Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I'm worried about my dear wife. This morning as I was earlier writing she came and sat beside me and we engaged in some light conversation. The nature of that conversation is what has me worried. She asked if I remembered when her mother, Lennie, had passed away -- no problem, I don't remember exact dates very well myself, but it was quick and easy to look up in family records so I got that information for her. Then, she asked if her mother was still working full-time just before her death. No. And Glenda should have known that. Her mother had been retired for many years and had travelled quite extensively prior to her death. Then the question that really gave me pause: Who was her mother married to when she died? Oh, my stars! Lennie was married to Gerald Eisenhauer at the time of her death; she had been married to Gerry for many years and Gerry was well known to Glenda. Glenda is fond of her step-father.

Glenda's memory has been troublesome of late but that has been mostly short-term forgetfulness. This scares me as it's the first time I've seen something so fundamental slip from her longer term memory. My two eldest siblings both slid into Alzheimer's-like memory deficits in their '80s as did my mother. I expect that will be my fate, as well, but Oh! how I hate to see Glenda moving that way so early in her life, and if we both go, who will care for her? Will I also be a burden on our children. How I hate the thought of being a burden rather than a blessing in my children's lives.

Trying to make the eternities EZ.

5:00 A.M., April 18, 2018. The outside temperature is 68 F., humidity 60%; soft breeze out of the East and I'm sitting poolside in my bathrobe pondering the mysteries of life, the universe, and the eternities. The sky is mostly cloudy, so no stars are in view in the heavens. I'm trying to quiet my lizard brain so I can hear any message the Universe may want to send me. In particular, I would like to know (1) what it is I am to learn from this life, and (2) what, specifically, I should do to be of service to others.

What is the nature of sin? From what I can understand from lectures, sermons, and scriptures I believe that the bedrock of sin is selfishness. Putting oneself before all else and failing to respect others, failing in controlling our emotions. If we look at the 10 Commandments we find that mostly they ask us to recognize and respect a higher power, to respect others, and to bypass that that we may want so as to not harm others. The first four, in particular, seem to me to ask us to recognize and respect that higher power. (Note: The quotes of the Commandments that follow are taken from a New English Version of the Old Testament.)

1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shall not have any gods before me.
2, You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Number 4. I think we need to remember that Jesus pointed out to us that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and that the "violation" of the Sabbath law he was accused of was reasonable, logical, and therefore not a violation. Seems to me we need to be careful to not become Pharisaical giving obeisance to the letter of the law and overlooking the spirit of the law.

Number 5 is all about respect; respect the person, respect their property (and thus the time and effort it has taken to obtain said property):

5. Honor your father and your mother.

Number 6 asks us to control our emotions (especially anger and jealousy) and to not use violence to eliminate an obstacle to what we may want.

6. You shall not murder.

Seven, eight, and ten ask us to put others before our desires and to respect persons and property. Number seven is specific to persons (your spouse and others' spouses). 

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Number eight is all about property:

8. You shall not steal.

Ten lumps them all together: 

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house, wife, or property.

Nine seems out of order to me: I think it, in asking us to be honest, really goes back to respect and thus should follow close on to five. Or, it may be that the motivation of one who would be "tempted" to lie should be considered: Is the lie to selfishly protect ourselves from the results of a guilty action? Is it to get an obstacle to something we want out of the way? So greed, pride, and fear may all fall into line here.

9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

The nature of sin. Human nature. The natural man is an enemy to God; thus an enemy to us all? Christ brought us a "higher law" than the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law -- he came to fulfill that law and charged us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems that actions in line with the Ten Commandments would naturally flow from learning and living that love.

This morning, I've also pondered the nature of Perfection and with it, the nature of God. Scriptures teach us that God is Perfect. LDS doctrine teaches us that eternal progression is the law of heaven and to be barred from that eternal progression is akin to being sentenced to Hell for the eternities. If God is Perfect, how can he progress? Could it be that we as humans do not have an eternal understanding of the word perfect? Or could it be that our translation of scripture is less than perfect? We've lately been taught that when we are commanded to "Be ye therefore perfect..." in Matthew 4:48 what we are really being told is to come to Christ; know Christ; love Christ; follow Christ, and through his grace we will be perfected. Perhaps the true concept of perfection is beyond human understanding.

That's probably enough for today. I'd still like the spirit to whisper to me what, specifically, I should be doing to be of service to my fellow man each day.  

God bless!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Social interactions with morality are not EZ

This post is in regards to the recent enactment in the U.S. of FOSTA/SESTA and the legal actions resulting in the Website Backpage pleading guilty to human trafficking in Houston, Texas.

This is an extremely complex social and legal issue with intended AND unintended consequences. While I consider human trafficking to be an abomination (and I donate to O.U.R. to fight it); AND I generally appreciate Rep. Mia Love (cosponsor of FOSTA/SESTA) I'm convinced that pimps, mobsters, and madams all over the U.S. are celebrating the shutdown of the adult sections of Craigslist and Backpage. While the referenced guilty plea by Backpage certainly casts shade on their operations and intent, the libertarian and self-agency parts of me would rather see adult men and women able to safely and consensually manage themselves rather than having to rely on often-abusive "others" to ply their trades, even if those trades are less than innocent. Since we know that prostitution has existed since at least prior to the time of Judah and Tamar, prior to Joshua and Rahab, I doubt that our laws are going to eliminate that evil, as defined by our Judeo-Christian morality, but, rather, will force practitioners back into the shadows where they are prey rather than consensual practitioners.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reminiscing is EZ; International travel not so much.

A question was asked, on Quora: Have you, as a U.S. citizen, ever been denied entry to another country? Well, pull up a chair, children. I've a tale to tell:

Oh, yes! In 1990 I was living in Okinawa, Japan and working for the U.S. Military as a health-and-safety consultant. We provided consultative services to all U.S. organizations (military, State Department, Health and Human Services, etc.) located anywhere on the western edge of the Pacific Rim area from Alaska to New Zealand. We received a call from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia for some assistance and I was tagged to make the trip. At this time the only passport that I had was a “red” U.S. official passport — I had used that for all official travel for two years with no problem — it is what the U.S. Government, as my employer, had issued me. What I didn’t know was that Indonesia, at that time, did NOT recognize the U.S. official passport. All entry by U.S. citizens into Indonesia had to be done on a standard “blue” passport, with, at the least, an airline-issued visa. As I said, I didn’t know. But the good folks from the U.S. embassy in Jakarta knew. They also knew that I would be traveling with my red passport and didn’t bother to tell me about this little “detail.” My transit was on Northwest Airlines, and *they* didn’t object to my routing and documents, either.

On my arrival at the customs and immigration desk in Jakarta, the immigration official, dressed in OD green military fatigues, took my passport, eyed it, then me, then it, then me…and blew a big and loud silver whistle hanging from his neck. Looking up I saw two military uniformed men with semi-automatic-looking rifles hanging from their shoulders approaching rather rapidly. The man at the desk handed my passport to one of the military men and told me, “Go with them!” Well, what could I do? With one of the military men on either side of me, we proceeded to walk down the sloping floor of a long hallway away from the arrival area. This was distressing. This was pre-TSA and I’d never been treated like this. Even the facility seemed to echo doom and gloom with sickly yellow sulphur gas discharge lamps overhead, dark and unpleasant colors on the concrete walls, and a black non-skid rubberized flooring surface. Ahead I could see large automated glass doors and beyond that a crowded arrival plaza.

As we approached the doors they slid open and, I swear, Agent K and Agent J from Men in Black, suits, ties, sunglasses and all, exited a big black Chevy Suburban and swept quickly into the building. Of course it couldn't have been Agent K and Agent J as this was seven years before Men in Black was released for viewing. They approached the two Indonesian military men (the guys with the rifles) and began a rapid conversation in Malay. The conversation got a bit heated, with the sunglasses guys doing quite a bit of gesturing and head nodding. Finally, the taller of the sunglasses guys put an arm around the shoulder of one of the Indonesian military men and led him a few paces to the side—their conversation continued in a muted mumble for a few moments. Then the mood lightened and head nodding seemed the new norm for the four of them. The taller of the sunglasses guys (Agent K?), now with my red passport in his hand, turned to me and said, in English, “Come with us”. Out of the glass doors and into the black Suburban we went.

As we were driven away Agent J says, “Relax, we’re from the U.S. Embassy and are taking you there.”

“My luggage…?” I asked.

“Taken care of.” Said Agent K.

So it was. I was taken to the embassy compound and introduced to the people I’d be working with for the next few days and told that I was in custody of the U.S. Embassy staff rather than in an Indonesian jail as a courtesy to the U.S. extended due to good will by President Suharto. The embassy official made it very clear that I was not, under any circumstances, to leave the embassy compound. Well, not too tough. I was escorted to a deluxe room near the embassy restaurant and club, poolside, and found that all the creature comforts of a tropical resort were right there for me in my off-duty time. Off duty staff, spouses, and family were relaxing around the pool just outside my door. My luggage and professional equipment were already in my room. Not a bad way to spend a work week.

When my work was done with the embassy’s medical staff, I got a ride in the black Suburban back to the airport where I was escorted by the two sunglassed agents into the custody, again, of armed uniformed guards. The guards took me to the outgoing customs/immigration desk where the officer there stamped my passport with the date and, in bright red, the words, “DEPORTED—REENTRY DENIED.” I caught my Northwest flight back to Okinawa where I found I’d been upgraded to international business class.

So this is how I got deported from Indonesia. It still irks me that the embassy staff there allowed me to walk into the situation. In 1990, the internet was in its infancy, and it wasn’t so easy to research State Department advisories and travel information on the various countries. I had depended on the travel staff in Okinawa, the airline, and my U.S. Embassy hosts to let me know what I needed to know. In the end, they took good care of me, but I’ve got to admit to being just a bit frightened as I was initially led away from the immigration clerk’s desk. Thanks, men in black, for keeping my week in Indonesia EZ!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Creating walkable neighborhoods is not EZ!

What if you build it and they DON'T come?

Yesterday morning I took a pleasant one-and-a-half-mile walk. It was a great day for a walk-sunny, low humidity and temperature in the high 60s. The route was a loop in our suburban neighborhood which I took on in clockwise fashion. The streets are one auto-lane in each direction with speed limits of 30 mph. The streets also have clearly marked bicycle lanes on both sides and bus stops every block or two. Our city has provided a nice wide sidewalk on both sides of the streets. To my left, outside my walking loop, were mostly single family home neighborhoods. To my right, inside my walking loop, there was a mix of rental apartments, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes, a few single family homes, and commercial establishments. 

While, for the most part, everything is single story, unlike cities of a century ago, there is a pretty good mix of housing, retail and service in this area. Residents and visitors are offered a bank, a credit union, a loan company, Gold's Gym, a Walmart Super Center, Walgreens, a coffee shop, an ice-cream parlor, a Whataburger, an american restaurant, an oriental restaurant, a greek restaurant, two or three traditional Mexican restaurants, a taco and fruteria stand and a modern tex-mex cafe. There is a family medical clinic and a dental clinic and an optician along with specialty care for cancer patients and those seeking to escape from addictions. Seekers can find insurance agents, a massage day spa, barber and beauty shops and nail parlors. There is a clock/watch repair shop and at least two churches. For the auto-oriented there is a small used car lot and a tire shop. There is also a cocktail lounge outside my defined “loop” but just across the street at one point.

My walk took about 35 minutes mid-morning on, as mentioned above, a beautiful day. During my walk I saw one other human. A grizzled older gentleman who ignored my nodded greeting. I saw no one on bicycles, scooters, or skateboards. I saw no one boarding or exiting a bus. Keep in mind that this is in a fairly densly populated area as suburban areas go. Keep in mind there are wide sidewalks and marked bicycle lanes. More than half the route is nicely tree-lined. Also note that the businesses described above all seemed to be relatively busy and prospering. 

This seems to be a neighborhood in which people would walk more than most modern suburban areas. But nobody was walking. If people won't walk where it is easy to do, usable destinations are close, and the weather is perfect, how will we get people to walk?

Friday, February 23, 2018

The line between essential government services and oppression may not be EZ to see!

My sister-in law asked my opinion on a Texas law allowing quarantine of infectious people. I told her, "Oh, you are going to wish you hadn't asked."

I don't know enough about this to have much of an opinion. It's the government. People lose their humanity in government service. Governments, by nature, even ours, believe they can do anything they "want" (read, feel necessary, in the best cases). The liberals think they are smarter than everyone else and have supported eugenics or other horrifying social programs. The conservatives think their morality is the only right way to live. Other institutions often support or at least don't openly oppose government action due to feelings of loyalty or just plain fear among their leadership or members. See Germany in the 1930s. Neither the Catholic nor LDS churches offered much, if anything, in the way of resistance. In at least one documented case, local LDS leaders actually assisted the Nazis in detaining and eventually executing one young man who was vocally anti-Nazi. When our (big-D Democrat) government in WWII decided it was "in the national interest" to round up U.S. citizens of Japanese descent (and some Germans, too) I don't find in reading history of the time that there was a great hew and cry from our NGO institutions. The North Koreans thought it necessary to butcher all American soldiers in a take-no-prisoners strategy in 1950. The Japanese thought it in the best interest to make no-holds-barred sex slaves of Chinese and Korean women during the 1930s in order to keep the young Japanese soldiers morale (among other things) up for war. The Taliban really believe they are serving Allah by stoning women who dare go to school, or speak to a non-close-relative man, or bare their face, or......whatever the Mullah decides is sinful. When I was in Afghanistan, my State Department-employee driver was an Afghan citizen. He was a Harvard-trained medical doctor, but drove for the embassy because it paid more and the Taliban was likely to kill him if he attempted to practice western medicine. He had spent 12 years in prison under the Taliban prior to the U.S. invasion (and after the Russian invasion.) His crime against Allah? His beard was not two fists long from his chin. This man had very curly, kinky natural hair. He could grow his beard for eternity and it would never be two fists long from his chin. Twelve years wasted, I don't know what became of his family during those 12 years. Women, without an Allah-fearing man to provide for them, are in a horrible position under the Taliban. While they preach morality, they seem to have no problem forcing women into prostitution, then stoning them to death if they fail to hide themselves and their actions properly. If a Taliban leader is taken in intercourse with a harlot, it's her fault, not his. Remember, in the Old Testament, old man Israel's sin wasn't having had sex with his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was playing a harlot in disguise in an attempt to secure blood-line offspring and thus ensure herself a living and a position in society. No, old man Israel's sin, according to the Bible, was in failing to pay her for her services according to his agreement with her. God knows what modern ISIS does to captives, male and female. They seem to be doing about the same things that King David's army did about 3,000 years ago in that same part of the world. The anecdotal news we get of their actions are certainly horrifying.

So: my opinion. As a public health professional, I believe that it is necessary for our society to have the ability to quarantine when needed. I think the ebola nurse in Vermont should have been forcibly quarantined and I think she should lose her license to practice for refusing to self-quarantine. Do I trust a government to use that power only appropriately? Absolutely not. Is the killing of a U.S. citizen without trial or warrant OK because some bureaucrat has deemed him (or her) a terrorist? It that OK if it only happens in the "wicked" Levant area of the world rather than on U.S. soil and if a drone is used rather than a human assassin? Is it OK to hold prisoners of war at Guantanamo indefinitely without trial, or without even being formally charged? Is it OK for a government agency to confiscate the assets of a U.S. citizen never convicted nor even charged with a crime just because some law enforcement officer thinks those assets may have been used in a crime, or thinks they may be intended for use in a crime in the future? No. Yet our government does those things. And this wasn't just the "evil" Republican - Bush dynasty doing these things (but they did, too). No, this was our "enlightened, tolerant, and fair" liberal administration under Obama continuing these policies and practices--I don't see much, if any, improvement under Trump. The (D) liberals are tolerant only so long as you believe, profess, and act as they want you to. Anti tax? You hate poor people. Anti abortion? You hate women. Anti anything else? You are a racist redneck. A wealthy conservative? You are a greedy bastard--never mind that the richest of the rich are very liberal and that, overall, liberals are, as a group, much more wealthy than conservatives (and if you consider that most of the urban poor are liberal, too, you get an idea of just how much wealth the liberals control--most of the hated 1% are liberals--nearly all of the liberal power brokers and politicians are within the 1%, but they get a pass because they vote (D). A black conservative (like Ben Carson or Alan West)? You are nothing but a "house nigger" having sold out to the white power structure. Yet no one challenges these ideas or questions this? (well, very few do it publicly anyway.) No, we must simply be racist and a hater if we dare to disagree with our anointed leader. Remember, the young Mormon murdered by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s - why, he was clearly a Jewish sympathizer because, look, he dared to disagree with der Fuhrer! And we didn't speak out for his life and his freedoms, because we weren't Jewish sympathizers, either. Our media is complicit - most simply won't report honestly. The others live for ratings and use half-truths, lies, and fear to get those ratings, stirring up hatred at every turn (think MSNBC and FOX).

One last thought: Either we are free, or we are not. The Constitutional amendments, (first, second, fourth, fourteenth--all of them) apply to and protect everyone or no one. Gay rights? Yep. If I allow the government to tell them who they can marry or where they can work or whatever, I've given that same government the power to do the same for me. If I allow the government to determine what Larry Flynt can publish, I'm volunteering to have my thoughts censored. If I allow the government to tell the Santeria practitioners how they may worship in their sanctuaries, I've asked that same government to examine and allow or deny my worship practices. If we allow the government to define what speech (or cartoons or images or art) is OK, we've given that government power to banish us (or worse) if we offend them--ask Mr. Solzhenitsyn how that works out. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Border management is not EZ.

A long-time friend whom I respect posted his opinion to Facebook if favor of the U.S. Mexican border wall. I am NOT in favor of that method of gaining control of our border. Here is my response:

Granted. But all these factors and many more would have to be analyzed and publically discussed in a properly executed environmental impact statement process, which is supposed to be completed for federal projects of this scale. I personally think the EIS process is too restrictive for some projects (it's even required for some purely administrative actions -- such as the VA home loan program, for instance) but I am very strongly in favor of strict application of the process for large-scale projects that have the potential to impose significant changes on our world. Yes, we need a secure border. I don't believe that a wall is the right way to get that. Let's start with logical, transparent, and humane immigration laws and policies and then work on political changes that encourage our neighboring governments to work with us. While we are doing that, we can continue to implement border control processes and procedures that make effective use of manpower and technology to minimize unlawful crossings and human suffering. I think we could do all of this for a fraction of the dollar cost of the wall and much less environmental and social cost. How do you control smuggling into Florida? You don't use a wall, yet the DEA, DHS, and Coast Guard are pretty effective. Of course, if we did gain complete control of the Texas/Mexico border, that would increase pressure for unlawful entry for all of the Gulf Coast states and California, so there may be a zero-sum game here (if you ignore the huge financial, environmental, and social costs to the U.S. of the wall), even if the wall were built and were 100% effective. That's one of the reasons that I strongly believe the political, legal, and social reforms are a more effective way to deal with the border issues. You and I would probably have a long and possibly contentious discussion on the way we, in the U.S., treat and control drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. May I comment that I've had some up-close-and-personal experience in working with the DEA and the State Department in counter-narcotic efforts. From that experience, I have deduced that our current policies are counterproductive and cause more human damage than the drugs they are designed to control. Please study the implementation and impacts of early 20th century prohibition (and the long-lasting negative impacts on U.S. politics and society) before we start that debate.