Sunday, December 13, 2009

The cynics are right nine times out of ten. - H. L. Mencken

I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.- H. L. Mencken

For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing. - H. L. Mencken

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar. - H. L. Mencken

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin. - H. L. Mencken

Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get. - Dale Carnegie

This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane. - Oscar Wilde

I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability. - Oscar Wilde

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. - Oscar Wilde

Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much. - Oscar Wilde

Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much. - Oscar Wilde

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. - Oscar Wilde

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Origins of Conflict

There once was a family where one of the sons behaved very badly - he beat up another son, took his toys, and left him for dead. The parents were very angry. They spanked the first son, but not too hard. Then they kissed the second son and gave him all the toys of a third son, who had done no harm himself. The third son complained that this was very unfair, but the parents said to just look at how hurt the second son was and that they thought it would be better to give the second son all the third son's toys rather than to give him some of the first son's toys.

Who is this family? The family is the human race. The first son is Germany - Nazi Germany at the time of the crime. The second son is the Jewish people who in 1948 were given the land of the Palestinians, rather than German land, as reparation for the Nazi crimes against them. The third son is the Palestinian people; and the "parents" are Great Britain, the United States, France, and the other "Allied" countries.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yesterday is like a dung heap.

Yesterday is like a dung heap.
You can complain about the smell
or you can use it to fertilize tomorrow's garden.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Get the Government Out of the Marriage Business

I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state. There is little overlap between religion's interests and Uncle Sam's interests, and there is no reason to try to force an alignment of those interests.

Marriage is one of the few institutions that today straddles the line between being a civil matter and a religious matter. The sacrament of marriage has long been a cornerstone of virtually every religion. In addition to the historical precedent, there is also widespread strong attachment to the religious nature of marriage. The image of a wedding couple - with bride wearing a flowing white dress and veil - saying their vows before a congregation of their family and friends is much more powerful than the image of the couple signing a computerized form at the local registrar.

The state has a proper interest in the welfare of all children, and some interest in the process of inheritance, but otherwise, I can see no reason for the state to have any involvement with the sacrament of marriage. Questions of inheritance are always best addressed through wills, and inheritance laws are only applied in the unfortunate absence of a will. Today's laws regarding inheritance are murky, with various states having quite different rules regarding how legitimate and illegitimate children are defined and the extent to which each is eligible for inheritance. Inheritance laws themselves need a great deal of clean up, but are certainly no reason to perpetuate the government's presence in the arena of marriage.

The government's proper interest in children's welfare extends, of course, to all children, regardless of the circumstances under which they were conceived, and regardless of the family or institutional setting in which they are nurtured. So the state's protection of children in no way creates a valid interest of the government in licensing or regulating marriage.

How about tax breaks for marriage? As one who favors simplified tax structures, with no favored treatment for any special interest groups, I have a hard time justifying any special deals on inheritance taxes or income taxes for anyone. Current income tax laws don't actually help most married couples much anyway, and sometimes even create a penalty. Inheritance laws are their own mess, and are unfair in many ways. Fix the inheritance laws, but don't use them as a justification for perpetuating the state's meddling in the institution of marriage.

Eliminating all marriage laws sounds incredibly radical. The government's regulation of marriage has come to be accepted as a law of nature - as real as the law of gravitation, but why? Why polarize our nation over the government's definition of marriage when the state has no business being concerned about marriage in the first place? Imagine a new unfettered society in which the tradition of marriage is returned to it's proper home, in the church, and in the hearts of those choosing to live as one.

The Wisdom of Dwight D. Eisenhower - The General Who Hated War

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army - serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during the Second World War. He was elected as the thirty-fourth President of the United States in 1952, and remained in office until 1961.

Having seen the devastation of war first hand, Eisenhower came both to despise war and to see that "war settles nothing." On the other hand, Ike was certainly no peacenik. He understood that, in an emergency, violence must be met with violence - never hate with hate, but when truly necessary, action with reaction.

Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

In the final choice a soldier's pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

'Worry' is a word that I don't allow myself to use.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

How to Choose a Religion - A Prudent Shopper's Guide

What are the most important choices you will ever make in your life? You may first think of the big-ticket purchases you make. A house is probably the the most expensive purchase. Replacing your car every few years is another major choice. But several other decisions have a far greater impact on the quality of your life. Your choice of spouse, or your decision not to marry. Your choice of career.

Other crucial choices may not even appear to be choices at all. Your choice of which community to call home is a choice that has great impact on the quality of your life, yet many people never approach that decision in a conscious fashion. Many people simply remain in the community of their youth without making a conscious choice among all the towns, cities, states, and countries in which they could live. Perhaps the town in which they were born is the optimum location in which to spend their entire lives, but should that choice just be abdicated to habit?

As with the choice of a home town, the choice of a religious home is often left to habit. There are people who choose communities far from their place of birth to call home, and there are others who carefully consider such a move before consciously choosing their birth town as their lifetime residence, but such people are in the minority. Likewise with religion. While a few choose a new religion, or carefully compare religions and consciously choose their birth religion, most remain with the religion of their childhood out of habit.

If you were to move past habit and decide to consciously choose a religion, what would your criteria be? Let me suggest several questions you might want to ask.

1. What is the single most important function you want your religious organization to serve? To have a statement of belief that agrees with your vision of the nature of God? To provide ceremonies in which you feel comfortable participating. To offer inspiring weekly sermons? To provide fellowship with like-minded people? To provide a structure for civic action and community welfare? Or to answer some other primary need?

2. Are you looking for an organization that supports your personal relationship with God, or a church that offers a single level or hierarchic structure of clergy to act as intermediaries?

3. Are you looking for an organization that aligns with your beliefs about the nature of God, reward and Heaven, damnation and Hell, sin, forgiveness or not, vengeance and compassion, civic responsibility, and a myriad of other questions? Or do you want a church that is acceptive of varying beliefs among its members? Or are you unsure of your beliefs and values and are looking for a church that will tell you what you should believe?

Have you ever attended a service of a different denomination? If so, were you able to identify what you liked and didn't like, or were you caught up by how "different" the experience felt?

This week, consider attending a religious gathering of another faith. If nothing else, you may gain a greater appreciation of others in your community.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Universal Health Care is the Only Right Action

There are many reasons why adopting universal health care in the United States is the right thing to do. First, it would save money. Yes, you read that right - SAVE money. At first glance it would appear that providing better health care to more citizens would add substantial cost. There are more than 40 million Americans without health insurance. If no other changes were made in our health care system, providing basic health care to those 40 million Americans would increase the $1.9 trillion per year cost of the American health care system by an estimated $77 billion - about a 4% increase. But that 4% increase would only be present if we added yet another level of complexity to our bloated private payer system, and that would be foolish.

How can providing health care for the 16% of Americans who don't have insurance add only 4% to our nation's health care bill? The only health care now available to those without insurance is emergency rooms - the most expensive and least efficient mechanism for handling medical care. Routine care, preventative treatment and medication are far lower cost as well as being more humane than waiting until crisis drives sick people to the emergency room. In addition, today, many people enter our medicare system at 65 with conditions that could and should have been addressed years earlier under a more reasonable system. It costs our nation fully as much to perform a hip transplant at age 65 as it would have cost to save the individual years of suffering by performing the procedure earlier.

The statistics, but not the conclusion, that I present here are based on the 94 page document Accounting for the cost of health care in the United States by the prestigious McKinsey Global Institute. It's available free, and if you have the time, I highly recommend reading the whole report. It's packed with facts, and stops short of making recommendations.

Around the world, the per capita cost of health care is generally proportional to national income levels. The United States is the only developed country whose health care costs are dramatically higher than would be expected from our income levels. Our costs are $480 billion per year (33%) higher than would be expected from our income levels. Do we receive better health care for those dollars? Objectively, no. $480 billion is a huge amount of money. It's $1600 per year for every man, woman, and child. It's more than six times the additional cost of providing ongoing health care to those now without medical insurance. So where does that $480 billion go?

Are Americans sicker than others? The bottom line is, no. We get a few conditions more often, many others less often, and we are on average younger than the citizens of other highly developed countries, which would be expected to lower our health care cost substantially. How about the costs of medical malpractice insurance and litigation? Our country's excess in damage awards costs us $20 billion per year. While this is certainly an area for correction, it only represents 4% of the overspending.

$66 billion of the overage is due to the cost of drugs, even though we use 20% less prescription drugs than other developed nations. Our cost for a prescription is 70% higher than the same drug in other countries. Another $18 billion of overage is attributable to non-drug supplies. Devices such as pacemakers and knee implants are over 50% more expensive than the same devices sold in other countries. There is a remarkable correlation between the highest profit procedures and those which are performed much more frequently in the United States than in other countries. Unnecessary testing, in part driven by fear of malpractice lawsuits, adds billions more to our costs. Inefficient administration, such as assigning menial tasks to skilled nurses, adds additional billions.

The $412 annual per capita that the United States spends on the administration of it's health care system is six times more than it is projected to be under a public system - that's a savings of almost $100 billion per year. A full $75 billion per year of that currently goes directly to the corporate profits and additional costs imposed by the private payer system. That alone is equivalent to the incremental cost of providing health care to our 40 million uninsured Americans. Moreover, a universal system would provide a platform for reducing the costs of drugs, devices, and other costs that have become run-away under our current system.

Should the expected cost savings be the primary reason for adopting universal health care? How about improving the nation's productivity because we'll be healthier? Should our primary argument be that a universal health care system is even more crucial to our nation's future than a universal education system? For me, the primary argument for universal health care in the United States is that it is the only morally acceptable response to the suffering caused by illness. For me, it's a bonus that universal health care will reduce costs, but I would vote to provide medical care to all our citizens, regardless of the cost.

Serious illness is always a personal catastrophy. Over 50% of personal bankruptcies are the result of medical costs, and untold lives and families are destroyed by our nation's callous disregard of its citizens. Our current system serves the rich, the very poor, those over 65, and those healthy enough and fortunate enough to work for employers who provide private health insurance. Everyone else is out of luck.

Once one is thrown out of the current system, it is impossible to get back in. Once you get sick, you are labeled as having a "preexisting condition," and cannot get private health insurance at any price. Further, even if you are healthy enough to work, you are unlikely to find an employer who will hire you, as it drives up the company's insurance rates to employ those with a "preexisting condition." But of course it will never say that in the rejection letter.

I have several friends whose lives have been devastated by this merciless cycle - catastrophic illness, compounded by huge medical expenses, and then topped by a lifelong ineligibility for health insurance. Even as I give what I can to help close friends through their cycle of devastation, I visualize the faces of those who are even less fortunate.

The lack of universal health care in the United States is nothing less than a blot on the morality of our great nation that must be addressed NOW.

Monday, April 20, 2009

There's More Than One Town on the River

For many years, it was common to have mill towns along the banks of America's rivers. In the early days, a river would power the machinery of the mill through waterwheels. Even after steam power became available, the river was the focus of the town's entire existence. Clean water from upstream provided drinking water, as well as water for the industrial processes. The flow of the river carried human and industrial waste downstream, away from the town, with no cost or effort on the part of the mill owners or townsfolk.

If there was only one town on the river, the system worked well, but as soon as there were two towns on the same river, the downstream town found itself drinking the sewage and industrial waste of the upstream town. Clearly, it was better to be the upstream town.

In a system of uncontrolled capitalism, with everyone looking out for their own good, those who are upstream have no incentive to have concern for those who are downstream. Charity perhaps? Acting as Good Samaritans perhaps? It certainly didn't work out that way for the mill towns.

The analogy of the mill towns fits big banks and many other big businesses today. Those who find themselves on the upstream part of the river are not going to volunteer to clean up after themselves, so those downstream end up drinking their sewage until government steps in to require that everyone stop polluting. After centuries of environmental pollution, our government finally told the upstream companies to Stop. It's time for our government to tell the upstream polluters of our financial system to Stop.

When told to stop polluting the rivers, the mill owners response was that they couldn't afford to do so. Their profits depended upon dumping their waste into the river rather than working a little harder to dispose of their waste in a way that didn't pollute the downstream drinking water. The cry was that environmental laws would force them out of business, throwing workers out of jobs. What else could they be expected to say? Certainly not, "Great, let's protect our rivers, we'll just become more efficient, keep hiring workers, and making profits." But after environmental laws were passed and enforced, over the screams of the factory owners, somehow ingenuity quickly found ways to keep the rivers clean and to make big profits.

We can't expect big banks and other giant corporations to volunteer to cede their upstream positions on the financial river. But after the financial equivalent of environmental protection laws are passed and enforced, somehow American ingenuity will again find a way to operate successful businesses and to create generous profits.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Controversy over the Release of the Bush-Era Torture Memos

On April 16, the Obama administration released four secret memos detailing detainee treatment under the Bush administration. Simultaneously, the president pledged not to prosecute the US intelligence officials who were involved in those activities.

This is clearly a compromise that truly pleases no one, but it demonstrates President Obama's deft skill in the art of political negotiation. Republicans didn't want the memos released at all, but are relieved that the President agreed to take prosecution off the table by stating, "At a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

On the other side of the political spectrum, the ACLU is dissatisfied by the compromise, stating, ""Enforcing the nation's laws should not be a political decision."

I cheer the release of the memos. For me, this half of the announcement is the easy one. There was never any valid excuse to make the memos secret, as there was never any justification for the acts the memos describe. The other half of the announcement, the decision not to prosecute for the acts of torture, is the difficult part.

So who's right and who's wrong regarding the decision not to prosecute? Ooops, wrong question. By my own sense of moral behavior, the ACLU is right on target. Immoral acts and crimes against the laws of the United States were committed. But that's not a workable and practical answer. If President Obama had held to that position, he would have created a pitched partisan battle that would have destroyed his ability to get Republican acceptance of any of his appointees or his agenda.

So was the compromise worthwhile? In my opinion, yes. While my sense of justice demands punishment for the guilty, my desire for at least a modicum of bipartisan agreement on the future of our country trumps the value of prosecutions. So, very reluctantly, I endorse President Obama's decision to compromise and forgo prosecution of those who carried out the torture.

Unfortunately, the President's decision is going to weaken his support among his most ardent and idealistic supporters. They expect and demand that he hold fire to the feet of all those of the previous administration who broke the law. Will that hue and cry quiet soon? Probably not. How soon unappreciative Liberals forget the vast improvements we have already seen under President Obama, including the January 22 Executive order that reversed the Bush era torture policy a mere two days after President Obama's inauguration.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Was A Bastard for 22 Years

From my birth in 1945 until the Loving decision of 1967, as a mixed-blood Chinese-American, I was, legally speaking, a bastard in a number of American states. My father's father emigrated to the United States from China in 1868, so both his marriage in 1889 and my parents marriage in 1927 were not recognized by those states that still had legal injunctions against intermarriage (miscegenation).

It was only in 1967 that the United States Supreme Court finally struck down laws prohibiting marriage between "whites" and those of "other races." The "Loving v. Virginia Decision" of 1967 declared Virginia's "Racial Integrity Act of 1924" unconstitutional, thus voiding the miscegenation laws in all sixteen states that still prohibited intermarriage.

Does my story even begin to compare to the prejudice Blacks, women, and other oppressed minorities have been subjected to throughout America's history? No way, I wasn't even called "squinty eyes" in grammar school. Nonetheless, my background has fueled a fire within me to crusade for the legal rights and social acceptance of all Americans - Blacks, women, gays, and those who are currently most under attack, Arab-Americans, and Muslim-Americans.

While the fight against prejudice is a constant struggle, great progress has been made on behalf of Blacks and women. Even Gay rights appears to be gaining a stronger foothold in middle America, although, in a throwback to the days of miscegenation laws, we are embroiled in yet another battle-of-the-bedroom - the right of every American to choose who they marry.

Currently, the groups most under attack by prejudice are America's 3.5 million Arab-Americans, and one million Americans who are Muslim. Prejudice against these groups - which largely but not completely overlap - has recently taken a step backward to the crisis levels we experienced immediately after 9-11. These groups are victims of a renewed attack that is associated with the right wing backlash against the Barack Obama Presidency.

As far more than a casual bystander to this foolishness, I feel frustrated and unsure how to make a meaningful difference. Probably nothing will soften the hearts of those who have become so hardened to acceptance of their fellow humans. I can't even, in good conscience, advocate restricting the publication of hostile intolerance, as long as there is no incitement to physical harm.

Fortunately, history is on the side of progress. We no longer burn "witches" as we did 300 years ago. Women and Blacks at least have the vote. You can marry whoever you want (as long as they are of the right gender, and age, and you only marry one person at a time). We have come a long way - and we have a long way to go. I will attempt to balance patience and action.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The First Amendment is Under Siege

A dangerous attack on the American Bill of Rights has begun to show up on right wing blogs. Some posts go so far as to advocate denying First Amendment protection to the Muslim faith. Others go further and assert, "In America we must start by banning Islam and outlawing Muslim schools and the Quran. Then we must deport or imprison those who teach and/or practice Islam." These attitudes are intolerable.

No one has the right to decide whether another American's belief system is a religion. The words of the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," precludes our government from discriminating against any religions. What could be a worse discrimination against a specific belief system than to legislate that it doesn't "qualify" as a religion at all.

We have a responsibility to judge individuals by their actions, not by the books they read. For example, when the United States decided to outlaw polygamy, Mormons were simply forbidden to follow the (then current) dictates of their book. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly wasn't disqualified as an American religion. When the United States decided that the government's responsibility toward the health of it's children trumped the religious beliefs of their parents, and instituted court-ordered blood transfusions, Jehovah's Witnesses weren't disqualified to be a religion.

Whatever any of us believe about the tenets of the Muslim faith, it isn't anyone's place to judge their neighbor's religious beliefs, and American citizens who are Muslim are entitled to the same constitutional protections as any other American - including the practice of their religion, and obviously, not being deported. This paranoia reminds me of America's imprisoning 70,000 United States citizens during World War II - among a total of 117,000 of Japanese descent who were detained in so-called "relocation centers." Haven't we grown up since then?

Good books don't always inspire good behavior either. Judging from its messages of compassion, Buddhism should be the world's most peaceful major religion. The world's 350 million Buddhists are generally among the least aggressive, but not always. The recent violent rioting in Bangkok shows that religious messages of peace do not always override human nature. Thailand is 95% Buddhist.

What's the point of this post? Simply that people will always be people. Whether they read books with messages of peace or books that endorse wrath and vengeance, most people are usually peaceful, but circumstances sometimes push people to violence, and a few people will always be obsessively addicted to violence.

This opinion piece isn't only a comment about Islam. If we were to discriminate against Muslims, who's next, Scientologists? Jehovah's Witnesses? Mormons? Japanese? I'm saddened when fundamentalists of any faith advocate wrath and vengeance, but I support everyone's right to their books, their beliefs, and all their rights as United States citizens. This is a plea for all to put aside fear and prejudice, and to respect our American Bill of Rights and our American way of life.

Personally, I am inspired by Jesus' message of love and by the Buddha's call for universal compassion - Hate is never conquered by hate, Hate is only conquered by love. I am saddened by how many have chosen words of wrath and vengeance as the basis of their religions. Nonetheless, I stand committed to judge individuals by their actions rather than by the books they read.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Republican Short Selling in Congress

On Wall Street, short selling is making a bet that a particular stock, or the market in general, will decline. If the stock does lose value, the individual short seller reaps a profit. The Republicans in Congress today are short selling America by betting against the success of President Obama's programs to revitalize our country's economy.

Financial short selling is legal and, within reason, provides a function beyond personal gain. Short sellers are often astute individuals who see that a stock is overvalued and their short selling creates a check on the stock's hyperbolic rise in paper value. The problem, and when short selling a stock crosses the line into illegality, is when short sellers take actions that cause the stock to decline in value - creating profit for themselves at the expense of everyone else. One such form of action is attempting to convince others that the stock is worthless and should be sold.

How does this analogy apply to Congress? It is the proper function of the opposition party to provide a check and balance to the party currently in power. This is like the useful aspect of financial short selling. But the line into unacceptable behavior is crossed when the opposition attempts to CAUSE the administration to fail. This is like selling an orange juice stock short and then running ads screaming "Orange juice is dangerous to your health," or yelling "Fire" in a crowded building that is not burning.

I find it unacceptable for any American, and especially for members of Congress, to publicly express a wish for the duly elected administration to fail, or to create conditions that increase the likelihood of failure. Did we Democrats do everything we could to draw attention to President Bush's failures? Absolutely. Did we spotlight his impeachable actions? Of course. But did Democrats risk America by attempting to create failure? Never. I can hear the right wing jumping in to interject that Democrats have also had failures. All too true, but not by sabotaging the political process, and I would argue that any such failures pale in comparison to travesties such as the war in Iraq. As one example, the widespread use of the filibuster to distort the political process is a recent Republican phenomenon. While having any public figures cheering for our government to fail is a blot on our nation's character, please understand that this article is in no way a condemnation of all conservatives. Some prominent Republicans have certainly expressed support for at least some of President Obama's policies.

Once every four years is often enough to hold a Presidential election. In between, let's support our President, and our country.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An introduction to Buddhism for Christians

I occasionally quote the Buddha and the Dalai Lama, and have found that this makes some of my readers uncomfortable. With apologies both to those who are well versed in Buddhist philosophy and to those who have been taught that Buddhism is a pagan affront to Christianity, I would like to present my two-minute overview of Buddhism.

Siddhattha Gotama, known as the Buddha, lived in India about 500 BC - at the time the second temple was being constructed in Jerusalem. He was a wise teacher, and is revered, but not worshiped, by those of the Buddhist philosophy. He was born into a wealthy family, but left home as a young man to seek insight into the nature of life. At first, he denied himself all earthly goods and pleasures, nearly starving himself. Then he came to the realization that possessions and comforts were not inherently evil and that asceticism (self-denial) was not a path to enlightenment or unity with Spirit. He discovered that the block to enlightenment is ATTACHMENT to the things of this world, rather than the things themselves. This great revelation is known as the Middle Way - living in moderation, without either gluttony or denial, and without attachment.

Buddhists believe that suffering is inherent in life, and that suffering is the result of attachment. Eliminate attachment to the things of this world, and you eliminate suffering.

Over the last 2500 years, Buddhism has spread and has developed variants. Some branches consider the Buddha to be what Catholics would call a "saint," but others do not. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the current leader of the Tibetan branch of Buddhism. There are about 350 million Buddhists in the world today. I encourage you to read more about Buddhism.

Here are some of my favorite Buddhist quotes:

Hate is never conquered by hate,
Hate is only conquered by love.
- The Buddha

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
– The Buddha

You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.
- the Buddha

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
– The Buddha

What we think, we become. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.
- the Buddha

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.
- The Buddha

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
Happiness never decreases by being shared.
- The Buddha

I teach one thing and one only:
that is, suffering and the end of suffering.
- The Buddha

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.
- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Through violence, you may 'solve' one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.
- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

The only reason we don't open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don't feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else's eyes.
- Pema Chodron

Be gentle first with yourself - if you wish to be gentle with others.
- Lama Yeshe

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Support President Obama's Peaceful Outreach in the Middle East

President Obama's peaceful outreach in the Middle East has been received poorly by a few hate-filled Americans who selectively quote passages from the Quran in an attempt to demonstrate that violence is demanded by the tenets of Islam. Is some of the Quran less than peaceful? Of course, this is a book written more than a millennium ago. For comparison, let's look at another ancient book.

While the Bible certainly contains passages, especially in the New Testament, that promote compassion and love toward fellow humans, there are a number of quotations from the Old Testament that are fully as dangerous-sounding as anything in the Quran.

Here's a little from Exodus 21, including the "eye for an eye" passage:

20 "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

22 "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Here are a few of the many unfortunate passages that show up in just a quick search for the word "vengeance."

Isaiah 34:8
For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion's cause.

Jeremiah 46:10
But that day belongs to the LORD, the Lord Almighty— a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. The sword will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood. For the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will offer sacrifice in the land of the north by the River Euphrates.

Jeremiah 51:11
"Sharpen the arrows, take up the shields! The LORD has stirred up the kings of the Medes, because his purpose is to destroy Babylon. The LORD will take vengeance, vengeance for his temple."

Ezekiel 25:17
I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I take vengeance on them.

Nahum 1:2
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.

What does this all mean? Certainly not that all Christians and Jews are dangerous and to be shunned. The point is that all ancient books are filled with conflicting messages.

Obviously there are Islamists who commit despicable acts. But tarring everyone of the Islamic faith by association is unreasonable and prejudiced. There are criminals within all religious groups and all societies. Unfortunately, we will always require police action internationally, as well as within countries to control crime. That said, generalized intolerance helps nothing.

Let us seek peace with all.

Oscar Wilde: Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.
- Oscar Wilde
They are different from us, they live in a far-off land, we don't understand their ways, so they must be immoral. That kind of thinking got our world where it is today.

I Pray for Peace in the Middle East

Trust No One

It may seem cynical to say, "Trust No One," but it can actually be a reassuring and positive thought.

Read this article on trust at

Friday, April 3, 2009

Have all Republican Christians Forgotten about the Good Samaritan

One of the most famous passages from the New Testament is the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The parable tells of a man lying injured by the side of the road being ignored by men who professed religion, but being aided by a Samaritan - an individual from a group not generally known for charity. Jesus praises the act, and ends the parable by saying,"Go and do likewise."

A recent Gallup poll reports that 79% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. An even higher percentage of Republicans consider themselves Christians. So where is the charity toward those who have lost jobs in the Republican-led recession and whom President Obama is now attempting to rescue? Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, the blogosphere has been filled with hateful rhetoric decrying charity toward the jobless. One of the more unfortunate quotes on the blogs is Adrian Rogers saying, "You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity." Adrian Rogers was the three-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention who also said, "I believe slavery is a much maligned institution; if we had slavery today, we would not have this welfare mess." Where is the Christian spirit in such a sentiment?

Beyond being the Christian thing to do, government creation of jobs is good for the economy and for future generations of Americans. Without federal government support for job creation, our great country would continue its downward spiral. Private companies laying off yet more workers in response to lower sales, causing yet more unemployed workers to cease being consumers, further reducing the demand for goods and services, and triggering more layoffs in a tragic cycle that only federal government intervention can reverse. State and local governments, without the power to balance income and expenses across budget periods, also lay off, reducing or eliminating education and other services vital to ourselves and our children. These local government layoffs also begin the same downward spiral of layoffs, reduced spending power, and more layoffs that we see in the private sector.

America's jobless need help, now. America's economy needs a shot-in-the-arm, now. I'm all for free enterprise. For all its flaws, it is far superior to any alternative. Free enterprise has and will continue to make America the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but ...

One of the biggest flaws of free enterprise is its tendency to create boom-and-bust cycles. When times are good, optimism reigns supreme. Everyone is sure that things can only get better. Consumers consume, investors invest, businesses hire additional workers and increase production. This is what happened in the late 1990's. In Silicon Valley, as an extreme example, companies speculated on an exponential growth in demand for computers, internet bandwidth, and electronic gadgets of all kinds. No one was without a job, and the salaries of even entry-level engineers were bid up to astronomical levels.

Then bust hits. Goods have been over produced, and begin to pile up in warehouses. Companies stop hiring, then they start laying off. Investors stop investing, and then attempt to convert their investments into cash. Laid-off workers stop consuming. The news media screams "Depression." Pessimism - fear actually - takes hold of the nation's emotions. That's America's situation today - fear rules, and few see good times returning quickly.

The solution to the boom-and-bust nature of the free enterprise system is for government to cool the economy when economic enthusiasm surpasses reality - such as in the late 1990's, and to stimulate the economy when pessimism strikes and American's become afraid to produce, hire workers, invest, and consume. Now is a time for our government to stimulate America's economy.

Critics raise the cry of creating inflation, "counterfeiting" money, and socialism. These arguments are badly timed. 1998 would have been a great time to argue for increased taxes to dampen an over-stimulated economy and build a war chest for hard times - such as today's recession. There will again be times when unrealistic optimism reigns in America, and an unsustainable boom needs to be moderated. That will again be a time to raise taxes to dampen the boom and rebuild the reserves.

It is always difficult to imagine times being different than they are today. Even though the cycles of boom and bust are fully predictable - if with irregular timing, people's emotions get caught up in the feeling that times will always remain good - or will always remain bad, whichever they are today.

America's government needs to spend more than it receives in bad times, and tax more than it spends in good times.

I commend to you the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spoken in his second inaugural address in 1937, "In our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Most Despised Minority in America

This is America, and we aren't supposed to hate anyone because they are a minority, are we? Actually, we have been getting better lately with regard to many minorities - but not all. Electing Barack Obama President of our United States is evidence that being black has become a respectable distinction for a significant majority of Americans. 8% of the Members of Congress are Black compared with 13% of the population - getting closer. Having one woman as a vice-presidential candidate and another as a serious presidential contender affirms that being a woman is also considered acceptable, even though only 16% of Congress is female.

Being Hispanic is fairly well accepted with 5% of Congress representing 15% of the population. Being Jewish has actually become distinguished, as 7% of Congress represents the 1% of the population who are Jewish. A Gallup Poll reports that only 4% of Americans have a negative view of Jews compared with 23% who have a negative view of Evangelical Christians.

Are Gays the most despised minority? Their situation is still grim, but it isn't the worst. Because many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals fear divulging their status, various studies indicate that anywhere from 4% to 15% of Americans are LGBT. Three members of Congress are openly gay. That is a vast under-representation, even though more Representatives may not yet have declared themselves.

So who is most despised? One strong candidate for the title "Most Despised Minority in America" is Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and the others who comprise the group unfortunately termed "non-believers." While "non-believer," in this case, refers to a "non-belief" in a super-human deity, it, like other negative terms, automatically carries a stigma, as would "non-white," "non-male," or "non-Christian."

How many "non-believers" are there in America? This question is even harder to answer than how many Gays, because it appears to be socially unacceptable to state that one is an Atheist or Agnostic. Though the estimates vary widely, 10-12% of all Americans and 20-25% of those aged 18-30 identify themselves as "non-believers," depending very heavily on how the question is phrased. When the poll offers three choices, belief in "God," belief in "universal spirit," or belief in neither, the number who don't believe in "God" jumps to over 20%. 20% of Americans is a huge number to be despised. For comparison, the US Census reports that only 13% of Americans are Black, and only 15% Hispanic.

As evidence of the prejudice against freethinkers ("non-believers"), a poll indicates that only 14% believe that America would accept an Atheist President, while 84% believe we would not. There is only one member of Congress, Representative Pete Stark of California, who openly acknowledges not believing in "God." This is not a lot of representation for 10-20% of our population. How many members of Congress are "closet non-believers?" Who knows. Pete Stark has represented a district near San Francisco since 1973, but only in 2007 announced his non-belief. Would others make similar announcements if doing so were not political suicide? One group suggests that 21 members of congress are closet non-theists.

Freethinkers tend to keep a low profile and not join with others who share similar beliefs partly because they are independent-minded people, and partly out of fear of reprisal for openly acknowledging their belief system. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) in the United States, is one of very few that actively work to protect the rights of freethinkers. One of the projects of FFRF is documenting a few of the widespread hateful deeds and words against freethinkers, such as comparing non-belief in a super-human deity to Nazi war crimes or the activities of the Ku Klux Klan or Al-Qaeda.

As more evidence of prejudice, the response when the group tries to display a billboard with the simple message, "Imagine No Religion," is outrage. Billboard companies refuse to rent space, and religious extremists respond with vicious baseless propaganda such as, "Why Do Atheists Hate America?"

Where do we go from here? How long will it be before every American has access to their full rights of citizenship, including free speech, separation of church and state, and proportionate representation?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gratitude - I am so blessed to be an American living in 2009

I live in a country with an long established tradition of free speech and freedom of and from religion. I have the right to say anything I choose - as long as my speech does not incite hatred or such. I have the right to choose my relationship with Spirit - which rituals I will observe and which I will not. I give thanks that America has no state agency to ensure that I bow to the east at scheduled times or that I show up to listen to someone's particular version of the hereafter. I am equally thankful that my personal communion with Spirit is not forbidden - even if my beliefs and practices are not those of the majority.

Why would I bother expressing my gratitude? Because these freedoms are not inherent to the nature of life. Freedom of speech and religion are not common in the world even today, and they were less common in earlier times. Far more important, these freedoms are under attack in America today. There are more than a few Americans who would choose to suppress these rights. Perhaps you remember the comics published in Denmark that parodied Allah? The reaction from some was to call for the murder of the comics' authors. But is that so alien to America. Are we strong enough in our support of our American freedoms to support and encourage those who parody religious beliefs and practices that are common in America? Are we strong enough to encourage all sincere religious beliefs and practices however different they may be from the majority? Are we individually confident enough in our personal beliefs that we do not feel that they require government sanction to retain validity? Do Americans in 2009 still have the strength and generosity, as our American forefathers did, to allow others the right to hold beliefs that differ from our personal beliefs?

America is a magnificent country. Amazing things happen here. Electing a president from a racial minority is a magnificent accomplishment. Having a woman in serious contention for the presidency was also a great indicator of acceptancy. We have come so far. And yet, in the area of religious freedom, we appear to be in danger of stepping backward. I fear that America is not yet ready to elect a Buddhist or Atheist President, but I hold that one day America will accept religious differences as easily as racial and gender differences.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tax Time

April 15

Tax time, tax time, pile the papers in stacks time.
Fill in ten-forty from double-U four.
Seventeen piles on the living room floor.
The doc that is missing's the one that I need.
I saw it last Summer I pitifuly plead.

Procrastinate, procrastinate, it's later than I think.
I'll do it tomorrow, it's nice out today.
I've still got a week, then it's only one day.
It's too early, too late, I have work, I have play.
There's no end to excuse. Won't that tax go away.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

God is an Invention of the Human Mind

It is natural for all humans to seek a father figure - someone to look up to - someone to set boundaries - someone to protect us - someone to give us certainty in an uncertain world. As children, we had our flesh-and-blood parents to fill those roles, but at a certain age, we found to our shock that our parents were not infallible - they could not protect us from life's vagaries. Ah, we now suppose that an even more powerful father figure is "up there."

The captivating power of the god concept is that it defies all logic and rationality. Try to disprove Santa Clause. You can't, because the whole idea is so nonsensical. Perhaps you remember believing in Santa Clause? If you were "good," a smiling father figure would give you gifts, while if you were "bad," you would get a lump of coal in your stocking. Santa Clause sounds very much like the god concept, doesn't he?

People believe in a god because their fear of the unknown, both death itself and the uncertainties of life, requires the invention of a father figure to provide reassurance. While logic and rationality are meaningless concepts to true believers, let me briefly point out the overwhelming illogic of "god" as a source of creation. The crux of the argument is the question, "If god created us, who created god?" Human beings and the rest of nature are truly wondrous and magnificent, and it is virtually beyond imagination that we could have evolved spontaneously. However, it is infinitely further beyond imagination that a god could have evolved spontaneously. As a comparison, if I can't imagine a human being lifting 10,000 pounds, my response should be to imagine a super-human lifting 10 million pounds, right? Superman, Santa Clause, and god - all imaginary.

Having dispensed with the fiction of "god" as a being - an entity with personality - an arbiter of "good" and "evil," let's look at the formless living energy that runs through us and unifies all life. My word for this energy is Spirit. Spirit is our palpable connection with all living beings and all who have gone before. Spirit is not judge and jury on human behavior, but a common thread that runs through all life. If you wish to use the word God for this Spirit you will not be alone, but you will be among a small minority, as the term "God" is interpreted by most as referring to a superhuman father figure.

I highly recommend the book "How To Know God" by Deepak Chopra. The book describes the Seven Stages of Belief in God, beginning with Protector (vengeful, judgmental), and ending with God of Pure Being ("can only be experienced by going beyond experience"). Depak Chopra's Stage Seven God is the energy I know as Spirit - the energy that joins me in Unity with all of life.