Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Playing the numbers, revisited.

So, here we are, December 29th.  Before beginning this post, I reread the 3 posts I had written in March, as both a perspective of how things were 9 months ago, and to see if there is a way to answer some of the questions which I posed in those posts.  You may reread them by clicking on the links below.




First, let's be clear that the United States of America did a horrible job of battling the COVID-19 virus.  From the president through the legislature, the governors and even various state and local officials, our leadership failed us.  But even more so, we failed each other, and so, in the end, it is the fault of the American people that we have lost about 340,000 lives to this pandemic, with probably another 100,000 to come.  Long ago we swallowed and internalized the belief that America is great because of its economy and wealth, and so, by the time the vaccines have created a large enough percentage of immunity in the population, we will have sacrificed almost half a million of our fellow citizens upon the altar of greed and the almighty dollar. 

But Joe, many of us sacrificed a lot during these times?  How can you say it is our fault?

In face of just such reasoning, true as it is for a large number of Americans, I acknowledge that much suffering, economic and health wise has occurred, is still ongoing.  We wore masks when it was uncomfortable.  We stayed away from our older relatives just in case we were sick and did not know it.  We washed and sanitized our hands and common surfaces so much it would make Felix Unger proud. We altered our daily routines in innumerable ways in hopes of saving the lives of those we might infect unknowingly, or those who could not survive the virus.

In sports, there is an old adage that you are what your record says.  4-10-1 (4 wins, 10 losses, 1 tie) makes you a bad team, regardless of whether you played good teams, had a lot of injuries, or lost a number of close games.  

And so it is with our record.  As of today, almost 25% of the cases in the world have occurred in the US, yet with only 4% of its inhabitants.  About 20% of the deaths.  One of every 1,000 Americans have died, in 9 months, from this pandemic which puts us ahead of Spain, Italy, the UK, Belgium, Peru and 8 other countries, but behind Israel, Germany, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Norway and 180 other countries that have lost citizens to this virus.  Yes, in terms of deaths per million, out of about 195 countries reporting coronavirus deaths, we are 182nd. We are what our record says.


In my first post in March, I asked that we require all politicians and pundits to specify how many Americans they were willing to sacrifice to keep our economy open.  At the time, I was naive enough to wonder if they might answer that 50,000 dead would be OK, but that perhaps 100,000 might not.  I wonder how many people would have received much air time, in March, had they said they were willing to sacrifice 300,000 Americans to keep the economy open?  Of course, since we somewhat flattened the curve in the spring, then lost our nerve and began protesting the simple wearing of masks, and limiting our social contacts, anyone promoting the idea that we do nothing would have stated they were willing to sacrifice a half a million Americans, back then, to truly present their plan to "be free" since we will get close to that number, even with the use of all the mitigations put in place.  

Can you imagine if, in the interview with Bob Woodward, the words I always wanted to down play the virus were replaced with, I was willing to sacrifice 500,000 Americans?  Well, guess what, they mean the same, it is just that too many people were too far down the rabbit hole to realize that the high death rate was partly due to "being a cheerleader" rather than a real leader.

And so, too many average Americans listened to those saying that our freedoms were at stake, looked around and saw that the virus hadn't struck anyone they knew, or only people who were sick or a different color than they were, and refused to demand actual numbers.  Or worse, listened to those who continued to deny it was even real, right up until the time that the virus starting rampaging through rural America, and by then it was too late.  

If you happen to be interested in the death rates of some of those "freedom" loving states where the governors actually encouraged virus spreading events like motorcycle festivals and political rallies, you might note that North and South Dakota currently own the 4th and 7th highest death rates, respectively, of the 50 states.  I can only wonder if, had the White House been more interested in preventing death than winning an election, the governors of those states might have been more assertive in trying to prevent the virus from spreading, thereby saving the lives of Dakotans who might have been able to stay relatively unscathed had they tried even a little bit.

And then there is the obvious fact that upwards of 40% of the deaths (where barely 1% of the population lives) happened in long term care facilities.  Would a coordinated federal effort in concert with better decision making by some of the east coast governors have helped?  For sure.  But, if you want to better understand why those facilities, that industry, suffered so much death, you can read this month's AARP magazine for more details,  Suffice it to say, that when you allow an industry to self regulate, to pay paltry wages to its caregivers, to be dependent on tax payer money for a large percentage of its revenue, and to reflect the all too pervasive attitude that America exhibits towards its elderly (better unseen), then we have a recipe for disaster when facing such an unexpected pandemic.

Ultimately, the question is, what did we learn?

For me, the question of how much trust we place in our elected officials goes to the heart of some of our problems today.  For many years there has been a concerted effort to drive a wedge between the people and the government.  While it is certainly important to apply the smell test to the words and actions of our public servants, it times of crisis it is only through large scale action which can only be accomplished through coordinated efforts by all levels of government (and public-private partnerships), will effective measures be realized.  When the smell is too much too handle, we vote for someone new.  And when election results are threatened to be overturned, we call bullshit, and apply the label traitor.

During WW2 when rations of gas and meat were required, air raid drills were held, and sacrifices were made for our brave soldiers, policies that certainly restricted individual liberty, the vast majority of Americans understood the necessity of temporarily adhering to such restraints. Did we trust the government more, or did we understand that exceptional times demanded exceptions measures?  

Far too many politicians (and news organizations) made fighting the pandemic (or resisting calls to do so) a political issue rather than a health issue, and far too many Americans were unable to put their fellow citizens (and ultimately anyone in their family or circle of friends who worked in essential jobs, lived in long term care facilities, or were just old or sick) ahead of their own misguided selfish needs.  Too many were convinced that the individual is always more important than the whole so that give me liberty or give me death turned out to mean my liberty is more important than your death, "your" being defined as those who were already sick, or old, or just not like me.

It is a not an easy line to walk, valuing individualism over the state, then knowing when the state (all the citizens) needs to be prioritized even over one's own liberties.  Perhaps we need to remember that the United States government is we, the people and when you have completely fell victim to a con man who tells you that he is the government, or that only some people are part of we, the people, it is inevitable that you will lose the very thing that you prize the most. 

In the meantime, wear your mask, limit your travel, value your family, encourage the prioritization of health above wealth, and get vaccinated if your doctor recommends you to do so.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

More Thanks for Donald Trump

Last month I posted the following


In it, I posited that for good or bad, Donald Trump has energized the electorate far more than any person in recent history, and should be congratulated for, not only this fact, but perhaps, for awakening the sleeping giant, the American electorate.  As it turned out, I under performed in my assumption that we might reach a 60% voter turnout as it was in the range of 66%.  Now, let's be realistic, that still means the one out of three registered voters chose not to participate in one of the most contentions presidential elections in our generation.  

Still, as I said, it is a beginning.  Let's hope, no, let's demand, that we continue to stay involved in our democracy by encouraging our elected public servants to overhaul the election process by mandating that all states have some form of early voting, an organized framework to handle (and count) mail-in votes by election day or the day after, and the adoption of Democracy weekend which features voting from Saturday through Monday with Monday being a national holiday.  And, to further emphasize our seriousness, that the American electorate removes from office anyone not in agreement with the basics of this plan.

Today's post, is again, a tribute to Donald Trump.  

While Trump has governed from day one with no concerns for the norms and standards of modern presidential and political thought, it was not clear, at least to me, just how far he might go in challenging the foundations of our democracy.  (Nora, my wife, on the other hand, knew from day one that he would go as far as destroying our democracy if it pleased him).  Regardless of where you fell on that scale of doubt/certainty, it is now abundantly clear that Donald Trump cares even less about America than even the most naive among us might have thought.  Even starting before election day, he told his true believers that should he lose in 2020 (just as he said in 2016, by the way), it will be the result of massive fraud, cheating by the Democrats, the fact that the election is "rigged", or any combination of the three.  

He disparaged mail in voting even though he had mailed in many votes over the course of his lifetime, then spent taxpayer money to fly to Florida to cast his vote to prove that true Americans only vote in person.

Once there appeared that no proof of massive fraud could be found, he and his sycophants challenged in court the actions of various Democratic led states which altered their voting rules to allow for safer voting in this pandemic year.  In other words, they sued to have legal votes cast aside. 

And now that virtually all court challenges have resulted in abject failure, as judges from both sides of the aisle tossed out these frivolous suits, he is encouraging sympathetic GOP state legislators to ignore the vote of the people and choose electors that will vote for him, not Biden.

The good news is that there appears to be no path by which enough rogue electors can change the outcome of the current electoral count, which is 306 to 232. The bad news is that there is still one more hurdle before Biden is officially declared the winner of the 2020 election.  

The electoral votes must be tabulated and confirmed by Congress on January 6th, with Mike Pence, no less, to read and tabulate the results, in alphabetical order, state by state.  It is at this time that there is an opportunity for members of Congress to object to a state's submitted electoral result, and it will certainly happen this time, as a number of GOP House representatives have indicated, and as, undoubtedly, Trump will encourage both directly in contacts with those GOP representatives who he knows he can bully, and indirectly, by telling his cult members to contact their federal representatives to insist that they object to this "rigged" election.  

But, the rules require that a representative from both Houses object, which means a Senator from the state must also participate in this attempted coup.  While it is clear that there is little integrity residing within our current GOP senators, there may be an unwillingness even among them to tell the voters of their state who voted for Biden that their votes do not count.

Ultimately, however, an objection to a state's electoral submission must be upheld by both bodies of Congress, and there is little chance that the House of Representatives will choose to agree with a GOP assertion that a state won by Biden should not have its electors given to Biden.

That only leaves a military coup, which, if you have been watching the firing of key Pentagon civilians by Trump with the replacement of Trump loyalists (note that in this case, a Trump loyalist is not an American loyalist, since this person has been chosen based on his views Trump is more important that our country).  I know, you are saying, a military coup in America?  Sounds crazy, a manifestation of Trump syndrome.

Perhaps so, but then again, an incumbent president who claims that America's election system is rife with fraud and rigged is pretty far-fetched in itself.  It is truly amazing how Trump has convinced so many people to vote for him while telling them that the election is rigged.  That rampant fraud has occurred, but only in states that he lost.  (Just for the record, I heard that in Maine and Iowa, votes cast for the senate races there were changed from Dem to GOP.  How else can you explain Ernst and Collins winning again?  I have no proof, but since when is proof required to make an assertion?)

So, why am I thanking Donald Trump, you must be asking?

Well, for starters, his attempt at sedition has spurred many people to gain a better understanding of how our election laws work.  I was not fluent in all the details which I have laid out in the above paragraphs, as I would imagine most Americans are not.  His overt and covert attacks on the foundations of our democracy and freedoms, have motivated, perhaps millions of people, to learn more about the intricacies of how our government works, and how it can be used to not work.  Thank you.

But even greater than that, I am firm in my belief that come January 20th, 2021, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.  Our democracy may have flaws, it may have been bruised a bit, with some bruises going right to its core, but it will have survived.  So, thanks again Donald Trump for testing the American Democratic Experiment, and proving just how strong it is.  And, if you could do us one more favor, don't let the door hit your butt on the way out. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Congratulations to Joe Biden

Just about 4 years ago, I posted the following entry into my blog.  It was partly a congratulatory message to the new president, partly a review of my evening as I watched the returns come in, partly some thoughts on why Trump may have won, and lastly, a comment on the lack of turnout for such an important and pivotal election.  I have a link to it if you choose to read it in its entirety.


So, to be consistent, congratulations Joe Biden.  While one might say that Donald Trump won the 2016 election by employing tactics that were, to say the least, totally outside the norms of a traditional presidential campaign, Joe Biden's campaign was almost the exact opposite.  He was steady in his message of unity and did not make the mistakes that Clinton made by denigrating the supporters of Trump while ignoring the voters of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  But most importantly (to me), did not pretend that a pandemic that has killed over 240,000 Americans (over 1.2 million earthlings), would go away on its own, choosing to convey his message in ways that lessened the spread of the virus, while Trump conducted rallies that spread the virus among the citizens of our country.

There was one significant similarity between 2016 and 2020; the polls under estimated Trump's support.  It was not a blue wave as some predicted, although Biden will win the popular vote by a wider margin than Clinton.  Also, while one might say that the person, Donald Trump, was rejected by Americans as a leader, the GOP most likely will gain a few seats in the House (although it will still be a Dem majority), and will also retain control of the Senate, 51-49 or 52-48 depending on the outcome of the Georgia runoff.  So, we remain a split country in our perspective and philosophy, a state of affairs that will present president elect Joe Biden with an incredibly complex challenge.  

The big difference, hopefully the beginning of a trend, and not an anomaly, was the 2020 turnout.  We will break all records for votes cast, Biden and Trump both over 70 million received votes, both surpassing Obama's 2008 record.  Percentage of registered voters who will have voted will exceed 66%, may even reach 70%, a number not seen in a century.  As I said in my last post, we owe a debt to Donald Trump for this record, but more importantly, we must congratulate the American electorate who, rather that shrugging their collective shoulders and saying "all politicians are the same", made a choice and exercised their most precious right, the right to vote.

I watched some of the speech that Biden gave as the vote count continued into the weekend, and then his victory speech yesterday.  He continued expounding of the theme of unity that he displayed during the campaign, and I was happy that he addressed those who supported the president, while not attacking the president himself.  I would encourage that Biden, indeed all liberals, progressives, etc, do their best to put Donald Trump out of our consciousness.  He will continue his legal attacks on the election, will continue his attacks on the institutions of our country, but we must remain steadfast in our reaction, or in this case, non-reaction.  If there is one thing of which I am most certain, it is that Trump feeds on attention, positive or negative, and the best way to encourage him to disappear is to pretend he is already gone.  

Of course, the best way to remove Trump from the limelight, is for Biden to create and execute a successful plan to combat COVID-19 while allowing the economy the opportunity to recover.  Certainly a vaccine by early 2021 will help, but Biden must jump start confidence in the public's perception of the government's message concerning the use of mandates to protect the health of Americans versus our ubiquitous belief in freedom and liberty.  It is a fine line that Trump preferred not to walk, due to the difficulty of treading such a difficult path.  If there is one overall strength that Biden has always displayed, it is the ability to listen to a range of opinions, then merge those various opinions into actions.  He will need to temper the desire of those on the left to charge ahead while also assuring those on the right that change will be for the good of all, and not just those who voted for him.  

For now, we have just over 10 weeks before inauguration 2021.  We will hear about some of Biden's plans.  We will continue to suffer the ravages of the pandemic in terms of sickness, deaths, and economic stagnation.  But, as Biden has said many times, together, we can overcome these difficulties.  Together we can balance the needs for suppression of this deadly pandemic with the needs for our children to be in school, our small businesses to be able to operate safely, and our communities to incorporate the new normal of masks and distancing with the indomitable will of individual Americans to adjust, accept, and then prosper.

I am cautiously hopeful, and encourage anyone who reads this to be the same. 



Monday, November 2, 2020

Thank You Donald Trump

My opinion of Donald Trump is no secret; I am not a fan.

I don't agree with his policies or his leadership style, and I have a serious issue with his attacks on the institutions of our country, especially the free press and the judicial system.

But there is one area that I must give credit where credit is due; he has energized the electorate!

Whether you a true believer or a never trumper, it is expected that more people will vote in this upcoming election than any in history, and that, between those votes already cast and the expected long lines at the polls, we might even surpass a 60% turnout.

While the 2008 presidential election which resulted in the first African American President, also energized 
the voters and set a new standard for election participation, that campaign enthused the electorate on one side
of the aisle more than the other.  This election is spurring enormous interest on both sides, although for very
different reasons.

So, thank you Donald Trump.  Let's hope you have awoken the sleeping giant, and that 60% or more voter turnout will become the norm rather than the exception.  

Unfortunately, I am compelled to retract half of my appreciation for Trump's ability to get out the vote, as he, along with far too many GOP legislatures and conservative groups, are actively attempting to negate hundreds of thousands of votes through their actions in court over mail-in ballots.

Perhaps the electorate, in its newly found power and interest, will insist that our federal public servants, in cooperation with our state public servants, will fashion a national standard for elections, or at least a framework with some ability to tweak within that standard.

We know that more than half of the states allow for early voting, so let's mandate that all states must allow for some form of early, in-person voting, whether that be 7, 14 or 30 days.  We also know that some states allow for the tabulation of ballots before the actual election day, so let's mandate that as well, again with room for each state to determine how much time might be needed, so that a winner can be declared on election night rather than exposing our democracy to needless court rulings to determine our next president.

And why are we still married to the idea of election Tuesday?  The agriculture paradigm that created such a requirement is long gone.  As part of an early voting mandate, perhaps an election weekend might address both the bottleneck that can occur when interest is high and restrictions create long lines, and could also address the simple fact that the average working American is just that, working on Tuesday, in addition to whatever other obligations that might exist, family or otherwise.  A national time frame of Saturday through Monday, with Monday a nation holiday day - Democracy Day - might be worth considering.

As far as I can tell, there is no current legal standing that says that a voter in line as of close of polls, is not guaranteed the right to still cast her ballot.  Most states seem to allow just such a thing, again, as long as the person is in line by 8:00.

Yet there seems to be debate over whether a mail-in ballot received after election day, but postmarked on or before election day, is valid.  Clearly, mail-in ballots should be mailed at least a week before election day.  In fact, I would be fine if the national standard were set as such; all ballots must be postmarked by 3 or 5 or 7 days before election day, whatever each state believes will result in the vast majority being received and counted by election night.  But, since there is no such standard, it smells of politics when one party chooses to attempt to invalidate votes based on the assumption that a higher percentage of those votes will be for the other side.  Again, one should not wait until the last minute.  But, I am sure that the president would be alarmed to hear that some of his supporters were told to go home at 8:00, without being allowed to cast their vote because they waited until the last minute to get to their polling place.  Procrastination might be a trait that needs to be addressed, but the penalty should not be disenfranchisement.

I have said it ad nauseam, that Americans know far too much about pop culture, sports, and what is trending on U-tube, than we do about our democracy.  What percentage of people can name 5 Supreme Court Justices?  Their federal representatives in the Senate and Congress?  Their corresponding state reps?  We are proud of the greatness of our democratic experiment but fail to see that the experiment is ongoing, and needs
an informed and involved electorate to be successful.

But, one step at a time.  More people will vote in this election.  Good start.  Do we need a law that says if you don't vote, you get penalized in some way?  Boy, that just might explode the heads of people who resist being told what to do by the government but consider voting an important privilege.  Sometimes, often times, when an authority figure tells you to do something, your parent, your priest, your local police officer, your elected public servant, your "of the people, by the people, for the people" government, the advice is for the best.  Clearly, knowing when to swim upstream and fight the current is tricky, but always saying no smacks more of a childish behavior rather than a well thought out adult decision.

Still, rather than compelling people to vote, I would surely prefer that we assume the responsibility we have been given, and earn it by making the time to cast a vote once every two years, 4 times in 4 years if you vote in the primaries and the general.  That is a few hours a day, 4 days out of 1460 days, or about 1/4 of 1% of the days in that 4 year period.  Frankly, if we can't spare that much time, and just under half of us have not in the recent presidential elections, less than half again in the midterms, why do we get so angry when we don't like the government we elect?  We get what we deserve seems to apply here.

This election will shine a very strong light on the deficiencies of our electoral process.  It may even expose us to some very real negative consequences of not having a modern approach to such an important event.
When all is said and done, there should be only one goal for the future.  A federal framework that allows every citizen to be given the opportunity to vote, whether in person or by mail, whether a few days early or on election day, and a guarantee that their vote will be counted regardless of which party they prefer, and especially if their preference is different from that of the party in Washington or their state capital.



Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Debates

 Last week, I was one of the tens of millions of people who wasted 90 minutes of their life to watch the presidential debate (it doesn't deserve a capital P).  I wasn't planning on watching, as I assumed I wouldn't hear anything that would alter my perception that Donald Trump is not even a good person, let alone a good president, and that Joe Biden is a competent politician who at least has experienced events in his life that allow him to sympathize with everyday Americans and their problems. But in the end, I felt compelled to do my civic duty and sit through, perhaps, one of the worst debates in  memory.  To call it a shit show would be an insult to shit shows.

Afterwards, and for the next day or so (until it was revealed that Trump had contacted COVID-19), I heard many pundits attempt to identify a winner of the debate, although many merely focused on who didn't win.  More than one commented that it was much easier to merely state that both candidates were losers, but more importantly, that the American electorate was the biggest loser of all.  I certainly felt like I lost 90 minutes of my life I would never get back, and lost an opportunity to hear real solutions for these troubled times.

And America, the United States of America, the greatest country in the history of the world (so called), was revealed to the world as a nation of limited vision, limited leaders, and limited citizenry to have voted in such a way over the past years to have produced two parties offering such a horrific choice.

I am hopeful that there is a way out of this morass, that perhaps we will begin the long climb towards understanding how our democracy works and appreciating its uniqueness and worthiness, so that in the coming decade, we can vote at a higher percentage (will we make 75% this year), and with a far more in-depth understanding of how to choose, and hold accountable, our leaders.  

Our leaders. If they suck, it is no one's fault but our own, and right now, they suck.  Which means, we suck, as citizens, as neighbors, as humans.

I also watched the Vice Presidential debate last night.  It was at least more civil, far less instances of one candidate exceeding their time or talking over the other person.  But very little substance.  It was like watching two political ads playing side-by-side, as each candidate, sometimes answering the question, often bypassing the questions completely, trotted out their talking points.

It was certainly less painful, but still a waste of time.

So, what are we to do?

If the candidates are not going to obey the ground rules as agreed to and set forth by the debate commission, are going to behave like kindergartners on a playground, are going to only answer the questions they want to, or insert their own questions towards their opponent, if debates are all about trying to get the other person to misstep or make an onerous gaffe, than we should stop pretending they are a source of information to make such an important choice, and cancel them entirely.  At this point, they are only good for paid commentators to dissect and spin.

It is time, way past time, for the American public to follow the 5 D's of Dodgeball.

Dodge the rallies and focus on town hall meetings where we, the people, can ask questions that matter to us. When a candidate evades a question, the next citizen should ask it again, and again, and again, if it is necessary to get an answer.

Duck under the appeals to prejudice and hatred.  When a candidate points the finger of blame at a group that is dissimilar to you, remember that people of your demographic could be the next scapegoat.  It is our disparity that is the strength of America. 

Dip, no, immerse yourself in a candidate's actual voting record and actual actions.  When someone says they are concerned about the environment, but acts to reduce car emissions and mileage standards, turns away from enforcing EPA regulations, and seeks discredited science to justify their methods, it means they are weak on the environment.  That is certainly their prerogative, but they should at least own it, or we should at least recognize their hypocrisy.

Dive into civics, which, if you need reminding is, the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. Know the 3 branches of government and their roles and interactions, be able to name your Senators, your representative in the House, and your governor and state reps.  Perhaps even at least half of the Supreme Court Justices.  Who knows how far you might go from there. You might even learn how to pass a bill.   

and finally,

Dodge discussions with people who view disagreement as anti-American or anti-Patriotic, but please, please, engage in discussion with those who can debate the issues with facts, perhaps even disagree completely, but who will respect your opinion (as you do theirs), and agree to disagree.

Supporting the president on an issue you feel strongly about does not make you a sycophant, just as disagreeing with the president on an issue you feel strongly about does not make you a hater of America.

I guess what I am saying is that we need to be better citizens, better educated voters, and above all, we need to NOT follow the example as set forth in the recent debates, especially the presidential one.




Monday, September 7, 2020

Cost of Harming Nature

 As I have mentioned numerous times, I read the National Geographic, cover to cover, every month.  (Two of my secret wishes include Nat Geo.  First, to somehow have an article published in an edition, and even more unlikely, to convince Donald Trump to regularly read this wonderful magazine).

I just started the September edition, but felt compelled to comment on a short article called The Cost of Harming Nature. Written by Enric Sala, it is an excerpt from his book The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild.  Sala is an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and is known for his work as an ecologist and oceanographer.

In this article, Sala talks about the importance of valuing all life, but takes us to the oceans, rather than on land where we see and hear so much more about biodiversity and the ongoing mass extinction of life among animal, insect, bird, and other forms of life.

Before going further, I would like to share part of a quote from Sala, that precedes the article.

"COVID-19 is yet another reminder that conservation is not just a luxury for rich countries or a romantic ideal.  Our very survival depends on our being better members of the biosphere, our larger community".

Can you imagine how quickly and efficiently our species would be able to address climate change if our leaders believed that winning elections depended on how they demonstrated agreement with this premise, how more environmentally sound the decisions of the business leaders of the world would be if they believed their children and grandchildren's lives were incumbent on acting in conjunction with that belief, and how enhanced the lives of all people on the planet would be if in following the meaning of that quote, we were able to focus our global resources on guaranteeing our limited fresh water is clean and more readily available, our air free of pollutants, and our land (and the food it produces) was returned to a state without chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics?

So, the main point of the article concerned how the presence of humans in the various Line Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, corresponded to a change in the animal biomass, both numbers and diversity.  In his research, with all variables, such as oceanographic and climate conditions, flora and fauna, equal, Sala found that as the population of humans increased, the health of the coral reefs decreased.  In short, "when people, even just a few hundred, start fishing, they trim the food web from the top.  And as their number increases from none to just a few thousand, the coral reef shifts from one with lots of sharks and corals to one without sharks but with lots of small fish and seaweed".

This, in itself, was no big surprise.  And, while disappointing, it doesn't mean that we can't reap the bounty of nature to feed ourselves if we do it responsibly, and with an eye towards sustainability.  

What also was no surprise was that as the presence of humans increased, there was more bacteria in the waters, up to 10 times the amount thnt in waters without human interactions, and that the bacteria included a much higher concentration of pathogens.  Especially worrisome to Sala and his team was the presence of Vibrio, a bacteria that causes diseases in corals, and humans.  Diseases such as cholera, gastroenteritis, wound infections and septicemia. 

I know, all bad news so far.  Where is the happy ending?

In April and May of 2009, while conducting research in 5 islands in the Line Island chain south of the equator, Sala found the same clean, clear water, extremely high fish biomass, no humans.  But they also found an abundance of giant clams, something they saw in their earlier expeditions, but did not take particular note of.  

As it turns out, giant clams are expert water filters.  In the process of taking microbes for food from the water they intake, the resulting outtake contains far less microbes, dangerous or otherwise.  To test this hypothesis, members of the expedition led by viral ecologist Forest Rowher, placed water from the lagoon in an aquarium, water from the lagoon with empty clam shells in another, and water with live, giant clams in a third.  And, you guessed it, the water with the giant clams was cleansed of most of its bacteria and viruses, while the other two aquariums became turbid and loaded with bacteria.

Additionally, Rowher added Vibrio to the water with the giant clams, and, while the Vibrio put in the control aquariums thrived, it was significantly reduced in the water with the clams.

Happiness abounds!

Except that giant clams are on the decline all over the Pacific for their meat and shells.  The very animal which helps maintain the health of the ocean, is slowly disappearing through improper harvesting methods by the alleged, smartest animal on the planet.

So often, we use the excuse that we need to develop (a fancy word for destroy nature) this forest or that farm, or the field just sitting there, empty.  That the extinction of an inconsequential bird, or mammal, or insect, is not important in the big picture when we are talking about feeding or sheltering people.  And, perhaps, that might be the case in certain circumstances when dire outcomes may be imminent.  But it should not be the norm, it must be the exception, pursued only when there is truly no other alternative, and not just because it is more convenient, and certainly not to feed the greed of those who only gauge the natural world by how much money they can make from it.

That next tiny animal, the last of its species, could very well be the "virus filter" that prevents the next pandemic, except we won't know it because it will have never prevented it.  If I were to tell you that an animal, or fish, or some other "insignificant" life form was a natural predator for COVID-19, but, alas, was not there for us when we needed it, would that encourage you to support biodiversity?  Or alarm you to think about all the other insignificant life forms we have helped make extinct, and wonder how many dangers in nature they may have contained, but won't contain in the future? 

Sala ends his article with an idea which I have also promoted.  "Even if it's just for selfish reasons -- for our own survival -- now more than ever, we need the wild.  A healthy natural world is our best antivirus".





Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Idealism VS Realism

I recently finished reading The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power.  It was another of those books which I bought for Nora for Christmas last year.

For those of you unfamiliar with Samantha Power, she is best known for being the UN Ambassador for the United States from 2013-2017.  (I could comment here that the fact that most people do not know that she was our UN Ambassador, illustrates the problem with how poor is our collective understanding and knowledge of who helps run our government and our relations with other countries, including myself, but...)

Power's story is extremely interesting on a number of fronts.  She was born in Ireland, immigrating to the United States with her mother when she was young, so she has an affinity (I won't say natural as there are far too many first generation Americans who seem to forget that without immigration they would not be in our country, including Donald Trump), for understanding and advocating for immigrants and refugees, knowing full well the difficulties of acclimating to a new home.  Her mother was a strong woman despite her unhappy marriage to an alcoholic, so Power has a wonderful role model in a woman who moved her family, on her own, to another country, defying many norms of the day to do so.  And, perhaps most importantly, she spent the early part of her working career as an overseas journalist, covering some of the worst events of the world in terms of human on human atrocities.

If one could imagine a resume for the perfect candidate to be our UN Ambassador, hers seems to embody the experiences that would be most desirable.

There are an incredible number of passages and chapters in this book, that are both universal in their description of the human experience, and relevant to the issues we are debating and facing today.

The chapter on the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015 is certainly one of them.  In it, Power describes a concerted effort between government (including the military), medical, and private entities, coordinated by a team of people (led by President Obama) to address the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible, with the least lost of life.  To be clear, the death rate of Ebola was far greater than that of the current pandemic.  Had that disease advanced beyond Africa and around the globe, it would have resulted in a horrifying loss of life.

This is not to say that the two situations are completely similar.  China did not notify the world of the specifics of COVID-19 as quickly as they should have, and is far less isolated from contact to the rest of the world as compared to the 3 countries in Africa which were first effected.  There is no way of knowing that the same process used to combat, and ultimately contain Ebola would have worked for COVID. 

However, in contrast to the rambling coronavirus daily briefings that I watched in March and April, the process described by Power which tackled Ebola head on, in Africa, was inspiring.  First, we cared that it was happening in Africa, as opposed to clinging to an isolationist viewpoint that might have waited until it came to America.  It seems an extremely salient example of why only caring about America, is not only selfish and not in line with our Christian values, but short sighted, in that world problems will almost always effect America. 

Second, there was impressive collaboration between government and medical personnel, as opposed to what we so often witnessed this spring, when medical experts had to walk back the statements of top White House inhabitants and advisers. 

Third, there was real concern in America that Ebola would inevitably come to our shores.  Calls for travel bans emanated from many circles (including the current president).  People even worried that American medical professionals who went to Africa to help treat Ebola patients, would bring the disease back and some, again, advocated even banning them from returning to our country.  As it turned out, two nurses did contract Ebola in Africa, but were flown back to America, treated, and cured, without any spread of the disease.  (Had people like Trump been in charge, they would have most likely died in Africa).

Again, Ebola was very deadly, but not as infectious.  It is not completely fair to compare the handling of both without understanding these differences.  But, it is also true that even in the beginning of the COVID outbreak, Trump was comparing his actions, travel bans, discounting the seriousness, keeping victims or even people possibly exposed (like those on the cruise ships) out of America, while criticizing Obama's response to Ebola.  Obviously, you don't hear those comparisons anymore, since no Americans, that is ZERO, died of Ebola, and over 180,000 have died, so far, in this ongoing pandemic.

Samantha Power's life is a wonderful example of a person who understands the foolishness of only caring about oneself, whether that philosophy is applied to one's own life, family, community or nation.  And, even more importantly, her life is a wonderful example of why people choose to work for the United States government, either in the various, everyday occupations that move our mail, guarantee our food supply is safe, work to expose those who pollute our air and water out of expediency or greed,  monitor the spending of our various government agencies (the GSA) or, on bigger stages, work to establish positive relations between America and the rest of the world.  Yes, those in the deep state, as people who would destroy these institutions, call them, are the meat and potatoes of one of the reasons that America had risen to be the most respected nation on Earth, a nation that would prefer to lend a hand than to launch a weapon.  To me, attacking those people is far more unpatriotic than the current protests playing out in the streets of our nation.

There is a somewhat famous saying that people are more liberal, when young and naive, more conservative when older.  "If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, if you are not a conservative when old, you have no brain".  Oddly, it is usually quoted by conservatives, you seem to think that they are insulting liberals by calling them brainless, unaware that they are referring to themselves as heartless.  At this point in my life, I believe there are far more brainless idealists in heaven, than heartless realists.

Samantha Power's book, in my opinion, attempts to bridge the gap between the belief that it is one or the other, by recounting the process by which she has had to, at times, jettison some of her idealism, to actually get something done, even if it was less than everything she wanted.  That doing good is doing better, and in that case, realism can be embraced so that something good is accomplished.  It is not that one is sacrificed for the other, but combined to create the best result.

It is far too easy to pretend that idealism must be put aside in the face of realism.  In reality, realism without ideals and values is just a fancy word for selfishness.  While idealism is rarely, if ever, achieved, or perhaps even achievable, acting without ideals lowers the bar to a point where humanity is lost.

We need to refute the false equivalency that idealism must be sacrificed to face and navigate in the real world, and embrace Power's non-stated, but obvious goal of marrying the best of both philosophies. 

Perhaps that should be a goal for all of us. 

Monday, August 24, 2020


I have often suggested that the forces who advocate for the GOP agenda and conservative perspectives, are far better at framing the issues than those who write and opine for the viewpoints supported by the Democratic party and liberal perspectives.

The debate over guns is a prime example.  When the topic is cached in phrases like gun control and taking away the guns of the citizenry, and when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns, many Americans in the middle or on the fence, lean towards less gun control.  It doesn't seem to matter that all freedoms come with caveats, and that no freedom is absolute, any proposed restriction on owning guns is met with the claim that once we restrict ownership, we start down the slippery slope of losing the protections of the 2nd Amendment.  The fact that we don't allow the citizenry to keep a tank, or bazooka, or any of the mass destruction implements that exist, that we, in fact, do have limits on how we interpret the 2nd Amendment, doesn't seem to eliminate the all or nothing attitude of those who cherish their right to own a gun above all other rights.

My suggested answer to this problem, is to address the problem we have with phrasing of the issue.  It is clear from most polls, that the majority of Americans prefer a few more common sense restrictions on gun ownership as related to mandatory classes which address care, usage and storage of a gun, a national data base which links illegal use of guns to the actual weapons being employed, more stringent rules on who can purchase a gun, and how many guns are reasonable for someone to own, and the expansion of gun free zones, i.e, schools, churches, national parks, theaters, concert venues, night clubs, etc.  I believe that if we were to stop engaging in debates over gun control and begin talking about violence control, we might see those in the middle of the topic, nod their heads and agree that we need to reduce the level of violence which is occurring in our streets and our homes.

Violence Control

Similarly, I believe we continue to lose the battle of phrasing over climate change.  First off, it is too vague since some climate changes can be described in terms that will benefit mankind.  Secondly, too many proponents of actively addressing climate change, appear too uncaring in their reaction concerning how the millions of people currently employed by the fossil fuel industry will cope.  And, finally, although this is not all the areas that keep some from signing on to the dangers of climate change, is the viewpoint that the problem is too big and too expensive for us, especially as individuals, to make any real difference.

For these and all the other important but unnamed reasons, we need to shift the discussion to the term sustainability. 

When presented as a sustainability problem, it is much easier to get ranchers, fishermen, hunters, and other people who use the land for subsistence and pleasure to become part of the solution.  Telling them they can't do this or can't do that, gets us no where.  Showing them that their opinion matters, and that the goal is for them to continue to enjoy the benefits of the land they love, for now and for generations to come, invites them to the table and creates cooperation rather than confrontation, compromise rather than conflict.

Sustainability says, we value our resources, and how we use them, and wish to continue to use them in a manner that will not devolve into a time when they are depleted.

Sustainability results in new jobs and opportunities as the outdated ones disappear, just as the arrival of the automobile created a chance for a new job for those whose livelihood was dominated by the various businesses and vocations involving horses.

Sustainability provides a framework for businesses who worry that they will be left behind in any "green" revolution, or who are scared that they won't be able to develop a profitable version of their business with the coming adjustment, because it recognizes that we want as many people to be part of the solution as possible, and that entrepreneurs, are nothing, if not flexible to the always moving and
evolving goal of creating an idea or business model that will be profitable.

Sustainability suggests that the solution will evolve over time, allowing for most people to adapt to any new requirements, as opposed to the word change, which seems abrupt and definitive.

Sustainability denotes a plan which extends beyond just one administration or generation.  It feels much more long term, which seems more applicable to a problem as big as the dangers of our changing climate.

Sustainability asks the older folks to put aside the selfish phrase "well, I will be dead soon anyway", by connecting what they do now to the fate of their children and grandchildren.  I can't imagine anyone over 60 saying, "oh well, the next generation will deal with the Nazi's, I will be dead soon anyway", yet they do not seem as alarmed when dismissing the threat of climate change.  It becomes an immediate issue but with a softened label that makes people feel more a ease with the changes to which they might have to adapt, because they are changes that everyone will adapt to, everyone they know in their families, their neighborhoods, their country. 

This is not to say that we need to make some significant changes in how we view, and use, the natural resources of our planet.  We do, and now!  But we need more people to acknowledge the problem and become part of the solution and so by continuing to lose the battle of phrasing, especially in light of the anti-environmental attitudes of the current administration and those who enable him, we continue to waste precious time.

At the end of the day, it is the strength of our democracy that will be the telling point as to whether we begin to make in-roads in addressing the negative consequences of how we have treated our planet and its resources.  Because even if we convince more of those who straddle the middle of this issue, waffling one way and the next based on the last opinion show they watch, it will only be through an extreme increase in the voting percentage of Americans, that we will be able to reduce the influence of those who are the most threatened by climate change, not because they fear for their lives and those of their progeny, but because they fear they will lose the advantages that their wealth and influence provide them by denying the dangers of climate change. 

We need to invoke the idea of sustainability in reference to our democracy so that every vote matters and is counted, and the forces who bombard us with false equivalencies and attacks on our institutions
will be rejected, allowing our democracy to flourish, and allowing a new culture of concern and action to address the sustainability of human life on Earth. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A House, a House, my kingdom for a house

For the past few years, Nora and I have been working toward moving to a new home.  We spent a fair amount of money and time improving the look of the house, especially the first floor, so as to present an attractive first impression.  We also began sorting through our possessions, donating, throwing out, and storing, in expectation of our eventual move.

By early this year, we had narrowed our search criteria and were seeing some nice homes, but COVID put a stop to that and our search was placed on temporary hold until late May, a time when we thought we might already be in a new home.  As May turned to June, it was clear that my plan to get the summer things into the storage unit, at the very back, was poorly conceived, and I spent half a day digging out the fans, air conditioner units, and other summer related items.

In late June, we put a bid on a house, and to remove a large obstacle that might negatively effect our bid, we put our house on the market.  That afternoon, as we awaited a response for our offer, we received the first request to see our home, and by the next day had shown the house to 4 prospective buyers, then 3 more the following day.  At this point, 2 days after putting the For Sale sign on our front yard, we had 4 offers, 2 at full list price.  We decided to accept one of the two, but were disappointed to hear that our offer for a new home had been rejected.

Motivated, we continued to see homes that next weekend and the following one, finding one that checked almost all our boxes.  We made and offer and it was accepted.

Closing date for our home to sell was set for July 27th, closing date for our house to buy was set for
July 31st, but since we were scheduled to be on vacation from July 24 to 31, we were confident that we could make it all work.

While that first weekend of vacation was spent pushing to empty our home by the 27th, except for a few things in the barn, we went to settlement, and officially signed over ownership of our house, the house we had spent most of our married life, raised our children, and worked so hard to make a "home".  Truly, it was the hard work and love that Nora had expended all those years that made the home a wonderful place to live, and an attractive place which sold so quickly.

The next day, Tuesday, was walk through for the new home, but a few things were not finished per  remediation from the home inspection, so we decided to do another one the morning of settlement.  Wednesday marked the only true day of "vacation" for Nora, as she had to work on Thursday.

Friday morning, we packed both cars with the food which had been transported from our now ex-house to vacation, plus some other things that had been "moved" to our vacation spot.  We did another walk through of the new home, noted a few things that still needed attention, and even emptied the cooler into the refrigerator, and some clothes into the closets of the new house.

At 1:00 we arrived at settlement in one car, having left the other in front of the new house, and began the arduous task of signing the papers.  As we finished signing the papers, I handed over the certified check for our portion of the closing costs. Since we were separated from the seller due to COVID precautions, we made a call to my son and daughter and told them to get the U-Haul truck and begin loading it in anticipation of meeting us at the new house. 

At 1:30, while sitting at the table, Nora received a call to schedule a quote at the new house for a tub/shower update, so she scheduled a visit at the new home for two weeks hence.

At 1:45, a representative of the title company apologized for the delay, saying that there was some negotiation going on between the title company and seller over the size of the escrow account which was required for various reasons.

At 2:30, the same representative entered the room, handed me the check I had given her an hour earlier, and told us to go home; the seller had left the settlement table without signing the papers.

After pulling Nora back across the table, she having leapt halfway across it yelling "We have no home", we left the room, left the office, and went back to our car.

To say we were stunned, devastated, upset, bewildered, is an understatement.

We called the kids and told them to turn around, go back to the storage unit and empty everything back.

We discussed where we would stay, Nora and I, and the kids who were to stay at our new house that night after helping us move, we reviewed our options, we sought alcohol.

After discussing our options with the kids, we took their advice and stayed at a hotel (which allowed dogs since Piper was also with us), so as to relax, eat a nice meal, and drink heavily.

The next day, we completed the 2nd part of the plan, loading Rachel's things in a U-Haul so she could take her large items to Pittsburgh where she had recently found an apartment.  We said good-bye to the kids as they drove away in JW's car and the U-Haul truck, then drove back to our now ex-new home to retrieve our other car and the things we had put in that house. 

Our real estate agent met us there, but was unable to open the lock box to get the key to open the door.  I remembered that in our walk throughs, I noticed that the Bilco doors from the basement to the backyard had never been latched, so I went around to the back and, fortunately, found them still unlatched.  We retrieved our belongings and spent the weekend at Nora's dad's house. Thanks, Bill.

We both had to work that Sunday, and while getting ready for work, I realized I was missing some clothes.  Those of you who know me, know I don't own many clothes, so I thought hard about where they could be, deciding that the only logical place would be the new house.

On Monday, I drove back to that house, went around the back, but this time the Bilco doors were latched.  As I was driving away, I noticed a car pull up behind me so I circled around, but when I returned, I realized it was a neighbor, not the owner.  As I sat in the car in front of the house, it dawned on me that perhaps, the lock box was still in place.  I walked up to the front door, found the box, spun the dial, and it opened.  So, for the 2nd time in as many days, I broke into my ex-house, although one might say that it was not breaking and entering, only entering, since I had a key.

In my ex-closet I happily found my pants and 2 shirts.

We had extended our offer until Monday, in hopes that the seller would evaluate his position with the title company, and choose to come to terms, but that was not to be.  We also floated the idea of renting the house while he resolved his issues, but when he responded  with a rental fee that was almost twice as much as my mortgage payment would have been, we cancelled the deal and requested our down payment be returned plus 3 expenses; the home inspection fee, the U-Haul cost, and the hotel stay.

The following weekend, we began the new search, although a search with a little more urgency.

On Sunday we saw a nice house, decide to make an offer, but received an email that it went under contract.

Since my mom was still on vacation, and her house was closer to both my and Nora's work, we toggled back and forth between my mom's house, work, and Bill's house.

On Wednesday, I saw 4 very nice homes, and we decided to make an offer on the best one. On Thursday, we submitted our offer, and I scheduled an appointment for Nora to see the house, as she had only seen pictures of it. 

On Friday, two days ago, Nora saw the house and was told by our realtor that our offer was accepted and,  at that time we received a check returning our down payment.

So, today, Sunday, we are back to the beginning of buying a new home, scheduling a home inspection, getting all the paperwork together, etc, while still living with most of our possessions in storage.  It has been a whirlwind, but also one of those experiences in which you find incredible amounts of love and support from those who matter in your lives. 

More than one person told us that everything would work out for the best, that God had a plan for us, that the universe would turn and something better would come along, and other versions of good wishes.  For sure, this 2nd "new" house is much nicer than the first.  Hopefully, in 6 weeks we will be home owners again, and will be able to laugh about the last few weeks while enjoying the company of family and friends (in an appropriate socially distant format) in our new home.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Obama or Trump

Often, when I log onto to certain websites, or read certain articles, I am asked to respond to the simple question; who is/was the better President, Obama or Trump.

While I never waste my time responding to such "polls", I offer the following speech given by President Obama in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2009, the day he received the Nobel Peace Prize, as one reason to believe that Barack Obama is a far better person and leader that Donald Trump.  I only ask you to read through it in its entirety, and then ask yourself, seriously, are these not the words of a leader with vision for a better Earth, a more just version of humanity, the words of a moral, spiritual man? And could these words and sentiments ever emanate from the mouth of Trump?

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:
I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.
And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women - some known, some obscure to all but those they help - to be far more deserving of this honor than I.
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries - including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.
Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease - the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.
Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics, and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.
For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations - total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of thirty years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.
In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations - an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize - America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons.
In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.
A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states; have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sewn, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, and children scarred.
I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.
Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions - not just treaties and declarations - that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest - because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another - that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths - that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."
What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?
To begin with, I believe that all nations - strong and weak alike - must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakens - those who don't.
The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait - a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.
Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention - no matter how justified.
This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.
I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.
America's commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.
The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries - and other friends and allies - demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali - we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.
Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant - the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.
Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.
I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior - for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure - and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.
One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: all will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.
But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma - there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.
This brings me to a second point - the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.
It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.
And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists - a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.
I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests - nor the world's -are served by the denial of human aspirations.
So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side
Let me also say this: the promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach - and condemnation without discussion - can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.
In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable - and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroikanot only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.
Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights - it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.
And that is why helping farmers feed their own people - or nations educate their children and care for the sick - is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action - it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more - and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.
As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we all basically want the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.
And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities - their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint - no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith - for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.
But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached - their faith in human progress - must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.
For if we lose that faith - if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace - then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.
Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."
So let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he's outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.
Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that - for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.