Friday, March 27, 2015

The Detritus of War

We owe a debt of gratitude to the folks who put the Great Plains Writer's Conference and the recent Harding Distinguished Lecture together at South Dakota State University. What powerful evening presentations we heard!

Kristen Iverson, the author of Full Body Burden, was featured the first night. Hers was the story of growing up near the Rocky Flats, CO, nuclear weapons plant. Her remarks wetted my appetite for the full story, so I purchased the book. In the book, the secrecy, stalling, denial and duplicity of the national security state we live in, is revealed in all it's starkness. 

It becomes obvious that when the lives of the average citizen need to be sacrificed for the sake of the military industrial complex, in the name of national security, they are! All those who worked in the plant and lived around it, risked their lives and the lives of their children's children on the sacrificial altar of the nation state, often without the full knowledge of how and why.

Why in heavens name should the U.S. government, in the name of national defense, produce 70,000 plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, in the hope they will never be used? And the debris and detritus from those triggers polluted a huge populated area for generations, for thousands of years to come. 

The Rocky Flats story illustrates how the principalities and powers (St. Paul's language), like the huge corporations running the plant, the real estate industry interested in developing the contaminated land around the plant, and the government agencies and politicians in collusion with those powerful economic interests, all work together to crush the seekers of truth and the truth tellers, like the county health director, fired for doing his job of protecting people's health.

It's a story we see in so many places these days. The fruit of killing others, or even preparing to do so, is to hurt ourselves. The detritus of nuclear war preparations is cancer, big time! We will never know all of those who died from the contamination at Rocky Flats, although we get lots of names in the book. We can also thank Hanover, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pantex, Savannah River, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, the Feed Materials Production Center, the Nevada Test Site, and all of those other places where "accidents" in preparation for nuclear war leave their mark on us. And that detritus remains in the air we breathe, the soil we plant, the water we drink.

And then I heard the same story, repeated, with a different cast of characters and a different principality and power, the next night.

Dr. Vandana Shiva presented her take on "Who Really Feeds the World?" It was a different point of view from the one we normally hear from industrial agriculture. She begins in a very different place, since she sees the world and everything in it as connected and related. So if you decide to use Round Up on your yard or your fields, there are complex consequences. It might kill the weeds in the field. But the eventual by product may be super weeds, super bugs, and cancer.

Interestingly, as Dr. Shiva spoke, the World Health Organization had just announced that glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto's Round Up, was probably carcinogenic. Other studies, like the Seralini study, indicated the same thing. As the head of the cellular neurobiology laboratory at the Salk Institute stated, "There are a number of independent, published manuscripts that clearly indicate that glyphosate … can promote cancer and tumor growth. It should be banned."

We want to kill weeds, so we end up developing chemicals that kill ourselves and our children. And it's another story of secrecy, stalling, denial and duplicity. Monsanto has been a leader in working the revolving door in Washington, purchasing educational institutions, buying off GMO labeling efforts and monopolizing markets. 

So almost all of the corn, most of the soy and much of the cotton in the U.S., is genetically modified to tolerate Monsanto's Round Up. Their killing detritus is all around us.

Organic farmers around the world are demonstrating that organic agriculture works for people and the environment. Dr. Shiva's own farming community in India is a model. The food is more nutritious, the originally depleted soil is now rich and fertile, and the crops are fruitful and tasty without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Glyphosate is currently under review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It should be banned. Then watch the howls of protest from our S.D. Congressional delegation. They will call it Obama administration over reach. They will say it's taking away a person's freedom to farm. 

We need to say to them, our health and that of our children is more important than anything. We need to tell them no more plutonium triggers. Ban nuclear weapons along with the glyphosate. We need to say we're tired of raising money for cancer research to help our cancer riddled children. Stop producing the stuff that causes it!

Kristen and Vandana tell a sustainable story, about love for horses and pets, about love for the soil and it's rich and complex organisms. Working in harmony with the sustenance nature gives us, we can construct a different more life affirming reality. If only we have the will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


One of the Journals I sometimes purchase is "Parabola: Where Spiritual Traditions Meet." Each issue has a primary theme that is explored through many different religious and spiritual traditions. Some of the themes over the years have been: Silence, Home, Birth & Rebirth, The Heart, Forgiveness, Nature, Suffering, etc. One of the issues centers on "Wisdom."

One of the more thought provoking articles in the "Wisdom" issue is written by the poetry editor of the journal. He raises the question of where wisdom resides and the relationship of wisdom to knowledge. He writes, "Wisdom does not loom large in the modern psyche. It has been replaced by knowledge … It is strictly about things and the manipulation of them; and unsurprisingly, it's directed outwardly, towards the technologies of life and not their meanings. So we have many people who, externally speaking, are able but not wise; active but not prudent. And perhaps this defines our society and our age as much as any other set of words; activity without prudence, or, imprudent doing."

We see this imprudent activity all around us. There is an utter compulsion for productivity, for doing more; for growth, for bigger and better everything; for progress and development; for larger GDP and greater energy security and more distractions in more glamorous products that promise more health and happiness; ultimately, all of them, leaving us more or less unsatisfied and wanting more. And then when our time on earth ends, we wonder what it was all about. We ask "what did it all mean," a wisdom question.

Indigenous cultures understood that one should resist doing anything without considering the impact on the seventh generation. Today such an idea is considered outdated; a sign of a civilization that was slow to progress and having a poor work ethic.

So small towns like Brookings, where I live, that are able to sustain and support an excellent public infrastructure and many other amenities of small town life, are culturally compelled to grow, beyond what they can plan for and afford. It's all in the name of economic development. And you have horror stories like Williston, North Dakota. It's really de-development when you have rents higher than anywhere in the nation.

In Williston, a 700 square foot one bedroom apartment costs on average $2,394 a month. That's more than New York City at $1,504 or Los Angeles at $1,411. The population of the community has doubled since the 2010 census. I assume this is the kind of growth decision makers in my own state are hoping for, should oil money follow the Keystone tar sands pipeline into South Dakota. It will surely be a big boom for some and a big bust for many.

For me, I'd rather have less fossil fuels, not more. I think we would be better off with smaller class sizes in our schools, not larger. And why would we want to put more and stronger toxic pesticides on our fields, rather than finding ways to use less? Is more really always better?

This emphasis on activity and growth is also evident in the recent decision by our State Senate to put an unexpected nest egg of unclaimed bank accounts and other assets, worth $30 million, into the Building South Dakota Fund. The emphasis will be on projects costing $20 million or more. 

In the meantime, we can't afford to make sure our own citizens, close to 50,000 of them, have adequate access to health care through the medicaid program. And we apparently can't afford to aid another 70,000 of our citizens to access health insurance where they would receive tax credits. Not to say anything about the continual penny pinching when it comes to education.

There's a difference when development asks the "why" question first and foremost. With "why," there's an innate orientation to considering things that have meaning. These days, it's simply a "how" question, and involves making more money.

There's amazing irony to me in a run away economy, addicted to consuming and devouring everything, mirrored in our national health. Cancer, a run away disease that consumes us all, continues to devastate our families and communities,. Cancer cells eat ravenously, just like our addictive economy and culture. Why is there this similarity?

To make prudent decisions is the essence of wisdom. And prudent decisions derive from foresight, from paying attention. As the writer in Parabola says, "attention is born from within, not from outward circumstances; … attention is of a divine origin, not a worldly one."

I'm afraid the internal life, the residence of wisdom, has gone the way of everything else in a throw-away culture. That's not sustainable! 

We need wisdom as badly as we need knowledge. We need the cultivation of an internal spiritual life. We need to revisit the important questions of meaning. We need to ask again the questions of earlier generations, of what truly sustains us, and what will sustain our children and grandchildren for many generations to come.

Carl Kline

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Truth and Beauty

A few years ago I was reading a novel where the author drew this image of flying in a plane over hundreds of Turkish carpets, laid end to end in a field. In the story, the carpets had been soaked on the ship on their way to  the U.S., so they were drying in the sunshine. Perhaps it was the prose of the author. Perhaps it was the image that rose in my minds eye. Whatever it was, I had this revelation about the nature of beauty. It made me think of the quotation from John Keats, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Truth was never much of a problem for me. My parents made sure of that. When my father asked a question, you tried not to even exaggerate or leave anything out. His question demanded a straight-out story, no deviations from the truth. And my mother, honestly, along with having an eye in the back of her head, she could just look at me and melt my made-up story and start the tears and a complete confession.

Then, of course, there was Gandhi. I was introduced to him and his Truth on my first trip to India in 1977. For Gandhi, "Truth was God." One has to understand the Sanskrit language Gandhi used to understand this concept. In Sanskrit, "satya," the word for Truth, incorporates "sat," the word for Being. This isn't just any being, this is the Big Being, with a capitol B. 

So with Gandhi, truth went from something one told his parents to a conception of what governs the universe. When Gandhi coined the word satyagraha as his method of combatting violence, he was countering military and physical force with the force of universal Truth. In a terribly limp English translation, we have called this force nonviolence, sometimes "truth force" or "soul force."

My appreciation of beauty has come slower. Of course, I was usually able to appreciate beauty in people; not just the outside physical appearance but the inner grace as well. But the beauty of objects generally escaped me, distracted as I was by a vocation that focused on the human and spiritual side of life.

Or perhaps it's partly a male thing. I've never been very color conscious. My wife has to tell me, "you can't wear that shirt with those pants." In buying a new car my first question is not, "what colors do you have." I think other men have a similar problem, from what I've heard from wives. 

But then a male friend of mine, after recovering from a heart attack, talked to me about color. He said all of the colors were brighter now than they had ever been before in his life. He was noticing! There was subtle variation that had escaped him before and sometimes a brightness that was profound. I wanted to see what he was seeing, so I started to look more closely.

Color is one pathway to beauty. There's a new awareness of the changing colors in the cardinal family in our back yard and the subtle change in the sunlight through our southern windows. There's beauty all around if only I open my awareness to it.

I'm not sure, like Keats, if that's all there is, truth and beauty. But at the moment, it's plenty.

Carl Kline

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The irony one finds in the news these days is mind boggling.

There's the story of the family member who called 911 asking for a welfare check on a 74 year old relative who recently had heart surgery. The relative was concerned the man might not be OK. He lived by himself. So after police attempted to raise someone at the house without success, and after checking nearby hospitals, about 11:30 P.M. they broke into the home, afraid he might be there and in need of emergency care. They found the man pointing a gun at them, perhaps expecting robbers, and he was shot dead.

Apparently he was OK, but after a "welfare" check, he's not now!

Then there's the story of the three young people, Muslims, who were shot execution style, all three in the head, by someone who on his Facebook page was an "Atheist for Equality" and apparently hated radical Christians and Muslims for causing strife in the world. 

Unfortunately, his victims were all studying and working to contribute to the common good, not harm it. The young man had plans to travel to Turkey with other dental students to provide dental care for Syrian refugees. He was certainly about alleviating strife and suffering, not causing it.

And police and media reports led one to believe this was a parking lot dispute (as if that justified killing three unarmed people in cold blood). Initially, you got the picture of the murders taking place in the parking lot, when in reality, the killing took place in the apartment of the three victims. Who was the cause of strife?

And now that the killer of the "American Sniper" has gone on trial in Texas, the irony in that story continues to unfold. Chris Kyle was credited with 160 kills as a sniper by the Pentagon and was killed himself at a shooting range in Texas, in the back, by another vet, allegedly high on whiskey and weed and with severe mental issues. The killer was paranoid and thought "people were sucking his soul." We're told that Kyle and the other victim both had guns in their holsters but never had a chance to draw them. 

The oscar nominated film about Kyle has grossed close to $300 million. The irony in this story does not discount the tragedy of lost life, of Chris Kyle or any one else. All lost life is tragic. Rather, it should speak to us of the ultimate irony implicit in the rule of violence. As M.L. King said, the choice is not between violence and nonviolence, but between nonviolence and nonexistence.

And then there's the rationale attributed to South Dakota Representative Stalzer of Sioux Falls for why people shouldn't be required to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He says, "he knows people, including his wife, who accidentally let their permits expire and carried their weapons as criminals under state law."

Well, I know people who have forgotten to renew their driver's license and drove around as criminals according to state law. They didn't mean to, they just forgot. So I guess forgetfulness on the part of well meaning people is a good reason to abolish permits, for concealed weapons, maybe for driving a car and (what else could we excuse?). 

Is it possible a person might become mentally unstable, or commit a felony, or be charged with domestic abuse in between conceal and carry permits?

Ironically, the South Dakota State House Affairs Committee voted for it. And irony of ironies, the police, those we ask to protect and serve, are the main opposition to encouraging more weapons without permits, hidden and otherwise, on our streets. Apparently, those who most often have to deal with gun violence are least likely to encourage it.

But I can't leave this commentary on irony without at least mentioning our national fixation in the U.S. on stopping violence with greater violence. As if it weren't obvious, our decade long adventure in Iraq has led to ISIS. And our drones in Yemen and elsewhere are destabilizing whole societies. And all the blame in Ukraine we've laid at the feet of the Russians. 

It reminds me of a saying, "As we see the speck in the other's eye, we are oblivious to the log in our own." Irony of ironies!

Carl Kline