John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: June 2005
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Ascent of Humanity

A friend of mine, Charles Eisenstein, is in the process of publishing a book entitled The Ascent of Humanity. I have had the priviledge of reading drafts of a good deal of the book. I thought some of you might find it quite interesting, particularly those interested in the human condition. Chuck has set up a blog with access to parts of the book, as well as some of his other writings. You can view it here.

I would recommend visiting the site and reading the introduction to the book.

I have written a short review of the book, which I have included below.

The Review

The Ascent of Humanity is quite an impressive book - and no small undertaking. The subject matter is quite complex; however, Eistenstein seems to have a knack for explaining it in an understandable and very readable manner. His personal insights are illuminating and make otherwise difficult concepts easier for the reader to assimilate.

As Eisenstein skillfully illustrates, the alientation and anxienty that define the modern human condition is rooted in our separation from nature. Eistenstein traces the separation from the pre-agricultural period up to the modern age, and offers sensible solutions for a return to a way of life in accord with our humanity. He is well read and backs up his arguments with sound reasoning.

As a research biologist, I was particularly drawn to those parts of the book concerning evolution and genetics. Ironically, it seems that science, which dragged our self-alientation to its peak, may help to usher in a return to the self. Eistenstein draws our attention to exciting new avenues of research in these areas that have broken free from the self-imposed limitations of reductionism. This paradigm-shifting research is helping to lay the foundation for a reunion of man with himself and nature.

I am looking forward to its publication.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Source

Here's a short poem I came across the other day. Thought some of you might enjoy it.

The Source

The undulating wood slopes down
to the rhythm of mountain streams…
If you want to find the source,
You have to go up, against the current.
Breakthrough, search, don’t yield,
You know it must be here somewhere.
Where are you?...Source, where are you?!

Stream, woodland stream,
Tell me the secret
Of your origin!

Silence – why are you silent?
With what care you have hidden the mystery of your origin!

Let me wet my lips
In spring water,
To feel its freshness,
Its life-giving freshness.

- John Paul II

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Eminent Domain - The Divine Right of Corporations

Imagine for a moment that you are the CEO of a major corporation and you want to build a new riverfront facility. Tack on a resort hotel, conference center, some research labs, as well as commercial and office space, and you stand to make a handsome profit. During the planning phase, you realize that part of the property you want to build on is a residential neighborhood with privately owned homes. What’s a CEO to do? I suppose you could buy-out the property owners. But what if they don’t want to sell? You would have to look for land elsewhere, right?

WRONG! You can actually have their property seized and turned over to you – at fair market value of course. And it’s legal – at least according to the Supreme Court.

The Court ruled Thursday, in Kelo v. New London, that local governments may seize people’s homes and property for private economic development. The 5-4 ruling was based, apparently very loosely, on “eminent domain”, as laid out in the Bill of Rights.

According to the 5th Amendment, private property can only be taken for public use. For example, it is legitimate for a state to take possession of property, with just compensation to the owner, for the construction of roads, schools or other assets that will be owned and used by the public. The Bill of Rights makes no provisions for the forceful dispossession of one’s property for the private use of another. That’s tyranny! But that is exactly what is happening.

Under the ruling, your property can be taken from you, against your will, and given to a private individual or group, for the construction of a for-profit enterprise. In fact, it has already happened! In Topeka, private property was seized for the construction of a Target distribution facility, and in Las Vegas, property was seized for the construction of a casino parking lot! It doesn’t stop there. In New York, property was seized near Times Square for the construction of the headquarters of the New York Times and other “renewal” projects. And the scarey part is that these are not isolated cases. The Institure for Justice (IJ), a libertarian public interest law firm, has compiled thousands of cases across the country were property is being taken from individuals, against their will, and turned over to private parties.

What does the mean for the average citizen? In a dissenting statement issued by Justice O’Conner, “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party…The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including the large corporations and development firms”. I guess it was inevitable being that corporations own both parties, and in essence, run the country.

Advocates of the ruling argue that it serves the “good of the community”. Let me see… making the individual subservient to the common good …where have I heard that before? I bet Stalin would be so proud.

As Midnight Oil sing in "The Best of Both Worlds", "Who can stand in the way, when there's a dollar to be made.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bert & Ernie Should Get A Job

The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would reduce funding for public broadcasting by 25%. see report here Currently, the government provides the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) with $400 million – about 15% of its annual budget.

Opponents of the spending cuts see them as a politically motivated move by the Republican-controlled Congress to silence CPB programming – due to its perceived liberal bias. Supporters, on the other hand, see the cuts as a means of reducing discretionary spending (federal budget deficit for FY 2005 is estimated to be $350 billion). On the surface, it would seem that both sides are correct in their assessments; however, the issue goes much deeper than that.

Conservatives, in general, are fundamentally opposed to any federally-funded support of public broadcasting. The thesis of their argument rests on the enumerated powers clause in Article I on the Constitution. Accordingly, the funding of CPB (or any other corporation) it is manifestly unconstitutional. I think Thomas Jefferson (Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty) said it best when he stated, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."

The Left will concede that the subsidizing of corporations is NOT enumerated to the federal government by the Constitution. They justify such funding under the so-called “broad discretionary powers” illegitimately granted to Congress by the courts. However, in defining the public good in this manner, Congress is acting to define its own powers, thus superseding the Constitution. I guess for the CPB, the end justifies the means.

Now to the money! Advocates of public broadcasting claim that the federal contribution to their budget is vital to their survival. I say poppycock! For starters, the government entitlements account for less that 15% of its annual budget. The other 85% comes from private memberships and generous corporate underwriting, among other sources.

Why can’t the CPB raise the rest of the money they need to operate from other public sources? To tell the truth, they can! But they prefer not to. As an illustration of this point, consider the following! Bell Atlantic chairman Ray Smith offered to help Congress find alternate funding sources in the public sector to replace federal funds. The CPB said no thank you. Further, when Jones Intercable offered to take over programming, the CPB again responded with a no thank you. These rebuffs by CPB over alternate funding demonstrate that their seemingly indispensable requirement for federal funds does not rest on financial grounds after all, but rather on principles. I guess commerce is not the type of thing aristocrats soil their hands with.

Truth be told, CPB has multiple funding options available to it that are more than sufficient to replace all the federal funds it currently receives. For example, they could switch to market-based funding and compete like other stations. Some have expressed the concern that this could lead to an erosion of programming quality. Perhaps this is a legitimate concern; however, I don’t believe it is well-founded. CPB is not being asked to fund its entire budget in this manner – only 15%. If one is not convinced by this argument, they could scrap the idea of market-based funding altogether. Other options are to ask members to increase their contributions. Liberal Hollywood elites who are so fond of public broadcasting could also chip in. Corporate underwriters such as the Rockefeller, Ford and MacArthur Foundations could increase their funding as well.

CPB apostles should also take a look in the mirror for another source of revenue. Public television shows such as Sesame Street are cash cows. Sesame Street alone licenses over 5,000 products that generate between $800 million to $1 billion in annual revenue! Other shows such as Arthur, Dragontales, and Clifford the Big Red Dog also market numerous products that rake in $100's of millions. There is no excuse for CPB’s refusal to draw-up licencing deals with these programs (which essentially receive free advertising) to generate the revenue to replace government funding?

It's time to stop forcing taxpayers to foot public television's bills. It’s time Bert & Ernie got a job!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Downing Street Memo: Much Ado About Nothing

Opponents of President Bush and the Iraq War are howling like mad dogs over the recent release of the Downing Street Memo. The memo contains a transcript of a July 23, 2002 meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and other British officials wherein they discussed the situation in Iraq. According to the memo's author, Matthew Rycroft (an aide to British foreign policy advisor David Manning), "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." emphasis mine

If Mr. Rycroft's assessment is correct, then it would certainly seem that President Bush is in a bit of hot water. However, the evidence that "intelligence and facts were being fixed" is lacking. In fact, it was not only our own Intelligence, but also the Intelligence of the Brits, the Russians, and other sources that conluded that Saddam had WMD and was a threat. Even former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson - a Bush critic - admitted that "we all believed" Saddam had WMD. Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is bipartisan, concluded in 2004 that there was no evidence that the Bush influenced the intelligence findings.

It appears that the dogs are chasing a parked car!

Was the intelligence flawed? I think we all know today that it was. But that is not the same as saying that intelligence was "fixed". To continue to level charges that "Bush lied" or "Bush misled us into war" - without any concrete proof - is mendacious and left-handed.

It seems to me that these attmepts to bring down the President on shoddy evidence and half-truths is a microcosm of what is wrong with politics in the US. I am sure if the situation were reversed, the Republicans would be doing the same thing to a Democratic President. In fact, one only has to go back to the previous administration to find an illustration of this.

If anyone has aspirations of being the next Mark Felt, and is in possession of solid evidence that clearly shows that Bush fabricated evidence in order to commit our troops to war, let him come forward. So far, no such evidence has been unveiled.

Obviously, not everyone supports the President's policy in Iraq. I myself have questioned some of the decisions the President has made in this regard. I also have serious reservations about the administration's motives. Were we right to go into Iraq the way we did? Should we have tried more diplomacy? Reasonable people can continue to debate these questions. But let the debate rest on the known facts. Save the conjecture and supposition for pub room and the conspiracy theorists.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Spark up a phatty! Cure your ills!

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that patients using medical marijuana will be subject to federal prosecution, even if such use is permitted by their own state’s laws (Gonzales v. Raich, case no. 03-1454). Medical marijuana proponents see the ruling as a major set-back in their goal to promote the use of marijuana for its medicinal and therapeutic effects; whereas, opponents applaud the ruling as a victory in the battle for a drug-free America.

The ruling has left the door open for Congress to step in and regulate the use of medical marijuana if it chooses to do so. As such, the debate over the legitimacy of medical marijuana will continue. For me, it boils down to two key issues. First is a State’s rights issue. Second is the legitimacy of marijuana as medicine?

Personally, I believe that this is really a State’s rights issue. For the sake of brevity, I will leave it at that and focus on the issue of marijuana as medicine. I will take up the issue of State’s rights in a future posting.

The use of marijuana as a therapeutic agent can be traced as far back as 5,000 years ago - in China - where it was used as an anesthetic. Throughout history it has been used by many cultures for treating a variety of symptoms, including pain, insomnia, indigestion, and spastic conditions. Currently, marijuana is used to treat patients suffering from a variety of illnesses/diseases, including cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma to name just a few. It seems to me that the medicinal properties are not in question – at least among reasonable people. Rather, the debate involves weighing marijuana’s medicinal benefits against the risks posed by its use.

Like all drugs, the use of marijuana has its associated side-effects. A variety of studies have indicated that marijuana affects the user’s motor skills and cognitive abilities. Smoking marijuana (and tobacco) damages bronchial and pulmonary tissues. Long-term use has also been linked to various mental disorders including depression, bipolar psychosis and schizophrenia. Other effects include immunosuppression, decreases in blood pressure, risk of heart attack for middle-aged and elderly. There are also indications that marijuana may be addictive, or at least habit-forming. Granted, some of these associated side-effects are more clearly linked to marijuana use than others. And there is still considerable debate regarding its addictiveness. My intent here is not to get into a debate on these topics, but rather to make the point that there are indeed side-effects.

The question then becomes, "Do these side-effects really outweigh marijuana’s medical benefits?" It seems to me that the answer is NO. Yes there are side-effects, but are they worse than the litany of side affects associated with many of the nationally advertised “lifestyle” drugs that permeate the media? Drug X may cause persistent fever, chronic infection, intestinal inflammation, shortness-of-breath, liver failure, heart attack, lymphoma, rash, dizziness, stroke, death, etc. Again, the answer is NO!

Then why not license marijuana for medical use? The answer seems to lie in the cultural significance of marijuana as a recreational drug. Opponents of medical marijuana issue see the promotion of its therapeutic effects as a ruse aimed at liberalization of drug laws. They argue that legalization for medical use will make it more difficult to keep marijuana out of the hands of recreational users. From my own personal experience, I think this is a legitimate point. I lived in San Francisco for several years. One could simply go down to the Transfer Junction (a medical marijuana club) at Market & Church. You couldn’t get into the club, but if you hang around outside (say for example in the Safeway Parking lot across the street), you could entice one of the “authorized users” to sell you some. And it was pretty potent stuff – at least that is what I am told.

But is this a legitimate reason to prevent to use of marijuana as a therapeutic and medicinal agent? I would say no! Other drugs which are far more dangerous than marijuana, particularly pain-killers, are not hard to come by without a valid prescription. Just ask Liz Taylor or Rush Limbaugh. Better yet, just go on the internet and buy them yourself. Despite these problems, I don’t see the government stepping in to make those drugs illegal. The pharmaceutical companies would stand for it.

The hurdle that must be overcome here is not based on science or medicine. Rather, it is ideological.