Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shadows of Images

I took her picture as she walked towards me
I remember the half smile on her face
And when she reached me
Wanting to kiss her
“Not here”
Quickly, I took another picture
Just the empty street
“It will look as if you disappeared”
It’s that second photograph that haunts me
Looking up from that empty lens

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Last Best Hope

When I tell someone that I’m an American I am conveying not just where I’m from, but in a larger sense, who I am. Today, I’m no longer sure who that is.

I served in the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1981 and during that time I served in a number of different countries. Most people I met in these places invariably admired Americans. They always wanted to shake my hand. It may be that they idealized us. I know they thought everyone in America was rich. But more than that, I believe that they saw America as a model to which other countries could aspire; that “shining city on a hill” that former President Ronald Reagan spoke of when he said that we Americans are “the last best hope of man on earth.”

I was proud to be a person thought to reflect the grand idea of America. I knew that America was not perfect, nor was I -- we were never perfect -- but never have we been so imperfect.

At one time admired and respected for our sense of decency and fair play, we are today justifiably reviled for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the abomination that is Guantanamo, the injustice of extraordinary rendition, and the evil and hypocrisy of enhanced interrogation.

Envied for the freedoms we enjoyed and admired for the physical and intellectual courage we demonstrated in earning those freedoms, we are looked upon today as a country, gripped by fear, meekly acquiescing to spying on our fellow citizens, and teetering on the edge of a police state.

And where so many other countries struggled valiantly to light the torch of democracy, and we were looked to as a beacon in the surrounding darkness, now that beacon flickers and dims as our elected representatives sell their votes, gerrymander congressional districts to favor their party, and deny the vote to minorities and the poor.

As for being rich, America, once the world’s biggest creditor nation is now the world’s biggest debtor nation. We have for more than 3 decades failed to address our energy future and now find ourselves held hostage to exponentially rising energy costs. We are spending borrowed money to pursue an ill-conceived and executed military strategy of preemptive war, and prioritizing military spending over education, healthcare, science, and economic opportunity programs for the growing proportion of Americans (some 13%) living in poverty – today, 37 million.

I want an America with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and a people unwilling to permit the erosion of human rights that is a legacy of that government. I want an America that has faith in its leaders, its institutions and its self. And an America whose faith in a higher being is an individual choice that manifests itself in acts of compassion and generosity towards its citizens and its neighbors. I want an America that values not material wealth per se, but the wealth of talent, ingenuity, and spirit that create the quality of life that we all work to afford. I want an America that abrogates to no nation leadership in exploring the frontiers of knowledge. I want an America whose conquests are of hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance, deceit, and hate, at home and abroad.

I want my America back, my last best hope.

The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia. On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power.

The Russians were ready. Was the United States?

See the analysis at the STRATFOR web site.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Burren

Had I known then what I later discovered about the castle we were about to explore, and the former inhabitants of the caves beneath the Burren, I would never have brought Mattie to the accursed place.

County Clare was our last stop before returning to Dublin for our return flight to the States. Madeleine, “Mattie,” and I had been in Ireland almost two weeks and I was ready for the vacation to be over. Two weeks of overcast, damp, chilly weather was enough for me, to say nothing of navigating the goat paths the Irish called roads. I hadn’t been enthusiastic about vacationing in Ireland in the first place, but Mattie had been going through a bit of a rough spell emotionally, and when she expressed a desire to visit her ancestral home, I acquiesced.

We had just come from the Burren, a geological anomaly in the northwest corner of County Clare. It was 300 square kilometers of karstic limestone slabs denuded of soil by ice age glaciations -- a bleak place dotted by the remains of megalithic habitations and burial sites, Celtic crosses, and a ruined Cistercian Abbey from the 12th century, and more recent remains of villages abandoned during the famine. The area was popular with archaeologists, as well as occasional tourists, like us. It was also popular with spelunkers, who had discovered that the crevices between the stone slabs often led down to extensive tunnels and caves.

Artifacts discovered in the Burren had been traced to a Mesolithic people that first came to Ireland about seven thousand years before Christ. Some artifacts recently discovered in caves under the Burren were puzzling to archaeologists, because they seemed to predate the earliest archaeologically accepted human habitations of Ireland, and because some of the items discovered appeared to be associated with witchcraft.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Intelligent Design – The Joke's on Us

The average price of a gallon of gas in the US last week was over four dollars a gallon. It’s hard to know what’s causing the steep rise. Some say hedge fund speculators. I suspect it’s God, angry with us for being fat and lazy. It makes sense. Jack up the price of gas we’ll have to walk more. The price of food is also going up drastically. Clearly, God’s doing that to make us eat less (too bad about the starving Africans). Now that I think about it, God’s probably behind global warming, as well – make us sweat off those extra pounds. I’m less sure about these wild fluctuations in the stock market, but I’m sure there’s a supernatural intelligence of some kind behind what’s happening in our economy (the Devil, you say?).

Yes, these and other developments in our world may be troubling, but it’s comforting to realize that one doesn’t have to work at understanding them, any more than we have to puzzle about how we evolved, if indeed, we have. The answer is in God’s intelligent design. You have to admit though, that as intelligent as God most assuredly is, she sure has a peculiar sense of humor.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Stars

The stars
They do not see you
Stretching to the beginning of time
They do not see you

Lie upon your back and stare
Look out as far as you can see
Look upon infinity
And wonder

They do not see you
They do not hear your plea

Dance your dances
Around fires
Or in the colonnades
Make signs

Seek recognition
From the heavens
Seek an answer
At least that

Why am I here
Ask them

But they do not see you
They do not hear you sigh

And when you die

The stars

Monday, August 4, 2008

Eating the Earth

“They're not creatures you can fight--they're an elemental--an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they'll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones. I tell you if you don't clear out at once there'll he nothing left of you but a skeleton picked as clean as your own plantation."

Just as the voracious Army Ants in Carl Stephenson’s short story, Leiningen Versus the Ants, devour all before them, we seem a people insatiable, searching every last shore, aquifer, forest, plain, and plateau desperate for that last barrel of oil, that last board foot of lumber, that last drop of water. We stumble on imprisoned between ignorance and greed, to be delivered into the annihilation that is our god.

The earth has existed for some four and half billion years, created in some cosmic catastrophe of colliding matter and formed from toxic fumes and molten rock, its history replete with cataclysmic events of unimaginable magnitude and violence. It was 800 million to a billion years after the earth’s fiery birth before the first vestiges of primitive life were created in the form of cyanobacteria that ultimately reacted with other elements to transform the earth into an habitable planet. And along came man. But not for billions of years.

Homo sapiens, or “modern man” emerged only about 120,000 years ago. That makes man’s time upon the earth clock about 2 seconds out of 24 -- a blip of miniscule proportion. But, like a bacteria, we have morphed and multiplied many times over.

At the dawn of the first millennium A.D., the world’s population was around 300 million people. Growth into the second millennium was modest, but by the time of the American Revolutionary War, the population of humans on earth had grown to over a billion, despite the ravages of the Black Plague in the thirteen hundreds. Human population is today, some 230 years later, over 6.7 billion and growing exponentially. By 2050, 42 years from now, the number of people on earth will increase by over 40%, to 9.5 billion.

It is unreasonable to expect that a presence of such magnitude and rapacious appetite would not change the earth upon which it dwells. According to some geologists, humans have so drastically altered the earth that the Holocene epoch, which started 10,000 years ago, has ended and we have entered a new epoch - the Anthropocene.

Early humans, hunter-gathers -- had little impact on the planet. But with the advent of technology, the human footprint grew disproportionately. Man is dominant on the earth, and like the cyanobacteria of eons ago, is reshaping the earth dramatically, but not in ways that make it more habitable. We are making the world hotter, drier, dirtier, and biologically less diverse. We have destroyed over half of the world's wetlands and original forests, polluted rivers and the ocean, and poisoned the land. We cause the extinction of an average of 100 species per day. Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson predicts that if we don’t slow our consumption of natural resources, we’ll extinguish half the species of plants and animals by the end of the 21st century.

According to Lord Robert May, Professor of Zoology at Oxford University, and winner of the Royal Society’s Copley medal, the world’s oldest prize for scientific achievement, "We stand on the brink of a global extinction event -- the sixth episode in the history of the Earth." The most recent extinction event, approximately 65 million years ago, closed the Cretaceous period and ended the reign of dinosaurs. "The difference is that the current global extinction event is being caused by the actions of a single dominant species rather than a 'natural' event," said Lord May. We are part of the Earth's great fauna, but we are also its greatest menace.

The human species has become a plague on the face of the earth.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth...for it repenteth me that I have made him.

Friday, August 1, 2008

River Walk

I walked along the river
Stepping from stone to stone
Pausing at mirror pools
Watching for things that live here

Such lovely water
Blue-green swirls
of Arabic script
That fade and blur

Beneath the surface
I see shapes of things
I see shadows
Swirling in the mist

My mind at peace
Gentle, quiet
Flowing as the river flows
May it never cease

On either side of the river, was there the tree of life...and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.