Monday, May 31, 2010

They Fall That We May Rise

We who sit in comfort bought
Know little of the true price paid
By all those who fought and fought
And now in the ground are laid

We little think of them now
Save once or twice a year
Not ever conceiving how
They fought through all their fear

We fly our flags and gaily wave
As the living ones do walk by
Thinking of what comrades gave
Before they had to die

Then we drive off to the malls
To get our shopping in
As some gather near the walls
To remember fallen kin

The day will come and go again
As have so many passed
Never knowing exactly when
We can ever see the last

You may not know why the day
Comes again each year
But those who died along the way
Are the reason you are here

They gave hearth and home
To stem an evil tide
Never more shall they roam
From the places they have died

You owe each one a greater debt
One perhaps you can't repay
Though you can start by showing yet
To honor them this day


To all the men and women, throughout the history of our nation, the United States of America, who so gallantly fought, and tragically died, that we might retain the blessings of freedom and liberty. And, to all those still living, that have fought and do fight now, for their dedication, their service, and their sacrifice in the name of their countrymen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Blood Of Ages Unknown

It pours out, staining the water, hurtling into the quiescent and fragile sea, like blood from an artery opened by a careless tick of the knife. It threatens everything around it; a malevolent, oozing, capricious flood, seeping into every place it can, mocking us as it floats atop the waves or rolls up onto the sand.

It is oil.

The lifeblood of modern civilization, the "black gold" that drives industry, creates electricity, and allows us to span great distances in eye-blinks. Rich, thick, dark, and oh so valuable, coveted by many and held by few. Like gold or spices in the distant past, a treasure worth fighting and dying for, capable of making the poor man rich and the rich man king. It has played a part in every major war, starting with WWII, when control of oil determined the fate of the Nazi empire and condemned Japan to failure when they could not hold onto it. The Cold War was as much about oil as ideology, for resources were important, and those with adequate supplies of them gained the upper hand. Here, the Middle East was carved up, countries taking sides in a war that only stood to make them rich, as each side vied for the affections of those who held the precious fluid.

With that, lines were drawn, oaths sworn, and the seeds of future wars planted. As Vietnam ground down the resolve of a nation, the OPEC countries began to squeeze it further still, condemning America and its allies for the support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. For the first time, without adequate domestic supplies of oil, Americans felt what it was like to be at the mercy of the oil barons. Gas lines and heating oil shortages were just a taste of the power of nations holding all the cards. After 1973, with the descent of Richard Nixon and the rise of Jimmy Carter, an effort was made to turn back our demand for this tantalizing, addictive, but ultimately ruinous substance. Conservation was key, and for a while America was willing to follow the script, as long as it lead to cheaper oil. With usage plummeting, prices plummeted, and the reign of cheap oil caused an abandonment of conservation for the excess of the SUV and need for speed. We drove ourselves right back into the hands of the oil producing nations willingly, as sheep to the slaughterhouse.

Our short-sightedness has condemned us for decades; with free, renewable, easily-tapped energy flowing all around us on the wind, in the waves, and from the sky, we tied our future to a finite substance, found only in certain areas, which required enormous effort to reach as supplies dwindled, and whose by-products may be upsetting the delicate balance of Earth's planetary ecosystem. Hungry for more and more, heedless of the true cost, only concerned with the impact on our wallets, we were content to look the other way.

Now, our hubris is laid bare in a destroyed oil platform, a growing oil slick, and wetlands and wildlife coated in oil. While every side points fingers, and scrambles to find a solution, more and more oil gushes forth, a geyser of death, and the blood is on our hands. To say that the Gulf oil spill is a disaster is to minimize its impact, for while not as explosive as an atom bomb, or as violent as a volcanic eruption, nor even as mind-wrenching as a tsunami, the slow, inexorable spread of oil is devastating on a scale still untold, for the oil yet may escape and be spread by ocean currents to the far reaches.

That the nation that put men on the Moon cannot muster the technical acumen and resource to stem this deadly flow is testament to the fall from grace of our mighty nation, for a country that has spent so much time preeminent in science and technology, now finds itself hamstrung. The vain attempts to stem the flow show organization akin to consulting a Ouija board, and are inconceivable in their ridiculousness. Do the oil companies so dismiss the chances of such things happening that they are not prepared? Does it not occur to them, especially after some of the epic oil-related disasters of the past, to be prepared, with knowledge and supplies, to combat such a thing? Is the government of the United States that disconnected form reality, that they did not pursue regulation and monitoring with sufficient vigor? These are questions for the future; the question now remains: how do we make it stop?

Ultimately, though blame may be handed out, rightly or wrongly, the blame lies squarely with us, and our rapacious consumerism. The plastics we use, the gasoline we buy, the oil we use to heat our homes, the gas intensive vehicles we drive -- all of this contributes to this moment. When we ask "How could this happen?", we need only look in a mirror to see where it starts. We must curb our energy use, tap the free resources available to us for power generation, demand Congress and the White House stop pandering to the oil companies and bring them to heel, and above all, we must become cognizant that humanity is only as strong as its decides to be, and while humanity ties its fate to oil, we remain sitting at the edge of a precipice, staring into an abyss that may spell our doom as a species.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oh, The Humanity

It is easy enough, perhaps, to separate ourselves from others. We can erect whatever barriers we choose, to segregate or compartmentalize people, to fit them into our orderly view of the world. Those same barriers can be used to deflect the uncomfortable truths which would threaten our societal constructs. These walls can only be torn asunder only by the most brute application of reason and tolerance and compassion; rarely is such force capable of being assembled easily.

To be open-minded, requires a constant fight against the deep-seated instincts of our primitive ancestors, who survived a cruel and tortuous world by developing a healthy paranoia, a distrust of anything that was different, or that they did not understand. This survival instinct brought them through the worst of times and harshest of conditions, and allowed them to grow and flourish, giving rise, eventually, to our modern civilization.

Along the way, as groups of humans learned to come together and cooperate for mutual benefit, the instinct transformed from a tool of survival, to a means of differentiation. The primitive brain, since shuffled down the ladder of primacy by the powerful cerebral cortex, held on doggedly to some power, planting notions within the higher thought centers that were not so easily ignored. It sought to ensure hierarchy within the group, by making some strive to be more powerful or richer than others, to keep the rest in their place; it worked to keep strangers out of the group, by planting seeds of distrust because of how others looked, acted, or seemed. In the middle centuries of modern human culture, the primitive brain still ruled, but as the power behind the throne.

The 20th Century began to show the true promise and potential of humanity, and we would have been excused for thinking that finally the cerebral cortex had won out over the primitive brain, but the 21st Century appears to be beginning with a regression. While our technology opened up global communication and the sharing of ideas, it also allowed the hidden and sometimes long dormant underbelly of human society to creep back into the light, to spread virulently among those not inoculated by education and common sense.

Now we see the rebirth of intolerance writ large across a great spectrum -- illegal immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, just to name a few, must withstand a barrage of invective and vituperation that we are unaccustomed to seeing in recent history, being they are so blatant and repugnant. Many thought the election of a black President signaled a sea change in our society, that the demagoguery and racism and hatreds of the past were no more, little realizing they were hiding like vipers in the reeds, waiting to strike the unsuspecting. Anything that settled temporarily to the bottom of the melting pot, now is stirred up and mixed in with the stew.

It is easy to condemn those who expose their ignorance and bigotry so readily, but it is not enough, because they will not simply stop at the first sign of resistance. They have honed their intolerance, crafted it into neat systems that resist any and all attempts at the application of reason. We must endeavor to not only point out the incongruities that drive their flawed and fallacious arguments, we must ensure that we meet them at every point of engagement, show them for what they are, and lay out the case for reason. Only in that way, can we hope to drive ignorance and bigotry back under the rocks they crawled out from.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For The People

It can reasonably be said that the American people are tired of politics as usual, to such an extent that in recent primaries, incumbents were dealt severe blows, falling to new-comers who promised change and an end to "the usual business in Washington, D.C." The anger of a nation, fueled by a wanton Wall Street, corporate disaster, economic failure, mass foreclosure, and partisan politics, is being turned on those who constructed the house of cards that so recently fell, and continues to rain down on the citizens of this country. Rightly so, for the rush to consolidate power, to become adherents of corporations, and to use their political ambition toward their own self-aggrandizement, has cheapened Federal government and made a hopeless muddle of a system that should be serving the general welfare, not lining the pockets of its legislators.

However, in their haste, and untempered by cool reason, some Americans have fallen in for the cheap and easy fix. They seek to replace career politicians based solely on the rhetoric of change, and not with a critical eye toward the character and capability of those they would anoint. They drink of the wellspring of ill-will toward Washington, D.C., but do not taste the poison that still laces it. It is enough that the name-plate on the door changes, and that the elected agree with them wholeheartedly. There is no great debate, no casting of ideas, no formulation of a common theme, merely the reactionary tide of displeasure, which, as before the tsunami, sweeps all away regardless of worth, to leave wreckage in its midst, and an opportunity for the vipers and charlatans to have their day.

The ill-considered lauding of those who stand on in deep, dark chasms, rather than in the purer light and air of the surface, means that the political structure of the Federal government may be shifted, such that a system already fraught with sluggish turmoil, may now be dragged down into festering chaos. It means those who have hidden their lack of sympathy for fellow humans, and their disdain for the very institutions they seek election to, may now stand in the hallowed halls of great legislators, and tear down the curtains and abscond with the candlesticks, as they chop and hack away at two hundred-plus years of progress, to toss our nation back into the mire from which it has been patiently inching.

They who would cloak themselves in the tattered remnants of our true history, place "patriotism" over plurality, and seek to rip the country off of its foundations of liberty and freedom for all, may very well be let in the front door, by citizens who have no reckoning, no inkling, no memory of the darkness from which this country has attempted to emerge. The blood spilled and spilled again defending the soil of the Colonies, then the American nation, and finally, the world, will have been spilled vainly, to see jesters, fools, and mountebanks run the kingdom, as they steal what little the poor have, to fuel the petty excesses of the rich. The shores will choke in oil, the skies blacken with smog and soot, the water run unnatural colors when fouled again with the ichor of industry, in the name of "free markets" and "productivity." America will become the land of Sisyphus, watching the boulder that is our freedom roll down the mountain, forcing us to trudge back down after it, yet again.

It is true that we need change, and that change started with the election of Barack Obama, but even he pronounced that this was not the end, but merely the beginning. Change, that inevitable and irresistible force, must be driven by our desire to do better than those who came before us, not by the simple desire to heave out the old and replace them with just anyone. We do ourselves and our nation's heritage a disservice when we stoop to mob rule; the Founding Fathers wanted better of us. They wanted citizens to stay engaged, to work with, not against, their government, and to be its arbiters and conservators and care-takers. They entrusted the people, for whom the government was formed, with the task of shepherding the nation through every new age, every new change, every new challenge, and gave us the power to ensure that the government met its obligations fairly and with honor. That government now is seen as an enemy, rather than a partner, is an indictment of we, the people, for it has become so only because we have refused to take our stewardship seriously.

Even now, we face a test. We can throw out the old, fill the seats with those who salve our consciences and stoke our prejudices -- to our ruination. Or, we can seek to promote those who will restore the patina of honor to government, who will carry through on the credo that our government is of, by, and for, us, by working to make all Americans partners again, by ensuring the safety, security, and well-being of all citizens, without cost to our individual liberty. Given the right people -- thoughtful, magnanimous, honorable, tolerant -- we can seek to honor our history, and by doing so, provide a meaningful and prosperous future for all. To do less, is to place our nation in peril, and to see the dream of the United States of America that our Founders gave life to wither and die in ignominy. Let us be sure that never comes to pass.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Death Does Not Become Us

It is, perhaps, only instinctual that when we learn of a murder or murders most heinous and atrocious, that our guts roil, our blood boils, and even the most peaceful and loving amongst us feels blood-lust well up from the deep recesses of our primitive brain. The Biblical injunction of an "eye for an eye" overwhelms its pacifistic cousin, "turn the other cheek." Somewhere, in the dark corners of our hearts, we feel that to put the murderer to death is only just and fitting.

This feeling inevitably provokes some to remind us that the death of the murderer in no way changes the outcome of their actions -- their victims are still dead. To put a murderer to death is an abuse of the power of the State, it serves no useful purpose, and the murderer can easily be condemned to a life incarcerated, with no hope of parole. Invariably, this leads to a brouhaha over the cost of incarceration, law, justice, morality, and government that leads to no clear winner or loser of the argument, and the same problem as before -- what to do?

We must ask ourselves, as humanity, what is in the best interests of us all? Is the desire for vengeance greater than the desire for justice? Are we to be ruled by the laws of rational humanity, or the laws of our still extant animal passions? What price do we pay, as individual people, as a society, as humanity, for putting a person to death, even if that person has committed the most flagrant and destructive acts?

Clearly, to kill a murderer is to eliminate a problem. It removes the potential for escape, for recidivism, and for perpetuation of the aura surrounding such a person (the potential for that person to become a perverted icon for "worship"). It is, literally, a dead end, and we can awake the next day knowing they will plague us no longer. And yet... at what point is their death really justified? Do we judge the severity by body count, or who was murdered, or the means of the murder, or the defendants justifications? What criteria do we define for execution, so as to be fair and just? The States have struggled with these questions for as long as there has been a United States, and in over two hundred years, there has been no good resolution. As noted above, Biblical times were also fraught with a conflict between "Thou shall not kill" and "eye for an eye." And we have not even broached the idea of the death of an innocent person, convicted of a murder they did not commit.

Depending on your predilections, you will lean one way or the other, and consensus is but a fleeting hope. Perhaps, though, we should look at the problem not as the specific instance of the crime, but as an adjunct to human society. Instead of making the focus so narrow, we should, instead, broaden the scope.

It comes down to the principles we wish to base our human society on. Law, and justice, are but a small part of the human experience, and while our society is constructed around the idea that law exists to protect us and allow us the freedom to be who we are, free of the interference of others, we know we give up some of that freedom in order to follow the law. Moral conundrums are aplenty, as it is possible to argue that in certain instances, perhaps the ends justify the means, and the man who steals medicine for his sick wife, or the wife who kills her abusive husband, are obeying some "higher order" of morality that supersedes ideas human law and justice. The case can be made that society is stable, only where law cannot be absolute, and where the letter of the law may be bent to fit the circumstance.

When humanity began to assemble more and more complicated arrangements, from tribes, to settlements, to towns and cities, up to nation states, law had to adapt to the plethora of instances and circumstances that were spawned by these increasingly larger groups. Law moved from the simple level of commandments, to pervasive codes that were important to standardize personal freedom and responsibility, commerce, trade, and relations between these entities. The complexity of law in modern times, makes the case for what constitutes justice that much more difficult to parse. A legal process that is fraught with technicality and is inured with outmoded social mores, combined with rapid changes in society and technology, leads to a no-man's land of loopholes, test cases, and overwrought precedent.

It is in this cloud of uncertainty, that we are asked to render judgment. We must, somehow, take all these things into consideration, and determine what course is best. In courtrooms every day, law and justice are thrashed about, burned in the crucible of human emotion, and recast and retooled. The product is not always pure, nor is it always empathetic, nor even just; the best that can be said, is that the attempt has been made and that is the best we can do today.

Where human life is concerned, however, that may not be good enough. Holding the life of another in our hands, we only have our experiences and beliefs and codes of conduct to guide us. The determination of whether a convicted criminal deserves to die, is a mountain more daunting than even Mt. Everest in Winter.

Maybe, then, it is best to declare, once and for all, that killing someone is wrong, even if it is the State doing it. We do ourselves a disservice with moral equivocation; just as it is said that one cannot teach a child to forgo violence by using corporal punishment on him/her, perhaps the child that is current human society cannot progress until it is taught that violence as a form of resolution is unacceptable. Only when we put aside animal instinct for human reason and deduction, can we say we have left the infancy of our species behind.