My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

With all respect to Mr. Alighieri

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet's rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously into Saginaw, MI.

Entry for December 27, 2006

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe - Carl Sagan

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Entry for December 20, 2006

You are truly a nerd only when you know what the first action is in making an apple pie from scratch.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Are Evangelicals the worst of America?

A couple of weeks ago the Christian Coalition of American forced the retirement of their president-elect because he was spreading a different message then their current beliefs. "I wanted to expand the issues from only moral ones -- such as opposing abortion and redefining marriage -- to include compassion issues such as poverty, justice, and creation care” said outgoing president-elect Rev. Joel C. Hunter (1).

This of course did not make much news due to the fact that the story of outgoing National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group representing more than 45,000 churches with 30 million members, founder Ted Haggard has rightfully stolen the spotlight. For those of you who have lived in a cave over the last month, Haggard was caught buying methamphetamine from a gay prostitute (2) and was forced to resign.

All of this comes on the heals of a events such as the Jesus Camp movie wherein an Evangelical summer camp does an Americanized version of what al Quada and other radical religious organizations have been doing for a couple decades. The only difference is that one is teaching their children to use guns; the other is pushing theirs to get elected so that they can command those armed with guns (3). Now one of those has more power, influence, and potential for causing massive casualties – and I’m sure you can guess which one that is.

The other Evangelical story over the last month was the inappropriate actions of Florida Representative Mark Foley with underage male House interns. Representative Foley supported the interests of the Christian Coalition of America 84 percent of the time (4). And all of this is just in the last month or two!!!

Now I know that there will be some Evangelicals out there who do not believe that the actions of a few predominate leaders truly represent the mindset or beliefs of the collective – but to this I would argue. When you have a leadership that you support who acts as these have, you have empowered them in whatever actions they do. Therefore, you are directly responsibly for their actions and also at fault of the events that have unfolded in the name of your alliance.

So my question is this: Is the collective Evangelical organizations in America the representation of the worst we have, or is there another equally large organization that I’ve missed that is somehow worse?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The War on Terror

On September 20, 2001 President George W. Bush, standing before Congress and a scared nation, announced, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated” ( The task from there on out has been to define terror, terrorism, and terrorist in relation to our changing world; how to combat it; prevent it from spreading; and destroy the seeds in which it grows.

In 1937 the League of Nations originally defined terrorism as, “All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public” ( For over 70 years this version was to stay the basic definition for international terrorism until, on March 17, 2005, a United Nations panel redefined terrorism as any act: “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act” ( This broader definition was to take into accounts the recent attacks by several terrorist groups that had been gaining in ambition and success.

Richard Clarke, who served as an advisor from 1973 to 2003 and for presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush and was chief counter-terrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council during the events of 9-11, described the events that lead up to the current War on Terror in his books Against All Enemies. His vantage point is absolutely unique as to the events, actions, and reactions to terrorism within the past 20 years. And although his view is extraordinary, and his actions courageous, his reactions and strategies exemplify the endemic view within our government in relation to dealing with terrorism threats coming from different parts of the world and here at home.

The complexity of why terrorism exists, why it is able to flourish, and why it is extremely difficult to combat, is one not built on individual retaliatory measures, but on a systematic attack of the causes that allow terrorism to take root in the first place. South Korean Nobel Prize Laurent Kim Dae-jung has said, “At the bottom of terrorism is poverty. That is the main cause. Then there are other religious, national and ideological differences". In a Dec.10, 2001 article in the Christian Science Monitor (Jai, 2001). Several of the Nobel Laureates quoted highlight the role of low education and poverty in terrorism: “What is it that seduces some young people to terrorism? It simplifies things. The fanatic has no questions, only answers. Education is the way to eliminate terrorism” (Elie Wiesel). “If the mind is more open, that will automatically bring less fear. Education can narrow the gap between appearances and reality. The reality is that we and 'they' are not different” (Dalai Lama). “At the bottom of terrorism is poverty. That is the main cause. Then there are other religious, national, and ideological differences” (Kim Dae Jung). And, “External circumstances such as poverty and a sense of grievance and injustice can fill people with resentment and despair to the point of desperation” (Desmond Tutu). Clearly, it is the root of the problem that must be addressed: Education and Poverty. The issue then, is how to affect these two issues.

Education and poverty are the historical hallmarks of societies that remain closed to outside investment, communications, and influence (Bremmer, 2005). Open societies are more economically sustainable and, once established, have a built in self perpetuating system lead to more openness to the outside world. Governments that are successful in remaining closed and self perpetuating do so because they have either found outlets for the general discontent in either state or religious diversions.

There is a direct relationship between instability and demand within an authoritarianism society. A people who fear economic insecurity will suspend calls for freedom and representative government in favor of support for (or at least submission to) a single clear voice promising food, jobs, and social guarantees – whether it comes in the form of a state handout or religious offering. The purpose, therefore, of economic reform and the creation of a broad middle class, is to reduce demand for authoritarianism and to build the necessary public confidence that increases demand for an opening of society. When societal outrage is not properly supplied with essentials, or if middle class is unobtainable with the system of government in place, outrage must either be directly dealt with of redirected.

In an authoritarian state, opposition political organizations are suppressed, their activities are outlawed, their leaders are jailed or killed, and their supporters are intimidated into silence. As a result, opposition within these states becomes radicalized; opposition activism becomes, by definition, anti-state activity. And, as Newton’s Third Law tells us, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Eventually the masses will rise up and suppress the system of government that suppressed them. The problem with this rebirth is that it rarely breeds anything different then new leaders of the same government for the simple fact that the new leaders who take over an authoritarian state, no matter how good-intentioned their original act was, immediately realize that they are now in control of the entire state completely unchecked by any opposing party and with current support of the masses.

Historically in Arab countries, the trend has been for closed societies and authoritarian systems since the British colonialization in the Arab world. This time also ushered in the period in which Arab countries have been dominated by a single political party or monolithic elite. And unlike the control of Communist Russia through economic pacification, the one party systems lead to a continuous rise of religious fundamentalism throughout the Arab world. This is because the natural flow of problems have been redirected not into compliancy for economic stimulus, but into religious centers. “Mosques offer institutional support for public protest and a vehicle for public frustration for those excluded from a share in the nation’s wealth” (Bremmer, 2005). Consolidation of anger/power builds the one party solidarity and, through the government controlled mosques, and directs it at targets away from the state as a means for diversion from other, deeper, economic and societal concerns from their citizens.

Consequently these types of states, be they Islamic, Christian, or Jewish, are home to substantial numbers of radicals. Most prevalent within the closes systems in the Middle East reside the Islamists who prefer the restoration of the Muslim Caliphate to the establishment of liberal parliamentary democracy to push power and control of the masses solely to the religious side of politics as a solution for the problem that they are helping perpetuate by not addressing the core root of the problem.

The current US strategy of dealing with this upswing in religious activism in the Islamic world is the universal democratization and the elimination of “outposts of tyranny”. Unfortunately, this targets the supply of autocratic rule without addressing the underlying demand for it. The formulation of a comprehensive strategy that addresses both sides of the problem, low education and poverty, which lead to these states, is vitally important.

Education, the second part of the equation, is equally at odds with a state controlled by religious means. As a state that directs it’s economically burdened and socially discontented populous towards religion, religion itself will become the educational arm of the government. This too is self propagating and leads toward more religious intervention into all levels of government and a sharper divide with the outside world who may not share their specific brand of beliefs. Therefore, it is the simultaneous elevating of both economic conditions and the separation of church and education, within closed systems, that must be done in harmony. To simply drive a strike at between the leadership and the people of a closed society completely ignores the subsequent generations that have already been educated, usually more virulently, to take up where the newly ousted leaders left off – and with the public support of an equally educated society.

Suppression through economic or religious means will always breed those who refused to be suppressed by any means. Every closed system throughout all of history has, sooner or later, fallen to internal forces wishing to overcome a system they believe in designed to keep them compliant or silent. Strategies that empower the individuals that comprise these groups within closed states to challenge the authoritarian status quo can create strong momentum for democratic change. A promise of basic necessaries or a redirection of anger is in no way a match for the hope of equality with those who clearly have done well at the expense of others.

A supply side foreign policy approach only works against a large, organized, state that is both diametrically apposed to your policies and financially weaker then your state. Supply side policy against a non-formed organization (think the War on Drugs) is destine to fail for the simple fact that in trying to alter market supply in a self-sustaining market. This will only drive up the cost and create more individuals/originations who will naturally see the increased risk offset by the an parallel increase in profit. And since the increase in policy only drives the price higher, the risk and profit also rise in line with the increase in spending on the initial policy. One does not need to study Adam Smith to know that where there is demand, there will always be supply. It is only when you attack both supply and demand can you have a realistic chance of making a true difference.

It is precisely on this supply-side principle that the United States risks losing the war on terror. There is demand for terrorism in parts of the Muslim world to further the closed societies, bolster a belief in an enemy that disagrees with the religious education, and maintain the belief that economic shortages are not due to the system, but instead do to outside forces acting to upset the balance of their homeland. With this rally call, there are growing numbers of angry young Muslims willing to surrender their lives in exchange for an outlet for their anger and a sense of pride and purpose for their state and family’s future wellbeing. These men have little stake in the success of their nations. They have little hope of lawfully altering their fates. If this or that Al Qaeda captain is captured or killed, a young Muslim looking for a war will find another officer to enlist him. When bin Laden is finally captured or killed, those who demand a champion to lead the terrorist jihad will create a new leader.

The progress of altering this trend is slow, and as General Wesley Clark has written, "Western labor unions, encouraged by their governments, aided the emergence of a democratic trade union movement, especially in Poland, Western broadcast media pumped in culture and political thought, raising popular expectations and undercutting Communist state propaganda. And Western business and financial institutions entered the scene, too, ensnaring command economies in Western market pricing practices” (Washington Monthly). In essence, the former Warsaw Pact countries did not choose democracy because they it was imposed on them by the outside world. Instead, the accepted Democracy because they wanted democracy internally because of nonmilitary outside forces and influences.

This influence from the outside world is well known in closed societies. The average North Korean knows little more about the world outside of their boarders then their government allows just as those in the closed Islamic countries allow only certain types of cultural influences to permeate into their own. This defense against unwanted outside influences is usually done through cooperation between the state and the religion as it is mutually beneficially needed for both to maintain power and the illusion that their followers are living the best life possible under the circumstances. Cultural protectionism that undermines cultural vitality as surely as economic protectionism limits economic growth and keeps the population in eternal check.

The challenge becomes in finding ways into these closed societies to help bolster the middle class and allow for economic and educational reforms knowing that resistance to reforms reinforces short-tem political stability as it softens the blows of social dislocation.

Realizing that countries are aligning to undermine their intentions, certain militant cells have decided to shore up recruitment both in their countries of origin and in those where they believe that individuals with the same backgrounds and upbringing as themselves now reside. The attacks have symbolized mainly Western, other religious interests, and in their own religious areas. “These strikes may contain a grim message for Muslims: Beware, anyone who cooperates with the West--the danger extends to you.” And advisor to Morocco's King Mohammed VI says that the terrorists' strategy is to create chaos aimed at undermining moderate Muslim governments by “attacking innocent victims as an indirect manner of striking Arab or Islamic governments that militants condemn as corrupt," (Time 2004) France's Jacquard calls the tactic a new "strategy of rupture." The purpose, he says, is to force Muslims "to finally, fatally decide whether they are for or against righteous jihad."

So I put the question to you out there, what is the key to undermining an authoritarian regime propped up by basic economic stability through natural resources while holding it’s populous in check through religious means?

Any ideas?


Clarke, R. (2004). Against All Enemies. New York, NY: Free Press.

Jai, J. (2001, December 10). “Getting at the Roots of Terrorism: The Largest Gathering of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.” The Christian Science Monitor.

Bremmer, J, (2005). The J Curve. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

Clark, W. (2004, March). “Broken Engagement.” Washington Monthly.

McGeary, J. (2003). When No One Is Truly Safe. Time, 162(22), 52-56.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Your Christmas Survival List

My wife and I went to the mall today and as we shopped for Christmas presents I wrote down a couple of things to remember. I hope that this short list can in some way help you through the season:

  • Christmas is inherently the gaudiest time of the year. Don’t try to fight it, you will loose.
  • You are going to end up buying at least one box of girl scout cookies, so buy one for the girl who had the guts to walk up to your door and not just from the ones who catch you walking into the grocery store.
  • Whatever items you originally laugh at today as bad gift ideas will progressively look better the closer Christmas gets.
  • There are only two options when buying jeans: comfortable, or the ones that make your butt look good.
  • Of course the retail person who helped you at the mall was stoned. They have to be stoned to deal with a Christmas shopping you.
  • Your husband wants nothing from Bath & Body Works. Nothing.
  • Nothing says that you’ve hit middle age faster then a Christmas sweater you’ve made yourself.
  • Whether you want to admit it or not, you too looked that ridiculous when you were a kid. So stop mentally berating those ridiculous looking kids at the mall. It’s called generational revenge and is inevitable.
  • There is a higher probability that Paris Hilton will win a Nobel Prize then there is that you will not gain weight over the holiday.
  • Christmas is suppose to give you a headache, stress you out, make you want to skip it next year, argue with your friends and family, and make you wish you could rip the stereo out of the car. Its part of the mystic, just go with it or it will consume you.