June Link Dump

Tis been a busy month with way more web information than I could post. So here is an end of the month link dump. First, something fanciful -- that map up there is called Food Wars, which shows the territories covered by the major food chains in the USA. Not at all what I expected.

Next, a couple of new blogs I find very interesting. My nephew Jake is in China doing a summer internship and has chosen to stay in touch via Tastes Like Chicken. Then there is my good friend Mira, who has literally leapt into the blogosphere with her and this part is true blog; already 13 posts in less than a month, now that is a blogger.

May I humbly recommend that you take about ten minutes to read this Conversation with God. No really. I found it very enlightening. I am sure there are several Mormons out there smirking because their faith has several similarities to this thesis. But do give it a read, ten minutes ain't that long.

For another dose of spirituality, one of my poker media buddies, Michelle Lewis, has a nice (non-poker) piece on the Meaning of the Number 9.

Having trouble focusing, try this little visual test from the NYTimes and this second one on multi-tasking. Let me know if they work for you, I scored 100% on both and methinks they may be underestimating us cybernoids.

I will wrap up with an Annie Lennox take on Bob Marley's Waiting in Vein.

A Little Poker

This is a little poker story followed by some nostalgia from my days in the world of professional poker. For my non-poker readers, trust me, you will know when to stop reading.* 

Early last week the fire alarm system in my building was being worked on, which meant that the very loud clarion clanging cacophony  was going off just outside my door every five minutes. On the third detonation I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my keys and headed for the car. I really didn't have a destination until I was a block or so from the apartment when I thought of the Oaks Card Club in nearby Emeryville. Fifteen minutes later and I am slipping into an Omaha 8 seat and being greeted by the friendly table captain.

It takes a standard couple of rounds for the locals to ask where you are from and where have you played before. When I mentioned Las Vegas, the World Series of Poker came up and I was asked if I had ever played in the WSOP. Normally what would follow would be my admission to covering the Series for the last four years, which would lead to question about why I am not there this year and eventually the Matusow book comes up and -- well -- I have been there before and just wasn't interested in going there again, at least not that day.

"You ever been to the World Series?"

"Nope, never have."

As soon as I said it, I knew those were the right words. Most days I just don't have any interest in what I was so immersed in for the past five years. I do keep track of a few players at the Series, but those are my friends. I do read a few of the writers currently working the tournaments at the Rio, but again those are my buddies and I am more interested in what they write about away from the poker tables than anything that happens during the games.*

I covered the WSOP for four summers (Gold-Yang-Eastgate-Cada) and I look back at that I remember much more about the time away from the poker tables and infinitely more about the preliminary events than about the main event. Except for Mike's great run in the '08 main, while Amy and I were finishing the book.

For my media buddies sweltering in the desert heat, I offer this bit of historical pondering. Notice my years of coverage and compare them to yours, I think I perhaps didn't choose my tenure wisely.

(Jamie Gold-Jerry Yang-Peter Eastgate-Joe Cada)
(Robert Varkonyi-Chris Moneymaker-Greg Raymer-Joe Hachem)
(Scotty Nguyen-Noel Furlong-Chris Ferguson-Carlos Mortensen)
(Russ Hamilton-Dan Harrington-Huck Seed-Stu Ungar)
(Mansour Matloubi-Brad Dougherty-Hamid Dastmalchi-Jim Bechtel)
(Berry Johnston-Johnny Chan-Johnny Chan-Phil Hellmuth)
(Jack Strauss-Tom McEvoy-Jack Keller-Bill Smith)
(Bobby Baldwin-Hal Fowler-Stu Ungar-Stu Ungar)
(Johnny Moss-Sailor Roberts-Doyle Brunson-Doyle Brunson)
(Johnny Moss-Johnny Moss-Amarillo Slim Preston-Puggy Pearson)

I think only two of those groups might be more forgettable then my four year stint.



Manichean (man-i-KEE-uhn)
1. pertaining to a strongly dualistic worldview.
2. An adherent of the dualistic religious system of Manes, a combination of gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with a basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark.

I am by nature opposed to dualism. I don't believe in light versus dark or good versus evil. Yet, many of the world's great religions are founded on such beliefs, not to mention many more secular philosophies, dozens of national constitutions and nearly all wars.

On one hand I believe any thoughtful person will concede that nearly nothing can be framed in a purely good versus evil dichotomy. Even in the darkest of evils and the brightest of perfections there are elements of the other. But more importantly the human minds that are observing these clashes of opposites almost never agree on which side is light or evil or dark or good. Grey is the color of the day, all day, every day, until the final day.

Standing on the far side of the battlefield we invariably find other humans who feel as strongly about their position in the light of good and truth and right as those on our side. Yes, yes I know you want to bring up Hitler and the Nazis right about now. I concede there are historical aberrations to contradict any position. However....

As fairly evolved sentient beings we are or should be capable of using our ability to perceive subtle nuances to inform our worldview. We should be able to discount the jingoistic speeches of political leaders and make measured judgments about our side (light) and the other side (dark), because there are equally intelligent, evolved individuals on the other side who would reverse those dark & light flags.

Part of the problem is one position cannot grow to be better, more light or inherently correct unless the opposing philosophy becomes more dark, more evil and inherently wrong. Such dramatic opposition leads to conflict, battle and war. Where does it all end? I would suggest the more productive question is to ask: Where did it all begin?

Conflict usually begins when there exists one or more dualistic views. If you strongly believe your position to be right, then others must be wrong. Wrong equals opposition to your position, which is by self-definition -- right. I encourage examining where your beliefs are dualistic or oppositional to another and then perhaps -- listening to the other. Start small. Begin with a minor disagreement. Leave terrorism, abortion and whaling for later.

Ever wonder why the dominate color of this blog is grey.

Around the Firepit

Remember those late night debates in the dormitory. Do you miss them? I don't. Well I don't miss being 19 and talking and acting like I knew more than I did. But I do miss the conversation, the camaraderie and yes, the mind expansion that flow from interactions like those. I enjoy the feelings that honest, open, intense conversation engenders.

I was reminded of this a few weekends ago, when some of my olde grad school friends and I got together, had a big meat laden barbeque and then late into the night, we tossed yet one more log on the coals and launched into one more topic. Sometimes I miss heated conversations where polysyllabic utterances are not discouraged and where loud and pointed disagreement is often met with laughter and even agreement.

Read all you will, ponder until the dragons come home but articulating what you are formulating to an interested and attentive cadre is oh so satisfying. Even when they beat up your still half-formed thesis.

Gotta do that again soon.

Telegraph Avenue

I have lived in several university towns and spent a fair amount of time in many others: Ann Arbor, Madison, Cambridge, Austin, Westwood, Berkeley. While they all show the liberal influence of the ivy covered walls, they are all somewhat unique. Most influence neighborhoods they share, others dominate the entire city. And then there is the People's Republic of Berkeley.

Such a mixture of liberal/radical politics existing right alongside fantabulous contradictions. For a place of peace, freedom and social justice there are a lot of regulations. Mostly these are seen as "for the people" and against the establishment but rules are rules and are therefore necessarily anti-freedom. But politics and bureaucracy are not my topics today. Telegraph Avenue is.

Telegraph Ave. is less than 5 miles long. It runs from downtown Oakland north-north-east to the south entrance of the UC Berkeley campus at Sather Gate, which then spills directly into Sproul Plaza where "those" protests took place in the 60's. But when most of us hear Telegraph Avenue, we think of the last four blocks at the UCB end of Telegraph, where you can still buy beads, candles, radical bumper-stickers and incense. I live about five minutes from this stretch of Telegraph, so I know the restaurants and other necessary establishments there, yes olde friends I live within walking distance of Tienda Ho.

Early last week, I was up on Telegraph running errands, I hit the post office, grabbed a sandwich at Cafe Mattina and was looking for a place to make my seasonal lottery purchase. After casually keeping my eye out for a lottery sign, I realized that in the mecca of anti-establishmentarianism there was not going to be a retailer who would alienate the local clientele by trading in such a income discriminatory hidden tax. I think I must have been smiling even more broadly as I turned off Telegraph to head back to the apartment. I rounded the last corner stepping slightly around a well dressed young woman, who I noted was a bit out of place on the lingering hippy sidewalks of Telegraph when I heard her whisper;


There it was, in the heartland of free love, a Tuesday afternoon solicitation. I wish I had not simply strolled on. I would like to know more about prostitution on Telegraph Ave. Think I could have gotten five minutes of conversation for what? maybe twenty bucks?

The times they are achangin'.

Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago today I lost my best friend.

Regret is not something I deal with all that often. I don't wonder where all those years have gone. I don't joke about all that grey hair in college reunion pictures. For me, time passes and we leave signposts along the way. But this one, twenty years ... this one got me.

I don't miss him every day, I never have. But when I think about Tom and the South Bay years, I know those times changed my life. At his memorial service I read one of my favorite pieces of writing from John Steinbeck because those words described so clearly why time spent with Tom was so memorable. I offer you those words on this day.

"Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy--that's the time that seems long in memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all."

My wish for all of you is that your times be splashed, wounded and crevassed.

photo credit: flower x-rays

San Francisco Salt

Those colorful waters pictured above can often be seen during final approach to the San Francisco and Oakland airports. They are salt ponds, part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The ponds actually produce salt for a wide range of commercial uses. The vibrant hues have to do with the aquatic life that thrives on the ever increasing salinity levels as the ponds dry and concentrate in the sun.

The refuge is over 30,000 acres of protected wetlands around the southern perimeter of San Francisco Bay. Millions of birds, over 250 species, use the area permanently or during migration. Included within the refuge are 9,000 acres operated by Cargill Salt. They use the Bay salt water and a vast network of drying/concentrating ponds to process salt naturally using solar energy to slowly leech the salt from the ocean water. In the process higher and higher concentrations of salinity are achieved in the evaporation ponds, this process gives rise to marine life in the form of brine shrimp and blue-green algae, which attract a wider range of marine birds than would not be attracted to the uniform concentration of naturally occurring ocean water. It is one of these algaes, Dunaliella, that changes to the brilliant red or vermillion color when the salt content of the water reaches high levels.

Eventually, the water is baked away by the sun and the salt and other minerals are harvested. Commercial uses include: road salt, home soft water conditioners and eventually after a final cleansing process -- table salt. If you have Diamond Crystal salt in your kitchen, this is where it comes from.

Cargill has an interesting virtual tour of the process on its website.

If you happen to live in the Bay Area or are in town for a conference, you can visit the Wildlife Refuge and tour the salt ponds.

Fog City

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." 
- attributed to but never said by Mark Twain

I'm back to window gazing from my perch in the East Bay and now that summer is nearly upon us the infamous fogs of San Francisco are beginning to appear. Out my window I can get three different views of the grey shroud that is summer around the Bay. As I have mentioned previously, directly out my window about ten miles away is the Golden Gate. Yes, there is a bridge there now but long before the two towers of the span were erected the gap was known as the Golden Gate. It is the narrowing that separates the pacific ocean from San Francisco Bay. Through the gates can pour fog at a pace that literally fills the Bay. Now SF Bay is over 60 miles long and I can see over 50 miles of that length from my window. So the effect of the fog on the surface is never quite the same. How far will it creep today? How can it move so fast? And where might an cargo ship pop out of the fog?

Then to the immediate north of the Gate are Sausalito and the Marin headlands that rise up to 2500 feet at Mt. Tamalpais. When the fog comes up and over the headlands that means a big fog bank is rolling in from the north. Since the sun is setting way up to the north these days, the sunsets take on some interesting shades of pale. More of a sunglow than a sunset.

The south side of the Golden Gate is the City at the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. There is a ridge that runs down the center of that big thumb of land. On the west side (the ocean side) are the Sunset and Richmond districts of the City. The temperature is always cooler out there, often 10-15 degrees cooler than downtown and as much as 20-30 cooler than over here in Berkeley. But from my vantage point the buildings of downtown San Francisco, Coit Tower and the Sutro Tower on Twin Peaks are what the creeping fog can slowly swallow when it creeps up & over the peninsula divide.

All this weather means a daily summer time viusal treat from mother nature. I wish you could see it. Come visit sometime.

Picking Your Battles

I remember a younger version of me who was adverse to waiting. Taking time to make a decision seemed like just a waste of precious time. The facts were the facts, the options were clear, just get on with it. I guess with age may come wisdom but certainly comes patience and contemplation. For nearly a year I have been pondering one particular interpersonal relationship with no fear of deadline or timeline. I didn't have what I required to move forward. This is not simply procrastination. I do think about the issues involved, I sit with what was before and what might be in the future. It just isn't yet time.

When a similar situation came up over Memorial Day weekend, one of my friends who was directly involved said something about "picking your battles" and while not precisely a fight, it was a conflict which could easily have led to a confrontation. He chose to linger in limbo rather than push forward while still "unprepared and unarmed" (his words not mine). The warlike metaphors seems a bit overwrought, so I engaged in a little wordplay.

Battle has militaristic, confrontational overtones but crusade or campaign might work.

Picking conjures synonyms like cull, sift, harvest and gather.

It became clear to me that I was more into the picking than I was into the battle. I was indeed gathering my thoughts; culling my feelings, sifting through the possibilities and gathering myself for an eventuality.
Once again the younger me spoke up and suggested this period of rumination might better be called out as mental masturbation. Ah, the impetuousness of youthful ganglia. But I had to think, it has been nearly a year, perhaps my friend has something to say about our estrangement. Perhaps the time had come. Could I get a sign or a stage direction here?

As if in the "ask and ye shall receive" mode, I dropped by while another friend was doing some household divesting. They offer me several tables of items that will soon be the property of Goodwill. I did not care to even check the inventory because I am still post-accumulation. But then she said: "Well maybe one of our friends might need something here." I took a quick glance and sure enough right there in the first pile was an artifact of our youth my olde friend had talked about perhaps ten years ago. Here was my sign. I picked it up and that evening made the call. Now I just need to find the words before the next full moon.

A Prickly Nightingale

According to a recent biography, Florence Nightingale was "devout and unforgiving, inexhaustible and chronically unwell." What history remembers is that she fought against limitations imposed on her by her gender and launched what we now call the modern health care system. Apparently she also saw "earthly friendships as a hindrance on the path to true righteousness." Obviously a complicated and complicating woman. She is said to have been so driven that she worked two of her loyal followers to death. But what struck me about her life was not the details (didn't finish the book) but the concluding words of a short review:

"This is a terrific biography of a woman to whom we owe a great deal, but would perhaps never want to meet." Mark Bostridge

Got any nightingales in your life?

I have just one in mine right now, though in the past I have had many more, some as big a vultures. A nightingale is someone we admire, someone we share an abiding passion with or even someone we love but . . . someone who we just cannot tolerate being around. I know I have been a nightingale myself at times, in fact I remember being shouted at by an olde flame, she really could have used this newly coined association with nightingale; it would have saved her a lot of four letter approximations.

I truly admire individuals who can look beyond the befuddling, muddling, perplexing exterior to the heart of gold, silver, bronze or platinum. Those with that patience make great social workers and I think good mothers must have a modicum or more of such grace. Me -- well I am an advocate of the timely retreat or the cowardly pythonesque run away. But this time, with this nightingale, I am going to attempt to work through the gritty, abrasive interpersonal slime and see what might be on the other side. And I am going to start that soon, maybe next week or right after the solstice.

Stuck in the Past

After today's post, I am going to move on from the topic of war and causes of war. But I want to offer and ponder one more aspect of war and terrorism in our time.

A few days ago I was reading a piece in The Atlantic by a reporter who had an ongoing relationship with a Hamas leader. The article was a mixture of ode and homage to the man who had recently been killed by a bomb dropped on his home in a refugee camp. This highly articulate man with a "bigoted worldview" had written his master's thesis on martyrdom and had sent one of his sons to his death as a suicide bomber. With all of the contradictions of east versus west, Israel versus Palestine, haves versus have nots; what came clearly to the writer and to me was this leader's "fatal obsession with the past."

How does anyone get beyond horrors that are inflicted upon them by others? Some are able to forgive, often as a sign of faith. But hundreds of intra-tribal conflicts simmer or rage around the world from the Middle East to East Timor, the Congo, Sri Lanka and certainly Afghanistan and Iraq. How do cultures, tribes, countries and races move beyond the mire of blood-stained history?

I don't have the answer but I strongly sense that imposing democracy with combat soldiers and predator drones is not ever going to succeed. Foreign aid that mixes wheat, soy, rice and C4 explosive is unlikely to win the hearts and minds of any population. Particularly when that population is itself divided by hundreds even thousands of years of racial and tribal hatreds.

Yes, I suppose we must keep on trying but killing one segment of the population seems to align us more with the dark side and not with the international rhetoric of peace we spout to the media. History teaches us that violent suppression does not work, never has and never will. So we must stop. The only way to truly give peace a chance is for the strongest military power on the planet to renounce the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy.

Have You Listened to the Other Side Lately?

I have mentioned before that these days I have a much more politically diverse group of friends then I had a decade or three ago. This means that I get email forwarded from all sides of the political spectrum. My usual response is to fire back some sobering historical fact or debunking statistic whether I am responding to liberal or conservative propaganda.

Periodically I file some of these items away for future use or further dissection. Today in the wake of three consecutive anti-war and some might say anti-government posts, I want to paraphrase a few examples that might make everyone ponder their political position whether left, right, middle or other.

* In the early 60's Secretary of State Dean Rusk was in France when President Charles DeGaulle made another of his often repeated threats to pull France out of NATO. He told Rusk that he wanted all US military out of France.

To which Rusk responded: "Even those buried here?"

**More recently, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if George Bush was not practicing more American empire building in Iraq.

General and then Secretary of State Powell responded: "Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return was just enough to bury those that did not return."

***At a International conference of naval officers, a French admiral noted that European citizens learn more than one language, yet "Why is it that we always have to speak English at these events?"

A U.S. admiral quickly said: "Perhaps its because the Brits, Canadians, Aussies and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German."

Now don't going running to Snopes to verify these little stories, they are clearly metaphors that serve as a reminder that no policy, foreign or domestic, is all good or completely evil and that a wider perspective is something sorely lacking on all sides of nearly every political debate.

I remind you once again of my favorite quote that really was said by someone I know. I was there for the first utterance and can historically verify its accuracy.

"We all agree that one political party is stupid and the other is evil; all we are debating is which is which."

A Hawk-Dove Conundrum

Part three of my anti-war series arises from another real life encounter that made me think about how we express our opinions on what is clearly an emotional subject for many.

I was in the Oakland airport doing a pick-up for an old friend. I was early, the flight was late, so I pulled my "killing time" book out of the trunk. I was sitting in the large pre-screening ticketing area when I heard an airport bell captain speaking in a loud, commanding voice for all to hear. I don't have the exact words but he was pointing out the six camouflaged, beret-wearing soldiers. I did catch: "On their way to serve their country." There was more than a smattering of applause, travelers at the doorstep of the escalator gave way to the soldiers with several pats on the shoulder. I don't use airports much these days but a few calls to friends who are frequent flyers told me that this was not an isolated occurrence.

What got my attention was a middle-aged man a few seats away from me. He was in the line of sight between my seat and the soldiers. He was not happy with the scene unfolding in front of us. Moments later he folded his newspaper and headed for a nearby bar, I followed him and took a seat just around the bend in the bar so he and I were close but not on top of each other. We both ordered drinks and I opened my book again. He hit his beer quickly and after a short time I put down the book and he asked if it was any good. The book just happened to be a poker biography (Doyle Brunson's) and it took me about three sentences to bring up the Matusow book and we were conversational buddies.

Halfway through his second Miller Lite, I took the plunge.

"I noticed that you were less than happy with the acknowledgment those soldiers were given."

The same dark face returned and he took a long drag on his beer. Then it spilled out:

"You remember Vietnam?"

"I do indeed."

"Well I was there. I was there at the end. We knew for months that we were going home, if we managed to stay alive until our orders came through. When I got back home there wasn't any of that baby-killer crap or being spit on or nothing like that. I think most of those stories are urban myths anyway."

He took another tug on the long-neck.

"I just hate it that those young fellows get some applause in an airport but we don't give them the training or equipment to be safe where we are sending them. Hell, I don't even know if I'm for or against these wars; if I try to read about them at all it takes me back to a place I just don't want to go."

Just then, as in all these airport vignettes, his flight got a PA boarding call.

"Damn, they said another hour, I gotta run."

As he shuffled for money with no bartender in sight I offered:

"Let me get that one, you gotta plane to catch."

"Thanks" he said. A couple a paces away he turned back and asked: "You weren't there, were you?"

"No, I was one of the long-hairs back here trying to stop it."

He thought for a moment and said: "Thanks for that too."

What an amazing difference forty years can make.

Support the Troops

What pushed me to finally post my anti-war sentiments last time were a series of recent incidents. Here in the second part of my thoughts on war and America I want to walk you through one such situation.

I have to go back a little over a year, right around inauguration time, I was attending a gathering at a friend's house. At one point a gentleman, clearly a democrat, made some comment about Obama as compared to Bush. Being a strong supporter of third parties and a devil's advocate whenever anyone spouts either party line, I pointedly disagreed with him. He responded with something like -- "You can't honestly think Obama would be worse than Bush."

Before I could answer our friend and host stepped in and said -- "No, not you two! I know both of your political positions and --- well, not here." I smiled and bowed to his assessment. The other fellow tried the free speech angle -- "But we were just discussing..." I reiterated that I was going to accept the judgment of our host and the incident was over.

Move to last weekend at a Memorial Day gathering, this time with a discussion about Afghanistan. I made a clear anti-war statement and a fellow responded with something like: "You liberals betray our troops with that pacifist crap." This time I turned to the host for guidance and he responded: "Oh not this time, he deserves everything you are about to give him."

So whether you are a war mongering wing-nut or a thoughtful supporter of the anti-terrorism related foreign policy of the U.S. government; should you be tempted to use such an argument, this is for you:

I would call your argument intellectually weak but that would be conceding that you had a level of intelligence worth engaging. Particularly you tea-party noise makers. Here you are arguing that the people have the right and the duty of speak up and even replace the existing government when "In the course of human events..." Yet you try to silence criticism of war, death, slaughter and carnage by saying someone like me doesn't support our troops. Let me remind you of a lesson learned forty years ago in Vietnam; when mired in ill-conceived militaristic ventures the best way to support the troops is to bring them home. Or do you still think we could have or should have "won" the war in Vietnam?

Do you remember the words of John Kerry? "How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake."

Supporting the troops means not putting them in harm's way for oil reserves or the bottom-line of petroleum/military corporations like Halliburton. You say politicians lie. How is it that only those you oppose are in on this conspiracy? How is it that your foreign policy always means young Americans die?

And one last thing, if you are so supportive of the troops, what have you done for wounded veterans recently? Visited them in the hospital? Wrote a letter to Congress demanding better benefits? Supporting the troops means giving young men and women the opportunity for a full life with all of their limbs and without the life-long post-traumatic disorders that arise when old, rich, business interests win out over compassion and common sense.

I linked to the words of the Declaration of Independence above, try reading it, all of it and then talk to me about supporting those who serve.

What Is It Good For?

What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing.
Say it again.

Several months ago I wrote a short piece voicing my opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The very first response I got to that post was: "Would you say more about your position?" This is the first of three or four posts on the subject of war, opposition to war and the dark reaches of the American psyche that still resonate from the war that nearly destroyed us -- Vietnam.

My first point is also my primary thesis for everything that follows on the subject. War as we know today flows from the experiences in the 20th century. History, in this case, is a horrible guide to current international relations. It matters not that General Patton studied the military tactics of the Romans and Greeks, this is not World War II. Today any serious reflection on the conduct of human relations must come to the contemporary conclusion that war as an instrument of national politics is obsolete.

War is obsolete.

Not that history is a useless guide but what we learn from and what we take with us into the future are critical decisions. My parochial school education taught me that for every christian martyred by the romans another three converted to the fledging sect of christianity. Today the madrasah that indoctrinate radical islamists find their young converts in backwash of western alliance military activities. Over seven years of occupation of Iraq simply provides too many opportunities for citizens of that country to turn against the U.S. Even if you hated Saddam and welcomed the liberation of 2003, over the ensuing years your neighbor is shot, your daughter is searched on the street by soldiers, your infrastructure is not rebuilt and foreign troops patrol your country. Your heart and your mind change.

I do not blame Barack Obama nor either George Bush. I blame history. I can only imagine, but I can imagine it vividly, the first time the joint chiefs of staff briefed the new president. The new president who spent 8 years in the Illinois legislature and 4 years in the U.S. Senate must have been overwhelmed at what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was holding back. Hundreds of suicide bombers and dozens of dirty bomb plots hatched by Al-Qaeda were going to rain down on the west without a continuing war against terrorism in Afghanistan. Iraq perhaps is more a war of the western hubris that we can and should impose democracy on those backward middle-east countries and their oil reserves. 

In either case the problem is blindly following a failed course of history. War stopped Germany and war stopped Japan but since then no country has risen up to attempt to conquer the world. Terrorism cannot be defeated with historically warlike tactics. The western world should and must present a cultural shining example of what peace can mean in a post-industrial society. An vibrant example of what society can be is what will win the hearts and minds of those seeking freedom. Instead we use bullets and predator drones to kill those who with justification believe we are trying to conquer them for our gain.

Are they right? Well of course they are and of course they are not. There is no overarching governmental policy that drives those opposed to "Amerika". But we are the wealthiest, most successful nation in human history. We can have a clear, articulate policy towards the rest of the world, that policy should begin with the words: "We have made mistakes in the past." But we wish to change the course of our historical path and we invite others to join us in this historic opportunity to abandon war and embrace peace.

Of course not everyone will come along. Of course not everyone will forgive us for past transgressions but that is no reason to compound our historical mistakes and create even more enemies. Declare our current foreign policy bankrupt. Envision change -- c-h-a-n-g-e, where have we heard that before?

To those who find this proposal naive, to those who find the words: Give Peace a Chance absurd. I would like to ask: Just how long do you think you get to prove your path of death and destruction will win out? The lessons of history are clear, when it doesn't work you stop or your culture and your country will collapse. It takes some time to turn the ship of state away from a course founded in worn out principals, but we simply have to begin and no nation on earth can make these changes except the United States of America.

The first step -- bring all of the troops home now.