Saturday, December 29, 2007

Today's Working Poor, Tomorrow's Homeless Seniors

What does it mean to be part of the working poor in America? It means living from paycheck to paycheck, with many times finding the paycheck doesn't quite stretch to cover all the bills. It means worrying constantly that someone will get sick and there won't be money for medicine. It means borrowing money at shocking rates that penalize people for being poor. It means having your utilities shut off at least once, your cupboards so empty you know everything in them, and pretending you weren't hungry so the kids could eat. It means all these things and more.

But what it should mean and what needs to be addressed now is what will happen when all these working poor become too old too work. What will happen when the low wages they were paid results in a low social security check that doesn't even cover the rent. What will happen when our elderly population can't eat, can't get health care, can't get a warm place to get out of the cold, can't even afford to be buried? Will we then bulldoze them out of the way and forget them? Or will we find solutions now before the aging boomers, the people who raised the generation coming of age now, are passed by on the street as we turn our head hoping they don't beg too loudly for our pocket change.

Flies On The Wall #21


Friday, December 28, 2007

Jingle Mail

I read about a new term today "jingle mail." It means putting your house keys in an envelope and dropping them off at the mortgage company. It's hard to imagine a worse situation than someone who has put all their money and time and dreams into their home, and then has to walk away because they can't make the payments and have no more equity to borrow against. It's even sadder when you consider that many of these people lived on what they were able to borrow against their homes. Now that their extra "income" has dried up, the next defaulting will be on credit cards, car loans, department store credit accounts. People will end up walking away from it all, especially since the cushion of bankruptcy was taken away by corporate donations given to Republicans to make sure that cushion was ripped to shreds.

Flies On The Wall #20


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How America Treats Its Elderly

George Bush has brought shame to this country in a lot of ways, and if anyone doubts that rot starts from the top down, all they have to do is take a look at how America is treating its aging population. As the days go by now that Christmas is over and the mean people are back in charge, look for more homeless on the street, more utility shut-offs causing more old people to freeze to death, more hunger that stays hidden because the former middle class, the aging boomers without retirement accounts or financial cushions are too proud to go to food banks or beg for a break from banks, credit card companies, and other poor people's traditional means of being propped up in lean times.

We've been hearing a lot lately about the sub-prime mortgage mess. There's a reason for it, not the least which is to build a sympathy buzz to bail out the mortgage lenders to keep them from eating the cost of their greed. After all, during the first Bush administration, daddy bailed out Neil from the Savings and Loan scandal. Which Bushie is going to get his or her butt saved this time? I'm sure it's not the poor suckers who fell for those loans so they could fantasize the American dream was really and truly within their reach. They're just the smokescreen to keep us from looking too closely at what's happening to our own neighbors.

It starts simply enough as it did to my own neighbors. For many years they worked in the social services, the lower end of the middle class. They struggled to pay their bills and maintain a decent credit rating because without it they were out on the street. They worked hard and got by. They were the real foundation of America. Not the super rich. Not the very poor. Not the solidly middle class professionals.

Six months ago the private care facility they both worked for shut down because the funding dried up. The patients were sent to various institutions run by the state that received the minimum of public funding to say open. And my neighbors went on unemployment.

But they were smarter than the average rat and started their own business. It started slow and for months they relied on their good credit history to get by during the months that sales were quite enough to pay expenses. They had worked hard for twenty years and they had excellent credit with their bank. They were given enough overdraft protection to get them from month to month. At first.

The third month their protection was lowered to half of what they were used to. But they knew they would survive because business was finally booming and by the beginning of the new year they could get caught up and not have to rely on the overdraft protection to get them through the month. They always covered the amount within the 30 day period. They were never overdrawn for more than a week. They blessed their good credit that allowed them to survive and they splurged for the first time in months on a bottle of wine to celebrate the huge check coming next month from Christmas sales. It was a victory they achieved from 12-14 hour days putting together the product they sold in astonishing quantities. They began to look forward to a better life and leaving the bad times behind.

But today, with three weeks to go before they get their hard-earned check, their bank cut off their overdraft protection. It didn't matter that they have all this money coming. It didn't matter that they made sure to pay all their bills. It didn't matter that not once did they violate the rules. The bank didn't care. It had an arbitrary time limit where such "help" could be provided. And that limit was reached the day after Christmas, today. And there was no use in trying to talk to the bank. As my neighbor told me sadly, banks don't care unless you have a huge amount of money. Then they care. They care when your name is Bush and you've screwed thousands out of their homes. They care when your name is Halliburton and you've stolen more in a day than most people will ever earn in a lifetime. But the average person who plays by all the rules and needs a small break, that person can rot for all the banks care.

I emptied out all the food I had in the cupboards and gave it to them. I maxed out a credit cared to get some cash so they could at least keep their heat on. And I know they will pay me back when they get their check next month because they are those kind of people, the working class people that make up the myth and culture of America. It's too bad that the only people who care whether they live or die are other poor people, other people like me living from check to check and hoping no one gets sick. I also know they will succeed because they have a good product, a strong work ethic, and people who care whether they live or die.

To keep them in the focus and to help other people with their same story and keep the truth out there that gets buried by the heartless many who are the gears of these callous institutions, I'll be using THE FLIES ON THE WALL t0 tell the story of an elderly couple who got evicted on the day after Christmas.

I don't personally know these people, but they are a composite of many working poor, especially in a town like Bellingham, Washington--a town that prides itself on being an All-America city winner, but is probably the cruelest and less compassionate toward the poor and working poor than any place in this country. The only medal this place deserves is for being the most shallow as they perfect the ability to talk out of multiple sides of their mouths and asses. Stay tuned. It will be an interesting ride for the flies.

Flies On The Wall #19


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Peace On Earth


Sunday, December 23, 2007

393 days and counting

It's almost the end of the year and I always get sentimental around this time. It's almost January 20, which will make it exactly one more year of shame, humiliation, and disgust until Dubya goes marching off to his real ranch, not the one in Potemkin, Texas. One can only hope he doesn't throw some evil temper tantrum over having to leave the playhouse for the last time.

Flies On The Wall #17


Saturday, December 22, 2007

When Monsters Attack

I'm really enjoying watching the GOP panic over Huckabee right now. He's marching to the top of the shit pile with the machine-like precision of a monster created to court other monsters...the right wing nuts that helped elect the current Sociopath. But with their cleanest candidate Romney defending his cult membership and making up crap about his father marching with MLK, what are you going to do?

Run something like Ghouliani who is not only a liar and a cheating, adultering, charging the public for his mistress type of guy?

Or McCain who is one snarl away from taking off someone's head for daring to disagree with him? Doesn't Cheney already fill this function?

Or how about another nightmare, Ron Paul. Now here's a man who truly represents the GOP's sordid last few years with his anti-choice, racist, homophobic agenda. Too bad he's got that anti-war thing going. But then that does come with being an isolationist Bircher baby.

Actually, the worse it gets the more I enjoy it. It's usually the Democrats who implode in a sea of ideologues who couldn't find their voice even if someone was hanging them by the balls and whacking them on the head with a list of issues to bring up and debate seriously. This year all we have to choose between is the first Woman, the first Hispanic, the first Black, the first Alien Abductee, and the first real chance of taking back our country from the shit-stained hands of the wide-stance party.

Flies On The Wall #16


Friday, December 21, 2007

Atheists, Pagans and my version of Christmas

I'm an Atheist. Always have been and always will be. But within that lack of anything specific to blame for things I screw up on my own, there is a deep and undying respect for Nature. This is not something as small as spirituality. It is a totality of connection with everything that we are, and that includes the wind, the fire, the earth, the water and our common breath that inhales and exhales each other.

I choose to honor the longest day of the year because we all need a place to start to say it's now a new year and therefore my life must make some adjustments to honor the natural path of change. Each year on this day I look at what I want from the coming year and plant virtual seeds for each wish so I have something to feed and water and look forward to blossoming in the coming year.

I also plant a wish for the world in general and humanity in specific. For this year's wish I will leave you with the words of one of my early heroes, Kurt Vonnegut: "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

Happy Solstice!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cheney's Office Eats Homework

A fire today broke out in Cheney's "ceremonial" office. One can only cringe at the thought of exactly what kind of ceremonies are performed in this pit of horrors. But horrific scenarios aside, no one will really be surprised that this divine accident destroyed a lot of nasty things hanging around waiting to be subpoenaed by Congress, or maybe some future war crimes tribunal. This administration, and Cheney in particular, has already demonstrated many times over that their brand of compassionate conservatism involves such Republican principles as water boarding, racial profiling, secret gulags, and lying about everything. So why should anyone be surprised if it turns out that Cheney deliberately set his own office on fire in front of God and all his homo-fearing, fetus-embracing, warmongering witless minions. He's done far worse than that without having to suffer any consequences whatsoever. Who would stop him? Certainly not Congress. Certainly not the Prozac nation medicated to mind-numbing apathy. And certainly not the rest of the world because with Cheney in charge, they don't have to lift a finger to hasten America's decline as a superpower. Cheney and his neocon barbarians are doing it for them. And hey, look on the bright side. Now the American people can have a fire sale and use the proceeds to defray some of the huge debts that allows other countries to own us in everything but name.

Flies On The Wall #14


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Piggies At The GOP Trough

Second only to the shame of having America be the country that tortures prisoners in the eyes of the world is the undemocratic penchant of the Bushies to ignore the separation of church and state. There's no right-wing nut job too extreme for Dubya to invite into the White House in order to further sully it with his sociopathic hallucinations of us and them.

But even the bought and paid for media has had to swallow back some of its whoring for the White House and report on some of the policy failures billed to the American people. With all those dollars that went to pay for ineffective and crony-based programs, the first act of the new President in 2008 should be to refund that money to the American people. If they need a way to come up with the money, how about taxing some of the excessive and obscene profits that Bushco made possible for the oil companies? Or how about taxing some of the bloated and greedy HMO's that Bushbots like Frist had a hand in feeding? Then there's Halliburton and the outright theft, greed, and pillaging that will go down in history as the biggest corporate trough feeding ever.

Flies On The Wall #13


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bush Dead-Enders

Every day I can be sure of two things. The first is that I will read about someone who is truly sorry he or she voted for Bush. And the second is someone who still believes in Bush with all the fervor of someone standing on the decks of the titanic trying to convince everyone it's all just a liberal plot to get them to abandon ship.

I imagine that even the Bushies laugh at these moronic true-believers. They know what most of us know, that "the game" has nothing to do with whose imaginary playmate gets to rule the big box church, or making dudes stop playing tongue hockey, or praising jeezus as they parade fetuses around in pickle jars in front of abortion clinics. It has to do with power, and the age-old rule is the way to get the most power is to make the most powerless give it to you.

Flies On The Wall #12


Monday, December 17, 2007

Lieberman's Ego Explodes

It really shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Lieberman is throwing another tantrum by endorsing McCain. After all, the fruitcakes have to stick together. In trying to figure out a reason why that didn't involve massive quantities of drugs, alcohol and permission for hordes of hallucinations to run free, I'm left with only one: The Jomental Lieberman ego. He truly imagines himself as holding Congress hostage without seeing how ineffectual and insignificant he really is. Egotists always see themselves as significant. It's why they are egotists. But this is beyond egotism. This is angling for the VP position of a ticket that is as dead as morality and ethics in the Republican party. It is a ticket deader than our reputation for fairness and justice in the eyes of the world. It is a ticket deader than an old whore's dream of Prince Charming plucking him from the bowels of snipe-hunting for blow jobs. In other words, it is the perfect ticket to symbolize all the mistakes, all the rising stench of failure, all the egos gone wild of the last few years. By all means, let it be a McCain-Lieberman ticket for the GOP. It would be a fitting finale to the party if one or both of them turned out to have a wide stance too.

Flies On The Wall #11


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bush Legacy of Moronic Extremism

Today saw the US booed by the rest of the world as the corrupt and immoral administration tried to keep Congress from investigating their destruction of evidence. It was topped off by the Bush crime family's Christmas card that rivaled anything the most extreme cultists would send out. Some days the anger at having to live under this regime run by cruel, selfish extremist banana-republic morons is greater than others. This is one of those days.

Flies On The Wall #10


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Torture Now Official US Policy

The Republican party who has exhibited a fondness for things that normal people find offensive such as fear mongering for political gain, starting wars based on lies, war profiteering, and a religious intolerance matched only by the Taliban, has now put their festering legacy behind torture. How proud of them their grandchildren will be when they read how the Republican party blocked the torture bill that would have prevented the kind of atrocities America was once sworn to prevent and condemn. I thought I had reached a level of disgust where nothing they did could turn my stomach anymore than it has already been turned. I was wrong. They're not done destroying the country yet. I think that before today we had a bit of moral authority left, a little hope in the rest of the world that maybe, just maybe the country that was once a symbol of something good, would remember what it stood for. Looks like we can quit holding our breath.

Flies On The Wall #9


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Me, Baseball, and Cheaters

I grew up in one of those immigrant families that embraced baseball as their personal savior. It was such a uniquely American thing that to take it into your heart was almost a shortcut to becoming a real American. It was one of the rare things we did together as a family that didn't turn into a brawl over politics, relationships, or the lack of and type of religious observance. It was a sweet memory in a past filled with tears, pain, and disillusionment. Without it my childhood would have been absolutely unbearable instead of merely bad.

That's why I quit watching it at all a couple years ago when the talk of performance-enhancing drugs started to surface. I didn't want to reward cheating, I didn't want to turn away from the betrayal I felt over discovering the one pure thing of my life was a lie same as most of the rest of it. I didn't want my youthful escape from the misery to take its place alongside the lying, cheating politicians that had taken over the government. I didn't want my rare and few innocent moments of childhood to take a seat at the same table where the corrupt corporate whores fed.

I wanted baseball to remain pure, to be a shining example of what passion and talent and skill could accomplish if one was only determined enough and strong enough. Baseball was the American dream played out on a field where everyone had a chance to feature themselves in the starring role of saving the day. It was America as I wanted America to be. It was the pure moment in a world of lies.

But instead it became a game of who had the best doctor, who could find the most secretive substance that could escape detection, who became the best at fooling their own bodies into believing they were super, powerful machines. Baseball became a lie played by dishonest lying cheaters. It became everything most people once used it to escape from.

What the powers behind the players and even the players themselves failed to understand was that most of us would have been happy with less home runs, less superhuman plays, less miracle wins because none of that really mattered. We watched because it was fun. Because it was a game that was as much a social event as it was a sport. And because it was pure and simple and entertaining. We made players into heroes not only because of what they could do on the field, but because of the dreams they could awaken in us. The ones who led us to believe that we too could succeed as they had succeeded were the ones who became our heroes.

And that is what pisses me off the most about all this and why I quit watching baseball. Not only did the cheaters cheapen the whole sport, they also took away a whole new generation's ability to dream. For that alone they should have asterisks forever by their names as a symbol of the wrong they can never right so history will always remember them as the cheaters who destroyed the dream that baseball was for so many of us. It is the only fair punishment.

Flies On The Wall #8


Who's Your Cult, Baby

A while back SOMEONE thought it would be a good idea to court the right wing fundie loonies to get Dubya elected. With a little help from a bought and paid for Supreme Court and a base of toothless half-witted morons the GOP managed to stuff the wide stancers and pedophiles under the stall long enough to steal a couple elections. Now the whackos have come home to roost and accuse each other of belonging to sick homophobic warmongering, slimy lying cheating, cults.

It's hard to tell which cult is which, especially since the accusers are all rich ugly white men who have made a career of screwing other rich ugly white men in order to run for president as a rich ugly white man representing all of America's rich ugly white men.

It's especially hard to tell them apart because they all seem to believe in religious extremism as defined by "what separation of church and state?" And they all seem to be deathly afraid of what complete strangers do in the privacy of their bedrooms. And they seem especially fond of building walls between countries while breathlessly speaking in hushed whispers the name of their wall-trouncing hero.

And if you can find a way to tell them apart, could you please let me know? I sure can't see much difference among them. And I sure as hell won't vote for something that looks and smells and sounds like a dim-witted barnyard creature. We've already suffered enough under Bush. We don't need another one of him.

Flies On The Wall #7


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Impeachment Is Still Not Being Served

The list of Reasons To Impeach George Bush are many and in a few years will be discussed by historians and legal scholars as blatant and criminal and shameful in their scope. Much will be written about the Congress who was so indebted to corporate masters that they couldn't move one step toward stopping the madness of King George without fear of stepping on some lobbyist's expensive shoes. Schools will teach about the many dismissed polls, the many set aside demands, the raging and rising anger of the population that was so completely and wrongly ignored by the congress they elected to rid them of the Bush/Cheney plague. How could a congress become so powerful, so insulated that the will of the people didn't matter?

In trying to research the answer to that I ran across this article in Salon that very clearly describes the why of many things I didn't consider. Why We Haven't Impeached.

What I found the most interesting was the insight that our relationship with Bush is that of someone stuck in a bad marriage who are just waiting for it to come to its natural end. But this waiting is also because Bush is doing what no one else has been able to do: he is destroying the Republican party. Many of the loyal opposition feel it is worth it not to impeach him because each day that goes by, each dirty trick, each betrayal of America's trust that is revealed, is one more piece of the Republican party that Bush takes down with him.

And it is a party that deserves to be taken down because it is synonymous with religious extremism, bigotry, racism, and corporate raping and pillaging of the planet for personal greed. To let it continue unchecked and unaccountable is to let loose the barbarians, the savages, the American Christo-Fascist incarnation of the Taliban it supposedly is fighting. As long as Bush is President, the smaller the line becomes between America's enemies and its own psyche. The Democratic congress is basically letting Bush dig the Republican's grave with shovels he stole from the American people.

May he end up with a hole big enough to humble once and for all an ego that is far bigger than any action in his life warranted. He will go down in history as a small-minded and petty tyrant that accomplished only one thing: the destruction of his own party for generations to come.

But the saddest part of the Salon article is what it reveals about many Americans. Bush could not have started a war without the blood lust and bigotry of a large portion of the American people. To impeach Bush isn't just a matter of saying he is a bad person. It is saying that a majority of Americans also have to deal with the bad person inside themselves who allowed him to do what he has done. Inside that insight is perhaps the real reason this idiotic and evil meat puppet is still president.


Flies On The Wall #6


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kucinich, Paul, and Mass Hallucinations

This is so bizarre on the face of it that you just have to wonder what either of them are thinking. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich on the same ticket? View the hallucination here.
And for those who think this is some sort of demented excellent idea, do a little reading on Ron Paul beyond the anti-war smokescreen. Here's ten good reasons NOT to vote for him Ten good reasons
Still not convinced? Do some reading on his good buddies the John Birch Society
So tell me again how a racist, anti-choice, environment destroying, homophobic, religious wacko is a good running mate for Dennis Kucinich? I'm waiting....


Flies On The Wall #5


Monday, December 10, 2007

Moral Authority, another Bushco Casualty

Moral authority is a fragile trust. Once it is destroyed, it is gone for a long time, perhaps longer than most of us will live. It is almost certain that the generation coming of age now will no longer be able to point to another country's abuses of power with a morally condemning finger. Because of the actions of Bush and his cadre of unethical officials, any attempt to do so will be met with the derision and ridicule reserved for hypocrites.

Yes, the legal side of the argument is that without evidence of torture, no one gets held accountable. And the downside of that is that no one gets to prove their innocence either. As a result, America has lost the moral authority to condemn other countries for torture because we have no proof that we did not do the same.

We will forever be viewed as the country that destroyed evidence of its crimes. Most of the world and most Americans know that innocent people do not destroy things. That is the last refuge of treasonous criminals to avoid hanging for their crimes. And that's how history will write, teach and remember it.

Flies On The Wall #4


Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Bush Legacy

There's a certain element of disgust, a kind of bile that rises up in me when I see how desperately Bush is floundering for a legacy that won't put his grandchildren to shame. And then I remember that they will be Bush grandchildren and those genes are devoid of such things as shame. When they study the history of Grandpa Dubya he'll be lost in a crowd of other sleazy war criminals guilty of treason, thievery, unethical and immoral behavior, and crimes against everything that didn't crime against them first. Every year they will hold the annual family picnic at the Torture Park, a memorial especially for Dubya that will be famous for the statue of Liberty permanently encased in an Abu Ghraib hood for all the generations who come after to see. That will be his legacy, just like Torquemada and other historical slime. The pigeons will shit on it and no one will dare wipe it off for fear of altering his legacy. The bums and other creatures of the night will piss on it until the smell becomes so overpowering over time that the stench of it will become synonymous with the name Bush. Only then will his legacy be complete.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

About those flies....

I've had this idea for a while that cartoons are a good venue for some political thoughts and opinions. We do live in a cartoon universe when it really does come down to it, don't we? And because with the coming election season it is going to get absolutely crazy, then more words just can't capture all the fun of watching the ever-expanding field of lunacy compete for first place in the flat-earth, fundie whacko, who-you-calling-a-cult insane asylum we call a Presidential election. So since one of my favorite books as a child was "Lord Of The Flies" then it only makes sense that I would create a cartoon called "Flies On The Wall." You'll be able to follow their adventures all through the next few months when those rare occasions present themselves that words are just not enough to capture the sheer idiocy of the political candidates. Sometimes you just need a good fly to do the talking for you.

Flies On The Wall #2


Flies On The Wall #1


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

War And Peace, Truth And Lies

There really isn't that much difference with a war between countries based on lies and a relationship between people based on lies. The common ground seems to be a hefty dose of self-interest rules above everything else and fairness be damned.

Yes, any of us that could read beyond the second grade and ventured beyond the "programming" of the mainstream state-run media, knew that Iraq had no WMDs and Bush/Neoconmen didn't care if we did or not. They had an agenda and it was going to run, truth be damned. It was easy to get the mandatory bleating chorus to be both cannon fodder and war drum beaters.

It was surprisingly easy. All it took in far too many cases was free hot dogs, some brown corn syrup, and a racist CW pawn to sing them to sleep. The rest of us could only protest in our wire cages called "Free Speech Zones" and keep writing the truth until people got tired of losing their children and other loved ones to a phony war.

Before conquering other countries, they practiced on us first. A dishonorable group of liars studied the tyrants of history for ways to subdue its people. They found the time-honored method of divide and conquer. They divided and then conquered us one newspaper, one TV station, one radio station at a time. They fed us crap in a repetitive and disrespectful way all day long. Missing blonds. Murderous Moms. Scary dark people. They made Peace a four letter word and they made war the will of a god who hadn't demanded so many sacrifices since the dark ages.

And the ugliness spread to the relationships between people. Previously normal people began to fear each other. The stench of mistrust permeated everything, even love. Nothing was true anymore. Nothing was meant to last. It was all a tower built on the unstable sand of lies and fear. Arguments became petty bickering over stupid shit in order to create a reason for a larger confrontation. It was all around. How could people not embrace this stench into their own lives? How could they be satisfied with each other when the world was going mad and a group of madmen were plotting to destroy the very earth?

Most of my friends split up in the last year. They took on everything around them and became personal little war zones fed by lies, mistrust, fear and the sheer terror that love would never be enough and Peace was a dream for fools.

I stood back from most of it for the same reason I avoided most of the people in High School. Just as petty little men bent on power formed groups to abuse and mislead and lie, so too did my circle of friends and acquaintances revert to their High school years to do the same. Just as it repulsed me to watch grown men throw innocent people to their deaths for oil, money, land grabs and power, so too did it repulse me to watch people I previously cared about turn into petty little tyrants forming sides intent on making war on each other for things, for property, for the right to say I own this corner of the world and I took it from you.

This is how the rot from the top down infects everything. This is how the world becomes when we become a nation of Lawyers instead of a nations of laws and honor and justice. What happens between countries has always happened between people. For that reason alone, things have to change or relationships between people will be fleeting encounters of meaningless mating. If you don't care about someone, it's easy to make them the enemy. If we don't change, we condemn ourselves to a destiny of being nothing more than cannon fodder for wars of all kinds.

Image available on t-shirt and other gifts at: Peace Spirit


Monday, December 03, 2007

Ethics, Honesty, and T-Shirts

Years of watching and interacting with people taught me that most of us are made up of certain basic character traits that stretch and bend but don't go away. For me the constants are my sense of honor and ethics and my belief that with enough effort I can make an impact on the world in a positive way.

One set of traits leads to another. For example, I tend to see the world through the prism of what is fair or unfair. This is tied in to my sense of honor and ethics. Fair is treating everyone equally. Unfair is having one set of standards for one person and another set for another. I've been known to leave friendships, relationships, mailing lists, discussion groups and communities when that standard has been upset in any way.

One real life example is a situation that occurred recently between two of my friends who are going through a divorce. A so-called neutral situation was set up in the home of a mutual friend where it was described as presenting a chance for both parties to vent and get their issues out and just be heard. Sounds good and fair, right? Wrong. One of them was able to select whatever friend they wanted to be their silent witness and she chose her friend who agreed completely with her on every issue. Her partner, on the other hand, was told he couldn't bring his choice because he was biased toward him. He was given a choice of people he could bring--all who had openly stated they were on "her" side.

When you take this kind of thinking a step further you can see how people in this country believe it is fair to attack another country for their oil, destroy their infrastructure, install a puppet regime, kill innocent people and then accuse other countries of being undemocratic and tyrannical. It's a mindset that grew from thousands of situations like my divorcing friends because nothing appears from the air. It has to grow from something and that something is usually a situation that is fair to one side and has different standards for the other.

My sense of honor is legendary among my friends and acquaintances. Even those who don't know me well know that if that gets messed with in any way, I'm no longer in their lives. I live my life the way I want others to live because if I didn't I'd have no right to criticize them when they live dishonorably. If I give my word that is unbreakable. It's my personal lie detector. If I give you my word, you know it's the truth because I couldn't live with myself if I went against it. In the same sense if someone doesn't have that standard then I can't trust them...ever. If they question my word I immediately know that their own means nothing and the relationship, no matter how small or large ends at that moment. In my mind and heart there is simply no point in going further with it. It's dead.

In the same vein, I look at this country and what has happened to its sense of honor. America was once seen as a country of honorable men and women who helped the poor, the hungry, the underdogs in their fights against the power hungry who would devour them for their weakness. Now it is seen as a country of liars, of greedy and unethical people who take what they want, trample over the weak and insignificant, and then hypocritically criticize others for doing the same thing.

Where did this start? How did we go from being a country most of the world admired and respected to one where people hate and disrespect most everything about it? From us, of course. When a structure rots it's usually from the inside out and we are the inside. We are the ones who easily took sides without questioning why someone wanted us to. It happened in countless situations like my divorcing friends where being fair didn't matter as much as winning. It happened when this country began deciding important issues with legal hair-splitting and expensive lawyers instead of a jury and community of their peers. We are no longer a country of people. We are a country of lawyers. We have sold our honor to those who could argue the best case against ethics and honesty and integrity. One of these days maybe we will remember that winning in a court of law is not necessarily the best result for a person or a country.

So there you have my sense of ethics, my sense of honor, my sense of fairness as a small part of a bigger whole. And in the end it does come down to why I sell t-shirts for a living. I want to change the world. That ingrained sense of idealistic fervor is as much a part of me as that sense of honor, ethics and fairness. In fact, you can't separate any of it from me anymore than you can separate me from Nature, from life, from my relationships with other people.

But I am also a realist. I know that I as one person am limited in my power to create the world I want to live in, the world I want to pass on to future generations. But I also know I have this talent, this ability, this stubborn streak that allows me to put what I believe on a t-shirt and sell it all over the world. When I make a design that educates people on the danger of Global Warming, of Overpopulation, of the destructive results of war and hate and then sell it to other people I am planting seeds to create my perfect world. Everyone who sees that shirt sees my message. They talk to the person wearing it. They learn something. They share it. They spread it around. They buy their own shirt and continue the process.

And by doing all this they enable me to both live ethically and honestly also feel as if I am doing something to create my ideal world. I work for myself, my ideals and my dreams. No one owns me or my thoughts. And because of this I am free to think and speak and believe as I am instead of how someone else wants me to be. That to me is true freedom and if I can spread that message around the world with my art and my words then I have not wasted my time on this planet and will leave it a better place than I found it.

Raccoon Christmas card available at My holiday store


Saturday, November 17, 2007

If you're wondering how gradients come out printed by Cafepress, here's two examples from my own collection. Both are from my Ursine Logic store.

The first one is to show how the printing holds up through multiple washes. And the image is not as fuzzy as it appears in the photo. It's actually quite sharp. I took the photo inside my office with the shirt draped over a chair and didn't want to have too much light because I wanted to show the vibrancy of the colors and how well they've held up. This design is on a dark blue t-shirt that I bought over a year ago when they first came out at Cafepress, and it has been washed over thirty times. Here is what it looks like on the store page Peacemonger Shirt

Here is one I just ordered as a gift. It hasn't been washed yet and the colors are even nicer and more vibrant than the pic. They're very very close to the online image peace love happiness t-shirt
All in all, I'm quite pleased. The only issues I've had is sizing issues. If you order plus sizes, make sure you order a couple sizes up from your usual because they run small. The women's dark shirts however run really large. The good news is that Cafepress will immediately send a replacement for anything that doesn't fit at no cost to you.

And for the next couple days, Cafepress is running a free shipping special on orders over 75.00 so if you're looking for some cool presents, do check out my stores. You can find all of them listed, along with my other Print On Demand stores at both Ursine Logic and Heartfollowers.

I also have links to some of my friends and family's Cafepress stores. Do check them out at well.

More on Raccoons

The story about the Raccoons and the Ostrich egg needed a picture to illustrate it so I'm using this one taken by my talented photographer friend, Peer Winter. He has a whole calendar of these guys and their family and friends and send me an email if you'd like to buy one so I can put you in touch with each other.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Raccoons Meet Ostrich Egg

Several weeks ago a friend dropped off an Ostrich egg as a gift. You have to know both of us to understand why this is not an unusual thing in either of our lives, but that is a subject for a different post. For now let's concentrate on this amazing thing called an Ostrich egg. For those who have never seen one up close, it is huge and it is almost impossible to crack open. Without the mama Ostrich's help breaking open the hard shell, the baby inside would never get out alive. If the mama forgets or is somehow injured, the baby Ostrich dies inside the egg.

I suspect that's what happened to this one and because I didn't want to drill it open to drain whatever icky contents were inside, but I still wanted to keep the egg, I put it out in my garden to hopefully dry up and evaporate the innards over time. It looked pretty cool out there in a tall bunch of grass, almost as if the mama bird was returning at any moment to sit on it some more. And since my life is insanely busy this time of year, I forgot it was there.

One night I was working in my office getting my various online shops ready for the holiday shopping seaon when I heard that crazy chattering sound that raccoons make when something gets their attention. I looked out the window and there was a family of mom and three youngsters crouched around the Ostrich egg. They had stumbled upon the find of the century and their little raccoon minds were working overtime trying to figure out a way to take advantage of such a marvelous piece of luck. I watched the mama tackle it first, as if showing the youngsters how to do the job properly. She tried to bite into it and backed off in surprise. She then scratched at it slowly and then harder to no avail. Then the youngsters chattering the whole time, circled and smacked at it.

This went on for about ten minutes and finally the family sat around and chattered with what I'm sure was complete and total frustration over finding this amazing thing and not being able to get inside the juicy and deliciously stinky contents. And then they figured out that they'd go hungry if they didn't set this task aside and move on to some nice overflowing recycle bin or trash can down the road. But they couldn't just leave it there for some luckier creature to steal from them. After all, they found it first and had spent a lot of time and energy trying to crack the mystery of its hard shell.

In unison and with an amazing integration of group effort and will they began to push and roll the egg toward the 80 year old pear tree I suspect they sleep in during the day. This is not a small trek. It's way on the other side of the garden and it took them quite a while to get it there. Finally I could see them do the equivilent of wiping their little raccoon brows as the egg was finally at the foot of the tree.

And that's when the realization set in. It was too heavy to haul up the tree to safety. It would have to stay where it was. I swear those raccoons chattered in a final fit of total disgust: "Just leave the damn thing. It probably tastes like crap anyway."

I haven't seen them the last few nights. Maybe the shame is too much. Maybe the egg taunts them with its presence so they've moved to another tree. Maybe they decided that a nice trash can is a much better choice. And maybe, just maybe a new legend is taking shape in the world of raccoons that will be told over and over again to the young ones under the light of a full moon about a magical egg that was so sacred and special no one was ever able to crack it open and eat its holy contents.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Al Gore, The Environment, Blog Action Day

As I look over the present field of Democratic candidates I realize my heart is not with any of them. Sure, I appreciate Kucinich and his honestly true anti-war stance as it mirrors my own. And I wonder at times what kind of country we are when we view someone like Kucinich as "unelectable" because he doesn't appeal to the fringe religious warmongering whackos that Karl Rove pandered to just as the Fascists pandered to broke European aristocrats to further their own agenda. I understand the concept of democracy really means the lowest common denominator shall rule, but do we have to settle for less all the time?

I am one of those people who really does believe in the power of human beings to grow, evolve, change, admit mistakes and embrace altruism over selfishness. The only problem is the number is still small and it needs to increase before being a good person becomes a valid demographic in this country. I will either live to see it or I will die saying goodbye to a planet that allowed its tenants to destroy it into oblivion.

I cannot understand the shortsightedness of people who fail to understand they are destroying the future of their own generations. How can they care so little about their own grandchildren? How can they leave them with perpetual war that enriches only the warmongers and makes cannon fodder out of the rest? How can they leave them a planet that has been stripped of all resources by a horde of corporate looters who obviously chose not to breed or have no faith they will be survived by their offspring. How can they love their own flesh and blood so little that they don't care they are leaving them a crap pile of festering debt and hatred as a legacy. If I was a kid I'd be seriously pissed at adults right now. How dare they do this to someone else's future?

So today, as I ponder a world where Al Gore becomes the President he was cheated out of being by an idiot who ended up destroying this country far more effectively than any enemy from the outside, and as I think about the bounty of nature that is stripped for corporate gain without any consideration for future generations, I imagine that today, Blog Action Day, needs to be a call for all of us to take a good long look at what we're letting happen all around us.

Are we really so busy, so indifferent, so burned out that we let this corporate looting continue? Or do we still have enough in us to get good and angry enough to turn out the corporate whores in congress and replace them with people who can see a future beyond their own bank accounts? Do we have enough spare change left that we can donate it to an organization devoted to peace, to saving the planet, to electing responsible individuals who will right the wrongs of Bushco's unconscionable thievery of our lives and resources?

It's not too late. What are you doing today to make a difference?


Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore Wins (again)

So, let's see...that's Jimmy Carter AND Al Gore, both guaranteed ulcer machines for the Republicans. Let the whining begin...heee, heeee, whoooo, haaaawwww, heeee....


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dumb Idea: putting kid's name on their clothes

One of the dumbest and most dangerous and rapidly spreading trends right now is plastering your kid's name on every article of their clothing. Can you possibly make it any easier for child molesters to grab your kid than to broadcast their name to everyone? "Johnny! Johnny Smith! Come with me now!"

It's just about as dumb as putting everyone's name on stickers and putting them in the car window. "Hi, we're the really stupid family from this town that you can look up in the phone book or the Internets any time you want."

Imagine the fun. Here's the family traveling in another town and a quick phone call to someone in their town: "Just spotted a place to break into. Their sticker says we're the Morons from Idiotville and they list mom and dad's name as Fred and Wilma, so should be easy to find."

The same with putting a dog's name on their doggie shirt. "Hello little girl. Your beloved pet whose name is Fluffy is hurt and needs you right now!"

What got me going on this was seeing all the customized Halloween shirts at Cafepress. It's bad enough to display family and pet names on your car windshields, but it's downright stupid to send your kid out among strangers saying "My name is your future little victim because you know my name now."

Before people get all excited and tell me I'm being paranoid, get on that internets thing and do a search for level three sex offenders within a mile of your home and then tell me you're comfortable letting your kids wander around branded with their names.

Instead of making it easy for predators, send your kids out wearing this and train them that their names are private and available only to a privileged few. It may very well save their lives some day.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bushco Fascism

Buried deep in the long list of damage inflicted on our country by the Bush administration is the generational harm of turning lying, cheating, racism, warmongering, and bigotry into actions that have no consequences. It is this new "morality" that will bring us down faster than any bombs. And this is not something that happened overnight. It's been in the works for a while because these ethically-impaired cretins took and continue to take lessons from their heroes--the Fascists and the sordid Nationalists that gave rise to the Nazi Party. Here are the lessons they took to their greedy and hateful hearts:

1. In order to control a population you need to make them ignorant and obedient with programs like "No Child Left Behind" that rewards cronyism at the expense of education. You need to make religion a baseline to quality for dollars like in "Faith Based Initiatives." This assures that a poor black neighborhood with lots of Liberal, religiously diverse residents is going to get far less funding than a white Texas suburb that voted the party line for a generation or two and says howdy to you in church on Sunday. The cronyism comes in the form of awarding (Neil Bush) contracts to provide the software that spews out the message you want to perpetuate such as war is good, Democrats are bad, homosexuals need to die unless they join the Republican party and don't get caught in public bathrooms with their pants down. Sometimes it's as simple as using the same kind of tricks that made voting machines malfunction only in heavily Democratic precincts. Or making all the bad guys dark and swarthy and speaking bad English and all the heroes blond, blue-eyed and church going and clicking their heels together whenever they see a swastika. A picture is worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate and poorly educated society as the Fascists found out and put their own disgusting use.

2. It's not enough to control the school system so that most of the graduates can't find places like Iraq on a world map. You also have to get them once they move to the world outside school. The most effective way to do that is by dumbing down the information they take in after leaving the indoctrination pit that is school these days. You do this by making blockbuster successes of movies that glorify being stupid. (Dumb and Dumber, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, George Bush) You do this by reducing critical information into soundbites that can be broadcast over and over again until people actually believe it is news that Britney Spears doesn't wear underpants.

You do this by having such a rigid control over the book publishing industry that only the most mediocre of authors enjoy success. (Pop Psychology get rick quick books about dogs who talk to Jesus) You do this by making fun of people who are intelligent, who look smart, who can put a sentence together without an uh or a gosh or a shucks or a fucking this and fucking that. (Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter) You attack and belittle those who actually served in the military (Cleland, Murtha, Kerry) in favor of the chickenhawks (Bush, Cheney, Neo-cons) so everyone will believe war is wonderful and necessary rather than the ultimate failure of a culture and its people.

But most of all you study how all this worked on demonizing the Jews, the Gypsies, the Homosexuals, the Communists, the Atheists. You can study how the Fascists-Nazis accomplished this and then you change the words from Jew to Arab, Gypsies to the poor, sexual orientation to something with "an agenda," Communists/Liberals/Democrats as Darth Vader minions, and Atheists as a population dismissed as not worthy of equal rights by morons who can't even spell the word.

3. Those are the basics but in order to get cannon fodder for wars that make your munitions buddies wealthy and allow you to steal everything that isn't nailed down you have to demonize everything that is a threat to that. You start with the kind of religious fanaticism that outlaws abortion, especially for the poor, because they are the ones who will provide the soldiers you need to die in your wars. You make them go through religious ceremonies called "marriage" so you can control how they mate and with whom. You put restrictions on sex because throughout time those who wished to control others understood that was the only time people were beyond their control. You make free speech a crime because it can be used to dispute any lies you want to spread around. You hire desperate people to post propaganda on the Internet, in newspapers, on television so the truth won't be the only facts out there. You make protests take place in cages called "Free Speech Zones" so when the jackbooted thugs come calling, they find everyone conveniently in one place. And when everyone is in one place, you can beat, kill, stomp and abuse them away from the prying eyes of witnesses.

And you start drugging the population early by raising kids on Ritalin so they grow up with a taste for Meth and other nerve pounders. After all, it was the Nazis who took full advantage of the hatemongering, warlike tendencies of the drug and whose studies were incorporated into today's military that sends young kids out into battle wired to indifference and seething with rage at something, anything. And in honor of the historical significance of brainwashed, jackbooted youth, you blast Wagner at them once again. And for the folks back home and the basket cases that come back forever damaged from your wars, you create a huge market demand for Prozac and other drugs that take away any objections to the horrors committed by your own government.

But none of this works, none of this will penetrate the masses enough to be controlled unless you inflict them with the ultimate weapon to be used against them and to help further your own agenda: you make them live in fear, in complete terror of the government, in total subjugation to your demands. You humiliate them by making them stand in an airport line holding their shoes in their hands. You monitor them by making them have mandatory identification (driver's license, state identification card, passport, social security number) whenever you demand they present it...or pay huge fines, get turned away, or other wise punished for daring to step foot outside their homes without "Your papers please." You do everything you can to scare them into complete and total obedience because anything less and they will turn on you.

And that is why what Bushco is doing is so dangerous. Through their actions and through our inaction, they are indoctrinating and creating future generations who will never protest, who will go along with daddy government, and who will go marching off to war drugged to the gills and pounding their empty little chests.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Healing Power of Nature

To say that I've had a rough last couple days is an understatement. I've been dealing with a friend's imminent death from breast cancer. Three pairs of friends are no longer pairs, and one set of those live in town so they have to get the backstabbing losers contingent involved or it wouldn't be a proper Bellingham breakup. My shops are all wonky from Cafepress's server issues the last few days so I can't get any work done there.

However, I have been getting lots of work done on my Printfection shops (links to them on the right in the side bar) and also my Imagekind Gallery Here's one of the photographs I just put up in my gallery:

And I've received some amazing and wonderful emails over my last post. There are some good people in the world and it helps to understand that what I'm experiencing here is just the crap that goes on in small towns where people have nothing better to do than use each other for entertainment and/or therapy. I've had some beautiful invitations to come live in their towns and I'm considering a few of them because I really am ready to leave this pathetic "desperate housewives" pit of a town.

And as always, Nature heals in a way nothing else can. I went up to Mt. Baker and walked Horseshoe trail, took lots of pictures and came back feeling more able to deal with life and all it throws at me sometimes. Life goes on.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Thoughts On Where I live

There's nothing uglier than watching someones relationship implode, except maybe watching the community around them strip away all the pretenses and expose themselves as the ugly people they really are. I've had my eyes opened once again by the incestuous community I've called my home for the last couple decades. It's not the first crumbling marriage among my friends but it is the one that will finally drive me away from this place. It's the one that exposed the really ugly side of many of my acquaintances that I just didn't want to look at too closely because I wasn't ready to leave here yet. I only knew something smelled very bad and often I would get dragged into whatever caused that stench.

When I first moved here I was a young graduate student who came from a small group of solid friendships formed from long weekends camped out together in nature. We may have disagreed about many things, but those disagreements served as the glue that strengthened our bonds. We are all still friends, still close, still in touch even though time has scattered us all over the world. We trust each other. We would never betray each other, never talk crap behind our backs, never disrespect each other so much that we would use one of us to punish another. We are firm believers in the theory that once you share a campfire with someone they become part of your soul forever. We are decent, ethical human beings every one of us or we would not be friends.

The mistake I made in this community I immigrated to was in letting my new world become overly populated with the pampered and selfish children of the rich and upper middle class--people with no real goals, no ambitions beyond ego gratification, no skills that contribute to survival. Far too many of them do little but wait for rich relatives to die and leave them varying fortunes so they can continue their parasitical existence. This abomination called "community" is the outer skin that will never learn what was formed around campfires shared with the handful of friends I've made in this part of the world.

My campfire friends are the ones I am close to, the friends I trust with my life. They are the balance that keeps me sane in a community of really mean crazy people. They are people like me who grew up believing what really mattered in life are things like honor and ethics and loyalty. Most of us didn't even have a credit card until we were adults on our own. We worked our way through school and life. Most of us grew up with friendship having a value beyond anything that could be bought. Most of us inherited or will inherit only debts when our relatives die so we had to make our own way in life, we had to make our own dreams come true.

I've never had a roommate from a poor family run out on a bill, but I've had every single child of the rich stick me with unpaid phone and power bills and their share of the rent. The burden it placed on me was invisible to them just as their lack of purpose in life is invisible to them. And the problem many of them have is that their purposeless existence makes them bored and bored people do a lot of damage in order to entertain themselves.

Usually this damage is directed at those they perceive as being different than them, people like me who came from dirt poor parents, who is solidly Atheist and who won't go to church no matter what frou frou new age crap they call it these days. And let's not forget the most important difference--a loyalty to my friends that grew from not having anything to rely on but another human being. They can't relate to any of that so they attack it all, and they attack me without even thinking about why they do it. It's small town, small minds crap and it stinks.

Most of the time I'm quite skilled at staying out of the way. My small circle of campfire friends and I move back and forth between the other circles with a skater's ease. We are very much the same, this small handful of us within the larger hand of community. We are the children of their parent's servants. We are the children of the people who waited on them in fancy restaurants, who picked up the clothes they left on the floor of the dressing rooms, who picked up the garbage they couldn't be bothered to put in the trash, who fed their pets when they got bored with them. We are the children of those who taught them the piano, the violin, the guitar, the painter's easel, the stage, the dance, the words that would go in books. We are the ones who gave them all we had to give--our art, our talents, our services. And we are the ones they turned on first because to turn on each other would be a violation of some unwritten rule that elitism does not attack elitism.

So we became to them people they could use when they needed someone to complain about each other to, when they needed numbers in their side of the wars, when they needed someone to use who wasn't already used up by them. We became the ones they blamed when they couldn't take responsibility for their own actions. We are the ones they gossiped about and made up lies about just to entertain and fill their tedious little boring lives. We are the ones they hurt because they envied our ability to love and live without a price tag on everything we did and felt. They quite simply hate us for being something they can never be but in a strange sad way recognize as having a value beyond anything they can buy.

In so many ways they are the children of the Reagan years, children of the Bush years, children who were born too late to live through times when you had to take to the streets to get heard, when you had to put yourself out to make things happen, when you had to care enough about people to make sure the laws were changed to make us all equal and subject to the same laws. They came of age believing they deserved it all and so they took whatever their greedy little hands could grab...clothes, cars, homes, the best looking lovers, the most prestigious vacation trips, the highest credit limits. They took and took and took and continued to take because giving was not something they ever learned.

But life has a way of turning on you to keep the sense of balance even, and the way life has turned on them is simply by making them look in the mirror and seeing the awful truth they just can't escape: old age is the great equalizer and boy does it creep up on you fast. My friends who grew up like me and who weren't the prettiest, the most accomplished, the most privileged learned to rely on something inside ourselves. It is what made us strong enough to take on injustice. It's what made us able to create jobs for ourselves in dismal economies. It's what made us able to provide for ourselves without having to depend on anyone.

I now see these privileged acquaintances starting to panic when they realize the relatives they've been waiting on to die are healthier than ever, no matter how much they run up their credit cards, no matter how much in debt they get trying to spend their way to happiness, no matter how much they deny they are setting themselves up for a lonely, dismal and poor existence while we, the children of the poor will have a much happier and complete life. And the final insult is that their own children, the ultimate status symbols they gave birth to are very much like me and my campfire friends. I see in their children the ultimate fuck you and rejection of the shallowness they grew up with.

It's the way life balances out. It's the way the circle connects and reconnects over and over again. It's what makes me have hope that our planet will survive the utter and complete selfishness of people I made the mistake of thinking were good human beings instead of selfish mean petty tyrants who just can't wait to hurt another human being with gossip, with lies, with confessions of transgressions and other stupid shit. I never understood someone who would call up another human being only to tell them the sordid details of their spouse's affair, and I don't ever want to understand that, I never want to get close enough to that kind of mean-spirited shit to ever understand it. I only know that I live in a community of awful people who think such things are okay, and for someone like me who can't even hurt a fly without suffering massive guilt and anguish, well...let's just say we've come to the end of my time in this part of the world. I can't live around people like that when I have a choice to live somewhere else.

So, in the next year I will leave here as most of my campfire friends have left here, as most of the selfish people's children have left here. I don't know yet where I'm going, just that I am going. For now that is enough to keep me halfway sane and functioning and still believing in the awesome power of love and compassion in the people who truly are my friends and always will be. They are my wealth, my stability, and my future. They are solid and true. They are real. They care about the world. They care about each other. They are mine and everyones hope and always will be, long after the selfish and cruel assholes in this community are long forgotten and have only each other left to abuse.

Image of Mt. Shuksan available at Ursine Logic Photography section.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sunday Atheists

For most of my life I've lived among those who thrived on the outskirts of civilization. Many of them in my early life did well, especially the musicians, artists and dancers who learned that nothing comes to those who do not work and work and work. My model of success was based on making a go of whatever you call your art. I didn't know there were people in the world who couldn't succeed. I saw no models that told me differently until I was a grown up adult-aged woman. I saw only people who were independent, freethinking, hardworking artistic realists who believed success was within reach if you worked hard enough.

As I grew up and went to college I met those who would devote their lives to Universities and other perilous academic flesh parlors. They managed to make a decent living, influence a few strangers, and not slit their own throats upon realizing the ideal was nowhere close to the reality.

I learned to mourn from those who didn't fit in either group so they floundered and were lost in wars, accidents, bad relationships and diseases that didn't even exist while we were growing up. By the time I reached young adulthood I had a world of new knowledge and painful scars that healed on top of the wounds that came with those lessons.

But it was the immigrants within my own family and in my neighborhood who taught me the most important lesson: those who dare to leap do so alone, against all common sense, and in spite of the bleating herd--but the rewards for doing so are magnificent. If they didn't believe this, I'd be writing this post from Europe because they would not have uprooted their lives to break away from the stockade, the comfortable pasture, the herd of like-minded creatures, the holy institutions of church, school and some twisted biblical version of marriage, to come to a land where they would starve for the first few years, endure ignorance beyond belief, work hours and jobs no one wanted, and still never be completely accepted by anyone except each other.

I took these lessons with me when I moved north for Graduate school. I mistakenly believed, as many foolish youth believe, that my world was the same as everyone else's. I didn't want to be swallowed by the Academic trap that caught my friends and made them safe and sane and far less interesting than they were when words didn't matter so much. I wanted something familiar and yet something different. I didn't want structure and organization. I wanted free form, freethinking, and a minimal amount of rules based on judgements of the few.

These desires led me to gravitate toward the "new age" community because it seemed familiar in the sense that it had the right words when applied to people: artist, musician, rebel, outlaw, different. There was an aura of creative energy that had the familiar smell of childhood much as a loaf of freshly baked bread evokes memories of special times.

I thought I had come home, but I failed to see something I never expected to see in those who smelled so familiar: the stench of dogmatism. I missed it because I wasn't familiar enough with the smell to recognize it. I didn't go to church as a child or as a young adult or as an old adult. I went to nature instead. I camped out in the desert, in the mountains, the hills. But not my community, not the family I thought had adopted me as one of their own. I soon learned the community lived in the attic of a house whose foundation was something far more restrictive and dangerous to me as an individual: religion. And I also learned that because I wasn't trained in churchiness, in mandatory meetings, in standing as a herd, then I was dangerous to them. They could never own me and that meant they could never accept me.

Now you have the understand the situation here. I am a blatant Atheist. Always have been. Always will be. But I'm also someone who doesn't dismiss someone's beliefs or lack of them without having a damn good reason for doing so. That's why I went to their circles, their dances, their suppers, their gatherings, their rituals. I wanted to see how they were different, how they had left behind the past they claimed to have left behind.

I didn't see anything different. I saw the children of middle America being the children of middle America. They had their ritualized Sunday suppers that were only for "family," which was great if you were part of the family and awful if you were not. I was told that the line had to be drawn somewhere, that some people had to be included and others not. But no one told me how the decisions were made, who made them, or why I was included in such an aberration. I quit going to dinners.

They had parties and special events that were invitation only that were private and ritualized. People heard about them and once again were hurt and asked me about some of them and once again I felt bad as if it were my fault that my friends were becoming their parents. Once again it was us and them, once again it was a community of traumatized children reliving their past and inflicting wounds of vengeance on others to lessen the burden on themselves. I quit going to "events" that were closed.

They had meetings with rules and rituals and formalities that were stricter than any religion they escaped from. They had a code of community do's and don'ts that were based on nothing more than the noisiest voice generating the most acquiescence...very much like the loudest tantrum sets the agenda. And they punished, shunned, and discredited anyone who did not believe, who did not attend their churches and meetings, who did not hate and distrust those they hated and distrusted.

My circle of friends I trusted became small enough to count on one hand. And that's the moment they came after me just like the Puritans went after the witches...except they all saw themselves as witches and still do. They came after me because I refused to fight back, because I didn't see any of their issues as serious enough to give it much thought, because I trusted them with the loyalty of one who was raised to trust only her friends.

In the end, I'm proud to have been shunned and shut out by those who did so, just as I am proud of the deep and lasting friendships I have formed within the community with those who were shunned and shut out like me. I deliberately sought them out because I saw the value that the ritualists failed to see in them. And I was raised to believe it's the black sheep of the herd who are the most interesting. I've made a life of finding the blackest sheep to be part of my heart. We don't go to church. We don't go to rituals disguised as church. We don't go to mandatory meetings that exist only to decide who is in or out that week. We don't pretend we have the one and only truth squeezed into our way to tight back pocket ready to whip out and beat non-believers with.

We appreciate each other for being different, for liking and understanding and appreciating Mathematics, Science, Logic, Computers, Art and Literature...and also finding our own truths within new age spirituality. But mostly we appreciate each other because we know that not going to church on Sunday doesn't automatically make one an Atheist. It just makes you someone who can't see your own face in the mirror and therefore can't see your past sneaking up behind you and strangling the life out of you.

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