt about that. He was a basketball player (our school didn’t have a football team) and he was strangely popular. He was tall, good-looking, and charismatic, but he was mean to the “nerds” in our school, male and female, and he made passes at the girls, slapping their rear ends and grabbing their breasts in the hallways between classes. And his grades were abysmal.

But he was running for Class President, and because he was popular, he was the popular candidate. He was one of those guys who was popular, in spite of his lack of academic ability or character. And, of course, he won.

Sound familiar to anyone?

I have expressed my opinion on my Live Journal that I don’t believe Arnold Schwarzenegger should be our next governor. Leaving aside the questions about his character and how he treats women, I don’t believe that he is at all qualified to be Governor. He’s intelligent, and there can be no doubt about that; but he has no political experience (and running a charity doesn’t count as experience in elected governorship). Sure, this makes him an “outsider”; but I think that once he’s elected, he’ll find that he’s in over his head as he deals with a legislature that is divided, fractious, and dominated by liberal Democrats. And as the allegations about his character and his shady dealings with Enron continue to surface, resistance to him is probably going to only get worse.

But because Arnold has the charisma, his character doesn’t matter and his qualifications don’t matter, and he’ll be elected. I’m impressed that he was man enough to admit to what he did, though his apology fell just short of admitting that what he did was wrong (I’m probably picking at nits with this; but saying, “What I did was wrong” is still a bit different than “I’m sorry I offended you”).

I’ve already voted, of course. I voted “No” on the recall, as should everyone who values the democratic process in America. People who believe that they can buy an election, or who would like to force the results through quickly regardless of accuracy (and in spite of Constitutional requirements) violate democracy, which is just wrong.

I also voted for Cruz Bustamante, though I felt somewhat violated afterwards (kind of how I felt after voting for Gray Davis in 2002). I voted, then I took a long shower. I still feel dirty. And on reflection, I wish I’d voted for one of the minor candidates — Georgy Russell, perhaps, a Democrat who also has no political experience, but at least has integrity and solid values.

In the sixth grade, the class president really doesn’t have a whole lot of power over anything; over the school budget, over school policy, or the selection of books at the school library. So kids can vote for the schmuck, and the consequences won’t be so bad. The governor of the state can have a large impact, though. It’s almost a shame that the kids in the sixth grade don’t get to live with the consequences of a bad choice in an election, a choice based on popularity and charisma over qualifications and character. If they had gotten that chance, then perhaps the people of this state might start showing some sense.

Lies and Deceit

I wanted to write about these issues months ago, but I always felt it was unfair to do so while I was still working for the company in question, and when I quit the issues were still too raw. Now, time has passed, and some of the outrage has cooled.

It’s no secret at all that employers lie when hiring new people. Promises of training are made, salary ranges are quoted, unpleasant-sounding job duties are not spoken about, and positive aspects are blown grossly out of proportion.

I signed on with Benthic Creatures because I believed the lies. Coming in, I knew full well that “50% travel”, which is what they had promised would be the maximum amount of travel done, really means “At least 50% and probably more like 90%”. But I believed the lie about the salary range, the lie about the job duties, and the lie about team composition. “You’ll be doing nothing but administrative training,” I was told, “and you’ll be on a team with your wife, no problem.” These were lies told to us by King Squid way at the beginning.

The truth started to come out when we were taking a totally unnecessary and pointless training in Chicago. “You might be doing some client training as well,” we were told. “And we’ll be mixing up the teams.” By October, it became clear that the management of the company not only wasn’t going out of their way to schedule me and my wife together, their policy was to separate couples wherever possible. This, actually, is a policy that I can understand and appreciate in corporate settings; but when it betrays a lie that was told to me to get me working for the company, then it becomes an issue.

By December, it was clear that Jennifer would rarely be doing administrative training; and by February is was clear that I would be phased out of administrative training as well, in spite of the fact that I did it very well and that our clients obviously liked the way I did it.

The lies became too much. I got to the point where I refused to believe anything management told me. I wouldn’t believe a training schedule until I had a paper copy in my hand, given to me by the training manager (and even then, I refused to accept it as “finalized”, no matter what I was told). I don’t like working for people I can’t trust or respect, no matter how noble the job itself may be. I’ve never been in such a situation before, and I found myself not caring about the job at all. I did the best I could under the circumstances, but my motivation was gone.

And in April, when it was clear that I was never again going to do administrative training — which I was hired to do and which I enjoyed doing — I knew it was time to leave (health issues and the fact that I hate business travel also figured into this decision). I contacted the temporary employment agency and ended up, purely by accident, with this job where I’m overseeing a distance learning center’s on-line class migration from Windows to Solaris. Sure, there’ve been a couple of hiccups along the way, but I love this job and actually look forward to coming in in the mornings.

I don’t like it when the rules change underneath me. If I’m hired for a job, I like to know that I’ll be doing that job. If the job conditions change, I’m fine with that as well; except I need to be told that the job conditions are changing. When management keeps sticking me in assignments that I don’t like, hoping I won’t notice that I’m not an administrative trainer anymore, that strikes me as dishonest and, well, quite cowardly to boot.

Last night, one of our former co-workers from Benthic Creatures, X., came over for dinner. The three of us chatted until late at night, and Jennifer and I learned that things haven’t changed all that much in Benthic Creatures. The lies continue, the little conspiracies among the managers against the trainers continue… in short, I heard nothing at all that made me regret having left the company.

I’m glad to be out of there. I’m glad that I have this job which I enjoy and where I get to go home every night and which pays me more than Benthic Creatures did. For the longest time, I tried to have respect for King Squid, but when it became clear that he either didn’t know what he was talking about or was deliberately lying to entice me to the job, I began to lose that respect. And now if I ever found myself in a position where I’d have to do business with any of the management of Benthic Creatures, I’d definitely have to think twice, since my preference is to work with people who I know can be honest and keep their word.

It’s a pity that there are companies out there that feel they can behave this way to their employees, and I honestly pity anyone who still works for Benthic Creatures. Common decency and honor prevent me from naming Benthic Creatures’ true corporate identity in this public forum, and I almost feel bad about that. But as long as I can keep up this bit of the moral higher ground, I know that company is beneath me, and I can move on.

The Thing Is…

..that I’m not any more convinced now than I ever was that Saddam Hussein and Iraq pose any serious threat at all to the United States or our interests. Oh, yes, it’s always nice to rid the world of a dictator or two, but there are plenty of maniacal dictators in the world that we’re not doing anything about; just look at a couple of countries in Africa for an idea of what I’m talking about. Or South America. Some of those guys support al Qaeda, and some of them feel absolutely no qualms whatsoever about slaughtering their citizens for being the wrong race or for just being in the way.

While my own patriotism is unwavering, and I love my country, I am deeply, deeply ashamed of what our leadership has done. We’re in violation of many of the principles and efforts we’ve made since the Second World War to unify and bring peace to our world. We’ve defied the United Nations, NATO, and many of our closest allies.

Well, if W.’s presidency is anything like his father’s, he’ll experience the highest approval ratings of all time shortly; then he’ll tank on the issue of the economy and lose the White House to a Democrat in 2004. One can only hope.

And to any international readers of mine: the man who currently holds the office of President of the United States does not act with the will of all Americans; there are many of us who oppose the President’s actions and who are ashamed of what he has done. There are many of us who hope for a quick end to the war, as well as a quick repair of the alliance and careful balance of global power that we have sought since the end of the Second World War.

Evidence

Today, I offer evidence that there is no IQ requirement necessary to owning a modem and a computer. Well, actually, that evidence is already quite abundant: just look at the fact that the Internet is riddled with all sorts of websites offering, for example, “proof” that the Holocaust never occurred; or “proof” that man never landed on the moon and that the moon landing were all faked. Or simply look at the vast array of racist, sexist, homophobic sites that litter the Internet like piles of dog shit on a nice green lawn. True, the Internet is a great democracy, and anyone can create a website and spew their baggage… but, still, it frightens, disturbs, and annoys me that there are people who find it necessary to encumber the rest of us with their own stupidity.

On the other hand, there are those few brilliant entities out there whose intelligence and wit make the Internet a true delight to surf through. I offer, for example, the individual whose nickname is apparently “wuss buster” at an obscure website called “Fagbusters.com“. Wuss Buster signed my guestbook recently, advising that I was a whiny loser who was so pathetic that I thought people would read my journal all the time and that I should get a life.

The thing that frustrates me about gurus like Wuss Buster and other masters of True Enlightenment is that the rest of us cannot really aspire to their level without years of frustrating work and meditation. A Zen guru who wishes to achieve Enlightenment must meditate for decades and purge herself of all desire to reach her goal. And aspiring to the enlightenment of one as pure as Wuss Buster must involve years of mind-numbing rituals designed to purify the soul of intellect and the careful cultivation of a fine sense of resentment against the world, and particularly against those of a perceived higher intelligence.

I really don’t have the patience to do it. And Wuss Buster, like a true guru of enlightenment, failed to offer any specific instructions on how to achieve his level of enlightenment.

Wuss Buster’s insight into my own personality are simply too astounding to believe. For example: I thought that I was writing my journal primarily for my own amusement — oh, sure, I’d like to have a few readers from time to time, it’s kind of fun — but I’d probably do it even if there weren’t any other readers. That’s what I thought. Wuss Buster implies that my journal is a cry for friendship or something like that. Actually, I have no idea what Wuss Buster is really trying to say, so he must either be an enlightened guru or an average-level schlep who simply has no idea what he’s talking about. Guess which one I pick.

Wuss Buster also presents to me the fact that I need to “get a life”. While I’ve been under the impression that I’m generally happy with the life I have, I guess I really need to go out and get a new one. Unfortunately, as with true Masters, Wuss Buster did not enlighten me as to how to go about this, which pretty much renders his advice useless. I feel very sad. No, really. I’m sure I do.

The evidence for intelligent life on the Internet truly is astounding, isn’t it?

Oh, Wuss Buster also mentions that he is “surprised that anyone wants to be in your vacinity[sic]”. I’m not usually impressed by moronic schleps who don’t know what they’re talking about and who can’t be bothered to spell correctly when they’re trying to insult me, but since Wuss Buster is a guru of high enlightenment, I suppose I must ponder this one as well. All I can come up with in response is a sort of sad pathos for all of my friends and family and co-workers who seem to quite enjoy being in my “vacinity”. These are people who need to be enlightened as well.

Obviously, Wuss Buster has a lot of work to do to enlighten the masses.

On a sad and related note, Wuss Buster’s entries in my guestbook have all apparently been deleted, and his (or her — mustn’t discount the fact that Wuss Buster may be a woman) IP address has been blocked from signing my guestbook in the future. I admit that this could probably be fixed, but I’m too lazy and unenlightened to do it. My only regret is that I can only block one IP address at a time, so if Wuss Buster connects through a DHCP server he may feel encouraged to enlighten me again.

Oh, and on yet another note, I’ve gone to Fagbusters.com to get more information about Wuss Buster and his brand of enlightenment, but the website seems to be a European website dedicated to the sale of cheap cigarettes. I guess some mysteries are simply beyond me for good.

The E-Word

Today was my first real graduate school class. Yes, it was a Sunday class; since the MLIS program at San Jose State is geared toward working people, they decided to have the single actual meeting for the students on a Sunday so that we could all attend.

The topic of this class is management theory. Apparently, when you run a library, you see, there is some management involved; and when you’re doing management, it helps to know what you’re doing. The professors who are teaching this class said something along the lines of, “We understand that none of you want to go into management. But the sad truth is that you’ll all probably end up doing it at some point. So you should learn something about it.”

There was a time, believe it or not, when I actually thought that I really wanted to go into management, so I actually read a lot of books on the topic. And so a lot of what we’re going to be covering in this class, in the on-line sessions and in the textbook, is pretty familiar to me; it’s interesting stuff, though, so I’m enjoying it.

Today we mostly concentrated on ethical decision making as it relates to library management issues: how to evaluate moral problems, basically, and how to evaluate an ethical problem to find an appropriate solution. Libraries are never free of controversy, I’m learning, and in the modified world we find ourselves in today, full of paranoia and tension, it’s more important than ever to keep the basic values of the library in full view. I’m finding that there is quite a wide array of opinions on how to keep the mission of the library in focus and on making ethical decisions; and I think it’s fascinating.

The main thing that the professors tried to get across is that Ethics is important. It’s in the news right now (is an invasion of Iraq ethical? or anything that Enron did, or the current administration’s involvement with it?), and it’s on everyone’s mind. This attention to ethics kind of goes in cycles; right now, it’s the In Thing, and everyone’s trying to be ethical. Sometimes, though, “ethics” is a dirty word, implying a hardline attachment to patriarchal and outmoded ways of making decisions. Ugh. It’s the “E-Word”, volatile at times, loved at times, always essential for making proper decisions. Far too many people at too high levels of business and government believe that they’re above the need for ethics, and that’s a shame.

Meanwhile, I’m here in San Mateo County for my job. After nearly six weeks on the bench, it’s weird to be back on the road. It’s especially frustrating, given that it’s hard to schedule job interviews when you’re traveling. This hotel, at least, has free high-speed internet access, and my room has a microwave oven and refrigerator. So tomorrow after work, I’m going to swing by the grocery store I spotted on the way in to the hotel and pick up some groceries, so that I can keep up with some healthy eating; that’s hard to do when you’re on the road and eating out most of the time. There’s also a decent work out room in this hotel, so while it’s not really in a neighborhood where I would feel safe running in the morning, I can swing on the treadmill or the recumbant bicycle to get some exercise in tomorrow morning before heading to the training site. I also got to have dinner with my parents this evening after class, which was nice.

So this evening’s schedule is set for me. Study a little, read a little, work on my resume; keep your fingers crossed for me, because there’s a nice looking job at UC Davis that I’m looking at. Of course, as I’ve said before, my top priority right now is getting out of Benthic Creatures and getting off the road. A job with UC Davis would be great for me, because it’s within bicycle distance from my home.

Pre-Remembrance

A year later and we’re still taking stock.

One thing that occurs to me; perhaps the state of nervousness and tension that the world — especially the United States — is experiencing is the norm, rather than the relative peace and ease that we felt during the mid- to late 1990’s. In the United States, especially, with our economy on a path of what seemed to be limitless growth and jobs plentiful for everyone and the Internet ready to revolutionize everything from how we communicated with everyone around the world to how we did our laundry (anyone remember mylackey.com?), we could pretend that the whole world was sharing our joy and feeling the same kind of peace.

Of course, it wasn’t. And on 9/11/01, we finally got a dose of the reality that not everyone in the world was happy.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid any media coverage of 9/11 “commemorations” and “remembrances”; not because I want to ignore the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones in the attacks, or ignore the effects that they had on our society. To the contrary, I believe that media over-exposure cheapens the meaning of the events and desensitizes us.

We’re all still trying to figure out what it means. Some people think it means that the United States and everything we believe in is suddenly a target for blind, unreasoning hatred. Some people think it’s grand that suddenly we have a new target to direct our own hatred at (too many people miss the Cold War). Others believe that we brought this on ourselves and that the only honorable thing we could do as a nation is commit national suicide.

Me, I don’t know. There’s a part of me that wants to blow off the terrorists; at times, terrorist groups remind me of the kids in high school that I knew who drew up elaborate plans for how they would storm the school and take it over if only they had the guns and the money to do it — except now they have great big guns and people willing to commit suicide in the name of the same adolescent sort of bravado. But I know that this not only cheapens the events, but also ignores the legitimate grievances and painful conditions that fostered the desperation that led to the terrorism in the first place.

Not that I believe for an instant that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were at all justified in what they did (or that Fatah is justified in their attacks on Israeli citizens, or that al Aqsa, or Islamic Jihad — or, for that matter, the IRA). But there has been a lot of suffering and strife in that part of the world for decades now, and to say that the West had no role in fostering that struggle and suffering is to bury our head in the sand and ignore reality.

Religion is not the cause of the current crisis. I’ve seen arguments claiming that if we simlpy eliminate religion from human society. I find such speculation dubious, at best; Stalin and Mao, after all, organized and perpetrated some of the largest and deadliest massacres of innocents in human history, and they were both atheists.

But you certainly can’t ignore the role of religion in what has been happening. While we in the West tend to secularize our religion and set it aside and do our best to separate it out from the rest of our lives, such a division of religion from life is impossible in Islam. Islam teaches that God is absolute, that God is first in all things; and to focus on anything else, such as money or power or pleasure, is to practice idolatry. Thus, religion is a fact of life that informs every aspect of Islamic life. To us in the West, a government informed by religion is repugnant at best; to the Islamic world, a government separated from religion is equally repugnant.

But, of course, Islam as a religious organization is ultimately made up of human beings: and, thus, subject to division and factionalism and schism, just like western society.

The upshot is this: Osama bin Laden may believe that he is acting in the name of Islam, and his political and warlike goals may, to him, be justified; but he represents a miniscule fraction of what Islam really is (just as Fred Phelps and his “God Hates Fags” lot represents a thankfully tiny minority of Christian fanatics). Unfortunately, as always, it’s the noisy lunatics who get the press while the reasonable majority are ignored.

Terrorists plot against the United States; they have since our country’s very beginnings, and they always will. Sometimes they will get lucky; most of the time they will not. And the United States is not even unique in that regard; Chechnyan rebels struggle against the Russian federal government, while Mexico faces challenges from the Zapatistas. In Nepal, Maoist rebels have been killing people left and right for years. Of course the US is a big target, so there are a lot more people struggling against us. But we’re still hardly unique.

In other words, I am not convinced — and I never have been — that the threat of terrorism against the United States is greater than it ever has been.

Over the past year, I’ve pondered these issues plenty. And I have reached a few conclusions:

  • First of all, terrorism can never be defeated. As long as their are groups of people, there will be hatred, and hatred will always find a way to express itself in blind, fanatical, and destructive ways. But we can build a world which is more inhospitable to terrorism. I don’t think that this can be accomplished with more fear, with weapons, with war-hawkish attitudes and speeches, or with revenge. The way to do it is to act with honor, with integrity, with decency, with tolerance, and with charity towards all people — no matter who they are, no matter where they are, and no matter whether or not you like them or what they have to say or what they have done. It doesn’t matter if they return the treatment. It’s okay to take the moral high road.

  • Second of all, on a more political note, I believe that clamping down on civil liberties is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Racial profiling of Arabic people, granting more rights to the government to eavesdrop and spy on its own people, and so on are caving in to fear. Security and liberty are not mutually exclusive.

  • And, finally, I believe that dissent is not only okay, but is, in fact, vital for a democracy to continue to function. After all, our nation was founded upon dissent. And nothing noble was ever accomplished by people who were happy with the way things are.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the attacks. I won’t watch television or wave a flag maniacally or sing the national anthem. Instead, I’ll remember those who love me, I’ll say a prayer for peace, I’ll say a prayer for those who wish us harm, and I’ll keep doing what I can to make myself a better person, and to make this world a better place.

So I guess that there is one last conclusion that I’ve reached over the past year. And it is this: if you have ever had a dream for making the world a better place, then this is the time to make that dream come true. Whether that dream involves helping the poor find food to eat, or building bridges of communication between different cultures, or helping people in your own community have access to the resources they need to learn and to read and to inform themselves, or telling people stories that entertain or teach — now, more than ever, the world needs that dream.

Okay, I’ll stop now before I get really embarrassing.

As Big a Grain as You Can

Last week, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (otherwise known by their old initials: WWF) released a report which states that our planet is going to run out of natural resources within 150 years, and that by the year 2050, all of the world’s population will face severe restrictions on their lifestyle, just because resources will start disappearing.

Pardon me while I grab this salt lick.

Over the years, environmental extremists have issued dire warning after dire warning. We were supposed to run out of fossil fuels well before the end of the last century, according to some early predictions. Clean water, by some other accounts, was supposed to have vanished by 1995. Worldwide famine was supposed to have hit in the 1980’s, as well as many incurable and highly infectious diseases. The Brazilian rainforests were supposed to be completely gone by 2001. And, of course, something like 75% of the world’s species were supposed to have vanished by now.

None of these things have happened. And, honestly, some of these warnings are getting tiresome.

Oh, there have been ecological disasters in the past, of course. Scotland, known now for its broad grassy meadows and highlands, was once almost entirely covered by forests ("the deforestation of Caledonia," one tourguide told me while I was over there, "is probably the worst ecological disaster ever, and it happened well before mankind developed the technology to destroy the planet completely"). Then, of course, there was the move by Iraqi forces to set fire to petroleum refineries at the end of the Gulf War, poisoning the oceans in that area. The Exxon Valdez incident is still fresh in the minds of many people. And, of course, the vulture population in India and Pakistan is taking a frightening nosedive.

And things are not completely rosy now, either. Climate change is widely acknowledged in the scientific community (the debate centers on what the nature of the change is, and what — and who — is mostly responsible for it). There are indications that global warming is damaging the ecosystem and economy of some places in Antarctica. And so on.

But is the earth really going to expire by the year 2050? That sounds pretty extreme, even by the standards of environmental extremism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I want there to be a planet around when our children grow up. I believe that Conservation is A Good Thing, and I have religious convictions which support that belief. And if I could figure out how to pull it off, I would ultimately like to build a career that focuses on integrating civilization with the natural world.

But the WWF and other environmental extremist groups are doing for the environmental movement the same favor that the religious right has done for the Republican party. Whatever credibility is there is being eroded away by fear-mongers and doomsayers; and there are times when I’ve felt that some of them are much more interested in promoting an agenda of eliminating modern technology all together rather than finding actual solutions to many of the problems we face. I have actually encountered environmentalists who argue that scare tactics are what people listen to, so the scare tactics are what the movement should stick with. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work in the long run. When Doomsday passes several times without incident, people stop believing the Doomsday stories, and eventually simply start laughing at them. You lose credibility.

I get frustrated with this sort of thing. I like the Earth; I want it to stick around for awhile, and I want future generations to get to enjoy it as well. I get frustrated at "Spare the Air Days" in my own area, where the air quality gets so bad due to pollution that "sensitive groups" of people — such as people with respiratory diseases like asthma — are advised to stay indoors. And I get overwhelmingly frustrated at people who deny that there are any problems at all with the environment.

All the same, though, there are just some times when the most appropriate thing to do is to take what you hear with as big a grain of salt as you can, even if you sympathize with the group putting out the information.