Saturday, January 31, 2009

Earthquake Survivor

That's probably stretching it a bit but the Puget Sound area did experience a 4.5 magnitude earthquake centered northwest of Seattle that was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. I personally slept through it. But, hey, we had an earthquake. I'm still here. Therefore I survived. In these times a guy takes achievements where he can.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Far Better Said

...than I can. If you want objective facts about Israel and Hamas, read Henry Seigman's article in the London Review of Books. And check out Eric Alternman in The Nation to see what happens to journalists who depart from the mainstream consensus in support of Israeli war aims.

(hat tip to Jerome at Bad Attitudes)

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Still Dreaming

Since coming out as a conscientious objector to war and violence, the most difficult challenge for me is the propensity of others to foment war and violence. Self-defense, both personal and national, is justified when an adversary is capable, willing and clearly demonstrating intent to employ force. Perhaps a true pacifist would stand and die in the face of such threat but I personally am not likely to do that nor can I as an individual ask my country to allow its citizens to be put at risk by other nations’ or groups’ willingness to employ violence. As a nation we have a responsibility to defend our legitimate interests.

War and violence are extremely common among nations and sub nations. It’s a fact of life that conscientious objectors must factor into our thought and beliefs. Although I maintain a complete abhorrence of war, I don’t expect the US to ignore or idly dismiss grave international threats. What I do expect is that America’s leaders will evaluate those threats realistically and then find ways, preferably allied with other nations, to alleviate threats and avoid violence. As a conscientious objector, I want my country not to introduce violence into any dispute; when force is unavoidable, it must be proportionate and limited to the threat at hand.

This concept is largely ignored by most nations and by any number of groups with grievances to avenge. Force and violence are as much a part of human relations as the blood that pumps through our bodies. Nations have been at war since they were created. Before nations, tribes and clans fought. About the only significant difference to modern war is its potential scope and staggering costs. Nineteenth century warfare could lay waste to a region or individual nation. One hundred years later war could destroy an entire planet even as its ineffectiveness in resolving serious disputes was demonstrated time and again. Our greatest failing as a species is our inability to reject violence.

We justify our attachment to violence, pointing outward and claiming that “they” threaten us. It is true that some “they” may actually pose a threat but these days, “their” threats, while deadly and destructive, are limited and so is “their” ability to carry out those threats. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, “they” were the Soviet Communists who commanded a powerful military. However distorted those views of Soviet power actually were, they posed a serious existential threat to the US. As a result, we embarked on National Security Race and have hardly looked back. In the Age of Terror we apply that same metaphor to a very different threat.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney simply took a well established policy, rooted in human fear and weakness, to extremes at a time when the great military threats of yesteryear had been defeated or dissolved. The threat that did emerge—sophisticated determined terrorist networks--was nowhere near the existential threat of the Soviets, Nazis or Japanese. Yet Cheney and Bush presented the terrorists in those terms and marched the nation into endless war and occupation. As much as they bear personal responsibility for their overt and covert wars, secret operations and criminal policies, foreign intervention, arms dealing and use of force is nothing new in American policy.

That is what I want to change. Long before force is contemplated, I want my country to engage its adversaries and to defuse tensions. I want to eliminate the word “enemy” from our diplomatic lexicon. America should have no enemies, only adversaries or, better yet, allies. I personally do not have an enemy in the world—all people are my kin—so I am at a loss to accept that America has enemies who want to kill, maim and destroy us. I am not naïve; I know that economic and strategic interests give rise to opposition and attacks on American interests. I know, too, that many other nations have a strong sense of identity and may legitimately object to the United States intervening or otherwise interfering their affairs. In a nonviolent world, this intercourse among nations would occur as a mater of mutual interest and satisfaction. We wouldn’t need an army to enforce it.

That’s my dream. Human nature being what it is, I may not live to see it come true but simply understanding this ideal gives it a force in my consciousness. It will be a part of me and inform my actions and associations in coming years. Although I am writing in 2009, the idea isn’t new. What I recognize now is how long I have been a conscientious objector and that, more than ever, I need to speak with fellow Americans about nonviolence as a legitimate policy that in world and national affairs.

The “practical minds” and “realists” will dismiss me as deluded, bent on a quixotic quest. We must be prepared and take resolute action in this dangerous world, they all say. In return I say that simply because an idea is difficult, its truth is no less clear. In all things, I seek only that all people recognize the humanity of their fellow human beings. Once this recognition takes place, non-violence is the only ethical and moral alternative. After all, if I don’t want someone to harm me, how can I justly take that same action against that other person.

It’s true that I have not always acted as a conscientious objector. When my nation said “kill”, I took that rifle and pursued other human beings. I certainly did not live up to my ideal then. But the experience has haunted me ever since because I knew that I had no right to go halfway around the world to attack other people. Even more, I knew that I was waging war in someone’s home and my mind conjured the image of soldiers making their way through my backyard in Virginia. It was then that I realized my connection with my so called “enemy”. The connection is part of my consciousness to this day.

So, yeah, I got it wrong back then. I did not have the courage to act on my beliefs. Nothing I can do will ever change that fact. Everything I can ever do in the future will make sure I don’t fail again.

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Velo News

During January 2008, my bike sat in the corner, unused. January 2009 has been much different. I've ridden 85 miles since the start of the year. Yesterday, I clocked the 1000th mile since moving to Olympia. I expect to be out of town next weekend (*) so the miles so far this month are likely to be it. Even so I'm on target to ride about the same mileage as 2008. Cycling is the only serious, regular cardio-vascular exercise I get. It's a good way to make sure I'm still alive.

Cycling is also a good time to blow the cobwebs out of my head. The act of riding is pretty much rote and navigating traffic is not difficult at all in Olympia so I can float with the universe as I go. I can examine the detail that I would never see from a vehicle. And very often I will figure a way to word an essay or clarify a point about my project at work. All in all, cycling is just a fun way to pass some time and decompress. The exact mileage is never as important as taking the time to get out.

The three day weekend last week gave me the chance to do two short rides. The the air inversion that has lasted ever since was in its first or second day but unlike Phoenix or Seattle, the air wass not brown with pollution so the rides were pleasan. My second ride was particularly strange. I started out riding through the thick fog in downtown Olympia, climbed into lighter fog on the west side, passed through thick, freezing fog before breaking into sunlight at The Evergreen State College. Then the day was sunny and bright. I could see the top of Mt. Ranier sparking in the sun under clear skies above a fog bank covering the lower slopes. As started down the steep hill leading back to downtown, I encountered fog again and found downtown as foggy as before. Climbing back to my place on the east side of town, I could see the fog lightening above me. I've never ridden in fog before. Odd but not at all unpleasant.

Yesterday's ride started in the sunlight which didn't last all that long but the predicted rain held off until much later in the day. The route was a long one and included maybe 10 miles of Chehalis Western Trail. I grow fonder of that route every time I ride it. What's not to like about a paved path completely removed from traffic and built on railroad grades? I managed to cover it in both directions without retracing my route at all. Since I usually travel north to south, heading north for half the distance was a welcome change.

The temperatures for the January rides have been mainly mid to upper 30's. My feet get a bit cold toward the end of long rides and at times I've worn micro fleece gloves under my riding gloves. I haven't had to contend with cold rain yet and think I have a pretty good chance of not riding in any real downpours if I watch the forecasts closely enough. When I started riding last year in February, I was able to find sufficient openings in the wet weather to ride comfortably without fenders. This year I am far better prepared.

(*) Next week I am either going north to help with dogs rescued from Skagit county puppy mills (if they still need volunteers) or west to check out the Washington coast.