Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Attack on Paris

While all the details are still not in, it seems clear that the recent bloodshed in Paris was the work of individuals either directly affiliated with or supportive of the terrorist group known as ISIS.  Yes, terrorist group, as I don't have a problem labeling them as such.  To me, using fear and actively killing civilians to make a point, political or otherwise, classifies a group as terroristic.  However, I agree with those who avoid using the label radical Muslims, not necessarily because it is untrue as many of the young men involved in these type of murderous attacks have been radicalized by some claiming to teach Islam, but because there are too many people who take the next step in believing that all Muslims are haters of the West and that the entire religion is itself a call to war against our way of life. 

This type of thinking is apparent in the many books written by various icons of the conservative world, and even present in the rhetoric of some of the GOP presidential candidates on the perceived absurdity (in their small minds) of electing a Muslim to office or allowing any Syrian refugees to immigrate to our shores, both of which have been broadcast incessantly on Fox News.

This being said, I will repeat the necessary message that all Americans should remember, in that terrorism inspired by religion can be traced to all creeds, and that terrorism itself is a matter of perspective.  I am sure the colonists of the War for Independence were labeled as such by the establishment of England, just as those who drop bombs on villages in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan may be labeled similarly by those living in those villages.  However, I will also say that there appears a difference between my ability to say the above, ideas that some of my fellow Americans may vigorously disagree with, and the lack of admonitions emanating from the vast majority in the Muslim community.  Perhaps it is a testament to the degree of freedom that we still enjoy in these great United States, perhaps an indication that the Muslim majority who would prefer to condemn this atrocious behavior lack the will or fear the repercussions of such statements, or perhaps, like the majority of moderate Republicans who know that men like Trump and Carson would make horrible presidents, those who stay silent do so because they somehow believe they can use this group to attain a goal or make a point that they believe essential, similar to those in the GOP who have used the tea party movement to increase their majorities in Congress and various state houses.

In some ways, allowing an ideology to prosper, even if by silence or lack of calling it what it is, makes everyone a party to its horrors.  For that reason, I call on those who represent Islam as a religion of peace to stand up to those abusing your faith.  American intervention in the Middle East through our addiction to oil, and our misplaced belief that our way of life is the only way, has certainly been a factor that has led to groups such as ISIS.  But standing idly by while that kind of violence is justified as a response to our indiscretions will not solve the problems of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, nor convince the West that the people of that region can solve its own problems and improve the livelihoods of the vas majority of people who live there. 

Which brings us to our response to these horrific acts.  Of course, it is easy to seek revenge for such instances of violence.  Perhaps even human nature.  But will revenge killing lead to peace or more revenge killing?  Is it our desire to bring peace to the world, or just to kill those who are responsible for the attacks in Paris, and who threaten more attacks?

I know it is easy to say we need to seek a path of forgiveness and love when I am sitting safe and sound in my upstairs bedroom while listening to Supertramp, Crime of the Century on my computer.   Would I think the same if my daughter had been studying abroad in France and been killed while eating dinner at a cafĂ©?  Would I think the same if the attack had occurred in my hometown, or the nearest large city, Philadelphia?  I would like to think so, but. unless faced with the situation, we never know our reaction to insane acts.  But, if not, then are we to blame those who live in places where their lives seem hopeless, where those in authority teach them that only through violence can they gain hope, and where their enemies bomb and kill their family and friends because they are called terrorists by the leaders of the West?

There is certainly a simple reaction to the killing of innocent people.  More killing.  Of course, we cache our killing in the belief that we are killing only the guilty, conveniently ignorant to the fact that there is no way to guarantee only the guilty will die when drones drop their bombs.  Collateral damage it is called in the war rooms where such decisions are made.  A dead wife or child is what is it called on the ground.

Those who plant the seeds of terror in the minds of the young men who join groups like ISIS are the real enemies of humanity.  It is those men who we need to root our and expose to the light, for once their true motives are revealed, power and money usually, all their grand ideas of God and justice wither and die.  But let's also keep a sharp eye out for those among us with similar goals.  Those who use prejudice and hate to further their careers, pad their bank accounts, gain favor with the uneducated or easily swayed. 

At the end of the day, the end of our lives, we will come face to face with the truth about whether we encouraged violence or understanding, joined the mob seeking revenge or said nothing while the mob did its dirty deeds.

Perhaps I am wrong, in that we do need a surgeon leading the way.  A surgeon able to save the body of man through the precise targeting of those who promote violence as a way to resolve our differences, regardless of creed or nationality, as opposed to the crude brutality of killing anyone with a different race, religion or perspective.  A surgeon who reinforces words of love and God with actions of a similar nature.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A White Man's Game

I am someone who interprets the history of America from 1940 until 1970 as a time when everyday Americans beheld a bigger picture and, as a whole, lived their lives for the betterment of their country and their families.  That greatest generation, as it has been labeled, sacrificed, not only young lives during World War II, but the comforts of life in the form of rationing of gas, meat and sugar (among other items), and, even more importantly, participated in vast numbers in the drive to recycle metals to build the necessary war vehicles needed to win that war.  It was a national effort.  This is not to say that some Americans took advantage of others' willingness to give, nor does it excuse the leftover racism that resulted in the continuance of Jim Crowe laws, and the scientific experimentation that was inflicted on men of color. 

My point is that, the country rallied around the common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, and willingly paid a personal as well as a national price to see that job through to its end. 

(Perhaps that is why we still have such a fuss made about whatever enemies there still are in the world, even though those enemies, Ebola, ISIS, etc, are not in the same league as the Third Reich.  The belief that only through a common fear can we unite.)

I am also someone, although of the minority in this category, who believes that a next greatest generation will occur, sometime soon.  This generation to come will take on the issues of today, but will solve those issues, not by looking back in time for solutions that are rooted in hatred and fear, but will embrace the changing dynamics of America.  It will be a generation that removes the remaining obstacles for those not born with pale skin and male genitalia.  It will be a generation that realizes that it was the diversity of the United States, fueled by the immigration of hundreds of thousands of men and women during the early 20th century, that set the table for the great achievements of the years 1940-1970, and it will be this generation that understands the power of today's immigrants to provide new blood, new ideas and a new version of the American melting pot.

But, in the meantime, it is incumbent upon me to touch on the white man, at least from the perspective of American history.  Since the discovery of the new world, a statement in itself that pretends that Native Americans did not exist before our arrival, the tale of land acquisition is sordid at best, criminal at worst.  Clearly, the Europeans of the 16th and 17th century discounted the rights of those already living in the Americas, more often than not with (in their minds) the blessing of their God.  By slaughtering the native populations either actively through battle or inactively through disease and relocation, the European settlers "civilized" the North American continent. 

Once the country took its great leap at Independence, and its economy and industry began to develop, men of color were imported to provide the labor.  Fortunes were made, Americans prospered, and the idea that this country was better than the Old World began to take shape.  When the light of the idealism of our democracy mingled with the belief that our new governmental system came from on high was focused on the evils of slavery, a great Civil War ensued.  Despite the Union victory however, the South still held on to its notions of black and white, and it took another 100 years before new laws were created that reminded us of the power of that first declaration, that all men are created equal. 

Now, despite the more equal footing that women and minorities have been granted, our economy and government representation continue to be dominated by the white male, who, not only still occupies the bulk of CEO positions and state senate seats, but has managed to create some backlash laws that protect him against discrimination, as if the white male doesn't already hold all the cards. 

What is truly sad about such behavior, is that the freedoms of which we brag, the great democratic experiment which was forged in war that we hold on high, is not a process that we readily acknowledge others to follow.  Consider that when the urban riots occurred in the 1970's, much was made of the horrible violence yet is that not the way our forefathers reacted to the restrictive laws and mores of 18th century England? 

Or, when judges rule in favor of affirmative action or gay marriage, it is with a sneer that some white males discuss these "activist judges".  How dare they rule to provide equal protection under the Constitution for people different from me?

Paradoxically, many white males, so entrenched in their belief that they are made in God's image, no other race or gender, are enamored with the all that makes America great yet believe it to be so simply because of the contribution of those who share their race and gender.  As if "all men are created equal" assumes the word white in that phrase.  And so, when statistics of higher incarceration rates for black males are discussed, it is without the idea that those same crimes are being committed by white males, but that justice in those cases is not meted out in the same way.  (There is certainly an economic factor here as well, but the phrase white trash usually provides the way out).

Sadly, and this is sad, while America is still a great country, those who claim it to be the greatest now, or greatest ever, do so without the statistics to back them.  Mortality rates among children, death by violence, obesity rates, longevity, life satisfaction, education level; there are many ways to gauge "the greatest country" and America frequently falls short in those categories.  Yet the white male sings on about its greatness, I think, because they believe that America, by and large, was created by the white male and any acknowledgement that there might be cracks in our foundation must be ignored for those cracks indicate a flaw in the white males ability to create, and improve America, its greatest achievement. 

Is there hope for the white male?  Surely, once he realizes that being part of a great team (America) can be just as rewarding as being the leader of that team.  And, that by sharing the leadership and vision that will enable America to solve its problems, the white male can make an even greater contribution, because it will demonstrate that they place the betterment of their country and their families above the need to prove they are the superior race and gender.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Climate Change

When the news broke a few months ago, that one of my reading staples, National Geographic, had been purchased by Rupert Murdoch, an avid climate change denier, I was concerned that the integrity of the magazine may be harmed, and its message influenced.  A bit more research caused further anxiety as it seems that the impetus for the deal was an influx of cash to enable the magazine to continue its work, especially as carried out via its cable TV station.  At this point, it bears watching.  National Geographic, through its magazines and TV shows, is a wonderful outlet for information about the natural world, and man's influence on the environment and our planet.  Unfortunately, to provide those services it takes money.  Let's hope that, unlike our current political system, money does not corrupt the message or the players.

In the meantime, this month's edition, labeled Cool It, is an amazing presentation of the facts about climate change, some of the signs already present, a look at how nature (the animals and plants we share the Earth with) is being and may be affected, how we can eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels, and the incredible tools that are being developed and applied by scientists world wide to measure, map and define the changes as they occur.

As an eternal optimist, one who is hopeful not just for the future of humanity, but for the continued evolution of our spiritual selves, I found Cool It to be sobering, yet full of hope.  Clearly, our climate is changing.  Even the most ardent deniers generally accept this fact.  But even more clearly, change is occurring at a rate totally unlike what has occurred in the past.  And, based on the detailed work of the environmental scientific community in the past few decades, this accelerated rate appears to be linked to human actions, both active via the burning of fossil fuels, and as a byproduct of other actions such as the clear cutting of our forests for agriculture and manufacturing which releases methane gases.

One of the more alarming aspects of climate change, is it effect on water on our planet.  On one hand, as glaciers melt, water levels rise placing those who live in coastal areas at risk for loss of home and livelihood.  Depending on your definition of proximity to the sea, upwards of 40% of the world's population lives by a coast.  One recent study claims that about 10% (over 600 million people) live close enough to an ocean to be effected (meaning will have to move) by rising sea levels in the next few decades.  

Yet on the other hand, as temperatures rise, access to fresh water will decline.  Again, depending on your definition of access to potable water, currently upwards of 16% of the world's population does not have running water in their homes for drinking or sanitation.  That's close to a billion people folks!  Less access to fresh water, in addition to the obvious problems of dehydration and death, also increases the likelihood of disease, and the spread of infectious diseases (pandemics).

Water, and access to its benefits, already generates local and regional conflicts as those harnessing water upstream effects the access of those living downstream to those same benefits.  And, when there is no fresh water, through prolonged drought or manipulation, people have no choice but to leave their homes.  It is easy enough to see how mass migrations of people leads to all sorts of problems by watching news coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.  Imagine if climate change caused a portion of Central America to be uninhabitable, and the United States was faced with millions of refugees looking for new homes?  Or if the shoe was on the other foot, and our southern states became so hot that a large portion of people needed to move to the northern states or to Canada?        

The good news?

There are many brilliant people with innovative and detailed plans for us to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels to provide our energy.  One man, Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson, has developed a plan which could make America carbon free by 2050.  This plan, specific for each state, uses wind, solar, water and geothermal energy to replace that provided by coal, natural gas and nuclear.  Is it ambitious?  Certainly.  But it is no more ambitious than the plan developed and in process by Germany which already generates 27% of its energy from renewables (12% in America) and is about on pace to attain an 80% rate by 2050. 

Of course, there is a HUGE difference between the German effort and that in America.  In Germany, roughly 90% of the population supports the move away from fossil fuels, while in America upwards of 30% of the people don't even believe in climate change, not to mention that ZERO of the GOP candidates for president acknowledges the need to address climate change. 

For this reason alone, we need to continue the wonderful work of our scientists who, in conjunction with our government, has deployed many new satellites in space to monitor and help predict the effects of climate change on our water tables, crop yields, and potential drought susceptible areas.  By continue, I mean voting for people, generally liberals and progressives, who acknowledge this serious issue and will continue to provide money and resources to those who will keep the United States on the forefront of this research.  Perhaps, when Americans finally understand the gravity of the situation, we will have established the ground work which is providing information and solutions to those who are already listening.

In the meantime, perhaps the words of a woman living in a Pacific island chain that is among the many such locations that may be underwater within a generation or two may be appropriate to hear.  While the carbon emissions of her country is very low compared to that of the industrialized nations, she acknowledges that there is a role for her and those of her nation to play in decreasing their carbon footprint.  It is a role we can all take part in, by walking, biking or taking mass transit more often.  By purchasing vehicles with better miles per gallon rates or which do not use gasoline at all.  By investing in solar panels, and other ways of generating electricity for one's own use.  By holding accountable those companies who do not use resources responsibly by shopping elsewhere, or by changing one's investment strategy to not include fossil fuel companies, or to actively include those businesses and individuals who are developing the technologies we need to be more green. 

Each of us needs to acknowledge our role in the stewardship of our planet and its environment.  Once we open our eyes to this responsibility, once we create the individual and community will to confront the challenges of climate change, I truly believe that we can succeed.