Monday, January 31, 2011

Cairo & Katrina: A tale of two cities

I just read an article by Chris Hedges, wherein he stated that the revolt in Egypt is a Muslim thing. I usually agree with Prof. Hedges on most things, but in this instance he is wrong. Sorry Chris, but the revolt in Egypt isn't a Muslim issue. It's a Gandhi thing. Yay!

Here's what I'm thinking: In the last several decades the Arab world has witnessed how ineffectual its violent pre-1967 attacks on Israel were, how Arafat's Fatah violence failed to stop the spread of Israel's brutal occupation, how violent insurgency against the American occupation of Iraq turned out to be futile, how the insurgency in Afghanistan is such a bloody mess, and how Pakistan is getting chewed up and spit out by violence. Under these sorry circumstances, the Arab world's violent protest against their Western occupation seems to have lost some of its charm.

And then along came a hopeful example -- set by the obscure little farming villages of Budrus and Bil'lin, on Palestine's West Bank. In these two small and inconsequential villages, poor and simple farmers were being tear-gassed, shot at, imprisoned, tortured and surrounded by a very ugly apartheid Wall. Their olive orchards were being stolen, their children were being injured and killed. "What can we do? What can we do?" the village elders asked themselves.

How could these simple villagers possibly fight back against the sixth-largest standing army in the world? They couldn't. So instead of using stones and pitchforks against the intruders, they simply organized some non-violent protests against the injustice of having their lands and homes stolen by a gang of outlaws and rustlers driving REALLY big tanks.

And the next thing you know, the villagers' plans began working! Whether Israel got tired of being shamed by the sudden negative publicity that it began to receive all over Europe or just finally got tired of tired of shooting at peacefully-protesting women and children,
Israel's occupying armies and tanks and fighter jets and what-have-you actually began backing off!

And the Arab world began taking note of this -- and started to read up on its Yasu, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Always remember that there are many more people under occupation in the Middle East than there are people doing the occupying. And if you are gonna be nasty about how you occupy countries, then you're gonna build up resentment. "Oh, that's okay. Let them resent us all they want. No problem. We have guns and tanks and knives and torture kits and prisons. We'll keep them in line." However, that attitude only goes so far when you are stealing a whole BUNCH of people's land, water and/or oil.

"Okay, Jane, you've made your point. I can see how non-violence might actually work in the Middle East. But how does Katrina fit into all this?" Well. I was just noticing that there is a similarity between what is happening in Cairo today and what happened in New Orleans back in 2005 -- with regard to the tone and style of American evening news reports concerning both incidents.

When New Orleans first got hit by its disastrous hurricane and flood, American newspapers went out of their way to report NOLA residents as being uncivilized barbarians. Major news media jumped all over themselves talking about all the violent looting and all kinds of horrors going on there. But after the dust had settled a bit, it became clear that most of the victims of Katrina had been peaceful and helpful -- and even that many of the shootings and atrocities there had been actually perpetrated by the police.

According to the New York Times, "The narrative of those early, chaotic days — built largely on rumors and half-baked anecdotes — quickly hardened into a kind of ugly consensus: poor blacks and looters were murdering innocents and terrorizing whoever crossed their path in the dark, unprotected city. 'As you look back on it, at the time it was being reported, it looked like the city was under siege,' said Russel L. HonorĂ©, the retired Army lieutenant general who led military relief efforts after the storm. Today, a clearer picture is emerging, and it is an equally ugly one, including white vigilante violence, police killings, official cover-ups and a suffering population far more brutalized than many were willing to believe. Several police officers and a white civilian accused of racially motivated violence have recently been indicted in various cases, and more incidents are coming to light as the Justice Department has started several investigations into civil rights violations after the storm."

So my point here is that this kind of reporting based on ugly rumors and "half-baked anecdotes" is apparently happening with regard to Cairo as well as NOLA. Also according to the New York Times, "Looters from Cairo’s vast shantytowns attacked gleaming suburban shopping malls, wild rumors swirled of gunfights at the bridges and gates to the most expensive neighborhoods and some of their residents turned wistful about Mr. Mubarak and his authoritarian rule."

However, eye-witness reports surfacing on the internet reveal a completely different story
. "Most of the thug types who are doing most of the attacks are prisoners who have been released by that bastard Mubarak in return for their services to beat up civilians.... You know about the secret service police guys who were citizen arrested at the museum and handed over to the army? You know so many of the protesters held hands, man, and formed like this long cordon around the museum so that these police pretending to be looters could not go in and destroy our history…and then they found out that these secret police guys were already inside and even damaged some Mummies. I mean people were so furious and they just handed them to the army."

And as the
true story comes out, I think we will find that most Cairenes have been non-violent and peaceful -- and that they are simply peacefully protesting their lot, after having endured over 30 years of indignity and bondage at the hands of a brutal dictatorship financed by the United States.

The spirit of Gandhi truly has arrived in Cairo. And if you believe otherwise, just remember back to how the media happily spurred us on to think the worst of New Orleans residents as well.

Now all we have to do is to try to figure out who is going to benefit from us Americans thinking poorly of Egypt -- as well as who benefited when we were all instructed to think poorly of New Orleans.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beck, Boehner, Limbaugh & Monsanto: Love America or leave it!

Once again I've just received yet another e-mail from someone telling me that if I don't like America, then I should leave it. Me? I hardly barely even whine about America at all -- when compared to all the right-wingers and corporatists who haunt the media, the White House, the Supreme Court, Congress and K Street. Those guys REALLY know how to whine!

Take John Boehner for instance. He whines about America constantly. But if he hates this country so much, why doesn't he leave? "Why?" Because if he pulled the same stunts in almost any other civilized country that he has pulled here, he would probably get jailed for corruption -- or even treason. Stop crying all the time, John, and either love America or leave it.

And Glenn Beck? I whine and he doesn't? Yeah right. Send him off to Egypt! Let him keep company with his buddy Hosni Mubarak. Let's see how long he would last in Egypt right now.

There's a new day of peace and freedom dawning all over the world these days, one wherein everyone gets a slice of the pie -- not just the corporatists and oligarchs and dictators. And when this new dawn comes to America and the uber-rich who have shamelessly plundered our country for decades finally get the boot that they deserve, corporate shills like Beck and Limbaugh are gonna have to fall back on the very same government "safety nets" that they currently decry. And when the average working stiff in America finally gets fed up with doling out corporate welfare, then Wall Street, CitiBank, the Koch brothers and Monsanto aren't gonna save these shills any more and they're gonna end up BEGGING for Social Security, single-payer healthcare and unemployment benefits! Ha.

"Help me, America!" they'll whine. "I can no longer afford payments on my yachts or my Porsche!"

In the end, corporatism is a great leveler and it ultimately levels those fat cats at the top as well as those of us at the bottom. Didn't we learn anything from Bernie Maddoff's sad end? Or even Hitler's? Apparently not.

And Rupert Murdoch needs to be careful of what he is wishing for too. Look what just happened in Tunisia. That could happen to him as well if he doesn't stop whining all the time about salt-of-the-earth types like you, me and us.

After the recent success of non-violent resistance against the apartheid Wall in Palestine, the Arab world seems to be finally wising up and going all Gandhi on its Washington-supported dictators.


If Palin, Angle, Chevron, Wall Street, General Motors, Fox News, Boeing and Diebold keep on whining and moaning about how terrible America's government is -- even though for the most part they own it -- then the kind of revolution that they seem to be trying to stir up here won't be non-violent at all. It will come out of the barrel of a Glock.

And do you really want Beck and Palin fans running around YOUR city locked and loaded? Good grief. Heck no.

So. All you corporatists out there who insist on complaining and whining about MY country all the time? I strongly suggest that you pack up and leave for someplace else ASAP -- that is, if you can find any other country that will take you.

PS: And after all the corporatist whiners have gone, I bet we could make America a really cool place. "But how?" you might ask. The answer to that question is obvious.

Let's start by limiting the amount of money that political candidates can spend on their campaigns. $200,000 max -- or go to jail. And then let's make all those large corporations and rich guys actually start paying income tax like the rest of us. And then let's bring our troops home where they belong. Duh.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Play: Let's put the "Party" back into politics!

My friend Austin just sent me one of the videos from that excellent TED series regarding how the human mind works. In
this video, entitled "Play is More than Fun," psychiatrist Stuart Brown tells us why "play" is so important -- both for children and for adults. Here's the link:

According to this video, the infamous 1966 Texas Tower sniper Charles Whitman hadn't been allowed to have any playtime when he was a kid. "He was found to have deep play-deprivation when he was a child," states Dr. Brown. Studies of the infamous 2007 Virginia Tech murderer also show that he didn't have enough playtime when he was a rug-rat either.

Who knows how much playtime Jared Louchner was allowed to have as a child -- but one can speculate that it probably wasn't nearly enough.

And just look at all those poor sweet Taliban boys over in Af-Pak who were raised in the strictest of maddrassas and later went nuts with the AK-47s. And what about those poor, driven, over-achieving prep school kids like George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld -- who grew up and went on to kill over a million people? And all those "Spare the rod and spoil the Child" types who raised happy children like the infamous Lizzie Bordon. Or even look at Hitler's childhood for that matter. There was no Sesame Street or Gymboree for him!

Playtime seems to be REALLY important for kids. In fact, according to this TED video, the physiology of play is as important to learning and survival as dreaming and sleep.

Fine. I want to play. Count me in. But what exactly IS play? According to Dr. Brown, "It is an act that doesn't have a particular purpose. If its purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it's probably not play." Rats. There goes my hope using the theory of play to help clean up my apartment.

In addition, "play" helps you spend more time working with your hands. "If you haven't worked with your hands early in life, you can't problem-solve," according to Dr. Brown. Not even a little bit? I bet you could still be able to solve a few problems even if you hadn't done the Play-Doh thing as a child. I bet you could still figure out how to take the cap off the toothpaste or lie your way into a war -- but other than that? Who knows.

"Curiosity and exploration are part of the play scene. Body play, play with objects, rough-and-tumble play, imaginative solo play are fundamental parts of the play scene. So what does play do? We don't exactly know. The funding for studies of play isn't exactly overwhelming."

So. What does "play" have to do with politics? Seriously? You even have to ask? The stuff that goes on in Washington these days is so freaking serious that it's scary. And just look at what happens on Wall Street and in the back rooms of top global corporations or whenever national and world leaders meet. Everything is so freaking serious these days, it's almost like we were back at the Reichstagg.

"Nothing lights up the brain like play," states Dr. Brown, "or gets the cerebellum working, fires up the memory, stimulates creativity" -- and all that other good stuff. "Play is imperative to our survival."

So much for the theory of "Tiger Moms".

If Dr. Brown is right and play is almost as important as sleep, then if America is ever to get back on track, we obviously need to put the "Party" back into our politics. And we especially need to put playfulness back into the sadly-misnamed Tea "Party," the party-pooping "Party of No" and the Pentagon's "War" party too. These guys are all downers!

Let's also consider all those whiners who are constantly complaining about how much they hate "Big Government". These guys need to learn how to lighten up! After all, they are the ones who put all those glum and greedy corporatists who now own our government into power in the first place. But wouldn't it be more fun to stop whining and crying about this phantom "Big Government" that they themselves created -- and send all those greedy corporatists to jail instead? "Party at the Big House!"

For right-wingers and Teabaggers to complain about Big Government nowadays is like complaining that your neighbors' music is too loud -- but only after you bought them the latest high-tech stereo sound-surround system, Metallica's entire CD collection and a copy of Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy". Not a legitimate gripe.

Further, according to Dr. Brown, "The opposite of a life without play is depression". Can't disagree with him on that one either. And since America is clearly in the middle of a huge economic depression right now, there is only one sure way to cure it. Let's play our way out!

It's never too late to have a happy childhood, America. Let's spend seven trillion dollars on kids' toys instead of on war toys.
Let's put the "PARTY" back into political thinking. Let's fix what's wrong with our nation and savor what is right with it -- and let's have fun doing it too.

PS: Human beings play. Corporations do not. According to Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens,
“Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires...." They don't frolic, gambol or score touchdowns. Corporations are serious as a heart-attack. Ergo, a corporation is NOT a person.

PPS: My three-year-old granddaughter Mena just came home from her first day at a "play-based" pre-school -- and here's what the blurb they sent home with her says about that: "In this program, play is seen as the leading skill-development activity for young children. The teacher's role is to support the development of intentional dramatic play, which fosters self-regulation, memory and focused attention as well as developing academic skills in literacy and math."

So. I'm thinking that people like Glenn Beck and John Boehner, who apparently are able to whine and cry on cue, might really benefit from a refresher course at Mena's pre-school. And what about all those other corporatist party-poopers who we constantly see sobbing -- all the way to the bank? Obviously they could benefit from Mena's pre-school philosophy too.

And the boys in the back room who run our Congress, White House and Supreme Court would also clearly benefit from learning about "self-regulation, skill development and focused attention" -- instead of just wasting their formative years grimly and bleakly studying ways to rip America off.

PPPS: Does spending major time on the computer trying to win at solitaire also count as play?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My report on a forum regarding small businesses in Berkeley

On January 24, 2011, our local Berkeleyside blog sponsored a very informative forum on the subject of small businesses -- and I went to it. The first panel consisted of Carl Bass, CEO of AutoDesk, and Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine. Bass spoke on the many advantages that Berkeley has to offer anyone who might be considering starting up a tech-oriented small business here. "You have access to the global supply chain, labor, assets, IT, creativity and ideas. Stanford gave birth to Silicon Valley. UC Berkeley, one of the top research universities in the world, could also give birth to something on that scale of innovation."

It was nice to be gently reminded that we have all kinds of smart people living here in Berkeley, that we have a top-drawer university to draw on, that we have all the Right Stuff.

Then Anderson spoke with regard to the wonders of Berkeley's tech start-up possibilities. "This is a great time for small enterprises," he said, illustrating his convictions with examples from his own inventiveness and those from the new Maker Movement, which is driven by small-business entrepreneurs working out of the basements and garages of America.

Both Anderson and Bass live here in Berkeley and both men pounded home their main point several times -- that Berkeley is a real idea-creating town and that we should take that reality and run with it. Listening to them, I got all enthusiastic about the future of Berkeley even in these difficult economic times.

Then another panel was formed and various local business people also spoke on the possibilities of making Berkeley an even more exciting place to live, work and create.

And then somehow the forum got hijacked by people from the audience who seemed to only want to talk about making Berkeley safe for developers. Been there, done that. No thanks. Let's go back to listening to Anderson and Bass!

I would have preferred it if audience members would have stopped dissing the homeless on Telegraph and the slow permit process and the roadblocks to paving over paradise -- and instead started trying to figure out how to harness Berkeley's legendary creativity, our "Think outside the Box" abilities, all those 36,000 eager UC students who flow through our town, our great primary schools, our compassion-before-greed POV, our writers, our artists, our filmmakers.... I get worn out just THINKING about Berkeley's wonderfulness!

This forum was important to me because it got me to thinking about my hometown and its future and what wonderful things can and should be happening here next. Plus they served free pizza at the forum, always a plus.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Iran vs. KFC: Chickening out in Tehran and Yazd

In a pissing contest between the United States and Iran, it's hard to tell who would win. Of course America is bigger and has more nuclear weapons, but Iran is more self-sufficient due to its broader manufacturing base.

Americans used to be much more free than Iranians -- but times may have changed. When you consider the recent FBI raids in Minneapolis, Congressional renewal of that slimy PATRIOT Act, waterboarding's sudden wide popularity, our suspended habeas corpus protections, wholesale election giveaways to Citizens United and Diebold, AT&T wiretapping, executive privileges to detain and assassinate U.S. citizens, Arizona's recent driving-while-Mexican laws and all those happy crotch-gropers at TSA, our country seems to be trying just as hard as it can to catch up with the hardliners in Tehran.

Yet despite the fact that hard-line mullahs are basically running the show in Iran right now, it is still one of the most democratic countries in the Middle East when you compare Iran with a majority of other countries in that region that are currently run by or have been run in the past by the many tyrannical losers that America has happily hand-picked and financed over the last 60 years. Then suddenly Iran doesn't look so bad.

America has poured billions of our good taxpayer dollars into supporting all kinds of tyrants and dictatorships in the Middle East, including (but not limited to) Saddam Hussein, the decadent House of Saud, Hamid Karzai's brother who is the top heroin supplier in the world, that famous CIA tool Osama bin Ladin, the notorious former Shah of Iran, those Kuwaiti losers who sucked us into the Gulf War, that corrupt guy in Yemen, Washington's current BFF in Egypt, good old Ariel Sharon aka the Butcher of Shatila, that American-owned punk who was just thrown out of Tunisia -- and I forget who all else. (

If you compare the natural resources of Iran with those of America, the U.S. certainly does have lots of oil -- but then Iran has lots of oil too. We also have lots of farmland, but then so does northern Iran. Our national parks are awesome, but Iran's historical architectural sites are also superb.

Gasoline in Iran now costs $2.80 per gallon, due to a recent 400% increase. But gas at my local gas station costs $3.50 per gallon, so Iran has the slight edge there. Profits from oil revenue in Iran appear to be going toward upgrading of the Iranian economy, infrastructure, military and social services. American gas companies' profits, on the other hand, appear to be going toward buying new Beemers and Porsches for their CEOs.

Financially speaking, the U.S. banks on its dollars -- while Iran uses euros. But which currency is stronger? It's hard to tell. However, with gold now selling at an unbelievable $1,367 an ounce and both the U.S. and the E.U. having economic problems these days, I think that almost everyone is losing that particular race -- even China.

Iran is a flat-out theocracy now -- but according to Bush, Beck and Boehner, America is a theocracy-wannabe in the making, a "theocracy" ruled by corporations. Not Jesus.

Currently, Iran is ruled by Islamic ayatollahs and America is ruled by corporations. Let's compare. In Islam, people fast for one month a year in order to learn compassion for those who have less than they do. In addition, good Muslims are required to give a portion of their income to charity. Under these house rules, there is a fair chance that the ayatollahs of Iran will be motivated by their religion to help those they rule -- thus there is always a chance for redemption.

However, the corporations that now rule America have proven again and again that they are motivated solely by greed. And while everyone in America seems to be complaining about Big Government these days, the truth is that "government" -- big or small -- no longer rules America. Corporations do. There's been a bloodless revolution in our country. America is now ruled by K Street.

Corporations now own America on every level -- and we Americans stood passively by and allowed this disaster to happen. America's government no longer serves us. America's government now serves them. There's been a bloodless coup here in America and now it appears that we are ruled solely by greed -- and greed has no chance for redemption.

Here's another comparison between Iran and America: If asked the question, "Does the Iranian government systematically lie to its citizens?" I would probably have to say yes. But compared to the vast amount of lying to its citizens that goes on in America today --- as revealed recently by Wikileaks -- who knows which country would come out the winner here? The American government, however, appears to have gained the winning edge in this contest.

One in four Iranians don't have healthcare coverage. One in six Americans don't have healthcare coverage. America is only slightly ahead here.

But there is one area where America has clearly beaten Iran h
ands down. No contest here at all! America is far better at cooking chicken. Even KFC chicken is better than most of the chicken I ate in Iran -- and I have evidence to prove it.

When I toured Iran two years ago, almost everywhere I went, I got served dry, over-cooked chicken. America wins the chicken-cooking Olympics hands down!

Iran may occasionally use an iron fist on dissenters who disagree with its presidential election results -- whereas America still uses its velvet glove. Iran may have much of the European oil market sewed up, a much broader manufacturing base and apparently-strong alliances with Russia and China, but America has won out over Iran hands down when it comes to cooking chicken!

PS: Here's a report on my two-day trip to Yazd, one of Iran's wonderful tourist destinations. Eat your heart out, Rick Steves!

October 13: On my last day in Tehran, the hotel waitress served me a large glass of hot milk and coffee -- which somehow hit me as being the height of decadent luxury. Hey, don't laugh. It's something that I never indulge in at home. And there were dates and yogurt for breakfast as well. This is about the most exotic thing I can say about Tehran. Almost everything else here is fairly Westernized. Iran is a truly Westernized country. I don't think that Americans realize that Iranians are not "camel jockeys" at all.

Then our guide told us a joke about the sanctions. "One day a Persian died and was sent to Hell because he was from the Axis of Evil. In Hell, he looked around and one section of Hell looked sort of fun. 'This is the Persian Hell,' he was told. 'Why is it not like the American Hell where you get burning tar poured into your mouth through a funnel every day?' 'Ah because this is the Persian Hell and we are very disorganized -- plus we have sanctions, so that one day we don't have the tar and the next day we don't have the funnel.'"

Then we drove along a street that used to be called "Eisenhower Boulevard". Now it is called "Freedom Street".

After the revolution, the very first company to come to Iran was Coca-Cola," said our guide. "Also Iran is the world's second largest exporter of copper."
And also the second largest producer of oil.

"So how are the sanctions working?" I asked.

"Not as well as expected -- for two reasons.
First, the European community has too many investments here to support most sanctions, and, second, Iran is industrially self-sufficient in a whole bunch of areas. We even make our own cars." If sanctions were ever applied to America, we'd be screwed -- because we are not, not, not industrially self-sufficient.

Our plane to Yazd is going to be delayed," said our guide. "This is due to sanctions.
Airplanes and airplane parts are being sanctioned." "But why?" It's not like these planes are being used for military purposes or nothing. And doesn't that put civilians in danger?"

"Yes, the sanctions do put civilians in danger.
We have had several disastrous plane crashs recently due to sanctions, and it's also hard to make airplane repairs. We are forced to improvise. Plus we rent planes from other countries -- from Russia, Turkey and even Bulgaria. Many of our planes are in such poor shape that they aren't even allowed to land at European airports." Great. That's just what I needed to hear right before our flight to Yazd takes off. "But don't worry. We are flying on a Dutch plane today."

"But why doesn't Iran make its own planes?"

"Specialization. In today's world economy, it's not possible to make everything."
Oh. So the sanctions actually do end up hurting Iran? "Yes. However, the EU can trade with Iran for anything up to 20 million dollars, and there is a lively black market." But what black market do you go to if you want to buy airplane parts? And, more important, will they serve lunch on our flight?

Once on the plane, the captain announced, "We can't take off just yet because we are missing a...."
I couldn't hear exactly what it was that we were missing -- but do I really want to know?

There was a famous Iranian actor aboard our flight and he came over to talk with us.
He is famous for his detective roles in various murder mystery shows. "I hear that you are the Iranian Sherlock Holmes," someone said.

The actor smiled and replied, "Yes. Only I'm better." We all laughed.

The city of Yazd appears to be pretty big from the air. But who cares! I just want to see Yazd from the ground!

This city is located out in the semi-desert so it is famous for its water irrigation systems, first developed in 500 BC. "Yazdi citizens are hard-working, honest and never lie. They are famous for their ability to grow things. They are farmers." There is snow on the nearby mountains in the winter and it is then channeled down into the city through its underground irrigation systems -- which gives Yazd lots of parks and trees.

"Yazd was also an oasis on the Silk Road, so here is the place to buy silk. And here's a joke about Yazd. A man came home and told his wife to make both of them some eggs, but then he went up to the roof to fix the TV antenna and fell off the roof. 'Make that only one egg!' he yelled to his wife on the way down. Yazdis are famous for being careful with their money."

This is a desert city, more like Iraq than Tehran geographically. "According to UNESCO, this is the second-oldest city in the world. It is a World Heritage Site. And our hotel used to be a merchant's home 200 years ago, with fountains and gardens and domed ceilings." And an internet cafe!

"Next we are going to Yazd's Friday mosque and to some rug shops." The carpets at the shop looked almost magical enough to be able to fly and because the shop was run by Zoroastrians, we got to take off our headscarves. “See all those rugs? All hand-tied and reasonably priced.“ My daughter Ashley needs a rug but even the cheapest ones cost $700 apiece. "In America, this one would cost $5,000 – it represents one and a half year's work." Sorry, but I still can't afford it. But these rugs definitely filled me with lust. "But we take MasterCard." I don't dare even touch these rugs.

"Zoroastrians don't believe in killing so we go to the forests and take the silk after the butterfly has left its cocoon. This type of silk is called wild silk."

Then at a local cafe I talked with another Iranian who told me something that really surprised me. "Ahmadinejad is to Iran what Bush was to America. They both ran for election on an 'ownership society' platform. Ahmadinejad promised us economic prosperity and all that same 'I'm a uniter not a divider' stuff -- but in the end he turned out to be only a tool of Iran’s richest families and a drum major for confrontation and war."

What else did I learn from my talk with the Yazdi? "I served in the army during the Iran-Iraq war. It was a time from Hell. I watched my best friends be killed."

"What started that war?"

"The Iraqis started it. With the backing of the United States, they tried to seize one of our most oil-rich provinces." >Aha. And now Israel has taken the place of Iraq when it comes to sabre-rattling. What's with all this hatred of Iran?

"It's not so much hatred of Iran," my new friend said. "It's the Americans in power who want to divide and conquer the Middle East, get control of the oil and promote weapons sales. Even Israel is a fall-guy in this scenario -- and Saudi Arabia definitely is. The U.S. always wants to have a bogey-man in the region so they can sell arms to Iran, Iraq. Israel, Saudi Arabia and everyone else. You really have to live in the Middle East to understand all this stuff."

No wonder the people of Tehran are more interested in shopping at Gucci than in making war.

Then we went out to dinner in a wonderful moonlit courtyard with a fountain -- but there was no dessert. Bummer.

October 14: "This morning, we are going to go climb a mountain. It is the Sacred Tower of the Zoroastrians." I'm sorry but the Zoroastrians are just going to have to wait. My knees hurt too much to go climbing no darn mountain. And I need a mental health day too.

"Can I stay home this morning? Please?" No problem. So I got to read late in bed and poke around at the hotel's computer and catch up with my blog. Admit it, Jane.

I do like Yazd a lot. It's so Arabian Nights in a way that Tehran will never be.

Then, after a wonderful quiet morning, a taxi came and whisked me away to meet my tour group for lunch. Prawns, lamb, fish and pomegranate sauce. Grapes for dessert.

"You missed the Silent Tower and the Zoroastrian temple of fire," said my new roommate. But she had photos. The tower looked like a dust-covered hill but the temple looked interesting. "That fire has been burning continuously since the 12th century." That's hot.

Next we went to an 18th-century palace or castle or something. "This is the residence of the governor of Yazd," said the sign. The main palace had a garden with a reflecting pool a half-mile long. I took a photo of part of it but was too lazy to walk to the end. But it would have been a really good shot.

"The oldest building we have in Iran is from approximately 13th-century BC, but Iran has gone through four different building styles since then, including desert ziggurats built so that mountain people could feel at home in the flatlands. And then after that came the Greek post-and-lentil style and the arched-dome look." Or words to that effect. There is a lot of architectural diversity here. This palace looked like parts of its style were stolen from India and Egypt. But we didn't get to see a seraglio like the sign at the entrance had promised.

Then the driver of some car hit our bus and, after having spent years writing personal injury settlement briefs for a law office, I was very interested to see how all this was going to go down. Could we sue for whiplash or what?
The confrontation was in Farsi but I got a quick translation from our guide. "You hit my bus!"

"I did not! I was standing still! You hit me!"
"Did not!"

"Did so!" Then both drivers decided that it would be a bad idea to get the police involved -- and that was that.

Then we visited a prison run by Alexander the Great and I got a photo of me in chains and leg-irons, hanging from the wall. I not only stood in the same spot where Alexander the Great had stood but I also got to play S&M too. Plus Alexander the Great's prison actually had a concession stand and I bought a bag of corn chips too. Not Fritos, however.

Then we went off to a 14th-century mosque and another Zoroastrian rug shop that took both Visa and MasterCard. I love to look at these rugs. I took tons of photos. Then we met some young tourists from Tehran. "You are touring the mosques here too?" I asked.

Next we wandered around Yazd's "Old Town" section -- gardens, walled houses, and narrow arched and domed passageways with whole families perched on motorcycles that roared up and down them. You shoulda seen the look on one two-year-old's face.

Then we went off and photographed more rugs. I'm going to go home and figure out how to put photos of rugs on my floor. One of the young women in our group found a rug that she really wanted but couldn't afford so we all joked that she could start a corporation, sell shares in her rug to us and go public. "And we could have an annual shareholders' meeting at your house and sell the rug in ten years for a fabulous profit." Or not.

"The rug itself is 40 years old but the pattern comes from 2,500 years ago. It's a Bijar, and took one and a half years to make." But the young woman still couldn't make up her mind.

"Would you like me to do a Tibetan Buddhist divination on it? Would that help?" I asked.

"Yes." But the divination came up -- twice -- with the opinion that it would be best for the young woman to make up her own mind. "I can't decide!" she wailed. Who could blame her? It was a fabulous rug but $1,200 is a lot of money when you're young. Hell, it's a lot of money for me too -- and I'm old.

Will she buy the rug? Or not? Stay tuned.

"I'll take another $100 off the price," said our carpet guy."I'll buy it!" Good decision.

Then we walked through the local bazaar and I saw some rugs on sale for only $20. "But those rugs are made in China!" our guide cried, shocked.

"But they are within my budget," I replied and lusted after these rugs too. But it was not to be. They were too big to carry home in my suitcase.

Tonight at dinner I sat next to the bus driver and got the whole story on what really happened after the accident this afternoon. "It was clear that the accident was the other driver's fault," he said, "but however..... There were about five men on the street who thought it disrespectful of me to hold it against her." Apparently the other driver had been dressed in that full-drag black hooded outfit that pious women in Iran wear, so all five men wanted to defend her honor.

"Then, to make matters worse," the bus driver continued, "the lady then called up her boyfriend and asked him to come down." So we've got five angry men and one angry boyfriend yelling at said bus driver. "So I did the expedient thing -- got the hell back on the bus and drove off." Or words to that effect. The bus driver's English wasn't all that good.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

If I was Jesus or Harry Potter, we'd have peace in this world

Yesterday I went down to Thrift Town in San Leandro and bought my three-year-old granddaughter Mena a used Fisher-Price three-story parking garage and three bags full of recycled Matchbox cars, broken Transformers, miniature horses and a dinosaur. And when we got back home, Mena immediately set to work creating her own little world.

I was so impressed with the world that Mena had created that I decided to create my own little world too.

If you had the power of Jesus or Harry Potter to create any world that you wanted, what kind of world would you create? Here's what I would do:

First, I would make every man on this planet impotent. Yes, that's I-M-P-O-T-E-N-T, you heard me right. Sorry, guys, but not even Viagra will help you here. "But why?" you might ask. Why? So that after ten years' time with no children being born, human beings might actually finally wake up and start appreciating the true wonder of children again and stop starving them, beating them and dropping bombs on their heads.

Second, I'd destroy every single nuclear weapon in the world. It would be as if the Manhattan Project had never existed. Sorry, J. Robert Oppenheimer, but no more glory days for you. And Julius and Ethel Rosenberg will have gotten on with their lives instead of being electrocuted and there would have been no Hiroshima, no Chernobyl and no DU babies born without arms, legs and heads in Kosovo and Fallugah.

Third, I'd wave my magic wand over Wall Street and the Pentagon. Poof. Southern Manhattan would now have a new Central Park where that worthless stock exchange/casino/den of thieves used to be, and Washington DC would have a fabulous new homeless shelter instead of its current five-sided death machine/money pit/home of Lord Voldemort.

And the next miracle that I would ask for would be that all interstate highways in America would suddenly have traffic signals installed at approximately every third mile, that all international airports -- including military airbases like Lackland and Bagram -- would suddenly get fogged in forever, and that any container ships and oil tankers larger than the Mayflower would be instantly converted into floating hospitals and houseboats (and cruise ships too perhaps? I'm not quite THAT saintly.)

Let's go back to the good old days when it was harder to get from place to place and you had to manufacture your own stuff locally.

And last, I'd really get to the real heart of the matter and magically change mankind into becoming more like Christ than the Devil, more like Harry Potter than Lord Voldemort. Guns, knives, bombs, poisons and trans-fats don't kill people. People kill people. No more killing! And no more mean, cruel, violent, vicious or evil types of misbehaving out there either, you hear? It's time to grow up and evolve, guys -- or else Harry Potter or Jesus will make you disappear too.

And then we'd finally have a world that would be safe for our grandchildren to grow up in.

Now wouldn't that be nice.

"But Jane," you might say, "all this evolved-mankind-wonderfulness stuff you're talking about is just wistful thinking. The human race ain't gonna ever change." Yeah well, that still can't keep me from being an idealist and hoping.

In all of human history, there has never been a time when mankind has been blessed with so much individual wealth as we are today. The affluence of each average American citizen, even in these very economically-troubled times, would have been unequaled even by ancient emperors, pashas and Khans.

And what have Americans become as a result of all this mind-boggling, unheard-of excess of wealth? We've become lying, greedy killers -- never satisfied; always lying, cheating and killing in order to grab up even more stuff.

One million Iraqis now lie dead in their graves because of us -- not to mention the millions of dead corpses that we have created in far-off places like Chile, Vietnam, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, Cambodia, Africa, Korea, South America, Wounded Knee....

The world that I want to create has just GOT to be better than the world that we now have.


Photos are of barley-flour offerings sculpted by Buddhist monks at a three-month-long liturgy being performed daily in Alameda, CA -- prayers for peace. For more information on how to attend the liturgies or to donate toward buying more barley flour, click here:

Friday, January 07, 2011

The GOP sell-out: Teabaggers shoulda become Progressives instead

Sometimes when you look at the Tea Party agenda, you think that you are looking at a Progressive's dream come true. They want to cut down on the influence of party hacks and lobbyists in Washington. I'm a Progressive. I want that too!

Teabaggers want states' rights, Constitutional rights, individual rights and financial safety for their families. Me too. They want bankers to stop getting away with stealing trillions of OUR dollars. They want an end to a horrific deficit that mostly goes into the pockets of fat cats. Those are agenda items that I too support 100%.

The Tea Partiers speak reverently of liberty, justice and freedom. And isn't that the whole point of being a Progressive? It is for me. And what about Truth? Both sides seem to like the concept of Truth a lot.

And smaller government? The Teabaggers are definitely in favor of that -- and so am I. I'd love to see the Pentagon budget get cut by half, all that pork-barreling stop, TARPS ripped out from under the wealthy and "No Child Left Behind" left in the dust.

There are so many things that Teabaggers and Progressives have in common. And yet the Tea Party turned to the GOP for hope, shelter and consolation. Isn't that a bit like Little Red Riding Hood turning to the Big Bad Wolf for help? "Lie to me," Tea Partiers begged the Republicans. And the GOP did. Bigtime.

And yet Progressives don't lie. But the Tea Party hates us anyway. Why oh why is that? Progressives walk the walk. But the GOP just talks the talk. Why chose Them over Us? Forming a Tea Party alliance with the GOP just doesn't make sense.

To quote Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone, "The GOP leadership largely succeeded this past fall in appropriating the political energy of the Tea Party for its own ends, pulling off a brilliant coup by using Tea Party rage to push through the long sought-after extension of the obscene Bush tax cuts. This was always going to be the model of how Republican Party hacks would deal with the Tea Party: Bash the living hell out of hated blue-state Gorgons like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, jack off the mob by incorporating the Tea Party's Constitution-and-liberty rhetoric, hand the Tea Party those reforms that the GOP's big campaign contributors want anyway (most notably, tax breaks for the rich and deregulation of big business), and then cough up a note from the doctor or some other lame excuse when the time comes to actually cut spending."

While I truly do not see what Teabaggers have against Progressives, I can see very clearly why Tea Partiers should hate-hate-hate the Republicans. And yet it is the GOP that Teabaggers choose to climb into bed with. And even as they are getting royally screwed by Republican fat cats, Tea Partiers apparently don't even have the moxie to ask for payment for their services after the dirty deed is done.

Go figure.

PS: If Teabaggers and Progressives could finally begin to see their common ground and actually begin to work together, America might actually become an honest and decent place once again.

As Matt Taibbi clearly states, "
Congress used to be an easy job for any man with a nice fairway stroke, a limited moral compass and a keen sense of bureaucratic loyalty.... But things are different now. America is so broke, there's no longer really any money in the Treasury to give away — the job of overseeing corporate handouts that used to belong to the leaders of Congress has now moved to the Federal Reserve, which itself is so broke that it has to invent dollars out of thin air before it can give them away to influential billionaires. This leaves congressional leaders with nothing to do but their ostensible jobs — i.e., fixing the country's actual problems — and few of the current leaders have any experience with that, Boehner being a prime example.... He now finds himself the party's last line of defense against millions of angry voters who, for the first time in recent memory, are at least attempting to watch what Congress is up to."

I'm an angry voter. And the Tea Partiers are angry voters too. So let's stop all this hatin' on each other, team up, work together,
and take our American democracy back from the oligarchs and fat cats who own it now.

Boy, I bet that fat cats like Boehner, Beck, Palin and the owners of the New York Times and Washington Post would HATE to see Progressives and Teabaggers united -- instead of happily at each others' throats and distracted away from this oligarchy's own lies and misdeeds.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Why agribusiness doesn't work: It bypasses farmers

Do you know why it's so important to have immigrants from Mexico come up and work in the USA these days? Here's why: Most Mexican immigrants are good workers, agriculture is a labor-intensive industry and most of us Americans aren't about to go out into the hot, dirty fields of Kansas and do it ourselves. So. If we aren't going to do all this farming ourselves, then we need to either find someone else to do it or starve.

Can I actually imagine myself getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to go milk a bunch of weird, smelly cows? That would be no.

As my friend Joe Thompson describes it, "When I was a kid, I used to milk cows by hand and, yep, I got up at five o'clock in the morning to milk and feed the dairy herd before going to school. It was a cold/hot nasty job. And my job as a farmer's son didn't just stop with the milking. I also delivered calves, loaded the wagon full of corn by hand and then took it off to the mill. It is an occupation without end. I had to load cow manure into the spreader and spread it on the fields. There was mud everywhere. I certainly wouldn't do it again."

Aside from the undocumented Mexican farm workers that Teabaggers seem to be always bitching about, who the freak wants to be a farmer these days?

Monsanto does.

But Monsanto wants to do farming the easy way -- by spraying everything that isn't nailed down with poison and then genetically modifying everything that's left.

That's all very nice for Monsanto right now but I'll bet you anything that their city-slicker methods of farming aren't gonna be able to hang tough for the long run. Why?

First, because as they say in that movie "Food, Inc.", "If you knew what is in your food, you wouldn't want to eat it." When it comes to mass-producing sci-fi-style chemically-induced crops, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland and them appear to be able to grind food out rapidly -- but eventually we'll all just get tired of dying of pesticide-related cancers and factory-farm-related salmonella and start wanting to eat organic instead.

you just can't go on tinkering around with genetically-modified crops and oil-based fertilizer and stuff like that forever without pissing off Mother Nature. And when that unavoidable showdown with Mother Nature finally occurs and Monsanto's toxically contaminated "soil" all erodes and people start getting more and more sickly from GM crops and our oil runs out so that agribusiness can't run all that massive farming machinery or make artificial fertilizers and pesticides any more, we'll be screwed.

Real farming is a labor-intensive operation. It always has been and it always will be. And for this reason, agribusiness simply can't go the distance in the farming world -- even despite how hard they have tried to stamp out small farmers by suing them and even despite all those HUGE government subsidies that agribusinesses currently receive from taxpayers like you and me.

And when Monsanto's "Instant Farmer" methods all fail sooner or later, then Americans are going to be forced to go back to using shovels and rakes and hoes just like our great-grandparents used to do -- whether we like mucking about in the dirt and getting our hands calloused or not.

However, there is going to be one really big difference between us and our great-grandparents -- we will be doing all the same necessary-but-boring farmer-related chores that they did, only we will be doing them in the New Farmlands, the ones that we will be forced to create in the backyards of what we used to call "Suburbia".

So. Perhaps it's time for America to get a jump on the future right now, stop being such couch-potato wimps and start bringing REAL farming back into style -- while we still can.

PS: One way that we could start making farming popular again is to stop paying all those huge subsidies that we taxpayers annually pour into the "ear-marked" deep pockets of agribusiness corporations and give all that money back to us newly-minted farmer-taxpayers instead. Heck, if you paid me enough money, even I might be willing to give farming a try.

"Grow your own!"

Not only that but in America today, becoming a back-yard farmer is becoming a revolutionary act! You can, apparently, even be jailed for it if you plant the wrong kind of corn (thank you, Monsanto). So. Go out there, get messy and be revolting!

To quote Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, "We may feel, in the face of the ruthless corporate destruction of our nation, our culture and our ecosystem, powerless and weak. But we are not. We have a power that terrifies the corporate state. Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up or how heavily it is censored by a media that caters to the needs and profits of corporations, chips away at corporate power." Go Farmer Chris!

PPS: By making agriculture more labor-intensive, we could also give more Americans more jobs. Plus we'll all look so cute in our new Oshkosh-by-Gosh bib overalls.

PPPS: I'm a lousy farmer. I can't even grow weeds in my own postage-stamp-sized back yard -- let alone in the fields of Kansas. Why? Because farming is hard work and I'm lazy and would rather be typing away on my computer. But human beings can live without blogging. However, we can't live without food.

PPPPS: Vegetation is everywhere, even in the cracks in the sidewalks of Manhattan. Too bad we can't just eat weeds and grass -- but we can't. Heck, we can't even live on Coca-Cola and Twinkies!

PPPPPS: The recent wildfires in Israel have also proved my point. Approximately 90 years ago, most of that whole area which is now ashes was covered with olive groves which were carefully tended by Palestinian farmers. Tending those olive groves was a very labor-intensive operation. And it worked.

Then back around the 1920s, European "settlers" stormed into this area and either killed or drove off most farmers, pulled up all of the olive trees and planted pine trees there instead. "We wanted to make it look more like Europe," was their rationale.

The result? Millions of pine trees that didn't belong in Israel/Palestine have recently gone up in smoke. And millions of old-growth olive trees there are also missing in action, so that now we gotta rely mostly on Italy and Spain for our olive oil. That's great news for Italy and Spain -- but very bad news for Israel/Palestine, which now has neither the productive olive trees left, nor the pine trees nor even the farmers.

PPPPPPS: Agribusiness just did it again! Apparently, lobbyists hired by the German agri-chemical giant Bayer have just convinced the EPA to not ban a pesticide known to be killing off bees. Huh? You don't believe that people could be that stupid? Just check this out:

According to
investigative journalist Bill Berkowitz, "A leaked document reveals that the EPA is disregarding findings 'that widespread use of clothianidin imperils the health of the nation's honeybees' says a Colorado beekeeper, the recipient of the document. If the Environmental Protection Agency had evidence that a specific pesticide might be at least in part responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder, a dreadful syndrome named for the devastation of the bee population, you would expect the agency to act on that information." Duh, yeah.

Almost everyone -- except, apparently, for the knuckleheads at the EPA and Bayer -- knows that if bees disappear, we'll have no more fruit, vegetables, nuts or cotton. Period. Therefore,
clothianidin must be banned.

"However, according to Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald, the EPA is doing just the opposite; upgrading the pesticide's classification and continuing to make it available." Huh?

Would a REAL farmer do something like that?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Dawn Treader: Applying for the next flotilla to Gaza

On New Years Day, me and my family all trudged off to see "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and once again got inspired to take sword in hand and fight against Injustice and the Bad Guys. I wanna be Queen Lucy! (But non-violently of course).

And now I just may get my chance.

Sometime in April of 2011, many American and European peace-and-justice organizations plan to join together and launch yet another humanitarian flotilla of boats and ships to Gaza, in an effort to bring food, medicine, books and building supplies to the illegally-besieged men, women and children there -- trying to relieve their suffering under the Dark Lords who have kept them chained and imprisoned. How heroic is that! I wanna go!

But, unfortunately, I won't be able to do anything that involves fighting giant sea monsters and dueling with dragons -- because of my sore foot and bad knees.

"But Jane -- maybe you won't have to fight any dragons," you might say. "I hear that this voyage is going to be completely nonviolent. All they are going to do is sail to Gaza, drop off humanitarian supplies and leave. Think school notepads. Think penicillin. Think toothbrushes."

Yeah, okay, but -- what will happen if we DO come under attack? How the freak will I be able to inform the Bad Guys (who will be coming after me with battleships and helicopters and ski masks) to just leave me alone because I'm the next Gandhi -- as they violently charge at me with tear gas, crowbars, assault rifles, hand guns and vicious mean dogs!

How did Gandhi manage to remain nonviolent in the face of all that -- when even Queen Lucy couldn't do it? Snaps for Gandhi. Any fool can fire a machine gun, drop a bomb, plant a roadside device -- or even use a sword. You really gotta be a real hero to be as brave as Gandhi.

PS: I really liked "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which took place at a time before guns were invented and all fighting was done hand-to-hand. It may not have been as nonviolent as I would have liked it to be but at least when you are locked in swashbuckling combat, you at least get to see your enemy up close and personal before you kill them or they kill you. Now the whole thing is just done with artillery and drones.

PPS: Wanna go sail on the "Dawn Treader" flotilla to Gaza yourself? Here's a link to instructions on how to submit your application:

PPPS: According to the Huffington Post, Wikileaks just announced that, "Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was meant to push the area's economy 'to the brink of collapse,' according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks on Wednesday, signaling that Israel was well aware that the policy was taking a heavy toll on the area's civilian population."

Isn't that illegal? And immoral? But, hey, at least it's not fattening -- that is if you are a malnourished three-year-old living in Gaza