Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Antique Roadshow: Shuttle Discovery

Well, the Shuttle Discovery finally made it up into orbit. A bird hit it and chunks of tile and other unknown parts fell off during the ascent. It did not even reach the planned altitude. NASA officials say one chunk may have been an eight-inch piece of tile. The crew needs to get outside and crawl underneath before they are certain they can safely make it back home. It all reminds me of a 1967 Buick Special I owned in 1979.

Did you know that construction of the 4.5 million pound Discovery began in 1979? It was only the third shuttle of a total of five off that assembly line. They finally finished building Discovery four years later, in 1983. It has been back in the shop for repairs every year since then. The Space Shuttle should have been retired years ago, like my Buick.

Let me put this in perspective. Do you know that the first few cars off the assembly line of any factory, anywhere, usually do not even start? That has always been true for any new model, not just the Yugo. Car manufacturers do not dare put those first cars on the road. They actually tear them apart not long after they are built. Now imagine that you are now riding one of the first models of something made back in 1979; a motorcycle, a car or even a plane. Are you willing to take it up to 100 mph? How about 7,500 mph? Could you feel confident about taking that machine for a few spins around the planet? Remember, you will need to seriously slam on the brakes and glide that old ship back through 50 miles of Earth's junk-filled atmosphere. What a risky gamble the US Space program has become!

Do you know if there is a serious problem with a tile they intend to park the shuttle at the International Space Station (another ancient piece of flotsam and jetsam) for repairs? Nothing a roll of duct tape and some plaster of paris cannot remedy, huh? Actually, if they cannot fix it properly, the astronauts/demolition derby drivers are stuck at the station until spare parts can be sent up via a much more reliable unmanned Russian craft. The Space Station is the most expensive and dangerous human habitation ever constructed. Do you wonder what it might be like to spend a few nights there? The plumbing doesn't work, the food is terrible and the air stinks. The Space Station is also near the point where it will come roaring back to Earth in a burning flash. Nice motel. Sounds like the Bates Motel.

Why all this risk? Let me guess, we need the Shuttle and the Station for expanding military operations into Earth's orbit and beyond? NASA says this is part of the objective to go to the Moon and reach Mars. Strangely, we have already sent manned spacecraft to the Moon and unmanned craft to Mars. It is a well-known fact that NASA is primarily a cover for conducting military operations in space. No other purpose can justify the incredible expense of manned space missions.

What about the cost of this huge bottle rocket? America is spending billions to build one house in space while millions of humans starve in Niger and Burkina Faso. The budget of this single shuttle mission could feed the starving masses in Central Africa for at least a year! Of course, one week's military operation costs in Iraq would cover the same costs of starving Africans, for several years. The U.S. Space Shuttle is a perfect example of how rich nations waste the world's precious resources while leaving children in the Third World to needlessly die premature deaths.

When the one million-piece Discovery comes gliding back through the atmosphere, as a slowly burning hulk, as it is designed to do, no wonder if it barely makes it safely to the ground. Discovery has already flown 30 previous space missions. Engineers admit the Space Shuttle design is obsolete. Many of the systems, including the onboard computers, make it a real antique in every sense. My '67 Buick Special was driven into the ground sometime in the early 1980's, after 270,000 miles and three engines. Then again, that Buick was not the 4th car off a new model line that only produced 6 working cars. The previous two working models off the Space Shuttle assembly line were the Challenger and the Columbia. We must learn from what happened to the scientists we risked on the last flights of those two vessels.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Rich Trample The Poor

They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people. That is too much, even for a joke….
Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder…. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles….

Eugene Debs

Think about the words of that great American, spoken in a speech given in June of 1918. Debs had just visited men who were in prison for opposing the draft. At his trial, after he was arrested for making that speech, Debs spoke these words:

I have been accused of obstructing the war. I admit it. Gentlemen, I abhor war. I would oppose it if I stood alone…I have sympathy with the suffering, struggling people everywhere. It does not make any difference under what flag they were born, or where they live…

Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element; I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene Debs was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to ten years in jail. It is now 2005 and the United States is still waging wars for conquest and plunder. Our leaders and rich neighbors want all the cheap oil they can possibly waste. Our corporate executives want millions of dollars in annual salaries. These same robber barons want to keep millions from getting proper health care or a living wage. Politicians that stole the people's vote with lies and fear about weapons of mass destruction want to build more bombs to drop on the poor. Your schools and roads are crumbling, your taxes are going up along with the prices of everything you need. The government prints fake reports to make you believe everyone is employed yet millions are out of work. Business people tell you the economy is great but the National Debt is more than $7,875,946,479,699.72!!! Almost 8 trillion dollars of debt is not a sign of a great economy, it is a measure of how severe the nation's economic crisis actually is.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Lessons of Hate

Here’s a thought for everyman who tries to understand what is in his hand…

Or head. Or Heart.

24, a popular program broadcast on the tube this year, portrayed a man shooting down the plane containing the president of the United States. That was on a network television station that is seen by millions. The fictional perpetrators were Islamic fundamentalists and their supporters.

At that same moment a public TV station was broadcasting the uncomfortable historical facts of 1930s Catholic support for killing the Jews. Far fewer people learned that lesson, however, because hardly anyone watches public TV these days. Those few who did watch Frontline on April 4, 2005 could not have easily ignored the message about the power of messages of hate.

The millions that saw the fictional shoot down of Air Force One learned a lesson of hate that evening as well.

A gunshot just rang out near my home. Not a firecracker or backfire or recording, but a gunshot. In a very urban setting. This is America. Land of the free, home of who knows what…

Learning about hate is not fun. Watching blacks kill blacks in Haiti was a tough lesson. Right before my eyes. Not once or twice but day after day, sometimes week after week. It depended on the season. It was called dechoucage or "pulling up the roots." It means out with the old leadership and in with the new.

Necklaced. When I first saw a man with burning tires around his neck I wondered if there even is a thing called society. A concept of civilization. Perhaps not, at least not yet. Maybe someday, maybe…

When I read about some Jewish extremists spreading blue poison pellets around the Holy Lands I wondered if advances in human culture are possible. Wild gazelles died along with some Palestinian goats. Those same thugs poisoned a poor village’s only well. Deliberately dumped used baby diapers in the drinking water. In the desert.

If it is possible to breed hatred then it is possible to breed love. Instill love in the people you brush past in your life. The cause needs every supporter it can find.

A weary Pope could no longer keep up the struggle. The little Polish man tried to change what he could without causing more death. He knew far more than he shared with us. He lived in Warsaw while the carousel went round and the Jewish ghetto burned alive. Necklaced en masse.

Have you ever been robbed? Alone in an alley? Maybe at gunpoint or at the tip of a knife? I have. Caribbean Islands, Hawaii, Vancouver, India, Virginia, Amsterdam and other places. Too many times. All wonderful, beautiful, flower-strewn places. It is all about looking the face of hate and desperation right in the eyes. I looked hate right in the eyes on each occasion and spoke words of compassion and love. Scares the hell out of hate to get sympathy at that moment. Not at all what they are expecting. No, not at all.

You may still get robbed but not killed. Show fear or anger or anything but love and compassion to your thief and that may be the last thing you ever do. Show love and compassion and sometimes funny things happen.

I ended up taking one thief to a restaurant and buying him all he could eat. The restaurant owner knew the man as a thief and tried to make me hate him by openly showing her hate to the thief and myself. I still made her feed us both and give extra to the criminal. She was stunned into silence at my momentary show of compassion for a very hungry man. No matter, we all learned a lesson that morning.

When the Haitian man pushed the gun in my face I laughed at him. He was quite serious about killing me. I knew that too. I knew that man for many months. When I stopped laughing at his foolishness I said to him, “You can kill my body, but not me. Go ahead, shoot me, then what happens?, another person comes along, you shoot that person and the next, pretty soon you are out of bullets.” He started to shake, rather uncontrollably. He still pointed the gun in my face and demanded my money. I refused. (I do not recommend this approach, bear with me.)

Plain thieves do not know what to do next when the gun or knife does not produce the expected result. Drug addicts, hungry people and killers may go ahead and shoot you anyway. In this case I knew this man. He was not particularly hungry or an addict or a man who had killed recently. He was failing to elicit fear in me. I slowly sat down but never stopped looking in his eyes. I have been told you do the same thing with snakes but not bears or mountain lions. Who knows.

The man kept on threatening me and shaking. I asked him if he knew who I was. I said, very firmly but not shouting, “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I am? Do you realize what happens when you kill me? I am not who you think I am. You cannot kill me, my body maybe, but not me. I will still be right here in this room in your face, even if you kill me.”

He was violently shaking at this point. I was really concerned that the weapon would discharge just from his shaking but I showed no fear. No fear on display to indicate weakness. None at all. Under my shirt I was sweating buckets but not my face.

He asked me who I thought I was “God or something?” I replied, “What do you think? What do you feel right I am right now? You answer that question, I know who I am.”

He slowly set the gun down but kept it pointed at me. I kept looking deeper and deeper into his eyes. (I also moved ever so slightly to one side so that the bullet would pass just to my left.) I realized that I was already deep in his head. He said to me, “You cannot act like God, that is a sin. The Bible says that is very bad.”

“I am not acting, Pierre. I can only be exactly what I am with you there pointing a gun at me, threatening to kill me. You forced me to show you who I really am. Now you know. Put the gun away, you cannot kill me and you know it.” He did put the gun away and he did know it. From that day on he showed immense respect to me in every way he could.

Later, I replaced the bullets in that gun with blanks, just in case Pierre flipped out again.

A few days later I walked right through the Haitian revolution without getting shot. People were shooting each other from both sides of the street. I was the only white man in that village town on that day. Walking right down the middle of the street with a briefcase. When I realized the bullets were going past it was too late to run, to show fear. So here’s what I did:

Three big ladies were still walking down that street. They had baskets of fruit on their head. They were singing. This is Haiti, the very poor still have to take their ripe fruit to market, even during a revolution. So I put my briefcase on my head, marched behind the ladies, swung my ass back and forth wildly and sang out loud. The shooting stopped. The shooters were laughing so hard at the sight of this white missionary man swinging his ass and singing that they could not fire. The ladies looked back at me and laughed too. I just kept marching along, swinging my ass with that briefcase on my head. Scared as all hell, but not showing it, in the least.

The gun fight resumed only minutes after the fruit ladies and I danced on past. I got to the clinic, where Pierre was, only a few minutes later. He knew about the gunfight, everyone knew, you can hear the shots for miles. Pierre was absolutely sure I was Jesus or Buddha after walking through all that killing that day. I knew I was just me, only using the brains I was born with and what I learned along the way. Best to let people like Pierre make up their own minds.

I learned that Pierre had killed someone before and gone to jail for it. So I suggested he go live up into the mountains, to live and work with the poorest people in the world for a few months. Without the gun. There are better lessons to learn there than jail ever taught him. He really changed his act after watching me and living among the destitute and desperate.

Many other rich and poor Haitians would often ask why I stayed on for months when all the other foreign aid workers quickly got on planes and left the country. I said this to each person that asked me, “When all the aid workers leave that is when you need us the most. So I am still here and you should carry on just as if all the aid workers are still here. No looting the missions, do not stop preparing the big pots of food. The missionaries will come back one day (I hoped.)” I ended up adopting many other missions for the duration of the revolution. I would just stop by, tell them I was now in-charge and make them carry on as usual. The Baptist mission, the 7th Day Adventist mission, a CARE location and many others. It was strange. All I had to do was carry on like everything was normal. And walk down streets where some people shot at each other while others starved to death. Show no fear and others will not be so afraid. And maybe, just maybe, the gunmen will be laughing too hard at the sight of you to shoot straight. It is that simple.

Since my work in India and Haiti I am not so afraid to die anymore. At least not foolishly, by the hands of a deranged man or revolutionaries. I drive just about at the speed limit everywhere I travel. And remember to sing out loud and swing my ass back and forth if someone points a gun at me.

Death is one thing that will happen to every living thing, one day. The idea is not to hasten death’s arrival by acting foolishly. Like smoking or driving too fast or failing to show compassion and love always. Always.

Not trying to scare you, just teach you something. Survival is more about laughter and loving the people around you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Finding New Great Leaders

Taking the distant thoughts up close. That seemed to be what floated to the surface these days. Teaching had been a way to bury unpleasant thoughts. Buried under layers of other people’s business, buried under the inane rules dreamt up by software programmers and self-consumed businessmen. Teaching those rules to other people had been a way to bury the thoughts that he valued. Now they all had time to float to the surface and he looked back at at those years, searching for answers.

Important thoughts in our heads are like little children, they both keep asking “Why?” If you do not answer this “Why?” the little children and thoughts do not go away. Eventually the children may go away for a time but they will come back to ask again. Thoughts are the same, only they can come back late at night after the kids are put to bed.

Answers to hard questions, like those the Pope attempted to tackle, take time to formulate. Answers must be found to these questions, that is why they keep coming back. These are not mathematical or engineering questions, those are so easy to answer by comparison.

If you are assigned to figure out the trajectory of a ballistic missile as it soars over the oceans on the way to annihilate a city of humans, you have many reference books to turn to. The super computer in the next room will assist you. Past tests, models and wind tunnels can get you close to the truth. So easy are the answers for the teams that are tasked with that project.

The question of how to bring lasting peace to the world is perhaps the most difficult question there ever was. Should women become priests? Should we allow a man and woman to decide not to have a baby that has already begun to grow inside the woman? Answers to these questions are tough for leaders. They would be tough for you too, if you really, really thought about them as a leader, no matter what you personally feel the answer should be.

The reason these questions are difficult for leaders is because once you make a decision and the millions, no, billions, hear your answer, they will take actions. Many will abide by your decision, in a somewhat blind deference to leaders they trust. Others will start years of struggle against your decision, organizing anyone who may listen to them, all because they have a different set of facts they believe in.

If you make no important decisions, you are not leading, just holding the office until a real decision maker comes along. A warm body sitting in a seat, approving the budgets and scolding the miscreants is not a leader.

So many questions. No unbiased reference books, no tables, the Lord does not seem to be taking your calls, no super-computer to run calculations on models. Sure the computer may be able to compute how many die if you tell the people of Africa not to use condoms but will it tell you how many great leaders will never be born because of the same decision?

Societies definitely need great leaders. Right now there is such a shortage of real critical thinkers that entire nations are being led by fools or worse, by very smart but very greedy men. I believe the Taoists say that a truly great leader comes along only once in every thousand births.

That one in a thousand potential leader then has to make it to adulthood without being taken down nasty paths. Only one in a thousand of those possible leaders will get a chance to lead. So often that chance to lead will be squandered on an apple orchard or an oil company. Apple orchards and refineries need smart leaders but not the one in a million type of leader for sure.

Therefore the one in a million leader that gets into the position to lead millions is almost as rare as a planet with intelligent life in a galaxy of stars. It rarely happens. When it does, you can be sure a man with a gun will come along and attempt to cut short that leader’s life. This nearly always happens.

No matter what you think of their personal lives or decisions there is no denying that Gandhi and Pope John Paul II and Dr. Martin Luther King were leaders. Millions flowed behind them like rivers, listening and acting upon what they heard. These great leaders impacted the human world like the volcano Krakatoa impacted the earth’s geography. Massive changes in human relations resulted from the decisions they made during the lives they lived.

Let us not forget that all these leaders were shot with guns because they dared to make decisions about important questions. Decisions the rest of the leaders at that time failed to make. The seat warmers, holding the place until next person comes along.

There are great leaders living among us today. We know about Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. It is the great leaders we have not yet identified that need to found. The women and men that will take the time to find all the truths hidden among so many lies, these people need to be found. We need to give them the chance to help us along.

New leaders need to be allowed to put forth the questions, to listen to all the experts and the mothers and fathers and the poor and rich. The one in a million needs to be allowed to prove why they are one in a million. The great leader that is out there must be given the time and position to lead the billions away from the slaughter of the battlefields. This new leader must have the opportunity to show us why she is great. This new leader must also be allowed to make a small mistake or two during the first days of leadership.

The greatest of leaders are never born that way; they are shaped by the events that transpire around them and by other good leaders and by everyone. We all contribute to creation of a great leader by recognizing the qualities that make them great and letting them lead.

Terrible leaders are only created when enough people do not pay enough attention to the decisions made by these tyrants. Societies allow evil leaders to prosper by failing to study their actions and failing to hold them accountable for the very wrong decisions they make. We are all to blame when a bad leader makes many wrong decisions.

If a parent fails to answer a child’s “Why?” maybe only that child will really suffer. When a parent answers a child’s “Why?” with a malicious answer perhaps more people come to grief or harm. When a powerful yet terrible ruler continually arrives at the wrong answers to important questions millions can suffer the consequences. These wrong answers can even cause the unnecessary deaths of thousands or even millions of innocent people. We are all to blame in this case, not just the leader.

We must all search among our young to find the new great leader that is surely out there. This is far more important than searching the stars for a planet containing intelligent life. This is more important than looking for a person with great musical talent or scientific abilities. This new great leader must be located and then permitted to lead a billion or more followers for a few years. This must happen soon so this great leader can have enough time to arrive at excellent answers to the big questions, before they are shot down. Because we all know, in the end, they will be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


The leaders of China ignored the air pollution from burning coal for many years. The leaders did not tell the people about the harmful effects of that pollution. The bodies of Chinese citizens had no way of hiding from the mercury and other pollutants introduced into the atmosphere by that coal. People in Chinese cities now understand many people are suffering from asthma and dying of lung cancer. Finally, the leaders of China had to admit that nearly 10% of Chinese efforts are lost due to the effects of air pollution each year.

Many people believe they have little control over the events that shape their daily lives. They really do not understand that powerful leaders are the cause of many major issues. When your wife tells you to take out the trash, you do so obediently, even if it means missing part of the game you are watching. The boss wants more work done by Friday, you dare not complain about how that means you now need to work late every night this week.

The evening traffic jams seem to move slowly past never ending road construction. You think it is because you left work later than usual. The radio announcer reads stories about some kid that died in the Iraq War or about rising health care costs or about problems with local schools. You finally get home and your wife hands you the new bills that arrived in the mail. She already opened them and wants to know where the money to pay them will come from. You can only sit down, pour a drink and try to guess how your world got this way. Did you bring all these problems upon on yourself?

When a leader cannot accomplish the great promises made during the heat of an election, it quickly becomes obvious. To begin with, leaders hold press conferences under bright lights to announce how they will fulfill those promises. Details and plans are only partially explained, the leader promises to provide more complete answers at a later time. If a leader openly told us they are going to spend all our money on a war, change the system that provides some security for old people and outlaw certain medical procedures, people would immediately shout "NO!"

Rich leaders know the truth does not sound good to ordinary people. This is why leaders try to trick their citizens with fancy excuses and even lies. They say the war is over, they promise lower taxes to everyone and forget to even mention the big issue of health care costs.

Opponents of failing leaders quickly begin making plans to stop the damage and reveal the truth. Hearings are called to determine the real truth. In other lands, other leaders gather to make plans in case their country is impacted by the poor leadership of that other country. Small nations worry about being invaded. Leaders of a powerful country seldom enjoy any real element of surprise but their mistakes sure can do a lot of damage to other parts of the world.

As the days go past, the pressure on our leaders only increases. News organizations closely follow how much each leader is accomplishing. Press people are expected to hold news conferences, eventually leaders must also face questions from inquiring journalists. Effective leaders can look directly into the cameras as they outline each success. A failing leader looks down, here and there, anywhere but at the lens that serves as the eye of the people.

Computers and the Internet bring the truth into the public eye far more rapidly than ink and printing presses did in the past. Now anyone can cross-check facts, look at actual photographs and possibly make more informed choices. If the majority of the people spend most free time intoxicated and passively watching pointless television programs, a crafty leader may be able to hide the truth for a little while. If only a small percentage of the population knows the truth, it may be possible to fool the crowds, for a short time. Truth, however, has that eternal power to become visible over time.

The leaders of United States try hard to conceal the true reasons, the use of torture and the ultimate consequences of the War in Iraq from the American people. Americans still learn the truth no matter how hard they try to hide it from us. Each poor American family that lost a productive member through combat death or severe injury has no way of ignoring that grim reality.

The rich do not send their children to go die in combat. But it was the wealthy who demanded that American armies initiate yet another crusade in the Middle East. The rich knew they needed that Iraqi oil to be able to continue lining their family pockets with gold. To pay for luxurious homes, giant automobiles and expensive vacations, America's millionaires need cheap oil.

The oil of Iraq turned out to be quite expensive indeed. The cost for that oil is being paid in deep red American blood. The money for the war comes from US school budgets, healthcare programs and giant loans from countries in Asia. Finally, the people of America are waking up to the understanding that the invasion of Iraq was a very stupid and illegal action.

The real cost of the War in Iraq is being deducted straight out of the future of poor families in the United States. Families with no father, no son, no daughter or no healthcare are trying to get by on jobs that do not pay the monthly bills. Poor communities across the US have no money to repair broken down schools, bridges or roads. The Army does not even have enough money to provide proper treatment for the disabled veterans wounded in the last war! All the money is being stolen by the people who used lies to convince everyone to go to war in Iraq.

In each case, people are learning more from the actual events taking place around them than from commercial news sources like TV or newspapers. The price of gas is now more than twice what it was before American leaders started the war. You know the schools and roads are a wreck. Many people now say they have no way of paying larger and larger hospital bills. Repeated visits to hospitals and eventually, attending a funeral teaches us a harsh, unforgiving lesson. The cold truth of losing a loved one can only be accepted if the actions that led to that lost life were absolutely necessary and understandable. Do the results of the War in Iraq seem necessary and understandable to you?

The lessons we each must learn lurk behind the names etched in rows of new granite blocks throughout military burial grounds across the United States. We have no other choice but to understand exactly who got America into this terrible war and why. The real reasons for this bloody slaughter must be made clear to everyone. All people in positions of power must be held to account for their decisions, but especially those who deliberately deceived the public. If those leaders are not brought to justice soon we can blame only ourselves when the same leaders repeat the same pointless slaughter of our precious children, wives and husbands, in the next war.