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1. Happy Birthday

I'm 43 years old today. If I remember correctly, and if I were a hobbit I should be presenting you with a gift. Unlike humans, hobbits give on their birthdays, rather than receive. If I remember correctly. It's years ago since I read “The Lord of the Rings”. Either way the idea of giving on one's birthday is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, I have naught for thee now, save a few words and a few links.

I had such plans at the beginning of the year. I was going to completely renew the Wise Hat site. I was going to give it a completely fresh look, add new material and present it in a new way. Oh yes, I had plans. And I planned to complete them by the end of March. Well that's a week a way and I say with confidence that a week won't be enough. Some how my initial enthusiasm and resolve found themselves on the opposite arms of the seesaw of life. When one was up the other was down. And like the Grand Old Duke of York's ten thousand men I've been marching around and getting no where. Well not completely nowhere. I've been trolling through the shadows and wallowing in the doldrums. But at least I know why and I hope the knowledge will prove beneficial to you, too.

Hang on a minute, I have a few candles to blow out.

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2. Unhappy Birthday

The Road Goes Ever On And On
Down From The Door Where It Began
Now Far Ahead The Road Is Gone
And I Must Follow If I Can
Pursuing It With Eager Feet
Until It Meets Some Larger Way
Where Many A Path and Errand Meet
And Whither Then I Cannot Say

March 20th was the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and was a day of action and protest around the World. I had lunch at Royal Host and went shopping. This wasn't what I intended, but it was what happened. I ended up doing nothing except making myself ill through guilt. This began a few days after St Valentine's Day Eve. I write eve, rather than day because the eve is the date when Allied forces bombed Dresden. The British set out to create a firestorm and succeeded. Who needs modern-day weapons of mass destruction when one has technique? Before the Second World War began bombing civilians was considered obscene, akin to using poison gas. On the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 Roosevelt wrote an open letter warning against the bombing of civilians [1]. The gassing that took place in the concentration camps is rightly considered murder. But the deliberate bombing of civilians was not condemned at Nuremberg. Instead it became known as collateral damage and an instrument of policy that has been practised to this day. In the minds of the military planners civilians are legitimate targets. The targeting of infrastructure is the targeting of civilians. The use of cluster bombs targets civilians. The strategy of ‘shock and awe' essentially puts civilians into the same category as soldiers [2].

Do the majority of civilians accept the idea that civilians are legitimate military targets? It seems that they do. Otherwise this Saturday wouldn't the streets have been blotted out under the feet of the protestors? Wouldn't Tony Blair be sitting in some prison cell keeping Milosovic company at the Hague (I'm assuming Milosovic is behind bars, I don't actually know). Wouldn't Bush be joining Clinton in impeachment, charged with crimes against the people of Iraq rather than lying about sex? Wouldn't Israel be facing real pressure to get out of the occupied territories and pull down its wall? Where is the mutual understanding? Where is the solidarity? Stupid questions I guess.

I've mixed up various issues in my last paragraph. But sometimes I feel that things that should be simple and obvious get obscured by narrow rational objectivity and self-interest.

On Saturday, I drove the forty odd minutes from Gosen where I live into Niigata. I was looking for a Peace demonstration I'd read about. Parking is difficult (the trains sparse) which is why I used Royal Host. It was in the vicinity. The demonstration turned out to be a man with a loudspeaker transmitting from a van parked by the side of the road and a few more men handing out leaflets. The leaflet was against the war in Iraq. It mentioned the number of US soldiers killed and the killing of Japanese diplomats but failed to mention civilian casualties. It also questioned the sending of Japanese Special Defence Force troops as unconstitutional and the financial costs of being involved. It provided some information but gave no suggestions for action.

Nearby, there was a woman handing out leaflets promoting a contact lens shop. People passed by generally screening out both.

Has peace no more value than a discount coupon?

I think it is easy to be fooled into thinking that marching and leafleting is doing something, is making change, is effective. But as Pattrice Jones writes in her article ”Let's Put on a Show!” Spectacle versus Reality in the US Peace Movement such activities are in danger of doing more harm than good [3]. In themselves such activities won't bring about change. Especially in modern society where spectacle and image so often define reality. We march. We leaflet. We capture the images on video and in photographs. We see ourselves on TV and on the World Wide Web. We pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. We've played our part. And yet the people die. The bombs continue to fall. The bombs continue to explode, as do the buildings and the bodies. What we are doing to stop it isn't enough. We need more. We need a transformation.

Why is it so difficult? Why is it so difficult?

3. Sticky Commemoration

All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost.

Fifteen years ago the Exxon Valdez spilled its black guts, contaminating more than 3,200 miles of shoreline. Even now ExxonMobil, unlike other oil companies, have avoided double-hulling their tankers. Of the 5 billion-dollar punitive damages awarded against them ExxonMobil has yet to pay a cent to local fisherman and native communities. [4]

I never realised this had happened on my birthday.

I think the reason that Prince William Sound is still contaminated and the reason that civilians find themselves military targets is linked to a common factor, the idea that making profit is acceptable. We live in a world where profits are put before people, where profits are put before life.

Taking action is important. Marching, demonstrating and leafleting can raise awareness of issues and help build solidarity. They can put some pressure on governments, but as the anarchist slogan goes, “no matter who you vote for, the government gets elected”. We need to look closely at our values. We need to change our economic behaviour. We need to create economic systems that stop rewarding anti-social behaviour. We need to put our money where we say our hearts are. And if not our money, our time and energy.

4. The Walmart Effect

I guess most people know that Bill Gates is the richest man in the World. I wonder how many people know which is the richest family. Between them the Waltons have over 100 billion dollars. They own Walmart. In the book No Logo [5], Naomi Kleine, discusses the strategy that helped Walmart to grow big. Unlike the more recent Starbucks, that uses a cluster approach to kill off competition (saturating a given area until Starbucks shops start taking profits from each other), Walmart adopted a one foot forward approach. Starting in Arkansas slowly, but surely, Walmart crept across the United States, more or less one state at a time. From what I've read (unfortunately I lost the link) Walmart have plans to dominate the World one continent at a time.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I wonder if activists, people who would like to create a more equitable world can do the same. Not the idea of dominating the World, but the idea of taking tiny, but certain steps.

There's an interesting movie and book called ‘Pay It Forward'. The idea is that every person should do a big favour for three different people. The favours should be something that the individuals can't do for themselves. In turn each then does favours for three others and so the favours ripple across the community and eventually the country.

I tend to agree with the Rangzen Alliance (a movement to Free Tibet) that Direct Economic Action is “the only effective weapon we have at present” [6]. Since our economic systems are based on making profit, only by threatening profit can we hope to induce change. By learning how to do this perhaps we can also start looking at economic systems that do without profit. The Boycott Bush Network the Wise Hat top page links to has identified six companies to boycott. If we combined the idea from ‘Pay It Forward' to the idea of this boycott the boycott could grow quickly. If every person who took up the boycott decided to co-opt three others the possibility of creating pressure would become real. It wouldn't even take three others, just one would be enough.

I'm really wondering about this. A kind of “Pass it On” Boycott.

What's Missing

He who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom.

This is the section where I give links to new the new material that's been added to the site. I'm due at work in 15 minutes and I'm determined to post this today. So these links will have to wait. Look out for a supplement in a couple of days.

Dissolving Doldrums

Way back at the beginning I mentioned doldrums. Not only had I been sailing them, I'd run aground. The horizon of my birthday had caused me to focus on what I was not doing and what I had failed to do. I need to admit my timing has been off. There was so much I intended to write for this newsletter but I didn't write when it was fresh. Instead I was occupied with completing my renewal plans. I squandered my interest and my productivity by focusing on results rather than creation from spontaneity. In part I was putting off until another day the ease and satisfaction of working in the now.

At Walmart they have the Sundown Rule. This is a reminder to complete what can be done before the sun goes down. A variation on never put off until tomorrow what one can do today. Walmart focus especially on custom service. I'm not thinking about self-service or indulgence I'm focusing more on the idea of intuition and flexibility.

I've had a hard time getting this newsletter out, ramshackle as it is, because I put off doing it when the time was right. My website plans, my lesson plans and my game plans lie incomplete because I tried to force my creations to a timetable. Other people may be able to do this, but after 43 years it's about time I recognised my self.

I don't work that way.

So my birthday gift to myself is to give up planning from ego and to stop placing expectations upon myself. Rather than this I'm going to practising following my intuition and my own sense of joy. This may make me more idiosyncratic, but so is it.

I'm wrapping this up now even though I never got near the process of applying this to ideas about teaching and learning. That will follow when it's ready.

So that's it as my birthday ticks away. This newsletter has been too sporadic, or perhaps not sporadic enough.

Read this space.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

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Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

(Quotes this issue by J. R. R. Tolkein)

Reference Links

[1] International Law on the Bombing of Civilians

[2] Shock and Awe Achieving Rapid Dominance by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade

[2] Shock & Awe: Is Baghdad the Next Hiroshima? commentary by Ira Chernus

[3] ‘”Let's Put on a Show!” Spectacle versus Reality in the US Peace Movement' by Pattrice Jones

[4] payupexxon. org

[4] Exxon Myths/Sound Facts Video Presentation

[4] Not another Valdez Flash Video

[5] No Logo Site

[5] The Walmart You don't Know

[5] `Low Hanging Fruit' by George Monbiot

[6] Direct Economic Action

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