Saturday, January 30, 2010

the picking of pockets...


Calvin: "Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?"

Hobbes: "I'm not sure that man needs the help”


My friend Carol, a schoolteacher in California, told me about this story...

In Madera just recently, the local school district superintendent received a 9% raise:

Budget-tight Madera Unified gives chief a raise

Facing severe budget cuts last year, the Madera Unified School District was forced to furlough workers, increase class sizes, and lay off more than 30 teachers and two dozen other employees.

But last month -- as another round of cuts loomed -- the district's board of trustees offered Superintendent John Stafford a new contract with benefits that equaled a 9% raise. It also promised him a retirement bonus. He was the only superintendent among similar-size school districts in the area to get a raise.

Teachers and union leaders were outraged. They chided the board for giving the district's top administrator a raise at a time when teachers are being pressured to work harder and, in some cases, are buying school supplies with their own money.

Stafford said that even though he asked for the new benefits in his contract, he didn't expect it would be so generous.

So what the heck is going on? I mean this isn't uncommon, this apparent spending of money like rich folk, when really there just isn't any money to be spent and others are making cuts and trying trying to find ways to make this all not hurt so much.

I've heard it said that every dollar spent on education is worth two dollars to society. I also know that one of the chief factors in keeping people out of prison is education. One overriding common denominator shared by those housed in our gulag of jails and prisons is that they are grossly illiterate and have only middle school education levels.

So, what's up MADERA? You lay off 30 teachers and your suprintendent of schools gets a raise? That must be one hot rocket of a super - a super superintendent - I tell you what. Because even tho' 30 teachers have been laid off you didn't have an equitable decline in student enrollment I'm sure...

This is one of those head-shaking moments... sigh... if someone can explain the wisdom in this (or even any common sense to it), please advise. Thanks...


When the economy debacle hit there was a story that caught my eye:

Retirement Savers Lost $2 Trillion in the Stock Market

and rather than quote the story I'm grabbing this comment:

Lost Money

I'm 58, retired and totally disabled. My wife and I lost over 70% of our retirement based on what our "financial adviser" at Merrill Lynch told us. What a laugh. Now we are scrambling to keep our house, food in our mouths and medicine in our blood streams.

Does anyone know of law suits, individual or class action against Merrill Lynch for abusing and violation their fiduciary duties???

Just drop me an email-----



So was there a bailout for the working folks like S? Didn't think so...

... but now we need to move on to this Mammonistic bit of gluttony - the Wall Street/Banking bonuses.

I'm not sure if our heads are entombed in the sand or we're (we being you and I, the distinctly individual citizens) just really not able to communicate with each other anymore but I know this blue collar, under employed senior male is pissed off. C'mon... what the hell!

- ok, I'm about to go off on a tangent so I'm gonna save that tangent and not digress, as hard as that is for me to do -

Here are 3 different takes on these executive bonuses, I found them to be both entertaining and relevant:

The earnings report for Main Street: A sorry account, indeed

Prakash Laufer

To add insult to injury to working America, in came the earnings reports from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. At these mega banks, balance sheets are healthy, profits are up and bonuses for top executives are bigger than ever. JPMorgan Chase just reported $11.7 billion in profits and $26.9 billion in compensation and bonuses. Goldman Sachs made a record-high profit of $13.4 billion in 2009 and is slated to hand out $16.2 billion in compensation and bonuses.

These are some of the same institutions whose predatory and unethically risky actions brought our economy to its knees. But, thanks to billions of dollars in government resuscitation, they seem to be recovering nicely from their near-death experiences.

The "earnings report" for the rest of the U.S., however, includes — drum roll, please — higher unemployment and continued foreclosures, with no relief in sight. It sounds like a raw deal because it is. Big banks and Wall Street financiers ignited the foreclosure crisis, setting our economy ablaze, resulting in the loss of millions of homes and jobs.


Tax Wall Street Bonuses

Jim Hightower

Start with those bonuses. Yes, say the bankers, we're stuffing ourselves with money that we should be loaning out to help Main Street recover from the crash we caused, but – hey – we've also started a few charities to help, you know, the little people. So buzz off, killjoy.


and then this little dittie from that bastion of the liberal media, CNN Money:

Botox to vacations: Where bankers spend their bonuses

Blake Ellis

Wall Street bankers are putting together their wish lists for 2010 -- and they're not holding back. After last year's dry spell, bonuses for top-level executives are expected to be sky high. Maybe even records.

At Goldman Sachs and Chase these execs are anticipating bonuses of more than $500,000 a piece, on average, so they'll have plenty to spend.

Read that one and weep, suckers!


But seriously, back to my digression which is now no longer a digression! I knew I could do it... now what was it again?

... oh yeah...

I'm pissed! Listen, if there is someone using the terms liberal or conservative as hot button words, trying to get a rise from folks by lambasting in what I guess they hope is Twainesque in its literary brilliance, ignore the bastards! And you know who I'm talking about - the Limbaughs and his loud-mouthed peers. And I'm not talking about just those on Limbaugh's end of the political scale, I'm talking about all across the political field.

We cannot afford to be divided further. Lord knows we can always find reasons to not like and hate each other. Heck, a lot of us can't get along with our own families let alone neighbors or strangers, but we really have to take a break. We can't afford to let our national experiment in liberty fail. (and liberty has nothing to do with government)

Liberty is essential, it's like water. Without it we die. Either physically or spiritually... we die without the essentials.

Liberty, freedom... that is a state of being. It is in our contract, a universal declaration of individual human sovereignty. But with that sovereignty comes a great weight of responsibility. Because to be free we cannot deny freedom to another. Freedom is reciprocal recognition of another's right of existence as much as it is of our own existence. Were this a world of only one... cooperation would need not exist. But there are 7 billion of us crowding together here on this earth.

And we allow others to excite us to dischord at our own expense and at great risk to our social order. Finding ways to hate one another takes no effort, but it does tend to create a need for a referee - aka government. And the more dischordant we become the more need for someone to break up the fights.

We've moved beyond (and yes there are still some bastions of ignorance remaining where this doesn't hold true) using inciteful speech like "nigger." I mean I was a kid who thought the story of Little Black Sambo (there was a Sambo's restaurant chain - try opening a restaurant with that name today!) was great. I loved it. The first time I saw a black man I asked my dad if that man was little black Sambo. I'll wager he was embarrassed just a bit.

I see it these days... skin color is about as significant as hair color. We notice but we move on. So what keeps us apart? Why are we allowing our pockets to be picked like this? How can 1% of the population hold as much wealth as the the bottom 50%?

If someone is using inflammatory rhetoric, ignore them! Seriously... we need to seek cooperation, we need to create cooperation, we need to work this out together, cooperating is the only way to do do that! And this is a big ship and it's gonna take some strong arms to keep that wheel turning us back to the good.

It is not a competition of insults - that's for friends - and those who insult are a large part of the problem. They're the scab pickers that won't let wounds heal.

[and trust me, I'm not a liberal, I am a true independent and take my own stands on issues - the two party system is also part of the problem but that is another whole blogpost - æ]

So listen for venom, don't get sucked in thinking there is another segment of humanity that for some reason needs reviling. We're all the same, we all were once seed and egg (except for Dick Cheney), and those who seek to divide us are our enemies.

Those who seek to divide us... from within or without...

are our enemies.


Reason # 32 for not tailgating...


“Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondarily on institutions such as courts of justice and police”

- Albert Einstein


Saturday, January 16, 2010

When disaster strikes... helping Haiti


“Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”

- Dr. Carl Sagan

... sigh...

Guesstimates from Haiti on the death toll from the disastrous 7.0 earthquake is at 140,000. Haiti...

... a devastated landscape, a neglected population, a nation long a pawn of world powers and human greed and incivility...

Haiti, the western hemisphere's poorest country has long suffered from a human earthquake of exploitation, yet little has been done to alleviate that perpetual disaster. Thankfully humanity does have a compassionate streak that compels our actions, mobilizing us to provide aid, coming from all around the globe to lend our hands, our backs and resources.

My mind is so aswirl at what to say here, I can't keep up with my muse so bear with me while I sort and sift through my thoughts...

I denigrate no one's help in such a disaster - needs are immediate, instantaneous and overwhelming. Cries in the dark, crushed bodies, families broken, children orphaned, food and water scarce already becomes almost non-existent for most. Trauma and crisis, hunger... the wails of frightened and injured children...

Close your eyes and imagine the terror - and thank your stars for what you have, the blessings of stability.

I really wished I could understand or have someone explain to me how it is that the most noble human traits will arise in response to the Haitian quake yet we collectively ignore the hunger, malnutrition and starvation that takes tens of thousands of human lives - mostly childrens' lives - each and every single day.

I seriously, seriously cannot grasp the fundamental flaw that causes us to not just ignore the daily catastrophe of the neglected but to also endeavor so damn hard to kill and murder one another day after day after day... whether through warfare or civil/societal violence. (see, I'm starting to get steamed and if I were speaking I'd be swearing beyond using "damn")

And when I get really pissed off is when jackasses like Pat Robertson open their mouths and let the putrid dreck that fills their heads fall out. And Pat did, again. Jackass... here's what Pat said:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it [...] They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal."

To quote Red Foreman from That 70's Show "Dumbass!"

The best quote I've seen this morning while going about gathering my info comes from Andy Borowitz over at Huffington Post:

Pat Robertson has become a "public relations nightmare" and a "gynormous embarrassment to me, personally," God said today.

Yay god.

Add Rush Limbaugh to the Jackass List (if he isn't already in one of your top slots):

"Everything this president sees is a political opportunity, including Haiti, and he will use it to burnish his credentials with minorities in this country and around the world, and to accuse Republicans of having no compassion."

Thankfully the White House called Limbaugh's statement "really stupid." 'nuff said...

Back to the positive side... people who help. We have so many fine people helping through organizations like Doctors Without Borders(Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF), or, like here in Oregon, we have the Oregon Disaster Medical Team, all medical professionals reacting and working hard at getting their volunteers and equipment there expeditiously.

I don't have money to give, but I do have my art. And while I haven't heard back from them, I am going to donate 50% of the profits from any sales of my photos at RedBubble during Janruary (sic) and February, to the Oregon Disaster Medical Team. Framed prints run about $120 (US) and gift cards are $5 or so... I'll let you know how sales go. Please, do consider a purchase, I can use the $ too...

Here is the Gallery: welcome to the world I see...

And here are some samples:

Do what you can. Give money, give time, support the orgs supporting those in need. And please, ignore Pat and Rush. Amazing how it is that smart people can be so stupid...

I watch Bill Moyers Journal on PBS Friday nights when I can. Last night I was able to catch his interview with Greg Mortenson on his work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Amazing... people like this inspire me. These kinds of examples are just too freaking rare.

Craig Mortenson

Mortenson has so far built over 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, helping to educate nearly 60,000 children. For Mortenson it's a process of love. And of respect. He could not get any of his work done if he did not humble himself and adapt to the tribal/clannish culture of the region. He works through the elders, the local headmen and even the Taliban.

He spoke of his being taken hostage by a local group. He said he wasn't tortured but he sure wasn't treated well. Until he started talking to his captors about the upcoming birth of his child and asked for a Q'uran and an Imam to teach and translate. Funny... he explained that the Q'uran doesn't advocate suicide - it's a definite no-no - or any of the other nonsense the Muslim haters portray. He explained why his task of school building gains and holds support of the locals - it's because the Q'uran calls the pen mightier than the sword, calls for respecting the women and elders... I guess I'm going to have to learn more. Sigh... this education stuff just doesn't stop!

Mortenson is also an author and his book Three Cups of Tea
One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
is now mandated reading for any U.S. official working in Afghanistan, including our military generals. The book's site also includes his other books.

Again... these are the people who deserve our support. Mortenson has a program, Pennies for Peace. Here is a summary from the About The Program:

The Pennies for Peace service-learning program began at Westside Elementary School in River Fall, WI in 1994, when students, through their own initiative, raised 62,340 pennies to help Greg build his first school in Pakistan. Greg came to Westside at the invitation of his mother, Jerene Mortenson, who was the principal at Westside.

Aah... Greg also blogs, using Google's BlogSpot (same as Morning Donut): Greg Mortenson's Blog. I will be adding Greg's blog to my list of links in the left hand column of this blog.

As always, thanks very much for stopping by. The growth of this blog is on account of you all. I have nearly 1,000 visitors a month now, up just a bit from the 100 or so I was getting in my first year... and my readers are from all over the globe.

Fight for right, fight for peace, end the wars, feed the hungry, educate the uneducated... in other words - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


“If I were asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, 'I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.'”

- Ann Landers


Friday, January 8, 2010

Avatar - The Word for World is Forest...


“The important thing is not the finding, it is the seeking, it is the devotion with which one spins the wheel of prayer and scripture, discovering the truth little by little. If this machine gave you the truth immediately, you would not recognize it,”

- Ursula K. LeGuin

When I was a young man I was stationed in Thailand in 1973, serving with the Air Force. I lived in the small town of Takhli, north and a bit east of Bangkok. I arrived in March of '73, not knowing quite what I was getting into. I was a GI. I went where I was told and pretty much did what I was told.

I worked as a photo lab technician, running film processors, printers and doing copy work of the images produced by the F-111 pilots flying missions over Cambodia. We worked 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts - and there wasn't a lot of down time. When there was time off it was spent sleeping, maybe going to town for a Chinese movie (Bruce Lee!) or if Sunday was the day off we could go to the Takhli Gardens (Tahkli Ga-den) where local bands played rock and roll (sometimes good, usually mediocre to bad) and dance, drink and hang out.

In December of '73 we stopped bombing Cambodia. Suddenly my work went from 6 days on to 2 days on and 5 off. I went native. I rented a small bungalow in town for $25 a month (I think I was making about $200/mo) and spent my time reading, going to Bangkok or taking the bus east into the hills and visiting monasteries, or going to the ruins in Ayutthaya or hiking out into the local rice paddies with my camera and a few of the local dogs (snake alarms).

I spent a great deal of time laying in my front porch hammock, eating and sleeping while I was reading. Just out front of my complex was a kwiteau (Thai noodle soup) stand run by a woman by the name of Nit. Nit made the best kwiteau... I'd eat at least 2 bowls, maybe 3 and I had to be her best customer. I could send one of the little kids down with some money, give them a baht and Nit would bring my soup plus the spices in their little jars, fish sauce and a soda (orange spot!). The traditional kwiteau comes with luk chins, little pork meatballs. The slang for kwiteau with luk chin was monkey ball soup. Made with flat noodles, bean sprouts, green onions and shredded bamboo shoot - and of course monkey balls- it's ubiquitous and pretty standard street fare. And I love it.

But I digress... (again)(still, always)(I think I think and talk with a lot of digressions too...)

Anyone with a television couldn't miss the previews for the new Sci-fi flick Avatar. I went and saw it today with my kids. Wow. Don't miss it if you have a love for good movies.

Before the release of the movie the previews I saw made me think of Ursula K. Le Guin's wonderful classic novella, The Word for World is Forest.

I read the story (a Hugo Award winner) in a copy of Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, a wonderful and challenging collection of science fiction and speculative fiction. Ellison is a master and his Dangerous Visions collections were great introductions for me to many authors of the genre. More importantly were the ideas entering my head. Politics, environmentalism, religion, spirituality, science, love, hate...

But Le Guin's story was a standout. It struck a note in me I had never heard. Well, at least didn't recognize...

Life is sacred... it is what is. I mean physics tells us that none of this... this whatever is around each of us, our space, our home, our environment... none of it exists. There is no matter, there is electricity and lots of space - what Michio Kaku calls the cosmic foam (or Custard as some I know prefer to call it) - that seperates molecules in their spinning and whirling dervish existence. But, here we are, tapping on keys on our qwertys, making sense or not. Life is all around us and I'll be damned if it ain't, 'cause it is. And I think we treat our home like shit. And that is the message of Le Guin's tale and of Avatar, the movie.

"We don't get it."

And we are the poorer for that. A disconnect like we have manufactured for ourselves away from the natural world is a dangerous thing. Especially if, as a culture, we are incredibly immature.

In reading reviews today I was looking for others who saw the Le Guin connection. And there are plenty. But there are other influences as well. Avatar is the epic tale, the iconic hero story, with a happy and good ending. If you were cheering for the tall blue folks and their big trees, of course.

That immaturity I speak of? It's plain and simple. We're spoiled. We have too much. We don't share and we don't play well with others much anymore. To those who would say "of course we care you hippie moron!" I can only say that in a world where 30,000 people die each day not from old age but from starvation and malnutrition, we obviously don't care. At least not enough as far as those 30,000 people go.

In Avatar we cheer for the natives and dislike the human invaders. We go against our own.

But not really. What we do by cheering the natives in Avatar is acknowledge humanity's indigenous roots. We have been humanoid for a long time. Like... a realllly long time. We've been civilized (and I truly do use the term loosely) for just a blink of time in our long existence as humanoids.

I've never really understood this arrogance we display... like this... this stuff we have, makes us any different than the us we were when we slept in caves and huts. And that's a scary thought. Not that we're like our native selves but that may have been like we are. Yuck...

Personally, I think we're devolving. I think we used to care more, before we discovered stuff. I believe we once loved sunsets more than mirrors, that we knew and respected the beauty, bounty and power of the natural world.

My images of nature are just that for me. For me trying to capture the raw, eternal beauty of this earth, our sole sustenance, is a duty. I remember well the day I stood for the first time in a crowd and spoke on bealf of the wild. I haven't turned back.

I will be reducing the prices on my prints from RedBubble in the next week or so. I'll post a new blog when I do.


“To be matter of fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy -- and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful.”

- Robert A. Heinlein