River Poetry

Posted in Reviews at 19:46 by RjZ

I just completed River Teeth by David James Duncan. It’s a collection of short stories, fictional and non-fictional which really ought to be called a collection of free verse poetry because, regardless of whether you relate to what Duncan writes about or not, you can’t help but be enamored with his beautiful prose.

I’m no fisherman, which is a constant theme for this Pacific Northwest writer well rooted next to the rivers of his home but his tales of rivers and the people who, like him, are bonded to them are well worth reading. In addition to being a fisherman, Duncan is a apparently Buddhist but in a way I too aspire to be. He doesn’t tell you what it means to see the world the way approximately 6% of the world sees it instead he shows you his or his characters actions and leaves you to see if it makes sense. His poetic writing makes the transformations that his characters face that much more compelling.

That link to adherents.com above also makes me want to point out that there are more atheists than Buddhists, or Jews or Scientologists for that matter. Just thought I’d point it out.

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Prediction revisited: Get ready for someone worse

Posted in at 8:09 by RjZ

The conservatives were rabid. Ms. Mier’s biggest problem wasn’t that she wasn’t qualified, but that she wasn’t conservative enough. Conservative groups outside of Washington feel that their overwhelming majority during the last election cycle means they have a mandate that they do not wish to squander. (Please don’t miss the sarcasm there.) ‘If Ruth Ginsberg, an ACLU lawyer can get confirmed, why can’t we have an openly conservative judge. We’ve worked years to get a conservative President, Congress and now we can finally get a conservative Court’ is what Senator Sam Brownback (R Kansas) had to say this morning on NPR.

But now progressives should really start to worry! This clearly has not weakened the republican agenda, in spite of my gleeful posts to the contrary. Indeed those voices will have been strengthened by this win. When Bush is weak he can’t turn to the middle of this country. Instead he must turn to his base of the Christian right for support. So while democrats in congress said little about Miers, they now have lost the stage to conservatives in and out of congress who will push for a nominee with a paper trail that leaves her conservative credentials immune to doubt.

This isn’t the way I predicted, but Roe v. Wade is still going down.

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Et tu, Pat?

Posted in at 14:33 by RjZ

First Ann Coulter, now Pat Buchanen.

2,000 dead – and for what?

These are not the halcyon days of George W. Bush.

With his approval rating below 40 percent, his reputation as a decisive leader ravaged by Katrina, his conservative base shattered by Harriet and his closest aide facing indictment, the president is said to be shouting at and blaming subordinates for the lost opportunities of his second term.

Before we get to excited that the right has turned against Bush, it should be noted that Pat and W have never really been the best of friends, running against each other now and again.

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The toll

Posted in at 9:14 by RjZ

2000 American soldiers dead says the Washington Post.

Some of my readers have complained that I’ve written about money spent in the Gulf coast without mentioning the huge expenditure in Iraq. Well, I don’t agree with the war in Iraq but that doesn’t mean I have anything to contribute to this ‘debate.’ Meanwhile, let’s have a look at how well the media even notices that we’re up to 2000 Americans and thousands of Iraqis killed since the U.S. invaded.

Don’t miss Iraq Body Count while you’re at it.

Update: If I’d have known that the Washington Post would trackback to my blog I’d have written something more interesting. Meanwhile, new readers, please check out other posts where I actually do have something to say. And thanks for any comments!

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What safe means

Posted in Travel at 16:30 by RjZ

The night before, we had seen flyers on the wall of the hostel announcing guided trips to see a live volcano. Leave at 12:00am to reach the summit in time for sunrise, snack included–all for around $17. Sounded great! A lovely hike to rim of a volcano. I even considered wearing my sandals, but at the last minute thought, in spite of the heat, I ought to put on the boots I had brought all that way.

I was even more excited when we had driven to a cabin a few thousand feet up to the start of the hike up the 9,550 foot mountain. We didn’t know it was a 9500 foot mountain though or where our starting point was. For all we knew, we’d driven to the peak like one does on a visit to Mt. Evans. I was happy–it was the first time I’d been cool since arriving in Indonesia. My t-shirt was a strong contrast to the locals dressed like Himalayan sherpas in the dead of winter even though it was probably a balmy 75°F. We helped make peanut butter sandwiches and were handed flashlights and off we went.

About every hour or so the group would break apart as folks turned back. It was difficult hiking and I was out of shape. The flashlights were hardly bright enough against the sharp, black volcanic rock and the trail was often steep enough to require both hands even though one was occupied with the nearly useless light. Somehow I managed to stay with the lead group. Françoise and I were the only inexperienced hikers. In addition to our two Indonesian guides I remember an Austrian and a Dutchmen, both mountaineers, who’d done extensive hiking and climbing.

Dawn started to break and in the dim light we could make out the rim of the volcano. At this point it was each for his own as we raced the sun to the top. But it was incredibly steep and I was pouring sweat. By the time I arrived at the top, last, I was already feeling terrible from dehydration. Then the shivering began. It was cold at the top and I had only a soaking cotton t-shirt to protect me from the wind.

I peered, my teeth chattering uncontrollably, into the crater and could barely see lava glowing down there. All around the peak were steam vents and while the rest of our small group enjoyed the sunrise I huddled in different vents trying to warm up. It wasn’t working because while the steam would warm me, as soon as I left, the wind would rip all the heat away through evaporative cooling of my wet clothes. Finally the Austrian came to my rescue with the simple offering of an extra dry t-shirt. I changed into it and within minutes my teeth finally stopped the chattering they started one half hour ago when I arrived at the top. That was a valuable lesson I haven’t forgotten-extra dry clothes can save you from hypothermia!

We started our hike down and as soon as we were off the scree slope that was our last push for the peak an hour ago, our guides started dragging us faster and faster. It was a blur returning to the start, but I remember two things. One is one guide taking Françoise by the hand and literally dragging her as fast as he could go down the trail. Her feet really seemed to touch the ground only occasionally. Second were women, looking about 40 years old, probably only 20 but weathered by hard work, walking around the mountain with large bundles of sticks on their heads gathered as firewood. The guides had already amazed me with their torn sneakers or just flip-flops. These women were completely barefoot. Meanwhile my new hiking boots were nearly shredded by the sharp rock.

We made it back, completely exhausted. Only about 8 of the forty people who’d signed up for the trip that day had even made it to the top of the mountain. When I had read that flyer the night before I had imagined a beautiful amble through the tropical cloud forest to look over the railing at the glowing lava deep in the crater. I imagined a trip to the Grand Canyon with grand parents. No one mentioned the strenuous hike in the dark or suggested sturdy shoes, extra water and a wind-breaker! Still, we were excited to have survived another adventure.

Five days later, 25 November, 1994, we were exploring a temple on the island of Bali about 1000 miles away when I saw the headline of a newspaper being read by a bored temple guide. “34 blahblah Gunung Merapi” “100s blah blahblah blah” Gunung is the Indonesian word for mountain. I asked the guide what the headlines said. “34 killed in Mt. Merapi Eruption. Hundreds wounded and thousands homeless.” We were stunned. Isn’t that the mountain that we had just climbed five days ago? We’re we just staring into the tiny lava stream down in the crater? Hadn’t I just tried desperately to warm up in the steam vents? Doesn’t that mean that there were probably people climbing it today as well? The eruption was at 10:15 in the morning so they probably didn’t number among the dead, but that might explain why the guides had high-tailed it off the mountain.

Indonesia was one of my first exotic trips. I was living in Germany at the time and had traveled throughout Europe but this was the first time to some place most would call the third world. This was a wake-up call to the different rules there. I had already been surprised by the un-warned ruggedness of the trip but now, the term “Active Volcano” took on a whole new, more accurate, meaning. In the states, if you can visit something at all, it’s pretty safe. When you get there there will be signs warning you of the dangers of splinters and vertigo and a huge barrier protecting you from falling into whatever it is and blocking your view at the same time. Meanwhile, here in Indonesia we’d paid a few dollars to have some young people hand us broken flashlights and show us the way, in the dark up 5000 feet of hiking to look into what we now understood was a dangerous, explosive bomb waiting to explode.

This experience wasn’t the last time I’d be amazed and amused by what the rest of the world thinks is safe. I don’t know whether it’s because they don’t care, their legal systems are less litigious or people are more responsible (which I doubt for even if they were, irresponsible people travel to those places too). I rather enjoy both versions too. I like the feeling in America that if I’m allowed to do it, it’s most likely safe and that roller coaster ride or overlook probably won’t collapse while I am enjoying it. I also enjoy actually getting to look over the edge of a waterfall or into a volcano even if I am risking a Darwin award for my actions. Either way, I can’t help noticing that other Americans expect this level of safety (I know I did). They seem to stop thinking about what is safe or wise to do and figure someone else is thinking about it for them. If I were forced to choose between these philosophies I’d have to go with the one that creates more Darwin awards and better views because it actually encourages people to think for themselves. I may pay for that someday though.

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Prediction revisited: Miers Once Vowed to Support Ban on Abortion

Posted in at 8:44 by RjZ

So, like I said before, Miers Once Vowed to Support Ban on Abortion.

I don’t claim that her campaign promises aren’t potentially different than her role as a judge, but it seems clear to me what she is likely to do.

One thing I don’t understand from the comments to my first post on this is why people think it isn’t likely that social conservatives will attempt to bring such a case to the Supreme court.

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Et tu, Ann?

Posted in at 9:32 by RjZ

Who knew I’d be quoting Ann Coulter in my blog? But then who knew even she’d turn on President Bush.

“If the president meant Harriet Miers seriously,” fumed Ann Coulter, “I have to assume Bush wants to go back to Crawford and let Dick Cheney run the country… Bush has no right to say ‘Trust me.’ He was elected to represent the American people, not to be dictator for eight years.”

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The new charity

Posted in Liberty at 16:06 by RjZ

My gut response when I heard that President Bush had pledged over $200 billion in relief for Katrina victims was something on the order of ‘well, I guess I don’t need to give to Katrina victims because President Bush has decided to do so for me.’ The actual bill being considered by congress is a “$250 billion Hurricane Katrina aid bill—in addition to the $62 billion in taxpayer funds already allotted to relief efforts.” It’s a lot of money. That’s $1,055 for each man, woman and child in the U.S. of A. (population of the US is 295,734,134) That’s more than 5% of the yearly income for family of four at poverty level in the US ($19,350) so, like I said, it’s a lot of money!

I don’t personally have a problem with donating a thousand dollars to Katrina victims but you can see how I might feel it’s worth considering whether or not I want to give more than that. But this isn’t really my problem. My problem is that President Bush essentially gets to take the credit for my magnanimity. Politicians on both sides of the aisle get to pander for votes, claiming they give to the victims. They are citizens, so they aregiving to the victims–an average of $1,055 per politician; except that you’re giving too, whether you asked to do so or not. If the administration decides to distribute that money through no-bid contracts or faith-based initiatives, you donated $1,055 to no-bid contracts and faith-based initiatives. And politicians are highly motivated to do this. Spending money always makes somebody happy, but not spending money will definitely make plenty of people unhappy.

For me, troubling thing is that this is what the voters want. One of the biggest sources of outrage in the aftermath of Katrina were “where is the government?” “what are they doing to help people?” People seem to look to the central government as the primary national charity. Of course many, many people gave to a wide range of charities after Katrina, but many more considered it the government’s responsibility to help these people first. Earlier in this blog I used the example of Herbert Hoover going to the people, hat in hand to encourage giving. Somehow, things were different then because he was successful. I don’t know if the same strategy would be successful today, but I know that no one is asking.

I think real leadership would be shown if, instead of pledging “to put the full might and money of the federal government behind the reconstruction,” that is, pledging your money and mine; it’s our federal government after all, our leaders would give a speech that went something like this.

My fellow Americans, we can see the horrors or this disaster, but we can also see the opportunity to show our true patriotism for our great country by helping each other in this time of need as we hope they would do were it to come that we are in need. I ask you, my fellow Americans, to give and give generously to Katrina victims. Give as much as you can directly to your friends and family in the region or to the many charities who have served us so well in times of need. And give quickly because we in the government need to be assured that our citizens are being protected for that is what you have elected us to do.

What you have not elected us to do, however, is to take your money out of your pockets and decide how to spend it for you. That is why I am not asking Congress to raise taxes but I am also not asking congress at this time for more money for the region than is already earmarked for disaster relief through FEMA [which, in this case we can see needs new management and organization.] By asking you directly I know that we can avoid the inefficiency of government and that you can decide where and how much you can afford. I hope and trust that there will be no need to ever ask congress to take more wealth from the people and that this nation of patriots will show their true colors, now, by supporting each other.

A great leader might go on to announce just how much she is giving, out of her pocket, and what she is doing to help victims of this tragedy. But, alas, this isn’t going to happen. Our leaders today get more mileage out of pandering to people who rely on them to be the first charity and this vicious cycle has created a nation where this pandering is rewarded and necessary and where the individual has be enervated of the will to give himself.

It is the individual who, one by one, has come to expect this of our politicians, it is only through the painstaking efforts of many individuals that we can affect change. We must select representatives who share our view that we have a personal responsibility for this nation and, painful as it sometimes is for the government not to give, we must not punish them when they leave this responsibility to us. We must stand up and demonstrate how much more powerful it can be when we help each other without the state telling us how to do so.

I think that writing this entry has shown me at least one thing. I will contribute to the relief effort directly. Because even though $1,000 will be stolen from me by my government and likely spent only marginally in ways I approve, I can still demonstrate to future leaders that I am one of those proud Americans who can not only take care of himself, but also support his neighbors if the need arises. I may not give as much as I ought to and my tiny action will surely be hallow, but it is through 259 million little actions that we can really get things done! Now, where is the best place to give and get something really done?

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No censorship is good censorship

Posted in Society at 16:38 by RjZ

A friend highlighted me to the following:

Online erotica sites are being targeted for prosecution and obscenity thanks to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. I am hoping that my readers can fill me in as to what is going on here.

“News of [Red Rose Stories] closure comes just days after the offices of Max Hardcore’s Max World Entertainment were raided under the authority of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department, and little more than a week after the FBI launched an anti-obscenity squad at the behest of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to increase obscenity prosecutions throughout the country.”

I don’t have any experience with these sites but my friend is a contributor and it is difficult for me to see how erotic stories without pictures could be hurtful to anyone. No one is forced to read this material; you have to click on it to get there. I’d never even heard of these sites even though I might have been quite interested in them, so it’s unlikely they’re well marketed.

The definition of pornography is often broad and perhaps impractical. The National Crime Prevention Council says pornography, n : any sexually explicit writing and/or picture intended to arouse sexual desire. Apparently most advertisements and music videos are pornography.

The fact is, censorship is almost always wrong. We must pursue and punish the perpetrators of crimes, particularly abhorrent crimes such as abusing a child, or anyone for that matter, for the purpose of creating pornography. We must pursue the perpetrators vigorously and punish them severely for we do not want to to encourage this abuse in our society. However, and here’s where I start losing readers, it doesn’t make sense to punish the consumers. If I have “dirty” pictures on my computer I haven’t hurt anyone. The damage was done by the creator of these images and not by me.

The argument goes that by cutting off the market for these materials we will deter the creation. So we censor the very possession of pornography in an effort to eliminate it. Unfortunately, market forces are nearly equally strong whether the activity is legal or not. The drug war is a perfect analog. Legislators have made a wide range of drugs illegal but there has been little correlation between these laws and the consumption of these drugs. Driving pornographers under ground has succeeded only in making it more difficult to catch the ones that are really abusing people.

Abusing people should be and is illegal. Writing an entertaining erotica story that is offensive to someone constitutes no abuse and cannot be illegal. I don’t like hearing Pat Buchanan rattle on about the homosexual agenda but he has a right to his opinion and some people even think he’s entertaining. Free speech, or better, protected speech, is not as clear as we often think. Indeed, obscenity has been addressed by the Supreme Court on multiple occasions and mostly it has failed to be “protected.” While this is currently the law of the land, I still can express that I do not agree with that interpretation.

The Roth test – from Roth v. U.S. (1957) defined obscenity as material calculated to debauch the minds and morals of those in whose hands it might fall. The impact upon the average person must be determined. The test is the effect of a whole work (not one picture or passage) on the average person applying contemporary community standards (not national standards) to determine if the work is without redeeming social importance or patently offensive.

While I can see how these sites satisfy Roth, I could as easily argue that they don’t. And that either way, deciding what “debauches the minds and morals” of individuals hardly seems like something we want our government doing for us.

I don’t know enough about the contents of either these closed down websites or even the law under which they are being prosecuted but if these articles could really be conceived to be causing harm, I can understand the action. Still, I doubt it. Ultimately, I am concerned about yet another example of this administration’s continued attempts to legislate morality.

I hope others can shed some light on this issue.

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Recent books

Posted in Reviews at 22:54 by RjZ

I’ve added a new category on the right for books I’ve recently read. Not because you care what books I’ve read or because I think it will impress you. Indeed, I think this might be one of the more embarrassing parts of this blog. If there was any doubt about my intellectual level, it’s quite possible that my selection of books that I read to entertain myself will surely confirm it.

I read books mostly because they’re handed to me by a friend. I don’t really choose them except that I start many more than I finish. A book ought to find it’s way on to this list only if I’ve finished it. And this also means that it might be even more embarrassing because this means I’ve stuck through whatever you see listed there for every page so it’s likely light reading. There are several books which I am sure are very good, but I just don’t seem to be able to get through them.

For the moment though, I’m reasonably satisfied with the list. Particularly The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which I enjoyed immensely, recommend highly, and finished in two days like those young people who are devouring the latest Harry Potter. I won’t describe the book any further though because that would take the fun out of it.

Books are distinguished these days from other kinds of entertainment simply because of the time they take. Even if you know exactly what is going to happen you are teased and excited to find out the details, and no matter how fast you read, it’s likely still several hours before you’ll know everything. A review of The Curious Incident would almost assuredly spoil at least a few of those little rewards and I’d hate to take that away from anyone who takes my recommendation.

Books are a little like making love with someone you really care about. The slow revealing of the story yields a pleasure greater than the quick release of a movie and it makes the effort so much more worthwhile.

I think I better start reading more. Any suggestions?

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