I was born in 1948, at the foot of an enchanted mountain whose spirit enjoins me to rise higher

Ordinary citizen, empathetic contemplator (maybe a little too empathetic to be fully comfortable in the world, as it is). Don't look for academic credentials; this guy has none, save those gained over the course of many interesting (and, at times, difficult) life chapters, spent surviving on a shoestring budget.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

The trouble with coffee and tea at this time in history

I love coffee, I love tea.
Without those two, where would I be?
Out without a paddle on the deep blue sea.
I love coffee and I love tea.

No, seriously, I LOVE coffee and I LOVE tea.  I love them even more than beer, with whom I have a kind of love/hate relationship, given that the bigger the night I have with beer, the less I like myself in the morning after but, once I'm getting into the swing of things with it, the more I want of it.  Beer keeps things interesting, however, so I'm not down on it, by any means.  On more than one occasion during a big night out with beer, I've met some incredible, beautiful people who've enriched my life.  Yes, so beer is definitely in the mix, but only as mood and pocket change permit.

Coffee and tea, on the other hand, are everyday must-haves.  Tea lifts this ailing shell out of its post-sleep torpor and, that duly achieved, raises my blood pressure to the point where the afterburner of several cups of full-bodied coffee can be allowed to kick in.  Only then can I sit down at the piano and practice a song or two as if I were on stage in front of a packed house.

Nothing I can say about coffee can add anything to the countless tributes of exultation coffee has earned itself from writers of merit.  In all its forms of preparation, coffee is a staple upon which minds, both great and small, depend in some way.  Some use it to wake up, others to get going and still others to avoid falling asleep.  A great many use it just to get a break from whatever's in front of them.  It's the pretext that helps those who'd like to know what's up with one another get together, including those intent on romance.  The true gourmand uses a demitasse of it to put the finishing touch on the evening's meal.  Drivers, bedeviled by the hallucinations of night driving on long trips, get it to avoid death behind the wheel.   Young women drink lattes to-go, seemingly by the gallon, for reasons I have yet to fully understand.  Had too much alcohol to drink to feel secure about driving?  Nothing works to bring you back to your center like a cup of good, strong, black coffee with a teaspoon of sugar.  There are even those who like to drink coffee like a night cap, even though it's supposed to wake you up.

This seems an appropriate point at which to announce out that October 1st, 2016 was the second annual official WORLD COFFEE DAY.  

But there's something about coffee, particularly, that we should pay more attention to, especially if we think sustainable production of high quality coffee is an important goal for producing-countries and consuming-countries to strive for - the dread scourge of soil degradation caused by establishing a one-way conveyor belt of vital nutrients from plantations to the sewers and landfills of consumers.  This concern carries the extra weight that this final transfer moves from mostly poorer countries (exceptions are the USA and Australia whose combined output is around 3,600 metric tons - .0041 percent of world production of 8,315,984 metric tons), where the hourly cost of the labor needed to harvest and process the coffee for shipment is relatively cheap, to richer countries where people (at least, those of them that still have paying work) are notably better off - as in, not living so close to the edge of daily survival.  In its very essence, this business is inequitable, to some degree, although there are many trying to reconcile that fact, with some recent success, by shortening the supply chain and, thereby, leaving a larger percentage of the final per/lb cost paid by the consumer available for paying the hands-on producers.  Such counter-measures against inequity aside, however, the long-term peril of soil depletion persists and we must address it now or pay a painful price for failing to get a counterbalancing flow of vital nutrients established that is as organic as the coffee we drink.

The first small steps have been taken toward reducing outright waste.  Many municipalities - at least, those with a progressive and industrious bent (read, those with a higher proportion of younger adults) - have taken on the task of creating facilities that make compost from organic waste, along with legislation that encourages or compels citizens to separate their household waste streams into compostable matter, recyclable materials and non-recoverable garbage.  Those with the best systems even separate woody compostables from food-derived side product, such as peels, cores and, most notably, spent coffee grounds, since these produce the highest and most easily produceded grade of compost.  That, at least, keeps useful compounds within the biological envelope of the world.  What it doesn't do, however, is keep nutrients within that envelope in the kind of balance that are best for the production of all food products, particularly as regards coffee.

In the UK, a company called Bio-Bean has created a success out of using spent coffee grounds to make high-grade stove pellets.  Currently, they take in 50,000 metric tons of raw material - ten percent of what UK coffee drinkers produce - and that recapture rate is increasing.  Environmental groups cite this as an example of free market ingenuity being the antidote to outright waste.  Though it does have a 'green' upside to it, in that something once wasted is now being used to provide energy, while acting as an offset for the use of ancient-carbon fuels, it still falls far short of the kind of bi-lateral, symmetrical exchange in trace nutrients needed to keep soil inventories on both sides of the coffee trade healthy.

The reader may be thinking that I have some kind of solution up my sleeve that would slow or stem this giant global problem.  In all truth, I don't.  The fact is that a huge amount of biological material, perfect for soil amendment currently ends up in the mixed garbage and mixed sewage streams.  Ideally, we would not be mixing recoverable waste materials of a bio-active nature that can be turned into high grade fertilizer with materials that are either potentially toxic or problematic to the achieving of that end.

Some progress has been made toward streaming different types of waste for recycling but the potential for greater sophistication in that area is far from being tapped out.  I'm a believer in the idea that government has to lead the way by investing heavily  and ostentatiously in systems and companies of sufficient scale and institutional will to make believers out of skeptics.  When it looks like the players really mean business, the cache of supporters is increased and that of critics diminished.  The skeptics I'm referring to are average people of generally good intent who tend to sit on the fence about things until they see them appearing to work out well.  Only then, are they content to fall in line and get with the program.

The beauty of sorting what you don't want into well defined repositories is that it preserves the opportunity for all players, both active and potential, to be able to use those resources intelligently and at a scale large enough to derive useful recovered product efficiently.  A good example of this is the well-established industries that use recovered aluminum in countless forms - everything from balls of used foil to the cut off ends of massive beams - to make a slew of gleaming new products - like the case of this Dell Precision M65 laptop I'm using, for instance.  The cardinal mistake that many naysayers make, in assessing whether new ways of doing things are viable, or not, is in completely dismissing the role of what appears to be normal social behavior, as opposed to aberrant.  They claim that people only will do what it suits them to do.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  At 68 years of age, I look back and see many forms of behavior, once considered normal when I was a child, that are now considered aberrant by the majority - casually lighting up a cigarette anywhere you like, racist humor, blatant sexist behavior, the underpaying of women for equal work done, racial segregation, casual cruelty to animals, throwing litter out of a car window, disposing of chemicals down the drain, beating children, trophy hunting of rare animals, dumping used motor oil on the ground, just to name a few.  In most of America's large cities, you can add to the list, not sorting your household solid waste into recyclable and non-recyclable materials.  The point I'm trying to make is that the overwhelming majority of people get used to doing things the way they believe is the right way and that, given time, most will come around to supporting institutions of social action, regardless of whether doing involves a little extra effort on their part.

If that is indeed a fact of social behavior, then the potential for creating a complex of systems designed to return vital nutrients, present in coffee grounds and municipal sewage in the coffee-consuming world, to the tropical lands whence they arose as raw bean tonnage.  Bio Bean has already shown that thoughtful users are prepared to participate in the massive collection of used grounds (which, by the way, make an excellent compost additive).  The basic components that are taken up by the coffee producing lands from the air - carbon dioxide, oxygen, water and nitrogen - are universally available.  Those components that are not  part of the atmosphere include the following.  The list that follows was excerpted from an analysis of inorganic versus organic coffee, posted on the internet.  Don't be confused by the numbers; they denote the number of milligrams of the listed element per gram of, first, organically grown coffee and, second, coffee grown using inorganic chemical fertlizers:

Table 3. Elements in “Organic” Coffee and “Inorganic” Coffee (unit: μg/g)
Element OrganicArabica Coffee InorganicArabica Coffee
2898.44 ±130.22
2976.34 ±128.79
818.36 ±75.28
1883.11 ±246.66
52.74 ±6.38
35.436 ±3.882
4519.45 ±396.80
5645.66 ±647.22
41.13 ±3.95
26.43 ±2.80
316.47 ±29.62
255.36 ±16.16
41.82 ±7.737
32.73 ±6.55
-0.01 ±0.02
2.07 ±1.02
12.98 ±2.44
20.67 ±4.30
14.76 ±1.86
41.95 ±1.96
0.12 ±1.34
46.99 ±15.64
1.11 ±0.22
2.76 ±0.54
-0.31 ±1.18
12.20 ±3.05
5.29 ±1.45
4.13 ±1.06
0.73 ±2.59
450.87 ±117.83
1.29 ±0.57
18.66 ±2.97 

I don't want to get into comparing "organic" against "inorganic".  Different soil regions will, doubtless, produce different ratios.  But just look at that range of trace elements coffee uses to create that beautiful flavor we so love!  (By the way, naturally occurring strontium is not radioactive.  Chemically, it mimics calcium).  The above says nothing about the molecular arrangement of these elements, made by the plant and the full complex of living organisms, large and microscopic that surround and inhabit it.  We have to keep in mind that it takes work by living systems to make all those delicate - but vital - organic molecules, so the less those systems have to work to put those elements back in place, after agricultural activities have occurred, the easier it is for the soil and plant to grow, thrive and produce yet another crop of fruit and seeds (the seeds of the coffee plant being what we want for our morning repast).

Naturally, the same concern applies to the production of fine-tasting black and green tea from the the camellia sinensis plant.  The commercial production of this kind of tea occurs in cooler hill country of various tropical nations in Asia.  The work involves careful harvesting of the newer growth of plantings.  Originally,  harvesting at scale was made possible only with the manual help of many skilled pickers, paid a daily pittance for their work under the fierce tropical sun.  Today, mechanization has reduced the amount of field labor required.  The soils, however, still have to bear the demand from the world's steadily growing number of tea drinkers.  As with coffee producing areas, the nutrient drain is incessant.

I'm not saying that I have any really implementable ideas that would slow this slow transfer of phyto-chemicals from poorer nations to the waste-handling systems of the developed world.  What I'm saying is that we should start resolutely down the path of exploring how nutrient recovery and return, from the waste systems of consuming nations to the soils of the producing regions, might be implemented, slowly and progressively, so that the internal financial structures involved in this sector have time to adapt.

That would be a good thing, indeed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On my 50-year battle with a skin fungus, now being won with a variation of salad dressing

The point about knowing a trick that might be useful to many who suffer, is to spread the knowledge of it.  Why else have a forum like this?  This post concerns a corporeal problem that affects millions of people in this country, alone.  It can be both painful and depressing to contract a skin/nail fungus.  Soldiers in Vietnam would end up in the infirmary, unable to walk, with what was referred to as "jungle rot" - a condition, normally, of multiple infections precipitated by a primary fungal infection.  That knowledge has been widely shared.  Less well known, is the extent to which the same condition undermines the quality of life of the civilian population affected by it, or what can be done about it, short of a $900 laser treatment.

I first contracted foot fungus, affecting the skin of both hands and feet, plus the nails thereof, in boarding school, 50 years ago.  Nothing available to me then would cure it.  In the heat of the South African (and later, Brazilian) summer, flare ups were extensive and serious.  Masses of tiny blisters lifted the skin right off the flesh, creating openings for secondary bacterial infections.  At times, hands and feet would have to be bandaged.   Ever the faithful companion, it came with me to the US, when I moved here.  Thankfully, those days are over; but the systemic presence of the fungus remained, creating an unsightly mess of the nails of both feet and hands.   The advent of over-the-counter topical anti-fungal creams was a huge help for me.  When Grocery Outlet started selling Tolnaftate for under two bucks a tube, suddenly I could manage my condition totally affordably.  A full cure remained out of reach, however.  Then the situation took a dramatic turn for the better.  I read, on the internet, how this doctor treated soldiers in Vietnam who had contracted sever cases of foot fungus, easily and cheaply, by having them soak their feet in vinegar daily, after which coconut oil was applied, along with a fresh pair of thoroughly washed socks.  I wasted no time trying the procedure.  It works, by gosh, but you have to make it part of your routine for it to be successful.  Here's my routine (I have a pretty physically intense life, out here, in middle of nowhere, which makes the dedicated patient existence impractical).  I forbid myself from putting on a fresh set of thoroughly washed socks without first doing a full foot soak in apple cider vinegar, combined with a thorough rubbing to remove dead skin cells all the way to just below the knee, one foot at a time.  This way, both hands get the immersion as well.  Then the foot is allowed to air dry, leaving the acid residue right where it is, killing all microbial hitchhikers.  When a foot is dry, I mix a liberal amount of coconut oil with an equal measure of tolnaftate cream and massage the mixture into the skin of both hands and feet.  After that, the clean socks go on and I'm good to go for days after.  The used vinegar is not thrown away.  It is passed through a paper filter and stored in two former mayonnaise jars for future reuse.  This will be my routine, henceforth.  It;s so easy to do.  The longer sock wear between changes totally offsets the extra time taken.  I'm not cured yet, but I have seen growing improvement in the condition of my nails and that's very encouraging.  For soldiers in foreign places, where facilities for cleanliness are scarce, or nonexistent, it should be standard procedure, if only to enhance full readiness.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Simple tip about fat that might save your life

By now, we all know that ingesting too much fat of just about any kind can affect one's health adversely.  So, developing handy little ways to protect your cardio-vascular integrity, without breaking too much of a sweat about it, is something a smart person is going to value.  Life should not be a grim odyssey of highly disciplined regimens, focused solely on keeping the physical entity alive, while the fun-loving, relaxed side of one's spirit languishes.

Now, here's a fact that some might not know:  fat, in it's many forms, is essential to your well-being!
That's right.  Your physical complex needs to take in fat to be able to make your day better by keeping your psychological complex well oiled.  Without fat, your nervous system is a veritable basket case of needless discomfort.  Without fat, your body has to work a lot harder to give you the energy to function in a way where you aren't noticing how tired you are and how hard it is to keep going on what you need to get finished.  People with too little fat to run on are MORE prone to disease conditions than those who have a little more than they need.

So, clearly, you have to keep a balanced intake of fat going.  Experts tell you this fat or that is better for you and stipulate how much you should be allowing yourself to ingest.  That's a good start, but most of us aren't going to be that attentive to what we eat as we do everything we can to enjoy the life we have, and the ones who are that attentive, for the most part, don't seem to be enjoying themselves all that much.  I believe the trick that we use to keep ourselves roughly on the good side of fat intake has to be a lot simpler to be widely embraced.  (Drum roll here).

The secret, friends, is to cook your own delicious evening dinner, leave plates, pans and dishes right there, go to bed, sleep, wake up, have a nice hot cup of your preferred beverage and then wash the dishes under a thin stream of COLD - yes, I said COLD - water, using a sponge only, NO detergent.  If everything you used comes out clean, without greasy residue, and without noticeable effort, you're home free.  If not, you need to change something in your cooking, like using either less, or a different kind of fat and you need to keep trying until you get it right.

Does this mean no frying or braising?  Absolutely not!  Food has to make your mouth water and there is no other way to make it so other than using fat as a cooking medium.  In our case, for the most part, frying precedes braising and stewing.  The key to great tasting food is the choreography of bringing the raw materials to the pan - first this and then that and son on - using the right temperature for the job and knowing when to take the pan off the heat.  In that way, fats are incorporated into the end result in a virtually seamless process of amalgamation.  Of that kind of food, you can have seconds and not wake up in the middle of the night with heartburn.

Adding vegetables to meats is essential.  Sorry, carnivorous types, but that's an inescapable law of the universe.

Hey, we're not kill-joys over here.  Life affords us a beautiful abundance of gustatory delights and we should indulge ourselves in those things with grace and gratitude.  Take fat out of the picture and the whole thing dims to a shadow of its true glory.  So eat fat, by all means, but do it most often in the context of your own cooking.  Afterwards wash up with COLD water only and a sponge (keep that sponge clean, squeeze it dry after use and place it scouring side down too dry).  The results of your efforts will tell you whether you're within fat intake limits, or not.  Simple as that.

Arguably, this little tip has the potential to do more good for people than all the other, more complicated issues I generally turn my writing to.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Independent confirmation of a post in this blog from a high place

I know that practically nobody checks out what I post here and so, since that's the case, I might as well let it all hang out, for once.  It's something like playing before an empty house; if I step over the line of tact and brag some about being right, no great damage will result.  When you get corroboration from some highly credentialed party of an idea the arose out of your own life-informed deliberations, you have a right to say, "See, I'm not just some dumb shit with delusions of visionary grandeur, spouting forth.  Great minds DO think alike and, man, I am ever so tired of being humored as an oddball gadfly, out there in some wobbly orbit, grabbing at tendentious threads but devoid of real intellectual grasp on the bigger picture of things work, or less than qualified to make a proposal that might actually be useful in helping to make the world a better home for humankind.

It's a reaction from people that I've had to deal with all my life, from the days I was teased for being overly intellectual while in boarding school, 55 years ago, until today.  Strangely, I just can't figure it out.  It could well be a problem of inadequate presence.  Being thin and not very tall, with an unusually soft voice is not a combination that leads people to sit back and pay attention, intellect notwithstanding.  I've never once been offered a paid position where the product of my innately intellectual mind earned me a decent paycheck.  Rather, I found myself being shunted into roles where I was required to use it for generally stupid purposes, like stocking grocery shelves in a more pleasing way, or managing other people's throw-aways for the lowest ecological impact, because they were too lazy or indifferent to do it themselves.  For some reason, I never managed the trick of engendering the patronage of those who could help me climb out of the humble circumstances I've grown accustomed to having to deal with, even if I don't actually accept them as fitting for the two of us, Rachel and me.

That's why it's really nice to find my own eccentric convictions echoed in the words of others who have managed to make themselves into respected authorities on certain topics.  

The post of mine that I'm referring to is the one I wrote on lateral giving - the kind of financial help you get from people who actually DO care about your well-being enough to give you what you happen to be in need of (as opposed just saying they care about you).  The person of intellectual authority from whom corroborating statements come is Paul Niehaus, champion of the idea of direct, non-controllist giving, through the organization Give Directly.  There are many Google headlines to choose from.  I'll let you come to your own conclusions on what he has to say about what he believes in.

The point he makes that I really like is that the poor are, in almost all cases, the best authorities on the peculiarities of their lives, better than any organization, regardless of funding, could ever hope to be.  The poor aren't some nebulous, helpless mass; they're sentient individuals who are living very closely held lives, financially speaking, with little or no room for error or waste.  They know, far better, how to stretch the value gained from a dollar than almost any rich person does.  I totally cop to that one.  It's the very life Rachel, my partner, and I have lived for decades.  Having to do without things others take for granted is the life we live, all the time.  We know how that sharpens your wits.  When you live poor for a long time, you constantly seek and find ways to make the limits of poverty work better for you.  And when you do so, your impact on the planetary environment shrinks to a tiny fraction of what the average rich person burns through.

Who better to determine how a certain individual stuck in poverty should choose to use money than that individual him- or herself?

Rich people who base their disinclination to help a poor person in need on lame excuses like, " They just use it to buy alcohol", instead of just coming out with it and saying, "Fuck them, they're just losers and I don't give a shit what happens to them, because I don't value them" - which is really what they mean - get my goat; especially the ones who have no trouble liking a drink themselves.  The rich drink like fish.  Are the poor not entitled to the comfort of strong drink too?  Lord knows, they could use a little comfort and if strong drink does it for them, so be it.  In fact, I know it too.  In fact, I'm getting a little upset just writing this and will take a few seconds for a sip of red wine to allay that uncomfortable surge that inner rage stirs in my blood.  That's better.  What kind of self-righteous, sanctimonious fuckhead would deny a poor man the chance to sooth his inner devils with a little rotted fruit juice?  As if abstinence were equivalent to virtuousness.  Abstinence is simply the doing of nothing.  Rarely is there any virtue in doing nothing.  I'll tell you what is virtuous in the extreme - generosity, the generosity to give without condition or subsequent judgment.  Now, THAT'S virtuous.

Thank God there are still a few of that kind of giver around because, if there weren't - I'll say it out loud and clear - I'd be long dead, either of exposure induced illness as a homeless dude, or from outright starvation.

The benefactors of whom I speak have been many.  They are not forgotten and my hope is that somehow, somewhere, my good referrals on their behalf is being noted for future reference by such authorities who regulate the conditions that await us beyond this life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The principal, plain and simple reason America's disastrous wealth dichotomy continues to grow and resist being fixed

A life spent yearning to be poor no longer is not necessarily an opportunity wasted.  It keeps prodding one to understand how that happened to you and to look for keys in the workings of the national life we all share together - broadly, unchallenged social constructs - that keep America stuck in a self-destructive state, obstructing it from moving towards a condition where the difference between what wealthiest class has, versus the poorest, is far less extreme.

I have long sought that magic bullet - a short pithy argument - that would streak straight into the dark heart of the Frankenstinian complex of our most damaging shared misconceptions.  Today, it came to me.

America will only get sicker until it learns to face the truth that no great nation can ever endure as long as those earning below the median permanently forfeit more of what they earn to the challenge of housing themselves than those above that line.  The key to fully comprehending this grotesque reality lies in understanding the role that home ownership plays in preserving and expanding individual and family held equity (roughly, the total potential value of the things one owns that can be sold for money plus the cash one has).

The average American will spend about 65 years having to pay for a safe roof over his or her head.  That translates into 780 months.  Currently, in any one of the top fifty cities to live in in America (one per state, average), the average monthly rent paid by the individual for housing is around $800.  Rents don't fluctuate to the same degree over time that house prices do, so that figure is a pretty reliable extrapolative tool.  Census records show that a little more than half the people in the US live in rented housing.  Of those, around 8 in 10 rent or are compelled to rent because the action of buying a home (as opposed to just making payments, after having concluded a purchase) is not within their financial reach.  The approximate number of Americans who fall into this broad category is 130 million.  Each, reaching the end of his/her life as a permanent renter - often penniless and on state assistance - will, on average, have shelled out an amount equivalent in today's money of $624,000 or $1,248,000 per couple, with nothing in held equity to show for that huge outlay that can be exchanged for cash, and nothing to leave as assistance to their heirs.

Rich Americans, in total contrast, play a much more sophisticated and financially rewarding game with their need for housing.  Leaving aside the ridiculously rich who don't need to care if they lose a few million on some ill-chosen piece of real estate, most of the simply rich use the houses they buy to live in to get significantly richer, often ending their lives doing a reverse mortgage on some insanely expensive piece of real estate which they either get to live in as the cash-out winds toward its end point, or deed to their surviving heirs.

Nothing puts the lie to the vaunted boast of American class mobility like this dichotomy.

The stark contrast between these two outcomes tends to transfer an equally stark contrast in wealth outcomes for the survivors of these two radically different classes of home occupants.  That dichotomy in outcomes for survivors inevitably rolls over into the larger nationwide dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor.  In fact, if there is any greater contributing factor to that lamentable outcome, I'd sure like some genius to fill me in on the details of what it is.  Most often, the simplest explanation is the best one.

If government would like to see the wealth dichotomy reduced, (it professes to), it might get up off its generally lazy intellectual rump and look somewhat harder for ways to mitigate those factors of our social system that lead Americans to exploit the need for housing in trying to make the kind of money that most cannot hope to earn in ordinary employment.  Across the board leveling actions need to be added to the general mix of how our society works, with great care taken to ensure that it does not adversely affect net employment created by private enterprise.  This is not some socialist, pie-in-the-sky wish.  The whole point of it would be to free up money held by the average person and redirect it away from the rapacious housing sector towards the consumer products-and-services sector.  The overall effect of such actions would help free enterprise by increasing the money supply on the demand side of the economy (outside of housing), particularly among younger adults.  There would be a shift in the general shape of the economy, with a greater variety and number of jobs created for each million dollars diverted out of the housing sector toward other forms of enterprise.

It's just that simple.

The day the average poorer person parts with less for a lifetime of being housed than the average richer person will be the day the New American Economy begins.

So why is it proving so hard to get the ball rolling?   Because, whether they're rich or poor, the great majority of Americans cherish the daydream of making it big someday, the easy way and, unless you're close to brain-dead, you know that real estate is the most accessible way to get rich at other people's expense, either by selling a property at the right time to some sucker who believes  the right time is still a few years ahead, when the last buyer will be left holding the baby during a downturn - sort of like in a pyramid scheme - or by renting to suckers who are always a dollar short and a day late of being able to buy a house and who simply can't face moving one more time.

We're little better than a nation of hucksters.  It's in the blood.  The less risk-enthralled remained behind in the countries that waves of immigrants came from.

But time is running out.  The game of appropriating the luck of dupes in an entirely legal way is headed at speed toward a crown fire of social rage.  This new generation of young adults, fleeced at every turn, is well aware that the rules are stacked against them having any chance at becoming as comfortable as as their parents were at the same age.  They're about ready to burn the place to the ground, politically speaking.  They see capitalism as the enemy, even as they try to use it to make a living (if you can call it that).  To increasing numbers of them, unbridled socialism is the answer.  The subtle truth that capitalism depends upon a socialistically-maintained material/legal infrastructure which depends upon capitalistic success for the tax revenue that is its lifeblood, making the two systems interdependent, lacks visceral appeal.  Kicking somebody's ass, on the other hand, has great visceral appeal.  You can see it all coming like a sucker punch in a slow motion snippet.

Before it's too late for reasonable minds to prevail, those currently in the winner's seat had better make this thing called America work better for all or sit down and start planning living compounds like the rich have in places Americans are too scared to visit.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Update number two (July '16) on the house we left in Seattle

Take a look at this: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/514-N-78th-St-Seattle-WA-98103/48767725_zpid/.  That's the house we lived in, bought in 1997 for $182,500, barely improved, rented out and sold in 2016 for $719,000!  On the left, you will see a picture of the house as it was when we lived in it.  The smaller picture to the right shows what it looks like now.

Well, our erstwhile landlords finally got a respectable do-over commissioned and sold the house for a luridly gross equity uptick of $530,000 over what they paid for it.  From the picture on Zillow, it looks sound, if somewhat sterile, compared to the lovely livable dwelling it was before.  But let's not allow sentiment to run away with the issue.  The last thing the owners were trying to make out of this was some kind of magical, ecologically sensitive masterpiece.  Right from the outset, their goal was to make as much money out of owning the property as they could, which is their prerogative, and, as you can see from the obscene markup, they did pretty well at that.  Before someone jumps down my throat and points out that they must have spent at least $40,000 getting it ready for sale, let me make clear that they took an awful lot of money from us during the twelve years we lived there - $210,000 - which, if they'd invested it wisely - making an average of, say, 3%/annum - and stuck to their other, diverse sources of income for living expenses, including a military pension and social security, would have given them more than enough to cover that cost without any use of the principle.  Before all that gets your head in knots, let's just consolidate it all into one net profit figure of somewhere close to $740,000, before taxes and other forms of erosion associated with the process.  One thing you don't need to include as some kind of hidden cost is anything they may have spent on the property while we were there.  We kept track.  It was around $75.  Yes, let me spell that for you, seventy-five dollars!

The true hidden cost is what happened to us, financially speaking, over that twelve year period - the folks who built the third bedroom in the basement at their own cost - plus what happened to the ecological niche the house constituted for the other living things that abode in harmony there - the bountiful hazelnut tree, the bitter cherry, the pacific yew, the plum tree, the photinia and camelia that afforded privacy and shelter for birds, the stellar's jays, wilsons warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, western tanagers, the sparrows, the robins, the chickadees that produced ten generations in the houses we provided for them, the five species of bee we'd see on our flowers, the paper wasps, hornets, moths and butterflies, the squirrels, raccoons, tree rats - everything, right down to the earthworms whose number our efforts so greatly increased.  Gone are the aforementioned trees and with them, the habitat they provided for all the other creatures, right down to the earth worms who no longer forage on the compost we made from the leaf litter we cleaned up.

Finally, there's the lost opportunity cost to society of having people who were already rich getting even richer, while those they rented to exited the picture a lot older and in a worse net wealth position than a decade ago.  Supplementary paying work is exceedingly difficult to come by in this remote area and the building we bought has structural defects we did not know about at sale and which we can't afford to have a contractor fix.  HAD WE BEEN HELPED TO BUY THE THE HOUSE WE WERE RENTING FOR THE $300,000 IT WAS OFFERED TO US AT IN 2011, GIVEN IT THE SUPERFICIAL FIXES IT NEEDED AND THEN SOLD IT FOR ONLY A HALF-MILLION, OR SO - AS WAS OUR PLAN, EXACTLY - WE'D NOT ONLY BE FREE-AND-CLEAR, WITH CASH TO SPARE, BUT ALSO IN A REAL HOME OF OUR OWN ON THE RESIDENTIAL LOT WE OWN OUT HERE (BUT NOW CAN'T AFFORD TO DEVELOP).  In that scenario, our ex-landlords would still have made a respectable profit, just not the absolute killing they did, and our respective states of wealth would have been far less divergent.

You may ask, why didn't we buy the house?  Well, we tried, but we couldn't get anyone to help us buy it.

People cluck and moan about America's growing wealth dichotomy, finally realizing (especially in  this populist-driven election cycle) what a threat it poses to the proper exercise of American democracy.  Let them reflect on the fact that it is through lost wealth-building chances like this one that the dichotomy grows fastest, much less than through disparate pay. More people need to learn better how wealth is acquired, protected and spread around society.  The consequences of "missing the boat", when one of life's rare wealth-enhancing opportunities comes along can be profound, all but ensuring an old age of grim struggle ahead.

So, in the net accounting of all things under the sun, I ask you, is the fact that they managed to sell the house for a lifetime holding gain of well over half a million dollars a gain or a loss?

Naturally, we have strong opinions of our own about how things turned out.  If we even deign to think about Seattle, at all, it is with a combination of the darkest feelings.  Doing so leaves me depressed, filled with a sense of dread about how we will fare in a world intoxicated by notions of wealth at any cost and pointless personal excess for a select few, even as it slips inexorably toward the cliffs of mindless self-destruction.  What can you say about life when earnest stewardship and kindness is rewarded with grinding penury and grievous insecurity while callous indifference for everything other than financial gain walks away with a royal excess of security and comfort?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Islam - not as innocuous as we "liberals" might like it to be

Before I get into why I think that that we should firmly resist any attempt by Islam to gain a foothold of control over how enclaves of American society work – as has been the case in parts of Europe over the course of the past decade - a word about the human use of free will.....

As regards free will, as long as people don't impinge in an unjustifiable or unfair way on the comfort or well-being of others, I'm not going to object.  I might not exactly like what I'm seeing or hearing, but in as much as I value others being tolerant towards me when something I'm doing doesn't exactly sit right with them,  I owe it to society to keep my complaining to a minimum.  In that sense, I have a somewhat liberal outlook on life.  Labels are misleading, however.  If you're an arch conservative, you may see other mid-rank conservatives as liberally inclined.  Whatever you want to call what I subscribe to, I consider it a practical usage of the Golden Rule.

Since people have various understandings as to what the Golden Rule means, I need to be more precise about my own interpretation of it.

I know that many believe the Golden Rule means the same thing in every given circumstance.  In the real world, applying it one way all the time will inevitably trip you up.  For my part, I believe that the Golden Rule can be interpreted positively, from an inclusive point of view, or negatively, from an exclusive point of view.  

Because free will can be used either with love, or with indifference, if you feel the other party is as well-meaning as you are, things will probably work out optimally if you treat that person as you would LIKE to be treated.  On the other hand, if you feel the other party is a calculating person who is out to take cold-hearted advantage of you without remorse, the optimal approach is to treat that person as you believe you would DESERVE to be treated if you tried to do similarly.  For best results, when using the Golden Rule, you need to think like a Doberman Pinscher - a wonderful pet to its family and well-meaning visitors but a formidable deterrent to any malicious intruder.

Within the global collective I subscribe to, when the Golden Rule is applied positively, members attempt to be as considerate toward others as they believe those others would be toward them.  When practiced with pure intent, this courtesy is enjoyed equally by all members, the mighty and the meek, alike.  In that exercise, both my wife and I try to go beyond the minimum.

But not everybody warrants being treated that way.  The fox may put on his best face, but the hens know better than to let him in the coop.

As regards those who, because of their proclivities, fall outside the collective I belong to - those who have no problem denying others the regard they reserve for themselves - to the degree they blithely perpetrate upon others what they themselves would experience as unpleasant or distressing, if they step over the red line of what can be tolerated, they are owed nothing but whatever consequences will relieve society of the burden of their choice to offend.

Don’t take this to mean I’m an advocate of excessive measures in responding to negative behavior - of killing the patient to cure the disease.  I’m not - just what will be conclusively efficacious.  When an individual offends beyond what can reasonably be tolerated, there should be consequences.  In ascending order of degree of severity, those consequences should go roughly as follows:
Expressions of disapproval
Interdiction by legal demand
Civil action in court
Charging with a crime
Fining sufficient to deter re-offending, with or without a mandate to compensate
Interdiction by police action, up to and including lethal response, if necessary
Trial in a criminal court
Conviction requiring imprisonment

You’ll note that I did not include capital punishment.  I don’t think that society is ever made better by the cold-blooded killing of offenders, however heinous, by state action.  On the other hand, if criminals get themselves killed in the course of police trying to prevent them from harming innocents or injuring officers and no preferable option exists in the moment of interdiction, then so be it.

This is the dark side of the Golden Rule, and as dread-filled as it may be, it is necessary for the greater good of society, at large, for those with authority appropriate to the occasion to respond in that way.  When the offense is being perpetrated by a group of people, the same line of reasoning applies.

Thanks to that logic, we happen not to be living under the thumb of an ironclad global dictatorship called the Third Reich.  Using the Golden Rule in this manner – first negatively and later positively - the United States and its allies not only put an end to the Axis Alliance, but also helped enormously to rebuild both Germany and Japan, as modern democracies, after their governments had surrendered unconditionally.

In the best of circumstances, if we remain both vigilant and diligent, we can thwart abuse before it occurs by denying would-be malefactors the openings they seek.  In the event the offense intended has been successfully committed, however, a sure response must ensue to compel the perpetrator to make such amends as is deemed fitting AND to discourage a repetition of the bad deed. Failure to do so only encourages malefactors to go one better with their next act of victimization.

This is the interpretation of the Golden Rule I learned in boarding school - protect the weak, resist the strong who go too far and give bullies what-for until they mend their ways.  Once those ends were achieved, everyone was happier for it and things worked much better.

So, while I have a liberal outlook on anything I think won't make a permanent bad dent in either me or my society, it doesn't go any further than that. The brand of liberalism that I definitely don't subscribe to is the lean-over-backwards-as-far-as-they-want-you-to-and-expect-to-be-respected variety, in which nakedly tendentious logic is used to maximize the good side of a potentially inimical thing while minimizing the bad side, on the assumption that being nice to everyone compels everyone to be nice to you.  Obviously, that kind of turn-the-other-cheek approach doesn't always produce the best results for either people or the social groups they belong to, especially when dealing with an ambitious religion which, by virtue of its intrinsic nature, contains a virtually inseparable mix of lambs in the open and vipers in the grass.

In my opinion, all too much of that kind of apologist liberalism has been in evidence in the media, of late, as regards the issue of whether our Western way of life can easily co-exist with Islam, without potentially irreversible damage being done to both the freedoms we cherish and the diverse panoply of social functions that are rooted in those freedoms.

And while we waffle on the issue, not wanting to be politically incorrect, the structures that underpin our liberties are quietly being infiltrated and undermined by doubt, indecision and a growing sense of dread.  One day, not too far ahead, we may well find ourselves waking up in shock and having to reel in a whole lot of backsliding in a heavy-handed way – like in Egypt, under al Sissi - ironically, because we tried to be too nice for too long, instead of being firm and crystal clear from the outset about what kinds of Islamic thinking have to be left behind by immigrants from countries where that religion has gained such power over social mores and the processes of government.   We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of false security about this issue, thinking that because America absorbed so many immigrants as it grew, absorbing Islam, lock stock and barrel, can’t possibly hurt us.  It most certainly can and it already has, in the form of terrorist attacks mounted by Muslims residing in - or having legally entered - the United States.  The scale of such attacks ranges from epic to abortive.  The literature on the particulars of those attacks is extensive and it isn’t what I want to focus on.   The only useful point is that they have been occurring, and with Islamic State in the picture now, along with the continued presence of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other radical Islamic organizations spread around the world, there can be little doubt that hostile operatives have been entering the country and connecting with sleeper groups looking for ways to do damage with high media potential.

This still doesn’t cover the more extensive, worldwide picture of the threats we face from attackers using isolated texts from the Quran to justify their actions.  Resolute apologists are quick to defend the global Muslim community against culpability for failing to firmly excoriate terrorists who cherry-pick fragments of scripture to justify their barbarous acts - acts that make an utter mockery of seminal tenets of decency that humans originally created religions to promulgate and protect.  I have no patience with that kind of apologism.  Here’s a link the reader might click on:
Try to rationalize that!

Since 1978, we and our democratic allies have been in a highly contentious global struggle with people motivated by a 7th Century form of Islamic aspirations - the ideal of Islamic rule of the whole world.  As slow as people in this country have been to acknowledge it, the great divide in the human race today is between The Radical Islamic World and the Liberal Democratic World.   We have numbers and better technology on our side, thus far, but they’re catching up fast and, in terms of visceral appeal and intensity, they have us beat by a mile and a half.

Back in 1776, when the forefathers of this nation mandated a separation of church and state, doubtless they were reflecting on the religious interference of the 120-year colonial period predating independence.  How much more adamant they would have been had they been able to see into the future and reflect on the rise of Radical Islam, from the Philippines through to Indonesia, the Indian subcontinent, the Levant, southeastern Europe, and northern and sub-Saharan Africa.  How right they were.  If enlightened government is what we truly want, we can NEVER allow it to be any kind of handmaiden to religion – especially not Islam.

Why especially not Islam?  Because Islam is an insatiable thing, a hundred-headed Hydra, content to conquer by fear and force what it cannot seduce.  And why are people so afraid of it?  Because its seminal texts can so easily be interpreted by its defenders and proponents to advocate death for those who either oppose it intellectually, forsake it or in some way offend it.  Every day, people in Africa, Asia and the Levant die by the hand of their neighbors, having been convicted by some Shariah (so-called) court, because they said or did something that, in this country, we simply assume to be a protected use of free will.  Here's a shortlist of sins that fall into that category; idolatry, witchcraft, blasphemy, heresy, converting to another religion (apostacy), insulting Allah or the Prophet, infidelity, promiscuity, prostitution, cultural immorality (like listening to, or playing, music or dancing), homosexuality, trans-sexuality, sodomy, and bringing dishonor of some kind upon one’s family.   At the same time, under Islamic law, one can keep slaves, beat a wife, and impregnate a 12 year old girl taken as wife.  

There is no way to stop people from interpreting Islamic scripture darkly.   Unlike Christianity, which is firmly rooted in the New Testament injunction to walk in the path of unconditional love, above the inclination to judge, Islam stresses the importance of doctrinal obedience to the deity.  The Quran is not offered simply as food for thought.  It is law and the required consequences for offending said law are, all too often, extremely harsh and primitive.

Such ideas are not compatible with the systems of law we have so painstakingly wrought to protect individual freedom throughout the (so-called) Western World.  It’s an absolute certainty that intractable social frictions arise when people attempt to marry the two mindsets together.  Nowhere in the world do I see where any such attempt has peacefully succeeded.  Look to recent developments in France, Holland and Germany to see what I mean.

One huge question we have to ask ourselves is whether the kind of inter-activeness that information technology has created - the web and all its spin-offs - can continue to be as liberal as it is while madrasas in highly restrictive Muslim theocracies invoke hell-fire and damnation, in the name of Allah, upon the Western World for its licentious excesses, while impressionable young men aching to be loved and possessed by something much bigger than themselves, hang on every word.  I doubt that many westerners can comprehend how savagely all-encompassing that fervor can be.  Consider the case of the Pakistani boy who, after being falsely accused by the local imam and fellow villagers of blasphemy, cut off his own hand and presented it to the imam.  Even more telling is the subsequent approval of said action by family and the overwhelming majority of others in the community.  Any who might have disapproved weren't coming forward to talk to the press.  The fear of retribution for daring to express a contrary view is well justified.


That's the psychological entity we're dealing with here and, like it or not, it has inveigled its way into controlling the way governments in many parts of the world work, slowly dragging them backwards in time to the kind of relationship between religion and government that existed in Europe back in the Dark Ages.

Even before I became aware of Islam’s recent awakening, there was one thing I was absolutely insistent about:   that government of the people, by the people, for the people and any kind of religion should NEVER be co-mingled.

During my close-to seven decades on this planet, I've had plenty of time to observe how people think and act, me included.  I've also been able to use the very serviceable education I received to indulge my interest in books and articles about how societies work and what role thought forms (like religion, popular culture, ethnic culture, political ideology, schools of philosophy, ethics, party politics, nationalism and even language) play in shaping trends for the better or worse in the condition of the structures we depend upon, not simply to live, but also, to make the most we can of our lives.

I was introduced at an early age to the seductions of two great thought forms – the doctrines of the Anglican Church (courtesy of two draconian boarding schools), and apartheid, the all-encompassing political system of the only reality I had subjective experience of before the age of twenty-three.

Growing up in South Africa under apartheid, I was faced with a stark choice between two very different ways of being.  The apparently easier path was to unquestioning compliance; that the status quo was how my reality needed to be; that the grown-ups who had made it that way had good reason to do what they did and that the best way to go was to work with them, as best I could.  Under that regime, as a white person, I was expected to understand that I was genetically superior to anyone who wasn't what I was.  An adult role in some kind of supervisory position over those who weren't white like me was so expected that it was never even discussed.

The decidedly more difficult path lay somewhere in the murky realms beyond the point where the easier path was rejected.  In those realms, everything you were told would be subject to intellectual scrutiny.  Schools of opinion would receive no automatic assent.  Liberalism, conservatism, progressivism, libertarianism, privatism, populism, any kind of "ism", in fact, all were open to deconstruction, analysis and deemed worth assessment.

In pursuing that path, I was part of a distinct minority, quite a few of whom ended up in prison for going a step too far with their ideas.

We were not a homogeneous group.  Groups could be targeted and deactivated too easily.  Opposition was a more private thing, carefully shared.  Inevitably, bits and pieces of just about every school of thought would find their way into what became your own unique belief set.  Understand now, there is a world of difference between factual reality and a belief set.  Unlike religion, which requires that you believe all kinds of stuff you will never be able to prove, a belief set is composed only of those ideas you like and can update any time you want - ideas which, to others, may seem weird, even nuts.  The vital difference between a religion and a belief set is that you're the master of your belief set.  Try to do that with a religion and you run the risk of being accused of either heresy or blasphemy.

In following the more difficult path, I did so not because I was a wise or good person, but more because that's where my nose and my appetite for life experience led me.  A lot of it was like trying to get around the house immediately after a late-night blackout.  One tends to bump into a lot of things before you begin to become better oriented.

It took me an incredibly long time to realize how tightly bound I was to the habits of thought I had collected during my life.  Some were just dormant dead-weight, of little consequence, either way.  But others were more like invisible minders - meddling ghosts from the past, ever ready to insert themselves at some critical point in time, in a way that was not constructive or in my best interests.

Believe me, I know what it is to be a boy whose mind is caught in the grip of religion.  I know how dangerous that can be to one's well-being.

Before the age of eighteen, it is safe to say, the mind of the person known by my name at the time, was completely owned by the Anglican Church and the school I was banished to by my parents (much to my dismay).  The most prevalent feeling I experienced during those years was dread, greatly exacerbated by the guilt produced by my first timid explorations into the world of sexual contact.  So great was my fear of "God", that, after the first time I touched a girl's breast (I was perhaps 13 at the time) I thought I would be divinely punished, even to the point of not surviving to my sixteenth birthday.  I thank the onset of a flaming passion for British and American rock and roll for delivering me from the grip of those dark, religiously-driven imaginings.  There just wasn't enough room in my mind for both fixations.

I remember clearly the moment the great apotheosis exploded into my consciousness.  I was in my first car, a Wolseley 1100, waiting to give my sister a ride home from Herschel Girls' School, when it came to me:  if God was indeed infinite, then I had to be an expression of that infiniteness; if not, then God was, at best, nothing more than some sort of finite entity.  The idea that I should let some kind of entity, however large, possess my free will was completely unacceptable.  I liked the infinite concept better.  That way, I was God, being the being I was.  And if the rest of me had, in whatever way, contrived to make the dimension into which I had popped in 1948, it sure as hell would not have been for the purpose of living under the thumb of a religion that made you feel condemned to hell for having manifested the kind of interest that had caused humanity to survive for tens of thousands of years.  It was such a liberating insight that I threw open the car door and pranced around like an idiot in the parking lot.

Now, let me be clear, that insight did NOT lead to a wholesale collapse into the arms of rejecting anything that physics could not prove.  I'm no literalist.  My personal belief set goes way beyond the material causality of this world.  But that's not the object of this essay.

The object of this essay is to draw attention to how vigilant we need to be in maintaining the primacy and the integrity of our painstakingly wrought secular legal system over whatever any in the collection of religions we host put forward as doctrine, with a special emphasis on Islam, simply because so many of that persuasion are headed this way.

I came close enough to being permanently inducted into an external thought form to know how dangerous and powerful such beasts are.  It took me many years after coming to the States to cut loose cultural baggage from my former life that was making it harder for me to live in the US.  Yet, anything I experienced was nothing next to what boys in the Islamic world are subjected to.  It is hard for me to imagine how anyone of those poor boys could completely purge his mind of such mental conditioning during a single lifetime.  These young men are now being displaced by the tens of thousands from the areas they grew up in through actions of war.  They are mixed in with the great flood of refugees headed for what they see as a safer and possibly more prosperous life in countries like Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, England, Canada and the United States.  A minority of them will find peace and prosperity where they end up.  The rest will struggle as perennial outsiders in a strange land.  Their struggles will eat at them.  Between days of tranquility, there will be days of despair, days of anger, days of disaffection and days when they wonder how much better life would have been if only they could have continued to live where they grew up – the simplicity of it, the spiritual purity, the beauty of the land.  They will brood about it, make no mistake.  Those are the hours when disgruntled men seek the company of others who are going through similar troubles.  Those klatches are where enrollers to the cause of radical Islam’s grander objectives do their sworn work.  Nearby, their American-born children will sit, absorbing every heartfelt word – as enrapt as any student in the madrasa “back home”.

Despite this, so that we may continue to rightfully proclaim ourselves a great nation, we cannot turn these newcomers away wholesale.  The righteous are known best by their actions – by their magnanimous readiness to relieve suffering, by their brave acceptance of grand inconvenience in making provision for those who have been displaced, by their patient acceptance of setbacks as an inescapable component of making progress, by their wisdom in learning how to discern the difference between a possible foe and a potential friend.

We must progress beyond political jargon and move more expeditiously toward a system of vetting those coming this way, to the greater long-term benefit of ourselves and the whole human family.

To that end, I have a practical suggestion:  we, the people, have to define, far more clearly, what we are prepared to accept as legitimate religious activity and what we regard as unlawful activity.  For my part, I think religious activity must be regarded as falling into the general class of not-for-profit entities that provide a multitude of different kinds of service to the individual and not in some special class of its own.   Under that definition, legal boundaries on the activities of religions become far clearer.  A secondary benefit would be the making of a much better firewall between religious activity and the legislative process.

To my mind, the only legitimate roles for any religion are the following: 
*The presentation of a religion’s basic articles of faith and its reason for being
*The sharing of writings that underpin a religion’s approach to its reason for being
*The advocacy of human virtues such as compassion, appreciation, gratitude, forbearance, reason, consideration, self-discipline, courage, discretion, temperance, honesty, loyalty, genuineness, respect for both self and other self, gentleness, strength of purpose, personal grace, vision, artistry, inventiveness, flexibility, hopefulness et al, without stooping to pass judgment on those who fall short (to fall short of perfect is, after all, to be perfectly human)
*The providing of relief to those who suffer
*Encouragement for those who strive
*The doing of work that makes the world a better place for all, regardless of affiliation

Activities seen in places where Islam is stronger than government that must be made illegal include (though not be restricted to):
*Edicts, or fatwas, in which clerics incite congregations to treat targeted individuals in a certain way (often, harmfully)
*Edicts pronouncing individuals as heretics, apostates, heretics or some other form of enemy of Islam, Allah or the Prophet
*Incitement, before a gathering, clearly calculated to diminish respect for, or the security of, or generate hatred towards other persons, other groups (regardless of what judgments those gathered may share about such outside groups), other religions, other sects of the same religion
*Incitement aimed at subverting respect for the organs of government, standard government process, the laws of the land, officials of the executive branch, representatives within the legislative branch, members of the judiciary or appointed public officials
*Any kind of deprecation of cultural or recreational activities accepted as legal in the USA
*Hosting or providing material support to any entity whose purpose is to engage in any of the above prohibited activities
Raising money on behalf of any Islamic entity other than the raiser itself for any purpose other than those included under the general umbrella of activities accepted under law

Speech can hardly be considered free if a targeted victim, innocent of wrongdoing, is paying some kind of price for it. 

If those restrictions are rigorously enforced, the way Islam expresses itself here in the USA should end up being roughly on par with the way other religions express themselves in this country.  If not, and there continue to be attacks by people professing to be jihadists, Islam will face the prospect of a showdown with an American public that is fast finding its reserves of tolerance running out.  Nothing can long stand that continues to act as a passive conduit for the kind of unspeakable violence that Muslim radicals have perpetrated on this nation.  Egypt has paved the way with suppressive action that makes anything the US could come up with look tame.

Last, I’d like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Ayham Hussein, the boy who was beheaded by ISIS jihadists in Mosul for listening to pop music.  Those that did this aren’t just fiends, they’re enemies of one of the most sacred gifts the Creator bequeathed humankind – the ability to hear music as something infinitely more meaningful than just sound and to be affected similarly, regardless of origin or language, by each of its myriad forms.  How can you be such a virulent enemy of this celestial gift and not be an enemy of the Giver?  It’s the one great language we all share, the Tower of Babel notwithstanding.  Can anything be closer to the true voice of God?