Thursday, December 28, 2006


Kwanzaa is an African American cultural holiday (i.e., not a religious holiday) which was invented to celebrate and amplify family, community, and culture. The name of the holiday comes from a Swahili phrase for “first fruits” – “matunda ya kwanza.” The extra “a” in Kwanzaa is there to distinguish the American festival from the Swahili word. People emphasize a different one of the Seven Principles on each of the seven days: Umoja or Unity, Kujichaguliya or Self-determination, Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics, Nia or Purpose, Kuumba or Creativity, and Imani or Faith. For full details of the holiday, you can Google “Kwanzaa” or go to the History Channel:

This year we celebrated the first night of Kwanzaa with some very dear friends. Many different kinds of people were part of this evening’s observance: Blacks, Whites, American Indians, Latinos, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and who knows what else. Along with the pouring of libations and the lighting of candles, we went around the room so elders could share their ideas on Unity with the children present. As we ate a wonderful feast afterward, I continued thinking about the principle of Unity and the things people said, and decided to write something concerning unity and diversity.

The reason I choose to emphasize “unity and diversity” is that we celebrated and discussed unity, we were such a diverse group, and a number of the comments blended that diversity into the remarks about unity. The first speakers talked about maintaining the unity of the African American community and of the family. I mentioned that I believed that unity was also beauty. After all, all people are beautiful. I believe that the Creator deliberately made us all different, with our tremendous variety of skin colors, religions, cultures and points of view. I believe this is part of the challenge the Creator gives us: to enjoy - no to embrace - this variety, to glory in such diversity, and to learn to live in unity with our differences. This is the challenge given to us; the promise given to us is that living in unity adds an even greater beauty and meaning in our lives.

But the purpose of diversity is much more important than the fun and the beauty of being able to get along with each other. The challenge/fun part is the bait for a crucial aspect of life. In every endeavor, the greater the diversity, the greater the number of options we have and the greater the probability of success. It boils down to this: when you have more options, you have a better chance of finding something that works. For example, if your only option is to go naked, then you can only live in a very restricted area of the planet. But if you can build shelter and make clothing, your inhabitable area jumps to be several times larger.

Can you see where I’m heading?

Biologically, the greater the gene pool, the better the chance the human race has for finding combinations of physical characteristics that enhance survivability. In this respect, our tremendous physical/racial diversity is a great gift. It practically guarantees that we can survive - unless, of course, we outsmart ourselves and ruin the whole planet, then we don’t have much chance at all. But in just about all other scenarios, our diversity guarantees that the human race can live in various environments, can find someplace on the planet to survive. That’s the physical side of this gift.

Along with physical evolution, we have also been given the gift of socio-cultural evolution. We have developed a thousand times as many cultural variations as we have physical. This unfathomable diversity of social options gives us so many opportunities to do things differently, that we ought to be able to find many, many possible ways to do things. But we have to be smart enough to realize that all this cultural material is out there for us to embrace, to learn, to adopt and adapt, to use.

This socio-cultural diversity also gives us the means to see ourselves and our world(s) with different eyes, to imagine a great variety of possible worlds and a tremendous number of potential solutions to each of our problems.

But if we insist on living only as we are, we are doomed. If we never wake up to realize that there are thousands of ways of doing things other than our present white, male, raging capitalist, international corporate enslavement, then we might as well hang it up and slit our throats right now.

To survive, we must try embracing-learning-loving our neighbors, with their different races and cultures and attitudes and perspectives. We must finally grow up enough to accept all that the Creator has given to us. Only then will we be able to unify ourselves enough to learn from each other about our diversity, and then to combine unity and diversity to create beautiful new worlds and vibrant new lives.

By the way, we should do this not for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren, and THEIR…. You get the idea.

And this is just one of the different perspectives most of the other cultures on the planet give us.

Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The First PCs Ever – NOT

Control Data Corporation was a very good place to work. Even though it was a gigantic corporation, it kept all work groups small (no more than 15 or so people to a manager). The pay was decent. The benefits were great. And everything was fairly loose. I was a technical (hardware repair) instructor for most of my 20 years with CDC, and when we were not in the classroom teaching, it was very easy to get part of a day off without having to take vacation or sick time.

In 1975 I was selected to be part of a special group within Engineering Services (our repair division). CDC and the University of Illinois had created the PLATO Computerized Education system. This consisted of a number of gigantic (for those days) Cyber super-computers feeding specially-developed software using the TUTOR programming language. Students took lessons at PLATO terminals, huge boxes with red plasma screens and rear-projection slide projectors for photographic displays, connected via modems or audio-coupling devices to the mainframe. Illinois, then Delaware and a number of other universities had been using PLATO lessons for a long time. Illinois’s chemistry department even had a simulation of lab work which drew clouds of smoke and printed a large “BOOM!” on the screen if the student performed an incorrect chemical operation. Then he/she could press the NEXT key on the keyboard and try the lesson again. When the student finally got it right, he/she could move into the actual lab.

CDC decided that they wanted us to utilize this technology to train our repair people in the field, thus reducing the costs of having folks come to Minneapolis for school. A number of us were sent to learn how to program in TUTOR, and we set to work creating two technical training courses. It was highly successful. Everyone was so pleased that a few of us were chosen to develop more courses in an ongoing program.

As we worked with this system, it seemed that it was ideal technology for public school systems. But there were a couple drawbacks. Either the school system had to get their own local Cyber system (EXPENSIVE!) or they had to pay long-distance telephone costs for a line connecting each and every PLATO terminal in their school (perhaps 15-20 of them?) going to the Cyber mainframe located elsewhere (also quite expensive).

In 1976, we geniuses came up with a great solution. CDC already had what was then classified as “intelligent terminals,” small systems that could perform a lot of operations independently, collect data, then automatically call the mainframe to upload data for processing and hang up. We suggested that CDC create intelligent PLATO terminals that could call the mainframe, have a student sign in for their personal assignments, collect their data, and hang up the phone line. Then the student could work for 45 minutes or an hour at their lessons. When the lesson was complete, or the class time was over, the student could sign in once more and upload their work, test results, etc., and sign off again. Thus a school could get by with considerably less on-line telephone time, saving money, and still allowing their kids to use this great new technology.

Hindsight says that in time, in a very short time, we would have developed the first desktop personal computer (perhaps by some other name) on which students could run a program to study. We would have beaten Apple on the market by a couple-three years!

Management at Control Data wouldn’t buy the plan. Their response was: “We can’t do that! We’re trying to sell super-computers!”

Within ten years, around 1985, CDC was using Zenith PCs as the user interface on their newest super-computers. So the technical types had been smarter and more far-seeing than management. And in my opinion, this was a major reason why CDC went out of business in 1990.

Ah, the clarity of hindsight!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

End of the World

Evidently these right-wing fundamentalist characters who have taken over the Republican Party don’t care what they do with the earth or how we affect the environment. They are proving this, for example, by not even recognizing that global warming exists. Let the ice caps melt! Let the coastal areas submerge! Let the people die from terrible hurricanes! So what? Lets cut more forests! Drill more oil in the arctic! Forget alternative energy!

I could never understand how they could feel this way. Then someone clued me in: These folks sincerely believe that Armageddon is just around the corner! We might as well use up all the natural resources on the planet because we won’t be here much longer!

Suddenly it all made sense. Either the end of the world is almost here or we’re going to make it happen ourselves.

We have to stop these insane people before they provide us with a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do you realize how many times in European/American history people were convinced the world was coming to an end? The major difference between then and now is that we did not have the ability to end the world ourselves. What if Armageddon is not coming this time either? The path on which our leaders are taking us will guarantee the end of the world. And the rest of us will have no choice in the matter.

The book of Genesis says that God gave man dominion over the earth. Hey! Knock, knock! Is anybody in there? In analyzing the language in which this was written, that giving of dominion means that we were given the responsibility to take care of the earth, NOT use it all up or mistreat it!

For my part, I certainly would rather stand there on Judgment day knowing that I did all I could to preserve the earth, love its peoples and try to live in harmony with all. As the American Indians (and others) put it, we have the job of keeping the circle intact. NOT to do this is insanity. These people controlling our country are not religious; THEY ARE INSANE! And we are either insane or careless or uncaring for electing them.

So, the writing is on the wall, or rather in the heavens, on the land, and in the ever-encroaching seas. This November, we must vote these crazies out of office. We must allow sanity to regain control of our government. And I’m not just pushing for a Democrat victory; there actually are a lot of sane Republicans out there. We, as a people, have just taken control away from them.

The people of this country must wake up to what they are doing before the crazies can control every election in every state and municipality. Vote! Vote whenever you have the opportunity! Vote your conscience, not somebody else’s agenda. Vote to help Mother Earth recover from some of the recent damage. We CAN slow down global warming and we CAN come up with alternative energies, transportation, housing, etc., by electing candidates who are willing to work at such solutions.

Remember: Mother Earth WILL win! The question is whether we will be around to help her celebrate the victory. And God will judge us on how well we help her.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a documentary film called The Corporation. (And I have recently seen another such documentary named Supersize Me, but that’s another story.) The following is a combination of what I saw/learned from this film and what I know from history.

Some History

Film: Originally, companies were incorporated to do ONE thing – manufacture clothing, or sell something, or DO something (like run a railroad.)

History: In the mid-1800s they began to expand. One of the first that comes to mind is that the railroads demanded land so they could have stations, yards, and coaling & watering stops. They sold the remainder of their land to settlers, thus creating their own markets, their own reasons for existence. Other corporations did similar things. This was the beginning of their diversification.

History: Corporations have always opposed workers rights, health, reasonable pay and hours. Higher wages and benefits reduced profits. Workers reacted by going on strike – corporations cannot make ANY profit if they are not producing. At times this led to open warfare: reference the Haymarket Riots.

Film: The 14th Amendment, forbidding any entity to deny rights granted by the federal government, was intended to provide for civil rights for the newly freed African Americans. Corporations went to court and used this amendment to get recognized legally as persons. This gave them a whole lot of immunities they never had before. Out of the two hundred and some 14th Amendment cases heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, only nineteen were concerned with African Americans.

History: Corporations had long been considered “artificial persons” because they could do things people did, like buy land, sell items or services, etc. In 1886 The Southern Pacific Railroad was involved in a case fighting some taxation in Santa Clara County, California (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co.). Before the Supreme Court hearing started, Justice Waite commented “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.” And so it was done on the opinion of a single judge and there was no argument about it.

With the immunities granted through 14th Amendment protections, corporate powers grew.

Film: During the 1930s, IBM leased card reader analysis machines to Germany. This evidently helped them keep track of military data, but it also helped the Nazis catalog every individual person placed in a concentration camp. That’s bad enough. When the US entered the war and Germany was an enemy of terrible force, IBM kept their equipment in place, even inside the camps like Auschwitz, and sent technical people to maintain the machines! So they aided the enemy throughout the war just to keep their profits rolling in.

Health Dangers

Film: Monsanto has developed BGH, Bovine Growth Hormone, a genetically-engineered recombinant hormone, to increase the production of milk. The FDA has approved this stuff, but Canada and Europe have banned it. The cows get sick with continued use. The udders get inflamed and grow so large that they drag on the ground. Cows become infected and pus gets into the milk (is this the real reason why milk MUST be pasteurized?), along with the antibiotics used to try to fight the infections. Furthermore the hormone is passed on in the milk to human consumers. What does this do to the people, especially children, who drink the milk? Might this be why kids are maturing at increasingly early ages? There are certainly cancer dangers to children from this stuff.

On another topic, but related in a discussion of corporations ignoring our health, the film Supersize Me shows that fast food (McDonalds in this case) ignores healthy food – even salad dressings have extra sugar.

Film: In Cochabamba, Bolivia, an American corporation demanded that the town’s water supply be privatized before a World Bank loan was approved. The government of Brazil sided with the corporation.

Nobody has the ability to control today’s huge global / multi-national corporations. If one country tries, all the corporation has to do is move their headquarters / incorporation location somewhere else. There will always be some country willing to pick up some tax income from the corporation without trying to control them. But, there can be some controls - see below.

What can we do?

First – buy organic milk. Yes it is more expensive but it is healthy and it lasts longer! We have found that it doesn’t spoil as quickly. So it can be affordable in the long run if the milk doesn’t get used quickly in your home.

Join a Co-op. But they can be expensive. Who can afford them? Becoming a member helps, but then there is a requirement to do volunteer work there.

Select corporations that are local. In Minneapolis we have two large grocery chains, Rainbow and Cub. With the internet so available, we can investigate them. A half hour on the web brought out this information: Rainbow is owned by Fleming Industries and while Cub is owned by SuperValu. I could not find any owners above them – but they may just be well hidden. Fleming is based in Oklahoma, SuperValu in Minnesota. The latter also buys all refrigeration equipment from a Wisconsin company that builds the units in Minnesota. Our family’s choice is to shop at the home company, Cub.

What else can you do?

Some California groups have gotten the corporate status nullified in their state for companies that refuse to clean up pollution. This means that the company can no longer do business in that state.

Boycotts have been known to be effective, but they must be widely done (nationally) and they take a long time to make the corporation buckle under..
Some small towns have capped the number of multi-nationals in their town, township, or county.

Buy locally grown food at your farmer’s market. Note that this may take some investigating and logical thinking. Bananas in Minnesota will never be a local crop. Find out where they come from, how they are grown, etc.

The internet is there for you to use. Do so.

Know what you are eating and using.

Come up with new ideas and options.

Do not believe all the corporate baloney about being socially responsible; it’s a smoke screen. It costs them a pittance in comparison to the extra profits reaped.

Live by the motto: “DO NO HARM.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Remember Our History

This is a little bit late, but still relevant. Some time ago, the news informed us that the United States was indeed running interrogation (torture) camps in a number of other countries so that American laws need not be applied. This is supposedly necessary to win the war against terrorism. In my opinion, it is simply proof that we are being governed by a corrupt regime and that we have fallen as low, in principle if not in degree, as our 20th-century enemies.

If you cannot believe that statement, consider this. When we were fighting against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan for the very existence of our way of life in the early 1940s, we never needed such torture camps to get information or to win the war. When we were in a cold war against the Soviet Union, from Stalin's regime on, we never needed such camps either. In both cases, against enemies whom we conceived to be almost as powerful as we were (thus a cold war policy called MAD - mutual assured destruction), we believed that our rule of law, that our sense of justice and fair play, that our ethical and polite (if firm) treatment of prisoners of war, and that our interrogation practices were completely and properly defined by the Geneva Conventions on conduct in warfare (or the equivalent that was operant at the time). We need to remember our history.

And we won, at least in some part, because of that behavior. I once met a man in Naples who had been a soldier in North Africa. He was captured and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp in New Jersey. He said he never felt threatened and was never fearful because he knew that the Americans would treat him right. How many other Italians and Germans, when things got bad in their own countries, were willing to surrender because they knew they would be well treated by the Americans, British and French?

Now, Al Qaida or any other such terrorist organization, is definitely nowhere near as powerful as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union. There is no need to change the way we behave in response them. Let's recall the experiences of two countries who have gone through similar (actually, worse) terror-related situations. Israel lives with terrorism as a daily part of its existence. How do they handle it? And in the 1950s-60s France suffered horribly from terrorism (Algerians fighting for their independence). How did they handle it? It boggles my mind that we condemn France for not blindly following us, rather than conferring with them to learn how they lived with terrorism on a daily basis. We need to remember our history....

Also, by treating our prisoners humanely, and allowing them to let their families know how they are being treated, we may just negate some of their propaganda. This has worked before. Over and over again. Review our history.

Why has the administration changed the way we treat prisoners of war? Even with the abuses during Viet Nam, the government made a show of maintaining a legal stand against those abuses. It seems to me that the recent aberrant behaviors, beginning in 'Nam and escalating to what is now going on, might be because our leaders know that there is no way to win wars like these: grass roots conflicts based in the desire of a people to govern themselves in accordance with their own principles and beliefs. We need to remember history....

My God! America exists because it fought exactly the same kind of war against Britain from 1776 to 1783! Again, we must remember our history....

I want my country to return to its honorable and ethical behavior of strict observance of the Geneva Conventions.

Oh, yes, just for the record - I served in the US Navy from July 1960 to October 1969 (longer than required or requested) and achieved the rate of Chief Petty Officer (which I declined in order to leave the service). I served at a time when we were indoctrinated with the Geneva Conventions and worked at how we could follow them, even though we knew that if we were ever captured we probably would never have their protections in return; even so, the Geneva Conventions still dictated OUR practices.