Friday, May 29, 2009

Gag Order


I want to talk about torture and I don’t want to talk about torture. I am at a loss to understand how any group of people can possibly endorse, legalize, or justify the brutal and vivid mistreatment of anyone, regardless of perceived threat or political climate. Let me be clear, I am not entering into a discussion or debate regarding this issue. I am not entertaining the possibility of sleep deprivation, the withholding of food, temperature extremes, stress positions or water boarding being acceptable behavior. Ever. There are no grey areas. There are no excuses. Every one of us knows cruelty when we see it. We are taught as children that violence is neither a solution to conflict nor a means to our desired ends. It is unacceptable for us to forget or fail to heed this lesson as adults.

Our detainees, prisoners, whatever we are calling them are people. They have souls. And they are in our care. We can make no real progress towards the formation of a peaceful, compassionate, and sustainable society while we, through our complacency and silence, endorse torture. We have to stop this, and we have to stop it now.

Write to a member of congress, the president, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, let them know that Americans believe in compassionate justice, that this is not how we choose to be represented in the world.

For a Congressional Directory:

To Email Barack Obama:

I tried to find an email address or contact information for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, but couldn’t. Go Figure.

Photograph Courtesy of :

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Walk In The Woods


A long weekend and the beginning of summer do a lot to remind us to go outside, breath the fresh air, listen to the birds, stretch our legs, and experience wildness. I think it’s important, amid the beer, fireworks, weenie roasts, and recreational vehicles that mark the American camping experience, to make sure that we do just that, stretch our legs and experience wildness. It’s not often anymore that the majority of us find ourselves away from the crush of noise, information, and development that comes with “civilized society”, and I think our distance from the wild plays a key role in our health and well-being, and our decision making as a people. Distancing ourselves from the wild is part of why we are able to devalue the environment, and that devaluation reveals itself in our politics, policies, and way of life. It allows us to waste resources, diminish habitat, allow entire species to go extinct, and engineer our bodies and our food.

I feel at my most engaged in the environment when walking through it. A walk in the wilderness does more to ease my mind, body, and soul than almost anything else. And it reminds me, in a tangible and profound way, that I am connected to this place, this world, this land, that it sustains me. Thoreau, in his 1862 essay, Walking, had this to say about the value of a walk in the woods, “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre" — to the holy land… They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.”

We can make no progress in the improvement of our daily lives, in the fostering of health, community, sustainability, or peace, until we acknowledge and embrace our connection to the wilderness. Take a first step, take a walk.

To read the full text of Thoreau’s Walking:

To Read Emerson’s Nature:

Photo courtesy of:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Playing For Change


Playing for Change is an organization dedicated to the creation and propagation of peace through shared humanity and aesthetics, the playing of music. More specifically, Playing for Change is an international collective of musicians that play benefit concerts for and build music and art schools in impoverished communities. The project is rooted in the belief that music is an equalizer, a common thread that allows people to transcend distance and boundaries, be they political, economic, cultural, or ideological, that music is a path to peace. They illustrate this by producing mosaic videos of musicians from around the world playing the same song, somehow together, as a one-world choir, despite the distance. And they seem to play straight up into heaven, and right through to your soul.

They have a point. Music unites.

Watch and Listen:


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake


There are a lot of great, albeit traditionally left-winged reasons to eat locally. Eating locally supports small family owned farms and food producers, decreases the carbon footprint of your meals, discourages industrialization of farming practices and therefore the prevalence of pesticides and herbicides, supports your local economy, increases community sustainability, decreases dependence on the migrant workforce and foreign energy sources, and generally results in healthier meals and fresher/tastier food on your table. And we wonder why more conservatives haven’t hopped onto this bandwagon.

But there are a couple of reasons for eating locally that the conservative right can get behind. Eating locally is the best protection against food-related outbreaks of illness and diesease and eating locally is the best way to combat agroterrorism. That’s right, agroterrorism, the malicious use of plant or animal pathogens to cause devastating disease in the food supply.

In 2006 Michael Pollan wrote an article for the New York Times discussing the role of industrialization in the prevalence of food-related outbreaks. While his article was written in the context of a spinach-related E coli outbreak, the recent problems with the peanut industry and the worldwide outbreak of swine flu have brought the issue back into focus. In his article, Pollan argues that the centralization of food processing and distribution centers leads to more frequent and widespread issues of infection and contamination, whereas food grown, processed, and distributed locally decreases the reach of food-related outbreaks and allows for faster and more efficient identification of sources and solutions to food-based illnesses. Pollan further goes on to note that when Tommy Thompson retired from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, he said “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.” This sentiment was reiterated by the G.AO. in its 2003 Bioterrorism report to Congress, “The high concentration of our livestock industry and the centralized nature of our food-processing industry make them vulnerable to attack.” And they’re right, in 2006 eighty percent of beef in the United States was slaughtered by four companies and seventy-five percent of all precut salads were processed by only two companies. The implications of these numbers when viewed in the context of the spread of disease and our current healthcare crisis is terrifying. And the proof, at least lately, is in the peanut butter.

What this means is that food consciousness is no longer the proprietary holding of the liberal left, but a necessary and immediate change that must be made in the daily lives of ordinary citizens for the protection of public health and safety. Take back your health from the hands of industry, eat locally, and with compassion.

To read Michael Pollans article:

For more information on farmers markets, eating locally, and CSA food shares:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Gay Affair


Yesterday Maine became the fifth state, following Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and Massachusetts, to legalize same sex marriage. This decision followed in the footsteps of several other brave and groundbreaking states that are legalizing same sex marriage and providing civil rights protections for homosexuals based on voter mandates, Supreme Court decisions, and legislative bills. As one of the last groups to be recognized as human beings and therefore deserving of the same basic rights provided to the rest of us, the gay community must be overjoyed. As should the rest of us, since the withholding or erosion of civil rights in any form threatens the rights of us all. This is cause for great celebration, and I take it as a significant indicator that we as a country are beginning to remember that we value things like freedom and equality, not for some, but for everyone.

Philosophically, in my mind the issue comes down to this, are you pro-love or anti-love? In a pro-love world, the kind I optimistically believe I live in, we are all allowed to bond ourselves to whomever we choose. If we are brave enough to commit our lives to that person, then more power to us, as most people can attest, relationships, in any form, but particularly long-term, loving, life-sharing relationships are hard work. I like to think that we are all capable of recognizing that the choice of who we share our lives with has less to do with sex than with compatibility, mutual respect, and friendship. Good things come from people sharing their lives with one another, and we should encourage and celebrate it, even if it doesn’t fit our own image of a life union. Be a part of the revolution and ask someone today, are you pro-love?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Risky Business


I am not a businessman. I’m not playing with gender here, because I’m not a businesswoman either, and even if I were, the last six months have proven to me that it’s being a businessman that really counts. I have never claimed to be a businessman, nor do I have any desire to be so, but in my line of work, being as tied as it is to the construction industry, there is an essential and growing need to “do business”. In fact, I, as I am nearly daily reminded by my boss, have no degree or advanced coursework in business. Aside from being reasonably good at what I do and able to write an articulate sentence and perform elementary math functions, I am almost wholly unqualified for business. However, being a geologist, this is not something that has typically been a problem. Until recently.

The recent economic crisis has left my place of work a barren wasteland of empty cubicles and lost bids. The men that remain are largely shells of their former selves, clearly having spent most or all of their adult lives defining themselves by their jobs and paychecks, they are now leading obvious lives of quiet desperation. What remains, before we’ve even seen signs of recovery, are desperate men clinging to the tenants of “business” and convinced that if they proceed exactly as they have in the past, using the same business models, something will change. By necessity, my education in “business” has been rapid.

What I’ve largely learned is this, honesty is not important, not to clients, but particularly not to staff. Neither is humanity nor compassion, employee loyalty is only valued in good times, in bad times, just cut them loose. Preserve, above all else, the profit margin for the owners and the inflated salaries of management. Claiming to be right is more important than actually being right, and the only people who are every really right are the ones with the least actual knowledge of the subject. Salaried and exempt employment in hard times is license to take over the lives of your employees, how about say, going to Texas, unexpectedly, with the flu, for many weeks, to work 90 hours a week and only be paid for forty? Hey, you don’t want to do it we’ll find someone more desperate than you who will.

They say in hard times you see peoples true colors, but in truth, with business there’s only two colors, red, and black. And as far as I can tell, real “businessmen” will do whatever it takes to stay in the black, as long as it poses no threat to their egos, salaries, or established operating procedures. And we wonder how we arrived to the place in which we find ourselves.

I invite everyone to take a moment to inventory your value system, and look hard at what really motivates your decisions and the way you treat the people that you work with and those that work for you. If it’s your mortgage, your car payment, the lifestyle to which you’ve grown accustomed, or professional ego, then the current economic crisis offers you an opportunity to tap out of the fight, implement a new business model, live under a new paradigm. It’s the only path we have to a sustainable economy.

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