before I head out…

Monday 24 March 2008

Hi all — I just wanted to let all of you faithful readers of my blog (or not so faithful ones) that I will be leaving shortly for some work outside of the country and am unsure how often, if at all, I might be updating/writing in my blog before June, so I just thought I’d let you know that in case you were wondering where I was.  (If you don’t get alerts on when I put up a new post,) Do check back though every so often, as I may have the opportunity to connect you with other blog entries I find interesting or maybe even write a few on here — I just don’t know.  Until then, read some of my old blogs you may have missed along the way!

Peace — eric

my protest

Wednesday 19 March 2008

As we mark today the 5th anniversary of the start of the current US war in/occupation of Iraq, (hopefully) a million or more will take to the streets around the country and the world as a protest to this war many call a quagmire. I’m all for taking it to the streets, and I think it’s a very valuable and necessary thing to do, but right now I wanted to take a portion of my lunch break to offer up my protest.

Did you hear of the “Winter Soldier” event held this past weekend? It brought together Iraq War veterans to speak about their experiences. The stories I listened to were heartbreaking, and I know the brought tears to many eyes. This story by Jon Michael Turner was perhaps the worst for me:

“On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed killed. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him ‘the fat man.’ He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend, who I was on post with, and I said, ‘Well, I can’t let that happen.’ So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family. It took seven people to carry his body away. We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.” (More of his stories can be found here.)

Democracy Now! has been covering this story all this week (including Tuesday and Today), but as DN noted “Although Winter Soldier was held just outside the nation’s capital, it was almost entirely ignored by the American corporate media. A search on the Lexis database found that no major television network or cable news network even mentioned Winter Soldier over the weekend, neither did the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or most other major newspapers in the country. The editors of the Washington Post chose to cover Winter Soldier but placed the article in the local section.” If we ever come to prosecute for war crimes in relation to this war, will we hold these sources as accomplices? And as John Michael Turner said, “… any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books.”

And while we’re talking about the media, what about Lynndie England chastising the media for their role in uncovering the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? In her words: “If the media hadn’t exposed the pictures to that extent then thousands of lives would have been saved.” There was definitely retaliation by insurgents after the photos were revealed, but does that mean they should have been hidden instead? That’s almost like blaming the fire department for the water damage they left in your house as they attempted to put out the fire instead of looking at the arsonist who actually set the blaze. Why do we so easily fail to look at the root causes of situations and instead blame intermediaries (i.e. we blame the homeless war veteran instead of the one who sent her or him to war in the first place)?

We must open our eyes to the world around us. We must examine the motives of all people — those we despise and those we hold dear. We must work to put people in leadership positions who will truly work for the betterment of ALL people, not just “the rich,” and not even just Americans. As H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama said, we are to contribute to others’ happiness, and he gives no distinction to nationality or other barriers. If we want a revolution — as another great peacemaker said — “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Ghandi) Let’s actually be that change.

giving it all away

Monday 10 March 2008

I wrote last week about striving to truly give away all one has and a world with no possessions, so it was appropriate that I glanced over at a woman reading the New York Times on my plane ride home Sunday night and saw her reading this article that I was then able to read when I returned home: Easy Come, Easy Go for Idealistic Heirs.

It’s an interesting article you should read that I won’t talk about in detail, but there was one quote at the end of the article by non 59-year-old David Crocker who gave away a lot of money when he was younger: “I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, having come a long way from where I was, but I see that it’s important for people to be kind to themselves and prudent with their financial resources.” I won’t give away Mr. Crocker’s profession, which is also quite ironic, but his mindset is interesting, as is his phrasing: “Kind to themselves.”

It is a great challenge and responsibility to have money. In fact, if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you fall in the top 15% of people financially worldwide (if you earn over $9500 a year). So you and I both, as are so many others, are responsible for great wealth and must use our current power to distribute the world’s resources more equitably. Can we do it? Let’s give it a try.

Verizon sucks (or: never trust your cell phone)

Sunday 9 March 2008

So I’ve been at a conference this weekend and using my cell phone as my alarm, as I have been since I consciously left my alarm clock in Ohio in August. I’ve come to trust my cell phone (even though I switched to a new one recently) for waking me up on time and helping me tell time in a variety of situations. When they warned us at the conference to set our clocks ahead an hour during the evening’s last session, I didn’t really even think or worry about it since I knew my cell phone automatically switches times when I enter a new time zone, and I figured this night would be no different. So last night, like all others, I set my cell phone alarm clock and went to sleep.

I woke up, got ready, and arrived at the dining hall about half way through what I thought was the 8-9 block set aside for breakfast. The room was very empty compared to the other meals, but I just thought everyone must have had a long night and decided to skip breakfast. I saw a clock that was an hour ahead and then remembered there had been a time change, but I must have still been in morning mode because I didn’t realize what exactly that meant. Instead, I thought, “Thank God for my cell phone” and started thinking about the blog entry I would write on the topic (one that would have a much different tone than this one).

As I walked from the dining hall to the room where the workshop I wanted to attend was being held, I saw another clock that showed 10 o’clock instead of 9 as I thought it should be. I must have been waking up because I started to think, “Now if they were going to spring the clock ahead, why would they have moved the clock ahead two hours? That just doesn’t make sense.” It wasn’t until I peered through the door window to see the packed room that I realized that I, in fact, was the one who had screwed up the time change – or at least by putting my trust in my cell phone, I had messed up and would only get to hear the last 30 minutes of the 90 minute workshop. I was disappointed to say the least, but I tried to stay present and take in what the conversation had to offer me.

It’s event like this that challenge my attempts of practicing detachment. It is so easy to cling on to things and let their existence or nonexistence control how you’re feeling about life. This happened later in the day when I was going to security for my flight back to DC and they decided to confiscate my letter opener. They had pulled it out before and asked the supervisor, even on the flight up to Boston, actually, but had always let me keep it (maybe because I’m a white male — though maybe my hair is too long these days); I should have know it was a problem and left it or put it in a checked bag, but I’m forgetful. And though I told the TSA officer, “They’ve let me take it before, but if you’re not going to, I guess there’s nothing I can do,” it was still hard to just let it go. (I wonder what they do with all that stuff they confiscate in that manner?)

In talking to other Verizon customers, their phones did change time, so it might have been a “user error,” but I still blame them. It just is another reason for me to continue to avoid getting too much into the cell phone world.

an olive branch

Thursday 6 March 2008

It starts with a black screen and the sound of a chainsaw. I then heard men shouting in Arabic for others to stop what they are doing. And then came the visual: a man holds the chainsaw and lops off the branches of olive trees — not to prune them, but to destroy them. Men cry out in anguish which moves me in my core — I feel the pain of those who are losing their beloved trees, their source of life, and I feel the pain of the olive trees themselves, their limbs ripped from their bodies, soon to be uprooted. A man runs into the grove to try and stop the destruction, but Israeli soldiers hold him down while they confine others in a nearby building, letting them only peer through windows and watch the killing.

This is the opening scene of a movie I just watched at a local restaurant called Bil’in Habibati — Bil’in My Love. (If you’re lucky, it might be coming to your town very soon!). It is a horrowing story of one town — not much bigger than where I grew up — where the residents have created a non-violent movement against the Apartheid Wall which is virtually annexing half of their land to be used for creation of Israeli settlement. In Bil’in, “Since January 2005, the village has been orchestrating weekly protests against the barrier’s construction.” (Even Flat Stanley has been there!) There are many great stories from Bil’in, including this one from Michigan Peace Team.

While the entire movie was heartbreaking — at times unsettling my stomach — I found the destruction of the olive trees to be particularly poignant, and frightfully symbolic. For many, the olive branch is a sign of peace and goodwill, often held in the mouth of a dove, another symbol of peace. However, in this scene and later in the movie, the branches are removed from that which gives them life, dropping to the ground in a horrible death. Like this tree, the Palestinians are uprooted from their land and brought to horrible deaths, with the end result, seemingly, to rid the land of their people while settlers move in and others profit in the construction of their houses.

Unfortunately, this practice is far too similar to one our country engaged in a few hundred years ago with those who inhabited the lands before Europeans arrived of what is now known to most of the world as the United States. In a quest where one group felt entitled to the land over another, the European conquerers and Americans to follow eliminated the rightful owners of the land to make room for what are now skyscrapers, highways, cell phone towers, baseball stadiums, and so much more. Can anyone say we (Americans — most of us have that blood on our hands) were justified?

I think a lot about “ownership” when I think about those people who were and are driven from their land. What does it really mean to “own” something? Does anyone truly have a right to “own?” In our current corporate society, it is hard to even imagine a life without possessions or having something to call “Mine.” But I believe this is our calling — to leave everything behind for something Greater. We all know “money can’t buy happiness,” but when will we begin to truly trust in a Higher Power and seek to live a life where all share in the joy that comes from true peace and compassion?

It will be a struggle, but it is one I am committed to make, and I invite you to join me on the journey.

why i voted for dennis

Tuesday 4 March 2008

I suppose this could have maybe been more effective before the polls closed in Ohio, where I voted by absentee ballot this year, but I thought it would be apt to post today, too. I sent my ballot through the mail about 3 weeks ago, and if what I think I know about absentee balloting in Ohio is true, my vote probably won’t show up on the Internet or television tonight, but it will still be counted. And in the end, my singular vote probably won’t directly change the number of delegates who go to one Democratic candidate over the other (I pulled a Democratic ballot this year), it is important nonetheless. And while it’s obviously a race between Barack and Hilary, when I filled in the oval with my #2 pencil, it was next to neither of their names. Am I foolish? You might think so. But here’s why I voted for Dennis Kuchinich.

There are probably lots of reasons one could argue I shouldn’t have voted for Dennis: he “isn’t electable” (based on some poll figures and such), he stopped actively campaigning over a month ago (he was fighting to hold on to his place in the House tonight), he could never “beat McCain.” The list could go on, I’m sure. And those might be reasons you wouldn’t or didn’t vote for Mr. Kuchinich (as the NY Times would call him), but for me, those aren’t good enough any more. I’m tired of voting for whoever the Democratic candidate ends up being in November because she or he is surely “better than a Republican” and we know it’s really only a two person race anyway, no matter how many names are on the ballot (and who those other candidates would “take votes from,” leading to such a situation that occurred in 2000).

But that’s my problem: we too easily “settle.” Am I not to select the candidate who I feel would be the best person for the job? And if I don’t, why would the candidate I end up voting for have any incentive the change their ways to what I wished they were like? I mean, they got my vote the way they were, right? It’s not that I dislike Clinton or Obama — in fact, I would rather have either of them than that man from Arizona; it’s just that I like Kucinich better (much better, I might say). I don’t consider it throwing my vote away at all — I need to let me voice be heard, that I’m tired of “business as usual,” of playing games with corporations and “special interests” and all that jazz — and that I want our president and government to do what is truly best for all the people of this country and this world, not what’s best for those who will later help them fund their re-election campaign.

I’m sure there are some of you I still haven’t convinced, who will still vote for “the best of the rest,” but if you think it’s at least a worthy thing to vote for someone who stopped putting money into his presidential campaign in January, I probably should tell you why I marked Kucinich instead of one of the others promising “change.”

For one thing, Kucinich is a peace candidate. His main slogan was “Strength Through Peace.” We’ve heard promises of pulling out of Iraq (with certain conditions and time lines) from other candidates, but it’s more than just how you deal with one situation; it’s about an ideology. It’s about dealing through diplomacy and refusing to support militarism, handling misunderstandings and conflicts with conversation and discussion instead of bombs and bullets. Kucinich doesn’t believe “the best defense is a good offense,” as some do, but knows that the best possible situation is to not have to worry about defending from anyone at all.

Another issue is health care. Most people think providing everyone with adequate health care is a basic human right — especially in “the richest nation on the planet” — but people disagree on how to get there. Kucinich’s plan doesn’t perpetuate the current “for-profit” corporate business model of insurance companies and HMOs which causes some companies to seek out ways to get out of paying claims. It isn’t a plan that seeks to insure everyone by requiring them to have insurance or subsidizing them so they can afford it, a plan which creates an even greater profit for those making money off of health care. Kucinich wants a plan (which was offered by Ms. Clinton back in the 90s, actually) that rids us of the bane that are insurance companies and creates a single payer system — and if you think it would reduce our care or just don’t think it can work, watch Sicko.

I could go on about issues like trade and corporations and such (read “marijuana“), but you can look at his website if you’d like to know if you agree with him about other things. But really the point remains: “Why shouldn’t I vote for the candidate who I agree with the most?” (Take the test — for me Kucinich was an 83, Gravel an 82, and everyone else 38 or less.)

Editor’s note: after a short conversation with my Mom and Dad, I’d like to note that one could probably make a similar type of argument for voting for someone like Ron Paul, who my Dad voted for (Mom is an Obama-girl).

the gift of life

Monday 3 March 2008

As I left work today, I declared, “I’m off to give the gift of life.” Now, if I were dating someone (or I suppose even if not), that could easily have some other connotations, I suppose, but I was merely declaring that I was off to donate blood with the Red Cross.

Late last week one of my co-workers can in, telling us to give blood (I think he had met up with someone who worked at the blood center) — I had wanted to give blood in the fall, but it had just never worked out, and I tried to actually give in December in Ohio, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule then either. So finally I just went and did it! And as I was reminded by my friend, since I’m going to Africa shortly, this will be the last chance I have for a long while (as there is a significant — maybe a year? — waiting period after traveling to Africa, which seems kind of silly to me, I guess…)

I’ve been lucky to be able to “give life” for the past 8 years, and I think I’ve maybe given close to 16 pints, which isn’t too bad. However, if you went as often as possible, one could about 6 times a years! My dad, as a diabetic, can’t give blood, and my mom has recently had iron issues after many years of giving — I’d claim her as my donating influence. But even so, though most people qualify to give blood, the statistic I saw today said only about 5% of that pool actually does!  I understand people have issues with needles or blood, which I can understand, but I think the number of people with those kind of issues probably isn’t 95% of the qualifying population.

Giving blood is actually pretty easy and quick, too.  I’m again lucky here, because I have HUGE veins and blood that comes out quickly — I actually left the center before two of the people ahead of me even left their beds.  And the perks are pretty good, too!  I got myself an umbrella as a gift (though it was make in China — not so good), which happens sometimes but not always, but they do always have free snacks with your visit, even if you get denied from giving blood (most places I’ve been, at least).  And the Red Cross has there own Top Ten reasons, too!

So I just thought I’d bring to light one of those “little things” you can do to make a big difference — this is really the only way people can get blood when they need it (we can’t create blood in the lab that I know yet).  It’s not one of those little things that we do to feel better while we ignore the larger problem, either — it’s just something you should think about doing sometime soon if you qualify and don’t hate needles/blood.  Just call 1.800.GIVE.LIFE