Thursday, April 30, 2015

Some Bizarre & Rare Knowledge About American Presidents

I meant to publish this months ago.

Really, I did.

Yet, it was one of those things that simply slipped my mind.

However, here it is. I found this blog entry unexpectedly, and thought that it was just about time, finally, to get this published, in the process of decluttering my unpublished entries.

So, here is a blog entry that, for all intents and purposes, was supposed to have been published more than two months ago!

The last few men who occupied the Oval Office have been defined by their weaknesses more than anything. Whether this is a sign of their mediocrity, or of society's staggering levels of cynicism these days is open for debate.

However, we look at Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton based more on what they are not, and what they did not do, then any achievements that they may have had while in office.

Many supporters of Obama felt disillusioned by a seemingly neocon approach to his duties during the first term, which some even suggested amounted to Bush's third term. He is undeniably an intelligent man, but certainly fell short of many of his campaign promises in 2008, particularly during that first term (and the first two years of the next term, frankly). That disappointment has largely defined him and his presidency, and despite some impressive things since the Republican victory in November, he has a long way to go before he could seriously get out from under that shadow.

George W. Bush advocated a philosophy of picking yourself up by the shoelaces, making good decisions, working hard, and creating your own fortunes. He himself was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, was given everything even if he did not earn it, such as numerous chances from screwing up, both with business ventures that failed, as well as substance abuse. Still, his name was able to carry him to the high office in the Governor's Mansion in Austin, and he became the man corporate American promoted for their cause. Having friends in high places helped after he lost the 2000 election, since he nonetheless got yet one more chance after a failure, as the Supreme Court appointed him to the Oval Office. But despite all of these failures, he will always be defined by the numerous failures that defined his presidency.

Bill Clinton was a self-made man, coming from a middle class background and rising all the way to the White House. He was a hugely successful politician, and I remember some political pundit suggesting that he was the best put together politician since JFK. Obviously, he enjoyed tremendous success, winning multiple terms as Governor of Arkansas, then beating out incumbent George H. W. Bush, who only a short time earlier had looked unbeatable. Clinton easily won a second term four years later. Yet, he was always plagued by perceptions that he had questionable ethics and could not be trusted. The numerous sex scandals were really not the business of the American people, but they wound up dominating headlines for too much of his presidency, adding to this sense of his being slick and untrustworthy.

To make a long story short, there are few presidents that are truly great and honorable men that bring honor and intellect into the Oval Office.

There used to be a time, however, when there were such towering figures in the United States, and the first four men to hold the Office of President were such men. While they each certainly had their opponents and detractors, their character and staggering list of accomplishments, even outside of their time serving in the highest office in the land, imposed a measure of respect that their detractors just could not take away from them on any permanent level.

Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison were among the most accomplished and impressive men in American history, each for different reasons. They were imperfect men, to be sure. But they transcended their own limitations to achieve some incredible things, and their legacy continues to live on to this day. Collectively, they raised the bar very high for the highest office in the land, and allowed a new nation to grow and prosper.

These days, the nation has grown probably too powerful, to the point that many look at it as a de facto empire. What we have learned, based on what we have seen, is that it is probably a lot more difficult to stay on top than to reach it.

What we have witnessed in recent decades, probably since around the time of the assassination of JFK, is a steady decline for the nation. That singular event seemed to amount to the end of an era, or even, cliche as it might sound, an end of innocence.

While Johnson did some truly impressive things for the country on the domestic front as part of his "Great Society" program, with the civil rights legislation that he pushed through, the war on poverty, and the campaign to "Plant for a More Beautiful America", he will nonetheless always also be remembered for the mishandling of the war in Vietnam. It was also during the Johnson years that the Warren Commission came out, which was the official account of the Kennedy Assassination. A vast majority of Americans did not believe the official story, and this skepticism, blended with the skepticism revolving around the Vietnam War and the other polarizing changes that the nation was going through, led to a greater level of cynicism throughout the country.

I hardly need to elaborate on Richard Nixon, because he will always be defined by the scandal that first threatened forced him out of the White House and ended his second term prematurely. With this scandal, the American public was getting used to holding leaders with a strong measure of cynicism and even contempt.

The scandals of Jimmy Carter seem pretty mild by comparison to what came before, and what would come after, with the Iran Contra scandal and Savings and Loan scandal of the Reagan years, and the scandals that would follow and, indeed, define the presidencies mentioned above.

Keep in mind that the country seemed to be deteriorating on many levels during this entire era, with the war in Vietnam piercing the previously impregnable image of the American military, than the decline in living standards which started roughly in 1973 by some estimates. Japan had an explosive period of economic growth that also seemed to have that nation flexing strong economic muscles, while America seemed clearly in decline.

There were economic boom periods, supposedly, during the eighties and nineties. But real wages, as well as benefits, were declining during that entire period. While mindless, boastful, parading patriotism was up, the American standard of living was on the decline. It only became obvious during the Bush years, when the economy really never grew very strong, and particularly in the aftermath of the near economic collapse of 2008.

Now is the time that we could really use a unifying figure stepping into the White House. Now, we could use another Washington, or Jefferson, or Lincoln, of Roosevelt (either one).

The thing is, are we even capable as a nation of having such a figure? Even if there was such a one, could he or she truly get beyond the political divisions of this era, which have grown crazily out of proportion?

Today, the momentum seems to be with a decline. We have mediocrity in office, helping to produce mediocre results. These mediocre so-called leaders are bought and sold by those who pay big bucks to get them elected, with the expectations that they will then have their interests served. It's simply a business investment, and they expect that their investment will reward them richly down the road.

It has worked so far for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, without a doubt.

We need a leader who can put a stop to that. A new day leader that will remember the slogan, "The buck stops here!"

Such leaders are scarce these days, however. As far as truly good and decent people in very high political places in recent decades, only Jimmy Carter comes to mind. There have been some stand up people in Congress, and serving as governors at times, but only that one man as president. And he has been out of office now for over 34 years now.

How nice would it be to have a man or a woman of true integrity in the highest office? How nice would it be if such people of outstanding, meritorious character were the norm in Congress, instead of the exception? How did we ever allow it to be otherwise?

After all, this is, collectively, our fault. Whatever this country may be right now, it certainly used to be a democracy. Imperfect though it might be, the fact of the matter is that this democracy worked for a long time, and represented the will of the people far more than it has now for decades.

Collectively, we bought into the notion of an impossible dream. As Americans, collectively, we wanted to believe in our own exceptionalism, and the cost has been impossibly high. To that end, we wanted to believe in our own invincible military might, and once we bought into this, it was inevitable that we would find ourselves tangled in conflicts in new, far off places in the world. Who knew that it would wind up being the same far off place, over and over again? That could not be predicted. After all, when Vietnam was taken over by the same people we were fighting against, absolutely no one was advocating a return to Iraq, were they?

Inevitably, also, our increased military involvement in so many new conflicts would lead to some bad outcomes, such as the recent Iraq War which, at least officially, just ended. It was a war that exposed the weaknesses of the American military more than the strengths.

So, I realize that this is quite late, and I obviously missed President's Day by almost a week.

However, President's Day combines the celebration of the birthdays for both Washington and Lincoln, and today is George Washington's birthday. Therefore, it is not altogether grossly inappropriate or outrageous to add a little bit of presidential trivia here, is it?

Strange facts about American presidents

Ohio's eight U.S. presidents have many local historic sites to visit on Presidents Day by Rich Geyser, Feb 16, 2015

What Causes Lightning?

So, there are some things about how this physical world works that have always remained a mystery to me.

Among them are tornadoes, as well as volcanoes.

Another would be lightning.

How does lightning begin? Why is it present during many intense rain storms, or when the heat grows excessive?

It appears that, finally, some answers might just be forthcoming. Take a look at this article (see link below):

What Triggers Lightning? Radio Telescope Data May Have an Answer Posted by Tim De Chant, 27 Apr 2015:

25 Places

With summer coming up, it is only natural to start thinking of possible vacation destinations, is it not?

Here are some truly extraordinary places to visit, if you get the chance. These places seem to stand out in certain ways that most other places, even some far more famous places, perhaps do not.

So, this definitely felt like something worth sharing here. These were pretty remarkable places that the following web pages discussed, with some pictures to boot. Anyone who enjoys the prospect of traveling, or even simply learning about some new things and previously undiscovered corners of the world should enjoy this:

Mad Men Review

Oh, I'm sure Don Draper pulled the same stunt with his award in episode "5G".
Photo courtesy of Leo Fung's Flickr Page - Oh, I'm sure Don Draper pulled the same stunt with his award in episode "5G". -
Creative COmmons License -

Alright, once again, another post that I meant to publish much, much earlier.

But, better late than never, right?

So, it was quite ironic this last episode, was it not?

Everyone on the show makes a living by selling something (you could make an argument that everyone in the world makes their living by selling something, although I will not get into that deeper debate at this time).

Yet, everything is falling apart all at once, seemingly, and it is the result of a lack of ability to actually successfully sell.

The firm is under threat in the beginning, about to be taken over under hostile terms and, apparently, gutted.

The group bands together to come up with some ideas, and they finally feel that they have it.

Only, once it is time for the meeting, they begin to give their presentation, with the all-star Don trying to do his thing. Unlike his usual ability to persuade, however, he is cut short this time, and told to stop almost right away, before he even has given his main selling points.

In the meantime, nobody else seems capable of selling in their personal lives as well.

Peggy is trying to sell an advertising idea, but it is not taking. She finally reveals to someone all about giving up the baby, which she did in the early seasons.

Pete is trying to sell his family name and tradition at a highly prestigious school, but they want nothing to do with him, and he finds himself unable to sell anything.

Ultimately, it is the group of partners themselves that are sold on the idea of the takeover, as they find new challenges and, presumably, a good deal of wealth to go with it.

But just as they are growing a bit comfortable with the idea, they hold a meeting to announce the takeover to the rest of the firm, and they find that they cannot sell anyone on the idea, apparently.

And so, we are left with another week to ponder what is going on in the world of Mad Men, and what will come to be, as the final two episodes or so near.

Let's stay tuned to find out!

You know I'll be watching!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Riots of Baltimore

The city of Baltimore has seen massive rioting in recent fays, obviously.

They were sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who was beaten by police and then died in their custody from spinal injuries.

Now, I know some people who quickly defended the actions of the police in this, and other recent incidents when questionable and potentially excessive force by the police was used.

It seems to me, however, that such stories are going to increase, rather than decrease, in frequency. Any police that are still trying to censor these kinds of images are fighting a losing battle, with high end technology ever more accessible and present in people's lives. More and more people can be expected to make recordings of such incidents.

Eventually, something has to give. This issue has to be addressed, and certainly, people have every right to protest these excesses by police, who sometimes almost seem closer to resembling occupiers, rather than supposedly neutral law enforcement. This seems to be a symptom of the increasingly militant police forces around the country.

One thing, however, is that violence should not beget further violence, and that is exactly what is happening in Baltimore, unfortunately.

Yes, they have every right to be angry. However, what kind of statement is it to protest the unfairness of something by breaking the windows of a store and stealing for yourself a new television or speaker system? How is that going to improve your community.

As for the burnings, it just seems like these are all too similar to Ferguson, or the LA Riots of the early 1990's, which most of us still can remember.

The problem is that these people are doing this to their own neighborhoods, which reminds me of certain lyrics from Jello Biafra, in a song that he did back when he was still in the Dead Kennedys.

So, I thought I would take this opportunity to share those lyrics, since they seem to telling, given the situation in Baltimore right now:


Rioting-the unbeatable high
Adrenalin shoots your nerves to the sky
Everyone knows this town is gonna blow
And it's all gonna blow right now:.

Now you can smash all the windows that you want
All you really need are some friends and a rock
Throwing a brick never felt so damn good
Smash more glass
Scream with a laugh
And wallow with the crowds
Watch them kicking peoples' ass

But you get to the place
Where the real slavedrivers live
It's walled off by the riot squad
Aiming guns right at your head
So you turn right around
And play right into their hands
And set your own neighbourhood
Burning to the ground instead

Riot-the unbeatable high
Riot-shoots your nerves to the sky
Riot-playing into their hands
Tomorrow you're homeless
Tonight it's a blast

Get your kicks in quick
They're callin' the national guard
Now could be your only chance
To torch a police car

Climb the roof, kick the siren in
And jump and yelp for joy
Quickly-dive back in the crowd
Slip away, now don't get caught

Let's loot the spiffy hi-fi store
Grab as much as you can hold
Pray your full arms don't fall off
Here comes the owner with a gun


The barricades spring up from nowhere
Cops in helmets line the lines
Shotguns prod into your bellies
The trigger fingers want an excuse

The raging mob has lost its nerve
There's more of us but who goes first
No one dares to cross the line
The cops know that they've won

It's all over but not quite
The pigs have just begun to fight
They club your heads, kick your teeth
Police can riot all that they please


Tomorrow you're homeless
Tonight it's a blast

Lyrics from

The Aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake

Another tragedy in Nepal.

This time, it was an earthquake, as well as the aftershocks.

And the death toll keeps mounting. It started off with over 100. Then, it reached in the hundreds, plural. Then, over one thousand.

Now, the latest death toll stands at 4,800, according to a news report from CNN a few hours before my writing this. 

Plus, a whole lot more affected - eight million across Nepal! That includes over one million children in desperate need of assistance!

The thing about Nepal is that it is a nation blessed with almost unparalleled natural beauty, yet it remains one of the poorest countries in the world. While some of the tallest peaks in the world grace the landscape, most of the people themselves live in dire poverty. 

I was always fascinated by Nepal, ever since a young child. As people who follow this blog entry know, or anyone who knows me well enough personally could attest, I became a stamp collector because my grandfather had an impressive collection that was inspiring for a young boy. One of my favorites was a first day cover that showed three stamps showing the majestic, snow covered peaks of Mt. Everest. It was beautiful, and lent the impression of Nepal as a land of exotic, almost inaccessible beauty. The flag of the country was shaped very differently than that of any other country, which also distinguished it in my mind's eye from all other countries. There was just something fascinating about Nepal.

Yet, in the last half year or so, this country has suffered some incredible shocks, with a huge tragedy - the biggest of it's kind at the time - on Mt. Everest in the fall, when dozens of people were buried under avalanches from an unexpectedly strong storm system. And now, of course, the earthquakes and their aftershock, that have completely devastated the nation, and buried yet more tourists under avalanches. It likely will not stem the tide of tourists too badly, although you never know. And Nepal certainly cannot afford to lose the tourists who flock here for the challenge of scaling mighty Himalayan peaks. 

Ironically, while there were long fears that a major quake could devastate the capital city of Katmandu, it actually was not affected too adversely.

Obviously, however, the rest of the nation has been dramatically impacted, with tragic results.

Rescue efforts from around the world are gearing up and mobilizing, and some relief efforts are already arriving. Hopefully, the good work will help the suffering people there.

I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on the people of the beautiful country of Nepal. 

Nepal earthquake: Death toll passes 4,800 as rescuers face challenges By Ivan Watson, Jethro Mullen and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN, April 28, 2015:

James Patterson on the Importance of Literacy

Thought this would be cool to share.

Best-selling author James Patterson discussed the significance of literacy in society, which seems to be a dying art, honestly.

Now, I will admit to not having (yet) read a book from Patterson, although eventually, I am sure I will pick one up and give it a go.

However, if you are a fan (or even if you are not), this may be a link of interest for you.

Best-selling Author James Patterson Explains the Importance of Literacy posted September 2014 By The Literacy Site:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Dark Legacy Stains the Majesty of Mount Everest

Tibet Mount Everest

Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn) Follow Tibet Mount:
Creative Commons License:

You know, there was a point when I became obsessed with snow-capped mountain chains.

This was shortly after visiting Washington state in 1997, and being amazed and greatly impressed by all of the snow-capped mountains that we were able to see while there. That included what was still most likely the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen, when we ate at a restaurant (no idea what the name is, or if it is even still there) right on the banks of Puget Sound. On the other side of the water, the jagged peaks of the Olympic Mountains rose high, blanketed in snow that was bathed in the soft pink light of dusk, mirrored in the waters of Puget Sound.

Truly inspiring!

The unbelievable beauty of the Pacific Northwest that we were blessed with on that trip made me feel ready to move out there myself, and take in the beautiful mountain views on a regular, everyday basis.

Of course, unfortunately, that never happened.

However, the dream of moving to some remote mountain locale, and being blessed by the amazing views and perspective that mountains offer, remained.

For a while, I began to entertain the possibility of taking trips to go mountain climbing, although I knew that it would certainly be difficult.

But the years passed, and that, like so many other dreams, kind of went away.

Then I read a book by Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air, about an ill-fated expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1996, when it ended up that 12 people were killed in an unexpected storm while there.

In that book, I learned that mountain climbing was not at all what I had long believed it would be, and expected it to be.

Here's the thing: you look at those mountains, especially when you see the snow-capped peaks rising above an obscured base, looking for all intents and purposes like these peaks are floating on air, It seems so clean, so pure. When you are in a mountain range, you take some deep breaths, and it feels so refreshing. All of that leads to an impression that nothing could be so wholesome, so inspiring, as climbing a mountain.

Then I read Krakauer's account of the trip, as he mentioned how people died, including the two leading guides from the opposing teams. He also mentioned how common it is for people to die while climbing, and how dead carcasses along the routes had become landmarks by which climbers take directions. He also mentioned in one book (I think it was a different book, but I could be mistaken) how there was one Italian climber who was climbing an infamously treacherous cliff and, somehow, died while midway up there. He was hanging from a rope, and sometimes, swaying in the breeze, for fully two years.

This, combined with the descriptions of the injuries that many on the Everest expedition of 1996 faced (and I'm talking about those who survived at this point), about severe frostbite, and the reports from Nepal last year about some of the survivors getting their limbs cut off from similar cases of frostbite, and any lingering desire to climb mountains pretty much dissipated.

Suddenly, it seemed enough to admire them from afar.

Now, with a storm having killed a record amount of people (at least to that point) in the fall, and with this earthquake surely causing that record to be surpassed this time around, it is all the more reason to be very wary when it comes to scaling huge peaks like this. Krakauer was saying, I believe, that mountains with an elevation of 26,000 feet or more were the most prestigious to have climbed, but they also provide a certain measure of danger as well, obviously.

Still, the tourism industry for Mt. Everest, as well as the other top peaks, are soaring. So much so, that it is causing "traffic jams" as you ascend, and problems with litter along the way in overcrowded camps. Not exactly the idyllic mountain getaway that you expect, huh?

And the landmarks to confirm directions or where you are sometimes really are not pretty. Krakauer mentioned what this article discusses as well: the corpses on the mountain, and these include pictures.

Open the link if you wish, but be warned that the images are indeed graphic.

A Graveyard at 26,000 Feet: The Tragic Fate of Those Left Behind on Mount Everest by Mark Newton, April 24th, 2015:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jozef Paczynski, Auschwitz Commander's Barber

Jozef Paczynski, a former prisoner at Auschwitz, and barber for infamous Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess, died earlier today. He was 95 years old.

I recently wrote about this guy for the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, back in February, which explains a bit more of Paczynski's story.

Here is a reprint of that story:

Official Barber at Auschwitz Explains Why He Never Cut Commandant's Throat (published February 9, 2015):

On the heels of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, this story came out about the barber of Auschwitz's commandant, and how he flirted with the idea of slitting his throat but, ultimately, decided against it, figuring that little to nothing would have changed, and that the death camp would proceed with what was then business as usual. Furthermore, it would have likely begun a string of retribution killings that would only have exacerbated matters.

The man's name is Jozef Paczynski, and he has been struggling with the questions surrounding the possibilities open to him as the official barber of the commandant of Auschwitz all of those years ago.

Truth be told, he was probably right.

Yet, he was asked why he did not do so almost from the end of the Holocaust, right up to the present.

So, as one of the survivors who attended the 70th anniversary ceremonies of the liberation of the infamous camp, about one hour outside of Krakow, the city where he now resides, Jozef Paczynski finally got the chance to clear the air a little bit regarding his role at the time, and why he did not go ahead with what he had been considering back in those days.

Paczynski remained at Auschwitz until the day that it was liberated, just over 70 years ago now.

Paczynski described what it was like cutting the hair of the commander of a place like Auschwitz:

"My hands were shaking. But an order is an order. I had to do my job.

"The cut was simple, the standard German style: you had to shave the neck with a razor and then use clippers on the sideburns. I had good tools and my colleagues kept my razor sharp."

He also reflected on his memories, and the legacy of a place like Auschwitz:

"Can we forget all these murders, can we forgive them? I'll never be able to forget all those women and children taken straight to the gas chambers,"

Indeed, he kept the memory alive throughout his life, to serve as warning for future generations.

Paczynski was 95 years old. May he rest in peace now.

Barber considered slitting Auschwitz commandant's throat Associated Press By VANESSA GERA 7 hours ago

Auschwitz commander's barber, Jozef Paczynski, dies at 95

The Cynicism of Compassionate Conservatism

Remember some years ago, when Geoge W. Bush attempted to give a label to his political ideology (if ideology is what it can be said to be, as opposed to the corruption of being bought and sold by special corporate interests)?

Yes, he called it "compassionate conservatism".

And remember how that caught on? Suddenly, "compassionate conservatism" was the order of the day, and seemingly all neocons tried to align themselves with this high-minded sounding political trend? Just like that, all of the heartless ideology was given a face-lift to look a lot friendlier. And just like that, people flocked to this supposedly new version of conservative politics with a clear conscience, feeling "compassionate."

Of course, it did not take long for so-called conservatives to shed this "compassionate" label, as it just not in the neocon mentality to actually be compassionate, truth be told. Once it came time to say yes or no to the Iraq war, it was either you are with us or you are the enemy, essentially. No room for doubts or second-guessing, we are plunging head first into this thing.

The arrogance with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and the other twits in control of the White House at the time ran the whole Iraq war thing made America look ridiculous to the entire world. Couple that with the mishandling of the economy and, later, of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the strange corporate corruption cases that that administration seemed to have their hands tied in, and the generally poor way they went about actually governing, and the whole world was wondering what was going on in America. Remember, also, that this country was dragging it's feet on a few key issues that were far more important to the rest of the world than it was apparently here within the United States. I am speaking specifically of the lack of affordable, universal health coverage here, as well as the poor environmental record, particularly of the strength and prominent political sway of climate change deniers, of which every member of the Bush administration seemed to be a denier with a particularly grating, "in your face," mocking approach.

So, George W. Bush in particular was an unpopular politician. And you would think, given the extreme damage that he and a neocon majority in Congress and the Supreme Court did in eight years, that it would have discredited the entire mentality and movement.

But you would be wrong, of course. Within a couple of years, the Tea Party had arisen, providing fresh blood for a very old mentality, and blaming Obama for all of the problems that his predecessor had handed to him. Before you knew it, many Americans were convinced that this convenient interpretation was the truth, and Obama's popularity took a nose dive.

How quickly we forget.

And just like it has always been, the name of the game is mockery first and foremost. Seems to me that when you are bereft of any real validity to your way of thinking, the next best thing is to mock the other side's arguments, like Reagan did with Carter, like the Republicans did throughout the 80's with irresponsible, "tax and spend" Norrtheast liberals, like the so-called Republican revolutionaries did in the nineties, like Bush and his White House cronies did in the 2000's with the Iraq war and the global war on terror, which clearly has no end. And now, much like neocons are doing to obstruct any potential progress that President Obama might make.

So, just like that, the very same Republicans who empowered President George W. Bush and his policies to create so much damage to the country in the first place are back, undeservedly in prominent places within the government. Not surprisingly, the same economic policies that quite clearly led to the near economic collapse in 2008 are being advocated once again. And the repetition does not stop there. Government programs to actually help people are being cut across the board, including for the education of our children to build towards a smarter and stronger country as a whole. Affordable healthcare is actively being prevented. And, of course, there is the whole climate change denying thing.

There is Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, claiming that he has no time for "sad sack stories" from people in need, while he, of course, promotes further government funding to those in need. Still, he, like other neocons, not only has no problem with a bloated Pentagon budget, but in facts wants to pump even more tax dollars into that already excessive defense budget.

He s just one of numerous prominent political figures to the right, making light of the nation's very real problems, promoting tax cuts for the very wealthy and huge corporations that will be paid for by the rest of us, the 99% taxpayers. All the while, these "compassionate conservatives" are trying to fight higher minimum wages and increased benefits, particularly health benefits, as somehow unaffordable. Same old same old, as the rest of the world, once again, wonders what's wrong with America.

They might not refer to it as "compassionate conservatism" anymore, since that label fell by the wayside once President Bush's approval ratings sank dramatically (and deservedly). But surely, the spirit behind it, as well as the political mentality, remains the same.

As do the tactics, not surprisingly.

There was Speaker of the House Boehner, making a ridiculous video on Earth Day, of all days, proclaiming it to be "Jelly Bean Day." Just in case you perhaps got the impression that he was somehow unaware that it was Earth Day, he specifically mentions that he prefers the green ones towards the end of the video.

I'm sorry if this sounds unprofessional, but what an asshole!

Given the symbolic nod of the piece, because it is well known that jelly beans were one of the silly and lighthearted, funny things that the neocon demigod, President Ronald Reagan, famously liked. So, it seems particularly childlike to promote jelly beans, of all things, on Earth Day, as a makeshift nod to the past, to the era of the king of all noecons. Or rather, as a replacement for Earth Day, intended to belittle the significance of caring for our Earth. There is Boehner, drawing his breath from how the Earth actually works, while actively trying to belittle it, trying to appease ignorant voters and his backers with a message geared to not just mock the importance of protecting the Earth and its fragile ecosystem, but to actively set up further attacks against it. Not even on this one day of the year can he and the Republicans that he is supposedly a leader of take the issue of massive pollution and the problem of limitless development seriously.

Science is not on their side, and neither are the poll numbers. Yet, somehow, they seem always to get at least as much air time to voice their opinions (and opinions, not facts, are exactly what they are, as the "Jelly Bean Day" video clearly demonstrates) as experts in the field, if not actually a bit more. Much of the rest of the world is trying to raise awareness, to plant trees, to clean up small corners of the Earth, and to generally express an appreciation for all that we have been blessed with in this world and with a delicate system that fosters life itself. And there is supposedly one of the leaders of the land, a man occupying an office of tremendous responsibility, and all that he can think to do is what climate change deniers always do: mock.

Yes, I know that I am falling into the trap by showing my anger and frustration at such short-sightedness and that childish sense of entitlement and militant ignorance, in what truly seems to be an active campaign of disinformation. But it galls me that someone in his position would waste time and energy to promote exactly the opposite "values" that Earth Day is supposed to represent. It is difficult enough to try and get people to take this crucial matter seriously. Yet, there is Speaker Boehner, in essence promising that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I think the best way to conclude this particular blog entry is by the words of Randa Morris, the author of the piece that got me on this topic to begin with. This was from her article, with the video attached, about John Boehner's irresponsible video release, and sums up perfectly just what we are up against, bringing new meaning to the words "Only in America." Here is that quote that I felt it best to conclude with:

"If we need one more example of why republicans are not fit to lead our country, John Boehner’s asinine ‘Jelly Bean Day’ video is it. Boehner’s video is a perfect illustration of the republican party’s belligerent unwillingness to face the very real problems that confront us at this time in history. It sums up the right wing’s childlike desire to just pretend that whatever they don’t want to talk about, doesn’t exist at all."

John Boehner Releases Asinine 'Jelly Bean Day' on Earth Day by Randa Morris, April 23, 2015:

Compassionate Conservative Wants No Part of “Sad Sack Stories”

Ron Johnson has no use for ‘sad sack stories’ By Steve Benen, 04/20/15:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Earth Day Week: Summary

Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page:

The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's gred."

~Mahatma Gandhi

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
~John F. Kennedy  

Okay, so, Earth Day has passed and now, so has Earth Day Week, or Earth Week. I have reached the end of my week-long with blog entries focusing on environmental themes and issues.

The issues are not always so clear, and the solutions may seem even less so. To borrow from George H. W. Bush who once suggested, rather paradoxically, during a debate with his opponent Michael Dukakis, that his arguments were as clear as Bar Harbor. Meaning it is not clear at all. That is often how solutions to complex problems may appear as well: very cloudy.

Here's the thing: these issues tend to be global, but people tend to think strictly locally. It is difficult to grasp the big picture, if you will.

After all, it might not seem like the end of the world to most locals if some condominium complex goes up, or if some golf course gets built. In my home town of West Milford, there were proposals to build both, all at once, right off of Echo Lake Road. The history teacher and adviser for the Environmental Club was an activist, and he knew the power of using kids to sway opinion. He rounded up some high schoolers, myself included, for the Town Council meeting for this proposed development, which was ultimately defeated.

Those who were in favor of the complex surely were bitter about the "environmental wackos" who prevented them from making a healthy profit, and making too much of a big deal about the detrimental effects.

And indeed, the world would not end had that complex been built. That is the way it would have been seen, and still likely is seen everywhere such development projects are proposed. It's just one thing, what's the big deal.

Here's the big deal: when we lose sight of how these kinds of things, multiplied by thousands and tens of thousands all around the world each year, multiplied by each year and each decade and, now indeed, each century, we get a serious and undeniable impact on our planet.

The words of former President Jimmy Carter, writing the Foreword for Heaven is Under our Feet, a book devoted to preserving Walden Woods, the land where Henry David Thoreau once lived for two years, and wrote his classic Walden. discussing the deceptive perception that environmental issues can be divided into "local" and "global." He sums it up quite well:

"The environmental challenges evident in Thoreau's era pale in comparison with the magnitude of global crises that confront us today. Perhaps the most sinister aspect of these crises is that they do not evolve "globally." Often they germinate as singular and sometimes "localized" environmental concerns - the death of a lake in the Adirondacks, the burning of an acre of tropical rain forest in Brazil, the contamination of a drinking water supply in Eastern Europe, an oil spill off the coast of Alaska, the extinction of an endangered species n Africa, or the leveling of an historical woodland near Walden Pond. The destructive impact of such disregard fr the welfare of our planet cannot be overstated; environmental issues cannot be divided into "global" and "local" sectors. As in Thoreau's day, ecological crises does not occur in several different worlds, but in the only one that all of us inhabit."

He goes on, but the next sentence to begin the new paragraph serves as a solid concluding point:

"So, we have come to a juncture in humanity's evolution, where we must call a halt to our uncontrolled assault on the environment."

He's absolutely right, and he was more right than most people realized during his years in the White House, as well.

Still, he was the leader of the land, and a powerful individual as such. That made him privy to all sorts of data and research and study teams that most of us cannot ourselves access. The internet may be a place where we can get a lot of information, but it is also known as a place of misinformation. It can be hard to know who to trust, and what information can be believed.

Environmental concerns are a serious problem, and the strains that our global culture is placing on the world's limited resources are tremendous. We need to stay informed and get involved, although just how we can do this can be, again, unclear.

So, what can just one person do?

Well, we can make a difference, and even a big difference, if and when we put our minds to it.

Take a look at this article about one man in the Netherlands who cleaned up an entire river on his way to work:

Man Cleans Up Entire River On His Way To Work published by Higher Perspective, April 25, 2015:

I know that some people would probably look at that, think that this was a nice, warmhearted and remarkable story but, somehow, it does not relate to them, to their lives. After all, the extent and level of the problems of environmental degradation the world over seems so overwhelming, that what possible difference could one person really make, other than maybe one guy in a small European country?

Well, this is where I bring out another common phrase among environmentalists:

Act Locally, Think Globally

Yes, you have surely seen and heard this before. But have you ever really thought about it? In truth, no, we cannot change the entire world for the better with a sweeping wave of some magic wand, and make things right.

But that certainly does not mean that we cannot make a difference, much less that we should not try to make a difference.

That man made a difference by cleaning one particular river in his neck of the woods. But what if we have more people like that all around the world. What if there was someone like that in your neck of the woods? What would you do? Would you join him or her?

You know, I go hiking fairly often, and sometimes, along my trips, I will pick up some of the litter that I find there. So, there is no use lying: each time that I see cans or trash anywhere, but especially well into some woods, it is hard not to feel depressed and defeated about it. Even here, in a small corner of our world where you can once again connect to the real world, you are reminded of the limitations of our global society, and the blatant disrespect for what is truly sacred, for what truly matter. Yes, this is the world of the community of life that has existed long before our global culture arrived, and which continues to exist despite all that we have done, and likely will continue to exist long after we are gone. Here, whatever walls we build to divide and segregate ourselves from others within our global society mean nothing. Globalization, nations and flags and corporations and competition mean nothing here. The only thing that matters in what we commonly refer to as the wilderness is survival, except for those of us who are just visiting for a relatively leisurely stroll (admittedly, I am among these).

But since we are part of this global society, we enter these realms that we refer to as wild merely as visitors, feeling ourselves separated from it. In some cases, surely, people feel superior to it.

The important thing to remember, however, is that we are not separate from it. We are one with nature, part and parcel. Indeed, as the Natives taught us, what we do to this Earth, we do to ourselves. That in itself might not be really encouraging, since we see people mistreating people throughout known history, right up to the present. Anyone who has ever watched the news or read a newspaper will know that. So, is it really all that surprising that our global culture would treat the Earth with such a lack of respect as they treat one another?

If we are ever to make real progress in this world, and make it the kind of place that we all want to live in, then we must remain active in trying to make it so, even if this is on our own, small level.

The first thing that we need to do, is to get informed and stay informed. Then, we need to do something about it, in whatever way we can think to do it.

What we need to do has been explained before, and I will borrow the two phrases that I already borrowed from in this, and other, blog entries as the concluding point for this Earth Day Week series.

Think Globally, Act Locally

and, of course, remember:

Nothing Changes Until You Do

Earth Day Week: Sustainability

Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page:

The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!

Here is a picture of a very similar logo, with the same message, that was on the t-shirt that I purchased from the BCC Environmental Club and, if memory serves me correctly, may even have helped to make. There were a few projects like that which club members, myself included, were regularly involved with. It has been so long, however, that I no longer recall specifically if I actually helped to make these or not, although I do believe so, since I remember seeing the process of the t-shirts being dyed. In any case, I loved this t-shirt, and have kept it ever since, even if I do not regularly wear it. Since it was part of my experience with the BCC Environmental Club days, as well as more generally having an environmental theme, it seemed appropriate to share it here. 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's gred."

~Mahatma Gandhi

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
~John F. Kennedy  

Daniel Quinn, author of some incredible books (most famously Ishmael), once projected a future where people begin to break away from "civilization" (he made a point of putting these quotes around that particular word) bit by bit, until there was a large segment of the human population that lived separately from the so-called "civilized" world.

I believe that he may be right. We see an increasing number of people who feel completely disgusted by the excesses of our global culture, and who want to generally move in a very different, more sustainable direction.

Indeed, if humanity is to survive, chances are we will need many, many more communities that are self-sustaining, and where the people residing in these communities want no part of the exclusive focus on growth, growth, and more growth. Growth of resources and wealth, growth of corporate entities, growth of nations, of towns and cities, growth of the human population overall.

Ultimately, we will need people to step back from the rat race, and provide an alternative possibility, another way of possibly existing. For a while in the sixties and seventies, there was a movement towards communes, although by and large, these did not last.

There may be a new wave of these kinds of communities arising, with the emphasis now being on long-term self-sustainability.

It would be an impressive feat, but here are some encouraging signs that such communities might not be that far away, and may already even exist:

The first completely sustainable island is in Scotland By Eevee G:, 11 Nov 2014:

Earth Day Week: Jesse Ventura Explains Why Water is the New Gold

Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page:

The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!

Here is a picture of a very similar logo, with the same message, that was on the t-shirt that I purchased from the BCC Environmental Club and, if memory serves me correctly, may even have helped to make. There were a few projects like that which club members, myself included, were regularly involved with. It has been so long, however, that I no longer recall specifically if I actually helped to make these or not, although I do believe so, since I remember seeing the process of the t-shirts being dyed. In any case, I loved this t-shirt, and have kept it ever since, even if I do not regularly wear it. Since it was part of my experience with the BCC Environmental Club days, as well as more generally having an environmental theme, it seemed appropriate to share it here. 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's gred."

~Mahatma Gandhi

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
~John F. Kennedy  

By now, we all know, or should know, that the inevitable decrease of the world's resources as they get dug up and used up, combined with an ever increasing global population, is a recipe for disaster.

One of the world's resources that is most in demand these days is, understandably, water. After all, everyone needs water, and on an everyday basis, merely to survive. We need to drink it, and we need plants and animals (our food supply) to drink it, in order to survive.

Many predicted that water would be the new oil in the 21st century - the liquid that nations wage war over.

Indeed, given the serious issues with water that California is presently experiencing, as well as the issues for quite a few nations and regions around the world regarding the same, we can already clearly see just how serious this can get!

Jesse Ventura, the former Governor of Minnesota (and pro-wrestler), speaks a little bit here about why water is the new gold.

Also, a hopeful couple of articles just underneath that about the exciting possibility of converting salt water into drinking water!

Jesse Ventura: Water is the New Gold, published in Off the Grid, April 18, 2015:


A Simple Solar Oven Makes Salt Water Drinkable Paradigm Shift, Mar 8, 2014:

Earth Day Week: What is the Continued Threat From the Fukushima Plant?

Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page:

The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!

Here is a picture of a very similar logo, with the same message, that was on the t-shirt that I purchased from the BCC Environmental Club and, if memory serves me correctly, may even have helped to make. There were a few projects like that which club members, myself included, were regularly involved with. It has been so long, however, that I no longer recall specifically if I actually helped to make these or not, although I do believe so, since I remember seeing the process of the t-shirts being dyed. In any case, I loved this t-shirt, and have kept it ever since, even if I do not regularly wear it. Since it was part of my experience with the BCC Environmental Club days, as well as more generally having an environmental theme, it seemed appropriate to share it here. 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's gred."

~Mahatma Gandhi

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
~John F. Kennedy  

I have been wanting to do a blog entry on Fukushima for some time now, because it truly is an amazing story.

Everyone remembers that horrific earthquake in Japan that killed thousands and then caused a tsunami that destabilized the Fukushima nuclear plant. Eventually, there was an explosion at Fukushima, and workers worked long hours trying to spray water over the plant to cool it down, with limited success. Ultimately, three of Fukushima's six reactors experienced a nuclear meltdown.

Japan was not able to contain the contamination effect from Fukushima, and traces of radiation was found in food.

What is amazing is that, by their own admission, Japanese authorities admitted to not having very high standards for safety and management of the site and, for that matter, also admitted that they could not contain the leaking of radioactive material into the nearby Pacific Ocean.

So, how bad was it?

Well, according to the well-respected scientist and television personality Michio Kaku had to say about it in his article some months after the incident (italics in the following are mine):

4. The reactors are continuing to release radiation. This was a mystery at first, since, if the core melting was under control, then water should not be in direct contact with melted uranium. Many suspected, therefore, that the uranium completely melted and even melted right through the vessel as well. This direct contact between water and melted uranium is probably the main source of radiation still leaking from the reactors. (Source: Three-Month Update of Fukushima Accident and the Flood of New Information Coming Out  by MICHIO KAKU -

Not exactly encouraging, is it?

Yet, it has become more or less a non-story. You do not hear about it anymore. It was a huge story at the time, but it has been well-documented that the Japanese government hid a lot of information that would compromise it, and even at the risk of harming people. If we see that a modern government of a rich, industrialized nation can effectively lie to it's own people and to the world, then what is to say that other governments from potentially affected nations along the Pacific would also try to undermine the impact of the nuclear leakage into the ocean, in order not to compromise their fishing industry? Would you eat seafood from Japan right now?

However, not everyone agrees. Another well-respected source is Dr. David Suzuki, and he has been sounding the alarm on Fukushima for a long time now, suggesting that this was a much bigger disaster than officials were admitting, that in fact they were "lying through their teeth" (his words), and that the radiation had escaped on a massive scale into the ocean. Finally, he basically predicted that if another major earthquake were to hit Japan within the next few years, it might cause one of the other reactors to blow, and then, according to him, that would effectively be the end of Japan as we know it, and there would need to be mass evacuations from the West Coast of North America!

Marcello Pavan dismisses Suzuki's claims as essentially hugely exaggerated. Although he does admit that some radioactivity went into the Pacific Ocean, he urged people not to panic about it:

“There's clearly issues with radioactivity in the water. Cooling water is leaking into the groundwater and into the ocean. But the ocean's a big place; the levels of radiation are dispersed. It's completely negligible.”

Even from detractors, there is an admission that the radioactive leak went into the ocean. But, he says, the ocean is a big place, and the radiation would disperse in such a manner that we need not worry about it. It is reassuring, on some level. However, is it true? Are the levels of radiation effectively so miniscule that we need not worry?


However, I want to share a story at this point in time. I have a very political friend (well, more of a Facebook friend these days, although we attended school together for many years), and his very first reaction after Fukushima blew up was essentially to say that the worst thing to come out of this was that it would fuel anti-nuclear sentiments the world over.

Yes, instead of being concerned about the dangers that a plant like Fukushima could potentially pose through a natural disaster or, potentially, a deliberate attack of some sort, he was so in favor of nuclear power that he was worried about how this nuclear disaster would re-energize the anti-nuclear movement.

And if that was his first reaction to the disaster, can you imagine what the reaction of those with a particularly vested interest in subduing public reaction to the Fukushima disaster surely was? That includes not just those who run the nuclear plants themselves, but for uranium mines, and for governments and contractors associated to all of these things. That's big money we are talking about here, and I am willing to bet that, much like the Japanese government was less than forthcoming about the actual impact of what happened at Fukushima, the powers that be might have similar interests in minimizing the story which has stopped being a story in remarkably short order.

Ultimately, it is all just speculation. I am not an expert in the field, but a concerned observer. This is an age of seemingly limitless information at our fingertips, until we get to matters such as this, when there is so much misinformation and, let's face it, cover ups out there, that you never know what to believe.

So, what is your opinion on all of this? Is the Fukushima threat still very real, or greatly exaggerated? Please share your thoughts and, if applicable, expertise on the matter!

Fresh nuclear leak detected at Fukushima plant AFP  February 22, 2015: